Monday, April 16, 2012

Screenplay Review - Line Of Sight

Rumors of found footage films being dead are greatly exaggerated. The Line of Sight screenplay proves that they're alive and well!

Genre: Action/Found Footage
Premise: The best soldiers in the world, Delta Force Three-One, are called in to save the highest ranking U.S. official left after all of the major U.S. cities are destroyed by a mysterious attack.
About: This script was purchased last year by WB and finished on the Black List. F. Scott Frazier hit a dream hot streak when he sold three specs last year, Line Of Sight, Autobahn, and a big alien Children of Men type script. Frazier first came to my attention with his breakthrough screenplay, The Numbers Station, which I reviewed a couple of years ago, and is now in production. As for Line of Sight, Ben Affleck is rumored to be playing one of the leads.
Writer: F. Scott Frazier
Details: 116 pages (This is an early draft of the script. The situations, characters, and plot may change significantly by the time the film is released. This is not a definitive statement about the project, but rather an analysis of this unique draft as it pertains to the craft of screenwriting).

I got one word for you: PICTURES!


That's right. One of the first things you see when you open Line Of Sight is pictures. They're there to help you imagine all the chaos that's going on in the script. And believe me, there's a lot of chaos!!! So what do I think of pictures in scripts? Well, considering I predicted 5 years ago that art would become a much bigger part of screenplays in the future, I’m performing my “I told you so” dance as we speak.

And I'm all over this trend. When the new site launches (I swear – it IS coming), we’ll have artists for you to hire to create concept art for you own scripts. It’s going to be rad!

Back to Line Of Sight. Okay, so here's the truth. I didn't really know which characters were which here. A big reason for that was that we got a “bulk introduce.” A bunch of Delta-Force Three-One soldiers were thrown at us all at once - a death-knell for readers remembering characters, as I've discussed before.  However, surprisingly, this wasn't as big of a deal to me as you might expect.


Because I saw the group as one singular character. Think about it. That’s what Delta Force Three-One is – a group of men who move and think like one. So in that sense, the entire group was a protagonist, and that was good enough to get me emotionally involved. I wouldn't advise this approach to other screenwriters out there. But it worked in this specific case.

Part of the reason for that was that the event was so huge. America’s just been attacked. It looks like all the major cities have been hit. And here’s this Delta force team in Washington DC, finding out that almost the entire top level of government, including the president, have been killed.

There’s one biggie left though, the speaker of the house, who's still alive somewhere inside Washington D.C. An obliterated communications network, however, leaves only one operator able to guide our team to the speaker’s location. So they arrive in the city, which they are shocked to see has been blown to bits. It’s a war zone.

We’re seeing all of this found-footage style through the helmet cams of the soldiers. So we’re hopping back and forth between each feed, which is an ingenious way to go about it because one of the issues with found footage is that you're often limited to one camera. Being able to jump around to each soldier frees things up a bit.

Anyway, they locate the speaker and begin the arduous process of escorting him across town. But they quickly learn that something's up with the remaining factions of government and not everybody is who they say they are. So oftentimes they'll run into an official who claims he’s there to help, when really, he’s working for the other side - whatever mysterious side that may be.

So Three-One makes a bold move, deciding to ignore all orders and complete their original mission – get the speaker to the other side of the city. Naturally, the movie wouldn't be any fun if they didn't encounter some opposition along the way, and there’s plenty of that. On top of this, they’re trying to figure out what happened here. Who is it that attacked the U.S.? How did they do it? And what’s their ultimate plan? Delta Force Three-One is used to getting orders and following them. They’re not trained to care about the big picture. But in this situation, they’re going to have to figure out the big picture if they plan on surviving.

Line of Sight is probably the most no-brainer purchase of the past year. A found footage angle to a multi-city large-scale military attack. I can see the trailer already. If you put pre-District 9 Neil Blomkamp on this, after he made all those cool Halo mini-movies? He might've made one of the greatest summer flicks ever.

Since The Disciple Program, I've been talking to more and more people around town, the people who either facilitate deals or purchase scripts. And the more I talk to them, the more I hear the same thing. They want movies. They want something that audiences are going to show up to.

What F. Scott Frazier unabashedly does is he writes movies that people would show up to. And as simple of a concept as that is – 80% of aspiring screenwriters out there DO NOT do this. They write completely unmarketable plain bland ideas.

As a writer, you gotta put your producer hat on every once in awhile. You gotta ask, “Is someone really going to put millions of dollars into this idea to bring it to life?” That simple question can erase years of misguided writing.

I don't want to scare anybody away or get anyone angry. But this seems to be a reality of the business a lot of writers ignore. They want to stay "true" to their vision. They don't want to "sell out." That’s where I disagree with them. Good writers pick high concepts and then build characters and themes inside those concepts that they’re able to explore on a deeper level. Look at District 9. It was a big idea. There were spaceships and aliens and robots. But guess what - the writer was able to use the idea to say something bigger. He used his characters to explore issues of greed and power and fear and hypocrisy. He was able to kill two birds with one stone. Why can’t you?

And I'm not saying Line of Sight did that, because I'm not sure it did.  What I'm saying is, if character development floats your boat, there's no rule that says you can't develop characters inside of big ideas.

As for the script itself, one of the cool things about found footage is it allows you to see a really big situation through the eyes of a few people. So instead of jumping to Paris to see it get blown up like you would a Roland Emmerich movie, you’re stuck with the person or people who have the camera. You’re experiencing the event through a singular point of view. And in many ways, that’s scarier than seeing the big picture.

As for the script’s faults, I would've liked to have seen more moments that showed off what Delta Force Three-One could do. It seemed like the majority of their impressiveness came from pre-established maneuvers that were somewhat boring. And I suppose that’s what it’s really like (It's not Die Hard where you’re blindly jumping down elevator shafts), but it would’ve been fun to see a little more inventiveness from these guys. Let’s see them improvise a little.

The other thing that bothered me was that it wasn’t clear how this attack was being executed. From my understanding, every major city in the US was hit. And as we find out later (spoiler!), this isn’t another country invading us. It’s an army put together on the fly. So even in the best case scenario of say them having 20,000 soldiers, how the hell are you going to contain 10 of the biggest US cities with 20,000 people? I suppose you could make the argument that the bombs blew up enough of the cities to allow for easy containment. But still, you’re asking to contain maybe 3 million survivors alone in Los Angeles. Are 2000 soldiers really going to be able to do that?

But like I said, this is an exciting idea. It’s totally a movie. It’s something that hasn’t been done before (found footage with a military attack). Screenwriters everywhere can learn a lot about the business by understanding why a script like this sells.

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

What I learned: Roadblock scenes always work! They have built in tension, anticipation and suspense. But the key to making them shine is to add one element that makes things as difficult as possible on your heroes. Line of Sight does this perfectly. Earlier, Delta Three-One killed some soldiers and stole their uniforms in order to impersonate the attacking army. But they did it so quickly, they didn’t realize that their youngest member was putting on the highest ranking uniform. They only realize this AS THEY’RE APPROACHING a roadblock. All of a sudden, the youngest and least capable member of their team will have to convince the invading soldiers to let them pass. This is exactly how to create a great roadblock scene – add an element that makes passing the roadblock look unlikely.