Thursday, October 21, 2010


Genre: Sci-Fi
Premise: When terrorists detonate the biggest bomb ever built, a group of survivors find themselves in an impossible-to-imagine scenario.
About: This spec was just purchased by Warner Brothers, whose unexpected buying spree continues. The writer, Gregg Hurwitz, is first and foremost a novelist, who’s written a couple of novels that have been optioned, including They’re Watching, about a writer who receives some strange DVDs showing video footage of him in intimate situations. His most recent novel is “Trust No One,” about a terrorist threatening to blow up a nuclear power plant. Hurwitz is also a consulting producer on ABC’s “V.” This is his first spec sale.
Writer: Gregg Hurwitz
Details: 121 pages (This is an early draft of the script. The situations, characters, and plot may change significantly by the time the film is released. 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).

I have never read anything like Expulsion.

Let me repeat that. I have never read anything like Expulsion.

Why is this important? Well, because when you read scripts non-stop, almost everything you read is something you’ve read before. So when something comes along that doesn’t feel like all the other scripts, you sit up and take notice.

Now let me clarify this. Expulsion is a disaster movie mixed with a Star Trek episode. It’s not unique in the way Memento is unique. But some of these scenes, some of the things that happen “onscreen” are things you’ve never seen on a movie screen before.

I remember first arriving in Los Angeles and lucking out with a meeting for a really terrible script I’d written. I’d bullshitted my way past some dumb people and gotten the script into the hands of a big agent, someone I had no business meeting with. It was the moment I realized you can trick some people, but you can’t trick the true professionals. Indeed, this gentleman told me straight up, your script is horrible. He then proceeded to tell me that in order to separate myself from the glut of screenplays that land in agents and producers hands every day, you have to give the audience something they’ve never seen before. You had to give them a dinosaur theme park before there was Jurassic Park. You had to give them live-action anime before there was The Matrix.

I didn’t really understand what he was talking about since 99% of the movies I saw getting advertised were exactly the same as everything else I’d ever seen at the movies. Now it’s taken me a long time to understand why all the derivative stuff gets made and how that’s not really a part of the spec game, but I’ve finally realized he was right. If you want a legitimate chance at getting noticed, you gotta give’em something they’ve never seen before.

While Expulsion doesn’t keep that rule going for the entire script, the holy-shit-what-the-hell-just-happened first act may just make up for it.

Expulsion starts out like any disaster movie. It’s 2015 and a couple of suspicious middle-eastern men walk into a random skyscraper with a strange device, turn it on, and the building collapses in on itself, imploding into nothingness, killing everyone inside.

The president’s cabinet is then informed that there are more of these imploding bombs set to go off soon. The president’s play is a tough one since the attackers are rogue, but eventually he decides to neutron bomb the countries that are sponsoring this terrorist activity to send a message.

This only pisses off the terrorists more though (surprise surprise), and a group of them is somehow able to steal the largest bomb America’s ever created, a bomb so powerful that there is no way to measure it’s potential destruction. Well, they detonate the bomb and we find out.

Thus begins the most insane fucking sequence you will ever see onscreen. If any of you have seen the movie 2012, this makes the destruction of that film look like a bunch of ping pong balls bouncing around on mouse traps. No, that is not hyperbole.

I don’t even know if I can describe what I read but basically, the earth’s crust gets ripped from its core, as if you were tearing the felt off a tennis ball. The bomb is so powerful that it demagnetizes the entire solar system, causing space time to no longer exist. The moon gets shot INTO THE SUN within a matter of seconds. The president and a small number of others are able to get underground into a special de-magnetized bunker. This bunker, along with the rest of North America, are shot out into space. I believe North America crashes into Mars. Somehow, this bunker continues on though, slicing through the rings of Saturn, then shooting out into unknown space and out of the solar system, until it finally crash lands on a mystery planet.

Yes, you read that part correctly. North America crashes into Mars.

After recovering from this sequence of events (I’m talking about myself of course, not the characters), we’re left with a team of survivors led by a president unsure of his leading ability, who must now figure out where they are and what to do next. The story becomes a cross between Pitch Black and Land Of The Lost (the TV show) with a little original Star Trek (the TV show) thrown in for good measure. The planet itself is extremely hostile, with all sorts of weird creatures, and even though there’s a couple dozen survivors, we realize pretty quickly that only a few people are going to make it out of this alive.

I don’t even know where to start with this one. I guess we’ll focus on the male anatomy. Specially, balls. And what kind it takes to rip your characters off an exploding planet earth and have them land on a random planet 8 quadrillion miles away. The event is so beyond what any character in any movie has ever had to deal with before, it almost makes it impossible to tell a story. I mean there’s human fortitude when your plane crash lands on an island. There’s human fortitude when a tsunami wipes out your city. Then there’s your planet blowing up and you somehow crash landing on a planet in another solar system. How do you reconcile moving forward after that one?

I don’t know about you but I’d need at least 48 hours sitting on the ground, staring at a rock, saying to myself, “Did what just happen really just happen?” You have to remember, all this happens within MINUTES! And yet, this is exactly why I kept turning the pages. This is the kind of thing writing should do. It should make you think. It should make you wonder. What would I do if I were in that situation?

Unfortunately, when the script moves onto the new planet, it begins to feel a little too familiar – and even worse, it feels kind of like a Star Trek TV episode. We’re still thinking about the crazy shit that just happened, yet now we’re having to focus on huge lizard birds. The exploration of the planet has a very “At The Mountains Of Madness” feel to it, but Mountains had a slow build up to its location, making the location the star. In Expulsion, the location never quite lives up to what came before it.

I liked that Hurwitz attempted some character exploration here, but again, it’s kind of like, who cares about whatever middling problems you had back on earth when the earth’s crust has just been ripped from its core like an orange peel and you’ve been shot into the Buttfuck, Iowa of solar systems. It’s almost like the situation is too big for the characters to exist in. Even as I contemplated summarizing the characters, I realized, “Is it really worth it?” They're like ants compared to the grandiosity of this situation.

I’m not really sure what to do with this one. All I can say is kudos to the author for creating the single greatest destruction sequence of all time. But the stuff on the planet has to live up to the opening act. Right now it feels like a television episode and the characters themselves are too cartoonish. Again, this might be because, relatively speaking, the opening sequence will cast a shadow on anything that happens afterwards, disallowing for any sort of reality to emerge. But for this to work, the last three-quarters have to be elevated to the highest level possible or this will always be perceived as uneven.

So a ton of work needs to be done here.  But this is worth the read for the first act alone.

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

What I learned: This is a nice reminder to always ask yourself before you start writing, “Has this idea been done before?” But don’t stop there. When you come upon a scene, ask yourself “Has this scene been done before?” When you come across a character, ask yourself, “Has this character been done before?” Sometimes the answer will be yes and you’ll write that character or that scene anyway because it’s right for the movie. But the more elements you give the reader that are unfamiliar, the more original your script will be. You can always ignore this advice and take a time-tested idea and try to execute it perfectly, which *is* possible. It’s just a lot harder.