Friday, April 8, 2011

Emails #28: Teaser Trailer "The Cold"

The cold. Just need to rest here for a minute.

Harsh arctic winds pile snow up over Cap's body. Even with the Super Soldier Serum in his veins, he can not last much longer. Temperatures have dipped to minus sixty. Finally, he passes out and everything goes black. All we hear is the bitter howl of the wind...

The howl becomes the wail of a train whistle, piercing. A light appears as if at the end of the tunnel. Cap squints to get a better look. The countryside is grey and quiet. Snow is falling in big fist-sized feathers. Some kind of gated camp is coming into view as the train engine slows. Cap sees them standing there behind the fences like ragged scarecrows, unmoving and silent. Cap jumps from the side of the train to get a better look. He crushes the chain on the gate in the grip of his bare hands and walks through. He is unopposed. Rounding a corner, Cap sees what he thinks is a young boy tugging on the boot of the fallen German soldier. The child is dressed in grey rags. The soldier is young, maybe sixteen and has a self inflicted bullet wound to the head. Cap reaches for the boy who pulls away from him and turns, holding the prize of the boot in his hands. The child is dressed in grey rags. The soldier is young, maybe sixteen and has a self inflicted bullet wound to the head. Cap reaches for the boy who pulls away from him and turns holding the prize of the boot in his hands. The boy is a malnourished, grey skinned mess with wild eyes, practically a living skeleton. Cap draws back shocked and frightened. He looks around him. The scarecrows are moving ever so slowly, perhaps drawn to his brightly colored uniform. A snowflake falls on Cap's face and as he blows it away he realizes that it is nothing but ash. The train whistle blows...

Cap's eyes pop open in horror. He shakes off the snow and prays: "Lord I will fear no evil for you are with me. Should I perish this day, I accept your judgement and ask your forgiveness of my sins... Save me Lord... [pauses] us all." He struggles to his feet taking tremendous effort. He must press on. Red Skull must be made to pay for his crimes. The wind howls and tears at his body and from somewhere, Cap finds the strength to continue...

Ben: I think this right here could totally be a teaser trailer or mini fan film.

Rick: I see this teaser as having a simple visual style. The writing could be more terse but the imagery is already fairly stark and unforgiving. The contrast between the grey, ash-filled sky, the grey buildings, grey "scarecrow" people and Cap's patriotic colors mark this as an almost otherworldly place. Cap is caught by surprise. While, like other soldiers, he may have heard rumors of this kind of atrocity, the weight of it as a reality is overwhelming. How could anyone do this to another human being? If ever evil had touched the earth it is in this place. In my own mind, I imagine Cap's reaction in following scenes. "WHY WASN'T I TOLD??!!!" It is hard to picture Cap not diverting his attention to liberating camps rather than fighting battles or pursuing the Red Skull. His strong moral backing would not allow him to turn away. Would generals have kept him in the dark in order to keep him on mission? Even though Cap was created for a specific use, wouldn't he feel betrayed? What would he do about it? Perhaps this is the first time Cap comes to feel manipulated or mistrusts the government he has sworn to defend. Maybe it is just such moral experiences that allow Cap to grow from being a child into a man.

Dear Readers: As you continue to look at Steve Rogers/Captain America from the perspective of both myth and screenwriting, what stage is this for him as a hero?

The world must know what happened, and never forget.
-General Eisenhower, while visiting Nazi death camps, 1945

When I came to power, I did not want the concentration camps to become old age pensioners homes, but instruments of terror.
-Adolf Hitler


  1. We have talked about Steve Rogers as a young boy, struggling against illness and learning about patriotism. As a young man so many things are out of reach physically and socially. After he is transformed by the Super Solder Serum, it seem as if the pace of his life accelerates. He becomes a man in combat, a leader during chaos, a moral compass and an inspiration to the regular joes who have lost hope. His costume makes him both target and symbol.

  2. "The Cold" is a snippet taken from the end of Captain America's WWII era. The war is over by only a few hours and the Red Skull has killed Bucky. Cap has been badly injured yet pursues the Skull with all his strength. Here is where the story begins. Cap is fading fast in the snow and it would be so easy to rest here and let his Nazi enemy escape. No one would blame him after everything that had happened. Just rest a minute, one minute. He falls to the ground and blacks out from pain and exhaustion. The wind is howling so loudly. Unbidden his mind unlocks a memory of a terrible place and the unspeakable horror he saw there.

  3. In the dream/memory/vision Captain America faces a defining moment in his life. So much has happened up until now, much of it sobering. Every event, every death, every bullet fired has led Cap to this one moment. When it is over, he will be changed forever. Every whistle, every tea kettle, every train whistle will sound differently from now on. Snow which had always seemed so playful will now carry with it great foreboding. He pictures the bare foot of the dead soldier who was his age. He is surrounded by the barely living and they are too weak to scream so he does it for them, long and loud echoing off the far hills. No one hears. No one comes. War was a game with carved soldiers on a stump, a harmless diversion for a sick boy with a restless mind.

  4. War is madness, a barbarity that cuts all the way to the core. There is no avoiding this reality.

    Cap must find the Red Skull and stop him. How many times in his life had he wanted to quit? Learning to walk again and falling down, face crushed into the dirt. He can almost hear those bullies laughing and calling him names. He must rise up. Stand and walk or drag himself inch by terrible inch. "Baseball? Son, with hard work you may be able to hobble on crutches. You'll never walk again..." Somewhere inside him a flame burns and he feels the heat spiderweb throughout his veins and flush his cheek. "...You'll never walk again..."

  5. I've been thinking about why Cap never impressed me as a character. Looking back at the Lee-Kirby stories in Tales of Suspense, it was concepts like the Cosmic Cube and AIM with its synthetic humans that I enjoyed, the SF stuff, not the patriotic theme.

    Cap is basically a superhero wrapped in the US flag. Sure, you can explore themes related to patriotism, but that can run dry quickly. The man-out-of-his-time aspect gave some depth to the character with his 1960s revival but in the end he was just a living symbol fighting super villains.

    For me a character has to be more than a symbol. Take away the patriotic aspect and all you have is another superhero with superior fighting skills and a gimmick weapon (his shield). Sorry, but I'm not impressed with the red-white-and-blue personified. I don't see how a writer can get much new mileage out of such a limited concept.

    (Hey, you wanted comments. Maybe this will kick start some discussion.)

  6. Luke - It sounds like you have problems with the character of Captain America himself. I want to thank you for commenting. Is Cap the greatest character ever imagined in comics? No. Not even close. I wouldn't begin to debate that here. I know that as a writer yourself, character is an important issue, perhaps THE important issue when sitting down to write. So, to answer partially how a writer can get new mileage out of a limited concept - they can't. Every writer on Cap or any other soap opera style comic comes in and puts their own spin, their own face on the characters and stories. Some Cap stories are more sci-fi, some more crime, some more villain of the month, some more conspiracy edged. Cap in particular became whatever the writer wanted to talk about.

    A lot of comic characters are particularly one note and I am certainly not defending this quality by any stretch of the imagination. I am acknowledging that serial comics/characters change hands and end up with confusing, snarled, contradictory and sometimes downright unworkable histories. Cap's long history is littered with stops, starts and various miscues.

    When we started we asked the question, how do you write a two hour modern film for a character with 70 years of history?

    Next to this, I will add the question of how a writer can get new mileage out of such a limited concept (i.e. living symbol/patriotism)?

    Luke, thank you again! I think there are a lot of areas to be covered and you bring up valid concerns.

  7. Thanks for commenting Luke! Years ago I was talking to Rick about this very thing. I wondered if it could be done-- Cap is indeed kind of one-note so, how difficult it might be to write a compelling screenplay about him? I'm not sure about an infinite serial like the comic, but for a film, that very question is exactly the conflict I wanted Cap to have and exactly what I wanted him to answer. I mean, if you take any super hero's ideals away, what are they but a suit and a gimmick? Take Superman's Truth/Justice or Spider-man's Power/Responsibility away and what are you left with? I think one of the things that makes these characters last decade after decade are their ideals. Sure, if Cap was just a walking American flag spouting political talking points, I'd be the first out the door. But, if we look into the man behind the mask, suddenly we have a unique and complex assemblage of experiences over time that is at once amazing and tragic. Through Cap's mythology we can shine light on all kinds of concepts, lessons and conflicts. I think a lot of folks reminisce about what friendship used to mean-- about friends who would go to the ends of the Earth for each other whereas these days, talk is cheap. I see a Cap film as a wonderful opportunity to remind us all what an ideal American is like. And I don't even mean Cap! Cap is the spirit guide through which we see the ideal American. Hard working, charitable, dedicated, open-minded. The kind of person who grows not of revising history, but who grows out of the pain of injustice towards peoples, workers and women to become more than a some of those parts. What does it mean to be a good and decent person regardless of race, religion or creed? Steve Rogers is not these things, Steve Rogers strives for these things. Captain America was born out of patriotism, but that does not mean that's all he is. Like any compelling story, we must look into the deeper, human meaning as well as the cool stuff. Hopefully that gives you some insight as to my view!