Genre: Psychological Horror/Thriller
Premise (from writer): When ancient relics wash ashore in the south pacific, a team of scientists set sail to investigate. The closer they draw to their origin, the further they flail from reality. (A Modern day take on The Call of Cthulhu. The Shining on a boat).
About: Craig Mack first hit the airwaves here on Scriptshadow, when he submitted The Devil’s Hammer for Amateur Offerings. I really liked the script, and others took notice, allowing Craig to land a couple of assignments, one of which was a sequel to the hit indie horror film, “Contracted.” Craig has always valued the feedback of this community, so I’m sure he’s eager to hear what everyone, including myself, has to say today. Let’s check out his latest.
Writer: Craig Mack
Details: 99 pages
So last week’s Amateur Offerings got a little testy. Craig tried to come in under the radar, submitting his script anonymously. But I think some people are upset that someone who has a couple of produced credits is competing in Amateur Offerings.
I have mixed feelings about this. Everyone assumes that the second you get something made, you’re inside the golden palm trees and never have to worry about struggling again. The reality is, even if you get in, unless you write a major studio release, you’re basically an advanced amateur, or a fringe professional. You still struggle to get people to pay attention to you. You’re still writing specs, desperately hoping someone will like them enough to hire you. As Craig points out, he’s not in the WGA, nor does he have an agent. And plus he’s a longtime Scriptshadow reader and contributor, so heck, why not give his latest a shot.
Professor Joseph Wexler is just getting back into teaching after a horrible tragedy when a visit from Alexandra Young, an oceanographer, throws everything off-axis. Wexler and Alex clearly have a history together, but how deep that history goes is something we won’t find out until later.
Alex is here because a recent earthquake in the South Pacific seems to have triggered a bunch of ancient relics washing up on nearby islands. Strangely, local island tribes are entranced by these relics, chanting to them in strange languages and drifting in and out of consciousness while doing so.
Alex convinces Wexler to join her and her crew to sail off into the ocean and see if they can locate the source of this phenomenon. Wexler and his plucky t.a., Steve, join the club, only for Wexler to immediately start experiencing intense daydreams.
In these dreams, we learn about the tragedy that’s shaped Wexler. While on a ship, his wife, Lily, and son, Carter, got up and walked off the side of the boat, never to be seen again. Eventually, we learn that the reason Wexler’s relationship with Alex is so complicated is that he was banging her when this happened. And oh yeah, Alex is Lily’s sister! You’re not a true mister until you’ve had the sister.
So it shouldn’t be surprising that Wexler is on a full cocktail of drugs. But that’s making his scientific analysis skills spotty at best. And as they get closer to ground zero, Wexler goes crazier and crazier, mistaking everyone and their mom for his dead wife and son.
Will he be able to pull it together in time to solve the relic riddle? Methinks Iron Man has a better chance of convincing Captain America to hand over control of the Avengers to the United Nations.
So Craig is going to kill me because he sent me an updated draft of this – I’m sure one where he addressed all of your concerns. But I’m a man of routine. When it’s time to read the amateur Friday script, I go to the Amateur Offerings page and download the winning script there. So Craig, I apologize.
A quick glance through the comments section seems to reinforce the big issue I had here – the dream sequences. Holy Moses were there a lot of them. It felt like every five pages, Wexler or someone else was having a dream, usually about how Lily was dead and so was Carter.
I’ve said this before but I hate dream sequences. So a script that’s built around them isn’t going to fare well on my judging scale. But even if that weren’t the case, there were way too many. Anything you do too much of in writing loses its impact with each successive iteration.
Put a magician in front of a group of kids at the beginning of a birthday party, and they’re on edge with every trick that magician does. Bring that magician back an hour later for a second round, half the kids are bored. Try to pull the magician card a third time – those kids won’t even pretend to be interested. They’ll just get up and walk away.
I was also trying to determine if these dream sequences were necessary. As long as something is pushing the story forward, the writer can make the argument that it’s necessary. And Eternal Lies pushes the argument that these relics are causing people to lose their minds. So the sequences have a little more going for them than simply, “I’m going to write a fucked up dream sequence cause I don’t have any other ideas at the moment,” which are scenes I’ve read a lot of.
Still, every time the sequences came around and Lily would give us yet another version of, “He’s waiting for us,” I felt like I’d washed up on Deja Vu Island. This was compared by Craig to The Shining in his logline. But I’m thinking Groundhog Day might be more accurate.
The bigger problem here, though, is the lack of originality in the story. Do you know how many scripts I’ve read in the last month that involved a main character who wasn’t sure if they were going insane or not? Nine. That’s no exaggeration. NINE.
And this goes back to something I said the other day. One of the ways you beat out your competition as a writer is being diligent in your script reading and movie watching so you know what else is out there – you know what everyone else is writing. That way, you can make sure you’re not writing the same thing.
The “am I going insane or not” main character trope is one that’s been used for half a century. So you either want to avoid it altogether or bring something new to it. And I’m not sure this does. In fact, if you read my last newsletter, you read my review of one of the highest profile spec sales of the year, Max Landis’s Deeper.
What is Max Landis’s Deeper about? About a man who’s going to the bottom of the ocean while he slowly goes insane. What’s the final act of Eternal Lies about? About a man and a woman who head towards the bottom of the ocean while they slowly go insane.
I’m trying to think back to The Shining, which I haven’t seen in a decade, but which I liked quite a bit. And I’m trying to remember how many dream sequences they had in that movie. Cause they didn’t bother me. The question then becomes, is that because dream sequences just work better onscreen? Or is it because Kubrick’s story was simply better? I don’t know. Someone else can answer that in the comments section.
What sucks for screenwriters is they never know what’s going to turn a specific reader off. I don’t like dream sequences. So any script that has them enters a mental wrestling match with me that they lose 99% of the time. For another reader, it may be main characters who are alcoholics, or comedies where the characters don’t take anything seriously. You don’t know. Which is why you should never let one opinion sway you. Always try and get multiple opinions on your script.
My opinion on Eternal Lies is that it ignores exploring what could be an interesting story in favor of a wild trippy pseudo-psychological mindfuck. If that’s your jam though, you might end up digging this.
Script link (new draft): Eternal Lies
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Avoid patterns in your script. The more established a pattern becomes, the easier it is for the reader to predict what comes next. That’s what hurt Eternal Lies for me. We established this pattern of: Wexler is fine, Wexler dreams of his wife and kid, Wexler is fine, Wexler dreams of his wife and kid. This must’ve happened between 8-10 times. Once we know what’s coming next, we’re bored. It’s your job as the writer to BREAK THE PATTERN so we keep guessing.