Man, I read something really amazing today. It’s an older script and if you’re new to the game – say the past 5 years or so, you’ve probably never heard of it. It’s dark. A thriller of sorts. With maybe just a touch of sci-fi. If it were up to me, I’d make the damn thing tomorrow. It’s just really different and unique and unlike anything I’ve read before. Hopefully some Scriptshadow love will push it through the pipeline. Tune in Monday!
edit: You guys are going to kill me. I realized that I already posted my Friday script review with You Again. Which means – gasp – you’ll have to wait until Monday for this! Oh man, I better prepare for some hate mail.
Premise: A girl finds out that her brother is marrying the bee-atch who made her life a living hell in high school.
About: “You Again” sold to Disney last month, will star Kristin Bell and be directed by Andy Fickman (Race To Witch Mountain).
Writers: Moe Jelline, revisions by Dave Johnson, further revisions by Moe Jelline
It’s been awhile since I’ve read a script that started off so promising then fell apart so quickly. This could’ve been a younger hipper version of Meet The Parents, but instead becomes a formless farce of prat falls and spit takes.
Marni is a former high school dweeb who spent her entire teenage existence getting tortured by super-popular Nazi-bitch-from-hell, JJ. But once she enters the real world, Marni’s determination helps her land a public relations job at one of the top PR firms in New York, and after eight years, high school is nothing but a memory. So when Marni goes home for her brother’s unexpected wedding, imagine her surprise when she finds out he’s marrying super-popular Nazi-Bitch-From-Hell JJ (now Joanna). Marni, who’s not only terrified of being pushed back into the “nerd” role, must also decide whether to tell her brother the truth about who Joanna was (and probably still is).
I enjoyed this early scene, where Marni and Joanna meet for the first time since high school.
INT. KITCHEN – DAY
Gail stands at the kitchen island watching JOANNA GOLDMAN (25), aka JJ Freeman, dicing a tomato with the knife.
She’s a vision of perfection. A refined woman oozing with self confidence.
Then you simply finish it like this.
She’s carved the tomato into a DECORATIVE FLOWER DESIGN.
How beautiful, Joanna.
It’s nothing compared to this beautiful spread. I can’t believe you made all this food. You’re amazing.
REVEAL ten impressive platters of food on the counter.
Well, I didn’t know what kind of food your aunt liked, so I just made a little of everything. It was nothing.
Just then, Wade enters with Marni in tow…
Look who I found…
Joanna and Marni make eye contact. After a long beat…
Marni. Marni. Marni.
Are those tears in Joanna’s eyes?
Oh, Marni. I’ve waited so long for this moment and finally it’s here.
You waited so long?
There’s just so much to say.
I know. Believe me, I know.
But first, let me say…
Could this be it? The big apology?
Wait for it… Wait for it…
…nice it is to finally meet you.
Marni’s JAW DROPS. Say what?
Wade’s told me so much about you, but now here you are. In the flesh.
I can’t wait to spend the next four days learning all about my new sister.
Joanna EMBRACES Marni, who is too stunned to hug back.
Not a bad little twist if I do say so myself. Instead of the fireworks happening right away, we get a little mystery. Does Joanna really not remember Marni? Or is she lying to protect her wedding? Of course we think she’s lying. Of course Marni thinks she’s lying. But there’s just enough doubt to keep us wondering, and the mystery inspires a bunch of wonderful subtext-heavy scenes between the two . Up til this point in the script, I was prepared to declare this the de facto standard for how to execute a high concept idea.
And then You Again goes off and becomes The Three Stooges. I honestly can’t remember a script changing on a dime this fast. We go from an intriguing thoughtful comedy to an 8 minute slapstick dance scene that has nothing to do with the story and everything to do with someone who’s watched too many episodes of Dancing With The Stars. We then move to Marni getting drenched in a sprinkler scene as she halfway tries to protect Joanna’s dress, to Marni’s mom accidentally dropping Joanna’s Aunt’s expensive ring down the sink. Yes, we actually get a ring down the kitchen sink scene. It’s a radical change in tone that pretty much lasts the rest of the script.
But the biggest mistake You Again makes is creating an entire sub-plot that involves Marni’s mom dueling with Joanna’s aunt (the two also went to high school together) that’s not nearly as funny or interesting as the main plot, and can be argued takes up just as much screen time. Marni and JJ are the draw here. Every second we’re away from them feels like stalling.
If you’re interested in this premise, you should check out Brad Cutter Ruined My Life Again in my Top 25 list. It’s about a former high-school nerd turned company star who finds out that the most popular guy from high school has just been hired into the company. I don’t think I’ve ever read a script that delivers more on the promise of the premise than that one. It’s a great read.
To sum up, I feel like two voices are fighting for direction of the script here and as a result, it feels off. You gotta go all one way or all the other. I’d go with the thoughtful comedy. Leave the wacky hijinx for Scary Movie 8.
[ ] trash
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: I think we as writers get a little too wrapped up in what we think the studios want us to do. In a light-hearted movie like this, we assume that the story *has* to end with a wedding. And we write everything around that. But in doing so, we restrict ourselves from exploring much more interesting choices. In You Again, there was never any doubt that Wade and Joanna would end up together. For that reason, they always had to write Joanna really safe because if she was *too much of a bitch* we wouldn’t buy Marni sticking up for in the end. But had you opened yourself up to an ending where Wade and Joanna didn’t end up together, you could’ve made Joanna the secret bitch from hell, playing the devil to Marni and the angel to Wade. I think that direction held a lot more comedic potential. Whether you agree with me or not, it’s always good to leave yourself open to every story idea, even if it goes against the ending or character or scene or line that you originally conceived. Never set anything in stone. It could open up a whole new avenue of ideas for you.
Just a heads up to say I received the script to Unbound Captives and will be reviewing it tomorrow. This script made quite a splash today because of the mind-blowing story behind it. Check out the Variety article here. Here’s an excerpt:
Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz and Robert Pattinson will star in the period drama “Unbound Captives,” with Madeleine Stowe making her directorial debut from a script she wrote.Gil Netter and Grant Hill will produce with Ashok Amritraj’s Hyde Park Entertainment. They are eyeing a year-end production start.
Though Stowe’s a newcomer behind the camera, getting the job and landing that cast is a payoff for her risky decision to turn down millions of dollars for the script in 1993. Under pseudonym O.C. Humphrey, Stowe teamed with her husband, actor Brian Benben, to write “Unbound Captives” as a star vehicle for herself.
She would have played a woman (now to be played by Weisz) whose husband is killed and her two children kidnapped by a Comanche war party in 1859. She is rescued by a frontiersman, to be played by Jackman. Pattinson will play the son.
Fox offered Stowe $3 million, and later $5 million, for her script, with Ridley Scott poised to direct and Russell Crowe to star. She turned down what was among the highest sums offered a first-time scribe because there was no promise she would be anything more than screenwriter.
Stowe, who has never publicly spoken about her decision, said she can still remember the surreal moment of turning down all that money over the phone while staring in disbelief at her husband.
“There was never a moment’s hesitation on my part, but it felt unreal, and I can remember my husband putting a finger across his neck to signal not to take the offer,” Stowe said. “There are moments in life where you need to follow your heart. The script remained my singular focus, but directing it myself wasn’t something I ever dreamed of.”
Genre: Action -Thriller
Premise: An American economist residing in Dubai gets caught up in a highly coordinated attack on the economies of several nations.
About: Lorenzo di Bonaventura is producing through his Paramount-based shingle, and Eric Bana is executive producing as a potential starring vehicle. Dubai eventually got Cozad signed with Jeff Gorin and Aaron Hart at William Morris Agency. They gave the script to Eric Bana, another William Morris client, who signed on as executive producer before they started shopping it around. Paramount eventually bought it. Dubai also finished high on the 2007 Black List with 16 votes. Interestingly enough, Cozad’s never been to Dubai.
Writer: Adam Cozad
“Dubai” paints the picture of one of the most fascinating and fastest growing cities in the world. As Cozad writes, “Imagine Las Vegas on a supertanker’s worth of steroids and you’re only halfway there.” In fact, I want you to go plug “Dubai” into google images, grab some popcorn, and enjoy the entertainment. They’re building the tallest skyscraper in the world. They’re building artificial islands in the shape of palm trees. Over 60% of the world’s building cranes are there. They don’t have taxes. Construction workers live like doctors. Did I mention they have an indoor ski slope? Yes, it’s all about the money in Dubai. And if you’re like me, you never even heard of Dubai up until a couple of years ago. It’s like the place sprung out of thin air.
So somebody writing a script about Dubai feels like a no-brainer.
But is this a travelogue or is this a story?
Dubai is a cross between The Firm and Syriana. The script starts off great. We’re out in the Middle East with Special Forces operative PHELPS, who’s trying to get permission from the CIA to take out “the next Osama Bin Laden.” The red tape shaves precious seconds off what could be the single most important military operation of the decade. Phelps finally gets his go ahead and he and his team storm the building. But it’s too late. They not only find the room Osama 2 was staying in, but a group of dead doctors to boot. Looks like Osama The Sequel had himself some plastic surgery.
We fade to four years later where we meet out hero, PETER HODGES, playing tennis with his wife, RACHEL. But they’re not just playing tennis anywhere. They’re playing tennis on a helicopter pad in Dubai on one of the tallest buildings in the world. It sets up immediately the decadence and extravagance of this universe.Peter ‘s come to Dubai as an economist/financial trader of sorts, to help a large company that makes a lot of money, make a lot more of it.
The people that he deals with at his business are, for the most part, a group that doesn’t fuck around. In Dubai it’s all about the cash – turning money into more money. If you can’t do that, go back to wherever you came from. This place makes Beverly Hills look thrifty.
Because Peter’s fairly new on the job, his decisions are often challenged by his boss, ALI, andAli’s sketchy high-profile associates. But Peter is the Michael Jordan of the stock market. And in an early scene we see him expertly avoid losing millions of dollars, deftly turning it into a large gain.
Then, late one night, Peter has a fight with his wife and comes to work…only to find a group of soldier-assassins infiltrating his office. He’s able to hide and watches as a billion dollars is transferred out of the company account. When the police finally show up, it’s Peter who looks like the criminal. With only a small jump drive to prove his innocence, Peter makes a run for it. The rest of the script is one long chase scene as the police, Phelps (from the opening), and Peter’s employers follow him through the city of Dubai, all while he pieces together the beginning of a much larger plot to collapse the world economy and make, I believe, Dubai the richest country in the world.
That’s the best I can do to explain the plot and it might still be a little off. The problem with “Dubai” is that its economic component is really fucking confusing. Hotels in other countries are being blown up, all with the daughters and sons of famous finance ministers around the world. Future bombings are set to take place. The billion dollars that was stolen is siphoned into six different accounts that are somehow connected with the three past, and three future bombings. Dubai gets zero points for its clarity. I never got a full grasp on how this plan worked.
Lucky for Dubai, it’s also a chase movie. And we get to run around in this delirious yet decadent metropolis, experiencing the sites and sounds of one hell of a city. We swing on massive cranes. We barrel through downtown on a mega-truck. We race through hotels and ski slopes. When you check coherence at the door, Dubai is actually quite fun.
But Dubai is going to need a lot of work before it becomes the city it wants to be. Besides the economic degree you’re going to need to figure out the plot, there’s a hotel clerk he befriends who’s obviously just there so Peter can talk out plot points and motivations. Also, Peter, presented as a financial geek, inexplicably becomes Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando whenever it’s convenient, and by the end of the movie, is this brooding demanding action star. We’re told it’s because he draws the line at his wife (who’s been taken by Ali). Yet he spends the majority of the first act hardly paying attention to her.
I don’t think Dubai is a bad script. I’m just surprised it was purchased in such a raw state. It feels a good 6 or 7 drafts from reaching clarity. Luckily, it’s got energy and drive. And the lure of filming in this relatively unknown city must have seemed irresistible to Hollywood. You know someone’s going to do it. You might as well be first.
Tarson really liked this script and obviously others did as well. Will be interesting to see the finished screenplay. Take a look at the draft that got the sale yourself…
script link: Dubai
[ ] trash
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Research your setting. Know everything that exists in the universe you’ve created – then use everything at your disposal. It’s clear Cozad did a lot of research here. He knew that Dubai is the most construction-intensive city in the world. Which led him to find these super-huge construction trucks. Which led to one of the funnier, more creative chase scenes I’ve seen in awhile – with Peter barreling through downtown Dubai in a super dump trunk going all of 35 miles per hour.
It’s Tuesday which means it’s time for another horror review. Another horror review that I won’t be giving. But I’ve left you in good hands. Jonny Atlas knows his shit. As he points out in his review, he’s a Rules Nazi, and I’ve been the recipient of some of his analysis before. It’s not pretty. But while he can be harsh, he always has good advice. Here is his review of Parasite.
Premise: When the crew of an underwater research station discovers a new parasite that turns its host homicidal they have to defend themselves against the surrounding sea life and their infected crew mates in order to stay alive.
About: This horror script was making the rounds not long ago and got some pretty good heat. Ultimately, it failed to sell. It’s good to read these “almost” sales every once in awhile so you can study what separates a sale from a non-sale. Kristy sold. This did not. Why?
Writer: Ehud Lavski
When Carson asked me to review this script, I asked him what it was about. He responded, “I don’t know but Tarson says it’s good. I think you should read it.” A fine endorsement if ever I’ve heard one. I found the logline on trackingb, and I have to say the premise really intrigued me. It’s a fresh take on the late 80s/early 90s underwater thriller formula.
The script opens on plankton, which get eaten by a striped bass in a fisherman’s trap. Halfway through the first page we meet our antagonistic force: THE PARASITE! Our gluttonous bass chomps down on the parasite and spits it back out. Too bad the parasite has other plans. It uses it’s tentacles to force-feed itself to the bass. We then see the other fish in the trap huddled in the far corner, “crazed with fear”.
I like scripts that open with a bang. This certainly opened with a pop, but I don’t know that I really felt a bang. The sequence was creepy and the parasite was pretty damn cool, but it ends too soon. We don’t get to see what the parasite does, other than force fish to eat it. In my opinion, this is a huge wasted opportunity on Lavski’s part. He says it’s “the parasite”, but I was hoping to see this thing as bad news straight out of the box. I wanted Lavski to give me something I should be afraid of. He let me down.
From there, the script turns to shit for a good 24 pages.
Let me rephrase that. It turns into a shitty horror script for the next 24 pages. The stuff that happens on pages 2 through 25 isn’t drek. In fact, it’s pretty well written. Unfortunately it doesn’t belong in a horror script. Lavski gives us 24 pages of pure character development. I shit you not. There is only one mention of the impending parasite threat on page 6, where a herring beats another fish to death by repeatedly swimming into it. After that, nothing until page 26.
We meet Jane and Doc. Jane’s cramped in a small exploration sub, and Doc is her connection to the underwater station. They do their job, with a chunks of exposition thrown in for good measure. Their first interaction is a great example:
Doc wears a pair of HEADPHONES. She stares at a beat-up family photo. Doc hugging her husband and kids.
(Coming from headphones)
Staring at the picture again?
Doc laughs, busted.
How could you tell?
I can hear you ovulating from down here.
You holding up OK?
Ask me when I’m out of the coffin.
Claustrophobia’s acting up?
What do you think?
From one to ten?
Reading this, I felt like I was getting beat over the head with the information hammer. It’s written with skill (“I can hear you ovulating from down here”), but it is one massive exposition dump. Doc has a family, wants more kids, been away for a long time. Doc and Jane are good friends. Jane has claustrophobia. Bla bla bla.
I’m sure some would argue that it’s a good use of a few lines of dialog and action to dump info on the reader. If it were really that good Lavski could spare us the next two pages. You see, Jane has Doc sing her a lullaby as she collects samples in her tiny sub for two fucking pages.
Is Jane’s proficiency with the mechanical arm on the sub important to the plot? Yes. Do we need two pages to establish it? Fuck no.
Right here, I already had a few huge problems.
Problem 1: Why the fuck would a claustrophobic person (whose claustrophobia is a pretty big plot point) sign up to work in an UNDERWATER RESEARCH FACILITY? More importantly, why the fuck would they agree to get in a miniature submarine with “barely enough space to move”? Sorry, I don’t buy it.
Problem 2: Why have some random “infected” fish attack another random fish on page 6, when you could have the striped bass from page 1 attack the other fish at the bottom of page 1? Seriously, it’s a waste of an opportunity. More importantly, there’s a huge disconnect because we never see random fish #2 get infected. We have to draw the conclusion on our own. Why risk the chance of losing your audience?
Anyway, after the shit with the fish, this guy Curtis persuades Doc to let him talk to Jane “alone”. We get the vibe he and Jane had a thing before he screwed it up somehow. Doc agrees and leaves the room, which leaves psycho-ass Curtis free to try and kill Jane. Why? Because he and Jane were dating until Jane started fucking the Captain.
You read that right. Jane’s best friend on the ship just left the guy Jane fucked over (who is apparently known for having an anger problem) alone in the room with her sub’s remote controls. That’s two problems in one. A) Doc is either a moron (doubtful since she’s a mom and a fucking DOCTOR) or she doesn’t give a shit about her friend, and B) our claustrophobic protagonist is cramped in a tiny sub when the fucking thing has a remote control station! Seriously, what the fuck?
I’m gonna stop harping on details now because if I don’t I’ll be here all fucking night. Seriously, the minor plot holes and glaring errors regarding science and plausibility made me want to bash my head against a wall. Moving on.
So Curtis tries to kill Jane for eleven pages and the mighty Captain Matt comes to the rescue. Once again, it was well written. There was definitely some suspense here. Really though, eleven pages? So not necessary. Then there’s six pages of aftermath from the attempted murder, which puts the sequence at seventeen pages.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about deep characters. However, it is the job of the screenwriter to weave character development into the unraveling of your premise’s plot. Throughout this script (and especially in the first act), Lavski does one or the other. Consequently, the real story doesn’t start until page 26.
On page 26, Doc pulls in the fisherman’s trap from page 1 (like the audience is going to remember that shit after 25 pages of character drama), bringing the parasite onto the ship.
Yeah. The inciting incident doesn’t happen until page 26. But hey, that means we’re gonna get to the good stuff now, right?
More character drama. In fact, there’s eight more pages of characters blabbering until Curtis eats the parasite on page 34. Then they talk for another five pages before more shit starts to happen. I wouldn’t mind the five pages if I hadn’t already read a whopping thirty-two pages of plotless character exposition.
On page 40, crazy shit starts happening. On page 41 we finally make it to the second act when the crew discovers the parasite in a fish. Mind you, it’s in a fish. Curtis is still MIA.
On page 50, they realize Doc has a parasite in her brain. Page 53, someone has their first run-in with parasite-controlled Curtis. It’s not until this point that there’s any palpable suspense from the antagonistic force (the parasite).
You’re probably wondering why I’m harping on page count so much. It’s not because I’m a rule nazi, I promise. Take a look at the script’s logline: “When the crew of an underwater research station discovers a new parasite that turns its host homicidal they have to defend themselves against the surrounding sea life and their infected crew mates in order to stay alive.”
None of that shit starts to happen until page 41. Hell, they don’t even face an infected crewmember until page 53! That’s practically the fucking midpoint.
Basically, you wind up with a script that promises to be like DeepStar Six but starts out like The Abyss (don’t get me wrong – The Abyss is by far a superior film; DeepStar Six is just a more action-packed horror flick). Actually, This script starts out like a tortoise in a marathon. Too bad slow and steady doesn’t win the fucking race. It just puts me to sleep.
Speaking of DeepStar Six, Parasite’s story actually follows its formula pretty fucking rigidly. All the beats are there, down to the slightly crazy crewmember whose personal beef with crewmember X motivates him to kill, which leads to a fistfight between him and crewmember Y. If only this script followed DS6’s lead and put the characters in danger at the beginning of the script instead of the middle…
For the rest of the script, it’s pretty nonstop. There’s a lot of crazy shit – giant crabs, parasite-controlled sharks, kamikaze dolphins… some really cool (and sometimes silly) stuff. There are still a ton of errors in the story (as mentioned earlier), but the second half of the script is a fun ride nonetheless. I really wish the whole script was like the last 61 pages. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
[ ] trash
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: As important as character development is in a script, you must integrate it with your plot. Otherwise you wind up with a schism between character and plot that no amount of flowery prose can mend. Find creative ways to reveal your characters through the action of your forward-moving storyline. If you don’t, your story will get lost in the incessant blabbering of your characters and your first act will be over forty pages.
I also found Parasite to be further evidence that writing eloquently and knowing how to tell a great story do not always come pre-packaged together. If you don’t have both abilities naturally, it takes time and effort to develop the skills necessary to execute a great script. Don’t shortchange yourself by hoping the good will outweigh the bad.
If you want to read more from Jonny, check out his blog here: Jonny Atlas Writes
A final word here. Jonny brings up a great point in his “What I learned” section. Character development is extremely important to your script. But you have to do it on the move. You have to hide it inside actions and sneak it into dialogue. You can’t set apart large chunks of your screenplay just to develop characters or you’re going to put the reader to sleep. Keep the story moving. I saw that this was 114 pages. Most horror scripts are closer to 100 pages because the writer knows they gotta keep the story moving. It sounds like that could’ve helped here.