Thursday, April 12, 2007

Meet Laura Breckenridge

Because Beautiful Loser was my first script I did a lot of things you're not supposed to. These were unintentional things -- rookie mistakes -- and caused terrible difficulties in the editing process. But there is one thing I did you're not supposed to that was intentional. And the only reason we got away with it was because we were lucky enough to have Laura Breckenridge play Tracy.

In a standard film, especially a romantic comedy, you introduce your main characters in the first act -- the first 22 minutes of the film. This is important because by the time the story kicks in you want the audience with your characters. You want the audience to like your characters and to care about them.

With Tracy I didn't want to do that. I worried that if I did, the movie wouldn't work. The central conceit of BL is that a normal good-looking guy is unable to get over a girl after twenty years. The audience has to believe that without even thinking about it. If they don't there's no movie. And I knew that if the audience was to believe, it would depend on the girl. If the audience loved the girl, they would never question Reggie's devotion. If the audience felt his loss, they would buy his still carrying a torch after two decades.

So, how do you do that? How do you get the audience to fall in love with the girl? Looks aren't enough. Pretty girls are a dime a dozen. It has to be more than physical. Besides, the women in the audience have to get it. A pretty girl may be enough for the guys, but it's not going to impress the women. There had to be more to Tracy, and I felt very strongly that the more had to be revealed differently than in the standard 22 minute crash course.

When you fall in love with someone -- I mean really fall in love with someone -- it starts with the physical attraction and grows from there. It's about discovering that person. It's about loving every new thing you learn about them, and wanting to learn more. It's about feeling priviledged this person chose you to share themselves with. That combination is like a drug. And that's love. At least that's how it's been between me and the script supervisor for twenty-plus years.

This discovery process was how I felt the audience might just fall in love with Tracy. She would slowly reveal herself throughout the film, each time displaying a different facet of her personality that would hopefully make her more accessible, special, and enchanting with each scene. The risk, however, is that this would take a while, and that by minute 22 the audience still wouldn't know a whole lot about her. And it's hard to like someone you don't know. But you can be fascinated by them. You can be intrigued and infatuated. But if you withold too much information the audience might not be interested in her at all. So, what's the alternative to information...? Intelligence.

I felt that if upon their first look at Tracy that if the audience saw a strong intellect in her eyes they'd bite. Because who isn't interested in intelligent people? Who doesn't want to know more about how smart people tick and think?

So, what I wasn't looking for was the standard high school girl-crush material. I didn't want the prom queen. Or, the nerd. Or, the best friend. Or, the brain. What I wanted was that quiet pretty girl we all went to school with. Not the shy pretty girl. Shy isn't interesting. Quiet is interesting. Quiet is a display of confidence and ease with one's self. That's someone worth knowing. And you know the girl I'm talking about. She's the one you went to school with for years and then one day... Wow, she's kinda cute. But by then it was too late for you because she'd filled out over the Summer and all the other guys were noticing her too. See, that's God's way of punishing you for being shallow and looks-oriented.

So, I knew what I wanted in a Tracy and the casting process began. I saw a hundred of 'em. Every pretty young woman between 18 and 25. And even a few closer to 40 who refused to smell the coffee and update their headshots. Some of the girls were teriffic. Some may have worked. But it hadn't happened yet; that bolt of lightening that tells you the search is over. Then one day a tape came in. It was an episode of Related -- which I'd never heard of. From the WB Network -- which I'd never watched. And it starred Laura Breckenridge -- who I'd never heard of. (Is it "whom" or "who?")

Anyway, I watched the tape and didn't see Tracy. Not even close. I certainly saw a talented actress, but not Tracy. Steven Wolfe thought I was insane, but I just didn't have enough experience to see beyond. Steven urged me to meet with Laura, so we did, and then I saw Tracy. I saw her immediately. Because Laura has a strong intellect. She's a very smart young woman and you can see it in her eyes. You don't even have to talk to her. It's just there. And I knew that if she already had that quality, it would come across on screen. It's called presence, and it's rarer than gold.

Now, I can't remember if it was Laura I told that story to or someone else, but I told someone and they asked me why my only reaction to the Related episode was indifference, At the time I couldn't articulate it. But I've since figured it out. In that particular episode Laura's character has a role in a school play where she has to get naked. The entire show revolves around her conflict over whether to do it and her concern over doing it with her Dad in the audience. In the end she does it and finds it quite liberating. But this is something Tracy would never do.

It's not a moral issue, Tracy's just a completely different person. She might go to a play. But she would never be in one. She certainly wouldn't ever get naked in one. And she sure as hell wouldn't get naked in one in front of her Dad. Had that Related epsisode been about Laura's character killing someone and eating their raw spleen, I wouldn't have had as hard of time as the naked play.

Laura's wonderful as Tracy. Perfect. After all the thinking and planning and writing and re-writing and worrying about whether or not the audience will believe a man could never fall out of love with her, Laura solves that in her first shot. You look at her and you get it. You completely understand how there would be no force on earth capable of extinguishing a torch carried by the man who came thisclose to winning her. You don't have to meet Ava Gardner to understand how she could ruin Sinatra. You just gotta look at her. And thanks to Laura's performance, it's the same with Tracy.

Laura's obviously a lovely woman, but there's more to it than that. It's creating a presence and something in the eyes. It's acting and performance. It's talent and hard work. What Laura brought to the role was astounding. Some of my favorite lines in the movie are throwaways she brought to life in ways that surprise me every time I hear them. My single indulgence was refusing to take out a Tracy joke no one finds in the least funny but me. Every time we came across it, I get the eye from our producer Scott. But I repeat my confidence that someday someone besides me will laugh.

Laura's a total pro and was a pleasure to work with. She's also an amazing looper. Not only was she faster than everyone else at dubbing her lines, she embarrassed second place. She's like the Rain Man of looping.


Blogger Gina said...

I just like the general idea of a normal guy not being able to get over a girl for 20 years. You don't get much of that in movies/TV anymore. Usually the guy's over the girl in a week (or vice versa).

11:56 AM  

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