Friday, October 12, 2012

Twit-Pitch Review - Guest

Genre: Contained Thriller
Premise: (Original Twit-Pitch Logline) After checking into a hotel to escape her abusive husband, a woman realizes guests in the next room are holding a young girl hostage.
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.  Today's script was chosen as a "definite," which means it was one of the 7 best "First Ten Pages" of all the entries.  
Writer: Matthew Cruz
Details: 79 pages

Julianne Moore for Samantha?

The Last of the DEFINITES.  Sounds like a good title if anyone decides to adapt Twit-Pitch into a movie.

Make no mistake about it: Twit-Pitch and I have experienced some rocky times together.  It wasn't always spelling-mistake free first pages and freshly polished gold brads.  There was that time where I realized the writer hadn't written his script before entering the contest.  Oh, and then there was that other time where I realized the writer hadn't written his script before entering the contest. But through it all, we stuck together.  Maybe longer than a lot of you thought we should.  There were times when Twit-Pitch was downright abusive to me.  But I remember when I broke up with Looper in front of the world.  You know who the first one there for me was?  Twit-Pitch.  That's who.   I'm kinda gettin' all...teary-eyed just thinking about it.

As far as where today's Twit-Pitch script brings us?  Well, here's the thing.  There've been flashier concepts.  There's been better writing.  But reading the first ten pages of "Guest," I thought, "This could be the one that actually gets made."  The contained thriller element - a protagonist with something under the hood - the low-budget price tag?  If this thing were done right, it may be the sleeper that woke this damn contest up.  Let's find out if that was the case.

Samantha Given is 56 years old.  One look at her and you know whatever roads she's taken in life, they're not the same roads you and I drive on.  These roads are the unpaved kind, the backwoods gravel-laden pieces of shit you get lost in.  She wears every wrinkle of that 56 year old face.  And it doesn't take long to figure out that's why she's here, checking in at this hotel.  She's sick of those f*cking roads.  And she's finally doing something about it.  Even if it's just holing up for a few days.

Now this hotel isn't Hotel Transylvania, but it's got its fair share of spooky shit going on.  There's loud thumping noises happening every hour or so.  They actually put that famous Van Gogh Scream painting on the wall (who puts that in a hotel room?).  Oh, and the bellhop, the overly polite but totally sketchy Diego, likes to get a little too personal with his questioning.  Since when do bellhops ask, "So what do you plan to do for the rest of the day?" Not only that, but he seems really keen on getting Sam into a "better" room.

But Sam's fine with the room she's in.  That is until those thumping noises start again.  After awhile, Sam decides to do some investigating, listening through the wall, and starts getting this idea that someone's being held captive in the next room.  Oh, this would be a good time to mention that Sam's on anti-psychotics.  So yeah, not everything's kosher at the top of the Christmas tree. But man does she become convinced that something's up.  So even though she knows it's going to put her on the hot seat, she calls the cops.

The police come in.  There's a big hubbub in the hallway.  The guy staying in the next room is obviously pissed.  And when the police check inside, they find nothing.  Not a single trace.  But Sam knows something's up.  Diego, the bellhop, is always acting weird.  If he were in on it, they could've moved the girl they've kidnapped.  Assuming there's a girl.  And assuming all of this isn't in her head.

If this weren't bad enough, we're also learning more about Sam's past and why she's here.  Her husband, Charlie, has been treating her like a pinata for the last 30 years, and this is the first time she's had the balls to do something about it.  But Charlie's constant calls and texts asking her to come back are starting to break her down.  And Sam's daughter, completely oblivious to the abuse her mom's been through, is getting pissed that Sam is being such a baby.

All this leads to an increasingly precarious situation.  If there is someone being held captive in the other room, Sam has to find a way to save her.  If there isn't, and she's just imagining it all, then maybe she's as weak as her husband's made her out to be.  And maybe her best option is to go crawling back to him, apologize, and continue to live a life of abusiveness.

Something I want to bring to everyone's attention right away is that readers LOVE reading scripts like "Guest."  Low character count.  Contained location.  An easy-to-understand situation.  These are easy reads!  Readers know they're not going to be taking endless notes trying to keep track of who's who and how they're related and how those fifteen other subplots factor into everything.  And that doesn't mean you shouldn't go to some unexpected places with your story.  It doesn't mean you shouldn't have complicated stuff going on with your characters.  Of course you want that.  But the overall story situation is easy to follow and therefore very reader-friendly.

Something else that gave me confidence in "Guest" was that the adjacent room wasn't the only mystery.  The second mystery was Sam herself.  Whenever you're writing something that takes place in a contained area, you don't have as many places to go with your story.  So it's ESSENTIAL that you make your characters themselves a story.  That way, we're not just trying to find out what's going on in the "other room."  We're trying to find out what's going on inside our protagonist.

And to that end, I think Cruz did a good job.  The whole "abused wife" thing can be really cliche if done badly, and I thought Cruz brought a realism to it that made me give a shit about Sam.  I believed she had this past with her husband.  And I liked the parallels of her being trapped in this relationship, needing to be saved, just like this girl (if there's a girl) is trapped in the next room, needing to be saved.  Watching Sam gradually gain the courage to go from victim to hero wasn't a perfect transition, but it was convincing enough.

The problems I had with the script mainly fell on the technical front.  When you're doing a contained thriller, I'm not sure you should ever take us outside of that setting.  I believe it's important that we feel stuck here, even if we technially aren't.  When Sam went to have coffee with her daughter, that carefully constructed fabric of danger was instantly ripped apart. I wanted to stay in that hotel. Or actually I didn't.  Which is exactly why the writer should've kept me there.

Also, one thing I'm always on guard with with these scripts is the writer biding time.  Most writers get these ideas for contained thrillers, think they've struck gold, but then realize they have these huge chunks of time to fill up between the main scenes.  And since the sparse setting offers little in the way of choices, these writers come up with shit for the sake of coming up with shit instead of giving us scenes that actually matter, scenes that are actually entertaining.  As a result, the script slows to a crawl.  Overall, I thought Cruz did a good job avoiding this but there were a good 10 pages early in the second act where Sam didn't seem to be doing much and I started to get bored.  It picked up afterwards but still, you can't have ten slow pages in a thriller.  Especially one that's only 80 pages long.

(Spoiler) My last issue is I would've liked to have known more about Danielle.  Why was she kidnapped?  The few hints that we got indicated that this wasn't your average kidnapping.  There was more of a story to this.  I was waiting for that story to be revealed but it never came, and I was disappointed by that.  That could've been a nice final twist, if Danielle's kidnapping wasn't exactly what we thought it was.

But all in all, this is EASILY one of the best Twit-Pitch scripts.  It probably needs to come in longer than 79 pages, but the writing here is really strong.  And more importantly, the STORYTELLING here is really strong.  Check this one out for sure!

Script Link: Guest

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

What I learned: In contained low-character count screenplays, make sure your main characters are dealing with some kind of inner conflict, some kind of troubled back-story that needs to be resolved.  Because your story choices are limited in contained situations, you need an additional interesting story going on within your main character to keep us entertained.