Monday, November 19, 2012

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Friday, November 16, 2012

Twit-Pitch Review - Ring Of Liar

Genre: Romantic Comedy
Premise: (Original Twit-Pitch Logline) A lifelong bachelor accidentally proposes to his clingy girlfriend then tries to trick her into dumping him, but the tables soon turn.
About: For those recently joining Scriptshadow, I held a contest a few months back called "Twit-Pitch," where anyone could pitch me their screenplay on Twitter, as long as it was contained within a single tweet.  I picked my 100 favorite loglines and read the first 10 pages of each (which I live-reviewed on Twitter), and then from those, picked the Top 20, which I've been reading the entire screenplays for.  Today is the final Twit-Pitch review.
Writers: Graeme McPhail & Kristoffer McKeown
Details: 105 pages

James Franco for Jeff?

A month back, Twit-Pitch came to me and was like, "I need a vacation."  I was like, "Vacation?  But you only have one script review left!"  "It's hard doing what I do," she told me.  "Putting up my pages in front of the world, week in and week out.  I need a break."  So after much deliberation, I paid for Twit-Pitch to spend a month in Honalulu.  She was able to relax, get some sun, and let loose a little.  I figured, with that kind of rest, she'd be primed for a big return.  And so here we are, with the final Twit-Pitch entry.  There's an old saying that goes, "saving the best for last."  Does Ring Of Liar give us Twit-Pitch's best?  Or should she have stayed in Hawaii and left us alone forever?

Jeff Bloom is almost 30 and LOVING LIFE.  He's got a cushy advertising job.  He's got lots of friends.  And he's got a longtime girlfriend who he hasn't had to make the big commitment to.  Well, that's about to change.  Sam (the aforementioned girlfriend) is ready to take that next step.  She wants the house, the kids, the whole ball of wax.

Except Jeff's just fine with the wax he picks out of his ears.  So he makes a tough decision.  In order to avoid those dreadful wedding bells, he's going to break-up with Sam! However, he doesn't want to go out on bad terms so, before the break-up, he buys her a friendship ring (huh???).  That night while Jeff is sleeping, Sam stumbles across the ring and thinks Jeff is proposing to her.  Before he's even fully awake, she's calling her friends and family.  "Oh my god.  We're getting married!"

Jeff considers telling Sam the truth, until Sam's big scary Irish step-brother, SHAY, shows up ready to pummel anything that so much as glances at Sam.  Which means, now, if Jeff breaks up with Sam, I.R.A. over here is going to give him a taste of his brass knuckles.  So Jeff moves to Plan B.  He'll just be the worst boyfriend ever and make Sam break up with him.

His first order of business is buying a dog to terrorize Sam's kitty.  But it backfires when the dog and cat become best friends.  He then pretends to like really kinky sex, hoping it will scare Sam away.  But it doesn't.  It turns her on.  He even goes so far as to become a Rastafarian, something he knows Sam hates.

It's then that Sam realizes something is up.  After a little investigating, she becomes keen to his plan.  But instead of calling him on it, she decides to play right back.  She starts tempting him with a bunch of marriage bait such as promises of 3-ways, and even pretending to win the lottery.  The plan is to get him to the altar, call him out, and then leave him there, a total humiliation smackdown.

This leads to Jeff finding out that Sam is going to screw him over which leads to Sam finding out that Jeff knows she's going to screw him over, which leads to one whacked-out crazy wedding.

I remembered the first ten pages of Ring Of Liar immediately.  You had this amusing guy, dribbling a basketball around his agency, trying to figure out how to market it.  It was fun and promised a light-hearted marketable comedy.  Unfortunately, the script didn't keep that up, and I believe it's because writers McPhail and McKeown fell into a lot of romantic comedy traps.  

First, it's hard to make this kind of set-up work.  You're telling the audience to root for a guy who's screwing over a girl we like.  It's by no means impossible to pull this off, but I can assure you it's really hard.  Why would we want to root for that to happen?

But if you are going to go with that premise, you have to commit to it 100%, and I was disappointed by how safe the writers played things.  Jeff's first attempt to get Sam to break up with him involves buying a dog to mess with her cat??  I don't know.  That's pretty tame.  And even when Jeff tries to use sex to get out of the relationship, it's tame (he threatens to wear women's boots when they have sex?).  Seinfeld had an episode with a similar premise once, and in order for Jerry to get out of the relationship, he told his girlfriend he wanted to have a 3-way with her roommate.  Things backfire when both women are into it and Jerry gets cold feet.  If a sit-com is pushing the boundaries of comedy further than your feature, that worries me.

The writing was also lazy in key places.  For example, we go through this elaborate yet nonsensical set-up whereby to break up with Sam, Jeff decides to buy her a "friendship" ring to soften the blow.  There's no way in a million years anyone would do this, so it looks super-lazy when we realize it was only so Sam could mistake the ring later on for an engagement ring.  Why not have Jeff holding an engagement ring for a friend and that's the one she finds?  It would've been so much smoother.  You never want to be lazy around your plot-points, because that's when your storytelling has to be the most invisible.  If you try to force anything during a plot point, the reader will always spot it.

When I really gave up, though, was when Sam decided to dual with Jeff.  Not only was it not in her character to do so, but it was so far removed from what would really happen that it was impossible to go along with.  I know romantic comedies are not real life - that the rom-com world is a more exaggerated world.  But you have to play within the boundaries of believability.  You'll find that in most great Rom-Coms, characters make logical decisions.  They don't start acting wacky because it's a rom-com and in rom-coms, characters act wacky.

The character with the most potential here was Shay, the Irish step-brother.  I liked how McPhail and McKeown used him to raise the stakes.  If Jeff tried to get out of this relationship, he'd pay a steep price.  He was easily the funniest character (his issue with horses was my favorite part of the script).  I also liked the attempt by the writers to dig into Shay's character, making him afraid of girls.  My problem was that it had nothing to do with the rest of the story.  It was like this subplot occurring off on Subplot Island that didn't affect anything or anyone.  Why not give Sam a female co-worker (or heck, male!) that Shay likes, and Shay needs Jeff to help him talk to her.  That way, his character arc is happening within the main plot as opposed to off in the middle of nowhere.

This is another analysis I hate doing because Ring Of Liar does have a relaxed, fun feel to it.  I was certainly smiling a lot.  But for these types of scripts to sell, the reader has to be laughing a lot, and that only happened a few times.  The reason for that is the underpinnings of this screenplay aren't where they need to be.  You're asking us to root for someone to screw over a character we like.  Your plot points are way too forced and obvious to the reader.  Neither character is acting logically most of the time.  Cleaning these things up is going to bolster the believability of your script so that we start caring about what's happening.  With that said, comedy is the most subjective of the genres.  And I have seen scripts like this sell before.  So maybe I'm totally wrong on this one.  Ya never know.  What did you guys think?

(As for the "winner" of Twit-Pitch, I'll name both him and the runner-up this weekend! :)

Script link: Ring Of Liar


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


What I learned: When the big problem in your comedy is set up, it's important that your characters consider the most logical solutions first.  So if your character is a 10 year old boy who wakes up in the body of a 30 year old man, you have to ask, "If this happened to me, what's the first thing I would do?"  You'd probably go to your mom, scared, and ask what's happening.  Then you might go back to the machine where you made the wish to be "big" last night.  See if it could turn you back.  I think once you establish that your character tried all the logical avenues, you can start playing with the more ridiculous ones.  So if you want your girlfriend to break up with you, is the first thing you do really going to be to buy a dog to scare her cat?  Come on.  I would probably leave messes all over the apartment, leave the bathroom seat up, play video games all day, pretend I got fired from my job, make a list of everything that pushed my girlfriend's buttons and do all of them.  It just didn't feel like the writers treated this situation logically so I never bought into it.



Thursday, November 15, 2012

Movie Review - Skyfall

Genre: Action
Premise: When a former MI:6 agent-turned-hacker starts hunting James Bond's boss, M, Bond will have to turn back the sands of time to save her, as well as himself.
About: Bond is back!  And in an unconventional choice, the director of American Beauty, Sam Mendes, is at the helm.  Turns out all it took was a chance encounter with Daniel Craig at a party and for Craig to ask, "Fancy doing the next Bond?" and that was it - Mendes was in.  That's the secret to success in this industry.  It's not about spending millions of hours practicing your craft.  It's about practicing how to get Daniel Craig to ask you if you'd fancy doing the next Bond.  Don't you guys know this? -- Skyfall has already made 2.5 trillion dollars at the box office and, from my understanding, they're going to use the profits to build a life-size diamond replica of the abandoned island featured in the movie which they will name "Diamonada Island."
Writers: Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and John Logan (based on characters created by Ian Fleming).


"Boring."

"James Boring."

Oh calm down.  I'm just kidddd-ing.  Okay, so I'm only half-kidding.  I mean let's be real - Daniel Craig doesn't exactly exude personality. And extended periods of his huffy brooding stares can make a man lose faith in the entertainment spaceship.  I know we've graduated from the wise-cracking winking-at-the-audience Bonds of the past, but it wouldn't hurt to loosen up a little bit, would it?  It's hard to identify and care for a hero who's sooooo guarded.

With that said, this had to be one of the wackier Bond films I've ever seen.  In fact, I was just telling someone, "That didn't feel like a Bond film at all."  Yet I was mostly entertained.  And I say "mostly" with reservations because there were long stretches of this script where not much happened.  Most of the good stuff came from the bad guy, played by Javier Bardem.  Yeah, Bardem's played versions of this character before.  But he's such a blast to watch that you went along with it anyway.

Although here's the thing with Bardem's character.  Even though he ignited the film, he kind of tainted it also.  I don't know what movie he thought he was in, but it definitely wasn't the one I'd been watching for the previous hour.  Since the dawn of Daniel Craig Bond, the Bond character is more serious, the Bond tone is more serious, and the Bond villains are more serious.  So to see Bardem play this creepy broad 80s Bond villain, I thought I'd been slipped whatever drug Mendes was on when he conceived of that opening title sequence.

And that wasn't the only time I confused Skyfall for an acid trip.  Mendes brought a more "artsy" vibe to the series, and decided to turn Bond into poetic opera as opposed to hard core action.  The Shanghi high-rise assassination sequence was a personal fave, with all the neon lights dancing along the endless panes of glass.  I'm not sure why Bond sat there and watched a man assassinate his target before doing anything - but why should that matter when there's an 80 foot digital jellyfish swimming around behind him???

Screenplay-wise, I'm not sure what to make of Skyfall.  The pacing never felt quite right, and instead of past Bond films where a writer would solve a problem with an over-the-top action scene, Mendes solves his problems with slow deliberate talky scenes.  I mean yeah, it's sexy watching a Bond girl shave Bond in a backlit apartment terrace in some strange beautiful country, but do we really need that scene?  Doesn't it bring the movie to a screeching halt?  (note: I've been told by Bond-heads that this woman's later name-reveal is a big deal - still, you could've done a lot more with her than this scene) There were numerous moments like this, where I said, "Let's see some action!  Let's see some fun!  This is Bond!"  When the annoying little douchey youngster dude tells Bond that they don't do exploding pens anymore, I was like, "WHY NOT???"  When I was a kid watching Bond films, I liked those exploding pens!  Are you telling me now we're too good for exploding pens??  Humph.

Anyway, I'm going off book here, so maybe I should get to the plot.  I'm excited to report that I was able to follow the entire plot of Skyfall!  The reason for my enthusiasm is that I wasn't always clear on the happenings of the last two Bond films, particularly Quantum Of Solace.  At one point I remember thinking Bond's goal was to visit as many countries as he could before the end of the week.  The Amazing Race meets Goldeneye.  Here, they did a much better job of keeping the plot clear, even if they took their precious time between actual plot points.


Skyfall starts out with a brilliant hacker who manages to get his hands on an MI:6 operative's hard drive which happens to be carrying the identities of every major MI:6 agent embedded in terrorist cells around the world.  This playful little programmer decides to start releasing these men's identities on Youtube every week five at a time.  If they don't find him soon, more and more of these superstar agents will die.

Bond, who's been weakened by a mission-gone-bad, probably isn't the one to be put on the job, but finds himself on it anyway because...well because if he wasn't, we wouldn't have a movie and Sam Mendes would have to film a bag blowing in the wind for 120 minutes.  Hmm, come to think of it, Javier Bardem giving the rat monologue to that blowing bag would've been a hell of a scene.

So Bond finally finds this do-badder who turns out to be a former agent, Silva, who's since gone rogue.   But Silva's not really in it for the exposing of agents, like we initially thought.  That was just a ploy to get their attention.  What he really wants to do is kill Bond's boss, M, for leaving him to die in the field and forcing him to get some serious dental work afterwards that MI:6 did NOT cover.

With Bond and M outmatched in the modern world due to Silva's technological superiority, Bond makes the call to go "back in time" to his childhood foster home where he and M will wait out Silva and force him to take them down without a single computer chip or text message.

So, what can we learn from the screenwriting here?  Well, the most pronounced aspect of the screenplay was the focus on theme.  The writers really pushed the "Everybody gets old" stuff, and while I found it admirable that theme took such prominence in a Bond screenplay, I'm not sure I agreed with the theme they chose to explore.  Bond getting old?  Bond is eternal.  The guy's had, what, 20 movies?  He's like the Simpsons or South Park.  He will never age!  So I just found it to be a curious choice.  In addition to that, they pushed the theme way too hard in the opening act (every other scene was about Bond getting older) and it added even more darkness to a franchise that already had its feet firmly planted in darkness.

You'll notice, however, that the script really started to pick up upon the arrival of Silva, and not just because Javier Bardem is a great actor, but because now we had a face to the villain.  Until that point, the characters spent most of their time having quiet conversations in big rooms about "who could this mysterious person be?"  It got tiresome and the writers didn't move that part of the story along nearly fast enough (see above - chick shaving James Bond's face).


But once Silva was in the picture, his goal of killing M FORCED Bond and the agency to work faster.  Gone were talky scenes in rooms, replaced by real honest-to-Goodness action.  That's what we came to see!  And look, I know you have to use the first half of your script to set up a lot of these second and third act scenes.  The scene where Bond and Silva engage in a game of "who can shoot the glass off the hot girl's head first"  succeeded mostly due to the earlier Bond scene where he struggles during target practice.  But there's ALWAYS a way to move things along faster.  You can combine scenes, cut scenes, accelerate scenes.  I just felt they were taking too much time.

Having said that, I was surprised at my reaction to Bond revisiting his childhood foster home.  The thing about these Bond movies has always been that Bond is a blank slate.  He doesn't have "issues" and "troubled backstory."  He just kicks ass and beds women.  I know they've changed that with the re-boot into "Breaking Bond," but this was the first time where I actually felt some depth to the character.  And I kind of dug it!  For once Bond felt human, and that made me want to root for him more.  He was one of us.

Unfortunately, I don't think that final sequence worked as well as it could've.  If they're giving you 200 million dollars to make a film, your set pieces better be big and they better be unique.  I mean that's the whole point of having that kind of money - you can do whatever you want.  Bond using a bulldozer to reattach a train car so he doesn't lose the target?  That's something I hadn't seen before!  A villain inhabiting a deserted city island?  Hadn't seen that either!   People using mirror tricks to shoot the bad guys invading their farm?  I've seen that plenty of times.  I'm not saying it was bad.  It worked for the film.  But this is Bond.  I wanted something more...betterish.

As you can see, this movie perplexed me.  I liked it, it lost me, I liked it, it lost me.  I felt a little bit like that 80 foot jellyfish, which is a good analogy because Bond 23 chose to swim where past Bond films would've run.  And that was sorta cool, if a little confusing.  Skyfall doesn't hold up to my nostalgic memories of the Roger Moore Bond years, but of the three Daniel Craig films, I believe this one to be the best, if only because of its unique unexpected tone.

[ ] what the hell did I just watch?
[ ] wasn't my kind of movie
[x] worth the price of admission
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: Don't overstate your theme.  Usually we're talking about writers not having a theme.  But it's almost as bad if you're overstating your theme - if every scene, characters are hammering it home to the audience.  "You're getting old, Bond."  "It might be time to retire."  "It's a young man's game, Bond."  Oh, here comes the super-young handler dude to remind us how old Bond is again!  For theme, you usually wanna go with one scene (sometimes two) that states your theme out loud and then try and subtly weave it into the rest of the film underneath the surface.




Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Screenplay Review - Somnia

Genre: Horror
Premise: When a grieving couple adopts a young boy, they soon learn that his dreams manifest themselves into reality.
About: This script finished high on this year's Blood List.  It appears that the writers are just now starting to make some noise.  They wrote and are directing a feature called "Oculus" in which two sibling orphans witness a haunted mirror killing someone - a murder the young brother is charged with. Looks like these two like orphans!
Writers: Mike Flanagan & Jeff Howard
Details: 114 pages - February 7, 2012 draft


Were tears shed during my reading of Somnia?  I will neither confirm nor deny this rumor.  I will confirm this though - Somnia is probably the best straight horror script I've read since The Ring.  Just when I was ready to declare the death of intelligent horror, this comes around.  Actually, I wouldn't call Somnia "intelligent" so much as well-crafted.  Nobody crafts horror screenplays any more.  They just slap together a bunch of creepy-looking children or old women who move in that creepy herky-jerky motion and expect us to shell out big bucks.  Why would we do that?  You haven't given us anything new and you haven't given us anything deep.

 I mean seriously - creepy imagery is going to compose of 10, maybe 15 pages of your script.  What's happening during the other 100 pages?  You need to build a story with characters we care about going after things we care about, and present it in a way that's relatable but unique.  Not an easy task by any means but I can tell you this - putting forth the effort is the first step.  If you treat your horror script with the same kind of love and attention that you would a drama -- making sure every single emotional beat is played just right -- then you've quadrupled your chances of writing a good horror flick because most horror writers don't care about depth.

Somnia is about a kid, Cody.  He's six years old and an orphan.  He's actually had a couple of sets of foster parents already but neither set worked out (for mysterious reasons).  Enter Mark and Jessie, a young and eager-to-adopt couple who unfortunately experienced a horrible tragedy.  Their son, Sean, drowned.  Finally, after a couple of years of mourning, they're ready to move on, and adopting Cody is a big part of that process.  Is it a little freaky that they're adopting a boy who's the same age as their dead child?  Yeah.  But both parents have good intentions.  Well, at first anyway.

The couple quickly learn that Cody doesn't like to sleep.  In fact, he stashes soda and sugar in a secret box underneath his bed so he can stay awake.  At first it seems like a minor quirk Mark and Jessie have to deal with.  I mean foster children aren't exactly known for being trouble-free.  But then things start getting weird.  For example, Cody loves butterflies.  And when he sleeps, butterflies start appearing all around the house.  Hmmm...

Then, one night, after Cody sees a picture of Sean, Mark and Jessie are shocked to see, in their bedroom, SEAN!  Like, ALIVE!  Well, kind of alive.  He looks just like he did in the picture, unmoving.  But he's there, in 3-D.

The next day Jessie puts 2 and 2 together.  Their new little boy can manifest his dreams into reality.  This gives Jessie all sorts of ideas, so she starts showing Cody some home movies of Sean.  Sure enough, that night, Sean shows up!

Marc, being the more psychologically stable of the two, realizes that this is so not okay and encourages Jessie to stop trying to recreate their dead son through their new son.  But Jessie's already hooked on this creepy version of Tivo.  Unfortunately, it isn't just dead sons that manifest themselves in Cody's dreams.  It's this really freaking scary-ass monster dude called "The Canker Man."  The Canker Man is thin and tall and toothless and moany and really f*cking f*cked up!  Like he eats people n shit!

Things start getting worse not just at home but at school since Cody can only go without sleep for so long.  I did read an article once about this Vietnam man who claims to have not slept in 40 years.  Oh, and I saw a Dateline Special (is Dateline ever not special?) about this family who had this super unique genetic mutation that made it impossible for them to sleep once they reached a certain age.  And they went into detail about how if you don't sleep for a week, you start turning into a zombie.  It becomes impossible to think.  And then after a couple of months your brain pretty much turns to mush.  The point being that Cody's going to fall asleep sooner or later.  And when he does, nobody in his life is going to be safe.  Cause the Canker Man is coming to get them.

With these horror scripts, I'm always looking for an emotional component, some "in" I can latch onto so I care about the characters.  Of course, you're trying to do that in every script, but I think it's especially important in horror scripts because it's the difference between the scares feeling cheap and the scares feeling deep.  The more we care about the characters, the more we'll fear for them, and by association, the more we, ourselves, will be afraid!

You do this by establishing strong relationships with characters who have [typically] troubled backstories.  In this case we have Cody, who's had to go through all sorts of shit including being left by his real parents and two sets of foster parents.  On the other side of the fence, we have this couple who lost their son to a terrible tragedy.  In other words, we have two very sympathetic situations, and audiences/readers latch onto and care about people they sympathise with.  By pairing these sympathetic entities together, you establish a dynamic that we want to see work.

To keep us invested, this opening is followed by a mystery phase where we get the feeling there's something wrong with Cody.  He smuggles sugar under his bed so he doesn't have to sleep.  Butterflies appear whenever he goes to bed.  Then there's that whole opening scene where his last foster-parent tried to shoot him.  What's going on??  We want to find out!

Now truth be told, it's not that difficult to write the above.  I wouldn't say it's "easy" because a lot of young screenwriters still haven't learned how to make their characters sympathetic.  But most professional screenwriters can achieve this opening.  Where I realized that this wasn't just another script was when Jessie started using Cody to see her dead son.  Now we were introducing a dynamic I haven't seen in this kind of story before.  Most writers would've stopped at just "kid projects crazy spooky shit when he's asleep" and called it a night.   Here the writers utilize pre-established emotionally-charged backstories (the loss of their child) to twist the story in a new direction.  I sat up after that and said, "Oh.  OKAY.  These guys are writers."

And they continued to deliver.  I loved all the little touches they added.  For example, Cody's love of butterflies plays prominently whenever he's dreaming.  But whenever he gets mad or upset or sad, butterflies become these dark gray musty moths that tease the arrival of the Canker Man.  Now was the Canker Man the most original monster I've ever seen?  No.  But like a lot of things here, he was just different enough to make it feel fresh.

Now I'm not going to spoil the ending but for me that's what put this over the top and into the "impressive" category.  I always tell writers that if you really want to impress a reader, write something that connects with them on an emotional level.  I'm not talking melodrama here.  I don't mean go write a sequel to The Notebook.  I just mean make us care for the characters and want to see their issues resolved.  When we find out what happened to Cody and why he's like the way he is, I'm not going to lie, I choked up a little bit.  It was powerful stuff.  And that moment stemmed directly from the writers going that extra mile and making this more than a screenplay full of empty scares (like some other scripts I've reviewed recently).

So yeah, I thought this was really good stuff.  Nice to see some great writing in the horror genre.  I've been looking for a script like this for awhile!

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

What I learned: Don't fall in love with your clever 3rd Act explanation. The only complaint I had about Somnia was that the writers were too on-the-nose with their final act Cody explanation.  It was a good explanation.  I actually loved it.  But it felt like they knew it was good so they really - hammered - it home.  "And it's because A happened to you that B happened to you which is why C and that's why you're going to be okay now, Cody!"  I think you have to give your audience more credit.  They like connecting the dots themselves.  If you have to spell it out for them, they'll feel cheated and pandered to, and that can actually ruin a solid ending.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Yay! Sanctuary sells!!!

For those who missed it, I was excited about a big script that I thought could become the next Matrix, with a supernatural twist.  After going into all the studios last week, Joel Silver picked it up as his first non-WB deal.  Alex Heineman, who works with Silver, championed the project.  Really excited.  This project could not only be amazing - but spawn a hell of a franchise (pun was not intended - I swear!).  I'm still a little bummed that I couldn't be part of it but very pumped for the writer. :)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Screenplay Review - Giant Monsters Attack

Genre: Comedy-Drama-Supernatural
Premise: A boy and his father move to Tokyo only to learn that it's routinely invaded by giant monsters set on destroying the city.
About:  Lawton has been working in the industry for a long time and is best known for writing "Pretty Woman," or more specifically, the dark spec draft titled "3000" that would eventually become the playful romantic comedy, "Pretty Woman."  Since then he's worked on a ton of things, including creating the Pamela Anderson TV show, "VIP. " This script landed on the 2007 Black List, although I believe this is an updated draft.  Lawton appears to be a guy who likes to experiment.  He avoids the more traveled path, as evidenced by today's script.
Writer: J.F. Lawton
Details: 130 pages


Friday's script was offensive.  Yesterday's script was boring.  Today's script is racist.  Script reading is like a box of choc-co-luts.  You never know what you're gonna get.  Okay okay, maybe "racist" is going a little far.  But to assume that our neighbors in the far east must deal with giant monsters constantly invading their cities because they're Japanese - I'm thinking somebody out there's going to be offended by that.  It's not me.  But somebody.

On the plus side, the idea here is beautifully original.  When you're searching through hundreds of loglines, you're always looking for the one idea that stands out, that promises a unique voice, that clearly states, "Hey, I'm different from everyone else," - because the truth is, 99% of us are the same.  We're rehashing the same ideas with the same characters and the same plots.  Doesn't mean we can't become professional writers if we master those elements.  But for script readers, the true gems are the scripts that don't sound or read like anything else, and I think it's pretty safe to say that a script about a father and son who move to Tokyo only to find that the city is overrun by giant monsters is a unique script.

William Smith works in upper management at your standard Fortune 500 tech company.  Unlike most characters we meet in this situation, however, William loves his job.  But what he's really excited about is a Japanese company he just convinced his bosses to buy.  It's the kind of acquisition that, if it turns out how he thinks it will, will solidify his standing in the company and lead to that big promotion he's been anticipating.

Well that promotion - if you want to call it that - comes sooner than expected.  Turns out the company they just bought is falling apart!  And it's William's job to go over there and fix it.  Or else the only promotion he's going to be getting is the one to the front of the unemployment line.   So he grabs his energetic son, Johnny, and the two fly to Tokyo.

They immediately meet Seiji, William's passive-aggressive handler.  Seiji likes to say things like, "It's alright, Smith-san. We consider all Westerners to be barbarians.  You will be cut considerable... if I may say... slack.  Johnny-san will have time to adjust."  "Barbarians?"  "I mean it in a good way.  Your most modest effort to adapt will be met with accepting amusement.  Please follow me."

Before they even have time to grab their luggage, however, a giant monster named Mongomash comes stumbling towards the airport, destroying everything in sight. Within a few short minutes, William learns why their new acquisition is struggling.  It's not because of TPS report mismanagement.  It's because giant monsters are constantly destroying all their factories!

While Johnny seems to think this is the coolest thing ever, William is justifiably freaked out.  But it's about to get weirder.  Once they reach their new home, they're met by a couple of female ninja neighbors, one of them Johnny's age.  And then there's a samurai waiting outside (complete with badly dubbed English) who declares it his duty to always keep Johnny safe.

So Johnny goes off to school and William goes off to work, trying to solve this giant monsters destroying factories problem.  The big (no pun intended) issue seems to be Cyclotron, an angry reckless monster who likely doesn't have any specific issues with William's company, yet reeks a ton of collateral damage whenever he goes out on one of his morning rampages.  If William has any chance at saving his company, he's going to need to kill Cyclotron.

And they really only have two options to achieve this.  The first is to use one of the company's giant robots to fight off Cyclotron.  The other is to send Johnny to Monster Island so he can ask Megamonster to come back and take down Cyclotron.  Megamonster loves kids but is apparently sick of helping every little boy and girl who asks for safety from some new giant monster, so convincing him is going to be difficult.

The stakes are pretty high because if William doesn't figure this out, he'll have to limp back to America with nothing to his name, bringing Johnny with him, who's become so in love with Tokyo that he can't imagine leaving.  Well Johnny, you better display some hard core convincin' skills then, cause without Megamonster, your chances of defeating Cyclotron are slim.  Says the guy who knew nothing about giant monsters before reading this script.

I liked "Giant Monsters Attack" immediately.  And I actually read it without knowing J.F. Lawton wrote the thing.  I thought this was some crazy young writer trying to make a name for himself, not a veteran who had carved himself a place in spec lore with a script 20 years ago.  I mean if you had told me the writer of "Pretty Woman" had penned this script, I would've told you you were nuts.  And yet I was stoked when I found out.  What writers out there, particularly writers of famous romantic comedies, are trying to push the boundaries of their writing 20 years later with totally out-there concepts?

Besides the neat premise, I loved the sweetness Lawton established with the father-son relationship - how they were going off on this journey together and how their individual happiness was dependent on one another.  I also loved the clever little ways he would explain the absurdity of what we were witnessing.  For example, we needed a reason for why nobody in America knew about these giant monsters.  Lawton has one of the characters explain that Japan has been sending out giant monster reenactments to America in the form of documentaries for years, but apparently the Americans mistook them for entertaining TV shows.

The structure for Giant Monsters Attack is quite solid.  Our main character, William, has a clear goal - to stop Cyclotron before he destroys the company.  The stakes are his job and therefore his family's livelihood.  And the urgency is that Cyclotron is going to strike again soon.  So they have to act fast.  Characters are always doing things here - going after things - so the script, the first half especially, is always moving along, which is what a well-structured screenplay needs to do.

The problem is Lawton falls too in love with his idea.  Once William sets off to build a new robot to kill Cyclotron and Johnny heads off to recruit Megamonster, the script, speaking of monsters, becomes a bit of a Jeckyll and Hyde act.  The big mistake in my eyes was the inclusion of the bandit subplot.   Johnny has to battle these rogue bandits while on his journey to Monster Island.  The problem was...WHO CARES ABOUT THESE BANDITS???  They don't have anything to do with the plot.  They were a random speed bump that destroyed any momentum the script had.

I see this sometimes - a writer including a subplot that doesn't need to be included.  You especially have to be wary of these in a script that's 130 pages long.  If your script is 130 pages long, stuff needs to be cut out, and the whole bandit thing, particularly because the bandits were so disconnected from the rest of the story, would seem like an easy cut.

Unfortunately, this drifty approach of focusing on things that didn't need focusing on continued.  William's storyline with the construction of a new robot really started to go off the rails, at one point including a secondary character being an alien-in-disguise with a secret master plan.  It was there that I confirmed the second act had gotten away from Lawton.

The second act is so key because it's the biggest act by far and therefore the easiest to get lost in.  If you're not on top of your game - if your characters aren't constantly targeting specific goals and objectives that are plot-relevant - pretty soon you're going to be writing vague scenes with unmotivated characters talking about stuff that doesn't tie in with your story.  When William went off to ask the old boss how to build the perfect robot, that's where I gave up.  I mean it was fine.  The character was still pushing towards his goal.  But at a certain point, you have to move your story along, not have your character searching days for a solution.

Despite all that, I still recommend this script because it's funny, it's original, it's got charm, and I loved the father and son characters.  If Lawton could tighten the plot up, I would LOVE to see what a director like Spike Jonez could do with this.

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

What I learned: Avoid throwing subplots into your second act unless they're 100% relevant to the plot.  For example, the bandits.  If those bandits would've been, say, working for our villain, Senjei, their inclusion would've made a lot more sense.  Instead they were random obstacles with no real connection to the story, making defeating them seem irrelevant to the reader.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Screenplay Review - Back East

Genre: Drama
Premise: A young writer, sick of the LA scene, decides to head home to Connecticut, but when his car breaks down in a nowhere town, he befriends a young woman, on her way to LA with her boyfriend, and starts to fall for her.
About: Did you know that the Whedon family is full of screenwriters?  Their dad was a screenwriter.  Their grandfather was a screenwriter.  Joss, of course, is a screenwriter.  And then they have another brother who's a screenwriter, in addition to Zack here.  Imagine the Thanksgivings at that place.  You wouldn't be able to get a turkey leg without establishing a character flaw for the stuffing.  Zack has worked on a lot of TV shows including Deadwood, Rubicon, and Fringe.  This is one of his earlier efforts, which landed on the bottom half of the 2007 Black List.
Writer: Zack Whedon
Details: 91 pages


Back in the day, I used to be a lot more open to down home simple character pieces - stuff like "Beautiful Girls."  Remember that movie?  A guy comes back home and has to deal with a bunch of "home-like" shit.  It's relatable.  It's identifiable for writers especially. It's one of those stories you can imagine yourself reading by the fire with a glass of wine (even though I don't drink wine).

But the more screenplays I read, the more I realize how "non-movie-like" these types of scripts are.  That's not to say they shouldn't be purchased or made.  It's just that movies work best with stuff that's actually - well - moving.  And these stories don't move.

Most people go to the movies to see things a little more exceptional than everyday life.  When you get to a movie and all you see is characters sitting around talking about life, in the back of your head you're thinking, "Can't I get this back home with my family and friends?"  What is it about this movie that's different?  That necessitated you leave your home?  I'm not saying everything has to be James Bond.  But these simple character pieces have to be almost perfect to work - like American Beauty.  And finding another American Beauty is like finding a brad in a studio garbage dump.

Having said that, a part of me still has a soft spot for these scripts.  I still wanna find that golden character-driven brad.  There's something beautiful about the drama of everyday life, that if you can capture it, people will relate to it and allow it to impact their lives.  That's what I was hoping to find when I opened "Back East."  I mean, there's some strong screenwriting pedigree here, so you figure it has a shot to kick butt, right?...

William is 24 years old and lives in LA.  I think he's a writer but Whedon never really makes that clear.  Whatever the case, he's having a tough go at the whole LA thing.  You get up.  It's 70 degrees out.  You go to a job you hate to make money so you can write, you go back home.  You're tired.  You wanna go to bed.  But you know you have to write.  But it would be so much easier to just go to sleep now and write tomorrow.  Yeah, tomorrow will be the day.  That's when you're going to write 50 pages!  Tomorrow it is.  Today is a day of rest (none of this is actually in the script - I'm assuming that's what's going on in William's head though cause he's a writer).

William is tired of pretending tomorrow's going to be the day though.  He wants to go home.  Back to Connecticut.  Back east.  So he grabs all his stuff and begins the cross-country trek.  Somewhere between point A and point B, though, his car breaks down, and he gets towed to a little nowhere town called Dry Lake by an 80 year old grouchy mechanic named Jeffrey.

It isn't until they get to town that Jeffrey tells William he's retired, and that if William wants his car fixed, he'll have to fix it himself.  Jeffrey will give him some guidance, but he's too old to be doing any physical labor.  Great, William thinks.  Like most upper white class offspring, he doesn't even know how to change windshield wiper fluid.  How the hell is he going to fix a car?

However, it's not all bad.  While hanging out at the local hotel, he meets a beautiful young lady named Tamara.  Tamara's fun and flirty and up for having a good time.  But she's also with her boyfriend.  The two are traveling the opposite direction, going from the East coast to LA.  Our aforementioned boyfriend, the perpetually angry "Evan," notices this little flirty friendship developing between Tamara and William, and does everything in his power to stop it.

And this is pretty much how the next three days go down.  William goes over to Jeffrey's body shop to work on his car, then comes back to the hotel where he repeatedly runs into Tamara.  The two run off to flirt with each other but never quite take it to an inappropriate level.  However it's clear that that's exactly where William wants to take it.  In fact, he really likes Tamara, which means he's gotta find a way to somehow steal her from Evan and get her to come back to the very place she left so they can be together.

Well, I wanted something simple.  AND I GOT IT!

Really simple.  Dangerously simple.

But was it good simple?

I'll say this.  The first half of this script was boring.  And it clearly stood out as one of those early efforts we're all familiar with reading.  You know what I'm talking about.  The story tends to be personal, maybe even autobiographical.  The writer uses huge paragraphs detailing things that soooo do not need to be detailed.  Like strapping up the car to the tow mechanism.  Like getting out, walking over, opening the garage, and pulling the car in.  I think young writers believe they're keeping it real by putting a spotlight on the mundane, but all they're really doing is boring us.  I don't need to know how the strap is hooked up to the car when someone's towing it.  Just get us to the next scene where, hopefully, something interesting happens.

You also see the occasional camera action: "Track in extremely slow."  And at least one character will be introduced sans capitalization, making us wonder if they were introduced beforehand and we missed it, so we go back and check and find out they weren't, annoying the hell out of us.  The thing is, all these little "first effort" flags pop up and it sucks because you out yourself as a beginner, lessening your credibility to the reader, resulting in them trusting you less.  Which is why even though these are all ultimately unimportant things, tallied together they do have an effect on the read, whether fairly or not.

I think what surprised me was that "Back East" eventually won me over.  If you're going to write a simple story based around a few characters, you better have some lights-out character development.  The first half of the script didn't have any.  Even the character who had the most potential for depth, Jeffrey, was being used as a sort of quasi comedic sidekick.

But once Whedon started capturing the loneliness of that character, and William fixed his car on his own, helping him realize how capable he really was (and thus, the emergence of a character arc), the script came to life, as if the entire time it was hiding in the bushes, waiting for the right time to strike.  I mean, it wasn't world-changing or anything.  I thought all of that could've been explored way deeper (and earlier), but at least now the script was breathing.

Strangely, the second half of the Tamara/William relationship was also way better than the first half. (Spoiler) Once the relationship got to that "all or nothing" point, where a decision had to be made, I was genuinely curious which man Tamara was going to choose.  And more importantly, I wanted it to be our protagonist, which meant that Whedon had done his job of getting me to care about our tow leads.

But in the end, this script runs into the very problem I brought up initially.  It's fun.  It's cute.  It's fine.  But that's all it is.  It isn't a movie people are going to grab their friends over and say, "We gotta go see this!" or "We gotta rent this!"  It just doesn't carry that kind of excitement behind it, which is why the script can end up on the Black List but that's where it stops.  Managers and agents can't do anything with it beyond that.

The only way these scripts tend to get sold/made is if the script is impeccable (American Beauty) or if the writer is also the director and scrapes up the money to shoot the film himself (Garden State).  I thought Back East was cute.  But I didn't see anything beyond that.

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

What I learned: If you're new to screenwriting and you have access to somebody who reads in the industry, have them read your script and ask if there are any telltale "early effort" signs.  If you don't have that access, take note of some of the ones here:  1) Really basic semi-autobigrophical story, usually about a guy disenfranchised with life (and at only 24 years old!!!)  2) camera directions.  3) lingering on mundane unimportant shots for too long.  4) huge paragraph chunks that could easily be cut by 75% and lose nothing.  5) lots of extremely basic dialogue scenes with no real tension or suspense - it's more about the characters trying to be cute and quirky.  --- There are, of course, more of these signs (and feel free to list them in the comments section).  But this is a good starting point.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Amateur Friday - Zombie Reserection

Genre: Horror-Comedy
Premise: (from writer) When an experimental male-enhancement drug turns all the men in town into sex-crazed zombies, it's up to a rag-tag band of women to survive the assault and stop the epidemic from spreading.
About: This was a holdover from last week where we chose a group of amateur scripts based on this post.  I ended up moving things around so we could get that Hitchcock script reviewed on Halloween, but now the Res-erection has arrived.  And I don't think any of you are ready for it.
Writer: Phil Laaveg
Details: 93 pages
Staus: Available


I feel a little dirty.  No, I feel a lot dirty.  I feel like bathing in the saliva of chipmunks for a week.  I feel that being a man is wrong somehow after reading Zombie Reserection.  Of all the first 10 amateur pages laid out for Scriptshadow readers last week, Reserection got the most attention.  People said the dialogue snapped.  They said the writing crackled.  They said of all the choices, this is the one that popped the most.

Of course, it just had to be the script about men growing large zombie penises and trying to rape all the women in town.  Sheeshkabob.  What am I supposed to do with that??  Okay okay, I'm going to try not to be the uptight J-Crew decored Christian mom at the parent-teacher conference who says, "How dare you teach my children this filth!"  But I mean come on.  This script is like a giant rape gang-bang.  It's all done in fun.  But it's hard not to feel a little strange while you're reading it.  Every time you giggle, you feel like you raped life a little bit.  Of course with all that said, it's definitely a script you'll have an opinion on, and those are in surprisingly short supply.  So grab some viagra, chase it with some Red Bull, and as Barry White would say..."Let's get it onnnnnn."

The raping begins...err, I mean, the story begins with an oblivious "Carl's Jr. commercial-hot" hitchhiker plopping down for a ride with a trucker trucking a truckload supply of one of those "Male enhancement" drugs you always see in your spam folder.  Well, apparently Mr. Trucker decided to try out the pills himself because he's one horny little pedal-pusher.  This results in a lot of awkward advances that are getting worse by the minute.  Like scary worse.  In fact, he almost seems to be in a trance.

The next thing the hitchhiker sees is the man's bulging gigantor donkey-sized penis (no, I am not making this up) and the two start fighting as the man tries to, um, get some action.  Typically, when the driver and passenger decide to fight in a moving vehicle, things don't end up well.  But it tends to be really bad when that vehicle is a SEMI!  Bang, clack, whoosh, SPLASH, the truck goes over the railing, soars through the air and splashes into a lake, the entire supply of male enhancement drugs gobbled up by the water, which, as you can guess, supplies the nearby town.

Cut to said nearby town where we start meeting a few of the locals, mainly a team of hot and horny teenagers which include the all American Ashley, the curvy sexpot Josie, and the tomboyish-ly beautiful Max.  The three are trying to make it through work at the local chicken fast food joint, where their skeevy boss (the appropriately named, "Dick") leers at them from his little backroom security video haven.

But as soon as they're done, it's off to getting wasted and finding the big party in town, which doesn't take long.  What also doesn't take long is how weird all the guys start acting.  I mean of course they're horny, but it's like they have no control over themselves.  This culminates in one of the drunk girls throwing off her top to go skinny dipping and a dozen guys following her.  That's when we see it.  All of them have huge donkey penis bulges in their pants (again, I'm NOT kidding), and therefore can no longer control their urges.  And these aren't ordinary urges.  These urges lead to a full-on attack!

Ashley, Josie and Max realize something is very wrong and with more guys lingering, they decide it's probably best to disappear.  They meet up with a few other scared women at a local bar and eventually come to the conclusion that it's the water that's turning all these men into donkey-penis sized sex zombies and that the only way to stop them is to....well, shoot their balls.  I mean, I suppose you could shoot them in the head as well but that wouldn't be nearly as dramatic.  So balls it is!

But the bad news keeps coming.  It turns out the local hydro plant, which has infected the water supply for the town, is having some sort of "water dump" tonight where they're going to send half the water into the big river, which will affect the drinking supply of the entire state!  Yikes!  So our group of women only have a few hours to get to the plant and stop the dump.  All while trying to avoid the rapidly increasing population of bulged-pantsed male zombies.

Okay, so obviously this was written in the same vein as movies like Piranha 3-D.  It's not meant to be taken seriously.  It wants to exploit, titilate, and ejaculate, so to speak.  You're supposed to be scared and entertained.  But man!  This idea walks dangerously close to disturbing.  The rape undertones (or overtones??) are everywhere you look.  I think Phil does a good job dancing around it whenever a situation becomes too detailed, but sometimes that's impossible, and every time that happened I clenched my teeth and made that 'sucking in' sound.  Ugh, 'sucking' is probably the wrong word to use.  Man, I'm going to have a hard time getting out of this review in one piece.  Argh!  "Hard."  I did it again!  That's what she said!  What??

Placing the disturbing nature of the concept aside for the moment, here's my qualm with the script, or should I say the genre in general: There's no character development.  And I'm not even sure if that's fair to criticize.  Are characters supposed to have depth in these kinds of movies?  On the one hand you'd think no, because the movies are just about having a fun silly time, not unlike a drunken party at your buddy's house.  But my feeling is that any time you're asking us to pay attention for 90 minutes, we're going to have to care about the characters, and it's hard to care about anyone for 90 minutes if they don't have anything going on underneath the surface.  I don't know.  What do you guys think?  I'm not that familiar with this genre so I don't know what the audience's expectations are.  Are thin characters okay?

Because that led to my other problem which was that there was a huge character count. It's one thing to write thin characters, but if you introduce a ton of them, it's hard to keep track of who's who because nobody's deep enough to remember.

I also would've liked more irony in the story.  That's something this genre is built for.  For example, make the hero some oversexed teenage boy who's disturbingly horny - like he lives every second to try and get laid.  And then he becomes the only guy in town who's not hopped up on these super-penis pills and is therefore tasked with being the "un-horny" one for once and saving these women.  You could then work in a fun love story where he's obsessed with one of the girls who would normally never give him the time of day, but this situation allows him his one and only shot.  I think that's so much more fun than the whole Ashley-Josh relationship, which was sorta boring.

This was a strange one.  Just like you guys promised, the writing was really good, particularly in those first ten pages.  The writing style was sparse and therefore flew by.  There was a lot of urgency.  The stakes of keeping the water from infecting the entire state was a good call.  But the risky subject matter, even for a subject this broad, and the lack of any true character connection, made it a tough read for me.  If I were Phil, I'd go back and really study character before re-writing this or moving on to the next script.  Even in the simplest of genres, the characters have to be memorable, and none of these characters were.  That can be attributed to a distinct lack of depth, so let's remedy that.

I'm afraid I have to send Zombie Reserecton and its male enhancement plot to my spam folder. :(

Script link: Zombie Reserection

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

What I learned: I know I'm a broken record at this point but the easiest way to add character depth is to give your character something personal they're trying to overcome.  Bonus points if you can tie it into the concept or the theme.  So the theme here has to do with sex - maybe Ashley's a virgin with really strong Christian beliefs.  But she really loves Josh and wants to sleep with him.  So she's going through this internal struggle the whole time of staying true to her beliefs or just saying "fuck it" and having fun.  It's not too deep, stays within the tone of the movie, but it gives our protagonist something she's struggling with, which adds much-needed depth.  It could work well with the new Josh character I suggested above (the oversexed one).  



10 Screenwriting Candidates for Star Wars 7

UPDATE - Vulture is reporting that Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3, Little Miss Sunshine) is the lead candidate for the Star Wars 7 job.  Disney refused to comment so who knows if it's true, but it's a name I bandied about for this article since he's a Disney guy.  I just didn't see any sci-fi in his background.  If true, I really like the choice.  There are very few writers in Hollywood who know structure and character like Arndt, so he's going to give us a strong draft.  Also, if true, you gotta think Brad Bird would then be the lead candidate for director, since it wouldn't make a whole lot of sense to bring in a writer without already knowing the director this close to release, and Bird is Disney's other big Pixar treasure.  


Yes, I'm a dork.  I'm a geek.  When Star Wars appears anywhere in the news, I read it.  And over the past seven or so years, there hasn't been whole a lot of good Star Wars news for me.  The only news that people seem even remotely interested in is whether Lucas will ever release the original trilogy on DVD?  Or is it Blu-Ray?  I still don't know because I could care less.  And I can never figure out if they mean the original trilogy as in without the added scenes or like the original original trilogy, as in without any of the effects he added later to get rid of the 1977 mistakes.  If it's the latter, I'm not sure I even want that.  Do I want to see a land speeder with a mirror on the bottom just so I can say I own the "original trilogy?"  Hmmm...

But this recent news of Disney buying LucasFilm and making three more movies (or is it an unlimited amount of movies? I'm still confused.  Their press release says they're making another trilogy, and then later in the press release, they say they're going to release a new Star Wars movie every couple of years.  Does that 'every couple of years' refer to the new trilogy, or do they mean forever?  This needs to be clarified Disney!  Jesus Christ!) has totally changed my life.  I mean, all you have to do is follow my Twitter feed to know that.  Scriptshadow has become StarWarsShadow.  I even find myself stopping at the toy isle at Target and staring wondrously at the Lego kits for Tie and X-Wing fighters, kits that were too expensive for my parents to get me when I was a kid.  I find myself obsessively trying to convince my lady friend to buy this dress and wear it, like, once a week at least (I'll keep you updated on what she says).  My intermittent checking of Variety, ESPN and Deadline has changed to intermittent checking of Theforce.net.  My days are now measured by how many Star Wars rumors I have accumulated.

Which leads us to today's article.  The director rumors are flying.  Matthew Vaughn is getting a lot of pub to direct Ep 7, although this recent article at Slash-Film says he won't.  There are also rumors that Colin Trevorrow, the director of "Safety Not Gauranteed" might be on the short list to direct the film.  Hmm, I question the authenticity of that one.  But it's funny what these rumors can do.  Even a false rumor can give an up-and-coming writer or director a career boost.  I'd never thought of Trevorrow as anyone other than a young indie director.  Just the idea that someone would consider him for Star Wars, though, makes me think he's got more going on than I originally gave him credit for.

But as you know, this site isn't called DirectorShadow (hmmmm?).  It's called "Scriptshadow."  I'm more interested in the writer side of things.  If you want to point to the big fault of the prequel films, it was the abysmal writing.  And I mean it was really really bad.  I know I'm not stating anything new here.  Any Joe with 10 bucks to his name could offer that observation.  But it went deeper than that.  It was the laziness of it all that got to me.  It's one thing to try your hardest and fail.  It's another to give an audience a second draft that's not even close to ready and film it.

Which is why I'm so excited for the future!  Star Wars will once again be written by real writers, not directors putting haphazard unfinished blueprints together that they'll fix while filming.  The possibilities are endless, especially because this isn't just any job.  Whoever takes this job is going to treat it like gold.  This is the franchise of all franchises.  Nobody's going to be filming lazy second drafts this time around.  Which leads us to the candidates.  I've culled a list of ten potential Star Wars 7 screenwriters from rumors, fan speculation, and good old fashioned assumption.  It's time to look at each of them and see what they bring to the table and what they don't.  This will be the most difficult writing job in the last few decades of Hollywood.  Which is why I'm dying to see who they'll pick.  So here are the leading contenders, and what we should expect from each.



Name: Damon Lindelof
Relevant Credits: "Lost" pilot parts 1 & 2, "Lost" episode "Walkabout," "Lost" episode "The Variable," Prometheus, Star Trek Into Darkness, World War Z

Like it or not, Lindelof is at the top of everyone's Star Wars 7 list.  Why?  Simple.  For every genre, the studios have a list of the top writer in that genre.  Right now, Lindelof is at the top of the sci-fi genre.  Think about it.  Who would you put above him?  Not only is he involved in all the biggest sci-fi assignments, but he just sold a huge sci-fi spec to Disney last year (which I'm looking for if you have it - ahem).  It doesn't mean he's the right fit, but he definitely needs to be in the conversation.  Now much has been made of Lindelof tweeting dismissively about Star Wars 7, and therefore how he shouldn't be considered a real candidate.  I'm not sure about that.  If a Lindelof deal were gestating, complete Twitter silence on his end would look really suspicious, and hence we'd be getting the complete opposite.

Pros: Lindelof is a great storyteller.  Not writer, but storyteller.  And we need good storytelling back in Star Wars.  Go watch the pilot episode of Lost, or the episode, "Walkabout," which is one of my favorite episodes of TV ever.  In addition to this, Star Wars needs imagination, and Lindelof's got it.  Lost was the most imaginative series ever put on television.  And the extensiveness of that mythology is about as close as you'll get to the extensiveness of the Star Wars mythology today.  Being born in 1973, Lindelof also grew up right in that sweet spot of Star Wars taking over the world.  There are lots of good things Lindelof brings to the table.

Cons: If there's a big weakness people will point to with Lindelof, it's plot holes, using Prometheus as their key example.  Here's my take on that.  Plot holes are typically a result of time.  With enough time, any plot hole can be fixed.  Any writer who gets to that level in Hollywood isn't dumb.  They know when there's a plot hole.  But unlike us, who have years and years to hone our scripts, these guys have months.  I don't know when Lindelof came onto Prometheus and how much time he had.  But for all we know, he could've spent the entire time fixing hundreds of plot holes the previous writer left and he simply didn't have time to hash out the final few.  What I'm more concerned about is Lindelof's propensity to raise questions that don't get answered.  He was responsible for a lot of that in Lost, and I saw it in places in Prometheus as well (I still don't know what the opening scene was with the super-white alien dude drinking black liquid or whatever).  The last thing we need is a bunch of open ends in a Star Wars movie.  I want this thing to be tight.



Name: Jane Goldman
Relevant Credits: Stardust, Kick-Ass, X-Men First Class

I actually did an interview with Goldman awhile back and was impressed by her screenwriting knowledge.  I must admit a part of me thought she may have been riding on Matthew Vaughn's coat tails, but this woman clearly understands and cares about screenwriting.  Now obviously, Goldman's name jumps into the mix because Vaughn is being mentioned as director, and he'll almost certainly use longtime collaborator Goldman to write it.  So let's take a look at what she brings to the table.

Pros: I really liked "X-Men: First Class," specifically the emphasis on character development and character relationships (I found the relationship between Charles Xavier and Magneto to be flawlessly executed).  You could easily call that film a character piece as much as you could a popcorn flick.  The prequels were absent of ANY interesting characters or relationships whatsoever, so to have someone who cares about character as much as Jane would be great.  I also think Goldman's got the imagination required for a Star Wars flick.  Don't believe me?  Watch Stardust.  It's not a perfect film, but you'd be hard-pressed to call it unimaginative.

Cons: These two can get a little screwy at times and go off the reservation.  In Stardust, the whole seven ghost kings thing was too much.  And I remember an excised scene in an early Kick-Ass draft that had giant spiders crawling on walls that was just...odd.  If too many of these choices start stacking up, the story starts to feel floaty - not desirable for a Star Wars film.  Also, and this is just a feeling I get from interviewing her, but I don't think Goldman's heart is in sci-fi.  Goldman's love skews more towards comic books and horror, specifically zombies (as she told me she's obsessed with them).  If you're going to write a Star Wars film, you have to be absolutely in love with it for it to work.  In many ways, I believe Lucas fell out of love with Star Wars, which is one of many reasons why the prequels felt so empty.  This is a great lesson for any screenwriter actually: Always try to write something you love.  If you don't, that lack of passion will show up on the page.



Name: Jon Spaihts
Relevant Credits: The Darkest Hour, Prometheus

Spaihts is the biggest sci-fi writer you don't know yet.  He busted onto the scene with the high-ranking Black List script, Passengers, about two people who fall in love after falling out of hyper-sleep on a giant empty spaceship.  I din't like the script at first, but over time began to realize that it's kinda genius.  Spaihts used the buzz from that script to get numerous sci-fi jobs around town.  But probably the bigger reason he should be up for Star Wars 7 is Shadow 19.  This is the script that got Ridley Scott's attention and which parts of were used to build the story of Prometheus.  The thing is, all the stuff they didn't use in Prometheus was really big and ambitious and fun, and that's the kind of stuff I'm sure he would throw into a Star Wars film.

Pros: Scope.  Star Wars's scope is as big as it gets.  And you gotta be able to handle that scope if you want to make it work, which isn't as easy as it sounds.  When new writers try to do too much, they get lost, specifically losing site of the little things that make audiences care, like characters.  Shadow 19 makes me believe Spaihts can handle the scope and Passengers makes me think he can handle the characters.   I also like the "unexpected factor" Sapihts brings.  Star Wars has been too predictable lately.  We need a voice who's willing to take chances and go in less-traveled directions.  Passengers, with its strange plot of two lovers having to live out the rest of their lives on an empty spaceship, gets me thinking that Spaihts will do some new things with the franchise.

Cons:  Is he ready?  It takes a certain kind of writer to be able to handle the rigors of writing giant studio material.  Lots of needs need to be met.  Lots of cooks are in the kitchen.  Younger writers want to make everyone happy so they try to incorporate every note given and the script ends up a mess as a result.  More experienced writers know who the true shot-callers are, whose notes they need to apply and whose to ignore, and their veteran status affords them the respect they need to put their foot down when they need to.  I wonder if Spaihts would be pushed around too much.



Name: Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci
Relevant Credits: Star Trek, Transformers, Cowboys & Aliens, All You Need Is Kill

Before Lindelof was the hot hand in every major sci-fi project in town, it was these guys, and since they've not only worked on a lot of the biggest sci-fi scripts out there, but those films went on to become extremely successful (save for Cowboys & Aliens), there's no doubt Disney is eyeing this pair as a possibility.  

Pros: These two will get the job done.  They're not going to knock it out of the park but they're not going to give you something mediocre either.  You'll get a decent Star Wars movie, and "decent" will probably look "exceptional" next to the recent Star Wars offerings.  These two also know how to keep a story moving.  They've written one of my favorite scripts, "Tell No One," a story that just flies by, and I bring that up because the best two Star Wars movies, Star Wars and Empire, are both "chase movies," which is why they moved so much faster than the others.  We need a writer(s) who can bring back some of that pace to the Star Wars universe.

Cons: I feel these guys are workmanlike.  They get the job done but that's pretty much all they do.  They're not going to take many chances, which means we'll get a fun story, but one that's ultimately empty.  When Lucas still cared about Star Wars, he gave us Yoda - a jedi master who was essentially an old frog.  Talk about chance-taking!  Yeah, we won't get any Yodas with these two.  Also, I feel like their voice is a little too "old hat" now.  We already know what it sounds like.  It's kind of like listening to a new Dave Matthews album.  You kinda enjoy it, but it's just not fresh anymore.




Name: Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio
Relevant credits: Pirates Of The Carribean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl, Deja Vu

These two are strong contenders.  And by strong, I mean really strong.  They've made tons of money for Disney, and when studios have a formula that works, they don't like to stray from it.  Which means that even though their body of work may not scream out "Star Wars," I could see Disney trusting them to set up the franchise.

Pros: These two are amazing storytellers and amazing at working within the classic 3-Act structure, which Star Wars movies are basically designed to exist in (until Lucas started creating 30-act structures with the prequels - oh sheesh, is there an end to the terrible choices he made in those scripts?).  Look no further than their excellent, if a little dated, website, "Wordplayer," where they constantly stress the importance of structure.  They've also proven with Captain Jack Sparrow that they can create a memorable funny roguish character, something the prequels were missing.  I just feel like we'd get a good old fashioned story with these two.  The script would move where it needed to and take its time when it needed to.

Cons: Due to their ambitiousness, their plots can get a little confusing at times.  After a few viewings, I knew what was happening in "Pirates," but that first time, I had a hell of a time trying to keep up.  That's what was so great about Star Wars.  Even though there was all this elaborate backstory and world building, the story itself was pretty easy to follow: bad guys chase good guys.  I also don't feel that their sensibilites quite fit the Star Wars universe.  They're kind of like Orci and Kurtzman in that sense.  You know what you're going to get with them, but the feeling is it won't quite gel with what you want out of a Star Wars movie.


Name: Lawrence Kasdan
Relevant credits: The Empire Strikes Back, Return Of The Jedi, Raiders Of The Lost Ark

The old man is still in the mix.  I mean, he's gotta be, right?  He wrote Empire!  I heard a long time ago in an interview far far away that he'd never write another Star Wars movie, but things change.  I mean, maybe he didn't want to deal with George's weird story requests at the time.  That issue ain't an issue anymore as he'd be working with an entirely new painter.

Pros: You're bringing back the man responsible for writing hardcore Star Wars' fans favorite film of the franchise.  You'd be getting a darker Star Wars, which is what the core fans want.  But I think the big thing with Kasdan is he really knew how to have fun with his relationships.  From Han and Leia to Han and C-3PO to Luke and Yoda to C-3PO and R2-D2, the dynamic between all those characters was never as good as it was there in Empire.  A lot of that has to do with Kasdan's dialogue, which is easily the strongest in the series.  And it's been awhile since we've heard "good dialogue" and "Star Wars" in the same sentence, hasn't it?

Cons: Is his heart still in it?  Kasdan would have nothing to prove with a new Star Wars script because he's already written a great one.   Contrast this with a young writer who's been dreaming his whole life of getting a crack at Star Wars, and I'm just worried that Kasdan couldn't compete with that kind of energy.  Also, it's been almost 20 years since he's written anything good.  They'd be taking a huge risk on Lawrence, but if he came to them with an amazing pitch and the promise that he'd give it his all, I'd listen.




Name: Travis Beacham
Relevant Credits: Clash Of The Titans, Pacific Rim

If you're a reader of this site, you know this name well.  If not, you probably haven't heard of Beacham. Basically, he steamrolled onto the scene with his screenplay, Killing On Carnival Row, which has since become one of the most beloved scripts in Hollywood, even though its R rating practically ensured it would never be made.  But now that Beacham has started to earn some street cred working on bigger material, the idea of someone plunking down 120 million to make "Carnival" doesn't seem so far-fetched.  One of the big reasons why Beacham's name is in the mix is because Guillermo Del Toro is in the directing fold, and Beacham just worked with Del Toro on Pacific Rim, another big sci-fi project.  If these two combine to do a Star Wars movie, I wouldn't complain.

Pros: World-building.  This guy can build a world like nobody's business.  Go read "Carnival Row" if you don't believe me.  And as we've already established, this new Star Wars saga is going to need a lot of world-building, so we need a writer capable of that.  What I also like about Beachem is his attention to detail.  In "Carnival Row," he seems to care about every little character, every little crevice in this city.  I love when writers know their world that well.  It beefs up the authenticity of the piece, and I'd love to seem him bring that to Star Wars.

Cons: I think his version of Star Wars might be a little slow.  There's such a thing as too much character development and too much focus on the world you're building, to the point where your story sort of falls asleep.  Not to beat a dead horse, but this is a huge mistake Lucas made in the prequels.  He just kept building and building (Naboo, Coruscant, the Senate, underwater villages) to the point where the stories never had a chance to get going.  I'd like to get back to the simple clean storytelling of Star Wars and Empire. Let's have some fun!


Writer/Directors


Name: Wachowski Starship
Relevant Credits: The Matrix Trilogy, V for Vendetta, Cloud Atlas

These two are kind of a long shot and would be in it for both writing AND directing, but I wouldn't bet against them being courted.  Cloud Atlas hasn't exactly lit the box office on fire, but the extended trailer alone reminds you what these guys are capable of when they're on their game.  In many ways, The Matrix was the next big special effects leap forward from what Star Wars did originally.  I'd love to see what these guys could do with Disney money.

Pros: These are the writers of The Matrix!  Isn't that enough?  What I like about the Wachowskis is they really hash out their characters, putting a ton of effort into each and every one.  They're good at creating distinct memorable people, something that the prequels were sorely missing.  Outside of Jar Jar, everyone was so plain and forgettable in those films (of course, we only wish Jar Jar could've been forgettable). They're also great at creating villains.  Agent Smith and those freaking Albino twins were badass.  Star Wars is desperate for a new memorable villain.

Cons: Here's the thing with the Wachowskis - they need time to make their scripts work.  The Matrix script was honed over ten years.  The Matrix sequels were written over a couple of years.  The disparity in quality is evident to anyone with a set of eyes.  I also think the Wachowskis lose sight of keeping the story moving in favor of long monologues detailing philosophical rants that really make little sense and that the audience doesn't care about.  Even moreso than Beacham, I'd be worried that these two would slow their Star Wars movie down too much.



Name: Christopher Nolan
Relevant credits: The Dark Knight, Inception

Nolan is a longshot but he's still the most in-demand director in the world.  So if he wanted to do Star Wars, I'm pretty sure Disney would say "name your price."  I just have no idea how Nolan feels about Star Wars.  I know he's a huge James Bond fan, and I'm not sure the James Bond and Star Wars fan bases cross over that much, which makes me think Star Wars isn't his thing.  But what the hell do I know?  Someone from Disney will definitely put a call in to him, which means he's worth discussing.

Pros: He'd rein the world back in a lot.  We wouldn't have two-headed blathering announcers calling Pod-races in a Nolan-scripted Star Wars film.  I get the feeling that Nolan would center his Star Wars around the Boba Fetts and the bounty hunters of the universe.  It'd be grittier.  It'd be nastier.  It'd be the kind of film Lucas kept threatening to make with Episode 3 but never did.

Cons: Let's be honest, Nolan can be long-winded.  He stays around for a lot longer than he probably should, and the good Star Wars films aren't constructed that way.  They're always moving.  I'm sorry, but the whole "take over the city" thing and the six month wait in The Dark Night Rises was akin to watching paint dry.  That kind of pace just won't cut it in Star Wars.  I also think Nolan's gotten lazier in his storytelling over the years.  Watch how he deftly hides exposition in Memento compared to how he sloppily slaps it in there in Inception.  Star Wars movies are exposition-heavy because of all the worlds and cities and characters.  For that reason, badly-handled exposition could kill a Star Wars film.  I'm also afraid he might ground the universe too much.  Nolan seems afraid to let his imagination go wild, and obviously you can't have that limitation when doing a Star Wars movie.



Name: JJ Abrams
Relevant credits: Super 8, Lost, Armageddon

JJ is a huuuuuge Star Wars fan.  In fact, he's so much of a Star Wars fan that he constructed Star Trek to be like a Star Wars movie, figuring that would be his only shot to direct something remotely close to Star Wars.  Well guess what, JJ?  The Mouse House may have answered your prayers.  A Star Wars film is up for grabs and as long as James Cameron, Christopher Nolan, Peter Jackson, or Guillermo Del Toro don't want it, it's yours.

Pros: Concept.  I feel that JJ would come up with the best concept for a Star Wars movie of anyone on this list by far.  He'd also be able to handle the huge task of mapping out the new mythology.  He also knows how to incorporate mystery into a script like no other, and with him scripting the film(s), we'd likely get a couple of new "I am your father" shockers.  JJ also brings charm to the table, as was evidenced in Super 8, and would do some stellar character work, as we saw him do in that movie as well (with the kids).  With a JJ-scripted Star Wars, I think we'd get a lot of the "wonder" of the series back.

Cons: I'm not sure JJ cares as much about the details as some of these other guys.  The genius with Lucas was that he cared about Monster #8 sitting in the furthest reaches of the bar.  He knew where that guy had been.  I think JJ's more of a "big picture" guy, and might miss some cool story threads or subplots that could emerge from a background character like Boba Fett.  I also feel like we might get "Star Wars Light" with JJ, sort of like we got "ET Light" with "Super 8."  We'll see though.  JJ is a very strong candidate.


Here's the x-factor in all of this.  The person who writes Star Wars 7 has to be a huge Star Wars fan.  It won't work otherwise.  And I don't personally know how all of these people feel about Star Wars.  So I think passion should definitely factor in.  George Lucas lost that passion and we paid for it on the script end.  The crazy thing about this whole decision is that there are so many directors you can point to and say, "They would make a GREAT Star Wars movie," but there isn't a single writer you can point to with any confidence and say the same thing.  Does that mean screenwriting is harder than directing?  I don't know.  But there's definitely no clear cut choice.  Which is why I turn the question to you guys.  Who would you pick?  One of the writers/teams above, or someone completely different?

edit: Some people have brought up Brad Bird and Joss Whedon as possibilities, but the indication I get is that Bird would come on as director, with someone else writing it, and Whedon is focused on Avengers under the Disney blanket, taking him out of the running for Star Wars (even though he'd do anything to change that situation).