Genre: Contained Thriller/Found Footage
Premise: A group of detectives try to piece together a mass murder on a Vegas shuttle van via the video taken from the passengers.
About: Evidence sold as a naked spec (no attachments – hardest type of spec to sell) earlier this year for low six figures I believe. John Swetnam, the writer, is on Twitter and has tweeted his frustration over selling TWO specs now (he just sold Category 6 – another found footage script) and still having to live on a budget. That said, he apparently likes to burn both ends of the candle, flying into various cities and partying his ass off until the sun comes up. We definitely need more partying writers so do yo thang John.
Writer: John Swetnam
Details: 93 pages – undated (This is an early draft of the script. The situations, characters, and plot may change significantly by the time the film is released. This is not a definitive statement about the project, but rather an analysis of this unique draft as it pertains to the craft of screenwriting).
Changed today’s review at the last second! I was getting sick of the heavy stuff. Needed something light and fluffy.
Late last year a writer asked me, “Should I write a found footage script? Or is that trend over?” I thought for a long time and finally answered, “You know, I think the found footage thing is about dead.” Turns out I was wrong. We had that silly Apollo 24 found footage film. We have that found footage film coming out about kids with superpowers. We’re already on a third Paranormal Activity film. Evidence sold earlier in the year. Swetnam sold “Category 6” (about dudes going into crazy storms) a few weeks ago. I’m starting to wonder if found footage films are like rap. Everybody kept calling rap a trend in the 80s, yet it just kept on going, like the Energizer bunny. Could found footage films become a legitimate genre? I’m done trying to be Nostradamus so I’ll let you guys decide.
We’re in the middle of the Nevada desert – a shuttle van smoldering at the side of the road with a huge hole in the side. Up ahead, an abandoned gas station has been blown to bits. There are bodies and pieces of bodies everywhere.
Nevada cops are pissed. No precinct likes mass murders on their watch. But luckily, they have a couple of survivors and a lot of video. One of the survivors, Rachel, a 20-something aspiring director, taped most of the ordeal with a handicam. There are also a couple of cell phone videos and a flip phone from the other passengers. It’s not every day that video of a crime lands in the authorities hands so they might actually be able to solve this quickly. The question is. Will they solve it correctly?
Rachel’s going on this Vegas trip with her best friend, actress Lean Hoodplatt. Despite having a weird last name, she’s gorgeous and talented and ready to take Hollywood by storm. But she’s having a tough time in her personal life, having recently rejected her boyfriend, Tyler’s, proposal. She’s convinced him to come on the Vegas trip, though, in hopes of patching things up.
There’s also 18 year old Steven, a goth-ish loner who’s using Vegas to escape his controlling mom. There’s Vicki, a single mother who wants to upgrade her stripping career. There’s Bitter Ben, the bus driver. And finally there’s the mysterious “Old Woman,” a sloppily dressed 50-something who’s running away from something. We just don’t know what yet.
As the primary video is from director Rachel, the first bits show her and Leann preparing for the trip. We then jump to the van, which somewhere between LA and Vegas blows a tire. Luckily, there’s an abandoned gas station up the road where they can hang out until someone finds them. But upon getting there, PEOPLE START DYING!
Evidence actually cuts back and forth between the footage and the Forensics Technology Room where the detectives try to weave this complicated puzzle together. Like any good whodunit, the prime suspects keep changing. At first we think it’s creepy 50 year old woman – cause the world is racist against the oldies, you know? Then we learneth that she has some mentally fucked up estranged husband, and that HE might have been waiting for them at the gas station – although I don’t know how the duo knew exactly where the van would blow a tire. But that’s neither here nor there.
What is here AND there is somebody in a coat and a soldering mask, which means even when they do get the killer on tape, they don’t know who it is. Although at least one thing is clear. The killer is one of the people on the bus. Who is it? Why are they killing everyone? You’ll have to read until the shocking twist ending to find out.
Evidence is like a walk on the first day of spring. The sun’s out. The air is brisk. There’s a nice breeze. But it’s still a walk. You’re still just…you know…walking. So it’s not THAT exciting. That said, you’re glad you did it.
The other day I railed on Black because I didn’t know ANYTHING about the characters. Nothing. And since I didn’t know anything, I didn’t care what the hell happened to them. Some commenters pointed out that people don’t go to horror movies for character development. That I agree with. But they do often LEAVE horror movies disappointed and don’t know why. The reason why is almost always because the characters sucked, so they didn’t care what happened to them.
Evidence gives us the PERFECT amount of character development for a movie like this. You don’t have time to get too in depth. Too much backstory can get in the way of a fast-paced horror film. But there’s still SOMETHING.
I know that Rachel wants to be a movie director. I know Leann wants to be an actress. I know there’s some recent drama between Leann and her boyfriend. I know that the stripper lost custody of her child. I know that Steven, the goth dude, had a falling out with his mother. None of it is too weighty or original. BUT IT’S THERE. It makes these characters more than names on a page. So I cared a lot more about these people than I did about Zombie Panda and the Panderettes.
One thing I’ve noticed with found footage is that it allows you to jump around a lot more freely than normal films and therefore keep the story moving at a breakneck pace. Wanna skip over a boring part of a conversation? Just pretend like the characters didn’t record that part. Movies are formatted to skip over the dumb parts as it is. But the found footage angle allows you to take this practice to the extreme. It’s the perfect device for our patience-challenged culture.
And you might not have noticed this. But the found footage angle actually allowed Swetnam to pull the “Crazy first scene than CUT TO ONE DAY EARLIER” device without it being annoying! Chances are you didn’t even notice it! That’s because it was an organic result of using the video tapes. Going backwards was a natural part of the way things were set up. A good reminder that annoying story devices aren’t annoying if they’re organic to the story.
But the most important triumph of this script is it really keeps you guessing. I’d already been told there was a twist ending. Yet still, I had no idea who the killer was. As each page went by, I only found myself more confused. “Well it can’t be THAT guy” I’d say, even though I’d been positive it WAS that guy. That happened like three times.
Does the script have problems? Well, there’s no doubt it feels “light.” Now that’s the kind of movie it is. It’s not trying to change the world or anything. But still, even with the character development, I felt Evidence leaving my brain almost immediately after it was over.
And I’m still trying to figure out which route this moron Shuttle driver took. I’ve driven that LA to Vegas route a few times and I have no idea how you’d get on an abandoned road in the middle of nowhere. There’s an interstate that goes directly from one city to the other. Maybe I missed something and they got off the main road for some reason, but if not, that definitely needs to be figured out.
Evidence was fun. A bag full of candy on a rainy day. Should make a good return investment for whoever makes it.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: This is a good example of writing for the market. Being aware of what audiences want, what studios are looking for, and giving them that. I don’t think enough writers approach it this way. Amateur Friday writer Adam Zopf made a great point in the comments section of his review – You don’t have to change the world with your script. In fact, if you’re trying to change the world with your script, there’s a good chance you’re writing a really boring script. Come up with a marketable idea, create some characters that you personally connect with to give it some depth, and then write the best damn script you can. I see too many good writers wallowing in obscurity because they’re trying to write the next Academy Award winning film. Save that stuff for when you’re established. Right now, write something that’s going to get people excited and break you in.
Note to readers: Guys, I know it’s difficult to discuss this script without discussing the ending, but I’m going to ask you to refrain from spoiling the ending. Most writers are fine with me reviewing scripts but get upset when a big twist is spoiled.Thank you. :)