Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Last Night Of October

Genre: Comedy
Premise: In 1986, the year Halloween lost its innocence, three junior high best friends try to salvage their last shot at the holiday.
About: There's not a whole lot of info on this screenplay but it looks to have been commissioned from National Lampoon’s for Robbie Chavitz to write. Robbie has been working for a long time in the business as a writer, director, and actor, though he hasn't had any huge breakout success yet.
Writer: Robbie Chafitz
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 the project, but rather an analysis of this unique draft as it pertains to the craft of screenwriting).

I like to find the diamonds in the rough just like any other reader. And since Halloween is coming up, and the premise for this one sounded fun, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to go diamond hunting. Unfortunately, the diamond I found turned out to be a sharp rusty nail, hidden in a mini Snickers bar, which turned the inside of my mouth into a bloody stew of flesh.

I didn't think you could write a Halloween script that was as average in its execution as Fun Size but The Last Night Of October managed to do so. This one was just devoid of everything. It doesn't have a single element that sticks out.

October follows three 13-year-olds, Matt, Wayne, and Frankie. As you would expect, all three characters are kind of nerdy, and all the major character tropes are covered. Matt is super average, but un-nerdy enough to be our hero. Wayne is the skinny dork. And Frankie is the sloppy fat kid.

The movie starts off with a school demonstration about how dangerous Halloween has become. An officer warns the kids that there are a lot of bad people out there who are looking to kidnap children and/or stuff their candy with razor blades and anything else that could maim or kill them.

But our un-heroic trio could care less. As 13-year-olds, this is probably their last ever night of trick or treating, so they have to make sure it's the best trick-or-treat night ever. Wayne has even gone so far as to map out the "Golden" route, where he’s used years of experience to only cover the houses with the best candy.

Oh but wait. Obstacles start happening immediately (if by "immediately" you mean after 30 pages of nothing happening). Fatso Frankie gets grounded by his parents because… well, he's too fat. Then there's Matt, whose father so much wants to be the "cool" dad, that he follows his son around like a lost puppy. I think something happens to Wayne as well but it was so inconsequential that I don't remember it.

After 10,418 pages, the group actually starts their trick-or-treat route, and hijinks ensue. For example, one of them gets stuck inside a Jesus freak’s house who keeps telling him about the importance of God. And then another one - I'm not kidding you - gets stuck in an old woman's house who wraps him up in yarn. Still another one of the group gets caught with a really nervous man with no treats. I'm sorry but there were moments where I thought the script’s goal was to not be funny.

Eventually the kids find their way inside a high school party with a lot of drinking and the story picks up a bit as they gargle some booze and get a little wasted. I admit that for a brief five pages, when they meet some girls, I believed there was a chance the script would rally.

But alas, all we get is something about all of them going to a haunted house where the family who used to live there is supposedly dead, only to get there, start partying, and find out that the family is still very much alive and back from a night out.

Let's see. How do I categorize this one? Well I should probably say this. Any screenplay that I read right after The Imitation Game has a tough act to follow. When you read a lot of screenplays, you always encounter stretches of mediocre material. After a while, you begin to think that's all that's out there. Then you read a script that's actually good and you go, "Oh yeah, this is what real writing looks like."

So when you go back to the average writing, it sticks out like a sore thumb. I mean the opening 10 pages here killed this script. Absolutely nothing happened. We literally got a 10 page scene of a cop talking to a bunch of kids. 10 pages! Of a demonstration. And I'm not saying that you can't make an opening 10 page scene work, BUT SOMETHING NEEDS TO BE HAPPENING IN THOSE TEN PAGES! If all you're doing is setting up your characters and spouting out exposition, you've lost the battle before it began. I already know I'm in for a long boring ride because if it takes a writer ten pages to get across what should have been conveyed in three, who knows how boring and unfocused it's going to get for the next 100 pages.

Indeed, this script takes forever to start. I don't think they actually get on the trick-or-treat route until page 33. Up until that point, all that happens is kids talking to each other. They talk and talk and talk and talk. And I don't even know what the hell they're talking about. But boy did they keep talking. This is why I so madly obsess over goals. If you give your characters goals, your characters will be active. They'll be doing things. They'll be pushing the story forward. If you don't, all you have is a bunch of characters in a bunch of rooms talking to each other. Borrrrring.

There's no GSU here. There's no conflict here. There's no exploration of character flaws here. There’s no character development here. As far as I can tell, this is just about three kids who go out on Halloween and trick-or-treat. That could be funny if the obstacles they ran into were interesting or funny in some way. But all of the gags and all of the events were either obvious, predictable, or dumb. A kid who needs to call for help because an old woman has wrapped him up in yarn? I don't know where to begin with that

The thing is, there was so much potential here. I was a little too young to remember Halloween in 1986, but I remember my parents talking about it. It was the year the holiday died. Up until that point, it was a safe fun exciting experience. I mean what's better as a kid than walking around from house to house with people handing you candy? It's like the greatest holiday ever.

But that year, everything changed. Kids were getting abducted. Bad people were stuffing razor blades in candy bars. You couldn't trust the experience anymore. Parents became paralyzed with fear for their children. And the kids felt that. Even sixth-graders were being escorted around by their guardians.

The thing is, I don't think I've ever read a script where something was discussed as much as this was, and yet I didn't feel an ounce of it. There are probably two dozen moments in Last Night where people talk about the danger of Halloween, and not once did it resonate. Maybe it was because they were telling and not showing. I don't know. But it never went beyond the page. Since I didn't feel that fear, I didn't care about the story.

And also, of course, the characters were boring as hell. So I didn't care about them either. If you don't care about the characters and you don't care about the story, there isn't much left in a screenplay to care about. Which is why this was such a disappointing read. This didn't work for me at all.

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

What I learned: Do not start your movie off with an exposition scene. Don't do it. Even if it's funny. It's too risky. If the reader feels right away like they’re being asked to remember important things and are not being entertained, they're done with you. And if you ignore this advice - because I'm sure there's a good movie or two that started out with exposition, for the love of God, make it short. Do not make it 10 pages long.