Friday, June 15, 2012

Screenplay Review - The Grand Illusion (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: An illusionist's next trick is to make the world disappear.
Writer: James Taylor
Details: 96 pages

Man, yesterday was quite the controversial post.  I think I was denounced by half the screenwriting community as the devil for liking Prometheus.  It was....awesome!  I love debate.  And even better, screenwriting debate.  As long as we're talking about these things, we're learning.  It's when a screenplay has nothing to talk about that it's in trouble.

Which is why today's review should be just as fun.  Let me give you some background.  While procrastinating away on Twitter, someone sent me this tweet.  It was just, "If you want to read it," and then a link to this page (sorry it's blurry).

It was the perfect pitch!  It was short.  It was a great little marketing approach.  And on top of that, the idea sounded cool.  I was in!

After I sent the script out to the community, word began to come back on Twitter.  "That script was amazing!"  "That script was horrible!"  "Just finished 'The Grand Illusion.' Wow!"  "Just finished 'The Grand Illusion.' I want to punch myself in the face!"

Hmmm... How could a script get such divided opinions?  And which side was right?  Well, I'm here to put the definitive word on that.  Read on...

Our hero is a man named "Sand."  Sand is an illusionist.  David Copperfield without the creepy-factor.  Sand is also realllllly moody.  I mean, this guy is DEEP.  You get the feeling he's never smiled in his life.  The reason for this is that Sand has been reading some philosophy books lately and come to the conclusion that the world is a figment of his imagination.  In other words, if he wasn't around, then the world would cease to exist.

That's....about as much as I could understand in this script.  Seriously.  Everything was so weird, so out there, that I couldn't find a story buried underneath all the psycho-babble.  I mean we get scenes where Sand is talking to a woman who then...turns into Sand!  So Sand is talking to Sand!  Sand will all of a sudden find himself out in a desert (no idea how he got there) getting philosophical advice from an Apache Chief.  And every five pages or so, we'd get dialogue like this: "Maybe. Because maybe I am your ego personified. Maybe your father is intuition incarnated. Maybe being an illusionist is a microcosm for interpreting the world. Maybe everything is a projection of your psyche -- your wife, your daughter, the grass, the sky, the earth -- everything is just a thought or a feeling.”


I was able to glean a few more things about the plot.  Sand has a brother named Vic who's also an illusionist. The two don't get along at all, and when Sand inadvertently ruins one of Vic's big live illusions, Vic's credibility goes down the tubes.  It doesn't really change anything, though, since Vic already hated Sand.  But now he just hates him more.

But the real row between the two happened when they were children when their mother was driving them somewhere.  The car broke down, they got stuck on the side of the road, and the mom went off to look for help, never to be heard from again.  Sand has always blamed himself for this, and now wants to find out exactly what happened during that night.

To me, that's the only thing in this script approaching somewhat of a narrative.  And it's a sporadic one at that.  We don't really get to it until later in the script.  Also, Sand only seems to look for her when it's convenient.

That was easily my biggest problem with the screenplay and I don't mean to sound harsh because Jamie is a really cool guy.  He's been awesome on Twitter, excited about the review, and very thankful that I would take the time to read his script.

But the thing is, this is the kind of script that's going to get people mad.  When it feels like a bunch of psycho-babble, when it feels like armchair philosophy, when for most of the story the reader's trying to dig through the mess to try and figure out what's going on, you get frustrated.  And I was frustrated.  I just wanted SOME story to emerge, and one never did.

And I feel like this is a basic fix. I mean, revolve the whole thing around a show.  This is an illusionist.  He's a showman.  Why, then, are there next to zero shows in the script, replaced instead by a bunch of armchair philosophy scenes in small rooms?  That's what this script amounts to.  People going into small rooms and opining about whether the world is real or not.

Sand needs to announce a huge show in Vegas in 3 weeks where he's going to make the world disappear.  It should catch the media attention.  Everyone should want a ticket.  He disappears in the interim.  People have no idea if he's going to show up to his show or not.  I mean at least now your story has some FORM and PURPOSE.

Trying to connect a narrative via a couple of VERY LOOSE threads about where his mom disappeared and "is the world real or not," is not enough for a movie.  Your movie needs FORM.  It needs a destination, a goal, a ticking time bomb.  A show would provide that.  And you know what?  Maybe there even was a show set up.  I don't know.  But if there was, I missed it because there were so many weird pointless scenes with people debating each other in rooms about reality.

And that's another thing.  We talked about this the other day.  You don't want repetition in your second act.  Scenes shouldn't repeat the same beats or the same information.  Yet we have about a dozen scenes in the second act where people are debating the same things.  Is the world real? Yes it is.  No it isn't.

On top of that, you can't rest your climax on a bunch of unclear philosophical ramblings.  You can't say "quantum physics" four times during the script and expect that to explain (HUGE SPOILER) why the world disappears at the end.  There needs to be a clearer connection there - a setup that logically leads to that payoff - preferably something VISUAL (show, don't tell!).  It would be like, in The Sixth Sense, if instead of Cole seeing and helping a bunch of ghosts throughout the movie, people just debated if ghosts were real for two hours and then Bruce Willis learned he was dead.

Again, I love Jamie the person.  The guy rocks and has been so cool to me.  And, at to his credit, he took some chances and wrote something different.  I respect that.  But this script is so vague and the narrative is so all over the place, that I just couldn't engage.  The good news is, this script does have some fans.  So let's see those Team Jamie posts in the comments section.

Script Link: The Grand Illusion

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

What I learned: You are in a new age.  You have to get creative when pitching in order to stand out.  Taylor found a way to stand out amongst thousands of people to get me to read his script.  I see posters and images becoming a bigger and bigger part of pitching and selling screenplays every day, which is why I'm lining up poster artists to offer the service on Scriptshadow (p.s. e-mail me if you want me to set you up with them in the meantime).  It just seems so logical.  Movies are a visual medium.  If you have the resources, why not use visuals to sell your script to others?  It's the perfect way to stand out.