Monday, June 18, 2012

Screenplay Review - Glimmer

Genre: Sci-fi/Found Footage
Premise: A group of friends stumble upon a time portal that sends them back 30 years into the past.
About: Dreamworks picked this up the other week. Since then, everyone’s been recommending it to me enthusiastically. Now you have to understand, this is a big deal. USUALLY when a script sells, I get a bunch of e-mails telling me it sucks. Now a lot of times this is inevitable. There’s a lot of jealousy (this script sold and theirs didn’t) or frustration (people are more likely to send a frustrated e-mail than a ‘yay screenwriting’ e-mail). So it really means something when I’m only getting universal positive feedback on a script.
Writer: Carter Blanchard
Details: 100 pages

I’ve been saying it for a couple of years now: When are they going to do a found footage film with time travel?? I almost wrote one myself cause it sounded so much Iike a no-brainer. But after asking around, I found out, not surprisingly, that a TON of people were writing them.

Remember that guys. If you ever think of a “no-brainer” idea, consider that a lot of other people have thought of it and might be writing it as well. That’s the gamble you make when exploring mainstream/popular ideas. It’s why there were a thousand “Bromance” scripts 3 years ago. So ask yourself: Can you write it quickly? Do you have contacts who can help you if it’s good? Because chances are a more established writer (like Blanchard) can do both. And that’s your competition.

The awkwardly-titled “Glimmer” is set in the small town of Hopewell, PA around a group of teenagers on the verge of graduation. There’s Tyler, an upper-tier nerd, his best friend Ben, a lower-tier nerd who believes he’s upper-teir, Mike, a preppy stud who’s friends with these two for reasons that are never explained, and his super hot girlfriend, Casey Lee. Joining the group later is Allison, the classic All-American girl unaware of her beauty, and longtime obsession of Ben.

Because school life doesn’t have much to offer these misfits, they’ve planned a little weekend getaway to the nearby forest, which word has it is haunted. Over the years, many people have disappeared into this forest, as we see on the opening page, where a picture shows a “missing persons” cork board.

Now maybe I’m missing something here, but if dozens of people disappeared in a forest, would you nonchalantly cruise into that forest yourself? I guess if you were 17 and reckless, yes. But would your parents allow this? These parents do.

It’s an easily addressed note (the kids could lie about where they’re going in the next draft) but these kinds of details are important, particularly for a script depicting “realistic” time travel, since you’re already asking the audience to accept a ton.

Anyway, the five camp out the first night, have a hell of a time, but when Tyler and Allison wake up the next morning, everyone else is gone. They search high and low, but can’t find them anywhere. AND they seem to have taken Tyler’s video camera! Hmm, I think I know where this is going.

Tyler and Allison head back to town, where they find a key to a lockbox at the bank. When they open the lockbox, low and behold…..there’s Tyler’s camera! From 30 years ago! Tyler and Allison go home and watch the tape, where they see something that can’t be explained. Their friends are there, in their town, but back in 1977!!!

From here we switch over to the story of Ben, Casey, and Mike, who are also having a hard time believing what’s happening. But at a certain point, they realize there’s no other explanation. They’ve f*cking time-travelled.

It appears that while swimming through a little cave pool that night, Mike, Casey and Ben crossed into the past. And to add insult to time travel, the pool closed up afterwards! Therefore, there’s no way to go back! (Come on guys. That’s like the first thing I learned after ‘Don’t start forest fires’ from Smokey The Bear – Don’t EVER swim through cave pools. They're time travel traps!).

What this means is that Tyler and Allison have to cycle through all the footage and figure out a way to go back and save them! Of course, things are never that easy. While Mike and Casey don’t dig the bellbottom age, Ben realizes he can use his knowledge of the future to break out of his forever-nerd status and become the kind of the 70s.

But things get tricky when the trio starts running into the younger versions of their parents, who aren’t exactly George McFly. They’re more like Bif on steroids. And they don’t like these new visitors. I won’t get into spoilers. But let’s just say the accommodations for this time travelling trip are…violent. And that violence creates a ripple effect on the future, where Tyler and Allison are continually watching the world change around them. They know if they don’t do something soon, existence itself could be in danger…or something.

Okay, so here’s the conundrum. I love time-travel movies. I’m always asking for the next great time-travel script. BUT, time-travel movies are always the most difficult to write. There’s a reason Back To The Future works so well while the second two feel slapped together. It’s because Bob and Robert worked for years on the time-travel plot. They made sure every single plot hole was plugged. When you don’t have that time – when you don’t laboriously pour over every single time-travel detail - the story will feel thin, shaky, and leave a series of confusing questions in the readers’ minds.

Now is Glimmer like that? Not all the time. It’s better than most time-travel scripts. I’m just not sure the rules are in place yet. And Blanchard makes it tough on himself by adding this constantly time-shifting present with self-aware characters who can remember both the real past and the new past. It reminded me a lot of that movie with Dennis Quaid, Frequency, from a decade ago. People are changing the past. People in the present are changing. Dead dads are coming back to life. Here we have a storyline with Tyler’s dead brother who is alive in some variations of the present and dead in the others. It was confusing. Maybe this all makes sense somewhere, but I couldn’t quite figure it out.

This might be the result of my high standards for the genre. Still, if you’re going to write sci-fi, you gotta make sure you cover up every hole. And try not to cover new holes by creating new rules (i.e. people can remember two different pasts). It may take more effort from you to simplify things, but it will pay off in the end. When it comes to time-travel, I'm telling you, KEEP IT SIMPLE.

As for the rest of the story, here’s what I think. I think this is a movie. Like I said in the beginning – time travel found footage is a no-brainer. Teenagers and 20-somethings are going to see this. But it did feel a bit too close to Chronicle. You have the “new power” the character gets, which then leads to the abuse of that power (Ben essentially uses his knowledge to become a powerful rich man). The final act, with the Ben and Tyler confrontation, was Chronicleesque to the bone, and it took me out of the story.

I do like how Blanchard adds an emotional core to the movie with the death of Tyler’s brother, but the emotional set-up wasn’t there for me, so when his brother re-emerges, I didn’t feel the same way Tyler did. I think that’s another important lesson screenwriters should learn. Just because your character feels a certain way (sad, upset, relief, happiness) doesn’t mean the audience is going to feel that way. You have to do a lot of work ahead of time, a lot of set-up, to make the audience feel that emotion.

Glimmer was a weird read. It was solid, but I couldn’t help feeling like it was a little safe, a little more confusing than it needed to be, and a little derivative in the third act. Having said that, I applaud Blanchard for establishing a solid foundation for what could potentially be a really cool movie.

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

What I learned: Like I was saying, if you want an emotional reaction from your audience, you have to work for it. It comes from exploring your character, his flaws, his backstory, his relationships, his fears. And it comes from integrating those into the story invisibly. In other words, you can’t SEEM like you’re setting things up a later moment. Here, it felt like we just got a couple mentions of Tyler’s brother being dead and then Allison asking him about it, and him recalling the death in a very downbeat way. That’s not enough in my book. You know I don’t like flashbacks, and they wouldn’t have worked here, but in Stand By Me, we got a solid flashback of Gordy and his brother, back when his brother was alive, that just showed the connection between the two. After that scene, we knew how much that bond meant to Gordy. Therefore, any time his brother was referred to, we FELT it.