Hey everyone. So, I’ve been a naughty boy. I actually didn’t have any project to finish. Instead, I went on vacation! I needed it, man, if only to rejuvenate my soul. I decided to go to a city that people have been telling me to visit for years now – Prague! And, boy, did it live up to the hype.
Unlike cities here in the U.S., Prague has grown organically over hundreds of years, leading to beautiful architecture, cobblestone streets, and a series of twisting tunnels and walkways that make the city feel like one giant kid’s fort.
Here are a few pictures. The thing on the bottom is called a langos. It’s fried dough with cheese sprinkled on top, along with tomato sauce. Although the tomato sauce on mine tasted suspiciously like ketchup. Either way, it was fried dough. So it was wonderful.
I’ll be back Monday for regular posting. We’re going to start off talking about the writer’s strike. In the meantime, I highly recommend Prague as your next vacation spot. It’s a glorious city!
Hello all. A quick heads up. I’m in the midst of a project I have to finish which is going to affect my posting for the next week and a half. Expect sporadic posting during that period. I know a lot of you are wondering when the Shorts Contest announcements are going to rev up. And I promise you that after I’m finished with this, the Shorts are my main priority. The director is on me every day to get this going so we’ll get’er done. Don’t worry.
In the meantime, let’s all check out the latest Star Wars trailer. And… I don’t know guys. Something’s not doing it for me here. The first half of the trailer looks like three people got a cool location, shot there for a day, then cobbled together a Star Wars fan film. There isn’t a single iconic shot in here. And the story looks like it can be boiled down to, “Luke’s Mad.” That sucks. I was hoping for a lot more. What’d you guys think?
Today we’re going to talk about summer madness and all the shapes, colors, and sizes it comes in. With Fast and the Furious dropping their bi-annual supercharged nonsensical treatise of loyalty and family on an all-too-eager public this weekend, how could you NOT get excited about the summer box office? I know I am. For both the good and the bad. Here are the key projects I’ll be keeping an eye on…
It’s hard to have much of an opinion on a Christopher Nolan movie before it’s released since he’s so darn secretive. But even the most hardened Nolan films will agree that this is a pivotal movie for Nolan. His last two movies (The Dark Knight Rises and Interstellar) were major messes, with progressively sloppier screenplays. Exploring another genre was a good idea. But now we’re getting details on the plot, which involves soldiers… running away? Hmmm… that doesn’t sound very active or heroic to me. I’ll see any Christopher Nolan movie. They’re events. But if this doesn’t work, the Nolan shrine may need to be placed in storage.
Wow. Where the hell did this movie come from?! As if Marvel didn’t have enough success. They take their worst character, pair him with the Hulk, put him back where he came from (another planet) and all of a sudden this looks like the freshest coolest comic book movie out there. There’s a screenwriting lesson to be learned here. You need to play with ideas more when you come up with a concept. If you go the obvious route, you come up with Thor 1 & 2. They found the right combination of ideas with this one and, out of nowhere, it’s awesome. This is now one of my most anticipated movies!
This movie was supposedly shot, then reshot, then one half of that reshoot was reshot and then someone shot themselves for shooting it in the first place. You can tell when a studio movie had extensive reshoots cause that money then comes out of the special effects budget. I suspect the effects to King Arthur were outsourced to a guy in Korea with an Atari 2600. You know a movie is bad when you don’t even know what it’s about after the trailer. What is this about? I suppose they should get credit for giving us a fresh take on King Arthur. But it just goes to show that fresh takes are still gambles. You have one that worked out (Thor) and one that didn’t (King Arthur). It’s time to put that sword back in the rock.
If you’re anything like me, you’re skeptical about this new Hollywood benchmark that’s taken over the internet: Most trailer views in 24 hours. It seems to be the only thing that anybody cares about anymore. However, everyone knows that the studios pay for at least a portion of these views. So how seriously can we take them? “It” is the new record holder, with something like 250 million views. Regardless of my trailer view skepticism, the movie looks great, and their adaptation approach was very clever. This book can’t fit into a single movie. However, a trilogy would’ve been too much. To split it into the kids film and the adults film was a stroke of genius. And we all know how much I loved Andres Muscietti’s previous effort, Mama. So count me in!
There is no franchise more tuned into what the public is looking for than this one. Guardians 2 has just the right blend of character, humor, action and Groot. And you can already tell that this film is more confident than its predecessor, a movie where director James Gunn admitted that he thought he might be making the next Pluto Nash. Guardians will probably win the summer box office prize, a prize it will, unfortunately, have to hand over to Star Wars at the end of the year.
I’m neutral on this one. It seems to me like they’re making a smart play though. You know that old saying, “When you try to please everybody, you please nobody?” That’s clearly what was going on in the last two Spiderman movies. They wanted so badly for everybody to like them that you could feel it permeating off the screen. With this new version, they’ve kinda said, “Let’s move away from that” and gone back to Spiderman’s roots, which are in high school. So they’re targeting a more specific demographic, the teenage crowd, and we’ll see how it works. I know I liked Cop Car (the director of that tiny film landed this job). And if there’s a lesson to be learned for screenwriters, that may be it. Make a small passion project and direct it yourself. Who the hell knows what might come of it?
The Fate of the Furious
I don’t care what you say about Fast and the Furious. It still has the best and most inventive set pieces in the action game. It beats out Mission Impossible, Bourne, and James Bond in that category. In fact, one of the most common notes I give on action specs is to be more inventive with your set pieces. Fast and the Furious had two cars dragging an apartment sized vault through the city streets. You need to do better with your set pieces if you want to compete. Now regarding this plot point of Dominic turning on his team. How probable is it that it’s part of a bigger plan to help his team? One thousand percent? One million?
For super movie nerds, this is a project all of us have been following for awhile. Why? One answer: The Fifth Element. This was going to be what Luc Besson would’ve done with The Fifth Element had he had more money. Besson is a great filmmaker. And he was supposedly creating sequences and techniques that had never been used before to give the audience a one-of-a-kind experience with Valerian. But after seeing the trailer, I was shockingly disappointed. This was it?? Sure, it seemed okay. But it hardly felt like something I’ve never seen before. Then it struck me. It wasn’t the visuals I was having a negative reaction to. It was the characters. How fucking boring do these two characters look? They mumble. They have no chemistry. There doesn’t seem to be any conflict between them (in fact, it’s the opposite, they seem to like each other – major screenwriting mistake!). Watch the Guardians and Thor trailers then watch this. Note how much more personality the characters have in those trailers. Valerian is in trouble. And let this be a lesson to screenwriters everywhere. Don’t get lost in your world-building. Make sure the characters are compelling first. Or nothing else matters.
Why do I get the feeling that Scott’s only making these movies out of spite? And when Scott goes spite, he goes FULL SPITE! After this film, he has three more Alien movies lined up. Say what?? Not to jump on Thor’s jock yet again. But the idea with any franchise is to elevate, find fresh new ways to explore the subject matter. This looks like the same exact movie as the last one. I don’t get it.
Rest of the movies: I’m not a fan of the DC films so I’m not looking forward to Justice League or Wonder Woman. It seems that their big mistake is hiring visual directors, whereas the Marvel guys are hiring storytellers. As for “maybe” movies – Pirates, The Mummy, and Apes – the reinvigorated Pirates looks like it’ll be the breakout (can Disney do no wrong?). But The Mummy doesn’t look bad either. Don’t get me started on Transformers (they could slip one of the previous four films in theaters, slap a “5” on it, and I swear nobody would notice. Save 200 million bucks). One day somebody’s going to do a documentary on how the five worst movies ever made became five of the biggest box offices successes of all time. Of the two Stephen King offerings, The Dark Tower was never my cup of tea. “It” was so inspired. Tower just dragged on. I never made it to the end (8 books!), but I hear the ending was terrible. All that investment for no payoff. I have a feeling this franchise isn’t going work. Still, one for two ain’t bad.
And that’s my roundup! What about you folks? What are you looking forward to? What movies do you think are undervalued? Overvalued? Chime in in the comments!
Premise: Released after a 20 year stint in prison, a man is ready to spend the rest of his life on cruise-control, until he befriends a strange young boy who lives next door.
About: Palmer finished on last year’s Black List. The writer, Cheryl Guerriero, wrote a Spanish film before this called “The Hunting Season.”
Writer: Cheryl Guerriero
Details: 122 pages
In honor of the controversial backwater memoir “Hillbilly Elegy” getting the movie treatment via Ron Howard (people say the author of that book was “The Trump Whisperer”), I thought I’d review another “struggling white middle-class” script. Although this one doesn’t contain any Trump controversy. At least none that I noticed.
Eddie Palmer, pushing 40, has just been released from prison. He did a dumb thing when he was 20, robbing a bank, ruining any chance he had of living a normal life. He stumbles back to his grandmother’s house (Vivian) and asks if he can stay there while he gets his shit together.
Vivian loves Palmer, but she’s still smarting after what he did. She says he can stay, but only if he comes to church on Sundays. Meanwhile, next door, drug-addict Shelly is so busy running around with abusive men that she can’t take care of her seven year-old son, Sam.
Sam is different. All the other boys like sports. Sam likes dolls. And dresses. His dream is to be accepted into the Princess Club. Because Shelley’s never around, the burden of taking care of Sam has been shifted to Vivian. And Vivian’s just fine with that. Sam may be different. But he’s the nicest boy you’ll ever meet.
Now you have to understand, this area of the country isn’t exactly West Hollywood. A little boy who likes dolls is going to have it rough. And when Palmer meets Sam, he doesn’t know what to make of him. At first, he tries to keep his distance. But Sam keeps chatting his ear off, and he’s so darn charming that Palmer starts to like him.
(spoiler!) Just when things are getting copacetic in the house, Vivian dies. Which means Palmer has to take care of Sam on his own. Palmer’s actually becoming well suited for that. It’s everybody else who’s the problem. Should a man who just got out of prison really be taking care of an unrelated seven year-old boy? And why would a man want to take care of a little boy anyway?
Palmer’s one cheerleader is Maggie, a teacher who can tell that Sam genuinely loves Palmer. But the rest of the town isn’t on board. And as the powers-that-be put the squeeze on the arrangement, Palmer and Sam must prepare for reality – that Palmer can no longer be his guardian.
Man, this is a tough subject-matter to write a spec off of.
I don’t mean in the dramatic sense. I mean commercially. You’re basically writing about people being people. There’s no concept. There’s no hook. Actually, there’s a bit of a hook but it’s far from a “poster” hook.
I see so many of these scripts disappear, even when they’re good, because they don’t have that commercial appeal that producers require. And I don’t want to get too into this. But guys, remember, you’re selling scripts to people who are trying to make a living. These aren’t folks with Floyd Mayweather money who do this as a hobby.
Every potential buyer looks at a script and, at some point, asks, “Will anybody go and see this?”
I just want you to keep that in mind when you’re coming up with your next script idea. I’d never say don’t write something you’re passionate about. But at least consider the commercial aspects of your idea, because I guarantee you producers will.
The good news for Palmer is that it’s one of the good ones. This is a beautifully constructed character piece, one of the best I’ve read all year.
That beauty rests in the main relationship, between Palmer and Sam. Regardless of whether you’re writing a straight character piece or a giant blockbuster in the vein of Fast and Furious, you should spotlight the key relationship in the story and make it as interesting/compelling/conflict-filled as possible. That relationship will be the heart of your film. So if it’s not interesting, we won’t care about anything else.
Here you have Palmer, who’s an old-school conservative tough guy. There you have Sam, a little boy with likes to wear make-up and dresses. Before you’ve done any extra work on the characters, this setup is going to give you some interesting scenes.
On top of that, Guerriero adds other things to create more contrast in the relationship. Palmer rarely speaks. Sam can’t shut up. Palmer is hard to like. Sam is the most likable kid on the planet. Palmer is a Negative Nancy. Sam is a Positive Paula. All of these factors contribute to a series of interactions you can’t look away from.
One of my favorite things to watch here was Sam win Palmer over. Palmer is initially weirded out by how effeminate Sam is and how he carries around dolls. But Sam never gives up. One night, when the two are eating spaghetti, Sam notices that he’s got all the meatballs in his bowl and Palmer has none.
So Sam leans over and scoops a few meatballs into Palmer’s bowl. “You don’t like meatballs?” Palmer asks. “They’re my favorite,” Sam says. I mean if you don’t fall in love with this kid at that point, you have no heart.
The structure is fairly solid, but you can tell that Guerriero isn’t as comfortable with that component as she is character. I would’ve given this script a mega-impressive had it not faltered at the end, where too many endings were stacked on top of one another. I sensed trouble from the start when I saw 122 pages on the page count. “What small character piece takes 122 pages to tell?” I thought. Then, the whole way through the script, I’m thinking, “Wow, it’s still not dragging. None of these pages are being wasted.” But then the third act arrives and there’s just too much going on (a court case, a house sale, a kidnapping, lots of characters talking about what should happen). It killed the momentum of the story.
Sometimes we overthink our endings and that may be what happened here.
But outside of that, this was a really nice little script. If you’re someone who gets the note, “Your characters are thin” or “Your character development is weak,” check this script out. You can definitely learn a thing or two from it.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Never ever write a perfect character. Even if a character is supposed to be perfect, don’t write them as perfect. You know why? Because perfect is manipulative. Since nobody is perfect, when you write a “perfect” character, the audience senses that they’re being manipulated. Even Sam, who it would’ve been so easy to write “perfect,” has a flaw. He steals things. And thank God he did. Because it humanized him. If he didn’t steal, I might’ve thought, “This kid is too good to be true.”
Today I review the coolest TV premise I’ve come across all year!
Genre: TV Pilot – Sci-fi/Drama
Premise: A small American town on the east coast finds itself dealing with a group of refugees… from the future.
About: Whereas yesterday’s writer was a neophyte, today’s writers – Dan Dwarkin & Jay Beattie – are anything but. These guys have been writing TV forever. They’ve worked on Vanished, Criminal Minds, The Event, Revenge, Matador, Scorpion, Cold Case. They sold this show to ABC this past offseason, which, if it hits, I think will be their first created show. But maybe someone will correct me on that.
Writer: Dan Dworkin & Jay Beattie
Details: 63 pages
Every once in awhile a concept comes along where you’re like, “Wow.”
Here’s how you create such a concept. First, you come up with a cool idea. That by itself is hard to do. But then, in addition to it being a cool idea, you must also make it timely. Now you’re merging two individual things that get audiences interested in a show into one giant super-premise.
Whenever I see such an idea, I don’t get excited. I get nervous. Cause I’m like, “You’ve just achieved something that only happens a few times a year. Please… DON’T SCREW IT UP.”
And with that optimistic attitude, let’s jump into today’s pilot, shall we!?
Port Canaan is a small East Coast fishing town that’s about to become the center of one hell of a mystery. Hundreds of bodies come floating up to the surface of the ocean. Most of them are dead. But some are clinging to life.
The locals spring into action, led by the new sheriff, Jude, a former Philly cop who let booze destroy his life. He’s now got a kid his wife won’t even let him talk to. When Jude realizes just how big this thing is, he calls in the Coast Guard. And from there, it isn’t long before the FBI flies in.
Enter agent Emma Peralta, the kind of woman who’s seen enough not to get rattled by much, even something as bizarre as this. When Peralta questions where these people are from, they tell her, “America.” Where in America, she asks. Not where, they tell her. When. They’re from an America 250 years in the future.
Peralta believes that as much as she believes they’re cancelling taxes this year. But there is something odd about these people. Enough to call in some bigger guns. And when those guns arrive, loaded and ready, they strangely can’t find any cracks in the refugees’ story. When you add on that no ship or plane wreckage was found, they’re forced to face the unthinkable. What if they’re telling the truth?
Meanwhile, one of the time jumping refugees, an athletic sniper of a woman with the perfect futuristic name – Rae – finds her way onto shore before the FBI spot her. She runs into Jude and tells him she needs him. For what, he asks. Well, that’s something we find out from another jumper. You see, according to these guys, they weren’t the first to jump. In fact, there are more people from the future here than we realize.
There’s something to be said for craft.
I’ve gotten to a stage in my reading where when you don’t tell me anything about a script, I can tell whether it was written by a new guy on the block, a guy who’s almost there, a guy who’s written a few professional scripts, or writers like these guys, who’ve worked in the business forever. Before I did research on this script, I could just tell that these two knew what the hell they were doing.
The pros have an effortless ability to drift between lots of character storylines (common in TV), yet keep the plot focused and moving. Newbies, meanwhile, will jump around with more of a reckless abandon, or worse, they’ll jump around for the sake of jumping around.
They won’t actually use the scenes to move the story forward. Many times in newbie scripts, scenes won’t even have a point. They’ll be there simply because the writer knew he had to write a scene.
Think about that for a moment. You should never write a scene just because you know you have to put something there. Every scene needs to have a purpose, to have a point. Think of it this way. Treat your scenes like your script. You have a passion for writing your script, don’t you? Well bring that same passion into writing each individual scene and make those scenes as compelling and entertaining as you can possibly make them.
(If you don’t know how to write a scene, check out my recent article on them).
That leads me to today’s hot screenwriting tip: controlled mess.
Writers tend to go one of two ways when they write. The first is uncontrolled mess. This is when the writer doesn’t have a plan, a theme, any definitive characters goals. Their script goes wherever their mind takes them in the moment, leading to a messy and, ultimately, random story.
The second is a mistake that intermediate screenwriters make. I call it, controlled order. Here, the writer goes in the opposite direction. They know structure and character development so well that everything is focused, goal-oriented, and clean. Which sounds good. But the problem with controlled order is that it’s TOO CLEAN. Everything is so in-line, so perfect, that the story is obvious, predictable, and lifeless. You’re following the letter of the law and therefore you never surprise us.
What you want is option 3: Controlled mess.
This combines the best of both worlds. You get the messiness that keeps your story exciting and unpredictable. But it’s a calculated mess. The writer’s mastery of craft allows him to control it, keeping the story purposeful at all times.
If that’s confusing, I’ll give you an example from this script. When all the refugees show up, the writers have them operate as a giant group. They’re lumped in together. Emma, the agent, comes in every once in awhile to ask them questions. It’s very much “controlled order.”
However, the writers also introduce a rogue character, Rae, who the rescuers didn’t spot. Rae gets to shore separately, moves into town, and starts wreaking havoc. This is the “mess” part. By “messing up” the integration of the refugees, the writers give you a more unpredictable story. What was once clean now feels untamed.
With your own scripts, figure out which side of the fence you’re on. Are you on the uncontrolled mess or controlled order side? From there, you can figure out what you need more of to get to controlled mess.
As for the rest of this script, I thought it was great. This pilot could work as a classroom for TV writing. Not only was the pilot itself first-class writing, but it implies such a bigger world in the coming episodes. This feels to me like ABC is trying to get back into the “Lost” business. I hope they get the production part right cause this is a show I would watch.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] genius
What I learned: I’m a big advocate of messing up your story a bit. As much as some of you think I’m a stickler for the rules, I’m actually not. I’m only a stickler for the core rules that have been the foundation of storytelling for hundreds of years. I hate when scripts are technically perfect. That’s where I’d place yesterday’s script – Hummingbird. It was technically perfectly executed. But that was the problem. There was no mess. It followed all the beats just like you’re supposed to. I might as well have read a screenwriting book. So add the mess, guys. Just make sure it’s controlled mess. :)