Friday, July 15, 2011

Amateur Friday - Siege Of Man

Genre: Action
Premise: (from writer) Halloween night, 108 mercenaries seize Manhattan to hold it hostage for 48 hours and a PTSD suffering Iraq war vet must find redemption and save the day.
About: 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: Sun-kyu Park
Details: 119 pages

I got two words for you. South Korea represent. Assuming we can classify South Korea as one word. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen a good action script. In fact, I don’t see many straight action scripts on the spec market these days at all. Or at least any that sell. I don’t know if companies figure they don’t need scripts for action movies anymore or the straight-to-video action market is so strong that nobody bothers making big-budget action movies anymore. That can mean only one thing. That the straight action film (Die Hard, Speed, Cliffhanger) is primed for a comeback. Is Siege Of Man that comeback?

To say that Siege Of Man starts off with a bang would be like saying Cameron Crowe casually enjoys placing his favorite songs in his movies. That is to say, a MASSIVE UNDERSTATEMENT. It’s clear after reading the opening sequence in Siege that Sun-kyu is disturbed, unstable, and insane. Lucky for us, because this has gotta be one of the more memorable openings to a screenplay I’ve read in a long time.

We’re in Baghdad. A group of soldiers prepping for another day in the heart of danger. There’s Max, a roguish photographer. There’s Joe, a blue collar corporal. And there’s Chang, a soldier just trying to make it through the day. The group is driving around the city when they’re surprise-attacked. There’s chaos and shooting and bombs and cars blowing up and pedestrians being used as decoys and even though these guys are prepped daily for these types of situations, this one is totally out of control.

At some point a man named Henri The Mercenary comes to them like an angel from the heavens and ushers them to safety. Or at least tries to. As they get to their helicopters, Henri doesn’t make it, is captured, and thrown inside a Baghdad movie theater. Just before he’s about to get tortured like no other human in history, a hardcore military man named Ash walks in and saves him. He tells him he’ll get him out of this mess, but only if he’ll help him do something.

Cut to a year later and we’re in Manhattan. Our boy Max ended up winning the Pulitzer for the pictures he took during that battle, while Joe is a drunken mess. A drunken mess who’s also a cop. Little do they know, Ash is prepping a hundred some mercenaries for some hardcore New York City takeover action. And oh yeah, it’s Halloween.

Within a 30 minute period, two of the bridges connecting Manhattan are blown to pieces. A couple of mid-sized blimps with multiple dirty bombs are sent up above the city. The internet’s taken out. Cell phones are taken out. And just like that, Ash has taken over New York City. He lets everyone know via speaker systems that if they don’t do as he says, they’re going to get their mouths washed out with dirty bombs.

Meanwhile, Max and Joe, who run into each other by coincidence, are tasked with figuring out what the hell’s going on and how to stop it. That’s not going to be easy since Joe is still pissed at Max for caring more about his stupid pictures than saving people on that fateful day. Luckily, they run into Army Sergeant Kirk, who helps bridge the chasm between them and give a more sound plan to saving the city. So what is Ash doing exactly? What is his plan? Click on the link at the end of the review to find out.

One thing’s clear. Sun-kyu can write. All you have to do is read the first 20 pages to see that. I thought I was in for a typical “American soldiers get attacked” Baghdad sequence when I started reading. And that’s how it starts. But where Siege Of Man is different is that it keeps going. And going. And going. And shit just keeps getting worse. And worse. And worse. As our heroes pull out their weapons to fight back and see nothing but a wall of pedestrians, it’s just terrifying. Particularly because cars are blowing up around them and men are shooting at them from rooftops. And they’re in the middle of the city and there’s nowhere to run. What’s so cool about this opening sequence is that you can SEE IT. You can see the movie playing out before your eyes. That’s a powerful talent to have as a screenwriter.

Here’s the thing with Siege of Man though. While Sun-kyu is great at writing action, the plot itself is confusing and the character development isn’t very good. This is a common problem many writers run into. They get an idea for a movie – like someone taking over New York – and they become really into WRITING THAT. But they never sit down and specifically map out WHY this would happen or HOW all the characters are involved. As a result, you get something that’s comprehensible but not enjoyable. All the dots connect, but with really weak lines – like the kind you get when using a No. 3 pencil.

For me it began with Ash. A cool bad guy. He wants to take over New York. I’m into it. But for the majority of the screenplay, WHY he wants to take over New York is kept a mystery. When you keep something that important a mystery for that long, you better wow us when it’s finally revealed. And I was definitely not wowed when I heard Ash’s plan. That’s because I still don’t understand it. Apparently, Ash is going to insert a virus onto the Fed’s mainframe, destroying the United States’ ability to move money. This will then – I think – result in worldwide chaos, and countries will start attacking each other. And then we’ll have World War 3.

I’ll try and say this as politely as possible but….what?

Next we have Joe and Max. I can’t quite put my finger on it but I was never interested in either of these guys. Despite experiencing that intense battle with them at the opening of the movie, I have no idea who they are. One has a drinking problem and is pissed at the other. The other feels guilty about his Pulitzer. It’s really barebones stuff and hardly complex enough to emotionally pull us into their journey. I was just watching Psycho the other day, and noticed how much Marion had going on as a character. We know she’s in a taboo relationship. We know she’s thinking about giving up her life to be with this man full time. She steals money to achieve this goal and leave her old life forever. She’s lying to everyone she meets from that point on. There’s a TON going on internally with this woman. You can practically see the conflict playing out within her every time she opens her mouth. Granted, Siege Of Man is an action flick and not a horror film, but I needed a lot more going on with my heroes.

Next we get into logic issues. In broad terms, if you don’t really think about it, the takeover sort of makes sense. The bad guys have blown up bridges, cut out the cell phone towers, and set up massive bombs if anyone does anything stupid. But Ash has around (I believe) 150 men at his disposal. 150 men would have trouble keeping order in Central Park. Manhattan’s small but it’s not THAT small. So this idea that enough bad guys were patrolling the streets to keep things in order didn’t fly.

The final problem is that the script just runs out of steam. This is what I was talking about yesterday with the second act. If you’re not exploring your character’s flaw, if you don’t have a couple of compelling relationships that need to be resolved, and if those aren’t coupled with an escalating plot, your second act is going to fall apart. Joe and Max do have a fractured relationship, but it’s pretty murky what needs to be resolved (Joe wants Max to acknowledge not caring during the Baghdad battle?). This forces Sun-Kyu to resort to Michael-Bay-itis, covering all these deficiencies up by MAKING SHIT EXPLODE.

The thing is, Sun-kyu knows how to make shit explode. He’s very visual. He’s imaginative. He knows how to paint the type of scene you’d want to pay ten bucks for on a Saturday evening. And for that, he should be commended. But here’s the weird thing about Hollywood. Yes, it’s true, that when a big-budget movie races towards production, producers could give two shits about logic and character development. In fact, most of them freak out and do their best to dumb down and ruin the movie as much as possible, which is why we get abominations like Transformers. However, when you’re an unknown writer trying to break in with a spec script? Those same things become incredibly important to producers. Ironically, they WANT character development. They WANT your plot to be intricate and logical and make sense. Is it hypocritical? Sure. But these are the guys writing the checks. Even though they’re going to turn your screenplay into an incoherent piece of shit a year and a half from now, right now, it needs to be perfect.

While Siege Of Man didn’t do it for me in the end, it’s the best writing I’ve seen in an amateur script in awhile. If Sun-Kyu keeps working at this and improving the non-action portion of his writing, he’s going to become a working screenwriter in Hollywood.

Script link: Siege Of Man

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me (but recommend the writer)
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: One of the reasons James Cameron’s films have grossed more money than any other writer’s films in history is that he’s the only action writer I know who cares just as much about character development as he does action. Watch any of his movies and you’ll see that. I mean, he gives the damn Terminator a character arc in Terminator 2. Let me repeat that. He gives a ROBOT A CHARACTER ARC. The truth is, most writers who love action aren’t interested in character development. And most writers who love character development aren’t interested in action. So think about it. If you put equal emphasis on both, you could be unstoppable. Just like James Cameron.