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Screen & Stage
January, 2008

Coyote Morning

Origin Of The Screenplay
Physical vs. mental
By  J. R. Kambak

"Experience is never limited and it is never complete; it is an immense sensibility, a kind of huge spider-web of the finest silken threads suspended in the chamber of consciousness, and catching every air-borne particle in its tissue."

Henry James
The Art Of Fiction Essay

The screenwriter's manifesto is determining every nuance of the artistic vision.
The aim of screenplay writing is to intensify the expression of the storyline so that the heart and inner meaning are vividly visible. But where is its origin and how do you get there? 

Does the intense clarity come from physically writing and re-writing? Or does it arrive during the mental exercises of reflecting on what you've written and pondering what to write next? Perhaps it arrives when you are distracted by other things, suddenly delivered as a "kismet" insight into a meaningful storyline, stripped of its ambiguity. Now you can be precise in meaning and connotation.

Perhaps it's paradoxical, since the screenplay exists as a protean and amorphous art form, confined to specific limitations both visual and auditory, compared to the novel. Whether it’s the mental process that first recognizes the narrative purpose, or the physical that is scrupulously honest, its process is keen to the unsettled condition of life's experience.  Both define a polarizing effect for exactness and precision during the venture of writing.

For me, the script's raison d'être resonates over a period of deliberate gestation. It must carry an air of reality, a semblance united in texture and interwoven as parts of the human struggle. The reiterative imagery (mental) increasingly qualifies the growing narrative for execution (physical). Time-shifts and reoccurring situations allow the stream-of-consciousness imagistic details to come forth for my research notes. The mechanical mode (physical) focuses attention on the aspect of cognitive reality, revealing what has been self-deceiving, now realized. 

Psychological time is fluid between the physical and mental. The measuring experience, the interpenetration of moments of consciousness; the impossibility of analysis without inevitable distortion and alteration; all these ideas implicitly define the writer’s discovery. The task is to take measurement of what is indistinguishable in time and space.

Consequently, living in writing time (not linear time), the relative nature of human experience is signified in the structural format of your script – a treatise on time. You are pacing the movement of the story along with its particular plot pillars and transformational scenes, clocked by your revelation (mental) and the mechanical (physical) continuity of the scene’s relation to the central theme.

Often times I cannot stop the flow of the mental, and must employ the physical (writing) as the active life of writing. Then, there are times, I must crowd my time with space away from the page, for privileged moments of sudden revelations in the freedom of cognitive reflection – this is equally writing. These are experiences of insight, solid in form, though not seen on the material plain.

The screenplay format is simple enough. It is you, the author, narrator, and participant in this self-made universe who applies its logic and reality. You administer skilful handling of symbolism, entering that dimension in the human character somewhere between receptor and effecter – rediscovered and unfolded – avoiding overlapping, discontinuity, and repetition. This is the very stuff of the mind's life, painted from the stems of personality and self-justification, all of which are commensurate with your transmuted visions – a manifested reality. 

The aesthetic logic, the ironic sense of suggesting that one predominates the other, causes the writer to loose sight of the enduring human relationship between characters. Neither does the mental or physical process become entangled when you allow the conditions of each to arise and make their stand in particular force and application.

An examination of this concept is found in an obscure book written by C, Things Men Die For – an out-of-print exposé of one of American’s greatest swashbuckling movie producers. In his simple reverence for the written word, while starving near death in a prison camp, he wrote: "I determined to drive my mind to follow only one kind of thought in this book. When I should come to a passage that dealt with that thought I would read it over and over. Then I would let my mind travel far down the many roads towards which the glowing thoughts of Wells pointed."

The writer must drive his mind in the same vein; it speaks to our capacity for all things that bind all humanity – the dead to the living and the living to the unborn. By dramatizing the experience in a screenplay, it becomes a glowing light of reality, unlike that of our separate imaginations. Collectively, a scene can jump to mind and inspire new romances, theories, and arguments about life.

The unwritten manifesto of the screenwriter then, in general principal, is devotion to the integrity and involvement of writing’s epic grandeur, rooted in terms of every nuance and possibility of the artistic vision. Regarding how this vision is triggered, astutely characterized from the illusions of our own perceptions of life, one cannot give a "this before that" rule. Is it physical first or mental first? It’s both, confounded in the experience of life.
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J.R. Kambak is a regular IN contributor and award-nominated screen-playwright, award-winning videographer, and former corporate communications/media relations executive. Contact J.R. Kambak for more information and resources:

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Screen & Stage
IN This Issue
Novel To Screenplay: Adaptation 101
Learning The Lingo
Elevator Exposure
Who Profits?
On The (Back) Lot
Lingua Scriptus
Part II: The Script's Key Plot Points
Part I: The Script's Key Plot Points
Origin Of The Screenplay
Scriptspeak: Writing Dialogue

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