Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Screenplay Review - Desert Demons

A former Nicholl-finalist is back in the saddle with a new horror screenplay which combines elements of Pitch Black and The Descent!

Genre: Horror
Premise: When they open up a well that hasn’t been looked at since dinosaurs were around, a group of locals find themselves fighting off a large group of prehistoric flying monsters.
About: Brian Logan finished in the Top 10 in the 2003 Nicholl finals. This is his latest script, which hasn’t yet sold. You can find out more about the Aussie at his website, “” To learn more about co-writer David J. Sakmyster, head over to his website here
Writers: Brian M. Logan & David J. Sakmyster
Details: 99 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).

Pitch Black meets The Descent? Uhh, yeah, I’m in. Those are two damn good movies. But could this script live up to those lofty cult classics?

We start out in a full-blown desert town appropriately called "Desert Springs." In this small town, water is in short supply, which means the local water plant is going to have to open up a new well. It just so happens that 37-year-old Jake Mitchell, a former Marine and our hero, works as a security guard at the plant and is dealing with some of the headaches that come along with opening up this fifth well.

To make matter worse, he's tasked with showing around local TV personality Emma Flynn, a 30-year-old ambitious newscaster will who will do anything to get the story and nothing for you. Why she's coming to this boring middle-of-nowhere town to do a story on a water plant is anyone's guess, but we need ourselves a movie so come she does!

Jake and Emma are oil and water from the start and when a couple of kids start lighting firecrackers near the wells, she gets her camera rolling to check out what Jake does every night. When he gets there, he learns that one of the kids who ran away, the Mayor’s grandson, fell into the NEW FIFTH WELL. Uh oh. That can’t be good.

The kid seems fine at first but a local scientist finds a strange leaf attached to him that turns out to be over 250,000 years old. It appears that this well dates back quite a ways and since this is the first time it's been opened up, there are some nice treats hidden inside, and this leaf is just the first of them.

Next thing you know, a pterodactyl’ish creature shoots out of the well and starts treating people like cheesecake (Peoplecake?). Pterodactyl 1 is quickly followed by Pterodactyls 2-50 and pretty soon these paleolythic party-crashers are munching and mangling their way to a human buffet. Jake and Emma must run around and save the few humans who are left, as well as figure out a way to destroy these disastrous dinos, all while struggling with their escalating feelings for one another!

You know I was talking to Tyler the other day, who's been keeping me updated on all the meetings he’s been taking, and one of the things he says he keeps hearing about his script is that it isn't just that the writing's good, it's that he wrote a *movie*.

I loved Origin Of A Species. I thought it was an awesome script. But would I touch it as a producer? Not unless I had Sam Mendes directing and Christian Bale starring. And that's the thing you have to remember when you're writing. Producers are looking for MOVE-IES. They're looking for stuff that they can actually put up onscreen that will bring people to the theater. So if you write a movie like The Disciple Program or you write a movie like Desert Demons, you’re way up the ladder as far as getting Hollywood to notice you. To that end, I liked the script’s approach. It's the kind of thing I could see a producer wanting to make.

Having said that, there was something that never quite made it past the Ice Age with Desert Demons. I think one of the big pitfalls with this kind of script is that it can very easily turn into a bunch of people running around in circles. If the writer isn't ON IT as far as keeping every character goal-oriented, keeping every character motivated, keeping the story objective crystal clear to the audience, then things start to unravel. And that’s sort of how I felt. I just wasn’t really clear what was happening after awhile other than chaos.

That's what I loved about Aliens so much and why I think it's the best script in this genre. That group always had a plan. It might have been as simple as boarding up all of the entryways so the aliens couldn't get in. It might have been rescuing Newt. It might've been sending Bishop out to the remote post to get the ship to send them down another plane.

In Desert Demons, I started to lose track of what the characters were after and what was going on. It seemed like we were just running back and forth between points A, B, and C. Since our characters began to drift, so did my concentration. And I think that's a hugely important lesson. Characters drift = we drift. If Brian and Dave were to make their objectives bigger, clearer, with higher stakes and more focused directives, I think this script would be a lot more exciting. I was just never able to lock onto any clear goal while jumping between the two teams of characters.

The story is also missing a kick-ass hero. While I admit protagonists are not as important in horror movies as some other genres, I still think you need to give us someone awesome. I was disappointed by the cliché background of Jake being involved in a military accident. I feel like that's the easiest backstory to go with. There was a little bit of intrigue with his superior, Danny, and what happened to them back in the war. But overall nothing stood out about it, or stood out about that relationship in general.

Another thing I would've loved was a monster that was more original. Now I know it’s difficult to create an original-looking monster on the page. Usually that stuff is done in pre-production. But just from a writing perspective, in my head these things looked exactly like the things in Pitch Black. They were flying. They were monsters. So it just felt way too familiar.

When you combine characters who start wandering with a protagonist who's not very original with a monster we’ve already seen before… it's hard to get me invested, especially because this isn’t my go-to genre to begin with.

What I’m curious to see, however, is how others who LOVE this genre respond. I remember saying a lot of these same things about Attack The Block, which a lot of people loved. So I’m wondering if horror fans are going to dig this for what it is – a fun little creature feature. I mean, look, watching monsters kill people is fun. I need a little more going on than that personally but I have a feeling that this script might have satisfied the hard core genre fans. I’ll be reading the comments closely to see if that’s the case.

I know you can request a copy of Desert Demons from Brian Logan at his site. You just need to include your name, position, company and email address.

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

What I learned: Maybe it's because Pitch Black was brought up in the pitching of the script and that's one of my favorite sci-fi scripts ever, but the big thing Desert Demons reminded me of was how important a memorable main character is. As it stands, “Demons” didn't have that one big character that brought the story to the next level. That's why I liked Pitch Black so much - because of Riddick. It didn’t matter if that script would’ve happened on an alien planet or on the beaches of Hawaii, we would've remembered that character! It’s been about 5 days since I read Desert Demons and I barely remember anyone. That CANNOT happen. You need to have that character that’s IMPOSSIBLE TO FORGET in your story, preferably your hero. This script could’ve benefited immensely from that.