Dr. Parker’s Original Screenplay Reading: Forgiveness
The story of two brothers who were made real by a lie.
Dr. Blanford Parker is a man of many hats. He is known around campus not just as Professor of Literature, but also as an impressive film buff, encyclopedia of classic rock, captivating storyteller, poet, and—most recently—screenplay writer. Over the weekend, Parker led a table reading of his original screenplay, Forgiveness. He provided commentary, indicated the directorial notes, and read the part of the protagonist, Kevin, while a group of eight student and alumni actors read the other parts.
How did Dr. Parker set out to write Forgiveness when he had never written a screenplay before? He knew, he said, that he wanted to write a script in imitation of the great talking comedies of the 1940s (such as His Girl Friday). So, he began by picking out some films he thought were successfully funny—one was Arthur(1981), another was Hail the Conquering Hero (1944). He timed each of these films to get a sense of the tempo, putting together a template of the length of each cut, sequence of dialogue, speeches by main characters, etc. He superimposed this template onto the first twenty or so pages of his own script, finding that it was a “useful start” to the screenplay-writing process.
Forgiveness, Parker said by way of introduction to the reading, is neither a romantic nor a physical comedy but an “idea comedy.” It’s the kind of comedy, he continued, that has a “thematic motivator” and is “associated with films like Dr. Strangelove.” Breaking the cardinal rule of the artist—never to explain one’s work—Parker told the students gathered in the Demetree Auditorium on Saturday night that the thematic motivator of his script is the idea that “our lives are mediated because we watch television and movies.” The main comic figure of the script, Leo, is someone whose entire adult life is spent watching three particular films; these three films form Leo’s entire world. In the final scene of the script, the psychiatrist character summarizes the comedy’s driving theme thus: “Television is the only way we connect to our inner selves in the ’90s.”
Kevin, the protagonist, is an “absorptive” character, Parker continued. “He absorbs problems and stands back.” The plot of the screenplay follows the pattern of three acts. In Act I, the two main characters, Kevin and Leo, are introduced. In Act II, the goal is to bring the two together such that the “bland and flat person [Kevin] is enhanced by the lunacy of the other [Leo].” The challenge of Act III, Parker explained, is in making it all “real”—bringing everything together in a believable, humorous, and acceptable way. He left it to the eagerly awaiting audience to judge whether or not he was successful.
Based on the sustained laughter throughout the reading and the enthusiastic applause at the conclusion, the overall consensus was that of success on Parker’s part.
Since completing Forgiveness in 1996, Parker has written two more feature-length scripts—a murder, and a historical piece on Socrates. Forgiveness was sold to a small production company this past summer. Parker hopes to see the script come to the big screen within his lifetime.