It’s a Scriptshadow Bonus Day! We get a cool sci-fi thriller ANNND you get to download the script yourself at the end of the review!
Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller
Premise: An economist who travels into the future to help the United States government chart a safer and more lucrative path, must decide what to do when, on his most recent trip, he finds his wife murdered.
About: Today’s script was purchased by Sony back in 1998. It was supposed to be directed by Andrew Davis, who made one of the best thrillers ever, The Fugitive. But it never got to the starting gate. The screenwriter, Gregory Hansen, has only one produced credit – 1993’s Hearts and Souls. The Travel Agent was written at a time when Hollywood was celebrating the box office juggernauts that were Titanic and Men in Black.
Writer: Gregory Hansen
Details: 123 pages – “First Revision” 05/08/1998 draft
Something occurred to me while reading The Travel Agent. We haven’t had a great time-travel movie in over 25 years, when Terminator 2 came out. And before that it was Back to the Future. There have been none in the interim. And if you even TRY to tell me that Primer or Looper are good movies, I am going to wrap you in steak and feed you to a litter of angry kittens.
It’s a reminder that while time-travel is one of the most tempting sub-genres, it’s also one of the hardest to master. I think everybody tries their hand at it once and when they realize how difficult it is, they’re like, “I’m never doing that again.” But there is one thing you can do to make your time-travel script easier to write. I’m going to get to that soon. But first, let’s discuss The Travel Agent’s plot…
Victor Barrick is a 30-something economist who works for the government. He’s a smart guy, friendly, a little shy. He’s got a stunning wife and a beautiful home. Best of all, his job allows him to help people. You see, Victor is a time-jumper.
The Jericho Program has discovered a worm-hole that can send people exactly six months into the future. This allows agents like Victor to look at things like how the economy’s doing, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and report back so the U.S. can adjust accordingly.
For example, in one trip, Victor experiences a huge earthquake up in San Francisco that kills hundreds. Once the government had that information, they could clear people out of the buildings where the deaths were going to occur due to “a poison gas warning” or a fire alarm that was “accidentally pulled” a few minutes before the earthquake began.
Everything’s going swimmingly for Victor, until, on his most recent trip, he learns his wife’s been murdered. Just as he’s processing that, two men come after him, trying to kill him. And he’s only barely able to evade them before jumping back to the past (lots of spoilers ahead – so read the script first if you don’t want to be spoiled).
Victor needs to figure out who killed his wife and why they want him dead too. Oh, but Victor, you so don’t want to know. Jericho’s playing dumb in the past, saying that they don’t know what’s going on or why Victor was attacked. But they close down all jumps in the meantime. Victor gets his tech guy and best friend, Murphy, to jump him back immediately. Once in the future, Victor discovers a horrifying reality. The person who’s at the center of this is… him. Or, at least, Future Him. Whoever that may be.
We ping-pong back and forth between the past and future as more and more pieces of puzzle are put in place. Victor eventually learns that his wife has been playing for Team Jericho this whole time. And that they need to get rid of him so they can do more nefarious things in the future. His entire life a lie, Victor must figure out a way to save himself and expose Jericho for what it is. But he’ll have to overcome the entire might of the U.S. Government to do so.
The Travel Agent is a fun script if you judge it the way it should be judged: As a 90s spec. It’s a fun premise. It’s a silly but enjoyable hero-on-the-run exercise. It hits with some plot beats and misses with others. But, in the end, it’s enjoyable. And I’m going to tell you why this script didn’t fall apart whereas so many time-travel scripts do.
To write a good time travel script, you must nail one thing:
The rules of your time travel must be simple.
What do I mean by this? Where time-travel movies go south are when they incorporate too many rules. Time-travel is confusing as it is. So you must limit your rules to as few as possible. I’m telling you. Every rule you add, you unknowingly add a ton more complications.
For example, if I said you could only jump to the future once a year, that’s easy to understand. If I then said, you could only jump to the future once a year, and you could only stay in the future for 30 minutes before you had to come back? That’s still manageable but the viewer has to think a little more. If I said you got to jump to the future once a year, and you could only stay in the future for 30 minutes at a time UNLESS you were wearing the Time Pendant, which would extend your stay for an extra 45 minutes… you can start to see how things might get confusing. And how they’d become extremely confusing if I told you that only senior time agents were allowed to wear the Time Pendant.
Take Looper for example, with its unending set of rules. Why would you send people back in time to get murdered? Why wouldn’t you just murder them and then send them back so there was no chance of, you know, them getting to the past and being able to escape? Which is exactly what happens!
What I liked about The Travel Agent is it just had one rule. You get sent six months into the future. That’s how long the worm-hole is. You come back when you want to come back. I never had to think too hard during this. I could just enjoy the story.
Unfortunately, just because you keep your time travel rules simple, it doesn’t mean you’ve automatically written a good movie. It just means you’ve mitigated potential problems on the time-travel end. You still have to make interesting inspired plot and character choices throughout, and The Travel Agent does so sporadically.
One of my favorite moments was when Murphy needs to send Victor into the future after Jericho has closed down the program. Usually, Jericho sends you into pre-built “vaults” so you don’t end up, you know, arriving in the future with your body half-melded into a car. But they don’t have access to the vaults now.
Murphy tells victor: “Okay, there’s a run down deserted building that hasn’t been touched in years. There’s no reason to think it won’t be there in six months. We’ll send you there.” So he transfers Vic to the building six months from now and, sure enough, it’s still there. Everything’s fine. He dusts himself off like, “What was all the worry about?” Then the camera shifts to show behind him where a giant WRECKING BALL is swinging directly towards him from outside the building. He turns and notices it at the last second, and must run for his life.
I actually wish there were more scenes like this – scenes that were concept-specific. Again, you’re always looking to write scenes that COULD ONLY HAPPEN IN YOUR MOVIE. And this was one of them. But most of The Travel Agent has Victor running around in a, sort of, carbon copy manner to The Fugitive.
I’ve seen The Fugitive. I want The Travel Agent.
They also did a good job with Hannah, the wife. We saw the same plot beat – the wife working for the bad guys – in Total Recall. The difference here was that we really explored the emotional effects of Victor’s marriage and his life being a lie. Victor was truly traumatized. In Total Recall, Arnold Schwarzenegger gets a really confused look on his face and then he’s off to the races, his fake wife a feint memory.
I don’t know if this script has enough “umph” to be produced today. Maybe Jason Statham could get it made. But it’s more likely to be one of these Bruce Willis or Nicholas Cage VOD things. With that said, it’d be one of the better VOD movies they made in a long time. And it’s got a great title to boot.
Script link: The Travel Agent
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Credit to Scott Crawford for reminding me of this. Raymond Chandler used to say that when his stories would get boring, he would have a knock at the door, the hero answers the door… and it’s a man with a gun. This is a cheap but clever way to add a bump of energy to your script. Remember, though, that this tip has variations. The man at the door doesn’t have to be showing the gun. It can be hidden. And you get to decide who knows what about that gun. Maybe the audience knows but our hero doesn’t. Also, that “gun” is symbolic. It could be an angry friend with a bone to pick, an ex with a score to settle, an apartment manager saying that rent’s past due. Be creative when you have your character with a gun show up at the door.