Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Lonny The Great

Genre: Indie Comedy
Premise: In order to earn the respect of his famous father, a young man must go on a great journey to find his idol, a “Cat Stevens” like 70s alternative-dance icon who’s since gone into hiding.
About: Lonny The Great finished with 5 votes on the inaugural 2005 Black List. The writer, Jay Reiss, recently got his first produced credit as a writer with his script, The Oranges, which finished in the Top 10 of the 2008 Black List. Weiss has a few other projects in development, including “Man-Witch” about the first male witch. In one of the weirder coincidences I’ve stumbled upon since starting this site, the listed director for that film is none other than Robert Florsheim, who you might remember as the co-writer of The Passion Of The Ark, which I reviewed last week.
Writer: Jay Reiss
Details: 134 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).

When you pluck a script that you’ve never heard of out of obscurity, the most you can hope for is that it’s readable. I mean if it were any good, *someone* would have told you about it by now, right? But Jay Reiss isn’t some nobody writer. His script “The Oranges” finished Top 10 on the 2008 Black List and has an exciting cast that includes Oliver Platt, Catherine Keener, and Hugh Laurie. Some have called it American Beauty by way of Meet The Parents. That script used to be in my Top 25 (albeit a thousand reads ago) so I find it kind of surprising that nobody told me about this little-known Reiss gem that first got him noticed.

In order to properly prepare yourself for Lonny The Great, you’ll want to assume that Wes Anderson is directing it. No, Wes Anderson is not actually directing it (that would be awesome) but this reads very much like an Anderson script. Like in many of Anderson’s films, our main character, Lonny (a zoo attendant), has some major issues with his much more accomplished father.

The father in question, Julius, made his fortune selling lettuce and then, after losing part of his thumb in one of his factories, took that fortune to the next level by creating a prosthetics empire, inspired of course by creating a mini-prosthetic thumb piece to make his hand whole again.

He later had two sons, Lonny and Spencer, and it became clear early on that Spencer was the chosen one. Lonny just had too much dream in him and not enough “do.” It finally becomes clear to Lonny that he will always play second fiddle when his brother asks his dad to be his best man. That is, of course, unless he does something amazing to make his father finally take notice of him.

It so happens that Julius keeps a special room in his mansion with a special table. And on that table are dozens of pictures of people that Julius has met and holds in high esteem. People like past presidents, Muhammad Ali, Gandhi. But there is one great person on this planet who Julius has not being able to meet.

Theodore Rome.

Rome has brought millions of people happiness through his unique and inventive interpretive dance prowess. Watching Rome dance would’ve been like listening to Martin Luther King speak or John Lennon sing. But right when he had the whole world in his hand, Rome disappeared into thin air, shunning the limelight to live a private and rewarding life on his own.

Lonny believes that if he can find Rome and get a picture with him, he will win his father’s respect and earn a spot on that coveted “Great Table.”

So Lonny grabs his 17 year old co-worker and only friend, Gerald, and the two go on an impossible pursuit of a man people have unsuccessfully been looking for for 30 years. Along the way they’ll be lied to, taken advantage of, they’ll fall in love, get arrested for burying a deer (I laughed for 2 minutes at the deer-hitting scene), mistaken for having an inappropriate relationship, and finally find Rome on his own private island in Hawaii.

The question is, will Lonny get the all important picture he covets, and will he finally earn his father’s respect?

This is a funky script. It definitely does a lot of things “wrong,” but it does so much right in the key areas, namely creating an emotional connection via its characters, that you overlook it. I mean, the script is 133 pages. That’s a page length I’d typically scoff at. However Reiss wisely keeps his description threadbare. So it doesn’t read like a 133 page script. It reads like its 100. Keep in mind, I read long scripts that feel short and short scripts that feel long all the time. If your script is going to have a thick page count, you better be lean with your description and have a lot of dialogue, cause if you do, we’ll forget about that page length immediately.

Also, the love interest (Beth – a professional rare pet transporter) isn’t introduced until way after the midpoint. Normally I advise writers to introduce their romantic interest within the first act, and at the very latest by page 45 (the quarter mark of the second act). But it didn’t bother me here, and I was trying to figure out why.

I think it’s because Lonny has such a strong goal that we’re so wrapped up in, we’re not thinking about whether he’ll find himself a lady or not. Reiss does such a great job setting up the relationship (between Lonny and his father) and establishing how important it is to Lonny that he prove to his father he’s worthy, that the lack of a love interest simply never crosses our mind.


Speaking of the love interest, I wanted to point out a great scene and an important lesson for all you young writers out there about how to approach your scenes. In every scene, you want there to be something else going on that makes the scene a little (or a lot) difficult for your characters. The most boring scenes tend to be two characters sitting around talking. Even if they’re pushing the story forward, it’s still boring if that’s ALL they’re doing.

In Lonny The Great, there’s a moment on the plane when Lonny decides he’s going to ask Beth to join him and Gerald in their pursuit of Rome. Now before I tell you how this scene plays out, I want you to think about how you would write this scene. Probably the first ideas that pop into your head are either he asks her while in their seats, he asks her right after they exit the plane, or he asks her at the luggage carousel. All three of those scenarios would get the job done, but there’s nothing EXTRA working against our characters in any of those scenarios.

What Weiss does is he waits for the plane to get to the gate and for Lonny to step into the aisle. It’s at THIS moment when he decides to ask Beth if she’ll come with him. Of course, that’s the very moment that 150 impatient passengers located behind Lonny are angrily trying to get the hell off of this airplane.

Immediately the scene takes on a frustrating yet intriguing life, because it’s the most imperfect scenario possible for Lonny trying to convince this girl to come with him. With people yelling at him, trying to squeeze by, and Beth not convinced it’s a good idea, you give Lonny’s goal a ticking time bomb and a lot of obstacles, which is why the scene plays out in such an interesting way. Had he just asked her while they were still in their seats, you wouldn't have gotten any of that. It’s moments like this when you know you’re dealing with a good writer.

Now I loved this script. It’s a quirky fun character driven romp through Ridiculousville. Not to mention it has a ton of heart. Having said that, I understand it’s very particular. It’s a lot like “The Ornate Anatomy of Living Things”in that way, and for that reason, it isn’t going to be for everyone. But if you like these types of semi-absurdist character driven films, inspired by Wes Anderson, there’s a good chance you’ll like Lonny The Great.

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

What I learned: It’s okay for your script to be imperfect in some areas, as long as you make up for it in other areas.