Hey guys, long day of work. Late update tonight. Probably between 2-3 AM Pacific time.
Premise: A crew of crab fisherman rescue a drifting castaway with a mysterious cargo.
About: Hot spec which sold not too long ago. Chris Gorak (“Right at Your Door”) will direct for Palmer West.
Writer: Josh Baizer and Marshall Johnson
Well I’m sure you already know this but Crab-Fishing is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Crabs tend to hang out in the farthest, most desolate, most dangerous places in the sea, forcing these tiny little boats to battle Perfect Storm like weather smack dab in the middle of nowhere. Half-ton cages are swinging around perilously close to your head. If one were to fall or swing at an inopportune moment, you could be knocked into blue country, or worse, splattered against a wall. It’s rainy, it’s slippery, it’s chaotic. It’s where accidents go to vacation. Needless to say, this is a perfect setting for a movie, and why “Dead Loss” feels like a no-brainer.
Dead Loss follows its earnest captain, Ben, and his eccentric batshit crazy crew (I say that only because anyone who goes out on one of these boats has to be crazy). The centerpiece of his crew is Nate, Ben’s estranged brother, who, although they’re similar in age, has quite a bit more mileage. We find out that the alcoholic Nate recently got out of jail, and that he was responsible for a previous accident on Ben’s boat that killed a man. Ben’s not happy that Nate will be joining him, but he’s low on experienced crabbers and beggars can’t be choosers.
The script does a great job setting up the stakes. Ben’s crab business is a shark’s bite away from bankruptcy, and a successful crab run is about the only thing that will save their business. Desperate times call for desperate measures and instead of following the rest of the crab boats into familiar waters, Ben takes his chances on the gold rush, a secret spot way the hell out in Russian waters. It’s a dangerous gamble, as the weather there is ten times worse than anywhere else and since it’s illegal, there’s no calling for help if things go wrong. But like I said, what choice do they have?
The trip is a bust. Not only do these guys have to deal with 20 foot waves every couple of minutes (Quick question: How in the world do you sleep in 20 foot waves??), but they’d have more luck finding crab at a local strip joint. Just when things are looking really bad, one of the crew spots a life raft in the distance. Ben makes an emergency rescue attempt (not easy when a badly timed sideways turn can get you tipped over) and pulls the raft onto the boat. There are two men. One dead. One barely alive.
They drag the men inside and and start deciding what to do. That’s when someone notices a series of black lockboxes in the raft with Japanese inscriptions on the side. They open them. Inside are diamonds and gold. Millions of dollars worth. And just like that, everything changes.
Another check of the men shows that they’re covered in tattoos. These guys aren’t sailors. They’re professional thieves. And one of them is clinging to life. To quote Dennis Hopper in Speed: What do you do? What do you do?
The theme of the movie rears its ugly head. Greed. You start thinking a little funny when a million bucks drops in your lap. You start rationalizing things that are irrational. “Well, they probably would’ve died anyway if we hadn’t picked’em up. So why not finish the job?” The crew begins to take sides. Some believe they should throw the men back onto the raft and take the diamonds. Others believe they should call the coast guard. But the surest way to keep the money is to throw these bozos over the ledge and never speak of them again.
However, decisions have a funny way of working themselves out. And not always in the ways we hope. When the guys go down to check on the Russians…
One of them…. is missing. Uh-fucking-oh.
A very adult game of Hide-and-go-seek begins. But it’s clear that our Russian friend’s interpretation of the game is a little different. As in, you find him, he kills you. In a sort of “reverse Die-Hard,” he starts killing off crew members one by one. They wish that was their only problem. Angryov Killsky sneaks into the engine room and sabotages one of the engines. The crew is thrown. Why the fuck would he sabotage an engine? They find their answer in the lockboxes. A glowing red light. Oh shit. It’s a GPS locator. Whoever these Russians are, they were waiting to be picked up. And since they’ve been in that raft for days, it’s a good bet that whoever’s coming to get them is damn close.
Some of the crew actually recognizes they’re dealing with the Radmoninov The Killer Ruski and vote to call the Coast Guard. Others know the loot is gone if they do and prefer to take their chances.
It’s all very captivating and well-written. I like how Baizer and Johnson play with expectations. Ben, the “do-gooder” captain, is unexpectedly overtaken by greed while Nate, the jailed black sheep, is the one begging everyone to do the right thing. The way their relationship plays out grounds the story in an emotional reality that scripts like this usually don’t have. The ending isn’t exactly what I expected, but was still satisfying.
I could go on about Dead Loss but what else is there to say? It’s a really good script and I recommend it.
[ ] trash
[ ] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] genius
What I learned: A bit of a nitpick here but I think it’s a valid criticism. The script opens with a scene that basically introduces all of our characters. One of the things I’ve learned is to never *just* create a scene that introduces you to all your characters. Create a story around it. Make it interesting. Otherwise, you may as well just place each character onscreen and have a voiceover telling us who they are. If you’re not going to entertain us, then you’re not telling a story. In this scene, everybody’s on a boat talking to each other. Why can’t someone be looking for something? Maybe they can’t leave without it. Maybe the Captain is MIA and nobody knows where he is? Or maybe the Captain is showing up in 5 minutes and they know if the ship isn’t ready by that time, he’s going to tear them to pieces. Add *something* that elevates your introductions to something more than introductions. You get to introduce your characters and we get to be entertained. It’s a win-win.
About: A man finds an old cassette tape, the contents of which reveal something horrifying.
About: A very hot script that a lot of people are talking about in Hollywood: Karczynski sold this to Relativity Media last month. The property has garnered the interest of “No Way Out” and “The Recruit” director, Roger Donaldson. Although I haven’t been able to confirm it, this appears to be Karczynski’s first sale.
Writer: Steven Karczynski
Imagine your best friend shows up at your door. He’s hurried, excited. He dashes into your living room, “You gotta see this! You gotta see this!” He brings up Facebook and shows you the profile of the hottest girl you’ve ever seen in your life. He then says to you, “This girl saw your picture today and she wants to meet you.” “What??” you ask. “Yes! She’s at the coffee shop waiting for you right now!” You can’t believe your good fortune. You and your friend hop in the car, speed over to the coffee shop, run inside…but it’s empty. Your friend gets a text. “Oh, she left. She’s at the bowling alley. Let’s go!” You rocket over to the bowling alley, look around. She’s not there. Your friend gets a call. “She said her friends got bored and went to get some food.” So you drive over to the restaurant. Hurry inside. She’s not there. Your friend calls her. Oops, they decided to go to a movie. But she wants you to come to this party she’ll be at tonight. So you go home, get ready, look as good as you’ve ever looked before. Possibly even put on cologne. You’re bursting with anticipation. It’s finally time. You go. You look around. You can’t find her. You start asking people where she is. “Has anybody seen Jane?” Then someone walks up to you and says, “Didn’t you hear? She just died in a car crash.”
And that pretty much sums up my experience with Umbra.
Umbra is one frustrating-ass script. David happens upon a strange package jammed halfway into a mailbox in front of his house. He can’t resist opening it (would any of us be able to?) and finds a cassette tape inside. He buys an old tape player so he can listen to it. At first, we don’t hear what the tape says. All we see is David’s reaction as he listens. This is par for the course with Umbra, and what, for better or worse, sets it apart from every other script out there. There’s a lot of playing with time, playing with space, playing with sound and voice over. We’re hearing things, we’re not hearing things, we’re watching one thing while hearing another thing, etc. etc. It works quite well in my opinion, because it keeps you off-balance — just like David.
Midway through the tape, David gets a look on his face of such profound fear, we realize he’s heard something horrible. And here’s where Umbra will either get you or lose you. The rest of the script is David going to work, suspecting he’s being watched, suspecting he’s being pursued, is pursued…all while we get bit by agonzing bit of the tape. The whole thing feels like an American Idol results show. As we’re teased and teased and teased with pointless and uninteresting performances, we must wait until the very last minute to find out who gets voted off.
Actually, that’s a little harsh. The portion of the script where David gets chased is quite good. Particularly the way we see him get chased. Part of the brilliance of Umbra is it really takes you into the mind of a single person. David doesn’t have any relationships in his life, anyone to talk to. The point-of-view is so specific to this one character, that everything feels incredibly claustrophobic and personal. When things start going bad for David, we feel like they’re going bad for us too.
I’ll tell ya, the last 20 pages of this thing, I don’t know if I’ve ever read a script that fast. Some crazy ass shit starts happening. But the critical moment of the tape hasn’t played yet and we’re dying to know what’s said on it. We have to know what evokes that reaction on David’s face. We have to hear that final piece of the puzzle.
And when it comes…
When it comes…
It’s so disappointing that it’s beyond disappointing. Not because the idea is stupid, but because it doesn’t answer anything. It’s deliberately vague, and in that sense, a huge cheat. You basically dragged us along with this recording, taking advantage of the fact that you knew we’d go anywhere with you until you revealed it…and then you finish with this…non-answer. You killed the beautiful Facebook Girl.
Afterwards, when I sat back and thought about it, I realized that for 98% of the read, the screenplay was amazing. Because the job of the writer is to make the reader want to see what happeens next. and for 95 pages, that’s all I wanted. I wanted to see what happened next. Because of that, Umbra leaves me feeling very conflicted as to my final reaction to the story. There’s such great stuff in here and yet it’s ultimately disappointing.
I guess I’m giving it a “Worth The Read”. I mean, it did enough right that I can’t not recommend it.
[ ] trash
[ ] barely kept my interest
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: There’s a passage early on in Umbra where the character is running for his life. This is how it reads: “The Caller rips through several backyards. It’s as if we’re tied to the Caller’s back as he runs. He falls. We fall. He stumbles. We stumble.” Ten years ago, a writer would have been sent to prison for saying “it’s as if we’re tied to the Caller’s back as he runs.” “What are you doing??” a reader would say. “You’re not allowed to direct the action! That’s the director’s job!” People used to (and still do) really get in a hissy-fit about these kinds of things. But this is how I see it – if directing action helps me imagine the movie, why not use it? As long as it’s used in moderation, I don’t see anything wrong with it. Hell, it might even give the director some better ideas.
P.S. As always, if you’re going to discuss the ending in the comments, please post *SPOILER* before you do. And if I misunderstood the ending (it is open to some interpretation), please let me know. I certainly feel like I missed something. But I still think it was the script that didn’t provide it.
Okay, so it’s time to join you guys in the 21st Century. I went back in time this week and it wasn’t always pleasant. Three of the scripts I pretty much hated. And the fourth took four hours to read. This week’s crop of screenplays should be much more enjoyable. A couple of them were sold just this month, and the others are well-known projects around town. So that should be fun.
Take a look over at my “Script Request” list. I’ve added quite a few in the last couple of days. Alexander Payne’s latest, “Downsizing.” Two scripts from Max Winkler (who wrote one of my faves, “The Ornate Anatomy Of Living Things” and one of my least faves “The Adventurer’s Handbook.”) Bel Ami, which is a Robert Pattinson movie set in France. Beautiful Girl, which just sold yesterday. Chief Ron, which sold Wednesday I believe. And I’m still looking for The Originals and O’Gunn. In order to keep the list short, I’m taking a few off, Inception being one of them, which I think is a lost cause. So if you enjoy reading the site and have access to any of these scripts, give a little back so we can stay on the cutting edge of these sales.
Booked this week with consulting, but have openings the following week. If you’re interested, e-mail me for prices.
Genre: Period Drama
Premise: A 17th century English town deteriorates during the worst years of the black plague. How’s that for a crowd-pleaser?
About: This is it folks. This is the one. Considered to be the best script that’s never been made in Hollywood. It was written in the 60s and has been optioned dozens of times. Yet because of its dreary subject matter and…aggressive length, it never made it in front of the camera. I’ve personally spoken to a couple of people who call this the best script they’ve ever read.
Writer: Walter Brown Newman
A lot of scripts make me feel old. They’re simplistic, the devices tired, cliche-ridden, and there are a few too many orifice-dependent jokes. Harrow Alley made me feel like I was young. Kindergarten young. I found myself saying, “This is the kind of shit people used to like?” Talk about a script that takes its time. Harrow Alley is 180 pages long. That’s half a circle man. Clint Eastwood wouldn’t read this script because he was afraid he would die before he was finished. War and Peace is an afternoon read compared to this thing. Did they have editing in the 60s?
Anyway, I can’t say I’m particularly surprised that this movie’s never been made. It’s got all the optimism of a Saudi Arabian beheading. The setting is compelling enough – A city in England during the plague – but in the end, the narrative is too widespread and the driving force too muddled to make the story modern audience-friendly. That’s not to say it was bad. It was just…challenging. Very. Very. Challenging.
Harrow Alley takes place in England around the 17th century, or whenever the hell the Bubonic Plague was wreaking havoc. Although there are dozens of characters in the script, the two we focus on the most are Ratsey, a common thief who’s been sentenced to death, and Harry, an alderman for a town in London called Harrow Alley.
Mere seconds before Ratsey is to be hanged, one of the guards faints due to complications from the plague. The precious few seconds Ratsey gains from the man’s death allows a stage coach to race in, and the Alderman Harry to leap out and declare a stay on the execution. Back in Harrow Alley, the plague is just beginning to flourish. Because no one wants to actually touch the dead bodies, the town is forced to look for help in unfamiliar places. Who better to risk their lives moving these diseased corpses than men who were supposed to be dead anyway?
Ratsey is shuttled back to Harrow Alley, where we get our first look at the town. It’s bigger than you’d expect – housing tens of thousands of people – but no sooner are they home than they see the town is in complete chaos! People are fleeing for London (More people – dirtier conditions – makes sense) in a desperate attempt to avoid the plague. Even the Mayor himself is on his way out. Before he knows it, Harry – a low ranking alderman – is the highest ranking official left! Which means it is his job to run the town.
Ratsey, getting this reprieve on life, is particularly unaffected in the face of death. It irks the hell out of everyone else until someone finally asks him his secret. Ratsey confesses that he already had the plague as a kid, and since you can’t get the plague twice, he’s immune to it. Snap! As richer and more respected men fear for their lives, the lowly Ratsey strolls through town without a care in the world. Here, he’s Superman.
We meet all sorts of people from Harrow Alley. The young prostitute, the ancient doomsayer, the doctor, the clerk, the mute boy, the scam artists…as their lives twist and turn and intersect in strange and surprising ways. As the plague ruthlessly devours the town, some of these people make it and some don’t. But it’s Harry and Ratsey’s lives that we keep coming back to.
Harry, who begins the movie as the optimist, lives with a pregnant wife who he does not love and who does not love him. His closest friend is his dog, who he’s forced to kill because of the plague. Harry is a good man who cannot bring himself to understand why the town’s elite have left their people to fend for themselves. And even though he begins to fall in love with his wife, and she with him, the exponentially increasing death toll eventually leaves Harry just as hopeless as everyone else.
The final straw is Ratsey who learns by the death of a friend, that anybody can get the plague, even those who’ve had it before. And so the two acquaintences give in, waiting for the day when death will surely knock on their door.
Just when you think all is lost though (and let’s not kid ourselves – it still is), Ratsey befriends the baker’s widowed wife, who finds comfort in teaching Ratsey how to make bread. For the first time, Ratsey provides value to the world, which gives him something he’s never had before: a sense of self-worth. When he runs into an old prison friend who offers him a chance to maim and pillage once again, Ratsey respectfully declines. At last he’s found peace.
The end of the script perfectly bookends the beginning with an unforeseen and quite surprising turn of events. In a story that felt at times like a history assignment, it is probably the part that resonated with me the most. Harrow Alley is both satisfying and exhausting, and I don’t know if I’d recommend it to the average reader. Those who have read their share of scripts might find the challenge intriguing. And to them I say, Read on! But for the rest of you, this review will probably suffice. Now, whenever you find yourself in a snobby film circle after a big premiere and someone brings up this “Harrow Alley” masterpiece, you’ll be one of the few with an actual opinion. And that’s what I do here at Scriptshadow. I suffer so that you may thrive.
[ ] trash
[ ] barely kept my interest
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Harrow Alley has these long chunks of action narration: 8, 9, 10 lines long. People have asked me, “If the professionals can use 10 line paragraphs, why can’t I?” Here’s the answer. Older scripts. Adaptations. Writer-Director screenplays. Writing assignments. There are different rules for these scripts. With the older scripts, – before the spec boom -we just had more time on our hands. With the other examples, those scripts don’t have to make it through the overworked time-strapped underbelly of impatient readers who secretly run this town. They’re given more freedom to take their time and set things up because the people reading those scripts already trust the writer. You don’t have that luxury. You’re basically going up against someone who wanted to go to sleep 3 hours ago by the time they even start your script. So you have to keep things short and to the point. Action paragraphs should rarely, if ever, exceed 3 lines. It keeps your script lean and easy to read, which is exactly how you want it. Don’t be thrown by these massive chunks of action in scripts like Harrow Alley. That’s a different world, a world you’re 20 years late to my brother.