Friday, December 17, 2010

Amateur Friday - Half of Nothing

Genre: Comedy
Premise: When the wealthy owner of a fast food chicken franchise learns that his bitchy wife wants a divorce and is therefore entitled to half his money, he decides to spend it all so that she doesn't get a dime.
About: Here was Kevin’s e-mail to me: “The main reason I want you to read and review this script is because if I'm not having people read my shit then it is really just a bunch of data taking up prime storage space for my illegally downloaded music and naughty videos. Naughty is a funny word. The other reason I want you to review this script is that I really like this concept and I think others will like it as well. Divorce is an enormous elephant in our society that really has become as common as birth and death. I find it absolutely absurd that just about half of marriages end in divorce. Don't you think I should be able to ask for the return of the Crate and Barrel punch bowl I gave as a wedding gift to my best friend’s wife before she decided to leave her husband and move in with the neighbor? Why should they get to keep all the gifts, they certainly didn't earn it, bunch of thieves if you ask me, especially since getting married outside a Ramada can't really be described as a "wedding affair". Besides, who couldn't use an extra punch bowl for Superbowl Sunday? On a side note, I'm not the product of a divorce and have been happily married for eight years, or is it nine? The point being is that I'm not a misogynist, I didn't write this screenplay to get back at anyone, and I certainly don't hate women, you can even ask my cunt wife about that. Half of Nothing is a just comedy about a depressing subject.” -- Every Friday, I review a script from the readers of the site. If you’re interested in submitting your script for an Amateur Review, send it in PDF form, along with your title, genre, logline, and why I should read your script to Keep in mind your script will be posted.
Writer: Kevin Restler
Details: 103 pages

That e-mail really resonated with me. My best friend married this girl and I bought them a $400 dollar painting specifically because she liked it. 8 months later she’s banging some doofus at work, leaves my best friend, AND kept the painting. And I’ll tell you what. I was furious. It’s one thing to steal things from the husband you left cause you cheated on him. But to steal from his friend??? That’s just low. This goes to show you, sometimes a query is simply making a connection with the person you sent it to. Not to mention I laughed a few times during the letter, which at least assured me that Kevin was funny. The question was, would he be able to handle everything else that goes into a script? Well, let’s find out.

Harold Zebulon has managed to turn his chicken franchise, Zebulon’s Big Ass Chicken, into a cash…err…chicken. In fact, so successful is his franchise that Saturday 3 a.m. Venice/Overland Carson Reeves mainstay (Jack In The Box) wants to buy him out. Harold’s not only rolling in the dough. He’s smothered in it.

The only downside to Harold’s life – which he fails to see as a downside – is that he’s married to Vanessa, the single biggest bitch on the planet. Take every bitchy ‘most popular’ girl at every high school across America, combine them, multiply them by 52, and you get Vanessa’s left pinky. Spend three minutes with this witch and you’ll feel smaller than that ant you just stepped on.

When Vanessa gets an audition for Alec Baldwin’s new reality producing gig, “L.A. Bitches,” she fucks him the night after and feels empowered enough to leave her husband (plus the only role left on the show is the “bitch divorcee” – and you can’t play the bitch divorcee unless you’re, you know, divorced). So she lets Harold know that it is Ov-Ah and she’s going to be taking half of everything he’s got.

After being consoled by his longtime cook and best friend Quentin, Harold gets a wild idea. He’s got 10 million bucks, of which he’ll have to pay half to that succubus. But if he had nothing, then he wouldn’t have to give her a penny! So what if he spent it all!? Quentin tells him it’s a horrible idea but the image of Alec Baldwin’s fleshy sweaty hairy body diving into his wife’s mystery area is enough for him to commit to the act.

So he hires Josilyn, the philanthropic director of his last TV commercial, to document this wild experience, and starts off by giving his nanny and all of her friends a mall shopping spree, where they can buy every and anything they want. This is followed by paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to his alma mater, USC, so he can be Tommy Trojan for a day. He gets his dream foursome together: Bill Murray, John Daley, Quentin and himself, to play a round of golf. And he pays a series of since grown-up childhood stars to make sex videos with him.

During this time, Josilyn becomes more and more upset that Harold is wasting his money, and tells him he should use it for more useful purposes, like actually helping people. After awhile he listens, and starts giving money to charities and churches and orphanages.

But just as he’s about to run out of money and complete his plan, Vanessa realizes that he’s actually worth more to her as a husband than an ex-husband, so she changes her mind and decides to STAY with Harold, which of course totally sucks because by this time, Harold has started to fall for Josilyn. Whatever will Harold do? Will he find a way to divorce Vanessa and be with Josilyn? Or is he stuck in this miserable matrimony forever?

Half of Nothing is an interesting screenplay. I definitely think there’s a movie here – a modern day nod to Brewster’s Millions. But for me personally, I had a hard time with the comedy. Those who read the site regularly know, I’m not a “cruel” humor guy. And the humor here is pretty cruel – sometimes relentlessly so. Vanessa isn’t just a bitch. She’s the most evil awful vile human being who’s ever walked the earth. All she cares about is being a super-bitch, and I don’t think it works.

I have this theory that you want to make your bad guy bad, but you don’t want to make them so bad that they’re beyond the realm of believability. Once you do that, they’re no longer a real person – just a writer’s combination of the most evil things they can think of. People aren’t mean to be mean. People are mean because they have issues going on in their lives that bring out that anger. If we don’t see some of that, even in a comedy, it’s hard to believe that the character is real.

This also leads to the question, why would Harold be with Vanessa in the first place? I mean being with someone who’s bossy and selfish is one thing (Ed Helms in The Hangover). Being with the Evil Empire is another thing entirely. You have to explain why your supposedly smart savvy protagonist would choose to subject himself to a life of torture.

I’m also going to make my plea one more time to comedy writers. One out of every two comedies I read nowadays has a celebrity showing up in them. It's just a way overused joke. And even if this weren’t a common trend, is it really a good idea? It seems like anybody can write, “Sam Jackson comes in and steals Joe’s coffee.” The joke is too easy - too obvious .  I’m not saying nobody else will like it. The right celebrity in the right scene could be hilarious. I’m just warning you. I see it way too often.

I think the script also gets lost in places. For example, Half of Nothing is about a man willing to sacrifice all his wealth to spite his wife. Then halfway through the script, it becomes about giving to charity and helping people out. What does that have to do with the concept of getting back at your wife? It just feels like a random choice, which results in an unclear vision. This is a place where a solid theme might have helped, so you could make sure everything in the script revolved around that theme.

I thought Josilyn needed work too. I was just discussing this with someone during a script consultation. When you have a romantic subplot, you have to nail two things. First, you have to give us some backstory on the love interest (in this case Josilyn). We have to feel like she’s a real person. That she’s got her own unique life. The only thing we know about Josilyn is that she’s a director and likes to give to others.

Next, you gotta give your two leads “moments" with each other. Something unique and interesting that we see them share together. Make fun of Titanic all you want. But those characters had memorable moments at the front of the boat, drinking below deck, drawing naked pictures of each other, running through the boiler room, having sex in a Model T Ford. Those moments ensured that when you needed to believe they were in love later, you believed it. Cause you experienced all those moments with them.

Now I know Half of Nothing is a simple comedy. But you still need those moments, and you need that backstory for Josilyn. Otherwise the character feels thin and by association the love story feels thin.

Like I said, the idea here is a good one, but the execution isn’t there yet. When rewriting this, I’d start by not making Vanessa so cruel. I’d make her more conniving, a gold digger who married him with the express intent of divorcing him a year later for half his money. No emotions involved. It’s pure business to her. This is what ignites his ire and convinces him he needs to prevent her from getting a penny.

I’d also find a better way to bring Josilyn into the story. Looking for someone to document his antics is kinda thin. Maybe he hires a lawyer to make sure that everything he does cannot be recouped or reclaimed by Vanessa, and that lawyer is Josilyn. That would make more sense. Then, drop the whole Josilyn wants to help the world thing. It feels out of place and forced. Focus more on her displeasure with her own joy-sucking job – being a divorce lawyer (her job has made it so she doesn't believe in love). Maybe Harold is able to open her up and she starts believing again. That’s off the top of my head but you get the idea.

Anyway, this wasn’t for me but I think it has potential!

Script link: Half of Nothing

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

What I learned: When you introduce a potential love interest, it’s a good idea to describe them as attractive, even if it's just a quick adjective (pretty, cute, hot, sexy, beautiful, gorgeous, attractive). That simple description clues us in that we should be thinking of this person as a love interest. I know it sounds silly but I’ve found when you don’t do that (here, Josilyn is described only as “smart & L.A. savvy”), it can be hard for the reader to mentally move her over into “love interest” territory.