Genre: Dark Comedy
Premise: An extremely depressed man finds a beaver puppet in the garbage. When he puts it on, his life takes a dramatic turn for the better. Or does it?
About: This was the number 1 script on the Blacklist in 2008, which means all the biggest readers in town loved it. Steve Carrel became interested shortly thereafter, attaching himself, but has since exited the project. It’s now rumored that Jim Carrey is interested, which would make this the 243rd project he’s attached to. So far, nobody has purchased The Beaver.
Writer: Kyle Killen


Welcome to The Scriptshadow Challenge – Second Installment. Hopefully you all read your Beaver script last week and are ready to comment on it here and at Go Into The Story. Below you’ll find my review and then Scott Myers’. Keeping with tradition, my review is about 1/8 the length of Scott’s. But that’s okay because, as usual, he gives great analysis. So consider this the appetizer and Scott’s the main course. Afterwards, leave your own reviews in the comments section and together we can determine why the script was so well-loved. Enjoy!

The Beaver is a pretty solid little script. It’s a thinly veiled (albeit dark) version of “Guy drinks magical potion. Life changes for the better.” What separates it from the rest of these types of films is that it’s not a comedy. Well, it is, but not really. It’s actually a serious look at how depression ruins families and how distraction and denial may work as temporary lifeboats from the disease, but sooner or later, you’re going to have to deal with the real issues.

The story follows our suicidal main character, Walter, whose depression is so bad that his family kicks him out of the house (way to help out Fam!). Walter finds a beaver sock puppet in the trash that, for shits and giggles, he slips on. As soon as he does, it starts talking…in a British accent. The puppet informs Walter that he’s here to save his life. From that point on, he relieves Walter of all talking duties. His goal? To put Walter’s life back together.

He starts with Walter’s toy company, where he begins restructuring the main toy line. He moves to the children, who at first seemed baffled that their dad is talking through a puppet, but eventually warm to it. He even brings the beaver into the bedroom to join him and his wife for a little sexy-time. Needless to say, she’s a little freaked out. Now you may be asking, “Why would a group of men follow orders from a British puppet? Why would a perfectly reasonable woman allow a puppet to be involved in her sex life?” The answer is because the beaver (er, I mean, Walter) is happy for the first time in as long as anyone can remember. And since everything is going so well, nobody wants to rock the boat…in case it falls on the dam. And that’s where the problems start. Once the beaver gets a taste of this power, he wants more of it. A lot more.

I congratulate The Beaver for working on many levels. Unfortunately, I don’t think I understand all of them. It’s unclear to me whether Walter is puppeting the beaver, or if the beaver’s a real live animal/thing with its own brain and body. I mean, of course he’s just puppeting it, but in the end, nobody can take the puppet off of him. It’s physically impossible to remove it. So has the beaver turned real? Was it real all along? Is Kyle Killen, the writer, laughing at me right now? Or is all this just a concoction of Walter’s demented depressed mind? I’m still not sure what the answer is.

Walter finally comes to the realization that a puppet is controlling his life, and decides to put an end to the beaver. Since he can’t pull it off, he cuts it off, along with his hand. With the puppet now dead (at least until the sequel) Walter can finally face the reality of his life and try to overcome his depression the right way.

If I were to note the highlights of the script, it would be two superb scenes, one in the middle and one towards the end, that give a very thoughtful and powerful assessment on how we humans live our lives. The first is the beaver in an interview with Matt Lauer (yes, Matt Lauer) and the other is Walter’s son’s graduation speech which we hear in voice over. It’s heartbreaking stuff about how our life is pretty much set and all we can really do is go along for the ride. Both speeches are so powerful and so dead-on that these moments alone make up for most of the script’s deficiencies.

The last thing I’ll say about the script is that it’s not the best script I read on The Black List, but it’s definitely the most memorable. And I think there’s a lesson here. 9 out of 10 writers would’ve explored this concept as a broad comedy. The fact that we’re essentially watching a drama about a guy who talks through a British beaver puppet distinguishes this script from every other script out there. So that even if you disliked the script, chances are you still remembered it. That’s why it got noticed.

Check this out. It’s worth a read.

Script link: The Beaver

[ ] trash
[ ] barely kept my interest
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: As I just stated, doing something different with your screenplay will set you apart from all the other writers pushing predictable crap into Hollywood. It’s a calculated risk though because you probably won’t sell the script through traditional channels. But, if it’s well-executed, like The Beaver, you can make it onto the Black List, which gives your script exposure, which in turn could attract talent and lead to a sale.

Now for Scott’s take:

“The Beaver” is an exceptional script, a dark comedy with a most unusual hook: One of the story’s primary characters is a hand puppet — “The Beaver” — who comes ‘alive’ and basically takes over the plot. It’s extremely well-written with interesting and sharply drawn characters, a nicely structured yet surprising plot, and the writer infuses the script with strong visuals, all of which helps to lift the story off the printed page and into one’s imagination. The script also has three big areas of concern in terms of the story — more on those later.

Here is some background on the screenplay:

Writer: Kyle Killen

News: The script topped The 2008 Black List”, the “most liked” unproduced script as determined by votes of 250 Hwood development execs.

Originally set up in November, 2008 with Steve Carell to star, now Jim Carrey and Jodie Foster are circling the project, Carrey as the lead and Foster to direct.

As far as I know, “The Beaver” is Killen’s first script sale.

MAIN CHARACTERS

Walter: A depressed middle-aged man who suddenly was forced to take over as CEO of a toy company, a job for which he was not suited, nearly driving the company into the ground. Husband and father of two sons.

Meredith: Walter’s stalwart, patient, and forgiving ‘soccer mom’ wife.

Porter: Walter’s cynical high school senior son who feels trapped by his father’s genetic and behavioral shadow (i.e., he will turn out like Walter).

Henry: Walter’s grade school son who leads a nearly invisible life among his peers, except when they’re bullying him.

Norah: Overachieving high school senior, Porter’s love interest.

The Beaver: An animal puppet with a “crisp English accent” who becomes Walter’s personal psychological therapist, lifestyle coach, inseparable companion, and increasingly Walter’s ‘voice.’

PLOT

Per the ten major plot points of Narrative Throughline, the plot breaks down as follows:

Act One

Opening (P. 1-4): Establish Walter, his job, his family, and his state of deep depression, setting up his ensuing suicide attempt.

The Hook (P. 13-15): The Beaver comes to ‘life’ and asserts, “I’m The Beaver, Walter. I’m here to save your goddamned life.”

The Lock (P. 29-33): After Walter introduces The Beaver to his family, there is a big meeting at Walter’s office, setting into motion the ticking clock (toy expo), and finalizing all the various subplots.

Act Two

First Big Test (P. 40-45): Montage showing the deconstruction of Walter’s life — from depressed, non-functioning human to vital, positive figure, but laced with an implicit threat: What’s going to happen with The Beaver?

Transition (P. 63-65): On Walter and Meredith’s 20th anniversary date, Walter breaks down when given a memory box filled with photos from his and his family’s past, ending with The Beaver’s assertion to Meredith, “He can’t go back… He’s not going back to that.”

Second Big Test (P. 74-75): Unable to free himself of The Beaver, Walter’s family leaves him.

All Is Lost (P. 92-93): With Walter retreating into his original depressed state and The Beaver increasingly the dominant personality of the two, Walter cuts off his puppet hand and buries The Beaver in a coffin.

Act Three

On the Defensive (P. 95-96): With his business and family life collapsing around him, and recovering with a prosthetic hand, Walter is sent to a psychiatric hospital.

On the Offensive (P. 96-99): Walter meets with Meredith and Henry, and it turns out Walter is doing better and could be ready to go home soon.

Final Struggle (P. 106-107): Walter and Porter meet at the hospital, and confront core emotional issues.

The Denouement: Walter returns home with his family, happily waving goodbye to Porter as Porter takes off on a road trip with Norah.

And therein lies one of the rubs: While Walter and The Beaver’s relationship creates the spine of the Plotline, for much of the script, it feels like Porter’s story.

So let me do a breakdown of the story’s character archetypes, one with Walter as the story’s Protagonist, another with Porter as the P.

CHARACTER ARCHETYPES

Protagonist: Walter

The story is framed throughout to be about Walter and his relationship with The Beaver. It’s his eventual goal — to be with his family — that leads him into his ultimate conflict with The Beaver. And yet, for much of the script — almost all of the second act — Walter’s character virtually disappears. The Beaver takes over so while Walter is present physically, he is rarely involved emotionally. It’s only when Walter makes the cut — literally — from The Beaver that Walter ends up in a unity state where each day is a work-in-progress, but there’s a clear sense that he is getting better.

Nemesis: The Beaver

If you think of all those Blank From Hell movies in the 80s and 90s, this script could be thought of as The Plush Doll From Hell. Starts out as Walter’s friend, then over time dominates their relationship, revealing itself to be the primary obstacle Walter needs to overcome in order to achieve his goal: Get back with his family.

Attractor: Meredith / Henry / Porter

In order of time spent and emotional depth — as far as Walter’s character is concerned — the Attractor characters are Meredith, then Henry, and finally Porter. But as we’ll see when looking at the story with Porter as the Protag, the script has many scenes and dynamics that suggest it’s at its heart a father-son story (this is underscored by the script’s penultimate scene — the rapprochment between Porter and Walter). And yet, of all the primary characters, Walter spends the least amount of time with Porter. So in actuality, the father-son story is almost exclusively approached via Porter and his POV.

Mentor: Walter’s memories of his family

Throughout most of the script, The Beaver wears a Mentor’s mask, providing advice, encouraging Walter, and eventually taking charge of all Walter’s decision-making. So I suppose you could argue that The Beaver takes on the role of Dark Wisdom. But what ‘saves’ Walter in the end is when he reconnects with his family, spurred by the breakthrough when he sorts through all the photos Meredith has provided for him with his Memory Box.

Trickster: Walter’s depression

Clearly it provides one enormous test after another for Walter, almost causing himself to commit suicide as the story begins. Once The Beaver takes over, he manages to manipulate Walter out of his depressed state — seemingly — but eventually the depression returns. And in a twist befitting a Trickster, it’s that return that causes the final emotional cleavage between Walter and The Beaver, leading to Walter sawing off his puppet hand.

Now let’s look at the character archetypes with Porter as the Protag:

Protagonist: Porter

Of all the characters in the movie, no one deals more in depth and directly with their own emotional issues than Porter. In his relationships with his family, with Nora, and several scenes alone with himself, in a very real way, Porter confronts who Walter is even more than Walter does. Yes, Walter tries to commit suicide, but after The Beaver appears, Walter essentially flips a switch for the duration of Act One and much of Act Two. It’s Porter, who may know Walter’s behavioral quirks even better than Walter himself, who confronts again and again his own personal issues.

Nemesis: Walter

Walter = Curse as far as Porter is concerned. Walter is a deadly combination of repugnant habits and bad DNA, driving Porter to obsess if he will turn out to be like his father. It’s only after Walter has gone through his own catharsis and made the separation from The Beaver, achieving some version of a unity state, where Porter is able to approach his father as a peer and not the enemy.

Attractor: Norah

To me, this is almost the most interesting relationship in the script. Two young people, both of whom labor under long, dark psychological shadows — Porter and the legacy of his father, Norah and the legacy of her brother. Their conflict and discourse is pointed and smart, and there’s a continual flip-flop from one to the other about who is in the ‘power position,’ who is in the right, who knows what they’re talking about that makes this subplot quite interesting.

Mentor: Porter the Writer

Porter is a smart kid and he uses his way with words for his own financial benefit by ghost-writing papers and essays for his classmates. It’s his writer self that precipitates his intersection with Norah. It’s his commitment to ghost-writing her commencement speech that allows the couple to get to know each other. And in what seems like a negative experience, it’s his writing that gets him into trouble (the essay he wrote for Hector), kicked out of school, and rejected Brown University. But in the end, it turns out Porter needed to get knocked off that path (just like Norah requires a break from going straight to Stanford). However the most important moment where Porter’s writer self provides wisdom is when Norah tells him that the commencement address he wrote was not about her, it is actually about Porter. And in reading his own words, Porter comes to a place where he can finally go to meet his father one-on-one.

Trickster: The Beaver

On the one hand, The Beaver turns around Walter’s depression, seemingly a good thing for Porter. But then The Beaver’s continuing presence in the family’s life simply accentuates Porter’s concern about becoming like his father — it makes Walter even weirder.

AREAS OF CONCERN

Now let me say again, I enjoyed this script. I think it will make an interesting movie. But if I was one of the filmmakers involved in this project, I would have some concerns about how it works — or doesn’t work — as a story.

1. Walter’s disappearance: As noted, during much of Act Two, Walter’s character — while present physically — disappears as an active persona for a long stretch of time. In many scenes Walter exists as a prop to transport The Beaver around, provide a platform from which The Beaver can pontificate. And one of the classic concerns in screenwriting is not to create a passive Protagonist — but for much of the movie, that’s precisely what Walter is. Now I think that’s precisely the point the writer is making with Walter’s character, moving from depressed state to what turns out to be a fake state of wellness, back to depression, then resentment toward The Beaver, the separation from The Beaver, and the eventual move into genuine wellness and toward wholeness — he starts off passive, then becomes active. And in theory, I don’t have a problem with that. For example, in the movie Being There, the Protagonist Chance (Peter Sellers) is led about throughout the entire story, the joke being that other people actively interpret Chance’s simplistic gibberish as incredible wisdom. But The Beaver isn’t that kind of story. Besides there is supposedly at the core of this script a subplot that — at least in my view — is not fully realized because of Walter’s ‘disappearance': The father-son story.

2. At its heart, this is a father-and-son story, but one told almost exclusively through the perspective of the son. In fact, for nearly all of the second act, Walter and Porter rarely interact. The writer goes to extra lengths to address that, intercut scenes, split-screen scenes, visual to visual transitions that put the two characters ‘side-by-side,’ but there are only a handful of actual moments where the two characters intersect. An odd way to approach this subplot, especially since the emotional apex of the script is the final meeting between Walter and Porter, however since the two have rarely interacted, the impact is less than it could be. What we carry into that exchange is the specific perspective of Porter who has obsessed throughout about his father’s shadow and a rather generic sense of what Porter, and indeed his whole family means to Walter. Both of those go right back to the previous point — how Walter disappears in Act Two.

3. Finally, going back to an earlier point, even though the Plotline is defined by the relationship between Walter and The Beaver, I found myself constantly pulled toward the emotional plot of Porter’s story. Again this is exacerbated by Walter’s ‘disappearance’ as a character for much of the script. You could try to draw a parallel between this script and American Beauty — actually I think there are many parallels (e.g., drama-comedy, satire on suburban American living, dysfunctional family, father going through a mid-life crisis) — where Walter, like Lester, create the spine for the Plotline and a major subplot is provided by the romance story between flawed teenagers (i.e., Porter & Norah / Ricky & Jane). But Ricky & Jane in American Beauty is truly a subplot, secondary in the amount of time and emotional heft compared to the various subplots Lester is involved in, whereas the Porter & Norah story seems to even transcend the Walter & The Beaver relationship, especially in terms of emotional resonance (at least for me).

That said, I’m not sure these concerns are enough to undercut the power of this script as it gets transformed into a movie. The characters are so richly drawn, the dialogue so smart, the humor biting, the drama compelling and at times even profound. Plus, the script traffics in several interesting thematic elements:

* Identity: Who are you really? That question seems to be the subtext of much of what happens in the script. It’s most prominent with Walter and The Beaver, our attention bobbing back and forth from one to the other, trying to determine who is really behind what’s happening. But also Porter in grappling with his destiny (per his father’s dark shadow over him), Norah shifting gears in her path in response to her brother’s sudden death, Henry who moves from an almost invisible entity to a woodworking machine, Meredith whose soccer mom identity is challenged by living with a puppet wearing freak. So in sum after we read FADE OUT, the lingering question becomes one directed at the reader: Who are you?

* Legacy: Can Walter overcome his depression? Can Porter overcome his father’s dark shadow? Can Norah overcome the dark shadow of her brother’s death? Those legacy issues permeate each of these characters’ storylines.

* Box: And for me, this is the most interesting thematic element in the script — the idea of a box. There are boxes in evidence throughout the script: Boxes when Walter moves out, memory boxes that Henry builds, boxes when Meredith and the boys move out of the house, the box (coffin) Walter builds for The Beaver. But then there are more figurative boxes: How The Beaver boxes in Walter as The Beaver step-by-step takes over Walter’s life, the side-by-side boxes of Norah and her brother’s bedrooms, the box of Porter’s bedroom, one wall of which Porter pound his head in an effort to escape. A lot of times when you read a script, you don’t know if the writer was conscious of a theme or recurring set of images or not — they could have arisen from the writer’s unconscious. But I’ve got to believe that the writer knew that he was onto something with these recurring images of boxes.

SUMMARY

I can see why Hwood readers liked the script so much. It’s a great read — clean pages, smart transitions, a nice narrative pull, several surprises in the plot, mature take on the material, and of course a compelling concept at its core. I can also see why no major studio made an offer on the script because of a core question: Will this concept fly with audiences? Even if Jim Carrey stars in the movie, might the buzz be, “Oh, no, it’s another one of his weird movies, not a really funny one,” and in the past, we’ve seen some of those movies tank at the box office. And despite the story’s American Beauty feel to it — a drama-comedy about American suburban life with satirical overtones — there is some distance between the subject matter and the emotional world created because of The Beaver. As it stands in the way between all the story’s characters and Walter, so too with the reader.

But this is a movie that deserves to get produced. I’m not sure if the script will get rewritten to address any of the concerns I pointed out (or others), but in a way, I’d be curious to see it get shot the way it’s written. I’d like to see if it works as is.

Normally I post my reviews at midnight, but since Scott and I are coordinating a simultaneous post for the Scriptshadow Challenge, you’ll have to wait until 6am Pacific Time. Sorry. :(

In the meantime, here are the 5 most discussed scripts on Scriptshadow. Go discuss them.

1) Memoirs - 49 comments
2) Passengers (Keannu Reeves) – 32 comments
3) Unbound Captives - 30 comments.
4) Peacock - 29 comments
5) Kristy - 28 comments

Genre: Thriller
Premise: A college Freshman’s roommate becomes dangerously obsessed with her.
About: Mallhi is an executive vice president at Vertigo. He went out with the screenplay under a pseudonym so it would be given fair consideration in the marketplace. It wasn’t until after Screen Gems made an offer on “Roommate” that Mallhi revealed that he wrote the spec. Mallhi exec produced “The Strangers” for Vertigo (Daily Variety). “Roommate” marks Mallhi’s first screenplay sale. It is now in production. Gossip Girl cast member Leighton Meester is attached and an unknown director from Denmark, Christian Christensen, is directing.
Writer: Sonny Mallhi


Okay okay, so I kinda cheated. I promised you guys I’d review a horror script. I poured and poured over the choices but I just couldn’t do it. I would open the script, read a few words, and think: 120 pages of this?? There’s no way. So I decided on a compromise. The Roommate is sort of a horror script. Or, at least, it appeals to the same people who like horror. Doesn’t it?

The idea for The Roommate is very “Single White Female” – a solid flick from the 90s that was just under the radar enough that no one remembers it. Which is good for Mallhi because that meant he had no competetion for the idea. He obviously figured, “All I have to do is take this great concept and transfer it to a college setting, where the girls are younger and hotter.” Uhh, can anyone say genius??

I love a good psychological thriller and The Roommate psychologicalizes and thrills right from the beginning. When I finished it and researched to see what was going on with the project, it came as no surprise that it was already in production. 9 out of 10 purchased scripts never make it to the big screen. But as soon as I put this down I knew it was ready to be shot tomorrow (and it was – literally).

Sara is a college freshman who’s a bit more self-assured than most college coeds. We catch her on the day she’s moving in. She makes a few friends on the floor and meets a cute drummer in a local band, Stephen. After what can only be described as a perfect first day of college, Sara comes home to find…Rebecca. Just sitting there. Staring. You know what kind of stare I’m talking about too. The kind that says psych-ooooo. But naive Sara, eager to make friends, ignores the creepines, and introduces herself. Rebecca, even though she’s a knockout, seems to be surprised by the attention, and rewards Sara……by watching her sleep all night.

Friday Night Lights alum will play Sara

The next day, Sara introduces her obnoxious floor friends to Rebecca. One of the great things about Mallhi’s script is his subtle dark humor, which is on full display in this scene…
[scrippet]
Sara waves her over and only then, does Rebecca walk over.

SARA (CONT’D)
Tracy. Kim. This is my roommate Rebecca.

REBECCA
(small wave)
Hi.

TRACY
RRRRRREBECCA. Your name’s sort of a mouthful. What can we call you?

KIM
I like Reba.

Tracy sticks her finger down her throat, makes gagging sounds.

SARA
I like Becca.

TRACY
(shakes her head)
How about Becky?

SARA
Becky’s good.

They simultaneously turn to Rebecca for approval.

REBECCA
I like Rebecca.

Buzzkill.

TRACY
OOOKAAAY.

SARA
(to Rebecca)
We better take these books back to the room.

Without saying goodbye. Rebecca leaves. Sara gives Tracy and Kim a look. Shrugs her shoulders.
[/scrippet]
To get a full idea of just how creepy Rebecca is, you have to read the script. But for another taste, here’s a scene where Sara and Rebecca are getting ready for a party…

[scrippet]
They both look in the mirror. Rebecca smiles.

SARA (CONT’D)
Wait a sec. I also have some cool earrings that will go with this.

Sara grabs a pair of small, gold hoop earrings from her dresser. She places them in Rebecca’s hand.

SARA (CONT’D)
Lemme go take a shower. I’ll be just a second.

She grabs her stuff and rushes out the door leaving Rebecca standing there. Earrings in her palm. She turns towards the full length mirror behind the door. As she leans into the mirror, we see her ears aren’t pierced.

Nevertheless, she takes one of the earrings and touches the pin against the skin of her right lobe. After a moment of hesitation. She pushes the pin in hard. A small pop. She flinches slightly.

Blood trickling down her ear, onto her neck. She wipes it off with her thumb and places the other hoop to her left ear.
[/scrippet]

Leighton Meester will play the creepy Rebecca

Although Rebecca continues to be introduced to Sara’s friends, let’s just say she’s not that interested in them. And if any of them decide to cross Sara…well, then Rebecca pays them a visit. Sometimes the visits are innocent. Other times…well let’s just say no one’s safe in this film, not even house pets.

I think one of the reasons the script works so well is that it balances the real world with the movie world in away where you don’t question the cinematic liberties taken (and there are a few taken). We all know that person in our life who creeps us the hell out. The guy at work who never laughs at the right moment. The girl at the gym who’s definitely barbequeing bodies in her spare time. Usually you’re able to weed these people out of your life, but because of mutual friends or work, you occasionally have to deal with them. “The Roommate” explores the more fantastical assumptions we make about what these people do when they’re alone.

One thing I noticed while I was reading this was that there’s a lot more action text than dialogue text, which is rare to see these days. Entire scenes occur without anybody saying anything. And even the scenes where people do talk, they’re usually less than a page long. It’s not easy to do this without your script feeling stunted but “Roommate” is all the better for it. It really is a solid script.

Before I go, here’s one last juicy moment. Earlier, Sara was shocked to find out Rebecca didn’t have a Facebook page, insisting she had to get one. In that same converation, they talked about Sara’s favorite movie being Coyote Ugly.
[scrippet]
INT. LIBRARY

Sara sits with Stephen. He’s trying to read but has the attention span of a gnat. Sara’s not studying either. She’s on her Facebook page. Gets a message for adding a new friend…from Rebecca. Sara clicks to add her.

Sara goes to Rebecca’s Facebook page. Sara’s her only friend. The picture of Sara and Rebecca in front of the graffiti is on the site. There are more of her drawings and a picture of a brunette haired girl with the caption ‘Maria.’

Sara looks at her interests. Favorite Artist: Richard Prince. Favorite Passion: Drawing. Favorite movie: Coyote Ugly. Sara smiles. Best Friend: SARA. She loses the smile.
[/scrippet]

[ ] trash
[ ] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[x] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: Bombard your protag! Sara has to deal with Rebecca, with her friend Tracy no longer liking her, with the pressue of Stephen always wanting to hang out, with her ex-bf Jason wanting to get together, with her friend Irene who wants her to move in with her, with her mom always wanting to talk, with her professor hitting on her, with her cat disappearing…All this bombardament puts an insane amount of tension on your protagonist. And all that tension gets transferred directly onto us. We feel Sara’s stress. It makes every scene with her that much more captivating, because we know what she’s going through. Beginning writers almost always make things easy for their protagonist. And let’s be honest. How interesting is that?

Genre: Action
Premise: An art auctioneer kidnaps criminals and auctions them off to rival crime bosses.
About: Intrepid Pictures, the company behind “The Strangers,” purchased The Highest Bid in April for an undisclosed sum. (note: The draft I read is a very early one and I know that extensive rewrites are being done, possibly even addressing some of the issues I bring up).
Writer: Gary Spinelli


Vincent, an art auctioneer and our hero, is withdrawing money from the bank when, by gosh, a team of bank robbers charges in with a fixin for a robbery. While everybody else freaks out, Vincent stays calm. He probes their movements, watches how they communicate, quickly assessing just how dangerous these men are. When the tough one tells him to sit down, Vincent’s arms and legs turn into a cuisinart, chopping through the men in a matter of seconds. In case you were wondering, Vincent’s a badass.

His day not even close to complete, he hops in his car, starts chasing a truck, leaps into the truck, grabs someone from out of the back, rips off a door, tosses the door onto the road, jumps out – with the guy mind you – and concrete-surfs the door along the road at 75 miles per hour until they come to a stop.

The man he’s kidnapped has pissed off enough people in town that there’s a bit of a price on his head. So Vincent puts in a call to the guy’s (mob) family, as well as a rival mob – in this case The Russians. From the privacy of his office, over a nice bottle of wine, he informs both parties that an auction has begun. Whichever party bids the highest takes the prize home. The winning bid goes to the Russians for 350,000 dollars. Truck Guy’s sleeping with the fishes. Or whatever it is the Russian Mob does to people. Yes indeed, Vincent leads a strange life.

The great thing about The Highest Bid is the high stakes game Vincent plays with all the families. The last people you want to piss off is organized crime. It’s like walking up to Tony Soprano and giving him the finger. In auctioning off the lives of these crime members for the past year, he’s managed to piss off The Italians, The Chinese, The Russians, The Koreans, pretty much anybody who owns a gun. Which means all it takes is one slip-up, one person to discover his true identity, and ten of the deadliest gangs in the city will do everything in their power to introduce him to the local sea life.

When Vincent kidnaps a beautiful European woman named Sophie, who belongs to the West Coast underworld leader, Lo Fang, he may have finally bitten off more than he can chew. Get it? Chew? Fang? Never mind. Anyway, Lo Fang is bad. He’s so bad that he kills his bodygaurd for not answering a question correctly. And you know when these crime leaders kill their own bodyguards? ………….. That means they’re bad. A little aside here. If you’re a crime lord, why would you shoot your own bodyguard? Isn’t trust a huge issue in this business? Do you know how long the round of interviews is going to take to get another guard you can actually trust? Lo Fang dude. Use your brain.

Anyway, this is one auction that won’t yield a high bid. Lo Fang wants Sophie back, and he’ll do anything to get her. Including alerting all the other mob bosses to Vincent’s true identity. Vincent then finds himself engaging in a series of increasingly elaborate action sequences, trying to escape the deadly Fang and all the other mob bosses, all the while wondering, “Man, can I even trust this Sophie bitch?”

And that’s why the script didn’t work for me. You have yourself a very cool premise. You use it in the opening 15 pages. Then it disappears quicker than Jimmy Hoffa, replaced by big generic XXX action scenes, which begs the question, why have the hook in the first place? If you’re just going to turn this into a B movie, why waste the slick hook? Why include lines like this one?
[scrippet]

LO FANG
Where do you two come from?

SOLON LEAGUE
Think of Hell. Then think of a place worse than that.

[/scrippet]
You know you’re watching an action movie when one of the characters is named “Solon League”. Anyway, I’ve made my point. The Highest Bid missed a great opportunity to explore a cool premise and decided instead to turn it into the next Steven Seagal film (not that there’s anything wrong with that – just sayin). Had they prepared me for this, I might have reacted differently. But I was hoping for something that made me think a little more, ya know?

Script link: The Highest Bid

[ ] trash
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: This seems like a rather obvious lesson but don’t abandon the hook of your movie. It’s your hook. Take advantage of it. Milk every last drop from it. At the same time, this is a good reminder of how important a great hook can be. While you’ll never sell a piece of shit with a great hook, producers will definitely overlook some problems in your screenplay if you have one.

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.