Sorry. Extremely busy day. Can’t post a new review. So here’s the Landis review from my newsletter!
Premise: A former astronaut dives deep into the ocean in an attempt to journey to the lowest point on earth, only to find that there may be other things on the bottom of the sea that don’t share his enthusiasm for record-setting.
About: This script recently sold for seven figures to MGM with Bradley Cooper attached. It was originally sent out to studios last year but didn’t get any bites. That changed when Landis sold his script, Bright, to Netflix for 3 million dollars. Speaking of bright, Landis has been the only bright spot on the spec sale landscape lately, leaving many writers desperately trying to figure out what his secret formula is. No better time to get into that than the present!
Writer: Max Landis
Details: 89 pages
The way I see it, Max Landis is the poster child for millennial screenwriting. His social media savvy and fearlessness in attacking pop culture has allowed him to rise above writers who – some would argue – are more talented than him. You could say that he’s the Kardashian of screenwriters. He sells scripts because he sells scripts.
Another millennial trait that defines Landis is the way he works. Millennials are used to getting what they want RIGHT NOW. If they want to go somewhere and they don’t have a car, they get an uber. If they’re hungry for their favorite food but don’t want to get off their couch, they tap up Grubhub. And when Max Landis gets an idea, he writes it – RIGHT NOW. According to Landis, Deeper was written in six hours (spread out over a couple of days). I’m not kidding.
Landis has a history of writing scripts fast. He wrote 60 pages of his recent digital release, Mr. Right, one morning while in bed with his girlfriend. He claims to have written 20 scripts before he turned 20, and I believe his script count is currently north of 80 (although I wouldn’t be surprised if it was higher). Max Landis writes scripts. And he writes them very very fast. He doesn’t outline. He doesn’t believe in screenwriting theory. He just gets an idea and writes it. Which is a nice segue into what we get in today’s script.
30-something Eddie Breen is a former astronaut who lost his job due to something bad happening, information we’re not privy to. Suffice it to say, he’s depressed. Which is probably why he takes this latest job – navigating a one-man submarine down the Ni’hil Trench, which is the deepest part of the ocean.
His goal? To reach the lowest point on earth. Why? Because why not? He’s also going to live-stream his adventure. Why? Because why not! So he hops in his little submersible, starts going down… and that’s when things get fucked. Around 4000 feet he spots a group of 50 divers playing around. A hallucination, we think? Nope, his control boat up top says they’re getting the same video feed!
Most people would stop there and try to figure that shit out. But remember, we gotta keep going deeper, man! And as we do, we learn that somewhere around this area, a famous French woman named Marion lost her ship to the sea. When Eddie eventually comes upon the shipwreck, he sees all of the ship’s crew, all ghosty and disgusting, hanging out on the ship waving to him. Uhhhh, that’s not good. But we need to go deeper! So Eddie keeps going.
Eventually, Eddie makes it to the bottom of the sea, where he finds a house. No, I’m not kidding. In the house is Marion, and she’s alive – or thinks she’s alive – and when a screw in the sub gets loose, he asks Marion to bring him a wrench so he can fix it. She doesn’t think she’ll be able to – seeing as they’re at the bottom of the ocean and all – but he’s very persuasive and she eventually comes over.
Eddie fixes the loose screw and back up they go. When they get to the top, Eddie pops out, tells his story, and as if on cue, Marion pulls herself out as well! As in WTF?? The crew is shocked. They don’t know how to handle this bizarre event, which is okay because it’s the end of the movie. Cut to black.
Okay, look, I can go on for days about this script’s problems, but the truth is, they all come back to the same thing. The script was written too fast. Every mistake is clearly a “this was written too fast” mistake. For example, if a control boat has confirmation that 4000 feet down, you’ve just discovered a band of mer-men, they’re going to get people out here immediately and look into this school of man-maids.
There are dozens of issues like that. But instead of getting into all of them, let’s highlight what Landis did right. First of all, he picked a great story for a spec screenplay. This is actually a huge talent Landis has. He understands that spec screenplays need a hook, they need to be splashy (no pun intended), and they need to move fast. A trip to the bottom of the ocean that’s going to take a couple of hours is perfect for the spec screenplay format.
And Landis does make some interesting choices along the way. For example, the surprise divers. 95% of screenwriters would’ve had the control boat up-top claim that “we aren’t seeing anything.” To have them confirm what he was seeing was a completely unexpected development. Now it was never paid off. But I was genuinely surprised he went there.
After that, things begin to fall apart. There wasn’t any consistency in the things Eddie was seeing. At first it’s a strange group of divers playing around in the ocean. Then we see disgusting zombie-sickly ghosts. Then we see Marion, who looks completely normal. Are people ghosts, normal, mer-men? What’s up??
This leads to Landis’s biggest weakness. Once the reader realizes he doesn’t have a plan – that he’s just making all this up as he goes along and has no desire to patch up the holes through rewrites, you stop believing in the story. You feel like, “Well you clearly didn’t invest a lot of time in this. So why am I obligated to?”
To this, you’re probably asking the inevitable question: If this isn’t any good, how did he sell it? And how did he sell Bright? And how did he sell any of his scripts? Well, I do think there’s a big lesson to learn from Max Landis that answers these questions.
Create content and get it out there.
While I don’t advocate turning an idea that just popped into your head into a fully formed screenplay by lunch time, there’s something to be said about a writer’s obsessive desire to write as much as possible. Contrary to popular belief, Landis didn’t start selling scripts the second he complained about Superman on Twitter. He’s been sending scripts out for a decade. And for six of those years and dozens of those scripts, everyone told him to fuck off.
But he kept writing and he kept sending stuff out. And as his stuff started getting better, people started to option it. And as people saw that others were giving him a shot, he started getting sales.
That’s something we don’t talk about a lot here. People in Hollywood are terrified to pull the trigger on unproven writers. But if they see someone else take a chance on a writer, they feel better about taking one themselves. And that opportunity only came for Landis because he created SO MUCH CONTENT. He kept churning it out and sending it out, and it got to the point where, out of sheer volume, some of it began hitting.
What we’re seeing now is the next iteration of that. Because he’s been selling specs regularly since Chronicle, because everybody knows who he is in part due to his social media presence, his scripts have gained more weight and their prices have gone up. But remember, this doesn’t happen if he wasn’t obsessively writing and obsessively pushing product out for years. You have to keep in mind that Landis has been told no on dozens of his screenplays.
Think about that. I know writers who quit after one of their scripts went wide and no one liked it. Max Landis would’ve never made a 3 million dollar sale if he approached the business that way.
When you think about it, Landis has exploited the system’s one loophole. What is the most common response you get when you send out a screenplay? It’s “no.” Even if people like the script, it’s often “no.” Hollywood is a numbers game. You need to get a bunch of nos before you get your ‘yes.’ So Landis came up with a solution. He sped up the “nos.” He pushed tons of product out to get to the “yes” faster.
So that’s the best lesson I can make of this. The more product you create and the more product you deliver, the quicker you’re going to get your ‘yes.’ That doesn’t mean write a bunch of 6 hour scripts. But it also doesn’t mean you should wait forever to make your script perfect. =
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: At the bottom of the ocean, Eddie and Marion get into some deep philosophical discussions. Whenever characters get into philosophical discussions, it’s usually an indication that your plotting/structure is weak. Your story should always be moving somewhere, your characters always pushing towards something. When there’s nothing to push towards, writers aren’t sure what to do. So they turn to meaningless dialogue to fill up space. Since normal dialogue is boring, they think if they add a philosophical element to it, it will be more interesting. Cause, they’re like, talking about serious shit, man. There are exceptions to this, of course. But in instances like this, it’s clearly a space-filler. Make sure in your script, if your characters are having philosophical discussions, that they aren’t doing so just to fill up space.