Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Good Kids

Genre: Comedy
Premise: (from Black List) Four overachieving high school students in Cape Cod reinvent themselves during the summer after graduation.
About: Good Kids finished with 12 votes on the 2011 Black List, the same number of votes as yesterday’s encyclopedia, Cities of Refuge. My love for writer Chris McCoy is growing. I did NOT like his 2009 script “Good Looking,” at all. It had a pretty good premise - you’ve been with someone for 5 years only to find out that an online dating service knows, with 100% certainty, your soul mate, and it’s not the person you’re with – but the execution was weak. Then last year he sold his script “Get Back,” his ode to “Back To The Future,” about a Beatles fanatic who finds a time machine and decides to go back in time and prevent Yoko Ono from ever meeting John Lennon. A little derivative but a big improvement over Good Looking. And today we have his latest spec, “Good Kids,” about one last crazy summer before a group of friends go off to college. This one, it turns out, is his best yet. It’s always nice to see a writer improving. It is a little strange though that all his titles contain two words and start with the letter ‘G.’ I wonder if there’s something deeper going on there. Maybe Chris has done some research and found that two-word titles starting with “G” have the best chance of selling. Scriptshadow Nation, please do some research on this for me.
Writer: Chris McCoy
Details: 101 pages – Oct. 2011 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).

Is the American Pie franchise and their monopoly on teenage antics finally in for some competition?

Good Kids takes places in Cape Cod, Massachusetts and follows four newly graduated high school students. There’s Andy, the “John Cusack” of the group. There’s “Spice,” the slightly pudgy future chef. There’s Nora, the girl who’s always been “one of the guys” but in the last two months has become smoking hot and none of the group knows how to handle it, including her. And finally there’s Lionel “The Lion,” Miller, who’s basically a big fat weirdo.

These lifelong friends are the “good kids.” They actually paid attention in school. They did their homework. They got into great schools. BUT, in the process, they didn’t do anything else. They never went to parties. They never took any risks. They’ve played it safe their entire lives.

And here, on their last summer together, they realize this is going to be the only time in their lives where they can actually have some fun without any consequences. So they make a pact (Hmmm, American Pie anyone?) to say “yes” to any opportunity that sounds like fun this summer.

When the rich summer crowd comes in for their two months of vacation, the good kids find themselves attending parties and making new friends. Andy, a tennis pro, gets his Mrs. Robinson act on and starts sleeping with his MILF students….FOR MONEY. Nora starts dating her much older co-worker at her bio-lab internship. Spice spends every waking second trying to secure his first handjob. And The Lion does a ton of drugs.

Andy also has an online relationship with a really hot Indian girl who’s been dying to come see him, but can’t afford it. This is, of course, why Andy becomes a gigolo, so he can save up enough money to get her a ticket. Ahhh, teenage logic. I used to love rationalizing things like that. – All in all, their plan turns out to be the greatest plan in the universe. They’re all having the time of their lives!

But as everybody knows, anything that’s too good to be true probably is (except for Scriptshadow). And soon these choices start coming back to haunt them, particularly Andy, whose “tennis lesson’s” husbands get wind of the fact that it isn’t tennis balls their wives are playing with. Nora also realizes she may be in over her head with this older guy. Spice manages to piss off more girls than he attracts. And The Lion? Well, he might be too high to realize what’s going on. But in the end, all four of them will have to face the consequences of their actions.

Let’s start with some miscellaneous notes here. Once again, we start with a crazy opening scene…AND THEN JUMP BACK 12 WEEKS EARLIER. I’m not lying to you guys. It’s a disease I tell you. A disease! The flashforward is in almost every script I read now! There’s no stopping it! In Good Kids’ defense though, it was one of the few times where it worked. The opening scene was so weird (Andy in a junkyard wearing war paint running from a bunch of 40 year old men) that I actually wanted to see how we got there.

I liked the “fish-out-of-water” angle of the story as well. Remember, fish-out-of-water situations almost always work! To see the “nerdy” kids tackle all these unfamiliar situations was instant conflict. And as we know, conflict equals drama, and drama equals entertainment!

I also dug the time period McCoy picked. Maybe someone can correct me, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a major film about this specific time in people’s lives. I’ve seen a lot of movies about high school kids in their last days of high school. But none that focused on the summer between high school and college.

Now, as for the script itself, it’s by no means a traditional story. Let’s put it through the GSU wringer, shall we? Goal. There’s no concrete goal here. The goal is an open-ended one. It’s to “have fun.” As I’ve mentioned before, the less defined your goal is, the harder your story will be to execute. American Pie had a clear goal – for each of the guys to get laid before prom. That’s what gave that movie so much focus.

Stakes. What are the stakes if they succeed or fail? Not a whole lot. And this goes back to “goal.” If there’s no concrete goal in your movie, then how can there be any stakes attached to it? However, as the script goes on, the stakes do get higher for each character. Andy, for example, is threatening his job by banging all these women. Nora begins to really like her co-worker. So there’s something at stake if he dumps her. Still, the stakes are pretty low.

Urgency – There’s no real urgency either. And again, this goes back to the goal. If there’s no goal ,then there’s no amount of time our characters will have to achieve it by. There is a “ticking clock” though, always important when you don’t have urgency. Remember, audiences like to have an idea of when the story is going to end. So here, it’s the 12 weeks of summer, indicated right after the opening scene when we see the title “12 weeks earlier.”

So then wait a minute. No GSU? How is this any good? Well, for some of you, it isn’t good. I’ve had a handful of e-mails telling me they didn’t like this script. And the fact that there’s no real plot (no “GSU”) is probably a big part of that. People like characters who are after things. You’re not going to get that in Good Kids.

If you don’t have any of those structural things in place, you’re basically resting your script on the creation of original, interesting, compelling characters an audience will want to follow (other examples of this include Breakfast Club and Dazed and Confused). You do that, and the audience will want to know the answer to this question: “What happens to these guys?” They want to see how their situations are going to end up. You saw this in Swingers as well. Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau don’t have a goal in the movie other than to find chicks. But we want to see how their situation will end because we like their characters. I’ll continue to warn you though, these movies are incredibly hard to write. If you don’t have a plot pushing the story forward, you better be amazing with character. And I thought McCoy produced three (Spice doesn’t make the cut) really fun characters here. But like I said, I’m already expecting a portion of you to hate this for its directionless story.

[ ] What the hell did I just read? (for Karlos)
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: Teasers. If you don’t have a structured plot, MAKE SURE YOU HAVE TEASERS. What are teasers? Teasers are events coming up later in the story that you tease. We may not have an overall goal to look forward to. But with teasers we still want to keep reading because we want to get to those events. Here, it’s Andy’s online Indian girlfriend. McCoy teases her later arrival a few times, and therefore we want to see what happens when she shows up. You can also call the opening of the script (with Andy being chased by the 40-year old men) a teaser (we want to see how we get there), although I still think you should avoid the opening flash-forward if at all possible. It’s in every script I read now!