Tuesday, November 15, 2011

With Kind Regards From Kindergarten

Genre: Fantasy/Family
Premise: After inventor Karlheinz Indergarten’s best friend loses his imagination, he finds himself battling him many years later for control of their town. 
About: WKRFK finished with 3 measly votes on the 2007 Black List.  But not to worry.  That happens to be the exact same amount of votes that Untitled Chef Project finished with that year.  Strangely, Focus Features purchased this script.  I say “strangely” because I can’t remember Focus producing any family films to my knowledge.  I guess it’s not surprising then that the project has fallen into development hell. 
Writer: Adam K. Kline
Details: 95 pages – August 2006 draft, First Draft (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 don’t cover many family scripts on the site but it’s a genre that’s ripe for the picking if you have a great idea.  As I’ve mentioned before, they’ll pay you a lot of money for the right family script (2.5 million bucks for Aliens In The Attic a couple of years ago).  But you gotta love what you’re writing and the characters have to pop.  Kids demand something larger than life, so you gotta be able to deliver it to them.

5 year old Madelyn is minutes away from her first day at Kindergarten but she can’t do it.  She’s too scared.  Hey Madelyn, I’m with you girl.  I was scared shitless the first day of Kindergarten.  Leave home?  Stay with a bunch of strangers for 5 hours?  Are you kidding me?  I’m hiding under the bed!

So bad has the fear gotten that Madelyn’s parents call in the big gun.  Yeah, we’re talking about Grandma.  Grandma shows up ready to rock.  Dad, start making pancakes.  Mom, brew up some coffee.  This is going to get ugly.

Grandma finds Madelyn barricaded in her room and tells her that if she knows the true story behind Kindergarten, maybe she won’t be so afraid of it.  And that’s how our story begins.

Karlheinz Indergarten lives in a picturesque English town near the sea - the kind you see in postcards.  There, he attends a local orphanage led by Miss Understood, a courtly lady with an impossible to understand German accent.   Karlheinz spends all of his time with his best friend, Leopold.  They may not have TV or Ipods, but they do have a nearby giant tree that with a little imagination, they can turn into ANYTHING they want.

So they swash and they buckle and they sing and they giggle.  But then one day poor Leopold gets hit by a bolt of lightning.  He survives.  But something has changed.  Leopold is no longer interested in imagining.  We find out why.  Leopold, according to the doctors, has LOST HIS IMAGINATION.

Try as he may, try as he might, Karl can’t seem to coax fun out of Leopold anymore.  Then one day, out of the blue, an older jolly gentleman shows up and adopts Karl, taking him far away from his best friend forever.

The old man happens to be a clockmaker/clock-fixer.  And he teaches Young Karl his craft.  Karl picks it up quickly, and soon he’s better at it than the old man himself.  We watch Karl grow up, the old man get older, Karl take over the business, and finally the old man die.  It’s a sad moment, but it allows Karl to do something he’s wanted to do for a long time – go back to the town he grew up in.

Once there, he observes that everything’s changed.  The Industrial Revolution has hit and the town is caked in black smog and machinery and noise.  Back at the orphanage, Miss Understood is thrilled to see Karl again, but hits him with a bombshell.  The man in charge of all this machinery is none other than…Leopold!

Eventually, Karl meets his old friend again, who is now nothing more than a cold calculated businessman.  Leopold wants to take his company to a new level by manufacturing a series of creepy dolls that obey your every command.  And not only is he going to build over the park he and Karl grew up in, he’s going to employ children as his main work force!  Can Karl figure out how to stop the insanity?  Will he be able to save the orphanage?  And most importantly, will he find a way to give Leopold his imagination back?  Let’s hope Madelyn finds out in time to make it to her first day of Kindergarten. 

WKRFK displays a lot of imagination, but imagination occasionally overshadowed by inspiration. At times it feels like we’re getting direct homages to Disney’s most famous films.  It’s no secret that the old man who adopts Karl is a near carbon copy of Gepetto.  And then the little mechanical mouse Karl keeps in his pocket reminded me a lot of Jiminy Crickett, or any number of animated critters we’ve seen through the years. 

Despite that, WKRFK had one outstanding quality, the relationship between Karl and Leopold – from their initial friendship, to Leopold’s tragic accident, to Karl being taken away, to them now being enemies.  I don’t care what kind of movie you’re writing, a G-rated family film or an R-rated exploitation flick – this is the kind of dedication you need to have to the central relationship in your film.  We have to FEEL something between the characters – some unresolved issue that we want desperately to be resolved.  And I thought Adam Kline did a great job of that.

I also noticed a device here that REALLY makes us like a character.  It’s super-manipulative but man does it work.  The passing of time between two people who love each other that ends with one of their deaths.  In this case it’s a beautiful extended montage between Karl and the Clockmaker, where all we really see is them getting older and sharing things together.  The Clockmaker teaches Karl his craft and Karl repays him by building complicated contraptions for him.  At the end, the clockmaker dies.

First, it’s the SHOWING of love between the two that pulls you in (note: not “telling,” but “SHOWING”).  For that reason, we FEEL Karl’s pain when the clockmaker dies.  How do you not love Karl after that sequence?  How do you not want to root for him?

Not every movie gives you the opportunity to use this montage (you’d be hard pressed pulling one of these off in Taken for example) but you can see why it’s so much more effective than simply alluding to someone’s death via dialogue – which usually elicits no emotion at all from the audience.  I mean imagine had we never seen this sequence and instead, Karl had mentioned it to another character in passing: “Yeah, my father passed away after teaching me how to fix clocks.”  Doesn’t have the same punch, does it?   So if the opportunity to use this device NATURALLY is there, it’s a great option.

WKRFK is not a classic.  It’s not even great.  I would’ve looked for more opportunities to incorporate the Madelyn storyline (unlike The Princess Bride, we only see Madelyn and the grandmother at the beginning and at the end).  But I thought it worked for what it was - a simple story that most children will enjoy. 

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me

[x] worth the read

[ ] impressive

[ ] genius

What I learned: As you’ve heard on the site numerous times, you always want to start your script as LATE into the story as possible.  In The Fugitive for example, we don’t get to know Richard Kimble for a month before his wife is brutally murdered.  We start WITH HIS WIFE GETTING BRUTALLY MURDERED.  Start at the good stuff man!  But when you’re telling the story of someone’s life – and not, say, a specific event in their life - it’s okay to start at the beginning, which you see here with Karlheinz.  In fact, anything fairy tale related (“Once upon a time…”) gives you license to start with a little backstory.  So feel free to take that opportunity if you think it works best for your screenplay.