Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Days Before

Genre: Sci-fi
Premise: A man who possesses a time travel device uses it to go back in time to prevent an alien invasion.
About: Oh how quickly fortunes change. Chad St. John is a writer nobody had even heard of last year. Now he’s on fire. And I’m not talking about that wussy orange fire either. I'm talking the steel-melting blue type of fire. With two scripts on this year’s black list, one of them in the top 10, and a script sale just the other week which is supposed to do for Westerns what Pirates of the Carribean did for pirates (it’s called “The Further Adventures of Doc Holliday”), it’s definitely St. John’s Hollywood. The rest of us just live in it.
Status of this draft: 2nd Draft
Status of project: Development
Writer: Chad St. John
Details: 111 pages (undated)

There are times when scripts don’t get a fair shot with readers. Maybe the reader is tired. Maybe the reader got in a fight with her boyfriend. Or, worst case scenario, maybe the reader was forced to watch "Alvin And The Chipmunks: The Squeakel." Whatever the reason, sometimes readers open a script with the attitude of, “You better fucking impress me.” Harsh? I’d reckon so. But sweetheart, when the world’s pushing your buttons, you need a place to push back. And unfortunately, sometimes that place is work. I just saw it happen the other day in fact. I was at the supermarket and one of the cashiers – a nice portly guy in his 50s who always had a big smile on his face – had to repair a register in a closed line. One of the other workers saw him and erroneously assumed he was opening up. So he got on the P.A. and said, “Lane 5 is now open. Lane 5.” Everyone from the overflowing lines rushed into Lane 5 and this cashier flipped the fuck out. He threw up his hands and screamed, “What are you doing! I never said I was opening! How dare you! I never said that! I never said that once! GOSH!!” He then charged off like a little boy who’d just had his candy stolen and disappeared into the back room. This left the entire store in shocked silence (except for me – I had a big smile on my face because I had stayed in line and not lost my place. Heh heh, yes, I’m a sick human being). The point is, I’d never seen that man exhibit anything even close to bad behavior before. It was clearly a bad string of events that came to a head. Believe me, readers have those days too.

The reason I’m telling you this is because I remember the circumstances under which I read The Days Before. And looking back on it, I didn’t give it a fair shot. I had a ridiculous amount of scripts to read that week. And by ridiculous, I mean 30. Also, for maybe the first time in my life, I decided to buy groceries in bulk, so I had purchased over $170 worth of groceries I planned to last me for three weeks. Ten minutes after I got home, the power on my block went out. FOR TWO DAYS! This ruined nearly 80% of the food I bought. And yes, even though it’s cliché, in addition to this I was having girlfriend problems! I came into that script with a chip on my shoulder the size of Ellen Page's forehead. Instead of inviting the writer into my home, I stuck a gun to his head. “This better be good!” Ehhhh, needless to say I don’t think I was in the right state to read The Days Before. So because everyone’s been e-mailing me asking me to review it, I decided to wipe the slate clean and start all over again. I would give St. John another chance.

So let me be the first to say: Holy f’ing mother of balls was I wrong.

This script is all types of awesome. It starts with a grizzled mess of a man, Smith, and his wise-cracking tough-as-nails wife, Riley, barreling towards the White House in a Bonneville. These two are met with the typical response one would expect plowing your car forward at 86 miles an hour towards the White House post 9/11. With lots of SWAT and Secret Service bullets. They survive the onslaught but are captured and stuck in separate interrogation rooms. What each of them tell their captors, is that they’re, you know, from the future, and they’re, you know, trying to save the planet. Their warnings are ignored and mere minutes later, big bad dragon-like alien creatures appear and start killing everyone in sight. Including our president and even Riley. It’s not easy watching your wife die. But if there’s anyone conditioned for it, it’s Smith. He’s watched her die 109 times.

Luckily, Smith jumps back in time before these things can catch him. When? Exactly one day before. The alien Blackberry device he’s stolen from these creatures only allows him to jump back one day at a time – or at least, that’s the only type of time jump he’s been able to figure out. It’s not like the thing comes with an instruction manual. Oh, and he’s been doing it. For seven years. Each day coming back and trying to warn his president, his country, his planet, that there’s an alien race ready to invade the planet and kill everyone on it.

But this time when he jumps back, it’s different. He’s amassed enough video evidence, among other things (cutting off the president’s finger after he died) to finally step up to the table with a case. And it’s a compelling one, so much so that they listen to his pleas. The thing is, there’s nothing they can do about it. These aliens are thousands of years more advanced than them. And there’s millions of them. Maybe even billions. It’d be like us jumping back in time and starting a war with the cavemen. However, using classified technology developed by the creepy Dr. Oro, they realize they can send a message back in time 15 years to tell the planet what’s going to happen. As the aliens once again – like they always do – appear in this time and start obliterating the world, the humans are able to get the message out, and Smith and Riley barely escape to jump back in time one more day…

Into a completely different world. A broken down militarized world that for 15 years has been preparing for this day, the day the aliens arrive. Every single cent that every nation has earned has been used on creating a state of the art military. Anyone not with the program, has been forgotten. The streets are Sarajevo. It’s the Third Reich. And yet it has to be. The world has been preparing to save itself, to fight back, and militarizing itself was the only option. Ain’t no giant trees making out with animals here. This is hard core live or die.

The rest of the script then focuses on the hours leading up to the invasion. And it’s beyond captivating, as we’re wondering: Can they do it? Can they actually defeat this race that regularly wipes out the entire planet within minutes? This is fucking “Aliens” times a million!

The really cool thing about this script is that it makes you think. It makes you think about what our world would be like if we spent every single available dollar on our military. It makes you think about whether we would force children to fight. Hey, sure they’re children, but this is the end of the world we’re talking about here. Might as well increase our numbers. And unlike, say, Independence Day, you’re so invested in the characters that it makes you step back and wonder what you would do. Would you cower in fear? Or would you rise to the occasion?

Are there complaints? Well…yes. Some of the over-the-top banter between Dr. Oro and Riley, who say things like, “That is one saucy piñata,” followed by “Get me down, you big Wienie!” was too much to take. “Pervy nerds. Man eating growly things. Bombs falling from the sky. This is the worst Christmas ever!” sounds more like a sitcom than an end of the world film to me. I remember that this is what bothered me so much when I first read it. I immediately thought, “This is going to be another one of those lame action movies with the wanna-be Bruce-Willis’esque action hero spouting out clever line-age. I assigned the script that label way too early, which prevented me from seeing just how much more there was here. St. John has really thought everything through in this world. And while there are holes (It’s impossible to write a time-travel movie without them) they’re minimal enough so that they don’t hurt the story.

The Days Before is a freaking sweet script. It’s “Independence Day” with a brain (and, uh, a script!). Don’t know what Warners’ plans are with this, but I’d be putting it into production today. Or, err, I mean yesterday. :)

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

What I learned: So yeah, regarding the “You better impress me" stuff. You have to remember that readers read *FOR THEIR JOB*. They’re not clearing out their day so they can read your script next to a fire with cookies and warm milk. They’re trying to make it through. That’s their job. Make it through the script remembering just enough to write cohesive coverage. This is why I tell writers they can never half-ass it. That every scene and character and story element they include has to be fucking awesome because you never know what kind of mood or situation that reader is going to be in when they sit down with your script. Assume the worst. That your reader is a bitter old man who hates movies and hates his job. If you can win him over, you can win anyone over!