Genre: Romantic Comedy
Premise: A married man on the verge of a mid-life crisis decides to have an affair which leads him to the age-old question: Is the grass really greener on the other side?
About: This script finished on the low end of the 2014 Black List. Abraham Higginbotham, the writer, is a well-known TV scribe, who’s written for Modern Family, Ugly Betty, and Arrested Development. He received his big break by writing a spec script for Will and Grace.
Writer: Abraham Higginbotham
Details: 123 pages
As I pondered life’s important questions this morning – Will my annual Thanksgiving trip to Portland end in rioting? What is a Supermoon and has Hollywood optioned the rights yet? Why doesn’t In and Out offer a chicken sandwich? And finally, why does “Supermoon and The Chicken Sandwich” sound like a movie that could make 200 million in its sleep? – I remembered that I hadn’t posted a review on the site yet.
So I broke open Everybody Wants Everything, a script that sounded funzilla, and despite its 120+ page run time, finished it quickly. The script met expectations. I liked it. However, one issue kept popping up as I read it: This feels more like a TV show than it does a movie. So I looked up Abraham Higginbotham and, lo and behold, it turns out he’s a well-known TV writer.
What does that mean, exactly? A script that feels more like a TV show than a movie? And how do you, young scribe, avoid making the same mistake? Stick around after the plot breakdown to find out!
40 year-old Theo works at one of those cringe-inducing men’s magazines where he’s starting to doubt every choice in life that has led him here. His love-life, however, is a different story. Theo’s met an amazing girl named Jesse, and the two are going on their first date tonight.
There’s that palpable first-date energy in the air when the two meet, and things seem to be going well until our storyteller (a disembodied narrator) backs up a few days and lets us in on some key info: Both Theo and Jesse are married to other people.
The two are hyper-aware that what they’re doing is wrong. But they’re consumed with the question that everyone in a marriage or relationship asks themselves at some point: Am I with the right person? Could someone outside of my relationship be my true soul mate?
What follows is Theo and Jesse mostly trying to avoid each other. But the more their partners’ faults shine through (Theo’s wife is a workaholic and Jesse’s husband refuses to get a job), the more they think about each other. And it wouldn’t be a movie if they didn’t give it a go. So go they do. To, um, uncertain consequences.
Like I said, I enjoyed Everybody Wants Everything. The dialogue is funny and a lot of the situations are funny (my personal favorite is Jesse’s harmless therapist who’s secretly in love with her always wanting to talk about her sex life) and, overall, it leaves you with that nice warm feeling you want to have when finishing a romantic comedy.
But while reading, it became clear to me why we don’t see these movies in the theater anymore.
The rule with feature writing has always been that you have to give the audience something they can’t get with television. Television is free. So if, like television, all you’re offering is a bunch of talking heads, you’re saying, “Come pay for something you can get for free!” People don’t sign up for that.
Especially since there’s 400 freaking television shows now. I can see everything I saw here by watching four episodes of “Casual” on Hulu. And the production value of television has only gotten better. Westworld looks like a movie. So does Walking Dead. So now, not even mid-range productions look like something you can only get in the theater.
This is why comic book movies have become so popular. You cannot get The Avengers on your television. The actors are too big. The effects are too big. The production value is too big.
Why do you think they send James Bond to 70 different countries nowadays? Because with shows like Alias and The Americans, not even a basic spy film is enough anymore. You have to show us something we can’t get anywhere else. So the Bond production pays to take you to the most exotic locations in the world.
So the answer to the question I posed earlier is: If all you’re giving us is talking heads, that’s not big enough for a movie theater anymore. A unique concept (Me Before You) will help. But it’s still a long shot (remember, Me Before You only got made because it was a best-selling novel). If talking heads is your game, I recommend you try and direct the movie yourself. That’s the one advantage of talking heads. They’re cheap to shoot. But to throw that script in Hollywood’s shark infested spec waters? Good luck.
With that said, I liked how Everybody Wants Everything played around with formula. We have a disembodied narrator casually commenting on the events of our two protagonists.
Oh, and the script is a good example of the power of withholding information. Remember that there’s no rule you have to tell your story in order. I liked how Higginbotham introduced us to these characters, put them on the date, then right in the middle of the date, backed up to tell us they were married to other people.
I realized that had I already known they were married, the story would’ve felt bland and predictable. Establishing that these were good kind people, and then, BAM, we find out they’re doing a bad thing. That was a powerful use of withholding information.
Everybody Wants Everything is also a good example of FRAMING a story. “Framing” is when you don’t have a traditional story engine with a goal (Find the Ark, Get off Mars, Kill the Terrorist) but instead, the story is more about the characters – in this case: will they end up together or not?
When you have this setup, you can risk it and hope that the audience only cares about that. But I’ve found that audiences like to know when things are going to end. They need something to FRAME the story for them. Or else they feel like they’re on a road trip with no destination.
So Higginbotham uses Theo’s brother’s wedding to FRAME the story. It’s a background storyline. It’s not important in the grand scheme of things. But it gives us a destination. We know we’re going to end up at that wedding in the final act, so we can relax and enjoy the characters in the meantime.
So, yeah. This script was fun and it does some interesting things. But it’s a hard sell to get into production unless they luck out and get a few huge name actors. We’ll see!
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Everything we’ve talked about in this review is why finding a high concept is so important. It’s not just that you have to stand out in this business. You’re trying to convince producers that your idea is something that the average consumer doesn’t get by staying at home and watching television. A unique concept does that. Ultimately, you’re writing a movie that you’re trying to convince someone to block out 3-4 hours of their valuable time for to pay to see. Really think about that. There are hundreds of thousands of hours of free content online right now that you won’t even bother with. AND IT’S FREE AND DOESN’T REQUIRE YOU TO MOVE AN INCH! What is it about your idea that makes it “leave the house and pay for it worthy?”