Normally I post my reviews at midnight, but since Scott and I are coordinating a simultaneous post for the Scriptshadow Challenge, you’ll have to wait until 6am Pacific Time. Sorry. :(
In the meantime, here are the 5 most discussed scripts on Scriptshadow. Go discuss them.
Premise: A college Freshman’s roommate becomes dangerously obsessed with her.
About: Mallhi is an executive vice president at Vertigo. He went out with the screenplay under a pseudonym so it would be given fair consideration in the marketplace. It wasn’t until after Screen Gems made an offer on “Roommate” that Mallhi revealed that he wrote the spec. Mallhi exec produced “The Strangers” for Vertigo (Daily Variety). “Roommate” marks Mallhi’s first screenplay sale. It is now in production. Gossip Girl cast member Leighton Meester is attached and an unknown director from Denmark, Christian Christensen, is directing.
Writer: Sonny Mallhi
Okay okay, so I kinda cheated. I promised you guys I’d review a horror script. I poured and poured over the choices but I just couldn’t do it. I would open the script, read a few words, and think: 120 pages of this?? There’s no way. So I decided on a compromise. The Roommate is sort of a horror script. Or, at least, it appeals to the same people who like horror. Doesn’t it?
The idea for The Roommate is very “Single White Female” – a solid flick from the 90s that was just under the radar enough that no one remembers it. Which is good for Mallhi because that meant he had no competetion for the idea. He obviously figured, “All I have to do is take this great concept and transfer it to a college setting, where the girls are younger and hotter.” Uhh, can anyone say genius??
I love a good psychological thriller and The Roommate psychologicalizes and thrills right from the beginning. When I finished it and researched to see what was going on with the project, it came as no surprise that it was already in production. 9 out of 10 purchased scripts never make it to the big screen. But as soon as I put this down I knew it was ready to be shot tomorrow (and it was – literally).
Sara is a college freshman who’s a bit more self-assured than most college coeds. We catch her on the day she’s moving in. She makes a few friends on the floor and meets a cute drummer in a local band, Stephen. After what can only be described as a perfect first day of college, Sara comes home to find…Rebecca. Just sitting there. Staring. You know what kind of stare I’m talking about too. The kind that says psych-ooooo. But naive Sara, eager to make friends, ignores the creepines, and introduces herself. Rebecca, even though she’s a knockout, seems to be surprised by the attention, and rewards Sara……by watching her sleep all night.
The next day, Sara introduces her obnoxious floor friends to Rebecca. One of the great things about Mallhi’s script is his subtle dark humor, which is on full display in this scene…
Sara waves her over and only then, does Rebecca walk over.
Tracy. Kim. This is my roommate Rebecca.
RRRRRREBECCA. Your name’s sort of a mouthful. What can we call you?
I like Reba.
Tracy sticks her finger down her throat, makes gagging sounds.
I like Becca.
(shakes her head)
How about Becky?
They simultaneously turn to Rebecca for approval.
I like Rebecca.
We better take these books back to the room.
Without saying goodbye. Rebecca leaves. Sara gives Tracy and Kim a look. Shrugs her shoulders.
To get a full idea of just how creepy Rebecca is, you have to read the script. But for another taste, here’s a scene where Sara and Rebecca are getting ready for a party…
They both look in the mirror. Rebecca smiles.
Wait a sec. I also have some cool earrings that will go with this.
Sara grabs a pair of small, gold hoop earrings from her dresser. She places them in Rebecca’s hand.
Lemme go take a shower. I’ll be just a second.
She grabs her stuff and rushes out the door leaving Rebecca standing there. Earrings in her palm. She turns towards the full length mirror behind the door. As she leans into the mirror, we see her ears aren’t pierced.
Nevertheless, she takes one of the earrings and touches the pin against the skin of her right lobe. After a moment of hesitation. She pushes the pin in hard. A small pop. She flinches slightly.
Blood trickling down her ear, onto her neck. She wipes it off with her thumb and places the other hoop to her left ear.
I think one of the reasons the script works so well is that it balances the real world with the movie world in away where you don’t question the cinematic liberties taken (and there are a few taken). We all know that person in our life who creeps us the hell out. The guy at work who never laughs at the right moment. The girl at the gym who’s definitely barbequeing bodies in her spare time. Usually you’re able to weed these people out of your life, but because of mutual friends or work, you occasionally have to deal with them. “The Roommate” explores the more fantastical assumptions we make about what these people do when they’re alone.
One thing I noticed while I was reading this was that there’s a lot more action text than dialogue text, which is rare to see these days. Entire scenes occur without anybody saying anything. And even the scenes where people do talk, they’re usually less than a page long. It’s not easy to do this without your script feeling stunted but “Roommate” is all the better for it. It really is a solid script.
Before I go, here’s one last juicy moment. Earlier, Sara was shocked to find out Rebecca didn’t have a Facebook page, insisting she had to get one. In that same converation, they talked about Sara’s favorite movie being Coyote Ugly.
Sara sits with Stephen. He’s trying to read but has the attention span of a gnat. Sara’s not studying either. She’s on her Facebook page. Gets a message for adding a new friend…from Rebecca. Sara clicks to add her.
Sara goes to Rebecca’s Facebook page. Sara’s her only friend. The picture of Sara and Rebecca in front of the graffiti is on the site. There are more of her drawings and a picture of a brunette haired girl with the caption ‘Maria.’
Sara looks at her interests. Favorite Artist: Richard Prince. Favorite Passion: Drawing. Favorite movie: Coyote Ugly. Sara smiles. Best Friend: SARA. She loses the smile.
[ ] trash
[ ] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] genius
What I learned: Bombard your protag! Sara has to deal with Rebecca, with her friend Tracy no longer liking her, with the pressue of Stephen always wanting to hang out, with her ex-bf Jason wanting to get together, with her friend Irene who wants her to move in with her, with her mom always wanting to talk, with her professor hitting on her, with her cat disappearing…All this bombardament puts an insane amount of tension on your protagonist. And all that tension gets transferred directly onto us. We feel Sara’s stress. It makes every scene with her that much more captivating, because we know what she’s going through. Beginning writers almost always make things easy for their protagonist. And let’s be honest. How interesting is that?
Premise: An art auctioneer kidnaps criminals and auctions them off to rival crime bosses.
About: Intrepid Pictures, the company behind “The Strangers,” purchased The Highest Bid in April for an undisclosed sum. (note: The draft I read is a very early one and I know that extensive rewrites are being done, possibly even addressing some of the issues I bring up).
Writer: Gary Spinelli
Vincent, an art auctioneer and our hero, is withdrawing money from the bank when, by gosh, a team of bank robbers charges in with a fixin for a robbery. While everybody else freaks out, Vincent stays calm. He probes their movements, watches how they communicate, quickly assessing just how dangerous these men are. When the tough one tells him to sit down, Vincent’s arms and legs turn into a cuisinart, chopping through the men in a matter of seconds. In case you were wondering, Vincent’s a badass.
His day not even close to complete, he hops in his car, starts chasing a truck, leaps into the truck, grabs someone from out of the back, rips off a door, tosses the door onto the road, jumps out – with the guy mind you – and concrete-surfs the door along the road at 75 miles per hour until they come to a stop.
The man he’s kidnapped has pissed off enough people in town that there’s a bit of a price on his head. So Vincent puts in a call to the guy’s (mob) family, as well as a rival mob – in this case The Russians. From the privacy of his office, over a nice bottle of wine, he informs both parties that an auction has begun. Whichever party bids the highest takes the prize home. The winning bid goes to the Russians for 350,000 dollars. Truck Guy’s sleeping with the fishes. Or whatever it is the Russian Mob does to people. Yes indeed, Vincent leads a strange life.
The great thing about The Highest Bid is the high stakes game Vincent plays with all the families. The last people you want to piss off is organized crime. It’s like walking up to Tony Soprano and giving him the finger. In auctioning off the lives of these crime members for the past year, he’s managed to piss off The Italians, The Chinese, The Russians, The Koreans, pretty much anybody who owns a gun. Which means all it takes is one slip-up, one person to discover his true identity, and ten of the deadliest gangs in the city will do everything in their power to introduce him to the local sea life.
When Vincent kidnaps a beautiful European woman named Sophie, who belongs to the West Coast underworld leader, Lo Fang, he may have finally bitten off more than he can chew. Get it? Chew? Fang? Never mind. Anyway, Lo Fang is bad. He’s so bad that he kills his bodygaurd for not answering a question correctly. And you know when these crime leaders kill their own bodyguards? ………….. That means they’re bad. A little aside here. If you’re a crime lord, why would you shoot your own bodyguard? Isn’t trust a huge issue in this business? Do you know how long the round of interviews is going to take to get another guard you can actually trust? Lo Fang dude. Use your brain.
Anyway, this is one auction that won’t yield a high bid. Lo Fang wants Sophie back, and he’ll do anything to get her. Including alerting all the other mob bosses to Vincent’s true identity. Vincent then finds himself engaging in a series of increasingly elaborate action sequences, trying to escape the deadly Fang and all the other mob bosses, all the while wondering, “Man, can I even trust this Sophie bitch?”
And that’s why the script didn’t work for me. You have yourself a very cool premise. You use it in the opening 15 pages. Then it disappears quicker than Jimmy Hoffa, replaced by big generic XXX action scenes, which begs the question, why have the hook in the first place? If you’re just going to turn this into a B movie, why waste the slick hook? Why include lines like this one?
Where do you two come from?
Think of Hell. Then think of a place worse than that.
You know you’re watching an action movie when one of the characters is named “Solon League”. Anyway, I’ve made my point. The Highest Bid missed a great opportunity to explore a cool premise and decided instead to turn it into the next Steven Seagal film (not that there’s anything wrong with that – just sayin). Had they prepared me for this, I might have reacted differently. But I was hoping for something that made me think a little more, ya know?
Script link: The Highest Bid
[ ] trash
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: This seems like a rather obvious lesson but don’t abandon the hook of your movie. It’s your hook. Take advantage of it. Milk every last drop from it. At the same time, this is a good reminder of how important a great hook can be. While you’ll never sell a piece of shit with a great hook, producers will definitely overlook some problems in your screenplay if you have one.
Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller
Premise: A renegade group of former space employees travels the world, stealing space equipment in an attempt to go back to the moon.
About: A relatively unknown project that’s being directed by Doug Liman which will star Jake Gyllenhaal. The script was originally penned by Liman with the help of ‘Along Came Polly’ director John Hamburg, but has been rewritten by ‘Black Hawk Down’ scribe Mark Bowden. It’s unclear which draft this is but I’m fairly certain it’s the Bowden draft. Dan Mazeau and Ken Nolan are also credited with working on the screenplay.
Writer: Mark Bowden.
I have to say that Doug Liman is one of the more underrated directors out there. No one gives him any credit for Swingers but the guy figured out a way to balance Vaughn and Favreau’s love for improvisation with a production schedule that couldn’t afford second takes. He went on to do “Go”, a cool kinetic flick that played with time and still managed to differentiate itself from all the Pulp Fiction clones going out at the time. Mr. & Mrs. Smith was a movie I was so sure I was going to hate that I had to literally be dragged to the theater. Somehow, the movie turned out to be a good time. Then he started a franchise in the Bourne movies that had no business being as big as they were – since Matt Damon’s career was basically in the cellar when the first film premiered. His only misstep was the Hayden Christensen starrer “Jumper”, which felt like the projectionist had accidentally fallen on the fast-forward button for the entirety of the movie. It’s one of a handful of movies that actually felt like it chopped off too much film (but we did get to see Billy Elliot all grown up). So when I heard that Mr. Liman would be directing a big-budget semi-sci-fi flick about going to the moon, I wanted to check out the script.
A mysterious group of misfits is stealing rockets and boosters and, yes, even lunar landers from all over the world – even going so far as to leave “I.O.U.’s” in their wake. They appear to be a rogue collection of former space pilots and engineers led by a hot Eastern European woman named Anya. She’s one of those “save the earth” type women…but on like a case of red bull. FBI and NASA officials find out that the group is following an outdated thesis project from an ex-NASA employee which proposes how to get to the moon at 1/10 the cost of any known mission. The author of this project is an Observation Center employee named Cole – a man who has no idea that any of this is going on.
Well he’s about to. Because Cole is the last item on the list. One second he’s staring at the moon, the next he’s thrown into the back of a van, drugged, and when he wakes up, he’s on a mission to the moon. Yes, Cole is sitting in the cockpit of an old rusted Kazakhstan rocket three seconds before liftoff! Cole is equal parts surprised, terrified, and sincerely pissed off.
Apparently Anya’s group has dual motives: to mine Helium-3, a high performance energy source which can only be found on the moon and (I’m not kidding about this) to leave a Monk on the moon to establish a Lunar Lighthouse. Apparently nobody told Anya that the purpose of a Lighthouse is to guide incoming ships to safety. Since the only thing that’s going to be heading towards the moon in the next 20 years is a meteor or two and the occasional Chinese satellite, I’d say Marco the Monk is going to have a a lot of free time on his hands. I hope he brought a Gameboy.
Well, because they’re all amateurs and they don’t have Houston on their side (the American space program refuses to help) they crash land, leaving them in the position of trying to figure out how to get back home. My interest started to fade long before this, but this was the breaking point. First of all, who cares if this team gets to the moon or not? We’ve already been to the moon, oh, what… 40 years ago. I wouldn’t care if you told me my damn cousin was on the mission. Getting to the moon is old. There’s nothing special about it, even if you were able to save a couple of dollars in the process. What’s next? A renegade team that sends another rover to Mars? And maybe the two rovers clash for Martian supremacy? There could be some high drama in that. But seriously, all that happens is that they crash on a place we’ve already been before, and then try to find a way back. What’s interesting about this?
You remember that movie, “Space Cowboys?” With Tommy Lee Jones and Clint Eastwood? The whole thing was about these old men going up into space. But what they did with that script is they added another element to the story. Once they were up there, they found out they had to fix this mysterious rouge satellite. The curiosity of what was behind that satellite added another dimension to the story that made it more than just a bunch of guys going into space. That’s what “Luna” needed. That extra story element. What if they got to the moon and realized some country had a secret base there? What would the people occupying that base do to make sure the base’s existence stayed secret? That’s a story. Trying to get to the moon, crashing, then trying to get back isn’t a story. I’m sorry but it isn’t.
It was for this reason that I couldn’t recommend Luna.
Script link: Luna
[ ] trash
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: One thing I will give Luna is that it’s well-researched. While I wasn’t always keen on the logic behind *why* they were doing this, everything seemed plausible and realistic because of how much research went into it. I believed that what they were doing was possible. A lot of writers don’t do any research but it makes a difference. Readers know when a writer’s bullshitting and professional writers almost always research their subject matter. So when someone comes along that doesn’t, it sticks out like a sore thumb.
Premise: A working-class single father’s world comes crashing down when his son goes missing.
About: Herman just sold the bank heist spec “Conviction” to Universal last month, which opened up the door to sell “Rites Of Men” a couple of weeks later.
Writer: Jonathan Herman
After Rett gets Billy a car for his birthday, Billy heads down to Florida to spend the weekend with his mother. Unfortunately, he never gets there. Billy and his car go missing for weeks. It’s every parents’ worst nightmare. A few days later, they find Billy’s body in some bushes. Rett’s world comes crashing down. He is destroyed.
Months pass and Rett’s life is one big alcoholic binge. The only thing he feels is hate. The cops gave up on his son’s case a long time ago and it’s left Rett with nothing but bitterness. It is by complete chance then that he happens to spot the very car he bought Billy. With a little investigation, he discovers the identity of the driver, a beautiful nurse named Carla. He cons his way into meeting her, discovering early on that she had nothing to do with Billy’s disappearence, and starts to fall for her. He also befriends Carla’s high school son, a teenager who reminds him a lot of his own son. Rett once again finds himself playing the role of father, and the three of them become a weird dysfuncitonal family with a hell of a lot of baggage.
Rites of Men nearly made my Top 10. It’s an excellent screenplay by an excellent writer. Technically, it blows most screenplays I read out of the water. The characters are all memorable, the emotion is real, the dialogue is great, the story never slows, it hits all the beats and yet it never feels structured. It’s just a really good script. Remember “The Low Dweller,” the script I reviewed a few weeks back? This was like that script, except entertaining. Herman really really knows how to entertain.
What yanked it out of my Top 10, and even my Top 25, was a late twist that was too convenient, followed by an ending that was too messy. I see this happen a lot with these scripts. A really smart set-up that loses itself in a blur of stabbing and shootings and geographic confusion – the writing equivalent of when a director shoots a fight scene in super close-ups so you can never tell what the hell is going on. It just didn’t quite live up to the rest of the script, which always had me guessing.
But still man, this script was really good. Herman crafts tons of lines like this one, where Rett responds to an officer telling him to stay strong: “Maybe put your own child in a hole sometime. Throw a little dirt on top. See how strong it makes you.”
Really top-notch stuff. This one’s a keeper. Check it out.
[ ] trash
[ ] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] genius
What I learned: This is a good lesson. Too many writers try to break in with their low-concept scripts. But the reality is, even if these scripts are great, agents and producers know they’ll have a tough time selling them, particularly if the person’s a first-time writer and doesn’t have the track record to justify the gamble. Herman busted in with a way more commercial bank-heist spec a few weeks earlier – something an executive knew he could sell. Now that Herman had a track record around town, he was able to bust out the less commercial “Rites Of Men,” and people trusted him enough to buy it. Go in first with your high-concept or highly marketable idea. Once you’ve made the sale, then bust out the character piece. There are cases of doing it the other way around, but they’re few and far between.