Some good news about the upcoming week. I’ll be getting back to the present and reviewing four – count’em FOUR – recently sold specs. As you may have noticed, we’re getting some cease and desist orders on the script postings, which means those of you checking in late don’t get a chance to read them. I usually post around midnight Pacific time, but if you want that up to the second notification, follow me on Twitter. You’ll know as soon as the newest review is posted.
Don’t forget to always check my “Scripts Wanted” list to the right there. I just added “Conviction”. Loved the script from the same writer I’ll be reviewing next week. Dying to read his previous sale. Does anybody have “Signals” or “Doomsday Protocol?” Should I just give up on them? I’m also looking for any Nicholl-winning screenplays not named Butter. Preferably pre-2008, as I have all of last years.
Thanks to all who’ve have used the script consultation service. You’ve made me very busy. For those interested in getting some awesome notes on your latest spec, please contact me for prices. I’m booked this week but have openings the week after.
Time for some shut-eye so I can watch the French Open tomorrow. :)
We are here. Finally! For those of you newer Scriptshadow converts, you probably haven’t heard of The Scriptshadow Challenge. What is it? Oh man, trying to describe The Scriptshadow Challenge is like trying to describe sex. It’s beyond description I’m afraid. It’s something you gotta feel deep inside you, you know what I mean? I’ll give it a shot though. My buddy Scott (Go Into The Story) and I give you a fairly recent spec script, which you read during the week, then next Friday Scott and I both post our reviews, and you then post your reviews in the comments section. Basically, we’re trying to get a big ole quasi-intellectual discussion going on here. Why did this particular script sell? How did it achieve such accolades? What distinguishes it from everyting else out there? Those are the kinds of questions we want you asking yourself.
This month’s script? The controversial NUMBER 1 SCRIPT on the 2008 Black List: The Beaver, about a depressed family man who finds a Beaver puppet that he wears on his hand 24/7. Of course the beaver puppet speaks in an English accent (cause, like, why wouldn’t he?) and starts to take over the man’s life. Dark, weird, edgy. For awhile Steve Carrel was attached, but now it looks like Jim Carrey is circling the project.
I know there are some of you that are saying, “Wait a minute. You’re going through this big schpiel, making it sound like we’re about to have the time of our lives, and what this all amounts to is you giving us homework?” Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…yeah! Download “The Beaver” here: The Beaver – And start working on those reviews for next Friday.
Premise: A father who is recovering from the death of his wife takes his daughter on a trip to experience the Seven Wonders of the World
About: This original spec sold a couple of years back, I believe for mid-six figures. It will be directed by the writer and produced by Marvin Acuna (The Great Buck Howard).
Writer: Timothy Scott Bogart
The Year of Wonders would make a great journal. The Year of Wonders might make a good videologue. But the Year of Wonders is not a great screenplay. Nor will it make a great movie. In essence, it’s two people hopping around the world talking about someone who just died. There’s nothing present about the story. The focus is on the past. So even though we’re traveling the world, we never really feel like we’re there.
I remember this selling a couple of years ago and thinking it was a neat idea. Being in the presence of the seven most amazing structures/natural wonders on the planet would be the ultimate life-changing experience. The irony is that there’s no sense of that wonder in the script. It focuses more on the pain that the two characters are enduring, specifically the dad, and does so in a very heavy-handed manner. For example, these are the first words out of Lou’s (the daughter) mouth…
Do we choose the lives we live?
(silence, then really thinking about it, before…)
Or do you think we end up living the lives we’ve chosen?
I don’t know about you but I have no idea what that means. The script follows teenage daughter Lou, and her doctor father, Joel, after Maxine, Joel’s wife, dies of cancer. When a messenger delivers a videotape a few days later, it turns out to be Maxine, from the grave, telling her husband and daughter that they’re going on a trip. It will be spontaneous, it’ll be fun, and it’ll be right now. The plane tickets have already been purchased.
Turns out that crafty Maxine was putting together a little video collection on the sly – an international scavenger hunt which focuses on the seven wonders of the world. I can hear the collective groan from cyberspace – and it’s deserved. Whether Timothy wrote this before they came out, or just hasn’t watched a lot of movies and/or TV – the whole “from the grave scavenger hunt” thing has been done to death, most recently in the Hilary Swank Romantic Comedy “P.S. I Love You” which almost single-handedly made me quit movies. So in addition to the other problems I mentioned, the script feels unoriginal as well.
So they go from country to country, getting new videotapes from Maxine along the way, following directions, all while Lou channels her inner Gray’s Anatomy, giving poignant voice over. Again, there’s nothing active happening. It’s all reflection. It’s all following directions and instructions making our two main characters feel like puppets in a show. Drama, conflict, twists and turns. You’re not going to find that here.
The one chance the script had to redeem itself was in the relationship between Lou and her father, which we’re meant to believe is troubled. The problem is there’s nothing in the first act that informs us of this. We only find out it’s “troubled” when we’re told it is in a Lou voice over late in the second act. I’m not going to care about two people fixing a relationship that I never knew was broken.
Here’s a fairly common scene from the script…
EXT. ITALIAN HOTEL – ROOFTOP – NIGHT
Joel and Lou sit on the roof. All of Rome before them, as -
Why didn’t he tell me? Why did he lie? I didn’t even really like him.
(then, so honestly -)
So, why does it hurt so much?
Because it’s supposed to. And you’re supposed to let it.
Joel reaches out and gently brushes the tears from off her cheeks, but now there’s no stopping them, as -
I miss her so much, dad. I miss her every second. She’s supposed to tell me what to do.
This just devastates him -
Who’s going to teach me everything? Who’s going to show me – how to be a woman? How – to get married? How – to hold my babies? It’s not fair.
Joel reaches for her and pulls her towards him -
I can’t breathe…
Yes, you can. Yes, you can.
And as she continues to cry in his arms, Joel is finally the support she needs. Strong. Loving. Embracing. Her father.
And it hurts to write this because Timothy is clearly telling the story from a place of honesty and possibly real-life experience. It’s not easy to bear your pain in a screenplay. But it can’t *just* be emotion. You have to tell a story. And the story in The Year Of Wonders isn’t compelling enough.
[ ] trash
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: The first act is where you set up your story. One of the most important places to focus your attention is the relationships between the characters. If there’s a specific issue between two characters, you have to give us at least one scene that clarifies it. Many writers are hesitant to bring too much attention to these problems for fear of “hitting the audience over the head.” But if you’re too subtle, the transformation the characters/relationships go through later on in the script won’t carry enough weight.
A couple of quick things. First off, horror. I know you’ve been demanding it, but my horror aficionados are busy. Which means *I’m* the only one left to brave the genre. As I’ve pointed out before, I’m not the biggest horror fan. But I’m a huge *story* fan. I like good stories, no matter what the genre. So for you – the people – I’m going to read a horror script for next week. But I want suggestions. Give me something GOOD. Not some excuse to throw fake blood on people. No, I will not review The Strangers 2. That is exactly the kind of script I *don’t* want to read. So give it to me. Horror, zombies, etc. I want something that’s going to make me say, “Hmm, this horror stuff isn’t so bad. I want to read more of it.”
Also, as some of you have noticed, it’s that time of month. No, not *that* time of month. But the time of month for The Scriptshadow Challenge! Woo-hoo! Scott Myers and I from Go Into The Story give you guys a script to download, a week to read it, and then we all get to review the thing instead of just me. So be looking for that tomorrow morning. Scott and I have chosen a script that will surely provoke some discussion. I wonder what it’s going to be. :)
Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller
Premise: A young computer genius discovers a series of computers cooperating with each other. He suspects foul play.
About: Exit Zero is on a few of those “Best Unproduced Scripts in Hollywood” lists. Wimmer has a couple of scripts in my Top 25, including Law-Abiding Citizen (which I seem to be the only fan of) and Salt. Exit Zero was purchased for 1.5 million dollars back in 1996.
Writer: Kurt Wimmer
Exit Zero is about a young computer genius, Max, who begins to suspect that a series of supercomputers are communicating with each other. He mentions it to some coworkers and his superior and their responses are predictable: “So the fuck what?” Just when Max thinks he’s overreacting – BAM – he’s hit with a mass murder charge. ??? What??? The FBI shows up within minutes to arrest him but our young spry Max slips away.
Soonafter, he runs into Sandy, an icy bitch who has some sort of advanced cognitive ability that allows her to see holograms inside newspapers and magazines that very well may be holding subliminal messages meant for the human race. The messages say, “They stopped using subliminal messages in movies back in 1996″ as well as something about “Prepare for Exit Zero.”
The CIA joins in on the chase, forcing Max and Sandy to find out what’s going on before they’re caught (and maybe even killed!). They hop from city to city, picking up clues along the way, and learning that dozens of supercomputers are communicating with each other without any human interaction! Packages are being sent from all over the world to a central location. The question is: What’s in the packages?
Well if I told you , I’d be giving away the big secret right?!
Okay fine I’ll tell you. (***spoilers***) The packages are robot parts, being manufactured during downtime at the factories when workers aren’t around. So then who’s ordering the factories to make and ship these parts? Are you ready for this?? Well, finally the internet has found some sort of central conscious after being fed gazillions of bytes of information for so long. But since it can only do so much as an invisible entity, it’s using computers from all over the world, mainly in car and machine factories, to create a physical embodiment – read “robot” – which it can then transfer itself into.
I’ll be honest, I was kind of into this. But that’s because I’m into anything techno-thriller-like. If it wasn’t so dripping with 90s ideas, I’d like it more. The whole “being able to erase your identity and charge you with any crime at any moment” thing? Sandra Bullock in the “The Net” anyone?? Even 15 years later though, this is still a hell of a lot more creative than that piece of crap, Eagle Eye.
A couple of other problems I had were that the girl was completely worthless. There was nothing likable or intersting about her at all – unless you count her nonsese ability to see secret codes embedded in magazines that no one else in the world could. They don’t exploit any sort of relationship between her and Max- and I’m not saying you have to do that in every movie. But if she’s just there to run around and be annoying, why even include her?
And the ending of this thing. Oh my God. All I can tell you is there’s a space shuttle involved. Why they’re all of sudden in a space shuttle? How they got on the shuttle?? I could probably read this thing 50 more times and I still wouldn’t be able to answer those questions. I just know that Kurt Wimmer was putting a damn space shuttle in that third act through hell or high water. He clearly had no concerns whatsoever about if it had anything to do with the story or not.
And yet still, through all of this, I really dug Exit Zero because the mystery portion of the script was fun. I have a feeling some of you will vehemently disagree, but if you’re like me and “CNET’s” one of your main bookmarks, there’s a chance you’ll enjoy Exit Zero.
[ ] trash
[ ] barely kept my interest
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Get into your story FAST. One thing I constantly see in beginner scripts is writers who take their time getting into the story. Four, five, six scenes go by before we even get a whiff of what the story is about. I’m not saying this can’t be done. But whenever you see it in a film, I can almost guarantee you it wasn’t a spec script. It’s a writer-director or an independent script with a director attached. In spec scripts you have to start the story quickly and never stop moving. In the very first scene of Exit Zero, Max encounters a problem (with the computers). And so right away, the story has begun. Save the ponderous stuff for your first directing gig where you don’t have to win over a reader. In the spec world, it’s all about getting to the story NOW.