Genre: Drama/Adventure
Premise: The heretofore unknown tale of Pinocchio’s famous father, Geppetto.
About: Michael Vukadinovich’s script hit the spec market in 2011 and was snatched up immediately by 20th Century Fox for mid six figures. Vukadinovich began his career as a playwright (his most celebrated work being, “Trog and Clay (An Imagined History of the Electric Chair)” before moving into screenwriting. He has another project with Peter Dinklage attached called, “Rememory” about a professor who can record memories. The Three Misfortunes of Geppetto was a 2011 Black List script. Shawn Levy, the director of the Night at the Museum movies and, more recently, “This is Where I Leave You,” is attached to direct.
Writer: Michael Vukadinovich
Details: 118 pages

geppetto-pinocchio

I decided to review this script today for one reason. To highlight the most spec-sale friendly of all the types of scripts out there.

There is no other type of script that has done better in the market over the last ten years. The formula? You find a fairy tale, then find a new angle to tell the story from. Whether it be the recent Malificent, about one of the most famous fairy tale villains in history, the edgy take on Snow White that was Snow White and the Huntsman, the dark spec sale from a couple of years ago, “Pan,” that reimagines Peter Pan as a serial killer. I’ve read 20 other spec sales in the past five years that have also succeeded with this formula. Hollywood goes nuts over this stuff.

And it’s not hard to imagine why. When a studio looks at a project, the first thing they do is ask how it can be marketed. Will the marketing be easy or difficult? The more difficult it is, the more stellar the other components of the screenplay have to be. But usually, there’s a tipping point – and it’s not very far down the line – where if the marketing is too tricky, they don’t bite.

With these kinds of screenplays, the marketing is always done for you. You say, “Snow White” and people immediately know who that is. There’s a comfort level there, like having your favorite coffee in the morning or turning on your favorite sit-com after a long day of work. So studios are always all over these scripts. In addition to Shakespeare adaptations, they’re one of the most bankable script approaches out there.

The Three Misfortunes of Geppetto places us squarely in the year 1919 where we meet Geppetto, an optimistic enthusiastic young man with his whole life ahead of him. But Geppetto can only think of one thing – the beautiful Julia Moon. Their love for one another is so powerful, you get the sense they fell in love BEFORE first sight.

The two know they’re spending the rest of their lives together, but before that can happen, the Depression hits and Geppetto’s family loses everything. This is when we first meet Geppetto’s evil nemesis, Edmund Vile (pronounced “Vee-lay!” he tells everyone). Edmund hates Geppetto and his perfect life and will do anything to destroy it. He starts by trapping Geppetto’s parents on a train crossing, watching gleefully as the train hits and kills them.

When Geppetto is later sent off to the war, he hears that Edmund has moved in on Julia. She refuses to marry him, but when word comes back, erroneously, that Geppetto has died, she has no choice. When Geppetto finds this out, it’s a race to get back in time to stop the wedding and be with Julia once more.

(spoilers) Geppetto succeeds in the knick of time, and ends up marrying Julia. But then Edmund has a witch put a spell on the two, making it impossible for them to have children. The couple will have to come up with another solution, a solution I’m pretty sure you can figure out. But the evil Edmund will do his best to stop it, in a last ditch attempt to destroy the couple’s life forever.

468px-Once-jiminyJiminy makes a cameo in the script!

So let’s see if we can do this here. Pick a well-known fairy tale that’s in the public domain. Let’s say… Beauty and the Beast. Now look for a new angle to tell the story from. We could set the story in modern times? That could make it fresh. We could make the girl the “beast” instead of the guy. Role-reversal usually works. Or maybe we tell the story on a planet inhabited by beasts, and the girl is the only “human” and therefore a “beast” to them.

I’m only half-joking with these ideas. Obviously, I’m making this sound a little easier than it is, but I bet if you spent an entire week trying to come up with a fun fresh take on a fairy tale, you could. Of course, the second ingredient to this meal is that you have to love these kinds of stories. If you’re writing strictly for cash, the reader can tell. That’s what’s allowed “Geppetto” to stand above its competition. You can tell Vukadinovich loves his subject matter.

I’m not sure I’ve ever read something so unapologetically saccharine. “Geppetto” wears its heart on its XXL sleeves, pumping its sugar-laced blood directly into the reader’s veins for good measure. Geppetto, with his idealistic world view and his stay-positive attitude despite one tragedy after another makes it impossible to root against him.

Indeed, we talk about making characters likable all the time. One of the easiest ways to do so is to bestow tragedy upon tragedy on your character. We see that here, with his parents dying, with Geppetto and Julia not being able to have kids. Poor Geppetto even has to watch a baby whale die!

But what if you want to take your character from likable to lovable? Spiking the likable punch requires never having your hero sulk about his misfortunes. Have him stay positive and keep fighting. No character is more likable than the one who stares adversity in the eyes and keeps on fighting. Think about it. Who are the people in life you most admire? Chances are they’re people who keep fighting no matter how bad it gets.

Where Geppetto stumbles is in its structure. It sets up its story nicely. And then when Geppetto goes off to war, the story goal arrives – he must get back to Julia before she marries Edmund. (spoiler) But that goal is achieved on page 75. And there are still 45 pages to go. “Geppetto” decides not to replace this goal with a new one.

Instead, the goal is shifted over to Edmund – His goal becomes to ruin Geppetto’s and Julia’s happiness. You can probably hear me groaning. I don’t like non-specific goals. They don’t have that clean understandable objective that the audience can get behind. I can understand stopping a wedding. Destroying one’s happiness is too vague. And it shifts the goal away from the main character, which is always a dangerous thing to do, especially as you’re entering your last act, when, preferably, you want your hero to be his most active (if he has no goal to pursue, then by definition he’s not going to be active).

So that really hurt the script, and it’s something I’m sure the studio has been trying to address in the rewrites. Another problem is that “Geppetto” loves its influences a little too much, those influences being Forrest Gump, The Princess Bride, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Amelie. True love is mentioned numerous times here. We also start in the present with a grandfatherly character telling his grandson this tale. We have fun little flashbacks, a la Forrest Gump, of great grandfathers, great great grandfathers, and great great great grandfathers, dying of heart attacks. And Edmund seems almost beat for beat, a Mr. Potter clone. Sometimes reading Geppetto was like driving down memory lane for your favorite movies.

Despite that, the script has such an earnest idealistic love for its story, and Geppetto is so darn likable, that the script survives this and the structure problem. It’s an unexpectedly sweet tale that is sure to give you goosebumps at least a couple of times. And, for the most part, the proper way to approach this kind of script.

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

What I learned: Remember that when you shift the goal that’s driving your story over to your villain, you are making your main character inactive or reactive. Since audiences tend to like characters who are active (who drive the story), this is a dangerous route to take. However, if you do it, I’d advise doing it in the first half of your screenplay as opposed to the second. The second half is where you want your hero the MOST active. For example, in Star Wars, the movie starts off with the villain having the goal (Darth Vader is trying to get a hold of the Death Star plans). But in the end, Luke has the goal that’s driving the story (to destroy the Death Star).

  • UrbaneGhoul

    “Or maybe we tell the story on a planet inhabited by beasts, and the girl is the only “human” and therefore a “beast” to them.”

    It’s also like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, two fairy tales in one.

    • LV426

      Add a subplot where humanity is searching for a Goldilocks planet.

  • Randy Williams

    I’m torn on this one. The script seems a character rich, touching reimagining, but it’s now a traditional male and female couple who want a child story and not that single parent doing the best he or she can.

    • carsonreeves1

      (spoilers) Well, let’s just say it sets up that story.

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

        Oh no… JULIA!!!!!!!!!

  • ripleyy

    It’s fairly dangerous to make your script sugar sweet. Readers, and mostly audiences, will call you out on your bullshit. We like happiness, but anything TOO happy and we’re going to get diabetes from just glancing at it. “We Bought a Zoo” had this downfall, and I call that film a cautionary tale.

    The script seems good, though, but I’m not sure if it balances the sweetness. Maybe it does, I’ve never read the script.

    • carsonreeves1

      Oh yeah, the “We Bought a Zoo” debacle. That was something else. You’re right though. It can be done but it’s a narrow line you gotta walk.

      • ripleyy

        Yeah, it’s quite a line but it can definitely be done, it just needs practice. :)

      • Sandman007

        One film that walks that line like a trapeze artist is “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”… if you’ve never seen it, don’t be afraid that it’s from 1945. It holds up amazingly well.

  • Scott Strybos

    “Let’s say… Beauty and the Beast. Now look for a new angle to tell the story from. We could set the story in modern times?”

    Already done. A couple of times.

    Beastly is the 2011 romantic fantasy/modern-retelling of Beauty and the Beast, staring the incomparable Vanessa Hudgens.

    Beauty and the Beast was also adapted into a 2012 television series on The CW, also set in modern times.

    I think most of the fairy tales have already had a rewrite–the idea of writing a known fairy-tale from a different perspective is quite played, like the found-footage genre.

    • carsonreeves1

      lol. They could have 20 monologues that start with, “Have you ever heard the story about the scorpion and the frog?” and no one could call them on it.

    • gazrow

      “I think most of the fairy tales have already had a rewrite–the idea of writing a known fairy-tale from a different perspective is quite played, like the found-footage genre.”

      Yeah. I was thinking the exact same thing. I remember a couple of years back Inktip’s preferred newsletter was full of prod co’s asking for fairy tale scripts. But like you say, the demand seems to have pretty much dried up.

      • Poe_Serling

        And I’m pretty sure that there are a couple of more Pinocchio projects bouncing around out there.

        I know that Guillermo del Toro was attached to a stop-motion Pinocchio movie over at The Jim Henson Company… I think it’s development status in up in the air right now.

        • walker

          stopped-in-motion

    • LV426

      What about a theme park based around fairy tale characters?

      They’d be semi-sentient A.I. controlled animatronic robots based on various fairy tales, Oz, maybe Greek myth, etc. Each area of the park would be based on various fairy story settings. So you’d have the Land of Oz on one end and Grimm’s Forest on the other plus some inbetween, as well as the food court, gift shop, etc.

      Then all this goes haywire and its about a group of people trapped in the middle of all the chaos. Like Jurassic Park or Westworld meets a crazy fairy tale Disneyland apocalypse.

      Maybe the guy who runs the churro cart is ex-special forces and leads the group out of the park to safety.

      I think that could be a blast. At the very least, a fun script to write.

  • hackofalltrade

    The only issue with “take a fairy tale and re-tell it from a new angle” is that it is SUPER-DIFFICULT. At least in my experience. I noticed this trend a couple years ago and figured I’d have a go at it. I decided I’d go with a modern-day retelling of the biblical story “Daniel in the Lions Den.” One of the most famous old testament stories, it has an underdog(Daniel), the stakes are incredibly high(the dude is thrown to into a den to be eaten by $%#Iing lions) and a character learns a lesson. A very little known fact: the story is actually told from the standpoint of King Darius,(the one learning the lesson) not Daniel. Almost nothing is known about Darius, so there’s lots of room for creative liberties. All good right? Well…there are already so many challenges to writing a great story within the construct of Hollywood. Trying to tell a story with even further built-in limitations is very, very difficult. I got about half-way through with it before I had to admit I was just not competent enough as a writer yet. I didn’t throw away the story, just abandoned trying to tell it within the framework of a reimagined “fairytale.” It’s a fun concept, and a great idea. But you better be a hell of a writer to pull it off.

  • Linkthis83

    Extremely off topic: Rosetta Mission Comet Landing

    It’s taking place within the next hour. Here’s the link to the livestream:

    http://new.livestream.com/esa/cometlanding

  • brenkilco

    I’m not getting seeing this as a fairy tale revamp. What you’re describing is a syrupy love story without any fantasy elements. No fairies, kids turning into donkeys or talking insects. Like the story of Hansel and Gretel before their mom died. The tale of a hard working wood cutter and his two precocious kids. Yawn. Without an explicit Pinocchio tie in the protag’s name might as well be Fred.

    • carsonreeves1

      Well, there is a witch. But true, nobody’s nose gets bigger.

      • LV426

        What about re-imagining Pinnochio as a porn star?

        • klmn

          I think it’s been done. I remember the tag line, “It’s not his nose that grows.”

          I’ll see if I can find the movie.

          • klmn

            Found it. The Erotic Adventures of Pinocchio.

            Here’s a clip:

            Upvote this post if you want Carson to review it.

          • klmn

            And it stars Dyanne Thorne. The star of Ilsa, She-Wolf of The SS!

          • Poe_Serling

            What I learned: Be careful where you pitch your tent.

  • klmn

    Pinocchio as a wooden Terminator.

    I like it.

    • walker

      Yes but I think in short order he would meet his match.

    • LV426

      Then the opposition creates their version of the T1000.

      A hive minded magical termite swarm. The Termitnator.

      It’s mission, eat the Pinnochinator and termitnate Jiminy Conner.

    • lehrchris

      It has already been done. See the graphic novel “Fables” and the story “March of the Wooden Soilders”
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fables_%28comics%29

  • bluedenham

    The main problem with Ender’s Game was that Ender’s goal was reached halfway through the movie, and the remaining story felt hollow and rushed. This was made worse by the fact that the first half was terrific – it pulsed with energy and GSU. Very interesting and similar problem.

  • Dan B

    Maybe the structure runs into that issue because the writer feels obilgated to set up the story for which it is prequel for. Haven’t read it so I don’t know what happens in the end – saw that Carson posted a hint below on Randy’s comment.

  • Sandman007

    Anyone have this one? bjs444 at Gmail … thanks

  • LV426

    Does he battle Edmund’s giant mechanical spider?

  • LV426

    The Tortoise and the Hare

    Reimagined with the Hare as a hybrid human + rabbit chimera. The Tortoise is an armored walking tank robot.

    The twist being that the tank Tortoise is actually hunting the Hare, slowly and methodically with long range weapons.

    I’d love to see this kind of thing done as a crazy Heavy Metal style anthology film. Take a bunch of fairy tales, reimagine them as wild sci-fi/fantasy stories, and get a bunch of filmmakers to make a ten to twelve minute short film out of that particular tale.

  • brenkilco

    Just putting the finishing touches on my Rapunzel prequel. The serio-comic tale of a sensitive teen coping with forty feet of hair. Like Mean Girls with moats and castles. Working title: Roots.

    I don’t want to spend time arguing about the right way to further infantilize American movies. I just want the process to stop.

  • scriptfeels

    So my question is how do you know which fairy tales I can legally write a new take on? Like how would I know Peter Pan is okay and which ones aren’t? Can everyone write a new take on Peter Pan and have it be their own work?

    • Poe_Serling
    • carsonreeves1

      That’s something I’ve always wondered about. Mickey Mouse is technically past due for public domain. So why does Disney get to keep him? Never understood all those legalities.

      • Poe_Serling

        Copyright extension.

        From Mental_Floss:

        “Of course, even without the copyright extensions, it would still be
        next to impossible for anyone outside of Disney to use Mickey without
        permission, since he, like all Disney creations, is trademarked. Unlike
        copyrights, which do have dates of expiration, company trademarks are
        valid for as long as the company uses those trademarked items
        commercially. As long as Disney keeps Mickey on their employment roster,
        no one else can touch him.”

        • Guest

          so if someone have Peter Pan on their employment roster, and how does one sell a script on Peter Pan? Or how would one know if a creation is trademarked or under copyright extension?

          • Poe_Serling

            From the http://www.gosh.org/gen/peterp… website:

            Q. Can anyone now write a sequel, prequel or other spin-off using the characters from the original story of Peter Pan?

            A. Yes, in the countries where Peter Pan’s copyright has expired.
            Incidental use of character names usually doesn’t require special
            permission as it would be considered “fair use” but if in doubt, check
            with the Peter Pan team at peterpan@gosh.org.

            “Or how would one know if a creation is trademarked or under copyright extension?”

            You would probably have to research it yourself using various websites available, or hire a Intellectual property/copyright/etc. lawyer to find out.

          • walker

            Peter Pan is only trademarked as it applies to peanut butter.

          • scriptfeels

            Poe, thank you for the resources/education. This was something that was never clear to me.

          • rickhester

            He found it using this thing called the Internet. It’s called research.

      • brenkilco

        Found this. Never underestimate the power of Disney.

        The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act marked a major change, because it added 20 years onto the original renewal period. Critics mocked the 1998 law as the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act,” because the Walt Disney Corporation was its biggest proponent, according to “The Boston Globe.” Without the law, Disney’s iconic figure of Mickey Mouse — who first appeared onscreen in 1998 — would have passed into the public domain. Upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in January 2003, the law kept Disney’s hold on Mickey through 2023.

  • Meta5

    My script, Violet Sun, re-imagines the vampire as a realistic, modern day human.

    http://www.mediafire.com/view/5zuzg6a77eju1md/Violet_Sun.pdf

    I don’t even like vampire stories. Except this one.

  • carsonreeves1

    Just wanted to give you guys a little inspiration. Today, there was a big script sale from a guy named Eric Koenig. I’ve been reading Eric’s stuff for about 4 years now. He started off shaky but kept working at it and working at it and never giving up. He wrote every night after he came home from work. Today, it finally paid off. It can be done! – http://deadline.com/2014/11/matriarch-air-force-dentist-veterans-day-paramount-1201282435/

    • walker

      That’s cool Carson. Spec sales are way down this year but it is nice to see a deal that is for a first timer and is a sale as opposed to an option.

      • carsonreeves1

        Exactly. It’s so hard to do it in general. But to do it as a first-timer is super hard.

  • rickhester
    • gazrow

      Sent it.

      • rickhester

        Thanks, man.

      • walker

        Can you just send me the bridesmaid?

        • gazrow

          Lol.

      • Dan B

        Hey Gazro – could you send that to me too? Been looknig for that one for a while? dblixbreen at gmail.com . THANKS!

  • gazrow

    Sent.

  • rickhester

    ScreenCraft just started posting awards season scripts. Gone Girl, Fault in Our Stars, Get On Up and St. Vincent are the first up. Link’s below, if I did this right.

    http://www.screencraft.org/blog/download-free-awards-season-scripts/

  • Midnight Luck

    I just don’t……
    I have nothing to say about this.

    It holds zero interest.
    It sounds quite boring honestly.

    And they JUMPED to buy it?
    Odd.

    and the title “The Three Misfortunes of Geppetto”? Zzzzzz…. (reminds me of The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, wow, now that was a mouthful. Though it was the first film January Jones made an impression (besides Love Actually).

    Maybe I am just not excited by all these fairytales. Or mash ups of fairytales. Or odd reconfiguring of fairytales. Or taking a select part of a fairytale and turning it into its own 2 hour movie.

    But a movie about this guy? I mean look at the image of him. Does it scream “Must See!”?
    At least with Maleficent, she is evil and witchy. That carries a certain fascination in and of itself. But Geppetto?

    I guess I had more to say than I thought.

    • scriptfeels

      I feel like the complete opposite, I thought he was interesting and exciting and it immediately grabbed my interest because of his role in Pinocchio and the possibility of tying this film with a Pinocchio remake as well.

      Also, this might be relevant? Say’s Guillermo is directing a stop motion Pinocchio, but the source is old and probably unreliable :/

      http://screenrant.com/robert-downey-jr-pinocchio-movie-gepetto

      • Midnight Luck

        Well, maybe I need to re watch Pinocchio. Haven’t seen it since I was 6 or 8 or something.

        Maybe he would intrigue me then.
        I only remember Pinocchio and Jiminy. Still, the movie wasn’t one of my favorites of the many Disney movies.

        I was a huge fan of LADY AND THE TRAMP.

        So maybe I should write a story from Jim Dear, the Dog Catcher’s perspective.

        Could work.

    • Citizen M

      You have a soulmate.

      “Too many of the films on which we comment boil down to woeful mediocrity, and too many of the people who make them betray a depressing weariness.” — Bosley Crowther, New York Times film critic, 1941

  • romer6

    “Or maybe we tell the story on a planet inhabited by beasts, and the girl is the only “human” and therefore a “beast” to them”. There is gold there!! Sort of like “Enemy Mine” but with romance. I mean, straight romance. I mean… well, let me just shut up.

  • Citizen M

    A new angle on a fairy tale…

    FADE IN OVER BLACK:

    VOICE: City Welfare… Yes, lady, you can report child abuse here… the shoe house? (sighs) Aah, that old bat, she has so many kids she doesn’t know what to do with them all… Yes, we’ll look into it, thank you for being a concerned citizen, bye.

    Fade up title:

               THE SHOE HOUSE HORROR