Edit: This draft going around is not the Scott Brick draft, but rather a chopped-up version of another writer’s draft of Rama (one of the risks of reviewing older scripts). Now we need to find the official Brick draft, as Coming Attractions says it is great.

Genre: Sci-Fi
Premise: When a giant mysterious cylindrical ship is spotted barreling through the solar system, a small team of astronauts goes to inspect it.
About: This project was a hot property for a few years in the early 2000s as both David Fincher and Morgan Freeman really wanted to make it. This was going to be Fincher’s make-up film for Alien 3. Unfortunately, it never came to be due to them never getting the script right. This is why good screenwriting is so important. A good script can thrust a project through a green light. A bad one can keep you at that stoplight that always stays red. And big directors only have so much patience before they blow the light and move on to the next big shiny thing. I still think this film will get made at some point. It’s too cool of a premise not to be. A lot of writers have tackled Rama. This draft was written by Scott Brick and is said to be one of the better offerings.
Writer: (edit) Philip Whitcroft (again, someone cut sections out of this script, so this isn’t the full representation of Whitcroft’s screenplay)
Details: 103 pages (2001 draft I think?)

320914_81_39721_SkKr5PFNM

I’ve known about this script for almost a decade now. The only reason I never read it was because I heard the book was good. So I wanted to read the book before I read the script. Well, I finally read the book!

And what a strange book it was. Rendezvous With Rama is a book with, maybe, the least amount of character development I’ve ever seen in a novel. Characters are only given cursory backstories and no meat whatsoever.

The reason, however, that Rendezvous with Rama is so revered is because it contains the most compelling mystery of any science-fiction novel ever. This is something I love to remind screenwriters about. Your script can be shit in one area as long as it’s really amazing in another. When Harry Met Sally has zero story. It’s just people talking for 2 hours. But it has the best romantic comedy dialogue ever.

Anyway, back to Rama. I never finished the book. Even though the mystery was, indeed, fascinating, the author had an excruciatingly annoying habit of describing the orientation of the characters. Since we’re inside a cylinder, he loved discussing whether the characters were not quite facing up, and not quite facing down either – TO THE TUNE OF 100+ TIMES! At a certain point, I was like, enough is enough, dude. This isn’t orientation porn. It’s a sci-fi novel. So I bailed.

Which is great news for me going into this script, as I can finally find out what happened! Let’s get into it…

It’s way way off in the future. We’re at the point where we have cities on each of the major planets in the solar system. Commander Norton is one of the best space pilots in the business, based out of Mars. Just as he returns from a routine mission, his science buddies hit him with a whopper of a discovery – there’s an alien ship shooting through the solar system, heading straight for the sun.

Due to the trajectory of this thing, humans will only have a brief window to inspect it. And the closest folks are Norton and his Mars team. So Norton’s team hops on their ship, the Endeavor, before shooting towards what the media is now calling, “Rama.” Unfortunately, they leave a little too fast, as ZOINKS, Norton’s 12 year old daughter, Myrna, was able to stow away on Endeavor, joining the mission!

The group gets to Rama and finds a giant streamlined sphere. There’s only a single blemish on the sphere, which they realize is a way in. So they land next to it and head inside. The hollow Rama goes on for hundreds of miles, so they can’t see it all, but it appears to have several giant cities inside.

However, when they get closer, they see that these aren’t cities at all, but rather giant featureless rectangles. This is commonplace on Rama. Everything has the appearance of life, and yet is completely dead. They see a giant sea, except when they get to it, it’s like one enormous piece of plastic. What the hell is going on??

The teams split into two to explore, and that’s when shit gets crazy. Rama begins to heat up, and as it heats up, things change. That plastic sea begins to melt into a real sea. Also, out of nowhere, various robotic entities the groups deem “biots” begin appearing. For example, spider biots skitter about, grabbing debris and disposing of it. It seems as if Rama is preparing for something. But what?

As our group gets closer to the answer, they realize they are in great danger. If they don’t get off of this ship soon, they’re going to be casualties of this Rama transformation. A good 100 miles away from the exit, that escape begins to look like a pipe dream.

rama

Rendezvous with Rama was… frustrating.

I think I liked it. But I hated the first act so much that I’m not sure I can give it a passing grade. This was one of the shittiest first acts I’ve read in a long time. The writing was terrible, to the point where I thought I’d been duped and that this was a fan script. Luckily, the stuff on the ship (Rama’s mystery) redeemed the story. But only barely.

So why did I hate the first act so much? Let’s start with the first page:

Screen Shot 2017-05-17 at 3.34.44 AM

Where the f*&% are the character introductions???? Are we just supposed to know who these people are telepathically? And does Norton have a first name? That’s a mystery ready for its own novel.

Things get worse when we meet Myrna, the commander with no name’s 12 year-old daughter. Myrna appears to be a character constructed just for this screenplay, a bad producer note likely suggested to expand the demographic. Because, oh yeah, a hard science-fiction movie about an alien invasion isn’t complete without a precocious 12 year old daughter who stows away on the ship. What is this? An episode of Star Wars: Rebels?

Anger reached a crescendo when the Hermians (the people who live on Mercury) threaten to blow up Rama with a nuclear bomb. That’s when I almost put the script down. However, once the script moved past those problems (thankfully, Myrna the Menace stays in the background for most of the story), it got good.

And it got good because Rama is awesome. The ship I mean. It’s just such a great mystery. What is this thing? What’s happening to it (why is it heating up)? What’s coming? If this is an alien race, what do they want? As each new mystery is introduced, I found myself thankfully forgetting more and more about the first act.

But if your script is only as good as its weakest link, this one needs an entirely new setup. For starters, the weight of finding an alien freaking space ship for the first time in history needs to be built up! We need to feel the importance of this moment so that we know how important it is to go and investigate Rama. The discovery of Rama in this screenplay is given as much focus as finding a dollar bill in the dryer. “Oh look! I found a dollar!”

From there, there seems to have been zero outlining. With a discovery this big, the first thing that would happen is a giant question and answer session with the media so humanity could find out what’s going on. Instead, that moment comes when our group is on the ship, almost at Rama, a clear sign of, “Oh yeah, I forgot to include this scene. I’ll just do it now.” It fed into to the laissez-faire approach in which the script was written and in which all the characters seemed to approach Rama.

I mean it’s only the biggest discovery of mankind.

The time period for this is also wrong. We’re staked a couple of hundred years in the future, to the point where we have cities on all the planets. That in itself is amazing achievement, which dilutes the amazingness of discovering an alien ship. This needs to be set as close to present day as possible.

Not to mention, get rid of this nerdy Mars nonsense. Not only is it not 1954 anymore, but we need to be able to feel the shock and awe from people that this ship has been discovered. We can’t do that if we’re camped out on Mars.

And finally, we need a writer who understands character. The characters here are so thin. I’ve already pointed out that the main character doesn’t even have a name! Late in the script (spoiler) a “major” character comes back to life. It’s supposed to be this huge moment but we’re like, “Uhh, I don’t even know you, dude.”

It’s frustrating because this is a movie that could be great. This is a movie that someone should make. But we need a screenwriter who knows how to write. That’s going to be the first step towards giving Rendezvous with Rama a rendezvous with reality.

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

What I learned: NEVER. EVER. take character introductions for granted. Give us a good description. Have the character perform an action that defines them as soon as possible. Have them talk and say things that let us know what their personality is immediately. And start feeding in their backstory as soon as you can invisibly do so. If we don’t know your characters, your script is doomed.

  • PQOTD

    Geez, I’m sorry to deprive you, Lucid, and you were on the hat-trick, too. If you’re next to comment, I could delete this. :)

    • Erica

      That is also the worst expo dialogue I’ve seen in a while. I mean it screams of first time lazy writing. What the hell.

      • The Old Man

        Also, three “ing” words in one sentence.

      • PQOTD

        It requires a considerably larger than normal nose to be on.

  • andyjaxfl

    I hope Arrival’s success leads to more hard science fiction stories. As much as I enjoy RAMA the book, there’s never really a climax to it. It’s mostly exploring the cylinder, finding the biots, getting lost, departing, and one of the best closing lines to a novel. Nothing really happens in a GSU sense, and we don’t learn much about the characters.

    I’d love to see someone tackle a mostly faithful adaptation of Asimov’s FOUNDATION series, or the CAVES OF STEEL series (that would make for a great TV show). CHILDHOOD’S END is another favorite, but again, the traditional movie structure would be shattered as each Act has a new set of characters. Will audiences enjoy that? I really have no idea.

    • brenkilco

      We’ve been getting first encounters with alien intelligence on screen for sixty years. From Forbidden Planet to 2001 to Close Encounters to Arrival. Does this old model have anything new to offer? As I recall the story is both anticlimactic and inconclusive. More interested in preserving mysteries than answering questions. And any version may prove frustrating for an audience.

      And, yeah, if back catalog Clark is inspiring new interest then Childhood’s End would be the best choice. Although, depending on your point of view it is a cosmically depressing work.

      • PQOTD

        ‘Close Encounters’ and ‘Arrival’ I enjoyed lots, ‘2001’ not quite so much (the follow-up ‘2010’ more in fact), but my fave alien contact movie is still ‘Contact’. Must’ve seen it a couple of dozen times and read the book at least 5 or 6 times.

        • brenkilco

          I think Contact has one of the best first acts in movies. Right up to the Hitler broadcast just fascinating and engrossing, really makes us feel the character’s excitement. But when we get to the third act and it’s time for the big reveal, oof, really a letdown.

          • andyjaxfl

            The ending is certainly bizarre — the aliens allowed a human to travel all of that distance for a quick grip and grin? Seems like an awful waste of resources. I understand the alien perspective that it’s a first step and humanity isn’t ready for more yet, but didn’t that effectively kill future exploration?

            I mean, they had an entire Congressional Hearing on the matter and humiliated Jodie Foster in front of the world. Granted, they have the 40 minutes of static that Angela Bassett and James Woods are going to look into, but still, who in their right mind would finance another round with the Vegans after that?

          • PQOTD

            18 hours of static.

            There were some major missed opportunities in there.

            For instance, there’s a tv interview she does with – can’t remember his name but he’s a well-known African-American anchor. He asks her about faith (she’s agnostic at least). She should’ve laughed and said “You’re talking to a woman who’s spent her adult life listening for signals in the cosmos where Drumlin insisted there’d be none. How much proof that I have faith do you need?”

            Also, if she’d been in the sphere for 18 hours, she’d have consumed food, drunk water, relieved herself, etc, consumed oxygen and exhaled carbon dioxide. The chair had come undone. Her watch would’ve advanced. There’s no way she could’ve done all of that if the craft had dropped straight through into the net. She had no way of knowing they’d lose sight of her. Gobbling a couple of meals and unbolting the chair in the space of the few minutes she was out of sight would’ve been hard to do. At the Congressional hearing, she’d surely have raised those issues.

            And don’t get me started on the aliens.

          • PQOTD

            Agreed – that could’ve been better. But John Hurt’s two (alive) scenes were exquisite, and James Wood was at his most smug and irritating.

            To this day it amazes me that Foster didn’t get an Oscar nom for it. I mean, Meryl Streep could recite ‘Three Blind Mice’ while eating a donut and get nominated, and there are very, very few actresses that could have credibly played Ellie Arroway. It was a terrific role.

          • brenkilco

            I confess I don’t much care for Jody Foster as an actress. That nervy, tense, insecure thing she does just bothers me. Has she ever played a role or even an entire scene where she was completely relaxed.

          • PQOTD

            Have you seen pictures of her behind the camera, say, on the ‘Money Monster’ or ‘The Beaver’ sets? She looks completely relaxed.

          • Midnight Luck

            I personally disagree. I loved CONTACT so much I saw it 22 times in a month and a half when it was first released, in the theater.
            No I’m not crazy.
            OK, maybe a little.

            I thought it was a fantastic story from beginning to end.

          • andyjaxfl

            I have minor issues with the ending (see comment above) but that doesn’t ruin the movie for me. Everything that comes before is so riveting and perfect.

            CONTACT is also a great adaptation of a really good book that is more or less unadaptable. I’d lump LA CONFIDENTIAL in that category as well.

          • Midnight Luck

            I personally think everything is adaptable. Might be really difficult, but doable. It’s just like writing your own script, it’s all about how you choose to find a way in to the story. There’s always a way in. You might have to come from a completely different perspective than where the book does, but it can be done.
            Finding g that angle the perspective which works best is 75% of the fight.

      • andyjaxfl

        The final sequence of Rodricks watching the Earth fading into the cosmos could be a classic!

      • Howie428

        Childhood’s End was done recently as a TV mini-series. It was a pretty solid version of it. If anything I felt they stayed a bit too close to the source material, since the story follows different lead characters at different times.

      • Poe_Serling

        Speaking of Forbidden Planet…

        I was just reading some fascinating articles about the unproduced
        film:

        War Eagles

        A wild tale about a lost civilization of Vikings living near one
        of the Poles and riding around on giant eagles to fight battles.

        It was slated to be an big MGM production in the late ’30s. It had
        producer Merian C. Cooper (King Kong, The Most Dangerous
        Game) as the driving force behind it.

        Here’s the interesting twist: Cyril Hume (screenwriter of Forbidden
        Planet, The Great Gatsby, and other familiar pics) wrote one of
        the drafts for the above fantasy project.

    • UPB13

      I never really got the love for Rendezvous. I remember it being frustrating. I read Childhood’s End a long time ago. That also wasn’t my favorite, but I think I liked it better than this and could see it as a movie. Foundation is awesome, but might be real hard to translate to film. I’ve only read the first Caves of Steel, but that is the one I would definitely choose to film of these options. And yes, it would make a cool TV show since it’s a detective story.

      • andyjaxfl

        This should scare you — Roland Emmerich has been developing Foundation for years. I shudder at the thought of what that might look like. Maybe it’ll turn up on TV one day, but there is almost no connective tissue from book to book that general audiences may be left scratching their heads when the movie star in part one fails to show up in the sequel.

        Caves of Steel has a lot of great ideas that a truly excellent writer/showrunner can mine for years and years of storytelling. The budget would be gigantic, but we’d get one unique show!

    • Howie428

      I love the book also and your description of it sums it up well. Any adaptation of it will need to inject the characters into the story and build a finale.

  • JakeBarnes12

    The character introduction is where we provide the ESSENCE of the character in a pithy phrase, immediately backed up by REVEALING actions and speech.

    That’s the very first time a character appears in the script.

    What I think trips up a lot of new/inexperienced screenwriters is the idea they have ten pages of “introductory material” before the inciting incident, which in their minds is where the story starts.

    In good screenwriting the story starts on page one with a character being clearly defined by their actions, words, and the “cheat” of character description we do in the action line.

    The pithy turn of phrase shows we have clearly defined our character and that we have the ability to express it in elegant English.

    “She was a great talker upon little matters” nails Miss Bates.

    When I see that opportunity for psychological insight squandered or botched on page one, and I see it all the time, my confidence that I’m reading someone who can tell me a good screen story sinks, like considering hiring a photographer and seeing that his/her photos are blurry.

    • brenkilco

      Most character descriptions I read are cliched, purplish, irritating in their efforts to amuse, and designed to make the reader aware of qualities in the character that the writer has failed to convey with action and dialogue. Tell us what he looks like if it matters and his age if it matters and his mannerisms if they matter and move on. If he has the heart of a lion and soul of a poet we should be able to figure it out.

      • JakeBarnes12

        If you don’t want to hone those skills that’s entirely up to you.

    • http://dlambertson.wix.com/scripts Eldave1

      Concur. And I’ll go further. As a reader, I’d much rather have a character description that gives too much rather than one that gives too little. Get me to want to read more about this woman or man.

  • James Michael

    Question: Is that too little description in the Big Print? I know that a lean script is a good script but at what point do you need to expand and give us something to visualize?

    Just stating that the ‘Endeavor descends and lands at the space port in Mars’ is super basic. I’m honestly curious if this is OK? Or if a little more description/atmosphere is expected here?

    • PQOTD

      You’re right; it inspires about as much excitement as washing the dishes.

      • James Michael

        haha yeah i didnt see the part where Carson pointed out it was page one. I assumed it was a few pages in at that point.

    • Howie428

      As I describe above, this script has had the front chopped off, so there was supposed to be more description. That being said, it’s a special case when adapting a book for a producer. You could work on the assumption that they’ve read it and don’t need the description.

  • brenkilco

    “After they land they start switching things off.”

    I wonder how many amateurs here will ever write a line that good. Conveys so much with so little.

    • PQOTD

      *licks pencil and jots it in notebook.*

    • The Old Man

      They land, power the ship down.

      • PQOTD

        The problem was the landing was a little hard after all the breaking ol’ Norton did.

        “[S]witching things off” is like Homer Simpson in the nuclear power plant control room wondering what this button does…

        • klmn

          A breaking maneuver… Were they swinging a wrecking ball?

          • Citizen M

            A breaking maneuver is when you start switching things off before you land.

    • Howie428

      It appears that I actually did write that line! So the answer to your question seems to be at least one.

      • brenkilco

        You wrote it without reading this script. God, what are the odds?

        • Howie428

          No, I wrote this script! As I explain above, it’s a script trader’s botched up version of a script that I wrote.

          • brenkilco

            So Carson has confused a very early amateur script by you, which has been chopped up by others with a commissioned, professional script? Well, he may not have liked it. But on the plus side he assumed you got paid for it.

          • Howie428

            I shall add “can write bad professional script” to my resume!

            It’s nice that he read something of mine, but a shame it was that ugly.

  • CJ

    Shouldn’t the author Arthur C. Clarke get some props somewhere? He did create the source material. Maybe up next to Brick’s name?

  • Scott Crawford

    Hello! Not much to say except… if you think me having a job means I can’t comment, think again! Shop’s quiet, I’m on a lunch break, free wifi, laidback style of management.

    Not much to say about THIS script except… bear in mind that scripts like this are COMMISSIONED by people who know what to fill in the blanks. A spec script wouldn’t, shouldn’t look like THIS. In that way, I’d give Scott a break.

    • Scott Serradell

      “In that way, I’d give Scott a break.”

      I dunno, man. That page is making the rest of us Scotts look pretty bad. I’ll send him an email and see if he’d be willing to change over to “Quentin” or “Aaron”.

    • Howie428

      Scott Brick deserves a very big break since he didn’t write this draft. As I describe above, it’s a botched script trading fake.

  • Pugsley

    “When Harry Met Sally has zero story. It’s just people talking for 2 hours.”

    Nora Ephron must be rolling. The story is, literally, “Guy meets girl… and doesn’t realize it… until he realizes it.”

    • Sal Ayala

      Couldn’t have said it better myself. Here look.

      “A man and a woman can never be friends because the sex always gets in the way.”

      Harry uses “friendship” and “sex” as a defense mechanism against women in order to not let them IN… And it prevents him from finding love and happiness in his relationships with them.

      Years pass. And only after he and his friend Sally sleep with eachother, and a little soul searching, does he finally get it. I had sex with my female friend. And i still long for her friendship, err, companionship. Ah, that must mean i LOVE her!

  • Mallet

    Without knowing the full background of this draft of the script we should consider not being to harsh on the writing of it. This wasn’t a spec script, it probably wasn’t even a “page-one” adaptation that they hired him to do. This is a draft the writer was hired to write of a project that was already in development that had a few draft of the script already done by other writers. He wasn’t trying to “sell” the characters to anyone, heck they probably already had their eye on a actors for the main roles, so “wasting words” on describing them might not have been in anyones interest. By this point everyone probably knew the characters. His instructions for writing the script might well have been “Fix the plot and action scenes. Don’t worry about he characters or dialogue, we’ve got that covered.”

    Production drafts and development drafts of scripts can be very different things from a spec script or a “trying to wow a studio/actor/agent” script. Without knowing what this draft was supposed to be it is hard to truly analyze it from a normal perspective.

    • Howie428

      Your instincts turn out to be correct. As I describe above the opening of this comes from someone hacking the front off a script.

  • Howie428

    I should point out immediately that this is not the version that Scott Brick wrote. I know that because from the review it seems like a distorted version of a draft of that I wrote!

    The first screenplay I ever wrote was an adaptation of Rendezvous With Rama and I shared some versions of that on the internet. One of them is still available on SimplyScripts.com
    http://www.simplyscripts.com/scripts/RendezvouswithRamaPW005n1n.pdf

    I’m guessing that a script trader has picked up one of my versions and changed the details of it. Specifically none of my drafts ever had the above first page. I’d guess they took off my title page and some of my opening, before trading it around.

    I’m happy to make more comments on this, but I want to get my disclosure in before I’m accused of having anything to do with the deception.

    • Thaddeus Arnold

      I’m intrigued.

    • Howie428

      I’ve now seen the version that is being looked at and can confirm that it is a bizarrely copied and chopped version of one of my drafts. So definitely not the Scott Brick draft.

      It hasn’t just been chopped at the top. It looks like a reconstituted version of one of my very early drafts.

      I have a version from 2010 that is cleaner, much improved, and the exposition is smoother. However, it’s still quite an early script for me. I then decided I wouldn’t touch it again until I was not in a fan fiction position.

      I’m still of the view that my take on this was solid. The book has proved difficult to adapt in part because it’s “hard” sci-fi. The reader of the book experiences much of what happens through narrative description, rather than via characters experiencing things. For readers the main story arc happens to the ship.

      • Erica

        Wonder how and why someone would do this?

        • Howie428

          Yeah, it’s weird. Collecting scripts and swapping them was a thing, although I don’t know what people were getting out of it. As far as I know, actual drafts for this are not out there, so I guess someone figured they could meet the demand with my version.

          It’s also funny that as I devised and wrote my version of this, I didn’t know about the project in development. So I didn’t write the lead role for the actor who is developing it, which is a bit of a give away!

          • Erica

            Yours first page is so much better, it starts with conflict right off the top, plus you have character description. Totally makes you want to keep reading.

          • Howie428

            Thanks. It’s kind of you to take a look.

  • Poe_Serling

    These kind of sci-fi projects are really hard to pull off.

    Yeah, kicking off things with a giant mystery box floating in outer space
    will be an attention-getter for audiences.

    But the real trick is coming up with a satisfying explanation that matches
    the gripping set-up.

    I find more often than not the final reveal is always a bit of a letdown.

    The reason why? Perhaps the whole mystery side of the equation will
    always be more compelling the answer.

    Take the film Sphere…

    A 300-year-old alien spaceship is discovered at the bottom of the
    ocean.

    Just hearing that perks up one’s ears.

    Once the investigating team discovers the truth, the film seems to
    lose some of its steam since the unknown factor is taken out of
    the narrative.

  • Citizen M

    To Clarke, people are just carbon-based bipeds. Further characterization not needed ;o)

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

    I love your instincts and suggestions for improvement, Carson. Yeah, this novel and movie sound like a trainwreck. Good ideas in the hands of someone overwhelmed by it all.

  • Nick Oetken

    The setting here seems to be a little outdated (Mars, really?) I would suggest moving it to an entirely different part of the universe so we have new worlds to explore that we haven’t yet seen in other sci-fi movies.

  • carsonreeves1

    yeah, of course. minor characters should get minor intros.

  • carsonreeves1

    I love that movie. She didn’t get nominated because of the subject matter. The Academy hates sci-fi. Unless it’s Arrival. :)

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FpjCroELCew Carmelo Framboise

    I would truly enjoy reading a script with funny lines, suspense stuff, interesting things and switching things off.

    Yes. I would.

  • Jaco

    “I thought I’d been duped and that this was a fan script.”

    Seems that’s actually the case here. Ooops.

  • andyjaxfl

    Moonfall is a strong concept but the script is not well-executed at all and it’s in dire need of further development and rewrites…

  • successor

    I can’t understand why Hollywood insists on adapting classic science fiction novels that have very little physical conflict and action in them. Rendezvous with Rama and Foundation are two books that strike me as poor movie material. They’re cerebral fiction full of ideas and lots of talking, and it would be very difficult–if not impossible–to make them work unless they grossly distort the storyline into a shoot ‘em up action piece like they did with I, Robot. In Foundation, the very idea of violence being used to solve problems is considered anathema, which seems in direct contradiction to most modern movies.

    Why not adapt novels that are more action-oriented and thus more movie friendly? Here are a few examples:

    Neuromancer by William Gibson
    Deepsix by Jack McDevitt
    Liege Killer by Christopher Hinz
    Mainline by Deborah Christian
    Midworld by Alan Dean Foster