Monday, December 28, 2009

30 Minutes Or Less

Genre: Dark Comedy/Action
Premise: A directionless pizza delivery guy is forced into robbing a bank under an odd set of circumstances.
About: One of the bottom feeders on this year’s Black List, 30 Minutes or Less received only 5 votes. But the writing team of Sullivan and Diliberti have double dipped their laptops into the Black List, becoming the second writers to have two scripts on the list, (their other is titled "Comic Con.” I don’t think I have to tell you what that one’s about). Since Comic Con sounds a little more broad, I’m guessing that’s what got them the remake assignment on the old Richard Pryor-John Candy comedy, Brewster’s Millions (which was an adaptation of a book written all the way back in the 1900s).
Writers: Matthew Sullivan and Michael Diliberti
Details: 120 pages (July 7, 2009 draft)

Recalibrate your converters kiddies. This script is not what you think it is. I know this because I thought it was what you’re thinking it is now. And it’s not.

30 Minutes or Less is a character-driven comedy of darkness unlike any you've read before. The story is incredulous yet incredible. Like an action movie hot dog wrapped inside a dark comedy burrito. And here I thought this was going to be another high concept Paul Blart ripoff laming up the lame-line. Hello? Original idea? Busy signal.

It didn’t start off that way though. It actually started off so benignly that I thought, “If this had been in my contest (where I was only judging the first ten pages of each script) it wouldn’t have made the Top 25." It’s not that the first 10 pages were bad. They were just plain. Will, a 25 year old pizza delivery guy and fuck up du jour, is tearing through the streets of his small town trying to make it to a customer’s house before the – um – 30 minutes are up. If poor Will doesn’t get the pizza there on time, the pizza is docked from HIS OWN paycheck. Whaaaat? He gets there a few minutes late and a couple of dweebosaurauses laugh in his face as they take their free pies. It was a scam. Their house is just far enough out of the restaurant's radius so that there’s no way he can get there on time. Drat!

And lame! I don’t want a stupid comedy about delivering pizzas, motherfucker.

As if Sullivan and Dilberti could read my mind and were able to magically alter my PDF document in real-time, the pizza delivery stuff doesn’t come up for the rest of the script! Thank you thank you thank you. As Jim Carrey once said..."So you're saying there's a chance."

Just after getting to know Will, we meet Dwayne, a beefy guy whose genetic globiness/assholeness makes him a born bully. Now that he's older and doesn't have enough people to push around, he’s looking for something to do with his life. His plan is to open the town’s first Tanning Salon, which will double as a whore house (because of course it will). Problem is Dwayne needs money to do that. Fortunately, his father won the lottery five years ago. Which would be great except his father hates him and has worse spending habits than Nicolas Cage. If Dwayne’s going to inherit any of his dad’s money, he’s going to have to kill him before he spends it all. And he really wants to open that Tanning Salon, like, now.

If your question's whether to read this script, the character of Dwayne is your answer. He's a one man show. You remember that documentary, "American Movie?" With that clueless director who formulates ridiculous plans that make no sense? Dwayne is like the fatter angrier version of him. Here, Dwayne discusses with his dimwitted partner, Jay, his fear of being a target once he gets rich.

If I was willing to kill my own daddy
to get at that money, then how can I
ever trust anyone not to kill me for
the same fucking reason?

I'd never kill you. Ever.

I know you wouldn't. But what about
the rest of our crew?
That's why the first thing I'm gonna
do is hire a fleet of personal
bodyguards. And all of them are
gonna be retards.


Yes, Jay, retards. Water heads.
The type of people you rode the bus
to school with.

Why the hell would you do that?

'Cause they ain't smart enough to
want my money. And they can fuck up
anyone who does come at me with their
super strength. You see, since their
minds don't work, their bodies
compensate. I got attacked by one
in grammar school and he nearly split
my skull. I get like five or six
retards, pay 'em in quarters and
dimes...I'll be untouchable.
But listen to me, Jay...don't you
ever give one of the retards a
firearm, 'cause they're liable to
shoot themselves. And then we gotta
find a new one.

Anyway, Dwayne realizes that he can’t kill his father himself. It’ll look too suspicious. So he has to hire someone. Problem is, the only assassin he has access to is asking for a hundred grand! Where the hell are they going to get a hundred grand? This is when Dwayne thinks up his genius plan. Since him and Jay are small-time explosive experts, they'll find a random guy, strap a bomb to him, and tell him to go rob a bank! Problem solved. Right. Because that's exactly what all of us would do if we were small-time criminals. And guess who they choose to kidnap?

That’s right. Will.

Once Will is captured and given the instructions (They’ll be following him. If he tries to go to the cops they’ll blow him up. If he doesn’t get the money within 8 hours, they’ll blow him up), he goes to his best friend, Chet, a middle school teacher and someone who refused to fall into the “fuck-up” ditch, and begs him for help. Chet is none too happy that Will’s arrived at his school with a bomb strapped to his chest (kids and bombs don't mix), but after initially rebuffing the idea of riding around with a ticking time bomb a few feet from his face, he realizes he has a duty to help his friend (that's a better friend than I would be - I'll tell you that right now).

In something akin to what The Hangover would’ve been in a dark parallel universe, Will and Chet go bumbling around trying haplessly to accomplish something they're so blatantly under-equipped to handle. In fact, they’re so ill-prepared, they draw on their knowledge of moves like Heat and Lethal Weapon to make key decisions. Just about everything that can go wrong goes wrong , and what I loved about 30 Minutes or Less is that even though every situation feels totally ridiculous, the characters themselves feel real, so you actually buy into it.

As most of you know, I’m not a dialogue freak. I don't sit there and marvel at the ways characters speak to each other. But the dialogue here is fucking awesome. Even when the writers will occasionally stop the movie to have their characters spout off a whole bunch of nothing (something I tell writers never EVER to do), it's so entertaining you just go with it. The big reason why it works is because these characters are so well drawn, so unique and so solidly motivated, that they don't fall victim to what usually happens in this circumstance, which is that the writers use their characters to spout off their own problems and issues about the world. I never heard the writer's voice in any of the dialogue. I heard the *character's* voices. And that's why it worked.

At first I didn’t like the idea of splitting up the storyline between two sets of characters. I tend to go for movies told from a single point of view, as it's more like real life. But getting to know both Will and Dwayne before the actual kidnapping puts us in the unique position of seeing them as equals. Both of them are in dire need of better lives. And so in a strange way, we’re kinda rooting for both of them to succeed (well, until later that is, when Dwayne goes off the deep end). The main problem with doing this is that one storyline is always better than the other. So when you get stuck with the less interesting characters, you're always checking your watch, impatiently waiting to get back the guys you like. That never happened here because you like everyone equally - something that rarely ever happens.

The big problem with Thirty Minutes or Less is that it’s the ultimate “unpitchable” script. I was excited to tell my dad about it when I finished, but then realized, “How do I describe this exactly?” “Well, um, it’s about this pizza delivery guy who gets a bomb strapped to his body and he has to go rob a bank or else the bad guys will blow him up. But it’s not like, cliché. It’s really funny. And it’s not a straight comedy. It’s more like a dark comedy thriller robber type thing.” Thirty Minutes Or Less isn’t a script you describe. It’s a script you read. And I’m positive that’s why it didn’t place higher on the list. After being told about the script, people likely had no interest in reading it. So I’m here to tell you – this is a script you want to read!

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[x] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: This was a good reminder that even though I love the singular point of view, jumping over and seeing the other characters in their environment builds up the complexity of those characters in a way you can never achieve by looking at them only through your own character’s eyes. I still prefer following only one person, but I’ll be keeping an open mind from here on out to following multiple characters if it's appropriate.