25 September 2015

Writing the ‘Stonewall’ Screenplay


A scene from the film.

Director Roland Emmerich’s Stonewall opens today in movie theaters, having attracted controversy and threats of boycotting as soon as the trailer was released, depicting a clean-cut, all-American white kid at the center of a historic rebellion. While there were some white guys on hand (notably my friend Tree), lesbians and drag queens of color played the principal roles that night — they weren’t just background for a generic, “straight-acting,” white protagonist. By way of defense, Emmerich has explained that he needed to give straight audiences a character with whom they could identify, and screenwriter Jon Robin Baitz insists that this movie was never intended to be the only or final word on the subject.

Indeed, as the studio attempted to generate the broadest possible appeal, the Stonewall script went through lots of words, a few drafts, and possibly a few writers, before the cameras started rolling. I’ve obtained copies, and I’m pleased to share them with you now.

MEMO
Roland — Great news that you’ve started working on your picture for us. This “rebellion” seems like a great way to feature the kinds of explosions and action sequences you’re so good at. Concerned however that there’s no love interest for your main character. Focus groups indicate that “buddy pictures” are currently trending down. Could the hero’s friend be recast as a woman? Nice rom-com potential there.

STONEWALL: Draft 1

Interior: The Smith home in the town of Anywhere, in the state of Heartland. JOHN and MARY SMITH, a happily married heterosexual couple, are eating breakfast in their sunny American kitchen. JOHN looks up from his newspaper.

JOHN: Gee, honey, it says here that there’s been some trouble in New York City with the … “homosexuals.”

MARY: What are … “homosexuals”?

JOHN: I think it’s got something to do with milk.

MARY: No, that’s “homogenized.”

JOHN: Maybe the milk went bad? Anyway, there have been riots the past few nights.

MARY: I’m so glad that could never happen here!

JOHN: Amen to that! Say … the kids are at school now, aren’t they?

MARY: Why, yes, they are.

JOHN: What would you say to some healthy married intercourse between a husband and wife?

MARY (laughing): It depends whose husband and wife you have in mind!

CUT TO: Interior, Smith bedroom. JOHN and MARY make love.


MEMO
Roland — Focus groups respond very positively to your main characters, but there seems to be a lot of confusion about the events you’re trying to portray. Maybe another draft that brings the Smiths closer to the action? And where are the explosions?

STONEWALL: Draft 2

Exterior. Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, New York City. Nighttime. JOHN and MARY SMITH are walking along the sidewalk.

JOHN: Gee, honey, there seems to be something going on up ahead.

MARY: What do you mean?

JOHN: Up there, on the next block. A fight of some kind.

MARY: That’s quite a lot of people! Are those the “homosexuals” I’ve heard about?

JOHN: I don’t know — I've never seen one!

MARY: Should we call the police?

JOHN: No, the police are already in the thick of it.

MARY: It looks awful. Maybe we should go home another way.

JOHN: Yes, I’d hate to be delayed — I want to get you home so that we can have some healthy married intercourse between a husband and a wife!

MARY (laughing): It depends whose husband and wife you have in mind!

CUT TO: Interior, Smith bedroom. JOHN and MARY make love.

CUT TO: An alien spaceship blows up the Stonewall bar.



MEMO
Roland — Focus groups indicate that straight married couples are still confused about the rebellion, but they continue to identify strongly with your main characters. However, we polled those who are uncomfortable with homosexuals, and they say they wouldn’t see the movie at all, no matter how we handle it. Maybe we can afford to be a little more frank in the next draft?

STONEWALL: Draft 3

Exterior. Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, New York City. Nighttime. FRANK SMITH is walking along the sidewalk.

FRANK (to himself): Gee, there seems to be something going on up ahead. Up there, on the next block. A fight of some kind. Looks as if those may even be homosexuals — and there’s nothing wrong with that. The police are already in the thick of it. Maybe I should go home another way. I’d hate to be delayed — I want to get home so that I can have some healthy married intercourse with my wife!

CUT TO: Interior, Smith bedroom. FRANK and MARY make love.

CUT TO: An alien spaceship blows up the Stonewall bar.



MEMO
Roland — This is terrific — we’re almost there! The alien explosion really works, too. Want to discuss changing the title, though. Focus groups indicate that audiences in fly-over country expect a Civil War picture. What about calling the bar T.G.I. Friday’s? Nice product-placement opportunity there. Let’s give this one more try!

5 comments:

Scott Rose said...

"We are the Stonewall girls, we wear our hair in curls!"

Anne said...

Hilarious as always... photo looks like a still from a new version of"Fame/Chorus Line

barabrith said...

Laugh-out-loud funny. Thanks for this. I heard that the film Pride was not billed in the US as anything to do with homosexuals, who were recast as "activists".
I also recall that when I worked in publishing, in the 1990s and we were casting models for a book about Chinese massage, only white European models were acceptable for the US market!

Anonymous said...

I don't mean to hijack this post or anything, but this is kind of relevant. Remember when I told you about Gary Indiana's short stories? He has now published a memoir, I Can Give You Anything But Love. It is a witty, candid, hilarious, elegantly written, and utterly fascinating account of his early life in New Hampshire and his (mis)adventures as a gay man in Los Angeles in the 1970s and, later, in Havana. I see something of myself in Indiana's persona - sensitive, bookish, curious, and aesthetically included. After I finished the book, I wished there were hundreds more pages so that I could continue to inhabit the author's inner life. I recommend you read it.

-- Rick

William V. Madison said...

Thanks, Rick! I'll try to check it out.