Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Genre: Drama/Zombie
Premise: A high school girl has been contaminated with the zombie virus. However, in this treatment of the zombie dilemma, the change takes months to complete.
About: Zombie spec script “Maggie” drummed up a lot of excitement a few weeks back when a bidding war erupted for the original screenplay and was eventually won by Wanted director, Timur Bekmambetov, for mid six figures. For whatever reason, something happened and the spec went back on the market, where I assume it will be picked up by someone else soon. A big reason for the interest seems to be that the genre project would be cheap to produce (with an under 5 million dollar price tag). reports that the writer, John Scott 3, works with the Chandra X-Ray Observatory for NASA, which takes photos of X-ray photons in deep space. Someone will have to confirm this for me, but I think the script also won the Page Screenwriting Contest.
Writer: John Scott 3
Details: 101 pages - undated (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).

Maggie’s been burning up the internet ever since it became a hotly sought after spec script a few weeks ago. Speaking to those who have read it, I can tell you that the reaction has been all over the map. Some liked it and some absolutely hated it. With Hollywood firmly committed to making zombies the next vampires, you can say that the zombie trend is here to stay. And right away, before even reading Maggie, I had a pretty good idea why this zombie flick sold.

Once again, a writer has taken a tired genre and found a fresh angle on it. I guarantee we’ve never seen a zombie flick about a six month incubation period before (or is it six weeks? – wasn’t clear on that). Nor have we seen one where the main characters are never in any danger of, well, being attacked by zombies. This, of course, is going to be why the opinions on this one run the gamut. People are going to expect certain things from this script that they’re never going to get. And that’s going to piss them off. The question is, will the ones who survive that knee-jerk reaction fall in love with what is essentially a slow-moving allegory for cancer?

The world’s been overrun by zombies. We’re talking hundreds of millions, maybe even billions of zombies. Luckily, the powers that be have finally gotten things under control and, at least for now, the zombie issue has been contained.

The strange thing about this zombie virus, however, is that you don’t turn into a zombie right away. Instead it’s a gradual change, about six months, and this allows those who are infected to go back to their homes and live with their families until the big switch arrives.

16 year old Maggie is one of those victims. She ran out into the world unprotected and got bit by one of them. Now, she’s living in her rural home with her overly emotional father Wade, and her stepmother, Caroline. She’s got a couple of siblings as well, but they’ve been moved out of the house until Maggie, you know, officially becomes a zombie.

The story centers mainly around Maggie’s relationship with her father. Naturally, he feels helpless that he can’t save his little girl, and therefore every single moment between them becomes precious.

One of the problems people have been having with this script is the lack of story density, and I can’t say I disagree with them. There simply isn’t a lot going on here. While there is a ticking time bomb (her switch), there’s no real goal for any of the characters, resulting in a cast of passive characters. As many professional writers will attest to in their work-up to becoming professionals, one of the most important lessons they learned was to stay away from passive main characters. If nobody’s doing anything, it’s just a bunch of characters sitting around talking to each other, complaining about things, trying to make it through the day. And it’s almost impossible to make that interesting over an extended period of time. Indeed, Maggie suffers from characters who don’t have much to do, and therefore each scene is either a repeat of an earlier one or a slightly different variation of it (i.e. Maggie vents her frustration about being sick half a dozen times).

That’s not to say none of it works. It’s a sad circumstance for sure and the theme of impending death – our fear of it, the world’s fear of it, the way people distance themselves from it, the way family is forced to deal with it – is powerful and heartbreaking stuff. Maggie essentially has cancer of the zombie, and her and her family’s unwillingness to accept this feels like one of millions of cases of the same scenario playing out around the world as we speak.

But I think my problem with Maggie was that it didn’t give us anything that we weren’t expecting. For an idea that’s so unique, you’d want the scenes and the twists and the characters to all carry that same uniqueness. For example, I was thinking, ‘I hope there’s not a bunch of overly dramatic scenes where the characters complain about God,’ and sure enough, there were a bunch of overly dramatic scenes where characters complained about God. We’ve seen that before. We know it’s coming. In the book for The Lovely Bones (the book, not the movie), the daughter is raped and killed. They could’ve easily gone down depression alley with the characters slumped in dark corners complaining about how life isn’t fair. Instead they bring in the drunk grandmother character who cheers everyone up. It’s not where we expected it to go, and therefore it was refreshing.

Also, I would’ve looked to have added waaaaaay more conflict to the story. For example, why make it so easy to keep Maggie at the house? What if, instead, at the beginning of the movie, the government, fearing a recent uptick of zombies, declares home incubation illegal, and demands that all the infected be brought in? Imagine the tension you could create from officials showing up at the house and asking where Maggie was. Imagine Wade hiding Maggie and the officials looking through the house.

Also, all the characters in Maggie treat the title character the same way. They’re worried for her and feel sorry for her. I’m sorry but that’s boring. You have a stepmother living in this house! Let’s utilize her. What if she doesn’t agree with Wade about Maggie staying here? What if she wants Maggie out? In conjunction with the change I just mentioned, what if the step-mom is considering selling Maggie out? Telling the officials she lives here? The point is, we needed some sort of conflict inside the house, and we weren’t getting it.

There were other things that concerned me as well. There were too many monologues. Too much clumsy exposition. There’s a point, for example, where Wade lays out his daughter’s entire history on the phone to a bank manager. It’s long and awkward and not a very inventive way of conveying information (although I did like how the bank’s impending repossession of the house upped the stakes and made things more difficult for the family).

I’d be interested in a rewrite here. There needs to be less repetition in the story, more conflict, not so much melodrama, more twists and turns, more variety in the emotions (everyone’s so bleak!), more story density, and probably more humor to relieve the tension. There’s a good message here, but the wrapping is too saccharine and monotonous.

There were some good things though. I thought the script became more interesting as it went on. In particular, when we start to see Maggie craving live meat and not able to control herself around the family. Watching her father’s denial was beyond heartbreaking, especially as she neared death - easily the script’s best moment. But like I mentioned, the journey to get to that point was too predictable and too maudlin. Will be interesting to see where the rewrites take this.

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

What I learned: Someone just brought this up in the comments section of “Great Hope Springs.” And I think it’s a great note. Every script needs emotional peaks and valleys. We need to be brought way up then we need to be brought way down. You need to run the gamut of emotions on us. If it’s just one emotion all the way through, it’ll feel one-dimensional and stale. Bring your characters and your audience through emotional peaks and valleys!