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Premise (from writer): After learning his estranged brother is a spy, a disgraced FBI cadet becomes a fugitive to stop his sibling from detonating an experimental nuke in New York City.
Why You Should Read (from writer): In 2011, I met Shane Black. We were both waiting at a crosswalk after a lecture he gave. I dared to ask him a question:”What’s your biggest fear when you open up a script?” He thoughtfully replied: “Interchangeable action scenes that don’t affect the story or characters. I see it all the time and it saddens me. Set pieces must have consequences or what’s the fucking point.” The light changed. Shane was gone. I never forgot his words while I wrote this beast of a script. Thanks, Shane. — And thank you to all the Scriptshadow readers from last week’s Amateur Offerings. I wasn’t a regular around here, but you gave me great feedback and always treated me with respect. I’m very grateful for that. Readers here deserve a lot more back and forth from AF winners. If picked for Amateur Friday, I 100% guarantee that I’ll be here for comments. No excuses. It’s the least I can do for a community I’ve benefited so much from. I can’t wait to learn what you think of the small but key revisions I was able to make to the opening pages this week!
Details: 124 pages
I gotta give Thy props for asking Shane Black a question in the middle of the street. Most writers would not have had the guts to do that. Props to Shane for, on the spot, coming back with a great answer too! The real question, of course, is did Thy execute the advice? Let’s find out.
Wyatt Crane is trying to make it as an FBI agent but fails the big field test and is sent packing. Bummed out, he heads to the bar, only to get a call from his estranged brother, Nathan, who asks Wyatt to hop on a plane and come meet him in New York. The two clearly have a strained relationship and Wyatt isn’t too sure, but what else does he have to do? It’s not like he has to show up to work tomorrow.
Once in New York, Wyatt is grabbed by TSA and questioned about his bro. It turns out Nathan’s working for the CIA, or some other clandestine agency, and is involved in a nasty plot to hurt a lot of people. Wyatt tells them the truth, that he got a call from a brother and that’s all he knows, but they’re not buying it.
Eventually, a mysterious alcoholic named Ridley rescues him, and Wyatt trusts him for awhile. But it turns out Ridley’s not who he seems. He’s working for this crazy Ukranian chick named Dietrich who’s trying to buy up the newest fad in terrorism – clean nukes – to blow up… well, something. We don’t know yet. And who is she getting these nukes from? You guessed it. WYATT’S BROTHER NATHAN!
Meanwhile, Wyatt runs into someone else who’s looking for his brother, Karen. Karen wants to find out what Nathan had to do with her father’s death, as he gave clearance to a plane he piloted that was attacked by terrorists. In order to get Karen to stick around, Wyatt pretends he’s someone else entirely. And the two race to stop Dietrich – or is it Nathan! – from destroying the world.
Thy Enemy has two things going for it. It reads quickly and it’s fun. Extremely important for an action spec. It had some fun characters too. I thought Dietrich and Mila were a hilarious duo. The running joke of Mila wanting American hot dogs had me laughing. But something big was holding this script back here, and we have to get into it. Thy, I love you, but I also want you to become the best writer you can possibly be. So I hope you take this as constructive criticism and not an attack. Let’s get into it!
The big thing holding Thy Enemy back?
Instead of reading like a script where the writer intimately knew how the FBI worked, or the CIA worked, or how physics worked. It read like fan-fiction.
It’s kind of like the difference between how James Cameron treats special effects and Uwe Boll treats special effects. James Cameron goes in there and learns how all the things he’s going to write about work, even down to the plants in the jungle. Uwe Boll figures people don’t care about that stuff, and only passively pays attention to those details.
The difference in the resulting films, however, is striking. There’s an authenticity to Cameron’s worlds. Whereas you always feel like Uwe Boll is cutting corners. And that’s how Thy Enemy felt to me. There were a lot of fun sequences, but too many of them felt cartoon-like and unrealistic. And therefore it was hard for me to engage in and believe in the story.
I’ve talked about this before but writers always think they can take the shortcut and “fool” the reader. If you’re going to write about the FBI, you need to learn how the FBI works. If the CIA is going to be a central component to your story, you need to learn how the CIA works. Having only a cursory understanding of these bureaus based upon other movies and TV shows you’ve seen isn’t enough.
I try to explain it this way. Take your job that you have now. Do you think that a writer who’s never done your job before would be able to write as convincingly about it as you could? Of course not. They wouldn’t even come close. Because you know all the little details that make that job REAL. The only way to even the playing field, then, is research.
If you looked into the Sony e-mail leaks, you might’ve seen an exchange between Amy Pascal, head of Sony, and Aaron Sorkin, the writer of The Social Network. Pascal was trying to get Sorkin to write Flash Boys, based on the book about computer trading. Sorkin denied the request specifically because he knew how much insane research he would have to do to get the story right.
This is what the big million-dollar-an-assignment writers do. This is what separates them from amateur writers. They know that if they commit to something, they’re going to have to do the work. Just being an appreciator of film isn’t enough. Throwing big scientific words out without any real context isn’t enough. You have to give us details that the average person doesn’t know. Not details that the average person just saw in Captain America: Winter Soldier.
It comes down to suspension of disbelief. If all the action set pieces feel cartoonish, born solely inside the writer’s imagination, there’s no way I can believe in the story. I need to feel that authenticity, those real world details that make me think that I’m seeing something that’s really happening.
Unfortunately, the story itself was in line with this approach. It felt too simplistic and too cliché. Things happened because they needed to happen to fit the action-thriller paradigm, not because they’d happen in real life. Take Karen, for example. Why is she in this story other than the need for a female lead? I didn’t see why Wyatt needed her at all. She had way less information on where his brother was than he did. Yet he tries to keep her around. Also, her reason for finding Nathan amounted to a curiosity – why did you exchange some paperwork to put my dad on a plane that was attacked? I’m not sure I’m willing to get shot at and risk my life to find the answer to that question. You need to be more convincing on why these characters are involved in the story.
The script is also 125 pages when it shouldn’t have been a page over 110. The section where Wyatt first gets to New York and looks for his brother takes FOREVER before it gets to the next story beat. We just keep talking to people and asking people where he is. At one point, Wyatt calls his parents asking for Nathan. They say they don’t know where he is. Then he goes looking again. Then, a couple of pages later, he calls them and asks them again! It just seemed like there wasn’t enough thought put into it.
Finally, I didn’t understand the significance of the big weapon of the story – the clean nuke. From what I understood, clean nukes leave no radiation. Doesn’t that make them LESS scary? Less effective? Lingering radiation is what kills all the people who weren’t killed in the blast. To eliminate that seemed to make the weapon less dangerous. Therefore, I was never that wowed by the attention the clean nuke was getting.
What Thy has here is a desire to write a kick-ass fun action movie. And I admire that. The problem is, writing a fun movie is often never fun. I hate to be the one to say it. But it almost always takes a level of deep commitment to do the work – as far as research, as far as character development, as far as everything making sense – to create a fun finished product. That commitment wasn’t made here, which is why Thy Enemy didn’t resonate with me. I wish Thy the best though. I hope he benefits from these notes and from any other notes he receives in the comments. Good luck, man.
Screenplay link: Thy Enemy
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: When writers come to me with a movie idea centered around the FBI or CIA, I tell them, don’t you dare write a word until you’ve read three books on the FBI (or CIA). I can tell within one scene whether a writer truly understands how the FBI works or if they’ve just watched a lot of movies before. And the second I determine they don’t really know that world, I give up on the script. Right there. Which may sound harsh but I’ve read enough scripts where I know the entire rest of the story is going to feel fake.