Friday, February 25, 2011

Repped Friday - The Bridge

Genre: Action
Premise: A convict and a construction crew inadvertently spark a gun battle when they rescue a woman on the run from her violent husband and his dangerous associates. Trapped on a mile-long bridge and cut off from the outside world, they have to band together to survive a 5 hour siege.
About: Usually, every Friday, I review an amateur script from you, a Scriptshadow reader.  But today, I’m going to change it up a little. Today is a “Repped Week,” where I’ll be reviewing a script from a pair of repped writers who have not yet made a sale. The change-up is meant to help writers understand the level of quality it takes to secure representation. If you are a repped or unrepped writer, feel free to submit your script for Amateur/Repped Friday by sending it (in PDF form) to Please include your title, genre, logline, and why I should read your script. Also keep in mind that your script will be posted. The Bridge made this year’s “Hit List” of best spec screenplays, and its writers are managed by Jewerl Keats Ross and represented by APA.
Writers: Dominic Morgan & Matt Cameron Harvey
Details: 100 pages – Dec. 2010 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).

The Bridge is one of those titles that you can’t say without using Trailer Man Voice, harkening back to the days where everything was “Die Hard On A…” and every promo was a tongue in cheek inside joke between you and the moviemakers. You both knew where this was going, and you were both going to have fun getting there.

This isn’t the first “Die Hard On A Bridge” premise though. There’s been a few of them over the years, including “Suspension,” a near million dollar sale from Joss Whedon back in the late 90s. So how does The Bridge stack up? Does it get you from one side to the other? Or does it collapse midway through?

Destin Ryder (whose name pretty much guaranteed he’d be in an action movie one day) has earned the coveted right of work leave, a way out of the 24 hour prison cycle that’s dominated his life. Once a very bad man, Dustin’s made some big changes in his life, and he’s ready to leave the thug life behind.

The job he’ll be working is construction on a mile long cantilever-truss bridge spanning the Mississippi River. His new co-workers are noticeably wary of him, beginning with the heart and soul of the construction crew, fellow alpha male Steve Knapps. Knapps considers this crew to be his family, and Destin is the drunk uncle who's flown in to fuck up Thanksgiving.

Before these silverback gorillas can tango, however, a speeding car driven by the pretty but dangerous Marlie Steward swerves out of control, causing a huge multi-car pile-up spanning both lanes. McDonald’s trucks, 18 wheelers. This shit makes those crashes on Chips look like fender-benders.

They save Marlie, but soon learn she was being chased. And not just by anyone. By The Dixie Gang. A nasty glut of organized rednecks with blood on the brain. Marlie has something they want, and because these  construction workers are witnesses, the Dixies are going to mow them down like crab grass on a Sunday.

Destin realizes he has no choice but to draw on his mysterious past and organize this hodge-podge group into a military unit if they’re going to survive. He quickly puts together make-shift weapons like Molotov cocktails, using them to keep the Dixies at Bay, who are closing in from both sides of the bridge.

This all-night battle gets more complicated as time goes on. The big boss of the Dixies rolls in to organize the assault. They realize the cops in the area have all been bought off. Half the men don’t trust Destin. Redneck snipers start taking them out from the adjacent forest. Can the group hold out til morning when the prison SWAT team comes looking for Destin? They sure hope so cause holding out is the only way they can survive. On….(Movie Trailer Voice) The Briddddgggee.

The Bridge takes a simple premise and adds just enough complexity to it to make it worth your while. I liked it quite a bit. It definitely suffers from some of the clich├ęs impossible to avoid in the straight-action genre, but overall there were just enough tweaks to keep you entertained.

The first thing that gave me confidence in the script was how the writers set up the bridge. One of the complaints a couple of weeks ago in the amateur script “Wrong Number,” was that we were just thrust into the story before getting a feel for the geography and the situation. If we’re not introduced to the uniqueness of the space our movie takes place in, our mind’s forced to substitute a generic version of it. And if your reader is imagining a generic space throughout the story, there’s a good chance they’re going to think the entire movie is generic by association.

Here we get a detailed layout of the bridge as well as a description of what the workers are doing. We see them lift the steel girders off the back of the truck then send them up to the “skywalkers” on the top of the bridge. It does take a page or two of crucial “first ten pages” real estate to lay this stuff out, but because this bridge is where we’re going to be spending the next 100 pages of our movie, it’s something you have to do if you want your story to be taken seriously.

As far as screenwriting basics, The Bridge does a solid job. We keep a 40 yard dash pace here. 100 pages. Perfect for an action spec. Paragraphs are nary more than 2 lines long. We have our ticking time bomb (hold them off til 6 a.m. when the SWAT team shows up). The stakes are high for both sides. In fact, one of the things I really liked about The Bridge was that it made the stakes high for BOTH parties. (Spoiler). We find out that if the Dixies don’t get these diamonds, they can’t pay off the cops. They can’t pay off the judges. Their whole operation comes to a halt unless they can secure these diamonds. So you really feel the urgency of their pursuit.

I thought Destin was a solid protagonist. There were lots of things to like about him. First, you have the anti-hero thing going for him. A hero who’s dangerous and who has problems is always more interesting than a hero who’s perfect. You have the built-in mystery behind his past, so we’re eager to find out what’s going on with this guy. Although they could’ve done more with it, I liked how Destin was fucked either way. If he didn’t do anything, the Dixies would move in and slaughter them all. But if he fought back, he was going to jail for the rest of his life. And I loved how clever he was. Whenever you can make your hero outsmart your villain in some way, your audience is going to fall in love with him. When Destin holds those diamonds over the bridge in the trade-off, knowing they’d otherwise shoot him dead and take the loot, then grabs Walt Jr. afterwards, taking him hostage and ensuring them a shot at survival, I was onboard with whatever this guy did.

On the downside - like I already mentioned – no matter how you look at it, there’s always a feeling of “been there, done that” that plagues The Bridge. It’s an action movie on a bridge. There are only so many new angles you can introduce.

Also, there were a couple of plot things that bothered me. First, after the big multi-car pile-up, the police and ambulances and firetrucks come to take all of the wounded/dead away. By my estimation, in a pile-up of this magnitude, this is going to take something like 3 days of non-stop work to clean up. Instead, for some reason, the cops and everyone else just leave this huge unattended pileup on the bridge, which, conveniently, is when our bad guys decide to strike. It’s almost as if the Script Coincidence Gods showed up to clear out all the plot inconveniences so that the story could begin.

Also, I didn’t completely understand why the Dixies had to kill the construction crew in the first place. The reason given is that the construction crew saw who they were, and could therefore identify them. But if the Dixies own all the police and judges, why are they worried if some construction dudes know they were chasing a crazy chick who stole some diamonds from them? And if “being discovered” is really their fear, aren’t they worried that the tens of thousands of bullets and the organized attack left at the scene might point towards the most well-known gang in the area?

Still, I love movies where an underdog group has to take on a much stronger enemy. And I love when the conflict inside the group is just as dangerous as the conflict outside the group. The Grey. Pitch Black. And here with The Bridge. Again, it’s not perfect, but this is a solid little action script, and more importantly, something I could see on the big screen.

Script link: The Bridge

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

What I learned: Been seeing writers screw this up lately and The Bridge handled it well so I thought I’d bring it up. The size of your action paragraphs should be in accordance with the pace of your story. If your characters are sitting down in a bar after a long day, the length of the paragraphs can be 3-4 lines long. But if you’re in the heat of an action scene, keep your paragraphs razor-thin, two lines at most. Read The Bridge to see how they do this.