Genre: Action/Adventure Sci-Fi
Premise: A small-town juvenile delinquent on a hiking trip with three other teens runs afoul of a D.B. Cooper-style air hijacker smuggling extraterrestrial cargo.
Why you should read (from writer): My previous script won AF back in November and I’ve taken everything I learned from the process of writing that one and from the awesome notes I received here, and poured it all into this one. Bush Baby Summer is (hopefully) a fast-paced outdoor action adventure with a sci-fi twist. It’s also my attempt to capture the oft sought after yet ever-elusive “Stand By Me meets E.T.” vibe. It’s currently a Page quarter-finalist under the title “Ramblers”, and – I just found out today – it placed among the top 10% at the Nicholl. Thanks for considering Bush Baby Summer for AOW. I look forward to some constructive notes (good or bad) from the community.
Writer: David Scott Martin
Details: 106 pages
I’m not surprised this script won. With America’s latest obsession being the heavily 80s influenced, Stranger Things, on Netflix, any 80s nostalgia concept is going to garner our interest. But I was surprised, as I dove into this, to see that I’d already read it! David had sent it to me for notes (under a different title) a couple of years ago.
I love seeing new drafts after notes as I’m curious what changes the writer made. And to see just how much they put into it. There are two types of rewriters. There are band-aid rewriters, and their are surgery rewriters. Band-aid rewriters keep the exact same set-up, the exact same series of scenes. They just tweak a character, a scene, or some dialogue. We’ve had some infamous band-aid rewriters right here in our comments section.
Surgery rewriters get to the core of what’s wrong with their script and do anything to make it right. That may mean rewriting the entire first act. It might mean replacing one of the main characters. It might mean shuffling the structure around. Surgery is much harder, which is why most screenwriters choose band-aids.
Let’s check out which approach David took.
47 year old military employee, Newloan, has been given the opportunity of a lifetime. He’s one of the few people lucky enough to be on a flight transporting a small alien creature recovered in a UFO crash.
Newloan makes a few calls, finds out the Russians are willing to pay him half a billion for this thing, and therefore hijacks the flight, steals the alien, and jumps into the endless Oregon forest.
Here’s where we meet teenage best friends Teryn and Bryant. Teryn’s the reckless one and Bryant’s the all-American, but with a rebellious streak of his own. On this particular weekend they decide to go camping in the woods, which is how they spot, you guessed it, Newloan.
Before they can learn what that’s all about, they encounter a couple of poor brothers who live here in the forest, 18 year old Rat and 12 year old Billy. The 4-boy crew is intrigued by this man carrying around a box, and when Newloan hides the box in a cave behind a waterfall, the kids go to check it out.
It’s here where they meet “Bush-Baby,” sort of like an alien cat-dog. It can get feisty but it senses our kids are good so it likes them. Unfortunately, they hear Newloan coming back, this time with a crew of accomplices. So they grab Bush Baby and head deeper into the cave.
What follows is a game of cat and mouse, with our nasty military unit hell-bent on recovering their half-a-billion dollar prize. And if they have to shoot a few kids in the head to get that money, so be it.
The kid-crew eventually gets split up, with Teryn and Billy in one unit and Billy and Rat in the other. Each “different side of the tracks” crew will have to learn how to work together and get Bush Baby to safety or get turned into kiddie swiss cheese by a group of guys hell bent on re-claiming their alien pot of gold.
Okay, so let’s answer the question here. Was this a band-aid rewrite or a surgery rewrite? It was pretty much a band-aid rewrite. Now I’ll give David this. He added some pretty strong band-aids. He wasn’t using that generic brand mom and dad used to buy to save money that would fall off your skin after three minutes. These were sturdy Johnson & Johnson band-aids here.
But they were still band-aids.
Take, for instance, the choice NOT to strengthen the motivation for saving saving Bush Baby.
Why do the kids in The Goonies continue their pursuit despite being chased by people who may kill them? BECAUSE THEY’RE TRYING TO SAVE THEIR NEIGHBORHOOD. They’re about to be kicked out of their houses, sent away where they’ll never see each other again. That motivation makes sense to an audience.
Why is it so important that Teryn, Bryant, Billy, and Rat risk their lives for something they’ve known for all of 60 seconds? Cause if you don’t have a legitimate answer to that, then the only reason you’re doing it is because this is a movie. It doesn’t have any relevance to real-world logic. So I was disappointed that something the entire movie was based on didn’t have anything close to a believable motivation.
Another issue I initially had was the kids. All four of them were cut from the same cloth. They were rebels. Even the all-American boy, Bryant, was a rebel. And I remember David didn’t agree with me on this. But movies like Bush Baby are built on conflicting personalities, ideologies, and life-experiences. And when you look at Bush Baby’s main inspiration, Stand By Me, you see this in spades. One character is a total goody two shoes. Another is terrified to do anything bad. Another is the ultimate rebel. And the final character is crazy.
We don’t have that here so the dynamic between the four boys is kind of boring. An important thing to remember is outside of nuanced dramas and Oscar bait movies, movie characters are defined by extremes. Again, in Stand By Me: Goody Two Shoes, Scaredy-Cat, Rebel, Crazy. If you keep the characters too far away from an extreme, you risk the reader not knowing who the character is. Or worse, the character being boring.
With that said, I have to give David credit for a better set-up. I remember in his first draft, we met Bryant and Teryn with this boring scene of Bryant standing around a house with his grandfather. Guys, you never want to introduce a character standing around talking about something trivial. It’s as uninteresting a way to introduce a character as there is.
So here, instead, we start on Teryn stealing money from the lockers at the local country club. How much better of an opening is that? You have a character performing an ACTION, which tells us so much more about him. And even beyond that, it’s INTERESTING. Sneaking into a locker room and cutting open lockers to steal is more fun to watch than people standing around in a house talking.
Also, despite the characters being too similar for my taste, David’s done a better job exploring them. I can tell he’s thought more about where the mountain brothers come from and what’s going on in both Bryant and Teryn’s lives. Any details you can add to your characters is a good thing. The more we know about them, the more we can relate or empathize with them, and the more we ultimately give a shit about what happens to them.
David obviously knows how to keep this story moving. I think that’s one of this script’s biggest strengths. But if you want to play in the big boy pool, it’s not just about structure. You gotta get the character stuff right. I don’t see enough variety in these characters. Though they’re improved from the last draft, they still don’t go through enough emotionally to move me. That journey has to be just as important as the plot journey.
Script link: Bush Baby Summer
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: If I read an opening where people are standing around talking and that talking isn’t laced with a HEAVY amount of conflict or tension (The Social Network, Fargo), I know the script is fucked right there. There’s no reason for me to keep reading. Opening on people talking is just boring. Open on an action, on your character doing something. Use the action to tell us something about them. 99 times out of 100 you will write a better scene. And that approach is recommended throughout the entire screenplay. Choose a character performing an action over a character droning on talking to someone any day of the week.