Monday, July 11, 2011

Killing On Carnival Row (Carson Review)

Genre: Dark fantasy
Premise: In the city of The Burgue, a police inspector pursues a serial killer who is targeting fairies.
About: Travis Beacham sold this script back in 2005. While becoming a town favorite, it has often been deemed too expensive to make, particularly because it doesn’t have a pre-built in audience. However, the script jump-started Beacham’s career and allowed him to do assignment work on some of the biggest projects in town. He eventually got sole credit on Clash Of The Titans, and is the writer on Guillermo del Toro’s upcoming self-proclaimed “biggest monster movie ever,” Pacific Rim. If you’re a writer who wants to write big Hollywood effects-driven flicks, Travis Beacham is probably your template-writer on how to get there.
Writer: Travis Beacham
Details: 116 pages - July 22, 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).

Do not adjust your screens. That déjà vu you’re experiencing does not mean the Matrix has reloaded. Killing on Carnival Row HAS been reviewed on Scriptshadow before. But it was Roger who reviewed it, not moi.

Before and since then, I have heard numerous screenwriters tout how this screenplay is the greatest thing since Final Draft. Imaginative, daring, edgy, fascinating, original, dark – these adjectives bombard my sensitive ears whenever Killing on Carnival Row’s brought up. Which begs the question? Why haven’t I read it?

Well, I don’t dig the fairy thing. These kinds of fantasy worlds remind me of Harry Potter, whose movies have provided me with some of the more severe “what the fuck” expressions that have ever graced my mug. So the last thing I wanted was to crash the party with a big fat negative review of a script everybody considered their script girlfriend. So I avoided it. And avoided it. And avoided it. And then one day I woke up and for no good reason proclaimed, much like Annette Benning’s character in American Beauty, “I shall read Killing On Carnival Row today!” But I knew if I was going to do this, I was going to have to do it in style. So I went to the costume shop and bought one of those cheap fairy costumes. I strapped on my wings and got ready to immerse myself in The Burgue.


Killing on Carnival Row introduces us to Inspector Rycroft Philostrate. Besides being a mouthful, Philostrate is kind of this deep dark dude who roams this deep dark city known as The Burgue. Philostrate has just learned of the killing of a poor defenseless fairy, and it’s his job to find out who the killer is.

The main witness at the crime scene – to give you an idea of how weird this world is – is a seal/sea creature named Moira who speaks in song. She sings out what she saw, probably making things more confusing than they were in the first place. But that’s okay, because we later find out that she impressed enough people to make it to Hollywood Week on The Burgue Idol.

Philostrate surmises from the Rebecca Black breakdown that the place to look for answers is Carnival Row, the quarter of The Burgue where all fairies live. But we soon find out this isn’t a professional visit. Oh no. It turns out Philostrate is in love with a fairy hooker named Tourmaline. So the two make some very graphic but very sweet human-fairy love, and afterwards throw out wishful asides about becoming a “real couple” someday. Riiiiight. Not to ruin the moment here guys, but there’s a bigger chance of Harry Potter hooking up with Volgemart.

Anyway, our fairy killer isn’t done fairy killing yet, and after taking out another clueless wing-flapper, he kills Tourmaline herself, the hooker fairy! Uh-oh, shit just got personal. And to make things worse, the press has picked up on the ordeal. They’re calling our fairy serial killer: Unseelie Jack (I think “Seelie” is the name of one of the quarters in The Burgue. But I can’t tell you for sure. This is a script where, remember, people peel off seal-like exteriors and speak in song).

Philostrate is pretty down about the whole Tourmaline thing, but apparently not that down, cause he starts hooking up with this other fairy named Vignette quickly afterwards. Karma comes back to bite his ass though, as Philostrate soon becomes the number one suspect for the fairy killings! Say what!? That’s right. They think HE’S Unseelie Jack. So Philostrate does his best Harrison Ford impression, trying to solve the case while on the run, and develops deeper and deeper feelings for Vignette. Will they catch him? Is Philostrate Unseelie Jack? Find out…well…in the comments section here on this review.

I’m guessing you already know where I stand on this one. In a lot of ways, Killing on Carnival Row was exactly what I expected it to be. A story where film geeks go to gorge themselves. You got your dark noir-ish city. You got your hot naked fairies. You got your half-human half-seal singing whatchumacalits. This is a movie that David Fincher or Guillermo del Toro would hit out of the park. In fact, this script is basically Seven meets the fairy world. Meets Harry Potter. I’m not sure what fairy sex would look like onscreen, but this movie wants you to know.

The writing style’s also very visceral. I may not have liked the world I was in, but I definitely felt like I was there. There is no doubt Beacham thought this universe up and down and back and forth. Carnival Row has the same attention to detail as films like Star Wars, Avatar, and even Lord Of The Rings. Reading it is kind of like the difference between playing a good video game and a bad video game. In a bad video game, you walk outside the expected field of play and you see a bunch of blurry pixels. Do the same thing in a good video game, and you might find this huge beautiful wheat field, glimmering in the sunset. The details and depth here are just first rate.

In fact, I think Beacham’s kind of a genius in that sense. When you think about the highest paying screenwriting jobs in Hollywood? They’re usually effects driven films with lots of monsters. So why not show Hollywood you can write effects driven movies with lots of monsters? But the difference between Beacham and everyone else who takes this approach is that Beacham really studied his world. This isn’t some slapped together paper-thin universe. This is a full blown bona fide mythology. Carnival Row may not ever be made, but the script will be reaping assignment residuals for the rest of Beacham’s life.

Another biggie I realized halfway through the script, is that even though I wasn’t into the subject matter, I would definitely go see this movie. I mean, imagine the trailer for this sucker. Naked fairies and huge mechanical dragonfly blimps and singing seal whatchumacalits. It would be unlike anything you’ve seen before. And I think that’s what I’m forgetting here. My narrow-minded grown-up Harry Potter references aside, you have never seen a movie like this in your life. That alone should merit making it.

As for the script itself, let’s just say while reading it, I felt like the uptight yuppie dude walking through downtown Tijuana. I had a hard time comprehending what the hell was going on half the time. For example, fairies are often referred to as scum in this world. But I always thought fairies were cute and sweet. Tinker Bell may be many things - annoying near the top of the list - but I’d never equate her to a cockroach. Why they gotta be so fairy racist in this movie? I couldn’t wrap my brain around it. Trolls. Yuck. Lizard people. Icky. Fairies? Cute!

And on the story front, I had a hard time figuring out why the hell they were after Philostrate. One second Philostrate’s the main detective on the case. Next, he's the main suspect. Hold up, WHAT?? When the hell did this happen?? Did I miss something? Don’t you have to, like, have the one-armed man kill your wife but she erroneously whispers your name into the phone before she dies to become a number one suspect in a murder? If someone could explain this plot point to me, I would be grateful.

But when it was all over? I appreciated Carnival Row. It’s different. It’s bold. It’s extremely well-written. So I definitely think it’s worth reading. But I will not be joining Team Philostrate or Team Tourmaline any time soon.

linkage: While I won't be linking to the script here, this script can actually be found online.  Just type the title and "PDF" into google and you should find it no problem.  

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

What I learned: Pay particular attention to the way you describe your action. If you look at the first scene in Killing on Carnival Row, you’ll find a lot of descriptive visceral words. “Laboured BREATHING” “SPLISH SPLASH” “BURSTS” “Eerie WAIL” “slams” “kicks free.” Notice how I haven’t even told you what the scene was about but you still have a strong sense of what’s happening. Compare that to if I used, “runs” “flies” “screams” “breathes”. Those words do the job, but not nearly as effectively. So choose your adjectives and your descriptive phrases wisely. You want to connect with that reader on a visceral level.