Genre: Crime Drama
Premise: In 1984, a young Brooklyn detective discovers that two of his co-workers are killing for the mob and attempts to take them down.
About: This is based on a real-life story, which was turned into a non-fiction book by the detective. It was adapted by one of the hottest scribes in town, Bill Dubuque, who penned my only genius-rated script this year, the pilot, “Ozark” (coming to Netflix). Last we heard, Brotherhood was going to be directed by Jose Padilha, the director of Bus 174 and the latest Robocop, but they may be looking for someone new now.
Writer: Bill Dubuque (based on the book “The Brotherhoods” by Guy Lawson and William Oldham)
Details: 128 pages (2012 draft)
One of the only ways to purchase a great book to adapt into a movie is to get the book before it hits big. You want to avoid The Martian scenario if you’re a producer, where the book gets so huge that you’re stuck paying a hefty price tag for the rights. This is why so many deals happen before a book is released. You gotta get’em while they’re cheap!
One problem with that, though, is that most of the time those bets don’t pay off. The book doesn’t become as big as you thought, and now you’re saddled with this book that nobody’s heard of, trying to turn it into a movie. I don’t know the exact details behind when WB purchased The Brotherhood, but I know that nobody’s read the book. So it’s entirely possible that that’s how this deal went down.
Still, WB feels like they have the next Departed on their hands. And maybe if they massage that formula into a few dozen rewrites, that may happen. But right now, I don’t know what you do with this lumbering piece of concrete.
William Oldham is the youngest cop to hit detective in the Brooklyn precinct in like, since the whole cop thing started. Oldham has lived an interesting life, growing up with his younger brother in Vietnam while his father fought in the war there. A couple of decades later, he wants to do what his dad did, take down the bad guys.
So here we are in 1984, New York, and we finally have someone who’s not afraid to take on the mob, Rudy Giuliani. This throws the infamous five families for a loop, and when their power slides, a new power rises – a brasher more dangerous type of criminal.
This is the criminal Oldham wants to take down. But problems arise when his bosses, Detective Stephen Caracappa and Louis Eppolito, deter him from pursuing certain cases, particularly cases where police informants are being killed. Oldham wants to know how these informants are getting fingered, since their involvement is top secret.
Well, it doesn’t take long before we realize Caracappa and Eppolito are the killers, and that they’re actually working for the mob, killing for them all over town. This probably shouldn’t have been a surprise since Caracappa’s father was a mobster himself. I mean, basic background check there, guys.
Anyway, Oldham moves to take these guys down, but because they’re his bosses, he’ll have to play everything very carefully. One slip up and he might not just lose his job, but his life.
I’m going to sound like a broken record here but…. SNOOOORRRRRE.
I mean come on. How freaking many of these mob movies have we seen??? I don’t like most of these movies but I’m convinced that if I wrote one, it would be ten times better than anything else out there because at the very least I WOULD FIND A FRESH ANGLE.
That’s my biggest beef with Brotherhood. It actually starts off promising. We learn that Giuliani’s emergence (as a young attorney passing hard-hitting crime bills) has thrown the five families into disarray and that a “new dangerous kind of criminal” has taken their place.
New dangerous kind of criminal? Hell yeah. Sign me up!
Just the thought of that, the promise of that, gets me thinking about all these wonderful actors that would want to play that role (or roles).
Unfortunately, that role never emerges. Instead, we get the same old boring “cop trying to take down another cop” storyline that we’ve seen a million times before. Cops are being bad. We have to catch them in the act.
They’ve made that movie already!!! Even worse, the story still revolves around the five families. I thought the five families were done!
This is a period in mob history that nobody’s written about, to my knowledge. The aftermath of the five families losing power, and what emerges in that void. That sounds fascinating to me. Actually, I shouldn’t say that. I haven’t seen Godfather 3. Maybe they cover it there. But why aren’t we covering that? That’s the movie there!
This is what drives me nuts about Hollywood. They’re more interested in making “the next” something (in this case, Departed) than they are “the new” something. Stop trying to copy. BE FUCKING ORIGINAL!
With that said, this book was reportedly so dense and boring that Dubuque might’ve fallen asleep while adapting it. Here’s a snippet of Bryan Burrough’s review of the book in the New York times: “The trouble is Lawson’s use of detail. There’s a world of difference between “telling” detail and telling every detail. At one point I had to stop and shake my head when I realized he was actually explaining the brand name of a chair Oldham uses during a prison conference.”
You can feel Dubuque grappling with this problem and looking for anything that might excite. For example, Oldham has a younger brother, John, who’s featured in the first half of the script, who gets on a plane to China, only for the Korean Air flight he’s on to be shot down by the Russian government.
It’s technically a dramatic moment, and yet it doesn’t tie into any part of the story. What does Russians shooting down a jet airliner have to do with crooked cops in Brooklyn? That’s the problem here. There’s so little that’s unique to latch onto that even stuff that doesn’t fit into your story has to be included.
The script also seems to miss an opportunity to create a really great character in Eppolito. Eppolito had actually written a screenplay about his life and, believe it or not, scored a cameo as a heavy in Goodfellas! He was the low life idiot to Caracappa’s more stoic leader.
Had we seen their dynamic more and watched them kill these people and their inevitable scramble when the hammer came down, the script may have been more entertaining. A dynamic with one badass and one moron tends to lead to some good dialogue, which we were never privy to.
Instead we’re stuck with a stock love story between Oldham and states attorney, Lori Santorelli, who spend the majority of their scenes making love or discussing their troubled childhoods.
At one point, it looked like Santorelli was going to be working for the bad guys. I was so excited. FINALLY! A twist to wake this story up. But no. It was a false alarm.
That’s what this entire script felt like. A false alarm. :(
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: At least when you come to me with a crime script, don’t even bother unless yo have a fresh take. The only exception is if you do what Scorsese does, which is to give us all these fascinating details about the world that we never knew before. That’s exciting. But if it’s just another “cops being bad” semi-procedural storyline? Myself and most others won’t be interested. And please, someone go write this script about the “new kind of criminals” that took over New York after the families were squashed. That sounds like a cool movie.
Premise: When terrorists take over a deep-sea oil drilling rig, the only person they don’t account for is a diver in the middle of a dive. That oversight will come back to haunt them.
About: Not much is known about this one other than it’s an early script from Kurt Wimmer, one of my favorite action writers and, when spec sales were hot, a script-selling machine. Wimmer wrote Salt (I’m talking the awesome original, before they gender-swapped it) and more recently, Point Break.
Writer: Kurt Wimmer
Details: 125 pages
I’ve always wanted a thriller that takes place on one of those ocean oil drilling platforms! What’s a more perfect setting for a bunch of crazy ass shit to go down? Yeah, Deepwater Horizon is coming out, but that’s a real-life story that has to abide by real-life facts. This script is all about the fun!
Also, I love reading early work from successful writers. It’s one of the easiest ways to see how writers improve over time, and therefore a great educational source, as you can see if you’re making those same mistakes yourself.
Bill Disney is a deep-sea diver. It’s what he does. When there’s some dangerous dive that needs to be done and every other wuss-ball on the planet says it’s “too dangerous,” that’s when Bill comes in. So when Piper Epsilon, one of the biggest deep sea oil drilling rigs in the world, says they need a diver to come fix their drill, Bill is on his way.
Meanwhile, Piper Epsilon is preparing itself for an annual military exercise. They get paid by the U.S. military to allow a team to come in and “pretend take-over” the rig. It’s a fun little game. The military team shoots paint balls. You throw up your hands and pretend to die. It adds a little spontaneity to an otherwise stress-heavy job.
Oh, except this year’s SEAL squad isn’t pretend. They’re fucking real. When Natalia, the rig manager, realizes that people are really being killed, she tries to escape, only to find out that, duh, there are people on her rig who helped set this up.
Once the two masterminds, Schiller and Garr, take control, they make a call to the U.S. saying that if they don’t helicopter over 100 million dollars, they’ll release a few billion tons of crude oil into the North Sea, creating the biggest man-made catastrophe in history.
Meanwhile, Bill, who was in the middle of his dive, figures out something is up and swims back to the surface. He sneaks around the complex and its mega-dangerous platform (giant rogue waves can send a man to his death at any moment) before meeting up with Natalia. The two then figure out a way to take the bad guys down.
Meanwhile, we learn the truth about Schiller and Garr’s take-over, which of course has nothing to do with money. It turns out that nearby is a forgotten Russian sub that sank in the 1970s. And in that sub? Well, that’s the real takeaway here. Something so dangerous that if Schiller and Garr get their hands on it, they’ll be able to dictate terms to the entire world.
Okay, like I said, I love Wimmer. I still think Salt is one of the best action-thriller specs ever written.
What’s interesting about Platform is that you can see Wimmer still working on his craft. And you newbies or even intermediates would be smart to pay attention, since many of his early mistakes are the same mistakes you’re making.
For starters – weird naming.
What a strange decision to name your hero, “Bill Disney.” It’s a name that makes you think of anything other than an action hero, and it’s just an odd choice. I see this a lot in young writers. They believe, for some reason, that they need to come up with some weird or catchy name. The problem is, weird names draw attention to themselves, taking our focus away from where it should be – the story.
Next up – bulky writing.
If you read Wimmer’s later stuff, it’s much leaner. Here, we have a lot of 6-7 line paragraphs. This is screenwriting suicide in an action spec. You have to move through things quickly.
And let’s not forget – sticking too closely to plot beats from your favorite movies.
This is Die Hard on an ocean rig. No, I mean this is REALLY DIE HARD ON AN OCEAN RIG. Young screenwriters love movies. That’s why they wanted to become screenwriters in the first place! But they love certain movies so much that when they write scripts, they follow the same beats from those movies. So even though an ocean drilling rig is the farthest thing in the world from a building in Los Angeles, the movies feel too similar, and the reader feels cheated.
And – repeating favorite scenes.
Same deal here. STOP REWRITING YOUR FAVORITE SCENES FROM OTHER MOVIES. We have a scene of SWAT members on a plane, heading to the rig, looking cool, talking shit, that’s eerily reminiscent to a certain scene from Predator. We even get the line, “It’s too early in the morning for this shit,” which is a stock dialogue line that has been in 90% of these types of scenes.
With that said, even here, you can see why Wimmer showed so much potential. This guy is a research machine, something you NEVER GET from young writers, who think they can make 90% of the shit up and no one will notice. Why is research important? Because when something feels authentic, the reader believes in it more. Which increases the likelihood that they’ll get lost in your story. Check out this excerpt:
Piper Epsilon remains in place by virtue of a dozen 10,000 horsepower satellite-guided directional thrusters attached to the legs sub-sea level that keep it precisely in place over the drilling hole in ever the worst weather.
Wimmer also finds a fresh way into the story. 9 out of 10 screenwriters would’ve had our fake SEAL team show up and shoot everyone into oblivion. By orchestrating this fake military exercise, the opening feels more alive, a little less predictable, and by association, more fun.
And I’d be remiss not to point out how effortlessly Wimmer weaves together several different complicated threads in the opening act, each containing a lot of exposition and setup. I tell writers to stay the hell away from this. Open up simple so that you don’t lose your reader before the script’s even started. But Wimmer keeps things clear enough and exciting enough, that even though we’re reading through loads of information and keeping track of a lot of new characters, we never get lost. That’s A-grade screenwriting right there.
Despite that and some other good writing, Platform can never quite escape that it’s a beat-for-beat remake of Die Hard. It felt too darn familiar. And let this be a lesson to you guys. Yes, you want to draw inspiration from your favorite films. But try to stay away from copying scenes, and DEFINITELY stay away from copying plot beats. You’d be better off actively doing the OPPOSITE of major plot beats from your favorite films, since that’s what’s going to make your script unique.
I think this one barely passes the “worth the read” grade. There’s enough good in here for screenwriters to learn from. And since this script is old enough, we’re going to go Scriptshadow Retro here and post it. Enjoy!
Script link: Platform
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: If a character is going to cry or “fight back tears,” make sure they’re “real-life tears” and not “movie-logic tears.” Another rookie mistake here. In the beginning of the movie, Bill dives down with some young Danish guy who he doesn’t know and doesn’t like. They dive for 30 minutes and the Dane ends up dying. Bill tries to revive him to no avail, and afterwards, “fights back tears.” Uhhhhh, no. Those are movie-logic tears. He doesn’t know this guy. He didn’t like him 30 minutes ago. He’s not all of a sudden going to be crying over his death. Always ask yourself, “Would they cry in real life?” If the answer is yes, MAYBE add it to the script. But crying is so overused in movies anyway, that you want to use it as sparingly as possible.
This week’s newsletter is great! We’ve got the latest script from the writer of my favorite script ever. We’ve got an interview with a professional comedy screenwriter. We’ve got the screenplay tip of the week. We tackle the age-old question: Should I quit screenwriting? Lots and lots to play with here. So if you didn’t receive the newsletter, CHECK YOUR SPAM AND PROMOTIONS FOLDERS. If it isn’t in there, e-mail me at Carsonreeves1@gmail.com with the subject line “NO NEWSLETTER” and I’ll send it to you. If you want to sign up for the newsletter, e-mail that same address with the subject line, “NEWSLETTER.” Enjoy!!
I’m out of commission today, guys, but I’ve been wanting to ask this question for awhile. What’s the best written show on television?? It seems to me that since Breaking Bad ended, there’s been a lowering of quality in the TV offerings. I’ve tried to get into a lot of shows, and while I’ve liked a few, there’s been nothing that’s exhibited that same addictive quality Walter White and Jesse Pinkman brought to the table every week.
So, in your opinion, what’s the best-written show out there? Emphasis on “WRITTEN.” This is a screenwriting site, so while there are shows with awesome production value, I’m more concerned with what ropes you in on the storytelling end. I admit this post is selfish. I’m looking for a show to commit to. So here are ten options. I’m not doing comedy since you can’t really compare comedy to drama. Maybe we’ll do comedy another time. Feel free to write a show in, though I think I’ve covered all the best ones here…
1) Mr. Robot – I like Mr. Robot a lot. The only reason why I haven’t ravenously kept up with it is because it can be a little intense and heady at times. It’s the show that makes you think more than any other show out there, and sometimes when we watch television, we like to cycle down. Still, this is a strong contender for the top spot.
2) Stranger Things – I initially wrote this off as two writers who’d jumped on the Nostalgia Express, with zero stops at originality. But the show has grown on me, particularly the stellar score. Of course, the score has nothing to do with the writing. This one is a tough call. It’s hard to nail down.
3) The Night Of – This is currently the most hyped TV show on television, and I’m not surprised why. It’s got Steven Zallian and Richard Price behind it, two of the top 15 screenwriters in the world. I remember reviewing this though and feeling it was pretty ordinary. The setup felt familiar. I’ve seen “wake up with dead woman” movies and shows before. Watching the pilot didn’t do much to change that. But maybe the show gets better in the later episodes?
4) Game of Thrones – I’ve tried so hard to keep up with Thrones. I’ve blocked out times to binge watch so I can catch up to the current season (I’m still at the beginning of 5). But the writing’s weaknesses keep bleeding through. Too many scenes with people sitting around talking. Keeping the audience’s attention by killing off characters as a substitution for solid dramatic storytelling. Hey, I understand how hard it is to keep a show fresh past its third season. But Thrones might want to switch its focus from kings to emperors, since this one doesn’t seem to have any clothes on.
5) The Walking Dead – Speaking of trying to keep a show fresh. Holy Moses. The Walking Dead doesn’t have any idea what it wants to do and is continuously repeating previous seasons’ story beats. I gave up a couple of seasons ago when they became part of yet another “perfect” community (repeat of season 3). And, again, when your main source of entertainment is killing off characters, you’ve lost your show.
6) The Americans – Everyone keeps telling me this is the best show on television. I have tried to watch the first episode no fewer than four times now. I have yet to get through the entire thing. The shoddy production value didn’t help. The Cold War stuff isn’t interesting to me (never liked Cold War stories – I think that time in history is extremely boring). If someone could try and explain to me why I should watch this show, they better be offering me a lifetime supply of In and Out double-doubles along with it. Cause I don’t think there’s any other way to get me to give this another chance.
7) Better Call Saul – One of the most understated shows on television. Every episode keeps me just entertained enough to keep watching. But it’s not lost on me how little story they put into each season. I think the main reason I keep watching is because once “Saul” finally emerges, I believe the show will become more like Breaking Bad.
8) Homeland – Like a lot of people, when Homeland won the Emmy for best drama, I binge-watched the first season and loved it. But five episodes into season 2 and I felt like I’d figured the show out. Once you’re ahead of the writers, your show is done.
9) Fargo – The only reason I hesitate to put this up is because it’s an anthology. So we don’t get to continue with those amazing characters from last season. But Fargo Season 2 came out of nowhere to be some of the best writing I’ve seen on TV in years. Wow was this a surprise.
10) Ray Donovan – I LOVE the character of Ray Donovan. I think he’s great and a big reason I watched the first 7 episodes of this show. But like Homeland, I started to feel like I’d figured the show out. There was no mystery or uncertainty anymore. Maybe I jumped the gun, though. I’ve been feeling like I should jump back in to Ray.
Honorable Mentions: The Flash, American Horror Story, Billions, Suits, Orange is the new Black, House of Cards, Outlander
So guys, what’s the best-written show out there???
Not even Jason Bourne can save the worst summer in box office history. The newest Bourne will bring in 10+ million less than its previous Matt Damon installment. Personally, I think they dropped the ball with the title. All those other Bourne movies had cool titles. Like, “The Bourne Sociology” and “The Bourne Platitude.” This one is just, “Jason Bourne.” When you can’t even make your title exciting, why would you expect us to think your movie was exciting? And don’t even get me started on them ditching Tony Gilroy in favor of THEIR DAMN EDITOR writing the script. Hmm, ya THINK that might have something to do with the bad reviews, guys. Let me just throw a question at the editor here. Would you allow a screenwriter to edit this film? Exactly. But surrrrrrre. Anybody can write a script. Why not give the job to someone who’s never done it before? Hilarious. All of this continues to be AWESOME news for screenwriters, though. The industry is learning the hard way that we want something fresh. And as we all know, the hard way (less money) is the only way the industry learns. And who knows. Maybe one of today’s scripts will be the original spark they’re looking for!
Logline: Show business today may be a snake pit of jealousy and backstabbing, but for an aspiring Court Jester in the 1636, it isn’t even THAT nice.
Why you should read: I’m a UK-based writer and I’ve always loved film and TV about the inner workings of show-business, and the chaos, desperation and joy involved when art meets money. ‘I’m Alan Partridge,’ ‘The Larry Sanders Show,’ ‘Bullets Over Broadway,’ etc – it’s been done brilliantly many times but I think with FOOL I’ve found a new angle on it. I love sharp, witty dialogue as much as I love broad slap-stick, and in FOOL I’ve tried to them throw both in together. So if you want a fresh take on a much-loved genre, have a read of FOOL. I hope you enjoy it but if you don’t, you can have fun tearing it to bits – another great showbiz tradition.
Title: Cargo Unknown
Logline: The misfit crew of an interstellar freighter are hired to transport a mysterious scientist and his unknown cargo. During the long trip, they discover the frightening contents of his containers and know they must stop his mad plan before arriving at their destination, Earth.
Why you should read: With this script, I hoped to create a sci-fi action story that continuously ramped up the tension on the crew’s desperate situation. The small crew quickly loses control of their ship. They are nearly weaponless, vastly outnumbered and have only the duration of their trip to stop the villain. The threat isn’t the typical killing machine/monster and I absolutely loved the two badass women who are the ship’s engineers. I was lucky enough to have this script make it into the SS250, but it didn’t crack the top 25. I would certainly appreciate any suggestions and comments from Carson and the Scriptshadow community.
Title: Taking Stock
Logline: When his estranged brother gets in over his head with a Las Vegas Mob boss, A timid, low-level financial analyst must decide whether to risk his job and his freedom by using insider trading information to pay off his brother’s debt.
Why you should read: This is a solid story with interesting characters that are polar opposites. Matthew is a PTSD riddled, gambling addicted Iraqi war veteran engaging in reckless behavior in the hopes that nature will eventually takes its toll. Damian, his younger brother, is a timid, anxiety ridden investment lackey whose idea of risk is not balancing his checkbook. Although different at that cores, they share a tragic past that continues to bind them together. A bond that ultimately compels Damian to risk everything he values to prevent a cruel Mobster from taking all that Matthew has left – his life.
The story also achieves a personal goal for me in that I wanted to write a story that compares the worlds of organized crime and investment banking. This script demonstrates that they are indeed similar beasts.
Logline: An errand boy for a contract killer stumbles into a ruthless battle with his boss and an unscrupulous landlord to save his weirdo friends and their beloved laser tag arena.
Why you should read: The only way I could live further from LA is by moving to Tranquility Base (I’m in Singapore). I submitted this for the Scriptshadow 250 but didn’t make the initial cut. Don’t make the same mistake twice! I’ve read almost all of the Amateur Friday offerings and (bias alert) this script is better than nearly all of them (I would have said “all of them” but trying to be modest about it). If I had to compare it to anything (that’s advisable, right?) I’d say it’s a Clerks meets Pineapple Express deal. I’ve read Scriptshadow Secrets several times and done my level best to implement every bit of advice from it. This is your chance to say “See everybody, my book can turn you into a real screenwriter!”
Title: The Picks, the Pit and the Plan
Genre: Dark Comedy Thriller
Logline: A pot dealer and a primatologist clash with the townies after they hijack a brain damaged clerk’s plan to brutally hunt down everyone he sold a lottery ticket to in a desperate race to claim the jackpot.
Why you should read: I got on your newsletter after you and I talked about a YT video I made called Muppets Saw a few years ago. I’ve had over 60 million views (many of them stolen) of my silly videos on the web. Instead of videos, I now spend my free time writing screenplays. — I’ve had a few reads of this script from people in the biz and the biggest critique was that it wasn’t commercial enough. I think you should read it for very selfish reasons … because I want to write for a living. Your review could only make me closer to that goal.