What I wouldn’t do for a time machine this week! It’s Friday and I still haven’t found a place. I need to go back to Monday and, knowing what I know now, search better and more efficiently. With that said, THANK YOU for all the e-mails yesterday. You guys have given me a ton of apartment leads to follow-up on. I’ll keep you posted on how those go on Twitter. And please, keep them coming!
ALSO, thank you to all the Scriptshadow readers who came out last night! I had a blast meeting everyone in person and everybody was super-cool. My only regret is that I didn’t have more time to spend with each individual person. But maybe I’ll do it again when I move out here in a month. Assuming I have a place that is. And hey, what’s the worst that can happen if I don’t find a place? I’ll be one of the many homelesses. Being homeless in LA is almost trendy.
Return Fire begins with an earthquake in Switzerland. But something’s funky enough about this earthquake that it gets the American military curious. They think it might be a nuke testing of some sort. What the Swiss would be doing testing nukes, who knows? But the point is, the military wants to send in a Special Forces unit to check it out.
That unit is basically headed up by Jonathan “Santa” Santarelli, a young hotshot defined more by his war decorated grandfather than anything he’s achieved. We also have Hawks, a hot chick who’s deft at throwing knives around, Dang, a Cuban who’s obsessed with Star Trek, and a number of other dudes who really enjoy being the biggest badasses on the planet.
So our team flies to Switzerland, locates the epicenter of the earthquake, and finds a hidden bunker there with a couple of dead Nazis and a strange nuclear reactor thingy inside. Seems they’ve stumbled upon a secret Nazi science experiment gone wrong. Certainly nothing to worry about right now though. But as they prepare to leave, there’s a big flash, they pass out, they wake up, and the bunker now looks clean and shiny. Not just that, but those dead Nazi bodies are gone!
Of course Dang thinks they’ve travelled back in time but no one else is buying it – yet. Once they’re attacked by a few Nazis, though, public consensus sways. As hard as it is to believe…they may have just been transported back to 1945, two months before the end of World War 2!
A simple mission all of a sudden becomes, “How the hell do we get back to the present?” After cornering a Nazi scientist who’s a part of the time-travelling experiment, they learn that unless they kill a really bad Nazi (who’s realized via the Americans’ arrival that the Germans lose the war), there’s a good chance Hitler will be informed of the loss and travel back in time to start the war over again, this time making sure he doesn’t fuck it up. So it’s sort of like my apartment hunting issue. Without the threat of a thousand year Reich.
Okay so here’s the good news. This script is probably the best script of the week. The writing here is really strong. Paragraphs are short and packed with information. They’re easy to read. And a lot has been put into the prose. For example, here’s an early line in the script: “In the smoky doorway, SERGEANT MAJOR JACOBS (50s) leans on the jamb, a hard, lean man with a lined face and hair speckled a wise grey.”
So the script was just really easy and fun to read. However, there was something missing here and as I look back on it, I’m not entirely sure what it was. That’ll happen to me sometimes. I’ll read a script that, for all intents and purposes, has very little “wrong” with it. And yet there’s something that just doesn’t do it for me.
To find the issues, I usually ask myself a simple question: “What didn’t you like?” The first thing that pops out at me is that the story isn’t exceptional. It’s serviceable. It explores the premise. I’m just not sure it explores it in an interesting or unique enough way. Once we get back to 1945, the story devolves into a series of small tasks that revolve around finding this Nazi Bad Guy who may or may not tell Hitler they’ve lost the war, which would result in Hitler MAYBE going back in time and starting the war over again.
When I have to play “maybe or maybe not connect-the-dots motivation,” I’m not nearly as invested in the story. I like when motivations are crisp and clean. Taken. Save his daughter or she disappears forever. I get that. It’s not that “connect-the-dots motivation” can’t work. It’s just a gamble, especially when you couple it with a “maybe” scenario. That was the thing. I was never sure exactly what the Nazi bad guy was going to do OR what Hitler would do with the information once he got it.
And yet I’m not sure if that’s the main reason Return Fire didn’t pop for me. I think another issue is that nothing really shocking happened. Nothing surprising. And that’s a problem when you have a time-travel film. Just the nature of the concept necessitates some shocking things to happen.
For example, when Marty gets sent back in time in Back To The Future, how boring would the movie have been if all he had to do was get back? The surprising twist that makes that screenplay one of the best ever is that Marty accidentally gets hit by the car that has his mother fall in love with him instead of his father (who was the one who was SUPPOSED to get hit by the car). So now it isn’t just about getting back. It’s about making his mom fall out of love with him and in love with his father. That’s what made the script pop.
Here we have a nice little storyline with Santa running into the young version of his highly decorated grandfather, but I’m not sure anything interesting is really done with the storyline. It’s sort of like the writers want us to be excited just by the fact that they’ve integrated this character into the past. That’s not clever. That’s the BEGINNING of clever. You still have to do something inventive with that, as well as something surprising with the rest of the time-travel plot.
With that being said, these writers do have a future in Hollywood. Their writing is taut, professional, and easy to read. They understand mechanics and structure. For example, the characters always have a goal they’re going after (i.e Get back to the helicopter drop point, find and kill the Nazi Bad Guy), so the script is always pushing towards something. I just wish the things they were pushing towards were a little more interesting and unexpected. It was like the writers pushed right up to that 75% point of their imaginations and stopped.
Return Fire is one of those “almost” screenplays. You read it. You see a lot of good things. But afterwards, you leave wanting more. If the writers push themselves on the time travel elements, they might be able to make this work. Right now, unfortunately, it’s too standard.
Script link: Return Fire
What I learned: You have to remember that you are competing against MILLIONS OF PEOPLE’S imaginations in the scriptwriting game. Thousands of those people are pushing their imaginations to the brink to come up with something that the next guy hasn’t thought of. If you stop at something that’s simply “good enough,” chances are your script isn’t impressing readers. It’s when you push PAST that point – when you say to yourself, “This is good, but I can come up with something better,” that your screenplays truly start to shine.