Thursday, October 7, 2010

Snow White and The Huntsman

Genre: Fairy-tale Mash-up
Premise: Snow White teams up with a local hunter to take down her evil step-mother, Ravenna.
About: This is the spec script that sold for 1.5 million last week. Evan Daugherty was working as an intern a couple of years ago. He won the Script Pimp contest in 2008 with his script, “Shrapnel,” which John McTiernan later committed to direct. Something tells me that one’s going to be in development for at least another year. Shrapnel led to him doing a rewrite on He-Man, which eventually led to this huge sale. If there is such a thing as the moment every screenwriter dreams of, this would be it. 
Writer: Evan Daugherty (inspired by the Brothers Grimm’s “Little Snow White.”)
Details: 110 pages - undated (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).

When this sale happened, my first thought was, “I couldn't write a script like that in a million years.” This subject matter is so far out of my field of expertise (whatever that is) I felt a little like a member of the Cannes jury having just been told the plot to Star Wars Episode 1, The Phantom Menace. i.e. Confused.

So there’s…Snow White? And she…teams up with a huntsman? But isn’t Snow White dead? Doesn’t she live with dwarves? I was definitely the grandma someone was trying to explain the internet to.

Yet these reimagining fairy tale/historical mash-ups are plugging their way through the Hollywood pipeline and everyone’s banking on them becoming the next big thing (costing no money for rights cause they’re in the public domain certainly doesn’t hurt).

Snow White and The Huntsman follows Miss White’s life as a princess, which for all intents and purposes is pretty sweet. She’s got a strapping young prince doting over her. She loves her family. And paparazzi won’t be invented for another 300 years.

But then her mother, the queen, dies, and because pops can’t keep it in his pants, he marries some hot young trophy wife, the evil Ravenna. Ravenna’s got all sorts of issues, but her biggest one is her desperate desire to look prettier than everyone else in the land.

So obsessed is she with this desire that she hires a local huntsman to seek out the hottest women he can find, capture them, and bring them back to her. She then puts them through the hot girl juicer, a machine that sucks the youth out of these poor women, turning it into juice, which Ravenna then drinks so she can stay young and hot.

Well word on the street is that Snow White is eerily close to becoming the fairest woman in the land, so it’s time for that bitch to get juiced too. But Snow White doesn’t wanna get juiced, and runs into the forest, where she eventually teams up with The Hunstman, who reluctantly helps her escape to freedom.

Of course, in a nod to films like Romancing The Stone and The Princess Bride, these two simply don’t like each other, so there’s a lot of arguing, a lot of not understanding the other’s way, and a lot of repressed desiring.

Eventually Snow White realizes that if she’s going to survive in the wild, she’ll need the particular skillset of the huntsman, and so she forces Hunty to teach her the way of the land. Now I know the question all of you are dying to have me answer so I'll confirm it right here: YES, our seven dwarfs make an appearance.  In fact, our seven dwarfs are pretty badass, and become a key component later in defeating the queen.  

I’m always amazed by the imagination of these worlds. First of all, let’s face it, fairy tales are fucked up to begin with. Who thinks up a story where a dead woman sleeps in a coffin with a bunch of gnomes?  Since when do wolves have super-human blowing powers and blow down houses...with PIGS in them???  And isn't there a fairy tale where a bunch of people live in a giant shoe?  They must have smoked a lot of dope back in the 1600s, I'll tell you that.  So to then take an already freaky premise and further freak it into something weirder has to be considered a unique talent.  So I give credit to Daugherty there.

From a structural perspective, I was also impressed. Snow White having to escape off into the woods was a solid first act break. But more importantly, Daugherty knows how to build through that second act, realizing that if he just gave us Snow White and The Huntsman arguing for 60 pages we’d be bored out of our minds. So he adds plenty of complications (the seven dwarves, an old boyfriend, some bounty hunters, Ravenna’s impending second marriage) to keep us on our toes. It all builds to a solid third act, where the forces of good and evil engage in a final smackdown, and while it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it definitely works.

Now I’ve been reading quite a few of these mash-up scripts on the amateur front and the reason Snow White is better is that everything’s been thought through here. The amateur scripts always feel like a bunch of wacky ideas haphazardly spilled onto the page. It’s like the writers just want credit for being weird and different.  Form, structure, character, really aren’t that important to them.

But this script pays attention to the details.  Take the character of The Huntsman for example. This isn’t just a wise-cracking rogue who’s winking at the audience. His wife was killed years ago by a wolf, and he’s been hunting that wolf ever since. There’s a sadness to this man, a void in him that gives his character weight, that makes him a real person.

I really felt like all the edges of this house were inspected before they put it on the market.  I can't say the same for the amateur scripts I read, where 60-75% effort is the norm.

I guess the big question I have about Snow White and The Huntsman is, who is it being marketed to? Snow White is very much a little girl’s fairy tale, so that’s your built in demographic right there. Yet this is an edgy grown-up reimagining of the character. So who goes to see it? Will 14 year old boy’s flock to see a Snow White film? I don’t know. And what about adults? Isn't this too kiddie for them? It’s one of those weird films that seems to be targeted to everyone and yet to no one. Okay, I’m starting to sound like Matrix Reloaded dialogue now, so I'll move on.

This was a hard script to judge. As a piece of screenwriting, there’s a lot of good stuff in here. But if I’m being honest there isn’t a single aspect of this subject matter that interests me. I felt like I was reading two stories, the one I was admiring as a screenplay and the one about a fairy tale I could care less about. In the end, there’s too much good here not to recommend, but you definitely won't be catching me at the premiere.

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

What I learned: If I were a studio executive and this landed on my desk, I would’ve passed. My response? “Wasn’t my thing.” Does that mean it didn’t deserve to be bought? Of course not. One of the sucky things about this business is that many times when someone passes on a script of yours, you have no idea why. Talking with managers and agents and producers, one of the things I’ve realized is that sometimes people pass simply because it “wasn’t their thing.” It could be expertly written. It could be a great concept. It could have a killer main character. But that particular producer has no interest in that kind of movie. This can actually empower you when you think about it. If someone passes on your script, don’t let it get you down. Simply assume that it wasn’t their thing and move on to the next guy. Cause that next guy might end up paying you 1.5 million dollars for it.