Friday, July 29, 2011

Amateur Friday - Dead Ahead

Genre: Comedy
Premise: (actual logline sent) Two slackers get a job at a funeral home, but accidentally misplace the body of a distinguished senator and get wrapped up in a wild chase trying to find it in time for the funeral.
About: George Chatzigeorgiou, the writer, is from Greece. Yeah baby. Scriptshadow goes international today. -- 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 Keep in mind your script will be posted in the review (feel free to keep your identity and script title private by providing an alias and fake title).
Writer: George Chatzigeorgiou
Details: 104 pages

Yes, I’m a broken record. But I’m going to say it again.

Comedy is hard.

It’s really hard. And I think there’s a reason that even though comedy is the most reviewed genre on Amateur Fridays, no comedy scripts made it into the Amateur Top 5, and only 2 made it into the Top 11. Everybody tends to think they’re funnier than they actually are. I mean, I think I’m hilarious. But the other day when I cracked what I believed to be a 5 star knee-slapper at the Cleaners, I didn’t get so much as a smile from the cashier (my joke was that her shirt looked an awful lot like a shirt they had lost of mine a year ago). Of course I don’t think she spoke English, but you get the point. Most people tend to overestimate their FV (funniness value).

Combine that with the fact that it takes awhile to learn how to be funny within the confines of a screenplay, and you get a glut of comedy specs that elicit, at most, a couple of chuckles per 100 pages. I still don’t think there’s any worse reading experience than a comedy that isn’t funny. Because you realize it isn’t funny somewhere around page 7, but then still have to trudge through another 103 pages. Knowing that the primary purpose of the script is to make you laugh, and that it will never succeed at that…Well, it’s pretty depressing.

But a very good sign is if the logline itself has FV. And that’s what happened here. I was all set to review a script with a dinosaur in it (I’ll be reviewing that next week) until I read this logline and started laughing. Since that rarely happens, I had to read the script. So, with that said, did Dead Ahead live up to its logline? Or did it die a humorless death?

20-something Andrew Buchanan is a slacker. Doesn’t have a job. Doesn’t have ambition. Actually, he does want to be a comic book artist, but every chance he gets to show his work to his comic book idols, he chickens out.

There’s only one person who’s an even bigger slacker than Andrew, and that’s his friend Max. Max is the worst kind of slacker. The kind who actually works TO STAY a slacker. That’s right. He’s so lazy that he actually works his ass off so that he doesn’t have to work. See his father keeps setting up interviews for him, and in order to keep from getting hired, he blows into the interviews intentionally looking like a moron. That way he gets to keep surfing on daddy’s dime.

Anyway, Max’s dad has had enough. He bypasses the interview process and actually gets Max (and Andrew) a job at a funeral home. They’re both mortified, but they don’t have any choice but to take it. And to make matters worse, on the very first day of work, they’re assigned to transport a dead California senator’s body to Los Angeles for his funeral.

But when they stop off for a quick errand, the van disappears. They find out it’s been towed, hurry over to the local impound lot, pay to get their van back, but upon doing so, find out the body’s gone. Uh oh. This can’t be good. They do some digging and find out the Senator’s wife may have taken the body, but when they get to her, she says she has no idea what they’re talking about (and also seems decidedly blase about her husband’s death).

They follow the trail to the Senator’s mistress, who’s a few feet shallow of a cemetery plot, and find out she’s running around town with the senator. With the DEAD SENATOR. She’s so crazy she thinks he’s still alive. Somewhere in the midst of all this, the buddies meet super hot wanna be journalist Kailin, who has a really overbearing boyfriend, Garrett, who’s convinced she’s banging some guy with a bigger dick. Andrew instantly falls in love with Kailin, but has to fend off the always nearby Garrett.

Somewhere amongst all of this (and the reason Kailin joins them) is a USB flash drive that the Senator had on him before he died. There must be some really important information on that drive since everybody – including some unsavory criminal types – are looking for the body just as feverishly as our heroes. Somehow Andrew and Max will have to get it together, stop being such slackers, and get the dead Senator to Los Angeles in time for the funeral, and before this crazy cast of loonies stops them.

So what did I think of Dead Ahead? Well I thought there were some good things about it. Structurally, it’s near perfect. We have a clear goal – get the dead body from point A to point B. We have a ticking time bomb – get it there before the funeral. We have conflict – the worst possible guys for the job are in charge. We have obstacles - Criminal types/Evil boyfriends. We have characters with some depth – Andrew lacks courage and Max resists responsibility. So at the core I would say George really knew what he was doing.

However, I’m afraid to say I didn’t laugh that much. And I’m not sure why (but I have some ideas). One of the things that’s REALLY important in any script, but especially a formulaic comedy, is that the choices be unique. The reason being that the FORMULA aspect of your script is your constant. It’s the thing that makes it just like every other comedy, albeit necessary to focus the story. Therefore all the variables have to feel different in some way. Otherwise EVERYTHING is familiar. And that’s the problem here. The details feel too familiar. For example, it seems like every comedy writer is including the Eastern European thug character who speaks funny English. I’d actually read a similar character 2 hours prior to reading this in another comedy (I’ll be reviewing that script Monday).

The crazy mistress character dragging a dead body around had potential, but again, I’ve seen that before. In Weekend At Bernie’s and that John Candy movie (somebody help me out here). And the USB McGuffin also felt a little stale. I just feel like more chances needed to be taken. This comedy is way ahead of the pack due to George’s understanding of structure, but once you get the structure down, you have to take everything else to the next level. You’re never going to come up with something completely original. But if you can make each choice just a little different than what’s come before it, your movie will seem fresh. Take The Hangover for instance. I can’t remember any previous movie where a naked Chinese guy jumped out of a trunk. Or guys woke up in Vegas with a tiger in their bathroom. Or our main characters had to schlep around a baby (in this particular situation). All those little choices are what separate your movie from the rest.

Another thing I realized about these comedies is how dependent they are on the “crazy” character. If your crazy character isn’t pushing the envelope, isn’t nuts or super funny in some unique way, your script has an uphill battle. In The Hangover, Zach G. is responsible for like 70% of the funny shit in that movie. And the reason is, they’re constantly pushing the envelope with him. He ruffies his friends. He mimes a baby jacking itself off. He screams “I hate Godzilla” when a naked Chinese man comes near him. Max was fine in this movie. He had a few good lines. But not once did he push the envelope. Not once did he do something I’d never seen before. I just think the“crazy” character is a big source of your comedy. He’s your home-run hitter. Your big RBI guy. He’s gotta deliver.

I will say, however, there was one hilarious scene with Max where I couldn’t stop laughing. Kailin’s psycho boyfriend Garrett is chasing them in a car, and for the 20th consecutive hour accusing Kailin of cheating on him and giving (just because he’s the nearest guy to her) Max a blowjob. Kailin finally cracks and to piss him off, claims, YES, SHE DID GIVE HIM A BLOWJOB!! She starts miming the blow job for Garrett’s benefit, who’s mortified that his worst nightmares has come true. But then Max starts getting into the fake blowjob and starts directing her on what to do (“could you bite it a little?”). Kailin gets a little carried away and screams to Garrett that she sucked Andrew’s dick too, and is now miming a double blow job, which Andrew, who’s sitting in the back seat, starts feeling really uncomfortable by, and he’s telling her to stop. It was just a really funny scene and gave me hope that George does have comedy chops.

But all in all, this script needs to dig deeper on its choices. We’re like 2 or 3 choices down with a lot of these comedy bits. We need to go 6 or 7 choices down. But the good news is that the foundation is there. It’s a perfect comedy premise. That’s why I picked it. So I hope George figures it out in the next draft.

Script link: Dead Ahead

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

What I learned: Try to match up your character’s biggest fear with the task at hand. For example, Andrew has a fear of dead bodies. So what does he have to do? Transport a dead body. There’s a side-tip to this though. Don’t bury that fear amongst a bunch of other fears, or else the fear becomes negligible. Andrew’s ALSO afraid of a million other things, so the fear of dead bodies doesn’t resonate with the audience. I’d suggest stripping away all those other fears, just focusing on the fear of dead bodies, and then mine that fear as much as possible (he has to move the dead body, touch the dead body, undress and re-dress the dead body, pretend he's the dead body, etc.).