Genre: Comedy
Premise: (from the actual Black List) A nerdy high schooler, who fancies himself an amateur photographer, attempts to create a “Swimsuit Issue” featuring his high school classmates in hopes of raising enough money to go to summer camp.
About: The Swimsuit Issue finished number 3 with 35 votes on this year’s Black List.
Writer: Randall Green
Details: 105 pages

Kate-Cover

You may not realize it, but I can hear your brain right now.

I’m inside of your head. I saw an ad on Craig’s List for it recently and figured I’d sublet. The nice thing about being inside someone’s head is that you can hear things not even they can. You wanna know what I hear your brain saying while your mouth tells everyone that the Black List is bullshit? That it’s rigged and the quality of the scripts suck and no one cares about it any more? Your brain’s whispering, “I wish my script made the Black List.” Because like it or not, it’s an opportunity to be celebrated for your writing. And you don’t get many of those as a screenwriter.

So today, I’m going to fill you in on a few reasons why The Swimsuit Issue made the Black List (high up, for that matter) and your script didn’t. Hopefully, this will gear you up for next year’s attempt at the list.  But first, let’s break down the plot.

Our hero, 15 year old aspiring photographer Zach Rosen, is sort of like a combination of Max Fischer (Rushmore), Napoleon Dynamite, and Ferris Bueller. He’s a high school kid who’s a little bit different. Well, okay, a lot a bit different. When we meet him, he’s been called into the principal’s office for hawking pictures of his half-naked plus-sized housekeeper, Esmerelda.

Zach doesn’t see this as inappropriate, however. He sees these photographs as art. And since he’s just moved into a new town and a new school, art is all he’s got. Well, except for his gorgeous girlfriend, Jenna, who he sees once a year at summer camp.

Unfortunately, Zach’s about to get some bad news. Because his father recently lost his job and his mom split up with him, the family (which includes Zach’s older drug-addict brother, Charlie), doesn’t have the cash to send Zach to a fancy camp this year. Which means Zach can’t see Jenna. Which means Zach needs to think of something fast.

So he comes up with the nifty idea to do a swimsuit issue of the hottest guys and girls at school and sell it. But he needs to make friends first. Luckily, he crosses paths with the “Greta Gerwig-like” Dana, a cool chick who seems to have it all going on – she’s confident, smart, cute, funny. Except Dana kind of gave one of the teachers a handjob in the cafeteria and he got fired. So everybody hates her.

Still, Zach and Dana team up, recruiting the hottest boys and girls they can find, culminating in a wild party at Zach’s place where he gets the photos. During this time, unfortunately, Zach’s camp girlfriend breaks up with him. His father goes on a drunken bender. His brother steals Dana right from under his nose. And everything about Zach’s future is destroyed.

Will Zach recover? Will he mend his relationship with his deadbeat brother and retain a friendship with Dana and Jenna? Or will he become just like the other members of his family and give up on life?

Okay, so I promised you answers on why this made the Black List and your script didn’t. So let’s not waste any time. Get your pens out my scribble-hungry brethren.

1) It’s a comedy that cares just as much about drama as comedy – The Black List rarely celebrates out-and-out broad humor. Agents, producers, and development folks like comedy writers who can explore drama in their comedies, and then find the comedy within that drama. There’s a whole lot of intense family shit going on in The Swimsuit Issue. It’s not just shit jokes and characters bumping into things.

2) It’s edgier than your typical comedy – The Black List likes when you go beyond the safe predictable boundaries of a genre, especially comedy. Zach’s doing lines of cocaine by the end of this script. We’ve got inappropriate student-teacher relations. In other words, the worst thing that happens in this screenplay isn’t a guy losing his girlfriend.

3) Deals with real complex relationships – The most forgettable comedies are ones that put zero effort into exploring relationships on any honest level. As this script goes on, we realize that Zach and Charlie’s relationship is really complicated. He’s an addict whose expensive trips to rehab have had a direct impact on Zach’s life. These two need to hash it out by the end of the story or we won’t be satisfied.

4) Unexpected dialogue choices – People often ask how I can spot a “pro” script over an “amateur” one. One of the easiest ways is dialogue choice. When a character says something, does the other character respond with a generic line or a line we’ve seen a million times before? Or is the response unique and unexpected? Most of the lines in The Swimsuit Issue are unique and unexpected. For example, later in the script, Zach’s mom says to him, “I want you to visit your brother this afternoon.” Now go ahead and write down how you’d have Zach respond to this. I’ll wait. Hopefully you didn’t write something like, “No.” Or, “Not gonna happen.” Okay, ready? Here’s his response, which is quite funny: “That’s eight or more unlikely steps from happening.” Even if you don’t like this line, note that it’s not a BORING line. It’s not an EXPECTED line. That’s the point.

Now the other day when I was breaking down this logline along with the rest of the Black List, you may remember me saying that I was worried the script didn’t have any stakes. “A kid makes a swimsuit issue for his school so he can go to camp” doesn’t sound like a very important journey.

But as we’ve discussed before on the site, stakes don’t have to mean the world is about to blow up. Stakes are relative to the situation. If a character wants something badly enough, then to him (and us), the stakes will be high. It turns out the missing ingredient in the logline was that the love of his life was at camp. And this is the only time during the year he’ll get to see her.

That tiny detail added the stakes to all of a sudden make this story worth telling. However, don’t wait until someone reads your script to figure that out. Include it in the logline. Because stakes are one of the key ingredients in getting someone to want to read a script. The new logline for The Swimsuit Issue, then, would be something like: An eccentric teenager attempts to create a “Swimsuit Issue” featuring his high school classmates in hopes of raising money to go to summer camp, his lone opportunity to see the love of his life.” That’s a bit rough but you get the point. Include those stakes!

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

What I learned: This script had a goal (create the Swimsuit Issue to raise the money to go to camp). It had stakes, which we just pointed out. But it didn’t have urgency. I never felt like Zach was under any pressure to hurry up, and that definitely affected the story. The simple feeling that “time is running out” is an easy way to add intensity to your story, and is therefore recommended.

What I learned 2: I’ve found that 105 pages is the PERFECT length for a comedy script. If you’re writing a comedy, this is a great script length to aim for.

  • brenkilco

    “That’s eight or more unlikely steps from happening.”

    If the protag is refusing to visit his addict brother didn’t the writer miss the joke? Shouldn’t it be “That’s twelve- or more- unlikely steps from happening.

    • GoIrish

      I read the script over the weekend, and that same thought went through my mind. There were a couple of other instances early on where I was just not getting the joke (if they were in fact intended as jokes).
      Overall, I thought the script was pretty good and definitely thought it was deserving of being on the Black List (although number 3 seems a bit high). Couple of thoughts while reading (SPOILERS):
      – Zach felt very similar to Max Fischer; the only noted difference was that Zach was supposedly academic smart (I think) whereas Max was not a great student. However, aside from Max’s academic performance, I never got the impression he was unintelligent. So, for me, Max and Zach almost seemed like clones.
      – the $15k for water skiing camp seemed awfully high; I think the problem for the writer is that even if there is some camp somewhere that charges that amount, it doesn’t feel like a “true” cost – so I wasn’t fully on board with that amount. And that key point obviously sets everything else in motion.
      – I think there was a little bit of a cheat with the swimsuit element; Zach had zero friends at school yet was able to lure all the popular kids to his party with alcohol, where he was then able to take the pictures. I’m just not sure the lure of alcohol alone would be able to get popular kids to attend a loner’s party.
      – Zach’s cocaine binge felt a little off and wasn’t really resolved (was it a one-time thing?); hooking up with the housekeeper felt cheap/forced
      – the stealing of the girlfriend (Dana) felt reminiscent of Igby Goes Down; I think a little more work needs to be put into the final girlfriend; she appeared very briefly (2 or 3 scenes). For Zach to pay $15k for her to attend the camp in the end, I think we needed to see more between them.

      Certainly a decent script, and I don’t think it would be a heavy lift to fix the items I’ve mentioned above.

  • magrittesapple

    Read it. Loved it. Wasn’t quite the story I expected it was going to be, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

    The writer has a seriously unique voice and knows how to write succinctly and with clarity – rarely, if ever, did I read a line of description that exceeded two lines. And I know that some people are against asides altogether, but I think Randall did a great job of sprinkling some in without being too overbearing. Made for a fun read.

    Would be interested to read your take on Dwain Worrell’s The Wall next, which came in at #6 this year with 30 votes.

    • aaronboolander

      Would love to read! Can you send me a copy?

      b(dash)rooks@hotmail.com

  • Trent11

    Some of these Blacklist scripts are really hard to get into (Dodge). Some tease you into reading the first 50 or so pages, then have a nuclear meltdown of boringness around the midpoint (Tau). Others are excellent (The Wall).

    I guess what I’m trying to say is… I think it’s rigged. For the most part. Okay, maybe like 80% rigged.

  • jw

    Carson may be right about a majority of people wanting to be on the list, but I have to say that I wouldn’t want to be on the list if my script sucked, which there are some that suck. If I was going to be there, I’d want it to be the best representation of my writing and I’m not sure that’s really the case with the writers on the list. I’m sure there are some that are amazing, but most I hear from don’t really think that’s the case. And, ironically enough I’ve had this happen, where a shitty script places high in a competition while a better one doesn’t. While strange and weird and odd of a feeling I think most writers would say they wouldn’t want this to happen, no matter the exposure. I don’t think the old adage of “all publicity is good publicity” applies if the script that gets there is shit.

  • Paul DeWolf

    Would love to read this if anyone feels compelled to pass it along
    pmdewolf at gmail

  • fragglewriter

    Based on the logline, who will buy this swinsuit issue? In the day and age of technology, it seems that a few students would scan the pics and post on the internet. And what high scholer would want a swinsuit issue from anotehr hgh schooler? I can’t think of more than one guy in high school who I thought was cute.

  • Andrew Parker

    Carson — you wrote an article a few weeks back about how so many scripts are not actual movies. They’re just scripts. And I felt like the Black List has moved much farther afield of actual movies than its early days.

    Curious on your take on this one. Is it a movie? Would Charlie Bartlett get greenlit today? Who is the audience for this?

    Only movie released this year I can think of in this vein is Premature — which is Risky Business meets Groundhog Day http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/premature_2014/

    • Matt Bishop

      Exactly. What I look for on the Black List next to each entry is “Financier.” As in, was somebody willing to pay for it? Without that it’s just a glorified writing sample.

  • filmklassik

    “I’ve found that 105 pages is the PERFECT length for a comedy script.”

    Judd Apatow, are you reading this? (Hope so!)

  • MrTibbsLive

    Haven’t read the script and probably won’t watch it if the script gets produced.

    A lot of the comedies that make the Black List seem to have edgy premises, which I’m a fan of, but don’t sound like they’ll make for interesting movies. A swimsuit issue masterminded by a group of high school kids? Nah. Does anyone have a count of comedies that have been produced off the BL?

  • Dan B

    Logline: After high school students go missing, an alcoholic (because of course) Detective hunts perverts hoarding calanders of stripped down high school kids.

  • jw

    Carson, I want to request an article topic on WHY I HATE BACKSTORY. For those who happened to catch the season finale of Homeland and didn’t hang themselves in the process (but wanted to) you know what I’m talking about.

    I just don’t know where this comes from but there seems to be this “thing” with writers that says, “the audience really wants to know why Carrie isn’t a good mother.” And, let me just categorically state that I couldn’t give a shit why Carrie isn’t a good mother. I thought the “tacked-on” bit with the kid was a farce anyway. There are so many compelling elements to Homeland that ironically, being HOME isn’t one of them.

    This show is about clandestine intrigue, sensitive intel, the decision makers making interesting decisions, the murkiness of a complicated life and everything that exists in the troubled world of today, and who our “friends” are and aren’t. Lies and truths are blurred in an effervescent gray. This is what we love.

    If I want to watch a show about a bad mother I’ll turn it to any of the 15 versions of Housewives of… blah, blah, blah. There — bad mother. Every episode.

    While I applaud the episode being dedicated to the memory of James Rebhorn, everything else about it was a fucking Snoozefestapalooza 2014! I get them wanting to go in a “different” direction after the raid on the embassy episode, but come on — you know these fools mailed this one in giving absolutely zero reason to come back for next season.

    So, let me just lay this out while we have the chance. Dear Homeland writers, I don’t give a shit about Carrie being a (bad) mother. I don’t give a shit about Quin’s checkered past, nor that he always wants to get out of the game, but never can. I don’t care that Saul has a pseudo wife you pull in every time you need a “human” touch or some injected conflict about him being “home enough.” I just don’t give a shit. This ISN’T your story. It’s just not.

    Do I want to care about these characters? I already do… at least Carrie and Saul. Probably no one else. There’s just so much here that is ripe for the taking when it comes to this storyline and here we are wasting time with Brody’s kid.

    Come on. Give us something more. Cut the backstory and let’s move forward.

    • brenkilco

      But I do want to know more about F. Murray Abraham. Guy is probably running out of spaces to bury bodies. Whether or not the show comes back is going to depend a lot on what the writers do with his character. Is he Saul’s loyal but completely amoral best bud? Is he about to sell us all out? Luckily F. M. hasn’t been this good or this subtle in decades. And irrespective of her completely useless story arc I do sort of miss Mrs. Brody. Couldn’t they recast her as a seductive Russian spy.

  • Lennox Snow

    While I agree with a lot of what Carson said, there is one big thing that I didn’t like:

    This script wasn’t funny. At all. It’s a drama as far as I’m concerned as I barely felt like the author was even attempting to make jokes.

    Sure, I’m jealous and wish I was on the blacklist, but there are multiple scripts I’ve read so far (particularly ROTHCHILD) that I loved. This one just wasn’t one of them. This one really had me scratching my head as to how it ended up this high…

    It’s a comedy with a lot of cool relationships and no jokes.

    Also, the script basically forgets about the lead making the Swimsuit Issue for the 2nd half of the story completely. (SPOILER) The eventual girl he meets up with is hardly introduced. His use of drugs is basically unexplained and doesn’t add to the story — it’s as if it was injected to say, “this is a story with edge”.

    I’d love to get a review on ROTHCHILD up as I LOVED it and found it FAR, FAR FUNNIER than this mediocre script.

    • Breezy

      Hey, can you do me a solid and send Rothchild my way?
      I downloaded the blacklist scripts but for some reason I’m not seeing this one in the zip file.
      rumandwords [at] hotmail. com
      Appreciate it

  • Howie428

    I’ve just read the first 25 pages of this and unfortunately if this was an AOW entry I’d have stopped reading by now. The main character is a pale imitation of Rushmore and the story keeps repeating itself. On top of that the comedy isn’t funny to me and we’re expected to get on board with the main character’s pervy smut pedaling aspirations.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like a bit of pervy smut, and the arty joke about him taking photos of his fat housekeeper has potential, but it’s a one-time joke, not something that it makes sense to redeploy again and again.

    For me this script is an example of style over substance. Yes, it’s a fast read. Yes, it has a premise that gets our attention. Yes, it has jazzy dialogue (even if everyone is talking the same way). Yes, it has edgy content. But if you were going to do a movie called “Swimsuit Issue,” would this be it? It would be this instead of say, a rookie photographer who’s sent to Bali with the hottest woman in the world must get a cover shot, but her baseball player boyfriend has dumped her and she’s on a tear of self-destruction.

    I just reached the bit where he explains the economics of their plan, and as someone else pointed out, it makes no sense. The only way this thing makes any money is to sell it to the general public and the only purchasers would be sleaze bags.

    I made it to the middle of the script and I’m wishing some drama would kick in, or perhaps some of the promised comedy.

    I’m sure there’s an explanation for why this is so high on the Black List, but I’m having trouble finding it in the script.

  • Lou Rawls’ Ego

    The dialogue was preposterous in this script. Zach sounds 30. Maybe.

    • Bob Bradley

      I think that was the comedy. Kid sounds thirty.

  • peisley

    From what I could see, based on loglines and a first few pages, not one charming script in the whole Black List bunch, except maybe Road to Oz. I’m not criticizing the quality of the writing or the subject matter, just the sheer lack of anything that isn’t a deliberate shock or gross out. It’s not about being prudish. I’d just like some variety in these lists. Some fun with the charm turned up instead of the crude pandering. If anybody has suggestions on this list let me know.

  • GoIrish

    There’s a link to all the Black List scripts a little further up in the comments.

  • hackofalltrade

    Why is everybody so cynical of the BL? Come on, this was a pretty good script. Those who suggest it isn’t funny are welcome to their opinion. I laughed quite a bit. His Dad(Eric) was a fascinating character, as was their family in general. The party scene was just gold. Eric’s interaction with Zach, asking his 15 year old son for a beer made more sense after we learn more about Eric. Does Zach mature than his age? Sure. I have friends that are 30 and don’t talk like this. Plenty of people have complained that we hardly get to know Ilana, but I think that’s purposeful. She’s only in a few scenes, but she steals them all.

    Brian Duffield says that he likes to write a script from the “voice” of the protagonist. I think this script is a great example of that. It’s quirky, fun, and likable just like Zach. Carson has suggested the reason Duffield and Landis sell so many scripts is “they are really readable scripts.” I think when your action lines mirror the tone of your protagonist, its easy to get in a groove as you read and the pages just fly by. That was my experience with this script at least.

    • brenkilco

      “I think when your action lines mirror the tone of your protagonist, its easy to get in a groove as you read and the pages just fly by.”

      I dunno. By that standard the ultimate script would be such an effortless experience that after you’ve finished, it won’t feel like you’ve actually read anything.

      • hackofalltrade

        I think that’s the biggest criticism of Duffield, though I personally enjoy his stuff. If you want a script to “move you” I am sure there are better options, but I am always entertained by his style.

        I don’t know if “mirroring the tone” necessarily gives you the ultimate script reading experience, but I think there is something to the fact that those type of scripts are selling.

  • Poe_Serling

    Here’s the growing list of Award Season Screenplays… courtesy of Go Into the Story:

    http://gointothestory.blcklst.com/2014/12/update-award-season-screenplay-downloads-new-the-gambler.html

    Just a few that caught my eye were Birdman, Into the Woods, The Gambler, Gone Girl, Calvary, and so on.

    **The opening scene of the script Cavalry is a real throat grabber. The film version stars the always watchable Brendan Gleeson and directed/written by John Michael McGonagh.

    I guess the film is already out on DVD.

    • charliesb

      John Michael McGonagh is great. THE GUARD and CALVARY were both really great films. I think Calvary may be on Netflix, if its not it will be in January.

      • Poe_Serling

        Just looked it up – Calvary hits Netflix and Redbox on 1/6/15.

        I’ll definitely check it out!

        • kenglo

          Wow Poe, you are so right! CALVARY has an INTENSE opening!! Thanks!

  • http://vimeo.com/adamwparker Adam W. Parker

    Thanks for reviewing this one. I’ll read Cartoon Girl next and see if I can glean something from that. And I’ll crack this open and look at the dialogue.

  • Citizen M

    Half way through. Quite enjoying it. It’s an off-beat mix of coming-of-age and caper.

    I’m not sure it works in current form. The problem is I don’t believe a nerd like Zach would have the balls to approach older girls and Dana the way he does. His character doesn’t seem consistent.

    I would have thought he’d assume some sort of identity and role play, channeling being a famous photographer. “I am zee great Zach. See my Leica.” Make a bit of a joke of it to take the sting out of the inevitable rejections.