Premise: A college student home for the holidays discovers that an internet porn film turns its viewers into homicidal maniacs. As the epidemic spreads, he has to save his longtime crush while struggling to control his own urges.
About: Adam Penn worked as an editor on Nip Tuck and, more recently, American Horror Story. He is yet to claim a feature writing credit, but did write an episode of “Black Box TV.” This script landed on the 2008 Black List.
Writer: Adam Penn
Details: 111 pages – August 4. 2008
One of the things I like to do is pull old scripts out of the Hollywood’s junk bin and see if they’re still good – see if they’re worthy of getting another shot at the title. Everyone knows this town has the attention span of a squirrel. That means the occasional quality script can surface which either isn’t marketable enough or doesn’t reach enough desks at the time, and, as a result, fade into obscurity. Which is a shame. Because every once in awhile, one of those scripts is a A Desperate Hours, or a Dead of Winter. At one point even The Grey was forgotten. I mean come on Hollywood!
So when I saw this title and this premise, I thought, “You know, if done right, it’s one of those scripts that just might be wacky enough to work.” I mean sure – it’s also one of those scripts that could go off the rails faster than a train with a texting conductor. But I was feeling lucky. What about you? Do you feel lucky? Punk?
No? Okay, I wasn’t trying to put any pressure on you. Sorry. But right. “Peacoat Miller.” I’ve labeled screenplays like this, “The Crazy Screenplay.” That’s because they throw everything and the kitchen sink at you, thinking you’ll be so delighted with all the absurdity that you won’t be able to control your laughter. We’ve seen these screenplays before on Scriptshadow. Heck, we’ve even reviewed one that was literally called Kitchen Sink. And that script was pretty good. So why can’t this one be?
Penn plops us down in Rockville, Maryland circa 2008. No, this isn’t a flashback. This is when the script was written. 21 year old Peter “Peacoat” Miller wakes up one morning staring up at a decapitated cat clockwising around on the ceiling fan. On the plus side, don’t have to budget for Meow Mix anymore. On the minus side? How the hell did this happen???
He dials up his best friend, Egyptian mega-nerd Wesam Fahmy, and informs him about the murdered cat, to which Wesam doesn’t seem too concerned. But he helps Peacoat recall what he did the night before, which basically amounted to nothing except for watching a porno clip of an “average asian chick getting it from behind.”
Well, they go back to that clip and, low-and-behold, it turns out it puts you in some sort of serial killer trance that forces you to go out and kill people in really violent ways! Like by tearing their faces off! There is a LOT of face-tearing-off in “Peacoat Miller.” Which should give you an idea of what you’re in for.
But before we get to that, Peacoat heads to his shrink, the oversexed Dr. Kaiser, to try and get some insight into why he woke up with a dead cat on his fan. It was at this point that I knew the script wasn’t going to be any good. Whenever characters go places for vague reasons, it’s a guarantee that the script is going to be sloppy. He wakes up with a dead cat on his fan so he goes to a shrink he hasn’t seen in two years?? I mean there’s sorrrrttttaaaa a kind of logical connection there but it just seems like something you’d do like 3 months down the line, not now. Clearly, Penn wanted to get the loopy sex-crazed Dr. Kaiser into the story somehow, so throwing Peacoat into a session with him, even though it didn’t make any sense, was the gameplan.
It’s at Kaiser’s offices where Peacoat runs into the sarcastic and dangerous Valentine, a girl who caught him masturbating to Jet magazine when he was a kid, and who he hasn’t spoken to since. The two engage in some flirty dialogue, and she mentions some end of the year party he should come to even though he wasn’t invited.
Peacoat’s thrilled that he and Valentine are finally talking, but has to find out about the cat murder stuff before he can book her on “Say Yes To The Dress.” He discovers that the naughty video turns you into a killer, and that he’s not the only one affected. News coverage shows people everywhere are randomly murdering neighbors…and ripping their faces off!
Which means he has to figure out a way to stop all this, especially because the love of his life, Valentine, is going to be at a party FEATURING the infamous video. EGADS!
Okay so look, I understand that when you don’t like the humor in a script, there’s no hope of you liking the script. The characters can be good. The plot can be interesting. But if you aren’t laughing at a single joke, the script is done in your mind. And to put it plainly, that’s how I felt.
But the truth is, I didn’t think there was any structure/story either. It didn’t seem like anyone was in a hurry to do anything until the very very end. So we’re going through an entire second act where characters talk about being concerned. But they don’t exhibit any traits that would make you think they were concerned.
You get some leniency in this department if you’re writing a comedy, sure, but the comedy didn’t even seem like comedy to me. It just felt like a bunch of really weird crazy shit happening. Even Dr. Kaiser, who was probably the best character, elicited only smiles. I wanted him to be funny. The idea of him was funny. But he wasn’t funny for some reason.
The dialogue also annoyed me. It felt like it was trying too hard to be clever. We get lines like, “We don’t know shit. Chick could’ve seen a mouse. I’m done playing John McClane. Sam needs to get his drink on, his smoke on. Go home with somethin’ to poke on.” I did a little research and checked out when Juno came out. Sure enough, it came out in 2007, the year before this was written, and I remember for awhile there, trying to write like Diablo Cody was all the rage. Many writers did it without even liking what they were doing. They just thought that’s what everyone wanted. It feels like Penn was one of these victims. I’m not even sure he’d be convinced that this is good dialogue.
If you want to go back to my article about storytelling, Penn is telling a story here. He starts out with a mystery. Why is Peacoat killing things? The problem is, the answer to that mystery pops up immediately. When that happens, you want to follow it with a goal. We know what’s causing this – so the GOAL should be to stop it. That should be the logical driving force for the rest of the script. And it sorta is. Except that it isn’t. Peacoat and Wesam stumble around for the rest of the script not doing much of anything. In a screenplay – especially a comedy – you want there to be a sense of urgency – a sense that things need to be taken care of now. And just saying “other people are dying” isn’t enough! We have to see your characters actively going out there and doing something about it, especially in the second act, where it’s so easy for your script to get slow. Check out tomorrow’s script review to see how to properly add urgency to your hero’s pursuit.
I wish I had some nice things to say here but this felt like one of those early attempts at a screenplay. You’re trying to write what you think Hollywood wants, instead of going with your own gut and your own voice. And because it appears Penn was still learning the craft when he wrote it, the structure was weak, making for a really uneventful second act. This one definitely wasn’t for me.
What I learned; Whenever you write a party scene (or gathering, or ball, or event) make sure to give your main character a clear objective for the party in order to keep things focused. With there being so much going on at a party, it’s easy to lose your way, or drift into tangents that the audience doesn’t care about. By giving your hero an objective, you give the part a clear focus, which should keep the sequence easy to follow. So in the case of “Peacoat Miller,” the objective was Peacoat’s pursuit of Valentine.