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BAR EXAM: Midnight Movie

Pondering the nature of cinema on a late-night bar run

Matthew Scott Hunter

By the time I get to Boomers Bar, the Sunday night open-mic comedy show is coming to an end. I used to stop by the shows regularly, but the last couple of months I've been tethered to my apartment, working on a project. In fact, I've been such a homebody, I'm surprised to discover that in my absence from the world, an ice age has taken hold over Las Vegas. What the hell was Al Gore talking about?

I miss most of what remains of the show in favor of catching up with old friends (i.e. getting chastised for wavering in my support of local comedy).

"Where you been?" John Hilder asks.

"I've actually been working on a film project that's sort of overwhelmed my life," I explain. I finally decided the time I spent at film school (or at least the money I spent at film school) demanded at least one attempt at real filmmaking.

"I've thought about writing a script," John says, "but I don't really know the format well enough."

"Well, if you're going to write something, a screenplay is the easiest thing to write. The more blank space on each page, the better off you are."

I've just spent two months converting my own screenplay into 230 storyboards, so all those old film-school terms are rushing back to me, and the whole world is in screenplay format.


INT. BOOMERS BAR—NIGHT

It's important to set the scene and establish the characters early in the script. Boomers is filled with mingling comics and has the generally jovial atmosphere of a comedy show after-party, but our protagonist, bar columnist Matt Hunter (28, blond, in desperate need of sleep), is supposed to review Moondoggies Bar tonight. So he and his new pal (and local filmmaker), Jason, set out for the watering hole. It's what we call an inciting incident.


EXT. MOONDOGGIES BAR—NIGHT

In screenwriting class, they always emphasized the importance of knowing what your character wants versus what he needs. In this case, Matt wants to find something incredibly interesting happening at Moondoggies because Matt needs to turn in a good column to justify its tardiness in order to keep his job.

Matt pulls into the parking lot and spots a single car idling outside the bar. It's Jason.

"I rang the buzzer," he says, leaning out his window. "I think they're closed."

Oh, dear. Sunday night, and the topic of this week's Bar Exam is inaccessible. This is what we call raising the stakes. It's nice for the plot, but it sucks for the characters.

Jason spots several cars parked outside another bar a few doors down, and our heroes decide to stop there.


INT. COYOTES WEST BAR—NIGHT

Jason rings the bell and the pair is buzzed in. Since customers have to be buzzed in, that rules out the possibility of the bar being stormed by a crazed biker gang, so this evening probably won't turn into an action movie.

Once inside, there's a dining area with several booths off to the left, and to the right, there's a single pool table surrounded by an Internet jukebox, a Golden Tee golf arcade game and a few random barrels for decoration.

The décor of the rest of the bar is simple and straightforward. It won't be winning any Oscars for production design, but the layout is small enough to feel cozy without being claustrophobic. Jason and Matt sit down at the standard horseshoe bar, which encircles the center, bottle-laden island and an assortment of TVs. Across the bar, between the painted silhouette of a howling coyote and a giant inflatable football player (who apparently plays for Miller Light), a group of eight or nine people engages in a game of beer pong.

"That's disgusting," Jason says before describing the reasons why a Ping Pong ball is far too dirty to be placed in a beverage you intend to drink. But then, most drinking games are undesirable in at least one aspect. They have the benefit of making you less capable of minding the longer you play.

The bartender sets a Corona in front of Matt. When he tries to pay, the bartender nicely and casually waives the charge and walks away. In a screenplay, you typically don't want things to get easier for your protagonist late in the second act, but Matt isn't complaining.

Jason puts the cinematic discussion on hold long enough to point out the curvy and devastatingly hot young brunette seated at a video-poker machine nearby. She's accompanied, but it never hurts to include some eye candy in your script. Film is, after all, a visual medium.

"Story's the most important thing," Jason says. "Film people will appreciate cool shots, but if the story's not there, then you won't win over the audience." He goes on to emphasize the importance of acting when the bartender discreetly snatches the near-empty Corona bottle and replaces it with a fresh one, again, on the house.

"Wow," Matt says, "this bar's awesome."

It's also worth writing about, which brings a happy ending to this week's Bar Exam drama. It never hurts to end your film on an up note.
FADE OUT.

Coyotes West
Where: 1750 S. Rainbow Blvd.
Info: 258-7811.

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