Genre: Sci-fi
Premise: In the near future, where a secret group of humans have been genetically upgraded, a young girl holds the key to stopping these “synthetics” from taking over the world.
About: This is the new thing I was talking about. A spec script can’t just sell alone. It has to be like the recently sold “The Eden Project,” which is the beginning of a trilogy, the promise of a franchise, something that might even turn into a universe. Christine Hodson is an up-and-coming writer who was a former development exec, and has sold a few scripts now (none have yet made it to the big screen). This is clearly her most ambitious one, and sold for three quarters of a million bucks. It includes another new trend of giving your big expensive action movies female leads.
Writer: Christina Hodson
Details: 117 pages

zero-dark-thrity-jessica-chastain-hotJessica Chastain for Eve?

Talk about a script slump. What was the last feature script I flipped over? Hot Air? When was that? Four months ago?

I’ve been giving a lot of feedback to writers lately, and after giving one writer some particularly harsh (albeit kind) feedback, he asked me if I’d reached a point where nothing was fresh to me anymore. If it didn’t matter what a writer wrote in my eyes, because I’d already seen it a million times due to the sheer volume of scripts I read.

That question has lingered with me since. Could it be true? Might all these scripts and movies I haven’t liked lately actually be due to my unnaturally high read volume? I mean aren’t there only so many ways to tell a story? Am I asking too much by telling writers to give me something new, different, unique and not the same ole same ole?

While there’s no question that reading a lot of scripts dulls the read senses, I came to the conclusion that this answer would be an excuse, and I’ll tell you why. Because while it’s true there are only so many ways to tell a story, there are an infinite number of ways to create characters. No two people on this earth are exactly alike, and the same should be said for the people in screenplays.

If you put that extra effort into birthing a unique character who feels real and complex, and you do the same with all the other characters in your story, then you should be able to write something good, regardless of if the story feels familiar.

I know this because usually, when I don’t like a script, it starts with the characters. Either I don’t connect with them, identify with them, like them, or see anything unique in them. So I may be on page 10 by that point, not even at the doorstep of the actual plot, and I’ve already decided I don’t like the screenplay.

I think this is the skill that truly separates the good from the bad screenwriters. The good not only do the extra work to create these complex individuals, but they find compelling ways to explore the collective of those individuals, how they interact with one another. The writers who hunker down and commit to doing this typically reap the rewards. Let’s hope we get some of that today in The Eden Project.

Laura Walker, your average soccer mom, has a perfect husband, John, and a bright 7 year old daughter, Ruby. She also has a secret. She’s not human. Or at least, not a hundred percent. And when she steps on a plane to Tokyo, she’s well aware that her chances of making it to her destination are small.

Indeed, she’s attacked on the plane by a man with superhuman strength, who then who puts the plane down, killing Laura and the other 200 other people on board.

In the meanwhile, a woman named Eve, who’s like the female version of The Terminator, walks through the desert until she hits Vegas. Eve is looking for Ruby, Laura’s 7 year old daughter (who looks 15 – but we’ll get into that later). Ruby’s been keeping a secret from her father. She and her mom are “synthetics,” advanced next-gen versions of humans.

But it’s a little trickier than that. You see, the real synthetics, who we’ll call the “bad” synthetics, are planning to take over the world. Laura was a synthetic escapee who was developing a virus to kill the bad synthetics. She was on her way to Japan to give the virus to a man who could inject it into the synthetic mainframe. But the synthetics figured it out and stopped her before she could.

Now Eve, a “good” synthetic who was working with Laura, must get Ruby (and her dad), who also has the virus inside of her, to their Japanese contact before the bad synthetics get to them first.

Take 1 part Terminator, mix with 2 parts Matrix, add in a “Lucy” like female lead (actually dual-female leads), and you have a movie that’s able to capitalize on all the elements of those films, while still being its own thing. Put frankly, this is EXACTLY how you sell a spec. Find out what worked before you, do the same, but give it a slightly unique spin.

Conceptually (and by that I mean all the elements that went into making this saleable – like the female lead thing), I give this an A. But execution-wise, it never reaches that lofty bar. And that’s partly because it’s existing within a framework where we already know what happens next. I mean the GSU is here in spades (get to Japan, fate of the world is at stake, bad guys are closing in), which makes for a lean-mean ask-kicking spec machine. But it’s so firmly rooted in the DNA of Matrix and Terminator that it doesn’t take a futurist to predict what will happen next (although I give it props for a daring unexpected late plot development).

And what about that whole character thing I was crooning on about earlier? What about that?

Well, Eve is essentially the Terminator in Terminator 2. She’s all 1s and 0s, no understanding of emotion whatsoever (she coldly offers to kill John for Ruby – Ruby’s like, “What?? He’s my fucking dad.”), and her journey is about learning to feel. So there’s definitely some character development going on, but once again, it’s character development we’ve seen before.

The far more interesting character scenario is John. He finds out that his wife and his kid have been lying to him this whole time. That his whole life has been a lie. How do you handle that kind of fallout? However, the script makes it clear that it’s way more interested in spending time with the girls than the boys, so John’s fascinating little character issue is only grazed.

A couple of other observations I had. Adam, our synthetic baddie, trashes his secret station after taking down Laura’s plane so no evidence is left, but decides to leave Eve there. This us quite the lazy oversight. The only reason Eve appears to be left alive is because the story needed it. It would’ve made a lot more sense to either bring her with or get rid of her. It made zero sense to let her out into the wild.

Also, Ruby (the daughter) is a 7 year old who looks 15. John’s spiel about being tricked by his wife doesn’t hold up if he never noticed that his 7 year old daughter looked like a sophomore in high school. That’s usually Red Flag Numero Uno. More on these two problems in the “What I learned” section.

Finally there were the fights. Which were fun. They had a very “Matrix-y” feel to them. But they were a little “been-there-done-that.” This is something I’m noticing more and more with this “repackaging male-as-female” trend. The writers think changing the gender is all they have to do. All the action beats can be exactly the same.

Except you NEVER want to think that way. No matter whether you’re updating a genre or a gender, you always want to look for ways to take scenes and ideas within the movie to a new level. The reason James Cameron made The Terminator was because he imagined a metallic skeleton chasing a woman and he thought, “I’ve never seen that in a movie before.” That’s always gotta be your bar as well. You need to think up those moments that audiences have never seen before. Especially in the ultra-competitive action genre.

Besides these problems, The Eden Project was an easy read. Rarely does Hodson go over 2 line-paragraphs, which is smart when you’re writing an action script. We’re always on the move, always hurrying to get to that next checkpoint. There’s no breaking new ground here. But there’s enough to make it work and, more importantly, we have a concept that studios will want to turn into a movie.

[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: As writers, one of those great feelings you have is getting your script to the 98% point. That’s where you’ve finished all the heavy-lifting. All the big plot points make sense. All the scenes look good. The character work is strong and seamless. 98% feels damn nice. BUT, 98% is deceiving. You tend to think, “You know what. All the important stuff is finished. Let’s just get this out there.” As a result, you expose your script to the world when it still has mistakes. Here, we have the “Let Eden roam free” oversight along with your father character not being more curious about his 7 year old daughter looking 15. Is it annoying to have to figure out a solution for these things when you can gloss over them in the script with cheat lines like, “I just thought she had a weird disease?” Sure, but getting that final 2% figured out makes a difference. It makes the script whole. True, it didn’t affect The Eden Project’s sale. But I read the hundreds of scripts where the writers didn’t take care of the last 2% (or 5%, or 10%) and those scripts don’t always have the strong conceptual backbone that a script like The Eden Project has. And therefore the 2% becomes a lot more important. So no matter how exhausted you are, get your script to 100%. It’s worth it.

  • klmn

    I’m getting tired of heroes saving the world all the fucking time. Give it a rest.

    • carsonreeves1

      Guardians of the Galaxy saved the universe. A new bar has been set. :)

      • klmn

        That’s even worse. A guy can’t even drink and watch the whole thing blow up.

    • http://apairoftools.wordpress.com/ Sebastian Cornet

      Right! We need a movie where the heroes try their damndest to destroy the world!

      • Casper Chris

        Destroy the world to prevent ebola from spreading to the rest of the universe.

        • LV426

          World War Ebola

          Starring Brad Pitt. Coming to a theater near you in 2017 (the movie, not the Ebola).

          • carsonreeves1

            Three Ebola cases in the U.S. You’d have a better chance of getting killed by a flock of stampeding ducks. And yet I’m rethinking my Thanksgiving travel plans so I don’t have to be on a plane (aka – a disease incubator).

          • LV426

            I’m more worried in the sense that I question what the media is reporting in regards to Ebola. A few days ago it was “all these hospitals around the nation are fully equipped to deal with Ebola patients” whereas now it seems that is not exactly true.

            I’m not freaking out yet, but I’m definitely concerned. It sure doesn’t hurt to be cautious about it.

          • klmn

            Three Ebola cases now. I’ll bet cash money there will be more by Thanksgiving day.

            Go ahead and fly – you could be number fourteen.

          • LV426

            I bet some screenwriter(s) out there is ripping through the first draft of a ‘zombies on an airliner’ or some sort of ‘viral pandemic airline thriller’.

          • kenglo

            These guys ARE the sci-fi channel –

            http://www.writersstore.com/scriptxpert-script-search-the-asylum?et_mid=696996&rid=239285283

            http://www.theasylum.cc/company.php

            They’d probably buy it AND let you direct!!

          • LV426

            Hey, didn’t James Gunn start out writing for Troma?

            Coppolla, Scorsese, and Cameron all got their hands dirty working on low budget Roger Corman films back when they were starting out in the film business.

            I could pitch it as SIN CITY meets WORLD WAR Z, except with killer mutant ducks instead of zombies.

          • kenglo

            LMAO!! Corman was a master at getting films made, good bad or indifferent, he got them made!

          • Magga

            Even so there’s a higher likelihood of dying in an actual plane accident

          • klmn

            It Depends on where you are. In Liberia, I’d bet on Ebola.

            And my point is that the situation is dynamic. What’s to stop the infected from coming here? If they get here, they have a better chance than in their home countries.

          • klmn
    • gonzorama

      And I’m tired of every first-man/first-woman themed script calling their leads Adam and Eve. Sure, this is called “The Eden Project” but even that is trite and boring. Seen it way too many times.

      • LV426

        At the very least they could go with Evelyn or Evangeline instead. Evangeline still sounds biblical but not as on the nose. Evelyn is a bit old timey, but kinda classy. Neither seem overused as character names these days.

      • carsonreeves1

        It’s true. I see a LOT of scripts revolving around the whole “Adam and Eve” thing. It’s quite common.

        • Levres de Sang

          And nothing to my mind will ever beat that terrifying Season 1 X-Files episode, EVE.

      • filmklassik

        So true. But of course most moviegoers (and most executives, come to that) have no knowledge of or interest in anything written or filmed pre-“Dark Knight,” so they don’t KNOW that these cliches are even cliches. Nor do they much care.

        And the next generation of audiences won’t know about THESE stories.

        There is no generational memory, folks. None.

        Welcome to GROUNDHOG DAY. For real.

        (I’m just waiting for some smartass to write: “What’s GROUNDHOG DAY?”)

        • Midnight Luck

          I think I’ve seen that one.
          Many times.

  • Richard Wood

    What is ‘GSU’?

  • fatherdope

    Working on a script idea with a strong female protagonist, so if anyone has the script to share it would be most appreciated:

    fatherdope at yahoo dot com – pls & thx

  • Eric

    “..getting that final 2% figured out makes a difference. It makes the script whole.”

    Agreed. Too often I see writers stating plainly that they aren’t going to worry too much about plot holes or oversights. “I’m selling a concept,” the logic goes “and once it’s bought it’ll be changed anyway, so what’s the point getting hung up on details.” Of course the problem is, sometimes those details make it to the movie. A lot of people noted things about Transcendence that felt off, but most seemed to think the filmmakers and rewrites would make it better. Did they? Between removing some of the set pieces and eliminating the love triangle, they arguably made it worse.

    That’s thing we need to remember. Hollywood doesn’t just come in and sprinkle pixie dust over the script to make it awesome. Very often people will be asking for things that potentially compromise the quality of the script. If what you’re starting out with is only 98%, it’ll be real hard to keep the forces around you from driving your story into a ditch.

    • Logic Ninja

      Yeah, definitely. If there are problems, someone’s gonna try to fix them. That doesn’t mean they WILL fix them. They’ll probably make the whole thing worse.

      If there aren’t any problems to begin with, maybe no one will have the urge to fix anything. Maybe.

  • Logic Ninja

    “…your father character not being more curious about his 7 year old daughter looking 15.”

    What if Laura, the mom, finds out her daughter will be synthetic while in the womb… so she STABS HER HUSBAND’S EYES OUT WHILE HE’S SEDATED? Then wakes him up, crying, like, “Oh my god, you were in an accident or something”–

    Let’s just say he believes her–cause, you know, in femme fatale movies all the men are idiots. NOW we got us some dramatic tension in the house.

  • Ben Kirby

    I would also like a copy of the script too if possible. Richard Wood, GSU means Goals Stakes Urgency. This are the three key elements a film/script really needs. If you’d like to know more about GSU, take a look at some of the writing articles on here. Also this screenplay is a good example of what’s selling these days. A story that can become a trilogy/franchise. The main reason I think these are being bought is because the studios can make a ton of money from them. Just look at Avengers, Saw and Fast & Furious.

  • jw

    Carson, I was surprised you didn’t get into how the script actually sold for as high as it did with the glaring oversights you point out and I’m curious about your perspective here. Was it just because she “knew” people, as obviously being a former dev. exec she had the connections already lined up? It’s odd to see a script that sold for a solid amount simply get ‘worth the read’ and nothing really in the way of astounding praise. Thoughts?

    • Scott Strybos

      A lot of the time studios buy the script solely for the concept. For example, Tom Cruise’s Edge of Tomorrow (originally called All You Need is Kill) was bought for a million dollars and then completely rewritten.

    • carsonreeves1

      Big spec sales can be a lot like high grossing movies. I don’t know anyone who liked Transformers 4 but it made a billion bucks because it’s tailor-made for mass audiences. If you come up with a good spin on a saleable concept and then execute it well, you can sell your script. While I wouldn’t call the execution here “amazing,” it’s important to point out that it’s certainly better than 99% of the amateur stuff I read and above average when compared to the other pro stuff I read. My bar is high and sometimes I sound like I’m dismissing stuff when, compared to what else is out there, the reviewed script is pretty damn good.

    • http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1888937/ Rick McGovern

      They’ll rewrite the parts they don’t like. Next of Kin sold for a million bucks and they threw out the entire third act and rewrote it. Low Dweller was bought for a few hundred grand and given a page one rewrite. You just never know.

      • kenglo

        I couldn’t believe how different the film was from the script. The film was actually better than the script. I saw SNITCH (with Dwayne Johnson) and went about getting the screenplay…..the movie was WAY BETTER. I’m beginning to think, even after Carson’s review, holes or not, writing or not, if you have a high concept and an intriguing story, it will sell….wait…..I’ve heard that before….every damn week! Oh yeah! And ya gotta know some folks!!

        • http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1888937/ Rick McGovern

          You just got to keep writing the best script you can and not give up… what else can you do?

          And was that you who sent me a FB request? lol

  • Scott Strybos

    To those who have read the script: is Ruby John’s biological daughter or is she his step daughter?

    If she is biologically his, wouldn’t she be only half-synthetic?

    If she is a step-daughter, why didn’t she and mommy lie about her age?

  • Randy Williams

    Too bad we don’t have those ” Bad Synthetics” here to keep viruses from coming over on airplanes.

    Anyway…this script seems like an estrogen and steroid pumped up version of “True Lies” which can never be a bad thing.

  • brenkilco

    It sounds pretty standard. Between Eve linking up with the kid(btw is she half synthetic or did John adopt her?) and the pair making it to Japan does anything really original or clever happen? Sounds like most of the effort has been put into the back story but that the story itself is just the same old same old fight chase fight chase.

  • Andrew Parker

    Carson — Is there a market for a feature adaptation of “Small Wonder”? Asking for a friend.

    • LV426

      Or an overly predictable movie?

  • mulesandmud

    Haven’t had much to say about this weeks posts, but am feeling a bit antsy, so I hope nobody minds if I hop over to another subject.

    Anyone care to look at a couple of scenes from upcoming movies? Here’s one from FURY:

    Prior to watching this scene, not much about this film had piqued my interest. The ad campaign seems to intentionally present it as the plainest WW2 film imaginable. Tanks are tough, war is hell, etc.

    The scene starts in a pretty derivative place, a can-the-new-guy-kill-a-german scene ripped wholesale from Saving Private Ryan, but then starts to go pretty dark pretty fast, with Brad Pitt literally forcing a gun into the hand of the weeping rookie as a german prisoner begs for his life and dozens of other soldiers watch blankly. If the film can earn the straight-faced absurdity of a scene like this, then maybe it’ll turn out to be something.

    Regardless, the scene accomplishes the simple goal of gripping me with curiosity about what happens next (the answer to which the marketing department smartly leaves out of the clip).

    Here’s another one, this time from WHIPLASH:

    Actually, I think this is the least interesting clip from the movie that I’ve yet seen, but maybe that’s why it’s worth discussing.

    Best I can tell, the film centers on a young musician who values drumming above human relationships, and this scene seems like his tentative, uncharacteristic bid for a connection with someone else. Note how that context turns several banal and typically disposable lines (hey/how are you?/good thanks/what’s your name?/nice to meet you/nice to meet you too) into relevant character info, describing the stilted awkwardness of their interaction and using it as a setup for the cute trick she pulls on him. Still not gonna set the world on fire with any of these lines, but they do all have purpose. I also like that the dynamic reverses itself by the end, so that she is suddenly the one interested in him.

    Overall a charming, low key meet cute, but the question is, since we’ve all seen (and probably written) scenes just like this many times before, does this scene manage to distinguish itself enough with its small choices, or is it still an eye-glazer?

    Note: I haven’t read either of these scripts, so all of this is speculation. I’m less interested in rating the scenes than I am in thinking about what they do and don’t accomplish.

    • cbatower

      I didn’t have much interest in Fury either, but that was a gripping scene.

      ON WHIPLASH:

      There’s something so fresh about this scene. The usual quirk-factor which permeates movies such as (500) Days of Summer, Ruby Sparks, Juno, etc. is entirely missing from the scene. It feels real when so many scenes of its type in other movies come off as over-written and excruciatingly calculated — scenes meticulously and obviously crafted to speak to the group of young adults who think being a “nerd” means wearing horn-rimmed glasses and listening to The Shins.

      Primarily, the scene succeeds by sidestepping the Manic Pixie Dream Girl cliche. Both characters seemed real as opposed to the man sounding real and girl spouting writerly crap.

      In other words, perhaps the scene is not enthralling in its own right, but it still, to me, provides ample evidence of the quality of the overall product.

      • Casper Chris

        Two other factors served to increase the realness:

        – The overlapping dialogue
        – The one-shot take

        • mulesandmud

          Love that dialogue overlap. I credit the performances in both scenes for enhancing the material quite a bit (though of course it’s possible that the dialogue was written to be overlapping).

          I love the way that Pitt grabs the rookie’s face in the FURY clip, warping his cheek and lips in a way that mirrors Brad Pitt’s own scarred face. Reminds me of the moment in the Godfather when Michael agrees to kill Solozzo; his face is swollen from his broken jaw, which gives him a sort of muffled drawl that reminds us of Brando, and foreshadows the rest of Michael’s story.

    • klmn

      About the Fury scene. It’s interesting that filmmakers would do that, at a time when the US employs very restrictive rules of engagement and prosecutes soldiers for that type of stuff.

      It sort of reminds me of how Dirty Harry came out not too long after court rulings – such as the Miranda decision – restricted the actions of police.

      I’ll be curious to see if Fury finds an audience.

    • kenglo

      Logan Lerman (Norman) and Tye Sheriden (Joe, Mud) are probably two of the best up and coming actors of the next generation. Put one of them in a flick with Elle Fanning and I bet you get some magic…..AWESOME SCENE mulesandmud

  • rickhester

    This is the most negative positive review I’ve read in a long time.

  • rickhester

    And I’d love to know how many times Carson’s read a sci-fi script with lead characters named Adam and Eve.

    • klmn

      Yeah Carson, speak up.

  • Midnight Luck

    I loved SQUIRT as a kid. I hated Dr. Pepper, but now appreciate it’s absolute uniqueness, and good Root Beer is the best and unlike anything else. All of these are absolutely unique and amazing and different. Put them all together, you may still get flashes of each as you sip (prune juice from the Pepper especially ), yet overall it is pretty terrible, tepid, average, flat and uninteresting. Mixing a bunch of great unique ideas and things into one does not mean you end up with an even greater, more unique result. Instead you get bland, brown (kind of terrible) Graveyard water.

    As i began reading this review it seemed interesting, but the further it went, the more convoluted and ridiculous and plain dumb it seemed. It’s almost like they just tried to throw the kitchen sink in and
    ended up with luke warm dirty water.

  • Odogg32F

    Is the goal not to write a sellable script and not a perfect script (overstated)? You definitely want to ensure you’ve done all you can with your abilities. I’ve been interning as a script analysis over the summer for a studio ran by one of the top guns in Hollywood and you’d be surprised at the quality of the scripts written by some of the big boys (established writers with major hits). Many of the scripts have been sold and are in development and they are looking for additional producers to attached to the project. Sometimes you get the feeling the writer had a great idea and got bores somewhere along the line. And I see a lot of derivative scripts.

    I ofter wonder why some guys crank out multiple scripts over a short span of time, maybe its because they know they have enough to sell it and like others have said they can come back and rewrite after getting notes from the producers. By no way do I propose i have the answer. In some cases I’m sure they sold a pitch first and then delivered a script.

    I’ve also seen where a manager has sent out a script of a new “supposedly hot” new writer. The manager has major contacts and feels comfortable sending the script out to these individuals (sometimes as favor). Even if I passed on the project, I recommended the writers if there is talent.

    • rickhester

      …’and you’d be surprised at the quality of the scripts written by some of the big boys…’

      Nothing will surprise me after Godzilla.

    • klmn

      Is the goal not to write a sellable script and not a perfect script (overstated)? You definitely want to ensure you’ve done all you can with your abilities.

      I agree. I’ve said before that a lot of readers – especially for contests – judge scripts like dog shows, by conformance to breed (genre) standards.

      I think new writers should try to write something different. Producers can get all the standard scripts they want from the standard writers.

  • Poe_Serling

    Hey, whatever happened to this script review…

    “Wednesday – Beaujolais – This one has been described to me as “the redneck version of Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Whatever that means!”

    I was actually kinda looking forward to this review.

    • klmn

      Maybe C drank it all.

  • carsonreeves1

    I think I always go with the nationality listed in the script.

  • ff

    Meh, sounds stupid and cliche and completely unoriginal. Bad sic-fi rehash for tv at best.

  • Midnight Luck

    Prolific Hispanic Actress Elizabeth Peña Has Passed Away at 55.

    I will always know her from the awesome movie JACOB’S LADDER.
    You will be so missed Elizabeth.
    R.I.P.

    http://www.imdb.com/news/ni57876263/?ref_=hm_nw_tp_t1

  • Casper Chris
  • gazrow

    If anyone has this script I’d really appreciate it if they could send it my way – gazrow at hotmail dot com

    • craze9

      I also would love to get a copy of the script. Thanks!!!

      craze9 AT hotmail.com

  • fragglewriter

    This movie seems so boring and predictable. I watched the trailer for Jupiter Ascending. It’s another Matrix but I couldn’t think of a reason why they needed to bring Mila Kunis’s character to the hospital instead of killing her earlier (I don’t know if it was mentioned earlier in the storyline). It just seems like an excuse to keep her alive so that Channing Tatum’s character can save her. And the villian that’s always angry and yelling looks like a throwaway character.

    It seems like the more I understand screenwriting, the more I crave movies that don’t follow the Save the Cat formula, or the Beats.