I have embarked on a project to make a movie about transportation planning. This idea has been percolating through my mind for a long time and has a long way to go yet.
I worked for over 30 years as a transportation planner. When I started to make films in the early 1990s, many of my co-workers encouraged me to make a film about transportation planning. I was reluctant to do that.
I did, however, make a film called Line of Taxis. It wasn’t about transportation planning, despite the title. However, I did draw on my experiences as a transportation planner. I focussed on the emotions I felt rather than specific events. While it was hard to make, I was very satisfied with how it came out.
The Wealthy Barber
Some time in the mid 1990s I read a book called The Wealthy Barber. It used a fictional narrative to discuss financial planning. I found that format much easier to read than any financial book I’d read before. Later I read a book called Five Dysfunctions of a Team which used a fictional narrative to explain how to manage a team.
I wanted to explain to people just how transportation planning was done. Sometime after I read The Wealthy Barber I thought that a fictional narrative might make sense.
When I was young I used to read a series of books about Tom Swift Junior. These were kid’s books about an intrepid young inventor. The titles were along the lines of Tom Swift Jr. and his Something. I thought this might be a format I could use for my story.
I gave it the name Tom Swift and his Incredible Traffic Model. I got an outline done, but I decided that it wouldn’t work. Partly it was because I realized that someone owned the rights to the name and I’d need permission to use it.
In the 1990s I became a fan of the TV program Law & Order. It is an example of a police procedural. I saw this as a form I could adapt to a transportation planning story. A police procedural follows the detectives through the process they use to solve a crime. A transportation planning story could follow a similar process as planners develop a plan.
The difference, of course, is that the life and death issues are much more apparent in a police story. Police often have to risk their lives in the course of their work, while transportation planners rarely do.
My brother called this idea Law & Order: SUV (as opposed to SVU).
One area of transportation planning that had a lot of high stakes conflict was development approvals. This wasn’t an area I had a lot of direct experience with, so I talked to a couple of colleagues who did.
I started to develop a story I called The Thompson Proposal. I got bogged down when I tried to create a development project that would be the focus of the story. I abandoned that version of the story. I tried again with a story I called Traffic Collision. I ran into the same problems and eventually I abandoned this story as well.
Back to Tom Swift
When I described The Thompson Proposal or Traffic Collision to other people, they would usually assume it would be a comedy. That wasn’t what I wanted to do, but it did get me to consider humour as an approach.
I went back to my Tom Swift and his Incredible Traffic Model idea. This time I decided to turn the idea into a humorous short story. I did a first draft of the story, but it needed a lot of work. I didn’t give up on this project, but I got busy with other work. I haven’t gotten back to it for a while. I may work on it next.
My Detective Story
I decided to try writing a detective story based on my transportation planning experience. This time I got a complete script done. A little short for a feature, but I’m sure I could develop it further.
The script has some good bits and I have a lot of ideas about how to improve it. However, I don’t think it really works. Mostly because I just don’t know much about police work.
I don’t think I will go back to it now.
The Lester Dent Master Fiction Plot
I realized that I need to experiment more with how to tell a transportation planning story before I try to write the movie script.
I came across the Lester Dent master fiction plot. Lester Dent was a prolific writer in the 1930s and 1940s. He is most famous for the Doc Savage books, but he wrote much more than that.
His writing was unapologetically formulaic. It had to be if you were writing a couple of novels a month. While I don’t want to write a “formula” story, I thought I could adapt the plot to my needs. So far I’ve done three short stories based on the plot.
In The Abattoir Project my main character is a management consultant, although I don’t think he resembles any management consultant in the real world. The Glencoe Project and The Gladstone Barrier are about a transportation engineer/planner. In the last two stories I move much farther away from the formula.
After I did The Glencoe Project I started to seek out people’s opinions. I incorporated some of the comments when I wrote The Gladstone Barrier. As a result I think it is a better story.
I’ve gotten feedback on The Gladstone Barrier that I can incorporate into my next story.
My exploratory journey is still far from over. So far most of the comments I’ve gotten have been from people who work as transportation planners. I believe I need to have stories that these people will enjoy. I can’t stray too far from reality. As I move forward I need to find out how people who are not transportation planners react to the stories.
It can be hard to know if the way to improve is through better research and more detail, or by changes to my writing style. No matter what you write, most people will not like it. Their comments may still be useful. As long as I continue my approach of writing short stories, I can try out some of the suggestions I get to see if they work.