Premise: (from IMDB) In the year 2019, a plague has transformed most every human into vampires. Faced with a dwindling blood supply, the fractured dominant race plots their survival; meanwhile, a researcher works with a covert band of vampires on a way to save humankind.
About: Michael and Peter Spierig are Australian-born brothers who first came onto the scene with a small Australian zombie film called, “Undead.” Co-writer/Co-director Michael has gone on record as saying when he started Daybreakers, he had never heard of Twilight, and became confused when t-shirts started popping up promoting “Edward the Vampire,” as he wondered how anyone had heard of his film (Edward is the name of the main character in both Twilight and Daybreakers). Lionsgate is said to be very high on the film, which is why they’re having screenings a full three months before its release. That’s pretty rare for the control freaks at the studios. Ethan Hawke was reluctant to join onto a vampire flick at first, but his agent convinced him to read the script and once he did, he fell in love. The rest, they say, is history.
Writers: Michael and Peter Spierig
Yeeeeeeeehaaawwwwwwwwwwww! Vampires! I love vampires. I especially love really good-looking badly directed marginally acted vampires. Those are my favorite vampires of all. I’m not sure when it was determined that acting really constipated for 90 minutes passed as a good vampire performance, but there are millions of teenage girls who apparently think it does! Whenever the obligatory vampire craze cycles back into Hollywood, I hold large parties where we all dress like famous vampires. I usually choose Count Chocula, which pretty much sums up my thoughts on the genre.
Okay so yes, I’m not the biggest fan of vampires. In fact, there are only two vampire movies I’ve ever enjoyed: The Lost Boys and last year’s wonderfully moody Let The Right One In (my favorite film of 2008). As you can see, both of them were untraditional, which proves that while I have my preferences, I’ll give any genre a chance if a writer can come up with a unique enough angle.
Daybreakers seems to have tapped into that requirement, as the trailer for the film feels more like a Matrix prequel than a vampire film. The look alone has me mentally pre-ordering tickets for January’s release. That and I seem to have some sort of man crush on Ethan Hawke. He’s got bad teeth, spouts clumsy philosophy, and is consistently annoying, yet strangely, I want to see everything he’s in. He’s like the anti-Orlando Bloom. So when Halloween Horror Week was shaping up, this script shot to the top of the list, which is why I’m concluding this wonderful week with it.
Daybreakers is sort of a Matrix/Blade hybrid. Except it’s not really an action film. There’s a little more thought involved here. Sometimes that gets the script into trouble (I found myself unclear about a couple of things), but for the most part the approach serves the script well.
It’s roughly ten years from today and the world population is almost exclusively vampires. Everything’s been retrofitted to handle this new reality. There are sidewalks underneath our normal sidewalks so that vampires can walk around during the day. Car windows aren’t just tinted out. They’re BLACKED out. Inside, a complex camera-LCD system allows drivers to see where they’re going. Humans are captured and harvested for their blood, kept alive so they can keep producing it. This definitely ain’t Kansas folks.
But things are looking bad for the vamps. There are so few humans actually left, that it’s estimated vampires will be out of blood within six months. Enter Ed Dalton, a blood doctor working at a pharmaceutical company who’s trying to come up with a blood substitute. Ed has a soft spot for humans, and hopes that if he can find this substitute in time, vampires won’t need to kill humans anymore. Charles Bromley, the suspiciously helpful vampire CEO of the company, seems to be in full support of Ed’s research. But Ed learns that while a blood substitute is definitely desired, Charles and his rich ilk will never give up the real thing. Humans will still die. The killing won’t end.
Ed soon runs into a renegade band of humans led by Audrey – so hot she could make a vampire’s blood boil. Audrey and her crew have way better ideas than a silly blood substitute. They’ve actually seen a vampire “cured” (turned back into a human) and they believe, with Ed’s help, they can bottle this cure, and turn all the vampires in the world back into humans.
Since cavorting with humans is considered a big no-no, if Ed is found hanging out with these bloodbags, he’ll surely be killed. So it’s a big gamble. But he decides to take the chance, and sets up shop in an old winery, where he begins his experiments. Eventually Bromley sends Ed’s own vampire brother after him, and it’s a race to finish the cure before they’re snuffed out and massacred.
Daybreakers is a high-concept idea that admittedly requires a bit of a leap to buy into. A world where vampires walk around freely like humans do today? Vampire politics? Blood-spiked cappuccinos? When we see news clips pop up saying things like, “China halts all blood exports,” it’s definitely something you’re either going to be onboard with or you’re not. But the thing is, the Spierig brothers have created such a detailed well-imagined universe here, that buying into it isn’t as hard as the concept might lead you to believe. I loved the underground walkways and the blacked out cars, and how the vampires have created sun protection suits, allowing them to go out in the middle of the day if they need to. It comes at the vampire world from more of a technical angle, which for me personally, is more interesting than whether Bella gets eaten by a werewolf or a vampire.
The script does have a few clogged arteries. We’re introduced to a man named Elvis, part of Audrey’s crew, who is the original “cured” vampire. However the explanation of how he was cured is either vague or lazy, cause I couldn’t for the life of me figure it out, even after reading it three times. He supposedly crashed his vampire protected car and was shot out into the daylight (the shot is in the trailer). Usually when a vampire in this world hits daylight, he bursts into flames. Except for Elvis, it turns him human again.
Uhhh, pardon me but…what?
Because bottling this event into a cure is such a huge part of the plot, it bothered me that a coherent explanation for why this particular vampire changed back was never given.
Other than that, though, the script really moves. It’s essentially a pot-boiling thriller. The good guys have to find the cure before the bad guys find them. There’s a few battles, a couple of nice surprises, and the Spierigs did a nice job intertwining all the characters and making their plights more personal (i.e. It wasn’t just anyone who was trying to bring Ed down. It was his own brother). I also liked the way it ended. I won’t tell you which side succeeds, but I will say that the victory was clever. Daybreakers is a fun read, which looks to have been made even better by the directors’ vision.
Could this be the third vampire movie that I like? I guess we’ll have to wait until January to find out.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Speed up those deadlines people! In the script, the deadline is 6 months before vampires run out of blood. But if you’ll notice in the trailer below, it’s been changed to 1 month. By speeding up that “ticking time bomb,” everything in the script becomes more urgent. Six months is forever. It feels distant, beatable. One month is just around the corner. Psychologically, it feels like it’s bearing down on us, impossible to overcome. If it works for your story, always try to move your ticking time bombs up. You’ll notice an immediate increase in the script’s momentum.
HAPPY HALLOWEEN EVERYONE!
Roger’s back for his second Halloween Horror Week review since, well, let’s be honest, he understands this genre a lot better than I do. But before we get to this werewolf tale, a lot of you are probably wondering what the hell happened to the Reader Top 25 List. After some deliberation, I decided I didn’t want the list to get lost in the midst of this week’s horror theme and the Logline Contest. For that reason, I’ve moved it to next week, starting Monday. Bare with me and hang tight. It’ll be worth the wait. :)
Premise: When Sheriff George Waggner is killed, his son returns to Talbot, West Virginia to discover that the small town has become victim to a rash of brutal murders. The investigation points to the nomadic motorcycle gang that has set-up camp just outside of town, and the arrival of werewolf hunter Noah Packard confirms that the bikers may be more than they claim to be.
About: I don’t know much about the former status of this spec, other than that it was written by the prolific Scott Rosenberg. His first produced script was his fourteenth, “Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead”. Other credits include “Con Air”, “Armageddon”, “Beautiful Girls” and “High Fidelity” among others. It’s said that his stuff rarely makes it to the screen preserved, and his specs “Johnny Diamond” and “Down and Under” seem to be highly praised around the board.
Writer: Scott Rosenberg
A quintessential horror staple and archetype, one of the original Universal monsters that’s sadly been co-opted by the modern demand for the Vampire and the Zombie. The interest for the Vampire seems to come and go in cycles, because in the 90’s many popular authors called for a moratorium on all vampire fiction, but now we’re mired in a popular culture that worships at the altar of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga, the Showtime juggernaut “True Blood”, and the CW’s lackluster “The Vampire Diaries”. And just when you think the supply for the Zombie has already flooded the market, some new George Romero flick or the promise of an adaptation of Max Brooks’ “World War Z” proves that the supply is simply catering to demand and the eternal torch of fan-service.
If “Twilight” penetrating the velvety brain-meats of teenage girls was enough to resurrect the Vampire from movie purgatory, could the arrival of Meyer’s “New Moon” in the cinematic lunar cycle usher in a new pop-culture Werewolf Age? Will the same teenage girls be interested in Joe Johnston’s “The Wolfman” remake, or will they have to be pulled by the hand by their diamond-dead boyfriends? For lovers of the lycanthrope, it’s a good question, and I suppose we’ll find out in the upcoming months, but for now, let’s turn back the page and take a look at a Scott Rosenberg shapeshifter spec from the 90’s.
“Bad Moon Rising” opens up with an Avram Davidson quote, Steppenwolf lyrics, and a 5 page sequence set in Vietnam. A wounded marine is hiding in a bunker from the VC, and a frosty marine comforts his hurt and frightened pal. It gets excruciatingly tense when the VC enter the bunker and the frosty marine changes into a wolf and protects the marine by tearing the limbs off the Vietnamese soldiers before disappearing into the jungle.
Twenty-three years later we’re at a biker rally in Tobaccoville, North Carolina and we meet The Lunar Cycles Motorcycle Club. At first glance, the gang reminds me of the nomadic vampire family in Kathryn Bigelow’s “Near Dark” (a film I hold close to my heart). The whole sequence also evokes “Easy Rider”, “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test”, and “On the Road”. And no, I’m not being facetious or pretentious.
The gang is led by Coop, who is described as “a dash of Kerouac, a sprinkle of Manson, and 2 heaping tablespoons of the coolest guy in high school”. They’re a pretty big pack, but the notables are: Lobo, a ten-year old kid; Mighty Joe, an affable 300 pound mute; Inkslinger, the club’s tattoo artist; and Canvas, the Lunar Cycles’ very own illustrated man, whose flesh is an inked patchwork iconography of the pack’s origin and history.
At Mecklenberg Correctional Center, they pick up the wayward and troubled Locked-Down who has just been released from the slammer. Coop is tired of moving around so much and he wants the Lunar Cycles to settle for a while in Harpers Flats, a tract of land near Talbot, West Virginia, a biker friendly state. Problems arise when their arrival coincides with the mysterious mauling of Talbot’s Sheriff, George Waggner.
As you can tell, Rosenberg weaves in what must be ardor, or at the very least, appreciation, for Lon Chaney, Jr. and “The Wolf Man”. For you neophytes, Talbot is the surname for the original Wolf Man, and George Waggner is the director of said film. And just like in the older film, the innocent love interest for one of our protagonists is a gal named Gwen who works in an antique shop (but we’ll get to that in a second).
Pages 11-20 focus on my favorite character, Noah Packard. He smokes unfiltered Lucky’s, drinks undiluted coffee, and walks with a slight limp. When we meet him he’s at his own marriage ceremony, but when his pager goes off he leaves his weeping bride at the altar for more important business. Because he’s Dr. Packard of the Packard Institute of Lycanthropic Studies and Investigation and he has a grisly murder in Manhattan to investigate. In reality, the police detective hates his guts and thinks he’s a quack, until wolf-hair is discovered in the throat lacerations of the corpse during the autopsy.
Packard has an assistant named Ginny, but she’s quickly out of the picture when Columbia rescinds her internship when they find out he’s a “doctor” of “lycanthropic studies”. But I think the coolest character trait about Packard is that he is haunted by a figment of his imagination that’s named Maleva. “Remember the old Gypsy crone, from the Lon Chaney Jr. Wolfman movies played by Maria Ouspenskaya? This is her. And Noah Packard is the only one who can see her.”
Like Elvis playing a mentor to Clarence Worley in “True Romance”, or John Wayne as father figure to Jesse Custer in Garth Ennis’ “Preacher”, Maleva acts as ego and guilt-ridden conscience to Packard, and they have frequent conversations with each other. Unfortunately, after 10 pages with Packard, we’re told that we won’t be seeing him again for a while.
Because at page 20, we’re finally introduced to the main protagonist, Teddy Waggner. Estranged from his father, he escaped small-town life to pursue his dream of being an architect in Washington, D.C. Upon news of his father’s death, Teddy returns to Talbot to tend to his father’s house and possessions, and hopefully rekindle a flame with the girl he left behind, Gwen Croft.
But when teenagers and whole families begin showing up as mangled corpses, the townies assume Teddy will serve as interim Sheriff. He doesn’t argue with them. Predictably, we learn that Locked-Down is tormented with dreams of “ranging” (running free as a wolf, killing and eating anything that gets in your way) because he’s been in prison for so long.
Even his sister Dakota (who has just arrived from New York, connection?), a white-trash canine fatale, can’t control his nightly murder sprees. The town council, looking to kill the animal that must be responsible for these murders, employs a lecherous Canadian hunter named Abilene Triggs to lead the hunt. Meanwhile, tensions rise between the conservative town alderman (he does not like Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London”) and the merry prankster bikers, planting the seeds for the third-act finale.
We know it’s the third act when Packard arrives to Talbot, ready to kick some werewolf ass. By now Teddy has slept with Dakota (doggy-style), and the exchange of bodily fluids apparently gives him POV-style flashback visions of all the people Dakota murdered in New York, and now, Talbot. The town alderman puts together a mob of pitchfork wielding townies that attack Harpers Flats, and Coop goes off the deep end and assembles the pack for the mass murder of Talbot.
The finale is pretty fucking cool, as the townies and werewolves go to war. And let it be said that these werewolves are the half-man, half-wolf hybrids a la “The Wolf Man”. Sadly, page 112 is missing. And this sucks because page 112 is when the werewolves return to Harpers Flats, which Packard has booby-trapped with Bouncing Betties loaded with silver shrapnel. Apparently, lots of characters die on this page, but it’s alright, because we learn why Packard is so obsessed with werewolves.
The final scene with Teddy and Gwen makes no sense to me, but it gets points for the pure outlaw spirit of the thing.
Rosenberg is a guy I study religiously, and he’s been known to place himself in the “plot is for pussies” school of screenwriting. And in this manifestation of “Bad Moon Rising”, it shows. I think there are wandering structural issues and some freewheeling choices that hold the story back.
It feels too big to be a movie.
But to be fair, the characters are pretty great. Even the secondary characters are really interesting, so much so that you want to know more about them. But this kinda feels like an early draft in the sense that everyone seems to get a lot of screen-time, but I think the spotlight needs to be adjusted so the story has a sense of focus.
Case in point. Noah Packard is the type of character that can steal a whole movie. He deservedly needs a movie of his own, and compared to Teddy, he’s much more intriguing. According to the amount of pages that focus on Teddy and his journey, the message is that this story is about him. The only problem is, the whole time you keep wondering when we’re going to get back to Noah. And everything comes together in the end so that Noah and Teddy have to team-up, but the effect is that of a missed opportunity.
Thematically, I think there’s more weight to Noah’s story and his emotions. It’s simple: His story is just more interesting.
Whereas Teddy’s story feels conventional, and I dare say it, boring. It’s the typical “boy returns to small town to win back the one that got away” story that hurt Rosenberg’s television show, “October Road”. It’s not fresh and it plays flat, almost one-dimensional.
Teddy’s whole situation feels very passive, and the story suffers for it. I suppose if the father-son relationship was shown more, instead of told to us, it’d work better, but even the focus here competes with Teddy’s love story with Gwen.
Final verdict is that the roving cadence of “Bad Moon Rising” feels more novel-like (or the seedling for a pretty kick-ass HBO or Showtime television show) with its large cast of characters and sprawling tangents. For entertainment purposes, not a bad thing, but for the cinematic medium, this wolf-puppy needs a focus that’s not spread thin over so many back-stories and competing sources of conflict.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: For me, a good plot is always character driven. William Faulkner said that character is the engine that drives a story, and I agree. The decisions your characters make steer the plot. When characters make enough decisions that seem out-of-character, then chances are that your plot has taken over the wheel. That’s how plot-driven stories happen. Narrative harmony happens when characters drive a story, not events. At some point, your characters have to take the reins and actively try to steer their fates. Otherwise, it’s frustrating to watch a character just react to the events around them.
Premise: A college girl must fight off a series of hallucinations stemming from a traumatic childhood baptism.
About: Details about this one are sparse. It is either repped by or was sold to Heroes and Villains Entertainment last month (you can learn more about Heroes and Villains here). Riggs has paved his way into the business as a writer, director, and producer of a number of shorts. Other than that, all I can say is that it’s written by someone with the coolest name ever.
Writer: Ransom Riggs
To quote a certain Scientologist, Black River had me at “Hello.” A trusted source, someone who reads a lot of screenplays himself, thought the script was damn scary and insisted I give it a review. I admit I feel like a bit of an impostor reviewing these horror scripts sometimes. I’m not well-versed in the genre which is why you don’t see me venturing into the dark world much (and why I tend to leave those duties up to Roger). But I do like a good scary movie and, in a sense, probably represent the “mainstream” when it comes to horror films. I’m not sure why I put mainstream in quotes there, but anyway, for better or worse, it’s how I approach the genre.
What I loved right away about Black River is that it starts on a frozen river where a religious congregation is about to baptize an 11 year old girl (Henrietta). I’d never seen a baptism in a frozen river before and yet it’s such a strong image, both beautiful and frightening, that I immediately found myself drawn into the story. It also let me know that I was dealing with a writer who knew his shit. Coming up with a scene we’ve never seen before isn’t easy when you consider there’s 100 years of film history to compete with (though I have a feeling I’ve motivated a few cinephiles to prove me wrong in the comments section).
Anyway, Henrietta is the daughter of a preacher and lives in a town that takes its religion seriously. Which is probably why they couldn’t wait for good ole spring to come around – when I’d think it would be a little easier to baptize someone. The church members dig a hole in the ice, then proceed to dip Henrietta into the frozen lake. But during the baptism, something goes horribly wrong. Henrietta’s shoe gets caught on a branch and they can’t pull her out. She begins to drown, and in that moment, she looks down to realize it’s not a branch pulling her, but some kind of arm. And in addition to Sir-Arms-A-Lot, there’s also a girl down there. A freaking girl! Yikes!
Rest assured they pull Henrietta out and are able to resuscitate her. But the young girl is clearly thrown by the events. Was it all real? Or was it just a hallucination due to oxygen deprivation?
We cut to seven years later. Henrietta has ignored her father’s wishes and ran off to college, a world completely different from the secluded religious town she grew up in. She’s also dropped the “–ietta,” preferring to be called “Henry.” Henry, still scarred from that horrifying day, is more doped up than Zach Braff on the Garden State Special Edition DVD. Her life was a series of hallucinations, and pills are the only thing that keep Arielle from visiting her.
Henry eagerly gives in to college life, a fabulous world of booze and non-stop partying – and meets a fraternity boy named Blake who looks like he’s prowling for his next date rape, but is actually a sweet guy who starts to fall for Henry. In class, Henry’s hefty diet of drugs keeps her drifting in and out of consciousness, seriously hampering her ability to learn. After a little investigation, she comes to the conclusion that her preacher father has drugged her up in an effort to sabotage her college career so she’ll come back home.
In a scene that will leave drug-addicts everywhere livid, Henry flushes all her pills away, quitting cold turkey. And wouldn’t you know it, she feels alive again. The world isn’t in slow motion anymore. As this newfound celebration of life begins, her and Blake head to the bone zone, and then they’re, like, boyfriend-girlfriend soon. Has she done it? Has she really rid herself from the prison that’s defined her childhood?
What do you think?
After a couple of days that would make an Abercrombie ad jealous, Henry’s mermaid friend starts showing up again. I’m a little confused how there’s medication that keeps ghosts away in the first place (Is that benefit listed on the bottle?), but for whatever reason, now that she’s off the juice, homegirl who doesn’t seem to know what a towel is keeps appearing everywhere. Accidents start happening. People start dying. Henry has to convince Blake she’s not insane. And eventually, they go back to her old town to try and figure out the mystery.
Black River may have had me at “hello,” but it said goodbye to me somewhere in the second act. It’s in that second act where the script sorta heads off into the Land of Sparse Plotting. I forgot what it was we were after, and as a result, everything felt like a series of independent vignettes, the focus being more on scaring us than pushing the story forward. I guess I lost site of that throughline that ties it all together (for example, in Ambrose Fountain, the throughline for me was the relationship between the husband and wife). That’s not to say it wasn’t there, but it certainly wasn’t there for me. I just couldn’t find anything to latch onto to keep me turning the pages.
What’s upsetting about it all is that the movie starts out on such an original note, and yet later, we’re hitting up scene after scene that I’ve seen in a million horror films before. Going into the spooky basement, a tragic past event that haunts a town, a disgusting burn victim on life support, and of course, you can’t ignore the fact that we’re basically dealing with yet another dead wet girl. For these reasons my patience began to wane with Black River, and while there is some great imagery here that’s perfect for a horror film, the main character’s journey became lost on me. I didn’t really care what happened to her.
This very well may be one of those horror scripts that went beyond what I was willing to accept. It may not have worked for me personally, but if the premise sounds interesting to you, I’d suggest you give it a shot, because there are some things to like here, and my friend certainly liked it. It just didn’t fit into my admittedly narrow view of the horror genre.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: I’m not saying Black River is a big ripoff. That’s not where today’s lesson comes from at all. But the dead wet girl stuff has definitely been done before and got me thinking about a lesson every writer should know: Be inspired, but only to a certain point. We’ve all done it before. We see a movie or read a script that we love, and we immediately think, “That’s exactly the kind of movie I wanna write!” And we go home and we start writing and we’re so fucking inspired that two weeks later we have a finished draft. We give it to our friends, await their praises, but are surprised when they come back with negative feedback. We’ve never been this inspired in our lives! How could they not see the script’s greatness?? Well, what likely happened is that you just wrote a script that was almost exactly like the movie that inspired you. The way they see it, you’ve shown them a not-as-good ripoff of a much better story. This happens ALL THE TIME. George Lucas infamously watched “Heidi” right before the making of the Star Wars Christmas Special and demanded to his writers “make it like Heidi.” The point I’m trying to make is, don’t let a great film intrude upon your own vision. Be inspired, but very conscious that you’re not just writing down a slightly different version of what you just saw. Always be original!
Premise: A family takes over a vineyard, only to find out that it may be haunted.
About: This spec was purchased by Craven/Maddalena Films in 2006. The sale allowed the writer to land the scripting job on the two Boogeyman sequels.
Writer: Brian Sieve
I must admit, setting a ghost story on a vineyard is a great idea. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a horror film set on one before, and yet the large empty space of wine country seems perfect to throw a few ghostly occupants onto. But is that the only unique angle that Ambrose Fountain brings to the wine and cheese table? Or is this just another horror flick with a vendetta-bound dead wet girl?
If I told you what film Ambrose Fountain most brings to mind, I’d basically be giving away the entire movie. So you’ll have to figure it out yourself (it’s not hard). The good news is, the movie in question is over 30 years old, and since they’re remaking horror flicks from 3 years ago these days (In Hollywood, the word “reboot” – even for a film that came out last week – practically guarantees a green light), I’m not going to get too upset that Ambrose is borrowing liberally. In fact, in some ways, this is a nice update to that classic.
Carter Harding is a 38 year old husband and father. He, his wife Kathleen, and their 15 year old daughter, Lisa, have travelled from the bright lights, big city, to live the dream of owning their own vineyard. Well isn’t that sweet. But as we all know, before a vine can grow, it must start in the dirt, and there’s plenty of dirt in this seemingly perfect family. Back in the city, it was Kathleen, owner of her own photography business, who was the big breadwinner of the family. Carter’s purchase of the vineyard may have more to do with stifling his wife’s career and proving himself then it does any romantic view of crushing grapes and hosting wine tastings.
As for the vineyard itself, Carter got it for a steal because the previous occupants all died due to a gas leak. But did he bite off more than he could chew? The vineyard was known as one of the best in the valley, where “I’m trying my darndest” doesn’t cut it. The quality has to live up to the distributor’s reputation. So when the distributor comes along and drops Carter like a cheap Merlot for his bad grapes, Carter finds himself with a lot of wine and no one to sell it to. Since he already put every penny into renovating the estate, he now faces his biggest fear: Maybe he *is* incapable of taking care of his family. Even worse, maybe he’s dragged them into a hole they can’t climb out of.
Faced with failure on a catastrophic scale, Carter comes across some old diaries left by the previous owner, a man named Richard Freemont. Freemont mentions that he started each day by throwing a penny into the vineyard fountain for good luck. He believed that that was the key to his success. On a whim, Carter gives it a shot and the very next day, the previously broken Harvester starts right up. He continues throwing coins in the next day, and the day after that, and each day, the vineyard performs better than the day before.
But feeding the fountain comes with a price apparently. Occasionally the fountain will bubble up blood (totally normal I hear), and of course Carter starts seeing people walking around the vineyard at night. But not just any people. The dead people who lived here before him.
Carter’s obsession with “feeding” the fountain begins to take a toll. His wife thinks it’s strange and orders him to stop. But Carter continues on, and those old family troubles bubble up to the surface, resulting in a series of ongoing arguments, testing the family’s resolve. As if that weren’t bad enough, people from town (like the neighbors and the sheriff) start disappearing after heated discussions with Carter. Carter’s definitely going a little nutty. But we know he wouldn’t hurt anyone.
Or do we?
Your enjoyment of Ambrose Fountain depends on one thing: Buying into the idea that a fountain can haunt an estate. I’ll admit I had a hard time accepting this at first. But once I did, I found Ambrose to be pretty enjoyable. The whole diary thing was definitely cliché, but once that storyline’s established, it becomes one of the best plotlines in the script. It’s fun trying to figure out if Carter is responsible for the disappearances of these other people or if it’s the ghosts on the estate that are taking them out.
One thing I liked about Ambrose that helps it stand apart from typical horror fair, is the treatment of the family, particularly Carter’s relationship with his wife. The inherent conflict there, the struggle for a man to live up to *being* a man, and how he would destroy his own wife’s career to achieve that goal, as well as his response when things start to fall apart, make for some great drama. This wasn’t just about a family running into some ghosts. It was about a family that is forced to deal with their issues because of the arrival of ghosts. That integrated approach to the story gave Ambrose Fountain depth where many horror films have little.
What didn’t work was the daughter character. She’s disgruntled about being torn away from her city friends, but that’s about as deep as her character goes. When she comes back late to play a key role, I’d kinda forgotten about her, so I felt a little cheated. The script is not immune from a few clichés along the way either. I definitely rolled my eyes when I saw the diaries (in Joss Whedon’s “Cabin In The Woods,” where they make fun of all the horror clichés, one of the planted “cliché” props from the control room is a diary) but Sieve found a way to make it work.
Ambrose Fountain is like a really great grocery store wine. It’s tasty, but it lacks the extra punch of something you’d find at an expensive restaurant.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: At times, Ambrose Fountain pushes the boundaries of exposition. On page 17, Sieve really takes liberties in telling you everything about who the family was, who they are, and who they want to be. It’s extensive enough to bring attention to itself. Once the reader starts thinking, “Man, this is a lot of exposition,” you’ve taken them out of the story. And you never ever want to take the reader out of the story, unless your name is Robotard 8000. Some writers just like to get all of their exposition out in one scene so they don’t have to worry about it anymore. And that seems to be Sieve’s approach here (except there’s still even more exposition later). But I think that’s a lazy approach. You should look to spread your exposition out naturally, hide it inside a number of scenes. Know that the more you try to pack into one area, the more likely we are to notice.
I’d like to welcome everyone to the First Annual Scriptshadow Logline/Screenplay Contest. I know you guys are eager to get going so let me explain how this is going to work. Starting today, you have two weeks (deadline: November 9th 11:59pm Pacific Time) to send your logline to this e-mail address: CarsonReeves3@gmail.com. On Monday, November 16, I will publish the Top 100 loglines, along with the writers’ names, on the site.
These 100 contestants will be notified and have two weeks to send me either a one-page synopsis of their screenplay or the first ten pages. On December 21st, I will announce the top 25 from that list. These 25 will then have three weeks to send me their full script. On February 8, 2010, I will announce the winner, as well as the first and second runner-up.
FIRST PLACE – A review on Scriptshadow, which will likely garner (but not guarantee) requests from agents, managers, and producers.
SECOND AND THIRD PLACE – Second and third place finishers will have their loglines posted on the site, as well as a contact e-mail, in addition to receiving coverage from me.
1) Anybody can enter.
2) The contest is free.
3) Limit 1 logline per contestant
4) Loglines are limited to 50 words or less.
5) Loglines WILL be posted on the site.
6) Synopses WILL NOT be posted on the site.
7) The winning script will not be posted unless the writer would like to do so.
8) Anybody who uses multiple e-mail addresses to submit extra loglines will be disqualified. Remember, this contest costs nothing so please be respectful of the rules.
HOW TO SUBMIT
1) Send your loglines to CarsonReeves3@gmail.com.
2) Submissions should contain your NAME, the TITLE, the GENRE, and the LOGLINE.
3) You will receive confirmation within 3 days. If you don’t receive
confirmation, feel free to check back in with me.
So how do you write a good logline? Well, there’s a great website dedicated to just that. If you’re not sure what you’re doing, this is a great place to start. As per the site, here are a couple of examples for reference…
After a series of grisly shark attacks, a sheriff struggles to protect his small beach community against the bloodthirsty monster, in spite of the greedy chamber of commerce.
A doctor – falsely accused of murdering his wife – struggles on the lam as he desperately searches for the killer with a relentless federal agent hot on his trail.
THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE
After a luxury liner is capsized by a tidal wave, a radical priest struggles to lead a group of survivors to escape through the bow before the ship sinks.
I know I originally discussed giving multiple loglines to each contestant, but I’d like to keep this first contest simple and fast. For that reason, you’re strongly advised to only send in a logline for a screenplay you’ve finished. You don’t have that three months, as initially reported, to write the script should you make it into the next round. As for what kind of loglines will do well, there are two: Flat outright good loglines, and loglines that appeal to my sensibilities (see my Top 25 if you’re curious about what those might be). Finally, if the above timeline is confusing, don’t sweat it. Just get your loglines in before November 9th and if you make it to the next round, detailed instructions about subsequent rounds will be sent to you. GOOD LUCK EVERYONE!