Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Executive Search


Genre: Romantic Comedy
Premise: A female CEO hires a sleazy private investigator to help her find the perfect husband.
About: This script sold for 2 million dollars to 20th Century Fox back in 1999. Gerald DiPego has written half a dozen novels and has a number of produced credits, such as Phenomenon and Message In A Bottle. But don’t let that fool you. This script is his masterpiece.
Writer: Gerald DiPego
Details: 108 pages (November 7, 1998 draft)

Rachel McAdams would be perfect for the role of Chase.

I’m so happy to be able to end Big Money Week with this script because whenever I go back into the unproduced specs of yesteryear time capsule, I usually find screenplays that prove why they've been forgotten. The last three Big Money scripts were perfect examples (still haven’t read Smoke and Mirrors). But this. This script surprised the hell out of me. Not only was it a great script. But it’s better than EVERY. SINGLE. ROMANTIC. COMEDY SCRIPT. OUT THERE. RIGHT NOW. I’m not kidding. Which gives me hope that maybe, just maybe, someone will wise up, stop fucking around with all these 18 Ways To Eat Your Spouse shitty rom-com projects and make Executive Search. This is a writer who actually understands what makes a romantic comedy good. This is someone who actually understands that it’s not simply a catchy title, a hilarious hook, a bunch of knee-slapping set pieces, and a billboard that says, “Heigle Vs. Butler.” It’s about the characters. For the love of God, it’s about the characters!

Chase Banner is a 35 year old CEO of a software company that’s launching a game-changing software product in a few months. Chase is a tireless meticulous worker. So meticulous, in fact, that she schedules her meetings to the second. She doesn’t have time for anything else in her life. If you report to Chase, you don’t give her the fat. You give her the meat. If you can’t consolidate information into a few key sentences, go home. This girl operates on Cliff’s notes.

Problem is, Chase is starting to get that itch. No, not that itch, but the kind where you wanna, like, settle down. Get yourself a man. Start a family. But Chase barely has time to make personal phone calls. The last thing she has time to do is spend hours upon hours on the dating circuit in the hopes of maybe possibly potentially finding a man. So Chase has an idea. Since the kind of man she wants is exactly like herself – driven, passionate, successful - She’ll hire a headhunter to find her a “co-CEO” to “run her company.” Of course, she has no plans to actually partner with a CEO. She’ll simply treat the top choices as her potential future mates, finding a way to meet them after the search is over.

I know, I know. It sounds a little gimmicky. But the great thing about DiPego’s writing is that despite the obvious set-up, he manages to make it all sound plausible. Even reasonable! While I was reading this I started thinking, “Hmmm, this wouldn’t be such a bad idea to try out myself.” Unfortunately there’s a flaw in Chase's plan. The Headhunter won’t research personal lives. Seeing as this is the man she’ll be spending the rest of her life with, she wants to know if he has any skeletons in the closet. This is before Google, you know? So it was a hell of a lot harder to stalk people. So she decides to hire the best private investigator in town to do background checks. But in a major mix-up, she instead gets a 45 year old gambling drinking mess of a man who can barely keep his apartment in order, much less his life. Meet Buddy Hallibeck.

Despite Buddy’s off-putting pedigree, he possesses just enough charm to convince Chase to take a chance on him. And it’s a good thing she does. Buddy may not look it, but he’s one hell of a P.I. When the headhunter brings back the top 3 “CEO” choices, Buddy immediately goes to work, breaking the men down with the skill of a forensics analyst. It's through these ongoing updates that the two develop a tenuous if barely respectful relationship. Although this is where you'd typically find a lot of artificial fighting between the two swooning-but-refuse-to-admit-it future lovers, there's none of that in Executive Search. Even though Chase’s resistence to Buddy feels familiar, it also feels honest. Sure she sees something in Buddy. But she’s also smart enough to know it’d never work. She’s a successful CEO. He’s a slimy private investigator. It’s not even worth considering.

That kind of honesty continues throughout Executive Search. Nothing here feels forced. Even though the scenario has a movie quality set-up to it, you never feel like you’re watching a movie. You feel like you’re observing two self-absorbed stubborn people, both with complicated lives, both trying to find stability in their own fucked up ways. The conventions are either absent or don’t feel like conventions. These two aren't desperately in love but won’t “admit it.” They don't get stuck in the same bed together at one of their parents' house. There's no obligatory montage with heartwarming music. Everything here is real. Gritty. Honest.

And the character work here is just awesome. Each of these characters has a flaw in their lives that’s holding them back – something relatable, something all of us can understand. And you truly feel that they’ll never be able to find happiness until they overcome it. There’s also a wonderful subplot with Buddy’s 17 year old daughter, a girl Buddy is desperately trying to win the admiration of, as well as a perfectly integrated sub-pot involving somebody trying to steal company info from Chase. And it all fits.

That’s why I love this script. It’s that rare screenplay puzzle where every single piece fits. You can feel the care that went into this, particularly after being exposed to a decade of rom-coms that stink of being slapped together over a couple of Saturday afternoons. I liked this so much that I’m putting it in my Top 25. And I’m asking whoever owns it (I think 20th Century Fox?) to pull this one out of the vault and give it another shot. Give us a romantic comedy with depth again. Revive the genre. And don’t use any shitty rewrites either. Use the spec draft. It only needs a couple of technology updates and you’re set. Seriously, why the fuck are you wasting money on all this shit when you have something that’s actually good? I don't care about the politics of this ridiculous business. Make a great movie and watch the money and accolades role in.

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

What I learned: Once you have your gimmick down, once you have your hook, forget about it. Forget about how you’re going to sell the thing. Switch your focus over to the story and the characters. Make them the best they can possibly be. I think that’s the problem with a lot of today’s writers. Is they rely too much on their premise. They think that that’s going to do all the work for them. It’s a casualty of movies like “The 40 Year Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up” doing well. Because so much of the joke is implied in the title and the marketing, that writers assume if they get that part squared away, their job is over. But Executive Search goes back to a time where writers still cared about their characters. You need to do the same thing in your rom com.