Friday, August 12, 2011

Amateur Friday - Inhuman Resources

Genre: Comedy
Premise: A young man begins to suspect that his bosses are monsters – real monsters.
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: Richmond Weems
Details: 94 pages

I had some major déjà vu going on when I picked this. I don't know if there was a spec a few years ago similar to this, or if I read an earlier draft of the screenplay. But there is definitely something familiar about this concept.

As for the concept in question, it's pretty good. While Lady Jane may disagree with me, the second you add monsters to your story, you get your screenplay a lot closer to high concept land. And I love the idea of a group of employees finding out that their bosses are secretly monsters. The question is – as it always is – did the writer execute?

Half of my notes on this one were destroyed in the great Chicago Fire so you'll have to excuse me if I get some of the details wrong. Thirtysomething Zach Taylor works at a company doing a vague job with not a whole lot of upside. In fact, Zach, along with the rest of his employees, are all just mindlessly sleepwalking through their careers.

That is until one of their coworkers, John Miller, doesn't show up for work the next day. The company has a long-standing practice of firing its employees who then disappear off the face of the earth. But these guys knew John Miller so they're curious why he didn't say anything to them.

The event results in Zach being a little more perceptive, and he quickly starts noticing a lot of strange things going on at the workplace. For example, the cleaning lady will be standing there one moment and then be gone the next. Instead of assuming she's just a really fast cleaner, Zach thinks something fishy is going on. This is followed up by an urgent phone call from someone in the building screaming for help. And that's when Zach really knows something’s up.

But it isn't until Zach starts paying really close attention to his three bosses that he becomes convinced that they're actually monsters. The problem is, the second he's onto them, they're on to him. And when they realize that Zach could potentially expose their long-running plan of gobbling up their downsized minions, they set up a big party at the end of the week for which Zach is certain will be the death of himself and all of his fellow employees.

So how was Inhuman Resources?

I got one word for you.


Actually, I take that back. I have another word for you.


This screenplay needed more subplots! It also needed fleshing out in almost every area. The idea is executed in the most minimal way, so it doesn't feel so much like a movie as it does a short extended out to 100 minutes. Let's start with the location. I may be mistaken because it's been a few days since I read this, but I don't remember a single scene that took place outside of the building. If you're making a contained thriller that happens over the course of a few hours, then keeping everything in one place is fine. But if you're telling a more traditional story, you need to get outside of that workplace and into the rest of the world so you can give your story some actual texture. With us seeing these people's lives only within the walls of this company, it was like only seeing one fourth of who they were.

But back to subplots. What should the subplots be in a movie like this? I don't know but I'll teach you a trick to help you find them. It's a simple trick. I call it "pretend that you don't have a concept." Pretend like the screenwriting gods came down from above and said to you "I can give this screenplay to the biggest producer in town. The only catch is that you can't include the monster stuff." What would you then do to make your screenplay interesting? Well, the only thing you really have at your disposal are your characters and your plot. So one thing you might do is create a love story between two of the people who work at the company. You might create a rivalry with one of the coworkers. You might create a work storyline where there's some deadline they have to make. Those are very simple options and you would definitely want to dig deeper, but do you see how once you can no longer lean on your concept, you're forced to actually come up with a story? And by doing so, without you even knowing it, you've created subplots.

Next up is a huge pet peeve of mine and something I've brought up many times before but in this instance it's almost inexcusable. You need to know what your character's job is. Why? Because people spend one third of their lives performing a job. It is one of the biggest insights into who a person is. If I introduced you to Joe and said he was a butcher, you’d get a pretty good idea of who he was, right? Now let's say I introduced you to Stacy, and told you she was a divorce lawyer. Again, you'd have a pretty good idea of who Stacy was just by her job. Now I'm not saying you can't play against those stereotypes and change things around once you get into the story, but you have to start somewhere – and knowing what your character does for a living is immensely helpful in figuring out who they are. If you don't know what your character is doing for nine hours of every day, then you don't know your character.

Now in this instance it's even more of a problem, because the entire movie takes place at the character’s place of work. I suppose there is an off chance that keeping the workplace ambiguous is a part of the plan but I doubt it. But even if that was the case, I think it's a bad idea. If you don't know what these people do, then you don't know what tasks to give them, what projects they need to work on, what their routine would be like. I mean think about it, if they work at a comic book company, it's going to be a lot different than if they work at the IRS. Every single detail of their day is probably going to be different. But since this hasn't been figured out, the characters are forced to do generic tasks (or in most cases no tasks), which contributes to the overall generic feel of the screenplay.

Plus, when you have a fun idea like this, it should be fun to come up with the company, because you can play off the monster angle. Maybe, for example, they’re a closet manufacturing company (monsters like to hide in closets). That's pretty lame, but you get the idea. Now that you have a real company that does real things, you can start coming up with real tasks for your characters. Maybe they're designing a closet for the richest man in town. Or maybe they're designing closets for a new school (which the monsters picked specifically because it offered a lot of eatable children). Now you can get your characters out of the building and into the real world doing things. The point is, now you can flesh out your story.

Inhuman resources is an example of a script where the writer has thought of their concept and nothing else. Every single element in the screenplay needs to be fleshed out. I like the idea for the movie. It definitely has potential. But this thing won't shine until it gets a giant makeover.

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

What I learned: A couple of lessons here. Never tell anyone that the script you're giving them is your first script. Richmond was able to get away with it in this case but that's mainly because I had a déjà vu moment when I read the concept. But most agents/producers/managers know that it usually takes about six scripts before writers really start to understand the craft. So usually, when a writer points out that this is their first script, I close that e-mail faster than George Lopez’s late-night show. You may be proud that you've completed your first script – and you should be – but if you want your script to be read, it's best to keep that information to yourself. Another lesson to learn here– and I'm just bringing this up because the first lesson reminded me of it: Do not inundate your industry contacts with seven or eight different script loglines from your script archives in addition to the script you're sending them. I don't claim to know the exact psychology behind this, but whenever a writer does it, it gives off a desperate vibe. But the bigger issue is that readers will probably start wondering, if this person has all these old screenplays that no one liked before, what's to say this one is any better? When talking about your screenplays, you should probably only mention the screenplay you just finished (that got you the meeting), the screenplay you're working on, maybe the last screenplay you wrote, and then possibly some future ideas for screenplays. You can even cheat and give them "ideas you're thinking about writing" that you've actually already written. Then, if they like them, you can "write them" really quickly and send them off to them. Now, not only have you given them a screenplay that you know they'll be interested in, but they think you wrote it in a month, which is always good.  Hey, agents lie all the time. Why can't we?