Friday, December 31, 2010

Amateur Friday - On The Corner of Rue St. Aloise and Rue Du Cheval

Genre: Drama/Period/Thriller
Premise: November 1944, Strasbourg, France. A Solider wakes up with amnesia in "La Zone Occupée". The only thing he remembers is his duty to deliver a package on the corner of Rue St. Aloise and Rue Du Cheval at 10:30pm. No name, no date, and under no circumstances is the package to be opened.
About: 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 Carsonreeves3@gmail.com. Keep in mind your script will be posted.
Writer: Samuel Clark
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).


Samuel’s been a Scriptshadow reader for a long time, offering up very well-thought out responses whenever he joins in on the discussion. He’s submitted a few entries for Amateur Friday but none of the loglines really caught my eye - until this one.

I know they say amnesia is one of the most overused devices in screenwriting, but for whatever reason, I never get bored with it. Now of course if you apply it in a really stupid way or don’t attempt to do anything different with it, it gets lame fast. But in no way does a story that begins with a character who’s lost his memory turn me off.

And that’s exactly how “Rue Du Cheval” begins. It’s 1944 France, and Pierre, a soldier in his late 20s, wakes up in a makeshift church/hospital with a bandage over his head and no memory of how he got there. With him is a package that reads: “Deliver the package. AT ALL COSTS! 10:30p.m. On the corner of Rue St Aloise and Rue Du Cheval. DO NOT OPEN UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.”

Confused but determined to carry out his duty, Pierre heads over to the address a couple of nights in a row, but both times gets there late. Eventually, he stumbles into a nearby bar run by the pretty but sad manager, Hannelore.

When one of the nastier German generals stops by the empty bar for a late drink, he notices Pierre’s package and starts asking him about it. It gets to the point where Pierre has no choice but to shoot and kill the man, as well as the officer who’s with him.

After this shocking turn of events, Hannelore and Pierre look at each other, realizing they’re in this together til the end now.

Pierre starts splitting his time between Hannelore’s place and the church, continuing to try and deliver the package every night, but he’s always too late or the area is too well guarded. During this time Pierre is also having dreams about the package, remembering bits and pieces of how he became involved and why it might be so important. However the dreams always end before he can find out all the answers.

As more German officers start snooping around the bar, looking for Ullrich, Pierre and Hannelore realize they’re going to need to get rid of the bodies soon, and start planning to take them to a far away river, which will require passing a couple of German checkpoints, not an easy task.

Pierre continues to try and deliver the package in the meantime, but the stars continue to misalign and he’s never able to accomplish his mission.

Samuel Clark noted to me in his e-mail that this script was very European in nature and I agree with that. This definitely doesn’t take the obvious route that a Hollywood version would explore. However this is both a blessing and a curse for the story, as I think the Hollywood approach could’ve helped solve some of the more redundant problems in the script.

My big beef with Rue Du Cheval is the repetitive nature of the screenplay, starting with Pierre’s continued missed attempts to deliver the package. The way I envisioned the story when I saw the logline was that it was going to be one long extremely difficult journey to deliver this package to its destination. The fact that the destination is only a couple of blocks away presents some problems.

First, you have to figure out a reason why the main character can’t just deliver the package right away. And that reason turns out to be that he gets there a few minutes late. I wasn’t thrilled about this reasoning (10-20 minutes difference in the delivery time being a major obstacle that prevents our hero from achieving his goal feels a little too simplistic) but I went with it. My problem is that this obstacle repeats itself over and over again throughout the story. The combination of – what was in my mind – a thin obstacle, along with our protagonist conveniently missing the drop over and over again was simply too difficult to buy into. To be honest, it felt like we were stalling the story so it could last a full 100 minutes.

Another aspect of the script I had a problem with was the dream sequences. I’ve always felt that dream sequences were kind of film-schooly, an excuse to create trippy visuals that didn’t need to make sense. To Clark’s credit, he uses the sequences (at times) to reveal backstory about Pierre’s situation, but he ended up killing one of the best mysteries in the process.

I think we’re all wondering what the hell is in this package. When we’re told that it’s the key to ending the war, that takes a lot of the mystery away. You can make an argument that this information raises the stakes for our hero (a package that ends the war is a really important package), but to me, sacrificing the biggest mystery in your script was a lot to give up for those added stakes.

As for the good stuff, there’s plenty of it. I thought all the Ullrich bar stuff and the killing and suqbsequent hiding of the bodies was good. I really liked their trip out to the river where they stashed the bodies in beer barrels and the subsequent checkpoint scene. It was an easy script to read.

It just took an adjustment to get used to the fact that THAT story (dealing with the aftermath of the killings) was the real story, and the package stuff was secondary. I think I would’ve preferred the package story being the star, since that’s what lured us in and that’s what we were originally excited about.

Samuel’s a good writer. Everything is succinct, descriptive, there’s plenty of conflict here. In the end it comes down to the treatment of the idea being a little different from what I was expecting. Will be interesting to hear if you guys agree or not.

Script link: On The Corner of Rue St. Aloise and Rue Du Cheval

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

What I learned: Get on message boards. Comment in the comments section. Develop relationships with people online. Throw them a nice e-mail every once in awhile. People are more likely to read your script if they’ve heard of you in some capacity and that takes time. It takes getting to know someone. I’ve seen Samuel on here forever. He’s e-mailed me a few courteous e-mails before, asking me to read his scripts. So when he finally came up with something that sounded good, I was more than happy to oblige.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Carson's Top 10 Movies Of The Year

Yeah yeah yeah, I fully own up to having a few “pretentious film snob” entries on my list - trendy little cinematic morsels that made a lot of noise on the indie circuit but which the majority of America could care less about. But I stand by my entries because I’m a dancing fool and because I believe they were great films, especially my Top 5, which were all awesome.

However before I get to that Top 10, I have to take on a few of the less than stellar entries of the year. I don’t usually do “Worst Of” lists because I’d much rather be celebrating film than condemning it. We have enough condemners in this industry. But there are films that need to own up to their badness, films that actually made you angry that you wasted your time on them, and so I’ve reserved five slots to discuss the very worst films I saw this year.

CARSON’S 5 WORST FILMS OF 2010


5) YOUTH IN REVOLT
I wouldn’t say I was eagerly anticipating the release of Youth In Revolt. But the script made some noise around Hollywood and it looked like it was trying to do something different, which I always appreciate. Well the movie was was different all right. Like the wanna-be bastard child of Napolean Dynamite and Juno, this film just hung there like an abandoned ornament on a dead Christmas tree. Script-wise, the story never finds its focus. We’re at his house, we’re at a trailer park, we’re back at his house, we’re back at the trailer park, we’re at a prep school. Every time it looked like the movie had found its base, it would stray off again in another direction. A “best friend” character is introduced halfway through the movie. The hero’s alternate personality disappears for long stretches. Quirky characters are given precedence over plot. This was just a mess.  Blech!


4) WINTER’S BONE – Before you get on me about the proliferation of tiny indie flicks in my Top 10, take note that I disliked one of the most celebrated indie films of the year. Winter’s Bone had all the elements I hate in indie films. A depressing main character. A super slow story. A low budget that impedes the suspension of disbelief. As my brother put it: “This is the most depressing movie EV-ER!” Indeed, they could’ve retitled this, “Girl Walks From House to House For 90 Minutes.” The story structure itself is actually solid. A girl responsible for taking care of her family must find her deadbeat father in order to save her house. You have a clear goal (find the dad), a *technically* interesting underdog character (a girl who must take on the responsibilities of an adult), high stakes (fail and her family loses the house). So there are a lot of things this screenplay did right. But there was something about the main character, or more specifically the actress who portrayed her, that was so inaccessible that I could care less whether she found her dad or not. But the biggest problem with this film doesn't need any screenwriting jargon to explain.  It was plain old boring


3) ALICE IN WONDERLAND – This movie wasn’t just bad. It was dreadful. Tim Burton has no understanding whatsoever of how to create a character. He believes that a character is the culmination of their quirks. What they wear. The funky way they talk. Their physical limitations. Those things do not make a character. They make a characterization. Now I have to give it to the studio. Johnny Depp as The Mad Hatter was the most surefire box office shot of the year. A marketing scenario the movie Gods themselves couldn’t have dreamed up. But the problem when you’re a genius actor taking crazy chances like Johnny Depp always does, is that sometimes you miss. I don’t know what Depp was doing here but he somehow made The Mad Hatter the most uninteresting character ever. There were 10,000 other things wrong with this movie, but those are the ones that stuck out.


2) GET HIM TO THE GREEK
Russel Brand is hilarious. Jonah Hill is hilarious. Russel Brand and Jonah Hill in Get Him To The Greek is not hilarious. There’s lots of yuckiness to go around here but it starts with the similarity of the characters. These two are supposed to be as opposite as water and wine. Yet both characters are shockingly similar. Brand’s lost a girl. Jonah’s lost a girl. Brand’s unhappy with his life. Jonah’s unhappy with his life. Brand mumbles through the story depressingly. Jonah mumbles through the story depressingly. The whole thing that makes these movies work is the differences between the leads! Go watch The Other Guys to see what I mean. Without that, you’re nixing 90% of your comedy. And if that wasn’t a big enough blunder, neither character here gives a shit whether they get to the Greek or not! The movie is called “GET HIM TO THE GREEK!” and people don’t want to get to the Greek. Am I the only one who sees a problem here??


1) GROWN-UPS
I’m trying to contain myself, to not go off on a Vogler-like rant. But I think all of you can relate to how much time and effort goes into creating something good in this business. How frustrating it can be to not have the resources or connections to DO something when you have a screenplay worthy of people’s time. So when something comes along that isn’t just bad – but where every single person involved seems content with creating an underwhelming piece of dog excrement…it gets you a little riled up. Adam Sandler has become a joke. I actually used to like him. Happy Gilmore is still one of my favorite comedies of all time. When you watch that movie, you can see how committed Sandler is to that role. Contrast that with here, where he might as well be making this movie in his back yard with a video camera. That’s how uniterested he is in the process. That’s how little he’s trying. And to make it even worse, he surrounds himself with writers and actors who also are content with mailing it in – guys like Rob Schnedier and Chris Rock and David Spade. None of these guys give a shit anymore. And that’s fine. Nobody says you have to care. But please don’t waste our time with these abysmally bad movies just so you can buy the latest model Mercedes. The most frustrated I’ve been during a movie all year.

Whoa! Okay, it’s time to destroy Danny Downer and get to the movies that actually brought joy to my 2010 life. And boy were there some great films that showed up. Let’s take a look…

CARSON’S TOP 10 FILMS OF THE YEAR


10) THE SOCIAL NETWORK
One of the problems with loving a script so much is that the filmed version can’t possibly live up to all the hype. That was the problem with The Social Network for me. Especially since it’s such a dialogue-driven film. With dialogue being the star, you don’t get a lot of new stuff by watching the film. It’s basically actors running through the lines you already read. Visually, Fincher did everything he could here (and did it well), but I wasn’t taken into the world as much as I wanted to be. I still think this is one of the best movies of the year though because the dialogue is so good and because the movie is a challenging one, forcing you to deal with a character you don’t necessarily like. I especially enjoyed the performance of Armie Hammer, who I was shocked (like many of you were) to find out played both twins in the film. I think you’re going to see a lot more of him. The Social Network may not have lived up to the hype of the script, but it’s still Top 10 worthy.


9) INCEPTION
Even though I have a love-hate relationship with Inception (as a screenwriter, it’s impossible for me to overlook some of the laziest exposition ever put in a high profile director’s film), it was fun getting wrapped up in the visuals (Gordon-Levitt’s dream level was my favorite) and trying to unwind the tapestry of time junking going on throughout the last third of the film. When you break Inception down, it’s a bit of a house of cards, but all the cards in this house are exquisitely designed and fun to play with.


8) THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT
I already talked about how this movie affected me on a writing level. On the filmmaking side, I gotta say that I love both Mark Ruffalo and Julianne Moore as actors. Ruffalo in particular is the perfect everyman and about as close as they’ve gotten to Tom Hanks since he exited his prime. And Moore has drifted under the radar more than any other actress at her talent level out there. She is always good. When you combine those two with a great script, it’s no wonder this movie worked so well. Getting back to the writing though, go back and study the big lunch scene to see how professional writers construct a scene with a lot of characters. Notice how each person has their own goal in the scene, their own personal motivation, and how a lot of those goals and motivations conflict with other people at the table. It’s a great reminder of how to write an interesting scene in general. Make sure each person has their own thing going on!


7) ANIMAL KINGDOM
I was a few minutes away from giving up on this movie. Seemed like a semi-well done Australian indie version of any 500 American crime movies you could get on Netflix. But then the character of Pope arrives and the whole damn film becomes insane.  Holy shit was that guy unsettling.  I'm not going to put his villain in Hannibal Lecter territory or anything, but there are few villains that got to me the way this guy did.  I also loved the haunting score here, the second best of the year behind Inception in my opinion.  This might have made it into my Top 3 if it weren't for the acting (or lack of acting) from the teenage lead, who was clearly, err, still figuring the whole performance thing out.  It's too bad.  If he would've nailed his role, this movie would be an all time classic. 


6) FISH TANK
Fish Tank is a weird movie. In many ways, it sounds a lot like the movie I hated so much, Winter’s Bone. Depressing subject matter. How the low-budget impedes on the story. But unlike the main character in Winter’s Bone, the main character in Fish Tank, Mia, is fascinating. She’s pissed off at the world, mainly due to a mother who doesn’t love her. She takes all her frustration out in her dance, a secret desire she’s hoping will one day lead her out of this slum. But when her mom brings in a 30-something boyfriend, the hot sculpted Michael Fassbender, Mia lets her guard down for the first time. The two develop a friendship that always teeters on the inappropriate, but still manages to be real and genuine. Fish Tank makes you feel uncomfortable during the majority of its running time, yet you can’t help but be charmed by Fassbender’s character as well, so you want to see how their relationship is going to end. I wasn’t thrilled with the final act of Fish Tank, but there's enough great stuff here to outweigh that shortcoming.


5) SOUL KITCHEN
I don’t remember any German films making it into my Top 10 before. And I can count the German films I’ve liked in the past on one hand, so I wasn’t exactly thrilled to watch this. But my parents both said it was great, and since getting them to agree that a film is great is like getting Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston to go to lunch together, I decided to give it a shot. What a wonderful little film! It’s basically the story of a bohemian-like chef who’s scraping by with his shitty warehouse-based eatery of fried food for the working class. But when his brother gets out of jail, when the tax-man comes calling, when his girlfriend moves to China, when the food inspectors want to close him down, when his old friend wants to buy him out, when a 5-star chef tries to reinvent the menu, when his back nearly breaks, he will need to draw upon all of his passion and love for owning a restaurant to save the place. It’s one of those great movies that will cheer up anyone who’s in a bad mood. It’s a bad-mood breaker. This is on Netflix streaming if you’re interested.


4) TOY STORY 3
Toy Story 3 has one of the tightest scripts I’ve ever read. It’s leaner than 100% fat free ground beef. If you’re tired of trying to figure out what screenwriting teachers or gurus mean when they tell you that every scene has to move your story forward, all you have to do is watch Toy Story 3 to see what they mean. One thing that fascinated me about Toy Story 3, and something I didn’t know but which explains to me why Pixar’s screenplays are so good, is that they create 8 pre-viz versions of each of their films, screen them for their company, then have the writer go back and write the next draft after each screening. Imagine being able to see your movie eight times and go back afterwards and fix the issues that weren’t working. No wonder the damn script is so tight! As a testament to how well this movie worked (spoiler), there was a moment near the end where I really thought that Pixar was going to kill off all of its Toy Story characters. Of course in retrospect, that’s ridiculous, but I was so into the movie, my disbelief so suspended, that I really thought they were going to do it.


3) CATFISH
(Warning: If you haven’t heard of this movie, go see it now without reading anything about it. It’s the best way to enjoy it) I don’t think I’ve ever experienced two opposing feelings simultaneously as intensely as I experienced them here. I was equal parts fascinated and mortified during the entirety of Catfish. From the first frame, the movie has a weird vibe. It’s a documentary that starts out with its subject, Nev, a 23 year old photographer with an everlasting smile, beginning an online friendship with an 8 year old girl who sent him a painting of one of his photographs that appeared in a newspaper article. As the movie goes on, Nev becomes close with the girl’s family over the internet, including the girl’s older sister, who he develops an online relationship with. But when strange things start happening during their correspondence, he begins to suspect that something is amiss, and decides to find out who the family really is. This movie is amazing, the only time during the year where I lost track of time during an entire film. That’s how into it I was. When Nev first gets to that family’s house and walks inside and we see what’s going on there, I have never been that uncomfortable in a movie ever. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, this movie comes along and proves you haven’t.



2) THE TOWN
The Town was the biggest shock of the year to me. I was expecting something barely average and instead was blown away. No doubt Affleck was trying to do his best Michael Mann impression here, but since Affleck is an actor, he understands better than Mann the value of digging into your characters and figuring out what makes them tick. This approach made The Town, is some ways, better than Mann’s crime opus, Heat. The dynamic Affleck created in particular between his main character, his best friend, and the girl was perfectly executed and the “lunch” scene where Renner shows up during their date was one of my favorite scenes of the year. The only fault, in my eyes, is the ending. I liked that the heist was something we’ve never seen before (a baseball stadium) but it felt rushed and hackneyed, like everything in the script had been polished EXCEPT for this portion. Still, this one left me excited about the movies again and, gasp, excited about Affleck’s directing career.


1) LAKE MUNGO
I already know what you’re saying. I can hear it all the way through hundreds of miles of wires. Another movie aficionado picking an obscure film as his number 1 in order to look trendy and “in the know.” Yeah, maybe you’re right. But I challenge any of you to watch this movie and not get wrapped up in it. Lake Mungo is about a family who begins seeing their recently deceased daughter in photographs taken after her death. It’s one of the creepiest most clever horror films I’ve ever seen. The film poses as a documentary, but not in that cheap obvious Paranormal Activity way.  There's an honest feel to the approach that makes everything as real feeling as real life. The way it uses this format to release a series of surprising twists and turns, all of which catch you off guard, is so damn good there's really not much more to say.  Easily the best horror film I've seen in five years.  If you haven't seen this, go rent it now. 

And that’s it! I’m sure I’ve made a few controversial statements that will get you guys riled up but it wouldn’t be a Top 10 list unless I did so. I did miss a few films this year, including Black Swan, True Grit, and The King’s Speech. Feel free to ask me about any of the other films in the comments section and I’ll tell you what I thought. Also, let me know if there’s a movie I absolutely must see. I owe seeing Lake Mungo to you Scriptshadow readers, since I never would’ve seen it had you not pointed it out to me.  Please point out more hidden gems!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Kitchen Sink

Genre: Comedy
Premise: A human teenager, a vampire, and a zombie must save their town from an alien invasion.
About: Oren wrote one of my favorites scripts from last year, Shimmer Lake, about the aftermath of a bank robbery except told backwards. The script won the Austin screenwriting contest. Kitchen Sink is, from my understanding, his follow-up to that script, and made it on to this year’s Black List.
Writer: Oren Uziel
Details: 105 pages - undated (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’ve already sung the praises of Oren before. I thought his told-in-reverse crime caper was one of the best scripts I read all of last year. He has a real nice command of his craft and I love the way he mixes cleverness with comedy.

Now normally, if I’d read this premise, I would’ve rolled my eyes and moved on. The double-mumbo-jumbo approach has been debated to death here and the consensus is, it doesn’t work. But vampires, zombies, AND ALIENS??? That’s triple mumbo jumbo. A surefire 8 car pile-up.

I have some context here and those long time (and I mean REALLY long time) readers of the site might remember this. Joss Whedon wrote a script titled “Cabin In The Woods,” (which, if I understand correctly, has already been shot) that incorporates zombies and aliens and robots and vampires, etc., etc. I haaaay-ted it. I mean I thought it was beyond awful. And it was for that very reason – trying to mix all these disparate elements into the same flick (18-plex mumbo jumbo) - that I claimed something like it could never work.

But when I saw Oren at the helm of a script tackling similar territory, I thought, “You know what? If there’s anyone who can pull this off, it’s him.” Just the fact that he’s willing to title his script, “Kitchen Sink,” lets you know he’s in on the joke.

Kitchen Sink starts off the way you want your spec to start off: With something going on. In this case we have teenage everyman Dag and his maybe-girlfriend Lorelei sprinting through a Zombie-Vampire apocalypse. Zombies are eating humans. Vampires are eating zombies. And the few remaining humans are trying to kill both.

But not our heroes. They’re running. Towards that house! Except when they get inside…it’s filled with MORE zombies and vampires! Who continue to attack each other and who try to take down their new human prey.

But then there’s a flash of light. Everybody looks outside. Fucking ALIENS have just landed! And they start killing EVERYBODY. Aliens, zombies, AND humans.  Talk about bad luck.


Somehow Dag, a hot vampire named Petra, and a geeky zombie named Ned, are able to escape into the basement before the aliens get to the house. Lorlelei wasn’t so lucky. Petra killed her pasty human ass. Once down there, they realize that if they’re going to survive against this new threat, they’re going to have to work together. Petra reluctantly accepts but Ned takes a little more convincing, since he really really wants to eat Dag’s brain.

We then cut back to a few days ago before all the chaos began. This was an interesting choice by Oren because he uses the device so we can get to know the characters before they became…well…monsters. The backstory also adds a lot more context to the relationships. For example, it turns out Lorelei, that girl who came into the house with Dag, stole Petra’s old boyfriend, which is why she vampired her ass as soon as she walked in the door.

It’s a funky construct, as we’re whisked back and forth between the more character building scenes of the past and the crazy immediate dilemmas of the present. It gets a little out there by the end (Tivo becomes a huge part of the problem – if you can imagine that) but you’re definitely rooting for these characters to succeed and take down the aliens, and wonder if their previous prejudices are going to allow them to do it.

You know, I thought the script was pretty good. I didn’t like it as much as Shimmer Lake but that probably had more to do with the subject matter. I did, however, like that Oren was trying to do something different with a zombie movie. I thought the jumping back and forth in time so we could get to know the characters elevated it in comparison to other scripts in the genre. And again, that’s what you’re trying to do when you write a spec. You’re trying to create something different, something that’s going to stick out from everything else. If you have a script about three people stuck in a house with zombies attacking from all sides….it’s time to write a new script.


My big beef with Kitchen Sink was I thought the backstory would also reveal how a regular everyday set of teenagers had turned into vampires and zombies. I was waiting for another one of Oren’s clever little revelatory explanations but instead we find out that vampires and zombies were already a part of society before this apocalypse began. It worked fine but it would’ve been way more fun to find out how the world had gone from “everything’s normal” to “zombie/alien apocalypse” in 48 hours.

I should also note that crow will be served at dinner tonight. Last week I said I was sick and tired of people throwing real life actors into their scripts. Yet Oren does it here and actually manages to make it work (for those wondering – the real life actor is Don Johnson). I think a lot of that has to do with Oren’s skill and understanding of when he can push it and when to pull back. But the main reason it works is because Johnson’s character is actually an essential part of the plot, and not just a “Ha ha! Look, it’s Don Johnson!” moment.

I thought the prose was a little thick here, not indicative of a tight spec script, with some of the action paragraphs 6-7 lines long. While this may seem nitpicky, I only noticed it when realizing that, for a fast story, the pages were taking a little longer to read than normal. I looked back and noticed that a lot of the paragraphs were too thick. Of course, this might be the beefy version which Oren planned to slim down later.

If you liked Zombieland, this is about the closest thing I’ve read to that movie. It’s not as good as that film, but it’s still pretty damn good.

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

What I learned: Spec scripts should be written as if the people reading them have at least a mild case of ADD. When I receive a script from an established writer, I’m not getting antsy if the first four scenes are slow. I know the writer. I know what he’s capable of. So I know that eventually he’s going to steer me down the right path. When I’m reading an unknown writer, however, and they’re drawing everything out, taking their sweet time, I start getting antsy as hell. I begin to think, “This writer doesn’t know what he’s doing” because 99 times out of 100 when this happens, that’s the case. That’s not to say this won’t be the 1% execption. But I’m much less willing to let them prove me wrong cause I don’t know them. So I become distracted. I’m not paying attention as much. I’m moving through the script faster, trying to get finished sooner. When you look at the beginning of Kitchen Sink, we’re thrown right into the mix in the very first scene. We’re told by the writer, “I’m going to keep this entertaining. Don’t worry.” And whenever the script gets slow from that point on, another fun scene is thrown in that jolts us back again. That’s what you have to do with a spec. And no, that doesn’t mean you have to have aliens running around in your movie. Maybe someone gets shot in the first scene. Maybe someone’s told they’re a Russian spy (Salt), maybe we see people loading an obscured beast into a trailer (Jurassic Park), maybe someone’s landing on a new planet (Avatar). You gotta bring us into your world and keep us there when writing a spec so remember to infuse it with a number of entertaining scenes. Remember, readers expect spec scripts to move faster than other material.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

History Of Fools

Genre: Comedy
Premise: 13 year old Miles Calhoun excels in…just about everything. So when his parents continue to hold him back, Miles decides to do what any exceptional 13 year old boy would do – file for legal separation.
About: History of Fools finished in the Top 13 of the Scriptapalooza contest back in 2005. The notoriety got it some reads around town and it ended up on the Black List a year later with 5 votes. Eric Podell did a video Q&A about the script which you can find below.
Writer: Eric Podell
Details: 114 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).


Wes Anderson once said that he starts all his screenplays with a character. My brain doesn’t work that way. I need the stabilizing force of a concept before I can start building a story but the more I think about it, the more I think starting with a character is an intriguing way to go. Because if you only start with a character, you have no choice but to make him interesting.

However this leads to a problem. If you get too caught up in your character, you run the risk of neglecting your story. Or your character becomes bigger than your story. This is exactly what I believe happens in History of Fools.

When we meet Miles, the 13 year old maestro of mischief, he’s typing a manifesto to his parents detailing why they don’t understand him. He’s a great painter. Plays bass with the best of them. He even writes award-winning short stories. And yet his parents impose ridiculous archaic notions on him such as “curfew” and “rules.” All Miles wants is to be set free so he can fly. Fly away into genius’s embrace.

I knew I liked Podell as a writer right away when we get the “beautiful girl moves in next door” scene. You know, the scene we’ve seen a billion times before where the family of the beautiful girl moves in next to our hero? Except that’s not what Podell does. Instead, Miles welcomes the family in their house search, posing as a (13 year old!) real estate agent as he shows them their potential new home. At the end of the tour we find out, of course, that this is HIS HOME, which Miles is trying to sell off in order to piss off his parents.

And just like that, we’ve set up the central conflict in the movie.

The funny thing is, his parents are great. They’re the nicest parents in the world. They just don’t treat Miles the way he believes he should be treated – like an adult.

Miles is able to pass the time pursuing his new neighbor, but when his father gets laid off and his parents’ watchful eyes become even more imposing, conflict within the household reaches an all time high. Eventually they send him off to camp, which infuriates Miles so much, he leads a revolt during lunchtime and gets kicked out.

We can practically hear the water boiling over back home, and after his parents force him to get a job, Miles has had enough. He goes to a lawyer to find out what it will take to get a legal separation from his parents. The lawyer gives him a list of what the requirements are (neglect, abuse, etc.) and Miles goes about manufacturing scenarios to obtain the evidence needed to make his case.

I’m not going to tell you how it ends other than to say Miles might learn a valuable lesson: Mainly, be careful what you wish for.

I loved this character. I think you’re always going to get an interesting character when that character’s actions play against his or her age. So if you’re a 35 year old acting like you’re 14, you’re going to have some funny stuff. Likewise when you’re 14 acting like you’re 35. There’s a built-in conflict there that manifests itself without you even having to try (which is probably why I liked The Escort so much). Throw in a dose of arrogance and cup of selfishness and you’ve created a character who pops off the page.

On top of that, the dialogue was great, especially anything that came out of Miles’ mouth. And why should we be surprised? When you create an exciting interesting character, they’re likely to say exciting interesting things. Listening to Miles’ acceptance speech for his short story is the culmination of all these factors at work: “Wow, this was totally unexpected. Okay, let’s be honest... it wasn’t. Seriously, did anybody read the third act of Vaghars’ “If My Dog Could Talk?” Entirely void of realism. An unintentional farce. I think if his dog could talk he’d politely ask him to put the pen down.”

My big problem with History of Fools was the story, which doesn’t get started early enough and once it does get started, isn’t convincing. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Whatever your movie is about, whatever the hook is, you have to expose that hook by the end of Act 1. So if your movie is about a lawyer who can’t lie, he better not be able to lie by page 25. If your movie is about a bachelor party where they lose the groom, they better lose the groom by page 25. This is a movie about a kid who wants a divorce from his parents. But he doesn’t try to get this divorce until the midpoint, which is why 40 pages into History of Fools, you’re sitting there going, “What in the world is this script about??”

This ends up causing the next problem in the screenplay, which is that Miles’ attempts to build a case against his parents aren’t convincing. They feel slapped together. And the reason they feel slapped together is because we’re trying to cram them all into the final half of the screenplay. Had we had 30 extra pages, we could’ve added some real depth to these pursuits. Since we don’t, they come off as simplistic and questionable. Tricking his parents to go near their computer which has been set to a porn page and taking a picture of it (for evidence) betrays the more intelligent aspects of the screenplay.

My last complaint has to do with the central relationship between Miles and his parents. Miles hates his parents. HATES them. Yet his parents love Miles and will do anything for him. As his other friends note, they’re basically two of the best parents in the neighborhood.

So we feel like at some point we’re going to get insight into why Miles has grown to hate them. And really, I thought that was going to be what the script was about – how a family gets to this point. But it’s never explored or explained, leaving us to take the family conflict at face value, which isn’t easy to do since it doesn’t make sense. I remember in Rushmore, Max was ashamed of his father for a reason – because he was a barber, an unacceptable profession for the parent of a private school student. There wasn’t any reason behind Miles’ hatred here. And if there was, it wasn’t clear.

So I definitely think History of Fools has problems. However, Podell has created a memorable main character and has some great dialogue he’s working with. If he can manage to wrap a more compelling story around it all, I think this script could be awesome.

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

What I learned: A lot of the most memorable characters in cinema have a mischievous side. Whether it’s Lester Burnham secretly lusting after his daughter’s best friend. Captain Jack Sparrow screwing over anyone who gets in his way. Han Solo selfishly doing it all for the money. Vince Vaughn constantly degrading women in Swingers. The nastiness is what makes these characters pop off the page. But creating them is like playing with fire. Give them too much gasoline and they explode. There were a number of times here where the things that made Miles so memorable (his arrogance, his hypocrisy) also made him annoying because they went too far. I wouldn’t say he ever became unlikable, but he certainly got close. So add a little attitude to your characters to give him/her life, just be careful you don’t go overboard.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Scriptshadow has the day off

Turns out I'm more hungover from sugar plums and eggnog than I thought I'd be.  Plus, let's face it, does anybody actually work this week?  I mean please.  They should make the week between Christmas and New Years an official holiday.  Anyway, start prepping those New Years' lists.  And get ready for my Thursday Top 10 Movies of the year post.   It's been kinda fun catching up on all the movies I've missed this week.  Oh, and yes, I will be posting a review tomorrow.  A continued Happy Holidays! :)

Friday, December 24, 2010

Amateur Friday - Dear Santa

Genre: Christmas Comedy
Premise: A disenchanted hotel executive's life is turned upside down after he drops a Dear Santa letter in a mysterious "Letters to Santa" sack -- then must live with the consequences when his wishes come true.
About: 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 Carsonreeves3@gmail.com. Keep in mind your script will be posted.
Writer: Bryan Dunn
Details: 112 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).


Ho ho ho! Santa Carson is here. Before I get to the script, I’ll quickly run down my favorite Christmas movies of all time. First on the list is….drum roll please….It’s A Wonderful Life! Cliché choice? You bet. But I absolutely love this movie. Gotta love how they don’t unveil the hook (Seeing what the world would be like if he was never born) until ¾ of the way through the movie! A studio executive would just as soon kill you before allowing you to do that these days. Next up is the original “A Christmas Carol.” That’s also a great one to study as it has one of the most unlikable leads of all time. Study how they make you care for that character and use it for the next time you write an anti-hero. Following that is “A Christmas Story.” I mean dur. No explanation needed there. Finally you have “Miracle on 34th Street.” Yeah yeah it’s a little cheesy and on the nose, but it’s a well-executed script.

So how does today’s amateur script stack up? Well, I don’t think it’s fair to compare an amateur script to the four best Christmas movies of all time, but is it at least a worth entry into the genre? Let’s find out.

“Boyishly handsome” Ray Kincaid is a hotel manager at a posh Beverly Hills-ish hotel. Things are going all right for Ray. He’s got a beautiful girlfriend in Maggie. He’s well-respected for the job he does. In fact, his boss, Phil, thinks he’s vice-president material. The only blip on Ray’s radar is his nemesis, the perfectly plastic OTHER manager of the hotel, Chip.

They say you should never count your sugar plums before they’re hatched but Ray is skating towards that promotion faster than Christi Yamaguchi. Imagine his surprise then when his boss, Phil, chooses Chip instead of him! Humbug? More like humbullshit.

Ray is so furious that he flips out Jerry Maguire style and moans to anyone who will listen about how much his life sucks. His girlfriend doesn’t act sexy enough. He never has enough time to do anything. His hair is thinning. Chip’s an asshole. And on and on and on. In one of those crazy moments we all have when we’re not flying straight, Ray scribbles together a “wish list” addressing all the things he wishes he had in life and drops it into a “letters to Santa” bag.

And the next day, everything changes.

First, he has his hair back! It’s a little thicker than he would’ve liked but beggars can’t be choosers, right? Next, Maggie’s slinked out in a nice expensive piece of lingerie, ready to rumble Tiger Woods mistress style. At work, Ray is shocked to find that there’s…ANOTHER RAY! Ray 2! But how could that be? He starts to put everything together. Asking for more hair. Asking for his wife to be more sexy. Asking for two of himself so he has more time. All his wishes came true!

Of course, what would a wish-fulfillment movie be if the wishes turned out exactly the way you wanted them to? While Ray tries to manage the big “end of the year” hotel event, everything he wished for starts working against him. His hair gets REALLY poofy. His girlfriend starts dancing at a strip club. And his doppelganger is a moron who’d rather party with the guests than get any work done.

Ray changes his mind. He wants to go back to his old life. But is it too late?

It’s Christmas. I don’t want to be a scrooge, but I don’t want to *not* help Bryan get this script into better shape either. I thought Dear Santa was well-written, had some funny moments, and showed a strong command of the three-act structure (except for one part, which I’ll get to). However there were a few things going on that prevented me from recommending it. The first thing that popped out was the “buying of the hotel” storyline. The current hotel is being bought up by new owners which means there’s going to be a transition at some point and somehow that’s going to either help or hurt Ray’s job, which of course has nothing to do with Ray currently being promoted, as that’s up to his current boss and….Well, you can tell just by that sentence that I was utterly confused by that storyline.

The problem is it’s too complicated for this story and prevented me, in a lot of places, from just enjoying Ray’s predicament. I would take all that transferring of the hotel stuff out and make the story simple. They have some huge Christmas-related event that accounts for a ton of money for the hotel at the end of the year and Ray’s gotta nail it to get the VP job. He makes all these wishes, which he thinks are going to make that goal easier, but they actually make it harder. There’s your story. You don’t need to get any more complex than that.

Another problem I had – and this is something I’ve been seeing way too much of lately in amateur scripts – is that the 1st act turn (in this case, where Ray makes his wish list) doesn’t happen until page 36! That moment should be coming on page 25 at the latest. I can understand this turn coming late in a gritty drama or a thoughtful period piece. But this is a high concept comedy, the genre best suited for the three-act structure, so it’s probably a good idea to follow that structure closely.

My third problem is in reference to the concept itself. Is this concept too spread out? The brilliance of Liar Liar is in its simplicity. He can’t lie. It’s one problem so everything about the script is centered and easy to understand. In Dear Santa, the elements are many. His wife is a stripper, he has this copy of himself running around, his adopted parents (another wish) come back into his life. So everything’s kind of haphazard and unfocused. I’m not saying it can’t work, but the randomness of it all did give me pause. I remember when he first saw Ray’s double and I thought, “That right there could be its own movie.” Then again, if you did that, it might be too much like other “be careful what you wish for” movies. So I’m not entirely sure how to address this issue. Maybe some of you readers have suggestions.

Finally, I would’ve kept everything as Christmas-related as possible in the same way that the theme of “Love Actually” focused all of its subplots on love. For example, when we have this big Jane Austen convention in the end, I don’t know what Jane Austen has to do with Christmas. It felt like a different movie. Why not turn it into something where the hotel holds the biggest Christmas Eve soup kitchen in Los Angeles and it requires an amazing amount of planning? That would feel more organic to the story.

Dear Santa had a really fun exciting energy to it. It was definitely better than the other “hotel manager” script I read not long ago, “Tower Heist,” but the script complicates itself in some ways and loses focus in others. If it could fix those problems, it would be a fun holiday film.

Scrooge out!

Script link: Dear Santa 

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

What I learned: I randomly ran across this interview from comedy writer Adam Goldberg and really like the advice. It doesn’t apply to this review specifically, but since I only use this section to take on in-script problems, I thought it’d be fun to talk about your mindset BEFORE you write a script. “Write in your voice. Write what you know and what appeals to you. This is where you'll have the most success. My agent once called me and told me that studios were looking for Jackie Chan movies. He also said they were looking for the "new" Kindergarten Cop. So he said -- "Why not do both?" Now, who knows? Maybe I would've sold it for millions. But you should never write to what the town wants. Don't write a thriller just because you hear thrillers are an easy sell. Only write a script that you know you can knock out of the park. I wrote Fanboys because I'm a giant Star Wars Fan. I wrote Revenge of the Nerds because, well, I am one. They say "write what you know" and there's a real truth to that!”

Remember, this is Amateur Friday.  We're all in this together.  Try to give feedback in a constructive manner that will help the writer in his next draft.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Carson's Top 10 Scripts Of The Year!


Okay now for those of you who read the site every day, these choices probably won’t be that surprising to you. But if you’re only an occasional stop-buyer of Scriptshadow (and if you are, shame on you), then there may be a few succulent chunks of screenplay goodness for you to munch on. Now unlike The Black List, my list isn’t time sensitive. The scripts don’t have to have been written in the year 2010 to qualify. They could’ve been written in 2005, 1997, during the Bubonic Plauge, doesn’t matter, as long as I read it this year. And what may surprise you is that these rankings might not necessarily reflect my Top 25. I’m not even going to look at that list. I’m simply going to choose which scripts affected me and stayed with me the most. That’s the sign of a good script. Not one that masters all the rules of screenwriting. But one that hits you on a gut level. Let’s stop screwing around and get to the list!

10) HOME
Genre: Horror
Premise: A paranoid delusional ex-convict is placed on house arrest out in the middle of the woods.
Writer: Adam Alleca
Here’s why I loved Home. The contained thriller may be the most spec-friendly genre format there is, and for that reason, a smart avenue for any screenwriter to take. But 99 times out of 100, writers don’t know what to do once they hit page 30. They’ve created a cool situation, but they haven’t created a deep enough universe, a full enough backstory, to make that situation last for an entire feature-length film. Without fault this always results in the writer relying on cheap gimmicks. Spooky people with mysterious pasts. Scary dream sequences. Jump scares (lots of jump scares!). They believe that if they string enough of these moments together, they can get to the finish line. The problem is that’s all they do – make it to a finish line. Alleca’s created a real backstory to this house as well as all of the characters involved. Therefore whenever anything happens, you know there’s a reason for it. And when it’s all said and done, you’re rewarded with a great script.

9) SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN
Genre: Drama/Comedy
Premise: An eccentric billionaire Sheikh tries to buck conventional wisdom and transfer 10,000 salmon to a river in the Middle East in order to achieve his dream – to salmon fish in his own country.
Writer: Simon Beaufoy
Salmon Fishing is one of those scripts that sneaks up on you like a curious cat. You don’t know it’s there until it’s rubbing on your leg and purring louder than a helicopter. After that, you have to have it. What I loved about this script was each character’s unique motivation. The Sheik and his eccentric idea to transfer salmon to his own country. Our hero and his desperate attempts to prevent this from happening, despite being hired to do so. Everybody had such a particular interest, such a particular focus in this story, that they all stood out in their own way. A great reminder to read things that don’t sound like they’re for you. What a nice surprise!

8) THE ESCORT
Genre: Comedy
Premise: A flight attendant who refuses to grow up gets stuck escorting an uptight 14 year old boy cross-country.
Writer: Justin Adler
I remember reviewing this script. I felt like the monkey at the beginning of The Lion King who walks up to the edge of the cliff and holds up the lion cub so that all the animals of the land could marvel at it. Except instead of marveling, you all began throwing rocks at me. Well, I still think this is a great comedy and the second best I’ve read all year. Granted I’ve never seen its doppelganger, Dutch, so I can’t comment on their likeness. All I know is that the road trip movie is so played out and I loved the dynamic of an adult and a kid being stuck together. It felt fresh, it felt new, and it led to a lot of situations which, while not completely different, were different enough to make this story its own. Not to mention it’s a great script to study for developing conflict in buddy movies.

7) THE DARK FIELDS
Genre: Thriller
Premise: A New York novelist gets hold of a rare underground wonder-drug that turns his life upside-down.
Writer: Leslie Dixon
Before I comment on this script, let me say that I just saw the trailer for it (I see they’ve renamed it “Limitless”) and it looks….not like I imagined it at all. I imagined a dark gritty David Fincher film. They went more the colorful vibrant route. I guess the look is supposed to represent the newfound “clear” way in which he sees the world but it just comes off as cheap-looking. Anyway, I don’t care about that. This was a damn good script. The thing I remember most is that it got right three important phases necessary for a good thriller. An active character (his pursuit of wealth), a mystery (all the uncertainty about the drug) and the chase (there was always someone right behind our hero – which kept the script moving at a breakneck pace). Lots of other things I loved about this too but too many to mention in a mini-review. I’m still interested in seeing how this film ended up. Can’t wait to watch it.

6) THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT
Genre: Drama/Comedy
Premise: After her 18th birthday, a young girl and her brother go looking for their sperm-donating biological father, who subsequently becomes a part of their lives.
Writer: Lisa Cholodenko
One of the best character pieces I’ve read in a long time. Usually when you read character pieces, three of the characters are wonderfully deep and the other three are thinner than tracing paper. If a character has three or more scenes in your screenplay, give them the full treatment. A backstory, needs, desires, secrets, flaws. Don’t ever settle for cliché. I remember thinking that if needed, any one of these characters could’ve starred in their own movie. That’s when you know you’ve created deep characters. If you want to study character development, check out this script over on Focus’ site.

5) CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE
Genre: Comedy
Premise: (from IMDB) A father's life unravels while he deals with a marital crisis and tries to manage his relationship with his children.
Writer: Dan Fogelman
Execution execution execution. Crazy, Stupid, Love is not the most original idea in the world but man did Fogelman execute the shit out of it. Because I’m a lazy bastard, I’ll just use an excerpt from my review to explain why I loved it so much. This is in reaction to the script’s fantastic climax: “Here, not only do we get that scene, but we get the reason why this script sold for 2 million dollars. It’s the climax of the story, a huge sequence where all of these relationships finally collide with one another in this glorious wacky explosion. It’s executed so perfectly and with such skill that for a brief moment, you sit up and think, “This is what screenwriting is all about.” And it really is. It’s that moment where all of the variables in your story come together in that perfect harmonic climax. It’s really good stuff.”

4) DRIVE
Genre: Crime/Action/Thriller
Premise: A stunt driver moonlighting as a getaway driver gets caught up in a job that’s over his head.
Writer: Hossein Amini
Vroom vroom. Look at Ryan Gosling go. Two slots in the Top 10! If that doesn’t prove this man knows how to pick material, I don’t know what does (with one notable exception of course). This is a great script to read to study character dynamics. I’m not talking about what goes on individually with your characters, but how each character relates to one another, so that when something happens to one person, it has a ripple effect on everyone else. That’s what sticks out to me most about Drive. There are scenes where five characters are in a room, and every person has different things going on with everyone else. This adds a load of conflict, a load of subtext, and just makes each scene infinitely more interesting. Top notch stuff.

3) THE GREY
Genre: Thriller
Premise: A group of oil drillers on a plane ride home, crash in the arctic tundra, where they become hunted by a vicious pack of wolves.
Writers: Joe Carnahan and Ian Mackenzie Jeffers (based on the short story ‘Ghost Walkers’ by Ian Mackenzie Jeffers)
This script is just low down dirty fun. Guys vs. Wolves. But not just any guys. The most badass of the badasses. Bonafied scary-ass motherfuckers. And our leader? The most badass of them all. It’s the closest experience that you’re going to get to watching Aliens that you’ve had since that film. I know that’s a huge statement, but this little script about survival is captivating stuff.

2) WATER FOR ELEPHANTS
Genre: Period Drama/Love Story
Premise: (from IMDB) A veterinary student abandons his studies after his parents are killed and joins a traveling circus as their vet.
You know, this is one of those scripts that shouldn’t have roped me in the way it did. It’s basically a love story. But the great thing about Elephants is that it’s a love story wrapped in a loony dangerous unpredictable package - the Bizarro World version of Titanic. Not to mention it has the best villain I’ve read all year hands down (can’t wait to see what Waltz does with it). You’re not going to read anything like this again for a long time.

1) UNTITLED CHEF PROJECT
Genre: Drama
Premise: A selfish workaholic chef tries to get back into the restaurant game after a much publicized meltdown years ago.
This script grabs you by the adam’s apple and never lets go. Even if you’re a girl. It will find your adam’s apple. Trust me. If Water For Elephants had the best antagonist of the year, Untitled Chef Project has the best protagonist. Our lunatic lead Adam is what would happen if you stuffed a powder keg inside of Christian Bale. Since Bale is already a powder keg without you having to stuff anything into him, you can imagine what that combination might create. In fact, I think Bale would be perfect for this role, a role it seems Hollywood has cooled on. WHY GOD WHY??? Although I’ve never done peyote and I’ve never hung out with Gary Busey, I’d imagine hanging out with Gary Busey while on peyote is the closest experience you’re going to have to reading this script. I still remember reading “Chef” like it was yesterday, and I read it ten months ago.

And there you have it. So, is there a common thread between all of these scripts, something we can take away for our next screenplay? It’s tough to say. However I did notice that almost all the scripts had at least one really memorable character, especially the Top 4. The biggest surprises for me were scripts like Water For Elephants, Untitled Chef Project, and Drive, all of which I was reluctant to pick up because the subject matter didn’t interest me. Yet once I opened them, the characters drew me in like a champagne sunset on a 70 degree July night. So work on those characters people. The concept will get your reader past the title page but once they’re there, it’s the characters that will keep them reading.

Enough about me. What were your favorite scripts of the year?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cedar Rapids Trailer

Last year's Top 10 Black List script, Cedar Rapids, debuts its trailer.  I have to say, this looks pretty damn good.


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.

 Lonny?

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.

Monday, December 20, 2010

College Republicans

Get ready for my Top 10 scripts of the year post on Thursday. Also, I somehow dug up yet another forgotten impressive script, which I’ll review Wednesday. Right now, it’s time to tackle the number 1 script on The Black List, College Republicans!

Genre: Political Drama/Biopic
Premise: Aspiring politician Karl Rove runs a dirty campaign for national College Republican Chairman under the guidance of Lee Atwater, his campaign manager.
About: Number 1 on the 2010 Black List. A couple of months ago, Shia LaBeouf was rumored to be up for one of the roles, though it’s unclear whether he was to play Rove or Atwater. Wes Jones, the writer, does not yet have any produced credits, but did associate produce the John Cusack film, Grace is Gone. For another take on the script, News In Film did a review a while back
Writer: Wes Jones
Details: 122 pages – December 2009 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’ve said it before. I’m not a political geek. Most of my political experiences revolve around my mom sending me CNN articles which warn me that my taxes are about to go up unless I vote for certain people. My obsession with movies and screenplays just doesn’t give me enough time to worry about imaginary people shooting at Hilary Clinton or what that wacky Joe Biden is going to say next. And quite frankly, it doesn’t interest me anyway. So under normal circumstances, I would never read College Republicans. But finishing number 1 on the Black List changes that. It is no longer a matter of whether I want to or don’t want to read the script. It’s now a duty. A civic duty for America!

It’s August 1973 and a cocky young whippersnapper named Karl Rove decides to run for the chairman of the College Republicans (against the advice of his peers). I’d never heard of the College Republicans before but I guess they were (or are?) a pretty big deal.

After some discussion, it’s deemed that the key to winning this election is through the South. So on a plane Rove hops and upon getting to Atlanta, he meets his wily no-holds-barred campaign manager Lee Atwater, a pint-sized little bugger who’d sell out his own brother if he thought it would get him a couple of steps ahead in his career.

The straight-laced Rove despises Atwater immediately but the two have no choice but to work together. It’s been ordered by the higher-ups.

Rove’s competition is a man named Terry Dolan, a pompous chap who figures this will be a cakewalk over the relatively unknown Rove.

But Atwater is a fierce (and dirty) competitor (his motto is: “You just figure out whatever it is that gets people most riled up, and you hang it around the other guy’s neck.”) who immediately goes after Dolan’s girlfriend in order to find out his secrets. When he discovers that Dolan is secretly gay, he spreads the rumor through backchannels and within a week, Dolan’s reputation is ruined and he drops out of the race. Never mind the fact that Atwater was wrong and Dolan wasn’t gay. Whatever gets the job done.

A young Karl Rove.

As they hop from southern state to southern state, Rove has more and more scruples about Atwater’s tactics, but they seem to be working so he puts up with it.

Eventually a man named Robert Edgeworth emerges as their main competitor and is a force enough to effectively end any chances Rove has of winning the election. But in a last-ditch effort, Atwater orchestrates some nifty underhanded moves to get Rove back into the race and take the election down to the wire.

I’m usually the first person defending The Black List, but I’ve received numerous e-mails from suspicious readers about the inclusion of College Republicans as the number 1 choice.

Here’s their beef, and I have to admit, it has some merit. There’s nothing exceptional going on here. The script is well-written. The story is fine. But there’s nothing in CR to indicate it deserves exceptional status. Whether you liked The Muppet Man (last year’s winner) or not, you have to admit that the script was unique. Whether you liked The Beaver (2008’s winner) or not, you have to admit it was unique. Both were examples of writers trying something different, which is why they were awarded the top prize.

What’s unique about College Republicans? What is it you look at and say, “Whoa, that is above and beyond anything I’ve read this year?” What chances does it take? I couldn’t find anything. And I’m not picking on Jones here. He’s written a solid script. I’m just shocked that a straight-forward retelling of events about two people as random as Rove and Atwater captured the imagination of so many readers.

Okay Carson, stop your bitching. Can you talk a little bit about the writing already so we can actually learn something?

Sure. Why not.

There were definitely some good things in the writing here. We have a clear story goal – win the election. So the script is always focused. The stakes are also high. It’s made clear numerous times that losing this election could end their careers before they begin. So things felt like they mattered. Atwater is a great role for an actor. He plays by his own set of rules. He’s dirty, he’s a liar, he’s a rogue. This character is going to pop on screen. You also have some nice conflict going on between the leads. At times it actually plays out like a buddy cop movie -- two guys with opposing views on life stuck together trying to achieve the same thing (if there’s an argument for College Republicans taking a chance – this would be the area it took a chance in). And to top it all off, you have a solid villain in Dolan.

Things went bad for me on a couple of fronts though. First, Rove is a boring character. He’s basically resigned to being stubborn and whining when he doesn’t get his way. And because Atwater’s personality is so outrageous, the longer the script goes on, the more Rove disappears. It’s like trying to get attention at a party when you showed up with Cosmo Kramer.

Lee Atwater

In addition to that, the script puts too much emphasis on everything surrounding the characters instead of the characters themselves. We get too many details about getting people to support them and how these elections work and what the stages are that lead to the final election and whose asses they have to kiss. All of it lends a degree of authenticity to the story, but it takes time away from and prevents us from getting to know these characters, especially Rove.

At least Atwater’s relationship with Kate and his love of playing guitar give his character some depth. But I was still never sure who Atwater was. When the lights went down. When all the people were gone. Who was he then? We got to see the performer. But we never got to see behind the mask. And Rove, I can’t tell you anything about him other than he wanted to win this election. He was so one-dimensional, he might as well have not even existed. It’s not easy to make these bull-headed conservative characters interesting, but I felt there should’ve been more aspects brought out about his personal life.

If I had to guess why this did so well, I’d venture to say Franklin (who orchestrates the Black List) hangs out with a lot of political-minded folks in the entertainment industry. This would explain why even though political movies never do well at the box office, two political scripts (Recount and Farragut North) also did well on the 2007 list – finishing 1 and 3 respectively. I mean if you’re a political geek, you’re going to go kookoo for Coco Puffs when a young Professor Clinton makes a cameo in College Republicans to bestow some wisdom on Rove (not surprisingly – he comes off as a God). But for me, this is just so far away from what I’m interested in, that I’m not even sure the best version of this script would’ve won me over.

What did you guys think of College Republicans?

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

What I learned: To really make your resume moment work, introduce it inside some element of conflict. For those who’ve forgotten what a resume moment is, it’s when a character’s history is read out by one of the characters as a quick and dirty way to give us information about that character’s past. The most obvious use of this is via a job interview, where the interviewer reads from the hero’s resume, “It says here Mr. Clark that you owed one of the biggest plastics factories in the world before selling it to buy an island in the Pacific where you’ve lived for the last 15 years.” -- Unfortunately your hero isn’t always in a job interview, so you have to look for other ways to pull this off. Having someone bring up the resume as an unwelcome surprise or against the hero’s wishes will put the audience’s focus on the hero’s disappointment rather than the information itself, allowing you to tell us a lot about a character without it seeming obvious. So in an early showdown between Rove and Dolan, Rove puffs his chest and says, “You have no idea who you’re dealing with.” Dolan replies, “Hmmm. Karl C. Rove, born Christmas Day 1950. Olympus High School…etc., etc., etc.” We’re so wrapped up in the standoff between Rove and Dolan, it’s not obvious to us that a resume moment is happening.