Sunday, January 31, 2010

Full Circle

Roger and I get scripts thrown at us from every direction. And if we could read them all, we would. But there are only so many hours in the day, and as much as I would love for the Scriptshadow audience to demand Joe Nebraska's very first attempt at a screenplay, the reality is, there probably wouldn't be a Scriptshadow if that's all we were reviewing. However every once in awhile we come across a script with some admirable credentials that just hasn't found its way through the system. Roger bumped into this script by chance, enjoyed it, and found out it won the Creative Screenwriting Screenplay Contest. After getting in touch with the writers, they were more than happy to have it reviewed on the site. So, we get another little peak into what it takes to do well in a respected contest. Let's check out Roger's review of "Full Circle."

Genre: Action (Ninjas!), Fantasy
Premise: A supernatural thrill-ride about a struggling artist forced to share his body with the soul of a dead ninja who is determined to stop a malevolent sorcerer from transforming the human race into an army of demonic slaves.

About: Winner of the AAA Screenplay Contest sponsored by Creative Screenwriting Magazine. "Full Circle" came out on top in a field of 1,200 entries. Now, Mr. Regan is set to direct another script he and Mr. Henderson wrote, titled "Sherwood Horror" (a vampiric retelling of the Robin Hood legend set in the modern day American South), which has been optioned by Collective Development Inc. and will star actor DJ Perry.
Regan and Henderson met in High School in a TV production class, collaborating on short movies. As proof of how important having a mentor is, the two were initially doing poorly in the class, working under a teacher who could care less about the arts. Just as John was about to drop out, the teacher was replaced with someone even Mr. Holland would be jealous of. He encouraged them to just take the cameras out and shoot whatever inspired them, and it ended up changing their outlook on the medium. The two wrote this script because at the time they had never seen a really good Ninja movie that wasn't treated with B Movie production value. Full Circle is still available. So if you're a ninja fan, time to snatch it up.
Writers: John Regan & Ben Henderson

Look, this thing has fucking ninjas in it.

And for some people, that's worth the price of admission alone.

Yes, I'm the kid who gasped in the theater during Edward Zwick's The Last Samurai when, out of nowhere, ninja assassins attack our bushido-practicing heroes. Yes, I'm the dude who paid to see Ninja Assassin in a theater, wherein I learned that shurikens leave contrails in the atmosphere.
If you're not a fan of comic books, kung fu, Japanese sorcerers, or hot Asian chicks, man, I guess we really don't have anything in common, do we? Go play a round of golf or something.
Fans of John Carpenter's (and W.D. Richter's, David Z. Weinstein's and Gary Goldman's) Big Trouble in Little China, or more generally, those who still have their sense of awe and wonder intact, you
may continue forward to find a seat in our reading room.
What's this sucker about, Rog?
Last week I looked at a script that turned to Chinese mythology and culture for its inspiration (The Bone Orchard), and now this week we'll continue this Eastern mythology theme and jaunt over to ancient Japan.
That's where "Full Circle" opens, in the Koga Mountains where a father and son are fishing. Hope of a peaceful night and good eating is shattered when demonic kappa (usually mischievous water sprites, but straight up killers here) emerge out of the lake and attack the village.
This village has a temple that's home to a ninja clan who take up their arms against this reptilian sea of trouble. You would think a clan of ninja could keep a situation like this under control (Demons? No problem, eat my throwing stars and katana), but there's a problem. Not only are the kappa infecting the villagers, creating more kappa, but they are led by a rather nasty sorcerer named Izanagi.
Izanagi wields a mystical amulet that gives him his Lo Pan-like powers. He can summon energy blasts, which comes in handy when tengu descend out of the sky, "Powerful creatures said to be able to shape-shift into human form. Supposedly they were a dying race, older than man, who needed allies in their battle against their adversaries, so they trained defenseless villagers, turning them into warriors, and that's how the Ninja began."
Izanagi has some kind of blood feud with the leader of the ninjas, Toshiro (perhaps a nod to Toshiro Mifune?), and he's here to collect. Of course, the key to defeating Izanagi is taking away his amulet, and we're treated to a flight and fight through the trees as the army of kappa and tengu battle around them.
The tengu, looking to end this wholesale bloodbath, try to stop Izanagi as well, but in a magical snafu, end up trapping the souls of Izanagi and Toshiro in a Black Stone.
Sounds like a cool enough prologue. What happens in the modern day?
At the age of eleven, Tom Rafferty appeared on the cover of TIME magazine with the headline, "American Masters: It this Child Prodigy the next Picasso?"
Like many parents that have a kid who turns out to have a profitable talent, Tom's parents used him. They denied him of certain freedoms, so much so that Tom learned to hate painting. When he decided to stop altogether, they betrayed him and shut him out of their lives and kept everything he earned for themselves.
So by the time we finally meet Tom in present day San Francisco, he's become the rebel type who loses his (and his girlfriend's) rent money street-racing crotch-rocket motorcycles. Gemma Soto, Tom's cute and dorky Asian American girlfriend, is none too pleased with his acting out. One could say she's at her last straw with all this selfish behavior.
She doesn't understand why he won't simply sell some of his work so that he can begin to secure his future financially, and more than that, she's tired of babysitting her regressing boyfriend.
She breaks up with him so she can focus on her upcoming museum exhibition, an exhibition which will feature ancient Japanese paintings and artifacts.
But like any spurned boyfriend who doesn't want to lose a good thing, Tom continues to harass Gemma. Fortunately for him, he works as a forklift operator at the same museum Gemma is having her exhibition at.
It should be noted that Gemma wears an amulet on a necklace around her neck, the same amulet that belonged to Izanagi.
Of course, while Tom is at his forklift gig, a crate falls from a shelf, splitting open the Black Stone that rests inside of it.
It's not long before Tom is haunted by the ghost of Toshiro, allowing for a few comedic Ghostbuster-esque antics. Eventually, Toshiro manages to explain the weight of the situation to Tom. If Toshiro doesn't kill Izanagi (whose spirit was also in the Black Stone), Tom is going to find himself in the middle of an end-of-the world scenario. Only problem is, Toshiro needs Tom's body to do so. He needs consent for a full possession.
Tom has a decision to make: It's either help Toshiro or be haunted and annoyed by the spirit of a pranksterish ninja before the world is destroyed by a demon army.
What else will Toshiro throw into the pot? Oh yeah, some of those mad ninja skillz. Now, what would you do?
Okay. So if Toshiro possesses Tom, who will the evil sorcerer possess?
Ah sooo...our villain. One Charles Caspian. A sweater-vest wearing museum file clerk who has a stalker hard-on for our protag's ex, Gemma Soto. Constantly treated like shit by his boss and made fun of by Tom, Charles is kind of like the Eddie Brock of "Full Circle". If given super-powers, he would just love to make Tom, Gemma and the world see what he's truly capable of.
And he does.
As Izanagi slowly tempts him to the dark side, convincing him that not only Gemma can be his, but the world, Charles dons a decorative Japanese mask and goes on a crime spree, honing his newfound powers.
But true to character, his main interest is Gemma. With the boost in confidence that comes with having an evil sorcerer on your side, Charles convinces Gemma to go out on a date with him. Although Charles likes his new abilities, he is faced with a dilemma.
Does he merely woo the girl, or does he obey Izanagi's bidding and rip the amulet from her neck? Well, there's a compromise in such matters. Charles will take the amulet once Izanagi helps him bed Gemma.
As we want it to happen, Tom/Toshiro and Charles/Izanagi clash at Gemma's exhibition. What starts out as an argument over a girl explodes into a full out ninja versus sorcerer brawl that leaves a swath of destruction through San Francisco.
Charles has had a little too much action and evil for his fragile personality, but Izanagi takes the reins and all bets are off as he attempts to execute his master plan of rebuilding the kappa, raising a demonic army, and taking over the world.
In true action movie personal stakes fashion, Gemma is ultimately kidnapped by Izanagi and Tom must go full ninja to save her.
Crazy. But does this script work?
If all of this sounds very comic-booky and cartoonish to you, it is. But in a good way. If you look below the surface, there are some really interesting things going on with these characters.
Toshiro and Izanagi act as opposing moral consciences to our protagonist and antagonist. Angel and devil, ego and id.
Tom and Charles are characters who seem to suppress their true natures, and Toshiro and Izanagi do their best to convince their respective vessels to take off their masks, to let the world see who they really are.
On one side, Toshiro is trying to convince Tom to tell Gemma how he really feels, to drop his fa├žade and defense mechanisms so she can see his soul laid bare. On the other, Izanagi is trying to convince Charles to stop hiding his sins and reveal his true nature as a killer to the world. It's about vulnerability.
This was a surprising thing to find in such a pulpy and action-packed script, but you know, this is what makes it a solid screenplay. It remembers to anchor the plot and the action in character.
The execution might seem a little on-the-nose at times, or unabashedly comicbooky, but this is a solid and entertaining adventure yarn that manages to mix together some too-hot-to-handle explosive ingredients: Ninja action, Japanese mysticism, supernatural shenanigans, and most of all, characters who really have something personal and intimate at stake other than just saving-the-world, all set against the backdrop of modern day San Francisco.
It's crazy alchemy.
Just look at the logline again. If a writer can take flight with such bombastic pulp material and create an original genre spec that's not based on a comic or a novel, while managing to stick the landing, then they get cool points in my book.

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

What I learned: Chances are, a script that has demons, bird-men, possession, ninjas, sorcerers, katanas, guns, and energy blasts isn't going to be for everyone. In fact, when you have these type of elements, many readers (honestly, how many Hollywood readers are well-versed in literature, B-movies and comicbooks? Not many, I'm guessing. Something like this speaks to the right people, i.e. directors or industry people who like this kind of material) are going to think you're a fucking lunatic or that your script never had rails to begin with. So what do you do? You create characters that not only have goals, but have flaws and shortcomings that they are trying to overcome. Flaws and shortcomings, that, emotionally and psychologically, we as humans can understand. In this script, Tom is intriguing because he's developed a defense mechanism that frustrates the shit out of his girlfriend. If he wants to get her back, he's going to have to learn how to let his guard down and trust people. Even Charles, the antagonist, is trying to overcome his nebbishness so he can get a little more respect from his employer and the girl he has a crush on. These are real flaws these characters are trying to overcome. Focus on that stuff about your characters, and you're focusing on Story.