Hey guys. I apologize but I’m running all over town today. Here’s a re-post of my Ready Player One review from my newsletter. This movie’s going to be awesome. Enjoy!
Premise: An eccentric game developer leaves an Easter egg in his massively popular virtual reality game. In his will, he announces to the world that whoever finds that egg will get his entire fortune.
About: Ready Player One was a hit book back in 2011 (it’s currently $4 on Kindle!), which Warner Brothers quickly snatched up the rights for. They’ve been slaving away on the script ever since, and only recently did they feel confident enough to send it out. The patience paid off in a big way. None other than Steven Spielberg himself signed on to direct the film. In retrospect, it’s a perfect fit. The book is built around 80s nostalgia and pop culture, when Spielberg cemented his dominance in the industry. I’m sure a trip down memory lane with his earlier movies doesn’t hurt. This most recent draft is written by Zak “The Closer” Penn, whose impressive skills always leave the studio heads happy. Although he and original writer (and author) Ernest Cline didn’t work together on this draft, they did work together on a documentary that was ALSO about 80s pop culture (Atari: Game Over). That’s streaming on Netflix at the moment if you want to check it out.
Writer: Zak Penn (previous drafts by Eric Eason and Ernest Cline) – based on the novel by Ernest Cline
Details: 121 pages
For all the crap screenwriting gets – for all the times it’s deemed inconsequential compared to all the other elements of filmmaking – the truth is, a good screenplay is very powerful. One needs look no further than what happens to screenplays that AREN’T good. They don’t go anywhere, even if they have substantial intellectual property behind them.
I mean sure, you can get an eager young director or a C-grade guy like Alan Taylor (Terminator: Genysis) to direct anything. But if you want one of the big players directing your film, you need a good script. And this is why, even though they bought the rights to this book 5 years ago, they only recently sent it out to directors. They knew they had to get the script right.
Ernest Cline, the author of the book, is also a screenwriter. So he was the first one to adapt the novel. What I’m guessing happened is that he was too close to the material. I mean, Gillian Flynn adapted Gone Girl, but usually, when you’re adapting your own stuff, it’s impossible to see what can be cut. Everything is just so damn important in your eyes.
In comes Penn, who claims that it “just came to him how to do it,” and he simplified the sprawling story so that it could fit into a single film. And now we’re off to the races.
Ready Player One starts off with the race of all races. I’m talking through Times Square. With the Delorean from Back to the Future. And the hover car from Blade Runner. Oh, and a dinosaur pops out and eats one of the cars during the race. Yes, this is that kind of movie. The kind where once you see the trailer, you’re going to walk out of the theater, start a line, and wait until opening day.
Wade is a nobody. A poor kid living in the Portland Stacks, what amounts to a bunch of trailers stacked on top of each other. It’s the kind of place even trailer park kids make fun of. But Wade isn’t sweating it. That’s because he’s really freaking good at one thing – The Oasis. That’s the virtual reality game that everybody in the world jacks into. It’s what allows you to race in Times Square and get eaten by dinosaurs.
In Oasis, Wade is known as Parzival, and he’s searching for what everyone else is searching for – the hidden Easter Egg. 20 years ago when Oasis creator James Halliday died, he announced in his will that whoever could find his hidden egg not only got his entire fortune, which is like a trillion dollars, but also became the owner of the Oasis. Halliday has left three keys people must find to get to the egg, with a riddle accompanying each one. The first clue was cracked early on, but no one’s been able to find the second key for 10 years now.
The big companies who profit off the Oasis aren’t taking any chances. The biggest, IOI, has hired thousands of egg hunters known as “Sixers” to look for the egg. That way, the Oasis stays with companies who can continue to commercialize it. Individual hunters are rare and aren’t taken seriously. They don’t have the resources these IOI drones do.
That all changes when Parzival cracks the second clue and becomes an overnight superstar in the game. Ironically, he’s still a nobody in the real world who can’t even get his Aunt to loan him a few bucks. When IOI finds out who Wade is, they put all their resources into stopping him. Him owning the Oasis would be a disaster. And they will do anything to stop it.
Parzival teams up with his best friend Aech (who he’s never actually met in the real world) and his longtime crush Artemis, and it’s a race to the finish line, a race that hopefully won’t end with the dreaded “Game Over.”
This one’s going to be big folks. I mean, how are people going to see the Back to the Future Delorean, the Blade Runner hover car, and roaming dinosaurs and NOT want to see this movie? At one point in the script, we actually go INTO the Blade Runner film – like become a part of it. Because in the future, they have “immersive cuts” of movies.
It makes me laugh because these are the types of things that if an amateur were to write into a screenplay, everyone would say, “What are you doing?? They’re never going to clear the rights to that stuff! You have no chance of getting that in the film. Everyone’s going to think you’re an idiot.”
Yet as soon as Spielberg is attached, everyone’s like, “Oh my god, what an ingenious way to get a top director on board. What director isn’t going to want the challenge of recreating Blade Runner?” There’s a double-standard out there, sadly, and while it kind of makes sense (if Warner Brothers is giving you the okay to write these things, it’s a little different than writing them on your own) it seems unfair.
The real power of Ready Player One, though, is that it’s audience proof. It is basically impossible to dislike this movie. A lot of that’s because it has the Four Staples of Spielberg – a secret formula Spielberg uses to create his string of hits.
1) Make your hero an underdog. It’s impossible to dislike underdogs.
2) Create a mystery. Find the mysterious hidden Easter egg!
3) Include adventure. Who the hell doesn’t want adventure??
4) Humor. Everyone loves to laugh!
Ready Player One has all these things which pretty much covers any reason anyone would want to see a movie.
The only slip-up the script makes happens to be the same issue I had with the book. The riddles (behind where the keys are) just aren’t that engaging. They’re based on this unique universe, so when the characters talk about them, it all sounds very “inside baseball” and after they figure out where to look next, you’re not really sure what they’re looking for. There was a 20 page sequence in the second act where I had no idea where we were or why we were there.
But races with T-Rexs kind of make up for that. Oh, and did I mention Ready Player One has samurais too?
I give Penn a lot of credit for wrangling this story into shape. The book wasn’t exactly Lord of the Rings, but the mythology was very extensive and required a lot of explanation to figure out how we got to where we were. That’s usually the challenge with these adaptations and maybe why Cline was having trouble nailing it. You gotta get rid of a lot of the backstory and make the present story more action-based. Indeed, that’s what Penn did. And if Spielberg stays on this project,then we’re going to get a hell of a movie in 2017.
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: If you have a TON of exposition, you might want to just go with a voice over. We’re all taught to hide exposition. Which is good advice. But if you have 10 times the amount of exposition as a normal story, you’ll have to hide exposition in almost every scene. And when you do that, the scenes never feel natural (“Hey, how you doing?” “Oh fine. I mean, I’m upset that I only have 4 days to steal the Tesserect or else the Barleycorn Canyon blows up my dad but other than that, I’m cool. How bout you?”). It’s in your best interest, then, to just do a big voice over sequence and get your exposition out in one fell swoop. Here we get about a six page scene of Wade explaining, via voice over, how the Oasis works and how Halliday’s egg came to be. It was long, but this way, for the rest of the script, Penn could just focus on the fun stuff.
Premise: After her daughter is brutally raped and killed, a woman living in a small town erects three billboards that ask the local police chief why he’s not doing anything to solve the murder.
About: This script was written and will be directed by Martin McDonagh, who famously wrote and directed, In Bruges. I’m one of the few people who didn’t connect with In Bruges (hey, I couldn’t understand half the things coming out of Colin Farrel’s mouth!). Nor did I like his later film, Seven Psychopaths. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that today’s entry into the McDonagh film club left me disappointed. You may be asking, “Carson, if you hated those films, why did you read this one?” I didn’t know it was written by McDonagh when I read it. I avoid knowing the writer whenever possible for this very reason. I don’t want to go in with any prior bias. The film has a great cast with Peter Dinklage, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes, and Frances McDormand. I had assumed the odd premise had to have been based on a real life story. But keeping up the strange vibe of Three Billboards, it’s complete fiction.
Writer: Martin McDonagh
Details: 102 pages
Today’s script was written by someone it feels like has never written a script before. Now I know that’s not true. Because I can look on IMDB and see that he’s written other screenplays, one of them beloved by many. But it still feels that way.
This screenplay makes so many frustrating choices, goes against the grain so many times, that it stops existing as a screenplay, and teeters on the edge of becoming some giant inside joke, or a piece of performance art whose purpose will be revealed many years from now.
It sure makes for an unexpected read. And you guys have heard me say many times that that’s a good thing. Except when you make so many strange choices, that the story stops having a point. That’s what frustrated me most about Three Billboards. I kept wondering what the point was. I thought I’d get some answers by the end. But even then, this baffling monstrosity has you asking why the hell you just wasted two hours of your life on it.
Mildred Hayes is a mean bitch. I suppose losing your daughter to a rape-murder will do that to you. But you get the feeling that Mildred was a horrible person long before that happened.
With that said, she’s a woman who takes action. And as nine months have passed since her daughter was raped and murdered, and the local police haven’t done anything about it, Mildred decides to buy three billboards for the month which she uses to ask the police, “Why haven’t you done anything about the people who raped and murdered my daughter?” (in so many words).
Those police are beloved Chief Bill Willoughy, and racist cop Officer Dixon. Why do we have a racist cop when this movie’s central concept has nothing to do with race? One of the many strange choices that you have to get used to while reading “Three Billboards.”
Anyway, these billboards were put up to put pressure on the police to figure out what happened to Mildred’s daughter. But do you think we actually follow that storyline? No. Since this script reads like it was written on drugs, the billboards inspire NOBODY to do anything about the investigation. That’s right. Not a single second is spent by anyone to look more into the case after the erection of the billboards.
Instead, Bill Willoughy dies of cancer (WHAT??????), a new black chief takes his place (remember, race has nothing to do with the concept here, yet race keeps getting brought up), and a lot of locals take pot shots at Mildred for stirring up trouble with the billboards.
SPOILER ALERT. All of this leads to… NOTHING. At the end of the movie, we’re no closer to solving the crime than we were at the beginning. In fact, Mildred instead decides to kill some random dude who raped someone in Iraq. Cause, yeah, that makes sense.
All I wanted with Three Billboards was SOME kind of connective tissue. I wanted any two parts of the story to come together in a cohesive manner. For example, this weird subplot of making the deputy a racist. Race is a non-factor in Mildred’s death. So why have a subplot about it? Remember what we said yesterday in the great “Storyville?” If the subplot has nothing to do with the main plot, DON’T INCLUDE IT.
If Mildred believed that a black man had raped and killed her daughter, now we at least have SOME connective tissue to tie that into Dixon’s racism. But nope. Dixon’s racism stands off on its own island, leaving us to question its inclusion the entire running time.
Or what about the concept itself. There’s something empty and boring about a woman putting up billboards to remind the police to look into something. Hey Mildred. Ever hear of e-mail? I heard it’s a lot cheaper. Had Mildred heard that the police were covering something up? And her billboards implied that? NOW YOU HAVE A FUCKING STORY!!!! But we don’t get anything even resembling a compelling setup like that. Just a glorified flier telling the cops to spend a few more hours a week on her daughter’s investigation.
I guess the argument for this story’s existence is that it’s less about the murder and more about grief and the uncontrollable feelings that come with being the surviving mother of a rape victim. But here’s the problem with that. If you set up a murder at the beginning of your story, and you build your concept around the idea that a mother wants answers regarding that murder, the audience is going to want to find out who the murderer is!!! If you don’t bother, then, investigating the case, don’t you think you’re pulling a bait and switch on us?
It’d be like in Silence of the Lambs, if they set up Buffalo Bill kidnapping this woman, and then focused the story on corruption in the FBI. We never went after Buffalo Bill. We just watched Clarice deal with bureaucratic red tape inside her division. That’s what the setup and execution of Three Billboards felt like.
If the script has a saving grace, it’s that it’s an actors wet dream. Whoever plays Mildred gets to act like a crazy lunatic bitch for 2 hours, which should surely earn then an Oscar nom. Someone gets to play a racist cop when racist cops are all the rage in the news. And every character seems to have a larger backstory, some legitimate depth.
But when your hero is the least sympathetic person in the script and the villain is the most sympathetic, it leaves the audience utterly confused about what and who they’re supposed to root for.
To top it all off, Three Billboards has an ending that is so shamelessly anti-mainstream, it’s begging you to hang a “keeping it real” gold medal around its neck as you walk out the theater. I’ll be surprised if anyone in the theater makes it that far though.
[x] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Making your hero unsympathetic and your villain sympathetic will certainly win you style points with the film school crowd. But assuming you aren’t a director with the ability to get a film made, this is the fastest way to make your script unsaleable to every single producer in town.
A forgotten great script from the writer of Gladiator with a connection to Kurosawa?? Uhh, sign me up!
Premise: A New Orleans club owner in 1944 finds himself in a deadly power struggle when his old partner is released from prison.
About: There aren’t too many screenwriters more successful than John Logan. He’s written a bunch of Bond films, The Aviator, The Last Samurai, Gladiator. He even lent his pen to Prometheus 2. This script was supposed to be Scorsese’s big Oscar entry in 2006. Instead, he went off and did The Departed. As a result, this script has been lost in time. But maybe it shouldn’t have been……. (that’s me creating suspense, with all those little dots)
Writer: John Logan (based on the Drunken Angel screenplay by Keinosuke Uegusa and Akira Kurosawa)
Details: 109 pages (December 16, 2005 draft)
You can learn a lot from today’s screenplay.
When you don’t read anything good for awhile and then you stumble upon something that is good, it’s like childhood memories returning after a bout of amnesia. It becomes clear what the good writers do that the bad writers don’t. The appropriately titled “Storyville” may as well be a classroom study on how to write a deep, thoughtful, yet still entertaining, drama.
It’s 1944. The war is going on. And it’s changed New Orleans. The town seems to be a place where people live to live. They know with those millions of soldiers dying overseas, that each day is a gift. So they take advantage of it.
Kit Tibbedeaux is sure taking advantage of it. He owns the swankiest club in town and business is booming. Kit’s made the controversial decision to allow black folks to work at his club. If he has to do what others won’t to make a buck, he’s got no problem with that.
Kit’s club gives him sky high status as well, and boy does he take advantage of it, drinking as much booze and smoking as many cigarettes as one man can digest. And probably more. That is until he gets shot and has to visit one of those gangster doctors, an older black man named Warren. Warren will do anything to pay the bills, including abortions.
Warren fixes Kit up but also gives him shitty news. Kit’s got TB. Now you and I don’t have to worry about TB today. But back in 1944, TB was a first class trip to one of the most horrible deaths a man could imagine. We’re talking a single breath was like fighting an entire war. Warren tells Kit that unless he eases up his lifestyle, the TB will get him.
As if that isn’t bad enough, Kit finds out that Stokes, his old partner, has just gotten out of prison. Stokes is pissed as all get-up that there are now black people working in his establishment.
It’s clear that only one of these men is going to own this club by the end of the month. Who that is will depend on which one does their best Bob Sugar impression – rounding up the key players and getting them on their side.
Will the fast-deteriorating Kit be able to fend his fiery out-for-blood partner off? Or will he succumb to death, which he faces around every corner?
One of the things we talk about here at Scriptshadow is GOALS. Give your characters a GOAL. If they have a goal, they’ll drive the story forward. They have to save their daughter, destroy the Death Star, get to White Castle. You’ve got a movie if you have a goal.
Storyville is a reminder that there’s another way to look at it. Instead of thinking, “I have to add a goal,” think, “I have to add a PROBLEM.”
A problem creates a situation whereby, technically, there’s a goal (you must deal with the situation caused by the problem). But it’s not a straight-forward goal like you see inTaken. It’s more a looming thing that needs to be dealt with.
To help explain this, I’m going to use the tried and true cooking analogy. A goal is like cooking an omelette. An omelette is cooked fast, so you’re always adding to it, massaging it, working it until the moment you put it on the plate. A problem is more like making spaghetti sauce. It simmers all the way up til when it’s time to serve.
So here, the problem is Stokes coming back into the mix. Notice how that’s different from a clean goal. It’s not like Star Wars or Taken where the characters are actively pursuing something. It’s more, “We know this issue is going to come to a head, so we the audience want to stick around to see what happens when it does.”
Problems, folks. They can be your solution.
Moving on, screenwriters always ask me, “How do I add depth to my screenplay?” It’s such a vague term: “Depth.” It can be interpreted in so many ways. Well one of those ways is through subplots. Now subplots can be tricky. Where and how do you add them? As is the case with most things in screenwriting – keep it simple.
Imagine an arrow going from the bottom of the page to the top of the page. That’s your main plot. So here, that would be Stokes coming back from prison and forcing a showdown with Kit. Now if you wanted to JUST deal with this in your screenplay, that would be fine. You’d still have a good screenplay. But you want to add depth, right? Okay, so we need to add another arrow.
This arrow will also run from the bottom of the page to the top and parallel to our main arrow. However this arrow may be thinner and shorter. It all depends on how intense and how long you want the subplot to run for.
The subplot here? Keeping in mind that Storyville is a script based on problems (as opposed to goals), the subplot is Kit’s tuberculosis. That’s the second PROBLEM he has to address. This adds a lot more depth to the story, as it’s one more thing we, the audience, have to worry about.
Now where you REALLY see the mettle of a screenwriter, is how the main plot and subplots intertwine. Weak screenwriters will have subplots that have nothing to do with the main plot. Good writers know that if you’re going to write a subplot that doesn’t have anything to do with the main plot, then it’s not worth writing at all.
Here, the tuberculosis subplot works in direct contrast to the main plot. Kit is going to need every ounce of energy he can muster to take down Stokes. Yet his doctor is telling him that the only shot he has of beating TB is to stop everything and rest. It’s genius.
How many subplots should you add to your screenplay? That’s up to you. But usually you have one big one that majorly affects the plot (like the TB here) and then increasingly smaller ones. For example, there’s a subplot in Storyville between Stokes, his girlfriend, and Warren (the doctor) that takes up a total of 4 or so scenes.
On top of all this, this script is ridden with actor and director crack. On the actor side we’ve got characters speaking in this tongue-twisting 1940s New Orleans slang. Holy fuck do actors love that shit. And on the directing side, we get to recreate 1940s New Orleans. A director would chop off his right foot to have that opportunity.
I get that it’s not a marketing slam dunk, but there’s enough here that I’d be surprised if this weren’t made into a movie at some point. What a pleasant Sunday evening surprise. :)
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] genius
What I learned: I’ve read a million “Meet the Boss” scenes in these scripts. There’s this tough shadowy top-dog boss that we eventually have to go to for help or confrontation or because we’re caught, or because we’ve caught them. And the bosses are all the same. They’re sitting in a low-lit room, stoic, steely, looks like nothing phases them – like some version of the Godfather. I’ve seen it so many times that I’ve accepted it’s how it will always be. Storyville’s “big boss” scene was the first one I’ve read in awhile that was different. It wasn’t wildly different. But it was creepy and weird, and that was enough to differentiate it from everything I’ve seen before. You guys will have to find the script and read the scene for yourselves (it’s around page 90) to see what I’m talking about. But yeah, always push yourselves on these “we accept the cliche because that’s how it is” scenes and come up with something different.
THE WINNER OF WEEK 3 HAS BEEN LISTED BELOW
The Scriptshadow Tournament pits 40 amateur screenplays against each other that you, the readers of the site, will vote on. Ultimately, YOU will decide the winner. Today we have the third group of entries. You can see who won Week One here and Week Two here. Read as much as you can from each of the entries and vote for the week’s winner in the comments section. Although it’s not required, your vote will carry more weight if you explain why you chose the script (doesn’t have to be elaborate, just has to make sense). I say “carry more weight” because a vote for a script without any explanation from an unknown voter may be seen as fake and not count towards the tally. I will announce the winner of this week here, in this post, on Sunday, 10pm Pacific time. That script will then go into the quarterfinals. Good luck to this week’s contestants!
Title: Widow’s Walk
Writer: Brett Martin
Genre: Contained Thriller
Logline: A psychic breaks into a haunted house to confront a malevolent force from her past that she believes has abducted her daughter.
Title: The Savage
Writer: Chris Ryan Yeazel
Genre: Historical Biography
Logline: The incredible true story of Squanto, the Patuxet Indian who was kidnapped from the Americas as a child and who then spent his life fighting impossible odds to return home, setting in motion a series of events that leads to one of the most significant events in American history.
Title: The Darlings
Writer: Matt Edward
Genre: Horror / Slasher
Logline: A group of teens venture to a secluded cabin for a grad night celebration, but the night of debauchery turns into a fight for survival when they fall prey to an ex-classmate turned convicted murderer who recently escaped from the authorities.
Writer: Kosta K
Genre: Supernatural Thriller
Logline: A man who can see the spirits of the dead traces a series of gruesome murders back to the suicide cult he was a part of when he was a child.
Title: Three Miles to Waffle House
Writer: Jeremiah Lewis
Logline: Two friends attempt to get a post-concert meal at Waffle House, but become embroiled in a series of misadventures instead.
WINNER OF WEEK 3: “THE SAVAGE” by Chris Ryan Yeazel. Great job, Chris. And WOW, this week’s race was tiiiiiight. So this is probably a good time to say that if you don’t win your round, YOU’VE STILL GOT A SHOT! I’ll be including FOUR WILD CARDS into the quarterfinals. At the end of the first round, we’ll have a Wild Card Week, where ten highly-voted runner-ups compete for four wild-card spots. The top 4 vote-getters from that week will move into the quarterfinals along with the 8 winners.
I understand that this makes things tricky regarding rewrites. If you’re not sure your script will make the quarterfinals, why rewrite it? Well, if you finished second place in your week, you’ll very likely be in the Wild Card Round, and if you finished a close third, there’s a slight chance you’ll be in it. So if that’s you, I’d rewrite the script, taking into consideration all the notes you received. Good luck and I’ll see you all back here next week for Week 4!!!
Disney is the fucking bomb right now.
They are so far ahead of their competition, it’s embarrassing.
A lot of you might say, “Well duh, they’re Disney. They’ve got tons of money.” Oh how quickly youst forget, mon freres. There was a time, less than 20 years ago, when Disney was the laughingstock of the industry. They were churning out dreck like The Emperor’s New Groove.
These days, they have five separate super-film businesses going at the same time:
Live Action versions of classic fairy tales
Their animated division
And all five of those businesses are knocking it out of the Disney World park. To give you some context, let’s see what the other studios have going for them at the moment.
Fox – Fox is doing okay, but their culture of secrecy and hoarding hurts them. Their big property is the X-Men universe, but that’s dying quickly. They’re lucky as hell Deadpool came along. That should fill their coffers for the next 5-7 years. But outside of that, the studio’s choices are sketchy at best. The Ice Age franchise? Predator reboots? Will we ever get another Avatar movie?
Sony – Sony has been in decline for awhile now. And to think they were the top dog a decade ago. At least they still have Spider-Man and Bond. But even the web-slinger has lost his luster with audiences now that there are 30 other superheroes to choose from. I like to think it’s karma for supporting all those Adam Sandler movies over the years.
Warner Brothers – This is the company that should be challenging Disney, but the guy at the helm, Kevin Tsujihara, doesn’t seem to get it. He wants to play copycat in a media landscape dictated by trailblazers. They have DC and Harry Potter, which are major IP. But as of this moment, I’m not convinced either of those properties will end up in a successful place.
Universal – Universal has Jurassic Park, Minions, Fifty Shades, and the Furious franchise. They also have their monsters universe they’ll be throwing at us soon. As well as Universal did last year, they could be in trouble going forward. The Furious characters are showing their age and I’m not convinced this Monster strategy is going to work. But we’ll see.
Paramount – Any company that tries to reboot The Terminator, which has failed every time someone has tried to reboot it, is in trouble. But they do have Transformers, G.I. Joe, and Mission Impossible.
Lionsgate – On the precipice of becoming a studio super power, Lionsgate now finds itself dealing with YA fatigue. The problem with Lionsgate is that they don’t have a strategy outside of the YA novels. So I don’t know what’s going to happen to them if that dries up completely.
As you can see, nobody comes close to competing with even a single Disney’s prodco, much less their entire company. Which brings me to today’s question: What is Disney doing that’s so good? And can we, the screenwriter, learn from it?
As crazy as this sounds, I think the key to Disney’s success is more emphasis on the screenplay. As Will Smith pointed out a few months ago – the days of being able to pull one over on the audience are over. People tell you immediately – through social media – if something sucks. When you combine that with more alternatives to watching movies than at any other time in history, you bet your ass the story needs to be good.
On top of this, there is more on the line with each movie. Each film must birth an entire universe. So if those early movies in the franchise aren’t compelling, you could lose out on billions of potential dollars for the company. Better believe companies are fighting over the best screenwriters.
So how do you go about writing good screenplays? Isn’t trying to write a good screenplay a foregone conclusion? Nobody goes into a project saying, “Oh man, let’s write the shittiest script we can.” Everyone wants to write a good script. The answer can be found in the culture of each company.
The first component to Disney’s culture is passion. And this dates back to the origins of the company. They find people who are passionate about material and hire them. If that passion isn’t there, every decision made from there on out is going to weaken the product. That’s why Star Wars is kicking ass. It has someone who’s passionate about making great Star Wars movies – Kathleen Kennedy – at the helm.
This is the problem that WB is dealing with. Who’s in charge of that DC franchise? Is it Zak Snyder? Is it Kevin Tsujihara? And are either of them the right people to carry that torch? Do you see them as people who love DC comics the same way JJ Abrams loves Star Wars? Or John Lasseter loves animation? I don’t. And as much as I like Ben Affleck as an actor and director, do I think he stayed up all night when he was 11 years old reading Batman and Superman comics? No, I don’t. So while we’re going to get a cool looking film out of him, something’s going to be missing. And that’s a direct result of the lack of passion at the top of the pyramid.
The next component is time. Creativity requires time. Look at Pixar. They work endlessly on their scripts. And then when they settle on a draft, they “shoot” the movie with temp animation, see what’s not working, then go back and rewrite it again. And again. And again. The Pixar movie you see in the theater is the 10th or 11th version of the film. And that’s why Pixar is at the forefront of storytelling, and why their movies are a cut above the rest. They take their time.
Contrast that with WB’s Suicide Squad, where they said to the director, you have six weeks to write the movie. SIX WEEKS! Are you really going to write a good movie in six weeks? This goes back to the passion thing. Is Kevin Tsujihara passionate enough about DC comics to care about getting the script right? To him, the film is a bottom line in a spreadsheet. Suits work within those time-constraints all the time. So, he argues, why can’t writers? And what do we get? We get a movie that feels like it was written in six weeks.
Now you may say, “Well Carson, The Force Awakens was written quickly too.” That’s true and not true. Remember, they originally wanted to open Star Wars in May of last year. It was the PASSION of Kathleen Kennedy that made her stand strong on a December opening. So Disney did what Warner Brothers would not. They gave them seven more months, enough time to write a better draft of the script. And we got a good movie as a result.
The final key to Disney’s success is they take chances. Rogue One is a huge chance. John Carter was a huge chance. Lone Ranger was a huge chance. Tomorrowland. Into the Woods. Maleficent. Saving Mr. Banks. Most of those movies didn’t do well. But that’s besides the point. If you’re not willing to take risks, you’re not going to end up with anything outside the expected. It seems like Paramount and Warner Brothers and Lionsgate are running some equation to determine what movies they’ll greenlight. The essence of good art is risk. And Disney has kept that spirit in mind as much as a billion dollar corporation can when developing product.
So those are the three lessons you want to take with you into your own screenwriting journey:
Write something you’re passionate about.
Utilize TIME as much as possible when writing your screenplay.
Make sure you’re incorporating risk into your concept and story choices.