Wednesday, March 16, 2011

El Presidente

Genre: Comedy
Premise: An uptight secret service agent is assigned to the worst former president in U.S. history, who becomes the target of an assassination attempt.
About: Spec script El Presidente was picked up by Warner Brothers late last year, but I could’ve sworn this script was kicking around a couple of years ago with Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson attached. Is that me imagining things or was that another project altogether? The writer, Dan Goor, has been working as a TV writer for over a decade, writing for Conan O'Brien and Jon Stewart, as well as NBC’s Parks and Recreation. This is his first script sale.
Writer: Daniel J. Goor
Details: 120 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).

Agent Coleman is the kind of guy who tries to beat his best time jogging every morning. He’s the kind of guy who eats steamed broccoli for breakfast. Agent Coleman is the most uptight by-the-books secret service agent you will ever meet. And that’s saying something. Since all those guys are more anal than a night at Charlie Sheen’s house (ooooh, I just had to go there, didn’t I).

40-something Blake Fisher is the opposite of Coleman. He’s a loser. An idiot. A child. Careless. Selfish. Undisciplined. Narcissistic. Oh, and he also used to be president of the United States. Not by the people’s vote though. No, Fisher lucked out when the real president suffered a chest-grabber during office. So Fisher took over. And proceeded to fuck up everything. At the heart of the criticism was that Fisher cared more about the celebrity of being president than the actual job of being president. His sexual endeavors alone made Charlie Sheen look like David Archeletta (please nobody get that reference).  Afterwards he was immortalized by the definitive best selling biography, "Worst Ever."  

Anyway, Coleman has done his two years of security detail with Fisher post-presidency and now he wants a shot at the big time – the thing that every security agent dreams of – to protect an acting president. Although he's a front-runner for the job, Coleman is shocked when he's rejected for the position, and to add insult to injury, is told he’ll be guarding Fisher for another two years!!! The nightmare continues. And the reason it’s a nightmare is because nobody gives a shit about Blake Fisher. Nothing bad is ever going to happen to him, making Coleman's job a joke.

Concurrently during all this, we keep cutting to newscasts telling us about “Armorcorp,” a new privatized army system that comes into your country for a fee and cleans up your mess. Armorcorp's first job - The Congo - is going so well, that Congress is ready to pass a bill at the end of the week which will give their business the kind of autonomous power only individual countries receive.  Hmmm, why do I get the feeling these Armorcorp people aren't looking out for the world's best interest.  

Back in the U.S., Coleman becomes so frustrated with his situation that he slacks off for the first time in his career. And wouldn’t you know it, it’s during that very second that a group of men kidnap Fisher. Colemam, however, is able to catch up to and get Fisher back from these men, men, he's shocked to find out, who work for his very own government.  Wait a minute, why would his own government want to kidnap and kill a stupid ex-president that nobody cares about?  And if they have no problems killing Fisher, who's to say they'd have any problems killing him?

Uh-oh, This is not looking good. And it's just a guess, but why do I feel like Armorcorp has something to do with this (maybe because I decided to include a paragraph about them?)?  Will Coleman figure this all out in time to save himself and, more importantly, the man he's assigned to protect?

The first thing I want to point out about El Presidente is the character introductions. When you’re writing a high concept comedy, you want the reader to know who your characters are right away.

Here. We meet our lead character, Coleman, jogging faster than everyone else on the path, running up 42 flights of stairs to his hotel room, ordering a very specific meal from room service (6 eggs, steamed broccoli, etc.), pulling out a portable blender so he can mix his omelet just the way he wants it. Next, we meet Fisher, who’s passed out amongst a sea of bras with a naked women stumbling around.

After each of these introductory scenes, we not only know exactly who these characters are, but we know exactly what their flaws are. Coleman is too uptight. Fisher is self-destructive.

Now hitting these moments too hard in other genres, like drama or horror, doesn’t work. The tone of those types of movies require you to be more subtle with your introductions.  But in comedies, where you're allowed to be on-the-nose and obvious if it's servicing a laugh, you can use those opening scenes to tell us exactly who your character is. How do we meet Jim Carrey in Liar Liar? He’s lying to a judge trying to win a case at the expense of his dignity. We know exactly who that character is before we’ve hit the third minute of the film.

As for the rest of El Presidente, I think it’s still being worked out. Like a lot of comedies, they’re trying to find those gold "laugh out loud" set pieces with varying degrees of success. While there was nothing side-splittingly funny in El Presidente, there were a lot of amusing scenes, including a car chase in a Prius and an impromptu baseball stadium “Ex-President throws out the First Pitch” scene to escape the bad guys (where they run onto the field in the third inning – not exactly the moment you’re supposed to throw out the first pitch).

But a lot of the stuff felt like we’d seen it before. When I heard about this movie, I actually thought it was going to be set in the Congo, and I liked that. Not only did it sound like it had a ton of potential for comedy but as far as the “buddies-on-the-run” comedy genre, I don’t think anything like that has ever been done before.

Another reality that’s hitting me with comedies these days is that the plot just doesn’t matter enough to people anymore.  The plot in El Presidente seems incidental, like its off on its own island (literally I guess). And while a part of me understands that on a primal level, the comedy should always take precedence over the plot in a comedy, it’s my belief that a well-crafted plot provides you with more opportunities for comedy than a non-existent or super-thin plot. If you look at a movie like “The Other Guys,” for example, the plot was so nonsensical and stupid, that the back half of the movie ran out of laughs. And I think that’s directly related to the plot petering out. It isn’t there to push any important scenes (with real stakes) on the characters, leaving the actors out there to fend for themselves. I mean seriously, what the hell was that 15 minute scene near the end where they kept walking back and forth between the house and the street pretending to be a grandma?

Anyway, it sounds like I’m dogging El Presidente but I actually think it's better than most comedy specs I read. It has a very Midnight Run (speaking of a comedy with a solid plot) feel to it that, if honed in subsequent drafts, could really shine. I sure would've liked to see this set in the Congo though, where it would've given us something fresh.  But hey, it's still worth the read.  

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

What I learned: When doing an “on the road” comedy (or really any comedy where your characters are bouncing around from location to location ), you owe to yourself to look at every possible location for that story. A road trip in the deep south will be different from a road trip in the Midwest will be different from a road trip in India. Obviously, you want to choose a location that best fits the story you’re trying to tell, but just remember that the more unique the location is, the more opportunities you’ll have to give the audience something they’ve never seen before. I remember the writers of Due Date being interviewed about the writing process of that script. And they talked about how frustrating it was to try and come up with a fresh angle for all their road trip scenes as it had all been done before. I think a lot of the reason for that is they put their characters in too familiar of an environment.  There's only so much you can do on a road that thousands of road-trip films have traveled before.