T.C. McCarthy: On Screenplays The Orbit Team March 1, 2012


I read an e-mail; Orbit wants me to write screenplays – four of them – and my reaction is “not just yes, but HELL yes”. Then I hit send. It’s only later when I’m scraping the ice and snow off the car that I realize what happened and within a few months Jeremy Tolbert and Levi Thornton will have made four shorts and all of them will be based on what I write. Me. The concept is Jeremy’s idea but the scripts will be mine, and every word the actors say will be off my keyboard. I can’t call Christopher Markus for help and what would I ask for anyway? “Hey, man, would you mind critiquing my scripts instead of working on the next Captain America script? I know you’re busy but, go. Can’t this guy McFeely get away with it?

To the right.


It’s snowing again. If we get stuck in Vermont, in the snow, there’s no telling how long we’ll be stuck. It makes me sad because it means an early departure. The children are crying and my daughter wants to go skiing with me one last time, but everyone is exhausted and before I know it the house is silent as all the children have passed out barely reaching their beds. Now I can write. Now I can take hours to read about how to format a play – because they have their own rules, their own look, their own way of conveying information to actors and audiences. “(To beat)” means pause, for example, and the script dialog has to go to a certain place on the page. Jeremy is counting on me to give him something incredible, something that will be worthwhile, thoughts that bring me to a state of terror where it comes to mind: I can’t do it. They asked the wrong person.

But now it’s too late to stop.


“Embalmed?” I hear the neighbor say:what is “sweet”? », but that must be the right word because the dogs are panting and I’m in shorts despite the fact that it’s January in South Carolina and even you’re not supposed to wear shorts in January. There are no more patches. There are no more patches. Stopping chewing tobacco leaves me in phantom pain, and now there’s four scripts on my computer laughing at me because they know all I want is nicotine – something to ease this voice, the one that tells me my work isn’t good enough. Maybe it’s not. But all I have to do is revise, go over the words until I can’t see them anymore, and a few hours later my wife is shaking me because I’ve fallen asleep in my chair.


The scripts are finished and I submitted them a few weeks earlier; it’s hard to say if they are good. Then I get an email as I’m working on my next book, and it’s from the filmmaker with a link to a rough cut of the videos and it all becomes clear: why scriptwriting is so much fun. The actors bring the words to life; the director has his own interpretation of the script and adds, music, lighting, camera angles – everything. Are these my scripts? What the hell is happening? The movies are so scary that I start biting my nails and wondering what’s going to happen next, even though I to know what will happen next. You might also like these video trailers. You should not. If you haven’t read Germ line or Exogenous, you might get the impression that whatever my books are about, they aren’t your typical futuristic military sci-fi novels, and maybe they aren’t. Maybe they are books about the reality – the madness – of the present and the truth, reflections of black spots on my brain.

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