Friday, July 6, 2012

Screenplay Review - Doxide (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: Sci-Fi/Period/Crime
Premise: A mafia hitman is hired by the government to hunt down a group of extraterrestrials on the New York City waterfront.
About: On Saturday I posted 20 logline submissions for the Scriptshadow community, allowing you, the readers, to determine who I would review for the next two Amateur Fridays.  Doxide emerged as one of the top contenders immediately, which is why I'm reviewing it today.    
Writer: Tim Miller
Details: 116 pages

I'm always looking for unique ideas.  When you're in the reading business, almost everything you get is something you've seen before.  The idea behind Saturday's post was to give you guys a behind-the-scenes look at that.  Most of the ideas I'm sent either sound derivative, boring, or both.  I'm not saying that Doxide is the chupacabra of movie ideas.  But you can see, with its unique mash-up of mafia and aliens, how it would stand out amongst a group of other loglines. 

This is the thing that so many writers seem to forget.  They believe that as long as they love their subject matter and their characters, that that'll be enough to make someone want to read their script.  That's simply not the case.  You need to figure out how to stand out at the idea stage so that when you pitch it, people will want to read the thing.

Okay, so on to Doxide.  Did it live up to its premise?  Well, that's hard to say because its premise is so darn weird.  

The year is 1962 and 42 year old Carlo Fibonacci is a hit man who works for the highly regarded Carpaccio family.  In fact, Don Carpaccio just had Carlo take care of one of his enemies down by the docks.  Guy was a thorn in the Don's side.  Now? Fuggetaboutit. 

But not for long.  Because some strange things are going on down on the waterfront.  Seems there're some pesky new foreigners (Russians maybe) making a play for territory.  Oh, and motoring into the ocean in the middle of the night to pick up fallen meteorites.  Not the M.O. of your garden variety crime syndicate.  

But before this activity hits Don's radar, he's approached by a pair of FBI agents. They want to hire Carlo to take down these foreigners.  Oh, and shooting them in the heart isn't good enough.  They want Carlo to decapitate their heads - Highlander-style.  Talk about odd requests.  But money's money so Carlo takes the job.  And he soon learns why these foreigners are so valuable.  When you shoot them, the mother%uckers heal!  Yup.  Self-healing foreigners.  

After killing a couple of them, Carlo finally meets their leader, who explains what they're doing here.  They're aliens.  And they've come because humanity is on the verge of destroying itself.  They're basically teachers, recruiting humans and teaching them how to settle disputes peacefully, so that they might go out and spread the message before, you know, a nuclear war breaks out or something.  

When Carlo realizes this, he has a change of heart and doesn't want to decapitate anyone anymore.  He saw the horrors of war first hand, so getting rid of them sounds pretty groovy.  But The Dom doesn't share Carlo's Woodstockian enlightenment.  He realizes that aliens are worth monnn-ayyyy!  So he tricks Carlo into bringing one back and puts her on the open market.  The other aliens aren't a fan of the e-bay listing and decide to fight back.  So...which side is Carlo going to play for? 

Man this is a tough one to break down.  My initial thoughts are that there's a war going on in this screenplay, and not the one between the mafia and the aliens.  It's one between these two subject matters.  I'm just not sure they ever meshed well together.  Miller plays the mafia side of the story so seriously, that the sci-fi side feels like a round peg trying to fit into a square hole.  

In order to fit in, then, the alien angle becomes so serious that it's almost like they're not even aliens.  They're people.  They only have one power - and that's to heal.  So these guys are essentially humans.  And maybe that was Miller's intent.  The aliens are metaphors for...something.  I don't know.  But their inclusion felt so workmanlike that I didn't get that spark I felt from the logline.  Maybe I wanted them to be more fantastical.  Maybe I wanted their plan to be more interesting.  I'm not sure.  But for a premise this catchy, the story itself was pretty by-the-book.  

Structurally, there was one mistake that stood out - the stakes.  There were no personal stakes for Carlo to do the job.  He had nothing invested - nothing tied in - to taking these aliens down.  If he failed, his life would pretty much be the same.  So there was a detachment in his pursuit that kept me at arm's length.

On a more basic screenwriting level, the naming here drove me crazy!  Two of the main characters are named "Castor" and "Carlo."  This is screenwriting 101 here.  Those names are practically identical to each other so I was constantly having to go back and check who was who.  Also in the mix we have Clio and Calliope.  It's a freaking "C" party, with "C" standing for "Confusing."  And I don't know if it's just me, but do every one of these mafia scripts have to use the "Mafia Name Index" for their characters?  Frankie Jr, Giuseppe, Tony, Vito, Little Dom, Paulie.  Or maybe that's just how it really is?  In real life that's how they're all named?  Still, it was annoying because it felt so unoriginal.

When it comes down to it, and I look at this screenplay beyond the analysis, it all feels too...serious.  It's just so heavy.  It's almost like the screenplay is someone's ribcage and an elephant's sitting on top of it. It can't breathe.  And that's not to say I wanted something goofy here, but it's dangerous having a mono-drama script.  If there's only one emotion the entire time (heaviness), it's like riding a roller-coaster that only goes straight.  Where are the drops?  Where are the loops?  You need different emotions to keep an audience invested.  And I didn't see any of that here.  

So sadly, I have to give today's amateur script a "wasn't for me." :(

Script link: Doxide (p.s. If you want to get the Amateur Friday scripts early, e-mail me with subject line: "EARLY")

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

What I learned:  Whether you have a high concept idea or a low-concept idea, try to include the major conflict of your story in the logline.  I read so many loglines where no conflict is mentioned.  Which is boring.  For example, here's the logline that got me excited to read Doxide:  "A mafia hitman is hired by the government to hunt down a group of extraterrestrials on the New York City waterfront."  The key phrase here is "hunt down."  There's the conflict.  A lesser writer might've written a logline like this: "A mafia family becomes aware of a group of extraterrestrials on the New York City waterfront."  You see how there's no conflict mentioned, and how it's therefore less interesting?