Monday, October 3, 2011

Magic Mike

Genre: Comedy?
Premise: A male stripper mentors a young impressionable kid, who ends up enjoying his new job a little too much.
About: This is the new exciting project from Steven Soderbergh, the man who’s retired more times than Brett Favre. It will star Channing Tatum (of course), Matthew McConaghy, and the new bad boy on Hollywood's block, Alex Pettyfer.
Writer: Reid Carolin
Details: 114 pages (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).

Let the jokes begin in the comments section.

Ahhhh, Steven Soderbergh. One of the most controversial noncontroversial filmmakers alive. He's responsible for movies like Traffic, Oceans 11, and Sex, Lies & Videotape. Unfortunately he's also responsible for movies like Bubble. That's why I'm always reluctant to open a Soderbergh project. I'm afraid of artsy-fartsy Soderbergh, the Soderbergh who doesn't give a shit about entertainment. I'm even more scared of that Soderbergh these days, since he doesn't have to worry about his next job.

But when I reached out to Scriptshadow Nation on Magic Mike, I was surprised to hear feedback like "Funny." "Touching." "Heartwarming." It sounded like a real heartfelt character piece, not a glorified student film. And hey, Sex Lies & Videotape is still in my top five independent films of all time. So maybe this was going to be cool.

28-year-old Mike was born with something special. He's got charm. He's got looks. He's got work ethic. And he's got big dreams. He wants to open a restoration business that he's been saving up for forever.

During the day, he's a roofer, scraping by on 15 bucks an hour. But on the weekends, when the sun goes down, he's a stripper at a hot Tampa Bay strip club. "Magic Mike" is the headline act - the one the ladies save the big bills for.

One day, during a roofing job, Mike meets The Kid, a 19-year-old bad boy in need of direction. He lives with his older sister, who may love him more than anything, but is frustrated he's drifting through life aimlessly. Mike likes The Kid, probably because he reminds him of himself when he was younger, and introduces him to the stripping life.

The Kid immediately falls in love with it. Whereas before he was barely able to afford toothpaste, he's now got more money than he can stuff in his pockets. Being 19 with money to burn is sort of like waking up in a candy store all alone as a 10-year-old. Where do you begin?

Hunktastic Alex Petteyfer

When The Kid’s sister, who Mike’s sweet on, finds out that her baby brother is stripping, she's mortified. Mike assures her that he's going to keep an eye on him. But eventually, The Kid runs into some trouble he can't get out of. It will be up to Magic Mike to save the day. The question is, will it mean giving up all of his hopes and dreams to do so?

I wasn't sure what to make of Magic Mike. It's sort of like Coyote Ugly meets The Full Monty meets a trashy reality show. The biggest achievement of the screenplay is that it flips a well-known character type on its head. We've seen the stripper with a heart of gold a thousand times before. But have we seen the male stripper with a heart of gold? I don't think so. And that's what makes this script unique.

Probably the strangest thing I noticed while reading Magic Mike was that there's so little conflict in the script. Remember, movies are about drama. And you can't get drama unless you have opposing forces consistently clashing with each other. Somebody wants one thing, somebody else wants another. There isn't a whole lot of that in Magic Mike.

I mean, the first three quarters of the screenplay are like a dramatized version of a Jersey Shore episode, with the characters running around, partying, and having the time of their lives. The Kid is introduced into this world and he just has a blast with it. Mike runs around unimpeded as well. He enjoys watching The Kid flourish. And he enjoys the fruits of his own labor, hooking up with endless women, and making tons of cash.

The only real conflict throughout the first three quarters of the screenplay comes from the sister, who throws Mike for a loop when she becomes the first woman in history who doesn't go gaga over him, mainly because she considers herself above strippers. I suppose she's also frustrated with her brother getting involved in a shady profession, so you could argue that there's some conflict there.

But the thing is, she's only passively interested in stopping him. She doesn't like it, but as long as her brother’s happy, she's happy. There's a little bit of conflict in her rejection of Mike, but there was something missing from the relationship. I don't know if I wanted them to have more chemistry or if their relationship wasn't explored enough, but I didn't care whether they got together or not, and I don't think a situation like that works unless that's the case.

The Hunk Trifecta

You could also argue that there's conflict within Mike, who wants to do something bigger with his life. The reason that conflict didn't work either, though, is that Mike loved stripping. He seemed to have such a great life that if his dream of opening up his own business didn't work out, you got the feeling he was going to be fine. I mean, this guy is smart, nice and good looking. Whichever way it goes for him, life is still going to kick ass.

Now eventually, we do get to some serious conflict, but it isn't until the final act, when everything falls to shit. I admit it gets interesting, but I kept asking: Is it worth wading through 90 minutes of pure unadulterated partying for?

If you look back at what I believe is Soderbergh's best film, Sex Lies & Videotape, you'll notice that there's conflict from the very first frame. The wife is living a lie - she's frustrated with her marriage but she's not admitting it to herself (conflict from within). Her husband is cheating on her (conflict). An old friend of the husband’s comes to stay with them. The two of them have unsettled business from the past (conflict). The friend is a sex addict who can't have sex (conflict from within). And the friend and the wife start to have an emotional relationship (conflict) which causes even more conflict between the old friends and the wife and husband. That's why that movie is so good - because no matter where you turn, there's conflict. I'm not saying that Magic Mike needs to be the same way, because it's a different movie, but I just found it strange how easy the movie was for all its characters.

Where the script really impressed me, though, was in the writing itself. The other day, we celebrated how fun and exciting the visual writing style of Christopher McQuarrie was. Here, the writing is as sparse as I've ever seen it. Carolin really stands by the rule of only writing what's absolutely necessary to convey the story. Part of this is that he doesn't have a lot of action to describe like Christopher McQuarrie did in his script, but that's part of being a good screenwriter. You assess the kind of story you're telling, and if it's a story like Magic Mike, that's more about the characters than the action and the visuals, you don't include a lot of description.

When you take Magic Mike as a whole, I think there's enough here to recommend it. It's not filled with a lot of drama but it's an interesting angle to a familiar subject matter. There's nothing bad about the story. There was never a time where I wished I didn't have to finish the script. And I suppose enough happens in that final act to sort of make up for all the coasting in the first two. So while I wouldn't call this a home run, I’d probably say it’s a solid double. Worth checking out if you can find it.

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

What I learned: The less description you use, the more powerful and memorable your words will be. We all have a person in our lives who doesn't talk very much, so when they do, it's usually because they have something to say. For that reason, we listen. You wanna treat the action/description in your screenplay the same way. Only talk when you have something to say. There's a moment early on in the script where Mike is leaving his place, and we catch a glimpse of his small business sign that says "Mike's Detailing.” It's a small but important character detail that tells us one of Mike's passions. Now I might've missed this if this script was blanketed with descriptive blocks of text. But because it wasn't, because Carolin only wrote what he had to, that detail stuck out. There've been a lot of times where I've pointed out to writers that I didn't understand something in their script. They'll say to me, "What are you talking about? It's right here on page 36! It says right there that he walks into the barbershop! See??" And the page they show me has like five 4-line paragraphs on it. And the previous 35 pages all look similar. Of course I missed it. That detail is buried under a mountain of text. So be smart about what you include when you write. Because the less you write, the more your details will stick out.