Premise: A man and woman working for a black market organ delivery service try to deliver a heart to a client while being pursued by the woman’s insane female boss.
About: Nat Faxon & Jim Rash are plenty busy these days. The Academy Award winning duo (The Descendants) jump back and forth between writing and acting projects (you’ve seen Rash as the unforgettable Dean in the recently cancelled “Community”) and are coming off of the indie flick, “The Way Way Back.” Their newest project, The Heart, has Kristin Wiig attached, and seemed like a go movie until a couple of months ago, when Indian Paintbrush got nervous about the budget. From what I understand, the movie isn’t cancelled or anything. I think they’re just trying to figure out how to make it for cheaper.
Writers: Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
Details: 109 pages (February 24th, 2014 draft)
I don’t know what Kristin Wiig is doing. Ever since Bridesmaids, she’s chosen to be in all these tiny indie movies that go straight to Itunes. And look, I think going indie is fine. You develop some street cred. Show everyone that you’re about the art.
But those decisions only work if the movies are actually good. And none of Wiig’s have been. Friends with Kids. Girl Most Likely. Hateship Loveship.
Someone really made a movie called “Hateship Loveship?” And people allowed this to happen?
Part of the problem is that the roles Wiig’s been choosing aren’t very interesting. The whole point of going indie is to play characters that you wouldn’t be able to play otherwise. Stretch your acting muscles a little. Her characters have been one step above mumblecore – which is to say they’re invisible.
And that’s my biggest problem with The Heart. Our main character (or, co-main character), Lucy, is invisible, keeping her emotions and opinions inside for the most part. This is one of the trickiest things a writer can tackle, is creating a reserved main character. Reserved main characters don’t “pop” on the page. They get lost amongst the action paragraphs and the sluglines while any character with something to say overshadows them.
That’s why I loved Cake so much, another female-driven indie flick. Cake’s main character, the grieving, angry, says-what’s-on-her-mind Claire made her presence felt on every page. Lucy keeps her thoughts in check unless she feels something needs to be said. The thing is, if that person isn’t active or constantly making choices that are disturbing the story, they just become the “boring character who doesn’t talk.”
Oh, I haven’t actually told you what the plot of The Heart is, have I?
So this woman, Lucy, has a grandmother who needs special care. So she needs money. Her current job, which entails delivering equipment for Chuck E. Cheese type establishments, isn’t exactly satisfying, particularly because her psycho boss, Dawn, is currently trying to prostitute her to clean up a bad business transaction.
So when Joe comes around, a courier for an illegal organ trade operation, and offers her ten grand to help him deliver a heart to Florida, she doesn’t have a choice. She has to take it. Of course, Lucy thinks this is all above the board. So when the only stipulation is that they use her van, she doesn’t think much of it.
However, when shit starts going south, Joe’s failure to mention the “illegal” part of his job comes out quickly. But Lucy isn’t exactly an innocent party here. She quit work without telling her boss. And she didn’t deliver the box of stuffed animals she was supposed to deliver. And those stuffed animals just happen to be packed with COCAINE because Dawn – it turns out – is running more than just a Chuck E. Cheese product delivery service.
That sends Dawn on their trail, who believes Lucy stole the cocaine on purpose. When she then finds out about this heart though, a heart that’s worth half a million dollars to its recipient, Dawn decides that she’ll be taking that heart and upping the delivery price. Throw in Joe’s criminal boss and our angry heart recipient (who’s a Pecan Roll Restaurant magnate), and pretty soon everyone’s trying to get their hands on this heart before it stops beating.
The Heart starts off really clunky, as the script strains to introduce all of our characters. Beware ye, the screenwriter, of the hero introduction scene. This is the scene where you need to tell us who our main character is. If said character is afraid of commitment, you want to open with a scene where they break up with a girlfriend because things are moving along “too quickly.”
Good screenwriters know this, and therefore spend a lot of time trying to perfect this introductory scene so the audience knows exactly who’s taking them through the story. Here’s the problem though. We writers can get TOO wrapped up in these scenes. We’re working so hard to sell the character, we fail to notice that the scene is starting to feel like a great big advertisement for our main character instead of, you know, a seamless piece of a giant puzzle.
Lucy’s introductory scene, where she’s trying to get a kid off one of the machines so she can re-stock it, feels too “set-up-y.” You can feel the writers underneath the scene “making sure” that the character is coming off the way they need her to. And the irony is that when you do this – when you spend more time on this scene than any other scene in the script to make sure it’s right – it ends up feeling the least natural of them all.
Here’s the solution. Whenever you write this scene (or really ANY scene that requires you to stuff a lot of shit in it – like exposition), take an “entertainment pass” on the scene. In other words, don’t read the scene seeing if you were able to slip in that one key character trait. Or see if you accurately portrayed their flaw. Just read the scene to see if it entertains you. Does the scene work on its own, independent of any of the things you’re trying to sneak in there?
Because here’s the shitty thing about writing. I know when a writer is trying to do something clever – like slip some exposition into a line of dialogue. And I commend them when they do it well! But the audience doesn’t know or care about that stuff. They don’t clap and say, “Yeah! Did you see the way that writer hid his exposition!? Wow!” All that stuff is invisible to them and supposed to be a given. All that matters to the audience is that they like the scene. So if anything feels stilted, they’re not going to enjoy it.
However, once The Heart gets on the road, it gets a lot better. I mean, for awhile there, I was like, “What were these guys thinking?” But I’ll tell you when I changed my mind. It’s when we find out that Lucy’s boss was secretly a coke-dealer using her business to deliver the drug. That was the first time I felt like the writers hadn’t just slapped this together.
That’s important. Because unless we encounter some unexpected plot points along the way in your story, the implication is a lazy effort. As soon as a reader senses laziness – that you didn’t work your ass off on each and every decision – they know that script is going nowhere fast. But yeah, after that moment happened, the script really started to take off and challenge the reader. I thought I knew where this was going, but instead, I was inundated with surprise after surprise.
Probably one of the best things these guys do is they have something going on with EVERY CHARACTER, even the smallest ones. And I think I know why. Faxon and Rash are character actors. They’re used to playing characters who were an afterthought to the writer. You can tell they use their writing to make sure that that never happens to an actor in one of their movies.
And what’s great about beefing up your secondary characters is that it often opens up new plot possibilities. For example, we have Gordy, our heart recipient. He has this whole backstory with his family and his restaurant franchise. That allowed Faxon and Rash to discover Gordy’s brother, who has his OWN backstory (he secretly likes Gordy’s wife and therefore wouldn’t mind if Gordy bit the dust). Because they went so far as to build up those backstories, it allowed them to come up with the brother trying to interfere in the heart transfer, as he becomes yet another player who goes after Joe and Lucy. In his case, he wants to destroy it.
So not only does it make the characters pop more. It invigorates the imagination and opens up more avenues for you to be creative.
As for the script as a whole, it’s got solid GSU (Goal – get the heart there, Stakes – both our heroes lives are on the line PLUS they both need the money badly, and urgency – the heart stops beating in 36 hours). Along with the unexpected twists and turns in the plot, it was a really fun read.
But the opening and the underwritten Lucy kept this from being anything more than a casual recommendation. Lucy is so restrained and so introverted for the majority of the time, combined with the fact that she’s not dictating any of the action (Joe is), that she’s not memorable enough. And the opening is trying to set up too much. We don’t get on the road until page 35, and I think that’s a direct result of too much information being jumbled into that first act.
So it was a cool script. It just needs to be tuned up in a couple of places.
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: In a big rowdy movie with lots of big personalities, the quietest character is usually going to get lost in the shuffle. So you have to think real hard about making that quiet character one of your protagonists. It’s not that a quiet protagonist can’t work. You’re just severely handicapping yourself when you use one. So think twice about it.