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Premise (from writer): A documentary producer’s search for the cause of her father’s suicide leads her to a remote mountain weather station. A horrifying truth is revealed when she and her team are stranded by natural , and supernatural forces seeking revenge. Based on True Events.
Why You Should Read: As an adventure documentary filmmaker, rI’ve been in numerous places where I found myself saying – “This would be a great setting for a film”. A few years back I did a film on Mount Washington. More people have died there than on Everest. Having spent 3 nights up there in the desolate Weather Observatory, trapped by the elements, I can assure you that the place is a cosmic focal point of bad karma. “The Peak of Fear” is based on a true story which makes it even more terrifying. It’s full of “dramatic irony”, “flawed characters”, “mystery boxes” and “realistic dialogue”. Think “The Ring” meets “Cliffhanger” with a dash of “Mama”.
Writer: Kevin Bachar
Details: 99 pages
So yesterday we were talking about MOVIES. Have you written yourself a script? Or have you written a script that could be turned into a movie? Today’s script is definitely a movie. And most horror scripts are. The visceral thrill of fear, of being scared, is a charge that makes it worth paying your hard-earned dollars for. IF you do it right, that is.
In 1987, the adventurous Pomeroy family decides to climb the dangerous Mount Washington, a mountain in New Hampshire that has the distinction of killing more of its climbers than Everest. The family, which includes a nine year old boy named Billy, gets stuck, requiring the mountain’s rescue team, headed up by superstar rescuer Chris Tanner, to save them. Sadly, they save everyone but Billy.
Cut to present day, where the daughter of Chris Tanner, Suzanne, is heading to the mountain to get footage for her Discovery channel reality show. Basically, the mountain is known for having insane winds, and she hopes the thrill of seeing those winds in action will boost her ratings.
Before she goes, however, her father starts babbling nonsensically about “Billy” and then kills himself. It’s a mighty blow to Suzanne, who loved her father, but now her journey has even more purpose, as she can use it to find out what happened that fateful day, the day that Billy died.
She takes her trusty cameraman Tom with her, and they meet up with Chris’s old rescue team, Rick and Phil, as well as the new guy, Toby. We immediately get the sense that something’s off with Phil, who may or may not still talk to “Billy.”
Once up on the mountain, the group starts hearing… sounds. A little boy giggling. A little boy saying things like “remember what happened that day.” Not the kind of stuff you like to hear, well, at all. But is it just the high altitude playing games with them? I mean, Billy’s ghost can’t really still be on the mountain, can it? And if it is, what does it want? Suzanne will have to find out, and learn the truth about what her father did that fateful day, the day that Billy died.
I want to talk about two things today. Momentum and relationships. We talk about momentum in passing a lot. But it’s such an important part of storytelling, I want to give it more attention in this review.
Momentum is the feeling that your story is being PUSHED along. Not pulled. It’s not strolling. Or crawling. Or waltzing or limping. We must get this feeling that we’re being PUSHED along, a hurricane of motion. Your story should have so much momentum that even as the writer, you couldn’t stop it if you wanted to.
Momentum typically has to do with a couple of things. A strong goal and intensely high stakes. Your main character must always need something, preferably quickly, and we must feel like if they don’t get it, everything is going to fall apart, either externally or internally for the character (preferably both).
In Gone Girl, for example, Nick NEEDS to find out where Amy is. Not only does his freedom depend on it, but the entire country is getting angrier and angrier with him. He’s becoming more and more hated. Finding Amy is the only thing that matters in this moment. That movie has some really strong momentum.
I didn’t get that sense with The Peak of Fear. The reason to go to this mountain – a reality show – felt weak. But I also sensed that Kevin (today’s writer) thought it was weak, because he almost hid the reason we were up here. We hear off-handed conversations about how it’s important to get the ratings up for the show or else Suzanne will lose her job.
Just saying something doesn’t make it true. We have to EXPERIENCE IT. It’s the old “show don’t tell” rule. We must SEE Suzanne’s life at the channel and feel the weight of her show failing. It’d be like in Gone Girl if there was no media, no investigation, and we met Nick in the midst of his everyday life casually telling someone that his wife had disappeared and he’d like to find her. There’d be no WEIGHT to his situation.
Even still, I’m not sure the show angle works. We need an entirely different reason to be up on the mountain. Why not have Suzanne follow in her father’s footsteps? She becomes one of the rescuers? This is her first week on the job, and it just so happens to be during the worst weather in a decade. They get a mysterious call about a family who’s stuck and must go save them. I don’t know, that sounds more natural to me.
The next problem here is relationships. Your plot should have momentum. Your relationships should have MEANING. There’s gotta be a unique problem inherent in each relationship. You do this so that outside the plot, the reader still has a reason to stick around. They want to figure out what happens in that relationship!
I don’t mean to keep referencing Gone Girl because it’s a different kind of movie, but one of the more interesting relationships in the film is that between Nick and the detective on the case. She goes back and forth on believing Nick, leading to a lot of great subtext in their dialogue and just an overall complicated relationship we want to see the conclusion to. Especially (spoiler) once we find out that Amy’s alive. We can’t wait for that cop to choke down her assumption that Nick is guilty.
There wasn’t a single distinctive relationship here. But worse, there wasn’t even an ATTEMPT to create a distinctive relationship. Why not hone in, for example, on one of the rescuers not wanting Suzanne to be here? There’s an icy distance between the two during this story. Something Suzanne needs to crack.
Or heck, why not introduce a romantic storyline into the mix? One of my favorite characters was Steve, a local in the town that sat at the foot of the mountain. There was clearly some chemistry between him and Suzanne, but then we leave him and don’t see him again until the script is almost over.
Get Steve up there on the mountain with Suzanne! Make him a bit of a mystery box to give the relationship some extra pop. Steve is hiding something too, which fits in well with the theme of this journey, that this mountain has a lot of secrets.
All of this is not to say that The Peak of Fear is bad. It has its moments, my favorite of which was the Billy mannequin stuff. That freaked the hell out of me. Granted, as a child, one of my friends convinced me that all mannequins were from hell and were out to get me, but regardless, Billy the Mannequin was scary as shit.
But yeah, the script needs to improve on those two key fronts – momentum and relationships – if it’s going to make any noise. Kevin seems like a great guy. He’s eager to get feedback for “Peak” and make it better, so do what you do best, guys. Help him out!
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Don’t just recite action. Create EXCITEMENT in your action. This line stuck with me: “He loses a grip on the camera which smashes into pieces on the desert floor.” That’s a really boring way to say a camera is destroyed. It should be something more like: “He shifts his body, and in doing so LOSES A GRIP on his camera. He grabs at it, JUGGLES, almost gets a hold of it. But it SLIPS out of his hands. He watches it float towards the desert floor. CRASH. It shatters to pieces.” I might pare that down with a rewrite or two but you get the idea.