Adapting Happy Jack … my first attempt at a screenplay

Back in 2013 in the first weeks of my master’s in creative writing program at the University of Edinburgh, I started on a project called Happy Jack about a man with the power to know exactly what the people around him needed to be happy. The catch: He’s compelled to do whatever it takes to bring them happiness, often at great personal cost.

Everything in my mind then was NOVELNOVELNOVEL, so that’s how I wrote Happy Jack. I love the story. I think it’s actually the best plot I’ve ever devised. But it’s flawed as a novel — mostly due to my learning curve as a young writer.

The story continues to call to me to get it out in the world, but after spending the last several months writing and revising The Vultures of Hogwaller and investing energy to find an agent and get it published, I didn’t want to commit to another novel-sized effort. As it turns out, I read Save the Cat and prepared a Save the Cat beat sheet to adapt the manuscript into a screenplay back in 2017 before some “life” sprung up and waylaid my writing aspirations for a spell.

Hallelujah for the cloud, as all my beat sheet prep work was still online and my copy of Save the Cat was still on the shelf. Looking over my beat sheet, it was pretty good (go, 2017 Jay). I figured now was the time to give screenwriting a try. Less commitment than rewriting the entire novel while focusing on Vultures and I could learn a new form.

It went by pretty fast! Writing 115 pages of screenplay is a hell of a lot easier than 300+ pages of dense prose. I still need to give it a good edit, make sure those Save the Cat-modeled beats really sing, sharpen the dialogue, etc., etc., but here’s a look at the scene where Jack meets the our antogonist, Dr. Archambeau, near the end of Act 1 (Forgive the formatting! Screenplay format doesn’t copy over well):

EXT. SECLUDED DAUPHIN ISLAND BEACH – DAY

Jack is slouched in his beach chair by the van, exhausted. A ghost crab skitters near his feet.

JACK
I can’t keep this up. It’s always something. I’ve got to get further away.

The crab runs into its hole in the sand.

JACK
Yeah, exactly. Easy enough for you.

Jack looks up to see a man stumbling down the beach. He’s fat, short and ridiculously dressed in a searsucker suit, buckskin boots and a straw hat.

JACK
Can I help you?

DR. ARCHAMBEAU
My name is Dr. Claudius Beauregard Archambeau, and I knew your father in Vee-et-nam. I have an offer for you, Jack Hazelwood.

Dr. A hands Jack a business card.

INT. TOYOTA 4X4 VAN – DAY

Jack and Dr. A sit at a small table in the cramped cabin. Dr. A looks overheated and faint. Jack fiddles with the business card before setting it down.

JACK
Are you OK?

DR. ARCHAMBEAU
I have a number of conditions that contribute to my, how should I say, dashing figure. But presently, I believe a dodgy thyroid is responsible for my state of lassitude. A juice, perhaps?

Jack flips open a cooler and hands Dr. A a Capri Sun.

DR. ARCHAMBEAU
That’ll do. Tell me. Did your mother, sweet Joy, ever tell you how your father died?

JACK
Yeah. What do you know about it?

DR. ARCHAMBEAU
I was on that plane, Jack. The one that went down. I’m the only survivor.

JACK
How?

DR. ARCHAMBEAU
I was saved by bar-tailed godwits.

JACK
(recollection stirring)
What did you say?

DR. ARCHAMBEAU
Birds. Migrating birds. Birds mean land. I swam, how far I cannot say. The birds kept coming, leading me, to an island, somewhere in the South Pacific. I persevered. I learned to fish the reef. The colors of the fish, they were infinite. Octopi striped like zebras. Sea urchins pink as bubble gum and big as basketballs. Crabs in purple armor, like Samurai warriors. I ate them all. But they couldn’t satiate my loneliness. Thank God for the Japanese fisherman that finally found me.

Dr. A pauses and Jack snaps out of a hypnotized state.

JACK
Why didn’t my mom tell me about you?

DR. ARCHAMBEAU
Oh, I don’t think she wanted you to be haunted by your daddy’s ghost. When Joy died, I tried to find you, to offer my help. It was the least I could do after your daddy saved my life in the war. I didn’t know where to find you. Until there you were on my TV!

JACK
Look, it’s been real nice talking to you. But I’ve got a lot to do. The oil spill…

DR. ARCHAMBEAU
Is a monumental travesty and failure of mankind. But you haven’t heard my offer yet, Jack.’

JACK
There’s nothing I need. I’m happy with the way things are.

DR. ARCHAMBEAU
It looks to me like the way things are is killing you.

JACK
I’m needed here. I can’t go.

DR. ARCHAMBEAU
Maybe what would make you happy is a change of scenery. Learn to live in the real world again.

JACK
You don’t know what the real world would do to me…

DR. ARCHAMBEAU
I know what you are, Jack. You have a gift.

JACK
What?

DR. ARCHAMBEAU
There are people in this world who believe in magic. You make people happy, Happy Jack. And you can learn to control it. I can teach you. Don’t waste your life out here, some maladroit hermit.

JACK
It’s safer here.

DR. ARCHAMBEAU
Come with me. Let me repay the debt I owe your father.

JACK
Where would we go?

DR. ARCHAMBEAU
(smiling)
The Big Easy. N’Awlins, my boy.

Posted on March 23, 2021, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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