Friday, 27 April 2012

Final Project - Basic Story - PART 1

I am currently working on the screenplay for the film, but it is quite patchy at the moment with several random scenes that haven't been linked together yet. So I am going to write a basic synopsis of the story that is currently subject to change until the screenplay has been ironed out a bit. This film may sound long, but most of the story is told through a narration, with the key plot points being shown (not everything written will physically appear on screen.) The story is primarily set in 1920s Chicago, during the prohibition era and the rise of the bootlegger, and is framed with a 1970s setting, with the majority of the story told through flashbacks. The title of the film is 'Chicago Overcoats' which is 1920's slang for coffins, and as most of the cast end up dead, i thought this would be appropriate. Other titles i briefly considered were 'Chicago Lightning' which is 1920's slang for gunfire, (but this sounded too much like a flamboyant musical, with sparkly costumes and the like), and 'XVIII', representing the eighteenth amendment to the United States constitution, which banned alcohol in America for 13 years, (but this sounded way too pretentious, as I doubt a lot of people would get the reference.)

The story will begin with the narrator as an old man being admitted to hospital after a drunken brawl in 1976. He is moved to a bed for observation. Through a voice-over narration (implied to be his internal monologue) he will explain that he is an alcoholic waster who once had it all, got greedy and pissed it all away. He will reflect on his childhood, an unhappy one on the streets of early 1900s Chicago with a drunken, abusive Irish immigrant father and a downtrodden prostitute mother. In a drunken rage, the father kills the mother, beats the young narrator and kills himself. The child is left alone.
Back in the 'present day'(1976) the narrator will then be given the news that his X-rays have revealed multiple tumors and he will not be leaving the hospital for what little time he has left. He will cryptically reveal that he feels this is retribution for his past and then resume his internal musings and flashback to his early twenties in 1920s Chicago.
Now an adult, he is working for an Italian-American crime entrepreneur called Giovanni, who has taken him under his wing. He stares at a poster for Prohibition on an alley wall, smiling to himself. He explains that the Volstead Act has opened up limitless opportunities for the downtrodden willing to break the law. He then introduces Giovanni as his mentor and the owner of the speakeasy he is supplying with booze, along with his associates, who are then introduced in a tracking shot of the bar, sat next to each other. Paddy, an Irish immigrant, is shown drunkenly swaying, and Midnight Dave, a suave con-man, who is shown carefully examining a tommy gun. The barman, a stoical French immigrant named Henri will also be introduced, looking weary and disgruntled as he wipes down the bar.
This will be followed up with a shot of the narrator and his two friends wearing face bandanas and wielding guns as they stand over a body next to several barrels of booze. He will then explain how they don't get caught, by introducing Frank, a homeless civil war veteran who is the eyes and ears of the streets, and sells the narrator information on upcoming police raids and other bootleggers activities.
This will lead to the introduction of Agent Friel, a prohibition agent who has been tracking the gangs activities, the intro will be a short one, showing him in his office carefully observing a board of mug-shots of the various characters, some of whom have yet to be introduced. This scene is not narrated, as the narrator wouldn't have been aware of these events at this time.

Final Project - Cast List

OK, so I think i mentioned that this film was going to serve as a modelmaking portfolio, and would have a large cast, well it does. 16 characters, with 19 puppets total, some characters having more than one body and others sharing similar bodies. As of writing this, the cast list is pretty much set, with no changes planned, and all but 3 of the puppets are complete. The names are subject to change.
1) Narrator - Unnamed, he has 4 puppets, one as a child, two as an adult (one in standard scruffy 1920's clothes and one in a sharp suit) and one as an old man, dying in a hospital bed.

2) Narrator's mother - She will appear briefly at the beginning and is a prostitute.

3) Narrator's father - He will also appear briefly at the beginning and is an irish immigrant.

4) Nurse - The same puppet from the BAA sting, she will be in a few of the hospital scenes (and has new arm armatures, as the old ones were crap).

5) Doctor Rothstein - He will also appear in the hospital scenes, and is the one who informs the Narrator of his ill-health.

6) A dog.

7) Sal - A gangster whose appearance resembles Al Capone's, he will lend the Narrator money at some point. He is very untrustworthy.

8) Paddy - An Irish immigrant and bootlegger, befriends the Narrator.

9) Giovanni - An Italian-American criminal entrepreneur, speakeasy owner and mentor and employer to the Narrator (he has two puppet bodies, one normal and one in a straight jacket as he is institutionalized at some point.)

10) Frank - An eccentric, elderly, homeless civil war veteran, he serves as an informant to the Narrator.

11) Midnight Dave - Another bootlegger and friend of the Narrator.

12) Henri - A French immigrant and bartender at the speakeasy.

13) Vincenzo - A Sicilian immigrant, associate of Sal and frequent patron at the speakeasy. He introduces the Narrator to Sal

14) Mae, a frequent patron at the speakeasy, and the subject of the Narrator's affections.

15) Agent Friel - A prohibition enforcer who ruthlessly pursues the Narrator and his associates. He is the primary antagonist.

16) Policeman - basically just a random policeman who will be used to give context in certain scenes.

I know I haven't gone into any explicit detail on the individual characters, but that's on the way.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Final Project - Even more Research

A particular 1920s 'gangster' I have researched is Johnny Torrio and his 'mentor' relationship with Al Capone. Torrio was the man responsible for Capone's move from Brooklyn to Chicago, as Capone needed to dodge a murder investigation, and was also the man who hired Capone to a bar in Coney island that was owned by a renowned mobster.
Once in Chicago, Torrio put Capone to work as a bouncer at one of his brothels, and a year later when prohibition was implemented, he had his associate Giacomo 'Big Jim' Colosimo (who was against venturing into bootlegging and perfectly happy being a plain old pimp) killed (possibly by Capone, or some bloke called Frankie Yale, who was Capone's original boss in New York, and is the renowned mobster mentioned earlier), took over his criminal empire and began bootlegging himself, with Capone's help. Colosimo was, at one point, married to Torrio's Aunt, and was being blackmailed by a gang calling themselves 'The Black Hand', so at his Aunt's request, Torrio arranged to pay off the blackmailers, then murdered them all when they showed up to collect. Wonderful. However, shortly before his assassination, Colosimo unceremoniously dumped Torrio's Aunt in favor of a young actress, so Torrio probably had no real qualms with having the horny tubster whacked. There's a lot more, but it's relatively inconsequential and I'm not trying to write a Wikipedia article here.

I plan to use this relationship as inspiration for my protagonist's descent into crime.
I will start with my protagonist working a legitimate job for a certain 'Torrio-esq' individual at the start of the prohibition, who will be an entrepreneurial mobster and owner of a speakeasy, then the protagonist will be offered the chance to bootleg, which he accepts. I will not be basing my protagonist too much on Al Capone, definitely not in looks, as Capone was a fat ugly bastard, and i plan to make my character a lot less of a raging psychopath than Capone was, mostly because there wouldn't be enough people in the cast for him to kill, plus I intend for him to survive the events, as he is the narrator, and that would be very unlikely if he was a trigger happy nutter who shoots everyone in the face.
This relationship is also partly inspired by two characters from 'Boardwalk Empire' - Nucky Thompson and Jimmy Darmody, with a few differences, as in the show Nucky wants Jimmy to avoid a life of crime, whereas my protagonist will be encouraged to indulge himself in heinously illegal activities at others expense.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Final Project - More Research

One source I have been using for aesthetic research is the HBO series 'Boardwalk Empire', the show is set in 1920, centers around the prohibition, and the attempts made to capitalize on it. The first episode of the show is perhaps the most interesting, it begins on the night of prohibition being enforced, and tells a story of corrupt politicians and up and coming gangsters. It follows historical accuracy to a certain point, but obviously is a bit liberal with it in a lot of places as it is an American TV show.
In terms of aesthetic appeal, the show is a good way to see what sort of clothes were worn back then, my own research has already given me more or less what i need, but 'Boardwalk Empires' pilot episode was directed by Martin Scorsese and supposedly cost $18 million to make, so it couldn't hurt to take note.

One thing the series unfortunately lacks are speakeasies, as the scenes set in Chicago take place in a Bordello, and Atlantic City, where the show is primarily set, was infamously popular for largely ignoring  prohibition and getting everyone pissed out of their faces, (albeit expensively) earning it the nickname 'The World's Playground', which is lovely and all, but it doesn't really help me, as I plan to have a speakeasy as my primary set. I've found several (grainy) images of speakeasies from 1920, but i was hoping that this series would feature them extensively. Oh well, back to the research...
 Hang on, the DVD extras have a speakeasy tour on them. Cool.
And it's on Youtube. Awesome.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Final Project-Revised story, and more research

After researching the living crap out of 1920's America, and the effect the prohibition had on the development of organized crime, i have decided to set my film in Chicago, although I probably won't make any direct reference to this, just imply it. The main character of the film will begin as an old man, dying in a hospital bed (the same bed from the BAA film, just altered slightly to keep it fresh,) and the whole story will be told through flashbacks, that will be narrated by this old guy as he reflects upon his own past, eventually culminating in him dying in his sleep. The hospital scenes will basically be a framing device for the whole story, and the narration will allow me to avoid lip synching, as that would triple the production time and drive me insane.

The general way the story will be told is inspired by Adam Elliot's 2003 Oscar winning stop motion film Harvie Krumpet, which is narrated all the way through, with none of the characters actually saying anything (although they do make noises, usually just incoherent gibbering) . The amazing thing about this film is that the animation is relatively simplistic, the characters don't really move all that much, they spend most of the time fixed on one spot, and their actions are quirky and twitchy, which is very effective and gives the film a unique, almost childlike charm. I plan to use a similar method, but instead the characters movement will be more subtle and less cartoony. I also quite like the idea of following an individual through the course of his life, from beginning to end.
If you have the time you should watch Harvie Krumpet, it is 22 minutes long, but it's proper good like.

Final Project-Story Ideas and initial research

As I'm writing this, I have already decided exactly what my story is, so I'm going to have to start from the beginning with how i got to this point, and how my original idea was a big cliched bag of arse. (my current story is still a little cliched, but i don't think it's nearly as bad as it was) In the original story, my main character and plot focus was going to be the boss of a mafia that operated during the prohibition era, basically trying to take over as the 'kingpin' of organized crime through a series of delightful murder based japes.
But after a lot of research on the subject of prohibition, i realized that organized crime wasn't really all that organized back in 1920, as the Cosa Nostra (Sicilian Mafia) had only been active in the United States since the late 19th Century, was made out of poor Italian immigrants running away from Mussolini and made relatively little profit from protection rackets and robberies, it was the huge profit made from bootlegging that propelled many small time thuggish criminals into something resembling the modern day 'mafia' archetype. The closest thing to a Godfather style 'Don' would probably be Arnold Rothstein, who was basically the Steve Jobs of organized crime, and was supposedly the first of many individuals to look at prohibition as a business opportunity.

After all this research, i decided to shift focus to a younger character who begins with nothing, as many did in 1920, gain his riches through bootlegging and a light sprinkling of murder, only to lose it all through a combination of too much bravado and basically being a dick to those closest to him. He would then grow old filled with regret at how he destroyed his life, and die feeling bitter about his life choices.
I have kept that basic plot line, but it has been altered many, many times, with characters being invented, designed, scrapped and replaced several times a week. For SEVEN MONTHS...

Final Project

Right then, it's about time I started writing on this thing again, I have a lot of posts to do, (so this is all going to be in past tense for a while) as i have been working on this project for around 7 months now, and pretty much all of my notes, research, designs ect. are written on paper in mad chicken scratch writing that no-one but me can read, so I am finally copying it all up onto this blog before i lose it, or mistake it for rubbish and throw it away.
When thinking up ideas for what the film will be about, my first thought were the aesthetic considerations, I basically wanted to make a film with characters that i would enjoy making, and develop the rest around that, the films primary goal is to serve as a modelmaking portfolio, so it will have quite a large cast. So i came up with four different types of character genres I fancied having a go at making, they were Cowboys, Pirates, Victorians and Gangsters. I've already done Cowboys before, so that one was out, and Aardman seemed to have Pirates pretty much covered. So I had to choose between Victorians and Gangsters, initially i went with Victorians, and came up with a plot involving a sort of spoof Jack the Ripper and the policeman hunting him, but the more i thought about this idea, the less i actually wanted to do it, so... Gangsters.
Well bootleggers actually, i diverted my original concept of a mafia-esq group of characters to a 1920s setting, using the American prohibition as my initial starting point.