Premise: A CIA drone coordinator battles his sanity while trying to figure out if his wife has been replaced by someone else.
About: Canadian Christopher MacBride broke onto the scene with his film, The Conspiracy, about a documentary crew who stumbles upon a secret society. Since then, he’s been pitching projects all over Hollywood. In addition to this one, he’s got a project called Amnesia, which asks, “What if the human race was rebooted because the entire planet was struck with collective amnesia?” Gotta give it to MacBride. He steers clear of low-concepts! Echo made the top half of the 2014 Black List.
Writer: Christopher MacBride
Details: 119 pages – 2nd draft
If you asked me what is the ideal genre for the screenplay format, I wouldn’t hesitate. Thriller a hundred times over. A Thriller rarely requires a ton of description, so the prose stays lean. Screenplays like stories that move quickly, and Thrillers move faster than anything else. And for whatever reason, Thrillers fit inside the 110 page package better than other genres. Comedy works well, too. But Thriller has it beat because the genre is so damn movie-friendly.
Then what’s the least ideal genre for the format? I’d say period pieces. More specifically, anything that moves us through multiple passages of time. Screenplays are at their best when we’re moving in one continuous timeline, and when that timeline is urgent. Period pieces are more about taking your time. Many work hard to build up momentum, only to break it with a 5-10 year time-jump forward, forcing us to build up momentum all over again.
Does that mean you should only write Thrillers and never Period Pieces? Of course not. But it’s important to know the odds before you get started. That way you can make an informed decision. You may believe that your 80 year exploration of the North Pacific logging industry is so fucking good that it’s worth the issues you’ll encounter when writing a Period Piece.
The one major drawback to Thrillers, however, is their tendency to be one-dimensional. Call it the “Taken Syndrome.” Does Echo fall victim to this weakness? Or does it discover a way to excel within the template?
Bob Neven doesn’t know how it happened. But the woman he sleeps next to every night, his wife, Anna, isn’t the same woman he met. And no, he doesn’t mean she’s changed over the course of their relationship. Bob believes that Anna is physically not his wife. Someone, or something, has replaced her.
If that’s true and “Fake Anna” exists, she chose the wrong man to try and fake out. You see, Bob works for the CIA. His specific skill-set involves deciphering details and mannerisms of human beings to determine if they’re dangerous.
So Bob will watch hundreds of hours of drone footage of potential terrorists to determine if the U.S. should blow them to smithereens with one of them fancy drones we like to strike ISIS with.
This talent is how Bob’s so certain his wife isn’t really his wife. All her mannerisms have changed. She acts suspicious whenever they’re together. Even her eyes seem to have been replaced by empty voids.
But as our story unfolds, we learn that Bob was in a major car crash a couple of years ago, and this happens to coincide with when he became convinced Anna wasn’t Anna. Could it be that Bob suffered a debilitating brain injury and THAT’S the reason he thinks Anna isn’t herself?
When Bob discovers a boatload of evidence that that’s the case, he walks back his theory. For the first time in a couple of years, Anna starts acting like Anna again, and Bob is ready to admit he fucked up. But there’s always something in the back of Bob’s mind telling him that it doesn’t add up. That if he can just catch Anna at the right moment, he’ll prove what he’s known all along. That she’s an imposter.
One of the easiest ways to find a good movie concept is to genre-switch an idea. So take an idea that worked in one genre and switch it over to another. Cast Away – a drama about a man who’s stranded on an island alone – becomes The Martian – a sci-fi flick about a man who’s stranded on a planet alone. Three Days of the Condor, a conspiracy thriller, becomes Captain America 2 – a superhero film.
Where you’re going to find the most bang for your buck in genre-switching, though, is with comedy – either going into or coming out of it. So in the case of Echo, our writer basically took the premise of True Lies – a comedy about a CIA agent who used his unique skills to track his wife, and asked, “What if we made a thriller out of the same concept?” What if a CIA agent’s wife really was dangerous, and he was forced to use his unique skills to figure out her end game?
Sounds like a cool idea to me!
And right from the get-go, things looked good. As you know, one of the critical things every screenplay must do is pull the reader in immediately. Now I’m of the belief that if you have to choose between an action scene or a mystery scene to achieve this, you go with mystery.
For example, if you open your script in the middle of a car chase, yeah, I’m going to pay attention for at least a few more pages. But if you jack into my brain with a cool mystery, you’ve got me for at least the first act. And here we’re presented with a pretty sizzling question. After establishing this married couple, we see the husband go to a shack in his back yard, where he’s got a full-blown multiple-monitor surveillance project built around watching his wife.
Uh, yeah, I’m sticking around to see what comes next.
But now Echo enters into the Mystery Thriller trouble zone. Does it merely ask questions, refusing to reward its reader for all his hard work? Or does it answer those question then introduce new more complex questions that surprise us and keep us curious? You want to do the latter. And while Echo gives us some of that, it doesn’t give us enough.
I liked, for example, the introduction of Bob’s brain injury, and how that led to Bob realizing he was wrong. His sickness had concocted a false reality. This happened near the midpoint of the script and it’s a direction I didn’t expect MacBride to take. But then, Bob starts discovering hidden cameras in his house that he knows he didn’t install. And so we’re back on again. Now we have proof that something nefarious is going on. However, we still don’t know what that is. So the mystery is alive and well.
Overall, though, the ratio of questions to answers was too lopsided, and that’s when the script started to lose its magic. For example, there’s this whole mystery back at CIA headquarters about this magical place in a desert they’ve been surveying where cars just disappear. It was kind of cool. But because it wasn’t made clear what the stakes were with these disappearing cars, the mystery felt empty, the kind of crutch plotline a writer introduces when they know their script isn’t delivering the goods. Hey, I’m not mad at ya. We’ve all done it!
With that said, I loved MacBride’s commitment to the concept. And the final act does get pretty damn trippy. There’s enough here to keep the average reader entertained, and that’s enough to recommend the script.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: I loved how MacBride used Bob’s therapist to guide the exposition needed to explain our complicated setup. I’ve seen this used before and it’s quite effective. If you have a hero with an issue (in this case, a conspiracy theory) and need to convey that issue to the audience, you can do it with voice over, which always feels forced, you can do with a friend he confides in, which feels like an exposition dump, or you can layer in therapy sessions where a therapist organically asks our hero to explain his theory. “Why do you think your wife isn’t real?” Your hero gets to expose his thoughts in a manner that seems entirely natural. And when done well, it operates invisibly.
THE WINNER OF WEEK 7 HAS BEEN LISTED BELOW
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 seventh group of entries. You can see who won Week One here, who won Week Two here, who won Week Three here, who won Week Four here, who won Week Five. And finally, who came out on top last week.
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 be convincing). 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.
Title: Thrills, Kills and Scotch
Genre: Drama, Thriller, Dark Comedy
Logline: When a figure from his past is hired at his prestige magazine, a creative director reignites a destructive rivalry that threatens both their sanities.
Writer: Mayhem Jones
Title: Seeing Red
Logline: A group of docile 1950’s housewives are forced to fight for survival when the men in their town start inexplicably turning into monsters.
Writer: Joseph Scalise
Title: Odysseus and His Boy
Logline: With only one night to act, two rival soldiers must sneak behind enemy lines to complete a last-ditch suicide mission that will finally put an end to a decade-long conflict.
Writer: Steffan DelPiano
Title: The Fuck-Ups
Genre: Action/Buddy Comedy
Logline: An irascible, homeless vet reluctantly teams up with a young, gung-ho soldier to recover a closely guarded secret in the modern day jungles of Vietnam.
Writers: Wally White & Marc McTizic
Title: The Boom Town Beast
Genre: Gothic Horror/Thriller
Logline: On the eve of World War I, a misanthropic drifter must catch a bloodthirsty beast to save an industrial town and its people. But when a shocking truth emerges, it threatens to unleash the beast in everyone.
Writers: Patrick Buckley & Joseph Ackroyd
WINNER OF WEEK 7: “Thrills, Kills, and Scotch” by Mayhem Jones. Tremendous job, Mayhem. I haven’t read the script but the one thing I know about Mayhem is that she’s got voice to spare. When the competition is even, otherwise, an original voice will help elevate you above the pack. Something to keep in mind for all aspiring screenwriters. Thanks again to Scott for his tireless work on the voting. Reading through the mini-quotes is quickly becoming one of my favorite parts of this process. Next week is the last week of the first round (then we get Wild Card Week). Seeya then!
A long-time Scriptshadow reader e-mailed me yesterday with this question: “Carson, something I’ve been thinking about but want your insight. What do you think is the skill in the screenwriting profession in which demand is higher than supply? I know in general that it’s a buyers market but there have to be certain skills that provide the most value to a producer, studio, actor etc. Just want to know what you think that is.”
I wrote my reply within five seconds of reading the question. This is what I said: “Character! Character character character. Creating characters that audiences care about, that move audiences, that feel like real people. It’s the one area that only a few screenwriters truly know how to do. Master character and Hollywood will throw millions at you.”
The truth is, Hollywood thinks they’ve got the concept thing nailed down. Every executive in every office in ever major studio believes they have a dozen kick-ass movie ideas. These executives also each know a dozen screenwriters who can adapt their idea into a structurally solid screenplay.
But you want to know what they can’t do? What they don’t have a recipe for? CHARACTER. They’ve seen it time and time again. They come up with a concept. They get a writer to write a fully-functional perfectly-structured screenplay. And yet when they send it to their bosses and their peers, the reaction is, “Ehhh.” Or “It was all right I guess.” Or “Not bad.”
What happened? Why the apathy?
The apathy is because there was nobody in the story who made you care. Made you care about them, made you care about what they were doing. The characters were empty vessels – plot pieces constructed to move the story forward and nothing else.
The reason you can do so many things right and still come up with a lame screenplay is because you haven’t constructed characters THAT MAKE US FUCKING FEEL ANYTHING! If we’re not FEELING SOME KIND OF EMOTION while your characters move through the story, you don’t have a script.
Let’s make that clear. If you’re not eliciting emotion through your characters, nobody will care about your script. This is the million dollar secret sauce that will make you a professional screenwriter.
Make us fall in love with and care about your characters like real people and I PROMISE YOU you will be living in the Hollywood Hills. Because VERY FEW SCREENWRITERS can achieve this. In fact, I’d say there are maybe 20 in all of Hollywood who can build characters and make you care about those characters on a consistent basis.
So how do you achieve this? It’s not easy. Part of creating great characters is this innate ability to turn thin air into a living breathing individual – to create someone with depth and specificity who’s original and compelling. And some writers are better at that than others. But there are some things everybody can do to tip the character-creation scales in their favor. Let’s take a look at them.
Authenticity – This is the #1 thing you have to get right. If we don’t believe the character really exists, then none of the other things I list below will matter. So how do you create an authentic character? Simple. With every action they perform, with every line of dialogue they say, ask, “Is this what they would do in real life?” The classic example of this is when a street thug puts a gun to your hero’s head and your hero says, “Do it. Pull the trigger.” BULL-FUCKING-SHIT. Nobody does that in real life. In real life, when someone puts a gun to your head, you cower like a little girl. The further away your character’s reactions are from reality, and the more instances where they do unrealistic things, the less we believe in them. If you want to see a movie where the characters act as authentic as I’ve ever seen, watch Room.
Specificity and Originality – 99% of writers offer up general characters who we’ve seen before. If they’re writing a Western, the main character is a mysterious man who comes into town with an axe to grind. If they’re writing a buddy-cop movie, one character is a loose cannon who says what’s on his mind while the other is a conservative who always gets the job done. It’s not that you can’t make these characters compelling. But when you give us something that we’ve seen so many times before, we become blind to the character. They can be wonderful but all we see is the 30 other characters they was based on. You have to give us characters who don’t feel like people we’ve seen before. Yesterday, we had a 13 year old female serial killer. I haven’t seen that before. — On top of that, you need to build specificity into your characters. If a character doesn’t have anything uniquely him, how is he going to stand out? Do me a favor. Think about the strangest person you know. Right now. Write down the five strangest things about them. Now let me ask you, have you ever incorporated anything like these traits into any of your characters? I’m guessing no. Yet it’s specific things like this that make your characters feel different. And characters who feel different? FEEL LIKE REAL PEOPLE.
Sympathetic or Fascinating – Your character has to be one of these two. If they’re not, we won’t care where they go, who they talk to, or if they get the god damned Golden Chalice or not. Sympathetic meaning we feel for their situation. Whether they’ve been taken advantage of, beaten down by life, or just have to deal with a dickwad boss every day, sympathy is one of the easiest ways to get us to care about a character. “Fascinating” refers more to villains and anti-heroes (but can refer to the occasional traditional hero as well). These are people who don’t get our sympathy vote, but who are so interesting, we want to watch them regardless. Figuring out how to make a character “interesting” is a bit like trying to catch a chicken, but one of the classic ways is to have the character battling two-extremes inside of themselves. Darth Vader, Michael Corleone, even Alan Turing in The Imitation Game. Note how all of them are fighting themselves on some level. That’s interesting, isn’t it? On the contrary, when you just try to make your anti-hero or villain “cool,” that’s when we don’t give a shit (see the weird ninja villain in Elysium for reference).
Action and Choice – Compelling characters don’t go around saying, “I love you more than the wind and the moon” to their son. They rush to the son’s aid when the son is in trouble. Compelling characters don’t philosophize on what they would do if their wife was held hostage. We see their wife held hostage and watch what they choose to do. Action and choice are the best ways to tell us about your character. Both have their roots in the “SHOW” half of “show don’t tell.” In every scene you write, before you try to convey who your character is through a line of dialogue, first ask if there’s a way to convey the same thing through an ACTION or a CHOICE.
An unresolved inner struggle – Good characters are battling something inside of themselves. This battle can be broken down into four options. Option 1 is the past. Something has happened in the past that they haven’t resolved. They haven’t let go of a family member’s death, for example. Option 2 is a vice/addiction. Alcohol, drugs, sex. As long as you treat this with TRUTH (see above) and not simplistic casualism, this can work well. That’s because so many damn people can relate. Option 3 is a flaw that the character is aware of. A character who knows that people step on him and he doesn’t do anything about it, for example. And Option 4 is a flaw that the character isn’t aware of. This may entail a character who’s selfish. But it’s really up to you. Heck, you could make the Option 3 character the Option 4 character, and have no idea that he lets people walk all over him. — The idea with the unresolved inner struggle is that we’ll want to see if they can overcome the struggle. And, again, if it’s dealt with in a realistic way, and not a Screenwriting 101 way, this is the component in your screenplay that’s most likely to make your audience feel something. So it’s really important.
Unresolved Relationships – The more relationships in your hero’s story that are unresolved, the better the chance you have of delivering an emotionally compelling story to your audience. Fucked up Father-Son relationships are great for this. Fucked up Father-Daughter relationships as well. But it could be any relationship. It could be between two best friends who, after 30 years, don’t talk to each other anymore. As long as you do a good job setting up the situation, we’ll want to see if these two can find common ground again. This, along with overcoming one’s flaw or vice, is up there as one of the top ways to emotionally affect the audience. I read an amateur screenplay last year that was about this daughter whose father was a massive drug addict. And she kept trying to love him and trying to love him, but every time, he’d let her down. He’d choose the drugs over her. It was heartbreaking but also EXACTLY what you’re trying to achieve as a screenwriter. Create that unresolved AUTHENTIC relationship, draw it out over 2 hours, and we will be staring at our laptops with tears in our eyes when the script is over.
Now that you have a baseline to work with, you’re probably asking, where does everybody go wrong? Most screenwriters on scripts 1-5 believe that on the nose melodramatic scenes are the way to create great characters. For example, place a son and his father in a room and write a scene like this: “I loved you so much. But you never tried hard enough.” “Maybe if you would’ve encouraged me more.” “That’s what your mother was for.” “Until you left her.” Beat. “I still love you, dad.” “I love you, too.” Like, go fucking kill me and feed my dead body to the pigeons outside of the abandoned brad-making factories.
Characters talking deeply or talking about their feelings or saying what’s on their mind – These scenes create THE OPPOSITE of emotion in an audience. Since nobody talks like this is in real life, it’s the equivalent of announcing, “THIS IS A MOVIE!” which means the spell is broken and the audience no longer believes what they’re looking at. Creating realistic characters we’re emotionally rooting for is a lot more complex. Even more complex than what I’ve outlined here today. But at least now you have a starting point. Feel free to offer your own tips for creating realistic emotionally-affecting characters in the comments section.
Because, again, if you can master this one area, you will be in high freaking demand. Nobody knows how to do this shit right. I even see professionals screwing it up on a weekly basis (see all the over-cooked on-the-nose scenes in Batman vs. Superman for reference).
Could is be? Did someone just write American Psycho with a 13 year-old girl?
Premise: 13-year-old Emily Derringer seems like the perfect girl. But she’s not. She’s a serial killer known as “The Misfit Butcher.”
About: Another high-ranking Black List script from last year. Chris Thomas Devlin is one of the newer writers to make the list. This is his breakthrough script!
Writer: Chris Thomas Devlin
Details: 94 pages
Like I always say, one of the best ways to get noticed is to take a common genre or idea and come at it from a fresh angle. That’s exactly what Devlin’s done. He’s taken the serial killer genre and infused it with the most unlikely of killers – a 13 year old girl.
Herein lies the challenge with doing something new. When you’re looking for things that haven’t been done, you’re likely to find that there’s a reason they haven’t been done. Making a 13 year-old girl a serial killer sounds great in a logline, but practically speaking, has all sorts of challenges.
Serial killers need to be strong to kill their victims, especially if they’re doing it without guns. So now you’re rubbing up against suspension of disbelief, and some people won’t go there with you. I’ll give you an example from the script. At a certain point, there’s a second killer, a man (more on this in the plot breakdown), and Emily “confronts” him in the woods. So you’re saying that a grown killer is confronted by a 13 year-old girl in the woods and he’s not going to kill her right then and there?
There are ways around this. You can take on a more absurdist tone, a wink-wink understanding with the audience that, yeah, we both know this wouldn’t happen in real life. But let’s have fun with it anyway.
That leads to its own set of challenges. The further into the absurdist universe you go, the less clear it is what the rules are. And without rules, it’s hard to know what the audience will and won’t buy into.
All of this is a long way of saying, I wanted to see how Devlin tackled this unique premise. Let’s check it out.
Emily Derringer is a perfectionist. When she kills someone, she wants it done right. Killing is an art. And if it’s messy or lazy, it sheds a bad light on the person responsible. Therefore, our 13 year-old protagonist makes sure that everybody she kills is killed with respect.
After taking out the local priest, Emily preps for a killing vacation, that is until she attends the first day of school and runs into former best friend turned mega-bitch Pepper Devonshire. Just a few cunty words from Pepper and Emily decides she’s going to be next.
But then a problem arises. Emily’s new milk man, Garret Bluestone, kills the local soda shop owner. Nobody else knows this, of course. But Emily is a trained killer, and therefore recognizes others with the affliction. And Emily is pissed because Garret is sloppy. If people mix up his work with hers, it’ll ruin everything she’s worked so hard for.
She confronts Garret, tells him if he does it again, there’s going to be problems, and goes on her way. Meanwhile, Emily starts planning the school Halloween party with her favorite teacher, Mr. Goodwin. But things turn sour when he also pulls in, duh-duh-duh-duhhhhhhh – Pepper Devonshire!
Emily decides to use the time to plan Pepper’s murder. However, a strange thing happens as their meetings go on. Emily and Pepper begin to mend their broken friendship. The question is, will they be able to mend it entirely before Emily decides to kill her?
The Wretched Emily Derringer was pretty good.
There’s a lot for screenwriters to take away from the script, especially if you’re writing a serial killer movie yourself.
For starters, serial killer protagonists only work when you make their plight sympathetic ON SOME LEVEL. And there are some easy ways to do that. For starters, make sure the victims deserve it. All we need to see is a slimy priest who’s trying to snare little Emily off the street before we’re rooting for her to take him out.
We also have the lesser known “voice over” technique. Voice overs are tricky to execute. But they work well when your main character is a serial killer, since they put us inside their head. If our hero seems like a good person and she makes good cases for killing people, we’ll be on board.
Without the voice over, there’s a detachment there. We’ll never feel as close or sympathetic towards them as we would if we’re listening to their reasoning.
Bonus points if you can motivate the voice over. Sure, you could just place us in their mind. But it always feels more natural if it’s motivated. For example, lots of young girls write in diaries. So it makes sense that Emily has a diary. And her musings in said diary are where we get our voice over.
Another lesson we can take away from Emily Derringer is the idea of CONCEPT EVOLUTION. One of your jobs as a writer is to evolve your concept. If your concept stays the same the whole way through the script, it’s likely to be boring.
So here, the concept is a 13 year old girl who’s a serial killer. We could play that out from page 1 to 100 and have an okay story (focusing solely on Emily’s obsession with killing Pepper). The problem with that is, readers get ahead of you. You’re not evolving the concept so there’s nothing new to look forward to.
What Devlin does is he brings in Garret Bluestone – A SECOND KILLER. Now, a story we thought we had a handle on, takes an entirely unpredictable turn. We’re not sure where things are going to go. And, of course, that’s exactly why we keep reading.
The only thing I didn’t like about the plotting was the lack of a detective. One of the easiest ways to create tension in a story where your hero is the killer (or has killed someone in any capacity – by accident or otherwise) is to have someone on their trail. That way, the whole time we’re thinking, “Oh no, they’re catching up to Emily! Will they figure out it’s her?” It’s exciting.
And, actually, the thin page count here tells me that’s exactly what was missing. This is 95 pages but could’ve easily been 110. Those extra 15 pages are your detective storyline.
I don’t know if this is going to become a movie. It’s a tough sell to say the least. They have to play it really absurd and get a director who’s a complete weirdo. Because if this is played anywhere close to straight, people are going to be scratching their heads.
With that said, it’s the perfect type of script to get you noticed. And that mission was accomplished, since this made the Black List. Sometimes, it’s about showing you’re a unique writer, not writing the perfect Hollywood screenplay. Whatever gets you through the door, right?
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Your premise starts as a baby. It’s your job to help it grow. If it stays the same the whole way through, the audience will get bored. This advice isn’t just for your main plot. It’s for your subplots as well. Make sure your plot elements are changing and growing into the “adult” version of the ideas. Bringing in a second serial killer was exactly what this script needed to grow into an “adult” version of the concept. Without that evolution, I fear the script would’ve been too thin.
Premise: Steve Bartman, the infamous Cubs fan who changed the fortunes of the Chicago Cubs forever, tries to pick up the pieces of his life after inadvertently thwarting a championship.
About: This script finished top 10 on last year’s Black List!
Writer: John Whittingong
Details: 104 pages
Let me take you back in time.
The year was 2003.
My Chicago Cubs (my favorite sports team on the planet) were 5 outs away from going to the World Series. The last time that had happened?
In the city of Chicago, where I grew up, entire generations of fellow Cubs fans had grown up AND DIED, never to see their team even have a shot at the championship.
And then 2003 came.
Not only were the Cubs good, they had quickly become the favorites to win the championship. They were one game away from a trip to the World Series, up 3-1, with only 2 innings left to go.
At the time, I was in Los Angeles, teaching a tennis lesson, and I stopped the lesson to check the radio in the pro shop. Cubs up 3-1. 8th inning.
For those unfamiliar with baseball, when you’re up 3-1 in the 8th inning, you have a 95% chance of winning the game.
I went back into the lesson confident that I’d be watching my Cubbies in the World Series. I mentally calculated plane ticket prices as I dreamed of watching one of the games at Wrigley Field. A half an hour later, I came out to check the final score. What I saw that day tore a hole in my heart that’s never quite been re-filled.
Florida Marlins 8
Chicago Cubs 3
I drove home in a daze, wondering how this could’ve happened. Scoring 7 runs in a single inning was unheard of. There had to be an epic meltdown.
It turns out there was. And it started when Steve Bartman, a fan at the game, got in the way of a Cubs outfielder trying to make a catch that would’ve solidified the win. If you talk to Chicago Cubs fans these days, the narrative is that Steve Bartman didn’t cost the Cubs the game. The Cubs cost themselves the game.
I find that to be utter politically correct bullshit. I believe, without a shadow of a doubt, that Steve Bartman cost the Cubs the World Series. Had he not gotten in the way of that catch, there would’ve been two outs instead of one, the Cubs wouldn’t have been as shaky. The plethora of mistakes that followed would never have happened. And the Marlins would’ve faded.
Steve Bartman is a fascinating character for that reason. The ultimate Cubs fan. Now a symbol Cubs’ futility. And the crazy thing? He’s never been seen since that day.
Which is why someone writing a script about him is so weird. Today’s writer is taking a real person, who’s still living, telling us the true story of what happened to them that day in the first half of the script, then completely inventing what happened to him after he left that game. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a script do this before.
The first half of True Fan introduces us to Steve Bartman as he gets ready to go to the game that will change his life. He’s going with a couple of work friends, although the term “friends” might be a stretch.
You get the sense that Steve, a 26 year old who still lives with his parents, only has one friend. And that’s the Chicago Cubs. Steve is so much a fan, that he doesn’t just go to the game. He brings a walkman so he can LISTEN to the game while he watches it AT THE SAME TIME.
Obsessive? Yeah, a little.
The script takes us through the harrowing aftermath of Bartman after he prevents the catch. For those who don’t know the story, when Bartman screwed up the play, the Cubs were up 3-1. After that, the Marlins started scoring runs. 3-2, 3-3, 3-5, 3-6, 3-8. As the fans at Wrigley Field got further and further away from victory, they turned their anger on Bartman.
One fan actually walked up and poured beer right on Bartman’s face. But that wasn’t the worst of it. People started screaming death threats. Soon, security had to come down and save Bartman from literally being pulled apart.
Bartman’s name had become so famous by the next day, that people actually came into his work overnight and destroyed his desk and computer. This wasn’t some internet meme. People hated this man.
This is where things segue into the fictional world. I know this because no one from the media has spoken to Bartman since that day. So there’s no true record of what Bartman did.
Anyway, in our story, Bartman moves to Baltimore to escape being the most recognized man in Chicago. He lives a quiet life, still haunted by the foul ball he tried to catch, made worse by the fact that his father recently passed away, and he feels responsible for robbing him of a World Series.
In Baltimore, Bartman meets Annie, a bit of a nut job, but more importantly for Bartman, someone who knows nothing about baseball. The two start a relationship, and Annie slowly encourages Bartman to get his baseball mojo back. There’s a series in town between the Orioles and the Cubs that the two go to, and Bartman finds his love for the sport rekindled.
But eventually, Bartman will have to decide if he’s going to spend the rest of his life on the lam, or if he’s going to move back to his home city where his favorite team still plays.
Let me start off by saying John did something that I didn’t think was possible. He made me feel sympathy for Steve Bartman. Seeing this unfold from Steve’s eyes as opposed to an angry fan’s eyes made me see the botched catch in a whole new light.
I think that’s a good screenwriting lesson. A story can become completely different depending on who’s eyes we see the story unfold from. A murder can be covered in two different ways depending on if we see it through the murderer’s eyes or the victim’s eyes.
Where True Fan gets weird is in its structure and in its love story. The structure here is bizarre in that the first half of the script is dedicated to the build-up and coverage of the infamous foul ball. The second half, then, is the love story.
It’s very unconventional to introduce your love story halfway into the script. You don’t have enough time to put the relationship through its paces. You’re going to be rushed. And that’s what happened here.
Because we only had half a script, John was forced to throw Annie at us hard (she comes onto Steve in the grocery store) and then practically force Bartman to go out with her.
If we stick to the rule that the best writing is born out of truth, then this was not John’s best writing. I have lived an entire life in grocery stores and never once has a girl come onto me or asked me out. Not only does that never happen, but this is STEVE BARTMAN we’re talking about. Look at that picture up above. Is the one time when a girl hits on a guy at the supermarket going to be with that man? I think not.
And it’s these choices that bother me. Once you start doing things that WOULD ONLY HAPPEN in the movie world, you’re no longer telling the truth. You’re a liar. And the audience senses that lack of truth. I’m not sure True Fan ever recovered from that.
However, because of this weird freaking character and this unique situation, you’re compelled to keep reading. And while there are no home runs hit, there are a few doubles.
I liked, for instance, when Steve and Annie went to the Orioles-Cubs game. Where do you want to put your characters, guys? IN THE LAST PLACE THEY WANT TO BE. If you put your hero in places he doesn’t want to be, you’re usually going to get a good scene out of it. Going to that game, with the potential of being seen, kept me invested in Bartman’s story.
But John runs into a final problem in that Bartman’s story doesn’t have an ending yet. He’s never talked to the media. Ever. So how can his story end in a satisfactory way?
The answer might come this year. The Cubs are, once again, a few games away from the World Series. If the Cubs win the series, Bartman’s mistake will finally be forgiven. So maybe that’s the ending. It just hasn’t been written yet.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Whenever you’re telling a story or even just writing a scene, ask this question: “Am I telling this story through the most interesting person’s eyes?” Is your break-up scene more interesting told through the dumper’s or the dumpee’s eyes? Is your road rage scene more interesting told through the guy’s eyes who got cut off or the guy who cut him off? Is your serial killer film best told through the killer’s eyes, the victim’s eyes, or the detective’s eyes? Or a combination of all three? You never know. By sliding the point-of-view just one character over, a boring scene can quickly become the best scene in your script.