Premise: A football GM finds his personal and professional life falling apart on the biggest day of the year, draft day.
About: This script finished numero uno on the 2012 Black List. Paramount bought the script last year, but didn’t want to hold onto it for some reason, so it went into turnaround. Summit/Lionsgate, looking to expand their audience outside of the 15 year old girl demographic, decided to take a chance on it. Ivan Reitman, who just yesterday dropped out of the Ghostbuster reboot, directed the film, with Kevin Costner playing the lead. Co-writer Rajiv Joseph is a playwright and was a 2010 Pulitzer finalist for his play Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo. He was working on the Showtime show, Nurse Jackie, when he wrote this. Co-writer Scott Rothman sold his first script (appropriately titled “First Timers,”) to New Line, and sold a script called Frat Boy to Warner Bros. The writers were classmates at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Writers: Rajiv Joseph & Scott Rothman
Details: 107 pages
Before I get to the script itself, which I loved, I have to say the trailer worries me a little. What was cool about this script was the grit, the darkness, the way that Draft Day for a football organization was no different than when the team was down there in the trenches fighting for every yard.
Instead, the movie looks way more colorful and happy than the script. The message with that kind of directing is: “Everything is going to be all right.” Screenwriting is about creating doubt, about making the audience feel like they’re not going to get what they want. And the writers did that. Not so much with this brightly colorfully directed film. I hope I’m wrong though! Because Reitman’s got a great script to work with.
Everyone that I know who’s read Draft Day has praised it. And it supports this new theory of mine, which is that if you write a sports movie, focus on people other than the players on the field (unless it’s a true story). Because no matter what you do with the “big game” in these sports scripts, it’s going to come off as “been there, done that,” since every “2 outs in the bottom of the ninth” scenario has already been used up.
Instead, write about guys like the General Manager of a football team, guys we don’t typically know anything about (or the Coach, in Hoosiers, or the Agent, in Jerry Maguire). Find out what the biggest day is for that person, and write a movie about it. That’s what Rajiv and Scott did here.
40-something Sonny Weaver Jr. is the general manager of the biggest laughingstock in the NFL, the Buffalo Bills. Okay, maybe “laughingstock,” is an exaggeration. But the Bills aren’t very good, and haven’t been for awhile. The one thing they had going for them was a beloved coach, Weaver’s father, who Weaver fired a couple of years back. Yes, our hero fired his own father. And as we come into the story today, we find out that Sonny’s father has just died. It’s a sad day for Buffalo.
But as Weaver Sr. would probably agree, there’s no time to dwell on the past. Not today. Today is draft day, the day that makes or breaks a professional football GM. If you don’t pick the guy your entire city is counting on you to pick, you can be ostracized. You can endure months, even years of ridicule in the press. Draft day is a pressure cooker of the highest order.
Which is where we find Sonny. He’s picking 7th today, and pretty much everyone in the city and in the organization wants him to pick Ray Banks, a franchise-changing running back. But Sonny is looking really hard at a Ray Lewis-like linebacker named Vontae Mack (for those who don’t follow the NFL, Ray Lewis is one of the most charismatic passionate well-liked players in the game). Vontae doesn’t have the accolades that Banks has, so it probably won’t be the most popular pick, but he thinks it’s the right one.
Well, until he starts assessing his day, his job, his life. When you’re a GM, draft day is the day when you separate yourself. If you can pull off a miracle trade, a miracle move, you can be beloved by your city forever. And Sonny can’t stop thinking about can’t-miss-superstar Quarterback Bo Callahan. Problem is, Callahan is going #1. And Sonny is picking #7. But that doesn’t mean Sonny can’t trade up for him.
So that’s when he calls up the team picking #1 and does something unheard of. He trades his team’s first round picks for the NEXT FOUR YEARS to get the pick. That’s kind of like trading your next four children for a brand new 4k TV. True you get an awesome TV, but boy is that going to sting in the long run.
As pissed off as his organization is, AT LEAST they know they’re getting Bo Callahan now, a hall-of-famer in the making. Or are they? With just a couple of hours before the pick, Sonny announces that he wants everyone to find out as much as they can about Bo Callahan. “But wait,” they ask. “This is a no brainer. We’re picking Bo Callahan, right?” “Not necessarily,” Sonny explains. If they’re going to pay the 30 million bucks that a first round pick is guaranteed, they have to make sure they pick the right guy.
When people talk about the best spec scripts they’ve read, they almost always say the same thing about them: they MOVE. A script that moves, that never slows down, is so advantageous in a craft packed with limitations. Readers are finicky people. They’ve read a million scripts and therefore need a high level of stimuli to stay focused. Industry folks are finicky people. They have so many things on their plate, that unless you can keep their interest with every single page, they check out.
Draft Day is PACKED with GSU. But ESPECIALLY the U. We have the clear goal – find out if Bo is worthy of the number 1 pick. We have stakes. If you screw up, your organization and the entire city will hate you (and you’ll likely be fired). And we have urgency. Sonny’s only got a couple of hours to make his decision.
That was the first genius move by the writers. See, if Sonny already had the number 1 pick going into the day, there’s no drama. They would’ve had 5 months to research Bo. By creating a trade at the beginning of the day, it gave them only a tiny amount of time to figure out who Bo was.
I also loved the mystery aspect of Draft Day – that Bo, the can’t miss QB, has a secret – that he has a weakness nobody else has picked up on yet. The writers did a really great job setting up the stakes of that mystery. They mention Ryan Leaf, another can’t-miss-quarterback picked the same year as Peyton Manning. At the time, many were trying to figure out which one would be better. Leaf’s career crashed and burned immediately and he’s now considered the biggest bust in American sports history. Sonny doesn’t want to pick the next Ryan Leaf. So he HAS to find out what other players are alluding to when they infer that Bo’s got a secret weakness. “Look at the tape” they say.
And the urgency here! What I loved about it was that we’re used to seeing this kind of cut-throat urgency in an action-thriller (you have three hours to come up with the money or we kill your daughter). The problem with that is, we’ve seen so many of those situations, that even though they’re TECHNICALLY intense, we’re bored by them. So the urgency doesn’t work as effectively as it used to. We’ve never seen this kind of urgency applied to a SPORTS MOVIE though. So it feels wholly unique. I love when writers do this – infuse techniques from one genre into another.
The urgency also dominated the story in such a way that the script practically wrote itself. You have the coach who wants to talk to Sonny RIGHT NOW, the owner who needs to talk to Sonny RIGHT NOW, the receiver who needs to talk to Sonny RIGHT NOW, all of Sonny’s potential draft picks – their AGENTS need to talk to Sonny RIGHT NOW. All the other GMs who want to make deals need to talk to Sonny RIGHT NOW. Even Sonny’s girlfriend, who works as his assistant, needs to talk to him RIGHT NOW. Because Sonny always had someone to talk to RIGHT NOW, and because each one of these conversations were imperative, there was never a dull moment.
If there’s one thing I didn’t like, it may have been some of the personal backstory. I thought the stuff with Sonny having to fire his dad was a bit over-the-top and, ultimately, unnecessary. But even though I didn’t agree with it, the writers committed themselves to it and made it work. This was a really good script!
[ ] Wait for the rewrite
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] genius
What I learned: One thing I LOVED here was that the writers looked for every single opportunity to make this job as DIFFICULT as possible for their hero. For example, when Sonny gets the number 1 pick, fans start tailgating in the parking lot, chanting their excitement about getting Bo Callahan, putting extreme pressure on Sonny to pick Bo. Or word comes in that their current quarterback, Brian Drew, had the best offseason of his career and looks like a superstar. This makes Sonny wonder, “Do I even NEED to pick Bo?” Later, people in the organization tell him, if you don’t pick Bo, we’re quitting. Pressure pressure pressure! Things should rarely be easy for your hero because when they’re easy, there’s no drama.