Friday, May 13, 2011

The Mighty Flynn

Genre: Drama/Comedy
Premise: After a cruel heartless efficiency expert gets fired, he meets a strange 16 year old girl who unexpectedly helps him turn his life around.
About: The writer of today’s script is the same writer of the recently sold (and in production) Seeking A Friend At The End Of The World, which I loved. The Mighty Flynn is one of her early scripts, sold way back in 2005. The script had trouble getting into production because of its “tweener” status. This is the term the industry uses to describe scripts that are too small to be studio films but too big to be independent films. However, another tweener script tackling similar subject matter did make it into production, Jason Reitman’s 2009 film Up In The Air, which seemingly killed any chance of The Mighty Flynn getting made. Well, I think that would be a shame. Not only is this a great fucking script, but it’s everything Up In The Air should’ve been and more. You can learn more about Lorene Scafaria in this interview she did with Done Deal back in 2005. In short, even though she’s relatively young, she’s been writing scripts forever.
Writer: Lorene Scafaria
Details: 115 pages – 2005 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).

 Keanu Reeves for Jimmy Flynn?

I loved this script.

I’m hard pressed to find a single thing wrong with it. Well, that’s not true. It has a few problems. But the great things are so great that they completely overwhelm the bad things. This is the kind of script that makes you excited to be a writer. It gives you hope, it reminds you that passion matters, it gives you the inspiration to figure out that long-standing problem in your latest spec. Let’s hurry up and get to the plot before I explode into a double rainbow.

38 year old Jimmy Flynn is a selfish prick who takes pride in his job. Jimmy is an efficiency expert. That means he comes into your company, evaluates where you’re paying people you shouldn’t be paying, then gets rid of the excess fat.  But the real perk of his job?  Firing people. And Jimmy loves every second of it. This isn’t puppy-dog eyed George Clooney who gives you a big warm hug along with a huge severance package, an inspiring quote, and 20 new job leads. Flynn comes in there cold and hard. He doesn’t care if you have six kids and missed your last three mortgage payments. If a company has hired him to let you go, you’re getting let go.

Well unfortunately Jimmy gets a little carried away one day and fires a boss from a huge company on ‘BRING YOUR DAUGHTER TO WORK DAY.’ Jimmy may be the best, but his employers are sick of keeping up with the legal costs of defending his actions. In the biggest shock of his life, Jimmy, the headhunter, loses his head.

Jimmy is a worker. He’s one of those people who maximizes every second of every day. So when he wakes up one morning with nowhere to be, it’s the equivalent of being dropped into a desert. What do you do now? After a quick pity-party, Jimmy gets back on track by printing out his resume for the first first time in a decade and sending it to a hundred potential employers. Problem is, in this economy? No one’s hiring.

To make matters way worse, the stupid phone company has mixed up his phone number with a suicide hotline. So every ten minutes Jimmy gets a call from some sad sack ready to pour a bottle of vicoden down his throat. And Jimmy is so impersonal, so devoid of human emotion, that he basically tells these people to fuck off.

That is until a 16 year old girl named Boaty calls him, desperately needing someone to talk to. He tries to get rid of her, but ends up pissing her off so much that she actually finds out where he lives and storms over to let him know what an asshole he is. Boaty is about as teenagery as teenagers come, cycling through mood swings faster than a Bravo Real Houswife.

But the script flips when Boaty feels sorry for Jimmy (as if he needs her pity) and makes it a point to help him find a job (he doesn’t want her help finding a job). Jimmy sort of allows her to hang around, but looks for ways to ditch her at every turn. That is until he learns why Boaty called him in the first place. Boaty’s father committed suicide a year ago. But not only that. He committed suicide after being fired from his job.

Fear rushes through Jimmy. He wonders, is he the one who fired her father? Unable to move forward with this weighing on his mind, Jimmy inconspicuously digs for details on Boaty’s dad so he can find out if he, indeed, is responsible. The idea is, once he learns he’s free and clear of blame, he can boot this annoying girl out of his life. But a strange thing happens. Jimmy actually begins to enjoy Boaty’s company. He’d never admit this to her, of course (or to himself for that matter) but there’s no doubt he’s made a connection. Ironically, this raises the stakes of his investigation. The closer he gets to her, the harder it will be to tell her the truth. Which is all the more reason to hope that the truth is he didn't kill her father. And that, in a nutshell, is Mighty Flynn.

Oh man, where do I start with this one? So many good things to talk about.

I’m guessing one of the reasons this hasn’t been made yet is because the hook is a little soft. But what you find out while reading Mighty Flynn is that it actually has several mini-hooks. The first is an efficiency expert who gets fired. You’re always looking for irony in the premise, and we get that here. The next hook is that his number gets mixed up with a suicide hotline. At first this seems random, but when you consider that Jimmy is the most heartless person in the world, and now he’s been tasked with saving people’s lives, it’s another nice drop in the irony pool. Finally, we have Jimmy finding out that he may be responsible for Boaty’s father’s suicide.

This is the hook that drives the story, cause without it, all you have is a fired guy hanging out with a 16 year old girl. Jimmy’s goal is to find out if he killed Boaty’s father so he can leave Boaty and get on with his life. Of course, one of the reasons this script is so awesome is that for every extra bit of time he spends with Boaty, he grows closer to her, raising the stakes of his journey. That’s because there’s more to lose if he finds out he killed her dad.

You also can’t discuss Mighty Flynn without mentioning what a flat-out horrible person our main character is. Usually when I run into a character who’s this much of a dick, I shake my head and say, “Why the hell would you think I’d care about this guy?” And yet I was fascinated by Jimmy. I think it’s because I wanted him to see the error of his ways. I wanted to see him change. Still, Jimmy does not fit into the “likable” protagonist mold at all. He makes Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day feel like a saint. So I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on why this doesn’t seem to be a problem.

I loved the attention to detail here. For example, I talk about choices a lot. I’ve read 8741 scenes with people smoking pot in screenplays. I have never once read a scene where characters smoked opium. It’s a tiny subtle detail but it’s all these little details added together that make this script so unique.

I loved the dialogue, which is pitch-perfect and funny and offbeat all the way through. For example, when Boaty meets Jimmy’s sister for the first time, she’s clearly shocked. “Interesting,” she says. “Why is that interesting?” Jimmy replies. “I’m just surprised that there’s more of you.”

I love how the offbeat older guy/younger girl dynamic doesn’t devolve into anything inappropriate or romantic.

I love how Scafaria is never on-the-nose, how she finds different ways to give you the information you need. For example, an important piece of information is that Jimmy is divorced. A lesser writer may have thrown out the not-so-casual line, “Well before I got divorced…” to get this across. Here, not only does Scafaria find a unique way to tell us Jimmy is divorced, but the scene doubles in telling us exactly who Jimmy is. In it, Jimmy explains to Boaty that, in his endless pursuit to be more efficient, he used to ask his wife why she would walk back and forth in the kitchen so many times when she fixed him his breakfast. It would save so much more time, he pointed out, if she carried the stuff all at once. Boaty asks him, “Did it work?” He replies, “Yeah, it took her 20 minutes. Now it only takes me 7.” In that moment we know exactly why Jimmy lost his wife, what kind of person he is, AND that he’s now divorced, without ever having to directly say so.

I can also tell how thought through this script is. I read way too many a script where the writers haven’t looked at each scene from every angle possible, allowing too many implausibilities or just plain lazy screw-ups to leak through. For example, while Jimmy may not be able to change the suicide number, what’s to stop him from changing his own number so he doesn’t receive 20 suicide calls a day? Well, before he finds out about the mix-up, he’s just sent out 100 resumes with his current phone number on them. He has no choice but to keep his number. Lesser writers would’ve never bothered with this detail.

There were only three small things that bothered me with Mighty Flynn. The first is Boaty’s motivation. While Jimmy’s motivation to keep Boaty around makes sense, it’s not always clear why she stays around Jimmy (though the need for a father figure is adequate). The second thing is (spoiler) the Drano toddler revelation towards the end. It was nice to finally hear why Jimmy had become this hardened heartless soul, but it was Scafaria’s only miscalculation in tone, as I thought it was kind of over the top. The third is the “twist” at the end, when we find out why Jimmy’s number got mixed up with the suicide number. It was a fun cute moment, but the more I thought about it, the less it made sense.

Still, the characters and the dialogue and the story more than make up for this. This one really left an impact on me and as I place it in my Top 10, I hope they send the Hollywood script angels down to drag this out of development hell. It needs to be made. Easily one of the best undproduced screenplays in town.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[x] impressive (Top 10!)
[ ] genius

What I learned: A good hook is going to increase the chances of your script getting read. And these two Scafaria scripts are proof positive of that. Seeking A Friend, which has the hook of an asteroid heading towards earth, was a script I sought out immediately. A Mighty Flynn, which I had always heard was “the efficiency expert script,” is something that, idea wise, didn’t excite me enough to pick it up. There’s no denying that a big hook will increase the number of reads that you get.