Inspiration is all around us. As screenwriters we should have a pen and paper at all times to be able to jot down all of this inspiration to use in our stories. How many times has each of us heard that? It is one of the most common pieces of advice ever given to writers, new and old alike. It is also absolutely true.
Everywhere you look there is inspiration for a character, a scene, a set piece or even an entire story. Sometimes that inspiration can jump up and hit you right in the face (an "eccentric" person on the bus). Sometimes it depends on how you look at it. To emphasize this point, let me tell you the story of the time I realized that A) The world is really strange and B) The movies really aren't that far off the mark.
In my former government life, I had the pleasure of serving on our seizure destruction team. This involved delivering everything to an incinerator that was certified to reduce everything to white ash (due to a famous story of Supervisors in another state assuming their bonfire was "close enough for government work" and leaving for lunch before everything was burned. The seizures were stolen from the fire and ended up back on the street. Yay government!). Anyway, the closest facility was about a five hour drive away, leading to a long day of fun in the sun. Well, maybe not this day. On this particular day we were operating in one of the worst wind storms to ever hit the region.
Things started to go bad when we had to stop for gas on the way home. The wind was really picking up, but what the heck, all in a days work. Well at least until the cashier came out and said that the wind had knocked out their pumps and there was no gas to be had. Oh well, we still had a 1/4 tank, we'll just head down the road and get gas somewhere else. Except for that we kept driving, and driving, and driving... with no signs of any towns having power.
About 45 minutes later, I was starting to get worried. We were going to run out of gas on the side of the highway in the middle of cold winter's night windstorm. My supervisor tried to quell our fears by saying "Don't worry, the gas light hasn't even come on yet. And even then, we still have another 40 miles of gas left." DING, the gas light came on. Way to go boss.
Another 10 miles down the road and things were looking bleak. We were in the middle of the forest, it was pitch black, we were a few hours from home and we were about to run out of gas. Then, suddenly, a beacon of light in the middle of nowhere. Somehow, for no reason at all, there was a truck stop with full power. An oasis in a desert of blackened buildings. We pulled in and started counting our blessings and our luck. At least at first.
My two coworkers went in to grab snacks and a bathroom break while I stayed out to pump the gas (guess who the lowest rank was). I started to look around and something just seemed a little off. My first clue was the city light truck parked in the corner of the parking lot. You'd think they'd be a little busy on a night like this, what with a quarter of the state not having power and all. But they weren't busy. In fact there were two guys sitting in the cab of the truck eating sandwiches while they stared right at me. Not normal staring, mind you. We're talking hillbilly horror movie, "You don't belong here, boy" type of staring.
My coworker came out and asked me how it was going. I pointed out the guys in the truck. He agreed it was weird. Then I told him to look up at the gas station sign. You see, the SEL in Diesel had burned out. So the sign was repeatedly flashing, "DIE, DIE, DIE..." right at us. I looked at him and said, "Let's recap. We're at some type of magical gas station that is the only building with power for miles around, we have two hillbilly city light guys sizing us up for lamp shades and the gas station sign is going to to kill us. I'm pretty sure this is how horror movies start. If I here banjo music, I start shooting." We both laughed the nervous laugh of guys who wanted to be somewhere else and desperately waited for that gas gauge to say it was full again.
The tank did fill up without incident and I went to get in the driver's seat. My coworker reminded me that our boss was still inside. I said, "I'll do a slow roll by the front door and he can run out and dive through the back window as I speed away." Alas, my boss was not that athletic so I had to wait for him to walk out normally, but we were mercifully on our way. We didn't see another building with power for another 45 minutes.
I swear everything listed above is true. It's one of my favorite events that I am waiting to find the perfect movie to write it into. Except for the part where I will be told it is way too cliche and I need to look towards the real world for my inspiration. Even so, I am always watching the world around me for inspiration, even if I put my own spin on it.
The funny part of the story is that we tried to go back to that gas station again, only to find it had closed down years before. Okay, maybe I'm joking about that last one.
Or am I?