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. :)

For those interested, my favorite script of February, Mike Judge’s Extract (review here), just got itself a trailer. Go check it out and let me know what you think. I’m posting this without having even watched it so I have no idea if it’s any good. Although with Mike Judge, how can you go wrong, right?

I used my internet prowess to cache back the original State of Play review so I could copy-paste then re-post it. Took down the poster and the script link so I don’t think there’s anything illegal going on here. Enjoy. :)

Genre: Political Thriller
Synopsis: A team of investigative reporters work alongside a police detective to try to solve the murder of a congressman’s mistress
About: Hitting theaters a week from Friday and landing on the 2007 Blacklist as the number 2 most popular script.
Writer: Matthew Michael Carnahan – Revisions by Billy Ray, Tony Gilroy, and Peter Morgan.

State of Play may be coming to theaters in a couple of weeks but why wait that long when you can get the lowdown right here and now. I won’t even charge you ten dollars. And yeah, it’s the shooting script. So we’re talking a shot-for-shot match here baby.

As I mentioned before, State of Play was the number 2 script on the 2007 Black List. Right behind a little script called “Brigands of Rattleborge”, which just so happens to be number 6 over there on my Top 25. Why isn’t State of Play above it? Cause I never read the damn thing. Everything about it sounded boring as hell. Look at the title: “State of Play”. What the hell does that even mean?? It’s stupid. And the logline doesn’t help matters: “A team of investigative reporters work alongside a police detective to try to solve the murder of a congressman’s mistress.” Ooh, can’t wait to dive into that one. If anything, it seemed like State of Play was trying its best NOT to interest me. Operation Success.

But then that damn trailer hit in high definition and my interest did a 180. This looked like a real movie. And I mean come on. Any film that believes its good enough to survive a Ben Affleck casting has got to be awesome. All of a sudden “State of Play” sounded kind of cool. The title began to make sense. It’s like a “state” of “play”. Or the “play” that goes on in the “state”. Meaning like the government. Clearly works on many levels.

I think you know by now what this film is about. A woman’s been killed, hit by a morning subway train, and that woman is linked to congressman Stephen Collins. The problem with this is that Collins is married. When he finds out that the woman has been killed, he’s put in a rough spot. His heart is broken because he loved this girl. But he can’t emote because he has a wife. On top of that, he has to survive the media’s determination to turn it into a scandal or his career is over.

Cal, the seasoned reporter, just so happens to be old friends with Collins. The paper knows this and comes down hard on him. They have a chance to break a huge story with inside information if only Cal does what Cal needs to do. So Cal is put in that classic reporter predicament. Do I do my job or do I help a friend? That’s the central theme of State of Play and it keeps poking its head up the deeper Cal digs. It’s also why I don’t love this script. I don’t exactly have sympathy for a character who’s willing to sell his friend out to get a goddamn newspaper story.

Luckily State of Play focuses just as much time on its mystery – and its mystery is a good one. Turns out the woman who was pushed in front of the train wasn’t just a congressional aid. She was working for a corporation called Pointcorp that has begun privatizing armies to fight in the Middle East with further plans to privatize armies and even government here in the United States. Collins, who is vehemently against privatization, is lobbying congress to stop these corporations. So Pointcorp bought this woman to relay all of Collins’ secrets.

In the meantime, Collins’ wife ain’t as mad as she should be. In fact, she’s more humiliated than angry. And it certainly doesn’t help matters that she’s sleeping with Cal. Yes, Collins’ best friend and newspaper reporter Cal. So you can see how intricate and complicated all of this gets.

Somehow Cal has to navigate this jungle to get the story, as well as avoid Pointcorp, who’s willing to do anything to make sure the story doesn’t break – putting almost everybody’s life in jeopardy. And of course in the end, he has to make that decision. Get the story or keep the friend?

I liked State Of Play. I thought it was well done for a genre I don’t particularly like. But if I were a reporter, the story I’d be breaking is just how behind the times State of Play is. Rachel McAdams (my favorite actress EVER behind Audrey Hepburn) plays web blogger Della, who seems to be thrown in the mix for the sole purpose of feeling “current”. But if you eliminated her character it wouldn’t affect anything because the whole drive of the movie revolves around Cal trying to get the story in by print time for tomorrow’s paper. Um, excuse me, but when the fuck does that happen anymore? Someone gets shot these days and five minutes later it’s on Youtube. Stories get written in real time, published as keys are being pressed. When the hell do they have “newspaper deadlines” for breaking news anymore? In that sense, this could be the last time (sans period pieces) they make a movie like this. I think it also inspires a curiosity for a movie that fully explores the behind-the-scenes going-ons of the lightning fast news world of today. There’s a good movie to be written there.

Even so, State of Play is a solid thriller and a script worth reading – even with the knowledge that Ben Affleck is playing one of the leads. :)

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

What I learned from State Of Play: One thing I do when I’m enjoying a script is trace back to where the feeling started. It’s a great way to learn what works in a screenplay. In this case, a nameless woman is killed by a subway train. That’s not necessarily interesting. We meet Collins, who’s told that one of his assistants, a woman, was hit by a subway car. His reaction tells us there was something between them but we don’t know what. This makes the script more interesting but not necessarily “I have to keep reading” interesting. It’s when we see Collins break down in the press conference and learn that not only did he have a sexual relationship with this girl, but that he’s married. That’s when we become truly interested. Because we’re intrigued by characters who are put in terrible and/or complex situations. Because these situations force our character to make a difficult choice. And that choice is always interesting, whether we agree with it or not. What does he say to his wife? Does he tell her the truth? What does he say to the media? Does he tell *them* the truth? What does he tell his friends? And in the case of State of Play, what does he tell his friend who works for the very people he can’t tell anything to (the media). You see how complicated and interesting this gets? That’s good writing.

Well karma comes back to bite you in the ass, huh? The State of Play script review I posted today was taken down by Blogger because of a Universal legal threat. It’s not clear to me if it’s because I posted the review, used a picture of the poster, or posted the script. What pisses me off is that they erased the review not only from the blog, but from my personal blogger database, which means it doesn’t exist anymore. Not too happy about that. For those who are screaming, “why didn’t you back it up?”, my answer will ring true to anyone who’s tried to copy and paste a Word document into Blogger (my old method). The html goes nuts and requires 18,000 adjustments before you post. Therefore I just kept everything online.

So all you angry readers pissed off about my Inception review, you got your revenge! lol