4. Story & Script


The first step of the production process was coming up with a suitable story line that I could then develop into a script. The story lines used in the transcendental style are varied. The films of Robert Bresson range from an imprisoned man who spends the whole film executing his escape, A Man Escaped (1956) to the life of a cow, seen through the cows eyes, Au hasard balthazar (1966). Yasujirō Ozu’s films tend to revolve around family, Late Spring (1949) and Early Spring (1956) to name just two. Carl Dreyer made Ordet in 1955 that tells the story of a young wife dying, who is then miraculously brought back to life by her stepson who is convinced that he is God. The stories made by notable transcendental filmmakers range from the simple to the metaphysical. I should also mention that since the writing of Schrader’s book there have been numerous other filmmakers who use aspects of the transcendental style. Too many to mention, but suffice to say that their stories don’t confirm to any specific type of story either. Clearly, there is no one kind of narrative that works better than any other in terms of making a transcendental style film. At the end of the day, the telling of the story only needs to conform to the three-stage structure; the everyday, disparity and stasis (earlier post). Any story can be written to fit into any structure, so I just needed to come up with the story I wanted to tell.

My first idea was a Romeo and Juliette suicide-murder story. This was quickly ditched for an idea about an estranged son returning home after his mother had passed away. He arrives to see what he can steal from the house and instead, meets a girl who has spent the last three years getting to know his mother. Come to think of it now, maybe I should have stayed with that story, but instead I continued to develop it. The next draft turned into a story about the son returning home to find his mother still alive, or so he thinks, and by the end of the film he learns that she is in fact dead. In another draft, the son is already living at home and now has a sister. He drives the car out of the garage and takes his sister down to the shops. On their there, they have an accident that kills the sister. We cut back to the brother still sitting in the car back in the garage. It turns out that the accident was a flashback (in his mind) to several years earlier. The brother goes back into the house, where the sister, who we now accept is dead, is making a cake. After several more drafts, the dead mother was brought back. A husband replaced the son and the sister was left with no brother, and became just the daughter. Confused?

In the final version of the story, the husband takes his wife to a religious organization that runs a six -step program to help the dead accept that they are dead so they can move on. The story deals with the family dynamic on the day the mother eventually accepts that she is no longer wanted and moves on. Thematically, the story challenges our compulsion to blindly follow the rules of life. In this case, the rule of moving the dead on…

The initial drafts of this story were very oblique. This was something that I wanted to attempt. Such ambiguity and minimalist story lines are a trait sometimes associated with the transcendental style. While some readers commented favorably on earlier drafts, I wasn’t sure. Or more to the point, I wasn’t confident in writing or even making a minimalist film. For me each shot needs to scream something out, performance needs to grab an audience by the throat and the story needs to rattle along in a cause and effect motion as fast as it can. Finally, I reworked the script, so a degree of ambiguity remained, but a clear storyline was discernible.

Making a minimalist film is going to be quite a challenge…