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X-Men: The Unexpected Virtue of Influence

January 19, 2016

Jules Greene ’19

For my first Winter Term project, I have been writing a feature-length screenplay, which is something I've never actually done before. I've only attempted this daring stunt once before, and that quickly faded into obscurity. Before I started working on this story, the longest piece I had ever written for the screen was a teleplay of 40 pages or so. In comparison, feature-lengths are at least 90 pages give or take, so I knew this project would keep me busy during my birthday month. Since screenplays I've written in the past have averaged around 15 pages or so, I had developed my screenwriting skills around parameters that forced me to get the story across fairly briefly. But with a story that I needed to tell across an expanse six times the length of what I was used to, I've discovered a few things that have made me inclined to write primarily features from now on.

First of all, I haven't had to compress my dialogue to shorter pieces that run a couple pages at most. For me that's felt incredibly freeing and surprisingly natural, as if that's how it was meant to be normally but I had always avoided it. In fact, perhaps maybe in pursuit of the feeling of freedom, I've thrown out several rules that I used to strictly impose on my writing since I've been working on this script. I had learned these "rules" a few years ago when I was just learning how to write screenplays, and I stuck to them because that's all I really knew at the time. Maybe I took them a bit too seriously, because as I've been reading through the screenplays of films such as While We're Young (Noah Baumbach), Son of Saul (László Nemes), Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., and Armando Bo), and the upcoming Macbeth adaptation (which, in my sensitive opinion, was skillfully done by Todd Louiso, Jacob Koskoff, and Michael Lesslie), my head nearly exploded as I noticed how none of these completely extraneous "rules" I had boxed myself in with were actually present in those screenplays. And thank goodness for that, because these rules had been bothering me since I felt like I was micromanaging every movement of every actor all the time which, as a person also of that craft, I would hate to see in a script someone had handed me. And in general, I was producing pieces of work whose words tasted like a (clean) sock or an obscure cracker that had expired several years ago in my mouth. It made me long to write some creative nonfiction or another genre and/or form where I felt like I was allowed to arrange words to describe feelings and phenomena in not such a robotic way. Luckily, because of the aforementioned screenplays I had access to copies of, I have been able to go back to actually identifying with the -writer part in screenwriter with this script.

I think I should address what my screenplay is about now. Initially, I had decided to go with staying hyper-real since I was partially dealing with events from my life, but that didn't last long. Earlier this month, I rabidly re-watched all of the X-Men movies several times, and I couldn't really get over how much I connect with the powers of a lot of the mutants. For instance, when I'm holding onto a pole while riding the subway and someone decides to brace their weight against my knuckles because they don't want to hold onto it, I think about how lucky they are that I'm not Wolverine and I can't unsheathe metal claws from my knuckles (even if I was Wolverine, though, I probably still wouldn't do that). This X-Men revisitation turned me to the idea of inserting elements of magical realism into my story. Now, X-Men isn't what you'd think of as magical realism, but certain elements of it have been a source of inspiration for me.

I love magical realism in any sort of setting, but I've been most enchanted by it on the screen in films such as Birdman (surprise, Iñárritu is one of my favorite filmmakers), Pan's Labyrinth, and Beasts of the Southern Wild. I've really enjoyed writing a magic realism story because it's way more fun than anything based on life that I've worked on before. I mean, it's felt like a relatable X-Men to me, but without the whole mutant-human and/or Professor X-Magneto dichotomy and the tight suits. Without divulging too many specifics, the protagonist is occasionally telepathic and telekinetic in an otherwise "normal" environment. As I'm sure you've noticed, I love the X-Men movies quite a bit, so it has felt satisfying to express the influence it has had on me over the years with this script.

I've reflected on the unexpected impact that X-Men has had on this screenplay, and I've reached a couple conclusions. The story and world of X-Men has been in my consciousness for a very long time, longer than even Star Wars, the movies that made me want to make movies in the first place. Therefore, it has some kind of deep-seated connection to me because it first captivated me around the time of my earliest memories, as the first movie came out when I was three years old. As a result, the images of Wolverine's claws, Professor X's bald head and wheelchair, and Storm's hair and eyes (those were the things I was first drawn to) have occupied a central locale in my cinematic memory for quite a while now. The only other character that rivals X-Men's impact on me would be Batman. However, Batman has no superpowers other than wealth, complex emotional states, and a gruff voice, and furthermore, my Batman love largely stemmed from the animated TV shows and movies I watched. As a result, X-Men was different for me. Instead of being animated cartoons, the characters came off to my young self as being real, tangible people with extraordinary abilities, albeit with the help of CGI. And thus what I've realized is that there isn't anything that surprising about X-Men's influence on my Winter Term project. In creating an otherwise mundane and familiar world with one extraordinary element, it figures that I am going to draw inspiration from the place where I discovered that first.

Currently, I'm at 80 pages with my screenplay. I am looking forward to seeing how the rest of this unfolds.

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