Friday, October 19, 2012

Amateur Friday - Nine Twelve

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: Drama
Premise: (from writer) A man embarks on a relationship with a 9/11 widow after claiming to have lost his brother in the attacks.
Writer: Edward Ruggiero
Details: 107 pages.

Bradley Cooper for Artie?

I actually read Nine-Twelve awhile ago and always wanted to review it for Amateur Friday.  So when the writer, Ed Ruggiero, sent me a new draft, I thought, "Perfect."  Don't worry.  That doesn't mean I'm not checking all the submissions you guys are sending me, just that I don't like them!  No, I'm kidding.  But I do want you to remember there are a lot of submissions.  If your concept is just "okay" or "decent," it's probably not going to be picked.  I mean sure, it might be amazing, but I could use that same logic for each of the  hundreds of other "okay" or "decent" concepts.  So why should I pick yours over theirs?  You know?  I'd rather pick a concept that gets my juices flowing - that has a little more POP.

Artie Grossman is in his late 30s and doesn't have much to show for it.  He has some inheritance money, which he's learned to squeeze every penny out of, and when he's not taking money out of his dead parents' bank account, he's pulling charity scams on local businesses.  Oh yeah, Artie's not a good person.  He's pretty much a piece of shit.  He's negative.  He's dishonest.  And as we've already established, he's a thief.  Yup, a total winner.

But not everything about Artie is pathetic.  He actually takes care of his dysfunctional brother, Dicky, who's so terrified of the real world that he rarey goes outside.  Artie's working with Dicky a day at a time to get him back into society.  So we got a pathetic asshole thief and a guy who's afraid to leave his apartment.  Talk about a gene pool.  I'm not sure even Axe Body Spray could make these two attractive.

That is unless they LIE.  And Artie is one hell of a liar.  After spotting a homely but beautiful woman on the subway, he follows her across the city into a random support group, a support group he soon realizes is for peole who lost family members in the 9/11 attacks.  Spurred on by this woman's unique energy, he joins in, and quickly finds himself recounting a story about how his brother died in the attacks.  It's moving and powerful and total horse shit.  But the woman, Kerry, buys into it, and afterwards the two recount their 9/11 memories with one another.

Turns out Kerry lost her husband in the attacks, and hasn't been on a date since!  She just can't let go.  Particularly because she had a chance to answer her husband's final phone call, but carelessly sent it to voicemail, figuring she'd talk to him later.  She was a different person back then.  Not a very good one.  And she's paid the price for it ever since.

However now, with Artie in the picture, she gets out there and starts to feel good again, which you'd think would make her frustrated mother happy.  But it turns out her mother doesn't trust this new guy.  She feels there's something suspicious about him.  A mother's intuition is always right!  But Kerry's too wrapped up in remembering what it's like to feel happy again so she ignores all the warning signs (number 1 of which is - don't date guys without jobs).

What starts out as just a meaningless little jaunt becomes serious, and before you know it, Artie is all in, which is strange.  He's never been all-in before.  And when you're all in, all your secrets have to come out.  You can try to hide them, but your significant other's going to find out sooner or later.  So what's Artie's solution to this?  To run away with Kerry.  Go somewhere as far away as possible. In other words, avoid the problem.  But this appears to be one of those problems that's never going to go away.

Dramatic Irony.

We know something about our hero that the romantic lead does not.  That he's lying to her about the worst thing imaginable.  It's dispicable.  It's unthinkable.  And it's great writing.  Because this entire relationship is built on a lie that we're aware of, a lie that we know, if told, will destroy the relationship, we want to stick around and see what happens when Kerry finds out.  Dramatic irony creates suspense.  It creates anticipation.  It keeps our ass in the seats.

The question is, can one instance of dramatic irony carry an entire film?  Reading this a second time, I found myself impatient, particularly during the second act.  It felt like not enough was going on, and I realized just how much the script was leaning on that dramatic irony.  It was the ONLY thing driving the story forward, and the longer I read, the more I realized it wasn't enough.

In contrast, let's look at Good Will Hunting.  We have the same thing going on in that story.  Will is lying to Skylar.  To impress her, he tells her he's well-off and has a huge family, when he's actually poor and an orphan.  There's not as much at stake with the lie as in Nine-Twelve, but you'll notice that that's only one part of the story.  We also have Will's relationship with Sean (the therapist) that needs to get resolved, his inner conflict, his future as a math genius, his issues with Ben Affleck's character.  There are more developments in that screenplay, more subplots, and therefore the entire movie doesn't feel like it's resting on a single wooden beam.

Another thing I want to talk about here is rewriting.  Now, to be honest, I don't remember the notes I gave Ed on this script, so I'm not saying he's guilty of this.  But when he said he had a new draft, I know I was expecting...I don't know, just more changes.  It feels here like just a few scenes were changed and another couple added.

It's something I've noticed a lot of lately as I'm reading more and more rewrites.  Not much has been rewritten!  Changing a few scenes here and there isn't a rewrite.  A rewrite may entail redeveloping the theme, eliminating or combining characters, adding new subplots, eliminating entire subplots. coming into the story 30 pages later, changing the setting so it better matches your concept, changing your character's fatal flaw.  If all you're doing in a rewrite is adding or taking away scenes, you're probably not doing enough (unless it's one of your final drafts).

Having said that, there's something about this script that got to me.  I like the way Ruggiero writes.  He has a unique point of view.  I love how he's not afraid to make his hero dark.  I understand that that's going to turn some people off, but while I didn't like what Artie was doing, he did keep me interested.  I wanted to see if he was going to change or not.  If he was gong to move on from this disgusting person.

I also liked the touch of humor.  There was something funny about Artie.  I can imagine a young Bill Murray absolutely killing this role (who *is* the next Bill Murray by the way).  So I guess my final suggestion would be to inject this script with MORE STUFF.  In the meantime, the voice is unique enough and the writing good enough that it warrants a read.  But I still feel like something's been left on the table in this rewrite.

Script link: Nine-Twelve

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

What I learned:  What I'm looking for in a concept breaks down to three things.  The first is a high concept (i.e. Time travel, aliens, monsters - any big idea combined with a unique situation).  The second is something with some clear conflict.  Two warring families is more interesting to me, for example, than a generic guy trying to find love.  The third and final one is irony.  If there's an ironic component to the concept, I get excited. Look at the irony in this logline.  A man pretending to have lost someone in 9/11 starts a realtionship with a 9/11 widow.  That same concept isn't nearly as compelling if, say, a man who just lost his arm starts a relationship with a 9/11 widow.  There's no irony there!