Sunday, September 12, 2010


Last week kinda sucked. Nothing even remotely captured my interest. But this week promises to be much better. We have a project with Hollywood's new bad boy attached. We have an article by yours truly about one of the top 3 things that determine your screenplay selling. We have a really funny comedy that caught me by surprise. And on Friday I review a script that may get an impressive. I haven't determined what to rate it yet but it's easily the purest fun I've had reading a spec in awhile. Also, we're going to introduce a new feature in the reviews which will be revealed in that Wednesday article. So I'm anticipating good vibes this week. To start us off Roger's found himself a copy of a recent Relativity pick up...Goliath. Take us away Roger!

Genre: Action-Adventure, Historical
Premise: When the Mycenaean army surrounds Jerusalem, a young shepherd must accept his divine destiny as king if he wants to save not only his family, but the nation of Judah. But first, he must defeat the elemental force of violence known as Goliath.
About: Goliath sold to Relativity Media back in July. I've never heard of the writers before, so I assume they're tyro scribes and that this is their first big sale. I did some poking around and learned that they were quarter-finalists in the 2005 Scriptapalooza Competition with their script, Our Man Lilburne, and that McKay was a semi-finalist in the 2006 American Zoetrope Screenplay Contest with The Halloween Party. They're repped by Kaplan/Perrone and UTA.
Writers: John D. Payne & Patrick McKay

This script mysteriously appeared in my hands the other day, and somehow, made it to the top of the pile. I hadn't heard of it, but was immediately intrigued. I'm no scholar on Judah or the Old Testament, but you could say, from an early age, I've always been interested in King David. See, I was raised in the South, and for much of my early life, my parents made me go to Sunday School. I'd rather not get into my thoughts on religion or faith on this forum, but David has always fascinated me. I've read a lot about him; I've read a lot of stuff written by him. And, I'll just leave it at that.

The title made me curious.

Did someone write a script about David and Goliath? Or just Goliath? My first thought was, "Wow, this is probably really lame." So I cracked it open and my expectations were immediately shattered. This thing boldly opens. It feels like a movie with no credits. Just the sickening crunch of bone and a body hitting the ground and being dragged to a mass grave full of dead gladiators. There's a scarred behemoth responsible for all these deaths, and we meet this war machine as he makes quick work of three of the ancient world's most bloodthirsty combatants.

These writers aren't fucking around.

In two pages, they destroyed the pre-conceived notions I had about horrible faith-based movies and the images burned into my brain from Southern-fried Sunday School and those flowery illustrated bibles and their stories therein. It's a trachea-extracting intro that reads like it was written by a veteran scriptwriter. It felt like one of those cut-scenes from God of War where a Cyclops, a Heavy Metal-inspired nightmare of flesh, is just flattening men with his big club. Because of those first two pages, I was hooked.

I needed to know more about the vision contained within the next niney-eight pages.

Who is Goliath and what does he want?

Other than being a monstrous giant whose flesh is marred with tally marks of all his worthy kills, he has the mind of an archaic philosopher who knows that he's the personification of violence. Like the Joker in The Dark Knight or Chigurh in No Country for Old Men, Goliath is a force of nature that this region of the ancient world reverently fears. While religious texts might say his height is anywhere from six and a half feet to nine-feet tall, imaginations must wonder if the giant's mass was some type of physical anomaly.

I like how the script handles the origin story. It's twisted, a hint of the supernatural melded to the motivation of revenge. It's mythic.

The mentor in the script says, "He is more a curse than a man. One created by our people." During the Judean conquest of Canaan, a regiment of soldiers defiled the sole survivor, a beautiful woman. "Eight months later, she died in child birth, bearing a son three times the size of a normal child." Goliath had not one father, but a hundred. He was forged with their hatred in his mother's womb, and he lives his life as an honorable killer, preparing.

Preparing to exact justice for her dishonor.

And the ultimate target for his revenge?

The future king of Judah.


I don't get it, Rog. What makes David so special?

You're not the only one.

Even his own family doesn't understand his significance. He's one of many shepherd's sons, the runt of the litter who, compared to his brothers, is always overlooked. His own mother mocks him for not being ambitious. In fact, he spends most of his time out in the pasture playing his harp instead of tending the flock.

While young David may not find favor in the eyes of men, in the eyes of his God it's quite a different story. In the bible, the story goes that the Israelite God no longer favored their current king, Saul. So the prophet Samuel comes along and chooses the least-likely of Jesse's sons, David, and proclaims that this is God's choice for king. Out of all the men in the Judaic bible, David was a guy who became known as a "man after God's own heart". He became such good friends with the Almighty, that God, in the New Testament and presumably for the rest of eternity, referred to his own son made flesh, Jesus Christ, as the Son of David.

That's how big of a deal the guy became.

Goliath is interested in David because he knows he will prove a challenge. To a monster that has never met his match, he is interested in fighting a guy who supposedly carries the protection of a god. In slaying David, he will slay an entire people -- the Judeans who defiled his mother. And, in doing so, he will humiliate and mark the death of the Judean god.

Enough scriptural context! What's the damn plot?

Some Mycenaean emissaries, on the warpath to kill David, who according to prophecy threatens their empire, recruit Goliath into battle. Since he finds the practice of killing for money deplorable, he joins the Philistine Dagon-worshippers not for riches but for the chance to face a worthy adversary.

They ravage the countryside around Jerusalem, slaughtering the Judeans and blinding David's pal, Ezra. David rescues his buddy and they flee into Jerusalem, which has protective walls but is a city that makes the modern slums of Jakarta seem like a five-star resort.

At the House of Judges, the leaders of the twelve tribes are freaking out. Although they outnumber the Mycenaeans ten-to-one, they are a nation divided because they lack someone who can unite and lead all the tribes into battle. It's a siege and they know they'll only last so long before everyone in the city starves to death.

King Saul, a porcine man that the Judges don't respect, decides to visit the enemy camp via royal chariot to inquire about their demands. King Saul suspects that they've come to take the Ark of the Covenant (the ultimate war trophy), but instead, he discovers they have an odd request.

It's disarming.

Grant Goliath unfettered access to their city so he can find the boy who would be the king whom threatens their empire.

What if Saul refuses?

If anyone interferes with Goliath, after three sunsets, the Philistines will crush Jerusalem.

So Goliath is released into Jerusalem, where he goes on a killing spree, executing any and all young shepherd boys that might be David.

Goliath's only opposition is a secret society of paladin warriors, a band of Dirty Dozen-like soldiers led by Caleb, whose sole purpose is to protect David. There's a crazy chase through the city as Caleb rescues David and introduces him to The Order of the White Stone.

David can't believe the news that he's the rightful king of Judah, and wishes to go to the desert and find Samuel so that he can nullify the prophecy. David is just a shepherd. He doesn't want this responsibility.

His first order of business is to rescue his family, so he convinces the Order to rescue his family from the House of Judges, which doesn't go all too great. Goliath chases them through Underground Jerusalem and a shit-ton of people die valiantly whilst trying to protect David.

Goliath chases David into the desert, where more people die. David eventually learns about his true destiny from Samuel the Prophet, and there's a chase back into Jerusalem and a quest to retrieve pieces of the sacred tablets from the Ark.

Along the way, there's a crown jewel of an action sequence that has a lot of fucking lions in it.

The script builds up to the famous duel between our two main characters, and yes, it is a doozy. Combining the intimate scale of the mano-a-mano fights in Gladiator and the Let's Revolt attitude of Spartacus, the final pages are pretty darn satisfying.

Does it work?

Indeed, it does. The pacing is that of a chase movie, and the set-pieces seem like they could belong in a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. It's a fun read. The theme is pretty epic, familiar but universal, but what makes it shine is the execution. For someone who has read the bible, it was fun to see the writers create a sort of Old Testament primer.

My only gripe is that it lays the Joseph Campbell on pretty heavy. I mean, as a scriptreader and writer, I prefer it when this stuff is more subtle. If it's possible for formulas to be on the nose, then stories that use prophecy as a major plot device are a prime example. We've seen it a thousand times. A literal prophecy declaring that some ordinary person is going to become a hero and save the world?

C'mon! It's familiar, which is good, but sometimes there's too familiar! When someone in the general audience can think, "Oh, like in The Matrix?" Then you're in too familiar territory.

And, unfortunately, all of the Order of the White Stone stuff falls in this realm. It works, but as a reader, I've seen it one billion times. I see something like that and I see the writers revealing the gears turning in their heads. They reveal their secrets, methods and reference material whenever that happens.

Luckily, I got thirty-three pages into the script before that happened, and it was the only part that felt like a miscalculation. Why not go for something more fresh?

This sounds kind of like a faith-based film. Is that assumption correct?

Thanks to that Mel Gibson snuff flick that came out a few years ago, Hollywood discovered that there's a huge market for faith-based movies. Hell, it's proven that many of them don't even have to be good, as long as their audience connects with the message. Which may be good enough for the seventy-year old Georgia couple who purchases tickets for Fireproof, whom have no idea that Kirk Cameron used to star in a classic tv show where his best friend was a character named Boner (Boner!), but to the rest of us who rolled our eyes at The Blind Side, we may demand something more, I dunno, good.

I think something like The Book of Eli aspires to create a new standard for faith-based movies, or that's at least the way I saw it when I read the script. When I watched the movie, I even remembered that Denzel associates himself with Christianity.

In any case, Goliath seems to be in the vein of this new standard, which somehow smuggles in a perceived truth in an original story that can appeal to even the most jaded movie-goer. It entertains first, and delivers a message second. It'll draw in the Bible-thumping hordes and the sword-and-sandals demographic, and it'll do so because it's pretty fucking good action-adventure storytelling.

It's probably more 300 than Braveheart, and script-wize, it's more Galahad than Medieval, but Goliath will appeal to fans of all four. It's a blood-and-guts Bible Story Remix, so don't be surprised if it even appeals to non-fans who get their movie recommendations from some guy brandishing a bible behind a pulpit.

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

What I learned: Smuggle in your message. Smuggle in truth. Your message, or your truth, is just your theme. Firstly, and above all, your story must be entertaining. And, it must be good. You're telling a story, not an idea. You're telling a story, not a theme. Whatever idea you have, whatever theme you have, hide it. Hide it underneath your story. Hide it in the hearts of your characters. If you aspire to be a screenwriter, you're aspiring to work in Hollywood. In Hollywood, it's like Martin Scorsese says, you're gonna have to smuggle in the truth. You're aspiring to work in a trade where commerce is the bottom line, not art. You're gonna have to learn how to tell commercial stories. But rest assured at the irony: Usually, for a story to be commercial, it has to have a universal theme. If your story is entertaining, your theme is either eventually gonna reveal itself naturally, like all good metaphor does, or people are going to find it because they're going to be searching for it. But, first, you have to reel them in and entertain them.