Note: I recently took down the 2nd Fellowship script review, Dream Before Waking, as I learned that it was a vastly different draft than the one entered in the competition.
Premise: In 1918 British occupied India, two 12 year old girls, one the daughter of an Indian servant, the other the daughter of a British Colonel, form a friendship.
About: Our third 2009 Nicholl’s Fellowship winner.
Writer: Nidhi Verghese
We had a brief dip into the high-concept pool with our last Nicholl entry. Now it’s back to the land of socio-political intensely dramatic period pieces for our third, and likely final, Nicholl submission (unless one of you can find me Sand Dogs). Jallianwala Bagh, for those who don’t know, is the site of a horrible massacre that occurred in India during the British Occupation.
Not to belittle the people who lost their lives that day, but what the hell man? At what point would I need to inject caffeine into my veins to keep from going into a weeklong slumber. Page 10? 20? It’s been awhile since I actually had fun reading a script and I was looking for a little escapism here. But the only escaping I was going to be doing was into the dreamworld. Yet I didn’t even have that anymore after having to take down the last Nicholl script. Ah but that’s the great thing about screenplays. Just when you think you’ve got’em figured out, they go and surprise you. As I began to read this, I found myself connecting with the story immediately. There’s a voice here. A story that needs to be told. And there’s a genuine emotional connection you form with the characters (and that the characters form with each other). For that reason, Jallianwala Bagh is my favorite of the four Nicholl scripts I’ve read.
Widower Colonel Foster has been sent to India during a very turbulent time in Britain’s occupation of the country. Indians are getting restless and are retaliating against the occupation more aggressively every day. They are burning flags. They’re attacking soldiers. Gandhi himself seems to be the only thing keeping the Indians from full out war.
Back at Colonel Foster’s mansion, we meet his whip-smart but rebellious 12 year old daughter, Alison, whose Governess, Jane, is the physical embodiment of nails on a chalkboard. Since her mom is dead, and she’s home-schooled, Alison has never had anyone she could truly call a friend. Over in the servant house a new family has arrived, led by a man with more anger inside him than any character I’ve read in recent memory, the imposing and heartless Amarjeeth. Amarjeeth is father to a son and a 12 year old daughter, the curious and beautiful Jusmeen.
Immediately we sense that something isn’t right about their arrival. Securing this particular job didn’t happen by chance. Amarjeeth has no intention of making Colonel Foster’s garden the prettiest in India. He is planning something horrible, and he will do anything, including putting his own daughter at risk, to achieve his goal.
It is for this reason that when Jusmeen meets Alison, we fear that their friendship can only end badly. It is this unique and forbidden friendship where the script really shines. These two girls “from different sides of the tracks” can only meet in secret, as the Indian-British tensions have worked their way into the household. This creates a great source of conflict as we know that if either of them is caught talking to the other, the consequences will be catastrophic.
As Jusmeen and Alison’s friendship deepens, Jusmeen finds herself in a key servant role which allows her access to the entire house. Amarjeeth realizes how valuable his daughter has now become, and pulls her into his plan, forcing her to make a choice between her friendship with Alison and her family.
As I read Jallianwala Bagh, I kept trying to figure out how this script kept me interested, where Victoria Falls lost me. There are a lot of similarities between the two scripts (so many that it concerns me just how open the judges were to all material). Both are about best friends from different sides of the tracks amidst countries in turmoil. What I realized was that Jallianwala Bagh gave the friendship between its main characters more importance, more weight. In Victoria Falls, the opening scene leads you to believe the script will be about these two young boys and their friendship. However a quarter of the way through, one of them leaves the country. The script then switches gears and becomes about the other friend protecting a farm. I think that choice left me cold and, ultimately, confused. I felt like I’d ordered a Big Mac and gotten a chicken sandwich.
Jallianwala Bagh works its way up to the friendship delicately, painting these two young girls’ lives as vastly different, so that when they actually meet, we know that there’s no way their friendship can last. The world they live in won’t allow it. So there’s this consistent urgency beneath every scene – one where we’re always wondering, “Will this be their last time together?” Even when the script shifts into Amarjeeth’s master plan, everything always comes back to that friendship.
It is another friendship, that between Hollywood and India, that gives this tiny story a chance to be made. It may be a period piece but it would be cheap if shot in India, and there aren’t that many locations needed. You might even be able to convince Ben Kingsley to come back and play Gandhi. Jallianwala Bagh is a beautiful and heartbreaking story that I suspect will reward those who give it a chance.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Forbidden relationships make for great drama. Any time you put your characters in a position where, if they get caught, they’ll suffer horrible consequences, it gives their scenes together an exciting undercurrent. It’s no secret why Romeo and Juliet is one of the greatest stories ever told. The consequences for them getting caught by their respective families is devastating. Here in Jallianwala Bagh (a very fun title to type by the way – go ahead, try it) Jusmeen’s father is such a tyrant, we’re terrified of what he’s capable of doing to Jusmeen if he catches her. Forbidden relationships are almost always more interesting than come-and-go whenever you want ones.
You guys voted it as your number 7 favorite script. Now, the lead character has been turned into a woman, the movie’s been shot, and a trailer has been delivered. What do you guys think?
A couple weeks back I got the idea for a Reader Top 25 – a sort of definitive word on the best screenplays that hadn’t yet made it to the big screen. Would the choices reflect my own favorites? Would they be completely different? Well obviously, for a lot of you, this is your only source to read screenplays, so your Top 25 consists mainly of scripts I’ve reviewed on the site. However, there are quite a few that made their way onto the list that I haven’t even read, so that was surprising.
Over 400 of you wrote in with your Top 10 favorite reads. The way I scored it was simple. I assigned 10 points to every number 1 choice. 9 points to every number 2. 8 points to every number 3. And all the way down to 1 point for a 10th place choice. I then added up all the numbers, and ranked the scripts by total points. Below you’ll find the script ranking, along with the point total and premise. If there’s a review, I’ll link you to it. Since I’ve already posted scripts 1-25, today I’ll post the ten (or eleven) scripts that *just* missed the cut. If you’d like to see the Top 10 scripts not reviewed on the site, go here. Otherwise, onward…
Before we get to the Top 25, these 11 scripts just barely missed the cut…
35. (155 pts) Seven Psychopaths by Martin McDonagh – Black Comedy – Reviewed by Roger – A writer’s life is violently turned upside down when his friends kidnap a Mafioso’s dog.
34. (160 pts) Nowhere Boy by Julia Baird – Drama – Not Reviewed – A chronicle of John Lennon’s childhood.
33. (162 pts) Tenure by Mike Million – Dramedy – Reviewed by Me – A professor at a small liberal arts college finds his entire future depends on whether he achieves tenure.
32. (169 pts) Will by Demetri Martin – Comedy – Reviewed by Me – Set in a world where people’s lives are written by angels, a guy wakes up one day to find that his heavenly writer has quit, and must go about his life unscripted.
31. (171 pts) Brad Cutter Ruined My Life Again by Joe Nussbaum – Comedy – Reviewed by me – A former high school nerd who’s finally achieved success in the world, finds out that his company is hiring the most popular kid from his old school. Before he knows it, the company turns into its own high school, and once again, he’s the nerd.
30. (174 pts) Prisoners by Aaron Guzikowski – Thriller – Reviewed but taken down – A Boston man kidnaps the person he suspects is behind the disappearance of his young daughter and her best friend.
29. (175 pts) The Only Living Boy In New York by Alan Loeb – Coming-Of-Age – Reviewed by Me – Coming-of-age tale about a young man who falls in love with his father’s mistress.
28. (178 pts) Happy Thank You More Please by Josh Radnor – Coming-Of-Age – Reviewed by Me – This coming-of-age tale follows six lives in modern day New York, highlighted by a 20-something aspiring novelist who accidentally adopts a 6 year old African American child.
27. Tie (183 pts) Dead Loss by Josh Baizer and Marshall Johnson – Thriller – Reviewed by Me – A crew of crab fisherman rescue a drifting castaway with a mysterious cargo.
27. Tie (183 pts) The True Memoirs Of An International Assassin by Jeff Morris – Comedy – Reviewed by Me – After a publisher changes a writer’s debut novel about a deadly assassin from fiction to nonfiction, the author finds himself thrust into the world of his lead character, and must take on the role of his character for his own survival.
26. (186 pts) Passengers by John Spaihts – Sci-Fi – Reviewed by Me – A spacecraft transporting thousands of people to a distant planet has a malfunction in one of its sleep chambers. As a result, a single passenger is awakened 90 years before anyone else. Faced with the prospect of growing old and dying alone, he wakes up a second passenger who he’s fallen in love with. (note: There is a degree of error that should be taken into account between this and the other Passengers, as some people did not clarify which one they were voting for. I tried to get confirmation from as many people as I could, but there are still probably points mixed up between the two).
And now for the Top 25!
25. (189 pts) Nightfall by Michael Stokes – Horror – Reviewed by Tarson Meads – Two US mercenaries become involved in a brazen plot to kidnap a beautiful and seductive socialite. However, they soon realize the girl they’ve snatched is an ancient Vampire queen, and her legion is out to get her back.
24. (213 pts) Aaron and Sara by Chad Gomez Creasy and Dara Resnik Creasy – RomCom – Reviewed by Me – Described as a “High School When Harry Met Sally,” Aaron and Sara is about a nerd and a cheerleader who become best friends during their four years of high school.
23. (218 pts) Fuckbuddies by Liz Meriwether – RomCom – Reviewed by Zack Smith – A guy and a girl struggle to have an exclusively sexual relationship as they both come to realize they want much more.
22. (229 pts) Galahad by Ryan Condal – Historical Adventure – Not reviewed – A revisionist take on the tale of King Arthur, which finds the fabled leader murdered by Queen Guinevere, who in turn framed Sir Galahad for the crime.
21. (234 pts) Famous Last Words by Josh Schwartz – Coming Of Age – Reviewed on Matriarchal Script Paradigm -A teen embarks on a new life at a private school where he experiences love, life, loss, friends, and more.
20. (237 pts) To The White Sea by The Coen Brothers – Historical Drama/Action – Not reviewed – His bomber hit by anti-aircraft fire, an American gunner must parachute into Tokyo days before the great firebomb raid on the city.
19. (245 pts) Going The Distance by Geoff LaTulippe – Comedy – Not reviewed – A comedy about a couple trying to overcome that most difficult of hurdles: the long-distance relationship.
18. (250 pts) Kristy by Anthony Jawinski – Horror/Thriller – Reviewed by Tarson Meads – In the vein of THE STRANGERS. A student trapped on a deserted college campus comes under attack by a malevolent group of intruders.
17. (259 pts) The Ornate Anatomy Of Living Things by Matt Spicer & Max Winkler – Drama – Not Reviewed – A New York bookstore clerk discovers a museum dedicated entirely to his life.
16. (287 pts) Up In The Air by Jason Reitman – Drama – Reviewed by Me – A professional who specializes in “career transition counseling” is on the verge of accumulating 5 million frequent flier miles.
15. (343 pts) Winter’s Discontent by Paul Fruchbom – Comedy – Not Reviewed – A sexually frustrated widower moves into a retirement community with one objective in mind: to get laid.
14. (352 pts) The Beaver by Kyle Killen – Black Comedy – Reviewed by Scott and I – A manic depressive family man finds a beaver puppet in his garbage. When he puts it on, his life takes a dramatic turn for the better. Or does it?
13. (353 pts) The Many Deaths Of Barnaby James by Brian Nathanson – Horror/Dark Fantasy – Reviewed by Roger – A teenage apprentice in a macabre circus for the dead yearns to bring his true love back to life, but not before encountering the many dangerous and gothic characters that stand in his way.
12. (374 pts) I Want To ____ Your Sister by Melissa Stack – Comedy – Not Reviewed – A stock trader’s hot younger sister takes an entry level position at his work. Now he must fight off all the men who desperately want to ____ his sister.
11. (406 pts) Sunflower by Misha Green – Thriller – Reviewed by Me – Two women are held hostage in a prison-like farmhouse.
10. (418 pts) Passengers by G.J. Pruss – Sci-Fi – Reviewed by Me – Microscopic proteins/aliens ride human beings as passengers for their own personal enjoyment.
9. (433 pts) Buried by Chris Sparling – Thriller – Reviewed by Me – A man wakes up in a coffin with no idea how he got there.
8. (476 pts) Everything Must Go by Dan Rush – Black Comedy – Not Reviewed – A recently fired man finds himself locked out of his own house by his estranged wife, his furniture and things left outside. With nowhere to go, he sets up and starts living on his front lawn.
7. (480 pts) Salt by Kurt Wimmer – Action – Reviewed by Me – A CIA agent discovers there’s a Russian spy deep inside the organization.
6. (518 pts) The Brigands Of Rattleborge by Craig S. Zahler – Western – Not Reviewed – Set in the days of the old West, a sheriff and a doctor seek revenge against three ruthless thugs who robbed them and terrorized the town.
5. (525 pts) Killing On Carnival Row by Travis Beacham – Horror – Reviewed by Roger – In the city of The Burgue, a police inspector pursues a serial killer who is targeting fairies.
4. (567 pts) The F Word by Elan Mastai – Comedy – Not Reviewed – A young man and woman try to stay friends after developing intense feelings for one another.
3. (602 pts) The Dogs Of Babel by Jamie Linden – Drama – Reviewed by Me – 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.
2. (689 pts) The Social Network by Aaron Sorkin – Drama/Bio – Reviewed by Me – A look at the rise of Facebook and the effect it’s had on its founders.
1. (1435 pts) Source Code by Ben Ripley – Sci-Fi – Reviewed by Me – A man wakes up on a train that is being targeted by terrorists, a train that has already blown up hours ago.
My thoughts on The List!
No, that is not a misprint. Source Code received more than twice as many points as the number two script on the list. So pumped to see that because the movie desperately needs to be made. It’s just an awesome script.
Not surprised about The Social Network. An awesome unique script. Not to mention it seems like every writer out there admires Sorkin’s work. A big surprise to me is The F Word. I love that script but figured the concept was a little too simple for some. Glad a lot of people out there liked it as much as I did.
Another surprise for me is The Ornate Anatomy of Living Things. I thought I’d be the lone guy holding the torch on that one. Thought it might be too obscure for others’ tastes. So it was satisfying to see you guys respond to it. Not surprised to see Salt and Buried in the Top 10. Both are edge-of-your-seat thrillers that leave a big impression. Glad to see Everything Must Go in the Top 10. Such an odd story, I thought it would fare worse. Nice to know others dug it.
I Want To ____ Your Sister sorta surprised me. I like the script but I can’t help thinking that if it would’ve been titled something like, “Me and Sis” that it wouldn’t be so high on mine or your lists. Never have I seen a script so dependent on its title. Of the ones I haven’t read, I think I’m going to give “To The White Sea” and “The Many Deaths Of Barnaby James” a read. Neither is up my alley, but you guys seemed so passionate about them that I have no choice but to check them out.
Finally, the biggest shock and the choice that makes me the happiest, is Dogs Of Babel. When I put that script in my Top 25, I thought you guys would think I was crazy. It’s a straight drama. It’s a tearjerker. I figured, “Well, I know I love this script. But is everybody going to think I’m nuts?” So to see that you came out in droves to not only support the choice, but elevate it, makes me ecstatic. I actually talked with the writer, Jamie, recently, and he said to me he doesn’t think it will ever get made. That it’s too weird and not mainstream enough. I told him, “There’s no doubt this will get made. It’s too good of a script.” Now that you guys have proved that there’s an audience for the material, maybe they’ll realize they have something special and get the ball rolling.
This was a great exercise. Discuss the entire list below! :)
A funny thing happens when you start reading a lot of scripts. You become a little jaded. Your standards begin to inch up. That initial giddiness of reading a future piece of celluloid wears off. Is that what’s happened to Roger? Or has the material simply not been up to snuff lately? While you ponder that, I’ll ready my next installment of The Reader Top 25. Expect that around 6am Pacific Time. Also, expect a couple of reviews from the newly announced winners of the Nicholl Fellowship later this week. I know you guys are wondering what your scripts lost out to. Stay tuned and you’ll find out. And now, Roger’s review for “God Is A Bullet:”
Premise: A policeman teams up with an ex-cult member to find his missing daughter.
About: Nick Cassavetes wrote this draft of the script. However, Ehren Kruger (writer of Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen) is set to take on the latest rewrite. The rights to the book were snapped up by Bold And The Beautiful head writer Bradley Bell, who will produce alongside partner Daniel Bobker. Kruger is also responsible for penning Torso, which will be shot by David Fincher.
Writers: Nick Cassavetes (The Notebook, My Sister’s Keeper, Alpha Dog, John Q). Based on a novel by Boston Teran.
Warning: This script ain’t pretty. You’ll probably get sick on the 2nd page when one of our heroes, Case, is shoved into the skinned torso of a cow. I don’t think my co-writer even made it that far. (“I started reading the first page and it was so dark I stopped.”) But that’s just a flashback, and this story has a lot of ‘em.
Supposedly, Teran’s life remains in danger because it’s purported that “God is a Bullet” is based on fact. If it is, color me scared shitless.
Who is Boston Teran?
It’s a name comprised of two cities, which is a tip-off that it’s probably a pseudonym (like Reno Vegas, or Jerusalem London). Rumor-mill palaver says it’s the nom de plume for a successful mystery author. All I know about the guy (or gal, as some people confess) is that his/her’s latest manuscript, entitled “The Creed of Violence” was leaked to Hollywood producers before a publishing contract was even signed and supposedly everyone went apeshit in a war to buy it.
Although people who have read ARCs of that novel say it rocks (and at the time of this writing it’s been out for a week or so), “God is a Bullet” is Teran’s first novel and as a screenplay I don’t feel like there’s any restraint shown in its quest to be noir.
It’s certainly hardboiled, but it’s so pervertedly earnest and over-the-top I got lost in its maze of mass murder and gang-rape. I have to admit, it’s a strange read indeed when the guy who made the “The Notebook” and “My Sister’s Keeper” achieves a Takashi Miike level of depravity.
It’s like the story hits noir, isn’t satisfied, and buries the needle until it reaches Japanese shock horror.
Which, in this case, isn’t a good thing. After last week, I tried to choose something that wasn’t horror, but dammit, horror keeps choosing me.
What, exactly, is noir?
It depends who you ask. Authors and filmmakers seem to be divided on the subject. Paul Schrader says it’s not a genre, that it’s defined by tone and mood. He also says the film noir cycle starts with 1941’s “Maltese Falcon” and ends in 1958 with “Touch of Evil”.
Which this reviewer thinks is bullshit, because people are still making film noir today. (“The Dark Knight”, anyone?) I’m a student in the school that believes noir is a genre unto itself, which can be melded to other genres, defined by the quest for personal redemption against the atmosphere of a sophisticated moral darkness.
It’s more than atmosphere.
Noir is conflict.
Noir is being trapped in Hell, and trying to claw your way out.
And I think noir characters that try to return to the light oughta have a code they live by. If not, then fucking anything goes with no regards for consequence, and “God is a Bullet” has a protagonist that doesn’t so much throw his code out the window, but never had one to begin with.
What’s the play, Rog?
A satanic Manson-like cult called The Left Hand of Darkness kidnap Gabi Hightower after they torture, rape and murder her mother and step-father. Yes, it’s particularly gruesome and the first ten pages are a force of nature.
Bob Hightower is Gabi’s cop father, and he teams up with Case Hardin, an ex-junkie and ex-cult member who lives in a Hollywood halfway house. Case is easily my favorite character, a gal so wounded and consumed with her quest for redemption she reads like a twisted Sarah Connor on meth-amphetamines.
Case escaped Cyrus’ clutches (the leader of the cult) and feels compelled to help Bob find his daughter after she hears about the murders on the news. The ones who walk on the Left-Handed Path are so elusive Case knows that she is the only one who can help. And we understand that this is her destiny, her end-game.
Cyrus is a sick fuck. He makes “life sculptures” out of human beings and likes to pin Tarot cards to the corpses he leaves behind. He indoctrinates converts with drugs, gang-rape (there’s so much gang-rape in this script it becomes a motif), and nasty psycho-sexual satanic rituals.
Bob’s daughter, Gabi, is a fourteen-year old girl, and she experiences all of this.
And you can’t help but wonder if Bob should put a bullet in his daughter’s head if he and Case ever rescue her.
Case takes Bob to the Ferryman, Hell’s doorman. Most of his limbs have been replaced by prosthetics. “As he comes hitching forward, he’s like some biomechanical entity.” The Ferryman supplies Case and Bob with not only artillery and tattoos to transform Bob from one of society’s “sheep” to an outlaw So-Cal “wolf”, but with information concerning Cyrus’ whereabouts.
Cyrus is on rat patrol, working “the border between Calexico and Yuma, picking up drugs brought across the line by wetback mules”. Presumably, this is how he funds his Charlie Manson lifestyle. And with this information, Bob and Case are off to the border to hunt cultists.
Surely there’s some double-dealing and bad mojo along the way, right?
Yep, and this is where the script feels not only pedestrian, but excessive. Most noir stories have some upper crust citizens who turn out to be corrupt, perverted, or just morally evil. In fact, I think the strength of good noir is exploring the concept of corruption, of evil.
And this is where “God is a Bullet” slaps you in the face, kicks you in the balls, and ejaculates in your hair while telling you that these characters are so stained they’ve crossed over into the realm of caricature.
I wanted to burn all of my clothes and scour my skin with bleach after I read this script.
Enter John Lee and Maureen Bacon. John Lee’s the Sheriff of Clay County, California, and Maureen is a wealthy business owner. This is where the plot gets convoluted.
Sam (Gabi’s stepfather, the guy who got his penis cut off in the first few pages?) was fucking Maureen. John Lee likes young boys, but he does not like Sam fucking his wife. So John Lee gets Cyrus and his gang to kill Sam, except things spin out of control when Cyrus and his “war children” hump everything to death and claim Gabi as their new toy.
Who woulda thought that a FUCKING PSYCHOPATH CULT LEADER would have caused so many problems, huh?
Things get even more snarled when we discover that John Lee, and Gabi’s grandfather, Arthur (Maureen’s business partner), have ties to Cyrus that go all the way to the “Furnace Creek Cult Murders”. Apparently, Cyrus’ pseudo-mother owned some fertile Clay County real-estate that these upper crust citizens wanted. So Cyrus kills this woman and Arthur arranged it so the land became his.
All this just proves my theory that the only people who can make me give two fucks about real-estate are Raymond Chandler, Charlie Huston, and James Ellroy.
With the Bacons, you have a woman who likes to have affairs and a man who likes to have sex with boys. There’s something to the dysfunction that makes it feel like the writer is trying too hard. It’s too much…whenever you’re writing about moral darkness, you have to have a counterpoint.
There has to be light.
A drop of light makes the darkness seem blacker. You have to have a point of reference, of comparison. You keep piling on the fetishes and it ruins everything.
The good people that lurk in the background, that live in the community, are not explored. This is only the representation of light, or good, and they are depicted (to use cult-speak) as “sheep”.
Our heroes are so stained they grapple with moments of extreme existential horror and at moments, give in to it. Bob goes from desk-pushing pussy to kill-em-all commando like the writer flipped an abrupt magical switch, and it doesn’t feel like a journey, but a cop-out.
So what happens?
Somewhere in the middle, I disconnected completely from the story. It was for a variety of reasons, but plot-wise, I feel like the screenwriter wrote all of our characters into a corner.
Cyrus is the type of villain that always has the upper hand. Case concocts a plan to hit him in his wallet (and I kept asking myself, does this guy even care about money?) by double-crossing his main drug guy and stealing the money. And they’re going to exchange the money for the kid? It doesn’t feel right. Cyrus has spent his whole life living off the grid, surely he has resources stocked up. He’s toted as the big bad wolf, the ultimate hunter. And our heroes gain the upper-hand by forcing an old-fashioned “money for the hostage” exchange?
I don’t think so. If Cyrus is really smart, he’d just kill the kid. Hunt down Case and Bob. I mean, he sends one of his “war children” to hurl a rattle-snake that’s been loaded with speed at Bob. It’s an absurd scene, but it conveys that Cyrus can strike at any moment, in any way he wants.
Instead, they meet him, they give him the money, and he points them on their way. A van full of his “war children” kick Gabi out, and let them go. Only to start hunting them at night fall. Um, again, they could have just killed Case and Bob right there.
But anyways, this hunt sort of turns into a sunburnt Route 66 So-Cal Road Warrior, and this perked my interest. Yet, after it ended, I still wanted to shoot myself in the face.
To use a noir pantheon analogy, “God is a Bullet” is more perverted Ross Macdonald than classy Raymond Chandler.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[xx] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: As I read this script, I got the sense that “God is a Bullet” is the type of novel you read to be blown away by the language, the description and prose-poetry of the thing. So much so that you understand that the author spent most of his energy on the poetry than on the story and plot. A script like “Big Hole” pulls off the Cormac McCarthy prosaic descriptions because it knows when to use it, and when not to. But this script is a good example of cryptic hipster dialogue gone overboard. It attains self-parody. Some lines work, and when they do, it’s pretty cool. But when they don’t, they really fucking don’t.
Roger back tomorrow!
Genre: Television Sci-Fi
Premise: An alien race arrives at our planet unexpectedly. Although their intentions appear to be peaceful, they may have more in store for us than we know.
About: The original V series debuted in 1984. A reimagining has been talked about for years. Sci-Fi happy ABC finally pulled the trigger resulting in the show’s debut this Tuesday. There has been some waffling all year about how the show was to be presented. At first what was going to be a complete season has turned into a four-episode mini-series. The mini-series approach is gaining favor in the TV business as it provides the best for both worlds. If the show is a failure, the station can celebrate the fact that they didn’t invest much into it. If it takes off, they simply turn it into a series. However, I’m not sure how you prepare a fourth episode ending that both ends the series in a satisfying way, yet also leaves it open for another 150 episodes. — Scott Peters has been a staple in sci-fi television for years. He’s written for The Outer Limits, The Sarah Conner Chronicles, The 4400, and even The Highlander.
Writer: Scott Peters
Every week I get a handful of e-mails asking me why I don’t review TV scripts. I understand where you’re coming from. To be successful in this business, you must know how to jump back and forth between the two mediums. Not to mention the TV landscape is much different than it used to be. Advancements in technology have made some of the top shows indistinguishable, production-wise, from their film counterparts. Even movie stars, who used to shun the boob tube, regularly drop in for cameos and juicy parts. In short, TV has earned a lot of respect. The simple truth is I’m not as plugged into that world as I am features. I don’t really know what pilots are shooting or who has the latest episode of Mad Men. I just don’t follow it that closely. But, you know, if the demand is strong enough, I may make it a priority. It’s up to you. Do you want to see more TV? Make yourself heard in the comments section.
The reason I picked V as my first television script was because it’s about an alien invasion, and the sci-fi nerd in me just couldn’t resist. I’ve already documented my feelings about alien invasion flicks in the past. To summarize, no alien invasion story can ever live up to the excitement the viewer feels leading up to the actual invasion. The height of these films is always what walks out of that ship because it answers the two most interesting questions: What will they look like? and What do they want? The movies never regain that level of excitement no matter how hard they try.
Yet that’s exactly what V is about: Everything that happens *after* contact. The people, the politics, the relationships, the trials and tribulations of merging two different worlds. V seems almost defiant in how much it de-stresses the spectacle that is the alien’s arrival. Taking a page from District 9 (which may have taken a page from V), the series wants to ponder the question, what would it really be like if aliens came to our planet?
We do spend *a little* time on earth before our alien buddies show up though, meeting a handful of characters in a few pages time. Erika is an FBI counter-terrorism agent who doubles as a single mom, trying to keep the reigns on her renegade teenage son, Tyler. Father Jack is a priest whose church is about to close down after 57 years due to low attendance. The seemingly ordinary Ryan is about to pop the question to his wife. Chad Decker is an Anderson Cooper wannabe, desperately searching for a way into the upper tier of the news world. All of these people’s lives are put on hold, however, when the big ships arrive.
Although we focus on Los Angeles, 2-mile wide ships are appearing over every major city in the world. This is the first sign of trouble for the planet, and the first sign of trouble for the script itself. Clearly, this is a two-hour pilot smushed inside a one hour shell. Whether it was budget concerns or caution that dictated this choice, the lean one-hour running time gives us a completely unrealistic reaction to the aliens arriving. I mean just imagine for a second a large alien spaceship arriving over your city. Could you sum yours and everyone else’s reaction in 60 seconds?
Unfortunately, that’s what V is forced to do. And in one of the worst decisions of the show’s early career, they decide to allocate 10 seconds of that time to two stoners arguing about the similarities between this and Independence Day. Although it’s supposed to be “funny”, the dated reference not only falls flat, it completely undermines every ounce of fear we have about the aliens arriving. I’m not going to lie to you. This single misstep made me lose most of my confidence in the show. If the person in charge of the series was making this big of a miscalculation less than 10 minutes into the pilot, what other dumb ideas did he have in store for us?
Unfortunately, there was more shitty writing to follow. Tyler (the teenage son) spends half the pilot arguing with his “funny” sidekick, Bryce, about how uncool they are. If the title “V” seemed too obscure, the network could’ve easily renamed it “Bryce and Tyler Talk About How Uncool They Are.” I’m all for clearly establishing characters, but there’s “we got it”, followed by, “you’re hitting me over the head now,” followed by, “Okay, now you’re just being fucking obnoxious.” Peters takes the obnoxious route. This is like Screenwriting 101 stuff here.
Anyway, as you’ve probably seen in the promos, the bottom of the spaceship turns into a giant video screen, and a beautiful woman known as Anna, assures the people of earth that they come in peace. They’re just stopping by for a little fuel and then they’ll be on their way. In exchange, they’ll share their knowledge with us, advancing many of our technologies in the process.
In the meantime, a clumsily executed sub-plot is dumped on us whereby Erika decides to look into a terrorist cell. Yeah because when aliens land, the FBI’s going to be concerned about a couple of terrorists. That’s where I’d assign my agents if I were in charge.
While Erika’s off ignoring that giant ship in the sky, Anna, the alien leader, wants to hold a press conference. She hand-picks our Anderson Cooper wannabe, Chad, yet seconds before the worldwide interview, Anna makes it clear that she expects Chad to ask questions that will paint the aliens “in a positive light.” Chad tries to put up a fight but Anna says the interview is cancelled unless he follows the rules. The lure of becoming an international news star ends up taking precedence over silly journalism ethics, but not without the requisite close-up of Chad looking very distraught over the decision.
Back in Erka’s world, she’s following badly laid out clues that lead to the phantom terrorist cell. Everything about the investigation feels fake, as if the writer knows where he wants to be, but could care less how he gets there. When we do find this “cell,” it’s actually a secret meeting. And whatever these people are meeting about, it has nothing to do with terrorism, at least not in the traditional sense. (***spoiler***) Let’s just say this may not have been our interplanetary neighbors’ first visit.
As I mentioned earlier, this is a two hour pilot crammed into sixty minutes. Whether that’s a good enough excuse for all its problems, I’ll reserve judgment. Actually, no. Judgment needs to be passed here. The V pilot moves too fast, imbued with an artificiality on top of a situation that’s already artifiicial. Questionable humor and lazily plotted storylines don’t help things. It’s a big red flag when in a pilot, the only episode in a series where the production actually has plenty of time, that so many sloppy writing mistakes are made.
Although this isn’t the V I was hoping for, I’m willing to hang with it for its four episode “run” to see if it gets better. But if this writing is indicative of the rest of the series, I’m not holding my breath.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Erika’s sub-plot about chasing the terrorist cell never rang true. The reason given for it is that she believes the terrorist cell plans to blow up one of the ships. Erika’s supposedly worried that if that happens, the aliens will consider it an attack by our entire planet. This is such sloppy logic it actually hurts my brain. Amidst the arrival of an unknown potentially devastatingly harmful alien race, you’re worried about three terrorists with a stash of cherry bombs? The point is, you could tell Peters himself didn’t believe in what he was writing. It was just a means to get Erika to the final scene where the big surprise reveal occurs. This is usually an error I see beginning writers make, not professionals. You need to put 100% into every single sub-plot. Don’t half ass it. Of course you want to write the big fun revelation scene. But if you neglect all the legwork it takes to get there, you’ll have lost your audience before the moment arrives. The audience can smell your half-assedness a mile away. It’s just like anything in life. People know when you’re not giving your all.