Since I haven’t reviewed all my top 25 scripts and a bunch of you have e-mailed me asking what they’re about, I decided to give a quick blurb about each one. I’ll divide this into two parts. Oh, and because I’m lazy, I’m not including links. You’ll have to reach over to the top 25 list and get the scripts from there (I know – I’m a horrible person).
1) EVERYTHING MUST GO
Genre: Indie Drama
A guy loses his job and his wife. She’s changed the locks to the house and left all of his furniture outside. Instead of shipping it off, he sets everything out in the front yard and starts living there. The reason I love this script so much is because the main character does exactly what I would do in this situation. You want me to leave? I’ll do the opposite. I’ll stay. It’s a bit of a strange plot and weird enough so that a good portion of you won’t like it, but it’s my favorite script of 2008.
3) THE F WORD
A very simple premise. Guy meets girl, girl has boyfriend. Guy and girl become best friends. Guy and girl try desperately not to hook up. No huge surprises or twists here. Just an amazingly executed script. Very funny.
4) JUNIOR EXECUTIVE
Genre: Indie Comedy
In an attempt to get his estranged pilot father to come back into his life, a high school kid decides to build his own airport. If you’re a Wes Anderson fan, you have to read this script. Quirky, weird, hilarious. The writing is so simple as to make it look amateur but once you get going, you can’t stop. This one’s out there, but if you buy into a few early absurdities (borrowing 500k like it’s as easy as buying ice cream for example) it’s a great read. (note: no link for this. if you want it, contact me directly)
5) BRAD CUTTER RUINED MY LIFE AGAIN
A hilarious script about a former high school nerd finally making his way in the world, only to find out that his company is hiring the most popular kid from his old school. Before he knows it, the company turns into its own high school, and once again, he’s the nerd.
6) BRIGANDS OF RATTLEBORGE
I hate Westerns. But something about this one got me. What’s interesting is that this script breaks about every screenwriting rule there is. And it ended up being the top rated script on the 2007 Blacklist.
9) GOING THE DISTANCE
A simple comedy about the trials and tribulations of long distance relationships. Geoff, the writer, is a master of comedy dialogue. Anyone who’s been in a long distance relationship can relate to this one.
10) WINTER’S DISCONTENT
One of the most unexpected reads of the year. A bunch of old dudes looking for nookie in a nursing home. American Pie for the Viagra generation. Hilarious.
11) THE ORNATE ANATOMY OF LIVING THINGS
Genre: Indie Dramedy
Charlie Kaufman-inspired, the story of a man who finds out there’s a museum dedicated to his life. Very weird but very cool. One of the more imaginative scripts I’ve read. Was on the 2007(?) Blacklist. These are the same guys who brought you The Adventurer’s Handbook.
13) LAST NIGHT
This one’s already been shot with Keira Knightly and Eva Mendes. A woman (Knightly) starts to suspect her husband of infidelity with an extremely attractive coworker (Mendes). Things get complicated when he goes on his next business trip.
14) THE HANGOVER
Much funnier than the trailer showed. But it’s a great little premise. Four guys have to piece together their drunken night to find a missing groom (who’s getting married THAT day). This is one of those scripts you read and immediately say, “I could see that as a movie.” Funny funny funny.
I’ll post the second half later in the week folks. Til then…
Starting tomorrow I’m reviewing a comedy that sold a couple of weeks ago. I have a futuristic crime drama. I have one of the worst scripts I have ever read (that got made into a movie no less!). I have a script that surprised me in the same vein as Goodfellas. And I have Part 1 of my Top 25 synopsis rundown. A bunch of you have e-mailed me asking why there are no reviews for those scripts, so I thought I’d give you a quick blurb on each. That way you’ll know if you want to read them. Should be fun…
I didn’t like The Reversal. As I tried desperately to settle into the first 10 pages, I realized that I was reading everything twice, sometimes three times. I couldn’t tell if I was distracted or not into it. The Reversal feels like a some sort of neo-punk semi-futuristic episode of NYPD Blue with characters spouting cooler-than-thou lines, all in an environment alien enough that everything has to be described extensively. I think it’s this description that was driving me mad. I don’t really care that the pink girl dressed in fishnet stockings is shooting down aqua-blue viles of an uknown substance. I fully acknowledge, however, that this is probably a taste thing, and there are plenty of people out there who ,will be into this. Unfortunately I wasn’t one of them.
The overall story of The Reversal is quite grand and a little difficult to digest. In the year 2027, all the water’s been evaporated on purpose so that the leaders of the world can control the water supply, allowing them to keep the populations under control. If people need water, they’ll do whatever they’re told. Okay whatever. Anyway, our “hero”, DENNIS, a cop, starts investigating a series of murders where the left arms of the victims have all been torn off. Coincidentally, Dennis knew all these men. They were soldiers in his company. So now we think whoever’s killed everybody else is trying to kill Dennis. The reason (“spoiler” here – and I may be off on this cause it was so laborious reading this thing) is that all of the company members were secretly encoded with a way to bring water back in the upper epidermus level of a skin patch on their shoulder. That’s why the arms are chopped off.
Anyway, the whole thing felt like some sort of bad B-Movie sci-fi noir detective crap. Everybody’s got 5’oclock stubble. Everyone speaks in gruff voices. Only one small area of the room is ever lit. Gahhh!! I couldn’t take it anymore. As I stated before, part of me believes that my dislike of the script is a preference thing. Someone recommended it to me so obviously there are people out there who are into this stuff. This is one of those scripts I can’t dismiss out of hand without telling you to read it and form your own opinion. It’s distinctly stylized, and it might be your kind of style.
What I learned from The Reversal: This is probably the most opinion-related lesson that I’ve offered, but it’s one I learned personally after sending out a few sci-fi scripts. When you’ve created an imaginary or futuristic world, don’t spend too much time describing that world. Set it up as best you can. Sprinkle in the important visual images here and there. But keep the focus simple and on the story. Even though *you* believe your world is awesome enough as to be described in illicit detail on every page, the reader is here to enjoy a story. That’s where you should spend the majority of your effort.
Synopsis: Two women are held hostage in a prison-like farmhouse.
About: On the 2008 Black List with 14 votes
Writer: Misha Green
This will be less a review and more a stamp of approval since I actually read Sunflower a long time ago. I don’t know why it slipped my mind when I was making my top 10, but when I expanded to 25, I spotted it and was like, “Why the hell didn’t I include Sunflower?” It’s probably for the same reason that’s in the back of your minds right now: The title fucking sucks! When I was reading all the 2008 Black List scripts, I kept burying Sunflower every time I’d come to it because seriously, who the hell wants to read a script called “Sunflower?” Finally, when it was down to that and some script about a midget trying to come to terms with his South African descent, I threw up my hands and screamed, “Fine! I’ll read Sunflower!” Thank the Gods of screenwriting that I did.
This is from memory so I apologize if I get the details wrong. Basically, Sunflower is about a guy keeping a girl hostage in a farm house out in the middle of nowhere. He’s rigged the place with Level 16 super high tech security so that when he leaves for work (he’s a professor) there’s no way for her to escape. What sets Sunflower apart from other films like it is that the professor then kidnaps a second girl who he imprisons along with the first. He makes it quite obvious that only one of these girls is staying for the longhaul. Then, instead of it being about a girl trying to escape her captor, it becomes about two girls fighting each other for their lives. Green milks this conflict for everything it’s got and the result is so relentless you keep saying to yourself, “There’s no way she can keep this up. There’s no way she can keep this up.” But the story never slows down. It’s awesome.
If there’s a knock against the script, it’s the controversial “twist” ending that had many crying foul. And I admit it doesn’t entirely work. But to me the script is so technically sound, not going with the twist and playing it safe would still result in a great film. Or you can pull a Hollywood and just shoot four different endings and see which one tests best. The ending didn’t bother me but I can understand how it would others. Decide for yourself…
[ ] trash
[ ] barely readable
[ ] worth the read
[ ] genius
What I learned from Sunflower: Sunflower is the perfect example of why it’s so important to throw a new twist into a tired genre. When I started reading the script, I thought I knew exactly where it was going. Guy holds girl hostage, girl plans to escape, guy catches her mid-plan, guy makes it more difficult for girl to escape, girl comes up with second plan…etc., etc. We’ve seen it a thousand times before. But the second he brought in the second girl, I realized I had no idea where the script was going. And I was so…excited. Because a reader reads so much derivative material, it’s rare that he come across something that actually surprises him. Find an inventive twist on a tried-and-true genre to give Hollywood (and the audience) something they’ve never seen before.
Synopsis: A professor at a small liberal arts college is up for tenure.
About: Tenure was on the 2005 Black List and will be hitting theaters this year.
Writer: Mike Million
What is the single most important tool you can use to connect with the reader? What is the one thing above all others that gives you the best chance of creating something they’ll be interested in? I’ll give you a moment. Give up? Okay, I’ll tell you. It’s subject matter. If you give the reader a subject matter they like, they’ll immediately be interested in your story. And there’s the catch. Different people like different things. So you can’t possibly find something to satisfy them all. Sure, you can pick some overarching widely known piece of pop culture (I’m sure the studios can give you a list). But no subject can satisfy everyone. Inevitably SOMEONE won’t like the story you’re telling because they just don’t care about the subject matter you’ve presented them with.
This is why when I read the first few pages of “Tenure”, I was instantly onboard. Likewise, I knew there were going to be a hell of a lot of people who would rather skin themselves alive than watch this movie. See Tenure is about a small liberal arts college. I attended a small liberal arts college. Believe it or not, our college is kind of famous. Sure, you’ve probably never heard of “Ripon College”, a small liberal arts school in the middle of the second fattest state in America (Wisconsin). But I bet you’ve heard of Harrison Ford. Yes, Harrison Ford went to Ripon College. And when I went, some of the older professors, who had just begun teaching back when Harrison started, loved to tell stories about him. Apparently, Ford was the laziest motherfucker on the face of the planet. He never went to class. Never participated in any social functions. He never did much of anything . The fact that he even made it to his senior year was a bit of a miracle. But I bet you didn’t know, Harrison finished one credit shy of graduating, and therefore never earned his degree. After his movies made billions at the box office, Ripon aggressively offered to forego that notorious missed credit and give Ford his degree. Harrison (or “Harry” as they called him) basically told them to fuck off. He never gave a single cent to Ripon. I hear the college is slightly more lenient nowadays when it comes to the whole “required credits” issue. It seems apt, really, that in a screenplay about college, I give you a history lesson. I hope you enjoyed it.
Tenure is awesome. I wish I could tell you all the ways in which it was awesome but that’s the problem with liking something. You don’t have time to pay attention to *why* you’re liking it. I’ll do my best though. I think the first thing Tenure does right that a lot of other “artsy” screenplays do wrong is it gives the main character a clearly defined goal. He wants – no he needs – to make tenure. If he doesn’t, he’s screwed. See a lesser writer who wanted to write a movie about a college professor might take us through his daily life, show us all his wild and wacky situations, but not give us any direction, any end goal. Million reminds us every step of the way how important it is that our protagonist makes tenure. This allows him to have fun with the story, but still keep us interested and focused. I wish I had learned this lesson a long time ago.
CHARLIE THURBER, an English professor, has an amazing connection with his students. Having been a teacher myself, I know how essential finding a connection with the people you teach is. The problem with Charlie though, is that he’s not very good at what he teaches. He can’t get published for shit. And since Gray College puts such a high premium on being published, Charlie’s dream, to get tenure, is in doubt.
Things only get worse when ELAINE, an attractive graduate of Princeton University of all places, joins the English Department, threatening to steal tenure away from Charlie. This prompts Charlie’s slacker best friend and fellow professor, STANLEY (whose life goal is to find Big Foot – I kid you not) to lead a sabotage effort to destroy Elaine so Charlie can land tenure. Stanley deserves his own movie. He’s fucking hilarious.
There are some sub-plots that all work well – like Charlie’s father’s stay in a local Assisted Living Home (he desperately wants out), the trials and tribulations of a few of Charlie’s students, and of course the sexual tension between Charlie and the very woman who might steal his tenure, Elaine.
All-in-all, Tenure is a master class in character development. Every character in this script is instantly memorable and all of their stories are compelling, like we could jump into their lives and be transported into their script without missing a beat. I don’t even know how he did it to be honest. How we jump from the very serious problems of Charlie, to Stanley’s ridiculous pursuit of Big Foot, never upsetting the tone of the movie, is something I’ll be studying for a long time . Contrary to popular belief, I don’t know everything. :)
Again, if you’ve never been to a small college, some of the details here might be lost on you. But I’d recommend Tenure for character study alone. Pay attention to how he introduces his characters, how he paints them, and how he resolves their conflicts. It’s really great stuff.
[ ] trash
[ ] barely readable
[ ] worth the read
[x] impressive (very close to genius though)
[ ] genius
What I learned from Tenure: I could point to 20 lessons in this script, but I’ll go with the age old adage. Any time you can raise the stakes, you’re improving your script. Near the midway point, Charlie’s sister informs him that she’s paying 3 grand a month to keep their father in a home. She needs help. “You can spare $1000 dollars a month.” “I make 36,000 a year.” “You get a raise when you reach tenure right?” The way I present it here is a little clunky and simplistic. In the script it’s given more weight. The point is, it’s just one more reason in the back of our minds we know Charlie has to achieve tenure.