Summer of ’81: Notes for the Screenplay

Embed from Getty Images

(Pictured: we open on this shot.)

Memo for the file: what could go in a screenplay about the summer of 1981. 

Dramatis personae:

—Jim, a 21-year-old college student between his junior and senior years, obsessed with radio, not untalented but more egotistical than his talent merits. Nearly 300 pounds, long unruly hair, scruffy reddish beard.

—Carl and Rick (not their real names), Jim’s new roommates; both are behind-the-scenes TV guys, one of whom Jim knows reasonably well, the other hardly at all. Mutt-and-Jeff pair: Rick tall/thin/talkative, Carl shorter/stocky/quiet.

—Ann, Jim’s girlfriend, whose summer job involves a video project with Carl and Rick, and who also has a paying radio DJ job. Long hair, nice build, patience beyond her years.


—Small Wisconsin college town (non-student population about 10,000) where most of the students (regular enrollment about 5,500) are gone for the summer.

—Two-bedroom apartment occupied by Jim, Carl, and Rick.

—Two radio stations: one at the college and one a commercial station a half-hour up the road.

Potential story beats:

—Coming of age #1: Jim’s last lap around the childhood clock of school and summer. Come 1982, he will go permanently into the working world. Look back/look forward.

—Coming of age #2: Jim works a lot at his paying radio job, weekends and fill-ins, and it adds up to big coin by college-student standards, even at the minimum wage of $3.35. Sense of independence/accomplishment from being able to pay for gas/groceries/rent and still have fun money without having to call upon the Mother and Dad National Bank (much).

—Workplace comedy #1: Carl, Rick and Ann spend the summer working on a video animation project which requires hours of tedious labor to generate seconds of videotape. Comedy potential in Jim’s attempts to find out what the purpose of the project is and the inability of anyone involved to explain it. Also mystery potential. Jim doesn’t know Carl very well. Maybe he’s got them working on some secret government project?

—Workplace comedy #2: Jim and a handful of other students keep the campus radio station on the air, erratically. He used to be the program director but isn’t anymore, officially, but he becomes de facto program director in the summer because he the only person there who wants the job. Opportunity to showcase soundtrack tunes; list of possibilities to come. Related: road trip to outdoor Doobie Brothers show at Alpine Valley near Milwaukee.

—Domestic comedy: Jim, Carl, and Rick work in adjacent studios and confer daily about after-work plans. Conference often involves making sure they have meat for the grill and beer for the living-room fridge. Apartment has pirated cable. Potential storylines: MST3K-style commentary on HBO movies and various escapades at home. Also escapades in downtown bars and at apartments of friends who have remained in town for the summer. Potential guest-star roles for friends not remaining in town for the summer, who visit and flop on the couch. Example: friend arrives, contributes $3 for a beer run. Jim comes home with $3 case, friend complains. “Well jeez Bill, you only gave me $3.”

—Romance: Jim and Ann have had their ups and downs in the last several months, but are up when the summer begins. He has his own bedroom in the apartment. Comedy embarrassment potential: what’s going on in there?

—Personal conflict: Although Jim and Rick were sure they’d be compatible, by summer’s end, something feels off. If story were extended to autumn, they would assume an increasingly chilly distance. Attempt to uncover/explain origins.

—Catchphrase for Carl: “Baker’s run later?” Baker’s is an ice-cream stand that does not open until after the students have cleared out for the summer and closes before they came back in the fall, a legend known only to townies and to summer school students. (Most effective as a plot device if it’s never shown.)

—Classroom hijinx: Between broadcasting, beer, barbecuing, and Baker’s, coursework is far down on the list of our characters’ priorities. Nevertheless, summer school is ongoing. Jim takes a four-week course in personnel administration to complete the management requirements of his degree. Some comedy potential from eccentric professor, Jim’s inability to remember any of what he’s supposed to be learning, and his breezy insouciance about education in general.

Coming next: a potential soundtrack for the movie. 

2 thoughts on “Summer of ’81: Notes for the Screenplay

  1. Pingback: Trapped in the Amber of the Moment – The Hits Just Keep On Comin'

  2. Pingback: May 5, 1981: Adventures and Misadventures – The Hits Just Keep On Comin'

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.