Monday, January 18, 2010

The Ten


Genre: Thriller
Premise: By using the ten biblical plagues, a paramilitary group plans to attack ten major cities in the U.S.
About: Sold in 1996. 850 thousand against 1.5 million. Adjusted for inflation – 1.16 million against 2 million. Rosenberg is the writer of High Fidelity and Con Air.
Writer: Scott Rosenberg
Details: 120 pages (1996 spec sale draft)

This is a funny script. I don’t know if it’s necessarily funny on purpose, but it definitely made me laugh. Why? Well, it’s just so unabashedly NINETIES. I half-expected Eddie Vedder and/or the Counting Crows to jump out and start crooning about O.J. Simpson. There’s flannel on these pages. Keanu Reeves lives in these pages. But most of all, this script embodies the overly-ambitious throw everything and the kitchen sink on the page mentality of spec scripts at the time. It was kind of like the spec world’s sub-prime mortgage. Every writer was so reckless, trying to sell their script without regard for cost or value, that when Hollywood realized they couldn’t make these movies, the spec boom imploded. I mean, I’m no producer, but in my estimation, this script had to have been budgeted at at least 250 million. BACK IN 1996!

Rosenberg himself is an interesting writer. He wrote one of my favorite movies, Beautiful Girls, which captured what it’s like coming back home as a grown-up about as well as any movie I’ve ever seen. Then over a decade later he writes the exact same movie but for TV (October Road), and it’s about the worst representation of what it’s like to come home as a grown-up (the comedic sidekick actually refuses to leave his house because he’s traumatized by 9-11, like, ever).

But Rosenberg’s written some pretty cool flicks, like the incredibly cheesy but guilty pleasure that is Con Air. And of course he wrote everybody’s favorite record store movie, High Fidelity (although there's some debate on whether he deserved that credit). I think, like a lot of writers out there, Rosenberg can either be so good you wonder how he could ever be bad, or so bad you wonder how he could’ve been so good.

Which brings us to The Ten, the kind of script that’s so unabashedly crafted to sell and NOTHING else, that it actually kills a writer every time you read it. Basically, what Rosenberg did was take two of the biggest movies from the 90s - Speed and Seven – and mashed them together. We get the way over the top villain from Speed (making him ten times more way over the top here), as well as Speed’s manic tone and energy, mixed with Seven’s mystery-driven structure of unique biblical-related deaths (albeit this time on a mass scale). Rosenberg even adds a little Lethal Weapon to boot, as we get the over-the-top (over-the-top is a BIG part of The Ten) wise-cracking partners who would rather be anywhere but with each other. I don’t know if it’s all shameless or genius. But damn if he didn’t sell the thing.

The not as well known as it should be "Beautiful Girls."

Kyle Klesko is an FBI agent with a beautiful wife and son. He seems to have it all, though work plays a little more of a role in his life than family and his wife isn’t happy about it and—

BOOM! A plane blows up!!!

Don’t worry. Klesko wasn’t on it. But the plane’s parts come raining down on a farm. We get to see the smoldering passengers cry out for help as their burning bodies are melted into the plastic of their seats. Sweet! Soonafter, the FBI is sent a video message from a man named – no I’m not making this up – Williamton Economides. Williamton Economides is easily, by far, without question, the single most annoying over-the-top villain ever. He starts all his video demands by singing some bizarre song wistfully off-screen, then turning to the camera with a, “Oh, you started already,” face, and then giving his demands in a sing-songy half-rhyming nonsensical rant, before cutting out. If ever there was a model for “went too far,” Williamton Economides would be it.

Economides (I can’t even believe I’m writing that name) is the leader of a terrorist group called the People’s Platoon. Naturally, the FBI gets all pissed off that Economides and his Platoon Pals blew up a plane, so they go searching for his cult off in the desert, find about 30 of them blindly reciting his teachings, and throw them in the Federal version of the nuthouse. This angers the coo-coo for coco puffs Economides, so he naturally demands that they be released or else. Or else what? Or else he will attack every major city in the U.S!

True to his rhythmically annoying words, a few days later Washington DC turns into a bath tub of BLOOD! A lot of it! Oh no no no. I don't mean like people start getting massacred. I mean blood appears everywhere. In its lakes, its showers, its water fountains. So much blood! Blood bath-o-rama. More blood than Carrie. Did I mention there was lots of blood? Then two hours later the blood disappears without a trace. Sneaky blood. Special blood that doesn’t stain. In a magically delicious surprise, nobody gets hurt.

Hmm, say our FBI agents. That’s strange. But not strange enough to do anything about it.

Bad move. A few days later Miami is hit. By frogs! Lots of frogs! This overabundance of frogs is more lethal than the laymen might assume as 22 people are massacred by the wild ribbit-fueled hopping. But just like the D.C. fiasco, the frogs disappear within a few hours. The FBI now decides this is serious (note: frogs = serious) and demand that Klesko enlist the help of a man named Eddie Gerrick. We can tell by Klesko’s reaction that this is not a good thing. Apparently there’s some deep history between the two. But Garrick is a specialist when it comes to Economides, and if they’re going to take him down, Garrick will be required.

Cusack and Black in High Fidelity

So Klesko shoots off and finds Garrick on the floor of some bar, shitfaced beyond your worst Vegas nightmare. Garrick is not happy to see Klesko, muttering something about how he’s a life-ruiner. There’s some backstory to this relationship but there’s no time to rehash it because Boston is experiencing a vermin meltdown. Cockroaches and rats are taking over the city. The cockroaches and rats are even better trained (or are learning from the blood and the frogs' mistakes) as this time 54 people are erased from existence.

Garrick lets Klesko in on the fact that Economides is obviously summoning The Ten Plauges of Egypt. The Ten Plagues of What?? Well, apparently, back in the day, God punished the Pharoa for refusing Moses’ demands that all the Israliates be set free. Ah, now I see the connection. Economides is angry that *his* people aren’t being set free, so now he’s punishing the FBI!!!

That sound you hear is me sighing for two days straight.

Klesko and Garrick spend the rest of the script arguing and flying from city to city as the Ten Plagues unfold upon the country. I’m not going to pretend like there aren’t some fun sequences here (L.A. run amok with lions, tigers, cheetahs, pumas, and bears making meals out of any humans in sight), but if I could boil it down to one word…it’s just all so *silly*.

There’s no threat here. It all plays out like a giant live-action cartoon. The story doesn’t even make sense when you add it up. The FBI is holding Economides’ cult, who are obviously harmless. The only threat they pose to the public is annoying them to death. Yet for ¾ of the movie, the FBI refuses to release these 30 nimwits, preferring instead to allow Economides to conjure up biblical terrorism at the expense of the United States’ safety.

The conflict between Klesko and Garrick is likewise over-the-top. Garrick doesn’t just dislike Klesko. He HATES him with a burning passion. So all of their investigation is overshadowed by this ridiculous back and forth banter. I guess you’re wondering why they hate each other so much. **Half-hearted spoiler alert** Klesko stole Garrick’s girlfriend and married her. Garrick then went into Mickey Rourke mode. Unfortunately for Garrick, he didn’t have Darren Aronofsky to save him.

I’d continue on here, but then I’d be telling you things like Economides ups his demands, which include a grant for his own piece of land so he can start a new country, a 50 million dollar check, and a supermodel. That’s not me being sarcastic. That really happens.

I mean, here’s the thing. The 90s were the decade of the fun no-holds-barred over-the-top action film. We got Con Air, The Rock, and Face-Off, for God’s sake. So I mean, if we stay within that context, The Ten makes sense. But there’s a point where you’ve jumped the shark. And I can’t help but feel like this script was written over a shark tank, so that it could be suspended in one continuous jump.

If you like big and silly action movies light on logic, you might enjoy this. It’s also a script that fits perfectly inside the 90s time capsule. But for pure enjoyment, I'm afraid to say it doesn’t work.

Script link: The Ten (This script is meant for educational purposes only. If you are the writer or copyright holder of this script and would like it taken down, please e-mail me at and I will do so immediately)

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

What I learned: How dangerous influence can be. Remember the 90s when everyone was writing Speed and Seven specs? It was either super cheesy over the top action or gritty religious serial killer procedural. And not a single one of them was ever better than those two. That’s my big problem with being influenced by popular movies. That no matter what you do, you will never ever make a version of that movie that’s better than that movie. So why even try? Why not create something original that can stand on its own that everybody ELSE tries to copy? I want you to remember that when you’re sitting down to write your version of Avatar or Inglorious Basterds. Even if you do a bang-up job, it’ll still be seen as, “A not as good version of Avatar or Inglorious Basterds.” Is that really how you want your script to be remembered? If you’re going to be influenced by something, try to make that influence subtle. Write something that has shades of that film, but isn’t built from a template of it.

Now that may be why the *movie* never got made. But I can’t ignore the fact that the script DID get bought. For 850,000 dollars no less. So how good is that advice I just gave you? Hmm, good question. I think in this day and age, it’s good advice. But back then, it might not have been. The 90s spec market was like the 90s stock market. Drop 50 grand in a stock and 5 years later you’re buying a condo in San Francisco. So I definitely think spec-happy Hollywood played a part in this. Also, Rosenberg was a hot writer at the time. He had some major indie cred with his two recent films, Beautiful Girls and Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead. And so it made sense that his spec would have a lot of eyes on it. Finally, and probably most importantly, the script could be pitched as Speed meets Seven, less than two years after both of those movies were mega-hits. Now an interesting side note to that is, Speed and Seven weren’t just hits. They were both out-of-left-field hits. Nobody expected them to do as well as they did. I think this gave The Ten a hidden advantage in that it didn’t have to be as good as a normal spec since the implication was that Hollywood people didn’t understand why these types of scripts did well. In other words, if those two movies undeservedly became monster hits, why couldn’t this one? Anyway, if you put all those things together, you have the ingredients for a monster spec sale.