Genre: Thriller/Drama
Premise: (from Black List) After negligently killing a hunter with their patrol car, an alcoholic Sheriff’s Deputy and her superior officer must decide what to do with the only witness to their crime – a death row inmate only days from execution.
About: Today’s script double-dipped into Script Paradise finishing on the 2015 Black List with 11 votes AND winning a 2015 Nicholl Fellowship. It is the breakthrough screenplay for Andy Friedhof.
Writer: Andy Friedhof
Details: 116 pages (Oct. 2014 draft)

Screen Shot 2017-07-19 at 9.17.40 AM

Elias Koteas for Stan?

Yesterday, someone in the comments section said (paraphrasing): “I don’t get it Carson. This script sold and yet the entire review is about how it’s not good. Shouldn’t you be telling us why the script sold?”

Over the years, I’ve learned that you don’t know for sure why a script sold unless you talk to the production company that bought it. For example, a lot of script purchases come through relationships between the company and the writer. Often what will happen is a prodco and a writer will spitball ideas, the prodco will say, “Hmm, that’s something we’d like to make,” – the writer will then write it on spec, and the prodco will then buy it – EVEN THOUGH THE SCRIPT ISN’T IN GREAT SHAPE YET.

To someone judging that script on merit alone, the sale will be confusing. “That script wasn’t very good,” they’ll say. What they don’t know is that the prodco wants to make that movie and will therefore continue to develop the script until it’s at a place that they like.

This is why I like the Black List. For all of its weaknesses, it’s still a system where I know it wasn’t just one guy at a production company who endorsed the screenplay. It’s 10, 15, 20, 30 people. That consensus usually (not always, but usually) means you’re going to read a quality script.

And not only did today’s script impress 11 industry vets, it also beat out 7000 other screenplays to win the Nicholl. Let’s see what this puppy is all about!

Sergeant Stan Gittany is in his 50s and bitter as fuck. While no one else would agree with him, Stan believes he’s awesome. And he’s pissed off he’s been passed over again and again in life, leaving him as some second rate Sheriff wannabe, teamed up with wet blanket deputies like 30-something Josie Deumann.

That said, Stan’s got a fairly big job tonight. He and Josie are transporting convicted killer Bernie Houle – a Chippewa Indian who’s looked at by most as a dangerous lunatic – to the jail where he’s going to be executed in three days.

During the late night drive, Stan and Bernie get into an argument, causing him to lose focus and hit a hunter crossing the road. Stan and Josie freak out, thinking they’ll get at least two years for vehicular homicide if anyone finds out about this.

But the real complication is that Bernie saw the whole thing. Even if they ditch the hunter’s body, Bernie will squeal the second they get to jail. So Stan comes up with a plan. Ditch the hunter’s body. Then hide Bernie at Kyle’s cabin (Josie’s brother) and tell the authorities he escaped when they hit a deer.

Sheriff Tom Docherty comes in and immediately orders a manhunt for the “escaped” Bernie while Stan, Josie, and Kyle try and figure out what to do with killer. Then Stan comes up with an idea. What if they executed him here? In the cabin? The same time, same manner, same drugs – They simply become the executioners.

The other two aren’t into it but they figure as long as it gets this problem out of the way, so be it. It will now be up to Sheriff Docherty to discover the ruse and get to the cabin in time before our culprits can become the world’s first independent Death Row.

I really liked this setup.

One of the things you’re constantly looking for as a reader is when writers elevate or evolve common setups.

Great Falls could’ve easily been two cops in a car who hit a hunter and try to get away with it. By adding this wild-card third variable – a killer on the way to be executed – it adds an entirely new dynamic to the story. It’s the “strange attractor,” we always talk about that makes the script unlike anything else out there.

So at this point, I was all in. A ticking-clock thriller where three people must figure out what to do with a notoriously dangerous killer. Setups don’t get much better than that.

However, Friedhof then makes an unexpected choice.

He ditches the thriller angle to focus on the moral one. Namely – Do human beings have the right to kill other human beings?

This is a fascinating question that could be debated ad nausea. I’ve had many arguments about it with friends over the years.

But DRAMATICALLY, the choice is risky. You’re asking the audience to hope three people are stopped before they’re able to put down a murderer. And not just any murderer, a convicted murderer who’s been scheduled to die on that day anyway.

Let me make this clear. If this were real life, I’d have conflicted feelings over this. But this isn’t real life. It’s a movie. And in a movie, things need to work DRAMATICALLY. Dramatically speaking, why do I care whether a terrible man is saved or not? You have to give me a reason to want him to be saved.

However, the thing about Great Falls is it never stops changing. It’s like a cell that keeps mutating. Just when I set myself up for THAT storyline, the execution is botched, Stan is eliminated from the picture, and now it’s just Josie, Kyle, and Bernie who are left. And there’s still 40 pages to go. What now??

If Great Falls has a strength, that would be it. YOU. DON’T. KNOW. WHAT’S. COMING. NEXT. Every time I was like, “Oh, it’s THAT kind of movie,” it would turn into another kind of movie.

Its other big strength is why it won the Nicholl. There’s character development up the wazoo (the Nicholl loves itself some character development!). Josie’s got a dementia-ridden mother she doesn’t have time to take care of. Kyle was in prison for six years for stealing cars. Stan’s been passed over all his life for being a screw-up.

Great characters are characters who are unsettled inside. They’re battling something, whether it be something in the past (a mistake they made), the present (an addiction they can’t kick), the future (how do they take care of their family if that pension doesn’t come through). A character who’s at peace with himself is not an interesting character.

When you scoop that up and smother it on top of an original plot like this one, you’re going to get contests excited. My excitement, however, kept vacillating back and forth. I’d love this script, then lose interest, then love it again, then lose interest. I’m still not sure if all the pieces come together but I’ll say this – it’s an incredibly original read. If you like not knowing what’s coming next, Great Falls is for you.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: So you know how I said above “a character who’s a peace with himself is not an interesting character?” Bernie was the one character in Great Falls at peace with himself. And guess who was the weakest character? Bernie. He admitted to his crime. He seemed relaxed the whole story. I believe this script can jump to the next level if Bernie is more of a wild-card. In this draft, he’s way too passive.

  • Poe_Serling

    Thanks for the review, Carson!

    • brenkilco

      The moral angle also reminds me of that Polanski three hander Death and The Maiden where Sigourney Weaver and her husband sit around trying to decide whether to kill possible war criminal Ben Kingsley.

      • JasonTremblay

        Or the play and movie Extremities where three women discuss killing their attempted rapist.

    • klmn

      Just checked out the trailer. Looks like fun.

  • Justin

    Hmm… Lots of helpful points in this. “The unexpected.” Interesting.

    • Scott Crawford

      Fuck that… how’s YOUR script coming along? How far are you from being AOW-ready?

      • Justin

        Currently on page 80. I think I’ll hit page 92 – 95 by the time I finish — maybe even 100. Turns out I had lots of scenes that I left out.

        But even after I finish this draft, I still have lots of things that I need to reconsider and work on. It might be weeks before it’s even close to being ready. The third Act is turning out to be quite the problem for me.

        On the plus side, I’m really loving how it’s coming along.

  • klmn

    Is this Great Falls, Montana that the story is set in?

    • Scott Crawford

      Know the area, klmn?

      • klmn

        The reason I’m asking is that C’s review raised a couple of red flags.

        In America, convicts are normally executed in state prisons, not in jails (which are run by counties).

        Also, convicted murderers sit on death row for years as the appeal process goes on. When the legal process runs it’s course, the prisoners walk to the room where they’re executed.

        So, if this is America, it’s hard for me to envision a county deputy being involved.

        The Chippewa tribe is also present in Canada. But the death penalty has been abolished there. So, it couldn’t be present day Canada. (Checking Wikipedia, it says the last execution in Canada did take place at a jail in 1962).

        • brenkilco

          Good point. The prisoner would have been on death row for years, if not decades, and in the same facility as the execution chamber. In most states prisoner transport is handled by state marshals who also handle court house security.

        • JasonTremblay

          Can’t be Canada. The last thing we call members of First Nations in 2017 is “Indian.”

        • peisley

          Their taking the execution into their own hands also baffles me. Why? wouldn’t it be “better” just to shoot him and bury the body?

          • GoIrish

            Dr. Evil: No no no, I’m going to leave them alone and not actually witness them dying, I’m just gonna assume it all went to plan. What?
            Scott Evil: I have a gun, in my room, you give me five seconds, I’ll get it, I’ll come back down here, BOOM, I’ll blow their brains out!

        • UPB13

          Yep, I couldn’t get past that. It makes no sense whatsoever. There’s dramatic license and then there’s absurdly far-fetched. Even if it’s some kind of weird crazy situation where the guy isn’t sitting on death row, you’re going to entrust this drive to a sheriff? No, dude’s going to be part of a prison transfer in a nice big van. Doesn’t pass the smell test, unless Montana doesn’t act like the rest of the U.S.

        • jelewis8

          I had the same immediate thought. The whole concept hinges on the accidental killing of the hunter and the convicted murderer witnessing it. So, to salvage the concept, you could have it start in the middle of a manhunt for the murderer. They capture him–they’re on the way back, maybe celebrating capturing this dude–when BAM—they run into the hunter, killing him. NOW the rest of the story could work (of course, getting rid of the upcoming execution subplot, but that’s easily replaceable with something else, and you could still have them deciding to execute the prisoner.

  • Scott Crawford

    For those who don’t have the script and want it, you can find it HERE:

    https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0BybNvm-CX6dkSEVxWG83dHlzanc

    Yesterday’s script, Courage, proved remarkably popular (it’s my general experience that Carson has to give a script at least a Worth the Read for lots of people to want to read it). I think it was the concept plus it was sci-fi, and a lot of people like sci-fi.

  • shewrites

    I love the concept. I can see a couple of ways to make it even tastier.
    What if Bernie were framed for the crime he was sentenced for and Stan knows it? And/or Josie is against the death penalty and sees this opportunity as letting Bernie go in exchange for his keeping his mouth shut about the accident?

  • klmn
    • Scott Crawford

      Oh… I thought when you said Hellpig news the writer had shown up.

      Still… going after a an 800 lb hog with just a thirty-eight… either brave or stupid.

      • klmn

        You use what you got.

        • BMCHB

          Dog Vs Hog Vs… Log!

          SyFy’s gonna have to buy that.

  • Sean Reardon

    I was so liking this…until…”He ditches the thriller angle to focus on the moral one. Namely – Do human beings have the right to kill other human beings?”

    • http://insideechenrysbrain.typepad.com/inside_the_brain_of_ec_he/ E.C. Henry

      TRY to remember, the Coen brothers “No Country for Old Men” suffered a similar problem with all the b.s. that whiny-little-bitch dialog that Tommy Lee Jones’ WASTED screentime with. YET, in the places where that movie shined it did so brightly that it won best picture…

      • hickeyyy

        I’d argue Tommy Lee Jones is the protagonist of the story. Not sure how he’s considered a ‘whiny little bitch’ at all.

        • http://insideechenrysbrain.typepad.com/inside_the_brain_of_ec_he/ E.C. Henry

          For the most part Tommy Lee Jones’ character takes away from the GREAT action between Lwellyn Moss and Anton Chigurh’s fireworks, which IS the best part of movie.

          If you responded to Tommy Lee Jones’ character’s heavy-handed, long-winded spiels that’s on you. To each his own. I did not. I thought his screentime took away from time better sent with those two INFINIITELY more interesting characters: Lwellyn and Anton.

          • hickeyyy

            Sounds like we just have a different opinion on the how interesting he is.

            He’s an old school cop who feels overwhelmed by a new breed of criminal (Chigurh) who is nothing like he’s ever seen, and it makes him contemplate giving up his life’s dedication.

            I find that more interesting than a dude who debates whether to keep a briefcase of cash.

            While the explosions and gunshots are exciting, no doubt, I believe the quieter scenes are just as important.

            EDIT: One last thing I wanted to bring up is that I think if those scenes weren’t there, this movie would not win best picture. It’s the culmination of all these different aspects melded together that made it so interesting. They are equally important to its success.

    • klmn

      I’m thinking that might be the reason it won Nicholl. Something to consider when deciding what contests to enter.

  • http://insideechenrysbrain.typepad.com/inside_the_brain_of_ec_he/ E.C. Henry

    That does sound like an interesting set-up. The Chippewa Indian with nothing to loose should be real interesting. He’s literally off the reservation in more ways than one!. Also, without reading the script, the intrigue of inquiring friends of missing hunter could add something. Lots to play with here. Should make for a GREAT movie by WHOEVER makes it.

    So THIS is the kind of movie that kept losing out to year after year. Sigh. I need to get a smarter monkey out of the zoo!

  • brenkilco

    In melodrama we’re willing to buy a lot of contrivance if the story is exciting enough or the characters compelling enough. And if the two main characters here are presented as panicky dim bulbs then maybe I could go along with this setup. Elmore Leonard made a career of concocting complex crime novels featuring stupid criminals.

    But….two guys hit a pedestrian at night crossing a road. Don’t see that as even rising to the level of negligent homicide. Unless he was in a crosswalk. Just say he came out of nowhere. No big thang. Nobody’s going to care what the convicted killer says. But instead these guys decide to conceal a death and stage a kidnapping to cover their tracks which puts them in the position of having to contemplate murder since the cover up will easily get them ten years in the slammer. And that’s assuming they can explain away the blood in the roadway and all the physical evidence on their crushed fender-that deer story aint gonna wash when the hunter gets reported missing- without buying themselves a genuine murder charge and …..just how good is this thing?

  • Midnight Luck

    I’d say this script landed on top and won because of:

    IRONY

    Just reading the logline got me excited, and that never happens.
    I love it, two police officers transporting a killer to be executed on death row, accidentally kill someone and try to get away with it, all while knowing they are at fault and the person they are delivering knows as well, and saw the whole thing.

    It is very Fargo-esque, and looks to be loaded with irony.
    Fargo also was fantastic in the character department. So nail your characters as well, with a setup like this, and it is a shoe in.

    If you can write a script with those parts, I’d say you can have a winner.

  • Orange Pop

    Hated the ending on this script. Read it a LONG time ago. Thought it was really interesting up until the third act if I remember correctly.

    There were lots of parts where it bounced around too much like Carson said…

  • Scott Crawford

    OT: Netflix bags Bullock for Black Lister Birdbox:

    http://deadline.com/2017/07/sandra-bullock-bird-box-netflix-1202131318/

    • BMCHB

      Which Black List year, Scott?

      Watched The Circle last weekend… ugh. Hopefully will be better than that.

      • Scott Crawford

        2014… I’ll try and post the link later. Netflix have two types of “original” movies: those they’ve MADE and those that they have AQUIRED. Circle was one of the latter, they bought it after it died at the US box office (Midnight, a Dave Eggers fan, didn’t think it was too bad).

        • BMCHB

          Thanks. I have all links in my Gdrive already.

          • Scott Crawford

            Smart guy! It was also on the list prestigious but worth checking out Blood List… in fact it WON that one.

      • Randy Williams

        Finally watched “Arrival” yesterday. Was that on the Black list? I was confused in the end, so much, that I felt what’s wrong with me? I’m supposed to be crying. Stunning mood piece, though. Maybe I need to see it again.

        • BMCHB

          Really liked Arrival. Based on a beautiful short story: Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang. PDF is online.

          • Randy Williams

            Thanks. I’d like to read it. I think the movie would have worked better as a mini-series to really exploit the elements.

        • Patrick Sawyer
          • Randy Williams

            Yes. He wrote (edited, adapted) Birdbox. That’s why I brought Arrival up. And I read this reddit thread last week. That’s why I was pumped to feel some real emotion because the posters were saying how much they cried.

        • Patrick Sawyer

          I groaned when the fatally sick daughter storyline was first introduced but it had such a great pay off in the end.

          • Scott Crawford

            If you have to EXPLAIN to people why they should be crying at the end of a movie, that’s not so good.

        • brenkilco

          Best enjoyed in 4D.

          • Scott Crawford

            Ah, all the shades of GRAY that you can see.

    • Randy Williams

      I started reading the script and loved the overall hook and the little
      business like how they drove the car, but I put it down and didn’t

      really have the desire to finish it. The characters just didn’t hook me
      enough to care. I like Bullock but I felt very little for her in Gravity, it
      surprised me. I would have wanted someone else for Birdbox.

      • Scott Crawford

        You weren’t the only one not to get the script, I think it’s been rewritten since.

        On the other point… up yours! Sandy is the best and I felt every emotion of her journey in Gravity (she also has about thirty years of acting experience, more than most other actors).

      • Justin

        Oh, what? I admit there was room for improvement (as there are in 99% of all films), but she was incredible in it.

  • http://dlambertson.wix.com/scripts Eldave1

    “…a Chippewa Indian…” – nice. Loads of potential from that alone. The right to take the life of a soon to be dead man – nice!

    As a nit, Is it just me – or does “Bernie” not fit. Something more exotic.

  • garrett_h

    I read this script a couple years ago, and I still remember it to this day. That’s how you know a story resonates. Years later you’re still thinking about it. That’s what we all strive for.

    I’d bump it up a notch and give it an Impressive, but I can see why Carson gave it a WTR.

    Funny thing is, the moral dilemma was my favorite part of the script. I literally went back to my list of script ideas after reading this script to make sure all of them had some type of moral dilemma at the heart of it. It was one of those “Aha!” moments for me. All the best movies have that (whether it’s HUGE, like killing someone, or relatively small, like some family drama or divorce or something).

    Your characters need to be grappling with something, and it has to cause them to either evolve or remain the same, for better or worse.

    This one definitely has some twists and turns. The structure is more Sequence Approach than Save the Cat. For 15-20 pages, we have one problem, then the next 15-20 a new issue presents itself. It’s done seamlessly though, and made the script move.

    Not only that, I really liked the ending. Had me choked up a bit.

    I don’t want to give any spoilers. You should definitely read this yourself. Scott has kindly posted the link. Honestly, I’m surprised this hasn’t been made yet. Hopefully it gets produced. It would be a neat little drama in that Hell or High Water vein. Cost maybe $30 million (or less) to make, get some buzz for good performances and good writing etc.

    Read this if you get a chance. We’ve all got different tastes, but I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. It’s definitely not [X] Trash

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FpjCroELCew Carmelo Framboise

    OT – Since there is a photo of Koteas, a fellow Greek man, at the top of this post, I feel fill you in with my news – whether you like it or not.

    So, I have signed my first contract as a screenwriter (co-screenwriter, but the other guy is more of a researcher, I am not relegating, I am just explaining :) ) for the feature documentary we are making for quite a while now.

    I am excited, yep.

    Contracts with the co-producers are not finalised yet, but it is safe to say it is a co-production between the Greek National Television, The Greek Film Center, the most prominent Greek production company and the director’s production company. Kinda huge stuff.

    I will also get credit as a co-producer.

    Ok, the budget is small for Hollywood standards, but quite big for Greek standards.

    I get a percentage from tickets, TV and DVDs (I guess that means zero money really) and some cash, WHICH is not really usual for writers over here. Well it is for pros who have big and unpronouncable names like Papastathopoulos or Karamanolakis or Antetokoumbo.

    Wanna hear the logline and maybe I’ll improve it from your precious feedback? Mind you, it is a documentary on a dead Greek poet, with an experimental attitude but I still managed to throw in fiction elements and the beloved 5 act structure.

    “A researcher descends into the emotional world of an
    ingenious poet who died penniless, through tapes, files, memories, and scars he
    left on modern Greek history.”

    • Randy Williams

      Congrats! But don’t all poets die penniless?

      • BMCHB

        You can’t take it with you! :-)

    • Scott Crawford

      I like it…. this is the stuff I want to hear! μπράβο!

    • Poe_Serling

      Wow! Good news really travels fast through ScriptShadow
      neighborhood.

      ;-)

  • carsonreeves1

    I felt the same way. That needs to be shored up somehow. There is a little aside in the script about how they needed to be low-key with the transport because a huge group of people were at the jail protesting and they wanted to get around them without them noticing.

  • carsonreeves1

    My thoughts on bold sluglines: They help visually identify when there’s a new location. I like that.

    The problem occurs when someones has 3-5 locations a page for any extended period of time. Then bold sluglines get really REALLY annoying.

    So I’d use them depending on the type of script you’re writing.