Work in Progress

Giving structure to `Metal Gods'

January 06, 2008|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,Sun Movie Critic

The New Yorker dubbed Hamilton native Matthew Porterfield's Hamilton "one of the most original, moving, and accomplished American independent films in recent years," hailing Porterfield's "genius" for "light and color" and "tender yet unsentimental images." (A hit at the 2006 Maryland Film Festival, it will be screened next on Jan. 27, at 7 p.m., at the AFI Silver.)

Porterfield, 30, plans to follow that low-budget tale of missed connections among unwed teen parents in Northeast Baltimore with a more ambitious feature, Metal Gods, co-written and produced by his Hamilton partner Jordan Mintzer. It's about, as he puts it, "several days in the lives of a group of teenagers in southeast Baltimore who live and love heavy metal."

He began jotting ideas for his new project late in 2005, when he was sending Hamilton to film festivals. Over the phone from his office in Charles Village, he explained how he tries to reveal character "through the ordinary routines of home, work and school."

IN HIS OWN WORDS --For a while, Metal Gods was going to be a period piece, set in the 1980s, very nostalgic, with scenes culled from my own memories and from the memories of friends who were more into heavy metal than I was. I studied up on the intricacies of heavy-metal culture, including reading books like Metalheads: Heavy Metal Music and Adolescent Alienation.

But in the end, the script is more influenced by location and my experiences as an educator. [He has taught nursery school, kindergarten and high school.] I feel as if I have to immerse myself in a subject to come up with authentic ideas. But the actual scenes on the page come from my own imagination, after all the influences have filtered through it.

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE TREATMENT --I fill notebooks with ideas, and the ideas often become scenes. I start with early character development -- " ... [the girl is] really smart, tucked into wrestling sneakers, fed little, chain-smokes, super-skinny, tons of black eye makeup."

I began the treatment in June, 2006. I have a hard time composing ideas in the screenplay format, so I usually take about a year on the treatment.

I try to get the scenic structure down in about 23 to 24 pages, and then spend a lot of time moving scenes around. All the little paragraphs on those pages contain, for me, the pertinent information for each scene, and when I read through them quickly, in five or 10 minutes, I can tell where there's a lull or there's a beat missing.

I want to create a rhythm both within scenes and between scenes, until I find one for the whole film that is consistent and organic, from beginning to end. The treatment gives me a good, easy way to grasp that all at once.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION --I need physical locations: The writing really took on an extra life when I started scouting extensively last summer. I could begin to see things again, in a way.

I spent a lot of time all around Baltimore, specifically Dundalk, Essex, Middle River, North Point; I've always been interested in that area.

Originally Metal Gods was definitely set in Northeast Baltimore.

But now I think there's something interesting about setting it on the North Point peninsula. Now these adolescents who are socially and economically on the fringes of the city, are also literally skirting the city.

And I like the proximity of the water there; scenically, it's a rich part of the city that you don't see a lot on film.

THE FINAL DRAFT --As you work on the screenplay, you hope to develop more and more objectivity; you have to purge the early stuff that no longer fits because of the way the direction of the film has changed. Metal Gods has an act structure that's more traditional than Hamilton. I spent a lot more time on this script, and I think I'm a stronger writer. In Hamilton, I was persistent in creating one tone, one mood. This time I'm trying to introduce different elements of narrative and character that may keep the audience guessing.

michael.sragow@baltsun.com

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