I predict today’s writer will be writing movies we see one day. So how come I’m not onboard with this skill-rich script?
Premise: (from writer) Fatherless Copywriter, Nick Adams, uncovers a stash of immaculate love letters dated the year he was born and post marked from Key West and Havana, Cuba. Convinced he is Hemingway’s bastard love child, he travels to Key West with teenage son in tow to usurp his birthright.
About: This is an amateur script that came referred to me by one of my consultants.
Writer: Eric Brown
Details: 113 pages
Now that we’ve proven there’s undiscovered talent out there just waiting to be found (Patisserie baby!) I’m back on the amateur bandwagon, hoping to bring more scripts to Hollywood’s attention. Hemingway Boy, I’ve been told, has a shot at being one of those scripts. The script was given to one of my consultants for notes and later recommended to me (which doesn’t happen very often).
In the time it’s taken me to finally read and review it on the site, it was picked as one of the coveted “referrals” on The Tracking Board’s site. One person recommending a script can always be a fluke. Two? Means we probably have something good here. And since my taste matches up well with Christian’s (my consultant), I figured Hemingway Boy might be able to bring me to my screenwriting happy place.
40 year old Nick Adams feels trapped. As writer Eric Brown points out, he’s like “all of us” in that respect. You know when you’re a kid and you plot out where you’ll be in 30 years? Yeah, well, Nick’s at the opposite of wherever that is. How opposite? Well, he writes advertising slogans for baby food. And while he gets paid a lot of money for it (he’s even in line for a promotion!), how excited can you get when you’ve won over a target audience who’s not only illiterate, but hasn’t learned their ABCs yet?
In addition to the career stuff, Nick has to take care of a chirpy mother with early onset dementia. He must contain an increasingly rebellious teenage son (Sam). And he must learn to be civil with his irritating ex-wife.
Well at least one of those problems gets solved when Nick’s mom kicks the bucket. But just when he thinks that’ll calm things down, Nick stumbles upon an old box of love letters written to his mom from a mysterious man. After doing a little research, Nick becomes convinced that that man is Ernest Hemingway, and that his Mama Mia’esque mother made him the bastard child of the famous author.
Feeling some purpose for the first time in his life, Nick grabs his son and heads to the town in Florida where Hemingway spent most of his life. He hopes to ask around, find out if anyone saw Hemingway and his mom together, and go from there. When he gets there, he’s greeted by his tour guide Joe Jack, a step-father of sorts who dated Nick’s mother for awhile. Back then he was a pretty selfish prick, and now he wants to make up for that phase in his life by helping Nick however he can.
Once set, Nick meets a bus driver named Charlie (noooo – not the female love interest with the male name!) who he starts to fall for, while Sam ends up meeting a too-cool-for-school hottie named Stacee who he falls madly in love with. We jump back and forth between these relationships as they equal parts sputter and sparkle. With time running out before Nick has to be back in Detroit for work, it’s looking like he’ll never find the truth. That is until he locates an old friend of his mom’s who lives in Cuba. Going there is a risk, but Nick HAS to know. So grabs a boat and endures the final leg of his journey.
Here’s the thing about Hemingway Boy. It’s written by a real writer. It’s not one of those amateur scripts you read and say, “This guy isn’t even ready to be judged because he doesn’t know how to write yet.” Brown knows how to write. He’s very comfortable in this medium. For that reason, I see this more as a professional script than an amateur one. And for that reason, you’re going to judge it like a real movie, not on its mistakes, but rather its choices.
While I can understand why people responded to this, it wasn’t quite my cup of tea. Let me try and explain why. I don’t react well to scripts that are high on quirk. Scripts that feature the kooky grandmother, scripts where billboards are talking to our characters, scripts where every other character is flamboyant or over-the-top. I’m a big believer that the story always comes first. So if I feel that the writer is more interested in coming up with a wacky character than they are pushing the story forward in an interesting way, I start to turn on the script.
I do this because I’m now focused on the writing instead of the reality the writer’s created. In other words, I’m out of the story. And you don’t want your reader to be outside the story thinking about YOU, the writer, writing this. The spell is broken once that happens. And I found myself increasingly reacting to things other than the story.
The first moment this happened was Grandma Janice (I say “grandma” if we’re looking at her through Sam’s p.o.v.). As soon as she came in and started acting kooky and quirky, I said, “Uh-oh,” under my breath. I’m not going to lie. I hate the unpredictable “says whatever’s on her mind” grandma character. I see it so much. I think it’s so cliché. It’s kind of like screenwriting kryptonite to me (ahh, I can’t seem to forget Man of Steel!). And I’m not saying you should never write the character. Obviously people respond to it (who doesn’t like Betty White in The Proposal?). But that character kills me so much that when she showed up, I instantly turned on the script.
And if that was all, I might have rebounded. But it felt to me like every character was over the top. For example, Joe Jack, the grandfather character, almost seemed like a male version of Alice. He was big, loud, over-the-top, and always said embarrassing things. So again, we’re favoring quirkiness over reality. And I get that that’s a choice. I’m not saying it doesn’t work. It just doesn’t work for me.
On top of this, I couldn’t pinpoint why exactly Nick wanted to know if Hemingway was his father other than it would’ve been kinda cool. He mentions a couple of times that he just wants to know where he came from, but we seem to be missing out on a potential bigger story here. I wanted to know exactly why Nick needed this answer because it was the question driving the entire story. And if I’m not even sure on why he’s going after it, it’s hard for me to 100% engage in that quest with him.
With all that said, there’s definitely something here. While I didn’t like how extreme the characters were, there was a lot of depth to them. And all of them stood out, which can’t be said about the majority of amateur screenplays out there – which struggle to come up with a single memorable character. That’s a big-time writer skill. I thought the stuff with Sam and Stacee was interesting (although I was hoping he would end up with Stuckey, her younger sister). There’s definitely a goal here (trying to find proof if he’s Hemingway son). There’s some urgency (he’s only got two weeks). There’s plenty of conflict in the scenes, with characters meeting obstacles in whatever goal they’re pursuing. The 3-Act structure is in place.
So it’s clear Eric knows what he’s doing. My preference was just that the script be a little more grounded in reality and less proud of itself. I wanted more people who acted like people as opposed to caricatures of people. That would’ve pulled me in and made me believe in everything more, instead of concentrating so hard on the person writing the script. Then again, the same thing can be said for writers like Tarantino or Shane Black, and they’re doing all right. So maybe I’m just being Grumpy McGrumperbottoms. What did you guys think?
Script link: Hemingway Boy
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me (but this writer shows a lot of promise)
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: I’m a firm believer in the hero going after the goal hard. If he’s not going after the goal hard, that tells me he doesn’t want it that much, and if he doesn’t want it that much, then why should I want it for him? Nick’s actions never matched up with his words. He always felt a bit too casual in his pursuit. I wanted him to be dedicating more time to this endeavor. I wanted to feel more urgency and desperation.