Friday, July 31, 2009

Alien Prequel To Be Written

Wow, this is shocking. I can't believe they're doing this. Variety is reporting...

"Twentieth Century Fox is resuscitating its "Alien" franchise. The studio has hired Jon Spaihts to write a prequel that has Ridley Scott attached to return as director.

Spaihts got the job after pitching the studio and Scott Free, which will produce the film.

The film is set up to be a prequel to the groundbreaking 1979 film that Scott directed. It will precede that film, in which the crew of a commercial towing ship returning to Earth is awakened and sent to respond to a distress signal from a nearby planetoid. The crew discovers too late that the signal generated by an empty ship was meant to warn them."

Read the rest of the story at Variety.

If you're not familiar with Joh Spaihts, it just so happens I reviewed one of his scripts here on Scriptshadow. To check that out, go here!

Reminder for Repped Week

Just a reminder. If you're a repped writer and still haven't made your first sale, you have til the end of tomorrow (Saturday) to get your script in to me. Some writers/agents have expressed reservations about sending in material as the exposure of the script would make it difficult to sell. Obviously, this is something that's never been done before so you have no idea what the response will be. But even if that concerns you, maybe this is a strong script you already went out with at a bad time in the marketplace. Maybe it's a script you - the writer - think is your best work but it's a hard sell. Maybe something similar got snatched up, preventing your own sale, even though your script was immeasurably better. This could be that second chance you're looking for.

Anyway, here's the original post (oh, it's now FIVE scripts instead of four):

So I'm doing something different next week. I want to give five writers a chance to get some exposure. The only catch is you have to have agency representation and not yet have sold a script. If you meet those requirements, send me your script, your agency, and a logline. I'll take the five most interesting loglines and review those scripts Monday-Thursday. If you don't want your script posted or you won't be able to take a potentially negative review, then you shouldn't participate. I know a lot of you unrepresented writers are crying foul here but there's a reason I'm only allowing represented writers. First, I don't want to be inundated with 10,000 e-mails. But more importantly, this is an exercise to review scripts from writers who *were* able to land representation, but have not yet been able to sell a script. What's the difference in quality between a represented and an unrepresented writer? What's the difference in quality between a represented writer and a represented writer with a sale? Is the difference merely a matter of luck? That's what I want to explore. Who knows? Maybe we'll find something great. Send the scripts to this e-mail: There is no guarantee your script will be chosen but you have my word that I will delete all scripts I don't use. Deal?

Okay, now let's make one of you guys a millionaire.

Edit: I've decided to allow Manager representation as well. Though the choices will be weighted to favor agency representation.

Accepting submissions until: Saturday, August 1st, 11:59pm Pacific Time

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Adjustment Bureau

No link (in case you were curious - :)

Genre: Sci-Fi
Premise: A hotshot politician meets a beautiful ballet dancer only to experience unseen forces fighting to keep them apart.
About: Adapted from a Philip K. Dick story, Universal and Media Rights Capital (Bruno) will be producing. Matt Damon and Emily Blunt to star. George Nolfi, who wrote Timeline, Ocean's 12, and The Sentinal, adapted and will make The Adjustment Bureau his directorial debut. Nolfi is also producing along with Chris Moore, Michael Hackett and Bill Carraro. Damon will be getting a 20% first-dollar-gross backend. Yikes.
Writer: George Nolfi

Damon is hoping to get a slightly higher backend return than he did on Gerry.

If you were following me on Twitter yesterday, you'd know that I was super excited about a particular script I was reading. Up until page 32, I thought I had a "genius" on my hands. I purposefully went into it blind and as the story unfolded, I found myself inching closer and closer to the screen. I was actually on the edge of my seat...for a screenplay. As the setup came to a close however, I began to realize this wasn't going to be the script I wanted it to be. The sci-fi element that made the story so unique and interesting, faded into the background in favor of a heavy love story. Had I prepped myself for that, I would've been more tolerant. But I couldn't help thinking of the potential this kind squandered.

Congressman David Norris, 33, is running for Senate. He's kind of like the white version of Obama. He's good-looking. He inspires young people. He gives great speeches. His only fault is that he's a little *too* honest when discussing issues. And on the eve of what should've been a blowout victory, he himself gets blown out. Looking like Andy Roddick after this year's Wimbledon (but come on - did anyone really think he was going to win?), David must find solace in the second place trophy. How did this happen? Where did he go wrong?

As David preps for his "loser" speech, he meets a beautiful rambunctious woman named Elise. She and David gravitate towards each other like sugar and cinnamon, immediately lost in one another's eyes. Words, smiles, and laughs are exchanged. It's as if some unknown entity has put the rest of the world on hold so that these two can experience a perfect moment in time. To say these two are soul mates would be the understatement of the millennium.

As of this second, I am the world's biggest Emily Blunt fan.

David then gives an amazing consolation speech inspired by Elise. It's the kind of speech that gets played over and over again on CNN and makes him not only the frontrunner for a Senate seat in three years, but many people's pick as our future president of the United States. But all this is insignificant to David. All he cares about is finding Elise again. He must find Elise.

As it would happen, the very next day (as David is preparing for his first day of work at his new hedge fund job) David drops into Starbucks to pick up a coffee. But we push up above and meet a mysterious group of men on a rooftop, overlooking the city. The men speak in hushed tones. Something about preparing for a coffee spill. One of the men, Harry, is assigned to the "case". We cut to David, coming out of the coffee shop, and then over to Harry, who's supposed to do...something. But he's drifted off and missed his cue. Which means David catches a bus. And when he catches that bus, he can't believe his luck. Cause sitting there right in the middle is the world's most perfect vision. Elise. The two share a shocked smile. But Harry's not smiling. Neither are the rest of the mysterious men. Apparently, David's just done something terrible.

The mysterious men are thumbing through something called the "Handbook". Not to be confused with Facebook. It's full of extremely complicated diagrams inside, lines twisting and turning in every which direction. And then, to our utter shock, the lines start moving. They disconnect, slide and extend, reconnecting with other lines. It's this movement that seems to have the mysterious group of men concerned. Something is happening that shouldn't be. And David appears to be the cause of it.

Elise gives David her number and he's holding onto that thing for dear life. Off to his new job he goes, a skip in his step and an "I'm in love" smile on his face. When David steps into the building, we notice an immediate emptiness. There's a security guard there but he doesn't pay much notice to David. David heads upstairs and passes by his secretary. But when he says hi, she doesn't say anything back. She just sits there. That's when David takes a closer look at her. Her face appears to be...frozen. David understandably freaks out and runs into his partner's office only to find...that his partner is frozen too! Three men (the mysterious men) surround him, adjusting some sort of metal contraption on the side of his head. They turn and spot David, and David turns and runs.

But when the world's frozen and people are inserting metal contraptions into other people's heads, do you really think running's going to help? The men have an ability to leap from door to door, covering large distances in split-seconds and before David knows it, he's cornered, caught and drugged. When he wakes up, the men are standing over him in a warehouse. After some debate, the decide to tell him the truth.

Behind our world are planners, fate-spinners who guide and encourage us with lost keys, spilled coffee, phone calls and texts - anything to keep us on "the Plan." The Plan is our preordained destiny in this world. It must be adhered to. If too many people stray from The Plan, the foundation of humanity itself will crumble. So these men are here to help keep things on point. Harry was supposed to be there to enforce a coffee spill with David so he missed that bus. But David got on the bus. And because he got on the bus, something very terrible happened.

Mr. Philip K. Dick

David was never supposed to see Elise again. Apparently if her and David were to get together, a rift in The Plan so huge would occur, it would make that stuff they talk about in Ghostbusters seem like a bad night of drinking. They tell David that whatever he does, he cannot speak to this girl again. To drive home their point, they take out her number from David's wallet and burn it! They then inform him if he speaks about this puppeteering backworld to anyone, they will be forced to erase his memory. Which will essentially make him a vegetable.


David is once again on the verge of becoming Senator. But all the life has been seeped out of him. His happiness is tied inexorably to his inability to find Elise. He still takes the same bus every day in hopes of seeing her again. But the Planners have been behind the scenes, manipulating everything to make sure they stay apart. David knows this but keeps trying. And then, impossibly, he sees her again. This time, he will not leave her. This time, he will not let her out of his sight. But The Bureau has other plans.

And there you have The Adjustment Bureau. David tries desperately to be with Elise. The Bureau tries desperately to keep them apart. Is it any good? Well, that depends on if you want David and Elise to be together. If you do, you'll root for Mr. Damon to break through walls to be with her. If not, you'll likely close this puppy by page 40. It's always difficult to create a storyline where two people fall desperately in love. You basically have to have them fawning over each other within seconds of meeting, and the slim timeframe makes it hard to develop any real conflict in their relationship. Which leaves us with pure love. And what movie have you seen where two people dote over each other for 120 minutes that's actually any good? Romeo And Juliet? Even The Notebook had the two fighting just as much as they proclaimed their love for each other.

I think I have a problem with adapted Philip K. Dick material in general. It always feels like 3/4 of a good idea. The setup is usually solid, but the idea can rarely support an entire screenplay. In "Bureau" there were times when it all felt a little too silly. David and Elise share a lovely lunch together while The Bureau stands 100 feet away and flings little pieces of fate at them to try and keep them apart. Kind of like less-menacing versions of Final Destination. A text message to Elise telling her her ballet recital has been moved up. Sending David's campaign manager over to encourage David to get his speech ready. I'm trying to figure out if that would actually be compelling onscreen or just really really stupid. It's a tough call.

Luckily there's nothing out there quite like The Adjustment Bureau. Of course it borrows from other movies (more than a few times I thought of The Matrix) but overall the feeling is a unique one, which no doubt is why this project has caught the attention of such a big star like Damon. The themes of fate and choice are prevalent, and it's hard not to find those interesting even in a conventional story.

If only the 129 page screenplay were a good 19 pages shorter, this could've played out more urgently - always advantageous when you're dealing with sci-fi. And like I said, the innovation in the first act doesn't extend into the rest of the story. One good idea is never enough for these flicks. You need two or three. There's a final act chase that has David teleporting from doorway to doorway throughout New York just like The Bureau does, but it feels safe as opposed to innovative. I felt like a father consoling a kid after he lost a nailbiter of a soccer game. "Almost," I wanted to say, as I patted him on the back.

But there's no denying that there's something about The Adjustment Bureau. I'm sure they've already engaged in rewrites that will render some of these issues moot. And Emily Blunt being super-hot doesn't hurt things. The Adjustment Bureau wasn't bad.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest

[x] worth the read

[ ] impressive

[ ] genius

What I learned: When you have two people falling in love, you want to avoid having them spout back and forth how much they love each other for 120 minutes. For an example of *why* you don't want to do this, please watch "Star Wars Attack Of The Clones." In The Adjustment Bureau, Rolfi makes use of a writer's best friend in this circumstance: sarcasm. Not only does sarcasm keep the conversations light and funny, but it feels a lot more like real life. Who out there is constantly blathering, "You're the most beautiful person I've ever met in my life. I love you like air." Why not instead, "Nice shoes. Where'd you find those? Wal-Mart?" We know it's a joke. We know Elise really likes David. So the line ends up being cute and interesting. That's not to say there won't be moments in your screenplay where your characters say what they feel ("I love you") but you want to make those moments the exception and not the rule. -- Sarcasm is just one of many tools you can use to stave off those dreaded cringe-worthy lovey-dovey moments. Use it judiciously.

Another Script Review and Repped Week

Hello to all you repped writers. Don't forget to submit a script for Repped Week. Let's give an awesome script some exposure. Also, I wrote another script review that they posted over at Latino Review. Although for some reason they seem to think there's a "3" in my web address. Maybe you'd like to head over there and point that out. What's the script? Let's just say that a certain bald-headed car-racing movie star is involved.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Animal Cruelty

Genre: Indie Comedy
Premise: A lonely journalist finds love and inspiration in a quirky, unlikely manner –covering the misadventures of a young boy’s ‘protest’of an animal rights movement.
About: New Line picked this up. Energy Entertainment and Broken Road Productions will produce. This was Sachs' first screenplay. The script landed him on the 2008 Black List with 5 votes.
Writer: Adam Sachs (Draft 5/5/08 -- 110 pages)

Animal Cruelty: Is it worth it?

Animal Cruelty is one of those scripts they tell you not to write because it's not mainstream enough and it's too weird and quirky and the comedy's too "intelligent" but you ignore everyone, write it anyway, land yourself on the Blacklist and get enough buzz going that Lionsgate takes interest and then they're like, "You know what? What do we have to lose?" and the next thing you know your tiny screenplay that never should've made it past the first reader is now paying for your new 2000 square foot loft on Venice Beach.... Well, maybe not Venice Beach. But between 11th and 18th street in Santa Monica.

Animal Cruelty: Definitely worth it.

Animal Cruelty is a strange little beast - a munchkin of a satire that pokes fun at both sides of activism. And let's be honest. Activism is ripe for being poked at. Hell, I'm all for standing up for what you believe in, but there's definitely a line activists cross. Most of the time, it's more about the activist than what they're activing about. Full disclosure: I used to work next to the Federal Building where someone was protesting every single weekend. It made it impossible to find a parking spot! I grew to hate those damn protesters. I even considered protesting their protests. And if I were someone who took initiative, I very well might've done that. Which is why I enjoyed Animal Cruelty. It finally allowed me to live a little bit of that dream.

Paul Nemser is 45, balding, and makes his living writing angry articles at the Vanguard Newspaper. Nemser is haunted by his father, a great reporter who won the Pulitzer. When The Vangaurd decides to cover an Animal Testing Laboratory protest, Nesmer sees a chance to write about something meaningful - something that will finally get him recognized. But instead of giving him the story, his boss gives it to the younger better-looking Mark. Nemser seethes but can do nothing.

All the way across town we meet Georgie, a 16 year old kid who's so smart he dropped out of high school. As he tells his only friend, Rajiv: "I’m an autodidact, Rajiv. Do you know what that means? It means I teach myself. Do you know how I know that word? I taught it to myself." Georgie drifts around aimlessly, spending most of his time at McDonald's throwing french fries against the wall for his own amusement.

Lynda, a local reporter who's abnormally obsessed with Paul McCartney, wants the local Animal Testing Laboratory shut down pronto. Because, like, animals get hurt in there and stuff. So she stages a protest in front of the building that somehow attracts almost everyone within a five mile radius. This hapens to be the same event The Vanguard newspaper was sent over to cover. But as she pounds out phrases like "A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy!", the fry-flinger Georgie is drifting by. Seemingly out of boredom, he yanks off his shirt and writes on his chest, "Pro Animal Testing!" and begins screaming out his own catch phrases, which admit that Lynda is hot but that what she's saying sucks. For this oh so brief period of time, Georgie becomes the face *for* animal testing. Nemser, who sneaked here against his newspaper's wishes, sees the potential for a great story.

Nemser follows Georgie home and asks him if he can write a story about him protesting. But since Georgie hates protests, he's annoyingly appalled by his own protest, and therefore refuses to go along with it. Nemser, glimpsing the end of his career, makes the drastic decision to write the story anyway. It ends up being a huge success that spurns all sorts of controversy. Nemser is catapulted to the top of the reporter totem pole and ordered to do a follow-up. In the meantime, the public reacts by congregating around Georgie's house and holding up signs that call for his death.

No matter how hard Nemser begs Georgie to continue his protest though, Georgie refuses. He can care less if all those animals are saved. A little later we learn that Georgie's father was one of those batshit crazy activists, the kind that live for anything that allows you to fight the system. And so instead of raising his son and providing for his wife, his father tied himself to a tree for five years. So no thank you, Georgie says. He won't be protesting anything...

Or will he?

Animal Cruelty wins points for its original premise alone and most of it is pretty unique. But it's not without fault. The quirkiness that works so well in the first and most of the second acts, wears thin as we approach the latter parts of the screenplay. I see this a lot with scripts that forgo traditional storytelling in favor of humor or "quirkiness". Playing everything up for laughs leaves little room to advance the story. And if you don't have enough story at the beginning of your screenplay, there's not going to be any at the end either.

Still, it was nice to read something different for once. And Sachs has a unique sense of humor that leaves you laughing most of the time. Lynda's strange obsession with Paul McCartney was particularly funny. And when Nemser pisses her off by telling her that John was a better songwriter than Paul, the script was running on all cylinders. In this scene, one of the scientists is showing Georgie and Nemser around their testing laboratory:

Bergstrom takes Georgie and Nemser on a tour through the lab. Everywhere they go, scientists and ASSISTANTS are packing things into boxes, preparing to leave.

(walking and talking)
Here we were developing a drug to treat Alzheimer’s...This was a rat experiment for a novel Parkinson’s treatment...This was a comprehensive monkey trial of a new multiple sclerosis vaccine.

He opens a cage and a MONKEY grabs hold of him.

And this little fellow is named Mr. Gibbs. He’s been with us for nearly a decade, and he’s one of our favorite pals around here. He and I have become very, very close.
(to the monkey)
Say hi, Mr. Gibbs!

An ASSISTANT looks up from his desk a few feet away.

Mr. Gibbs died during an experiment yesterday. That’s Boris. Bergstrom doesn’t bat an eye.

Say hi, Boris!
A great change of pace in a pool of scrips that seem to be written by the same hand. If you're into stuff that's a different and are searching for a few laughs, check this one out.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest

[x] worth the read

[ ] impressive

[ ] genius

What I learned: Never forget the power of showing and not telling, especially when it involves a potentially melodramatic backstory revelation. We discussed this in Due Date already. But the ideal way is always to *show* instead of *tell*. Nemser's dad used to be a great reporter. But instead of Nemser disclosing this to another character, or another character disclosing it to him, we see Nemser sifting through some old black and white photos. And there's his dad, marching with Martin Luther King. That tells us everything we need to know about him. And we don't have to endure some cringe-worthy dialogue in the process.

Representation Week

So I'm doing something different next week. I want to give four writers a chance to get some exposure. The only catch is you have to have agency representation and not yet have sold a script. If you meet those requirements, send me your script, your agency, and a logline. I'll take the four most interesting loglines and review those scripts Monday-Thursday. If you don't want your script posted or you won't be able to take a potentially negative review, then you shouldn't participate. I know a lot of you unrepresented writers are crying foul here but there's a reason I'm only allowing represented writers. First, I don't want to be inundated with 10,000 e-mails. But more importantly, this is an exercise to review scripts from writers who *were* able to land representation, but have not yet been able to sell a script. What's the difference in quality between a represented and an unrepresented writer? What's the difference in quality between a represented writer and a represented writer with a sale? Is the difference merely a matter of luck? That's what I want to explore. Who knows? Maybe we'll find something great. Send the scripts to this e-mail: There is no guarantee your script will be chosen but you have my word that I will delete all scripts I don't use. Deal?

Okay, now let's make one of you guys a millionaire.

Edit: I've decided to allow Manager representation as well. Though the choices will be weighted to favor agency representation.

Accepting submissions until: Saturday, August 1st

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Prisoners sells for a boatload of money

"This sale was completely fucking unprofessional!"

Way back a few months ago, the spec script "Prisoners" by first-timer Aaron Guzikowski, made the Hollywood rounds and impressed a bunch of people. Wahlberg attached himself. Not long after that, Christian Bale came on as well. But before putting the script on the market, in order to sell it for the most amount of moola, they wanted to complete the trifecta and attach a director. Although they finally got Bryan Singer interested, for whatever reason, not everyone could agree on the direction of the project. So Bale and Whalberg deattached themselves and Prisoners went on the market sans any talent attached. It's still unclear to me if Singer stayed attached or not. But anyway, the script finally sold to Alcon Thursday for an undisclosed amount of money that is thought to be north of a million dollars. Take a trip down Scriptshadow memory lane when the script first hit the street.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Will there be an Inception review?

That's up to you.

I think it's time. I think we all agree it's time. Inception needs to be reviewed on Scriptshadow. I know this script is out there because they've already started shooting it (under a different name). My April Fools Day joke was convincing enough that I've literally received a thousand requests for the script. Some liked my made-up version so much they've even encouraged me to write it (I did think it was pretty cool if I do say so myself). With the most highly anticipated movie debuting its footage today at ComicCon, it seems only natural we get a review of the most coveted script in town.

Now here's my promise to you. You, person out there, who has the script. I will not post it. I promise you that. All I want to do is read and review it. So you can send it through your e-mail or an anonymous e-mail or whatever means necessary, if your'e scared. But just know that I'm not going to spread this out there. My inbox awaits you. Do the right thing. :)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

One Night Stan

Early Edition - still editing.

Genre: Comedy
Premise: When Stan is given a one night "pass" from his fiance to have as much sex as he wants, all hell breaks loose.
About: Spec script that just sold Friday. Lionsgate picked it up. Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg (writers of Harold and Kumar 1, directors of Harold and Kumar 2) attached to direct.
Writer: Joshua Friedlander (draft dated July 6, 2009 - 115 pages)

You want me to do what?

What some of you might not know is that the spec market is disastrous right now. Absolutely nothing is selling. I think a month went by without a single spec sale. The studio coffers were closed. Laptops were shut down. Writers refused to subject their material to the harsh market. But then a script came along. A script by one Joshua Friedlander that gave writers across the globe hope again. And what was it that changed Hollywood's mind? Why a script about a one-night stand of course. Makes sense when you think about it. The people in this town aren't exactly relationship friendly. But was One Night Stan that good? Or did Hollywood just get bored and feel like they had to pull the trigger on something? There are only so many comic books you know. At some point you gotta buy original material.

Stan is a nice caring 20-something who's lived a life full of long relationships. Yeah, he's the friend in your group you call "Relationship Guy." Stan loves being the relationship guy. The crazy confusing disease-ridden rock'em sock'em singles scene just doesn't suit him. Stan is most happy when he's sharing his life with a woman. And he's about to marry the woman of his dreams, Julie. Julie is seemingly just like Stan - a responsible committed sweet person. They're best friends with Russel and Marie, a former couple who still live together and Neal and Karin, a slightly older couple who own the video game company Stan works at. During a night of slightly excessive drinking, the dreaded "number" comes up. As in "the number of people you've slept with." One by one people start revealing their numbers and when they get to Julie, we find out that she's slept with over 30 guys. This is all sorts of news to Stan, who, no matter how hard he tries, can't seem to get the number out of his head. Later on he presses her for details, and it only gets worse (or better - depending on your perspective).

Before I answer, can we clear something up? I just wanna make sure that your number includes all your partners. That's every guy. There's not like an addendum to that list, of guys you just blew?

No. Except with my first boyfriend, I've never been one to just fool around. I always go all the way. So that number is all the guys I've had intercourse with.


That number doesn't include girls.

Stan looks like he might faint.

Here we go.

Don't freak out. I've only had one same sex experience.

You slept with one girl?

It was one experience, but there were actually five of us that participated.

Five at once?!


Five?! I've only been with four women! You've had sex with more women than I have!

No. I'm included in the five. There were four others.

Oh, so you've had sex with as many women as I have! That makes me feel much better.

It was all one night. A sorority thing. We were drunk, there were five of us that got together on a lark.

You had a lesbian orgy on a lark?

I don't know why, but "girlfriends who just may be super-sluts" humor always makes me laugh. So I was onboard from the get-go. But "One Night Stan" still had to maneuver through some tricky waters as we have to buy into some iffy motivational logic. As Stan becomes increasingly self-conscious about his lack of sexual partners, Julie gets it in her head that he should sow his wild oats. So she offers him one night to go out and have as much sex as he can. Which technically wouldn't be a "one night" stand. Because there are potentially multiple people involved in the night. That's like a fraction-night stand isn't it? Actually, that's a good question. If you have sex with multiple people in one night, what "stand" is that? I'm confused. Anyway, Julie tells him to sleep with as many girls as he wants as long as it's before sunrise tomorrow morning. Of course, as we men know, just because you've been given permission to have sex, doesn't mean you'll actually get any sex. Believe me, I wish I could use that line. "Hey, I've been given a free pass tonight. Will you have sex with me?" Please allow there to be a world where that works. Anyway, it's in Stan's desperate attempts to lay some pipe that the script takes off.

At first reluctant, his buddies convince him that this is the best thing that could ever happen to a man and if he doesn't take advanage of it they'll kill him. His very first opportunity is with a MILFish client of his video game company. Stan makes a tentative move on Milfy only to find out that this isn't a MILF at all. It's a TILF. As in "A transfender I'd like to fuck". I don't know how many of you have ever been out with a TILF before but it can be a bit of a shock to the system. Which Stan finds out firsthand as the TILF puts his hand on her penis. Ultimately Stan decides not to have sex with the Tilf. He then rushes back home to target the apartment complex slut. She agrees to have sex with him, but only if it can be a three-way...with another guy. Stan figures sex is sex and agrees, but when a third sword swashbuckles onto the ship, Stan figures enough is enough. Next is a trip to the local club with his buddies where they find the trashiest girl on the dance floor (a self-proclaimed nymphomaniac). She needs to have sex *all the time* so they go back to her trailer. Just as they're about to have sex, Stan notices her two children staring up at them. He figures children watching mommy have sex isn't cool and leaves. Next up is my favorite sequence of the script, "Book Club Girl". His friends convince him that there are tons of sluts at the bookstore so he goes there only to stumble into a weird book club. He immediately begins chatting up a really cute girl. But the girl is acting strange and keeps asking him what his favorite book is. When she's 100% clear that his favorite book is also her favorite book, she takes him home. It is there that Stan learns that the book was actually code for a particularly...specific sex act. If stuff like this really happens, you won't catch me at Barnes and Noble anytime soon. When all hope is lost, what's left to do? Hire a hooker of course. Needless to say, that doesn't go according to plan either.

In the meantime, Julie starts having doubts about whether she did the right thing. This leads to a total meltdown where she questions whether she's really over her one true love. So while Stan's out there desperately trying to get laid, Julie pays a visit to her old boyfriend to get closure. As sunrise nears, both are in danger of cheating on the person they love, and this seemingly smart decision by Julie very well might end their relationship forever (she should've consulted me. Letting your boyfriend bang other women tends to have negative effects on a relationship).

Here's my problem with One Night Stan. It's really hard to buy into the premise. I talk about this in a review I did for another script called "Permission." I simply don't know anybody in my life who would allow someone they loved to have a one night stand with someone else. Do you? I understand this is a movie but there has to be some level of reality here, right? But what compounds the problem is that Stan doesn't really want to cheat on Julie. So now you have a situation that's hard to buy with a character that doesn't want to do it. The motivation for him to cheat is...what? So I had a hard time getting over that setup.

But once you do get past it, One Night Stan is hilarious. Friedlander's got the funny going on all cylinders here. I can't tell you how many times I laughed. The whole Book Club sequence has "classic scene" written all over it. And the cool thing about "Stan" is that we haven't seen any of these situations before. So many writers take a concept like this and basically recreate their favorite movie from top to bottom. All of the humor here felt fresh and original, which is I'm sure why "Stan" stood out from all the other contenders that crashed and burned in their attempts to land a sale this month.

Anyway, if they can somehow fix those two structural problems, I heartily endorse this jumping onto the big screen.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest

[x] worth the read

[ ] impressive

[ ] genius

What I learned: Break rules. Even the ones I tell you not to! You may have noticed that this script was 116 pages. That goes against a rule I just touted only days ago. That comedy specs should be under 110 pages. Just goes to show that I'm not always right (it's rare - but it happens) and that every rule can be broken. I actually encourage breaking a couple of rules in each screenplay. Just don't go breaking all of them. Pick and choose - and make sure there's a reason behind your disobedient ways. Rule breaking tends to work a lot better when the writer knows why they're breaking the rules.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Happy Thank You More Please

Genre: Indie Drama
Premise: This coming-of-age tale follows six lives in modern day New York, highlighted by a 20-something aspiring novelist who accidentally adopts a 6 year old African American child.
About: Made the 2007 Black List with 3 votes, though I suspect it would've been much higher had more people read it. Radnor plays Ted Mosby on the sometimes hilarious sometimes average "How I Met Your Mother." With a cast of highly talented multi-taskers (Neil Patrick Harris is hosting the Emmys. Jason Seagal wrote and starred in Forgetting Sarah Marshall), Radnor obviously had to do something big to stand out. Writing, directing and starring in his own movie was the only way he could trump his castmates. Malin Ackerman and Kate Mara will co-star.
Writer: Josh Radnor

Take that Doogie.

Wow. I cannot stress how shocked I was when I finished this script, dug around, and found out that Ted Mosby wrote it. I was so convinced that there were two Josh Radnor's, a writer and an actor, that I kept surfing the internet for half an hour convinced that there had to be a mix-up or some bad information. I'm still not entirely sure, as IMDB doesn't even list the movie. It's not that I don't think someone from a sitcom can be that talented in another trade but...Actually, yes, that is what I think. Writing takes time. Getting good enough to compete with the awesome pool of talent at this level takes dedication. To write one of the top 15 scripts of the year, out of a sea of 50, have to be dedicated to your craft. That Radnor belted this out in between spit takes with the flute girl from American Pie has my head spinning.

Obviously there's some untapped pool of talent in goofy affable sitcom leads. Following the Zach Braff model, Radnor wrote his script and got a hot female star attached (Ackerman). Then he got funding with him attached as both actor and star. The big difference between Braff and Radnor though - who could easily pass as brothers - is that Radnor can really write. While Braff did a great job on the acting and directing front in Garden State, the script itself wandered too much. I am so convinced of Radnor's talents after reading this that I'm willing to bet he was a writer long before he was an actor. There's too much confidence in his unique snapshot of New York City. From the characters to the stories to the dialogue (which came off just as electric as it did realistic) , we've been introduced to a story not quite like any other in a city that's been around for 300 years.

In the spirit of full disclosure, it should be noted that I'm a sucker for coming-of-age films. I've said it before and I'll say it again. But I'm also the first to admit that there's nothing worse than a coming-of-age film gone bad. Characters are complaining about their troubled suburban childhoods. Mommy and Daddy don't love me. What do I do with my life? When the amount of whine starts competing with Napa Valley, these screenplays can be like a bad night out at the Roxy. But while Radnor laments, he never dwells. His story moves at a brisk pace for a character piece. He knows when to chug along, when to slow down, and when to check in on the other characters.

Sam is in his late 20s, living in New York, rolling through girls like Big Macs, trying to become a novelist but not really caring if he succeeds or not. Although Sam won't admit it to himself, he's lonely. And his inability to come to terms with that is what drives his actions. Sam's best friend is the beautiful Annie. Annie has a condition called Alopecia Universales, which doesn't allow her to grow hair on her body. I know, I know. This has cringe-inducing written all over it but I'm telling you, Radnor knows what he's doing. There are a few times when Annie breaks down about her condition, but the condition is more symbolic if anything. Annie feels just like a lot of people - inadequate, not good enough. But she maintains a positive spirit through it all, and is one of the most *real* characters I've read in a long time.

Malin Ackerman will play the potentially award-winning role of Annie

Rounding out the group of friends are the fiery Mary-Catherine and Charlie, two New Yorkers who fight just as much as they get along. Charlie has been offered the job of a lifetime in LA but Mary-Catherine would rather cook her face in a microwave than move to that soulless concrete wasteland. Even though the two are probably the most "normal" characters in the bunch, the exploration of their problems is so universal that their story is just as compelling as the others.

So on his way to his first book deal, Sam observes a small black child amongst his mother, brothers and sisters on the subway. When the family leaves though, the boy, Rasheen, deliberately stays behind. Sam, feeling like he should do something, tries to take the kid to the police but Rasheen refuses to go (later we find out he's been in a number of foster homes and has been repeatedly abused). So Sam (naturally) takes Rasheen to his book deal meeting, and (naturally) the publishing people are a little confused as to why their new author is escorting around a small black child. Each time Sam tries to get rid of Rasheen, something comes up that prevents him from doing so, and before he knows it, he really starts to like the kid. So hours turn into more hours. More hours turn into days. Without even realizing it, Sam has unofficially adopted Rasheen. Which is just crazy. But I'm telling you. Radnor makes it believable.

Complicating matters is that Sam also meets the stunningly beautiful Mississippi, an aspiring singer who's trying to pick up the pieces of her life. When she won't buy into Sam's one-night stand proposal, in order to get her to have sex with him, he proposes a "three-night stand." The keys to his apartment, come in and out at any time, and they'll be a couple for three days. The idea is so absurd and Sam is so charming, she goes along with it. Of course after the alcohol's worn off the next morning, Sam can't believe what he's done. And when Mississippi finds out that Rasheen is living with him, all hell breaks loose. When she hears of the abuse though, she softens a little. And all of a sudden Sam has gone from single man on the street, to having his own quasi-family.

Kate mara will play the gorgeous Mississippi

Although there are a lot of great things about "Happy Thank You More Please," the thing that gives it an edge over a lot of similar films is how Rasheen fits into the story. What Sam is essentially doing is kidnapping a child. And the longer he waits around doing nothing, the more trouble he's going to be in when the authorities find out. So with each passing day, we become more and more anxious as we're fearing for Sam. Yet at the same time, we don't want Rasheen to go back to that horrible life he was a part of. Basically we're freaking out inside going, "What the hell is he going to do??" It makes us forget that there really isn't an overarching plot driving the story (though it was clever of Radnor to use the "3 Day Stand" device, as it gives the story an unofficial time frame).

"More please" perfectly captures the feeling of people living cramped together in this absurd but wonderful city, bumping into and bouncing off of each other - affecting each other's lives in ways they don't even know. The theme of "growing up" is present on every page and it's something I, and I imagine a lot of you, identify with. As artists, we grow up with the rest of the world looking down on us and thinking we're crazy for not, in their minds, "growing up." And I think Radnor paints a fair balanced assessment of this phenomenon.

The only question mark with the film is, should Josh Radnor play the lead? His default happy-go-lucky smirk doesn't exactly lend itself to Sam's harsh and sometimes abrasive behavior. Sam's got weight. You need an actor who can express that. Of course, none of us have seen Radnor's acting outside of yukking it up with Robin Chibotski, so who knows? He could very well be the next Dustin Hoffman. But in a project that's so strong on so many levels, Mr. Mosby better know what he's doing, because if done right, this has the potential to be today's Graduate. "Happy Thank You More Please" breaks into my Top 25.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest

[ ] worth the read

[x] impressive

[ ] genius

What I learned: Parentheticals. The literary world has become more forgiving of parantehticals. Some people hate them but I love them. When you have a guy saying to a girl, "You look hot tonight," having the girl's response be "Thanks, I guess," changes quite a bit when you add the parenthetical "(not uncharmed)" right before it. With sarcasm and irony and people constantly saying one thing but meaning another, the parenthetical can ease a lot of the confusion.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Bye Bye 500 Days Of Summer

500 Days of Summer came out today which means, as an officially released film, it must be officially released from my Top 25. :( So sad. Let me go on the record, however, about the casting of the film, which I think they got all wrong. Summer is supposed to be the world's biggest bitch. There's a distance to her. She does not own a heart. Casting Zooey Deschenel is a "Hollywood" attempt to fend off the character's unlikeability - the thinking being that if Zooey Deschenel is doing all these terrible things, we'll still love her. But it totally undermines the character. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who's a great actor, is wrong for Tom for the exact opposite reason. Gordon's got a tortured James Dean quality to him. Tom's supposed to be a spineless schmuck that lets people walk all over him. Imagine a slightly better-looking Michael Cera. Gordon-Levitt's eyes don't scream out "take advantage of me." Of course, the financers/producers usually give the filmmakers a list of actors that are marketable enough to justify the budget. So for all I know, the other choices could've been Lindsey Lohan and Zac Efron. Maybe these were the best options off a very short list. But anyway, I'll stop raining on this parade. The movie appears to be getting excellent reviews and still to this day has the best opening three pages of any screenplay I've read.




Check out my brief review of the script from long ago here. I hope to be proved wrong about the casting - very wrong - when I check out the movie this week. :)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Misha Green Interview

Misha wrote and sold the script "Sunflower" last year. The thriller (which is number 7 on my Top 25 list) about two women being held captive at a remote house by a serial killer was adored by just about everyone who read it and made the 2008 Black List. It's one of those rare screenplay reading experiences where you get so into it, you forget you're reading a screenplay. William Friedkin (The Exorcist) is attached to direct. Green has parlayed her script sale into a a staff writing position on NBC's "Heroes" which I can assure you she won't be telling us anything about. :)

Misha and I will occasionally engage in late night IM procrastination parties. She's humble and tends to keep a low profile so I had to wait until just the right moment (after I sent her a couple of rare scripts) to inquire about an interview. Heh heh heh. Believe me, this was not easy folks. Misha was entrenched in a Buffy marathon and I had to work all sorts of angles to get her to turn it off. So please thank her for giving us her time and talking about her screenwriting career.

me: So when did you write your first screenplay?

Misha: Senior of high school for my sr. thesis project. It was called, "Maxwell Brenner, Teen Spy" haha

me: Was it any good?

Misha: Horrible, but aren't all first scripts?

me: So then am I allowed to ask how long ago that was?

Misha: 2002. Not that long ago.

me: How many screenplays did you have to write before you felt like you were "getting it"?

Misha: Around the fourth one, I started to feel my own voice starting to come through, and that the dialogue wasn't atrocious and cliched.

me: What was the fourth script about? Was that Sunflower?

Misha: No. It was a teenage Thelma and Louise-esque script, called "Dry" that was in the finals for the Sundance Labs. Sunflower was two scripts after that. I guess part of feeling like I was "getting it" had to do with people responding enthusiastically and positively to my writing.

me: How did you get into the Sundance labs?

Misha: I actually didn't. I was rejected, but the script helped me get my manager.

me: Okay so this is what every aspiring writer out there - this is the part they pay attention to the most. What were the series of events that got you your manager?

[time passes]

me: Is Buffy killing someone right now?

Misha: haha, i'm surfing the internet and answering your questions. buffy will come next

me: I hope she lives.

Misha: I paid 140,000 dollars to attend NYU film school, and luckily had a teacher who believed in me enough to refer me to her manager. I was working at a restaurant in NYC, partying, and having a generally great post college life, and I ran into her at my restaurant, and she was very appalled by the idea that I had a script in the finals for Sundance, and wasn't capitalizing on that buzz by trying to get a manager. So she sent my script to hers, and the rest is history. Referrals are very key in getting your foot in the door.

me: So important to capitalize on any buzz. You wait just a couple weeks sometimes and bam nobody cares...

Misha: That's true. But I also think good writing will find a way to get read.

me: So this manager was out in LA or there in New York? Are you still in New York?

Misha: Manager is in LA, and I'm now in LA. My managers emphasized how important it was for budding screenwriters who want to start a career to live in LA. And they were right. To really get a career going, it helps 100 percent to be here to take meetings and such. And if you want to write for TV, you definitely have to live in town.

me: So now a little off-topic here and then we'll get back to screenwriting stuff. You told me at the beginning of our chat that you were watching Buffy. So I'm assuming you're a big Whedon fan?

Misha: Huge.

me: So then what did you think of Cabin In The Woods?

Misha: I haven't read it yet. But it's near the top of the script reading list.

me: Whaaaaaaaaaaaat? You just lost some Whedon points there.

Misha: Haha. I know.

me: Whedon seems to have a serious female following. Why do you think that is?

Misha: Because Buffy is a great female character. And he's funny. Girls like funny. And wit. Joss has a lot of wit. And he works with a lot of writers that match him in wit.

me: Hold on. Writing this down. "girls... like... funny." You know, had someone told me this a long time ago life would've been a lot easier.

Misha: Uh oh. Maybe I'm giving away too many secrets here. Us girls like to remain mysterious.

me: lol. Okay, so moving forward. Did you feel like you had something with Sunflower before you showed it to anyone? Were you like, "This is the one."

Misha: I thought, "Wow, this is cool, I like this..." but I've also thought that about the other five scripts I've written. Haha. But the response to Sunflower has been amazing, and I could have never imagined it at the time.

me: Sunflower was your first sale, right? How did that happen? Was it relatively quick? Arduously long? Easy? Difficult?

Misha: Sunflower was my first sell. It felt long to me, but I've been told it was relatively quick. My agents sent it out to a select few producers, who all passed for various reasons, but they wanted to meet because they liked the writing. While I was taking those meetings, Sunflower was being slipped around by execs at different companies, until finally one company decided to take a chance, and bought it. That was three weeks after it first went out.

me: Okay, just to back up for a second. How did you get your agent? Did your agent come from your manager?

Misha: I wrote Sunflower after I got my managers, and we sent it to the big five (big three now) and I had the fortunate opportunity to be able to pick an agent.

me: So you got the agent before or after it sold?

Misha: Before.

me: Oh cool. That's not easy to do. I hear about unrepresented writers on the verge of a big deal not being able to get callbacks from agents.

Misha: Really? I would think if agents know there's a deal in the bank, they'll sign you in a second. They're all about the less work they have to do, the better.

Me: I know. You'd think. Though I hear it happens every now and then. So what was that like when you got that call and it had sold? Did you head straight to Bar Marmount and start rubbing elbows with the stars? How has it been having to fend off paparazzi?

Misha: Haha. When I got the call that it had sold, I was on the bus to work. I was working as a hostess at a restaurant on Sunset at the time, and I didn't hop off at Bar Marmount, I got off at the stop in front of my restaurant, and worked my shift. Which I continued to work for the next two months while contracts went back and forth between lawyers. The sad truth is, that for most screenwriters, your first sale doesn't put you on easy street.

me: Yes, once everybody takes their cut, you're left with just enough your electricity bill for that month. What restaurant did you work at?

Misha: Talesai. Very good Thai food. I was working at night, and going on meetings during the day. And occasionally serving producers and execs I had gone on meetings with. That was a little embarrassing.

me: Haha. "Oh hey, fancy meeting you here. Would this be a bad time to ask you what you thought of my pitch?" Was everybody else who worked there an actor or a screenwriter?

Misha: No actually. It was very strange. Everyone else that worked there were Thai, and they had been working there for like 20 some years. I definitely stood out.

me: How did you land the job at Heroes?

Misha: I was working on "Sons of Anarchy" (a show on FX) and looking forward to the hiatus between seasons, and I got a call that they were looking for a staff writer for Heroes and liked Sunflower and wanted to meet. So I went in and met with the producers, and they asked me to join their staff as well. So now I'm back to back year round on two shows, and it's a lot of work, but amazing.

me: Oh cool. I know they're pretty tight-lipped over there but are you allowed to talk about what the show's going to be like?

Misha: They are very tight-lipped. It's all kind of insane. There's a lot of exciting stuff happening this season, but I can't talk about any of it. We're outlining my episode right now, and I'm very excited about it. But that's really all I can say. Haha.

me: You know it took me two seasons to make the connection between one of the character's names being "Hiro" and the show being called "Heroes"?

Misha: Haha. I caught that around the middle of the first season.

me: And at first, I thought it was a complete coincidence. I actually wanted to write the show and tell them about this amazing coincidence they were missing.

Misha: You should have. That might have even responded. Or it's something you should have asked at the comic con panel. I'm going for the first time this year. I'm a little afraid.

me: Are you going to dress in like battle gear or some strange outfit?

Misha: No, I'm going to hide in the corner, and hope no one realizes I work for the show, and start asking me questions. There's a whole Heroes wiki page, where they have pictures and bios about the entire crew! The entire crew! I don't have one yet, and as I mentioned earlier, I like to remain mysterious.

me: Is that why you worked at a Thai restaurant?

Misha: Haha. No. I worked at a Thai restaurant because they were the first people to hire me. I didn't have many options then.

me: You told me you're finally going to write another spec. Have you started it yet? And are you nervous about following up the wildly popular Sunflower?

Misha: I haven't started it yet, but soon hopefully. I'm writing a lot of notes in my notebook for it. Deep down I think all writers have nerves about what they're writing, because ultimately you want people to connect with your work, and like it, maybe even love it, but ultimately nerves are useless. You just have to believe in what you're writing, and write it. The response is out of your control.

me: I feel that way every night at 12 a.m. -- I love asking this question because it makes writers' heads explode. If you could give the aspiring writers out there any piece of advice, what would it be? -- And you can't say, "Follow your dreams." lol

Misha: haha -- I would say read a lot of scripts! I can't emphasize that enough. Which is why I think your site is great, cause it gives aspiring screenwriters access to Hollywood scripts. The first thing I did when I got my managers was send them a list of scripts to send me. And learn to love rewriting, because that's a lot of what having a career in screenwriting is. And do more. Experience more. Because ultimately your personal experiences is what's going to make your writing better. And invest in a nice desk and a comfy office chair, cause you'll be spending a lot of time in it.

me: Sage advice wise one. Now if I could somehow find a way to make sitting on a couch for long periods of time dramatically compelling.

Misha: haha. Well, having a good imagination helps in that case.

me: What's your favorite script you've read lately (or from the site)?

Misha: I liked Prisoners

me: What about your favorite movie this summer?

Misha: Star Trek. Did that come out this summer?

me: Hey! Me too.

Misha: haha, the sad truth is, once you start working in the industry, you rarely have time to go to a movie. Which is really unfortunate for me: It's like a rare treat. But you do get sent screeners of them which is nice.

me: you're so spoiled

Misha: I really am. There are a lot of perks. My DVD collection has doubled since I sold Sunflower. haha

me: What do like to do when you're not writing? In those slivers of time you have to yourself? Besides our late night IM sessions of course.

Misha: I live for these late night sessions.

me: lol

Misha: My slivers of time are getting very tiny these days. I'm working on a lot of pitches with producers, and the show, and producing a short I wrote. So when I'm not working, I'm pretty much sleeping, or partying when I can.

me: Ah yes. Do you Heroes writers know how to get down?

Misha: I don't know about the rest of them, but I do. haha.

It was at that point that Misha said something about too much time away from Buffy so our session had to end. It's not easy losing out to Sarah Michelle Gellar, let me tell you. And I hope Misha doesn't read my review of Joss Whedon's "Cabin In The Woods." Yikes, talk about wanting back slivers of time.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Incident At Sans Asylum

So today we have a review of S. Craig Zahler's script, "Incident at Sans Asylum." Zahler is the writer of the number three script on my Top 25 list, the Western, "The Brigands Of Rattleborge." That script is a town favorite, yet everyone's terrified to make it. I have no idea why. Show this thing to one A-List actor and they'd die to play the part of Abraham, a character that has the potential to be one of the greatest movie characters of all time. We're talking Hannibal Lecter territory here. But hey, you guys don't want an Oscar? That's cool with me. Anyway , this is one of Zahler's earliest scripts, written in 1998 while he was still in college. He wrote the script as a directing vehicle and was actually going to shoot the movie for 75,000. I'm leaving the review in the trusted hands of Roger Balfour, a young man whose unique perspective on writing digs all the way to the bone of Zahler's work. So take it away, Roger.

Genre: Nihilistic Horror
Premise: A group of struggling musicians who work as cooks in an asylum for the criminally insane get locked in with the inmates during a massive thunderstorm. Chaos ensues as the musicians/cooks struggle to escape and stay alive.
About: S. Craig Zahler, writer of the 2006 Black List screenplay, “The Brigands of Rattleborge”, wrote this script which has been developed by Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures in conjunction with Vertigo Entertainment. Helmed by Spanish director, Daniel Calparsoro. To be released, one presumes...
Writer: S. Craig Zahler

Caveat lector: Forgive me. I’m going to season this review with references to other horror movies and writers of the genre in order to properly convey what this script accomplishes to do. We’re going to explore the coin of this sub-genre a little and look at the ideas that are reflected on both sides of the coin.


I’m one of those struggling screenwriters outside of LA that worships at the stone altar of “The Brigands of Rattleborge”. I live in the Bible Belt. I don’t just surround myself with books that can be categorized as Southern Gothic, I live in the environment. I’m exposed to the Flannery O’Connor and Cormac McCarthy flavor grotesquerie every day. It’s part of the atmosphere here.

It’s the temperature.

And I only read it a few weeks ago. But when I finished, I wanted to hold the screenplay up in the air like the baby Simba and shout its ultraviolent majestic grandeur from the precipice.

“Look, some dude wrote a screenplay and he used the word ‘agglutinated’ in one of the prose passages when describing dried blood and brain matter! Fuck studio readers!”

“Rattleborge” was a bizarre and compelling morality play that explored a cycle of bloodshed and violence and bloodlust. It was about revenge. It was about what revenge does to a man’s soul. It was about the consequences of revenge. It was Shakespearean. It was Greek tragedy. It was Grand Guignol. It was Southern Gothic. It was “Unforgiven” if written by Cormac McCarthy. And I loved every fuckin’ word of it.

So, I was foaming at the mouth to read another Zahler screenplay. Here’s a guy who is obviously both a bibliophile and a cinephile. He knows his literature as well as his movies. And the motherfucker can write. So when I found “Incident” in my inbox, I burned through it immediately like a junkie jonesin’ for the rock.

And if the screenplay wasn’t a PDF file on my computer, I would have hurled it against the wall in frustration and disappointment. But, it was a PDF file on my computer and I need my netbook. It’s not very useful to me if it’s in pieces.

Did you expect to be disappointed?

No. I was supposed to be shaken, thrilled. I was supposed to be aroused viscerally and cerebrally. But instead...I was puzzled. I felt like I was attacked by an angry mob of natives on some alien continent where people don’t possess souls, and they tried to cut my limbs off and fuck me in the eye-sockets. And after the initial shock of that faded...I felt empty. Hollow.


But something had slipped under my skin, kept nagging me throughout the day. I kept turning the story over in my head like a rock in a lapidary, trying to find its meaning. Surely, what I just read had to mean something, right?

Zahler is a writer that seems to be interested in eliciting dread. Which I think is an admirable pursuit in the world of Story. Dread is a useful ingredient, a powerful emotion that burrows past a person’s mental walls and pierces the heart like a stiletto fashioned out of ice. The sensation is like being impregnated with a seed of panic and as it grows and blooms and does war against your conscious and subconscious, the war that fights against this revelation can be best described as a paralyzing sensation, a numbness that tries to protect you from the horror that elicited the dread.

Dread pairs especially well with exhilaration.

Horror movies like “Alien” or “The Descent” are good examples of this. Both stories that are more Lovecraftian in nature than most of the intentional adaptations of his work out there.

They manage to explore the concept of Lovecraftian existentialist and nihilistic horror. The realization that man is an infinitesimally small speck in the order of the universe. Or: man is insignificant in the face of the alien, the other. H.P. Lovecraft, a master at eliciting dread, was an atheist who wasn’t scared by the concept of God and the Devil; Angels or Demons. So he created a pantheon of the other, whose very existence, when exposed to man, was capable of driving the individual mad.

Of course, the stories in “Alien” and “The Descent” have different outcomes...

Sure. Ripley is the light that pierces the darkness of the other. She blows it out of the airlock and wins. In “The Descent”, Sarah’s ordeal and exposure to the other drives her mad with a hallucination of freedom, but her dramatic need to be reborn in order to overcome her family’s death is a still-birth attempt at best. She doesn’t make it out of the cave. She’s left trapped in the caves with the other, wrapped in a bundle of raw nerves and reduced to a gibbering psychological state.

But I would argue that both movies are exhilarating. Cathartic even. We faced the abyss, we ran from the abyss, we fought the abyss. When all was said and done, we walked away from the theater and were entertained. No biggie. Just a fun roller-coaster ride of a story. Go on with our lives, rejuvenated for a while by our escapist encounter with the abyss.

So what’s the moral?

Distribute some darkness and dread with that creator’s wand, and pit it against light and hope, toggle in some thrills, and you have a heady potion of adventure. Adjust the contrast knobs if you want the tone to be dark fare, or lighter fare. If done right, manage to thrill an audience both viscerally and cerebrally.

But what happens when dread is the ultimate victor? What happens when dread is your only ingredient?

“Incident at Sans Asylum” happens.

It is not a ride.

It is not escapism.

It is a cold, serrated knife in the gut.

It’s watching a layer of torn skin be flayed from the bone with a potato peeler, and feeling every moment of it.

These characters are not heroes.

They are victims.

And we suffer with them.

So what’s the story?

George is a musician in his mid-twenties who moonlights as a chef at the local asylum. Seems to be a new job for him. His band-mate Max is his second-in-command and they spend a lot of time together, working in the kitchen preparing cafeteria-style meals for the populace of the institution. When we first meet them they’re pissed at a younger, undisciplined drummer of the band, Ricky. Why? Ricky was a no-show for a studio session that they all saved up hard-earned money for because of his questionable taste in women. Ricky also works with them in the asylum as a cook, and most of the humor in the script (which is kept to a minimum) is derived from George and Max making fun of Ricky and his dubious taste in the female gender. We’re also introduced to William, a likable Hispanic employee who works diligently for George as a kitchen grunt and is a bit ostracized by the other guys, especially Max, because he’s not a member of the band.

There’s a simple, naturalistic feel to the scenes and the dialogue. Spare, with the highlights of these scenes being the detail applied to George’s job as a chef. Zahler captures the weird, limanel state-of-being of the struggling artist: George and his band have a gig at a venue where they have to cover an extra set because a scheduled band dropped out at the last minute. Which means their gig is going to run to 2 am. Good news for the band, but George also has to be back at the asylum at 5 am to oversee a shipment of product that is set to arrive.

The details are right. The lack of sleep. The tedium and mundanity that accompanies chopping vegetables or cleaning up blood because the plastic bag that contains meat product ripped and it made a mess everywhere. Pretty ordinary stuff that chef’s deal with everyday, but the fact that they are mentioned in the script gives the scenes and characters a sense of verisimilitude.

This sense of simply being and living and working is shattered when a thunderstorm blows out the generators and fries up all of the electrical wiring in the building.

This means two things: (1) No more lights, and (2) The electronic security doors leading to the outside world no longer operate, and there is no way to open them.

J.B., the main security dude/orderly, needs the cooks to help him escort the inmates back to their cells from the cafeteria before things start heading south. Already, some of these mentally fragile inmates are starting to panic because the thunderstorm interrupted their mealtime and habitual sense of institutionalized routine, and more importantly, there is no fucking light anymore.

So the cooks argue about what they should do, some opting to barricade themselves in the kitchen, while George and Max decide to help J.B.

And of course, things go horribly wrong.

As violence erupts within the darkened walls of the asylum, we get the sensation that some of the alpha’s of this insane-convicted-felon populace have taken over and they have some plans for these cooks who have been preparing meals for them for the past few days.

What about the structure? Does Zahler do his own thing again?

Kind of. Zahler does eschew the traditional, time-tested 3-Act screenplay structure and does his own thing. But I get the sense that he turned to classic stories of the horror genre found in literature and studied what made them work. How they were put together. Hell, they were good enough in that medium, why try to interface it with the Hollywood way?

This is essentially a tale told in 2 Acts. With Act 1 being a 40-page setup; Act 2 plays out like a brutal and tragic 50 page survival mode.

Most comparable movie in structure, theme and style I can think of is “Wolf Creek”.

Let’s get to it already. Was it scary?

It’s pretty fuckin’ terrifying, dudes. Think about it. You’re a kitchen grunt who works in the cafeteria of an asylum for the criminally insane. A dark storm hits and transforms the asylum into a haunted house with no exits and no lights. Several of these inmates are roaming the haunted house. They raid the kitchen, find sharp objects, and begin attacking all the institution employees they can find.

As the characters look for asylum within the *cough* asylum, there’s even shades of zombie horror. Kind of like a dreadful game of hide and seek. They catch glimpses of the pale, naked flesh of the lunatics as they roam the halls. Some are harmless, some attack on whim, others have some kind of fucked up plans for our characters. Except, you know, these ain’t zombies. These are people. There’s nothing supernatural about them.

And that’s the idea. The only monsters in this story are the ones within ourselves. There’s probably nothing more revolting than the depravity and sickness a broken mind is capable of.

The realism and brutality and chiaroscuro murk gives the story a distinctive 70’s cinema vibe.

It sounds pretty good. Why didn’t you like it?

A few reasons which could be chalked up to a matter of taste. I’m not a fan of the genre. I don’t like Nihilistic Horror when it’s followed to its logical conclusion: I don’t like watching violence as it’s committed against a protagonist for the sole purpose of taking away any and all motivation for the protagonist to merely stay alive.

Here’s the deal. George isn’t a hero. He’s a victim. He exists to be broken down and ground into dust.

There’s a key scene that brought to mind Gregg Araki’s “The Doom Generation”. If you’ve seen it you probably already know what I’m talking about. Except this castration is performed with poultry shears instead of pruning shears.

The most disturbing part of the flick is that this is a horror movie where the final coup de grace is the protagonist offing himself. Sure, there’s a character in “The Exorcist” who kills himself. Father Karras kills himself, but he does so because he’s trying to kill the Devil. Even if he was driven mad by the Devil and opted to kill himself, it would be an act that would be seen as a man who was driven mad by a demon and was looking for respite.

George kills himself because he’s been emasculated, both literally and spiritually, by his fellow man. He’s a victim of the violent volition of sick minds, which any human being is capable of, and he refuses to recover after his ordeal because he feels like he has nothing to live for. Even though he survived, he comes to the conclusion that his life is over. George loses the will to live because his sense of peace has been irrevocably violated. There is no more sanctuary for George. His sense of asylum has been stripped away, stolen.

The only escape from the horror and dread is death.

And I don’t like that.

What did you like?

The details and the foreshadowing: The Shakespearean technique of evoking and harnessing storms and weather to parallel the emotions, moods and future of the characters.

I liked that the exposure to the inmates is limited to mealtimes, where cooks are separated from the rest of the institution by a plexi-glass window. At first, we never see any of the inmates. We only hear them being directed through the line by an officer.

In fact, whenever they hear ghastly screams coming from the bowels of the asylum, the cooks are so accustomed to it’s just white noise.

The symbology. Zahler knows what he’s doing. Some interesting stuff going on with violence and images. Particularly an image involving a calf’s head and a decapitated body.

There’s a brazen climatic scene of suggested violence and horror that involves an oven. If the director is capable, this sequence will become part of cult-cinema history.

I like that someone is writing dark, cerebral genre fare other than the Nolan brothers. Stuff that feels like it’d be as much at home in literature as it would be on screen. I’d like to see Zahler take a stab at “Blood Meridian” for Ridley Scott, or maybe even adapt Mervyn Peake’s “Gormenghast” trilogy into an HBO miniseries.

[ ] trash
[ ] barely kept my interest

[x] worth the read

[ ] impressive

[ ] genius

What I Learned: Theme, theme, theme. Your choice of theme can either invigorate an audience, or alienate an audience. Nihilistic themes always seem to come out of a dark place, and when followed to their logical conclusion, descend into an even darker place. As storytellers, we have a responsibility when it comes to deciding what kind of story we want to tell. Again, this is a matter of taste, but I like to think that stories of hope are more palatable than stories of despair.

Also – I was reminded of a quote concerning the distinction between horror and terror. Anne Radcliffe wrote, “I apprehend that neither Shakespeare nor Milton, nor Mr. Burke by his reasoning, anywhere looked to positive horror as a source of the sublime, though they all agree that terror is a very high one; and where lies the great difference between horror and terror, but in uncertainty and obscurity, that accompany the first, respecting the dreader evil.“

Boris Karloff put it in simpler terms. Terror is anticipating the monster behind the door. Horror is the sense of shock and revulsion upon seeing the monster. Zahler seems to be a master of both, and uses both techniques impressively. This is an apt distinction for anyone who wants to know the secret to creating suspense.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Due Date

No link.

Genre: Comedy
Premise: An expectant dad (along with an unlikely travel companion) races cross-country in hopes of making it home for the birth of his first child.
About: Todd Phillips, who made in excess of 35 million dollars by foregoing his salary for profit participation in The Hangover, has made Due Date his next film, to co-star Zach Galifianakis and be released next summer. The following summer (2011), he'll release The Hangover 2, which I am looking for an early draft of (so if you have anything on the project, send it my way!).
Writers: Alan R. Cohen & Alan Freedland (March 6, 2009 draft)

The most unlikely movie-star in America

Nikki Finke had a huge write-up on her site about who was responsible for the success of The Hangover. Obviously, she's got it all wrong. I was responsible for the success of The Hangover. Did I not have it here in my Top 15? I mean, duh. But seriously, the people responsible for The Hangover's success are the writers who came up with the idea. It's one of the few concepts I've heard that could've been interpreted a bunch of different ways and still been funny. It was just a great concept and a good reminder to all of you that a strong hook goes a long way.

So last week Todd Phillips announced that instead of going directly into The Hangover 2, he'd make this little road trip film, Due Date, first. It's actually a smart idea. You snag Galifianakis so you got the familiarity factor, and you capitalize on the success of The Hangover without having to burn a Hangover sequel. Word is that Phillips is taking the script by Cohen and Freedland and Phillipsizing it. Which means we can expect the roadtrip version of a few tigers, Mike Tyson, and a breast-feeding Heather Graham. What else can we expect? Read the review to find out bra.

House-hunting in Bel-Air

Peter, a worrywart of a man with a mega-pregnant wife, has just been offered the chance of a lifetime: To sign Croatia's biggest action movie/basketball star to his company's Red Bull like drink, Bull Rush. To a man who doesn't answer a question without consulting his ten-year plan, this could bring him the kind of financial security that every family dreams of. Oh, but there's a small problem. Peter has to meet the Vlad Squad all the way across the country, only days before his wife is scheduled to have their baby (via a structurally convenient C-Section). This is cutting things mighty close but these kinds of opportunities don't come along in life very often.

So Peter hops on a plane, flies to the east coast, and has a wonderful meeting with the Croation Sensation. It's on his way back where the problems begin. At the airport he gets his bag mixed up with man-child Ethan (Galifianakis). Ethan's bag is packed with all sorts of drug paraphernalia and other weird things. It's enough to get Peter pulled into a back room and questioned. Peter barely makes his plane where he's conveniently seated next to - who else but - Ethan. In a tired shtick we've seen a million times before, the two start arguing, sarcastically boasting that they have bombs in their bags, and wouldn't you know it, get kicked off the plane.

Peter's thrown on the No-Fly List and no rent-a-car List and No Everything Else list. But guess who is driving back to California??? That's right. Ethan! The scruffy, lazy, farting, fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants nimrod invites poor Peter along and since beggars can't be choosers, Peter accepts the invitation.

After that, classic roadtrip hilarity ensues.

It doesn't take long for Due Date to hit some bumps in the road. The biggest bump is that there's nothing here we haven't seen before. Add to that that Due Date is more concerned with hijinx than story and you're looking at one grumpy Carson. As I may have mentioned before, I like a story in my screenplays. Look, I'm all about the lol if you can pull it off. But rooming with your easily insulted sister-in-law isn't exactly Grade-A material. And crashing a college party doesn't ring very high on the original-o-meter. These problems only serve to exaggerate the lack of story. And while there's a decent subplot involving Peter's absent dad, the main storyline of Peter's baby being born isn't threatened until very late in the script.

It's page 80 to be exact. That's the first moment where Cohen and Freedland take a chance and the first time the script actually surprised me. Peter and Ethan pay a visit to Peter's old college buddy, Jim. Jim is a black man who used to date Peter's wife. As Peter and Jim get to talking, Jim seems to know a little too much about Peter's life and casually mentions some e-mail exchanges with Peter's wife - none of which Peter knew about. As Peter takes a look around the house, he notices quite a few pictures up of Jim and his wife from their relationship days. A little later, he finds a "not so old" picture of the two at a restaurant. While Peter defends this discovery, Ethan insists that Jim is "fucking your wife." This of course adds a whole new dimension to the birth of Peter's child. Will it be his child? Or might his wife have been having an affair behind his back?

The mystery is exactly the kind of jolt the screenplay needed and for the last 30 pages of Due Date, I was right there wanting to know what happened. That's more than I can say for the first 80. But for whatever reason - maybe they didn't have confidence in the storyline or maybe they hadn't fully fleshed it out - the mystery of whose baby it is is forgotten. I don't think Cohen and Freedland are aware of what they have here. Due Date would gain tremendously from moving the Jim/Peter meeting up to the middle of the script, heightening our curiosity about his wife's fidelity and increasing the mystery of the baby's father for a lengthier stretch of the story. This also puts Peter in direct conflict with his character flaw - the idea that you can plan for everything - and overall just makes the story more interesting.

But the one thing that I kept coming back to during this read is how amazingly similar Due Date was to a script off of last year's Black List, the hilarious The Most Annoying Man In The World. Of the two screenplays, "Annoying" has a better hook and is funnier overall. Who knows? Maybe Phillips shares this opinion but couldn't get his hands on it.

Anyway, how a script ends has a huge effect on me and Due Date definitely saves face in the final act, tapping into an emotional component that simply wasn't there for the earlier part of the script. And I think that Ethan is going to be a fun character onscreen. For that reason, I'll recommend this, but only by a sliver.

[ ] trash
[ ] barely kept my interest

[x] worth the read

[ ] impressive

[ ] genius

What I learned: There's usually a moment in every screenplay where your main character has to talk about a dramatic moment that happened earlier in his life (i.e. "My mother died when I was ten." " My wife left me for another man."). Since most characters in movies have troubled pasts, these admissions almost always feel cliche. A character going into a monologue about how they came home from school one day and saw the ambulance is about as close to screenplay suicide as you can get. For that reason, there are little tricks to make these moments less schmaltzy. One, which Cohen and Freedland use, is to have your supporting character ask your main character about his past, and then have your main character resist answering. This takes the focus off the actual reveal and puts it more on his resistance. We're more likely to buy into the story if we sense the character isn't comfortable talking about it. Here's the example from Due Date.


So, is your dad still alive?


What's his deal, what's he do?

I don't know.

You don't know? How do you not know?

I'll tell you about it some other time. Good night.

C'mon, we're having a conversation. We're bonding.

He walked out on us when I was twelve. I don't speak to him. I don't even think about him.

I don't believe that. Every guy thinks about his Dad. I think about mine all the time.

A beat.

We really should get to sleep.

Yeah. Alright.

You see how that reveals a traumatic experience for Peter but doesn't draw attention to itself? How much better is that than this?
Peter and Ethan are almost asleep. But Peter looks like he has something on his mind. He turns to Ethan.

You know my dad left me? He walked out on us when I was twelve. He doesn't speak to me. I don't even think he thinks about me. It's really hard for me to wake up in the morning sometimes."

LAAAAAAAME. Yet you'd be surprised at how many times I see this in scripts.