Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Get Back

Genre: Comedy/Sci-Fi
Premise: A pair of Beatles fans stumble upon a time machine and seize the opportunity to go back in time and prevent Yoko Ono from meeting John Lennon.
About: Chris McCoy hasn’t broken into the “produced credit” category just yet, but he’s been pretty busy since he debuted on the 2007 Black List with this screenplay, doing lots of assignment work and having a bucket of projects in development. Get Back has garnered some heat lately with Mark Waters (Mean Girls, The Spiderwick Chronicles) attaching himself as director and setting a tentative start date of June, 2011.
Writer: Chris McCoy
Details: 115 pages – the Black List 2007 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 took note of Get Back a couple of years ago when I read the premise. Could it be? Let it be? A time travel comedy that actually sounded worthy of taking on Back To The Future? My hopes were quickly dashed though when I saw the writer. McCoy had written one of my least favorite scripts of that year, Good Looking. Although an original concept, the execution made me feel like the walrus. From what I’d read of his, I just didn’t see him being able to explore this concept in an original way.

But I decided to take a chance on Get Back anyway and boy am I glad I did. It looks like this is the same situation we were discussing last week. The difference in quality between a spec script (Get Back) and assignment work (Good Looking) is night and day. You can see the passion on the page here that you just didn’t see in that script.

20-something Ted Archer works in a record store. He’s a bit of a hipster, but not in an annoying way. He just loves the way music used to be made and the way people used to listen to it. Even if he won the lottery tomorrow, he wouldn’t change a thing about his life. He’d still be in here every day, listening to the great songs of yesteryear and selling albums, itunes be damned.

Peruvian Piero Chacon, Ted’s best friend, isn’t much different, but to add insult to injury, he’s so stuck in the world of yesteryear that women won’t even look at him. They don’t understand the clothes he wears, the words he uses, the things he likes. This man belongs in a first class cabin on Pan Am airlines in 1969, smoking a cigarette and not having a care in the world – not in Snooki-dominated 2010.

To demonstrate just how weird these two are, they’ve spent the last couple of years looking for a rumored spaceship prop from some 1970’s funk band who ditched it after a concert. It’s said to be in a nearby forest, and Piero and Tim are going to cover every square foot of that forest until they find it.

Imagine their shock when they finally come upon it! And imagine their additional shock when they find a strange dashboard on the inside with destination years on it. Holy shit, Ted and Piero have just found a time machine!

The two debate the ramifications of this find, and pontificate on the most valid uses for it. After agreeing that “killing baby Hitler” would be too difficult, they both agree that the single most horrible thing that happened in history is Yoko Ono meeting John Lennon and breaking up the Beatles. So Tim’s journey is set. He’s going to go back to London in 1966 and prevent John Lennon from meeting Yoko Ono!

So back they go, but get there too late, and must watch as the most fateful meeting in history occurs right in front of their eyes. What can they possibly do now? It doesn’t take Ted long to figure it out. In order to prevent this relationship from proceeding, he will need to get Yoko Ono to fall in love with him. Ted uses every trick in the book (i.e. telling her he’s predicting something called “the internet,” which fascinates Yoko) and soon the competition is on.

Unfortunately John Lennon gets so bummed out by Yoko’s interest in Ted that he decides to quit the Beatles.  The guys, via browsing through Piero’s ipod, realize that this destroys half the Beatles' catalogue and nearly destroys the entire future of music.

As a last ditch effort, Ted has to find a way to have Yoko fall out of love with him and back in love with John, all by the time a young James Brown plays his first funk concert, which is the only fuel that can send the spaceship back to the future. Complicating all this is that Ted actually starts to like Yoko himself!

Okay, truth?

This is a shameless copy of Back To The Future.

But dammit if it isn't a blast.

If I could only use one word to describe “Get Back” it would be “fun.” The script is fun. It doesn’t do anything exceptional and every choice made only helps you realize just how genius Back To The Future was, but this is just different enough from that film to get you your Back To The Future fix and still feel like you’re experiencing something new.

First, I was surprised at how clever the script was. When I first considered the idea, I didn’t know if it had legs. I figured Ted and Piero would get to London and go through a bunch of pratfall-like hijinx to push John and Yoko apart and then…that would be it. So I loved that John and Yoko got together right away and that Ted’s only choice of stopping them was to win Yoko over – the one person he hated more than anyone. *And* that he had to go against John Lennon – the one person he loved more than anyone.

I actually thought McCoy could’ve done more with this. Yoko’s really weird. And Ted’s present day annoying girlfriend was really conservative. If we could’ve stressed that Ted needed to find someone as “out there” and unconventional as himself, and Yoko could’ve filled that role, and he really genuinely fell in love with her, that could’ve made things really interesting in the end, when he has to go home. The way it stands, he only sorta falls for Yoko, keeping the stakes low and making their break-up at the end way too easy on him.

Actually, the entire ending is pretty clumsy and makes you appreciate just how perfectly constructed Back To The Future is. For example, instead of the lightning bolt scene, the spaceship is fueled by “funk.” This is pretty well set up and McCoy does as much as he can with it, but it still feels awfully clunky when he has to go to this James Brown concert with a spaceship propped on the stage and wait for enough of this mythical funk to fuel the ship so he can jump back to the present day.

Piero also gets short shrift here. I loved that we had a Peruvian lead in a script (don’t think I’ve seen that before) but he’s basically relegated to giving the movie something to cut to while we set up the next beat in Ted’s storyline. His romantic storyline also develops way too late, although I did like how it ended.

Trying to walk in the shadow of one of the best constructed screenplays of all time is not easy. I’ve read a lot of really bad time travel comedies hoping to find the next BTTF. Hot Tub Time Machine, for example, was nothing short of embarrassing. This is a thousand times better than that. It just needs some tuning up on the details, particularly the ending. And Ted could use some beefing up too. What we liked about Marty was that he was a dreamer. He wanted it all. And we wanted to see him get it. Ted’s a little more subdued, his dreams more down to earth, and as a result, he lacks a lot of the energy that made Marty so fun. Then again, you don’t want to make the exact same movie so maybe it’s better this way. This is a really fun little script that has a ton of potential – potential it may have fulfilled in the three years since McCoy wrote the original draft. Let’s hope so cause this definitely needs to become a movie.

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

What I learned: Does your title only sound clever once people read your script? Or does your title stand on its own? “Get Back” is a boring title if we know nothing about the concept. I would never pick this script up off a pile. Here’s the thing though. When you read the script, you realize the title’s actually quite clever. The problem is, *you have to read the script to realize that*. I’m okay with a writer doing this as long as they’re aware of it. But if you want to give your script a better chance of getting read, make sure the title is exciting on its own, not dependent on the read.

Also, check out my breakdown for the Back To The Future 2 script that never was here.