Ethan L. Vincent and Professor Stan Ferguson, Theater and Media Arts
Research and writing “Cora Chattering” was an interesting process. Terrie Petree’s seven page short story “Eating the Old Thoughts” offered enough material for a 21 page script, translating into approximately 20 minutes screen time – the ideal length for a student short film. Although the script diverts somewhat from Terrie Petree’s original story, these necessary changes made the characters and their relationships to each other more animated and accessible. As a result, I learned a great deal about the compromises of short story adaptations.
At first it was important for me to understand the main character, Cora Chattering, in relation to the events that led up to her form of personality disorder. Having lost the majority of her family through tragic accidents, her oldest son Tell and daughter Liv killed through a gun feud, and losing her husband six months later of a heart attack, Cora was left helpless with her two youngest children, Kade and Faith. Having lived a sparse social life, her ability to deal with the loss of her family became a burden she carried single-handedly, excluding Kade and Faith from the mourning process. Questions that came to my mind as I read the story were: When did Cora loose the ability to live in the here and now in communion with the remainder of her family? How did the consumption of her ritualistic meals representing each dead family member sublimate Cora=s inner anguish? And finally, what would heal Cora from her distress? These three questions would prove to offer the ground work for my research project.
I consulted a Master in psychology, who is currently defending his doctorate thesis, on the inner life of Cora. He stated that often other events precursor personality disorder before the final triggering moment of shock. In Cora=s case, seeing the departure of any family member, especially her oldest son Tell leaving for college, meant losing her value as mother and provider. Certainly there must have been incidents in Cora=s own childhood as well that colored her outlook on family life. This angst over losing her individuality rendered Cora vulnerable prior to the dramatic loss of her children. Handicapped in her communication with her husband and children, Cora had no outlet to mourn or vent – another catalyst leading to personality disorder. In the end, Cora would hear whispers and voices, would talk to objects and her dog Ray and prepare a meal that represented each dead and living child on the anniversary of her children=s death. In response to healing Cora my friend suggested that only Cora=s willingness to open up and talk about her torments in some form of therapy would begin the healing process.
During the creative process of writing I had to determine how to externalize Cora’s anguish without alienating the audience. In addition, I felt that I had to come up with a more satisfying ending, one of hope for Cora, not Petree’s allusion to Cora’s suicide. A flashback sequence prior to the death of Tell and Liv was added to make a comparison between the pre-traumatized Cora and post-traumatized Cora. Showing Cora saying goodbye to her oldest son Tell and the first meal that she prepared following his absence would reveal Cora=s pattern of helplessness. With the rest of her children still alive, more dialogue was added especially to highlight the relationship between Faith and Cora. Of course it was mostly Faith doing the talking, her attempt to understand the changes in her mother after Tell’s departure. Each unsuccessful attempt would make Faith more distant and callous towards Cora until finally their relationship was shattered.
Tell’s return as a college drop out and “fallen angel” would offer the climactic scene. However, instead of telling the story of Tell and Liv’s tragic death in a linear fashion, a hyper-narration by Cora with fragmented flashbacks were added as she finally tells the unfolding events to her dog Ray. In the final scene, Faith pulls into the driveway and overhears her mother recounting the events to Ray on the porch, she is filled with enough mercy to approach her mother again. Cora, for the first time, recognizes her daughter and embraces her. They sit and mourn together after years of silence.
After writing the script, I arrived at a realistic financial estimate through the use of the “Movie Magic Budgeting and Scheduling” software. The final dollar amount is primarily dependant on values entered by myself concerning actors’ hourly salary and payment of film crew members. To minimize these numbers, I entered low values, hoping the majority of actors and crew members were students, willing to work for free. With the use of only one interior and four exterior locations (Cora=s dining room – Interior, Cora’s house – Exterior, By the pond – Exterior, Grocery store – Exterior and On the back porch – Exterior) the production costs were kept moderately low. The only costs remaining were film stock purchase, art decoration, catering and transportation. For the production of “Cora Chattering” I estimate a minimum budget of $ 2,300.