Monday, September 24, 2012

Screenplay Review - One Track Mind

Genre: Dark Comedy
Premise: When the writer dies, a struggling creative exec changes the name on his screenplay to his own, only to find out that there are others who've read the screenplay, others who he must now take care of.
About: This script sold all the way back in 1997 and obviously never became a movie (unless it was released under a different title and went straight to DVD??). Now through sheer coincidence, Mr. Queen did not have a single feature credit until last year, when he wrote Cars 2.  Man, making a career in screenwriting can be a looooong journey!
Writer: Benjamin Queen
Details: 131 pages - October 1997 draft

Taylor Kitsch for Clay. Taylor Kitsch for everything!

Hey, who am I to turn down a spec about screenwriting!?  With like deceit and murder 'n stuff.  Not only that, but it was set back in 1997, which makes the read almost comical in how much everything has changed since then.  I mean, people were sending each other PHYSICAL DRAFTS of screenplays in the 90s. With, like, BRADS 'n stuff.  What's a brad?

Calm down calm down.  Before the anti-Scriptshadowers begin their uproar, I *do* know what a brad is.  However the rest of this world is quite foreign to me.  Everything is done physically as opposed to digitally, which means if this script were ever to be made today, it would need to be majorly rewritten.  I guess that's the question, isn't it?  Is One Track Mind good enough to be rewritten?

Well it starts off introducing us to Clay Buckley, a 25 year old creative exec at mega-movie-star Max Rebello's production company.  Except Max Rebello is never there and doesn't even know who Clay is, so it's not as glamorous a job as one might assume.  In addition to that, Clay works under an asshole of a boss, V.P. of Production Larry Dealing (who we never actually see, only hear).  All these things are a reminder of just how low on the totem pole Clay is.  He's just another tadpole in the gigantic pond that is Hollywood.  And he'll continue to be, until he finds that next great script.

But the next great script hunt isn't going so well.  It's the same old garbage from the same old agencies. He's being slipped scripts left and right, but nothing's actually sticking.  And on top of that, there's one writer who lives in the middle of nowhere who continues to clog up their mailing system with the same script over and over again.  Ugh! Amateurs! - they just never give up!

Unbeknownst to him, however, that very script ends up in his bag before a meeting with another creative exec, frenemy Jennifer.  Jennifer is desperate for some other script she's been tasked with finding for her boss because if she doesn't find it, she'll lose her job.  Because Clay has this script, she needs his help.  Clay has to keep the script private, however, so he tells her no.  She apologizes for putting him on the spot and they go their separate ways.

That night, just out of curiosity, Clay starts reading the amateur script, and it's AMAZING.  He contacts the writer, who happens to have just gotten to LA, and sets up a meeting on the Universal lot.  They meet the next day, and the writer tells him that no one knows he's a writer and that he's never sent the script to anyone else.  He then proceeds to back up into the street and get RUN OVER by one of Universal's back-lot tourist trams.  And DIES!

Clay is horrified by the ordeal but then realizes...hey wait a minute...NO ONE knows about this script.  So Clay changes the name on the script to his own and gives it to a buddy at another studio.  He's going to sell this script for a cool million, dammit, and not a soul is going to know the truth.

Errrr...not so fast.  Remember Jennifer?  Yeah, it turns out that meeting was a little con.  She did it to distract Clay while her assistant took the script from Clay's bag, ran to Kinkos, and made a copy.  Except the dumb assistant copied the WRONG SCRIPT.  The DEAD GUY'S SCRIPT.

Oh shit.

Clay goes to Jennifer to get the script back, but it turns out Jennifer has read it!  And she loved it!  And wants to know all about the writer.  Clay demands the script back and the two struggle for it with Jennifer falling directly on one of the script's brads, which impales her neck right at the main artery, killing her!  Yes, death by brad!  What's a brad again?

Clay gets the hell out of there, with the script of course, and it finally looks like he's in the clear.  Except then he finds out Jennifer slipped the script to someone else.  And of course when he goes to that person, he finds out the script's been slipped to someone else, and so on and so forth.  So Clay must race to all of these people and CONTAIN the mess, which oftentimes means KILLING THEM.

When it's all said and done, Clay is either going to sell this damn script or be forever blackballed in Hollywood know, go to prison for the rest of his life.

One Track Mind (a strange misguided title if there ever was one) was a pretty funny little script and I can totally see why it sold.  It's got a situation at the heart of it that'd have all the nuts in Hollywood wondering what they would do in the same situation, and it's actually quite clever a lot of the time.

For example, when Jennifer is killed by the brad, it turns out she didn't die right away, and is able to scrawl onto the floor in her own blood, "Clay did it."  Clay luckily stumbles upon the scene right before the cops get there and changes the scrawled message to, "C.A.A did it."

Then there's the genius choice to make Max Rebello, the movie star Clay works for but has never met, researching his next role as a detective.  So Max is actually with all the detectives when they're investigating Clay's murders.  Max, of course, is the only one who's putting the pieces together, so it's him who's actually realizing that Clay did it.  But because he's just a dumb movie star, the other cops ignore him.

There were some issues with the script though, in my opinion.  First, I hate when young writers write young characters who are supposedly in these "my life is over if I don't figure this out" situations, when they're only 25 years old.  Clay's life is supposedly going to fall apart if he doesn't find that next big script soon, but really, he's only 25.  If he gets fired, he still has his whole life ahead of him. He'll get plenty more chances.  If he was, say, 35, now you have a character who really is in trouble if he doesn't figure this out.  It really is his last shot.  I don't know - I just felt like there was no desperate reason why he needed to put his name on this script.

Had he been made a little older and his boss would've made it clear that if he didn't bring something great in soon, he was going to be fired, then we would've felt Clay's desperation more, and his reasoning for taking the risk that he did.  This wasn't a deal breaker by any means.  I was still into the story.  It's just nice when you make the stakes clear.

There were also some conveniences that bothered me.  Jennifer for example.  Someone he needs to erase from the equation conveniently falls and dies?  The falling on a brad made it funny enough that you almost ignored it, but it just seemed a little too perfect that, now, a second person who he needs to die, dies for him.  And honestly?  I don't like when anybody dies by falling down.  It just seems...I don't know, lazy.

And finally, I cannot fathom that Queen, someone who was clearly a creative exec or reader himself, as he knows so much about this world, would write a 130 page script!  That's, like, rule #1!  That's what all the readers and execs joke about.  "Some writer sent me a 130 page script.  Give me a fucking break!"  Either Queen really thought highly of himself or this was an early draft.

Actually, I'm prone to think it was an early draft, as the script definitely got sloppier as it went on.  The first half was tight and focused, while the second half started splitting into too many threads with too many stories to clean up.  And the ending, which involves an unexpected request by one of the main characters, didn't make sense at all.

Despite all that, I did want to keep reading and I did want to find out what would happen until the end.  And if you've achieved that with your screenplay, you've done something right!

Script link: One Track Mind

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

What I learned: Beware the "sloppier as you go on" problem.  I see this quite a bit.  We write from the top down.  Therefore, we ALWAYS put more time into the first half of our scripts than the second.  This means the second half isn't as well-tuned, and that's a problem because the second half actually needs MORE attention than the first half.  That's the half where you wrap everything up, where you make everything make sense.  If that isn't written to perfection, your script will seem sloppy, or worse, confusing. One Track Mind definitely suffered from this problem.