A little Thursday afternoon treat for you guys. Not all of us are millionaires and have 500 bucks to go see the new Star Trek movie. So why not read a few scripts this weekend instead? If you liked Tarson’s take on “Kristy”, you may enjoy the rest of his Top 10 scripts, which I’ve listed right under my own. There’s a couple on there that I haven’t read myself. Maybe I’ll check’em out. Enjoy! :)

: Paper Wings

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

What I learned: I’m not saying everything has to be a soap opera, but if you avoid every opportunity to add conflict to your story, your audience is going to get bored really fast. Put your characters in danger. Make them do morally questionable things that have consequences on other characters. Give us something interesting to sink our teeth into. Paper Wings is so centered on its core story, it forgets to take advantage of its other potentially dramatic situations.

Genre: Comedy
Premise: A college-aged kid becomes his father’s boss.
About: Lord and Cohen sold this to Disney two weeks ago for an undisclosed amount of moola. Scott Rudin will produce. Lord was a co-producer on “The Heartbreak Kid”, which, btw, I thought was hilarious.
Writers: Tony Lord & David Cohen

Harvey Hutchinson has been working at the Hibrau Beer company for over 20 years. When his boss unexpectedly dies of a heart attack, the owner of the company tabs Harvey, who’s been working his ass off for a promotion, as the likely successor.

Harvey’s 21 year old son, Hutch, is a beer-drinking pot-smoking recent college drop-out. He doesn’t know a thing about responsibility nor does he really want to. He spends his days trolling for desperate chicks, hanging out with his deadbeat friends, drinking, and playing video games.

Harvey forces Hutch to take a job at the brewery. After only one day of work, Hutch has had enough and plans, a la Jerry Maguire, to write a “memo” to the company telling them how terrible their product is in hopes of getting fired. But wouldn’t you know it! The president is “happy” that someone was brave enough to “tell it like it is”. So instead of getting fired, Hutch gets promoted!

After this, there are about 6 or 7 gimme jokes associated with the premise. The dad is humiliated and angry. The son takes advantage of his money and power. The company, of course, does better under Hutch’s fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants leadership. The dad waits for the luck to end. It doesn’t. The son “learns a lesson” when he starts caring more about the stock price than what club to hit that night. His friends think he’s too serious. Don’t like him anymore. Blah blah blah. Everybody’s a better person.

I was going to write a scathing review of Boss. I’m talking “Wedding Banned” scathing. But then I remembered that universal truth: It’s really hard to write a script. I mean, it’s really fucking hard. A lot of people on the outside see movies like “Betrayal” and think it’s easy. But trust me when I say this: Even writing a movie like Betrayal is hard. It’s why the same guy who wrote the genius “The Sixth Sense” can also write a movie about a pool fairy. It’s why the same guy who wrote Jerry Maguire can also write Elizabethtown and Vanilla Sky. Because there is no formula. Even the best writers are capable of writing complete and utter shit.

But that doesn’t excuse a company for buying this.

Most writers, when they get an idea for a movie, they start writing down all the cool scenes and characters and lines that come to mind. Like in Boss, you know you’re going to get that line where the dad is at work and his son is ordering him around, and the dad screams back, “You’re grounded!” That’s a given before even a page is written. So you cobble together all these ideas, come up with a starting point, sit down, start writing and…………

…..and then you realize that the entirety of your ideas amounts to 15 pages of screenplay. Which means you still have to come up with another 90. And it’s in those 90 where most writers fail. Because it’s really hard to come up with a story that takes advantage of a cool concept.

To me, Boss felt like a script that never had anything more than those 15 pages. Even the first 30 pages, which tend to be the easiest to write, repeated information over and over again, treading water until the first act break (when the son becomes the boss).

But Boss’s problems run much much deeper than that. The biggest issue I had was that I absolutely hated the son. I mean I hated him. He’s lazy, rude, a loser, a dick, a deadbeat, and stupid. And on top of that, he spends the entire script telling his dad to fuck off. You can have deadbeat characters in your movie but at least give us something to latch onto. Take Knocked Up for instance. Seth Rogan may be a deadbeat pot-smoking loser. But he’s also a big teddy bear without a mean bone in his body. It doesn’t have to be a lot. But give us something.

For the record I did laugh once in the script. Once. It’s near the beginning, during dinner, when Hutch is telling his family that he dropped out of college and makes his case for taking a year off from work.

Okay. Since I have yet to clearly define my career path, it makes smart business sense, especially in these tough economic times, to evaluate the various opportunities out there. So why not take a year off, really research this thing, and ‘find myself’? Then bang! I’m back in school, heading toward a career and a life filled with huge financial rewards and tons of emotional stability. To top things off, you guys won’t have to worry about cash if things get really bad. ‘Ol Hutch here will unselfishly be able to provide for the whole family and we’ll live happily ever after.
(like Barack Obama)
Yes, we can.
So for the record I didn’t hate all of Boss. In the end, I’m guessing Disney fell head over heels with the concept (make no mistake: it’s a great concept) and plan to rewrite the thing immediately. There’s a good movie in here somewhere. They just haven’t found it yet.

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

What I learned: Oh no! We’re back here again! The main character being “likable” argument? Unfortunately, that’s really what this script boils down to. If you’re going to give us someone who’s despicable and worthless, you gotta offer something/anything for us to latch onto so we at least sort of like the guy. In Pierre Pierre, it was that Pierre was funny (or at least I thought he was). In American Beauty it was Lester Burnum’s desire to break free of his miserable marriage and be happy again. Hutch is just a deadbeat with no goals and nothing to offer. He ruined this script.

It’s taken, what, a month? But I’ve finally read a script that will break into my Top 25. Very excited to tell you guys about this one! Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait until Friday to find out which script it is. Sorry! I know. I’m terrible. :)

Sorry my friends but I’m taking the day off. Not to worry though. As promised, I’ve brought in an expert to give you a long-awaited horror review. His name is Tarson Meads and I trust his opinion implicitly. Today he’ll be reviewing a recent horror spec that sold titled “Kristy.”

Genre: Horror/Thriller
Premise: In the vein of THE STRANGERS. A student trapped on a deserted college campus comes under attack by a malevolent group of intruders.
About: Dimension picked this up late last month for, I am hearing, low-six figures.
Written by: Anthony Jaswinski.

Initially the logline for Kristy did nothing for me, and when I heard it sold a few days later, my initial response was “Whaaa…?” The quick sale did garner some negative feedback on a few tracking boards, the main complaint being the lack of originality in the premise. Some claimed it read like a sequel to The Strangers. Others hailed it as just another generic horror spec. I was intrigued. After all, this puppy did sell. And as someone who reads a lot of genre scripts in my spare time, I always try to be as objective as possible. I think no matter how bad a script is you can always learn something from it. So when Kristy graced my inbox, I decided to bump this to the top of my “to read” pile.

The first thing that struck me was the nice page count. Kristy clocks in at 91 pages. Look at it this way, if the script sucks, at least it won’t take too long to end the pain. The second thing was the visual writing style. Fortunately this guy could write, and write very well. From page one Jaswinski set the tone of dread with vivid descriptions of the rural campus. This already started to read like a decent horror movie. I was in.

It starts off with a typical opening. We meet our hero, Justine Wills, along with her boyfriend Aaron in her college dorm late one afternoon. He’s slightly perplexed over her decision to stay back over the thanksgiving break to finish a poetry assignment, rather than accompany him to his parents place. He gives her a few opportunities to change her mind, but she’s determined to play catch up. So after their goodbyes, he drives off to his parents place… All rather basic, but now the gears of premise begin to churn…

Apart from one security guard, a student on her way out, and the campus groundskeeper, there’s now a lot of empty space between Justine and any form of civilization.

“The entire place is now entombed in rural silence. Cold November sun has set on the freshly mowed lawns.”

You can’t help but feel a slight pang of loneliness in this place.

We follow Justine around her campus for a few beats until she decides to take a run down to her local 7-11. In this case it’s the only building for miles. Jaswinski likes to subtly remind us every now and then that we are indeed in the middle of fucking nowhere.

Driving along this empty highway is where we first encounter our bad guys. They approach Justine in the opposite direction, hauling ass with headlights blazing on highbeam. Justine flicks her own highbeams to either alert or scold the driver.

Big mistake.

By page 19 it was clear Jaswinski understood the importance of pacing and getting to the meat of the premise. Thankfully, he doesn’t linger too long.

Justine was rendered stock standard, typical for most horror movies. But the first few pages do a very nice job at introducing her. Jaswinski doesn’t try to force you to like her, but rather sympathize with her. This girl does have some issues that need resolving. She’s no Ellen Ripley, but Justine did possess certain character traits I love with these standard archetypes. She wasn’t just kill fodder for the bad guys. This girl had a brain, and as the pages roll on she’s certainly forced to use it. Horror just works so much better when you actually give a shit about the characters in peril.

By the end of the first act, set-ups and devices had been effectively deployed. Now I’m not going to break this script down and analyze it scene-by-scene, because apart from being painfully boring, I’d actually like you to read it as spoiler free as possible.

So let’s fast forward a few pages and meet the bad guys.

One of my biggest pet peeves with horror movies is that the villains always seem to be able to clock the layout of a building, house or wherever, better than the residents who live or work there. They can get in and out seconds before our hero even knows what’s going on. Whenever this happens it drops the plausibility of the film down by about ten notches. In some instances it almost comes off as being lazy. Unfortunately Kristy does have some of those moments. However they are in early stages of the script when our villains are taunting Justine. Once she’s pursued, the action does not resort back to cheap scares. It becomes more of a hunting movie – which takes us to various locations throughout the college campus. Justine is on the run, but also taking steps necessary to defend herself and fight back.

“Where the hell did I park my car?”

At times, I could not help but be reminded of The Strangers. After all, the bad guys also wear masks, in this case macabre aluminium masks. They appear for no apparent reason, and they even partake in the odd bout of door knocking. But with Kristy’s villains, there’s one significant difference – these guys are actually threatening. They carry the same cold disregard as their psychotic cousins, yet they seem to be smarter and far more cunning. Sure, they shoot, they stab, they slice and they give chase, but they don’t stand around in a fog for thirty pages, trying to look eerie. They’re always on the move, actively hunting Justine down like wounded prey.
By now you’re probably wondering “why is this called Kristy?” All is revealed through a tense moment between Justine and one of her pursuers, via SMS. For the most part, all the little set-ups and pay-offs worked adequately. For this type of genre they are somewhat to be expected. And as far as horror stories go, structurally, it was sound. Granted, it was a very basic plot, but it read solid.

So in a spec marketplace clogged full of Vampires, Ghosts, Zombies, Serial Killers and Aliens, did Kristy manage to scrub up to size?

Yes it did.

Although far from perfect, it was not only a nice surprise for me, it was one of the best horror specs I’ve read since Michael Stokes’ “Nightfall.” I realized Jaswinski was never trying to reinvent the wheel, but rather spin it so violently fast, I couldn’t help but feel a little thrilled along the way. Now if that was his only intention, as I suspect it was, then he definitely succeeded. I’m quite positive the guys over at Dimension felt the exact same way.

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

What I learned from Kristy: This script proved to me that explaining why the bad guys are there is not always important. What is important is that our hero just gets the fuck out of dodge, and we the audience, feel something along the way. It also proved that if written effectively, a simple plot with a well worn premise can still be fresh, entertaining and commercially viable. For any screenwriters toying with the idea of writing a horror script, I recommend you read this first. There’s a good reason why it sold so quickly.