Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Year Of Wonders

Genre: Drama
Premise: A father who is recovering from the death of his wife takes his daughter on a trip to experience the Seven Wonders of the World
About: This original spec sold a couple of years back, I believe for mid-six figures. It will be directed by the writer and produced by Marvin Acuna (The Great Buck Howard).
Writer: Timothy Scott Bogart

The Year of Wonders would make a great journal. The Year of Wonders might make a good videologue. But the Year of Wonders is not a great screenplay. Nor will it make a great movie. In essence, it's two people hopping around the world talking about someone who just died. There's nothing present about the story. The focus is on the past. So even though we're traveling the world, we never really feel like we're there.

I remember this selling a couple of years ago and thinking it was a neat idea. Being in the presence of the seven most amazing structures/natural wonders on the planet would be the ultimate life-changing experience. The irony is that there's no sense of that wonder in the script. It focuses more on the pain that the two characters are enduring, specifically the dad, and does so in a very heavy-handed manner. For example, these are the first words out of Lou's (the daughter) mouth...
Do we choose the lives we live?
(silence, then really thinking about it, before...)
Or do you think we end up living the lives we’ve chosen?
I don't know about you but I have no idea what that means. The script follows teenage daughter Lou, and her doctor father, Joel, after Maxine, Joel's wife, dies of cancer. When a messenger delivers a videotape a few days later, it turns out to be Maxine, from the grave, telling her husband and daughter that they're going on a trip. It will be spontaneous, it'll be fun, and it'll be right now. The plane tickets have already been purchased.

Turns out that crafty Maxine was putting together a little video collection on the sly - an international scavenger hunt which focuses on the seven wonders of the world. I can hear the collective groan from cyberspace - and it's deserved. Whether Timothy wrote this before they came out, or just hasn't watched a lot of movies and/or TV - the whole "from the grave scavenger hunt" thing has been done to death, most recently in the Hilary Swank Romantic Comedy "P.S. I Love You" which almost single-handedly made me quit movies. So in addition to the other problems I mentioned, the script feels unoriginal as well.

So they go from country to country, getting new videotapes from Maxine along the way, following directions, all while Lou channels her inner Gray's Anatomy, giving poignant voice over. Again, there's nothing active happening. It's all reflection. It's all following directions and instructions making our two main characters feel like puppets in a show. Drama, conflict, twists and turns. You're not going to find that here.

The one chance the script had to redeem itself was in the relationship between Lou and her father, which we're meant to believe is troubled. The problem is there's nothing in the first act that informs us of this. We only find out it's "troubled" when we're told it is in a Lou voice over late in the second act. I'm not going to care about two people fixing a relationship that I never knew was broken.

Here's a fairly common scene from the script...


Joel and Lou sit on the roof. All of Rome before them, as -

Why didn’t he tell me? Why did he lie? I didn’t even really like him.
(then, so honestly -)
So, why does it hurt so much?

Because it’s supposed to. And you’re supposed to let it.

Joel reaches out and gently brushes the tears from off her cheeks, but now there’s no stopping them, as -

I miss her so much, dad. I miss her every second. She’s supposed to tell me what to do.

This just devastates him -

I know.

Who’s going to teach me everything? Who’s going to show me - how to be a woman? How - to get married? How - to hold my babies? It’s not fair.

I know.

Joel reaches for her and pulls her towards him -

I can’t breathe...

Yes, you can. Yes, you can.

And as she continues to cry in his arms, Joel is finally the support she needs. Strong. Loving. Embracing. Her father.
And it hurts to write this because Timothy is clearly telling the story from a place of honesty and possibly real-life experience. It's not easy to bear your pain in a screenplay. But it can't *just* be emotion. You have to tell a story. And the story in The Year Of Wonders isn't compelling enough.

[ ] trash
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: The first act is where you set up your story. One of the most important places to focus your attention is the relationships between the characters. If there's a specific issue between two characters, you have to give us at least one scene that clarifies it. Many writers are hesitant to bring too much attention to these problems for fear of "hitting the audience over the head." But if you're too subtle, the transformation the characters/relationships go through later on in the script won't carry enough weight.