3 JUNE 2019 - Freelancing work is very much in vogue these days. It's okay to call yourself a freelancer and not be seen as some kind of outcast. However, a small cabal of employers are yet to get on board with the idea and offer respectable rights to the people they employ to create content for them, and that is not acceptable.
Today I received an email from a company for whom I've done a large amount of work over the last few years. They have never paid well, but it has been a decent relationship on the whole. And I really like the colleagues who work there. In the email they offered me the chance to write a book for them. Now this is supposed to be a moment of jubilation for a writer; the culmination of years of hard work, honing the craft and wrestling with the empty page. Apart from this time they were offering what would amount to £0.99 an hour after all my tax and costs are factored in (and that was me being generous with the workings). This doesn't take into account one key additional thing: Freelancers don't receive any benefits from their commissioners. Companies don't pay a penny of: Pension, holiday pay, sick pay, amenities, office space rental, training, professional equipment (cameras, desks, computers etc.), insurance, or even petty cash items. Nothing.
So to offer crap pay like that is just maddening. And what's more annoying is the commissioners with whom I have first contact are not at fault, they are being forced to do this as a result of bad management. Ignorance and poor leadership from the top. It's important from a freelancer's perspective to realise that the person who's contacting me is not at fault here, they're being asked to basically make unfair offers from their managers. And it's those managers who NEED to read this.
At the time, I headed over to Twitter to vent and instead saw the post of a colleague who lamented that when she challenges insulting rates, she often gets bullied, to boot. One can only assume, but I think it's fair to say that this is driven by sexism. So I didn't vent because I thought, well actually, others have it far worse than me. And in fact these days, laughable offers are rarer. And I like working with this company; the staff are amazing and they work their asses off.
I'm really fortunate. I make a living off freelancing. But it wasn't always that way. So to celebrate this, my inaugural blog post, I decided that no, it's not about how bad you get treated relative to others, because it's all part of the shared experience of being a freelancer, and more importantly, of being human. So I figured I'd write this piece to remind commissioners and their budgets that you're dealing with professional humans who have costs and well-being concerns and you don't pay us benefits so you need to start factoring that into your fees please. And for god's sake, stop the sexist bullying. Freelancers have every right to contest poor offers. You have no right to belittle anyone for that.
It could be worse, sure, at least some money is being offered. But that wasn't always the case. I was expected to provide content for free in the past. And so, to cap this off, below I've reposted in full an article I wrote for a company, for which they didn't pay me a penny. I accepted the work, so ultimately, they are not to blame fully. I'm learning to value myself more now (although 'tis but a work in progress). I think this article below showcases an ability, a skill set, that even then, when I was starting out, deserved to be paid for. It's also an article of value to anybody interested in screenwriting and/or story structure and indeed in my favourite film, Apocalypse Now.
“How do you make a film about moral ambiguity that is not ambiguous?”
Francis Ford Coppola (Apocalypse Now Press Conference 1978)
Apocalypse Now Redux Screenplay: The History
In 1969 Francis Ford Coppola ordered a Vietnam War screenplay to be penned by a relatively unknown John Milius. It was loosely based on the Joseph Conrad novella Heart of Darkness with the setting transplanted to Vietnam. A decade later one of the most troubled productions in film history received eight Oscar nominations and won two. The final film resembled only portions of Milius’s first screenplay.
The two main characters Captain Willard (played by Martin Sheen who had a heart attack during production) and Colonel Kurtz (played by Marlon Brando who insisted on rewriting all his own lines) represent the two extremes of Nietzsche’s image of the human condition. As Coppola states, the film is about “walking the tightrope between the primitive man, which is in us, and the Godly man”.
Milius notes that Heart of Darkness was about Kurtz “giving oneself over to the forest, to primitivism.” While he was starting to think about adapting the book, many of his friends were returning from the war in Vietnam. He had wanted to fight but his asthma kept him out. At the insistence of George Lucas, Milius began to write, using Heart of Darkness more like an allegory rather than a direct adaptation. Coppola wanted to make a war film that was unique. Today it still stands out as the pre-eminent work in the genre.
“I felt my audiences are familiar with a war film, so first I would like to win their confidence and say ‘Come with me on a trip. It’s not a movie, it’s a trip, it’s a journey.’ I take you by the hand and say ‘come with me. We start in a movie that you understand, that you’ve seen before. We go a little further we get stranger. We go a little further we get stranger. Until after a while you are in a new place where you’ve never been before. But still, come with me’. So that after a while the only way I thought I could show the film was the way I made the film. Because I started in a regular movie. And then I made it stranger and stranger. So I take the audience on the same trip that I did.”
Francis Ford Coppola (Apocalypse Now Press Conference 1978)
Originally casting Harvey Keitel as Captain Willard, Coppola decided that the chemistry was just not right. Keitel was sent home after a week of shooting. Martin Sheen, who was battling alcoholism at the time, stepped in. The film would take almost two years to shoot, 19 months longer than first planned and budgeted for. Walter Murch, the film’s editor was responsible for ordering the chaos, so that the script was once again reworked in post production.
"Apocalypse Now is not about Vietnam; it is Vietnam. And the way we made it was very much like the way the Americans were in Vietnam. We had access to too much money, too much equipment; and little by little we went insane."
Francis Ford Coppola in Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse
Apocalypse Now Screenplay: The Structure
A very strong external goal motivates the story from start to finish.
“I needed a mission and they brought me one. After that I wouldn’t need another.”
Willard starts the film as a lost and forlorn figure (perhaps today he would be classed as having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). He wallows in booze, misery and divorce, waiting for a second tour to escape a return to an America that will never be the same to him. And so the classified mission to hunt down and kill a rogue Colonel who has become a destructive ghost becomes both Willard’s and the film’s driving force throughout.
There’s much of Homer’s The Odyssey in the film as Willard has to overcome a series of obstacles (mythological beasts in human form) to reach his goal. Kilgore is the first of these obstacles. Milius likens Kilgore to the Cyclops, the Playboy Bunnies to the Sirens and so forth, so that by Act Two, the journey of the crew aboard the PBR unit boat already seems fraught with impossibility.
By the midpoint of the film, Willard’s mission passes the last American outpost on the Nung River. From there the delve into ‘the strange’ is magnified. Willard tries to keep his dwindling crew content without telling them what their mission really is. The challenges he face to remain good, to remain true to his mission come to an apogee when Willard and the two remaining crew members arrive at Kurtz’s Valhalla and he is imprisoned. Finishing what he had started becomes his final test of faith.
Apocalypse Now Screenplay: The Characters
The exploration of the darkness in humanity is brought to life through the characters. It is the kind of journey that requires a seat belt. Some of the characters, like Kurtz, are immortalised in celluloid grandiosity. The soldiers on the PBR unit – the boat, aptly named Erebus, a Greek God of the underworld – are mostly souls trapped in the war, trying to get out alive, almost always out of their depth. Within the context of war, the spectrum of this humanity is explored through its characters. The good and evil of Willard and Kurtz respectively straddle the others who fall somewhere in between these extremes.
CAPTAIN BENJAMIN L. WILLARD
Martin Sheen plays Willard with slow, deliberate strokes. He feels almost anaesthetised at points in his delivery. He represents many positive traits, courage, morality, and yet the sense of the good in him being doused by war is ever noticeable. This is only exacerbated as the mission moves deeper into the unknown.
COLONEL WALTER E. KURTZ
Kurtz plays antithesis to Willard. He is in many ways the man Willard could have become if he had allowed the war to drag him down. Instead Willard kept to the righteous path, while Kurtz ventured far from it; into the woods never to return. In doing so he strayed from all notions of morality. It’s not that he is immoral exactly. Instead there is a sense that Kurtz has embraced primitive animalism so completely that he is rendered amoral.
LIEUTENANT COLONEL BILL KILGORE
Originally called Colonel Carnage in earlier drafts, Kilgore (played by Robert Duvall) exists right in the middle of Willard and Kurtz on the morality scale. War suits his temperament. He is clearly bored of it, or no longer surprised by war, but actually seems to enjoy the unique experience of war that is unparalleled elsewhere. His actions are always within the parameters of acceptable wartime conduct: he even cares for a wounded enemy with his guts hanging out, but will not think twice about decimating the enemy from above either.
“Any man brave enough to fight with his guts strapped in can drink from my canteen any day”.
Apocalypse Now Screenplay: The Beats
Inciting Incident – minute 17 – Willard is cleaned up and handed a classified mission. He must go upriver into Cambodia to find a once brilliant US army Colonel (Kurtz) and ‘Terminate his command…Terminate with extreme prejudice”.
Strong Movement Forward – minute 35 – Kilgore offers to take the crew and the boat to the start of the river by Air Cav, and heck, why not destroy a Vietnamese outpost while they’re at it? This offers the prospect of forwards momentum, while Kilgore’s madness and surfing obsession threaten to derail the trip.
End of Act One Turn – minute 49 – The first act turn in the 193 minute Redux comes with real fanfare. After Colonel Kilgore attacks a Vietnamese village with Wagner blaring then waxes lyrical on napalm odour, Willard takes the opportunity to escape Kilgore’s carnage with his crew and begin the journey by boat for the first time.
First Trial – minute 67 – In need of fuel and supplies without being able to provide any details of their classified mission, Willard is forced to get tough at the army store. Meanwhile the crew have their first taste of the playboy bunnies whose very presence among the soldiers causes a stampede.
Combat – minute 93 – A routine yet unnecessary stop of a sampan boat leads to Willard’s trigger happy crew killing some innocent Vietnamese civilians. This is the first time there is disunity between the crew and the beginning of increasing disharmony within as well as without.
Midpoint – minute 103 – Willard’s mission reaches Do-Lung Bridge, the last American outpost on the river. Nobody is in charge, madness reigns and beyond this point the feeling of a safety net for Willard’s mission is completely gone. Now they enter Viet Cong country.
Assumption of Power – minute 136 – When Chief Phillips is killed (“A spear!”), Captain Willard has to literally take command of the boat. Phillips had previously been the most outspoken and level-headed crew member. It was his boat and Willard was his cargo with superiority. Willard now has to assume real responsibility for the boat, the mission and his remaining crew.
End of Act Two Turn – minute 142 – The remaining three, Willard, Chef and Lance, reach their final destination – Kurtz’s camp. Eerie silence greets the crew as they sail past hundreds of villagers in war paint lining banks and filling canoes.
Decision – minute 150 – Captain Willard is resolved to meet Kurtz and talk with him. Flanked by the nervously energetic Journalist (Dennis Hopper), he trudges past the hallmarks of Kurtz’s madness – severed heads and corpses hanging from the trees. Willard tells Chef to remain on the boat with orders to radio in a carpet combing if his mission fails. “If I was still alive it was because he wanted me that way”.
Point of No Return – minute 171 – It seems as though somewhere in the confusion of captivity and Kurtz’s ramblings, Willard becomes confounded, unsure of whether his mission is just. We know he is not the first man sent to kill Kurtz. The last guy sent works for Kurtz now. Seeming as though all is lost, it is Kurtz himself who spins Willard back around. “You have no right to call me a murderer. You have a right to kill me. You have a right to do that. But you have no right to judge me.”
Climax – minute 179 – One of cinema’s best ever climaxes. With The Doors providing a psychedelic score, the gruesome end of Kurtz at the hands of Willard is intercut with the ritualistic slaughter of a water buffalo by the villagers. Cinematic perfection packed into every single moment. This ending also ties up the thematic triumph of good over evil.
“I was really desperately looking for a way to end the film, as the original script had an ending more appropriate for a war film in the style of A Bridge Too Far. So I decided, after much thought and conversation, to have Martin end by assassinating the great king (Kurtz), and utilise the fact that the Ifagao (sic) people were going to sacrifice their water buffalo on our last day of shooting.”
Francis Ford Coppola
Apocalypse Now Screenplay: The Analysis
1 – Interview between Francis Ford Coppola and John Milius https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZswrVALi2M
2 – Press conference with Francis Ford Coppola c.1978 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M0RjSteJaOU
3 – Documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse – the making of Apocalypse Now
4 – TCM http://www.tcm.com/this-month/article/188688%7C0/Apocalypse-Now.html
5 – The Literary Traveller http://www.literarytraveler.com/articles/coppola_cambodia/