Sunday, July 24, 2016


The focus of this production is on making this story into a film. Words are being sacrificed. Beautiful words. Amazing words that have so much deep meaning. It's very hard for me to do this. And as I work more and more deeply on the piece, I get rid of even more words because this is a film.

To me, this means exploring the way in which the words create images and putting images in place of words when it serves the film. There are some pretty good film versions of Hamlet out there. Some of them have a lot of merit.

I love the Olivier version because he really does explore some of the filmic possibilities. It's like a horror movie. Very atmospheric. The castle, the fog and the ocean waves are also characters. He also explored the psychology in some depth and he created some powerful images based on his reading of Freudian psychologist (and student) Ernest Jones' book about Hamlet. There's a lot to recommend it...but it's not the film I want to make.

Mel Gibson is pretty good too. Very clear and interesting version. My biggest complaint is that the director takes the film outside and breaks the spell of the claustrophobia that seems to grip everybody in the story. In some ways, a good Hamlet should resemble Luis Bunuel's film The Exterminating Angel where a bunch of people get trapped in a place by some invisible (possibly internal) force that makes them unable to take the simple action of leaving.

A lot of Hamlet films (and stage productions) are vanity pieces for Hamlet. I understand what draws actors to Hamlet. It's an incredible role and I had the honor of doing it myself long ago. But it seems to me that a film is a good chance to explore more than just the one guy. The whole world is disintegrating around them. Everything they believe is being called into question. The stability of their country is challenged by internal and external threats. The story can easily explore what is happening to all of these interesting people.

So what am I doing? I'm trying to extract images and let those images lead me organically to creating a film based on images. This means that certain themes or plot points may change as they undergo the process of being fit into a 90 minute (or so) image based creation that has to have its own logic and its own raison d'etre. There is no way to make Shakespeare's Hamlet in such a short film. And there is no way to preserve all the beauties and wonders of Shakespeare in any film and still be able to call it a film.

I have planted my imagination in Shakespeare's garden and let it grow whatever it grows. I'm also working within a set of parameters (especially that this must be an organic film) that necessarily influence what I'm doing.

I also expect the actors to add to this stew. Actors will bring their own personalities and talents and insights into the ring and those also will influence the final shape of the film.

I am doing my best not to butcher what I love about Hamlet but I am very concerned to make a real film with the real actors who are part of it. I want to let this material live in a different form.

A film has to have its own life. Shakespeare's theatrical writing threatens to strangle the life out of the image-based medium of film unless you extract his images and translate them into film like you would translate his work into French.

I hope this gives you more of an idea what I'm trying to do.

Saturday, July 23, 2016


Hamlet heard that his father was dead. He got on his horse and rode as fast as he could back home where he expected to find himself being prepared to become king. Instead, he finds that his uncle has taken over and his mother has joined against him. No matter how else we interpret her actions, we have to see that she has joined a coup d'etat against her own son. She may have good reasons, but Hamlet isn't likely to care what they are. The father dies and the son becomes king. It's as simple as that. Not the uncle. (I know that Denmark was not strictly an hereditary monarchy. Hamlet himself makes this clear, but I think he feels cheated of his rightful crown.)

Clearly, a lot of people conspired to make this happen. This is quite obvious. Hamlet suspects that his father didn't die of natural causes. He's suspicious from the start. And with good reason. He doesn't know exactly what his mother's part was, but it wasn't good. He's sure of that. And he has to wonder if she was fucking Claudius before his father died.

On top of that, a man who has always enjoyed his mother's nearly undivided attention suddenly finds himself pushed out of favor by her marriage to a man he despises and mistrusts. Hamlet has been pampered and protected by his mother all his life. His father was probably too paranoid to fully embrace the idea of an heir and he let his son idle away a lot of time at school. If he had been serious about making the boy into a king, he would have kept him near and taught him the ins and outs. But he probably feared that the kid would turn on him and maybe kill him. Seems like he was something of a prophet after all.

Gertrude was also not important to King Hamlet. He neglected her and never asked her advice or her thoughts on the events of the day. She had plenty of time to give her love and affection to her son. And she kept him close. Probably let him sleep in her bed. The boy had a too generous portion of his mother's love and too much exposure to her lovely, opulent, sweet-smelling, pampered queenly flesh. And all the while his father looked away and kept busy as warrior and a king. But why wasn't his son at his side when he conquered the lands of Norway? Why wasn't Hamlet trained to be a serious warrior king like his father? After all, everybody knows Laertes is a better swordsman than Hamlet.

In spite of all this, it's clear that Hamlet loved his father. It's not exactly clear in what sense this is true, but there's no reason to doubt Hamlet's sincerity on this point (even if we have to mix in his no doubt complicated feelings).

Hamlet also has to know that he is sort of responsible for his father's death. By being away at school and frittering away his time on intellectual pursuits, he was in no position to fill the power vacuum when it opened. As intelligent as he is, he must realize that if Claudius killed Hamlet Senior in order to become king, he must have conceived the plan because he was aware that young Hamlet didn't have enough street cred to convince the nobility that he was right for the job.

A man doesn't kill a king and conspire to leap over the rightful heir to the throne unless he's pretty sure a lot of other people are going to see things his way. And with Gertrude and Polonius on his side, he had to be pretty sure he would manage to get the job.

And all of this has transpired before the play even begins.

Monday, July 18, 2016


This version of Hamlet is built around the line “Denmark’s a prison.” Every character in Hamlet lives in some kind of prison: the past, trauma, ambition, desire, a need to be loved. The bigger sense of prison is mortality.  Images of death and fate abound in Hamlet. The image of the prison will be reinforced by several means throughout the film. The sets and costumes will often have elements of imprisonment.

I don't think this is a radical or necessarily new take on Hamlet. My main interest is just to shift the focus to certain elements at the expense of others. Cutting the story to 90 minutes will necessarily force me to lose some lines and ideas that I absolutely love. However, I just don't see any value in making a longer and subsequently more confusing and difficult film. By focusing on a fairly strict idea of what the film is about, I think I can translate Hamlet into a visual feast and still keep the power of the story.

The cutting (and adding of visual scenes) also forces both the creators and the audience to follow new elements. Hopefully, this will have the effect of making parts of the story seem new without diminishing the things that always bring people back to Hamlet.

Actors won't be able to say that they "know" the character because the added and missing elements will necessarily create the need to do work on finding something that fits into this version.

Hamlet has lost the most lines. (Not counting Horatio who has been excised completely). This version is not especially Hamlet-centric. I'm not really trying to make some point by doing this. I just think that a film version allows us to expand the stories of some of the other characters and to put the focus on them more than we can on a stage. On stage, Hamlet's energy will inevitably dominate a good production of the play. This broader story is more interesting to me at this point in my life. I also think that some people will enjoy this as an opportunity to explore certain elements of the story more deeply.

I hope you will enjoy this re-imagined version of Hamlet and find it a project you want to be part of. With some new scenes and new elements, we have an opportunity to discover new things together and bring freshness to the work. I've written some scenes that I think are essential but within these scenes, within these images, within this little prison of structure and plot points, I hope there is lots of room for actors to roam and create and make the characters their own.


Saturday, July 16, 2016


I want to clear some things up about the nudity. I expect to be judicious in my use of nudity as I would be in using any kind of disorienting technique on the audience. Too much of anything just doesn't work in most cases.

However, I also want actors who won't make a big deal out of showing some flesh. It makes the entire set, from the director, the other actors and the crew, uncomfortable when nudity becomes bigger than the actions they are trying to film.

I understand that this is difficult for some people. That's exactly why it's powerful for an audience - if used carefully.
In my mind, the world of this play is an easily torn atmosphere as thin as Tennessee Williams Southern gothic gossamer, and the only way we can make something beautiful out of all the violence and misery of this story is to all be on the same page pulling in the same direction.


Nudity is used for Ophelia to demonstrate her vulnerability. She takes off her clothes in front of her father as part of a ritual that she doesn’t dare to question. In the mad scene, her clothes are tattered and revealing because she is unable to think normally. She has lost her ability to protect herself or to think of how she is perceived. These scenes should be sad, disturbing and vaguely erotic. That kind of energy disturbs the audience as well and forces them into places they've never been with Hamlet.


For Gertrude, showing some flesh has two functions. The first function is to show that she is becoming comfortable with her formerly repressed sexuality. I don't have a measure for how much flesh we have to see to make this work. Most of her relationship with Claudius should be conveyed in unashamed sensuality. 

I want her to examine her body in the montage scene I posted. I feel that this plays well with Hamlet's line about "Make her laugh at that." It also shows her insecurity and how Claudius takes her away from her tormenting doubts.

I also want her to show her beauty. I don't like this feeling of shame about older women's bodies. Women are beautiful and Gertrude is discovering her beauty through the eyes and actions of Claudius.

I understand that this can be a double-edged sword and I would never put an actress in the position of being embarrassed. In the end, Gertrude will be as free as the actress really feels and the tension between what she wants to be and what she is contains a lot of its own kind of drama and we will capture that and use it in the film.


Hamlet is nude only in the scene I have added where he is put into an asylum by Claudius. This is where he has been sent away to an asylum called "England" instead of on a ship that is boarded by pirates. I have also added the detail that Hamlet is beaten during his interrogation by Claudius (with the assistance of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern). I want the audience to feel that Hamlet is truly in danger and I want to convey the same vulnerability for him that we have seen in Ophelia. I am searching for parallels between the characters that are not often explored and I need radical means to achieve these. I don't need full frontal unless the actor wants to go there. I just don't want the scene to be about somebody who is afraid to show his junk.
Hamlet and Ophelia also have some sexual contact but as far as I have conceived it, there's no serious nudity. This is because I don't think that the depressed Hamlet is capable of any kind of deep sensuality. This is among the reasons he is so angry toward his mother and Claudius. How dare they enjoy the sensual pleasures of their rotting flesh while the whole world is falling into madness and disease.

In the end, anything can be discussed, but once we have sat down together and agreed on what needs to be done, it will be added to the script in detail. I consider the script to be a contract between actors and directors. I will never bully people into anything. That's as boring to me as it would be to you. I want actors who see my vision and want to join me in it. And I want people as happy as anybody can be who is delving into the filth, ruin, decay and bitterness of Hamlet.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

GRAVEYARD MONTAGE (Hamlet, Gertrude, Claudius, Laertes, Ophelia)

The gravedigger goes back to work singing in the background. Hamlet quietly peruses the skull for a time.

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him - a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; Where be your gibes now? your gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one now, to mock your own grinning? quite chap-fallen?

Now Hamlet speaks out loud.

Now get you to my lady's chamber, and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favor she must come; make her laugh at that.

Hamlet repeats his line - Make her laugh at that - and then he laughs loudly. CU of the skull as Hamlet's laughter rings and seems to come from the skull itself.


Gertrude stands in front of her mirror wearing a negligee. She studies her aging body with fear and concern (behind her a whisper "Make her laugh at that"). She puts on lipstick.


CU of lipstick being applied to the dead body of Ophelia which lies on a slab. She is being dressed and made up for burial. Laertes enters the room and makes everyone leave. He touches Ophelia's face.


CLAUDIUS moves into view in the mirror behind Gertrude. He begins to touch her gently but passionately and he slowly begins to caress her over her negligee. Gertrude is ashamed of herself, ashamed of her body, ashamed of her guilty flesh that cannot help but lust. Slowly, she gives in and finds herself in a passionate kiss.


Hamlet sits in the graveyard dazed still holding the skull of Yorick. His ruminations on death have sunk him and he is beyond even his madness now in his powerless despair.


CLAUDIUS is now fervently kissing Gertrude. He pushes her back on the bed and looks at her intensely as he puts his hand on her face and on her lips. He slows down because he feels some resistance but she suddenly pulls him down to her.


Laertes caresses Ophelia's dead face. He puts his fingers on her lips and his intense pain overwhelms him.


Hamlet caresses the skull of the one friend he has ever trusted on the earth.


CLAUDIUS and Gertrude are passionately making love.


Laertes now has his fingers around his sister's neck as he did in the earlier scene where he half-threatened her and his entire body has tightened in anger.


Hamlet's face with an expression of self-loathing, ironic mockery of his own feelings. Too many emotions to chart or describe. Another explosion of his bitter laughter.


Laughter continues and turns into moans of pleasure as Gertrude and Claudius finish. Claudius rolls off her and Gertrude's face reveals her mixed emotions.


Laertes explodes in anger and runs out of the morgue.

A slashing guttural piece of music punctuates a quick fade to black.



Ophelia sits on her chair making garlands of flowers. Her hands bleed from handling thorns. She is now wearing the wedding dress from the previous scene with Hamlet. The dress is torn and tattered and her flesh spills out in various places in ways that both eroticize her and make her more vulnerable. Her make-up is overdone and grotesque. In contrast to her torn dress and smeared lipstick and mascara Ophelia looks very calm. The trees and foliage from outside her window have pushed through the bars until they now intrude on her interior space. Her books are strewn, scattered and torn and her album of paintings and drawings lies open on the table.

The dolls are now mostly cut open and piled randomly like corpses on the shelf. Flowers are strewn over the table and the entire floor. Ophelia is muttering to herself.

I have heard of your paintings too, well enough; God hath given you one face, and you make yourselves another. I'll give thee this plague for thy dowry. Go to, I'll no more on't; it hath made me mad. I say, we will have no more marriages. Wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them. (Sings) At his head a grass green turf, at his heels a stone.