Genre: Sci-fi
Synopsis: A couple of UFO crashes cause a stir in a small town.
About: I picked this one out of the pile cause I was in the mood for some sci-fi. Christensen is repped over at ICM and apparently has produced credits, like the recent action flick “Passengers”. This is beyond shocking to me, as you’ll see from my reaction to the script.
Writer: Ronnie Christensen

One day I’d like to write an alien invasion film. I love the idea of aliens visiting us. What would they be like? What would they do? What would we do? How would we react? I don’t think any movie or TV show has captured the essence of these questions yet. You had “V” (which they’re doing an update of), but that invasion always felt hokey. You had the recent “War Of The Worlds”, but that was more B-Movie fun than the way things would really go down. The closest I’ve found to someone actually nailing the feel is a short film by Neil Bloomkamp, called Alive In Joburg. Lucky for me (and you), he’s adapted it into a full length feature that’s coming out this summer. But I digress.

The main problem that writers run into with this subject matter is, once the aliens arrive, what then? Your options are pretty limited because the big hook, the mystery of who the aliens are, is gone. They can wreak havoc, killing everyone in sight. Or they can integrate themselves into society. Invasion Of The Body Snatchers takes advantage of this premise and is one of the more inventive “invasion” films because of it. And Signs showed us an invasion from a very specific point of view with mixed results. There are a few others that have a fresh angle. Still, I feel like there’s the potential for so much more. Does Rift solve the riddle?

No. Not in the least. In fact, Rift is so amateur and juvenile, I’m actually angry I read it.

SETH is a 30 year old private on duty in Iraq (who the hell isn’t these days!!!??? – no more characters coming back from Iraq people!!). He can’t wait to get back to his wife and 4 year old son. When Seth almost dies in battle however, he’s diagnosed with PTSD and sent back to the states. We pick up on the story a year later when Seth inexplicably hasn’t spoken to his wife or child since his return.

The story begins when Seth decides to spend a weekend with his son. He picks him up, they head out to the forest, spot a crashing ship, inspect it, and some sort of alien creature snatches Seth’s son and runs off. I’ll be the first to admit that this probably isn’t exactly how it happened. I was so bored out of my mind while reading this that focusing became a chore. Let this be a lesson to writers. When you receive coverage (from agents/producers) that get all the details about your script wrong, it isn’t their fault, it’s yours. If you can’t keep their attention, they’re not going to care if they get the details right. They just want to get the read over with as soon as possible. Such was my experience with Rift.

Well the government moves in, quarantines the area, sends everyone from the nearby town away. But Seth grabs his wife and the two go on a hunt to find their child. This story element is flawed because we only met Noah, the son, for one scene. And to be frank, I barely remembered him. Just because he’s someone’s son doesn’t mean I have to like him. You have to distinguish him in some way so that I care whether they find him or not. But I didn’t care. Needless to say, this made the rest of the story pretty pointless.

Whoever these aliens are, their thing appears to be a particular kind of blood, that of which Noah (and Seth) have. As the “mystery” deepens, the final “big idea” is revealed (where these aliens are from – I’ll give you a hint: It’s not from another world. Think our world. Think not now. Think….way way far ahead), and well, it’s sorta interesting, but not really. Because again, you could care less whether Seth finds his kid.

Seth finally offers himself to the aliens to get his son back. He’s shipped to their “world” and proceeds to clumsily look for his son. Everything just kinda happens. Someone runs into him and says, “Oh, I know where your son is.” I can’t even handle discussing this anymore. I’m so disappointed. The ending is just…bad. Everything about this script is bad. This should give hope to any below average writer hoping to break in. This is proof that it can be done.

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

link: Rift

What I learned from Rift: This was actually the first revelation I had while reading in awhile. There’s a point about midway through where Seth and his wife get into it. It’s a fight about responsibility, about family, about fear. It’s basically “the big argument” between the two main characters where their weaknesses are revealed. And I sat there wondering why this felt wrong. Why didn’t any of it ring true? And I realized it was because the argument was 30 pages too early. You have to wait until the end of the second act for that fight. Because after it’s over, most of the tension between the two characters disappears. They’ve already gotten it out. So what’s left?

Genre: Thriller
Synopsis: Two college acquaintances have a layover in a small city. When one is kidnapped, the other must find her.
About: A spec that sold a couple weeks back I think.
Writer: Jeremy Soule

After seeing a superior kidnapping film like Taken, I cannot recommend this script. If this really did sell…well, all I can say is it shouldn’t have. Our hero, the 21 year old ZANE, has found himself on a layover with WILLOW, the girl of his dreams. The airline gives them vouchers to some scumbag hotel, and Zane sees this as his one and only shot to make a move. He heads down to her room, knocks on the door, and some crazy tattooed guy answers claiming to be her boyfriend. Disappointed, Zane heads back upstairs but something doesn’t sit right about the guy. He jogs back only to find out that Willow’s gone.

He asks the hotel manager to call the police but the manager says that nobody named Willow ever checked in. He gets back to the room, finds a few clues, and starts his own investigation. Hellz yeah! During the course of Young Columbo’s quest, he discovers that the people who kidnapped Willow are part of a larger gang/organization, and that when the airport opens tomorrow, they’re shipping that bitch out to who knows where (my guess is that it has something to do with female slavery!) He’s got til morning to find her! Oh no!

Annnnnnnnnnnnnnnd that’s where the story falls apart. Willow is NOT Zane’s girlfriend. In fact, before today, he’s never even talked to Willow. He’s never even touched her! So the idea that this random college student is going to run around in an unfamiliar city dodging bullets and certain death to save this girl is…well it’s ridiculous.

Anyway, Zane eventually meets Lia, a hooker/dancer/prostitute who got her own problems n shit but she knows where Willow is. She leads him to the head honcho, Oswald, — struggle ensues. Blah blah blah. Left for dead. Oswald gets Willow to the airport. Once inside, as Oswald pulls Willow through security (she’s drugged so she can’t scream for help – Uhhh, wouldn’t you be just a littlebit curious as a TSA screener if a guy was lugging a half conscious college girl around? lol), Zane shows up just in time to stop him. This is when it gets really ridiculous. If you’re in a public airport and someone is trying to kidnap your girlfriend, all you have to do is yell “He’s kidnapping her!” and the chaos involved – particularly in this post 9/11 world – will at the very least temporarily hold everything up until the matter’s been investigated. I mean give me a break here. Even if he gets on the plane, you just warn the airport the plane’s flying to that a kidnapper will be landing there momentarily. Please apprehend him when he arrives.

Layover is riddled with problematic details like this that make it impossible to suspend your disbelief. I’m sorry but this script isn’t very good. That’s all there is to it.

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

What I learned from Layover: Guys, your main character has to act like a rational human being. No 21 year old is going to take on an entire gang of killers. Give me a break.

Genre: Indy Dramedy
Synopsis: A lovestruck nerd learns you have 500,000 chances to live a fulfilled life or you go to hell. He’s only got 2 chances left.
About: Blacklist 08.
Writer: Sam Esmail

“Sequels” wants you to know that it’s different. No, I mean it really wants you to know that it’s different. The writer/main character (as it’s implied they’re one and the same) tells you right off the bat that he plans to be different. He is about to write something the likes of which you have never experienced before. And I think he succeeds. But Sequels is not as daring and different as it tries to be. As it happens, it’s just different enough.

I have a certain admiration for Sam Esmail. He starts off with these huge chunks of narration and while I’ve seen that before, Esmail never lets up. He just keeps on going. And going and going. The writer of Amelie is disgusted by how much voice over is in this script. In fact, I’d venture that over 65% of his script is narration. As most people pursuing screenwriting know, voice over is considered the butchered technique of a hack and is to be avoided at all costs. For Esmail to so blantlantly use the technique is a big fuck you to the industry, and a big fuck you to writing itself. Anybody writing an anti-love letter to the industry is fine by my standards. I couldn’t help but be immediately intrigued.

The script starts off showing us what a miserable life JR has. He’s desperately in love with Robyn, a girl who will never love him back. She entertains his company more out of pity than interest, gets high with him, and somehow the effects of the weed never die off on JR. He is high for the rest of his life (weird, I know. And no, he doesn’t play this up for cheap pot humor either. In fact, it has little to no effect on the rest of the story) So after 30 years of a miserable life (and always being high), he steps in front of a truck and kills himself. He is then transported to heaven – or at least what he thinks is heaven. It’s actually just a holding point. The 13th president of the United States (now an angel/agent) informs him that you have 500,000 chances to live a complete and fulfilled life (known as “vim”) and that JR has killed himself 499,998 times. He’s got two chances left to achieve vim. Therefore (in his mind), if he doesn’t find a way to get Robyn, he’ll never be happy, kill himself 2 more times, and be sent to hell. (as a side note, I would highly suggest Mr. Esmail watch the Albert Brooks film “Defending Your Life” as this whole portion of the story is an almost beat for beat remake of that film.)

The script doesn’t cop out. It doesn’t spin around and give you a big happy smiley ending. He does get Robyn and they do get married. But just like JR will always be JR, Robyn will always be Robyn. She doesn’t love him. And when she starts banging every cable guy, pool cleaner, tennis pro in sight, JR realizes he’s more miserable now than when he never got Robyn at all. Man, I’m getting depressed just typing this stuff.

What I couldn’t get over is that Sequels doesn’t just wear its desire to be different on its sleeve. It wears it on its whole damn wardrobe. It wants so bad to be unique, defy convention, poke fun at itself, create something that’s never been seen before, that you’re focusing more on these attempts than the actual story itself. Esmail seems to want to create a modern day Citizen Kane here (a film that also notoriously defied convention). But let’s be honest. This ain’t no Citizen Kane.

I give credit to Sequels for trying though. It stands out in a sea of scripts that don’t have an inkling of originality to them and that was enough to put it ahead of the pack (and on the 2008 Black List). I think Sam Esmail is an interesting writer and could potentially create something great. But for that, we may have to wait for the sequel. :)

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

What I learned from Sequels, Remakes and Adaptations: This one reminds me of 500 Days Of Summer. Be original. Find a new way to tell the same story. Sequels is essentially a tragic love story. But Esmail approaches it from a completely different angle.

Genre: Sci-fi Dramedy
Synopsis: A secret supercollider underneath Sparkle Creek, Wisconsin starts wreaking havoc on the town.
About: This sold back in 2001. Koepp alone made $2.5 million dollars off the deal that also included future script commitments. He was supposed to direct it as well, but it never (or has not yet) came to be.
Writers: David Koepp and John Kamps

As you know, when I see a title like Supercollider, I have to read it. “Sparkle Creek” is an older script, written back in 2001, before 9/11, before the ultra information boom, before anyone cared about the Large Hadron Collider potentially stirring up mini-black holes that could swallow up our entire planet. I’d imagine reading this script back then would’ve been quite a trip. Now, I feel like I know this world a little too well, therefore a lot of the wonder was lost on me.

Still, it’s a cool ride. The script starts out with our hero, Karen, a Sparkle Creek cop who’s about to marry the same man for the third time, experiencing a moment of deja vu so intense, she has an emotional breakdown. There are little Matrix-like blips on the screen to clue us in that something is not quite right. Karen meets Howard, a scientist who works up at the mysterious Cyntek offices at the edge of town. Nobody knows what happens up there – and up to this point, nobody has had any reason to care.

But then, in a sacred 3 hour Sunday block known in Wisconsin as a Packers game (if you’ve never been to Wisconsin, when the Packers play, the entire state shuts down for 3 hours – I am NOT exaggerating this) a strange glitch occurs in the air, and Karen and her family watch incredulously as horses run straight through their home! Everyone freaks out, running outside, trying to figure out what’s going on. Everywhere they look are strange waves floating through the air. Images that look like television shows and commercials – but they’re right there in front of you!

Luckily the madness ends and everybody, true to their roots, hurries back inside to catch the end of the Packers game. Karen, though, isn’t satisfied and decides to investigate. She finds a mysterious group of men that she follows up to the Cytek offices and then demands to be let in. She’s given permission to meet the head scientist who turns out to be…Howard (the geeky guy she met earlier).

Howard informs her that beneath Sparkle Creek, Wisconsin is a 28 mile long Supercollider (a large atom-smasher) that is conducting experiments for “the good of mankind.” Supercolliders have a sort of mythical status because they perform experiments that have never been performed before. Like trying to recreate the Big Bang. Unfortunately, nobody knows exactly what will happen if these experiments go wrong. That is until now.

Harold attempts to show Karen how this bad boy works and in doing so, accidentally creates a 3 second instantaenous time loop! Oh my God! What the hell is that??? Well, whatever it is, it inadvertantly rewrites the laws of physics. Up above them the town loses gravity, loses time, loses people (who vanish into thin air), and lose a dimension (momentarily existing in a 2-D world). Before you know it, Sparkle Creek is in some deep shit. The government is brought in and an order is given to immediately destroy the Collider. Howard has hours to re-rig the Collider to go back in time and save the people that were lost. Will he do so before the government shuts him down? That’s the story of “Superconducting Supercollider of Sparkle Creek, Wisconsin.”

Although we do find out what happens to the poor people of Sparkle Creek, Koepp decides to shift gears in the finale and focus on Karen and Howard’s relationship. Sort of a “love conquers all” thing. Was this a good idea? Well, to use a Packers analogy, in the end of movies (4th quarter) you can go with your main story (your quarterback) or your love story (your running back). “Sparkle Creek” decides to go with its running back and unfortunately, the running back isn’t very good. I’m sorry but I just didn’t care enough about Karen and Howard getting together. And sadly, I can’t pinpoint why. They both seem like nice people. And maybe that’s it. Maybe that’s all they are is nice. And I never really saw anything in the characters beyond that.

I would say I enjoyed “Sparkle Creek”, but not as much as I wanted to. I’m always looking for things that bend my brain, that make me see the world in a different light. “Sparkle Creek” merely switched out a 60 watt bulb and replaced it with a 100.

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

What I learnd from Sparkle Creek: The screenwriting books drill into our heads how important it is to make our characters “likable” or “relatable.” We can get so caught up in this, that having them then save a cat, or help a woman across the street feels adequate enough. You still have to let us into their minds, show us their complexities, their faults, their struggles. You have to give us real people so that when you rest the entire story on them in your film’s finale, the audience actually cares. Sparkle Creek didn’t acheive this, and I think this has something to do with the project languishing in development hell.

Genre: Comedy…sort of
Synopsis: A bachelor party goes awry when a hot tub transfers its occupants back to 1987.
About: I guess this is a project that’s been lingering in Hollywood for awhile. John Cusack’s recent involvement has apparently turned it into a Go picture.
Writer: Josh Heald

This one’s been getting a lot of airplay since John Cusack announced his attachment to the project and AintitCool ran an article about it. I have to say, from the title alone I was very excited. It sounded like an updated version of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. But unfortunately, it doesn’t take full advantage of its time traveling premise, and focuses more on the goof-off antics of its four main characters. I smiled the whole way through “Hot Tub” but I never laughed (actually that’s not true – I laughed at the very last line). For that reason, I can’t whole-heartedly endorse the script.

Hot Tub follows Adam, our “soon to be married” bachelor, as he journeys up to a ski resort with four friends for his bachelor party. With him are his best friend Nick, his newly homeless friend Lou, and his estranged younger brother Jacob. The four find themselves drinking and partying in a hot tub, when they are inexplicably transported back to the year 1987. See this is where I had a bit of an issue with Hot Tub. The script stays in 1987 for the duration of the story. When I saw the title, “The Hot Tub Time Machine”, I assumed we’d be traveling all over the place. The fact that we’d be staying exclusively in 1987 was a little disappointing.

Anyway, the characters kind of stumble around for 60 pages, getting into trouble, meeting new people, and getting used to the year. Some enjoy being in the year 1987 (Lou), some don’t (Adam). There’s no real story to speak of – except for Adam’s vague desire to get back to his fiance. Which leaves the script completely dependent on its comedic situations. It then becomes a taste thing (do you think it’s funny or not), and if you don’t, well then there’s no real reason to keep reading. Had the story and Adam’s determination to return been stronger, the reader would’ve easily stayed along for the ride, laughs or not.

What I really liked about the script, however, had everything to do with Cusack’s involvement. If you don’t know, Better Off Dead is one of my favorite movies ever and holds a very strong place in my teenage heart. In that movie Cusack famously squares off against the ski team’s captain who stole his girlfriend. In Hot Tub, Cusack’s character encounters none other than an asshole ski instructor who happens to be dating his childhood crush. If I were in charge of this movie, I would be all over this. Echoing as many scenes from Better Off Dead as possible. These moments were when I was the most into Hot Tub Time Machine (I have a feeling it’s why Cusack got involved in the first place). Is Ricky still acting?

I think the script is good. No better, no worse. Just an enjoyable read. If this indeed goes into production, there are some opportunities to make it great. But the first thing I would do is improve Adam’s connection with his fiance early on and make his desire to get back to her more obvious. If we don’t feel their incomparable love, then Hot Tub Time Machine doesn’t work.

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

What I learned from Hot Tub Time Machine: I’m telling you. Don’t underestimate the need to sell your main character’s motivation in a comedy. In order for comedy to work, there must be truth in your characters’ desire. Taking an extra scene or two early on to solidify that dramatic element, makes every bit of comedy that follows that much funnier.

note: If you want to read a much better script about bachelor parties, read “The Hangover,” which is coming out this summer.