Friday, May 21, 2010

Favorites Week - Cylinder

Script link now up!!! :) :) :)

For the month of May, Scriptshadow will be foregoing its traditional reviewing to instead review scripts from you, the readers of the site. To find out more about how the month lines up, go back and read the original post here. The first week, we allowed any writers to send in their script for review. Last week, we raised the bar and reviewed repped writers only. This week, we're doing something different. I read a lot of amateur scripts. Some through my notes service, some through contests, and some through referrals. I wanted to spend a week (or maybe two) highlighting some of the best scripts I've come across. All these scripts are available. So if you're a buyer and it sounds like something you may be interested in, then get a hold of these writers through the contact information on their script before someone else does. Monday, Roger reviewed a cool script from Michael Stark titled, "Treading On Angles." Tuesday, I reviewed our first female writer of Amateur Month, Lindsey, and her script, "Blue."
Wednesday I reviewed the sci-fi thriller/procedural, "Nine Gold Souls." Yesterday, I reviewed another sci-fi piece, "The Translation." And today I review a teenage thriller.

Genre: Thriller
Premise: Seven teenagers head into the Louisiana forest to celebrate a birthday. But when one of them is accidentally killed, the rest must figure out what to do with the body before the night is up.
About: Jared is repped by Sarah Self at The Gersh Agency and managed by Jim Thompson at Original Content.
Writer: Jared Romero
Details: 110 pages

Oh man, I still remember when I first read this script. It was in the same contest I read The Translation in and I had just read 40 horrible screenplays in a row. That’s the thing writers don’t get about readers, is they can read dozens and sometimes HUNDREDS of scripts until they find one that’s actually good. That’s why they’re so skeptical of your script. Cause the previous 99 were terrible! I was expecting another ho-hum teen-angst-thriller flick here, but what I got instead was an expertly crafted thrill ride.

So you want to know the number 1 way to get an agent? I’m going to tell you right now and I’ll use “Cylinder” as an example. After reading Cylinder last year I felt like my body had been injected with the same adrenaline as Jason Statham in Crank. It was a pure rush and I kept thinking, “This is really fucking good.”

So I e-mailed a writer I knew and I said, “I think this script is really fucking good (RFG).” And he was busy but he ended up reading it anyway and to my surprise he responded, “Yeah, this script is RFG. Let me give it to my agent.” His agent was at Gersh so he brought it to her and after reading it she agreed that it was “RFG,” so she signed him. And that’s it. That’s how you land an agent. You write a RFG script and you keep pushing it (to contests, friends, whatever) until sooner or later someone who matters gets their hands on it and gives you a break.

Ahh, but let’s remember the key to this whole equation working – The script has to be REALLY FUCKING GOOD. Do not begin this process if you have a script that’s SPBFTMPU (sorta pleasant but for the most part unentertaining). But wait, you say Carson, how do I know if my script is RFG???

I shall reveal to you now how to tell if your script is RFG. First, give it to a couple of friends. But before calling them to get their reactions, make sure to plug in your “friends always react more enthusiastically than they really feel when they read their screenwriter friend’s script” variable. In other words, if they say, “I thought it was pretty good,” it means they outright hated it.

However, if these friends are jumping out of their skin and can’t stop saying things like, “No, Diablo. This script is really really good. Like I was crying at the end,” and quoting lines back to you and coming up with inspired ideas to make it even better, and inquiring repeatedly in the coming weeks to find out who you’ve sent it to, well then your script is RFG and you should send it out.

But if they’re saying, “Yeah, it was good,” in the same voice people use when they tell the parents of an ugly baby how cute he is (you know what I’m talking about – where they won’t make eye contact when they say it?), then don’t waste people’s time. Continue working on the craft and start something new. Cause if there’s one thing I’ve learned about contacts/friends/family, it’s that they form an opinion about you the first time they see your work and they NEVER change that opinion.

Hey wait a minute. Aren’t I supposed to be reviewing a script? Right. “Cylinder.”

Okay, so Cylinder has an admittedly simple premise. But where it excels is in its EXECUTION.

It’s Charlie Robichaux’s birthday. He’s 17 years old. The world could not be more firmly fitted in the palm of Charlie’s hand. He’s a nice kid, a smart kid, an ideal best friend, would give you his last dollar if you needed it. The only negative in Charlie’s life is his workaholic father, a District Attorney who’s cracking down on today’s reckless youth. If your kid drunk drives and kills an innocent civilian, Charlie’s dad is the one who will make sure he goes to jail for the rest of his life.

Immediately after meeting Charlie, we’re introduced to his friends. There’s cute Sam, a blonde girl-next-door type who’s got a crush on Charlie. There’s the dorky Theo. There’s the drop dead gorgeous Laurie (Meghan Fox type – which is good cause I hear she needs a job). There’s preppy Matt. And there’s Jackson, a bit of a townie. While this group wouldn’t normally all hang out together, it’s Charlie’s birthday so an exception is made.

As a present, they drive him out into a clearing in the Louisiana forest to an old deserted mansion so they can get drunk and fuck around. But things get interesting when Jackson pulls out a revolver. Some of the guys freak out. Others laugh. It’s just a gun, they say. But that gun becomes their central source of entertainment. They set up a makeshift shooting range with beer bottles and the fun begins.

In the meantime Charlie and Sam escape, and she finally reveals to Charlie her hidden crush. The two start making out. It’s quickly turning into the best birthday party Charlie has ever had and then…and then something goes horribly wrong. Sam pulls away to find Charlie non-responsive. That’s when she notices the large hole in his head with blood gushing out. Charlie’s been killed by a stray bullet.

Now there aren’t many times I’m genuinely SHOCKED while reading a screenplay. But this shocked me. And the funny thing is, we were just talking about this the other day (or at least I was talking about it. I don’t know if you guys were). They just killed off the main fucking character!!! I was SO shocked, in fact, I actually went back and re-read the scene. Did they just really do that? Did they kill off the protagonist?? This had to be how audiences felt when they first saw Psycho (I never experienced that feeling as the first time I saw Psycho, I’d already been told what would happen).

This was such a brilliant move on so many levels. We were excited for Charlie’s future. We identified with him. And the second he dies…we feel completely lost. Now what? Now who? What the HELL is going on? Who’s our lead? Who’s going to carry us through the rest of the story??

And this isn’t even the only great moment in Cylinder. There’s two of them. Later on there is, if it’s ever filmed, what will be known as the greatest Russian Roulette scene ever etched in celluloid (or digitoid). It’s ten dozen kinds of awesome.

After Charlie’s death, the group begins a mad dash to figure out how to deal with the situation. Some want to go to the cops. But that will most surely ruin their lives. The colleges they got into, their standing in the community. All of that will go up in smoke. So they begin to concoct a plan B. Problem is, the longer the decision-making goes, the less they begin to trust each other, and the more drastic the actions they take.

Cylinder takes what would normally be a predictable setup, throws a twist into it, then takes what would normally be a sloppy execution, and crafts a set of sequences that keep us engaged the entire time. I can’t stress how often these kinds of scripts devolve into a repetitive sloppy narrative. But Romero has carefully plotted out each sequence so that the chaos has form, so that there’s a method to the madness. The result is a confident story that always knows where it’s going.

I also loved how honest the conflict read. Once Charlie’s dead, you really get the sense that these characters are weighing their futures against the cover-up. They know Charlie’s father is the D.A. They know he’ll make sure none of them have anything resembling a life for as long as they live. So watching that inner conflict play out with the characters who loved Charlie the most, the ones who were closest to him, the ones who know what the *right* thing to do is, that’s where the script really shines.

I don’t really have many criticisms except that the concept is a little bland. When you hear it, you don’t think, “Oh cool, I’ve never heard of a movie like that before.” So the lack of a wow factor has kept this manimal from being unleashed. Cylinder used to have a sloppy first act. But Jared has since streamlined it and it reads effortlessly now. This is just a really prime example of great execution. I hope someone finds this and does something with it.

Script link: Cylinder

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

What I learned: I’m going to stay on my whole “RFG” kick and talk about gauging the quality of your own script. And I want to discuss it in regards to getting notes back. Unless you’re receiving notes from a professional, it’s your job to “read” into the intent of the note, because if you’re giving your script to a friend or acquaintance, they’re not going to be honest with you. Think about the consequences if your friend tells you they hate it. You’ll be pissed at them and potentially permanently damage the relationship. So instead they’re going to be critical in the nicest possible way. I’ll never forget this note I received on a scene in a script I wrote a long time ago from a friend who worked in the industry. The script was a drama (important) and the scene was a traditional guy meets girl scene. The characters are outside a restaurant when they run into each other. He introduces himself. They talk. He gets her number. After saying goodbye, he turns around and promptly runs STRAIGHT INTO A TREE and falls on his ass! Now I thought this was the funniest thing that could possibly ever happen in a movie at the time (I know – I was deeply disturbed back then). But for whatever reason, my friend just couldn’t understand it. She kept asking, very politely, why, in a drama, people were crashing into trees and falling on their ass. I chalked it up to her just not “getting me,” and kept the scene. Cut to me reading the script three years later and realizing it was THE WORST SCENE IN THE HISTORY OF EXISTENCE! I replayed our conversations in my head and I realized that she wasn’t “politely” asking me why I had the scene in there. She was trying to say, albeit in the nicest possible way, that the scene SUCKED BEYOND ALL RECOGNITION because it made absolutely no sense and violated the tone I’d spent the previous 40 pages setting up and was essentially a Three Stooges prat fall in the middle of Terms Of Endearment. The point I’m making is, because I was focusing on *what* she said – that she disagreed with the choice – I missed out on what she was *trying* to say: “You need to get rid of this scene or readers are going to think you’re a two-bit hack.” So always take into consideration that friends and family are going to be nice to you when giving notes. It’s YOUR job to read into what they *really* mean.

In fact, I'm going to pose a challenge to the Scriptshadow readers. I want you to call up the last person who read one of your scripts and I want you to say to them, "Joe, remember that script I sent you? Remember everything you said? I want you to pretend like you're talking to someone you don't know right now. I want you to be brutally honest. What did you think?" And I want you to write the responses down here in the comments section, good or bad. Then take it one step further. Ask them WHY they felt that way. Try to get to essence of their issue with your script so you can improve.