Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Screenplay Review - Crazy For The Storm

Genre: Drama
Premise:  An 11 year old boy survives a mountain plane crash and must use all the tools his father taught him to survive.
About: This one finished low on last year's Black List.  Writer Will Fetters broke onto the scene with Black List script "Remember Me," a couple of years ago, which had one of the more shocking endings I've read and ended up starring heartthrob Robert Pattinson.  He then scripted The Lucky One, which starred Zac Efron.  Fetters projects seem to have the young hunky actor market cornered.  Which begs the question - Which hunky heartthrob is going to play 11 year-old Norman Ollestad.  My guess is Alex Petteyfer.
Writer: Will Fetters (based on the novel by Norman Ollestad)
Details: 121 pages (April 15, 2011 draft)

Alex Petteyfer for Norman? (edit: My Alex Petteyfer casting choice was a sorry attempt at a joke)

I don't know why but I was worried about this one.  I mean, dramatically, it had the makings for a good story.  An 11 year old kid survives a plane crash.  He's gotta use all the skills his father taught him to survive.  That could be cool right?

Yeah, it could be.  Assuming there was some drama in the story.  Assuming there was ANY drama in the story.  Crazy For The Storm is one of the most boring screenplays I've ever read.  I mean at least with The Accountant, you're sitting there going, "Is this writer insane?  What the hell is he going to come up with next??"  With "Storm," it's as if the story was stripped of every potential interesting development before being let out into the world.  For a cool premise, it's shocking to see how little actually happens in this script.

It starts off in 1979 with this 11 year old boy named Norman Ollestad barreling down a slalom run.  Norman is competing against guys five and six years older than him, which means he does't have the weight to get enough speed to compete.  Therefore, his father has taught him how to ski on ice to make up for it.  This trick is what allows Norman to win.

But Norman doesn't seem too thrilled about the victory.  He's more surprised than anything.  Cut back to some really high class hippy commune (does that even make sense?) on the beach where Norman goes skateboarding with his buddies.   It's back here where we learn that Norman's father, Norman Sr., has divorced Norman's mom, leaving Norman to live with his mom and step-father, whom he detests.

While getting to know Norman's home life, we flash forward to see Norman, his father, and his father's girlfriend hop on a Cessna and crash into a mountain.  We then spend the rest of the script jumping back and forth between the crash aftermath and Norman's recent past, particularly his relationship with his father.

What is that relationship?  Good question.  I have no idea.  All I know is that they talk about life a lot and Norman Sr. goes to a lot of weird places. For example, he takes his son down to Mexico to deliver a washing machine to his grandparents.  On the way, they're shot at and nearly killed by Federales.  Fun scene.  Absolutely no idea what it had to do with anything.

Back to the mountain where Norman realizes his father and the pilot are dead, but that his dad's girlfriend is still alive.  Little 11 year old Norman will now have to carry the 30-something woman down the mountain with him.  Don't worry.  He drops her and she dies.  Still, it will be a challenge.  And if I'm to believe the premise, only his father's life lessons will allow him to make it out alive.  Except they don't.  At all.  He just sort of walks down the mountain.  And that is Crazy For The Storm for you.

I mean.........what??

I don't know how one script can be so boring.  NOTHING happens in this screenplay.  Which is really weird to say about a script where a plane crashes into the side of a mountain.  How can you write a script where nothing happens after that?  I don't know but it happened.

Let's start with the idea itself.  I remember when this book was optioned and this is how I recall the pitch:  A young boy grows up with an overbearing father who forces him to do a bunch of stuff he hates. Then, when the boy is stranded on a mountain after a plane crash, he's forced to use all those skills his father taught him to survive.

THAT sounded like a story.  There was some nice irony involved.  A boy hating his father for ruining his childhood but then getting stuck in a situation where all the lessons he taught him ended up saving his life.  Good, right?

Well that's not the story.  This story has a father who loves his son.  He's nice to him.  He's helpful.  He's protective.  They're best friends!  In other words, there's NO CONFLICT WHATSOEVER.  Which means every scene between them is boring.  So when Norman gets stuck on the mountain?  No irony.  Just - "Okay, let's use the things dad taught me."

Except NOT EVEN THAT MAKES SENSE!  What did the dad teach him?  How to ski?  How to surf?  Am I missing something here? How do skiing and surfing help you survive a plane crash????  I think there's one scene where Norman slides down a section of the mountain.  So that's it?  Is that the big lesson he learned that saved his life??

The only conflict in the script, actually, is focused on Norman and his stepfather.  Not only is it boring, but it has nothing to do with anything.  There's this weird totally separate subplot about the stepfather wanting Norman to focus on getting a football scholarship to USC.  Uhhhh, HE'S 11!  Shouldn't we start with graduating 6th grade first?  And we already have skiing and surfing and skateboarding in this movie.  Now we have football??  Aggghhh!!  I'm so confused.

If I were advising this story, this is what I would do.  I would create way more conflict between father and son.  This story only works with irony.  Get rid of the stepdad character. He's worthless.  Spend WAY MORE TIME on the mountain after the crash.  It feels like there's 8 pages of mountain in the entire script.  Then, make the mountain scenes actually interesting.  There need to be more obstacles.  It needs to look like an impossible feat.  Outside of losing the girlfriend (who we didn't care about anyway because her inclusion was so undefined), Norman basically jaunts down the mountain without a hitch.

Watch (or read) Alive.  Those guys had to deal with avalanches and starvation and isolation and turning on each other.  There was an obstacle at every turn, every few minutes.  Here, there are no obstacles!  Where's the drama in that?

Then, when you do cut back to the past, only cut back to him and his father.  And build up more of a hatred there.  His father should be heartless, unloving, only about teaching his son to be better (at whatever it is he's teaching him).  Norman then grows to resent his father.  That way the movie is about this kid who's gone his whole life believing his father didn't love him, that he only cared about torturing him, only to learn he actually loved him more than anything, because he prepared him for this moment.

I'm not even scratching the surface here.  There were SOOOO many other things wrong with this script - such as the fact that 11 year old Norman talked like he was 22 the whole time.  But I've already crashed this script into the side of a mountain enough.  I'm getting off this mountain.  Does anybody have a snowboard I can borrow?

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

What I learned: This script suffers from one of the worst mistakes you can make as a screenwriter - the passive hero.  Norman doesn't talk much.  He doesn't do much.  He just listens to his dad and reacts.  Even the 8 pages where he does act (on the mountain) feel restrained.  Be REALLY wary of protagonists who don't talk and are followers.  There's an incredibly high chance they're boring.