Premise: (from writer) The host of a popular skeptic/debunking radio show works alongside a reluctant psychic in a last ditch attempt to find his missing daughter.
Why You Should Read: I was ecstatic when I found out an earlier draft of this script placed top 10 in the 2017 Launch Pad Feature Competition. From there, the contest organizer sent the script to a producer looking for material and after the producer read it, he sent it to a manager he knew. The manager got back to him within 24 hours to say he loved the story as well and wanted to meet me. Momentum, momentum, momentum! I owe that manager and producer a ton of credit, because together we shaped the story into a project we felt the industry would consider. — My manager had a plan to keep the reads exclusive, targeting select production companies, so why am I making the script public, submitting to AOW in hopes of getting a review? After the screenplay was sent up to the owner of a fairly well known production company and interest expressed, my manager vanished. This was in late July and to this day I have no idea what happened, I hope it wasn’t something catastrophic. In the meantime, it’s back to square one for me and I’m proceeding as though I’m unrepresented. I’d love to know what the Scriptshadow community thinks of the story – and more importantly – if they’d pay to see the actual film. Also, I can’t lie… having struck out in two previous AF attempts, the competitor in me seeks to earn that elusive “worth a read” my first ever submission – The Telemarketer – failed to produce.
Writer: Jai Brandon
Details: 119 pages
We have a variety of formulas that result in success in the movie business. Superheroes. Underdogs. Biopics. Monster-in-a-box. In the novel world, there’s one. MISSING GIRL! Hell, even if all you do is include the word “girl” in your title, you’ll sell 10,000 copies. And, for the most part, when this formula is transferred into the movie world, it works as well.
Gone Girl. The Girl on the Train. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
It makes perfect sense when you think about it. We are hard-wired to worry about helpless people placed in dangerous situations. And after we hear about one of these scenarios, we don’t feel at peace until we find out that the missing girl is okay. Even if it’s just a made up story!
There is a significant trick involved in getting these stories right, though. And I’m going to share that with you…. after the synopsis.
40-something Chace Clay is popular radio host at a local news station. But while he’s got his professional career on point, his personal life is a mess. He’s got an ex-wife, Lori, he’s always bickering with. He’s got a current girlfriend, Reesa, who’s a tinder box ready to explode. Luckily he has his beautiful little girl, Emily, to add some balance to his existence.
However, that balance is rocked when Chace’s babysitter loses Emily. Chace races home and soon cops are swarming the premises, trying to figure out how a young girl can just disappear. When they can’t find her, the community sets up a search in the local woods, and it’s there where Chase meets the mysterious Amari, a local African-American janitor with a psychic gift. Now’s the time I should tell you that Chace hates psychics. In fact, he lost his entire childhood with his brother when a psychic convinced their family that his missing brother was dead. 15 years later, the adult brother showed up at their door. It turns out a local creep had kept him locked in his basement for a decade. So, yeah. It’s safe to say that Chace doesn’t trust this guy.
However, it’s not like Chase has any leads. All the people closest to him passed their polygraph test. So he needs to think outside the box. Amari joins Chace, who suspects another psychic may be involved that he recently humiliated on his show. Chace thinks she may want revenge. The lead does bring them to the woman’s adult daughter, who claims she saw Emily earlier in the day.
This sends Chace and Amari on a deep dive into everyone Chace knows. But when the investigation turns around and points the finger at his current girlfriend, Reesa, everything gets thrown out the window. At a certain point he realizes he’s too close to judge anything objectively, which means he’ll have to lean on the one person he trusts the least, Amari.
We’re going to start at the beginning here. And I send this advice out with love, of course. I know how hard Jai works and I know how long he’s been at this. A title page in a unique font tends to be a red flag. NOT ALWAYS. But seasoned Hollywood readers will treat it as such. Also, 120 pages tends to be a red flag. NOT ALWAYS. But seasoned Hollywood readers will treat it as such. Especially when you’re writing in a genre where it’s easy to keep the page count down. This isn’t Legends of the Fall. It’s a mystery thiller. So right away, you’re raising two red flags. And I’m fine if a writer says, “You know what? I don’t care. I’m going to stand by that.” I just like to remind writers that in a profession where you don’t want to tweak the person determining your fate in any way, it’s best to control the variables that you can control.
Onto the story.
Whispers from the Watchtower is a mostly competent mystery-thriller. Both Chace and the daughter are set up well, which is the most important thing to get right, since that’s the emotional through-line of the movie. As long as we want to see Chace save his daughter, the plot is going to work.
I also like how the only way Chace can accomplish his goal is to team up with someone whose profession he fundamentally rejects. We’ve got that built in conflict there, which ensures that there’s going to be tension whenever these two are together. That’s important guys. If you don’t add story components that add tension to scenes, you’re going to have a lot of flat scenes. This is why teaming up two people who dislike each other is such a popular movie trope.
As for the plot, I found it to be above average. The challenge with these missing girl plots is that they’re so common. So the audience is way ahead of you unless you’re throwing something out there they’ve never seen before. And that’s my first beef with “Whispers.” The “strange attractor” to the story – the thing that’s supposed to make it different – is the psychic angle. However, the psychic stuff didn’t play into the story that much. By the end I was convinced Chace would’ve found his daughter without Amari, which left me wondering what the point was of adding a psychic to begin with.
That leads to the “significant trick” I promised you before the synopsis. In order to make any common movie scenario work, you need to add something fresh. The common scenario here is a missing girl. So what are you adding to that that’s new? With Gone Girl, they used an unreliable narrator that resulted in a huge twist. With Prisoners, they focused on false imprisonment and torture of the person our hero THOUGHT was the kidnapper. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was insanely original with its unique setting, weird titular character, and Nazi connections. Even The Girl on the Train (great book, bad movie) did a deep dive on alcoholism and how it turned its hero into a narrator even she couldn’t trust.
Whispers From the Watchtower adds this in the form of the psychic element, which I was excited about. But it doesn’t deliver on the promise of that premise. Amari’s skill set kicked in when it was necessary for the plot, and was pushed aside when it wasn’t. I don’t know how to describe it. I guess I felt that Jai never committed to Amari’s “power.” Amari could have easily been a really good detective and I’m certain these two would’ve solved the case in the same amount of time.
The script also has some clarity problems up top. Chace’s personal life was unnecessarily complicated. In an early scene, he charges into a motel room where he’s yelling at, I think, a pimp, who’s got this, I think, hooker with him, Reesa. I didn’t know who Reesa was at the moment. But later on she shows up to take care of Emily and I’m thinking, “What the hell is going on here? He’s letting hooker girl take care of his daughter?” Then later, we learn they’re sort of together, but going through a rocky period. Or something?
Then we learn there’s another woman in the movie, Lori, who’s either his wife or ex-wife depending on which part of the script you’re reading. At one point Chace promises Reesa that he’s going to get divorced from Lori (which would make Lori still the wife). However, later, when Reesa is brought to the hospital, the doctors are referring to her as Chace’s wife.
I went back to the earlier scene when Chace tells Reesa he’s getting a divorce and I thought, “Oh, maybe he’s telling Reesa he’s going to divorce HER.” But to be honest, I’m still not sure. The thing is, this is the kind of stuff in a script that a reader should never have to think about. This is the “given” stuff. If I’m easily confused about relationships or who characters are to one another, the script is in major trouble. Professional writers don’t make these mistakes.
I think Jai could add some simplicity to his writing, particularly in the first act, where a lot of information is coming at the reader and it’s therefore easy to get confused. And I’d ask if he could go deeper with the psychic stuff. That’s your strange-attractor so if you’re only half-committed to it, I don’t think it’s going to fly. Still, this genre is a tough sell. I don’t want to send Jai down another lengthy rewrite when I know they don’t make these movies anymore unless they’re high profile novel IP. A sale can happen if the execution is amazing. But even the professionals have trouble with “amazing.” So I don’t know. I don’t want to see a writer pushing something with issues instead of working on something new and exciting with the additional knowledge they’ve taken from this experience.
Script link: Whispers from the Watchtower
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: This might seem like a silly thing to highlight. But I liked that when someone on the television spoke, Jai simply put (TV) next to their name. I’m so used to “proper” screenwriting techniques, such as the debate of whether to put “V.O.” or “O.S.” in situations like these, that I didn’t realize a WAY clearer option is to simply put (TV) there.
NEWS ANCHOR (TV)
…Earlier today an Amber Report went out…
You may not like it. But box office is still the main criteria for determining whether people like a movie or not. WITH TWO CAVEATS.
RELATIVITY and EXPECTATION.
Each film’s success is based on the box office receipts relative to the production and marketing budgets. Also, each movie’s success is the final box office number contrasted against what the studio was expecting. This is why Star Wars: The Last Jedi has become the single most difficult movie to pinpoint as a success or failure in film history.
Upon first glance, the film is a juggernaut, taking in $575 million dollars domestically and 1.2 billion worldwide. But is that a success IN DISNEY’S EYES? Before the movie came out, I looked at The Force Awakens 930 million dollar domestic box office and Rogue One’s 530 million dollar domestic box office and said that Disney was probably hoping to AT LEAST split the difference between the two and hit 730 million. The Last Jedi isn’t going to make it that far and will be lucky to hit 630 million. Is that a success or is it a letdown? A cynicist would say it only made 100 million more than a Star Wars movie without a single known Star Wars character in it. An optimist would say that The Force Awakens was an outlier, an impossible to reach milestone, and that The Last Jedi held its own.
Something Disney wasn’t expecting was the out-of-nowhere success of Jumanji. And the reason that Jumanji being a hit, in particular, was a problem for Disney, was that it was aiming for the exact same demo Star Wars was. The reason Jumanji took such a big bite out of The Last Jedi’s numbers was one the pompous mouse house never could’ve predicted. Whereas The Last Jedi aimed to be a crowd pleaser, Jumanji ACTUALLY WAS a crowd-pleaser. And it used a little Scriptshadow trick to get there. What have I always told you guys? Write something that allows actors to play something that they never get to play and good actors will flock to your project. Once you’ve got good actors, you’ve got a shot at making something good. And the team up of The Rock, Kevin Hart, and Jack Black, all playing characters who are NOTHING like themselves, was too irresistible.
Jumanji has another thing going for it that some are arguing has reclaimed the trophy as the the premiere weapon in the battle for box office – word-of-mouth. If you get into a conversation with any random group of people who have seen these movies, you’ll find that both generate conversation. However, The Last Jedi conversation is more volatile. The people who hate it REALLY HATE IT. And so if you’re someone who was thinking about seeing the film, you’re probably leaving those conversations thinking, “Ehh, maybe I’ll wait for digital.” But everyone I’ve talked to who’s seen Jumanji has said, “I was surprised but it’s really good. It’s really funny.” You get nothing but good vibes leaving those conversations, which is why the film’s staying power is so high for a big performer (it’s racing towards $300 million at the moment). I LOVE the fact that word-of-mouth actually means something again because that means studios HAVE TO WRITE GOOD SCRIPTS. They can’t fake it. Anything that gives more power to the screenwriters in Hollywood, I’m all about.
Another film that embodies the power of word-of-mouth is The Greatest Showman. The film had the unfortunate challenge of marketing itself against the juggernaut that is Star Wars. A 250 million dollar marketing machine vs. a puny 40 million dollar campaign. Gee, I wonder who’s going to win the awareness battle there. When the film opened up on Christmas weekend, it made a paltry 8 million dollars and was immediately branded a bomb. Except something funny happened. People liked it. And they told other people that they liked it. And the following weekend, the film saw a 76% jump in ticket sales. And then this most recent weekend, it fell a paltry 11.3%. Usually when there’s blood in the water, a film dies out quickly. This one has not only survived, but thrived, and is currently up to 80 million bucks, off an 8 million dollar opening weekend! It was so off my radar that I didn’t even watch the trailer until I saw all this good box office news. And I loved it. It’s a very strong trailer and looks to be an awesome movie. It also follows two other Scriptshadow tips. First, write about an underdog. There’s nothing like a great underdog story. P.T. Barnum was a poor tailor’s boy before turning into a name everyone around the world still recognizes today. Also, whatever the trend is, find a fresh angle. These biopics have become a dime a dozen. So The Greatest Showman turned its biopic into a musical.
As we move into this new era where audience response is tracked via specific numerical data (as opposed to asking 20 first-weekend once-a-year moviegoers right after they see a film what grade they would give it), it will become more and more important for studios to GET THE SCREENPLAY RIGHT. And that doesn’t mean what you think it means. It doesn’t mean that studios will try to further course-correct their “blockbuster movie” mathematical formula. Quite the opposite actually. What they’ll find is that risk is a key component in driving audience reaction. And you see that with all three of the movies highlighted in today’s article. I don’t know anyone who was asking for a P.T. Barnum musical. That was a huge risk. I don’t know anybody who’d seen the original Jumanji and said, “Yeah, the reboot needs to be turned into a video game.” If anything, on the surface, that sounds like a horrible idea. And for all the crap I’ve given The Last Jedi, that film embodied storytelling risk. They were risks that failed. But you need studios willing to take those chances if you’re going to get those big surprise hits that get audience word-of-mouth going. And that’s great news for screenwriters and creativity in general.
Premise: (from Black List) A rookie Marine gets stranded on a hostile planet during humanity’s space colonization with nothing but her exo-suit that’s running out of fusion power.
About: Who said the spec sale isn’t alive!? The Expansion Project was preemptively purchased by Warner Brothers for Brad Peyton (Rampage) to direct. The script finished with 15 votes on the 2017 Black List. Leo Sardarian most recently worked as a story editor on the Crackle series, “Start Up.”
Writer: Leo Sardarian
Details: 98 pages
I had only one criteria with The Expansion Project. Don’t be generic. That’s all I cared about. I’ve read sooooooooooo many of these scripts I’ve lost count. The biggest issue with them by far is that they give you nothing beyond the logline. So I was hoping for some surprises or for the script to zig in places where you expected it to zag. Maybe not Kill Snoke zag. But the Vulture is your prom date’s father zag. Let’s see!
An opening title screen alerts us that humanity is colonizing a section of deep space known as the “Frontier.” Elite marines are commissioned to clear new planets for civilized colonization and, if necessary, “quell the rise of profiteering rebels.”
Atlas is one of those marines. She’s getting ready for a drop over giant tree and snow-capped planet GR39. We don’t know much about Atlas other than it isn’t her first choice to be here. Too bad! After putting on her cool exo-suit, she leaps out of the ship orbiting the planet with a group of other marines. Their job is kill some local rebels then rendezvous at the pick-up point.
Within seconds of their jump, they’re being attacked by drones. Atlas is shot up, loses control, and ends up crashing on top of a snowy mountain. Due to high amounts of carbon in the environment, Atlas must keep her helmet on at all times. And her English AI assistant, Gibson, informs her that due to her plasma supply being hit, she only has 22 hours to get to safety before her oxygen runs out.
To add salt to the wound, her leg is semi-broken and GPS is kaput. She’s walking blind. Then, on the way down the mountain, she runs into some damn rebels, who start chasing and shooting her. Remember, Atlas is a marine. And her suit is built for shit like this. The problem is, any sort of help it gives her (helping her run faster or shoot at her enemies) depletes her plasma source even faster, leaving her with less oxygen.
After somehow surviving an avalanche, Atlas powers her way to the rebel outpost, realizing that her only shot may be to charge in, guns blazing, and take everyone out. If she can do that, maybe she can buy more time and find that rendezvous point. She achieves this barely in tact, only to get to the rendezvous point and find out… the ship’s been shot down! There is no rendezvous point! With only 2% plasma left, it’s looking very bad for our esteemed protagonist. Will she find a way out of this? Or will it be Game Over?
Reading The Expansion Project was a reminder of just how different each of the storytelling mediums (novels, movies, video games, plays) are. Sure, there are elements that work across all platforms. I’m yet to find a medium where suspense doesn’t work. But it’s imperative that you understand why each writing medium is different so you don’t stumble into their various pitfalls.
The Expansion Project is so similar to a video game, I kept looking around my couch for a controller. On the surface, this is a good thing. Video games and movies share many of the same qualities. They’re cinematic, fast-paced, and goal-oriented. But there’s one major difference. In a video game YOU ARE THE MAIN CHARACTER. Because you are controlling the hero, you feel like the hero.
The reason this is important is because the first step in any story is connecting the reader to the hero. If you can establish that connection, the reader/viewer will be engaged, because the hero’s plight is now their plight. This is the “hack” that allows video games to keep players so engaged without offering much in the way of character development. The player will play for hours on end, even if all they’re doing is shooting at things and trying to get the next checkpoint, because THEY ARE THE HERO. They are physically controlling their own fate.
It’s for this reason that when you try to move the video game format over to movies, it rarely works. Because the viewer is no longer physically controlling the hero, they’re not as invested. Which means you need to find a different way to get them to invest. Traditional storytelling methods require you to build a backstory into the character, give them flaws, add fears, and inject some personality into the person to build a connection with the viewer THAT WAY. If a video game writer doesn’t understand this, they risk bringing a character into the fold who feels empty. If they then ALSO give us a simplistic video game plotline, it won’t be as effective.
That’s the battle The Expansion Project is waging against itself throughout its running time. Its video game roots are blatantly evident. But it needs to connect us to the hero, Atlas. And it tries a couple of times – there’s a nice moment where Atlas is buried underneath an avalanche and tells her AI about why she joined the marines – but it’s never enough so that we really know this character. And so while I read though The Expansion Project with a certain amount of admiration for the writing, I was never emotionally invested.
There’s only one other way I’ve found that you can make a video game premise with a thin hero work. And that’s to put us in a setting WE’VE NEVER SEEN BEFORE. I’d argue that this is why Gravity worked. That movie also had next-to-zero character development. It also had a video-game like setup (get from checkpoint to checkpoint with time always running out). But nobody had ever seen a movie like that before. And that helped people overlook the problems I’m mentioning here.
So you’re probably asking the question, well then Carson, why did this make the Black List? It made the Black List because the writing was extremely tight and descriptive, and the plot clean and simple. This is about as well as you can write a video-game like premise with a thin hero.
And it makes some good writing decisions along the way. I liked that Atlas’s time limit was not fixed, but that the plasma which was powering her suit was responsible for everything else as well. So when she’s being attacked by enemies and she has to decide whether to use her cannon against them, she must make that decision knowing it also depletes 20 more minutes from her survival time. I love it when characters have to make difficult decisions. And Atlas runs up against that problem constantly here, to the point where you’re saying, “No, dammit! You’re almost out! Don’t do it!”
I’d venture to say that if you liked Gravity or The Martian, you’ll dig this. Personally, I found it to be too familiar. Then again, I read everything. So I’m judging these things on a steeper curve. Check it out for yourself and let me know what you think.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: EMOTIONAL INVESTMENT. It is SO HARD to make a script work if the reader isn’t EMOTIONALLY INVESTED in the hero. You achieve this through a compelling backstory. By adding flaws. By exploring internal conflict. You achieve it with unresolved relationship conflict. You do it with the hero’s actions and choices. — But if all you’re doing is placing a blank canvas in a tough situation and saying, “Care about this,” we probably won’t.
Premise: The U.S. attempts to incite a cartel war in Mexico in the hopes of branding Mexico a terrorist state, a label which will give them broader powers in managing the border.
About: You thought Sicario was a one-off. Incorrect, son. The badass drug-trafficking drama has inspired a sequel, whose buzz-meter skyrocketed with that great trailer that debuted a couple of weeks ago. Here we were ready to bury Benicio Del Toro after his turn as “DJ” in “The Last Jedi.” But one look at badass Benicio in Soldado and you can see that he’s been reborn, baby! Newly-minted A-list screenwriter Taylor Sheridan is back for the sequel. However, Denis Villeneuve has been replaced by relatively unknown Italian director, Stefano Sollima. Useless note of the week – Lots of S’s today. Sicario, screenplay, stefano, sequel, sollima, sheridan, soldado.
Writer: Taylor Sheridan
Details: 128 pages1
There were thoughts by some that Emily Blunt’s character in Sicario was too passive. How did they correct this in the sequel? By getting rid of her! Maybe if her name was Sandy Smith it would’ve been different. The choice is curious when you consider it runs counter to the current trend in Hollywood that dictates all lead characters must be female.
Can a testosterone heavy romp into the world of the drug trade compete? I don’t know but the trailer sure looked awesome. Let’s see what the sequel to one of my favorite scripts from 2015 has in store, and if the increasingly busy Taylor Sheridan brought it.
Black Ops agent Matt Graver is used to taking down terrorists in the Middle East. But the government needs him for one of the most complicated missions ever attempted on North American soil. They want Matt to kill the biggest cartel leader in Mexico and make it look like a rival cartel did it.
You see, the government wants to paint the cartels as violent threats to the U.S., which would allow them to designate all of them “terrorists.” Under that label, the government would have ten times the leniency to police the border, which would make their jobs so much easier. All that red tape would blow away in the wind.
So Matt is given a blank check and access to any toys he wants. Soldiers, SEALS, boats, tanks, drones, you name it. “To do this right, I’ve got to … I just want to be clear — Does the resolve exist to see this through?” Matt asks. “Because to achieve this objective I need to get dirty, sir.” His superior leans forward: “Dirty is exactly why you’re here.”
Matt calls his highly sketchy buddy and Mexico expert, Alejandro (Benicio), to be his operations manager. The plan is to kidnap the cartel leader’s teenage daughter, Isabel, and use her to find her elusive father. However, things start going wrong immediately. The group is ambushed by the Mexican police once they cross the border, and have no choice but to turn them into ground beef.
That dustup allows the daughter to escape. Matt has Alejandro go after her while he heads back to the U.S. with his tail between his legs and tries to explain how, even with all the toys he’s been given, he managed to fuck this up. The government becomes convinced that if the daughter gets to the press, she’ll expose details of the mission, and things will get really bad. What they don’t know is that their fate is now in Alejandro’s hands. He catches up to Isabel, and will have to decide what to do with her. All while Matt’s superiors look for a way to salvage the mission.
Wow, this was one hell of an ambitious sequel. The scope of which we’re working from here rivals that of a James Bond flick. We’re jumping to the U.S., to Mexico, to the Middle East. Costcos are getting blown up. Veteran terrorists are getting tortured. Teenage terrorists are getting trained. We’re meeting TONS of characters. We’re introduced to TONS of story threads. I have to admit, it was overwhelming. If you let your mind drift for even a couple of lines, you were out of the loop.
If I’m being 100, the script can’t keep up with itself. By trying to do so much, it loses its focus. And because of that, the events that occur don’t always make sense. I’ll give you an example. Early in the script, an entire Coscto is blown up on American soil. Hundreds of people die. Yet throughout the rest of the script, that moment is only referenced once, in a throwaway line.
Then later in the script, Matt’s team kills all those Mexican police. His boss is furious about this, fearing that the entire country is going to turn on the government if they find out American is responsible. Except the story has already established a rule-set by which an entire Costco can be destroyed and not a single person in America bats on eye. Why would we think those same people would care about a bunch of people killed in another country? Cops or not.
The central plan here is also confusing. They want to kill this cartel leader. Which is fine. But they never introduce us to him, which seems odd. This script has a 40+ character count. But it doesn’t introduce us to the most important enemy in the story?? This makes it harder to care about Isabel, the daughter of the cartel leader, since we don’t establish a physical connection between her and her father. As a result she just seems like some girl.
And then I wasn’t clear what they were trying to do with her. At first I thought it was to draw the father out. But instead we have this convoluted plan where they’re using her to draw out the rival cartel, I suppose to kill her? Or try to kill her? Which would then result in retaliation from her father? A father we’ve never seen? It was WAAAAY too complicated. In my experience, if you’re writing something with this kind of scope, the central goal driving your hero’s actions must be simple. This was not.
Writers need to understand that these “high-difficulty routine” scripts require more time than your average script. You’re not going to be able to bang one of these out in the same amount of time it takes to write Cloverfield Lane. The logistics behind interconnecting so many characters and story threads alone is going to add an untold number of hours. So I’d never say don’t write a script like this. But if you do, be prepared for the extra work. Cause stories like this are a logistical nightmare.
And one of the things that happens when you have to juggle so many balls is that you miss opportunities. You miss potentially great story directions because your eyes are looking in so many places at once.
That happened with Alejandro and Isabel, the daughter. I liked how Sheridan formed a reluctant bond between the two. Their equally tough and selfish demeanors made for an interesting dynamic. As a result, their storyline had the potential to do some great things.
Keep in mind we established Alejandro as a ruthless killer at the beginning of the script. He doesn’t give a shit about anybody and will kill anyone if that’s what the job requires. Imagine, then, after Alejandro retrieves Isabel, he’s given the directive by Matt to kill her. This is actually what the story hints at, since Matt’s boss is telling him that, under no circumstances can that girl get to the press. Here Alejandro is, finally, for the first time in his life, connecting with somebody. Then he’s given the order to kill her. What does he do?
But that’s not the route the story takes. Alejandro simply tells Matt, “I’m going to bring her to you” and we focus more on Alejandro teaching the sheltered Isabel what the “real” world is like (the two have to sneak across the border together). That is a MAJOR missed opportunity as far as I’m concerned. They could’ve gotten so much more out of it. And maybe they would’ve after a few drafts. Hell, maybe they DID after a few more drafts. That’d be a nice surprise.
However, that’s my big beef with Sicario 2. Taylor Sheridan has earned his spot on the A-list. He writes movies that don’t have superheroes, creepy clowns, or The Rock in them – the types of movies that don’t do well theatrically anymore – and he gets people to show up. But a story as ambitious and cool as this needed more development. And as Sheridan’s star rises, I’m not sure he has time for that anymore. He might need to branch out into producing and get writers to flesh these stories out.
Anyway, lots of potential here. But that potential fell short of the border. :(
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: I once showed a friend of mine a picture of my dream house. It was this giant southern mansion with this sprawling emerald green yard. I sent it to her and said, “This is my dream home.” She replied back. “But who’s going to mow that lawn?” I laughed but her comment has always stuck with me. The bigger the house, the bigger the lawn you have to mow. And that was the case here. You can be ambitious. You can take on the world. But it’s going to take a lot more time to mow that lawn.
Welcome to the script that makes “The Wolf of Wall Street” look like “We Bought A Zoo.”
Genre: True Story
Premise: A look at one of the craziest rock bands ever to grace the stage – Motley Crue.
About: The adaptation of the Motley Crue biography, “The Dirt,” is a project that people have been trying to push through development for years. In fact, Rich Wilke’s script was on the inaugural Black List! It’s since seen many starts and stops. However, the bottomless money pit known as Netflix finally grabbed the rights and plans to convince Chris Hemsworth to play the lead. The debaucherous world of band pics hasn’t been tested in the current Hollywood climate, so if the movie hits, expect the floodgates to open for Van Halen, Guns and Roses, Def Leppard, and my personal favorite, Poison. Interesting tidbit here. “The Dirt” was written by geek-to-player legend and writer of “The Game,” Neil Strauss.
Writer: Rich Wilkes (based on the book by Tommy Lee, Mick Mars, Vince Neil, Nikki Sixx, and Neil STrauss)
Details: 123 pages
I’m just going to tell you right now. If you’re even the least bit prudish, don’t read this review. There is no way to summarize what happens in this story without getting XXX rated. If you’re okay with that, read on. If not, prepare for a script so scary, no one has the balls to make it.
There’s no easy way to summarize “The Dirt.” Its narrative – if you can all it that – consists of jumping back and forth between each member of the 1980s hair band, Motley Crue, before they were famous, after they were famous, and during their fame, in no particular order, as we watch them go through the highest of “highs,” and eventually the lowest of lows.
First there’s lead singer, Vince Neil. Vince was the ultimate ladies’ man. He was paying child support before he even got out of high school. Vince quickly figured out that the best way to get even more girls was to be in a band.
Next came Nikki Sixx, who played bass. Nikki was a troubled kid from the hood who routinely got beaten by his mother’s many boyfriends and husbands. He finally escaped that life to join Motley Crue, where he quickly became a hardcore heroin addict.
Next was Tommy Lee, the member of the band the average person is most likely familiar with. Tommy grew up a suburban kid and therefore wasn’t as susceptible to debauchery as the other members at the time. Well, unless you count his addiction to having sex with Hollywood celebrities.
Finally there was the most mysterious member of the group, guitarist Mick Mars. Mars was the old man of the group, having attempted to become rock-star famous for a decade before joining Motley Crue. A noted recluse, Mars would later find out he had a rare debilitating bone disorder that would slowly turn his entire skeleton into the equivalent of concrete.
The Dirt opens up on a Motley Crue party where Tommy Lee is performing oral sex on a girl in the middle of the room, which results in her squirting as she orgasms, where Nikki Sixx is waiting to catch the erupting fluid in his mouth. Hey, I told you to turn away from this review, didn’t I?
Oh, don’t worry. It gets worse. There’s a scene where the Crue runs into Ozzy Osbourne at a pool party, who’s desperately looking for a bump of cocaine. The band proclaims they’re out, which isn’t good enough for Ozzy, who grabs a straw, gets down on his knees where a line of ants are walking, and snorts up the line of ants instead.
The most difficult-to-read sections of the script are Vince Neil’s. Neil would go on to kill his best friend during a drunken beer run, while also causing permanent brain damage to the two teens he ran into. Vince somehow gets off with only 30 days in jail, and we later show him at an after-party, having sex with five different girls, lined up one next to the other, while cutting back to a hospital where one of the girls he gave brain damage to is learning how to walk again in physical therapy.
What’s amazing about this script/story is that it covers all the angles in excruciating detail. You get the good, the bad, the weird, and everything in between. There’s a midpoint multi-monologue from all the band members about what it’s really like being a rock star that has to be the most insightful dive into the lives of this profession I’ve ever read. I found it particularly interesting how quickly they got sick of it. That despite all of the perks – and the perks were great – that it was still a job that required you to be “on” every night to a new audience who had just paid a ton of money to see you and who had been looking forward to this all year. And you’re sick, and you’re tired, and you just sang these stupid songs the last 20 nights in a row, and your hearts racing out of your chest to the point where you think you’re going to die because you’ve done SO. MANY. DRUGS. and you still got to be on. You still have to give them the show of their life.
I also loved the visuals that the writers included. One of the main themes of the movie is the “machine,” which is a “rock star machine” that every band must sacrifice themselves to. But instead of only referring to the machine, we see it. It’s big and monstrous with hundreds of different levers and walkways, like a satanic version of something you’d see in a Dr. Seuss film. And we see how, each time a band makes it past a level, they’re placed on a higher, faster, more dangerous level. And the entire machine is dedicated to chewing you up and turning you into meat. It’s a tremendous image and a powerful metaphor.
I don’t know what else to say. This script is fearless. I mean where else are you going to read this line: “We ROCKET IN on Vince’s furiously pumping ass and suddenly… WE’RE INSIDE VINCE NEIL’S TESTICLES.”
I suppose if there’s something to learn from this script it’s: This is how you avoid writing characters who have the potential to be cliche. You write them by subverting the cliche and by adding detail that nobody else in the world would’ve thought of. The newbie writing four rock stars is going to give them very few flaws, if any. They’re going to focus on all the good stuff – the fame, the girls, the drugs. They’re not going to torture their characters like Strauss and Wilkes do. Seeing Vince try to retain his rock star edge after killing his best friend and ruining the lives of two innocent people is both disgusting and heartbreaking. Seeing someone learn they have one of the worst diseases in the world is a detail no newbie is going to think of.
And even the “cliche” stuff, like Nikki Sixx being a heroin-addict, is saved by the level of detail given to the addiction. Sixx goes on drug trips that rival, and in some cases even surpass, those we saw in Trainspotting. DETAIL and SPECIFICITY is the way to make a reader forget all about cliche.
Rarely do I read an adaptation of a book and want to go back and read the book. What’s the point? I just read the streamlined version. But “The Dirt” is one of the few times where I have to now read the source material. You can tell they had to leave a ton out. And I can only imagine what else I’m going to find inside the Motley Crue time capsule. Hell, maybe I’ll even go listen to a few of their songs.
Okay, maybe I won’t go that far.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] genius
What I learned: This might be the first script I’ve ever read where there’s no narrative – almost the entire script is told in vignettes – and yet I never lost interest. Why? Because these characters were so damn fascinating. This goes to show the power of character creation and how you should always prioritize compelling characters FIRST and plot SECOND.