Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Untitled Bill Carter Project (Fools Rush In)

Genre: Drama
Premise: A man moves into war-torn Sarajevo hoping to get over his girlfriend's death. At first just an observer, he gradually becomes an active participant in trying to end the war.
About: Last I heard, Liam Neeson, Orlando Bloom, and Javier Bardem were to star. The script is based on the real-life experiences of Bill Carter living in Sarajevo during the war. It also landed near the middle of the 2007 Black List, which is the same year it sold.
Writer: Bill Carter (revisions by Jordan Roberts)

not exactly the Hollywood sign

It's hard to get excited about these "Untitled" projects. They feel like rejected versions of themselves. Like they weren't good enough for a title. "It's untitled," I think. "How good can it be?" I guess somewhere along the way "Untitled Bill Carter Project" begrudgingly accepted the title "Fools Rush In" to appease people like me. Although accepting a title that sounds like Sandra Bullock's next romantic comedy doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

You might remember this script from Geoff Latulippe's interview when he said it was the best script he had ever read while at New Line. After finally conquering my "untitled" fear, I called this sucker up to see if it belonged in the big leagues.

To say the plot of Bill Carter's memoir is unusual is a bit of an understatement. For the most part, writers writing spec scripts are encouraged to tell a clear story, with character objectives and plot points that are laid out in an easily digestible order. The direction of Untitled Bill Carter is anything but clear and it's far from digestible. Actually, I would call this the exact opposite of what you'd normally do when writing a spec. And yet somehow, after it's all over, it works in its own odd charming way.

Bill Carter is a young man in love. He and his girlfriend, Corinna, are hiking through the Redwood Forest when we first meet them. They're at that perfect stage of the relationship - right after casual and just before serious. Everything is perfect, nothing you ever do is wrong, and the possibilities the future holds seem endless. This opening scene is beautifully written and sets up the emotional undercurrent that drives the rest of the story. We know these two were meant to be together forever.

HARD CUT to SPLIT-CROATIA, two years later. Bill is as unkempt as an Atlantic City street corner (if you haven't been, trust me, that's bad). And at the moment, he happens to be fucking an overweight Croatian prostitute (if you haven't had one, trust me, that's bad). The jarring transition leads into the revelation that Corrina is dead. And since her death, Bill has been drifting from country to country trying to forget her.

way too many jokes to make here

Split (pun intended?) is about as far away from the Redwoods as you can get. And that's exactly how Bill likes it. He wakes up every day more depressed and more hopeless than the previous. He has no job, nothing to eat. What little money he has comes from selling drugs, something that will get you into deep shit in Split. Yet Bill doesn't care. It's almost as if he wants to get caught. His friends plead for him to come back home and it's only after he's spent his last dollar that he realizes he has no other choice. Bill will do anything to not go home. Maybe even end his life.

That night though, Bill runs into a crazy drunken orange-haired Englishman named Graeme. The two strike up an odd friendship and Graeme offers Bill a job. "Doing what?" Bill asks. Graeme just smiles. Bill will have to find out for himself. Things only get stranger when Bill is introduced to Graeme's crew, a multi-cultural band of vagabonds, a motley bunch if there ever was one. All Bill knows is that they call themselves the "Serious Road Trip" and that there's a picture of the Road Runner on the side of their truck. Not exactly the most accepting bunch, when Bill waffles they unsympathetically tell him he can either get on or get out. Bill gets on. But he has no idea how much his life's about to change.

Bill's more than a little concerned when they cross into Bosnia, where - oh yeah - there's a war going on. Checkpoints with armed soldiers and towns shattered by mortar fire are the norm. Before he can get acclimated, they're already stopping in their first town. Someone throws Bill a clown nose and green wig and pushes him into a mob of children. "Dance!" they scream. "Do something funny!" What the hell is going on?? The rest of the group have also thrown on their clown-suits and are entertaining the kids. It turns out The Serious Road Trip is a group of clowns that go into war-ravaged towns, offering entertainment and food to people. This is all the more delicious when you take into account that all the members are drug-addicted psychopaths!

They make it to Sarajevo, Bosnia's largest city, and use it as their main outpost, shipping food to places that everyone else is too afraid to go. While at first overwhelming to Bill - keep in mind that going to the corner store can get you shot - he finds a sort of inner peace in all the chaos. It's almost as if the constant threat of death is better than even the most fleeting thought of his Corrina.

Bill becomes friends with a lot of the locals, particularly a young Bosnian girl who is impossibly happy and optimistic despite the dire circumstances. When the war continues to get worse, even the die-hards say 'seeya!' One by one "The Serious Road Trip" members pack up and go, until there's only Bill left. This fearlessness and loyalty impresses the locals and they begin to see Bill as something more - someone who has the potential to bring change to their country. Unaccustomed to any kind of leadership role, Bill shies away at first. It's not until a televised U2 concert that he comes up with a radical idea. In a twist that no reader in reader history will anticipate, Bill decides to go to U2 and ask them for help!

Yes, you actually read that correctly. Bill hunts down U2. Cooking up some cockamamie story about being a reporter, he cons U2's assistant into meeting Bono before a concert. He makes a case for himself and to his surprise, Bono actually agrees to help. He'll do a satellite link-up to Sarajevo before all of his concerts, spreading awareness of the war. And if I'm to understand this right, this actually fucking happened!

There are a lot of touching moments in Fools Rush In. From the constant dreams of Corrina, to the friendships in Sarajevo cut short by death, to the camaraderie with the other men in the group. It's these characters that elevate Fools Rush In from your average spec to something real and alive. It really does seem like we're Bill, drifting through these crazy experiences that are indescribable out of context.

The script has its share of faults, though most of them are minor. The biggest problem, I believe, is that we spend too much time in Sarajevo, particularly towards the second half of the script. We've seen Bill's despair from page 4, so to push him further and further down the hole becomes almost masochistic. Plus it's repetitive and somewhat boring. I think that part can be quickened up a bit with a little chop-chop.

This script won't be for everyone because the subject matter is fairly dark. But if you give it a chance, I think you'll enjoy it.

[ ] trash
[ ] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[x] pretty damn good
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: Fools Rush In eschews the traditional 3-Act structure, which makes it a bit of an anomaly. So why does it still work? Well, in any spec script, you have to do at least one thing exceptionally, whether that's structure or dialogue or imagination or, in this case, character. From the first page, Carter creates two characters that you fall in love with and care for. And from that point on, he never stops creating characters that are interesting, eccentric, or unforgettable. What do you do in your script that's exceptional?