Genre: Family/Comedy/Drama/AlternativePremise: A young boy runs away from home and discovers a group of monsters known as the “Wild Things.”
About: Up until the trailer debuted, Where The Wild Things Are was known more for its troubled production than its potential to be a hit film. This is a 2005 draft of the script, but since it went into production in 2006, it may very well be the draft they used. What’s certain is that in screening the first cut of the film last year and watching kids leave the theater screaming and crying, Warner Brothers knew they had to do some major tweaking to the movie. I’m not sure how much of their changes were rewrites and reshoots and how much was recutting the film, but even though a lot of what I saw in the trailer was the same stuff I read in the script, I’m assuming that some fairly big changes were made.
Writer: Dave Eggers and Spike Jonze
This is something I’m thinking of doing regularly on the site. Maybe not every weekend, but every two or three weeks. So be sure to let me know if you’d like to see more of it. Basically, I want to occasionally review a script from a movie that’s opening that weekend, just to anlayze the film from a different angle (that angle being the screenplay). For the first of these installments, I’ve decided to tackle one of the most embattled productions in Hollywood history, Where The Wild Things Are.
Now before I get into any of that, I have to say that when the trailer first came out for this movie, I was one of many people picking their jaws up off the floor. For something that’s had such extensive negative press, this movie looked…beautiful. I was so blown away, in fact, that I was surprised that anything had gone wrong at all. Spike Jonze had somehow created an aesthetic that was both childlike and sophisticated, big-budget yet independent. It’s rare to see something these days that truly succeeds in being different, but there’s no arguing that Jonze has achieved that here.
Stripping away all the infectious images from the trailer (which wasn’t easy), the script for Where The Wild Things Are was a bit of a strange beast (yes, I went there). If this is indeed the script that they filmed, I’m not surprised at the way the children reacted. There is a boundless childlike enthusiasm that pulses through the veins of this tale, but also a pervasive darkness that sits atop a misguided and unclear message. I don’t think there’s any question that Spike Jonze is a director first and a writer second, so I’m assuming most of the mistakes here were made by him.
8 year old Max’s divorced mother is trying desperately to raise two kids on her own. Her new boyfriend, who sees Max’s creativity and desire to play more as a cry for attention than the sign of a thoughtful child, has only served to create distance between Max and his mom. Normally Max would go to his sister in these trying times, but she’s going through the whole puberty thing, and talking to boys has taken precedence over playing with brothers. To make matters worse, Max is learning about horrible things at school, such as the fact that the sun is going to die out in a few million years. For a boy whose only thoughts used to be where he was going to play the next day, all this shit is a serious buzzkill.
The pressures of the house reach their boiling point and Max decides the best course of action is to leave. So he runs away, finding an unattended sailboat in the local lake. He hops in and steers towards a faraway island. This mystical island happens to be inhabited by large 9 foot creatures called Wild Things. When Max first encounters the Wild Things, it appears they’re going to eat him, but at the last second Max convinces them that he’s their king, and he goes from the monsters’ supper to the monsters’ leader.
It appears that this is where Jonze’s writing inexperience caught up with him. Once the setup is over, your story needs a direction, and it doesn’t look like Spike Jonze ever found one (if he was looking for one at all). After Max meets the Wild Things, they sort of play around for awhile, with the occasionally not-so-vague inference that one of them is going to eat Max (monsters threatening to eat kids plays well to the 3-6 crowd I hear). Each day of playing is also coupled with melancholy ruminations about life and death (death plays well to just about any crowd). Make no mistake, this is a dark and dreary interpretation of a children’s tale, which didn’t bother me particularly, but I can see some parents wondering if it’s the best way to spend a Saturday afternoon. What concerned me was that the story wasn’t going anywhere. What the hell was the point to it all. Then, right as I was about to give up, Max gets the idea to create the ultimate mega-fort, and he enlists the help of the Wild Things to build it. For the first time, the story had momentum, and I found myself excited about the potential possibilities.
However we quickly realize there’s no good reason to build this fort and all that great momentum comes crumbling down. Max figures this out too, as at a certain point the fort is simply abandoned. I guess in a way this is how a child’s mind works. He follows his flights of fancy and as soon as he gets bored, he moves on to the next thing. However, it’s always a gamble to rest your plot on the workings of “how it happens in real life” (as I was just talking about in the comments section for “An Education“) because, quite frankly, real life is usually a lot more boring than the movies.
This leads us back to the primary issue I had with the screenplay: What is it all about? You don’t have a clear story. You don’t have a clear point. What is it we’re supposed to get out of this experience? All I can do is make a guess. Jonze wasn’t interested in telling a story. He wanted to follow a child acting like a child, and if that meant defying logic and convention, then that’s exactly what he was going to do. This was always going to be a random jaunt into an ambitiously creative, but ultimately confused young child’s mind. What we get here was a “feeling” more than a film, and that certainly sounds like something Spike Jonze would shoot for. With what I saw in that trailer, he might have just pulled it off, even if the script didn’t do it for me.
After this great marketing campaign, I can’t *not* go see this. I’m also fascinated with what changes they forced Jonze to make, so a comparison between script and film will be fun. This is one of a tiny number of projects that may be able to withstand its lackluster scripts.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: The writing style here is beyond nauseating. Every single little detail, including what’s going on in Max’s head, is documented. Do not use this script as a template to write spec scripts. It’s clearly a director reminding himself what to focus on come shooting time.
Premise: A 16 year old Oxford-bound girl meets an older man who forces her to rethink her future.
About: An Education has been released in four theaters and looks to expand this weekend. It is considered by many to be an early Oscar contender. This is a 2007 draft, and while the trailer seems to show that very little has changed, I noticed that the name of the male lead is different, which indicates that there have been some changes to the script. It was directed by Denmark native Lone Scherfig, who is probably best known for her 2000 film, Italian For Beginners. Carey Mulligan is said to give a breathtaking “star-is-born” performance in the lead role of “Jenny.”
Writer: Nick Hornby
Scriptshadow is having a weird week. I did a movie review on Monday, which is a first. I’m doing a script review for a movie that’s already out (in 4 theaters) today, and I’m going to do something a little different tomorrow as well. Change is…good? Well, that’s yet to be decided. But in regards to today’s off-kilter approach, I’m reviewing a script called “An Education” because everyone is calling the film one of the early Oscar hopefuls. I thought it might be interesting to read a script for a movie I know nothing about other than that it’s supposedly Oscar worthy. Believe me, I’m feeling the pressure. 90% fresh on Rottentomatoes is almost a perfect garden, so I’m going to feel a bit like the Caddyshack gopher if I don’t fall in line with the establishment.
It’s the 60s. It’s London. Jenny, our heroine (and that’s how she’s introduced to us, as “our heroine”), is 16 years old, that tender age where the general populace isn’t quite willing to take you seriously yet. Her middle class parents, especially her father, care only about one thing: that she gets into Oxford. No doubt Jenny has the brains for it. But does she have the desire? It seems Jenny’s more interested in the world around her than the one surrounded by walls and chalkboards. She loves music. She loves art. She loves the theatre. But it is a world her father refuses to let her explore.
Then one rainy day, a handsome man in a show-stopping car pulls up and offers Jenny a ride home. She’s hesitant at first, but the man seems nice and, well, it’s *raining,* so she figures ‘why not?’ (hey, as long as the person seems nice, right?) The charming Alan is a bit of a curiosity. He apparently never went to college himself and the means by which he was able to aquire this car are as clouded as the foggy London air. But he’s funny and endearing and seems to know so much about the arts that Jenny can’t resist him. He suggests they meet again and as soon as he pulls away, she’s already counting the minutes.
A courting begins, and pretty soon Jenny is sneaking out and ditching school in order to spend as much time with Alan as possible. They go to plays, they go to upscale art shows, and before Jenny knows it, she’s experiencing the luxurious life of leisure, a life that has its own inherent education, one in which many of the arts and intricities of society are learned, but one where the strict world of academia is ignored. We are of course meant to ask ourselves: Which education is better?
The script takes an interesting turn when Jenny’s parents become a part of Alan’s courting. He comes to them in order to okay his forays with their daughter under the pretense that he is helping her out. Alan informs them that he actually graduated from Oxford, and Jenny’s single-minded but somewhat clueless father is obsessed with the idea of Jenny having an in at the school. He falls for Alan’s charms harder than Jenny herself and soon it isn’t just Oxford he’s letting him take her to, it’s Paris. This part of the script actually bothered me. I don’t care how clueless you are. As a father, if a 30 year old man is taking your 16 year old daughter to Paris, there’s no way you’re going to think he’s simply taking her there to “help her out.” I mean give me a break. Yet that is exactly what we’re supposed to believe.
As the script heads towards the final act (**some spoilers here**), I found myself losing more and more interest. The most dramatically effective choice would have been to have Jenny falling hard for Alan, but instead she seems to be wishy-washy in how much she likes him (she’s not gung-ho about his marriage proposal). For this reason, when there’s a rather devastating revelation by Alan in the third act, it’s not as effective, because Jenny wasn’t that in love with him in the first place. This was the last in a string of questionable decisions I think Hornby made to lessen the impact of their relationship. To me, you’re always looking for the best way to maximize conflict and drama in a script. It’s pretty much Drama 101 that you want to make it difficult for your romantic leads to be together. So I’m trying to figure out what it did for the story to have Alan reveal to Jenny’s parents that he was spending time with her. Where’s the conflict in that? It’s as if Romeo and Juliet both went to their respective parents and said, “Oh, by the way, I’m going to hang out with Juliet now.” I guess it might have been difficult to find convincing ways to get Jenny to Oxford and Paris without the parents knowing. But in my mind you figure those problems out if it means sustaining the drama.
This opinion may stem from my ignorance on the setting of the story however. I know very little about 60s London. I don’t know how the average family would react if their 16 year old daughter brought a 30 year old man home. Were Jenny’s parents’ reactions representative of how most families would react? Or did they stray from what the general reaction would be? Knowing the answer to that question would’ve been extremely helpful in trying to figure out how I was supposed to see these characters.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Whenever you’re making a choice in a screenplay, always ask yourself which decision maximizes the drama, which decision makes your story more interesting. The idea here is to keep the drama heightened, not stifle it. I feel that *this draft* of An Education missed some opportunities in that respect.
Got some work to do so Zack Smith will be filling in for me on this fine Wednesday (or Tuesday evening for those of you early readers). He decided to read an older script that got a ton of heat back in the late nineties. It actually sounds pretty interesting. Might have to take a look myself. One quick thing before I hand over the reigns. People have been asking me about the logline contest. Don’t worry. It’s coming. I’ve had to change a few things but I’d look for the official announcement two weeks from now at the latest.
Premise: A software mogul sees his stock fall after an accident, which threatens his mysterious plans.
About: In February 1998, Mike Myers was in talks to star in this Michael Tolkin-directed script, with Sydney Pollack producing. NOTE: This link gives away a plot twist that is not in the draft of the script I read, which is dated a month after this article was posted.
Writers: Michael Tolkin, Stephen Gaghan, Michael R. Perry
Details: 99 pages w/title page (March 4,1998)
The first few scripts I read for Carson let me down, so this time, I asked for an unproduced script I’d read about years ago. I was pleasantly surprised to find I enjoyed it a lot, though I’m not sure how well it would play if it were made today.
In Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, there’s this library of dreams that contains every book ever dreamed up. There’s the sequels that never were, half-finished thoughts, and the best-selling spy thriller you used to dream about writing while on the bus.
That’s how I feel about unproduced screenplays. They’re like the dreams of films that were never made, or at least haven’t been made yet. And if it’s an older script, like Harrow Alley or The Tourist, it’s also easy to think, “what if these had been made when they were originally written, with the stars and directors who originally wanted to do them?” There’s a whole digression about Harlan Ellison’s story “Jefty is Five” here that I’ll skip over.
The problem with older scripts is that while many have their reasons for their impressive reputations, the fact is, they also exist within the moment in which they were originally written.
Sometimes, when they’re finally made, they can be like Unforgiven, which Clint Eastwood sat on until he was old enough to play the vengeful William Munny. Other times, they can be like The Good Shepherd, which wasn’t bad, but still felt slow and overcooked after years in limbo.
This is all a preface to my review of Twenty Billion, which is a funny, well-written script that was an entertaining read. While parts of it still feel very topical, its subject matter – a satirical character study of a software mogul reminiscent of Bill Gates – doesn’t pack the punch it might have had a decade ago.
Gates remains a major public figure, but in the 1990s, when Windows broke through, he was a cause célèbre as he became the richest man in the world. Anyone remember the TV-movie Pirates of Silicon Valley? Ah, Anthony Michael Hall…and Noah Wylie weren’t bad as Steve Jobs neither.
Twenty Billion earned a fair amount of attention in the film press for its Gates-like main character in the late 1990s, and more than one outlet reported that Mike Myers was interested in playing the lead. What I read was a shooting script with numbered scenes, and there was even a website for a storyboarding company that listed this as one of the projects it worked on. In short, this script was ready for the cameras.
But for some reason, the picture never got made.
It’s tempting to speculate that Bill Gates pulled strings, or his Hollywood friends felt uneasy. The more likely answer is that Mike Myers decided to do an Austin Powers sequel instead.
Co-writer and planned director Michael Tolkin was previously known for adapting his novel The Player for director Robert Altman, and writing and directing two films of his own, The Rapture and The New Age.
He’s also done a number of rewrites and fixes, and at the time of Billion, he’d just done some work on the script for Deep Impact, the other asteroid-hitting-Earth movie (okay, so that one was a comet). Some reports on Billion list an Impact-like scenario, which didn’t show up in the script I read, as mentioned earlier.
I don’t know if the script originated with him (it might have been co-writer Stephen Gaghan, who went on to do Traffic and Syriana, or Michael R. Perry, who’s gone on to work on a number of TV shows). But the fact that Tolkin was going to direct makes me feel like his voice played the biggest role in shaping the final script.
Tolkin’s novels and screenplays love putting the screws to yuppies…well, maybe not Gleaming the Cube. His personal works usually take wealthy but immoral people who are gradually reduced to an increasingly desperate state by some sort of world-unraveling crisis. Unlike many of his other works, though, Twenty Billion has an oddly sweet, even whimsical quality behind its dark satire.
The premise is simple: Dennis Morton is the founder and CEO of the Interface Corporation, the most powerful software company in the world. His Interface software is used in most computers on the planet, and he’s about to launch a massive new initiative called “Mozart,” designed to take technological interactivity to the next level.
But things soon go wrong. Much like in the recently-reviewed Father of Invention, a glitch in an older version of the Interface software (in this case, altering the desktop to a specific font in combination with a specific shade of plaid), causes a major mining accident. Dennis, who can’t even remember to put on his shoes, is barely able to comprehend the human tragedy in front of him. He has a problem: He can’t let his stock fall.
Dennis, you see, has been meeting with fellow billionaire and mentor Henry Uberall as part of an inner circle of the ultra-rich determined to make the ultimate escape from what they see as a collapsing society. Plenty of online posts ruined what’s a major twist in the script, but suffice to say it’s both over-the-top outrageous and weirdly plausible. And for Dennis, who’s ill-at-ease with people in general, it’s the final step in separating himself from the rest of the human race.
Problem is, joining this elite group – along with his mom and a female companion he just hasn’t met yet – will cost him…well, see the title. So owning up to his screw-up with the software isn’t an option.
The crisis with the miners also serves as a window into the more unscrupulous side of the software industry. We find out, for example, that Dennis essentially kicked out the partner with whom he started his business, who now harbors passive-aggressive resentment toward him at the social events they frequent. More ominously, there’s the coder who knew there were bugs in the software, but was talked by Dennis into letting the program go out, and is now riddled with guilt and anger.
To handle his crisis, Dennis confers with corporate publicist Charlotte Walsh, who’s equally disappointed in his unwillingness to tell the truth, and charmed by the human being beneath the intimidating-but-lonely figure. Charlotte is married, but that doesn’t stop Dennis from pursuing her, and Charlotte’s husband is so turned on by the idea of hobnobbing in Dennis’ circle that he does everything but tell her to sleep with the guy.
About midway through the script, I realized that what was going on here was a Billy Wilder comedy in the tradition of The Apartment, mixing a light-hearted character study with something darker and more satirical. There’s one sequence, for example, where Dennis invites Charlotte to a late date at his ultra-high-tech house called “House.” At first, it’s silly – Dennis has his very own food court! – then moves into more poignant territory as we find out he has the actual attic from his childhood home inside this massive estate.
It’s also interesting how the script twists your expectations on how certain plot points will pay off. The plot with the disgruntled coder, for example, goes to a very dark place, and one where we kind of agree with the guy. Then it twists things around and makes us ask the question – do we really know what it’s like to be in charge of a billion-dollar company? Could we always be counted on to make the right decision?
Still, the script isn’t perfect. While I enjoyed the tonal shifts, some might find them a bit jarring. And the ending is almost absurdly upbeat, almost like the parody of Hollywood endings from The Player – though even the script makes fun of this. I could see where some readers might feel it’s a disjointed mishmash between real-world satire and a more traditional Hollywood comedy, but I enjoyed the script as much on a second reading as I did the first.
If it were made today, it’d need some updates – the gimmick where the film has a “home page” that takes us to different scenes (using such tabs as “Go,” “History,” etc.) is very late-1990s. And there are some of-the-moment references – for example, Dennis makes an apology commercial starring Jeff Goldblum, just as Goldblum was appearing in Microsoft commercials at the time. I’d forgotten that when I read the script, but it still played well – witness GM’s apologetic post-bankruptcy spots.
The biggest problem this script might have today is that, well, it’s about a billionaire with an excessive lifestyle. That might not play to today’s audiences. And, as I said earlier, a Bill Gates parody might have felt relevant and edgy in the late 1990s…not so much these days.
Would Tolkin have been able to establish the right tone and visual style to bring this to life? Would Mike Myers have been able to dial it down for the role of Dennis? Would this have been the rare satire that played to a wide audience? The only real indicator we have of what Twenty Billion could have been is the script. And it’s a pretty good script…though its moment may have passed.
Script link: Twenty Billion (If you are the writer or copyright holder of this script and would like it taken down, please e-mail me at Carsonreeves1@gmail.com and I will do so immediately)
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] genius
What I Learned: Though Dennis is an internal character, we’re able to learn a lot about him by seeing him interact with a wide variety of other characters (even his house). It’s the basic technique of revealing character by putting him in situations with people who see him differently, and seeing how he reacts. Also, while I’m not sure if others felt the same way about the tonal shifts as I did, for me they showed that combining elements of comedy, satire and darkness in a script provides an opportunity to really surprise the reader when something dramatic pays off in a humorous way, or something silly turns into a more emotional moment.
Backed by J.J. Abrams, Firstshowing.net is reporting that writers Aline Brosh McKenna and Simon Kinberg have sold an untitled pitch to Paramount for 2 million dollars. Since J.J. Abrams is about the closest thing to a surefire quality picture these days, I’m very intrigued by what this project might be. If there’s anyone out there who can give me some details, please e-mail now! Carsonreeves1@gmail.com
No link :(
Premise: A recently dumped sci-fi geek enlists the most selfish heartless narcissistic ladies man in London to be his wingman.
About: One of the lower-ranked scripts on this year’s Brit List. (edit: added) Mat, the writer, wrote and directed a comedy short called ‘Hard to Swallow.’ The short was selected at Sundance and off the back of that he was commissioned by the UK Film Council to write ‘Wingman’, which was his first full length script. He began with Woody Allen’s “Manhattan” in mind, but finished with something a little more…hmm…shall we say, filthy.
Writer: Mat Kirkby
Details: 112 pages (June 25, 2009 draft)
If I were ranking the Brit List scripts I’ve read so far (about ten), Wingman would probably be at the top, by a hair, over Good Luck Anthony Belcher. The script doesn’t have the high concept marketing-friendly “big idea” Good Luck has, but what it lacks in big ideas, it makes up for in consistency. Whereas Good Luck kind of runs out of steam in the second half, Wingman is just getting started. Surprisingly though, this spec made some very basic mistakes, things that make me wonder if this isn’t a first-time writer. Large chunks of description that could’ve been summarized in a couple of lines litter the digital real estate like hot dog stands at a fat camp. After awhile, I just stopped reading them and went straight to the dialogue, which is where the script shines anyway. It’s not “overly cute and clever” funny. Just pure “stems from the character” funny. And the main two characters here are why Wingman works.
33 year old Simon is Sir Dorksimus Maximus Extraordinaire. He works for a sci-fi magazine, unapologetically sets his ring tone to the X-Files theme, and has more trouble speaking to women than a deaf-mute. He was recently dumped by his long term girlfriend, Claire, for being unable to utter those three essential words: I love you. Now he’s out in the singles game for the first time in ages and he doesn’t have the chops or the know-how to swing it. To make things worse, Simon is one of those people who got so comfortable in his own world, he neglected to keep all his friendships. Now, not only are all his old friends married, but they’re not dropping everything to rush out and help a guy who fell off the friendship radar.
This forces him to make the call he swore he would never make – the one man he knows will reserve him a spot in hell. We’re talking about the one man who will join him in the trenches – Britain’s answer to Vince Vaughn in Swingers: DeClan. DeClan is one nasty SOB. Whereas Vaughn had charm, DeClan is more like a hunter, unapologetic in his pursuit of nailing the next hottie. Tucker Max reads *this* guy’s diary. Unfortunately, the epitome of the heartless classless selfish dickhead-dom is Simon’s only lifeline.
Off the two go, DeClan enlisting Simon in his School of Scoring. But it’s kind of like David Beckham trying to teach Stephen Hawking how to do a corner kick. Simon is so underprepared for all the lying, the scheming, and the cruelty involved in picking up women that he always finds a way to screw it up.
But the screwing it up parts are exactly what we came here for. In fact, pretty much anything where Simon is trying to score a member of the opposite sex is funny. One of my favorite scenes is a take on the famous sequence from The Odd Couple where Declan invites over a couple of women for a night at Simon’s flat (hey! I’m getting a hang of this UK lingo). One of the girls is a clueless Russian model. The other is seemingly Simon’s dream girl. She’s extremely cute, a little bit nerdy, and loves the X-Files just as much Simon! He’s finally found the perfect girl to replace his ex. Except the girl’s love for the X-Files maybe goes a little bit deeper than Simon’s, insomuch as she creates tin foil hats the two must wear so that “the aliens can’t hear what we’re thinking.” While no one’s ever personally made me wear a tin foil hat (though an ex-girlfriend did tell me she’d been abducted by aliens once), just the memories it conjured up of all those hilarious dates that went wrong made Wingman, and Simon’s journey in particular, very identifiable for me.
Wingman isn’t pushing any boundaries so if you’re looking for a new way to row a boat, look somewhere else. There are actually a lot of things in this story that don’t work –most of the subplots and secondary characters aren’t fleshed out and as a result, whenever we’re with them, the story slows to a crawl. But when the script focuses on the interactions and relationship between DeClan and Simon, it’s pretty damn funny, and that’s why I’m going to go ahead and recommend Wingman.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: When you compare Wingman and Good Luck Anthony Belcher, I think there’s a reason Good Luck finished higher on the Brit List, even though the scripts are comparable on a comedic level (this is my opinion of course). Good Luck has the more high-concept premise. In having the better premise, it comes off as a more fully-formed idea, which is easier to market and therefore easier to sell. Wingman is no slouch. The idea is simple enough to fit right into the title, and that should be easy to sell as well. But as much as you’d like to “stay true to yourself” and not “sell out,” the best way in for a new writer is always the high concept idea, especially in comedy. Those are the scripts all the execs and development people and producers and agents and managers are looking for. It’s playing the odds, man.