Thursday, December 31, 2009

Everything Must Go (Happy New Year!)


Genre: Coming-of-Age
Premise: A recently fired salesman comes home to find out he’s been kicked out of his house by his wife. So he takes his things, which she’s left outside, sets them up in the front lawn, and starts living there.
About: As many of you know, this is my favorite script! So I decided to finally review the damned thing! What a novel idea, right? To actually review the script that I like the most. So yes, the rumors are true. First time screenwriter/director Dan Rush will be directing Will Ferrell in the movie. Producer Wyck Godfrey describes the movie (which starts shooting March 1st) as Leaving Las Vegas with the humor of Bad Santa. I thought about that long and hard and determined that that’s a pretty accurate way to describe it. As a side note, this script finished Top 15 (I believe) on the 2007 Black List.
Writer: Dan Rush (based on short story “Why Don’t You Dance” by Raymond Carver)
Details: 110 pages (Draft 4/4/08)

Some people have asked why this script is number one on my list. They argue that it’s a very ordinary if not quirky tale about a guy who sits on his ass for 90% of the movie. Well as I’ve always argued, the one thing you can’t control as a writer, the one x-factor you’re helpless against, is if the person who’s reading your script identifies with the subject matter. A guy who doesn’t like vampires is never going to like Twilight. A girl who doesn’t like coming-of-age movies is never going to like Garden State. There are movies with universal themes that can sometimes pull people in no matter what the subject matter is, but for the most part, if the person isn’t into what you’ve chosen to write about, you’re dead to them from page 1.

To take that notion even further, to truly connect with a reader, you must create a character that the reader feels is, in many ways, them. This is probably obvious. If you go back to the movies that have moved you the most, chances are, there was some key element of the main character that you yourself were experiencing in your own life. The more intense and life-affecting that element is, the more drawn in you became. Like subject matter, this is something you have no control over as a writer. Some people are going to identify with your character, others will not. Of course you can shape and mold your character to be relatable, likable, sympathetic, and altogether impossible to dislike. But it won’t be the same as if the reader connects with the very core of that person. When a reader discovers a character who they feel is them, they don’t read your story, they experience it.

Everything Must Go came along at a time when things weren’t exactly going my way. Without getting into specifics, there were several situations that made me feel like the world had turned against me. And the way I decided to deal with this misfortune was to basically say, “Fuck You.” I planted my feet firmly in the ground, crossed my arms, and told the world I wasn’t moving. That stance led to an interesting journey that was at many times very painful, but ultimately allowed me to discover a part of myself I never knew. When Nick Porter, the main character in “Everything Must Go,” refuses to be kicked out of his house by his wife and, in protest, starts living in his front yard, I felt like I had met a kindred spirit, a man who understood exactly what I was going through.

The 40-something Nick isn’t happy he fucked up his life. It just happened. A regional sales manager at the kind of company you’d forget two minutes after I told you, Nick’s past has been embattled with alcoholism. Although he’s doing better, a past “incident” at work has convinced his superiors it’s time to let him go. Confused, angry, beat-up, Nick heads home, hoping for some support from his wife, only to find out when he gets there, that she’s gone. And the doors are locked. And the locks have been changed. And all of his things (furniture, clothes, stereo, poker table) have been dumped “violently” on his front lawn. In a span of a couple of hours, Nick’s entire life has imploded.

This brings up the question, when you can’t go home and you can’t go to work, where do you go? Well, Nick decides not to go anywhere. In a display of defiance, he sets up all of his furniture and things right there on the front lawn….and starts living there. It’s his big “Fuck You” to the forces that be.

To make things easier, Nick positions his chair right next to his mini-fridge stuffed with as much beer as it will hold. He then simply begins watching people in the neighborhood go about their lives. This is where the meat of the story is, as Nick begins interacting with the spectrum of unique characters that reside on his block and who he’s never really paid attention to up to this point. These include his annoying stickler neighbor, a pregnant woman who just moved in across the street, and a loner 13 year old boy.

This was yet another area where my personal experiences helped me identify with Nick. A while back, I had lived in an apartment complex for about three years. For the most part, I kept to myself, and didn’t know anybody. When I finally moved out, I spent three days lugging my things down to my car. In those three days, I met nearly everyone in the complex. Some of the nicest coolest people I’ve ever met in my life! And the irony was, I was never going to see them again! This is similar to the experience Nick goes through. I felt like Nick Porter and I were the same person.

Nick interacts with these people with varying degrees of success. His sole purpose seems to be to keep his fridge stacked with beer, an increasingly difficult goal because his wife has frozen his bank account, his company has come to take his car, and the police show up to inform him that he’s not allowed to have his things on the front lawn, as it’s a violation of city code. With literally nowhere to go, Nick is on the brink of being homeless.

But luckily he stumbles into a loophole. The Texas Code allows anyone to hold a yard sale for a maximum of six days. So by throwing up a yard sale sign, Nick buys himself roughly one week (ticking time bomb) to figure out what to do with his life. The funny thing is, the yard sale actually begins to attract customers. However Nick refuses to sell any of his personal things, despite that fact that he’s dirt broke.

And that’s where the power of Everything Must Go comes from. The yard sale becomes a stand in for who Nick Porter is - all the things he's accumulated up to this point in his life. That coffee table you put your feet up on every day for seven years? That overpriced television you spent four months of overtime saving up for. The stereo you'd turn on every night after mixing a whiskey sour. These are the things that defined your life for the past 15 years. Imagine if you had to give them away. How difficult that would be. Watching Nick struggle with this, and eventually accept it, is one of the more powerful moments I’ve ever experienced while reading a script.

Everything Must Go is not a “perfect” screenplay. I’m sure there are things you can pick apart in it. You could even make the argument that the main character is passive the whole way through (although I’d argue that because he’s taking a stand, he’s being active). Still, the things it does right, it does exceptionally well. As if everything else wasn’t awesome enough, the script even throws in a shocking little twist ending. All of that combined with the personal connection I felt for Nick Porter is why I have this at number 1. I can’t wait to see the finished film.

Note: I know I was initially skeptical about Will Ferrell playing the part of Nick, but the more I think about it, the more I think the casting works. The script is dark, but with glorious moments of black humor. Throwing a serious actor in there may not have allowed those sparks of humor to shine, and this script needs those beats to add some levity. The key is going to be how much ham Ferrel throws in the oven. If he underplays it, it could be awesome. It’ll be interesting to see what happens.

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

What I learned: Sympathy sympathy sympathy. Quickest way to have us fall for your characters is to put them in an unfortunate situation. Maybe your female hero just lost her baby. Maybe your hero just lost his house in a fire. Maybe your character just got dumped by the love of his life. When we see a character who life is pissing on, we immediately sympathize with them and want them to do well. But an extension of that rule is this, make sure your sympathy is proportionately related to how potentially unlikable your hero would be under normal circumstances. So for example. Nick is a soulless, selfish, snarky alcoholic. That’s not exactly “fall in love with him” material. So what Rush does here, is he creates multiple situations to create sympathy. Nick didn’t just get fired. That wouldn’t be enough. He also loses his wife, is locked out of his house, and has his car taken away. We need that many sympathetic things to like Nick.