Tuesday, March 2, 2010

DULL HOBO ~ Screenplay by Anthony Venutolo of Harbinger*33 and Edoardo Mungiello

One night around two years ago, my buddy Edoardo Mungiello and I were sitting in my man cave pondering our creative lives. At the time, I’d say that both of us were pretty creatively unfulfilled and extremely disenchanted with what we were seeing on movie and TV screens. What’s more, we were both about to enter the world of fatherhood so our creative juices were flowing with a bunch of unbridled, kinetic energy.

We had always talked about writing a script. It’s what people say… “Hey, we should write something…” Yeah. Right. Easier said than done. It’s hard writing something by yourself, much less another moody scribe.

Not only does a writing team need similar sensibilities, but they have to be willing to bend with one another. There’s a huge give and take at hand when it comes to what you both like. And then there’s the frame of reference… Highly important. Eddie and I were a pretty good team because we brought different things to the table. Ed is a true scholar who roamed the halls of Oxford. He’s something straight out of medieval times. As an art historian (and painter), he knows true human nature and how it’s been recorded through the ages. And with that comes the basic and fundamental tools that any writer needs. Call them the building blocks of conflict or the essentials of artistic identity -- this is what Ed offers a project.

As for me? I’m not as complex. I’ll watch (almost) anything and up until this point, pretty much have. As an only-child growing up in the city (at the dawn of cable no less), there wasn’t much for me to do BUT watch TV. Up until this day, I love and have studied 20th century pop culture. Old cartoons. Comic books. Crappy movies. Great movies. TV movies and stupid sitcoms – they’re all in my attic. That’s what I brought to our creative table.  

More than a couple gin martinis (Ed) and beers (myself) later, we had the basic framework for a project that we wanted to set in the world of the blues. Why the blues? Well, for starters, no other American art form has had such innate power in the form of its historical conflicts.

I put on an old blues tune. Scratchy and powerful, the haunting moans of the deep south came alive. And it was creepy. 

Eddie asked the question: What if a modern town, buried within the Deep South, was still segregated? I nodded. Pretty interesting… He went on. But what if the ones who segregated themselves willingly were white?  I asked what he meant. We were vibing the idea back and forth. He said: What if the white side of town was AFRAID of the black side? A juxtaposition of history so to speak. 

We wanted to construct something that felt like a Rod Serling “Twilight Zone.” We were on the right track. I knew that we needed a supernatural element (to keep this puppy commercial after all) and we had toyed around with the idea of supernatural creatures of some sort or even vampires (Note: This was before “True Blood.”  The very feel and tone of that show was what I was shooting for with our project.)

The more I researched old blues music, I found that there were many blind singers and all of them great. I wanted to add that element to our story. Weave them together. I wanted them to be blind for a reason. Something… We also needed a hero ala Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon. Someone who knew blues. A blues geek.

I stumbled upon the work of the amazing song hunter Alan Lomax. At the dawn of the blues, he devoted his life to recording the world's folk tunes before they would permanently disappear with the rise of the modern music industry. His book “The Land Where Blues” is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Bar none. A great American tome. Kirkus Reviews called it, "A stingingly well-written cornbread-and-moonshine odyssey...”

In any case, Ed and I decided that STAX HENDERSON would be our guy. Half blues geek, half beatnik, he’d be the dude who would voice our tale. It would have been easy to make him ... “cool.” In fact, our early drafts of Stax being the cigarette smoking, sunglasses-wearing hero seemed forced and quite dull. We needed to make him… a hermit. Odd. Sickly even. If this were going to be a vampire tale or a hybrid of one, then why not give Stax some sort of blood ailment that either makes him impervious to them or highly susceptible. Either way, it would be a factor.

We started writing scenes. We’d map out a loose plot. I’d write a scene. Ed would write one and then we would exchange them. This is where you must possess thick skin as a writer. This is where the trading begins. My line for your line. It could be rough stuff but Ed and I worked through it fine.

Did we finish it? No. We easily could have and still may. He was a young dad and I was about to become one and we had to adjust priorities. Halfway through, though, I have to say, this one was good. I usually hate my scripts (I’ve written more than a few and got an offer on one) but I didn’t hate this one.

So that said, please enjoy the first eight or so pages of DULL HOBO and note that the proper screenplay format has been altered for easier blog reading.


DULL HOBO LOGLINE:  
A music geek travels deep into the old south when a musician long thought dead turns up in a sleepy Delta town. He finds much more than he expected.

******************************


DULL HOBO
by Anthony Venutolo and Edoardo Mungiello


FADE IN:

EXT. A SOUTHERN STREET - NIGHT

We’re deep within the sticky Southern Delta. A nameless town on a nameless street that’s certainly seen better days. Whitewashed windows pepper the boulevard one after the other.


EXT. CATFISH CORNER - NIGHT

The vacant stores end on the street’s lone establishment - a hole-in-the-wall bar, the kind where a $5 or $10 bill gets you far. Timeworn neon of vintage crappy beers blazes in the window, beckoning local drunks and music hounds alike.

While it may not appear so, the WAILS and MOANS leaking through half-cracked windows suggest this dive is one of the preeminent blues joints in the country.

An uncharacteristic breeze scatters broomweed from a nearby alley where a BLACK MAN emerges slightly limping. He wears a dirty cream-colored linen suit and carries a busted guitar case littered with vintage travel stickers.

Drawing his listless fedora well over his brow, he approaches the entrance where an NFL-sized bouncer sits on a wooden stool.

OLD MAN: The jam sounds hot tonight...

BOUNCER (reading his Racing Form): Yep. Hotter than a two dollar pistol.

As the Man shuffles towards the door, the bouncer stops him with his tree trunk of an arm.

BOUNCER: And where’s your shifty ass goin’?

OLD MAN: Son, I’ve been traveling far and wide. Have pity on and old musician  who’s plum out of folding money.

BOUNCER: What you musicians ever do for me? I sit out here every night and ain’t none of you bring me a beer, a shot. Ever. Old or not, you best dig deep in those raggedy ass pants or no one but them roaches you was hangin’ with in that alley gon’ hear your stank-ass blues.

Dejected, the Man places his guitar case on the ground and sighs as the amplified SQUALLS of a guitar solo inside grow LOUDER.


INT. CATFISH CORNER - CONTINUOUS

A blood-and-guts juke joint, old school all the way. There’s no cigars, cognac, champagne or premium coffee here. Nothing but whiskey, beer, tequila and the smell of cheap musk.
As he tends to a jam-packed bar, CECIL, the bartender, beelines towards GEORGE “GAGS” GASCOIGNE, 60ish, black, refined. He immediately serves him a scotch on the rocks.

Nodding thanks, Gags takes in the vibe, letting the WEEPING harmonica of the jam do its thing.

Cecil dries a glass in front of him.

CECIL: Scouting tonight?

GAGS: If you can find me the next great bluesman, we can walk to the crossroads right now...

CECIL: Like you got something to offer.

GAGS (pointing to his ears): I got the ear. Speaking of which, loud as hell tonight...

CECIL: You know, Gags, when I played we ain’t need no amps. Blues was in the fingers, not a sound board.  People came to hear the pain. Not feedback.

GAGS: Cecil, my friend, I’m drinking to that.
(looking at Cecil)
But still, your kid can wail...

CECIL: If it wasn’t for that harp he plays, he’d be sure-as-shit useless to me.
(fishing) Thinking about signing him?

GAGS (surveys the club): If he ever dumps that hack ass band...

Just then: Onstage, the set ends. The crowd HOOTS and HOLLARS.

Gags raises his scotch, taking the first sip of snakejuice for the day. He lets the hooch ease down his throat and smiles.

GAG’S POV - LOOKING AT THE SMALL STAGE

As the musicians disperse, the OLD MAN from outside shuffles slowly through the crowded bar and onto the stage.

The Old Man takes out his antiqued acoustic guitar and just plain riffs without introduction. The more euphoric he becomes in his playing, the more the crowd mocks his somber ditty that time forgot.

VOICE (O.S.): Take that shit back to the cotton field!

Gags, however, is oddly drawn to the Man. He shuts his eyes, lets the music ease into his soul.

CECIL (to himself): It’s the Dull Hobo...

Then: He takes out his cell phone and records him.

From behind the bar, Cecil approaches Gags, delighted.

CECIL: Now that’s the blues...

Gags quietly nods not taking his eyes off of this mysterious stranger.

Just then: A COMMOTION breaks his concentration as a young BUSBOY runs up to the bar.

BUSBOY: Yo Cecil, someone jacked Snooky outside! He ain’t moving!

CUT TO:

INT. AN OLD HOUSE - DAY

ON A VINTAGE VICTROLA, playing a warped 78rpm record. It WAILS an ancient blues tune. HAUNTING MOANS of the oppressed South fill the dark room. The VOICE is from a lifetime ago - grainy, scratchy and crying out to be remembered.

We scan the house. It seems sickly, as if it’s windows beg to be opened. Light creeping in from the shades and from underneath the door.

What should be a living room is a cluttered mess. Timeworn wax albums create unstable columns in one corner with antiqued cylinder recordings in another. In the dining room, blues biographies are stacked as high as the dusty wrought-iron chandelier.

Lord, if this place ever went up in flames, a world would be gone. Simply put, it’s the country’s foremost blues archive.

The old victrola is wired into a small sound board and hooked up to notebook PC. Musicologist “STAX” HENDERSON sits in front of a mic as the host of his own geekified podcast.

The RECORD ends. He coughs, barely catching his breath.

STAX: Straight out of the mighty Mississip, that was Scrapper Monroe with his Delta rarity “Bourbon Blues.” ...

Beatnicky, slightly nerdy, STAX, 37 or so, is the country’s premiere blues historian and archivist. He preserves the past. A songhunter.

STAX (CONT’D): ... After hearing that, kinda in the mood for some moonshine... That said, this wraps up today’s “Back Porch” podcast so catch us tomorrow and don’t forget to say hi online at the National Institute for Blues Preservation.

He turns to the PC and stops the webcast. After an odd moment of pure silence, Stax walks to the victrola and unplugs the wires that connect it to the PC.

STAX (to his nearby bulldog): All this rigmarole, Lucille. And for what? Is anyone even listening?

Lucille yawns and goes back to canoodling her stuffed guitar.


INT. STAX’S HOME - LATER

Stax sits at his dining room table restoring a decrepit 78 record. He ignores the DOORBELL continually ringing in the background.

As he delicately inspects its edge, the record completely disintegrates into a puddle of sharp tiny pieces that cut him.

He bleeds. Profusely.

STAX: Dammit! Ninety bucks down the goddamn drain...

Stax scatters the pieces in frustration and inspects his hand a bit closer - the bleeding continues. THE DOORBELL...


INT. BATHROOM - CONTINUOUS

Stax bullets into the bathroom and snags a small towel from the pristine linen closet, an oasis of white. He runs his hand under the water in his washbasin, creating a pink kaleidoscope of blood and water.

Even with all the blood, though, Stax isn’t thrown. It’s as if he’s been down this road before. He wraps the small towel around his hand. Tight.

His wall phone RINGS.

ANSWERING MACHINE: Hello, you’ve reached the National Institute for Blues Preservation, no one’s in the office to take your call but please leave your name and number, and an associate will get back to you as soon as we can. 

The BEEP... As Stax wraps gauze around his hand.

GAGS (on the machine): Man, trash that stupid-ass message once and for all! In any case, Mr. Songhunter, I’m obviously outside your door which you ain’t answering.
(beat)
-- Look if you’re still mad, fine. I’ll accept that but just open up. And don’t play sick on me ‘neither cuz you and I both know you ain’t contagious.

INT. STAX’S APARTMENT VESTIBULE - CONTINUOUS

A MULTITUDE of different locks uncoupling.

Stax opens up, says nothing to Gags, who enters and nods.

INT. STAX’S KITCHEN - CONTINUOUS

Gags and Stax walk into a filthy kitchen - amidst empty pizza boxes and remnants of many Chinese food excursions. Stax sips a quart of soy milk from the carton.

GAGS: Damn Stax, you need to open up these shades, man. Introduce yourself to some natural light. ...least get a maid.

STAX: -- Forget all that. Why you here?

GAGS: First, let’s get our beef on the table.

STAX: C’mon Gags. Not interested. Just tell me why you’re pounding my doorbell like some jilted broad. I got records that need fixing.

Gag sighs. Forgetting the beef for now, he takes out his cell, cueing up a video for Stax.

GAGS (hands him the phone): Watch this...

Gags can see Stax’s wheels are spinning. The blues geek emerges.

STAX (somewhat confused): Now... If I didn’t know any better, I’d say this looks like Blind Gunny Shy. The Dull Hobo...

GAGS (nodding, agreeing): Sure does.

STAX: Only two known pictures were ever taken of him...
(re: the video)
And this looks completely ridiculous. Someone playing dress up at the blues jam.

Stax hands it back to him.

GAGS: What’d be the point? Like anyone in there gives a rat’s behind about Gunny Shy. This ain’t the ‘40s.
(beat)
Hear me out. What the possibility --

STAX: -- I can’t believe I’m having this conversation with YOU. Gunny Shy died in 1932. Beat to death on the side of a dirt road. Witnesses - couple of kids - saw it and ran off to tell the Sheriff. Never found his body.

GAGS (repeating): “Never found his body...”

STAX (pointing to the phone): Whatever. I don’t know who that is, but take it from me, it ain’t Gunny.

GAGS (showing Stax): Look at his hand. On the guitar neck. Count his fingers.

INSERT - THE VIDEO, GUNNY’S HAND

There’s only four fingers.

BACK TO SCENE

At this point, Stax goes white, utterly confused.

STAX (staring at it): He’s missing a finger. Cotton gin took it.

GAGS: (helping Stax along): ... Taught himself guitar one finger down and wound up playing better than guys with all 10.

STAX (re: the pic): Where’d you shoot this?

GAGS (a beat, then a smile): In the Delta…

* * * * * *
You want more? Ask Anthony. I'm sure grateful-Kate'full for *how* he came to this Movie'a'thon, AT THE BIJOU with his feel for scriptin' screenplay and of course that tasty riff of the blues. Yeah, he's got it bad and that's gooood.

Most all of you fine BIJOU followers know ~ or WILL ~ ANTHONY VENUTOLO of HARBINGER*33, a writer of time-and-place genre that just gets you found while losing you in where he's taking you. He takes you through time and talent itself when you traipse down the careful steps to his basement ~ BUKOWSKI'S BASEMENT. Go, snap your fingers, swig your hootch, check it out. It's primarily a showcase for nuggets that can range from Skid Row to the Savoy as well as gritty creative posts in the form of prose poems and flash fiction.
But you didn't know about the cool collaborator, he brought in the stage door to share with our red velvet rows' audience ~ Ant's pal Eddie. Here's the scoop, hot outta what swingin' Mr V just slid under my late'night door:

EDOARDO MUNGIELLO is a graduate of the School of the Visual Arts, New York City and has studied independently at l'Accademia delle Belle Arti, Florence and Oxford University's Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. In addition, he recently completed his dissertation for a Doctor of Arts and Letters at Drew University. He also is a professor of art history at Brookdale College in New Jersey, where he lives with his wife and daughter. No stranger to words, the modern renaissance man's book "Christ Among Them: Incarnation and Renaissance in Medieval Italian Culture" can be found on Amazon. He's graced Bukowski's Basement before, right here, folks. Do enjoy.


THANKS Anthony and Eddie
for our peek into your script and minds, both fine scenes, AT THE BIJOU's MARCH MOVIE MEMORIES mood indigo, perfect for the blues . . . spinnin' round.


~ Absolutely*Kate
and the fine staff of renown



5 comments:

Michael Solender said...

i can hear the soundtrack - blind lemon and leadbelly. very bluesy

Harry said...

Anthony, I would love to see this. I'm pissed off that there are 45 versions of CSI, yet I can't tune this in. I hope you and Edoardo keep it alive. I want my V-TV!

Jeanette Cheezum said...

Ant, don't stop! You must finish this. I too could hear the blues and I pictured Leon with the Fedora.

Laurita said...

This is brilliant. Loved the feel, loved the sound, and as always you have created a rich atmosphere and interesting characters. More!

Pamila Payne said...

You guys really got something there...

There was an error in this gadget