Premise: After a publisher changes a writer's debut novel about a deadly assassin from fiction to nonfiction, the author finds himself thrust into the world of his lead character, and must take on the role of his character for his own survival.
About: This is Morris' first script sale. He optioned one screenplay before this one. More on Morris tomorrow, when he gives GITS and Scriptshadow an "Assassin" interview.
Writer: Jeff Morris
So when Scott and I published our 5 script choices for this month's Scriptshadow Challenge, I quickly received an e-mail from Jeff Morris, the writer of The True Memoirs Of An International Assassin. He was receptive and a great sport about his script being reviewed. But I was a little nervous. Assassin was looking like it was going to win. What if I didn't like it? I remembered back to the days when all I had to do at Scriptshadow was review scripts. When did everything become so complicated?? Well color me relieved. Assassin was a fun breezy comedy with a memorable cast of characters. Was it perfect? No. I had a few quibbles here and there. But I'll get to those later. First, let's talk about the story.
Joe is a struggling spy novel writer who's a bit of a pussy. He's the kind of guy the boss knows he can make work late. Lucky for Joe, he's just finished his latest manuscript, a spy thriller about the world's most cunning international assassin. He sends it off to every publisher in town and every publisher in town immediately rejects him (hey, beats waiting). Just when Joe is ready to give up on his dream , he gets "the call." It's one of the publishing houses. They love his book and want to put it into print right away! Joe is ecstatic. Years of hard work finally paying off (ahem, real-life parallels here?) and Joe gets to do what every one of us dreams of doing, walk into that office and tell your boss to f8ck off (it doesn't exactly work out that way but kudos to Joe for trying).
Joe eagerly anticipates his book's grand opening and when it finally comes, he races into the store, straight to the new fiction section only to realize - wait a minute - his book isn't there. He hurries up to the cashier and informs her of the problem. "Not a problem," she says. "The book's in the non-fiction section." The non-fiction section? Joe is confused. His book's not non-fiction. He heads over and cautiously picks up one of his books only to find out that the word "True" has been added to the title. Uh-oh. This is bad. A concerned Joe bee-lines over to his publisher and lets him know that a giant mistake has been made. No mistake, his slimy publisher assures him. He simply made a business decision. As a novel, it sucked. But as a true story, it's spectacular. Joe fights viciously to get this wrong righted, even threatening to go to the authorities. But the publisher makes it clear that if Joe screws them in any way, he'll be sued right out of existence.
Pretty soon, Joe is doing Matt Lauer interviews and grumpily going along with his alleged "former career," even becoming a bit of a celebrity around town. He gets so sick of living a lie though, so sick of all the false attention, he decides it's time to get away. Too much of a pushover to ever ask for a vacation at his old job, Joe thinks a vacation will do him right. He settles on the beautiful South American tropical paradise of Belize, where surely no one will know him.
As soon as Joe lands he's kidnapped by the local ruling ganglord, El Toro, a kind of 'Scarface-with-a-sense-of-humor' thug. El Toro has el-reado Joe's booko and is convinced that Joey's the dangerous international assassin, Colt Rodgers, from the book. So El Toro orders Joe to unretire and kill the Prime Minister of Belize! Joe tries desperately to plead his case ("I'm not who you think I am") but El Toro is a very insistent man and offers Joe ridiculous amounts of money. In the end, Joe is given a trunk full of a guns and a mandate to kill the Prime Minister.
Complicating matters is smokin-hot journalist Claire, a former high school classmate of Joe's who smells something fishy about this whole "international assassin" thing. From what she remembers, Joe couldn't assassinate a prom invite. Determined to expose him and his scam, she flies to Belize and "accidentally" bumps into Joe, deceitfully cozying up to him so she can catch him in his lie. Poor Joe falls for it hook, line and sinker, and falls for the girl that's only using him for a story. Joe also manages to upset the rival ganglord, Jesus, who's a lot like El Toro without the sense of humor. Jesus, on the take with the dirty Prime Minister, now wants to assassinate Joe.
Assassin is the perfect example of how to approach a spec script. Come up with a good hook, keep the story simple, and exploit the premise to its maximum potential. In fact, Assassin kinda read like a good vacation. It was fun, relaxing, and time flew by. It wasn't all sunscreen and mai-tais though. I did have some issues with the script. The first was the lack of a clear goal for Joe. He's been paid to kill the prime minister, but we all know he's not going to do it. So what is Joe doing exactly? For awhile there, I wasn't sure. This leads into my second problem: the lack of urgency. El Toro is funny, but he's not scary. Nor is he around enough for us to feel like Joe is in any danger. Had El Toro been more intense and given Joe a more definitive time frame in which he had to kill the Prime Minister, I feel like the script would've gained a sense of urgency, which in turn would've led to a more fearful Joe, which in turn would've led to a story with higher stakes (studio term, I know. But I felt like it applied here).
Luckily, the script was funny enough to mask most of these issues. I loved the bumbling idiot CIA agents, convinced that Joe is indeed Colt Rodgers. I loved the alcoholic's anonymous bodyguard El Toro sets Joe up with, and I loved how Joe steps back every once in awhile just to wonder, "How the f*ck did I get into this situation??" My favorite scene in the script is when he goes to the Prime Minister to warn him that El Toro is trying to kill him, and accidentally ends up - well - assassinating the prime minister.
The humor is pretty broad overall, but if you're into Farrely Brothers movies, this is going to be right up your alley. Jack Black would be perfect in this roll so Jeff, if you and your agent are listening, it's time to give Mr. Black a call. Leave your own thoughts on the script down below. I'll be interested to hear what you guys think. If you haven't downloaded "Assassin" yet, I suggest you give it a spin. It's a fun ride.
[ ] trash
[ ] barely kept my interest
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I Learned: Stay focused on your story. Make sure every scene is about *that* story. You can explore interesting tangents in your character-driven pieces, but if you're writing a spec (something with an interesting hook that's story-driven), never go too far off-point. "Assassin" does a really good job of this.
And now, here's Scott's analysis from Go Into The Story...
“The True Memoirs of an International Assassin”
Written by Jeff Morris
Protagonist – Joe Schmidt
His Disunity state at the beginning is Joe the Author vs. Colt the Assassin. Eventually he has to claim his ‘Inner Colt’ to become the hero he needs to be in order to save Claire.
Nemesis – El Toro / Jesus
El Toro forces Joe to take on the task of assassinating the Prime Minister, then Jesus takes over the antagonist role, leading to their eventual Final Struggle.
Attractor – Claire
The growing romance between Claire and Joe causes Claire to change from hard-ass reporter intent on busting Joe to acting to squash the story.
Mentor – Kenny
Secretly a member of the B.I.A. (Belize Intelligence Agency), Kenny encourages then trains Joe to ‘become’ Colt Rodgers.
Trickster – Walt / Colt Rodgers
Walt publishes Joe’s book, but calls it a piece of non-fiction, setting into motion all the ‘negative’ events in Joe’s life. In assuming the persona of Colt, Joe receives benefits (hero worship), but also all the mistaken identity hassles.
10 Major Plot Points
Introduces the fictional hero Colt Rodgers and his creator Joe Schmidt, an aspiring writer whose fantasy world of bullets and bravery is a far cry from his real world, establishing that Joe and Colt are “polar opposites.”
His book published, but fraudulently so as a “true” memoir, Walt (Joe’s publisher) convinces Joe to publicize the book as Joe Schmidt AKA Colt Rodgers.
While on vacation, a local ‘bad guy’ (El Toro) coerces Joe to assassinate the Prime Minister, resulting in Joe being tracked by El Toro and his men, the CIA, and Claire, a reporter posing as a businesswoman on vacation, looking for an expose on Joe’s “fake memoir.”
First Big Test
Jesus Sanchez vows to kill Joe / Wayne urges Joe to live “like Colt Rodgers.”
Joe beats up someone he thinks is out to kill him / wrong guy, but Joe is now acting like Colt Rodgers.
Second Big Test
Joe “kills” the Prime Minister.
All Is Lost
Jesus kidnaps Claire.
On the Defensive
Kenny helps Joe train as a hit man, but Joe isn’t any good.
On the Offensive
Joe assaults Jesus Sanchez’s compound.
Joe vs. Jesus (with a major assist from Kenny) – defeats Jesus and saves Claire.
Major Selling Points
Strong high concept: The central premise is easy to grasp and therefore market. Good basis for an action-comedy.
Castable lead role: The Protagonist role (Joe Schmidt / Colt Rodgers) could be filled by a number of male comedic actors, which gives a studio flexibility in terms of budget and schedule.
Action-comedy is hot: Four of 2009’s biggest hit movies are action-comedies (Up, Monsters Vs. Aliens, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, Paul Blart: Mall Cop).
Paul Blart: Mall Cop: The movie cost $26M. It grossed $180M worldwide. Starring Kevin James -- who would be a great call for True Memoirs.
PG-rating: After excising various F-words from the script, the movie should be able to get a PG rating, assuring widest possible audience.
100 pages: Translates into about a 90 minute movie, which means it can get an additional screening per theater (6, not just 5 per day), thereby generating more B.O..
Wish fulfillment: Youth audience can live out fantasy of acting out like a spy / assassin.
In sum, The True Memoirs of an International Assassin has all the elements of a successful action-comedy movie with a moderate budget $30-40M and strong upside for significant B.O. and ancillary revenues.
Note: Be honest in the comments section. But please be respectful. Jeff was nice enough to grant us an interview and I'd like to have more writers come on Scriptshadow and share their experiences. It's the only way for the rest of us to learn. Honesty, good. Cruelty, bad.