Monday, July 27, 2009

Animal Cruelty

Genre: Indie Comedy
Premise: A lonely journalist finds love and inspiration in a quirky, unlikely manner –covering the misadventures of a young boy’s ‘protest’of an animal rights movement.
About: New Line picked this up. Energy Entertainment and Broken Road Productions will produce. This was Sachs' first screenplay. The script landed him on the 2008 Black List with 5 votes.
Writer: Adam Sachs (Draft 5/5/08 -- 110 pages)

Animal Cruelty: Is it worth it?

Animal Cruelty is one of those scripts they tell you not to write because it's not mainstream enough and it's too weird and quirky and the comedy's too "intelligent" but you ignore everyone, write it anyway, land yourself on the Blacklist and get enough buzz going that Lionsgate takes interest and then they're like, "You know what? What do we have to lose?" and the next thing you know your tiny screenplay that never should've made it past the first reader is now paying for your new 2000 square foot loft on Venice Beach.... Well, maybe not Venice Beach. But between 11th and 18th street in Santa Monica.

Animal Cruelty: Definitely worth it.

Animal Cruelty is a strange little beast - a munchkin of a satire that pokes fun at both sides of activism. And let's be honest. Activism is ripe for being poked at. Hell, I'm all for standing up for what you believe in, but there's definitely a line activists cross. Most of the time, it's more about the activist than what they're activing about. Full disclosure: I used to work next to the Federal Building where someone was protesting every single weekend. It made it impossible to find a parking spot! I grew to hate those damn protesters. I even considered protesting their protests. And if I were someone who took initiative, I very well might've done that. Which is why I enjoyed Animal Cruelty. It finally allowed me to live a little bit of that dream.

Paul Nemser is 45, balding, and makes his living writing angry articles at the Vanguard Newspaper. Nemser is haunted by his father, a great reporter who won the Pulitzer. When The Vangaurd decides to cover an Animal Testing Laboratory protest, Nesmer sees a chance to write about something meaningful - something that will finally get him recognized. But instead of giving him the story, his boss gives it to the younger better-looking Mark. Nemser seethes but can do nothing.

All the way across town we meet Georgie, a 16 year old kid who's so smart he dropped out of high school. As he tells his only friend, Rajiv: "I’m an autodidact, Rajiv. Do you know what that means? It means I teach myself. Do you know how I know that word? I taught it to myself." Georgie drifts around aimlessly, spending most of his time at McDonald's throwing french fries against the wall for his own amusement.

Lynda, a local reporter who's abnormally obsessed with Paul McCartney, wants the local Animal Testing Laboratory shut down pronto. Because, like, animals get hurt in there and stuff. So she stages a protest in front of the building that somehow attracts almost everyone within a five mile radius. This hapens to be the same event The Vanguard newspaper was sent over to cover. But as she pounds out phrases like "A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy!", the fry-flinger Georgie is drifting by. Seemingly out of boredom, he yanks off his shirt and writes on his chest, "Pro Animal Testing!" and begins screaming out his own catch phrases, which admit that Lynda is hot but that what she's saying sucks. For this oh so brief period of time, Georgie becomes the face *for* animal testing. Nemser, who sneaked here against his newspaper's wishes, sees the potential for a great story.

Nemser follows Georgie home and asks him if he can write a story about him protesting. But since Georgie hates protests, he's annoyingly appalled by his own protest, and therefore refuses to go along with it. Nemser, glimpsing the end of his career, makes the drastic decision to write the story anyway. It ends up being a huge success that spurns all sorts of controversy. Nemser is catapulted to the top of the reporter totem pole and ordered to do a follow-up. In the meantime, the public reacts by congregating around Georgie's house and holding up signs that call for his death.

No matter how hard Nemser begs Georgie to continue his protest though, Georgie refuses. He can care less if all those animals are saved. A little later we learn that Georgie's father was one of those batshit crazy activists, the kind that live for anything that allows you to fight the system. And so instead of raising his son and providing for his wife, his father tied himself to a tree for five years. So no thank you, Georgie says. He won't be protesting anything...

Or will he?

Animal Cruelty wins points for its original premise alone and most of it is pretty unique. But it's not without fault. The quirkiness that works so well in the first and most of the second acts, wears thin as we approach the latter parts of the screenplay. I see this a lot with scripts that forgo traditional storytelling in favor of humor or "quirkiness". Playing everything up for laughs leaves little room to advance the story. And if you don't have enough story at the beginning of your screenplay, there's not going to be any at the end either.

Still, it was nice to read something different for once. And Sachs has a unique sense of humor that leaves you laughing most of the time. Lynda's strange obsession with Paul McCartney was particularly funny. And when Nemser pisses her off by telling her that John was a better songwriter than Paul, the script was running on all cylinders. In this scene, one of the scientists is showing Georgie and Nemser around their testing laboratory:

Bergstrom takes Georgie and Nemser on a tour through the lab. Everywhere they go, scientists and ASSISTANTS are packing things into boxes, preparing to leave.

(walking and talking)
Here we were developing a drug to treat Alzheimer’s...This was a rat experiment for a novel Parkinson’s treatment...This was a comprehensive monkey trial of a new multiple sclerosis vaccine.

He opens a cage and a MONKEY grabs hold of him.

And this little fellow is named Mr. Gibbs. He’s been with us for nearly a decade, and he’s one of our favorite pals around here. He and I have become very, very close.
(to the monkey)
Say hi, Mr. Gibbs!

An ASSISTANT looks up from his desk a few feet away.

Mr. Gibbs died during an experiment yesterday. That’s Boris. Bergstrom doesn’t bat an eye.

Say hi, Boris!
A great change of pace in a pool of scrips that seem to be written by the same hand. If you're into stuff that's a different and are searching for a few laughs, check this one out.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest

[x] worth the read

[ ] impressive

[ ] genius

What I learned: Never forget the power of showing and not telling, especially when it involves a potentially melodramatic backstory revelation. We discussed this in Due Date already. But the ideal way is always to *show* instead of *tell*. Nemser's dad used to be a great reporter. But instead of Nemser disclosing this to another character, or another character disclosing it to him, we see Nemser sifting through some old black and white photos. And there's his dad, marching with Martin Luther King. That tells us everything we need to know about him. And we don't have to endure some cringe-worthy dialogue in the process.