Premise: Based on a true story, Olympic Gold Medal wrestler Mark Schultz accepts an invitation to train at the facilities of a reclusive wrestling fanatic. What starts out as a dream opportunity slowly turns into a nightmare.
About: Steve Carell is starring in this one with Channing Tatum. Bennet Miller, the director of Moneyball and Capote, will direct. For those of you who don’t know, Miller was one of the very first directors (maybe the first?) to accept the digital medium, shooting his first film on digital tape. The film, The Cruise, was a small documentary, but a fun little film that followed around a semi-crazy tour guide in New York City. Definitely worth a rental if you can find it. Today’s writing pair is an out of left field duo, particularly for a high profile release. E. Max Frye hasn’t written anything since 2003, when he knocked off a TV movie titled, “Second Nature.” And Dan Futterman is known more for his acting than his writing, appearing in TV shows Judging Amy, Will and Grace, and Sex and The City (although he did write Miller’s “Capote.”) I also noticed that Futterman starred in one of my favorite spec screenplay success stories, “When Trumpets Fade.”
Writers: E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman (story by E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman and Bennet Miller)
Details: July 1, 2008 draft – 124 pages (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).
In case you weren’t aware, Scriptshadow is the unofficial all things Channing Tatum website! Pretty soon you’ll be able to buy Channing Tatum dolls, unwashed Channing Tatum T-shirts (complete with sweat stains), and clay molds of Channing Tatum’s abs. I’m having a clearance on Robert Pattinson Chia Pets by the way. Only $7.99 with shipping.
27 year old Mark Schultz is a world champion wrestler who won a gold medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic games. Mark is an intense no-nonsense guy. Even though he’s achieved what 99.99999% of the world could only dream of, he’s already set on his next goal, winning gold at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.
The thing is, being a world champion wrestler – even the best wrestler in the world – doesn’t pay a lot. In fact, Mark makes $5000 a year as an assistant coach at the University of Wisconsin. He works under his brother, 31 year old Dave Schultz, who also won a gold medal at Los Angeles.
Dave is the more popular of the two brothers. No matter what Mark does, it’s always Dave who gets the spotlight. It doesn’t bother Mark much. He loves his brother more than anything. But it would be nice if people would acknowledge him every once in awhile. He did, you know, win a gold medal too.
After Mark’s let go due to budget cuts, he’s tasked with figuring out how to train with no income. Out of desperation, he puts together a lazily edited set of training tapes but he may as well be trying to sell Kim Khardashian-Kris Humpries T-shirts. Nobody’s buying.
Then, out of nowhere, he gets a call from a man claiming to represent John Du Pont. Du Pont’s family is extraordinarily rich and owns a huge piece of land known as Foxcatcher Farms. Du Pont is a big wrestling fan and it’s come to his attention just how little money the U.S. wrestling team has to train. So he constructs his own facility and asks Mark to head it up. Anybody Mark recruits, he’ll pay them full salaries and living expenses!
Mark can’t believe his luck and the first thing he does is call his brother to join him. But Dave has a family and is wary about the invitation. The question he asks Mark will prove to be prophetic: “What does DuPont get out of it?”
When we meet Du Pont, we immediately sense something’s off about the guy. One moment he’s excited, the next reserved. Sometimes he’s obsessive, other times chummy. One day he wants to blend into the background, the next he wants to be the star. But all that matters to Mark is that Du Pont wants to win the gold as much as he does.
But as the months go by, Du Pont becomes more obsessive about the team. He starts participating in the practices, and names himself as one of the coaches – paying a hefty donation to the wrestling Federation for the privilege. It becomes even creepier when we find out Du Pont doesn’t do anything for a living. He’s never had a job. All of this money comes from his nearly dead senile mother.
Du Pont starts hounding Mark about his brother, Dave. Why hasn’t he recruited him yet? Why isn’t he out here with the team? What at first seems like a suggestion has become an obsession. Where the fuck is Dave?
Eventually, Du Pont makes Dave an offer he can’t refuse, and Mark finds out the truth. Du Pont was recruiting Dave a full two months before he called Mark. When Dave said no, Du Pont recruited Mark in hopes that he would convince his brother to come. This whole façade was just to get Dave here.
But Dave’s arrival doesn’t go as Du Pont expected. Dave and Mark become intensely close as they train, and Du Pont is sort of left out in the cold. Neither Dave nor Mark will give him the time of day. This doesn’t sit well with Du Pont, who decides to go to extreme measures to rectify the situation.
I don’t know what it was about this screenplay, but it got under my skin. Du Pont got under my skin. There was something so damn creepy about the guy. I really wish Channing Tatum wasn’t in this because if they found a worthy actor to play across from Carell, I think Carell could win an Oscar for this role. Du Pont is just a fascinating character.
I’ve already told you guys this but it bears repeating. Actors love playing characters like Du Pont. It allows them to flex their acting muscles. They get to play shy, aggressive, aloof, angry, sweet, passive-aggressive. Think about it, if you were an actor, wouldn’t you want to play that role as opposed to, say, a one-note character? Someone who’s just angry all the time? Or happy all the time? Actors love to be challenged. So write them a challenging role.
But what’s unique about Foxcatcher is that both lead characters are weird. Mark is also an odd duck who’s way too obsessed with wrestling, to the point where he has no love life, no real friends, no anything. I’m used to there being a “straight man” in a dynamic like this, but there is no straight man. That made each scene between the two fascinating. I was never quite sure what each character would do, what they would say. I’m used to scenes that all read the same. But that’s what was so cool about Foxcatcher. There was no “same.”
And there were just some really creepy sequences in this script. For example, Du Pont enters this over 50 wrestling tournament and starts training with the Olympians for it. Mark travels with him as his coach, and we see Du Pont wrestling these other men his age, but they’re clearly letting him win. That’s when we realize the entire tournament is a sham, paid for by Du Pont so he can win. Every single one of these wrestlers is being paid to lose to Du Pont. It’s just so odd and sad and unsettling.
Foxcatcher also has that train wreck thing going for it – sort of like yesterday’s screenplay. But you get the sense the wreck is going to be much bigger here, and it is. This is a true story so you can look up what happens for yourself. Foxcatcher is a strange exploration of mental illness and obsession that will stay with you for days. I actually had a dream about this screenplay after I read it, which never happens. That’s how big of an impact it left on me. Fascinating stuff.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] genius
What I learned: If possible, send your characters into a meal scene with an unsettled issue. Late in the screenplay, Du Pont slaps Mark in front of the entire team. He then disappears and Mark can’t get a hold of him for days. Mark is then invited to a big meal with some people Du Pont is trying to impress. All Mark wants to do is talk to Du Pont about what happened, but Du Pont wants nothing to do with it (conflict!). This adds all this tension and subtext to the dinner scene that would never be there if the two characters were hunky-dorey and happy with one another.