Premise: A fly fisherman lures his victims in with bait and guts them like fish.
About: Nicholl Fellowship winner 2007.
Writer: Michael L. Hare
This is going to cause some of you to have an orgasm. Seriously. If I had to describe this script, it would be a cross between The Strangers and Donnie Darko, two movies I’m not very fond of, but am sure a lot of you are. For the record, I watched Donnie Darko a second time a few years ago at an obscure boring party. I sat down and watched the entire thing to the sounds of ambient music and party noise. I realized how taken I was with it just from a visual perspective. The photography in that film is freaking awesome. It’s when people start talking or the odd musical choices kick in that it all falls apart (for me at least).
Anyway, The Fly Fisher is like the unofficial non-sci-fi sequel to Donnie Darko. It’s a story about a seriously fucked up Fly Fisherman who lures his victims in, does God knows what to them in his stream-side abode, then guts them like a fish.
After he mutilates a sweet little skater chick in the opening scene, we’re introduced to our hero, Jack. Jack is a bit of a high school nerd. He’s into theater. Plays chess. Not exactly hanging in the VIP section. Jack’s got a bit of a strained relationship with his father, Frank, who’s been favoring work over family time lately, and is upset when his dad can’t come to a chess tournament. His mom, Chris, takes him instead and after a 45 minute drive to the location, they find themselves lost in the middle of Swampland USA. How could this have happened, they ask? They followed the GPS.
Ooh, I might know. He LURED YOU HERE YOU IDIOTS! He used some sort of fish oil or something to hack your GPS. God you guys are stupid.
A grimy muddy old station wagon pulls up – always a positive and fruitful sign. But Jack and Chris shrug their shoulders and hop in when The Fly Fisherman (who likes to whistle) offers them a ride. When the Fly Fisherman tries to drive his catch back to the grill though, Chris and Jack fight back and escape, able to swim deep into the river to safety. Later, Frank laments the fact that he wasn’t there for them, and mentally promises to spend more time with his son. But it ain’t going to happen because that night The Fly Fisherman actually BREAKS INTO their house and kidnaps Jack!
Two years pass. Not a word. Not a peep. Frank and Chris assume the worst. Their son is dead. But then the cops get a call and the news comes back that they’ve found Jack! He’s alive! Yaaaayyyy!
Or is it yay?
This time, Frank’s going to make damn sure that he spends some time with his son. As the family tries to get back to a normal life, the secret of what happened to Jack over those two years hangs over them. His parents ask. But Jack doesn’t talk much anymore. He doesn’t do much of anything anymore. He seems detached. Tortured. Is there something else going on here?
You bet your ass there is! The Fly Fisher has programmed Jack to kill his father is what happened ! He even shows up at night in the yard calling to Jack: “Do it” he says. “Do it.” The Fly Fisher has convinced poor Jack that his father is evil for ignoring him and that the only solution is to kill him. Will the Fly Fisher win? Will Jack kill his father? Or will Jack break free of the Fly Fisher’s fish-like mind control over him? That’s the question.
Hmmm, where do I begin? I’ll give The Fly Fisher this. It keeps you guessing. Pretty much ignoring the 3-Act structure, the first 60 pages took so many detours, I had no idea if or when we were ever going to get back on the main road. I don’t even know if there was a main road to begin with because the focus of this takes awhile to become clear. We experience an unrelated murder. We then experience Jack and his Mom seemingly getting kidnapped. But they escape. We then see Jack kidnapped out of his own house. And then we see a “Two years later” title, where Jack is found and rejoins his parents. After all this happens, we still don’t know what the story is about. Needless to say, I was a little frustrated.
But the script is funky and different (like Darko and Strangers) and I have a feeling people will respond to that. It’s just that I, personally, prefer a strong narrative over a string of weird occurrences, as is the nature of The Fly Fisher. It does eventually get to the story (Will Jack kill his father?) but I had a hard time hopping in the boat on that one. Jack’s been brainwashed to think his father is a terrible person because of the way he’s treated Jack. And the movie becomes this emotional journey where Jack is trying to come to terms with whether his father cares about him or not. The problem is, from everything we know, Frank has just been busy at work . In every other respect, he’s a loving caring dad. So he hasn’t shown up to a few chess tournaments recently? That’s grounds for murder? I don’t know. I had a hard time buying it.
I was also curious why the detectives, who knew that The Fly Fisher’s previous victim attempted to kill his father under the same conditions, didn’t warn Frank about it. They were in constant contact. It seems like a piece of information you would want to hear – “Oh, by the way Frank, your son might try to kill you in your sleep.”
But the script has its admirers and the person who suggested it has solid taste so who knows? You might love it. If you do, please contribute your thoughts in the comments section. I’d like to know what I missed here.
[ ] trash
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: The Fly Fisher has an intense first 10 pages and that got me thinking about the ubiquitous screenwriting rule: “Make Your First 10 Pages Great”. While I believe in the first ten pages rule in principle, it’s kind of a crock of shit. On the one hand, you want to grab the reader’s attention right away. And that’s definitely important. But just in case you forgot, uh, THERE’S STILL ANOTHER 100 PAGES OF STORY LEFT TO TELL! It’s kind of like talking to women who are obsessed with their wedding. Who have been dreaming their entire lives about this one moment that’s going to be the most perfect day in their entire lives and if they can just have the perfect day then there’s nothing else they need…you want to say to them: “You know there’s 50 years of marriage after this, right?” Same deal here folks. It doesn’t matter if your first ten pages are bang-up awesome if the rest of the script sucks. I’ve actually seen a lot of this, where the writer clearly focuses only on the first ten pages – making them the best ten pages I’ve ever read….. and then page 11 sucks balls. So make your first ten pages great. But make the rest of them great as well. No one’s giving you a 3-picture deal for ten pages.
Since last week was Thriller/Bank Heist week, this week is going to be a little lighter. I’m predicting at least a couple of comedies. Although I say that having just read a horror script. What, you say? You read a horror script?? Yes, I did. And I just know some of you are going to love it. What did I think? Hmmm. Tune in to find out.
So listen, I’m thinking of starting a Scriptshadow Message Board/Forum, but I don’t really know what I’m doing. My initial research has led me to a vague understanding of the requirements, but I know if I could just talk to someone who knows what they’re doing, it would be a lot easier. For instance, I don’t know how much space I’m going to need, what features I’ll want, or where all the best deals are. So if you’re a fan of the site and know what I need to get this thing started, please e-mail me. (By the way, this is a good 2-3 months down the line – so don’t get too excited).
The spec market is pretty crummy right now. Nothing’s selling, so there are no new scripts to request (as if I don’t have enough to read already). In the meantime, keep those suggestions coming. Haven’t put anything in the Top 25 for a long time now and I want that to change.
Genre: Action/Heist (sort of)
Premise: A bank robber must go undercover to sell out his old partner.
About: For those of you with sharp memories, Herman wrote the impressive Rites of Men, which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago. Loved that script. But it was Conviction, his bank heist screenplay, that was his first sale. The second I finished Rites, I went searching for this one.
Writer: Johnathan Herman
Herman is such a good writer that he almost saves this. Almost. But instead of a tight thriller in the vein of Rites Of Men, we get an unfocused bank heist film that doesn’t quite know what it wants to be.
Patrick is the king of all bank robbers. He’s got a special system down, one that doesn’t even require a gun, which allows him to steal a good chunk of that Federal stimulus package all the banks seem to be hoarding. His partner in crime (literally) is “Bomb,” a 20 year old kid who Patrick plucked from the ghetto when he was 15, and spent the following years mentoring and training to be the best bank robber without a gun evvvverrr. After a little make-up action, the two calmly walk into a bank, threaten one of the customer service reps using pictures and details of the their family, and get a special escort right into the vault.
But today’s heist does not go well. That’s because their over-caffeinated dimwitted driver freaks out at the site of a guard and blasts him to pieces. Retaliatory shots are fired, people start dying, and poor Patrick is hit bad enough that he’s on the street lying in a pool of his own blood. Bomb tries to grab him but the sirens are in the distance and Patrick tells him to go. “Go!” Bomb’s loyal to the end but he’s not stupid. Taking his cue from GTA, he steps on the gas and leaves poor Patrick to the sharks.
Flash forward a few weeks and Patrick is in the hospital, then in court, then in jail. It’s not all bad though. He’s eligible for parole when he turns 110. Five years go by (in the form of a fadeout) and Special Agent Plant pays Patrick a visit. Apparently, Bomb’s become a Heist superstar, the P. Diddy of robbing banks. He’s perfected Patrick’s methods and even added a few twists of his own. Intel says Bomb’s gearing up for something big. ‘Explosion’ big. And there’s only one man in the world who can stop him – the man who knows him best. Plant offers Patrick freedom if he’ll go undercover and take down Bomb – his best friend. Duh-duh-duhhhhhhhhhh. There’s nothing worse than selling out your BFF, but Patrick can’t resist the opportunity to be with his baby girl again. He accepts.
I don’t know about you but this all felt a little….B-Movie to me. Like something Ice-T or Common would play the lead in. The choices aren’t bad. They’re just uninspired. I have something called “The Straighten Up.” It’s when something happens in a script that’s so cool or so interesting that I straighten up before I continue reading. An “impressive” usually gets at least 2 Straighten Ups. And a “worth the read” usually has 1. But I was slogged down in my couch for the entirety of Conviction. And that’s too bad cause I was really looking forward to this.
Where are the problems? Well I knew the script was in trouble when I had to post a genre and I couldn’t figure out what to put. Is it a drama? A thriller? An action film? A heist film? It could be any one of those, and yet at one point or another it’s all of them. My biggest frustration was figuring out where Herman was going with all this. We get these weird flashbacks where Patrick first meets Bomb and we see him teaching him and helping him and they’re just so…unnecessary. Even Herman seems to think they don’t work cause he stops using them halfway through the script. And it’s not like the great Lawrence Fishburne movie, Deep Cover, since Patrick really doesn’t spend a lot of time “undercover” at all. We never really feel like we’re inside Bomb’s world. And maybe that’s because it never was Bomb’s world. It was Patrick’s. So it’s hard to believe that Bomb’s the one now in control. /Sigh…
I love Herman as a writer but this one fell flat for me. It needed direction. It needed an identity. I’m hoping the rewrites accomplish this.
[ ] trash
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
WHAT I LEARNED: Conviction was a good reminder to flesh out all your characters, even the supporting ones. Agent Plant is so obsessed with work, his private life is non-existent. He’s forced to pay for hookers just to experience human interaction. Another one of the agents has a father with Alzheimer’s, and we can see how much this weighs on her. These are bit players and although Herman doesn’t spend too much time on them, he gives us just enough to show that they’re real people. I’ve been discussing this with a lot of writers lately because it’s an area that’s easily overlooked. But in almost all of the professional screenplays I read, the characters from top to bottom are packed with depth. I don’t think that’s an accident.
Premise: Set in the Alaskan wilderness, a forest fire spotter receives an unexpected visit from a mysterious man.
About: Zetumer sold Villain to 2929 studios awhile back. Although he started out writing big sprawling action films, Villain was the script that got him noticed, secured him an agent, and ultimately landed him a sale. The script so impressed director Marc Forster that he asked Zetumer to rewrite Quantum of Solace (I wouldn’t hold this against him – Forster has gone on record saying every major decision about the script was his – so we can blame him). In fact, the script has led to a whole host of large scale assignments, including The Infiltrator (DiCaprio attached) and the remake of Dune (cause, you know, they’re going to keep throwing money at that franchise until somebody cracks it). Zetumer cites Chinatown as the biggest influence on his work.
Writer: Joshua Zetumer
Sooner or later, you have to start explaining things.
Whenever you write a thriller or a mystery, remember those words: Sooner or later, you have to start explaining things. We experienced that firsthand on Monday with the heavily mysterious “Umbra.” You see, it’s fairly easy to create a really fucked up world where strange ass shit is happening to your main character. What’s never easy, is coming up with a compelling story to explain the mystery. Since the answer is never as interesting as the question, many thrillers die a quick death after the first act. Cause people want answers. And the answers usually suck.
So what of Villain? Do the answers satisfy?
Will is staying up in the Alaskan mountains in a small shack doing what’s called “spotting” for forest fires. Will is a recovering alcoholic and part of the reason he took this odd job was to end his addiction to the juice – kind of his own version of AA. Step 1: Get 100 miles away from the nearest liquor store. Will is a complex character with a complicated history. The man has burns all over his body, the kind that imply an entire childhood full of abuse, and he’s generally “off”. In summation: The guy hasn’t had an easy life. His only contact with the outside world is the occasional radio contact he gets from basecamp, which is a good four day’s walk away.
Then one afternoon, Will gets a CB call from basecamp. Apparently, someone who claims to know Will stopped by yesterday and asked where he was staying. “Who?” Will asks. They don’t know. Just some guy. Some guy who is now on his way to see Will. This confuses the hell out of Will because, as far as he knows, no one even knows he’s up here.
A day later Will spots the man trudging up the hill towards his shack. This means it took the man two days to traverse a four day walk. Who is this guy? Superman?
Actually, the man’s name is Aiden, Will’s brother who he hasn’t seen in ages. If Will’s the rotten apple of the family, Aiden’s the core. He’s one of those guys you see at the Y and with just one look in his eyes – you know – he ain’t right (rest assured – I haven’t been to the Y in awhile). Although he enters with a smile, and the two immediately begin reminicsing about old times, it’s clear that there’s something boiling under the surface of this crackpot. Aiden has some hard questions he wants to ask, and he’s not leaving til his brother answers them.
The camaraderie begins to deteriorate soonafter and we learn the source of Aiden’s anger is that his daughter’s been taken from him by social services. Aiden did a little P.I. work and found some phone bills with some very interesting calls on them. Calls to the social service offices from Will’s number. His question to Will is simple: Did you contact them? Of course Will denies it, and he’s so convincing even we’re not sure what the truth is. The question becomes, how far will Aiden go to get to the truth? When you’re hundreds of miles away from the next human being, when the only law is nature, what are you capable of?
The abuse that follows is a direct reflection of the theme Zetumer’s exploring. These two men grew up knowing nothing but their father’s abuse. Living it. Breathing it. Fearing it. And yet here it is again, alive and kicking in their adult lives, so deeply rooted that it will probably be the reason that only one of them comes off this mountain.
Villain started out promising, but it hits some snow bumps almost immediately after Aiden arrives, falling into a pattern of Aiden drugging Will, Will waking up, Aiden drugging Bill, Will waking up, and over and over and over again. Like I said, once you get past the intrigue, past the mystery, tell us your story. And it’s not clear that Villain has a lot of story to tell. The answers are revealed slowly and aren’t all that satisfying. There were times when Will seems so fucked up that we’re wondering if this is a tripped out schizophrenic delusion of his – and we’re going to find out that his brother never came. I thought that would’ve been a fun angle to explore. But in the end it really is about Aiden trying to find out if Will called social services on his daughter. That’s it. And while that’s fine since that’s the story Zetumer wanted to tell, it left me feeling disappointed and a little empty. I wanted something bigger. More twists. Not such a straightforward story.
I’d like to make it clear that this is a solid piece of writing. A lot of people enjoyed it and it’s given Zetumer the amazing career he now has. For me though, it felt like it ran out of gas.
I know there are some of you in the Scriptshadow community who will disagree though (and make it very clear in the comments!) so take a stab at it and tell me what you think…
[ ] trash
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
WHAT I LEARNED: I loooooove when something unexpected happens in a script. I read so many scripts that fail to surprise me, and as I just mentioned, the second half of Villain falls into that category. But early on, the script is tense and full of great choices. One of my favorite moments is when Aiden (then an unknown man) first surfaces out of the forest after his two-day hike up to Will. Will’s been on edge waiting for this mystery man for hours. But instead of the man doing what we expect, which is to walk up to the shack, he stops…..and then turns back around, walking away and into the woods. This freaked the shit out of me. Who walks two days straight then turns around? Where is he going? What is he doing? Is he hiding? Why would he show himself in the first place? This upped the suspense factor by a thousand. Remember that your scripts are being read by people who’ve read EVVVERRRRYTHING. So you have to surprise them every once in awhile to keep them on their toes. Be unexpected!
Learn more about Josh over at The Rogue Wave.
Genre: Dark Comedy
Premise: The aftermath of a bank robbery told backwards.
About: This script was originally a finalist at the Austin Film Festival where it gained the attention of producer Barry Josephson. Soonafter, the script was sold to Fox Atomic. So for those of you wondering where to allocate this year’s screenplay contest money, AFF might be a good place to start!
Writer: Oren Uziel
This particular entry is a special 4am review of the half-asleep variety. So if you notice any spelling mistakes or random tangeants, I’m totally not apologizing. Speaking of apologies, I want to apologize to anyone who viewed my latest Facebook entry (not my Scriptshadow Facebook account but my real person Facebook account). I started this thing called “Late Night Facebook Confession” where anytime after 2am, you can post anything you want about your life on Facebook and no one can judge you on it. Well, I guess my latest confession was just a little too “disgusting” (as some said) and “perverted” (as others said). Whatever that means. Needless to say, nobody seems to understand the concept of “CAN’T BE JUDGED”. Once it’s past 2 a.m. man, you can write anything you want. And not be judged. EXCEPT FOR – apparently – Himalayan teenagers with down-syndrome. Jeeeeez.
What are we talking about? Oh yeah! Shimmer Lake. This script was sweeter than a mouthful of gummy bears. It’s about a group of dimwitted frustrated small town dudes who decide to rob the town bank. The twist here is that we start with the aftermath of the robbery and work our way back, day by day, to the night of the robbery. Now even though this is the internet, I can hear some of you already screaming “Gimmmmick!” And you know what? You’re right. This is a gimmick. But it’s a damn good gimmick, cause Uziel knows how to write.
Our main character and town sheriff, Zeke, is three days removed from the robbery, desperately trying to find his brother Andy, who for some reason left his family to involve himself in this moronic heist. He’s hoping he can locate him before he ends up like Dawkins, the owner of the bank, who Zeke finds naked and dead with a huge hole in his chest. Apparently Dawkins was connected to the robbery too. But why? He owns the damn place. Also missing are Ed, an ex high school football star who accidentally blew up his kid during an experiment gone wrong in his self-made meth lab. And Chris, a half mentally retarded loner who lost all his friends when an accident blew a few fuses in his brain. Rounding out the group is Ed’s hotter-than-the-inside-of-a-hotpocket wife Steph, who very well may know more about this robbery than she’s letting on.
Shimmer Lake’s structure takes us back one day at a time in order to show us what happened to who and how. Along the way we learn more about the characters involved and more about why they’re doing what they’re doing. You may think you know why they’re doing it. But you don’t. Well, in some cases you do. But in others you don’t. Most of the cases you do though. Instead of the script suffering from Prequel-itis (this is how I refer to the Star Wars prequels – which basically filled in the missing gaps at the expense of a providing us with a story) it actually thrives inside the structure. The big heist is still at the end of he film. It’s just at the beginning. So we’re still anticipating how it’s going to all go down. I think in a lot of scripts, there’d be plenty of dead time before the ending, but Uziel’s strength is his amazing grasp of character, and pretty much anybody he introduces us to we could watch for hours on end and never get bored. I wish I had all day to just chat with this guy and ask him how he comes up with these people. He’s truly got a gift. They’re so fun to be around and listen to that you forget all about those silly screenwriting mechanics – like story. And plot.
I think to give you any more would cheat you out of a fun read. I will say this: Shimmer Lake has that wears-its-indiness-on-its-sleeve arthouse quality to it that has a habit of unsettling some picky cinephiles. But what I love about The Lake (that’s what I’m calling it now. Keep up.) is that it’s like an Ethan and Joel Cohen film, without all the alienating choices that scare away mainsream audiences. It’s funny, but not 3% of the population only funny.
Originally I was going to write this review backwards but changed my mind for two reasons. One, it would’ve taken way too much effort. And two, it was a stupid idea.
This baby is an early contender for mid-to-high Black List 2009. Check it out…
[ ] trash
[ ] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] genius
What I learned: Character descriptions character descriptions character descriptions! If you’re writing a comedy, you should have fun with your character descriptions. Don’t describe anyone as “Square-jawed and tough as nails.” It’s a comedy. Have fun with it. Here’s an example from Shimmer Lake: “Ed Burton is the kind of guy that if he walked into a bar and falsely accused you of stealing his seat, you’d get up and apologize.” How awesome is that? It’s fun and it tells me exactly who this character is.