Thursday, March 24, 2011

10 Great Scripts That For Some Reason Remain Unmade

I’ve reviewed a lot of scripts here on Scriptshadow, and one of the unfortunate things about the way the blog is constructed, is that whenever I come across a good script that’s been lost amongst the glut of endless projects weighing down the Hollywood sign and everything around it, it’s forgotten less than a week later, as newer fresher script reviews take its place. So I’ve been meaning to look back over my reviews and find a handful of scripts that deserve to stay in the limelight, scripts that I think some ambitious producer or director could turn into a great film. Now I realize that there’s a reason these scripts haven’t been made yet. They’re gambles. None of them has that moist dewy high concept center that make them a “sure thing,” but that’s what makes them such great scripts. They all take chances. And it’s time for some producer to take a chance on them.

MIXTAPE by Stacy Menear
Premise: A thirteen year old outcast finds a mixtape that holds the key to learning everything about her deceased parents. But after accidentally destroying the obscure compilation of songs, she must rely on the song list to find all the music instead.
There’s tough sell and then there’s *tough sell.* If centering your script around a 30 year old good-looking male lead is the best way to get your movie made, centering it around a 13 year old chubby introverted girl is probably one of the worst ways to get your movie made. But this script has more heart in its 119 pages than every movie that was released last summer combined. You immediately fall in love with Beverly, the main character, and when that impossible journey of finding these obscure music tracks looks like it’s going to end in failure, and that Beverly will never truly get to know her real parents, it kills you. Obviously, finding the right actress to play Beverly is key (Chloe Moretz is attached to star but she’s attached to star in a lot of things), but this is one of those movies that I guarantee festival audiences will fall in love with, which should propel it to a strong limited release. Are you listening indie producers?

THE GARDENER by Jay Sherman
Premise: A reclusive gardener’s life is turned upside-down when he’s given a unique plant that exhibits shocking properties.
It’s not too often you mistake a script for another script, sit down to read it, realize it’s the wrong script, but still enjoy it anyway. Yet that’s exactly what happened with The Gardener. Nobody really jumped onto the Gardener train with me when I first posted it back in the day, and I guess that’s because it’s a pretty weird concept, but man is it a fun weird concept. Here’s why I think this movie should be made. Even without the high-concept elements, even without the weirdness, it would still be a good movie, because there’s still a series of compelling real-life storylines going on here, and all of them are relatable. Hey, they made a movie about going into John Malkovich’s brain. Why can’t they make a movie about living plants?

BLUE by Lindsey Rosin
Premise: In 1998, at the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, a high school girl becomes a local celebrity when she produces a line of dresses based on the famous blue dress Monica Lewinsky wore while having “relations” with the president.
I love this little story. And I believe it’s the only script on the list that hasn’t been purchased yet. I’ve read a lot of screenplays about high school and I can’t remember one that captured the fear, the confusion, the anticipation, and the excitement of being a teenager as honestly as this did. I also loved how packed the story was. Every character has a purpose. Every storyline challenges our hero. And it’s got one of the more clever indy hooks (with the Monica Lewinsky dress) and superb character work I’ve seen in an indie screenplay. Just a really neat little script.

Premise: In order to earn the respect of his famous father, a young man must go on a great journey to find his idol, a “Cat Stevens” like 70s alternative-dance icon who’s since gone into hiding.
Granted this would cost a little more dough than the above mentions, here’s why I still think this movie needs to be made: Because Wes Anderson doesn’t write good movies anymore. There. I said it. The cat stevens is out of the bag. But it’s true. Everyone’s just afraid to admit it. He’s copying themes and characters that he’s already written in much better movies, just like what happened with Woody Allen 20 years ago. Lonny The Great is the kind of script a young Wes Anderson would write. It’s funny, it’s quirky, it’s ambitious, and it has an interesting main character we want to follow. The structure’s all over the place but it’s a testament to how great Reiss is with character that it still works.

HOME by Adam Alleca
Premise: A paranoid delusional ex-convict is left on house arrest in a cabin out in the middle of the woods.
The contained thriller is PLAYED OUT. Right? Wrong. It’ll never be played out. Because you can always shoot contained thrillers for 1/20 the cost of normal movies. That’s never going to change. The problem is, everyone is writing them. So how do you stand out? I’ll tell you. You create interesting characters we care about (can’t spell “character” without… “care”), introduce exciting plot twists, and always keep the reader guessing. Home does this better than any contained thriller I’ve read all year. The gimmicky set up had me convinced this was going to be more “been there, done that,” but the execution (even when it goes off the rails at the end) was superb.

Premise: A secret supercollider underneath Sparkle Creek, Wisconsin starts wreaking havoc on the small town.
This was a HUGE spec sale from David Koepp and John Kamps (2.5 mil!) back in 2001 so this is hardly a “little known” script, but what surprises me is just how dead the project is. This is a great idea for a movie! We’ve never seen anything like it before. And not only does it have that high-concept hook, but it wouldn’t be expensive to make either. It’s set in a small town. And all of the effects are basic shit filmmakers 20 years ago could’ve pulled off in-camera. So those won’t be that expensive. The bigger problem here is with the main characters. They’re not interesting. Their love story isn’t interesting. But that can be fixed. It’s not hard to come up with a compelling love story with tons of conflict set in a small town. I think of all the scripts I’m highlighting today, this one has the biggest chance for success.

PASSENGERS by Jon Spaihts
Premise: A spacecraft transporting thousands of people to a distant planet has a malfunction in one of its sleep chambers. As a result, a single passenger is awakened 90 years before anyone else. Faced with the prospect of growing old and dying alone, he wakes up a second passenger who he's fallen in love with.
Well well well, isn’t this a surprise? Those of you who’ve been reading Scriptshadow fore-ev-ah know that I did not get swindled in by this Black List favorite that was the belle of Hollywood’s ball (and Keanu Reeve’s eye) when I first read it. But after recently engaging in an hour long conversation with a writer who loved the script, I started to see it in a whole new light. Although the logic problems in the script kill me (there’s no backup plan for someone accidentally coming out of cryo-sleep early???), this is a love story we’ve never seen onscreen before. Imagining these two tiny people walking around this vast empty ship --- I think it could be iconic if done with the right director. And because there’s only two characters, some clever green screen would actually make this cheap to shoot. One thing I didn’t give enough credit to Spaihts for in my initial review was, he wrote a unique story. And in a world where everything is copied, remade, and reimagined, you have to give him credit for that.

Premise: A manic narcissistic workaholic chef tries to get back into the restaurant game after a much publicized meltdown many years ago.
Of all these scripts, the one I’m the most shocked hasn’t been made yet is this one. I mean, whoever plays the title role in this movie is going to win an Oscar. Hands down. It’s the kind of stuff actors’ dreams are made of. And it’s funny. This movie is so damn funny! And I love the love story here. It’s so unconventional and fresh. As fresh as the food that’s prepared at our hero’s restaurant. There is no doubt in my mind that this would be a great film. So why the hell has everyone abandoned it?? This is not the kind of project that deserves to be lost in Development Hell. Find your lead actor, whether it be Denzel, Russell Crowe, Mel Gibson, Tom Hardy or whoever and start production on this tomorrow! Before my food gets cold. You’re really dropping the ball if you don’t get this made!

OH NEVER SPECTRE LEAF by C. Ryan Kirkpatrick and Chad Musick
Premise: After a freak plane crash, an awkward teenage boy must enlist the help of a sexually frustrated dwarf, a smokin' hot cyborg, and an idiot in a bunny suit to defeat the Nocturnal Wench Everlasting and restore sunlight to the bizarre land of Spectre Leaf.
Okay no doubt this would cost a little extra cash, but in my biased opinion, Spectre Leaf is a thousand times better than all these mash-ups hitting the airwaves right now. My problem with those projects (Snow White and the Huntsman, Peter Pan, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) is that they’re sheep in wolf’s clothing. They promote themselves as different, yet they’re as tame as a Wednesday evening Justin Bieber concert. I promise you that there is nothing tame about Oh Never Spectre Leaf. These guys pull no punches and rarely write what you think they’re going to write. True, while the overabundance of adrenaline will (and has) turn off some, the non-stop streaming of imagination these two put into every page means there isn’t a boring moment to boot in Spectre Leaf.

Premise: A black ops agent is assigned to protect a female operator who works out of a “numbers station” deep in the Arizona desert.
I’m not really a minimalist fan because if movies go on for too long without much happening, I start jonezin for some story. But in this minimalist thriller, the slow build-up helps escalate the tension and suspense required for the second half of the story to work. I’m not in love with the draft I read, but I loved where it could go with a few rewrites. I wouldn’t mind the numbers, and their secret meaning, to be tied in closer with the plot, so that our protagonists are not only fighting for their lives in the end, but also realizing the much bigger implications involved. Of course, one of the reasons this thriller is so charming is that it doesn’t give you all the answers, forcing you to figure out some key pieces of the story on your own. Most writers don’t know how to pull this off, but Frazier understands the balance perfectly. I’d love to see this movie get made.

There are plenty of other scripts I could’ve pointed out. The Ornate Anatomy Of Living Things, Junior Executive, Sunflower. All great scripts. But they’ve already gotten a lot of play on the site. I was hoping to dig a little deeper, and when I went back through all my reviews, I was surprised by how powerfully some of them affected me. Passengers, for example, is a script I was never into, but when I went back to it, I realized that I remembered every scene. That told me there was something more going on there. For that matter, all of these scripts stayed with me in some way, and I’ll be really excited if a few producers out there see the same thing and get these projects where they belong, at a Rodeo Drive intersection under a green light.