The Deadpool writers are hot again. They give us a new script that asks, “What if the Alien movie scenario happened in real life?”
Premise: When the International Space Station team starts studying the first microbe of life from Mars, they quickly learn they’re in for more than they bargained for.
About: Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick are best known for their breakout hit, Zombieland, but they’ll soon be known for a much bigger movie, the first superhero film of the year, Deadpool. This is another project they just set up with Mission Impossible 12 breakout star, Rebecca Ferguson. One of the best things about this project is that it’s, wait for it, an original story. Why is this important? Because if a project like this does well, it reignites the industry’s faith in original material. So let’s set our prayer alarm on level awesome and hope Life delivers.
Writers: Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick
Details: 115 pages – March 6, 2015 draft
Isn’t this town wonderful? Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick became Hollywood darlings when their script, Zombieland, became an unexpected box office hit. For a good half-year, they were the “It” writers in Hollywood. Everyone wanted their next script. Then the two chose to take on G.I. Joe 2 and their heat melted faster than a Snake Eyes action figure under an industrial sized microscope. If it wasn’t for someone throwing up test footage of their long-ago written Deadpool screenplay, they might be writing episodes of The Goldbergs right now (“Hey Gladys! Are we still going to the Duran Duran concert tonight!?” ZOINKS!).
Zombieland is actually a cautionary tale that up-and-coming writers (and directors) should take note of. Everyone associated with that project should’ve ended up becoming huge. Instead, they made critical mistakes that almost cost them their careers (and for director Ruben Fleischer, it may have done just that).
Here’s how it went down. After Zombieland, Reese and Wernick were offered G.I. Joe 2. No doubt they had other logs in the fire, but G.I. Joe was their big paycheck. When that much money comes at you, the temptation to take it is high. The problem is, you just came off of a buzzy over-performing “cool” movie. Moving over to G.I. Joe significantly “uncools” you. Now you’re not the hip guys with the magic touch anymore. You’re the guys who did G.I. Joe. Thank God for Deadpool, as they’re now hot again (this non-IP project of theirs being set up last week is proof-positive of that).
The director, Fleischer, made a different kind of mistake. He fell into the Hollywood Hype Bubble, a unique ecosystem where all the studios are hyping their projects, using any sort of trickery they can find to make their project sound cooler than the next. They have to do this, as they’re all going after the same big names, the same hot directors. Overselling is a necessity. As a result of this, you have tons of “house of cards” projects. Everyone SAYS they’re great. But those people are usually just re-chirping what they heard somewhere else. Rarely has someone checked to see if the project’s, indeed, any good.
I remember when Gangster Squad was the most talked about project in town. I read the script and it was not something that should’ve been talked about. There was no focus, no story. It shouldn’t be suprising then that that’s the criticism the movie got when it came out.
The point here being that you don’t want to sign on to something just because everyone is talking about it. You want to sign onto something because you feel passionate about it. Nowadays, Ruben Fleischer is directing episodes of that NBC Walmart sitcom, Superstore. If he and his writers would’ve stayed within their wheelhouse and taken on something cool and fun, I have no doubt they’d be on a much steadier career path now. Future breakthrough writers beware.
Life starts off FRENZIED. The crew of the International Space Station is running around like test lab rats with their heads cut off because the team back on Mars found a living bacterial organism and has sent it their way via Space Fed Ex. Something malfunctioned though, and the container is going to shoot past them, potentially burning up in earth’s atmosphere. So they come up with some complex maneuver to grab the delivery, barely saving the cargo. Oh, the irony.
Once inside the ship, they place the thing in one of those fancy germ-container lab rooms. By “they” I mean 10 astronauts, the key of whom is Miranda Bragg, a by-the-books representative for the Center for Disease Control. The whole reason they’re studying this Mars bacteria up here instead of down on earth, is in case it should happen to morph into something dangerous and become the next black plague.
Now remember, this cell is supposed to be dormant. So everyone’s shocked when it starts multiplying. Still, they’re more excited that this proof of life on Mars is actually proving its life in front of them. I mean, if they’re anything like the rest of us, it’s been announced to them five million times in the media over the last decade that “There’s water on Mars” and “Life found on Mars!” For once it’s actually TRUE.
Soon this thing morphs into the size of a Frisbee and starts taking interest in the humans observing it. After grabbing one such human and crushing his hand, it gets inside another’s suit and crush-eats him a chunk at a time. Luckily, it’s stuck in that lab. There’s no way out. Oh, except when someone tries to kill it with fire, which triggers the sprinkler system, which provides a small hole in the ceiling for Frisbee Alien to sneak out through. Which now means… IT’S SOMEWHERE IN THE WALLS OF THE STATION.
Shit only gets worse (as you can imagine) as this thing starts stalking them, seemingly understanding that if it doesn’t kill them, they will kill it. This information gets down to good ole planet earth, which decides to enact Order 66 on the station, meaning our occupants are going to need to find a solution fast or join George Clooney as part of earth’s low-gravity memorabilia. It’ll be up to Bragg to find that solution, but it all may be too late.
The first thing that stuck out to me about Life was how badly written the first scene was. And I italicized “written” because despite the scene sucking on the page, I know it’s going to work onscreen.
“Wait a minute, Carson. That makes no sense. Please explain.”
The reason the first scene is a mess is because we’re introduced to 10 people inside of two pages. We obviously don’t know who any of them are yet. And on top of that, it’s an action scene. So while we’re trying to keep track of all of these people, we’re also jumping around from room to room on the run. We have no spatial reference for anything outside of our general knowledge of the ISS. It’s a bunch of empty descriptions mixed with people we don’t know, trying to do something we don’t understand.
The idea behind the scene is sound. Reese and Wernick want us to be pulled in by the mystery of, “what are these people trying to do that’s so important and causing such chaos?” That doesn’t work on the page though since we’re trying to keep up with who’s who and who’s where, and where is where.
The reason this will work onscreen though is because we’d be SEEING all of these things. We’d be SEEING the geography. We’d be SEEING the faces. So we’d be able to put together what was happening rather easily.
This is why writing for producers/directors/studios is different from writing for an unknown reader. The producer knows this scene is going to work onscreen (and it can also be explained to him in person). So you can write something complex without worrying if he’s going to get it. But if you’re sending a spec out to bottom-of-the-barrel tired-ass readers, they’ll throw your script down the second they don’t know what the hell room they’re in.
I guarantee you if Reese and Wernick were writing this as a general spec that had to work its way up through the system, they wouldn’t have started with this scene. Or if they did, they would’ve made it a lot simpler and easier to follow.
The other talking point here is just how similar Life is to “Alien.” They made one change though. They asked, “What would it be like if the Alien scenario REALLY HAPPENED to modern day humanity?” And that’s the premise behind this script. At first, you’re thinking to yourself, “Why should I care about this if it’s 10 times smaller than Alien?” We don’t get a giant monster in this. The thing always stays under the size of a car tire.
But Reese and Wernick use that against us. We underestimate this thing. So when it starts wreaking havoc, we’re pulled in under the table as opposed to on top of it. This allows the two to have more fun with the “attack” scenes, which are much more intricate. One of the highlights of the script is the first time the monster strikes. It’s in one of those glass boxes that have the empty glove inside so you can stick your hand in and manipulate the thing.
Unexpectedly, however, the monster grabs onto the astronaut’s hand and doesn’t let him go. After crushing the man’s hand, it then cleverly finds a way out of the box. That was the moment I was hooked.
I don’t know what the Alien people are going to think of this. But it’s just different enough to invite a fresh take on the “alien organism attacking humans in a contained station” situation. And also, it’s a riveting read.
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Drew Goddard (writer of The Martian) mentioned that you’re always writing scripts (or drafts of scripts) for different people, and you need to know who you’re writing for so you can target that person. If you’re writing to get an actor, you want to focus on giving that actor’s character a lot of great moments. If you’re writing for the production of the film, you’ll got more into detail about the sets and the logistical things that go on in action scenes. But as a spec writer, you’re writing for everyone. And that means you have to write the most entertaining easy-to-read story you can. So you wouldn’t start your script the way Life did here. You might put in a similar scene later, once we know the layout of the station and all the characters better. But since you’re trying to hook readers right away, you’d write an opening that’s a lot easier to grasp. Keep that in mind the next time you write a spec.