Friday, August 10, 2012

Twit-Pitch Review - Kitty Hawk

Genre: Comedy
Premise: (Original Twit-Pitch Logline) In 1903 North Carolina, the Wright bros attempt the first flight, but shenanigans arise when they fall in love with the same woman.
About: 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.  Today's script is not to be confused with a competing Wright Brothers project written by Scriptshadow reader Brooks Elms.  
Writer: Dillon Magrann-Wells 
Details: 117 pages

I open the script.

I see "117 pages."

For a comedy.

My heart sinks.

"No," I think.

After all the effort I've put into this?  After saying time and time again never to write a comedy spec over 110 pages.  Comedies HAVE TO MOVE because there's no such thing as a good slow comedy.  If you bloat your script up to 117 pages, I guarantee you it's going to be slow.  We're going to have a bunch of long scenes, pointless scenes, repetitive scenes, and probably a story that loses itself several times. That's how scripts become 117 pages - the writers haven't figured out how to focus the story yet.  And we become the unwitting lab rats who suffer through that unfocusedness.


BUT!  There are always exceptions to the rule right?  Every once in awhile a long comedy comes along that's good!  Judd Apatow's scripts are like 140 pages, right?

Yeah but his scripts usually suck.  He doesn't start figuring things out until the shooting process.  Hmmm...there's gotta be SOME examples of long comedy screenplays that are good.  When Harry Met Sally was a long screenplay!  Then again, I'm not sure they formatted it correctly.

What the hell am I babbling about?  Well, it's Friday, so cut me some slack.  I'm about to go to something called a "Hollywood Breakfast" and I'm not sure how those work.  Are they different from a Hollywood lunch?  Do you talk about different things?  Is it too early in the day to pitch an idea?  Sometimes I wish I was one of those homeless people on Sunset and Vine. They don't have to worry about anything but acting crazy.  Now that's a life I could get used to.

The year is 1903, and bike-makers Wilbur and Orville Wright are struggling to keep their business above land (get it? ABOVE...LAND??). You'd think bike-making would be pretty lucrative back then, seeing as there weren't many cars around.  But our poor brothers can barely make the monthly payments on their lease.

Of the two, Orville is the business-minded one and Wilbur the creative one.  And Wilbur's got a creative solution for their failing business: start up again on that "flying machine," they've been dilly-dallying with in their spare time, then make a million bucks when they get it to work!  Orville not-so-secretly thinks the flying machine's a bust, so he's not down, but when some local thugs come around asking for money on a failed invention the brothers sold them, they have no choice but to run off to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina and throw all of their eggs into this flying basket.

Once there, they meet the beautiful but slightly bitchy Hannah Clifford, who's the daughter of the local mayor.  She agrees to find them free housing if they'll vote for her father in the upcoming election.  Jesus, I wish someone would've offered me that kind of deal on my apartment.

They begin work on the flying machine but distractions soon arise.  The first is Hannah herself, who takes a liking to Wilbur, which threatens to disrupt their building schedule.  And the second is the president of the Smithsonian Institute, who wants to stop the Wright Brothers from getting their flying machine airborne before he and his much more prestigious institution are able to do so.

When Orville finds out that Wilbur is shacking up with Hannah, he becomes furious, and begins a blueberry pie-inspired sabotage campaign to keep them apart. In the process, however, Orville takes a liking to Hannah, and she decides two brothers are better than one and sleeps with him K-Stew style!  Which, like, is so slutty for back then.

In the end, just about everything that can blow up does, and one of the most heralded achievements in US history is in danger of never happening.

Kitty Hawk has some nice things going for it.  It has a clear goal (create a working flying machine), some urgency (the Smithsonian dude and the thugs from back home chasing them), conflict between the two main characters, a love triangle.  For all intents and purposes, it should work.  And it kind of does at times.

But there's something missing here that keeps it from ever rising above average.  And I'm not sure what it is.  I run into these scripts every once in awhile - scripts that are "fine," but are missing those key ingredients that push them into memorable territory.  Maybe more could've gone wrong.  And, more specifically, could've gone wrong sooner.  Things are a little too breezy through the first half of Kitty Hawk.  The bad guy doesn't get there until page 70 or something.  The second romance (between Hannah and Orville) doesn't get started until page 75.  So there's a huge portion of the script where there isn't any tension, suspense, or conflict.

Another issue I had was that Dillon didn't differentiate the brothers when we first met them.  This is CRITICAL since these are our two main characters and will make up 90% of the screenplay.  All we're told is that one of them, Wilbur, is bald, and that he's more the "inventor" of the two.  That's something but it isn't nearly enough.  It wasn't until the midpoint that I truly knew who was who when they were talking.  And this can be traced back to that first introduction.  Always try and give your characters a unique introduction that shows exactly who they are and why they're different from EVERYONE ELSE.   So if Wilbur's the inventor, show him inventing something.  This is a movie about the Wright Brothers so I see no reason why you wouldn't start with him working on a plane anyway.

The character of Glenn Curtis (Smithsonian Dude) was also unclear.  I had no idea who he was, what his institution did, why he was trying to find the brothers, what his ultimate plans with them were.  It was all very vague.  So when we get this giant climax of him showing up at the Kitty Hawk church to announce his own plans to build a plane, I was sitting there going....uhhhhh, huh???  This is another case of a writer not being clear enough.  You have to be clear to your audience about who your characters are, what they're there for, who they work for, what their motivation is, etc.  If any of that stuff is murky, then the character is shot.  We never get a good feel for them.

The area where I really checked out though was when Orville put together a children's work force to build the plane.  At that point the script just became too silly, and when that happens, it's hard for me to take anything seriously.  It's hard for me to care about the characters and their situations.  So I politely read through the rest of the script but knew it had no chance of reeling me back in.

While one of the better Twit-Pitch entries so far, this is another script that showed plenty of writing skill, but didn't entertain enough in the story department. :(

Script link: Kitty Hawk  

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

What I learned: You don't want to wait too long to institute the plot points that are the main salable components of your script.  This is a script that touts itself as two Wright Brothers going after the same girl.  Yet that isn't fully realized until page 75.  PAGE 75!!!  I mean come on.  This speaks to a larger issue though, which is that too many writers wait too long to get to the good stuff.  What are you waiting for?  That's why we came here.  The good stuff!  So get to those plot lines sooner and you'll see your script come to life.