Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Screenplay Review - The Falling Man

Genre: Thriller
Premise: A cop steals and publishes a serial killer’s unpublished manuscript while in the process of trying to take him down.
About: This script hasn’t sold. It hit the tracking boards recently and has been generating some buzz. I was told to check it out so here I am, checking it out. I've been informed that Corson has written a couple of novels and has a couple of small feature/TV credits.
Writer: Ian Corson
Details: 109 pages

Scriptshadow casting: Crispin Glover for Einhorn?


That’s usually not a good sign. When I start a review with a sound as opposed to a word. But I’m not going to mince adjectives here. This script was frustrating. And strange. And baffling. And kind of made me want to shoot myself.

I will say this – I encourage you guys to take chances, to do things that haven’t been done before. And I’ll give Corson this. He’s written a story I’ve never seen before and probably never will again. But here’s the thing about chances. They don’t always pan out. That’s why they’re chances. But I still admire Corson for trying something different.

I should point out that I knew nothing about The Falling Man going in, which was probably part of the problem. Cause you know what? It started out pretty cool.

Richard Einhorn, a slow-talking serial killer who doesn’t just kill his victims, but turns them into elaborate death art, has schlepped his latest victim out to the middle of the desert. The kind of place where no one can hear you scream. In fact, Einhorn proves this by screaming FOR the victim. Nope. No help. She’s fucked.

However, somehow, our victim escapes. And when she gets to the police (who’ve been looking for this guy for awhile) and tells them all about Richard, they’re able to locate him. It turns out he’s a well-known sculptor in the area. Well now he’s going to be a well-known sex toy for a guy named Bubba. 

This is when we meet our hero, 46 year old LAPD detective Douglas Reese. Things aren’t going well for Reese. Outside of the basic issues that come with trying to raise a family on a detective’s salary, Reese is about to lose his house. The dude needs money.

Well he’s going to get it. In the oddest way imaginable. While roaming through Einhorn’s creepy artist-style loft, he finds a jump drive, and when he plugs it into his laptop later that night, he finds an entire manuscript, written by Einhorn, about being a serial killer. And it’s great!

So what does Reese do? He publishes it of course! As someone pointed out on my Twitter feed, about two hours later, his book is on the NY Times Best Seller List, a few spots above FABULICIOUS, Teresa Giudice’s cookbook.

In the meantime, our serial killer is now in jail, awaiting trial, which is surprisingly where he stays for most of the second act. Luckily, his lawyer’s able to get him out on a technicality just in time for Act 3, where Einhorn decides to take revenge on Reese, not for stealing his book, but for misplacing a sculpture of his?

Oh boy. Okay.

While there are little sections here and there in Falling Man that have potential, none of them ever come together in a cohesive way, and all of that begins with the confused premise. The second Reese decides to publish a book in what was, up until that point, a serial killer movie, I was like, “Uhhh, whaaat!!!???” It was just so….weird. I mean there were so many things wrong with it, I don’t know where to start.

Let’s start with the placement of the found manuscript and subsequent publishing. It happens at about the middle of the screenplay. Which means that midway through the movie, Falling Man turns into a completely different story. If you wanted this to be about a cop stealing and publishing a man’s manuscript, you need to make that plot point happen at the end of the first act. That’s your hook so that needs to be the central journey of the story. Put it on page 60 and you’re just going to get a lot of confused people going, “Wait, but…I thought this was about a serial killer.”

Next, the serial killer in the movie GETS LOCKED UP FOR THE MAJORITY OF THE MOVIE. Which means he’s harmless. Which means “where’s the tension and danger in the story?” The main source of all your conflict is rendered impotent. Yeah, Hannibal’s behind bars in Lambs, but Hannibal isn’t the serial killer they’re chasing in that movie. It’s just such a strange choice.

Next, Einhorn isn’t even bothered by the fact that Reese has stolen his book. In fact, the biggest hook in the story really has nothing to do with the story! What I mean by that is, there isn’t anything in the book that, say, helps them take down Einhorn, or helps them profile him or beat him. Reese is never in any danger from Einhorn regarding the book because Einhorn doesn’t care!

Let me give you another scenario where the book plot could’ve been more interesting. Reese and crew raid a guy’s loft who they think is the killer. They end up shooting him, putting him in a coma (or on life support). Afterwards, Reese finds an unpublished manuscript in the guy’s place. He sneaks it home and it turns out to be great. He gets a call later. The suspect isn’t going to make it. He’s brain dead.

So, of course, Reese decides to publish the manuscript. In the next few months, Reese becomes sort of a heroic figure for taking this killer down, and his book goes to the top of the charts as a result. He’s America’s hero. Then the unthinkable happens. The suspect is coming out of his coma. He’s going to make it. Even worse, they find out he’s NOT the killer. He’s the wrong guy and the real killer is still out there.

Now that’s off the top of my head but already you have some juicy conflict to play with. Maybe, in order to keep his fame and name, Reese plans to discreetly slip into the hospital and kill the author before he finds out what Reese has done. In this scenario, Reese has WAY MORE to lose. That was my big problem with the current scenario. It never seemed like Reese had anything to lose! Einhorn never threatened to tell anyone Reese had stolen his manuscript, and nobody would believe him anyway! So what was the point of the whole thing??

I don’t know. This script was just all over the place for me. It needed way more focus and a complete restructuring.

[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

WHAT I LEARNED: Whatever story-related problems your hero is going through, try to also give him some REAL-LIFE problems. Your hero should be facing adversity from every angle. So Reese isn’t JUST having to deal with this psycho serial killer turning people into art popsicles. He’s the victim of one of these adjustable rate mortgage scenarios and is therefore in danger of losing his home. There’s something relatable about these real-life issues that add authenticity and depth to a character, so use them where you can.

 WHAT I LEARNED 2: Some ideas just don’t gel together. Unfortunately, there’s no cut and dry way to weigh this. It’s subjective. But if two ideas don’t sound right together, they probably aren’t. So here, we have a serial killer story about a detective who gets rich off the serial killer’s unpublished manuscript. I don’t know. Those two things just don’t organically fit together in my opinion. Something feels off about them. And that’s why I felt this script was constantly fighting against itself.