Gone Fishing, Written by Steven Canfield Crowley
Steven Canfield Crowley tells his heartbreaking true story of loss in his short screenplay, Gone Fishing. The title refers to the expectation of his ten-year-old self to go fishing with his father in the middle of the school day. He jumps out of bed in what is usually a struggle to get up for school, boasts to his friends about how cool his dad is to be taking him fishing, and looks forward to leaving class.
The screenplay begins, however, with the darker sides of the story. While Steven plays cards with his father, his mother and older brother shout at each other – what they’re fighting about is unclear – and Steven’s narrative voiceover describes his recollection:
As my father dealt the cards on the table, we both were able to hear the faint sounds of an argument in process… We gazed at each other, as if we were communicating through telepathy; we knew exactly what was going on. This would be the third time in only one week that my brother and mother would argue. Each time worse than the last.
The scene is violent and contains common elements of adolescent angst. Steven’s brother (who remains unnamed in the screenplay) complains about not being able to make his own decisions, of being treated like a child, asserting ‘I am twenty years old, I am a man mom!’ ‘You need to start acting like one! Then I will treat you like one’, responds his mother. ‘You’re my son. It’s my job to worry about you.’ It’s a classic conflict about independence and responsibility between a young adult and a parent, but at the end of it, Steven’s brother leaves the house fuming. ‘I’m leaving’, he says. The front door slams shut and his mother cries.
Seeing that Steven is deeply shaken, his father brings out what Steven calls the ‘big guns’: ‘What do you say we go fishing tomorrow?’ – ‘going fishing’ becomes thematically important as a symbol of kinship and anticipation: the fishing trip never takes place, but it still serves as an expectation of freedom and as a memory of intimacy.
Steven has the emotional and cognitive maturity of a ten year old child, so it is perhaps for this reason that the story’s level of recollection and the screenplay’s text reads like it comes straight from a child. The characters in the story are one-dimensional, appearing only once or twice and revealing little about themselves. The story is formulaic and simple – the bare bones of a story without the depth of character that would otherwise make it interesting. The story, of course, is true, as told by Steven himself, which makes an observation of the formulaic plot rather problematic. The vagueness of the story, the brief snapshot that it is – at seven pages, the screenplay is quite short, even for a short film – reflects the vagueness of childhood memory, the ease with which children often misunderstand the world, and the flashbulb effect of recollection: we remember the things that are significant, but not the insignificant things that happened before, nor what followed. The screenplay starts with the fight, and ends with Steven’s shocking realisation of loss.
However, if the intention is to capture the voice of a child, the work does so incompletely. When the narrator says that ‘[m]y face was filled with a smile the size of Texas’, he sounds like a ten year old with a charming simile; but there are other moments when he sounds like someone older:
Normally a struggle to get out of bed, I couldn’t wait for morning to arrive. It was reminiscent of Christmas morning, The butterflies of anticipation fluttered my belly [sic]. Rays of sunshine peaked through my blinds and bounced off my face.
There appears to be confusion about who, exactly, is telling the story. If taken from a later perspective, the story should be much more developed and comprehensive. What were mother and son fighting about, anyway? What are the relationships between family members like outside this brief snapshot of traumatic memory? The absence of these kinds of details only makes sense if the narrator relaying them is a child whose understanding of the world is confined to elementary storytelling, simple characters, and a limited understanding of the importance of background. Otherwise, this screenplay falls flat. ■
Length: 7 pages
Genre: Short, Screenplay
Country: United States
Find out more
Find out more about this film and its writer, Steven Canfield Crowley, from the writer’s website and Twitter. Crowley is an independent filmmaker based in New Jersey whose films include Evenings with Ray, A Conversation with Daniel, Feeding Harry, and Moment of Truth: The Andy Meyers Story. He has won numerous awards for his screenwriting and directing. His film production company is Fallen Dog Films, LLC.
This critical review was commissioned and sponsored by the filmmaker.
Featured Image: iStock.com/LiliGraphie.