Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Twit-Pitch Review - The Last Rough Rider

(Thursday review up early since I'm on the road to LA baby!!!)

Genre: Action
Premise: (Original Twit-Pitch Logline) It's 1901. Terrorists have just taken over the White House. And only Theodore Roosevelt can stop them.
About: Twit-Pitch Review Week - For those recently joining Scriptshadow, I held a contest a few months back called "Twit-Pitch," where anyone could pitch me their screenplay on Twitter, as long as it was contained within a single tweet.  I picked my 100 favorite loglines and read the first 10 pages of each (which I live-reviewed on Twitter), and then from those, picked the Top 20, which I'll read the entire screenplay for.  This week I'm reviewing four of the Twit-Pitch scripts.
Writers: Matthew Merenda
Details: 118 pages

Teddy Roosevelt - resident badass

I'm not sure it's ever a good sign when a contest entry comes with the e-mail, "Sorry for any typos.  I ran out of time."


You hear that?

That's the sound of my chin hitting my chest accompanied by a long slow wheezing sound.  I suppose I should be used to it by now - the lack of effort put into these Twit-Pitches.  But yesterday gave me hope!  It made me a believer in Twit-Pitch again!  I had fallen down the Twit-Pitch mountain but I had gotten back up and I climbed, oh how I climbed, to the top of that mountain again and I said to the people in the valley, "HALLELUJAH!"

Only to get shot in the back and tumble off the cliff once more.

Now we're not talking about a "Cut Copy Paste" reunion here.  The writing was competent.  And ironically, I only saw a couple of typos.  But this script confused me.  The first five pages were some of the strongest of the competition - with a group of 1901 terrorists breaking into a tower and stealing blueprints to the White House.  But for some reason - maybe from the logline? - I thought this script was going to be an action comedy.  But that's not the case.  It's a straight action film.  Which definitely took some getting used to (I think I gave up looking for laughs around page 30).  But even once I realized it was a straight action movie, I was frustrated by how little freaking happened!  I mean, there's a TON of action in this script.  More than a night in the Jersey Shore house.  But there's zero story.  It's as if Matt bought himself a case of Mountain Dew and wrote one giant 110 page action sequence all weekend.  I'll get more into that in a second.

Like I said, The Last Rough Rider begins in 1901 with a group of Columbians stealing the White House blueprints.  The scene creates intrigue.  It creates suspense.  It sets up a mystery.  What are they stealing the blueprints for?  Whatever are they planning to do?

We then meet Theodore Roosevelt and his 12 year old son, Kermit, hunting.  Teddy is big, tough and manly, whereas Kermit is weak, squeamish, and uncomfortable.  He's only here to impress his father but it's clear he'd rather be reading books or playing ches---HOLY F*CK!  OUT OF NOWHERE A BEAR LEAPS AT THEM!  Teddy and Kermit roll out of the way.  Now whereas most people would run AWAY from a thousand pound bear, Teddy Roosevelt runs AT the bear.  And wrestles it.  And kills it!

Yes, Teddy Roosevelt IS the last true rough rider.  And to drive this point home, he hauls the bear carcass into a cabinet meeting and starts gutting it (strangely, this is the only comedic scene in the movie).  Oh yeah, Mr. Roosevelt isn't president yet.  He's only vice-president.  And apparently he gets on a lot of people's nerves, to the point where no one thinks he's presidential material.  He's just not very...sensitive.

Anyway, while the cabinet bickers about a dead bear in the middle of the Oval Office, our evil Columbian terrorists sneak through the gate and take over the White House Hans Gruber style! You gotta remember this was pre 9/ 100 years, so security wasn't very tight.

They hold everybody hostage in the Oval Office except for Teddy, who they send off to a remote room.  Teddy isn't there for long, as taking out two guards is the difficulty equivalent of eating a stack of pancakes for him.  And from that point on....well...Teddy runs around the White House trying to save the good guys and kill the bad guys.  That's....about it.  There's nothing else that really happens in the story.  Which makes it kinda boring.

Now you may be saying, "Well isn't that exactly what Die Hard did?"  Yeah, but here's the difference.  Die Hard had plot developments.  Things were happening.  They were trying to open the 7 layers of the safe.  The media showed up.  McClane befriended the cop.  The power was cut.

Nothing happens in this story.  It's the most under-plotted script I've read all year.  It's just Roosevelt running around aimlessly.  There's no form to it.  There's no structure.  It's just the same scene over and over again.  I know this because when I read these scripts, I take notes on all the major and minor plot developments that happen so I can write a summary of the story in the review.  I went 80 pages here and didn't write a single thing because there wasn't a single development.

The only plot element driving the story was the admittedly cool X-Ray machine that the Columbian scientist was using to see what was inside the White House walls.  This is apparently what they came here for.  The problem is, we see this happen at the beginning of the takeover, and then we don't hear about it again for another 90 PAGES!  So the only interesting thing about the story was barely in the story!

It's your job as a writer to make something happen every 10-15 pages.  Give us a twist.  Introduce an unexpected element.  If the same thing keeps happening over and over again, we're going to get bored.  And that's why this feels like it was written in a weekend.  There just didn't seem to be any thought put into the plot.  It was just, "Let's have Teddy Roosevelt run around."

This is the kind of script that would've benefited greatly from clear "mini-goals."  Instead of only having a giant vague goal of "saving the White House," which leaves open the possibility of too much general-ness, lay out specific tasks Roosevelt needs to accomplish one after another to GET to the point where he saves the White House.  These mini-goals are the key to focus.

For example, John McClane's first goal is to contact the police.  Then it's to stop the police from mucking up the situation.  Then it's to evade the terrorists Hans sends after him.  Once you break your action movie down into these little chunks, giving your hero sequences to conquer instead of entire movies to conquer, the story becomes much more manageable.

To make matters worse, the only plot point in the movie (the x-rayed wall plot) didn't even pay off in an interesting way.  In fact, I don't even know if it made sense.  The Columbians were basically looking for the blueprints to the Panama Canal so they could...control it?  Or something?  How would blueprints allow you to control the canal?  And why did blueprints to the Panama Canal need to be hidden inside the White House walls?  And my history is shaky.  Had the Panama Canal been built yet?  Were they trying to control something that was already there or control something that would be there in the future?  No idea.  And why do we need an x-ray machine to check inside the wall to see if something is there or not?  Why not - oh I don't know - KNOCK DOWN THE WALL!??  Seems like it would be a lot cheaper and a lot faster.

I'm going to take a wild guess here and say this was written AFTER Twit-Pitch.  Once again, I'll remind you:  We readers know when a script has been rushed.  You're not going to trick us.  The choices are generic.  The plot is basic.  The characters are plain.  To get that stuff right takes time and a lot of rewriting.  So as much as you'd like to think you'll be the exception, you're not fooling anybody.  If you don't put in the work, it always shows.

This is sad because I was thinking Rough Rider would be a dark horse in the competition.  Instead it's a dead horse. :(

Script link: The Last Rough Rider 

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

What I Learned: You can't string medium-level plot mysteries out for an entire script.  The reader will get bored.  The whole "X-Ray of the wall" thing was kind of cool - but it wasn't "Wait for 90 Pages to Find Out What They're After" cool.  Audiences give you grace periods on your mysteries relative to how interesting they are.  Finding out what's inside a wall...I might give that 20-25 pages TOPS before it needs to be answered.  But freaking 90 pages?  No way.