Pagliacci is a script who challenged me to think outside of my box and try to improve my skills at adapting stories for the screen.
I heard a joke once: Man goes to doctor. Says he’s depressed. Says life is harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world. Doctor says, “Treatment is simple. The great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go see him. That should pick you up.” Man bursts into tears. Says, “But doctor… I am Pagliacci.” Good joke. Everybody laugh. Roll on snare drum. Curtains.
Watchmen, directed by Zack Snyder and written by David Hayter and Alex Tse, based on a graphic novel by Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore.
06/10/2013 The idea originated from an article about Jim Carrey’s struggle with depression , that I’ve read when I was too busy procrastinating. A commenter mentioned a joke heard in the movie Watchmen, and inspired by the Italian opera Pagliacci. Well, at least procrastinating gives me inspiration…Anyway, I loved the joke and thought it would be the perfect idea, to show someone suffering from mental illnesses, but also incorporating comedy. To make my script stand out even more, I decided to incorporate some shoot directions, but, contrary to Fires, I wanted to play with the photography and colors instead of the music. This is why I decided to use black and white shadows slowly invading the doctor’s office. Using black and white with slight touches of color has always been something that I loved, and I gained inspiration from my favourite designer, I’m JAC and the short film Afterlife directed by Emily Kai Bock.
I also wanted to play with the clown symbolism. Clowns are supposed to be the funniest people, but many of them make people laugh but don’t have happy lives. This script is my first attempt to write a tragi-comedy. I’ve always been bad at writing comedy, but this master gives me the opportunity to try different things, and I want to challenge myself.
03/11/2013 First draft. I had to add more background for the main character Tonio. I thought it would be more heart breaking to make him being someone who doesn’t want to be funny anymore, but keeps making people laugh despite his best efforts. He is someone who deals with depression simply because his life can’t match his expectations. He has a complicated relationship with his mother who considers him a failure because he is making a living as a clown. He is, at least that what he thinks, that he is too smart for his own good.
KAUFMAN I don’t know how to adapt this. I should’ve just stuck with my own stuff. I don’t know why I thought I could – […] Kaufman looks at Marty. Will he accept help from an agent? He glances at Marty’s non-receding hairline, his full head of hair. Marty smiles at him.
KAUFMAN There’s no story. The book has no story.I didn’t want to do that this time. It’s someone else’s material. I have a responsibility… Anyway, I wanted to grow as a writer, do something profound and simple. […] MARTY Charlie, at the end of the day, I think it would be a terrible career move. Adaptation, written by Charlie Kaufman and Donald Kaufman, directed by Spike Jonze.
Second draft for Pagliacci. Reading the hilarious Adaptation script made me realize that, like Kaufman, I’m afraid of adapting the story. I’ve received some feedback from a directing student who helped me with my script’s development but he pointed out that the structure is weak and the dramatic twist unnecessary. I don’t agree with his feedback, but I find myself struck with this adaptation. Funnily enough, before entering the course, I had never written a script shorter than 8 minutes, and as a novelist I was used to write long stories. Yes, when I had to write 1 minutes and 2 minutes scripts, I didn’t feel restrained: the very short length of these scripts forced me to be direct, incredibly visual, without thinking much about structure and other technical things. Basically, writing very shorts scripts gave me more freedom to show my vision through the story, and the longer the scripts are now, the more I struggle. Regarding Pagliacci, the plot twist is the core element of the story. I simply can’t use it. I’ve decided to add more absurdity and foolishness to a sad and serious story.
In the end, Pagliacci is a static and absurd script, with two strong characters. It could have been more dynamic, but it wasn’t the point of the story. I wanted to play with the dialogue and symbolism, and make it quite emotional.