Monday, June 29, 2009

Karma Coalition

Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller
Premise: An ex-professor seeks the truth about a secret organization known as the "Karma Coalition."
About: A high-profile pick-up from Warner Bros. in late 2008 to the tune of 1.5 million. Christensen is the lead singer for a band called Stellarstarr.
Christensen also co-wrote "Sidney Hall" which has been set up with producers Ridley and Tony Scott.
Writer: Shawn Christensen

"I just sold a script for 1.5 million dollars suckerrrrrs!"

Now I've caught a lot of flak for liking this script so much. People barrage me with arguments like "It's got plot holes you could drive a semi through!" They say it's cheesy, clunky, and all over the place. You know what I say? You're wrong. You're 93% stinking wrong! This script was a hell of a ride. Not to mention I'm a sucker for a good "ordinary man in extrodinatry circumstances" tale - and Karma Coaliton takes care of my fix.

Beware. Major spoilers follow. Part of the reason I liked this script so much was that I didn't have any clue what it was about going in. So if you plan on reading it, tread carefully.
There are spoiler landmines everywhere.

A recent flap of deaths has been occurring all over the world - deaths of very important people: Archdioceses, scientists, celebrities. But why? What's the connection? There's someone who knows. Someone who's been betting on these deaths from the beginning. And getting it right every single time. So we're going to find out who this person is and how they're making these amazing predictions right? Wrong. The prognosticator is killed on Page 6.


William Craft, a relatively young college professor who just lost his job for sleeping with one of his students (wait a minute, don't all college professors sleep with their students? I thought that was one of the perks.) is just trying to make it to the next day. He's a widow. His soul mate/wife/love of his life died in a car accident six years ago. Without her, he's been stumbling through life, looking for a purpose.

William's life is turned upside-down when the police blow into his place and arrest him. Remember the prognosticator? Turns out William used to be friends with him. He's thrown into an interrogation room and told that he's under suspicion for the murder of this man. Before they deal with that, however, the cop slides a mysterious box across the table and asks William to open it. The box belonged to the prognosticator and was left to William.

William carefully pries the box open. Inside are five things. One, a note that tells him the cop opposite him is one of the dirtiest cops in the city. Two, a gun. Three, smoke bombs. Four, a DVD. And five, a note. A note that simply says: "She's still alive."

Have I got your attention yet? Welcome to Karma Coalition. I don't know about you, but I'm hooked.

I'm not going to tell you how William gets out of the room because it's pretty obvious. He's got smoke bombs! After escaping, he takes his newfound possessions to a friends' and pops the DVD in. The DVD is of the prognosticator, who informs him that in 2013, a huge catastrophic event takes place that wipes out 90% of the earth's population. Because of this, a secret organization called the Karma Coalition is faking the deaths of very important people all over the world, in order to get them onto a secret island called "Parista," where they will be safe and the human race will continue.

Guess whose wife is on that iiiiiiiii-sland?

Naturally, William will do anything to get to the island. And the good news is, he's on the Parista list. But the cops chasing him have other plans. Will William make it to Parista? Will he be reunited with his wife? I'm sorry but you'll have to read the script to find out. Or the rest of the review.

I loved the heart-pounding unpredictable nature of Karma Coalition but it did have its faults. (Major spoilers) When William finally gets to Parista, we have about 7 minutes to wrap up the storyline between him and his wife. He charges into a restaurant where his wife and her parents are having dinner and it just feels...wrong. Clunky. Weird. This is the love of his life and it's not the way to reunite them. Part of the predicament of Karma Coalition is that you do have the main character getting to his destination late in the screenplay, forcing you to wrap up a lot of storylines in a very short amount of time. As a result, all of the storylines get short-shrift. None more than him and his wife, which should've been an incredibly emotional moment and wasn't.

But the final sequence of Karma Coalition is ridiculously fun. The cops are tracking down the island of Parista, trying to find William. Yet they're being led deep into the middle of Wyoming. How can there be an island in the middle of Wyoming? The answer leads us to "the big twist," which I suspect put Karma Coalition over the hump and secured it that huge sale. Many people point out that the twist doesn't hold water (ahem, island reference). And if you really think about it, there are definitely some inconsistencies. But I had so much fun getting there and the twist was so unexpected, I didn't care. It's one of those things you know they're going to address in the rewrites anyway, so I just went with it.

Sure Karma Coaltion can be silly at times. And it's not afraid to toss in a few cliches. But the script is so fast and its imagination so vibrant, I'm going to prematurely vanguish all you Negative Nancies out there and highly recommend it.

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

What I learned: Probably the best "ordinary man in an extraordinary circumstance" movie is either "North By Northwest" or "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." The reason we've been so light on this genre lately is because Hollywood demands more realism these days. Your character has to behave in a realistic way. I don't know about you but if a terrorist pointed a gun at my head, I wouldn't go for a Bruce Lee sweep of the legs combined with a Trinity wall climb, simultaneously grabbing his gun and forcing him to shoot his own partner. I'd probably scream like a little girl. The problem in these movies is that sooner or later, your character will be forced into choices that require extraordinary actions. How he/she goes about them in a believable way is the key to making the genre work. I'm telling you this after highlighting a scene in KC where our "ordinary" hero escapes an interrogation room with smoke bombs. So obviously these rules are not hard and fast. But I guarantee you this issue will be brought up in any script you submit. So you might as well nip it in the bud now.


GENRE: Action
SYNOPSIS: A 14 year old girl who also happens to be a trained killer must fight her way through a strange country to reunite with her father.
ABOUT: Mystery pile people. Sorry, I know very little about this one.
WRITER: Seth Lochead

Oh sweet Hanna. Why do you frustrate me so? Hanna is about your atypical 14 year old teenage girl with an AWOL Navy Seal/CIA father who’s moved to the backwoods of Sweden so he can raise and train her to become an assassin. Yes, Hanna is a cold-blooded killer – a “Little Nikita” who really is little.

Within the first five minutes, father and daughter are captured by 50 agents for reasons I’m still not entirely clear on. The implication is the father wanted to be caught, purposely burning a fire he knew would be seen by an array of satellites that are constantly on the lookout for him. Apparently this guy's wanted badly. For reference's sake, I only have a single satellite looking for me. Once captured, because he and his daughter are so dangerous, they’re sent to different holding bays in separate countries.

Of course neither stays captured for long. Using Jason Bourne like badassery, they escape and head off to different locations. Here is where the script gets muddy. Hanna finds a family in the middle of Turkey who she befriends. She reveals she’s trying to get to the German Consulate in Istanbul (this is where her father told her to go). In hot pursuit of Hanna is the organization that captured her, which is headed up by the steely Marissa, who becomes obsessed with finding her. There's clearly some sort of link between them but what is it?

Hanna makes it to Istanbul where, for some odd reason, Marissa decides to call off the dogs. Hanna’s given a train ticket by the consulate to the backwoods of Sweden, the very place her and her father were abducted. Yay! Hanna gets to go home!

Hanna trudges up to the cabin where her father is waiting for her. Yet it ain't all pancakes and nursery rhymes. He's pissed off! He reveals that the whole point of this exercise was for Hanna to be reunited with her damn momma! But that's okay, because remember those 50 agents that abducted the two of them earlier? Well they're baaaaack! Except this time, they only want Hanna. She's whisked off to a jail in Stockholm where the mysterious Marissa awaits. She escapes her confines by Jason Bourning a few soldiers to set up a finale with Marissa. After a few pleasantries Hanna finds out that Marissa...wait for it...IS HER MOTHER. Hanna cuts the family reunion short though and pulls out a glock, shooting her mom in the head, sending her a little closer to those satellites she seems to like so much.

We get a prologue where Hanna explains why she did what she did. “My father told me about her. He would tell me stories about her. I decided I didn’t like her.” Man, and to think when I don't like someone I just don't return their calls. Now whether this means that Hanna truly didn’t like her mother because of these “stories” or, in a scene that preceded the movie, her father planned this whole assassination from the get-go, possibly even bred Hanna for this very purpose, will remain unclear. But even if that was the case, I’d still be asking myself, uhhh, why? What’s the reason the father wants to kill Marissa so bad? Because she likes to look for him?

Probably my biggest problem with the story though is that it didn’t need to happen. If the father wanted Hanna to kill the mother, why didn’t he just send her or drop her off at the city where the mom was located? For someone as well-trained as he obviously was, I’m sure he’d have no problem finding and getting the daughter to the location. The "deliberately trying to get caught" thing creates too many questions and is a very flawed plan for someone who’s supposedly so brilliant. When these agents break into the house for instance, Hanna starts killing them. Even though they’ve been told not to kill, once people start dying, all bets are off. Who’s to say they don’t shoot her dead to save their own lives?

I don’t know. Part of me just thinks this type of stuff isn’t my thing and it’s better left to someone who lives and breathes the genre. So I’ll stop dogging it. The writing itself was exceptional and I’ll give it to Seth Lochead for creating an interesting character in Hanna and keeping the story moving at a brisk pace. But I’d tie up some potentially large plot holes before sending this one to the big screen.

[ ] trash
[x] barely readable
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

WHAT I LEARNED FROM HANNA: There is a scene in the middle of the script where Hanna is staying with a family in Turkey who has no idea who she is. A local warlord comes by asking for money from the father. The warlord physically embarrasses him in front of his family and it’s a wonderful moment because we see Hanna watching this and we just know that she’s going to tear him to pieces. And of course she does. Use your character’s secret strength in a scene where nobody else knows they have it besides the audience (for example – in Big – he uses his childlike curiosity to woo over the boss in the famous big piano scene). That scene always works.

Friday, June 26, 2009


Genre: Drama-Thriller
Premise: A man wakes up in a coffin with no idea how he got there.
About: Ryan Reynolds just signed onto this last week. Spanish director Rodrigo Cortes will take the reigns for Chris Sparling's script. Spain-based Versus Entertainment will finance the film.
Writer: Chris Sparling

This was the only picture I could find of Ryan Reynolds with his shirt on.

I loooooooooved this script. I loved it for so many reasons I can't count them. First of all, I am always on the lookout for a smart cheap movie idea, something that can be shot with minimal hands, minimal equipment, and minimal funds. You know, a way for you to actually *make* a movie without having to go through that sludge-pit known as the Hollywood "system." I tell anyone who will listen: If you can shoot the movie yourself, do it, because you'll achieve what 98% of screenwriters never will - having a finished film. But don't be fooled into thinking this is easy. I don't care who says anybody can make a film with a camera and a Mac. If you want your movie to look professional, you're going to need somebody who knows how to light, somebody who knows how to shoot, somebody who knows how to dress a set. You're still going to need things that cost money. Therefore, you're extremely limited in the scope of your film. It's why a lot of low-budget films take place in one location. Keeps things cheap.

So when I heard of a script where the whole thing took place in a coffin?? I flipped. Like flipped out in anger. Why didn't I think of that?? The cheapest movie set EV-ER. But wait. How do you write an entire story that takes place in a coffin? Let's ask Chris Sparling.

Paul, an American truck driver in Iraq, has just woken up in a coffin. It's burning up. Hot as balls. Lack of oxygen makes it hard to breathe. And let's not forget the coffin, which only allows him a few inches of room in every direction. I will offer this warning right now: If you are claustrophobic, do not read this script.

At first Paul has no memory of how he got here. But things start slowly coming back to him. He was driving a truck, delivering food, when there was a loud explosion. Many of his co-workers were killed but somehow he wasn't. He remembers Iraqis coming towards him. But after that? Nothing. Now he's down here, in a grave, in Iraq. Yes, Sparling wrote an international thriller with a 75,000 dollar price tag. (well, maybe 2 million after Reynolds is paid). Can you say genius?

Paul feels a buzz. A buzz! It's a phone! He has a phone! He checks it. It's not his. It's got 1 bar of flashing reception and 2 bars of battery left. This phone is his only chance at survival. When it runs out, so does he. He starts frantically calling people. First Emergency. He hurriedly explains his situation but the operator is suspicious. Why is a man buried in a coffin, supposedly in Iraq, calling an Ohio emergency line? The woman is worthless. He hangs up and calls home. But all he gets is the answering machine. He leaves a desperate message but who knows if his phone will even work by the time his wife gets home.

Then Paul receives a call. A man, Jabir, tells him that unless Paul can come up with 5 million dollars by 9:00pm (it's 7:00), he will be left in his coffin to die. Paul, who already had anxiety issues *before* he ended up in a coffin, nearly shits his pants. He gets back on the phone, trying to get to the FBI, but in a well-disguised commentary on the state of our society, no one gives a shit. They forward him to other people, give him other numbers to call. If you've ever had to call Time Warner with an internet problem, Paul's situation might be familiar to you. He finally contacts a man in Iraq, Dan, whose job it is to deal with these "situations". Dan tells Paul that this is common practice for poor Iraqis. They kidnap and bury Americans, then ask for a ransom. If the money isn't paid, they leave them to die. Since the U.S. doesn't negotiate with terrorists, you can understand how precarious Paul's situation is. But Dan says he's going to find Paul. "How many of us have you found?" Paul asks. Dan doesn't answer.

The signal keeps flashing in and out, cutting off his calls prematurely, making everything even more frustrating. The battery bar goes down to one. Every call wastes precious battery juice. And as he waits, there's a nearby bombing, which shakes the ground, cracks the top of the coffin, and allows sand to start pouring in, slowly filling up the coffin. All the while, Paul begins to wonder if Dan is really trying to save him, or trying to keep him from turning this into an international incident, which could scar the U.S.'s already tainted reputation. Is Dan trying to keep Paul quiet until he dies?

This is top-notch storytelling here. Sparling really does a bang-up job creating tension. There are so many ticking time bombs: the battery, the signal, the air supply, the ransom, the sand, will Dan's people find him in time? It's all ticking down and you really feel this guy drowning - running out of options. My only fear film is whether an audience can handle being in a coffin for 80 minutes. I guess we'll find out. But it won't affect how solid this script is. A great read.

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

What I learned: One location movies should be kept SHORT. I would highly recommend they not be over 95 pages. "Buried" understood this rule and was only 80 pages long. Audiences get a little jumpy if they're in one place for too long (blame Michael Bay). So keep the story slim.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

What happened to...Moneyball?

note: (9/23/11) Since these drafts, Aaron Sorkin came on to do a final rewrite on the script, which is the one that eventually went in front of the cameras. 

To get caught up on what exactly "Moneyball" is and the drama that occurred this week, go here to find out.

Genre: Sports Bio
Premise: A general manager with the lowest payroll in baseball invents a new way of scouting involving little-known but very powerful statistics.
About: Based on a true story. Adapted from the book by Michael Lewis. Moneyball came to the attention of everyone when Sony Exec Amy Pascal shut down the movie 3 days before the start of production due to Soderbergh's rewrite of the script (episode of Entourage anyone?)
Writers: Steven Zaillian (Dec. Draft)- Steven Soderbergh (June shooting draft) -- Edit: I thought I'd mention this because people keep bringing it up. There is a May Zaillian draft that I've been told is quite different from the December draft I read. Some of the things I liked in that Dec. draft were missing from Zaillian's subsequent draft (meaning it wasn't Soderbergh's sole choice to get rid of them).

Do you know the kind of balls it takes to shut down the production of a Brad Pitt movie? When Brad Pitt says he'll do your movie, 20 million dollars or not, he's doing *you* a favor. And it's not like Pitt hasn't picked up and walked off on a whim before. Anybody remember The Fountain? - And that was before he met the baby buyer. Nowadays Brad goes out for groceries and he comes home to two more kids. So the fact that Amy Pascal, Chairman of Sony Studios, halted production on Moneyball upon reading the most recent draft by Soderbergh is a BFD. The question is, what happened? Well, we all know Soderbergh has a seriously off-kilter approach to directing. Given some room, he'll turn your straightforward sports tale into a series of flashbacks and flashforwards with Spanish subtitles and 97 minutes of voice over. Lucky for you, Scriptshadow's got both drafts and will get to the bottom of this mess. Did Soderbergh destroy Moneyball? Did Pascal overreact? Read on to find out.


Baseball is a game of numbers. No other sport in the world depends more on numbers than baseball . From singles to doubles to home runs to RBIs to errors to batting averages to slugging percentages to on-base percentages, the sport *is* its numbers. And it's those numbers that form the nucleus of Moneyball's story.

I'm sure when I say the name Billy Beane, it doesn't mean much to you. But you say the name Billy Beane in baseball circles, and it means a hell of a damn lot. Billy Beane is the general manager of the Oakland A's. The Oakland A's are one of the smallest markets in Major League Baseball. To give you an idea of how small, the Yankees payroll is 120 million dollars. The A's payroll? 40 million. Do the math. So the question is: How do you compete in a league where every other team has at least twice as much money as you do?

Billy is a complicated man. He loves the grind but hates watching the fruits of his labor. Billy doesn't travel with the team. He doesn't watch the games. He doesn't like any of the players. All he cares about is putting together a team that wins. Unfortunately, his 40 million dollar payroll has made that next to impossible. Early on, Billy is with his girlfriend, getting ready to escape to a tropical island. But Billy gets a call on his cell, and that call leads to a few more calls, and the next thing you know, a trade is going down. He smiles politely to his girlfriend, hands her his ticket, and says, "Go ahead. I'll meet you there in a few days." And leaves! It's the perfect introduction to Billy because that action, that sequence, tells us exactly who he is.

You see, Billy just lost the three best players on his team and has been told by his owner that he's only got a few million bucks to replace them. So Billy heads off to another tropical paradise, Cleveland, to discuss some trades with the GM of the Indians, Mark Shapiro. Billy is particularly interested in a player named "Rincon", someone so low on Shapiro's radar that he barely recognizes the name. After Shapiro agrees in principle to a trade, a previously unseen nerdy 20-something on a laptop walks over and whispers into Shapiro's ear. He slinks back to the couch and Shapiro calmly turns to Billy, "I'm sorry, you can't have Rincon." Billy spins back and glares at this mystery kid. "Who the fuck are you??" his eyes say. But the kid is already back to his computer. This kid's name is Paul.

Billy corners Paul outside the building and demands to know what the hell he told Shapiro. The argument turns into dinner, and Paul lays out his approach to baseball. He's calculated every single statistic known to baseball and only one is inexorably tied to winning: On-base percentage. Since everyone else is obsessed with home runs and RBIs, this stat has been relatively ignored. Paul believes that if you create a team full of only players with high on-base percentages (A stat so insignificant that you could get the players for dirt cheap) you could theoretically win all the time. Billy thinks Paul might be crazy, but he's up shit creek anyway, so he hires him.

Billy and Paul then apply this untested strategy in the face of years of baseball experience. The idea that you can look at a spreadsheet, and not at the player himself, when putting together a team, causes all sorts of drama inside the A's organization. Essentially, Billy assembles a rag-tag motley crew of rejects with high on-base percentages. When Oakland quickly falls into last place, the drama only gets worse. But the stubborn Billy and Paul stick together, and in the end their faith pays off, as Oakland ends the season with a 20-game win streak, the single longest win-streak in American League history.

The only problem with the script is that it gets too wrapped up in its details, too wrapped up in its numbers. We follow the A's through an entire season and, not unlike keeping tabs on a real baseball season, it's hard to stay focused. Late in the script I was myself asking that age old question: What's driving the story? The best I could come up with is: the curiosity of whether the stats system is going to work. But in that black hole where stories go to die known as the second half of the second act, there isn't enough to remind us of this - to keep us focused - and the story loses some luster as a result. The question is, did Soderbergh address this issue in his rewrite and, more importantly, what else did he address? We'll talk about that in a second. But in regards to Zaillian's draft, I'm going to recommend the read. Sure it wandered. But I've always been fascinated by the jobs of General Managers, and this gave me some great insight into their world.

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

Script Link: Moneyball (link taken down by request)

SODERBERGH DRAFT (dated 6-22-09)
note: Bad news. I cannot post this draft. It's got Sony markings all over it and you'll just have to trust me when I say it wouldn't be a good idea.

So was it *that* bad? I mean, studios go into production all the time with terrible scripts. Particularly when huge actors like Pitt are involved. So what made Pascal put her foot down? What made her embark on a decision that would taint the project from now til release? I'll tell you what. A bad script. Soderbergh really screwed this up. Moneyball wasn't Chinatown, but at least it was a story. Soderbergh's turned it into a mishmash of ideas in search of a point. It's like he yanked the sail off the boat and let us drift out to sea.

It's hard to point to any one change that ruined the script, but there are several troublesome choices that were made. Remember that early scene where Billy leaves his girlfriend at the airport? That scene told us everything we needed to know about who we'd be following for the next two hours. What does Soderbergh do instead? He has Billy meet Paul in one of the most basic, uninteresting introductions to two characters I've seen in a long time. The two stand around and proceed to tell us (er, I mean each other) exactly who they are.
JP said you're the guy I should be talking to.

JP is great.

JP is great. He said you just got promoted.

Yeah, I was advance scouting and I was just made Special Assistant to the GM.

Well, Cleveland's a monster franchise. I think John Hart and Mark Shapiro are super smart. They got a good thing going.

I have to say, it's nice knowing at the beginning of the year that you're probably going to the playoffs.

I'll bet.

I hear you're extended.

Yeah, four years. It's good, you know. I can watch things happen. And we're close to getting a new stadium.

Which you need.

Which we definitely need. So let me ask you. Can you work spreadsheets and all that stuff, like Excel? Can you manage a payroll?


Great, because I suck at that...
Yes, instead of that great scene where the mysterious Paul walks up and whispers into Shapiro's ear, we now get, "So let me ask you: can you work spreadsheets and all that stuff?"

The draft was an Exposition Empire, with characters blurting out all sorts of things we needed to know without a hint of subtlety. I kept thinking I was at a museum listening to a tour guide, "And here we have Billy. Billy has discovered a secret set of numbers. He will now try to apply them to his team and hopefully win in the process." All the fun from the first draft is gone here. The dramatization. The subtext. It's vanished, not unlike the Montreal Expos.

Also gone are most of Billy's scenes with his daughter, the only true relationship with another human being he has, and therefore the only thing that humanizes him - Billy's drifting from woman to woman (Although there's only scarce mention of it - he appears to be married in Soderbergh's version), the flashbacks of Billy as a player (replaced by interviews with real people who played with Billy) and that feeling of, "Billy and Paul against the world," stemming from their unique system and how it flies in the face of 150 years of baseball - probably the most exciting part of the story.

But the biggest faux-pas is the handling of the all-important "on-base percentage" stat. This is what the A's figured out that everybody else ignored - the hidden statistic that was the key to their success. It's what allows them to compete with half the salary of all the other teams. This is the movie. Yet here it's treated like an afterthought. In fact, I couldn't even tell you what the A's secret to success was in Soderbergh's draft. It's implied that there's a spreadsheet involved but the explanation stops there. A spreadsheet of never-explained numbers? That's how the team wins? That's your hook for the movie?

Look, Soderbergh is the kind of director that likes to find his movies in the editing room. Shoot a bunch of stuff, see what sticks. If something doesn't connect logically , throw some voiceover in there and add a little score. That seems to be his plan of attack with Moneyball. I don't know what the final movie would look like so I couldn't definitively tell you if he would of salvaged this, but I do know he turned a solid script into an incomprehensible mess. And that's why his movie was shut down.

[x] a mess
[ ] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: Don't write a sports movie. They're too difficult to write. If the team ends up winning in the end, it feels overly-sappy and cliche. If you go with a grittier more realistic approach, it comes off as boring and self-important. Lose-lose. If you must ignore my advice, go with either a boxing movie or a true story (like this one). But just know that writing a good sports movie is RFH (really fucking hard) and selling one is even harder. Take my advice and don't do it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Choose this month's Scriptshadow Challenge script

Leave your pick in the comments section, my e-mail, Scott's site, or Scott's e-mail. Please do not e-mail me asking for any of these scripts unless you're my BFF. How do you become my BFF? By sending me newly sold specs. Duh.

Here are the choices...

"Kidnap" (Knate Gwaltney): After her son is kidnapped at a local mall, a woman embarks on a chase to save him. Genre: Thriller

"Witchita" (Patrick O'Neill): Story revolves around a single chick who has terrible luck with men, but meets a mysterious, handsome man on a blind date. The mysterious man is actually a secret agent who pops in and out of the woman’s life. Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz attached. Genre: Action-Comedy

"Father of Invention" (Trent Cooper, Johnathan Krane & Nicole Beattie): Story centers on a humble inventor-turned-egomaniacal billionaire who loses it all when one of his inventions goes horribly awry. After eight years in federal prison, he returns bankrupt, homeless and determined to rebuild his reputation and fortune. Kevin Spacey attached. Genre: Comedy

"The True Memoirs of an International Assassin" (Jeff Morris): After a publisher changes a writer's debut novel about a deadly assassin from fiction to nonfiction, the author finds himself thrust into the world of his lead character, and must take on the role of his character for his own survival. Genre: Action-Thriller

"The Heartbreaker" (Alec Ward): Comedy about a guy hired to break hearts. Genre: Comedy

Upcoming: Scriptshadow Challenge choices

Stay Tuned. Today at 3pm Pacific Time, I'll be simultaneously posting with Scott, the five choices for this month's Scriptshadow Challenge. Your vote will determine which script we go with. It'll be fun because three of them are recent spec sales. So pop by and leave your vote. If the comments section doesn't work for you, feel free to e-mail me.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Only Living Boy In New York

Genre: Drama
Premise: Coming-of-age tale about a young man trying to find himself in New York City.
About: Allan Loeb is one of the hottest writers working today. He broke onto the scene with Black List favorite, "Things We Lost In The Fire" (which I've been told is a much better script than it is a movie), penned the surprise hit "21," and most recently finished the job of one of the most sought after assignments in town, "Money Never Sleeps" (aka "Wall Street 2"), and he's got like six other projects in development. The Only Living Boy In New York is unique in that it's one of the only drama specs sold in the last 5 years that didn't have any talent attached (translation: It was really f'ing good).
Writer: Allan Loeb

Like I always say, if you're gonna steal, steal from the best. "Living Boy" is basically "The Graduate" meets "Great Expectations" with a pinch of "The Great Gatsby" thrown in for good measure. The coming-of-age stuffy upper-crust 20-something angsty tale in NY is likely to appall as much as it appeals since older folk tend to roll their eyes at insignificant "problems" us young men endure ("Oh, I missed work because I partied too late. What ever am I going to do?"). This attitude reached an all-time fever pitch during the successful run of "Garden State," a movie "Living Boy" will no doubt be compared to. But while "Boy" definitely has its share of angst, its characters lift it up and beyond Zach Braff's New Jersey opus. Things feel a bit more meaningful here. And I can attribute that mainly to Loeb's excellent writing.

20-something Thomas lives in New York City. He's best friends with a super-hot (in a hip alternative way) college chick named Mimi. In an ecstacy-inspired night of regret and stupidity, Mimi makes the mistake of granting Thomas an all-night sex-a-thon. As a result, he's fallen hopelessly in love with her. Of course Mimi considers the night a monumental college-level mistake (boy did I have my share of those) and doesn't see why Thomas can't just get over it. Thomas spends a good portion of "Living Boy" wondering why a sweet decent-looking guy like himself can't land a hot girl like Mimi.

That's the least of his worries though. While wandering aimlessly through New York one day, he accidentally spots his asshole of a father kissing a woman that is definitely NOT his mother. The 30-something icy business woman, Johanna, is easily the most beautiful thing he's ever seen. Thomas is furious. His mother is already on the verge of a mental breakdown and finding out that her husband is cheating on her would surely push her over the edge.

Rounding out the cast of characters is the mysterious W.F. Gerald (it even sounds like someone from The Great Gatsby), a 50-something "unmade bed of a man," as Loeb puts it. The wise W.F. is always there to dole out his sage advice when Thomas needs it. And Thomas needs it in spades.

He begins following his father's mistress and when he finally works up the courage to confront her, he demands that she stop seeing him. The woman, who seems not to know of these things called "feelings," makes it very clear that both she and her father can make their own decisions and that Thomas has no say in the matter. She follows this by accusing Thomas of falsely approaching her - insisting that the only reason he followed her was because he wants her himself. Thomas is appalled at the suggestion and storms away.

Later on, at a swanky upper crust party, Thomas runs into Johanna separately from his father, and she proceeds to seduce him (for the sport of it, of course), taking him home and engaging in a wild night of animal sex. Thomas now finds himself in an affair within an affair...sort of... as he starts sleeping with the same woman that is sleeping with his father. That's comfortable. Of course Mimi, playing off of Thomas' new popularity with the ladies, suddenly changes her mind and decides that she wants a relationship with Thomas. But Thomas has long since fallen in love with Johanna, and now cares only that she dump his father so the two can be together alone...and not...with his father (your average 20-something dilemma).

The way Thomas weaves in and out of these storylines is humbling to say the least. Loeb is an incredibly gifted writer. One of the true marks of great writers is how they describe their characters, and Loeb doesn't disappoint.
...Mimi Pastori

wears a double dyed pink wife-beater that stops just short of her bumper sticker... the Chinese symbol of balance. She owns a temple of a body built of feminine mesa-morph and displays small diamond stud in her nose.

All of Mimi's attempts to hide her beauty fail miserably.
Or the way they write dialogue...
I think... I... August eighth. I think August eighth was real.

It was amazing, Thomas, but it was just one night. We were both on ecstasy, I thought I was a pirate and I was vulnerable because Nick left... and it was just one night.

Well, I'm crazy about you.

And I'm crazy about you. But--

Don't say "as a friend."

He pulled the words right out of her mouth...

Why not, Thomas? Why is that so bad?

Because pretty girls like to recruit their rejections and call them friends.
Or just how they can describe something in such a way that you know exactly what they mean...
Howard immediately looks around. This transparent look-through-you gaze that famous and extremely rich people do when they want to talk to someone more important.
The Only Living Boy In New York's biggest strength is also its biggest weakness. We're looking at a character study here. And because Loeb is so focused on these great characters, the story itself is minimal to non-existent. Which is fine. That's par for the course in this genre. But "Living Boy" stops just short of feeling like something important. It doesn't make you reevaluate your life the way a viewing of "The Graduate" does. It's limited to the inter-connectivity of these handful of characters. But it's a great handful. I wouldn't mind scooping up a few of them and tossing them in my own screenplays. If you're a fan of "coming-of-age" films, this is a must read. If not, I would still encourage you to check this out. But I can't promise it's going to knock your socks off.

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

What I learned: Take your time and describe your main characters people! Look at the way Loeb describes Mimi above. It takes time to come up with that. But it pays off. I know a lot of writers who would've gone with, "Mimi, 22, is artsy and hot." I'm not saying I haven't seen professional writers do this. I have. But you get so little time in a screenplay to convey the true essence of a character, and if you nail it the description, it makes things so much easier on you and the reader later on.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Danny Graves' Man Cave

Genre: Comedy
Premise: A family man on the verge of a mid-life crisis turns his basement into a "man-cave", complete with all the amenities every man needs. Later he discovers a hidden passage in the cave that takes him into an alternate reality male dreamworld.
About: Man Cave was picked up by Sony in April. Joe Roth will produce. Lutz and Isser have another project set up at Intrepid called "Park Narcs," a comedy about park rangers.
Writer: Jacob Isser & Paul Lutz

I admit it. I'm a sucker for "Guy feels lost and tries to change his life" movies. Why? Oh, I don't know. Maybe because I feel that way every other week! The idea of someone taking charge and doing something about their problem is inspiring because normally, in real life, all we do is sit around and bitch about it. We never actually do anything to change our circumstances. The title "Danny Graves' Man Cave" doesn't exactly inspire thoughts of a contemplative exploration of what it means to be a man, but that's kind of what Man Cave is about. Does it succeed? I don't know if I'd go that far, but it's definitely more ambitious than your average comedy. For a script I expected to be a 2 hour beer commercial, getting this unexpectedly complicated look at life was a nice surprise.

Danny Graves is a somewhat-loving husband to his wife Alison, and a serviceable dad to his weird elementary school son, Lucas. But things have been deteriorating in Danny's life lately and he's starting to wonder, "Is this all there is?" In a random trip into his basement, a trip that gives him some much-needed downtime- he sees...the light. A cave. A MAN cave. No women allowed. No children allowed. No work allowed. Just peace, beer, and TV. A utopia to celebrate owning a penis.

Upon completion of his Mantopia, Danny discovers a secret passageway which leads to a crawlspace, which leads to a ladder, which opens up to his backyard. Except this doesn't feel like the backyard he knows. One look around tells us why. There's a picture of a vagina on the local water tower. There's a Mustang in the garage. His neighbor is no longer a pussy about everything. His wife actually dresses up sexy for him. His son actually has friends! It' alternate Man Universe! A man-iverse.

Danny gets situated in his new world pretty easily - this world where people drink beer instead of water, where men get tattoos during their lunch break, where women are sex objects and love it, where if you want to make a point at work, you light something on fire dammit! And best of all, Danny is the Alpha Male in this world.

But his alternate universe isn't a time machine, and whatever time he spends in the "Man-World" is time that goes by sans Danny in the real world. Needless to say, his wife, son, co-workers and boss start to get suspicious. And since there are only so many excuses (I think all us guys know that), Danny must begrudgingly balance his time between the two worlds.

The entire second act is the weakest part of Man Cave because it's just one long extension of the premise. Danny experiences awesomeness in Man World. Danny experiences suckage in Real World. Man World = good. Real World = bad. It's frustrating because you're waiting for the story to take over - but there is no story. Danny's only goal is to escape the Real World as much as possible. Not until late in the 2nd act when the Man World starts to show its cracks does the story pick up momentum again. But it's when Alison discovers Danny's Man World, this terrifying alternate reality, her sluttier hotter dopplehanger, that things really derail for Danny.

I'll be honest with you, after a great first act, I was really down on this script because nothing interesting happens for the entire middle portion. For lack of a better word it was boring. But I have to give it to Lutz & Isser. The surprise 3rd act sequence brings Danny Graves back from the grave.

In the act, Danny finds a second passageway in his Man Cave, and wonders what a Man World inside of a Man World would be like (come on - wouldn't we all?). So he crawls through the crawlspace, up the ladder, into the yard to see...Man World 2. In this Man World, his lawn is made of astroturf. His wife is dressed like a hooker and is ready for a 3-way with his hot co-worker. There's a picture of a shaved pussy on the local water tower. Neighbors have monster trucks parked in the driveway. It's both horrifying and fascinating. But Danny's curiosity isn't quenched. He needs more. So he goes into the basement, through the passageway, and into the 3rd Man World. This world is even darker. His neighbor, Norm, has a cro-magnum face and is dragging his wife by the hair. Women run around the neighborhood topless. Men are beating the shit out of each other. But Danny doesn't stop there. He goes into the basement, through the passageway, and opens up the vent to enter the 4th Man World. And it's just darkness. Darkness and shadows. And he sees something coming towards him. Hunched over. Dirty. A monster. And when the creature gets close enough to see, we realize...

It's Danny. Or some version of Danny.

He slams the lid closed and runs back through all the Man Worlds, back to the main world, desperately in search of his family, because he finally understands just how beautiful and satisfying and worthwhile his real life is.

Does it work? Not really. His wife is so unlikable and his kid so weird, that it's not clear why he would all of a sudden realize he likes them again, or have ever liked them in the first place for that matter. I kinda wanted Isser and Lutz to grow some balls (ahem - staying with tonight's theme) and stick with their dark instincts on the ending. If you create a reprehensible living situation for your protagonist, you have to give us a reason why he would go back to it other than that it's the end of the movie. It makes no sense.

To me, this is an odd script. It starts out like The Graduate, becomes a broad comedy, then hits us with a dark third act. The tonal issues alone probably should've prevented a sale. But there is *something* about Danny Graves' Man Cave, particularly towards the end, that makes it difficult to dismiss. By no means will I say you have to read this. But there are enough interesting choices in here to make it worth the read.

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

WHAT I LEARNED: What's driving your story? I consider this to be *the* most important screenwriting question you can ask yourself. At every point in your script, there needs to be a clear and intense force that's driving the story. Something propelling us along. A point. A goal. A purpose. The reason Danny Graves' second act drags is because it doesn't have that engine. What's Danny's goal? What's the story's goal? What are we working up towards? Nothing. We're just waiting to see how extensively Danny's life can unravel. Personally, I don't think that's compelling enough. Sure there's the rare movie that doesn't have an obvious driving force (The Graduate comes to mind) but in those cases the characters have to be so incredibly captivating that we forget about the story. Giving Danny something tangible to go after here could've helped the script a lot. As it stands, there's nothing to look forward to other than more "antics."

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Fly Fisher

Genre: Horror/Thriller
Premise: A fly fisherman lures his victims in with bait and guts them like fish.
About: Nicholl Fellowship winner 2007.
Writer: Michael L. Hare

This is going to cause some of you to have an orgasm. Seriously. If I had to describe this script, it would be a cross between The Strangers and Donnie Darko, two movies I'm not very fond of, but am sure a lot of you are. For the record, I watched Donnie Darko a second time a few years ago at an obscure boring party. I sat down and watched the entire thing to the sounds of ambient music and party noise. I realized how taken I was with it just from a visual perspective. The photography in that film is freaking awesome. It's when people start talking or the odd musical choices kick in that it all falls apart (for me at least).

Anyway, The Fly Fisher is like the unofficial non-sci-fi sequel to Donnie Darko. It's a story about a seriously fucked up Fly Fisherman who lures his victims in, does God knows what to them in his stream-side abode, then guts them like a fish.

After he mutilates a sweet little skater chick in the opening scene, we're introduced to our hero, Jack. Jack is a bit of a high school nerd. He's into theater. Plays chess. Not exactly hanging in the VIP section. Jack's got a bit of a strained relationship with his father, Frank, who's been favoring work over family time lately, and is upset when his dad can't come to a chess tournament. His mom, Chris, takes him instead and after a 45 minute drive to the location, they find themselves lost in the middle of Swampland USA. How could this have happened, they ask? They followed the GPS.

Ooh, I might know. He LURED YOU HERE YOU IDIOTS! He used some sort of fish oil or something to hack your GPS. God you guys are stupid.

A grimy muddy old station wagon pulls up - always a positive and fruitful sign. But Jack and Chris shrug their shoulders and hop in when The Fly Fisherman (who likes to whistle) offers them a ride. When the Fly Fisherman tries to drive his catch back to the grill though, Chris and Jack fight back and escape, able to swim deep into the river to safety. Later, Frank laments the fact that he wasn't there for them, and mentally promises to spend more time with his son. But it ain't going to happen because that night The Fly Fisherman actually BREAKS INTO their house and kidnaps Jack!

Crying ensues.

Two years pass. Not a word. Not a peep. Frank and Chris assume the worst. Their son is dead. But then the cops get a call and the news comes back that they've found Jack! He's alive! Yaaaayyyy!

Or is it yay?


This time, Frank's going to make damn sure that he spends some time with his son. As the family tries to get back to a normal life, the secret of what happened to Jack over those two years hangs over them. His parents ask. But Jack doesn't talk much anymore. He doesn't do much of anything anymore. He seems detached. Tortured. Is there something else going on here?

You bet your ass there is! The Fly Fisher has programmed Jack to kill his father is what happened ! He even shows up at night in the yard calling to Jack: "Do it" he says. "Do it." The Fly Fisher has convinced poor Jack that his father is evil for ignoring him and that the only solution is to kill him. Will the Fly Fisher win? Will Jack kill his father? Or will Jack break free of the Fly Fisher's fish-like mind control over him? That's the question.

Hmmm, where do I begin? I'll give The Fly Fisher this. It keeps you guessing. Pretty much ignoring the 3-Act structure, the first 60 pages took so many detours, I had no idea if or when we were ever going to get back on the main road. I don't even know if there was a main road to begin with because the focus of this takes awhile to become clear. We experience an unrelated murder. We then experience Jack and his Mom seemingly getting kidnapped. But they escape. We then see Jack kidnapped out of his own house. And then we see a "Two years later" title, where Jack is found and rejoins his parents. After all this happens, we still don't know what the story is about. Needless to say, I was a little frustrated.

But the script is funky and different (like Darko and Strangers) and I have a feeling people will respond to that. It's just that I, personally, prefer a strong narrative over a string of weird occurrences, as is the nature of The Fly Fisher. It does eventually get to the story (Will Jack kill his father?) but I had a hard time hopping in the boat on that one. Jack's been brainwashed to think his father is a terrible person because of the way he's treated Jack. And the movie becomes this emotional journey where Jack is trying to come to terms with whether his father cares about him or not. The problem is, from everything we know, Frank has just been busy at work . In every other respect, he's a loving caring dad. So he hasn't shown up to a few chess tournaments recently? That's grounds for murder? I don't know. I had a hard time buying it.

I was also curious why the detectives, who knew that The Fly Fisher's previous victim attempted to kill his father under the same conditions, didn't warn Frank about it. They were in constant contact. It seems like a piece of information you would want to hear - "Oh, by the way Frank, your son might try to kill you in your sleep."

But the script has its admirers and the person who suggested it has solid taste so who knows? You might love it. If you do, please contribute your thoughts in the comments section. I'd like to know what I missed here.

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

What I learned: The Fly Fisher has an intense first 10 pages and that got me thinking about the ubiquitous screenwriting rule: "Make Your First 10 Pages Great". While I believe in the first ten pages rule in principle, it's kind of a crock of shit. On the one hand, you want to grab the reader's attention right away. And that's definitely important. But just in case you forgot, uh, THERE'S STILL ANOTHER 100 PAGES OF STORY LEFT TO TELL! It's kind of like talking to women who are obsessed with their wedding. Who have been dreaming their entire lives about this one moment that's going to be the most perfect day in their entire lives and if they can just have the perfect day then there's nothing else they want to say to them: "You know there's 50 years of marriage after this, right?" Same deal here folks. It doesn't matter if your first ten pages are bang-up awesome if the rest of the script sucks. I've actually seen a lot of this, where the writer clearly focuses only on the first ten pages - making them the best ten pages I've ever read..... and then page 11 sucks balls. So make your first ten pages great. But make the rest of them great as well. No one's giving you a 3-picture deal for ten pages.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Saturday Update

Since last week was Thriller/Bank Heist week, this week is going to be a little lighter. I'm predicting at least a couple of comedies. Although I say that having just read a horror script. What, you say? You read a horror script?? Yes, I did. And I just know some of you are going to love it. What did I think? Hmmm. Tune in to find out.

So listen, I'm thinking of starting a Scriptshadow Message Board/Forum, but I don't really know what I'm doing. My initial research has led me to a vague understanding of the requirements, but I know if I could just talk to someone who knows what they're doing, it would be a lot easier. For instance, I don't know how much space I'm going to need, what features I'll want, or where all the best deals are. So if you're a fan of the site and know what I need to get this thing started, please e-mail me. (By the way, this is a good 2-3 months down the line - so don't get too excited).

The spec market is pretty crummy right now. Nothing's selling, so there are no new scripts to request (as if I don't have enough to read already). In the meantime, keep those suggestions coming. Haven't put anything in the Top 25 for a long time now and I want that to change.


Thursday, June 18, 2009


Genre: Action/Heist (sort of)
Premise: A bank robber must go undercover to sell out his old partner.
About: For those of you with sharp memories, Herman wrote the impressive Rites of Men, which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago. Loved that script. But it was Conviction, his bank heist screenplay, that was his first sale. The second I finished Rites, I went searching for this one.
Writer: Johnathan Herman

It should be mentioned that no one actually wears a ski mask in Conviction

Herman is such a good writer that he almost saves this. Almost. But instead of a tight thriller in the vein of Rites Of Men, we get an unfocused bank heist film that doesn't quite know what it wants to be.

Patrick is the king of all bank robbers. He's got a special system down, one that doesn't even require a gun, which allows him to steal a good chunk of that Federal stimulus package all the banks seem to be hoarding. His partner in crime (literally) is "Bomb," a 20 year old kid who Patrick plucked from the ghetto when he was 15, and spent the following years mentoring and training to be the best bank robber without a gun evvvverrr. After a little make-up action, the two calmly walk into a bank, threaten one of the customer service reps using pictures and details of the their family, and get a special escort right into the vault.

But today's heist does not go well. That's because their over-caffeinated dimwitted driver freaks out at the site of a guard and blasts him to pieces. Retaliatory shots are fired, people start dying, and poor Patrick is hit bad enough that he's on the street lying in a pool of his own blood. Bomb tries to grab him but the sirens are in the distance and Patrick tells him to go. "Go!" Bomb's loyal to the end but he's not stupid. Taking his cue from GTA, he steps on the gas and leaves poor Patrick to the sharks.

Flash forward a few weeks and Patrick is in the hospital, then in court, then in jail. It's not all bad though. He's eligible for parole when he turns 110. Five years go by (in the form of a fadeout) and Special Agent Plant pays Patrick a visit. Apparently, Bomb's become a Heist superstar, the P. Diddy of robbing banks. He's perfected Patrick's methods and even added a few twists of his own. Intel says Bomb's gearing up for something big. 'Explosion' big. And there's only one man in the world who can stop him - the man who knows him best. Plant offers Patrick freedom if he'll go undercover and take down Bomb - his best friend. Duh-duh-duhhhhhhhhhh. There's nothing worse than selling out your BFF, but Patrick can't resist the opportunity to be with his baby girl again. He accepts.

I don't know about you but this all felt a little....B-Movie to me. Like something Ice-T or Common would play the lead in. The choices aren't bad. They're just uninspired. I have something called "The Straighten Up." It's when something happens in a script that's so cool or so interesting that I straighten up before I continue reading. An "impressive" usually gets at least 2 Straighten Ups. And a "worth the read" usually has 1. But I was slogged down in my couch for the entirety of Conviction. And that's too bad cause I was really looking forward to this.

Where are the problems? Well I knew the script was in trouble when I had to post a genre and I couldn't figure out what to put. Is it a drama? A thriller? An action film? A heist film? It could be any one of those, and yet at one point or another it's all of them. My biggest frustration was figuring out where Herman was going with all this. We get these weird flashbacks where Patrick first meets Bomb and we see him teaching him and helping him and they're just so...unnecessary. Even Herman seems to think they don't work cause he stops using them halfway through the script. And it's not like the great Lawrence Fishburne movie, Deep Cover, since Patrick really doesn't spend a lot of time "undercover" at all. We never really feel like we're inside Bomb's world. And maybe that's because it never was Bomb's world. It was Patrick's. So it's hard to believe that Bomb's the one now in control. /Sigh...

I love Herman as a writer but this one fell flat for me. It needed direction. It needed an identity. I'm hoping the rewrites accomplish this.

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

WHAT I LEARNED: Conviction was a good reminder to flesh out all your characters, even the supporting ones. Agent Plant is so obsessed with work, his private life is non-existent. He's forced to pay for hookers just to experience human interaction. Another one of the agents has a father with Alzheimer's, and we can see how much this weighs on her. These are bit players and although Herman doesn't spend too much time on them, he gives us just enough to show that they're real people. I've been discussing this with a lot of writers lately because it's an area that's easily overlooked. But in almost all of the professional screenplays I read, the characters from top to bottom are packed with depth. I don't think that's an accident.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Genre: Thriller
Premise: Set in the Alaskan wilderness, a forest fire spotter receives an unexpected visit from a mysterious man.
About: Zetumer sold Villain to 2929 studios awhile back. Although he started out writing big sprawling action films, Villain was the script that got him noticed, secured him an agent, and ultimately landed him a sale. The script so impressed director Marc Forster that he asked Zetumer to rewrite Quantum of Solace (I wouldn't hold this against him - Forster has gone on record saying every major decision about the script was his - so we can blame him). In fact, the script has led to a whole host of large scale assignments, including The Infiltrator (DiCaprio attached) and the remake of Dune (cause, you know, they're going to keep throwing money at that franchise until somebody cracks it). Zetumer cites Chinatown as the biggest influence on his work.
Writer: Joshua Zetumer

It's Thriller Week here on Scriptshadow! I didn't even plan it. It just happened!

Sooner or later, you have to start explaining things.

Whenever you write a thriller or a mystery, remember those words: Sooner or later, you have to start explaining things. We experienced that firsthand on Monday with the heavily mysterious "Umbra." You see, it's fairly easy to create a really fucked up world where strange ass shit is happening to your main character. What's never easy, is coming up with a compelling story to explain the mystery. Since the answer is never as interesting as the question, many thrillers die a quick death after the first act. Cause people want answers. And the answers usually suck.

So what of Villain? Do the answers satisfy?

Will is staying up in the Alaskan mountains in a small shack doing what's called “spotting” for forest fires. Will is a recovering alcoholic and part of the reason he took this odd job was to end his addiction to the juice - kind of his own version of AA. Step 1: Get 100 miles away from the nearest liquor store. Will is a complex character with a complicated history. The man has burns all over his body, the kind that imply an entire childhood full of abuse, and he's generally "off". In summation: The guy hasn't had an easy life. His only contact with the outside world is the occasional radio contact he gets from basecamp, which is a good four day's walk away.

Then one afternoon, Will gets a CB call from basecamp. Apparently, someone who claims to know Will stopped by yesterday and asked where he was staying. "Who?" Will asks. They don't know. Just some guy. Some guy who is now on his way to see Will. This confuses the hell out of Will because, as far as he knows, no one even knows he's up here.

A day later Will spots the man trudging up the hill towards his shack. This means it took the man two days to traverse a four day walk. Who is this guy? Superman?

Actually, the man's name is Aiden, Will's brother who he hasn't seen in ages. If Will's the rotten apple of the family, Aiden's the core. He's one of those guys you see at the Y and with just one look in his eyes - you know - he ain't right (rest assured - I haven't been to the Y in awhile). Although he enters with a smile, and the two immediately begin reminicsing about old times, it's clear that there's something boiling under the surface of this crackpot. Aiden has some hard questions he wants to ask, and he's not leaving til his brother answers them.

The camaraderie begins to deteriorate soonafter and we learn the source of Aiden's anger is that his daughter's been taken from him by social services. Aiden did a little P.I. work and found some phone bills with some very interesting calls on them. Calls to the social service offices from Will's number. His question to Will is simple: Did you contact them? Of course Will denies it, and he's so convincing even we're not sure what the truth is. The question becomes, how far will Aiden go to get to the truth? When you're hundreds of miles away from the next human being, when the only law is nature, what are you capable of?

The abuse that follows is a direct reflection of the theme Zetumer's exploring. These two men grew up knowing nothing but their father's abuse. Living it. Breathing it. Fearing it. And yet here it is again, alive and kicking in their adult lives, so deeply rooted that it will probably be the reason that only one of them comes off this mountain.

Villain started out promising, but it hits some snow bumps almost immediately after Aiden arrives, falling into a pattern of Aiden drugging Will, Will waking up, Aiden drugging Bill, Will waking up, and over and over and over again. Like I said, once you get past the intrigue, past the mystery, tell us your story. And it's not clear that Villain has a lot of story to tell. The answers are revealed slowly and aren't all that satisfying. There were times when Will seems so fucked up that we're wondering if this is a tripped out schizophrenic delusion of his - and we're going to find out that his brother never came. I thought that would've been a fun angle to explore. But in the end it really is about Aiden trying to find out if Will called social services on his daughter. That's it. And while that's fine since that's the story Zetumer wanted to tell, it left me feeling disappointed and a little empty. I wanted something bigger. More twists. Not such a straightforward story.

I'd like to make it clear that this is a solid piece of writing. A lot of people enjoyed it and it's given Zetumer the amazing career he now has. For me though, it felt like it ran out of gas.

I know there are some of you in the Scriptshadow community who will disagree though (and make it very clear in the comments!) so take a stab at it and tell me what you think...

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

WHAT I LEARNED: I loooooove when something unexpected happens in a script. I read so many scripts that fail to surprise me, and as I just mentioned, the second half of Villain falls into that category. But early on, the script is tense and full of great choices. One of my favorite moments is when Aiden (then an unknown man) first surfaces out of the forest after his two-day hike up to Will. Will's been on edge waiting for this mystery man for hours. But instead of the man doing what we expect, which is to walk up to the shack, he stops.....and then turns back around, walking away and into the woods. This freaked the shit out of me. Who walks two days straight then turns around? Where is he going? What is he doing? Is he hiding? Why would he show himself in the first place? This upped the suspense factor by a thousand. Remember that your scripts are being read by people who've read EVVVERRRRYTHING. So you have to surprise them every once in awhile to keep them on their toes. Be unexpected!

Learn more about Josh over at The Rogue Wave.

Shimmer Lake

Genre: Dark Comedy
Premise: The aftermath of a bank robbery told backwards.
About: This script was originally a finalist at the Austin Film Festival where it gained the attention of producer Barry Josephson. Soonafter, the script was sold to Fox Atomic. So for those of you wondering where to allocate this year's screenplay contest money, AFF might be a good place to start!
Writer: Oren Uziel

Man, I am on a rolllllllllllll. Reading some solid scripts lately. Today's entry is a little dark comedy thriller called "Shimmer Lake." So let's all get naked and go script skinny dippin!

This particular entry is a special 4am review of the half-asleep variety. So if you notice any spelling mistakes or random tangeants, I'm totally not apologizing. Speaking of apologies, I want to apologize to anyone who viewed my latest Facebook entry (not my Scriptshadow Facebook account but my real person Facebook account). I started this thing called "Late Night Facebook Confession" where anytime after 2am, you can post anything you want about your life on Facebook and no one can judge you on it. Well, I guess my latest confession was just a little too "disgusting" (as some said) and "perverted" (as others said). Whatever that means. Needless to say, nobody seems to understand the concept of "CAN'T BE JUDGED". Once it's past 2 a.m. man, you can write anything you want. And not be judged. EXCEPT FOR - apparently - Himalayan teenagers with down-syndrome. Jeeeeez.

What are we talking about? Oh yeah! Shimmer Lake. This script was sweeter than a mouthful of gummy bears. It's about a group of dimwitted frustrated small town dudes who decide to rob the town bank. The twist here is that we start with the aftermath of the robbery and work our way back, day by day, to the night of the robbery. Now even though this is the internet, I can hear some of you already screaming "Gimmmmick!" And you know what? You're right. This is a gimmick. But it's a damn good gimmick, cause Uziel knows how to write.

Our main character and town sheriff, Zeke, is three days removed from the robbery, desperately trying to find his brother Andy, who for some reason left his family to involve himself in this moronic heist. He's hoping he can locate him before he ends up like Dawkins, the owner of the bank, who Zeke finds naked and dead with a huge hole in his chest. Apparently Dawkins was connected to the robbery too. But why? He owns the damn place. Also missing are Ed, an ex high school football star who accidentally blew up his kid during an experiment gone wrong in his self-made meth lab. And Chris, a half mentally retarded loner who lost all his friends when an accident blew a few fuses in his brain. Rounding out the group is Ed's hotter-than-the-inside-of-a-hotpocket wife Steph, who very well may know more about this robbery than she's letting on.

Shimmer Lake's structure takes us back one day at a time in order to show us what happened to who and how. Along the way we learn more about the characters involved and more about why they're doing what they're doing. You may think you know why they're doing it. But you don't. Well, in some cases you do. But in others you don't. Most of the cases you do though. Instead of the script suffering from Prequel-itis (this is how I refer to the Star Wars prequels - which basically filled in the missing gaps at the expense of a providing us with a story) it actually thrives inside the structure. The big heist is still at the end of he film. It's just at the beginning. So we're still anticipating how it's going to all go down. I think in a lot of scripts, there'd be plenty of dead time before the ending, but Uziel's strength is his amazing grasp of character, and pretty much anybody he introduces us to we could watch for hours on end and never get bored. I wish I had all day to just chat with this guy and ask him how he comes up with these people. He's truly got a gift. They're so fun to be around and listen to that you forget all about those silly screenwriting mechanics - like story. And plot.

I think to give you any more would cheat you out of a fun read. I will say this: Shimmer Lake has that wears-its-indiness-on-its-sleeve arthouse quality to it that has a habit of unsettling some picky cinephiles. But what I love about The Lake (that's what I'm calling it now. Keep up.) is that it's like an Ethan and Joel Cohen film, without all the alienating choices that scare away mainsream audiences. It's funny, but not 3% of the population only funny.

Originally I was going to write this review backwards but changed my mind for two reasons. One, it would've taken way too much effort. And two, it was a stupid idea.

This baby is an early contender for mid-to-high Black List 2009. Check it out...

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

What I learned: Character descriptions character descriptions character descriptions! If you're writing a comedy, you should have fun with your character descriptions. Don't describe anyone as "Square-jawed and tough as nails." It's a comedy. Have fun with it. Here's an example from Shimmer Lake: "Ed Burton is the kind of guy that if he walked into a bar and falsely accused you of stealing his seat, you'd get up and apologize." How awesome is that? It's fun and it tells me exactly who this character is.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Late Update Tonight

Hey guys, long day of work. Late update tonight. Probably between 2-3 AM Pacific time.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Dead Loss

Genre: Thriller
Premise: A crew of crab fisherman rescue a drifting castaway with a mysterious cargo.
About: Hot spec which sold not too long ago. Chris Gorak ("Right at Your Door") will direct for Palmer West.
Writer: Josh Baizer and Marshall Johnson

Not many people know this but I was a crab fisherman before I started Scriptshadow

Well I'm sure you already know this but Crab-Fishing is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Crabs tend to hang out in the farthest, most desolate, most dangerous places in the sea, forcing these tiny little boats to battle Perfect Storm like weather smack dab in the middle of nowhere. Half-ton cages are swinging around perilously close to your head. If one were to fall or swing at an inopportune moment, you could be knocked into blue country, or worse, splattered against a wall. It's rainy, it's slippery, it's chaotic. It's where accidents go to vacation. Needless to say, this is a perfect setting for a movie, and why "Dead Loss" feels like a no-brainer.

Dead Loss follows its earnest captain, Ben, and his eccentric batshit crazy crew (I say that only because anyone who goes out on one of these boats has to be crazy). The centerpiece of his crew is Nate, Ben's estranged brother, who, although they're similar in age, has quite a bit more mileage. We find out that the alcoholic Nate recently got out of jail, and that he was responsible for a previous accident on Ben's boat that killed a man. Ben's not happy that Nate will be joining him, but he's low on experienced crabbers and beggars can't be choosers.

The script does a great job setting up the stakes. Ben's crab business is a shark's bite away from bankruptcy, and a successful crab run is about the only thing that will save their business. Desperate times call for desperate measures and instead of following the rest of the crab boats into familiar waters, Ben takes his chances on the gold rush, a secret spot way the hell out in Russian waters. It's a dangerous gamble, as the weather there is ten times worse than anywhere else and since it's illegal, there's no calling for help if things go wrong. But like I said, what choice do they have?

The trip is a bust. Not only do these guys have to deal with 20 foot waves every couple of minutes (Quick question: How in the world do you sleep in 20 foot waves??), but they'd have more luck finding crab at a local strip joint. Just when things are looking really bad, one of the crew spots a life raft in the distance. Ben makes an emergency rescue attempt (not easy when a badly timed sideways turn can get you tipped over) and pulls the raft onto the boat. There are two men. One dead. One barely alive.

They drag the men inside and and start deciding what to do. That's when someone notices a series of black lockboxes in the raft with Japanese inscriptions on the side. They open them. Inside are diamonds and gold. Millions of dollars worth. And just like that, everything changes.

Another check of the men shows that they're covered in tattoos. These guys aren't sailors. They're professional thieves. And one of them is clinging to life. To quote Dennis Hopper in Speed: What do you do? What do you do?

The theme of the movie rears its ugly head. Greed. You start thinking a little funny when a million bucks drops in your lap. You start rationalizing things that are irrational. "Well, they probably would've died anyway if we hadn't picked'em up. So why not finish the job?" The crew begins to take sides. Some believe they should throw the men back onto the raft and take the diamonds. Others believe they should call the coast guard. But the surest way to keep the money is to throw these bozos over the ledge and never speak of them again.

However, decisions have a funny way of working themselves out. And not always in the ways we hope. When the guys go down to check on the Russians...

One of them.... is missing. Uh-fucking-oh.

A very adult game of Hide-and-go-seek begins. But it's clear that our Russian friend's interpretation of the game is a little different. As in, you find him, he kills you. In a sort of "reverse Die-Hard," he starts killing off crew members one by one. They wish that was their only problem. Angryov Killsky sneaks into the engine room and sabotages one of the engines. The crew is thrown. Why the fuck would he sabotage an engine? They find their answer in the lockboxes. A glowing red light. Oh shit. It's a GPS locator. Whoever these Russians are, they were waiting to be picked up. And since they've been in that raft for days, it's a good bet that whoever's coming to get them is damn close.

Some of the crew actually recognizes they're dealing with the Radmoninov The Killer Ruski and vote to call the Coast Guard. Others know the loot is gone if they do and prefer to take their chances.

It's all very captivating and well-written. I like how Baizer and Johnson play with expectations. Ben, the "do-gooder" captain, is unexpectedly overtaken by greed while Nate, the jailed black sheep, is the one begging everyone to do the right thing. The way their relationship plays out grounds the story in an emotional reality that scripts like this usually don't have. The ending isn't exactly what I expected, but was still satisfying.

I could go on about Dead Loss but what else is there to say? It's a really good script and I recommend it.

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

What I learned: A bit of a nitpick here but I think it's a valid criticism. The script opens with a scene that basically introduces all of our characters. One of the things I've learned is to never *just* create a scene that introduces you to all your characters. Create a story around it. Make it interesting. Otherwise, you may as well just place each character onscreen and have a voiceover telling us who they are. If you're not going to entertain us, then you're not telling a story. In this scene, everybody's on a boat talking to each other. Why can't someone be looking for something? Maybe they can't leave without it. Maybe the Captain is MIA and nobody knows where he is? Or maybe the Captain is showing up in 5 minutes and they know if the ship isn't ready by that time, he's going to tear them to pieces. Add *something* that elevates your introductions to something more than introductions. You get to introduce your characters and we get to be entertained. It's a win-win.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


Genre: Thriller
About: A man finds an old cassette tape, the contents of which reveal something horrifying.
About: A very hot script that a lot of people are talking about in Hollywood: Karczynski sold this to Relativity Media last month. The property has garnered the interest of "No Way Out" and "The Recruit" director, Roger Donaldson. Although I haven't been able to confirm it, this appears to be Karczynski's first sale.
Writer: Steven Karczynski

Imagine your best friend shows up at your door. He's hurried, excited. He dashes into your living room, "You gotta see this! You gotta see this!" He brings up Facebook and shows you the profile of the hottest girl you've ever seen in your life. He then says to you, "This girl saw your picture today and she wants to meet you." "What??" you ask. "Yes! She's at the coffee shop waiting for you right now!" You can't believe your good fortune. You and your friend hop in the car, speed over to the coffee shop, run inside...but it's empty. Your friend gets a text. "Oh, she left. She's at the bowling alley. Let's go!" You rocket over to the bowling alley, look around. She's not there. Your friend gets a call. "She said her friends got bored and went to get some food." So you drive over to the restaurant. Hurry inside. She's not there. Your friend calls her. Oops, they decided to go to a movie. But she wants you to come to this party she'll be at tonight. So you go home, get ready, look as good as you've ever looked before. Possibly even put on cologne. You're bursting with anticipation. It's finally time. You go. You look around. You can't find her. You start asking people where she is. "Has anybody seen Jane?" Then someone walks up to you and says, "Didn't you hear? She just died in a car crash."

And that pretty much sums up my experience with Umbra.

Umbra is one frustrating-ass script. David happens upon a strange package jammed halfway into a mailbox in front of his house. He can't resist opening it (would any of us be able to?) and finds a cassette tape inside. He buys an old tape player so he can listen to it. At first, we don't hear what the tape says. All we see is David's reaction as he listens. This is par for the course with Umbra, and what, for better or worse, sets it apart from every other script out there. There's a lot of playing with time, playing with space, playing with sound and voice over. We're hearing things, we're not hearing things, we're watching one thing while hearing another thing, etc. etc. It works quite well in my opinion, because it keeps you off-balance -- just like David.

Midway through the tape, David gets a look on his face of such profound fear, we realize he's heard something horrible. And here's where Umbra will either get you or lose you. The rest of the script is David going to work, suspecting he's being watched, suspecting he's being pursued, is pursued...all while we get bit by agonzing bit of the tape. The whole thing feels like an American Idol results show. As we're teased and teased and teased with pointless and uninteresting performances, we must wait until the very last minute to find out who gets voted off.

Actually, that's a little harsh. The portion of the script where David gets chased is quite good. Particularly the way we see him get chased. Part of the brilliance of Umbra is it really takes you into the mind of a single person. David doesn't have any relationships in his life, anyone to talk to. The point-of-view is so specific to this one character, that everything feels incredibly claustrophobic and personal. When things start going bad for David, we feel like they're going bad for us too.

I'll tell ya, the last 20 pages of this thing, I don't know if I've ever read a script that fast. Some crazy ass shit starts happening. But the critical moment of the tape hasn't played yet and we're dying to know what's said on it. We have to know what evokes that reaction on David's face. We have to hear that final piece of the puzzle.

And when it comes...

When it comes...

It's so disappointing that it's beyond disappointing. Not because the idea is stupid, but because it doesn't answer anything. It's deliberately vague, and in that sense, a huge cheat. You basically dragged us along with this recording, taking advantage of the fact that you knew we'd go anywhere with you until you revealed it...and then you finish with this...non-answer. You killed the beautiful Facebook Girl.

Afterwards, when I sat back and thought about it, I realized that for 98% of the read, the screenplay was amazing. Because the job of the writer is to make the reader want to see what happeens next. and for 95 pages, that's all I wanted. I wanted to see what happened next. Because of that, Umbra leaves me feeling very conflicted as to my final reaction to the story. There's such great stuff in here and yet it's ultimately disappointing.

I guess I'm giving it a "Worth The Read". I mean, it did enough right that I can't not recommend it.

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

What I learned: There's a passage early on in Umbra where the character is running for his life. This is how it reads: "The Caller rips through several backyards. It’s as if we’re tied to the Caller’s back as he runs. He falls. We fall. He stumbles. We stumble." Ten years ago, a writer would have been sent to prison for saying "it's as if we're tied to the Caller's back as he runs." "What are you doing??" a reader would say. "You're not allowed to direct the action! That's the director's job!" People used to (and still do) really get in a hissy-fit about these kinds of things. But this is how I see it - if directing action helps me imagine the movie, why not use it? As long as it's used in moderation, I don't see anything wrong with it. Hell, it might even give the director some better ideas.

P.S. As always, if you're going to discuss the ending in the comments, please post *SPOILER* before you do. And if I misunderstood the ending (it is open to some interpretation), please let me know. I certainly feel like I missed something. But I still think it was the script that didn't provide it.