Monday, August 20, 2012

Screenplay Review - Trouble With The Curve

Genre: Sports Drama
Premise: An aging baseball scout who's losing his eyesight must enlist the help of a daughter who hates baseball to scout a young prospect.
About: This one has a really interesting backstory to it and should give screenwriters everywhere hope that it can happen, if not on the timeframe they planned.  Writer Randy Brown wrote this 15 years ago and actually had Dustin Hoffman attached at one point.  But Hoffman and the producer didn't get along, so the project went belly-up.  15 years later, Randy's writing for some MTV shows (and running a cafe).  He met a producer through a mutual friend, who gave it to someone close with Clint who thought it would be great for him.  Now this is where you're really going to freak out as you realize just how important timing is in this town.  Clint couldn't do it because he was doing A Star Is Born with Beyonce.  Well, Jay-Z got Beyonce pregnant and all of a sudden, Clint had an opening in his schedule. The script was purchased for a million bucks and the movie is coming out later this year.  How bout them apples?
Writer: Randy Brown
Details: This says it's a 2011 draft but the references in it clearly indicate it's the original draft from 15 years ago.

Usually, when a script has been ignored for 15 years, there's a reason for it.  It's just not good enough.  Either that or its time has passed it by.  Or sometimes, when there's a popular script in town that can't get made for one reason or another, everyone in Hollywood plunders ideas from it, to the point where the original script now feels derivative.  I remember that happened with The Tourist, a famous script that keeps coming up on many people's "Best Of The Unmade" lists.

So to be honest, I kind of expected Curve to be terrible, some barely-above-average screenplay whose only redeeming quality was a prominent senior role for Clint Eastwood. But boy was I wrong.  Curve is almost textbook in how to write a screenplay.  I'll get more into that in a sec, but right now, here's the breakdown.

Senior citizen Gus Lobel is baseball scouting royalty.  Credentials?  Oh, he only found Hank Aaron.  And he was the guy who scouted Micky Mantle and bet his career he would become a hall-of-famer, something many people ignored, only to find out 30 years later how wrong they were.

But Gus is also a stubborn crotchety old fuck.  And he doesn't listen to many people besides himself.  So nowadays, with all these fancy-schmancy computers coming around, detailing RBIs and OBPs and OBGYNs, giving new scouts a whole new arena to judge baseball players on, Gus is insistent that none of that shit does anything.

Which is why the upper levels of the team he's working for, the Atlanta Braves, are starting to have questions about if Gus is stuck in the dinosaur ages.  Sure he knows his stuff, but as one executive points out, "Nobody cares who scouted Hank Aaron anymore."

But that's only the beginning of Gus' problems.  Gus is also losing his eyesight.  He's had to rearrange his entire apartment, in fact, so that he doesn't randomly bump into furniture.  Because Gus is so stubborn, he's in denial about this, but he's going to have to figure it out fast.  The team is sending him out to scout Bo Gentry, an 18 year old phenom who's projected to be the next Mark McGuire.

Across town, we're introduced to Gus' 30-something daughter, Mickey.  Yes, Mickey was named after Mickey Mantel, even though she's a girl.  That right there shows you what Gus' priorities are.  It's baseball first - daughter second.  And that isn't lost on Mickey, who loves her dad more than anything, but when you show up for family dinner only to find out you'll be watching a 3 hour baseball game...well...EVERY SINGLE TIME, you begin to hate baseball more than hell.

But when Mickey catches on to her father's eyesight problems, she worries for him, and imposes herself on his latest roadtrip, something he's vehemently opposed to.  But as he follows Bo Gentry from game to game, he realizes it's impossible for him to SEE whether this guy is the real deal or not.  And that means he has to depend on his daughter, a girl he groomed to love baseball when she was growing up, but who hates it now, to save him.  In the strangest of ways, this dependency brings them together in a way no other experience could.

Okay, to start things off, let me reiterate that you should NEVER TRY TO SELL A SPORTS SCRIPT that isn't based on a true story (or novel) unless it's a boxing script or a comedy.  Trouble With The Curve is the rare exception to the rule, although I will say that when this exception comes around, it's usually with a baseball script.

Okay, now on to the script itself.  The writing here is amazing!  And I don't mean it's beautiful to read.  I don't mean the prose makes my heart sing.  That's not what a good screenplay should do.  When I say the writing is amazing, I mean that every sentence is carved down to only its bare essence, only the words we need to know, and nothing more.

I bring this up because of a couple of scripts I read recently.  The first was a confusing mess and a big reason for that was that there were too many words.   The writer kept tripping over himself because he was constantly navigating through a sea of alphabetical albatrosses.  He was trying to be too clever by half when he should've stuck with the "half," as that's how many words you should be shooting for when you're writing screenplays.

I also compare it to tomorrow's script, which is well-written and clear, but every page feels like it's taking twice as long to get through because of the extra verbiage.  This kind of writing gets exhausting to read.  I mean, I'm enjoying the script because it's an interesting mystery (I'm not finished yet), but I find it hard to get through because of that excessiveness. And I'm not even talking like HUGE BIG PARAGRAPH CHUNKS here.  It's more that the simplest sentences, something like, "He darts over to the phone," become, "He peers at the surrounding walls, which seem to be closing in on him, then darts to the phone across the room."  It's twice or three times as much reading as the reader needs to be doing.

But what I really liked about this script was the character work, and more specifically the relationship work.  It's simple but clever, and very well done.  You have a man who thinks a sport is more important than his daughter, who must now depend on that daughter to save his position in the sport, even though she hates the sport because of him.  I don't know if you can come up with a more beautifully constructed triangle of conflict.  Watching Gus start to reluctantly rely on his daughter, and the ironic way in which that brings them closer - it was perfect.

I could go on about this script.  It's just really well done.  I don't know if it's Oscar worthy. That'll depend on if it's directed well.  But the foundation is definitely there.  This one surprised me!

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

What I learned:  Let me tell you when I knew I was dealing with a professional here, and not an amateur, or one of these pros who got lucky and cheated their way into the system.  The stakes and the deadlines.  Only the good writers know to contain their screenplays with them.  First, the end of Gus' contract is coming up (deadline).  So if he doesn't prove his worth with this prospect, he loses his job (stakes).  Then there's Mickey, who just got a job at a prestigious law firm.  Now she has to go on this trip with Gus.  They're upset and tell her, "That's fine, but you need to be back to meet with the client by Thursday. (deadline)"  The implication is, "If you screw this up, we're letting you go (stakes)."  From there, we keep cutting back to the Atlanta Braves' offices, where the club's brass are pushing harder and harder to eliminate Gus if he screws this up (raising stakes).  Stakes and deadlines need to be everywhere in your script.  They're the plot mechanics that keep your audience invested in the story.