How does one follow up the best reviewed script on Scriptshadow in over two years? It’s kind of like getting your first stand up gig and being told you’re following Jerry Seinfeld. It doesn’t help that Desperate Hours was a big deep-thinking character-driven drama and that Second Chance just wants to make you giggle. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make people giggle, but coming on the tail of a script that hits every emotional beat known to man, there’s a tendency to get frustrated with a story whose only goal is to make you laugh.
The good news is that Rucker, the writer, *is* funny. He proves that in the first ten pages. Actually, scratch that. He proves that on the title page, which displays his e-mail as Kolby at superhellaawesome.com. So I was ready to throw away any and all screenwriting checklists as long as I had a few good laughs. But there’s a caveat to that. Comedy’s only funny when you’re enjoying the story. If you don’t care about what’s going on, nothing carries any importance. And once that happens, the jokes stop working. So it was time to see whether Second Chance contained a compelling story or not. I hope so. Because nobody gets a SECOND CHANCE at Amateur Friday. Well, unless you’re Orbitals of course.
32 year old Gary Trumball works at a market of some sort where he burns time away by reading books, ignoring customers, and waiting for the clock to strike 5. It’s during one of these clock striking moments that Gary races out and misses a national announcement that will change his life forever. He’s been randomly picked for the most popular show in the world, “Second Chance,” which allows its winners to go back in time and give 15 minutes of advice to their younger self.
It only takes a few phone calls from enthusiastic long lost friends and family members before Gary realizes what’s going on. He’s mildly excited about it, I guess you can say, but more preoccupied with the fact that his ex-girlfriend all of a sudden has decided to like him again. Hmmm, sounds like fishy timing to me. But Gary liked her so darn much that he’s willing to overlook the fact that she cheated on him and treated him like shit.
Gary’s wimpy friend, Big Mike, is very much against any contact with Sarah. He wants Gary to focus on what’s important, which is figuring out what he’s going to tell his past self. But that’s getting more complicated by the minute. The creator of the show, a former child star named Rick Roney, who reinvented his train wreck of a career by giving his past self 15 minutes of advice, doesn’t like how casually Gary’s treating this once in a lifetime opportunity. Just getting Gary on the phone has become a chore, and it’s pissing Rick off.
As if the craziness isn’t bad enough, Gary is soon kidnapped by a hot little number named Erin, who repeatedly drugs him and ties him up for…umm…well, I’m not sure why. To talk to him for a few minutes before untying him?
On their fourth meeting, Erin kidnaps Gary, leading to a Matrix-style chase sequence where we find out Rick has inserted a tracer inside Gary so he can keep track of him. Not sure why in the world he would do that but the sequence eventually leads Gary to some underground futuristic city (??????) where he learns there’s an entire community of people who have been burned by their loved ones screwing them over once they went back in time and wished for a life that made theirs expendable.
It’s at this point when we realize Erin (who’s one of these unfortunate folks) wants Gary to tell his younger self to destroy this whole Second Chance show so that none of this will ever happen – so all these people will have their families and friends back again (I think). Gary’s torn about the whole thing and isn’t sure what he’s gonna do, which might not even matter, since Rick has decided to covertly move away from Gary and give someone else a SECOND CHANCE.
Kolby is a fun writer with some fun ideas, but like a lot of young writers, he hasn’t put enough effort into learning the craft yet. Second Chance suffers from a giant case of Random-itis, with multiple cases of “What the hell??” We have the occasional fun scene every once in awhile, but while reading Second Chance, you’re usually scratching your head going, “Why did he decide to do that??”
We were just talking about this with Desperate Hours. A story is only as good as its choices, and a lot of Second Chance’s choices are weird or not-very-well-thought-out. For example, as soon as I learned that the time travel element of Second Chance was dictated by a mysterious robot who Rick just happened to find one day, I knew we were in trouble. And then there was the whole futuristic underground city thing. Ummm, what???
When you come up with an idea, one of the first things you have to take into consideration is audience expectation. What kind of movie is the audience expecting to see? For example, if you write a movie called Liar Liar about a liar who must be forced to tell the truth for a day, you probably shouldn’t send the lead character to the moon where he hopes to establish a base for future moon missions. It’s not the kind of movie we’re expecting and therefore it’s not the kind of movie we want to see.
With Second Chance, I was expecting to see a guy having to make the most important decision of his life. I imagined people from every avenue of his life coming to him and pressuring him to do what they wanted him to do. Instead I got robots and futuristic cities. It didn’t jibe with my expectations and therefore I tuned out.
The script problems kind of snowballed from there. I had so many questions that ran through my brain while reading this. Why did Erin drug and tie Gary up twice without actually getting anything from him? It was like she tied him up…just to untie him five minutes later.
Then, I’m not sure if it’s ever actually stated what Gary gets by winning this contest. It’s stated in the logline. But I’m not sure anyone in the actual script says it. That’s a HUGE oversight since the whole story is built on the idea that he has this upcoming talk with his younger self. Very strange it was never mentioned.
Then there’s a lot of wishy-washiness. Nothing is clear. For example, at first Gary seems to be infatuated with Sarah. But then, when she shows up at his place, he seems disinterested in her. Then later he’s excited about her again, then later still decides he’s not. I never knew where he stood with Sarah so it was difficult to care about their relationship.
Likewise, with the going back in time thing – Gary and Big Mike get really excited about changing their lives one scene, and then Gary seems to think the whole idea is stupid the next. I never once knew if Gary even wanted to go back in time and talk to his younger self. It was so bizarre. I mean, you have to be clear about what your characters want!
If Kolby wants to rewrite this script, here’s what I would suggest. Create 5 main relationships with people that Gary has and have all 5 of them want something different from Gary in regards to what he should tell his yonnger self. Make sure all of those relationships are strong ones, so there are some actual consequences (stakes) to Gary going against the other four. If we don’t feel like this is a difficult decision for Gary with complicated ramifications and other people getting hurt by his final choice, then we’re just not going to care.
Then, give Gary a fatal flaw, something that’s plagued him his entire life, and have that flaw be in conflict with what everyone else wants. The most obvious way to go about this is to make Gary’s flaw his selflessness. Gary has always done things for everyone else instead of himself, and everyone else has stepped on him and taken advantage of him because of it. These other five people have made a living on Gary helping them, and so Gary’s decision goes much deeper than simply “What will Gary do?” It becomes more about whether he’ll finally overcome his flaw and do something for himself for once, or will he continue to blindly help others who take advantage of him?
That’s where I’d start and see if you can create some interesting story choices from there. No robots. No futuristic cities. Keep it simple. Focus on what makes the concept compelling!
Script link: Second Chance
What I learned: Establish clarity in what your characters want! We need to know where your characters stand, or, at the very least, why they’re conflicted if they don’t stand on either side. But if a character just randomly jumps from one end of the extreme to the other without explanation, we become confused as to who that character is and what he wants. With Gary, I couldn’t figure out if he was over Sarah or still obsessed with her. I couldn’t figure out if he wanted to do this Second Chance thing or couldn’t care less. For those reasons, I never got a handle on his character, which alienated me from the story.