Friday, September 16, 2011

Amateur Friday - Captive

Genre: Thriller
Premise: When a group of bank robbers kidnap his wife, an accountant must try and save her. But when they all end up in a strange Rube Goldberg-like trap-filled mansion, the kidnapping becomes the least of their worries.
About: John Burch, the writer, has informed me that he plans to shoot the first 11 minutes of this movie himself to drum up interest. You can donate to the movie or find out more over at his Kickstarter page - 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). Also, it's a good idea to resubmit every couple of weeks so that your submission stays near the top of the pile.
Writer: John Burch
Details: 99 pages

I have a schizophrenic relationship with this script. There is some really good stuff in here. But there's also some really questionable stuff. One page I'll be flying through it, excited and feeling like I'm right there in the theater, and the next someone will say something cheesy or do something nonsensical that takes me right back into my living room. Knowing now that John plans to shoot this himself, I think I understand the inconsistency. He obviously has a strong visual sense of what he wants, which is why the house and the situation itself feel so compelling. But from a storytelling perspective, I don't think the story is as intricate or as "thought through" as it needs to be.

The script starts out great. We wake up in the trunk of a car with our hero, Kole, an accountant who’s recently been having some problems with his wife, Nicoletta. But right now those problems are on hold because Nicoletta is up in front with five bank robbers who just snatched their ride when their own getaway car was blocked in after their robbery.

Kole tries desperately to phone for help but service is spotty and the next thing you know there are cops chasing them and a lot of shooting and bulletholes are puncturing just inches above Kole’s face. Our bank robbers shoot back, taking the cops out. The robbers then ditch the car with Kole still stuck in the trunk.

After tearing through the backseat and getting out just before the thing blows up, Kole realizes he's in a half-deserted dead suburb with no help in sight. He follows the trail of the bank robbers and ends up at an enormous mansion, presumably where the robbers have taken his wife. It's there where he meets Gunther, a slow witted caretaker of the mansion, who guides him into the basement.

In the meantime, our bank robbers are tending to their wounds trying to figure out what to do next. But when one of them sets off a tripwire, a series of mechanisms shifts into place locking all doors and windows and holding them captive. If that isn't bad enough, the place is a hoarder’s paradise, with junk and trash stacked from floor to ceiling blocking every potential exit and making the house one giant maze. All of a sudden that money they stole doesn't seem so important.

Back downstairs, Kole is trying to get Gunther to help him save his wife. Gunther eventually shows him a way to climb through the walls, which not surprisingly have been rigged for the specific purpose of climbing around and spying on people.

When our bad guys figure out that the cops are hot on their trail, they speed up their attempts to get the hell out. But when they come to learn that the reason the house is so protective is because it's hiding something valuable inside, everybody's plan changes. In the end, Kole will have to find a way to pry his wife away from these men and get the hell out of here before things get really bad. But if the house has its way, that will never happen.

So before I get into what I really liked about Captive, I want to point out some issues I had, because there are a few. The first thing I'm concerned about is the role of our hero. I'm not a fan of the main character being stuck in a wall for a large portion of the screenplay. I always get nervous when the main character isn't driving the story. And in this case, Kole is definitely more of an observer than an active participant. I mean, imagine if John McClane just observed our terrorists from inside a wall during all of Die Hard. It probably wouldn't have been a very good movie. I'm still not sure how I would change it, but I’d definitely like it if he were more active .

My next concern is the promise of the premise. For newbies who don't know what this means, the promise of the premise is what the audience expects to see when they hear a cool idea. So when you hear about a movie set at a dinosaur park, you want scenes like Tyrannosaurus Rexes chasing your main characters. I think the Captive house only fulfills half of the promise that it makes. It's a really cool house. It's a really creepy house. I absolutely love this ticking time bomb bowling ball creepily rolling around the track that you can always hear in the bowels of the house. But after a while, it starts to feel a little repetitive. I would like to see more imagination going into the house other than basic traps that involve things shooting at you or slicing at you. Each room should probably be unique with a unique way to harm or kill you. Think Cube.

Problemo number three is the bad guys. Unfortunately, a lot of the time they come off as cliché. I thought Brody was a really solid leader. He was focused and he was scary. But the rest of the bad guys sort of bleed into each other. One of my problems with these types of movies is that all the bad guys basically become these faux macho meatheads who seem more concerned with spewing out witty one-liners than tackling the problem at hand. And the problem here is a pretty big one. They're trapped inside a killer house where one wrong step could get them killed. So a lot of the banter didn't feel authentic. I think it's okay to have humor in these situations, but it has to come from an organic place. A nervous joke here. An angry justified outburst there. But guys can't be making the same jokes that they would make walking down the street on a Saturday afternoon.

Finally, the ending needs work. It's rushed and it doesn't make total sense. This idea that the owner of the house is trying to protect the treasure is a neat idea. But right now it's not exactly logical. (Spoilers follow) If the house is rigged to collapse into a giant heap in order to bury the treasure (a bunch of gold coins), well then all it would take was a day or two of construction company cleaning to uncover the gold. Even if it's in a safe, it's only a matter of time before somebody breaks into the safe. So if the objective is to never have anybody get the gold, it seems like a poor execution of that objective. Then there's the twist of Gunther himself. There's no real script analysis that needs to go into this. It just feels wrong. Sometimes we try so hard to come up with a twist, that we convince ourselves that as long as it's surprising, it works. I don't believe this works and is one of the key things I would change in the rewrite.

Now, onto the good stuff. There is a lot to like here. I love the opening. I love how we’re just thrust into this story right away. I like how we end up at this mansion. I had no idea where the story was going – at one point I thought we were going to be stuck in the trunk the entire screenplay and boy was I not liking that- so when we ended up in this mansion, I was like, hmmmmm, I didn't expect this to happen. As you know, I love when stories do unexpected things and I did not expect it to go in this direction.

Then once we get inside the mansion and there's all this mystery involved with the hoarding and the Rube Goldberg traps and this weird halfwit caretaker -- I was all in. So many times, I read screenplays that are anywhere between fairly well written and really well written, that don't have a chance of being purchased or made because the story is not a movie - not something people would pay 10 bucks for. Here, you definitely have a movie. Throughout the first 50 pages of Captive, I kept thinking to myself, if I were a producer, I would probably purchase this and develop it with the writer. Because I could see the poster. I could see the movie. And it's just a little bit different from what we’re used to seeing with these types of films.

I also liked Gunther. I think he's an intriguing obstacle to our main character achieving his goal. I mean what's more frustrating than being 50 feet away from your wife, not knowing how to get to her, and the only thing that stands in your way is convincing a dim-witted simpleton to help you who could care less? Not to mention, he was kind of creepy, which fit the theme of the house.

Story wise, we have a clear objective. Get out of the house. We have twists and turns. The gold throws everything for a loop. We have urgency, with our characters monitoring the cops getting closer and closer. The stakes are high, obviously, since everybody here could potentially die. I know I'm on to something good when even though I'm encountering mistakes, I'm actively trying to solve them in my head.

Like I said, this is a schizophrenic script. It has some really great stuff and it has some really not so great stuff. There's no doubt it needs to be developed more. But I like this idea so much and I'm so sure that this could be a real movie someday, that I would say it's worth giving a shot. I'd also like to hear some of your insightful ideas on how to solve the problems I listed above.

Script link: Captive

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

What I learned: I still think it's dangerous to have your main character not affecting the storyline for such a long period of time. Especially in a thriller, which is a genre built for active main characters. Besides the story implications (that your main character isn't close enough to the action), I have questions about whether big actors would be interested in a role where they're basically watching things from behind a wall. I don't think it doomed the script because we do want Kole to save his wife. But there's just something that never feels quite right about our hero playing such a passive role for the majority of the story.