Premise: A man wakes up in a coffin with no idea how he got there.
About: Ryan Reynolds just signed onto this last week. Spanish director Rodrigo Cortes will take the reigns for Chris Sparling’s script. Spain-based Versus Entertainment will finance the film.
Writer: Chris Sparling
I loooooooooved this script. I loved it for so many reasons I can’t count them. First of all, I am always on the lookout for a smart cheap movie idea, something that can be shot with minimal hands, minimal equipment, and minimal funds. You know, a way for you to actually *make* a movie without having to go through that sludge-pit known as the Hollywood “system.” I tell anyone who will listen: If you can shoot the movie yourself, do it, because you’ll achieve what 98% of screenwriters never will – having a finished film. But don’t be fooled into thinking this is easy. I don’t care who says anybody can make a film with a camera and a Mac. If you want your movie to look professional, you’re going to need somebody who knows how to light, somebody who knows how to shoot, somebody who knows how to dress a set. You’re still going to need things that cost money. Therefore, you’re extremely limited in the scope of your film. It’s why a lot of low-budget films take place in one location. Keeps things cheap.
So when I heard of a script where the whole thing took place in a coffin?? I flipped. Like flipped out in anger. Why didn’t I think of that?? The cheapest movie set EV-ER. But wait. How do you write an entire story that takes place in a coffin? Let’s ask Chris Sparling.
Paul, an American truck driver in Iraq, has just woken up in a coffin. It’s burning up. Hot as balls. Lack of oxygen makes it hard to breathe. And let’s not forget the coffin, which only allows him a few inches of room in every direction. I will offer this warning right now: If you are claustrophobic, do not read this script.
At first Paul has no memory of how he got here. But things start slowly coming back to him. He was driving a truck, delivering food, when there was a loud explosion. Many of his co-workers were killed but somehow he wasn’t. He remembers Iraqis coming towards him. But after that? Nothing. Now he’s down here, in a grave, in Iraq. Yes, Sparling wrote an international thriller with a 75,000 dollar price tag. (well, maybe 2 million after Reynolds is paid). Can you say genius?
Paul feels a buzz. A buzz! It’s a phone! He has a phone! He checks it. It’s not his. It’s got 1 bar of flashing reception and 2 bars of battery left. This phone is his only chance at survival. When it runs out, so does he. He starts frantically calling people. First Emergency. He hurriedly explains his situation but the operator is suspicious. Why is a man buried in a coffin, supposedly in Iraq, calling an Ohio emergency line? The woman is worthless. He hangs up and calls home. But all he gets is the answering machine. He leaves a desperate message but who knows if his phone will even work by the time his wife gets home.
Then Paul receives a call. A man, Jabir, tells him that unless Paul can come up with 5 million dollars by 9:00pm (it’s 7:00), he will be left in his coffin to die. Paul, who already had anxiety issues *before* he ended up in a coffin, nearly shits his pants. He gets back on the phone, trying to get to the FBI, but in a well-disguised commentary on the state of our society, no one gives a shit. They forward him to other people, give him other numbers to call. If you’ve ever had to call Time Warner with an internet problem, Paul’s situation might be familiar to you. He finally contacts a man in Iraq, Dan, whose job it is to deal with these “situations”. Dan tells Paul that this is common practice for poor Iraqis. They kidnap and bury Americans, then ask for a ransom. If the money isn’t paid, they leave them to die. Since the U.S. doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, you can understand how precarious Paul’s situation is. But Dan says he’s going to find Paul. “How many of us have you found?” Paul asks. Dan doesn’t answer.
The signal keeps flashing in and out, cutting off his calls prematurely, making everything even more frustrating. The battery bar goes down to one. Every call wastes precious battery juice. And as he waits, there’s a nearby bombing, which shakes the ground, cracks the top of the coffin, and allows sand to start pouring in, slowly filling up the coffin. All the while, Paul begins to wonder if Dan is really trying to save him, or trying to keep him from turning this into an international incident, which could scar the U.S.’s already tainted reputation. Is Dan trying to keep Paul quiet until he dies?
This is top-notch storytelling here. Sparling really does a bang-up job creating tension. There are so many ticking time bombs: the battery, the signal, the air supply, the ransom, the sand, will Dan’s people find him in time? It’s all ticking down and you really feel this guy drowning – running out of options. My only fear film is whether an audience can handle being in a coffin for 80 minutes. I guess we’ll find out. But it won’t affect how solid this script is. A great read.
[ ] trash
[ ] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] genius
What I learned: One location movies should be kept SHORT. I would highly recommend they not be over 95 pages. “Buried” understood this rule and was only 80 pages long. Audiences get a little jumpy if they’re in one place for too long (blame Michael Bay). So keep the story slim.