Monday, August 31, 2009

The Sound

Genre: Drama
Premise: The oldest son of the Ashby fortune comes back to take over his family’s billion dollar company. There’s only one problem. He’s supposed to be dead.
About: Not much is known about this project. William Wheeler (The Hoax) was hired to adapt the novel, “Brat Farrar”, which was originally written in 1950. The novel is either a classic or a cult favorite, depending on who you talk to, and has inspired quite a few stage productions, as well as a UK miniseries back in 1986. Producers have been trying to turn it into a proper movie since its publication.
Writer: William Wheeler (based on the novel “Brat Farrar” by Josephine Tey)

If there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, it's probably on Fishers Island, where financial titans go to battle for the creme de la creme of North American real estate. It also happens to be the home of the Ashbys and their four children: Patrick, Ellie, Simon, and Elenor. Despite owning the second largest company in the United States, the tight-knit group is fairly grounded, as their father is a firm believer in family above all else. We actually meet him on an evening where he reinforces this point to his children. Whatever may happen in the world, stick together, support each other, and love one another. If you do that, you'll live a happy life. He then proceeds to get on a helicopter with their mother, and crash into the lake. There are no survivors. In an instant, the Ashby children are orphans. Patrick, the oldest and leader of the group, is so distraught that a few days later, he swims out into the lake and allows himself to drown, his body never to be found again.

Flash-forward 14 years and Simon, the second oldest of the children, has just turned 25 and is therefore about to inherit the reigns to his father’s company. The will states very clearly: the oldest of the Ashby boys will inherit the company after the father’s death. That time has finally come and the cold and calculating Simon couldn’t be more excited.

With only days left before the transfer, their Aunt Claire comes rushing into the house, crying. There is somebody out front. A visitor. It’s important that they come right away. Everybody runs to the guest house and are shocked to find none other than…Patrick. Or, at least, the spitting image of Patrick, now 27 years old. But how could this be? Patrick is dead. He killed himself. Everyone is confused, particularly Simon. If this is Patrick, where has he been all this time? Patrick does his best to explain the circumstances. He couldn’t live here after their parents’ death, so he left and has been living a normal life out in the real world. He came back because of his father’s words. That a family sticks together. But Simon isn’t listening. He knows what this means. If this is the real Patrick, then he, not Simon, will be taking over the business.

Stevie, the longtime head of security at the Ashby estate, is already putting a plan into motion. Old family members showing up to claim untold fortunes is a scam that’s been going on since the Caveman days. They’ll surely be able to sniff out the impostor with an extensive background check. And thus begins a painstaking investigation into whether this is or is not the real Patrick Ashby.

A typical house on Fishers Island

So everyone is shocked when Patrick passes the DNA test, the psyche evaluations, and the quizzes Simon and his sisters put into place about their childhood. Whoever this person is, he knows intimate details about their family. Clearly, this has to be Patrick. Even we’re convinced. I mean, how do you fake a DNA test??

He didn’t have to. Turns out Stevie and Patrick have conceived of an elaborate con, planned months in advance. The DNA tests were doctored. Old family videos were meticulously studied. Stevie clues him in on all the family tricks that will come his way. Once Patrick gets a hold of the company, the plan is simple. He will siphon out millions of dollars to himself and Stevie, then after a few months, he’ll declare his return a mistake, and disappear back into his old world, never to be seen again.

Because no family just hands over a 20 billion dollar business overnight, Patrick has to jump through a lot of hoops, and the more hoops he jumps through, the more Simon doubts he’s dealing with the real Patrick. Another problem (which should be noted – things not to do if you’re trying to steal a 20 billion dollar family business) is that Patrick falls in love with Ellie, who is supposedly his sister. And Ellie, in a creepy twist, is just as enamored with Patrick – even though *she* believes that he *is* the real Patrick. Will Patrick slip up before the board anoints him president? Or will he continue to fool everyone and pull off the biggest con in history?

As we barrel towards the end, twists and turns start popping up like whack-a-moles at a carnival and for the most part, they work. But there’s a lingering sense as you’re reading ‘The Sound’ that something like this couldn’t possibly happen in real life. Especially in post-meltdown Wall Street, where things are checked, double-checked, re-checked, then checked again. Although to be honest, that didn’t bother me that much. My big problem with The Sound is its decision to tip us off that Patrick Ashby is a fake. To me, that was the most intriguing mystery of all: Is this or isn’t it the real Patrick Ashby? Instead, the script wants you to focus on “Will Patrick get caught?” Which was interesting, but I’m not sure as interesting as the alternative.

Another issue I had was that the characters didn’t have enough depth. I understand the challenge involved in a story like this. There’s so much plot and so many secrets, it’s not easy to map out a clear and distinct character arc for everyone. Still, all I knew about Fake Patrick was that he had a rough life. I wanted to know more about who he was and how he got to the point where he actually conned people for a living. Had we dealt more with his pain, had we understood the depths of his predicament, we probably would’ve rooted for him more.

Despite these issues, The Sound is a satisfying read. It’s funny because I started thinking of Rob Pattinson and his attachment to Bel Ami, and I thought – this is a much more interesting portrayal of a poor man infiltrating the social elite. Where that world felt stale and uninteresting, this one felt alive and unpredictable. I could definitely see him playing Patrick Ashby. Of course, you’d probably have to add a dozen sex scenes (with his sister?) to get him interested, but it would be worth it.

The Sound was something I knew nothing about going in, but was happy I found it.

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

What I learned: Every decision you make in a screenplay has a ripple effect. Make sure you not only understand what you gain by making a choice, but also what you lose. So in the case of The Sound, Wheeler chose to tell us very early on that Patrick and Stevie were conning the family. We gain a sense of fear: “Will Patrick get caught?” But we lose a sense of mystery: “Is this the real Patrick?” Ultimately it’s up to you to decide which is more important in telling your story. But you can’t make an informed decision unless you’re aware of the effect each choice has.

Producer note: It is my understanding that the original book had Patrick and Simon as twins, with Patrick a few seconds older. I'm curious as to why they changed this in the screenplay. It would seem to me that if you kept the twin storyline, you could go out to talent offering both characters to a single actor. And we all know how much actors love playing two parts in the same movie. Easy way to snag an A-lister methinks. Thoughts?

Disney Buys Marvel Entertainment!

Appearing in the next Spiderman?

I know this isn't exactly script news, but it's so earth-shattering and has such a profound effect on the industry, I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't report it. Is this April 1st?? ( it isn't) -- Uhhhh, is this possible? Disney just bought Marvel Entertainment for 4 billion dollars. Where did this even come from??? My first thoughts are...Disney got'em on the cheap. 4 billion?? For all those super-heroes?

What do you guys think?

Sunday, August 30, 2009


It's Monday so it must be time for another Roger review. Today he jumps in his time machine and tackles a screenplay from the past, which, ironically, is set in the future. Bringing it full circle, I'm writing this from the present. But speaking of the future, the rest of the week should be fun as I plan to review that script with a "genius" label on the final 20 pages, a script I thought would've been a thousand times better than Bel Ami for Scriptshadow's favorite son, R_Patz, and a script for a prominent film playing at The Toronto Film Festival. For now, here's Roger...

Genre: Post-apocalyptic action-adventure.
Premise: A female courier in a plague-ridden future has to take a cure across state lines.
About: This script became notable as it sold right after the infamous 1988 Writer’s Guild strike (for $500,000 to Columbia) when studios were starved for product. Many years later it was considered one of the best unproduced screenplays in town. Heavyweights at the time Cher, and then Sharon Stone, were attached. It's apparently swamped in producer fees and Pascal has repeatedly and adamantly refused to allow it to leave Sony in turnaround.
Writer: John Raffo. Screenwriter of “The Relic” and “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story”.

Eden Sinclair is the female side to the Snake Plissken and Mad Max post-apocalyptic action hero coin. But before Eden Sinclair and Neil Marshall’s “Doomsday”, there was Mary and John Raffo’s “PINCUSHION”.

America. The post-apocalyptic future. The remaining inhabitants of New York City, St. Louis and Chicago have lost the battle against “DNV 47X toxemia”.

DNV 47X toxemia is a stronger, evolved, more dangerous strain of the plague that has driven survivors to live in fortified, sanitized stalags. The ruins of Americana modified into clandestine bomb shelters, makeshift underground railroad-like stations of the post-cataclysm.

Dust-bowl wanderers try to survive in a world that’s much, much worse than any mere debilitating Depression or recession. Ordinary people are forced to play the role of brigand, of killer, of victim.

America’s highways and bi-ways have become killing grounds. A simple trip from Point A to Point B becomes a trial in a gladiatorial arena. Mutants and dwarves and assorted freaks patrol the desolate roads by gunpoint, by the razor-sharp tips of arrowheads.

It’s a dog-eat-dog-world, and if you’re brave enough to venture onto the charnel tracks you better have a fast car, your favorite shotgun, and a trusted friend to watch your back when shit gets rough.

A weapon of last resort is probably not a bad idea either, because when you’re forced off the road and the people attempting to jack you take your boomstick away, that last trick up your sleeve is gonna be the only thing between you...and life and death.

And try not to stay out of your car for too long, otherwise you might get burned.

Radiation exposure.

It’s a bitch.

But The Cross is worse. Much worse. Those shitbirds that were on the road earlier, who set up an ambush to steal your vaccine? The ones you were scared of? They’re nothing. Even they run from The Cross. And if you’re smart, you will too. Because The Cross? They’re the masters of the road, and you best oblige and hide.

Because there’s a war a-brewing between The Carriers and The Cross. And The Cross is gonna do everything and anything to come out on top.

So who’s this Mary chick?

Mary’s a plague carrier. Might as well be immune. She’s alive and kickin’ it. Trying to eke out a living in a world that has little life.

Mary’s a courier.

You need to move some alcohol, some heroine, some vaccine, some toothpaste, some explosives but you’re too yellow and weak-kneed to brave the roads yourself? Mary’s the gal you want. She gets shit done, son.

Give that precious little package of yours to Mary, and she’ll make sure it gets to its destination. Her vehicle of choice? An antique station wagon she’s painted a dull black and equipped with large off-roadin’ tires. She’s even covered the rear with sheet metal and rivets. Armor like this is kinda required should The Cross ride up and stitch a line of machine-gun fire into your backside.

All this for a price of course.

Besides Tommy, her eye-patch-wearing navigator, compadre, and mentor, the only thing that matters to Mary is the dollar-sign payday that’s waiting for her at the end of each journey. Mary’s destination is currency.

Now, for Mare, there’s nothing she won’t carry. But she’s gotta play the odds, and there are places she won’t go. Only problem is, Mare’s hard up. And when a job she would normally tell to fuck off offers a solution to her financial woes, she’s forced to take it.

What’s the job?

She has 72 hours to deliver some precious cargo to Salt Late City. Big whoop, right? Wrong. To get there, Mare has to cross the Nevada Border. And no one crosses the Nevada Border except for The Cross. Last courier that tried the Border got himself killed, and since then, everyone’s developed the wisdom to stay away.

Why only 72 hours? What’s the precious cargo?

It’s a box. It’s about four feet high, two feet wide, three deep. Looks like an ordinary shipping trunk. Except this trunk is covered with valves, pipes, and scuba-like tanks.

And inside of the box is a cure for DNV 47X.

The storage life on the tank is limited, and the people waiting for the delivery can only safely hold out for 3 days.

Who’s hunting these people?

He’s known as Number One. Captain Doctor Alwin Spoor. That’s right. You guessed it. The Cross? This is the organization formerly known as The RED Cross. And they have devolved into an authoritarian terror squad.

The Cross shut down the borders, sealed off the city and state lines to non-Cross personnel. To not only stop the spread of disease, but to cut off the free market and freeze out all the other medical groups. They starved out everyone who refused to live under the Cross’ iron fist.

Number One is after Charles Shepard, a molecular biologist, a geneticist who has developed the cure to stop the Ultraplague. Shepard’s the guy who has decided to go rogue, to cross to the other side and petition the help of the plague carries and its couriers to get his panacea to the right people.

Spoor, in true totalitarian-gestapo-commandant fashion, kinda likes the world the way it is. He enjoys being at the top of the post-apocalyptic food-chain, and he doesn’t want this to change. At all. A cure would break the manacles The Cross has cuffed society in. This cannot happen. Because well...Number One would no longer be...Number One.

What’s the cure?

It’s Pincushion. Pincushion is the child inside of the box. He’s a test-tube baby. Genetically engineered. His blood is the serum, the antidote to the plague and its manifest destruction westward.

So this story has an interesting world, an intriguing protagonist, and a cool set-up. Does it work?

It has four issues that keep it from working:

1.) Mary’s arc is underdeveloped. For her journey to have emotional resonance, this story does warrant an elegant character arc. It’s a sinner-to-saint character journey that should connect, but doesn’t. If this is connect-the-dots, we’ve got the dot at the start of the journey and the dot at the end, but we’re missing all the other dots in-between.

This is all dependent on her interaction and tortured feelings for Pincushion, and I feel like there’s not a lot of time for these two to bond. And this is a minor note, but the kid is pretty freakin’ weird. I mean, I’m not blaming him. He’s engineered after all. But he has this weird, unpleasant alien quality to him. If he were CGI he’d be afflicted with Uncanny Valley syndrome.

I think I could live with this if Mary wasn’t so much of a blank slate. Something about her seems void. One interesting character trait is that she’s illiterate. But other than being a pretty bad-ass driver and resourceful shooter, she’s kind of one-note. Two dimensional. Stilted.

There’s not much meat to these spindly, bad-ass heroine bones.

2.) There’s a jarring tangent after the mid-point where our protagonist is M.I.A. The floor is given to the villain. And it’s boring.

For the first half of the script, Mary shares a lot of the decision making with her first-mate, Tommy. And since he has more experience than her, you get the sense that she’s more of the apprentice to his mentor. And you know, we get a really good mid-point where she is forced to take control. Kinda like Ripley in Cameron’s “Aliens”, but the opportunity is wasted here.

Mary is injured and taken in by this convent/coven of crazy post-apocalyptic warrior nuns, and she’s unconscious for a lot of the time. And these are such weird, bizarre characters you become more interested in them than Mary.

And I think this is a bad decision, because this should be about Mary.

Then we get scenes of Spoor monologuing and providing us with exposition that we really don’t need. Yes, we know the kid is the cure. We don’t need a lab scene where Spoor fondles the child’s flesh and terrorizes the nuns with verbose threats. Unnecessary exposition is death. There’s absolutely no need for it. Slows the story to a halt.

3.) It lacks rising action. If your most suspenseful action sequence is in the first 10 pages of the script, man do you have problems. And it’s a great 10 pages! But every single action sequence in this is a chase, for the most part. And every single chase is Mary trying to escape Number One’s massive Red Cross Truck that’s armed with machine rifles and an artillery battery. For an action movie, the lack of rising action is death to your movie.

In a movie like this, what we’re basically waiting for is the big fuckin’ Road Warrior sequence that’s going to blow the top of our skulls off. But no, we’re treated to something we saw in Act 1 and Act 2. There’s no incremental build-up to the action sequences. I mean, actions sequences are basically mini-movies and mini-acts in themselves. Each one should be bigger and better than the last, right? Or at least more interesting with higher stakes than the sequence that came before it.

Pace yourself and --

Up the stakes, up the stakes, up the stakes.

4.) It does not earn its ending. The ending is great. With this one scene, we get everything that this story is about. It has an emotional wallop to it that I kind of adore. It’s harsh, poignant. Imagine being on a clean-up crew after someone is martyred. And all of your co-workers are a hardened lot, just doing a job. Now imagine the type of dialogue that would be said as you clean the mess up. Maybe a quick blue-collar sentiment...but life goes on and you still got a job to do.

It’s sad, but great at the same time.

Except, because of the reasons above, the story does not earn this moment.

Now, I know Jeb Stuart rewrote this thing back in the day, and I’m really interested to see what he did with the story, because despite its similarities to “Mad Max”, “Escape from New York”, and “Doomsday”, I still think the script can be fixed. And when it is, it has all the ingredients to be an awesome flick.

Hell, I’d be the first in line at the theater.

A final aside, this script reminded me a bit of Kurt Wimmer’s “Ultraviolet”. Which begs the question, I wonder how many working filmmakers today have read this script and are influenced by it?

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

What I Learned: Mid-points. Read a David Mamet interview and I’ll bet he’ll say something like, “Anyone can write a 1st Act.” Inferring that Act 2 is the true challenge. Having a great mid-point can really glue a story together. Especially when it is seamless. And most great mid-points are reversals of some kind. When I read scripts, I’m always really curious to see what the mid-point is going to be. It’s like a game for me. And this script has a great one. It’s emotional. It shakes the story to its core. So much so that you can’t wait to see what happens next. Even if you can predict what the mid-point is going to be, the good ones always seem to be surprising. Something that makes you say, “I can’t believe they really went there! I didn’t want it to happen, but I’m glad it did because it makes the story better.” It’s narrative harmony.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Shutter Island

Genre: Thriller
Premise: A U.S. Marshall must go to a maximum security psychiatric ward located on an island to find a missing patient.
About: They’re baaaaaaaaaaaack. Moviemaking BFFs Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio are back at it again with this surprisingly conventional thriller. In addition to DiCaprio, the film also stars one of my favorite actors, Mark Ruffalo, as well as heavyweight Ben Kingsley and the delightfully delicate Michelle Williams. Writer Kalogridis has emerged as one of the top writers in Hollywood, having worked on a ton of big films such as X-Men, Tomb Raider, Wonder Woman, and two films yet to be made by James Cameron. Kalogridis sold her first spec to Warner Brothers (about Joan of Arc) all the way back when she was at UCLA film school. But for those of you who think it’s easy street after selling your first spec, Laeta disappeared off the map for many years and had to pay her dues before she was finally able to get back in the game.
Writer: Laeta Kalogridis (adapted from the novel by Dennis Lehane)

Scorsese and DiCaprio are reportedly buying a house together in Southern France

It was recently reported that Shutter Island was being pushed back to February. This was a shocking development for a few reasons. First, this film (or the film’s pieces at least) was on a lot of peoples’ Oscar radar. Second, outside of summer, December is the most profitable time to release a movie, especially if it’s good. And third, February is probably the least profitable month to release a film. To give you some perspective, last February’s big release was The Jonas Brothers in 3-D (by the way, these rumors floating around that I was there opening day are greatly exaggerated). Could the film actually be bad?

Well here’s the confusing part. Even if the film was terrible, it’s still extremely marketable. You have Scorsese. You have Leo. And you have a spooky intriguing concept. So why would you put this in the worst box office month of the year? The studio’s saying that they don’t have the money to promote it properly but everybody knows that’s bullshit. They have the money. Could it be that the suits are afraid the audience will go in with certain “award-worthy” expectations? And that this isn’t that type of film? Do they want to market it more traditionally? All of these questions peaked my curiosity, so I decided to take a look at the script. You can throw all the actors and production value you want at a flick. But you can’t protect a bad screenplay. It was time to find out what these suits were so afraid of.

Uh, can anybody say 13 Going On 30 2!

It’s 1954 when we meet Teddy Daniels. Teddy is a born fighter. The guy’s got danger in his eyes. He’s a U.S. Marshall. Except we’re catching him in his only vulnerable moment, on a boat, puking. The foggy wavy ride has set his stomach crawling faster than a five course Indian brunch. Teddy’s partner is CHUCK, always ready with a joke. This is the first time the two have worked together and it’s clear from the way Chuck treats Teddy, that Teddy’s something of a legend in the business. When you need something solved, Teddy solves it.

The two are being ferried over to Shutter Island, an island built specifically for the most insane of the insane. But Shutter Island is unique in that it’s a maximum security island. In case you didn’t know, there’s no other “maximum security” insane asylum in the U.S. The people on this island are that dangerous. Or at least that’s what we’re told.

After a brief look at the grounds, they meet Dr. Cawley, who informs them that a patient named Rachel Solando has gone missing. Rachel is so fucking crazy that she drowned her three children in the ocean, then dried them off and set them up in their chairs for dinner. Yeah, and you thought your ex-girlfriend was crazy. Anyway, Rachel has constructed a fictitious reality here at Shutter Island that allows her to believe she never came here in the first place. She thinks she’s still back at home, and the orderlies and doctors are post workers and milkmen. What she did to her children was so traumatic, the only way for her to go on was to create a world where it never happened.

Hmmm, I think I know where this is going.

So Teddy and Chuck start searching around, only to find that the patients’ and orderlies’ answers don’t exactly add up. Rachel somehow got out of her max-security cell and then snuck past not one or two, but three sets of guards without being seen. Dr. Cawley and his cohorts are clearly hiding something. And that’s when things really go off the lid. Turns out we don’t know Teddy as well as we thought we did. Teddy’s been doing research on Shutter Island for years now. It so happens that his wife was murdered in an arson fire at their old apartment building by the maintenance man, a lowlife named Laeddis. Laeddis was later sent here. Which means that finally, Teddy has a chance to confront him.

Chuck is skeptical. How did Teddy know that at some point in time he’d be asked to come to Shutter Island? It’s a question that doesn’t bother Teddy, but it’s the beginning of a series of clues that lead us to believe Teddy might not be all there. Or is it we’re only supposed to think that? Is Teddy insane? Or is he being set up? More investigating follows, which leads to more creepy patients, which leads to the same message being offered to Teddy over and over again: “Get off this island while you still can.”

Wow, looks like Teddy’s gotten himself into a TITANIC mess.

The cool thing about Shutter Island is you’re sitting there thinking, “Is Teddy crazy? Is he one of the inmates, imagining all this?” Normally you’d think yes and chalk it up to a generic thriller. But because this is Scorsese, who’s seen just about every iteration of every story ever told, you know he’s not going to make it that simple. You know there’s gotta be another answer. But then again, maybe Scorsese knows you know this, which is why he WILL do exactly what you expect. Or....don't expect. Or wait a minute. What's the question again? Basically, Scorsese and Kalogridis are fucking with our heads the same way the doctors and orderlies are fucking with Teddy’s.

In the end, I don’t think Shutter Island gives us anything new, but the way the story is told still feels original. One of the cool things about the screenplay is that it goes much deeper than “is or isn’t Teddy crazy?” 1954 was a huge transition time in the psychotherapy field. Back in those days, they’d use shock treatment and physical violence to treat the insane. But a new approach was gaining ground in the industry – that of medicated treatment. The government is dreaming of a future where people can be medicated right out of their pain and symptoms. “We’re on the verge of medicating the human experience right out of the human experience,” Dr. Cawley’s cohort says. One of the subplots is that Shutter Island is a secret testing ground for this new type of treatment. Teddy, who was there liberating one of the concentration camps back in World War 2, fears that Shutter Island is a concentration camp in itself. The experience affected him so much, he’ll do anything to make sure something like it never happens again. All this plays out very eerily as you don’t have to look far to realize that 50 years later, this medicated form of existence has become a staple of our society. My guess is that this extra element is what attracted Leo and Scorsese. There’s definitely some depth here.

I really dug Shutter Island. It kept me guessing all the way through and it had more twists and turns than I knew what to do with. This should be a fun flick. And my guess is it will move again to a more audience friendly month.

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

What I learned: If it’s possible, try and contain your thriller. By not giving your protagonist anywhere to go, you raise the stakes and the tension of your story. In Shutter Island, we knew Teddy had nowhere to run, and that extra “contained” element made everything scarier. The only thing worse than being caught in a terrifying situation, is being caught in a terrifying situation that you can’t run away from.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

I'm With Cancer

Genre: Dramedy
Premise: Semi-autobiographical look at a man who finds out he has cancer. Coping with his mortality, he decides to use humor in his struggle to cure cancer and keep his sanity intact.
About: Just last week, Seth Rogen announced this will be his next project. Mandate pictures and Seth himself will be producing (along with Evan Goldberg). James McAvoy is attached to play the lead. What might explain Rogen jumping from the cancer-themed "Funny People" to another movie that centers around the disease, is that Seth is friends with Will Reiser, the writer, and was there with him while he dealt with the disease (it may also explain why the friend's character name is "Seth"). "I'm With Cancer" also finished 9th in voting on last year's Black List with 24 votes.
Writer: Will Reiser

Today is sort of a monumental day at Scriptshadow because it's the first review from someone completely outside the industry. This person has no aspirations whatsoever of being a part of the movie business.The extent of their involvement is going to see movies and that's it. So what are they doing reviewing a script on Scriptshadow? Let me try and explain. My really good friend who I've known for fifteen years now, Carmen Rossi, has breast cancer. So when I decided to review "I'm With Cancer", I thought it would be an interesting idea to get her perspective on it. I was a little reluctant about approaching her at first but as soon as I mentioned it, she was immediately game. I remember the day she told me the news and how sick and scared I felt. I told her she could write whatever she wanted. No restrictions. Just tell us what she thought . So, this is Carmen Rossi's review of "I'm With Cancer."

I have cancer.

I found out one week after my birthday. To say I went into shock upon hearing the news would be the understatement of the century. I’m not old. Cancer doesn’t run in my family. I’m a good person. When I took my life insurance health exam two years ago I was rated “Preferred Plus No Nicotine” which is, like, the healthiest you can be—essentially I was as healthy as a marathon runner. So yes, I totally went into shock when I heard the news. But once it finally sunk in, I realized that I could cry about it or I could laugh about it. I chose to laugh about it and continue to do so.

When I heard about “I’m With Cancer” I wanted to read it out of personal curiosity. I wanted to read what a comedy about cancer was all about. That, and I wanted to try out my new Kindle (which I love, btw).

Adam Schwartz is a normal, ordinary guy. He enjoys his job, loves his girlfriend and complains too much. Out of the blue, at age 25, Adam’s diagnosed with cancer. There’s nothing too distinctive about Adam. He could be anyone. Which is the whole point. What happens to Adam could truly happen to anyone. “I’m With Cancer” is semi-autobiographical, and Reiser draws upon his experience with a cancer diagnosis at a young age, and the battle he went through, to present the story. Following the rule of “write what you know,” Reiser perfectly captures the emotional aspects of the story—from the apprehension of telling people about the cancer, to the varied reactions the news elicits and how these affect the character.

“I’m With Cancer” takes us along on Adam’s physical and emotional journey to happiness and acceptance. We’re with Adam in the stark hospital room when he receives his diagnosis, we’re with him as he shares the news with family and friends. We’re with him through chemotherapy, relaxation therapy and laughter therapy. We’re with him as the drugs designed to kill the cancer cells also kill the healthy cells and his physical appearance deteriorates. We’re there as he receives more and more bad news, and plans his own funeral arrangements. And then we’re with him when he has an emotional catharysis and complete transformation.

Being diagnosed with cancer, particularly unexpectedly and at a young age, is the most traumatic event you can experience. As someone who’s experienced a fair number of traumatic events in her life, take my word on this. But one thing you learn is that while the cancer may reside only in *your* body, it affects everyone around you. A positive attitude and a good support system can get you through it. I have an amazing support system of family and friends. Adam has…well, Adam has a smothering mother, a stroke victim father, Seth, his pothead jokester of a best friend (who uses Adam’s condition to score chicks), and Rachel, Adam’s girlfriend of four months. While they all care about Adam, none of them are really able to handle all that comes along with a cancer diagnosis, and Adam forms new relationships with those that understand his situation more—specifically, his fellow chemo patients and his psychologist.

While the principal story is that of Adam’s transformation, we also see a transformation in Seth—in between his wisecracks, he’s a concerned friend terrified of what may happen—and in Rachel, who simply cannot handle Adam’s condition or his needs, and lets him down time and time again. While not a traditional laugh out loud comedy, “I’m With Cancer” approaches a serious disease with humor and light-heartedness. But to those who know people who have died from cancer, I fear the tone of the story may be off-putting and come across as flippant and disrespectful. It’s not, but cancer evokes a lot of emotion in people and personal experiences will most definitely play into one’s interpretation of this story.

Once Adam decides to go through chemotherapy to fight the cancer, he quits his job at the museum, and his co-workers throw a going-away party for him. Without question, the main and only topic of discussion among all the party attendees is Adam’s cancer. Through short snippets of conversation, we see the co-workers react to Adam’s health—from the guy who asks if he’s wearing a wig, to the woman who advocates natural healing and a diet of only green foods , to the woman crying in hysterics—each are portrayed in an honest and sincere way. (Responses to me ran this gambit and beyond, and just this morning I received an email from a friend praising asparagus is a miracle food to defeat cancer cells.)

It’s a funny scene. But it’s also a perfect example of what concerns me about this script. I find it hilarious because I’m a young person with cancer. Will someone who doesn’t have cancer find it funny? Will they feel uncomfortable laughing at it? What about someone whose mom died of cancer? Is cancer something that’s so sacred we can’t laugh about it? My grandparents would never say the word aloud, and if it was uttered, it was whispered as if saying it would bring it upon them. But that was then. Now, we have high-profile athletes and celebrities who fight their cancer battles in public. We have cancer walks and fundraisers in which survivors proudly stand tall and tell their stories.

But is it something people are comfortable seeing on the screen? There is humor in this movie. The character of Seth (to be played by Seth Rogen. It was hard to read the part and NOT imagine Seth Rogen playing the Seth character, in part because it reads like every role Seth Rogen has played) provides comic relief, as does Adam’s stereotypical Jewish mother. But is it enough to balance the scenes where Adam’s in the Chemotherapy room? Where you visibly see his health deteriorate until he’s a shadow of his former self? When he starts making his funeral preparations?

To help cope with the emotional aspects of his disease, Adam sees a psychologist. During their first meeting, the psychologist says: “The first thing I want you to do is to stop looking at cancer as a burden. Cancer has come into your life to show you that your emotional and physical bodies are out of balance. This is your chance to correct that.” Adam completely dismisses her advice. But as his ordeal continues, these words shape his life, and in the end, he ends up both emotionally and physically content, and in balance.

Reiser does a great job of telling Adam’s story in a realistic and accurate voice. The story progresses at a great pace, and I feel there is a good balance between the humorous scenes and the more tragic scenes. Reiser nails the details, like the doctor who speaks as though everyone has a medical degree and understands what a schwannoma neurofibrosarcomas is. He illustrates the paralyzing fear Adam has about Rachel with eerie accuracy—the cancer diagnosis is too much for Rachel to handle and they drift apart. Though it’s obvious she doesn’t love him and the relationship is over, Adams’s fear of being alone and the disbelief that he can ever find anyone to love him while he has cancer, keeps them together. And breaks my heart.

But Adam’s story ends as I know mine will—with the cancer gone and a life full of love, happiness and the things that really matter.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?

[ ] barely kept my interest

[x] worth the read

[ ] impressive

[ ] genius

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Unknown White Male

Genre: Thriller
Premise: A man wakes up from a four day coma to realize his wife no longer knows who he is and his identity may have been erased.
About: Based on the 2003 novel “Out Of My Head” by French author Didier Van Cauwelaert, this Dark Castle Thriller went from the treadmill to the production mill when Liam Neeson signed on to play the lead. Jaume Collet-Serra (Orphan) is directing. Joel Silver and Leonard Goldberg are producing.
Writers: Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell (revisions by Karl Gadjusek)
Details: 116 pages (dated 2.10.09)

I possess a very particular set of skills...

When I saw Liam Neeson sign on to Unknown White Male, I thought, “yes.” Taken may not have been the deepest pool, but it sure was fun to swim in. And Neeson fit into that role like a well-worn pair of speedos. What did I want to see after Taken? I wanted to see more Neeson kicking ass! I wanted to hear more Neeson talking into phones and telling people that if it’s money they wanted, he didn’t have any. But that he had developed a particular set of skills over the years, skills that have enabled him to find and kill bad men like them. I wanted him to give these men an opportunity to leave his daughter be. But if they didn’t, I wanted him to tell them that he would find them…and he would kill them. On title alone, “Unknown White Male” sounded like the kicking-ass cousin of Taken. Neeson wakes up from a coma and starts beating the shit out people! Right? Right?? At least, that’s how it played out in my head. Is that how it played out in reality?

Well, not exactly. Unknown White Male is more of a mystery than an action flick. Neeson certainly does a lot of running around. But not so much beating up people. Part of the problem is that his phone is broken. Obviously that means he can’t call people and tell them that he will find them and he will kill them. If he had that phone, I’m sure this would be a completely different movie.

Dr. Martin Harris and his wife, Liz, have just arrived in Germany for a bio-tech conference. We learn very little about the two other than that they’re tired and want to check into their hotel. For reasons unexplained, Martin hops into a cab to head back to the airport. In a case of wrong place, wrong time, the young driver, Gina, swerves to avoid an accident and ends up sending them into the river. Gina saves Martin, but runs away before the police arrive.

Four days later Martin wakes up from a coma in the hospital. He’s confused, disoriented, and he’s got a slight case of amnesia. All he cares about is finding his wife though. Against doctor’s orders, Martin hops out of bed and goes back to the hotel. But when he asks hotel security about his wife, about his room, he finds out that “Martin” has already been checked in. He’s supposedly already here. When Martin insists that’s impossible because *he* is Martin, he realizes that he has no way to actually prove it. His wallet was lost in the accident.

Lucky for Martin, a party happens to be going on in the hotel and wouldn’t you know it, there’s his wife! All dressed up right in the middle of it all. Smiling. Laughing.

Wait a minute. What the hell is his wife doing smiling at a party when he’s been missing for four days?? Martin charges into the party and grabs her. He’s here, he tells her. He was in an accident and got sent to the hospital but now he’s okay. Yet his wife just stares back at him, confused. She’s doesn’t seem to know Martin. And if that isn’t bad enough, a man steps up and takes Liz’s arm. The man’s name is…Martin (referred to in the script as Martin B) and he claims that Liz is *his* wife. What the fuck is going on here?? With a combination of anger, confusion, and hurt Martin insists, as the entire party watches, that he is indeed the real Martin and that this woman is his wife. Problem is when a bandaged unkempt man with no identification barges into a party and claims a woman who says she doesn’t even know him is his wife, it usually doesn't go over well. That's how security sees it anyway and sends Martin out on his ass.

Martin, alone and, more importantly, without a phone, attempts to go back to that night and figure out what happened. Part of the problem is that his amnesia is fragmenting his memories. He only remembers bits and pieces of the evening. After doing some research, he remembers he had a meeting set up with Nobel Prize winner and head speaker of the biotech conference, Professor Bressler. If he can get to that meeting and convince Professor Bressler he is who he says he is, maybe he can regain his identity and figure out what the hell is going on.

But like a lot of things in Unknown White Male (and like a lot of things should be in a good thriller/drama/mystery) shit don’t go according to plan. When Martin shows up, he finds that Martin B. is already there ahead of him. Martin approaches the problem a little differently this time around, realizing he can bring up e-mails and phone calls that only he and Bressler would know about - once and for all proving that he is the "real" Martin. But wouldn't you know it, as soon as he speaks, Martin B is already a step ahead of him, feeding the professor Martin's lines before they're out of his mouth. Now Martin's mind goes from "What the hell is happening here?" to "Am I going crazy?" I mean, how could this possibly be happening?

If that weren’t bad enough, a healthy dose of paranoia sets in when Martin starts noticing the same people over and over wherever he goes. Is he being followed? Are these men trying to dispose of him? With nowhere to go and his life in danger, Martin must find the driver that saved his life, Gina, and beg her to help him. As an illegal immigrant, she’s limited in what she can do, but she knows what it feels like to be alone, and offers Martin a helping hand.

But since this is a mystery, there’s really only one thing that matters, right? Is the reveal any good? Is all this craziness explained in a satisfying way? I have to say I was pleasantly surprised with the reveal. I did not see it coming. In fact, Unknown White Male is one of the few mysteries where I eventually just gave up trying to figure out the mystery. I honestly had no idea what the ending was going to be. So when the reveal turned out to not only be plausible, but sensible, I was quite impressed.

Unknown White Male is one of those screenplays that’s hard to critique. Because you’re so excited to get to the ending, you’re not as aware of the characters and the story. Looking back, there are definitely some questionable areas in the plot. For instance, if I were accused of not being me, I’d call every single person I’ve ever met in my life to vouch for me. It’s really hard to imagine that in this day and age, with all the technology and instantaneous communication methods we have, that you couldn’t prove you were you in a first world nation. Gadjusek makes a bit of a stab at this problem (The incident is taking place on Thanksgiving Day weekend, therefore nobody is answering their phone. – Yeah…right) but it’s not very convincing. Luckily, as I mentioned, once the story gets going and the pace picks up, you’re not thinking about plot holes.

I’m sure my knowledge of Neeson in the lead colored my opinion of Unknown White Male (if I haven’t made it clear, I love Liam Neeson) but this was a solid script regardless. Definitely worth the read.

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

What I learned: When you’re trying to pull off a high-concept mystery like this one, its’ important to ask what YOU would do in that situation. Don’t use movie logic to guide your character. Ask yourself: “I’m in Germany. My wife doesn’t recognize me. Nobody believes I’m me. What would I do?” Martin calls a couple numbers for the police and when he gets answering machines, he gives up on trying to make any connection back home. That seems a bit unrealistic. So always make sure to approach your character’s decisions with real world logic by putting yourself in their position. Not only will your movie feel more logical, but you’re bound to get some interesting ideas from the practice.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Facebook Movie Officially Greenlit

The blog End Of Show is reporting that The Social Experiment, written by Aaron Sorkin, is officially a Go picture. You may remember from my review of the script how much I liked it (it now stands as #10 on my Top 25). Because, up until that point, the idea of a Facebook movie was getting a lot of negative buzz, the review alleviated a lot of fears. Less than a week later, Sorkin signed on to rewrite Sony's "Moneyball" (script review here), and most of that negative buzz went the way of the dodo bird.

But don't be fooled. This is still a big gamble. I can't remember the last time somebody made a serious pop-culture movie so soon after real life events. Usually these stories go straight to basic cable or network TV. This has gotta be nerve-wracking for Sony as we all watched the "cool factor" of Myspace go from 60 to 0 in about 8 days. They should probably simultaneously shoot a movie about Twitter to cover their asses. Or should Twitter be the sequel? Regardless, it is a great script. I was riveted for 160 pages. It's hard to rivet me for 10 pages. I'm not easy to rivet. The only issue I see with the film is that it's not very cinematic. I guess that's why they brought in Fincher. Man, I really hope this movie does well. Cause if it doesn't, I'm sure some people are going to point the finger at me. "You're the one who thought it was good!" Hmm, I wonder if I can be fired at Sony if I don't work there. :)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Anatomy Of A Stick Figure

Genre: Drama (Independent)
Premise: A high school teacher deals with the death of his daughter in his own unique way.
About: This received one teensy tiny vote on the 2005 Black List, the first year the list was released. On that year Juno was the number two script on the list and Lars And The Real Girl was number three. Both went on to garner Oscar nominations and Juno won. So the list has some pedigree. Makowka is also the first director to take advantage of Michigan's new 40% film production tax incentive, shooting his new film, "Tug," completely in Holland, Michigan. As a note to how quickly a working writer must think on his feet, "Tug" was initially set in Los Angeles, but when it was realized how much money they could save in Michigan, Makowka rewrote the entire story to take place in Holland (despite never having been to Michigan!)
Writer: Abram Makowka

I'm not quite sure how to follow up a review where two of the most beautiful actresses in the world partake in an aggressive lesbian love scene. I suppose I'd have to be the one to leak an Angelina Jolie sex tape. Or maybe be the blogger that found Bin Laden. So, instead of trying, I'm going to go all the way to the opposite end of the spectrum and review a quiet little script that received a single solitary vote on the 2005 Black List called "Anatomy Of A Stick Figure." Why? Because when I started Scriptshadow, I imagined reviewing a lot more of these scripts and now I feel guilty. That's why.

Hale, 40s, is a high school history teacher with a genuine love for teaching - the kind of guy who could stand toe-to-toe with Mr. Holland and come away unscathed. Hale spends the majority of his time putting together 16mm films that distort history in a way that forces his students to question everything that they know about the past. Hale is also a little distant. No, let me take that back. He's a lot distant. When he's not up in front of 25 sets of intensely focused eyeballs, he becomes so disconnected with the world, he might as well not even exist. This is problematic in that he has a wife, Aris, whom he despises, and a 16 year old daughter, Sal, who despises him. Despite Hale using everything in his limited arsenal to make a connection with his daughter, it always ends up in her hating him more.

Sal looks for comfort in her rebel almost-boyfriend, Lewis, who's too busy incurring the wrath of his abusive deadbeat father, Pete (known as Popsicle Pete because he drives an ice cream truck) to give Sal his full attention. But as the story progresses and the two grow closer, Sal sneaks out one night to meet with Lewis. Instead she gets stuck in his house with Popsicle Pete, who gets her drunk and tops it off with a little bit of crack - White Trash, USA-style. The next morning Hale and Aris wake up to find their daughter in her bed, dead.

One of the cool things about Anatomy is that it's never too up and it's never too down. People are sad about Sal's death, but the focus shifts more towards Hale's inability to deal with his emotions, as he hasn't had to use them in sixteen years. He finds himself pulled into an unexpected friendship with Lewis, and for the first time in a long time, Hale is actually able to open up to someone.

In the meantime, Pete has been lucky that no one's traced Sal's death back to him, but as Lewis begins to spend more time with Sal's father, Pete becomes paranoid that critical information will be exchanged and his secret will be outed. As a result, Lewis and Pete's relationship becomes intensely violent. It's pretty clear that at some point, it's going to be one or the other.

Anatomy is a script that never quite finds its rhythm, but in a strange way I think it works. Sal actually begins the screenplay dead. Then we jump back in time and get to know her. Then she dies somewhere around the middle. At which point we have no idea where the story's going to go. And then this weird but interesting friendship evolves between Lewis and Hale, and Hale tries to find some peace, some connection to his daughter in death, that he never had when she was alive. As most of you know, I like it when a script keeps me guessing, so Anatomy won points for that.

If there's a problem with the script, it's that Makowka makes his characters really hard to like. Take Sal for instance. While she may be a confused teenager desperately searching for someone to love her, she also comes off as a whiny bitch who finds fault in everything. I'm not wishing death on this girl. But to mourn someone I never liked in the first place is a lot to ask. While Sal's the strongest example, the truth is, it's hard to like any of these characters. The wife is selfish and condescending. Pete is an abusive alcoholic. And Hale is so distant, we have just as much trouble connecting with him as he does with others.

Luckily Anatomy had a surprising ending that explains exactly why Hale is the way he is - and by association, why the dynamic of the family is so fucked up. It's a nice unexpected surprise that forces you to look back on everything you read and reevaluate it. If you liked Rachel Getting Married or The Squid And The Whale, this script may just be the weekend read you're looking for.

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

[x] worth the read

[ ] impressive

[ ] genius

What I learned: Try to keep your tone consistent throughout your script. One of the most common mistakes I see is tone that floats all over the place. Although I enjoyed Anatomy Of A Stick Figure, there was one aspect that took me out of the story: Popsicle Pete. I don't know if you remember reading my review for Fiasco Heights, but there's a character in that script who also drives an ice cream truck named something like "Blowpop Billy". Now see because the tone of that film is all video game, the name and character made sense. Here, it comes off as cartoonish and doesn't work. Know what your tonal boundaries are and stay within them. Keep that tone consistent!

My Central Intelligence Review on LatinoReview

Since I've had to deal with a barrage of e-mails begging me for the Black Swan script (note to those looking for script: There are no pictures), I almost forgot that I did a guest review over on LatinoReview for the comedy Ed Helms just signed onto, "Central Intelligence." You may wonder how I have the time to write guest reviews AND Scriptshadow reviews and my response would be: Yeah, I wonder too. So unfortunately I can't give the Black Swan script away. :( Let your imagination suffice for now. :)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Black Swan

Genre: Psychological (Supernatural?) Thriller
Premise: A ballerina competes against a rival dancer who may or may not be another version of herself.
About: Black Swan will star drool-worthy starlets Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis and is being helmed by visionary director Darren Aronofsky. Aronofsky originally tried to set up the project in 2007 but Universal put it in turnaround. Thanks to "The Wrestler" doing so well though, Portman twirled onto the project a couple of months ago and everything's been full steam ahead since.
Writer: Mark Heyman (original script by John McLaughlin)
Details: 131 pages - March 25, 2009 draft.

Natalie will play the part of Nina.

Can I just tell you why none of my review matters? Can I just tell you why my review is absolutely pointless?

Because in this movie, Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis have sex.

Yeah. You read that right. And not just nice sweet innocent sex either. We're talking ecstasy-induced hungry aggressive angry sex. Yeah so...this movie is already on the must-see list of 2010. But how good is it? Does the story that surrounds the sex disappoint or excel?

Black Swan is a very intriguing story with a quiet slow burn. So slow, in fact, that I nearly lost interest halfway through it. Heyman focuses on the tiniest of things. The way shoes sound as they click against the pavement. The way a slight breeze tussles at your hair. You know how as film evolved, we've been encouraged to cut out all the meaningless stuff? For example, instead of showing a character walk from their house to the train, we should just cut to the train? Yeah, Heyman doesn't do that. If someone needs to walk somewhere, we walk with them. And after awhile, it really begins to test your patience. And if you're looking for the culprit in the 131 page screenplay length, that's where you'll find him. But it's pretty clear these are the moments Aronofsky is interested in in Black Swan. He wants you living every second of this character's life, lulling you into a sense of security so that you get used to the mundane. That way when the extraordinary happens, it slams into you like an SUV.

Wrestler success has allowed him to finally make the movies he wants to make.

Nina is a ballerina in one of New York City's top ballet companies. She appears to be the only sweet girl of the bunch however, as it's established early on that these companies are packed with jackals, every seemingly sweet-natured princess scheming to backstab the girl next to her if only it gets her one rung higher on the ladder. High School's got nothing on these bitches. Nina's sorta friend, Beth, who has been the school's running lead in all the productions, is nearing the end of her career, and everyone's gunning to take her place in the next big ballet: Swan Lake.

The lead role is the part of Odette, the Swan Queen. The role is complicated by the fact that the ballerina must be able to play both sweet, the "White Swan," and dark, the "Black Swan". It is the ultimate challenge. Of course, Nina has the white swan down. But does she have the darkness to nail the Black Swan?

The director of the production is the handsome but sinister Yevna. He sees something in Nina but before he gives her the part, he wants to speak with her privately. It is there, in his office, that he pries into Nina's mind, searching for her dark side, even going so far as to force a kiss on her. But it's unclear whether Yevna is trying to seduce Nina or simply seeing how she'll react. As the sweet polite girl she is. Or as the raging disturbed woman she will have to be. In the end, Nina is given the role. But it's clear Yevna has doubts as to if she can pull it off.

As the days go by and Nina searches desperately to find her darkness, she begins noticing another girl around town and at the ballet company who looks exactly like her. But not just "exactly." We're talking identical. Yet every time Nina tries to get close, the girl turns away or hides her face. Finally, Nina meets this mysterious doppelganger after rehearsal. Her name is Lily. And while she definitely looks like Nina, she's by no means an identical replica. Was it Nina's imagination perhaps?

Whereas Nina is calculated about every move she makes, Lily is the opposite - uncaring and uninterested in perfection. Everything she does seems so...effortless. The two begin a tepid friendship, one which Nina is constantly trying to pull away from. But while she is afraid of Lily, she is also drawn to her in some way. And then there's those strange fleeting moments where Lily looks exactly like her.


As they get closer to production, Nina's world starts to spin out of control as Lily befriends Yevna and continues to move up the ballet company ladder. The girls will go out, get drunk, and Nina will show up at rehearsal late the next day only to find that Lily is standing in for her. Is Lily scheming to steal her role as the Swan Queen? Or is Nina making this all up in her head in order to find her dark side? That is the ultimate question.

As in all Aronofsky movies, there are some controversial moments. In one scene, Nina basically gets raped by Yevna. It's cold and off-putting, and yet it's an important moment as it demonstrates just how high the stakes are in this seemingly innocent world. The script is steeped in darkness (surprise surprise) and makes you feel so uncomfortable at times that you can't read it without constantly resituating yourself.

Black Swan is an interesting read. As I mentioned before, it takes its time. But if there's any director who knows how to make the quiet moments work, it's Aronofsky. He's rarely boring as a director. Much has been made of the "supernatural" aspect of Black Swan, with some even comparing it to, "The Others." (one of my favorite scary films btw) But I never saw it that way. To me it was clear that Nina was always imagining her relationship with Lily. I never doubted that Lily was real. But I believe Nina made up the more elaborate aspects of their friendship in order to discover her dark side. I wouldn't be surprised if this was a talking point of the film after its release, which, if the film is good, will surely help word of mouth and repeat business.

As a screenplay, I thought Black Swan was good. It definitely could've moved faster and I would've preferred we get some answers sooner instead of being strung along with weird unexplained moment after weird unexplained moment. After awhile that just gets exhausting. But the feel of the story is just so original. It's not quite like anything I've read or seen before. If you like your scripts dark and moody, check out Black Swan for sure.

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

[x] worth the read

[ ] impressive

[ ] genius

What I learned: Don't be afraid to explore the details in your screenplay if they help tell the story. It's okay to create mood and atmosphere. Just make sure you don't go overboard with it. I don't think Black Swan would have a prayer on the spec market because it's just sooooooooo slow at times. But some movies require you to indulge in the seemingly mundane things. That's fine if you know when to stop.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Buried With Cancer

Two pieces of screenwriting news today. Alex over at has a couple of pictures from the set of "Buried", one of my 5 favorite screenplays of the year. If you remember, I did a little review of the script not too long ago. I think the set pictures look great and wow, I realized they're going to be able to put this together lightning fast. I could even see this being ready by the end of the year. When they plan to release it though is another question.

In other news, McAvoy will play opposite Seth Rogan in the movie "I'm With Cancer", the 2008 Black List entry that is one of the only scripts off that list I didn't read. A good friend has read it however, and it's apparently a very humorous look at cancer. It's not a big downer by any stretch. The bigger question is the one all of us are thinking...didn't Seth Rogan just do this movie? Maybe he has a mancrush on McAvoy or something. He is rather dashing. One other note: Rogen is producing. Which now has him involved in 18 quadrillion projects. If you think I should review this on the site, let me know in the comments.

Comments Change 2

Okay, so Intense Debate sucked. For whatever reason, it didn't work on the most popular browser in the world. And when comments just started disappearing on Bubba Ho-Tep, that was the last straw for me. So out with the old, in with the new. On to the next service! I'm not going to give Disqus near the leash I gave Intense Debate. If this doesn't work, it's back to generic comments (despite its own problems) and I'm never thinking about comments again. Test it out and tell me what you think.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Wichita (Scott Frank)

Genre: Action/Comedy/Romance
Premise: A conservative woman goes on a blind date only to get wrapped up in a game of international espionage.
About: To be directed by James Mangold (Walk The Line), this picture will star Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise. Originally written by Dana Fox, it was then rewritten by Patrick O'Neill, and finally, in this draft (spookily dated Halloween 2007) by one of the best screenwriters in the biz, Scott Frank. It appears Mangold and Shutter Island writer Laeta Kalogridis are doing current revisions, because the script was deemed "too coherent" by the producers (okay, I made that last part up). Speaking of producers, Todd Garner, Kathy Conrad, Steve Pink, and Joe Roth are onboard for Wichita. Because Cruise's career is considered by many to be in a serious state of limbo, Cruise was very careful in choosing his next film, cycling through a number of potential projects. He finally decided on the character of Milner in Wichita (Wichita is more of a code-name than anything. The city never appears in the script. This project is not to be confused with one of my favorite screenplays I read all year, the 2006 ultra violent Black List screenplay "Wichita.") To see if this was a wise move by the man who never stops smiling, read on.
Writer: Scott Frank (109 pages)

Tom likes to have so much "input" (read: takes over) on a project they've nicknamed him "Cruise Control". Will he change his ways for Wichita?

When you're in a script rut, like I've been the last couple of weeks, you start to distrust every script you open. All the scripts you've tagged as interesting begin to look decidedly uninteresting. You think you might have reached that point where you've seen every possible story and are no longer able to be entertained. I heard Sumner Redstone is like that. He's heard so many ideas and seen so many movies, that he's unable to be entertained anymore. Ugh, what a terrifying thought. All of this leads to a general lack of trust when a new script comes your way. Even if a few lines impress you or you hear yourself chuckling, it's always followed by a grumpy under-your-breath, "lucky." But then magically, the funny lines keep coming. The characters are interesting and relate-able. Before you know it you're breaking out the vanilla coke and pepperoni hot pockets and having yourself a party. A script is exciting again! Which is why I'm so happy "Wichita" came around when it did.

June is a company woman plugging away. She's the one who gets to the office before anyone else and has coffee ready for each and every co-worker (ahem - talk about making your character likable). But June is unfortunately under the same deceitful impression the rest of us are, which is that all this work we're doing somehow means something. Of course, it doesn't mean anything. It just means that the company gets to exist tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that. But what is it she (we're) actually doing with our lives? After her free-spirit mother goes off on another ridiculously expensive spontaneous vacation, June finally realizes the truth: She's lonely. She isn't very fun. And the only thing all this work has done is prevent her from finding her soul mate. It is through this revelation that she decides to step out of her comfort zone and try the dreaded internet dating.

At first the experiment couldn't be any more of a disaster. She's the pretty woman all dolled up in the middle of the restaurant who's clearly waiting for someone we all know is never going to show up. The reality of the moment hits her like a ton of bricks and her already fragile state leads to her bawling right then and there. It's at this moment we cut outside to see the impeccably dressed and saintly suave Milner, a man who seems to be in quite a hurry, and is constantly looking over his shoulder. Could someone be following him maybe? Milner spots the crying June in the restaurant, gets an idea, slides in and falsely poses as June's blind date. As the deftly mannered Milner jokes with the waiter in another language, June believes that maybe, just maybe, her luck is turning around. But oh how her luck is soooo not turning around.

I can't decide if Diaz is hot or looks like an alien. What do you think?

Whoever's chasing Milner forces him to slip out discreetly, leaving June to absorb a second blow on an already devastating night. She drives home, sobbing about her luck, only to randomly HIT SOMEONE with her car! Oh shit! She gets out to check who it is. It's Milner! He jumps in, tells her to drive, and lets her in on why he had to leave so suddenly. The man he's being chased by, Ackerman, used to be a partner of his. The two have created a battery that will never die. The perfect energy source! Of course, an unlimited energy source means the end of some of the biggest companies in the world - who for obvious reasons aren't too keen on the batteries hitting the market. Which means they'll do anything in their power to kill Milner and destroy his damn battery. Luckily Milner is a secret agent in one of the most secret agencies in the world. In fact it's so secret, nobody's ever heard of it! Needless to say, he's well-equipped to deal with any one or any thing pursuing him. Oh, and there's one more thing about Milner: HE'S FUCKING CRAZY. He's like a new-school clean-cut version of Riggs from Lethal Weapon. Neither we nor June ever know if he's lying or telling the truth! Which means this whole battery thing is probably a big lie. Which leads to the obvious question: Who is Milner and what the hell is he running from?

June wants no part in these shenanigans but that's not an option anymore. Now that she's been spotted with Milner, they'll want to kill her too. They're in this together. Milner will occasionally drug June when she's getting in the way of fighting the bad guys and wake up in the most random places when she comes to: a deserted island or the city of Rome for example. It seems like Milner has a hiding place everywhere. But the bad guys (we actually find out in Wichita that there are bad guys and then there are "worse guys") are never far behind. They occasionally catch June and try to get her to double-cross Milner but Milner's already fifty steps ahead. He knows the game and the people who play in it are always his pawns. But something about June ruffles him. Does he this woman? Because Milner's such an expert liar, even going so far as to lie to himself, we're never sure.

There are so many great moments in Wichita. For example after a big car chase, June is through and demands Milner let her go. He stops the car and actually says 'fine, go ahead.' Then out of nowhere a helicopter appears so he yanks her back inside and calmly offers: "Okay, listen to me very carefully and do exactly what I say. Here, I need you to take this gun and start shooting at the helicopter. Just keep shooting until it falls out of the sky or explodes." Lines like this are why I couldn't stop laughing.

I know I made a point in my Bel Ami review to single out that most dialogue doesn't impress me. I only notice it if it's atrocious or over-the-top. But I definitely need to amend that statement after Wichita. The dialogue here is top-notch from beginning to end. It's funny, it's fresh, it's snappy, it's unexpected. I was so caught up in it, in fact, I didn't even realize it was moving the story forward. Usually it's easy to pick up on when characters are pausing to offer the audience a plot point. Here, it's seamless.

I don't know if it quite reaches impressive status because there's not much depth to the film. But I'll tell you what, it came darn close.

Best way to sum up Wichita? Pure fun. :)

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

[xx] worth the read

[ ] impressive

[ ] genius

What I learned: If you can get your hands on this script (and I know someone posted it on my Facebook Page a few days ago - all the more reason to join), please do so. Scott Frank is a master of economy in his writing. He only writes what he has to, and he keeps most of the dialogue uninterrupted, which makes for a quickest of quick reads. I can't stress how much readers love this.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

What I learned from District 9

Ever since I saw Neill Blomkamp's short masterpiece, "Alive In Joburg," I became obsessed with him. I googled the shit out of everything that even remotely sounded like "Blomkamp" and when I found out he was doing the Halo movie, it was a bit like I imagine heroin must feel like. Or your first Krispy Kreme donut. Well we all know how that fell apart and Bloomkamp seemed to disappear off the planet. I was so bummed because I felt like we were missing out on a unique new voice who was totally going to change the way Hollywood made movies. Then the announcement came that he was turning "Alive In Joburg" into a feature film called "District 9" and it was a little bit like I imagine crack must feel like. Or your first animal style double-double. Because these days trailers tell us the entire movie and since this was so low on the summer radar, I knew the marketing team would be forced to show every great shot in the film, I avoided it all. And today, I went into District 9 knowing absolutely nothing about what I was going to see other than that giant ship in the sky and a lot of South Africans.

Even after all that hype, I still walked away amazed. We're looking at the next James Cameron here folks. Sci-fi like this has never been done before. Within two minutes I actually believed this was happening. That aliens had landed on our planet. -- I'm not even going to get into all the unique choices Blomkamp and co-writer Terri Tatchell made. I'd just like to highlight a clever screenwriting move of theirs and how it affected the entire movie. Without it, the movie wouldn't have been the same.

In the film, the very first shot we get of the aliens is in their ship, all huddled up, cowering away from the light, malnourished, sick, and terrified. It's 3 seconds of screentime and yet it sets the tone for how you'll perceive them for the entirety of the film. You feel sorry for them. In other words, you sympathize with these creatures. Without us sympathizing with the aliens, without us wanting their life to be better or wanting them to get back home, the movie doesn't work. So that single shot has a huge impact on us.

This can be applied to any character in any screenplay. Introduce them in a terrible situation and we'll want to root for them. Human nature is that we don't want bad things to happen to people who don't deserve it.

And oh yeah. If you're even remotely interested in sci-fi, go see this movie!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Screenwriting Books I Recommend

A lot of people have asked me what screenwriting books I recommend. I've read about 30 of them and these are the five I like the most (all books are linked):

For the beginner:

After you've written a few screenplays:

Advanced (written 5 or 6 screenplays):

Once you're ready for the market (business side of screenwriting):

As for other popular books, I'm not the biggest fan of Robert McKee and therefore don't recommend "Story". It's very dense and too scientific. You can drive yourself nuts trying to write a screenplay under his rules. Although I don't discourage people from buying "Screenplay" from Syd Field, I think it's a bit outdated. A lot of people love "Making A Good Script Great" by Linda Seger but I just didn't connect with her approach for some reason. There are a lot of middle-of-the-road books that I'd rather not take the time to mention, however, if there's a book you really love and think people should know about, please leave it in the comments section.

Trailer: Law-Abiding Citizen

Although nobody called for my head, there were definitely some heads being scratched after my extremely favorable review of Law-Abiding Citizen. I thought the script was one rip-roaring thriller that never slowed down and always kept you guessing. I loved it enough to put it in my Top 25. Well the trailer has finally hit over at Apple and I have to say, it looks just as good on-screen as it did on the page. My only beef with the script was the ending. If they took care of that, we could be looking at a great thriller this fall.