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)

Brad-Pitt_151Pitt for Captain Blood??


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?

Goooooood plotting.

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
[x] impressive
[ ] 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!

  • brenkilco

    While doling out props for plotting prowess let’s recall that Captain Blood did not start life in the 1930’s. It began as a novel by the guy who practically invented The Swashbuckler, Rafael Sabatini. He was responsible not just for Blood but for The Sea Hawk, Scaramouche, The Black Swan and others. I’m sure this script departs markedly from it 1920’s source but would not be surprised to discover that the sturdiest bits of plot framing exist in the original.

    • Poe_Serling

      The ’35 version made Flynn a star. It would have been interesting to see the casting choice for the lead role of this Hensleigh version of Captain Blood when it was bouncing around back in ’95.

      Also, Cutthroat Island came out that same year with Matthew Modine as one of the leads. I think Carolco Pictures really wanted Michael Douglas for the part.

      • brenkilco

        If they had made this in ’95 I can imagine that Cary Elwes would have been one of those begging to play the part.

        Recently tried to watch Cutthroat Island for the first time. Got about forty minutes into it. Minute by minute it’s not terrible but it’s pretty damned tedious even with everything in sight blowing up. And what idiot thought Mathew Modine would make a charismatic leading man? Bad timing for the writers of this script.

        • Poe_Serling

          Have you ever seen the pirate film “Nate and Hayes” from ’83?

          The film starred Tommy Lee Jones and Michael O’Keefe… with a screenplay by John ‘Breakfast Club’ Hughes.

          Its plot is all over the place, but it really tries to capture the high energy action/feel of those classic swashbuckling yarns from the ’30s-’50s.

          • brenkilco

            Have heard of it but haven’t seen it. Have however seen the seventies thing Swashbuckler with Robert Shaw and James Earl Jones. Hands down the worst pirate movie ever made.

    • davejc

      This name, Rafael Sabatini is familiar to me for some reason, I can’t quite place it. I checked his wiki but nothing rang a bell.

  • Casper Chris

    Lest we forget:

    Carson on Birdman:

    “Does any of this script make sense? Or more importantly, has nobody told Inarritu that his script isn’t any good? I think there needs to be a system in place where production companies and studios send their scripts out to a neutral party – someone who has zero skin in the game. Because a lot of money is about to be spent. Don’t you want someone telling you if your script is terrible? Don’t you want that chance to avoid a colossal mistake?”

    4 oscars, including Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay

    • ximan

      I think he was talking about the script, not the final film. A lot changes between those two stages of a movie. Just sayin’.

      • Casper Chris

        Rarely when the writer is also the director. And again… Best Original Screenplay.

        • Buddy

          But this is exactly what Carson is trying to do : he reads the script without thinking about who will direct it. And I think he’s right.
          I read many scripts like that myself (gondry’s, malick’s) and when you read them you can feel confused, but what’s keeping you reading is that you KNOW that these guys like Inarritu, they have a VISION. so that’s ok if the script is not 100% perfect, because they know what they are doing.
          But if you and me wrote the same script, NOBODY would financed it, because it’s too strange. You know what I mean ?
          I think birdman is a good story (and film), but not a good script.
          I prefered “the grand budapest hotel”.
          sometimes the better film is not the better script and vice versa.

          • Casper Chris

            But this is exactly what Carson is trying to do : he reads scripts without even thinking about who will direct it.

            Are you insinuating that those who liked the Birdman script only liked it because of who was going to direct it?

            so that’s ok if the script is not 100% perfect

            This wasn’t a case of Carson thinking the script was “not quite there”. He gave it the worst possible rating and spoke of a “colossal mistake”.

          • Birdwoman

            Why are you so hell-bent on deriding Carson for his opinion about Birdman? Or is there no longer any subjectivity when it comes to art?

          • 21BelowZero

            Seriously, throw in your Blu-ray of FROZEN and at the top of your lungs start singing “Let It Go.” You’ll feel better, trust me.

            Get off your soapbox. So you don’t agree, BIG DEAL.

          • Casper Chris

            Judging by your handle, you need to lay off your copy of FROZEN and thaw the fuck out.

          • 21BelowZero

            I need to “thaw the fuck out,” that’s cute. Is that supposed to be an insult?

          • Casper Chris

            No. Wordplay.

          • Buddy

            Are you insinuating that those who liked the Birdman script only liked it because of who was going to direct it?
            => yes, I think they were influenced by knowing who the director was (very good one btw).

            This wasn’t a case of Carson thinking the script was “not quite there”. He gave it the worst possible rating and spoke of a “colossal mistake”.

            => but I think he was honest about was he thought about this script. If he really wanted to play it safe, he would have thought “ok this script doesn’t make sense, but that’s a inarritu movie, so I can’t say it’s bad written”.
            We don’t have to be ok with Carson all the time. But we don’t have to judge him because he disliked the screenplay that won an oscar. I’m just glad he was honest with him and with us when he wrote that it was a bad reading for him.

          • drifting in space

            Grand Budapest all day. Both the script and the movie are fantastic. Oh well.

            The Oscars are all about rich celebrities jerking each other off.

    • Citizen M

      I agree with Carson. It was a crappy script, Oscar notwithstanding.

      There’s so much wheeling and dealing behind the Oscars one wonders what the REAL consensus re best picture was.

      • Buddy

        sure ! and I think that birdman’s victory was a kind of criticism of hollywood’s bulimia for superheroes movies…

        • Citizen M

          Or maybe the voters never even watched the movie, but supposed it was about the founder of Twitter.

          • LV426

            Birdman, and his dastardly foes The Tweeter and #Mad Hashtagger.

            Holy social media Birdman!

      • brenkilco

        Oscar and near unanimous critical praise notwithstanding. Carson is really swimming upstream on this one. And it raises a lot of questions. I used to think that in an ideal world Oscar voters would forced to vote on the written scripts before they saw the movies. That way they would be reacting only to the written word and not influenced by directorial style, performance or the dazzle of the physical production. But I’ve changed my mind. Screenplays are odd animals. In a sense they really don’t exist apart from the movies that are made from them. What’s a good script? One that produces a good movie. So how can you really know it’s good till there is in fact a movie? Particularly true in the case of something like Birdman where style and substance are almost impossible to separate.

        I think you can judge whether a script contains enough conventionally satisfying elements to be saleable. If you’ve got the ability I guess you can judge an inventive plot, verbal wit, physical action. Depth of characterization may be tricker-the scene in Birdman where Norton and Keaton rehearse the scene the bad, original actor couldn’t get and Norton shows how it should be done is a great moment on screen but probably didn’t impress on the page. Best I think to stick to scripts that would likely “work” even with flat footed direction, sit com style lighting, a tight budget and community theatre level playing. Dumping on unconventional art scripts, especially when the’re the passion projects of brilliant directors, is a good way to end up with egg on your face.

        • Nicholas J

          Makes you wonder how many of the voters actually read the scripts for each nominee, or just judged based on the completed film.

          • brenkilco

            I’d be surprised if even many of the members of the screenwriting branch of the academy read the scripts. For that matter how many movies or screeners does an average member watch before nominations? There is nothing special about this group as everybody points out. That said, think Birdman was probably the best of a just OK group. Though something tells me Budapest may hold up better over time.

          • Kirk Diggler

            To me, Budapest Hotel is a postcard, it looks pretty but it’s almost weightless and what’s written on it is nothing more than wry sentiment.

          • brenkilco

            Not a big fan of Anderson. In fact this is the only movie of his where his formal, goofy, twee style didn’t grate on me. It isn’t deep. But it is charming. Fiennes is terrific. And since the whole thing takes place in Anderson’s head, a long way from the real world, I don’t think it will date.

          • filmklassik

            Wanted to love BIRDMAN, which came highly recommended from friends, family, colleagues, etc., but its charms were completely lost on me. Great actors. Virtuoso camera work. An interesting backdrop. But it played like an emote fest. And the story made no sense at all.

          • brenkilco

            Not exactly one for the ages. Engaging up until the gun goes off then loses its way. But better I think than the two masterpiece theatre candidates. Probably better than Budapest though I enjoyed Budapest more. Confess Boyhood is something I haven’t been able to pump myself up enough to sit through. I’ll just add it to the list of worthy movies I know I really ought to watch.

          • drifting in space

            Watched Birdman last night. Half way through my wife walked out. I kept through to the end but I have to admit, I enjoyed the script more than the finished product.

            The production is something to behold, but once you’re past that… it’s ehhh.

            I felt the same way with Nightcrawler. Great script, movie was lackluster, though Jake was great.

            I’m fearful to watch the Theory of Everything. Loved the script… but the track record for that is not great.

            Boyhood… no thanks on both accounts. If I wanted to film a boy growing up, I’d have a kid and buy a camera. I grew up in a divorce and one of the parents was an alcoholic… so no rush to see that played out again.

            Honestly, just not a lot to be excited about anymore.

          • filmklassik

            Completely understand your wife’s reaction. My own wife and I were ready to turn it off at the 40 minute mark, but decided to stay the course. We regret it. So much sound and fury, signifying nothing.

          • drifting in space

            She was turned off by the unsettling soundtrack, the tight shots that didn’t create a visually cinematic experience, and (which I’ve never heard her say as a casual movie watcher) the lack of character development she’s used to in “good movies.”

            So… for the average moviegoer, it didn’t land. Which is funny because she was describing things that us as fans of movies would say, and she barely likes watching movies to begin with.

            She absolutely loved Grand Budapest Hotel, though. In fact, that’s the only movie we’ve watched recently that she didn’t hate me for suggesting.

          • filmklassik

            Ha! I’d say my wife and I agree on movies and TV about 40% of the time (less when she’s menstruating) but we were both slack-jawed during this film. The gulf between the movie that was described to us and the one we were actually watching was larger than the Grand Canyon. A buddy of mine summed up BIRDMAN as “Actors acting about acting” — which pretty much says it all.

          • drifting in space

            I’d say 20-40% is fairly accurate for us.

          • filmklassik

            Haven’t seen BUDAPEST yet. Anderson is normally too precious and — to use a John Wells word — twee for my taste. But I know many people think highly of this movie… some are even calling it Anderson’s best work… and the cast is wonderful… so I’ll give it a look.

          • brenkilco

            He’s still seriously twee in Budapest. But somehow it doesn’t irritate like his other stuff. That Jaques Cousteau thing with Bill Murray I found particularly unwatchable. So worth watching for free some night on HBO. And the sleazy, finicky, sometimes noble concierge is a dream role for Fiennes.

          • Kirk Diggler

            If you had a choice between reading a script or seeing it performed, what would you choose? And by ‘you’, I mean, what would the average Academy voter do? I think we know the answer.

      • Bifferspice

        it was a fantastic script and a fantastic film and very different to what normally wins at the oscars, so that’s good to see. it clearly was never going to be one for carson though, and why should it be? we all like different stuff. i’m chuffed it won though, especially as it meant the awful boyhood got nothing. that film will be forgotten in five years.

    • Nicholas J

      You mean someone disagrees with the results of an awards show where the voters don’t even watch the movies they vote on and instead just pick the ones that are about the industry they work in, race, or Nazis? Stop the presses.

      (I liked Birdman, but best screenplay? Best picture? Please.)

    • leitskev

      Something to keep in mind: have you seen the kind of art in the art world that appeals to modern art experts? Much of it doesn’t even seem like art to the average person. Art people have developed their own world of very idiosyncratic tastes. This happens in the literature world a lot too. Sometimes books that win literary acclaim can be basically unreadable. I’m not saying that happened with Birdman, I have not seen the film, so just something to think about. “Film people” are sometimes looking for different things in their films. So sometimes bad story telling can still result in critical acclaim.

      • Nicholas J

        This eventually happens with anything. You start with something accessible and as your interest grows the norm becomes stale and so you get into more obscure and unique things that other people would just find weird. Everyone starts out watching Star Wars. But pretty soon your favorite movie is Mad Max. And then from there you fall in love with Videodrome. And then before too long you’re watching Under the Skin and people are like what the fuck is wrong with you?

        • leitskev

          Very true, but there is more. I think sometimes when people develop a passion for something it becomes wrapped up in their self identity. Just like the teen who gets into punk rock(is punk rock still around?). And once something gets wrapped up in someone’s identity they form cliques with other like minded people, and within the cliques they almost speak a specialized language which helps keep it, well, cliquey. At some point it sinks into self indulgence and elitism. In film, I think Siskel and Ebert were valued because they never fell down that trap. But many film reviewers start to sound like their main goal is to impress other reviewers, those in the clique, with how smart they are. In the art world, we’ve gone from the Mona Lisa to impressionism to crucifixes in jars of urine. I think there are equivalents in the film world, but I’m probably not qualified to bring any up.

          • Nicholas J

            Yes, Ebert was great because he typically was able to maintain that outsider’s view, and judged films based on what they were trying to be, rather than his own interests, which is something I value and always try to bring to criticism myself.

          • brenkilco

            You might enjoy the writings of John Simon, my vote for the most supercilious, elitist film critic of all time. Still alive and working I believe, though he’s covered theatre for a couple of decades now. He was very much the opposite of the cliquish reviewer you describe. In general, apart from the artiest and most esoteric foreign fare, he appeared to loathe movies, and to consider himself- he did have a number of academic credentials- infinitely superior to them. The vast majority of his reviews were pans. And among those movies panned were a fair number of certified classics.

            However, as hateful as he is/was, he’s also responsible for my favorite line from any review ever. Of the movie Thunderball he wrote- and you have to remember there was a time when the Bond films were considered sophisticated and adult- “It stands at the outermost edge of the suggestive and peers yearningly down into the obscene.” He was an idiot but he could write.

          • leitskev

            It sounds like he’s an entertaining wordsmith. But part of my point was that a review should be about the movie, not the movie-reviewer. I think people that adopt cynicism as their default are often guilty of making it more about themselves, though this is a subconscious thing.

            We have some of that here in the comment section sometimes(though rarely). For example, a lot of us will reference other films when trying to discuss a script, and there are 2 ways of doing this. Most of us do it because we’re trying to make a point, usually about how something can be done effectively. But there are a handful that seem to do this more to show off their own knowledge of obscure films than to actually try to be useful.

            I go to a website regularly called Grantland. It focuses on sports and movies. I go for the sports, but every time I try to get through a movie column I find myself struggling. The obscenely pretentious writers seem more concerned with impressing each other than with actually saying something interesting or helpful. The movie articles are looooong and yet usually say very little about the actual movie in focus. It’s more elitist wannabe than elitist, but then I’m not sure there is a difference between those two things.

          • brenkilco

            Pauline Kael was like that. She was always comparing the film being reviewed to some painting or book or piece of classical music in a desperate effort to show off her erudition. If you didn’t know the work the comparison was meaningless. And if you did know the work it was usually still meaningless.

      • Skysail

        Great point!

    • ArabyChic

      The best movie won, in my opinion. Regardless of politics or anything else. No matter who wins, the majority of viewers are never happy because everyone has different likes/loves, and thank God, otherwise it would be a boring life.

    • Kirk Diggler

      Just because you take Carson out of ‘the Hood’ doesn’t mean he shouldn’t still wear one.

  • ximan

    I’ve never read the Birdman script, but the dialogue in the film was razor-sharp and intelligent, and the film itself was absolutely breathtaking. Thematically, it was a cautionary tale warning us all that comic-book movies were over saturating the industry, and the craft of acting itself. It cut so close to the bone, I was worried the Academy wouldn’t acknowledge it. Boy was I happy when they did.

    I think time will judge the film as an indictment on the current fanboy-obsessed Hollywood culture. A lot like Sunset Boulevard indicted the fading Hollywood Megastars and their dangerous egos. In other words, I think the film will become a classic. But WTF do I know :)

    • hickeyyy

      I’m glad at least one person is chiming in here that has actually SEEN the movie. I thought it was excellent and completely deserving of the spot (even though I would’ve voted for Whiplash). That said, I never read the script, so I’m basing this on the screen, but if it is even similar, I can’t see how anyone would cite a lack of story or characters.

  • Anonymous

    I’m pretty sure the telekinesis was an expression of Riggan’s self-aggrandizement. It wasn’t really ‘just thrown in’… it was a facet of his psychological state and also raised the question of whether or not he was suffering from delusions and on the verge of a breakdown.

    That said, there are plenty of faults to find in Birdman– some seriously bad on-the-nose dialogue and the fact that every single character arc except one was abandoned in the last 30 minutes spring to mind.

  • carsonreeves1

    I don’t think I’m going to allow it. We have to stand by the rules. If things get too grey, then everything gets hazy.

    • LV426

      Too grey, as in Fifty Shades of it?

  • cjob3

    The Lego Movie had a better screenplay than Birdman, there I said it.

  • blake011

    The main character doesn’t have telekinesis in Birdman. The movie makes it very clear that he’s imagining it like when imagines he flies when he clearly takes a cab. I had problems but being confused about whether he had telekinesis or not was not one of them

    • Magga

      It’s also not in real-time even though the camera moves with near-invisible cuts

      • brenkilco

        Yes, it uses time lapses like lap dissolves and occasionally the camera will just turn a corner and its hours or a day later. Irritated me a bit because for whatever reason I thought it was going to be in real time.

  • mulesandmud

    The Oscars are foolishness. So was Carson’s original BIRDMAN review.

    Both are prone toward overstatement and often put their emphasis in the wrong places.

    BIRDMAN is far from perfect, but if every year gets the Best Picture it deserves, then you’ve got to admit that last night was bang on the money.

    The story of a fading star scrambling to regain stature, overcome by fantasies of his own relevance. How many Academy members saw themselves in that reflection, you think?

    If Hollywood were its own country, solipsism would be the national sport.

    Might as well have been the whole industry on that stage at the end of BIRDMAN, shooting itself in the face and waking up trapped in the sterile-gauze superhero mask that it pretends it doesn’t want.

    Bit of a shame that Michael Keaton got left at the altar, and that notable works like BOYHOOD and BUDAPEST got hung out to dry. Then again, who gives a shit?

    The Oscars are hell to watch and occasionally fun to talk about, but the important thing is not to confuse Oscar taste with good taste, even when the two do happen to intersect.

    If you try to set your watch by that clock, you’ll never know what the hell time it is.

    • Casper Chris

      I agree.
      But let’s not throw the elitist card and pretend that Birdman was only a hit with old Academy folks. It currently sits on an IMDB rating of 8.1.
      The Academy loved it. The critics loved it. The public loved it.
      Is there a clock that trumps those three?
      Some will say their own…

      • mulesandmud

        Ditto BOYHOOD, BUDAPEST, SELMA, et al.

        The Academy identified more with BIRDMAN than the others for the same reason people think pigs are cuter than spiders; because it looks more like them. I respect BIRDMAN, but its quality is a secondary issue here.

        And the card I threw was solipsism, not elitism, though you could easily find them both in the same hand, or wallet, or whatever. Which metaphor are we using, again?

        • Casper Chris

          The ‘elitist card’ line was not directed at you specifically. But it’s already being thrown in this thread.

  • LV426

    Captain Blood sounds like a hoot. I was a pirate fanatic back in my elementary school days. I should’ve been THE target market for the Pirates of the Carribean flicks, yet they just never grabbed me.

    A less silly PotC mixed with Master & Commander? That sounds damn good to me.

    • Bacon Statham

      I’ve never really been all that interested in pirates, but I was watching Treasure Planet (the Disney film) a few nights back and I couldn’t stop thinking about a live action sci-fi Treasure Island. A mix of Black Sails and Firefly.

      • LV426

        I remember back in the day concocting an idea that was like Treasure Island with zombies, a scary cannibal tribe, and a demon/monster that lived in the subterranean cave system where the hidden treasure was kept.

        Talk about a kitchen sink script. Or at least it would’ve been. I never did do anything with it. Although the imagery of Long John Silver smashing zombie heads with his peg leg would be a great trailer moment.

        I’m all zombied out nowadays.

  • LostAndConfused

    The caveat I would add is that there better be a hard to reach goal during that “disrupter” sequence. I remember reading a couple of action/adventure amateur scripts last year where the disrupter scene was just an excuse to get the characters out of a difficult situation.

  • martin_basrawy

    Carson, does one have to reside in California to be part of the Grey Matter writer’s group? Is it a paid gig?
    I think if, in order to claim the contest prize, one has to uproot and move to California, that would disqualify (or rather discourage) a lot of people from submitting to the contest in the first place. Why try to win if you’re unable to claim the prize? I do understand that in order to “make it” (i.e. take meetings, give pitches) it’s infinitely better if you’re already living in Hollywood, but making that move may not be realistic for a lot of people, especially those that are submitting to the contest from outside the U.S.
    So a clarification from you would be greatly appreciated. Please and thank you.

  • E.C. Henry

    “Birdman” ROCKED!!! Finally got arround to seeing it on Saturday night, then re-watched it on Sunday night after the Oscars. It took me untill this morning to GET the title of the movie: “Birdman” (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) that was the REAL life choice Reggan Thompson was facing in the hospital after he nearly committed suicide: attempt the next “Birdman” movie, or go on with the play that had been such a struggle for him. In the end, this choice drove him to suicide.

    I wonder how much the movie “Black Swan” influenced “Birdman”? To me, both movies are very similar: the protaganist is driven to a dark place while attempting to be great in Broadway. And in both movies the main protagonist is sruggling with sanity issues. I love the part in “Birdman” where Reggan Thompson is walking arround New York and ends up flying back to the place where his play is going on–and then a taxi cab driver runs out of his car and demands payment. GREAT payoff to a subliminal set-up: all along the Regan supperpowers were all a concoction in his own mind and next really existed, as the real life action in the movie suggests. Again, this very similar to the Nina Sayers imagining in “Black Swan”.

    Anyway, “Birdman” deserved all the laud it got. In the end all that matters is the end product, and this end product ROCKED!!

    • BrucePayne

      Spoiler alert

    • Eddie Panta


      …is the note on the Birdman’s dressing room mirror.

      Birdman’s daughter tells him things are happening in a world that he’s not part of. She chastises him for not having a facebook page, for mocking twitter.. etc.

      Edward Norton’s character says:
      “Stop living your life through a cell phone screen.. have a real experience.”

      I’ve watched it twice as well but I’m still confused about what its message about social media and the spectacle of celebrity ultimately is..

      Birdman seems to regain relevance through the spectacle of running naked through Times Square, not because of the success of the play.

      The comparison between Birdman and Black Swan is valid. Both performers striving for perfection, end up doing themselves in. But both films unnecessarily insert a antagonist where none is needed. We are our own worst enemy. Birdman’s NY Times critic character replaces Edward Norton as the antagonist, but her importance is overly inflated, which makes the movie seem dated.

      “Eddie” the character in the Raymond Carver story “Beginners” is a man violently obsessed with love, who shoots himself in the mouth, but screws that up too.”

      In the Raymond Carver story “Eddie” ends up in the hospital, still alive, with a gigantic swollen head, he dies three days later.

      • Nicholas J

        To me, it’s all about that saying on his mirror. What other people say about you does not define you. Riggan’s struggle with that.

        The NY Times critic is an important character because she represents that antithesis of that. What she says about his play can determine the success or failure of his play. In that sense, what she says about him DOES define him.

        The cell phone comment by Ed Norton seems to be saying, “Who the fuck cares what they say on Twitter, get off your phone and live your life. Be the artist you want to be, who cares what others think about it? Life’s too short to listen to critics.”

  • Cambias

    I think most of your praise for the pacing and action should go to Casey Robinson, who wrote the 1935 Errol Flynn movie. Your description of the plot matches that of the original. Which is a WONDERFUL thing to see. Great stories don’t need to be “improved.”

  • Eric

    Birdman. Read the script, have not seen the movie. But it baffles me that anyone could say there was no story here. If there wasn’t a well setup story, then how come I was able to predict the climax? As soon as I read the scene with Riggan, Mike and Leslie and the fake gun suicide, I knew that’s where the climax was. I knew we’d come back to it with a real gun. In the very next scene Mike remarks about how the gun looks fake. “Well, it won’t next time”, I thought. This made it clear that Mike and Sam would have to get very cosy and that every single element would have to be positioned to drive Riggan mad enough to bring a real gun out on stage. I was surprised to see him shoot himself instead of Mike, but that’s welcomed small potatoes. It would’ve been depressing to nail it exactly.

    Long story short, this is not an experimental film. It’s got experimental elements. Fantastical stuff happens, but it’s clearly shown to be a part of his madness. The ending is ambiguous in both emotional and logical ways. But the story is there. It’s crafted using all the same narrative techniques that one would expect to see in a story. Set-ups, payoffs, foreshadowing, theme. It’s all right there on the page. Even the GSU seemed accessible to me. I found it to be a very entertaining read and am shocked to think that anyone who’s used to reading scripts would be completely and totally in the dark as to how the story was built.

  • Casper Chris

    I won’t. But it has more to do with time contraints. If I didn’t care for Carson’s opinion, I wouldn’t be reading his articles religiously. Carson is an excellent story analyst. His main weakness is thematic subtext, something Birdman is chock-full of.

  • Poe_Serling

    Captain Blood

    I remember checking out this script many moons ago. It’s hugely entertaining and visually exciting to read. If you’re working an action/adventure project, this a great script to get inspired by for writing slam-bang action.

    And like Carson already pointed out, “Even beyond the plotting, this was just a really well-written screenplay.”

    No wonder it pops up so often on those ‘Top Ten Best Unproduced Screenplay’ lists that magazines and various websites crank out on an annual basis.

    • Levres de Sang

      Not being a fan of that “tongue-in-cheek” aspect Carson mentions I’d love to see a return to the ‘straight’ adventure/matinee flick. And you’re right about this one if the opening 9-line block of scene description is anything to go by:

      FADE IN:


      A FLAG bearing the distinctive emblem of William of Orange whips proudly in a sleet-driven wind. BOOM DOWN into the hell of battle in the Year of Our Lord 1686…

      Interesting that the date is not designated as a SUPER, but incorported into the action instead. Unfilmable as it stands, yet a brilliantly atmospheric choice.

      • Poe_Serling

        Or this…

        The battle is brutal. Chaotic. Extraordinary. Horses slamming into men. Steel clashing on steel. Building to a crescendo. Blood and Conner are in the thick of it, fighting back to back.

        For me, just those few descriptive lines paint a very vivid picture.

        • drifting in space

          Both are great examples. I only got a few pages in before work but I can’t wait to keep at it.

          My idea for SS250 is in this vein, which is very exciting.

          • andyjaxfl

            It will take a bit longer to read than a modern script but it’s well worth it.

            I’m writing in the “clanking swords” genre myself. Been working on the story for the past few months and I’m going to start in five minutes…

          • drifting in space

            It’s fun to get lost in a story every now and then, rather than the breezy one line at a time screenplay format.

            Recently read Braveheart and it was similar. Chunk description but you feel like you’re there.

    • andyjaxfl

      I think Cutthroat Island’s failure killed this one, which is a shame because it’s a great script! Cutthroat Island 2, Crusade & Captain Blood 0.

      • Bifferspice

        shows how daft hollywood’s approach is at times. cutthroat island bombs=people don’t like that sort of film.

        2+2=5. how about cutthroat island was awful, and if you did a good film in the same genre, people might love it?

  • fragglewriter

    The disruptor is a great inclusion in a screenplay. I’ve introduced a disruptor to circumvent the repetitiveness of my script. So far, so good.

    • Buddy

      I don’t know about this advice…the disruptor has to be used very carefully because this is also the common problem of amateurs scripts : things happens but they are not linked between them (via theme, character, plot)…

      • fragglewriter

        That is true. I’ve knocked around this story in my had for a few weeks as a way to to keep my protagonist in one place and for her to tackle the inner issues and plots. The disruptor plays a dual role. It doesn’t stop the protagnoist from leaving, but inadvertently makes the protagonist confront her problems.

  • Magga

    Look, I’m a Whiplash guy, found it to be immensely better than the very, very good Birdman, and quite similar in some ways, but let’s not underestimate what Hollywood said last night. The message of Birdman is basically “Hollywood franchises suck the soul out of artists, and even if trying to do better drives you nuts and possibly suicidal, it’s an admirable undertaking”, and the message was endorsed big-time by the practitioners of the craft. The movie may not have enormous depth, but the message the Academy sent last night does. The don’t wanna do this shit anymore

    • klmn

      “The don’t wanna do this shit anymore”

      An alternative view is that they want to keep doing this shit and then bitch about it at their yearly trade show.

      • Magga

        Sure, they take the money, we all do, but the hacked Sony e-mails revealed that they find modern movies as worthless as most movie fans do, and yesterday they told the world. If the world wants talking squirrels and trees they’ll get it, it’s a business after all, but it’s nice to know that there are still people who believe in passion projects. Of course they COULD have awarded Whiplash, Nightcrawler, Gone Girl, Inherent Vice, Boyhood, Under the Skin or any of the other movies that actually did aspire to the ambitions Birdman talked about, but in it’s way the winner was a great contribution to a better-than-average movie year in this century.

        • Midnight Luck

          I wish they would have at least given best script to Nightcrawler.

          It wouldn’t have won in any other category because it was too weird and wild for anyone. It was too creepy and kind of disturbing for the average viewer.

          I don’t think Gyllenhaal would’ve won when he is up against all these “true story” films and people playing them. i am very happy Redmayne won as he did a perfect and impressive job in his portrayal of Stephen Hawking. He or Benedict were the two who deserved to win. I personally think Gyllenhaal did a remarkable dead-eyed job in Nightcrawler, but when someone is up against a country and an industry that loves the “true story” films, sadly, you just aren’t going to get a foot in.

          But the script should have won over Birman (which I really did like or at least appreciated the movie), because I think Nightcrawler was better written and took more chances. Though I would have loved it if Whiplash won as well. Totally deserved to.

          • Magga

            Whiplash and Nightcrawler were the truest stories of them all

          • Midnight Luck

            I totally agree. Some good movies were out there, but, just like with American Sniper, I say quote “true stories” aren’t exactly very true. They have been so embellished and modified.

            Whiplash and Nightcrawler were just amazing.

          • filmklassik

            NIGHTCRAWLER remains my favorite movie from last year. And the screenplay was VERY good.

    • Midnight Luck

      They may not want to “do this shit anymore” on paper, or when talking to others in their sphere, but they don’t really not, not want to do it, otherwise, they would do something different.

      Instead, what they really don’t want to do is give up their egotistical race to be Masters of the Universe, and try to rake in the most $$dollars$$ they possibly can.

      That still seems to be of utmost importance.

      No one wants to give up their Tesla, or Hummer, or Mansion. No one wants to give up their primo spot on top of the pile of little people below them.

      The only way to assure their power and dollar and place in Hollywood, (at least in the typical Hollywood belief) is to do what everyone else is doing. Keep towing the line, keep continuing on and don’t stray too far from what everyone else believes is working. Once you do, you put yourself and everything at risk.

      The ironic thing is, the ones who really do take chances, when they land one or more of those risks, shoot high and far beyond the others. The ones who keep doing the same old thing, tend to get ousted from their place. Not that they disappear or become poor, they still tend to find lesser spots and still pull in money. They just won’t be forever known and beloved, if they are just going along with the crowd. The ones who step out and make a statement and take a risk, become legends.

      vvvv– and I very much agree with klmn below (this is what most of them do) –vvvvv

      • Magga

        I totally agree too, but there wasn’t a single BP/director/actor-nominee this year, save Meryl Streep, that wasn’t a passion project of some kind, and there were quite a few of them this year even outside the nominees. If someone asked me to write the new Spiderman reboot I’d do it in a microsecond, but some of that creative spark that made American movies among the world’s best was still in evidence this year, including in Birdman. Not a disaster on any level, and the two big blockbusters this year have been different from what we associate with blockbusters, no matter how we feel about them. Sure, Star Wars and Avenger will rule them all, but I kind of believe in U.S. cinema a little bit again for the first time in a decade. It has to improve even more, but 2014 moved the curve in the right direction

        • Midnight Luck

          I agree with you. It was a good sign so many unusual films were liked, won, or were made.

          I do wish though that Marion Cotillard would’ve won.
          She deserved that best actress win.
          And TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT should have at least been in the running for Best Foreign Film, if not winner.
          And I wish more people in America were open to seeing a Foreign Film like TWO DAYS.
          And I wish more people appreciated films like that.

          Oh to dream.

          But, again, there was some really great stuff out there last year, and that is a good turn on the curve in the right direction, as you said.

    • Buddy

      “do as I say, not as I do”, hollywood’s motto !

  • fragglewriter

    I did that, but I needed to show more grittiness of the bad guys. I’ll rewrite that later in the year since its been some distance since the script last year.

  • Malibo Jackk

    Found something interesting from last night’s AA.
    Learned that we are an “incarcerated nation.”
    And that there are more blacks in prison than there were slaves in 1850.

    That, of course, raises the obvious question
    — Why is there still so much crime?

    • klmn

      It’s a complicated question and I don’t think you’ll find a simple answer.

  • Lucid Walk

    I can’t seem to download the script. Can someone please send a PDF copy?
    In return, I can send a copy of Wars of Eternal Spring, Desperate Hours, Disciple Program, Rose in the Darkness, Smoke and Mirrors, Brigands of Rattlebourgh, or Killing on Carnival Row

    • Dan B

      I sent, let me know if it didn’t go through

  • martin_basrawy

    I see where you’re coming from. However, I’d like to hear from Carson himself. Like, is this what he’s expecting? i.e. someone from outside the U.S. to move to Cali to be part of an (unpaid?) writer’s group for a, as you call it, two year plan?

  • romer6

    This one is an easy sell to me. I haven´t read the script yet, but if there are pirates involved I´m almost certainly in. PLEASE, don´t take this to space. I have nothing against Space Pirates, nothing at all, but pirate movies are in great need of a come back and Space Pirates (rogues, bounty hunters, or the likes) are already granted a great future with Guardians of the Galaxy, new Star Wars and Star Trek and so forth. I just want a great pirate movie once more. Hell, I had to settle for Assassin´s Creed IV in my pirate withdraw (which is a pretty great game, I must confess).

  • peisley

    Birdman was an awful movie. Yes, I “get it” and I don’t want it. Jake Gyllenhaal was robbed of a best actor nom.

  • Ambrose*

    No, please. Not Brad Pitt as Captain Blood.
    I’ve already been traumatized with Kevin Costner as Robin Hood.
    Enough damage has been done.
    Have mercy, please,

    • BoSoxBoy

      Gilbert Gottfried?

  • charliesb

    The Spierig Brothers also did the “well worth the watch” PREDESTINATION. The next Wachowski’s maybe? I kinda hope they keep this an earth bound Pirate tale, though. If we can have 50 flavours of vampire and superhero movies and television shows then I think we have competing Pirate tales.

    Speaking of which, I’m not sure if anyone is watching BLACK SAILS, but I really feel like this weeks episode knocked it out of the park. The whole first season was pretty meh to me, but I kept up with it because there is absolutely no good TV between December and April. This season has been a lot better than the first, sketching in more details about Captain Flynt’s past has helped tremendously. But this week when we found out the motivation for why Flynt is doing what he is doing was like finding that one piece of the puzzle that makes all the other pieces fit. Suddenly all the hints they laid down in the first season made sense. Other relationships that seemed like Cinemax style fluff are suddenly revealed to be… well Cinemax style fluff, but also a parallel to almost every other relationship on the show. It was really really good.

    If I could take away one lesson from this, it’s don’t wait too long before you start linking your story threads, I’m sure a lot of people gave up on this show last season, and all their set up is only paying off now. Much like what we all learned from LOST, if you string people along for too long your “reveals” or explanations won’t be able to satisfy, no matter how good they are.

    • LV426

      I’m loving Black Sails. I thought season one was fine, but you’re right about season two being a bump up in quality and scope. The world-building of Nassau has been really fun to see unfold over both seasons.

      Much like Carson mentioned Jenji Kohan’s New World being a twist on the Salem/early colonial period seen from a primarily female perspective, Black Sails almost does some similar tweaking of stereotypical pirates by highlighting gay and bisexual characters.

  • Scott Chamberlain

    So… Captain Blood

    Read it right through (thanks, Carson for the script. Ah, remember the good old days…)

    Great read. Well described action. This would make an awesome movie.

    And yet…

    Not *really* anything that has not been seen before. And the main problem I have is that you never sense the main character is in peril. And, indeed, bar one token sacrifice, nobody he cares about dies. So it’s more PoTC without the whimsy, rather than spliced with M &C genes.

    Further, this is a dude without a single flaw. He is the original pirate superman. With no lesson to learn and repeated proof that no one is at risk, we come to realise that neither his soul nor his sanity nor his life is truly at take. The story thus becomes less engaging as the action ramps up and the final climactic sequence becomes mere spectacle, not spectacular.

    Now, set this in space… That *would* be a good move (IMHO). Untethering this from its period would allow for more varied and convincing roles for women – as heroines and villains. Bring on Captain Blood: Space Pirate.

  • Citizen M

    A great old-fashioned swashbuckler. I watched the original with Errol Flynn a couple of months ago and I prefer it. This version, while very entertaining, was too OTT for my liking. The pace was relentless. I felt the need for a couple of quiet moments.

    Full marks for dropping the hero in a bad place then making it worse. Also for giving the hero a grand entrance — jumping through a flaming sail, swinging from the rigging, suddenly appearing to turn the tables just when the fair maiden looks done for.

    Other heroes save the cat. Blood saves the hawk. Tells you what kind of guy he is. I don’t think we have an actor today who can pull this role off. Most of them, including Brad Pitt, are too lightweight. You need a big athletic guy who’s also intelligent and devil-may-care. Ideal for an older generation actor like Errol Flynn.

    The action paragraphs are wordier than modern scripts, so it read a little slower. But the fight scenes were well described. A two-minute fight takes two pages. Even though it might get choreographed differently in the final movie, I believe you need to write a fight scene to take up the pages.

  • bluedenham

    Carson, you should check out Black Sails on Starz. Fabulously well done show. A lesson in screenwriting just watching it. And the ship sequences are off the hook.

  • Fistacuffs

    Telekinesis for no reason? I guess Carson just didn’t get that part of the script.