Thursday, June 10, 2010

Sleeping Beauty

Genre: Dark dramaPremise: A haunting erotic tale about a student who drifts into a unique form of prostitution.
About: Starring Emily Browning and currently in post production, this script landed somewhere in the middle of the 2008 Black List. The writer, Julia Leigh, is making her writing and her directing debut. Have to give her props for that. Not many people can swing that their first time out. This is the original draft that ended up on the Black List two years ago. But I’m betting it’s been reworked and fleshed out since then.
Writer: Julia Leigh
Details: 66 pages (This is an early draft of the script. The situations, characters, and plot may change significantly by the time of the film's release. This is not a definitive statement about the project, but rather an analysis of this unique draft as it pertains to the craft of screenwriting).


Staying with yesterday’s theme, I have yet another script which laughs at widely accepted screenwriting practices. As you can see, it’s only 66 pages long! Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. The writer, Julia Leigh, may have been writing this as sort of an extended scriptment, a la James Cameron, for herself. Since she directed the movie as well, a lot of the heavy literal description may have just been her preparing for the visual task of each scene. Either way, it appears this unique draft got out and gained a cult following.

The story follows a young woman named Lucy. We meet her as she’s subjecting herself to a trivial medical experiment. We understand right away that Lucy needs money. After working an additional waitress job that evening, she goes out for the night, does some coke with a strange woman, and sleeps with a man she just met. Apparently Lucy’s moral compass is a little out of whack. This young woman is detached from just about every emotion available.

Then one day she answers a mysterious ad in the paper, travels to a mansion in the countryside, and is offered a job by a “Madame” named Clara. Lucy will be a “waitress” at high end events. The pay will be $250 an hour. However, it’s understood that men may “choose” her. This is where things get interesting. If she’s chosen, she’ll be taken to a room and drugged so that she will have no memory of the events. The men may do anything they want to her as long as they don’t leave any marks, and as long as there’s no penetration. When she wakes up, she leaves and goes on with her everyday life.

Obviously, the story begins focusing on these events. We watch hesitantly as a nervous Lucy goes through the meeting process with the men, takes the “forget” pill, then wakes up the next day with no memory of anything. Like her, we don’t get to see what happens. We don’t get to see what these men do. This throws our curiosity into overdrive and is the big hook of the movie. In our minds, we’re thinking: “No penetration. No marks. What in God’s name are these men doing?” The possibilities are endless and the longer the story goes on, the more curious we get.

Of course, the story *doesn’t* go on for very long (it’s only 66 pages!), and the lack of an extensive middle act prevents an opportunity to get into why Lucy chose this bizarre lifestyle, how she’s become so absent and detached from life. We only get glimpses into these past windows, such as her friendship with a dying alcoholic, and it never quite feels like enough. We want more.

However, in the end, it doesn’t matter. Once she starts the “sleeping beauty” job, we’re entranced. We want to know what’s happening when those men come in and how it’s all going to fall apart. Because it has to fall apart, doesn't it? I mean, if you’re subjecting yourself to sleeping beauty fetishes, it can’t end well, right?

Despite the bizarre structure, the curious first act, and some strange characters whose point I’m still trying to figure out, Sleeping Beauty excels in two categories. The first is tone. The tone here is dark, dreary and unsettling. The way Lucy subjects herself to life’s worst situations is just a sad empty experience. But it’s consistent and it’s real and it works. It hits us hard enough that we want her to find happiness. We want her to find a way out of it. The second is the big one. This script’s central mystery – what happens during those sleeping beauty sessions – is so powerful as to make you forget every other misstep in the script. It’s just such a compelling question. What are these crazy men doing to her??

I know there are some people who are going to hate this script. One of my friends I recommended it to wrote back, “What the fuck was that?” But that’s its strength. It’s a weird polarizing story that doesn’t follow any sort of structure, and I’m betting that’s why it caught the imagination of enough people to vote it onto the Black List. Step into this one cautiously. It’s an odd but strangely entertaining journey.

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

What I learned: This does NOT negate the 13 Things that make a great script post. In my opinion, following that list still gives you the best chance at writing something great. I’m merely showing you that there are other ways to do it, even if these other ways are a huge gamble. If you can blow someone away with one aspect of your script (in this case – the mystery), you can make people forget about a lot of its weaknesses.