Monday, December 5, 2011


Genre: Apocalypse/Western
Premise: At the turn of the 22nd century, a Federal Marshal tracks his best friend’s murderer through the Utah badlands to an outlaw stronghold. To bring his man to justice, he must first take out 30 of the most lawless fugitives in the land and their leader, a shadowy figure from his past.
About: This script finished on 2011's Brit List, the United Kingdom’s answer to the Black List. I have to admit that many of the scripts I've read off of the Brit List haven't been very good, but every once in a while I run into a sleeper. I'm hoping this is the sleeper. Burnthaven is being developed by the producer of Slumdog Millionaire.
Writer: Sebastian Foster
Details: 106 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'm going to admit to something that might get me kicked off my own website. I saw Once Upon A Time In The West for the first time this year. Yes, you heard me correctly. I only just saw one of the most important movies in all of history. Here's how clueless I was about the film. I actually thought that Clint Eastwood was in it. For the first 30 minutes, I kept shifting impatiently. “When the hell is Clint going to show up??” Well, Carson, it turns out Clint Eastwood isn't in the movie. Which just pissed me off. If I’m going to watch a Western, I at least want to watch one with the genre’s most famous star.

But then something happened. The movie started to grow on me. In a really weird way too. I became baffled not only at the sheer amount of silence in the film, but how well it worked for it. It seemed like everyone was having these really long dialogue exchanges BUT WITHOUT ANY DIALOGUE. And then the score. Easily one of the most haunting scores you've ever heard. If you haven’t seen this movie, rent it. I guarantee it is unlike ANY movie you’ve seen before. It just has this strange energy to it that I can’t describe in words. Check it out.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, Westerns aren't my thing. So when I pick them up, I usually do so begrudgingly. That changed when I saw the premise of this script. A Western set in the future? After the apocalypse? That's something I could get on board with.

Burnthaven starts off in the dried up Utah plains in the mid-2100s. We’re not told much about the past, but from the decaying airplanes and oil tankers you see strewn about, you have a pretty good idea of what’s led us to this point.

“This point” is a world trying to get back on its feet. Marshall Robert Hudson, an honest but tough lawman, is one of those people leading the charge. Hudson and his deputy, Rigsby, are tending to a crashed “stagecoach" (horses towing a gutted Greyhound bus) when one of the survivors, a squirrely man named Cander, shoots and kills Rigsby in order to preserve his stash of water filters, which are the equivalent of gold out here in the water starved plains.

Cander steals a horse and gallops away, and Hudson makes it his mission to find and bring him back to justice. The problem is a group of local bandits, led by the soulless Toby Meeks, a mean African American senior with his face half burnt off, gets to Cander first, taking an interest in his water filters. They head back to Meeks’ hideout in Burnthaven, and Hudson follows them there.

Needless to say, Meeks and his crew rule the town with fear and are used to getting what they want. But they’ve never met a man like Hudson before, who doesn’t take no for an answer. At first Hudson tries to get Cander back the old-fashioned way, by asking politely, but Meeks shoots that idea down real quick. It becomes clear, then, that the only way Hudson is going to get his man is if he kills each and every one of these bandits. So that's exactly what he does.

What I liked about Burnthaven was that I could actually imagine a world like this in a post-World War 3 United States. This isn't the imaginary universe of The Road Warrior, where people dress up in exposed football pads and colored Mohawks. This is just bad people taking advantage of a bad situation going up against the good guys. And that's how things are when shit hits the fan. The bad dudes rise up and start ruling the world with terror. So I appreciated the realism in how Foster approached this world.

However, as the script went on, I began to realize that nothing about the past played into the story at all. In fact, minus the water filters and the Greyhound bus shell, you could've easily plopped this story down into 1857 and it would have been the exact same movie. That bummed me out even more than realizing Clint Eastwood wasn't in Once upon a Time in the West. I mean what's the point of setting a Western in the future if you're not going to take advantage of the future setting?

There were some strange story choices here as well. Hudson loses his best friend to a guy who killed him more out of fear than any genuine “badness.” So the guy we’re going after isn't really a bad person. This may seem unimportant at first glance, but if we don't hate the guy we're going after, we’re not really going to care much if our hero catches him or not. I mean look at my third favorite unproduced script, The Brigands Of Rattleborge. In it, we see the man we’re chasing rape and kill our hero's wife. That’s someone I want my protagonist to catch.

On top of this, our hero doesn't even want to do anything bad to the guy. He just wants to take him back to his town and give him a trial. In the meantime, he’s ruthlessly killing the 30 men who are holding him. So let me get this straight. He believes in justice and a trial for the man who killed his best friend, but anybody who gets in the way of that justice needs to be killed? Am I the only one who thinks this doesn't make sense?

On top of all this, the script just becomes repetitive. Our main character is killing 30 people and he painstakingly counts them down one by one. After about the seventh kill, all I could think was, "I have to wait for 23 more of these??" And that's exactly what happened. We just waited and waited as Hudson would kill these people one after another. Is there any way we could make it, like, 6 people?

I am willing to admit that this isn’t my genre. It seems like there's a different set of rules in Westerns that I don't get. Specifically, there seems to be this theme of honor that's hit on in these films. So maybe Western fans like the fact that Hudson is trying to stay honorable in all of this instead of simply killing the guy who killed his best friend. I guess there's some logic in that. But it still seems strange to me that he's willing to kill 30 people to get that justice. Anyway, I couldn't get into this one. I didn't think it was very good.

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

What I learned: You have to commit to your plot points. If you don't know or care about what's going on, we won't either. I'm referring specifically to the water filter plot. What do the water filters have to do with anything here besides initiating Cander’s killing of Rigsby? From what I understand, Meeks thought Cander had hidden a stash of them, which is why he doesn't kill him right away. He wants to locate them first. But after that, Meeks just forgets about the filters. In fact, I don't think they’re ever brought up again. What this tells me is that the writer didn't fully think through this plot and is trying to fudge it. The biggest tell of this fudging is the fact that we don't we see a single person in the entire movie THIRSTY!!! How can you expect us to commit to a storyline about needing water when nobody in the movie mentions a need for water??? Contrast this with the animated film Rango. Watch that movie and see how much emphasis is put on the lack of water and how that plays out throughout the movie. You don't get to simply abandon major plot points in your movie because you don't want to try and figure them out. That's lazy and amateur hour.