Laugh Until It Hurts, Composing, 14/06/2016

After some email chats with my creative partner on the You Were My Friend film project, I’m diving into the editing process. Samwise sent me back an enormous list of ideas for tweaks, cuts, and streamlines. I sent back an equally enormous list of ideas for some of the same tweaks, different cuts, and streamlining along parallel and similar directions.

Our communications on this are a kind of disjunctive synthesis. One of us will make a suggestion, the other will react, “That’s absolute madness! I’ll get right on it.” At the end of the day, we’ll have an even better script than the one we started with,* which will probably change radically again once we’ve filmed it and we’re in front of the editing suite.

* Which was already brilliant because I wrote it.

Pretentious note. The way we talk back and forth about structure and character kind of reminds me about how I’ve read Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari used to write together. Samwise, I promise you that’s a compliment.

I'm not going to get too much into the details of how we’re changing the script, because spoilers and privacy. But I do want to talk about how I approach the two main characters. There have been quite a few posts in the past where I talk about the two central characters of You Were My Friend, mostly from the time of its theatrical production.

That chat with Samwise helped me put my finger on a very important difference between the two characters, Vicki and Madison. We see a decent amount of Vicki’s family life in You Were My Friend

We see her abusive mother, her mostly-absent father, as well as her circle of friends whose abuse and betrayal kick the story into gear. That's the heart of Vicki's development from the start to the end of the narrative – emerging from an environment that never gave her a chance, determined to push against her circumstances and live the life she wants.

Madison comes from an entirely different background. We don’t see her family background at all. At most, all you’re going to get are a few throwaway comments about how boring her neighbourhood is. She grew up in an unremarkable upper-middle class home in the Greater Toronto Area. Maybe I’ll even change her hometown to Oakville so she can come from Upper Middle Road.

That is a real place. But no. No, that would be too ridiculous.

What the movie needs to show for the characters’ histories are the prime influences on their actions in the story itself. And what matters for Madison’s story is her growing disappointment in herself as her career falls to pieces around her.

But Madison’s story amounts to a comedy of errors. Not always necessarily her own errors. She’s a bit like George Costanza or Elaine Benes in a way. She’s a reasonable enough worker, but is constantly stuck in situations that leave her worse off for all her striving.

She goes to work for businesses that sell themselves as dynamic hothouses of innovation. But all their wild new business models turn out to be completely unsustainable because they’re based either on the most horrific sharing economy labour exploitation or their executives simply never thought through how to monetize their work.

In other words, she works for the type of company that populates virtually the entire Toronto startup scene. It's a source of serious hilarity – an entire business world of blowhards who barely even think ahead enough to figure out how their business will even make money. 

Not every startup in the city works like this, but quite a few of them contribute to the economy by spinning their wheels and spending their investors' money until the final collapse.

And working in this insane environment saps Madison's confidence in herself, in her ability to make a decent living, and her ability to think her networks and friendships have any value left at all. 

That's the chemical reaction at the heart of the story.** A young woman who’s building the confidence and personal strength to succeed against long odds builds a close bond with a young woman who’s having all her confidence and strength stripped away.

** Pretentious note two. I sometimes think of how I smash characters together in terms of chemical reactions. Elective affinities, as Goethe once called them. So bloody pretentious.

It's a comedy because their situations are so ridiculous that you laugh. But it's also deadly serious because the reality of their own life on a knife-edge of financial collapse is constantly present. Laughter with a terrible sense of foreboding.

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