Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Screenplay Review - End Of Watch

Genre: Cop/Found Footage
Premise: Two cops (and best friends) begin taping their daily exploits, which include numerous busts and adventures.  But when they're marked for death by a local gang, they'll need to count on their friendship like never before to survive.
About: David Ayers (Training Day, The Fast And The Furious, S.W.A.T.) wrote and directed this.  It stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena.
Writer: David Ayers
Details: 97 pages

Training Day is one of my favorite cop movies of all time.  I loved the simplicity of it.  I loved the characters in it.  I loved the twists.  I liked it so much, in fact, that it's one of the screenplays I feature in my upcoming book.  In addition to that, I liked Ayers' other breakthrough script, The Fast And The Furious.  Not as much as Training Day, but as a fun summer flick with fast cars and faster characters, it was perfect mindless entertainment.  So I guess you could say I'm a David Ayers fan.  Which means I've been looking forward to this one.  But you know what they say about expectations.  Bastards can ruin your afternoon.

First thing we're told in End Of Watch is that this is recorded footage.  Yup, Ayers is jumping on the found footage train.  And "train" is an appropriate metaphor for this script.  In a world where most screenplays fly, End Of Watch takes forever to get where it wants to go.  And to be honest, I'm still not sure where that is.

24 year old Mike Zavala and 23 year old Brian Taylor (or Dan Taylor as an old script fragment labels him) are partners.  Not life partners but cop partners.  However, they could be life partners because these two looooove each other.  I mean they really really REALLY love each other.  They hang together, drink together, and repeatedly tell one another they'd take a bullet for the other.  This is a polmance if there ever was one.

Taylor is trying to get his law degree and one of his electives is a film class so he's decided to drag along a camera wherever they go to tape their adventures.  Seeing as they patrol South Central LA, there's usually an adventure around every corner.

What there isn't, however, is a plot.  Ayers takes the found footage thing literally and doesn't seem interested in creating a cohesive storyline.  It's like one of those weekend warrior dads editing together the family vacation footage.  There's no form to it, no direction.  Just long drawn out clips of the experience.  Taylor and Zavala question a notorious gang leader, talk about wives and girlfriends, and save a girl from a burning building.  Our movie instincts keep telling us to be patient, that this will all come together at some point, but it doesn't.  The script is devoid of arcs, form, focus, setups or payoffs.

I guess if there's a plot focus for the story, it's the aftermath of the heroic fire rescue (which doesn't happen until the midpoint).  Afterwards, the two are heralded as heroes and even make the paper.  But neither seems comfortable with it.  They don't do this for the glory.  They do it because they love their job.  But again, this doesn't really go anywhere.  I label the section "focused" because it's the only development in the screenplay that lasts more than three scenes.

Eventually, some gang members get irritated with them because (I think) they're abusing their power.  Word on the street it that there's a green light on them, which is gang code for "they're going to get capped."  They don't pay it much mind, though, I guess because they're having too much fun on the job.  But it's something they'll have to deal with when it's all said and done.  Gangs tend not to go away until bizness is taken care of.

I think I know what Ayers was going for here.  He was going for the most realistic cop movie ever.  He didn't want things to be bogged down by plot points and story conventions.  He wanted it to feel like we were dropping in on these guys and seeing what it was REALLY LIKE to be them.

I admire that approach.  It's bold.  But there's a reason writers rarely try it.  Real or not real, we go to the movies to watch a story.  For whatever reason, randomness just doesn't go over well with an audience.  Maybe it's because we're conditioned to expect the opposite, maybe it's because if we want randomness, we can get it in our everyday lives, but if a story doesn't seem to be going in a particular direction, we get impatient, and that was happening to me as early as page 20.  "Okay, what's the story here?" I kept asking.  But one never showed up.

This can sometimes work if the characters are amazing, but that was another problem with End Of Watch.  The characters weren't amazing.  They were barely even average.  I guess Zavala's character was fun, but the big problem here is that these two LOVE EACH OTHER.  They stroke each other the whole movie.  They laugh, they celebrate, tell each other how great the other is.

In other words, there's NO CONFLICT in the central relationship of the movie!  Therefore, all of their conversations are boring.  I don't care how good of a writer you are.  If you don't have some element of conflict in your scenes, it's almost impossible to write good dialogue. And that's where End Of Watch suffered.

I mean look at Training Day.  Because of the heavy amount of conflict between lead characters Alonzo and Jake, the dialogue was a blast!  Alonzo was always pushing Jake.  Jake could never impress Alonzo.  Jake was always nervous around Alonzo.  Alonzo would tell Jake to do things he didn't want to do.  Go watch that movie again.  Every single scene is steeped in some kind of imbalance, in some kind of conflict between the main characters.  Which is what made it so fun.

End Of Watch doesn't have that.  And if you don't have a plot and you don't have any conflict between your leads...that's a big hole to pull yourself out of.  I hope Ayers' directing vision is able to override some of these weaknesses, but in script form, "Watch" is a disappointment. :(

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

What I Learned: One of the easiest ways to juice up dialogue is through conflict.  Create an imbalance between two characters (one wants one thing, the other wants another) and you'll find the dialogue writes itself.  If you have two characters without that imbalance, you're forced to try and write clever fun "chummy chummy" dialogue between them, which can work for a scene or two, but rarely has the weight to last an entire screenplay.