Writing The Western XI: Act IV Complete!
Yes, it's true. It's amazing what a little momentum can make. Acts II and IV are nominally the same length (18-24) pages, but where II took me almost a month, IV was done in a matter of days. As we get closer to the end, the story becomes more fun to write- the payoff beats are generally more interesting than the setups. This stretch had a lot to look forward to, so it was easier to want to get through it more quickly.[ref] Also, the urge to just finish the damn thing kicks in once you've been working on it for a couple of months.[/ref] This is one reason I always write stories and screenplays from start to finish[ref] But for the outline, I'll start at the end.[/ref] My desire to get to the good parts helps me push through the beginning. And of course, I always save the best for last. As I've been working on this stretch, I started noticing similarities between this story and the last screenplay I wrote, Captain Dishdrainer. It turns out they have scenes where Our Hero is captured by the villains and tortured for information. I swear this was not intentional. This was surprising, given how little else they have in common. Captain Dishdrainer is a children's movie, for crying out loud. Yet it has the longer, more intense torture sequence. Go figure.
Then again, other pieces I've written around the same time tend to feature similar themes. Dirty Hands and Cinemetropolis both involve characters on the run from the police. As does The Unlikely Adventures of E. Pluribus Unum[ref] Compare with the full title of Captain Dishdrainer.[/ref], written before either of them, which exists only as a very rough first draft that I need to go back to.
One of the sequences I'd been imagining for a long time was our horseback chase scene. As I got close to it, I started getting worried, though- I had a couple of cool moments in mind, but not much in the way of choreography. Five minutes of horses running and people shooting[ref]...and missing...[/ref] does not a chase scene make. The pursuers are trying to ensnare the prey, and the prey is trying to throw off the pursuers. The question is... How?
I had an idea for the end of the scene, where one of the protagonists would lose the villains by using a special bomb with a pressure sensitive fuse[ref] Believe me, it makes sense in context.[/ref] I had wanted him to tie a rope to the end and swing it around his head like a lasso- the centrifugal force would trip the fuse, he'd throw the bomb, and KABOOM!
I'm a bit of a physics nerd like that. But because I'm a physics nerd... I had to actually work out the physics for this real-world device. I brought my Dad in to make sure I was using the right equations, and we discovered that the fuse wouldn't light unless it was swung significantly faster than humanly possible.[ref] You'd probably need a helicopter engine. [/ref] So I needed a new way to light the fuse. Why not a gun? You'd either get the pressure from the bullet tripping the fuse, or the hot gases coming out after it would just light everything.
But our protagonist doesn't have a gun! I remembered. And just like that- Choreography problem solved. Now amid the chaos, he would have to get close enough to one of the bad guys' horses to steal his gun. And even if the lasso-trick won't like the fuse, it still makes a great club.[ref] Tee hee. [/ref]
See kids? Isn't science great?
Following the horseback chase, we had another sequence of two characters walking across the open desert trying to get back to town. I will admit that this scene was partially inspired by one of my absolute favorite films, Lawrence of Arabia[ref] And a scene from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.[/ref] It's a long, arduous journey in the heat of the day, so I thought the long, expansive shots of our protagonists being swallowed up by a sea of sand would be a nice touch.
It also helped that I was fortunate to see Lawrence on the big screen from a gorgeous 70mm print at The Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, NY. Absolutely amazing. I'd only seen it on DVD before, and it's just not the same. Props especially to Maurice Jarre's score, which filled the room from wall to wall.[ref] The film was funnier than I remembered... perhaps this was the packed house. Best laugh of the night: In the officer's mess, where a sand-covered Arab boy chugs the first liquid he's seen in days, Lawrence tells the dumbstruck barkeep, "He likes your lemonade."[/ref]
And so, we're getting into the home stretch that is Act V. Stay tuned... it won't be long now.