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Genre: Buddy cop/Action
Premise (from writer): A maimed EOD Technician turned L.A.P.D. detective must work with a troubled young cop in order to bring down a team of cyber terrorists masquerading as Pharmacy thieves.
Why You Should Read (from writers): Do you wish TRUE DETECTIVE was still airing on HBO? Do you fondly remember the end of the 80′s and the little gem that was Lethal Weapon? Do you crave the perfect blend of action, plot, characters, and jokes? Of course you do!
“Down to the Wire” is a 21st century take on the genre, set to revive your hopes and trigger your nostalgia. This script has been polished with a particular focus on lean, realistic dialogue. The pacing is brisk, the jokes land, and the characters are fleshed out. One of the authors recently placed in the top 15 of the Sheldon Turner Writers Store Contest. Thanks for your consideration!
Writers: Byron Burton & Chris Mulligan Murray
Details: 113 pages
I want to talk a little bit about loglines before we get started. Loglines are tricky. First of all, a logline’s quality is limited to the story it’s summarizing. If your concept isn’t compelling enough, nothing you do with the logline will work.
With that said, not every story is “logline friendly.” There are some concepts that are perfect for the logline universe, like Liar Liar. And there are others that aren’t, like Dallas Buyers Club. Sometimes, the concept is so un-logline-friendly that your only shot at creating an interesting logline is to highlight the most unique aspects of your story and slap a summary around them.
The thing is, you want to avoid that if at all possible. One of the biggest contributors to logline confusion is irrelevant details, which is kind of what I’m seeing here. A “maimed EOD Technician” for example. How does that connect to two cops “bringing down a team of cyber terrorists masquerading as pharmacy thieves?” Whether he’s a maimed bomb technician or not doesn’t seem to matter in this particular case.
Now if you said a “maimed EOD Technician turned cop” had to take down “a group of local terrorists using car bombs to wreak terror,” there’d be a connection. Or if you said an “old school cop who shuns technology” had to take down a group of “cyber terrorists,” there’d be a connection. Or if you said an “ex-junkie pharmaceutical rep turned cop” had to take down “a group of cyber-terrorists masquerading as pharmacy thieves,” there’d be a connection.
But I don’t see how being in Afghanistan as an EOD tech has any connection to a case about pharmaceuticals. So something feels off about the setup. I’m not saying it can’t work. Maybe this just needs more room to explain. But it did make me worried. Let’s see if I’m getting all bent out of shape over nothing.
“Down to the Wire” follows Travis Boots, a former bomb tech in Afghanistan. Think Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker. After a bomb kills a local girl and six other soldiers, Boots is sent back home with a prosthetic foot and the knowledge that he has a brain aneurysm that could burst at any moment. I guess that makes Boots a walking time bomb.
Strangely enough, this gives Boots a carefree attitude that he takes all the way to the local police force. It’s there where he teams up with Joe Durmont, an alcoholic cop with very little initiative. Boots instills a brash unorthodox approach to their crime-fighting ways and pretty soon, they’re getting into all sorts of trouble.
Eventually, they make their way onto the hot case in the city. A team of thieves have been hitting pharmacies all over town, stealing thousands of dollars worth of pills. A charged up Boots believes that a recent overdose at the hospital is tied to the case and pursues the potential suspect.
But just when they have him in their grasp, he’s shot and killed by a sniper from afar, letting the two know that this case goes deeper than they suspected. They eventually catch up with the crew responsible and learn that the pills are a front – that the real crime is the customer database at all these pharmacies. But by that time, it’s too late. The baddies have caught Boots and Joe with plans of killing them. Will the duo make it out alive? Or will they be taking the world’s strongest sleeping pill?
I can see why “Wire” was picked. A lot of you read the first scene to see if the writer has chops and this has a very strong first scene. We’re in a war zone. There’s a bomb ticking away. There’s a little girl in the middle of it. A huge decision needs to be made: kill the girl or keep trying to defuse the bomb. It’s an intense harrowing opening. Kudos to Byron and Chris for writing it!
The thing is, after that scene, my fears were realized. I couldn’t figure out why it was so important for our main character to have previously been a bomb technician in Afghanistan. What did it have to do with any part of the story? He ended up with a prosthetic foot, but that didn’t come into play at all. He had a brain aneurysm, but that didn’t seem to come from the bomb incident. So why was he a bomb tech? Why was he a soldier at all?
If your main character has an extensive backstory, it has to play into the story somehow. For example, if I wrote Gravity, I wouldn’t give Sandra Bullock a long botany backstory. I suppose there’s some interesting juxtaposition between gardening and space shuttle repair, but because it doesn’t play into the story (in either a direct or ironic way), I wouldn’t use it. And that’s how I felt here.
I was also hoping for a lot more from the pharmaceutical storyline. My big worry going in was that stealing pills was going to be too small. There’s something almost impotent about it. I mean, when the bad guys rob a bank in a movie, they’re stealing everybody else’s hard-earned money. That’s why we get so mad. When these guys steal pills, all I thought was, “Well, they’ll just send more pills.” The pharmaceutical companies are billion dollar businesses. Who cares if they lose 10 grand worth of Adderall?
I wanted the pills to lead to something bigger early on, which would lead to something bigger, and eventually bigger. Instead, we find out at the end that the pills were a front for stealing personal information. Again, that’s a really tiny reveal. From my understanding, the thieves hit 6 pharmacies. Let’s say in each of those pharmacy computers there were 5000 names. So these people now have the personal information of 30,000 people. That doesn’t scare me at night. That sounds like the kind of thing that would be straightened out in a few days. Plus, I don’t know who these people are, so why should I care about them?
Basically, this comes down to a lack of stakes. They aren’t big enough. Not only did the pharmaceutical robberies feel low-priority for a typical Los Angeles police department, but I wasn’t sure what Boots and Joe got out of solving the case. Joe had just gotten a promotion. So it’s not like this was going to get him anything more. And Boots didn’t seem to have anything he wanted. He was just doing this because. I think in real life, that makes sense. You do something because it’s your job. But in the movie-world, audiences want to know why this case is so important to you because it’s the case they’re spending 2 hours of their life watching.
I like that Byron and Chris tried to do something with their characters. Boots could die at any moment, so he was a little unorthodox and crazy. And Joe was an alcoholic with a dementia-ridden mother (though I found it strange that his mom was 55 years older than him). The thing is, I felt like we could’ve done more. If Byron really could die at any second, then you have to go crazy with him. You have to have unbridled no-holds-barred fun with him. As of now, he’s operating at 70%. And we’ve seen the alcoholism and dementia-mother thing before. I read that stuff all the time in screenplays. You have to find something unique to each character. You can’t just copy and paste stuff from other characters you’ve seen and expect it to work.
If I were Byron and Chris, I’d think BIGGER. BIGGER BIGGER BIGGER. This is the MOVIES! When you’re thinking about the problem that would challenge your protagonist cops, you want it to be the kind of problem that would be on the FRONT PAGE of the newspaper for a week straight. I see pharmacy robberies being buried somewhere on page 5 or 6. Now if the pharmacy robberies escalated quickly and the bad guys’ plan kept getting bigger and bigger every 20 pages, that’s a different story. I’d love to see that. But that didn’t happen here.
I know Byron is a hard working writer who’s really in to getting better. So help him out. Read “Wire,” and give him some constructive criticism. I’m sure you guys can think of some ways to beef up the story. Good luck to Byron and Chris and thanks for letting me read your script!
Screenplay link: Down To The Wire
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
Number of times I checked the internet: 14
What I learned: Plot ingenuity. When you’re talking about an age-old genre, plot ingenuity becomes key. You’re already dealing with a generic setup (two cops forced together on a case), so a generic execution is a death sentence for your screenplay. That was one of the problems here. The execution was by-the-numbers. There weren’t any surprises until the very end. You have to take some chances and play around with the plot in these scenarios or else your script is going to look like every other cookie-cutter buddy cop procedural (or whatever genre it is you’re writing). Twists, turns, escalations, reversals, surprises, unique scenarios, imagination. Do more with the plot!