Workshop Creations: Character Week (by Maria et al)

“We thought the idea we had would work best as a screenplay or television series. A bit like Lost, in terms of a set of random characters coming together over an exceptional circumstance, but with faster pacing than Lost and it would be a self-contained series, maybe like six episodes. A bit cinematic, very visual.

My character was: Alfie, the obsessive architect who experiences prophetic dreams.

These dreams portray the collapse of the building he has most recently designed. The collapse occurs in various ways, but always involving some kind of impact, implosion or explosion. Through flashbacks we come to understand that these dreams originate from Alfie’s experience of witnessing 9/11 from his mother’s living room, staring at the television and thinking he was just watching a pretty brutal disaster movie. It was only in the ensuing weeks, with further reporting and a shaky lesson at school, that he came to understand that this thing had actually happened. Throughout the series, there will be stuff about the flimsy nature of reality, the slippery relation between fantasy and reality, representation and real life. In Alfie’s head, 9/11 still sears with this uncanny, filmic quality. He can’t help but design all his buildings in a very similar style to the Twin Towers. All his sketches bear traces of that primal trauma. He used to have dreams where the fall of the second tower would loop over and over again in his mind, and he’d wake up in cold sweats. Now the dreams are about his own creations. He was a very prolific architect and sailed through university, completing his degree in fewer years than the required seven. The dreams of collapsing creations started when he started uni.

He tries to control this strange situation by designing elaborate architectural landscapes, ones with the sturdiest materials. It takes years to build them, but sure enough, the night before opening, he will dream of its destruction and awake to the fresh creation burnt to ashes, collapsed to rubble. After a while, people begin to be suspicious of him and he stops being hired by architect firms. Then, when word gets out about the slightly supernatural trail of bad luck that follows him, Alfie is hired by artists who are interested in the transience of the modern urban landscape. Everything he draws and builds is beautiful, but fleeting, they write on their website. They are planning to make a documentary film which will end up looping in the exhibition rooms of the Tate for the whole of winter. His crumbling towers capture the essence of contemporary consumer futility. In his spare time, he is designing a new hypermarket, in the American style, hoping for success on British shores. He has a hopeful sense about this one; that it won’t fall down, because its purpose is so insignificant. A place where people buy groceries, reduced tellies, own-brand shampoo. Surely it would not warrant the usual extravagant disaster.

Other characters:

  • 2 x TV executives
  • Spy
  • Hitman
  • Adult entertainer

Plot points:

  • People are drawn to the supermarket because it is advertised as an innovation in consumer experience, designed by a famous architect. They want to experience the surreal browsing wonderland of an American hypermarket.
  • Alfie waits for the customers to arrive, watching them from the roof as he nervously sips brandy. He has not had the prophetic dream yet; there is no telling what will happen to this particular building.
  • The spy is actually chasing the hitman, pursuing him through the supermarket?
  • The adult entertainer, Wendy/Gwendoline, is drawn to the hypermarket because it sells very rare health-giving berries (from a specific Australian wetland) at a precious price. This is what also draws the health-conscious (unhealthily addicted to being healthy) TV executive. Turns out Wendy knows a special recipe for unlocking the berries’ hallucinogenic properties.
  • There is a war going on outside – some kind of vague nuclear meltdown between nations. A lump of debris/plane crashes into the hypermarket, shattering half the building. All the characters have to make their way to the safe part, picking their way over collapsed shelves and bodies and bricks like they are trapped in a labyrinth.
  • Everyone is oblivious to the war.
  • There is a television broadcasting disaster on a loop (because the crash cut off the signal and so it got stuck on one particular scene) but they assume it’s just a movie. Deja vu – 9/11.
  • One of the TV execs (the deceitful one) is secretly filming everything as the characters work their way through the hypermarket, fending for survival and trying to work out how to reestablish their phone/internet signal to send for help.
  • It is all about questioning what we take as reality: we witness the hypermarket from each character’s perspective – the anxious architect battling with guilt, the hallucinating Wendy and Steve McNicol the TV exec., the mesmerised hitman staring at the telly, worrying about his cat who is pining at home without him.
  • There is an irony because we know about the war outside and they don’t; they think the supermarket is a sinister environment, but actually it’s providing domestic sanctuary from the war outside (e.g. have cute scenes where characters share Pop Tarts and cereal straight from the packet, chatting about how they miss their houses).
  • It ends with the discovery of a giant telly, and the revelation that the TV executive has been filming them all along; one of them hears their own voice repeating something they have said before and follows it along to discover the telly. The final scene, perhaps, will be the characters all staring up fearfully at this giant screen reflecting their own selves – and they are frozen into silence (a silence perhaps suggestive that even the world outside has ended?).”
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