Thursday, August 30, 2012

Twit-Pitch Review - Re-Enactment

Genre: Thriller(?)
Premise: (Original Twit-Pitch Logline) A civil war expert and his son must fight to survive a reenactment organized by a dangerous southern cult.
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've been reading the entire screenplay for.  
Writer: Richard Karpala
Details: 119 pages

Don't worry you Twit-Pitch fanatics.  I haven't forgotten about you.  In fact, I was so excited about bringing a Twit-Pitch script back for a review, that I'm posting it a day early!  How bout them apples?  I figured since we dealt with some American history yesterday, why not extend it into a 48 hour American history marathon?!  Scriptshadow Textbook Reviews?  Coming soon!

I remember when I originally picked this up.  The writing was so crisp, so clean, that I wanted to replace my bedsheets with it.  I mean, the script starts out with some of the best descriptions of Civil War battle I've ever read.  Karpala can detail a battlefield kill like no other.  And then for us to realize that it was all just a reenactment via a Lady Gaga ringtone going off?  Brilliant!

Now, before going forward, I should point something out.  When I picked this up yesterday, I'd completely forgotten the logline.  Which turned out to be a good thing because it meant reading the script clean.  That lack of context allowed me to identify a huge issue that needs to be dealt with in the next draft.  So, grab your Confederate flags Scriptsoldiers, it's time to take a trip back in time...for the second day in a row.

During Reenactment's opening reenactment, we meet 45 year old Doug Abbot, a fearless leader on the battlefield, but your average Joe with an ex-wife and a teenage son off it.  You get the feeling that Doug's life didn't turn out the way he wanted it to, and these reenactments are the only moments of joy he has left.

So when he's invited by another re-enactor to a secret reenactment known as the "Battle Of The Wilderness," Doug is in.  In fact, in order to salvage his deteriorating relationship with his son, Will, he invites him to come with.  Will isn't exactly keen on reenacting, but the fact that he gets to shoot guns, even if it's with fake ammunition, is enough to get him onboard.

So Doug and Will, along with a few hundred other participants, are bussed into the middle of some nowhere forest where they're introduced to their commanders and where they get ready for battle.  They march through the forest, encounter the opposing army, and engage in the first volley of gunfire.  But strangely, nobody from the Confederate side falls.  Per the rules of reenacting, at least a portion of the other side is supposed to "die."  Nobody does.

And that's when the Confederates fire on them.  Which is when they figure out something is very VERY wrong.  Dozens of men fall to the ground in a bloody pulp.  These guys are using REAL AMMUNITION!  Let the slaughter begin.

Once Doug realizes this, he grabs Will and a few others and hightails it into the forest.  They're getting the hell out of here. The problem is they're so deep in the middle of nowhere that there's nowhere out.  At a certain point, Doug and his son get split up, and now it's not just about escaping these crazy psycho REAL Confederates, but about Doug finding his son amongst this endless battlefield.  Will he able to do it in time?  And even if he does, how the hell do they plan on getting out alive?

Like I said, the writing here is pretty great.  It's that perfect mix of powerful description and lean paragraph packaging - the way screenplays are meant to be written!  I mean check out this opening line: "A maze of white oak trees, holding up canopies of rich, green summer leaves.  There is an early morning light, bringing with it an early morning stillness." I know a lot of writers who would turn that opening description into 4 to 5 paragraphs!  All we need is one here and the scene is set.

However, once we get into the meat of this story, some cracks, not unlike the cracks in the Confederate army, start to show.  The first issue was simply what the hell was happening!??  I couldn't for the life of me figure out if we had gone back in time or if this was occurring in the present day.

Here's why.  Karpala makes a huge deal out of how "similar" all the Confederate leaders look to their real life counterparts.  Eerily similar.  To me that meant we'd gone back in time and were dealing with the real versions of these people.  Also, there were numerous references to how things weren't where they were supposed to be on the map, which was another hint to me that they were 150 years in the past, where the landscape was much different.  So for about 75% of the screenplay, I thought we were in the past, which is of course a completely different kind of movie.

Another issue for me was the tone.  The non-battlefield stuff had this light, almost goofy family movie quality to it.  Oh, there's the goofy but annoying new boyfriend of the ex-wife.  Lady Gaga ringtones.  A boy and his dad trying to find common ground together.  Yet once we got onto that battlefield, people's heads are decapitated by cannon balls.  Bodies are exploded into a dozen pieces by land mines.  And there's more blood in your average battle scene than in an entire Quentin Tarantino movie.  I don't know about you guys, but I couldn't marry those two extremes together.

Also, once I started thinking about the story, there were certain things that didn't make sense.  Apparently these REAL reenactments were put together once a year.  And during each of them, somewhere between 400-500 men were killed.  Now I'm not a math major, but doesn't the FBI start getting suspicious when 500 men who went on a reenactment trip don't return?

Story-wise, the one thing I felt needed strengthening was the father-son stuff.  If the central objective of the script is for the father to find and save his son, we have to really care about that relationship.  I didn't NOT care about that relationship, but there was nothing exceptional about it  either.  Therefore I was only mildly interested in whether Doug would find Will.  Since that's pretty much the whole movie, that area needs to be beefed up.

I think Karpala needs to create more of a divide between Doug and Will.  Something more deep-seated that's been at the core of their relationship for awhile.  For example, maybe Doug bailed on his wife, and Will's never forgiven him for it.  Now that we have a strong unresolved issue between the two, we as an audience will be rooting for them to reunite so they can finally resolve that issue.

So yeah, the writing in this one was great, as I expected it to be after those first 10 pages, but there were too many little issues that added up.  Not bad, but not good enough to get me all smiley and happy.  :(

Script Link: Re-Enactment

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

What I Learned: Beware the forced plot point!  Readers know!  Look, we all WANT things to happen in our screenplays to move our story along the way we want it moved along.  But it still has to make sense!  If it doesn't, it feels forced, and we readers shake our heads in quiet dismay, muttering to ourselves, "That would so never happen."  Clearly, Karpala needed to split Doug and Will up so Doug could be looking for Will the whole movie.  The problem is, it makes absolutely NO SENSE WHY THEY SPLIT UP.  Doug says something like, "You're going to wait here while I go do this thing."  So wait, this father who loves his son more than anything is going to leave him alone in this insanely dangerous and unpredictable battle zone instead of take him with him???????  No way.  Come on guys.  Make sure all your plot points make sense.