No amateur script to review means we’re going to see what a future Star Wars director is working on!
Premise: When an older man uses a mysterious ancient device to go back in time hundreds of years, it’s up to his son and grandson to save him.
About: I LOVE Force Awakens. But I have to admit, if I read ONE MORE article about how it just broke some innocuous box office record, I am going to stab my eyeballs out with lightsaber crystals. However, since The Force Awakens is still the hottest flavor in the store, I’ve decided to review a script from the director of the NINTH installment of the franchise (after Rian Johnson does the EIGHTH), Colin Trevorrow. This was a project Trevorrow was working on right before he shot Safety Not Guaranteed, and I believe he still wants to make it. Since he’s finishing up an indie film now and will jump into Star Wars prep right after, I’m guessing we won’t get to see it until after Ep 9. Still, it’s always nice to get into the mind of a future Star Wars director!
Writer: Colin Trevorrow
Details: 110 pages – 3/18/2010 draft
The Colin Trevorrow ride has been almost as interesting as the Jurassic Park ride at Universal Studios. The man went from making a pretty decent debut indie film, to directing a new film in what was thought to be an extinct franchise, to unexpectedly turning that film into the biggest hit of the summer, to being informed by the internet that his directing and storytelling were bland, to a bafflingly low-key announcement that he would be directing the 9th Star Wars movie, to now going back to directing indie films.
One thing’s for sure. Hollywood loves Colin Trevorrow. Every industry titan (Spielberg, Zemeckis, Kennedy) who comes into contact with Trevorrow falls in love with him. He’s like the Ryan Reynolds of directors. And in this expedited “don’t have to prove yourself cause that would take too long” society we’ve created, we give the keys to these directors having ZERO idea if they’re capable of handling the job. I think that’s the biggest shock about Trevorrow’s rise. Despite him being the second hottest director in Hollywood (behind JJ, of course), we still don’t have a feel for what he’s capable of.
Today’s script should give us a little more insight. It starts off with a rather cool jaunt through time as famous scientists such as Galileo, Issac Newton, and Thomas Edison, all try to recreate a device Archimedes found called The Antikythera Mechanism. I think this is a real thing. And it’s said to be a very complex sun-dial like mechanism that may have been created by an ancient civilaziton even smarter than we are.
Cut to the present day and 68 year-old Solomon Grant now has the device. At this point in time, everyone thinks this thing is just some wonky clock. But Solomon thinks it’s more. And when some men try to steal the device from him, Solomon triggers the machine, sending him back in time 500 years.
Not long after, Solomon’s estranged son, Michael, a futurist, and Michael’s son, 15 year old Max, receive some message about Solomon missing. Keep in mind that nobody likes each other in this family. Michael doesn’t like Solomon. Solomon doesn’t like Michael. Michael does’t like Max. Max doesn’t like Michael. I think Solomon might like Max but I’m not sure.
When evidence points to Solomon communicating to Michael through diaries written 500 years ago, Michael must get over his skepticism and admit that his dad is a time-traveller. And when the nasty folks who tried to steal the device in the first place catch on that Michael may now know where to find it, they start chasing him and his son.
At a certain point we learn that, in order to keep the device from getting into the wrong hands, Solomon has spread the device out into four pieces and left a bunch of clues that only Michael and Max would be able to decipher. So father and son must put their differences aside to find the device and use it to bring their granddad back to the present who they don’t even like. The end.
This script is a big fat reminder of how difficult it is to write a good screenplay.
Look, from an objective point of view, there’s a lot of good here. We have a clear goal. We have lots of urgency. The stakes appear to be high. Trevorrow’s playing in a sandbox that’s been proven to work in Hollywood (The DaVinci Code, National Treasure).
He’s encased the key players in a family so that there are personal relationships that need to be fixed. We’ve got the strong female cop character who joins the journey as both a skeptic and someone they’re forced to work with, adding another layer of conflict within the group.
If you’re placing this script up on a USC black board, the professor could use it as a template for many of the things you want to do in a script.
So then why didn’t I like it?
Because it was The Da Vinci Code.
Sure, the God stuff was switched over to a sci-fi device, but it’s the same movie. Someone’s leaving someone a bunch of clues that are sending them all over Europe and they’re being chased. We’ve seen this already!
This is the eternal struggle a screenwriter must battle with. Using a formula that works, but changing it enough so that it feels fresh. Trevorrow doesn’t inject a single – and I mean not one – fresh variable into this equation.
And I’ve been here before. As a writer and as someone who’s watched other writers make the same mistake. In your mind, you love sci-fi. And you liked those chase movies. And technically the idea of this magical time travelling National Treasure type adventure hasn’t been done before. So you think, “That’s all I need to change. The McGuffin!”
But it isn’t. You have to create some unique character we haven’t seen before. You have to give us a handful of scenes we haven’t seen before. You have to deviate the plot once in awhile from that beat sheet of the similar movie that inspired you. Or else we’re ahead of you. If I’m ahead of you as the reader/viewer for more than three scenes, you’ve failed as a screenwriter. You’ve failed. You have. One of your jobs as a script writer is to predict what I, the viewer, think is going to happen next, and then give me something I’m not expecting instead. (see Wednesday’s review)
Now the keen lot of you may have been thinking to yourselves, “Wait a minute, Carson. Didn’t a movie just come out that’s going to be the biggest box office movie of all time that was basically the same movie as Star Wars? How does your theory hold up there?”
Here’s the difference. The Force Awakens had good characters, particularly its main character, who was one of the most likable characters of the decade. A derivative movie can survive, even end up being good, if it has characters we like and care for.
Stealing Time doesn’t have that to fall back on. Michael is just some corporate guy who has a problem with his dad for I don’t even know what reason. Because this is a movie, I guess (always have REASONS for character conflict – don’t just have conflict cause it’s a movie!!!). Nor do I understand why he and his son have an issue with each other. All the dynamics here appear to have been inserted because it fits into what Robert McKee says you should do (Robert McKee Robot: “Boooop, must include conflict-filled relationships.”) and not because the writer tried to get into the characters’ heads and understand them.
JJ, on the other hand, seemed to build his characters from the ground up. He wanted to know how they lived, how they struggled. That’s what people don’t understand. There have been complaints about Rey. Some people think she’s a Mary Sue or whatever. You have no idea what a bad character really feels like. I do because I read them all the time. A bad character is someone who’s forgettable. Who has nothing going on. Who has no presence outside of the beat sheet they were born from.
And for the record, the reason the original Star Wars is the most beloved movie of all time is because it’s an example of what happens when you do both – when you come up with something original, continue the original choices throughout the movie, and build them on top of great lovable characters. That’s the dream every screenwriter should be aiming for. Do both.
I will continue to shout this from the rooftops: If you are writing a scene, a character, or a plot beat, and it seems familiar? Like you’ve seen it somewhere before, likely in one of your favorite movies? Delete it and come up with something different. It’s the only way you’re going to write something that feels fresh.
I’ll finish by giving Trevorrow this. While that isn’t present here? It is present in his current indie project, The Book of Henry. I may not have liked that script, but one thing that script was was original. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for Time.
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Be willing to move away from the original idea you started with if your script takes you somewhere more interesting. I couldn’t help but feel like Solomon being sent back in time to Galileo would’ve been a way more interesting movie than National Treasure 3. One of your jobs as a screenwriter is to never have a one-track mind. Always keep your mind open, ready to deviate if the deviation sounds more appealing. Ixnay to tunnel vision.