Premise: A small town serial killer accidentally becomes a hero when he saves the sheriff.
About: This script has not sold. I’m not even sure it’s gone out to anyone yet. The writer is new. I don’t know much more about it.
Writer: Dan Southard
Details: 105 pages (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).
Hoffman for Stan?
This one came to me mysteriously and without much information. I can only say that the person who sent it to me had previously sent me one of my favorite scripts. So I knew at the very least it would be solid.
But before I get to the review, a little trip down memory lane first. Take note of today’s genre. Serial killer. Serial killer falls within the group of genres that you absolutely HAVE to do something different with if you want your spec to survive in the spec jungle. Seven was a great movie but it also seemed to collectively destroy every ounce of writer creativity when it came to serial killer flicks. You need to find another angle into your story if you’re going to write one of these.
One way to go about that is to tell the story through the serial killer’s eyes, as Company does here. Stan is a lonely farmer approaching middle age, just minding his own business and trying to farm his own land. He lost both of his parents awhile back and that’s made this lightning rod of social awkwardness even more socially awkward. You’d have a better chance striking up a conversation with a pot of coffee than you would old Stan.
Stan also has a secret. He’s a killer. His victims of choice are hookers, who he finds in the nearby city. He brings them home, entertains them for awhile, and then he kills them. As if that isn’t bad enough, he preps the bodies, clothes them, and keeps them around so they can keep him “company.” The conversations are noticeably one-sided, but you get the feeling that’s okay with Stan.
After awhile, Stan realizes that the half life for a decaying body isn’t very long and therefore enrolls in some taxidermy lessons. It’s there where he meets Sandra Laird, the daughter of the taxidermist who’s quite beautiful except for the fact that half her face is paralyzed. Hey, beggars can’t be choosers. At first Stan resists Sandra’s approaches, but after awhile they start spending time together.
In the meantime, there’s some really nasty bank robber tearing through the state, leaving a bit of a body count in his wake. Definitely not a guy you’d accept a Facebook friend request from. By chance, before raiding Stan’s town, he runs into Stan, and is kind of a dick to him. Bad move. Stan follows him into town, and when the guy gets the upper hand on the town sheriff and is preparing to kill him, Stan flies out of nowhere to take him out.
Or wait. Yay?
Word spreads quickly of Stan’s heroics. But of course when you’ve got three dead hookers stashed in your basement, the last thing you want is attention. So Stan tries to downplay the whole ordeal, but soon he’s got the mayor himself at his doorstep asking if he’ll accept an award in front of the town. Combined with the escalating relationship with Sandra, the violently private Stan is going to have to make a big decision about whether he’s going to move on from the secret life he’s been living or go back to his very unique form of “company.”
I liked Company. I hope I don’t find myself in Stan’s company anytime soon, but I liked this script. Here’s the cool thing about it. Southard puts you in the company of a killer. That’s your protagonist. So from the very first page, you’re being challenged. We’ve been in this position before, most notably with Norman Bates, but Norman was at least charming. I’m not sure Stan would recognize charm if Robert Pattinson himself showed up at his door.
Still, Southard manages to pepper Stan with little sympathetic traits here and there. He’s all alone. He lost his parents. He’s been an outcast since he was a kid. So you’re being pulled both ways. You know you should hate the guy, but in the weirdest way, you’re sorta rooting for him.
A clever trick Southard uses to help you get over the fact that our hero is a killer is actually the opposite of what I recommend doing under normal circumstances. Normally, you’d want your audience to know as much as possible about the killer’s victims. The more we know about them, the more we’ll want them to be saved. But here, since the sympathy lies with the killer, Southard doesn’t let us know anything about the victims. This way, we’re not really torn up when Stan kills them.
But the script’s biggest strengths are obviously the two dilemmas it puts its main character in. First in Stan’s relationship with Sandra, and then when he saves the sheriff. I bring it up all the time, but irony is one of your best friends in a screenplay. It’s hard to wrap your head around a heroic serial killer. Those two things don’t go together. So you’re compelled to see where it goes. Likewise with Sandra. What happens when someone with three dead girlfriends gets a real one?
The drama then comes from these two entities pushing Stan further and further out of his comfort zone to a decision he doesn’t want to make. Our interest comes from knowing that sooner or later, those two worlds (his secret world and the real one) will have to collide. And because each world is so extreme, it’s going to be quite an explosion.
The script’s biggest weakness and the reason it’s only getting a worth the read though is its ending. That big explosion I was just talking about? The one that was driving my interest for a good 80 pages? It didn’t happen. In fact, I’m not sure what happened. Sometimes writers just try and get too clever and I think that’s what happened here because not only did the ending not live up to everything that came before it, but it wasn’t even clearly stated. That was frustrating.
Company also suffers the effects of having such an introverted protagonist. When your hero doesn’t talk much, the writer has to work overtime to come up with ANY sort of interesting dialogue when the hero’s involved. Predictably then, Stan’s one and two word responses get old fast, and the Sandra scenes sort of get stuck in limbo as a result. It’s tough because you have to stay true to the character but it is at the expense of the scenes. That’s why I always say, if you’re going to use an introverted hero, know what you’re getting into. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Norman Bates is so charming and talkative. They knew that his scenes would be a lot more interesting for it. Again, I’m not saying this was a script-killing decision. There was enough conflict here to overcome Stan’s quiet personality. It just made for some stale scenes is all.
However, there’s still enough good here to celebrate both the script and the arrival of Dan Southard. I see this making the lower half of this year’s Black List easy.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: When sizing up a romantic interest for your main character, always be realistic. Yes, in the world of movies, everyone looks like a male or female version of Zac Efron. But in reality, the chilling socially awkward ogre-looking guy probably isn’t going to end up with Megan Fox. Southard does a good job here of mixing Sandra’s beauty with a slight deformity, making it a lot more realistic that she would gravitate towards Stan. Your characters’ appearance, just like everything in a screenplay, needs to be in service to the story.