Genre: Thriller
Synopsis: Two women are held hostage in a prison-like farmhouse.
About: On the 2008 Black List with 14 votes
Writer: Misha Green

This will be less a review and more a stamp of approval since I actually read Sunflower a long time ago. I don’t know why it slipped my mind when I was making my top 10, but when I expanded to 25, I spotted it and was like, “Why the hell didn’t I include Sunflower?” It’s probably for the same reason that’s in the back of your minds right now: The title fucking sucks! When I was reading all the 2008 Black List scripts, I kept burying Sunflower every time I’d come to it because seriously, who the hell wants to read a script called “Sunflower?” Finally, when it was down to that and some script about a midget trying to come to terms with his South African descent, I threw up my hands and screamed, “Fine! I’ll read Sunflower!” Thank the Gods of screenwriting that I did.

This is from memory so I apologize if I get the details wrong. Basically, Sunflower is about a guy keeping a girl hostage in a farm house out in the middle of nowhere. He’s rigged the place with Level 16 super high tech security so that when he leaves for work (he’s a professor) there’s no way for her to escape. What sets Sunflower apart from other films like it is that the professor then kidnaps a second girl who he imprisons along with the first. He makes it quite obvious that only one of these girls is staying for the longhaul. Then, instead of it being about a girl trying to escape her captor, it becomes about two girls fighting each other for their lives. Green milks this conflict for everything it’s got and the result is so relentless you keep saying to yourself, “There’s no way she can keep this up. There’s no way she can keep this up.” But the story never slows down. It’s awesome.

If there’s a knock against the script, it’s the controversial “twist” ending that had many crying foul. And I admit it doesn’t entirely work. But to me the script is so technically sound, not going with the twist and playing it safe would still result in a great film. Or you can pull a Hollywood and just shoot four different endings and see which one tests best. The ending didn’t bother me but I can understand how it would others. Decide for yourself…

[ ] trash
[ ] barely readable
[ ] worth the read
[x] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned from Sunflower: Sunflower is the perfect example of why it’s so important to throw a new twist into a tired genre. When I started reading the script, I thought I knew exactly where it was going. Guy holds girl hostage, girl plans to escape, guy catches her mid-plan, guy makes it more difficult for girl to escape, girl comes up with second plan…etc., etc. We’ve seen it a thousand times before. But the second he brought in the second girl, I realized I had no idea where the script was going. And I was so…excited. Because a reader reads so much derivative material, it’s rare that he come across something that actually surprises him. Find an inventive twist on a tried-and-true genre to give Hollywood (and the audience) something they’ve never seen before.

Genre: Dramedy
Synopsis: A professor at a small liberal arts college is up for tenure.
About: Tenure was on the 2005 Black List and will be hitting theaters this year.
Writer: Mike Million

What is the single most important tool you can use to connect with the reader? What is the one thing above all others that gives you the best chance of creating something they’ll be interested in? I’ll give you a moment. Give up? Okay, I’ll tell you. It’s subject matter. If you give the reader a subject matter they like, they’ll immediately be interested in your story. And there’s the catch. Different people like different things. So you can’t possibly find something to satisfy them all. Sure, you can pick some overarching widely known piece of pop culture (I’m sure the studios can give you a list). But no subject can satisfy everyone. Inevitably SOMEONE won’t like the story you’re telling because they just don’t care about the subject matter you’ve presented them with.

This is why when I read the first few pages of “Tenure”, I was instantly onboard. Likewise, I knew there were going to be a hell of a lot of people who would rather skin themselves alive than watch this movie. See Tenure is about a small liberal arts college. I attended a small liberal arts college. Believe it or not, our college is kind of famous. Sure, you’ve probably never heard of “Ripon College”, a small liberal arts school in the middle of the second fattest state in America (Wisconsin). But I bet you’ve heard of Harrison Ford. Yes, Harrison Ford went to Ripon College. And when I went, some of the older professors, who had just begun teaching back when Harrison started, loved to tell stories about him. Apparently, Ford was the laziest motherfucker on the face of the planet. He never went to class. Never participated in any social functions. He never did much of anything . The fact that he even made it to his senior year was a bit of a miracle. But I bet you didn’t know, Harrison finished one credit shy of graduating, and therefore never earned his degree. After his movies made billions at the box office, Ripon aggressively offered to forego that notorious missed credit and give Ford his degree. Harrison (or “Harry” as they called him) basically told them to fuck off. He never gave a single cent to Ripon. I hear the college is slightly more lenient nowadays when it comes to the whole “required credits” issue. It seems apt, really, that in a screenplay about college, I give you a history lesson. I hope you enjoyed it.

Tenure is awesome. I wish I could tell you all the ways in which it was awesome but that’s the problem with liking something. You don’t have time to pay attention to *why* you’re liking it. I’ll do my best though. I think the first thing Tenure does right that a lot of other “artsy” screenplays do wrong is it gives the main character a clearly defined goal. He wants – no he needs – to make tenure. If he doesn’t, he’s screwed. See a lesser writer who wanted to write a movie about a college professor might take us through his daily life, show us all his wild and wacky situations, but not give us any direction, any end goal. Million reminds us every step of the way how important it is that our protagonist makes tenure. This allows him to have fun with the story, but still keep us interested and focused. I wish I had learned this lesson a long time ago.

CHARLIE THURBER, an English professor, has an amazing connection with his students. Having been a teacher myself, I know how essential finding a connection with the people you teach is. The problem with Charlie though, is that he’s not very good at what he teaches. He can’t get published for shit. And since Gray College puts such a high premium on being published, Charlie’s dream, to get tenure, is in doubt.

Things only get worse when ELAINE, an attractive graduate of Princeton University of all places, joins the English Department, threatening to steal tenure away from Charlie. This prompts Charlie’s slacker best friend and fellow professor, STANLEY (whose life goal is to find Big Foot – I kid you not) to lead a sabotage effort to destroy Elaine so Charlie can land tenure. Stanley deserves his own movie. He’s fucking hilarious.

There are some sub-plots that all work well – like Charlie’s father’s stay in a local Assisted Living Home (he desperately wants out), the trials and tribulations of a few of Charlie’s students, and of course the sexual tension between Charlie and the very woman who might steal his tenure, Elaine.

All-in-all, Tenure is a master class in character development. Every character in this script is instantly memorable and all of their stories are compelling, like we could jump into their lives and be transported into their script without missing a beat. I don’t even know how he did it to be honest. How we jump from the very serious problems of Charlie, to Stanley’s ridiculous pursuit of Big Foot, never upsetting the tone of the movie, is something I’ll be studying for a long time . Contrary to popular belief, I don’t know everything. :)

Again, if you’ve never been to a small college, some of the details here might be lost on you. But I’d recommend Tenure for character study alone. Pay attention to how he introduces his characters, how he paints them, and how he resolves their conflicts. It’s really great stuff.

[ ] trash
[ ] barely readable
[ ] worth the read
[x] impressive (very close to genius though)
[ ] genius

What I learned from Tenure: I could point to 20 lessons in this script, but I’ll go with the age old adage. Any time you can raise the stakes, you’re improving your script. Near the midway point, Charlie’s sister informs him that she’s paying 3 grand a month to keep their father in a home. She needs help. “You can spare $1000 dollars a month.” “I make 36,000 a year.” “You get a raise when you reach tenure right?” The way I present it here is a little clunky and simplistic. In the script it’s given more weight. The point is, it’s just one more reason in the back of our minds we know Charlie has to achieve tenure.

Commenters unite! Because I’m not completely blogified (and partially retarded), the commenting feature was turned off for anonymous users. What the hell was up with that???! There were likely thousands upon thousands of potential comments that never saw the light of day. Or the…dark, of the blogosphere. That has all changed. Comment my friends. COMMMMMEEEEENNNNTTTT!

The next couple of days are going to be very exciting as I review the single hottest script in town, as well as a mystery script that…gasp…BREAKS INTO MY TOP TEN. That hasn’t happened since I started this thing. How far up the ladder will it climb? Tune in to find out!

Genre: Sci-fi
Synopsis: In a post World War 2 New York City, a troubled reporter learns he is meant for a higher purpose.
About: Not much is known about this one. I know Trevorrow has had four movies produced so he’s got a track record.
Writer: Colin Trevorrow

Colin Trevorrow is a good writer. But I think this story is bigger than him. In fact, I think it’s bigger than 99% of the writers out there. It’s Matrix meets Wanted meets Alice In Wonderland. It almost comes together. But World War X suffers from Feature Length-itus — a disease that gives your movie only 2 hours to live. And there simply isn’t enough time to deliver the depth that a premise like this promises.

Tom, a foster child, has spent his entire life feeling a rage inside him. Where it comes from, he doesn’t know. After this troubled childhood and a stint in the war, Tom finds himself barely clinging to a reporter job at the local newspaper. While inspecting a series of strange murders, he encounters a man who seems to have superhuman abilities. Leaping and jumping 10-20 feet in the air. Tom follows him the best he can, surprising himself with his aiblity to keep up. But in the end, the mystery man is too fast, and gets away.

Later he’s approached by a group of men who let him in on a secret. Tom is actually superhuman. A combination of both Wanted and Matrix, he posesses a hidden strength and speed that if he can learn to tap into, he’d be unstoppable. He joins this group, which calls itself “The Brotherhood”. Their first mission involves stopping a bank robbery. Curiously, The Brotherhood seems to know exactly when this robbery is going to happen. They succeed, but instead of returning the money, The Brotherhood keeps it for themselves.

Tom is then approached by ANOTHER group who claims that the group he’s been associating himself with is actually…now hang with me here…a group of “time terrorists”. Even worse, their leader – a guy who obviously dug his name out of the sci-fi handbook – “Zael”, has actually gone back thousands of years in time to impregnate his seed into hundreds of women – creating multiple generations of his bloodline. Tom is one of these children. He is one of “The Brotherhood.”

This new team is an anti-time terrorist organization, sent back in time specifically to try and stop Zael and his “brothers”. Or “sons” or whatever the hell they are. Tom then fnds himself stuck in the middle. Who does he believe? The Brotherhood? Or the TT Organization? Despite stumbling my way through that, Trevorrow actually sets all this up fairly well. We buy into the whole premise, even if it does border on the extreme.

I think Colin may have watched Star Wars a bit too many times though. There are so many echoes of it here it borders on plagirism. Tom and Zael have a sword fight at the end while a larger war rages on outside, all the while spouting out heated one-liners which mainly revolve around “evil” and “doing the right thing.” I kept waiting for Zael to finally scream “I am your fatherrrrrr.” But then I realized that would be redundant. He is his father. We already know that.

It’s only because of this action-suffocated derivitave ending that I can’t whole-heartedly recommend World War X. It has its moments, especially early on. But the last thing every audience member leaves a movie with is its ending, and World War X’s simply isn’t memorable enough.

[ ] trash
[ ] barely readable
[World War x] worth the read (barely)
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned from World War X: Within 10 pages, I know some distinct things about our main character. He’s extremely violent and has a bad heart. Already, he’s separated from most of the main characters I read. Even though neither of these things is wholly original, together, they paint a picture of a man that’s distinct and that I feel like I know. Make sure your main character stands out.