Friday, July 29, 2011

Amateur Friday - Dead Ahead

Genre: Comedy
Premise: (actual logline sent) Two slackers get a job at a funeral home, but accidentally misplace the body of a distinguished senator and get wrapped up in a wild chase trying to find it in time for the funeral.
About: George Chatzigeorgiou, the writer, is from Greece. Yeah baby. Scriptshadow goes international today. -- 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).
Writer: George Chatzigeorgiou
Details: 104 pages

Yes, I’m a broken record. But I’m going to say it again.

Comedy is hard.

It’s really hard. And I think there’s a reason that even though comedy is the most reviewed genre on Amateur Fridays, no comedy scripts made it into the Amateur Top 5, and only 2 made it into the Top 11. Everybody tends to think they’re funnier than they actually are. I mean, I think I’m hilarious. But the other day when I cracked what I believed to be a 5 star knee-slapper at the Cleaners, I didn’t get so much as a smile from the cashier (my joke was that her shirt looked an awful lot like a shirt they had lost of mine a year ago). Of course I don’t think she spoke English, but you get the point. Most people tend to overestimate their FV (funniness value).

Combine that with the fact that it takes awhile to learn how to be funny within the confines of a screenplay, and you get a glut of comedy specs that elicit, at most, a couple of chuckles per 100 pages. I still don’t think there’s any worse reading experience than a comedy that isn’t funny. Because you realize it isn’t funny somewhere around page 7, but then still have to trudge through another 103 pages. Knowing that the primary purpose of the script is to make you laugh, and that it will never succeed at that…Well, it’s pretty depressing.

But a very good sign is if the logline itself has FV. And that’s what happened here. I was all set to review a script with a dinosaur in it (I’ll be reviewing that next week) until I read this logline and started laughing. Since that rarely happens, I had to read the script. So, with that said, did Dead Ahead live up to its logline? Or did it die a humorless death?

20-something Andrew Buchanan is a slacker. Doesn’t have a job. Doesn’t have ambition. Actually, he does want to be a comic book artist, but every chance he gets to show his work to his comic book idols, he chickens out.

There’s only one person who’s an even bigger slacker than Andrew, and that’s his friend Max. Max is the worst kind of slacker. The kind who actually works TO STAY a slacker. That’s right. He’s so lazy that he actually works his ass off so that he doesn’t have to work. See his father keeps setting up interviews for him, and in order to keep from getting hired, he blows into the interviews intentionally looking like a moron. That way he gets to keep surfing on daddy’s dime.

Anyway, Max’s dad has had enough. He bypasses the interview process and actually gets Max (and Andrew) a job at a funeral home. They’re both mortified, but they don’t have any choice but to take it. And to make matters worse, on the very first day of work, they’re assigned to transport a dead California senator’s body to Los Angeles for his funeral.

But when they stop off for a quick errand, the van disappears. They find out it’s been towed, hurry over to the local impound lot, pay to get their van back, but upon doing so, find out the body’s gone. Uh oh. This can’t be good. They do some digging and find out the Senator’s wife may have taken the body, but when they get to her, she says she has no idea what they’re talking about (and also seems decidedly blase about her husband’s death).

They follow the trail to the Senator’s mistress, who’s a few feet shallow of a cemetery plot, and find out she’s running around town with the senator. With the DEAD SENATOR. She’s so crazy she thinks he’s still alive. Somewhere in the midst of all this, the buddies meet super hot wanna be journalist Kailin, who has a really overbearing boyfriend, Garrett, who’s convinced she’s banging some guy with a bigger dick. Andrew instantly falls in love with Kailin, but has to fend off the always nearby Garrett.

Somewhere amongst all of this (and the reason Kailin joins them) is a USB flash drive that the Senator had on him before he died. There must be some really important information on that drive since everybody – including some unsavory criminal types – are looking for the body just as feverishly as our heroes. Somehow Andrew and Max will have to get it together, stop being such slackers, and get the dead Senator to Los Angeles in time for the funeral, and before this crazy cast of loonies stops them.

So what did I think of Dead Ahead? Well I thought there were some good things about it. Structurally, it’s near perfect. We have a clear goal – get the dead body from point A to point B. We have a ticking time bomb – get it there before the funeral. We have conflict – the worst possible guys for the job are in charge. We have obstacles - Criminal types/Evil boyfriends. We have characters with some depth – Andrew lacks courage and Max resists responsibility. So at the core I would say George really knew what he was doing.

However, I’m afraid to say I didn’t laugh that much. And I’m not sure why (but I have some ideas). One of the things that’s REALLY important in any script, but especially a formulaic comedy, is that the choices be unique. The reason being that the FORMULA aspect of your script is your constant. It’s the thing that makes it just like every other comedy, albeit necessary to focus the story. Therefore all the variables have to feel different in some way. Otherwise EVERYTHING is familiar. And that’s the problem here. The details feel too familiar. For example, it seems like every comedy writer is including the Eastern European thug character who speaks funny English. I’d actually read a similar character 2 hours prior to reading this in another comedy (I’ll be reviewing that script Monday).

The crazy mistress character dragging a dead body around had potential, but again, I’ve seen that before. In Weekend At Bernie’s and that John Candy movie (somebody help me out here). And the USB McGuffin also felt a little stale. I just feel like more chances needed to be taken. This comedy is way ahead of the pack due to George’s understanding of structure, but once you get the structure down, you have to take everything else to the next level. You’re never going to come up with something completely original. But if you can make each choice just a little different than what’s come before it, your movie will seem fresh. Take The Hangover for instance. I can’t remember any previous movie where a naked Chinese guy jumped out of a trunk. Or guys woke up in Vegas with a tiger in their bathroom. Or our main characters had to schlep around a baby (in this particular situation). All those little choices are what separate your movie from the rest.

Another thing I realized about these comedies is how dependent they are on the “crazy” character. If your crazy character isn’t pushing the envelope, isn’t nuts or super funny in some unique way, your script has an uphill battle. In The Hangover, Zach G. is responsible for like 70% of the funny shit in that movie. And the reason is, they’re constantly pushing the envelope with him. He ruffies his friends. He mimes a baby jacking itself off. He screams “I hate Godzilla” when a naked Chinese man comes near him. Max was fine in this movie. He had a few good lines. But not once did he push the envelope. Not once did he do something I’d never seen before. I just think the“crazy” character is a big source of your comedy. He’s your home-run hitter. Your big RBI guy. He’s gotta deliver.

I will say, however, there was one hilarious scene with Max where I couldn’t stop laughing. Kailin’s psycho boyfriend Garrett is chasing them in a car, and for the 20th consecutive hour accusing Kailin of cheating on him and giving (just because he’s the nearest guy to her) Max a blowjob. Kailin finally cracks and to piss him off, claims, YES, SHE DID GIVE HIM A BLOWJOB!! She starts miming the blow job for Garrett’s benefit, who’s mortified that his worst nightmares has come true. But then Max starts getting into the fake blowjob and starts directing her on what to do (“could you bite it a little?”). Kailin gets a little carried away and screams to Garrett that she sucked Andrew’s dick too, and is now miming a double blow job, which Andrew, who’s sitting in the back seat, starts feeling really uncomfortable by, and he’s telling her to stop. It was just a really funny scene and gave me hope that George does have comedy chops.

But all in all, this script needs to dig deeper on its choices. We’re like 2 or 3 choices down with a lot of these comedy bits. We need to go 6 or 7 choices down. But the good news is that the foundation is there. It’s a perfect comedy premise. That’s why I picked it. So I hope George figures it out in the next draft.

Script link: Dead Ahead

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

What I learned: Try to match up your character’s biggest fear with the task at hand. For example, Andrew has a fear of dead bodies. So what does he have to do? Transport a dead body. There’s a side-tip to this though. Don’t bury that fear amongst a bunch of other fears, or else the fear becomes negligible. Andrew’s ALSO afraid of a million other things, so the fear of dead bodies doesn’t resonate with the audience. I’d suggest stripping away all those other fears, just focusing on the fear of dead bodies, and then mine that fear as much as possible (he has to move the dead body, touch the dead body, undress and re-dress the dead body, pretend he's the dead body, etc.).

Thursday, July 28, 2011


Welcome. Come one. Come all. To the Second Not Exactly Annual Reader Top 25 List. It’s been awhile since our first list. All you need to do is read through it to see that. Most of the scripts on there have already been made. Which means it’s facelift time. Now, as far as what this list is, it is a list of the Scriptshadow Readers Top 25 favorite screenplays. The only stipulation is that the movie can't have hit theaters yet.  So produced screenplays are eligible.

As for how the voting went, pay close attention because it’s a little confusing. I polled roughly 250 readers. Each reader sent me their Top 10 list. Every script on that list was assigned a point value of 1-10 depending on its placement. 1st place votes got 10 points. 2nd place votes got 9 points. 3rd place votes got 8 points. And so on down the line. I then added all those points together to determine the scripts’ standing. There’s a small twist. Anybody who had read more than 300 scripts in their life got double points. So their first place votes counted for 20 points, their second place points 18, etc. There were roughly 50 people who had read more than 300 scripts.

But none of that stuff is interesting to you right now. You want results. Just make sure you stick around afterwards . Because at the end of the list, you’ll find the TOP 5 AMATEUR SCRIPTS REVIEWED ON SCRIPTSHADOW. Yes, we voted on those too. And I think the Top 5 are quite good. Anyway, let’s get to the lists!

#25 (94 pts) College Republicans
Writer: Wes Jones
Premise: Aspiring politician Karl Rove runs a dirty campaign for the national College Republican Chairman under the guidance of Lee Atwater, his campaign manager.
About: Number 1 on the 2010 Black List. Shia LaBeouf is rumored to be up for the part of Karl Rove. The rest of the internet is reporting this as a comedy. But I don’t remember laughing. In fact, I don’t remember really connecting with it at all. Then again, this isn’t my list, it’s yours!

#24 (100 pts) The Voices
Writer: Michael R. Perry
Premise: A disturbed man with a good heart is tormented by his talking pets, who convince him to do things he'd rather not do.
About: This one is number 5 on my list. It also finished number 3 on the 2009 Black List. Last I heard Ben Stiller is still connected to the project. Michael R. Perry recently penned the Paranormal Activity 2 script. Which is of course a LIE because that movie is REAL!

#23 (102 pts) L.A. Rex
Writer: Will Beall (based on his novel)
Premise: Rookie LAPD officer Ben Halloran gets partnered with scarred and tobacco-spitting Officer Marquez, and the unlikely team hit the streets of L.A. on the brink of a gang-rivalry explosion amid run-ins with the Mexican mafia, brutal gang murders, and corrupt cops.
About: Will Beall’s been writing a lot of stuff lately. And I know Roger really dug this. But I took one look at the 18,000 pages with dual line dialogue and said “no thank you.” Plus the premise sounded too scattershot to me. I like my crime movies simple. Like Training Day. Still, lots of people seem to like this one.

#22 (116 pts) The Muppet Man
Writer: Christopher Weekes
Premise: A look at the final weeks of Jim Henson’s life, the creator of the most famous puppet franchise of all time, The Muppets.
About: Number 1 on the 2009 Black List. The script actually sold to the Henson company, though it’s not clear if they bought it to make or to make sure it wouldn’t get made. It’s a pretty intense look at the muppet creator and that may scare them. The ending here made me cry like a baby. An interesting script indeed.

#21 (136 pts) After Hailey
Writer: Scott Frank (based on a novel by Jonathan Tropper)
Premise: After a newlywed war photographer’s wife dies, he must decide whether to help out her troubled son from a previous marriage or move on and start a new life.
About: This is one of the more famous unmade scripts in Hollywood. Everyone seems to read it expecting nothing, then comes out of it floored – turning people into After Hailey converts. Not sure what the status is, but I have a hard time believing this won’t get made at some point. It’s better than almost all of the other character pieces out there. The next The Kids Are All Right.

#20 (140 pts) Father Daughter Time
Writer: Matthew Aldrich
Premise: A man goes on the lam with his daughter on a 3-state crime spree.
About: This is the script that caused that big bidding war a few months ago and the brouhaha between Matt Damon and Warners. He wanted to develop it himself to direct. Then Warners tried to outbid him. Then they both agreed to work on it together, though it’s unclear if Damon is completely happy with that arrangement (studio interference is never a good thing for creatvity). I still haven’t read the script, but it seems to be popular. A lot of readers have personally told me how much they like it. Supposedly John Krasinski is Damon’s pick to star? I guess that’s one way to get out of the office.

#19 (143 pts) Seven Psychopaths
Writer: Martin McDonagh
Premise: A writer’s life is violently turned upside down when his friends kidnap a Mafioso’s dog.
About: “Seven Psychopaths” is McDonagh’s third film script. It’s his favorite unproduced script. At the age of 27, McDonagh became the first writer since Shakespeare to have four plays performed simultaneously in London. His plays have been nominated for multiple Tony Awards. He won an Oscar for his short, “Six Shooter”. He was also nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Oscar with “In Bruges”. I personally have never read this script. So I can’t offer any opinions on it. As much as this will piss everyone off, I never understood the love for In Bruges, so I never sought 7Psyche out.
Writer: Martin McDonagh.

#18 (155 pts) The F Word
Writer: Elan Mastai
Premise: A guy begins hanging out with a girl under the pretense that she’s single, only to later find out she has a boyfriend.
About: This one’s been talked about ad nauseam on the site so I won’t bore you with any more chatter. If you’d like to learn more about it, check out the review and then check out the interview I did with the writer, Elan.

#17 (170 pts) Gangster Squad
Writer: Will Beall
Premise: A chronicle of the LAPD's fight to keep East Coast Mafia types out of Los Angeles in the 1940s and 50s.
About: Warners is really high on this one and everyone tells me it’s great. I still haven’t read it yet though, and that’s because I still can’t get past the thought of those entire acts shown through dual-side dialogue in Beall’s other script, L.A. Rex. I imagine it taking me like 6 hours to read the script. Still, that’s pretty impressive. Two scripts on the Reader Top 25. Beall is definitely a writer to watch out for. Ryan Gosling will star. Ruben Fleischer, director of Zombieland, is attached to direct this one. Help me out here. Is this a comedy?

#16 (173 pts) All You Need Is Kill
Writer: Dante Harper (based on the Japanese novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka)
Premise: A young soldier on an alien planet is forced to fight an impossible battle against an alien force every single day as if the previous day didn’t exist. In doing so, he becomes an ultimate warrior.
About: This was a seven figure spec deal from last year. It’s stayed with me since I read it and could contain some of the most outrageous action sequences ever put on film. Who’s going to figure out how to pull those scenes off though is anyone’s guess. I know Doug Liman was attached to this for awhile but I don’t know who’s onboard currently.

#15 (199 pts) Dogs Of Babel
Writer: Jamie Linden (based on the novel by Carolyn Parkhurst)
Premise: When a dog is the only witness to a woman’s death, her husband tries to teach the dog how to talk so he can find out what happened to her.
About: Number 1 on the Carson Top 25! Woo-hoo! Since reviewed on Scriptshadow, Steve Carrell became attached to this project. It’s time for Steve to stop messing around and admit he’s a Scriptshadow fan since he attaches himself to half the projects I review on here. Come on Steven. Fess up.

#14 (211 pts) Mixtape
Writer: Stacy Menear
Premise: A thirteen year old outcast finds a mixtape that belonged to her deceased parents, accidentally destroys it, and must use the song list to find all the music.
About: Finished with 14 votes on 2009’s Black List. Seth Gordon was attached to direct and Chloe Moretz was attached to star but since then, both of their careers have shot into the stratosphere so I don’t know if they’re still planning to make this. But SOMEONE needs to make this. Get on it Hollywood. Ya jackals.(read an interview I did with Stacy here)

#13 (224 pts) Roundtable
Writer: Brian K. Vaughn
Premise: Merlin assembles a group of modern-day knights to battle a resurrected ancient evil, but all that’s available are an alcoholic ex-Olympian, a geriatric actor, a grumpy billionaire, and a nerdy scientist.
About: This one’s been called the next Ghostbusters…well…since before Ghostbusters. Of all of Vaughn’s scripts, this one holds the most promise by far, but for whatever reason is stuck in development hell. One of these days a Hollywood exec should create a development heaven. Just to make people feel a little better about their projects. Ya know?

#12 (257 pts) Tell No One
Writers: Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman
Premise: A widowed social worker receives a strange message that forces him to reevaluate what happened the day his wife was murdered.
About: Hollywood’s so out of ideas these days that they’re actually adapting something that was made in another country that was adapted from their own country. What’s next? As I mentioned yesterday, Ben Affleck is now directing this, and he’s using Argo screenwriter Chris Terrio to rewrite it for him. Which, you know, is so Hollywood. Cause they can’t just use the script that’s already awesome. Maybe Terrio was hired to get rid of all of Orci and Kurtzaman’s underlining and italics?

#11 (262 pts) Nautica (aka “Riptide”)
Writer: Richard McBrien
Premise: An investigator tries to solve a murder case on a ship that involves a handyman, a young stock broker and the stock broker's girlfriend. We shift back and forth through points of view to tell the story.
About: Nautica was originally written and sold back in 2001 and was going to be directed by Tarsem Singh. Right now, Brad Pitt and Shia Labeouf are rumored to play roles in the film. I’ve heard that this movie is moving forward, but you never can tell these days. Count this as the biggest surprise of the list. I did not know there was so much love for Nautica.
Writer: Richard McBrien

#10 (315 pts) Safe House
Writer: David Guggenheim
Premise: When a group of villains destroy a CIA-operated safe house, the facility's young house-sitter must work to move the criminal who's being hidden there to another secure location.
About: This was one of those dream spec situations. It sold for a bunch of money then went on the fast track to a green light. It’s now starring Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds, even though I coulda swore they just co-starred in that movie Unstoppable. They should think of combining these two movies into something called “The Unstoppable House.” It would be about a “wide load” freeway house that’s on a rampage to kill every car on the road. Throw in a chimpanzee and you’re talking half a billion worldwide at least.

#9 (388 pts) Seeking A Friend At The End Of The World
Writer: Lorene Scafaria
Premise: A lonely man meets up with a strange woman a week before the earth is to be destroyed by an asteroid.
About: Lorene was able to nab Steve Carrell and Keira Knightly to star in this, her directing debut. The film is shooting right now. Since she only has one produced credit, this just shows you the power of a great script. Write one and who knows, you could be directing Steve Carrell (or even better - Ryan Reynolds!) in four months.

#8 (440 pts) Django Unchained
Writer: Quentin Tarantino
Premise: A slave-turned-bounty hunter sets out to rescue his wife from the brutal Calvin Candie, a Mississippi plantation owner.
About: Still haven’t read this one and don’t know if I will. Might just wait for the film. What a cast, huh? DiCaprio. Sam Jackson, Waltz, Kevin Costner, Jamie Foxx. This was pretty much a no-brainer for the Top 10.

#7 (507 pts) Passengers
Writer: Jon Spaihts
Premise: A spacecraft transporting thousands of people to a distant planet has a malfunction in one of its sleep chambers. As a result, a single passenger is awakened 90 years before anyone else. Faced with the prospect of growing old and dying alone, he wakes up a second passenger whom he's fallen in love with.
About: Didn’t like this one initially but must admit, it’s grown on me. It’s basically like Titanic on a spaceship, but with the weird twist of it not being anything like that. I hope they make this cause it will be one of the more interesting movies of the decade.

#6 (537 pts) Drive
Writer: Hossein Amini (adapted from the novel by James Sallis)
Premise: A stunt driver moonlighting as a getaway driver gets caught up in a job that’s over his head.
About: Nicolas Winding Refn directs Ryan Gosling. This film won best director at Cannes. It is in my personal Top 10. It’s a sweet script. But I never read the 98 page version. I only read the 120+ behemoth. So it’ll be interesting to see what they cut out.

#5 (565 pts) The Grey
Writers: Joe Carnahan and Ian Mackenzie Jeffers (based on the short story ‘Ghost Walkers’ by Ian Mackenzie Jeffers)
Premise: A group of oil drillers on a plane ride home, crash in the arctic tundra, where they become hunted by a vicious pack of overgrown wolves.
About: Good news. Carnahan has already gone and shot this movie and I’m hearing good things. It stars Liam Neeson in the title role. Not much else to say other than give me my plane crash with a side order of WOLF KILLINGS!

#4 (571 pts) Untitled Chef Project
Writer: Steven Knight
Premise: A selfish workaholic chef tries to get back into the restaurant game after a much publicized meltdown years ago.
About: One of the best leading man roles available in a screenplay at this moment and time. Yet nobody’s taking it. Why? I’m guessing cause the script is wrapped up in too much money? Anyway, Mr. Fincher, if you’re not going to make this, please let someone else make it. (you can find this script online by searching for the title and "pdf")

#3 (599 pts) The Brigands Of Rattleborge
Writer: S. Craig Zahler
Premise: A group of bandits use the cover of a torrential thunderstorm to rob the occupants of a small town.
About: Revenge on the brain? I should think so. Brigands got new life when it was re-optioned last year. But we’re still waiting for this potential classic to hit production. If Untitled Chef Project has the best leading man role in a script right now, this one has 1a. Abraham will be a classic character for whomever plays him. In the meantime, pop in that old copy of Once Upon On A Time In The West. We have a year or two ahead of us before this sees movement. 

#2 (607 pts) Smoke and Mirrors
Writers: Lee and Janet Scott Batchler
Premise: The reclusive "Father of Modern Magic", Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin, is called upon by the French government to debunk an Algerian sorcerer who is using his feats of magic to spearhead a civil war.
About: This script sold for 1 million bucks back in 1994. It’s always been a town favorite and at one point Steven Spielberg was attached. It was one of those movies that felt like a sure thing, but then actors kept dropping out and eventually the buzz died. Now it’s just stuck in that weird purgatory, where people still love the script, but they consider it a relic of the 90s. I still haven’t read it yet but I will one of these days. :)

#1 (648 pts) Killing On Carnival Row
Writer: Travis Beacham
Premise: In the city of The Burgue, a police inspector pursues a serial killer who is targeting fairies.
About: And so it is! Carnival Row takes the number one spot! True I never got into this, but it seems to capture the hearts of film geeks everywhere. I doth not protest. I do think it would be a great film to make, especially with Del Toro doing the directing, but he’s so swamped with shit that that’s probably not going to happen. Let’s hope some talented new director jumps in and makes this happen. I can still see the trailer in my head.


And NOW, for the list you’ve REALLY been waiting for. Yup. It’s time for the AMATEUR TOP 5. Pfft, screw that whole Professional Top 25 shit. This is the real deal. To give you some perspective, there have been around 60 amateur scripts reviewed since the birth of Scriptshadow. Roughly 45 people voted for their Top 5. Scripts just missing the cut were Wrong Number, Disappearing World, Real Men Play Futebol, 360, Bass Champion, and Tribute. Here, now, are the Top 5. And the great thing about these five? You can download the scripts inside the reviews! So hop on over there and start reading yourselves. Drumroll please……

#5 (29 points) The Black Soul Of Elijah Harden
Writer: E. Joshua Eanes
Premise: Days away from his execution, the most notorious man in America awakens with amnesia and quickly discovers that his condition might be the result of more than a seizure induced head injury.
About: Readers complained of its messiness, but there was no doubt that this script had something. If Josh can sharpen up the edges, not gloss over the details, it could be a really cool screenplay. One of the few amateur scripts to get a “worth the read” on the site.

#4 (41 points) The Sleep Of Reason
Writer: Lee Matthias
Premise: After his wife goes missing, a man heads to the darkest reaches of Transylvania to find her.
About: This one is slow going, but it’s rich with detail and probably my personal favorite Amateur Friday script. I feel like if Matthias can loosen up his writing style so that the description isn’t so dense, this script will be easier to read, and therefore gain more fans.

#3 (44 points) Alien Diaries
Writer: Glenn J. Devlin
Premise: A book appraiser working at an old farm mansion finds a diary that implies the family who used to live there 200 years ago may have come in contact with a crashed alien ship.
About: There’s no doubt Glenn has one of the best loglines out there. It’s got him a ton of reads. But the story itself is a tough one to tell, and to be honest, I’m still not sure how I would tell it myself. But if he can somehow crack this, it’s got the kind of hook that could lead to a big sale.

#2 (62 points) The Bridge
Writers: Dominic Morgan & Matt Cameron Harvey
Premise: A convict and a construction crew inadvertently spark a gun battle when they rescue a woman on the run from her violent husband and his dangerous associates. Trapped on a mile-long bridge and cut off from the outside world, they have to band together to survive a 5 hour siege.
About: I’m going to tell you why this was number two on the list. Because even if you didn’t love it, you could see it as a movie. And that’s more important than you know. There are a lot of good ideas out there that don’t necessarily make good movies. This is something you can imagine making it to the big screen.

#1 (75 points) The Imagineer
Writer: Brendan Lee
Premise: The life story of one of the most creative minds of all time, Walt Disney.
About: Being a non-biopic guy, Brendan knew getting me to like this would be an uphill battle. And ultimately those biopic tropes did keep me from appreciating it as much as it probably deserved. But I’m so glad I reviewed it anyway because it’s connected with so many people. I know Brendan was offered a new job due to the The Imagineer review on Scriptshadow, and maybe this number one all time Amateur Scriptshadow ranking will lead to even more success. Congrats Brendan! Your peers have spoken. :)

And that’s it my friends. Feel free to discuss! Also, for you amateur writers who placed or finished in the Top 5, many members have e-mailed me wishing to hear your follow-up stories. Where are the scripts now? Give us a breakdown of what’s happened since then. What’s next!? Also, if anyone wants to highlight a great professional script that not many people know about, please do so. Let’s find a few more gems and pull them out of the Hollywood gutter. Let’s put them in Development Heaven.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Genre: Spy/Thriller
Premise: The true story of how the CIA, with help from Hollywood, used a fake movie project to smuggle hostages out of Tehran during the 1979 hostage crisis.
About: Argo, which finished high on 2010’s Black List, is Ben Affleck’s next directing project. The script is based on an article written in Wired Magazine which you can find here ( Chris Terrio, the writer, has been making some noise lately. He’s rewriting Scriptshadow favorite Tell No One, also for Ben Affleck. He adapted a project called “Snakehead,” about human smuggling, last year. He broke onto the scene in 2007 with writing partner Jesse Lichtenstein with a Black List script titled “Baltimore,” about the only other time in history a city in the continental United States has been attacked by a foreign enemy besides September 11th.
Writer: Chris Terrio (based on an article written by Joshuah Bearman)
Details: 118 pages – March 25, 2010 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).

No, Argo is not a prequel to Fargo. But I will say that the Coen Brothers could go absolutely bat-fucking- insane with this script. It’s that bizarre. And it’s appropriate we’re talking about titles because Argo is a great example of how a bad or vague or uninspiring title can affect the chances of a script getting read. Lots of people have been telling me about Argo. But every time I considered picking it up, I kept thinking of that title. “Argo.” It just sounded boring.

Now of course this was developed through a production company – and is NOT a spec script – so different rules apply. They don’t have to wow a reader with a great title because the people they’re sending it to already know what they’ll be reading. You don’t have that luxury unfortunately. Your title is your 60 million dollar marketing campaign. It is the only billboard the world will see before they read your work. Better make it good.

Anyway, Argo throws you right into the heart of the hurricane to start its 118 pages of craziness. So much is going on, in fact, that I can’t possibly explain it all. But the nuts and bolts is that it’s 1979, and CIA agent Tony Mendez is extracting another CIA agent out of an impossible to get-out-of situation. This is what Tony does. He charges in when Americans are in trouble and gets them out of sticky situations. As you’ll see, this will become important later on.

Now for those of you who have never been to Los Angeles and seen the Persian empire that now resides at the heart of the town, you probably don’t know much about the revolution that happened back in Iran in 1979. I don’t claim to be an authority on it either, but basically, the lower class rose up and booted the upper class out. All the rich Persians needed somewhere to go, so they flew to Los Angeles. Now at the time, the U.S. had an embassy in Tehran, Iran’s capital. So the Iranian people stormed the embassy and held a bunch of the workers hostage for over a year. It was a huge brouhaha and the U.S. government looked like bumbling idiots for how long it took them to resolve the thing.

What not a lot of people know, is that five of the Americans at the embassy were able to escape before it was overrun. And they went into hiding in the city. Argo is about a team led by Tony Mendez tasked with getting those people out of there.

Now for obvious reasons, Americans couldn’t just drop into Iran at the time. I mean sure, you could book a vacation there if you really wanted to. But you’d probably end up with a permanent blindfold and a really hefty late fee on that Chevy Caprice rental. So the CIA had to be more clever. Hence, Tony and his crew came up with the idea to create a fake Canadian film (the biggest Canadian film in history) that wanted to shoot the bulk of its movie in Iran. They would go there to “scout” their film, covertly grab the 5 Americans, then get on a plane to freedom.

Here’s where Argo gets fun though. The movie they were “making” was basically the next Star Wars. Or “the Canadian Star Wars.” This would’ve been a huge deal back then, since Star Wars had only hit theaters two years earlier. This film, of course, is titled, “Argo.” (no confirmation yet on whether this later became “Delgo”)

Now the CIA knew that they needed this to look legit. So they actually found a movie producer and started up pre-production on the thing. They started casting. They drew storyboards. They even wrote a script! And a lot of these people (if I’m to understand correctly) had no idea they were part of a secret CIA operation.

The heart of the movie is once they get all their ducks in a row, they head over to Tehran – the most enemy of enemy territories at the time – and grab their hidden embassy members. But they can’t just leave right away. They’re on a locked-in pre-approved schedule with the Iranian government. So they have to go out, do some location scouting, all with the newly acquired members, who know nothing about filmmaking. It’s pretty riveting stuff. And overall just a wicked-awesome idea, as Ben Affleck would say.

Here’s the first thing I realized while reading Argo. There’s never been another movie like it. It’s completely unique. It’s its own thing. And it wasn’t until I realized that, that it became clear how valuable a commodity the project was. I mean you have a spy movie here. You have an international crisis movie. And you have a comedy of sorts of these people putting together a fake Star Wars film. Can you imagine the possibilities?

This isn’t in the script but I’m hoping Affleck realizes the potential here. Imagine being able to do fake 1979 acting auditions for roles in the film? Imagine putting sets together for a Star Wars rip-off movie? Shooting test scenes? This movie could be so fucking hilarious and out there. And again, it’s like a director’s dream. You get to cover so many different areas with the material.

I only had two big problems with the screenplay. The first was the first act, which read like Aaron Sorkin plowed through a case of Miller High Life then ingested half a pound of speed. We’re jumping around to all these different people walking and talking in important hallways in different countries and it was way too fucking much. It was so chaotic, in fact, that I almost gave up after 20 pages. It was a mess. Luckily, once we shift to the actual plan, the script finds its focus.

This is something I see more on the amateur level actually. Really ambitious first acts with tons of stuff going on but zero focus. You have to remember this is the first thing your reader reads – the first act. If there’s 50 characters in 15 pages and we’ve jumped from 5 different continents, chances are we’re not going to be intrigued. We’re going to be annoyed. You can create mystery in your first act. But you must do so with focus. It must feel like there’s a plan. I didn’t feel that in Argo at all.

Also, the central set piece seems to be the location scout in Tehran. I didn’t think this was big enough to carry the biggest moment of the movie. I felt like they needed to get into something more intense and scary. Walking into the heart of Tehran as a group of hated Americans posing as Canadians will no doubt make a great scene. But I don’t know. It seemed like it was missing something. Maybe they should actually have to shoot a test scene. Really put these characters who know nothing about filmmaking to the test. Or maybe the president of Iran (whose son is supposedly a huge Star Wars geek) invites the film crew to a prestigious dinner. Now you’re talking.

Still, this script is so different from anything I’ve ever read. It’s officially on my most anticipated list of next year. The only question left to ask is this: Is there indeed a script somewhere out there of Argo? Does some studio executive have this thing collecting dust in a box? If so, I absolutely have to read it. That would be hilarious to review. House that Death Built would have nothing on this. Please, if you know anything about this script, contact me. I have to have it!

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

What I learned: Argo uses dual-column dialogue pretty liberally. However, I would recommend against it for your own screenplay. Sometimes you have to use it, but it’s rare I read a script that uses it for more than one line. I don’t know any readers who like the practice and the reason is we have to read one column then we have to trudge over and read a whole other column. It takes twice the time and doesn’t even achieve the desired effect. The effect is supposed to be two people talking at the same time. But if we’re reading the two columns separately, how does that sound like two people talking simultaneously? It’s just a clumsy device. I would avoid it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Arsonist's Love Story

Genre: Drama/Mystery/Procedural/Love Story
Premise: An arsonist begins to fall for a woman while being pursued for an accidental murder he committed during his latest arson.
About: The Arsonist’s Love Story was a lower-half 2010 Black List script. Though I don’t know this for sure, I believe the writer, Lovejoy, wrote it as an undergrad at NYU.  Lovejoy hosted a TV series back in 2007 called “Life After Film School” where she interviewed some pretty big names, including the Farrelly Brothers, Doug Liman, Jason Reitman, Kurtzman and Orci, and others. She was also an assistant on the TV show, Eureka.
Writer: Katherine F. Lovejoy
Details: 118 pages – undated

Every once in awhile, you gotta burn something. Whether it be a piece of paper, a bunch of trash, or a Ford Dealership. I think we can all relate to the feeling of needing to burn down a Ford Dealership, right?

Stop! Don’t go reporting me to Homeland Security just yet. That was sarcasm people. I am not a closet pyromaniac. At least not yet. That might change after this review.

The reason I picked up these 118 sheets of red hot digital paper was because they sounded different. A love story based around arson. That could be out there man. I’d definitely never heard of anything like it before, and its Black List status gave it the cachet it needed to take a chance.

But 72 hours later I’m still not exactly sure what I’ve read. This was an odd duck. An odd flaming duck. And I’m either too stupid to understand it (totally plausible) or this story was as muddied as a jungle stroll after a thunderstorm.

28 year old Aiden Kinsley is mysterious and brooding and handsome. The kind of guy who gets what he wants just by flashing a grin. He’s Robert Pattinson without sunblock. Appropriately, he works in the art world as a dealer, getting museums to sign half million dollar checks for white canvases with red dots in the middle.

But Aiden has a big secret. He moonlights as an arsonist. Oh yeah. Aiden just looooves setting things on fire. We actually see him dump buckets of gasoline all over a local car dealership at 3 in the morning and light that shit up. Boom. Boom! BOOM! Every car on the lot blows up. Hell yeah. I know when I have a choice between the latest episode of Entourage and setting 7 million dollars worth of property on fire, I pick fire every time.

When arson inspector Klein Stephens shows up the next day, he discloses to us the path of destruction this mysterious arsonist has left over the past few years, setting dozens of fires all over the city. But this one is different. That’s because they find a barbecued dead female body in the back. Now Aiden’s no longer just an arsonist. He’s a murderer.

Aiden’s pretty torn up about this, but he’s also got to watch his back. So he takes the initiative, finds out where Klein hangs out in his off-time, and shows up there, using his charm to build a false friendship. His hope is to keep abreast of any developments in the case so he can stave them off.

Also, for reasons which still escape me, Aiden shows up at Klein’s teenage son’s school to befriend him as well. Luckily for the story, his son happens to be a painter, allowing Aiden to befriend him in a legitimate way – key since Klein finds out Aiden is hanging out with his son behind his back. Now if some mysterious dude “accidentally” ran into me at the park and then later I found out he also “accidentally” met and started hanging out with my son, I would probably think something was up. Especially if I was a policeman. Not Klein. He just shrugs it off and rolls with it, inviting Aiden into the family.

But the real meat of the story occurs when Aiden meets Maya, a singer (actress?) at a bar he frequents. She’s beautiful, sensual, and talented, and unlike most of the women Aiden meets, she doesn’t throw herself at him. That challenge forces Aiden to open up in ways he never has before, and before he knows it, he’s actually in love with the chick. But that love will be tested in ways he can never imagine, especially once the shocking ending to The Arsonist’s Love Story reveals itself.

The Arsonist’s Love story has two major problems. The first is that the story is REALLY murky. I was constantly reading pages twice to try and figure out what was going on. This is likely a consequence of the surprise ending. When you have a big twist, you’re forced to fudge a lot of the earlier details to make sure you don’t give that twist away. If you cheat too much though - if you’re forced to hide too many of the details - the story loses its shape. And I’m afraid that’s what happened here.

For example, I couldn’t for the life of me understand why Aiden became friends with Klein’s son. I guess it was an attempt to infuse some conflict into the story. But I mean come on. If you’re the dad, there’s no way you’re not picking up on that coincidence.

Then there was the art dealer job. The art stuff had nothing to do with the story other than giving Aiden a plausible reason for hanging out with Klein’s son. But really, he could have been anything. A computer technician. A carpenter. A pilot. And it wouldn’t have affected the plot at all.

Then there were little things. For example, after the female body is discovered in the early arson attack, we see Aiden combing through the obituaries. In them, he finds Klein’s dead wife. Now I don’t know about you, but if a guy accidentally kills someone in an arson fire, then is looking through the obituaries, then finds a woman – isn’t it natural to assume that the woman he finds is the one he killed in the fire? Of course. But later we find out that Klein’s wife died awhile back, and he was just looking through the obituaries to get some dirt on Klein. This lack of clarity permeated through the screenplay.

The second major problem is the ending. I’m not going to spoil it here but let’s just say that if it made sense, I didn’t understand it. Oftentimes, writers feel that if they give you a general sense of what happened, that that’s enough. You can fill in the rest yourself. But if everything is unclear, how are we supposed to fill the rest in? For example, why did the location of the dead body change from the opening of the screenplay to the end of the screenplay? These details are never explained. And we’re just asked to go with it.

There’s some good to be found here. For example, just before the climax, we were really starting to get into some interesting stuff with Aiden and Maya. Their relationship was finally hitting its stride. The manufactured pasts were stripped away and it was more about two people who have trouble connecting with others finally finding a connection.

I also feel that women are going to enjoy this more than men. I can’t really say why but I feel like Lovejoy is writing to a female demographic here less concerned about the story logic and more focused on the emotion. It’s steamy. It’s passionate. It’s wrapped in this umbrella of heat and fire. In the same way I don’t understand Twilight’s appeal, I don’t think I’m fully able to appreciate Arsonist’s appeal.

But all I have to go on is my own opinion. And there was just too much murkiness here. The story was unclear. The characters were unclear. I could never get a feel for what was going on.

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

What I learned: I would stay away from peanut gallery admirations of your own dialogue. I see this occasionally, and it always pulls me out of the story. Here’s an example. When Aiden and Maya first meet, he tells her that she’s into him, even though she’s pretending not to be. She asks him how he knows that. “Because this city is full of people who bore you,” he says, “and you think I might be interesting.” The next line of description reads: “Whoa. Not the ordinary pick up line.” I don’t think this was Lovejoy’s intent, but this line basically sounds like a writer patting herself on the back. Let your dialogue speak for itself. You don’t have to give yourself a public hug when you come up with something good.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Oranges

Genre: Indie Comedy
Premise: Two neighboring suburban families are thrown into disarray when the father of one family starts dating the daughter of another.
About: This was a huge script a few years ago as it finished Numero Two-o on the 2008 Black List, behind The Beaver and ahead of Butter and Big Hole. Co-writer Jay Reiss may sound familiar as he has another script on my Top 25 list, Lonny The Great. The Oranges has already completed production and dove straight into the chewy center of the indie film scene for its cast. We’ve got Hugh Laurie (playing David), Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt, and Allison Janney. We also have Orange County native (so to speak) Adam Brody, and up and comer Leighton Meester playing the lead character, Nina.
Writers: Ian Helfer and Jay Reiss
Details: 116 pages - undated (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 a big Reiss fan. The Oranges was actually on my Top 25 List like a gazillion years ago when Scriptshadow started in the 1960s. Back then it was all about the drugs and the women man. Those were the days. Groovy. But I’ve matured a lot since then. 1500 scripts later, in addition to no longer lacing my French toast with PCP, The Oranges no longer resides inside the coveted Top 25. Somehow it slipped out. And I was curious why. It wasn’t like I’d forgotten the script. But there’s something that never sat right with me about it. I wanted to know what that was.

Say hello to another middle class suburb in Joisey, probably a stone’s throw away from where the Manzos and the Gorgas reside. This is where we meet two happy families. Or I should say two families who PRETEND to be happy. There’s married couple David and Paige. He’s overworked and she’s really gung-ho about Christmas. They have an outcast early 20s daughter named Vanessa. Then there’s Carol and Terry. Carol’s a therapist and Terry’s a gadget hound. He would sleep at Best Buy if it was legal. They have a daughter, Nina, who Vanessa used to be besties with, but not anymore. Turns out Nina left Vanessa for a bigger and better crowd. And Vanessa’s never forgotten it.

Vanessa also happens to be the narrator for our film (even though she’s probably the least important character of the bunch). She lets us know that David and Paige have ZERO chemistry with each other. Which, you know, is just like 70% of the marriages in America, so not a big deal. Except that Nina, Vanessa’s old friend, has just found out that the guy she’s marrying is cheating on her. So she runs back home to Carol and Terry, who seem to be swimming in I-told-you-sos, and starts having some inappropriately long conversations with David.

Because David isn’t exactly gung-ho about Little Miss Nutcracker (aka, his wife), he begins to entertain these flirty advances. And those advances quickly escalate to motel visits. Nothing like an aging TV set and a lack of non-bed furniture to take a relationship to the next level.

The thing is, they’re really bad at hiding their affair, so they just decide – fuck it – let’s tell everyone. Awwww. It’s so great when people are honest right? Well, unless the person you’re honest to is Paige, who was already a few twirls short of a candy cane. Paige goes on a ram-paige, moving out of the house and letting her Christmas spirit reach a whole new level. You’ll have to read to find out what that means.

Truth be told, the rest of the families aren’t really into it either. There is zero chance in hell (aka New Jersey) that David and Nina will ever be able to have a normal relationship together. So the fact that they’re selfishly trying is just leaving a lot of pissed off sons, daughters, and spouses. Even the community itself starts crumbling around them. They know they should end it. But do they?

Here’s the dealio. I liked The Oranges in a “I appreciate good screenwriting” sort of way. But I kept going back to that first read, where something didn’t sit right with me. Finally, after reading it this second time, I think I’ve located the problem. The Oranges basks in its hopelessness. Everybody here is mean and rotten and heartless and angry and selfish and cruel. Even in the central love story, between Nina and David, I didn’t feel that they liked each other so much as they wanted to use one another to piss everybody else off. Contrast that with a similar movie like American Beauty, where the central relationship, between Jane and Ricky, is so genuine.

As cheesy as it sounds, I like my movies to offer a sense of hope when they’re all said and done. I believe that’s why a lot of people go to the movies. To reaffirm their hope in the world. It’s why happy endings are so popular. If the message is just, “Life sucks, then you die,” – I’m sorry, but I can throw on CNN if I want that. And I’m not saying that’s exactly what The Oranges preaches. Vanessa and Nina do sorta rekindle their friendship at the end. But there’s no doubt that the pervasive message here is that we’re all fucked up selfish creatures doing fucked up selfish things and that there’s a good chance that’s never going to change.

But hold up. I love me a tall glass of OJ in the morning, and there are plenty of freshly squeezed bits here to savor. I liked the chances the screenplay took. For example, in every single one of these movies, the cheating couple keeps their affair secret until they’re caught. I liked that, around the midpoint, David and Nina sit everyone down and say, “Hey everybody. We’re together.” I wasn’t expecting that.  And it gave the rest of the story a whole new flavor.

Also, Paige’s obsession with Christmas and her unique Christmas-inspired breakdown is pretty damn funny. I thought it was a great choice to frame the story between Thanksgiving and Christmas in general, as it’s traditionally the most stressful month of the year. Talk about upping the conflict. I liked Ethan, Nina’s old boyfriend, popping back into the mix near the end to add even more craziness to the ordeal. Reiss and Helfer really nailed the chaotic element here. Everything that could go wrong, does go wrong, and we watch these characters hopelessly unravel as it does.

But I still can’t shake the feeling this screenplay left me with afterwards. I didn’t want to do anything for a couple of days. I just sat there and thought, “Are people really like this? Is this what America has become?” I’ll be honest. It bothered me. But the fact that the writer had me thinking at all is a good thing, as it means the story affected me in some way. And the writing itself, while not exactly inspiring “The Secret” like positivity, is really good. This was an interesting one. What did you guys think?

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

What I learned: I’m still not liking the message here. People are mean. Don’t trust anyone. When the going gets tough, give up. Here’s a good lesson to remember. One of the character types that really resonates with audiences, is the character who keeps trying despite the world repeatedly pushing them down. We don’t like quitters. We’re attracted to people who persevere. To see someone fall into so many pitfalls, yet keep going, is the essence of hope. It makes us feel good. If they can do it, we say, then maybe we can do it too. That’s why I liked Lonny The Great. And if you look through your list of favorite movies, I’m going to bet that 80-90% of the main characters fall into that category as well. Anyway, I just didn’t like how the characters here seemed to be continuously throwing in the towel. It bummed me out.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

New Top 25 Reader List Coming This Thursday

Hey guys.  So I've sent out e-mails to all the longtime Scriptshadow readers, asking for their Top 10 favorite unmade screenplays.  If I didn't e-mail you and you want to contribute to the list, go ahead and list your top 10 right here in the comments section.  The rules are, if it hasn't been released yet, it's eligible.  It can be in pre-production.  It can be in post-production.  Just hasn't been released.  Also, it's not limited to screenplays I've reviewed on the site.  It can be a screenplay you read 30 years ago.  Have at it and have fun. :)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Amateur Friday - The Keeper Project

Genre: Sci-Fi
Premise: A geneticist who specializes in cloning risks his reputation and life's work to save his sick daughter.
About: The Keeper Project is a 2009 PAGE Award Bronze Prize winner in the Sci-Fi category. That makes it Top 31 out of 6300 entries. --- 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).
Writer: Michael Coleman Jr.
Details: 108 pages

You guys wanted Amateur Friday scripts with a little more luster behind them? Well I aim to please, senorita. But not without reservations. Someone asked me the other day what my favorite genre is, and I told them sci-fi. And then it hit me. Outside of Passengers, I don’t have a single sci-fi script in my Top 25. Wow, what’s up with that sci-fi writers? I dug deeper. There have been like zero good sci-fi specs in the market this year. Black Lister What Happened To Monday was the last sci-fi script that was actually ambitious AND had potential. But otherwise we’re getting a lot of “I Am Number 4” clones. Yuck. So let’s start bringing some game sci-fi writers. Send me your damn good sci-fi screenplays for Amateur Friday. In the meantime, let’s review this one.

Baltimore, 2027. Dr. Abraham Keeper, 53, treats his sickly 11 year old daughter, Abigail, at their home. Despite her fast-approaching expiration date, Abigail seems to be in high spirits. Maybe that’s because her father is a fantastic doctor, and he’s been doing cloning and stem cell research around the clock to save her life.

Keeper’s lab seems to be a hotbed for activity. The cloning councils and the government aren’t exactly in support of what he’s doing, and it seems like there’s a new angry group outside every day protesting his practice. He even has junkies hanging around for who knows what reason. One of those junkies, 25 year old Erica Blue, has a unique connection with Keeper. We know this because whenever she passes by, she gives him a really intense look.

Later on, when Erica takes off her shirt at home, we see that she has a SECOND MOUTH on the back of her neck. What the! That can’t be good. This country already has an obesity problem. Imagine if you had a second mouth. We don’t have to be math majors to figure out that one mouth plus another mouth means Erica used to be a patient of Keeper’s. Maybe even a daughter of sorts. But because of her deformity, he cast her away like a cheap tube of toothpaste.

Back at the labs, Keeper takes on a new assistant and the two push harder than ever to iron out the cloning process in time to save his poor Abigail. But with the boards and the government and the protestors squeezing him from every side, time is running out to do the saving.

The Keeper Project is thinking man’s sci-fi with a healthy dose of character development. This is definitely stronger than most of the sci-fi amateur scripts I read. And I can see why it finished high at Page. It’s actually similar in many ways to another high profile script that came out of Page, Maggie, which if you remember I reviewed awhile back.

However, there’s something missing here for me. Michael knows how to create a hook. He knows how to explore characters. He knows how to create tension and suspense and conflict. But the script lacked that elusive “wow factor.” That thing that makes a reader readjust the way he’s sitting so he can lean in a little closer and ingest that story even faster.

What is the “wow factor” exactly? Is Simon Cowell involved? The wow factor is a lot like love. You don’t know it until you feel it. But if I were referencing other sci-fi films, the wow factor would be the kung-fu in The Matrix. It would be the unexpected twists and turns in Moon. It would be the documentary angle that makes everything so real in District 9. It would be the tripiness of the dreams within dreams of Inception. It would be the “what the fuck is going on right now” feeling you got when you first read Source Code. It’s an edge. Something that separates your script from every other script out there. And while The Keeper Project is always strong, I kept waiting for it burst out of its shell and become great. But the lack of a wow factor kept it from happening.

The problem? I think it’s too safe of a story. I preach following the rules a lot here on this site. And I stick by that. You need to know the rules. But you also need to step off the beaten path every once in awhile and take chances. Break some of those damn rules. Because those deviations are what’s going to make your movie unlike any other movie out there. It’s your own personal edge. I was watching Stand By Me the other day, and in that movie, somewhere around the midpoint, the entire movie stops so that the main character can tell a story about a pie-eating contest where the hero barfs on everybody. It’s ten minutes long. It has no effect on the plot. There is no information in it that sets up later story developments. It’s just a random story. No screenwriting book would allow you to make that choice. But it worked. Because it wasn’t safe. Because we’re not expecting it.

The point I’m getting at is that The Keeper Project played things too safe. Human cloning has been explored a lot in sci-fi over the last 20 years. The “Clone Wars” were even mentioned in the original Star Wars, back in 1977. So if you’re going to write a story about human cloning, you gotta push the envelope. You gotta give us something new. Having a second mouth on the back of your character’s neck is a little freaky, sure. But I think audiences want more.

That’s not to say I didn’t appreciate the story. Like I said, there’s some actual character development here. That’s rare in sci-fi. I love that Michael actually dug into these characters. Also, while I wouldn’t call the surprise ending mind-blowing – it was telegraphed throughout most of the second act – it was pretty darn good.

I just think sci-fi comes with certain expectations. Audiences want to connect with interesting characters, sure. But they also want to leave that theater talking about that cool scene or that moment that wowed them. The Keeper Project too often pulls its punches.

There were some smaller issues I had as well. I didn’t understand why Erica Blue didn’t go to the press or the police once she was discarded by Keeper. Wouldn’t that have been the logical thing to do? Expose him? I thought Veronica (the assistant) was a messy character. Once she realized that this guy was cloning human beings, I wasn’t buying that she just went with it. Maybe if she’d been with him for ten years. But she just started like a week ago. I would’ve been like “fuck this,” and walked out. And finally, the one setback for using the stem cells from the clones to save his daughter seemed to be the physical deformities. Did that mean he wasn’t saving his daughter because she might have a little mouth on the back of her neck? Wouldn’t a 4 hour operation with Dr. Hollywood take care of that? I just couldn’t figure out why a tiny deformity took precedence over a daughter’s life.

Now despite these issues, this was way better than most of the scripts I review on Amateur Friday. I want to make that clear. I’m just being hard on it because I demand so much from my sci-fi. But I liked this better than Maggie, which won the Page competition. I’d just like to see a draft with a little more teeth, no pun intended. Anyway, read it and decide for yourself.

Script link: The Keeper Project

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

What I learned: Most of the time, you’ll want to use as few words as possible to describe a room or a space. Therefore you might describe a barbershop like this: “This barbershop is straight out of the 50s. Even the TV is black and white.” You want to convey the essence of the space in as few words as possible then move on. But the one time you do want to get into more detail, is when you describe your main character’s home. Why? Because a home tells us A LOT about a character. Is the place dirty? Clean? Modern? Old-fashioned? Filled with art? Bare? Big? Small? I think it’s okay to take a couple of paragraphs to describe a home. Just make sure that what you’re describing tells us about the character who lives there.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

F. Scott Frazier (The Numbers Station) Interview

F. Scott Frazier broke onto the scene over a year ago with his eerie spec script “The Numbers Station,” which he sold to Content Film. The script is about a man tasked with guarding a strange top secret remote station that ends up getting breached, putting his life in jeopardy. The film is going into production within the next couple of months. He followed that up with a more recent sale, “Line of Sight,” to Warner Brothers, about Delta Force Three-One (considered to be the most dangerous men in the world), who are brought in to quash an anti-government uprising on American soil. He also has a mystery third sale (as I found out during this interview) that has not been announced yet. Besides being a great writer who’s tearing it up on the spec market, Scott’s a genuinely down to earth and cool guy. I loved hearing what he had to say about the craft.

SS: When did you begin your pursuit of this craft? What were your first impressions of it? Did you find it harder than you initially thought it would be, or easier?

SF: I’ve written my entire life. Short stories, plays, books, screenplays, you name it. Nothing that you would ever call good. Nothing that you would ever call finished.

Right out of high school I got a job working at a video game company where, after nine years, I ended up as a producer. I started making a pretty good career for myself. But my dream had always been to write, and in 2009 I quit my job to follow my dreams.

I knew that it was going to be hard. When I knuckled down to try and finish a script, I realized what an immense undertaking it really was. It was definitely harder than I thought it would be but there was great enjoyment in the difficulty. There was immense pleasure to be found, and there was something to be found in the overcoming of obstacles and arriving at the solutions to all the problems.

People told me it was harder to break in than it was to write a really great script. And while I appreciate the opinion on the matter, I decided early on not to listen to it. I was going to break in. And the only obstacle I had to overcome was writing a really great script. (At least in my mind.)

However, I also knew I needed to have a finished product as soon as possible, at the highest level of quality as possible. And so I set about writing as close to eight hours a day, seven days a week as I could manage. When you have little money and live 35 miles outside of LA it’s really quite amazing how much you can get done.

SS: At what point did you believe you were capable of doing this? Was it a certain script? Was it a particular mental breakthrough?

SF: After finishing the rough draft of my second script, I put it away in a drawer and didn’t look at it for four months, truly believing it was awful and not worth the space on my hard drive. My creative process has always included a cooling off period. I always like to get time away from anything I’ve written. However, when I went back to that second script, telling myself how awful it was, it turned out it wasn’t as bad as I had remembered it being. In fact it was really quite good. It still needed a lot of rewriting, but I had a feeling that it was something special.

This was the script that eventually got me representation and I’ve since sold it. It is ramping up for production at the end of the year.

Reading the rough draft of that script was a defining moment. It didn’t suck as much as I remembered it sucking. I knew that I was getting better. It gave me the confidence to push on. It gave me the confidence to rewrite it. It gave me the confidence to query it. And it gave me the confidence to not quit and go back to my day job.

SS: And how long was it before you sold The Numbers Station? How many scripts did you have under your belt before that happened?

SF: I got representation in January of 2010 (Chris Fenton and Chris Cowles at H2F, Mike Esola at WME) and we sold Numbers Station in April of 2010. Up to that point, since quitting my job, I had two complete screenplays as well as four others that were in various stages of completion. Although that doesn’t include the literally thousands upon thousands of pages I had written over the first 27 years of my life that will never be completed and will likely never see the light of day. (Because they’re awful.)

SS: Did The Numbers Station sell with or without Ethan Hawke attached? And because it seems like you need a name actor to get your script sold these days, can you explain how that process works? I mean, how does one even go about getting Ethan Hawke attached to their screenplay?

SF: From my perspective, it all happened simultaneously, where one day I was told that we were making a deal on the script, and then a few days later that Ethan was attached. I’m sure there was a lot of wheeling and dealing in the background that I was just not privy to. And knowing how the industry works now, I have to assume that Ethan was instrumental in getting the project off the ground.

The producers, Sean and Bryan Furst, have done an immense amount of work in moving the script from the recesses of my imagination to a greenlit movie. Set to start production in less than six weeks.

I couldn’t even begin to tell you how Ethan Hawke was attached to the script outside of the general knowledge that he had worked with the Furst brothers in the past and they had an ongoing professional relationship. As far as the process is concerned, I couldn’t say one way or the other, all I can tell you is that one morning I was driving down the 405 when I got the phone call that Ethan Hawke, a real honest-to-goodness movie star, wanted to be in my movie. How or why it happened, I’ll probably never know.

SS: I’m assuming The Numbers Station is what led you to your agent. Since getting an agent is such an important step in a writer’s success, can you explain how that all came about?

SF: H2F came first. I was introduced to Chris Fenton by his next-door neighbor. I went to high school with her son. And although neither my friend nor his mom worked in Hollywood, having lived in LA my whole life was the catalyst to getting representation. So if I’m going to throw my hat into the ring, in regards to a lot of online discussions right now between burgeoning screenwriters, I would greatly urge writers to take the chance and move to LA, if at all possible. It’s where the business is, it’s where the deals are made, and if you’re going to build a career early on, it’s where you’ll eventually have to be anyway.

After being introduced to Chris over email, he sent me the scariest letter of my life. It contained 5 words: “Send me your best script.” And for an entire weekend, I read my two completed scripts over and over and over, trying to decide which one was better. I ended up choosing my second script over Numbers Station because it was a little bit bigger and a little bit more of a high concept. I guess I chose correctly, because Chris called me in for a meeting within a week.

I was introduced to Mike Esola through Chris, again based off of my second script. When Mike and I met for the first time, we had a great rapport with one another and I could tell after fifteen minutes he was just as eager and excited to be a part of this business as I was.

SS: You’ve sold (I believe) two scripts now. Did either of those result in one of those notorious back and forths between writer and agent where your agent keeps coming back to you with a higher and higher number? If so, what’s that like? Is it the most nerve-wracking experience in the world? I mean, how do you not just take the first amount they offer you?

SF: So far I’ve actually sold three scripts, and every time the experience has been different. I trust my reps to handle the business side of the equation. I try not to get too involved in the moment-to-moment back and forth of negotiation. When they tell me, “This is a good deal,” I take it.

Whenever we’re getting close to selling something, I’m always nervous. I try to do anything and everything I can to keep my mind off of it. I also find a little time to celebrate after it’s done. But then something in the back of my head reminds me that in this business you’re only as good as your last success and I invariably end up back in front of my computer, starting a new script.

SS: In your opinion, what is it you know now that makes you a better writer than three years ago, when you were eating ramen noodles and living on people’s doorsteps?

SF: Thanks to my selfless wife, I was lucky enough to never have lived on anyone’s doorstep or eat ramen.

I think the thing that has become the most clear to me over the last 18 months, is that when building a career in this industry, selling your first script is the easy part. And that’s a really, really tough lesson to learn.

And although it took me a bit of time to realize, I eventually learned to not be too beholden to rules and trends. To write a script the way I want to write it, the way I want to see it appear on the screen, the way I want it to feel and sound. The one thing everybody in this town is looking for in a writer is that unique voice. That alchemical combination of choice, structure, narrative, plot, characters, and world view. You’re the only person equipped to deliver a screenplay in your voice. And while I think copying and learning from those who came before us is one of the key steps to success, you have to eventually break away and deliver a screenplay that is 100%, unequivocally yours.

And so it really comes down to this: write the movie you want to see at the theater this Friday night. Make it yours and yours alone and people will stand up and take notice.

(That’s not to say you can write 180 minute musical about a Russian oligarch in the 18th century who falls in love with his pet mule and expect to sell it to a major movie studio for mid-six figures.)

SS: Do you outline your screenplays or just go where the story takes you? If you do outline, how big a part of your process is it? Do you write just a few pages? A lot of pages? Take us through it.

SF: One of the things I’ve had to overcome is that I get bored very easily. This has helped because it makes it so that it forces me to finish something before I want to move on to the next project. But it’s also made my writing process a bit more fluid. While I always outline, from project to project my outlines will change in both density and format. Right now I’m addicted to note cards. In the past I’ve written 30-page treatments, as well as bullet-point lists. The one constant between all these various types of outlines is that I know my major beats, I know who my characters are, and I know what I want them to go through. Depending on the genre, I’ll also want to know what my big set pieces are, where they go, and how they interact with both the plot and the character arcs.

The things I usually never know before going into a rough draft are things like: theme, length, dialogue, and moment-to-moment scene structure. I like to discover all of this along the way. I’m never beholden to the outline or any previously held ideas or notions about the story or characters while working on the rough draft or any subsequent major rewrites. I find a lot of times that I’ll surprise myself with fun twists that I didn’t see coming when I keep myself open to the creative process.

And although sometimes it’s absolutely frightening, I have to dare myself to suck in order to finish what I started.

SS: Let’s talk about The Numbers Station for a second. It’s such a cool idea. How did you come up with it?

SF: I heard a story on NPR about this couple that goes out into the desert to try to find short-wave radio broadcasts. I was immediately fascinated by the topic. And after doing some research and realizing how deep this rabbit hole went, I knew I wanted to write a movie around these theories. Of course my mind immediately goes to spies and action and being the first script I ever attempted to finish, I wanted it to be a little bit smaller than normal with fewer characters and fewer moving parts to juggle.

SS: I recently had an idea for a thriller where many of the characters were lying about who they were. I backed off of it because I realized it would be too difficult to create real characters that the audience could identify with if everyone was a chameleon. You sort of run into the same problem with The Numbers Station. Because of the nature of the story, the characters can’t really talk about who they are. How did you navigate this? Was it something you thought about? Were you worried that the audience wouldn’t be able to relate with them? Or did you simply shift the emphasis over to the plot?

SF: In all honesty, I never really thought about it that much. I think within the spy genre, there’s always an expectation of duplicity, and again going back to the smaller cast of characters, I think it’s much easier for one or two people to be lying to each other than six or seven or even ten.

I’m reminded of the movie WICKER PARK where one character’s lie sets in motion the entire plot. And I think that if you can somehow find a way to balance the duplicity against the dramatic irony of the setup, you can find a way to make the characters relatable without sacrificing the narrative conflict.

Lying, half-truths, misdirection are such a staple of the thriller genre, that I think audiences have been groomed to expect and accept that at some point in this experience they will be lied to.

SS: My favorite part about The Numbers Station was the mood you created. It just had this dark eerie vibe, sort of like the way I felt watching “Let The Right One In,” even though they’re two totally different stories. Is mood something you think about? If so, how do you approach it?

SF: Both mood and tone are very important to me regardless of the genre or script. When I set out on a new project I want the script to reflect the movie I see in my head. If there’s a big surprise, I want to write it in such a way that the words jump off the page, with capital letters or underlines. If there’s a little bit of tension, I want the reader to hold their breath with long run on sentences and a sprinkling of ellipsis…

I want the pace of the script to mirror the pace of the movie.

To me, a lot of this comes from word choice. I wanted The Numbers Station to feel impersonal and closed off. So I used words like “sterile” and “claustrophobic” to describe the locations. I knew that audio was going to be a big thematic undercurrent of this movie, and so describing sound and the way the sound interacted with the movie was just as important as the visuals. I didn’t really want the action to be glorious or stylized, so I purposefully wrote it in a very matter-of-fact style. This happens. And then this happens. Again going back to the impersonality of the story.

I don’t know if I accomplished it in every scene. But it was definitely a conscious decision to write the scenes and the movie as a whole in styles and structures that matched the emotions at any given moment.

SS: In your eyes, what was the key component to making The Numbers Station work? What was that “ah-ha” moment when you knew you had a screenplay?

SF: I don’t know if there was ever a moment when I knew I had a screenplay other than when I was through with it and had no more changes to make. It definitely took a couple drafts to feel like I had a movie on my hands. Even on scripts that I’ve sold, I don’t know if I ever have that moment outside of writing “the end,” and sending the PDF to my reps.

SS: It seems like the way most specs sell these days, is they’re written under the guidance of a producer, who understands the market and therefore knows who he’s going to try and sell it to once the script’s ready. I get the sense that that’s how you sold your second spec, Line of Sight. Can you take us into how this process works?

SF: I had been introduced to Alex Heineman over at Silver Pictures when Numbers Station had gone out as a spec. About six months later, he came to me with an idea that I found incredibly intriguing and after breaking the story together, over a few conversations, I wrote my first draft. I turned it in to Alex in January. We did a couple of rewrites together, and then it was sent to Warner Brothers in March. Alex seemed to know exactly what it was they wanted because they bought it less than two weeks later.

Producers definitely know what buyers want, and if you’re able to get in there with the right idea at the right time, you can have a winner.

I personally tend to write multiple scripts at once, and my own rule for writing specs is to write one with a producer and one without. Gives me the best of both worlds and is also key in building relationships in the industry.
SS: You have a lot of young writers out there hanging on your every word. What advice would you give them to find success in this pursuit?

SF: Write every day. Finish things. Write every day. Don’t ever listen to anyone who tells you how hard it is. Write every day. Write what you like, not what you know. Write every day. Avoid the trap that is cynicism, it will cripple and rot every creative bone in your body. Write every day. Know that with a metric ton of hard work and a limitless supply of perseverance, success is out there waiting for you. And write every day.

And also, write every day.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Murder Of A Cat

Genre: Offbeat Comedy
Premise: When a man’s cat is impaled by an arrow, he will go to the ends of the earth (or at least his town) to find the killer.
About: Hey, it’s List Week. Murder Of A Cat made last year’s Black List, and it looks to be the writers’ breakthrough screenplay. Before this, they were slapping together short movies that had about as much of a chance turning a profit as a Delgo sequel. Now they’re writing an animated King Kong movie for Fox Animation that will tell the famous story from the vantage point of the big ape. Oh what a difference a great script makes!
Writers: Christian Magalhaes & Robert Snow
Details: 109 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).

Jermaine Clement for Clinton?

Truth? I love murdered cat stories. I actually have – believe it or not – a cat murdering comedy idea of my own! It’s nothing like this, and actually, now that I’ve read “Murder Of A Cat,” I probably won’t write it, since this is clearly the best cat murder story ever told. But there’s something inherently funny about a cat being murdered, right? Right?? Or maybe not? Hmmm…we’ll have to get Bohdicat’s take, as he’s our resident cat expert. As for Christian Magalhaes and Robert Snow, I don’t know who these guys are, but I have a feeling after their King Kong flick, they’re going to have quite an impact on the comedy scene. The sense of humor on display here is just so…out there.

30-something Clinton Moisey isn’t living the life of luxury. Actually, scratch that. He isn’t living YOUR idea of the life of luxury. He is, possibly, living his. Clinton lives with his mother and runs a barely profitable yard sale business on the weekends. He has two loves. Building his own action figures and his cat, Mouser.

Mouser’s getting up there in age, and Clinton is very obsessive compulsive about Mouser’s health. If his fur so much as feels weird, it’s off to the vet. Clinton’s mother thinks he’s crazy (and he might be – he is considering taking his cat to a cat psychiatrist) but hey, Mouser is his best friend in the entire world. He wants to make sure he’s okay.

Well, Mouser isn’t okay the next morning. That’s because Mouser’s DEAD. Sprawled out on the street with an ARROW through his belly. Clinton is devastated, but also really angry. Whoever did this isn’t going to get away with it. They’re going to PAY.

After finding a few “missing cat” flyers throughout the neighborhood that have a cat displayed who looks mysteriously like Mouser, Clinton follows the leads to a girl’s apartment, breaks in, and finds pictures of Mouser all over the place! This crazy woman has been stalking his cat and planning to kill him for ages! The apartment owner, Greta, comes home, and the accusations start flying. But after they calm down, the two realize that the cat was “moonlighting,” living with both of them at the same time. And just like that, the potential suspects have doubled.

Clinton, who’s not exactly a charmer around the ladies, reluctantly enlists Greta to help him find the killer. The two trace the arrow back to a unique crossbow sold at the Walmart like superstore Greta used to work at AND that put Clinton’s comic book store out of business (or so he believes).

The central suspects include the freakishly weird Yi Kim, a 19 year old Asian who loves magic, and Alistair Ford, the recently divorced owner of the Mega-Store. Clinton breaks into the store and sees both suspects moving merchandise inside the packages meant for the crossbow that killed his cat. So there’s obviously a bigger plan going on here. The problem is, Greta starts to think they’re in too deep and wants out, which leaves Clinton to do it all on his own. Which is fine by him. Cause Clinton Moisey WILL find out who killed Mouser. Through hell or damp cat litter!

I thought this script was pretty much awesome. It’s a hard tone to describe and it’s definitely not going to be for everyone but if I were pushed to come up with a description, I would say it’s a cross between A Confederacy Of Dunces and Eagle Vs. Shark. I mean obviously, Clinton is heavily influenced by Ignatius J. Reilley. He’s eccentric, deluded, and socially unaware. Every time I come across a character like this (The Most Annoying Man in The World, Zach Galifianikias’ character in Due Date) I kick myself for not writing them myself. These characters are always funny.

And the fact that his best friend in the world is a cat, that he lives with his mother, that he runs a yard sale, and that he believes Ford’s Megastore put his comic book store out of business (Ford Megastore doesn’t even sell comics) – I mean this is 50% of the work here – coming up with a memorable interesting main character for your script. Murder Of A Cat definitely has that.

And the script itself is so damn funny. The totally bizarre Yi Kim randomly performing magic tricks on you (pulling cigarettes out of your ear at the most inopportune or inappropriate moments). At one point Yi is close to dying and in between sputtering breaths, performs his favorite cigarette behind the ear magic trick, cause, you know, he just has to. And the script contained the biggest laugh of the year for me – yanking out the Braveheart reference – when during a nightmare immediately after Mouser’s death, dead Mouser, cast in dramatic blue light, turns to Clinton and whispers, “Help me.”

And it’s clever. I’ve seen just about every way possible of putting a man and woman together who don’t want to be together in a movie, but I’ve never seen two people brought together by co-owning a moonlighting cat that was murdered. Who thinks of that??

Then there’s the details. Details are what tell me whether a writer’s really thought their story through or not. For example, Magalhaes and Snow knew that the ridiculousness of this premise was going to hinge on how much we wanted Clinton to find the killer. So the night before Mouser’s killed, they give us a brief scene, less than half a page, right before Clinton goes to bed, where Mouser is sitting on Clinton’s stomach, and just purring at him. It’s a quiet, tender, loving moment. And it sells the drive and the determination that Clinton has for the rest of the movie.

The only reason Murder Of A Cat didn’t score an impressive was because the love story sort of fell apart as the script went on. The story is set up for Clinton to learn to connect with real people, and not live in this fantasy bubble where your only friend is a cat. I thought that was a great message to explore. He loses the love of his life, but gains something much more important (real human emotion) as a result.

But Greta keeps disappearing during the second act, sending Clinton to do most of his work solo. For that reason, when the final act has the two come together, it doesn’t ring true, because they haven’t been around each other enough to sell it. It’s not a huge issue, but it is an issue.

Outside of that, I really liked Murder Of A Cat. It’s quirky and unusual and possesses that pivotal story trait all readers love – unpredictability. It’s definitely not for everyone. If you don’t like Eagle Vs. Shark or have never read A Confederacy Of Dunces, you might be mumbling the equivalent of, “Damn that Carson. Why the hell does he think this is funny???” But if you’re into weird humor, take a chance on this one. I bet you’ll like it.

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

What I learned: Some commenters have recently pointed out that you need to set things up in your first act so you can pay them off in your second act. Here’s a good example. We set up that Clinton HATES Ford’s Megastore. He believes it’s the devil and that it destroyed his Comic Book business. For this reason, when he finds out that the arrow that killed his cat CAME from the Megastore, there’s more at stake with him having to go there. There’s a history between him and the place. That gives those store scenes so much more weight than if the store HADN’T been set up. And all it took was a couple of lines in the first act!