Premise: When terrorists take over a deep-sea oil drilling rig, the only person they don’t account for is a diver in the middle of a dive. That oversight will come back to haunt them.
About: Not much is known about this one other than it’s an early script from Kurt Wimmer, one of my favorite action writers and, when spec sales were hot, a script-selling machine. Wimmer wrote Salt (I’m talking the awesome original, before they gender-swapped it) and more recently, Point Break.
Writer: Kurt Wimmer
Details: 125 pages
I’ve always wanted a thriller that takes place on one of those ocean oil drilling platforms! What’s a more perfect setting for a bunch of crazy ass shit to go down? Yeah, Deepwater Horizon is coming out, but that’s a real-life story that has to abide by real-life facts. This script is all about the fun!
Also, I love reading early work from successful writers. It’s one of the easiest ways to see how writers improve over time, and therefore a great educational source, as you can see if you’re making those same mistakes yourself.
Bill Disney is a deep-sea diver. It’s what he does. When there’s some dangerous dive that needs to be done and every other wuss-ball on the planet says it’s “too dangerous,” that’s when Bill comes in. So when Piper Epsilon, one of the biggest deep sea oil drilling rigs in the world, says they need a diver to come fix their drill, Bill is on his way.
Meanwhile, Piper Epsilon is preparing itself for an annual military exercise. They get paid by the U.S. military to allow a team to come in and “pretend take-over” the rig. It’s a fun little game. The military team shoots paint balls. You throw up your hands and pretend to die. It adds a little spontaneity to an otherwise stress-heavy job.
Oh, except this year’s SEAL squad isn’t pretend. They’re fucking real. When Natalia, the rig manager, realizes that people are really being killed, she tries to escape, only to find out that, duh, there are people on her rig who helped set this up.
Once the two masterminds, Schiller and Garr, take control, they make a call to the U.S. saying that if they don’t helicopter over 100 million dollars, they’ll release a few billion tons of crude oil into the North Sea, creating the biggest man-made catastrophe in history.
Meanwhile, Bill, who was in the middle of his dive, figures out something is up and swims back to the surface. He sneaks around the complex and its mega-dangerous platform (giant rogue waves can send a man to his death at any moment) before meeting up with Natalia. The two then figure out a way to take the bad guys down.
Meanwhile, we learn the truth about Schiller and Garr’s take-over, which of course has nothing to do with money. It turns out that nearby is a forgotten Russian sub that sank in the 1970s. And in that sub? Well, that’s the real takeaway here. Something so dangerous that if Schiller and Garr get their hands on it, they’ll be able to dictate terms to the entire world.
Okay, like I said, I love Wimmer. I still think Salt is one of the best action-thriller specs ever written.
What’s interesting about Platform is that you can see Wimmer still working on his craft. And you newbies or even intermediates would be smart to pay attention, since many of his early mistakes are the same mistakes you’re making.
For starters – weird naming.
What a strange decision to name your hero, “Bill Disney.” It’s a name that makes you think of anything other than an action hero, and it’s just an odd choice. I see this a lot in young writers. They believe, for some reason, that they need to come up with some weird or catchy name. The problem is, weird names draw attention to themselves, taking our focus away from where it should be – the story.
Next up – bulky writing.
If you read Wimmer’s later stuff, it’s much leaner. Here, we have a lot of 6-7 line paragraphs. This is screenwriting suicide in an action spec. You have to move through things quickly.
And let’s not forget – sticking too closely to plot beats from your favorite movies.
This is Die Hard on an ocean rig. No, I mean this is REALLY DIE HARD ON AN OCEAN RIG. Young screenwriters love movies. That’s why they wanted to become screenwriters in the first place! But they love certain movies so much that when they write scripts, they follow the same beats from those movies. So even though an ocean drilling rig is the farthest thing in the world from a building in Los Angeles, the movies feel too similar, and the reader feels cheated.
And – repeating favorite scenes.
Same deal here. STOP REWRITING YOUR FAVORITE SCENES FROM OTHER MOVIES. We have a scene of SWAT members on a plane, heading to the rig, looking cool, talking shit, that’s eerily reminiscent to a certain scene from Predator. We even get the line, “It’s too early in the morning for this shit,” which is a stock dialogue line that has been in 90% of these types of scenes.
With that said, even here, you can see why Wimmer showed so much potential. This guy is a research machine, something you NEVER GET from young writers, who think they can make 90% of the shit up and no one will notice. Why is research important? Because when something feels authentic, the reader believes in it more. Which increases the likelihood that they’ll get lost in your story. Check out this excerpt:
Piper Epsilon remains in place by virtue of a dozen 10,000 horsepower satellite-guided directional thrusters attached to the legs sub-sea level that keep it precisely in place over the drilling hole in ever the worst weather.
Wimmer also finds a fresh way into the story. 9 out of 10 screenwriters would’ve had our fake SEAL team show up and shoot everyone into oblivion. By orchestrating this fake military exercise, the opening feels more alive, a little less predictable, and by association, more fun.
And I’d be remiss not to point out how effortlessly Wimmer weaves together several different complicated threads in the opening act, each containing a lot of exposition and setup. I tell writers to stay the hell away from this. Open up simple so that you don’t lose your reader before the script’s even started. But Wimmer keeps things clear enough and exciting enough, that even though we’re reading through loads of information and keeping track of a lot of new characters, we never get lost. That’s A-grade screenwriting right there.
Despite that and some other good writing, Platform can never quite escape that it’s a beat-for-beat remake of Die Hard. It felt too darn familiar. And let this be a lesson to you guys. Yes, you want to draw inspiration from your favorite films. But try to stay away from copying scenes, and DEFINITELY stay away from copying plot beats. You’d be better off actively doing the OPPOSITE of major plot beats from your favorite films, since that’s what’s going to make your script unique.
I think this one barely passes the “worth the read” grade. There’s enough good in here for screenwriters to learn from. And since this script is old enough, we’re going to go Scriptshadow Retro here and post it. Enjoy!
Script link: Platform
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: If a character is going to cry or “fight back tears,” make sure they’re “real-life tears” and not “movie-logic tears.” Another rookie mistake here. In the beginning of the movie, Bill dives down with some young Danish guy who he doesn’t know and doesn’t like. They dive for 30 minutes and the Dane ends up dying. Bill tries to revive him to no avail, and afterwards, “fights back tears.” Uhhhhh, no. Those are movie-logic tears. He doesn’t know this guy. He didn’t like him 30 minutes ago. He’s not all of a sudden going to be crying over his death. Always ask yourself, “Would they cry in real life?” If the answer is yes, MAYBE add it to the script. But crying is so overused in movies anyway, that you want to use it as sparingly as possible.