Premise: An inmate slash former Ranger gets a 48-hour furlough to attend his son’s funeral, but uses it to get revenge on the men who killed him.
About: This script sold a few years back to the production company with the best name in town – Lava Bear. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because they just produced the biggest surprise of the season, Arrival. However, the script seems to be stuck in development at the moment. I hear Colin Farrell is looking for a John Wick project. Could this be it? (Sherman Payne, the writer, is credited with some indie films, but still looking for his big break).
Writer: Sherman Payne
Details: 122 pages (6/9/12 draft)
It’s a happy time for those of us in Earthquake Land (and those of you living in that Arctic Tundra known as the East Coast). We’ve got Rogue One coming out in less than two weeks. We’ve got a Guardians of the Galaxy 2 trailer with Baby Groot. We’ve got a Mummy trailer with everything in it but mummies. And to top it all off, we’ve got Sony igniting the internet’s social justice warriors and trolls with the announcement that Amy Schumer is playing Barbie. Let the comment battles begin!
Oh, and we’ve also got a script review. Yippidee-skadoodle!
39 year-old Shawn Dianellos, a former Ranger in the Army, got stuck doing odd jobs for bad people after the war. As a result, he killed a man and is now doing time for it. The only thing that keeps Shawn going is the thought of seeing his son, Michael, now 20, once he gets out.
He gets to see his son all right, just not how he planned. Shawn gets word that Michael and his girlfriend were killed in their apartment over drugs. The warden awards Shawn a 48 hour “furlough” to attend the funeral and the wake, with the stipulation that he’s escorted by two badass cops, tough guy Sheehan and big burly Malcom.
Once home, Shawn starts sniffing around, and learns from his Greek buddies that his son was killed by the local Albanian gang, run by some dude named “Bad Rites,” named after his proclivity to turn right when he should’ve turned left (that’s a lie – I just made that up). Shawn easily dispatches of his detail, who turn out to be anything but badass, then starts his investigation of revenge.
Along the way, he learns that the Albanians are shaking down his old girlfriend and her shop, so he’s got to take care of that as well. But can he do that along with taking down one of the most powerful crime chains in the region all within 48 hours? Methinks he’s got a good shot at it because I’ve read the ending and I know what happens.
Ahhh! This one started off so fucking good!
My hopes were high.
There’s a wonderful opening sequence where we see this young couple get killed in their apartment, then we cut to Shawn, in a prison group session, reading a letter his son just sent him, the son, we realize, who was just killed in the previous scene. The juxtaposition between his joy and us knowing that these are the words of a dead man is heartbreaking.
I was in.
But the longer the script went on, the more plotty it got, and ultimately that’s what killed it. I mean we’ve got Greek gangs, Albanian gangs, Mexican gangs… I’ve seen less gangs in a Grand Theft Auto game.
Whenever I see a script that’s 120+ pages in a fast genre, I’m waiting for the moment when things get bogged down. And once Shawn got to the wake, it was one character introduction after another.
Worse than that, there were too many “people sitting around in rooms” scenes. You guys know how I feel about “sitting in rooms” scenes. You’re writing a movie. Movies need active characters. Active characters don’t sit around in rooms and talk. They go out and do shit!
There are exceptions to this. Certain genres or plot set-ups are more favorable to it. But not this one. I don’t remember John Wick sitting around and talking in rooms with people. Do you? He was always on the move. Always taking care of the next guy he had to kill.
Now if you’re writing this kind of movie and you do have a “characters talking in rooms” scene, make sure it has TENSION in it. For example, Revenge Protagonist walks into a car garage, catching his next victim by surprise, the owner. We know Revenge Protagonist is going to kill him, but he needs some information first. So we milk the tension through the dialogue before, finally, he blows his brains out.
What you DON’T want is a bunch of “characters talking in rooms” scenes where all that’s being talked about is exposition or backstory. Those scenes are almost always boring. And that was my problem with Furlough.
Instead of, say, the two escort cops hurrying after Shawn, we’d be in a motel room with them as they talked about if they should alert their bosses and what should the next step be.
I’m not saying you can never write these scenes, but you should actively avoid them if possible. And if you can’t avoid them, figure out a way to add tension or conflict or ANYTHING to make them more than just an exposition or backstory scene. Cause I’m telling you: THEY ARE SCRIPT MOMENTUM KILLERS.
Something else I want to talk about here. It’s important in these simple setups to EVOLVE THE STORY at some point. Otherwise, the audience gets bored. Being subjected to the same thing for 2 hours is boring.
But some people get “EVOLVE” mixed up with “RAISING THE STAKES.” Raising the stakes is still good, but it doesn’t change the story in the way that EVOLVING does. So in Furlough, around page 65, the media gets wind that Shawn is at large. Which means everybody’s now looking for him. This is good, as it makes Shawn’s job tougher. And we always want to make the hero’s job as tough as possible.
But it doesn’t change the story in an interesting way. Evolving, however, does, and I’m going to give you a recent example. This example kind of dropped the ball, which I’ll talk about, but it was the right idea.
The movie is Don’t Breathe (spoilers). It’s about a trio of kids who sneak into a man’s house to steal his money. When the man realizes they’re in the house, he locks the place down and starts hunting them.
That’s the setup. Now, we could’ve played this plot out the whole film. He hunts them, they try to escape. But is that going to be interesting for 100 minutes? Probably not. So you EVOLVE the plot. And what happens is that our protagonists slip down into the basement where they see that A GIRL IS BEING HELD CAPTIVE DOWN THERE.
This is a new element THAT SPINS THE STORY IN A DIFFERENT DIRECTION. That’s what evolving does. We’re no longer thinking just, “Escape.” We’re thinking, “Who is this and how does this change things?”
Now they don’t take this captive storyline in an interesting direction (spoiler – they kill the girl off quickly and her inclusion isn’t as mysterious as it could’ve been). But if they had, it would’ve been exactly what I’m talking about. You want to evolve simple stories with some kind of twist at some point, less we get bored doing the same thing over and over again.
Furlough is a script with potential but it gets in its own way with too much plot and too many characters. Too many scenes are passive instead of active. If you promise us the urgency of a 48 hour timeline, the script has to feel like time is running out in every scene. Until the last 40% of the script, the characters here felt like they were relaxing at Club Med. And that ultimately doomed the story.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Once again, concepts that have a natural built-in tight time frame are perfect for screenwriting. One of the toughest things to do in writing is to come up with a time frame that adds urgency to a story that doesn’t want it. The great thing about Furlough is we never question the time frame (48 hours) because it’s built into the concept.
What I learned 2: Familiar situations breed familiarity. Like I said at the beginning of the analysis, we’ve seen the “Sit down in a room to receive bad news” scene so many times, that when presented with the moment in our own scripts, we’re like, “Yeah, we’ll just do the old sit-down in a room to receive bad news thing.” It’s these scenes SPECIFICALLY that you must identify and resist. These scenes are “cliche land mines” just waiting to be detonated. You must ask, in these moments, “How can we do this differently?” Backing up, showing us the son getting killed, then cutting to the incarcerated father reading a letter from his son to the rest of the inmates, thinking he’s still alive? That’s a much more interesting way to explore that scenario.