Friday, June 1, 2012

Screenplay Review - Endangerous (Amateur Friday)

NEW Amateur Friday Submission Process: To submit your script for an Amateur Review, send in a PDF of your script, a PDF of the first ten pages of your script, your title, genre, logline, and finally, why I should read your script. Use my submission address please: Your script and “first ten” will be posted. If you’re nervous about the effect of a bad review, feel free to use an alias name and/or title. It’s a good idea to resubmit every couple of weeks so your submission stays near the top.

Genre: Thriller
Premise: When a plane goes down in the jungle, a group of strangers must survive a group of Bengal tigers as well as each other.
Writer: Julian Edmund
Details: 100 pages

So why did I pick Endangerous for today’s Amateur Friday review?  I’m not sure.  I mean we’ve seen this movie before.  It’s called “The Grey.”  Actually, there’s your answer. The Grey was one of my favorite scripts.  Top 10.  I wanted to see someone else take on the idea so I could compare the two.

It’s not that I didn’t desperately want Endangerous to be great. But I knew the chances of finding two scripts covering the same territory both being great were slim to none.  I hoped by comparing a pro and amateur script dealing with the same material, I’d be able to see what made The Grey so awesome.

And hey, if I was wrong?  And Endangerous turned out amazing?  Then sweet.  I found another great amateur script.

So what’s Endangerous about?

Well, as I’ve mentioned, the story is a familiar one.  Some people are on a plane.  The plane crashes in the jungle, and they must all find safety while Bengal tigers hunt them down.  

We’ve got our pilot, Katherine, a semi-tough broad.  Ripley-light.  We’ve got her son, 10 year old Henry, who’s deaf and mute.  We’ve got Taj, a drug addict always looking for his next fix.  We’ve got Jacob, a mean son of a bitch who appears to be working for the law.  And we have Eisner, his prisoner, a scary dude who wears a scar with an eye-patch. 

The group is in Southeast Asia for some reason and this was the script’s first misstep.  What was cool about The Grey was its unique setting.  A bunch of convicts and castoffs working at the end of the world (the Antarctic) because the rest of society wouldn’t give them a chance. 

It was such a unique and specific universe, you felt like you were reading something truly different.  Here, I’m not sure why any of these people are here in Asia.  I don’t get a sense of what anyone’s journey is.  We were talking about backstory yesterday, and the backstory for all of these characters is murky.  I don’t get a sense of place or past.  So there’s something generic about it all right away.

Anyway, onto the plane they go and a little while later, we get one of the most anti-climactic plane crashes in history.  It’s not clear what happens or why.  Out of nowhere the propellers stop and Katherine simply says, “We’re going down.” 

They crash, and once they do, they immediately spot a Bengal tiger lurking in the shadows.  Eisner, our prisoner, lets them know that he can get them out of here.  Follow him into the jungle, to the river, and he’ll find them a village where they can get help.  Everyone’s reluctant, especially Eisner’s handler, Jacob, but the group doesn’t have much of a choice. 

So into the jungle they go, with the tiger following them, and that’s pretty much the rest of the story.  There aren’t any deviations that I can think of.   There’s lots of arguments.  Lots of people not trusting one another.  But basically, a tiger follows a bunch of frustrated people into the jungle.  That’s your story.

And that’s where I first took issue with Endangerous.  Nothing surprising happens.  In fact, the same character issues are repeated over and over again.  Take Jacob and Eisner for example.  These two have about 10 scenes together that are exactly the same.  Eisner says he wants to be free.  Jacob tells him that there’s no way that’s happening.  They curse at each other, complain to each other.  And that’s it.  Sometimes, in fact, they say the EXACT SAME THING to each other that they’ve already said.

When you write a screenplay, you don’t want to repeat yourself.  No scene should be exactly the same.  Relationships need to evolve or change.  Situations must arise that add new dynamics to established conflicts.  If you look at a similar movie, Pitch Black, you saw this with Riddick and his handler, Johns.  At first Johns was in charge.  Then the group realizes Johns is a junkie. Then the group realizes Johns isn’t a cop.  With each reveal, the group is siding more and more with Riddick, changing the dynamic between the two men repeatedly.

Here it was the same conversation over and over again: “I want to be free.”  “Fuck you. You’ll never be free.”  “I hate you.” “I hate you more.”  The dynamic never changed, which left the relationship repetitive, and therefore boring. 

And the problem was, the entire screenplay was focused on that relationship.  It took up, I’d say, about 65% of the story.  And what was left wasn’t much.  For example, you had the deaf-mute Henry character.  Right away, that felt cliché to me.  I didn’t like it.  I mean if something – anything – unique had been done with it, I would’ve been down. 

Instead, Henry just sort of disappears.  For long stretches of the screenplay, he’s nowhere to be found.  This is one of the hard things about writing mute characters to begin with. It’s easy for them to get lost on the page because they don’t speak. If you’re going to create a character with this extreme of a disability, you have to utilize him in an interesting way.  And I’m not sure Julian knew what to do with him.  Henry just pops up every once in awhile looking confused.

As for the tiger aspect, it was pretty standard stuff.  Tiger saw humans.  Tiger wanted to kill humans.  There was nothing unique about it.  What I loved about The Grey was that these wolves had likely never seen humans before – being that our plane had crashed in the middle of nowhere.

Also, the wolves were much bigger and more intelligent than your average wolves, setting up a great standoff between humans and beasts.  You got the sense that the wolves were adapting, outthinking the men, and that elevated a basic showdown into something bigger and more interesting.    

Another issue with Endangerous was that the dialogue was way way way too on-the-nose.  There’s a scene where an injured passenger who can barely keep up with them is being stalked by the tiger.  Katherine and Taj are arguing about whether to help him or not.  KATHERINE: “We can’t just leave him here to die.”  TAJ: “We’re not leaving him to die, we’re just saving ourselves, it’s human nature!”  Oh man.  There isn’t an inch of subtlety in this response.  And characters are talking like this the entire way through.  So nothing feels natural. 

The thing is, there’s some good stuff in Endangerous.  First, the script is written in a really lean style.  Rarely do the action lines clock in at over 2 per paragraph. 

We have a clear goal.  They’re trying to get to the river.  So we always know where the story’s heading.  That’s good.

Julian rarely writes a scene without conflict in it.  So most of the pages have some form of clashing going on, which is good.

I think that’s one of the most frustrating things about screenwriting.  Is you can do a lot of things right, but if you also do a lot of things wrong, it doesn’t matter.  Sure, there’s conflict, but that conflict is all very one-note and repetitive.  Jacob and Eisner are always arguing about the exact same thing, repeating their issues with each other over and over again. 

Julian needs to be commended for keeping the writing sparse. But after every grouping of these sparse paragraphs, we get some really on-the-nose dialogue, which has us immediately forgetting the style. 

I’m pumped that Julian keeps us focused on a goal. But at the same time, I’ve seen too many of the characters in Endangerous before.  Taj reminds me of Charlie from Lost.  The Jacob/Eisner dynamic reminds me of the same dynamic in Lost and Pitch Black.  And our female lead character late in the script tells a tiger who’s got a hold of Henry to “Get away you bitch!” one of the most famous lines ever, lifted right out of Aliens.  It’s all too familiar. 

So I guess the lesson here is to master as many facets of the craft as you can.  Nailing 8 or 9, sadly, isn’t enough.  You have to keep learning.  You have to get as many of these pieces right as possible because if you have even 3 or 4 elements that are shaky, that might be enough to doom your script.

But if you keep at it, you’ll get there eventually.  So I wish Julian and everyone else the best of luck!  J

Script link: Endangerous

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

What I learned: I want to point out how yesterday’s article could’ve helped this script a lot.  Remember, we were talking about never allowing characters to reveal their own backstory?  So here’s a moment where Jacob is talking to Eisner late in Endangerous: “I’ve spent seven fucking years hunting you, and everything I’ve ever had has been lost in them. You’ve taken it all from me. I don’t even know who I am anymore. And the more I look at you, the more it makes me want to kill you.” 

Since he’s talking about himself, Jacob’s monologue feels forced and wrong. So instead of having Jacob say this to Eisner, what about putting Jacob in a position where Eisner has turned the tables on him, and has him tied up.  This time, it’s EISNER who addresses this backstory: “How does it feel?  Chasing me for seven years?  Your entire life lost because of me.  Look at you.  You don’t know who you are anymore.  It’s created a rage in you.  I can smell it.  You want to watch me die.  You want to be there for my last breath.  And now you won’t.  How does that feel?”   

I mean I don’t LOVE this, but the monologue works a thousand times better coming from Eisner than it does from Jacob.  Scriptshadow advice in practice baby!!