Sunday, April 3, 2011

Stolen Sentiments and The Power of Memory...

Thanks to Netflix streaming, I spent the weekend reminiscing with the gang at 4616 Melrose Place in their last two years. Sixty plus episodes in about seventy-two hours. It seems damn near impossible, and yet here I am, still breathing, not even really bleary-eyed. And what came out of the whole ordeal? Well, other than a Google search for photos of Rob Estes that lasted longer than it should have, the realization that every strong relationship scene I'd ever written in a script (back when I was still writing original scripts, that is) was subconsciously stolen from something I saw on television.

Usually I'd recognize it the minute I wrote it, even if as I was writing I thought I was the one coming up with the sentiments. Usually it was something from Friends, and I'd end up stripping the sitcom-y humor so that it wasn't so obvious from where my inspiration came. But today as I was deep into the seventh and final season of Melrose Place, and I came upon the scene in which Jennifer (Alyssa Milano) was talking about cooking dinner for Billy (Andrew Shue) and one of his important clients but growing increasingly agitated because she feared he would take a new job and leave her behind, I couldn't help shake that it all sounded a bit too familiar. Sure, I had seen the episode before-- once, when it originally aired over a decade ago. But that couldn't be it, could it? Did my mind really think it was important to store such a small scene deep in my memory banks after shirking all important historical dates of important elections and wars and treaty signings?

...Actually odds were pretty good it did! After all, when a song from my childhood pops up on my iTunes shuffle, I still find I can sing along word-for-word, even if it has been years since I last heard it...

No, the reason the scene seemed so familiar because I had written a version of it in a novel that I have been working on for what feels like forever. It started as a television pilot almost four years ago and then got turned into a first draft-- which I am still editing. Though I never actually have time to sit down with it and make any editorial progress. In Melrose Place, the scene was Jennifer upset about the fact that she thinks Billy is just going to go off to Rome without her; he hasn't invited her along, and she assumes that means he's done with her. She doesn't intend to confront him, but it comes bubbling out, her voice getting higher and higher with anxiety, all the while he remains cool, calm, and collected and saying the exact opposite: that he didn't ask her because he assumed it was implied she was coming with him. She isn't really listening to him-- not at first-- just yelling so she can get her feelings out, but when she finally hears him, the absurd argument turns into a seemingly even more absurd way to finally reveal how the future for their relationship. It's hard to explain; maybe you just had to be there, but you can't since YouTube didn't have the clip...

Anyway the point is, I recognized it. Not the specific scenario (no one in my novel is moving to Rome), but the way an important discussion comes about out of sheer guttural reaction, and when emotions are flying high and it seems unlikely to spit out anything but anger. Friends did this, too: Ross and Rachel's first time of saying "I love you" to each other was during an argument. It is a way for immature characters to be forced into admitting things about themselves and their feelings when they otherwise aren't ready or willing to. It's something I relate to a lot: sometimes it takes a lot of pushing to get me to say what needs to be said.

My scene was eerily similar. My characters happened to be in the kitchen during the pivotal moment, too, only it was the guy that was at the stove while the woman was pacing from refrigerator to table airing her grievances. It was supposed to be a good-bye scene, too; Jennifer wasn't going to sit around and just be a way for some guy to pass the time until something better came along. But really, she was just scared-- scared that what she felt wasn't being reciprocated, and she was looking for a fight to get out before she got in even deeper. My character, Natalie-- well, to be honest I can't quite remember what she was mad about in the scene because, like I said, it's been awhile since I've had time to look at the manuscript. But it doesn't really matter what she was mad about because it was small, insignificant, and just a way to mask the bigger issue at hand: she was looking for a fight to get out of the relationship before her true vulnerability really shone through.

But in those moments of weakness, when you're standing in a kitchen, berating the person you love, and he's just standing there, taking it, and countering with the fact that he loves you and isn't actually going anywhere-- well, you're vulnerable without even realizing it. That's kind of what I love about such scenes and probably, more than any nostalgic connection, why I gravitate towards them.

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