Thursday, October 25, 2012

Amateur Friday - Luna Found A Dragon

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: Family/Action-Adventure
Premise: (from writer) A ten-year-old girl finds a dragon egg in the desert behind her New Mexico home. The egg hatches and the girl befriends the creature. After discovering a way to return the dragon to its natural world, the duo embarks on a cross country journey, flying at night, with government agents on their tail.
Writer: Troy Warren
Details: 99 pages.

I know I don't review many family scripts on the site, but a producer was telling me the other day that the two genres that have been the most dependable throughout the years - dating back as long as the movie business has been around - are Action and Family.  Those movies make a ton of bucks and they make a ton of bucks all over the world.  Now I know most family films are developed internally, and the total historic box office is swayed by the ridiculous grosses of all those Disney animation classics, but the comment did open my eyes and is what persuaded me to go with Luna this week.

I'm also really curious because I received two early reactions regarding the script.  One called it charming, cute, and essentially perfect.  The other said it was the worst thing she'd read all year.  Hmmm, which one was right?

10 year old Luna Cruz lives in that magical desert land known as New Mexico.  She resides in one of those adobe houses that sits amongst dust, tumbleweeds, and roadkill, without a hint of civilization in any direction.  In other words, 10 year old Lana lives in a pretty boring town.  But that doesn't mean her life's boring.  She has a brother who thinks he's a young John Travolta, a grandmother who wears a house arrest bracelet, and a little brother who finds pooping his pants to be an almost zen-like experience.

But none of these characters are as wacky as the one who's about to enter her life.  During an Easter egg hunt, Luna's pooping little brother finds himself a giant easter egg that quickly hatches.  But it's no bird that comes a chirpin' out.  It's a baby....lizard maybe??  Oh, she wishes.  It's only when the little ball of scales starts burping out fire that Luna realizes - Holy Baloney - she's found herself a real live DRAGON!

Meanwhile, over in Los Alamos, Californigh-yay, some government types get all uppity about a strange energy blast that occurred down in New Mexico.  The implication is that something other-worldly went on, and they wanna get their hands on this other-worldliness.  So they send agent Sophia Bailey down to get to the bottom of it.

Back in New Mexico, our little dragon friend, who Luna's decided to name "Gordo," is growing faster than Rosie O'Donnel at an Old Country Buffet.  Since Luna realizes she's in over her head, she tells her grandmother about Gordo, and after doing a few Google searches, realizes that Gordo probably got here via some time vortex from the past.  They find a bunch of Ivy League nerds who know all about these vortexes and decide to travel to New York to meet them.

With Sophia, and soon the military, hot on their trail, they make it to New York where the Vortex Nerd Patrol uses a mathematical equation to determine where the next vortex is going to appear, the one that can get Gordo back to mama.  It turns out it's in Nevada (Area 51 to be precise) and they only have 44 hours to get there. If Luna and Gordo miss that window, there's a good chance our little dragon buddy is going to live the rest of his life as a lab subject, something Luna will do anything to prevent!

So who was right?  The extremely negative reviewer or the extremely positive reviewer?  To be honest, I'm not sure either of them were right.  My issue with Luna is that the story is too average.  Those who read the site know I can't stand when I'm 40-50 pages ahead of the writer.  And that's the problem I ran into with Luna.  I always knew exactly what was going to happen 50 pages ahead of time.  And it's hard for me to be entertained when that's the case.

Now I had a discussion with another reader about this and they pointed out, "Yeah but you have to realize, Carson - this is a kid's movie.  To kids, it IS going to be surprising and new because they haven't seen thousands of movies and read thousands of scripts like you."  It was a good point and something I've thought about before.  Is the bar just WAY LOWER for the general audiences out there?  Specifically children?

On the one hand I'd say, yes, it is.  But on the other, I still think it's a problem.  Whenever you write a script, it has to get past the bullshit detectors.  Whether those detectors are readers who have read hundreds of scripts or producers who have made dozens of movies.  These guys are the line of defense your script must make it past to be both bought and made.  And their bar is just as high as mine.  They're looking for a freshness, a new take on familiar stories, an unpredictability to the characters and structure, just like me.

I look at a movie like Up or Wall-E, popular children's movies, and there's definitely an unpredictability to those stories.  I mean, one of them has no talking for 45 minutes and the other has a house that flies around the world via hundreds of helium balloons.  Those are both things I haven't seen before.  And I feel like you need those elements, even when you're playing to a super-young audience.

So moving forward, I believe Troy needs to dig deeper here.  I think the story needs to be more complex and less familiar.  A couple extra subplots could help, just to make the story less linear.  And I think we need to do more with the characters.  Where's the fatal flaw in the main character, Luna, for example?  Luna was a blank sheet of paper to me.  She was cute.  But because there wasn't anything complicated or difficult going on in her life (other than her schoolmates making fun of her) I never felt more than one-dimension with her.  And your main character needs more than one dimension!

Take her family.  Clearly, something's happened to Luna's family.  It appears that her mom and dad are absent?  There's some interesting backstory there which we're not privy too.  Then you have this dragon, who's been ripped away from his mother.  Why not make a connection there?  Why not explore that?  The effects of a child who grows up alone?  Who doesn't have that mother/father figure in their life.  If Luna can get Gordo back to her mother, it's almost like she's able to get herself back to her own mom.

You don't have to go that way, obviously.  But that's the way you need to approach it in order to add depth to your story, in order for it to be more than just names on a page.  You want to make audiences and readers think and this was too simple of a plot, too obvious of a direction, to get us thinking.  Both from a standpoint of depth and choices, there wasn't enough meat on the bone.  Look at Bailey, who had the potential to be much deeper, not unlike Tommy Lee Jones' character from The Fugitive.  Start her off emotionless.  Then, as she gets to know this kid and what she's going through, she starts to turn, and by the end, she's trying to save Luna.  Maybe you tie in that theme of being alone and Bailey herself grew up without that all-importnat mother figure.  There's SOME OF THAT here now, but not nearly enough.

I also think more could've been done with the ending.  And this goes back to many of the choices here being too simple.  As it stands, (Spoiler) Luna has to get the dragon to the Vortex without getting shot down by the military.  So what happens?  Luna gets the dragon through the Vortex without getting shot down by the military.  It goes EXACTLY the way it's supposed to go.  That's not interesting. That's not drama!

What if we establish in the past that the mama dragon is looking for her baby, and when that Vortex opens up, she surprisingly comes bursting through to get her baby back.  So now we're not dealing with one dragon, but two, with the military forced to make a tough decision.  Do they start shooting?  Do they take down the bigger threat?  Every part of the plan is thrown off because the mother dragon has arrived.  And now you have a finale that could go in a million different directions (maybe the mother is killed.  Maybe the mother is injured. Maybe Gordo is injured and the mother has to save him).  That's the way you want to write your stories, by throwing things in there that open up a bunch of fresh options, not just stay on that obvious straightforward path.

I realize I'm being a little harsh here.  Luna is actually one of the better written Amateur Friday scripts I've read, but I think that's why I'm so passionate about its flaws.  I know Troy can do better.  He has the writing chops.  But like a lot of writers out there, he has to challenge himself more.  Your protagonist's journey should feel troubled, impossible and unpredictable.  There were a few speed bumps here, but none of them felt that difficult to me.  I always knew Luna and the dragon were going to be okay.  Do you remember when E.T. died??  Yeah, E.T. DIED!!!!!  How devastating was that????  That's something I DIDN'T EXPECT.  I wanted stuff like that here.  I know Troy can do it, but he's gotta push himself.  And so do the rest of you.  Always PUSH YOURSELVES when writing scripts.  If it's too easy, you're probably not working hard enough.

Script link: Luna Found A Dragon

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

What I learned: I have a rule.  If you feel like you've seen it before, erase it and write something else.  That goes for lines of dialogues, scenes, action sequences, characters, whatever.  If you feel like "I've seen this in another movie," pound that delete button.  Add a little twist to it, go in a different direction, or completely rewrite it.  Do anything BUT write what's already been done.  I specifically kept thinking of E.T. while reading "Luna."  The secret pet aspect.  The military aspect.  Getting the dragon home aspect.  Let's go back, erase all those references, and replace them with something new and fresh.  This should not feel like an E.T. update.  It should feel like its own individual movie.