Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Farragut North

Genre: Drama
Premise: A gung-ho presidential campaign manager makes a crucial mistake that threatens both his campaign and his job.
About: No. 3 on the 2007 Black List. Leonardo DiSlaprio was attached at one point. I personally think he camps out in front of Franklin’s door and gets the Black List before anyone else because he seems to attach himself to every one of these scripts. Strangely enough, George Clooney was planning to direct DiCaprio in the film. But the hot project got shoved in the icebox when the nation’s first black president took office, making every other presidential election story seem utterly insignificant. However, not all is lost for the property, as it's based off the writer's own play, which has appeared on Broadway, and starred Chris Pine from Star Trek.
Writer: Beau Willimon

Los Angeles loves politics. They love arguing about things and demanding change, even if there’s nothing to argue about and they've already changed everything. If Los Angelinos can’t complain about stuff, there’s really not much for them to do. So it makes sense why they like to make politically themed films. The only problem is, America doesn’t like to watch them. And I have to admit, I don't either. It's nothing personal. I just think they’re boring as hell.

Politics is one of those things that’s both fascinating and off-putting. The scandals can be interesting, the behind-the-scenes stuff can definitely be compelling, but there’s something about the way it’s all presented that just feels…I don’t know, predictable. Like that movie “Primary Colors” with John Travolta? Remember that one? I just recall being able to predict every single thing that happened in that movie. And I don’t even follow politics!

For these reasons, I planned to keep Farragut North in the Deep South. The problem is, despite me refusing to give a shit about it, it kept finding its way onto my ballot, demanding that I cast a vote. With the horrible memories of the To The White Sea debacle fresh in my head, I just couldn't do it. But in the end, I rolled my eyes and took a trip to Washington, because the damn thing came up again in Top Reader Scripts week.

Stephen Myers is an assistant campaign manager to Governor Jim Morris, a nobody six months ago who’s positioned himself to be a leading contender for the next president of the United States. Of course, that’s not entirely accurate. Because in this instant media never-ending news-stream world we live in, it’s not the presidents who win or lose, it’s their handlers. In this case, that’s Stephen and his boss, grizzled campaign veteran Paul Zara. These are the men that choose the speeches, that create the look, that shape the image of our future leaders. When a presidential candidate can erroneously gurgle to a news reporter that she came off a plane in Wyoming under gunfire, you need somebody who knows how to smooth that out.

Stephen is in his 30s and a good enough guy, but he’s by no means that aww-shucks na├»ve country boy that you’d expect in a story like this. Sure he's from the country, but Stephen is so consumed by and so dedicated to his work, he covers that part of his life up in an effort to be taken seriously. So ashamed he is of his roots, that he doesn't even drop by to see his parents anymore. But that's neither here nor there. Everything is about the campaign now. These last ten years have been practice for this moment in the spotlight. Stephen knows that if he fails, his career is done.

Luckily Stephen’s horse is dominating the polls, and for all intents and purposes, looks like the front-runner to become the next president. All they need to do is win Iowa to solidify it.

Unfortunately, Stephen gets a call from rival campaign manager, Tom Duffy, who needs to talk to Stephen right away. Backroom politics between opposing campaign managers is shady stuff, but something about Tom’s tone tells Stephen he should go. Once alone, Tom lays it out. Stephen may think that Morris is ahead in the polls, but it’s a ruse, a purposefully crafted setup by Tom and his team. They’ve called all of their own voters and told them to choose Morris in the tracking polls to give Stephen a false sense of security. In addition, they’ve stolen Morris’ mailing list and sent out incorrect voting locations to all of Morris’ supporters. They’ve also rented every van in town and plan to plug up traffic in the areas where Morris gives his speeches, so it looks like no one showed up. “Come work for us,” Tom encourages. “It’s your only shot.”

Stephen leaves the meeting on DefCon 5. Could Tom be bluffing? Should he tell his boss, who would never approve of this meeting in the first place? When he gets back to headquarters, everything Troy said seems to be coming true. Tom realizes he has to tell Paul about what happened so they can adjust their strategy, and when he does, Paul is irate. These guys are supposed to be the experts at cleaning up the messes. Not causing them.

That single fatal error causes a chain reaction that pretty much destroys Stephen’s life. But it’s the fallout from this mistake that forces him to finally confront the real world - to address his life outside of work. And that’s essentially why Farragut works. This really isn’t a political drama. It's about a guy, just like you and me, who’s trying to follow his dream, and must figure out what to do when it turns into a nightmare.

I’d go so far as to say this is a lot like the political version of Up In The Air (Although I guess since this script was written first, Up in the Air is the business version of Farragut North --- although I guess the book for Up In The Air came out before Farragut North so…oh never mind – The point is if you liked that script, you’ll like this one). The reason I don’t think it’s quite at the altitude of that script is that the main character’s inner struggle isn’t as clear here in Farragut. We understood what that frequent flier character was going through, whereas here, I’m not entirely sure what it is that Stephen learns from his experience. Then again, some people might like that ambiguity.

Either way, this was a huge surprise and a great read. Democrat or Republican: check it out then cast your votes.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[x] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: Where is that moment in your screenplay that hooks people? What is that one scene that once we read it…we’ll be hooked. Every screenplay has to have it. It’s usually in the first act (first 25 pages). For Farragut North, it’s the moment where the other campaign manager tells Stephen that they’re secretly controlling the campaign. It’s so crushing, it’s so shocking, it’s so deceitful, that from that point on, I had to know how this was going to end. Where is that moment in your screenplay?