A Flickering Life: The Movie: A Thought Experiment

I live my life in the context of the media I watch. I am a shameless, tireless consumer of media. I read constantly. I watch films constantly. I have TV on all the time. I talk in dialogue. This is my world.

How, in that light, can I not ponder what a film based on my writing would look like? It’s only natural if you’re fascinated by the media to ponder how the media would frame your own story. What liberties would be taken to get the dramatic truth captured? Well, let me be egotistical and pretend I had the ability to do so. This is how I would do it.

The central subject matter would of course be HFA and how I’ve dealt with it. This needs to be the central focus because, well, it’s the center of my blog after all. To deal with that best, it needs to use a time when it was profoundly expressed. As a result, I would use as my structure my 6th grade year. This fits the best. After all, this was about the time I was diagnosed. I was heavily bullied. There’s a giant film component. It builds to some things

But to make it work, we need to step back and acknowledge there are problems with it. Sixth grade came two years after the move, a dramatic moment that would work well and had threads of its own. There were few major incidents as powerful as the spelling bee and the struggle to adjust to a new world. There’s also a stronger bully character in that one in the form of my next door neighbor. In fact, the teasing was more cinematic then as with Houston. Names are more cinematic than yelling.

You also have the outcome. I slunk away for a full year. That doesn’t work dramatically. Neither does the diagnosis coming 7 months after the major action. My return to school was also almost unnotable. We decided I’d go back after a year of home schooling. No, none of it works on a dramatic level. But the pieces are there.

The pieces are there in my life for an interesting film, but they don’t line up. So what? Biopics never depict the actual literal truth. This experiment is about crafting the best possible fiction out of the clay of my life. The way to do this best is to throw out a literal timeline in favor of a fictional one that fits best.

So again, we stick with the 1996-1997 school year as our timeline but we start changing by opening the story with “my” arrival in Conway, AR just before the school year starts. There are hints I don’t leave behind a good experience, but just hints. My parental situation mirrors the one in 1994. (1) My brother is established as a foil. More socially capable but as the story goes on revealing depths.

The story needs a bully and so we get one in the form of my neighbor. In real life he was a tremendous problem but not a hollywood villain. He was also long gone by this point. Regardless, he sticks around. He gets a new name and no identifying features though.  He was a kid. I don’t hold grudges. He’s just a character.

The story starts optimistically. The new school seems exciting though there are tells early on. There should be depictions of early sensory issues. Also seeding things: a trip to the movies to see First Kid, a solid choice for this position. (2) Everything should seem to go well for young me until our inciting incident.

Inciting incident has to come from 1994 again since it was so dramatic. Spelling test is out but maybe not. Some kind of test of English that I fumble because of my handwriting. That we move here and establish as the turning point for young me. From here on out I’m a target due to my overreaction. Bullying fleshes out at 1 heavily. We also establish my troubles in school with this scene.

The turning point, the act break, comes with a decision to watch a movie. In reality it was reading the novelization but again, making changes. Star Wars enters the stage. This sends young Austin down a rabbit hole of geekdom. There are scenes of reading the books, figuring out the timelines, etc. These stand in contrast to the bleakness of the bullying and the isolation it brings. That gets major play.

At the same time, there is the thread of my parents. My mother gets shown trying to do the research while there is the tentative, looming idea of her relationship with my father restarting. This is subplot, heavily foregrounded at that. But all of this looms.

Film does play into things. The depressing experience of Space Jam is made better when I see the poster for something I can’t believe exists: the Star Wars Special Editions. (3)

There is hope during this era as well. A spelling bee (transplant again) shows just how strong I can be….only to fail after the preliminary round. My heartbreak at not going further sends me crying off stage and intensifies everything. This is the midpoint and why not set it against the release of A New Hope? The contrast is there

It’s about this time that another composite becomes a major figure: the counselor. I said I bore students no ill will. Not him. Still, we change all details. The counselor represents the neurotypical, ableist world. He, or she, we can male that work, is condescending and truly believes in the victim blaming I heard growing up. They are as much of a villain as the bullies.

Everything keeps building like a pressure cooker. Things get worse and worse. The teasing gets even more intense. About this time we slide the incident where I was chased home to tormenting calls. We build and build.

The third act break comes in a devastating form: In reality the incident that pulled me from public schools was a minor one in comparison to the others. But there was a far darker one I’d substitute. I took a field trip to the Planetarium where I was basically trapped on a bus being mocked incessantly. Use this. My reaction is so severe that my mother is called. Two decisions are made: first I leave school. Second, I go to a dr who finally diagnoses me, 10 months before I actually was.

The third act is a bleak one. There are quick scenes of homeschooling contrasted with sitting in the theater. I am alone and isolated. The key question in this act is do I go back. And here is where I feel like reality must get a giant fictionalizing. In reality I started working for a forum on film. That’s a good move for explaining why I get my will but it isn’t cinematic. Maybe instead I get to start writing for a newspaper. In reality there actually was a kid doing it in this time and as he’s in fact a very good friend of mine to this day (4), maybe not a good idea. So we move it to another paper, but keep the idea. Or maybe we do use the forum. The idea is the same: film saves me.

Ultimately, the third act hinges on a question: do I dare to face reality knowing the challenge? The response to my film writing says  that I have some merit. That gives me my willpower. Ultimately, I decide to face the risks of life knowing I matter. I return to school. There is ambiguity about what happens next but I have made the decision.

As for the subplots, we do end with my father returning home. There is a greater understanding with my brother as I see how alike we are. We get things tied up.

What emerges is in effect a fiction based on fact. Not that big of a deal in light of the myriad ghastly adaptations of truth to film. If it seems like I’m not really dealing with HFA in the plot, well I am in pretty much every scene. Bullying was the core of many of our lives.

As for the soundtrack, I say go with a mix of the obvious and the not. Mmmbop has to get played. Might even be the perfect closing song. No Macarena. I hate that trash. Spice Girls? Sure. I hate them but sure. Cardigans? Great. Maybe even a few more summer songs a bit anachronistically.  But that’s there.

So who would direct? I won’t be so vain to try to peg a director for it but definitely a visual stylist. This needs to be impressionistic, not realistic. Hard realism doesn’t capture the reality of HFA. There are several who could do it.

What level release? Definitely an indie. At best we’re talking a boutique wing. I doubt it would come closer than, ok the closest theater to my new house likely due to local interest. I’d be ok with that.

Will this ever happen? Not a chance in hell. I am nobody and my story isn’t epic enough to deserve filming. Still, it gives me peace to know I can have this wonderful fantasy about what would happen if. And so I dream on.

(1) My mother moved us from Texas to Conway to be close to my father who took a job in Little Rock. They were separated on the verge of reunion in 1996. Keep that but drag it out.

(2) Look at the movies out in August 1996. This was the best choice.

(3) In reality I learned about the SEs while passing a theater but why not convey the highs and lows. I hate Space Jam btw

(4) In fact I chatted with him today! Great guy!

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