The very few people I’ve told the full plot of Earrings to always immediately ask me the same question: “Where did you get inspiration to write such a story? It’s so dark, so haunting; how did you come up with it?”
And my answer is always the same: I point to my head and say, “Things just pop in and stay.” Sometimes I have no idea where they come from, sometimes I am precisely aware of their origins. Whether I know what caused them or not, if an idea lingers too long, then it needs to be exercised in print.
The origins for Earrings are extended and complicated; the film is rooted in several different inspirations, and after many months (years, actually) of lingering, the idea finally formulated itself into a cohesive script and will, I hope, become an intelligible film.
About a year and a half ago, Catherine, who is the star of Earrings, contacted me about writing a script based on an idea she had. The idea was about loss, love, and redemption. It was about overcoming internal grief with absolutely no help from outside factors. It was an interesting, layered idea that Catherine gave me free reign to roll with. A month later, I handed her a 45-page script that we planned to film a few months later. Actors were cast, a small crew was established, but due to many outside factors that I’m not going to go into here, the project had to be delayed indefinitely. I was troubled by this, but I understood. When a project isn’t ready, it isn’t ready.
I moved the script aside and let it disappear from my mind. Jump cut to seven months later, and I remained plagued with images of pain.
When I get an idea for a script, it almost always manifests itself via visually imagery. The image can be anything: a young man driving a car with a slight smile, a man with a bruised face staring at a house, a slow-motion dolly shot of a woman’s face as she discovers something familiar – anything. And, when coupled with the right song, these images beg to be brought to life. I cannot escape them.
For example, I’ve had the image of a young woman walking aimlessly through a crowded nightclub for years. Years. Why? Fuck if I know. I suppose I like the juxtaposition of so much happening around her, and virtually nothing happening within her. And once I heard a specific song by Radiohead (which I’m not going to reveal), I played it over and over and over, knowing that it belonged somewhere. It needed to be accompanied with something. I thought I had brought that image and that song together perfectly in the script I wrote for Catherine, but I was wrong. It will be through Earrings that I will finally be able to put this idea to rest.
These notions of imagery aren’t nagging annoyances, mind you, they are simply pictures in my head that must see light. It’s something I’ve lived with for decades – the thought of transferring the images in my head to the page or the screen, so last November, as I made my way through Ingmar Bergman’s autobiography Images, I sat literally dumbfounded when I came to the passage in which he describes how he formulates his scripts.
For Cries and Whispers, Bergman describes how he was “plagued” by the image of a room bathed in red. The red room haunted him, it kept him awake at night, begging, pleading. He wrote the script for Cries and Whispers based around that red room, which, if you’ve seen the film, plays a vital part in the movie. When I read this, I sat dumbfounded because that is precisely where my screenplays come from, that persistent image that won’t go away. It’s similarities like these that no doubt make Bergman my favorite filmmaker.
The Hunger for Shame
The first time I watched Steve McQueen’s Hunger represents one of the most jarring film-viewing experiences of my life. It was bold and raw and honest and gut wrenching. And it was nearly dialogue free. Sure, there is a centerpiece conversation that takes up a few dozen script pages, but for the most part, very little is said in Hunger. Why then does the film speak immeasurable volumes?
The first film I made (in the summer of 2008) had not a single line of dialogue, so, naturally, when I saw Hunger (in the fall of 2009), I was taken with it immediately. In the special features on the Criterion DVD, McQueen says that dialogue isn’t needed for the first act of the film, the images are the dialogue. That’s a notion I identify with wholeheartedly, and it’s something that most definitely influenced Earrings.
Creating (whether you’re writing, filming, painting, whatever) is something that opens your world up to fantastic little ironies that you wouldn’t find anywhere else. Irony may not be accurate. Coincidence is more precise.
When I wrote the script for Catherine, I included an extended, balls-out sequence in which the main character goes slightly mad. All of the emotions and problems and sufferings that were teasing the character came out in about four pages of script. It was going to be seven filmic minutes of pain and blood and sweat and tears. With Earrings, I’ve made that sequence tighter, and more impactful. It’s going to be the film’s Hail Mary. Abandon all faith, ye who enter here.
And it is partly because of this sequence (which I wrote last November), that I became so enamored with McQueen’s film Shame.
If you’ve seen Shame, then you know there is a sequence late in the film that is rather similar to what I’ve described in regards to Earrings. And, much like when I read Bergman’s book, I sat literally dumbfounded the first time I saw that Shame sequence. It was exactly the torment I was trying to capture. As soon as I got home that night, I pushed the sequence in Earrings further. I added more depth, more pain. I wasn’t inspired by Shame to pen that sequence, but you can be damn sure Shame helped propel it.
Images and coincidences, that’s what my writing stems from. The images force me to write, the coincidences make it worth it.