Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Elevator Men

Genre: Horror/Thriller
Premise: A single mother on her last financial leg meets a rich charming man with a dark secret.
About: This is a spec script that was purchased a couple of years back. Haimes is the same writer who wrote the recently reviewed Jitters and since I enjoyed that script, I decided to read this one as well, even though it's in a genre I don't typically enjoy.
Writer: Marc Haimes
Details: 110 pages - January 2009 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).

Now some of you have pointed out in the past that when I don't like a genre, I can become biased towards a story and not give it a proper chance. Well I'm here to tell you that you be wrong sucka. Because if there's any screenplay I’m destined not to like, it's a vampire screenplay. I think vampires are cliché. I think they’re silly. I sometimes daydream about buying up all of the Twilight books and hurling them onto the moon like Superman did in Superman IV. So when I heard rumors that today's script was about vampires, I was so prepared to hate it.


Like I always say. It doesn't matter what the reader’s mindset is going into your script. If you write something good, you can win them over.

28-year-old Jennifer is a struggling single mom with two daughters, a five year old and a two year old. Jennifer is barely squeaking by as a party entertainer. She dresses up as someone known as "The Purple Princess," and performs at really rich kids’ parties. Lately, however, money has gotten so tight that she's had to bring her own daughters to these parties, making for an awkward experience.

Things get so bad, in fact, that Jennifer has to beg her employers for any work, Purple Princess or not. One of those employers begrudgingly sets her up with a catering job at a nearby tech company . While on the job, Jennifer finds a money clip underneath a couch with thousands of dollars in it. As she's just about to pocket it, a man spots her, claiming the money to be his. As he backs her into a corner and is presumably about to harm her, another handsome man charges in just in time to save her. His name is Ray.

Jennifer and Ray hit it off immediately, and pretty soon she's going over to his place and hanging out with him and making love to him and just like that we have a full-fledged romance. Jennifer's shining knight in armor has finally shown up to save her.

Buuuuuuuuuuuut… Not so fast.

Ray cuts off communication almost as suddenly as he started it, citing some mysterious but secret danger. Jennifer is a cross between skeptical and concerned so she starts stalking Ray from afar, and in the process learns that there's a lot more going on to Ray’s company than he first let on. You see, Ray works for a company of vampires. And as we all know, vampires are hungry little buggers who like to feast on folks, particularly young women. So Ray does his best job to distance himself from Jennifer to save her. The question is, is it too late?

What we saw with Jitters was a script Haimes was working on with producers and therefore an unfinished product. With this script, we have the spec draft that sold, and you can tell the difference. Every scene has been honed. Every story choice has been thought through. Every unimportant thread has been eliminated. This reads very much like the kind of spec script that sells in the industry. It's a high concept idea that's been executed to perfection.

Now I want to highlight a couple of things here. Two weeks ago I reviewed a script, Underling, where our main character was never actually around the threat. It was his girlfriend who was around the threat and therefore *he* was removed from the central danger in the story. As a result, we never really felt that scared because we were never around the person who posed the most danger to us. Some other character who we barely knew was.

Elevator Men does this the correct way. The person we’re highlighting, Jennifer, is directly involved with the danger. Jennifer is dating Ray, who is the mysterious man who may or may not be trying to kill her. That's how you want to do it. Whatever the danger is in your story, you want to put your character as close to it as possible. The further removed they are, the less scary your script is going to be.

I'd also like to highlight a key scene in the movie because last week we spent so much time talking about "scenes of death" and I need to point out that there are ways to write scenes of death and still make them work.

The truth is that you're always going to have scenes where you have to convey backstory or exposition, and while it's preferable that you hide all of that stuff within existing scenes that push the story forward, sometimes, depending on how plot heavy your script is, you'll need entire scenes dedicated to getting that stuff out of the way.

The trick is, recognizing that scene of death, and looking for a way to keep it interesting. The scene in question has Jennifer over at Ray’s house to basically talk about their pasts. Uh-oh. Talking about your pasts is definitely a scene of death. Now it's important to note that their pasts specifically set up plot points later in the story. So these aren’t just random backstory elements to help us know the characters. They have a dual purpose. Still, we don't know that yet, so the scene still has the potential to be boring.

Anyway, Haimes adds two elements to make the scene more exciting. The first is dramatic irony. We know by this point that Ray is peculiar and probably dangerous. Except Jennifer doesn't know that yet. So every moment that Jennifer is alone with Ray is a potential moment she could be harmed, making us scared for her, which creates anticipation, since we want Jennifer to get out of this alive.

The other element is gimmicky but it still works. Throughout the script, the vampires make a loud screeching noise. During this scene, we first hear that loud screeching noise from a distance. As the two continue to talk, the noise gets closer. And closer. In other words, we have sort of an aural ticking time bomb. We know the vampires are getting closer, which means danger for our hero. So again, a typical "scene of death" actually becomes an exciting scene with danger on two separate fronts.

The only real complaints I have were complaints I realized in retrospect. For example, I'm not sure the casino stuff really goes with the story. And the more I think about a mom breaking into a company in the middle of the night with her two kids, the more I question if that's really happening. I mean, it was an exciting scene, especially when the daughters got lost. But I mean, come on - is an audience really going to buy that? It's only one step removed from the babysitter who goes upstairs to check on a noise.

But hey, like I said, I only thought of that stuff after the script was over. While I was reading the script, it was all pretty awesome.

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

What I learned: I used to think that using money as a character motivation was a lazy choice. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that even though it's a cliché, it's a cliché that works. One of the most relatable situations in the world is a lack of money. Not being able to pay the bills. Not being able to pay the rent. Not being able to pay the mortgage. We've all been there. So creating characters that need to do questionable things because they're desperate for money is probably going to work. I was just watching Warrior yesterday (a good movie btw) and the physics teacher’s need to fight is driven by the fact that he can't pay the mortgage. Yes I've seen that a million times before. But I also know that it happens a million times a day in the real world. So it's just one of those clichés that works.