Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Father Of Invention

Genre: Dramedy
Premise: An ex-inventor tries to reconnect with his daughter after a 12 year jail sentence.
About: Kevin Spacey, Camille Bell, Heather Graham, Virginia Madsen, and Johnny Knoxville to star. Pic will be produced by Krane Films and Trigger Street Productions, Kevin Spacey and Dana Brunetti plus Jonathan Krane, Anthony Cohen, and Ken Barbet. Father of Invention was filmed in News Orleans. I’d be remiss if I didn’t say I was worried about the director, Trent Cooper. His only big credit is Larry The Cable Guy: Health Inspector. That’s not even the first Larry The Cable Guy. But hey, everybody gets their breakthrough shot, and after that you get to show what you’re really made of. If Cooper had anything to do with this script, I’m willing to give him a chance.
Writer: Johnathan D. Krane (current revisions by Trent Cooper)
Details: 109 pages (4-30-09)

Either you love him or you hate him. I'm squarely in the love camp.

Wow, what an unexpected treat. “Father Of Invention” is a script I’ve been avoiding forever because let’s face it: the title kinda blows. But now that I’ve finished it, I’m kicking myself for not reading it sooner. I still don’t know exactly how to describe the screenplay. I know that while reading it I kept thinking it was like a weird bizarro companion piece to American Beauty. There are a lot of similarities between the main character, Robert Axle, and the nostalgia-obsessed Lester Burnham. Yet Father of Invention is its own unique experience. And as it stands, it’s one of the better scripts I’ve read this year.

Robert Axle has just been released from a dozen year stay in the slammer. Our hero used to be an inventor, or “fabricator”, as he likes to put it. He thinks up all of those crazy useless gadgets people actually spend money on at 3 in the morning watching QVC. Problem is that one of these gadgets ended up de-fingering 6000 customers (turns out if you used it for 19 hours straight it slid open and chopped your fingers off). So no biggie. All Axle had to do was forfeit his 1.7 billion dollar company and take a 12 year seat next to a building full of hardened criminals.

Probably playing Claire?

Now that Robert’s out, he can’t wait to seek out some new ideas. Even on his bus ride into town, he’s already trying to combine everyday gadgets into some new super-gadget that nobody's thought of yet. But life on the outside is a lot different in 2009. And in one of the funnier moments, Robert spots a kid and starts pitching him on a new revolutionary invention he's thought of: “Would you buy a phone that also reads…e-mail?” the kid takes out his phone. “You mean a Blackberry?” Yeah, it's safe to say Robert’s a little out of touch. And then there’s his daughter, Claire. At one point she was the apple of his eye. But as soon as he made his first billion, she could've been an apple orchard and he wouldn't have noticed . She's never forgotten how he changed. So when Robert shows up at her door begging for a place to stay, she ditches the hugs and kisses in favor of a good old fashioned: "Get the hell out of here!"

Eventually the selfless Claire comes around but not without a strict set of laws. He can stay for one month (ticking time bombs people!) if he agrees to get a *real* job (nothing that has to do with inventing) and doesn’t bother her two roommates. That shouldn’t be a problem with Phoebe, an angry hot lesbian who hates Robert’s guts the second he steps through the door. At least there’s the eternally optimistic Donna, who lives life like her favorite song is always playing. But even her parents have told her to stay in her room where she's safe from the "convict". Ouch.

I'm thinking Phoebe?

Of course, Robert can’t stay out of the inventing game for long. And after he’s fired from his job (which he doesn’t tell Claire) he gets an idea for a GPS type watch to keep track of your kids. Immediately he’s putting a plan together, targeting investors, building a prototype. The problem is Robert Axle’s name is poison. This is the guy that chopped off 12,000 fingers (the device took two fingers from every person it maimed). The label doesn't exactly inspire confidence these days. This forces Robert to get creative and recruit the asshole who fired him to be his pitch man (I’m assuming this part will be played by Johnny Knoxville – who’s a perfect fit). But when Robert can’t come up with the money to pay for a prototype, he makes a really bad decision that will come back to haunt him, and ultimately destroy all that good will he worked so hard to build up.

The characters are so well-drawn in Father Of Invention. I kept having to sit back and admire the intricacy in which these people were crafted. It’s hard enough writing one memorable character. Having 5-6 is the equivalent of hitting the cinematic jackpot. I loved how you would think you had everybody tabbed and then, BAM, the characters would do a 180 and completely surprise you. But where this script really shines is in the complex relationship between father and daughter. We want Claire to love Robert again so bad that we’re continuously heartbroken every time they can’t quite make it over the hump. Here is one of those scenes, where Robert's trying to erase a lifetime of poor parenting in 5 minutes.


Claire and Axle sit opposite each other. Claire's head buried
in the paper. Axle watches her.

When did you learn to sew?

About six years ago, when I started
the Center.

It's nice, the sewing. Are you gay?

What kind of a question is that?

If you are, it's cool with me. I just
want you to be happy.

Just because my life isn't bogged
down by some man child who wants to
have a say in everything I do, who I
do it with and when it gets done?
...No I'm not gay. I wish it were
that simple.

Well none of you girls seem to date
and I find it a little bit odd.

Donna has been engaged to three
different men and never gone through
with it. No man will ever measure up
to her father. Phoebe dates but
doesn't bring girls home to meet us
because she thinks we would judge her
and I am very much looking forward to
falling in love but not until I get
my shit together.

See there, three things I've learned
about Claire Axle: started sewing six
years ago, doesn't have time for men
and loves the paper.

Claire puts the paper down to address her father directly.

Two more things: My last name is not
Axle and I'm fond of boundaries.
Hence our thirty day agreement. Which
I refuse to budge on.

He takes a section of newspaper. Tries to give her space.

And I do have time for men, just not
love. I've been having, rabid, erotic
sex with men since I was twelve.

Axle is stunned silent. She lets him suffer then --

Kidding. I was seventeen.

He breathes a sigh of relief.

The guy was thirty nine.

Axle sits up straight. This is killing him.

Kidding about that too. He was
sixteen. ...We did it in your office.

His head drops to the table, THUNK, like he's dead.

On the desk.

He bangs his head again. She grins, loving this.

My first memory as a human being was
the house on Inverness Court. You
used to sit on the floor with me,
trying to get me to understand how my
stuffed animals and Barbies were all
linked together by atoms and

Your mom thought I was crazy. I knew
you were smart enough to know what I
was talking about.

I had no clue. I was just glad you
were on the floor with me.

She goes back to her paper. Axle reflects.

I realize I’m making this script sound pretty sappy but it’s actually hilarious. Phoebe is an actress' dream she's so funny. There’s a scene where her and Robert have to steal back Guitar Hero from her ex-boyfriend (yes, you read that right – she has an ex-boyfriend) that’s so ridiculous it actually works. Super-positive Donna’s optimism complements Phoebe perfectly, and when her world is shattered late in the story, instead of getting all mushy, they play it for laughs and it comes out pitch perfect. But Father Of Invention’s greatest feat is something I’m continually trying to tattoo onto your collective brains: Give us something unique and we will respond! Father of Invention simply isn’t like anything I've read before.

My only fear for the film is if they try to make it too kooky. It walks such a fine line between drama and comedy that this is one of those things you can screw up with even the slightest miscalculation in tone. My hope is that they'll err on the side of drama so the film stays grounded. Either way, this was a fun read.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[x] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: A lot of movies start with the character at the lowest point in their life. Maybe they just got out of jail. Maybe they just had someone close to them die. Maybe they’ve been fired. This dramatic device works well because when we meet a character at his lowest point, we're curious to see whether he can climb back up the ladder and find success again, or fall back into his own self-destructive ways. It's a tried and true device and a great template for a story.