Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Screenplay Review - The End

Red-hot screenwriter Aron Eli Coleite bursts into the Top 10 of 2011's Black List with his end-of-the-world screenplay, "The End."

Genre: Drama/Sci-fi/Apocalypse
Premise: (from Black List) Four people – a veteran broadcaster in London, a sixteen year old girl and her best friend in Ann Arbor, and a devoted family man in Shanghai – each try to make peace with their lives before an interstellar event ends the world in six hours.
About: This script was purchased by Warner Brothers and made the 2011 Black List, finishing with the 9th best tally of the pack (28 votes). Writer Aron Coleite’s career has really picked up in the last year. The former Crossing Jordan and Heroes writer recently wrote an episode of ABC’s new show, The River (co-created by Scriptshadow Top 25’er “The Voices” writer, Michael R. Perry), sold a pitch to New Regency for mid-six figures (a supernatural prison break movie), and also sold a new procedural to Jerry Bruckheimer. I’d say that’s a pretty good year. Too bad he’s chosen to end the world before he can enjoy all that success.
Writer: Aron Eli Coleite
Details: 104 pages, September 23, 2011 draft (This is an early draft of the script. The situations, characters, and plot may change significantly by the time the film is released. This is not a definitive statement about the project, but rather an analysis of this unique draft as it pertains to the craft of screenwriting).

I used to love end-of-the-world screenplays. We all know how I feel about Seeking A Friend At The End Of The World (which just came out with its first trailer! Hooray!). And then of course there’s Top 10 script How It Ends. Since then, however, I’ve read about five of these puppies, and for whatever reason, my Apocalypse funny bone isn’t being tickled anymore. I don’t know if I’m looking for a new angle (puppets maybe?) or if the effect has simply worn off, but I just don’t get jazzed for life as we know it being scrambled in a galactic frying pan anymore.

Part of the reason this script didn’t work for me was because it was a real downer! I mean, this is an extra large serving of depression, hold the onions. Not that that can’t work. Deep Impact – another depressing end of the world movie – brought in a lot of dough. But after reading this I was just like….I need to go buy some ice cream or something. I’m depressed!

The End follows three main characters (in three separate storylines) six hours before the world’s obliterated by a gravitational black hole or something. It’s not clear when the information of the world’s demise is received (Are they just learning about it now or have they known for days – not sure) but the point is, time’s running out!

The first of our characters is a 35 year old Wae, a janitor at a Shangai Wal-Mart who only cares about one thing, finding the perfect egg (the egg must be a very specific measurement - still not sure what that was all about). It’s the middle of the night in Shanghai, and Wae plans to walk home, with the world crumbling around him, so he can make his son an egg for breakfast.

Next there’s Sir John Bainbridge, a 70-something BBC radio personality. While everybody else in the world has run home to their mommies, John’s decided to stay on the air. He is, therefore, the only person on the radio, which means everybody’s tuned into him. What starts off as one man’s assessment of the world’s destruction (and a clever way to dish out exposition) eventually becomes an exploration of a broken old codger’s dysfunctional family.

Finally, there’s Olive, a 16 year old Christian whose family is struggling to make it to church for the End Of Days sermon, which I’m hearing is one of the most popular of the year. It might even beat Christmas. However, as she gets closer, she thinks that instead of spending her final moments listening to some boring priest drone on about, like, death and stuff, she should spend that time with her secret (older) boyfriend! And maybe, if she can find a way to him in time, she can marry him, lose her virginity, all before she’s beamed up to Cloud City. So she enlists the help of her childhood best friend, the goofy “Zebulon,” and the two race against time to make it happen. Of course, while locating everything they need for the wedding, it becomes clear that Zebulon’s secretly in love with Olive.

Okay so we have three separate storylines here. Here’s my opinion on multi-storyline scripts. You better make sure each storyline kicks ass. Cause if even one is average, your movie will suck. Nobody goes to see 2/3 of a good movie.

What USUALLY happens in these scripts, actually, is that the writer has a main storyline idea, but since he wants multiple narratives, comes up with two or three lesser storylines to fill out the script. These stories are never as good as the first one, because they were added after the fact.

Whether one thinks that’s what happened here will depend on the individual, but personally, I thought the only story worth telling was Olive’s. We have a goal (get to the boyfriend and get married), stakes (this means everything to her), and if I have to tell you where the urgency comes from, you’re going on a permanent screenwriting sabbatical. There’s also conflict and dramatic irony (we know Zeb loves her, but she does not), so this storyline really shined.

The next best storyline was Wae’s. Wae does have a clear goal (get back to his kid) but it doesn’t carry the same weight as Olive’s (make breakfast for his kid?). Also, he’s not traveling with any other characters, so there are no opportunities to explore his internal conflict through his relationships, like we see with Olive and Zeb. Instead, the only conflict he experiences is external. This results in some cool sequences (a jousting sword-slicing motorcycle duel), but overall, his trek is relatively uneventful.

That leaves us with the third and least interesting storyline, John the radio personality. To me, this storyline’s purpose was expositional (to give us a running play-by-play of the events as they unfold) with a family storyline shoe-horned in to make it SEEM like it was more than that (something about a brother he never talked to or something). There were no goals, no stakes, and somehow no urgency (despite the world ending in six hours). On top of that, it’s an old man sitting in a room for two hours. So that one was hard to get up for.

That said, there were definitely some cool moments in The End. The gravity bumps will guarantee some “holy shit” moments in the trailers. Watching two people float up above the ground as they kiss with rain shooting upwards around them, yeah – that should sell a few tickets. And when you juxtapose that with a jousting motorcycle duel to the death, I can see some teenagers saying – “dude, we gotta go see that!”

The question is, what will they be seeing? No matter which way you shake it, The End is depressing as hell. It’s like a sci-fi Babel. It makes The Grey look like a bunch of dudes who just won the Anchorage lottery. Not sure how eager people will be to run off and get depressed for two hours. Of course, I could be looking at this the wrong way. Maybe this is about the triumph of the human spirit amongst the end of times. I don’t know. I just wish I didn’t want to curl up with my teddy bear afterwards and cry myself to sleep.

[ ] Wait for the rewrite
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: The best character goals meet two criteria. First, the character must desperately want to achieve the goal. So in Zombieland, even though Tallahassee’s goal was “just” to find a Twinkie, he so desperately wanted to find that Twinkie it was still compelling. Second, the goal itself must be big. So in The Hangover, the goal was to find Doug and get him back to his wedding in time. That’s a big goal. The combination of a BIG GOAL that your wants along with that goal being one he DESPERATELY WANTS TO ACHIEVE is what gives a story the most pop. That’s not to say you always need both of them. Like I just said, Tallahassee’s goal wasn’t big at all. It was merely personal. I’m just saying that your goal won’t be as powerful if it only meets one of those two requirements. That’s how I felt with Wae. I knew how important it was for him to make his son breakfast (personal side of the goal). But just the act of making breakfast wasn’t big enough for me. So I didn’t care if he achieved it or not. Olive’s goal, on the other hand – to get married – that was a goal that was both big (getting married is a big deal!) AND personal (she really really wanted to do it!).