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A major breakdown

Not that kind of breakdown. This kind of breakdown.

At the end of September, I bought 300 notecards, fired up Episode 1 of Les Vampires, "The Severed Head," and got to work.


The Cards

Each scene got a card. Each card included:

  • Episode and scene number

  • Scene location

  • Time code for in and out

  • Scene length

  • Characters

  • The event moment, or what happens in the scene

Scene 1 of Episode 1 looks like this:

Normally, I would break down a script scene-by-scene . Since there's no script for me to analyze, I had to perform script analysis on the films. Over the next month or so, I worked my way through the first six episodes, creating a stack of about 200 cards. This breakdown of the films made all the difference in the world. It enabled me to crack through the screen and get inside the film. It helped me understand the characters and the story, of course, but it also helped me to begin to imagine how this could exist on a stage. What scenes could be played by actors, which ones would be shown on a screen. It was incredibly tedious work, but there was no other way around it.


Once Les Vampires gets to Episode 7, things go bananas. A new character enters the scene—Satanas, the most evil Vampire of them all. But most of the story from Episodes 1 through 6 is wrapped up, and the action moves to Algeria (yes, Algeria) and Satanas bombs a ship that he thinks Irma Vep is on (yes, he bombs a ship), and there's a Vampire dinner party scene with manic dancing (yes, manic dancing). I was salivating over what I was seeing, but I also knew that I had plenty for a show in the first six episodes. So I stopped my breakdown and filed away those last four episodes as maybe another show in the future, maybe featuring Satanas??


I mean, look at this dude. Total heavy.

Once I had all my cards done, I laid out each episode on my big ottoman. Then I pulled all the cards of scenes that I thought I'd like to put on stage. After breaking them all down, I had a pretty good sense of what storylines were not necessary. And I also knew which scenes I definitely wanted to put on a stage...like the one where Guérande is in a trunk and rolled down about a hundred stairs.

Now I had a smaller stack—a little less than half. I knew that I was still missing an ending, as I didn't break down the last episodes. I figured that I'd need about five minutes for that.


Time became an element. When we came back to in-person classes in Fall 2021, I was determined to do shows that were shorter than two hours, with no intermission. I knew that I wanted a show that was about 105 minutes. That's why I put the scene length on each card. It was in preparation for the next step...


The Spreadsheet

I love a spreadsheet. Anything that enables me to see a whole bunch of organized information makes me happy. All the time that I spent on the cards was leading to the spreadsheet.


Here it is:

I input the information from each card, but the cell that I was keeping an obsessive eye on was the one in the upper right corner—MINUTES. I created an equation for that cell that added the length of each scene. That way I could see how long the show was going to be.


For many years, I've had an uncanny ability to predict with precision how long something will, long before I have any business knowing that. This was one of the uncanniest instances of this. I said earlier that I wanted a 105-minute show? Look at the duration of the scenes that I pulled out of a stack of 200. 99 minutes, with about a five-minute scene for the end. 104 minutes. I was one minute off.


And I had a sequence now. One step closer to a script.


But the script would have to wait, as I was having some major music ideas.


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