Very quickly. I want to apologize for putting up then taking down the Untitled Cameron Crowe Project (Deep Tiki) earlier today. I learned that the draft I reviewed was ridiculously early and not representative of the screenplay they were going to use. So, I’m replacing the review with another review from a guest reviewer. That reviewer is a mystery man. A man so full of mystery that he doesn’t even have a name. That’s not true actually. His name is Zack Smith and he has a blog you can visit here. In the meantime, he’s reviewing a script that inspired all sorts of reactions when it sold last year: Fuckbuddies….
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Premise: A guy and a girl struggle to have an exclusively sexual relationship as they both come to realize they want much more.
About: This was a top contender on the 2008 Black List with 39 mentions. It’s currently under development at Ivan Reitman’s Montecito Picture Company (under the more marquee-friendly name “Friends With Benefits”) as a potential vehicle for admitted “dirty rap” lover Natalie Portman. Liz Meriwether has become one of the more buzzed-about screenwriters in Hollywood, as part of the “Fempire” that includes Diablo Cody. The Yale-educated Meriwether’s sales include the spy comedy Honey Pot and Maynard & Jennica for Scott Rudin. So does this script show if this buzz earned?
Writer: Liz Meriwether
Fuckbuddies/Friends with Benefits is a screenplay with some amusing dialogue and well-drawn main characters. It’s easy to see why this had appeal to some people; it fits into the modern romantic comedy formula that combines some outrageously raunchy characters and/or situations with the more traditional “true love conquers all” ending.
Heck, even the poster seems to illustrate itself – two pairs of feet poking out from under a rumpled sheet, the man’s feet bare, the woman’s with a pair of shoes on.
However, the undated, possibly first draft that I read (there’s no title page, just “FUCKBUDDIES BY LIZ” on the first page of the script), reveals that this isn’t quite the edgy, emotional comedy that it wants to be.
The screenplay involves the history of the relationship between Adam Kurtzman and Emma Franklin. Adam works as an assistant on a horrible sitcom while trying to become a stand-up comedian; Emma is a doctor who works to be detached from feelings in her personal and professional lives. She doesn’t even take her shoes off during sex (hence the potential poster).
The two have encountered each other a few times throughout their lives, but the timing’s never been quite right for them to get together (Emma’s too detached, or Adam’s with someone else).
Adam is a nice-if-not-terribly-aggressive guy who desperately does not want to be like his womanizing sitcom-star dad Alvin. He’s the kind of guy who desperately tries to make the relationship work, even when it’s clear things are not working out. In no way do I relate to this.
Emma has a different perspective: “The way I see it, we’re all just these big dumb animals who, for the most part, just want to have sex with each other. So maybe we should stop beating ourselves up for what we feel and make sweet bone.”
So, after a particularly bad break-up involving his dad, Adam drunk-dials Emma, who as it turns out has recently moved to town. She proposes the idea of sex without strings; Adam, who’s clearly into her, is all for this. All they have to do is make sure feelings don’t get involved, except they already are…
The screenplay falls into roughly three “acts.” The first depicts Adam and Emma’s relationship, leading to their becoming FBs. The second shows said relationship, while both deal with the more complicated feelings under the surface, while the third act deals with both working through the emotional issues they need to understand to be a real couple.
Not bad, right? And the characters have great chemistry on the page. Much of the script simply consists of their having fun or riffing off each other.
However, beyond the appealing lead characters, you have a screenplay with a lot of problems. There’s very little plot, very little conflict, and very little for any of the other characters to do.
There is some clear appeal to this screenplay – it’s a raunchy comedy where the female lead is equal to the male’s part. It’s also a screenplay where the female character has more of the emotional arc, and is more in charge of the relationship.
Still, there’s some question as to how this story is supposed to be focused. Emma isn’t a “Manic Pixie Dream Girl,” but her situation with Adam is very much a male fantasy. In other words, what you have here is a male fantasy scenario from the woman’s POV. Who is the audience for that?
One thing I’d like to see conveyed better is how this arrangement has its drawbacks for the characters. They’re pretty much in a real relationship; they’re just reluctant to codify it as such. Because they’re pretty close already when the situation starts, there doesn’t seem to be much of a jump to a full relationship. They only half-heartedly date other people, and for the most part, they’re there for each other.
The fact is, they’re pretty much dating for most of the screenplay. They have individual lives (Emma at the hospital, Adam at his job), but there’s never a sense of emotional separation in their relationship. It’s simply that they don’t call it “boyfriend and girlfriend.”
That does not exactly make for a compelling conflict.
Neither Emma nor Adam has a potential love interest that suggests competition with their arrangement. Emma has a thing with her boss at the hospital, but the character is only developed over a few scenes, and then disappears from the script. Introducing the idea of this anti-relationship character falling for someone who isn’t Adam is a rich source of potential conflict, but it goes nowhere.
There’s also a serious lack of supporting players. Emma has issues with her mom, and Adam has a comically self-absorbed sitcom-star dad, but those characters only seem to appear when the characters’ issues need to be brought up.
This is a shame, because Emma’s scenes with her mom represent some of the best emotional material in the script – the mom is the only character who seems to have an arc beyond Emma and Adam, and it’s not even much of an arc.
Other characters just feel perfunctory. We don’t learn much about Adam’s friend Eli beyond he likes sex and has two gay dads. That’s it.
The bright side is, as I’ve said, that the lead characters offer decent parts. Natalie Portman could do a good job as Emma; though she mostly does serious roles, her guest-hosting on SNL showed she could be a bad-ass bitch (hell yeah!).
Adam is the more stereotypical “guy who needs confidence,” but there’s some funny potential there. Interesting note on potentital casting: On pages 16 and 36, Adam is referred to as “Jonah.” So the character was clearly named that in a previous draft of the script. Perhaps it was changed to avoid casting issues, but when I see a funny-but-insecure Jewish guy named “Jonah” who wants to be a comedian, I think of…
The question this script raises, but fails to answer, is “Why should we care about a story where the conflict is whether or not two characters will admit they’re dating?”
The buzz on this script is that it provides a unique insight into the world of twentysomething relationships, but honestly, this just feels like a traditional romantic comedy with some profanely funny dialogue. That’s not a bad thing, but there’s a real gap between what this script wants to be, and what it actually is.
Given that this is an undated draft, revisions might have helped give this the structure and pacing it desperately needs, but overall, I was disappointed.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I Learned: While many screenplays rely on contrived situations to create external conflict, just basing a comic screenplay around an internal, emotional conflict can make the final product seem talky and slow.
Creating a greater sense of stakes or conflict for your characters – while avoiding overly-familiar clichés – heightens the reader/viewer’s sense of involvement in the storyline. And while it’s great to keep the focus on your main characters, giving them few other people to bounce off of can also contribute to a sluggish sense of pacing.
Other characters can be used to reveal aspects of your main characters outside of their romantic entanglement, and deepen both them and your story as a result.
Carson here again. Although I strongly support Zack’s opinion, I liked this script quite a bit. I think it’s a fair argument to call it one note, but the note is a beautiful, if slightly quirky, one. The dialogue is snappy and enjoyable and man does this thing move. This is one of those scripts that seems to inspire discussion, which is a good thing.
Sorry, no link today! :(
Premise: A private satellite contractor is sent to Hawaii to oversee the launch of a secret satellite.
About: Cameron Crowe’s next film was supposed to be released this year but got pushed back for unknown reasons. Ben Stiller and Reese Witherspoon were attached at one point, but I don’t know if that’s still the case. Crowe likes to shroud his projects in secrecy, though this draft has been floating around for a year now. There’s a chance this was a “vomit draft”, the first draft meant to “get everything out”, which would explain a lot in regards to what I read. But my sources tell me while there will be changes, all the main stuff will probably stay intact. Having said that, if I were a betting man, I’d say that production got pushed back because of script concerns. There are a lot of concerns here. A lot. And I can see producers getting all jumpy after reading this.
Writer: Cameron Crowe
Details: 142 pages (May 2008 draft)
Cameron Crowe was an inspiration to me growing up. Say Anything. Singles. Jerry Maguire. These were movies that shaped my love of film. The guy accomplished something that no other filmmaker in history had managed to do: He made romantic comedies cool. I could go on and on about how much I loved every single word Crowe wrote but I don’t have enough time or enough space. What I can tell you is how difficult it was watching his movies lose their edge. I wasn’t in love with Almost Famous but I definitely found it enjoyable. The same can’t be said for his next two movies. The one-two punch of Vanilla Sky and Elizabethtown was like showing up to your birthday party only to find everyone dead. There are many negative reactions you can have after a bad film, but the worst is easily disappointment. How difficult is it watching a film fall short of your expectations? Ugh. For me it’s the worst.
But hey, I still love Crowe. He seems like one of the true “good guys” in the business and one of the few people who genuinely cares about making good movies. Which is why this review pains me so much. I say this as a fan. I say this as someone who doesn’t want Crowe to fall back any more than he has: He shouldn’t make this movie.
The script is incredibly ill focused. We’re talking private satellite contractors, Hawaiian military bases, government politics, Afghanistan, a potential war with China, a mystery character in Wyoming, native Hawaiian voodoo, cursed volcanoes, a military that won’t launch without the natives’ blessing. And all this is wrapped around…a romantic comedy??
As I was reading Crowe’s script, I found myself asking the same question over and over again: What is the appeal here? Who would go see this movie? Women don’t want to see a romantic comedy about satellite contractors. And men are going to be weirded out by all the spiritual Hawaiian mumbo-jumbo. And those are just the first two plots. There are 7 or 8 subplots in the film as well. If I haven’t made myself clear, there’s a lot fucking going on in this film. Every writer is told to ask themselves this question before, during, and after they write a script: What is your movie about? I don’t think Crowe ever asked himself that question because it’s just so all the hell over the place.
Brian Gilcrest is 37 and sells satellite systems to anyone who has money. And I do mean anyone. We start off in Afghanistan with Gilcrest explaining to a bunch of Afghani Tribesman how to operate their new satellite. When things don’t go well, Brian goes apeshit (the man has a bit of an anger problem), and as a result, gets killed by the Afghans. Yes, our main character is dead on page 3.
So then we fast-forward to Brian’s funeral back in the states. It’s here where we meet Tracy, his ex-wife and one of the many completely unnecessary subplots. Just as the priest is sending the coffin down, an officer pulls up, jumps out of his car, and announces to everyone that Brian is still alive! I’m assuming this scene is meant to be funny but man…it just felt…off. I mean, this kind of thing would work great in a Will Ferrell comedy. But here? In a movie we’re supposed to take seriously? It’s one of many miscalculations that pop up in the script. But whatever, I’m being picky. We flash forward to a year later where we find our main character on one of the most beautiful islands in the world…
After World War 2, Hawaii’s significance as a defense post diminished greatly. But recently with all the crazy shit going on (those wacky North Koreans), the army wants to have a strong presence on the islands. As a result, a small 60s-styled military town which was once deserted is now thriving again. Brian, who was blacklisted after the Afghanistan incident, is given a second chance here on the island as he overlooks the launch of a joint private/military venture: a secret satellite known only as “Elevation.”
While overseeing the project on the private side, he’s paired up with a strange Airforce Major named Lisa Ng, who represents the Airforce’s interest in the project. Brian is not happy as he thought he’d be flying solo here. The two’s first assignment is to establish a rapport with and get the blessing of the Hawaiian natives for the satellite’s launch. Getting this blessing is so important that the launch cannot be made without it. It is on this trip (to one of the other islands) where the two get to know each other, and learn more about the ancient voodoo myths surrounding the islands, which may or may not end up summoning the Gods if they don’t handle their business.
The natives are skeptical but cool with the launch as long as it’s not military in nature, which Brian assures them it’s not. But later on, in a surprise that you’d be retarded not to have seen coming, it turns out the satellite is indeed very military in nature. When Brian finds out he’s pissed as all hell, but in another subplot, China has blown up a satellite with a ground-based missile, upping the need for a better satellite defense. A decision is on the table. Brian must decide if he wants to have a conscience and prevent this evil satellite from launching, or reap the personal and professional benefits of overseeing the successful launch of one of largest private space ventures in history.
As I sat there after reading this, I went through about 15 minutes of, “Is this just over my head?” Did I not “get it?” Could this be a case of reading a genius script but I’m too stupid to realize it? I was so pained by the possibility that I sent it out to two people. The first one, a girl I know who, interestingly enough, hates Jerry Maguire and loves Elizabethtown. And the other, a guy, who likes all the Cameron Crowe movies I mentioned plus has an unhealthy love for Almost Famous. I eagerly awaited their reactions. So I waited. And waited. The verdict? Neither of them could get past page 30. I begged them to keep going but they both said there was simply too much going on and none of it was any good.
Huh. Talk about breaking criticism down to the bare essentials. But they were right. We don’t know what we’re supposed to be focused on here. We don’t know what the end goal of the story is. I mean, I guess it’s the satellite launching. But we don’t have any reason to care about whether the satellite launches because the stakes of it not launching are zero. If Brian stops it, who cares? I’m sure Crowe would argue that world peace is at stake. If we launch the satellite, maybe, MAYBE, China might get mad and blow us up. Well yeah, and maybe swine flu will mutate into a plauge next week and we’ll all be dead by December. There’s a lot of things that could maybe happen. It doesn’t mean they will.
I will say this about Crowe. The man is fearless. He’s not afraid to ignore the rules and take chances. You have to admire that in an artist. When you look at Jerry Maguire, that movie had a funky structure and a lot of characters as well. But in that film, we really felt that if Jerry and Rod failed, that that was it for them. They were through. And so we desperately wanted them to succeed. I never felt that once in this script.
The one place where the script excels is, not surprisingly, the relationship between Brian and Lisa. Or I should say the early scenes between Brian and Lisa. Brian’s a broken down mess of a man trying to gain back some respectability. Lisa’s this socially retarded company woman who cares only about the next link in the chain of command. It’s all business for both of them in this endeavor but come on. We know it ain’t going to be business for long. Crowe writes these tension filled “I don’t like you but I really do” scenes better than any writer out there. And watching this relationship evolve was the lone shining star in the script. Unfortunately the characters become causalities of the sprawling unfocused story. After awhile, they just get swallowed up.
Speaking of the military I should get a medal for summarizing this script. The above is a supremely simplified version of what I read. There are tons of characters and countries and motivations and storylines involved that I didn’t even touch upon. Partly because it would be too confusing and partly because I didn’t understand them. I applaud Crowe for exploring such a unique world. But ultimately this story doesn’t work on any level. It pains me to say this about one of my idols, but if I were Crowe, I would not make this film. It simply isn’t a good story.
[x] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: In a world where nobody gives you their honest opinion, how do you know when something you’ve written is bad (or good)? There’s no full-proof way to find out. But there are some things you can do. First of all, know that whatever friends and family say, they’re usually embellishing by up to 20-30%. So If they say they liked it, that probably means they thought it was average. If they say they loved it, it probably means they thought it was good. A good idea is to ask them pointed questions. What did you think of the protag? Did you like the relationship between the leads? Was the final act satisfying? If the friend is excited to talk about these things, chances are they were at least into it. If they seem disinterested and keep their answers short, chances are they weren’t. If you really really really want an honest opinion, have your friends give it to someone who doesn’t know you. Have them tell the person that they have no personal connection to the writer but need to know if the script is great or sucks. Make sure your friend asks them key questions afterwards. It’s not easy to find someone to read a stranger’s script, but I promise you, you will get that completely unbiased opinion you’re looking for if you do. I’ve found that being able to read people helps as well. The way someone talks can give away whether they loved or hated your masterpiece. If they’re reciting their favorite scenes to you unprovoked. If they say things like, “Did you really write this?” If they ask you two weeks or two months down the line, “What’s going on with that script?”, these are signs that you have something good. And of course, try to get as many opinions as possible. It’s not easy (this generation – more than any other – hates to read) but if you can convince a group of people to give you feedback, you can get a good sense if what you’re writing is good or bad. — P.S. Any other suggestions on this issue are welcome in the comments.
Premise: A look at Jim Henson’s life, the creator of the most famous puppet franchise of all time, The Muppets.
About: Weekes did not sell this script, but the script has gotten so much attention around town that he landed a lot of work from it, most notably the rewrite of the high profile project “Waterproof” for Legendary Pictures. (This is an important thing to note for aspiring screenwriters. You don’t have to sell a script to make money. It’s far more common that your script(s) becomes a resume of sorts. If someone likes what they see, they’ll give you a job writing one of their films). Edit: Now someone is pointing out in the comments that Henson’s company did indeed buy this and is producing it. I haven’t been able to confirm this so might someone from the project e-mail me and let me know?
Writer: Christopher Weekes
I hate the word “genius”. It’s become so overused I don’t even think it means anything anymore. Like when people call Tiger Woods a “genius”. Tiger Woods plays a sport where you put a ball in a hole. I don’t care if the man hits a hole in one every time he pulls out his driver. Under no circumstances should a golfer be labeled a “genius.” Albert Einstein was a genius. The Wright Brothers were geniuses. J.R. Tolkien was a genius. There’s a reason you rarely see me give a script a “genius” rating, because when I give that rating, I want it to mean something. But as long as we’re on the subject, I think Jim Henson was a genius. He created an entire universe of characters out of an artform many considered to be long dead. There was no roadmap for what he did. There was no “how-to” book. He just made it up as he went along. And to come up with something so complete, so alive, so unique, is one of the greatest achievements in the history of entertainment.
So it was with great interest that I dove into this offbeat screenplay, only to find myself swimming through one of the more schizophrenic pieces of drama I’ve ever encountered. I’m just going to say it straight up: The Muppet Man bored me to tears for 115 pages, then made me an emotional wreck the final 20. I would go so far as to say the final 20 pages of this screenplay would be one of the most memorable and emotional sequences ever filmed. I could not sleep after reading this screenplay, it hit me so hard. So how did I end up weeping like a little girl during a script that initially I couldn’t even muster up the energy to turn the pages on?
Well it starts with the biopic. I hate’em. And here’s why. How do you break down someone’s life into 2 hours? Or maybe this is a better question: Could you sum up your life in two hours? I certainly hope not. That would make for one boring life. But that’s only the beginning of this genre’s problems. Movies like short time periods. A life is a long time period. Movies like 3 acts. A life has 100 acts. In movies you pick when stuff happens to your character. In life, you’re locked into what happens to your character. And I’m not saying there haven’t been successes in the genre, but it usually plays out the same old boring way: We get a glorified documentary of a person’s life. And for a big old chunk of The Muppet Man, that’s how I felt.
It’s not that Weekes doesn’t attempt to dramatize the action. It’s that he doesn’t have a lot to work with. There’s a thin mystery surrounding Jim’s health going on in the present. When we jump into the past, we see his brother die as well as the life-long courting of his eventual wife. But all these things play out like set decoration – like background music in a play we can only hear. And here’s why:
I never cared about Jim Henson.
He’s introverted. He keeps to himself. We never know what he’s thinking. He’s passive. Do these things ring an alarm to any longtime writers out there? Yes, these are the things that you NEVER WANT YOUR MAIN CHARACTER TO BE. Characters who keep to themselves are always boring on film. If we don’t know what you’re thinking, how can we identify with or care about you? Scene after scene you’re dying for Henson to give you something – anything – but it never happens.
The script has a few sparks though. Its best moments come when the original muppets sneak in to have discussions with Jim. They very much mimic Jim’s energy: melancholy, beat up, tired. When we meet Kermit he’s 20 years older with gray hair and a pot belly. These muppets are not the muppets of your past. They’re at the end of their lives, like Jim, and there’s this overwhelming feeling of sadness watching them. Mrs. Piggy has gone on to marry another animal, and Kermit wants Henson’s advice on what he should do about it. I don’t really know how to describe it other than it just feels so…sad. Cartoon characters (puppet characters) aren’t supposed to grow old. They aren’t supposed to be serious. So when we see them experiencing problems just like us. When we see their age and realize that they’re mortal just like we are, it affects you in a way like nothing else ever has.
Which brings us to that ending I’ve been talking about so much. How did The Muppet Man turn into the most emotional finale since a certain giant ship sank ten years ago? It starts with Jim’s death. Jim Henson didn’t have cancer. Jim Henson didn’t have a heart attack. Jim Henson wasn’t in a car accident. He had a bout of the flu which he ignored for two weeks. He was tired all the time. He would involuntarily pass out. But because his personality was such that he never wanted to bother anyone, instead of going to the hospital, he waited for it to pass. But it didn’t pass. In fact, before he knew it he was coughing up blood and even *then* his ex-wife had to convince him to go to the hospital. They made it there before he died, but his condition was so advanced that the doctors couldn’t save him. He went into toxic shock within hours, then a coma, and less than a day later, he passed away.
I didn’t watch Michael Jackson’s funeral. But people tell me it was extremely emotional. From everything I’ve heard, Jim Henson’s funeral was one of the most memorable funerals in history. And if the script’s account is any indication, I have no doubt about the accuracy of this statement. As Jim lay dying in the hospital – hoping that the drugs would take effect in time – he wrote his children a letter. Jim’s son read that letter during his eulogy. When he finishes these heartwrenching last words, he looks out at the crowd. And when we turn around to see what he sees, there aren’t just hundreds of people staring back at him, but all of the puppets Jim Henson had ever created.
From Wikipedia: In the final minutes of the two-and-a-half hour service, six of the core Muppet performers sang, in their characters’ voices, a medley of Jim Henson’s favorite songs, culminating in a performance of “Just One Person” that began with Richard Hunt singing alone, as Scooter. “As each verse progressed,” Henson employee Chris Barry recalled, “each Muppeteer joined in with their own Muppets until the stage was filled with all the Muppet performers and their beloved characters.” The funeral was later described by LIFE as “an epic and almost unbearably moving event.”
And if that scene doesn’t get you, in a brilliant touch, the final scene actually plays out in the muppet world. But not the muppet world of yesteryear. The one of today, with the old muppets, and Kermit The Frog desperately trying to find Miss Piggy to tell her that he loves her. If you don’t need a towel to clean off your keyboard at the end of this scene, there’s a good chance you don’t have emotions.
If you want to go that extra mile and really emotionally invest yourself in this experience, do what I did, go over to Youtube, and watch as many Muppets clips as you can. You begin to see what I couldn’t see at the outset of this screenplay – which is the love for life Jim Henson had, if only through the world of his puppets.
I’ll be interested to hear what you guys think about this one, but in the meantime, since I’m having such a difficult time categorizing the script, I’m going to cheat…
First 115 pages:
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
Last 20 pages:
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
Script link: Link taken down. :(
What I learned: I was recently reading Lucy V’s blog and she had a great article on the dubious second act. The second act is generally referred to as “conflict” because that’s what you want your character to encounter: CONFLICT. If there’s not enough conflict, the second act will feel bland. That’s exactly how I felt about The Muppet Man. There simply wasn’t enough drama to keep us involved in the story. Always remember that in order to propel your story forward, you need lots of conflict in your second act. And as Lucy says, throw your characters into the fire. Make it bad for them. It’s always more interesting watching a character struggle through tough times than seeing him waltz through life without a care.
Premise: The oldest son of the Ashby fortune comes back to take over his family’s billion dollar company. There’s only one problem. He’s supposed to be dead.
About: Not much is known about this project. William Wheeler (The Hoax) was hired to adapt the novel, “Brat Farrar”, which was originally written in 1950. The novel is either a classic or a cult favorite, depending on who you talk to, and has inspired quite a few stage productions, as well as a UK miniseries back in 1986. Producers have been trying to turn it into a proper movie since its publication.
Writer: William Wheeler (based on the novel “Brat Farrar” by Josephine Tey)
If there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, it’s probably on Fishers Island, where financial titans go to battle for the creme de la creme of North American real estate. It also happens to be the home of the Ashbys and their four children: Patrick, Ellie, Simon, and Elenor. Despite owning the second largest company in the United States, the tight-knit group is fairly grounded, as their father is a firm believer in family above all else. We actually meet him on an evening where he reinforces this point to his children. Whatever may happen in the world, stick together, support each other, and love one another. If you do that, you’ll live a happy life. He then proceeds to get on a helicopter with their mother, and crash into the lake. There are no survivors. In an instant, the Ashby children are orphans. Patrick, the oldest and leader of the group, is so distraught that a few days later, he swims out into the lake and allows himself to drown, his body never to be found again.
Flash-forward 14 years and Simon, the second oldest of the children, has just turned 25 and is therefore about to inherit the reigns to his father’s company. The will states very clearly: the oldest of the Ashby boys will inherit the company after the father’s death. That time has finally come and the cold and calculating Simon couldn’t be more excited.
With only days left before the transfer, their Aunt Claire comes rushing into the house, crying. There is somebody out front. A visitor. It’s important that they come right away. Everybody runs to the guest house and are shocked to find none other than…Patrick. Or, at least, the spitting image of Patrick, now 27 years old. But how could this be? Patrick is dead. He killed himself. Everyone is confused, particularly Simon. If this is Patrick, where has he been all this time? Patrick does his best to explain the circumstances. He couldn’t live here after their parents’ death, so he left and has been living a normal life out in the real world. He came back because of his father’s words. That a family sticks together. But Simon isn’t listening. He knows what this means. If this is the real Patrick, then he, not Simon, will be taking over the business.
Stevie, the longtime head of security at the Ashby estate, is already putting a plan into motion. Old family members showing up to claim untold fortunes is a scam that’s been going on since the Caveman days. They’ll surely be able to sniff out the impostor with an extensive background check. And thus begins a painstaking investigation into whether this is or is not the real Patrick Ashby.
So everyone is shocked when Patrick passes the DNA test, the psyche evaluations, and the quizzes Simon and his sisters put into place about their childhood. Whoever this person is, he knows intimate details about their family. Clearly, this has to be Patrick. Even we’re convinced. I mean, how do you fake a DNA test??
He didn’t have to. Turns out Stevie and Patrick have conceived of an elaborate con, planned months in advance. The DNA tests were doctored. Old family videos were meticulously studied. Stevie clues him in on all the family tricks that will come his way. Once Patrick gets a hold of the company, the plan is simple. He will siphon out millions of dollars to himself and Stevie, then after a few months, he’ll declare his return a mistake, and disappear back into his old world, never to be seen again.
Because no family just hands over a 20 billion dollar business overnight, Patrick has to jump through a lot of hoops, and the more hoops he jumps through, the more Simon doubts he’s dealing with the real Patrick. Another problem (which should be noted – things not to do if you’re trying to steal a 20 billion dollar family business) is that Patrick falls in love with Ellie, who is supposedly his sister. And Ellie, in a creepy twist, is just as enamored with Patrick – even though *she* believes that he *is* the real Patrick. Will Patrick slip up before the board anoints him president? Or will he continue to fool everyone and pull off the biggest con in history?
As we barrel towards the end, twists and turns start popping up like whack-a-moles at a carnival and for the most part, they work. But there’s a lingering sense as you’re reading ‘The Sound’ that something like this couldn’t possibly happen in real life. Especially in post-meltdown Wall Street, where things are checked, double-checked, re-checked, then checked again. Although to be honest, that didn’t bother me that much. My big problem with The Sound is its decision to tip us off that Patrick Ashby is a fake. To me, that was the most intriguing mystery of all: Is this or isn’t it the real Patrick Ashby? Instead, the script wants you to focus on “Will Patrick get caught?” Which was interesting, but I’m not sure as interesting as the alternative.
Another issue I had was that the characters didn’t have enough depth. I understand the challenge involved in a story like this. There’s so much plot and so many secrets, it’s not easy to map out a clear and distinct character arc for everyone. Still, all I knew about Fake Patrick was that he had a rough life. I wanted to know more about who he was and how he got to the point where he actually conned people for a living. Had we dealt more with his pain, had we understood the depths of his predicament, we probably would’ve rooted for him more.
Despite these issues, The Sound is a satisfying read. It’s funny because I started thinking of Rob Pattinson and his attachment to Bel Ami, and I thought – this is a much more interesting portrayal of a poor man infiltrating the social elite. Where that world felt stale and uninteresting, this one felt alive and unpredictable. I could definitely see him playing Patrick Ashby. Of course, you’d probably have to add a dozen sex scenes (with his sister?) to get him interested, but it would be worth it.
The Sound was something I knew nothing about going in, but was happy I found it.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Every decision you make in a screenplay has a ripple effect. Make sure you not only understand what you gain by making a choice, but also what you lose. So in the case of The Sound, Wheeler chose to tell us very early on that Patrick and Stevie were conning the family. We gain a sense of fear: “Will Patrick get caught?” But we lose a sense of mystery: “Is this the real Patrick?” Ultimately it’s up to you to decide which is more important in telling your story. But you can’t make an informed decision unless you’re aware of the effect each choice has.
Producer note: It is my understanding that the original book had Patrick and Simon as twins, with Patrick a few seconds older. I’m curious as to why they changed this in the screenplay. It would seem to me that if you kept the twin storyline, you could go out to talent offering both characters to a single actor. And we all know how much actors love playing two parts in the same movie. Easy way to snag an A-lister methinks. Thoughts?
I know this isn’t exactly script news, but it’s so earth-shattering and has such a profound effect on the industry, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t report it. Is this April 1st?? (checking…….no it isn’t) — Uhhhh, is this possible? Disney just bought Marvel Entertainment for 4 billion dollars. Where did this even come from??? My first thoughts are…Disney got’em on the cheap. 4 billion?? For all those super-heroes?
What do you guys think?