Thursday, March 18, 2010


Genre: Indie Drama
Premise: A young man with Marfan’s Syndrome, a disease that makes it difficult for your body’s organs to stay together, must battle the everyday challenges of the disease as he approaches a life-threatening operation.
About: This script was one of the five winning screenplays of the prestigious Nicholl Contest in 2008. It also received six mentions on that year’s Black List. The writer, Eric Nazarian, was inspired to write the story while waiting in the ICU while his brother underwent open heart surgery. Nazarian received his Bachelors from USC where he also studied directing. He used to go to the library there and read the scripts of all his favorite movies. Not long after the Nicholl, he made a feature film called “Blue Hour,” which was a 66 page script with only 4 pages of dialogue, pushing himself to focus more on the visual and aural power of cinema. Budd Schulberg’s "On The Waterfront" is his favorite screenplay of all time.
Writer: Eric Nazarian
Details: 120 pages (2008 draft)

Nazarian on the set of "Blue Hour"

Giants is a script I’ve known about for awhile, has been recommended to me numerous times, but is just something I couldn’t force myself to read. Whenever you have a script that deals with some kind of “syndrome,” you have to be in a certain type of mood to commit to it. And I’m rarely in that mood. Was I in that mood today? No, but one of our readers listed the screenplay as his favorite in his “Reader Faves” list, and after having a conversation with him about it, I decided to give it a chance.

Monty has Marfan’s Syndrome, which is a genetic disorder of the connective tissue. It revolves around Chromosome 15, which is basically the “glue” that keeps your organs together. As you get older, your organs expand and drift apart, “kind of like the earth before the seven continents,” as Monty puts it. Those with the condition are usually tall with long limbs and have a laundry list of health issues, such as detached retinas, lower back problems, and an endless supply of heart aneurysms, which forces them to be on a cocktail of drugs so strong it makes your local street addict look like he's popping vitamin C pills.

Because the barely 20 year old Monty’s been through so much hell, he’s become an irritable and angry soul, which he usually takes out on his overprotective single mother, Annabeth. As someone who already lost one child, Monty’s sister, to the war in Iraq, Annabeth is desperate to keep her second one around, and therefore rarely leaves his side.

The problem is, everything points to Monty not being around much longer. He’s just had another aneurysm that requires major heart surgery. And between the stingy insurance company, the indifferent doctors, and the non-stop cycle of ER visits, he’s losing that all important fighting spirit.

While we speed towards the big operation, Monty’s deadbeat dad comes back into the picture, trying to make amends with a wife and son he deserted, only to be repeatedly pushed away. Monty hangs out with anyone who can handle his sarcastic nihilistic views, including his community college professor, his main doctor, and his only friend, the drug-supplying Gothy Lizzy. As the operation approaches, Monty finally begins to let go a little, and enjoy what may be the last days of his life.

So yeah, this is heavy stuff. But it’s good heavy stuff. We like Monty and we want to see what’s going to happen to him. And as a screenplay, this is one of the more compelling elements to dissect because Monty does everything in his power to make you NOT like him. And in a medium where the reader has to like *something* about your main character, it's pertinent to ask why Monty is different. What does he do to get us on his side?

I thought about this and I’ll tell you when it happened for me. But first I have to bring up Seinfeld (yes, “Seinfeld”). Does anybody remember an episode in the second season where Jerry is standing in his apartment and the phone rings and he answers it and it’s a telemarketer and Jerry says, “Actually, I’m busy right now. Can you give me your home phone number and I’ll call you back later?” We hear the telemarketer say no. “Oh, so you don’t like to be bothered in the privacy of your own home?” No. “Well now you know how I feel.” And he hangs up. And in that moment, we love Jerry Seinfeld, because he just fought back a very familiar and annoying situation.

There’s a moment early on in Giants where Monty is having what feels like a heart attack and he’s rushed to the ER. He’s placed in a holding room where a minimum wage nurse asks him questions like, “So on a scale of 1 to 10, how bad would you say the pain is?” as Monty is writhing in unbearable pain. And after a bunch of these questions and some back and forth about why his situation isn’t being taken more seriously, he looks at the nurse and says, “[Livelihood] for a Marfan’s patient are the seconds he or she has to get to the hospital so that hopefully there will be at least one competent nurse or doctor to immediately assess the situation and have a fraction of a brain to realize that there is a leak in my heart and that every second is a countdown to either plugging the leak so I don’t die or scribbling in your notebook, asking these stupid fucking questions to justify your paycheck while I bleed to death without one red fucking drop on your cheapass linoleum floor!!” For anybody who’s ever had to deal with the ER in any capacity, you know how incompetent these people and their procedures are. And how many times you’ve wanted to scream at them and say, “What the hell are you doing? Somebody's dying here!” It was a great little lesson, because I realized that by making a character fight back in a situation that we’re normally beat down by in our daily lives, they become a bit of a hero to us, and that naturally makes them someone we root for.

Now this script isn’t perfect. Essentially it’s about a guy who potentially has seven days to live, and how he lets go and tries to make those seven days count. But I never felt like he truly stepped out of his comfort zone and took advantage of that freedom. The “big moments” could’ve been bigger. There’s also a sub-plot between the father and his family that could’ve benefited from some more complexity and/or revelations. It was pleasant but a tad obvious. I wanted more.

But for the most part this is powerful affecting screenplay and worth the read.

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

What I learned: Ironic characters are compelling characters. A “handicapped” person like Monty isn’t supposed to be an “asshole.” He's supposed to be nice and cuddly and agreeable. By turning that stereotype on its head, we create an interesting character. Look for this opportunity in your screenplays. If you your character is a romantic, make him a divorce lawyer. If your character is a CEO, make him a slacker. If your character is a priest, make him a drug-addict. Not only are these characters compelling to watch, but actors love to play them.