Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What Happened To Monday

Genre: Sci-Fi
Premise: In a world where families are allowed only one child due to overpopulation, a resourceful set of identical septuplets must avoid governmental execution and dangerous infighting while investigating the disappearance of one of their own.
About: This spec script sold to Vendome Pictures after it landed on the 2010 Black List. Vendome Pictures is a new production company who also happens to be the company that produced Source Code. This seems to be a major departure for Max Botkin, the writer, as his one other produced credit is a comedy called “Opposite Day.”
Writer: Max Botkin
Details: 116 pages, 9/9/10 draft (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).

The other day we talked a bit about assignment work. How the time constraint and lack of passion in assignments usually results in mediocre work. What Happened To Monday is the opposite of that. This is a script that is clearly a passion project for the writer. Whereas with Dibbuk, story parts came and went faster than hot Krispy Kreme donuts, the pieces in this story are intricately researched and weaved into an impressively complex plot.

However, this attention to detail brings about its own set of problems. Namely, can a world be TOO specific? Are the characters and situations so singular that they’re impossible for an audience to relate to? I’m not sure I can answer that definitively, but I can say that despite how character-driven What Happened To Monday is, its universe is as sterile as a surgeon’s gloves. How a script can feel so detached and yet so connected at the same time is a mystery to me, and it’s part of the complexity that makes “Monday” such an intriguing read. In the end I’m left to wonder whether the story is so unique that there’s nothing for the reader to grab onto.

It’s the future. How far in the future, we’re not sure.

But in this future, the combination of overpopulation and dwindling resources has become a huge issue. As a result, the government is forced to pull a China and limit every family to one child. Any more children than one and a newly formed bureau (headed up by the evil Nicholas Cayman) will take them away, to God-Knows-Where.

Around this time, a young woman named Karen Settman has septuplets. The law states that each child born after the first one must be taken away. But Karen, an architect, decides to keep her children, building them a specially designed condo with multiple hiding places for if the authorities ever stop by.

In order to give each of her children a life, Karen constructs a logistically elaborate set of rules whereby her seven identical sons can go out into the world, one day at a time, living life as a single person. This, of course, is why they’re named after the days of the week.

For those wondering how they pull this off, it’s by no means an easy sell (for them and for us). After each day they have to have an hours-long meeting relating back what happened during the day so that the others always know and understand the details of their singular life.

As they become adults, however, the brothers start getting restless. Nobody can express any individuality once they leave that building. They’re all living a lie. They can’t even experience the greatest thing life has to offer – love. And this starts to take its toll.

Some agents come sniffing around the building and Thursday, our narrator in this journey, realizes that somebody may have given them up. The brothers split up and one by one are either caught or killed, sometimes by agents, sometimes by unknown factors. Thursday realizes that if he doesn’t find out who sold their family out, that it’s only a matter of time before the whole damn week is dead.

If all that sounds complex to you, that’s because it is. Reading this screenplay was exhausting. You have to learn about the universe, you have to learn about the backstory, you have to learn about the rules, you have to watch the brothers grow up, you have to establish the relationships between them all. By the time we actually get to the story, your brain feels like a 50 pound anvil. That may be my biggest complaint here – there’s just…too much. What Happened To Monday feels a lot more like a novel than it does a screenplay.

There’s this popular theory (which I don’t subscribe to) that the best sci-fi is a commentary on some aspect of the modern world. District 9, for instance, was more about the ghetto districts in South Africa than it was about aliens coming down to earth. I get the sense that What Happened to Monday is likewise about a bigger issue, but I’m not sure what that issue is.

I mean is this about China? Is it a human rights film? Part of me thinks yes, but then you get into the whole “naming your seven characters after the seven days of the week” thing and the China connections end. I actually found it cute that each brother acted like their day of the week (Monday was always pissed, Saturday was a party guy, Sunday was the religious one). It was funny and clever. But it contrasted with the larger picture, which seemed to be making a grander statement. What that statement was still eludes me, so I’m eager to find out if any of you caught it.

I think the problem here may be theme. There’s a lot of interesting ideas in “Monday,” but unlike the seven brothers in the script, they don’t have a home. They don’t have a centralized unit to stabilize and unify their message. There are just so many competing elements here.

I think one of the reasons the script sold, however, goes back to a tip I gave you guys a couple of months ago, in my “How to Write For An A-List Actor” article. Write a part where an actor gets to play more than one role. They love that shit. And here, you give an actor seven different roles to play. Talk about challenging. It’s almost too many, but I can definitely see actors giving it a read for that reason.

And you know, once the story gets going, it’s actually pretty good. The mystery of who’s killing off these days of the week gets pretty intense, and while I wouldn’t say the ending was wonderful (again – we’re trying to keep track of so many things that it’s hard to keep up with the intricate plot), it was satisfying.

And I do admit that the script made me think. I kept imagining how miserable these characters’ lives must have been, trapped in this house for six days a week, having only a single day to go out and enjoy the world, and how even when that moment came, they had to pretend to be someone they weren’t. If there’s one thing “Monday” doesn’t lack, it’s complex characters.

But ultimately, the premise requires such a suspension of disbelief and there’s so much to learn before the story can actually get going, that I spent more time fighting this script than reading it.

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

What I learned: This is a complicated lesson but it’s definitely worth discussing. When you’re writing a sci-fi screenplay, you’re establishing a lot of rules. One thing you have to be careful about, however, is establishing a rule that makes sense in your sci-fi world, but not to the audience. In “Monday,” one of the things we keep asking is, “Why can’t these brothers just split up and live off the grid, each with their own separate lives?” What we’re told is that biometric machines are constantly floating around the city, scanning for “siblings.” This sort of makes sense, but how many of these biometric scanners do you think they’d have floating around in Gemini, Texas? Or Marxville, Wyoming? To you and I, going out of state is as simple as making a phone call. So it’s hard for us to imagine it being difficult for our septuplets, even if it is the future. My feeling is that the more influential a story element is in suspending the audience’s disbelief, the more convincing it has to be, and I was never quite convinced that these seven couldn’t just spread out and split up.