The Scriptshadow Tournament pits 40 amateur screenplays against each other that you, the readers of the site, will vote on. Ultimately, YOU will decide the winner. Today we have the third group of entries. You can see who won Week One here and Week Two here. Read as much as you can from each of the entries and vote for the week’s winner in the comments section. Although it’s not required, your vote will carry more weight if you explain why you chose the script (doesn’t have to be elaborate, just has to make sense). I say “carry more weight” because a vote for a script without any explanation from an unknown voter may be seen as fake and not count towards the tally. I will announce the winner of this week here, in this post, on Sunday, 10pm Pacific time. That script will then go into the quarterfinals. Good luck to this week’s contestants!
Title: Widow’s Walk
Writer: Brett Martin
Genre: Contained Thriller
Logline: A psychic breaks into a haunted house to confront a malevolent force from her past that she believes has abducted her daughter.
Title: The Savage
Writer: Chris Ryan Yeazel
Genre: Historical Biography
Logline: The incredible true story of Squanto, the Patuxet Indian who was kidnapped from the Americas as a child and who then spent his life fighting impossible odds to return home, setting in motion a series of events that leads to one of the most significant events in American history.
Title: The Darlings
Writer: Matt Edward
Genre: Horror / Slasher
Logline: A group of teens venture to a secluded cabin for a grad night celebration, but the night of debauchery turns into a fight for survival when they fall prey to an ex-classmate turned convicted murderer who recently escaped from the authorities.
Writer: Kosta K
Genre: Supernatural Thriller
Logline: A man who can see the spirits of the dead traces a series of gruesome murders back to the suicide cult he was a part of when he was a child.
Title: Three Miles to Waffle House
Writer: Jeremiah Lewis
Logline: Two friends attempt to get a post-concert meal at Waffle House, but become embroiled in a series of misadventures instead.
Disney is the fucking bomb right now.
They are so far ahead of their competition, it’s embarrassing.
A lot of you might say, “Well duh, they’re Disney. They’ve got tons of money.” Oh how quickly youst forget, mon freres. There was a time, less than 20 years ago, when Disney was the laughingstock of the industry. They were churning out dreck like The Emperor’s New Groove.
These days, they have five separate super-film businesses going at the same time:
Live Action versions of classic fairy tales
Their animated division
And all five of those businesses are knocking it out of the Disney World park. To give you some context, let’s see what the other studios have going for them at the moment.
Fox – Fox is doing okay, but their culture of secrecy and hoarding hurts them. Their big property is the X-Men universe, but that’s dying quickly. They’re lucky as hell Deadpool came along. That should fill their coffers for the next 5-7 years. But outside of that, the studio’s choices are sketchy at best. The Ice Age franchise? Predator reboots? Will we ever get another Avatar movie?
Sony – Sony has been in decline for awhile now. And to think they were the top dog a decade ago. At least they still have Spider-Man and Bond. But even the web-slinger has lost his luster with audiences now that there are 30 other superheroes to choose from. I like to think it’s karma for supporting all those Adam Sandler movies over the years.
Warner Brothers – This is the company that should be challenging Disney, but the guy at the helm, Kevin Tsujihara, doesn’t seem to get it. He wants to play copycat in a media landscape dictated by trailblazers. They have DC and Harry Potter, which are major IP. But as of this moment, I’m not convinced either of those properties will end up in a successful place.
Universal – Universal has Jurassic Park, Minions, Fifty Shades, and the Furious franchise. They also have their monsters universe they’ll be throwing at us soon. As well as Universal did last year, they could be in trouble going forward. The Furious characters are showing their age and I’m not convinced this Monster strategy is going to work. But we’ll see.
Paramount – Any company that tries to reboot The Terminator, which has failed every time someone has tried to reboot it, is in trouble. But they do have Transformers, G.I. Joe, and Mission Impossible.
Lionsgate – On the precipice of becoming a studio super power, Lionsgate now finds itself dealing with YA fatigue. The problem with Lionsgate is that they don’t have a strategy outside of the YA novels. So I don’t know what’s going to happen to them if that dries up completely.
As you can see, nobody comes close to competing with even a single Disney’s prodco, much less their entire company. Which brings me to today’s question: What is Disney doing that’s so good? And can we, the screenwriter, learn from it?
As crazy as this sounds, I think the key to Disney’s success is more emphasis on the screenplay. As Will Smith pointed out a few months ago – the days of being able to pull one over on the audience are over. People tell you immediately – through social media – if something sucks. When you combine that with more alternatives to watching movies than at any other time in history, you bet your ass the story needs to be good.
On top of this, there is more on the line with each movie. Each film must birth an entire universe. So if those early movies in the franchise aren’t compelling, you could lose out on billions of potential dollars for the company. Better believe companies are fighting over the best screenwriters.
So how do you go about writing good screenplays? Isn’t trying to write a good screenplay a foregone conclusion? Nobody goes into a project saying, “Oh man, let’s write the shittiest script we can.” Everyone wants to write a good script. The answer can be found in the culture of each company.
The first component to Disney’s culture is passion. And this dates back to the origins of the company. They find people who are passionate about material and hire them. If that passion isn’t there, every decision made from there on out is going to weaken the product. That’s why Star Wars is kicking ass. It has someone who’s passionate about making great Star Wars movies – Kathleen Kennedy – at the helm.
This is the problem that WB is dealing with. Who’s in charge of that DC franchise? Is it Zak Snyder? Is it Kevin Tsujihara? And are either of them the right people to carry that torch? Do you see them as people who love DC comics the same way JJ Abrams loves Star Wars? Or John Lasseter loves animation? I don’t. And as much as I like Ben Affleck as an actor and director, do I think he stayed up all night when he was 11 years old reading Batman and Superman comics? No, I don’t. So while we’re going to get a cool looking film out of him, something’s going to be missing. And that’s a direct result of the lack of passion at the top of the pyramid.
The next component is time. Creativity requires time. Look at Pixar. They work endlessly on their scripts. And then when they settle on a draft, they “shoot” the movie with temp animation, see what’s not working, then go back and rewrite it again. And again. And again. The Pixar movie you see in the theater is the 10th or 11th version of the film. And that’s why Pixar is at the forefront of storytelling, and why their movies are a cut above the rest. They take their time.
Contrast that with WB’s Suicide Squad, where they said to the director, you have six weeks to write the movie. SIX WEEKS! Are you really going to write a good movie in six weeks? This goes back to the passion thing. Is Kevin Tsujihara passionate enough about DC comics to care about getting the script right? To him, the film is a bottom line in a spreadsheet. Suits work within those time-constraints all the time. So, he argues, why can’t writers? And what do we get? We get a movie that feels like it was written in six weeks.
Now you may say, “Well Carson, The Force Awakens was written quickly too.” That’s true and not true. Remember, they originally wanted to open Star Wars in May of last year. It was the PASSION of Kathleen Kennedy that made her stand strong on a December opening. So Disney did what Warner Brothers would not. They gave them seven more months, enough time to write a better draft of the script. And we got a good movie as a result.
The final key to Disney’s success is they take chances. Rogue One is a huge chance. John Carter was a huge chance. Lone Ranger was a huge chance. Tomorrowland. Into the Woods. Maleficent. Saving Mr. Banks. Most of those movies didn’t do well. But that’s besides the point. If you’re not willing to take risks, you’re not going to end up with anything outside the expected. It seems like Paramount and Warner Brothers and Lionsgate are running some equation to determine what movies they’ll greenlight. The essence of good art is risk. And Disney has kept that spirit in mind as much as a billion dollar corporation can when developing product.
So those are the three lessons you want to take with you into your own screenwriting journey:
Write something you’re passionate about.
Utilize TIME as much as possible when writing your screenplay.
Make sure you’re incorporating risk into your concept and story choices.
Premise: After getting dumped, a young adventurous woman invites her mother, who hasn’t done anything exciting in years, to join her on a trip to Brazil.
About: Kattie Dippold got her start on MADTv back in 2009. She then wrote for Parks and Rec. Her major breakout was The Heat, which starred Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock, and most recently, she’s responsible for the most questionable excuse for a reboot ever, Ghostbusters. Dippold, who’s risen to one of the top 3 female screenwriters in the business, is keeping the female empowerment train going with this latest untitled script that will star the polarizing Amy Schumer and lost-in-time Goldie Hawn. The script is said to have been inspired by Dippold’s own mother, who was once adventurous but now lives a safe boring life. You can learn more about the project over at The Mary Sue, where they are very upset that the project is being directed by, gasp, A MAN!
Writer: Katie Dippold
Details: 119 pages
[REVIEW PORTION TAKEN DOWN]
Fox doesn’t think this review reflected the current state of the project. So it’s been taken down. I’ve kept up the What I Learned though, so you guys can go kick ASS and sell a screenplay.
What I learned: How do you predict what Hollywood will fall in love with so you can write that script ahead of time and have it ready for them when the moment comes? Here’s how Hollywood works. When something becomes an unexpected hit, the entire industry copies it for a period of 3-5 years or until the trend dies. Now there’s a key word here: UNEXPECTED. If everyone already expects for a movie to be a hit, you won’t write something that nobody else has thought to write. It has to be something that nobody expects. So what you want to do is look at movie release schedules 6-12 months in advance and locate movies that you believe will be surprise hits. You’ll want to be the one, for example, who predicted The Hangover was going to be a hit six months before it came out. Or The Sixth Sense. Or Taken. Or District 9. Or John Wick. Granted, a lot of this is born out of how well you know the industry. Knowing that a script had some major buzz or has hot elements attached to it (a flashy new director, a hot star), is wowing the festival circuit, has been bumped from a limited to wide release, will increase the accuracy in your prediction. For example, Todd Phillips was one of the best comedy directors around. So even though The Hangover had no stars (at the time), the fact that he wanted to direct the project was an indication that the material was good. Once you’ve located that movie that you believe is going to break out, you want to write something in the same vein. Because if you’re right, once that movie does well, that’s the type of script everyone is going to be looking for. If you wait until that movie becomes a hit before you start writing, you’ve already lost, my friend. Because now everyone in Hollywood – and more importantly, professional writers with direct access to executives with green-lightable power – are doing the same thing. And they’ll get their script sold WAAAAAAY before you can even get an agent to call you back.
Premise: Pitched as “Indiana Jones for the next generation,” Uncharted follows Nathan Drake, a treasure hunter who may have stumbled upon the location of El Dorado, the lost city of gold.
About: One of the most popular video games of all time is being developed into a film as we speak. But will we ever see it?? You look at the title page of this script and it looks like a WGA gala guest list. This has been written, rewritten, bedwritten. David O’Russell was supposed to be the guy to finally bring it to life, but then he dropped out. Now Joe Carnahan is doing a rewrite (not this draft) and may direct.
Writers: David Guggenheim (previous drafts written by The Wibberlys, Neil Burger & Dirk Wittenborn, and Thomas Dean Donnelly & Joshua Oppenheimer) – Based on the video game by Naughty Dog
Details: 123 pages
Sorry for the late start but, along with the rest of Hollywood, I’m still recovering from that double bomb drop – the end of Brangelina and that not-so-good trailer for Passengers. I’m going to save my full thoughts on the Passengers trailer for my next newsletter. But I’ll leave you with this preview: Every issue in the trailer was an issue I had with the script. Not sure why the rest of the Hollywood didn’t see them until after the movie was made.
Speaking of scripts, we’ve got a wild one today. Or, at least, a script with a wild history. I think Uncharted can best be described by Joe Carnahan’s recent tweet: “The opening scene for UNCHARTED… at least in script form, is really, REALLY GOOD.”
I would agree with that. It’s this great crashed plane scene where a plane keeps slipping down the side of a mountain. Un-forrrrrrrrrchu-nately, the rest of the script is a mess. There’s one moment in particular where I gave up on the screenplay completely, and I’ll get into that in a bit. But if Sony wants my opinion, this script has been way over-developed. I mean you can see the different writers fighting each other on the page. The tone is sharp and gritty one scene then sophomoric and cliche the next. It’s bad. Joe, if I were you, I’d keep that opening scene and blast the rest of the script into space, along with that Passengers trailer.
Let’s cut to the chase. Nathan Drake is a modern day Indiana Jones. He’s got a little more attitude than Indy. He’ll get in your face more. But yeah, he’s basically Indiana Jones.
When Drake was a kid, his parents were looking for the remains of Sir Francis Drake, some ancient rich dude with a lot of gold. They found a few of Francis’s mummified guards, and with them, a special gold ring. Drake’s dad gave him that ring before he was murdered, and Drake sees it as the last connection between him and his explorer parents.
Back to the present. Drake is approached by an evil museum curator named Gabriel Roman who says he’ll give Drake 10 million dollars for his ring. 10 MILLION DOLLARS??? Drake wants to know why. Roman believes that the ring, combined with Sir Francis Drake’s OTHER treasures, will point him to the lost city of El Dorado, an entire city of gold.
One problem. Drake kind of already sold the ring a few years back. Luckily, the guy he sold it to doesn’t know it’s worth 10 million dollars and could lead people to a city worth 10 trillion dollars. So Drake goes to get it back. And that’s where our adventure begins.
Drake does get that ring and does deliver it to Roman. But come on. Was Roman ever going to hold up his end of the bargain? Drake is tossed in a car which is ditched in a lake, but because he’s fucking Drake, he escapes, gets back to land, and the race is on – He’s going to beat Roman to El Dorado!
Uncharted can work as a film. I want to get that out of the way first. This is Indiana Jones meets modern day Bond. How does that not sound awesome?
But that awesome is part of the problem. How much of each film is it? That’s what they’re struggling with, I believe. I mean at one point, we’re watching Drake bounce all over the world and it feels eerily like a Daniel Craig Bond film. This might be why Sony’s struggling to make the film a reality. They don’t know how to make it different enough that it won’t feel similar to their only major franchise property.
But the bigger problem here is the script. Or at least parts of it. There’s a particular moment where I officially gave up on the proceedings, and it’s a lesson for aspiring screenwriters everywhere for what NOT to do.
In the scene, Drake sees a bombshell chick drinking alone in a smoky bar. So he approaches her. Now, before I tell you what happens next, I want you to imagine the most generic version of this scene possible. What do you expect to happen in this scene?
If you guessed:
A verbal flirtatious battle of words.
The woman conveying her disinterest.
A hard cut at the end of the exchange to the two slamming into the wall of a hotel room, clothes being torn off.
YOU’D BE RIGHT!!!
And it’s this I don’t get. I was actually fucking furious when I read this scene. You are supposed to be a professional screenwriter. Your job is to WRITE WHAT THE AVERAGE PERSON IS UNABLE TO WRITE!!!! If you’re going to write the exact same scene that Joe Six Pack, who goes to 3 movies a year, would write – why are you in this business? What value do you offer?
I don’t care if you write this scene. It’s a staple scene in these types of movies. But do something – ANYTHING – to make it different. Place it in a unique location. Throw an unexpected obstacle at us. Shit, have the bartender with a crush on the girl keep interrupting them – any of that would be better than meeting every fucking standard beat to this scene that’s ever been written. For crimeny out loud.
I don’t know which of the 7328 writers wrote this scene. But they should be ashamed of themselves. I mean right down to the slam cut of them making out in the hotel room. Hmmm, never seen THAT happen in a movie before. C’mon.
The weird thing about Uncharted is that it flips back and forth between these really cliche scenes and really fresh ones. Clearly, a cliche-ridden writer came in at some point and butchered things. Of the list of writers I see above, I have a really strong opinion on who that writer likely is. Not going to name names but those of you who have read the site long enough will know who I’m referring to.
Outside of that, Uncharted follows the tried-and-true adventure formula of giving a hella-big goal (El Dorado!) and a MacGuffin (the ring). As long as you have everybody trying to get the thing that allows them to get the thing, everybody in the script will be active. Everyone’s motivation will be clear, and assuming you can come up with compelling characters, original ideas, and some fresh execution, you’ll be good.
Uncharted achieves this at times and doesn’t in others. It’s overdeveloped to the extreme. Sometimes you’ve written such a convoluted draft that’s so plot-heavy and so beholden to its original trappings, that the best course of action is to open a brand new document and start over. It’s amazing what you can accomplish with 110 empty pages in front of you as opposed to trying to fit and twist and wiggle and turn every word so that the puzzle comes together in the end.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: So let’s talk about why Carnahan liked that opening scene so much. The scene has Drake waking up in a crashed airplane that’s teetering on the edge of a cliff. He’s injured badly, some bad guys are coming to kill him, so he must find a way out of here pronto. This opening approach is known as “in media res,” which is a fancy way of saying, “in the midst of action.” Opening your script in media res is one of the easiest ways to grab a reader’s attention because we’re already in the middle of some action and we want to see how it’s going to pan out.
If you keep track of the things I loathe here on the site, this is your opportunity to say, “See Carson, you don’t know what you’re talking about!” Let’s start with Sully, which just finished number 1 at the box office for the second week in a row. As I’ve stated on multiple occasions, the miracle landing on the Hudson River is not a movie. Nobody on the flight so much as twisted their ankle. And the big moment only lasts a few minutes. What do you do with the other 107 minutes?
Apparently, it’s a moot point, as people clearly want to see that Hanksy splash-tastic miracle! Excusing the fact that the film had weak ass competition (a bizarrely conceived Blair Witch reboot and Bridget Jones having a baby at 57) how does a movie without a story keep raking in the dolla bills? I don’t know because I haven’t seen it yet. But I did hear that they turned the focal point – the crash – into six separate crashes (dreams of what might’ve gone wrong). Whoever that screenwriter is, I’m giving them an honorary Oscar, cause that was some smart fucking shit. When you only have one good thing in your story, clone it!
But yeah, any of you seen this? Is there a screenplay? I’m still curious.
Moving on to the Emmys (which I coulda swore happened last weekend) we have a couple of big wins by shows that I hated on in the past. The first is Game of Thrones winning a writing award. A WRITING AWARD! This is a show that spends half its time in gardens and the other half killing off big characters for social media purposes. There was a purer time when Dargareus was a queen with principles. Now it’s all about them Snapchat likes. Look, I have no problem with Game of Thrones winning directing or general show awards. It’s a beautifully produced show. But writing??? C’mon. Half the show is an exposition dump.
The other big winner of the night was The People vs. O.J. Simpson, which if you remember my initial script pilot review, I chastised for being old-hat and stuck in “who the hell cares anymore” land. The writing was fine. I never thought that was the problem. It was the subject matter. We already know this. O.J. did it. The glove. Marcia Clarke. Blah blah blah. How many times do I need to be reminded in my life? They sure put some money behind that show though. It was a top-level production. But I can’t believe it’s gotten as much attention as it has. I tend to judge shows by “Has anyone I know seen it?” And nobody I know watches the thing. I guess the Emmy voters did though. That’s all that matters.
Okay you old curmudgeon, Carson. Is there ANYTHING about the Emmys that you liked? I’m glad you asked. I was thrilled when Alan Yang and Aziz Ansari won for outstanding writing in a comedy series (“Master of None”). I thought that show was great, like a lot of what Netflix does. It goes to show how much a writer can mature as well. Alan Yang wrote a spec that broke him into the business a long time ago called “Gay Dude” that was average and sophomoric and safe. The writing here is so much better in every way and it’s a testament to committing to always pushing yourself – never stop learning! Oh, and I think the reason we didn’t see more Netflix wins is because Hollywood is terrified of them.
I’d like to end today with a huge endorsement for Hunt for the Wilderpeople. They made it available on Itunes this week (for an exclusive engagement?). It’s directed by Taika Waititi, who made the hilarious vampire found footage mockumentary, “What We Do In The Shadows.” What’s interesting is that Wilderpeople got Taika the job to direct Marvel’s next film, Thor 3, which is said to be an intergalactic buddy road trip flick between Thor and the Hulk. You’d think these movies couldn’t be more different. But actually, Wilderpeople has its own quirky “buddy road trip” pairing in its star character (a chubby mischievous boy) and his foster father (who never wanted the boy in the first place).
This is such a great lesson for young writers and directors. What these big studio heads want is they want to see that you can create emotionally compelling relationships. They’ve got plenty of people for special effects. What they don’t have is someone who knows how to make an audience feel something. You definitely feel something between this boy and his foster father and they believe Taika can replicate that in a Marvel movie.
I’ll finish this off by saying, why the hell did anyone think it was a good idea to make an Edward Snowden movie? The days of making movies about these people are over. You want to do Snowden and those like him, you do 6-10 episode docs on HBO or Netflix. Then again, I don’t think Oliver Stone knows what Netflix is.