Premise: Told out of order in three separate time segments, a family of brothers clash with a pair of local drug dealers, the aftermath of which will change their lives forever.
About: This script sold a few years ago for almost a million bucks. Ingelsby was one of the big spec sale machines at the time, routinely selling scripts since DiCaprio fell in love with his first screenplay, The Low Dweller, which eventually was rewritten by director Scott Cooper, and became the film, “Out of the Furnace,” starring Christian Bale. Ingelsby’s sold 5-6 other scripts besides these two.
Writer: Brad Ingelsby
Details: 132 pages
What in the hell is happening in the world??
Hollywood’s golden child directors, Lord and Miller, were abruptly fired from the Han Solo project Monday a full 5 months into production. Everyone involved is spinning this like it’s not a big deal, but how could it be anything BUT a big deal? Directors get fired from major movies during production once every 10 years.
And remember what happened on Rogue One. After watching Gareth Edwards’ first cut, they told him to take a seat and let Dan Gilroy direct the rest of the film. BUT THEY NEVER FIRED EDWARDS. The fact that they were so mad with what they’ve seen on Solo that they’d fire Lord and Miller is a huge statement in regards to the project (and the feisty Star Wars team in general).
Interestingly enough, they’re saying the problem is screenwriting-related – that Lord and Miller didn’t understand the character of Han Solo. To them, Han Solo was a goofy jokester. But to Lucasfilm, Han Solo is sarcastic and selfish.
The reason this is relevant is because, to the average moviegoer, these adjectives are interchangeable. But screenwriters know that even a slight shift in a character’s essence changes them completely. It is our job to pay attention to these details for these details will affect the entirety of how the character engages with the story.
If this report is accurate, Lucasfilm is spot on. You make Han a jokester, he’s a joke. What makes Han compelling is the fact that he never tries to be funny. His humor is an offshoot of his sarcastic view of the world.
Not to worry, Lord and Miller. I’m sure you’ll end up in a better place. How’s that for a transition? Now let’s get into today’s very non-Star Wars related script. I promise not to fire anyone before I’m finished.
We start in South Philly. Actually, I don’t know which section of Philly we start in. I just think “South Philly” sounds cooler than “Philly.” So we start in South Philly. That’s where we meet the Borzell brothers.
There’s Chris, the broad-shouldered blue-collar carpenter. There’s Barry, the wimpy professor who just married a woman with four children. There’s Mike the doorman who doubles as a ladies man (according to him), and there’s Justin, the recovering drug addict.
The brothers are ditching South Philly for the weekend for a much-needed family gathering in the Poconos. While drinking at a local Poconos bar, they encounter drug dealer Daryl Wilkins and his squirrly sidekick, Kurt Sprouse. The six of them get in a fight, and the brothers are able to outnumber them for the win.
Later on, after fishing, Sprouse stumbles up to the brothers out of nowhere, bleeding to death. The group realizes that Sprouse is being chased by bigger nastier drug dealers, and during the chaos, Mike sees Sprouse’s partner hide 1 million dollars worth of cocaine in the forest before making a run for it.
Cut back to 3 weeks ago for Section 2 of the script, where we get to know a little more about the brothers. We see Barry get married to the woman with four kids whose teenaged daughter hates him, despite the fact that Barry is now paying for this entire families’ survival. We find out Justin is really struggling to distance himself from his addict lifestyle. And we also find out how Wilkins and Sprouse got involved in the biggest drug deal of their lives.
We finally flash forward to the final section, which occurs a couple of weeks after our first section. After getting fired from his doorman job, Mike can’t stop thinking about those hidden drugs, and proposes to the family that they try and sell them. The brothers are reluctant at first, but as we’ve established, all of their lives could be easier with a nice bump of cash. So they go get the drugs and set up a deal. We sense that the brothers are tempting fate, however, and prepare for something very untoward to go down.
Ingelsby’s strengths are detail, dialogue, character and authenticity. His scripts read almost like novels, adding a level of depth you’re not used to when you sit down to read a script. But that depth comes at a cost. The burn is slow. And if you’re someone who needs to check his Instagram every 2 minutes, you’re not going to make it through an Ingelsby screenplay.
Now, not all slow burns are created equal. The good ones manage to build in a way where you forget the deliberate pace. The most effective way to achieve this is by ASKING A QUESTION. That question should be as big as you can make it and affect your key characters as much as possible. If you can achieve this, we’ll patiently endure your slow burn.
Why? Because we want to know the answer to the question. A good example of this is American Beauty. Lester Burnham tells us, at the beginning of the film, that in one year, he will be dead. But we don’t know how he dies. That’s the question we want answered.
My issue with A Better Place is that it waited until page 100 to ask the question – that being, “What’s going to happen to these brothers when they try to sell these drugs?” To Ingelsby’s credit, once that question was asked, I was all in. I had a sense that not all of these brothers were going to make it and I wanted to find out which ones bit it and which survived.
But to make me wait 100 pages before I even knew that’s where the story was going seemed excessive. I have a feeling that that’s why Ingelsby used his funky time structure here. The structure was basically unnecessary. But it helped break things up in a way that distracted from the fact that it was taking so long to get to the point.
Then again, Ingelsby may argue that those 100 pages of character burn were the very reason I cared so much when the characters finally did enter that drug deal. But I believe that audiences are savvy these days. They pick up things faster. And you could’ve made us care about this family within a much shorter timeframe.
Also, by waiting so long, Ingelsby missed some opportunities. Take Justin, for example, the drug addict brother. Because the drug deal is squeezed into the final 30 pages, we only get one scene where Justin and the drugs are alone. Had we started building up an impending deal earlier, Justin could’ve been in charge of those drugs for days, weeks even. An addict who’s finally gotten sober with 30 kilos of cocaine in his kitchen at all times? That’s a compelling situation.
The way I see it, you want to make the slow burn work for you, not against you. So if you’re going to take your time, you want to start multiple suspenseful plot threads as early as possible and have them linger in the background while you explore your characters. A Better Place was more like, “I’m going to spend 100 pages telling you about all these people and then we’ll get to the fun.”
With that said, if you miss those big sprawling 70s movies like The Godfather and The Deer Hunter, A Better Place is clearly inspired by those films. The majority of the second section even gives us one of those giant 70s cinema wedding sequences. But your enjoyment of A Better Place will probably coincide with your patience level. The buildup was longer than I would’ve liked, but the ending does kick ass. And, for that reason, I think it’s worth checking out.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Slow burns don’t use goals so much as they ask questions. So if you’ve got a slow-burn screenplay, take advantage of this device. And don’t just ask one question. It’s probably not enough to keep us invested for 110 pages. Ask numerous questions. Then sneak in all that slowly developing character stuff in between the answers.