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Old 01-04-2020, 04:50 PM   #1
SundownInRetreat
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Default Exorcising Cliche

So I came across (fantastic) Screenplay Mechanic notes for a script I had long tossed on the rubbish pile, that features an exorcism halfway through and I chose for it to be off-screen because exorcisms are hokey and tired. I'm thinking of rewriting the script based on Mechanic's notes but he's adamant that I need to show the exorcism and herein lies my problem.

How can I show this without devolving into hackneyed cliche? Priests chanting religious passages, the possessed person thrashing around, the demon saying hurtful things to break everyone's resolve, cries of 'fight it!' by a spouse, before the demon is eventually driven out by the spouse insisting 'I love you, baby!'

Answers on a postcard. And by postcard I mean here.
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Old 01-04-2020, 05:14 PM   #2
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Default Re: Exorcising Cliche

Things to change things:

Setting:

Cliché: Bedroom

Less common: Back of a van, circus tent, Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Bus, cave, mosque...


Character:

Cliché: Black-clad serious priest

Less common: the first female priest/exorcist, the actual Pope, a funny priest, a novice, an actor who played a priest in a movie, only a nun is available...

How about an unusual sidekick for the priest?
An ulterior motive for the priest? What's is the priest's inner demon?
What's the character defect of the priest character?
A physical or psychological impediment...stuttering, artificial limbs, blind from a previous exorcism gone bad, terminal cancer?

Same goes for the possessed character? Does the character have funny demons lurking inside? Speaks in Riddles? A Jersey accent? Can he/she summon the pets and other animals?


Method:

Cliché: Holy water and Latin

Less common: Mountain Dew and pig latin…

Picture the Three Stooges doing an exorcism, or Will Ferrell, or Kanye...


Yes, I think a little outside the box sometimes.

R.O.T.
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Old 01-04-2020, 05:26 PM   #3
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Default Re: Exorcising Cliche

You could show it as a visual montage, which if well written can be quite powerful. I think that can be a sophisticated choice. CONTAGION does this well; they show the process of the pandemic's exponential growth without ever mentioning what its r-naught. The montage is set against energetic, threatening music.

I've always admired it. It's truly compelling.

There is not a single word spoken. There are interesting filming techniques that you can employ to emphasize the horror of what's happening, should you opt for light-handed directing on the page, which I tend to do.

CINEMATIC storytelling is a great book that demonstrates effective techniques and also shows what the scene looked like on the page relative to the final filmed version of the scene.

With a strong use of light, color (or lack thereof), contrast, and setting-- I'm sure you can come up with something quite compelling. The key is to NOT do what's been done before. Take what has been done and change it, elevate it, put a twist on it. Your job is to make it something no one has seen before but is still clearly an exorcism.
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Old 01-04-2020, 05:39 PM   #4
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Default Re: Exorcising Cliche

I should clarify my earlier post...I'm not pushing a comedic angle to the overall story.

My point is to visualize all sorts of possible settings/plots points/character variables until you find that one "ah-ha" thing that makes it work better. If the Priest has been defrocked for pedophilia does that improve the tension level? If the priest is a minor character, there can still be a minor arc for the character.

Is there during the exorcism a "reveal" moment? If so, is it revealing to one or more characters? Does something in the room change the direction of things? Is it heard by all the characters or just one?

Is there any sort of payoff for something set up earlier in the story?


...just throwing things against the wall to see what sticks...

R.O.T.
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Old 01-04-2020, 07:31 PM   #5
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Default Re: Exorcising Cliche

How about showing the exorcism in progress with the trite dialogue on mute and use music. The Stones "Sympathy for the Devil" might be too obvious or humorous. Something else would be better. Could work.
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Old 01-07-2020, 02:47 PM   #6
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Default Re: Exorcising Cliche

I'm gonna stick with my gut instinct and keep it off-screen.
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Old 01-07-2020, 06:45 PM   #7
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Default Re: Exorcising Cliche

my contribution... don't think the exorcist has to be a man of God. He (or she) has to be someone who can face down a demon and take back a body
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Old 01-08-2020, 03:32 PM   #8
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Default Re: Exorcising Cliche

Cheers!
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Old 01-09-2020, 08:48 AM   #9
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Default Re: Exorcising Cliche

Quote:
Originally Posted by SundownInRetreat View Post
So I came across (fantastic) Screenplay Mechanic notes for a script I had long tossed on the rubbish pile, that features an exorcism halfway through and I chose for it to be off-screen because exorcisms are hokey and tired. I'm thinking of rewriting the script based on Mechanic's notes but he's adamant that I need to show the exorcism and herein lies my problem.

How can I show this without devolving into hackneyed cliche? Priests chanting religious passages, the possessed person thrashing around, the demon saying hurtful things to break everyone's resolve, cries of 'fight it!' by a spouse, before the demon is eventually driven out by the spouse insisting 'I love you, baby!'

Answers on a postcard. And by postcard I mean here.

Look, there is no one particular way to do anything, or for any particular scene to be or for any particular character to be.

"Priest" is not a character description, any more than "cop" is a character description, or "accountant" or "cowboy" or "truck driver" is a character description.

Those words simply bring a certain stereotypes to mind, the same way that certain scenes bring certain stereotypes to mind like "bar fight" or "exorcism."

If the best you can do, in creating a character or writing a scene is regurgitate stereotypes based on stuff that you've seen a dozen times in movies -- then honestly I don't know what you're doing in this business.

Or, I guess -- I don't know what you're doing trying to be in this business.

There are countless ways that any particular priest, or accountant, or cowboy can be.

And there are countless ways to do a barfight, or a chase scene, or an exorcism.

The key is to look at the ways those scenes have been done in the past -- and to NOT to do it those ways.

So how do you do it?

Well, first you have to answer some questions -- and question one is -- what purpose does the scene serve, dramatically and thematically in your story?

Whose story is it? What is that character's central problem, his internal tension/struggle, that's being worked out through the external struggle of your story.

How is this scene advancing the working out of that problem? The "exorcising" of the demon in this scene obviously has to track to your protagonist's "internal demon" -- whatever that is. I don't know what that is, but hopefully you do.

When you understand what that is -- how the "demon" in your person being exorcised tracks to your protag's central need/problem -- then you have the beginnings of understanding how this scene needs to unfold -- because the exorcising of the demon, in some fashion, is going to refer back to the that need/problem of your protag.

And if it's coming in the middle of your movie, presumably it's tracking to your mid-point -- that is, to your point of no return moment. So it should be serving an important structural purpose.

So -- what is the "demon" being exorcised? How does it relate to your protagonist's central problem -- the central over-arching problem of the story that needs solving? How does exorcising it here represent a sort of "point of no return" for your protagonist? A key decision that he (she? they?) makes that sets them on a course of action that determines all that follows?

When you know what the demon embodies, then you will have a clearer sense of the means and methods of the exorcism that will be appropriate -- because all of this, understand, is just made up. It doesn't have to track back to anything real.

Could it be a priest that does it? A medium? A psychic? A channeler? Could be anybody, using any sort of means, either one that you've researched or that you've made up out of whole cloth.

Back when I was story editor on a show called Monsters, we got tons of submissions that featured demons being summoned for this or that and it reached a point where I just said -- no more demons in pentacles -- none of that traditional stuff. If you want to have somebody summoning a demon you have to do it in some completely different way because that whole "pentacle" thing is just a bore.

And a bunch of writers came up with a bunch of different ways of conjuring demons that were much more interesting.

So if doing it the way that you've seen it a hundred times seems boring an cliched -- don't do it that way. Do it some other completely different way. Nobody is going to arrest you.

All that matters is that it "feels" real, that it has detail and gravity - and most importantly, that it connects to your story in a way that has thematic legitimacy.

Hope this helps.

NMS
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Old 01-09-2020, 01:39 PM   #10
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Default Re: Exorcising Cliche

Quote:
Originally Posted by nmstevens View Post
"Priest" is not a character description, any more than "cop" is a character description, or "accountant" or "cowboy" or "truck driver" is a character description.

Those words simply bring a certain stereotypes to mind, the same way that certain scenes bring certain stereotypes to mind like "bar fight" or "exorcism.".

There are countless ways that any particular priest, or accountant, or cowboy can be.
Hi HM, thanks for contributing. The thing is, though, it's not an issue about writing priests (or any other character) or of how the exorcist and demon relate to the protagonist's internal/external conflict, but in the act itself. Every exorcism I've ever seen has been along the same lines with the exorcist (priest, medium, whoever) reading holy/trusted passages, demanding the demon leaves, and imploring the victim to fight it, usually topped off with a distraught loved-one crying from the sidelines and being the one thing that empowers the possessed to force the demon out. (How my eyes rolled when the much-vaunted The Conjuring had this very scene).


Quote:
Well, first you have to answer some questions -- and question one is -- what purpose does the scene serve, dramatically and thematically in your story?
To show that it doesn't work, that no-one can help, that it ends badly for those who try to interfere, leaving the affected feeling isolated and helpless. It demonstrates the power of the demon, the size of the task, the growing desperation of the protag, and kicks off the ticking clock.

The first thing the characters do once they accept they're dealing with a possession is get the exorcists in and they find out it's not that simple.


Quote:
Whose story is it? What is that character's central problem, his internal tension/struggle, that's being worked out through the external struggle of your story.

How is this scene advancing the working out of that problem? The "exorcising" of the demon in this scene obviously has to track to your protagonist's "internal demon" -- whatever that is. I don't know what that is, but hopefully you do.
I'm not seeing how this applies as it's the process of the exorcism itself that I'm having trouble with, seeing only cliche in how an exorcism is performed, not internal/external conflict of a character.


Quote:
Could it be a priest that does it? A medium? A psychic? A channeler?
It's a group of mediums but again, I stress it's not the characters that are my issue, but of cliche in how an exorcist goes about an exorcism.


The good news is that I think I've come up with a novel way for this to go down. It starts off with the usual cliches (as I can't see a way around them) but have managed to play out the carnage without having to have it off-screen. However, I'm really interested in hearing your response because I don't like not understanding what you're telling me and all help is appreciated.
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