So I’m trying to come up with observations about Repped Week, although the small sampling makes the findings far from conclusive. The most telling moment and probably the biggest thing to come out of the week is that the highest rated script (Emergency Contact) unknowingly came from a writing team that had already sold a script. The fact that I didn’t know they were sold writers (and therefore wasn’t biased) and still saw the writing to be at a high level says a lot. Then again, my second favorite script of the week, The Conquered, came from two writers who only recently secured representation. I honestly believe that with a wider net, that script is lower-half Black List material. However I do not think it’s an accident that they are repped by UTA (a big agency).
Someone in the comments section mentioned Project Greenlight – Damfleck’s attempt to prove that the Hollywood system was ignoring a huge talent pool that couldn’t get their foot in the door simply because they didn’t have connections. Sure there were a ton of variables involved, but the resulting three movies (ranging from bad to mediocre) proves that maybe, just maybe, Hollywood knows what it’s doing.
As for the whole “The Void” thread, which unfortunately turned personal, I believe – from an objective place – that Zach just isn’t ready yet. That’s not to say he won’t be. That’s not to say he can’t be. But The Void has too many flaws to sell in its current incarnation. Howevuh!
…there are some good things about the script, and that is why he’s getting these [heavily debated] meetings. Someone doesn’t have to want your script to want a meeting with you. They may simply be looking to establish a relationship so that if you do improve and do end up writing something great, they have you in their rolodex. It’s good business sense.
What I learned from Repped Week is that by and large, writers are successful because they deserve to be successful. Scripts get sold because they deserve to be sold. Sale scripts are rarely perfect, but the combination of concept and execution is usually better than whatever else is out there. That’s not to say wherever you are, you’re stuck there. Writers are constantly improving, and once your writing gets better, more people will take notice. Bigger agents, bigger directors, bigger actors will woo you. And let’s not forget the wild card: the brilliant concept. Come up with a great concept (A dinosaur park) and execution or not, you shoot to the top of Spielbeg’s speed dial. I believe that knowing what a great concept is is part of what makes a great writer. So all of that has to be factored into the equation.
So my final very unscientific analysis is that the hierarchy, while fallible, is for the most part accurate:
Unrepped < Repped by Manager < Repped by Agent < Sold Writer
For those who have forgotten, this is number five in a series of five scripts I’ll be reviewing this week from represented writers who have not sold a script. The exercise is meant to explore the level of quality it takes to obtain agency representation. Enjoy!
Premise: The underachieving son of a coal miner struggles to expose a covered-up mining accident that sparked a raging subterranean fire, but is unaware that the fire has kept ominous creatures at bay for the past twenty years.
About: Zach is repped by Brad Kushner at Creative Convergence.
Writer: Zach Nelson
When I was eight years old, my parents took me to The Chicago Museum of Science And Industry to do what every parent back in those days did with their children – trick them into learning something. And of course I responded like most kids do. I stumbled around wondering why everything was much less cooler than I wanted it to be. There were no video games at the museum. There were no televisions. When I was shown a 1000 year old mummy the only thing I could think was, “That poor man’s been stuck in this boring shithole for 1000 years?” After begging to go home, my parents promised me we’d leave after one last exhibit. I rolled my eyes and said whatever the equivalent of “whatever” was back at the time. This particular exhibit, I was informed, was an exhibit about mines. And it just so happened the museum was located on top of a very old mine cave. I perked up a little. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad. So we got packed into a rather large elevator with a good 40 other people. Our “guide” closed the doors and we started going down. The elevator was one of those old fashioned “freight elevators” with see through walls. I watched as the outer walls passed by. We were going down pretty deep, I thought.
Gradually the outer walls turned to rock. As I had expected to go down about five stories, this was a little concerning to me. I know time is warped when you’re a kid, but I don’t think we were in that elevator less than five minutes. The walls became even darker and dingier. When the hell was this thing going to stop? I started getting worried. But everybody around me seemed to be keeping their cool so I put on a brave face. After this elevator ride to hell finally ended, we were let out into an old underground mine cave. In my estimation we were at least 100 miles below the earth and whatever mine we were in sure didn’t look safe. There were these old wooden beams holding things up. They were cracked and warped. If that breaks, I thought, would the ceiling fall on us? I was growing more concerned by the second. I wanted to get back up to the museum. Our “guide” then went into a lengthy spiel about the history of the mine and how coal was excavated and how if I would’ve been here in 1892 when they first opened the mine, I might have been working here and I couldn’t care less because DIDN’T ANYONE ELSE NOTICE HOW FRAGILE THOSE FUCKING BEAMS LOOKED??? Why didn’t anyone else notice this?? The guide droned on. We were lucky to even be down here, he explained, as the safety requirements for people were just barely met.
No shit Sherlock!
Then all of a sudden, there was a loud BUZZING ALARM accompanied by a flashing RED LIGHT! Jesus Christ! What the hell!?? We were going to be buried down here. Never to be heard from again. The guide started freaking out (finally), saying that the mine was unstable. There was shaking. I wanted to run but where?? There was nowhere to go! I desperately searched for a way out . For some reason none of the stupid adults were alarmed. Didn’t these idiots understand!!?? We were all going to die! “This way!” the guide said. “This way!” I hightailed it in the direction he was pointing, down the mine, around a corner and into…
I looked around. Not only was this a wide open cafeteria, 100 miles underneath the crust of the earth. But it was the lower level of what I coulda swore was the place where we entered the elevator. In fact, this entire room looked exactly like the museum. But how had they done it? How had they built a replica of the museum 100 miles beneath the earth? And weren’t we still in imminent danger from the mine collapsing?? Why were people eating hot dogs seconds before their death??
And then slowly my developing mind started putting the pieces together. We had never gone down 100 miles, had we? The elevator was a fake. The rocky exterior walls that passed by were stage props, wound around to make it *look* like were going 100 miles into the earth. I had been duped. I had been tricked. But I didn’t give a shit. I was just ecstatic to be alive. To this day, nothing has even come close to tricking me the way that mine exhibit did. And it’s the reason why, to this day, I am terrified of mines.
Which is why I decided to review The Void – a horror script about a coal mine. This would allow me to face my fears and give you, the reader, something you’re always asking for: a horror script.
Now I just want to make something clear before we go on. People think I hate horror. That’s not true. I just hate bad horror. Which there seems to be a lot of. Mindless plot-less excuses to have monsters slice up or munch up humans is not my idea of a good time. I like depth to my horror. I’m not talking Masterpiece Theatre. Just something that makes the characters real enough so that I care about whether they live or die. Give me a good horror film and I’ll show up opening day.
Is there depth to The Void? Yes, I’d say for the most part there is. Now whether that depth transferred into a good script is another question. After a two-decades old coal mining accident killed his father, Jacob finds himself in the same fucked up going-nowhere situation that his family was in. Except Jacob’s got it even worse. The accident that killed his father (and a bunch of other miners) started a coal fire underneath the town that hasn’t gone out in 20 years. The town is a mess. Pieces of road cave in unexpectedly. The ground is always warm to the touch. And worst of all, work is nonexistent. Jacob gets by on minimum wage – and with a wife and child on the way, he’s desperately looking for a way to salvage his life.
If all that wasn’t bad enough, Jake starts to see strange things in the shadows of the town. The holes that lead down to the burning mines reveal figures, strange lurching 9 foot humanoid creatures. In the woods by his house. On the outskirts near the caves. But are they real? Others believe they’re just hungry wolves. But Jacob witnesses these creatures tear his neighbors to pieces. These are no wolves, he tells the cops. But they don’t want to listen.
In the meantime, the underground fires continue to burn. When Jacob makes the uninformed decision to put out the fire using the local water tower, he’s approached by Eli, an ex-mine worker whose face was disfigured in the accident. He’s informed about a long-held secret about the town. Eli is being paid by the mine’s wealthy owner to keep the underground mines burning. Keep the mine’s burning?? By what would anyone want to do that? Well, apparently, the fire has been keeping a host of these shadowy figures at bay. Now that the fire’s been put out, these hellish monsters will be roaming the streets, killing at will. The only way to stop them is to blow closed all the entrances to the mine. And that’s exactly what Eli and Jacob set out to do.
The Void was entertaining in places and no so entertaining in others. Particularly in the first half of the second act, where there were a lot of scenes with people sitting around talking about their problems. In fact, the plan to actually do something about the burning underground and its hellish occupants isn’t hatched until page 75, which is just way too slow in my opinion. Nelson chooses to use those first 75 pages to focus on the mystery behind the underground mines and the conspiracy to cover it up. But I don’t think there’s enough there to warrant an entire 75 pages of screenplay. These creatures should be out and attacking by at least page 45, probably even 25. And our protags need to figure out what to do about it soonafter. Throw this story into overdrive. See, The Void falls victim to one of the unsolvable problems in the movie industry, which is that the hook is included in the logline, which eliminates every notable surprise the script has for us. Unfortunately there’s no way around this. People aren’t going to read your screenplay unless they know your hook. Even though your hook is the one thing you don’t want revealed until they read your screenplay. In this case, the logline gives away all the secrets in the first 75 pages.
There’s some bigtime irony going on here. I start out telling you to give me a smart character-driven horror story, and Nelson attempts to do exactly that. I just think he went a little too far. He spent too much time getting into these characters’ lives and not enough time getting to the story. To me, the lure here is the underground mines and their creatures. That’s what I wanted to see. And that’s what there’s not nearly enough of.
The other thing I was looking for was more out of the monsters. I like my monsters to be based in some sort of logic, even if it’s logic based off the rules you set up in your screenplay. What I don’t like is monsters that seemingly have nothing to do with the problem. For instance, in one of my favorite horror films of the last few years, The Descent, those creatures were explained as an evolution of man being stuck down in the caverns for thousands of years. I bought that. That made sense to me. Here, you have 9 foot wolf-like men with no eyes. When I try to connect that to a coal fire that’s been burning underground for years, I have a hard time making that leap. I guess you could pass them off as descendants of Hell, but that’s a little too generic for me. The more based in logic your creatures are, the closer – in my mind – they are to reality. And the closer something is to reality, to being outside your door or in your closet, the scarier it is.
So unfortunately I wasn’t the biggest fan of The Void. As with all of this weeks’ writers, Zach knows what he’s doing. It’s simply a case of me not getting into this particular story. But I thank Zack for allowing me to read his script. It was [not] fun revisiting my museum experience from hell :)
Script link: The Void
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: The Void actually had *too much* character development. Or, I should say, it went about its character development in the wrong way. In that early 2nd act portion, it felt like every scene we were sitting down with our characters, listening to their problems. Sure this gave me some backstory on who these people were, but it didn’t do so in an interesting way – within the context of a developing story. Anything you’re trying to reveal in your script – whether it be character development, exposition, or plot – you have to bleed it into the story seamlessly. If it feels like we’re stopping to get to know people, you’ve destroyed all that momentum you built up. Every scene should be pushing (and I mean *pushing* – not nudging) the story forward. Instead of having your characters sitting in a room, put them out there investigating the problem and having their discussion as they investigate. That way, you’re killing two birds with one stone. Always keep things moving!
I don’t even want to write about this it’s so depressing. John Hughes died of a heart attack today. He was 59. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is in my Top 5 movies of all time. It was one of the first scripts I ever read and it’s just as hilarious on the page as it is on the screen. If you haven’t read it, go read it now. There are even a couple of scenes that didn’t make the film that are just as funny as anything in the movie. Another sad day. I’m tired of sad days. Let’s bring on some happy ones.
Script link: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Review link to “Bumped” (the unofficial remake of The Breakfast Club): Bumped
For those who have forgotten, this is number four in a series of five scripts I’ll be reviewing this week from represented writers who have not sold a script. The exercise is meant to explore the level of quality it takes to obtain agency representation. Enjoy!
Edit: So it turns out (all my fault – not the writers) that Bear and Thomas had sold a spec before – their script “Mental.” I received the script from someone I assumed was their agent, but turned out to be someone who was affiliated with the project when it went into the marketplace last spring. He was a big fan of the script and just thought I’d like it. There was no malicious intent there. In a way, I’m kind of glad this happened. I went into the script believing that these two writers had never sold anything before. So the fact that I really liked it before knowing that they *had* sold something, validates that there’s something to be said for the quality of screenplays from those writers who have broken in and sold a script before. Wow. Anyway, enough with the nonsense. Sit down, enjoy the review, and enjoy the script. :)
Logline: A straight laced guy finds his life thrown into turmoil after he agrees to become the “emergency contact” for a guy he barely knows.
About: These guys are repped at Paradigm.
Writers: Bear Aderhold & Thomas F.X. Sullivan
Jay is just an average guy preparing for an average life. He works under the safety of a company that builds elevators, a company that, if he plays his cards right, will be his employer for the next forty years. His girlfriend, Debbie, is safer than a Sunday stroll to the ice cream shop and the kind of woman who gets antsy if you’re not in bed by 10 o’clock. Jay is preparing for a long no-frills life of stability. And he’s pretty sure that makes him happy.
Enter Russell, the mailroom guy. Russell, a bit of a weirdo, is the man you go to when you need good weed. When Russell saves Jay’s ass at work, Jay kindly asks if he can return the favor. Sure, Russell innocently replies, I was wondering if I could make you my emergency contact. And that’s when our story officially begins.
On an ordinary weekday night, after Jay and Debbie are asleep, Jay gets a phone call. Something’s happened to Russell and Jay needs to come immediately. He stumbles out of bed to Debbie’s dismay and heads off to the address in question. But strangely, the address is for a gay nightclub. And the gay nightclub is having a “no shirts night”. So Jay has to take off his shirt before shimmying through a warehouse full of man meat until he finds Freddie, a porn producer who’s just made the Titanic of porn films. Problem is Russell stole the master copy. Jay is completely dumbfounded as to how this involves him, so Freddie lays it out for him. Russell made the idiotic mistake of leaving his wallet behind. And in his wallet is a card that lists JAY as his emergency contact. And of course, as everyone knows, you only list your closest friends/family members as your emergency contact. Hence, if anyone knows where Russell is, it’s Jay.
Jay runs for his life, somehow escaping the gayporium. Thinking he’s just going to waltz back into bed, he’s surprised to see two police officers waiting outside his house – Glibby and Briggs. These are the kind of officers who taser first and ask questions later. Which is exactly what they do. So the recently electrocuted Jay wakes up in an interrogation room. What the hell is he doing here?? Well, it just so happens Russell is fucking Glibby’s wife and he’s none too happy about it. In trying to find Russell, he’s learned that Jay is his emergency contact. And in Glibby’s world of vigilante justice, the one who knows about the cheating is just as guilty as the one who’s doing the cheating.
Jay’s rescued when an officer passes by wondering why an innocent man is sitting in an interrogation room. Jay once again tries to get home only to run into the man of the hour – Russell. Jay curses him out for ruining his “perfect” life. Russell points out that Jay’s life is actually pretty boring and sucky. Life advice from a man who’s never used an alarm clock. Unfortunately Jay realizes that neither of them are getting out of tonight until they find and return that porno. The question is: Where is it? The answer is a mystery that takes them all over the city. To make matters worse, Jay has the mother of all presentations in the morning. If he doesn’t kill it, he’ll be out of a job.
What Aderhold and Sullivan do really well in Emergency Contact is create a host of hilarious secondary characters. Briggs and Glibby can star in their own spin-off movie as soon as this one’s over. Their clueless banter is one of the highlights of the script. And one of my favorite sequences is when Jay and Russell meet up with Russell’s friend, Captain Kirk, a former pilot turned crackhead who hasn’t worn pants in over a year. As he drifts in and out of consciousness, he tries desperately to remember where he left the porno.
But what really makes this script sing is anything that happens as a result of Russell being Jay’s emergency contact. A flippant decision early on by Jay turns out to be the biggest mistake of his life – over and over and over again. The only time the script runs into trouble is near the end when Aderhold and Sullivan try to tie a neat bow around Jay and Russell’s friendship. I liked the idea, but it comes on too fast and is resolved too quickly. That needed more work. Plus it replaced the potential for more emergency contact stuff. Any way these guys can plant more storylines that arise because Jay gave Russell permission to be his emergency contact I’m highly in favor of. That’s where the gold happens. And I feel that as we get closer to the end, those moments should increase anyway, not decrease, as that’ll make things even harder (and therefore more funny) on Jay.
Emergency Contact reminded me of another script titled The Sitter which sold earlier this year. This script is nearly as good as that one and, I believe, has more potential. I honestly think with a couple of rewrites, this could be the next Hangover. It’s a hilarious ride. I’m actually surprised no one’s snatched it up yet.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: When you think you’ve put your character in a terrible situation, make it worse. The writers do a great job of not only barraging Jay with the worst night ever. But on top of it all, he’s got the presentation of his life to give tomorrow morning at 9. That added dynamic introduces an additional level of tension to every situation Jay’s in because we’re always thinking, “Even if he gets out of this, how is he going to give his presentation??”
For those who have forgotten, this is three in a series of five scripts I’ll be reviewing this week from represented writers who have not sold a script. The exercise is meant to explore the level of quality it takes to obtain agency representation. Enjoy!
Premise: Train wrecks. Plane crashes. Sinking ships. The Fixer silently removes evidence from these accident sites, shielding powerful men from blame. But when he is caught in the act, he must find a way to save himself before he becomes the next problem to be “fixed.”
About: Motlong is represented over at Paradigm. He is managed by Kaplan/Perrone.
Writer: Craig Motlong
The Fixxxxxxxxxer. I saw that title and was like, “It’s done! That’s the one I’m gonna read.” See stuff breaks down in my place alllllllll the time. Light bulbs, ovens, fake fireplaces. If anyone needs a fixer, it’s me. Needless to say I was stoked that someone actually wanted to write a script about this phenomenon. Things randomly breaking down in houses is something the people in this country have had to deal with for years. Just the other day my DVD player stopped working. Why?? Who the hell knows?? That’s why you call in The Fixer!
Errrrrr……….. well, maybe not so fast. It turns out The Fixer wasn’t about fixing random household items after all. Which sucks because how am I going to get the motivation to fix my DVD player now? I’m not going to hold this against Motlong. His premise is still fun. But it sure would be nice to sit in front of the fire again. :(
The Fixer (the “real Fixer”) works in the shadows. Whenever a catastrophic accident occurs – an airplane crash or a tanker collision – our calculated craftsman arrives immediately afterwards and fixes everything up, erasing all evidence of fault before the proper authorities arrive. They call him, The Fixer. Problem is, Montana, an attractive NTSB agent I imagined looking a lot like that woman from Fringe, is almost as quick on the scene as The Fixer. Apox? How can such a thing be possible?? The Fixer is the fastest! But with each monumental tragedy, she gets there quicker and quicker. It’s like the bitch has cheetah in her bones.
When a disastrous train crash occurs, the two race their way to the accident site and this time, Montana catches The Fixer in the act. What Montana doesn’t know, and what The Fixer knows all too well, is that this means they’re both fucked! See there’s a blond bombshell known as “The Cleaner”. The Fixer may fix problems. But when problems can’t be fixed, The Cleaner cleans them up. And let’s just say that The Fixer and Montana are in the mother of dirty bedrooms. Oh, and in case you were wondering where the orders are coming from, they’re coming from The Canadian. Just like those Canadians. Pretending to be all prim and proper. It’s good that the truth is finally coming out. Mayonnaise on their fries. How dare they.
The Fixer and Montana go on the run, enacting a shakier truce than the US and Cuba. The only way for the Fixer to ensure he’ll live is to kill Montana. The only reason Montana doesn’t kill The Fixer is because he holds the lone evidence proving what she’s suspected all along, that a corporation has been covering up these accidents for years. Actually, if we’re being honest, the one constant in all these disasters is a 1977 bolt that was manufactured at an enormous steel company. That bolt is being insured by one of the biggest companies in the world. And it is that company that has employed The Fixer to go in and erase all of their problems – the idea being that a major lawsuit against them would cost billions, whereas employing The Fixer never reaches more than 8 figures. — Hey man, the economy. (side note: Don’t you love how you can now use “economy” in any excuse now? “Where were you last night Carson? I waited at the movie theater for 45 minutes.” “The economy Sarah. The economy…”)
See here’s the thing about insurance companies: They have every angle insured. They have insurance for their insurance. And their insurance against The Fixer are The Cleaners – yes, plural – who fan out over the countryside looking to “ensure” that The Fixer and Montana don’t get enough evidence to prove what this gigantic corporation has been doing. They’re totally going to take them down: by killing them!
The Fixer felt a bit like a Bourne movie with more of a hook. Did I like it? Well, the concept didn’t play out the way I had hoped. Making the bad guys a giant insurance agency didn’t exactly have the same weight as, say, a governmental body. Although that’s been done to death so I can accept the ‘original’ argument. I also thought Motlong showed his cards too early. One of the interesting things about The Fixer was the mystery behind these special bolts that had been found all over the accident sites. The way the characters talked about them gave them a mythical quality. I thought the revelation behind them was going to be much more spectacular and I didn’t think we’d find out what they were until the very end. But Motlong lets us in on the bolt secret at the mid-point, leaving no more mysteries left to solve. That was disappointing. Finally, I have a problem when dialogue sounds almost exclusively like it’s supposed to be in a trailer. There are a lot of snappy comebacks here. Too many. And when you cross that line, reality becomes but a distant memory. I wanted these characters to talk like real people so I could get to know them. And they did sometimes. But those times were few and far between. I think this might be my problem though because I bring it up to a lot of writers and they don’t seem to think it’s a big deal.
Still, I love Motlong’s crisp writing style. He’s got such a breezy way about him, reading his stuff felt like I was riding up PCH, top down, hair blowing in the wind. And his action scenes are top-notch. They read like you’re right there watching the movie. The man’s definitely got the goods. I just couldn’t get behind The Fixer.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Bolded sluglines! Use’em? Don’t use’em?? Oh the humanity! No more than six months ago, I saw about one script with bolded sluglines for every hundred I read. Now, that number’s up to maybe 7 or 8 per hundred. Opponents say that it disrupts the natural reading flow of a script. Proponents say it helps distinguish and divide up scenes better. I was always on the fence about this, but I’m starting to think bolded sluglines are our future. Just behind our children. They rarely affect my reading, and it does help clue you in – especially when you’re reading fast – when a new scene or location has arrived.