Friday, September 28, 2012

Amateur Friday - Hail Mary

Amateur Friday Submission Process: To submit your script for an Amateur Review, send in a PDF of your script, a PDF of the first ten pages of your script, your title, genre, logline, and finally, why I should read your script. Use my submission address please: Your script and “first ten” will be posted. If you’re nervous about the effect of a bad review, feel free to use an alias name and/or title. It’s a good idea to resubmit every couple of weeks so your submission stays near the top.

Genre: Action/Thriller
Premise: (from writer) A reformed hitwoman must return to the world of bullets and bloodshed she left behind, to take on the organization she helped build, in order to avenge the death of her younger sister.
About: We're going to take a week off from Twit-Pitch so we can get an amateur Friday script in.  Lots of you are submitting and haven't had an outlet lately, and I feel you deserve that.  Why did this week's script get chosen?  Because Brandon is persistent!  He's been sending in queries for over a year, and my assistant, Sveta ( read his first ten pages and liked them enough to recommend him to me.  So here we are!
Writer: Brandon McFall
Details: A lean 96 pages.

Zoe Saldana as Mary?

I just tweeted yesterday that in all of my meetings, one piece of information that keeps popping up is Buyers are looking for action scripts!  I'm not sure why.  "Taken" came out like four years ago.  What is this immediate need for action scripts all of a sudden?  Do studios just get together and decide, "The genre we want to make now is..............ACTION."  Is there any rhyme or reason?  Is there any logic to it all??

I consider this a problem for me because action is not a genre I gravitate towards.  It's often the thinnest genre out there.  The characters lack depth.  The stories are obvious. It's just a lot of action sequences, which is often the most boring stuff to read.  "He jumps to the side and unloads an entire clip before he hits the ground."  None of the action is ever inventive.  It's all stuff I've read a million times before.

I want drama.  I want twists and turns.  I want characters who are trying to figure shit out about themselves.  If someone can write an action movie with THOSE elements, count me in.  Which is probably why everyone's STILL looking for action scripts.  As someone pointed out to me the other day, "The reason they're so desperate to find good action scripts is because all the action scripts out there suck."

Guggenheim just sold action script Black Box for seven figures, which everybody is telling me is a "not as good Enemy Of The State," (although to be fair, a few of you LOVED IT).  What's next?  Is there someone out there sitting on a cool action spec with characters and a story and, gasp, some unexpected twists and turns we haven't seen before?  If so, send it in for an Amateur Friday submission.  If it's good, I'll help you sell the damn thing.  Of course, you may be too late.  Because Brandon McFall might've beaten you to it with his action thriller..."Hail Mary."

Hail Mary has one of those unabashedly simple plots, which can work if you nail every single dramatic element.  Look no further than Taken as proof.  That story was as simple as it gets - "Save daughter." But you loved Taken because of its main character.  And Hail Mary will live or die on whether you love Mary.

Mary used to be the baddest hitwoman on the planet.  But to be fair, the pool of hitwomen is a lot smaller than the pool of hitmen.  Still, that's a pretty impressive title to hold.  Mary is pissed to high hell because her little sister's been raped and murdered.

Actually, let me back up.  Mary was chased out of town a long time ago for killing too many of the wrong people.  What nobody knew for a long time was that she had a little sister.  Well, someone finally figured that out, then killed the sister to bring Mary out of hiding so they could settle a score.  Mission accomplished!  Mary is back, and mad as ever!

She recruits her little sister's boyfriend, thug Tony, and her old boyfriend, weapons specialist George, to give her just enough firepower to wreak havoc.  After hitting up a corrupt cop, she finds out the person who raped and killed her sister was a crime boss she has a lot of history with named Dominic.  Mary has little problem busting Dominic up then shooting him between the eyes.

Unfortunately, that doesn't end the problem.  The leader of The Syndicate, the crime organization that runs the city, finds out about what's happened.  His name is Constantine, and he can't have little girls making his organization look weak.  So he orders everybody in town to take down Mary.

Normally, when you have an entire city of people who want to kill you, you leave town.  But Mary doesn't do "normally."  She does Mary.  And Mary says, "If you're going to try and kill me, I'm going to try and kill you first." This is Amuurica.  Where if you don't like someone, you shoot'em.  So she gathers all her resources together and - despite Tony and George thinking she's crazy - heads straight to Constantine's stronghold where she plans to put an end to her problems once and for all.

First thing I'll say is that this was written like an action script.  An action script has to move.  The paragraphs have to be nibble-sized (no more than 3 lines) and you can't get too wrapped up in miscellaneous description.  You only want to tell us enough to set up the scene, to create a little bit of atmosphere, and then focus on the action at hand.  To that end, Hail Mary was nearly perfect (The only writing mistake I found was the constant misuse of apostrophes like "want's" and "get's" which is a mistake I see in a lot of screenplays for some reason).

We also have a clear goal - Mary is avenging her sister.  She first has to find out who did this and then kill that person.  So there's a little bit of mystery then some hardcore old fashioned action.  A clear and motivated storyline = good. I also liked how the midpoint changed things up.  Mary kills Dominic, forcing Constantine's hand to come after her.  It maybe didn't change the story ENOUGH for my taste (it was still basically - "Kill someone") but you want your midpoint to change the game so the second half isn't exactly like the first half, and Hail Mary achieved that.

Now with these revenge scripts, you really have to a) like the main character and b) want the main character to get revenge.  I think that's why Taken was so popular.  You loved Liam Neeson.  And because you saw how much he loved his daughter and how much he wanted to repair that relationship, you wanted him to save her.  By no means did I *not* want Mary to avenge her sister's death, but I didn't know her sister.  Outside of a couple of quick flashbacks, she was just a name to me.  So I was never THAT into Mary getting revenge for her.

This is always the tricky part about these revenge movies. Do you start the story AFTER the character's death so you can jump right into it?  Or do you start out slow, get to know the character, and THEN kill her, making for a slower opening, but one in which we care about the dead character and therefore are more interested in avenging her death?  I'm not going to say I know the definitive answer to this question.  All I can say is that I didn't know Elizabeth (the sister) and therefore was mostly detached from Mary achieving her goal.  Obviously, this affects one's opinion of the entire story.  If you don't care about the main goal, how can you care about what happens?  Unfortunately, that's where I found myself.

Another issue here was the character of Tony.  Who the hell was Tony??  He starts the movie as our narrator, implying he's a key character, then disappears for 90 pages, occasionally offering disembodied voice overs with lines like, "But that wasn't all Mary needed to do."  I just felt like Brandon didn't know what to do with this character.  Either that or he used to be a bigger part of a former draft and Brandon hadn't yet phased him out.  Remember, if you change direction in subsequent drafts, you gotta put things out to pasture from the previous drafts.  I don't see the purpose of Tony at all, so he probably shouldn't be in the script.

Another problem: My biggest gripe when reading action scripts is that they're thin and they're always a bunch of pointless action scenes.  So you have to try your hardest not to fall into that trap.  When Hail Mary has an entire late sequence where Mary infiltrates Constantine's compound, then follows that with a final sequence of Mary infiltrating Constantine's casino, it was basically like watching the exact same sequence twice. That's what I'm talking about.  You have to be inventive.  You have to use your imagination.  Action is one of the oldest genres out there.  So if you're not trying to make yours unique, if you're just repeating action sequences over and over again, you're going to bore us.  Each action sequence in an action movie should be DIFFERENT!

As for the characters, I had a couple of ideas while reading this.  If you want to keep Tony, why not create more of an unresolved relationship between him and Mary?  She detests him but needs him.  She always looks down at him, thinks he's incapable, doesn't trust him.  Really play into that relationship, not unlike the relationship between Ripley and Bishop in Aliens.  Then, over the course of the story, the two begin to find common ground, learn to fight together.  And in the end, she ends up putting her life on the line to save him, creating a legitimate arc to her character.  You don't have to use that exact scenario, of course, but I think that's something that was missing.  True emotion.  Mary was cold.  I wanted to see her change, to find that warmth, learn to feel.  I didn't see that, further distancing me from her.

Also, I always feel like a parent's protection of a child is more compelling than a sibling's protection of another sibling.  Might we make Mary a mother?  Elizabeth her daughter?  Not only would that make us more interested in seeing Mary get revenge, but I'm not sure I've seen a 40+ year old female hitwoman driving the entire story before.  I suppose it makes the script less marketable, but it would create a more interesting situation, no?  Instead of Mary being unstoppable, she'll have lost some of her edge.  She's older, slower.  Which means she's more vulnerable.  I was kind of bored by the fact that Mary never had to sweat.  You never had any doubt that she was going to kill everyone in the room and come out alive.  I'm not sure that's very compelling.

That's all I got for today.  Action has to be great to get me onboard, and this was too familiar for my taste.  Still, I commend Brandon for writing a solid quick read!  :)

Script link: Hail Mary

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

What I learned:  We just talked about villains yesterday.  I HATED how Constantine was afraid of Mary.  Your big main bad guy is AFRAID of the hero???  How scary is that?  How much do we fear Constantine after that?  How much do we want him to go down after that?   We don't care.  Cause he's a weakling!  Your villains in this genre need to be arrogant.  They need to be fearless.  Is Hans ever scared of John McClane?  No.  And if he was, Hans would've sucked balls.

What I learned 2: The late-villain intro who's also the mastermind is almost impossible to pull off.  (spoiler) We find out Vance is our real villain here.  Who's Vance?  I met him on page 80.  I barely know the guy.  Now I'm supposed to be excited because he's our mastermind?  If you want to throw a late twist at us with the final villain, I advise that villain be fairly prominent during the entire screenplay.  Dr. Charles Nichols in The Fugitive has around 5 scenes scattered throughout the script before his ending reveal.  We need that here too.