Genre: Ghost Story/Light Horror
Premise: After a young man is killed in an apartment building, he becomes a ghost, and must save his family from the same fate.
About: Erik Kripke sold Haunted to Warner Brothers earlier this year and the plan is for him to direct the film as well. Kripke is best known as the creator of the TV show “Supernatural” (also produced at Warner Brothers). Born in Ohio, Kripke graduated from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts in 1996. His first big writing credit was 2005’s “Boogeyman” but he actually had some success many years earlier, in 1997, with his film Truly Committed, which won the Audience Award at Slamdance. Wow, that’s pretty impressive. Having a film at Slamdance the year after you graduate college. It’s also a reminder of how much work and perseverance is required in this business, as he had to wait another 8 years before his first major credit was produced.
Writer: Eric Kripke
Details: 102 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 hope you’re not easily SPOOKED. Because today’s entry is verrrrrryyyyyy spoooooooky. Okay, I’m lying. It’s not spooky at all. But it is an example of a high concept premise that’s executed just well enough to sell to a major studio. A lot of people ask me about that actually. They say, “Carson, you tell us we have to write a perfect screenplay in order to sell. So why do I see all these decent-but-not-great screenplays selling?”
Because of one simple factor. The more high concept/marketable your premise is, the less impressive your execution has to be. That’s because producers have TONS of writers in their rolodex that they know can fix a script. So if they come across an awesome premise but the characters suck, they have a writer in waiting who’s awesome with character that’ll clean it up. But the less marketable your premise is (aka the less it looks like your movie would actually make money), the more impressive the execution has to be to make up for it. And even then, you’re probably just going to become one of those writers that producers call to help fix a script as opposed to one of the writers who actually sell a script. High concept/marketable premises people. Probably the most important factor in your script selling.
Anyway, on to today’s script, Haunted.
Detroit. The happiest place on earth! Errr, not exactly. And especially not exactly at The Rossmore, the apartment complex where our story takes place. It’s here where teenager Max Maitland moves in with his family. Max’s family has money issues, and truth is they’d rather be anywhere but here. But since beggars can’t be choosers, it’s here they will be. And almost immediately, they hate it. Not only is it dingy and depressing. But it’s also kind of…spoooooooky.
It isn’t long before we figure out why. It turns out numerous people have been murdered in this complex, a few of them right here in their apartment. And at the end of the first act, poor Max becomes one of the victims. Yes, our lead character is MURDERED. We later find out he’s been offed by the evil Caleb Grady, a spirit who committed suicide many years ago, blowing his entire jaw off with a shotgun. He now roams the complex, looking for opportunities to eliminate new victims.
After the shock of being a ghost wears off, Max befriends some of the other ghosts in the building, which include a man hanging in the lobby, a girl drowned in a bathtub, and a cute teenage girl named Christina whose fashion sense tells us she probably wasn’t born in this century, or the previous one for that matter. Christina and Max become fast friends, and she helps him with his transition into a ghost, giving him the lay of the land and how Ghostville at the Rossmore works.
Eventually, Max realizes that Caleb Grady is targeting his family for his next kill, and he has to figure out a way to get them out of the complex before it’s too late. But how do you get someone out if they can’t see you? Why, you learn to “haunt” of course. So Max goes through a crash-course in haunting with the other ghosts in a desperate attempt to save his fam. But it might be too late. Grady is already on the prowl.
Haunted is a light haunted house movie that packs just enough of a punch to keep you interested. The twist of having the main character be a ghost was an interesting one, and made for a story you’ve never seen told this way before. I think the biggest issue I had with it was its tone. There were many times where it felt like this script wanted to go DARK, into The Ring and Sixth Sense territory, but would then pull back into PG territory. I’m not even sure what movie I’d compare it to. Some have said Beetlejuice, but it’s been awhile since I saw that film so I couldn’t tell you. Personally, I would lean towards making this darker, but I concede younger audiences may enjoy the “safer” feel of the film.
Despite the subject matter being light, Kripke does a pretty good job exploring the relationship between Max and his father. I liked this idea that his father never listened to him when he was alive, and that ironically, only now when he’s dead, is he truly able to hear him. The problem was Max died so early that the relationship never had time to establish itself. Just as I was getting a feel for the two, Max was murdered. I would’ve liked just a little more setup there.
I also caught Kripke using a little writing trick that a lot of good writers utilize. Use your action description to slip in reminders of your character’s flaws, fears, and weaknesses. After one of the ghosts points out how lonely a lot of the ghosts here are, Kripke writes: “CLOSE ON MAX. Thoughtful. If there’s one thing he understands... it’s loneliness.” Sure, it’s a little bit of a cheat. But sometimes you have to hold the reader’s hand and let them know what it is your character is feeling/fearing. If that can be done in little asides like this, why not take advantage of it?
Throughout the script, I was going back and forth on what I would rate it. It was simply too safe of an execution to get revved up about. But then a nice little twist appears near the end that I never expected (no, it’s not a “Sixth Sense” like twist) that spins the story in a different direction. That twist saved this script in my eyes and made it worth the read. I have to hand it to Kripke. I did not see that coming at all.
So this was good. And I think most people will agree. In fact, everybody I know who’s read it so far has liked it.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: As a testament to writers who have discovered the importance of theme in their work, Kripke looks back at his approach to his show “Supernatural” now as opposed to when he started: "When we started out, we were going to make a horror movie every week. It was about the monsters, and it was about Hook Man and Bloody Mary and the urban legends and the boys, honestly, in the beginning, Sam and Dean, were an engine to get us in and out of different horror movies every week. [Now] for me, the story is about, 'Can the strength of family overcome destiny and fate, and can family save the world?' If I had a worldview, and I don't know if I do, but if I did, it's one that's intensely humanistic. [That worldview] is that the only thing that matters is family and personal connection, and that's the only thing that gives life meaning. Religion and gods and beliefs -- for me, it all comes down to your brother. And your brother might be the brother in your family, or it might be the guy next to you in the foxhole -- it's about human connections.” This is the kind of THEMATIC approach that tends to resonate with audiences, that makes your story more than just a forgettable 2 hour slice of entertainment. You can see that in how Kripke explores the relationship between father and son here. You may argue whether he succeeds or not. But it’s certainly a better approach than seeing how many scares or “cool kills” you can pack into 90 minutes.