derrick duan
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2020 Feb-March, Pre-production begins for my grad film.

This year I want to explore the theme of male’s mental health, and more specifically the idea and the consequences of bottling up emotions. I want to keep the story simple, universal and somewhat surreal, to utilise animation as a medium to externalise the internal feelings of the characters and possibly engage the viewers in a more visceral and bodily way. Head turns to a berry bush. Skin contact coupled with gnarly, harsh sound of rubbing sandpapers. Sound design is important. Multisensory is the goal.

I have been reading essays/books on haptic visuality, particularly works from Laura U. Marks, among others who paid specific attention to Jan Švankmajer‘s surreal films - they are literally a rabbit hole to go down into. But now I’m at a point where I have trouble retaining all the knowledge/theories I gathered from the literature, without having a proper story/visual to incorporate them into. I have been writing a lot too in my sketchbook but everything is super loose and are just random ideas that popped up in my head on my train home etc. In the second week, with all the pressure (deadline is set, 240-ish days left to make a film. also looking for a new house, and juggling work and commissions) mounting I feel like I’m compelled to sit down and have a proper look-thru over my notes (and a handful of voice recordings, whenever I felt too lazy(or high) to write) and try to write a synopsis, a treatment, and possibly the first draft of the script.

I have a couple things very clear in my head:

  1. this will be a stomo with felt puppets. I intend to make most of the props with felt too, but not sure how that applies to/contrasts the houses etc. which would probably be constructed with cardboard/metal  sheets.
  2. two characters, the main character is a kind, caring and responsible man in his 20s. Without much of his backstory worked out, he is looking for happiness and love, but has trouble opening up about his feelings which has jepodized his relationships before. He has an inherent belief that no one could help him even if he does talk about his problems/emotions, and he will give others unnecessary burdens. It didn’t help when he tried to talk to his friends they bailed on him or gave him bad impressions. He also sees how his upbringing and in general a normative masculine culture has fostered his alexithymia.
  3. the other character tries to help the man open up. (S)he understands the importance of communication and unloading, and is always there to encourage the man to express. (S)he suffers from some sort mental health issue too, and tries to help themselves by supporting the man.
  4. along the way, the man is led to confront other alexithymic men and their stories (and consequences they face), which forced him to face his own issues. The man will refused help and breaks down at the climax of the story, but is given a second chance. This time he accepts the physical intimacy and makes change.

Now I urgently need to work out the second character, and their relationship with the man. Their persistent presence in his life needs to make sense, as well as their motive to help. That been said, I don’t think there’s a need to genderify them. Secondly, I need to work out the man’s demeanours:
    • he is sad, slightly depressed, struggling to find his language of love. Unaware of the importance of expressing himself. In general still very friendly and caring.
    • BUT - how does he act? Does he put up a happy, spirited front for others and saves all the sadness for himself? Or is he just always down and depressed? Does he just straight up refuse talking about himself, or does he always subtle change the subject?
This feeds directly into the character development. V. important to sort out asap. I’m leaning towards the ‘putting up a happy mask’ because frankly that’s more likable, maybe, and it shows his care for others. Also I know exactly how it feels so I can tap into my own experience when writing.

Synopsis: A man is forced to confront his bottled-up emotions after an unexpected day trip.

*The italic plot points are the ones I’m committed to having in the story. Everything else sort of unfolded around them.

I want to open the story with both characters together and interacting. Their dynamics need to come out straight away and set up the story. Then they go on about their day together and continue to interact (more conflicts!). The script will probably be dialogue-dense, and characters urgently need their respective goals/spine, underlying desires and the philosophical conflicts.

Why they are together in the morning:
  1. MAN went on a trip to find himself/clear his head. He left his apartment to WOMAN who was close to him. Now he has returned and slept there.
  2. MAN lives next door but lost his key. He stays the night with WOMAN
  3. MAN is on a trip to the city WOMAN lives in, who is a good friend of his
  4. WOMAN and MAN are intimate/dating. After a night's out he stayed at hers.

Maybe the man gets exhausted from pretending to be happy all the time, and the woman calls him out on that. Man: ‘Can’t you see I’m fine? There is nothing wrong with me.’’ Woman: ‘

Lilly said she liked the diconnectedness from my 3-minute clips I did for Paul, how the man and the woman theraphist were in a conversation but not talking about the same thing. How it seemed like the man was avoiding the questions by talking about irrelevant stuff, or the woman wasn’t understanding what he was saying and moved on to new questions. Not sure how I can reflect those conflicts in the script but I shall try.
Also, tried to work out how to show the man ‘bottling emotions up’. Came across a my little pony trope randomly yesterday and in that episode one of the characters who used magic moved their emotions (anger I think?) into a literal glass bottle. And at some point the bottle broke and the unleashed all the ungativity. I also have been considering having the man transferring his emotions into bottles he sees lying around, and hides it under the carpet or behind the cushion. But not sure how to execute this ‘tranfer’ visually.

Interesting take via reddit:
Having a friend that you've opened up to is a little bit like having a guest into your house, right? It doesn't just make you feel vulnerable; it actually does makes you more vulnerable in a very real way. That person's within the walls now. They could steal your shit, or tell everyone your private thoughts.
Part of being a man / being an adult is developing a good level of risk tolerance. Even though having friends and guests involves some risk, it's still very worth doing. For every way in which having close relationships with friends makes you more vulnerable, it makes you less vulnerable in hundreds of other ways.
Maybe the opening of the story happens at the man’s place - he’s let the woman inside the walls, but not his head, because he is scared.

A couple things I’ve read about this morning - signs that some people aren’t happy:
  1. being a doormat - not giving a fuck about their own health, safety, wellbeing. Yet cares a lot about others, going out of their ways to help others. Trying to fix other people when they’ve given up on fixing themselves.  If you ask them what they want to do as a group, and they insist that someone else decides, whether by saying "I don't know," or "I'm good either way."
  2. disliking/dismissing compliments/gifts, yet giving them to others all the time.
  3. lashing out on dumb, trivial things, just to let off the steam without hurting people. Overreacting over the cheese in their burger, the length of greenlight, the sound of seagulls etc.  Or getting upset or unable to handle a fairly simple task, particularly if you know them and know they're not just incompetent. Big problems people keep to themselves often show in the small stuff.
  4. Superficial dialog about off-topic things. Avoiding talking about how they feel or sharing personal details of their life.
  5. Smiling when they know people can see them, but look sad when they think they are alone.