Premise: With only one night to act, two rival soldiers must sneak behind enemy lines to complete a last-ditch suicide mission that will finally put an end to a decade-long conflict.
About: What Remains of Troy finished in the Top 4 of the Scriptshadow Screenplay Tournament, a tournament where the winner was voted on by the readers of the site. “Troy” was eliminated from the tournament early on, but given a second chance when readers voted it back into the main competition as a wild-card entry. It rode that wave to the semifinals, where it lost to rom-com, The Bait, which I’m reviewing tomorrow. You can also check out my thoughts on the first Top 4 script, Cratchit, which I reviewed yesterday.
Writer: Steffan DelPiano
Details: 100 pages
Usually when I see “ancient Greece” and “period piece” in the same submission I have nightmares of 204 page 12MB screenplays that take us through several centuries of Roman history, most of that history dialogue scenes in a garden. So when I saw this script clocking in at a cool 100 pages, I knew I was safe. It’s why I’m a big fan of fast-moving period pieces. You get historical depth but at a lightning fast discount. Let’s see if “What Remains” keeps me a fan of the format.
Achilles is dead.
Bastard Trojans shot him in the heel.
He died in one of the many battles the Greeks waged against the city of Troy, a city they can’t seem to infiltrate no matter how hard they try. Now, with their ranks diminishing, their food running out, and their spirits at an all time low, they’re about to give up.
That is until Odysseus, the heir apparent to Achilles, tells his commander, Menelaus, of a vision he had. They will build a giant horse. They will hide inside of that horse. They will then offer it as a gift to the Trojans. Then, once inside the town, they’ll open up the front gate to let the Greek Army in.
Unfortunately, there’s what you want and what you get. And nobody’s going to be building a giant wooden horse in one day. So Menelaus says to Odysseus, “We’ll build your horse. But it’s going to be tiny. And it’s only going to have room to hold two people.”
If that’s not bad enough, Odysseus is stuck with Achilles’ old page boy, Pyrrhus. And like an LA cop who doesn’t do partners, Odysseus doesn’t do page boys. Actually, that didn’t come out right. But you get what I mean. So Odysseus and Pyrrhus are stuffed in this tiny horse and whisked up to the front door of Troy.
Once inside, the Trojans begin their victory party, which allows Odysseus and Pyrrhus to slip out, blend in, and execute their mission. The only problem is that they won’t be able to open the front gate. Which means they must find the keys and open the South gate instead. And then, somehow, alert their army that a gate they won’t even be able to see is the one they must come through.
As Odysseus and Pyrrhus bicker away, each believing that a different approach is warranted, we start to wonder if they never should’ve gotten out of the Trojan horse in the first place.
What Remains of Troy isn’t a perfect script. But it’s pretty damn fun.
Steffan does a lot of things right here. All of the characters have depth. They have families, they have opinions about the war, they have conflicts with one another, they have contrasting ideologies. When someone speaks, you don’t feel like a writer’s writing it. You feel like that’s how it really went down.
The only time that didn’t happen was in the relationship between Odysseus and Pyrrhus, which, to be honest, was kind of strange. Here you have this great warrior, a king even, and this 12 year-old boy is giving him lip the whole time. Isn’t this back in the day where respecting your elders actually meant something? I know he was Achilles’ page, which gave him some street cred. But he’s still 12.
So it took me awhile to get used to that.
Once we did, however, some good things started happening. A good script always sets up a plan, and then the plan goes south. If the plan doesn’t go south, you don’t have a movie. So I liked how we’ve got this directive to open the front gate, but then once we get in, that option’s not available to us anymore.
So now the characters have to improvise. And this is where it gets fun. Because not only do Odysseus and Pyrrhus have to open the back gate instead of the front, but they have to somehow alert their army of the change, which is impossible since this is before the invention of cell phones. So Pyrrhus asks Odysseus how they’re going to accomplish this.
“We’ll figure that out later.”
This is known as a “lingering question” and is a very powerful storytelling device. Because the whole time we’re watching them try to get that gate open, we’re also thinking, “But how the hell are they going to alert their army?” It’s one more thing to keep the reader on edge. And that’s where you want your reader. ON EDGE. You don’t want them laying back in their couch, half-asleep, saying, “Yup, I knew that was going to happen” repeatedly. Because that’s 90% of all scripts they read.
So make sure the plan KEEPS GOING SOUTH.
I also liked the wild-card subplot of Helen being held prisoner in Troy. So now they don’t just have to burn down Troy, they have to find Helen and rescue her. So what do you do with that storyline? It’s a plan, right? So you should know the answer to this. That’s right. THE PLAN TO RESCUE HELEN NEEDS TO GO SOUTH. You see a theme here?
Then, overall, the script has a nice pace to it. It starts a little slow but it gradually picks up, and with each ten pages, it’s moving faster than the previous ten pages. It’s like this controlled acceleration until we’re this giant ball barreling down a hill.
My one major beef is that relationship. I think there’s a more honest way to explore it. Instead of Pyrrhus being this entitled Justin Bieber type cause he apprenticed for the greatest fighter ever, I’d like to see him more shaken, believing that there’s no more purpose for him in life. That’s how he starts off the journey. Then Odysseus comes along, the most unlikely of men to give a shit about this kid’s loss, and ironically becomes the one who helps Pyrrhus find his purpose again.
But it’s a minor league gripe in a script that mostly plays in the major leagues. Nice job by Steffan. I can see why this made the semifinals!
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: This is a great tip if only because I just experienced the opposite in a consultation script I just read. One of the things that readers hate the most is bulk character introductions. It’s so hard to remember a bunch of characters when they’re thrown at us all at the same time. With that said, sometimes you have to do it. And Steffan came up with a really clever way to deal with the problem. He creates an ACTION during his bulk character introductions to create a subtle separation between each character. The setup is a funeral scene that takes place next to the ocean, and part of the procession is the passing of a torch. So each time the torch is passed, Steffan introduces the character receiving the torch. It’s a small thing but it’s so much better than those mechanical bulk character intros that always leave the reader forgetting who half the people they just met were.