Writing the Script
I came into college yearning to make a feature film. At the time, my only film experience consisted of a few goofy class projects and a script that I’d written after high school, which was basically 120 pages of indulgent self-therapy. Back then I couldn’t imagine that I’d be directing my first movie in under three years.
As my brother Brandon and I became closer in college, I started to see how well our storytelling strengths complemented each other. We decided to write a script together. As a Film Studies major, I would direct the film, and as a business major, he would produce it.
My first inspiration for Apocalypse Theory came when I was buying a math textbook for my first semester. Something about setting up this exchange online with a complete stranger, then going to some unknown apartment in some unknown neighborhood to complete this exchange, struck me as an interesting narrative possibility. What if that textbook, which you bought from a stranger whom you might never see again, contained something unexpected? How would this
Brandon and I worked with this idea, deciding to connect the contents of the textbook to some kind of controversial on-campus experiment, like the ones at the Large Hadron Collider. This way we could deal with heavy themes and ideas—the advancement of science, fears of apocalypse, the prevalence of conspiracy theories—while still working with a manageable scope and budget, and filming something almost entirely on campus. This, in turn, got us thinking about the current apocalypse-fearing zeitgeist, society’s reaction to current events and the ancient (and thoroughly debunked) prophesies of apocalypse in the year 2012. We became interested in the idea that we lived in a culture obsessed with its own destruction.
Launching from these ideas, I wrote a first draft of a screenplay over the summer of 2009, after my freshman year of college. That script was dreadful, directionless, and fortunately bears almost no resemblance to what we have now. They say all beginning writers need to write a lot of bad material before anything good comes out, and our experience certainly supports that idea. If I hadn’t given myself permission to write badly first, I wouldn’t have written anything at all.
That fall, it was back to college and back to the drawing board. Brandon and I worked more closely together on the writing from then on. We decided to write about the world we knew (which now seems like the obvious way to start), and what we knew was an atmosphere of hedonistic partying with friends, drenched in a constant deluge of alcohol and saturated with the smoke of marijuana. We began to see how our ideas were all connected, as if it had already been written and we were merely dusting off the pages. College is a place where everyone constantly alternates between preparing for the future and living for the day. How would the looming threat of potential apocalypse affect people in this environment, and how would it parallel their already-existing fears for the future and drive to enjoy the moment?
We wanted our script to stand out, so we avoided a three-act script in favor of five acts (which is how Shakespeare wrote, so I guess it isn’t “new” per se, but it’s certainly out of style). We based four of our acts on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and determined the mood and events of each act from there, depicting the ups and downs of college life as well as the twists and turns of our story.
Have I mentioned that this is a comedy? We wanted to take a different approach from most college comedies, which typically focus on gross-out humor and irresponsible drug use. We certainly didn’t forego these tropes entirely—after all, they can be hilarious in good measure—but in our experience, humor in college most typically comes from the witty interactions of energetic, clever young people who have all been thrown into the same environment together. We think our humor will thus turn out to be more authentic than is commonly seen in this sort of movie.
What we’re ending up with is a college comedy that hopefully stands out from its genre. For a project like this—especially a comedy, where we’re constantly discovering and inventing new jokes all around us—the script is never really done until the film is shot. We love what we’ve written, and think it’ll make a great film, but we’ve planned all along to experiment with improvisation on set as well, since we have a lot of talented actors on board with a great understanding of their characters and what we hope to accomplish.
I bore in mind throughout the writing process that a good script is the skeleton of a film. Without it, you’ve just got a pile of skin, muscle and organs lying around, to bring this metaphor to grody completion. We received validation for the Apocalypse Theory script when it made the quarterfinals of the Bluecat Screenwring Competition, and earned high praise from one of its judges. This was a huge honor, and confirmed to us that this skeleton was worth building a body around. When this body is complete, I hope you feel like shaking its hand and laughing at its jokes.
Gross. Conclusions are hard.