Genre: Noir/Fantasy/Serial Killer
Premise: A recently retired police captain, Hook, is called back in to action when a boy goes missing under mysterious circumstances. He enlists the help of a woman named Wendy who, since her own kidnapping as a child, has been diagnosed as clinically insane.
About: Ben Magid is a writer who’s been earning plenty of street cred recently, working on a number of assignments and selling a couple of scripts, including his most recent sale, sci-fi spec Invasion, which sold to Summit for mid six figures. Pan is the screenplay that got him through the Hollywood door, selling to New Line back in 2006 (and also making that year's Black List). The script has recently found new life as the director of the (I’m told) amazing animated sequence in Deathly Hallows Part 1, Ben Hibon, has signed on to direct. Now I’m assuming this thing has gone through the rewrite blender dozens of times since 2006, but this is the original 2006 draft that got Ben noticed.
Writer: Ben Magid
Details: 117 pages – 6/24/06 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).
A couple of weeks ago, you may have heard me declare this statement: “If you want to make a lot of money, reimagine the serial killer genre.” (or something to that effect). Well look no further than Pan, a serial killer script based on…Peter Pan?? Where the good guy is Captain Hook?? I’m not sure you can get anymore original than that. What kind of screwed up individual thinks this shit up? Ben Magid.
Pan opens with an 11 year old boy getting yelled at by his mom for being afraid of the dark. During his mother’s rant, the boy notices that her shadow isn’t mimicking her actions. In fact it’s…signaling him. Little Michael is scared as boysenberry pie, but when his mom finally leaves, there’s nothing he can do about it. The shadow whisks him away…never to be heard from again.
When standard police work doesn’t turn up any leads, Commander Smee seeks out the recently retired James Hook, who was known for his uncanny – some would say otherworldly – ability to solve child abduction cases. But Hook is one emotional motherfucker. And committing to a case means reliving every case he’s ever been a part of. So it takes a lot of convincing before Hook’s finally in.
But when Hook is in, he’s *all* in. Unfortunately, one missing boy case quickly becomes two, and Hook realizes that they’ll need to move fast before others are taken. He finds out that there is one child who supposedly escaped this maniac 15 years ago. The problem is, she believes that her abductor took her to a mythical place called “Neverland” and held her captive there for years. The woman’s name? Wendy.
So off to the insane asylum Hook goes to see if the now-grown-up Wendy can help. After a little negotiation, the on-staff doctor allows her to leave with him. The clock continues to tick though, as yet another boy is kidnapped. Eventually Wendy herself gets taken, and Hook must find her in time to save her, as well as figure out the mystery of who this kidnapper is.
First thing I thought of when I picked this up is that Pan is the perfect “get noticed” script. Even the most cynical commenter (of which there are a few on this site – ahem) has to admit that the idea is clever and original, a mash-up of such intriguing proportions it would rise to the top of any logline slush pile.
But as we all know, concept and execution are two different things. And while I’m sure Magid is a better writer five years later, Pan falls into the kind of screenwriting traps that Peter Pan himself might set if he concentrated his efforts on story sabotage.
First, the script is bleak to a fault. There’s not a ray of sunshine in any of the 117 pages of Pan, and after awhile it starts to wear on you. If you don’t give your audience a moment to laugh or breathe or smile, you can wear them into the ground. Overuse of any emotion eventually desensitizes the audience to that emotion. Indeed it all became too much in Pan, and I eventually stopped feeling anything.
Next issue - and this is real huge in any serial killer/detective/mystery script - repetition. Pan is too repetitive. Go to the scene of the crime, interview witness, discover a new clue, another kidnapping, go to the scene of the crime, interview witness, discover a new clue, another kidnapping. If you get too caught up in that rhythm – which is really easy to do – the reader gets way ahead of you and the script just gets boring. And I’m afraid that’s what happens here. We continue on that loop of a standard investigation, with the added bonus of discovering the Peter Pan references, which is fun, but by no means able to carry an entire story.
Look at a movie like Silence Of The Lambs and what they do to break up the monotony. We actually have three storylines we’re following. We have the regular investigation. We have the Hannibal Lecter storyline. And we have the Buffalo Bill stuff at his home. So there’s a lot of things in that movie to keep the plot fresh. That doesn’t happen in Pan, and our interest wanes as a result.
Another problem I had was that Hook wasn’t a very interesting character, and this is another easy trap to fall into when you’re writing a serial killer film. Because the tone is so dark, you make your lead investigator dark and assume that’s enough. Here, Hook yells at other fathers when they neglect their sons, he stares off into the night with the thoughts of a million missing children on his mind, he takes out all his anger at the local gun range. The inner battle with himself is technically there, but it’s so overdone and so general, that it doesn’t resonate with us.
In Silence Of The Lambs, Clarice had a strong desire to prove herself, as well as prove wrong preconceived female stereotypes. Don’t even get me started on all the weird shit that was going on in Norman Bates’ head. The point is, just making your character an angry depressed curmudgeon for 2 hours isn’t enough for an audience. They need to see some struggle, or at least something interesting going on inside the character.
And I’m not pretending this stuff is easy. As someone pointed out in the Chinatown comments, this type of story isn’t constructed in a way to get you close to the characters. But some complexity, some inner demons or conflict have to be there that you can identify with so that at the very least, you find yourself understanding or sympathizing with the character.
That said, Pan is a visual project with the kind of unique twist that’s always going to get directors and actors excited. It always comes back to the hook (no pun intended). A unique hook keeps you in the game, which is why five years after being purchased, Pan is still on track to be made into a film. If they solve the script’s repetitiveness and make the lead character more dynamic, this flick could end up becoming pretty cool. But this draft? This draft wasn’t ready.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Wash rinse repeat. Wash rinse repeat. Does your script fall into that “wash rinse repeat” pattern? If so, look to mix things up. Add a subplot if you have to (the Hannibal interviews in Lambs). Change up the dynamic of the relationship (in When Harry Met Sally, instead of having Harry in the power position, put Sally is in the power position). Focus some scenes on the other characters (show Hanz and Franz cutting up the phone wires in Die Hard). Redundancy and repetition are HUGE problems, especially in these types of scripts. So look to keep things fresh by mixing it up.