Last week, one of the greatest moments in Scriptshadow history occurred. If you missed it, we introduced….
THE FRIDAY SHORT SCREENPLAY MINI-COMPETITION (a.k.a. “Making screenwriting great again”)
The contest took the world by storm, with every major media outlet weighing in on it. Here are some of the reactions from that historic day:
Anderson Cooper: “Who is this man? This man who has changed the landscape of screenwriting in a single day?”
Megyn Kelly: “The world may be falling apart. But Scriptshadow continues to bring people together.”
Brian Williams: “While other screenwriting sites continue to engage with Russia, Scriptshadow demonstrates how to be a true American hero.”
To remind those of you who’ve forgotten how I changed the course of history, last week I had a weekend short script competition whereby the only rule was that you had to use TWO of my “Best Bang For Your Buck” screenwriting tools, which I had written an article about the previous day.
Well, we’re doing the same thing today. The only difference is that you have to use two of the five NEW “Best Bang For Your Buck” tools that I wrote about yesterday. For those who are too lazy to click the link, those tools are…
1) A character who wants something.
3) The magic of an unresolved issue.
4) Things don’t go according to plan.
5) High stakes for every character.
Post your short in the comments (you can write it inside the comment or include a PDF link). Page count is open but I recommend staying under 5 pages. Whichever short gets the most up-votes by Sunday 10pm Pacific Time will be the winner, and receive a FREE FIRST 10 PAGES consultation on any feature or pilot you’re working on.
Also, for those who’ve forgotten, we have a much bigger OFFICIAL SHORT SCREENPLAY COMPETITION coming up. You still have about a month until the deadline. And with that competition, Scriptshadow will be producing the winning short film, which will debut here on the site. So consider this a chance to practice.
Get to work and good luck!
NOTE: MAKE SURE TO SORT COMMENTS BY “NEWEST” SO YOU CAN SEE ALL THE NEW SHORTS THAT COME IN.
Last week we took five effortless screenwriting methods known for their power to improve a screenplay and then we had a competition the next day challenging you guys to implement those methods into a short script. The experience was so fun, I decided to do it again!
So here are five MORE bang-for-your-buck methods you can use to improve your scripts. They’re a little more involved, but no less helpful. Also, don’t include any short scripts in the comments today. That’s for tomorrow. Here we go!
NUMBER 5 – A CHARACTER WHO WANTS SOMETHING
One of the easiest ways to give your story life is to give each and every character SOMETHING THEY WANT. The more concrete the want, the more defined the character (a character who wants a bag of money, like Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men, is preferable to a character who wants “a better life” which is vague and nebulous). The main reason you want a character to want something is that it INSTANTLY MAKES THEM ACTIVE. They now have to go and get it. And if a character is trying to get something, they’re moving. And when they’re moving, the story’s moving. But the real power of this tool is when you apply it to not just your hero, but to all your characters. Because then those wants start colliding, and that leads to conflict. And conflict is the essence of great drama. Needless to say, this is really important.
NUMBER 4 – SUSPENSE
My last post on this topic confused, frustrated, and in some cases, angered readers. So I’ll try to keep today’s definition of suspense simple. Introduce something that the audience wants a resolution to, then suspend the reveal of that resolution. This was the basis behind Nick Morris’s winning short script from last week. He introduced a mysterious box, then waited until the very end of the story to open the box. Suspense tends to work best when the hero is in some sort of danger. When Clarice Starling comes to Buffallo Bill’s house at the end of Silence of the Lambs, we know that Buffallo Bill is the killer. But she does not. The writer then draawwwwws out the reveal, making us suffer through the scene, before Clarice eventually figures it out. If Clarice would’ve walked in, seen evil in Buffallo Bill’s eyes immediately, then pulled out her gun and started shooting, how fun would that have been? But suspense can be used anywhere. A guy and a girl who have tons of chemistry meet at a party, and then we suspend the moment until their first kiss.
NUMBER 3 – THE MAGIC OF AN UNRESOLVED ISSUE
Wanna improve your dialogue immediately? Give a character something they’re upset about with another character, but they haven’t brought it up yet. The tension resulting from that unresolved issue will play as subtext underneath any dialogue between those two characters. The most obvious version of this is that a woman has just found out that her husband is cheating on her. Her husband, meanwhile, comes home oblivious. He kisses his wife and asks about her day. Meanwhile, the wife is stewing, and we make our way through this conversation with this huge elephant hovering underneath it. But you don’t have to use this tool with one character ignorant of the situation. Another version of this is two parents who have lost a child but they never talked about it. So that unresolved issue is playing underneath even the most mundane of their conversations. This is essentially the essence of subtext.
NUMBER 2 – THINGS DON’T GO ACCORDING TO PLAN
Nothing should ever go according to plan in movies. If your character goes to the DMV to get a new license, goes into his boss’s office to ask for a raise, goes to the store to buy some groceries, or goes to an asteroid to stop it from colliding with earth, THE EVENTS THAT UNFOLD WHEN HE GETS THERE SHOULD NEVER GO ACCORDING TO PLAN. Some might say that storytelling is just a series of events that don’t go according to plan.
Why is this important? Well, let’s say a character wants to ask for a 100k raise from his boss. He goes in, asks for it, and gets it. Was that interesting to watch? Of course not! It’s fucking boring! But if he goes in having practiced his “raise speech” all night long, then, just as he’s about to ask, his boss brings a second person into the meeting and informs our hero that he’s being let go from the company and that, for the next two weeks, he’ll be training his replacement, now you have a scene. Where this tool becomes really powerful though is when you build the plan up beforehand. Make it so our character or characters have practiced and prepared for this event endlessly. The best example of this is heist movies. The characters spend the whole movie preparing for the heist, making sure they have every angle covered. And then, of course, none of it goes according to plan. The fun is in watching your characters react to this. It’s the power of plan disruption.
NUMBER 1 – HIGH STAKES FOR EVERY CHARACTER
I recently read a script that involved a giant party scene. Everything in the story was leading up to this party. However, when the party finally arrived, it was DOA. It just wasn’t that interesting. And the writer wanted to know why. The answer was simple. Not enough characters had something at stake in the party. They were just there to have fun. For a big scene to work, but really, for any scene to work, each character in the scene needs to have something at stake. If the moment goes poorly, they stand to lose something. If the moment goes well, they stand to gain something. If those principles aren’t in place, the audience isn’t going to care what happens.
For example, I was watching this old movie “Marty,” last week about an aging unattractive bachelor who’s just about given up on trying to find a wife. But his mother begs him to please go to a local club and try to talk to someone. Marty’s been to this club before and it’s only ever resulted in rejection. So he doesn’t want to go. But he doesn’t want to upset his mom either. So he relents.
This is the PERFECT scenario to show how impactful stakes are. We know that this is literally the last time Marty will ever try to find a girl. So this moment HAS to go well. And for that reason, the scene is great. Had the writer constructed the scene so that Marty goes to this ball every week and this is just part of his routine, the scene, like the party scene in the amateur script I mentioned, would’ve been DOA. Nothing’s at stake if he’s going to be here next week doing the same thing.
But here’s the real power in this tip. The writer didn’t just pay attention to Marty in regards to stakes. The girl Marty approaches is struggling with the same problem. She too has just about given up on trying to find someone. So going out is a big deal for her as well. The concept is this: The more people in the scene who have something at stake in what happens, the more charged the scene is going to be. Start with your hero. Make sure he has something at stake. But then move to the other characters as well.
One of this generation’s greatest screenwriters hits us with a new TV show on HBO. Does he deliver??
Genre: TV Pilot – Drama
Premise: “Here, Now” takes a Portland-based Brangelina-type family – a trio of multicultural adopted children – and asks how they approach life once they’re all grown up.
About: HBO’s golden child and Emmy award-winner Alan Ball (True Blood, Six Feet Under), who is also an Oscar winner (American Beauty) is finally bringing a new show to the network. But the family drama space is getting crowded. With smart well-written hits like Hulu’s “Casual” and NBC’s “This is Us,” can Ball still stand out in the space he pioneered?
Writer: Alan Ball
Details: 61 pages
Back in the late 90s, the game changed for spec scripts.
What happened was that, for the first time, people in Hollywood started utilizing chat-rooms to discuss screenplays.
The reason this was a game-changer was because, up until this point, the people who controlled Hollywood’s opinions on screenplays were agents.
As a writer came close to finishing a script, his agent would hype the script up to producers and studios. By the time it was ready to go out, a bunch of interested buyers were eagerly waving their checkbooks.
The pressure became so intense to get the new hottest thing that studios would make bids on scripts that they hadn’t even finished reading, just to beat the other guy. A great concept and a good first act could result in a high six figure sale.
When the chat rooms came around, however, the gig was up. Assistants would get on these digital information-sharing networks and they would blow through the hype. If a script was bad, this secret cabal would expose it.
Hollywood was never the same after that. You couldn’t bullshit anyone anymore. You actually had to write something good. And what these chat rooms exposed was the fact that mostly everything wasn’t good. Without hype to distort opinions, you’d be lucky to get a, “Eh, it wasn’t terrible.”
This new reality continued for a couple of years until one script arrived that blew all these impossible-to-please readers away. That script was American Beauty, by an unknown writer at the time named Alan Ball.
Every reader came back with the same reaction: BRILLIANT!
And that’s how American Beauty became the poster child for writing scripts in the internet age. No more bullshit. If you want to sell something, it needs to be good.
This is why, when Alan Ball writes something, everyone in town wants to read it. And I’m no different. I’m a monster fan. If I could only invite five screenwriters throughout history to a dinner party, Ball would be on that list.
So to say my expectations are high today would be an understatement. However, I have a funny feeling that Ball will meet them.
26 year-old Duc (pronounced “Duke”) is a life coach and member of a very odd family. Audrey, the mother, and Greg, the father, took the Brangelina route of building a clan. They adopted kids from all over the globe.
There’s Duc, who’s Vietnamese. There’s Ramon, who’s from South America. And there’s Ashley, who’s African. Completing the family is 15 year-old Kristin, a self-proclaimed pudgy pasty white girl who’s not nearly as hot as she wants to be. Kristin was an unexpected addition, the only biological child in the family, making her, ironically, the black sheep.
The plot for the pilot is built around Greg’s 60th birthday party. Greg, who fucks a Japanese escort every week, can’t handle how quickly life has gone by. And he doesn’t want to be reminded of it with some giant birthday bash.
But his problems aren’t as bad as Ramon’s. Ramon has enjoyed being a sexually adventurous gay man for the last few years of his life when he starts seeing the numbers “11:11” everywhere. At first he thinks nothing of it, but they appear so frequently (we watch as his treadmill inexplicably gets stuck on 11:11 for a full 30 seconds) that he’s starting to think something is wrong.
Meanwhile Ashley, who’s happily married (to the ideal white man), is secretly a coke-fiend who loves to play as close to the fire as she can get without getting burned. Case in point, she’s found a new boy-toy in 18 year-old Randy, a male model. She convinces him to join her at Dad’s party tonight, with the caveat being that he can’t tell her husband that she invited him.
Once the party gets started, everyone lets loose. Kristin, who’s decided it will be funny to wear a horse-head the entire night, takes a liking to Randy. Ramon brings home a coffee barista he’s been flirting with, and the two promptly sneak away to have sex. Greg is trying not to have a mental breakdown and, with a little alcohol, seems to be in better spirits.
But everything unexpectedly goes to hell when Ramon’s 11:11 vision takes a turn for the worse. So much so, that it will change his, and his family’s, life forever.
If you want to get better at creating rich interesting characters who pop off the page, there’s no one better to study than Alan Ball.
Ball knows that if we don’t feel the characters on the page, or on the screen, we won’t care what the fuck happens to them. And the thing is, he’s so focused on that, that he barely needs any plot to tell his story. Every single person here is so fascinating that THEY become the story.
It’s in stark contrast to yesterday’s script, which was so plot heavy that all the characters got lost in the muck. It’s a great reminder that proper character creation allows you to be less plot-focused. And since plotting’s always a bitch, that’s a huge advantage.
One of the nice lessons I learned with today’s script comes from something we were just discussing last week – SETUPS AND PAYOFFS.
Normally, setups and payoffs are done through plot. But Ball reminds us that you can utilize them through character as well.
The best example of this comes from Kristin, the 15 year old biological daughter in the family. Kristin hates how she looks so much that she creates fake Facebook profiles with pictures of beautiful women, just so she can get attention from men somehow. Kristin desperately wants someone but believes nobody would want her.
So later, during the party, when Kristin is wearing her horse mask, she runs into a dejected Randy, the model, who’s since been rebuked by Ashley, Kristin’s older sister. Kristin’s character has been so well set up at this point, that before she’s even approached Randy, we’re freaking the hell out, saying, “Oh shit oh shit! She’s going to get the model! She’s going to get the model!”
The ensuing interaction is one of those script moments that, without proper setup, would’ve come off as mundane. Instead, it’s a highlight.
This is the power of Alan Ball. He gets it. He has such a strength for taking potentially boring ubiquitous things – like Greg’s fear of getting old – and creating powerful characters to explore those things, that we feel like we’re dealing with it for the first time.
Here, Now is a pilot that achieved something unthinkable to someone who reads everything. It made me feel something. It made me think. It actually has something to say about the world and people and how we experience life. It’s quite the pilot and definitely lived up to expectations.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] genius
What I learned: When you write a TV pilot, really really really focus on character. People have to see your characters and say, “I want to spend time with these people every week.” If your characters are in any way bland or even “just above average,” we’ll have no interest in your show. So here are three suggestions to get you started in this department.
1) Give each character a great description. Don’t worry if it’s a little long. Again, characters matter more in television so the rules in regards to describing them can bend a bit. Here’s a description of a character in Here, Now: “Barista HENRY BERGEN (20) is behind the counter in BLACK PANTS, WHITE SHIRT and some sort of VEST with a NAME TAG. Beard, tattoos. Cocky, handsome, gravitates toward a simpler existence. Doesn’t need much, appreciates what he has.”
2) Within the limitations of your story, introduce each character with a memorable action that defines who they are. I see too many passive character introductions in screenplays. Within the context of the scene, make me interested in your character when I meet them. When we meet Ashley, she is berating an employee for an action that cost her company a huge chunk of time. It immediately sets the tone for the character.
3) Give your characters MOMENTS they shine in the areas they shine in. So if you have a character with a wicked tongue, give her a scene where a department store cashier shames her and she retaliates by telling her off in some clever way. If all you’re doing is serving the plot and not giving your characters these moments, they’re going to disappear on the page.
Bonus Question: Who would be the five screenwriters throughout time that you would invite to your dinner party?
Today’s writers take the most classic love story of all time and ask, “What if Romeo art tho The Huntsman?”
Premise: A new take on Romeo and Juliet that expands the famous Capulet and Montague feud into a full-scale war.
About: This script was picked up last year by Sony and Joe Roth, who is looking to expand his Huntsman franchise with a take on Romeo and Juliet that’s in the same spiritual universe. While The Huntsman sequel did not do well, Romeo and Juliet is its own property and, therefore, still has a chance of being made. If Neil Widener and Gavin James, the writers of today’s script, sound familiar, it’s because they’re blowing up big time. The two are writing San Andreas 2 and Now You See Me 3. But unlike the high profile overnight success stories you read about on some screenwriters, Widener and James’s success is more tied to reality and what the majority of screenwriters experience. Widener has been at the game for 15 years and James nearly a decade.
Writers: Neil Widener and Gavin James
Details: 113 pages
I want to ask an honest question.
Is there any purpose to Valentine’s Day other than to guilt men into buying something for their significant other?
I’ve never met a man who was like: “YES! VALENTINE’S DAY! WOO!” In every case, the man goes out to buy something or sets up a dinner so that their girlfriend or wife doesn’t make their evening a living hell.
Unless, of course, it’s less than 3 months into the relationship. Then, of course, guys are all about Valentine’s. I’m all for other points of view. But this has been my experience.
And with that, let’s review a script about Romeo and Juliet!
It’s 1945. I mean 1495. Northern Italy. France is on a tear, taking over every country it can get its grubby croissant-smeared hands on. And it’s got all of Italy except for one section. Verona!
That’s where the regal Capulets are warring, once again, with the crude and dirty Montagues. But these are not the Capulets and Montagues you are familiar with. These families encompass entire armies. And their war has been going on for generations.
When the Montagues find out that the Capulets are planning to marry off their princess, Juliet, to France’s Prince, which will allow them to crush the Montagues for good, Prince Romeo, a young Braveheart-like figure, comes up with a plan. Go to the Ball announcing the marriage and assassinate Juliet.
Everything’s going swell until one of those dances where everyone wears masks. Juliet and Romeo unknowingly get paired up, and it takes less than a couple of minutes and one kiss for the two to fall in love.
When Romeo realizes moments later who his new love is, he’s torn. But not torn enough to kidnap Juliet back to the Montague fort, where Romeo is chastised for not keeping it real. He and Juliet escape into the forest then secretly get married in the hopes of uniting the Capulets and Montagues so they can fight off the French.
But since this is Romeo and Juliet, you can guess how well that turns out, and where our famous young couple ends up. Or can you!?
While there are some compelling topics of discussion when it comes to Verona, I want to ask what I believe to be a far more pressing question for screenwriters.
What is it about Romeo and Juliet that allows it to be so popular generation after generation?
This is a question screenwriters should be asking for every story that’s still told after a century. There is something in the DNA of these stories that appeal to audiences no matter how much the world around us changes.
The easy answer with Romeo and Juliet is love. Love is universal. It’s always been around and always will be. But let’s be honest. Watching two people in love is fucking boring.
When it comes to drama, it isn’t the love that entertains. It’s what stands in the way of that love. If you can create a strong obstacle that keeps two lovers apart, you can tell a good story.
But I’m going to take that one step further. A strong obstacle is nice. But an IMPOSSIBLE obstacle is better. Because it creates a situation that the audience is genuinely compelled by. How the hell is our copule going to end up together when this impossible obstacle is in their way?
And Romeo and Juliet has one of the greatest impossible obstacles of all time – two families who hate one another. It is clear from the beginning that this relationship is doomed. And that’s exactly why we watch. Because we hope, against hope, that they’ll somehow find a way.
Contrast that with, say, one of these dopey modern day romantic comedies where the obstacle is, I don’t know, money. One lover is rich while the other is poor. Sure, that creates some doubt. But it’s far from feeling impossible. And that’s what you’re shooting for when you’re writing one of these: THE IMPOSSIBLE OBSTACLE.
What’s interesting about Verona is it proves that even a great setup such as Romeo and Juliet is not impervious to the trials and tribulations of screenwriting. While Verona sticks with our general conceit, even amping it up from a feud to a war, it makes a mistake I see often when you expand a smaller story.
It gets lost in its plotting.
There is so much plot here, I couldn’t stay engaged. We have the Montagues taking on the Capulets. We have France coming in. We have France trying to align with the Capulets via marriage. We have a Ball announcing the marriage where Romeo while try to assassinate Juliet. We have the two escaping into the forest. We have them being shunned by the Montagues. We have them secretly getting married so the families can unite against the French. We have them having to go back and tell the Capulets they’re married. And it keeps going from there.
Plot is fine. But when every other scene exists only to explain a new direction that the story is taking, it feels less like entertainment and more like work. I’m sitting there going, “Okay, where are they at now and what do they have to do again? Is it tell their dads they’re married?”
In order to understand how to avoid this, you need to understand the two components of plot.
The first is logistics. Plot is there to tell us where we’re going and why we’re going there. On its own, it guides us, but it doesn’t entertain us. That’s where the second part of plot comes in: entertainment. Each moment when we’re told where we’re going and why we’re going there should be FUN. The reveal should excite us, entertain us. If all plot is doing is saying, “Characters must go from A to B,” we’re gettttttinnnnngggg sleeeeepppppyyyyy.
So Verona’s over-plotting could’ve worked if the plot beats weren’t so technical. They needed more entertainment value to keep us excited about the story. Or at least me excited. I tend to bet bored easily.
So that was my main gripe here. Verona was well structured and I loved that they found a new take on an old story. But the plot bogged us down without giving me enough moments to say, “Ooh, that was cool!”
[ ] she loves me not
[x] she gave me her number but didn’t respond to my text
[ ] we’re going on a date
[ ] we kissed
[ ] she loves me
What I learned: Let me give you an example of plotting that uses only logistics, and plotting that uses logistics and entertainment. What movies am I going to use? Star Wars movies, of course! An example of plotting that is only logistics is the Tax Federation stuff in The Phantom Menace (for those who’ve forgotten, and I don’t blame you, the Intergalactic Tax Federation is blocking trades out of Planet Naboo). Tax blockage is information we have to log in order to understand what’s going on. But beyond that, it contains no entertainment value. On the flip side, when Luke, Obi-Wan, and Han Solo get to Alderran to deliver their message, only to find out it’s been blown to bits and that a strange space station is there in its place, that’s plot that’s doing two things. It’s moving the story along AND it’s an exciting plot point that entertains us. So always make sure your plot beats are doing both.
Congrats to Mini-Shorts Contest winner, Nick Morris, for his short script, “DO NOT OPEN” It’s a fun little exercise in suspense. Nick wins a First Ten Pages consultation from me. I enjoyed doing this so much, we’re going to do another one next weekend. Stay tuned!
Premise: (from Black List) When futuristic technology renders the Federal Witness Protection Program obsolete, the U.S. Government begins using Time Travel to hide high-profile witnesses in the past. When a security breach occurs, a U.S. Marshal and her witness struggle to find their way back to the Present Day while evading assassins.
About: Writer Mark Townend has been writing and directing shorts for over 15 years. He recently had his biggest break yet, adapting Anthony Bordain’s novel, “Bone In The Throat.” That got him some attention, which allowed this spec to get in front of a lot more eyes, which helped it make the Black List, with 8 votes.
Writer: Mark Townend
Details: 106 pages
An unexpectedly busy weekend has kept me from baring witness to 200 blood-splattering murders.
I’m speaking, of course, about my inability to get over to Arclight and watch me some John Wick 2! I wanted to see dogs being kidnapped, John Wick getting angry, perfectly choreographed kills, and a Keanu Reeves and Lawrence Fishburne reunion dammit!!
Instead I was stuck staring at a computer screen all weekend.
So to say that I’m angry is a goose-down-filled-pillow of an understatement, muchacho. I knew, under such circumstances, that any script I reviewed had little chance with me. So I needed to tilt the odds in the script’s favor.
That meant NO BIOPICS!
It meant NO TRUE STORIES!
You guys know by now that when I want to be entertained, I need a good old fashioned high concept science-fiction script, like the kind they used to send out five times a week in this town!
Why am I using so many exclamation points!
I don’t know!
On to the plot summary!
It’s the year 2033. Manhattan. Katherine Teller is a US Marshall and a member of one of the most cutting edge projects of the time – Operation Bygone.
You see, in the future, it’s impossible to hide. Every step you take, every whisper you make, is recorded somewhere, logged to something, GPS’d to somewhere, and anybody with half-a-brain can download a hack-pack and find you.
This means that protecting criminals waiting to testify against high-profile gangstas is impossible. Well, it was impossible. Operation Bygone allows us to time travel into the past. A U.S. Marshall escorts the testifier into the past somewhere, where they hang out until the trial, then jump back to the present when it’s time.
Nick Prentis is a medium-level white collar criminal. When he’s caught for pulling a Jordan Belforte, the government tells him they don’t want him. They want the guy he reports to, top dog Leon Vasseur.
Nick reluctantly agrees to testify against Vasseur and is sent back to the year 1972 with Katherine. While at first everything seems fine, a mysterious tough guy named Corbin finds out where Nick and Katherine are staying and attacks.
This sends Nick and Katherine on the run, where they realize there must be a mole in the system. They ditch their trackers and enact the contingency protocol, a secondary system that only Katherine knows the location of. If they can get to it, they can get back to the future. If they can’t, they’ll be stuck here. With Corbin. And Corbin doesn’t like company.
One of the reasons they don’t make these movies anymore is because we no longer live in a high-concept driven marketplace. Audiences have moved on to SPECTACLE as the driving force behind their ticket-buying choices.
We can get plenty of high-concept stuff at home. Like the show I’m watching now, Utopia, about an unreleased comic book that has the potential to dismantle society. Very high concept, but devoid of spectacle.
Does this mean that high concept is dead? Of course not. High concept is still better than low or no concept, as it will create curiosity, which in turn gets people to theaters. The difference is that these movies can’t be bad anymore. They have to have the execution that backs up the concept. And most writers either don’t know how to do that, or don’t want to put in the work to do it. They figure, “My concept’s good, so I don’t need to nail the execution.”
In other words, the market doesn’t allow movies like Face/Off to do well anymore.
Anything that isn’t spectacle-driven needs to be really good. Because word-of-mouth is the only thing that’s going to give these movies legs. A perfect example is Hidden Figures. That movie should not have done well by any box office metric standards, and yet it’s made over 100 million dollars.
So where does this leave Contingency Protocol? The script is pretty good. I don’t know if it crosses into “very good” territory though, which is where you need to be to have a successful film in this genre.
My whole question whenever I read a script like this is, “Does it exploit its concept?” Is it building its characters, its scenes, and its plot around the uniqueness of the idea?
For example, you have several chase scenes here through 1972 New York. Okay. But you could have a chase scene through New York in 2033. How are you taking advantage of your concept by writing that scene? It just being a different time period isn’t enough.
In Deja Vu, the highest selling spec script of all time, and a concept that also covers two time periods, they have a car chase where our hero, who’s in the PRESENT but wearing goggles that allow him to see into the PAST, is chasing a car from the past. There’s no car physically in front of him. He can only see it through the glasses. That’s a chase that takes advantage of its concept.
And that’s not to say that every scene needs to do that. But enough scenes need to do it so that it feels like you’re taking advantage of your concept. This is why Back to the Future is the gold standard in time travel high concept. There isn’t an element in the script that DOESN’T take advantage of its concept.
With that said, as Contingency Protocol goes on, we start to see more of a connection between the past and the present THROUGH THE CHARACTERS. There’s this whole plotline where Katherine’s future family is threatened by the fact that her husband’s grandfather is an ignorant cop who’s been assigned to stop them. If she hurts him, she completely alters her future.
There’s also the mystery of, “Who’s the mole?” I wanted to know who was selling these guys down the river. It’s funny how just one intriguing mystery can keep a reader turning the pages.
That kept me engaged enough to want to get to the end. Combined with the old school high concept premise, it placed Contingency in ‘worth the read’ territory. But I think if it’s going to be the kind of movie people recommend to others, it has to go deeper into its world and exploit its concept a lot more.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Could the scenes you’re writing take place in any other movie? If your scene feels too interchangeable, then you’re either not exploiting the uniqueness of your concept or the uniqueness of your characters. The opening of La La Land is a good example. Anybody can write a scene where the main character is stuck in his car, bumper to bumper traffic, going to be late for work or just wants to get home. I’ve seen that scene a million times before. But I haven’t seen all the characters all of a sudden step out of their cars and start singing and dancing. That’s a scene that’s specific to the concept of La La Land.