On December 25, 2013, a film idea hit me. I spent christmas day writing the outline to an arguably perverse, undeniably violent tale conjured over a bowl of mushroom soup and christmas carols. The next few months were spent agonizing over broad strokes instead of filling in the cross hatches. To say I was uncomfortable with my story would be an understatement. I was unconvinced. This is what happens when a story is born out of the need to expunge. The writer turns selfish, goes on his merry masturbatory way. I just needed my release, all be damned. And that’s swell if one’s entire target audience is her army of fluffy cats. Human subjects tend to be more easily appalled by gratuitous violence. “Proceed with caution,” the warning sign said, “After all, you will be stepping on some real, live toes.” Another warning sign read, “Cover your bases, and please don’t get in trouble” while the other flashed, “If you do, make it count.”
So I picked up a couple of resources to help my story chug along, the first of which was a book called Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting by the flamboyant Robert McKee. The first few pages were sobering.
“STORY is about respect, not disdain, for the audience. When talented people write badly it’s generally for one of two reasons: Either they’re blinded by an idea they feel compelled to prove or they’re driven by an emotion they must express. When talented people write well, it is generally for this reason: They’re moved by a desire to touch the audience.”
– Robert McKee
That deserved a slow clap. Robert McKee helps if you take what you need and discard the fluff. Really, all I need are some hard rules for breaking, seeing that I have actually never written a legitimate script in my life. Not alone, at least.
A few years back, I had a wonderful team of young artists who worked with me in writing scripts for an online comedy series. We would bounce ideas off each other over good food, alcohol, maniacal laughter, and art films. I knew I had it good then, but I didn’t realize just how much. My foray in story telling often included these brilliant colleagues –William Manzano, Cyril Bautista, and Rafael Raymundo — and our little think tank always felt slightly skewed in the absence of one or the other. Those were good times because, frankly, it is a struggle to have to build a universe alone.
If there was anything the team did well, it was tapering off the story into manageable, feasible chunks. Sometimes we got the arc down pat from day one, and worked out the details over the months. Other times, the story unfolded with each meeting. For the most part, we regulated each other so that no one got to go Uwe Boll 100 per cent. We were an irreverent bunch, and a little spoiled to go unchecked most of the time. But we drew the line at some point. We knew which jokes were good to tell during meetings, and which ones could spark a witch hunt if unleashed upon the interwebs. My vantage point isn’t as clear when working alone. Case in point: I once set out to create a light hearted animation about a boy and a mom playing video games, and ended up inserting animal cruelty, gore, and sexual innuendo, in that order, within the first minute of material. Did I mean to do it? Not entirely. Let’s just say I botched the treatment, but something in me found the resulting scene too funny, and too real. It was a political statement executed in absolute political incorrectness. So I left it at that and fed it to the internet. Not surprisingly, a handful of angry commenters demanded that I give them back the 2 minutes they have lost forever. The rest was duly disturbed.
This indecision over the larger details of my story inspired another “brilliant” idea. Let’s turn this into a video game! How does one resist the vast possibilities offered by, what essentially is, an interactive film? Adventure games, despite being the antithesis of the FPS genre — deliberately slow, undeniably laborious — offers irresistible advantages over film. Multiple causes and effects, multiple endings. It’s the perfect avenue for a hypothetical question, the perfect bottle for a test tube storm. To the undecided story teller, the open endedness of modern adventure games is a device rather than a perk. It allows for deeper reflection on consequences, control, and lack thereof, and demonstrates how universes are created with each choice, or indecision, or mistake. While the player experiences a linear story, he is also completely cognizant of the existence of alternate outcomes.
The genre is perfect for the kind of story I want to tell — that of the cycle of corruption that has become our way of life, and the exacting punishment that awaits its vilest perpetrators. It’s been done countless times, but not this close to home. Not in the dank slums of Baseco where the disenfranchised live off of rot, and decay, and things no longer wanted. Not in the corpse lined streets of post apocalyptic Tacloban. And certainly not in the air-conditioned plush of a Dasmarinas mansion.