Genre: Thriller
Premise: (from Black List) After a shooting at a police funeral by a suspected militia member, a recluse ex-cop and fellow militia man must interrogate the suspected gunmen in his own militia before copycat attacks start a nationwide war between cops and militia.
About: This script finished on the 2015 Black List. The film will star current Walking Dead villain, Jeffrey Dean Morgan. The writer, Henry Dunham, will also be directing. Dunham first made waves with his short, The Awareness, which you can watch here.
Writer: Henry Dunham
Details: 105 pages

Screen Shot 2017-08-08 at 11.49.48 AM

Just want to give everybody a heads up. Yet ANOTHER female John Wick project is going into production, this one starring Alias vet, Jennifer Garner. The script is being written by Chad St. John, whose Scriptshadow interview you can check out here. Not going to mince words, guys. If you’ve got a female John Wick script, ya better finish fast. I sense that the end of this trend is coming, especially with the so-so box office of Atomic Blonde.

On to today’s script, which actually contains an ORIGINAL premise. Imagine that. A concept that isn’t following any trends but is rather blazing its own trail. I’ve always been fascinated by the militia. We basically allow people in our country to come together and form their own personal armies. How is that okay?? It was for that reason that I picked Militia up. Let’s find out if it rewarded my curiosity.

40 year-old Gannon lives out in the wilderness. He’s in the midst of smoking a deer for dinner when he hears automatic gunshots in the distance. These gunshots are followed by three explosions. Gannon immediately gets on the phone with a dude named Olsen and the two agree to meet at “The Safe House.”

That safe house is a reclusive lumber warehouse where Olsen and Gannon are soon accompanied by a trickling-in of militia members. There’s Beckman, the techy of the group, Morris, the giant Alpha Male with a chip on his shoulder, Hubbel, a slovenly mountain man, Keating, a deaf-mute, and Noah, the only guy here who looks reasonably presentable.

As the group listens in on the radio, they learn that someone has attacked a cop’s funeral and shot up a good 20 cops in the process. This is bad news because the first people they’re going to suspect in this shooting is the militia. And that’s where the meeting begins – how to make it clear they weren’t involved.

However, when they check their supplies and learn an automatic rifle and several grenades are missing, they realize they WERE the ones involved, and now it’s a matter of smoking out the guy who did it. Gannon takes the lead with the interrogations, convinced that the antagonistic Morris is their culprit.

But it quickly becomes clear that not everything is as at seems. And when word comes in that there have been TWO MORE major militia attacks in neighboring states, they realize that this is way bigger than just one guy. In the end, it’ll be up to Gannon to figure out who’s lying and who’s telling the truth before the police find them, raid the warehouse, and kill them all.

UGH!

I so wanted this to be great! I loved this setup.

So here’s a great tip for screenwriters looking for a big concept that can be made on the cheap. As we’ve discussed before, when your script is cheap to make, you increase the number of potential buyers exponentially.

To do this, start with a really big idea. It can be anything. A giant monster. A mega-quake. A nuclear war. Whatever. But don’t build the story around the actual subject. That’d be expensive. Build it around characters who are affected by the subject.

What this does is it makes your movie feel big even though it’s small.

That’s what Dunham does here. There’s a big attack on this cop funeral, but we don’t see a frame of it. We hear it. But we don’t see it. Then, the entire movie takes place in a warehouse with these characters trying to figure out which one of them perpetrated the attack.

Do you know how cheap it would be to make this movie? You could shoot it in 2 weeks. And it still FEELS BIG. That’s really smart writing there.

Another thing I liked about this script was that it was a SITUATION. What I mean by that is, we don’t see the attack, watch someone run away, show the cops prepare to catch them, show our attacker hide out, meet a love interest, try to move to the next safe area, get into a chase scene, etc., etc.

That’s not a situation. That’s a series of events.

Militia is a situation. A bunch of dudes in one place. One of them killed some cops. The leader has to figure out which one of them did it. Every person who walks into this theater is going to immediately understand what this movie is about. What the setup is. What the rules are. It’s a clear situation.

Not that non-situations can’t work. Yesterday’s film, Good Time, wasn’t a situation and it was a great flick. But situations tend to work really well for feature films. So if you can think of a good one, write it. Other situation-films include The Shallows, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Saw, The Hateful Eight, The Thing, The Wall, Birdman and The Martian.

Yet another great tip to take away from Militia is the mid-point RAISING OF THE STAKES. Remember that when you go into the second half of your story, you need to make things feel bigger somehow. If they stay the same, people are going to get bored. Especially in a movie like this, where you only have one location to work with.

So the midpoint news that it wasn’t just this one funeral attack that happened, but that there was a coordinated attack against cops across three separate states? That’s when I was like, ooooh, this is good. The movie was growing beyond its original setup. That’s always a good thing.

But all was not perfect with Militia.

My big issue with it was that the character-to-character interactions felt a little… phony. I didn’t get the sense that the writer really understood what militia men were like. And this is a common issue in screenwriting. You pick an idea because you like it, but you don’t know anything about the actual subject matter.

So you have a choice. You can do some research and combine it with what you’ve learned through similar movies that you’ve seen, or you can really do the hard work. That means doing a fuck-ton of research. That means finding and locating an actual militia member and talking to them. Learning what their day-to-day life is like.

Nobody likes to do this. So the more common route is the former. And, unfortunately, when you do the former, there’s a lack of authenticity to the proceedings. And I’m not saying it was insufferable here. Some of the interactions felt real. But there were enough moments where I wondered, “Would this really be happening this way?” that it affected my enjoyment of the story.

With that said, I love this setup and I have a feeling that with some rewrites, these authenticity problems can be fixed. So I’m going to recommend Militia. It’s a fun script.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: If you really want to make your descriptions pop, use analogies. When you have a guy with a deep voice, you don’t want to say, “His voice is deep and throaty.” That’s boring. Do what Dunham does. Here, he describes mountain man Hubbel’s voice with an analogy: “Every word from Hubbel sounds like gravel being raked.”

  • http://insideechenrysbrain.typepad.com/inside_the_brain_of_ec_he/ E.C. Henry

    First, bitches! Yeah!!

  • Poe_Serling

    Two for Tuesday…

    1) “Yet ANOTHER female John Wick project is going into production,
    this one starring Alias vet, Jennifer Garner.”

    Like I mentioned before, Hollywood has been in the recycling game
    WAY BEFORE it was a trendy thing to do.

    2) Acarl’s Scary Flick (currently in production)

    Quite a few location pics are starting to pop up here and there.
    Just from the handful of images, it feels like a solid mix of retro
    and modern horror elements.

    Also, it seems to be a fairly quick shoot – roughly three weeks.
    About the same amount of time as the original Halloween with
    John Carpenter juggling the clubs.

    The movie is being directed by Andy Palmer. Co-produced by
    Joe Dante (The Howling, Gremlins, TZ: The Movie, Masters of
    Horror, and a ton of other goosebump-inducing stuff on his
    resume).

    Written by Alex Carl (SS regular).

    I think it would be great if Carson interviewed Alex before the
    film’s release date (either in theaters or on other media platforms).

    From this filmmaking experience, I’m pretty sure that he would
    have a few useful tips in getting a project from script to screen.

  • Scott Crawford

    You can find the script HERE:

    https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0BybNvm-CX6dkSEVxWG83dHlzanc

    Female John Wick/spy flicks may not be long, though making the lead character (ir better yet BOTH lead characters) a woman WILL continue. ?The stories have just got to become better. Alex Garland’s Annihilation seems more the way to go. If THAT’S a hit, expect more people to say “what if the lead in your script was a woman?”

    • klmn

      Of course, that’s nothing new. The better female “John Wick” films were the blaxploitation ones.

      • brenkilco

        Great character guys like Bill Mckinney, Antonio Fargas and Albert-do you feel lucky- Popwell were a lot of what made these early seventies movies so great. Not that Cleopatra Jones is any classic. Did Dobson ever do anything else, except the sequel?

        • klmn

          She has a handful of credits. Chained Heat is probably the best one.

          You made an interesting point about early seventies movies. Now, the only person who seems to care about them is Tarentino, when he does his own spin on them.

        • Scott Crawford

          She became a reacher for the short.

          • brenkilco

            Actually, according to Wiki she developed MS and died before sixty. Too bad.

    • garrett_h

      Did they change the title? I don’t see it on here.

      And honestly, they probably should change it. “Peppermint” seems kinda generic. And wasn’t Garner in “Butter”, the Nicholls script from a few years back? All these food scripts… lol.

      EDIT: Oh wait just realized you were talking about the Milita script, not Peppermint. My bad. That Female John Wick paragraph threw me off lol. But if anyone has it, let me know!

      • Scott Crawford

        We all know how important titles are, or we should… the choice of whether to name the script after a character, the setting or subject, or the plot. If you call your story John wick or Atomic Blonde (as opposed to the original titles of Scorn or The Coldest City) or Peppermint, you’re suggesting a sequel or sequels based around that character (as opposed to Speed, for example, where any sequel would have to have a similar plot).

        In short, you’ve got to think about the sequel when you title your script.

    • Justin

      It seems entirely believable and possible. Women taking the spotlights and nabbing a majority of the lead roles, while men step down to supporting roles. I wouldn’t mind it much, as long as it works and doesn’t feel forced.

  • UPB13

    Glad to see Jennifer Garner is doing something besides credit card commercials.

    • Kirk Diggler

      She can be the female Sam Jackson without the F words.

  • brenkilco

    A bunch of guys in a warehouse following a violent crime with the authorities closing in try to ferret out the traitor in their midst. Yeah, original. Keitel says he’s in.

    It’s Reservoir Dogs with fewer teeth and more denim. It’s Murder on The Orient Express with way worse hygiene.

    The militia angle really doesn’t make this thing very different from those two. A premise isn’t a plot. So what is the plot. What makes watching these goofballs for a couple of hours worthwhile? Carson says it isn’t the dialogue or the characterizations. Has it got decent mystery elements? Do we arrive at the truth by a clever route? Is the suspense unusual? Shifting tensions and alliances? Surprise revelations that change up the dynamics? There really aren’t that many bunch a guys in a room movies that work. Does this one? And if so how?

  • wlubake

    Militia seems like a setting much better suited for TV. Sons of Anarchy style show set in the Michigan Militia.

    • Billie B

      My first thought was it sounds like a Sons of Anarchy episode.

  • Citizen M

    Read to page 52. I was puzzled by what the threat to the group was. If one of them is guilty, why can’t they just turn him over to the cops? And what do the other attacks mean? I need more context to understand why these guys behave the way they do.

    The scene where Gannon interrogates Morris in the basement runs from page 24 to page 32. That’s a very long scene for two people just talking. What about the other members of the milita? Are they just twiddling their thumbs? That’s the problem with an ensemble piece. You have to have something for everyone to do, and in this case there isn’t enough going on to keep everyone occupied. You’d find it hard to recruit actors to sit around like dummies.

    Maybe this would be better as a stage play, but it needs more to happen. There should be a fresh development every ten pages or so.

    • Andrea Moss

      I think they want to punish the traitor themselves for put the rest of the group in peril. On the other hand, it’s not very probable the FBI just accept the confession of a militia member obtained under cohercion by other militians without more evidences.

  • huckabees

    This looks like another situation-film. A new take on a home invasion…

    • Kirk Diggler

      Left me nonplussed. No sense of story whatsoever, just A-List actors looking at the camera with their best creepy face.

  • Omoizele Okoawo

    It’s really annoying to think that Hollywood is thinking that a female Taken or John Wick film won’t work when no one has offered a female action film as good. Not that Taken or Wick are anything more than escapist action but the trailer for Atomic Blonde, offering nothing but a woman beating people up for no reason, makes the emotional motivations clearly shown in Taken and John Wick look like Nicholls Prize scripts.