Friday, April 9, 2010

Gale Force

Genre: Action/Heist
Premise: A group of modern-day pirates descend upon a coastal town, using a hurricane as cover for a bank heist.
About: David Chappe, the writer of Gale Force, was once known as THE go-to reader in Hollywood. He read and wrote coverage for over 5000 SCREENPLAYS!!! Now just think about that for a second. Even if you’re reading and doing coverage on 3 scripts a day (which would melt the average person’s brain), assuming you work every day of the year, it would take you 4 and a half years to cover 5000 scripts. But Chappe’s story gets even better. After all those years on the development side, he wrote a screenplay of his own. The script, Gale Force, went out and sparked a bidding frenzy, eventually selling for 500,000k. Up until that point, huge bidding wars for specs hadn’t happened. Gale Force, believe it or not, was the script that officially started the notorious spec bidding wars of the 90s. Unfortunately, like so many script casualties, it got thrown into rewrite hell and never recovered. Sylvester Stallone and Renny Harlin were two weeks away from production on it, when they made the call to ditch the project and switch over to Cliffhanger. Poor Gale Force was forgotten. Chappe, who had a long successful career doctoring scripts after his Gale sale, passed away in 2002.
Writer: David Chappe
Details: 1989 spec sale draft

Over the years I kept hearing about Gale Force, but as a pirate script. For that reason I opened it up expecting, I don’t know, pirates! Naturally, I was confused when it was not Captain Jack Sparrow’s long lost cousin I did see, but…a green Subaru station wagon? Darshee blows? Hmm, I thought, maybe this was a time traveling pirate flick. But why would pirates want to time travel here? And what did they want with a green Subaru? I would soon come to realize that the pirates we would be watching in Gale Force didn’t don hand knit puffy shirts and ridiculously oversized jewelery. They were just boring old modern day pirates. Snore. I was bummed!

I considered taking a dive off the plank and swimming back to shore, but something kept me reading. Will Smith is said to have a method by which he reads scripts. He gives them five pages. And if he’s still interested after five pages, he gives them five more pages. If, at any point, he’s not interested any more, he stops reading the script. For a man as busy as he is, I guess that method makes sense. But it did lead to him signing on to Seven Pounds. Well, I've kinda adapted this method for scripts I don't have to read. Except I have a 1 page rule. I inch through it page by page, and as long as there’s something pulling me forward in each of those pages, whether it be a mystery or an intriguing character or whatever, I’ll keep going. And that’s exactly what happened with Gale Force. I kept going and I never stopped.

The story is about Willie Peacock, a former Navy Seal who works the docks on a small South Carolina town. But after suspicious behavior gets him canned, he decides to head down to Florida to find a new job. It so happens that on the way is the town he grew up in, Fort Foster, and he decides to stop there to visit some old friends.The picturesque seaside town is one of those cute paradises that tourists swarm to in the summer. But we soon find out this is no paradise for Peacock. Turns out Mr. Navy Seal used to have a drinking problem and killed a child in a drunk driving accident. Nobody there has forgotten. In short, Peacock's about as welcome here as Tiger Woods is in Sweden.

It turns out it doesn't matter what anybody thinks of Peacock though because the town is smack dab in the path of one of those "the sky is falling" hurricanes the Weather Channel gets such a hard on over. Things look so bad, that the sheriff orders an evacuation. While most everyone gets out, the love of Peacock’s life, the adorable but rough-around-the-edges Rye, ends up having to stay after her son suffers a surprise injury. Peacock tries to leave himself but gets kidnapped by Gage, the father of the son he crashed into and killed so long ago. Gage realizes this is his only chance to settle the score, and he’s not going to let it slip away.

Except that’s exactly what happens when a raft pulls up and a bunch of bad guys hop out who make the Die Hard terrorists look like male cheerleaders. The group is part of a slickly planned pirate operation. A huge tanker trolls the ocean waters, heading to coastal towns forced to evacuate when hurricanes roll in, then simply plucks the money out of the unattended banks and moves on. Normally these operations go smoothly because robbing a bank isn’t difficult when there’s no one to stop you. But that’s before they run into Willie Peacock. That’s before they run into the man trying to redeem himself by defending the town he ruined.

The rest of the story plays out kind of like Die Hard, where Peacock slips through the town’s crevices and picks off the baddies one by one, all while trying to find and protect Rye. And I have to say, it’s really well done. I mean, of all the Die Hard rip-offs I’ve read and seen throughout the years, this is clearly the best. It never reaches the heights of that movie, but man does it come close at times.

It’s unfortunate really. Because first and foremost, it’s a really good movie idea. And they had everything they needed in this spec draft. But of course they probably diddled with the characters and the plotlines, not realizing that they were shredding the very fabric that made it such a wonderful script. It confounds me when studios/directors/actors don’t realize what they have. There are times when a script gets through the system because of its concept, and yes, those scripts need rewrites. But the good ones don’t, and Gale Force is one of the good ones.

Does it feel inspired by the 80s? Yes, at times it does, and if Gale Force has weaknesses, it is the callbacks it makes to the movies of that admittedly cheesy era. But what I liked about this script was that there’s also an authentic independent sensibility to it. If you took out the tanker and the heist, these characters would still have an interesting story to tell, and you just don’t see that in a lot of high concept screenplays.

I think what’s hurt this script over the years, when people try to go back and look at it, is that you can’t escape the vision of Stallone in the role, since he was attached, and therefore they visualize it in the wrong way. This wasn’t originally a Stallone vehicle, and I actually read it without knowing Stallone was involved. With that mindset, the IQ of this script goes up a good 50 to 60 points.

Like Executive Decision, like The Cheese Stands Alone, Gale Force is something that, with a little nipping and tucking, could easily be a great movie today. But Hollywood doesn’t like to revive failed projects. It takes a young visionary with balls and a “never-say-die” attitude to get the forgotten back into the development mix. Is that person out there? Will Gale Force rise again? I don’t know. But I hope so.

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

What I learned: We’re going with something basic today. Exposition! Specifically exposition about your main character. As most writers know, NEVER HAVE YOUR MAIN CHARACTER TELL OTHER CHARACTERS ABOUT HIS PAST. It’s boring as hell and always feels forced. But there are always key elements of your hero’s past that you want to convey. One of the most common ways to achieve this is “the resume” device. You basically have someone else read off who your character is from their "resume.” So in a job interview with our protagonist, the interviewer might pick up his resume and offer, “Dropped out of Harvard your junior year. Started your own shipping business. Sold the company after three years. Moved to Africa to do some Mission Work. Wow, Mr. Reeves, you’ve led quite a life.” There are tons of variations of “the resume.” Here in Gale Force, Peacock’s boss fires him, using his rap sheet as a resume moment: “You know we got the sheet on you Peacock. Five years in the State Pen for Involuntary manslaughter.” Boom. Notice it doesn’t have to be long. It just gets to the point, slyly giving us an important piece of information about our protagonist’s past. Be inventive. You can use “the resume” device a thousand different ways!