Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Charter Oak
by Peacher, John A., M.A., University of Central Oklahoma, 2019, 132; 22621340
Abstract (Summary)

In the film industry, Charter Oak is a speculative script. The purpose behind a speculative script is to convey a narrative convincing and intriguing enough for producers to invest in it, a director to envision the words, and to intrigue actor’s interest in performing the characters. Unlike shooting scripts, speculative scripts use minimal, if any, stage directions and refrain from using camera angles or editing cues. The speculative script is meant solely to tell the narrative in a screenplay form. It moves by conflict, dialogue, and the conventional Hollywood three-act structure. After a series of opening scenes, there will be an inciting incident that sets the narrative in motion. The script continues to demand the characters to overcome increasingly difficult obstacles until the final, or act three, climax is resolved. Further, there is little space for exposition in a speculative script. Exposition is threaded throughout Charter Oak by keeping the audience engaged and creating the platform for a developed reveal either at the climax or within the dénouement.

Another artist that transcends the barrier between young adult literature and film is Francis Ford Coppola. He turned S.E. Hinton’s novel The Outsiders into an intense and unforgettable film. One apparent aspect that both The Outsiders and Charter Oak hold present is the lack of parents. In S.E. Hinton’s story, the parents died in a car crash and Darry had to take control of the family. In Charter Oak, Slink mentions numerous times about the absence of his parents. Further, he walks away from his parents in the opening scene, and then walks away form then again with his friends in the following scene.

Coppola intentionally utilized the lighting in his film to reflect the emotions of the moment. The early scenes of The Outsiders are shot dark with contrasting shadows of black and white. As the film progresses, the audience is shown fluidity and harmony with natural light during the scenes at the church, the sunset scene, and the fire scene. This shift symbolizes the movement from bad to good. And that is the exact shift that happens with Charter Oak. The friends in Charter Oak are no different than the Greasers of The Outsiders. The shift that happens is at the same time physical, emotional, and psychological. The transcendence from bad to good, along with the shift, is portrayed by an immense, uncontrollable fire in both stories.

The object of this narrative is to create within the audience, or reader, a nostalgic sense of a time when they themselves thought they had all the answers. And, in the understanding that they do not, and must rely on others to help them, they realize the essence of life itself.

Throughout both my undergraduate and graduate screenwriting classes I read segments of “Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting” by Robert McKee. Although Mckee dives into three types of plots, arch-plot, anti-plot, and mini-plot, he spends most of the book describing the most commonly successful arch-plot. I used the theory and structure of the arch-plot with Charter Oak. While, at its heart, the arch-plot is a relatively simple form to understand, the technical aspect of structuring and formatting the story can be daunting. There is a specific structure for the narrative itself, but there is also a specific structure and format for every scene within the narrative. Each scene will begin with a scene heading that lets the reader know where we are and the time. This is followed by a brief description of what the characters are doing at that time. The action follows the scene heading in which the reader can visualize what the characters are actually doing at the beginning of the scene. This section of the speculative script should be no more than four lines long, so the writer must be concise and precise with his word choice to convey the right image to the reader. Lastly, the dialogue is included. The writer can utilize dialogue to set-up a future conflict, to create a present conflict, to add exposition to a previous conflict, or to simply progress the story forward. The underlying necessity of dialogue is that it is true to the character speaking it and it furthers, or adds to, either the narrative as a whole or the character.

One technical problem I faced while writing Charter Oak is “directing from the page.” This often happens when screenwriters give direction to either actors or directors as to how they want the shot to look on screen. One of the defining characteristics of a speculative script is the absolute refusal to direct from the page. The writer shows with his words an image that the director and actor can work to convey on film. In a few of my early drafts of Charter Oak , I was unconsciously directing from the page by giving my actors signals, or hints, as to how I wanted their facial expressions to be during a certain scene. I solved this problem by using strong, descriptive verbs and eliminating the majority of adverbs in the action sequences.

There are a number of aspects of Charter Oak that I pulled from my own life experiences. For example, my friends and I did see a man drive to a lake, and later in the evening, commit suicide by driving into the lake when no one was around to help him. So, with this narrative, I wanted to explore the identity of the man at the lake while also revealing Slink’s identity as young man shifting into adulthood. I conveyed this duality by having Slink’s conscious desire be to find the identity of the man in the sedan. His unconscious desire is to find out how his brother died.

Further, I set out to write the story that I want to see in a theatre. So, I knew from the outset that I wanted the climax to be a standoff between at least three characters with the majority of them dying. I also wanted an element of the mafia, or some type of organized crime, as well as a love interest for Slink. As I began to write the early drafts, I soon realized the script became confusing and overwhelming. There were too many things going on at one time. So, I stripped it down to the bare essentials, blended a few characters, and created an intense reading experience for my audience. I edited the mafia and love interest out, and I created Aunt Kaci who is both sinister and manipulative while being protective and providing of her nephew Aaron. In later drafts I also created the character of Lane Brumner, a developmentally disabled country simpleton to act as a foil for Slink. I had originally written Lane to be killed in the shootout at the climax, but upon further reading, I realized that I had created him to be a sympathetic character. In the end, I did not think the audience would want a simple, sympathetic character killed in the same vein of hardened and ruthless people, so I re-wrote the climax in a way that evil dies, the gray area of evil after avenging herself and offering words of wisdom to others, and all that were innocent gained understanding of the reality and cruelty of life.

Charter Oak stands apart because it more than a coming of age story. It is more than a buddy story. It is a heavy dive into the realities of identity, control, alcoholism, and violence. These themes play off of one another throughout the narrative with the underlying momentum being the fact that actions have consequences. Every character in Charter Oak is going through both an internal and external struggle. And, in the end, the struggles are put to rest.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Daro, James
Commitee: Stein, Wayne, Macey, David
School: University of Central Oklahoma
Department: English
School Location: United States -- Oklahoma
Source: MAI 81/6(E), Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: Creative writing
Publication Number: 22621340
ISBN: 9781392583579
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