Genre: Action (Superhero)
Premise: When superheroes start inexplicably losing their powers, Batman realizes that a secret project of his is the cause.
About: Before George Miller made Fury Road, he was going to make a Justice League movie back in 2008. That would’ve been right after Spiderman 3 and Superman Returns, but before any of the Marvel movies. The cast had someone named D.J. Cotrona playing Superman, Armie Hammer playing Batman, Adam Brody playing The Flash, and Common playing Green Lantern. Factors such as the writer’s strike and the studio being gun shy contributed to the project’s implosion, but there will be a documentary about the almost-film coming out next year.
Writer: George Miller
Details: 127 pages – 2008 draft

43_MartianManhunter

Ever since George Miller reminded everyone that, yes, he does still know how to make awesome movies, everyone’s been talking about two things. The sequel to Fury Road and the aborted Justice League script Miller penned seven years ago.

Miller’s particular attention to detail (storyboard-fu!) tells us his Justice League would have looked amazing. But what about his script? Marvel still hadn’t hit the scene yet and superhero films, at the time, were on the decline. People weren’t sure how to make them anymore.

Did Miller infuse the genre with the same freshness he added to the post-apocalypse film? Let’s find out…

Justice League begins when someone named the Martian Manhunter(?) comes down with a bad case of being on fire. Since I’d never heard of the Martian Manhunter before, I didn’t know if this was a good thing (his superpower?) or a bad thing. I went with “bad thing” and hoped for the best.

Later we meet Aquaman, who’s all of a sudden afraid of water, and then Green Lantern, who’s temporarily gone blind. The world’s superheroes realize they’re being targeted, so the king of them all, Superman, suggests that they run off to his Fortress of Solitude where they’ll be safe.

Joining up with Wonder Woman and The Flash, the still-healthy heroes start trying to figure out what’s happened to their crime-fighting buddies. Little do they know that back in Gotham, Bruce Wayne is fiddling around with his secret pet project, a satellite called the “Brother Eye,” when he realizes that someone has gotten a hold of it and is using it for no good!

Here’s where things get a little confusing. Somehow, Brother Eye has sent down an army of nano-bots to earth and is using them to invade the orifices of superheroes so it can take away their powers. When Batman realizes this, he heads to the Fortress of Solitude to fess up about his experiment-gone-bad (hey, this is starting to sound a bit like that other superhero movie that came out earlier this summer).

Superman is pissed at Bats, but they don’t have time to argue. They must formulate a plan to stop this evil Satellite-Nano thingy from killing them off. They eventually tie the satellite malfunction to a pissed-off dude named Maxwell Lord, who’s seriously upset that when he was a little kid in need, none of the superheroes came to save him. Talk about holding a grudge.

Once the superheroes arrive, Lord enacts his final plan, which involves a biker gang infused with his nano-tech. Biker Nano Tech Unite become what sound like versions of that Spider-Man villain, Octopus, and start beating our superhero team’s asses. Our caped crusaders will have to draw on every last remaining power they have to defeat Mr. Lord. But with mind altering nano-tech coursing through their brains, they’re soon fighting against each other, leaving the future of super-humans, and earth itself, in doubt.

1351348-superman31_mbailey

In all fairness, to do this script justice, it really should be reviewed by a comic book geek. I like myself a good superhero movie, but the geekier and less realistic they get, the less I’m on board. This one had me scratching my head early on, and I never quite caught up with the premise. I felt a bit like a grandparent watching their grandson play with an Ipad for the first time. Like, “Whoa, what is that??”

To me, the best superhero films are the ones that have a clear and simple story (Iron Man). Where superhero films have run into trouble is when they try to do too much. This problem seems to be magnified in these “Group Superhero” films. The movies seem to be less a natural unfolding of events and more writers desperately trying to wrangle together 20 different ideas.

As we all know, the most boring part of any movie-going experience is exposition. When the script stops for 3 minutes, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, to explain what’s going on, that’s 3, 5, 10 minutes where we’re not enjoying a story.

And if you have to set up 8 different superheroes, you’re going to have a lot of those moments. One of the reasons the Marvel movies have been able to thrive is because they’ve taken care of all that exposition in their standalone films, so that once the heroes come together, they can just get on with it.

At least with this version of Justice League, that’s not the case. And Miller does his best under the circumstances, but when you’re saddled with setting up a man who lives under the sea and rides on dolphins, that’s going to take some time. And then after that, you have to explain why a man looks like a rock-person from Mars. And then after that, who this Wonder Woman chick is.

But even when the script isn’t setting things up, it’s still struggling to move. Miller makes the curious decision to have his superheroes run away to the Fortress of Solitude. Should superheroes really be running away from anything? That doesn’t sound very super-heroic like (although I guess Mad Max and Furiosa ran away the whole movie and that worked).

batman_origins

Even if you cut the script slack there, though, once they’re at the Fortress of Solitude, they stand around for an entire 25 pages(!) discussing what might be wrong with them. A 25-page talky scene with superheroes?? Shouldn’t superheroes be out there superheroing? Isn’t that what we’re expecting when we’re coming to a superhero all-star movie? From the man who brought us the longest chase scene in the history of cinema, you’d think he’d be on board with that.

There’s got to be a balance for sure. There needs to be those slow moments to build up to the fast moments. But wasting half of a second act on people standing around and talking seems a little excessive.

In Miller’s defense, I don’t know many writers who could do better. These kinds of projects are screenwriter traps. They seem like they should deliver pure awesomeness. But the formula is working against the screenwriter almost from the get-go – having to set up tons of very unique people and build a non-cliché superhero “end of the world” storyline while it’s happening to boot.

It’s so much easier to build a story around a single superhero. This is what movies do best (work with a single protagonist) and any time you try to get cute with that formula, you can expect problems. Unfortunately, Justice League wasn’t able to avoid these problems and ended up being a lot of exposition, a lot of standing around, before a final climax that was big on action but short on originality.

For the geeks out there, I can pass along a few interesting tidbits. Flash has sex with his wife by vibrating at a really high frequency and then invading her body. Superman fights Wonder Woman as well as “Green Superman,” which comes from Green Lantern’s ring. And after Batman kills our bad guy, Superman becomes furious and says, “We never – NEVER! – take a human life. It’s unacceptable.” Oh, and one of the key superheroes dies, which results in all of our superheroes wearing their costumes in pure black.

I don’t think anyone’s cracked the code on how to do these films right yet. The closest anyone’s come is Avengers 1, and it’s only because they cheated by setting up their superheroes ahead of time. I predict we’ll see these same problems play out in Batman vs. Superman, although I hope I’m wrong!

[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: Just know that the more characters you add to your main cast, the more time you’re going to be spending setting those characters up, which delays us getting to your story. To make character set-ups less boring, try to introduce them involved in some action, or some problem they have to solve. These scenes play less like “set-ups” than, say, showing your character get ready for work with his family. In fact, if you do them well, you can trick your audience into not realizing you’re setting up a character at all.

Sorry for the late post, guys. Been on vacation. I’m actually posting this from a plane. That’s how dedicated I am to you guys! Things should be back to normal tomorrow! :)

Genre: TV Pilot – Drama/Thriller
Premise: We watch as a deadly virus slowly spreads throughout the world, changing mankind forever.
About: This is one of the hottest TV projects around, with Academy Award Winner, Graham Moore (The Imitation Game) and director Marc Forster (World War Z) set as creators. NBC knows when they’ve reeled in a good one and is going straight-to-series with the show. One of the more interesting things to come out of that Oscar win for Moore was his amazing Oscar speech. The problem was, many assumed it was Moore coming out, including GLADD!, who celebrated the speech as such. Moore had to make a public announcement to clarify that he was actually straight and his speech was just about celebrating being weird, no matter who you were.
Writer: Graham Moore
Details: 60 pages (1/4/15 draft)

459167564

Wow.

Look at how much the business has changed. Five years ago, if you said the first thing a screenwriter would do after winning an Oscar was go write a TV show, the town would’ve laughed at you. Yet that’s exactly what’s happened with Graham Moore heading to television.

If there’s a “Wait a minute, huh?” moment people are having, it’s that Moore would go to, of all places, NBC, with his show. America’s uncoolest network is fresh off of thinking David Duchovny is still relevant and believes that confusing the hell out of the audience by calling a Charles Manson show, “Aquarius,” is a good thing.

No doubt the coveted “straight-to-series” promise was the key instigator here, as that’s about the only way NBC can lure talent away from the far hipper networks.

Moore’s pilot follows three key characters, the first being Sam Culp, a 40-something FBI agent who’s just shot and killed one half of a terrorist team who anthraxed a bunch of people. Culp is celebrated as a hero, but he’s not so sure. The kid was just 18 years old. And he sure didn’t seem like a bad guy.

Meanwhile, over in the UK, Eve Allen, a wife and mother who’s trying to get back into the work force, can’t remember an interview she just went in for five minutes ago. She embarrassingly walks right back into the interview room, announcing that she’s here. It can’t possibly be Alzheimer’s, since she’s in her early 40s, leaving us questioning what the heck can be wrong with her.

Finally, there’s Michael, who’s flying to Washington, D.C. from Africa, and who’s conspicuously hiding a vial of blood in his jacket. I don’t know about you, but when people flying in from Africa are hiding vials of blood, that’s usually not a good thing. But here’s the kicker. It turns out Michael works for the CDC. Making us wonder why the hell a CDC worker has to sneak blood across the border.

All three storylines clash when we learn that the Anthrax used in the terrorist attack could not have come from the suspected terrorists, but rather came from Michael’s CDC lab. How that could’ve happened and who could’ve done it is the impetus for what will surely be a chain of events that changes the world forever.

It used to be that writers either worked in movies or television. There was crossover, of course, but not to the extent there is today. Because that was the case, writers in each medium tended to think narrowly. Their idea-subset would consist of what would work in their respective medium. If a TV writer thought of a good movie idea, or vice versa, they’d likely put it on the backburner and never get to it. Who knows how many great ideas were jettisoned as a result!

Today’s writers have a huge advantage. When they come up with an idea, they get to DECIDE which medium it’s best suited for, and write in that medium.

To understand what kind of story you have, you want to classify your ideas into “long-form” and “short-form.” Short-form ideas (movies) are typically ideas that can take place inside of days or weeks. Occasionally, you’ll have a movie that covers months, and rarer still, one that lasts years (like biopics and period pieces). But for the most part, short-form ideas take place in under two weeks. That seems to be the sweet spot.

Long-form ideas are ideas that take place over at least a year. And here’s where I think Moore and Forster hit the jackpot. The pandemic outbreak idea has really only been dealt with in the feature world, and now that I’m looking back at it, I don’t think pandemics are made for short-form storytelling. They’re much better suited for long-form.

It’s much scarier watching a pandemic spread over weeks and weeks, slowly, from city to city, across the world, than it is trying to cram a fast-acting pandemic into a couple of days. By the time you get scared for everyone, the movie is already over. To a certain extent, The Walking Dead has shown us that this formula works.

Indeed, when we come to the end of Moore’s pilot, watching as Eve Allen, our character with a memory issue, starts seizing uncontrollably in front of her husband, we can sense that we’re going to watch something terrible take place, something that isn’t completed or solved within days, but rather something that lasts years. And isn’t that so much scarier? Watching what it would really be like, as opposed to some Hollywodized version of a paper-thin fast-acting pandemic?

A pilot like this has to set up a few mystery boxes, and here Moore does a good job as well. One of the more interesting ones is the character of Michael, our CDC rep carrying the vial of blood. Michael is seated next to a Middle Eastern man, who appears to be a stranger at first, although later this man appears to be a part of a bigger plan, indicating that their entire conversation occurred in code.

There’s also the mystery of who lifted the Anthrax vile from the CDC center – the one that was used in the terrorist attack. As if we weren’t confused enough already, it appears that Michael has no idea how the vial got out. So the man who’s carrying secret vials of blood and having coded conversations with Middle Eastern men on planes is clueless about who’s stealing diseases from his laboratory. What’s going on here??

If there’s a knock against the pilot, it’s that it’s one level shy of “must watch.” Everything here is strong, but there’s something missing. If I had to guess what it is, I’d probably say the lack of genre. When you have genre on your side (Lost, The Walking Dead), you have a little more leniency with your twists and turns. You can have fun with them. Like polar bears on a tropical island!

But when you’re trying to show how something would really happen, you have to play by a stricter set of rules. The twists and turns can’t be too crazy, less you puncture the suspension of disbelief balloon. But outside of that one not-really-a-criticism criticism, NBC looks like they finally may have a winner here. Straight-to-series for the win.

[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: Writers don’t spend enough time asking themselves if their idea is better as a feature or a TV show. Asking this question can save you a lot of heartache later on. You don’t want to spend a year writing a movie only to find out the story is way bigger than a feature. Embrace the type of idea you have and write towards the appropriate medium.

How many writers does it take to write one disaster pic? A lot more than you think!

Genre: Action
Premise: After a massive earthquake hits the West Coast, a rescue-chopper pilot travels across the wasteland to save his daughter.
About: San Andreas came out this weekend and bested predictions with 50 million big ones (a good 10 million higher than most estimates). I guess you could say it was an AFTER-shock to analysts. Get it? Cause aftershocks are earthquakes? The film stars the most likable movie star in the business, The Rock, and was directed by The Rock collaborator, Brad Peyton, who worked with the muscled one on Journey to the Center of the Earth 2. While Andre Fabrizio and Jeremy Passmore wrote this draft, it looks like Carlton Cuse (of Lost fame) received final credit, with Fabrizio and Passmore having to settle for story credit.
Writers: Andre Fabrizio & Jeremy Passmore, revisions by Allan Loeb (10/26/11), Revisions by Carlton Cuse (11/02/12), Current Revisions by The Hayes Brothers 7/24/2013
Details: 108 pages

san-andreas-137751

Reading the title page of San Andreas is a bit like reading a screenwriting earthquake. There were enough screenwriters here to fill up a WGA screening. And I suppose that makes sense. The disaster pic, once a staple of Hollywood’s plan to steal your mid-summer money, has become the green-headed step-child, an awkward mumbler of a personality in a world where dark-colored spandex reins supreme.

So the fact that the producers felt they needed to get as many screenwriting eyes on the script as possible should probably be seen as proof of their insecurity. I mean, didn’t Guardians of the Galaxy have just two writers?

What may have given them pause is the fact that they’ve actually scaled the disaster pic back. When the Emmerichs and Devlins of the world were in charge of mass cinematic disaster, they typically chose to take down the entire planet. This approach seems to have been endorsed by Damon Lindelof, who once said, “If you’re going to play in the summer sandbox, the stakes basically have to be the entire world.”

But here’s the thing about that. If the destruction is TOO sprawling, if it covers TOO MUCH surface area, it’s tough to wrangle in a story. You only have two hours to tell a story in a feature-length movie. If you want that movie to resonate emotionally – you probably want to keep things at least somewhat contained. Which is why San Andreas had the chance to excel where all these other destruction movies failed.

The quick plot breakdown for San Andreas is that Tom, a Los Angeles rescue-chopper dude, is reeling from the recent implosion of his marriage to Rachel, who’s since moved on to the incredibly rich and seemingly perfect Patrick.

This has been hard on their 21 year-old daughter, Blake, who’d like for nothing more than to have the family back together again. To add insult to injury, Tom has to cancel a father-daughter sorority function with Blake, forcing her to go with future step-dad Patrick instead.

The two head up to San Francisco, when the first quake hits, pinning Blake inside her car. So what does Patrick do? He gets the hell out of there, saving himself! Blake’s able to call her father and let him know where she is, and after The Rock, I mean Tom, saves his wife, the two head up to San Fran to save their daughter, and hopefully, their marriage!

San Andreas Movie

The first thing I noticed about this is that they changed the names of the main characters. Here in the script, the parents are Tom and Rachel. In the script, they’re Ray and Emma. I’ve heard that changing character names is a trick writers use to improve their chances of getting final credit, since it appears to the WGA arbitrators as if more has changed than actually has.

I’m not saying that’s what happened here. It could just be someone didn’t like those names. But with the original writers usually favored to get credit, and Fabrizio and Passmore not getting it here, it is a little curious.

As for the script, I have to say, it’s not bad. I mean, this isn’t going to win any Oscars, but if there was an award for “best execution of a standard story,” I’d put San Andreas up there with any other screenplay this year. Every beat of this script hits like the heart of an Olympic athlete, which makes sense, since The Rock’s headlining it.

What you’re always running up against when you write a pure action flick is trying to find the emotional core of the story, which of course takes place with your characters. To this end, San Andreas does a solid (unlike the earth in the film) job.

We establish that Tom and Rachel are broken up, but there’s still a spark there. This is a nice dynamic to set up because it gives the reader hope. “Maybe,” they think, “They’ll get back together.” And if there’s a “maybe,” there’s a reason for the reader to keep reading.

Also, when you’ve got a marriage or a relationship that’s fallen apart, you want there to be an origin to that rift. In other words, you don’t want them to just be broken up because you, the writer, need them broken up for your story. There needs to be a reason.

Here, we find out that Tom’s other daughter died five years ago in a rafting accident. Tom wasn’t able to save her, and it destroyed them. Death of a daughter/son is one of the biggest reasons for couples splitting, so it makes sense here. This also buoys the action in the main plot, since we know that Tom isn’t going to let another one of his daughter’s die.

As far as covering this backstory in your script, it’s up to you. Some writers like to add that scene where the hero tells someone what happened. Some writers (Robert Towne in Chinatown), choose not to tell the story at all. It’s also up to you whether you want to tell the whole story or just a sliver of it, leaving it up to the audience to fill in the gaps (something I favor). But the important thing is that you, the writer, know it, so that the story beat feels authentic.

Here, the writers do something interesting. They give the explanation of this backstory to a third party, Blake. She tells it to a guy she’s running around the city with. This is favorable. When the character himself (what would’ve been Tom) tells the story of how he “couldn’t save her” (or whatever the story is), it comes off as overly melodramatic, even cheesy. By having someone else recall it, it feels less manipulative, and a bit more realistic.

From a structural standpoint in San Andreas (sorry, I had to go there), you could practically see the problems the writers dealt with as the script evolved. I’m willing to bet this story was originally relegated to Los Angeles, with Tom on one side of the city and Blake on the other. But the writers quickly realized that the story’s not going to last very long if all a helicopter pilot has to do is fly from one end of Los Angeles to the other.

So they added this storyline where Blake goes up to San Francisco, extending the earthquake all the way up the state. It’s choices like this that aren’t noticed by the average movie-goer and really what screenwriters get paid for. Cause the choice is a 2-for-1. It not only extends the distance between rescuer and rescuee, allowing for a more difficult challenge, but you now get to have the earthquake hit two cities, which doubles the entertainment value of the film.

Look, I’m not here to tell you that San Andreas is the best screenplay ever. But for what it’s trying to do, it does a really good job. I’d definitely recommend it to any screenwriter who’s writing an action script. Read it if you can find it!

[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: When you’re writing an action movie (or really any “genre” type movie), don’t worry about being too “proper” with your prose. The read is supposed to be easy and light, so your prose should reflect that. I loved the way our resident seismologist’s office was described when we first meet him: “Roger’s sitting behind a desk. Tech shit and books everywhere.” Is this going to fly in a Harvard English Literature class? No. But all that matters in a script is that it tells me what I’m looking at. And I know exactly what this room looks like from this sentence.

Scriptshadow 250 Contest Deadline – 60 days left!

amateur offerings weekend

Today we have not five, but SIX Amateur Friday contenders. Why? Well, I’ll be honest with you. I don’t think writers are bringing it with their concepts. They’re not bad ideas, but remember, when you’re an unknown screenwriter, you need your idea to STAND OUT. You want it to be exciting and different. Heck, a good half-dozen of Thursday’s IRONIC LOGLINES, which seemed to have been made up on the spot, were better than all the loglines I received in my Amateur Offerings inbox this week. By expanding the field, I’m hoping to increase the chances of finding something good. Good luck to all!

Title: The Patron
Genre: Psychological Thriller/Crime Thriller
Logline: Fresh out of prison, a young Brooklyn artist attempts to restart his career, but his plans are derailed when a seductive older socialite blackmails him into murdering her husband.
Why You Should Read: I know in the past you’ve said you love a good psychological thriller, and this is a dark one with more twists and turns than Taylor Swift’s love life (okay, I guess it hasn’t been that exciting lately). I set out to write something in the vein of classics such as “Fatal Attraction” and “Basic Instinct”, but with a different, unexplored central dynamic – specifically, one between an older woman and a younger man (40s and 20s, respectively). The power imbalance between the characters due to her wealth and his recent incarceration only serves to heighten the conflict in the story. The script received high-enough ratings to place it on the Top List page of the Black List website; I humbly submit it here in hopes that it will be met with similar regard. On a final note, I was a Quarterfinalist in the 2013 Nicholl competition, so I’d like to think that my writing skill is at a level that won’t leave you wanting to gouge your eyes out. (Sorry to end with that disturbing image, but it felt appropriate).

Title: THE THREE DEGREES OF SEPARATION
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Logline: To help her sisters cope with their parents divorce an intelligent and highly imaginative teenager fabricates fantastic stories, not realizing elements of those stories are manifesting in the home and drawing their father deeper and deeper into the dark world of his id.
Why You Should Read: Some of you may recognize this script from when it was featured last year on AOW. I received many notes that weekend for which I am eternally grateful. I put it away the script for some months and worked on other projects while trying figured out how to address the story with a whole new approach. Needless to say I woke from a dream one night to find none other than Billy Wilder standing at the foot of my bed. Together Billy and I took the story by it’s horns and wrestled it into submission. We even gave it a new title. The sun came up, Billy was gone and The Three Degrees Of Separation was ready for discerning eyes. Love it or hate it, it will leave an impression on you. I think you will love it. But if you hate it, blame it on Billy.

Title: Damn Nation
Genre: Horror/Action Thriller
Logline: Five years after a plague has overrun the United States, turning most of the nation into feral vampiric creatures, a Special Ops unit from the President’s current headquarters in London is sent back into the heart of the US in a desperate attempt to find a group of surviving scientists who claim to have found a cure for the disease… but not everyone wants to see America back on its feet.
Why You Should Read: I believe screenplays are evolving. With the advances of technology in the last couple of decades such as the internet, computers, ipads, smartphones, etc, screenplays can be more than words on paper, they can be visual and even interactive experiences. I’m not the first and I won’t be the last person to integrate artwork into my screenplay, but I think this approach, if done right, can add a lot of value to a project. Integrated artwork is just the tip of the iceberg though. I believe soon people will be adding a lot more elements, such as photo references, storyboards, video, sound effects, music, and other audio-visual components embedded into their scripts. The possibilities are endless.

However, I know that my view on things is going to be vastly unpopular right now. I think most people will have an old school attitude and believe that writers should write, leaving the fancy bells and whistles to someone else.

With that said, I do believe nothing is more important than the words themselves. Above all else, I hope my script is judged on the words, not the images. Everything else I’ve added is just a bonus.

Title: Sarah’s Getting Married
Genre: Comedy
Logline: Harry, wrongfully accused of embezzlement, escapes from prison in order to get to his daughter’s wedding and walk her down the aisle.
Why You Should Read: Concept is king. It’s something we’ve all heard, and I feel this script has a great concept that can really sell. This is an idea that I’ve had for years, and it has gone through many changes. But I finally came up with a good, fun way to tell this story and I want to share it with everyone who is willing to take a look at it. Besides, who doesn’t like a good comedy that has heart?

Title: Lifeline
Genre: Dramedy
Logline: A womanizing dockworker is forced to take in his estranged, brain-injured father after the old guy is ousted from a nursing home.
Why You Should Read: I’ve placed my story in the port city of Halifax, Nova Scotia because I wanted the setting to set the tone of the script and influence the characters. It’s a “relationship” dramedy that’s fun and poignant and has a lot of heart (I hope!) Sorry, no guns, explosions or time travel. I’ll save that for the rewrite!

Title: THE PINSTRIPED PRIMATES
Genre: Family
Logline: Three talking gorillas escape from captivity and enter the world of professional wrestling. The two older brothers – managed by the intellectual younger brother – take a run at the tag-team championship.
Why You Should Read: It’s something different for both of us. For me, it’s a shot at lighter writing. For you, it’s a chance to escape from the usual AOW ghetto of contained thrillers, gross-out comedies, and derivative horror. Have you ever reviewed an amateur Family screenplay? — Also, this script Quarterfinaled in the 2014 Fresh Voices contest. This is intended as live action with latex makeup, like the original Planet Of The Apes – not animation.

Yesterday’s Irony Logline Winner has just been announced. Go back to yesterday’s post if you missed the competition. Please keep all reactions to the winners in the above linked post. All comments today are limited to Insatiable discussion. Thanks!

Genre: Horror
Premise (from writer): When a law student’s girlfriend mysteriously vanishes from a truck stop diner, he suspects a shady trucker is to blame. But as he races to save her life, he discovers that the only thing more terrifying than her captors is the reason she was taken.
Why You Should Read (from writer): I need the help of the ScriptShadow community! I like scary things and enjoy a good horror film. I’ve been writing for quite some time and have advanced in some of the more well known contests including Nicholl. INSATIABLE was a semifinalist in Austin in 2011. A revised version was a finalist in ScreamCraft last summer and a semifinalist in Page. It has received some positive feedback, yet here it sits on my laptop. My question is this — is the story worthy of a movie? Can it get over the hump? Is the script worth revising or should I consider it a building block, leave it on my laptop, and move on? Please help!
Writer: Michael Morra
Details: 110 pages

Dan-Stevens

Rising star Dan Stevens for Jake?

I’ve always been a big fan of Michael Morra’s writing. He’s a guy who I’ve felt has been on the verge of breaking through for awhile now. And when you open one of his scripts, you’ll see why. He knows how to pull you in (what a great opening scene!), he writes in a way that yanks your eyes down the page, his writing is descriptive but never overbearing. And he writes in one of the most marketable genres – horror, a genre he clearly knows well. I feel like if a guy like Jason Blum gave this guy a shot, he’d deliver.

So what about Insatiable? Does it live up to my high expectations of Michael? Let’s find out.

Insatiable starts out hot. And I mean literally. At a popular truck stop diner just outside of the Appalachian Mountains, a dilapidated pregnant woman stumbles into the station, grabs one of the pumps, douses herself with gasoline, and then sets herself on fire. Without even paying!

As we ponder whatever the hell THAT was, we jump a few counties over to 24 year-old Jake. Jake’s one of those lucky young men who won the genetic and financial lottery. He’s got a pretty perfect life, and he’s about to officially share it with his farmer’s daughter girlfriend, Brooke, who he plans to propose to this weekend during an impromptu vacation with their friends Austin and Claire.

When they stop to grab a bite to eat (at that, um, exact same truck stop), Brooke drops a bombshell on Jake. She’s got one of those human beings growing inside her. Yup, she’s preggies. Jake doesn’t take the news nearly as well as she expected, a fight ensues, and Brooke storms outside in anger.

Jake decides to let her cool off, until a bunch of time goes by and Brooke still hasn’t returned. He heads outside, looks for her, and finds scattered drops of blood instead. He calls in the cops, who key in on a well-known trucker named Winston. Winston looks all sorts of guilty but they can’t seem to find any evidence linking him to the disappearance.

Jake’s not so sure though, and decides to head up to Winston’s house to get to the bottom of this. Meanwhile, Austin and Claire stay local and snoop around, looking for clues.

Just when it seems like Winston might not be their guy, Jake discovers a deep dark secret. That Winston’s wife is… well, how do I put this lightly – A FUCKING MONSTER! A monster who feeds off the blood and guts of the living. It’s her who’s kidnapping pregnant woman, so she can finally have the baby her husband was never man enough to give her.

One of the ways you can spot a writer on the verge is that they’re not precious about their material. Newcomers will hold tight to even the most banal idea. Every character, every page, every sentence, is treated as if Shakespeare himself wrote it.

Seasoned writers want to know if something’s not clicking so they can stop wasting their time and move on to the next idea. Which is the question Michael has posed to us today.

Unfortunately, the answer isn’t easy but I can definitely see why this script has advanced over the majority of the competition only to fall short of the final prize. Michael’s clearly a good writer, but there’s something about this script that feels – I don’t know – too familiar.

Horror is really a genre where you have to bring one of three things…

1) A fresh idea
2) A fresh take
3) A fresh voice

This idea doesn’t feel fresh to me. A woman gets kidnapped. That’s common. And then there’s some scary creature involved. Also common.

As for the “take,” I suppose it’s a little bit unique (I’ve never seen a bat creature before) but even that brings me back to the winged creature in Jeepers Creepers.

And finally, while the writing is excellent, I wouldn’t say the voice is unique. When you read a script like, say, February, there’s a very distinct flavor to that writing that you haven’t experienced before. And I’m not one to say that your voice HAS to be unique to sell a script. I see scripts sold all the time from writers with no voice. But, like I said, the script does need to be fresh in one of these three areas: idea, take, voice, and while Insatiatble knocks on the door of a couple of those, it never breaks through.

Now as a pure script, the setup and structure are solid, which is why a screenplay like this – while not perfect – advances past 90% of the material in a screenplay competition.

We have a girl that goes missing. A girl in peril always works. This then gives our characters a clear goal – find the girl. The stakes and the urgency emerge naturally from that. We’re even reminded that if she’s not located within 48 hours, their chances of finding her alive are cut in half.

And we’ve got a solid mystery box too. Why would a pregnant girl set herself on fire rather than live? What was it, exactly, that was growing inside of her?

I guess the reason this perfectly sound structure didn’t work on me is a combination of a couple of things. First, this isn’t my type of movie. Unless a creature-feature is done flawlessly, I’m more into the “real life” horror variety. I’m much more afraid of, say, the family in Texas Chainsaw Massacre since, theoretically, that could really happen. I know that I’m never going to run into any bat people any time soon, so I’m not nearly as scared.

And two, there was nothing new about the story. As I read through it, all I kept thinking was, I’ve been down this road before. And it’s for that reason that I’d probably encourage Michael to move on to the next idea. Insatiable puts his solid writing skills on full display. But this isn’t English class, where you get marks for “solid.” The movie world wants to be WOWED. They want something they’ve never seen before. And Insatiable, at least to me, didn’t meet that criteria.

I still wish Michael the best and encourage him to keep writing. And also, don’t just go by my review here. I want to hear from people who like creature features and get their take as they’re more familiar with the genre. Good luck, buddy. ☺

Script link: Insatiable

[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: The “sort of” ticking time bomb that’s still a ticking time bomb. You know I like ticking time bombs. Create a deadline for your characters to achieve their goal or else everything goes to shit. It’s a tried and true device. But sometimes, when you use an EXACT TIME DEADLINE, it can feel artificial. “Man has 37 hours to deliver the drugs or the world explodes!” A nice alternative are these “sort of” ticking time bombs where there isn’t an exact time, but an implied time. Michael does this here and they did this in Taken as well. The cop in Insatiable says, “If we don’t find her within 48 hours, our chances of finding her alive are cut in half.” In Taken, Liam Neeson’s CIA buddies tell him, “If we don’t find her in 72 hours, stats say she’s probably gone forever.” Again, this isn’t a HARD TIME – it’s just a baseline. But it plants that seed in the audience how important time is without creating a LITERAL ticking time bomb that can seem artificial.