From the Stage to Feature Film- Thoughts on Liner Notes by John Patrick Bray

From the Stage to Feature Film- Thoughts on Liner Notes by John Patrick Bray

I have this play, Liner Notes. I wrote the first draft when I was twenty-four (2001) as part of a workshop class offered by Jack Gelber at The Actors Studio Drama School at The New School. I ended up taking the script to different classes during my last two years of MFA work (taught by Jeffrey Sweet and Neal Bell), and had it developed for a number of years before it landed a production in 2010, directed by Erin Smiley, as part of the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity. It has been published on Indie Theatre Now and is licensed with Next Stage Press. A monologue from the play was published in a Smith and Kraus collection and continues to be used. (Briefly: the play involves Alice, the daughter of a bankrupt rock legend (who has committed suicide), who makes a journey to seek out George, her dad’s first guitarist and the only man who can make sense of the liner notes in their old records, and the lack thereof in her dad’s later recordings. Along the way, they have a surprise gig.)

Fast forward: two-and-a-half years ago my twin brother, Gregory (a Cine Golden Eagle-Award Winner for his documentary A Horse Connection), calls and says he wants to make a narrative feature. Something simple and straight-forward. Can I adapt Liner Notes into a screenplay? A number of people have asked me if I had thought of doing this. Thought of? Sure! But the play is a two-hander. A feature film really cannot be – there’s got to be an entire world. And the monologue I mentioned? The play is full of them! Monologues seldom work on screen unless they are, as my screenwriting teacher at LSU (Mari Kornhauser) once told me, “earned.” (So, Quint’s monologue in Jaws is earned; Plainview’s monologues in There Will Be Blood are earned, given that the first thirteen minutes are more-or-less without dialogue. My play begins with a long monologue. This would stop the film dead in its tracks before it started. So, something else was needed instead. But you’ll have to see the film to see what we came up with!)

The challenging part for me was bringing the play – set in 2001 – into the present with a world populated by a range of quirky characters. The additional characters are, in some ways, allegorical. They’re kind of like tropes – the bartender, the Goth kid, the girl with stage fright, the angry guy in line, etc. They are the people that our central characters react to during their journey. I called them “tropes,” but they’re still people. They each have an inner-life. They have wants and needs. They’re not just furniture. I think that was the biggest surprise for me. I had always thought of the extras milling about in a film as “atmosphere,” which is certainly against anything we do with writing for the theatre. If a character exists in a stage play, it’s because they serve a Purpose for the Plot. In a film, it’s different – they might not move the plot along, but they are there for a reason. They are there to give us a sense of where we, as an audience, fit into the film. So, even in a film – the people milling about in the world of story are more than just “atmosphere.” Indeed, they are the world.

Liner Notes was one heck of a journey. A fifteen year journey. For me, that journey is over. The script is published. The film is locked and making the rounds in festivals. Fifteen years later, I can wave goodbye to these characters as they head off into the sunset, ready for their next gig.

Liner Notes (screenplay by John Patrick Bray and Gregory Bray based on the stage play by JPB; directed by Gregory Bray; starring Alyssa Carpenter as Alice and Allen Enlow as George) will be screened as part of the Woodstock Film Festival on October 12 at 8:15pm in the CSB Auditorium at SUNY NP. For more information, please visit: www.WoodstockFilmFestival.com

Learn more about Liner Notes on Indie Theater Now