Genre: Drama
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…


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 -

I know.

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.

I know.

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.

A couple of quick things. First off, horror. I know you’ve been demanding it, but my horror aficionados are busy. Which means *I’m* the only one left to brave the genre. As I’ve pointed out before, I’m not the biggest horror fan. But I’m a huge *story* fan. I like good stories, no matter what the genre. So for you – the people – I’m going to read a horror script for next week. But I want suggestions. Give me something GOOD. Not some excuse to throw fake blood on people. No, I will not review The Strangers 2. That is exactly the kind of script I *don’t* want to read. So give it to me. Horror, zombies, etc. I want something that’s going to make me say, “Hmm, this horror stuff isn’t so bad. I want to read more of it.”

Also, as some of you have noticed, it’s that time of month. No, not *that* time of month. But the time of month for The Scriptshadow Challenge! Woo-hoo! Scott Myers and I from Go Into The Story give you guys a script to download, a week to read it, and then we all get to review the thing instead of just me. So be looking for that tomorrow morning. Scott and I have chosen a script that will surely provoke some discussion. I wonder what it’s going to be. :)

Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller
Premise: A young computer genius discovers a series of computers cooperating with each other. He suspects foul play.
About: Exit Zero is on a few of those “Best Unproduced Scripts in Hollywood” lists. Wimmer has a couple of scripts in my Top 25, including Law-Abiding Citizen (which I seem to be the only fan of) and Salt. Exit Zero was purchased for 1.5 million dollars back in 1996.
Writer: Kurt Wimmer

Exit Zero is about a young computer genius, Max, who begins to suspect that a series of supercomputers are communicating with each other. He mentions it to some coworkers and his superior and their responses are predictable: “So the fuck what?” Just when Max thinks he’s overreacting – BAM – he’s hit with a mass murder charge. ??? What??? The FBI shows up within minutes to arrest him but our young spry Max slips away.

Soonafter, he runs into Sandy, an icy bitch who has some sort of advanced cognitive ability that allows her to see holograms inside newspapers and magazines that very well may be holding subliminal messages meant for the human race. The messages say, “They stopped using subliminal messages in movies back in 1996″ as well as something about “Prepare for Exit Zero.”

The CIA joins in on the chase, forcing Max and Sandy to find out what’s going on before they’re caught (and maybe even killed!). They hop from city to city, picking up clues along the way, and learning that dozens of supercomputers are communicating with each other without any human interaction! Packages are being sent from all over the world to a central location. The question is: What’s in the packages?

Well if I told you , I’d be giving away the big secret right?!


Okay fine I’ll tell you. (***spoilers***) The packages are robot parts, being manufactured during downtime at the factories when workers aren’t around. So then who’s ordering the factories to make and ship these parts? Are you ready for this?? Well, finally the internet has found some sort of central conscious after being fed gazillions of bytes of information for so long. But since it can only do so much as an invisible entity, it’s using computers from all over the world, mainly in car and machine factories, to create a physical embodiment – read “robot” – which it can then transfer itself into.

I’ll be honest, I was kind of into this. But that’s because I’m into anything techno-thriller-like. If it wasn’t so dripping with 90s ideas, I’d like it more. The whole “being able to erase your identity and charge you with any crime at any moment” thing? Sandra Bullock in the “The Net” anyone?? Even 15 years later though, this is still a hell of a lot more creative than that piece of crap, Eagle Eye.

A couple of other problems I had were that the girl was completely worthless. There was nothing likable or intersting about her at all – unless you count her nonsese ability to see secret codes embedded in magazines that no one else in the world could. They don’t exploit any sort of relationship between her and Max- and I’m not saying you have to do that in every movie. But if she’s just there to run around and be annoying, why even include her?

And the ending of this thing. Oh my God. All I can tell you is there’s a space shuttle involved. Why they’re all of sudden in a space shuttle? How they got on the shuttle?? I could probably read this thing 50 more times and I still wouldn’t be able to answer those questions. I just know that Kurt Wimmer was putting a damn space shuttle in that third act through hell or high water. He clearly had no concerns whatsoever about if it had anything to do with the story or not.

And yet still, through all of this, I really dug Exit Zero because the mystery portion of the script was fun. I have a feeling some of you will vehemently disagree, but if you’re like me and “CNET’s” one of your main bookmarks, there’s a chance you’ll enjoy Exit Zero.

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

What I learned: Get into your story FAST. One thing I constantly see in beginner scripts is writers who take their time getting into the story. Four, five, six scenes go by before we even get a whiff of what the story is about. I’m not saying this can’t be done. But whenever you see it in a film, I can almost guarantee you it wasn’t a spec script. It’s a writer-director or an independent script with a director attached. In spec scripts you have to start the story quickly and never stop moving. In the very first scene of Exit Zero, Max encounters a problem (with the computers). And so right away, the story has begun. Save the ponderous stuff for your first directing gig where you don’t have to win over a reader. In the spec world, it’s all about getting to the story NOW.

Genre: Thriller
Premise: A father takes a man he beleives is his daughter’s abductor for a little ride.
About: Snatched is a 2008 Nicholl winner.
Writer: Lee Patterson

I’ve covered a lot of scripts here on Scriptshadow. I’ve given you million dollar sales. I’ve given you Black List scripts. I’ve given you adaptations and reviews where I haven’t even read the script (clickhere for reference). But one script I haven’t given you is a Nicholl winner. For writers millions of miles away from Hollywood, winning a screenplay competition is their best bet at getting noticed. So I thought I’d show you exactly what a Nicholl-winning script looks like. Here is my review of Snatched.

You know Snatched has it going on after only a few pages. We learn that a young girl has gone missing. Her grade school teacher, Lewis, is devastated, as is everyone in the community. They all fear the worst. At the end of the school day a mysterious man, Jack, introduces himself to Lewis. Jack is the father of the missing girl and he’d simply like to talk to Lewis for a few minutes. For 15 pages, the two walk through the school, through Lewis’s classroom, vaguely discussing their personal ways of dealing with this horrible tragedy. But the genius of this scene is that everything that’s being said is secondary to everything that’s not being said.

Remember the scene in The Fugitive when Ford starts to realize that the cops aren’t asking him what he knows? They’re accusing him of killing his wife. Lewis realizes that there’s something similar going on here. So he makes up an excuse for having to leave early and ends the meeting with Jack. But when Lewis gets to his car, his tire is mysteriously flat. How convenient it is then, that he’s offered a ride by the passing Jack? Of course Lewis is hesitant, but Jack gives him a poor sob story that makes Lewis question whether he misread their earlier conversation. So he gets in the car. And Snatched begins.

We find out that Jack’s done his own investigation and he already knows who the kidnapper is. But there are still a lot of unanswered questions. Is Lewis, the most mild-mannered teacher in the history of grade school, the kidnapper? And if he is, is Jack’s daughter still alive? Can she be saved? It’s a smart decision by Patterson because it keeps Jack from wasting Lewis right then and there. Whether Lewis is the kidnapper/killer or not, he knows that that question is the only thing keeping him alive.

We’ve seen these vigalante justice scripts before. The damn things are becoming their own genre for Christ’s sake. But this one gets it right. If you enjoyed Prisoners (sadly, no longer in my Top 25), I can pretty much guarantee you’ll like Snatched.

There are a few areas I took issue with. There’s a scene where Lewis gets away and Jack must drive through a mall parking lot to find him in a high stakes game of hide-and-seek. I understand that in theory this might work. But you ask the audience to make a huge leap of faith when your “protagonist” gets into a heavily populated area and your “bad guy” throws all logical thinking out the window and chases him anyway. Obviously, you gotta change things up when 80% of your script takes place in a car. But this was a moment where I thought, even a crazy person would’ve cut his losses and left.

The biggest issue I had with the script, however, was that in end, we’re subjected to the old tape recorder trick. The one where the good guy is secretly recording the killer’s confession and then proudly shows him that “AH-HA! I WAS RECORDING YOU ALL ALONG!” I’m actually kind of baffled that writers still use this as it’s literally been used 10 billion times – 9 billion of those on 90210 and Melrose Place. Then again, what do I know? The Inside Man, one of the biggest heist flicks of all time, and Michael Clayton, a movie that was nominated for an academy award, both used the “tape recorder trick”. Maybe it’s me who’s the dummy for not using it.

Both of these were minor issues compared to what was otherwise a solid script. I think you guys will like this one. Check it out.

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

What I learned: The power of subtext! Conversations are always more interesting when what people say and what they actually mean are two different things. The first fifteen pages of Snatched are a mastercourse in this technique. Pay attention to how the most innocent line can have a multitude of meanings when you realize that Jack is probing Lewis for information.

Genre: Period Drama/Adventure
Premise: A pair of thieves develop a scheme to steal the Mona Lisa in 1911 Paris.
About: “Thieves” has enjoyed semi-cult status in Hollywood as one of the better unproduced screenplays of the last 10 years. It was going to be made back in 2002 but fell apart at the last second. It’s gearing up to be shot again by the writer himself.
Writer: Jeremy Leven

The original celebrity

Well, I gave it a shot. The script’s pedigree and the fact that it was being championed by two of my friends convinced me I would fall in love with it. But alas, I did not. I wanted a story with an elaborate “Thomas Crowne Affair”-like plot to steal the Mona Lisa – I wanted people coordinating a series of impossibly timed maneuvers inside a small once-in-a-lifetime window. I wanted 1911 Mission Impossible. Instead I got a slightly above-average love story with characters I found mildly amusing.

Lovers, Liars and Thieves is a tough read. 6-7 line action paragraphs litter the script, testing your fortitude and making every page read likes it’s 3. I coulda swore I was on page 30 as I sludged through the opening act. When I looked up I found I was still on page 10! The writing is pretty. It’s just laborious and overly-detailed.

The story is about con artist/adventurer “The Marqui” and his partner in crime Daphne. The two are thick as thieves in the most literal sense and they luuuuuuuuv money. It’s clear right off the bat that they’re secretly in love each other. But both know that to give in to that love would mean the end of their edge. After their latest plan goes awry, however, Daphne decides she’s had enough and wants to retire. The Marquis suggests one last job – something so big they can spend the rest of their lives in luxury – the theft of the Mona Lisa.

Of course to pull off their plan they’ll need someone on the inside, and that person comes in the clumsy naive 60 year old cabinetmaker, Vincenzo. The plan is for Daphne to win over Vincenzo’s heart, then convince him to steal the Mona Lisa for her. That way even if he’s caught, they can hightail it out of town and let poor Vincenzo take the rap.

But that’s the problem I had with “Thieves”. Is that I wasn’t interested in that plan. I was more interested in the plan to steal the damn Mona Lisa! And that gets short shrift in the script. Instead we watch as Daphne starts to fall for Vincenzo, and The Marquis, who’s secretly in love with her of course, must make a choice. He can either call it all off before Daphne falls in love, thus ensuring they will be together. Or he can stay the course and land more money than he’s ever dreamed of. Money or love? That’s The Marquis question.

As I’ve alluded to, when the theft actually arrives, it’s quite simple, even bizarrely so. Vincenzo basically has to take the painting when the guards’ aren’t looking. I’m assuming that Leven’s betting by this point that we’ve developed more sympathy for Vincenzo, but to be honest I thought Vinenzo was the least interesting of the three and actually a big sad sap. Therefore I didn’t really care whether he got away with the theft or not. I would’ve been much more involved had The Marquis and Daphne been doing the stealing.

There are some fun moments along the way. For you period-heads and art historians you get a pre-fame over-sexed Picasso pushing his controversial new painting style. When the Mona Lisa goes missing, Picasso is one of the first ones questioned (Picasso is on record for hating the Mona Lisa and believing it should be burned). The Maquis trading quips with Daphne is enjoyable. The overall dialogue is impressive. There are gems like this one sprinkled all over the script:

You’re too hard on yourself, Daphné. The world was created with a tragic flaw. Many were given little, and a few were given too much — much too much. By an accident of fortune, we seem to have been blessed with a unique talent in asset reallocation.
I’ll even go on record as saying the structure and characters are written with an exceptional level of skill. So why didn’t I like this thing? I think it comes down to my expectations. I was expecting and hoping for something different. When I didn’t get it, I turned on the poor guy. This may have barely kept my interest, but it’s such a well-liked script I’m still going to recommend you check it out.

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

What I learned: Forcing your main character to choose between the thing he wants most (in this case, money) and the thing he doesn’t realize he needs (in this case, love) is the cornerstone of any great character arc. Because in the end, he’ll have to make a decision between the two. If he chooses money, he’s still the same shallow person. Whereas if he chooses love, it shows that he’s changed (or “arced”). Most (but not all!) screenplays have a main character that arcs.