Premise: In a dimension where turtle people are movie stars and miniaturized people fight to the death, a speed-addicted alcoholic gambling private investigator must find out who kidnapped a miniature pop star.
About: This script was on The Black List all the way back in 2007. Since then, co-writer Tom Kuntz has gone on to be one of the most successful commercial directors in the business (he did that famous Old Spice ad with the guy walking around without a shirt). He also directed 2008’s The Onion Movie. Currently, I can’t find anything on co-writer Griffin Creech. Hope he’s still around!
Writer: Griffin Creech and Tom Kuntz
Details: June 8th, 2007 draft (126 pages)
Half-turtle. Half man.
That’s all you need to know going into this one.
Actually, that’s not true. FWIW, I read The 37th Dimension 6 years ago. Believe it or not, it was once in my Top 25. Of course, back then I hadn’t read many scripts, but still. It was different. It was weird. It was the kind of script you still thought about after you put it down.
But the kinds of scripts I respond to today are different. I’m less impressed with flashy gadget-y scripts with a bag full of tricks and nothing else. I need some meat. There was this script called Fiasco Heights, for example, that wowed the reader out of me, purely because of its writing style. But that doesn’t happen much anymore. These days I need depth, I need character, I need something to dig my teeth into. Always a challenge in the minimalistic writing arena that is a screenplay.
So, naturally, I was curious what this new Carson would think of The 37th Dimension. Especially because I spend most of my time in this lame-o 7th Dimension. Take a trip with me 30 floors up, will you?
TOP 40 (that’s the name of a character by the way) is a beautiful pop star who just happens to be 10% the size of a regular person. Upon making a private appearance with a Japanese businessman, the businessman starts masturbating, leading to her trying to escape. But all of a sudden the lights go off, and when they come back on again, Top 40 is gone.
Enter Smith Dangerous Smith, a talented private investigator who see-saws between speed and booze to make it through what his more optimistic brethren refer to as “life.” He’s brought into Top 40’s music label to handle the case. See, it appears that whoever kidnapped Top 40, is now demanding a 20 million dollar ransom for her. Since Smith owes 700 grand to a gang of Haitian bookies, he agrees to the case faster than Selena Gomez breaks up and gets back together with Justin Bieber.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Turtle Man, an advanced age half-turtle, half-man, who also happens to be a great actor. Well, WAS a great actor. Now he’s lucky to get a car dealership commercial. So upon backing his car up, ironically, into the van of those Haitian gangsters, he finds himself the recipient of the wrong kind of attention. They follow him home, try to kill him, only to see him duck into his turtle shell. Such is the goings-on of the 37th Dimension.
Also occurring in this dimension are 10% super ultimate fighter fights. This is when these 10% mini-people fight each other in a match to the death. J.T. Monahan, a Texas billionaire, carries the best of these fighters, Champ, around in a bowling bag. They’re so close that he even lets Champ watch him have sex (from his bag), which his lady friends naturally find kind of weird.
Smith, in the meantime, vacillates between getting utterly blasted and following up leads, which typically lead nowhere. From the Japanese man Top 40 did a private show for, to the little people collector, J.T. Burnham, to a plastic surgery doctor who’s so good he does his boob jobs in the back of his Bentley (which has built-in anesthesia) – everywhere he looks turns out to be a bust. When the music company bumps up the pressure and the Haitians start threatening death, it’ll be up to Smith Dangerous Smith to work a miracle and save Top 40 before it’s too late.
This is how you do crazy.
A couple of weeks ago, I reviewed “The Lobster,” which was a mess from its pincher-shaped beginning to its crustaceous end. The rules were murky. The urgency was non-existent. It wasn’t even clear what our main character was trying to do other than stumble around his hotel and avoid getting in trouble. That’s not how you do crazy.
The best way to do crazy is to add non-crazy. In other words, you need a “normal” spine to hang crazy on. If you try to hang crazy on top of crazy, the spine won’t hold. There’s too much weirdness and everything buckles.
So yeah, even though we have a turtle man, Top 40, fight-to-the-death little people matches and weird Haitians (delightful bad guys, who are asked by Turtle Man, “What are you doing here?!” when they break into his house. Their answer? A polite, “Clearly we have gained unauthorized access to your dwelling.”), it works because they orbit around a stable narrative: Smith Dangerous Smith is trying to find and rescue Top 40.
Had Smith been, say, an alien, who ran around the city collecting butterflies, none of this would’ve worked. We needed him and his plotline to be normal so that everything else could be batshit insane.
With that said, I think the non-Smith elements of 37th Dimension could’ve been even crazier. Once you have that solid spine, you have to take advantage of the wacky rules governing your universe. There were really only two anomalies here – a turtle man and 10% people. And Turtle Man was, sadly, killed off early (R.I.P. Turtle Man). Two is such an odd number. At minimum you have to have three (everything comes in threes). And I’d probably go even further. Have other animal people. Have people who can perform magic. Do weird shit with the weather. This is the 37th Dimension. Not the 9th Dimension. Let’s get loopy!
Dimension was also way too long (126 pages). Maybe the writers thought for every extra dimension they got to write an extra page, but that’s not how it works. For these kinds of stories, it’s 110 pages tops. We ain’t watching William Wallace conquer England here.
I’m kinda sad that these guys split up, because I’ll see this a lot when talented writers first start out. They have a ton of weird ideas, which make their scripts memorable, but they haven’t yet learned the basics of structure – how to cut useless characters out, how to get rid of unimportant scenes, how to combine scenes, how to keep scenes focused so they don’t run on 2 pages too long. Cause if you write three scenes in your script that each run 2 pages long, that’s 6 extra pages you’ve added. That’s how you get up to 126 pages.
Over time, you learn how to curb these mistakes and your scripts get tighter, until you’ve segued from a “script that gets people talking” to a “script people want to buy.” Sadly, many writers don’t stick around that long, quitting before they figure out the magic code.
There’s a moment early on here, for example, where the music label brings in Smith to give him the info on what’s happened to Top 40. Afterwards, there’s a nearly identical scene where the police tell him what they know. These two scenes should’ve been combined, or the police scene should’ve been eliminated altogether. You could have easily fed in the info from the second scene into the first and cut out 2 pages.
Also, later in the script, a detective rails on Smith for being so inadequate. He keeps saying the same thing over and over again (that Smith’s inadequate) in several different ways. It takes up an ENTIRE PAGE. He could’ve easily gotten his point across in four lines, which means you’ve saved an entire page of screenplay real estate. True, there are times when you need your character to say more than 4 lines to get their point across, but those moments need to be big and worth it, which this one wasn’t.
Despite those problems, I think this could’ve been a movie. I don’t know if it can now because I don’t think these writers work together anymore and this would need a rewrite. But it’s different enough that I think it would bring in a big indie audience and possibly even break through into something bigger, especially if it got someone like Johnny Depp involved, who seems to have been created by the acting Gods for this kind of film.
We can only hope!
R.I.P. TURTLE MAN!
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: John Favreau was doing an interview for Jeff Goldsmith’s podcast, and Favreau was asked about his propensity for letting his indie films “breathe.” Why, Goldsmith wanted to know, didn’t he do the same for his bigger films? “Because audiences don’t like breathing,” Favreau replied, one-quarter joking. He went on to say that in a studio setting, they want the script to be tight. They want you to get to the point. In indie films, you can play around a little bit more. – There’s no right or wrong way to write a movie, of course. But if you want to get studio money, you have to learn to tighten your scripts. If not, the best you can hope for is a writing sample.