Genre: Drama-Comedy
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)

Q&A: Danny DeVitoDevito for Turtle Man?  I think so!

Turtle Man!

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.

Johnny-Depp-October-2011-007Depp for Smith Dangerous Smith? Double thinks so!

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.

  • garrett_h

    Scriptshadow is going old school!

    I read this yeeeaaarrrssss ago, back when SS was in it’s infancy. I was working my way through the Top 25 back then and happened upon this little gem. And I still worship at the altar of it’s awesomeness.

    This is one of those scripts that has to be read to be believed. The world building is on par with Killing on Carnival Row. Seriously, there’s a Turtle Man and you’re on board with it 100% right from the word go. And I almost cried when he died (OK, maybe not, but I was slightly miffed).

    It was just a fun read overall. I still remember all the major characters. I remember entire SCENES (like the one with the studio execs, or Turtle Man’s death, and the main event mini-UFC deathmatch) and I read this thing 4 or 5 years ago! I’ve probably read 300 scripts since then and this is one of the ones I remember most.

    The Robotard 8000 tried this approach, and I could barely get through it. Kitchen Sink was pretty good. But this script nails the “throw the craziest shit in there you can think of” genre.

    If you’ve got a chance, give it a read. At the least you’ll be entertained. And if you have a batshit crazy idea, please make it as good as 37th Dimension and I’ll be first in line to read it.

    • carsonreeves1

      I agree, it’s pretty impressive that they can introduce a miniaturized pop star and then a Turtle Man and you just go with it, no questions asked. I’ve seen a lot of writers try to introduce crazy things and fail miserably. I’m not sure what the magic formula is here, but it works.

    • Nicholas J

      Would love it if you still have it garrett, thanks. nicholasjwrite@gmail.com

    • Jarman Alexander

      I would like to take this thing for a spin too. J.Jarman.Alexander@gmail.com

      • pmlove

        If you do get it and wouldn’t mind passing it on.. lovepeterm at gmail dot com.

        Much obliged.

  • hickeyyy

    I’m very interested in checking this out. I’ve always loved reading things that are completely absurd. In my opinion they are the most fun and creative reads you can find. They are also very fun to write themselves.

    I remember writing a short story about a tabloid writer who wanted to create the most absurd stories just for the hell of it, those ‘Hitler is alive in Louisiana’ type stories. He wrote one about a 7 foot tall duck that was on a killing spree in the Midwest. Eventually he was killed by that 7 foot duck he created. It was just a fun experience, even if the story didn’t turn out the best.

    I highly suggest writing something off the wall just for yourself. It is a blast.

  • Linkthis83

    If this was the eighties, this movie would’ve already been made.

  • Magga

    Big budget studio movies that breathe: Titanic, Avatar, Jurassic Park, E.T, the last four movies to hold the title of the highest grossing film in history. I hate that Carson is right, because I do believe the studio execs think this way, but they are clearly wrong. They know propaganda and how to build a large audience for the opening week based on existing properties, but the movies that stay in theaters and keep drawing crowds are the ones that take time to build characters, relationships, and give you action that tells a story.

    • Jarman Alexander

      I definitely agree with wanting the room to breathe on those 3 hour epic James Cameron flicks, and Jurassic Park was the greatest concept in the history of everything (Or maybe it just came out when I was tiny and I had the bedsheets), and I guess Favreau is now one of those directors that’s trusted (?), but he’s definitely not trying to be James Cameron anytime soon.

    • Casper Chris

      There’s a difference between “a story that breathes” and outright redundancy though.

    • jw

      Sorry, but 3 of the 4 you list here are more than a decade old and you can’t really compare and contrast anything with Cameron. Avatar’s story was horrific, but it was all about the visuals and that’s why people saw it (Cameron has his own rules). We’re now in this ADD society where the masses are rarely interested in ‘breaths’. It is unfortunate, but it’s the truth. There are exceptions to every rule, but largely, especially in the world of the ‘unknown writer’ these things do matter.

      • Magga

        A decade ago the big hits were Tolkien adaptations, X-Men, Spiderman and computer animated movies, so I think things have changed more slowly this decade than at any time in motion picture history, and I can’t agree with every single record-breaker of the last three decades being exceptions to the “rules”

        • jw

          Bud, you don’t have to agree with anything. This is what is happening inside of the industry and that is a direct reflection of society at large. It’s not an opinion, it’s fact. And, I’m unsure if you even understand your own comment. How could the last 3 decades be an exception to the rule if we’re talking about today versus a decade ago and where the industry is headed? As far as I’m concerned I think every writer should write the way that makes them feel best. What they can’t do, is write the way that makes them feel best, not acknowledge their way may not be best for the market and then wonder why 10 years after they started writing nothing is happening with their work.

          • Magga

            Either way the current box office champ is a movie that took it’s time to set up characters, culture, nature, religion and relationships before going boom boom. I get that you didn’t like the script, I didn’t love it either, but it is by far the biggest movie, it wasn’t an established franchise and it had a lot of repeat visitors. And this criticism about short attention spans is nothing new, people have always said that but if you compare what you get on TV with what you got fifteen years ago you might draw the opposite conclusion.

    • G.S.

      Can I just ask a dumb question? What exactly does it mean for a movie to “breathe”?

      • Magga

        To me it means that everybody doesn’t have to start killing each other on page 15. If we’re talking stereotypical blockbusters you could point to how we spent a long time on Batman Begins following Bruce Wayne on his travels before kicking ass, spent time learning how the dinosaurs were created and how the technology of the park worked and what the characters felt about the business before the dino’s started eating people in Jurassic Park or followed Wall-E’s lonely adventures on planet earth and let the relationship with the other robot develop before all the chase scenes.

    • Michael

      Not sure you can equate epic length films, with room to breathe in the indie film sense. The films you sited are all tightly plotted (despite their long running times) and don’t go off on tangents to explore character, theme or other aspects that would be interpreted as breathing. Of course, Cameron and Spielberg have carte blanche to do as they please either way and we don’t.

      If you look at the scripts for those films they run in the 140 plus page count, yet are tightly written. It seems that writing a big budget action picture requires that high page count. What’s unfortunate, is if you write a spec script in that genre with that high a page count you will be automatically labeled as someone writing an unfocused script doing a lot of unjustified breathing. After slugging through as many bad scripts as we all have, it’s easy to understand how things got this way. Writers are forced to write to some arbitrary page count (110 pages or less) as a minimum hurdle by which to judge the authors writing ability.

      This is one more reason to write lean and mean, to give oneself the room to breathe when it is required. The “breathing” part, I generally find to be the soul of a script. If you have the chops to pull it off, breathe away.

      • Cuesta

        Some examples of page length to fortify your point:
        The A-Team, 118.
        Batman Begins, 150.
        The Dark Knight, 141.
        The Dark Knight Rises, 165.
        Total Recall (1990), 126.
        The Matrix, 133.
        The Matrix Reloaded, 142.
        The Matrix Revolutions, 148.
        47 Ronin, 124.
        Inception, 147.

        But hey, The Green Lantern has 105, a fast, vertical read with lots of white.

  • Logline_Villain

    Reading this review – where an atypical world is featured – reminded me of “The Gardener”, an excellent script by Jay Sherman which Carson rewarded with an [x] impressive way back in the day. And in the realm of memorable, risk-taking scripts there’s always “The Voices” and, dare I say, “Fatties”…

    • garrett_h

      The Voices and Fatties are definitely in the same ballpark. But this goes a couple steps past. Really liked those scripts, two of my favorite reads from last year. There’s also an Amateur Friday entry that’s similar, Charming, as well as the Logline Contest winner Oh Never, Spectre Leaf! All of those were fun, wacky scripts!

      • Logline_Villain

        Never had this one available for reading – but from Carson’s description and your further recommendation I have no doubt it’s a script that stays with you long after the Fade Out. Will try to check out the latter pair you mentioned. And I’d in turn suggest “The Gardener” if you haven’t already had the pleasure of reading. Thanks, Garrett…

  • JakeBarnes12

    Couple of espresso-fueled thoughts.

    1. Listen to the Jeff Goldsmith interviews with screenwriters even of films you have no interest in. I was on a train ride through Italy a few years back and was on the point of deleting Jeff’s “The Proposition” interview when I thought, what the fuck, another hour til Vernazza, beats all the Italian rap I somewhat optimistically loaded onto my iPod.

    Turned out the writer of the Sandra Bullock romantic comedy was a development executive before ditching it to become a screenwriter and he had a TON of great practical advice from BOTH sides of the desk.

    2. “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.”

    Speaking of Jon Favreau, back in the West Coast swing music revival days I used to go to the Top of the Mark in SF a lot on Tuesday nights. World-class martinis, of course, but also music from local swing favorites like Lavay Smith and the Red Hot Skillet Lickers.

    Before the band came on they gave swing lessons. At first it was really cool, you learned some basic steps, talked to lots of girls as you changed partners, etc. But after a while, it was the same steps. I understand why they had to do it — new people constantly coming along.

    But when you had the steps down it got frustrating you were never getting into more advanced stuff.

    Which leads me to…

    3. Letting scenes breathe. Thank you, Carson. This is a big one. This isn’t about the five-page drama-free conversations we all churn out in the early days (“But ‘The Godfather’ has long scenes!!”).

    Instead, the real question as we develop as writers is am I overtightening scenes? Have I squeezed all life or spontaneity out of this exchange? Sure, I can do it in half a page, but should the scene run longer, to a page or even more?

    There’s no easy answer, nor as in any matter of craft is there going to be total agreement among experienced writers, but seems to me we need to intimately know our characters and scene goal before we stand any chance of judging this.

    Tarantino while he was writing “Inglorious Basterds” said to an interviewer that he was currently working on a scene where a soldier was trying to pick up a girl and he wanted to finish the scene but it would take another page for the solider to pick her up.

    I believe what Tarantino’s saying here is that based on his knowledge of the characters and situation, he can judge how much resistance, how many dialogue exchanges, should happen for that pick up to feel “realistic” within the scene. Working from this idea, we might suggest that a man asking a woman somewhat interested in him out on a date could proceed faster on the page than a man trying to persuade another man to sacrifice his own life.

    But already this seems too simplistic. The goal with much greater opposition, sacrificing your own life, could be done with one line of dialogue (and great actors). “Pierre hands the pistol to Jean. ‘von Staffen mustn’t reach the train.’ Jean nods, resigned.” The man asking the woman out on date, on the other hand, could run for a number of “His Girl Friday”-type pages.

    In a character study like Kieslowski’s “Blue,” the entire story revolves around a woman trying to get over the death in a car crash of her husband and child, while in an action movie like “Die Hard 2” the emotional aftermath of the deaths of an entire planeload of people is handled in one short scene. Indeed, by the end of the movie,what in real time would only be a few hours after this national tragedy, all tears are forgotten and the movie fades out to Christmas snow falling and Vaughn Monroe crooning “Let It Snow.”

    So it looks like we have to take our knowledge of the characters and their scene goals and also factor in issues like larger act and script structure, genre expectations, and a certain amount of personal style (our friend Tarantino again).

    The other aspect that I’ve already alluded to is that this is dramaturgy, not fiction writing. It’s an entirely different beast. We are writing words to be performed. When we have characters saying every little thought and feeling that is in their heads, a common problem, we are giving actors lines to say and not a performance to create.

    In other words, a scene is not really the dialogue and directions that you can see on the page, though that is how as writers we tend to think of it.

    A scene as performed is really a series of emotional beats. That is the real structure that an experienced dramatist is creating and which can be interpreted by good actors. That’s why I wanted to be careful earlier when I talked about dialogue exchanges (i.e. character A says something, character B replies would be one exchange), as these do not necessarily correspond to scene beats. As we’re painfully aware in bad screenwriting, characters can have many dialogue exchanges stretching over way too many script pages, yet just keep hitting the same scene beat.

    So all this really boils down to is us understanding the story beats we want or need to turn a scene (i.e. have the scene matter to the story) and what a scene “breathing” really means is that the words on the page provide both cues and “space” (though really what we’re talking about is time for actor facial expressions, movements, etc.) for those beats to be performed, whether in the reader’s head or ideally by the actor.

    I know this sounds a little theoretical, but I’m trying to codify the actual creative calculations that it seems to me go into an experienced writer’s “feeling” that a scene should run longer or shorter.

    There’ll be an exam on Friday.

    • Kirk Diggler

      You had me at Italian train ride.

      Oh, and point number 2 all day long.

      • JakeBarnes12

        Thanks, Kirk, that’s how I roll — pack ‘em in with tales of Italy and booze, then bore them with a lecture.

    • pmlove

      I wonder if there is any merit to splitting out ‘story’ beats and ‘emotional’ beats, where the latter might be something that focuses solely on the character arc of the protagonist (or any other character, for that matter) and the former plot development.

      A ‘tight’ script therefore focuses on story elements alone, trying to tie in the character arc through character choices that pertain largely to the progression of the plot.

      ‘Breathing’ on the other hand, would allow for more meditative scenes or sequences that focus on progression of the character but may not directly develop the plot.

      They key thing is that the ‘breathing’ scene is still a development (not just a repeated beat) and the ‘space’ for acting is allowed as the scene itself focuses solely on the character.

      Taking American Psycho (book) as an example, the breathing might be the subtle shift in reaction to queries about how to wear clothing. At first, enthusiastic, proud. Then, two people answer at the same time – everyone knows this stuff. Then, reluctant. Then, angry, stop asking me about this. Finally, with his mother, he just says “Nothing.”

      Then (Film), you ‘tighten’ this up to make it more story driven, hang the spine of the plot on the central tension of the private investigator to focus more on the ‘story’ beats. Will he get away with it? Will he be caught?

      So… I probably still need to study, right.

      • JakeBarnes12

        Guess I was thinking about this mainly in terms of structuring individual scenes, but, yeah, seems that Jeff’s talking about looser, less plot-driven overall script structure.

        You raise an interesting point, though; does it make sense to think of scene structure in terms of “plot” beats separate from emotional beats, or are they usually/always linked?

  • ripleyy

    This sounds completely and utterly ridiculous…and I love it! So few scripts like these exist. If they were going to rewrite this, I have no idea who could do it justice. Brian Duffield?

  • Randy Williams

    LOL @ sadder profile. Sadly, some never get beyond “you have to start somewhere”

  • carsonreeves1

    Email me.

  • Citizen M

    It might be 126 pages, but it’s a very fast read. An excellent example of the wordsmith’s craft. Although it could easily lose ten pages.

    Regarding the wacky elements: turtle man, the pint-size pop singer and cage fighters, and Roland the sex maniac drum machine, you could replace them with normal characters and the story wouldn’t change. It’s being different for the sake of being different. Otherwise the usual cast of characters: drunken PI who knows more than he seems to, bumbling cops, ethnic crooks, assorted wealthy people and CEOs.

    Not sure why it’s called 37th Dimension. Apart from the oddball cast, it’s a very ordinary 21st century world. A bit dated now with VCRs, Blackberries, and troubles in East Timor, but these are easy fixes.

    On the whole I enjoyed it. It is worth the read, although I don’t know if I’d invest in the movie if I had the money. Take away the wacky elements and it’s an average crime caper.

    Last very frustrating point. I can’t figure out the scam. We are given the clues, but I can’t fit them together. Can anyone verify that it was a workable plan? (Don’t give away any spoilers.)

  • gazrow

    I’ve got this script if anyone wants it – gazrow at hotmail dot com

  • Casper Chris

    LOL at that link

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