Notes from New Sodom

... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Whatever the Fuck You Want

They made me do it. They did. I couldn't help myself. Puck, Jack, the vagaries of a world in which a Google search on the strings "gay kid" and "high school movie" together returns my fricking blog post on The Curiosity of Chance as top hit -- all of this seeded my mind and set my resolve. The aim? To thrash out an idea for a film that demands to be described in those terms. And since Were the World Mine's take on A Midsummer Night's Dream charmed me so much, it seemed only natural to go Shakespearean. The high school movie is, after all, basically a modern urban manifestation of the pastoral comedy. And As You Like It has always been one of my favourites in that genre. So here it is, the 21st century version, with added homo. (And there's actually three times the detail of this in terms of notes, a scene-by-scene blocking-out of the narrative I'm only not posting because it's rather too long and rather too feveredly scattergun.)


(although this would presumably appear on posters, were this ever made, as:)


Twenty word pitch: A high school movie that turns As You Like It inside-out, from timeless classic to contemporary gay love story.

Tagline: "A brain, a beauty, a jock, a rebel, and a recluse. He's the perfect man." (no prizes for recognising the merciless cribbing.)

One paragraph summary: When Orlando swaggers in as the new kid at Arden High, Ross falls for him in an instant. Smart but sporty, stunning but sensitive, a bad boy with a good heart, Orlando is Ross’s perfect man. Unfortunately, when they meet at the football team try-outs, Ross is in drag to spite his draconian dad, Coach Fredericks, and it’s “Rosalind” that Orlando falls head-over-heels in love with. And when Orlando turns to Ross to help him woo the girl he loves, not knowing that Ross is the girl he loves, well, what’s a boy supposed to do but help out with a little role-play? As mixed signals and mismatched loves abound, Ross, Orlando and everyone around them must ask the question: just what is it that you want?

Main cast:

Orlando, the new kid in school, gay but hasn’t admitted it to himself yet
Ross, the son of the coach & the drama teacher, openly gay
Celia, Ross’s twin sister, a hard-ass rebel who won’t let anyone mess with her brother
Touchstone, their friend, a joker and compulsive liar who gets away with it on charm
Coach Fredericks, gym teacher, father of Celia & Ross, estranged from their artsy mother
Ms. Duke, English/drama teacher, mother of Celia & Ross, lives in a latter-day commune
Mr Jacks, music teacher and miserable sod, generally drunk and annoying
Oliver, Orlando’s elder brother, who’s looked after him since their parents died
Mrs Martext, the school counselor (combines various characters in the original)

Phoebe, the drama society’s queen bitch
Silvia, a lesbian kid living in the commune
Audrey, a cheerleader Touchstone has the hots for
Chuck, captain of the football team
William, a jock, Audrey’s boyfriend
Corin, a member of the drama society
Adam, the school caretaker


Orlando has been home-schooled by his religious brother since their paents died. After a bitter fight, Orlando is kicked out and decides to enroll in high school. There, while trying out for the football team, he meets Ross and Celia, the children of an acrimoniously divorced couple who teach at the school — the draconian Coach Fredericks and the free-spirited English/drama teacher Ms. Duke who now lives in a commune. But Ross is in drag in a deliberate attempt to antagonise his father, who projects his anger at his unfaithful ex-wife onto “her” son; so Orlando mistakes him for a girl and falls for her as “Rosalind”. Ross sees Orlando stand up to his father when the coach insults his family, and immediately falls for this guy who is both jock and rebel. Maintaining the playful pretense on the belief that nothing can come of his flirting, he gives Orlando a pendant. Ross & Celia’s mischievous friend, Touchstone, an inveterate fabricator of lies for the fun of it, fuels Orlando’s misapprehension by deliberately misinterpreting his reference to the “girl” he has been instantly smitten by as a reference to Celia, who he refers to obliquely as “the coach’s daughter.” So when Orlando meets Ross the next day, after unsuccessfully seeking help from the school counselor with his homelessness, he doesn’t realise (or doesn’t let on that he realises) that Ross is his “Rosalind”.

Over the next few weeks Ross finds himself becoming more and more fixated on Orlando, who remains detached from the other high school kids, his background and present circumstances a mystery. When the school caretaker discovers the penniless and starving Orlando sleeping rough in the school boiler room, Orlando’s panicked flight ends with him crashing in on the school drama club. Ms. Duke recognises that for all his rough edges, he is actually smart and sensitive, takes pity on him, and brings him home to the latter-day commune, though not before Touchstone (a member of the drama club along with Ross & Celia) has furthered his misdirectional mischief by characterising Ross as “the drama teacher’s son”. When Orlando, inspired by Ms. Duke’s injunction to seek out “whatever you want”, begins leafleting the school with bad poetry dedicated to “Rosalind”, Ross realises that he’s made Orlando lovesick and decides to come clean, but his awkward attempt only leads to a misunderstanding: that Ross is offering to use roleplay techniques from the drama society to help Orlando develop his courtship skills, an offer which Orlando takes him up on.

Everything goes horribly wrong at the birthday party of Sylvia, a lesbian girl who lives at the commune and is besotted with the fashionably bisexual school bitch Phoebe. When Ross gives Phoebe a scathing rebuke for her treatment of Sylvia, Phoebe falls for him. And when a roleplay of courtship with Orlando goes too far, Orlando panics and flees the party. Fortunately, this places Orlando in the right place at the right time to save his estranged brother from a car accident. Unfortunately, Orlando nearly dies doing so and afterwards, in a morphine delirium, he urges his contrite brother to take “Rosalind’s” pendant to Ross. Distraught that Orlando’s is injured, but with no explanation for the pendant, Ross does not know whether it signifies that Orlando knows and loves him or knows and feels betrayed. When Ross’s mother tries to comfort him, he lashes out at her, blaming her influence for his own reckless tendencies to do whatever he wants and damn the consequences. Ultimately, it is his draconian father — prompted by his ex-wife — who offers solace by resolving the tension between them, revealing a tolerance Ross was unaware of. His father’s anger has nothing to do with his sexuality and has simply been an unfair projection onto the son who reminds him so much of the woman who broke his heart. He is, in fact, completely supportive of Ross’s right to love whoever he wants, and has secretly supported Celia’s fierce defense of her brother, relished the fact that she’ll punch out anyone who abuses him, which would of course be a sacking offense for him as a teacher.

Heartened by this, but still worried about what Orlando knows and thinks of him, Ross finds his fears not wholly resolved when Orlando returns to school and continues to show no sign of knowing that Ross is “Rosalind”. Instead he expresses his fervent desire to take “Rosalind” to the upcoming school gala evening, a talent show and dance. As they’re talking, Phoebe approaches him to declare her love, blithely disregarding Sylvia, her devoted follower. In an exchange loaded with hints that Orlando and Ross are both trying to make the other come clean first, Sylvia declares her love for Phoebe, Phoebe declares her love for Ross, Orlando declares his love for “Rosalind” and Ross declares his love for “no woman”. When Ross suggests that he might set up Orlando with “Rosalind”, Orlando bets that he can’t, and Ross lays down a wager: if he can’t ensure that “Rosalind” shows up his forfeit will be to take Phoebe as a girlfriend; if he can, then Phoebe’s forfeit will be to take Sylvia as a girlfriend; Orlando’s forfeit is not revealed at this point, whispered by Orlando in Ross’s ear. In the grand finale, Ross appears on stage in the talent show, in drag as “Rosalind”. Orlando happily concedes the bet and invites Ross to claim his prize: whatever the fuck you want. As the lovers kiss, Orlando removes Ross’s wig, saying he prefers Ross as himself. When Ross asks when Orlando knew, Orlando smiles and reveals nothing. In voice-over, he hints at numerous points within the narrative where one might imagine him as having known, suggesting multiple readings, including that in which he knew from the very beginning. The truth in this instance is, he suggests, as the mischievous Touchstone might have it, whatever the fuck you want.

In a between-credits epilogue, Ross breaks the fourth wall to deliver an updated version of the epilogue of As You Like It -- wherein the boy actor who would have been playing Rosalind at the time highlights his real gender, appeals to the female audience on the basis of the love they bear to men and to the male audience on the basis of the love they bear to women, and then finishes by patently flirting with the men, declaring that "If I were a woman I would kiss as many of you as had beards that pleased me, complexions that liked me and breaths that I defied not."



Blogger Colin Meier said...

I was right the first time : I'd watch that movie.

I know it's Shakespeare, but I'm wondering how you could deal realistically with the issue of a kid in drag at high school...(oddly enough I read a script the other day where that was the central issue which is why it crossed my mind.) It's made more difficult by the fact that Orlando has to think it's "real" (at a conscious level, anyway...)

I hope the fact that the synopsis is online doesn't mean you couldn't actually get the screenplay made. That would be a pity...

9:01 am  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

It's only borderline realistic anyway, in the way that Ferris Bueller's shenanigans are, but it's not too difficult to pull off, I reckon. Ross only appears in drag twice, at the very start and the very end. It isn't habitual.

The finale is fine -- it's in a performance context. And the first time is at the football try-outs (Act I, Scene 2 of AYLI), with Ross and Celia waiting on the bleachers for their dad to take them home, both having changed into outlandish costumes (drama society and all that) after school. It's a competitive game they've got going, trying to embarrass the old man in front of his team; but Ross has "outdone himself" this time. I'm picturing something along the lines of:

Scene: The bleachers. Opening shot on Celia, face hidden in a plastic pig-mask that fills the screen.

Celia: You know, Ross, I have to say I’m impressed by your commitment to sartorial rebellion. I feel like I’m letting the side down. But don’t you think you might have taken it a bit far this time?

Ross (off-screen): I’m sure I don’t know what you mean, sis. I think my attire is quite modest.

Celia: I mean, kudos on the costume, but you do realise how many jocks I’m going to have to kick the crap out of for the inevitable name-calling.

Cut out to Ross in full drag, looking every inch the girl. They’re sitting out on the bleachers, high-up.

Ross: I have always relied on the kindness of sisters.


I'm working on the principle that where they're sitting, Orlando is looking into the sun and distant enough that he can make the mistake. It's still only passably plausible but hey, it sorta means the part requires someone *exceedingly* pretty in order to pull it off. It's almost like an evil plan to ensure only the hottest of actors.

9:51 am  
Blogger Colin Meier said...

Man, I can't wait to hear that dialog out loud. No-one writes dialog like that (not for screen, anyway). The key to getting good actors is giving them good lines, like that, to say.

11:23 am  
Anonymous Sarah said...

Can't see why it couldn't work - and I love the dialogue too :)

12:27 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

Drag? No problem. All you have to do is hang out in the high schools and you will see high school boys in drag. My two daughters just finished high school and I can't tell you how many times there were boys in my bathroom getting their make-up done before school. Granted, not all of them were gay (or cognizant of being gay). This was at a charter school, but I know other kids from public school who love to dress in drag. So the shock and awe from the young adults seeing this in film may not be as great as you think. However, the difficulty is to make us(the voyeurs of your little world) want to see Ross and Orlando together. Not only want them together, but that we would feel incredibly cheated if they weren't. High school movies tend to be cheeky and shallow when it comes to love/lust, and to transcend that into an emotional investment, well that is the fulcrum that would launch this story into greatness, instead of sentimental mediocrity. Just a thought (or two).

6:10 pm  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

Really interesting thoughts, Jennifer -- and pretty cool to hear, because I do kind of want to avoid trudging through the stock repertoire of "oh noes, look what the poor gay kid has to put up with" stuff -- e.g. with Celia pretty much having intimidated most homophobes into submission, and Phoebe, the "queen bitch" character a la Heathers identifying as bi because, like, homophobia is *so* 20th century. Seems to me the time is ripe for a story that takes tolerance... not for granted per se but as enough of an assumption that it doesn't have to be the whole theme of the core story. That way, yeah, one can focus on the actual *relationship*.

The ratio of cheesy sentiment to emotional steak is of course a separate issue on top of that. But in turning the story inside-out, there's a change in the entire nature of the "role" being played by Rosalind/Ross, one that I find really interesting; there's some juicy meatiness that emerges, to my mind, in the way their courtship has a certain... polarised dynamic that I reckon a lot of gays will find pretty recognisable. And the way the story actually gets under the surface of that dynamic has, for me at least, a lot of scope.

7:15 pm  
Blogger S Johnson said...

Fascinating, and possibly both funny and touching. Turning Orlando into the love ideal is a striking reversal. Perhaps you should actually write it, though writing without a specific market is supposed to be bad.

If set in the US, schools don't have boiler rooms as such. Most utility rooms are locked and keys closely guarded for liability reasons. There's many a drunk on staff but drunk on premises is quite rare, so Mr. Jacks had better be brand new.

Staging the chase into the drama society meeting would be pretty hard to make plausible, particularly when Orlando instantly wins over the teacher. Staging a car accident with Orlando the hero would be even harder to make plausible. You get sort of a Lassie effect when the hero, who is supposed to be clueless (until the reveal at the end,) still grows a massive brain and courage and saves the day.

The scene where Orlando smarts off to the coach so superiorly that everyone is dumbfounded threatens to come across as seriously cheesy. There is an audience that loves that flavor of cheese but it is something of a generational taste.

Celia will be hard to make believable. Students mean enough to terrorize the other students aren't usually nice enough to help others, even siblings.

2:24 pm  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

No boiler rooms at all? That's definitely handy to know. I assumed it would just be dependent on the particular school, the building. Like, if the school has heating, it should have a boiler, no? I was vaguely picturing somewhere like the basement at the end of Heathers.

The important thing is he needs to be dossing on school property, and it needs to be somewhere with that basement / boiler room style vibe (it's about interstitial spaces with connotations of cold, hard functionality), where he might (at least in Hollywoodland) go undiscovered for a couple of weeks. Anyhoo, the details can be thrashed out, I reckon, in a compromise between what's required for the story and what's required for enough realism to hook the viewer emotionally.

Much of it is a matter of tone. The "dramedy" form allows for a range of implausibilities under the Ferris Bueller Comical (In)Competency Principle -- like Orlando being resourceful enough to steal keys, get copies made and return them to the caretaker before he knows they're gone. (Or, hell, something else I haven't decided on yet.) Or Celia taking the "protective sister" and "scary punk who's really a nice guy" to extremis -- c.f. the Duncan character in Some Kind of Wonderful (Elia Koteas as a scary thug who turns out to be not such a tool after all). Playing it not *quite* straight is part of the humour.

Likewise, in this kind of movie, supporting characters tend to be exaggerated for comic effect. Lesser ones like Jacks will verge on outright caricature -- c.f. the absurdly determined teacher antagonist in Ferris Bueller, or the insufferably "caring" teacher in Heathers, the one who organises the bullshit vigil and suchlike. Hence you can have Jacks as a tippler (though he's only seen squiffy once on premises and it's after hours,) who in reality would have lost his job a *long* time ago. And you can have Ms. Duke, the English/drama teacher be sufficiently OTT in her luvvy/hippyness that she takes Orlando in rather than have him expelled (though the "instant" effect is only an artifact of the summary -- there's a whole scene in that "Ms. Duke recognises.")

Anyhoo, the pastoral comedy form is kind of about walking the line between outright absurdity a la Ferris Bueller and emotional drama a la The Breakfast Club. Some Kind of Wonderful is probably a good example of where I'm imagining WtFYW falling on that spectrum.

8:57 pm  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

The BIG problem in plausibility is the car accident -- which is kind of unfortunately unavoidable, I think, unless one departs radically from the base text (which has a fricking lion attack here!) Thing is, it's not Orlando's cluelessness that's the problem, to my mind -- he doesn't have to do much other than see a burning car and know that the driver needs to be gotten out, and he's the kind of guy who'd do it without thinking -- so much as the *sheer bloody coincidence* of him being in *exactly* the right place at *exactly* the right time to save his brother. So, I may well try and find a way to wire the crash in more causally. I have some thoughts I'm playing around with.

The Orlando / Coach scene shouldn't actually be an issue. It's not that he runs verbal circles round the coach, simply that when the coach realises whose son he is (he knew Orlando's father at high school or somesuch,) he makes a disparaging comment about him being a "dead-beat" that pushes a hot-button for Orlando. Orlando goes furioso cause his old man is dead, and the coach is only put on the defensive because he kinda knows he's put his foot in it. Orlando isn't particularly articulate here. It's actually more that the coach does a stereotypically "asshole coach" thing (think the principal in Back to the Future dissing George McFly to Marty,) but is actually a more complex character than we assume. He blusters angrily at Orlando's "acting out" but he knows deep down that, well, he just insulted the boy's dead father. Really it's that that puts him on the wrong foot. (Ross, watching from the bleachers, doesn't hear what it's all about, btw, just sees Orlando mouthing off at his old man and thinks, right on!)

9:19 pm  
Blogger S Johnson said...

It's a big country. But the kinds of schools that still have boiler rooms wouldn't have drama clubs.

Dissing the coach and getting away with it might inevitably be reminiscent of teen movies. I suppose the real question is whether this is actually so bad. Disappointing all expectations for the genre? Maybe some familiar territory keeps people from feeling lost?

The tricky part for the plausibility of the chase scene wasn't, in my imagination at least, Ms Duke. It was the disappearance of the pursuers. Most schools are very much about visibility and accessibility in hallways, for traffic flow, fire safety and control of students.

(Many administrators operate on the prison model, and fear the inmates rioting when they are en masse. The prison model is also why they never talk about the inmates taking drugs or having sex. And why a trusty outranks a junion guard.)

The life saving scene might have to go. Shakespeare wasn't terribly good on plots and his could be improved. Heresy, I know, but I'm not English and don't care about the British Empire.

Now I want to reread the play! Particularly since a couple of Marlow biographies give me food for thought about the Marlow references.

And, John Hughes passed away.

2:08 pm  
Blogger S Johnson said...

All that blither and I still forgot to answer a simple question! Sorry.

It is most common for the new schools to adopt electric heating and cooling, usually with independent heat pumps for each room and separate systems for office complex, cafeteria, gym and auditorium/theater. Hot water heating might be cheaper but requires more maintenance, more erratic fuel prices, more cleaning with fuel (coal fired furnaces in particular are disapproved for this reason, even in a coal producing state.)

The older buildings that are not replaced do still have boiler rooms. But the poor areas who don't get new schools also get their budgets slashed. Such frivolities as drama, music, certain types of athletics, books go first.

2:17 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

Am I the only one who is wondering why this whole boiler room vs. hot water heating, blah fuckety, blah, is an issue. If you are thinking of schools in the big city classical sense then S Johnson may be right. However, that is a small piece of the education pie. There are all types of schools; Performing Arts schools, Technology schools, schools with various charters. Wake up to the modern world of education. The one thing all schools have in common is a lack of storage space. Shit, at one of the tech schools I volunteer at the server room "is" in the basement, and there is plenty of places a kid could "hide out." There are usually security cameras around but what most people don't realize is that nobody is monitoring them. They are there as a deterrant. Also, the unused supplies from the Art and Drama Dept, and whatnot find a sad little storage room somewhere.The only thing the school in question has to worry about is passing the fire code inspection (which is lame and rediculously easy). Sorry I degress on the above digression above but freaky tweak in me just can't let it slide. Why are there always so many detractors in the world that will give you a zillion reasons why something can't/or shouldn't be done,(just because they can't think of one), and so few that say "fuck 'em, on a long enough timeline all things are possible!

8:57 pm  
Blogger S Johnson said...

In the small, sad rural schools, all the store rooms are jam packed, with a tiny walkway down the middle. Or have been converted to classrooms. And people are getting stores out of them all the time.

Kids can hide anywhere, in plain sight (but the restrooms are very popular anyhow.) A makeshift home and bed are something else though.

While trying to imagine scenes from Mr. Duncan's movie, a boiler room didn't have "what's required for enough realism to hook the viewer emotionally." It seemed like a memory of other movies/TV instead.

The problem was worth a couple of sentences, to point out there was a problem (which incidentally I agree could be solved.) The rest was to answer a direct question, after all.

10:24 pm  
Blogger Colin Meier said...

My 2 cents (SA currency, about 0.2 UK pence) : Realism and accuracy
are often a worthwhile goal. However, Shakespeare himself didn't
concern himself too much with them when they got in his way. Nor
should writers - particularly writers of strange fiction. And I
suspect if this story is, in some way, a subversion of existing
conventions, "[memories] of other movies/TV" might be a more suitable
target, in order to make it clear exactly what is being subverted.

7:30 am  
Blogger Unknown said...

I may be pissed, three sheets to the wind(I do my best unthinking this way)but doesn't subversive by its very usage mean you have somthing to hide and be sneaky about? Perhaps you mean it as to overthrow an exisiting thought or government(you beautiful little anarchist). All forms of media are esentially ads for the sheeple (the followers of any given trend)To transcend this one attempts to give a more meat and potatoes (sustainable) view of the characters and the storyline. Poetic license is a given,BUT... the characters SHOULD be three dimensional. I don't watch the tele, however what I have seen makes a strong case for media bulemia, because I swear watching most of that dribble makes me want to vomit. I guess I was leaning more towards film, due to this knee-puk reaction, but that is just me. It would take time to develope these characters/relationships/boiler or no, closets. Definite movie. Time enough for honest disclosure and less subversion. Remember. the ones most interested in seeing a film like this don't need to be subverted, just inspired. Just a thoroughly marinated thought of mine. I apologize in advance if it sucks ass.

9:25 am  
Blogger Colin Meier said...

No ass-sucking, Jonnie (although thanks for the imagery). By
"subversion" I meant of the tropes and conventions of high school
movies, not of the beliefs, political or religious or otherwise, of
the audience.

Hal may mean something else entirely, of course, but I assumed you were picking up on my comment...

10:09 am  
Anonymous Gar Lipow said...

The boiler room is no problem. If it is a private school with mostly middle class students it could be running in an older building, running on a shoe string while still having a drama club. For a private school, "shoe string" does not equal dying.

5:00 pm  

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