Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Amateur Week - Blackball

For the month of May, Scriptshadow will be foregoing its traditional reviewing to instead review scripts from you, the readers of the site. To find out more about how the month lines up, go back and read the original post here. This first week, we're allowing any writers to send in their script for review. We warned them ahead of time that we'd be honest and judge their material aggressively, so put that Kleenex box away. There's no crying in screenwriting. Actually, there's lots of crying in screenwriting but that's besides the point. On Monday, Roger tackled "Hell Of A Deal" by Joe Giambrone. Yesterday, I took on "The Deja Vu Of Sidney Sumpter Stu." And today, I'm delving into the world of dark sports comedy.

Genre: Dark Comedy
Premise: A lifetime minor leaguer blackmails his way onto the New York Yankees.
About: Script number 3 of Amateur Week.
Writer: Dustin Smith
Details: 110 pages
Contact: dustindustyrex@gmail.com

Once Costner hit his 50s, it was the death of the fictional sports film as we knew it. Bull Durham? Ah-may-zing! Field of Dreams? Spec-tac-u-lar. That no-hitter movie he made? Sort of…good…in a boring kind of way. Nowadays, the only sports movies we get are broad comedies with Will Ferrell testing the limits of bafoonery or super serious real life dramas like that Matt Damon – Morgan Freeman Cricket flick. Makes me a might nostalgic if I do say so. Which is why I picked out “Blackball,” the quintessential perfect idea for a dark comedy. A minor leaguer blackmailing the owner of the Yankees to get on the team? I don't know about you but that has all the ingredients to be a delicious late night treat if I say so.

So did Blackball (good title btw) break the string of two consecutive “What the hell did I just reads?” Let’s give this script its close-up and find out.

Hank Penders is a 40-something minor league lifer. This guy was born on the buses that travel through the heartland from ballpark to ballpark where dozens, and on a good day, hundreds of people come out to watch his team play. But poor Hank is nearing the end of his career, and when you’ve been doing the same thing for 40 some years, it’s not easy to imagine the next stage of your life.

Which is why Hank can’t believe his luck. The owner of the Yankees is in town to scout one of his teammates! Now by luck do I mean he takes the opportunity to make a case for his own promotion. ha ha ha. No. Hank notices that the town whore has seduced the owner back to her hotel. So he follows them and snaps a couple of primo pictures of the couple getting down to biznass. And just like that, Hank is in the most powerful position he’s ever been in in his long uneventful life.

So does he want with this power? Money? No. Women? No. Celebrity? No. Hank just wants to play for the New York Yankees.

So he blows into the Big Apple, and when the Yankees owner sees those pictures, he’s ready to give Hank everything he wants. The next thing you know, Hank is playing first base for the most storied sports franchise in American history. Except there’s one problem. Hank sucks. And I mean, he really sucks. He’s batting like .016, and he’s lucky to catch the ball even when it’s thrown directly into his mit. Immediately, the players, the fans, and the whole city, hate Hank. Wherever he goes, he gets booed and hissed at. So what does he do? Well, he complains. Hank really likes to complain. He complains to the manager when he doesn’t start. He complains to the owner when he gets suspended. He complains to other players, he complains to the other team, he complains to the umps. If I had to use one word to describe Hank, it would probably be: a Class-A complainer.

(spoilers below)

Anyway, with less than two weeks from the end of the season, New York likely out of the playoffs, Hank decides, the hell with it, I’ll take steroids! Hank then becomes the greatest player in the history of the world for two weeks. He hits like .900, racks up a bunch of home runs, is a gold-glover. He single-handedly wins the division for the Yanks. And just when his dream is about to reach its peak, the media suspects Hank of using steroids and he gets kicked off the team. Wah-wah-wahhhhh.

And that’s it. That’s the script.

I feel a little bit like Randy Jackson here but I’m just going to get into it. Dustin, you know I love you dog. You know I’m a fan, right? Okay, I’m going to be real here, because there are a bunch of mistakes that need to be addressed in this script.

First, Hank is an alienating protagonist. We don’t really like him because all he does is complain. You’d think Hank would be thankful for this rare opportunity to play for the Yankees. If I got away with something like conning my way onto the best team in baseball? I’d shut up and count my lucky stars until someone wised up and got rid of me. Instead, all Hank does is demand more from everyone. He’s never satisfied and always complaining about his situation.

Second, there’s no character development here. Hank’s not trying to overcome anything. Take Tim Robbins’ character “Nuke” in Bull Durham for instance. He’s trying to overcome his recklessness. He’s trying to find control, both in his game and in his life. Since Hank has nothing to overcome, he’s too simplistic. And simple = boring. When you get notes telling you your character isn’t “three-dimensional,” or doesn’t “rise above the page,” this is usually what they’re referring to.

Next, the story is too linear. It feels like we can see all the way to the end of the screenplay from the very first page. There are no major subplots, no big twists or turns, and no aforementioned inner journey. You have to mix it up more, give your main character more problems to solve. Give other characters more things to do. Shock us with a few reversals. We need to turn a corner every once in awhile. You want your script to be more Grand Prix and less drag race.

The biggest problem with Blackball, however, is that there’s no clear-cut character goal in the story. All we know is that Hank wants to play for the Yankees. Well Hank starts playing for the Yankees on page 60. Now what? What’s the end goal? What’s the story about? Is it just to see him get to the end of the season? That’s not very compelling. We need a clear-cut goal, a ticking time bomb to center the story. Otherwise we’re just sitting there wondering what the point is. Take Rocky, for instance. We know Rocky’s going to fight Apollo, so the movie always has that clear motivation and destination pushing it forward.

Finally, the ending solution for Hank was too easy and it came out of nowhere. All Hank had to do was take steroids and he’d become the greatest player in the world? That's it? The big solution? Even if you make this a morality tale (steroids are bad), since Hank had never struggled with steroids or talked about steroids or had an opportunity to take steroids at any previous moment in the screenplay, this choice comes out of nowhere. If you don’t set up the big plot points in your movie, it’s going to feel like you’re making it up as you go along. And that’s how it felt here.

There are other things we could talk about but those are the bullet points. If I was only able to tell Dustin one thing, I’d tell him to explore his main character more. Dig deep, figure out his flaw, then build a story around him that consistently challenges that flaw. Rocky doesn’t believe in himself. That’s his flaw. And everything in the story, from the environment to the other characters, is a reminder that he SHOULDN’T believe in himself. That’s what makes his story so compelling, watching him fight that perception and finally overcome it in the fight with Apollo. And I know I’m comparing a drama to a dark comedy but it doesn’t matter what genre you’re in, you have to explore your main character.

Script link: Blackball

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

What I learned: I’m going to keep this simple. You don’t ever want to make your main character a whiner or a complainer. It’s one of those qualities that’s universally despised. Think about it. Do you know anyone who constantly whines and complains that you like? Of course not. So don’t give your hero those qualities.