Premise: Based on a “sorta true story” (going off the title page), Maximum King! is a surreal imagining of how in 1985 Stephen King wrote and directed his horror classic MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE.
About: Got an interesting one for you today. Today’s writer is 23 year-old Shay Hatten. You heard me right. TWENTY-THREE YEARS OLD. Last year, when Shay was just 22 years old, he made the Black List with this script. Why is this relevant? Well, this week, Shay just sold his first script, Ballerina. Why is this relevant? Because Ballerina is a female-centric hitman script that will now become a part of the John Wick universe. That’s a pretty big deal for a 23 year old. I’m sure Ballerina will pop up in time. But for right now, we’re going to take a look at Shay’s first script.
Writer: Shay Hatten
Details: 114 pages
Scriptshadow can be discouraging at times.
I spend a lot of time telling you guys how hard it is it write a good screenplay. How it takes years – YEARS! – to break in. For most screenwriters, 7 years is the ground floor. And that’s if you’re lucky.
As we all know, when you’re young, dumb, and full of puns, 7 years doesn’t work for you. You want your success NOW. You want to be the exception to the rule.
Well here’s some motivation for you. Today’s writer got onto the Black List with a script that he wrote when he was just 22 years old and still a college student! He followed that up with a script sale a year later that will be a part of one of the fastest growing franchises in Hollywood – John Wick.
Remember when I told you guys that you needed to be writing female John Wicks. This is the 4th, by my count, female John Wick script to sell, with another hitting theaters this weekend (Atomic Blonde). I wouldn’t say that the trend is over yet. But you figure they can only make so many of these. So if you’re writing a female John Wick script, hurry up!
It’s 1985 and Stephen King is just 36 years old. We’re introduced to the writing legend doing what he does best. No, not write, silly. SNORT COKE! There will be a lot of coke-snorting in this movie. A lot.
King has just thrown a brand new manuscript on his agent’s, Dan Jansen, desk about a gypsy who curses a man to grow forever thinner. Dan’s not sure what to make of the idea, but he brought King in for a different reason. Hollywood’s come calling and they want King to direct one of his books himself.
King loves the idea. No he hates it. No he loves it. Steve changes his mind a lot in this script. But eventually he likes the idea and decides to direct his short story, Maximum Overdrive, about a comet that passes over earth and turns all cars into killing machines that want to do away with humans.
King then starts casting his movie. But not before having difficult conversations with hallucinated characters from his books, some from the past, like Jack Torrance from The Shining, and some from the future, like Annie Wilkes from Misery. King’s solution to make the voices go away? Do more coke! And drink more beer! And do shrooms. And acid.
King, who knows nothing about directing, casts Emilio Esthevez without having him read a single line because he wants to get this shoot rolling! Preparation is for losers. A few weeks later, a coked-out King is shooting dangerous stuntman-heavy car stunt scenes with no idea where the fuck he is since he’s so high on coke.
Did I mention Stephen King was high on coke in this script?
Eventually Stephen’s cameraman, Armando, has had enough. Does anybody see how dangerous this lunatic is, he asks the crew after a stunt nearly kills a crew member. But it’s Hollywood so nobody wants to rock the boat. They all shrug their shoulders and the coke-infused directing continues.
But how long can King really keep this up? He’ll find out the hard way, after permanently ruining a man’s life and releasing the shittiest movie in existence.
Let’s start out by asking the question, what is a 23 year-old writer doing right that you’re not?
The thing I will say about Hatten is that he understands what Hollywood wants. Anybody who reads the Black List knows that stories about writers writing their famous works ALWAYS make the Black List. Hell, I just read today that Nicholas Hoult signed up to play J.R.R. Tolkien.
I have no idea why these scripts do well. As much as I love the craft of writing, it’s terrible cinematic subject matter. But that doesn’t matter as long as the Hollywood development clique keeps hoisting it up on its Black List pedestal.
And even if your writing about writers script doesn’t get produced – and most of them don’t – getting on the Black List gets you that notoriety, which means when you drop your next script – a script that so happens to be in the hottest genre in the industry at the moment – female action thrillers – it just might have a chance at becoming a part of the John Wick franchise. And now your career is officially launched.
And here’s another compliment I’ll give Hatten. He didn’t actually write about King writing one of his famous works. He wrote about him DIRECTING. Why is that important? Because directing is ACTIVE. Directing allows your character to DO THINGS. A scene of King directing a car crash is going to be a lot more interesting than a scene of King writing about a car crash.
There’s also an energy to this script I haven’t seen in awhile. The dialogue is really fun and possesses that rare “pop off the page-ness” you wish more dialogue displayed.
However, Maximum Overdrive lacks the maturity to elevate it beyond anything more than a quick harmless read.
There’s an empty calorie quality to the script due to it being so one-note. I mean, on page 1 Stephen King is coked up and acting crazy. And on page 70 Stephen King is coked up and acting crazy. Ain’t no change in between. This leads to ZERO surprises.
There are other “young writer” tells. Such as the fact that Hatten brings in characters from King’s past AND King’s future. While this kind of makes sense (just because King hasn’t written a story yet doesn’t mean the characters aren’t in his head), it casts a veil of sloppiness to the goings-on that the script never quite sheds.
Established writers lay out the rules of their universe and abide by them. If your attitude is ‘fuck that’ and ‘anything goes,’ it says to the writer you don’t care. I mean, when a character calls Emilio Estevez “Mighty Ducks” and Emilio replies, “That movie doesn’t come out for another six years,” it’s like, okay, now you’re not even tryin.
Finally, there are no stakes to the story, which is another classic young-writer tell. What happens if King’s debut directing effort fails? Nothing. King is already rich and will only continue to get richer. If the film does well, he gets richer a little faster. When you’re a young writer, you don’t think about this stuff. But audiences always know when the stakes are low because, even if they’re not versed in the terminology, they naturally feel that what’s happening isn’t that important.
Maximum King! impresses the most when it hits its final 20 pages and everyone confronts King about his addiction. Finally, King’s coke habit isn’t being played for laughs. But it’s too little too late. Had that come earlier, I probably would’ve said this was worth the read. But the delay means the majority of Maximum King! feels like a surface-level jaunt into the wacky lifestyle of this generation’s most popular writer.
With that said, I’m definitely going to revisit this film. If even half the stuff in this script is true, it’ll be like seeing the film with a whole new set of eyes.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Look guys. There are certain types of stories that make the Black List EVERY SINGLE YEAR. Clearly, there are blocks of voters called upon by the list’s owner who vote for the same types of stories every time. So if you want to make the list, go read through the last 3 years of Black Lists, figure out which types of stories keep making the list, and write one of those stories. It’s as simple as that.