Genre: Post-Apocalypse Drama
Premise: Based on Homer’s The Odyssey – After a fast-acting plague wipes out hundreds of millions of people around the globe, a young man must travel cross-country to deliver the cure to Washington, all while being pursued by mysterious men.
About: This script sold a few years ago to financing company, QED. The writer, Christopher Cosmos, had a pilot in development at the time about Alexander The Great. He also took a stab at the in-development reimagining of Red Sonja.
Writer: Christopher Cosmos
Details: 101 pages
I like the marketing potential of these loose adaptations of classic works. They’re a win-win-win for writers everywhere. Think about it. You don’t have to pay anything because they’re in the public domain. You still get the prestige of being able to use the popularly known title when pitching your work. AND you don’t even need to follow the work that closely. As long as it’s vaguely in the same universe as the original work, you’re good.
Look guys. When you’re a newbie, you’re your own agent, publicist, and manager. Writing the script is half the battle. After that, you have to sell it. This is why you want to think about these things BEFORE you start to write your script, not after. You have to have that conversation with yourself where you say: How am I going to sell this? Will it be easy? What will my angle be?
It’s no different from what major marketing companies do with a Hollywood film. They ask the exact same questions. How do we sell this? How do we make it stand out from the pack? Some movies make their jobs easy, like Thor: Ragnarok. And others make them hard, like Detroit or Wind River.
So before you put pen to paper, be honest with yourself about how hard it will be to get people to read your script. That’s fine if you know it’s going to be hard. But then you’ll have to become a super-salesman when it’s finished. You’ll have to contact more people, enter more contests, yell a lot louder, hustle more intensely. Cause if the concept doesn’t sell itself, it’ll be up to you to sell it. And most writers don’t understand the level of dedication required to get a tough sell through the system.
That’s why when you can say, “It’s a modern day post-apocalyptic drama based on The Odyssey,” – people are going to respond to that. And once you have that, you leave it up to the script Gods. Hopefully, someone with power likes what you’ve done.
Okay, let’s get to The Fall!
26 year old William Emrys is traveling across the Mojave Desert when we meet him. He looks emaciated, beaten down, a first world body in a third world outfit. Something has happened to this man.
We find out what that is, as we learn a plague has whipped across America, killing tens of millions of people, and more every day. William is carrying a vile. In that vile, we’ll learn, is the cure to this disease. Or at least that’s what he’s been told by the dying man who gave it to him.
William’s trying to reach Washington where a scientist is waiting for him. But he’s also trying to get back to his wife in Michigan, who had a baby while William was in Los Angeles for a business trip, which is when this whole thing started.
Meanwhile, some big bad meany named James Washington is following William. We never learn who this guy is or why he and his big bad meany black jeeped friends want to stop William (why would you try and stop a plague cure?) but Mr. Washington doesn’t care about hackneyed plot mechanics. He wants to capture William and take his vile away!
William gets help and shelter from several people along the way, and after a months-long journey, gets to D.C. But before he can deliver the goods, James Washington arrives, standing in his way one last time. Will he stop him? Or will William pull off a miracle and save the world?
Reading The Fall was like reading a long novel. Sometimes things would get good and I’d be pulled in, and other times things would meander and my focus would drift away… before another good sequence would come along and pull me in again. After it was over, the number of times I was pulled away was roughly equal to the number of times I was pulled in.
But here’s why The Fall didn’t win me over. And it’s a common problem with young writers: I WAS TOO FAR AHEAD OF THE STORY. And when I say too far ahead, I mean I was often 50-60 pages ahead of the writer. I always knew where this was going. Every plot beat is something I’ve seen before multiple times.
And when you have a simple narrative like this one – a man traveling across a post-apocalyptic world – that’s the exact type of plot that a reader can get ahead of you on. I knew, for example, he would find shelter with a few people and have deep talks with them. I knew there’d be a woman along the way who he’d be tempted to be with. I knew there would be 3 or 4 stand-offs between him and the bad guys.
I was desperately rooting for something to happen that I wasn’t expecting. And this is something that writers forget. Readers ARE ROOTING FOR YOU. They WANT you to succeed. They want you to write something great. To surprise them. To move them. To give them something they’ve never seen before. Because it makes reading more fun! But those things don’t come easily. You have to work for them. And I kept wanting that plot point to arrive where I was like, “ohhhh, shit, didn’t see that coming.” But it didn’t.
I’ve said this to you before but I’ll say it again. You need to plce yourself in the eyes of reader/audience. You need to ask yourself: “What do they think I’m going to do here?” And then do something different. It’s really as simple as that. And, no, you don’t do it all the time. But you do it enough to keep the audience on their toes.
And that was the thing. I was never once on my toes. — Which is unfortunate because the plot mechanics here are strong. You’ve got a guy with a clear goal. There’s a heavy emotional component, with him wanting to get back to his wife and newborn. And the stakes are sky-high. Humanity’s at stake. But guys, your job isn’t over once you’ve established your plot mechanics. Now it’s your job to give us a story that’s both familiar yet unexpected.
I’ll give you an example from a movie I saw recently. It was called The Big Sick. And it was a romantic comedy. Romantic Comedies are in more danger than any other genre of the audience getting ahead of you due to being the most formulaic genre of the bunch. Which is why I avoided The Big Sick for so long. I thought it was going to be some silly rom-com about the unique challenges of dating someone outside your culture – something we’ve seen a billion time before.
But then, about 30 minutes in, the female lead goes into a coma. And I’m like, what the fuck is going on right now??? And I kept waiting for her to wake up so that we could get back to zany familiar rom-com territory. But it didn’t happen. And eventually I realized the movie was about this guy and his relationship with the girl’s parents, and not the girl. And it was just like… wow. I’d never seen that before. And I’m not saying you need to go to this extreme, but every screenplay is a game between you and the reader. And you don’t want them to get too far ahead of you or they’re going to get bored.
That’s what happened here. Despite a lot of good in this script, it needed more moments of surprise. Had those moments come, this would’ve been a completely different review.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: With every sci-fi premise, it’s imperative that you establish the rules. We have this uber-dangerous new age black plague at the core of our story, yet characters routinely interact with each other without any worry of being infected. I needed to know why. At one point, for example, William’s wife’s neighbor, a boy whose entire family was wiped out by the plague, helps prepare dinner for her family. I don’t know about you. But I’m probably not letting Black Plague Boy 2017 knead the dough for tonight’s pizza party.