Friday, July 22, 2011

Amateur Friday - The Keeper Project

Genre: Sci-Fi
Premise: A geneticist who specializes in cloning risks his reputation and life's work to save his sick daughter.
About: The Keeper Project is a 2009 PAGE Award Bronze Prize winner in the Sci-Fi category. That makes it Top 31 out of 6300 entries. --- Every Friday, I review a script from the readers of the site. If you’re interested in submitting your script for an Amateur Review, send it in PDF form, along with your title, genre, logline, and why I should read your script to Keep in mind your script will be posted in the review (feel free to keep your identity and script title private by providing an alias and fake title).
Writer: Michael Coleman Jr.
Details: 108 pages

You guys wanted Amateur Friday scripts with a little more luster behind them? Well I aim to please, senorita. But not without reservations. Someone asked me the other day what my favorite genre is, and I told them sci-fi. And then it hit me. Outside of Passengers, I don’t have a single sci-fi script in my Top 25. Wow, what’s up with that sci-fi writers? I dug deeper. There have been like zero good sci-fi specs in the market this year. Black Lister What Happened To Monday was the last sci-fi script that was actually ambitious AND had potential. But otherwise we’re getting a lot of “I Am Number 4” clones. Yuck. So let’s start bringing some game sci-fi writers. Send me your damn good sci-fi screenplays for Amateur Friday. In the meantime, let’s review this one.

Baltimore, 2027. Dr. Abraham Keeper, 53, treats his sickly 11 year old daughter, Abigail, at their home. Despite her fast-approaching expiration date, Abigail seems to be in high spirits. Maybe that’s because her father is a fantastic doctor, and he’s been doing cloning and stem cell research around the clock to save her life.

Keeper’s lab seems to be a hotbed for activity. The cloning councils and the government aren’t exactly in support of what he’s doing, and it seems like there’s a new angry group outside every day protesting his practice. He even has junkies hanging around for who knows what reason. One of those junkies, 25 year old Erica Blue, has a unique connection with Keeper. We know this because whenever she passes by, she gives him a really intense look.

Later on, when Erica takes off her shirt at home, we see that she has a SECOND MOUTH on the back of her neck. What the! That can’t be good. This country already has an obesity problem. Imagine if you had a second mouth. We don’t have to be math majors to figure out that one mouth plus another mouth means Erica used to be a patient of Keeper’s. Maybe even a daughter of sorts. But because of her deformity, he cast her away like a cheap tube of toothpaste.

Back at the labs, Keeper takes on a new assistant and the two push harder than ever to iron out the cloning process in time to save his poor Abigail. But with the boards and the government and the protestors squeezing him from every side, time is running out to do the saving.

The Keeper Project is thinking man’s sci-fi with a healthy dose of character development. This is definitely stronger than most of the sci-fi amateur scripts I read. And I can see why it finished high at Page. It’s actually similar in many ways to another high profile script that came out of Page, Maggie, which if you remember I reviewed awhile back.

However, there’s something missing here for me. Michael knows how to create a hook. He knows how to explore characters. He knows how to create tension and suspense and conflict. But the script lacked that elusive “wow factor.” That thing that makes a reader readjust the way he’s sitting so he can lean in a little closer and ingest that story even faster.

What is the “wow factor” exactly? Is Simon Cowell involved? The wow factor is a lot like love. You don’t know it until you feel it. But if I were referencing other sci-fi films, the wow factor would be the kung-fu in The Matrix. It would be the unexpected twists and turns in Moon. It would be the documentary angle that makes everything so real in District 9. It would be the tripiness of the dreams within dreams of Inception. It would be the “what the fuck is going on right now” feeling you got when you first read Source Code. It’s an edge. Something that separates your script from every other script out there. And while The Keeper Project is always strong, I kept waiting for it burst out of its shell and become great. But the lack of a wow factor kept it from happening.

The problem? I think it’s too safe of a story. I preach following the rules a lot here on this site. And I stick by that. You need to know the rules. But you also need to step off the beaten path every once in awhile and take chances. Break some of those damn rules. Because those deviations are what’s going to make your movie unlike any other movie out there. It’s your own personal edge. I was watching Stand By Me the other day, and in that movie, somewhere around the midpoint, the entire movie stops so that the main character can tell a story about a pie-eating contest where the hero barfs on everybody. It’s ten minutes long. It has no effect on the plot. There is no information in it that sets up later story developments. It’s just a random story. No screenwriting book would allow you to make that choice. But it worked. Because it wasn’t safe. Because we’re not expecting it.

The point I’m getting at is that The Keeper Project played things too safe. Human cloning has been explored a lot in sci-fi over the last 20 years. The “Clone Wars” were even mentioned in the original Star Wars, back in 1977. So if you’re going to write a story about human cloning, you gotta push the envelope. You gotta give us something new. Having a second mouth on the back of your character’s neck is a little freaky, sure. But I think audiences want more.

That’s not to say I didn’t appreciate the story. Like I said, there’s some actual character development here. That’s rare in sci-fi. I love that Michael actually dug into these characters. Also, while I wouldn’t call the surprise ending mind-blowing – it was telegraphed throughout most of the second act – it was pretty darn good.

I just think sci-fi comes with certain expectations. Audiences want to connect with interesting characters, sure. But they also want to leave that theater talking about that cool scene or that moment that wowed them. The Keeper Project too often pulls its punches.

There were some smaller issues I had as well. I didn’t understand why Erica Blue didn’t go to the press or the police once she was discarded by Keeper. Wouldn’t that have been the logical thing to do? Expose him? I thought Veronica (the assistant) was a messy character. Once she realized that this guy was cloning human beings, I wasn’t buying that she just went with it. Maybe if she’d been with him for ten years. But she just started like a week ago. I would’ve been like “fuck this,” and walked out. And finally, the one setback for using the stem cells from the clones to save his daughter seemed to be the physical deformities. Did that mean he wasn’t saving his daughter because she might have a little mouth on the back of her neck? Wouldn’t a 4 hour operation with Dr. Hollywood take care of that? I just couldn’t figure out why a tiny deformity took precedence over a daughter’s life.

Now despite these issues, this was way better than most of the scripts I review on Amateur Friday. I want to make that clear. I’m just being hard on it because I demand so much from my sci-fi. But I liked this better than Maggie, which won the Page competition. I’d just like to see a draft with a little more teeth, no pun intended. Anyway, read it and decide for yourself.

Script link: The Keeper Project

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

What I learned: Most of the time, you’ll want to use as few words as possible to describe a room or a space. Therefore you might describe a barbershop like this: “This barbershop is straight out of the 50s. Even the TV is black and white.” You want to convey the essence of the space in as few words as possible then move on. But the one time you do want to get into more detail, is when you describe your main character’s home. Why? Because a home tells us A LOT about a character. Is the place dirty? Clean? Modern? Old-fashioned? Filled with art? Bare? Big? Small? I think it’s okay to take a couple of paragraphs to describe a home. Just make sure that what you’re describing tells us about the character who lives there.