Premise: A paralyzed man who can only communicate by blinking is kidnapped by a nurse who knows his secret, that he robbed a bank eight years ago and has hidden the money.
About: Blink finished on the Black List a couple of years ago and managed to pull in Jamie Foxx to play the lead, with 300: Rise of an Empire director Noam Murro helming. Screenwriter Hernany Perla has spent most of his career producing, with his most well-known film being The Last Stand, starring Arnold Schwarzenneger.
Writer: Hernany Perla
Details: 90 pages
Can you believe what happened this weekend? Spielberg gets beat by The Purge 3? What kind of alternate universe am I living in? Everybody has their theories on why The BFG didn’t do well. Some say the title caused confusion. Others say the marketing was generic. I have my own theory. And it’s going to get me ripped in the comments, but I’m okay with that.
I think the reason nobody showed up to this movie is because the main character looked like a mini Lena Dunham. There, I said it. They took one look at that girl and went, “Nuh-uh.” And before you go nuts, remember that the face of a story is the person we have to relate to and care about. And I don’t relate to or care about a mini-feminazi.
Anyway, segueing to today’s unrelated topic: Gimmick scripts. While the word “gimmick” exudes a negative connotation, gimmick scripts are a legitimate option for the spec screenwriting crowd.
We don’t have many avenues to drive down as screenwriters, since Hollywood blocks the majority of them with their “IP or Die” rally cry. And for whatever reason, something about this quirky format encourages a good gimmick. Which leads us to the question: How do you write a good gimmick script? We’ll get to that after the synopsis…
Eddie Locke is paralyzed. The only thing he can move are his eyelids, leaving him with a binary communication process of “yeses” (two blinks) and “no’s” (one blink). Eddie’s been this way for eight years. Lying in the same hospital room staring at the same ceiling and the same stupid ass TV reruns. His nurses are pleasant but you get the feeling that if Eddie had the use of his hands for just 30 seconds one more time in life, he’d use that time to strangle them.
But Eddie’s life is about to get more exciting. A new nurse, country bumpkin, Moe, seems to know a thing or two about Eddie’s past. Like that he was paralyzed by a stray bullet during a bank robbery. A bank robbery where three men made off with a safety deposit box and were never seen again.
Moe, who’s clearly done his homework, is convinced that Eddie was the unknown fourth member of that team, and that he knows what they grabbed from that safety deposit box – a series of access numbers to an offshore account containing 40 million dollars.
Moe forces Eddie to answer all of his questions with blinks. And maybe now’s a good time to tell you, we never see Eddie. The whole movie takes place from his point-of-view. This allows us to experience the blinks from Eddie’s perspective, as well as all the other shit that happens. And a lot happens.
Moe kidnaps Eddie, brings him to his fellow bank-robbing brother’s house, only to find out his bro is dead, but that his daughter, Hayley (Eddie’s grown-up niece), knows a thing or two about the heist. Moe grabs Hayley and the three of them go on adventure to find those account numbers, which have been re-hidden.
With Eddie observing the whole ordeal helplessly, he’ll need to depend on Hayley to get him out of the mess alive. That’s assuming Eddie wants to be alive after this is all over.
So, the gimmick script. How do you write one? First, you gotta find the gimmick. I famously loved the gimmicky coffin contained-thriller, “Buried.” I reviewed a gimmicker not long ago, “The Shave,” about a cop who kills a man then goes to get a shave from the man’s father, where each side will make their case for whether the killing was justified. And it seems like every year we get a couple of “Balls Out” scripts, which are built on making fun of screenwriting conventions.
The big pitfall with gimmick scripts is that the audience is onto the gimmick quickly, usually between 10-30 pages. Once that happens, what’s left? Because if all you’ve got is a gimmick, and we’re onto your gimmick, boredom sets in.
The secret to writing a good gimmick script is NOT RESTING ON THE GIMMICK. Yes, you want to exploit your gimmick. That’s what’s going to set your script apart. Find everything you can that’s specific to your gimmick and make sure you write a scene that exploits that.
In “Buried,” for example, you better put a snake or some other freaky animal into that coffin at some point. That choice specifically takes advantage of your unique setup.
But after that, you need to make sure you’re doing two things. Going back to storytelling basics.
1) Always move your story forward
2) Always explore your characters.
If you’re not doing those, we’re not going to care. Your gimmick can only keep our interest for so long before we need more. And those two things are your “more.”
Blink achieved the first half of that equation. Unfortunately, it didn’t do enough of the second, and that’s where it fell short for me.
And this is an EXTREMELY common problem with scripts – moving the story but not the characters. I think it’s because the one thing that’s drilled into your head early on as a screenwriter is: KEEP THE STORY MOVING KEEP THE STORY MOVING KEEP THE STORY MOVING.
And you’re so focused on that, that you don’t think about anything else. You just care about getting to the next story goal or the next plot twist or the next deception.
And while that’s good advice. If that’s all you’re doing, and you’re not working to create a bond between us and the characters, we’re not going to care. It’s like the difference between me telling you that a man in Thailand got in a car accident and your best friend from high school got in a car accident. The first one you don’t even think about. Why would you care about some random man in another country getting in an accident? But as soon as I tell you it’s someone you know, you’re affected on a deep level.
To achieve this in screenwriting, go back to basics. Create an unresolved struggle WITHIN your characters and create an unresolved struggle BETWEEN your characters.
One of the unique attributes of Blink is that we don’t see the main character. So it’s hard to connect with him. That leaves us with Moe and Hayley. Moe is only about moving the story forward. There isn’t a single thing going on underneath the surface. He just wants money and that’s it. And while that’s great for the plot, it doesn’t help us FEEL anything in relation to his character.
I was just rewatching The Bourne Identity and the girl character that Jason Bourne picks up – we meet her in a very vulnerable place financially, where she’s just trying to get from paycheck to paycheck. It’s a small thing, but it creates some level of sympathy in us for the character. So we care about her on a deeper level.
With Hayley’s character, it’s a little better, since she seems to be more of an emotional person in general. But Eddie never really knew this girl. There’s no unresolved issues between them, outside of her belief that her father is dead because of Eddie. And she gets over that quickly, leaving us with nothing to resolve.
We do experience some internal strife with Eddie during his memories, and this is where the character exploration had the most potential, since Eddie was a terrible human being before he became paralyzed. But all exploration of that came late and it wasn’t very deep.
All this resulted in a fun setup and and an interesting gimmick (watching everything take place from a helpless POV). But that’s it. There wasn’t much more. And this is a great reminder for you guys. A good gimmick script can you get noticed. But if you write a gimmick script with a solid story THAT GENUINELY EXPLORES ITS CHARACTERS, that’s the kind of script that changes writers’ lives.
Blink isn’t a bad script by any means. It just didn’t have enough emotional juice to pull me in.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: If the only thing that’s getting resolved in your screenplay is your plot, you’re not doing enough. You need to resolve internal characters issues and you need to resolve broken relationships. That’s how you add dimension to your screenplay.