The Case of the Floating Sofa and How Cecily Wound up Under the Table

While storyboarding Ameviathan: The Green Machine, I have run into a number of visual problems that the scriptwriting process has not taken into account. One category of problems has to do with space, and in particular a floating sofa.

Before I get to the floating sofa though, let me say a word about these spatial problems in general. On some level, I had anticipated such problems and in drafting the screenplay was mindful that I should not get overly complex in what I sought to portray. Nonetheless, when I transferred what I had written on the page into three-dimensional space and actual frame-by-frame shots, I found there were still elements I had not fully considered, like the floating sofa.

Originally the floating sofa was to be in the opening sequence. In this scene, besides the plot, the main idea I wanted to communicate was Jonathan’s annoyance at Cecily. Told from Jonathan’s viewpoint, the scene begins with Jonathan working at a table in the Suspension Invention shop, when Cecily interrupts him by bursting through the front door with the day’s mail, Cecily’s delivery of the mail being the plot device. (It is from out of the mail that the story unfolds.) To foreground Jonathan’s irritation with Cecily, I decided to have Cecily playing an imaginary game of running from an invisible pursuer when she enters the Suspension Invention. Fleeing from her pursuer, Cecily would race across the room and leap behind a sofa, from where she would then proceed to have a conversation with Jonathan. During the course of the conversation, Jonathan would become increasingly aggravated with Cecily’s conduction of her end of the conversation from the cover of the sofa.

The actual genesis of the idea had come from the film [One Too Many]( fGNvPTF8aHRtbD0xfG5tPTE_;fc=1;ft=21;fm=1) (1916), directed by Will Louis. In one scene a man is being chased through a house. During the course of the chase, the man leaps behind a sofa in attempt to hide from his pursuer.

In attempting to replicate the scene in The Green Machine, what I had not taken into consideration was that in One Too Many the man’s pursuer was the person he was interacting with. The relationship that the opening sequence of the The Green Machine aims to establish is not between Cecily and her invisible pursuer, but between Jonathan and Cecily. Additionally, in One Too Many, both the man and his pursuer enter the sofa scene with the related actions. The man is running, his pursuer is looking for him. This action-reaction maneuver gives the whole scene its spatial verisimilitude.1

In “The Green Machine” however, this isn’t the case. Initially Jonathan is sitting and Cecily is running. These actions lack the action-reaction relationship of One Too Many‘s chaser and pursuer. Functioning within their individual hemispheres, Jonathan and Cecily’s respective actions cannot give the scene its spatial verisimilitude. Therefore the manner in which spatial relationships have to become established is through character viewpoint. In the opening sequence that viewpoint is Jonathan’s, and accordingly all spatial relationships are defined in terms of his view. First Jonathan’s relative position to the door that Cecily comes through has to be articulated. My solution was to place the door in the same shot with Jonathan working at the table. Next, Cecily’s action of running has to be established. So I added a window, also in the same shot as Jonathan, the table and the door (note a theme developing here). Cecily runs by the window before entering the house. Jonathan looks up, but Cecily has already passed the window, but the audience gets to see briefly Cecily’s blurred image as she passes the window. With this relationship established, now when Cecily bursts through the door to deliver the mail as well as the plot, the viewer has an idea where she has come from.

Everything sorted, checked off and accounted for – except for one thing: the sofa.

I know full well that the staging of a table, by a window, by a door, so that they all fit in the same shot, will be one Freddy-Kruger-nightmare. But I’m not worrying about it now. Theoretically in my scrtich-scratch penciling it works. Who knows, there is the remotest chance that I might be able to back the camera up far enough so I can actually fit in the table, the door, the window, Jonathan and Cecily all in the same picture frame. So one point for dream-warrior-me for not letting Mr. Kruger beat me in this particular reverie/planning stage.

Where I have to concede to Mr. Kruger’s claw, however, is on the sofa. When Meggie was shooting Brian and me in Big Bag, we found a sofa on the side of the road. It was a big nice sofa, green and plush. So we loaded half of it in an SUV Tim was driving and Brian and I supported the other half on foot on the way home. To make room for the new sofa, we retired an older smaller sofa from the living room of our house.

The Green Sofa at Proto-Con

The Green Sofa-Con
Featured from Right to Left: Bear’s Legs, Dragon sitting & Dick standing

After a lot of grunting and sweat, we managed to extract the smaller sofa and put the big, newfound sofa in its place. The unwanted sofa sat on the side of the road for two weeks in the snow. At the time I was unemployed and took to going outside during the day and sitting on it, unshaven in my flannel pajamas. Why? Because I knew that the old sofa, on the side of the road, was a poetic and forgotten beautiful-thing that even the garbage men didn’t want to contend with because it was far too cumbersome.

You would think this foray into the world of sofa-moving would have impressed on me that the sofa is the two-handed sword of furniture. It didn’t. And so I set out to reinvent the wheel and inserted a sofa in my mental-movie of the “The Green Machine”.

When I started to storyboard the scene, the quandary of the floating sofa materialized like a horrific apparition. First off, where was the sofa? And secondly how was I going to introduce it? Tackling these questions and thinking of how to connect it to Jonathan’s vantage point, I first thought I could have the sofa in the same shot as Jonathan, Cecily, the table, window and door. Hmmm… I quickly abandoned this idea right after I conjured it up. The second solution I came up with was to connect the sofa space with the table, door, window space though an action of Jonathan’s. For example: the scene could begin with Jonathan sitting on the sofa. He then gets up, walks across the room to the table, and sits down. And this would have worked. So why did I abandon the idea?

Because it would have meant a seamless pan or a bunch of extra shots. This isn’t to say that I might just go ahead and cut the table out all together and have Jonathan working and reading on the sofa. And even if the sofa isn’t featured in The Green Machine – I will say this: if I ever write a third Ameviathan, it will be called The Case of the Floating Sofa.

For the time being however, Cecily is under the table.

1 It should be noted that watching One Too Many is actually quite confusing in terms of trying to figure out where characters are located into relation to one another. The aforementioned scene in One Too Many poses no uncertain difficulty in trying to ascertain where characters enter rooms or the relative location of rooms to one another. Admittadly, this is in part due to the film’s age.

2 thoughts on “The Case of the Floating Sofa and How Cecily Wound up Under the Table

  1. I hate to make this recommendation, but I think for your current problem with camera perspective -you may want to consider a split screen or multiple panel shot as over used in the Fox show “24”. This will allow you to show two visual shots in the same frame and gives the viewer, the picture, as you wish to paint it.

    If you use it, make sure its the only time you use it in the film. As I am sure you have seen how it is truely abused and over used in film and TV today.

  2. Hey – that’s a good recommendation. For the opening scene however – it might complicate and be a little too ambitious. I do however like the idea, especially if it was used consistently throughout and worked into the overall theme of a particular piece. The movie that immediately springs to mind that does this is Sisters (1973), directed by Brian De Palma. The movie isn’t actually all that great – but it does offer some innovations. One thing it does is use split screen. The main character, Danielle Breton/Dominique Blanchion, played by Margot Kidder, suffers from a split personality disorder. While the split screen doesn’t necessarily attempt to replicate what Danielle/Dominique sees, it does on some level intuit the notion of split personality in the form of a dual vision. Most of the time, if I recall correctly, the split screen is used to show two separate events occurring at the same time that eventually meet up. I think Tim is going to ultimately VETO me from making the second Ameviathan episode. However, if it somehow gets into the pre-production sluice, inserting split-screen along with say – along with “ticker tape” (CNN style) – would defiantly be on the menu.

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