Had my script reading of Postville on Sunday. Went a lot better than expected. The rewrite process was way tougher than I anticipated, as I agonized over how to restructure this part, and where to put this scene, and how to fit in this plot point, etcetera, etcetera.
In sending the script to my dad (who wrote the play) a couple of weeks ago, one of his comments was that in the play, Avram (the lead) and Ray (the antagonist) were both assholes, but the way I’d written the screenplay, Avram was ten times the asshole, and Ray not so much. It was a note well-taken, so I toned it down quite a bit, removing some of the more unscrupulous things Avram does and adding some bigotry to Ray. In the end, at the reading, we took a vote. About half of the people felt that Avram was unsympathetic, and they had a hard time rooting for him, and the other half thought I should leave him just the way he is (more or less), as a morally ambiguous antihero. I’m okay with that. I did get an idea for a Save the Cat moment I can add in as the second scene, which may take care of some of the “unsympathetic” votes, but even if it doesn’t I’m good with people disliking him, because he’s there to be disliked.
Also interesting was people’s attitudes toward the treatment of the different races/cultures. At one point, my actor friend who I brought in to read the part of Avram pointed out that I managed to fit every Jewish stereotype into the first 12 pages. Then, somewhere around page 65, he told me, “Oh, I was wrong, there’s another one.” But then afterward, he said he loved it, because every ethnic group has characters who fit the stereotype and characters who don’t. I’m calling attention to the stereotype by having it in there and then saying, “but see, not everyone’s like this.”
On the flip side, one person in the group pointed out to me that the Latinos are treated as a prop, rather than as characters with their own issues who actually contribute to the cultural conflict. A point well taken. It was suggested that I could combine the two waitresses, keeping only the Latina and giving her a little more screen time. I’d already thought of this, and I think I could make it work. It was also suggested that I could use a Quinceañera to demonstrate cultural conflict and/or connectivity between the Hispanics and everyone else, that I could use the younger generations in general to show rebellion against their cultural traditions and expectations.
The biggest problem is structurally, which I already knew. The false defeat happens about 5-10 pages after the halfway point of the script, and isn’t really treated as a false defeat. Then the third act is blown through incredibly quickly, with the no real attention toward resolving the “Dark Night of the Soul,” which also happens 10-20 pages too late. Which means I need to condense the heck out of what I already have, which will then accommodate the suggestions.
In the end, this reading was incredibly valuable. Most pages had several laughs (or at least chuckles), and people kept coming up to me afterward telling me how much they enjoyed it; that they were impressed by my ability to bring such humor to serious subject matter. At first I thought that it was only dad’s writing that they really liked, that that was where the most laughs came from, but looking back at my notes it was about half and half. When immigration raided the plant, there was an audible groan, “Oh, no!” People argued over whether or not I should keep the scene showing the workings of the meat packing plant, because it was so graphic and visceral, it took them a while to get back into the story; but they wondered aloud at the symbolism of it. And I’m okay with that.
So ultimately, success. Now I just have to gut the thing and rewrite it once again. *Sigh*