Friday, June 8, 2012

Screenplay Review - Best Friends Forever (Amateur Friday)

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: After learning that his family is leaving the town he grew up in, a heartbroken 13 year-old boy convinces his best friends to go trick-or-treating one last time in a daring attempt to break their town's unbreakable trick-or-treating record and become legends. Writer: Eric Gegenheimer
Details: 109 pages

Okay, full disclosure here. I GREW UP in the town where today's script is set! Oak Park, Illinois. As a result, I had a rather personal experience with the material. Everything Eric talked about, I knew. Lake Street? Walked it every day. Razzle Dazzle Costumes on the Oak Park Mall? That's where I bought MY Halloween costume!

Needless to say, this was like walking down Nostalgia Lane. But even if I hadn't grown up in Oak Park, I'd still be impressed, as it's rare an amateur script is the best of the week - especially when the competition includes Alexander Payne, an Academy Award winner!

But that's what happens when you write a smart, funny, heartfelt comedy.

Best Friends Forever, appropriately, introduces us to four best friends in the year 1987. There's the "leader" and our protagonist, Daniel. There's the "stud" of the group, Devin. There's the "nerd" of the group, Will. And there's the eternally quiet fourth member, Brian.

These four 13 year olds are in their last year of Junior High and things are starting to change for them, especially Devin, who's pulling away in favor of going to parties and meeting girls. But the real change occurs when Daniel's parents hit him with some shocking news - the family is moving in two weeks. His father got a job in another city.

Daniel is destroyed. He's about to lose his friends forever. But after a little pouting, he's inspired by a wild idea. The best times he and his friends had were during Halloween. What if they all went on one last trick-or-treating jaunt? And not only that, what if they tried to beat the 20 year old Oak Park Trick or Treat record?!

Naturally, his friends (who don't yet know he's moving) are skeptical. They're 13 years old! 13 year olds aren't supposed to trick-or-treat. Devin, especially, is against it. Trick or treating is SOOO not cool. But after a desperate plea, they reluctantly get on board. 

We meet a few more players in the meantime. There's, of course, classic 80s bully Carter Burke. All he cares about is humiliating nerds like Daniel and his gang, and after Daniel's father embarrasses him, he's really got it in for Daniel. Then there's my favorite character - maybe ever - Miles Fisher. He's four foot five and 68 pounds, loves Star Wars, and is king of the nerds. He's also arrogant as f#$% ("While my fellow academics may turn their noses up at the thought of asking for candy, I find the rituals of Halloween quite rewarding.") He may not be Carter Burke, but he makes things just as difficult for our heroes, especially Will, who he tortures relentlessly. Fisher is one of those characters who if Best Friends Forever ever got made, he'd become a cinematic icon.

The rest of the story is pretty simple. The group zips around Oak Park (and River Forest, our sister community - yes, Chicago's suburb planners had a creepy hard-on for trees) trying to get enough candy to beat the record, running into a bunch of obstacles along the way. There aren't many surprises or twists here - which is okay, since Eric keeps the screenplay focused squarely on the characters.

My initial thoughts after reading "Best Friends Forever?" Warm and fuzzy. Eric incorporates into his screenplay something so few comedies do these days - heart. And it leaves you with a richer more fulfilling experience at the end.

That and he has a unique ability to capture familiar moments that we all remember so well. For instance, there are a ton of lines like this one: "Allison’s friends giggle in that teenage girl way where it’s impossible to tell if they’re being cute or cruel.” Seriously, right!!?? If you can make a reader identify with enough moments in your script, they're going to give themselves to your story. Eric is a master at this.

He also does a great job putting you in the time period. I read a lot of "period" scripts where the writer gives us no visual cues of what time period we're in. It might as well be the present. The costumes the boys wear alone (Ghostbusters, Marty McFly, The Cure) let us know exactly where we are. But there are plenty of other hilarious 80s references that continue to remind us.

But where Eric really excels is in his character development. The very first scene - a sleepover between the four friends - shows us how much these guys mean to each other. We have them arguing over what movie to watch on cable (the focus being on nudity), telling scary stories, reading comic books, sleeping in sleeping bags. After that scene, you know these four are BFF, so when we find out Daniel is moving, it's sort of devastating. It leaves an undercurrent of sadness to their pursuit that adds a layer of depth I don't usually see in these scripts. And that's the way it should be. We should feel some sort of conflict in the characters' pursuit if you want to connect with the reader.

But it ain't all reeses peanut butter cups and 100 grand bars. There are a few apples and candy corn packets in here that keep this trick or treat bag from winning the grand prize.

Simply put, the whole "trick or treat contest" was confusing. They were trying to beat this famous trick or treater, but I didn't understand any of the rules. Were they going to combine all their candy? If so, isn't that kind of cheating? And I'm not saying cheating is the worst thing in this scenario but because nobody monitors this contest, "honestly" beating the champ is really all you've got. If you know you didn't really win, what's the point?

There's also something about a "stamp card" (houses stamping your card to prove that you trick or treated) that I didn't understand and had never heard of before. It was another unclear rule in a contest full of them.

Also, a ton of emphasis is put on this former champ, a kid who, in order to get the record, ditched school at lunch so he could start trick or treating early. Yet our friends start trick or treating four hours later and somehow still beat the record?? Not only that, but they get involved in a number of diversions that steal big chunks out of their 3 hour trick or treat time. In my estimation, they trick or treated for maybe 90 minutes total. And they still won? This is why I was wondering - did they pool their candy together? Was that always the plan or did they come up with that at the last second?

And on top of all this, there's this sort of leisurely pace they set for trick or treating. They never seemed in a hurry. It just didn't seem like a group of kids who had to work their ass off to get the record. And the reason this is a big deal is because this is the PLOT OF THE MOVIE. The movie is about a group of kids trying to break a record! So if you don't convince us that your characters are doing everything possible to break it, how can I be satisfied when it's over?

I told Eric he needs his characters to ditch school at lunch just like the former champ. And to just create more of a sense of urgency.

There were a few other things that bothered me. I thought the haunted house set piece was a collosol waste of time. It was one of those classic sequences us writers convince ourselves works because there's a lot happening. But because it didn't have anything to do with anything else in the movie (resulting in rock bottom stakes), it just sat there like a giant rotting potato.

Also, the fourth friend, Brian, needs to be re-written. He doesn't say anything ever. And what do I tell you guys about characters who don't talk? They disappear on the page. And that's exactly what happened here. Okay, he's quiet. That's what makes him different. But that just doesn't work in screenplays. Whenever he came up, I was like, "Who is he again?" I might just ditch this character altogether.

BUT, like I said - the character work with almost everyone else was top notch. Daniel's storyline about moving was powerful. Devin's obsession with girls worked well. Will's nerdy battle with Fisher was top-notch. And Carter and his goons were great.

I think this script needs to be clarified from a plot point-of-view. But character-wise, it's light years better than most of the amateur scripts I read.

Script link: Best Friends Forever

[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] not for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

 What I learned: Don't use words that misrepresent the moment. There's a scene early on where Carter corners Daniel at school. This is what Eric writes: "Daniel’s eyes drop. He’s suddenly incredibly interested in the tile pattern on the floor." While we understand the meaning of the sentence after we read it, the words "incredibly interested" conflict with the tone the moment is supposed to represent. The idea is to show that Daniel is scared. "Incredibly interested" doesn't convey that. So the sentence initially reads confusing. I would go with something simple like, "Daniel's eyes drop to the floor." Or, "Terrified, Daniel's eyes shoot to the floor." Make sure the words in your sentences properly represent the moment!