Monday, May 10, 2010

Repped Week - Duty

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. Last week, we allowed any writers to send in their script for review. This week, we're raising the bar and reviewing repped writers only. The caveat is that they cannot have a sale to their name. The idea here is to give aspiring writers an idea of the quality of writing it takes to have a professional manager or agent take an interest in your work. Yesterday, Roger reviewed the Western, "Quicker Than The Eye." Today, I'm reviewing the first comedy of May, a story about lifeguards!

Genre: Comedy
Premise: When the Chanute, Kansas public swimming pool is going to be shut down by the uppity assholes at the country club, it's up to lifeguards Austin and Lawrence to save the day. Welcome to the shallow end of the pool.
About: Kevin Brennan and Doug Manley are managed by Chatrone. This is the second script of Repped Week.
Writers: Kevin M. Brennan and Doug Manley
Details: 104 pages

I mean, it’s like, so obvious. They NEED to make a movie about lifeguards. Public pools are bizarre never-ending parties where every demographic comes together to celebrate the gift of water. It’s 99% chaos 100% of the time. And there those life guards are, perched on top of their tall chairs like Greek Gods, seeing everything, coming to the rescue of those of us stupid enough to try the one-and-a-half flip belly flop 30 seconds after a full lunch (tried it – loved it). They’re H2O supermen. A movie about these guys seems like a foregone conclusion. So why hasn’t it been done? Well, if Kevin and Doug have their way, it WILL be done.

25 year old Austin Travis doesn’t have the commitment gene, nor is he interested in acquiring one. The guy just likes to get drunk, get laid, and do a little work in the meantime. Austin is a life guard at a local public pool. It may be the easy life, but he takes a surprising amount of pride in his job. This is in stark contrast to Austin’s best friend however, the eternally moronic Lawrence. Lawrence is your garden variety fuck-up. There was a time, long ago, when the man was the fastest swimmer in the state. Now, the only thing he’s fast at is the pre-party beer choice – you know what I’m talking about. Standing there at the convenience store, looking at all the beer choices, wondering how the HELL you’re going to decide which one to buy. In short, Lawrence is the breast stroke to Austin’s butterfly (6 years of swim classes here baby. Hellz yeah).

The carefully constructed universe these two live in is about to be thrown for a 300 pound cannonball though because the owner of the pool, Leon, DIES! In his will, Leon leaves the pool to Austin, and tells him to never let go. This pool is the one thing that keeps this community together. If it dies, the community dies... Problem is, the economy’s a bitch and Leon’s left something else with Austin - 20,000 dollars worth of debt! Since the pool’s value is 50,000, it’s all of a sudden a tempting proposition for Austin to just sell the thing and live the high life.

In fact, there’s even a ready buyer. The high rolling James Merkin and his “young preppy asshat” of a son Tyler, want to purchase the pool and make it a part of their country club. This would, of course, prevent the public from having access to the pool, and that would be bad. But if Austin doesn’t come up with the 20 grand soon, they’ll have to go into default anyway, and the Merkins will be able to steal the pool away by way of the back door. The only solution, of course, is to have the pool party of the CENT-UR-RAY!!! And raise enough money to save the pool!

Okay, first thing’s first. Cause I know you’re probably wondering this yourself. How can there be an owner of a public pool? Aren’t public pools owned by the city? Good question. And I was wondering that myself. The writers can correct me here, but I think that Leon bought the pool for himself and then made it open to the public. But that’s neither here nor there. Let’s get to the main event.

First, the good. The structure here is solid. The motivations are clear. The story is properly laid out. They’re going to lose the pool in “X” amount of days unless they come up with the money. This may seem obvious to some, but I still encounter tons of comedies where I have no idea why any of the characters are doing what they’re doing. Or, in worst case scenarios, I don't even know what they're trying to do. If we don’t know what your characters are doing or why they’re doing it, you’re not telling a story. This goes back to the “what I learned” section in my review of “Bad Teacher.” One of the simplest but most effective plots available to you, is to give your character a clear and important goal and have them try to achieve it by the end of the movie. And that’s exactly what Kevin and Doug do here. So far, so good.

Also, these guys bring the funny. The dialogue, in particular, is really snappy in places. And that's probably the script's biggest strength. Most of the scenes are geared towards the dialogue between Austin and Lawrence, and while it gets repetitive in places, it's usually pretty good. Speaking of Austin and Lawrence, I liked most of the characters here. My favorite is probably the moronic Tyler. In one of his more classic moments, when they’re trying to figure out how to thwart Austin’s pool party, he suggests to his father that they "burn down the pool." His father just looks at him. Did he say “burn down the pool?” Just in general, there's a lot of funny lines like that.

My big issue with Duty is that it’s too safe and too predictable. In the very first scene, Austin wakes up in a girl’s bedroom after a night he doesn’t remember. The scene does a great job of setting up the main character (I knew exactly who Austin was after that scene), but I’ve seen that scene in movies close to 300 times before. This predictability bleeds into the character of Lawrence as well. I'd seen the goofy fuck-up who’s always striking out with the girls more times than I can count. The character didn’t have anything new to him. One of the things I loved about The Hangover was the character Zach Galifianakis’ played. I remember reading that character before the movie came out and thinking, wow, I've never seen the goofy sidekick portrayed quite like this before. It was different. We also get a scene with boys peeking in on the girl's locker room. But there was nothing new to it. There were too many times, like this, where I felt "Duty" was playing it safe.

Take the aforementioned “Bad Teacher" as another example. Look at how daring that plotline was. It’s about a pissed off teacher trying to steal money from children to buy herself a new pair of boobs so she can land a sugar-daddy. I’ve never seen that movie before. That’s why it was such a fun read. And I’m not saying that “Duty” can’t get there. I just think these guys need to take a few more chances, get crazier, and do something different. They do it with the dialogue in places, but not with the plot and characters.

I also would've liked a little more complexity out of Austin. The thing that makes characters in these kinds of comedies interesting is their inner conflict. What are they wrestling with inside their heads? Austin is a tad too content with his life here. There's no OPPOSING CHOICE. You want to TEMPT your character with something else to draw out the drama within him. What if Austin had a true passion, something he'd always wanted to do, but couldn't because he never had the money to do it? Well now the sale of this pool has some serious consequences. With that 30 grand, he could finally pursue his dream. All of a sudden, your main character has something substantial going on. Help himself or help the community? And I know this is only a comedy, but I think you need complex characters no matter what genre it is. So I was hoping for a little more of that.

These guys have comedy chops. Check out some of the videos on their site for proof (see links below). What I'd like to see is more of that offbeat humor brought into this script. Throw some more twists and turns into the plot. Give us that demented version of Duty you were afraid to try. Like Trent says in Swingers: “I don't want you to be the guy in the PG-13 movie everyone's realllllyy hoping makes it happen. I want you to be like the guy in the rated R movie, you know, the guy you're not sure whether or not you like yet. You're not sure where he's coming from. Okay? You're a bad man.”

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

What I learned: The 70% screenplay isn’t enough. And what I mean by that is, you can’t execute your script to 70% of its potential and expect it to sell. Remember, comedy is the most competitive spec market out there because it’s one of the last genres you can still sell original material in. So you have a lot of fucking competition. For that reason, make sure to always ask yourself: Have I really made sure every scene is unique? Is my premise beyond awesome? Did I take any scenes off? Does every character in my story arc? Am I pushing the limits of comedy? Does my story feel predictable? Am I trying new things? Are there enough surprises to satisfy the reader? If you honestly feel like you’ve pushed yourself to the limit in all these categories, then get your script out there. But if you’re not, clean up the gaps until you get it right. Because I promise you, there’s someone else out there right now writing a similar script who WILL get all those things right.

Wanted to give these guys a shout out cause they have some really great videos on their website. Here’s one of my favorites.