Friday, May 11, 2012

Screenplay Review - The Incredible Shaving Mug Fracas (Amateur Friday)

NEW Amateur Friday Submission Process: To submit your script for an Amateur Review, send in a PDF of your script, a PDF of the first ten pages of your script, your title, genre, logline, and finally, why I should read your script. Use my submission address please: Your script and “first ten” will be posted. If you’re nervous about the effect of a bad review, feel free to use an alias name and/or title. It’s a good idea to resubmit every couple of weeks so your submission stays near the top.

Genre: Comedy
Premise: (from writer) A lost cache of Nazi gold could save the crumbling hometown of a failed actor. But the key to the treasure, an antique shaving mug, is also the key to his doom. He must outwit, battle and defeat weird and dangerous Nazi sympathizers who have skulked into town searching for him and the treasure.
Writer: Michael Wire
Details: 108 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).

It’s comedy time here on Amateur Friday. I hope your laugh buds are tingling cause we got ourselves a wild one. Our writer, Michael Wire, is definitely insane in the membrane – but in a good way! “Shaving Mug Fracas” is a wild ride that may not have the focus a story this ambitious needs, but I see a lot of promise in Michael. If he can learn to sharpen his storytelling skills, he might very well be a comedy writer to watch for.

“Fracas” starts with former B-grade movie star Chad McSteele III (the actor who portrayed the superhero “Flying Falcon”) putting the finishing touches on one of those giant mechanical dinosaur heads you see in Monster Truck shows. McSteele used to have it all. The women. The fame. The house in the hills. But after a Youtube video surfaced of him screaming like a girl when his wire-frame harness malfunctioned on set, no one bought the illusion of Flying Falcon anymore. McSteele’s career was McSeeya.

So he moved back to his hometown, Verona, Arizona – a desert dump with a higher evacuation rate than Chernobyl, and started his auto-body business. In many ways, Verona IS Chad McSteele – a past-its-prime town that’s just wasting away.

With the banks moving in on Verona, demanding money that the town, and our hero, don’t have, McSteele is looking for any source of income to stave them off. So he starts selling old junk on Ebay. To his surprise, one item, a seemingly innocuous shaving mug, is garnering a serious bidding war. In fact, it’s already up to 1500 dollars!

Before McSteele can figure out why the hell anyone would want a boring mug, a German bombshell, Evita, and her creepy brother, Maxwell, show up wanting to buy the mug directly. When that plan fails, they hire some local skinheads to steal it for them. The skinheads do the job, but in the process see the letters “A.H.” inscribed on the mug. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out who those letters refer to (but the skinheads still need it explained to them). And that means it’s time to up their asking price.

In the meantime, a plump dorky 40-something Brit named “Eggman” shows up ALSO willing to do anything for the shaving mug. It turns out he’s collected a whole set of Hitler’s toiletries and this is the last item he needs to complete it. When he learns that it’s been stolen, he hires McSteele to steal it back.

But that’s when things get really crazy. Evita and Maxwell’s boss, the ancient “Grandfather,” who may or may not have been a Nazi Zeppelin pilot back in World War 2, flies into town himself. He quickly buys some property near the town’s pride and joy, a famous American tank used in World War 2, and hires a number of shifty fellars to move in with him.

It turns out that that mug wasn’t really what our guests were after afterall. There’s something much bigger hidden inside the town of Verona. And the evil Grandfather is going to find it. It will then be up to McSteele to put those tights on one last time and stop him, and maybe, in the process, save Verona.

“Fracas” is reallllllyyyyy ambitious. And I think Michael may have chomped off more Nazi war crimes than he could chew. One of the hardest areas to nail in this kind of story is the first act – because you have to set up so many people and so many storylines in such a short period of time. If you’re not careful, the entire act can turn into an exposition dump. And I’m afraid that’s what happens here. Michael is exerting all of his energy on just making sure every piece of information is conveyed, as opposed to telling an entertaining story. In the process, scenes feel like numbers on a checklist. There’s no flow to them. Nothing evolves naturally from anything else.

I mean we start with a superhero, then cut to a dinosaur head, then cut to a German grandfather in another country, then cut back to McSteele’s body shop where we go into some exposition about a rival body shop, then a quick switch to McSteele trying to pay his workers, then to a mug McSteele’s put up on Ebay, then to Evita showing up, then to a really long bar scene setting up McSteele’s old flame, Julie. I mean I didn’t know which way was up after the first fifteen pages.

And it boils down to a writer trying to jam so many things into his setup without considering how the reader is going to process all of that information. You can’t just use your first act as exposition. It still has to entertain. It still has to read smoothly.

Another thing that bothered me was once we got through those 15 pages of exposition, we had a really long bar scene that had no discernible purpose.

We were just talking about this yesterday. You don’t want to write scenes that convey the same information you’ve already given. So in the bar, McSteele runs into Julie, his old flame, and the two partake in a game of pool. The conversation they have is about A) how McSteele is down on his luck. B) How he’s lost all his money. C) How his superhero career ran out. Yet we already know all of these things. They’ve been conveyed to us quite aggressively. So the scene just sits there.

The scene does have conflict but nobody wants anything out of it and therefore there isn’t anything at stake. If I were to write this scene, I would’ve established beforehand that he and Julie don’t talk anymore – that she dislikes him – but she has something he really needs (possibly something that will help save his business). Now when he approaches her to play a game of pool, he secretly wants something from her. Ahh! Your scene now has a point, something at stake, and therefore some entertainment value. I wanted to see a lot more of that in the first act – entertainment value. Not exposition.

On the flip side, Michael has a wild imagination and some really great moments in his script. Eggman may be one of my favorite characters of the year. His obsession with the mug is hilarious. I loved that McSteele was a former movie super hero. I loved the Germans coming in to steal a secret treasure. I loved that the final battle takes place on Independence Day. I liked the huge mechanical dinosaur they used to attack the Germans. The plot with the gold hidden inside the tank was really clever. The set pieces, like the cop dressing up like a gorilla to take a wasp’s nest off the radio tower, and then the model planes swarming around him, was inspired.

So there’s a lot here to be excited about. But Michael just doesn’t bring it together. You have to work too hard to understand what’s going on. And in a comedy, you shouldn’t have to work hard at all. It should be breezy and easy to understand. I don’t know anyone who goes to a comedy to be challenged.

So that’s what I would say to Michael. Work on hiding your exposition more. Work on adjusting your plot so you don’t have so much exposition in the first place. Work on making all of your exposition scenes entertaining – not just info you’re conveying to the reader. And work on sharpening your explanation of the plot. There are a lot of moments in the script where you’re not clear enough on what’s going on, and I think it’s because certain plot points aren’t clear enough.

So I like Michael as a writer. I like his ambition here and that he’s pushing himself. The other day I chastised a script for making too many obvious choices. This script is anything but that. I can’t think of a single obvious choice Michael made. He just needs to do some simplifying and some smoothing out so the script reads more like a story and less like a prep-sheet for what’s to happen later.

Script link: The Incredible Shaving Mug Fracas

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

What I learned: You have to be careful with your openings. Remember that an opening is the door you use to bring the reader into your home. If the reader walks in and there are monkeys on the ceiling and a plate of food being thrown at them and aliens having sex and a hot Columbian woman whispering sweet Cantonese nothings into his ear, that reader’s probably going to turn around and leave. It’s too hard to process all of that craziness right away. And that's how I felt reading the opening here. I walked into a house and had no sense of where I was or what was going on. Invite your reader into your house and let them look around a little bit before you start throwing the batshit crazy at them.