We’re one day away from the opening of the new Star Wars movie and you know, I have to say, this Star Wars press junket is the best junket for any movie I can remember. A big reason for that is Mark Hamill. The guy’s so darned earnest. He’ll answer any question and he genuinely seems to be enjoying himself. You have to remember that Mark Hamill ran from this part for a long time. He wanted nothing to do with Luke Skywalker because he wanted a career as an actor and Luke was typecasting him. To see him embracing the character again is awesome.
Gwendolyn Christie is hilarious. John Boyega looks like he enjoys doing junkets more than shooting movies. Watching Laura Dern react to anything is as fun as watching kittens play. Kelly-Marie Tran still can’t believe she’s in a Star Wars movie. Even Rian Johnson, who looks a bit shy and reserved, is surprisingly forthright with information. JJ has a lot of charisma but he didn’t give you jack squat during the Force Awakens tour. If you ask Rian Johnson about Porgs, he’ll straight up tell you some of his cast hates them. Ask him about his new trilogy – something you’d think would be completely off limits – and he’ll tell you everything he’s got so far.
All of this has me rooting for the film, even though I’m tempering my expectations as much as possible. I honestly don’t think Johnson’s a good writer, guys. And these rumors about the over-the-top humor and some prequel-like moments has me worried. But hey, a man can only worry so much. It’s a new Star Wars film, baby. There’s reason to celebrate.
Which brings me to today’s topic. How can YOU write the next Star Wars? That zeitgeist-altering journey to another time and place that’s so magical and so affects its audiences, it becomes a part of their very being? It becomes an inspiration that affects their lives moving forward? Sound impossible? Eh, it’s not easy. But it can be done. And I’m here to tell you how to do it. Here are ten tips that will help you write the next Star Wars (or Harry Potter, or Lord of the Rings)…
1) DON’T WRITE THE NEXT STAR WARS – The trick to writing the next Star Wars is to not write the next Star Wars. Or Harry Potter. Or The Matrix. You see, one of the reasons Star Wars became Star Wars was because there was nothing else like it. The fact that it stood out so much from all the other offerings was a big reason for why it became so popular. In other words, don’t write a science fiction space-opera. Star Wars has that market cornered. Don’t write about kid magicians. That market’s been cornered. If your idea doesn’t surprise people, you haven’t written the next Star Wars.
2) COMBINE TWO THINGS THAT HAVEN’T BEEN COMBINED BEFORE – One of the tricks to creating something original is to take what we know and combine it with something we don’t expect. Star Wars took the world of science-fiction and said, “What if we combined this with the world of Westerns?” Harry Potter took magicians, who had been doing generic magic things for 300 years, and said, “What if we combined that with going to school?” It sounds easy but it’s true. And it’s fun. Just start plugging things together you don’t think go together and see if you come up with something cool. I’ll get you started. The story of King Arthur. What can you combine that with that we haven’t seen before? Give us your take in the Comments Section.
3) BUILD AN EXTENSIVE MYTHOLOGY – If there’s one commonality between Star Wars, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, it’s how elaborate and deep the mythology is. And that doesn’t come by accident. You have to do tons of backstory research into how this world came about, who’s involved, how it operates, the lineage of the characters, the lineage of the factions (Jedi, Elves, etc.) the lineage of the political climate. You often have to go back tens, even hundreds of years, to figure out how your world came together. Half-baked mythology leads to half-baked movies. So do your homework. Maybe don’t spend a year inventing a language like Tolkien did. But do your homework.
4) FOCUS ON THE STORY – Here’s where so many writers trying to write the next Star Wars screw it up. They create this mythology that’s so huge and so extensive and took so much time to come up with, that they want to show it off! So their movie becomes one big promotion for all the research they did. That’s not the point of creating a mythology. The point of creating a mythology is so you have the freedom to write a cool story within that universe. The mythology should exist in the background, only occasionally making its way into the story (“I fought with your father in the Clone Wars.”). This is one of the primary differences between Star Wars and The Phantom Menace. Star Wars was a relentless race to save the galaxy. The Phantom Menace was a show-off reel for all the political mythology Lucas constructed for the prequels.
5) AN UNDERDOG HERO WE CAN RELATE TO – When you write a protagonist into any script, but especially these types of scripts, you need to ask, “Is he relatable?” If you’re going to capture the imaginations of hundreds of millions of people, your main character has to be living a life that the vast majority of people feel like they’re living as well. To achieve this, anchor your story with an ordinary guy/gal. And to manipulate the audience into a little more sympathy, make that guy/gal an underdog. This is the formula for Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, Frodo, and Neo.
6) DRAW ON ARCHETYPES, THEN DESTROY THEM LIKE THE REBEL SCUM THEY ARE – Archetypes (the Hero, the Jester, the Sage, the Rebel) are your best friends when creating something for the masses. These are the types of characters audiences understand best. But remember, you’re not adapting The Hero’s Journey. You’re trying to create something fresh and different. That means for every archetype you embrace, you should destroy one. Luke is as archetypal as a hero can get. He’s a straight up everyday guy. Princess Leia, however, is nothing like the princesses we’ve come to know. She’s a get-your-hands-dirty fast-talking princess with an attitude. It’s how you play with archetypes that really sets your screenplay apart.
7) IT’S GOTTA BE PG OR PG-13 – If you want the most people possible falling in love with your story, you need the story to be accessible to children. Yes, you can write 50 Shades of Gray or Terminator. But something doesn’t truly tap into the zeitgeist unless you’re playing to the Age 5-25 demographic. This is your most impressionable audience. This is the audience who will most fervently champion your material. This doesn’t mean your writing shouldn’t have edge. Quite the contrary. It’s the “edge” that sets your material apart and makes that younger audience feel like they’re getting away with something. But if your material would clearly be rated R, it’s not the next Star Wars.
8) CHANGE WITH THE TIMES – If Lucas were writing Star Wars today, I’m pretty sure he’d be using the internet and social media in some for to do so. He would write an online graphic novel. Self-publish a novel. Drum up a kickstarter to shoot the trash compactor scene as proof-of-concept. We live in a different world than 1977 so the same rules don’t apply. A big part of Star Wars’s success was being on the cutting edge of so many ideas, taking chances in areas no one had taken chances in before. You must bring that same spirit to your own Star Wars. The rules are changing daily. Be creative and think outside the box to get your idea out there.
9) TAKE RISKS – If you want to create something as great as Star Wars, you have to be willing to take massive risks. The reason something takes over the zeitgeist is because it’s unlike anything that’s come before it. It’s new. Fresh. Different. Remember, before Star Wars premiered, Lucas’s friends were making fun of “the Force.” They thought it was weird and hokey. But that chance ended up paying off. The trick to taking chances is to ground those chances in your mythology. The Force was an integral part of Lucas’s world-building. It wasn’t like George said, “I have to take risks!” so he came up with something called the “KABLOWIE!” where every time Luke yells “Kablowie” everyone around him freezes. That’s not taking a risk. That’s stupid. The Force was existent in every corner of Lucas’s story, so when Obi-Wan or Luke used it, it made sense. But yeah, you have to take the kind of risks that are either going to result in Yoda or Jar-Jar. And the scary thing is, you won’t know until people see it. Gosh I love writing.
10) MAKE IT FUN! – I know this advice sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised at how few writers follow it. They want to write something that’s “Important” and shows what a “serious writer” they are. And look, I’m not not saying you can’t do that. But if you’re trying to write the next Star Wars or Harry Potter, the overall feeling of your story needs to be optimistic and fun. Not Blade Runner 2149.6.
Having trouble uploading new posts, guys. Disregard this. :)
Premise: In a future where nuclear war is imminent, humanity’s last hope is an artificially intelligent robot being escorted up through South America by two low-level Brazilian criminals.
About: Today’s script is the new spec that just sold from Ryan and Matthew Firpo, the writers behind number 1 Black List script, Ruin. Whereas that script dealt with World War 2, this one deals with an impending World War 3.
Writers: Ryan and Matthew Firpo
Details: 132 pages! – Nov 20, 2017 draft
We’re two days past The Black List and two days away from the latest release of the biggest sci-fi franchise in the world. So I thought, let’s split the difference. We’ll review a sci-fi spec from the writers who scored the number 1 Black List script! It’s almost poetic.
In the near future, a nuclear attack in Korea has left the entire planet on the brink of war. A global government body called the ITA has come up with a potential solution. Because humans seem destined for violence, why not leave the world in the hands of an artificially intelligent president.
This AI is called “Deep Unity,” a perfect AI program developed by Elon-Musk-like Anders Vik that takes human emotion out of the equation. What could go wrong? We’re just days away from a global election on whether to allow Deep Unity to take over. And the race is tight!
Meanwhile, down in Rio, two brothers slash criminals, Primo and Caspar, are looking to score a job. They need money so they can escape to Cuba, the last place in the world without internet. They sign up for their most elaborate job yet, transferring a pleasure android up the coast into Columbia. A road trip that will net them a couple hundred grand.
Jaji, the woman hiring them, refuses to tell them why the android, Mimi, is so valuable. But they soon find out when, on the first leg of the trip, they’re attacked by American mercenaries. That’s when Mimi first powers up and casually kills the group of soldiers.
Primo and Caspar aren’t so sure about this job anymore. But if they want the other half of their dough, they have to complete the mission. After meeting with a member of the “terrorist group,” the Citizens, (spoiler) they find out that Mimi is actually the real Deep Unity. And that the Deep Unity that will be used to rule the world is secretly human-influenced.
Primo comes up with a new plan. Let’s head over to Cuba, sell this way-more-trouble-than-she’s-worth Mimi chick to a boater, and get themselves to their version of Zihuatanejo. But the more idealistic Caspar wonders if they don’t have a duty to deliver Mimi to the people who can use her to stop Fake Deep Unity. It’s a morality showdown. Who’s going to win this argument? If you’ve watched movies before, you probably have a good idea.
Mimi From Rio has world-building up the wazoo. It’s wildly ambitious in that area, not just creating an entire future, but creating an entire political landscape. I’ve read so many scripts at this point, that I know when a writer’s put 5 minutes into his world-building or 5 months. Mimi From Rio’s world-building contains so much detail, it feels like it took a year to come up with. It’s that intricate.
I gotta give it to the brothers on the location of the story as well. Most of these types of scripts will be placed in America or a well-known Western European country. To shift our story down into South America adds an entirely new flavor to the science-fiction proceedings.
Unfortunately, that’s where the originality ends. Well, maybe not ends. But the rest of the story elements feel familiar. The most prominent of these is Mimi. I can’t tell you how many scripts I read where a robot or amnesiac woman/girl “wakes up” and has the ability to kick anybody’s ass, no matter how big.
Once something becomes a “thing,” it’s no longer interesting. That kind of choice is only interesting when we haven’t seen it before. We now live in a cinematic universe where 80% of the characters we see onscreen are superheroes in some form or another. So when yet another one arrives, packaged similarly, it’s hard to get excited about them. I don’t know if I’m getting too “get off my lawn” about this. But I’m telling you guys. I see this choice ALL the time.
With that said, these guys know how to write a script. They know how to structure properly. They know how to hit plot beats when you’re supposed to hit them. They know how to add a twist at just the right moment, send in a new character, kill a character off. Everything seems to come at just the right time. And even though you think you can predict what’s going to happen next, they manage to slide the reveal over a couple of notches and surprise you. The stuff with Jaji, the Americans chasing them, Anders Vik, and the political climate in general were all well done.
So why aren’t I going bonkers over this?
Something about this specific sub-genre has never worked for me. By “sub-genre,” I mean near-future, world in disarray, male protagonist escorting a special woman character. It’s a whole lot of world-building to essentially create a “characters travel from point A to point B” movie. A classic example of how unmemorable these movies can be is Vin Diesel’s Babylon A.D. I mean, it’s basically the same film.
In my experience, the best way to write these movies is to go the “gimmick” route. You come up with a tight premise, simple mythology, and gimmick-ize it. The best example of this is Children of Men. In a world where we can no longer pro-create, a guy must transport the last pregnant woman in the world to safety. Instantly understandable mythology that takes 2 seconds to explain. And the gimmick is that the movie is told in a series of one-takes.
Whether Mimi from Rio can withstand the more elaborate version of this formula will in part be determined by who signs on to direct and who stars. If it’s a high-level package, they’ll get a ton of money, which will allow them to realize this complex vision. But you guys know me. I’m all about the simplicity. Keep it simple. Focus it in. Don’t expand it out. So this one was too ambitious for me.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: If you have a ton of world-building (mythology) in your script, that means more exposition (more explaining). Every second you’re explaining is a second you’re not entertaining. Which is why you either want to keep the mythology simple or, if it’s complex, leave as much of it off the page as you can get away with (and have your script still make sense).
Premise: (from Black List) Based on the confusing, sometimes offensive, borderline-insane memories of David Prowse, the irascible Englishman behind Darth Vader’s mask.
About: We just covered The Black List yesterday and this is the first NEW script I’m reviewing from the list. It’s written by two newcomers. Nicholas is a composer who worked in the music department for John Carter of Mars and Dalton is an actor. By the way, if you only came to the main Scriptshadow page yesterday, you did not see the full Black List post. For whatever reason, when I updated, it didn’t catch. So if you only saw the 5-line “Black List Holding Post” message, click here to get the full article.
Writers: Nicholas Jacobson-Larson & Dalton Leeb
Details: 117 pages
What’d you think I was going to choose for my first 2017 Black List review? It’s freaking Star Wars week, man. And by the time you read this, the review embargo for The Last Jedi will have been lifted. Which means we get reviews from people other than those looking to keep Disney happy so they continue to get pre-release access to their big films. Oh, Carson, you’re so cynical! I know. I hate it. However, I am hearing, from the few people brave enough to speak negatively about the film, that the big criticism is that it’s tooooo sloooooow. Hmm, I wonder who predicted that? Could it be the person who said 2 hours and 30 minutes is way too long for a Star Wars film? I wonder. :)
Not to worry. We’re going back in time to when Star Wars was pure. When studios could actually hide all of the negative stuff that was happening on their films. And one of the most infamous of those stories is that of David Prowse, the man who would play Darth Vader.
David Prowse’s career was looking up. He had a role in A Clockwork Orange, and was one of the only actors with the balls to stand up to Stanley Kubrick. At least that’s what Old David Prowse, now 80, is telling the journalist who’s come to interview him about why George Lucas banned him from representing Star Wars.
Prowse dives back into his life as a bullied kid who took up bodybuilding, grew to 6 foot 7, and became enamored with acting. He was in his 40s, with a wife and kids, when a young director named George Lucas wanted him to play the big baddie in his low-budget science-fiction film, Star Wars. Prowse leapt at the chance, especially because this finally seemed like his opportunity to show he could act.
Almost immediately, Prowse put people off on the Star Wars set. He was clumsy, always knocking down and breaking expensive props, and annoying, constantly assaulting George Lucas with pointless questions about his character. But even as the rest of the cast – especially Harrison Ford – turned on him, Prowse was driven by the promise to finally show off his acting skills.
So you can imagine his reaction when he went to the premiere only to find out his voice had been dubbed over by James Earl Jones. Prowse was furious, but encouraged when he learns in Empire that his mask will be coming off. At least now they’ll be able to SEE him. Except that doesn’t turn out the way he hopes either (they used another actor).
In a final grand act of defiance, Prowse informs the Daily Mail that Darth Vader dies in Return of the Jedi, spoiling the film well before its release. That’s the rumor anyway. Prowse claims he had nothing to do with the leak as our journalist wraps up the interview, not quite sure why he wasted the last 4 hours with this man. Did he really learn anything new? Was Prowse being truthful about anything? The only one who will ever know is Prowse himself.
Let me start by saying this. This script has a great final scene. It’s so damn powerful and moving that I was in tears. Unfortunately, the rest of the script doesn’t stack up to the ending, as it’s unsure of what tone it wants to strike and who it wants to portray David Prowse as. And it’s frustrating. Because there’s obviously a lot to work with here.
The script uses the interview framing device to tell its story. This is where an interviewer attempts to find some truth about the protagonist, and before the protagonist can give you that truth, he must tell you how he got there. And hence we have a reason to tell his life story. This device is most successful when the truth the interview is trying to get at carries with it high stakes. The golden example of this is Titanic. They interview Old Rose to find out where the 100 million dollar diamond they’re searching for might be. That’s stakes!
We don’t get stakes anywhere approaching that in Strongman, and this is one of the script’s primary weaknesses. The question that sends us into Prowse’s life is “Why do you think you were banned?” The stakes are so low with this question that within 20 pages, I’d forgotten what the question was. It wasn’t until the final ten pages, when we’re back in the interview room and the question is repeated that I remembered it.
This is a good double-tip for screenwriters using any plotting device. Make sure the goal has some stakes attached to it. And don’t be afraid to REMIND the audience what those stakes are. Even the most attentive audience member is going to have trouble remembering what the point of the movie is if you go 100 pages without mentioning said point.
However, this wasn’t a script killer. This script lives or dies on the depiction of Prowse. And that was a mixed bag. It’s strange. The script is told almost entirely as a comedy. We get lots of scenes like Prowse dressing up a mannequin like Obi-Wan with a mop and doing pretend lightsaber battles with him. There are a good 30 prat falls throughout the script. The goofy characters he played in previous films – like Frankenstein – start following him around in ghost form telling him what to do. And yet it wants you to take Prowse’s journey seriously. When he’s sad about being overlooked, it wants you to be sad too. And it’s hard to do that when Prowse is erroneously remembering Carrie Fisher saying stuff like, “I’m wetter than a Dogobah swamp right now.” (an admittedly funny line)
In fact, I could never tell whether the writers wanted us to laugh with Prowse or at him. But most of it plays like we’re laughing at him, and I don’t think you can do that with a biopic. We have to sympathize with the character, to believe he’s got a leg to stand on. And Prowse is mostly depicted as a clueless unpleasant asshole.
The script shines most in its final third when it begins to ditch its comedy aspirations and focuses more on a man’s struggle to be seen, to be taken seriously, to not have to hide behind masks for the rest of its life. It also covers the complicated fact that Prowse was taken advantage of and used every step of the way of the Star Wars trilogy, even if some of it was his fault. There’s a poignant moment late when Carrie Fisher comes to him and says, “David, maybe people would like you more if you were a little nicer.” And he doesn’t understand what she means. He sees himself as a good guy.
So I don’t know what to make of this. It’s a mixed bag. I will say this – on the comedy side, Harrison Ford is fucking hilarious. He has NO respect for Prowse whatsoever and constantly screws with him throughout the productions, his go-to move being to point his pretend laser at Prowse’s penis and say, “Pew pew pew!” which infuriates Prowse to no end.
And then that ending. You know what? Now that I think about it. That ending doesn’t work unless some of what came before it worked. So maybe I’m underselling this. But it’s a weird script. It’s good sometimes. Bad sometimes. And ultimately leaves you confused about what the point of it all was. Funny. That’s what I’m hearing about The Last Jedi as well. :)
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: If you’re a writer writing about an era before you were born, don’t insert phrases and language from the current era. I’m pretty sure nobody was saying, “What’s up, bitches?” in 1977, as Harrison Ford says in this script.
P.S. Please continue to share your thoughts about any Black List scripts you read in the comments. I love seeing what you guys think about these scripts. It also helps me determine what I should review.
You want female assassins with less than 24 hours to do their job? We’ve got female assassins with less than 24 hours to do their job! We’ve also got World War 2 stories. Terminally ill characters. A dozen true stories based on [insert famous person’s name here]. And let’s not forget a big bag of political scripts (equally balanced between left and right leaning, of course). That’s right, your 2017 Black List has arrived!
First thoughts? I’d say that Ruin (review here) is a worthy number 1 script, though I personally would’ve gone with Keeper of the Diary (review here). I’m pumped as all hell that Logan made the list with Meat (review here). Not just because his script deserves it, but because something unique actually made it onto a list that doesn’t celebrate “unique” the way it used to.
As for the scripts that have gotten me excited to read. “Hughes” sounds good. I’ve always wondered exactly that – why Hughes disappeared. Every article on him assumes the reason, but no one’s come out with anything definitive. I want to know the truth! Even if I can’t handle it.
“Valedictorian” has my interest. I’m a sucker for black humor high school stuff, like Election. This sounds like it’s up the same alley. I wouldn’t normally be interested in a true story about a blind musician, but “Key of Genius” made the list with no manager or agent! That’s hard to do! So the script must have something going for it.
“Gadabout” sounds weird and interesting, one of the few truly original sounding scripts on the list. Definitely want to check that out. Star Wars script “Strongman” is one I’ll open up for sure. I haaaaated that script “Chewie” from a few years ago on the Black List. It was the most copy-and-paste-events script I’ve ever read. But David Prowse, the guy behind Darth Vader, is supposed to have a notorious feud going with George Lucas that’s lasted 30 years. And he has good reason. Imagine you shoot an entire movie only to find out once you get to the premiere that they replaced your voice. Oh, and THAT CHARACTER GOES ON TO BECOME THE BEST VILLAIN OF ALL TIME. Yeah, I’d be pissed too.
Bios, about a guy who creates a robot to look after his dog sounds like a tear-jerker with an angle. Obviously influenced by The Dog Stars. And the biopic about the Dating Game serial killer is probably as fertile as you can get with serial killer subject matter. I’ll check that out. I like the idea behind cab-flick “Daddio.” It’s such a movie-specific idea. And very old-school spec-like. I’ll read that. Oh, and “Where I End” gets the highest concept on the list award. So you gotta give that a shot.
The JK Rowling script is probably worth a read if only because it’s the best writing-related rags-to-riches story in history. Might come in handy if you’re struggling to stay motivated on that rewrite. And, of course, there will be surprises, stuff that looks boring but turns out to be amazing. Like this one from two years ago.
Finally, we have some odd connections. There are two scripts covering subject matter that was seen here on Amateur Friday by other writers. One is covering that Jewish filmmaker who made the Nazi propaganda film (Wyler) and the other covering the origin story of Curious George’s author (George). Goes to show you that everybody’s chasing the same stuff.
If you read any of these scripts that haven’t been reviewed on the site, share your thoughts in any of the Comments sections. Together, we should be able to suss out who the real contenders are and who has really good agents.
THE 2017 BLACK LIST
68 votes – “Ruin” by Matthew Firpo, Ryan Firpo – A nameless ex-Nazi captain must navigate the ruins of post-WWII Germany to atone for his crimes during the war by hunting down and killing the surviving members of his former SS death squad.
42 votes – “Let Her Speak” by Mario Correa – The true story of Senator Wendy Davis and her 24-hour filibuster to save 75% of abortion clinics in Texas.
40 votes – “Daddio” by Christy Hall – A passenger and her cab driver reminisce about their relationships on the way from the airport to her apartment in New York.
32 votes – “Keeper of The Diary” by Samuel Franco & Evan Kilgore – Chronicles Otto Frank’s journey, with the help of a junior editor at Doubleday Press, to find a publisher for the diary his daughter Anne wrote during the Holocaust.
22 votes – “Where I End” by Imran Zaidi – In a world where your life can be saved, uploaded to a computer, and restarted in the case of your untimely demise, a husband returns from the dead, suspecting his wife may have been involved in his death.
20 votes – “When Lightning Strikes” by Anna Klaassen – The true story of 25-year-old Joanne Rowling as she weathers first loves, unexpected pregnancies, lost jobs, and depression on her journey to create Harry Potter.
19 votes – “Breaking News in Yuba County” by Amanda Idoko – After catching her husband in bed with a hooker, which causes him to die of a heart attack, Sue Bottom buries the body and takes advantage of the local celebrity status that comes from having a missing husband.
18 votes – “Sleep Well Tonight” by Freddie Skov – Behind the walls of a maximum security prison, a naive teenage inmate and a rookie correctional officer are forced into a drug- smuggling operation, while a looming conflict between rival gang members threatens to boil over.
17 votes – “The Great Nothing” by Cesar Vitale – A grieving thirteen-year-old girl hires a terminally ill, acerbic philosophy professor to prevent flunking the seventh grade. What begins as a homework assignment blossoms into an unlikely friendship and a new appreciation for life that neither will forget.
16 votes – “Trapline” by Brett Treacy & Dan Woodward – A captive boy’s lifestyle is upended when his abductor asks for his help kidnapping a second child.
16 votes – “When In Doubt, Seduce” by Allie Hagan – The true story of the early relationship between Elaine May and Mike Nichols.
15 votes – “The Expansion Project” by Leo Sardinian – A rookie Marine gets stranded on a hostile planet during humanity’s space colonization with nothing but her exo-suit that’s running out of fusion power.
15 votes – “Newsflash” by Ben Jacoby – On November 22nd, 1963, Walter Cronkite puts everything on the line to get the story right as a president is killed, a frightened nation weeps, and television comes of age.
14 votes – “V.I.N.” by Chiara Towne – As Alex Haley struggles to write the autobiography of Malcolm X, his editor at Playboy assigns him a new interview: George Lincoln Rockwell, head of the American Nazi Party.
13 votes – “Come As You Are” by Zach Baylin – An idealistic young woman’s life begins to unravel when her job in social media exposes her to the darkest corners of humanity, sending her on a violent mission to take down not just the web’s most vicious content, but its creators as well.
13 votes – “Hughes” by Andrew Rothschild – The story of writer/director John Hughes, whose emotionally honest high school movies helped to define American culture in the 1980s–but who, at the very height of his success, abruptly abandoned filmmaking for reasons that have never been fully explained.
13 votes – “The Mother” by Misha Green – A female assassin comes out of hiding to protect the pre-teen daughter she gave up years before.
13 votes – “One Thousand Paper Cranes” by Ben Bolea – The incredible true story of Sadako Sasaki, a young girl living in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped. Years later when she gets leukemia, she hears about the legend that if someone folds one thousand paper cranes, a wish will be granted. At the same time, aspiring writer Eleanor Coerr learns of Sadako’s story and becomes determined to bring her message of hope and peace to the world.
13 votes – “Ruthless” by John Swetnam – After she is diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, a former assassin must carry out one last assignment in order to ensure her daughter’s future.
12 votes – “Jellyfish Summer” by Sarah Jane Inwards – A young black girl’s family in 1960s Mississippi decides to harbor two human-looking refugees who have mysteriously fallen from the sky.
12 votes – “Mad, Bad, And Dangerous to Know” by Jade Bartlett – Based on the book trilogy Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know by Chloe J. Esposito. An underdog identical twin accidentally kills her too-perfect sister only to discover murder suits her as she becomes compulsively embroiled in the life of a mafia assassin.
12 votes – “Valedictorian” by Cosmo Carlson – An obsessive type-A student vows to secure the valedictorian title before school ends by any means necessary, even murder.
11 votes – “Brosio” by Mattson Tomlin – Inspired by the work of artist John Brosio. When a man begins to lose all of the people close to him in a series of increasingly absurd natural disasters, he must find out why his world has been turned upside down.
11 votes – “Power” by Mattson Tomlin – When a young drug dealer is kidnapped by a man hellbent on finding his missing daughter, they must team up to get to the bottom of the mystery of the intense street drug known as Power.
10 votes – “Arc of Justice” by Max Borenstein & Rodney Barnes – Based on the book Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age written by Kevin Boyle. Chronicles the landmark civil rights trial of Dr. Ossian Sweet after he was charged with the murder of a white man.
10 votes – “Don’t Be Evil” by Gabriel Diani, Etta Devine & Evan Bates – Adapted from In the Plex by Steven Levy and I’m Feeling Lucky by Douglas Edwards. Google’s Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and Eric Schmidt struggle with their corporate motto, “Don’t Be Evil,” in the face of their meteoric rise to a multi-billion dollar valuation and a major Chinese hacking incident.
10 votes – “Escape from the North Pole” by Paul Laudiero & Ben Baker – A young girl partners up with an elf, a Russian explorer and a reindeer to rescue Santa Claus from a band of evil elves and save the North Pole.
10 votes – “Fubar” by Brent Hyman – An inept CIA psychologist is embedded on a globe-trotting mission with the agency’s most valuable operative who suffers from an extreme case of multiple personality disorder.
10 votes – “Infinite” by Ian Shorr – Based on the The Reincarnationist Papers written by D. Eric Maikranz. The hallucinations of a schizophrenic are revealed to be memories from past lives where he obtained talents that he still has to this day.
10 votes – “Kate” by Umair Aleem – When a veteran hitwoman is mysteriously poisoned on her last assignment in Tokyo, she has 24 hours to track down her killer before she dies.
10 votes – “Key of Genius” by Daniel Persitz & Devon Kliger – The true story of Derek Paravicini, a blind, severely autistic boy who needed an incredible teacher to help realize his world-class musical ability.
10 votes – “Kill Shelter” by Eric Beu and Greg Martin – A darkly comic crime thriller concerning three groups of people dealing with blackmail gone wrong.
10 votes – “The Man From Tomorrow” by Jordan Barel – The true story of visionary entrepreneur Elon Musk, who after being ousted from PayPal, guides SpaceX through it turbulent early years while simultaneously building Tesla.
10 votes – “Moxie” by Heather Quinn – To combat crime in near-future Los Angeles, the FBI creates supercops based on specific genetic sequences. To their shock, their best candidate is a vulgar stripper named Moxie.
9 votes – “Ballerina” (review here) by Shay Hatten – After her family is murdered, an assassin seeks revenge on the killers.
9 votes – “Escape” by JD Payne & Patrick McKay – When a wrongly accused man is shipped to an Australian penal colony for five years, he quickly realizes his only chance of seeing his family again is to escape the prison with a gang of colors and survive the deadly terrain that awaits on the outside.
9 votes – “Gadabout” by Ross Evans – In 1951, a manufacturing company stirs up controversy when they publish a user’s manual to a time machine called Gadabout TM-1050.
9 votes – “Heart of the Beast” by Cameron Alexander – A former Navy SEAL and his retired combat dog attempt to return to civilization after a catastrophic accident deep in the Alaskan wilderness.
9 votes – “Innocent Monsters” by Elaina Perpelitt – A writer struggling to crack her second novel starts to lose her sense of reality as the book bleeds into her life…and her life bleeds back.
9 votes – “The Kingbreaker” by Andrew Bozalis & Derek Mether – A CIA operative experienced in taking down kings and installing their replacements is brought in to take down a dictator he helped install a few years prior.
9 votes – “Liberation” by Darby Kealey – The true story of Nancy Wake, the most decorated servicewoman in World War II, who led resistance fighters in a series of dangerous missions in Nazi-occupied France.
9 votes – “The Other Lamb” by Catherine McMullen – A young female coming-of-age story set within an alternative religion.
9 votes – “This is Jane” by Daniel Loflin – Based on the book The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service by Laura Kaplan. An ordinary group of women provide 11,000 safe, illegal abortions in Chicago from 1968 through 1973.
9 votes – “Wyler” by Michael Moskowitz – With Hitler laying waste to Europe and the United States refusing to answer the call to war, Jewish filmmaker William Wyler risks his career to make MRS. MINIVER, the most effective propaganda film of all time.
8 votes – “The Boxer” by Justine Juel Gillmer – A young Polish man escapes from a concentration camp in which he was forced by SS agents to box other Jews, travels to America to begin a successful career as a professional boxer, and reunites with the woman he lost.
8 votes – “George” by Jeremy Michael Cohen – The true story of the Reys, the husband and wife team who fell in love, created Curious George, and escaped the horrors of WWII in Europe together.
8 votes – “Hack” by Mike Schneider – Based on actual reports, a horrifying look inside the Democratic National Committee hack and the Russian manipulation of the 2016 election.
8 votes – “Lionhunters” by Will Beall – A rogue cop suffers a gunshot wound in 1987 and wakes from a coma thirty years later, where he is partnered with a mild- mannered progressive detective – his son.
8 votes – “The Saviors” by Travis Betz & Kevin Hamedani – A seemingly progressive suburban husband and wife renting their garage through AirBnB become suspicious of their Muslim guests. As they investigate their visitors, they unwittingly trigger events that will forever change the course of human history.
8 votes – “Strongman” by Nicholas Jacobson-Larson & Dalton Leeb – Based on the confusing, sometimes offensive, borderline-insane memories of David Prowse, the irascible Englishman behind Darth Vader’s mask.
7 votes – “Call Jane” by Hayley Schore & Roshan Sethi – Before Roe v. Wade in 1960s Chicago, a pregnant woman becomes a member of an underground group which provides abortions in a safe environment.
7 votes – “Dorothy Gale and Alice” by Justin Merz – Dorothy Gale and Alice meet in a home for those having nightmares and embark on a journey to save the imaginations of the world.
7 votes – “Greenland” by Chris Sparling – A disgraced father is determined to get his family to what, in four days, will be the only safe place on earth.
7 votes – “Jihotties” by Molly Prather – In an effort to fund their start-up, two women catfish ISIS and get more than they bargained for when the CIA recruits them as spies.
7 votes – “The Lodge” (review here) by Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala (Previous draft by Sergio Casci) – A supernatural evil haunts a woman and her stepchildren in a cabin on Christmas.
7 votes – “Meat” (review here) by Logan Martin – A misanthropic man notices bizarre changes in himself, his wife, and the animals inhabiting the territory around their homestead as they attempt to survive self-imposed isolation.
7 votes – “The Poison Squad” by Dreux Moreland & Joey DePaolo – Based on the true story of Harvey Wiley, an eccentric chemist who conducted the first experiment on human tolerance to poison, which catalyzed a movement resulting in the founding of the Food and Drug Administration.
7 votes – “The Prospect – Michael Jordan uses a year as a baseball prospect to find himself after his father’s death.
7 votes – “Rodney & Sheryl” by Ian MacAllister-McDonald – Based on the unbelievable true story of serial killer Rodney Alcala–detectives have estimated Alcala’s body count to be north of 130 victims. Despite being in the midst of a killing spree, Alcala appeared on and won a date with one of the contestants on THE DATING GAME.
7 votes – “Social Justice Warrior” by Emma Fletcher & Brett Weiner – When a liberal, white, college sophomore who knows exactly how to fix society accuses her equally liberal professor of hate speech, it throws the campus and both their lives into chaos as they wage war over the right way to stop discrimination.
7 votes – “The Thing About Jellyfish” by Molly Smith Metzler – After her best friend drowns, a seventh-grade girl is convinced the true cause of the tragedy was a rare jellyfish sting. Retreating into a silent world of imagination, she crafts a plan to prove her theory.
6 votes – “All My Life” by Todd Rosenberg – After discovering the groom has liver cancer, a couple move their wedding date up and get married before he passes away.
6 votes – “American Tabloid” by Adam Morrison – The true story of Generoso Pope, Jr., who with the help of the New York mob turned a small, local paper into the phenomenon that is The National Enquirer, laying the foundation for tabloid journalism as we know it today.
6 votes – “Bios” by Craig Luck & Ivor Powell – In a post-apocalyptic world, a man spends his dying days with the robot he created to look after his dog.
6 votes – “Cancer Inc.” by Marc Macaluso – The true story of the coporatization of cancer in the United States told through the eyes of a British Wall Street analyst who uncovers the corruption behind the approval of a drug intended to treat prostate cancer.
6 votes – “The Fifth Nixon” by Sharon Hoffman – Watergate as experienced through the eyes of President Richard Nixon’s personal secretary Rose Mary Woods.
6 votes – “The Grownup” by Natalie Krinsky – Based on the short story “The Grownup” (review here) by Gillian Flynn. A con woman who pretends to read auras is hired by a wealthy woman to banish an evil spirit from her house, but it is soon clear that the fake exorcist is in over her head.
6 votes – “Green Rush” by Matt Tente – A paroled ex-con agrees to help his daughter steal medical marijuana tax dollars from City Hall.
6 votes – “Health and Wellness” by Joe Epstein – A sociopath obsessed with self-improvement claws her way to the top of the fitness world, leaving a trail of broken bodies in her wake.
6 votes – “Little Boy” by Hayley Schore & Roshan Sethi – The true story of the man
who dropped the world’s first atomic bomb on Hiroshima and his unexpected journey back to ground zero.
6 votes – “On” by Ryan Jennifer Jones – In a slightly futuristic/hyper-efficient Manhattan, a newly-single book editor purchases a customizable sex android to assuage her broken heart. When her toy’s closed feedback loop starts to alter her personality, she must reevaluate the merits of a perfectly- compatible partner.
6 votes – “Panopticon” by Emily Jerome – A look at the criminal justice and private prison system, told from the perspectives of a new inmate, a correctional officer, and a Wall Street hotshot.
6 votes – “Queen Elizabeth” by Shatara Michelle Ford – An uptight high-achieving, black post-grad who becomes (increasingly) irreverent and (slightly) destructive when she realizes that the life she’s living is not the life she wants.
6 votes – “Skyward” by Joe Ballerini – The true story of two families who attempt to escape over the Berlin Wall using a hot air balloon in 1979.
6 votes – “The Sleepover” by Sarah Rothschild – When bad guys break into their home and kidnap their parents, siblings Kevin and Clancy are forced to confront the fact that there may be way more to their stay-at-home mom than meets the eye.
6 votes – “The White Devils” by Leon Hendrix III – Cassius raises his sons, Malcolm and Mandela, isolated and alone in the woods. They have never met another person in their entire lives. The boys have learned to survive and protect their fragile family at all cost. When they find a mysterious wounded white girl, June, alone and lost in their woods, prejudice, lies and love set them on a collision course with the real world that puts all their lives at risk.