Premise: A library custodian is doing just fine as the last person on earth, until a young woman shows up and ruins everything.
About: This one just popped up on the 2016 Black List. Mike Makowsky has written and produced a lot of short films. But this is his first big breakthrough. The project is currently in pre-production and has one of the cooler casting pairings I’ve seen in awhile – Peter Dinklage and Elle Fanning!
Writer: Mike Makowsky
Details: 91 pages
I’ll be honest. My head is in another place right now. As in, it’s less than 48 hours until my Rogue One viewing. I’ve been watching all the interviews, priming myself for the big moment. I even bought white fudge covered Oreos to eat at the premiere in honor of the snow-monster alien in Rogue One, Moloff. Yes, I have issues.
But we have a job here to do on Scriptshadow. And that’s review scripts. And we have a good one today. It’s one of my favorite genres – the post-apocalypse! So let’s see what newcomer Mike Mokowsky has to say in this well-traveled space.
We meet our hero, Del, walking into a house – a house that clearly isn’t is – and casually removing batteries from every electronic device he can find. Del isn’t burglarizing the place. There isn’t anybody left to burglarize.
It’s the apocalypse. And Del is the last person left. But unlike most people post-apocalypse, Del doesn’t sit at home all day and fart around. He works. In fact, he’s taken it upon himself to clear all the dead bodies out of town, clean all the houses, and make everything as sparkling clean as possible.
Oh, and retrieve everyone’s late library books.
You see, Del was a custodian at the town library. He’s a man who appreciates order. And he’s about 75% of the way through making this town great again.
That is, until Grace shows up. Grace is 19 and wants one thing – to fuck! Surprisingly, Del doesn’t want to fuck Grace. In fact, he doesn’t want Grace at all. He wants everything the way it was. Him and this town. Del likes being the only sheriff in Dodge.
Grace can’t believe this. I mean, what red-blooded heterosexual male doesn’t want to go pornhub on a pretty young girl? But Grace quickly realizes that Del isn’t like other red-blooded heterosexuals. Actually, Del isn’t like anybody. All he cares about is order.
But Grace gradually charms her way into Del’s good graces. And Del reluctantly allows her to help him finish cleaning the town. Of course, just when things seem to be going well, some outside forces swoop in to screw it all up. But when those forces threaten to take Grace, will Del even give a damn? Or will he finally realize the importance of human connection?
I find that these scripts are very hard to write after the initial setup. I mean, every script is hard to write after the setup. But there’s something about the limited character situation of an “all-alone” post-apocalyptic story that hamstrings it after you’ve roped the reader in with the, “Nobody’s around anymore!” hook.
In many ways, then, these screenplays require the best writers to pull them off. When all you have is two characters, you better know how to write characters and dialogue. And luckily for us, Mike does.
For starters, built-into-the-characters conflict helps. The more different you can make your characters, the better. Because when characters see the world differently, when they have different agendas, they’re naturally going to provide good dialogue. Del likes order. Grace loves chaos. Perfect!
It’s a lot harder if characters like each other and everything is going well. Watch any sitcom to see what I mean. When the characters are at odds (Sam and Diane in Cheers), they’re interesting. The second they get to together, they become boring. It happens EVERY SINGLE TIME.
The other benefit of this is that, even without a plot, you have a built-in story engine. It’s not one of the bigger engines (a goal, a mystery, a chase), but it still works. I’m talking about the desire to see your at-odds characters finally come together. This is what they use in Rom-Coms and it can be used in any love story where the characters are at odds with one another. It requires us to like the characters, of course, but luckily, we love the characters in I Think We’re Alone Now.
And that’s where Makowsky really separated himself. I’m going to beat a dead horse here by mentioning this yet again, but: SPECIFICITY. Specificity in character is one of the ways you can tell a pro from an amateur.
This is why I push you guys to write those character bios, those character backstories. Because the more you know about your character’s past, the mores specific you can make them.
Take Del here. I’m guessing that in earlier iterations of the story, Del’s job was something generic. A desk clerk. A supermarket cashier. The kind of thing every writer thinks of within the first 10 minutes of exploring a character.
But by digging deeper and really trying to figure out what Del’s life was like before the apocalypse, Makowsky came up with this “library custodian” idea. And notice how once you have a job that specific, you can inform the entirety of the character’s motivation, and of the movie itself.
What does a custodian do? He cleans. What does Del do during this story? He cleans up the city. He also collects all un-returned library books from the houses. How brilliant is that? Why is it brilliant? Why does it work? Because it’s SPECIFIC. And it’s specific because the writer did the work.
Another thing I want to bring attention to is the idea that you don’t always have to work in absolutes. We have a tendency, as writers, to write to the extremes. And while sometimes that’s good, you don’t ALWAYS want to do it, or else things feel too dramatic, too over-the-top.
Grace comes from a religious family. Her father was a pastor. She watched everyone in the world die one day. Later in the story, Del asks her, “Do you still believe?”
It’s a somewhat innocuous question. But I’ve read so many scripts where the answer would’ve been something like: “I’ve watched everybody on the planet die. Do I think there’s a God? God is fucking dead.” And then the writer builds Grace’s flaw around that. And in the end of the story, she learns to believe again and blah blah blah.
Instead we get this: “I have no idea. I’m in the market if you’ve got anything good.”
It’s such a kind line and it works because it’s truthful. Sometimes we get so caught up in movie logic and the desire to write that big fat juicy line that we forget what the characters would really say. Oftentimes, the quieter more realistic line would’ve painted a more truthful depiction of the moment. It was stuff like this that made this script stand out.
My only issue with “I Think We’re Alone Now” is the ending. I don’t want to spoil anything so seek the script out if you want to find out what happens. But it felt like it came out of left-field – one of those endings where the writer knew he had to go bigger, and it ended up being too jarring, an unnatural extension of what came before it.
With that said, this is great example of strong character work, of strong dialogue, and a great inspiration piece if you ever want to write your own post-apocalyptic screenplay. Check it out!
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: A general understanding of your character is what leads to a generic character. The more specifically you know them, the more specific their character will be.