Monday, August 13, 2012

Screenplay Review - Gold


Michael Mann still thinking Gold??

My's been awhile.

We haven't had a bona-fide good script to read since forever ago.  In fact, here are some quick factoids about how long it's actually been...

1) Gangnam Style still hadn't hit the internet.
2) K-Stew and R-Patz were still living together.
3) I hadn't moved out to LA.
4) Kennedy was still alive.

So imagine my surprise when I started reading Gold was actually good!  It was such a foreign experience to ENJOY a screenplay that I wasn't quite sure how to handle it.  I actually stopped several times just to savor the moment in case it all fell apart.  But it never did.  In fact, it had one of the best endings I've read all year, securing an "impressive" rating.  So how did this script strike gold?  Read on to find out.

40-something David Walsh enjoys the finer things in life.  Like food.  And booze.  And...well mainly food and booze, if his body is any indication  His gut could be mistaken for one of the Hollywood hills and his dress code could be mistaken for "homeless chic."  When we meet Mr. Sloppy, he's being interviewed about his involvement with a man named Mike Guzman.  This Guzman fellow is apparently pretty important because the guy asking about him is very keen to find out how the two met.  And indeed that's where our story gets juicy, but before we go there, we learn a little more about Walsh first.

Walsh is a prospector - someone who looks for mineral deposits below the earth.  He then buys the land and tries to sell it to companies who have the money to mine those deposits.  Now at the top of this game are big-name dudes who sell land with millions of dollars of potential deposits, shit like gold and diamonds.

Not the case with the guys at Walsh's level.  Walsh has the occasional property in the middle of Utah that may or may not have some nickel 100 feet underneath them.  Basically, he's the Jerry Lundergarten of prospecting - a desperate salesman trying to offload land that nobody gives a shit about.

That's until he has "the dream."  Seven years ago, Walsh was in Indonesia watching a man named Mike Guzman work.  Guzman is a famous explorer/scientist who specializes in geological surveying.  If a volcano collapsed somewhere 5 million years ago and has left tons of nickel deposits 500 feet under the earth, he's the guy who can probably find it.

Problem is, Guzman's hit a rough patch, just like Walsh, and needs a big strike.  So when Walsh shows up and says he had a dream that he and Guzman would find gold in Indonesia, Guzman can't help but get excited.  But looking for gold costs money.  You need equipment, permits, workers.  This isn't panhandling in the local river.  This is trudging through miles of dangerous jungle terrain then digging hundreds of feet into the ground.

But not long after they start looking, they find something.  Gold deposits.  Lots of them.  And from that moment on, everything changes.  Some of the biggest banks in the world want a piece of this zero turned hero.  And soon, Walsh and Cruz have themselves a full-scale multi-million dollar mining operation housing potentially 30 billion dollars worth of gold.

But naturally, as all the rappers seem to agree, mo money equals mo problems, and Walsh finds himself swimming inside a whole new kind of shark tank.  These sharks are genetically modified to extract all of your money and spit you out.  One moment, Walsh is on top of the world.  The next, he's further under it than the very gold he's digging up.

But none of that will compare to the utter shock that all men involved will experience when the "Holy shit" final act comes around. This one leaves you with eyes the size of hubcaps going, "No fucking wayyyyyy!"  And to think that it's all true??  Wow.

Gold has an interesting but strong structure.  It's divided into four equal quarters, each of which has its own gameplan.  The first quarter is about the struggle.  It's when we meet our hero and see that he's on the bottom of the barrel.  It's an important part of the script because it establishes the character type that audiences always root for no matter what: THE UNDERDOG.  Walsh is as underdog-y as they get and because we see him kicked around by other characters, we immediately sympathize with him and want him to succeed.  This is a huge reason why this script works so well.

The second quarter is about hope.  It's about our two underdogs digging for gold - literally.  Because this whole section is based on suspense (will or won't they find the gold?) we're entranced.  The combination of desperately wanting our underdogs to take over the world along with the curiosity of if they'll find the gold or not has this section moving at a million miles an hour.

The third quarter is the aftermath of success.  In my opinion, this was the worst section of the script.  "Aftermath of success" is always hard to do in screenplays because it almost always goes the same way.  The hero doesn't have time for his girlfriend anymore.  He starts to believe in his own hype.  He enjoys his success too much.  He loses perspective.  Been there, done that.  However, the stuff with the other companies trying to screw him over keeps this section alive.  All of that stuff was entertaining.

The fourth quarter is the fallout - what happens after it all unravels.  This section works for a couple of reasons.  First, we knew it was coming.  And we want to see how bad it's going to get.  As gruesome as car crashes are, it's impossible for us humans to look away from them.  And second, there's a great twist.  I'm not going to spoil it here.  It's one of those twists that defines the entire movie.  So seek out the real world story yourself or wait til the movie comes out.  But it packs a wallop.

The big take from Gold might be the use of this 4-Act structure.  For those who don't know, most movies are broken up into 3 acts - the first act is 25-30 pages, the second act is 55-75 pages, and the third act is 20-25 pages.  But over time, because that second act is so big, some writers have decided to break it up into two parts.  This creates 4 acts then, instead of 3.

It can be simpler to write a movie this way because you basically write 4 equal sections of 30 pages each.  That's a little easier to grasp than a short act, a really long act, and another short act.  In fact, it's almost like you're writing 4 little half-hour stories.  Now remember, the story you're telling has to fit into that structure, like Gold does, but it's a great little option to bust out if you're one of the many writers who get lost in the second act.

Another thing I noticed about this script is how compelling it is to watch the "desperate salesman" character.  We saw it with Jerry Lundergarten in Fargo.  We saw it with Jack Lemmon's character in Glengary Glen Ross.  And we see it here with Walsh.  I don't know what it is but the desperation that reeks from these characters makes them impossible to look away from.  I'm sure there are examples of these characters not working, but I can't think of one.  Writers need to remember this for future screenplays!

Overall, this script just worked.  Great characters.  Moved well.  Fascinating story with lots of twists and turns, particularly that whopper of an ending.  It was incredibly well researched.  Dialogue was authentic and strong all the way through.  Hard to find many faults with this one outside of the 3rd act I mentioned above.  Definitely check out Gold if you can find it!

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

What I learned: The delayed character description.  In almost all cases, when a new character hits the page, you want to describe him immediately.  The reason for this is that it's standard practice, which means readers expect it.  Therefore, when you tell us "JOE" just walked into the room and there's no description of Joe, or "JOE" starts talking yet we haven't met the guy, it's annoying and confusing to the reader.  However, there are a few situations where adding a description to a character intro interrupts the flow of the read.  If Joe charges onto a battlefield and you have to stop to tell us he's tall and gangly and has a spider-web collection, it kind of kills the moment. So the delayed description is motivated.  In Gold, Walsh is introduced pouring a drink, exchanging a few words with an investigator, and THEN getting his description.  To me, this falls under the category of a delayed description for no reason.  So it's one I would've avoided.  The ultimate lesson here is, describe your character right away unless there's NO OTHER WAY to do it.  You'll keep the reader happy.

What I learned 2: Always pick a more interesting verb!  Describing a car on page 4, Massett and Zinman don't say, "It pulls into a spot," they say "it lumbers into a spot."