Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tick Tock

Genre: Action
Premise: A terrorist has planted a series of bombs inside several malls in Los Angeles. Although they capture the man before the bombs go off, a bout of amnesia prevents him from remembering where he put the bombs, or if he’s the terrorist at all.
About: Mondry and Bagarozzi met as teen-age video store clerks back in 1987. In 2000, they sold this script for 1 million dollars. "Every night we worked, we took home videos and we would find a director whose work we loved," said Mondry. "We'd just basically go through the whole catalog and watch one film after another. It was sort of a self-taught film history course." Bagarozzi sold one screenplay on his own before this called "The Tin Man," a revisionist noir L.A. detective story, to the Walt Disney Co. for $250,000. Unfortunately, this is not the spec draft that sold, but rather a draft from a few years later.
Writers: Anthony Bagarozzi & Charles Mondry
Details: 128 pages – 12/21/04 draft (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).

I remember first posting my views of this script on a screenwriting forum a few years ago. I’d only read 30 pages, but what I’d read, I didn’t like. I thought it felt like a wannabe Die Hard sequel written by someone who’d read way too many Shane Black scripts. In general, I’m not a fan of overly-stylized writing unless it helps tell the story, so when I got to passages where the writers would actually describe what happened to the camera during an explosion, I didn’t think, “Cool,” I thought, “Is that necessary?”

Imagine my shock, however, when everyone else who read the screenplay absolutely loved it. In fact, I can’t remember a single person having a bad thing to say about it. Everyone kept talking about the “confidence” of the writing, how assured the writers were in carving out their words. I’d never really thought of writing in those terms before – “confidence” – so it took me awhile to figure out how that might affect someone’s reading experience.

To me, writing had always been about the story. Style and confidence are great, but they don’t address character arcs or sustain second acts. Could it be that style and confidence alone could carry a screenplay? I’m inclined to say no, but Tick Tock has a few other things going for it, namely that it’s never slow. This script moves at the breakneck speed of a Ferrari, and it should, since it’s being told in real time. I’m curious as to what the Scriptshadow readers will think of it. Does this spec-friendly real time confident action romp satisfy? Or is it pure sizzle?

Los Angeles.

Red-headed FBI Agent and tough-girl beauty, Claire, is racing to the Federal Building. She’s been informed of a terrorist threat. A man has threated to blow up some bombs in malls scattered throughout Los Angeles today, which just happens to be the biggest shopping day of the year.

The good news is they already have the bomber in custody. The bad news?

He doesn’t remember anything.

He doesn’t even know his own name. In fact, the FBI isn’t 100% sure this is even the guy. They just have some evidence to indicate he is.

The man, who we’ll refer to as Crosby, is a nice affable guy who’s convinced that he’s been misidentified. He doesn’t think he’s capable of doing something this terrible. But the doctors say that amongst other things, Crosby’s also lost his personality, which means if he were a true baddie, he wouldn’t even know it. The “good” news is they believe his amnesia will disappear within a few hours and the real “Crosby” will emerge.

But they don’t have a few hours! The bad guy’s taped threat says these bombs are going to blow up soon!

So Claire grabs Crosby along with a small crack FBI team and heads to Fox Hills Mall, where the first of the bombs is said to be planted. Her hope is that with a little visual stimulation, Crosby will remember where he put the bombs so they can deactivate them in time.

But wait! Crosby points out that even if he was the bad guy and all of a sudden remembered it, the last thing he’d do is expose his bomb locations. He’d just keep pretending he’d forgotten. I’m still not sure why Claire doesn’t see this as a problem, but she says something to indicate she’s not worried about it.

Basically, we jump from mall to mall as the threats get bigger and the bombs get explosioneyer. Claire and Crosby begin developing a friendship, even though they know that when Crosby finally realizes who he is and becomes Evil Crosby, that that friendship will dissolve faster than a lit bomb wick. Eventually they end up at The Beverly Center, a huge indoor upscale mall in Beverly Hills, where it appears this cat and mouse game will end with a big explosion.

Okay so first the good. Real-time. The real-time angle makes this movie a little different from the now two-decade long string of Die Hard copycats. It also keeps the script moving at a breakneck pace, which is always advantageous when writing a spec (faster more immediate stories tend to do better in the spec market).

Making the bad guy essentially a good guy was also a unique twist. Normally in these films the bad guy is obvious. Here, he’s actually helping our hero. When you combine this with the mystery of whether this really is the bad guy or not, I have to admit you have an interesting dynamic you’re not used to seeing in an action film.

However here’s the problem I had with Tick Tock. There’s a lot to buy into here, and the story almost feels like two movies trapped inside one. First you have a film about malls being blown up by some terrorist mastermind, and then you have a movie about a terrorist who doesn’t remember being a terrorist. They kind of go together but it all seemed a little too convenient that this was happening at the same time.

And that’s not the only thing you have to buy into. Tick Tock tests the limits of suspended disbelief. Let’s start with what I mentioned above. If this is the terrorist, once he remembers who he is, there’s a strong chance he’s not going to admit it. Also, our FBI team is running directly into malls that they know are going to blow up. Does that make sense to you? Cause I’m not sure it makes sense to me. Also, since they know all the bombs are placed in Los Angeles malls, why not just evacuate all the malls? There are attempts to explain this throughout the story, but for reasons I’m still not clear about, none of the malls are ever entirely evacuated. Also, it’s never clear how they know which mall to go to (they just sorta guess) or when the bombs are going to blow (they just sorta estimate).

All in all, there are a ton of rules you have to buy into to accept Tick Tock, a few too many for me, and that really prevented me from enjoying it. It helps that the script is not trying to be anything more than a fun action flick, but even that didn’t prevent a good handful of “Oh come ons!” during the read.

The funny thing is, Tick Tock incorporates a lot of things that I preach on this site. The writing is lean. The structure is sound. The script is the very definition of a ticking time bomb (it’s titled “Tick Tock!”). So I’m not going to go out of my way to say it has nothing to offer. It’s just that while I could buy into all these things on an individual basis, together they were too much. Not to mention that the reveal of the bad guy was lame.

I have a feeling some of you will find this fun, especially action buffs. But it wasn’t for me.

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

What I learned: There is something to be said for confidence in one’s writing. If you charge ahead, are in control of your words, if you show conviction in your choices, you can almost fool the reader into believing anything you write. If you’re timid and unsure of yourself when you write, the reader will sense it. If we don’t believe that *you* don’t believe in your story, then we’re not going to believe in it. Just remember, confidence doesn’t mean aggressiveness. The aggressive in-your-face writing works here because it’s a testosterone filled action flick. “Confidence” might be written much differently in, say, a horror script.