Genre: Indie/Action?
Premise: A psychologically damaged slacker living in a small town with his girlfriend, soon finds that the CIA is trying to kill him for reasons unknown.
About: American Ultra was written by Max Landis, the writing machine who writes like five scripts a year. The Chronicle writer got Jesse Eisenberg and Kristin Stewart attached to this script, and Project X director Nima Nourizadeh to direct. The prolific scribe is set to direct his first feature soon with “Me Him Her,” – which is being described as “Reality Bites on acid.” If that sounds scary, Landis told Variety of the script, “It’s totally insane! The devil is in it,” which seems to be a theme in a lot of his writing. American Ultra was shot earlier this year and comes out in 2015.
Writer: Max Landis
Details: 109 pages – 3/13/2013 draft

Jesse Eisenberg

Garden State meets… The Bourne Identity?

Bet you haven’t seen that pitch before.

Can something like this actually work?

That’s a good question, and one I’m not sure we’ll be able to answer by the end of this review. And that’s because I heard Max Landis doesn’t write more than one draft. Ever. Like he finishes his first draft and says take it or leave it.

Whether this rumor is true or not, I don’t know, but it’s surely going to affect how our stoner version of Bourne Identity turns out. And if we don’t know what the best version of American Ultra can be, then how can we determine if a mash up of these genres works?

I do think the “never writes second drafts” thing is kind of cool though. Or at least a cool thing to talk about. I mean, how much does a rewrite REALLY mean to a script? And could there be a scenario where writing more than one draft actually hurts a script? Let’s find out.

29 year-old Mike Howell is similar to the small town he lives in: Liman, Oregon. He’s kind of in the middle of nowhere with his life. He doesn’t have a whole lot of motivation. He doesn’t ever leave town. And that makes it hard to understand why his beautiful hippy girlfriend, 28 year old pot-hot Phoebe Larson, is with him. Because Phoebe seems to be everything Mike isn’t, strong, motivated, focused.

Anyway, at the end of a hard day – actually, that’s not true. Mike works at a grocery store – I’ll rephrase. At the end of a medium day, Mike notices two dudes putting something under his car. He asks them what they think they’re doing, and the guys pull guns out and prepare to KILL MIKE.

So Mike takes the spoon from the ice cream he’s eating and KILLS TWO MEN WITH A SPOON (yes, a SPOON!). He looks at himself afterwards. How the hell did he do that? He races back to Phoebe to tell her what happened, only for more evil crazy guys to come after him and try to kill him.

What we eventually learn is that Mike is part of some abandoned mind-altering CIA experiment program that’s being phased out, and Mike has to be eliminated by the government so their tracks are covered. Except Mike doesn’t want to be eliminated. Mike wants to know how he can kill people with spoons!

Pretty soon, an entire section of the CIA descends upon Liman to get rid of Mike, but Mike’s not going down easy, especially because with each person he kills, he gets access to better and better weapons. I mean, if you can kill a man with a utensil, imagine what you can do with a gun.

(spoiler) But Mike is devastated to learn that his girlfriend has actually worked for the CIA these past five years and is his girlfriend solely to keep an eye on him for the government. Normally, when you find out your girlfriend’s been deceiving you for five years and that more than 30 people want to kill you, you’d go into a state of depression and end it all. But Mike decides to use his hibernated skills to teach the CIA a fucking lesson. That no one messes with Mike from Liman, Oregon. Bitch!

537f4808191cb483718bba52_kristen-stewart-sils-maria

They call this kind of script a “tweener.” It’s in be-TWEEN two genres. Tweeners are these anomalies that scare the hell out of producers. On the one hand, a tweener is almost always original. Since it doesn’t fall into a clear genre, it feels like something we’ve never seen before. That’s good!

But that also works against the script, as no one knows how to market tweeners. Audiences (and that includes you, bucko) like to know what they’re going to see. When you’re in the mood for a thriller, you don’t look for a kind-of thriller kind-of indie romance. You look for a thriller. I mean would you see The Skeleton Twins if Kristin Wiig was also an assassin? Probably not.

With that said, the hope with a tweener is that the originality of the idea is strong enough to outweigh the murkiness of the genre. This is exactly what we were dealing with yesterday actually. The Babadook is kind of a horror film but also a drama. Yet it was unique enough that its tweener-ness helped it stand out from the competition.

Does the same thing happen for American Ultra? Well, here’s why that’s hard to answer. This is clearly a first draft. And if that’s because Landis only writes first drafts, then I guess it is what it is. I’m just trying to figure out if the first-draft-ness here works FOR the script or AGAINST it.

The thing that a first draft gives you that no other draft gives you is UNTAMED ENERGY. Your first draft is always raw. And while you may not have the structure or the characters worked out in the story, the script is alive in a way it can’t be after you’ve diddled with it for 20 drafts.

American Mayhem takes off about 15 pages in (when Mike kills the CIA agents) and then never lets up. And Landis’s writing style, which is very confident and excitable, works well with this uncapped energy. You’re not sure where he’s going, but the writing is so damn fun that you go with it.

I mean how else do you explain coming up with dialogue like: “You’ll be detained and tortured to reveal your source, indicted as a traitor and locked away forever, even if you found out I didn’t have proper sanction or protocol you’d still be in a bureaucratic catch-22 where you’re the bad guy. You’re my fucking dog here, I could walk you, behave.”

The thing is, whenever you’re putting the onus on a first draft to carry the story, you’re walking the line between RAW and MESSY. Raw is good. Messy isn’t. And while good writers can keep a script feeling raw for 30, 40, even 50 pages, nobody I know can keep an entire script in their head, perfectly structured, for 110 pages.

Just simple things like setups and payoffs require lots of rewriting. How many times have you come up with a cool idea, like Doc using a bullet proof vest so that the Libyans can’t kill him (Back to the Future) knowing that the only way it can work is if you set it up earlier? That’s where subsequent drafts really help. Is going back and prepping those late-script ideas.

But a bigger problem with writing only one (or even two or three drafts), is that the characters always seem murky. I’ve found that you need to write a lot of drafts and see your characters through a lot of situations before you get a sense of them, a sense that you can then go back and make clear for the reader.

While American Mayhem sets Mike and Phoebe up well (Mike is an unmotivated loser – Phoebe is the good girlfriend who’s trying to help him see his potential), once the shit hits the fan, all that character development goes out the window. It’s just the two running around trying to stay alive.

Now obviously, once you’re fighting for your life, your future career choices don’t seem that important. But that’s the challenge of a screenwriter. Is you have to figure out a way to still focus the story on the characters, the characters overcoming their flaws, and the characters overcoming their relationship issues. That’s what a screenplay is supposed to be about, is your characters transforming. And since good character transformations are some of the trickiest threads to pull off, they typically take a lot of rewriting.

Personally, from what I’ve seen from Landis, I think he’s a good writer. His voice is chaos mixed with childlike fun. He’s like Brian Duffield in that way, just a little more reckless. That gives his scripts an electricity that’s very hard to match. I just wish I saw a little more focus in his stories. They’re fun, and yet they kind of feel like the passionate guy at the party telling you about how he stole the pizza guy’s delivery car last weekend. It’s entertaining for awhile, but once you realize he’s wasted, you kind of wanna go somewhere else.

[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: This isn’t so much a tip as it is a warning that you can’t fool a reader. I can always tell an early draft when I see a lot of monologues in it. This is especially true when I see the monologues increase in frequency and length the further into the script we go. That’s because in early drafts, we don’t quite know our characters or our story yet. So we have our characters talk a lot as a way to figure things out. Over the course of rewriting, we move a lot of that “telling” dialogue into “showing” action and we focus what our characters are saying into smaller more concise snippets. In American Ultra, there were a TON of monologues, and they got bigger and more frequent as the story went on, contributing to its messy feel. Landis is a good enough writer that it didn’t become too much of a problem (his monologues were usually quite funny), but usually this is a death knell for screenplays, and proof positive to the reader that you didn’t put enough work into your script.

  • Citizen M

    Now THIS is ultra…
    (Apologies to Miss SS)

    • carsonreeves1

      Yes! I have my own memes.

  • Buddy

    Strange, after reading this review, the feeling is that American ultra is mostly a thriller, but reading other articles or imdb, it’s described as an action-comedy. A part for the writing is the story/dialogues funny ??

    • carsonreeves1

      Yeah, there’s comedy in here in a sort of crazed way. I think the spoon killing was supposed to be funny. I’d classify it more as insanity than comedy. I don’t know. It’s hard script to pin down genre-wise.

      • walker

        Come on, man.

  • Illimani Ferreira

    I had the opportunity to skype-pitch my comedy Super Epic (the one from last AOW) to a producer. He decided to pass because he didn’t feel Eric’s super power (super strength) was unique enough, and advised me to read Landis’ Chronicle.
    My answer: “Hmm, okay. Thank you for your time.”
    My mental answer: “Sure, imbecile. Maybe Eric’s super power should be the ability to shoot lasers from his dick? Would you like that?!”

    • HWoodAnon

      Super strength is kind of meh though. Producers are like carnival showmen. They need the “Wow, look at this!” factor. He was just telling you that you can do better (bigger).

      • walker

        or, he was an imbecile

    • crazedwritr

      Why would anyone call a producer a dick in a public forum that he most likely reads, just because he wanted you to dig deeper and be more original with your story?

      • filmklassik

        Psychokinesis isn’t significantly deeper or more original, especially nowadays.

  • ripleyy

    I know rewrites are a pain in the ass, but they’re really critical but can also be your demise. Rewriting too much can be the final nail in the coffin, but rewriting too little and your script feels lazy and unfocused. Hitting that middle sweet-spot is easy to do, but it’s feeling overpowered and saying “If I can rewrite just a few more drafts, I’ll definitely get it!”

    Sometimes I feel rebooting the entire story works if you’re struggling. Never be drastic for the sake of the story (as I learned the hard way). If you’re killing off a main character just to get a reaction, you need to take the story, bring it down to the foundations and start building from the bottom – you’ll often find that the flaws are in the detail.

    The biggest problem with any script is the foundations. If they aren’t good, everything else is doomed. Figuring out whether or not the foundations work or not – if they’ll hold your script up, in other words – is why rewrites are important.

  • brenkilco

    Original premise? A workaday schlub discovers he’s actually a deadly government killer who’s had his memory erased and that his significant other is actually an agent assigned to keep an eye on him. When it starts coming back to him, the clandestine authorities move to take him out. So it’s Total Recall, only set in the present with a dweeb in the lead instead of Schwarzenegger and a whole lot less plot development.(Actually, as originally written I believe the lead in TR was supposed to be an unprepossessing everyman) No wonder the guy can churn out five a year. Let’s redo the Godfather with a family of stoned drug dealers.

    .“You’ll be detained and tortured to reveal your source, indicted as a traitor and locked away forever, even if you found out I didn’t have proper sanction or protocol you’d still be in a bureaucratic catch-22 where you’re the bad guy. You’re my fucking dog here, I could walk you, behave.”

    Look, if you think that dialogue is worth quoting let’s just agree to disagree. Doesn’t even make sense on its own terms. If he’s going to be indicted it means he’s going to be subject to legal process. What does bureaucracy have to do with it? And what exactly is the catch 22 here? Or does the writer actually know what one is? And what does it matter if he finds out she is operating illegally? He must already have an inkling of that. Doesn’t she really mean if the legitimate government authorities find out? But hey, he’s a dog. Bet QT is jealous.

    I agree that you can sometimes polish the shine off something with rewrites but it’s not something this writer needs to worry about.

    • cjob3

      Sounds a bit like “The Long Kiss Goodnight” too.

      • brenkilco

        Also the mini-series XIII and I’m sure other things. Not exactly a new Bourne plot device.

    • jw

      Not to mention The Blacklist uses the exact same scenario where Liz’s husband was a “plant” to keep an eye on her too, so from the standpoint of “originality” I guess that could be put in question as well. I guess the larger question becomes, “what is originality?” Now, THAT is an article. I hear that word thrown around so much that I often wonder WHAT it actually means to each person.

    • davejc

      Recall, recall, recall :)

      Arnie is a blue collar everyman. He chooses “blue skies on Mars” for his Recall getaway.

    • filmklassik

      Great post. The “Holy shit I’m actually a trained killer!!” idea has been done to death lately.

      Let me count the ways.

      The first incarnation (that I’m aware of) was Phillip K. Dick’s short story WE CAN REMEMBER IT FOR YOU WHOLESALE, published in 1966,and later produced as the movie TOTAL RECALL with the Governator in 1990 and remade again with Colin Farrell over 20 years later.

      And post-Dick (sorry) there was, of course, Robert Ludlum’s 1980 novel THE BOURNE IDENTITY, subsequently made into a mini-series with Richard Chamberlain before being remade far less faithfully with Matt Damon in 2002. Damon’s movie, of course, spawned a blockbuster franchise.

      But after Ludlum’s BOURNE, in 1980, and Ah-nold’s TOTAL RECALL, in 1990, came Geena Davis in Shane Black’s distaff version of the Bourne/Recall idea, LONG KISS GOODNIGHT, in 1996.

      And then of course there was the somewhat underrated UNKNOWN, starring Liam Neeson, in 2011. Rent it tonight. It’s actually pretty good, but it’s basically THE SAME DAMN STORY. And if memory serves, one of the TWILIGHT-kids did a version of the story a few years ago (never saw it though).

      And now — Dear God! — here comes Max Landis serving up more reheated Dick (sorry again).

      But I guess the generation he’s writing for doesn’t know from Ludlum and Dick.

  • Logic Ninja

    Anyone have the script? jaybird1092@yahoo.com. Thanks!

    • http://vimeo.com/adamwparker Adam W. Parker

      me too adam[at]alumni[dot]vcu[dot]edu. Thanks!

      • gazrow

        Sent it.

        • http://vimeo.com/adamwparker Adam W. Parker

          got it.

    • gazrow

      Sent.

      • Rzwan Cabani

        Please be so kind Gazrow: r.cabani@hotmail.com — would really appreciate it.

      • hackofalltrade

        could you hook me up? jdhelm{at}me{dot}com ? Thanks!

    • Sullivan

      Me. Me. Me. Please. Jasondiggy @ hotmail . Com

  • drifting in space

    That line is nearly a ripoff from House of Cards, though they actually made it make sense.

  • walker

    Come on, man. So this is a “tweener”? Achieving and maintaining a consistent tone that is appropriate for the subject matter is one of the most difficult skills a screenwriter must master. But I guess if you are the flavor of the week and it seems like too much hard work, you can just skip that part. This script and the Duffield skit from the newsletter are so much less than they appear to be. They are not even scripts, they are loud guys who think they’re funny dominating the conversation by continually raising the volume.

    • drifting in space

      That’s a really interesting way of putting it.

      • walker

        I think if you look at both scripts (The Babysitter and American Ultra) you will find that the writers deploy their “energy” and “fresh voice” precisely IN LIEU of executing the difficult aspects of screenwriting– solid plotting, structure, character development. It is flashy, gimmicky, and hit-and-miss amusing, but it is ultimately lazy writing.

        • Cool Movie

          Of course… but that generation figures to be heard LOUDNESS, etc., is required. But Max Landis; his dad is John Landis, regarded as one of H/wood’s greatest script writers in the 70s there. Why would I watch a movie called, ‘The Babysitter…’, what a stupid title; but this generation (under 30s- I don’t know how old Duffield is), has no concept of irony, it’s always this silly loud, hollow; say-nothing rubbish (which like a lot of tantrums has no staying power); but keep in mind that (apparently) this Max Landis fellow has written over 70 scripts. I don’t see how that is even possible; but ‘Chronicle’, it’s a cool little movie. I have no interest in the above…. stupid.

  • Randy Williams

    I’d like to see this with the roles reversed. Stewart playing the “spoon master”

    I don’t like seeing her prostituting herself for five years for a government pension.

    • Kaf

      Well, Phoebe only agrees to keep an “eye” on him because she loves him. But Mike thinks he’s only a job to her. It’s part of their relationship issues. As for rewrites, Landis tweeted about rewriting some dialogue and scenes for the shooting script.

      • carsonreeves1

        Okay, so I guess that puts the rumor to rest. Although I’d be interested to hear if he does full-on rewrites or only little fix-ups here and there.

  • Eddie Panta

    MAX LANDIS likes it when people slap the crap out of each other.

    • Charles Walters

      At 1:50: Is that Hairy Joel Osment?

    • klmn

      Slapping is a traditional comedy technique. Abbott and Costello, The Three Stooges, many more.

      • Eddie Panta

        Ha, yes, true.
        You have knowledge as to accessing this script online?
        If so, please inform theodorefremd gmail

  • Eddie Panta

    I mean, how much does a rewrite REALLY mean to a script? And could there
    be a scenario where writing more than one draft actually hurts a
    script?

    If you’re just starting out, mostly likely your first draft will be over written, as apposed to fresh, clean, and full of energy.

    But it’s true that, as an amateur writer, subsequent rewrites can beat the hell out of a script to the point where you’ve forgotten why you decided to write your story the first place.

    Max Landis has spoken a lot about the TONE of a screenplay in his interviews and statements online. It is really the glue that holds the script together, especially when you have a ridiculous, zany idea. But establishing the right tone for your screenplay is one of the least talked about script components when it comes to advice for young writers.

    Rewrites by the original writer or one hired on can fix just about anything, except tone.
    When readers start picking apart your plot, pointing out loopholes or questioning the believability of your character’s supernatural ability, it means you haven’t struck the right tone in your screenplay.

    Facts and exposition don’t suspend the viewers disbelief. Believing something has happened or could happen is conceivable when the viewer consciously or unconsciously makes a choice to suspend disbelief.

    I don’t care how or why the BIRDMAN can fly, but really hope he will.

    Far out concepts or characters with extraordinary identities become believable when they are grounded in reality, and nothing describes reality more than the mundane.
    A Super Spy in Suburbia, is just that, the extraordinary combined with the mundane.
    I don’t see the uniqueness of the set-up or even this as a mash-up. It’s the same device used in many other films.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/pub/brett-martin/52/702/72 ElectricDreamer

    OT: My fave UK series is finally streaming on Netflix!

    BLACK MIRROR is a technophobic take on The Twilight Zone.
    http://www.slashfilm.com/black-mirror-netflix/

    Can’t recommend it enough. It’s not a huge investment to watch either (6 episodes).
    Unsettling entertainment about how we interact with all the black mirrors now in our lives.

    • For The Lulz

      Six episodes!!! That’s a record for a British series!

      (Although technically it’s 2 seasons of 3 episodes)

    • Midnight Luck

      I was just talking about this maybe a month ago. Why there isn’t an Anthology series like The Twilight Zone around at all. With TV being the gold of the film world right now, you would think someone would come out with something. Looks like it is happening in the U.K.

      And it is getting MASSIVE praise. So why is America the bastard stepchild that throws tantrums and doesn’t want to be bothered, but then just goes and steals from someone else and tries to call it their own.

      I have no doubt this will be taken and turned into an American version, ala HOUSE OF CARDS or UTOPIA or well, about a 1,000 others.

      I can’t wait to check it out.
      Thanks EDreamer for letting us know about it.

    • Dan J Caslaw

      Aaaaaand of course there’s gonna be an American remake of the ‘Entire History of You’ episode, which already threatens to be less interesting than the original:-

      http://www.theguardian.com/film/2013/feb/12/robert-downey-jr-black-mirror

  • Pugsley

    I would absolutely see SKELETON TWINS if Kristin Wiig were an assassin!

    • Midnight Luck

      me too. it would have been better, and a lot more fun.
      I want my $2. (back)

  • walker

    Yes I agree that the imbecilic producer is an overly familiar type.

    • BrucePayne

      Awesome.

  • Illimani Ferreira

    It seems that Max Landis has read today’s review. Those established screenwriters are really a passive-aggressive bunch, aren’t they? http://s2.postimg.org/43gjijxo9/max_landis.jpg

    • drifting in space

      This just got interesting.

    • Deaf Ears

      This is hardly a passive-aggressive response, it’s pretty evenhanded. He didn’t say Carson’s a dick or cast passive-aggressive aspersions, he simply debunked the rumor.

    • Eddie Panta

      The review here suggests the script has tell-tale signs of being an “early draft ” because it has long-winded character monologues. As to Landis’ twitter remarks… Yes, it is obvious that he bends over backwards for any Hollywood executive.

    • crazedwritr

      He’s not being passive aggressive at all. He is head-on debunking a rumor! Good on him!

  • Nicholas J

    Wow, seeing a lot of bitterness in other writers toward scripts like this and Duffield’s latest. What people don’t seem to realize is that sometimes a flat out entertaining story is all it takes. We are writing movies, after all.

    These guys are young and hip and write stories that potentially appeal to a large portion of a desirable demographic. Just because you are attempting to write your version of Lawrence of Arabia doesn’t mean that every script needs to be like that.

    And don’t act like you’ve never written anything that might be somewhat derivative of an existing work. You have. We all have. Everything comes from somewhere.

    If this writing is derivative and simple and lazy, then why don’t you go write something similar and sell it if it’s so easy? Oh, right, because you’re above this script. Only lazy and unskilled writers write scripts like this. And then sell them. And then have careers in writing. Talentless hacks.

    • walker

      These are not “entertaining stories”, they are weak, thin, underdeveloped stories. The writers have attempted to make them entertaining with a thick coat of gimmicks, many of which are unfilmable asides to the reader. When a writer is unwittingly the main character of their own script, that is not a good thing. I thought we were writing movies, after all, not girlish journal entries.

      • susanrichards

        i dunno. i thought THE BABYSITTER was a good story…
        however, im not sure who to market it to.

        going to read this script today and see what i think.

        • walker

          I don’t think there is a feature film there, it really runs about 70 pages.

      • filmklassik

        “When a writer is unwittingly the main character of their own script, that is not a good thing.”

        Well said.

    • drifting in space

      This right here is my biggest concern. We are writing MOVIES, yet, we have not seen any of Duffield’s work AS A MOVIE. You can’t film a whole page WTF; it becomes nothing on the screen.

      Yes, they are entertaining. For sure. But… can they hold their weight as an actual MOVIE?

      Since we have yet to see a Duffield script as a MOVIE (and I very much DOUBT he used this style when writing his draft of the Divergent series because the producers would have likely thrown it out), we don’t know how this VOICE translates to screen.

      Sure, they are hip and hell, I even enjoy reading them… but that only goes so far. At this point, he is a pretty good WRITER. His scripts are not pretty good MOVIES (yet).

      Max also did not write this loud, crazy way for Chronicle (if you’ve read it), which was made and profitable. There seems to be a difference in receiving attention for your script and actually getting a movie made (and I’m sure having connections through your father helps, but the guy puts in work). The other scripts he has written are still in the air until we see the MOVIE version.

      I’d imagine a lot of what these type of writers put out has been or is re-worked (as all of our work would be).

      • Nicholas J

        Remember, movies are a collaborative work. It’s not Duffield’s or Landis’s job to make a great movie. It’s their job to provide the actors and crew with great opportunities to make a great movie, by providing a solid blueprint.

        At this point, he is a pretty good WRITER.

        Well, since he is a screenwriter, that’s all he needs to be. Should he also be a pretty good production designer? No. That’s not his job. Again, all he (and we) need to do, is provide the cast and crew with opportunities to make a great movie.

        You can’t film a whole page WTF; it becomes nothing on the screen.

        Sure you can. That’s the job of the director, to take what is on the page and translate it to the screen. There’s a ton of ways you can film that moment to make it scream “WHAT THE FUCK.” Here’s one of the most famous examples:

        Is dedicating an entire page to “WHAT THE FUCK” loud and gimmicky and unnecessary? Maybe, I dunno. But you can certainly film something like that. And I enjoyed it anyway.

        • davejc

          Yeah but WTF doesn’t last an entire minute. Re imagine that dolly zoom scene from Jaws and stretch it out for an entire minute, or 1500 frames of film. It sorta looses its WTF appeal.

          Or maybe the WTF page is essential to emphasize to the reader exactly what they should be experiencing at this particular juncture in the story.

          But why bother ordering your audience what to experience when you could be ordering them to cut you a check for six figures?

          Don’t be coy.

        • filmklassik

          JAWS is brilliant. And it was extensively rewritten. So were most of the movies we find ourselves watching over and over through the years.

          The production draft of CHINATOWN was a third draft screenplay, and that seems pretty typical — particularly for genre movies. (Plot-free, indie-type character studies are a breed apart, and have their own rules).

          • brenkilco

            Wasn’t Towne’s original Chinatown script like two hundred pages long? And of course everybody knows about the original ending.

          • filmklassik

            That’s true. By all accounts (well, Evans’ and Polanski’s) Towne’s first draft was frequently brilliant but also sprawling and unwieldy. Polanski, however, was a first-rate editor and had him pare it down to the screenplay we know and love (and you’re right, he also added on that bleak, almost nihilistic ending, which Towne originally hated but is now okay with).

            Polanski is a brilliant filmmaker but had, understandably, a poor command of idiomatic English, so he didn’t pretend to be a brilliant screenwriter… which is one reason why his adaptation of ROSEMARY’S BABY is so faithful to its source novel. Every line of Polanski’s script — from the dialogue to the scene descriptions — was taken VERBATIM from Ira Levin’s book.

            Every. Single. Line.

            All Polanski did was make cuts.

            It remains the most faithful book-to-screenplay adaptation I’ve ever seen.

          • brenkilco

            In terms of fidelity to the source The Maltese Falcon script would be a close second

          • filmklassik

            No question. Even though it was constrained somewhat by the Hays Office, it was remarkably faithful.

        • Malibo Jackk

          There’s some middle ground somewhere.
          (My opinion.)
          The reader wants to read the story.
          The screenwriter wants them to see the movie.
          (But as JA would say, the screenwriter is the only one who sees
          the movie in his head. It’s up to the screenwriter to convey that vision.)

      • Midnight Luck

        very well said.
        I agree so much with what you are saying.

    • susanrichards

      the craft is changing. adapt or perish. BUT…the story still has to be the best it can be, thats a given, and an unchanging fact.
      i think we need to focus on that.
      all of the “you shoulds” and “you shouldnts” ..sometimes they work, sometimes they dont.
      what do they say…action shouldnt be too detailed, shouldnt be huge paragraphs of description, etc.?
      well, what about the script DRIVE? the driving sequences were the whole backdrop of the script. so. there you go.
      style of writing, it captures the writer. its his voice.
      im not a huge fan of diablo cody’s writing STYLE. however, i cant dismiss the fact that JUNO was a success, and a good story, can i?
      thats what we need to do.

    • jw

      Nicholas, I think what many “amateur” writers don’t understand is that you can actually making a decent living NEVER seeing one of your scripts produced. I know that sounds insane and completely contrary to what we are fed as “amateurs” but the fact of the matter is that this is why you can see someone write a film like Se7en and then drop off the planet for a decade, because they’re likely doing rewrite work or selling other scripts that are never made. One of the biggest misconceptions about writing is that once sold your script is made and it just isn’t true. This is why many people argue – WRITE TO SELL, because you’ll make the cash on the sale and then have others worry about getting it to the screen.

      • Midnight Luck

        But you still have to write Se7en. First.
        And well, that is an AMAZING script.

        • Nicholas J

          I was going to address your other comment below, but you basically summed up my response here. I don’t think Babysitter is a “break-in” quality script either, but it doesn’t have to be, and people seem to be holding that against it. Duffield has gained trust as a writer by his other efforts, and that goes a long way. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

          • drifting in space

            In essence, we are just jealous and insecure.

            That’s all it really is.

          • Nicholas J

            Pen envy.

        • jw

          I would say that YES the story is amazing. If you haven’t read the script though, the script itself is anything but amazing. I think what can happen at times is that we see a film and think, “oh my God, that is an amazing script,” not realizing that with so many cooks in the kitchen, someone can come along and make something so much better than it actually was on the page. But, I guess that’s why this is such a collaborative “sport” — for better or worse.

          • Malibo Jackk

            What I found interesting is that Dr. No was first done on tv — and nobody cared.
            Years later they made it into a movie.
            The director taught Sean Connery how to talk, walk. smoke a cigarette.
            Added Ursula Andress (who thought it would be just another movie). There was the opening sequence (filmed through the barrel of a gun). The James Bond music was added.
            Everything came together — and launched an industry.

          • jw

            I think that’s really realistic. I mean, let’s be honest, Gone Girl without Ben Affleck and David Fincher is a Lifetime movie. With them it’s a run-away, smashing success! #keepitreal

          • brenkilco

            Actually it was Casino Royale that was first done as a live, hour long tv drama with an American Bond. And it was nothing special. But then Fleming’s first novel is not that great and the tv production could only do a portion of it and had to forego the climactic torture scene.

            With the early Bond movies everything did come together. And whether the producers were incredibly lucky or incredibly smart I’m not sure. First they gambled on Connery who paid off in spades. The directors Terence Young and Guy Hamilton were just capable journeymen. But the other collaborators were extraordinarily talented: production designer Ken Adam, Composer John Barry and editor Peter Hunt. Hunt’s contribution to the speed and feel of those early movies is still not fully appreciated.

          • GYAD

            I can’t believe you’re calling Guy Hamilton and Terence Young “just capable journeymen”. Both were excellent directors.

          • brenkilco

            They fit in well with the Bond team. But virtually everything on their post bond resumes was pretty mediocre. And that’s being charitable. Things like The Klansman, Bloodline, Force Ten From Navarone and Remo Williams are God awful.

          • filmklassik

            I can half-heartedly defend REMO WILLIAMS. God knows it’s no classic, but I found it enjoyable and reasonably well-made nonsense. And Fred Ward and Joel Grey are fun together. I’d give it a B-minus. (Then again, I haven’t watched it in almost 30 years).

            But yeah, the other movies you mentioned are garbage.

          • brenkilco

            Grey and Ward were kinda fun. Grey in that role today would get the movie boycotted. But I defy anybody to remember what happens after Remo completes his training. There’s a scene with a big log hanging from a helicopter and then he’s climbing the statue of liberty or something. Really dumb.

          • filmklassik

            Bullshit! It makes perfect sense! YOU JUST DIDN’T GET IT!

            Actually, I’m afraid to watch it again, and I’ll tell you why: It will probably turn out to be really dumb.

          • GYAD

            Both men certainly made some rubbish in their later years but they also made some excellent films, with Guy Hamilton in particular turning out superb non-Bond films like “Battle of Britain” and “Funeral in Berlin”.

          • brenkilco

            I like Funeral in Berlin but though it is better plotted than The Ipcress file it is infinitely less stylish than the first film. Curious since the director of Ipcress Sydnie Furie was no better a director than Hamilton. But Bond production designer Ken Adam designed Ipcresss, Bond composer Barry did the score and Bond editor Peter Hunt cut it and took a hand in the direction. So there you are.

          • GYAD

            Sure, film-making is a joint process.

            I think a lot of the tremendous style of Ipcress had to do with Otto Heller as the DP.

          • Malibo Jackk

            “First they gambled on Connery who paid off in spades. The directors
            Terence Young and Guy Hamilton were just capable journeymen. But the other collaborators were extraordinarily talented…”

            Don’t mean to argue. Just call this an opinion.
            Not sure what would have happened without T.Young.
            The public fell in love with the John Bond character.
            (Was the rest window dressing?)
            The Jame Bond you see on screen is not Connery. It’s T. Young’s creation. He created the personality for the screen. They say he modeled Bond after himself and sat down with Connery, teaching him how to hold a fork.

          • brenkilco

            Yes, apparently Connery was really a diamond in the rough and he benefitted from his exposure to Young’s upper class panache. Still don’t think Young was a particularly great director technically. I’ve read that initially Ian Fleming thought Connery all wrong but in the end was so impressed by his performance that when he came to write the Bond obit that concludes You Only Live Twice he made his hero Scottish.

          • filmklassik

            “With the early Bond movies everything did come together.”

            GOLDFINGER, for me, is the perfect action-adventure movie. Witty, tight, polished, outlandish (but with great internal logic) and consistently, almost preposterously inventive. Check out the scenes and ideas that have since passed into legend: You’ve got the car, the gold paint, the laser, Goldfinger’s crazy-but-brilliant get-richer-quick scheme, Oddjob, the Holy Fucking Shit climax with Bond eluding a crazed Sumu Wrestler while cuffed to a ticking nuke inside Ft. Knox (WTF?!! And yet it all makes sense!)

            In fact GOLDFINGER contains more sheer narrative invention than almost any 10 action-adventure movies put together. Plus it’s breathlessly exciting. And Connery was never better.

          • brenkilco

            Yes, for sheer crazy inventiveness Goldfinger may never have been equaled by any other adventure film. Course, not all of it makes sense. Why for instance does Goldfinger spend so much time explaining his plan to a group of gangsters he intends to gas to death five minutes later? Cause the model is really cool and besides the audience wants to know.

            And what filmmaker today would spend an entire reel of an action film with the hero and villain just playing golf? There’s an equally tense contest in the novel Moonraker where Bond and the villain play bridge. Would make a great movie scene since the villain’s manner of cheating is very visual but it’ll never be used.

            And the film’s screenwriters deserve a fair amount of credit. I think Fleming is a very underrated writer but the story in the novel is improved immeasurably in the film. Bond getting cut in two by a buzz saw is old fashioned. But a laser beam. Wow. In the movie Bond cons Goldfinger into sparing his life. In the book he persuades Goldfinger to hire him as his personal secretary. Not kidding. And the screenwriters idea of irradiating all the gold is neater than Fleming’s robbery plan which entails blasting Fort Knox open with a nuke. Would have been a little messy.

            The one weak link for me is Honor Blackman. Fine actress. And she had The Avengers pedigree. But as a Bond girl she lacked something.

    • Midnight Luck

      I think the problem is, I do not believe a writer without a name an Amateur if you will, would have been able to sell THE BABYSITTER.
      I am not even sure if they could have sold AMERICAN ULTRA without having already written something and garnered a name beforehand. Maybe, this one actually might have been able to sell, as the mashup idea could have been enough.
      So for people like myself, it is hard to look at a script like The Babysitter and think it really has anything to do with the rest of us. I think it only sold because the writer has had previous sales. I don’t think most readers would have gotten past page 15, as it was an incredibly poor read.
      So people respond to all these things that don’t add up, when we learn and are told one thing but see so much of the opposite happen out there in La La Land.

      Just my 2 pennies, or quarter.

      • I WRITE FILMS

        I agree with you completely. Max Landis, judging by his twitter response, totally didn’t appreciate Carson making this “one draft” statement

      • rodneybr23

        I think it’s all about who reads the material. We all don’t like the same movies, so we all won’t like the same scripts. I’ve had people read a script I recently wrote, some like it and some don’t. Of course I like it, I wrote it. Could it better? Anything can be improved. But at the end of the day, if I can just get one “gatekeeper” to say yes (two managers already requested the script) then I would consider that a win.

    • brenkilco

      I’ve got nothing against flat out entertaining movies. I miss them. Seems we get fewer and fewer every year. Hollywood used to be able to churn out great thrillers and comedies and dramas on a fairly regular basis. I’m not talking about year end Oscar bait. Meat and potatoes stuff. Just entertainment. But just entertainment that is smart, funny, clever, surprising and engrossing is damn hard. By all means champion entertainment. But The Babysitter isn’t entertainment. It’s self consciously, cutesy crap. Brainless and contemptuous.

      Re entertainment I finally caught on HBO go this largely ignored meeting of Arnold and Sly Escape Plan. Expected it to be utter crap from fade in to fade out. But it was worse than that. For the first forty five minutes it actually wasn’t that bad. Sure the premise was silly and the dialogue was lame.but it had some halfway clever, if implausible, moments; how to use a milk carton to acquire a keypad code and how to make a sextant from a pair of eyeglasses. Once upon a time those kinds of interesting details harnessed to a fairly logical plot would have been enough. But here you got the steady mindless descent into bone crunching and shootouts and explosions and the sight of two seventy year olds acting superhuman. And you might say lighten up it’s just entertainment. And I say Entertainment, RIP.

      • filmklassik

        Also, one can only assume that the hero’s hometown of “Liman” Oregon is a tip of the hat to Doug Liman, the director of the first BOURNE movie, and a blatant acknowledgement of the franchise Landis is steali- ahem, paying homage to.

    • pmlove

      I think you are misinterpreting. It’s surprise people are expressing, not envy. I’m impressed Duffield sold that script but I am nevertheless surprised at how thin it was. It’s not ‘so easy’, nor am I ‘above this script’. But I can still say, objectively, that I don’t think it was any good.

      This feels more like a ‘fear of missing out’ purchase. The guy is hot shit. If his films start to be successful and people see them off his name alone, then they have this in the vault. Fix it later. Or just slap a ‘from the writer of….’ on the poster.

      Duffield is clearly not a ‘talentless hack’ (nor was this ever suggested) – it’s exactly because he isn’t that it is so surprising how poor ‘The Babysitter’ is.

      But maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s gold and I can’t see it. But I don’t think so. The moment where ‘HELL YEAH’ appears is a case in point. This could be a great moment, if there had been any attempt to show Cole was interested in fireworks, pranks, interesting ways of executing your babysitter or anything. But there wasn’t, so it comes across as the writing equivalent of someone who’s read ‘The Game’ for dating tips.

      That’s all it is. Surprise. Like I’m surprised that Brazil were beaten 7-1 by Germany in the World Cup. Doesn’t mean I’m about to sign up for the Brazil try-outs any time soon. I’m not Brazilian; I wouldn’t qualify.

    • Jarman Alexander

      I love reading Max’s stuff. It’s like having a one way conversation with a guy who never understands why what he’s saying is wrong or inappropriate in a particular situation.

      That could be what made me cringe at this concept though. Stoner Bourne… Hell yes, I know I could make that funny, imagine what Landis, a great director and actor could do with that.

      But the girlfriend is CIA… I just want to yell at the page take 20 seconds and write down idea 2!!!

  • klmn

    I read about 50 pages so far. It starts out kinda slow, but then it picks up. The fight scenes have kind of an absurd, Matrixy feel. I think you have to wait for the film to see how well the script works.

  • cjob3

    Hey, this script employs my awesome character capitalization technique!

  • Montana Gillis

    I’ll bet Max Landis is never at a loss for words in a pitch meeting when asked “What else have you got.” Hmmmm maybe if I cranked out 90 to 100 pages every two months, I could write SIX scripts every year…

  • http://vimeo.com/adamwparker Adam W. Parker

    you got it.

    • dimitrije

      Can you please forward it to me. I’d love to read this Landis’ script.

      My address vojnovi@gmail.com

      Thanks in advance!

  • http://vimeo.com/adamwparker Adam W. Parker

    For the record I read it. This critique is more me talking to myself. All the best to the writer.

    It wasn’t dense enough for me. I could feel it going for kind of a scott pilgrim thing but I wasn’t feeling any character other than Yates. There’s about 30 pages worth of how punches, kicks, and bullets are dispersed in which little character is developed. His girlfriend could have gotten killed – I would’ve felt nothing. The “tree conversation” was a glimmer of emotion, but too singular.

    The end description of the fight is kind of what needed to happen for the rest. It was kind of saying “insert cool choreography here” instead of having the action scenes force characters to choose sides, make tough decisions, make witty decisions, make unexpected decisions…

    It was motion, not action. And motion isn’t script friendly – imagine The Raid 2 script (which is not a knock, I fairly enjoyed the choreography but the story was lacking). The script format is born to strip away the bells and whistles and be the litmus test as to whether the conflict is primal and moving.

    I found that this, at the end of the day, wasn’t. There’s some fun dialogue bits though. Cut down on the motion and this script is 80 pages long – then use that to add more character moments through action.

    Again, best to the writer.

    • Sullivan

      Send it my way, please? Thanks. JasonDiggy @ hotmail . Com

      • http://vimeo.com/adamwparker Adam W. Parker

        you got it.

    • Max Cross

      Is it annoying to ask for a copy too? Building up my Landis collection and this is one of the few I don’t have.

      supermax1998@cfl.rr.com. Thanks in advance.

  • kenglo

    I dunno…I’m on 57 of AMERICAN ULTRA and I LIKE IT!!! So what he writes a little different. The CONCEPT is brilliant…..stoner/Bourne?? Why didn’t I think of that??? As far as some comments on Duffield – CONCEPTS…..that’s why these guys get sales….MONSTER PROBLEMS, JANE GOT A GUN, YOUR BRIDESMAID’S A B??? And now THE BABYSITTER????? Dude’s a beast….late to the show and nowhere to go!

    • dimitrije

      can you please sent it to me vojnovi-at-gmail-dot-com?

  • Malibo Jackk

    Has me beat by 11 imbd credits.

    • redcuplife

      I have a movie. Landis has a few. Doesn’t mean I can’t dislike the guy. I’ve met him multiple times. My comment isn’t rooted in jealousy.