Genre: High School
Premise: Two best friends at Providence high school, Gabriel and Kayla, find themselves preparing for their lives after graduation. But when their relationship becomes more than friends, all of their plans will have to be reevaluated.
About: Another “write what you know” tale. (from Wikipedia) In his sophomore year at USC, Schwartz wrote Providence as a homework assignment. He entered it into a local contest and won. Unfortunately, the prize was quickly revoked; to be eligible he had to be in his junior year at the time. Schwartz says "I dropped it in a box – I was a sophomore. And I got a call over the summer saying I’d won, and I’d won five thousand dollars. I was like, "This is awesome!" Then they called back, like, the next day and said you had to be a junior to enter and not a sophomore, so they were rescinding it. I was pretty pissed.” Nevertheless, with help from connections through his fraternity, he generated interest in Hollywood to buy his screenplay. In 1997, Tristar bought the script in a bidding war for $550,000 against $1 million (while he was still a junior). Schwartz got an agent and subsequently wrote a TV pilot called Brookfield for ABC/Disney while he was still studying at USC. It was a boarding school drama about wealthy kids in New England and was his first TV pilot script; it sold only a few months after he had sold Providence. Brookfield was produced starring Amy Smart and Eric Balfour but never aired. Schwartz then dropped out of USC to work full-time and wrote another pilot called Wall to Wall Records, a drama about working in a music store for Warner Bros. TV that was also produced but never aired. Later, at 26, he became the youngest person in network history to create a network series and run its day-to-day production when he ran The O.C.
Writer: Josh Schwartz
Details: 107 pages – Nov, 19, 1997 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).
We’re back with another break-in script. This time from Josh Schwartz, creator of the O.C., Gossip Girl, and Chuck. All shows a lot of you probably haven’t watched (although I know there are a few Chuck fans out there). However fanboys should not despair. Josh wrote the upcoming X-Men flick, X-Men: First Class, as well. Makes sense when you think about it, since all the participants are supposed to be young and that’s clearly where Josh’s sensibilities lie. Regardless of all that, it’s always fun to look back and see what script broke someone in, even if my expectations for the creator of Gossip Girl aren’t exactly sky high.
Well count me surprised. I dug Providence from the very first scene. When I was a Freshman in high school, I remember going to my first school assembly. I’d never been to an assembly before and had no idea what they were. But with myself and 2500 other kids crammed into an auditorium, the lights went out, the latest hip hop song started blasting through the speakers, and 40 of the hottest junior and senior girls in drill team uniforms you can imagine came charging onto the floor. It was like the Lester Burnhum auditorium scene in American Beauty, if I was high on both speed and ecstasy. A sensory overload that took me into another dimension. For the next 7 minutes, I didn’t know which way was up, and to this day wonder if God gave me a glimpse of heaven in those 7 minutes.
Providence doesn’t hit us quite so severely over the head, but opens with a dream sequence where our awkward high-strung hero, Gabriel Gordon, is back in his 8 year old body, looking up at the stunning 18 year old Ashley Adams, a high school goddess who’s leading Gabriel through a football field of students. It’s the yearly assembly, the only one where every student, from ages kindergarten through 12th grade, came together, and here he is, the luckiest second grader in the universe, being paired up with his dream girl, Ashley Adams. We’re told about this moment through voice over, and the way Gabriel describes it was very similar to the way I remember my own assembly.
From that moment on, the script had me. I just totally identified with this character. And I’ll be the first to admit, it resulted in my overlooking a lot of the script’s deficiencies.
Anyway, Gabriel isn’t 8 anymore. He’s 18. His best friend is Kayla Evans, one of those pretty girls who has no idea they’re pretty. But Gabriel doesn’t see Kayla that way and she doesn’t see him that way either. They’re just best friends who’ve always gotten along.
Providence surrounds the duo with quite the cast of characters. You have Gabriel’s dictator of a little sister, Sarah. His dad, whose running regimen is more important than the family. Gabriel’s best friend, Vince, who’s skipping college so he can start a cult. And there’s Kayla’s best friend Whitney, who’s in love with a five year old. Despite the broad nature of these characters, Schwartz manages to make them work in a weird if not forced way.
One night, while innocently hanging out at a Halloween Party, Gabriel and Kayla accidentally kiss. But they quickly decide they don’t want it to be accidental, and kiss more. And then they quickly decide that instead of this just being a lot of kissing, they want a relationship, but want to make sure that their friendship isn’t ruined if the relationship fails. So they make up these rules. Can’t say I love you. Can’t kiss in front of others. Can’t break plans with friends to be with each other. Which is fine at first (isn’t it always fine at first?) but when things start getting more serious, all of these rules start getting challenged.
The point of contention is that Gabriel wants everything protected for the future and Kayla just wants to experience the now. It’s only when Kayla starts challenging these notions that Gabriel realizes how important being “in the moment” is. The problem is, when this finally gets through his thick skull, his philosophy likewise gets through to Kayla, who now values preparing for the future.
Man, timing sucks.
It’s one of the things I liked about Providence. The script moves along a predictable path for most of the way, but once it gets to that last act, you really have no idea what’s going to happen.
I also liked the theme of the movie but more importantly, what I learned about theme in the process. I think one of the reasons writers are afraid of theme is that they’re afraid of being tasked with coming up with some profound statement about the world. It’s like they have to invent a new theory that no one in history has come up with before. Yet a lot of the themes that work are deceptively simple, like this one. Providence’s theme is “Live in the moment.” That’s all. It’s brought up in some of the conversations. It’s tied in to the main character’s flaw (Gabriel is more concerned with the future than the now) and that’s it. It’s subtly explored and the reason it works is because it’s a theme everybody can identify with.
So it’s a good reminder that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to theme. Just pick something that’s meaningful to you and that’s relevant to your characters and go with it.
The script wasn’t bullet-proof by any means. There’s no true hook to the story. It’s just a regular high school movie (and I’m assuming that’s why it never got made). Schwartz made some classic young writer mistakes, such as carrying scenes on for a page or two longer just to get a few more jokes in (on Page 26). The broad stuff was bordering on too broad (girls liking 5 year olds?) We even get that awful cliché of the female lead being a photographer. Though in Swartz’s defense, I have no idea if this was a cliché back in 1997.
Still, Providence is the strange love child of The Graduate and 90210. There’s obviously something here and it’s why the script was discovered and started Schwartz’s career. This was definitely the surprise of the week.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: I don’t usually like dream sequences. They tend to be hacky excuses to throw a bunch of weird imagery together. However, I do like them when there’s a progression to them, where each dream builds upon the previous dream. Here, we keep coming back to the scene where Gabriel as an 8 year old is holding Ashley Adams' hand at the rally, and we want to know what happens next. In that way, it’s like a mini-movie. And just like any movie, we want to know what happens next.