Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Favorites Week - Nine Gold Souls

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." Yesterday, I reviewed our first female writer of Amateur Month, Lindsey, and her script, "Blue." And today I'm reviewing the sci-fi'ish thriller/procedural, "Nine Gold Souls."

Genre: Procedural Sci-Fi/Contained Thriller
Premise: A fallen psychiatrist who used to cater to the world’s most intelligent minds is asked to help investigate a murder in a secluded government operated Victorian mansion where nine of the smartest people in the world reside.
About: For those of you looking for the first truly undiscovered unrepresented talent here on Favorites Week, you’re not going to find it in Dave. He’s been writing for a long time. But I read Nine Gold Souls over a year ago, before Dave found work on NCIS: Los Angeles, which puts the script in line with what we’re trying to do this week. Plus Dave has never sold a screenplay, which I hope will change after they read this.
Writer: Dave Kalstein
Details: 114 pages

Nine Gold Souls has a golden premise, one of those concepts you try to catch up to after the light turns green cause you just have to take another look. While yesterday’s script is the one I’d bet on most likely becoming a movie, Nine Gold Souls is the first script I’d take into development if I started a studio.

The story follows ex-psychiatrist Jake, a former golden boy whose patients included many of the smartest people in the world. If Bill Gates needed a psychiatrist, Jake is the first person he’d call. But that was a long time ago, and these days, Jake is a self-medicating candidate for A&E’s “Intervention.” Although the details aren’t revealed to us yet, we get the sense that a lot of it has to do with the day he found out his teenage son was autistic. Here Jake is, one of the smartest people in the world, and his offspring is considered barely functional by society.

Just as Jake’s at his lowest point, he’s approached by the U.S. government. They need his help. Tucked away inside a remote mountainous area, unknown to the public, is a huge Victorian mansion. Inside that mansion are nine of the smartest people in the world, and one of them has just been murdered. Hush-hush “dark science” government projects don’t exactly rely on local law enforcement, so they need Jake, one of the smartest people in the world, to help them. The idea is, he’ll come in, question the residents of the house, and see if he can’t find out who the killer is. If he does, they’ll get him back his license.

So Jake is flown into this isolated world where he meets the eight remaining occupants. Among them are beautiful sisters Charlotte and Emily, bookworm-ish Newton, the mysterious Pascal, the “dandy” Edison, and the 16 year old polymath, Mozart. These are, of course, code names the government has assigned them to protect their identities. Soon Jake learns that before the murder occurred, the group was working on a top secret project. But what was it? Unfortunately, since each of them only knows of their own specific task, they can't say. But this has just turned from a "simple" murder investigation into something much bigger.

As Jake continues his investigation, one murder turns into two, and two into three. Jake is so consumed with finding the cheese, that he doesn’t realize he’s walked into a mousetrap. Will he get out alive? Will he find out what’s really going on here? And how does it tie into him? Heh heh heh. You’ll have to read Nine Gold Souls to find out. :)

First thing I noticed about the script was the slight twist on the contained thriller genre. A lot of these CTs play inside dirty gritty worlds. Nine Gold Souls has more of an upscale feel to it – 9 of the smartest people on the planet stuck in a stately Victorian mansion – the only way in or out by helicopter. When you hear that confusing cliche of Hollywood wanting something “the same but different,” this is what they’re talking about. We get one of these contained thrillers that have been doing so well lately (same) but framed inside a mansion full of geniuses (different).

The opening scene here is also amazing. A good opening scene can focus a tired reader immediately, and this one doesn’t disappoint. We’re hanging out with a group of weird but frighteningly intelligent people in a mysterious Victorian mansion. One of them is murdered. Then we pull away to find out the mansion is in a barren field surrounded on all sides by mountains. As a reader I sit up after that and go, “Okay, you’ve got me.”

The first half of the second act is excellent as well. I love how we not only unfold the mystery inside the mansion, but unfold Jake’s mystery as well. And when (spoiler!) Jake finds out there could potentially be a cure for autism in the house, well, that’s when things really heat up. Of all the things you can do to help your story, creating a determined and highly motivated main character is somewhere near the top of the list. And that’s exactly what Jake is.

As much as I loved this concept though, I think the execution needs work in places. And Dave knows this. He sent the script as a work in progress and that’s how it feels at times, especially in the second half.

The big observation I had was that he needed to go further with the characters. He needed to make them more unique, more radical, more memorable. What we have to realize is that, at its core, this is a character-piece. We may have walked through the door because of the pitch, but we’re not staying unless the conversation is riveting. And the only two characters that noticeably stand out are Jake and Mozart. Everyone else was interesting but they weren’t memorable in the way that, say, the characters from “The Usual Suspects” were memorable. And I remember telling him this. When you have a character dominated piece, you want to think like an actor. You want to build characters that actors will die to play. Not *want* to play. But the kind they’ll rob, pillage, and maim to play. Each one of these characters has the potential to be that kind of game-changer. But they’re a mix of too conservative and too tame in this rendition.

Despite that, you can’t put Nine Gold Souls down til the final page and I just love love love the upside this script has. I can’t imagine someone not wanting to take a crack at developing it. It’s just a really cool idea.

Script link: Nine Gold Souls

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

What I learned: In Nine Gold Souls, one of the characters dies early on (after Jake gets to the house). However, the scene didn’t resonate with me because I didn’t know the character that well. This is actually a common practice in screenwriting. The less interesting/complex a character is, the earlier on you kill them off. Why? Because you don’t want to waste your cool characters. The more interesting a character is, the longer you want them around. But I think it’s a mistake to rule out killing your interesting characters early and here’s why. First, you can really shock an audience when you kill off a well-developed/compelling character early. Go watch Scream if you don’t believe me. And two, we as an audience lose our sense of security when a well-developed character dies. Afterwards we think, “Jesus Christ. If *they* can die, then *anybody* can die.” It lets your audience know that you’re not playing by the rules, and that anything can happen. So don’t always be predictable and kill off your characters in reverse order of how interesting they are. Shock us every once in awhile.