Thursday, December 31, 2009

Everything Must Go (Happy New Year!)


Genre: Coming-of-Age
Premise: A recently fired salesman comes home to find out he’s been kicked out of his house by his wife. So he takes his things, which she’s left outside, sets them up in the front lawn, and starts living there.
About: As many of you know, this is my favorite script! So I decided to finally review the damned thing! What a novel idea, right? To actually review the script that I like the most. So yes, the rumors are true. First time screenwriter/director Dan Rush will be directing Will Ferrell in the movie. Producer Wyck Godfrey describes the movie (which starts shooting March 1st) as Leaving Las Vegas with the humor of Bad Santa. I thought about that long and hard and determined that that’s a pretty accurate way to describe it. As a side note, this script finished Top 15 (I believe) on the 2007 Black List.
Writer: Dan Rush (based on short story “Why Don’t You Dance” by Raymond Carver)
Details: 110 pages (Draft 4/4/08)

Some people have asked why this script is number one on my list. They argue that it’s a very ordinary if not quirky tale about a guy who sits on his ass for 90% of the movie. Well as I’ve always argued, the one thing you can’t control as a writer, the one x-factor you’re helpless against, is if the person who’s reading your script identifies with the subject matter. A guy who doesn’t like vampires is never going to like Twilight. A girl who doesn’t like coming-of-age movies is never going to like Garden State. There are movies with universal themes that can sometimes pull people in no matter what the subject matter is, but for the most part, if the person isn’t into what you’ve chosen to write about, you’re dead to them from page 1.

To take that notion even further, to truly connect with a reader, you must create a character that the reader feels is, in many ways, them. This is probably obvious. If you go back to the movies that have moved you the most, chances are, there was some key element of the main character that you yourself were experiencing in your own life. The more intense and life-affecting that element is, the more drawn in you became. Like subject matter, this is something you have no control over as a writer. Some people are going to identify with your character, others will not. Of course you can shape and mold your character to be relatable, likable, sympathetic, and altogether impossible to dislike. But it won’t be the same as if the reader connects with the very core of that person. When a reader discovers a character who they feel is them, they don’t read your story, they experience it.

Everything Must Go came along at a time when things weren’t exactly going my way. Without getting into specifics, there were several situations that made me feel like the world had turned against me. And the way I decided to deal with this misfortune was to basically say, “Fuck You.” I planted my feet firmly in the ground, crossed my arms, and told the world I wasn’t moving. That stance led to an interesting journey that was at many times very painful, but ultimately allowed me to discover a part of myself I never knew. When Nick Porter, the main character in “Everything Must Go,” refuses to be kicked out of his house by his wife and, in protest, starts living in his front yard, I felt like I had met a kindred spirit, a man who understood exactly what I was going through.

The 40-something Nick isn’t happy he fucked up his life. It just happened. A regional sales manager at the kind of company you’d forget two minutes after I told you, Nick’s past has been embattled with alcoholism. Although he’s doing better, a past “incident” at work has convinced his superiors it’s time to let him go. Confused, angry, beat-up, Nick heads home, hoping for some support from his wife, only to find out when he gets there, that she’s gone. And the doors are locked. And the locks have been changed. And all of his things (furniture, clothes, stereo, poker table) have been dumped “violently” on his front lawn. In a span of a couple of hours, Nick’s entire life has imploded.

This brings up the question, when you can’t go home and you can’t go to work, where do you go? Well, Nick decides not to go anywhere. In a display of defiance, he sets up all of his furniture and things right there on the front lawn….and starts living there. It’s his big “Fuck You” to the forces that be.

To make things easier, Nick positions his chair right next to his mini-fridge stuffed with as much beer as it will hold. He then simply begins watching people in the neighborhood go about their lives. This is where the meat of the story is, as Nick begins interacting with the spectrum of unique characters that reside on his block and who he’s never really paid attention to up to this point. These include his annoying stickler neighbor, a pregnant woman who just moved in across the street, and a loner 13 year old boy.

This was yet another area where my personal experiences helped me identify with Nick. A while back, I had lived in an apartment complex for about three years. For the most part, I kept to myself, and didn’t know anybody. When I finally moved out, I spent three days lugging my things down to my car. In those three days, I met nearly everyone in the complex. Some of the nicest coolest people I’ve ever met in my life! And the irony was, I was never going to see them again! This is similar to the experience Nick goes through. I felt like Nick Porter and I were the same person.

Nick interacts with these people with varying degrees of success. His sole purpose seems to be to keep his fridge stacked with beer, an increasingly difficult goal because his wife has frozen his bank account, his company has come to take his car, and the police show up to inform him that he’s not allowed to have his things on the front lawn, as it’s a violation of city code. With literally nowhere to go, Nick is on the brink of being homeless.

But luckily he stumbles into a loophole. The Texas Code allows anyone to hold a yard sale for a maximum of six days. So by throwing up a yard sale sign, Nick buys himself roughly one week (ticking time bomb) to figure out what to do with his life. The funny thing is, the yard sale actually begins to attract customers. However Nick refuses to sell any of his personal things, despite that fact that he’s dirt broke.

And that’s where the power of Everything Must Go comes from. The yard sale becomes a stand in for who Nick Porter is - all the things he's accumulated up to this point in his life. That coffee table you put your feet up on every day for seven years? That overpriced television you spent four months of overtime saving up for. The stereo you'd turn on every night after mixing a whiskey sour. These are the things that defined your life for the past 15 years. Imagine if you had to give them away. How difficult that would be. Watching Nick struggle with this, and eventually accept it, is one of the more powerful moments I’ve ever experienced while reading a script.

Everything Must Go is not a “perfect” screenplay. I’m sure there are things you can pick apart in it. You could even make the argument that the main character is passive the whole way through (although I’d argue that because he’s taking a stand, he’s being active). Still, the things it does right, it does exceptionally well. As if everything else wasn’t awesome enough, the script even throws in a shocking little twist ending. All of that combined with the personal connection I felt for Nick Porter is why I have this at number 1. I can’t wait to see the finished film.

Note: I know I was initially skeptical about Will Ferrell playing the part of Nick, but the more I think about it, the more I think the casting works. The script is dark, but with glorious moments of black humor. Throwing a serious actor in there may not have allowed those sparks of humor to shine, and this script needs those beats to add some levity. The key is going to be how much ham Ferrel throws in the oven. If he underplays it, it could be awesome. It’ll be interesting to see what happens.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[x] genius

What I learned: Sympathy sympathy sympathy. Quickest way to have us fall for your characters is to put them in an unfortunate situation. Maybe your female hero just lost her baby. Maybe your hero just lost his house in a fire. Maybe your character just got dumped by the love of his life. When we see a character who life is pissing on, we immediately sympathize with them and want them to do well. But an extension of that rule is this, make sure your sympathy is proportionately related to how potentially unlikable your hero would be under normal circumstances. So for example. Nick is a soulless, selfish, snarky alcoholic. That’s not exactly “fall in love with him” material. So what Rush does here, is he creates multiple situations to create sympathy. Nick didn’t just get fired. That wouldn’t be enough. He also loses his wife, is locked out of his house, and has his car taken away. We need that many sympathetic things to like Nick.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Scriptshadow Top 10 Movies Of The Year

I’m not a huge fan of end-of-the-year lists but I know others are. And they’re always great conversational pieces. So I’ll go ahead and list my Top 10 favorite films of the year, and follow it up with my Top 8 biggest disappointments. Have fun tearing it apart. :)

10) Nothing – How pathetic is it when a whole year goes by and I can’t even recommend ten movies?

9) Star Trek – Star Trek is back! These days, whenever a moviegoer plops down in the cinema for a summer blockbuster and hates the experience, they’re often bombarded with the tried and true, “You’re supposed to turn your mind off and just enjoy it!” I hate that reasoning. It assumes that we have some knob on our bodies we can adjust to help us enjoy different kinds of movies. Like it’s our fault that we didn’t enjoy the film. As I’ve grown older, these summer movies, these films that cater to the lowest common denominator (ahem, Transformers 2) seem to install this attitude. If you didn’t like it, then *you're* the problem. Then Star Trek comes along and shows us what a summer movie is supposed to be. It doesn’t ask you to do anything to enjoy it. It just plays out enjoyably. Star Trek probably made a lot of execs grown. "Fuck, now we have to actually make good movies next summer."

8) The Hurt Locker – When I started watching The Hurt Locker, I was shocked by how into it I was. It didn’t take me long to figure out why. You know how I always talk about the importance of “ticking time bombs” in scripts? Well this movie was built around *literal* ticking time bombs. And not in the cheesy McGyver way, but rather inside a specific world we hadn’t seen before. Genius! It also had a brash leading mean who brought back memories of Lethal Weapon Mel Gibson or Star Wars Harrison Ford. A guy who didn’t give a shit, who was fearless. Holy shit! I was convinced I was watching the best film of the year. – But then something happened. The Hurt Locker lost its way. It made the classic screenwriting mistake. It eliminated a clear goal for the protagonist. We started getting this introspective artsy character piece that was supposed to be profound, but instead just left us wondering, when the hell is the next bomb going to blow up? And when exactly did our kick ass main character turn emo? Ugh! Where had my movie gone? I also think they made a key mistake towards the end. The final bomb is strapped to a man…*we didn’t know.” Therefore we had no personal investment in whether he lived or died. So why did I care if our hero saved him or not? I kept thinking, “Imagine if this bomb was strapped to that boy instead.” That’s an ending I would’ve been biting my nails on. The Hurt Locker still makes my Top 10 because the first half is so strong and because competition wasn’t that fierce. But man, I think about what could’ve been…

7) Paranormal Activity – I have a love/hate relationship with improvised movies. I hate them because when they’re bad, they’re worse than a high school play. I love them because improvisation stifles predictability. Logical screenwriting structure is thrown out the window to favor what the actors are feeling in the moment, and these moments tend to be the only time I’m surprised when I watch a film anymore. Because the writer is stifled, I no longer know what to expect. Done well, this can be thrilling. Paranormal Activity was one of those times where it was done well. We’re not talking Deniro and Streep here, but I thought the actors did a convincing job. I loved the slow build up, the resistance to too many scares. It made the scary moments pack that much more of a punch. I’m not sure if I’ll get blasted for this choice, because I don’t know if the Paranormal Activity backlash has started yet (Is it 2 months or 3 months after surprise hits? I'm never clear on this). But I liked PA a lot.

6) The Hangover – The Hangover is the perfect comedy. I don’t mean it’s the best comedy ever or even that it should be put in the same sentence as classics like Dumb and Dumber or Caddyshack. I mean it’s the kind of comedy idea that you hear and you immediately know it’s a movie. I’ve stated this before but when I read the script, I knew immediately it was going to be a hit. They couldn’t screw it up. Even when Phillips and his boys fiddled with the jokes, even when they took out some of the cool nuances of the original draft, they still couldn’t mess it up. Because the premise and the structure were so sound. Now did I think the movie was as good as the script? No. I thought the Tyson stuff was silly (never a fan of bringing in “real-life” celebrities for cheap laughs) and I didn’t like the addition of the baby. But it never mattered. This was going to be a good movie no matter how much they fucked with it.

5) Inglorious Basterds – Had you told me that one of my favorite films of the year would be a Quentin Tarantino movie, I would’ve laughed in your face. Then probably spit in it. I’ve never been a huge fan of Tarantino because I prefer for the story to be the star, not the director. But I’ve warmed up to Quentin over the years, mainly because I realized we need more people like him. We need the anti-establishment or else all we’ll get is establishment. And I can’t imagine how establishment establishment will get if it has no competition. Basterds has the best opening scene I’ve seen in a film in as long as I can remember (maybe of all time). The way that scene is crafted is just so magnificent. The way we shift points of view, the way we’re carefully fed information, the dread we feel, the importance put on the most mundane things (milk), the introduction of a such a great actor, the seemingly endlessness of it. We have no idea where it’s going to end up, all we know is that it’s going to be horrible. And we’re crawling out of our clothes wondering when it’s going to happen. Does the rest of the movie live up to that scene? No. I’d offer myself as a slave to Tarantino if he promises never to put Eli Roth in a film again. And don’t get me started on Brad Pitt’s acting. But this movie was so outrageous, so different, so unpredictable, and had such a great cinematic touch, that I cannot deny it a place in the Top 10.

4) Sunshine Cleaning – I love Amy Adams. I love Amy Adams so much I watched Julie and Julia, where some horrible callous hairdresser gave her the worst hairstyle in the world. I enjoy the innocence and non-presumptuous she brings to every role. She’s the anti-actress, the way actresses are supposed to be: invisible. This quirky independent film didn’t fall into all the usual quirky independent traps – namely patting itself on its back for being so quirky and independent (ahem – Away We Go). Sunshine Cleaning was always about the story, and the story covered a subject matter we’d never seen on film before: a cleaning business for crime scenes. The contrast between the beautiful simplicity of this girl trying to make it in the world and the horrifying messiness of these crime scenes she has to clean up is wonderful. And what a great symbolic gesture it was to her own struggle to clean up her life. An unassuming but surprising little gem.

3) Taken – (note: I appear to be speeding towards dementia, as Taken came out in 2008 - however I will still leave it here because I have nothing else to replace it with!) Bring out the Taken bashers! I’m ready for’em. Okay look, am I going to tell you that this is some complex thought-provoking look at kidnapping? No. But Taken gets the key ingredient to this kind of film right. It uses the first act to establish a believable relationship between a daughter and a father desperate to get back into her life. That way when she gets kidnapped, we’re just as desperate to save her as Liam Neeson is. Some people have stated that the first act was too long and that the movie should’ve started with the girl getting kidnapped. Wrong-o times a billion. We wouldn’t have known her and therefore wouldn’t have given a shit if she lived or not. – Then of course you have the phone call, the single best trailer moment all year. When Liam Neeson says he’ll find him and he'll kill him, I got chills.

2) Avatar – Avatar is on a scary run. I saw that just this Monday it made 19 million dollars. On a MONDAY. This is 3 million MORE than it was making during the weekdays LAST week. How is this film making more money as it goes on? Doesn’t that, like, go against every conventional box office rule in the book? To me, it’s clear. Avatar is the experience of the decade. It’s everything the prequels were supposed to be. A brand new universe. A film that gives us something new. Groundbreaking special effects (even if they were iffy in places). There were moments in Avatar that reminded me of the feeling I had going to the movies as a child. Specifically the flying and montage sequences. Those really captured what film is supposed to be about. In hindsight, I admit that yes, the story’s simple. But everything else is so complex that it doesn’t matter. As I pointed out in my review, there are all these little faults you notice during the film, yet somehow, when you add them all up, they equal a mindblowing piece of entertainment. This is the only film of the year I’ve decided to go back and see again in the theater.

1) District 9 – I waited 2 years for this movie. You’re not supposed to go into a film with high expectations. You’re setting yourself up for disappointment. But District 9 not only met my expectations. It exceeded them. Why? Well, much like my point regarding Paranormal Activity, the improvisational nature of this movie had me baffled. The film didn’t seem to be following any logical story structure I could understand. As a result, I had no idea what was coming around the corner. But the main reason I loved this film were all the key choices it made that made it feel real. First, the improvisation. People talked how people really talked. Second, the documentary angle. Digital handheld cameras and seeing people interviewed put us in a mindset that we were watching something that really happened. Third, the setting. Every single fucking alien film I know of was set in America. This was set in a place none of us have ever been. Just being outside of Hollywood's preferred environment legitimized the film. Fourth, it turned the alien invasion on its head. They didn’t come here to enslave us. They crashed here and we enslaved them. Pretty much every single cliché we identify with these kinds of films is broken. And I haven’t even mentioned the effects, which were fucking amazing for 30 million dollars. The ship looked real, the aliens looked real, the weapons looked real. This movie did next to nothing wrong.

Didn’t see: Precious, Moon, The Road, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Big Fan, Zombieland, the Squeakel, Sherlock Homes, Bright Star

My 8 Biggest Disappointments:

500 Days Of Summer – Oh man did I dislike this movie. One of my favorite scripts of the year fell apart on the screen and I have three people to blame: Jospeh Godon-Levitt, Stupid Zooey-Deschenl, and the director. First off, I hate Zooey Deschenel. She’s a pretty girl but she’s a fucking horrible actress. Those big blue doe eyes don’t scream out “adorable” to me. They scream out "I'm a fucking deer in the headlights and don't know shit about acting." I never believe anything that comes out of her mouth. As for Gordon-Levitt, I guess he’s trying to become the next DiCaprio, but I don’t think it's working. He so underplays this part as to become nearly non-existent. I know this isn’t a Hugh Grant rom com but lighten up dammit! Looking at that hound dog face for 2 hours had me raiding the local pharmacy for industrial sized bottles of Prozac. As far as the director, the script itself had an indie sensibility but what I loved about it was that it moved. It had an energy to it. Everything was so slowed down here to the point where I felt we were underwater. Ugh, easily the biggest disappointment of the year.

Away We Go – I’m not going to say that this was a highly anticipated film of mine. But I like a good road-trip movie and I felt if Sam Mendes was going to go this far out of his comfort zone that it must be a great script. Oh God was I wrong. This film is everything that’s wrong with the independent scene and very well may be the death of all quirkiness in cinema. Oh, they’re so different! Oh, they’re having a baby but they’re both aging hippies so they need to find a place to raise a family! Oh the humanity! Oh, their aging friends talk about sex right in front of their own children! Har har har! How funny is that! I'll give you a hint. It isn't! The only thing that made me laugh in this movie was the promotional campaign. For reasons I can’t even begin to fathom, they turned their marketing agenda into “Maya Rudolph for an Oscar." You’d see interviews where the actors would say, in all seriousness, “Oh, Maya Rudolph. What can you say about her? She’s Maya Rudolph. One of the most talented actresses in the world.” Ummmm…did I miss something ? Was this not the same actress who was in four skits in five years on Saturday Night Live? This movie was a disaster on every level.

Up – This is my “bye-bye at least 5000 of my readers” post. I didn’t like this movie. I thought the first 10 minutes were easily 10 of the best minutes I’ve spent in a theater all year. But after that I felt the movie was for kiddies. I think the official moment I tuned out was the talking dogs. It was just too weird. I couldn’t buy into it. As the audience died of laughter every time one of them would go “Squirrel,” I cringed. The bird was weird and the villain felt cliché. I just wasn’t into this.

Terminator Salvation – I don’t know why I keep thinking this franchise is going to revive itself. I was excited for Terminator 3. I was excited for The Sarah Conner Chronicles. And I was excited for this. Yet each one let me down (well, I guess T3 wasn’t that bad). The thing with Salvation was that I thought McG was an underrated director who had something to prove. The addition of Christian Bale and Cameron’s new find, Worthington, only further enhanced my anticipation of the movie. Then the trailer came out and it was actually pretty badass. But McG made the same mistake so many directors make. They don’t understand story. Terminator Salvation wasn’t *about* anything. There was nothing driving the story *at all*. What is it the characters wanted? What were their goals? They were all murky and weak. And, as a result, we got a murky and weak movie. This was the death of the franchise for me. I won’t get excited about Terminator movies anymore….although the idea I heard online of sending Bale back to present-day London did sound pretty cool. :)

Extract – I’m starting to think Mike Judge had all the stars aligned for him in Office Space. It was that perfect con-flux that so rarely happens in the movie universe, where every choice resulted in perfection. Now that I’ve seen Extract, I realize that when Judge’s unique sense of humor doesn’t fall together just the way it's intended to, it’s as flat as a pancake. And Extract globs along like its characters are stuck in that extract. I’m not sure where to put the blame but I’d probably start with the casting. Bateman doesn’t quite understand the Judge universe, and although Affleck is the liveliest of the bunch, he seems to be working inside his own Affleckian universe. The other problem is that Judge forgets to emphasize the key plot point which drives the story – which is that Bateman stands to become very rich if he can sell the company. But the scene where this announcement is made comes off as an afterthought, and Bateman barely acknowledges it. Since these are the stakes that drive his character and therefore the entire movie (the idea is, if he can’t stave off this lawsuit, he stands to lose *everything*) the fact that they don’t seem important to him or the plot undermines the whole drive of the film.

Up In The Air – This wasn’t a colossal letdown but it was a letdown. I wanted to give George Clooney a chance. I really did. But that shit-eating grin he always wears combined with that bobble-head move he always does confirmed my biggest fears, that he wasn’t right for the part. Thank GOD Anna Kendrick was in this movie cause without her, it wouldn’t have been worth the price of a matinee. Taking in this movie, a couple of script problems popped up that I hadn’t noticed before. First, it doesn’t really make sense that Clooney doesn’t like Kendrick’s impersonal way of firing people. Clooney is Mr. Impersonal. That’s his entire character – living a life that allows him to be as impersonal as possible. So that he all of a sudden *cares* about the people he’s firing – I don’t know, it doesn’t make sense. I could sense that Reitman knew this and his solution was to fudge his way around it. Second, the movie limps to the finish line. Why? Because there’s no plot. Every time you write a character-driven piece that’s plot light, you better know that your ending is going to have problems. Why? Well, since the plot is essentially what your character is doing, what he's after, if there isn’t any of it, than your character has nothing to do. The last 20 minutes of this film are a wandering mess because nobody has anything to do. There’s no goal. No direction. It was unfortunate. Cause I was sure this would be in my top 10.

Invictus – I actually didn’t see this. But my disappointment lies in the fact that they made the film in the first place.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Should These Scripts Have Made The Black List?

note: no review today. :(

As you may remember, I made a plea a couple of weeks ago to send in your favorite scripts that didn’t make The Black List. For the last couple of years, The Black List has been hit by a wave of negativity, with many claiming it had “gone the way of Sundance,” and was now simply a marketing tool for the business, heavily if not solely influenced by the studios. I admit I jumped on that bandwagon for awhile but after stepping back and looking at it objectively, I realized the only reason I'd done so was because it *sounded* logical. “Of course,” I thought, “Naturally now that they’re bigger, they’re only going to choose screenplays that the bigtime players want them to choose." But I didn’t have any proof. I didn’t have anything to go by but a hunch and rumors. Sure I’ve read comments like this one on Nikki Finke’s blog…

This list unfortunately has become meaningless now. It started out with great intentions, but now has become a PR contest between agencies and management companies to get their clients scripts on this list. I’ve read many of the scripts listed here and its [sic] so abundantly clear that pressure was applied to get some of these on the list. it’s a joke.

But the anonymous assumptions he was making were about as credible as his anonymous post. By no means am I Mr. Connections. But I realized I had enough of a reach whereby I could reasonably test this theory. So I made my plea to about 150 assistants, readers, creative execs, assistant producers, producers, and agents (that’s half the number of people polled for the Black List) and informally asked them to name me their favorite scripts that *didn’t* make the Black List this year. If it was true they were solely voting for scripts they were instructed to, then surely they had some personal favorites of their own, right? It was time to find out what the real Black List was. Not this fake Hollywood puppet government that was obviously feeding us garbage material that wouldn’t have made it past an illiterate intern at an agency in the Valley.


I hate to disappoint the naysayers but prepare to be disappointed. Although conspiracy theorists will never ever give up on their theories no matter how much evidence you pile in front of them (my brother is still convinced that the entire NBA is rigged, to which I say – then how come Detroit and San Antonio, two of the smallest markets in the U.S., made it to the finals 7 times this decade?), this at least gave me some peace of mind on the issue.

You see, here’s the thing. The Black List is far too big for a really good script not to make it. There were 97 openings this year. Ninety-freaking-seven. Hollywood is OBSESSED with finding the next great script. If they do spot one, everybody hears about it. Then everybody reads it. And if they all like it, they’re not going to keep it a secret cause their boss told them to vote for “Paul Blart 2: Paul Blarter,” instead. Of course there will be isolated incidents here and there, but there are enough voters (300) and enough spots that truly deserving scripts *will* make it.

Look at who finished atop this year’s list. An unknown writer with no produced credits who sold his script to a relatively small company who hasn’t made a movie in years. If that isn’t an endorsement for supporting the little guy, I don’t know what is. And sure Sorkin finished second but that’s because he wrote a great script. We confirmed that three months ago. For those who think the list is a sell-out for doing so, let me remind you that Sorkin was also highly ranked on the very *first* Black List. Oh, and the highest selling script of the year? The Jonah Hill Hollywood friendly vehicle, "The Adventurer's Handbook" (which I believe barely beat out the price of Prisoners), didn't make it anywhere near the list. How do we explain that?

But hey, I can talk all night and I still won’t convince you. All I can do is tell you what I found. So again, I asked 150 assistants, creative execs, readers, managers, agents assistant producers, producers, etc., for their top 5 favorite scripts that didn’t make the Black List. Like the Black List, their suggestions would be completely anonymous. Since nobody really knew this was coming, and since the list has no cache, unlike the Black List, there would be little to no lobbying. If there really was this magical dearth of amazing (yet unconnected) scripts kicking around town, these are the people who would know about them. If the Black List really was a big scam, it’s time to expose it.

After informally polling all these people, this was the most common answer I received: “Umm, to be honest, all of my favorite scripts were on the list.” I’d then follow up with, “Well is there any script, any script at all you thought was great that didn’t make the list?” They’d usually answer, “There were a couple I thought were good, but nothing I would vote for.” Despite that, I was still able to get around 70 people to vote, some with a top 5, some with a top 3, some who could only think of 1. After all of that, no script received more than 7 votes. This led me to believe that people were either a) voting for something they had a personal connection with (a friend, a client, whatever). b) There were a few scripts out there that connected strongly with people on a personal level, but that weren’t mainstream. Or c) Enough people simply hadn’t read the script.

My big conclusion was that the Black List is way more accurate than people give it credit for. Am I saying that there aren’t scripts out there that should have made the list? Of course not. But the fact that those scripts aren’t on the list has more to do with the writer not getting their material out there, than the big Hollywood corporate types conspiring against the little guy.

Anyway, for better or worse, here are the Top 13 of those scripts (some of which I don’t even have the writers’ names for). If you have loglines or writers’ names for these, please send them to me ASAP so I can amend the post. Also, if you have any of these scripts, please send them in, as I’d love to take a week to review them. Also, if there’s a great script missing from the list, feel free to add it in the comments. I’d like for this list to be an evolving list. Let’s pool our resources and locate as many great reads as we can.

7 votes - Reversal by Rock Shaink
5 votes - Emergency Contact by Bear Aderhold & Thomas F.X. Sullivan -A straight laced guy finds his life thrown into turmoil after he agrees to become the "emergency contact" for a guy he barely knows.
5 votes - Fire Me by Dylan Morgan & Josh Siegal
4 votes - Priority Run by Terrance Mulloy
4 votes - Repeat After Me by Brad Bredeweg & Peter Paige
4 votes - Kristy by Anthony Jaswinski - In the vein of THE STRANGERS. A student trapped on a deserted college campus comes under attack by a malevolent group of intruders.
4 votes - Roger That by ??????
4 votes - Children of The Gun by ??????
3 votes - The Long Road Home’ by Mikko Alanne – 3
3 votes - One Night Stan by Joshua Friedlander - When Stan is given a one night "pass" from his fiance to have as much sex as he wants, all hell breaks loose.
3 votes - Love Drug by Josh Cohen - A loser longing to be rich and famous tries to make his dreams come true by inventing a pill that causes an instantaneous orgasm for the taker although the side-effects may be more than he bargained for.
3 votes - Five Star by W.J. Hortman
3 votes - Cocked and Loaded by Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly

With 2 votes:

The Last First Time by Jason Fuchs
The Lucky One by will fetters
Stainless Steel Providers by Kirsten Elms
The Begotten by Caleb Claxton
Hello I Must Be Going by Sarah Koskoff
A Day In March by Roberto Bentivegna - A nuclear physicist in the 1930s who, riddled by guilt over his early atomic contributions, fakes his own death- and inspires a journalist, 20 years later, to find out what happened to him.
Weekend Dad by Nicholas Schutt
Trust by Andy Bellin & David Schwimmer
Nancy and Danny by Brad Ingelsby
Detached by Stewart Hopewell & Tim Long
Timesheet by Riley Ray Chiorando
F by Howard Rodman
In This Land Of Gilead by Elana Frink - A young doctor shepherds a pair of kids through the American wastelands. Whey they finally find a stable colony, their nomadic life is questioned – do they build a life or keep moving?

Monday, December 28, 2009

30 Minutes Or Less

Genre: Dark Comedy/Action
Premise: A directionless pizza delivery guy is forced into robbing a bank under an odd set of circumstances.
About: One of the bottom feeders on this year’s Black List, 30 Minutes or Less received only 5 votes. But the writing team of Sullivan and Diliberti have double dipped their laptops into the Black List, becoming the second writers to have two scripts on the list, (their other is titled "Comic Con.” I don’t think I have to tell you what that one’s about). Since Comic Con sounds a little more broad, I’m guessing that’s what got them the remake assignment on the old Richard Pryor-John Candy comedy, Brewster’s Millions (which was an adaptation of a book written all the way back in the 1900s).
Writers: Matthew Sullivan and Michael Diliberti
Details: 120 pages (July 7, 2009 draft)

Recalibrate your converters kiddies. This script is not what you think it is. I know this because I thought it was what you’re thinking it is now. And it’s not.

30 Minutes or Less is a character-driven comedy of darkness unlike any you've read before. The story is incredulous yet incredible. Like an action movie hot dog wrapped inside a dark comedy burrito. And here I thought this was going to be another high concept Paul Blart ripoff laming up the lame-line. Hello? Original idea? Busy signal.

It didn’t start off that way though. It actually started off so benignly that I thought, “If this had been in my contest (where I was only judging the first ten pages of each script) it wouldn’t have made the Top 25." It’s not that the first 10 pages were bad. They were just plain. Will, a 25 year old pizza delivery guy and fuck up du jour, is tearing through the streets of his small town trying to make it to a customer’s house before the – um – 30 minutes are up. If poor Will doesn’t get the pizza there on time, the pizza is docked from HIS OWN paycheck. Whaaaat? He gets there a few minutes late and a couple of dweebosaurauses laugh in his face as they take their free pies. It was a scam. Their house is just far enough out of the restaurant's radius so that there’s no way he can get there on time. Drat!

And lame! I don’t want a stupid comedy about delivering pizzas, motherfucker.

As if Sullivan and Dilberti could read my mind and were able to magically alter my PDF document in real-time, the pizza delivery stuff doesn’t come up for the rest of the script! Thank you thank you thank you. As Jim Carrey once said..."So you're saying there's a chance."

Just after getting to know Will, we meet Dwayne, a beefy guy whose genetic globiness/assholeness makes him a born bully. Now that he's older and doesn't have enough people to push around, he’s looking for something to do with his life. His plan is to open the town’s first Tanning Salon, which will double as a whore house (because of course it will). Problem is Dwayne needs money to do that. Fortunately, his father won the lottery five years ago. Which would be great except his father hates him and has worse spending habits than Nicolas Cage. If Dwayne’s going to inherit any of his dad’s money, he’s going to have to kill him before he spends it all. And he really wants to open that Tanning Salon, like, now.

If your question's whether to read this script, the character of Dwayne is your answer. He's a one man show. You remember that documentary, "American Movie?" With that clueless director who formulates ridiculous plans that make no sense? Dwayne is like the fatter angrier version of him. Here, Dwayne discusses with his dimwitted partner, Jay, his fear of being a target once he gets rich.

If I was willing to kill my own daddy
to get at that money, then how can I
ever trust anyone not to kill me for
the same fucking reason?

I'd never kill you. Ever.

I know you wouldn't. But what about
the rest of our crew?
That's why the first thing I'm gonna
do is hire a fleet of personal
bodyguards. And all of them are
gonna be retards.


Yes, Jay, retards. Water heads.
The type of people you rode the bus
to school with.

Why the hell would you do that?

'Cause they ain't smart enough to
want my money. And they can fuck up
anyone who does come at me with their
super strength. You see, since their
minds don't work, their bodies
compensate. I got attacked by one
in grammar school and he nearly split
my skull. I get like five or six
retards, pay 'em in quarters and
dimes...I'll be untouchable.
But listen to me, Jay...don't you
ever give one of the retards a
firearm, 'cause they're liable to
shoot themselves. And then we gotta
find a new one.

Anyway, Dwayne realizes that he can’t kill his father himself. It’ll look too suspicious. So he has to hire someone. Problem is, the only assassin he has access to is asking for a hundred grand! Where the hell are they going to get a hundred grand? This is when Dwayne thinks up his genius plan. Since him and Jay are small-time explosive experts, they'll find a random guy, strap a bomb to him, and tell him to go rob a bank! Problem solved. Right. Because that's exactly what all of us would do if we were small-time criminals. And guess who they choose to kidnap?

That’s right. Will.

Once Will is captured and given the instructions (They’ll be following him. If he tries to go to the cops they’ll blow him up. If he doesn’t get the money within 8 hours, they’ll blow him up), he goes to his best friend, Chet, a middle school teacher and someone who refused to fall into the “fuck-up” ditch, and begs him for help. Chet is none too happy that Will’s arrived at his school with a bomb strapped to his chest (kids and bombs don't mix), but after initially rebuffing the idea of riding around with a ticking time bomb a few feet from his face, he realizes he has a duty to help his friend (that's a better friend than I would be - I'll tell you that right now).

In something akin to what The Hangover would’ve been in a dark parallel universe, Will and Chet go bumbling around trying haplessly to accomplish something they're so blatantly under-equipped to handle. In fact, they’re so ill-prepared, they draw on their knowledge of moves like Heat and Lethal Weapon to make key decisions. Just about everything that can go wrong goes wrong , and what I loved about 30 Minutes or Less is that even though every situation feels totally ridiculous, the characters themselves feel real, so you actually buy into it.

As most of you know, I’m not a dialogue freak. I don't sit there and marvel at the ways characters speak to each other. But the dialogue here is fucking awesome. Even when the writers will occasionally stop the movie to have their characters spout off a whole bunch of nothing (something I tell writers never EVER to do), it's so entertaining you just go with it. The big reason why it works is because these characters are so well drawn, so unique and so solidly motivated, that they don't fall victim to what usually happens in this circumstance, which is that the writers use their characters to spout off their own problems and issues about the world. I never heard the writer's voice in any of the dialogue. I heard the *character's* voices. And that's why it worked.

At first I didn’t like the idea of splitting up the storyline between two sets of characters. I tend to go for movies told from a single point of view, as it's more like real life. But getting to know both Will and Dwayne before the actual kidnapping puts us in the unique position of seeing them as equals. Both of them are in dire need of better lives. And so in a strange way, we’re kinda rooting for both of them to succeed (well, until later that is, when Dwayne goes off the deep end). The main problem with doing this is that one storyline is always better than the other. So when you get stuck with the less interesting characters, you're always checking your watch, impatiently waiting to get back the guys you like. That never happened here because you like everyone equally - something that rarely ever happens.

The big problem with Thirty Minutes or Less is that it’s the ultimate “unpitchable” script. I was excited to tell my dad about it when I finished, but then realized, “How do I describe this exactly?” “Well, um, it’s about this pizza delivery guy who gets a bomb strapped to his body and he has to go rob a bank or else the bad guys will blow him up. But it’s not like, cliché. It’s really funny. And it’s not a straight comedy. It’s more like a dark comedy thriller robber type thing.” Thirty Minutes Or Less isn’t a script you describe. It’s a script you read. And I’m positive that’s why it didn’t place higher on the list. After being told about the script, people likely had no interest in reading it. So I’m here to tell you – this is a script you want to read!

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[x] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: This was a good reminder that even though I love the singular point of view, jumping over and seeing the other characters in their environment builds up the complexity of those characters in a way you can never achieve by looking at them only through your own character’s eyes. I still prefer following only one person, but I’ll be keeping an open mind from here on out to following multiple characters if it's appropriate.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas! know...Happy Holidays and stuff! If you're offended by anything I've just said well, um.....sorry? Anyway, I've decided to include a clip of my favorite Christmas song and my favorite Christmas movie (the awkwardly structured "It's A Wonderful Life"). Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Crook Factory

Roger's back! And better late than never. Just when I was worried that Christmas would go by without a review from the man, he surprises me with a magical e-mail attachment. I guess this is his all of us. It's a Christmas Eve miracle. This will also be the last review of the week as I'll be taking Christmas off to hang out with the family. But I may throw up a surprise post if I have a few minutes. Won't be a review though. Anyway, Roger's got his eyes on another Black List script. Let's take a look.

Genre: Period, Espionage
Premise: An FBI agent is ordered to babysit Ernest Hemingway as he goes about running a motley spy ring in WWII Cuba.
About: At Warner Brothers with Johnny Depp's Infinitum Nihil producing, The Crook Factory made the 2009 Black List with 5 votes.
Writer: Adapted by Nicholas Meyer, based upon the novel by Dan Simmons

The spy fiction of John le Carré isn't normally the type of story that makes my dick hard, but the fiction of Ernest Hemingway has the type of prose that does. And although "The Crook Factory" ain't about the prose (it's a screenplay, baby, it's about the scenes), it is about Ernest Hemingway in pre-Communist Cuba with plenty of subterfuge and the customary spy fiction shenanigans.

I haven't read the book by Dan Simmons (a Harlan Ellison protégé), but I have read plenty of his other stuff. You may know him from his Dickensian tome, "Drood", which has a nice blurb on it by Guillermo Del Toro.
I know him from his World Fantasy Award-winning novel, "Song of Kali", which is one of the most disturbing horror novels I've ever read (which, supposedly, Darren Aronofsky has had his eye set on for a while), and his science fiction tour de force, the Illium/Olympos duology, which is like "God of War", Heavy Metal, The Matrix trilogy, and Shakespeare on psychedelics. He seems to have plenty of fans in the film industry, but it's going to take an army of visionaries (or James Cameron) to successfully adapt his science fiction epics to celluloid.
The interesting thing about Simmons is that he's not only able to tackle multiple genres, but that he's able to do it whilst being a top-tier author. In the publishing world, authors are usually pushed to use pseudonyms if they're looking to venture away from the genre that they initially found success in.
When it comes to genre-hopping and literary alchemy, Simmons has carte blanche.
What's The Crook Factory, Rog?
Aside from being a script adapted by "Wrath of Khan" writer and helmer, Nicholas Meyer (as if this project doesn't have enough geek cred)?
The Crook Factory is named after Ernest Hemingway's ragtag counter-espionage network in the Caribbean. It's comprised mostly of friends Ernesto gathered from the Spanish Civil War, but there are also house dicks, jai alai players, prostitutes, a priest, a millionaire, and a young urchin named Santiago. They all lovingly refer to our big-game hunting storyteller as Papa. "What is with this 'Papa' shit?" Joe asks at one point. Doesn't matter, it's just what they call him.
And Papa has taken to chasing Nazi subs on his fishing boat, Pilar.
When most writers get blocked (if you believe in such a thing), I like to imagine they deal with the agony with butt planted firmly in seat playing marathon sessions of the newest first-person shooters or obsessively skimming through all the comment threads on reddit.
When Hemingway gets blocked, he dives into a dangerous game of espionage for shits and gigs.
"The Old Man and the Sea" this isn't.
Who's our protagonist?
Joe Lucas, a forty-year old, half-Mexican FBI agent, whom we meet whilst in mid-murder spree of German spies in Mexico City. An efficient killer, he's sent on a fool's errand by J. Edgar Hoover to spy on the Crook Factory and report back what they're really up to.
See, Hoover isn't really concerned with the war. He believes it's a front for the real threat: Communism. He's also more concerned with what the OSS is up to (the precursor to the CIA), and his motto is, "There can be only one Intelligence."
Lucas is chosen because he doesn't "read make believe books", and is less susceptible to fall for Hemingway's crude charms.
On the plane to Cuba, Lucas is warned by a man who introduces himself as, "Fleming, Ian Fleming", a Commander in the MI6, to be careful in Cuba. He's told he's entering a turf war between the FBI, OSS, and two German intelligence organizations, the Sicherheitsdienst and the Abwehr. Throw in a sadistic Cuban police Lieutenant named Maldonado, aka Caballo Loco, and Lucas has quite the wartime stew (a la "Casablanca") to chew on.
How are the spy games?
They're okay. They're more realistic than pulpy, and as far as realistic espionage thrillers go, my favorite is probably Kushner, Roth and Spielberg's "Munich". But like that tale, I was more interested in what the story was trying to say (and the historical context) than the actual plot rumblings. Admittedly, I read this script for the Hemingway character, and for me, he was this story's strength.
But the Crook Factory has been watching a ginormous yacht called the Southern Cross that used to be owned by Howard Hughes, but is currently chartered by Theodore Shell, a Dutch businessman. Shell is usually seen with an attractive blonde named Inga Arvad, and as we can all probably guess, the Southern Cross is up to "archeological research" just like the Pilar is up to "marine research".
Things get snarled when the radio operator of the yacht is found murdered in a brothel. Our heroes not only discover what appears to be an Abwehr code book, but the only survivor of the fracas, an innocent prostitute aptly named...wait for it...Maria. Lucas takes the code book and Hemingway rescues Maria from getting cut up by Caballo Loco and employs her as a maid at the Crook Factory's base of operations.
We then discover that Inga Arvad, that dangerous blonde, is the former Miss Denmark, now turned Nazi spy who is not only posing as an archaeologist, but is having a torrid affair with none other than Ensign John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Thing is, Hoover tipped off old man Kennedy, and he had his kid shipped off to the South Pacific.
Naturally, we're then on a hunt to find and acquire the cipher so Lucas can decode the Abwehr book. And what starts out as a quest for underground information turns into a dangerous Waltz as subterfuge after subterfuge is revealed. There's some deft narrative trickery that forces you to pay attention, but the most emotional moment is when Agent 22 is murdered.
I won't say much about Agent 22, but the death of this Crook Factory character is something that rocks the story on its axis. And for Hemingway, it sort of becomes a revenge thriller as he looks to balance the scales again, realizing that what was kind of a hobby actually has some dire and unforgiveable consequences.
Of course, he needs Lucas' help and they all get in over their heads as they battle the head of the Cuban police and a double-agent who has infiltrated the Crook Factory. All this while trying to discover The Who, The What, and The Why of the Abwehr code book.
Honestly, besides the personal vendetta Hemingway has against Maldonado and the double-agent, I found the Abwehr code book stuff kind of lackluster. Ironically, there's a moment of revenge that has a lot in common with one of the dealing-with-a-double-agent scenes in "Munich". Despite its similarities, it's really fucking good.
Do you think the Hemingway character would be a good role for an actor?
Of course, dude.
It's purported that 95% of the events in this story are based on trufax. According to Simmons, "this period appears to be the basis for the raging paranoia in the last years of Hemingway's life – a period when the writer was certain that he was being followed by the FBI." It was something he believed even up to the day he shot himself in 1961.
In The Crook Factory, he gravitates between braggart and self-doubter. In a way, because this script is about a writer, it's kind of a story about writing. And I like that about it. When Lucas finally reads "For Whom The Bell Tolls", he asks Hemingway, "How did you do it?"
And Hemingway responds, "A lie can tell the greater truth."
When pushed, he talks to some length about storytelling. "Just transcribing shit isn't art. You've got to do it from your gut, inside out. You take what's real and mix it up and make it your own. Then it's your truth...You choose pieces that stand in for the whole. Like that sub we're waiting for. All you need is the periscope and you can imagine the rest, those sweating, frightened bastards down there...Fiction is just another code."
Much of the script is about the push and pull between Lucas and Hemingway. One is an insider, a man of action who sees no value in art. Another is an outsider, an artist who wants to be a man of action. And there's conflict here, and heaps of jealousy. And eventually the lines become blurred when each man is able to understand the other, and the outsider is given the chance to be a hero while the other learns the value of the artist.
It's very...macho.
Besides the romance between Lucas and Maria, this is very much a guy's movie. Or a literary aficionado's movie. It has most of the tense wartime atmosphere of "Casablanca", but lacks the epic romantic angle. It's not about women. In fact, most of the women in the script are either villainous bitches, or in the case of Hemingway's wife, Martha, women who have grown tired of men's macho posturing.
I guess we can't blame them, can we?
The ending not only gets points for a heartwrenching postscript, but for a geeky quip by Ian Fleming where he muses that one day he shall try his hand at writing, like Hemingway.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn't for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: Fiction trumps reality. Lies can be used to tell the greater truth. Seriously. I don't care if you give me a play-by-play of what really happened. It's still boring. If you have to lie and spin some fiction into it to make it entertaining, to give it some narrative drive, then fucking do what you gotta do, brother. Case in point: there was a point in "The Crook Factory" where I believed that Hemingway died. It was in the midst of the 3rd act, and things were heated, and there were fisticuffs, and there was Hemingway's body lying on deck. Bloody. Dead. And I'm thinking, "What the fuck! He's dead. Get his killer, Joe! Get him!" Then I realize, wait a minute, this isn't how it happened in real life. And in a cinematic climate where Quentin Tarantino rewrote World War 2, I was game for anything. But the writer was using the tools at his disposal, most notably suspense, to affect me. If you're writing period pieces about real people, tell a story, not a biography. If you have to lie for the greater narrative harmony, to draw your audience in emotionally, then lie to me, baby.

The Days Before

Genre: Sci-fi
Premise: A man who possesses a time travel device uses it to go back in time to prevent an alien invasion.
About: Oh how quickly fortunes change. Chad St. John is a writer nobody had even heard of last year. Now he’s on fire. And I’m not talking about that wussy orange fire either. I'm talking the steel-melting blue type of fire. With two scripts on this year’s black list, one of them in the top 10, and a script sale just the other week which is supposed to do for Westerns what Pirates of the Carribean did for pirates (it’s called “The Further Adventures of Doc Holliday”), it’s definitely St. John’s Hollywood. The rest of us just live in it.
Status of this draft: 2nd Draft
Status of project: Development
Writer: Chad St. John
Details: 111 pages (undated)

There are times when scripts don’t get a fair shot with readers. Maybe the reader is tired. Maybe the reader got in a fight with her boyfriend. Or, worst case scenario, maybe the reader was forced to watch "Alvin And The Chipmunks: The Squeakel." Whatever the reason, sometimes readers open a script with the attitude of, “You better fucking impress me.” Harsh? I’d reckon so. But sweetheart, when the world’s pushing your buttons, you need a place to push back. And unfortunately, sometimes that place is work. I just saw it happen the other day in fact. I was at the supermarket and one of the cashiers – a nice portly guy in his 50s who always had a big smile on his face – had to repair a register in a closed line. One of the other workers saw him and erroneously assumed he was opening up. So he got on the P.A. and said, “Lane 5 is now open. Lane 5.” Everyone from the overflowing lines rushed into Lane 5 and this cashier flipped the fuck out. He threw up his hands and screamed, “What are you doing! I never said I was opening! How dare you! I never said that! I never said that once! GOSH!!” He then charged off like a little boy who’d just had his candy stolen and disappeared into the back room. This left the entire store in shocked silence (except for me – I had a big smile on my face because I had stayed in line and not lost my place. Heh heh, yes, I’m a sick human being). The point is, I’d never seen that man exhibit anything even close to bad behavior before. It was clearly a bad string of events that came to a head. Believe me, readers have those days too.

The reason I’m telling you this is because I remember the circumstances under which I read The Days Before. And looking back on it, I didn’t give it a fair shot. I had a ridiculous amount of scripts to read that week. And by ridiculous, I mean 30. Also, for maybe the first time in my life, I decided to buy groceries in bulk, so I had purchased over $170 worth of groceries I planned to last me for three weeks. Ten minutes after I got home, the power on my block went out. FOR TWO DAYS! This ruined nearly 80% of the food I bought. And yes, even though it’s cliché, in addition to this I was having girlfriend problems! I came into that script with a chip on my shoulder the size of Ellen Page's forehead. Instead of inviting the writer into my home, I stuck a gun to his head. “This better be good!” Ehhhh, needless to say I don’t think I was in the right state to read The Days Before. So because everyone’s been e-mailing me asking me to review it, I decided to wipe the slate clean and start all over again. I would give St. John another chance.

So let me be the first to say: Holy f’ing mother of balls was I wrong.

This script is all types of awesome. It starts with a grizzled mess of a man, Smith, and his wise-cracking tough-as-nails wife, Riley, barreling towards the White House in a Bonneville. These two are met with the typical response one would expect plowing your car forward at 86 miles an hour towards the White House post 9/11. With lots of SWAT and Secret Service bullets. They survive the onslaught but are captured and stuck in separate interrogation rooms. What each of them tell their captors, is that they’re, you know, from the future, and they’re, you know, trying to save the planet. Their warnings are ignored and mere minutes later, big bad dragon-like alien creatures appear and start killing everyone in sight. Including our president and even Riley. It’s not easy watching your wife die. But if there’s anyone conditioned for it, it’s Smith. He’s watched her die 109 times.

Luckily, Smith jumps back in time before these things can catch him. When? Exactly one day before. The alien Blackberry device he’s stolen from these creatures only allows him to jump back one day at a time – or at least, that’s the only type of time jump he’s been able to figure out. It’s not like the thing comes with an instruction manual. Oh, and he’s been doing it. For seven years. Each day coming back and trying to warn his president, his country, his planet, that there’s an alien race ready to invade the planet and kill everyone on it.

But this time when he jumps back, it’s different. He’s amassed enough video evidence, among other things (cutting off the president’s finger after he died) to finally step up to the table with a case. And it’s a compelling one, so much so that they listen to his pleas. The thing is, there’s nothing they can do about it. These aliens are thousands of years more advanced than them. And there’s millions of them. Maybe even billions. It’d be like us jumping back in time and starting a war with the cavemen. However, using classified technology developed by the creepy Dr. Oro, they realize they can send a message back in time 15 years to tell the planet what’s going to happen. As the aliens once again – like they always do – appear in this time and start obliterating the world, the humans are able to get the message out, and Smith and Riley barely escape to jump back in time one more day…

Into a completely different world. A broken down militarized world that for 15 years has been preparing for this day, the day the aliens arrive. Every single cent that every nation has earned has been used on creating a state of the art military. Anyone not with the program, has been forgotten. The streets are Sarajevo. It’s the Third Reich. And yet it has to be. The world has been preparing to save itself, to fight back, and militarizing itself was the only option. Ain’t no giant trees making out with animals here. This is hard core live or die.

The rest of the script then focuses on the hours leading up to the invasion. And it’s beyond captivating, as we’re wondering: Can they do it? Can they actually defeat this race that regularly wipes out the entire planet within minutes? This is fucking “Aliens” times a million!

The really cool thing about this script is that it makes you think. It makes you think about what our world would be like if we spent every single available dollar on our military. It makes you think about whether we would force children to fight. Hey, sure they’re children, but this is the end of the world we’re talking about here. Might as well increase our numbers. And unlike, say, Independence Day, you’re so invested in the characters that it makes you step back and wonder what you would do. Would you cower in fear? Or would you rise to the occasion?

Are there complaints? Well…yes. Some of the over-the-top banter between Dr. Oro and Riley, who say things like, “That is one saucy piñata,” followed by “Get me down, you big Wienie!” was too much to take. “Pervy nerds. Man eating growly things. Bombs falling from the sky. This is the worst Christmas ever!” sounds more like a sitcom than an end of the world film to me. I remember that this is what bothered me so much when I first read it. I immediately thought, “This is going to be another one of those lame action movies with the wanna-be Bruce-Willis’esque action hero spouting out clever line-age. I assigned the script that label way too early, which prevented me from seeing just how much more there was here. St. John has really thought everything through in this world. And while there are holes (It’s impossible to write a time-travel movie without them) they’re minimal enough so that they don’t hurt the story.

The Days Before is a freaking sweet script. It’s “Independence Day” with a brain (and, uh, a script!). Don’t know what Warners’ plans are with this, but I’d be putting it into production today. Or, err, I mean yesterday. :)

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn't for me
[ ] worth the read
[x] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: So yeah, regarding the “You better impress me" stuff. You have to remember that readers read *FOR THEIR JOB*. They’re not clearing out their day so they can read your script next to a fire with cookies and warm milk. They’re trying to make it through. That’s their job. Make it through the script remembering just enough to write cohesive coverage. This is why I tell writers they can never half-ass it. That every scene and character and story element they include has to be fucking awesome because you never know what kind of mood or situation that reader is going to be in when they sit down with your script. Assume the worst. That your reader is a bitter old man who hates movies and hates his job. If you can win him over, you can win anyone over!

Horsethief Pictures and the Future of Filmmaking

If anyone knows Jack Selby, Tiller Russell or Duncan Montgomery and can get me in touch with them, please e-mail me ASAP. These guys are doing exactly the kind of thing I want Scripshadow to pioneer, which is to allow the public to interact with the development process, so that the people who will be seeing the movies, will be able to offer input on how to make those movies better. Here is their press release (from IMDB)...

Former Paypal executive Jack Selby has partnered with filmmakers Tiller Russell and Duncan Montgomery to launch Horsethief Pictures.

The interactive production, digital distribution and marketing company, which plans to release 2-3 films a year, will encourage audiences to participate in every phase of the moviemaking process from development to production, distribution and marketing.

"I am excited to be partnering with Tiller and Duncan to launch this venture at a time when the entertainment industry's audience is transitioning to consuming content online," said Selby. "With Horsethief, we will look to capitalize on this digital shift by creating smart, targeted digital marketing campaigns that keep audiences tuned in to high quality content."

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Isolate Thief

Genre: Period
Premise: In the dead of winter in the middle of the U.S. Civil War, a young man tries to hide the gold he stole from rogue soldiers who have taken over his remote house.
About: With 13 votes, The Isolate Thief was one of the top 2009 Black List scripts. Lefler has no previous credits or sales and has worked as an editor for the past five years.
Status of this draft: Unknown
Status of project: Development
Writer: Kevin Lefler
Details: 100 pages (undated)


What does it mean? To know that something inescapable is charging towards you. That no matter what you do, you will not be able to avoid it. We do such amazing jobs at eluding the things that scare us, that put fear in us, that when something comes along that we can’t evade, it’s one of the most helpless feelings in the world. The Isolate Thief is about dread.

It’s the Civil War era. Edmund Horn is a thoughtful but beaten down 21 year old who maintains an outpost in the middle of nowhere. It’s the kind of place you can live years in and never see another soul. Edmund’s parents used to live here too. But both of them have died, buried in the backyard. This place is too full of memories now, and Edmund plans to leave it once and for all, heading to San Francisco so he can watch the ships from the Far East dock in the bay.

Unfortunately a toothless gravedigger nicknamed Burial Perry comes snooping around, looking for some clothes and food to get him to the next outpost. This man’s a denigrate, the kind of guy you wouldn’t trust to hold a deck of cards. He ties Edmund up so he can take what he pleases. But when he sees that Edmund isn’t a threat, he becomes harmless, just another straggler looking to survive. What isn’t harmless, however, is the gang of murderers disguised as Union soldiers he has following him. It turns out Perry knows the whereabouts of some hidden treasure, and the terrifying Fiddler John Good will do anything to get it.

When Fiddler's gang does catch up to Perry and he doesn’t divulge where the gold be, he’s eliminated from life, and it seems like the conflict is over. Fiddler asks Edmund if they can use his house for a few days while they get ready for the next leg of their journey. Edmund obliges, and a seemingly cordial dance begins whereby Edmund plays host to these men as they prepare to move on. But as each day goes by, it becomes clear that Fiddler doesn’t really need anything else here, and that provokes Edmund to wonder what it is Fiddler wants from him.

What Fiddler’s not telling Edmund, is that he thinks he has the gold. And not unlike his title, he’s playing Edmund to get him to disclose some clues about where the treasure is hidden. The problem is, Fiddler’s not 100% sure Edmund has the gold. And for that matter, neither are we. These multiple mysteries have us doing our own investigation as we desperately try to figure out the truth before it's told to us. It eventually becomes clear, that whether Fiddler finds the gold or not, he’s killing Edmund, and that adds a whole 'nother layer of complexity to the story.

This aspect is what makes The Isolate Thief so good. We feel the dread that Edmund feels, as he begins to realize that these man plan to murder him. At the same time, he must keep up appearences that he doesn’t suspect anything, since the longer they don’t know he’s onto him, the longer he’ll stay alive. It’s like being in the back of a roller coaster as you’re going up the first hill. You hear the “click click click” “click click click” as you go up higher and higher, until you’re wondering how much higher it can possibly go, since you’re already all the way up – then out of nowhere, you’re THRUST over the edge. We never know when we’re going over that edge with Fiddler, and it scares the crap out of us.

The only problem with this kind of story is that it breeds passive protagonists. And Edmund is indeed passive. But whether that actually affects the enjoyment of the screenplay is up for debate. Most readers will spot a passive protagonist and blindly scream, “Bad! Passive protagonist equals bad! Change now!” But there are a few types of stories where it works and I’m thinking this could be one of them. I was so concerned whether Edmund was going to make it out alive or not I just wasn’t thinking about his passiveness. But for better or worse, the studio system likes characters who take charge at some point. And I’m sure they’ll make that argument here.

For a script that starts nice and slow, this ends with a bang. Really liked it.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: This is another great example of how to use subtext -- maybe the best example I’ve seen all year. Nearly every conversation in The Isolate Thief is about something seemingly mundane, yet carries a deeper meaning underneath. There’s this great scene late in the script where Fiddler is innocently explaining to Edmund how to use a gun, yet you know that what he’s actually saying is that he’s going to kill Edmund at some point. There are tons of scenes like this here, all very well crafted.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Top 25 Announced!!!

This is the official announcement for the Logline Contest Top 25, a free contest I held that started with nearly 1000 logline entries, and is now down to the Top 25 scripts. To catch up on the contest, go here to read the original post, and here to read the Top 100 loglines.

Well, here they are, the Top 25! I’m wondering if I shouldn’t start a whole new thread titled, “Readers agree you may as well have not entered Carson’s contest if you didn’t have a thriller, a comedy, or a sci-fi script,” because I know those comments are coming. I don’t really know what to say except that I never discounted any script that wasn’t in one of those genres. These scripts are simply the ones that spoke to me. It should be noted however, that comedy and thrillers accounted for about 65% of the entries (with comedies around 50%), so the genres I picked weren’t ridiculously off from the entry percentages. I hope you’ll all keep in mind that the contest didn’t cost anyone anything and was as much a learning experience for me as it was for you. So please try to keep the comments celebratory, as I want this to be about commending the people who got through, not forming conspiracy theories about the people who didn’t.

As for those of you who didn’t make the Top 25? Keep your chin up. Just because I didn't fall in love with your script doesn't mean somebody else won't. God knows people disagree with my reviews all the time. Also, choosing whether an entire script was good based off the first 10 pages wasn’t easy, especially when it was a slower story. As a result, it was harder to judge those types of scripts. I actually narrowed the field down to 38, and then had to make some tough choices from there. So you may have been one of the unfortunate late cuts. I can honestly say that outside of, maybe, four scripts, the level of writing here was really good. Nobody embarrassed themselves, and I think that speaks a lot to the kind of people who visit the site. Good writers understand that they need to read other scripts to get better. Bad writers tend to think they know it all. So I’m not surprised that the people who entered the contest knew what they were doing.

Now for a bit of a surprise. Anticipating that some entrants wouldn’t make the deadline for the 10-page round, I came up with a list of about 30 alternates to fill the unused slots. After thinking it over, however, I decided to expand that list to 75 loglines I thought had potential. I would then give 3 of those scripts slots in the final round (so instead of it being a Top 25, it’s actually now a Top 28). Although some might cry foul, I think it was the right thing to do because there were a lot of loglines that had potential but weren’t convincing enough to make the Top 100. I wanted to give some of those a chance. The top 3 from that list are noted as the “Second Tier” winners at the bottom. I want to thank Kristy at MSP and Colin J. Louro (Colin's blog) for helping me whittle those scripts down, as I didn’t have enough time to do it myself.

I’d like to wrap it up with a few things. If you see yourself on the list, you have until Monday January 11th, at 11:59pm Pacific Time to send me a PDF of your entire script (this is one more week than was originally planned). If you are one of the alternates listed below, you will be notified on January 12th if you’ve made the final round dependent on someone dropping out). You will then have until Monday, January 18th at 11:59pm Pacific Time to send me your script. So I’d advise the alternates – particularly the high alternates – to start work on your scripts now, as I anticipate at least a couple of people not making the deadline. Finally, if you are one of the finalists here and would like your e-mail listed so that managers/agents/producers can contact you, please e-mail me at Congratulations to everyone who made it. I look forward to reading your scripts! :)

TOP 25

The Rules of Cusack by Josh Penn Boris (Toluca Lake, CA) - John Cusack helps a young man find love using advice from his films. However, problems arise when Cusack falls for the same girl and his perceptions of movie life and real life begin to blur.

Silent Night by James Luckard (Los Angeles) - With a brutal serial killer stalking Nazi Germany at Christmas, the Berlin detective on the case gets reluctantly partnered with a Jewish criminal psychologist released from Auschwitz to profile the killer.
E-mail: jamesluckard at yahoo dot com

Humans! By Josh Eanes (South Carolina) - In a world populated by sentient zombies, an outbreak of humans threatens the lives of two ordinary zombie youths, as does an increasingly chaotic military response.

Couples by Edward Ruggiero (Connecticut) - The friendships and marriages of three couples are tested after they share a group sex experience while vacationing together.

The Man With One Arm by Stephen Fingleton (London) - A struggling filmmaker gets funding for his long-cherished spaghetti western, but is forced to make it in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Short Term Forecast by Brad Sorensen (Ottawa) - After discovering a fax machine that can send and receive messages one day into the future, an impossibly inaccurate weather man struggles for career advancement while trying to maintain the space/time continuum.

Fast Money by Angelle Haney Gullett (Los Angeles) - A young girl with a gift for numbers struggles to stay in private school and pull her family out of poverty by taking her first job – as the accountant for her neighborhood drug dealer.

Romantic Comedy
Two Compatible by Zach Hillesland & Kieran Piller - Two genetically related test-tube babies – with two radically different sets of parents – meet in college and start dating, unaware that they are brother and sister.

Get Motivated by Stephen Hoover - When a company motivational camping trip turns into a life and death struggle, a put-upon underling takes action and leads an uprising against his oppressive boss. THE OFFICE meets LORD OF THE FLIES.

Science Fiction/Adventure
Lazarus The Renegade by Bryn Owen (Glasgow) - A man awakens after five years in a coma to discover the Earth has been conquered by an oppressive alien race.

Oh Never, Spectre Leaf! By C. Ryan Kirkpatrick and Chad Musick (South Carolina) - After a freak plane crash, an awkward teenage boy must enlist the help of a sexually frustrated dwarf, a smokin' hot cyborg, and an idiot in a bunny suit to defeat the Nocturnal Wench Everlasting and restore sunlight to the bizarre land of Spectre Leaf.

Hypoxia by Daniel Silk - A woman under Witness Protection awakens on a 747 to discover the pilots and passengers unconscious, the plane depressurized and masked men hunting her. With oxygen and fuel rapidly depleting, she must grapple with surrendering herself to save the 242 people on board.

Is that your wife in that celebrity sex tape? By Kevin Via - An insecure husband discovers a celebrity sex tape starring his soccer mom-wife and a rock star.

Thorne by Michael Sposito - A lonely, tormented physicist hijacks the world's most advanced particle collider traveling back in time to save the mother he lost in the 9/11 attacks, but attempts to warn her alert the hijackers to his presence and threaten the lives of millions unborn.

Louisiana Blood by Mike Donald (Oxfordshire, UK) - When five victims of JACK THE RIPPER turn up in a swamp more than a century after their deaths, thousands of miles from the crime scene, an English Detective and a Louisiana Sheriff form an unlikely duo to unravel the ultimate conspiracy and reveal the Rippers true identity.

The Alien Diaries by Glenn J. Devlin (Arizona) - While appraising old and rare books at a restored colonial plantation, a book collector stumbles across a series of diaries that chronicle an alien visitation in 1781.

Killer Parties by Ben Bolea and Joe Hardesty (Los Angeles) - In the frozen Alaskan tundra, where the sun rarely rises, four best friends struggle against the most terrifying experience of their young lives...graduation.

Tasteless by Adam Conway - A world renowned taste tester/food critic loses his sense of taste and struggles to discover who he is once his one defining characteristic is gone.

Volatile by William C. Martell (Los Angeles) - Eddy lost everything: his job, his house, his wife. Spends his final unemployment check drinking, wakes up with fresh stitches. Stolen kidney? Implanted bomb. Anonymous caller gives him six one hour tasks:
Steal a car, steal a suit, steal a gun... assassinate executives from the company that fired him!

Paranormal Thriller
Destination Yesterday by Dexter E. Williams (North Carolina) - A Sacramento businessman discovers - through information provided by a mysterious woman - that his recurring nightmares of a tragic plane crash could be repressed memories of a previous life.

Bible Con by Ashley F. Miller - Comic Con for Christians -- goes straight to hell when Jesus and Mary Magdalene fall in love, the keynote speaker turns out to be an atheist, and the event is besieged by DaVinci Code fans.

Synapse by Matthew Sinclair-Foreman - During a brain operation, a man has an out of body experience in which he witnesses a murder in the hospital. Debilitated by neurological post-op side effects, he must catch the killer before his investigation turns him into the next victim.

Antarctic by Neil Dave (Los Angeles) - When an international team of scientists explore a cavern hidden deep beneath an Antarctic lake they discover an organism that predates biological life.

For Your Eyes Only by Mukilan Thangamani – On the eve of a career-defining product launch, a self-centred, misanthropic, food researcher finds her social and professional life turned upside down after the accidental leak of a salacious home video.

Dark Sci-Fi Thriller
Elysium by Fredrik Agetoft & Magnus Westerberg
The world's first in-orbit spa is on it’s maiden voyage, loaded with celebrities expecting the pampering of a lifetime, when all communications are lost and everyone on board has to work together to stay alive in the desert of space and reveal the dark mystery behind what has happened.


1) (Action/Thriller) Ground Work by Patrick C. Taylor (Virginia) - His flight from LA to NYC canceled in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, an Arab-American hitman must travel across the country to complete a job, facing the most hostile environment possible for an Arab with a gun and a guilty conscience.

2) (Sci-Fi/Drama/Comedy) A Constant Variable by Chris Rodgers (Utah) - A quantum physics professor finds himself on the outside of his own life, looking in, when he time travels twenty-four hours into the future and gets stuck there.

3) (Comedy) High School Hero by Chris Fennimore - When a former high school football star on the brink of middle age can't catch a break in life; he sneaks back into high school by claiming to have Rapid Aging Disorder in the misguided hope of reliving his glory days on and off the gridiron.

4) (Drama/Suspense) Chasing Hope by Miriam Adams-Washington - After finding a captivating old photo of the grandmother she never knew, an urban teen journeys to the Deep South for answers and stumbles upon family secrets of forbidden love, lies and a fifty year old unsolved murder mystery.

5) (Suspense Thriller) Just Like Jesse James by Tim McGregor - Hearing of a folktale about outlaw treasure buried on the family farm, four cousins take up the hunt but the closer they get to the gold, the more each struggles to trust the others.

6) (Drama) Aftermath by Jared Waine - After a giant monster attack on Miami, three disparate people- a retired sailor, a burnt-out virologist, and a torn rescue worker- deal with love and loss amongst the ruins.

7) (Contained Thriller) Brake by Tim Mannion (Connecticut) - Trapped inside the trunk of a moving car, a newly-hired secret service agent must figure out if his kidnapping is part of a training exercise or an impending terrorist attack.


Frank Vs. God by Stewart Schill - When his home is destroyed by a tornado, and the Insurance Company informs him that the claim falls under the ‘Act of God’ exclusion in his policy, David Frank decides to sue God himself for damages, beginning a hilarious and soulful odyssey to a surprising final judgment.

Roanoke Jamestown: American Patriot by Donnie and Clint Clark (Ohio) - The untold story of one of America’s founding fathers, Roanoke Jamestown, and how he got deleted from history.

Romantic Comedy
Make Me A Match by Andrew Bumstead - When a hopeless female mortal proves to be impervious to Cupid's arrows, Cupid takes on a mortal disguise in order to convince her to fall in love – the problem is, Cupid doesn’t know a thing about real love.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Avatar: Film Review

So how's the future of cinema shaping up?


Don't have a concrete answer for you. But I will say this. It's a lot more shapely today than it was yesterday.

Watching Avatar felt like the first time you had ice cream. Or the first time you tasted cherry coke. There were times where I had to scoot back and go, "Where the fuck am I? What the hell is going on?" Whatever my final opinion of the film was - and I'll be honest with you, I'm still not sure - there's no questioning the fact that this theater visit was a completely new experience. And how often do you go to the movies and feel something new these days? Not that often.


People were calling this Dances with Smurfs, or whatever clever name they were coming up with. The point was, this was supposedly the exact same story as Dances With Wolves. Well good for me because I never saw Dances With Wolves (I will never EVER see a 3 hour movie with Kevin Costner in it. Ever.). So I didn't have to worry about wolves or dancing. Instead, I got to watch what was, for me, a unique story unfold. Using clones of the creatures they were trying to excavate in order to understand the natives better definitely felt a little "90s" in its conception (not surprising since Cameron came up with this idea back in 93 I believe) but once we kicked into gear, I really liked it. I was actually so into it - and by "it," I mean Pandora - that I started getting aggravated every time we'd wake up back at the Marine base. Being with the Na'vi was way more interesting, so I wished we could've stayed there the whole time. This brought up one of my big complaints with the film. Which is that basically there were only two locations. The marine base and the forest. Despite the grandiosity of the film, I actually felt like it was quite localized because of this. Cold hard steel or lush green forest. Wished there had been a way to mix it up more. But as for the love story - the key to the film - I thought Cameron did an amazing job. The guy gets knocked as a writer but that's because most people focus on his occasionally clumsy dialogue. He actually understands structure and emotion better than most writers out there. He knows when you can slow down the script for ten minutes to just focus on your two main characters. Many writers/directors screw that up.


The CGI was definitely a weakness for the film. I bet if you cornered Cameron he would even admit so. From the very first moment when Worthington's avatar gets up and starts walking around, the movements didn't look natural, and the skin looked cartooney. Then when he runs outside, the movements looked even more unnatural. There were shots here and there where the creatures looked real, but for the most part they didn't, and it did take me out of the film several times. The good news is that the Zoe what's her name's performance (the main female Na'vi) was really good. She totally convinced me that her character was real and thank God she did because let's be honest : Sam Worthington is about as average as they come. From his monotone delivery to the strain you hear in the back of his throat anytime he's forced to emote, he is barely serviceable as an actor (and gets by by the nick of his skin here).


This is where Cameron became not just the king of our world, but of Pandora's. He obviously put a lot of thought into this and I absolutely loved the idea of a connection between the people and the animals and the earth. The trilly connector things that everyone had was such a perfect visual way to sell this point. From how you connected to the animals, to how you connected with the just felt obvious. So much so that when that fucking tree got shot down, I actually *felt sadness* *for a tree!!!* But what this ultimately did, was it made the love for these two feel bigger than ever. You felt a love not only between them, but between them, the rest of their people, the animals, the planet, everything. This was set up just right in the beginning, when the Zoe Na'vi gets mad at Worthington for having to kill a bunch of animals to save him. Cameron took such a gamble here with how far out he went, betting the house you'd come with him, you just have to admire him for it. I mean, if it didn't work, it would've been a spectacular failure. We haven't seen someone take that kind of chance in sci-fi since the original Star Wars.


Three-dee. I came into this about as skeptical as one could possibly be regarding the technology that's supposedly going to save the movie industry. I left feeling mixed about it. Here's the thing, when the first 3-D stuff starts hitting you, it's really cool. It's not perfect because there's a lack of sharpness due to the way the glasses work. But it was definitely a new experience. However, once you start getting into the movie, the eyes do what they're trained to do, which is to adjust. Once they adjust, it's like you're not watching 3-D anymore. What I mean is, you never go, "Ooooh, that's such cool 3-D!" It's just another set of moving images. I think part of the problem is that Cameron so obviously didn't want to go for any cheap 3-D moments, that the use of the technology almost didn't seem necessary. In the end, I didn't say, "I have to go see another 3-D movie." I did say, "That was neat. But unless another big time director is making a 3-D film, I ain't paying for the 3-D version."


I wish nobody had told me that the ending 30 minute battle was so amazing, because I went into it expecting to see shit I've never seen before in my life. Instead, I saw a finale that wasn't even the best sci-fi finale of the year (that distinction goes to District 9). I'm still kinda torn about it, because I wanted to like it so bad. But there wasn't even a single "money shot" in that final battle, like, say, when the mech machine catches the missile in D9. And even though I just propped up Cameron's writing skills, he definitely got lazy here. The vague indication that destroying the sacred tree would somehow end the war felt thin to me. I wish he would've tried a little harder.


But despite my problems and misgivings, Avatar is undeniably an experience that stays with you. The sum of its faulty parts is a groundbreaking whole, and I can't help but feel like I just saw what a real alien world looked like. I took a trip to Pandora, and it was awesome.

[x] impressive

Avatar scriptment: Avatar

What I learned: There are some things you can't write. No matter how hard you try there are simply moments that are impossible to convey on the page. There's a moment in Avatar where Worthington's Avatar and the female Avatar are flying on these dragon things for the first time, dipping and diving in and around trees and mountains and they're glancing at each other, smiling, and the music's swelling, and it's this shared experienced between them, and between the filmmaker and the audience, that I can't imagine anybody being able to convey on paper. It's just so unique to the medium of film.