Genre: Sci-fi Thriller
Premise: In a future where a portion of the population displays exceptional intelligence, an agent for the U.S. government must stop these “brilliants” from starting a war.
About: “Brilliance” was adapted from the best-selling novel of the same name. The producers have been out there working hard to get an A-lister attached, but haven’t succeeded yet. For awhile, Will Smith was attached. When he dropped out, they went after newly minted Oscar winner Jared Leto, but he passed. They look to be regrouping before they target their next actor. Marcus Sakey, who wrote the novel, is best known for writing crime novels set in Chicago, making Brilliance a departure for him. David Koepp, who adapted the book, is one of the top 5 scripters in Hollywood. He’s the big gun you call in to make people in town take your project seriously.
Writer: David Koepp (based on the book by Marcus Sakey)
Details: 126 pages – August 11, 2013 draft

Brilliance-Book-Cover-600x891

What would you do if you were 100 IQ points smarter than everyone else? What would be your first order of business? Personally, I’d learn how to predict the stock market, become a billionaire, buy Twitter, then only allow one user, myself. And I’d tweet only 80s movies catchphrases like, (Ah-nold accent) “I let him go”. I know, I know. Cliché. But when you’re a genius, being cliché no longer bothers you. Your very existence is unique enough to negate all cliches.

Brilliance is about the smartest men in the room, which I always find interesting because if you’re writing about the smartest people in the room, don’t you need to be the smartest man in the room? How can you write genius if you, yourself, aren’t a genius?

Then again, “Lucy” did a jammin job of creating a genius hero. And Luc Besson can’t be that smart, can he? He created Ruby Rhod in The Fifth Element. I suppose with a combination of intense research and clever writing, you can fool the audience. But it’s not easy. And I didn’t expect it to be easy in “Brilliance.”

It’s been 30 years since a small subset of people on Earth started displaying extreme intelligence. Enough time to develop a system to identify these people, cultivate them, and integrate them into society in ways to help the planet become a better place.

Unfortunately, a sort of intelligence racism has evolved, due to a large group of “abnorms” jetsetting around the planet and blowing things up. These intelligence terrorists, led by a mysterious figure known as John Smith, are gearing up for a war, a war that may make anyone not an “abnorm” abnormally part of the past.

Enter agent Nick Cooper. Nick is an abnorm himself, and an expert at reading people. We meet him as he’s tracked down a terrorist at a bar. He tells her he knows she’s got a disk drive in her pocket because, like, he’s smart n stuff. That drive contains information on the next terrorist attack. Unfortunately the woman, Shannon, gets away, and Nick must chase her halfway across the country.

He finally catches her and, as you’d expect, realizes not everything is what it seems. Turns out his agency wasn’t telling him the whole truth. (spoiler) These attacks were actually coming from within the government. And wouldn’t you know it? The terrorist leader? John Smith? Turns out he’s a pretty good guy!

After Nick comes to grips with this news, he races to stop the next attack, an attack that may set off World War 3. That’s easier said than done since almost everyone he encounters is an abnorm. But Nick is a resourceful guy.  And let’s not forget, smart.  If there’s anyone who can save the world, it might be this guy.

Brilliance seems to be the ideal book adaptation. The story was made for the big screen. An active main character. A world on the verge of war. A hero who’s always on the run. A hook you can sell on a poster.

But that blessing is also the book’s biggest curse. This story was so perfect for the big screen that it doesn’t have anything else to offer. It’s your garden-variety Hollywood thriller.  Which is ironic, since as you can see on the cover, Lee Child notes it’s a story you’ve never read before.  And I just linked to an article by Lee Child Monday.  But I feel like those author quotes are always friends helping each other out.  It’s hard for me to take them seriously.

The hook, our supposed “fresh” take, is that a number of people are “brilliant.” Unfortunately, my worst fears were realized. Nobody really seems that brilliant at all. At least actively. Yeah, there’s the guy who bought Wyoming after figuring out the stock exchange, but we don’t SEE that intelligence in action. It’s relayed to us after the fact.

As far as what’s happening in the moment, nobody seems that smart at all. For example, Shannon, who’s “smart specialty” is being elusive, is able to blend into a crowd seemlessly. I don’t know what that has to do with intelligence.

I have a lot more admiration for the Lucy film now, as at least that displayed some thought into how intelligence works. The way Lucy was able to read people’s minds through the vibrations coming off of their heads.  How each level up in intelligence was accompanied by a more autistic disposition. How her cells were accelerating out of control to keep up with all the changes.

The most intelligent thing we see anybody do here is a character saying, “You already know what I’m feeling, don’t you?”

I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you’re going to sell us on really intelligent people, there has to be a ‘wow’ factor involved with those people, something where we go, “Holy sh*t, they are f*&king smart!” I had that moment a few times in Lucy. I didn’t have it here.

As for the structure of the script, it felt off. In the first half, Nick’s playing for the good guys. At the midpoint, he says he has to infiltrate the terrorists from the inside, so he goes and pretends to be a part of the bad guys.

I didn’t buy this. Why would the terrorists, who know Nick, believe he’s one of them now? I never took Terrorism 101, but I know one of the first lessons they teach you is not to take a high-ranking official from the other team at his word when he says, “I’m one of you now.”

The personal stakes feel low here as well. Remember, the overall stakes are different from the personal stakes. The overall stakes are what happens on a large scale. Those were there. If Nick didn’t succeed, World War 3 was going to happen. But the personal stakes were Nick’s “abnorm” daughter, who the agency had just found out about, being placed in an “abnorm” school, where Nick wouldn’t be able to see her often.

This is important to remember. Stakes are relative. If you’re writing an indie movie about a mother and her new boyfriend and the boyfriend wants to put the woman’s daughter in a boarding school so he can have her all to himself, the stakes in that situation feel high.

But here, in a world where World War 3 is about to happen, a girl being forced into a special school feels like a minor inconvenience for the main character. We needed personal stakes that matched the gravitas of the rest of the script.

If Brilliance is going to work, it can’t feel like a garden variety on-the-run thriller. The “powers” of the intelligent people need to be bigger and more imaginative, the kind of things that get audiences talking. A woman so intelligent she can blend into crowds doesn’t exactly get me firing up the Tweet Deck (“Did you see that girl blend into the crowd!? Yikes. Now that was a girl who knew how to blend!”). You need those moments like in Lucy, the kind of moments you can feature in trailers. Sadly, I didn’t read a single trailer moment here.

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

What I learned: Designating description as passive or active. – When it’s time to describe something in your script, the first thing you need to do is decide whether the element is active or passive. An active element is anything that’s going to factor into the story somehow. If you’re describing a new building where an adjacent crane is going to become a part of your characters’ escape later on, you want to take some time and describe the crane. It’s an active element. If, however, the building is just a building and won’t be used in any unique way after the scene, it becomes a passive element, and therefore deserves no special distinction. Keep the description as short and generic as possible.

I bring this up because amateurs tend to think everything should be described as an active element. It doesn’t matter if it’s a house, a refrigerator, a street, a car. They over-describe these things to death and it KILLS the read because it forces the reader to trudge through a bunch of description that ultimately doesn’t matter. Imagine, for example, your character is flying into Washington D.C. How might you describe the approach?

The beginner writer focuses on the way the moon reflects off the building windows and how the people on the ground look like ants in some sort of post-apocalyptic wasteland. Blah blah blah. NO! Here’s how Koepp describes the approach.

Gliding silently through the sky over Washington, D.C., we see the familiar landmarks — the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the White House.

That’s it. That’s all we need because the city is a passive element in this context.  Now if your hero was flying into Dubai, and a key scene takes place later on the city’s tallest skyscraper, that makes the skyscraper an active element, which means you might want to give it a more elaborate description. But it all comes down to designating what the element is.  Figure out if it’s active or passive, then describe accordingly.

  • jw

    War and intellect… you just turned off about 85% of the movie-going public. Not to mention the continually heavy-handed attempt to basically tell the world that all of these “terrorist attacks” are basically being orchestrated by… you guessed it… Pennsylvania Ave! Also, wasn’t this the exact plot for Oblivion — Cruise goes after something, finds the people who are supposed to be the bad guys, only the realize the bad guys are in fact who he’s working for? As I read this the first thing that popped into my mind was another Tom Cruise sci fi bomb. Blah.

    • carsonreeves1

      Yeah, this is what I mean. The plot points are lifted right out of every other thriller. It was way too predictable.

      • MGE3

        A great way to road test a script is to watch a handful of trailers within a genre. Study how they’re selling the characters, the narrative, etc. Have I seen this before?

        I consulted on something for a major director who ran into walls at the studio. After he couldn’t figure out why the studio didn’t want to greenlight his movie, I showed him and one of the producers the TERMINATOR SALVATION trailer. The story felt identical, but the director didn’t even know the movie existed.

        If it feels like something we’ve seen before, chances are we have. Understand how it was executed and marketed. Then you turn it on it’s ear and improve it.

        • Scott Crawford

          When I saw Terminator: Salvation, I didn’t get what happened. Then I read imdb’s trivia section. Then I understood. Christian Bale wanted to play John Connor… who was only supposed to be a minor character. The focus was supposed to be on Kyle Reese and whoever it was that Sam Worthington played. Watch the scenes with Bale; there really extraneous.

    • filmklassik

      “Not to mention the continually heavy-handed attempt to basically tell the world that all of these ‘terrorist attacks’ are basically being orchestrated by… you guessed it… Pennsylvania Ave!”

      I’ve noticed that too. In the wake of Iraq, Afghanistan, and eight years of Bush/Cheney, Hollywood has decreed that the Menacing-Looking Foreigner must always be a Red Herring while the movie’s TRUE villain must invariably be American.

      All right, maybe not “invariably.” Villains can be Russian, too. But that’s pretty much it.

      I have no problem with making Yanks the villains in these kinds of International thrillers… but doing it 90% of the time? To the point where it’s becoming predictable?

      Then it’s a problem.

      • jw

        I think you’re right in that you do it once, you do it twice, you do it three times, okay… now we got it… you believe the government is orchestrating all of this to guide us down a particular path… okay, fine. Everyone has the right to believe what they want to believe, so I’m cool with that. And, I’m not going to pretend like there isn’t US involvement in some of these cases to the point where the argument itself may actually be legitimate. But, it was “news” or an actual “story” years ago whereas today it seems like a tired cop-out. Basically at this point we have 5 villains to choose from: Russian, Arab, North Korean, Chinese and then ourselves. Wow, I think I just created the next villain line-up for The Expendables 4!!

        • filmklassik

          I’d say we have fewer villains than that to choose from. When’s the last time you saw a stone cold Jihadist as the villain of a made-up Hollywood movie? 5 years ago? 10? It’s rare now.

          In the real world, they’re definitely the bad guys, no question. At the multiplex? Not so much.

  • Bifferspice

    sounds like they had about as much clue what to do with increased intelligence as the abysmal “limitless”, which put no thought into the idea whatsoever.

    • astranger2

      Yeah, who do these Abnorms think they are, anyway?

      IF they were truly “limitless,” they’d write screenplays like “Barton Fink.” … idiots…

  • G.S.

    I wouldn’t cite Lucy as an example of “smart” done well on screen. The entire 100% brain-power idea, as understood in pop culture, mischaracterizes the concept of intelligence as a superpower. Lucy’s ability to read minds was a matter of a newly developed sense capability that normal humans just don’t have – even the smartest among us. A character that’s simply part of the high IQ club is still limited to the same basic faculties as every other human, except that they can retain and recall more information more quickly as well as process all of it in useful ways.

    These types of characters shouldn’t be ‘Lucy.’ They should be Sherlock Holmes.

    • Sebastian Cornet

      Agreed, I have yet to read about a character using his intelligence more impressively than Holmes. The plus side is that, unlike with genetic engineered people or what have you, Holmes’ type of intelligence seems more attainable to the rest of us puny mortals.

    • NajlaAnn

      Agree also.

    • Logic Ninja

      Exactly. I could buy a LITTLE weirdness, like if Lucy learned to echolocate using everyday sounds, like the noise of wind. Or if she could calculate physics in a split second, making her the best golfer on planet earth–I could buy that too. But reading minds? Teleportation…? We have advanced imaging. We know what the brain’s made of. It does not come equipped with a time machine.

      Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot are two of the best genius characters ever written, IMHO.

  • OddScience

    “Show Don’t Tell.” Isn’t that Screenwriting 101? Seems like David Koepp would know that.

    And in a book, where you can take pages to describe something (specifically Action/the Show), it seems Sakey would’ve already done the work for him.

    Anybody read the book? Who dropped the ball?

    • Scott Crawford

      From Ben Garant and Tom Lennon’s wonderful “Writing Movie for Fun and Profit”:

      …in describing your locations: After every slug line for a location …

      EXT. WAREHOUSE—NIGHT

      …you then need to describe the warehouse:

      A dark, abandoned warehouse on a seedy pier. An SUV is parked beside it, engine running.

      THAT’S ALL YOU NEED. Just the KEY information. Don’t go on and on and on about “the eerie moonlight dappled through the trees” or the “lonely sense of forboding that seems to emanate from the very timbers of the ramshackle yet somehow lovable old building.” NO.

      If you do:

      1. People will start skimming forward through your script, and they might MISS something that’s actually important to the story.

      And—

      2. People will think you’re VAMPING—stalling, padding out the pages—because your story isn’t any good. People don’t go to the multiplex to see dappled moonlight. They go for STORY, ACTION, and great CHARACTERS.

      GET TO THE POINT.

      Buy the book; it’s great and a share of the profits goes to charity:
      http://www.amazon.co.uk/Writing-Movies-Fun-Profit-Billion/dp/1439186766

      • OddScience

        I was referring to the lack of Action (Showing) by the Abnorms. Carson was saying this misstep made the script average. You have to Show them being super intelligent. Probably why they can’t get an A-lister.

        • Scott Crawford

          Sorry, thought you were talking about the What I Learned.

          I only read the first seven pages of Brilliance… it’s a breezy read, but not really my thing.

  • Scott Crawford

    Script!
    Brilliance: https://www.sendspace.com/file/6ev2ra

    I uploaded this last week, so some people may have already read it. I only read the first seven pages, ’cause – you know – not really my thing. However… David Koepp can write. Seven pages and it felt like nothing.

    Because you can only learn how to write great from professionals, I’ll post a few more.

    • klmn

      Be careful you don’t get PJ’d.

      It’s one thing to email copyrighted scripts to folks, but posting them for download is dangerous.

      • Scott Crawford

        I know. I take them down fairly regularly. Get in fast!

  • leitskev

    Good review. A distinct lack of brilliance on my part prevents me from saying more.

  • JakeMLB

    My reaction was the same as yours Carson. I gave up after about 30 pages. Not only was there no brilliance on display but the story itself was extremely vanilla (although the writing is strong). No innovative set pieces or scenes or sequences. The opening sequence alone, the one that’s supposed to hook us, is pretty dry. Agent Nick “Brilliance” Cooper strolls up to a woman and outs her in a bar. She takes off and then evades him by blending into a crowd. Where’s the promise of the premise in that? Take literally any 3 scenes from the British Sherlock Holmes TV series and there’s probably one hundred times the intelligence on display. Maybe this is an early draft and it’s been punched up but it’s disappointing to see a strong premise like this go to waste.

  • Guest

    Someone’s genius can lie in relativity.
    Take this quote, for instance:

    I don’t always feel like I’m at the top of the gene pool
    But when I do
    I’m at Walmart

    • Scott Crawford

      Is that a haiku? I ask because I’m too dumb to know.

      • pmlove

        This is a haiku.
        Something with five syllables.
        Then seven; then five.

        • Scott Crawford

          Yeah, it’s sort of a mock haiku that you sometimes see. Not technically a haiku.

      • Jaco

        It’s a play off lines from the Dos Equis Most Interesting Man in the world commercials.

  • kent

    I thought it was well written, but agree it needed something to set it apart. I disagree about trailer moments; I think there were plenty with the drones, data-hub, chase scenes, etc. I thought it was head and shoulders above Flesh and Bone if you can compare TV to a film.

  • ChadStuart

    These are the worst kinds of scripts to read because they are so damn frustrating. All I ever hear from my Manager is that I need to take my ideas to the next level; that studios demand that extra level. Then I read this and wonder where the hell that extra level is? It’s not even like this is a mega-best selling novel to really be considered valuable IP . There wasn’t one original idea in the script, and not one surprise. And I have the same reaction when I was sent “The Boy Next Door” as an example of the next level (still looking for it there, even when I see the trailer), and again with “Rockets Red Glare”. I’m a pretty smart person, but I’ll be damned if I see this mythical next level I’m told I’m lacking.

    • walker

      Hey Chad, I hear you. I have concluded that it is basically some managers’ way of excusing themselves when they can’t move your product or get you traction. Guess what? If my crappy derivative script sold today, by tomorrow they would be saying it was “next level” and forwarding it to their frustrated newbies.

    • Malibo Jackk

      Pros are always the next level.
      (Even if they’re not.)

    • filmklassik

      “Times have changed, Chad old buddy. You can’t just hit doubles and triples anymore. Home runs only. And you gotta KNOCK THE COVER OFF THE BALL!”

      “This script is old school, Chad. The studios want FRESH now. Come up with something FRESH.”

      …Yeah, I’m hearing the same shit you are, Chad. And I’m just as baffled.

      • ChadStuart

        Oh, I hear you, brother. Just this week he told me that a buddy action script I wrote, at his behest, wasn’t going to cut it. Apparently, every studio wants 22 Jump Street now. Well, I saw that movie and there was nothing special about it script or storywise. It was funny, but it wasn’t groundbreaking. I guess my script just needs more Channing Tatum. Le sigh…

        • filmklassik

          “…every studio wants 22 Jump Street now”

          Right. The operative word being NOW. But who the fuck knows what they’ll want two months from now, let alone next year?

          Dispiriting…

  • mulesandmud

    Semi-related:

    Does anyone have a copy of Eric Heisserer’s UNDERSTAND? Would love to compare all these imaginary geniuses.

    mulesandmud@yahoo.com

    • Scott Crawford

      Sent!

  • ASAbrams

    I tried to get through Brilliance, but I just didn’t care about the characters or their situation. It all felt too familiar and routine. I gave up.

  • Garrett

    Ditto. Good points on “passive” and “active.”

  • brenkilco

    It is easy to feel self conscious and presumptuous attempting to create characters smarter than you are. But I really don’t think it’s that hard. And being the writer you have an advantage over your creation. He may have to solve a challenging problem in an instant. But you have all the time and resources in the world to craft a solution. And what’s even more important you get to create the problem. You come across a random Mr. Wizard experiment, find a way to make the result useful in an urgent, real world situation and presto, you have a Mcgyver episode.

    Sherlock Holmes is once again hip thanks to the Cumberbatch update. And in every episode he runs through a lightening speed series of deductions accompanied by frantic zooms into the details that only he notices. Thanks to the actor’s delivery it all seems astonishing. But rewind it on Netflix and you’ll find that the individual conclusions are not that amazing and often not even that convincing. It’s all really a magic trick.

    It should also be remembered that the super smart don’t differ from ordinary people in their emotional needs and movie dialogue is not a series of TED talks.

    Also when dealing with a brilliant character the object is to make his thinking comprehensible to the audience. The writer may be praised not criticized for dumbing things down. I doubt the writer of A Beautiful Mind knows jack shit about games theory. But in the blonde scene he was able to present a dick and jane version of it in a visual way that flattered the audience they could understand the workings of Nash’s mind. Now that’s a bit of screenwriting genius.

    • filmklassik

      The default method of conveying intelligence — let’s call it the Sorkin Method — is to portray your Genius as a human almanac reeling off a litany of stats with such fluency that it sounds like he’s reading from a chart. Or an almanac.

      Here’s brilliant, prickly news anchor Will MacAvoy (played by Jeff Daniels) sounding off about all the many deficiencies of the USA in Sorkin’s pilot for THE NEWSROOM:

      “Canada has freedom, Japan has freedom, the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Australia, Belgium has freedom. Two hundred seven sovereign states in the world, like 180 of them have freedom. …There are some things you should know, and one of them is that there is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re seventh in literacy, twenty-seventh in math, twenty-second in science, forty-ninth in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, third in median household income, number four in labor force, and number four in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending, where we spend more than the next twenty-six countries combined, twenty-five of whom are allies.”

      Like that.

      Sure it sounds good, and jazzy, and trippy, but it’s basically bullshit. Because nobody, anywhere, thinks that way. And nobody, anywhere, talks that way. Except in Sorkinville.

      • brenkilco

        Sorkin has this great rep for wit. But ask a fan to recite three or four truly great Sorkiin lines and you get nothing. You’re so right So much of his technique comes down to spitting out sententious, fact filled 33 1/3 material(how dated is that reference) at 78rpm. Or having his couples trade subpar screwball comic dialogue at the same hyper speed.

        • filmklassik

          It’s funny, because I know Sorkin’s good. Strike that- he’s more than good- he’s gifted as hell. But it’s primarily a musical gift. His dialogue SOUNDS wonderful (which is no mean feat — I’m not trivializing it — he handles the language better than I ever have or ever could).

          So why do his screenplays annoy me so much?

          Is it jealousy? I don’t think so. I mean, yeah, Sorkin’s more talented than me, but there are a jillion writers more talented than me whose stories I devour like a hungry lion.

          Maybe it’s the self-righteousness and the high self-regard that is never far from the surface of his work. Or maybe it’s his politics that piss me off. Maybe it’s all of the above.

          But something about it grates on me.

          • brenkilco

            Yeah, it’s the sense you get from his stuff that he thinks he’s better than he is. A Few Good Men was good. But it wasn’t exactly the Caine Mutiny Court Marshal or Witness for the Prosecution. And though he’s selling himself as a deep thinker I’m not buying it. Maybe what I dislike most about him is that he’s managed to convince so many people that he is as good as he thinks he is.

  • JakeMLB

    It really does vary, even among professional scripts but the point is certainly a good one. Check out the script for SIDE EFFECTS. I don’t think I’ve ever seen sparser description in a professional script and yet it still conveys the story perfectly. Ultimately it comes down to the writer but as a general rule less is certainly more. Only a few writers can manage lengthy descriptions that don’t somehow distract from the story.

    Describe what we’re seeing on the screen. That’s it. Simple.

    This I think is actually part of the problem. Many writers are literally trying to describe EVERYTHING they envision happening on the screen when in reality, most of the stuff relates either to character actions, that the actors/director will impart, or to scene descriptions, that the set managers and location scouts will impart. Really the goal should be to describe the absolute minimum needed to convey the story. That will fluctuate somewhat depending on the writer and the tone of the script but learning to write sparsely is invaluable as it forces you to focus more on the story and less on the words.

    • brenkilco

      Agree. But think the object is to compress, not just simplify. Always ask can I do as much or more with fewer words. Literate doesn’t have to be long winded.

      “Gliding silently through the sky over Washington, D.C., we see the familiar landmarks — the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the White House.”

      Gliding above Washington, over familiar landmarks of water and marble.

      Twenty two becomes ten. Anything lost?

      • Nicholas J

        Always ask can I do as much or more with fewer words.

        Gliding above Washington D.C. over familiar landmarks…

        Gliding above familiar Washington D.C…

        Gliding above Washington D.C….

        Washington D.C. (gliding)…

        Washington D.C…

        D.C.

        • brenkilco

          And your ability to judge the the point at which economical becomes reductionist determines how good your are.

          • Nicholas J

            Agreed. I’m just messing with you.

        • JakeMLB

          Remind me not to let you cook for me! :P

          ………………………

          …………………

          ………….

          …….

          Salt.

        • Casper Chris

          lol

        • Malibo Jackk

          d.c.

          • Nicholas J

            I laughed at this way harder than I should’ve.

      • JakeMLB

        Yes, “compress” is probably the best word. There is a lot of skill involved in writing sparsely but evocatively and effectively. One of my favorite examples of this is the opening car sequence to I AM LEGEND by Akiva Goldsman. He presents a master class in compressed but evocative writing.

        As for your example, there is something lost in that yours isn’t as specific. Does it ultimately matter? Probably not. But giving some specificity can be a good thing as it helps to create a better mental image.

        • brenkilco

          There is no one who would be reading the script who wouldn’t have a strong mental picture of DC. And a laundry list of monuments struck me as childish. But, hey, it sold.

          • JakeMLB

            Not everyone is American :P. Even those that are don’t necessarily know every city’s famous landmarks. I wouldn’t know how to visualize Philadelphia for example despite it’s many landmarks as I’ve never been there in person and wouldn’t be able to actively recall recent films that have taken place there. D.C. may be an exception but it’s safer to not assume. Before I moved to LA I had no visual perception of it outside of the Hollywood sign. Ultimately there is no right or wrong. You’re in control as the writer to decide what images you want to transfer into your reader’s mind. Sometimes specificity is a good thing. Sometimes not. It all depends.

          • brenkilco

            Not to get too far into the weeds on this but I don’t really understand your point. Assume that in fact you would be submitting this script to a non american reader. It’s hardly plausible but suppose. Further suppose that the reader has no familiarity with DC. Then by extension he would have no familiarity with the city’s landmarks and simply naming them without providing a visual description would be as meaningless to him as not listing them at all.

      • filmklassik

        Nothing lost. Nothing. Damn that was good. (Koepp are you reading this?)

    • Logic Ninja

      Related to that idea, I think too many writers get lost in the FEEL of a scene, rather than sticking to specifics. For instance, you could describe a fight scene like this:
      The bear lumbers toward him, power and fury. He readies himself. They CLASH–claws and teeth against the cold steel of a hunting knife. Blood and sweat on the ground.
      Or like this:
      The bear rears up on its hind legs and ROARS, ten feet tall. The man doesn’t flinch; he ducks under the bear’s paws and stabs up with the knife. The bear comes down on top of him, throwing him to the ground.
      In the second case, IMO, you get a clearer picture of the action.

      • brenkilco

        The compulsion to keep the action short has led inevitably to scripts written in half sentences, fast and impressionistic and often not very clear. Personally I like whole sentences if they’re precise.

  • Ryan Sasinowski

    What if the stakes for the guy’s daughter became that the special schools were actually facilities that lobotomized new abnorms, so that the current ones would never have to be worried about getting overthrown.

    That way, not only would HIS loved one become a vegetable, so would OTHER peoples’ loved ones as well. And now he has to save all of them before it’s too late.

    It’s not perfect, but I think that might be a bigger increase in the overall stakes as well as the personal stakes.

  • klmn

    Yeah. With all this stuff Carson is learning, when is he gonna come out with a new e-book?

    • Scott Crawford

      Without being mean, maybe the reverse of his last book: instead of tips learned from successful movies by professional writers, how about tips from less-successful screenplays by amateur writers. Redacted, of course.

      • klmn

        That’s too limiting. He has over 1000 reviews on this site. He’s found plenty of failures from pro writers.

        • Scott Crawford

          I thought of that, but the problem is that mistakes in produced movies (the successes too, perhaps) are often affected by things outside the writer’s hands. Some people may blame the problems in Draft Day on the screenwriter, for example. Maybe.

          • klmn

            I guess I wasn’t clear. I was talking about screenplay reviews.

          • Scott Crawford

            Yes, but CAN you review Draft Day‘s script after a bad movie has been made. I think another book of GOOD reviews is redundant.

            So MY title suggestion is: “SCRIPTSHADOW BAD HABITS: 500 Things to Avoid When Writing Your Script.”

  • carsonreeves1

    I was actually wondering that myself. I’m pretty sure I have. I think he’s a good writer. But I also remember disliking that Sixth Sense-like script he wrote.

  • Craig Mack

    Congrats Brittany! I have it in my folder to read. Great premise.

  • Scott Crawford

    This is from a 1990 Walt Disney studios review of his The Shadow script, submitted as a writing sample:

    “Idea: Good
    Story Line: Good
    Characterization: Excellent
    Dialogue: Good
    Setting/Production Values: Excellent

    Screenwriter Koepp shows a deft hand at painting a dark and mystical portrait of the 1930s underworld or the legendary comic book figure, The Shadow. The settings evoke a rich, mysterious mood and pop right off the page with Koepp’s extraordinary visual descriptions and accurate, in-depth period research. The characters are all distinct, play well off one another and are extremely engaging. The relationship between Cranston and the beautiful, insolent Margo is dynamic and allows for much delightful romantic tension. It would be easy to see filmmaker Tom Schiller (of Saturday Night Live’s “Schiller’s Reel”) assembling the elements of THE SHADOW, with Alec Baldwin in place as the lead and Diane Lane as Margo. Though true to the comic books, the dialogue is at times a little too stiff and formal, though often right on target. The storyline somewhat tired but is also true to the essence of the comic books, complete with a madman who plans to rule the world. There are of lots of nice details here, of the sort which make or break a story like this. The story, as a whole, is tight and well-constructed with no extraneous scenes; everything contributes to arming the audience with the necessary information to move the story along. I see few weaknesses to David Koepp’s writing which couldn’t be cleared up with a little skilful editing. A mood-evoking screenplay like this a set designer’s and cinematographer’s dream.

    CONSIDER WRITER”

    • Casper Chris

      Nice find.

      • Scott Crawford

        Cheers, dude!

        • Casper Chris

          I thought it was “cheers, mate” ?

          • Scott Crawford

            Mixing it up. I always figured “dude” sounded really friendly, especially with ! on the end.

    • Linkthis83

      The first page of the script (if the attachment worked right – I didn’t attach a pdf but a Jing shot of the page)

      • Scott Crawford

        You have technical skills I can only dream of. (I’m shit with computers!).

        • Linkthis83

          I terrible at it as well.

          I didn’t feel like putting up a link to the script, but figured it was more valuable if people could at least read it.

          Did you just type all the info from this script for your post?

          • Scott Crawford

            Yeah, just typed it from the script. Didn’t take too long and I think it was worth it. If anyone wants the script they can e-mail me. So far, no one seems THAT interested in having the script.

          • Scott Crawford

            Yeah, just typed it from the script. Didn’t take too long and I think it was worth it. If anyone wants the script they can e-mail me. So far, no one seems THAT interested in having the script

          • Scott Crawford

            Yeah, just typed it from the script. Didn’t take too long and I think it was worth it. If anyone wants the script they can e-mail me. So far, no one seems THAT interested in having it.

  • Tailmonsterfriend

    Anyone looking to write scripts about the hyper intelligent, there are three short stories I HIGHLY recommend you check out before you start.

    UNDERSTAND, by Ted Chiang – A man is given an experimental drug intended to heal brain damage, but it turns out the drug supercharges his intellect. On the run from government agents, our protagonist soon finds himself struggling with the unexpected challenges of his ever-evolving mind and the threat of another hyper-intelligent antagonist. (This story was recently optioned for a movie; go figure.)

    BEGGARS IN SPAIN, by Nancy Kress – This story follows Leisha Camden, the first human to be genetically engineered to no longer need sleep. Being sleepless, Leisha permanently functions at peak alertness, which gives her and her kind a significant boost over normal humans – including her own, unmodified twin sister Alice. But once the sleepless start using their enhanced intellects and untiring energy to take more than the average, normal person could ever hope to achieve, public sentiment quickly turns from grudging jealousy to open hostility, and Leisha must struggle to find a way for her and her kind in this dangerous, changed world.

    REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL, by Greg Egan – A young boy is diagnosed with a brain cancer that secretes a hormone which makes him superhumanly happy. A new cancer treatment successfully removes the tumor, but the procedure also wipes out the protagonist’s ability to feel happiness. Heavily medicated for all of his adult life and trapped in the worst kind of chronic depression, he finally lets a team of scientists preform another experimental procedure, this time implanting a “programmable smart foam” in his brain that mimics the functionality of the destroyed tissue. Not only does the implant restore his happiness, it brings it back with a vengeance, also boosting our protagonist’s learning ability and drive to succeed to superhuman levels. But how much of this new personality is real, and how much of it is just the result of a clever yet artificial piece of computer hardware?

    “Brilliance” sounds like it borrowed liberally from Beggars In Spain but put more of an action spin on the story to make the material more movie-friendly. Not sure that was the right way to go. But this just shows how really fucking important it is for writers to read, voraciously. And not just best-sellers; you’ll want to read obscure anthologies, weird shit, stuff that most people have never heard of. You know, feed your inner hipster. When you feed your brain a steady diet of strange but entertaining literature, you’ll eventually train yourself to think in ways that are unpredictable and fresh.

    We all draw our inspirations from somewhere. Every idea you’ve ever had has come from some other place. If you only consume mainstream media, you’re drawing inspiration from the same well millions of others are going to. Good luck finding anything original there. Instead, go draw on the less-heard voices, the quiet ones, the ones that make you work to find them. I promise there is amazing stuff out here.

    • Scott Crawford

      …important it is for writers to read, voraciously. And not just best-sellers.

      Amen.

      I’ll also add, although I’m sure you were reffering to this too, the importance of reading non-fiction works, even if you’re about something slightly odd, like people’s brain power increasing. Good source of ideas, as well as factual information.

      From imdb trivia section on The Matrix Reloaded:

      To prepare for his role in the series, Keanu Reeves was asked to read three books: Simulation and Simulacra, Out of Control and Evolution Psychology.

      So if you want to write like The Wachowskis, I guess you gotta read some stuff like that.

      • Midnight Luck

        What if u Don’t want to write like the Wachowski’s?
        Namely CLOUD ATLAS

        • Scott Crawford

          Do the opposite, I guess. Jupiter Ascending?

          • Midnight Luck

            Yeah, I was just being cheeky.
            I am not a fan of their storytelling. I tried the Matrix’s and hated them. (never made it to #3 as #2 was unwatchable)
            I tried Cloud Atlas, and really hated it.
            What are the odds they are going to hit it out of the park with Jupiter?
            The only one I sort of liked was V for VENDETTA. Odd, I even feel strange about liking most of it, but I guess it goes along with my rebellious nature. That is what the whole thing was about. Rebellion.

          • craze9

            Have you seen Bound? Or read Carnivore?

    • klmn

      I’d suggest Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut. You can find it in Welcome To The Monkey House, his collection of short stories.

    • Midnight Luck

      A good mantra to follow:
      “READ WEIRD SHIT”
      I agree 100%

    • filmklassik

      The description of that first book sounds very like the plot of LIMITLESS, at least in some respects.

  • Poe_Serling

    I can’t really say I’m a huge fan of Koepp’s big-budget screenplay efforts, but I have enjoyed a couple of his director/screenwriter projects such as Secret Window and Stir of Echoes.

    I also enjoy some of the creative touches in his more personal films.

    In Secret Window.. The scene where Depp’s character Morton Rainey buys a box of Morton Salt to eat with his corn-on-the-cob diet. The Morton Salt slogan, “When It Rains It Pours” = Morton Rainey.

  • brittany

    Thanks for the props! Yeah, that was a cool surprise for me this morning. BTW, thanks again for those great notes you gave me on Saturday! :)

  • ripleyy

    Brilliance, a script about genius-level intelligence, ironically didn’t get a genius rating, which I find funny. I also believe this is a first in a trilogy? Interesting.

    • Scott Crawford

      If successful, quadrilogy.

      • Caleb Yeaton

        I laughed pretty hard at this. God, how I hate the “Part Three: Part Two” trend.

        • Scott Crawford

          I CRIED when I heard that Divergent was going to have a FOURTH movie. When I go to see a movie, I expect some sort of resolution. However, I’m 36 years-old. A 14 year-old may feel differently.

          • jw

            The worst part isn’t that there are 3 or 4 parts, it’s that someone latched on to the idea of the “double-ending” which means that someone takes a 150 page script and goes… “we can make this into 2 films… someone call David Beniof because we need this story to drag…” ahaha

  • mulesandmud

    Is my character a genius or a moron? You don’t need to write a script about abnormals to run up against this question.

    Just like you don’t want all of the characters in your script to talk exactly like you do, you don’t want them all to think like you do, either.

    Some characters should be smarter than you, which can mean a lot of things. Better read, more analytical, wittier. Tricky to make that kind of intelligence sound believable since, by definition, you’re not smart enough. Getting it right takes patience, effort, and research. Be prepared to keep trying until you really, truly impress yourself.

    On the other hand, some characters should be dumber than you, which in lots of ways is the harder trick to turn. Writing characters who make sloppy, lazy, or otherwise bad decisions while letting the reader know that it’s the character, not the writer, who’s making those bad decisions, that’s a special kind of tightrope act. And to do it without condescending to those characters, without turning them into cartoons or punchlines, well…good luck.

    When we talk about a character’s voice, we’re not just talking about the phrases they use or their distinctive mannerisms. We’re talking about intelligence, politics, worldview. Everything, from the ground up.

    A writer benefits from learning to write in a wide spectrum of voices, even if one or two of those voices remain dominant for most of their career. Basically, any time you catch yourself assuming that a character thinks like you do, take another look and make sure that you’ve done all the work you should have to give that character a mind of their own.

  • carsonreeves1

    He’s super successful, no doubt. I was just struggling, personally, to think of a script of his I loved. Panic Room! That was good.

    • JakeMLB

      Jurassic Park maybe? :P

    • GoIrish

      It’s sort of amusing when people create usernames that match the content of their posting…by the way, Notre Dame is favored by 28.5 this week (take the over).

      • astranger2

        By “over” do you mean the totals? Over 55 1/2, or taking the favored Irish?

        • GoIrish

          On second thought, give the points and take the under (45-10).

  • Ryan Sasinowski

    I thought he liked “Superconducting Supercollider of Sparkle Creek, Wisconsin”

    • Poe_Serling

      He also gave Premium Rush – [xx] worth the read – back in 2010.

      • Ryan Sasinowski

        Duh. How could I forget that thrill ride?

  • Ambrose*

    Carson,
    I’d love to have you do an article, maybe for a Thursday, about movies with two lead characters.
    For example, ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’.
    And how the GSU dynamic is/isn’t diffferent than a script with one primary character.

    • Scott Crawford

      Good idea.

      If the two leads function as one – same goal, same stakes, and of course the same urgency -, as in Butch Cassidy… that’s one thing, but if the movie is divided between the stories of the two leads, as in a lot of romantic comedies, that’s different.

      • Ambrose*

        I wasn’t saying that two leads always have the same goal, in case that wasn’t clear.
        But that’s all fodder for a great article/discussion: two leads with the same goals; and two leads with conflicting goals.
        And how that affects the dynamics of the writing process.

        • Scott Crawford

          I understood that fine. Although a lot of stories, like Ghostbusters, have what appear to be multiple protagonists, from the writer’s point of view, you can see Venkmann as the hero and the others as his friends.

          Like you say, lot to talk about – lots of potential difficulties when people want to write ENSEMBLE movies.

          • Ambrose*

            Scott,
            I’m definitely not interested in an article about ensemble movies, at least not at this time.
            If I was, then you could do a lot worse than discussing something like, ‘The Big Chill’, for example.
            My hope is for an article on a dual lead character story and I know sometimes movies appear to have that when it’s not the case.
            One movie I just thought of that might fit, if I remember it correctly, is, ‘Two Guns’, the Washington/Wahlberg movie. I haven’t seen it in awhile so maybe my memory is hazy.
            ‘Thelma and Louise’ also just popped into my mind.
            And I’m not looking forward to the ‘Ghostbusters’ sequel they keep trying to make. I think Bill Murray has the right take on that.

  • andyjaxfl

    I read first 15 of this one and I probably should have stopped after ten. As dozens of others have mentioned in previous posts, there’s just nothing special to this story and I can see why they are having a difficult time locking down anyone for the lead. Too bad, because Markus Sakey has written some pretty good books in the last decade. Hopefully Good People is a hit…

    • filmklassik

      GOOD PEOPLE is on my Kindle but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. How is it?

      • andyjaxfl

        It’s very good. I don’t want to say much more because I don’t want to ruin it for you. I think it’s his strongest book.

  • Kirk Diggler

    So he’s better than Dostoevsky, Dickens, Fitzgerald, Chekhov and a guy named Shakespeare? Give me a break already.

    Even keeping it among screenwriters, does he rank ahead of Billy Wilder, Woody Allen, Quentin Tarantino, William Goldman, Robert Towne, Aaron Sorkin, Steven Zaillian, Christopher Nolan, David Mamet, Paul Schrader, Charlie Kaufman and a host of others?

    • Caleb Yeaton

      No, he doesn’t. He’s not even in the same league. But there’s a large subset of people who confuse commercial success with greatness.

  • Caleb Yeaton

    Being rich and being great are not the same thing.

  • Caleb Yeaton

    The “What I Learned” section is spot-fucking on. I read a shitload of screenplays, and flowery, prose-y description is probably my biggest pet-peeve in the amateur world. It absolutely kills the read when the action has to pause so the writer can spend a paragraph trying to impress me with his skills as a wordsmith instead of describing the shot in simple, easy terms and moving on. If you want to impress people with your amazing, lengthy, overwritten prose, go write a damn novel.

    Although a lot of times I’ve found that flowery window dressing is a feeble attempt to cover a paper-thin plot and uninteresting characters, so maybe novel-writing isn’t the best route.

    • Ryan Sasinowski

      I’ll admit, I was guilty of this.

      My guess why this is such common practice is due to most people’s writing background being examples of fiction from English classes. Tons of flowery prose there.

    • Dale T

      For what it’s worth, it’s very annoying in a novel too lol.

  • Midnight Luck

    A sad day, “Jaws” has passed away

    James Bond Villain Richard Kiel Dies at 74

    http://www.imdb.com/news/ni57731880/?ref_=hm_nw_tp_t1

    I always liked the odd villain of “jaws” in the 007 movies.

    R.I.P. Richard Kiel

    • Erica

      Very sad news. I was so scared of him when I was young.

      • Kirk Diggler

        And then they turned him into a nice guy in Moonraker….. :-(

    • Poe_Serling

      Just watched ’74 version of The Longest Yard this weekend… and Kiel had the memorable role of Samson in it.

      • astranger2

        “He broke my fuckin’ nose!”

    • Scott Crawford

      He made us laugh. He gave us nightmares.

  • craze9

    Anyone have the script? Would love you forever if you could send to:

    craze9 AT hotmail.com

    • Ryan Sasinowski

      Sent

  • astranger2

    Great points, grendl.

    Although on occasion I still enjoy “excessive” description:

    “… a shapely woman with long raven hair flowing into the folds of her blue satin dress like an estuary.”

    Overly novelistic and off-putting on the current screenwriting stage — call me sentimental. But I liked it.

  • dawriter67

    Some people like to CAP so called active elements and I find it annoying. If you have an active element then emphasize it through visuals or dialog..capping sounds is another waste of time.

  • Bifferspice

    talentvile is a nice freudian slip! :) congrats, brittany.

    as an aside, is talentville a good place? i don’t know that one. primarily, is it only good for honing your script, or do non-writers actually look at the scripts too?

  • Poe_Serling

    OT: While we wait for Carson’s Thursday post, here’s the new trailer for The Town That Dreaded Sundown. The script for this project was reviewed on SS about a month ago.

    It looks pretty much like your standard Blumhouse production, and there’s obviously a supernatural element if the killer reappears after 65 years.

    Also, I noticed the film has An Orion Pictures Release banner… haven’t seen one of those in a long time.

    • ChadStuart

      It doesn’t have to be a supernatural explanation. It could just as easily be a “copycat” killer or a descendant.

      • Poe_Serling

        Yeah, you’re right… it could be a copycat type of thing. I just remember reading or seeing some promotional material that implied the Phantom Killer’s evil spirit/human form returns every generation or so… much like the Creeper in Jeepers Creepers.

    • Midnight Luck

      wow, is it just me, or was that extraordinarily uninteresting / not exciting?

      • Poe_Serling

        It’s being released in mid October… no doubt trying to cash in with the pre-Halloween crowd.

      • ChadStuart

        No, it’s not just you.

        • Midnight Luck

          I didn’t think so. My lord it was boring and bland.
          Who is going to be scared by any of that?
          It reminds me of the Scarecrow from Batman Begins with a burlap sack on his face. When he first appears it made me laugh, like “this is supposed to be our villain?”

    • Linkthis83

      Hey Poe. Have you ever watched BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON? I loved it. I thought it was an extremely clever and fun take on the slasher flicks of the 80’s. Basically, your Michael Myers type killer has a documentary crew follow him around, explaining how hard it is to be one of these types of killers. An enjoyable watch. — I learned of it by watching a DVD from Netflix called DREAMS ON SPEC.

      • Poe_Serling

        Hey Link-

        BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON…

        I’m familiar with the pic, but I’ve never watched it. To be honest, I’m not much of a fan of serial-killer cinema.

        **However, I often do hear that one of the best in this sub-genre is the film “Henry … Portrait of a Serial Killer” starring Michael Rooker.

    • Craig Mack

      Does anyone have this screenplay? thecraigmackATgmail

      • Ryan Sasinowski

        Sent.

        • Linkthis83

          Hey Ryan, would mind sending to me as well? Thanks.

          linkthis83 at yahoo dot com

          • Ryan Sasinowski

            Sent!

  • Scott Crawford

    Awesome or overkill?

    • jw

      Overkill and a half in my opinion. Is he going to change Batman’s costume to be camouflage too? Some of this stuff will get out of hand and it will become so campy that that is how it will dissipate and float away…

      • Scott Crawford

        I just can’t see it driving down Gotham’s streets. Too wide. Like something out of Land of the Dead.

        • jw

          Looks like it belongs in an Iraqi desert with the ability to travel under sand. So, basically what I’m saying is that it looks like a scorpion.

        • Casper Chris

          I’m thinking the focal length/perspective is making it appear wider than it is.

          • Scott Crawford

            Also, the weapons are out, but maybe they’re hidden. I’m on the fence, spike up by butt, on this one. I’m not a Snyder-hater, nor an Affleck-hater, nor a…

  • astranger2

    … that particular woman seemed more like a Lake… but it was about time streams…

    … and that’s why excessive was in quotes. Perhaps only to current sensibilities.

    I’ll see if I can dig up the PDF… contains some very elegant imagery.

  • Citizen M

    Bit late, but here’s what I thought..

    Well written with some exciting action scenes. It was an intriguing setup, that made good use of abnorm abilties like Nick’s ability to detect lies and slow time i.e. move super-fast, and Shannon’s ability to move like a wraith. But the social angle of aborms living in a society that is suspicious of their superior abilities wasn’t fully explored, preferring to fall back on a routine government conspiracy plot that will surprise no one.