Surprise surprise. Good Script Wednesday! And written by George Clooney’s best friend, no less…
Premise: In 1832, a 13 year-old girl is forced to catch a ride on a ship to America under the watch of a dangerous motley crew. But as the voyage evolves, she realizes it is the Captain, the only man she trusts, who is the real danger.
About: I’m telling you guys. Don’t sleep on Danny DeVito as a screenwriter. The man clearly likes to write in his spare time. And this script is rumored to be his best, an adaptation of the novel. May we have found another hidden gem? Read on, castaways!
Writer: Danny DeVito (based on the novel, “The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle” by Avi)
Details: 96 pages – 2010 draft
The “What Spec Should I Write to Sell” game is like stock trading. Everybody’s looking for a hot tip. Except instead of looking for tips, you’re looking for trends. A trend, in the movie world, is born when something that wasn’t expected to do well, does well. It’s a message to the rest of the industry that screams: “That thing that nobody thought would work? It works! Let’s copy it!”
But what’s the old saying? “By the time a regular Joe hears a hot stock tip, it’s no longer hot?” The same can be said for Hollywood. Once a trend hits your ears, hundreds of professional screenwriters are already exploiting it. And these are people better connected than you.
So the trick is to find the NEXT thing – the thing that nobody knows about yet. And the only way I’ve figured out how to do that is to predict where a trend will evolve. For example, when John Wick was a hit, everybody wanted to make their version of John Wick. But the forward-thinker said, “Everybody’s going to be writing John Wick clones. I’ll write Jane Wick.” If you would’ve done that two years ago, you would’ve beaten everyone to the current Jane Wick punch.
Using that logic, I believe the next trend is going to be exploiting major genres with female leads. So I’m thinking period pieces and biopics with female leads could be the next big trend. It’s just a guess, but a well-informed one. And we kind of have that today, albeit with a younger lead than Hollywood prefers.
Lucky for Charlotte Doyle, it’s a really good script. And I’m going to assume they’ll figure out a way to get it made.
It’s the 1830s. Charlotte Doyle is 13 years old and lives in England. Her rich father wants to bring her over to America but doesn’t want to interrupt her schooling in the process. So he’s going to go over there first, and when she’s done with her semester, she’ll take passage to America in one of his cargo ships, the Seahawk, with a few other well-to-do families.
Excccccc-ept when she shows up, there are no other families. And the crew is scary as shit, going so far as to encourage Charlotte to stay away. This is a bad ship, and only bad things happen on it, they tell her. However, there’s nowhere for Charlotte to go. She has no choice but to get on this dreadful thing and hope for the best.
Once the ship leaves the dock, Charlotte formally meets the crew, all dirty grubby men who look like they have a shitload of bad thoughts plastered across their faces. The oldest, Zachariah, tells Charlotte he and her are going to be good friends, which of course terrifies her to death.
Luckily, the Captain, Jaggery, is a refined man, and tells Charlotte that everything is going to be A-okay. This sets her at ease. But only for a while. Charlotte senses that the crew is up to something, especially after hearing that, on their last trip, Jaggery imposed a form of torture on the second-in-command that was so awful, it ripped his arm off. This boat has been nothing but evil energy ever since.
(spoilers) And that’s when the truth finally comes out. The tortured second-in-command has stowed away on the ship, specifically to enact revenge. And he’s got the backing of the entire crew. That’s why they were warning Charlotte away. Cause this voyage was always about murder. Poor Charlotte is now stuck in the middle. But she has no idea just how bad things are going to get.
I loved this script.
It was so FUN. I loved that DeVito used basic storytelling principles to keep the reader engaged. Nothing flashy. Nothing overly-complicated. Just like I tell you guys. Keep it simple.
He used anticipation, suspense, and foreshadowing to drive our interest throughout the first half of the script. The second Charlotte walks on the Seahawk, we sense something bad is going to happen. And that’s all writing is. You’re implying something important is going to happen later (usually something bad) and the reader has no choice but to keep reading. They HAVE to find out what happens.
You should always be dangling a carrot, guys. In fact, you should be dangling multiple carrots. You should be implying that something big or important or scary or mysterious is going to happen later.
When you do that properly, basic scenes become nail-biters. For example, there’s the simplest of simple scenes 50 pages in. A member of the crew asks Charlotte to get something from his quarters. So Charlotte, this tiny 13 year-old girl, must descend into the bowels of this broken down ship, into a room with a bunch of dirty grungy men — and they’re all just watching her as she squeezes between them to retrieve the object. Nothing is even said and it’s one of the most tense scenes in the script.
The script also has a GREAT villain. Captain Jaggery is an awful human being. And he fits the mold of villains that I find are the most effective. Which is, at first, he appears like a good person. He seems to have our heroine’s best interest at heart. But once things go to hell, you see how awful this man really is. There’s a great scene where the crew tries to rise up against him and he just walks out with a gun, shoots the leader of the pack, tells them to kick his body over the side of the boat, and that’s that. It’s time for his nightly tea.
I also loved the relationship between Charlotte and Zachariah. I’m a sucker for the “rich/snobby” character who initially rebuffs the “lesser” character, only for them to become BFF’s later. I don’t know why. It gets me every time. And it’s done quite well here, with a few unexpected twists along the way.
The script’s one major weakness is the logic towards the end. Jaggery frames Charlotte for killing a crew member and orders her to be hanged in 24 hours. I’m sorry, but, I don’t care what tale you spin for your boss. If you show up and tell him his daughter’s dead, you’re probably not sailing for the corporation anymore.
But this would be a fairly easy fix. Don’t have it so that this is one of the dad’s ships. Have the ship be independent of the father’s business.
I expected this to be stuffy and boring like your average period piece. Instead it’s pulpy and exciting, more so than some of these 200 million dollar studio tentpole movies. I would love to see this get made.
Script Link: Charlotte Doyle
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] genius
What I learned: FIX DON’T CONVINCE. You can’t talk yourself out of faulty movie logic. Believe me, I’ve seen many screenwriters try to do it. So in the aforementioned plan to kill Charlotte, DeVito writes a scene where he tries to make it seem plausible. Jaggery tells Charlotte, “I’ll come up with another story. I’ll tell your parents you died in an accident.” The problem isn’t in what Jaggery says. The problem is in the plot choice to begin with. It’s just not believable that, under these circumstances, Jaggery would be able to kill Charlotte and get away with it. Fix the plot hole. Don’t try and convince us that it isn’t there.