TO BOB HILLMAN: Well, to plunge right in:
First, Im 30 years away from Hollywood, script reading, thinking about the movies.
Second, I recently read another friends script and as you can see from the top poems here (#s 309 and 310) I had the same problem with it. You both seem to write in a kind of stream of consciousness mode right at the top -- to indicate a montage of what came before, and though it might actually work in film, it is, for me, really hard to follow and visualize in script form. So that brings up:
Third: What is your goal for this script? To sell it to a director or producer? To do it yourself? To pass it around to possible money people? To have it just exist (as a thing of beauty) in itself? It almost does the latter, but not quite.
Fourth: Maybe movie/Hollywood people are far more poetic than they used to be in my day. But in my day the beginning of the script would have been Page 20 -- where you begin to have some story/action/characters etc.
FROM HERE ON DOWN THIS IS STREAM-OF-CONSCIOUSNESS ON THE PART OF THIS CRITIC:
Ask yourself how much do they (whatever audience you have in mind) really need to know (19 pages worth of montage/background?) before they know any of the people involved. (You and I may be the only ones left alive to know just who, and what an amazing woman, Alexandra David-Neel really was.)
You turn out to be a very good writer -- if a bit oblique!
I ran into these same problems (ESPECIALLY THIRD ABOVE) when writing JOCASTA. And ultimately decided on as a thing of beauty in itself -- i.e. I really wanted it to exist and I really wanted people to read it whether or not they were considering it for production. So I went through and erased all the camera directions and called it a Reading Script -- so one could enjoy it just as a piece of literature. Which is probably not a great way to sell it.
No offers so far, but, as of today, 266 people have downloaded JOCASTA from Internet Archives, to say nothing of the one or two dozen Ive passed it around to. So its out there -- and also on Amazon as a Kindle where no one has paid to download it. But thats okay with me. I really want my take on JOCASTA to exist! I feel its that important -- to have translated the Oedipus story into a womans POV. Let it take a century or two. IT IS AVAILABLE, and I dont need the money.
So that brings me to another point -- what really bothers me about ALEXANDRAS DREAM is turning it into a love story which strikes me as really beside the point. It might be a selling point, but re her life, I doubt if it is true. If it is true, having read most of her stuff and never come to this conclusion, Id like to be pointed to where you got the idea that she was sexually in love with Yongden.
Though I must say, your writing is oblique enough so one is never really sure whether or not that is what you are saying.
But, this comes from a Feminist. Women -- especially women like A D-N spend a good deal less time thinking about men and sleeping with men than men think they do.
A D-N was a Great! Adventurer, and I think that is REALLY CENTRAL to her life and, in a script written just for the beauty of it and the telling of her story and because you want it said, you mustnt distort her raison detre. If it is written as a love story to sell it (to Hollywood or any major film company or person) that probably can be justified as shrewd.
Although the one person I kept thinking of as a possible director as I read it was Lasse Hallstrom -- and he probably wouldnt need that inducement. (If you dont know his work, look at all of it. He is very eclectic and BRILLIANTLY honest.)
I find the script as now written, half slanted and half true to A D-Ns life.
And I am fully aware that no one would make OUT OF AFRICA until they turned Denys Finch Hatton, an erudite English lord, into Robert Redford, the cowboy. But it got the film made, and it was quite a good film. (In my day, every woman in film wanted to make that film, but only Pollack was clever or shrewd or unprincipled enough to cast the BIG movie star. One makes ones choices.)
For me, A D-Ns film SHOULD exist, on paper at least, as true to her life. But, I do understand, such a script probably wouldnt sell. And it is also really hard to write. Everyone understands love; few understand the depths of a lust for adventure, exploring the meaning of life, trying everything, becoming, as she was, an ordained Monk.
And though at times your obliqueness really serves, it also confuses. For instance the single inclusion of A D-Ns period, just by being singular (though it happens every month) seems to indicate something important or amazing or sinister. I, for instance, wondered if you were trying to imply she was having a spontaneous abortion since it is never clear whether she is or is not sleeping with Yongden, or at what point she begins to or doesnt.
Im all for nitty-gritty, like actually mentioning womens periods, but you have to strew that kind of thing throughout the script, or the single incident becomes too dramatic.
One of my favorite summations re A D-N was by her, I think, last and very long-time secretary: She was a great woman, but somewhat of a hair-shirt to live with!
And again, -- I cant remember if it was you I suggested might read (for female and male POVs) Ella Maillarts FORBIDDEN JOURNEY and Peter Flemings NEWS FROM TARTARY. They journeyed together from Peking to Srinagar in 1935 and wrote these parallel books. Fabulous documents revealing the difference between male and female POVs -- which can be roughly summed up as Male = larger world, and Female = the nitty-gritty. Both fine writers and excellent books! And great lessons in really telling it like it is (was).
So selling the script? or doing it yourself?
I can easily picture you going out with a 16mm Bolex, shooting this script, much as it is and creating a masterpiece -- but mostly if it were 20 or 30 years ago -- as the world was then and your age was that much less.
However, even in those circumstances, youd, I hope, end up tightening it up a great deal in the editing.
Again, your writing itself is excellent, and very evocative -- but it needs, in my opinion, much more nitty-gritty and a somewhat greater degree of a willingness to declare with a certain certainty -- but then I am a woman. And though the constant ambiguity is intriguing, it becomes a bit much by p. 108. One really wants to know what happened, what is happening -- all along.
Indeed one can never really know the truth, but an author (perhaps) owes it to the reader/viewer to assert, at least a little bit, I believe: it was this way.
And again, unless you are aiming for a Hollywood Blockbuster, where fudging for financing is almost always necessary, THE TRUTH! as you see it, is necessary.
With some fine tuning the material, as you see it, is worth existing in and for itself -- as a really good script/story.
And you can post it at Internet Archives and/or as a Kindle, etc. etc. etc. even if it never graduates to being made.
In the meantime I wish you the best of luck!!! Its really very close to being excellent. -- And will be -- with some very thoughtful simplification.
If you want more comment, let me know specifically what youd like commented on.
And always keep in mind I am 30 years away from Hollywood (the real world of the movie world), live in an ivory tower, and have given up the idea of fame and glory and making money, though I would still be pleased if it ever arrived, i.e. the POV of a poet.
Thanks for letting me read ALEXANDRAS DREAM.