Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Genre: Dark Thriller
Premise: A dangerous sociopath with a checkered history goes back to his home town island to pay respects to his recently deceased brother, and finds himself stuck in the middle of a major heist.
About: Remember when they did miniatures? Christopher Borrelli used to be the videographer who shot miniatures for movies like Armageddon and Con Air. He more recently moved into writing, tackling assignment work like The Marine 2 and getting his spec Whisper on the 2008 Black List. He busted through with his screenplay, “The Vatican Tapes,” about a leaked video tape revealing a Vatican exorcism gone wrong last year. The script landed on the Black List and was bought by Lionsgate. He followed that up with this script, Wake, which was purchased by Hammer Films earlier this year. Wake is being directed by Kasper Barfoed, the same director who’s helming the script I reviewed the other week, The Numbers Station. Small town!
Writer: Christopher Borrelli
Details: 113 pages (This is an early draft of the script. The situations, characters, and plot may change significantly by the time of the film's release. This is not a definitive statement about the project, but rather an analysis of this unique draft as it pertains to the craft of screenwriting).

Wake bases its central character on this premise: 3% of all men are sociopaths, lacking concern for the well-being of others or for the consequences of their actions. 1% of men are born without the ability to feel fear. That means that there is a very small percentage of men who are both fearless and who do not have concern for other human beings. These are probably the most dangerous people in the world.

We’re informed of this at the beginning of the screenplay – actually right before the story begins. So when we meet the linebacker-shouldered Red Forester, we’re pretty sure he falls into this elusive category. I loved Red’s description. It’s one of the better character descriptions I’ve read in awhile: “Something permanently five o’clock shadowed about his soul.” To me, a good description is about giving me the essence of the character – about making me understand as much about that person in as little space as possible. That description captured Red’s essence perfectly.

Red is coming back home to tiny Naskapi Island after a long absence. His brother Sean recently died and he’s trying to make the wake. This is a huge risk for Red because he’s a serial killer – the kind so deadly he's landed on the FBI’s most wanted list. All Red plans to do is slip in, pay his respects, and slip out. But something tells me it’s not going to be that easy.

Once there, Red runs into his mother, Linda, the owner of the island’s Inn. There ain’t a lot of common ground to go over with your mom when your hobby is killing people, so it’s a decidedly frosty reception. And it doesn’t take long for the other members of the community to pick up on the vibe. Combine it with the fact that Sean never even mentioned he had a brother and soon everyone's rushing over to that internet thing to find out more about this Red guy.

Sure enough the criminal database tells them that not only is this guy wanted, but there’s a huge reward for him. So they lock Red up and call the FBI. The FBI says they're sending two agents over right away. But wouldn’t you know it, there’s a big a storm moving in, so it’s going to be awhile before anybody gets here. Well, except for the boat full of 7 really mean looking guys that just showed up.

Led by the menacing in stature but not in name, Phillip Cole, these men mean business. Underneath Red's mother's Inn is what’s known as an Icehouse. It’s an area built directly into the rockbed to keep things cold. It’s what they used to use before refrigerators. Well these days, this particular Icehouse works as a vault, and apparently it’s holding something really important, because these men are dead set on getting inside it.

What they don’t know is that standing in their way is a fearless sociopath serial killer. The core group of Islanders, holed up in this Inn, realize that their only chance at survival may require letting loose arguably the most dangerous man in the country. The question is, will he protect them against the bad guys' onslaught? Or will he put them in more danger than they would've been in anyway? The answer may surprise you.

So we really have all the ingredients for a good thriller here. We have an intriguing main character with a compelling character flaw (his inability to feel). We have a contained area so there’s nowhere to run. We have characters who desperately want something (the bad guys). And we have a ticking time bomb (the FBI guys coming). The story couldn’t be set up any better.

But what sets this apart from other scripts is the character of Red. The anti-hero is one of the most fun characters to write because anti-heroes do whatever the hell they want to do. They don’t have that annoying moral compass they have to live by. Having a guy save the kid and buy him an ice cream is boring. Having a guy push the kid out of the way and steal the ice cream is way more entertaining!

The thing you always have to worry about when writing an anti-hero though is getting the audience on his side. If the audience isn’t rooting for your protagonist, whether he’s good, bad, or dead, then you don’t have a movie. Making an anti-hero “likable” isn't an option because it's essentially an oxymoron. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get us to root for him, and the best way I’ve found to do this is simple. You make the bad guy worse. However horrible your anti-hero is, just make the bad guy more horrible. Because the more horrible he is, the more we’ll want “our” bad guy to take him out. And if we’re wanting our guy to take him out, that means we’re rooting for him.

Now I wouldn’t call Phillip Cole a particularly memorable bad guy. I would’ve preferred he be more extreme. But he kills anyone who gets in his way, he’s blatantly unafraid of Red, and he’s a dick. So we want to see him go down. And I don’t know what it is, but there’s just something fun about watching the “bad guy” play for your team. It’d be like getting Dennis Rodman or Bill Belicheck. You freaking hate the guys when they’re with someone else, but boy do ya love’em when they’re fighting for you.

The idea for this story may sound familiar to you. I reviewed a similar script called “Gale Force” last month about a group of modern day pirates who use a storm as cover for a heist in a small coastal town. I didn’t think Wake was as good as that script, as I thought the relationships were better explored and the characters deeper. But Wake has the more appealing main character, and I think the lure of playing a fearless sociopath to an actor may be the difference between this project moving forward and that one staying put. In fact, I’m betting the main reason this sold was that someone knew they could get a good actor interested in the lead part.

It’s a great reminder. Write a character that actors will want to play and good things usually happen.

Wake isn’t perfect. It feels like it’s still finding its legs, particularly in utilizing this awesome character of Red, but there’s enough going on to leave you satisfied.

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

What I learned: I really like when writers add an extra element of mystery to a story. In this case, I’m referring to what the bad guys are after. A lazier writer might have stuck with the old: “Money on island. We need to steal it,” storyline. Instead, Borrelli sets up this whole “Icehouse” vault and the mystery of what’s inside it. So on top of the bad guy heist, on top of the being defended by a serial killer, on top of all these other cool story elements, we’re also wondering, “What the hell are they after?” It’s just another layer that adds density to the story. -- And you can do this with any genre. Always look to add an extra mystery or two because it's an easy way to give your story additional depth (and it's fun for the audience!).