Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Amateur Week - Fascination 127

Welcome to Amateur Week!  All week we're going to be reviewing scripts from amateur writers that got the best response from this post.  Time for you guys to take advantage of the opportunity.  Hope we find something great.  But even if we don't, it should be a great week for learning why screenwriting is so hard!

Genre: Heist/Thriller
Premise: (original logline) A group of men are hired by a mysterious client to remove Jim Morrison’s casket, give it to him for 24 hours and then return the casket into the ground before it is publicly exhumed to be moved to the United States.
About: This was another logline I wasn't very excited about, mainly because I'm not a Jim Morrison fan.  But longtime Scriptshadow reader Poe Sterling went on a endorsement campaign worthy of Lena Dunham in the comments section, touting "Fascination" to anyone who would listen.  Oh well, I thought, I'll give it a shot.
Writer: Alex Carl
Details: 113 pages

Yesterday I didn't want to read the script because I didn't like the logline.  Today I didn't want to read the script because I didn't like the subject matter.  Jim Morrison?  Snore.  I knew something about the "conspiracy" behind Morrison's body being buried in Paris, but it sounded like one of those college conspiracy conversations you have when you've smoked too much dope.  "Yo man...like...I bet you Jim Morrison is like...totally still alive n stuff.  Like I bet he owns a record store in Mexico."  "Totally man.  He's probably still making music under, like, the name Jimano Morrison."  "Dude, we should GO to Mexico.."  "And look for him!"  "Yeah, and like go to one of those donkey shows!"  "But we need, like, more weed first." "Yeah."  Long pause.  "I'm tired."  "Me too."  Long pause.  "Let's light another joint."  "Yeah."  "What were we talking about?"  "No idea, man."  Three minutes of pot laughter follows.

That's honestly what i was expecting here - a college take on the Jim Morrison conspiracy theory that had about as much thought put into it as a Poly-Sci essay.  But boy was I wrong.  This is a real f*cking script here!  With some cool characters, cool situations, and a heist unlike any I've seen on-screen before.  I think that's what got me.  You think you've seen everything in a genre before - particularly the HEIST genre - which has been done six thousand ways to Sunday.  And yet this writer still finds a whole new spin on it.

A little background on Jim Morrison's death.  After he died, Morrison was buried in Paris, much to the disappointment of the music world, particularly his fan base.  There was a 40 year lease on Morrison's cemetery plot and that 40 year lease is about to end.  Morrison's coffin will be exhumed and brought back to the United States, where many people feel it should've been buried in the first place.

Enter Eddie Hanley, a 40-something criminal lifer who's riding out the last days of his latest stint in lockup.  It's this latest stint that's gotten Eddie thinking.  Does he really want to do this anymore?  Isn't he getting too old for this?  Now would be a good time to get out.

But there are a couple of things standing in Eddie's way.  The first is Mr. Azadian, an Armenian gangster who's about as sketchy as they come.  He basically runs an underage prostitution ring out of his mansion and refuses to kill anyone who's crossed him without first putting them through the most unimaginable torture possible.  This is a guy you don't want to fuck with, and unfortunately Eddie owes him for keeping him safe in jail.

But Eddie explains to Azadian that he's out of the game, which leads to his second problem - his son is dying.  He can't help his son if he gets thrown back in jail for another job-gone-bad.  So he wants out.  For good.  Azadian looks him over and says, okay, that's fine.  But if he finds out Eddie is involved in any jobs with anyone else, he will find Eddie, kill him, and then kill his family.


So Eddie heads home to his ex-wife, where he learns that his son is actually way sicker than he thought.  He's got a few months to live unless he can get a kidney transplant.  So when an old friend, Chapney, comes calling, saying he's got the job of all jobs with a five million dollar payout, Eddie has no choice but to say yes.  It's the only way his son's going to live.

The job?  Why borrow Jim Morrison's coffin for 24 hours for an unnamed suitor of course.  The catch?  The day they're exhuming Morrison's coffin for transfer to America is only a month away.  That doesn't leave Eddie a lot of time to get the job done.

So he puts together the old team, flies to Paris, and opens a donut shop near Morrison's cemetery (the idea being to develop a cover business that absolutely zero Parisians will be interested in), then start digging a tunnel to Morrison's grave, where they can execute the plan.

Of course, it isn't long before Azadian starts wondering where Eddie is, and starts sniffing around.  When Eddie gets wind of this, he begins having second thoughts.  Azadian is ruthless.  If he finds out Eddie's on the job, he will go straight to his family, rape his wife and probably his child, before torturing and killing them.  However the alternative is just as devastating - the death of his son.

The heist itself seems pretty straight-forward.  Dig a tunnel, borrow the coffin, get it to the mystery suitor, then put it back.  But when everything imaginable starts going wrong, this heist will turn out to be the most complicated job Eddie's ever had to deal with.

I loved this.  I knew I was dealing with a good writer right from the get-go.  The story gets moving immediately, with Eddie leaving jail.  Our really nasty villain is set up right afterwards, adding instant stakes to the story.  We knew that Eddie was going to take a job later, so the threat that Azadian lays down (that he will kill him and his family) fills us with instant fear.

Yesterday I talked about the "Uh-oh" moment.  Today I'm talking about the "Sit-up" moment, where something happens in a script that's so strong, you sit up and start paying closer attention.  Azadian's threat was that moment for me and I'll tell you why.  A lesser writer wouldn't have included the scene.  He would've only included Chapney offering Eddie the job.  But notice how much more interesting having Azadian threaten him first is.  There's a ton of weight attached to Eddie accepting Chapney's offer now - he's risking his family's as well as his own life.  With the second option, saying "yes" to Chapney means next to nothing.  He's just taking another job.  There are no stakes attached.

I also like how Alex includes multiple ticking time bombs.  One ticking clock is good.  Two is better.  Here, Eddie and his team have to dig to Morrison's grave before it's exhumed.  That's the first ticking time bomb.  But we also have his dying son, who needs a transplant soon, another ticking time bomb.  It's preferable to always have urgency behind your characters' goals.   And the more urgency you can add, the better.  

On top of all this, we have a couple of mysteries that need to be solved (Jesus, this is like textbook Scriptshadow scriptwriting!  No wonder I liked it).   The first mystery is what's in Morrison's coffin.  Alex does a nice job of explaining, to those who don't know, the Morrison death conspiracy.  There's also this mysterious box connected to Morrison, titled "Fascination 127," that's been locked up all these years and which will be opened concurrently with the exhuming.

And then there were just little things here and there that made Fascination 127 different.  For example (spoiler), there's this big set-piece shootout inside the underground tunnels at the end, with a great little payoff from an earlier setup.   In most heist movies, we get the big "been-there-done-that" final shootout in the bank.   This was so different!

Having said that, there were some weaknesses that kept me from giving Fascination 127 an "impressive."  The first was Azadian.  The guy definitely oozed evil, but he went over the top a few times.  It became almost comical that every time we saw him, he was with a different underage girl, kicking or torturing her.  That needed to be dialed back.

I didn't like the media stuff either.  I can't get into it too much without getting into spoilers, but there was a Geraldo-like media guy associated with the plan to steal Morrison's coffin who just felt too silly.  I'd prefer that Alex find someone else to associate the heist with, someone more tone-appropriate.  Had his role paid off in the end, I might have been okay with Geraldo, but I don't think it did.  Will be interested to hear what you guys think of that choice.

And then there were a few missed opportunities.  The guys open a donut shop for cover, assuming no one will be interested.  Well, it's hinted at that cops occasionally come in for donuts.  We should've built a way bigger scene or series of scenes around that.  If their shop became an unexpected hit with the local police force and cops were always coming in and out for donuts while, just underneath them, one of the biggest crimes in recent Paris history was taking place, that could've lead to some wonderful scenes.

There was also a scene in the tunnel where they accidentally busted a water pipe and the tunnel started filling up with water.  I thought it was going to be a scene where their lives were in danger as there was a chance they'd drown.  But all Eddie had to do was casually walk back to the shop and turn the water off.  I would've preferred a scene where their lives were in danger.  Also, a city water official should've been called to the scene, having received a report of a broken water mane.  Our team would then have to figure out how to get rid of him without him finding out they'd built a tunnel to Jim Morrison's grave.  You always want to make things difficult for your characters.  That's what creates drama which is what leads to entertainment!

REALLY liked this though.  It's got a few things that need to be fixed, but overall, a VERY STRONG story.  Can't wait to see where it goes!

Script link: Fascination 127

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

What I learned:  You gotta make your lead attractive to an A-List actor and I'm not sure Eddie is quite there yet.  I keep thinking back to the Showtime show, Homeland, and how the main character is bipolar and needs meds to keep her from freaking out and if the agency were to find out, she'd lose her job, which is her whole life.  It's little things like that that actors get a hard-on for, those layers that make them more fun to play.  I'm not saying Eddie needs that specifically, but he needs something extra for sure, something that would challenge and therefore entice an actor.