Friday, January 23, 2015

SIPHON: A Retrospect- Part 2 (Original Story VS What Made it To Film) or (Big Ideas vs The Reality of a $0.00 dollars budget)

Often times with most independent films you start off with an idea.  An idea in which grows and develops layers and substance, eventually gaining a life of it's own.  This idea/story is then transferred to a script format.  The script is designed to streamline the material for eventual translation to the big screen.  Some material is lost during this process as a script doesn't explain the thoughts and feelings of the characters in intimate detail.  As a friend once told me after viewing my first draft of the script for SIPHON; "Show through the actions, don't bog down the script with prose.  It's just directions, not a novel".  A difficult task considering that I'm a storyteller at heart, but after a few weeks and several working drafts later, the script for SIPHON was finished...for the most part.  The interesting aspect about a script is that it remains an ever evolving piece, especially when certain sections of the script end up not translating well to film.  This can be simply because of the writing itself, the available locations and actors, or usually in my case a lack of time and budget.  The biggest issue with my production was time.  Whether it was the time frame imposed by the Halloween date from the time we started (basically 2 months from late August to Mid October for pre-production, filming, and post-production) to the time restrictions of actors, locations, and crew availability, time more than anything else was my biggest hurdle on set.  Of course, when you're on a shoe-string budget, everything cost wise is covered out of pocket or given by the grace of kind folk lending their time and expertise to you in exchange for cheap pizza and beer.  Still though, when you don't have a studio behind you, you tend to have to sacrifice more of the story for a leaner product.  It's a tricky balance when attempting to translate story to film.  Below, I'll go through what the original story to SIPHON was going to be and what eventually happened to those pieces during the translation from paper to film.

Teaser Poster for "SIPHON" before a spelling was finalized.

Beginning Prologue:  When I originally began outlining the story arc for SIPHON, I wanted to start with the Graham family in the living room of their mill village home watching the news.  Lauren would make her brief introduction as she ducks out the house to take off with some friends.  Roger, whom is still in his work uniform from a local steel mill, absently watches a news story about a rash of bizarre murders in which people have been found in bed completely drained of their blood without any signs of struggle. His wife Claire would speak to him about the events of the day, even mentioning the news story before hinting for them to head to bed.  The story would jump forward to a few hours to the bedroom in which Roger and Claire would be asleep.  The killer would be seen silhouetted by moonlight in a veiled window of the bedroom before sliding the window open and unleashing the paralytic in the air. The rest of the scene would play out much like what we see in the film version with the exception that I wanted Lauren to return home the next morning while a barely recovered Roger crawls out of the bedroom, mumbling for her to call the police.  We would see Lauren standing there in disbelief as she calls out for her mother.  With the screen slowly turning black, we would hear Lauren scream, undoubtedly discovering her dead mother in the bedroom.  Unfortunately due to time constraints, only the bedroom scene with the killer attacking the paralyzed Roger and Claire made it on screen.  With the increased pressure of scheduling and limited access I had with my main actors due to their jobs, personal lives, ect, this original prologue was shortened significantly.  I felt the additional narrative would have help to explain a big of what was going on, including that the killer had been active before the attack on Roger and Claire.  Though, I attempted to fill that in during the main story of the film through radio bits.

 Main Story:   A great amount of additional material would have appeared during the beginning section of the main story.  It was my original intent to show the living conditions for both Roger and Lauren two years after the death of Claire.   I wanted to show them living in a small apartment space partially paid for by Roger working for the apartment complex as a handy man.  The rest of his rent and bills come from odd jobs around town.  Due to his tragic backstory with the death of his wife, I had a character by the name of Mrs. Abbot, the Apartment complex manager that was to take pity on Roger and Lauren by allowing them to stay at the Apartment complex for a discounted rate.  The story originally explained how Roger lost his home; with the death of his wife whom was working full time as a nurse, half of the household income would have dried up, leaving Roger to fall further and further behind with the mortgage and bills.  Since Lauren was only 16 at the time, she was unable to help supplement the household income.  Roger was to have been an alcoholic during the years between his wife's death and the main story, with him losing his job at a local steel mill.  While he is somewhat recovered by the beginning of the main story, his trades in an addiction to alcohol to an obsession with finding and killing the thing that took away his wife.  His own bedroom would contain newspaper clipping concerning the killer, a map of the killer's trail up and down the south eastern United States, a police scanner, and crumbled cigarette packs spread across his desk and floor.  The apartment would very much reflect a delicate balance between Roger's unkempt and disheveled personality and the counterculture personality of his  daughter Lauren, whom within two years has grown up to be a very intelligent but brooding teenager wise beyond her years.  She has almost assumed the role of the parent in this relationship, often taking on the responsibilities of cooking dinner for her and her father along with taking care of the apartment, making sure bills are paid, all the while maintaining her education.  I wanted to show the effects that the killer's actions have caused this family.  I was working towards even having Lauren in the beginning of the film going and picking up her father from jail for police chasing.  A detective and young cop would have been introduced during this scene, both whom would have been involved in tracking down the Vampire of Roanoke (one of the monickers the news media would have given the killer).  Having been deeply obsessed with tracking down the killer, Roger has become a nuisance to the detective and local law enforcement.  Though the detective is sympathetic to Roger and Lauren, often times only arresting Roger and keeping him in jail until the local crime scene is cleaned up or Lauren can come to pick him up to watch him.  Roger's brother would have been introduced in a phone conversation when Roger potentially believes after the latest murder to have pinpointed the Stalker's base of operation.  Roger's brother having previously allowed Roger to keep supplies and guns in a barn on some property he own, acts as a warning to Roger to let the police handle the situation.  Roger is not deterred.  Having linked several stories concerning stolen medical equipment to murders being committed within the relatively same timeframe, Roger believes that the killer is using the blood for some nefarious medical reason.  Roger's actions have heavily affected the relationship between himself and his daughter Lauren to the point that, much like Roger, Lauren has no friends grounding, only a few acquaintances.   Roger is able to convince Lauren to help him on this crusade with the promise of everything returning to normal after the killer has been dealt with.  Turning a blind eye to the truth, Lauren would choose to support her father, knowing that even if they captured the killer that the damage left behind would be too severe for her and her father to have a normal life.

All of the material above was cut or couldn't be filmed.  Instead the film's main story starts with Roger and Lauren driving to pick up supplies, with a few news and story bits coming through the radio in order to fill in the gaps of information concerning the killer and how prolific this killing spree has become.  Much of the script and film from this point on remains the same, with the exception of two missing scenes that never made it on screen. The first scene would involve us watching Stalker pushing a stretcher down an abandoned corridor with an unconscious man strapped down to it.  Various tubes and medical devices would be attached to both the man and the stretcher, showing that Stalker has begun to kidnap live people to serve as replenishable "Blood Factories".  He would be shown carting this man over to a row of about 4-5 other people.  The person at the end would be a dry husk of a body.  Out of the 5 people, one person would be jerking about in a vain attempt to escape.  He/she would look over to the other bodies and finally see the husk of a person before the scream.  Stalker would then proceed to spray them with the paralytic agent before reattaching a feeding line to the person.  Stalker would then hover over the body before screaming in agony.   The second scene would be in the hideout again in which we see Stalker hovering over military documents, pouring over piles of information and marking names off a list.  The documents would have hinted towards an experiment called Project: Dry Rot.  We would see the siphoning glove and system laying upon a table, showing the container and suctioning device Stalker has rigged up for his nightly home invasions.  This would have also given us the first glance of how decayed the Stalker's body has become.  His hair would be all gone, as well as the skin around his lips and  partially around his eyes.  His nose and ears would be withered stubs.  Without eyelids, Stalker is forced to wear modified welder's glasses to protect his eyes.  Various semi-healed tears would be seen across all exposed skin.
Concept Art of Stalker: Unmasked by Mitch Rogers

These scenes were meant to show and explain the motivation behind Stalker's reasons for siphoning people's blood as well as his military background.  The only hints of these we get are the "dialysis" scene in the abandoned factory with Stalker before the arrival of Roger and Lauren.  

The rest of the film moves forward similarly to my original story, with the exception of having the Stalker being a bit more physical with Roger.  I wanted a scene of Stalker using the siphoning glove on Roger, either with him stabbing Roger multiple times in the back with the needles or possibly trying to siphon out his blood during the hallucination scenes.  I wanted to also add some additional radio dialogue at the end in the truck that Stalker has stolen explaining that the police have brought Roger into custody for the killings.  It would have added to the already dismal ending.  For better or worse, several bits of the material here never made it to film, but ultimately a leaner and still effective horror short was produced.  

Look out for Part 3 in which will focus on the music direction/score of the film as well as my plans for the film. Thanks for reading!

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