Genre: Crime Drama/Thriller
Premise: When a pair of criminal brothers kill four cops during a robbery, the city orders all 17 bridges in Manhattan shut down until the men are caught.
About: This spec just sold last week to new studio STX, becoming well known for their good relationship with China. It’s being produced by Marvel’s new golden boys, the Russo Brothers (Captain America: Civil War). The writer, Adam Mervis, started as a playwright and, in addition to this sale, is currently developing a TV show for USA.
Writer: Adam Mervis
Details: 112 pages (4/21/16 draft)
The summer of shitty sequels continues. Turtles 2 made half of what the first movie made opening weekend. It joins X-Men, Divergent, Neighbors, Huntsmen, and Alice in Wonderland as movies whose sequels are dying at the box office (with potential catastrophes Star Trek and Ghostbusters still on the way). Could consumers finally be sending Hollywood a message? Will Tinsletown be forced to do the one thing it’s most afraid of? Come up with original ideas? And is Seventeen Bridges, the town’s most recently acquired spec, the answer to this problem? Let’s find out!
34 year-old Ray Fernandez is in deep to the type of folks who you don’t want to be “in deep” to. And when I say, “in deep,” I mean 200,000 dollars deep. So Ray visits his older brother Felix in Manhattan to ask for his help. Felix used to be a thug but is now on the straight and narrow, and normally he’d tell someone offering him a job to schlep off. But this is his bro, yo.
Ray’s got an idea. He knows of a cocaine delivery center nearby that fronts as a pizza joint. If they could rob that place after a shipment, they could clear 2 million bucks easy and go live on a Mexican beach somewhere for the rest of their lives. Felix finally says ‘fuck it,’ and we cut to the robbery going all sorts of wrong. Not only do they get stuck with a bunch of coke as opposed to hard cash, but they end up killing four New York cops.
Cut to Detective Spevack, a former top-level detective who lost it all after a bad decision. Well, lucky for Spevack, he’s being given a second chance and is named point on this case. The catch? He’s got to find these guys before morning.
So what is Spevack’s first order of business? He shuts down every single bridge in Manhattan. He makes sure these guys aren’t going ANYWHERE. And the manhunt begins.
Meanwhile, the Fernandez’s need to offload that coke they grabbed before they leave the island, since… well, I don’t know why, they just do. So the race begins. Bad guys try to sell coke and run before good guys are forced to open the bridges back up to an increasingly annoyed city. Who will win??
Look, we can’t all be the Golden Gate Bridge.
Some of us have to be that rickety old wood-and-rope bridge that a couple of sherpas threw together five decades ago to connect two mountain peaks.
Which bridge is 17 Bridges? Somewhere in between. But closer to the mountain bridge than the Golden Gate.
My first hesitation with 17 Bridges came via its first monologue. Spevack is telling some entitled dick that he needs to play by his rules if he wants to survive. The monologue is two pages long and covers a lot of shit. How Spevack lost his badge, how his father died of cancer, how he doesn’t drink anymore, how he met the guy who now holds the key to his life, what this dude can expect if he doesn’t cooperate.
And it’s not that you can’t make a monologue like that work. But monologues, like scripts, need a theme. If you’re going to talk forever, there needs to be a point, a feeling that it all connects. And this didn’t feel that way at all. Rather, it felt like a not-so-well-disguised attempt to pump out as much backstory about our hero as possible. In laymen’s terms? The monologue was all the hell over the place.
A good monologue, just like good dialogue, feels effortless. It definitely doesn’t feel like the writer is trying to stuff a bunch of information inside of it. That’s something you need to be aware of. If it ever feels like you’re trying to stuff a lot of shit into any part of your script, whether it be a sequence, a scene, a monologue… STOP. Cut out the 50% you know you don’t need, and then cut more.
One of the basic tenets of screenwriting is: Say as much as possible in as few words as possible. That applies across the board. The only people who can get away with more are geniuses. The Aaron Sorkins, the Woody Allens, the Quentin Tarantinos. And until you’ve come out with a film where everyone praises you as a genius? Assume you aren’t. And write the way that’s proven to work: Less is more.
What about the plot?
Unfortunately, I had problems with this too.
Why is New York being shut down to the tune of several hundred million dollars worth of inconvenience for two hack criminals? These guys are nobodies. And they’re worthy of shutting a city down? I know they killed four cops but within an hour, Spevack has the Fernandez’s names and faces. So if they make it out of Manhattan, is it really going to be that hard to find them?
This is a case of liking one’s concept so much (and it is a cool concept!) that the writer isn’t able to see the logic through the trees. The logic here being: Would New York City really do this? For a terrorist who blew up a bank? Maybe. For a man who shot up 30 people at a school? Maybe. But for a couple of losers? I don’t know, man. That doesn’t sound very realistic to me. And if there’s a lack of realism in the logline, there’s a good chance that the writer won’t establish a suspension of disbelief. If that’s never established, THE MOVIE DOESN’T WORK.
What did the script do right? Well, for starters this is a contained easy to understand high-pressure high-conflict situation, which is an ideal setup for a movie. Everybody’s goals are clear. Our cop-in-charge has to catch the baddies. The baddies have to escape the island. The writer even added a goal for the Fernandez’s – to sell the drugs they found before they leave the island. I tend to like choices like this because if all your characters do is run away, they’re passive. By giving them a goal to achieve, it makes them active.
The problem was, that choice brought up all sorts of questions. Like would they really be trying to sell drugs during the first time in history that Manhattan has closed down all their bridges to catch someone!? And that was my big problem with 17 Bridges. You could never just enjoy the story because you were constantly questioning it.
You’re probably wondering, then, why did it sell?
Easy answer. It’s a cool concept!
Cool concepts are the rose-colored glasses of the screenwriting world. They make all those mistakes look so much prettier!
I believe this project can be saved, much like the abysmal early draft of The Town turned into a solid heist flick when Ben Affleck rewrote it. But in its current form, it doesn’t live up to the promise of its premise.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Like I always say, a cool concept is the one area of screenwriting where you have a chance of selling something that’s not well-written. If someone loves your concept enough that they can imagine the poster, imagine the trailer, and imagine people paying to see it? They can forgive the writing, since all it means is hiring a new screenwriter for $200k-700k to fix the execution. And in the grand scheme of a 50 million dollar movie, that’s not that much.
This is why it kills me to see writers writing about characters traveling across the Sahara Desert on a journey of self-discovery. The execution for that kind of market-less concept has to be Oscar-worthy to even get looked at, much less purchased. It’s much smarter to start with a buzzy concept.