Monday, March 7, 2011

Y The Last Man

Genre: Sci-Fi/Comedy
Premise: Every man in the world is dead except for a young slacker and his pet monkey, leaving a world entirely populated by females.
About: Brian K. Vaughan is a comic book writer, a TV writer (Lost), and has sold a few spec screenplays. This is an adaptation of Vaughan’s own comic book, Y The Last Man, which he sold a few years back.
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan (Based on the series from Vertigo Comics Created by Brian K. Vaughan & Pia Guerra)
Details: Draft 1.2 (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).

There are few screenwriters out there who have as much geek cred as Brian K. Vaughan. You say his name and geeks everywhere smile unintentionally, their cheeks turning red the way a 13 year old girl reacts when the school stud says hi to her in the hallway. I, however, am still undecided on Vaughan. I loved the majority of Roundtable, his Ghostbusters-like spec sale from a few years back about modern day knights trying to save the world. But The Vault left me colder. I liked it enough to recommend it, but parts of it were just so weird and out there. The guy’s imagination is so deep it gives George Lucas pause, and at times that gets him into trouble. But I knew this one was supposed to be good. Plenty of people have recommended it to me before, so I was more than happy to finally read it. Indeed, it starts out with a great question: What if you really were the last man on earth?

Y The Last Man starts the way a spec script should: with something happening. And boy is something happening. Moms are driving their dying husbands and sons to the hospital. Businessmen are keeling over mid-stride. 747s are crashing into the middle of cities. It appears we’re smack dab in the middle of the Apocalypse. Well, sort of anyway. We realize quickly that this apocalyptic event is selective, only killing off the men in the world, sparing the ladies and girls completely. Within 5 hours, every damn living creature with a y chromosome is a burnt pop tart, el officio deadondo.

Or wait, not EVERY living man. It appears that eternal slacker Yorick Brown and his pet monkey, Ampersand, have somehow survived this ordeal. We’re not sure how yet but a guess is that the monkey has something to do with it. So Yorick throws on a gas mask to disguise himself, and heads to his mom’s place, where he hopes she’ll know what to do. Shock City then when his mom betrays him and calls the CIA!

Yorick grabs the monkey, jumps out the back window (don’t you love how awesome back windows are in movies?) and sprints for his life. A test subject for the remainder of his existence does not sound like fun. The last Yorick heard, his girlfriend, Beth, touched down in Los Angeles, and the poor romantic sap feels like if he can just make it to her, everything will be okay. Too bad finding your girlfriend in an apocalyptic wasteland isn’t as easy as jumping out the back window.

Unfortunately, Colonel Alter Tse-Elon, a female soldier in the Israeli defense force, hears about Yorick and makes it her mission to find him. She believes (I think – I wasn’t clear) that if Yorick is found alive that the earth could be repopulated with men, the root of all war, and that once again Israel would be subject to attack. Finding and killing off Yorick would essentially ensure world peace.

And you know what? She’s not the only one who wants to take Yorick down. A huge female biker gang that may or may not be hardcore feminazi lesbians, discover the presence of Yorick and want to pave his way down the Highway to Hell as well. Ugh, not good.

Luckily Yorick runs into Agent 355, a smoking hot secret agent for…some really secret agency, who decides to help him get to Los Angeles. She’s really the only thing that stands between him and capture, as she fights off the biker chicks and Israeli army at every turn, all the while trying to convince Yorick to offer himself to science so they can repopulate the world with men. Will this happen? Will the world’s biggest slacker be able to save mankind? We’ll have to see.

Y The Last Man is as crazy as it sounds. And that’s both its biggest strength and its biggest weakness. What I like about Vaughan is that he gives you what every reader asks for. Surprise. Show me something different. And when Vaughan writes, indeed, you’re never quite sure what’ll happen on the next page. But it’s a double-edged sword, since what you get isn’t always satisfying, and occasionally is so broad that even the developers of those weird Japanese video games step back and say, “Whoa dude, not bi-winning, too far.” A lesbian biker gang? The Isralei army? A pet monkey? It’s not as out there as The Vault, but you definitely need to be up for the absurd when reading one of Vaughn’s scripts.

On the technical side, I wished Vaughan had explored his premise a little more. What if there really were no men left in the world? There’s a great little scene early on where this super-hot chick pulls up in a garbage truck (which she can barely drive), clumsily screwing up her job at every turn, and we’re going, “What the hell is this girl doing driving a garbage truck?” And she explains how she used to be a model, but when all the men disappeared, there was no use for models anymore, forcing her to take the lowliest of lowly jobs. True it was a gimmicky scene that had nothing to do with the plot but I loved that it was actually exploring the premise in a clever way. And I wanted to see more of that. There’s a little of it (the energy sector was dominated by men so there’s basically no electricity anymore) but I was hoping for more.

Structurally, the script has some good and bad things about it. You have a main character with a clear goal (“Get to Beth”) and plenty of urgency behind the goal, since Yorick is constantly being chased. Remember, if you don’t have a ticking time bomb in your script, a great supplement is to create a chase scenario. If someone’s always on your hero’s heels, it creates the illusion of a ticking time bomb. And whenever you have a road trip scenario, you probably want someone chasing your characters anyway, as it gives the story an added edge.

On the stakes front, I’m not sure the script achieves its goal. While Yorick IS the last man on earth, and therefore the last chance to save mankind, that’s not what his mission is about. His mission is to get to his girlfriend. It’s not like Will Smith in I Am Legend, where his goal was to come up with a cure to save makind, truly high stakes. Yorick is trying to get to Beth, which doesn’t really do anything but…get him to Beth. If you look at a movie like The Day After Tomorrow, where a father is trying to find his son, him finding his son actually means something, since he (as well as everyone) is in danger. Beth’s not in danger. And on top of that, when we last saw these two together, she didn’t even like Yorick, so the stakes driving the story are a little soft.

The biggest misstep, however, was one I noticed only because I’d watched Raiders recently. Every third or fourth scene In Y The Last Man is Yorick and Agent 355 in a safe setting (on a train, on the side of the road) talking. These scenes are weak because the story isn’t being pushed forward in any noticeable way. Instead, the characters are talking about their pasts or discussing the effects of the plague. They’re not TERRIBLE scenes because Vaughan is good with dialogue (i.e. “You know what the strongest muscle in the human body is?” “The heart?” “No, it’s not the heart, you sappy fuck. It’s your jaw muscle. Even a scrawny dude like me has five hundred pounds of bite strength.” “Great, that’ll come in handy when you’re fighting food.”) but there’s no outside force or conflict or subtext going on during them. It’s just two people talking.

Compare that with the “dialogue” scenes between Indiana and Marion in Raiders. When he first finds Marion, he has to convince this woman whose life he ruined to help him. Or later on when they’re talking in Cairo, the baddies are moving into place to attack them. Or when she’s dressing Indy’s wounds, probably one of the truest “straight dialogue” scenes in the movie, even there the sexual chemistry that’s been building through them the entire movie is about to burst. In other words, there’s ALWAYS SOMETHING GOING ON in those scenes, whereas here in Y The Last Man, it just feels like two people talking. This is more a testament to how good Raiders is than any defining statement about Y The Last Man, but it is a reminder to add layers to your dialogue scenes.

In my opinion, Y The Last Man is too broad, too loose with the reigns, but there’s no denying that Vaughan always keeps you guessing and has some of the more unique characters you’ll find in a script. You want to talk about a unique voice, a voice that separates a writer from everybody else out there, go ahead and read one of Vaughan’s scripts. And for that reason alone, I think Y The Last Man should be read.

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

What I learned: I’m surprised I’m bringing this up with a Brian K. Vaughan script, since I just championed his originality, but this is proof that even the top writers fall into the same traps as the rest of us. No less than six days ago – SIX DAYS AGO! – I read an apocalypse script where in the opening scene, a jumbo jet crashes into the city. What happens in the opening scene of Y The Last Man? A jumbo jet crashes into the city. This is proof that ALL WRITERS THINK ALIKE. We think apocalypse and we imagine a plane diving into the middle of New York. It’ll be epic! But did we ever stop to consider that everyone else who’s writing an apocalypse script would think of the same thing? For that reason, always keep your competition in mind. Ask yourself if another writer would write the same thing. And if they would, write something else. Maybe an oil tanker with no one at the helm plows into the port instead. I don’t know. But keep in mind that that cool original scene you just wrote? A reader may have just read it last week. Which means you’re playing the role of second fiddle.