with support from the corporation for public broadcasting

The Devil in me and the Angel I Found

February 26, 2009 by Tyler

The story about from “This American Life” is quite fascinating.  I was often moved and touched by the words that both men said.  I could relate to the story of Sam Slavin.  His fears and understandings of the Islamic world.  As well as the shame the could be felt later on.

The whole story could be told very visually.  Most importantly to note is that its a story from the past.  So this story will deal a lot with reenactments whether they be long or short.  In addition to that photos and found footage can be used as well.  Handheld shots can be used very well for the combat scenes if need be.  A lot of shots that show intense thought and focus on Sam’s part can use lens flare or blurring effects to add to the confusion he felt.  Slow motion can be used to express a lot of this intensity in thought as well.  Actions will need to be come up with for some of the emotions that Sam tells as he is a narrator and narrators can use their words and films only show.  This shouldn’t be too hard, though.  For the most part, though the story is extremely visual.

A lot of the shots I would choose would illustrate directly what Sam and Usef say.  From the moment with the privates watching the movie, to the events of being a recruiter in Miami, to how he was placed in the room.  Distance can be used to great effect in these reenactments to show how he was in relation to others.  The idea would to be to bring what he felt inside and put it outside.  Up and down angles can give a good amount of status in the moments needed.  Not everything needs be shown though.  The time in Iraq could all be articles, photos, or found footage that Sam himself might have taken.  More than anything it would be hard to reenact these things.  Sam does not need be shown with the therapist.  The therapist can just be interviewed and that’s it.  Usef can be shown simply talking about his past with some photos or something as well.  The actors that would reenact a these moments wouldn’t need words with Sam and Usef being narrators.  The interviewees would have their story told on camera as well for the A-roll of course.  You can jump to the expressions on their faces to give a lot of feeling to the audience.  In addition to that placement can change for where the interviews are being told.  For the beginning of the story Sam could be interviewed in one place.  For the point when he doing well in the Muslim club he could be placed in a different setting so the audience knows that things have changed for him.  This subtle change has an impact.  A lot of the music for the NPR show was in fact wonderful and could be used to great extent.

Overall, I really would not want to change much about the story.  I feel it was told very well.  I might like to explore a bit more of the history between the characters to see how things were resolved to give maybe a bit more closure.  For example when Sam deals with Manaal and Lamie it could be explored a bit more so the viewer can get a better feeling out of what happened between the two so resolution could be found.  Also things would be changed to include less of the interviewer being used.  If need be, she (me then it would be) could be kept at times to keep the story moving.  I’d rather have no interviewer being used, though.

The story involves two main arcs.  Sam goes from being understanding to intolerant.  Than on top of that he decides to overcome it by just diving into the meetings and his problems.  His arc is gradual and gives a lot of life and meaning to the story.  Usef has to overcome some of this as well, trying to accept America as he changes Sam.  Usef ends up being changed by Sam as well.  Sam’s feelings of betrayal in Iraq humanize him.  As well as how he feels in the classroom being outnumbered.  We’ve all felt that.  That initial meeting really brings us into Sam’s world and helps us relate to him.  Usef can be related to and humanized trying to outreach to Sam in order to gain his understanding.  Again, we’ve all been in shoes trying to reach out to someone or have been reached out to by someone else.  Sam’s initial fear of Usef before he goes to the meeting is also a humanizing moment for him.  It is a fear of what we know is bad.  Sam innately feels that Usef is dangerous based on his past.  Luckily, though, he overcomes this.  The hook of the story (for me) was Sam overcoming a well based hatred.  I don’t agree with that hatred and misunderstanding that Sam had.  I’m glad he overcame it.  But I can’t sit there and say I don’t understand WHY he felt that way.  He has a good reason for it.

I loved this story.  It represents what people can do when they reach out.  Whether to those around them, or to the voice in them and listen.  Understanding can overcome misconceptions and misunderstandings.  Stereotypes can be beaten as well.  And a big rift in people’s lives can be overcome with friendship.  It is a fantastic story and something like this could be turned into a powerful narrative based on this true story.


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