Tuesday, January 5, 2010


Genre: Drama/Coming-of-Age
Premise: A thirteen year old outcast finds a mixtape that belonged to her deceased parents, accidentally destroys it, and uses the song list to find all the music.
About: Finished with 14 votes on this year’s Black List. Mixtape may have finished even higher had it officially gone out. If there’s a script that truly embodies the spirit of the Black List, this is it. It’s the “I’m a Loser, Baby” or “Paranormal Activity” of the screenwriting world, a script that found success purely through word of mouth. Stacy Menear, the writer, doesn’t have any previous sales or credits. The film will be directed by "King of Kong" helmer Seth Gordon. Playing the part of Beverly will be Chloe Moretz ("Hit Girl" in Kickass, as well as the lead in the remake of "Let The Right One In")
Status of Project: Securing Financing
Status of this Draft: First draft
Writer: Stacy Menear
Details: 119 pages (August 14, 2009)

Whoa. If you had told me that one of my favorite scripts off of this year’s Black List would be an emotional drama about a 13 year old girl cobbling together random songs from a broken mixtape, I would’ve expected you to also inform me that you were a robot from the future sent to save mankind. I’m still in shock after reading this, as I’m amazed that Menear even attempted the story. Its subject matter is a literary mine-field, the kind of graveyard where scripts go to die. Over-sentimentality. Saccharine. Melodramatic. One wrong step and you can fall perilously into any of those. By blinking you could be My Sister’s Keeper.

As if that wasn’t difficult enough, Menear bases the story around music, which basically nuclear charges every one of those mines. Music is one of the hardest things to write about in a screenplay because a) the reader can’t hear the music, and b) a song you love very well may be a song the reader hates. Mention an old Richard Marx tune to a metalhead and there goes your audience. Looking at this script before reading it, I anticipated a 2012 like disaster (you can use either the movie or the expected disaster for that analogy – both work).

But Mixtape is anything but a disaster. It’s an anti-disaster. It’s an antaster.

Beverly Moody has it as tough as any teenager can have it. She’s an overweight poor 13 year old girl without any friends who lives with her ultra-conservative grandmother. In other words, she was born to be bullied. In one of the many instances you know you’re dealing with a unique writer, Menear doesn't paint Beverly's nemesis as the typical Adonis blond-haired jock you remember from all those 80s flicks, but rather a wickedly cruel boy in a wheelchair. A bully in a wheelchair? Talk about turning a cliché on its head. I knew I was in good hands immediately.

Moretz will play the part of Beverly

The only thing that keeps Beverly going is the threadbare memory of her parents, who died in a car accident when she was a baby. Her grandmother never speaks of them, and so all Beverly has to go on is a single picture of the two when they were younger. This picture is the source of much of Beverly’s confusion and misdirection. Her parents are the complete opposite of her. Hip, cool, punk-rockers – clearly music lovers and proud rebels. How did *she* come from *them*? Beverly wants nothing more than to find out the answer to that question.

One day, while rummaging through some old boxes, Beverly comes across a mixtape made by her parents. Excited, she throws it in an aging walkman, only to accidentally destroy the tape. All that’s left is a list of odd sounding songs from the most obscure bands imaginable. If names like Bikini Kill and The Quick don't ring a bell, you better hold your breath. They're actually two of the more popular groups on the list. Beverly decides that through hell or high water, she must find every one of these songs.

Eventually she teams up with a fellow outcast named Ellen, a Korean girl who just moved in down the street, and Nicki, the chain-smoking “freak” girl at school that everyone is both repulsed by and terrified of. Ellen’s got a computer, which allows them to locate some of the songs, and Nicki’s a walking music encyclopedia, which allows them to find songs that even the internet doesn’t know about. Throw in Anti, the aging hipster who owns a run-down version of a High Fidelity record store, and Beverly is able to peck her way through the list.

Seth Gordon will direct.

A side effect of this journey is her connection with the music, which, to her grandmother’s chagrin, starts to change her. Beverly starts to punk herself out, if only to get closer to these people she never knew. One of the great story touches Menear uses, is he places one impossible song on the list – a song listed as “The song that reminds me of that day in the park.” It becomes the ultimate impossible goal for Beverly. To find the single song that truly defines her parents,' the song which will allow her to understand who they really are. But how do you find a song without an artist or a title? How do you find a song that you’ve never heard before? Watching and wondering if Beverly will ever find this song is both heartbreaking and riveting, as we end up wanting her to find closure just as much as she does.

As people struggle to compare this to something for reference, I think the obvious example is going to be Ghost World. However in that film, the girls were under the delusional perception that they were hip and cool. Beverly and her friends have no such delusions. They know they’re the outcasts, the losers, the wannabes. And it’s that angle that gives them and the script so much charm. They’re the true underdogs, and we desperately want for them to win.

There's so many things I loved about this script. Like the contrasts. For instance, how this awkward nerdy girl had a pair of the coolest parents ever. Her attempts to change, to become like them, in order to understand them, and not quite understanding what she's doing along the way. Like paying lip service without knowing how to sing. It works perfectly. Even the grandmother, who could’ve been a throwaway character, has a vested interest in the journey. She already lost one daughter to that lifestyle. Now she must watch idly as her granddaughter eases into that world as well, knowing that she’s helpless to stop her.

I’m still trying to figure out why this script resonated with me so much when so many others like it fail. Maybe it’s the exploration of people through music. Maybe it’s the obvious love Menear has for his characters. Maybe it’s that he’s not afraid to put those same characters through hell. Whatever it is, it worked. I’d probably say this is the best script I’ve ever read about music. And that’s coming from someone who hates punk-rock.

This is one of those rare scripts that gets it all right. I have no choice but to put it in my Top 25. (by the way, here's another take on the script)

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

What I learned: Although it’s not done here in Mixtape, I’m seeing it done more and more these days. Back in the old world, it was considered script suicide to list actual songs in your screenplay. For various reasons (mainly that the writer ain’t gonna be the one choosing the music when the movie comes out, but also who’s to say that the reader even knew what song you were talking about) it was one of those rules you simply didn't break. But Youtube has changed all that. Nowadays, you can list a song with a note (“check it out on Youtube”) and allow the reader to instantly hear the song you have in mind. You still run the risk of turning the reader off if they hate the song, but now they at least know what song you’re talking about. I know I’m in the minority, but I’m one of those people who believes that as more and more people read PDFs on their computers and ebooks, that multimedia writing will become more common (which I favor). That means music, pictures, and videos embedded right there in the document. I’m interested to hear what you guys think of this practice? In favor of it? Or would you rather stay old school?

note: If you look to the Top 25 list, a few of the scripts near the bottom half have moved around. Some of these scripts just stay with me while others fade away, forcing me juggle them around. The Voices is up there too now.