Premise: A development exec displeased with the direction Hollywood is going gets stuck working on the latest film from the man who embodies that direction, Lax Mandis.
About: Today’s script finished with 22 freaking votes on the 2016 Black List! Assuming the main character is an avatar for the writer, I think Scott Specter is a development executive who wrote this script out of his own frustrations.
Writer: Scott Specter
Details: 109 pages
It’s almost Christmas.
And what goes better with Christmas than Max Landis!
The other day, I hopped on Twitter, and 92% of my feed was Max Landis. There are very few people – dare I say no one! – who comes even close to reaching that kind of output. Doesn’t matter if it’s scripts, tweets, or Panda Express receipts. You can’t approach the Max.
Now a few days before that, I saw Max tweeting about this very script. Which is sort of like watching LeBron James with LeBron James commenting on LeBron James. Well, not exactly like that. But you get the idea.
What happened in those tweets was not kind towards today’s writer. Max isn’t a fan of Lax. In fact, he went so far as to call out anyone who makes fun of him, reinforcing how hard he’s worked to get this far in his career.
But Max, I mean come on. You have rainbow hair, attack any movie that makes more than 300 million, and are a social media hurricane. Attention out = attention in.
With that said, I agree with Landis that all the scripts that have attacked him so far are lame one-trick ponies. Will Lax Mandis be the one that gets it right?
Jay has been a development exec going on 10 years now, and while he isn’t 100% jaded yet, the jaded progress bar is filling up fast. Jay’s issue is that the Instagram-Pokemon-Go generation is ruining movies with their attention deficit disorder viewing habits. There’s more depth these days in a cereal bowl.
And what screenwriter represents this generation better than Lax Mandis, a screenplay-writing machine whose latest film, Barnacle (about a half-man, half-barnacle) just hit 100 million at the box office. The whole town is hungry for more. The whole town, that is, besides Jay.
While Jay bitches to his friends about Lax’s success, he inadvertently ends up at Lax Mandis’s house party, and meets the man himself. Lax likes Jay’s views on the industry so much that he wants him to come and work on his latest movie, a contained thriller that takes place in a closet, starring Tom Cruise.
Jay doesn’t want the job until his girlfriend gives him an idea. Use this opportunity to expose Lax for what he is, a sham. Jay likes that idea enough to accept the job, and as soon as he’s on set, starts feeding negative information (such as Lax’s pet tiger being allowed to roam freely around the set) to The Wrap. Of course, what Jay eventually learns is that he’s projecting his own frustrations onto Lax, and that if there’s anyone whose life needs evaluation, it’s his own. In a strange way, Lax is the best thing that ever happened to Jay.
Believe it or not, there’s some funny stuff here! The title page, for starters, has an ASCII picture of two hands flipping the bird. A character complains how the latest Mandis script “has a Sudoku puzzle in the middle of the script for no reason.” There’s plenty of self-referential action line writing. A character will say, “I hate staring at a blank page,” and the next action line will read: “I really do.” And there are many observations of Landis’s writing that sound like this: “It’s like he falls asleep on the keyboard, wakes up, and goes: “That’s not bad.”
But the most surprising thing about the script is how deeply it delves into the frustrations associated with trying to make it in Hollywood. It feels, at times, like Specter forgot he was writing a Landis hit piece and used his script to opine on how shitty the movie business has gotten. There’s a scene on page 20 between Jay and his girlfriend that’s as honest and relatable an assessment of trying to make it here as I’ve read.
So for 50 pages, I was on board with Lax Mandis.
But then the script started getting sloppy. The joke that Mandis keeps his pet tiger on set felt uninspired. And the whole joke about Tom Cruise being stuck in a closet happens to have been done before in one of the most popular episodes of comedic television ever (in South Park).
But probably the biggest faux-pas was not going crazy enough with Mandis. Max Landis is a character. You cannot go broad enough when you write him. And, strangely, Mandis always felt a few “z’s” short of crazy. Maybe it’s because Specter wanted to humanize him. But if we’re coming to your script specifically to see you go nuts with a character, you better bust out the macadamias.
All in all, the second half of this script didn’t live up to the first. And this is a problem I see often. Writers go hard on that first half. And then the second half rolls around and their priorities change. It’s less about writing a stellar screenplay and more about finishing. “If I can just FINISH…” is the mentality. And the problem with this mentality is that the reader feels it. We sense that you want this to end.
It doesn’t help that the average writer rewrites the first half of their script 7-10 times more than the second. That’s a result of the way screenplays are written, from the top down. You’ll rewrite scene 4 ten times before you’ve even reached the second half of your screenplay. So I get it.
But you have to realize this and adapt. When you get to that midpoint, treat the second half like a whole new screenplay. Jump into it guns blazing, just like you jumped into that first scene. The second half is where a lot of screenplays go to die. And I believe it’s because of laziness. That’s good news when you think about it because laziness (unlike, say, a boring main character) is easy to fix.
To recap, this isn’t a bad screenplay. It’s got a handful of jokes that made me laugh out loud. Most of the Hollywood struggle commentary was authentic enough to make me nod my head while reading it. It just runs out of steam. Jay started repeating his thoughts on Hollywood. The production stuff wasn’t as engaging as the earlier boardroom meeting stuff. It lost its spark.
With that said, this is something screenwriters may want to check out due to all the inside jokes. And if you’ve read a Max Landis screenplay, you’ll definitely have a chuckle or two.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: I believe the reader can feel what you the writer feels. So if you don’t believe in a scene, we won’t believe in it. If you’re just trying to get to the end, we feel like we’re rushing towards the end. The second you stop lacking passion, the script lacks passion. You can’t slip anything by the reader. They always know. So if something doesn’t feel right, don’t say, “I hope the reader doesn’t notice.” They will notice. So go back and fix it.