Genre: Romantic Comedy
Synopsis: A suburban couple give each other permission to sleep with someone else.
About: Karen McCullah Lutz is the writer of Legally Blonde and Bride Wars. Permission was sold to CBS Films.
Writer: Karen McCullah Lutz

It’s an interesting and intriguing idea for a movie. There was the famous (or infamous) Robert Redford/Woody Harrelson film “Indecent Proposal” where Redford pays Harrelson a million dollars to sleep with his wife (a pre-surgery pre-Ashton pre-twittering Demi Moore). There was the Curb Your Enthusiasm season where Cheryl (definition of Milf) Hines agrees to let Larry David sleep with someone before their 20th anniversary. And then there’s “the list” that we all make with our girlfriends/boyfriends. You know, the “5 Celebrities That I’ll Let You Sleep With” list? By the way, I know someone wrote a script based on this idea. If anyone has it, send it my way.

Anyway, I know those lists are a joke but I always wonder, what if the chance really arose? Would she go through with it? I’d like to think no because…well, you know, I’m ME! But I’m not sure any girl could pass up a night with their dream man. That’s what makes a premise like Permission so intriguing. A married couple gives each other permission to sleep with another person. Do they go through with it? Do they do what’s right or do they do what’s right now?

Unfortunately, the majority of Permission takes the easy way out. The Sandra Bullock “you know everything’s going to be okay in the end” route. It actually uses a nearly identical structure to Indecent Proposal in that we see the two agree to the infidelity, struggle going through with it, then battle with the consequences.

The biggest mistake Permission makes is in its lead characters, the happily married Diana and James. They’re two very generic people right from the start and by the time we see any depth in them, we’re 20 minutes from the end of the movie. See Diane is upset when she finds out that her friends have slept with dozens of men. She, on the other hand, has never had that crazy drunken one-night sexcapade. So she gets this idea that her and her husband should allow each other to sleep with other people (naturally. I mean, it makes sense to me).

At first James is angry. He loves his wife. He doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with their marriage. And he’s not sure how to take it. Luckily biology does the work for him. James gets permission to sleep with someone other than his wife?? Can I hear a hellz yeah?? So they fly off – him to Aspen, her to the Carribean – and engage in many late night escapades trying to bag their respective one-nighters. It’s average, predictable, and not very funny storytelling.

UNTIL…. the only surprise in the script. She ends up sleeping with someone. He doesn’t. I was positive they were both going to sleep with someone or only he would. So this is the only time the script held any interest for me. When James gets home and realizes what’s happened, he flips out, and the final act is about Diane trying to get him back. It’s a fresh take in that sense, but in the cozy fields of Romantic Comedy Land, we know everything is going to be okay in the end. And of course it is. See in reality, if you and your wife are giving each other permission to sleep with other people, you got some seriously fucked up shit going on in your marriage. That story would’ve been interesting to explore.

Permission should’ve given itself permission to be more edgy. It’s a strong concept with tons of potential, but the vanilla choices kept it from being memorable.

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

What I learned from Permission: One thing Permission does well is keep the action lines to a minimum. Lutz knows she’s got a talky script on her hands so she doesn’t clog it up with needless action description. Too many writers take time describing mundane things that don’t matter. All that does is slow down the script. Only describe what absolutely needs to be described. Keep your script lean and mean and the reader will never cheat on you. Unless you give him permission of course. ;)

Genre: Sci-Fi Thrilla
Synopsis: A sci-fi Bourne Identity, Broken Amber is about a man who realizes that his life isn’t what it seems.
About: A spec that I believe came extremely close to being purchased by Warner Bros. Can anyone confirm or deny this?
More: I’m keeping the synopsis vague as it kinda spoiled the script for me. My suggestion would be you read it before you read the review.
Writers: Oliver Butcher & Stephen Cornwell

Soccer moms are hot. I mean honestly, who wouldn’t want to be with a soccer mom? Men, women, boys. We all want to be with a soccer mom in some way. Oh, except for one person. That would be Lucas Hall, who just got murdered by a soccer mom in the first 5 pages of Broken Amber. And if that weren’t bad enough, Soccer Mom comes over to Lucas’ house and KILLS HIS FAMILY TOO, Stepfather-style (the original John Locke). Bad Soccer Mom! This is not the kind of behavior I expect from a soccer mom. I like my Soccer Moms to be a little less…murdery.

Lucky for me Soccer Mom disappears, at least for the time being, and we meet a new family. Clay, his wife Nancy, and their two children. They’re the typical suburban family except for one problem: Clay ain’t happy (well, I guess that still makes them the typical suburban family – heh heh). He’s unmotivated, confused, moody, watches Dancing With The Stars (yes, I made that last one up). Everything about his life seems to be based in this odd pseudo-reality. Something is wrong but he can never quite figure out what it is.

Answers start to come when Clay goes in for his yearly check-up. Two tweakers have taken the clinic hostage and aren’t leaving without a body count. That is until Clay becomes Neo and Bruce Lee all-in-one and takes out the Tweak Twins like they were a couple of developmentally challenged 4 year-olds.

Either Clay’s got the Bourne trilogy on repeat or there’s something deeper going on here. A hunger is triggered. A hunger to find out who the hell he is. He starts making calls and asking questions which lead him back to his past. Or is it………..his fuuuuuutuuuurrrrrreeee???

Yes. We discover – spoiler alert (isn’t my whole site a spoiler alert?) – that Clay’s been placed in the past, his mind partially erased and reconfigured so he will forget his previous life. The truth is, Clay is a soldier from the year 2054 and he witnessed something so awful, so terrible, that they had to send him away. And what better place to send him than the past? ………….. Right?

….ummm…not so sure about that one but I’ll get to that in a second.

Anyway, the rest of the script is basically one giant chase sequence that features Clay running from the future government, who want to kill Clay in order to cover up their secret program, appropriately named… you guessed it: Amber (and, you know, he like, “broke” it).

So here’s the problem you run into and it’s a problem everybody who writes one of these sci-fi conspiracy movies has to address: Would the government really spend all this time and money (and resources) and endure the incredible risks involved with this kind of program – which probably costs hundreds of millions of dollars – when they could’ve just used a ten cent bullet to kill this guy and hide the body? I mean, wouldn’t that be just a smidgen easier? Problem solved. I just saved the government of 2054 millions of dollars and all I’m asking for in return is to send me back a hot 25 year old brunette who won’t call me lazy when I lay on the couch all Sunday.

The one other thing that bothered me about Broken Amber was that it relied too heavily on its twist (which is a good twist). But since it’s included in the original logline (which I took out), the movie for me rested on its characters and story. And Clay was never a compelling enough character for me to worry about whether he was caught or not.

Despite these faults Broken Amber has its moments and is worth the read.

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

What I learned from Broken Amber: If you have a big twist in your script, make sure the reader’s enjoyment doesn’t rest too heavily on that twist. In other words, you still want to make sure the rest of the screenplay is compelling. A big mistake beginning writers make is thinking their twist (or concept) is so awesome that a monkey can write the rest of the script and they’ll be fine. WRONG! Challenge yourself and approach each scenario as if you don’t have that twist to fall back on. Put the same amount of effort into your characters and story as you would any other script.

Genre: Adventure-Comedy
Synopsis: A Goonies-like gang grows up and decides to go on one last adventure.
About: The Treehouse Gang sold for 750k against 1.5 million.
Writer: Timothy Dowling

Timothy Dowling is a writer/actor who came up with the idea for the then brilliant concept, “George Lucas In Love.” He also wrote the recent box office mini-hit “Role Models”, which I liked quite a bit. The Treehouse Gang landed him one of the biggest script sales of 2008. But do those dollar signs translate into a well-told engaging story? Let’s find out.

The Treehouse Gang’s first 10 pages sucked. In fact, they’re so bad, I contemplated not reading any more. Now when I say “bad”, I don’t mean “this person doesn’t know how to write” bad. I mean “What the hell were you thinking?” bad. When I hear “The Goonies”, I’m expecting something similar in tone to…The Goonies! See while that 80s classic may have been eccentric, it was still based in a realistic world. The Treehouse crew’s world is more like some sort of weird fantasy universe that makes up its rules as it goes along.

The “gang” consists of four high school freshman: good looking leader, Billy Hawkins, really good-looking wise-cracker, Trevor, the fat guy, Scottie, and the nerd, Milo. For the most part, I just envisioned the characters from Stand By Me. Anyway, this group goes on a series of adventures in search of real treasure! Like huge golden monkeys that are protected by Indiana Jones like lairs. Each mission is full of killer traps – and not just the kind of killer traps that kids think are “killer”. Like, if they screw up, they really die! There are Nazis holding their girlfriends hostage. They get shot at repeatedly. Even stranger, everybody in the area, including the parents and local news stations, know their kids are doing this and do nothing about it! Uhhhhh, what the fuck kind of world do these kids live in??? What parents allow their kids to go off and almost die every day?? If kids are being held hostage with guns, wouldn’t the police go out and, oh I don’t know, ARREST them? Not in The Treehouse Gang!

So anyway, we cut to 15 years later and Hawkins is working as a Verizon sales clerk. Trevor’s fat. Scottie’s hot. And Milo is still Milo (funny aside: Dowling suggests they use the same actor for young Milo and old Milo). They head off to their high school reunion where they meet up with the girls they used to date, get drunk, and Hawkins tries to convince them to go on one last adventure to claim the treasure they never found: The Treasure of Shipwreck Island!

The friends say “no thanks” but then Hawkins finds the secret map (the only thing preventing them from finding the island as kids). The Nazi from their youth reappears at that very instant (he must have been waiting in the bushes for a long time), and takes the map for himself! How bout that! The rest of the Treehouse Gang reluctantly signs on (They have to beat the Nazi!) and we move into our movie.

The rest of Treehouse plays out fairly predictably. The girls (now women) tag along. The Treehouse Gang keeps meeting up with Nazi Dude. They almost die. They escape. They get in arguments. Repeat.

The reason I never joined in on this adventure was because I never got over the way the kids were introduced. The Goonies worked because the kids were at that age right before you lose your innocence. When you’re a child, everything has the potential to be magical. Your imagination can distort ordinary and extrodinay which makes the eccentricities and the more unbelievable elements of the story believable because you’re seeing the world through their eyes. Making the guys high-school age took that opportunity away. In addition, Dowling asks you to believe in a way more ridiculous world than the Goonies ever did. So he loses on both ends. I mean where are there Indiana Jones-like caverns with a million traps and dozens of treasures here in the United States? In The Treehouse Gang there’s an abundance of them, all within a 20 mile radius.

I know they’ve been talking about making a Goonies sequel where the kids go on another adventure and I’d be interested in seeing that. This, not so much. If there’s anything positive to say about The Treehouse Gang, it’s that it’s better than The Adventurer’s Handbook. And that they’re probably rewriting the hell out of it. My guess is that they bought this one on concept alone.

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

What I learned from The Treehouse Gang: You have to create believable rules for your universe no matter how fantastical that universe might be. If I’m to believe that in your world, parents allow their children to gamble with death every day, then life must not be very valuable in that world. If life isn’t valuable, I’m never worried about any of your characters when they’re put in danger. If their parents/local authorities don’t give a shit, why should I?

I think I’m going to start out this week with one of our reader’s suggestions: The Treehouse Gang. This is a script that sold last year for a ton of money described as: What if the Goonies grew up and went on another adventure? Very cool premise. And since the writer wrote one of my favorite movies from last year, the undiscovered gem “Outsourced,” I have to say I’m going in with high expectations. Another spec that a lot of people have been talking about is “Broken Amber,” about a witness protection program that hides people in the past. Great premise. Would like to know if they executed it. I have a few other ideas but you guys are welcome to send in your suggestions. Also, please continue to check out my “Scripts I’m Looking For” section under my Top 25 List. At the top are “Orbit”, about a civilian who gets a chance to go up in the space shuttle only to have all the other astronauts die (Castaway in Space?) and “Aaron and Sara”, about a nerd and a popular girl trying to survive 4 years of high school. I know it sounds cliche but I promise you it won’t be. David O’ Russel (Three Kings, Spanking The Monkey, I Heart Huckabees, the infamous outtake from I Heart Huckabees) is directing. So I know the script will be odd.

And of course if you get your hands on something hot, send it my way. If the buzz is strong, I’ll do a FedEx review. That’s all for now. See everybody Monday.

EDIT: A couple of corrections. Aaron and Sara is actually the new title of a script from last year called BFF. Also, the writer of The Treehouse Gang did not write the version of Outsourced I was referring to. Regardless, go rent this movie now. I promise you’ll laugh. :) Outsourced.

Genre: Action Thriller
Synopsis: A plane cannot drop below 8000 feet or everybody on board dies.
About: Not every script gets sold. But that doesn’t mean you won’t make some money off your newly minted spec. Altitude, by Michael Palmer, got him enough recognition that he was broght in by fox to pitch his idea on Hitman 2. He won the execs over and 6 figures later, was officially in the game.
Writer: Michael S. Palmer

After spending all that time on Virgin America’s website yesterday, I decided I wanted to spend my next 120 pages on a plane. I didn’t know what kind of plane. All I knew was that I didn’t want any snakes. And I didn’t want Kareem-Abdul-Jabaar. I craved something that put you right in thick of it when the shit went down. I found just the script I was looking for: Altitude.

Okay, let’s not dodge the obvious here. This is Speed on a plane. And to be honest I’m surprised they still entertain these kinds of scripts. I thought 6 billion “Speed on a [blank]” pitches between the years of 1991 and 1995 would’ve worn the industry out. Nope. Guess not.

Altitude starts off with a plane full of dead people. When a SWAT team finally gets inside, they see that everyone on the plane is dead, even the pilots. Sound familiar? It should if you watched the pilot for that shitty Fox show, “Fringe” (which last time I checked had Porcupine Men). Yeah, we’re talking the exact same opening. Well, Palmer signed on with Fox to do Hitman 2, then Fringe uses an opening that’s the exact same as Altitude. I don’t think it’s difficult to figure out what happened here. My question is, does Palmer get paid for this? I mean they’re basically saying, “Uhhhhh, we don’t want to purchase your entire screenplay. But we would like to purchase the opening.” Can they do that? Or, because it’s not the entire script, can they just steal it? I think one day I’ll look into that. Cause that would be pretty cool if you could sell parts of your screenplay.

But in the meantime, we’re cutting to different parts of the world where planes are literally falling out of the sky. Into the desert. Into the city. Into parks. 24 planes go down in all. Is this a terrorist attack? What’s going on?

We cut onto Delta flight 1784 which is on approach when all of a sudden one of its passengers, JOHN, starts flipping out. He’s racing down the aisles, carrying some device with him. What is it? What’s going on? Passengers panicky. John charges the cockpit. Everybody charges him. Moments later he’s getting his face bashed in. But John’s trying to tell them: He’s not the enemy. He’s the only one who can save them. If this plane tries to land, he claims, everyone on it will die.

Apparently some virus called “Icarus” was unleashed into the Denver airport, where all these doomed flights originated. This particular virus activates once you reach a certain altitude. Then you can no longer go below that altitude. It was specifically designed for this situation. So that planes going up would never be able to come down (at least that’s how I understood it). So the question then becomes, how do you land a plane that can’t land?

Altitude depends more on action than it does on problem-solving. And there are some cool scenes. An impromptu takeoff on the same runway another plane is landing on. A refueling that requires that some of the passenger go out onto the wing. So yeah, there’s some cool stuff in there. But ultimately, Altitude doesn’t stick its landing (yes, I went there) because the characters don’t pull you in enough. It’s not for lack of trying. Palmer uses flashbacks (ick)
to help reveal a sub-plot involving his deceased daughter but it doesn’t work. It feels clumsy and doesn’t fit the fast pace of the rest of the film.

A final review here is tough for me. I think I’m going to give it a “worth the read” but only barely. For you action/thriller fans, there are some solid moments.

script link: link taken down

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

What I learned from Altitude: Flashbacks. Use them? Don’t use them? This is a highly debated topic in the screenwriting world and an argument I’ve been on both sides of. Ultimately though, I say use them only if you can think of no other solution. Because they ruin all of the momentum you’ve built into your story. And they’re almost always used for boring stupid stuff that can be addressed quickly and easily during the story. In this case, Palmer uses them to show us a really downbeat backstory where we learn his disease research actually ended up killing his daughter….So what! No, I’m serious. So the fuck what!! If you could’ve got that out of the way in the opening 5 minutes with a picture or a moment or something, we would’ve had much more sympathy for John. But as it is, in mystery form, we don’t find out til page 80. That’s 75 pages you made us wait to build sympathy for a character you could have had us sympathizing with on page 5. — But getting back on point, the flashbacks were easily the least interesting thing about Altitude. And even worse (as is almost always the case) had you removed them, the story would’ve lost NOTHING. So keep that in mind fellow writers, the next time you’re thinking of using a stupid flashback. :)