amateur offerings weekend

UPDATE: It’s a close race so make sure to vote! It could determine the winner!

Unless you’re a 50 Shades fan (and because you’re on a blog about writing, I’m assuming you’re not) or one of the 50 people who heard about the thwarted terrorist attack Clint Eastwood made a movie about, you’re not going to the movies this weekend. And that means two things. One, YOU’RE GOING TO DO SOME WRITING! But close behind that at two, you’re going to read some amateur screenplays and vote on your favorite!

We’ve got a wily bunch of entries this weekend that take us from Wales all the way to a galaxy far far away. Although some may say that is Wales. BADUM-BUM! I’m just getting warmed up. Try the veal parmegean. But seriously, you know how this works. Download the scripts, read as long as you stay interested, vote for which script you liked best in the comments section, and if you have some time, give the scripts you didn’t like some constructive criticism on why you stopped reading and what they could’ve done better. We’re in the business of helping each other on Scriptshadow. So be generous with your wisdom.

By the way, there’s a reason I say, “Read as long as you stay interested.” Because if you stop being interested, the script has failed. So it’s helpful to the writer to know where exactly you stopped caring. That’s invaluable advice writers never receive. It’s also a good learning experience as writers yourselves, parsing out where you lose interest in a screenplay and understanding why it’s happened. Because if you know why someone else’s script stopped being interesting, you can apply that knowledge to your own writing.

Anyway, winner gets a review next Friday. And if you believe you have a screenplay that the world will fall in love with, submit it to Amateur Offerings! Send me a PDF of your script, along with the title, genre, logline, and why you think people should read it (your chance to pitch your story). All submissions should be sent to

Genre: Sci-fi/Fantasy
Logline: As Rey searches for the answers to her past, the Resistance makes one last attempt to defeat the First Order and restore peace to the galaxy.
Why You Should Read: Like many people, I walked out of “The Last Jedi” scratching my head — not only asking “What’s next?” but also “What’s missing here?” The answers came to me pretty quickly, and all of them were centered around who these characters were and the potential within them of what they were capable of achieving. — This script was also a personal challenge. I gave myself only 4 weeks to write it, from concept to completion. It’s been a wonderfully maddening month! I had tremendous fun writing this, and perhaps above everything else, that is what I hope is conveyed.

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Title: Lili & Will
Genre: Black comedy, Drama
Logline:When a 13-year-old social misfit hacks into the financial life of his reclusive 70 year old neighbor and finds she’s being short-changed at her home office job, the two embark on an epic journey to seek justice from the shady for-profit “university” that’s been cheating her for decades.
Why You Should Read: The short version? Lili & Will is dark and funny and has loads of heart, with two very cool parts for an “actress of a certain age,” and pretty much any kid from “Stranger things.” The enhanced version? I’ve been working on this thing for years, and even though lots of people said they loved it, no one ever loved it enough to open a checkbook. At first I shrugged this off to “Nobody wants to make a POKER movie.” Yes, for years this script was about two characters on their way to a poker tournament, and nothing at all like the logline above. But then I got a NOTE I never expected — that my characters were GREAT, but they were drowning in technical b.s. about card playing that bogged everything down. I was DEVASTATED by this, knowing I would have to change pretty much EVERYTHING. But for the first time in my life, I buckled down, took the note, and actually did the work. NEW third act. NEW plot. NEW character arcs. NEW pretty much everything. Anyway, this is the result. I hope you enjoy it.

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Title: Hideaway Hills
Genre: Thriller
Logline: Behind the gates of an exclusive community threatened by wildfire, a woman must choose sides when secrets about her new marriage are exposed during a home invasion by three desperate intruders who owe money to the wrong people.
Why You Should Read: Hideaway Hills placed first at the LAIFF for January 2018 and was the 3rd place winner at HIMPFF for the same month. An earlier draft made it as a finalist in the San Francisco Indie Fest, and an even earlier draft made it to the second round at last year’s Austin Film Festival. – After years of frantic scribbling, I’m hoping to have finally produced something worthwhile. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

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Title: Sleeping Giant
Genre: Dark Comedy
Logline: An introverted doctor takes a road trip across Wales with his mischief-making millennial brother to scatter their father’s ashes, and dispose of the dismembered body hidden in the car boot.
Why You Should Read: I come from that part of the UK that isn’t England, Scotland or Northern Ireland. If you need to consult with our Google overlord about that statement consider this script an irreverent, dramatic and darkly humorous education on the glorious land of Wales. I’ve received great feedback on the characters and dialogue in this script, and if nothing else, I believe it’s original. While I don’t think it will be to 2018 what Jane Wick scripts were to 2017, I have the lofty ambition of it one day being that Netflix hidden gem you tell your friends about. I’ll trade reads and feedback for my eternal gratitude. Cheers.

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Title: Dead Man’s Switch
Genre: thriller/action/drama
Logline: A former hacker evades a group of mercenaries while hunting down one of her own to prevent a plot that would bankrupt the crypto-currency market, a move that could bring the entire global economy to it’s knees.
Why You Should Read: Shades of Nikita, part Bourne, hints of Die Hard, and a dash of Salt, Dead Man’s Switch was a fun script to write that was inspired in part by the Arab Spring, the war on Terror, the Crypto-currency boom, and the desire to write a spy/cyber thriller mash-up. It’s both it’s own thing and and familiar enough to make it accessible. Please enjoy, and let me know what you think would make this script better!

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Nightcrawler – Watch this movie to understand the power of minimalism. The story here is extremely simple. A guy wants to be good at his job. Everyone’s always trying to write Citizen Kane. You need to learn to write Nightcrawler first. Give us an interesting character and an easy-to-understand story and you can write a great script.

Glengarry Glen Ross – Watch this movie for the way it uses tension to create charged dialogue. After Alec Baldwin gives his famous Always Be Closing speech, the tension in the room is palpable. That tension creates conflict between the characters, a sense of fear, a sense of urgency. All of that comes out in the interactions between the characters, resulting in great dialogue. If you’re looking to turbo-charge your dialogue, build a concept around tension.

American Beauty – Watch this movie to learn how to make characters OTHER THAN YOUR HERO rich and complex. One of the quickest ways to spot a newbie is weak supporting characters. Notice how all the characters in American Beauty have something going on underneath the surface.

Raiders of the Lost Ark – Watch this movie to learn how to write great set pieces. The fallacy behind great set pieces is that they have to be big and elaborate. Raiders proves that the opposite is true. They’re often simple and direct, like running down a tunnel with a giant boulder trailing you. Or being dragged behind a moving car. Or a showdown in the middle of town with a big baddie. One of my favorite set pieces ever is the trash compactor scene in Star Wars. That scene is four characters in a room. Simplicity is your best friend with set pieces.

Taken – For GSU (goal, stakes, urgency). As yesterday’s script taught us, you have to learn to crawl before you can fly. Learn the basics. And there’s nothing more basic than the foundation of this screenplay. Goal – find his daughter. Stakes – The loss of his daughter. Urgency – She’ll be shipped into oblivion within 48 hours.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – Watch this movie to learn how to create out-of-the-box concepts that allow for unique storytelling experiences. Anything that explores time and memory creates opportunities to jump around in time in interesting ways. But you never want to do this arbitrarily. You need to come up with a concept that allows for you to do so organically. Eternal Sunshine, Memento, Groundhog Day. Find the concept and these weird funky movies will write themselves.

Sideways – Watch this movie to learn how to build conflict into a relationship. Lots of movies are two-handers – two characters going on the same journey. It’s essential that you build conflict into that relationship so that the interactions between these characters stay entertaining. If you have NO CONFLICT AT ALL, I guarantee you, your characters will be boring. What I like about Sideways is it doesn’t use the on-the-nose “characters hate each other” approach to conflict, but rather the “world-view” approach. One character sees the world as a fun exciting positive place. The other as a nasty untrustworthy shithole out to get him. That worldview difference allows two friends who otherwise love each other to have lively interesting conversations throughout the movie’s running time.

Back to the Future – Watch this movie to learn how to create setups and payoffs! There are more setups and payoffs in Back to the Future than in any other film. The idea is that a big moment always lands more powerfully if it’s been set up beforehand. It’s a lot cooler to learn that the dance is going to be Marty’s savior if we already heard his mom and dad talking about that dance in the first act. Never underestimate the “Oh yeah! I remember that from earlier” factor.

Juno – Watch this movie to learn how to write a flashy likable main character. A big-personality main character is one of the easiest ways to write a memorable screenplay and can also cover for your plot if it ends up stinking. A good way to determine if you’ve written a super-memorable big personality character is if the character’s name could double as the movie’s title (Juno, Jerry Maguire, Good Will Hunting, Forrest Gump).

The Big Short – Watch this movie to learn how to spice up boring subject matter. This will be more important once you break in and start adapting material. You’ll be surprised at how dull some of the material you get pitched is. The Big Short had to figure out how to make sub-prime mortgages fun. In that respect, it’s the gold standard for how to do this right. Before anything, start by writing big memorable characters. From there, you can begin to play with form, breaking convention, that kind of thing. But as we discussed yesterday, this is a lot harder than it looks. Never make any choice to look “cool.” All choices should feel organic and right for the story.

Before you attack me for all the movies I left out, I did that for a reason. So you can tell us what your favorite “screenwriting lesson” movie is! Not to mention there are movies that are so good, they didn’t seem right for this article. How do you highlight just one lesson in Pulp Fiction, Chinatown, or The Godfather. And then there are movies, particularly ones before my time, that I don’t know as well. So I’d be doing a disservice to try and break those down from memory. Anyway, I’d love to throw a couple of new movies in the queue that I could watch with a purpose, so go ahead and share your screenwriting lesson flicks below.

Genre: True Story
Premise: (from Black List) 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.
About: This script finished with 10 votes on last year’s Black List, putting it in the top 25. It’s based on a couple of books, the more popular being “In the Plex,” about Google. The three writers who adapted this are all newbies. Two of them, Diani and Devine, have mostly focused on acting.
Writers(!): Gabriel Diani & Etta Devine & Evan Bates, based on “In The Plex” by Steven Levy & “I’m Feeling Lucky” by Douglas Edwards
Details: 122 pages (June 2017 draft)

Mark my words. If this gets made, Gyllenhaal will be playing Page.

The Big Short and The Social Network ushered in a new quasi-genre I like to call the Tricked Out Geek True Story. They take what should be nerdy subject matter and INFUSE it with a hip style, cool characters, and loads of energy. The reason the genre’s worked so far is that it orders up a powerful item on the screenwriting “secret menu,” that being irony. They present a GEEKY story in a COOL way. If you present a geeky story in a geeky way, that’s kind of on-the-nose, isn’t it?

“Don’t Be Evil” is Google’s introduction into this genre and boy does it want you to love it. This script is so intent on winning you over that it will do whatever it takes. Ongoing hip voice over narration. You got it. Staring into the camera and breaking the fourth wall. You better believe it. Recklessly cutting between six different time periods. You bet your ass we’re not stopping at five. Characters constantly referencing screenwriting terminology. Oh, hell yes. We got that too. How does this overcranked CPU stack up? Let’s find out.

It’s 2009 and Google’s just been hacked by the Chinese. At least that’s what Larry Page, the co-founder of Google, believes. Larry is our eyes and ears in this story, our “Ferris Bueller” if you will. That’s a good way to think of him because… well because the script tells us to think of him that way.

The story uses the Chinese hack as a starting point into how Google was born. We jump all the way back to Larry’s childhood, when he read a biography on Nikola Tesla, the famed inventor. The moral of Tesla’s biography was – you can’t just be a good inventor. You have to be good at business too.

Larry’s right hand man is Sergey, a programmer who grew up in communist Russia and therefore hates other communist countries, like China. He’s joined by Google’s head of security, Heather Adkins, and Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt, a man who was forced upon Larry by his investors since Larry didn’t know jack about running a business.

Amidst this Chinese hack, the team desperately tries to hold onto its company motto: Don’t Be Evil. After jumping back through a million time periods, we learn that this motto came about due to Larry’s belief that all corporations put their profits in front of their customers and he wanted Google to be the first company that didn’t do that.

The Chinese hack is the first time Google is faced with a decision that threatens their fabled motto. The quandary goes like this. The group feels they have a moral obligation to let their users know that their data has been compromised by China. However, if they do this, it would expose the Chinese, who would likely then kick Google out of their country. Since China represents billions of dollars in potential profits, this is an extremely hard decision.

As we get closer to the decision, we continue to take more diversions into the past, where the characters self-referentially remind us that they know they’re relying heavily on backstory and flashbacks, but that it will all make sense in the end. That end comes with Larry making the final call on the hack, which will inform the path that Google takes from this point forward.

Something we haven’t talked about in awhile is level of difficulty. If your routine incorporates six triple-axels and this is the first time you’ve ever skated, you’re probably not going to execute your routine. Don’t Be Evil was like three skaters trying to win the Olympics their first time out. Not even a brand new Zamboni could clean up the aftermath.

My newbie antennae goes up whenever I see FLASH. If a script is dominated by flashiness – talking to the camera, lots of self-referencing, tons of flashbacks, etc. – it’s usually an indication of a new writer. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. After an NSA agent is introduced, we get: “She’s completely fictional because there’s no way anyone is giving the screenwriters any information about Google’s very real relationship with the NSA.” Seasoned writers have failed enough times to know that flash is fool’s gold and that substance – deep characters, a well-designed plot, conflict-filled scenes, etc. – is your best bet at writing a good script.

What complicates this analysis is that the theme of this story is actually pretty strong, this question of is it possible for a corporation not to be evil? So it masks, at times, the attention deficit disorder writing that surrounds it. But, in the end, the script can’t escape this obsessive need to make you love it. It wants to be The Big Short. But it’s like The Big Short written by Max Landis, if that makes sense.

For example, the creation of deep characters. Outside of that first Larry Page flashback scene where he reads Tesla’s biography, I can’t remember a single scene where we actually get to know someone. And that’s because the script was so intent on never staying anywhere for any amount of time. It was like BAM, time to jump to the next flashback!! Contrast this with The Social Network, which gave you 8 entire minutes with our main character in the film’s very first scene (the breakup scene). We learned so much about Mark Zuckerberg in that scene.

Not to mention, reading a book is a lazy way to introduce a character. If you want to introduce a character in a way where we get to know them, do it through action. Preferably, give them a tough choice. We learn so much about characters when they’re faced with a choice. If you try and jump the line and never write the 4-5 scripts that teach you this, you’ll never know how to properly introduce a character, which is one of the most influential moments in a screenplay.

And I couldn’t for the life of me understand why the writers kept referencing screenwriting! Here’s a real exchange between characters in the story: “I found something important.” “I thought you were in New Zealand?” “I came over during that flashback.” It was bizarre. This story had nothing to do with screenwriting. It’s about Google and hacking. Maybe had they referenced movie cliches, that would’ve made more sense. But for some reason screenwriting became this huge theme in the script.

Now does all of this mean you should never use too-cool-for-school writing techniques? No. The Big Short obviously proved that it’s possible. But The Big Short was written by one writer, Charles Randolph, whose credits dated back over a decade, and another, Adam McKay, who had over 30 credits. These guys know how to navigate the potholes that come with this kind of writing style.

Figure out how to write simple stories first. Introduce a big problem, which results in a strong goal, for a compelling main character, with some urgency and high stakes. There wasn’t a single compelling character in this movie. The problem the characters are dealing with is arguably compelling. But we know nothing about anyone so it doesn’t matter. And that’s the kind of thing writing a simple story forces you to learn – how to construct a compelling character.

Reading my review back, it sounds harsher than I meant it to. This is the kind of thing everybody who jumps into a new medium does. They go for big and flashy because big and flashy gets noticed. And with this making the Black List, you can say that it worked. But if you want to work in this business a long time, you gotta learn the basics. And no basics were on display here.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: If you jump around in time too frequently, the reader never gets pulled in. I’d say this script jumped to a different time period, on average, once every 5 pages. I couldn’t get invested in the story because the story never slowed down enough for me to understand what I was investing in.

The Queen of Dialogue is here. A new Diablo Cody script. We’ll be learning a few dialogue tips today as well as whether Cody is back.

Genre: Drama
Premise: An overworked borderline depressed mother of two is forced to hire a “night nanny” to take care of her newborn.
About: Tully is Diablo Cody’s latest. But don’t close your browser window while simultaneously rolling your eyes just yet. Cody is teaming up with the director responsible for her two best efforts – Juno and Young Adult – Jason Reitman. Charlize Theron, who starred in the latter film, will be joining the two again.
Writer: Diablo Cody
Details: 91 pages

I was going to review Cloverfield today but everyone’s saying it’s terrible. That’s a bummer because the Super Bowl release strategy (“Here’s our trailer – go watch the movie now!”) was possibly the greatest of all time. Here’s my old review of the script. Keep in mind this is before they Cloverfielded it.

Not to worry because we’ve got the latest Diablo Cody script. Let’s jump right into it!

Marlo has an 8 year-old daughter, Sarah, and 5 year-old son, Jonah, who is autistic. She’s also nine months pregnant. Already overworked and under-slept, Marlo is afraid of what this new baby is going to do to a life that’s already in Stage 3 survival-mode. Even with a loving husband, she knows she’ll be testing the limits of human ability.

While at her brother’s house for dinner, he tells her of this thing that helped his wife – a night nanny. The night nanny shows up in the evening and stays with the baby all night, bringing her to you when it’s time to nurse, then whisking her away when it’s over. It’s the perfect solution, according to her brother, and saved his marriage.

Marlo is resistant at first, but comes around when her sleep deprivation hits the breaking point. Tully, a 20-something cool chick, arrives a night later, and wins Marlo over immediately. Not only does Tully remind Marlo of herself when she was younger, but she’s so damn calm. She can handle anything. Within days, Marlo’s life turns around. She’s getting sleep now. She has more energy. She’s the life of the dinner party.

But Tully isn’t just here for the baby. She wants to help Marlo. She wants to get to know her. And so Marlo confides in this perfect yogi-like presence about what her life used to be like (fun!), about what her life is like now (not fun!), about her sex life (nonexistent!). This leads to the script’s most controversial scene. Marlo, disgusted by her worn down baby-bearing body, has Tully have sex with her husband as a “gift” to him.

Things take a turn when Tully confesses she’s thinking about quitting. Marlo sensed this was coming, and the two decide to have one last crazy night out. Unfortunately, that night ends in disaster.

They say write what you know. But what if what you know is boring? Clearly, Cody is writing about her ongoing experience with motherhood. The question is, does she find a way to make it interesting? The answer is mostly yes. We know that something is up with Tully and we’re willing to go through this journey to find out what it is.

But before I talk about the plot, I want to talk about dialogue. I don’t care what any of you say. Cody is still one of the better dialogue screenwriters in the business. I’m sure she’s made a ton of money doing uncredited dialogue polishes for huge movies. And while I don’t have time to get into all the reasons her dialogue rocks, I’ll highlight a couple of things.

Early on, Marlo’s brother, Craig, and his wife, Elyse, visit her in the hospital after she’s had the baby. One of the best ways to gauge whether your dialogue is working is if the characters are reacting to things differently. If they’re reacting the same, there’s no contrast, and contrast is where you’re going to find a lot of good dialogue.

So Craig apologizes that they can’t stay but their daughter “is in the middle school musical tonight.” Marlo asks what show they’re doing. Elyse answers, proudly, “Rent.” Craig then says, “I don’t get it. It’s like, just pay your fucking rent. Problem solved.” As you can see, these two react to the same information differently. It would’ve been easy (and lazy) to have Elyse say, “Rent,” and Craig respond, “She’s been working so hard on it.” Losing that contrast instantly softens the dialogue, making it boring.

Another dialogue tip is to steer away from absolutes. When Marlo first meets Tully, she’s shocked by how young she looks. This woman is about to take on an immense amount of responsibility. So the first thing Marlo asks is, “How old are you?” Tully smiles. Marlo ‘checks herself,’ then says, “I’m sorry; I just wasn’t expecting—“ “Don’t apologize,” Tully says. “I get that a lot. I’m older than I look.”

In this exchange, most writers would’ve had Tully answer the question, “How old are you?” with her age. That’s boring. Steer away from absolutes. As you can see, Tully doesn’t even answer the question! She just smiles, forcing Marlo to respond to her own question. Already this exchange has become more interesting. Then, to top it off, Tully doesn’t directly answer the question. She just says, “I’m older than I look.” By avoiding the absolute, you write better dialogue.

One of the hardest parts about writing good dialogue and what Cody excels at is sprucing up responses. Not all the time, but sometimes when a character says something, the other character gives us a clever or “spruced-up” response. After Tully unexpectedly cleans the house one night, Marlo thanks her. “I just wanted to thank you for cleaning the house. You really, really didn’t have to do that.” Okay, now think for a second. The other character in this scene, Tully, is going to respond. What is she going to say? 9 times out of 10, the writer is going to have her say, “Oh, it was nothing.” I know because I read everything. That’s what everyone writes. But if you have in your head, “I’m going to spruce this response up a bit,” you come up with something more interesting. Tully’s response in the script is, “I enjoyed it. I have an energy surplus. Like Saudi Arabia.”

Now that’s pretty clever. But here’s the real trick in writing a line like that. You have to create a character who says interesting things (or says things in an interesting way) to begin with. Cody gave Tully two qualities. One, she was ultra-mysterious. And two, she had an endless storage of high-school-like facts at her disposal. So this line wasn’t created in a vacuum. It was something Cody integrated into the character from the start.

As I wrap this up, I’m going to talk some BIG SPOILERS. So if you don’t want to know, turn away now. Okay, so the big reveal is that our night nanny, Tully, isn’t real. This whole thing has been happening inside of Marlo’s head. I have to give it to Cody. I didn’t figure it out until page 75. I knew something was up, obviously. Tully was just too weird not to have something going on. But for some reason my mind didn’t go there. I kept waiting for her to kidnap the baby or something.

Does the twist work? Sort of. It’s set up well. We know that Marlo already had a mental breakdown. So it makes sense that she would have another one. The blowback might come from the husband character. He conveniently goes straight to the bedroom every night at exactly the same time so he never sees Tully. I think Cody sensed this, which is why she created the free sex with our hot nanny scene. But that scene was so weird and so out-of-place, it only got my spidey sense tingling more.

But who knows, this ending might dupe audiences. And a great twist ending is word-of-mouth gold. We’ll have to see if that happens with Tully.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: Script Bait – You guys all know what click bait is, right? You give’em an article title that’s impossible not to click on. Well scripts have that too. It’s called “Script Bait,” and what it is is a line of bait that makes it impossible for the reader not to read on. Script bait is ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT in character driven scripts where you don’t have a ton going on plot-wise. So early on, when Marlo’s brother is encouraging her to get the night nanny, he lays out this script bait line: “I don’t want what happened last time to happen again.” We’re not informed what he’s referring to. But you bet your ass we want to know. Which means we’ll keep reading until we find out. Script Bait baby. Make sure you’re dropping it.

Who won a wild weekend? Was it Altered Carbon, Solo, Cloverfield, Avengers, Jurassic World, an unknown Swedish movie? The Super Bowl itself? Mish-Mash Monday has the answer and so much more!

I have a request to anyone who wants to join the “rip off Blade Runner universe” movement.



Just stop.

It’s done. It’s over. It’s 30 years ago. The aesthetic is tired. From the overpriced sequel to Ghost in the Shell to Altered Carbon to Mute. Stop.

First of all, it’s proven that the audience for this stuff is niche. I’ve seen more Bronies than Bladers. But more importantly, writers need to come up with their own shit! Duncan Jones’s Mute script (the next in line of the Blade Runner ripoffs) is terrible. It’s beyond awful. It makes no sense. There’s no story. It only exists so that Jones can play in his ripped-off version of the Blade Runner universe. Stop people. It’s over. Time to come up with something other than floating cars and giant TV ads on the sides of buildings with Japanese women. It’s over.

I’m so glad I got that out of my system.

Speaking of originality, I saw a movie this weekend I’m still trying to process. It’s called “The Square.” I sat down expecting, as I usually do when I’m about to watch a movie, something that made sense. But The Square had no intention of adhering to logic. I’ve never seen a movie like this. David Lynch’d walk out of this one scratching his head. It seemed to be written via a series of individualized sequences linked together by nothing other than they involved the same characters.

The movie, which takes place in the art world, starts out with a great scene. A man is leaving the subway with dozens of other people, and all of a sudden this woman comes running towards him, screaming. “Help! Help! He’s after me! Hellllp!” The man, a curator at a museum, is thrown into the role of protector. The fleeing woman leaps behind him while another man joins him as the crazed man approaches. They prepare for battle. The chaser barrels up, grabs our hero, then says, “Eh, never mind,” then walks away.

What’s so cool about this scene is the way it’s shot. We never cut away from the curator. We hear the crazed guy coming, but we can’t see him. We only see our guy preparing, the woman grabbing him from behind, screaming for help. In a Hollywood movie, we’d be cutting through 20 different angles as he got closer and closer. But staying with the man made the scene so much more harrowing.

The woman thanks him afterwards. Our hero high-fives the other guy who helped, then everyone goes their separate ways. A minute later, hopped up on adrenaline, our hero reaches into his pocket, only to realize that his wallet and phone are gone. He was scammed. It was such an unexpected development, I thought, “This is the way to start a movie! I’m in.”

The movie then cuts to the museum, a place that curates only the most cutting edge contemporary art. One of the exhibits is a giant TV screen with a video on loop of a 50 year old muscled man with bad teeth growling into the camera. To say it’s unsettling is an understatement.

This is followed by a 7 minute staff meeting that is shot so realistically and deals with details so mundane, you wonder if it was put in the movie by accident. Soon after, we get another endless scene, this time an interview with a famous artist. The scene focuses on a man in the audience with Tourette’s Syndrome who keeps screaming out horrible things, like “Show us your cunt” to the female interviewer. You get the sense that maybe this is an exhibit? Performance art? But the movie never lets on. It’s up to the viewer to decide.

Afterwards, a woman (played by Elizabeth Moss of The Handmaiden’s Tale) mistakes the curator for the artist in the interview, and, in an attempt to endear herself, mocks the event, “Show us your cunt!” she belts at him. The curator, who has no idea what she’s talking about because he wasn’t at the interview, mistakes it for a come-on. He then goes to her place and sleeps with her, only to find out she lives with an orangutan. Yes, you read that right. She lives with a giant monkey. You can’t make this stuff up.

Usually I HATE these movies where the script is all over the place. But the movie is shot so beautifully, so uniquely, and the events are so unexpected, it’s impossible to look away. If you’re tired of watching the same old stuff and need a movie that surprises you, by golly I’ve found it. Check out The Square and report back. I’m curious to see what you think.

I can’t do a Mish-Mash Monday without an update on The Last Jedi. The movie’s box office take has fallen even quicker than expected in recent weeks. Three weeks ago, a lot of box office experts had the film hitting $670 million. I thought it’d get to $630. It’s middling now at $615, making a paltry 2 million bucks over the weekend.

It’s finally safe to say that the majority of people who saw this film hated it. I know there are people out there who genuinely like the film. But they’re in the vast minority. More and more people are being honest with themselves and admitting the truth. This is a bad script on almost every level – pacing, plotting, characters, choices. And hey, if you’re still trying to convince yourself you liked it, I understand. I convinced myself I liked The Phantom Menace for a full year after it was released.

What’s odd about the whole Last Jedi thing is the Riansplaining Tour. I know Rian Johnson is just answering questions people ask him. But I’ve never seen a director spend this much time defending his movie. Ever. Tell me one director who’s ever done this. Some people didn’t like The Force Awakens. I think JJ Abrams did, maybe, two interviews responding to the criticism? Rian Johnson has done like 50.

For the purpose of sites like these, these explanations give us a rare glimpse into the screenwriting process of major franchises. It also highlights a rarely talked about trend that can be dangerous in screenwriting – using the tools of the craft to talk yourself into bad ideas.

I discussed this the other day, actually – this notion of tools. And how tools are there to help you. But they only work when used in conjunction with your gut. In a recent Collider Interview, Rian rehashed why he made the now infamous choice for Rey’s parents to be nobodies. This is what he said:

It was more a dramatic decision of ‘What is the toughest thing she could hear about her parents? What is the thing for her and for us what will make her have to stand on her own two feet and will make things the hardest for her?’ Because she’s the hero and that’s her job—to have things be the hardest for her.

This is a well-known screenwriting tool – making things as hard as possible on your character. But used in isolation, it can lead to some seriously bad choices. For example, if I wanted to “make things as hard as possible” on the hero of my latest screenplay, Lou, I could kill off his entire family. If critics who disliked the choice said, “Don’t you think that was a bit harsh? Killing off his entire family?” “No,” I’d say. “Because in storytelling, you want to make things as hard as possible on your hero. And you have to agree this made things hard on Lou, right?”

Uhhhh…but…well… I guess?

The missing element here is gut. While the tool is used to build the choice. It’s your gut that must decide if the choice is correct. If something in your gut tells you it doesn’t feel right? That means it’s the wrong choice. Rey’s parents being nobodies doesn’t FEEL right for a Star Wars film, regardless of whether the tool said the choice should work. And that’s the component Rian Johnson forgot to apply. Just remember, guys, a tool is something that builds a possibility. But ultimately it’s up to you to decide if the choice feels correct.

Moving on to the Super Bowl spots. I think it’s pretty clear who won the night. It’s Cloverfield, baby. For those who didn’t hear, not only did Netflix debut the first trailer for the film during the Super Bowl, they’re releasing the film TONIGHT! SAY WHAT!!??? First off, kudos to Netflix for continuing to change the game. They said, “What can we do that nobody else can?” What they can do is debut a movie whenever they want. They don’t have to send it to 10000 theaters. That’s what good screenwriters do. They ask, “What can I do with my concept that nobody else can do with theirs? What’s unique about my story and how can I exploit that?” Nobody has EVER DONE THIS BEFORE. Released a major movie trailer and then had it come out ON THE SAME DAY!!! Kudos to JJ for continuing to surprise us. Kudos to the marketing team for thinking up this clever stunt. When is a movie ever going to be in more demand than right after its Super Bowl commercial? Genius.

Sadly, not everyone hit a home run. I’m going to wait to talk about Solo since they’re releasing the new trailer tomorrow morning (I’ll add my thoughts to the end of this article when it debuts). Someone forgot to tell the people at Avengers Headquarters that a trailer is more than 5 close-ups and the words, “May 8th.” The Jurassic Park trailer was so bland. Rule number 1 for a sequel trailer. Show us what’s different this time around. They’re hoping that adding a girl’s bedroom will be different enough to bring in crazy box office? Yeah, good luck with that. Skyscraper, a script I reviewed here on the site, did nothing to improve my thoughts on the project. But The Rock is The Rock so maybe that’s all that matters. Mission Impossible looked pretty good but it’s the same problem. What’s different this time around? Tom Cruise broke his foot?

I’m stoked for the Stephen King Universe on Hulu. I’ve been DYING for a good TV show. This one highlights Shawshank AND has Pennywise in it? The exact same actor as in It? Uhhh… dial me up and call me Sally. This looks tremendous. I’m torn on Annihilation. It looks unique. It’s directed by Alex Garland, who wrote and directed one of my favorite scripts of 2015, Ex Machina. But I’ve started and stopped reading the book 5 times now. I can’t get through it. There’s something about it that doesn’t work. Paramount trying (and failing) to sell it off doesn’t bode well either. I’m actually shocked they’d pay for a Super Bowl spot. Usually when studios are unsure about a movie, they give it a smaller marketing campaign, not a bigger one. I’m hoping this is good.

I’ll be back when the Solo trailer debuts. The word on the street is that Alden Ehrenreich either can’t act, is unconvincing as Han Solo, or both. Some people who claimed to see footage have even floated the rumor that they’re considering dubbing him with a different actor. I doubt that’s true but, hey, it would stick with Star Wars tradition, right? So that’s what I’ll be looking for in the trailer – Han speaking. Because based on the small sampling of footage in the Super Bowl, the movie looks pretty cool. Almost to the point where you’re like, “What’s the big worry?” The big worry is a movie called “Solo” where the actor playing Han Solo is the worst part of the movie. Nothing else matters unless they get that right. I’m praying they do!

****Solo Trailer Reaction – Coming Soon!****

It’s here! The full Solo trailer. So what do I think?? I think it looks good! I tried to watch the trailer through the eyes of someone who had no idea about the film’s troubled production. As a trailer, all by itself, was it good? And I’d say the answer is a resounding yes. You’ve got lots of action. There’s a distinct look to this thing. There are some really cool aliens (who’s that badass masked drifter dude?). Han originally trying to work for the Empire. Even Woody Harrelson looks cool.

The question mark has always been Alden Ehrenreich. And while I don’t think he blows anyone away in this trailer, he doesn’t seem nearly as bad as rumors have suggested. One thing to keep in mind here is that Han Solo is not “Han Solo” in this movie yet. He wasn’t always a carefree wisecracking shit-grinning rogue. I think they were hoping to do three of these Solo movies, and one of the ideas was to show how Han got to that place. Which would mean starting from another place – one that was more serious. If you’re younger and more idealistic, your personality is going to be different. I’m guessing that’s what’s going on here. I’m not saying that it’s going to work. But that was probably their thought-process.

If we’re ranking pre-interest based on trailers for Star Wars films, I put this behind Force Awakens, but definitely ahead of Last Jedi and Rogue One. Actually, this feels like the movie Rogue One should’ve been. We were told with that film we were getting all these cool rogue Star Wars underbelly characters. Instead we got a bunch of lame boring losers. Solo seems intent on correcting this. These characters look more colorful (literally!) and more fun. By the way, is that Maz Kanata at 36 seconds in??

As Han would say, though, we’re not in the clear yet, kid. This is supposed to be the first “full” trailer and the title card arrives at 1:06. That seems early. Like they don’t have enough cool stuff to fill an entire trailer. Then again, I think they’re still shooting this thing. They literally might not have enough footage! I’m intrigued, though. I think this movie could be cool. Let’s hope so for the sake of this franchise! It has to win back fans after Last Jedi.