Premise: After an alien ship crash lands in the Mojave Desert, a small group is sent in to inspect it, only to find themselves slowly losing their minds.
About: This script sold a couple of years ago and then disappeared. However, it recently underwent a rewrite assignment. Whenever a script undergoes a rewrite, that’s a good sign. If producers are paying money to have a writer write a new draft, it means they’re trying to push the script to the next stage (find attachments). If a script was sold four years ago and nobody’s working on it, that project is basically dead. The draft I’m reviewing today is the original Terrestrial spec that sold.
Writer: Peter Gaffney
Details: 101 pages – 1/27/14 draft
It’s the new year. And the new year always gets you thinking.
Reminiscing about the past. Wondering about the future. It also forces you to evaluate what you do. I just came across a Jerry Maguire interview on Deadline that began with this line: “Before we get back to the cynical world we live in, how about a sentimental reminiscence with Cameron Crowe…”
In a vacuum, it’s a hollow line. But in context, it sums up the industry I operate in. Movie sites live to emphasize what’s wrong. What’s wrong with Passengers? What’s wrong with Sony? What’s wrong with the indie box office? What’s wrong with the spec market?
All of these are worthy questions. But they drive forth a negative culture that serves to depress the hell out of anyone involved in the industry, as well as anyone trying to get into it. Not even the successes get celebrated anymore. Rogue One will become the biggest box office movie of the year. But go to any movie site (including my own) and all you’ll find is people complaining about it.
I suffer from this disease. I can go two weeks without reviewing something positively. And it kills me. I don’t like giving negative reviews. I wish every script was great, something to celebrate, something we could learn from and be inspired by.
But my bar gets higher every day. Every time I read a script, I become more numb to that type of story. Take today’s script. It’s an “aliens come to earth” script. One of my favorite genres. But also a well-tread one. So when I read Terrestrial, it was, “I’ve seen this before, I’ve read this act before, I’ve seen these characters before…”
It’s hard to impress me. And I’m not going to say, “Wow, this was great!” when it isn’t just to stay positive.
So it puts me in this awkward position where I desperately want to celebrate screenplays but there aren’t enough people writing screenplays that are worthy of celebration.
So I call out to all of you in 2017, amateurs and professionals alike: write a script where you take a chance. That weird idea you have in the bottom of your drawer that you love but you’re terrified of because you think, “It’s too weird. Nobody’s going to go for it.” And you know what? You might be right.
But it could also be amazing. Because what we need now is a revolution – the same way those gunslinger writers and directors changed the game in the 70s and the 90s. And it starts with the writing. It starts WITH YOU. So write your safe script since you have to make a living. Your biopic or true story. But also write your weird “I’m scared shitless of this script” script. Here are a few scripts to inspire you…
Okay, now that I’ve melted your minds with that glob of advice, let’s get into today’s script…
Former Professor David Cantor is living in a Motel 6, wondering where his next job is going to come from. The man hasn’t had the best life, losing his wife and little girl in a fire.
No sooner does Cantor wake up from one of his nightly nightmares than he’s greeted by an army trooper who tells him to pack his bags. Cantor is whisked away and introduced to former Army Ranger Tom Kostovo, who hates his life just as much as Cantor.
Kostovo flies Cantor to the Mojave Desert where Cantor sees their destination – a giant crashed alien space ship.
After meeting with a small team there, we learn that Cantor once made contact with a tribe in the jungle that had never interacted with the outside world before. The army believes that skill will come in handy as they try and communicate with these aliens.
Kostovo and Cantor are joined by a beautiful young woman named Ellen Johannes, a theoretical biologist, and head into the ship to check it out. There, they find that the crew has been killed. But maybe not by the crash.
Everywhere they look, vines cover the ship’s insides, some even growing out of the alien corpses. When Kostovo and Cantor reach the center of the ship, they find the town Cantor grew up in. That’s right: Cantor’s town is in the middle of an alien space ship.
Cantor heads to his old address and finds that not only is his house still there, but so are his wife and daughter! Kostovo also finds the army unit he watched blow up back in Iraq. Meanwhile, Johannes is the only one who’s not hallucinating.
She eventually realizes what’s happening. These vine-plants cause people to go crazy and use that insanity to help them spread to the next host. And they want that next host to be earth!
If Johannes doesn’t convince Kostovo and Cantor that they’re being fucked with by alien vines, there’s a good chance our planet will be plant food by the end of the week.
This script had an uphill battle with me. A plot point I’ve never been fond of is the “ship causes hallucinations” storyline. Dating back to Sphere, it feels like the choice you go with when you don’t have enough story to tell after your characters enter the ship.
At the same time, I see why it’s appealing. It’s an easy way to explore character. You build the hallucinations around a problem from each characters’ past and we stick around to see if they’re able to resolve them. Cantor needs to get over the loss of his wife and daughter, therefore the hallucinations are about his wife and his daughter.
And yet there’s something about it in this setting that bothers me. When I go to an alien invasion movie, I don’t go to see a dude hanging out with his dead wife and daughter. I go to be pulled into the mystery of who the aliens are, where they came from, and why they’re here. That’s why I liked Arrival’s script so much.
Also, if you’re going to explore the internal, you have to do one of two things. Either it has to be a realistic portrayal of an internal problem, or it needs to be something unique we haven’t seen before. The two issues from these characters’ pasts – Cantor with his family dying in a fire and Kostovo with his unit dying in Iraq – felt “written,” the thing you feel like you’re supposed to write rather than thing that should be written.
With that said, the script gets better as it goes on. While at first I found the plants to be boring, their emergence as the true threat took the story into some interesting territory. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to make up for the aversion I have to this plot scenario.
We’ll have to see if the rewrites solve that problem. I’m sure the success of Arrival has made this project a priority to someone!
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: There are two kinds of writers. There’s the writer who loves crowd-pleasing Hollywood movies. And there’s the anti-establishment writer who writes offbeat stuff. Regardless of which type of writer you are, you should be writing BOTH types of scripts. You should be working on your mainstream script and you should be working on your offbeat script (writing back and forth between the two, if possible). Writing outside of your comfort zone makes you a better writer inside your comfort zone.