Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Sky Is Falling

Genre: Action/Drama
Premise: When a pair of priests discover proof that there is no God, they go on a path of destruction.
About: Back in 1995, Tri-Star made one of the most famous spec purchases of the decade. The 400 thousand dollar sale about two priests who find out there is no God is on several “Best Unmade Scripts Of All Time” lists and is, by far, the script I get asked about the most. However, if there was a project that defined Development Hell, both figuratively and literally, it would be "The Sky Is Falling." As rewrites continued through the decade, no writer could find the elusive tone that both captured the original writers’ intent, while making the story accessible to a mainstream audience. I wasn’t able to get the spec sale, but this is the first attempt by the original writers at a revision. Although I’m sure the two did plenty of assignment work after "Falling," it appears they were never able to get anything into production, except for Singer, who recently wrote the Clive Owen starrer, “The International.”
Writers: Howard Roth & Eric Singer
Details: 110 pages – October 27, 1995 draft

There are violent specs and there are VIOLENT specs and this, my friends, is a VIOLENT spec. Natural Born Killers? Tame. Fight Club? G-rated. Resevoir Dogs? A Sunday stroll in Disneyland. Pulp Fiction? Playing this weekend at your local Chucky Cheese. None of these movies and their supposed violence and debauchery hold a candle to the sheer bombasity of this insane screenplay. And make no mistake, Howard Roth and Eric Singer are clearly insane people. You’d have to be to write this. Because it is so out there, so bizarre, so twisted, so violent and reckless, that you’re going to need anti-anxiety medication just to make it out of the first act. I will now attempt to summarize this story. But beware, if you are a moral person, if your typical night involves baking cookies and exchanging work tales, if you saw “Passion Of The Christ” 7 times, you should not read on.

Cli-click [me strapping on my seatbelt]

Okay, so here we go. Monsignor Felix Crowley and Father Ringo Michaels were involved in a Nevada desert excavation. Nobody knows exactly what happened but what they do know is that 30 plus excavators were brutally beaten to death by a hammer and Felix and Ringo are nowhere to be found. That is until they show up on a security video at a local casino, hopped up on a cocktail of narcotics, robbing the place like they're Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. And when authorities get a call that the duo are tearing through the city in a stolen vehicle, they send some units out to partake in a car chase that would make even your most reckless Grand Theft Auto afternoon look like Super Mario Brothers. Oh, and just to give you a feel for how weird this script is, the officers chasing them are named “Officer Frick” and “Officer Frack.”

Ringo and Felix, who, despite the constant chaos around them, always speak plainly and to the point, have discovered, through this excavation, definitive proof that God doesn’t exist . They are keeping this proof in an orange fanny pack which they treat like a deity (why they treat something like a deity if they no longer believe in deities is beyond me). All the two care about now are doing as many drugs as possible, stealing as much money as possible, murdering whoever they can, fucking whatever they find, and finally, their main purpose, finding Felix’s old high school girlfriend so Felix can tell her he loves her before, presumably, offing himself.

Hans Langerman, the man who owned the excavation site and a devout religious dude, is terrified of what may happen if the contents of the orange fanny pack are shown to the world, so he calls his old friend, Hitman turned God’s Man Frank Doyle. He wants frank to come out of retirement so he can save religion. Doyle is a bit of a curiosity himself. He has some sort of terminal disease - and I wish I could explain his condition better but since I had no clue in hell what was going on, I can only say this: Frank places worms inside his body, possibly (though I'm not sure) to battle the disease. So he’ll be talking to you and a worm will slither its way up underneath his forehead. No additional comments are needed. Doyle agrees to do the job on one condition. He wants absolution of all his sins both past and future. Doyle wants to go to heaven when it's all over.

From this point on, it’s a not-so-standard chase film, as Doyle tries to find and take down the heretics. And if guys with worms in their faces weren't enough to hook you, we have a scene where Felix and Ringo are in their hotel room….WITH THEIR CAR. There are no holes in the wall. It’s just a normal room. Yet somehow they found a way to get their car in it. Oh! And there’s a scene where a character is just hanging out, then grabs the end of a bungie cord, a missile attached to the cord shoots into the sky, he rides it, where he is then picked up by a passing airplane. So you get plenty of wacked out weirdness delivered with your story. Except I'm still not sure which is the main dish. Is this weird with a side of story? Or story with a side of weird?

The thing is, amidst all the craziness, there’s an actual theme here, an attempt to explore some meaningful debate about faith. When Doyle, maybe hours from death, finally catches up with the lunatics, the notion of what’s in the fanny pack becomes the central focus. Is God real? Is he a figment of our imaginations? And does Doyle look before he dies? Can "the truth" really override faith? I mean, it’s not The Ten Commandments, but it’s pretty thoughtful for a film with men on bungie cords being picked up by 747s wearing orange fanny packs.

Look, let's not kid ourselves on why this has never been made. It’s so relentlessly bloody and hopeless and cruel, even for risky independent fair, that everyone’s probably terrified to risk 60 million bucks on it. And I’m sure that’s why they’ve rewritten it so many times. They’re trying to lighten it up to a point where it’s digestible. Not audience-friendly mind you. But *digestible.* as in, people don’t start rioting after the screening. But the problem is, if you lighten it up, you take away everything that's unique about it.

I don’t’ really know what to make of this. It’s definitely unlike anything I’ve ever read. While there’s a noticeable 3-Act structure here, it definitely doesn’t care about conventions. It might be an interesting exercise to ground this idea in some sort of reality, but I wouldn’t want to be tasked with that assignment because then you run the risk of making the script preachy and boring. I wouldn’t say I liked this screenplay, but if I told you it wasn’t worth reading, I’d be lying. It’s just so weird and different and unpredictable that it’s one of those anomalies you just have to check out.

I may have to make up a new category for this one.

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

What I learned: I remember when I first started writing and I would read a Tarantino script or a Shane Black script and think, "Okay, this is how you have to write to be successful." So I'd go ahead and write a script like that. And it would suck. And it took me awhile to figure out that just because someone else was successful with a particular style of writing, doesn't mean you're going to be successful with that style of writing. I bring this up because "The Sky Is Falling" has a very ballsy aggressive style to it, a style that's fun to read. And I've found that whenever you read scripts like that, they tend to influence you in your next script. This happened most recently after - yes I'm going to say it - Juno. After that script, everybody and their grandmother wrote super quirky cute clever dialogue. Some were successful at it. Most weren't. My point is: Never forget the things that matter: Plot, character, structure, theme. Focus on those things first and allow your style to emerge organically. If you try to ape somebody else's style because it's the hip style of the moment, your script won't work. Cause it's not you.

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