Premise: (from writer) The host of a popular skeptic/debunking radio show works alongside a reluctant psychic in a last ditch attempt to find his missing daughter.
Why You Should Read: I was ecstatic when I found out an earlier draft of this script placed top 10 in the 2017 Launch Pad Feature Competition. From there, the contest organizer sent the script to a producer looking for material and after the producer read it, he sent it to a manager he knew. The manager got back to him within 24 hours to say he loved the story as well and wanted to meet me. Momentum, momentum, momentum! I owe that manager and producer a ton of credit, because together we shaped the story into a project we felt the industry would consider. — My manager had a plan to keep the reads exclusive, targeting select production companies, so why am I making the script public, submitting to AOW in hopes of getting a review? After the screenplay was sent up to the owner of a fairly well known production company and interest expressed, my manager vanished. This was in late July and to this day I have no idea what happened, I hope it wasn’t something catastrophic. In the meantime, it’s back to square one for me and I’m proceeding as though I’m unrepresented. I’d love to know what the Scriptshadow community thinks of the story – and more importantly – if they’d pay to see the actual film. Also, I can’t lie… having struck out in two previous AF attempts, the competitor in me seeks to earn that elusive “worth a read” my first ever submission – The Telemarketer – failed to produce.
Writer: Jai Brandon
Details: 119 pages
We have a variety of formulas that result in success in the movie business. Superheroes. Underdogs. Biopics. Monster-in-a-box. In the novel world, there’s one. MISSING GIRL! Hell, even if all you do is include the word “girl” in your title, you’ll sell 10,000 copies. And, for the most part, when this formula is transferred into the movie world, it works as well.
Gone Girl. The Girl on the Train. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
It makes perfect sense when you think about it. We are hard-wired to worry about helpless people placed in dangerous situations. And after we hear about one of these scenarios, we don’t feel at peace until we find out that the missing girl is okay. Even if it’s just a made up story!
There is a significant trick involved in getting these stories right, though. And I’m going to share that with you…. after the synopsis.
40-something Chace Clay is popular radio host at a local news station. But while he’s got his professional career on point, his personal life is a mess. He’s got an ex-wife, Lori, he’s always bickering with. He’s got a current girlfriend, Reesa, who’s a tinder box ready to explode. Luckily he has his beautiful little girl, Emily, to add some balance to his existence.
However, that balance is rocked when Chace’s babysitter loses Emily. Chace races home and soon cops are swarming the premises, trying to figure out how a young girl can just disappear. When they can’t find her, the community sets up a search in the local woods, and it’s there where Chase meets the mysterious Amari, a local African-American janitor with a psychic gift. Now’s the time I should tell you that Chace hates psychics. In fact, he lost his entire childhood with his brother when a psychic convinced their family that his missing brother was dead. 15 years later, the adult brother showed up at their door. It turns out a local creep had kept him locked in his basement for a decade. So, yeah. It’s safe to say that Chace doesn’t trust this guy.
However, it’s not like Chase has any leads. All the people closest to him passed their polygraph test. So he needs to think outside the box. Amari joins Chace, who suspects another psychic may be involved that he recently humiliated on his show. Chace thinks she may want revenge. The lead does bring them to the woman’s adult daughter, who claims she saw Emily earlier in the day.
This sends Chace and Amari on a deep dive into everyone Chace knows. But when the investigation turns around and points the finger at his current girlfriend, Reesa, everything gets thrown out the window. At a certain point he realizes he’s too close to judge anything objectively, which means he’ll have to lean on the one person he trusts the least, Amari.
We’re going to start at the beginning here. And I send this advice out with love, of course. I know how hard Jai works and I know how long he’s been at this. A title page in a unique font tends to be a red flag. NOT ALWAYS. But seasoned Hollywood readers will treat it as such. Also, 120 pages tends to be a red flag. NOT ALWAYS. But seasoned Hollywood readers will treat it as such. Especially when you’re writing in a genre where it’s easy to keep the page count down. This isn’t Legends of the Fall. It’s a mystery thiller. So right away, you’re raising two red flags. And I’m fine if a writer says, “You know what? I don’t care. I’m going to stand by that.” I just like to remind writers that in a profession where you don’t want to tweak the person determining your fate in any way, it’s best to control the variables that you can control.
Onto the story.
Whispers from the Watchtower is a mostly competent mystery-thriller. Both Chace and the daughter are set up well, which is the most important thing to get right, since that’s the emotional through-line of the movie. As long as we want to see Chace save his daughter, the plot is going to work.
I also like how the only way Chace can accomplish his goal is to team up with someone whose profession he fundamentally rejects. We’ve got that built in conflict there, which ensures that there’s going to be tension whenever these two are together. That’s important guys. If you don’t add story components that add tension to scenes, you’re going to have a lot of flat scenes. This is why teaming up two people who dislike each other is such a popular movie trope.
As for the plot, I found it to be above average. The challenge with these missing girl plots is that they’re so common. So the audience is way ahead of you unless you’re throwing something out there they’ve never seen before. And that’s my first beef with “Whispers.” The “strange attractor” to the story – the thing that’s supposed to make it different – is the psychic angle. However, the psychic stuff didn’t play into the story that much. By the end I was convinced Chace would’ve found his daughter without Amari, which left me wondering what the point was of adding a psychic to begin with.
That leads to the “significant trick” I promised you before the synopsis. In order to make any common movie scenario work, you need to add something fresh. The common scenario here is a missing girl. So what are you adding to that that’s new? With Gone Girl, they used an unreliable narrator that resulted in a huge twist. With Prisoners, they focused on false imprisonment and torture of the person our hero THOUGHT was the kidnapper. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was insanely original with its unique setting, weird titular character, and Nazi connections. Even The Girl on the Train (great book, bad movie) did a deep dive on alcoholism and how it turned its hero into a narrator even she couldn’t trust.
Whispers From the Watchtower adds this in the form of the psychic element, which I was excited about. But it doesn’t deliver on the promise of that premise. Amari’s skill set kicked in when it was necessary for the plot, and was pushed aside when it wasn’t. I don’t know how to describe it. I guess I felt that Jai never committed to Amari’s “power.” Amari could have easily been a really good detective and I’m certain these two would’ve solved the case in the same amount of time.
The script also has some clarity problems up top. Chace’s personal life was unnecessarily complicated. In an early scene, he charges into a motel room where he’s yelling at, I think, a pimp, who’s got this, I think, hooker with him, Reesa. I didn’t know who Reesa was at the moment. But later on she shows up to take care of Emily and I’m thinking, “What the hell is going on here? He’s letting hooker girl take care of his daughter?” Then later, we learn they’re sort of together, but going through a rocky period. Or something?
Then we learn there’s another woman in the movie, Lori, who’s either his wife or ex-wife depending on which part of the script you’re reading. At one point Chace promises Reesa that he’s going to get divorced from Lori (which would make Lori still the wife). However, later, when Reesa is brought to the hospital, the doctors are referring to her as Chace’s wife.
I went back to the earlier scene when Chace tells Reesa he’s getting a divorce and I thought, “Oh, maybe he’s telling Reesa he’s going to divorce HER.” But to be honest, I’m still not sure. The thing is, this is the kind of stuff in a script that a reader should never have to think about. This is the “given” stuff. If I’m easily confused about relationships or who characters are to one another, the script is in major trouble. Professional writers don’t make these mistakes.
I think Jai could add some simplicity to his writing, particularly in the first act, where a lot of information is coming at the reader and it’s therefore easy to get confused. And I’d ask if he could go deeper with the psychic stuff. That’s your strange-attractor so if you’re only half-committed to it, I don’t think it’s going to fly. Still, this genre is a tough sell. I don’t want to send Jai down another lengthy rewrite when I know they don’t make these movies anymore unless they’re high profile novel IP. A sale can happen if the execution is amazing. But even the professionals have trouble with “amazing.” So I don’t know. I don’t want to see a writer pushing something with issues instead of working on something new and exciting with the additional knowledge they’ve taken from this experience.
Script link: Whispers from the Watchtower
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: This might seem like a silly thing to highlight. But I liked that when someone on the television spoke, Jai simply put (TV) next to their name. I’m so used to “proper” screenwriting techniques, such as the debate of whether to put “V.O.” or “O.S.” in situations like these, that I didn’t realize a WAY clearer option is to simply put (TV) there.
NEWS ANCHOR (TV)
…Earlier today an Amber Report went out…