Drafting the Short Screenplay...
Drafting the Short Screenplay: Conceiving Our Story
We've said here that short films are often born of a dramatic moment. Because of Mama is no exception. The moment comes from life. It's 1980 in Soviet Russia. A young boy is home alone with an alcoholic father. The boy is tormented by his father's drinking. He confronts his father, saying, "Papa, papa, why do you drink?" And his father slurringly answers, "Because of Mama."
This moment is undeniably dramatic. We knew that in unpacking it we would find all the elements necessary to creating a short film.
First, the moment has three interesting characters: the boy, his alcoholic father, and his absent mother. In the moment the father is angry and blaming. But how did he get this way?
Freud tells us that every human life is built on two forces: work and love. So in order to answer our question about Papa's disappointment we need to ask ourselves: Is he disappointed in work? In love? And how so?
The first question brings us to consider the exterior life of the character. What does papa do for a living, and in what way has his career disappointed him? In trying to answer this question, we had to consider that Papa has had a successful career that has somehow ended - and ended irrevocably. But what sort of career doesn't offer a second chance? After some consideration we found our answer: athletics. Given that our setting is Soviet Russia, we determined that Papa is an ex-hockey star whose career is over. He doesn't know where to put himself.
Of course, this disappointment would implicate others in his life - especially Mama. Clearly Papa's bitterness about his lost career could distance him from his wife. But perhaps there's something in his wife's character that contributes to the situation? Of course, many possibilities arise. Mama could be an adulteress who no longer loves him. Or maybe she's just a nag, from whom he wishes to escape. But we saw more complicated possibilities for Mama's character. Maybe Mama is a demanding, perfectionist beauty who married Papa in better days, when he was a winner and a perfect specimen of manhood. Maybe her love does not - cannot - embrace the man he has become, and this is why he blames her for his drinking.
Clearly in unpacking the moment we've imagined a relationship between two people that is complex and rich in dramatic possibility. But one other character needs to be considered: who would the son of these two parents be?
On the one hand, we have a boy raised by his father to play and to love hockey. On the other hand, we have a boy raised by his mother to avoid the perils of an athletic career and to instead pursue perfectionism in - what? Here we needed something very different from hockey. Something that would reflect the mother's more refined, demanding character. In the end, we settled on the cello.
So here's what we have: a son of a former hockey player and perfectionist mother. He wants to play hockey. He has to play cello. His mother travels, leaving him alone with a father who drinks. This is his exterior situation. As to his internal conflict: like any child, he wants his parents to love him. But his parents are at war with each other. And they want different things from him. In his effort to please them both we have the germ of our story.