Thursday, November 25, 2010

Amateur Friday - 360

Genre: Thriller/Mystery
Premise: (logline sent to me) After surviving a violent car accident, a woman is attacked in her home by a masked assailant and finds herself living out a time loop that has her experiencing the attack from several points of view.
About: On the final Friday of every month, I review a script from the readers of the site. If you’re interested in submitting your script for an Amateur review, send your script in PDF form, your title, genre, logline, and why I should read your script to Keep in mind your script will be posted.
Writer: Tim Earnheart
Details: 97 pages (This is an early draft of the script. The situations, characters, and plot may change significantly by the time the film is released. 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).

Assuming you’re not stuck in a 48 hour turkey coma, it’s time to disco dance with another Amateur Friday script! This one caught my eye immediately after opening the e-mail. It felt familiar but different, somewhat high concept, and had a low holiday-duties-friendly page count of 97 pages. The query wasn’t desperate. It was confident and to the point. The script got him noticed by CAA and a well-known producer. I also liked the title. 360. It was simple and yet hinted at more. Everyone evaluates potential script reads differently. But this is the kind of script I’ll give a chance to.

360 is an intense thriller-mystery and starts with our two main characters, Doug and Alexis Marshall, racing along a deserted highway in their very expensive German import. Actually it’s not totally deserted. That’s because someone with either a death wish or some serious road rage is trying to ram them off the road. After a couple of failed attempts, they succeed, and the couple goes crashing into a tree. They both survive but not for long. The masked driver walks up and puts a gun to their heads, killing them both.

Cut to Alexis, waking up as she’s being rushed to the hospital. What’s going on? Did she survive the shooting? After being transferred to a room, she gets a visitor. It’s none other than Doug, her husband. Wait a minute. Huh?

After Doug and the rest of the doctors assure her that whatever she thought she experienced was a dream, Alexis and Doug drive home to their mansion on Pugent Sound. Apparently these two aren’t just well off. They’re billionaires.

But it isn’t long before this nest of heavenly billionairism starts to dissolve. When Doug goes upstairs, someone rings the doorbell, and when Alexis answers it, she sees a strange shadowy figure through the window who begs to be let in. When Doug comes back down, the figure is gone, replaced instead by Alexis’ psychiatrist. Did Alexis just imagine that whole exchange?

After going upstairs to collect herself, Alexis overhears her husband talking to someone. Assuming it’s Paige, she peeks over the bannister. But it’s another woman, a woman Doug professes his love for. Seconds later Paige comes stumbling out of the bathroom, blood gurgling from her mouth, followed by the masked assailant.

Alexis runs for her life throughout the cavernous house, where she eventually escapes. Afterwards she hears a car approaching, walks outside, only to see…a SECOND DOUG and a SECOND ALEXIS. For reasons I’m still not sure about, she attacks and kills both of them. After ditching the bodies, she comes back only to find another car driving up. With a THIRD DOUG and a THIRD ALEXIS.

Confused yet?

This time Alexis takes a wait and see approach, stalking the two from afar, but eventually decides to warn the 3rd Alexis of what’s happening. So she goes to the door, rings it, and proceeds to ask Alexis to let her in. We quickly realize that the earlier shadowy figure who was asking the original Alexis to come in was actually this Alexis. And that we’re now seeing the situation play out from this new point of view.

This point of view change happens a few more times, as we realize there are several Alexis’ and several masked assailants. In order to survive, Alexis realizes that she will have to destroy the loop that’s causing this pattern to repeat, and the only way to do that is to get rid of all the other Alexis’. But while trying to accomplish her mission, she also learns that Doug is not being completely honest with her, and that becoming the only Alexis isn’t her only problem.


This was an interesting one for sure. I want to begin somewhere but I feel a lot like Alexis. Unsure where I stand. I guess I’ll start with the good. 360 kept me turning the pages. When you strip away all the screenwriting mumbo-jumbo, that’s pretty much the only thing that matters. Does the reader want to keep turning the pages? And I did. This mystery was weird enough and compelling enough that I wanted to find out how it was going to end.

Now was it gimmicky? Yeah, sure. There were definitely some gimmicky aspects going on here. We’re not being led by any character related developments. The story is being steered by surprises and twists. A hushed phone call, a shadowy figure trying to get in, a second Alexis, a third Alexis. Usually you can only do that for so long before an audience starts demanding answers. However we like Alexis enough whereby we’re willing to follow her until she achieves her goal. Not to mention Earnheart wisely makes us believe that Alexis has been wronged in some way, that there’s a conspiracy against her. A character who has been wronged usually draws sympathy from the audience and that’s exactly what happens here. We want Alexis to “win,” to defeat the “bad guys,” whoever those bad guys might be.

Earnheart also uses a lot of familiar devices to up the tension. We’re trapped on an island. There’s a heavy storm. Our hero’s memory is damaged. There’s a confined clausterphobic element to our protagonist’s plight, and while you can argue that using these tools is cliché, that only matters if they’re used badly. I felt all the elements here were used successfully to maximize the conflict.

However not every deal here is a Black Friday super-sale. There’s some marked up prices that will have their way with your bank account. First, I don’t think it all adds up. In the Spanish sci-fi indie, Timecrimes, we have a similar situation. A man goes back a few hours in a time machine, only to find out that he has to kill other versions of himself. While confusing, at least we understood why things were happening. Here, I never understood why new Alexis’ and Dougs kept showing up.

Was there a time machine I was unaware of? Is her mind creating these time loops? Is this a pseudo dream? Without that ever being explained, I have to admit I felt cheated when it was over. I think there needs to be a foundation for the crazy shit that happens for the crazy shit to resonate. Unless, of course, I missed it. And 360 is trippy enough where I’m not discounting that possibility.

Where this becomes a real problem is in the final act. I read it twice and I’m still not sure what happens. (Spoiler) Most of the script takes place at the house, but in the end, Alexis goes into the city and somehow arrives at a time before any of this started happening. When she runs into yet another Alexis there, my brain almost exploded. It just felt like we’d gone too far off the rails.

I thought the naming for the Alexis’ needed to be improved as well. The Alexis we started with should always have the same name. But Earnheart decides to change his hero’s name (to Alexis #1, Alexis #2 and Alexis #3) as each new Alexis enters the story. It would’ve been much easier to follow if the new Alexis’ were given the numbered names (i.e. the second Alexis that arrives should be named Alexis #2).

There’s also the issue that this story has a lot in common with the aforementioned Timecrimes and the cult favorite, Primer. It’s different enough where it’s its own movie, but those influences may be a little too heavy at times.

Still, if you like movies where the answers aren’t simple, where you have to do a good portion of the work yourself (movies like Timecrimes, Primer, Memento, or Donnie Darko), I feel like you’ll dig this. Earnheart is not at the pro level yet. But I think he can make it there. This is the kind of script that could be developed into something interesting. I’m going to give it a tentative “worth the read.”

Script link: 360

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

What I learned: Strip away all the screenwriting terms – the books, the lingo, the gobbledygook. Now pull your script out. Ask yourself this simple question: “Does my script make people want to keep turning the pages?” Be honest with yourself. If not, ask yourself what it is you can add to change that. If interesting things keep happening, we’re going to want to keep reading.