Monday, February 28, 2011

Drunk Dialing

Genre: Comedy
Premise: 24 year old Ronnie Epstein wakes up after a night of drinking to learn he drunk dialed 200 people. He’ll spend the next 24 hours dealing with the consequences.
About: Drunk Dialing was one of the ten finalists for the 2010 Nicholl Screenwriting Competition.
Writer: Sebastian Davis
Details: 101 pages – 4/08/10 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).

 Oh yeah. We've all done it.

I’ve seen a few of these “dunk dial” premises floating around over the last couple of years and I’m not surprised why. It’s a great premise for a comedy. I mean who hasn’t woken up after a night of exceeding their adult beverage limit, only to find they’ve sent out ill-advised e-mails or made ill-advised calls to the last people they should’ve made them to? I’m still dealing with the consequences from a night five years ago where my friend somehow managed to mass text “I miss you,” to all 500 contacts on my phone. Old girlfriends, work contacts, friendships that had fallen by the wayside…I even had the number of one of my clients’ ten year old son on my phone for some reason. Boy did I have some explaining to do after that one.

But the question remains the same as it always does with these funny premises. What about the execution? Is Drunk Dialing the perfect connection? Or is it a dropped call?

24 year old Ronnie Epstein has just woken up in Tokyo. Now THAT’S what I call a night. To make matters worse, he checks his phone and realizes he made 200 calls last night! Calls to his boss, calls to his old girlfriend, calls to people he hasn’t seen in years. This is ugly. But before he can enact Operation Damage Control, the third strike hits – a petty thief steals his phone!

As Ronnie stumbles outside, he realizes he’s not in Tokyo, but rather Little Tokyo in LA. Before he can process that thought, Mary-Lou Whitman, a hot chica in a pink corvette and a girl Ronnie spent one night with five years ago, screeches to a halt in front of him. He called her needing help last night and, voila, here she is.

Mary-Lou explains to Ronnie that he changed her life when, after making love five years ago, he told her that she should do this kind of thing as a profession. So she followed his lead and is now a porn star! In fact, they’re going to the set of her latest porn film right now.

In the meantime, we flashback to 3 years earlier when Ronnie was a college student/street artist. Back then he had the hottest girl, DJ Keoko, by his side, and the two spent every second partying and living it up. But when it was time for Keoko to pursue a job in another country, Ronnie chose to let her go and stay in LA. This fateful decision led to a series of safe choices, culminating in him becoming a floor mat salesman.

Anyway, we jump back to the present where Ronnie’s old friends keep popping up out of nowhere, responding to Ronnie’s drunk dials from the night before. They include Marcus, an ibanker who drained the bank accounts of some angry Wall Street investors, and an Irish drug dealer, whose questionable dealing habits have him mixed up with the Irish mob. And then, of course, there’s Keoko, who keeps asking Ronnie if he meant what he said on her voice mail last night, a question Ronnie can’t answer because he doesn’t remember what he said.

Naturally, Ronnie will have to save his job, ditch his clingy new/old friends, and get the girl, all before the day is done. Can he do it? Or has he drunk dialed his way into oblivion?

Drunk Dialing was a tough script to get a handle on. While I was reading it, I wasn’t sure if we were exploring the most interesting version of the story. In particular, the flashbacks to college seemed to intrude on the pace and rhythm of the script, giving what should have been a straightforward operation a herky-jerky unsure-of-itself feel.

Flashbacks are dangerous. It’s just so hard to get them right. And when you think about it, unless we’re talking about a well-crafted Oscar-bound mystery film from Argentina, audiences are usually interested in what’s happening *right now,* not a week ago or a year ago or five years ago. They want to see our hero encounter problems this minute, because those are the problems that are affecting his immediate goal – not what happened back in 2008. Now, of course, the past can shed light on your character, giving us a better understanding of them, but most of the time, all that work and page space you put into those flashbacks can easily be handled by a quick present day exposition scene.

On the plus side, if you like “24 hour crazy fucking night/day” comedies, Drunk Dialing is for you. Our hero is running all over the place, staving away various lunatics he drunk-dialed the night before, and doing so with characters we haven’t seen in these types of films before (I can’t remember ever seeing I-bankers or the Irish Mob in this kind of movie). The comedy’s really broad, so you’re either going to love it or hate it, but there are definitely some funny moments.

Besides the flashback choice, the structure’s pretty solid. We establish that our hero’s in line for a promotion, creating stakes for the main character. Our character has a passion he’d rather pursue (street art), which means he has some inner conflict he’s trying to resolve during the film. He’s got a girl he’s trying to get back - yet another goal that’s pushing him and the story forward. And the script has a very young hip feel, almost like Scott Pilgrim, but easier to digest. I can see a bunch of high school and college kids wanting to check this out.

But here’s the thing. Of all the genres I read, comedies are the sloppiest of the lot by far. And I guess it makes sense. Writers think, “It’s a comedy. Who cares about making the story perfect?” As a result, I end up reading all these comedies with tremendous potential, but that never make it to the finish line. It’s like the writers stop at the 17k mark and say, “That’s probably good enough.” It’s rare that I see a writer try to craft a comedy with the same attention to detail that they might craft, say, a drama. That’s why it’s so rare to find a great comedy spec. Cause the writers are only giving you 60-70%.

And while Drunk Dialing makes it closer to the finish line than most, it still feels like one of those comedies that bowed out before finishing the race.  The pieces don't quite fit into a whole. I don’t feel like the script has been reworked and reworked into the best possible version of itself.  It's basically a string of funny set-pieces.  Maybe the past stuff was an attempt to create something more meaningful, but it's not fleshed out enough in its current form.  It needs more work.

But hey, you know my standards are impossibly high for comedies. What did you guys think?

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

What I learned: Having one of your leads move/leave/fly to another state/country at the end of your movie is one of the easiest ways to create a ticking time bomb. For that reason, it’s a great device to use. But you can’t use the “race to the airport” scene at the end of a movie anymore. You just can’t do it. It’s become a cliché within a cliche and if you put it in your screenplay, 80% of the people who read it are going to groan. Be creative. Look for other ways to write the climax. I read a script not long ago where a guy was going to the airport to stop his girlfriend from leaving but his car broke down. He realized he could still catch her at  her place. So the final scene is him running through the suburbs trying to catch her before she gets in the cab, rather than running through an airport. It’s a small change but it’s different from what we’re used to seeing, so it works. Always avoid cliché choices, particularly at the end of your screenplay.