With indie sleeper “Ex Machina” kicking ass this weekend at the box office, I thought those who missed my script review might want to check it out. Enjoy! And now on to Black Mass…

Genre: Drama/Biopic
Premise: The real-life story of Whitey Bulger, a notorious Boston gangster who became an informant for the FBI to help take down the mafia.
About: If you’re a screenwriter and you haven’t explored writing a biopic, what’s wrong with you?? The genre is taking over the industry. And I think I know why. With the “star system” in Hollywood declining, biopics have become the one remaining area for movie stars to shine. Nobody goes to American Sniper if Ted Danson is playing Chris Kyle. Black Mass stars Johnny Depp and was to be directed by journeyman filmmaker Barry Levinson, but they decided to go with hot new shiny object Scott Cooper instead, who directed the gritty Christian Bale flick, “Out of the Furnace,” and the Jeff Bridges country music feast, “Crazy Heart.” Final screenplay credit was split between Mark Mallouk, who’s making his screenwriting debut here (he was previously a producer) and Jez Butterworth, who’s credited for such films as Edge of Tomorrow and Get on Up. Interestingly enough, this script notes that Johnny Depp has final say over the screenplay. I suppose this is more common than we know but it was a little surprising to see it in writing.
Writer: Mark Mallouk (this draft doesn’t yet include Butterworth) – based on the book “Black Mass: Whitey Bulger, The FBI and a Devil’s Deal” by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neil
Details: 115 pages – undated (looks to be a late 2012 draft)

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After the recent trailer for Black Mass hit, I had to read the script. I love that they did something different with the trailer, focusing on a single scene instead of a bunch of them. And Johnny Depp. Whoa! The guy is practically unrecognizable as Whitey Bulger. And he’s acting again! I’m not sure you can say that about his previous five movies. Johnny Depp is the most kind, gentle, soft-spoken person in real life. But that man in the trailer? That was someone entirely different. That man was terrifying.

It’s 1974 and FBI Agent John Connolly has just moved back to Boston as the self-proclaimed “savior” of the city. The Irish and Italian gangs have turned the town into a hell-hole and he’s going to be the one to clean it up. His fellow Feds are skeptical, but Connolly’s got a secret weapon. He knows Whitey Bulger, the man running the Irish gangs.

Connolly’s idea is this. The FBI really wants the Mafia (the Italians). He recognizes that getting them out of the way is good for the Irish. So why not use the Irish’s knowledge about the Italians – the kind of information the Feds don’t have access to – to take them down? So Connolly goes to Bulger and asks him if he wants to be an informant.

It takes some convincing on both sides but soon everyone’s in, and thus begins a working relationship between Connolly and Bulger. Bulger feeds Connolly info and the FBI looks the other way when Bulger does unsavory deeds.

The problem is, Whitey Bulger works on his own time frame, not the FBI’s. He wants to know he can trust Connolly before he just starts throwing information at him. So there’s this constant tug-of-war between Connolly and his bosses regarding time. He needs more. They give him less.

Eventually the plan starts paying off, with Bulger giving the FBI the mafia’s hideout. But it’s a double-edged sword. With each new thing they learn about the mafia comes a new tidbit about Bulger himself, who they’re learning is a MUCH bigger criminal than anyone knew. And thus the question is asked. Are they getting rid of a demon only to replace him with the Devil?

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Joel Edgerton will play John Connolly.

Black Mass starts out with a great opening sequence. It’s 2011 and one of the FBI’s ten most wanted men, Whitey Bulger, has been spotted living in a small apartment in Santa Monica. The man who’s reported him to the Feds, the apartment manager, is tasked with tricking the notorious gangster to come outside his apartment so the FBI can scoop him up and arrest him.

Whitey is a man who used to have people like this manager sawed into pieces for even considering such a thing. But when the Feds tell you you have to do something, you do it. The scene is not only packed with suspense, but it brilliantly sets up our subject, conveying just how much of a badass Whitey Bulger is.

At the end of this scene, I scooched into my chair with a smile, ready for a long exciting adventure about the man who many feel was the most violent and dangerous in Boston’s history. You can color me disappointed, then, when that adventure never came.

Black Mass makes a shocking choice early on that ends up neutralizing its biggest asset. Instead of telling us the story through the eyes of the legendary Bulger, Black Mass focuses on the vanilla Jack Connolly to tell its tale.

This may have worked had we seen enough of Bulger’s antics to satisfy our morbid curiosity. But the script adds this storyline by which Connolly thinks Bulger is a harmless second-rate criminal. That’s how he was able to sell to the Feds going after the Mafia and not Bulger himself.

For that to work though, Connolly (and by association, us) can’t see Bulger do anything bad. As you’d suspect, this has a catastrophic effect on the level of drama in the film. Since Bulger can’t do anything bad, Bulger can’t do… well, anything at all! All of Bulger’s scenes are relegated to him nodding and doing whatever Connolly asks of him. I hate to put it this way, but 80% of this movie is Whitey Bulger being the FBI’s bitch.

I was shocked. Where was this terrifying legendary criminal I’d heard about? He wasn’t in this film. Which means Black Mass runs the risk of being the single biggest example of false advertising in biopic history. It would be like making a movie about Michael Jordan and never showing him play basketball.

As for that great scene in the trailer – it’s in this draft. But it’s an outlier. We don’t get any other scenes like it (save for 1-2 generic kill scenes) to show how terrifying Bulger is.

The plotting had issues as well. There’s a distinct lack of BUILD as the story goes on, and I think that’s because the script failed to establish the stakes of getting rid of the Mafia. I barely knew anyone in the Mafia here and it was never conveyed to me why getting rid of them was so important.

Lots of writers mistakenly believe that just saying so is enough. So if a character says, “Man, that Mafia is bad. They killed that woman last week,” then we’ll want the Mafia taken down. But that’s not how movies work. Movies work by SHOWING. Not TELLING. If you show the Mafia rip an innocent man to shreds because he looked at them the wrong way, NOW we’ll understand why the FBI needs to stop them. We’ve seen how dangerous they are with our own eyes.

But that’s a small part of a much bigger problem. Nobody really does anything bad in this movie. Not Whitey. Not the Mafia. It’s the PG version of the Boston crime story. Sure we hear about some bad things, but I don’t go to a movie to hear about something. I go to SEE it.

Of course, the nature of development is that you keep working on a script until it’s the best that it can be. And they did bring on another writer to do some drafts after this one. But something tells me the current approach of this script is unfixable. You can’t neuter and borify the most ruthless killer in Boston history. You have to let a character like that loose.

I went into this script thinking Whitey Bulger was a major badass. I left thinking he was just a regular guy who occasionally committed crimes.

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

What I learned: Use visual cues to convey time passing. There was a moment in Black Mass where the FBI director tells Connolly, “It’s been six months and Bulger hasn’t given us anything!” So poorly was the passage of time conveyed, that had that same character said it had been “2 weeks,” I wouldn’t have batted an eye. Improperly conveying time can make a script feel drifty and sloppy. So use visual cues to help the reader along. For example, you might make a key female character pregnant. A tiny bump one scene and a big bump another scene instantly conveys 6-7 months have passed. A family gets a puppy. A few scenes down the line, that dog is now full grown. Highlight seasons changing. It’s sunny and 85 out. Cut to next scene, it’s now snowing. These are the most obvious examples so I actually encourage you to be creative and come up with your own. But if we have no idea how much time is passing in your story, we can become confused. And confusion often leads to frustration.

What I learned Two: If you have a compelling character, you want to construct a storyline that allows that character to thrive. For example, if you’re writing a story about the greatest astronaut in history, you probably don’t want to set the entire movie down on earth.

  • Zapotage

    It’s a bummer to read this because that trailer got me really stoked to see Johnny Depp in a juicy role. There’s a documentary on Netflix about how much of a monster Whitey Bulger was (might still be on there). It’s interesting and I knew about Black Mass being made with great potential for excellence. Maybe we’ll get lucky and in the next few drafts they pumped it full of Bulger’s evil deeds??? One can only hope. Also, I’d heard they cut the trailer like that because American Sniper had done something similar.

  • Murphy

    RE: What I learned. One of my favourite movies is “Lars and the Real Girl” and they had a great device for showing the passing of time. Across the road someone was building a house, and while it was never really highlighted in the movie, it was always there in the background. I never forget that because at the time I remember thinking it was so clever,.

  • S.C.

    Why not write a biopic…? First problem is rights. If you’re leaning on one book for information, you need to get the rights to that book.

    Life rights. You need life rights.

    Enormous amounts of research. Unless you’ve been studying the subject as a matter of personal interest for some time, if you started writing a biopic today, you’d never be finished by Scriptshadow 250 deadline (three months away, by my reckoning).

    Lots of outlining… can’t have a rambling biopic, needs focus.

    Lot of factual details you need to get correct. Look at this weekend… people know enough about most things that they can spot a factual error on the first page.

    Why not write a biopic? Unless it’s something you’re passionate about, it’s a lot of work!

    • https://twitter.com/rich_trenholm Richard Trenholm

      I’ve often wondered about that – if you’re writing about something that happened in real life, what rights do you need to secure? If you draw from several books do you need rights to them all? Would it be different if you were writing about an event (like a battle) rather than a person?

      • S.C.

        From what I know, if you’re using one book as a primary source of information on a person or historical subject, then you need to credit that book, get the rights, or your could get sued.

        This came up yesterday when we had a biopic of Gene Rodenberry; you will need to get permission from Rodenberry’s widow/estate to do the story UNLESS it’s mostly in the public domain. Then you would have to get Paramount to give you permission to use Star Trek.

        Otherwise, all you’ve got is a writing sample that can’t be sold.

        (Statistically there are gonna be a few people on this board who know a lot more about legal matters – I’m just reporting what I’ve heard/read.).

        • Gregory Mandarano

          Forget about getting sued. You wont even be able to get an agent without all the rights secured. It’s the first question they ask. Nobody wants to move forward on a project that doesn’t have a clear chain of title. It is also expensive to secure these rights. You’ll need an entertainment attorney to handle legal matters. Books are hard enough to get the rights to, and music is even mare complex. You need attachments and a well put together project plus a music attorney to get the music rights, but the people you’ll want to get attached will all be concerned about the music rights, which you cant get without them. It’s an expensive catch-22. I’ve spent all my money dealing with lawyers over the past two years for my Band biopic, and I’m no closer now to getting the script produced than I was two years ago. As it is I couldn’t even move forward with the draft Levon and I co-wrote together because after he passed away I realized I didn’t have a collaboration agreement and the copyrights / wga registration wasn’t enough to secure it. Flash forward a year later and I was forced to write a brand new script. At least I have all the rights squared away now with the new draft, but it basically bankrupted me. I wouldn’t wish a biopic on anyone, unless they have the financial resources and the strength of will to move a mountain. If I ever succeed in getting The Band movie made, it will be the single most satisfying thing in my life, considering I’ve invested eight years of my life into it, and my two friends who helped me write it, Levon and Al Pierce, have both passed away in the meanwhile.

          • Randy Williams

            I think the movie about you trying to get this movie made is more interesting than the movie itself.

            Any why can’t biopics have those flashy action scenes or high concept hooks? I would think any famous person or group with a following has had plenty in their life, in and out of bed.

            Hope your hard work pays off.

          • Gregory Mandarano

            It just sounds interesting but it’s not. Who wants to watch a movie about someone struggling to be a writer, who spends all their money dealing with betrayal and death. Wait…

            No, but seriously – there’s no way I’d ever waste my time and money writing another biopic unless it wasn’t on spec.

          • Randy Williams

            LOL

          • klmn

            Movies about writers – or artists of any kind – are rarely interesting. Their work is the interesting thing, and that brings up the rights issue.

            One exception is CRUMB, Terry Zwigoff’s documentary. Zwigoff was a friend of Crumb, played in his band -The Cheap Suit Serenaders.

            After the movie came out, Crumb didn’t talk to Zwigoff for three years.

            Here’s the trailer.

          • S.C.

            Did Crumb not like the film?

            Matt Groening was one of the investors (he likes to boast that he got his money back) and I got the impression Crumb was very enthusiastic about the film (at the time).

          • klmn

            I think Crumb was enthusiastic until it was released. After all, his interviews with Zwigoff are part of the film.

            But maybe he felt it showed too much. And – around the time of the release – Crumb’s brother Charles committed suicide.

          • S.C.

            I always loved this trailer, the way it took all the visual hooks and one-liners and spliced them together:

          • S_P_1

            Although the project may have dictated the $80K spent, it seems predatory. I’ve spent under $3K for reviews and multiple contest entries. Bottom line I’m no more in the industry than had I not spent any money. Your journey should be the comment of the week. Also it should serve as a warning of extenuating circumstances writers pay into the industry with no recompense.

          • Gregory Mandarano

            It’s more complicated than that. I can’t really comment as to the specifics of my individual journey, but more than half of the money spent was spent on dealing with rights issues after Levon passed away, while the rest was well spent towards developing relationships in the field while also handling other rights issues, and getting the project advanced positively.

            The biggest word of advice I have, is that if you ever co-write anything with anyone, make sure there is a collaboration agreement that clearly outlines everything, in case you or your partner should ever pass away. That way you’re not suddenly thrust into a legal quagmire which requires significant representation to climb your way out of.

            That being said, a good entertainment lawyer is worth every penny.

      • S.C.

        Think about BLACK HAWK DOWN. You couldn’t have written that movie without buying the rights to that book. Mark Bowden uncovered that whole story of the Battle of Mogadishu – best of my knowledge, nobody really knew much about it until that book came out (that is, I don’t think there are any major books or newspaper/magazine articles about it before Bowden).

        So unless you’re doing all that research yourself, you need the book.

        Same with articles.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_films_based_on_magazine_articles

        You can’t (really) write about The Orchid Thief without paying Susan Orleans. She doesn’t OWN the story, but she’s the only person who wrote an article about him. So people will know where you got your information from.

        Hope that makes some sense. It IS complicated!

    • Eric

      An odd caveat to this seems to be serial killer biopics. Search out most any biopic that pops into your mind and you’ll find all sorts of “based on” credits, or stories about the film maker having to acquire rights. But Google films about Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer or Charles Manson and you find a ton of direct to DVD biopics, almost none of which have any sort of based on credits. Even the Oscar winning Monster appears to have been based on nothing more than the director’s desire to make a movie about Aileen Wuornos.

      I have a sort of general theory on why this may be, but the truth is it’s hard for me to think of a reason why True Crime Biopics about serial killers (some of whom are still alive) get a free pass, but True Crime Biopics about violent mafiosos need rights acquirement before going anywhere.

      • S.C.

        For all the best information, I will direct you to Gregory Mandarano – he knows more about this than almost all of us!

        What I would say is, if you’re writing a script about, let’s say, Genghis Khan and as you’re writing there’s a copy of GENGHIS KHAN by John Man by your side, and you’re constantly referring to it for information, then – really – you are adapting that book.

        Same thing if you’re using a CONTEMPORARY TRANSLATION of a public domain text, like BEOWULF or Jules Verne. The originals are out of copyright – the translations might not be.

        • Gregory Mandarano

          The reality is there’s no such thing as life rights. It’s just a promise not to sue and put a stop to production. The name of the game is ASSURANCES, and anyone who is going to invest in a film is going to want them. Producers want a clear chain of title. Everything needs to be safe. If youre getting material from a book you need actual rights because the book is copyrighted. Same thing if you need music or the use of licensed material. There is no point in adapting a book if you havent secured the rights. Public domain is the exception and coming up with a new twist on public domain stories is very in vogue at the moment. True crime biopics typically use public domain information and craft it into a story. The persons already a criminal, so working the facts of the case doesnt subject you to possible libel.

          Irregardless, if you have a biopic, in order to be taken seriously you’ll need either an agent or an entertainment lawyer, someone who can assure every interested party that the rights are secured.

          • klmn

            “The reality is there’s no such thing as life rights.”

            IIRC, there is under California law. Not Federal law. But like you said, you should have an attorney verify.

          • Gregory Mandarano

            Absolutely it’s a very case by case basis. Any biopic should have an attorney look everything over and be able to give those assurances.

    • Jaco

      If you are doing a biopic that’s not a straight up adaptation – don’t worry about rights. Hell, even if doing an adaptation, don’t worry about rights. Truth is, like with the majority of scripts, it won’t be written well enough to matter.

      IF you are the rare bird that ends up penning a biopic that is unbelievably good – rights won’t be an issue you have to worry about.

  • S.C.

    Passage of time. Sorry, haters, this blew me away when I saw it back in 1999:

    • Murphy

      Lol. There are many haters no doubt but that scene is nothing short than genius. In fact Richard Curtis is a genius, regardless of the sappy soft subject of his films the man knows how to tell a story better than almost anyone else alive.

      • S.C.

        I was trying to look up some advice that Richard Curtis once gave, his four tips for success, but I found this instead – lots of advice from lots of writers (including Curtis on letting an idea stew):

        http://www.buzzfeed.com/jordanzakarin/how-to-write-a-movie-according-to-screenwriters#.jub4EGAX0

        • Murphy

          Brilliant. Cheers for that. I enjoyed reading it.

        • Murphy

          You reminded me of something I heard once. BAFTA run an annual screenwriting lecture series, worth checking out as they have had some really interesting talks by some interesting screenwriters. Anyway Richard Curtis did one and I found it well worth listening to.

          http://www.bafta.org/film/features/bafta-and-bfi-screenwriters-lecture-series-in-2013

        • fd

          Absolutely awesome. Thanks for posting this.

      • brenkilco

        As someone forced by his significant other to watch Love Actually at least once a year I can speak with authority. You don’t have to like what Curtis does but it’s pointless to deny his skill. If you hit that skin deep Christmas thing in a susceptible mood, well, resistance is futile.

    • Buddy

      “Use visual cues to convey time passing.” there was a very good one in THE AFFAIR’s first season : when noah (Dom West) is finally writing his novel, we can see the time passing with his classmate’s lecture : when noah starts, his classmate is reading the first LORD OF THE RINGS book and by the end of the montage, when noah has finally finished his novel, the classmate finishes the 6th book. Really loved this one…

      • S.C.

        Amazed he had time to read the whole book!

    • S.C.

      Here’s how that scene appears in the script:

      100. EXT. LONDON. NIGHT & DAY.

      AS THE FULL. SAD MUSIC PLAYS – WILLIAM BEGINS TO WALK THROUGH NOTTING HILL – ALMOST THE REVERSE OF HIS ORIGINAL STROLL. THIS WALK TAKES SIX MONTHS… AS HE WALKS. THE SEASONS ACTUALLY & MAGICALLY CHANGE. FROM AUTUMN. THROUGH WINTER. BACK INTO SPRING…

      WILLIAM
      (V/O.)
      So there we go. 6 months after I met Anna, I’m back wandering round
      Notting Hill. Different moods, you notice different things. The once glorious Electric Cinema, closed down after all those years.

      IT IS SADLY RAMSHACKLE NOW.

      Posters advertising pop groups who’ll never have a hit.

      WE SEE POP POSTER FOR AN UNKNOWN GROUP.

      The Salvation Army Hall where every day people who drink too much are press-ganged into singing “Lord of the Dance”to get a bowl of soup. And next door – the people who got so drunk they had a tattoo and now they can’t remember why they chose “I Love Ken”…

      A PERPLEXED MAN INSPECTS HIS ARM.

      The debris of the fruit market. The antique market closed.

      ALL THE SHOPS ARE BOARDED UP DOWN PORTOBELLO ROAD ON A WEEKDAY EVENING.

      Lives that don’t go right.

      ONE VERY LONELY PERSON WALKING DOWN THE ROAD TOWARDS HIM.

      Love that doesn’t go right.

      WE SEE A VERY HANDSOME GUY IN A LEATHER JACKET SNAP HIS HANDS TOGETHER – AND WALK ANGRILY AWAY FROM A GIRL IN THE STREET. WHEN THE CAMERA MOVES BACK TO HER – WE REALISE IT IS HONEY, STANDING ALONE IN THE GREY. LOOKING TINY. TEARS IN HER EYES.

      When you’re happy, you see the friend walking towards you. and the cinema you’re about to enter. But other times -you notice other things.

      WE SEE A HOMELESS MAN IN AN EIDERDOWN IN THE DOORWAY OF THE CORONET CINEMA ON NOTTING HILL GATE.

      And then it’s spring again – and it’s meant to remind you of new hope. But what mainly comes to mind are the old hopes that came to nothing.

      HE IS OUTSIDE TONY’S PLACE. ON THE WINDOW, IT SAYS ‘LAST CHANCE TO TRY – CLOSES SATURDAY’.

    • Randy Williams

      I would have told the extras to walk a bit more tentatively in the snow. Living for years with snow, I know you don’t walk the same. Beautiful scene, though. Thanks for sharing.

  • andyjaxfl

    As a Massachusetts native, I’m really looking forward to this one. I delivered the Boston Globe as a kid and I’d see Whitey’s name on the front page more often than not. Even though he was operating 30 miles north, he still scared the shit out of me!

    In Whitey: The United States v. James Bulger, Bulger and his lawyer make a strong argument that he was never an informant and that the FBI fabricated documents to make it appear as much to lessen the damage done to their Boston office. Bulger argues that he received information from the FBI, but never provided them with any. It’s an excellent documentary available on streaming Netflix for those who are interested.

    And Depp looks great in the trailer. Granted Jack Nicholson was hardly doing a Whitey Bulger impersonation in The Departed, but Depp blows him out of the water on the menace factor alone. Sheesh!

    • Randy Williams

      Depp can channel his inner menace very well. His “Sweeney Todd” was menace incarnate.

    • GoIrish

      One of those South Shore kids. Bet you had two accents, didn’t ya? Upper middle class during the week and then dropping your Rs and hanging in the big, bad Southie projects on the weekend.
      Go Marshfield Rams!

  • S.C.

    Well, bully for you! I only managed to get the same 2012 draft myself.

    Tells you what: when people start asking for the screenplay – and they might – you can send them the March 2014 version!

  • leitskev

    Disappointing to hear this. Carson’s points sound right on here too. I read Black Mass years ago, and I lived in Boston during the Bulger years. Was looking forward to this.

    I’ve wondered what I would have tried to do with this script and it’s a difficult challenge. The biopic is very difficult unless it’s one of those rare examples where the character’s life can be captured in a few climactic moments. But few lives are like that.

    There are many interesting moments in Bulger’s life, but those moments are spread over 70 years. There are great moments from his youth, such as when he stole a car and rode it through the Boston subway. He was a thug from the get go, and as a young man he robbed a bank and went on the run, with his girlfriend, wearing disguises, something he would learn from and use decades later. He served time at Alcatraz and took part in top secret LSD experiments for the government.

    The book Black Mass also focuses on the fact that his rise to power went hand in hand with his powerful Democrat brother’s. Each brothers power helped fuel the other’s rise, and Billy Bulger went on to run the state as Senate President like it was own little business. Neither brother would have risen so high without the threat implied with the relationship to the other.

    Whitey was a ruthless and intelligent gangster whose greed knew no bounds. He betrayed friends without a second thought and enjoyed torture. Yet he managed to create a robin hood image, assisted by his friends at the Boston Globe(though Black Mass was written by Globe writers, so ultimately the Globe helped take him down).

    Connolly was little more than a paid lackey of Whitey. Connolly gave Bulger far more information than he ever received, and the info Whitey gave them was motivated by wanting to take down his rivals using the FBI.

    But the biopic is a huge problem because these things took place over decades. This could have worked much better as an HBO series where that stuff could be explored.

    • brenkilco

      I distrust biopics. As you note real lives don’t have neat dramatic arcs or convenient climaxes. Often the writer is faced with the choice of sticking with the facts and producing an unsatisfying drama or hammering the facts into an artificial three act structure. In which case why not just write fiction. Add in the myriad issues involved in securing legal rights and it’s a genre novice writers would be well advised to steer clear of.

      • leitskev

        Absolutely. And even if you break from 3 act structure, or become creative with how you deploy your set ups and payoffs, when main events are separated by years, often many years, the narrative becomes disjointed.

        Here’s another problem: having a consistent narrative with the supporting characters. Let’s say we do a biopic about Churchill. We might begin when he was covering the Boer War for the army press and was captured by the enemy and managed to ultimately escape. A great opening sequence! Then we move ahead a decade and half to when he ran the Admiralty during WWI and the disaster at Gallopoli forced him out of office and he went to fight on the front in France. A nice downfall that fits a biopic very well. But here’s a problem: none of the characters that would have been present in the South Africa scenes would be in the WWI scenes.

        Then later we move to the WWII scenes. Same problem: the supporting characters have all changed. There is no rival or antagonist. You have his wife, of course, but there’s not much dramatic going on there.

        I’ve written one biopic and researched another so I am familiar with these problems. And you’re right, the only solution is to resort to a degree of fiction.

        Oh, I do think Oliver’s Stone’s Nixon is brilliantly done. I think it begins with Nixon and his team struggling with what to do over the Watergate tapes, and then they tell Nixon’s story in flashback. It’s very Shakespearean to me…but the dramatic narrative is still really hard to isolate.

        • Randy Williams

          I’m seen a lot of bios like that. Starting with the “all is lost” moment and going back in time.

      • Bob Bradley

        The Ray Krok biopic is, so far, my favorite Black List screenplay. I liked the one about the pilot smuggling drugs for the CIA, too. And even though CR points out its faults I didn’t care. All issues aside I want to know about these characters or the stories they’re connected to. A lot can be forgiven as long you keep it interesting.

    • Shawn Davis

      “The biopic is very difficult unless it’s one of those rare examples where the character’s life can be captured in a few climactic moments. But few lives are like that”.
      Ironically, another Johnny Depp movie comes to mind that does just that.
      BLOW
      Makes you wonder how much “creative license” was given to that movie. And if so, why not add some extra juice to this one?

      • leitskev

        Hey, Shawn. Yeah, it sounds like they could have done much better. I have not read the script. I am only recognizing that it’s really hard. One thing that can serve as a model, maybe, is how we often consolidate and combine characters in a story. In a biopic it’s kind of hard because we’re fictionalizing, but maybe you have to. Likewise, maybe this can be done in life moments. For example, in the real life of the person, certain key moments might be spread over years, but we could find ways to combine them into one short period in the biopic. It’s fictionalizing, but if they are real moments maybe it’s acceptable?

  • kent

    The trailer played just like the Pesci scene in Goodfellas.

    • Somersby

      I thought the same thing. It’s still kind of terrifying, but you can’t help but think it’s a riff on the “What do you mean funny, funny how? How am I funny?” scene. And it concludes the same way.

  • Felip Serra

    This scene also popped up in my head when I read “convey time passing.” Ha! Great song as well.
    And who/what exactly are we suppose to hate/not hate here? Hugh Grant? Julia Roberts? Richard Curtis? Sappy romantic comedies?

    • Randy Williams

      I believe the author of the post himself. (See yesterday’s thread, between the great comments on some interesting scripts, a little tussling.)

      • Felip Serra

        Yeah, I rubbernecked that one. If that’s the case that’s too bad…

      • S.C.

        Actually, no, I was referring to Curtis, not my altercation with the bully (and he is a bully, and it needed to be addressed, otherwise I wouldn’t feel safe to paste any comments – no offence to the writers of the AOW scripts yesterday. Sorry, but these insults DO need to be addressed. I don’t think anyone should be talked about in the language Kirk was using.).

        • Matthew Garry

          Scot, you had a difference of opinion with someone on Friday. Then you dredged that up on Saturday in an unrelated topic, and now you’re passively-aggressively bringing it up again (“bully for you!” “and he is a bully, and it needed to be addressed”).

          If you truly, without hyperbole, don’t feel safe to paste any comments, you could take that up with a moderator; it’s a moderated site, after all. Alternatively, you could try and work it out over private email with the person you feel slighted you.

          But publicly bringing up your dispute with someone over and over again to point fingers and call names isn’t going to fix or change anything and isn’t making the comments section a more pleasant or inviting place to participate.

          • S.C.

            Well maybe I could have brought it up with the moderator. It wasn’t a clash of opinions – I don’t object to a clash of opinions! I just didn’t get how he thought he get away talking about me like that… he doesn’t talk to anyone else like that.

            “you’ve misconstrued my point to no surprise at all”

            “the point that has gone over your head”

            “Christ, you have a martyr complex”

            Does he talk to anyone else like that? I thought I had done something personally to offend him, but when he refused to say what that was, I realized he was just a bully. And I can ignore him.

            I’ve noticed him nitpicking my comments when I’m not even talking directly too him. He’s not alone in this. But I’m doing this one at a time. I want to improve this comments board too. I want it to become less personal.

        • gazrow

          I’ve always found Kirk to be a really nice guy and certainly not a bully. He is a frequent commenter on AOW – giving up his own valuable free time to try and help other writer’s improve their material. Hardly the actions of a supposed bully.

          Oh, and please don’t take my defence of Kirk as a personal attack on you because it’s not. You guys had a difference of opinion – let’s all forget about it and move on.

        • Kirk Diggler

          Hey Scott, this is how I’m going to deal with you from now on.

          Ignore you. You don’t exist.

          I’m a bully. Fine. Whatever.

          You need to let things go. Our ‘difference of opinion’ from Friday was dragged over to the AOW comments thread by YOU and you alone. You could have posted a reply in the Friday thread and I would have seen it because, y’know, Disqus has a way of alerting people when someone replies to old comments. BUT you posted it in AOW because you wanted everyone to see it. No one cared.

          AOW should be about helping amateur writers with their scripts. I’ve been posting AOW comments for almost two years now. Have you? You admit you don’t like reading scripts. Too bad for you. Reading AOW scripts has made me a better writer, and even if I still suck, I suck a lot less than I did a few years ago.

          So you ignore me and I’ll ignore you and this silly schoolyard argument will be history.

          • S.C.

            What did I do to upset YOU?

            That’s all I wanted to know.

            What did I do to deserve being described as having “a martyr complex”?

            I don’t mind being criticized or challenged but I do not like having my comments UNDERMINED which is what you did last Thursday.

            You treated my comment as if it was totally invalid (which it clearly wasn’t) and that I was a piece of dirt on your shoe.

            Now then, Kirk, how am I supposed to help people out on the sacred AOW weekend when people like you UNDERMINE my comments and dismiss me? What am I supposed to do about that?

            Also, this thing about me not enjoying reading scripts seems to have got under your skin, since you bring it up again.

            Here’s a news flash for you – and anyone else reading this comment – nobody likes reading screenplays.

            Not actors.

            Not producers.

            They have to read them. But they’re long, stiffly-formatted, cold, you have to read them in one sitting.

            And when a script is bad – as 99% of scripts are – it’s tough to get through more than a few pages. Something people should learn.

            I admire people who can read a bad screenplay and give an objective opinion of it. I can’t.

            So when someone says in their WYSR that you should read their script because “you enjoy reading screenplays” and I humorously reply that I don’t enjoy reading screenplays, I am speaking a universal truth.

            It’s my opinion. Stop undermining it.

            And I won’t ignore you in future. If I feel undermined by you again, I will have your comment moderated, as Matthew suggested. Better yet, maybe other people could start taking notice of when people are being bullyed on this comments board.

            I still haven’t got an apology for the way you talked to me.

        • Randall Alexander

          If I have to make a pick in today’s AWW (amateurs waging war) contest, I’ll go with Scott, with Kirk coming in a close 2nd. If based on screen name alone, Diggler wins by 10 lengths. Anyone else voting?

    • S.C.

      Curtis comes in for a lot of criticism, particularly about that film, particularly against the lack of diversity in it, as if films were like Benneton ads.

      Not everything Curtis does is gold, but that scene is great!

      • Felip Serra

        I see. I wasn’t aware of that specific criticism concerning “Notting Hill” (I have my own) but I find it curious that people would fault it for, of all things, lack of diversity. That wasn’t the nature of that particular beast. I mean, I wouldn’t go into a James Cameron film and expect witty dialogue.

  • Mike.H

    Someone said BLACK MASS was good; please send: MAY1MSG at gmail dot com. Thanks!

    • S.C.

      Sent!! It’s the same old draft that Carson reviewed.

  • Andrew Parker

    I really liked this script and disagree with a couple of your points.

    First, every good biopic is really about a central relationship. We need the John Connolly character. We need a character we can sympathize with, since Whitey doesn’t really have any redeeming features at all. And in this case, we eventually get to see Connolly wilt under a combination of fear and hubris.

    Second, we absolutely see Bulger do bad things and so does Connolly. (SPOILERS) The very first scene after the flash forward to Santa Monica has Bulger putting two bullets in a guy’s head after his henchman’s attempt to strangle the guy fails. Then a few scenes later Whitey punches a guy repeatedly in the face, bloodying him, and stealing his bag of cocaine.

    Later we see Whitey strong arm a family out of their liquor store for half its value, threatening to feed the 6 year old daughter’s genitalia into her own mouth (and I sanitized that sentence!). Connolly knows of this and is repulsed.

    Finally, and most damning for Connolly, is when he convinces the FBI to not give protection to a guy named Halloran, who is planning to snitch on Whitey. Connolly personally drops him off on the street and he’s killed minutes later. (END SPOILERS)

    I think the threat of violence and the subtext in conversations like the one in the trailer are much more interesting than straight up JOHN WICK/RAID style killing movies. But those seem to do well at the box office, so maybe I’m just out of touch with society. The idea that there is no physical violence in this script is false though.

  • Felip Serra

    It’s very strange that such a compelling character would appear so neutered in a bio-pic. And I have to wonder if Depp had any influence with that decision. Could the actor attached to a billion dollar pirate franchise really be shown as a cold-blooded son of a bitch? His fans, of course, have been begging for him to sink his teeth into something but from a studio perspective it may be seen threat to his “image”, e.g. “If mothers see him as a monster they won’t take their kids to Pirates 5…”

  • drifting in space

    OT: Does anyone have the pilot for the HBO series Ballers? Or any of the scripts – I know this is a long shot. Saw the trailer and am hooked.

    • S.C.

      Sent!

      • drifting in space

        YOU. THE. MAN.

  • Linkthis83

    “I was shocked. Where was this terrifying legendary criminal I’d heard about? He wasn’t in this film. Which means Black Mass runs the risk of being the single biggest example of false advertising in biopic history. It would be like making a movie about Michael Jordan and never showing him play basketball.”

    I would agree if the movie was intended to be about Michael Jordan playing basketball. If the story is about what went on when he wasn’t playing basketball, then that’s the story. In the case of BLACK MASS, it’s simply wasn’t built to be the story you wanted. And after looking at the source material and the director’s statement, I’m shocked that you were shocked and claiming it’s the single biggest example of false advertising. :)

    From the Director’s Statement in the script:

    “BLACK MASS is the story of the infamous Boston mobster Whitey Bulger and his secret relationship with the FBI. Based on expose research by Boston Globe beat reporters Dick Lehr and Gerald O’Neil, it is a fascinating portrait of how Bulger used and manipulated the FBI as he took control of every racket inside Boston in the 1970s and 80s and became one of the most chilling and complicated crime figures of the last 50 years. Not only was Whitey an informant for the Bureau for 15 years, he dragged his FBI handlers into a world of crime as well. This is the heart of BLACK MASS: the unlikely symbiotic and ultimately parasitic partnership between Bulger and FBI Agent John Connolly, who protected Whitey from arrest for years.”

    From the book summary on Amazon:

    “John Connolly and James “Whitey” Bulger grew up together on the tough streets of South Boston. Decades later in the mid-1970s, they met again. By then, Connolly was a major figure in the FBI’s Boston office and Whitey had become godfather of the Irish Mob. Connolly had an idea, a scheme that might bring Bugler into the FBI fold and John Connolly into the Bureau’s big leagues. But Bulger had other plans. Soon to be a major motion picture starring Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger, Black Mass is the chilling true story of what happened between them—a dark deal that spiraled out of control, leading to drug dealing, racketeering, and murder.”

    In other news…the GOODFELLAS cast reunited for its 25th anniversary (I’d love to see video of this entire thing):

    “Pesci’s pre-screening message was more concise. “Joe Pesci couldn’t be here, but he sent this email,” said Robert De Niro, reading: “Fuck, fuck, fuckadie, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.” “I’ll translate,” he went on. “Dear Bob, I am sorry I can’t be there. Love to all. Best, Joe.”

    http://blogs.indiewire.com/thompsononhollywood/tribeca-8-highlights-from-the-goodfellas-25th-anniversary-reunion-20150426

    • Malibo Jackk

      Give the audience what they want.
      Print the legend.

  • mulesandmud

    I understand why some people here are skeptical about true stories.

    Biopics are a frustrating genre, neither fish nor fowl. Most of them aren’t truthful enough to succeed as fact and aren’t structured well enough to succeed as fiction, or they succeed at one at the expense of the other. Add to that, most biopics are about celebrities or historical figures, so they tend to lean toward either hagiography or exposé.

    True stories are still your friend, though.

    The fact that true stories don’t fit neatly into a standard dramatic form is not a problem, it’s an opportunity to break some rules in a necessary, sanctioned way.

    Whatever you’re writing, you should expect to break a rule. If you follow every rule all the time, you will only manage to bore everyone.

    Probably just break one rule for starters. In a strategic, controlled way. A way tied directly to your premise, proving to readers that even without that rule, you still know how to build a sturdy house.

    With true stories, that means figuring out which rule your true story breaks best (Is the real life person unlikeable? Is there no clear antagonist?), while also figuring out how to shape the rest of the story in a solid, mostly traditional way.

    That is incredibly hard story work, and probably requires massive research in additional to all of that story cracking.

    Guess what, though? You should be doing that much work anyway, even if your movie is a by-the-numbers actionfest crowd pleaser. And you should be doing that much research anyway, even if your script is about that time your girlfriend broke up with you.

    There are lots of reasons not to write scripts based on true stories, but the amount of work involved isn’t one of them.

    Also, to clarify some of confusion here about rights:

    –If a story has received significant attention in the media, covered by multiple journalists and official documentation (court transcripts, etc), then it is a matter of public record, not subject to copyright or life rights. This is why movies about serial killers and high-profile criminals often from original scripts rather than books.

    –If someone has written about a true story, and you use their work as your source, then just like any other book, you need the rights (unless it’s in the public domain).

    –If you feel inspired by a story that you don’t have the rights to, or only like certain parts of a true story, then you are free to take elements you like and fictionalize them. Warning: if you hew extremely close to the original story, and then tell everyone where you got the idea, you may get sued, and you may deserve it.

    • S.C.

      On fictionalization – I’d recommend people read David Hughes’ book Tales from Development Hell (I know a lot of people have) and what he has to say about CRISIS IN THE HOT ZONE vs. OUTBREAK.

      My conclusion after reading: you can do a lot more with a fictional story. By the final draft of CRISIS, they’d stuffed so many superfluous bits of action into it to keep it interesting, they would have been better starting from scratch with a fictional story.

    • Gregory Mandarano

      I love how smart the people on this site are. Very insightful stuff mules. Every day I’m impressed by the things people contribute here. Great post.

    • ArabyChic

      I think people unfairly slam Biopics as a genre. Of course most of them suck because most movies suck. In any genre. Whether you choose to fictionalize or not, I think the most important part is that I care and be entertained.

      In an ode to Poe, here is a list of some of my favorites:

      Ed Wood
      The Elephant Man
      12 Years A Slave
      American Splendor
      Goodfellas
      Raging Bull
      Amadeus
      What’s Love Got To Do With It? (which avoids almost all of the problems inherent in doing a musical biopic, which usually turns into a best of playlist with no drama).
      Erin Brockavich
      Elizabeth
      Malcolm X
      Money Ball
      Schindler’s List
      Lawrence of Arabia

      and maybe the best fictionalized biopic of all time, The Sweet Smell of Success.

      • Doug

        American Splendor is the best biopic I’ve ever seen.

        • charliesb

          Definitely one of my faves.

      • Poe_Serling

        A stellar list… I might add Patton, Young Mr. Lincoln, The Desert Fox… and the king of drive-in biopics the ’73 film Walking Tall.

    • Jaco

      From a legal perspective – I always thought that regardless of what you write, technically you don’t need “rights” to write. Except in a few limited circumstances, writers shouldn’t waste time or money trying to “clear title” to a script (though to be honest, I can’t think of any circumstances at the moment).

      From what I’ve observed, if the writing’s good enough – the biopic writer won’t be dealing with legal issues – someone else will handle that if needed.

      • mulesandmud

        From a legal perspective, it’s true. You’re free to write anything. Write an adaptation of GONE GIRL if it suits you. Or a sequel. Or animated children’s series, plus a few commercials to go with it while you’re at it.

        From a professional perspective, it really depends on the situation.

        If your goal is to sell a script, a project that requires rights but does not have them (or even preliminary inroads toward them) is considered toxic. Most serious folks won’t even read it.

        If your goal is to get repped, you need to demonstrate more than just writing skills; namely, a degree of industry awareness. Agents don’t want clients who ignore the realities of the business. You can’t just pretend that the rights are someone else’s problem. At the very least, have a plausible explanation of why you don’t need the rights, or do the legwork to know who does in fact hold the rights.

        If your goal is simply to get read, well, there are always people willing to read work if you present yourself well, but that reader pool shrinks dramatically if your project has limited production prospects.

        But hey, anything can happen. Great writing gets noticed, sure, but it’s still a bad bet to adapt something you don’t control.

        • Jaco

          Good points mules. Definitely do not proceed with your head in the sand – that does nobody any good. But – do know that if you can’t get the rights and you believe in the story – that there are examples of writers who have broken in – or at least optioned/sold their biopic script w/o securing rights. The one that keeps coming to mind is A Boy and His Tiger.

          • davejc

            Generally speaking any unrepped spec is considered toxic. And every script sale includes a bevy of lawyers who will go through every line of the text with a fine tooth comb.

            In regards to Biopics:

            Interesting to note that when Disney first got wind of the Saving Mr Banks script they found it would be cheaper to purchase the script outright and shut down production than to litigate. Of course they ended up co producing.

    • leitskev

      The problem is not so much due to breaking any rules as with creating clean dramatic narrative. Narrative usually takes place in a limited time: hours, days, maybe weeks or a few years. Creating narrative over decades is really hard without creating a fictionalized version of true events. And it’s ok to do that to a degree, but there is a line and it’s a difficult one to find.

      Think about your own life. Let’s say something critical happened in high school that you want in your story. Will the characters that were there for it also be in critical events that happen to you in your 30s? In your 60s? Maybe they will, but for most people they’re not. It’s really hard to create a narrative of a life and have a story narrative because the characters around you are always changing, the stakes change, the goals.

      I am not saying people should not do biopics. There’s great stuff to mine there. I’m just saying it’s hard and it has nothing to do with rules.

  • S.C.

    Yeah, we can’t always get hold of the latest drafts… then again, it’s interesting for Carson to review the early versions of scripts. It proves – if proof were needed – that scripts aren’t written, they’re rewritten.

    Gosh, if you like at the final drafts of some scripts, the number of writers and the number (the color) or drafts they’ve gone through!

    http://www.dailyscript.com/scripts/collateral_101203.pdf

    • Michael

      Colored revisions are not drafts; they are revisions on the final shooting draft. While a scene can be substantially rewritten, most colored revisions do not amount to more than tweaking a few words or a sentence or two on as few pages. Sometimes the changes are from the director and actors during rehearsal or ad libbing while filming and not a product of the writer. Colored revisions can be as trivial as correcting spelling and punctuation errors or reflecting a casting or location change.

  • S.C.

    Well, when we did the Thursday article, I did a rundown of the top 10 films from 2005, 1995, 1985 and so on to 1925, including the subjects, and you can see as you go down the years that subject becomes less and less important.

    In other words, people didn’t care what the movie was about back in the day, they cared about who was starring in them; not so much now.

    In other words, brenkilco, you’re right!

    (Something else: some people – like Tyler and David on the Battleship Pretension podcast – don’t see journeyman as an insult. It just means a director who adjusts their style to the film, rather than adjusting the film to them, like an auteur. Tim Burton is an auteur and some people find that annoying.).

  • Jack F.

    Too bad. This sounds like a missed opportunity. When I heard Depp speak in that trailer, I was hoping for something like this:

    EXT. A REMOTE BEACH. DAWN

    Rose-colored dawn. YOUNG COSTELLO, with a pistol, executes a MAN kneeling in the surf. She falls on the body of a man who has just been executed.

    COSTELLO
    Jeez, she fell funny.

    FRENCH moves forward with an axe in his hand.

    FRENCH
    Frank, you gotta see somebody.

    They go about their business.

    You know, some crazy fucking pathological criminal shit.

  • Poe_Serling

    When it comes to biopics, I tend to gravitate toward the more uplifting ones.

    Ed Wood. Rudy. Yankee Doodle Dandy. Man of a Thousand Faces. Even the recent Hitchcock (nothing to write home about but still entertaining for film buffs).

    It can often be quite a rewarding experience just to sit back and to watch a film that celebrates a unique individual’s life and accomplishments (no matter how big or small).

    That’s why I think the AOW entry To Boldly Go was so appealing to me this past weekend – sorta a feel-good movie about Gene Roddenberry and struggle to get Star Trek off the ground.

    ***I’ll definitely check out the film Black Mass in the future… no so much for the subject matter (Bulger and his string of crimes) but for Depp’s performance and just to stay in the loop of what’s currently hitting the big screens.

    • S.C.

      Glad to hear you quite liked HITCHCOCK, cause I quite liked it too. Like you say, it was uplifting.

      And glad to hear you like To Boldly Go. I was put off by some of the negative comments. I might give it a look now.

    • Kirk Diggler

      I enjoyed Scarlett as Janet Leigh but overall was a little disappointed by Hitchcock. So much potential in that one. It should have been a Hitchcock bio if Hitch himself had directed it and it wasn’t.

      • Poe_Serling

        Yeah, it’s far from being a great film. The one aspect I really enjoyed about it was how the story at least tried to focus some attention on Alma R., who was the true sounding board in most Hitch’s creative endeavors.

        From his AFI Speech:

        “I beg permission to mention by name only four people who have given me the most affection, appreciation, and encouragement, and constant
        collaboration. The first of the four is a film editor, the second is a
        scriptwriter, the third is the mother of my daughter Pat, and the fourth is as fine a cook as ever performed miracles in a domestic kitchen. And their names are Alma Reville.”

        • Kirk Diggler

          Yeah, her story by itself would be an interesting one. And Helen Mirren was great but she’s great in everything. I felt like the director was unsure of his story, did he want it to be about the woman behind the man, Alma? Or a rote ‘making of Psycho’ film? It seems he split the difference and the whole thing was a bit anti-climatic.

          For me, I didn’t learn enough about Hitchcock himself. And to hear others talk about the famous shower scene, that it didn’t happen anywhere near the way it was depicted, with Hitch urging Janet Leigh’s every plunge of the dagger. Of course I understand making something more cinematic, but if Hitch didn’t direct the scene that way then we’re being presented with a false characterization of the way he worked.

          • Poe_Serling

            ” And to hear others talk about the famous shower scene, that it didn’t
            happen anywhere near the way it was depicted, with Hitch urging Janet
            Leigh’s every plunge of the dagger. Of course I understand making something more cinematic, but if Hitch
            didn’t direct the scene that way then we’re being presented with a false
            characterization of the way he worked.”

            So true. This is probably why it was presented by the filmmakers that way…

            According to The Hollywood Reporter review of the film, ‘Due to legal restrictions, no footage from the actual Psycho could be shown, nor even re-created representations of any shots, which disappointingly shortchanges much depiction of the weeklong shoot of the much-discussed shower scene.’

          • Kirk Diggler

            Interesting. Hmmm, so the filmmaker had no choice but to film it differently? If true, talk about being hamstrung.

  • S.C.

    Carson used to say in his reviews something like “this review is of this early draft and doesn’t reflect the final product”, something like that. He’s pretty clear that he is reviewing the script, but you always have preconceptions.

    That’s a lot like where title and logline come in… if you’re not expecting much from a script based on what you’ve read about it in the pitch then you won’t be as enthusiastic as if you liked the idea. THEN you’re expecting something… and you might be disappointed when you don’t get it.

    It’s fascinating, though, to count the explosions – the big ones. not the little squibs – in a movie from the 90s for instance. It’s often less than you might think!

    DIE HARD – 3
    DIE HARD 2 – 5
    CLIFFHANGER – 4 or 5 depending on how you count ‘em
    BLOWN AWAY – 5
    SPEED – 3
    DIE HARD 3 – 4
    THE ROCK – 2, excluding grenades

    • Jack F.

      John McClane, that minimalist. Seriously, though, it’s fascinating how much we get ourselves worked up about our own idea of a film based on a logline or trailer.

      • S.C.

        But also the opposite… I remember how EXCITED I was to see some of those films, weeks before I saw them!

        Nowadays… not so much.

  • Shawn Davis

    There should be a new review category based Carson’s notes…

    [ ] what the hell did I just read?
    [ ] wasn’t for me
    [X] Scooched into my chair
    [ ] worth the read
    [ ] impressive
    [ ] genius

    • S.C.

      Now THERE’S something to aim for with my script!

    • Citizen M

      For a horror script…

      [x] peed in my pants

      • Eric

        That rating can work with comedy too!

        …but for a drama it’d just be sad.

        • Shawn Davis

          Ha!

  • Citizen M

    Read the first 15 pages and plan to continue, but finding it a very interesting script so far.

    Clearly, this is way beyond a spec script. It’s almost a shooting script, probably developed in conjunction with Barry Levinson.

    Note how efficiently it introduces the personalities and issues.

    1. The Bulger arrest scene. Tells us why we should care about this crook: he’s not just another criminal, he’s America’s Most Wanted. And because he’s old, we know that in the bulk of the movie, the FBI will not get their man, so we are looking for how he evaded arrest, not for how they got him.

    2. Introducing Bulger. He beats a guy, orders his strangulation, and finally shoots him. And the guy is an old friend! Who wasn’t snitching on Bulger as he suspected, he was actually gathering information for Bulger!! That’s cold.

    And within a couple of pages we meet him with his much younger girlfriend, his 6-yr-old son, and hsi mother with dementia, as well as learning his biggest problem: another gang is muscling in on his territory.

    3. Still in the first 15 pages, we meet Connolly, newly returned to Boston, married, and a hard worker whose ambitions the other FBI agents are suspicious of (told in some rather clunky exposition).

    4. Still in the first 15 pages we meet Bulger’s senator brother instigating a racist protest.

    5. And with the rioting in the background, Connolly spots Bulger and moves towards him, setting up our first big clash (which doesn’t come off)

    That’s very efficient story-telling, compared to the average amateur script on SS, which would probably take about 30 pages to cover the same ground.

    Also note how the passage of time is handled.

    The flashback from the arrest gets a standard SUPERIMPOSE: BOSTON 1974. Okay, now we know where and when we are.

    We follow younger Bulger for a more or less continuous chunk of time, from the murder to the girlfriend to home with his mother.

    Then we switch to Connolly and follow him for a chunk of time.

    Then we see Bulger again at the school riot.

    How much time has passed from the first murder? Don’t know, exactly. May be a few days or a few weeks. Probably not months.

    But the thing is, by bouncing from Bulger to Connolly and back to Bulger, giving each a reasonable chunk of time, we have allowed time to pass without being conscious of it, and without having to think of some sort of time indicator.

    • S.C.

      “very efficient story-telling”.

      That’s what we should all be aiming for. Lean. Like an ostrich burger.

      • Midnight Luck

        Super-Gardenburger-Lean.

    • charliesb

      Now I need to read this. Could someone send me a copy please?

      birdieey at gmail dot com

      thx

  • S.C.

    No, but I’ll keep an eye out in case it comes back again.

    Anyone else?

  • S.C.

    Sent!!!

  • Midnight Luck

    This reminds me very much of another Johnny Depp movie, an awesome movie, about a bad (though theoretically not really such a bad) guy, who is trying to evade the police, is trying to be really good at what he does, which just so happens to also be illegal.

    It is called BLOW.

    And it was a biopic, or at least a Based on a True Story script and film.

    It was amazing.
    I really hope this one is just as good.
    Looks promising.

  • Malibo Jackk

    One of the HUGE differences between a script and a movie, IMO,
    is that the movie has the benefit of a TRAILER which does a better job of setting up
    audience expectations.
    The reader of a script usually only has a — TWO SENTENCE LOGLINE.

  • ff

    Shame, the trailer looked great.

  • fragglewriter

    It took me a couple of days to read this script as I thought it was quite boring. But the other, I was so shocked to watch the trailer and to see Depp knock the “secret recipe” scene out the box. I think tyne script could of either used more of Bulger committing crimes or just have have tight spots for the supporting casts.

    Great tips. Showing and not telling is differently a work in progress for me.