Thursday, May 13, 2010

Repped Week - The Rebound

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. Last week, we allowed any writers to send in their script for review. This week, we're raising the bar and reviewing repped writers only. The caveat is that they cannot have a sale to their name. The idea here is to give aspiring writers an idea of the quality of writing it takes to have a professional manager or agent take an interest in your work. Monday, Roger reviewed the Western, "Quicker Than The Eye." Tuesday, I reviewed the 80s'esque comedy "Duty." Wednesday, I reviewed the JFK thriller "The Shadow Before." Thursday I reviewed another thriller called "Skin." And today, I take on a Rom-Com. Rom-Com nuts unite!

Genre: Comedy/Romantic Comedy
Premise: A recently broken-hearted man returns to his hometown to have a guys weekend with his (also recently broken-hearted) best friend, only to find out that his ex is in town doing the exact same thing, forcing them to avoid each other at all costs.
About: Our fifth and final script of Repped Week. David DeGrow Shotwell & Steven Michael Walters are repped by APA.
Writers: David DeGrow Shotwell & Steven Michael Walters
Details: 106 pages

So I decided to save my favorite script of the week for last. And this one was a bit of a surprise, because it started off like any other “Guys get together and talk about chicks” script. The setup was too obvious and the characters bordering on thin. The comedic sidekick, in particular, was hogging the spotlight, and he felt more like his own movie than he did part of a movie. I'm not a fan of this because I don't like sacrificing story for laughs. I always think story should come first, even in a comedy.

So I'm going to go on a tangent here and you have to join me because it's Friday and shit gets crazy on Fridays. I call characters like the one I mentioned above “Last Comic Standing" characters. And let me explain why. I went to a party one night long ago and this guy approached me and he said, “Hey man, how’s it going?” And I said, “Fine.” And he replied, “Yo, have you seen the kitchen in this place? I’ve seen closets with nicer sinks.” I thought that was kind of a weird way to start a conversation, but it’s not like I knew anyone else here, so I couldn't run. He followed that up with, “And what’s up with the hills in this town? I feel like I’m a rat in a maze. I’d rather get stuck in the Sahara Desert than the Hollywood Hills, you know what I mean?” No, I didn't know what he meant. I also noticed the guy was wearing a big plastic smile while he spoke. This was starting to get creepy.

“And this beer. Helloooooo. I’ve tasted cow urine better than this!” This weirdo proceeded to give me two minutes of the most random observations you could think of before it finally hit me. He was a stand-up comedian! He was trying out his "act" on me! Going out and testing his material on “the real world.” He never let me talk or respond or engage or anything. He just made his jokes and waited for me to either laugh or not laugh.

I bring this up because this is the “Last Comic Standing” approach I see in so many bad comedy specs. The story is almost non-existent. It’s just an excuse to put a character “up on stage” and let him riff through a bunch of scenes. There’s no connection to the story, to the other characters, to the plot or to the theme. As a result, the audience feels a bit like I did talking to that nutcase at the party. Like they’ve been given tickets to a Saturday afternoon show at the Laugh Factory.

A screenplay is about creating a universe and having your characters live and breathe within that universe. If it ever feels like that universe is put on hold so your hero can do his Rodney Dangerfield impression, the illusion of the story (the “suspension of disbelief”) is gone. And since most production companies are looking for stories and not stand-up acts, it’s best to adhere to this principle.

When I started “The Rebound,” I was immediately worried about this. The plot follows Stan, a recent LA implant who’s been dumped by the love of his life. Stan’s best friend Jeff, who’s never grown up because he’s a Toys-R-Us kid, has just booked Stan on the next flight back to their hometown so they can compete in a Guitar Hero contest that weekend (for Jeff’s band “Whore Parade Route”), and Stan can experience a little hometown healing.

We're thrown into Jeff and his buddies talking about banging bitches and getting ready for their big Guitar Hero performances. Jeff has also just broken up with his girlfriend, Kara, and wants to win the competition so he can bang as many "groupies" as possible. It's all Jeff all the time and since the story (a Guitar Hero tournament?) is thinner than plywood, it just felt like an excuse to have a bunch of funny conversations.

However, as soon as Stan gets into town and he learns that Cathy (his ex) is also in for the weekend, the script starts to formulate. Stan’s upset, because this was supposed to be a weekend of healing. And Cathy isn't thrilled because now she's going to be tempted to talk to him. The goal then becomes to avoid each other so they don't fall back into a situation they know will never work.

So Stan runs into an old girlfriend from high school and Cathy meets a sophisticated older guy with all the qualities Stan doesn’t have. These two become foils for what we ultimately want to happen, which is for Stan and Cathy to meet up and get back together. But the longer the story goes, the less likely it is that that will happen. We're essentially watching a movie where the two main characters never meet. It's sort of a cross between Swingers and Sleepless In Seattle.

There are a few things that really make this story work. First, it has a natural ticking time bomb – the weekend. I like the way it's slyly placed there but never addressed. We just know that when the weekend is over, these two go back to their own worlds and that's it.

Also, we really like Stan and Cathy. They’re both honest, funny, endearing people. For that reason, as the script goes on, we become more and more attached to their situation and want them to get together. In fact, I kept checking the pages numerous times going, “Page 60?? And they still haven’t seen each other??? What if they don’t see each other at all??”

But where “The Rebound” separates itself from the amateur ranks is in how it addresses its secondary characters, namely Kara and Jeff. They start off being the goofy comedic sidekicks, but eventually learn something and change into better people. In amateur comedy scripts, you never see this. All of the supporting characters are usually flat and boring because they’re exactly the same at the end of the movie as they were at the beginning. In other words, they’re just there to do their stand up routine and get out. It was really refreshing to discover that Jeff was more than a few silly lines.

My only real complaint here is that the first 30 or so pages indicate a more juvenile story than it ends up becoming. Once we got into the actual relationships (Stan meets his girl and Cathy meets her guy), the script hits its stride. This might need a few rewrites to bring out every scene's full potential, but I could definitely see this as a movie.

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

What I learned: Whenever you have a straight man in a comedy, you usually contrast him with a goofy/extreme sidekick character. Sean William Scott’s character in Role Models. Spike in Notting Hill. Any of the 3 guys opposite Jason Biggs in American Pie. From my experience (and this isn’t always the case, but mostly), secondary characters who are the same at the end of the movie as they were at the beginning, are boring. Just because someone is a comedic sidekick doesn’t mean he can’t or shouldn’t be explored on a deeper level. In the end of Notting Hill, Spike learns to take love more seriously. In Role Models, Scott learns to actually give a shit. And in American Pie, all of the supporting players overcome their individual flaws by the end of the film. Take a look at your comedy script. Do your supporting characters change? Do they learn anything from this journey? If not, consider changing it so they do. It will make your script a lot better, and it will show readers you know what you're doing.