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Genre (from writers) Historical Action
Premise (from writers): In 30 A.D., a charismatic stonemason bent on revenge leads a band of guerrilla rebels against the Roman occupation of his homeland.
Why You Should Read (from writers): This is the story that led up to the biggest trade in human record. It is Braveheart meets Gladiator, with characters on a collision course that splits history in two. Come for the battle, the intrigue, and the epic. Stay for the sacrifice, the betrayals, and the passion that drives a man to darkness. — As co-writers, we work from 3,000 miles apart. Yes, we have two of the WASPiest names imaginable. No, they’re not pen names. We’ve been polishing this script to a trim, accelerative tale that strengthens, weaves, and deepens with each choice our characters make. The ending is the most difficult we’ve ever worked on, but the feedback on the resolution has been powerful. We have to earn the effect we want a story to have, and with this script we aim to challenge, to provoke, but most of all…to entertain.
Writers: Parker Jamison & Paul Kimball
Details: 112 pages
Man, the last couple of days have been carraaaa-zy in the comments section. The Comments Post did not go over well with a lot of you. Miss Scriptshadow’s review caused a nuclear-sized meltdown in the Grendl-verse, and some manic derilect from 2011 topped it all off with a bunch of “Carson is evil” comments.
Today, however, it’s going to be all about the script. If you want to talk about other things, feel free to go back to those earlier posts. But I want today to be about the writing, specifically Barabbas. I’ve already read Barabbas once for a consult and I liked it with reservations. So I’m really glad you guys picked it as a healthy discussion should continue to strengthen the script even more.
The story is not without its challenges. It puts itself in some unenviable writing situations, which I’ll get to after the summary. I’m also interested to see what these guys have done with the latest draft and how much the script has improved. Let’s take a look.
“Barabbas” offers something whether you’re familiar with the story of the man or not. If you’re like me and had never heard of him, Barabbas plays out like a slow-burning quasi-mystery, pulling in familiar elements from religious history that eventually lead to a shocking finale.
If you do know Barabbas’s name, the script plays out like “Titanic.” You know where this will eventually end up, so you’re curious what’s going to happen to get us there.
Joshua Barabbas, 30, is a stone mason. Along with his younger brother David, the two build bridges and aqueducts for the Romans who, at the time, were occupying Jerusalem. When the Romans raid the Jews’ own temple to pay them their wages, David and Joshua have had enough, and rebel.
When their friend is erroneously chosen as the instigator of this rebellion and crucified, an angry Barabbas is persuaded by a local politician, the sinister Melech, to start a war. Using rage to guide his leadership, Barabbas and his fellow workers attack the Romans, but eventually flee to the mountains once outnumbered.
Realizing that there’s no turning back, Barabbas starts to grow a small army with the hopes of driving the Romans out of Jerusalem. But when Barabbas falls for the wife of a key ally in the city, he loses focus, and the rebellion begins to fall apart.
In a last ditch effort to recruit a huge army from the surrounding regions, Barabbas designs a plan to take down the Roman Regional Governor Pontius Pilate. (major spoilers) He ultimately fails, and his life hangs in the balance of the people themselves, when they must choose which of two men shall be set free, Barabbas or Jesus Christ.
I knew this weekend’s Amateur Offerings was going to be good because I’d read two of the scripts and knew both were solid (the other being “Reeds in Winter” about the infamous Donner Party, which ended up in some gnarly cannibalism). The rub? They were both period pieces, which are the hardest to get readers on board with. Therefore it was satisfying to see them both end up with the most votes, as it shows that readers still respect challenging material.
With that said, each script has its trouble spots. Assuming the reader sticks around long enough to get into the story, which is never a guarantee with period pieces, I was always worried about that darned Barabbas second act.
The problem is this – the second act is where countless scripts go to die. It’s hard as hell to keep it interesting even under the best of circumstances. In Barabbas’s second act, our army is relegated to a single location up in the mountains. Keeping a “swords and sandals” period piece lively when the main character and his army are relegated to one spot for 60 pages is as challenging a proposition as you’re going to find in screenwriting.
Compare that to Braveheart. The great thing about that film was that William Wallace kept moving across the country to bigger and bigger cities, so we got this sense of BUILDING as the story went on. That’s harder to do when characters are hiding in caves in the mountains, especially when you’re limited by history. Barabbas’s army couldn’t have gotten TOO big or else he would’ve been more well known in the history books. Barabbas’s one defining characteristic in the bible is that so little is known about him.
But my gut’s telling me we need to either get Barabbas off that mountain space at some point, grow his army bigger in some way, or find some other means to spice up the second act.
What if, for example, Barabbas had to go out on some recruiting trips into the surrounding cities? If we built up certain meetings with city leaders he would have to win over in order to receive their soldiers, that’d be one way to keep the story dynamic.
Getting him off the mountain to meet Jesus at some point would be interesting as well, but Parker told me he doesn’t want to physically see Jesus until that final scene, which I understand.
Another thing that bothered me during the initial read, and something I don’t think Parker and Paul have addressed yet, is the character of David, Joshua’s brother. Over the course of the script, David sees Jesus speak (we don’t see this) and starts to respond to his teachings. Whereas Barabbas wants war, David preaches forgiveness and peace.
The problem is that all of this happens too late and doesn’t have enough conviction. I was bothered, for instance, by a character named Thaddeus, who comes into the story late to aggressively preach Jesus’s philosophy. I couldn’t understand why this character wasn’t David. In order to get the maximum amount of conflict from a relationship, you need the two characters to be on opposite sides of the philosophical spectrum. David was tepid in his support of Jesus’s teachings until the very end. Let’s have this guy go out there, see Jesus speak, and let him be the one who comes back and starts aggressively converting the other soldiers. Now you have a direct conflict. Barabbas needs soldiers to take down Pontius and his own brother is turning those soldiers into pacifists. Isn’t that better than Random Thaddeus, who I met five minutes ago, who has no allegiance to anyone, converting these people?
One of the complaints about Barabbas during AOW week was dialogue. Most people said it was serviceable, but that serviceable isn’t good enough in a spec trying to stand out. And I’d agree with that. But fixing this is a lot easier said than done.
What I believe people are responding to here is the lack of “fun” in the dialogue. People always seemed to speak in a proper and serious way. “You still labor at the aqueduct?” “Every day. Why?” “I’ve heard that funds are running short. That Pontius Pilate needs extra coin to finish it.” “As long as the Romans pay, we work.” This is a conversation between two people who have secretly loved each other since childhood. You’d think they’d have a more relaxed and easy rapport, right?
But the biggest issue here is that almost EVERYBODY spoke like this or very similar to this. So the problem might not be “dialogue” so much as “variety in dialogue.” I always talk about creating “dialogue-friendly” characters. People who have fun with the language and say things others wouldn’t. It would be nice if a featured character here were dialogue-friendly. From there, look at every character and figure out ways to make them speak differently from everyone else.
Finally, I wanted more out of the ending. I think the problem here is that Parker and Paul see the sacrifice at the end as the climax. Which it is. But before we get there, we need to give the audience the climax they’ve been waiting for, the one we’ve been building up for 80 pages, which is an attack on Pontius Pilate.
Let’s see him and his army try to head Pontius off at the pass on his way to Jerusalem. Let’s see him almost kill Pontius. He ALMOST does it! But something at the last seconds prevents him from succeeding and he’s captured.
Then, since it’s now personal between him and Pontius, we can see Pontius, behind-the-scenes, preparing Barabbas so that he’ll be the one picked for crucifixion by the people. Pontius makes him extra dirty and nasty looking, in the hopes that he’ll be the one killed.
I know we’re playing with fire here, but it could be an ironically delightful ending to see that Pontius had a horse in the race and was hoping to snuff out Barabbas, which, of course, would’ve changed history. He’s visibly disappointed, then, when Jesus is chosen instead.
Whatever these guys choose to do, though, I trust them. Barabbas is not perfect, but it shows a lot of skill, and it shows two writers who are going to make a splash at some point if they stick with it. I don’t know if it’s going to be with this script because, again, the subject matter is challenging, it’s a unique sell, and there’s that whole second act issue that I’m not convinced is solvable. But I just like these guys as writers and hope to see more work from them in the future.
Script link: Barabbas
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Use specificity instead of generalizations when writing description. Today’s “What I learned” actually comes from Casper Chris, who I thought made a GREAT observation when he compared two action paragraphs from Barabbas and Braveheart during AOW. Here were the two he compared…
Barabbas leads the charge. The rest of the stonemasons pour down on the patrol. Slashing, spearing, hacking. Barabbas fights like a barbarian, fearsome and brutal. Ammon slices through soldiers with precision. David is quick and athletic.
He dodges obstacles in the narrow streets — chickens, carts, barrels. Soldiers pop up; the first he gallops straight over; the next he whacks forehand, like a polo player; the next chops down on his left side; every time he swings the broadsword, a man dies.
Notice the difference. Whereas the Barabbas text uses mostly general words to describe the action (“slashing, spearing, hacking” “fights like a barbarian” “quick and athletic”), Braveheart uses specific imagery. There are more nouns here and the verbs are used to highlight powerful actions (“chickens, carts, barrels” “soldiers pop up” “he gallops straight over”). It was a great reminder that we need to put specific imagery into the reader’s head so he can properly imagine what’s happening up on the screen.