Hope everyone had a Happy Fourth. I’ll be taking the day off today as my cohort Tarson Meads makes his return reviewing a Vampire script. Tomorrow I’ll be reviewing that mysterious high-profile project (which I will warn you in advance – there will be no script link for). If you’re just dying to know what it is, I just started the Scriptshadow Fadebook Fan Page. There are some hints on there :) So stop fooling around and join up! Here’s Tarson…
Premise: Two US mercenaries become involved in a brazen plot to kidnap a beautiful and seductive socialite. However, they soon realize the girl they’ve snatched is an ancient Vampire queen, and her legion is out to get her back.
About: A vampire spec penned by upcoming writer/director Michael Stokes. His indie film “The Beacon” won first prize in a series of horror festivals and comps. Nightfall is currently in development with legendary horror producer Frank Mancuso Jr.
Writer: Michael Stokes
They say don’t ever write a Vampire spec, right? Thankfully, Stokes ignored that advice and wrote one of the most enjoyable Vampire scripts I’ve read in years. I had a lot of fun with Nightfall, there’s a ton of stuff to compliment here, but the real highlight was Stokes’ writing style. I loved it. It’s the kind of style I try to emulate. Snappy dialogue, vivid action, words that pack a punch. The way a great action spec should be.
Stokes doesn’t waste any time at getting to the meat of the concept either. The story begins with the intro of our two protags – Rainford and Denton, two bad- ass, mercs for hire. Rainford is actually on a job to kill Denton when we first meet them inside an Albanian tavern. Rainford’s job has been set up by a couple of local mobsters. The pay is good, but at the last minute, Rainford decides against killing Denton, and all hell breaks loose. This opening grabbed me from page one with strong visuals, and some really cool action sequences.
After the opening bang, the two men decide to work together and soon become involved in a shady scheme to kidnap an exotic socialite from a packed nightclub. They don’t know much about the target – except her name is Aurora, she’s drop dead gorgeous, and their employer is a very rich man by the name of Peter Foxe. Unfortunately his hot-headed and inexperienced son is leading the gig. Apart from our two heroes, there’s a crew of freelance mercs tagging along, who seem to know a lot more about the job than they’re letting on. Things are not adding up. Sparks soon begin to fly. There also seems to be an awful lot of heavy handed hardware and tech in place, just for one woman. Hmmm. You see where this is headed, don’t you.
Another highlight for Nightfall was Stokes’ clever usage of Vampire mythology, as well as his own unique touches that he skilfully adds, here and there. The action is top-notch, and when the shit hits the fan, its balls-to-the-wall mayhem. It’s just a great combination of action and horror, with lots of twists and turns. Overall this was just a really fun read, highly recommended for any scribes who are into this kind of thing.
[ ] trash
[ ] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] genius
What I Learned: Don’t be so concerned with market trends. Sure, you need a solid understanding of what’s selling and what’s not, but chasing the market isn’t the best course to a success. Writing what you feel passionate about is. But make sure you know what the hell you’re doing. There’s no formula when it comes to what sells. Genre wise, anything can sell, but it has to be unique and commercially viable at the same time. With so many Vampire and Zombie scripts clogging up the spec market, most people in Hollywood yawn at the sight of them, knowing all too well, the majority of them, suck (heh.) But despite this, audiences still crave these types of movies, and despite what you hear, they are still popular with some studios and production companies. They just need to be good. Really fucking good.
Jeff Morris is the screenwriter who wrote this month’s Scriptshadow Challenge Script. Before this, Jeff had sold a pitch and written and directed an indie feature titled, “You Did What?” But “The True Memoirs Of An International Assassin” was his first spec sale. Read on to find out how he did it. This interview is also running on Scott’s site, Go Into The Story. Here’s Jeff! :)
How did you come up with the core concept for The True Memoirs of an International Assassin (i.e., the Protagonist [Joe] takes on the persona of a fictional character of his own creation — a professional assassin).
James Frey was the biggest inspiration, but as more and more memoirs started turning out to be fake or embellished – I started to think there was a movie there. And one day I said to myself, how funny would it be if some poor bastard wrote a book and had to pretend to be his fictional character? The questions then became – what is the world and why does he have to pretend to be this person?
What elements in the concept convinced you that it was enough to warrant writing as a spec screenplay?
When I came up with the idea, I immediately saw the set pieces and some scenes that I thought could be funny. The concept felt topical. When I pitched the idea to friends I received really positive reactions. I guess the sum of all of it made me jump in and start writing.
Were there some past movies that helped you define the tone you wanted to go after with Memoirs? If so, what are they (e.g, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, The Pink Panther)?
Tonally, I was going for something along the line of Romancing the Stone. I’d also say I probably wanted to do a less dumb, more grounded version of The Man Who Knew Too Little. Pretty much anything with a long title.
Since your Protagonist assumes the identity of a professional assassin, it stands to reason you had to come up with a hit for him to pull off. How did you go about the process that eventually led you to come up with the key subplot — El Toro [Bad Guy] hires Joe to take out The Prime Minister of Belize? If there were other ‘Bad Guy’ plots you considered, could you discuss why you chose the El Toro – Prime Minister plot instead of the others?
I wanted the movie to take place in a banana republic so Joe wouldn’t be able to ever go to the police out of fear they were corrupt. I didn’t want Joe to have an easy way out of the situation. And I wanted to put Joe in an impossible situation with who he was supposed to assassinate. I thought that given the location, the Prime Minister, with the nation’s police force and military guarding him at all times, would probably be the most difficult person to get to. That being said, I needed the Prime Minister to be a little dirty so when he Joe eventually kills him, we don’t feel terrible.
If memory serves me correctly, I think El Toro hiring Joe to kill the Prime Minister was my first choice and I stuck with it.
Did you mindcast the role of Joe Schmidt? If so, which actor did you envision playing the role?
I didn’t have someone specific in mind, but I definitely had a type. I thought it could be a Steve Carell, Ben Stiller, Jason Segal, Jack Black type. An every man who could play a pushover, but at the same time be good with physical comedy. We’ll see if I’m lucky enough to get one of those guys in the movie!
What was the single most difficult aspect of writing this screenplay?
As I was writing it, I realized it was really easy to get Joe into deep shit, but once I did that, I was like – how the hell am I going to get him out of this now? That’s probably true for life too. It’s a lot easier to get yourself into trouble then it is to get out.
From generating the story concept to final draft, how long did it take you to write the script?
I’d say around a month. This was one of those times where I felt really connected to the material and it kind of just flowed out of me. It was one of the most enjoyable writing experiences I’ve had. It was one of those times where I really looked forward to working on it. That isn’t always the case for me. Sometimes writing is work. Other times, it’s fun.
How important is your prep-writing phase (i.e., research, brainstorming, character development, plotting) before typing FADE IN and moving into the page-writing part of the scripting process?
I think quality prep work makes writing the script much easier. This isn’t to say I spend an eternity prepping. But if I do the work before I type Fade In, my writing is more focused and I know what I need out of each scene going forward.
The way I sort of work is this. After I come up with a concept and a log line, I try to figure out who my main characters are going to be and what kind of arcs I want them to have. Next, I’ll figure out what the theme of the script will be. Then I plot the story out. This usually takes me about a week. Then I go off and write the first draft as quickly as I can just to get it out of my head and onto the page. The real writing and finessing comes during the rewrite stage.
Could you describe the process how the script got set up?
The Friday of Easter Weekend, my manager slipped the script to the production company I’m currently writing a script for. Monday afternoon we learned they really liked it and were going to take it into the studio. However, with a couple of other fish out of water projects already set up there, they didn’t think it had a strong chance of being bought by that studio.
On Tuesday afternoon, my manager took the script out wide to the rest of the town. Around 30 production companies received it. We hoped for the best, but knew the market was tough. I was optimistic, but had low expectations – it was a naked spec. We agreed to touch base the next morning.
But, we didn’t. She called back less than 2 hours later and said that an A list director’s production company read the script and flipped for it. They want to take it to multiple studios and there’s even a chance he might attach himself to direct.
An hour later, she called again and said multiple producers wanted to take the script into various studios. She couldn’t believe how fast it was moving.
Wednesday morning my manager called me and said that when she woke up, her inbox was flooded with emails from producers who read the script overnight and wanted to take it into their studio. A few hours later she was out of studios to give producers. She was having to turn producers away.
On Thursday, my manager called and said that only a few buyers have passed, but it’s still in play everywhere else. We knew several studios would be reading it over the weekend. It was going to be a long few days.
Saturday and Sunday were excruciating. I did everything I could to keep my mind off the script, but it was impossible. And as each hour passed, I began to assume it was not meant to be.
On Monday afternoon, my manager called me and said, “We just sold your script to The Film Department. Michael De Luca is producing.” After speaking briefly about the offer, I turned to my wife and said, “we did it.” She burst into tears. I’m not going to admit it, but there’s a really strong chance I may have too. It was a crazy week.
What’s the status of the project?
After I complete a rewrite, the plan is to find a director.
i just read a script that amazed me. easily going into my top 10. i’m still kind of in shock at how good it was.
unfortunately, I can’t post this script. but I will post a review Monday or Tuesday.
wow. i have nothing more to say. just in shock.
Premise: After a publisher changes a writer’s debut novel about a deadly assassin from fiction to nonfiction, the author finds himself thrust into the world of his lead character, and must take on the role of his character for his own survival.
About: This is Morris’ first script sale. He optioned one screenplay before this one. More on Morris tomorrow, when he gives GITS and Scriptshadow an “Assassin” interview.
Writer: Jeff Morris
So when Scott and I published our 5 script choices for this month’s Scriptshadow Challenge, I quickly received an e-mail from Jeff Morris, the writer of The True Memoirs Of An International Assassin. He was receptive and a great sport about his script being reviewed. But I was a little nervous. Assassin was looking like it was going to win. What if I didn’t like it? I remembered back to the days when all I had to do at Scriptshadow was review scripts. When did everything become so complicated?? Well color me relieved. Assassin was a fun breezy comedy with a memorable cast of characters. Was it perfect? No. I had a few quibbles here and there. But I’ll get to those later. First, let’s talk about the story.
Joe is a struggling spy novel writer who’s a bit of a pussy. He’s the kind of guy the boss knows he can make work late. Lucky for Joe, he’s just finished his latest manuscript, a spy thriller about the world’s most cunning international assassin. He sends it off to every publisher in town and every publisher in town immediately rejects him (hey, beats waiting). Just when Joe is ready to give up on his dream , he gets “the call.” It’s one of the publishing houses. They love his book and want to put it into print right away! Joe is ecstatic. Years of hard work finally paying off (ahem, real-life parallels here?) and Joe gets to do what every one of us dreams of doing, walk into that office and tell your boss to f8ck off (it doesn’t exactly work out that way but kudos to Joe for trying).
Joe eagerly anticipates his book’s grand opening and when it finally comes, he races into the store, straight to the new fiction section only to realize – wait a minute – his book isn’t there. He hurries up to the cashier and informs her of the problem. “Not a problem,” she says. “The book’s in the non-fiction section.” The non-fiction section? Joe is confused. His book’s not non-fiction. He heads over and cautiously picks up one of his books only to find out that the word “True” has been added to the title. Uh-oh. This is bad. A concerned Joe bee-lines over to his publisher and lets him know that a giant mistake has been made. No mistake, his slimy publisher assures him. He simply made a business decision. As a novel, it sucked. But as a true story, it’s spectacular. Joe fights viciously to get this wrong righted, even threatening to go to the authorities. But the publisher makes it clear that if Joe screws them in any way, he’ll be sued right out of existence.
Pretty soon, Joe is doing Matt Lauer interviews and grumpily going along with his alleged “former career,” even becoming a bit of a celebrity around town. He gets so sick of living a lie though, so sick of all the false attention, he decides it’s time to get away. Too much of a pushover to ever ask for a vacation at his old job, Joe thinks a vacation will do him right. He settles on the beautiful South American tropical paradise of Belize, where surely no one will know him.
As soon as Joe lands he’s kidnapped by the local ruling ganglord, El Toro, a kind of ‘Scarface-with-a-sense-of-humor’ thug. El Toro has el-reado Joe’s booko and is convinced that Joey’s the dangerous international assassin, Colt Rodgers, from the book. So El Toro orders Joe to unretire and kill the Prime Minister of Belize! Joe tries desperately to plead his case (“I’m not who you think I am”) but El Toro is a very insistent man and offers Joe ridiculous amounts of money. In the end, Joe is given a trunk full of a guns and a mandate to kill the Prime Minister.
Complicating matters is smokin-hot journalist Claire, a former high school classmate of Joe’s who smells something fishy about this whole “international assassin” thing. From what she remembers, Joe couldn’t assassinate a prom invite. Determined to expose him and his scam, she flies to Belize and “accidentally” bumps into Joe, deceitfully cozying up to him so she can catch him in his lie. Poor Joe falls for it hook, line and sinker, and falls for the girl that’s only using him for a story. Joe also manages to upset the rival ganglord, Jesus, who’s a lot like El Toro without the sense of humor. Jesus, on the take with the dirty Prime Minister, now wants to assassinate Joe.
Assassin is the perfect example of how to approach a spec script. Come up with a good hook, keep the story simple, and exploit the premise to its maximum potential. In fact, Assassin kinda read like a good vacation. It was fun, relaxing, and time flew by. It wasn’t all sunscreen and mai-tais though. I did have some issues with the script. The first was the lack of a clear goal for Joe. He’s been paid to kill the prime minister, but we all know he’s not going to do it. So what is Joe doing exactly? For awhile there, I wasn’t sure. This leads into my second problem: the lack of urgency. El Toro is funny, but he’s not scary. Nor is he around enough for us to feel like Joe is in any danger. Had El Toro been more intense and given Joe a more definitive time frame in which he had to kill the Prime Minister, I feel like the script would’ve gained a sense of urgency, which in turn would’ve led to a more fearful Joe, which in turn would’ve led to a story with higher stakes (studio term, I know. But I felt like it applied here).
Luckily, the script was funny enough to mask most of these issues. I loved the bumbling idiot CIA agents, convinced that Joe is indeed Colt Rodgers. I loved the alcoholic’s anonymous bodyguard El Toro sets Joe up with, and I loved how Joe steps back every once in awhile just to wonder, “How the f*ck did I get into this situation??” My favorite scene in the script is when he goes to the Prime Minister to warn him that El Toro is trying to kill him, and accidentally ends up – well – assassinating the prime minister.
The humor is pretty broad overall, but if you’re into Farrely Brothers movies, this is going to be right up your alley. Jack Black would be perfect in this roll so Jeff, if you and your agent are listening, it’s time to give Mr. Black a call. Leave your own thoughts on the script down below. I’ll be interested to hear what you guys think. If you haven’t downloaded “Assassin” yet, I suggest you give it a spin. It’s a fun ride.
[ ] trash
[ ] barely kept my interest
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I Learned: Stay focused on your story. Make sure every scene is about *that* story. You can explore interesting tangents in your character-driven pieces, but if you’re writing a spec (something with an interesting hook that’s story-driven), never go too far off-point. “Assassin” does a really good job of this.
And now, here’s Scott’s analysis from Go Into The Story…
“The True Memoirs of an International Assassin”
Written by Jeff Morris
Protagonist – Joe Schmidt
His Disunity state at the beginning is Joe the Author vs. Colt the Assassin. Eventually he has to claim his ‘Inner Colt’ to become the hero he needs to be in order to save Claire.
Nemesis – El Toro / Jesus
El Toro forces Joe to take on the task of assassinating the Prime Minister, then Jesus takes over the antagonist role, leading to their eventual Final Struggle.
Attractor – Claire
The growing romance between Claire and Joe causes Claire to change from hard-ass reporter intent on busting Joe to acting to squash the story.
Mentor – Kenny
Secretly a member of the B.I.A. (Belize Intelligence Agency), Kenny encourages then trains Joe to ‘become’ Colt Rodgers.
Trickster – Walt / Colt Rodgers
Walt publishes Joe’s book, but calls it a piece of non-fiction, setting into motion all the ‘negative’ events in Joe’s life. In assuming the persona of Colt, Joe receives benefits (hero worship), but also all the mistaken identity hassles.
10 Major Plot Points
Introduces the fictional hero Colt Rodgers and his creator Joe Schmidt, an aspiring writer whose fantasy world of bullets and bravery is a far cry from his real world, establishing that Joe and Colt are “polar opposites.”
His book published, but fraudulently so as a “true” memoir, Walt (Joe’s publisher) convinces Joe to publicize the book as Joe Schmidt AKA Colt Rodgers.
While on vacation, a local ‘bad guy’ (El Toro) coerces Joe to assassinate the Prime Minister, resulting in Joe being tracked by El Toro and his men, the CIA, and Claire, a reporter posing as a businesswoman on vacation, looking for an expose on Joe’s “fake memoir.”
First Big Test
Jesus Sanchez vows to kill Joe / Wayne urges Joe to live “like Colt Rodgers.”
Joe beats up someone he thinks is out to kill him / wrong guy, but Joe is now acting like Colt Rodgers.
Second Big Test
Joe “kills” the Prime Minister.
All Is Lost
Jesus kidnaps Claire.
On the Defensive
Kenny helps Joe train as a hit man, but Joe isn’t any good.
On the Offensive
Joe assaults Jesus Sanchez’s compound.
Joe vs. Jesus (with a major assist from Kenny) – defeats Jesus and saves Claire.
Major Selling Points
Strong high concept: The central premise is easy to grasp and therefore market. Good basis for an action-comedy.
Castable lead role: The Protagonist role (Joe Schmidt / Colt Rodgers) could be filled by a number of male comedic actors, which gives a studio flexibility in terms of budget and schedule.
Action-comedy is hot: Four of 2009’s biggest hit movies are action-comedies (Up, Monsters Vs. Aliens, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, Paul Blart: Mall Cop).
Paul Blart: Mall Cop: The movie cost $26M. It grossed $180M worldwide. Starring Kevin James — who would be a great call for True Memoirs.
PG-rating: After excising various F-words from the script, the movie should be able to get a PG rating, assuring widest possible audience.
100 pages: Translates into about a 90 minute movie, which means it can get an additional screening per theater (6, not just 5 per day), thereby generating more B.O..
Wish fulfillment: Youth audience can live out fantasy of acting out like a spy / assassin.
In sum, The True Memoirs of an International Assassin has all the elements of a successful action-comedy movie with a moderate budget $30-40M and strong upside for significant B.O. and ancillary revenues.
Note: Be honest in the comments section. But please be respectful. Jeff was nice enough to grant us an interview and I’d like to have more writers come on Scriptshadow and share their experiences. It’s the only way for the rest of us to learn. Honesty, good. Cruelty, bad.
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Premise: A woman attempts to take advantage of a time-honored custom in Ireland that allows women to propose to men on Leap Year.
About: Matthew Goode (Watchmen) and Amy Adams (Doubt) are signed on to play the leads. The movie is being directed by Anand Tucker (Shopgirl). Kaplan and Elfont also wrote the little-known but underrated gem, “Can’t Hardly Wait.”
Writers: Deborah Kaplan & Harry Elfont
Yes, I like romantic comedies. Okay there, I said it. I’m not going to lie. The cat is out of the bag people so have your way with me. You know what I watched a month ago? A little movie called When Harry Met Sally. And afterwards? I may have shed a tear. That’s right. Um-hmm. I may have. And I’m not going to feel bad about that because the reality is, when done right, romantic comedies make you believe in love again. The problem is, when done wrong? They’re unmitigated disasters.
Leap Year caught my attention because it has two actors in it that I absolutely love. Amy Adams and Matthew Goode. If you don’t know much about Goode, head over to your local video store tonight and rent “The Lookout” (also starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Goode’s charasmatic yet deceitful character is the one that stands out in a film clearly designed to showcase Gordon-Levitt’s talents. But Amy Adams? Well besides the fact that I want to marry her, she’s memorable in just about everything she does. In Doubt, a movie with Meryl Freaking Streep and Phillip Seymour F’ing Hoffman, Adams, who plays the most reserved role of the three, holds her own in every single scene. And let me tell you honey. That ain’t easy to do.
Amy Adams in a romantic comedy felt like a good fit. But I’ll be honest, when I heard the premise for “Leap Year,” I cringed. It sounded like it came out of the Romantic Comedy Logline Machine – a lumbering MRI-type contraption that can be found in the back of most studio offices. But, you know, Can’t Hardly Wait was a damn funny movie, so I was willing to give Kaplan and Elfont a chance.
Anna, 30s, sweet but a little materialistic, stages apartments for a living. You know, one of those people that dresses up apartments so they look good for prospective buyers? She has the perfect boyfriend in cardiologist Steve (think Patrick Dempsey), who she’s been together with for four years now, and it’s looking like he’s finally going to propose to her on their anniversary. But when he gives her a bracelet instead of a ring (hey, they’re both round) and informs her he’s heading off to Ireland on a business trip , Anna is devastated, and begins to question whether Steve will ever become her knight in shining armor.
Later that night, Anna’s BFF sister jokingly tells her about an old Irish custom where every leap year day (February 29), women are allowed to propose to men. After laughing it off, Anna finds herself wikipediaing that shit and learnng that indeed, it is true (A little warning to all you men with girlfriends planning trips to Ireland). Anna, unable to avoid the tick-tock sound of her biological clock, throws caution into the Irish wind and decides to fly to Dublin to surprise her dear Steven with a marriage proposal!
As her 747 swoops in to Dublin however, wouldn’t you know it but a huge storm rolls in and forces them to land in another city. Egads! With Leap Year day only a few days away, Anna, stuck in the Irish countryside, must find a way to Dublin in time to propose to Steven! (If you are a man, I applaud you for making it this far in the review. However, I cannot guarantee your safety from this point on).
Anna stumbles into a small Irish pub and pleads her sob story to anyone who will listen. But of course everyone’s too drunk to care. Glaring at her from the shadows is Declan, the brooding yet unkempt innkeeper. Declan is so angry and bitter, you get the feeling he’s going to walk out of the script at any moment, shrugging his shoulders and mumbling, “Why did I agree to this?” Unfortunately (wouldn’t you know it!) Declan is the only one in the bar with a working car! When Anna offers him a boatload of money to take her to Dublin, even the defiant Declan can’t decline.
The script jumps into Travelogue mode as we drive, jog, hitchhike, and train through some of the most beautiful countryside in the world. Of course Anna and Declan don’t enjoy a single moment of it because they absolutely despise each other.
For the first 60 pages, Leap Year was the most cliched, by-the-books, lazy, forced, unoriginal piece of crap I’ve read in awhile. The shameless female wish-fulfillment tale busts out all the romantic comedy stops. Do our characters hate each other more than anything? Check. Is one a rich American while the other a poor foreigner? Check. Are they placed in a situation where, even though they despise each other, they’re forced to kiss? Check. Are they forced to sleep in the same bed at one point? Check check and CHECK! I could almost feel Blake Snyder’s beat sheet breathing underneath this screenplay. At one point I wanted to murder Ireland.
And that premise. What the fuck is with that premise? Why would a woman travel to Ireland to propose to a man on Leap Year instead of, oh I don’t know, TALKING TO HIM ABOUT IT IN AMERICA! We don’t live in the stone age. If you’re unhappy about something in your relationship, particularly something as big as marriage, YOU TALK ABOUT IT.
But then…………something funny happened. Leap Year stopped trying so hard. It threw away the beat sheet and began allowing its characters to dictate the story. Gone were the cliche romantic comedy staples. Gone were the obvious set-pieces. All of a sudden, I felt like I was watching two living breathing human beings. I can’t believe I’m saying this but I was smiling for the last 50 pages of Leap Year. You know why? Because it was just two people who liked each other that knew there was no way they could ever be together. And who can’t identify with that? I identify with it every Saturday night (actually, I don’t even know what that means).
So to sum up, Leap Year was a little like a pint of Guiness. Bitter at first, but smoother as the night goes on (ugh, now I’m the one trying too hard). If you’re a romantic comedy fan, instead of watching Love, Actually for the 50th time, give Leap Year a read.
[ ] trash
[ ] barely kept my interest
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: The first act reeks of “trying too hard.” All of the romantic comedy staples are stuffed down our throat. Audiences aren’t dumb. They know when you’re forcing things. You have to make your screenplay structure as invisible as possible. Hit the beats, but do so in a way that doesn’t draw attention to itself.