Friday, September 2, 2011

Amateur Friday – Killing Jane

Genre: Romantic Comedy/comedy
Premise: (from writers) When a slacker is dumped mid-proposal at a musical version of Pride and Prejudice, he enlists the help of his best friend to go back in time and kill the one person they hold responsible for his girlfriend’s high ideals: Jane Austen.
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). Also, it's a good idea to resubmit every couple of weeks so that your submission stays near the top of the pile.
Writers: Howard Dorre (story by Andy Kimble and Howard Dorre)
Details: 112 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 it a little buggy out there is the project, but rather an analysis of this unique draft as it pertains to the craft of screenwriting).

Previously on Scriptshadow: Some months ago a writer e-mailed me frustrated that a script titled "F*cking Jane Austen" had made the Black List. That's because he and his partner had written a script with almost the exact same premise. Adding insult to injury, he read the other script and felt it wasn't as good as his own. It was a bold claim. Writers often believe their scripts are better than the stuff that sells. So he put his money where his mouth was, issuing a challenge. Have me review both scripts and decide which was better.

So yesterday I reviewed the Black List script, F*ucking Jane Austen, which, in a nutshell was well constructed but too generic. Today I'll be reviewing its amateur doppelgänger, Killing Jane, and deciding once and for all who owns who in the First Annual Jane Austen Back In Time Romantic Comedy Smack Down.

Much like yesterday’s script, it all starts with two twenty-something slackers. We have Pan, a Hometown Buffet Assistant Manager, and we have his best friend, Jared, who is some sort of assistant scientist.

Also much like yesterday's script, Pan is dumped by the girl he thought he was going to spend the rest of his life with. At first the openings were so similar, and so common to this genre, that I began to question whether any writer in the romantic comedy genre aspired to be original anymore. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized this was about Jane Austen, noted for her books about love and romance. So I suppose it makes sense that the movie starts with a girl dumping our hero. Still, I would've preferred something a little more original.

Anyway, Pan becomes convinced that the reason his gf left him was because she, and all women for that matter, had developed unrealistic expectations of men that could all be tied back to Jane Austen and her ridiculously gooey novels about love and romance.

So Pan and Jared get to talking and realize that the best way to take care of this problem is to go back in time and kill Jane Austen! Well lucky for them, Jared has access to a time machine prototype at the lab!

So they take the time machine back where they immediately run into Thomas Lefroy. For non-Jane Austen historians, this was Jane Austen's one significant lover. Thomas just so happens to be on his way to a ball, where he plans to court - who else but… Jane Austen! Our not-so-heroic duo joins him, and pretty soon they're at an actual ball where the infamous Austin is socializing. Maybe this hit won't be as difficult as they thought.

Now you have to remember, Jane hasn't actually written any novels yet, so she's sort of a nobody. That makes priority number one finding her. So Pan starts chatting up some hottie in a coreset bad mouthing Austen at every turn, only to find out that he's actually talking to… Jane Austen!

Now Pan didn't expect Jane to be hot so this is throwing off his game. Jared just wants to kill the bitch and go home but the more Pan talks to her the more he kind of likes her. Lucky for them, they're able to cajole their way into staying the night, and that allows Pan even more access to Jane. He uses this time to share with her his "thoughts" about things that will be available in the future, and she's so taken by his “imagination,” that she quickly falls for him.

But just when we think nobody's getting killed, Lefroy comes along, pissed that this Pan fellow has stolen his lady, and starts devising a plan to shorten his life expectancy by about 250 years. Pan and Jared must get back to the future just to stay alive, but then what happens to Jane? Will Pan ever see her again?

If you were comparing both of these scripts just on the craft, yesterday's script would come out on top. It's way more polished. Take Jared being a scientist for example. Whenever you create a time travel script, how you approach sending your characters through time often tells a seasoned reader how dedicated you are to your premise. If you throw something lazy in there, that tells them that you're not exerting 100% effort. If you come up with something inventive however, that tells us you went that extra mile and are serious about your screenplay. Jumping back in time via a DeLorean is unique. Jumping back in time via the intestines of a rhinoceros is unique (from the recently reviewed Past Imperfect).

Making the best friend character a scientist with access to a time machine is probably one of the laziest options you could come up with. Not only that. But Jared was introduced, in the flashback scene, as the "cool kid." That means making him a scientist is not only lazy, but inconsistent with his character.Yesterday's choice was no home run either, but this option felt particularly convenient.

This was followed by a dreaded celebrity cameo with David Hasselhoff. I'm not going to call the celebrity cameo a death knell because as we've seen, a lot of professionals use it. But I will tell you this. David Hasselhoff has appeared in more comedy scripts that I've read than I have fingers. So again, you have another unoriginal choice, giving me the impression that you're not trying hard enough.

What I quickly realized was that while yesterday's script was too uptight, this script was too loosey-goosey. It was almost the exact opposite in that sense. But here's where things get interesting. Because this script wasn't so locked down on rails like yesterday's offering, the writers were able to take more chances. And while those chances didn't always pay off, they made the script more interesting, less predictable, and funnier.

Maybe the humor in this one just suited my taste better but when Jared busts out "Ice Ice Baby" on the piano at the ball, I was definitely laughing. And when Pan accidentally walks in on Jared (earlier in the script) potentially masturbating to Dora the Explorer, I nearly lost it. It just seemed like these two had fun with the premise and weren’t afraid to let their hair down. I think that's one of the challenges but necessities of comedy. Yes you have to have to structure. But if we don't feel like you're enjoying yourselves and having fun with it, then the comedy isn't going to play.

But when I really decided I liked this script better was around page 75, when we jump back into the present. In yesterday's script, I always knew exactly what was going to happen and when it was going to happen. I was shocked here then that we jumped back into the present with so much time left. I just had no idea where that would go and I'm not saying it was the most amazing choice in the world. But the fact that it was a choice I wasn't expecting exemplified why I preferred it. Because the writers weren't so locked down in story beats and act markers, the story unraveled in a more organic and engaging manner.

Now a huge issue that I'm sure a lot of you are going to bring up is the difference in the premises. In yesterday's premise, the goal was to have sex with Jane Austen. In today's script, the goal is to kill Jane Austen. I'll tell you right now. Having your goal in a comedy be to kill someone is always a bit of a risky venture. I know they just did it in Horrible Bosses, but they really made those bosses evil and therefore almost deserve what was coming to them. This is Jane Austen we're talking about. She hasn't done anything to anyone. So producers are going to have a tough time with that, as they'll be afraid your heroes will come off as unlikable from the get go.

Now personally, this kind of premise doesn't bother me. I think it's kind of funny actually and reminds me of the more cruel minded films of the 80s like Throw Mama From The Train. I also think that it's part of what makes this treatment better than yesterday's. The writers are willing to take more chances and be a little more daring. But this really bothers people for some reason so you may have to rethink that.

Despite all this praise, I still can't recommend Killing Jane. The recklessness of the storytelling definitely leads to a lot of funny moments, but craft-wise this script is far from where it needs to be. Take Pan for instance. He spends a lot of time trying to convince Jane to be a writer, something that at this point in her life, she's doubting she has the ability to do. But the scenes are empty because there are no stakes on Pan’s end of the conversation.

Let's contrast that with Back To The Future. There's a nice little scene in the middle of the movie where Marty is talking to his dad at high school and realizes he's writing something. He asks him whathim and his dad says a science fiction novel. Marty laughs and says, get out of here. I never knew you did anything creative. He then asks if he can read it. His dad says no, because if someone else read his work and didn't like it, he didn't know if he could handle that kind of rejection. The scene works because Marty is also pursuing something in the arts. He wants to be a guitarist – a rock star. But he too is afraid of putting himself out there. So there's something personal in the exchange for Marty. Not just the father.

So if I were writing Pan, I would probably give him some artistic ambition and put him at a turning point in his own life. He's been given an opportunity to take a stable well-paying job in the "real world," or he can keep pursuing this artistic endeavor, even though there's no guarantee it will pay off. Now when he talks to Jane about continuing her writing, there's something at stake for Pan because he's going through something similar in his own life.

So I feel like these guys still have a ways to go in terms of learning the craft but I did like this better than F*cking Jane Austen and for that reason Killing Jane wins the First Annual Jane Austen Back In Time Romantic Comedy Smack Down!!! Congratulations guys. :-)

Script link: Killing Jane

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

What I learned: Your script isn't dead if a similar idea gets purchased. The sell gets tougher, but there could always be another company out there who wants to make the same movie. Your idea really isn't dead until that similar project goes into production. So it's your job to monitor sites like Deadline Hollywood and IMDB Pro and pay close attention to those projects' status. Because if you wait until the movie comes out before you find out, you might have just wasted eight months of your time working on a dead man walking script. This is why information is so crucial to every screenwriter.