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.