Friday, October 28, 2011

Halloween Week!!! - Amateur Friday - The Hostage

Genre: Horror/Thriller
Premise: (from writers) It's a brilliant bank robbery plan. But there's one contingency no one could have planned for: One of the hostages turns into a werewolf, turning the bank they've locked down to keep out the police into a deathtrap. And turning a criminal into a hero.
About: One of the writers of today's script, B.P.Kelsey, is an up-and-coming one-sheet artist. I've included one of his posters in the review below. -- 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.
Writers: Joel Thomas & B.P.Kelsey
Details: 101 pages – undated (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).

Created by writer Kelsey

Werewolf. Heist. Nuff said.

The Hostage centers around Liam Bardwell. Liam is in his 40s and is coughing up blood faster than a vampire with the flu. That's because he's got cancer, which is a big reason he's leading this heist in the first place.

His second in command is a scary ass dude named Frankie Mitts. Even though Liam’s in charge of the show, Frankie believes he's the star. When things start going to shit - and you know they will - it's Frankie who will insist on directing.

Our other main character is Jamee, a single mother in her 20s who's trying to manage a bank while dealing with a divorce. She's just started dating again which isn't making her cop husband happy. When he unexpectedly drops their daughter, Kristin, off, she's furious, as it was supposed to be his turn to take her. She has a big date with a doctor that night (who’s there at the bank waiting), and now she doesn’t know what to do.

Well my dear, get ready for a bigger problem. Liam and his crew bust into the bank right after her husband leaves. The workers are marched down into the vault and the bad guys begin executing their plan. That is until they hear screaming downstairs. They head back to the vault and find nearly everybody ripped to shreds.

If you think you have bad luck picking men, try finding out your boyfriend is a werewolf! But the heist crew doesn't know that yet. They think some crazy ass dog got in here and had a field day. Da Nile ain't just a river in Egypt boys.

After a couple of more slaughters, it's clear they’re dealing with something bigger. Problem is, they can't leave the bank because there's a billion police officers outside. They have to stick to the plan – dig a tunnel to an underground escape pipe - all with a hungry werewolf on their heels.

Eventually Liam hooks up with Jamee and Frankie gets a hold of her daughter, Kristin. So in addition to getting the money, digging the hole, and avoiding a werewolf, Liam and Jamee have to get her daughter back from Senor Psychopath.

The police are finally able to sneak inside, but they quickly become a bowl of pooch pastries as well. Will anybody make it out of this heist alive? Read The Hostage to find out.

Another one of Kelsey's posters - A movie about Bigfoot

The Hostage has a lot going for it. I love the premise. I love the situation. As far as the promise of the premise goes, the script delivers. It’s packed with tension. The structure is solid. We have a clear goal. We have clear stakes. We have clear urgency. Everybody's motivations are strong. If I was running a production company and this showed up on my desk, I would look long and hard into purchasing it, even though horror isn't my strong suit.

So why, then, was I not loving The Hostage? Could it be that I'm not into werewolves? No. I’m not into vampires but I loved Elevator Men.

I stripped away all my analytical instincts and asked a simple question: "What was it about this script that I didn't like?"

When I asked that question, I realized there wasn't a single character in the script I connected with. Now let me make something clear. The characters here are all better than the characters in Bryan Bertino’s Black. But there was still something missing.

Let's start with Liam, who has cancer. The problem with this is, it still doesn't tell me anything about his character. Just giving Liam cancer doesn't make him "deep." Yes, it adds a little bit of context, but I still don't know anything about his life. Look at Breaking Bad. In that show, we see our hero manning a second job at a car wash, struggling to support his family. We see the manager force him to join the cleaners and help wipe down cars, a totally humiliating experience for a family man. We see one of his rich students (he’s also a chemistry teacher) drive up, see his teacher cleaning cars, and start laughing at him. In that moment, we get a perfect snapshot of this person's life, his struggle. And we feel for him. We're ready to root for this guy through anything.

I know that's a TV show and you have more time to explore characters in TV, but you have to pick at least one person in your movie and give us a reason to root for them. Tell us about who they are and why they're in this situation. We get bits and pieces of that with Liam, but never enough to give a shit about him. The reason this is so important is because we have to want Liam to get that money. We have to care about him saving himself or his family. And since we know so little about him, we don't. It's only after all of this is over that I officially learn he's trying to obtain money for his family anyway.

There's a little more going on with Jamee. I liked that she had a daughter and how the daughter gets split up from her. But I don't know. I never connected with her either. It was almost as if the relationship with her husband was thrown in at the beginning to give the appearance of depth, and then forgotten from that point on. I don't even remember what happened to him. Why is it that we spend time with the feisty random Latino female police officer trying to get inside and not on one of our character’s husbands – who’s a COP!?

If you look at Ripley in Aliens, who's in a similar scenario, she's constantly battling this issue of trust. She doesn’t trust Bishop. She doesn’t trust Paul Riser’s lawyer character. On the flip side, she's the only one on this crew that Newt trusts – who Newt knows will protect her. So there's a theme and a struggle that the film is constantly hitting on, which gives everything a deeper meaning.

Once we get into the fray here, it's just a bunch of people running around, trying to avoid a werewolf.

The stranger thing about The Hostage is that it occasionally wastes character development on random or meaningless characters. Outside of Random Feisty Latino Cop, we also get Marcus, the police commander, who takes up all of five pages in the screenplay. Yet he’s given this whole backstory about a wife who keeps trying to call him but he won't answer. Why is it that I know more about a throwaway character than I do the two main characters?

Even little things about the characters didn't make sense. For example, Liam is in his 40s and he's a grandfather. I know that's possible but it doesn't sound right. Jamee is a 20-something bank manager? Isn't that a little young to be managing a bank? She’s also divorced with an eight-year-old kid. When did she get married? When she was 16? Was she a child bride? Did she get married to one of the actors on Lost? It's details like this that make me wonder if the characters were thought through at all.

Now there is some good here. The structure is solid. The script has a ton of energy. There are a lot of clever touches. I love that they weren’t after money, but rather an expensive coin collection. I loved that they later use those coins (because they're silver) to shoot down the Wolf. Being forced to make a choice between keeping a $2 million coin or using it to kill a dangerous beast is a great movie moment. I loved the twist with those coins (I won't spoil it but let's say their initial plan to use them as bullets doesn't work). I loved that the bank robbers wore sheep masks. And the plan for the heist was a good one - something I could see real live bank robbers using.

And you know what? This FEELS like a movie. I could see it being made. I could see renting it myself. It's a cool idea. But if this is going to be more than a straight to VOD title. If it's going to be something you remember and recommend to your friends, the characters are going to have to improve. Because right now, they’re what’s keeping a cool idea from becoming a great movie.

Script link: The Hostage

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

What I learned: Giving a character a disease doesn't make them deep. Diseases are actually common in movies. People have cancer. People have AIDS. So if that's all you tell us, it just feels cliché. It’s the circumstances you build around those diseases that flesh out the character and make them real. Breaking Bad is the perfect example. We don't just see that our hero has cancer. We’re given the circumstances by which cancer will affect his life. Treatment will cripple his family’s bank account when he already has a disabled son and another baby on the way. Thomas and Kelsey try to hint at Liam’s family issues in an early phone call. Unfortunately, that doesn't do anything for us. We don't see the family. We don't see the people he's fighting for. It doesn't affect us at all. I understand that this is a horror thriller and you want to move into the story as soon as possible, but you have to figure out a way to make us care about the characters first. When you think of Taken, you remember a lot of running around, a lot of action, and a lot of excitement. But remember, the first 30 minutes of that movie are about a father and his relationship with his daughter. It's never easy balancing character development with urgency in movies, but it has to be done.