Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller
Premise: A renegade group of former space employees travels the world, stealing space equipment in an attempt to go back to the moon.
About: A relatively unknown project that’s being directed by Doug Liman which will star Jake Gyllenhaal. The script was originally penned by Liman with the help of ‘Along Came Polly’ director John Hamburg, but has been rewritten by ‘Black Hawk Down’ scribe Mark Bowden. It’s unclear which draft this is but I’m fairly certain it’s the Bowden draft. Dan Mazeau and Ken Nolan are also credited with working on the screenplay.
Writer: Mark Bowden.
I have to say that Doug Liman is one of the more underrated directors out there. No one gives him any credit for Swingers but the guy figured out a way to balance Vaughn and Favreau’s love for improvisation with a production schedule that couldn’t afford second takes. He went on to do “Go”, a cool kinetic flick that played with time and still managed to differentiate itself from all the Pulp Fiction clones going out at the time. Mr. & Mrs. Smith was a movie I was so sure I was going to hate that I had to literally be dragged to the theater. Somehow, the movie turned out to be a good time. Then he started a franchise in the Bourne movies that had no business being as big as they were – since Matt Damon’s career was basically in the cellar when the first film premiered. His only misstep was the Hayden Christensen starrer “Jumper”, which felt like the projectionist had accidentally fallen on the fast-forward button for the entirety of the movie. It’s one of a handful of movies that actually felt like it chopped off too much film (but we did get to see Billy Elliot all grown up). So when I heard that Mr. Liman would be directing a big-budget semi-sci-fi flick about going to the moon, I wanted to check out the script.
A mysterious group of misfits is stealing rockets and boosters and, yes, even lunar landers from all over the world – even going so far as to leave “I.O.U.’s” in their wake. They appear to be a rogue collection of former space pilots and engineers led by a hot Eastern European woman named Anya. She’s one of those “save the earth” type women…but on like a case of red bull. FBI and NASA officials find out that the group is following an outdated thesis project from an ex-NASA employee which proposes how to get to the moon at 1/10 the cost of any known mission. The author of this project is an Observation Center employee named Cole – a man who has no idea that any of this is going on.
Well he’s about to. Because Cole is the last item on the list. One second he’s staring at the moon, the next he’s thrown into the back of a van, drugged, and when he wakes up, he’s on a mission to the moon. Yes, Cole is sitting in the cockpit of an old rusted Kazakhstan rocket three seconds before liftoff! Cole is equal parts surprised, terrified, and sincerely pissed off.
Apparently Anya’s group has dual motives: to mine Helium-3, a high performance energy source which can only be found on the moon and (I’m not kidding about this) to leave a Monk on the moon to establish a Lunar Lighthouse. Apparently nobody told Anya that the purpose of a Lighthouse is to guide incoming ships to safety. Since the only thing that’s going to be heading towards the moon in the next 20 years is a meteor or two and the occasional Chinese satellite, I’d say Marco the Monk is going to have a a lot of free time on his hands. I hope he brought a Gameboy.
Well, because they’re all amateurs and they don’t have Houston on their side (the American space program refuses to help) they crash land, leaving them in the position of trying to figure out how to get back home. My interest started to fade long before this, but this was the breaking point. First of all, who cares if this team gets to the moon or not? We’ve already been to the moon, oh, what… 40 years ago. I wouldn’t care if you told me my damn cousin was on the mission. Getting to the moon is old. There’s nothing special about it, even if you were able to save a couple of dollars in the process. What’s next? A renegade team that sends another rover to Mars? And maybe the two rovers clash for Martian supremacy? There could be some high drama in that. But seriously, all that happens is that they crash on a place we’ve already been before, and then try to find a way back. What’s interesting about this?
You remember that movie, “Space Cowboys?” With Tommy Lee Jones and Clint Eastwood? The whole thing was about these old men going up into space. But what they did with that script is they added another element to the story. Once they were up there, they found out they had to fix this mysterious rouge satellite. The curiosity of what was behind that satellite added another dimension to the story that made it more than just a bunch of guys going into space. That’s what “Luna” needed. That extra story element. What if they got to the moon and realized some country had a secret base there? What would the people occupying that base do to make sure the base’s existence stayed secret? That’s a story. Trying to get to the moon, crashing, then trying to get back isn’t a story. I’m sorry but it isn’t.
It was for this reason that I couldn’t recommend Luna.
Script link: Luna
[ ] trash
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: One thing I will give Luna is that it’s well-researched. While I wasn’t always keen on the logic behind *why* they were doing this, everything seemed plausible and realistic because of how much research went into it. I believed that what they were doing was possible. A lot of writers don’t do any research but it makes a difference. Readers know when a writer’s bullshitting and professional writers almost always research their subject matter. So when someone comes along that doesn’t, it sticks out like a sore thumb.
Premise: A working-class single father’s world comes crashing down when his son goes missing.
About: Herman just sold the bank heist spec “Conviction” to Universal last month, which opened up the door to sell “Rites Of Men” a couple of weeks later.
Writer: Jonathan Herman
After Rett gets Billy a car for his birthday, Billy heads down to Florida to spend the weekend with his mother. Unfortunately, he never gets there. Billy and his car go missing for weeks. It’s every parents’ worst nightmare. A few days later, they find Billy’s body in some bushes. Rett’s world comes crashing down. He is destroyed.
Months pass and Rett’s life is one big alcoholic binge. The only thing he feels is hate. The cops gave up on his son’s case a long time ago and it’s left Rett with nothing but bitterness. It is by complete chance then that he happens to spot the very car he bought Billy. With a little investigation, he discovers the identity of the driver, a beautiful nurse named Carla. He cons his way into meeting her, discovering early on that she had nothing to do with Billy’s disappearence, and starts to fall for her. He also befriends Carla’s high school son, a teenager who reminds him a lot of his own son. Rett once again finds himself playing the role of father, and the three of them become a weird dysfuncitonal family with a hell of a lot of baggage.
Rites of Men nearly made my Top 10. It’s an excellent screenplay by an excellent writer. Technically, it blows most screenplays I read out of the water. The characters are all memorable, the emotion is real, the dialogue is great, the story never slows, it hits all the beats and yet it never feels structured. It’s just a really good script. Remember “The Low Dweller,” the script I reviewed a few weeks back? This was like that script, except entertaining. Herman really really knows how to entertain.
What yanked it out of my Top 10, and even my Top 25, was a late twist that was too convenient, followed by an ending that was too messy. I see this happen a lot with these scripts. A really smart set-up that loses itself in a blur of stabbing and shootings and geographic confusion – the writing equivalent of when a director shoots a fight scene in super close-ups so you can never tell what the hell is going on. It just didn’t quite live up to the rest of the script, which always had me guessing.
But still man, this script was really good. Herman crafts tons of lines like this one, where Rett responds to an officer telling him to stay strong: “Maybe put your own child in a hole sometime. Throw a little dirt on top. See how strong it makes you.”
Really top-notch stuff. This one’s a keeper. Check it out.
[ ] trash
[ ] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] genius
What I learned: This is a good lesson. Too many writers try to break in with their low-concept scripts. But the reality is, even if these scripts are great, agents and producers know they’ll have a tough time selling them, particularly if the person’s a first-time writer and doesn’t have the track record to justify the gamble. Herman busted in with a way more commercial bank-heist spec a few weeks earlier – something an executive knew he could sell. Now that Herman had a track record around town, he was able to bust out the less commercial “Rites Of Men,” and people trusted him enough to buy it. Go in first with your high-concept or highly marketable idea. Once you’ve made the sale, then bust out the character piece. There are cases of doing it the other way around, but they’re few and far between.
Some good news about the upcoming week. I’ll be getting back to the present and reviewing four – count’em FOUR – recently sold specs. As you may have noticed, we’re getting some cease and desist orders on the script postings, which means those of you checking in late don’t get a chance to read them. I usually post around midnight Pacific time, but if you want that up to the second notification, follow me on Twitter. You’ll know as soon as the newest review is posted.
Don’t forget to always check my “Scripts Wanted” list to the right there. I just added “Conviction”. Loved the script from the same writer I’ll be reviewing next week. Dying to read his previous sale. Does anybody have “Signals” or “Doomsday Protocol?” Should I just give up on them? I’m also looking for any Nicholl-winning screenplays not named Butter. Preferably pre-2008, as I have all of last years.
Thanks to all who’ve have used the script consultation service. You’ve made me very busy. For those interested in getting some awesome notes on your latest spec, please contact me for prices. I’m booked this week but have openings the week after.
Time for some shut-eye so I can watch the French Open tomorrow. :)
We are here. Finally! For those of you newer Scriptshadow converts, you probably haven’t heard of The Scriptshadow Challenge. What is it? Oh man, trying to describe The Scriptshadow Challenge is like trying to describe sex. It’s beyond description I’m afraid. It’s something you gotta feel deep inside you, you know what I mean? I’ll give it a shot though. My buddy Scott (Go Into The Story) and I give you a fairly recent spec script, which you read during the week, then next Friday Scott and I both post our reviews, and you then post your reviews in the comments section. Basically, we’re trying to get a big ole quasi-intellectual discussion going on here. Why did this particular script sell? How did it achieve such accolades? What distinguishes it from everyting else out there? Those are the kinds of questions we want you asking yourself.
This month’s script? The controversial NUMBER 1 SCRIPT on the 2008 Black List: The Beaver, about a depressed family man who finds a Beaver puppet that he wears on his hand 24/7. Of course the beaver puppet speaks in an English accent (cause, like, why wouldn’t he?) and starts to take over the man’s life. Dark, weird, edgy. For awhile Steve Carrel was attached, but now it looks like Jim Carrey is circling the project.
I know there are some of you that are saying, “Wait a minute. You’re going through this big schpiel, making it sound like we’re about to have the time of our lives, and what this all amounts to is you giving us homework?” Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…yeah! Download “The Beaver” here: The Beaver – And start working on those reviews for next Friday.
Premise: A father who is recovering from the death of his wife takes his daughter on a trip to experience the Seven Wonders of the World
About: This original spec sold a couple of years back, I believe for mid-six figures. It will be directed by the writer and produced by Marvin Acuna (The Great Buck Howard).
Writer: Timothy Scott Bogart
The Year of Wonders would make a great journal. The Year of Wonders might make a good videologue. But the Year of Wonders is not a great screenplay. Nor will it make a great movie. In essence, it’s two people hopping around the world talking about someone who just died. There’s nothing present about the story. The focus is on the past. So even though we’re traveling the world, we never really feel like we’re there.
I remember this selling a couple of years ago and thinking it was a neat idea. Being in the presence of the seven most amazing structures/natural wonders on the planet would be the ultimate life-changing experience. The irony is that there’s no sense of that wonder in the script. It focuses more on the pain that the two characters are enduring, specifically the dad, and does so in a very heavy-handed manner. For example, these are the first words out of Lou’s (the daughter) mouth…
Do we choose the lives we live?
(silence, then really thinking about it, before…)
Or do you think we end up living the lives we’ve chosen?
I don’t know about you but I have no idea what that means. The script follows teenage daughter Lou, and her doctor father, Joel, after Maxine, Joel’s wife, dies of cancer. When a messenger delivers a videotape a few days later, it turns out to be Maxine, from the grave, telling her husband and daughter that they’re going on a trip. It will be spontaneous, it’ll be fun, and it’ll be right now. The plane tickets have already been purchased.
Turns out that crafty Maxine was putting together a little video collection on the sly – an international scavenger hunt which focuses on the seven wonders of the world. I can hear the collective groan from cyberspace – and it’s deserved. Whether Timothy wrote this before they came out, or just hasn’t watched a lot of movies and/or TV – the whole “from the grave scavenger hunt” thing has been done to death, most recently in the Hilary Swank Romantic Comedy “P.S. I Love You” which almost single-handedly made me quit movies. So in addition to the other problems I mentioned, the script feels unoriginal as well.
So they go from country to country, getting new videotapes from Maxine along the way, following directions, all while Lou channels her inner Gray’s Anatomy, giving poignant voice over. Again, there’s nothing active happening. It’s all reflection. It’s all following directions and instructions making our two main characters feel like puppets in a show. Drama, conflict, twists and turns. You’re not going to find that here.
The one chance the script had to redeem itself was in the relationship between Lou and her father, which we’re meant to believe is troubled. The problem is there’s nothing in the first act that informs us of this. We only find out it’s “troubled” when we’re told it is in a Lou voice over late in the second act. I’m not going to care about two people fixing a relationship that I never knew was broken.
Here’s a fairly common scene from the script…
EXT. ITALIAN HOTEL – ROOFTOP – NIGHT
Joel and Lou sit on the roof. All of Rome before them, as -
Why didn’t he tell me? Why did he lie? I didn’t even really like him.
(then, so honestly -)
So, why does it hurt so much?
Because it’s supposed to. And you’re supposed to let it.
Joel reaches out and gently brushes the tears from off her cheeks, but now there’s no stopping them, as -
I miss her so much, dad. I miss her every second. She’s supposed to tell me what to do.
This just devastates him -
Who’s going to teach me everything? Who’s going to show me – how to be a woman? How – to get married? How – to hold my babies? It’s not fair.
Joel reaches for her and pulls her towards him -
I can’t breathe…
Yes, you can. Yes, you can.
And as she continues to cry in his arms, Joel is finally the support she needs. Strong. Loving. Embracing. Her father.
And it hurts to write this because Timothy is clearly telling the story from a place of honesty and possibly real-life experience. It’s not easy to bear your pain in a screenplay. But it can’t *just* be emotion. You have to tell a story. And the story in The Year Of Wonders isn’t compelling enough.
[ ] trash
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: The first act is where you set up your story. One of the most important places to focus your attention is the relationships between the characters. If there’s a specific issue between two characters, you have to give us at least one scene that clarifies it. Many writers are hesitant to bring too much attention to these problems for fear of “hitting the audience over the head.” But if you’re too subtle, the transformation the characters/relationships go through later on in the script won’t carry enough weight.