Genre: Swashbuckling Adventure!
Premise: A rebel fighter is sent to the island of Jamaica in 1685 to spend the rest of his days as a slave. Instead, he becomes one of the most notorious pirates on the high seas!
About: The most recent word is that Warner Brothers wants to create Captain Blood in space with the Spierig Brothers (Daybreakers) directing. But it’s clear from this 1994 draft that they’ve been wanting to revive Captain Blood for much longer than that. What’s fun is that this was written by one of THE de facto writers of the 1990s era, Jonathan Hensleigh, who wrote Armageddon. Slap on some extra fun when you learn that none other than Frank Darabont rewrote this draft along with Chuck Russell, who directed The Mask and 2002’s The Scorpion King, and you’ve got yourself a cornucopia of script history.
Writers: Jonathan Hensleigh (Revised Screenplay by Chuck Russell & Frank Darabont)
Details: 123 pages – October 26, 1994 (Revised First Draft)
Shiver me Oscar timbers. Get me some chum so I can get over the absurdity of a Birdman win. Okay okay, maybe I’ve been a little hard on the Birdman screenplay. But while I admit it’s got feathers, it’s also got some tar. Let me explain.
On the plus side, Birdman has a unique main character, it has the balls to tell its story in real time, and it takes chances (giving its main character telekinesis for no reason, for example). These are all things that should be celebrated in scriptwriting. However, the two things that remain the most important to me in a screenplay are a good story and a set of characters I care about. Birdman had neither. It was an experimental film first and a story second. And while I think it’s important that films like Birdman get made, it just didn’t resonate with me.
So where does that leave us today? I’ll tell you where. The 1930s! That’s when the original Captain Blood came out. And despite trying to bring the film back from the dead numerous times, it’s still failed to make it to the multiplexes. Today, we’re going to look at one of those attempts from 1994 – and try to figure out why they didn’t make the film then.
It’s 1685. Peter Blood, a surgeon, is fighting for the rebel forces, who are trying to dethrone the current English king (King John or King George or something). The rebellion fails and Blood, along with the remaining surviving rebels, is sent to Jamaica, where the Spaniards buy he and his crew into slavery.
Blood lucks out though, and somehow becomes the property of the Governor’s hot daughter, Arabella. You know you’re hot when even your name is hot. Blood and Arabella develop a flirtationship, which pisses off the local commander of the island, Major Edward Bishop, who’s been trying to get sum of dat action for awhile now.
Bishop tries to kill Blood a couple of times, but Blood is not your average movie hero. This dude makes all the other 90s heroes look like Chang from The Hangover. And when a pirate ship disguised as the King’s emissary attacks the island, Blood uses it as an opportunity to grab his rebels and take the ship for himself.
Soon, Blood is roaming the seas, looking to pirate himself some treasure (taking from only bad people of course). There are a couple of problems though. The most evil and terrifying pirate on the sea, Don Diego, kind of wants his ship back. And Bishop needs to save face with the King by getting the rebels back to Jamaica.
And let’s not forget, of course, about Arabella, who Don Diego has plundered for himself. Naturally, this is all going to collide in one big galactic swords and sandals battle. Will badass Blood kill the bad guys, get the girl, and keep on plundering? Or will he experience another 85 year drought before another movie about him can be made?
We don’t talk about this much but plotting – how you piece together your story – is one of the most important factors in keeping your screenplay exciting. If you go along one path for too long (the opening 40 minutes of Interstellar), the reader can get bored. It’s your job to maximize the emerging storyline’s structure in a way that keeps things moving along.
I LOVED how Captain Blood did this.
We started with this great battle of the Rebels taking on the Brits. The Rebels lose and, as punishment, they’re sent to Jamaica, where they’re then forced to work as slaves. Then a pirate attack on the island occurs. Our hero, Blood, uses the opportunity to steal the pirate ship and become a pirate himself. Then he’s off to get supplies for his ship. Then he must save Arabella. Etc. Etc.
The lesson to be learned here is that things were ALWAYS MOVING. Now every story is different. Some stories you’re going to stay in one place. But being a sea-faring version of Star Wars, this was the kind of script that needed to keep moving from one location to the next. And I don’t think a lesser group of screenwriters would’ve been able to do that satisfactorily. I could see them taking forever before our rebels were shipped off to Jamaica. And then, once in Jamaica, taking forever before Blood got his pirate ship. But Hensleigh (along with Darabont and Russell) stays everywhere JUST LONG ENOUGH to establish that place in the story, and then gets to the next section as soon as he can.
This actually leads me to a very powerful tool you can use in screenwriting. And it’s called “the disruptor.” The disruptor is any disruption you throw into a story that changes its course. I read so many scripts that just…. stay… on… the same… track… all… the… time. The story doesn’t evolve ever, and therefore we get bored.
The disruptor throws everything off, forcing your characters, and therefore your story, to act. The original disruptor is the inciting incident – the thing near the beginning of the story that rocks your main character’s world (Luke’s aunt and uncle are killed in Star Wars). But this should not be the end of your use of disruptors in your story.
In Captain Blood, just as I was wondering how long we were going to stay in Jamaica and where the story was going to go from here (it didn’t look like it could go in too many interesting ways), Hensleigh throws in the disruptor, the arrival of Don Diego’s pirate ship. IMMEDIATELY the story was exciting again. That’s the power of this tool.
Even beyond the plotting, this was just a really well-written screenplay. I think I was expecting some over-the-top 90s Bruckheimer thing. But the tone here feels surprisingly realistic for an adventure story. I would even argue that that may have been the reason it didn’t get made.
If you look at Pirates of the Caribbean, that whole franchise had a tongue-in-cheek component that made it more accessible to the masses. This is a little more hardcore, a cross between Pirates of the Caribbean and Master and Commander. Blood is an especially worthy hero. I usually see through these manufactured “I’m very aware I’m in a movie” characters. But Blood somehow feels like a real live hero. And you just don’t see that in adventure movies these days. Or ever, really.
The only weird thing about this script is the way it’s written. ’94 was still smack dab in the middle of the golden spec days – where spec screenplays were focused not just on becoming movies, but being entertaining experiences on their own. Captain Blood takes more time describing things and creating its mood and maybe that’s why it feels more substantial than a lot of the stuff I’ve been reading lately.
And the great thing about this script is that, because it’s a period piece, it doesn’t really need to be changed at all. This could still be filmed today without substituting a word. Of course, why do that when you can put it in space? But Captain Blood could be the “serious” alternative to the no-longer relevant Pirates franchise. I’d love to know if you agree. Because, yup, I’m actually posting the script. Enjoy!
Screenplay link: Captain Blood
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] genius
What I learned: Is your screenplay starting to feel stale as it creeps into that second act? Disrupt it with a disruptor! Throw something unexpected at the characters that forces both them AND THE STORY to act.
P.S. Do you have the next Captain Blood? Enter your script in the SCRIPTSHADOW 250 CONTEST, go check it out here!