Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Screenplay Review - Untitled Arizona Project

I have three words for when it comes to this whacked-out screenplay: The Squirrel Scene. Nothing more needs to be said.

Genre: Comedy/Satire
Premise: (from Black List) A satirically dark comedy about a homicidal foreclosure victim kidnapping a real estate agent and planning to kill her in the housing development where she finagled money from customers like him.
About: This script finished tied at the bottom of the 2011 Black List with 6 votes. Del Tredici is repped by WME and managed by Mosaic. He’s written exclusively in TV up to this point, penning episodes of 30 Rock and Bored To Death (among others).
Writer: Luke Del Tredici
Details: 104 pages – 8/21/10 Fifth 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).

Today's script is one I'd never heard of before. And why would I have? It doesn’t even have a proper title. Which actually makes sense because when you read it, you realize it doesn’t have a proper anything. This script is about as improper as it gets. Del Tredici is clearly an insane person. I imagine him stalking Liz Lemon in his dreams with a cheese grater. Read this script and you’ll realize that’s not as weird a statement as you think it is.

But here’s the catch. Insanity can be a good thing for writers. With the right amount of focus, insanity can lead to genius! Edgar Allan Poe was insane right? And he came up with some pretty cool stuff. I don’t know if I’m ready to put Del Tredici in the same league as Poe just yet, but I can tell you this: You will not forget this script after you read it. I promise you that.

We’re in Harding, Arizona, June 2007. Harding is one of those upscale communities that investors just decided to build. It didn’t get there after years of growth. They took the Field Of Dreams mentality: “If we build a bunch of McMansions, they will come.” Will they Ray? Will they?

Cassie Francis is a real estate agent in Harding. She’s riding the wave of this booming industry, even owning one of these McMansions herself! Everything’s going swimmingly. That is until the housing market implodes.

Cut to two years later and the community is a ghost town. Nine out of every ten houses have been deserted. Cassie is one of the few remaining stragglers and it doesn’t look like she’ll be able to hold on much longer. She hasn't sold a house in six months and her boss is coming up with more reasons to fire her than keep her. That’ll end up being the least of her worries though, since when she comes into work, she inadvertently witnesses an adjustable-rate mortgage victim sort of accidentally kill the big cheese.

This once normal but now crazed home-owner, Sonny, has no choice but to do something about the lone witness, so he kidnaps Cassie and brings her back to his home, which happens to be in the same community she lives in.

At first things are light and fluffy. Sonny looks like he's going to let Cassie go as long as she promises not to tell anybody what she saw. But then his ex-wife shows up, starts pushing his buttons, and he ends up killing her too! Now that Cassie’ been a witness to TWO murders, he realizes he has to get rid of her. In order to make sure nobody's looking for Cassie though, he decides to go to her house and snatch up her teenage daughter as well.

While that’s going on, Cassie manages to escape, and while Sonny brings her daughter back, she’s able to call the police. The thing is, there’s only one cop in this hellhole. The rest had to be let go when all these rich folks who couldn’t pay their mortgages fled town.

Now Cassie and this one cop must try and find which house she was actually being held in – not an easy task since every single house looks exactly the same! Cassie eventually finds and rescues her daughter, but with a very determined Sonny on their trail, escape is anything but guaranteed.

This script is so damn weird. But weird in a deliriously awesome way!

It all starts with Sonny, who’s one of the most unpredictable villains you’ll ever meet. One second he’s cozy and comforting and telling our heroine that he’s going to let her go. The next he’s a psychotic serial killer having our poor protagonist and her daughter dig their own graves. This dude was like a giant suspense yo-yo, with no rhyme or reason to his actions. And boy did that make him terrifying.

But none of his actions compare to the best scene I’ve read in a script all year. I'm not going to spoil it because you have to read the scene yourself to believe it. I will refer to it only as…The Squirrel Scene. I have never been so terrified of squirrels in my life. This scene has made me reevaluate squirrels as animals. I'm thinking of calling the National Animal Control Center and seeing if there's a way we can get rid of all squirrels on the planet just because of this scene. It's such a great scene, in fact, that I think this movie is worth making JUST for this scene. And I realize how ridiculous that sounds but this scene is just so unexpected and so weird and so terrifying that I stand by it.

Outside of that, there’s a nice little statement going on about the housing crisis. While I didn’t personally feel the sting of that implosion, I know people who did. And I just remember how helpless and angry they felt – like they’d been duped and there was nobody out there willing to help them. I remember them having to jump through a million hoops just to get a minor extension and how oftentimes, even when they did everything right, they’d still get screwed. In that sense, Sonny embodies everybody’s frustration. And without getting too deep, there’s a strange part of you that understands him – that understands why he’s gone nutzos. And it’s that subtext that makes this screenplay more than just a silly exercise in weird comedic choices.

I only disliked two things about the script. The first is it felt a little clunky at times. The writing wasn’t as smooth as maybe it could’ve been. And the other was the ex-husband stuff. Cassie has this ex-husband who's now dating a 24-year-old fluzie who’s quite possibly the dumbest girl in the world. He’s the only person she’s able to contact for help so he has to drive back to save her with his nagging girlfriend tagging along. It's not a terrible subplot by any means but it just gets old quickly. We keep cutting back to the car, listening to the same argument over and over again (“Why are we doing this?”). I suppose it had potential but I’d rather have stayed back where all the action was.

In the end, I think you gotta admire Del Tredici for taking so many chances. When I read scripts like The Knoll or Selfless, I’m always bummed out by how predictable they are. The writers never take a single chance! They do everything exactly by the book. This script is the opposite. And it’s really original as a result. I challenge anybody to read this script and forget about it. It's impossible. This one would get people talking if it ever became a movie. Let’s hope that that happens.

[ ] Wait for the rewrite
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: One of the easiest ways to write an original scene is to ask yourself, “What's the last thing my audience expects this character to do right now?” Everybody knows what the character would *likely* do. We've seen enough movies to be able to predict that. So put your thinking cap on and ask what it is they’d *least likely* do. When Sonny kidnaps Cassie, bringing her to his house, we think we know what's going to happen. He's going to tie her up and threaten her and blah blah blah. But the writer asks that question, “What’s the last thing the audience expects Sonny to do right now?” Why: Give Cassie a tour of the house of course! So we get this awkward but intriguing scene where Sonny gives his kidnapped captor a tour of his place. Not only is it original, but it creates the added benefit of making our villain seem even scarier. If this guy is so delusional that he's giving the girl he kidnapped a tour of his place, then how crazy can he be??