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Wish I'd forwarded my script to Shyamalan!

Suparn Verma

Struggler. A neat word that the film industry has coined for wannabes.

Every wannabe actor, singer, director or writer is called a struggler. And remains one till his/her project mints money at the BO.

But it is a struggle, alright. First you struggling for a break. Then you struggle with the process of creation. Then you struggle at the BO. And if you if you fail, you recycle that struggle into a repeat spin cycle.

Just a few days ago, I conducted a chat with M Night Shyamalan (writer and director of Sixth Sense and Unbreakable).

I had been alloted 20 minutes with him by his resourceful manager Jose, although the chat extended to 31 minutes.

Before the chat even began, the room was filled with queries by wannabes or strugglers wanting to pitch their scripts to him or to meet him and to have him help them enter Hollywood.

It was funny. No. Let me say that properly: It was outrageously funny.

Would you like to hazard a guess? No?

Well, then. I'm a struggler too. Just like all those other strugglers who wanted to solicit their ideas to him or stumble upon the big secret of how to break it in.

Besides the whole exercise of writing this piece was just so I can reaffirm a few things to myself and let you in on some things I know.

Let us build a few blocks of the story bottom up.

Scene 1

A 10-year-old schoolboy looks at the mirror and discards his notion of wanting to be the next Tom Cruise when the mirror cracks while he is still styling his hair.

Scene 2

Young boy is writing and directing amateur stuff in school and his locality and managing to get laughs at all the concerned places and at some unwanted places, too.

Let us skip a couple of scenes and flash forward to...

Scene 15

Boy now in his twenties. In the final year of college.

Young+ambitious+a dreamer= Go-getter.

He befriends a like-minded soul and they lock themselves up for a fortnight in a room soon after the final exams.

Scene 16

Two young men, armed with some great ideas and scripts, decide at age 20, that they will make their mark on television and then head to the big screen, sans any influence.

Now that you are with the two men, we start the drama.

The two land up at the newly launched ABCL (Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Ltd).

To them, ABCL is a sign from the gods. The man they hero worshipped all their lives long seems to have opened his shop just for them. The duo gives all their ideas to an excited programme manager.

A few days later, they land at the office again to pour out some more ideas.

Eight months later, they get pretty restless. Since they haven't taken up any jobs, they are 21, they are churning out more ideas everyday, they take turns when leaving the house, lest the phone may ring at any point of time.

10 months later, they give up.

Now, they decide that in the era of television boom, with MTV and Channel [V] being the two places where all creative freaks have assembled, they might as well join the queue.

They fit the bill anyway. One of them sports a ponytail; the other looks like Gregory Peck with a great voice. The channels are up to their ears with freaks spilling out of every corridor.

So Ponytail loses the tail and joins an an Internet start-up and Peck goes back to do his MA.

Rechristened No Mo Ponytail is now chasing actors/directors and other film personalities for interviews and chats. Gregory Peck decides to study for civil service examinations.

No Mo Ponytail is doing pretty well in his job. Peck gives the thumbs down to civil services despite getting Arms and Ammunitions. Fact is he was bright enough to be in the IFS but sitting on a pile of nukes and passing tenders and getting cuts wasn't his scene.

Now here's the twist in the tale.

Out of nowehere, No Mo Ponytail is asked to write for a film. Within a year-and-a-half, he has landed four projects.

Peck meets a beautiful Norwegian girl, the twain meet and within six months, they are married. Peck is now a bonafide Norwegian.

No Mo Ponytail has a girlfriend, too.

All's well that ends well with six songs put in?

No, this is just 40 scenes of a movie that is still being written. ("Gimme 120 great scenes and I will give you a great movie" booms the voice of a cigar smoking producer)

I started to write this to share with you my story.

But let me share some things with my fellow wannabes who keep yelling out for answers during chats.

We begin struggling the day we realise that we want to tell stories on celluloid.

This is unlike poetry, painting, singing or playing an instrument, even writing a book -- all of which can be done alone with basic financial help.

Filmmaking is the only art form which makes a business of art.

A screenplay is nothing on its own, with no literary value accept for students of cinema.

It needs to be portrayed on screen with a camera, with actors and props. The story needs to be cut in order to be legible, to have sound added to it to bring the magic alive. And finally, to recoup its investment so that another dream can be translated on the big screen.

I am like all the practical hopefuls in this world trying to hedge my bets and play it safe.

But I have been lucky. Someone opened a crack into this watertight industry where people scream for talent, yet are scared of it.

For this is a paranoid industry.

So paranoid that every Bollywood composer shouted from rooftops that A R Rahman is a one-film wonder. Then they screamed he is a technician. Then they screamed he is repititive.

Today, he sits in London taking on Broadway with Andrew Lloyd Webber and signing on Hollywood films, while these composers quieten their flames of jealousy.

The day screenwriting legends Salim-Javed broke up, fellow screenwriters sighed in relief.

Manoj Night Shyamalan struggled to break in the industry for years before he made Sixth Sense.

His Wide Awake was one of the lowest grossers the year it was released. He ghostwrote for films to be in the industry and make contacts, he rewrote She's All That, a college film for Miramax, so he could be allowed to make Sixth Sense.

"I did this uncredited rewrite because I had to, not because I chose to, on a film called She's All That. I haven't seen the film, by the way. It was an obligation to Miramax. They wouldn't let me direct Sixth Sense unless I did something for them. So I did this rewrite for them."

In six months, he created ten drafts of the screenplay of Sixth Sense. Once the project got the green light, he spent two months making storyboards with Brick Mason of each and every scene.

Stanley Kubrick may have made only a handful of masterpieces.

But all those years when he wasn't actually shooting a film, he was actually creating them in his head.

He would think of an idea, call his collaborators and start working on ideas, researching them till he was an expert on them. For a man who handled every technical aspect in his early films, Kubrick's only audience was himself.

A few things you should remember: If you see any crack that will get you inside, don't put an exploratory finger but put your leg in.

Remember the wise words penned by writer, director David Mamet and uttered by Sean Connery to Kevin Costner in The Untouchables in the church scene, "You wanna get Capone? You really wanna get Capone? He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends your men to the hospital, you send one of his men to the morgue. This is how you get Capone."

Have a sense of humour about it, though. Too desperate? They'll squeeze you and leave you to dry.

Breezy? They will think you are not interested.

Coming back to add a few more elements of our 40 scene story.

At the end of the year 2000, a bankrupt ABCL was rechristened AB Corp and was resurrected by the mega success of its owner Amitabh Bachchan as the host of the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionare?

He renewed his contract for Rs 110 crores, and got another Rs 10 crores from ICICI Bank to endorse their services among others.

At the end of the year 2000, Peck held his beloved as they sat together near a lake under the famous Norwegian skies, reading out his poems.

At the end of the year 2000, No Mo Ponytail looked up at the sky and wondered if he should have forwarded his script to Shyamalan, while he continued to laugh along with his friends as they joked about his past.

And for you, dear readers it's time for a popcorn break. We shall come back to the next 40 scenes a couple of years later.

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