Thursday, November 4, 2010

Amateur Friday - Lord Ockley And The Alien

Genre: Comedy
Premise: A wanton English Lord hires a "hermit" to live in his garden (as was the trend in 18th Century England). An alien from another planet stumbles into this scenario, who the drunk Englishmen consider to be French.
About: On the final Friday of every month, I review a script from the readers of the site. October’s script was pushed back a week, which is why we’re doing an Amateur Review today. 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: Stan Evans
Details: 99 pages

As is the tradition on Amateur Fridays, let me explain why I chose this script. First off, I admit I’m paying more attention to scripts that have placed in contests. It’s not a prerequisite by any means. But it just lets me know that there’s some semblance of skill in there – a helpful filter I can fall back on when treading through hundreds of entries. I believe this script was a finalist in the Final Draft Contest.

In addition to that, the premise just sounded bizarre (in a good way). And when the writer wrote, “I guarantee you’ve never read anything like this before,” that definitely piqued my curiosity, because a lot of what I read is similar to everything else that I read so I’m always looking for something that’s different (assuming it’s within my taste range – a Russian fantasy musical about a Mexican dodo bird might be different, but I’m pretty sure I’m not going to like it). And I’m not going to lie – seeing the 99 pages helped. I knew this would be a quick read. So, did it live up to my tempered expectations?

It’s 1761, long before this annoying little country called “America” sprang up, when Lords ruled the roost, and in particular, this roost. Lord Jonathan Ockley of England, a handsome arrogant type, is drinking and partying with the upper crust when he’s told of a new craze sweeping the land – the 1761 equivalent to Justin Beiber if you will – where English Lords are taking on Hermits to live in their caves.

The hermit’s job is simple. Wear rags, bathe in mud, emit a constant flow of incoherent ramblings. And when you have guests over, you take them over to your cave to show them your hermit, which, it is thought, will impress them.

So off Lord Ockley goes to find a hermit. Now in the meantime, an alien named Meenu who’s surveying our planet in order to make a decision on whether his alien race should come and destroy it, accidentally crash lands behind a tree on Lord Ockley’s estate.

What he observes is Lord Ockley bringing back a large simple giant of a man named Percy, who is of course Ockley’s new hermit. Percy is sort of a dumber version of Frankenstein who believes that ripping people’s heads off is “fun time.”

Now the reason Ockley is going through all this trouble is that he’s fallen for a lady, Lady Rose Bodley to be precise, and Lady Rose will be attending a soiree he’s putting together in a few days. He figures if he has the newest latest trend, a real life hermit, that she might be impressed with him and lay in his bed.

Well as you can probably imagine, Lady Bodley (like most women I know) isn’t too impressed with Lord Ockley keeping a slave in his back yard, so she orders him to start treating it like a real person or she’ll never talk to him again. Ockley obliges and invites the dangerous scary Percy to live inside his house.

Around this time, Meenu the Alien reveals himself, leading to a whole new set of problems for Ockley. Eventually, however, he invites Meenu to live inside his quarters as well. Then, for reasons I can’t explain, Ockley goes in search of *another* hermit, who moves into his cave, but when that goes badly, this second hermit moves into the house as well.

Eventually everyone learns that Meenu’s race is going to come here and destroy all of them so if they don’t do something to convince him otherwise, they’ll all be dead.

First I have to give credit where credit is due. Stan was right. I’ve never read anything like this before. But I think Lord Ockley And The Alien suffers from a lot of the same problems yesterday’s script did, Teddy. There’s just not much going on in the story. There’s no ultimate goal, nothing driving the story forward, and as a result, I lost interest.

This is the thing with these kinda “out there” ideas. The “out there-ness” buys you a little extra time. As I was reading this, the weirdness of it all (there’s an alien and a hermit living out in the same yard!) kept me intrigued longer than I would have been otherwise.  But once that shock-factor dies down, the story itself is kind of mundane. I mean this is basically a film where a bunch of people hang around an estate and talk a lot. There isn’t enough action going on.

When I’ve lost interest in a script, the question I always ask is, “Why?” Why is this story not working for me? I answer it by asking another question: “What’s driving the story right now?” Lord Ockley starts off well. What’s driving the story is Ockley’s desire to get his hermit so he can impress Lady Bodley. But once Lady Bodley’s initial visit is over, there are no more goals that our characters want to achieve. If they’re not going after anything, we’re not wondering if they’re going to achieve anything. And if we’re not wondering or caring what will happen with our characters, there’s no real story.

Now my guess is, the relationship between Ockley and Lady Bodley is supposed to be driving the story.  This can work in certain situations.  If the audience wants a couple to get together enough, then they’ll be interested in the story until that question (will they get together?) is answered. But the reason that doesn’t happen here is because Ockley’s kind of a huge asshole, which I’m not saying is a terrible thing. It leads to a lot of funny moments. But it kills our desire to see him and Lady Bodley together. We don’t really care if he succeeds or not because, quite frankly, we know he doesn’t deserve her.  

The story tries to find purpose again through the character of Meenu, but he has some problems as well. First of all, after crash-landing in the opening, Meenu disappears for 45 pages. At one point I said, “What’s the point of even having an alien in your script if you’re not going to use him?” (Yes I occasionally talk to myself when reading a script) When Meenu finally does find his way into the mix, he’s not particularly interesting. He’s just this normal level-headed alien dude. So later on, when the script tries to make something out of the impending doom that Meenu poses, it doesn’t resonate, because a) the character disappeared for half the screenplay and b) when he appeared, he was too tame. I mean if you’re going to have an alien in your comedy, at the very least he should have some personality, right?

I do think there’s some potential in this script. Once the second hermit moved into the house and you had Percy, Meenu, the second hermit, Lord Ockley, and Lady Bodley, I thought, “This could be a great ‘most dysfunctional family in the world’ script” if you came up with the right premise. For example, what if the King of England was coming to Lord Ockley’s for the weekend to potentially award him the title of Duke? Now this crazy fucked up situation he’s in serves a story purpose – to upset the main character’s pursuit of becoming royalty. As it stood, like I mentioned before, it just felt like a bunch of people in a contained area talking to each other, with minor squabbles popping up to affect the status quo.

So I’d read this again after a rewrite, but in its current form, there are too many problems.

Script link: Lord Ockley and The Alien

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

What I learned: When you give your characters goals, it leads to action (In order for one to achieve a goal, one must act). Without goals, the chance for action drops considerably, and when your characters aren’t acting on anything, the only thing left for them is to do is talk. This is how you get screenplays with characters standing around doing nothing but talking. Take my suggestion above, for example. What if the King was visiting for the weekend and, assuming everything goes well, he’s going to award Lord Ockley the title of Duke. Now, the characters are constantly in a state of action, because they’re all working towards pleasing the King until he bestows that title. More action. Less talking. This is what I wanted to see fixed  in Lord Ockley And The Alien.