Just a heads up to say I received the script to Unbound Captives and will be reviewing it tomorrow. This script made quite a splash today because of the mind-blowing story behind it. Check out the Variety article here. Here’s an excerpt:
Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz and Robert Pattinson will star in the period drama “Unbound Captives,” with Madeleine Stowe making her directorial debut from a script she wrote.Gil Netter and Grant Hill will produce with Ashok Amritraj’s Hyde Park Entertainment. They are eyeing a year-end production start.
Though Stowe’s a newcomer behind the camera, getting the job and landing that cast is a payoff for her risky decision to turn down millions of dollars for the script in 1993. Under pseudonym O.C. Humphrey, Stowe teamed with her husband, actor Brian Benben, to write “Unbound Captives” as a star vehicle for herself.
She would have played a woman (now to be played by Weisz) whose husband is killed and her two children kidnapped by a Comanche war party in 1859. She is rescued by a frontiersman, to be played by Jackman. Pattinson will play the son.
Fox offered Stowe $3 million, and later $5 million, for her script, with Ridley Scott poised to direct and Russell Crowe to star. She turned down what was among the highest sums offered a first-time scribe because there was no promise she would be anything more than screenwriter.
Stowe, who has never publicly spoken about her decision, said she can still remember the surreal moment of turning down all that money over the phone while staring in disbelief at her husband.
“There was never a moment’s hesitation on my part, but it felt unreal, and I can remember my husband putting a finger across his neck to signal not to take the offer,” Stowe said. “There are moments in life where you need to follow your heart. The script remained my singular focus, but directing it myself wasn’t something I ever dreamed of.”
Genre: Action -Thriller
Premise: An American economist residing in Dubai gets caught up in a highly coordinated attack on the economies of several nations.
About: Lorenzo di Bonaventura is producing through his Paramount-based shingle, and Eric Bana is executive producing as a potential starring vehicle. Dubai eventually got Cozad signed with Jeff Gorin and Aaron Hart at William Morris Agency. They gave the script to Eric Bana, another William Morris client, who signed on as executive producer before they started shopping it around. Paramount eventually bought it. Dubai also finished high on the 2007 Black List with 16 votes. Interestingly enough, Cozad’s never been to Dubai.
Writer: Adam Cozad
“Dubai” paints the picture of one of the most fascinating and fastest growing cities in the world. As Cozad writes, “Imagine Las Vegas on a supertanker’s worth of steroids and you’re only halfway there.” In fact, I want you to go plug “Dubai” into google images, grab some popcorn, and enjoy the entertainment. They’re building the tallest skyscraper in the world. They’re building artificial islands in the shape of palm trees. Over 60% of the world’s building cranes are there. They don’t have taxes. Construction workers live like doctors. Did I mention they have an indoor ski slope? Yes, it’s all about the money in Dubai. And if you’re like me, you never even heard of Dubai up until a couple of years ago. It’s like the place sprung out of thin air.
So somebody writing a script about Dubai feels like a no-brainer.
But is this a travelogue or is this a story?
Dubai is a cross between The Firm and Syriana. The script starts off great. We’re out in the Middle East with Special Forces operative PHELPS, who’s trying to get permission from the CIA to take out “the next Osama Bin Laden.” The red tape shaves precious seconds off what could be the single most important military operation of the decade. Phelps finally gets his go ahead and he and his team storm the building. But it’s too late. They not only find the room Osama 2 was staying in, but a group of dead doctors to boot. Looks like Osama The Sequel had himself some plastic surgery.
We fade to four years later where we meet out hero, PETER HODGES, playing tennis with his wife, RACHEL. But they’re not just playing tennis anywhere. They’re playing tennis on a helicopter pad in Dubai on one of the tallest buildings in the world. It sets up immediately the decadence and extravagance of this universe.Peter ‘s come to Dubai as an economist/financial trader of sorts, to help a large company that makes a lot of money, make a lot more of it.
The people that he deals with at his business are, for the most part, a group that doesn’t fuck around. In Dubai it’s all about the cash – turning money into more money. If you can’t do that, go back to wherever you came from. This place makes Beverly Hills look thrifty.
Because Peter’s fairly new on the job, his decisions are often challenged by his boss, ALI, andAli’s sketchy high-profile associates. But Peter is the Michael Jordan of the stock market. And in an early scene we see him expertly avoid losing millions of dollars, deftly turning it into a large gain.
Then, late one night, Peter has a fight with his wife and comes to work…only to find a group of soldier-assassins infiltrating his office. He’s able to hide and watches as a billion dollars is transferred out of the company account. When the police finally show up, it’s Peter who looks like the criminal. With only a small jump drive to prove his innocence, Peter makes a run for it. The rest of the script is one long chase scene as the police, Phelps (from the opening), and Peter’s employers follow him through the city of Dubai, all while he pieces together the beginning of a much larger plot to collapse the world economy and make, I believe, Dubai the richest country in the world.
That’s the best I can do to explain the plot and it might still be a little off. The problem with “Dubai” is that its economic component is really fucking confusing. Hotels in other countries are being blown up, all with the daughters and sons of famous finance ministers around the world. Future bombings are set to take place. The billion dollars that was stolen is siphoned into six different accounts that are somehow connected with the three past, and three future bombings. Dubai gets zero points for its clarity. I never got a full grasp on how this plan worked.
Lucky for Dubai, it’s also a chase movie. And we get to run around in this delirious yet decadent metropolis, experiencing the sites and sounds of one hell of a city. We swing on massive cranes. We barrel through downtown on a mega-truck. We race through hotels and ski slopes. When you check coherence at the door, Dubai is actually quite fun.
But Dubai is going to need a lot of work before it becomes the city it wants to be. Besides the economic degree you’re going to need to figure out the plot, there’s a hotel clerk he befriends who’s obviously just there so Peter can talk out plot points and motivations. Also, Peter, presented as a financial geek, inexplicably becomes Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando whenever it’s convenient, and by the end of the movie, is this brooding demanding action star. We’re told it’s because he draws the line at his wife (who’s been taken by Ali). Yet he spends the majority of the first act hardly paying attention to her.
I don’t think Dubai is a bad script. I’m just surprised it was purchased in such a raw state. It feels a good 6 or 7 drafts from reaching clarity. Luckily, it’s got energy and drive. And the lure of filming in this relatively unknown city must have seemed irresistible to Hollywood. You know someone’s going to do it. You might as well be first.
Tarson really liked this script and obviously others did as well. Will be interesting to see the finished screenplay. Take a look at the draft that got the sale yourself…
script link: Dubai
[ ] trash
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Research your setting. Know everything that exists in the universe you’ve created – then use everything at your disposal. It’s clear Cozad did a lot of research here. He knew that Dubai is the most construction-intensive city in the world. Which led him to find these super-huge construction trucks. Which led to one of the funnier, more creative chase scenes I’ve seen in awhile – with Peter barreling through downtown Dubai in a super dump trunk going all of 35 miles per hour.
It’s Tuesday which means it’s time for another horror review. Another horror review that I won’t be giving. But I’ve left you in good hands. Jonny Atlas knows his shit. As he points out in his review, he’s a Rules Nazi, and I’ve been the recipient of some of his analysis before. It’s not pretty. But while he can be harsh, he always has good advice. Here is his review of Parasite.
Premise: When the crew of an underwater research station discovers a new parasite that turns its host homicidal they have to defend themselves against the surrounding sea life and their infected crew mates in order to stay alive.
About: This horror script was making the rounds not long ago and got some pretty good heat. Ultimately, it failed to sell. It’s good to read these “almost” sales every once in awhile so you can study what separates a sale from a non-sale. Kristy sold. This did not. Why?
Writer: Ehud Lavski
When Carson asked me to review this script, I asked him what it was about. He responded, “I don’t know but Tarson says it’s good. I think you should read it.” A fine endorsement if ever I’ve heard one. I found the logline on trackingb, and I have to say the premise really intrigued me. It’s a fresh take on the late 80s/early 90s underwater thriller formula.
The script opens on plankton, which get eaten by a striped bass in a fisherman’s trap. Halfway through the first page we meet our antagonistic force: THE PARASITE! Our gluttonous bass chomps down on the parasite and spits it back out. Too bad the parasite has other plans. It uses it’s tentacles to force-feed itself to the bass. We then see the other fish in the trap huddled in the far corner, “crazed with fear”.
I like scripts that open with a bang. This certainly opened with a pop, but I don’t know that I really felt a bang. The sequence was creepy and the parasite was pretty damn cool, but it ends too soon. We don’t get to see what the parasite does, other than force fish to eat it. In my opinion, this is a huge wasted opportunity on Lavski’s part. He says it’s “the parasite”, but I was hoping to see this thing as bad news straight out of the box. I wanted Lavski to give me something I should be afraid of. He let me down.
From there, the script turns to shit for a good 24 pages.
Let me rephrase that. It turns into a shitty horror script for the next 24 pages. The stuff that happens on pages 2 through 25 isn’t drek. In fact, it’s pretty well written. Unfortunately it doesn’t belong in a horror script. Lavski gives us 24 pages of pure character development. I shit you not. There is only one mention of the impending parasite threat on page 6, where a herring beats another fish to death by repeatedly swimming into it. After that, nothing until page 26.
We meet Jane and Doc. Jane’s cramped in a small exploration sub, and Doc is her connection to the underwater station. They do their job, with a chunks of exposition thrown in for good measure. Their first interaction is a great example:
Doc wears a pair of HEADPHONES. She stares at a beat-up family photo. Doc hugging her husband and kids.
(Coming from headphones)
Staring at the picture again?
Doc laughs, busted.
How could you tell?
I can hear you ovulating from down here.
You holding up OK?
Ask me when I’m out of the coffin.
Claustrophobia’s acting up?
What do you think?
From one to ten?
Reading this, I felt like I was getting beat over the head with the information hammer. It’s written with skill (“I can hear you ovulating from down here”), but it is one massive exposition dump. Doc has a family, wants more kids, been away for a long time. Doc and Jane are good friends. Jane has claustrophobia. Bla bla bla.
I’m sure some would argue that it’s a good use of a few lines of dialog and action to dump info on the reader. If it were really that good Lavski could spare us the next two pages. You see, Jane has Doc sing her a lullaby as she collects samples in her tiny sub for two fucking pages.
Is Jane’s proficiency with the mechanical arm on the sub important to the plot? Yes. Do we need two pages to establish it? Fuck no.
Right here, I already had a few huge problems.
Problem 1: Why the fuck would a claustrophobic person (whose claustrophobia is a pretty big plot point) sign up to work in an UNDERWATER RESEARCH FACILITY? More importantly, why the fuck would they agree to get in a miniature submarine with “barely enough space to move”? Sorry, I don’t buy it.
Problem 2: Why have some random “infected” fish attack another random fish on page 6, when you could have the striped bass from page 1 attack the other fish at the bottom of page 1? Seriously, it’s a waste of an opportunity. More importantly, there’s a huge disconnect because we never see random fish #2 get infected. We have to draw the conclusion on our own. Why risk the chance of losing your audience?
Anyway, after the shit with the fish, this guy Curtis persuades Doc to let him talk to Jane “alone”. We get the vibe he and Jane had a thing before he screwed it up somehow. Doc agrees and leaves the room, which leaves psycho-ass Curtis free to try and kill Jane. Why? Because he and Jane were dating until Jane started fucking the Captain.
You read that right. Jane’s best friend on the ship just left the guy Jane fucked over (who is apparently known for having an anger problem) alone in the room with her sub’s remote controls. That’s two problems in one. A) Doc is either a moron (doubtful since she’s a mom and a fucking DOCTOR) or she doesn’t give a shit about her friend, and B) our claustrophobic protagonist is cramped in a tiny sub when the fucking thing has a remote control station! Seriously, what the fuck?
I’m gonna stop harping on details now because if I don’t I’ll be here all fucking night. Seriously, the minor plot holes and glaring errors regarding science and plausibility made me want to bash my head against a wall. Moving on.
So Curtis tries to kill Jane for eleven pages and the mighty Captain Matt comes to the rescue. Once again, it was well written. There was definitely some suspense here. Really though, eleven pages? So not necessary. Then there’s six pages of aftermath from the attempted murder, which puts the sequence at seventeen pages.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about deep characters. However, it is the job of the screenwriter to weave character development into the unraveling of your premise’s plot. Throughout this script (and especially in the first act), Lavski does one or the other. Consequently, the real story doesn’t start until page 26.
On page 26, Doc pulls in the fisherman’s trap from page 1 (like the audience is going to remember that shit after 25 pages of character drama), bringing the parasite onto the ship.
Yeah. The inciting incident doesn’t happen until page 26. But hey, that means we’re gonna get to the good stuff now, right?
More character drama. In fact, there’s eight more pages of characters blabbering until Curtis eats the parasite on page 34. Then they talk for another five pages before more shit starts to happen. I wouldn’t mind the five pages if I hadn’t already read a whopping thirty-two pages of plotless character exposition.
On page 40, crazy shit starts happening. On page 41 we finally make it to the second act when the crew discovers the parasite in a fish. Mind you, it’s in a fish. Curtis is still MIA.
On page 50, they realize Doc has a parasite in her brain. Page 53, someone has their first run-in with parasite-controlled Curtis. It’s not until this point that there’s any palpable suspense from the antagonistic force (the parasite).
You’re probably wondering why I’m harping on page count so much. It’s not because I’m a rule nazi, I promise. Take a look at the script’s logline: “When the crew of an underwater research station discovers a new parasite that turns its host homicidal they have to defend themselves against the surrounding sea life and their infected crew mates in order to stay alive.”
None of that shit starts to happen until page 41. Hell, they don’t even face an infected crewmember until page 53! That’s practically the fucking midpoint.
Basically, you wind up with a script that promises to be like DeepStar Six but starts out like The Abyss (don’t get me wrong – The Abyss is by far a superior film; DeepStar Six is just a more action-packed horror flick). Actually, This script starts out like a tortoise in a marathon. Too bad slow and steady doesn’t win the fucking race. It just puts me to sleep.
Speaking of DeepStar Six, Parasite’s story actually follows its formula pretty fucking rigidly. All the beats are there, down to the slightly crazy crewmember whose personal beef with crewmember X motivates him to kill, which leads to a fistfight between him and crewmember Y. If only this script followed DS6’s lead and put the characters in danger at the beginning of the script instead of the middle…
For the rest of the script, it’s pretty nonstop. There’s a lot of crazy shit – giant crabs, parasite-controlled sharks, kamikaze dolphins… some really cool (and sometimes silly) stuff. There are still a ton of errors in the story (as mentioned earlier), but the second half of the script is a fun ride nonetheless. I really wish the whole script was like the last 61 pages. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
[ ] trash
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: As important as character development is in a script, you must integrate it with your plot. Otherwise you wind up with a schism between character and plot that no amount of flowery prose can mend. Find creative ways to reveal your characters through the action of your forward-moving storyline. If you don’t, your story will get lost in the incessant blabbering of your characters and your first act will be over forty pages.
I also found Parasite to be further evidence that writing eloquently and knowing how to tell a great story do not always come pre-packaged together. If you don’t have both abilities naturally, it takes time and effort to develop the skills necessary to execute a great script. Don’t shortchange yourself by hoping the good will outweigh the bad.
If you want to read more from Jonny, check out his blog here: Jonny Atlas Writes
A final word here. Jonny brings up a great point in his “What I learned” section. Character development is extremely important to your script. But you have to do it on the move. You have to hide it inside actions and sneak it into dialogue. You can’t set apart large chunks of your screenplay just to develop characters or you’re going to put the reader to sleep. Keep the story moving. I saw that this was 114 pages. Most horror scripts are closer to 100 pages because the writer knows they gotta keep the story moving. It sounds like that could’ve helped here.
Premise: A screwed up cross-dresser’s private life is thrown into disarray when a train accident sends a caboose into his/her back yard.
About: To star Cillian Murphy and Ellen Paige, this 2005 script finished very high on that year’s Black List. Although it was the 2005 script that landed on the Black List, I read a draft dated February 2, 2008 by the same writers – so it should be noted this is a rewrite. The film will be hitting theaters late this year.
Writers: Michael Lander and Ryan Roy
Check out some of these names: Cillian Murphy, Ellen Paige, Susan Sarandon, Josh Lucas, Keith Caradine. What do these actors have in common? They all signed up for one of the most frustrating scripts I’ve ever read.
Now this is complicated. There is ambition here. There is originality. There is a desire to do something different. But for the life of me I can’t find anything in this script to latch onto. Not one single thing to identify with. I love Cillian Murphy. I love Josh Lucas and Ellen Paige and Susan Sarandon. But why they signed up for this………….I’m still trying to figure out.
I would say my confusion started less than a page into the screenplay. There was no indication of what year it was. It could’ve been 1932 or 2005. Why didn’t I know? Cause they never told me. The script begins by pointing out “1900’s Middle Class homes.” Does that mean we’re in the year 1900? Or does that just mean we’re in a modern town with very old houses? This isn’t insignificant information we’re talking about here. The film tackles the issue of cross-dressing and the way our society reacted to cross-dressing in 1930 is different than how they reacted to it in say, 1965. Or 1978. Or 1990. Of course there were some things that implied a certain time period but because this town was so isolated, I didn’t know if these old-fashioned things were old-fashioned because the town hadn’t caught up yet or because we were literally in that time period.
We meet Emma, 30s, who lives in a house by a field in the small town of Peacock, Nebraska. Emma peeks out of her house in the morning hours but looks flighty, uncomfortable, always dashing back into the shadows whenever she’s near a window. She cooks breakfast, writes a note to someone named “John” before heading upstairs, enters a bedroom, undresses, and we see that Emma…has no breasts. Because Emma…is really a man! She’s John! Or John’s Emma. Or they’re each other. I’m still not sure.
So once John dresses up as a man, he bikes to the town bank, where he works as a clerk. John shuffles quietly by everyone, preferring not to be bothered, not to be noticed. I guess he’s a little like Emma in that sense. Which begs the question, why does he need to change personalities if their personalities are exactly the same?
Anyway, the next morning Emma is preparing for her day when a caboose from a passing train comes loose, wobbles off the tracks, into the field, and through John/Emma’s yard, stopping just a foot from her/his house. Within minutes the town descends upon the house, and the worst possible thing that can happen to a person so dependent on privacy happens. John and Emma are forced to interact with other people.
Now at this point, I saw potential for a movie. I like the idea of forcing a character to face their deepest fear. But as soon as that moment passes, the story takes on a garbled confusing plot that I’m still not entirely sure I understand. At first it appears that there’s some Psycho thing going on here as it’s implied that John is dressing up as his dead mother. However at a certain point, Emma becomes John’s wife. It’s all very bizarre because at times it seems as if John has no idea who Emma is and vice versa. Yet they’re writing notes to each other and occasionally hear about one another from the townspeople.
As if not being satisfied with only being kind of confusing, Farm-Trash Maggie shows up out of nowhere and needs money for a child apparently fathered by John. John seems very confused that he has a child. So does that mean that in addition to not knowing about anything that happens in Emma’s life, he sometimes doesn’t know about things that happen in his own life as well? Lol. You can’t make this stuff up. Emma, however, doesn’t want to give Farm-Trash Maggie any money. She’ll do anything to keep the money from her. Despite this, she decides to become Maggie’s best friend. Are you starting to sense why I was frustrated? It was all so bizarre.
There’s a moment in the script where John is talking to Farm-Trash Maggie, says ‘hold on’, goes upstairs, comes down 2 minutes later dressed as Emma, and Farm-Trash Maggie has no idea that the person in front of her is still John. It’s as if you were standing in front of a phone booth and Clark Kent ran in, you saw the whirly super-changing blur, then out came Superman, and you still had no idea that the two were the same person.
The Senator sees a photo opportunity to use the train in the backyard for his campaign and asks John for permission, yet all John wants is for everybody to be gone. Emma is initially against it as well but then changes her mind (not for any logical reason – just because). So as the townspeople come in and out, they get yes’s from Emma and no’s from John – sending mixed messages. They occasionally wonder why John and Emma are never together but no one thinks to address the fact that EMMA LOOKS EXACTLY LIKE JOHN WITH A FUCKING DRESS ON!!! That might be your first clue on why they’re never seen together.
Now there may be a chance -although if it happened, I missed it – that everybody knew that John and Emma were the same person but they were just playing along, afraid to rock the boat. But because that would turn what was previously just a terrible movie into a fucking catastrophically terrible movie, I didn’t even want to consider that possibility.
Now for all of you who are saying, “Well, what do you expect Carson? You read a script called ‘Peacock’.” I would say to you, “You’re right.” What does a high Black List script read like? Download it here and find out.
Script Link (2008 version) : Peacock
Script Link (someone just handed me the 2005 Black List version. Read that here and tell me if it’s any better): Peacock
[x] trash (I hate to say this but I just. did. not. get it.)
[ ] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
I’m actually encouraging people who enjoyed this script to comment. I am desperate to find out what it was that got 30-some executives and development execs to vote this as not only a good script, but a great script. Tell me what I missed. Or is this just a case where I didn’t “get it”?
What I learned: Unless you have some reason to hide it, please make the time and setting of your screenplay clear. Don’t leave it up to the reader to guess.
Here I am, back to making these darn lists. Believe me, I’m trying my hardest to be more disorganized. If you have questions or comments about any of these, e-mail me at Carsonreeves1@gmail.com. Thanks!
1) Script Analysis - A lot of you have been asking me if I’ll read your scripts and as much as I’d love to, there are simply too many scripts and not enough time. I do, however, offer a script analysis service. If you’re interested, please e-mail me for rates. I have everything from a simple 2 page tune-up to a complete 8 page breakdown.
2) Comment All Ye Faithful - I understand that a lot of you are having trouble leaving comments. Apparently you post and nothing shows up. I have no idea why this is happening but I’m looking into it. If anyone knows how to fix this, please e-mail me.
3) New Look - Check out the new look. So many people had been complaining about the white on black that I finally made a change. Although there was one user in the comments section who hated it, the general response has been positive. What do you think?
4) Scriptshadow Is Needy - First of all, I want to thank everyone who has sent me a script off my “Need” list over to the right there. I love you. Honestly. But I must call on you again. A couple of those titles are burning a hole in my blog and it is up to you dear readers to put an end to it. I’ve added a couple of new ones to the list (Reapers and Fools Rush In) so you may yet be able to help.
5) Any Suggestions? - Is there a spec script you’ve been wanting me to review? Is there something good that you can’t believe I haven’t read yet? Well darnit, suggest it here in the comments section. If there’s enough demand, I will read it! I will!
6) On Tap - This week should be fun. I’ll be posting another horror review. I have a script that made my blood boil I hated it so much. I might have a guest review for one of the most controversial scripts of 2008. Let’s just say it was a Nicholl winner. I have a big sci-fi spec sale from awhile back. And finally, via Tarson Meads’ suggestion, I have a script based on a city. So get ready. And keep leaving those comments (if you can).