Genre: Drama
Premise: When a dog is the only witness to a woman’s death, her husband tries to teach the dog how to talk so he can find out what happened to her.
About: Mandate Pictures (Juno) optioned Carolyn Parkhurst’s novel. John Crowley (Intermission) will direct. David Heyman of Heyday Films, and Corey May and Dooma Wendschuh of Sekretagent Productions will produce. Nathan Kahane and Tiffany Daniel will executive produce. Overseeing the project for Mandate will be Nicole Brown and Tendo Nagenda. Funny enough, Todd Phillips was once attached to the project. It’s unclear whether he wanted to veer out of comedy or not. I know that turning this into a comedy would pretty much destroy everything that’s great about it. So I’m glad that experiment is over.
Writer: Jamie Linden (We Are Marshall)
Details: 122 pages (Nov. 2006 draft)

I really loved this script. I mean, it’s not perfect. The ending gets a little…abstract. And there’s an odd tonal shift late in the second act. But there’s so much to love here. And the storytelling is top notch. Dogs Of Babel tells the tale of Paul Ransome, a man who comes home to find his wife dead. She apparently fell from the apple tree in the back yard and cracked her neck. All signs point to it being an accident. But Paul’s not so sure. There’s something not quite right about the evidence. What in the world was his wife doing up in the apple tree anyway? And how do you fall and crack your neck from an apple tree? Break your legs maybe. But break your neck?

It so happens that the only witness to this “accident” is Lexy’s dog Lorlelei, a dog, it should be noted, Paul doesn’t care much for. In fact, the dog spent more time getting in the way of their relationship than complementing it. And because Lorlelei pretty much feels the same way about Paul, life after Lexy’s death turns into a tough learning experience for both. Not only are they both extremely depressed, but Lorelei’s desired routine coupled with Paul’s ignorance regarding pet responsibility turns into a clumsy frustrating dance that neither can get quite right.

After awhile, Paul becomes fascinated by Lorelei’s ability to understand simple words like, “stay” and “lay down,” etc. He wonders, “If she can understand these words, why can’t she understand others? And if I can communicate with her, why can’t she communicate with me?” And thus Paul sets out on a journey to do something that makes no logical sense whatsoever: Teach Lorelei how to speak so she can tell him what happened to Lexi that day.

I like premises that border on the absurd because I’m fascinated to see if the writer can actually pull them off. 9 times out of 10, they’re not up to the task. But this is that one time where they get it right. What drives this story and our emotions and our hope is Paul’s devastation over his wife’s death. We want so badly for him to find out what happened to her, that we become just as illogical as he is. We actually believe that if he can just find enough time, if he can just come across the right piece of research, he’ll find a way to do it.

Dogs Of Babel is a script that takes a lot of chances and pulls most of them off. In addition to the main storyline, Linden offers us a glimpse into Paul and Lexy’s life through a series of flashbacks. Now normally I hate flashbacks. But here, they’re presented intermittently and at designated times, therefore making them feel like a natural part of the story instead of an interruption of it. They also acheive a couple of things. They introduce us to Lexy, which allows us to care more for her, ultimately driving up our emotional involvement in Paul’s search for the truth. And it furthers the mystery of her death, as all signs point to them having a perfectly healthy relationship.

The next thing Linden does is highlight a history of canine intelligence through a series of voiceovers dictated by Paul’s research. All of the stories are 100% true. And after each one, we feel a little bit closer to the ultimate goal of getting Lorlelei to communicate. For example, one of the stories involves a woman who decided to teach her dog how to type. She made a specialized keyboard that would release a treat upon tapping of the correct letter. She’d call out a letter, and if the dog got it right, he’d receive a treat. The dog got so good at typing she’d have him type out her Christmas cards every winter (via her transcribing each letter of course). There’s a haunting quality to each story. Because while each one seems to give us hope, there’s a part of it that feels desperate. The stories are magnificent in their own right, but none of them point to that Holy Grail – actually getting a dog to talk to you. Is Paul grasping at straws? Has he gone insane? Is any of this really worth it? The fact that we’re not sure is what compels us to turn the pages.

As I mentioned before, the script isn’t perfect. There’s a particularly strange choice in the second act where Paul visits a man who’s done research into canine communication. But it plays out in a creepy way that feels more like a scene out of a horror film than that of a drama. It was definitely a memorable scene, but I’m not sure it belonged here. As we get to the climax, Linden also makes some odd choices, as real-life is kind of blurred into the subconscious and deluged with flashbacks. It was hard to tell what was going on and I was terrified that the ending would be explained away in a big copout. But thank God it comes together nicely and we get the answers we’re looking for.

Had the ending been a little cleaner, this might’ve shot into my Top 10. As it stands, it still breaks into my Top 25. A great story indeed.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[x] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: Flashbacks are more effective if they’re a part of a larger pattern. If they’re simply there to fill in some hole you couldn’t figure out how to integrate into your story, they’ll stick out like a sore thumb. But if there’s a rhythm and consistency to them, they’ll feel like a natural extension of the story.

Genre: Dramedy
Premise: Blockhead explores what it would it be like if the real-world Peanuts Gang grew up and lived together in New York City.
About: This script got a ton of recognition about ten years ago. Just about everyone who read it loved it. For obvious copyright reasons, it never got purchased. But it ended up getting the writer, Emily Fox, a lot of buzz and started her writing career.
Writer: Emily Fox

I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of the Peanuts characters but there’s definitely a certain familiarity and nostalgia they bring to the table. Who doesn’t watch The Charlie Brown Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas specials? And with the rewarding experience I had with “The Muppet Man,” I thought another unique exploration of a childhood franchise could be fun. But man, it wasn’t until I went back and watched a few episodes of Charlie Brown on Youtube that I realized just how negative it was. Everybody’s upset or depressed about something. Nothing ever goes right. Lucy berates Charlie Brown so relentlessly, she’d probably go to jail for assault if she tried the same thing today. It’s like dissecting one disaster after another.

Fox makes one thing clear right off the bat. This isn’t your Grandmother’s Charlie Brown. No. I think I figured that out on page one when we’re introduced to Lucy getting ram-rodded by some dude from behind. Okay okay. It’s not nearly that graphic (although to say I was shocked was an understatement). But Lucy’s declaration of war on the world at such an early age has definitely had its effects on her psyche. Now 28 years old, she’s unaware that her current boyfriend, Schroeder (you may remember him playing the piano for Lucy and repeatedly fighting off her advances), is probably gay. She’s also cheating on him with her 43 year old married with children boss. She thinks she’s pregnant. And she lives with Linus, now a stockbroker, and still as cautious and pragmatic as ever (and still a virgin).

But what really blows her lid is that Charlie Brown and Snoopy are moving in with them! Lucy still can’t stand Charlie Brown and lets him know right away that she does not agree with these arrangements. Charlie Brown has made his way here to pursue being a writer – any sort of writer – and because he’s been a bit of a failure in life so far, he hasn’t a penny to his name. Eventually Charlie’s model younger sister, Sally, moves in as well, driving Linus all sorts of crazy, and the four of these childhood “friends” try their best to coexist in New York City 18 years after we last saw them.

The whole vibe is very “When Harry Met Sally.” The reason it ends up working is that the sexual tension between Charlie Brown and Lucy that’s existed since all the way back in the original cartoon, is finally explored. But not in the way you think it will be. Lucy is like a Velociraptor, tenacious and relentless in her belittling of anything that gets in her way. It’s actually fascinating you care about her so much because she’s such a raging bitch. But “Blockhead” benefits from this weird nostalgic curiosity that coats every scene. It may not be the most compelling drama. But you’re just so shocked that you get to see what happens to the Peanuts gang all grown up. Lucy getting banged was definitely the topper, but at one point the crew sits around smoking weed. It’s like if you somehow weaseled your way into The Jonas Brothers’ apartment and found them snorting coke off strippers. This stuff is not supposed to happen! (not that I’d want to sneak into the Jonas Brothers’ apartment. I’m purely using that as an analogy. I don’t own any of the Jonas Brothers’ music).

There are little nods to the comic sprinkled throughout. Linus will be at work with his boss giving a speech and when he drifts off, the boss’s words devolve into a repetitive “wah wah wah wahhhh wah wah wah wah.” All the catch phrases are used at least once. And there are probably a million references that I didn’t even catch because I don’t remember the cartoon that well. But the script does end on Christmas with Charlie buying a tiny little $15 Christmas tree and Lucy freaking out about it. I mean how can you not love that?

My one complaint was that Snoopy wasn’t used enough. Granted, you’re not doing Garfield or Scooby Doo with an animated dog, but Snoopy was the most memorable character in that show after Charlie Brown. You needed to find a way to use him!

This was such a trippy journey that I have to recommend you read it for yourself. Even though I know it would never happen in a million years, God would I like someone to make this film. I have no doubt it would be an instant cult classic.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: This is probably obvious, but just know that you can only sell a script based on someone else’s material to the company that owns that material. So if you write a Matrix movie, you can only sell it to Warner Brothers. And chances are, they don’t want your script because if they want to write another Matrix movie, they’ll do it themselves. In the case of this script, Emily Fox is basically damaging the brand name of the Peanuts characters (having sex, getting high) so not only will you have a hard time selling this for copyright reasons, but the estate that owns the rights to the Peanuts characters would never allow something like this to be made. I’m assuming Fox knew that going in. So it’s important for you to know the same thing. Selling one of these novelty scripts isn’t going to happen. But it might open a few doors.

Great guest article by entertainment attorney Jesse Rosenblatt over on Stephen Hoover’s blog on how much you should expect to earn on your first script sale. Go over there and check it out now.

Here’s an excerpt:

A burning question on any first time writer’s mind is – “How much will I get paid for my feature film screenplay sale?”

It’s a valid question, though a difficult one to answer. You’ve spent months, maybe even years, writing your script. You want to get paid! And you need to make sure you’re protected and don’t sell yourself short. Often times, writers are willing to forego monetary compensation in exchange for the hope they’ll receive credit on a completed film to help launch their writing career.

While I certainly understand that perspective, and in some cases it’s a valid point of view, please remember – if others are getting paid well for their contributions to the project, you should too. Every great film starts with a great script.

I want to make clear that the typical structure of a screenplay deal is not an outright purchase but rather an option/purchase agreement. Let me briefly explain what this is for those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept: an option/ purchase agreement is one where the prospective buyer (a producer, production company, studio, etc.) agrees to pay you some money (generally 10% of the potential purchase price or less) in exchange for a period of time (typically called the “option period”) where your script is off the market and the producer can develop it...

Rest of the article.

Been getting some e-mails about this. I’ll be making plenty of announcements regarding the official announcement of the contest, which will probably be about two or three weeks from now. So you should be prepping those loglines as we speak. Also, I’ve decided to use Paypal for those of you who want to submit more than 1 logline, with a package of up to 10 loglines for 5 dollars. So if you don’t have a Paypal account yet and you plan on submitting more than 1 logline, please go set one up now! Can’t wait to start reading these.

Genre: Drama
Premise: A look at the white commercial farming industry in Zimbabwe in 2002, the year of the first opposing political party to president Mugabe’s tyranic reign.
About: Victoria Falls is one of the winners of this year’s Nicholl’s Fellowship. The Nicholl’s Fellowship is considered by most to be the most prestigious screenplay competition on the planet. Although winning the Fellowship is by no means a path to success (many winners we never hear from again), there are some who have used it to launch great careers. Recently mentioned on the site are previous Fellows Ehren Kruger (1996) and Anthony Jaswinski (1997). Kruger’s winning script was the excellent unconventional twist-ending thriller, “Arlington Road.”
Writer: Matt Ackley

President Robert Mugabe

Victoria Falls, even on its best day, even with a great director, even with an A-List actor, is never going to light up the box office. It’s just not that kind of movie. The themes are heavy here. The subject matter will challenge you. Thinking is a requirement. It feels like something you’d see nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars.

What I like about Victoria Falls is that it’s not what we think it is. Since the script is set in Zimbabwe, we’re automatically assuming it’s going to be about a bunch of oppressed Africans. Yet the focus is actually on a family of rich white farmers who are kicked off their land without reason by Zimbabwe’s tyrant of a leader, the dreaded Robert Mugabe. What I don’t like about Victoria Falls is that there are large sections of the script where I felt like I should be taking notes so I could ace my History test tomorrow. First and foremost to me, movies represent entertainment. And anytime I feel like I’m being taught something, I get squeamish. I think the true mark of a great historical or socially relevant film, is to teach you without you realizing you’re being taught. And that wasn’t my experience here.

So as long as class is in session, you’re probably wondering what Victoria Falls is. It’s actually the name of the biggest waterfall in Africa. And as you can see in the below picture, it’s one of the few waterfalls where you can actually lay over the edge without going over. Because people need to lay over 700 foot waterfalls. Yeah, that’s exactly what I want to do when I go to Africa. Right after I dive head first into a Volcano and swim into the heart of a tsunami.

The story centers around two best friends, poor Zimbabwe native Ojaji, and the rich white son of a local farming family, Nico. Nico’s father is nearing the end of his working days and would like for Nico to take over the farm. But Nico has other ideas. He wants to grab a pot of the family gold and head over to America to party it up. And he wants Ojaji to come with him. The two are all set to bounce when Ojaji feels some guilt for leaving his crumbling country, a country where 10 trillion Zimbabwe dollars is worth 3 U.S. dollars. In an ironic twist of fate, he takes the job Nico was supposed to take, managing his father’s farm.

Meanwhile, for the first time (In its history?) Zimbabwe has an opposition party. Mugabe, who is painted as a seriously bad dude, will do anything to squash the uprising. So in order to appeal to the masses, he promises that, if elected, the rich white farmers will be sent back to their country, and the locals will run all the farms themselves. It’s a bold but effective claim. Zimbabwe is home to 5000 whites and 12 million blacks. Yet whites own more than 70% of the farmland. There’s a predicable amount of animosity towards them as a result, and the chance to send them packing strikes a chord. Ojaji is then forced to become a bit of a politician himself, as he tries to save the farm from the relentless locals, who would like for nothing more than to burn the farmhouse down along with everyone inside it.

Zimbabwean politics. Farm management. An upcoming election. What more can you ask for in a piece of summer entertainment, right?

What we have here is a good writer who’s maybe trying to do too much. I mean there’s a lot going on in this script. We have the two best friends going off in different directions. We have a political battle between a renegade party and a dictator. We have Ojaji trying to run a farm. We have Ojaji’s sister secretly promoting the opposing party. We have a strange love triangle between Ojaji, Nico, and an American woman. I just felt that at a certain point, we lost focus. What was Victoria Falls about? I wasn’t always sure.

That’s not to say the script isn’t deserving of a Fellowship. There are some wonderful moments and the final act rewards you for your patience with an intense almost action-movie like ending. But the foundation of the story – asking us to sympathize for the rich white man amongst the poverty and struggles of so many less fortunate people – is a tough pill to swallow. From a purely story point-of-view, it’s the same reason why I didn’t like Friday Night Lights (the film). I couldn’t figure out why I was supposed to root for a team that always won. I tend to pull for the underdog.

I’m happy the writer had this competition, because I’m not sure the script would’ve been recognized otherwise. If you liked Gaza or The Untitled Bill Carter Project, you might want to check this out. The subject matter here just wasn’t my cup of tea, and ultimately kept me from falling for this story the same way the Nicholl’s judges did.

Script link: **sorry guys – asked to take this down.**

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: This is a competition script. Plain and simple. You could send this logline to a thousand agencies and you’d probably get 999 rejections. But there’s a lesson here. You need to understand how marketable your idea is before you type Fade In. Know that if you’re going to write the next Victoria Falls, agents, producers, and managers will likely turn their cheeks. Contests will probably be your only route. Write something more mainstream with a hook, and the logline does the work for you – getting you reads everywhere you submit. As long as you know what you’re in for, you can make a more informed decision and write any kind of screenplay you want.