Premise: A left-for-dead rancher wakes up in the middle of the desert with no memory of who he is. He goes off in a search to find out what happened.
About: This script came to me via my notes service.
Writer: Ryan Binaco
Details: 104 pages
Scriptshadow pick for Damian! - Jeremy Davies
So at the last second, the writer who was having his script reviewed for Amateur Friday e-mailed to tell me that he wanted to rescind his review. Maybe he was afraid of trying to follow Kelly Marcel’s amazing interview, but whatever the case, this was a nightmare scenario for me. You guys can probably tell that I’m overworked as it is. Now I'm reading two scripts for one review.
But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I’d just finished giving notes on a script which I thought was really interesting. I told him I didn't know who to send it to because it doesn't fit into any particular genre. But at the same time, it's one of the few scripts I've read this year that's kept me turning each page in anticipation.
So while the script isn’t easily categorizable (word?), there's something about it where if it found the right person, someone who knew what to do with it, it could be special. And that's why I decided to review it.
The script has a great opening. The year is 1846. We see the dead body of a rancher in the middle of the desert being pecked away at by buzzards, when all of a sudden his eyes shoot open. He’s still alive. The rancher stumbles up, swatting away at the birds, quickly noticing the huge gash on his head, something that whoever left him here did to him.
If only that was the worst of it. That gash – or the result of it - has left him without any memories. He doesn't know his name, he doesn't know how he got here, he doesn't know anything. All he knows now is that he's in the middle of the desert, dying of thirst, with no idea where to go.
So he just starts walking, eventually finding a disheveled man living in a cave. Cave Man, Damian, takes him in and shows him how to live off the land, even when the land has little to offer. The problem is that he’s very possessive. Every time the rancher tells him he wants to leave to find out who he is, Damian tells him that it's a stupid idea. He has a safe place to live and is well fed. Why give that up?
Not only that, but there seems to be some animal/ beast stalking them on the outskirts of the camp. Even if Rancher did decide to ignore Damian and go out on his own, chances are this "thing" would get him.
At a certain point, however, Rancher discovers that Damian has a deep dark secret, one that explains why he doesn't want Rancher to leave. This forces Rancher to high-step it out of there and, once again, stumble through unfamiliar terrain to find out who he is and where he came from.
Eventually, he makes it out of the desert and comes upon a farm. The farm's owner, an older man named John, lives there with his daughter, Terry. Initially, John doesn't believe the rancher's story and locks him up in his barn. But over time, he loosens up and allows the rancher to stay with them. After a while, he finally decides to take John to town and find out if anyone recognizes him.
When the rancher does discover the truth, it's not what he had hoped, but this will lead him down a new path, one where he’s accepted into John’s family. However it’s at that home that a dark secret threatens to destroy John, Rancher, and John’s daughter.
At first I didn't know what to think of this script. Actually, that's a lie. This script confounded me almost the whole way through. But in a good way. One of the things I'm always preaching to you guys is to take your stories in a different direction - one the reader doesn't expect. That's a lot easier said than done because the direction still has to make sense. It still has to feel like a logical story as opposed to a bunch of weird scenes blended together. I actually just read the first ten pages of a script over in Twit-Pitch. I was definitely surprised by the way the pages evolved, but it was too random to make sense of, too unfocused to be coherent.
With Ryan’s script here, we go from a guy stuck in the desert, to a guy being nursed back to health by a strange man, to a guy living on a ranch with an old man and his daughter. Each successive storyline was unpredictable, and yet it all fit together through the prism of this specific mystery our hero had to solve. I was really impressed by that.
Another thing that sticks with you when you read this script is Ryan’s voice. He has an uncanny ability to create atmosphere by finding the beauty (and the darkness) in seemingly mundane things. For example, he'll highlight the way the shadows dance against the wall via moonlight right before Rancher goes to sleep.
This is another thing where if you do it wrong, it turns into a disaster. It’ll feel like a writer focusing on mundane details that don't add anything to the screenplay other than a higher page count. But Ryan uses such a sparse writing style to begin with that this attention to detail adds instead of detracts from the story. Where this kind of thing becomes problematic is when writers are writing seven line paragraphs describing a room. Here, Ryan picks and chooses the “atmosphere” moments and keeps them very short. No more than a line or two.
Another thing I loved about the script was the way Ryan dealt with his amnesiac main character. I think when I read the logline about a man waking up in the desert with no idea of how we got there, I was expecting another Buried clone. It was going to be cliché – beginning with an intense first 20 pages, only to peter out quickly after the writer ran out of ideas.
But Ryan seems to be genuinely interested in how amnesia affects his hero. There's a deep set need for Rancher to find out who he is. It isn't just a function of the story – a goal without substance. It’s an organic character goal. I don't often see amateurs caring so much about these things, yet these are the exact things that separate writers from the pack. You need to explore your characters on a deeper level and get into what they want. You have to commit to them.
And I like the little ways Ryan keeps you interested. When you have a “slow” script like this one, you must utilize tools like mystery and suspense and anticipation so that we'll want to keep watching. Primarily, we're interested in who the rancher is. But there are also other things that keep our interest. For example, John makes it clear that the one thing the rancher cannot do is look at his daughter in an inappropriate way. If he does, he'll kill him.
Also, John has a room that he forbids Rancher from going into. It's a small thing, but in the back of our heads, we can't stop thinking about that room and what might be in it. By doing this, you don't have to rush the script along at a breakneck speed. The mystery does the work for you. If we want to know the secret behind something, time will appear to move faster, so even though the script is “slow,” it seems fast.
I did have a few issues with the script, however. The first one was the beast at the beginning. I was never clear what the beast was - was it real or fake? To be honest, it kind of felt like one of those “film school” choices. Like, “Ooooh. Maybe the beast is him!” I don't know, it didn't quite fit for me.
But my big issue was the ending. At a certain point, we learn who Rancher is. Yet there were still 30-40 pages left in the script. This is always a dangerous choice. The primary problem you've set up at the beginning of the screenplay drives the story. If you answer it - what's left for the audience to latch onto? Why do they want to keep reading if the main question has been answered?
For this reason, the final act essentially becomes a "wrapping up" of the family story. There is sort of a final twist, but I felt like it was telegraphed too clearly earlier on (it was really the only way for the story to go), so it landed with a whimper. This left the final act to be the weakest of the screenplay, and as we all know, you can't do that.
But I'll tell you this. Ryan is definitely a writer to watch out for. I’m not sure how to turn this into a sellable movie, again because the genre is so wishy-washy. But I'm hoping somebody out there “gets” Ryan and helps him maximize his potential. He has a ton of it.
This one is worth the read.
Script Link: Eden's Folly
[ ] Wait for the rewrite
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: I’d be wary of answering the question that drives your story too early. It puts you in a bind for your third act because we already found out what we wanted to find out. I know who Rancher is, so I’m done. If you *do* need to answer the big question before the final act, replace it with another equally or bigger question. I think Ryan tried to do this with the mystery of who Damian was. But we already knew who Damian was, so it fell short. For example, maybe Rancher finds out what happened to him and who did it, but he still doesn’t know *why* it happened. And the *why* can be the big final act reveal.