Premise: In 1974, a company attempts the first hostile takeover of another company in history.
About: Today’s script is the first from Oliver Kramer (or at least the first he’s sent out). Kramer was a former executive for Colin Firth’s production company, and also has some former ties to Hollywood production companies. His script sold back in March to Filmnation.
Writer: Oliver Kramer
Details: 120 pages
Screenwriters tend to get prickly when they hear about former execs selling screenplays. And I get it. It doesn’t seem fair. You have nobody who will read your script and this guy has a dozen decision-makers off the top of his head he can text.
However, I like to remind people that every single person in Hollywood has a screenplay. From the guy who gets the director coffee to Steven Spielberg’s wife. Industry types are well aware of this, and, contrary to popular belief, aren’t asking their co-workers when that Ikea biopic they’ve been working on is going to be ready.
In fact, most of these people play the game of nod-and-dodge. Since 99% of screenplays are bad, they know that Craig the Cinematographer’s script has a good chance of sucking. So they nod, say, “Yeah, that sounds cool,” and then run away, hoping Craig never speaks about it again.
My point being, it’s still tough for the industry vet to sell something. Not as tough as it is for you. But if it were as easy as you think it is, we’d have 50,000 sold screenplays a year, one for every person working in the industry.
On top of this, it serves no purpose to hate on sales. All it does is get you down, reinforce false truths about how it’s impossible to make it, and dissuades you from doing what you should be doing, which is writing. So don’t worry about where a spec sale comes from. Just be happy that things are still getting sold and get back to work.
Leverage follows… okay, I’m not going to lie – this script was really hard to follow, so I can only promise that 70% of the below is accurate. But the script takes place in New York City, 1974, and follows a young lawyer named Ben Kleiner.
When Ben hears that a company his firm represents is planning something called a “hostile takeover” of Dickey Electric Copper, he jumps ship to another firm and pals up with a guy named Bill Faverwether to pull the takeover off himself.
The plan consists of a lot of confusing moving parts, which include buying 20% of Dickey’s stock from this guy, another 10% from that guy, and trying to do it quickly enough so that Dickey and friends can’t stop it before the takeover is completed.
Meanwhile, Ben is in love with a radical anarchist named Sara who’s on the lamb from the FBI. When Sara learns who Ben is trying to take over, she finds out that they’re responsible for illegal weapons manufacturing or something, and wants Ben to kill the deal.
Before Ben can contemplate that nonsense, Fayerwether is found murdered, leaving everyone to wonder who ordered the hit. Was it Dickey? Was it Sara? Was it some previously unknown entity?
Complicating measures is the fact that Ben was having an affair with Fayerwether’s wife. So now he has to appease her in the aftermath of her husband’s death. And, of course, somehow try to get this deal done, even though doing so now puts him on some secret hit list. Will he succeed? Will he fail? Much of that depends on if you can keep track of what’s going on in Leverage.
There are two kinds of scripts out there. Fun scripts and investment scripts. Fun scripts are scripts like Source Code. Like Max Landis’s, Deeper. Like Stuber. Investment scripts are scripts that make you invest. You’ll need memory on full alert, loads of concentration, and probably a notepad to keep up with all the names and subplots.
If you’re going to be an investment script guy, you need to be a better writer. You need to know how to weave suspense and conflict and structure and character and dialogue and plotting and clarity into a dramatically compelling screenplay. If you’re writing fun scripts, you need a grasp of those things, but you don’t need to have mastered them. You only have to be creative, fun, have some cool ideas, and not be boring.
Within 3 pages of Leverage, I’m trying to keep track of 10 lawyers, a complex meeting that involves a bunch of Wall Street and legal jargon, and no clues as to who the main character is. 7 pages later I’m introduced to a woman who’s pretending to be a hooker but who’s actually an anarchist on the lamb from the FBI, sneaking around with a guy who may or may not be our leading man.
So take a guess which category Leverage falls into.
Typically, investment scripts are saved for in-house development, or “assignment work,” where everyone is on board and contributing to the complexity, therefore making it not so complex to them.
When you don’t have that luxury and you’re writing an investment script on spec, you MUST do everything better. The reason for this is that you’re asking A LOT MORE from the reader. And if you screw anything up, it creates a domino effect where multiple story variables dependent on that initial variable become unclear.
I’ll give you an example. In Leverage’s opening scene, we’re introduced to a bunch of people. I don’t know who these people are yet. Which of these people are important and therefore deserve my full attention? Which are background characters and therefore people I don’t need to devote my memory to? And on top of that, what do each of these characters represent? What do they want?
I wasn’t sure of any of that. Therefore, 70 pages later, when a guy like Fayerwether enters a scene, I still don’t know if he was one of the lawyers in that meeting or one of the business owners. I still don’t understand how Fayerwether was at that meeting and then later teamed up with Ben to initiate a takeover that I could’ve sworn was planned by another company at that meeting.
That’s what I mean by YOU HAVE TO BE REALLY GOOD to pull off an investment script. You need to know how to introduce characters properly, how to make their entrances memorable, and how to be clear on who we need to focus on. Because a mistake in any of those areas will create a domino effect that results in exponential confusion.
Unfortunately, Leverage asks us to invest too much. I mean, when you’re creating dual love-interest subplots, you’re off the reservation. It’s hard enough to make one love interest work. You’re doing two? In a movie that already has half-a-dozen elements that require EXTREME concentration to keep up with?
And like I said, I just never quite knew who was who in this movie. Everything was fuzzy. And how can you enjoy something if you don’t know who the characters are?
There’s some potential in this subject matter. I’ve always been fascinated with this idea that a company can buy another company without their permission. And documenting the first instance of this sounded like an interesting idea.
But this isn’t like The Big Short, where you’re learning how all of this works and watching a blow by blow of how it all goes down. It starts out that way, but then introduces this weird girlfriend anarchist subplot, which leads to a murder, and now we’re in unchartered territory, no longer sure what the script is about.
I think the writer may have been too ambitious, which is something I warn you guys about all the time. When you’re trying to spin a dozen plates at once, unless you’re Aaron Sorkin, a lot of those plates are going to fall and break. Is it really asking so much to only spin 4 or 5?
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: I’ve spotted this new naming trend recently and I like it. If you’re going to address a character by his last name in his dialogue scenes, only capitalize his last name when he’s introduced. So you wouldn’t say, “JOHN BLISS, 33 and a bulldog,” you’d say, “John BLISS, 33 and a bulldog.”
What I learned 2: I’ve never heard anybody in my entire life use the term “touché” in conversation. It seems to be solely used in movie dialogue and therefore always comes off as forced and false. I fully admit, however, that this may be a Carson-specific pet peeve.