A breathless moment: two action heroes run for their lives through corridors of a building while, behind them, a bomb is ticking down through its final seconds. They find their exit, sprint away from danger as the ticking stops. In leaping for cover they seem to be thrown forward by an explosion which consumes the building and lights up the entire screen. Miraculously not even scorched, they continue in pursuit of the pantomime villain behind all the mayhem.
Of course, the explosion scene is an illusion. Our heroes have performed their leap towards camera in front of a green or blue backcloth. The pyrotechnics boys fill in the background afterwards.
The result is very convincing. It works perfectly, as long as one of the components of the foreground shot does not share a colour with the screen. In other words, if you are working in front of a green screen, don’t wear the same shade of green. Why? Because that portion of you will vanish from the finished shot. You’ll disappear like Chevy Chase in ‘Memoirs of an Invisible Man’!
The same is true of life, really – something it has taken me a long time to understand.
Comedy derived from humiliation or humour which relies upon misfortune has never seemed funny to me. Characters who are loud, wisecracking or patently insincere (include most politicians and ‘fixers’ in that category) are anathema. They jar my consciousness so profoundly I often cannot remain in the same space. I will switch off or walk away rather than continue the conversation, while others will be inveigled or even charmed. How is this so?
I would be the last to invent a crutch for myself by saying my childhood was not a happy one, or excuse my misspent youth and my disastrous first marriage as the fallout from a relationship that was broken. We all bear responsibility, right from the beginning, for our misfortunes and frequently contribute to them. I do not believe in fate.
It takes the gift of maturity to look back upon each slight, each humiliation, each vicissitude of fortune and put it in its proper place within the background picture of our past. We all do it. Yet it remains a living image, and if we are truthful there will be nights when, in the darkness and the silence, we recall those times as if they were yesterday. We re-live them, we ask ourselves how, if we had done this or said that, our future might have been altered. Some might call this regret, I do not. Only if those arguments persist in the light of day can they be considered so. Otherwise, we are simply looking back at the green screen, and reminding ourselves of the colours we cannot wear.
My green screen sequences – those I find most comfortable – are not, for the most part, violent or contentious. The humour I enjoy does not insult, the characters I like, the people I like, bear the light of humanity in their eyes. They know how to pity and how to love. Those who deceive or demean find a colour in common with those from my experience and they take a part of me away. My reaction might be mere distaste, or more extreme.
They might arouse anger in me; no, not in a violent way, or as is the case with some, comically (Basil Fawlty is one of my favourite comedy characters, by the way. I’ve met my share of real ones). No, this is more a constructive anger – one which wishes to correct the wrong, and, as a writer, to express a layer of emotion in my portrayal that tints the sentence or nuances the phrase. If I have a skill, it is that. My missing colours are layered upon the page.
Of course, my explosive scene is an illusion. My characters are unharmed by it, they move through the plot, contemporary to their time. But I am watching the background shot, and finding them from among the missing colours in me.