Genre: Drama – Real Life
Premise: When a deep-sea drilling station encounters an unexpected series of explosions, the men onboard must scramble for their lives before the whole thing goes down.
About: This is the true story of how the deep-sea drilling rig “Deepwater Horizon” had a blowout that resulted in the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history. The script was written by relatively unknown writer Matthew Sand, whose sole produced credit is 2009’s “Ninja Assassin.” When the rewrite assignment went out, the producers didn’t tell anyone that a key stipulation was that only writers with the name “Matthew” were allowed on the project. As such, the current rewrite is penned by Matthew Michael Carnahan (World War Z). J.C. Chandor, who directed tiny films Margin Call and All is Lost, is stepping up to the big time with this huge production.
Writer: Matthew Sand, Matthew Michael Carnahan
Details: 115 pages – December 2013 draft
Rarely do I get all world issues’n stuff on Scriptshadow, but today’s script got me thinking. Deepwater Horizon is about dangerous missions that require drilling into the most remote areas on earth, as they’re the last places we’re able to find oil.
Why are we spending so much money on getting oil when we don’t need it anymore? I mean, we need it, of course. But if we put all our focus into 15 hard years of solar, electric, or hydrogen based energy infrastructure, we’d be able to do it.
But we don’t. Why? The only reason I can think of is that oil and fuel are so embedded in our economy, that if we removed them, huge companies would collapse, companies so big that they would take the rest of the economy down with them, basically destroying America.
Is that why we keep oil around? Because our economy isn’t prepared to exist without it? It must be, with alternative energy having so many benefits. We’d have cleaner air, fewer wars, more harmony. I just can’t figure out how a country this technologically advanced couldn’t eliminate oil.
Whoa, that got deep. Speaking of deep, the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig has just dug the furthest into the earth of any drilling rig in history. 35,000 feet. That’s the equivalent of where you’re sitting to an airplane at cruising altitude.
But DH is also 60 days behind schedule. And the suits are flying in to see what the holdup is. They’re accompanied by Comms Officer Mike Williams, who’s about to be promoted to head honcho status on Deepwater.
Mike’s trying to calm the suits down, explaining that when you drill through five miles of ocean water and two miles of rock sediment, not everything goes as planned. The oil’s squeezing upwards, trying to get out of this pocket that it’s been stuck in for the past 2 million years. Eager oil is not good oil.
Once on the Deepwater, we meet all the folks who work with Mike, as well as the intricacies of the rig itself. And we really go all in here. The first 25 pages are dedicated to explaining every little pipe, every little gauge, every little nuance of this thing. It’s a lot to take in.
But the most important piece of equipment is the pressure gauge and specifically, the number 700. That’s the amount of pressure that the Deepwater Horizon can handle. If the pressure of the oil goes above that point, it’s going to blow. And blowing is bad. At least in this instance. So it’s something that has to be constantly monitored.
As you can imagine, the oil eventually hits the fan. The pressure blows past 700 to 900, which is the highest reading on the gauge.
The rest of the script turns into a sort of “Titanic but with raining fire and oil” as everyone tries to escape without their skin melting off their body. Throughout this, we’re intercutting with the bridge of the Deepwater where the safe suits, as you can guess, are more concerned with their billion dollar investment than the safety of the men dying on it. It’s because of this problem that our hero, Mike, may end as a footnote in one of the worst disasters in oil-drilling history.
Deepwater Horizon is like a good book. It’s got a heavy burden of investment. You’re introduced to a ton of characters as well as an exceptionally complicated structure. But if you stick with it, you’re rewarded with a hell of a survival thriller.
As for the opening, it’s not just the description that’s frustrating. It’s that you’re not really sure what’s being described. I don’t know what a “Moon Pool” is. Or what a “Standpipe” looks like inside of a Moon Pool. It’s all just a vague blob in my head, and as those vague blobs began to build up, I found myself increasingly unsure of what I was looking at.
But here’s a good screenplay tip for you. Sand and Carnahan knew that when it came to the most important thing on the ship, which was the drill pressure, they had to make it as simple as possible. An audience that doesn’t understand how the key piece of equipment works is going to miss the point when everything goes to shit.
So the writers created this gauge and they simply said, “THIS CANNOT REACH 700.” We had that number bludgeoned into our head. “700 bad!” And that way, they could play with it, which they did. Every other scene, we’re monitoring that gauge, and we’re seeing “550” or “600.” We’re nervously adjusting in our seats. “Oh man. That’s so close to 700! What if it doesn’t go back down?!”
Where Deepwater really excels, though, is once the oil blows. In screenwriting, the ultimate goal is to give the reader something they’ve never seen before THAT’S ALSO exciting. What I mean by that is, it’s easy to come up with something that nobody’s seen before. You could write a movie about a turtle wedding for all I care – no one’s seen that before. But to give us something new that’s also exciting? That’s really hard. And Deepwater does it.
We’ve never been on an oil rig with exploding engines and mud and fire raining down while running around through a pipe palace of metal and glass projectiles shooting at us from every direction. It just feels different. And that difference makes it exciting.
The only problem with the script is the one I mentioned above. Because we’re not actually seeing this thing, it’s hard to visually comprehend it. Even simple stuff like where one thing was located in geographic comparison to another was hard to understand. Due to that confusion, there are parts of the script that don’t make sense.
For example, we have the “boat” part of the rig. This is where the bridge is, which is where the captain is located (along with all the suits). We keep cutting back to this bridge while all this craziness is going on. But for the majority of the script, these men are totally oblivious to the skyscraper-tall fire spout raining shards of burning oil down on them.
I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out how you wouldn’t be able to see fire raining down. I mean it’s not like you’re surrounded by a city full of skyscrapers. We’re in the middle of an ocean! You’re the only visual for a thousand miles. Maybe this room was placed in a position where that stuff couldn’t be seen (were they underwater maybe?). But because this information was buried so deep inside all the OTHER information given to us, it was hard to catch.
But outside of that, this was really good. The script does a great job of creating a sense of dread before the blow occurs, and a wonderful job of showing the unique kind of destruction that results after the blow occurred. If done right, this could be one of those surprise Gravity-breakout type hits. Rooting for Chandor to pull it off.
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Exposition Allowance. Every writer should give themselves an Exposition Allowance before a script. How much you’ll need will depend on what type of script it is. In scripts like Titanic and Deepwater Horizon, where the intricacies of the environments are a crucial factor in enjoying the movie later on (we’re going to be visiting a lot of these rooms and need to know how they work), it’s okay to have a big allowance. But if you’re writing a boat movie like, say, Life of Pi or Captain Phillips, extensive explanations of the boats aren’t necessary. We don’t need to know what every room looks like. In those cases, keep your exposition allowance low.