Acid River | Skillshare Projects

Ryan Crash




Acid River


by Ryan Crash

Step 1: Selecting Your Text

My screenplay is based on the poem "Johnnie Sayre" by Edgar Lee Masters (from Spoon River Anthology).

You can read the source text here:

A tale of juvenile delinquency with tragic results, "Johnnie Sayre" brings me back to my own youth, speaks to the rebelious teenager who still lives in my own heart.  The poem tells a narrative story that I find immediately compelling.  It encompasses many universal themes - the restlessness of youth, the loss of innocence, the desire to escape the confines of one's environment (symbolized here by the train and the freedom it offers), the difficulties that can strain parent-child relationships (especially during adolescence).

With "Acid River" I wanted to explore Johnnie's relationship with his father, and the ways in which extreme events can have the power to bring people together, can lead them to set aside personal differences and focus on larger issues.

While attempting to remain true to the underlying spirit of Masters' poem, I wanted to take some chances and experiment a bit.  I've moved the setting to the present day and sullied the Illinois town; in my version it is a darker place - destitute, run-down, poverty-stricken.  I wanted to infuse the story with some of the small town nihilism of Korine's Gummo.  And perhaps the biggest departure - I didn't want this film to be a morality tale (as the source text can be construed).  In my version, death is not a punishment for Johnnie's misbehavior; rather, it is a reward in some sense.  Johnnie wants ultimately to escape the boredom of his teenage life, which he has been doing to some degree through drugs and petty crime - and in death he achieves escape on a far grander scale.  Though he feels remorse for the sorrow he's causing his father, he greets his fate with open arms.


Step 2: Drafting Your Screenplay

Here now is my sixth and final draft:

I am most appreciative of the feedback several of you have shared with me - your suggestions have helped me turn this into a stronger screenplay.  Thank you so much for your time, for your interest, and for allowing me to learn from your insights.

For the record, here were my previous verions:

Fifth draft:

Fourth draft:

Third draft:


Step 3: Writing Your Logline

Logline:  A restless juvenile delinquent gets more than he bargained for while trying to escape the doldrums of his small-town life.


Supplementary Materials / Inspiration:

Inspiration for my project came from countless sources.  I'll share a few of the more notable ones:

INTO THE WILD (2007, Sean Penn)

The true story of a young man who leaves everything behind and goes searching for a more meaningful existence; he travels all over North America, touching many lives, before ending up alone and fighting for survival in the Alaskan wilderness.

Emile Hirsch gives a powerful, moving performance as Christopher McCandless - a wanderer who walks his own road and lives life on his own terms.  McCandless is slightly older than Johnnie Sayre, better educated, and has a more optimistic worldview.  And yet, I saw parallels between McCandless and the character I was striving to create in Johnnie Sayre.  Both are rebels who are critical of modern society, who reject the conventional futures that appear to have been laid out before them; each is looking for a better world.  Rifts have grown between both young men and their parents.  McCandless dies tragically, but there is a sense that he has triumphed in the end - he has journeyed far, experienced much, learned much, and when he meets his fate, he does so with acceptance; I wanted to bring a similarly uplifting note to Sayre's demise as well.  (Also - McCandless and Sayre both steal rides on trains, each with less-than-satisfactory results.)

Ultimately, I wanted to impart Johnnie Sayre with a touch of McCandless' searching spirit.  Though both are cut down in their primes, I feel something positive and life-affirming can be gleaned from each of their journeys.


GUMMO (1997, Harmony Korine)

I reimagined my Spoon River as a place not unlike the Xenia, Ohio portrayed in Gummo - a town that's seen better times, a place ridden with white trash nihilism, where bored teenagers huff glue and kill cats and break into houses; and yet, a place brimming with so much life.  I also took a cue from the relationship between Solomon and Tummler.  My Caleb O'Brien is a role model (however negative an influence), a powerful big brother figure - and I wanted my Johnnie Sayre to look up to him, much as Solomon looks up to Tummler.  "Tummler sees everything.  Some say he's downright evil.  He's got what it takes to be a legend."


TRAINSPOTTING (1996, Danny Boyle)

My intention with "Acid River" was not to tell a story about drugs - but rather, to let drugs be a lens through which the story is viewed.  Drugs are more in the background, framing the events that transpire; the tragedy that occurs is not a result of (or punishment for) Johnnie Sayre's illicit behavior.  Though my characters ingest LSD early in the narrative, the key events play out before the drug has had a chance to take effect - and therefore, Sayre's fate may have been the same had no drugs been involved.

I could cite a number of drug-related films for their influence on "Acid River" - but Trainspotting certainly stands out.  It paints an unflinching portrait of its protagonists' addiction, with heroin being neither glamorized, nor condemned; heroin serves as a backdrop for the bigger issues going on in the story - the characters' lives, relationships and adventures.  Renton, Sick Boy and Spud lead a life of drugs, crime and poverty - but it is their attitude, their hooliganism, their camaraderie and betrayals which most inform my own characters in "Acid River."  When I was writing Sayre's voice-overs that bookend my script, I may have inadvertently been channeling Ewan McGregor's Renton, as Sayre's sentiments at times seem to echo Renton's "Choose Life" monologue.


Thank you so much for checking out my project!  CHEERS!


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