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Premise (from writer): When his mother is kidnapped and sold into slavery, the legendary fableist must overcome being a short, ugly mute and outmatch Greek philosophers and bloodthirsty kings to rescue her and save the kingdom.
Why You Should Read (from writer): If I have to sit through another movie starring a chisel chinned, barrel chested, cooler-than-christ anti-hero, I’m gonna start drinking. And when I drink, I get all existential. And when I get all existential, I go searching for myself. And when I go searching for myself, I take trips to exotic countries. And when I take trips to exotic countries, my planes mysteriously disappear. And when my planes mysteriously disappear, I end up on Lost island. As cool as that would be for about a week, please don’t let me end up on Lost island, Carson! For a change, let’s give the short and uglies of the world a chance at being heroic. And you can start right here with this inspired, true-ish tale. — I’ve always been intrigued by ancient Greek culture and stumbled upon this story in college. It is tailor-made for the big screen, but very few people know about the man behind the fables. A cute, straight forward fantasy adventure this is not. Think more along the lines of the dark and dirty original versions of the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales. The Zemeckis’, Burtons, and Depps of the world would have a field day with this.
Writer: J.D. Dorsey
Details: 104 pages
Adventure is one of those genres that I surprisingly don’t see a lot of. And it’s a great genre to write in because there aren’t many demographics out there that don’t like a good adventure. I think because Adventure is often seen as the “grown up” version of the family film, writers stay away from it. And most of the adventure stories have been folded into the animation world anyway (Up, Tintin, Shrek). It’s much cooler to write an edgy thriller or a dark comedy. Who wants to write a wussy adventure?
I think the “cooler” adventure film is ready for a comeback, though. With the exception of the Hobbit films, there hasn’t been something people over 12 can really stand by and say, “Yo, you see that latest adventure film? That was good shit.” We need our new Romancing the Stone, our new Raiders, our new Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Is Aesop that script? Only one way to know…
It’s the year 602 BC. We start the movie where anything in 602 BC should start. Greece. It’s here where we meet Aesop.
I’ll allow today’s author to describe our title character for you, since he does it better than I ever could. Aesop is “a loathsome, potbellied, misshapen-of-head, snub-nosed, swarthy, dwarfish, bandy-legged, short-armed, squint-eyed, liver-lipped, portentous monstrosity.” In other words, the guy’s not modeling toga underwear to pay the rent.
Aesop is also a mute and a coward who spends his days with his head in the clouds, dreaming about turtles and crickets and ants who can speak. He seems uninterested in reality, for reality is often so cruel. Until he meets a magically beautiful young lady named Rhodope. Something about this girl powers up Aesop’s vocal chords and just like that, he can talk!
Unfortunately, before he can head home and share his newfound powers with this family, he finds his village burning, and everyone in it taken away as slaves. Determined to get his mother back, Aesop uses his new power of speech to talk his way onto a slave boat heading for the Island of Samos.
Once there, Aesop offers up himself as a slave (for reasons that weren’t entirely clear) to a local philosopher named Xanthus. Xanthus quickly realizes how smart Aesop is, and uses him to win several town riddle-challenges, the local Samos currency for the upper class. Word of his intelligence spreads, until he comes to the attention of the King.
Turns out the kings of this land also duel each other in battles of wits and riddles, often times betting fortunes in the process. Lose a few riddle bets in a row, and you could be out a kingdom. With Aesop by his side, however, the Samos King does nothing but win. Aesop is the smartest in the land. Until he’s given an impossible riddle by the Samos King’s chief rival. Will he be able to solve it? Or will an unforeseen betrayal lead to Aesop’s undoing?
Folks, I want to make something clear right away. We got ourselves a writer here. This is a script that relishes its time and place, and makes you feel like you’re there all the way through.
The wooden slave boat docks at a relatively sophisticated harbor.
Replete with horse-drawn carriages, men and women in gowns
and tunics. A far cry from the rustic village.
From the bustle of workers unloading cages, horses, and equipment,
Aesop steps off the boat in awe.
He quickly gathers himself and notices that a similar boat rests next
to theirs, having already been unloaded.
Aesop starts for the city, but the Slave Trader quickly grips his collar.
You have duties, swine. Tend to those cages
there. Be useful in action if not in appearance!
The young man lumbers towards his duty, startled to see Mastor
dragging the beaten and bloodied body of Enops down a wooden plank.
If you want to read really good writing, download this script at the end of my review. You won’t be disappointed. Now as you know from reading Scriptshadow, if it were all about the writing, there’d be a lot more spec sales. Screenwriting is more about the storytelling though, and it’s here where Aesop needs some work. The script changes tone, changes story, changes focus, leaving you unsure what it is or what it’s trying to say.
The most jarring change for me, was in Aesop himself. He starts off as this meek bullied little mute, someone we immediately love and root for. Then, 30 pages in, he learns how to speak and all of a sudden he’s a nasty little smartass for the remainder of the script.
Completely changing your hero during your story is a risky proposition to say the least. I’ve seen it done before, like in American Beauty. Much like Aesop, Lester Burnham is a pushover who stops giving a shit. But his change is clearly motivated. We watch as he gets tired of being pushed around. So we understand why he transforms into someone who refuses to take it anymore. In contrast, I’m not sure why the ability to talk all of a sudden turns Aesop into a wiseass.
The tone wavered as well. We start off with this cute little story about a mute young man trying to make it in an unaccepting world by creating imaginary animal friends he can communicate with. Everything’s very G-rated. Then later, Aesop is getting raped (albeit comically) by his owner’s wife. We’re talking about a man famous for children’s fables here. I don’t think you want any sex scenes in this script (or “urinating while walking” scenes).
Another problem is that it took me half the script to figure out what the actual story was, which is never a good sign. At first I thought this was about the struggles of a young mute. Then I thought it was about a man trying to save his mother. Eventually I realized it was about an extremely smart individual, captured by a king, who uses his wits to stay alive. You never want it to take that long for the main story in your screenplay to emerge. It leaves the reader extremely frustrated.
There were also too many unexplained things. You can get away with not explaining maybe one major element, but any more than that and the reader’s going to turn on you. I couldn’t figure out, for example, if the animals were just talking in Aesop’s mind or they were really talking. I was 80% sure it was in his head, but with something as crazy as animals talking, there can’t be any misunderstanding there. It needs to be 100%.
I also didn’t understand what led to Aesop being able to talk. He met this girl, but why would a random girl give him the ability to speak? That was unclear. And why is it that the bad guys took everyone in Aesop’s village as slaves, however when he comes to their boat and demands to go with them, they don’t take him as a slave as well? Is there some 600 B.C. rule that states you’re allowed to catch people in the wild, but once they’re in the city they’re off-limits? And why did Aesop offer himself up as a slave? I think it was to find his mom. But how would becoming a slave help him find his mom? Wouldn’t the freedom of being able to go anywhere you wanted give you a better shot at finding her?
I’ve also read enough of these “fictional writer biopics” now to know that the better you can integrate the writer’s influences (which led to their famous works), the more powerful the story will be. The tortoise and the grasshopper and the ant seemed to pop in and out of the story with no rhyme or reason. Much like the rest of the script, there were no rules governing their arrival. They needed to have a more direct influence on Aesop, to be more crucial to the story itself. I saw them more as announcers or distant observers of his life.
Despite all that, there were good things going on here. I maintain that one of the hardest things to do in screenwriting is give us a protagonist we won’t forget. You read this script, I guarantee you, you won’t forget Aesop. He’s that memorable.
Dorsey really puts us back in Ancient Greece too. From the descriptions to the sounds to the characters, I felt like I was there. A lot of that was due to the dialogue, which was great. Pick out any page here, read the dialogue, and you’ll see what I mean. “So you see, that is why the people of Samos care so much for reputation. It informs us. It puts us in position to leverage outcomes. When I heard that my guards found not one but two slaves with particular familiarity with Aesop the monstrosity, well I couldn’t help but inquire—“ I don’t know. You just get the feeling this guy knows what he’s doing.
But I’m very frustrated by “Aesop.” We obviously have an amazing talent here in Dorsey. But he needs to spend some time in the Structure Garden. This script needs focus. Aesop isn’t really trying to find his mom after awhile, which means he’s an inactive character imprisoned by a king. I’m not sure that and a handful of riddles is enough of an engine to drive an entire second act. We need a more dominant goal and we need Aesop to be a little more active in pursuing it. Or we need a succession of goals, each clear and strong, with high stakes attached to each of them, not unlike the way Star Wars is structured.
The script also needs consistency. It starts out one way and turns out another. The tone is messy. The imaginary world and the real world need to be better explained and intertwined. These are all doable things for someone this talented, but they take time.
Regardless of what happens with this script, I want to know what Dorsey is working on from this point forward. I really like him as a writer.
Script link: Aesop The Courageous
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: We need someone to bring the true adventure spec back. I’m predicting whoever does is going to make a lot of money. Who’s going to do it? Pitches in the comments? Or submit your adventure to Amateur Friday.