Friday, August 24, 2012

Amateur Friday - Keeping Time

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/Comedy
Premise: (from writer) A for-hire time traveler who specializes in “preventing” bad relationships meets his match with a mysterious woman who claims to also be a traveler and is determined to stop him from completing his mission.
Writer: Nathan Zoebl
Details: 100 pages

Any excuse to put a picture up of BTTF!

You guys know one of my weaknesses is time-travel comedies.  Back To The Future is the responsible party.  I don't know why I keep thinking I'm going to find the next Marty McFly.  Time travel is so difficult to get right.  Comedies are so difficult to get right.  So these sci-fi time travel comedies are NEVER very good, and nowhere close to the perfection that is BTTF.  And yet I continue my search!

Well, I finally found something.  Now I don't want to get TOO excited here.  This isn't BTTF quality (What is???).  But this Eternal Sunshine meets Adjustment Bureau comedy is the best time travel thing I've read in forever.  It's really clever, really fun, and really well-written.  And best of all, it's written by an amateur!

I knew I was in for something good right away when we see our hero, Charles, walk in front of a car, about to get plastered, then FREEZE to the title card: "48 Hours Earlier."  Oh no, the dreaded "48 hours earlier" title card!  The thing Carson hates more than anything!  But then the "48 hours earlier" is crossed out and replaced with "48 hours later."  Which is also crossed out.  And finally a title card appears that tells us that in the near future, time travel is a reality, and that for the right price, you can take care of hurtful past relationships that have turned you into a walking pile of sludge.

All you have to do is sign up at "Forget-Me-Nots," the company our soon-to-be-road-kill hero, Charles, works for, and an agent will go back in time to make sure you and that guy who dumped your ass never meet in the first place.  And of course if you never meet, you never break up, so you never experience heartbreak.  Hey, sign me up!

When our story begins (or ends??), Charles is approached by a recently scorned woman, Julia, who wants to make it so that she and her ex, Tom, never meet.  Julia tells Charles how they met, and he heads back in time to make sure it never happens.  Now the rules of time travel are strict.  The governing body of time only allows people to jump for 48 hours, so Charles has to be efficient in his approach.  And he always is.  So far, he hasn't screwed up a job yet.

But that's about to change.  As Charles moves to prevent Julia from meeting Tom, a cute 22 year old spunky chick, Dora, bumps into him, unloading a cup of coffee onto his shirt.  She apologizes profusely as Charles tries to get away, but she insists on cleaning him up.  He fights and claws to escape, but in the end loses the battle and watches helplessly as Tom and Julia meet across the street.

No problem.  He's missed first encounters before.  He'll just prevent their first date from happening.  But what Charles soon finds out is that something keeps preventing him from executing his plan.  And there's one common factor involved: Dora!  She ALWAYS seems to be around when things go south.

Charles finally confronts her and finds out that she's a time traveler as well, and that she's been sent here to make sure these two stay together.  Charles is pissed, but takes it as a challenge.  He's been on dozens of trips.  This girl is a rookie.  He'll be able to handle her no problem.

So the two start an Adjustment Bureau-like battle where they each make moves to alter fate surrounding the couple.  And every time Charles seems to have a leg up, Dora outfoxes him.  But as this time battle escalates, Charles starts to see the Tom-Julia job as secondary.  He wants to know who this Dora girl is, and who sent her here.  All of this will come to a whopper of a conclusion when we finally catch up with the opening scene that has Charles staring down death in the form of a car seconds away from crushing him.

This one was good.  Really good.

Yesterday we talked about clarity and how difficult it is for some writers to write even the most basic scene.  Keeping Time jumps between the present and the past and has multiple versions of characters and yet I knew what was going on 95% of the time (the ending does get confusing, which I'll talk about in a sec).  For example, instead of just assuming we'd get it, Nathan will stop the script to explain the difference between "Past Charles" and "Present Charles," so we won't be confused by their interactions.

What I also liked about "Time" was that it kept evolving.  Every time I thought I knew where the story was going, it took a left turn.  For example, when Charles misses the first Tom-Julia encounter, he  decides to use the information she gave him back in their interview to sweep her off her feet, keeping her away from Tom in the process.  I thought, "Uh-oh.  Now we just have another version of There's Something About Mary."  Except when Tom tries to use her secrets against her, she stonewalls him, which confuses the hell out of Charles and left me wondering - "Wow, what now??"

Likewise with the Charles-Dora relationship.  I thought for sure these two time-travellers would battle each other to change fate and in the process fall in love!  But that doesn't happen either.  At that point I'm thinking, "Man, this writer really knows how to craft an unpredictable story."

And pretty soon, I found myself obsessed with finding out who Dora was and why she was here.  I had about five theories, but was never sure which one it would be.

On top of that, I felt the dialogue, for the most part, was really solid.  It wasn't great.  It had some clunky moments.  But Charles and Dora's back-and-forth was almost always fun to listen to.  The two had great chemistry and I'd find that even in scenes where they were just sitting at the table chatting for five pages (a scenario I tell writers to avoid all the time - two characters sitting at a table talking), I'd always be entertained.

But you know what really put me over the top?  What really got me?  This script had a theme!  I can count the number of amateur comedies I've read that have a theme on one hand - that were actually trying to say something!  Here, the theme was about allowing people to have the experiences in their lives, whether good or bad, because those experiences end up making them who they are.  I thought it was really well executed.

And to prove it, when the ending came, and one of the final twists arrived, I actually found myself tearing up!  And I realized that doesn't happen by accident.  It happens because the writer was doing more than simply throwing a cool story on the page.  He created likable characters we wanted to root for.  He created interesting backstories (and forestories!).  He used a theme to add layers and depth to the script.  That's how you emotionally affect a reader.

The only reason I didn't raise the script to "impressive" status was the ending.  It gets a little too confusing.  I liked the ambition behind it.  But either it tries to be one level more clever than it needs to be and gets too confusing in the process, or it's not described clearly enough.  I'm not sure which but if Nathan can fix that and improve a bunch of smaller problems in the script, this could EASILY be an impressive and get snatched up by a production company.

How much do I believe in it?  I'm going to try and convince Nathan to let me hop on as producer and push it around town.  We'll see what happens! :)

p.s. I believe the draft I sent out to everybody was the wrong one and wasn't spell-checked.  The one I personally read was devoid of errors.

Script link: Link taken down due to increasing interest.  Will keep people updated on my Twitter feed, @Scriptshadow!  E-mail me to read!

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

What I Learned: Getting back to theme, I find that one helpful way of expressing theme is to include a  scene (sometimes two) where the main characters debate both sides of the theme.  Some writers think this is too on-the-nose, but in my experience, theme does need to be announced in places for it to really catch on with the audience.  Be too subtle about it and your audience might miss it completely.  Charles and Dora have a scene in the middle of the script where they debate just that - whether it's okay to erase our mistakes, since those mistakes are an essential part of who we are.