Friday, October 30, 2009

Daybreakers (Halloween Horror Week 5 of 5)

Genre: Horror/Action/Thriller
Premise: (from IMDB) In the year 2019, a plague has transformed most every human into vampires. Faced with a dwindling blood supply, the fractured dominant race plots their survival; meanwhile, a researcher works with a covert band of vampires on a way to save humankind.
About: Michael and Peter Spierig are Australian-born brothers who first came onto the scene with a small Australian zombie film called, “Undead.” Co-writer/Co-director Michael has gone on record as saying when he started Daybreakers, he had never heard of Twilight, and became confused when t-shirts started popping up promoting “Edward the Vampire,” as he wondered how anyone had heard of his film (Edward is the name of the main character in both Twilight and Daybreakers). Lionsgate is said to be very high on the film, which is why they’re having screenings a full three months before its release. That’s pretty rare for the control freaks at the studios. Ethan Hawke was reluctant to join onto a vampire flick at first, but his agent convinced him to read the script and once he did, he fell in love. The rest, they say, is history.
Writers: Michael and Peter Spierig

Yeeeeeeeehaaawwwwwwwwwwww! Vampires! I love vampires. I especially love really good-looking badly directed marginally acted vampires. Those are my favorite vampires of all. I’m not sure when it was determined that acting really constipated for 90 minutes passed as a good vampire performance, but there are millions of teenage girls who apparently think it does! Whenever the obligatory vampire craze cycles back into Hollywood, I hold large parties where we all dress like famous vampires. I usually choose Count Chocula, which pretty much sums up my thoughts on the genre.

Okay so yes, I’m not the biggest fan of vampires. In fact, there are only two vampire movies I’ve ever enjoyed: The Lost Boys and last year’s wonderfully moody Let The Right One In (my favorite film of 2008). As you can see, both of them were untraditional, which proves that while I have my preferences, I’ll give any genre a chance if a writer can come up with a unique enough angle.

Daybreakers seems to have tapped into that requirement, as the trailer for the film feels more like a Matrix prequel than a vampire film. The look alone has me mentally pre-ordering tickets for January’s release. That and I seem to have some sort of man crush on Ethan Hawke. He’s got bad teeth, spouts clumsy philosophy, and is consistently annoying, yet strangely, I want to see everything he’s in. He’s like the anti-Orlando Bloom. So when Halloween Horror Week was shaping up, this script shot to the top of the list, which is why I’m concluding this wonderful week with it.

Daybreakers is sort of a Matrix/Blade hybrid. Except it’s not really an action film. There’s a little more thought involved here. Sometimes that gets the script into trouble (I found myself unclear about a couple of things), but for the most part the approach serves the script well.

It’s roughly ten years from today and the world population is almost exclusively vampires. Everything’s been retrofitted to handle this new reality. There are sidewalks underneath our normal sidewalks so that vampires can walk around during the day. Car windows aren’t just tinted out. They’re BLACKED out. Inside, a complex camera-LCD system allows drivers to see where they’re going. Humans are captured and harvested for their blood, kept alive so they can keep producing it. This definitely ain’t Kansas folks.

But things are looking bad for the vamps. There are so few humans actually left, that it’s estimated vampires will be out of blood within six months. Enter Ed Dalton, a blood doctor working at a pharmaceutical company who’s trying to come up with a blood substitute. Ed has a soft spot for humans, and hopes that if he can find this substitute in time, vampires won’t need to kill humans anymore. Charles Bromley, the suspiciously helpful vampire CEO of the company, seems to be in full support of Ed’s research. But Ed learns that while a blood substitute is definitely desired, Charles and his rich ilk will never give up the real thing. Humans will still die. The killing won’t end.

Ed soon runs into a renegade band of humans led by Audrey - so hot she could make a vampire’s blood boil. Audrey and her crew have way better ideas than a silly blood substitute. They’ve actually seen a vampire “cured” (turned back into a human) and they believe, with Ed’s help, they can bottle this cure, and turn all the vampires in the world back into humans.

Since cavorting with humans is considered a big no-no, if Ed is found hanging out with these bloodbags, he’ll surely be killed. So it’s a big gamble. But he decides to take the chance, and sets up shop in an old winery, where he begins his experiments. Eventually Bromley sends Ed’s own vampire brother after him, and it’s a race to finish the cure before they’re snuffed out and massacred.

Daybreakers is a high-concept idea that admittedly requires a bit of a leap to buy into. A world where vampires walk around freely like humans do today? Vampire politics? Blood-spiked cappuccinos? When we see news clips pop up saying things like, “China halts all blood exports,” it’s definitely something you’re either going to be onboard with or you’re not. But the thing is, the Spierig brothers have created such a detailed well-imagined universe here, that buying into it isn’t as hard as the concept might lead you to believe. I loved the underground walkways and the blacked out cars, and how the vampires have created sun protection suits, allowing them to go out in the middle of the day if they need to. It comes at the vampire world from more of a technical angle, which for me personally, is more interesting than whether Bella gets eaten by a werewolf or a vampire.

The script does have a few clogged arteries. We’re introduced to a man named Elvis, part of Audrey’s crew, who is the original “cured” vampire. However the explanation of how he was cured is either vague or lazy, cause I couldn’t for the life of me figure it out, even after reading it three times. He supposedly crashed his vampire protected car and was shot out into the daylight (the shot is in the trailer). Usually when a vampire in this world hits daylight, he bursts into flames. Except for Elvis, it turns him human again.

Uhhh, pardon me but…what?

Because bottling this event into a cure is such a huge part of the plot, it bothered me that a coherent explanation for why this particular vampire changed back was never given.

Other than that, though, the script really moves. It's essentially a pot-boiling thriller. The good guys have to find the cure before the bad guys find them. There’s a few battles, a couple of nice surprises, and the Spierigs did a nice job intertwining all the characters and making their plights more personal (i.e. It wasn’t just anyone who was trying to bring Ed down. It was his own brother). I also liked the way it ended. I won't tell you which side succeeds, but I will say that the victory was clever. Daybreakers is a fun read, which looks to have been made even better by the directors' vision.

Could this be the third vampire movie that I like? I guess we’ll have to wait until January to find out.

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

What I learned: Speed up those deadlines people! In the script, the deadline is 6 months before vampires run out of blood. But if you’ll notice in the trailer below, it’s been changed to 1 month. By speeding up that “ticking time bomb,” everything in the script becomes more urgent. Six months is forever. It feels distant, beatable. One month is just around the corner. Psychologically, it feels like it’s bearing down on us, impossible to overcome. If it works for your story, always try to move your ticking time bombs up. You’ll notice an immediate increase in the script’s momentum.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Bad Moon Rising (Halloween Horror Week 4 of 5)

Roger's back for his second Halloween Horror Week review since, well, let's be honest, he understands this genre a lot better than I do. But before we get to this werewolf tale, a lot of you are probably wondering what the hell happened to the Reader Top 25 List. After some deliberation, I decided I didn't want the list to get lost in the midst of this week's horror theme and the Logline Contest. For that reason, I've moved it to next week, starting Monday. Bare with me and hang tight. It'll be worth the wait. :)

Genre: Horror
Premise: When Sheriff George Waggner is killed, his son returns to Talbot, West Virginia to discover that the small town has become victim to a rash of brutal murders. The investigation points to the nomadic motorcycle gang that has set-up camp just outside of town, and the arrival of werewolf hunter Noah Packard confirms that the bikers may be more than they claim to be.
About: I don’t know much about the former status of this spec, other than that it was written by the prolific Scott Rosenberg. His first produced script was his fourteenth, “Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead”. Other credits include “Con Air”, “Armageddon”, “Beautiful Girls” and “High Fidelity” among others. It’s said that his stuff rarely makes it to the screen preserved, and his specs “Johnny Diamond” and “Down and Under” seem to be highly praised around the board.
Writer: Scott Rosenberg


A quintessential horror staple and archetype, one of the original Universal monsters that’s sadly been co-opted by the modern demand for the Vampire and the Zombie. The interest for the Vampire seems to come and go in cycles, because in the 90’s many popular authors called for a moratorium on all vampire fiction, but now we’re mired in a popular culture that worships at the altar of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga, the Showtime juggernaut “True Blood”, and the CW’s lackluster “The Vampire Diaries”. And just when you think the supply for the Zombie has already flooded the market, some new George Romero flick or the promise of an adaptation of Max Brooks’ “World War Z” proves that the supply is simply catering to demand and the eternal torch of fan-service.

If “Twilight” penetrating the velvety brain-meats of teenage girls was enough to resurrect the Vampire from movie purgatory, could the arrival of Meyer’s “New Moon” in the cinematic lunar cycle usher in a new pop-culture Werewolf Age? Will the same teenage girls be interested in Joe Johnston’s “The Wolfman” remake, or will they have to be pulled by the hand by their diamond-dead boyfriends? For lovers of the lycanthrope, it’s a good question, and I suppose we’ll find out in the upcoming months, but for now, let’s turn back the page and take a look at a Scott Rosenberg shapeshifter spec from the 90’s.

“Bad Moon Rising” opens up with an Avram Davidson quote, Steppenwolf lyrics, and a 5 page sequence set in Vietnam. A wounded marine is hiding in a bunker from the VC, and a frosty marine comforts his hurt and frightened pal. It gets excruciatingly tense when the VC enter the bunker and the frosty marine changes into a wolf and protects the marine by tearing the limbs off the Vietnamese soldiers before disappearing into the jungle.

Twenty-three years later we’re at a biker rally in Tobaccoville, North Carolina and we meet The Lunar Cycles Motorcycle Club. At first glance, the gang reminds me of the nomadic vampire family in Kathryn Bigelow’s “Near Dark” (a film I hold close to my heart). The whole sequence also evokes “Easy Rider”, “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test”, and “On the Road”. And no, I’m not being facetious or pretentious.

The gang is led by Coop, who is described as “a dash of Kerouac, a sprinkle of Manson, and 2 heaping tablespoons of the coolest guy in high school”. They’re a pretty big pack, but the notables are: Lobo, a ten-year old kid; Mighty Joe, an affable 300 pound mute; Inkslinger, the club’s tattoo artist; and Canvas, the Lunar Cycles’ very own illustrated man, whose flesh is an inked patchwork iconography of the pack’s origin and history.

At Mecklenberg Correctional Center, they pick up the wayward and troubled Locked-Down who has just been released from the slammer. Coop is tired of moving around so much and he wants the Lunar Cycles to settle for a while in Harpers Flats, a tract of land near Talbot, West Virginia, a biker friendly state. Problems arise when their arrival coincides with the mysterious mauling of Talbot’s Sheriff, George Waggner.

As you can tell, Rosenberg weaves in what must be ardor, or at the very least, appreciation, for Lon Chaney, Jr. and “The Wolf Man”. For you neophytes, Talbot is the surname for the original Wolf Man, and George Waggner is the director of said film. And just like in the older film, the innocent love interest for one of our protagonists is a gal named Gwen who works in an antique shop (but we’ll get to that in a second).

Pages 11-20 focus on my favorite character, Noah Packard. He smokes unfiltered Lucky’s, drinks undiluted coffee, and walks with a slight limp. When we meet him he’s at his own marriage ceremony, but when his pager goes off he leaves his weeping bride at the altar for more important business. Because he’s Dr. Packard of the Packard Institute of Lycanthropic Studies and Investigation and he has a grisly murder in Manhattan to investigate. In reality, the police detective hates his guts and thinks he’s a quack, until wolf-hair is discovered in the throat lacerations of the corpse during the autopsy.

Packard has an assistant named Ginny, but she’s quickly out of the picture when Columbia rescinds her internship when they find out he’s a “doctor” of “lycanthropic studies”. But I think the coolest character trait about Packard is that he is haunted by a figment of his imagination that’s named Maleva. “Remember the old Gypsy crone, from the Lon Chaney Jr. Wolfman movies played by Maria Ouspenskaya? This is her. And Noah Packard is the only one who can see her.”

Like Elvis playing a mentor to Clarence Worley in “True Romance”, or John Wayne as father figure to Jesse Custer in Garth Ennis’ “Preacher”, Maleva acts as ego and guilt-ridden conscience to Packard, and they have frequent conversations with each other. Unfortunately, after 10 pages with Packard, we’re told that we won’t be seeing him again for a while.

Because at page 20, we’re finally introduced to the main protagonist, Teddy Waggner. Estranged from his father, he escaped small-town life to pursue his dream of being an architect in Washington, D.C. Upon news of his father’s death, Teddy returns to Talbot to tend to his father’s house and possessions, and hopefully rekindle a flame with the girl he left behind, Gwen Croft.

But when teenagers and whole families begin showing up as mangled corpses, the townies assume Teddy will serve as interim Sheriff. He doesn’t argue with them. Predictably, we learn that Locked-Down is tormented with dreams of “ranging” (running free as a wolf, killing and eating anything that gets in your way) because he’s been in prison for so long.

Even his sister Dakota (who has just arrived from New York, connection?), a white-trash canine fatale, can’t control his nightly murder sprees. The town council, looking to kill the animal that must be responsible for these murders, employs a lecherous Canadian hunter named Abilene Triggs to lead the hunt. Meanwhile, tensions rise between the conservative town alderman (he does not like Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London”) and the merry prankster bikers, planting the seeds for the third-act finale.

We know it’s the third act when Packard arrives to Talbot, ready to kick some werewolf ass. By now Teddy has slept with Dakota (doggy-style), and the exchange of bodily fluids apparently gives him POV-style flashback visions of all the people Dakota murdered in New York, and now, Talbot. The town alderman puts together a mob of pitchfork wielding townies that attack Harpers Flats, and Coop goes off the deep end and assembles the pack for the mass murder of Talbot.

The finale is pretty fucking cool, as the townies and werewolves go to war. And let it be said that these werewolves are the half-man, half-wolf hybrids a la “The Wolf Man”. Sadly, page 112 is missing. And this sucks because page 112 is when the werewolves return to Harpers Flats, which Packard has booby-trapped with Bouncing Betties loaded with silver shrapnel. Apparently, lots of characters die on this page, but it’s alright, because we learn why Packard is so obsessed with werewolves.

The final scene with Teddy and Gwen makes no sense to me, but it gets points for the pure outlaw spirit of the thing.

Rosenberg is a guy I study religiously, and he’s been known to place himself in the “plot is for pussies” school of screenwriting. And in this manifestation of “Bad Moon Rising”, it shows. I think there are wandering structural issues and some freewheeling choices that hold the story back.

It feels too big to be a movie.

But to be fair, the characters are pretty great. Even the secondary characters are really interesting, so much so that you want to know more about them. But this kinda feels like an early draft in the sense that everyone seems to get a lot of screen-time, but I think the spotlight needs to be adjusted so the story has a sense of focus.

Case in point. Noah Packard is the type of character that can steal a whole movie. He deservedly needs a movie of his own, and compared to Teddy, he’s much more intriguing. According to the amount of pages that focus on Teddy and his journey, the message is that this story is about him. The only problem is, the whole time you keep wondering when we’re going to get back to Noah. And everything comes together in the end so that Noah and Teddy have to team-up, but the effect is that of a missed opportunity.

Thematically, I think there’s more weight to Noah’s story and his emotions. It’s simple: His story is just more interesting.

Whereas Teddy’s story feels conventional, and I dare say it, boring. It’s the typical “boy returns to small town to win back the one that got away” story that hurt Rosenberg’s television show, “October Road”. It’s not fresh and it plays flat, almost one-dimensional.

Teddy’s whole situation feels very passive, and the story suffers for it. I suppose if the father-son relationship was shown more, instead of told to us, it’d work better, but even the focus here competes with Teddy’s love story with Gwen.

Final verdict is that the roving cadence of “Bad Moon Rising” feels more novel-like (or the seedling for a pretty kick-ass HBO or Showtime television show) with its large cast of characters and sprawling tangents. For entertainment purposes, not a bad thing, but for the cinematic medium, this wolf-puppy needs a focus that’s not spread thin over so many back-stories and competing sources of conflict.

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

What I learned: For me, a good plot is always character driven. William Faulkner said that character is the engine that drives a story, and I agree. The decisions your characters make steer the plot. When characters make enough decisions that seem out-of-character, then chances are that your plot has taken over the wheel. That’s how plot-driven stories happen. Narrative harmony happens when characters drive a story, not events. At some point, your characters have to take the reins and actively try to steer their fates. Otherwise, it’s frustrating to watch a character just react to the events around them.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Black River (Halloween Horror Week 3 of 5)

Genre: Horror
Premise: A college girl must fight off a series of hallucinations stemming from a traumatic childhood baptism.
About: Details about this one are sparse. It is either repped by or was sold to Heroes and Villains Entertainment last month (you can learn more about Heroes and Villains here). Riggs has paved his way into the business as a writer, director, and producer of a number of shorts. Other than that, all I can say is that it’s written by someone with the coolest name ever.
Writer: Ransom Riggs

To quote a certain Scientologist, Black River had me at “Hello.” A trusted source, someone who reads a lot of screenplays himself, thought the script was damn scary and insisted I give it a review. I admit I feel like a bit of an impostor reviewing these horror scripts sometimes. I’m not well-versed in the genre which is why you don’t see me venturing into the dark world much (and why I tend to leave those duties up to Roger). But I do like a good scary movie and, in a sense, probably represent the "mainstream" when it comes to horror films. I'm not sure why I put mainstream in quotes there, but anyway, for better or worse, it’s how I approach the genre.

What I loved right away about Black River is that it starts on a frozen river where a religious congregation is about to baptize an 11 year old girl (Henrietta). I’d never seen a baptism in a frozen river before and yet it’s such a strong image, both beautiful and frightening, that I immediately found myself drawn into the story. It also let me know that I was dealing with a writer who knew his shit. Coming up with a scene we’ve never seen before isn’t easy when you consider there’s 100 years of film history to compete with (though I have a feeling I've motivated a few cinephiles to prove me wrong in the comments section).

Anyway, Henrietta is the daughter of a preacher and lives in a town that takes its religion seriously. Which is probably why they couldn’t wait for good ole spring to come around - when I'd think it would be a little easier to baptize someone. The church members dig a hole in the ice, then proceed to dip Henrietta into the frozen lake. But during the baptism, something goes horribly wrong. Henrietta’s shoe gets caught on a branch and they can’t pull her out. She begins to drown, and in that moment, she looks down to realize it’s not a branch pulling her, but some kind of arm. And in addition to Sir-Arms-A-Lot, there’s also a girl down there. A freaking girl! Yikes!

Rest assured they pull Henrietta out and are able to resuscitate her. But the young girl is clearly thrown by the events. Was it all real? Or was it just a hallucination due to oxygen deprivation?

We cut to seven years later. Henrietta has ignored her father’s wishes and ran off to college, a world completely different from the secluded religious town she grew up in. She’s also dropped the “–ietta,” preferring to be called “Henry.” Henry, still scarred from that horrifying day, is more doped up than Zach Braff on the Garden State Special Edition DVD. Her life was a series of hallucinations, and pills are the only thing that keep Arielle from visiting her.

Henry eagerly gives in to college life, a fabulous world of booze and non-stop partying – and meets a fraternity boy named Blake who looks like he’s prowling for his next date rape, but is actually a sweet guy who starts to fall for Henry. In class, Henry’s hefty diet of drugs keeps her drifting in and out of consciousness, seriously hampering her ability to learn. After a little investigation, she comes to the conclusion that her preacher father has drugged her up in an effort to sabotage her college career so she’ll come back home.

In a scene that will leave drug-addicts everywhere livid, Henry flushes all her pills away, quitting cold turkey. And wouldn’t you know it, she feels alive again. The world isn’t in slow motion anymore. As this newfound celebration of life begins, her and Blake head to the bone zone, and then they’re, like, boyfriend-girlfriend soon. Has she done it? Has she really rid herself from the prison that’s defined her childhood?

What do you think?

After a couple of days that would make an Abercrombie ad jealous, Henry’s mermaid friend starts showing up again. I’m a little confused how there’s medication that keeps ghosts away in the first place (Is that benefit listed on the bottle?), but for whatever reason, now that she’s off the juice, homegirl who doesn’t seem to know what a towel is keeps appearing everywhere. Accidents start happening. People start dying. Henry has to convince Blake she’s not insane. And eventually, they go back to her old town to try and figure out the mystery.

Black River may have had me at “hello,” but it said goodbye to me somewhere in the second act. It’s in that second act where the script sorta heads off into the Land of Sparse Plotting. I forgot what it was we were after, and as a result, everything felt like a series of independent vignettes, the focus being more on scaring us than pushing the story forward. I guess I lost site of that throughline that ties it all together (for example, in Ambrose Fountain, the throughline for me was the relationship between the husband and wife). That’s not to say it wasn’t there, but it certainly wasn’t there for me. I just couldn’t find anything to latch onto to keep me turning the pages.

What’s upsetting about it all is that the movie starts out on such an original note, and yet later, we’re hitting up scene after scene that I’ve seen in a million horror films before. Going into the spooky basement, a tragic past event that haunts a town, a disgusting burn victim on life support, and of course, you can’t ignore the fact that we’re basically dealing with yet another dead wet girl. For these reasons my patience began to wane with Black River, and while there is some great imagery here that’s perfect for a horror film, the main character’s journey became lost on me. I didn’t really care what happened to her.

This very well may be one of those horror scripts that went beyond what I was willing to accept. It may not have worked for me personally, but if the premise sounds interesting to you, I’d suggest you give it a shot, because there are some things to like here, and my friend certainly liked it. It just didn’t fit into my admittedly narrow view of the horror genre.

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

What I learned: I’m not saying Black River is a big ripoff. That’s not where today’s lesson comes from at all. But the dead wet girl stuff has definitely been done before and got me thinking about a lesson every writer should know: Be inspired, but only to a certain point. We’ve all done it before. We see a movie or read a script that we love, and we immediately think, “That’s exactly the kind of movie I wanna write!” And we go home and we start writing and we’re so fucking inspired that two weeks later we have a finished draft. We give it to our friends, await their praises, but are surprised when they come back with negative feedback. We’ve never been this inspired in our lives! How could they not see the script’s greatness?? Well, what likely happened is that you just wrote a script that was almost exactly like the movie that inspired you. The way they see it, you've shown them a not-as-good ripoff of a much better story. This happens ALL THE TIME. George Lucas infamously watched “Heidi” right before the making of the Star Wars Christmas Special and demanded to his writers “make it like Heidi.” The point I’m trying to make is, don’t let a great film intrude upon your own vision. Be inspired, but very conscious that you’re not just writing down a slightly different version of what you just saw. Always be original!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Ambrose Fountain (Halloween Horror Week 2 of 5)

Genre: Horror
Premise: A family takes over a vineyard, only to find out that it may be haunted.
About: This spec was purchased by Craven/Maddalena Films in 2006. The sale allowed the writer to land the scripting job on the two Boogeyman sequels.
Writer: Brian Sieve

I must admit, setting a ghost story on a vineyard is a great idea. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a horror film set on one before, and yet the large empty space of wine country seems perfect to throw a few ghostly occupants onto. But is that the only unique angle that Ambrose Fountain brings to the wine and cheese table? Or is this just another horror flick with a vendetta-bound dead wet girl?

If I told you what film Ambrose Fountain most brings to mind, I’d basically be giving away the entire movie. So you’ll have to figure it out yourself (it’s not hard). The good news is, the movie in question is over 30 years old, and since they’re remaking horror flicks from 3 years ago these days (In Hollywood, the word “reboot” – even for a film that came out last week - practically guarantees a green light), I’m not going to get too upset that Ambrose is borrowing liberally. In fact, in some ways, this is a nice update to that classic.

Carter Harding is a 38 year old husband and father. He, his wife Kathleen, and their 15 year old daughter, Lisa, have travelled from the bright lights, big city, to live the dream of owning their own vineyard. Well isn’t that sweet. But as we all know, before a vine can grow, it must start in the dirt, and there’s plenty of dirt in this seemingly perfect family. Back in the city, it was Kathleen, owner of her own photography business, who was the big breadwinner of the family. Carter’s purchase of the vineyard may have more to do with stifling his wife’s career and proving himself then it does any romantic view of crushing grapes and hosting wine tastings.

As for the vineyard itself, Carter got it for a steal because the previous occupants all died due to a gas leak. But did he bite off more than he could chew? The vineyard was known as one of the best in the valley, where “I’m trying my darndest” doesn’t cut it. The quality has to live up to the distributor’s reputation. So when the distributor comes along and drops Carter like a cheap Merlot for his bad grapes, Carter finds himself with a lot of wine and no one to sell it to. Since he already put every penny into renovating the estate, he now faces his biggest fear: Maybe he *is* incapable of taking care of his family. Even worse, maybe he’s dragged them into a hole they can’t climb out of.

Faced with failure on a catastrophic scale, Carter comes across some old diaries left by the previous owner, a man named Richard Freemont. Freemont mentions that he started each day by throwing a penny into the vineyard fountain for good luck. He believed that that was the key to his success. On a whim, Carter gives it a shot and the very next day, the previously broken Harvester starts right up. He continues throwing coins in the next day, and the day after that, and each day, the vineyard performs better than the day before.

But feeding the fountain comes with a price apparently. Occasionally the fountain will bubble up blood (totally normal I hear), and of course Carter starts seeing people walking around the vineyard at night. But not just any people. The dead people who lived here before him.

Carter’s obsession with “feeding” the fountain begins to take a toll. His wife thinks it’s strange and orders him to stop. But Carter continues on, and those old family troubles bubble up to the surface, resulting in a series of ongoing arguments, testing the family’s resolve. As if that weren’t bad enough, people from town (like the neighbors and the sheriff) start disappearing after heated discussions with Carter. Carter’s definitely going a little nutty. But we know he wouldn’t hurt anyone.

Or do we?

Your enjoyment of Ambrose Fountain depends on one thing: Buying into the idea that a fountain can haunt an estate. I’ll admit I had a hard time accepting this at first. But once I did, I found Ambrose to be pretty enjoyable. The whole diary thing was definitely cliché, but once that storyline’s established, it becomes one of the best plotlines in the script. It’s fun trying to figure out if Carter is responsible for the disappearances of these other people or if it’s the ghosts on the estate that are taking them out.

One thing I liked about Ambrose that helps it stand apart from typical horror fair, is the treatment of the family, particularly Carter’s relationship with his wife. The inherent conflict there, the struggle for a man to live up to *being* a man, and how he would destroy his own wife’s career to achieve that goal, as well as his response when things start to fall apart, make for some great drama. This wasn’t just about a family running into some ghosts. It was about a family that is forced to deal with their issues because of the arrival of ghosts. That integrated approach to the story gave Ambrose Fountain depth where many horror films have little.

What didn’t work was the daughter character. She’s disgruntled about being torn away from her city friends, but that’s about as deep as her character goes. When she comes back late to play a key role, I’d kinda forgotten about her, so I felt a little cheated. The script is not immune from a few clichés along the way either. I definitely rolled my eyes when I saw the diaries (in Joss Whedon’s “Cabin In The Woods,” where they make fun of all the horror clichés, one of the planted “cliché” props from the control room is a diary) but Sieve found a way to make it work.

Ambrose Fountain is like a really great grocery store wine. It’s tasty, but it lacks the extra punch of something you’d find at an expensive restaurant.

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

What I learned: At times, Ambrose Fountain pushes the boundaries of exposition. On page 17, Sieve really takes liberties in telling you everything about who the family was, who they are, and who they want to be. It’s extensive enough to bring attention to itself. Once the reader starts thinking, “Man, this is a lot of exposition,” you’ve taken them out of the story. And you never ever want to take the reader out of the story, unless your name is Robotard 8000. Some writers just like to get all of their exposition out in one scene so they don’t have to worry about it anymore. And that seems to be Sieve’s approach here (except there’s still even more exposition later). But I think that’s a lazy approach. You should look to spread your exposition out naturally, hide it inside a number of scenes. Know that the more you try to pack into one area, the more likely we are to notice.

First Annual Scriptshadow Logline/Screenplay Contest

I’d like to welcome everyone to the First Annual Scriptshadow Logline/Screenplay Contest. I know you guys are eager to get going so let me explain how this is going to work. Starting today, you have two weeks (deadline: November 9th 11:59pm Pacific Time) to send your logline to this e-mail address: On Monday, November 16, I will publish the Top 100 loglines, along with the writers' names, on the site.

These 100 contestants will be notified and have two weeks to send me either a one-page synopsis of their screenplay or the first ten pages. On December 21st, I will announce the top 25 from that list. These 25 will then have three weeks to send me their full script. On February 8, 2010, I will announce the winner, as well as the first and second runner-up.

FIRST PLACE – A review on Scriptshadow, which will likely garner (but not guarantee) requests from agents, managers, and producers.

SECOND AND THIRD PLACE - Second and third place finishers will have their loglines posted on the site, as well as a contact e-mail, in addition to receiving coverage from me.

1) Anybody can enter.
2) The contest is free.
3) Limit 1 logline per contestant
4) Loglines are limited to 50 words or less.
5) Loglines WILL be posted on the site.
6) Synopses WILL NOT be posted on the site.
7) The winning script will not be posted unless the writer would like to do so.
8) Anybody who uses multiple e-mail addresses to submit extra loglines will be disqualified. Remember, this contest costs nothing so please be respectful of the rules.

1) Send your loglines to
2) Submissions should contain your NAME, the TITLE, the GENRE, and the LOGLINE.
3) You will receive confirmation within 3 days. If you don’t receive
confirmation, feel free to check back in with me.

So how do you write a good logline? Well, there’s a great website dedicated to just that. If you’re not sure what you're doing, this is a great place to start. As per the site, here are a couple of examples for reference…

After a series of grisly shark attacks, a sheriff struggles to protect his small beach community against the bloodthirsty monster, in spite of the greedy chamber of commerce.

A doctor - falsely accused of murdering his wife - struggles on the lam as he desperately searches for the killer with a relentless federal agent hot on his trail.

After a luxury liner is capsized by a tidal wave, a radical priest struggles to lead a group of survivors to escape through the bow before the ship sinks.

I know I originally discussed giving multiple loglines to each contestant, but I’d like to keep this first contest simple and fast. For that reason, you’re strongly advised to only send in a logline for a screenplay you've finished. You don’t have that three months, as initially reported, to write the script should you make it into the next round. As for what kind of loglines will do well, there are two: Flat outright good loglines, and loglines that appeal to my sensibilities (see my Top 25 if you’re curious about what those might be). Finally, if the above timeline is confusing, don’t sweat it. Just get your loglines in before November 9th and if you make it to the next round, detailed instructions about subsequent rounds will be sent to you. GOOD LUCK EVERYONE!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Grabbers (Halloween Horror Week 1 of 5)

Ooooh, let the spookiness begin. Halloween Week is upon us, along with its first entry, the horror-comedy, "Grabbers," which Roger's been very eager to review. But can I just say something about Halloween first? Because it's something that's really been bothering me. Can we all agree that pumpkins are disgusting? You don't have to look at a pumpkin long to know that it wasn't meant to be eaten. Yet when Halloween rolls around, all I see at the grocery store are pumpkin muffins, pumpkin bread, pumpkin spice cookies, pumpkin milk. I don't mean to sound like a 13 year old girl but...Barf! If we weren't interested in eating pumpkin-flavored food for the other 11 months of the year? We're not interested in eating it now. Pumpkins weren't meant to be eaten! There. Rant over. Take it away, Roger.

Genre: Horror, Comedy, Creature Feature
Premise: When an island off the coast of Ireland is invaded by blood-sucking aliens, the heroes discover that getting drunk is the only way to survive.
About: A 2009 Brit List script that ended up in a tug-of-war between many production companies. It’s now optioned by Tracy Brimm and Kate Myers of Forward Films with John Wright as director. They’re the same team responsible for the slasher-comedy, “Tormented”.
Writer: Kevin Lehane. According to his blog, he created a bunch of specs but had trouble getting them read. When they weren’t ignored, they were rejected. But thanks to Danny Stack, a writer for “EastEnders” (among others) and one of the founders of The Red Planet Prize, Lehane’s luck changed and the same scripts that were initially rejected or ignored were suddenly coming back with strong, positive responses. “Grabbers”, which had sat on his desk for a year, was suddenly in a tug-of-war.

“Tremors” is a movie that has one of my favorite lines of dialogue ever, spoken by mercenary homemaker, Heather Gummer (a fantastic name), played by Reba McEntire. “You didn’t get penetration even with the elephant gun!” Somehow, Reba delivers her line with the requisite mixture of incredulity, innuendo, and cornpone charm.

I’m not sure if there’s a line as good as that one in the Irish version of “Tremors”, called “Grabbers”, but that’s not to say that this Brit List script isn’t a fun ride with its own share of gleeful moments of horror-comedy. Proudly wearing its creature feature, B movie, drive-in pedigree on its Lovecraftian tentacles, “Grabbers” is a breezy, bloody read that had me grinning like a drunken horror aficionado all the way through.

I like the way this script opens. We’re at sea on a lonely fishing tug called The Merry Widow when an arc of light streaks across the sky and crashes into the ocean, catching the attention of the crew. It’s a simple, evocative image that establishes our mysterious alien menace, which, of course, proceeds to pull our trio of fisherman overboard. There’s something eerie about the image of an extraterrestrial threat dwelling in Earth’s own uncharted aquatic deep.

And we’re quickly introduced to our sullen hero, Ciaran O’Shea, a Garda gone to drink on the enchanting Erin Island. My scant knowledge of the Garda is limited to Ken Bruen novels, but in good grace to us readers on the other side of the Atlantic, Mr. Lehane explains that “An Garda Siochana” are the unarmed Irish police force. O’Shea is zombie-shuffling through life and duty in an alcoholic haze, and Erin Island, with all its non-existent crimes and vacationing families, is the perfect environment for a low-achieving, apathetic Garda.

Sergeant Kenifick is skeptical about leaving O’Shea to run administrative duties alone for two weeks, so he’s saddled him with Lisa Nolan, a by-the-books, overachieving workaholic from Dublin who will fill in and keep a watchful eye on O’Shea while the Sarge is on leave. Of course, there’s some friction between the two opposite personalities and, entertainingly, budding sexual tension.

The duo meet up with the resident physician, Dr. Gleeson, and Adam Smith, a marine ecologist, who have discovered a pod of beached whales that bare some distinctive wounds.

It looks like they’ve been whipped with a huge cat-o-nine tails.

O’Shea takes charge and cashes in a favor with a contractor, Declan Cooney, and soon Cooney and his construction crew are tasked with the disposal of the beached whales. In true creature feature fashion, we discover many dark grey eggs deposited in the sand nearby. At this point, something crawls out of the ocean and quite possibly does something horrible to Cooney and his crew.

Meanwhile, a fisherman named Paddy Barrett (quite possibly my favorite character) captures what might be a sea creature in a lobster trap, which he promptly takes home and deposits in his bathtub, with disastrous results. In a horrifying sequence that made me both squirm and laugh maniacally, Paddy fights the spidery, tentacled grabber whilst completely pissed on homemade potcheen (an Irish moonshine).

The little fucker is pancaked to the ceiling of his bathroom and it shoots its barbed tongue at him, and it reminded me of Ripley fighting off a face-hugger in one of the Alien movies. Except this is more Sam Raimi-ish, but maybe not so cartoonish and Three Stooges-like (although in the next scene, there’s a direct reference to the Evil Dead when a corpse is used like a marionette doll). There’s a wicked Irish wit to the humor that I really dig, which is laced throughout the story.

Lehane does a good job setting up Erin Island and introducing all of the important players that inhabit island. It’s an interesting community sketched well, and it’s balanced with some tautly structured scare sequences. In a way, very Stephen King-ish, and I like that.

By the end of the first act, there’s a pretty significant body count for O’Shea and Nolan to tend to and investigate, and when Paddy comes to O’Shea with proof of his ordeal (which he somehow survived), this monster movie is off and running.

I think the true grisly delight of this tale is when it injects a killer concept into the tried and true monster movie form (monster arrives, monster kills people, heroes dissect monster, heroes figure out how to beat monster, heroes prepare for final showdown with monster). It’s a fucking great idea, and maybe its genesis owes fealty to Jackie Chan and “Drunken Master”, but whatever. It’s fantastic and funny and really brings the story to life.

Through an experiment that’s reminiscent of John Carpenter’s “The Thing”, our heroes learn that Paddy only survived his alien encounter because of the blood alcohol level in his bloodstream, which poisoned the vampiric monstrosity.

Basically? If our heroes don’t want to be monster food, they have to maintain a blood alcohol level of Point Two.

Which doesn’t fare will for Miss Nolan, as she doesn’t drink, nor has she ever been drunk in her life. And her character is milked for comedic and dramatic effect, in both her drunken exclamations and actions. She’s really a great counterpoint to O’Shea, and this is somewhat of a redemption story for him. I don’t want to give away his back story, but it’s something that’s only mentioned in a line or two of dialogue and it’s very effective (a true economy of words). It reminded me of this quote, “Strong reasons make for strong actions.” It’s something dramatists learn early on, courtesy of Shakespeare.

Without telling you How or Why, the humungous male grabber sets its sights on O’Shea for wholly amorous and lustful intentions. There’s some nice monster mayhem in the 3rd act, when our heroes barricade themselves and their loved ones in a pub and endure a siege. It’s like something out of a George Grosz nightmare as our heroes drunkenly fight off all the egg hatchlings and the (in heat) Shoggoth-like Big Daddy grabber.

I don’t think “Grabbers” quite transcends its genre roots to gain an impressive rating, but then again, it doesn’t need to. It’ll be a great movie, anyways. For you horror hounds out there, this script just might be the crown jewel of this year’s Brit List.

In all honesty, this is a script I wish I’d written. Not only is the logline comedic horror gold, but I find the script is really growing on me. An inspired, tight, and clever spec that clocks in at under 100 pages. Not only can I wait to see the movie, I can’t wait to own it on Blu-ray right next to my copies of “Shaun of the Dead”, “Tremors”, “The Thing”, and “Evil Dead 2”.

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

What I learned: That the Irish spell tires “tyres”. And that when it comes to writing monsters, it’s more effective to gently offer the right details than go overboard with a painstaking description. Remember, it’s more powerful to simply suggest what a monster or creature or alien looks like with a few key words or phrases. Let the reader create their own image of what it looks like in their head, because that’s usually what’s going to be scarier, anyways. As Stephen King says, writing is telepathy. Lay down the general gist, let the reader do the heavy lifting.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Uh, I don't think you're ready. I don't think anyone's ready. This is basically going to be the greatest week of Scriptshadow ever. We have the opening of the Scriptshadow Logline Contest on Monday. We have five full days of horror-related script reviews for Halloween Week. And, oh yeah, Wednesday through Friday I'm going to reveal the Top 25 scripts voted on by you readers. Over 400 Top 10 lists were submitted. So it should be a great gauge of what you guys liked. Oh, and if that wasn't amazing enough, On Saturday I'll post the Top 10 scripts voted on by readers that haven't been reviewed on the site. If you die at the end of this week, you will die a happy person.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Tenure At Austin!

Hello everyone. Just wanted to give you a heads up that writer/director Mike Million's film "Tenure" is playing at the Austin Film Festival this week. There's a Saturday showtime and a Wednesday showtime. I will be mucho jealous for those of you who get to see it since, as you know, it's one of my favorite scripts.

If you've only recently become a fan of the site, check out my interview with Mike where we discuss the skills he used to make it onto the inaugural Black List. And if you're as obsessed with the script as I am, make sure to become a fan on the film's Facebook page.

If you do get to see the film in Austin, make sure to say hi to Mike and that you discovered the film through Scriptshadow, as he's a fan of the site. Also, don't forget to send me your review!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Tallying all these rankings for the Reader Top 25 (yes, it's now going to be the Top 25) has been exhausting. Plus I gotta get ready for Halloween Week as well as prepare for the Logline Contest. That's a long way of saying it's time for another guest review. Today's review is from author Erica Kennedy, whose novel, "Feminista" just recently hit bookstores. She's a big fan of Scriptshadow and we recently got to discussing a script review. She likes romantic comedies and I've been meaning to check out Swingles for awhile so I thought it was the perfect fit. Another interesting tidbit is that Swingles will be Zach Braff's directorial follow-up to Garden State. For some of you that will sound disastrous and for others it's great news. I actually like Braff, so I'm interested to see how he'll squeeze the big-budget high-octane sensibilities of Cameron Diaz into his more restrained view of the world. Here's Erica with her review...

Genre: Rom-com
Premise: Two people whose best friends fall in love and leave them without their wingman and wingwoman join forces to help each other find mates.
About: This is a spec sale from 2006. Cameron Diaz has signed on to star. Zach Braff is set to direct which will be his first feature since 2004's Garden State. He's also doing a rewrite after Duncan Birmingham wrote the original spec, and Jeff Roda took a crack at a draft. And that's not all. Braff might play a supporting role. They're still searching for the male lead. This is the original draft by Birmingham that sold.
Writers: Duncan Birmingham


Okay, after reading the summary of this, I was totally down. Every time I've seen an article about wingmen/women, I think it's a perfect movie premise. But I don't ever start writing one because I knew someone else would and here it is. Even tho I don't understand Cam's choices sometimes (was the 2008 release "What Happens in Vegas" locked in a vault since '03?), I like her as an independent, late 30's and doesn't need to be married, surfboarding, moneymaking babe so I could totally see her in the part of the sharp-tongued woman who the as-yet-unnamed male lead can't stand...and since this is a rom-com, do I need to add "at first"?

We meet Diane, Cam's character, a high-strung accountant who's billed as the less glam of the two female friends, by page 4 but the whole first act belongs to Val Danko, an immature 29 year-old graphic designer at Quality Manuals, a company that makes direction manuals for assemble-at-home products. First of all, I love that professional assignation because we know he's creative but working in a dull-ass job which is succinctly summed up in a brief exchange where his middle-aged boss (who becomes a funny secondary character) chides him about his use of "arial narrow". Picturing Val in his cubicle in his old concert tees totally made me understand why his whole identity is wrapped up in bagging as many chicks as he can.

Problem is he can't bag chicks without the help of his wingman, Nathan, a more genuine sort who has outgrown their post-collegiate hijinx and quickly jumps at the chance to move in with (and soon propose to) the smart and pretty Rachel, Diane's bestie.

Now I have to say here that in the last few months, I feel like I've read four scripts that have some variation on this premise: lifelong, now thirty-something buds torn apart by the woman who actually wants to have a serious relationship with -- or God forbid, marry -- one of them. And this whole "dude, you took her to karaoke? that's our thing!" schtick feels very, very gay to me. I immediately have a bias against these characters because then I feel like, Dude, what kind of loser/pussy are you?

This is exactly what goes on in Swingles for the entire first act but Val is so deep in denial and his dialogue is so snappy that, despite my admitted bias, I couldn't help but laugh. But you know what really made this work for me? Once he and Diane, also wingless and floundering, join forces she says all the things I want to say to these guys and I fucking loved her for it!

At first, she either reacts to his childish antics by ignoring him (precisely) or basically saying, "That's the dumbest shit I ever heard and why are you wearing that concert tee? Grow up!" But the great thing about her character, a successful accountant who put herself through Yale, is that she's a desperate singleton too, no doubt about it (sometimes I was almost cringing). But I never felt like she was pathetic. I just felt for her. This is a tricky thing to pull off and I think now that a lot of the big female A-listers - Aniston, Zellwegger, Lopez, Bullock -- are aged out of the rom-com ingenue category, it's something screenwriters need to learn how to do. Because a woman like Diane who has accomplished so much professionally, a sister who's out there doing it for herself, would probably feel like she shouldn't care that she's single but the fact that she does (a lot) would make her feel like a big fat loser. And then she needs a guy like Val to help her? Ouch. I think if you're writing for an actress we all know is pushing (or beyond) 40, you need to be mindful of this. Because what's endearing at 29 can easily become sad at 39.

Knowing C-Diaz is playing Diane, I'm really interested to see who they cast as Val because these are both great parts. Remember back in the day when you used to have two big stars in rom-coms like Julia Roberts and Richard Gere or Hugh Grant? (Or even further back, Hepburn and Tracy?) Now when it's a vehicle for the female lead, the guy is just some random whose name you can't remember. But Val is a plum comedic part which is another plus about this script. It actually made me LOL quite a bit when most rom-coms are neither rom nor com. (If they even let Dane Cook read this, I WILL lead the boycott.)

This premise is also milked for all its worth. Val forces Diane to hit on a guy at his grandma's funeral (!) and then once she submits to being his partner-in-cruising, their routines are hilarious and I love that they have names like "Fighting First Date", "The Gal Pal"... By the time Val drags her to a roller derby and forces her to skate in the amateur round (so HE can impress the chicks) and she busts out with, "I've never taken a fall for a man and I'm not about to start!" I swear I almost started cheering.

I hate when the leads in romantic comedies are cartoonishly opposite - she's a vegan do-gooder and he's a macho meat-loving corporate raider -- but in Swingles, their tension arises from very realistic, relatable differences. He's an immature poon hound and adult women don't like immature poon hounds. 'Nuff said. But we see Val growing because of Diane's influence and we see her loosen up enough to realize that what she wants "on paper" might not be what she really wants at all.

When the hell is this going into production?

Script link: No link guys. But I'd look to MSP, who might have it.

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

What I learned: You can write a female lead that is desperate in some ways but not pathetic. I think with a lot of rom-coms she's either too perfect/strong or too whiny/bitchy, just too something, but this script strikes a nice balance for Diane. I'm impressed that a guy wrote this! Also, if you have a great premise look at all the ways you can push it to the limit.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Labor Of Love

Many of you know sweet, caring, cute and insightful Kristy over at MSP. Although she's in the thick of a college semester, she's found enough time to give a female perspective on a lot of the latest scripts in town. Also, she has a library of scripts on her blog where you just may be able to find some of the script links I'm not able to post. Kristy and I agreed she should do a guest review and it was up to me to decide what script to give her. I thought long and hard and finally settled on M. Night's first sale script, "Labor Of Love." Why? Well because what film geek doesn't like discussing M. Night? It's like Yankee fans reading an article about A-Rod. Everybody's got an opinion.

I'm one of those people who thinks that each of Night's films has been worse than the previous. The Sixth Sense, in my eyes, is pretty much the bar for spec scripts. It would fall into the genius category without question. Unbreakable didn't cater to my sensibilities. Signs showed his first huge miscalculation on an ending. The Village insulted my intelligence. Lady In The Water felt like I'd been transported to an apocalyptic Candyland after being injected with a week's supply of LSD. And then of course there was The Happening. Maybe my favorite theater moment this decade was when Marky Mark and his group tried to outrun the wind. My entire theater couldn't stop laughing. Then a dozen people got up and left, then someone in the back yelled out, "You can't outrun no wind!" and then a few more people left, one of them declaring, "This is bulllll-shit." During the rest of the movie, an old lady sitting next to me had a running commentary with her friend about how she didn't understand what was going on. It was way more entertaining than if I had just seen the movie.

But see here's the weird thing. I went to see *all* of these movies. And I will go to see the next M. Night movie. And the next one after that. Despite everything, in some weird way, I still care about what M. Night makes. So he's gotta be doing something right, right?
Whatever the case, I'd always heard about this script but never knew anything about it. 750k is quite a sale, even back at that time, so the script had to be special, right? Right Kristy?

Genre: Drama
Premise: After his wife’s death, a man sets out on a 3,200 mile journey across country on foot to show his love for her.
About: This was M. Night Shyamalan’s third script, and the first he sold to Fox back in 1993, for 750k. The project failed to get off the ground reportedly because they were unwilling to put M. Night in the director’s chair (I have other theories why it didn’t get made). The script sale led to work on the film "Stuart Little," which was then followed by his masterpiece, "The Sixth Sense."
Writer: M. Night Shyamalan
Details: 119 pages

So I told Carson I wanted to do a blog entry for Script Shadow…he was letting everybody else do one and we go way back so it was only fair that I get a shot. My demands were met with a script by a writer who I wouldn’t care a thing about if he didn’t come up with The Sixth Sense and a script written and sold when I was the ripe age of 5. The night before, I was actually discussing to a friend how much we really didn’t care for M Night. That’s karma I guess. To my surprise this has no elements that I’ve seen from MNS in the past. No dead people, no people lying down in front of lawn mowers for no reason, no mermaids, no contained villages. It was just a regular character driven drama.

Labor of Love is about Maurice Parker and his wife Ellen. The script opens up in a way we’ve seen many times before. It uses a shocking flash-forward scene and then skips back so that we have to read and find out how we ended up there. We fade in on Ellen’s fatal car wreck, but we skip back a few weeks earlier to her and Maurice’s seventeen year marriage. Maurice is very much a man settled into his marriage, it’s the same routine day in and day out. Ellen wakes up, walks ¼ one way to get a loaf of raisin bread for Maurice every morning while Maurice fails to tell Ellen how much she means to him. Ellen is basically STARVING for some affection. Sure Maurice says he loves her, but as a female, I know words can only go so far before we start doubting them. Is it too much to ask for someone to show their love every now and then? Apparently it was for Maurice. He got by on the words “I love you” for seventeen odd years to the point where it was just background noise. She wanted flowers, chocolates, anything tangible to represent his love. She asked him once if he would walk across the country for her and Maurice of course says, sure. But how do we know he would? We wouldn’t unless he physically did it.

Maurice decides to have a celebration one night, he just bought a bigger space to move his classic book store into. Just friends, family, Ellen, for a nice relaxed evening. That’s until he gets the news that Ellen was killed in a car accident by a drunk driver, which we already knew. Maurice’s world instantly falls apart. This story very much reminded me of the Garth Brooks song, If Tomorrow Never Comes. The lyrics go a little something like:

If tomorrow never comes
Will she know how much I loved her
Did I try in every way to show her every day
That shes my only one
And if my time on earth were through
And she must face the world without me
Is the love I gave her in the past
Gonna be enough to last
If tomorrow never comes

Well Ellen won’t ever know how much Maurice loved her. He didn’t do his best everyday to show her. This eats at Maurice from the inside out. She begged for his love and he couldn’t give her an ounce of tangible evidence…until now. Here is a scene between him and an old lady in the park that pretty much confirms his future decision:

Where did he go?

He's getting my sweater from the car. I said there was a breeze.
(shaking her head)
I told him not to go.


May I ask you a question that might sound strange?



How do you know he loves you?

The old woman looks at him oddly.

I mean besides... time -- how did you know ten years ago -- twenty years ago?

She thinks hard... tough question. No answer for a moment

then –

The old woman sees something out of the corner of her eye -- her husband is walking up the path with her white lace sweater over his arm...

She smiles as the answer comes to her.

Because he shows me... he's not much for words, but he shows me.

It’s like that scene in The Break Up where Jennifer Aniston tells Vince Vaughn she wants him to want to do the dishes. In other words we shouldn’t have to beg for love, or ask you to do the dishes, you should want to do them because you know it will make us happy. I’m not being gender specific when I say you…but yeah men…you J.

So after 22 pages of me not sure where this story was going, Maurice decides he’s going to walk across the country to show Ellen how much he loved and would do anything for her (umm now that she is no longer in existence). This journey starts in Philadelphia and will end in Pacifica, California, that’s over 3000 miles. It doesn’t say at the beginning why Pacifica, CA, but we find out at the very end through a flashback that Ellen once told Maurice that Pacifica was her “heaven.”

Maurice closes up shop. He gets his stuff together and just leaves, heads out west. He’s in his late forties, not technically physically fit, so you can imagine how this is going to go. So it’s a basic struggle itself just to make the trek across the country. Maurice does make some encounters along the way. Nothing strong enough, not for me anyways. He walks by this liquor store and sees these drunks getting into their trucks to drive. Maurice politely asks them not to drive drunk. This pisses the guys off. Not a page later guess who’s coming up behind him? They beat the pulp out of Maurice but luckily a police “happens” to be nearby and stop them. He runs Maurice’s name to find out his niece is looking for him. She is a psychologist and thinks Maurice is a danger to himself and needs to be in better condition before attempting this crazy adventure. She uses her frequent flyer miles to drive all the way to Indiana and pick him up. Well she stops at a gas station, when she gets back in her car she tries talking to Maurice but he’s silent. She figures he's sleeping (long journey and all). But when she gets back to PA, she realizes she's been duped. There's a homeless man in her backseat in place of Maurice.

This journey is mostly about him walking. At one point Maurice does save a woman and her daughter after a car wreck in a snowstorm. This makes him feel a little better about Ellen’s wreck, as he saved someone. It’s not long before words gets out all over the country. Maurice’s friend used to be a newspaper writer and starts writing little columns about Maurice’s story. Maurice isn't even aware how big a celebrity he's becoming. In the final stretch he falls off a ledge in Nevada, breaks his ribs, has a minor stroke, ruptures his spleen, and has some bleeding of the brain. He is hospitalized but glad to find out he is still in California. Doctors tell him that if he doesn’t have surgery he will die. Well of course Maurice is determined to finish the last 60 miles. He HAS to feel that California water on his skin or nothing that he did before matters. He sneaks out of the hospital and keeps on truckin’. He’s on his deathbed as he walks. His side is bleeding through his shirt, he can barely walk. It’s a bit sad and strung out. And the ending? Well…let’s just say if it didn’t end this way I’d be mad because the ending was the only real thing in my mind that had an emotional impact. And I don’t mean the fact of whether he makes it or not. I guess you’ll have to read to find out how it ends.

So like I said I got almost 20 pages in and was wondering where in the heck this was going. I thought Ellen’s death would be something that was strung out the entire story and we would find out why at the end, much like Famous Last Words did. By the way, in my mind it is kind of a short cut, some say cheat, by putting a shocking scene in the first few pages to grab the reader then skip back and reveal the events leading up to it. This hooks the reader in for a bit so they keep reading to find out. The problem is with L.O.L , after that wreck scene it takes 15-20 pages to materialize into the rest of the story. My ADD mind starts to wander by then.

So I was for sure getting a MNS script it would be along the lines of what he does now…but a drama? Where did you pull this one out of MNS? In reports it said this didn’t get made because MNS wanted to direct but they wouldn’t let him. I suspect it didn’t get made because the story is boring and uneventful. That’ just my honest opinion. No offense but I don’t want to watch a man walk across the country and every 15 pages something “comes up” putting doubt in our minds that he will make it. The events used were weak and didn’t have the emotional impact that I think MNS was going for. I knew they’d pass the instant they came up. I’m not sure what others would say about this script…maybe the fact that it is 16 plus years old says something. Maybe this was original back then. Now we got people who walk across country, ride their lawnmowers, horses, etc. So maybe that has something to do with the story.

I had a hard time buying Maurice’s journey. Sure his wife’s death was sad, death always is, but I couldn’t latch on to him. I was never in it when she was alive. I didn’t feel any connection with either character or their relationship. The scenes with them together, including the flashbacks, were very OTN and expositional. It’s like they were saying what they needed to say to go along with the story. Maybe it’s me but I don’t know anyone who talks like that. It was almost as if I didn’t care he was walking across country. In my mind, the way their relationship was presented it was more of a, well you had your chance to show her but you didn’t. I know that sounds bad but that’s how I felt. It was hard to buy Maurice’s sudden revelation and arc.

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

What I Learned: If you are going to do a character driven story then make sure we are on board with the actual character. If we have to sit through their journey for an hour and a half, make sure we care enough to want to listen to them and not because we are forced to. If we don’t feel their needs, wants, emotions then you basically have nothing for us.


Genre: Action/WarPremise: (from IMDB) America relies on 1940's technology to defend itself against an invasion after an electromagnetic pulse leaves the country vulnerable for an attack.
About: This spec script was sold a few years ago. There is some information on IMDB like the fact that Ericson Core (The Prodigy) is the director and Chris Moore the producer, but I’m not sure how recent or accurate the information is. Core is also listed as director on the XXX threequel, “The Return Of Xander Cage,” though that may be a tough movie to direct, since as of today, Xander Cage has announced he’s not returning.
Writer: Sean Bailey, Revisions by Andrew W. Marlowe

I have to admit, I love movie ideas like this. I like movies with worldwide consequences. Not necessarily disaster movies, but any movie where the world or a country is threatened by some force that’s greater than anything they've dealt with before. My interest always peaks when the projects take preview form because these movies were born for the trailer medium. When Trailer-Voice Guy goes home to practice at night, these are the movies he practices to. Deep Impact, The Day After Tomorrow, Independence Day. Even the trailer for 2012 leaves me smiling. Destruction on a mass scale can be a beautiful thing on a 900 square foot screen.

Here’s the problem though…

These movies never turn out any good. They can’t possibly live up to their galaxy-sized expectations gleaned from their eye-popping trailers. And I think I know why. It is my contention that the wide-scale destruction/action movie is the hardest genre to write. You must tell a story that focuses on the effects of millions (sometimes billions of people) while at the same time focuing on a core group of characters in a localized place. And you must do so in two hours. If our characters are in New York City but you want to show the Golden Gate Bridge getting flattened, someone has to get a phone call and go, “My mom’s in San Francisco. She says the Golden Gate Bridge is about to buy it!” Cut to the Golden Gate Bridge buying it. Cut back to our characters in New York and continue our story. There’s no emotional connection to the event because it doesn’t have any immediate effect on our characters. You can cut to Tibet or Brazil or Niagra Falls or the Hoover Dam and show them all blowing up in unique wonderful ways, but since our characters can’t possibly be in all these places at once, the shots become exploitation. Destruction porn. Unconnected sequences ideal for a TV spot but unimportant to our main character’s journey.

That's one problem but there are many. The dialogue is another issue. Most of the time the movies are supposed to be “realistic,” requiring you to write your characters in that vein, yet because these films are “event movies,” the characters must add a “grandiosity” to their words. Everybody's forced to talk in overly dramatic tones that nobody on earth talks like. This creates a weird overly serious melodramatic fog that just hangs over every scene, making it impossible to buy that you're watching real life.

For these reasons, we’ve never really had a perfect destruction movie. They’re almost all disappointments. Which is why I was both excited and cautious when I heard about Liberty. First of all, why more people don’t write movies about a modern day America getting attacked is beyond me. That idea alone is cool enough to get me in the theater. But the cherry that pushes this sundae over the top is its twist: What if the biggest army in the world was forced to defend itself with 1940s weaponry? The irony in that premise is just too juicy not to love. So is this just like every other “destruction” film that doesn’t live up to its potential? Or does Liberty discover the secret ingredient to success?

General Ivan Galkin has just pulled a coup on the Russian government and declared martial law. Ivan misses all those separated Soviet states that left his great country and would like for nothing more than to bring them back together. In a time where it’s difficult to come up with an enemy for the United States, this take feels oddly believable. We saw the Soviet Union fall apart in a day. Why couldn't it come back together in that time?

Back in the U.S., Maggie Heflin, the Secretary Of The Interior (yeah, I don’t know what that means either) is coaching her little girl’s soccer game and having quite a hard time leading the team. A few minutes later, a couple of serious looking men show up and tell her she’s needed immediately. She jumps in a car and is ushered to the White House, where she’s placed in a room with all the other members of the cabinet. She asks around, speculating on what this means. Well, this tends to happen under only one condition – the president (who was visiting Russia) has been assassinated.

Uh oh.

If that weren’t bad enough, satellite radar has detected a large mass of ships blazing through the Pacific Ocean towards Santa Monica. It doesn’t take long to figure out that this fleet is headed up by General Galkin. Galkin gives his Yankee comrades a call and lets them know that he’s not coming to catch the latest performance of Wicked. The U.S. laughs off the attack because, well, even a huge Russian fleet is no match for the United States’ army. They probably shouldn’t have laughed it off. Five seconds later, using advanced electro-magnetic pulse technology, the Russians shut down every single electric and computerized piece of equipment in the country. The United States has just been transported back to the 1940s.

In one of the better twists in the story, the president, vice-president, and numerous top officials have been assassinated by the Russian government. As the White House scrambles through the books to figure out who is supposed to lead them, it turns out that Maggie Heflin, the little woman who couldn’t lead her daughter’s soccer team to victory…is next in line to become the leader of the United States.

The fun in the script comes from both us and the characters trying to figure out how to defend a country when all the technologies we’ve become so dependent on are stripped away. “I want an analysis of our options when the country’s electrical grid goes down.” “I can’t get it,” the aide says, “All that info is on my laptop.” If you don’t have computers, if you don’t have e-mail and internet, if you don’t have TV or cell phones or transportation…how do you accomplish *anything*?? To give you an idea of just how dire and desperate their situation is, if this really happened, there would be no Scriptshadow updates! There would be no Scriptshadow website!! Yes, I know.

Eventually Maggie figures out that the only way they can defend themselves is by scrounging up all the pre-computerized military equipment in the U.S., which basically amounts to cars, planes and tanks used back in World War 2, and use that to defend the west coast. A radio call is sent out to any veterans who fought during the 2nd war who know how to operate this ancient machinery. All these young Air Force hotshots have to learn how to fly planes that actually require you to *fly them* (as opposed to do all the work for you).

Overall, the script is fun, but it does run into those requisite cheesy problems these types of movies have trouble avoiding. For instance, the old highly decorated codger comes back to fight one more battle. The writers try a little too hard to make you love the guy and therefore his journey doesn’t ring true. Cliché isn’t avoided either. There’s the Top Gun ace who’s a cross between Tom Cruise and Die Hard Bruce Willis. His every utterance screams, “I’m in an action movie and I’m badass.” I would’ve liked to have seen a more original human side to both these characters, but they do their job.

The final battle is intricate and elaborate enough that no amount of scriptwriting can do it justice. A director with a strong vision has the tools here to create one of the most action-packed drool-inducing battles of all time. 1940s American army vs. the state of the art Soviet army – how cool would that be? Even though it didn’t blow me away on the page, I fully recognize that seeing it would be a different experience.

A couple of cliché main characters keep this from being exceptional. I thought the writers could’ve taken more chances as well, dived into some areas we haven’t seen in this kind of movie before. They’re almost too cozy, resting on an idea that they know is going to smooth over a lot of the problems. But for the most part, I dug what I saw. This script isn’t ready for its close-up just yet, but it’s on its way.

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

What I learned: It’s really hard to make elaborate action/car chase scenes pop off the page. It’s not that it can’t be done, but most filmmakers recognize that the director is going to choreograph these scenes anyway, and therefore speed-read through them. I know some professional writers are so sure of this, they merely write: “Big action/chase scene here” instead of writing everything out. Not that you should take that approach on a spec script. My advice to you on writing good action scenes actually has very little to do with the action at all. Make us obsessed with your character. Make us care about him/her more than we care about members of our own family. That way, even if you place your character in a straightforward no-frills sidewalk chase, we’ll be gripping our seat hoping he makes it out alive.