Genre: Drama
Premise: An intensely angry woman in a chronic pain support group starts looking into another member’s suicide while not really trying to put her life back together.
About: This finished on last year’s Black List and is currently in post-production with Jennifer Aniston and Anna Kendrick starring. In a testament to the value of hard work and perseverance, the writer, Patrick Tobin, has been writing for over 30 years, graduating from USC film school almost 25 years ago! This is his first big breakthrough success. The script has led him to another job adapting the Pulitzer-prize winning novel, “A Visit From the Goon Squad.”
Writer: Patrick Tobin
Details: 106 pages

jennifer_aniston_101707_02

Thank you to the Dragon Gods of Screenplay Heaven for an easy screenplay to read! Been waiting for a script like this for awhile. One that was minimalist but STILL contained depth! I hereby implore all of you, Scriptshadow Readers, to find this script and read it (it’s in the 2013 Black List folder, which everyone on my mailing list should have). This script embodies the spirit of the original Black List. Unknown writer taking a chance, writing something different and non-commercial, and getting recognition for it.

We’re on day 2 of the “passion v. commercialism” argument. And if these last two scripts are any indication, passion is winning! Ah, but that doesn’t mean you can write about your boring everyday life and get away with it. You gotta have skillz! You need to know how to burn this kind of joint before you can smoke it. Which I’m going to get to. But first, let’s take a bite of this delicious cake.

Cake is about 30-something Claire. We meet Claire in a Chronic Pain support group, where she’s sporting some scars on her face and neck. Clearly, she’s been in some sort of bad accident. But it isn’t just Claire’s body that’s hurting. Yup, you guessed it. It’s her soul, too.

A former attorney, Claire probably wasn’t the nicest person to begin with. But this accident – whatever happened – has turned her downright nasty. She’s almost excited to share with the group, for example, that their recent group member’s suicide (which involved a woman jumping off a bridge onto a cargo ship) ended with the gooey remains being shipped back to her husband in a Rubbermaid Cooler.

The suicide in question is a young woman named Nina. Claire envies Nina because she had the guts to get out. And while she’s not sure yet if she wants the same, she becomes infatuated with Nina’s decision, and by association, her life. This eventually leads her to Roy, Nina’s angry husband (lots of angry people here). It’s refreshing meeting someone with so much anger though, so the two begin a dysfunctional relationship based on pretty much anything but love and happiness.

(spoiler) It’s here where we finally get a window into Claire’s past. That car accident she was in killed her son. And when that loss turned her into the monster she is now, it lost her her husband too. Ironically enough, Roy has a son of his own. And maybe, just maybe, through spending time with them, Claire can find a way back to happiness.

???

This was fun!

I bet you’re confused upon hearing that, seeing as that synopsis is pretty depressing. But this is the thing about “Cake.” Claire is really funny! This is something a lot of you writers want to take note of. The great thing about writing someone at the bottom – someone who has nothing to lose and who doesn’t give a shit – is that they can say anything!

Real people are the opposite of that. We’re all giant liars. When we’re feeling bad and someone asks us how we’re doing, we fake a smile and say “Good!” When we have issues with a friend, instead of rocking the boat, we bury our frustrations and pretend everything’s great. Claire doesn’t do that. When you say, how are you, she says, with as much sarcasm as she can possibly muster, fucking dandy, before she shoots you a bitch smile and walks off.

Watching someone so untamed for 106 pages was refreshing. Now it’s a balancing act, because having an unlikable protagonist can backfire, but the thing about Claire was you understood why she was upset. She’s living through hell.

Also, there’s a huge difference between being unlikable fun and being unlikable boring. If Claire just kept to herself the whole time and was super duper depressed and barely said anything, we would’ve hated her. The fact that she’s so sarcastic and hilariously mean to everyone makes her fun to watch.

Recently, somebody asked me about the “slow build.” How do you do it? Cake is a nice template because you really don’t have much of a story here. Claire’s “goal” is to learn about Nina, but it’s a fairly loose thread.

When you’re building stuff up slowly, it’s important to set up mysteries (or you can call them “questions”). Mysteries allow you to move through your story slowly because the reader will still want to find out the answers to the mysteries.

Here, for example, we see those scars on Claire’s face and neck. We want to know what caused them. Claire wants to know why Nina killed herself. We do as well. Claire and her ex-husband have a bizarre relationship. We want to understand it.

Tobin keeps setting these little mysteries up, and they string us along. Combined with a fascinating character who’s acting the complete opposite of how normal human beings act, and it’s pretty easy to see why this is so readable.

Another thing that was nice to see was (spoiler) there was no super-deep melodramatic monologue moment. Usually when you have a script with a dying child like this, particularly one where the main character played a part in the kid’s death, you get the obligatory scene where they monologue their memories of the event, which ends in them crying and saying something to the effect of how they now know it wasn’t their fault.

It’s not that you don’t want highly emotional moments. But you don’t want anything obligatory about your script. Particularly if you’re not writing a mainstream movie. I mean, if you’re going to write something personal, it better be fucking unique. So say it with me everyone: Obligatory is a bad word. Bad obligatory!

Another reason this really worked for me is that with these protagonists that hate the world, there’s an inherent need to see them change. We want to see Claire find happiness again. We want her to overcome her boy’s death and her physical pain and want to live again and, frankly, not be so mean to everyone.

But this ONLY works if you’re truthful with the character. You have to be real. You can’t candy-coat the character and give them some artificial likable quality so we like them. You have to be honest and make her really mean.

Unfortunately, this comes with its own share of risks. People might end up hating your character if you don’t make them just right. I liked Claire because she was real, she was funny, and I understood why she was angry. But for other readers, it might be too much. They might not be able to excuse those qualities in anyone.

And also, these movies never make a lot of money. They’re always going to cater to niche cinephile audiences unless every single aspect of the production hits it out of the park, which is rare. So know that when you write these movies, you’re writing to an indie audience, which makes them a lot harder to sell.

With that said, this was a wonderful little script that totally surprised me. I love Patrick Tobin’s writing style and his unique voice. I’m actually shocked it took him this long to break through. Now let’s just hope the movie’s good!

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

Number of times I checked the internet during read: only once!

What I learned: If you’re going to make your main character “unlikable” in the form of them being an asshole or a bitch, just make sure it’s motivated. Nina is a bitch because she lost everything. She lost her son. She lost her marriage. She lost her looks. She’s angry at the world for a reason, so we understand it. If she’s a bitch “just because,” the reader’s going to hate her.

  • Stephjones

    This sounds right up my alley. Could someone send me the script?
    Kalikalot at hotmail dot com. Thanks!
    Thought provoking article, Carson. I wrote a script with an angry female protagonist who ( I thought) was funny but she is very polarizing. Interested to see how this was handled.

    • Cuesta

      Send.

      • Stephjones

        Got it! Thanks!

      • http://www.stubbdog.com lorenavp

        please send as well. thanks! lorenavp at stubbdog dot com

        • pmlove

          Sent

      • Bluedust

        I’d love a copy of this one. Thanks. Risingseeker@yahoo.com

        • pmlove

          sent!

  • astranger2

    LOL, too funny… Cason, it looks as if you’ve formally adopted a new metric!

    And, Cake must be some read to earn a “checked the internet during read only once!” mark — and of course, the more traditional “impressive” rating.

    The past few weeks have brought a welcome change of more richly complex scripts, with Third Person a few days ago, Badlands yesterday, followed by Cake today. I haven’t read Cake, but based on your new rating system it seems an entertaining fit for my ADHD proclivities… although possibly another indie-flavored film with limited box-office base.

    Yet, like Chef, a well-assembled ensemble offering: Jennifer Anniston, Anna Kendrick, Sam Worthington, Felicity Huffman, William H. Macy… wow, those players will put a little puff in your powder… not exactly a list of nobodies…

    But the casting of Jennifer Anniston here might be the crucial choice. For if she is as bitterly insulting to those around her as you say — who better than to be forgiven, and even loved, for those “friendly” acerbic zingers than America’s unofficial pom-pom shaking cheerleader… than Jennifer Anniston?

    Casting can always play a huge part in any film, but in some cases it is critical. If you look at two actors like Allison Janney and Jane Lynch, there is no doubt both are beautifully comedic actors, unique and stylistically different. But there are many roles they could interchangeably play with equal excellence.

    Using a Jennifer Anniston or Sandra Bullock type here is probably vital to the financial viability of a film of this nature. It soften the edges. The spoonful of sugar that helps the acidity go down… if anyone has this, I’d love a copy… thanks… ; v )

    • Cuesta

      Let us an email :p

      • astranger2

        That would’ve helped… :P duh… I got it though. Thanks!

    • gazrow

      Sent. :)

      • astranger2

        Thanks, g!

    • kenglo

      I was going to say this – With Aniston it would probably go out the park, at least a triple, no less than a double. I zoomed through the first 15 in no time, excellent read.

      • astranger2

        Did you read the entire script, or just the first fifteen? If you read it all — is it a home-run, or did she just bang it off the wall for a two bagger?

        • kenglo

          LOL I was at work, but you know what? I got to 26 and found myself getting on the Internet! It’s not my type of story, I’m more of an EQUALIZER guy, but it was definitely an easy read…..I’ll finish it tomorrow…. :)

          • astranger2

            Ahhhhhhhhhh… LOL… you wrote that so craftily it almost slipped under the radar… hey, as Matty says, some drink Chamomile, some drink Oolong, and others like you and myself USUALLY just drink their coffee straight, no cream, no sugar… but, on occasion, I’ll sneak some Tia Maria or Frangelica… : )

          • kenglo

            So I was reading (of course I was reading!) and I got to page 32. And this little tidbit of dialogue got me hooked –

            ROY
            Nina never talked about you.

            CLAIRE
            Why did you let me go on?

            Roy shrugs.

            ROY
            I wanted to see how far you’d go.

            CLAIRE
            Sorry.

            ROY
            Don’t be. I enjoyed myself.

            He holds out his hand. Claire shakes it.

            CLAIRE
            That’s fucked up.

            ROY
            So are you.

            This gets a smile out of Claire.

            Nice. Subtle. One day I’m gonna write like this -

          • astranger2

            Not EXACTLY sure the context of that exchange, what makes it even more enticing. I haven’t been able to read it yet, but that is some banging dialogue. For something that’s not your type story, it seems to have you hooked. No wonder it received such a stellar rating from Carson.

          • kenglo

            Yup, it’s not bad!

  • Matthew Garry

    “Cake” was definitely one of my favourites on the blacklist. The writing was refreshingly clean and crisp.

    As an example:
    Scene headers use NIGHT or DAY only (and always); there’s no DAWN, DUSK, CONTINUOUS, etc. And what’s more, “Cake” doesn’t need more. Everything you need to know is put into clean minimalist prose.

    I feel Tobin’s writing style is ideally how things should be: the default that other scripts could aspire to.To speculate a little, after being at it for as long as he has, he probably figured out that anything that detracts from the story is wasted whitespace.

    As such I wouldn’t attribute the easy read to Tobin’s “style” or “voice”, but simply to clean practice and excellent storytelling. I think Cake serves as a good example of the craft, in that it moulds a story into screenplay format and makes sure nothing gets lost in the translation, and nothing slips in that distracts from it.

    That’s not to detract from Tobin’s accomplishment in writing this script; he manages to only let his “voice” shine through where it actually matters, the characters and their dialogue, which is an accomplishment all by itself. As a writer he remains invisible throughout.

    • Casper Chris

      Scene headers use NIGHT or DAY only (and always); there’s no DAWN, DUSK, CONTINUOUS, etc.

      That’s my style too.

      • http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1888937/ Rick McGovern

        Eh… most writers don’t bold their sluglines… so not sure how it makes it look more professional when most professionals don’t do it lol

  • gazrow

    Sent. :)

  • SinclareRose

    This one’s been at the bottom of my list to read for a while now. I’ll have to move it up toward the top after reading Carson’s review. I love sarcastic anger, just ask my husband.
    Why can’t passion and commercialism go hand-in-hand? I truly believe the screenplay I’ve been working on (forever now) has, both, a great concept and well-rounded characters. It may not be commercial in the sense that I destroy a city of 2 million innocent people, or have a car chase down a road that will cause multiple wrecks with kids in several of those cars. But there are still violent deaths. Right now my body count is 9.
    I love all of my characters. Even the secondary ones. In fact, I was looking at a scene the other day and realized I had to kill one of them off or my hero’s journey would be far too easy. This was hard for me because I wanted to see where he was going. Not far, apparently.
    What I’m trying to say is that I have a shoot-em-up-bang-bang sci-fi movie that has heart. It has a commercial concept with characters who deserve to be treated in the right way. I wouldn’t write it if I wasn’t passionate about it. In my head it’s not passion v. commercialism, it’s passion and commercialism.

    • Randy Williams

      I like a little sarcastic anger too. It also, however, has been sanitized and burdened with an agenda for the masses.

      Sad, when we can’t even be mean to each other with any integrity.

      Anyway, please share your script when you finish it, sounds like something I’d enjoy.

  • Jarman Alexander

    I would be indebted to a forward of this little jewel.
    J.Jarman.Alexander at gmail dot com

    Much appreciated!

    • astranger2

      Sent it. ; )

  • Jarman Alexander

    This review would play huge in psychology circles. Motivation. So simple.
    1) give characters back stories.
    2) Let their motivations come from these experiences.
    3) YOU ALWAYS GET (RE)ACTIONS THAT RING TRUE FOR YOUR CHARACTERS.

    This allows so many more options for you to choose from when writing a scene. Anger vitriol spewed at a NYE party’s height of celebration can be hilarious and MAKE SENSE if we know the character is simply celebrating another year passing with his life goals still unreached.

    Make every action MOTIVATED by the character’s past and personality. Even if you don’t end with a good scene, you’ll end with something that ring’s true to your story.

  • kent

    Can’t find my Black List Folder. Could someone please send? kentLmurray at comcast dot net. Thanks!

  • Randy Williams

    This is the writer’s blog. There are posts on the history of “Cake”
    I like that he’s married to “Joe”

    http://www.patricktobin.net/

    • Malibo Jackk

      Not sure why he thinks
      he can wash his jeans in diesel fuel.

  • Logic Ninja

    Just joined the mailing list, and would LOVE to get my hands on that Blacklist folder. The things I would do for a Klondike bar truly pale in comparison with the obscene debasements to which I would subject myself for that Blacklist folder!
    If you have it, and are willing to send it to jaybird1092 at yahoo.com, include your address and I’ll send you the birth certificate of my firstborn son, named after your SS handle.

    • astranger2

      Sent. ; )

      • Logic Ninja

        Sweet! Thank you very much!!

        • aaronboolander

          I’ll name my first born son after YOU if you can find it in you to send me the BL folder too! And this could happen. The wife and I are trying to get pregnant! b(dash)rooks@hotmail.com

          • Logic Ninja

            Sent! (Assuming “(dash)” means a hyphen, haha. I’m not sure how to type a long dash on my phone). And very best of luck, by the way–with your writing and your other adventure!

          • Bifferspice

            man, i wish i’d been christened “ninja”. lucky kid.

  • gazrow

    Have this script if anyone wants it – gazrow at hotmail dot com

    • Midnight Luck

      Please, and thank u,
      M ,at, blackluck ,dot, com

      • Mike.H

        Is that you, M Night…in disguise?

        • Kirk Diggler

          Can’t be M Night, that would actually be a good twist.

      • gazrow

        Sent. :)

      • kenglo

        I think you’ll like this one…..reminds me of your persona…. :)

    • Kirk Diggler

      I’d love it, thanks Gaz.

      • gazrow

        Sent. :)

    • http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1888937/ Rick McGovern

      Just add a link… will save you a lot of time ;)

      • gazrow

        Good point! Will bear that in mind in future! :)

  • Poe_Serling

    Even though this a slice of cake I wouldn’t have with my cup of tea, I still enjoyed Carson’s insightful analysis of the project.

    “In a testament to the value of hard work and perseverance, the writer,
    Patrick Tobin, has been writing for over 30 years, graduating from USC
    film school almost 25 years ago!”

    It’s also encouraging to see someone working down in the drenches for so long get their project sold and produced.

  • Mike.H

    Team Aniston and producer friends probably think facial scars and painful poignant back story equate to Oscar bait? They might perceive this script is sorta like The Black Swan. I wish the project well.

  • mulesandmud

    Haven’t finished the script yet, but so far the plot reminds me very much of ‘Another Earth’, which at its core is also a story of the strange relationship that develops between a very damaged woman and a very damaged widower, and the ways that their secrets and mutual needs bubble to the surface.

    Lots of parallels between the two projects, but ‘Another Earth’ is actually a sci-fi film. However, that doesn’t stop it from have the kind of intense, character-based drama we see in ‘Cake’. A very indy project, written by its lead actress, Brit Marling. Did well at Sundance a few years back.

    I wouldn’t say that ‘Another Earth’ is a great movie, but it’s extremely interesting from a writing perspective, especially in the way that its sci-fi elements exist mostly in the margins of the story, as a metaphor and a punctuation mark that reveals the emotional state of the characters, but never distracts from them. Look for it if you can.

    • Kirk Diggler

      I recently watched another Brit Marling directed film, “In a World”, with high expectations. Needless to stay I wasn’t impressed. I think she comes up with interesting story concepts but doesn’t know how to fully execute them. I watched about 45 minutes of “Another Earth”, thought the pacing was incredibly slow. Her films barely run 90 minutes but they feel longer.

      • mulesandmud

        ‘In a World’ was written and directed by Lake Bell, not Brit Marling. That’s a different beast entirely, a self-conscious indy comedy.

        Marling doesn’t direct, but has also written and starred in ‘The Sound of My Voice’, also a thoughtful genre film, and ‘The East’, which was much less satisfying.

        And there’s no doubt that ‘Another Earth’ is slow; I think of it as a sci-fi film designed specifically to frustrate traditional sci-fi fans. I’m not impressed by the directing, but the story structure and character work is really admirable.

        • Kirk Diggler

          Shit you’re right.

          Maybe Brit and Lake should make a movie together. That would really confuse me.

    • astranger2

      Since I am drawn like a moth to the flame to quirky, little indy films, I found Another Earth hypnotically fascinating. The interaction between the two leads kept me on edge throughout.

      But much of the sci-fi aspects were lost on me. (It’s almost as if someone suddenly threw bags of gummy bears into a bouillabaisse for no apparent reason, other than to give it arbitrary flavor…)

      I didn’t quite understand some of the final plot points. Maybe I just missed it, and simply needed to rewind, and watch it again more carefully — but if John travels to the “other” Earth, wouldn’t the “other” John also be there?

      Unless he is only going to the parallel world to see his “other” family alive and well, from a distance, without interfering in their lives — I’m not sure how this could work out for John — and his family, and the other John.

      Maybe it’s there for a sequel opportunity… or to keep Carson from cyber-surfing if he’s watching…

      I think Another Earth would actually work more effectively as a straight drama… without the sci-fi… the powerful elements already in play from the tragic car crash, and John and Rhoda’s ensuing affair, provide all the intensity needed to carry the film.

      Regardless, it’s a creative and inventive film. And, you’re right, while the sci-fi plot lines aren’t huge speed bumps in the continuity of the film — but I’m not sure if they necessarily add anything either… imho…

      • mulesandmud

        I thought the sci-fi added quite a bit. It was woven into the plot just enough to stay relevant, and when we finally realize its significance in that first sequence, it’s quite brilliant.

        More importantly, in this story about a woman who made a single horrible mistake that ruined her life and the lives of others, the idea of a nearby second earth where things might have turned out differently is a very powerful thematic concept, and the image of that other earth approaching in the sky becomes a metaphor for Rhoda’s emotional state.

        To me, the lesson is that sci-fi and ‘straight’ drama aren’t mutually exclusive; at its best, genre is an amplifier for drama, not an alternative to it.

        • astranger2

          That last point is particularly true, since at its best sci-fi leads into a future filled with technology already within our reach. Jules Verne and HG Wells long ago taught us the old cliche’ about our reach exceeding our grasp… or is it the other way around, lol…

          So, in Another Earth, you gave no thought to John running into his counterpart on the parallel planet? Of why her twin showed up? Or as I said, did I simply miss the answers? Or were they just left as open questions for our imagination? Regardless, for me, a captivating “small” film…

          • mulesandmud

            The answers are definitely understated, but they’re fairly explicit.

            Here’s what I gleaned: John isn’t trying to be reunited with his family permanently, but in his conversations with Rhoda, he talks about wishing he had one last chance for closure, in the way that any sufferer of survivor’s guilt might. Maybe John is still alive on that other Earth, maybe not; since the original accident was caused by Rhoda noticing the other Earth in the sky, it means that the paths had begun to diverge already. It’s unclear what our John will find on the other Earth, but the possibility of finding something that will help him move on is enough.

            In the final shot, Rhoda meets herself, which has both narrative and thematic implications. The other Rhoda appears very corporate and successful, implying not only that Rhoda did not kill the family on the other Earth, but that she is most likely the organizer of the entire space expedition from that other world; the organizer on our world foreshadows this when he calls Rhoda to award her the prize (‘you could have been me’). This means that John’s family survived; for him, hopefully encountering himself and his family happy and together on that other world will give him the catharsis he needs to move on with his own life.

            And for Rhoda, on a character level, the fact that her other self has sought her out in this way is a testament not only to what she could have become, but to the curiosity and thirst for answers that both Rhodas share, which is what brought Rhoda to visit John in the first place. So, maybe Rhoda hasn’t changed that much after all.

            Overall, a wildly impressive meditation on what might have been. Lots of ambiguity in there, sure, but those ambiguities point directly to the story’s emotions and ideas, not away from them, which makes them resonate more deeply than specifics.

          • astranger2

            Well, when you put it that way… Admittedly, sometimes I do other things when viewing. I missed a lot of that, especially Rhoda’s transformation. If it were implied in her dress, that might be problematic for my since I often and stubbornly don’t wear my glasses when watching a film.

            I completely swung and missed on the implication John’s family was definitely still alive, and thought it just a possibility. (Even if true, however, I still think it poses issues for John, as I doubt he’d be satisfied not to eventually look to reach out to his wife and daughter.)

            Still, this picture is much clearer… isn’t he stuck there, with no “return” ticket? … no matter. There’s also a part of me, that sappily wouldn’t mind seeing John and Rhoda end up together… but that is perhaps too Barbara Cartland…

            I have to admit, if you include those points which originally eluded me, the sic-fi part is a vital part of this story, adding a few layers of character arc complexities…

            Thanks for the breakdown. As I stated, I already liked the character dynamics between John and Rhoda, so may have to watch it again with new eyes.

            Oh, well, as Saturday Night’s Gilda Radner always said as Emily Litella — “… never mind…” ; v )

          • mulesandmud

            I thought it was a round trip, but I only saw it once a few years back. The worlds are sending expeditions, just to see what they can learn from each other. Part of that expedition is to bring along a ‘regular person’, which is the prize that Rhoda wins.

            Not all films demand rapt attention. However, layered drama and complex world-building (‘Another Earth’ has both) are easily glossed between Carson-style internet checks. Best keep those glasses handy!

          • astranger2

            … that’s funny. thanks.

  • ripleyy

    I loved “Cake” and yes, it was a piece of cake to read. Though Jennifer Anniston as Clare? I never thought about it before (I imagined Clare Danes as Clare) but I definitely love that choice. Glad Carson loved it.

    • crazdwritr

      Personally, I think she will knock it out of the park. Her drama The Good Girl when she was a depressed married woman who has an affair with Jake Gyllenhal, is better than all her comedies combined if you ask me.

  • http://atticofthefilmaddict.blogspot.com/ Matty

    “If you’re going to make your main character “unlikable” in the form of
    them being an asshole or a bitch, just make sure it’s motivated.”

    This.

    This is exactly why “Bad Santa” was a great movie and “Bad Teacher” was an awful one.

    • Citizen M

      Bad Teacher needs money for the boob job that will attract a wealthy man who will take care of her. That’s plenty motivation. Call me Playtex. She has my full support.

      • http://atticofthefilmaddict.blogspot.com/ Matty

        That’s an external, surface-level motivation. That’s not an ingrained, internal motivation for why she acts like that. Billy Bob was an ass because life had shit on him. He was an ass out of desperation. But he wasn’t entitled, he didn’t expect the world to hand him everything on a silver platter like she did. Diaz is a bitch because she’s greedy and that’s it. Totally different, and far less sympathetic, than Billy Bob’s station.

        • Citizen M

          I just reread the first few pages of Bad Teacher and it’s hysterically funny. So from the viewer’s point of view who cares what her motivation is, as long as she delivers the laughs.

          But to get slightly more serious, it’s the difference between what the character has now and what he or she aspires to or believes they are entitled to that provides force that drives the script.

          Whether you think their goals are noble or ignoble, justified or not, is immaterial. What’s important for a script is, do they have a strong enough drive?

          If you have moral objections you are entitled to your opinions, of course, but if we limited stories to those with morally pure motives only, the story-telling industry would collapse.

          • http://atticofthefilmaddict.blogspot.com/ Matty

            But for Diaz to accomplish her goal – boob implants as you say – does she need to be a bitch?

            That’s not her motivation for being a bitch. That’s her motivation in the story, which is fine. What Carson, and I, are talking about, is the character’s internal motivation for being an asshole. Why are they that way? As Carson says, in “Cake”: “Nina is a bitch because she lost everything. She lost her son. She lost her marriage. She lost her looks. She’s angry at the world for a reason, so we understand it. If she’s a bitch “just because,” the reader’s going to hate her.”

            That is a description of Bad Santa’s Billy Bob. The latter – being a bitch “just because” – is Diaz in Bad Teacher.

          • mulesandmud

            I forget, do we learn the specific reason that Billy Bob is such a bastard in Bad Santa? More specifically than just ‘life is shitty’?

          • Malibo Jackk

            Take Bill Murray in Ground Hog Day.
            Do we need a backstory to explain why he’s such a jerk?

          • Linkthis83

            They dedicated an entire episode to GROUNDHOG DAY on Scriptnotes:

            If you want to listen: http://johnaugust.com/2014/groundhog-day

            If you want to read: http://johnaugust.com/2014/scriptnotes-ep-133-groundhog-day-transcript

            OR — in regards to your question about Bill Murray’s character:

            Craig: He has a very brief discussion in which he says he plans on staying in Punxsutawney for about three minutes, whatever the minimum is. He hates going there. He looks at his new producer, Rita, who he’s intrigued by but yet states very clearly, “Ain’t my kind of girl,” because she looks like a nice girl. And that’s it.

            Then they’re on the road. Here’s what is so interesting to me about how this movie begins. We don’t see him alone at home. We don’t know how he lives. We don’t know anything about his life. We never learn if he was married, had a girlfriend, dog died, nothing. He just meets Rita. Her character is established as such: she’s giggling in front of the blue screen and that’s it. [laughs]

            John: Yeah.

            Craig: We don’t know any backstory of his relationship with his cameraman Larry. There are a thousand studio notes that I can see piling up right now that Ramis and Rubin decided to not do. They just said, screw it, it’s Bill Murray. He’s a bit of a jerk. There’s Andie MacDowell. She’s very sweet and nice. Let’s go.

          • Malibo Jackk

            What I seem to hear from professionals is that every movie is different. Not — every movie is the same.

            I like listening to the problems that they encounter because many are the same kinds of issues that an amateur will encounter. But rarely do I hear them pull out a rule book or go hunting through a McKee textbook.

            They do what works for their movie.

            And one of the best examples is the recent JA podcast with David Wain. He talks about the bad reception “Wet Hot American Summer” got and how he fixed it. It impressed me because I’ve heard other examples of using a horrible patch to solve a major problem — and had even used one myself in a script that had previously gone unnoticed. (I doubt AOW readers would approve.)

          • Exponent5

            I totally agree with this, as I am tired of the obsession in screenwriting with back story. Where is Han Solo’s back story? Guess what, there isn’t one! That didn’t detract from Star Wars any. He’s just the rakish spaceship-driver for hire. Got it. I don’t need to know about his relationship with his Mommy.

          • carsonreeves1

            What! Han Solo made the kesel run in 5 parcecs!

          • Linkthis83

            Okay, literal LOL. Thanks, man.

          • Linkthis83

            I totally agree regarding backstory. However, to maintain objectivity (I groaned typing that btw), it’s not Han’s journey we are on anyway. At least in Luke’s case, we only get the part of his backstory that we need to push the story forward. We don’t get his true backstory until Empire.

            (Exponent, this next part is not directed at you :)

            I would like to say that I’m personally tired of meeting all these characters who are just completely broken all the time. They don’t have to all be dark for us to empathize. It doesn’t have to be the most tragic life ever for me to invest. In fact, I can’t invest in a lot of these characters who have the most darkest/tragic/broken backstories.

            And I’m tired of everyone being motivated by death. There’s more ways to make characters motivated. And no, the answer isn’t to make it multiple deaths. How about some births. Or some come-back-to-lifes, or whatever. Stop killing everybody around your character to make us care. It’s like the go to move. I’ve got an idea, for anybody who does this in the future, at least have your main character’s father die while he was looking in the mirror, crying a single tear and hitting snooze on his alarm clock. Then you’ve got me :)

          • http://atticofthefilmaddict.blogspot.com/ Matty

            I never said we needed backstory.

            And Murray in Groundhog Day is a redemption story. The entire story is about him becoming less of an ass.

          • Malibo Jackk

            The following is not meant to be an argument
            — but it’s interesting how I was about to suggest that a drama
            would be something that needs more explanation than a comedy

            and that CAKE is a drama whereas BAD TEACHER is a comedy.
            (It’s not a hard and fast rule.)

            It’s also interesting that a redemption story suggests more drama
            — and which happens to be the reason that Bill Murray and Ramus split up. Murray wanted it to be a drama, Ramus wanted it to be a comedy.

            If you needed to answer the studio head, what would you say?
            I might be tempted to give the answer in the first paragraph, and

            hope that it works.

          • Citizen M

            I don’t know about Billy Bob, but Claire in this script is bitchy because she’s in pain and she lost her son and her marriage broke up because of an accident that wasn’t her fault.

            Cameron Diaz was jilted by her wealthy fiance who had already given her a ring and every expectation that she would live the pampered life she desired. A massive blow to her finances and self-esteem, and all because her rival had bigger boobs than her, she believes. She herself did nothing to cause the break-up. That’s enough to make her bitchy.

          • http://atticofthefilmaddict.blogspot.com/ Matty

            Okay, clearly we just disagree. To me, nothing in “Bad Teacher” gave me any reason to care about Diaz’s character, give a shit about her goal, or any of that. She was just a selfish, greedy, entitled bitch who didn’t care about anyone and would fuck someone over in an instant if it meant she could gain anything from it. The fact that her fiancee promised her some shit and someone else has bigger boobs doesn’t make me feel bad for her at all.

          • Citizen M

            We are talking past each other. I agree with you she was a ” selfish, greedy, entitled bitch”. I don’t care about her. If something bad happened to her I would laugh.

            The point is, in her universe, is she justified in acting the way she does? I believe she is. I believe the writer has provided sufficient motivation. And for that reason I am happy to follow her adventures.

          • IgorWasTaken

            Yeh. And I wish I’d seen this sooner; I could have saved myself a post.

          • IgorWasTaken

            “To me, nothing in “Bad Teacher” gave me any reason to care about Diaz’s character, give a shit about her goal, or any of that.”

            If a character’s goal is to get a boob job, but it has nothing to do with her having had a mastectomy, or some other serious issue is involved… Then as soon as we learn the goal is “to get a boob job”, I doubt anything is going to make anyone “give a shit” about her goal. EXCEPT in the context of a comedy.

            In other words, I see no way to rewrite the opening act of “Bad Teacher” so that anyone would “care”.

            Like, if a story is about a guy who really, really wants to find his lost dog because he wants to give it a handjob, do we really need to know WHY he wants to give ANY dog a handjob? Maybe in some movies, but in a raucous comedy like “Bad Teacher” – no, not really.

          • Linkthis83

            “Like, if a story is about a guy who really, really wants to find his lost dog because he wants to give it a handjob, do we really need to know WHY he wants to give ANY dog a handjob?”

            You actually typed these words. On purpose. And then I subsequently put them in quotes. Yep, that sums it up.

          • IgorWasTaken

            Or, maybe it wasn’t on purpose. See, I just got home from doing crack with Rob Ford.

            Now, where’s my dog…?

          • astranger2

            While I always think the world of your opinion, Matty, you’re only looking at it from less that 50% of the world’s viewing audience… the majority, the ones that actually have character titles, in some scripts… might disagree… ; P

          • IgorWasTaken

            In a given story, the only reason we need to know WHY a character is an asshole is so that we believe it. Believe how it shows its a-hole self.

            And most importantly, so that we believe the decisions we see the character make – that they are honest for this character.

            In “Bad Teacher”, as soon as we see Diaz’ character react to being dumped – when we see HOW she reacts – we then know what we need to know about her. We know who she is – enough to then believe that what she does through the rest of the film is within her character.

          • Malibo Jackk

            “A lazy, incompetent middle school teacher who hates her job and her
            students is forced to return to her job to make enough money for a boob
            job after her rich fiancé dumps her.”

            Just looking at the logline and Diaz, this is the one I want to see.
            And that’s what Hollywood is selling.

            Bad Santa — 60 million box office
            Band Teacher — 100 million box office
            Diaz share — 40 million (if I remember correctly)

        • Stephjones

          I think there was an ingrained, internal motivation for Diaz ‘s character. She had huge self esteem issues because she bought into the cultural credo that if you are beautiful enough you can have anything you want. This led her to making choices based on a fallacy. Despite constantly being told she was beautiful, she didn’t buy it. She was bewildered by why nothing ever worked out for her so never took responsibility for her bad choices. She figured she just wasn’t beautiful enough, hence the driving need for fake tits.
          with an actress like Diaz in the role, you potentially lose sight of how devastating it can be for someone who places all their self esteem eggs in the beauty basket and never quite measure up.
          Was she selfish and naughty? Yes. But if you can peel down below Diaz’s beauty you can see the damaged little person who makes one bad choice after another. I thought her choice of weird roomie via Craig’s list told us volumes about how the character really felt about herself. This made her nastiness more understandable. She hated herself because she never quite measured up and that venom spewed over others.

          • Casper Chris

            You make Bad Teacher sound deep. That’s an accomplishment.

          • Stephjones

            Especially since I was able to work ” fake tits” in there without missing a beat. :)

          • astranger2

            I tried, but I can’t help it… your comments were incredibly, and painfully revealing about the Bo Derek-type “10” perfection complex women are assaulted by from the media on an ongoing daily basis…

            You are disturbingly on-point. Although a comedy, it does have some deeper underpinnings about the “Cosmo” body image, and the unattainable goal of having that Hef bunny body.

            Forgot her name, but a female Australian body builder is currently doing a documentary about her low self-image, after she felt so much shame looking at her “fat” body in the mirror post-partem — then transformed herself into the second coming of Wonder Woman, ripped abs and all, in a matter of months…

            Remorsefully, later… she realized, what type of lesson might that teach her daughter about her self-image? When she grows up? — And why was she feeling so poorly about her’s? Why was she feeling so… worthless??

            Perfection complex. You probably know the story, but she is trying with this documentary to educate other women, as well as herself and infant daughter — it’s okay to have a few extra pounds after giving birth, or otherwise… and you don’t always need to apply the rogue or blush either… natural ain’t so bad… ; )

            Bad Teacher raked in over $200 million on a budget of $20mm. i thought it insanely funny — but for a film, especially a dark rom-com, to do that well, it has to have more than “fake tits.” it has to have real heart… of course it’s a matter of opinion, and though its numbers tripled Bad Santa, that’s only a financial endorsement…

            I loved Bad Santa too… but, imho, nothing wrong about Bad Teacher… ; v )

          • astranger2

            I was a little disappointed, however, after you disappeared behind mother’s skirt, when these fairly insightful comments were recklessly, and inanely, attacked… but then again, the boy’s club can be imposing. Still, however, after you bared your teeth and fangs at me, for an innocently innocuous remark, which revealed eventually an “absence of malice,” I’m surprised… ; v )

            … as an fyi, this is all in good fun…

            — but not your take on Bad Teacher. i think her superficial insecurities about self image is what drove the film… and modern glossy magazine, TV, and film culture in general…

            Any time a woman’s mean, without “just cause,” she’s an un-redeemable bitch. If it’s a man? He’s a incorrigible, charming rogue.

            I’m excessively shallow, so who knows? But I thought you illustrated some great points about Cameron Diaz’s depth, and character arcs… maybe next time you’ll stand behind them… ;V )

            Oh, don’t know if you get DTV on the Good Ship, but if you do, i’m sure you must love VEEP!!! Phenomenally funny…

          • Stephjones

            I was recklessly and inanely attacked, huh? Damn. I’m going have to pay closer attention.
            Re: boy’s club — I will concede that I thought about trying for a lively discussion on the female vs male perspective about Bad Teacher. I thought about it then decided…nah.

          • astranger2

            Well, on a more serious note, your points were well-made in a myriad of ways. Most topically on the depth of character Diaz subtly portrayed in a masterful way, and how she was a microcosm for women as a whole.

            You mentioned something or other about viewers disregarding her lack of self-esteem because the audience sees Diaz as an attractive actress… that has no bearing…

            The most beautiful women in the world, super models, are cliche’ for there lack of self-esteem — because that’s all they are know for. God forbid they have a pimple.

            Then, for that discussion to be casually discounted, and for you to to the “fake tit” joke… well, you might have as well lit up a cigar, and slapped a passing cocktail waitress on the ass…

            … just sayin’ … kind of on the other end of that discussion? The good ol’ boy side?

          • Stephjones

            Aww, I thought it was funny.

          • astranger2

            It was funny!! … from the other side of the coin…

          • astranger2

            My apologies… got too serious here… really a compliment to you, as your comments stirred some thoughts about Diaz, and how she portrayed Bad Teacher… ; P

          • astranger2

            fyi, I’m not seriously criticizing you here… ; )

            I do, however, think you took some very solid, and engaging arguments, and then just threw them to the wind…

            But, as you say, it’s not a board for discussing social activism, or that type of topic, at length anyway… most likely, and subjectively, I thought Bad Teacher a pretty enjoyable film, and therefore. was happy someone was carrying its torch…

            … oh, put down the torch… I forgot how sensitive you are about those… : )

  • http://twitter.com/RobertCornero Robert Cornero

    In regards to passion vs commercialism, I came across this poem by Kahlil Gibran (who is quickly becoming my favorite poet) two nights ago, entitled On Reason and Passion. It’s one of the most beautiful things I have ever read and speaks directly to this topic:

    Your soul is oftentimes a battlefield, upon which your reason and your judgment wage war against your passion and your appetite.
    Would that I could be the peacemaker in your soul, that I might turn the discord and the rivalry of your elements into oneness and melody.
    But how shall I, unless you yourselves be also the peacemakers, nay, the lovers of all your elements?

    Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul. If either your sails or your rudder be broken, you can but toss and drift, or else be held at a standstill in mid-seas.
    For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction.
    Therefore let your soul exalt your reason to the height of passion, that it may sing;
    And let it direct your passion with reason, that your passion may live through its own daily resurrection, and like the phoenix rise above its own ashes.

    I would have you consider your judgment and your appetite even as you would two loved guests in your house.
    Surely you would not honour one guest above the other; for he who is more mindful of one loses the love and the faith of both.
    Among the hills, when you sit in the cool shade of the white poplars, sharing the peace and serenity of distant fields and meadows — then let your heart say in silence, “God rests in reason.”
    And when the storm comes, and the mighty wind shakes the forest, and thunder and lightning proclaim the majesty of the sky — then let your heart say in awe, “God moves in passion.”
    And since you are a breath in God’s sphere, and a leaf in God’s forest, you too should rest in reason and move in passion.

  • drifting in space

    I read this on the bus this morning. It was fast and I loved it. I could totally see (and hope!) Aniston knocking this out of the park.

    • http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1888937/ Rick McGovern

      I think it’s already in post production. I’m actually meeting with Pat on the 13th or 14th. He seems to have an interesting story. Hoping to bring Dan Dollar with me, as they seem to have similar styles.

      • crazdwritr

        Think you can do an interview with him, and get Carson to post it on the site? Would be interesting to know how he kept motivated for 30 years before he got his break!

        • http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1888937/ Rick McGovern

          I invited Carson. It’s in Long Beach, so he may not go.

          But he wasn’t writing screenplays for the last 30 years. He did take a 15 year break from writing screenplays… wrote other stuff… and then started writing Cake in his spare time, based on a short story he wrote, which I plan on reading over the next couple days.

          He did have a movie made in the 90’s. And I’m not good at giving interviews lol but if anything interesting comes to light during lunch, I’ll let you know.

  • aaronboolander

    Could I get a copy as well: b(dash)rooks@hotmail.com?!
    Please and thank you!

  • mulesandmud

    Okay, read it through. Some thoughts below, plus spoilers and such.

    This idea of a woman in constant physical pain that mirrors her psychological pain, and her desperation to numb both, has a lot to offer. An impressive portrait of self-destructiveness in the shadow of grief. Claire keeps creeping toward closure, then the pendulum swings and suddenly she’s back at rock bottom again.

    The story is intentionally very slight in its shape, despite the intense emotional undercurrents. People only change in small ways, and by the end our character is only beginning to confront her real problems. The script leaves most elements unresolved, and works to create a sense of realism in that. The plot has an episodic feeling, though the episodes are always linked to the pain and the past in some way.

    The writing was certainly crisp and concise. I never laughed outloud, but Claire’s dialogue is wry and smart. I believed in every aspect of her privileged LA experience, and the script uses her relationship with Silvana to give us some perspective on that privilege.

    I did feel that the Claire-Silvana dynamic got monotonous after a while; a film so focused on the relationship between an entitled white woman and her dutiful Mexican cleaning lady needs to develop that dynamic, but they remained pretty stagnant. Case in point, for an extended sequence toward the end, the film tags Silvana out for the pot-smoking teenager Becky, who is written reasonably well but whose only purpose seems to be to throw some fresh blood into Claire’s domestic neediness.

    The Nina dream/hallucination sequences felt cheap at first, an easy device for describing the interior state of a character who doesn’t want to talk about her feelings. However, Nina’s irreverent tone brought enough personality to inject life into that familiar trope. I wonder if this motif needed another beat to resolve itself, though; am not sure that the train track scene should be the last we see of it.

    • Michael

      “I wonder if this motif needed another beat to resolve itself.”

      I felt the same way. The script is a solid read, but half way through gave me the clawing feeling that something is missing. I haven’t figured it out. Needs a stronger arc, a bigger climax, a scene with stronger resolution, it eludes me. I chalked it up to the nontraditional narrative of Claire focusing on another woman’s lose and not her own. The minimal presence of her personal tragedy is what makes this unique.

      My take away is the power of clean fast writing should not be underestimated.

      • mulesandmud

        The script keeps enough momentum from one scene to the next that we don’t feel how much it’s actually meandering. That kind of looseness can be interesting in a story, as long as it’s in service of a theme or some other larger agenda.

        Without a unifying thread, though, all we’d have here is the bourgeois travelogue of a selfish rich Angelino and her trusty maid. Claire’s pain is that thread, and it pulls us along for most of the way. Other threads, such as the Claire-Silvana relationship, don’t carry much weight by the end; try as I might, I get zero catharsis from the idea that Claire may finally give Silvana a raise.

        • Michael

          Yeah, there’s definitely a thread holding it together, but not much more. I’m sure great acting and directing will elevate this script.

    • Citizen M

      I wonder if the missing ingredient might be Nina’s backstory. All we know about her is she was scared of getting beaten by her husband. But A) he doesn’t seem to be the violent type; and B) that’s not a reason for suicide, as many battered wives will testify.

      If somehow Claire were helping Nina while Nina was helping Claire it might be more satisfying. But as it stands I see no reason for Nina to come into Claire’s life. They don’t seem to have bonded at group therapy. Claire might have been contemplating suicide with her visit to the bridge Nina jumped off of, but I never felt that Nina in any way said, “Don’t jump, it’s not worth it.” In fact, she tries to talk her into drowning herself in the jacuzzi, taunting her for cowardice.

      • mulesandmud

        Wow, I completely missed the idea of Nina being a battered woman. Was that made explicit somewhere?

        I didn’t mind that the script kept Nina at a distance, since it’s Claire’s past we’re really interested in. Claire’s initial motivation is just a morbid curiosity about a dead acquaintance; only gradually does that start to open up into something deeper. And I liked that Nina’s dream appearances were unexpectedly pro-suicide and argumentative; made Nina feel more like an element of Claire’s subconscious than a typical spirit guide.

        The frustrating part of Claire-Nina subplot is the same thing that bothered me about Claire-Silvana: by the end, the script seems to lose interest in these relationships, which left me confused about exactly what we’d been building towards all this time.

        • Citizen M

          ROY (CONT’D)(to Claire) My partner got scared.
          CLAIRE Why?
          ROY She said she felt like I was gonna bash her face in.
          CLAIRE Did you want to?
          ROY Yes. But I didn’t.
          Page 52

          • mulesandmud

            I think he’s referring to his therapy partner at a group session where he acted out anger over his wife committing suicide.

          • Citizen M

            You’re right. Drat! Another theory bites the dust.

  • gazrow

    Sent.

  • Casper Chris

    Pow!

  • pmlove

    sent

  • pmlove

    only so many ways disqus will allow you to say ‘sent’

  • pmlove

    done

  • guess who

    Sometimes dark angry people are actually likeable.

    • Malibo Jackk

      No names. Please.

  • K.B. Houston

    If you’re part of the newsletter list are you then part of the mailing list? If so, how would I go about accessing this?

    If anybody wants to shoot me the script, I’d appreciate it. k_laneaux at hotmail

    Thanks.

    • Marija ZombiGirl

      Sent :)

      • K.B. Houston

        Thanks!

  • http://atticofthefilmaddict.blogspot.com/ Matty

    I learned more from Roger Ebert about film than anyone else. Hands down my favorite film critic ever.

  • L

    There is another pretty clear reason why the story works: it follows the “hero journey” template from the “mono myth” (which us humans happen to like).