August 2006 Archives
August 4, 2006
Author: Carlos Perez
Writer’s Potential: 4
Logline:In the 1970s, Boise detectives search for a murderer who may have been a Nazi spy in World War II.
Synopsis:In 1978, a Boise man stops at the side of the road to relieve himself when he finds a bag half-buried in melting snow. Inside the bag are dismembered body parts — arms and feet. Boise detectives REESE FUENTES (late 20s) and GREGORY MARSHALL (50s) are on the case. They notice a concentration camp tattoo on the arm that leads them to believe this was the work of a neo-Nazi cult. Trying to avoid dealing with that, Gregory decides instead to investigate leads from other noted racists with violent backgrounds. This leads them to LEE LEWIS, who four months ago had a domestic abuse call. Eyewitnesses claimed a man with two big suitcases came to the Lewis house, they heard fighting, and the man was never seen leaving. The stuff about the man was dismissed when Lee owned up to beating his wife, LIZ.
Meanwhile, an aging Russian-American, KROTOV, actually committed the crime. He’s shacked up with a young woman named ANNA. They make plans to sneak off to Argentina together. It becomes clear in a hurry that Krotov murdered and dismembered the man Gregory and Reese are investigating. Krotov also has a sexual relationship with a suburban woman, SHEILA PETERSON.
Gregory and Reese are forced to team up with a federal agent, WILLIAMS, who has come from Washington because of two similar cases of dismembered parts in burlap bags tied in World War II-style knots. He tells Gregory and Reese that he’s dug up obscure information that similar killings occurred in France during WWII. Through flashbacks, it’s revealed Krotov — a Russian officer — was handpicked from a concentration camp and assigned by the Germans to impersonate an American officer, commit murders on civilians in the most brutal possible way to lose sympathy for American soldiers. He also led a wide group into a trap — and Gregory, a WWII vet, was there.
In the present, Gregory and Reese don’t buy Williams’ theory that the WWII killings and the current murders are connected. From Lee and Liz Lewis, they learn that a man with suitcases did show up that night — a man named DERRY, recently released from prison. They pick him up and Derry tells them that four months ago, he had a chance meeting with a courier named MINYA MINCHAK at a bar at the airport. He found out Minya was transporting diamonds and also that he was a Jewish concentration camp survivor — their victim. However, Derry passed out in the airport bathroom and never saw Minya again. The detectives find that Minya was supposed to deliver diamonds to a local jeweler — Sheila Peterson. However, the diamonds never got there; when they ask, Sheila seems nervous about the diamonds. Later, Sheila reveals to Krotov that she isn’t nervous about Minya’s stolen diamonds (she doesn’t appear to know that he was murdered) — she’s been stealing diamonds herself, unchecked because they only inventory the jewels twice a year.
In flashbacks, it is revealed that Krotov killed a German SS officer he was working with. An American soldier, CARL MILLER, finds Krotov, who tells Miller that the SS officer was a German spy. Krotov and Miller bond, until Krotov stabs him in the neck with a knife baring his initials (NIK). Injured, Krotov steals Miller’s identity (uniform, dog tags, etc.) and is sent back to the United States. In the present, the detectives stumble across photos of the NIK knife and documents signed by Krotov, showing that his name matches the initials. The documents also imply that he murdered his landlord in self-defense when she accused him of attempting to rob her jewelry shop. The detectives suspect Krotov’s behind the current murders. Gregory recognizes him from a WWII photo.
Gregory, Reese, and Williams believe Sheila is key to the investigation, so they place a cop to watch her. He turns up dead, as does Sheila. They find Minya’s head in Sheila’s freezer. In flashbacks, it’s revealed that Krotov was also at the airport, overhearing everything Minya told to Derry. When Derry leaves, Krotov tells Minya he’s a cab driver and the Krotov is too drunk to drive. He offers to drive him home, but a SKY CAP outside the airport forces Krotov to also take a MOTHER and her CHILDREN home. Frustrated, Krotov does so and also drops Minya off at his girlfriend DIANA’s house. Krotov tells Diana that Minya told him he wanted Krotov to be there to take him back to the airport promptly at seven the next morning. The next morning, he kills and dismembers Minya, then finds out that he doesn’t even have the diamonds. In the present, Krotov kills Anna because she’s pregnant. He leaves with his tickets to Venezuela.
At the airport — which the detectives happen to be at, following up the lead from Derry — Krotov sneaks a pistol past the carry-on X-ray machines by giving a child a lollipop that induces vomiting. He hijacks a plane. The detectives discover Krotov was at the airport when Minya was there, and was the one who gave the child the lollipop. They receive word that the pilot gave the tower a code word to let them know they’ve been hijacked. The detectives take a private FBI jet to Florida and trick Krotov into believing they’re landing in Venezuela. They arrest him on sight. Gregory shows up at Diana’s apartment. He’s realized she’s the only one who could possibly have the diamonds. He arrests her.
Comments:The premise of this script — mostly Krotov’s story, both in the past and present — and the overall criminal storyline is fairly interesting. However, all the flashbacks to World War II are totally unnecessary — they’re redundant and spend long periods of time establishing information that’s revealed through a few lines of dialogue. In fact, the entire use of flashbacks (with the possible exception of the flashbacks showing the events of four months ago) weakens the structure and the overall storyline. This maybe wouldn’t be a big problem if not for the fact that Krotov practically becomes the main character by default — we learn more about him and possibly spend more time with him than we do any other character in the screenplay. Even this would be fine if he were portrayed as even remotely sympathetic — he’s not. He’s a coldblooded killer, in most cases showing no remorse and little motivation beyond greed. Greed works well as a motivator, but give us a reason (other than the obvious desire for wealth) for a greed that drives him to awful murders.
We don’t want to root for Krotov. He’s an awful, despicable person, but really, there isn’t enough on the other characters to make them involving. Gregory has marital problems and a flirtation with a local reporter, both of which are so meaningless they didn’t even make it into the synopsis. Spend more time with these three cops — show us their flaws, their vulnerabilities, and make them mean something. Make them more interesting than Krotov, and perhaps then the audience will care about watching them solve this crime and catch the criminal. Right now they’re pretty generic, swapping plot-oriented cop dialogue with little in the way of characterization or development.
The overall crime story, while interesting and involving, is way too convenient to be believable. Krotov, portrayed as a spy who can pass so well for an American that he steals somebody else’s identity, isn’t smart enough to bury the dismembered body parts in the ground (or, if the ground is too frozen, far enough away from the road that people won’t stumble on it as soon as the snow melts)? He’s not smart enough to figure out that when Minya had the diamonds the previous night but didn’t have them in the morning, maybe Diana had them? He doesn’t realize that killing people in the exact same way he did during WWII, and that once again he’s attempting to steal jewels, might lead cops back to him? He has plane tickets to Venezuela but for no particular reason decides to hijack the plane that’s already going there? Also, the way the detectives are led from a seemingly unrelated domestic disturbance to a man who just happens to have spoken with the murder victim the night before he died, which in turn leads them to other key players that eventually leads them to Krotov — all of this is just way too convenient.
In short, make it harder for the detectives and focus more on the cops trying to solve the case. Where are their setbacks in solving the crime? In what ways do they struggle with the case? By better developing the characters, perhaps outside factors — such as Gregory’s collapsing marriage, if that were brought into sharper focus — will distract them, or make them sloppy. Maybe even playing on the time period would help: we’ve come a long way with forensics and crimefighting techniques in 30 years; it was much more difficult to solve crimes like this 30 years ago, and in fact many of them went unsolved until modern techniques were applied to the old cases. Portraying Krotov as smart and devious, as his character would already be, would also make solving the case more difficult.
By making the audience root more for the detectives but also making Krotov at least a tiny bit sympathetic, this screenplay could live up to the quality of its interesting premise.
August 7, 2006
Author: Michael Sean Conley and Seth Lockhart
Writer’s Potential: 6
Logline:A homeless dancer performs in a supernatural competition that will either get him a $100,000 reward…or death.
Synopsis:Harlem, 1949. A young man named WENDELL goes to a swing club with his lady, EVELYN. Another dancer, HYPE, literally sets the place on fire — through his dancing. While pandemonium rages, Wendell is separated from Evelyn. In the present-day, Wendell — now known as OL SKOOL — spends most of his time at Rufus’ 24-Hour Café, across the street from the former site of the nightclub. He seems to have a crush on SAVANNAH, a beautiful English girl. He always leaves her huge tips. Savannah’s coworker, POPCORN, has to deal with her homeless dancer brother, UNEEQ, and boyfriend, LOCKIT; she feeds them scraps, but her boss (RUFUS) doesn’t want them around unless they can pay. Uneeq is interested in Savannah, but she pays little attention. BEANIE, their albino bike-messenger friend, runs in to tell Uneeq and Lockit about Uneeq’s arch-nemesis (a white Manhattanite, REBEL) getting a mysterious black envelope — an invitation to Wreck da Floor. Uneeq and Lockit dismiss it as an urban legend, but Beanie swear it’s true, and that Wreck da Floor has a $100,000 prize. Uneeq, Lockit, Beanie, and Popcorn rush to Rebel’s apartment. Uneeq humiliates Rebel with his dance skills, and Rebel reluctantly turns over his invitation to Wreck da Floor, which Uneeq and his crew take back to their home — an abandoned boxcar.
Meanwhile, the mysterious gentleman who gave Rebel the invitation in the first place returns to Rebel’s apartment and makes him another offer. Uneeq invites Savannah to Wreck da Floor; she’s reluctant. Ol Skool gives Uneeq some advice on women. Popcorn takes Savannah to their boxcar, explaining hers and Uneeq’s situation. Uneeq is initially embarrassed but is soon happy she came. He walks her home, and Savannah agrees to go with him to Wreck da Floor. The next day, Savannah treats Popcorn to a trip to the beauty shop. Beanie tells Uneeq and Lockit he heard a rumor that Rebel is dancing better than ever. That evening, cops chase Uneeq and his crew as they make their way to Wreck da Floor. They go down into an old subway station, where old trains have placards reading “Wreck da Floor.” The train takes them to a nightclub that looks exactly like the one Hype burned down. Ol Skool quietly follows them here and is shocked. He runs away before he can see Hype is hosting Wreck da Floor — and he hasn’t aged a day. They hold a semifinal round in which a girl dies — so she’s eliminated. Uneeq and his crew freak out and leave (but not before Uneeq has made it to the final round).
Savannah tries to talk Uneeq out of going to the finals. He won’t do it, so she tells him to leave. Just after he does, Ol Skool shows up, asking to talk to her. He tells her he’s her grandfather and explains his part in Wreck da Floor’s history and why he abandoned her. In short, he survived — but barely — and what he saw drove him so insane he was locked up in an asylum. Uneeq’s conversation with Savannah has made Uneeq decide he needs to do something with his life — get a job, be responsible, stop dancing on the street for quarters. Inspired, Lockit tells Popcorn he wants to join the Coast Guard. Uneeq goes to talk to Ol Skool about the strange happenings with Wreck da Floor. Ol Skool won’t tell him much but implies that he’s “dancing with the devil.” Uneeq decides he’s in too deep not to dance the final round. Savannah decides she’s going to go back to London and offers to take Ol Skool with her. Ol Skool first goes to see Hype, offering to trade his soul for Uneeq’s. Hype doesn’t want it — he wants Savannah’s.
An old Rottweiler, which has been mysteriously around since the start, chases Ol Skool out of the subway and kills him. It then attempts to chase Beanie on his bike. He manages to get into a truck, and the truck driver manages — just barely — to get it into a warehouse. They hold a funeral for Ol Skool, after which the dog chases Savannah into Hype’s car. It drives away, and nobody will help Uneeq or his crew. They go down to the finals of Wreck da Floor, where Savannah has been brainwashed into being a between-round bikini girl. Uneeq tries to dance his best but can’t quite keep up with Rebel — until he sees the spirit of Ol Skool, who helps him to win, to break Savannah’s spell, and to actually get the prize money (which Hype tears up when Rebel doesn’t win).
In the end, Hype and Rebel make a new plan — go to London and launch another Wreck da Floor competition. Uneeq tells Savannah he and his crew are going to London, offers for her to come with. She’s thrilled.
Comments:The biggest strengths here are the interesting characters and the dialogue (which, while at times a bit too expository, is well-written and sounds very authentic to the characters), which are essential. However, these characters populate a story that’s a bit unfocused. On the level of an exuberant musical, the quality and focus of the story doesn’t matter much, so I’d almost let it slide, but in that case I think there needs to be more dance numbers. Since there aren’t, the easiest way to solve the problems are to focus quite a bit less on the mythology of Wreck da Floor and more on how the characters react as they realize what’s going on.
When Girl Dynamite dies, everybody freaks out and runs away. A perfectly natural reaction, but their terror should gradually mount as time goes on. Despite dog attacks and kidnappings, the tension doesn’t feel like it increases. It should be pushing Uneeq into a corner where the only conceivable way out is to participate in the final round; in a way, this is how it happens, but it seems pretty clear that Uneeq (while he has reservations) planned to participate all along. So make him not want to participate — he should think it’s horrible, and there’s no way the possibility of dying or handing over your soul to the devil is worth $100,000. There’s romantic tension with Savannah, but perhaps the second act should be more about Uneeq and his crew trying to forget what they’ve seen and making a conscious effort to turn over a new leaf. Uneeq spends that week trying to find a real job, maybe even becoming a dreaded music video dancer, and the others have similar “I never want to hear about Wreck da Floor again”-type reactions. That way, there’d be a greater payoff when the Rottweiler/Hype forces their hand and makes Uneeq fight for himself, Savannah, and his crew.
Most of the stuff with Ol Skool and Savannah is good; while it’s important to get his backstory out, it could be trimmed just a little bit to make room for more bonding. Their relationship is nice and nuanced, and Ol Skool’s story is the most well-structured and well-told of all the characters, but it really would be nice to see one or two scenes that are strictly character-driven, showing Ol Skool and Savannah’s bond increasing. It’ll make it all the more devastating when he’s killed.
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Writer’s Potential: 2
Logline:At their 10-year reunion, four friends make a pact to hook up with girls they crushed on in high school.
Synopsis:Spring, 1996: four friends — ZACH, MIKE, JOHN, and DAVE — graduate and make last-ditch efforts to get the girls they’ve loved for years to notice them. They fail. Ten years later, all four are the only losers who haven’t left town or moved on with their lives. When Zach receives his invitation to the 10-year reunion, he realizes maybe he can’t move forward because he never admitted his feelings for longtime friend, SARA. Mike jumps on this and thinks all four of them have the same problem in common, so he makes them sign a pact (Zach won’t, so Mike forges his signature) saying they’ll sleep with the girls they used to want. Sara calls Zach and asks to stay with him for the reunion; Zach’s humiliated because he works as a chicken mascot at his dad’s used-car dealership and still lives with his parents. Mike helps him come up with an assortment of lies and excuses. Mike also starts dating an 18-year-old, KATIE.
Sara shows up, and just before Zach confesses his feelings, Sara’s boyfriend STEVE arrives. Now Zach has to pretend to be gay so Steve won’t be so uptight about Sara talking about him all the time. They go to the reunion, and Zach confesses his feelings. Katie finds their signed pact and in a fit of anger takes it to the reunion and reads it at the microphone. Sara is horrified; she leaves. Steve tries to follow her, but she dumps him on the spot. The objects of John and Dave’s affection are actually flattered by the pact, so they score. Zach explains the truth about everything, but Sara still turns him down because her life is too busy to have a serious relationship. Zach decides to move forward: he’s going to grad school. The friends force Mike to apologize to Katie. Zach gets a flat tire just at the city limits, and Sara shows up, saying she quit her busy, stressful job to have one that’s less busy and stressful — and closer to Zach’s school.
Comments:This is a totally by-the-numbers romantic comedy, which would be fine if it were redeemed by being funny; unfortunately, it’s not. There are occasional funny one-liners, but too many of the jokes rely on caricatures, stereotypes, and establishing running gags that aren’t funny the first time. It’s obvious from the very first scene with Zach and Sara that they’re going to be together by the end of the screenplay, and the author doesn’t do enough to create compelling reasons to keep them apart, aside from giving her a boyfriend who’s obviously not right for her (or anyone else on the planet). Clichés in formula stories are unavoidable, so why not take the conventions and do something new and interesting with them? The author doesn’t, which makes the script a dud.
August 8, 2006
Author: Tamas Harangi
Writer’s Potential: 8
Logline:A 600-year-old vampire awakens in modern Hungary and hunts down a group of tourists, one of whom is descended from a vampire and a human.
Synopsis:In the fifteenth century, the vampire DOMISCU is betrayed by his colleague GOTHAR. Gothar wants to return to mortal human form (he’s fallen in love with a villager), so he makes a deal with the local priest to turn over Domiscu in exchange for a drink of the true blood of Christ, which will return Gothar to human form. Together, Gothar and the priest trap Domiscu to an eternity in a coffin.
Six hundred years later, Domiscu’s castle is a tourist trap of Avar, Hungary. It becomes the unintentional meeting place of a diverse group of English speakers in their early 20s: some Australian rugby players (PARKER, HARRY, LAKE, BECK, and their leader, NEWTON) on a soul-searching trip through Europe, a pair of American girls (HELENA and her Mormon cousin, SUSAN) out to discover the world around them, and an Englishman (DAVID) who is interested in the vampire lore and the upcoming Renaissance Faire. They all meet each other on their way to the youth hostel in town. Helena is surprised by her immediate attraction to Newton; Susan, meanwhile, finds herself attracted to Beck, while David falls instantly for Susan. The girls decide to accompany David on the historical tour of Castle Avar, and the Aussies instantly decide to go with. They’re led by the native tour guide, MAGDA, who explains the various local legends. They’re taken through a wax museum of historical figures (including Domiscu), a room dedicated to Nazi paraphernalia that represents its time as a German outpost in WWII, and Domiscu’s supposed tomb. Legend has it, the blood of Gothar’s supposed descendent will bring Domiscu back. David’s disappointed because he believes he is the descendent, but Domiscu doesn’t move.
That night, while the whole gang checks out the Renaissance Faire, Domiscu does come back, sucking the blood from a few security guards, which slowly allows him to regain strength. He heads away from the castle and stumbles into the Renaissance Faire, at first thinking very little time has passed but soon realizing — after seeing cell phones ring and people with video cameras — that things are very different indeed. He tracks down a few modern vampires — COLLIN, an American “bad boy” vampire; ANDREA, a redheaded girl; and FREDRICK, a former Nazi — and they worship him and agree to help rebuild Domiscu’s strength. Andrea returns to the Faire and leads the gang to a supposed party thrown in the Castle at night. David doesn’t trust her, thinking vampires still roam about, but everyone ignores him. She immediately leads them to Domiscu, so they start believing David pretty fast.
Shocked that vampires really exist, the gang has a vague plan: run away. They run into Magda, who shows them a lot of underground catacombs that didn’t exist until long after Domiscu was entombed — he wouldn’t know of them. They hide in them and decide to keep moving so the vampires don’t find them. They also try to get some weapons. David tells them the only sure ways to get rid of vampires are to set them on fire or stake them. Magda also informs them that Gothar’s descendent is among them — who it is may be a mystery, but one thing’s guaranteed: he or she will be a virgin, according to the legend. None of the gang want to admit their sexual prowess, but it’s quite clear that the majority of them are virgins — it doesn’t narrow things down at all.
They spend much of their time running from the vampires but inevitably encountering them at some points or another. They end up getting separated: Parker’s by himself, Newton and Helena are together, and the rest of the gang are running. Parker’s nearly killed by Fredrick, while Newton and Helena encounter Collin. Helena manages to decapitate him. His scream causes Fredrick to leave Parker before killing him. Parker lay in the courtyard, bleeding. Domiscu and Andrea also hear the shriek: they know somebody has been decapitated. Andrea realizes this can mean only one thing — the descendent really is among them. An ordinary human wouldn’t have the strength. The killing affects Helena strangely; she vomits constantly, and it eventually turns to dark vampire blood. This is when she and Newton realize she’s the descendent.
Meanwhile, Magda leads the rest of the gang (minus Harry, who’s killed, and Parker, who’s bleeding elsewhere) to an old jail. They find wood that they can use for stakes and torches. Newton and Helena catch up with them. Lake is being adversely affected by the vampires — more legends imply that those with impure blood can be controlled and eventually transformed into vampires. Lake is gay, so he fears this makes him “impure.” He hears the defeaning sound of a heartbeat at all times. The gang finds Parker, and they all decide to confront the vampires in the catacombs under the castle.
They find Domiscu, Andrea, and Fredrick, only to learn they aren’t interested in killing all of them — at least, not yet. They want the descendent. They think it’s Susan, so Domiscu grabs her and runs away. Newton and Helena rush off to follow them, leaving David with the task of taking the sick and injured to the hospital. They find a huge underground vampire lair, with victims hanging from the ceiling, being slowly bled to death; Susan is among them. Helena and Domiscu have their showdown, while Newton tries to fight off the other two vampires. David shows up to provide a little help, along with the others. Lake is uncooperative, being controlled by Fredrick. When Fredrick is killed, so is Lake. Domiscu himself decapitates Andrea and offers Helena the chance to rule the world with him. All of them, in tandem, help Helena to destroy Domiscu once and for all by forcing him to watch the sun rise.
Comments:Vampire stories have been done to death, so it was nice to read one that has a few fresh spins on the traditional lore. The author has a lot of fun with the vampire clichés and a strong wit is present throughout, often adding a much-needed layer of reality to fantastical situations. Even with all that said, the story succeeds on the merits of its characters — they’re clearly defined from the start and never waver, and this (to my surprise) includes the vampires. All the characters grow increasingly complex as more is revealed about their characters. The only downside to this is a lack of character arcs. The ending is fairly abrupt, so it lacks a lot of resolution, leaving me wondering how this wild night affected the characters. They’re introduced as wanting to find something — did they find it? Was it merely love they were looking for? If so, again, did they find it? There are a few kisses toward the end, but the potential for love could be made a little clearer (and to that end, how finding love amid this horror impacts their lives could be addressed).
Aside from that minor quibble, this is a fun script that, with some minor changes, could definitely make an entertaining low-budget horror movie.
August 20, 2006
Author: Dave Mango
Writer’s Potential: 8
Logline:When an apathetic American photojournalist is forced to share his apartment with a beautiful Chechen rebel, she helps him interview future suicide bombers.
Synopsis:ZACK FENNER is an apathetic New York Times photojournalist stationed in Grozny who’s only interested in capturing the story through a camera lens. After taking a photo of Russian soldiers slaughtering Chechen schoolchildren, soldiers storm into Zack’s hotel room while he’s having sex with a Chechen prostitute, DARA. They really want to bust Zack for his story, but their grounds are that he illegally solicited a prostitute. They both try to convince soldiers that Dara is his girlfriend and no payment was made. He’s told if she stays in Moscow with him for 30 days, they’ll accept that as an explanation. Reluctantly, the two of them share Zack’s apartment in Moscow. They don’t get along at first because of Zack’s opportunism and lack of concern about Chechens’ plight. Dara’s intense hatred of all Russians doesn’t help, considering she’s forced to live there.
Zack is nearly fired from the Times because a German newspaper has already published an identical shot of the schoolchildren. He has to get something better, or he’s gone. Meanwhile, Dara ventures out to a Chechen district in Moscow, where she meets with RUSLAN and MALEK. She doesn’t realize that they run an underground rebel faction and are sending children to be martyrs. Ruslan and Malek see value in her, but more value in Zack. He can get their story out. They kidnap him and take him to meet with AHMED, a teenager who intends to explode himself somewhere. Zack interviews him, asking questions about why Ahmed wants to do this, whether or not it’s justified, and so on. He hands his piece to MARTIN, the head of the Times’ Moscow bureau, who loves it — and will love it even more when Ahmed does himself in. Martin asks Zack to rewrite it, guaranteeing him a Pulitzer. When the story is published, the Russians want to know when and where this suicide bombing will take place. Zack and Martin refuse to tell him. Ahmed steps onto a train platform and, terrified, gets on a train and blows it up.
Russian agents have decapitated Zack’s dog. Dara and Zack find this, and they agree they can’t go back to the apartment. They hide out in a ticket booth in the Moscow Zoo. Later, Zack is taken again to the restaurant where Malek runs things; this time, his blindfold slips and he sees the name of the restaurant. With Dara translating again, Zack interviews Ahmed’s younger sister, SULIKHAN, who is remorseless and unafraid — she wants to martyr herself for the cause. She hates all Russians, even children. The interview becomes heated. Zack and Martin go to the American embassy, where the ambassador explains that he will allow them to stay in a secure facility on embassy grounds, but when the story about Sulikhan is released, he demands (in the name of diplomacy) to know where this will take place. Zack explains he doesn’t know. Russian police and soldiers storm the embassy in search of Zack. Zack, thinking he’s eluded them, sneaks off to Malek’s restaurant. Turns out, they’re monitoring Zack the whole way. Police raid the place, taking people out. Zack tries to talk sense into Dara, but she explains her number’s up — she’s been chosen to be the next suicide bomber. As she straps on her vest, a policeman enters and guns her down in front of Zack. Zack’s horrified and immediately grief-stricken.
A year later, Zack has won the Pulitzer. He gives a long speech about the unfortunate toll this job has taken on his psyche, and how he finally got it back and they should be ashamed for rewarding him for standing back and watching without doing anything.
Comments:This script is very well-written and it tackles a difficult subject with an appropriate mix of sensitivity and realism. It raises a lot of serious questions about radicalism and about American apathy, but the author does an excellent job of keeping these questions and conflicts in the context of the characters he has created. These aren’t simply mouthpieces designed solely to engage in debate — these are fleshed-out, well-written characters who think, talk, and act like real people. The story is well-structured and feels authentic. The one minor complaint is about Zack’s character arc, which feels a little soft. His change is clear, but just when and why he changes isn’t. Around the third-act mark, it seems almost as if in one scene he’s cynical and apathetic, and in the next he’s angry and passionate. There isn’t anything that really defines a slow change from his callous start to his outrage at the end.
It would be nice to see that change happen more gradually, as he talks with people like Dara, Ahmed, Sulikhan, even Ruslan and Malek. Especially when he sees the opposite — the way the Russians treat him for empathizing with the Chechen cause, the way the Russians treat Chechens as subhuman. In short, everything he’s photographed over the years, he’s seeing for the first time. He’s no longer empathizing by finding “the shot,” as he calls it — his passion and anger should fuel him the way it does the suicide bombers, but instead of going the route of violence and killing, he uses his skills as a journalist to express himself. All this is there in the text, but it’s kind of glossed over. It’s implied that his story about Ahmed isn’t empathetic — Martin has to tell Zack to “make me like this kid.” Perhaps this would be a good starting point for Zack’s gradual understanding of the suicide bombers. Shaken by the fact that this terrified kid he interviewed only a day ago has taken himself and hundreds of people out in one fell swoop, angered by his personal mistreatment — and especially the mistreatment of Dara — by the Russians, maybe his story on Sulikhan is naturally a bit more empathetic, finally reaching its height when Dara is killed. All of this is pretty much there — Zack’s gradual change just needs to be highlighted a bit more.
Author: Craig A. Schwartz & Sylvia Mulholland
Writer’s Potential: 5
Logline:An irresponsible slob is forced to keep all his New Year’s resolutions, no matter what.
Synopsis:STEVE SHERMAN is a flawed man with a life that needs work: he owns a decrepit small-town bar, a girlfriend who thinks he (and as a result, the relationship) isn’t moving forward because he’s a serial liar and promise-breaker, he loses far too much gambling, and he is estranged from his priest brother. He has a few good things on the horizon — he intends to propose to CAROL, his girlfriend of five years, as soon as he pays for the engagement ring, and he plans to sell his bar to a family restaurant franchise called SteaknStein’s. However, Steve makes a series of New Year’s resolutions to help improve his life: stop smoking, drinking, gambling, eating junk food; he also needs to exercise more, fix up his bar so it’s more attractive to SteaknStein’s, and (as a promise to Carol) make amends with his brother, AL. He even makes a couple of joke resolutions, like getting a “girlie-man makeover,” “punching out BOB BRYERSON” (the corrupt mayor and Carol’s ex), and “hooking up with ELVIRA” (an employee at Steve’s bar).
Steve plans to finally pay off the ring and propose to Carol at his bar’s New Year’s Eve party — their fifth anniversary of being a couple — and Carol finds the ring receipt in her pocket. She’s expecting it, but Steve has to use the money to pay off more gambling debts. When he doesn’t propose — after promising a big announcement — Carol is furious. They get into an argument, and she announces her intention to leave him, and the small town of Resolution. On top of this, the owner of the SteaknStein’s chain feels Steve’s bar is quite a bit too seedy for a family restaurant. Around the stroke of midnight, Steve has an encounter with a mysterious OLD MAN, who says some vague and odd things about Steve keeping his resolutions. The following morning, Steve finds he has to keep them all. He tries to smoke a cigarette, but various forces of nature prevent him. It reaches a boiling point when he accidentally causes a gas explosion in his apartment attempting to light a match. He finds the same problem trying to drink, culminating in one of his employees taking all of Steve’s liquor from the bar as payment for his work. He can’t get junk food, Elvira is practically throwing herself at him, he can’t even drive because that prevents him from getting more exercise — and all of this is distracting him from patching things up with Carol, who’s angry with him.
Finally things start going his way when he discovers a loophole in his resolution not to gamble — gambling is based on an uncertain outcome, but if Steve bets on something with the certainty that he’ll win, he does. He wins enough to pay the jeweler for the engagement ring, then continues betting. This gets the attention of the mobsters who own the casino, but Steve even gets out of that by betting them that he can get out of the casino unharmed. On his way out, Steve bumps in to Bob Bryerson and has to try very hard not to punch him out. He fails, which lands him in jail and prompts Bob to have Steve’s liquor license revoked. With the extra time, Steve uses his portable tape recorder — on which he has recorded all of his resolutions — to put together his resolutions coming true, so he can plan ahead and see what’s still on the list. Steve is released when his brother posts the bail. Steve immediately goes to see Carol, who’s already moving out of her apartment. She won’t change her mind — she’s accepted a job out of town and is going to take it. Steve returns the ring to the jeweler. Steve goes to see his brother, and they rehash their years-old argument. Steve goes to get a makeover, then goes to see Bob Bryerson. The receptionist confuses Steve for a state health inspector and leads him before City Councilman, where he pleads his case to keep his bar open. It works. The Steaknstein’s owner has arrived again, wanting to “party” with Steve, who tells him off. Just then, Al and the church choir show up to do emergency renovations. The Steaknstein’s owner approves of the passion and tells Steve to call him when renovations are complete. Steve and Al make up.
Steve finally convinces Carol to see him. He takes her to dinner at his bar, where Al has decorated to create the illusion it’s New Year’s eve again. She’s pleased, everything seems okay, but just as he’s about to propose, Carol says she’s still leaving. Plus, there’s one more resolution to deal with — once Steve has kept his resolutions, he will be “the biggest thign anyone’s ever seen,” and he literally starts to grow, destroying the renovated bar, terrifying everyone, until a wino exclaims that Steve’s the biggest thing he’s seen, at which point Steve shrinks back down to size. As Carol’s in a cab on her way out of town, Steve rushes to the church to ring the bells, which haven’t rung since they met. This finally gets Carol to relent — she agrees to marry Steve and stay in town.
Comments:Starting out, there’s some good stuff. Steve’s problems, and his resolutions to fix them, are set up pretty well. The introduction of other characters, and all their problems with Steve, are established nicely, with brisk pacing and tight, witty dialogue. The first sign of trouble comes with the Old Timer, the one who (it appears) has “cursed” Steve to keep his New Year’s resolutions. It’s a device that just doesn’t seem to have been thought through. Who he is — guardian angel, God, demon, wizard, whatever — isn’t quite so important as why he’s so interested in Steve. Why is Steve so special? This isn’t really a question worth answering, so why raise it? Why does there have to be some real, cosmic implications that he’s been “cursed” or something? The authors do a pretty good job of bringing real-world practicalities (such as Steve’s favorite fast-food joint being closed by the Health Department) to illustrate the “curse” preventing Steve from breaking his resolutions, so couldn’t it all just be coincidental? Steve, perhaps, sincerely believes someone — or something — has “cursed” him, but it’s left as a question — coincidence, curse, or fate?
Steve’s character arc needs a bit of work. Right now, the major beats of his character are pre-resolutions, frantically attempting to circumvent the “curse,” and finally accepting that he can’t break the resolutions and it’s probably for the best. Shouldn’t he already know this? He made the resolutions to begin with. Most of the people Steve interacts with would probably be better off if Steve had never been born, a flip on It’s a Wonderful Life that probably has some comic potential. Here you have a guy who’s slowly ruining his own life, as well as the lives of everybody around him. The script has an “all about Steve” mentality that makes sense because he’s the main character, but it doesn’t spend much time considering how Steve is destroying other people’s lives. It might be interesting to use this anti-Wonderful Life parallel to shape both Steve’s character and give all the supporting characters a little more usefulness. Nobody really seems to like him — including his longtime girlfriend — so maybe his big change should be less about accepting the resolutions and more about realizing he can use these resolutions not just to make his life better, but to make everyone’s life better. Carol, Al, Diamond Jim, Elvira, Bill, Pinky — these characters should go from loathing to loving him, and conversely Steve should go from being the self-absorbed jerk he’s portrayed as through most of the script to somebody who, by bettering himself, realizes he can use the new Steve to better things for everyone. The idea of this is already here (he wants the Steaknstein’s buyout to provide a better life for himself and Carol), but it’s still mainly about Steve, instead of Steve and the assorted cast of locals.
Finally, it’s obvious from the gags with the smoking and drinking that something is preventing Steve from breaking his resolutions — does he need to listen to the tape after every instance to remind himself and the audience about his resolutions? This takes up far too much time to explain and reexplain something that’s already clear. It also loses logic. We already know he’s figured out what’s going on when he manipulates the gambling resolution, but when he’s in jail he acts like he’s just figured it out. If the scenes about him figuring it out are omitted, and more emphasis is placed on Steve wanting to anticipate other resolutions he has to keep, the story will make a lot more sense.
Author: Tamas Harangi
Writer’s Potential: 8
Logline:A Serbian gangster in Los Angeles falls in love with the prostitute he’s been hired to kill.
Synopsis:ZORAN PETROVICH, late 20s, works as a mob enforcer with KOLYA for a Russian man named MAKAROV. They’re sent to Las Vegas to find a man because he’s taken somethimg from Makarov. They find his house, but it’s deserted. They stumble across a hooker, MOLLY, who leads them to their man — COLLINS. After some beating and torture, Collins gives up a motel name and room number. They throw him in the trunk for good measure. They reach the hotel and find a girl — AMBER, another prostitute — under protection of U.S. marshals. They kill the marshals and take her. She was under protection because she intended to testify about Makarov’s role in human trafficking. They drive out to the desert, yank Collins out of the trunk, kill him, and return to the car — Amber’s gone, hiding in the desert. They soon find her. Kolya wants to rape her, but Zoran won’t let him. He decides they need to steal another car because somebody may have seen them killing Collins and nabbing Amber. Zoran steals a Mustang. They’re told to meet up with BODNAR, a mercenary, at a rest stop. When they do, Kolya goes out to use the bathroom. Zoran, perhaps to make up for his role in Kosovo ethnic cleansing (periodically illustrated in flashbacks throughout), takes off with Amber in the Mustang. Bodnar’s van is incapable of chasing, so he and Kolya are left behind.
Makarov calls Zoran, makes some veiled threats, kills a 17-year-old girl over the phone, and tells Zoran to have some fun but bring Amber back. Once Amber realizes Zoran really wants to help her, she doesn’t run away. Makarov calls back a little later and tells Zoran — now in a motel with Amber — to turn on the news. He does, and sees a story about murder U.S. marshals with Amber’s picture plastered all over it. Zoran decides they need to get the hell out of there. A little later, he calls Makarov with a deal — $100,000, his green card and passport, and he will keep her from testifying. Makarov agrees. At a gas station, they’re spotted by two CHPs, but they don’t recognize Amber — they’re just interested in the flashy car. While driving a little later, Amber says she’s never driven an American car. Zoran lets her, and she tears up the road. They talk about making a list of things to do in America before they’re dead. Amber says she’d like to swim in the Pacific Ocean. Zoran reluctantly says that may never happen, but he stops at a waterfall and natural lake in a rock formation, the next best thing. Amber swims. They make love, then both fall asleep. The next morning, Zoran agrees to meet Sacha in Barstow, CA. They meet at a diner. Zoran plants Amber at a phone booth to make sure Sacha doesn’t double-cross them. Of course, he does — Bodnar and Kolya are prowling around in the van, and they grab Amber. After a stalemate, Zoran leaves with his envelope. Zoran busts into the van, but Kolya’s gone and has stolen back the Mustang. He follows the van out to the desert, wondering where they’re going. Zoran wrestles a gun away from Sacha, busts out of the van, using Sacha as a human shield. Kolya tries to stop him, Amber slips out of the van and back into the Mustang. Soon Zoran’s outnumbered, but Amber whirls away in the car. She gets Zoran, and they speed into a ghost town. The others follow. They have an almost Wild West gunfight in a tourist-trap ghost town. Sacha points out that the envelope was a ruse — inside are shredded, useless immigration papers. Zoran and Amber manage to kill everybody, but Sacha fires twice into Zoran before he’s taken down by Amber. Amber wants to get him to a hospital, but Zoran demands that he let her die. Reluctantly, she does.
Comments:This is an interesting script that deals with a lot of timely problems — mostly, human trafficking and sex slavery happening in the U.S. The core of this script is a blossoming, and ultimately tragic, romance between Zoran and Amber. More time and emphasis out to be placed on this. Just take the time to develop these characters, let them get to know each other — hopes and dreams, struggles and trauma. There’s some of that, but there’s also a lot of plot that gets in the way of this development. Their relationship is really interesting, though, and it’s the core of the story, so it deserves that extra time to develop. Increasing the emphasis on the relationship will also heighten the impact of Zoran first driving off with her, and then dying for her. The secondary characters could also use some work; Kolya’s love of raping is pretty much all the definition he needs, but it would be nice to see some traits of Sacha, Bodnar, and Makarov. They don’t need huge amounts of development because, ultimately, the story is about Zoran and Amber, but a few unique traits can go a long way to making these supporting characters more interesting.
The plot, aside from needing more development on the romance, works well as-is. The action that bookends the quiet moments between Zoran and Amber is suspenseful and well-written. This is a strong effort, and with a little more work it could be great.
August 14, 2006
Author: Tanya Hallgren & Christopher Aslan
Writer’s Potential: 5
Logline:A biotechnology firm seeks a woman implanted with nanorobots that almost instantly heal her injuries.
Synopsis:TRUE WARREN, a woman in her early 20s, has a secret: when she came down with a fatal disease, her parents — now dead — implanted her with a sophisticated, experimental nanotechnology that cured her. Not only that — the tiny robots inside her continue to work, healing even severe injuries instantly. She’s sought for a job by Seattle-based TechnoShare, a huge biotech company. While working long hours to complete a project before a company trip to Las Vegas, True’s employers harass her for a complete medical background. She refuses to give it to them, fearing they’ll learn her secret. Just after receiving an anonymous e-mail (signed “A FRIEND”) that tells her to check out a basement server room to find a secret database, True drinks some water she keeps at her desk. It causes her to pass out for a few minutes, at which point some very suspicious company medics arrive and force her to give a blood sample. They hand the sample over to a DR. MAREK, and the medics are concerned and confused because they spiked her water with a lethal dose of poison, yet it only knocked her out briefly.
Using her friend DUNCAN’s security card (she’s left her own at home), True sneaks into the basement server room and finds this secret database, which contains secret medical information about all employees. She prints out Duncan’s information and shows it to him off-campus. Duncan freaks out, and together they sneak back into the server room and copy all the data onto True’s MP3 player. They also burn backup copies onto CDs. While waiting at the airport to go to Vegas, Duncan sneaks off and mails one of his CDs to a friend who lives in Mexico under the false name of Brown. In Vegas, Duncan realizes they’re suspicious of him — they did all of the database accessing with Duncan’s card — and shortly thereafter, he’s hit by a fast-moving car while crossing the street. True runs — literally runs along the Vegas strip at 30mph, keeping pace with cars. She goes to the bus station, realizes she’s being chased, flags down an old Mexican lady and her cousin, who are already on their way to Mexico. They drop her off in a small town, where she seeks out “Brown.” His real name is KAIN, and he’s a former British spy living underground. He’s received the CD from Duncan, and he trusts True’s story. Soon after, they’re attacked. True’s hand is nearly cut off, but it heals instantly. Knowing they aren’t safe, Kain agrees to show True how to live a life on the run. They pack and leave, Kain blowing up his house as they go. They stay in a hotel in a nearby resort town while they figure out a plan to get more proof of what TechnoShare is doing. As soon as True goes to a cyber café to try to hack information, she’s picked up by TechnoShare security. They hit Kain with a car — he sustains minor injuries and still chases them — and take True to the airport, on a flight back to Seattle.
Once they get back to Seattle, LINDSEY (an obnoxious co-worker of True’s) and his small group of gaming pals intercept the plane and grab her themselves. They intend to sell her to North Koreans for a huge profit. They take her back to TechnoShare so the deal can go down, but they’re nearly stopped — by True’s father, GEORGE. He was alive all along, and he’s the one who’s been sending her anonymous messages. Unfortunately, he doesn’t help much, and Lindsey and his pals grab him, too, assuming he’d be as valuable as True, if not more. They meet up with the Koreans, who instantly shoot True in the head, wanting to test their “merchandise.” She’s not exactly healing. Feeling the merchandise is “no good,” the Koreans shoot Lindsey and his friends, kidnap George, and leave in a helicopter, just as Kain arrives. True’s still not healing. Later, the coroner pronounces her dead and detectives take statements. Later, on a private beach, True is alive and well with Kain — she has healed, after all, and now the world thinks she’s dead.
Comments:This script has quite a few problems, but conceptually it’s all there. The overall storyline could work well with some modifications, and the premise is very interesting, timely, and commercial. Perhaps the biggest problem in the writing are various dropped story threads — we see Lindsey and his gaming-nerd friends early on and assume they’ll be important, but then 60 or so pages go by before they come back to the story. Same with George and his mysterious messages — he sends her a few in the beginning, then that’s ignored until he shows up at the end. And on that subject, that whole aspect of the story isn’t resolved at all — her father’s alive, hooray! He’s kidnapped by terrorists — oh no. And yet that’s glossed over and ignored in favor of True and Kain having a happy ending. She isn’t interested in trying to get her father back?
True is also a fairly passive character. She would be more interesting, and the story would tighten up automatically, if she were made more active. She goes to check the server room because an anonymous message tells her to; while she’s in Vegas with Duncan — who’s terrified — all she can think about is wanting to ignore the fact that her company is up to no good because she wants to have fun. It’s only when Duncan’s killed that she starts to take the vast corporate conspiracy seriously. Then she goes to seek out Kain, and they do have an interesting relationship and share a pretty nifty bond (a strong desire to lead “normal” lives but forced to run), but again Kain is mostly the man of action. When True does try to act on her own, she ends up kidnapped by two groups in a row and gets shot in the head. If she were more resourceful and active on her own, she would become a stronger character. Kain and Duncan should be there to support her journey — both literal and metaphoric — but True has to take action herself.
This sounds negative, but all that stuff does need a lot of work. However, the overall structure of the story is there, the complex and interesting relationship between True and Kain works (and would be even better once she’s a more active character), and the premise is really intriguing. With a bit of rewriting, this could be a great thriller.
August 23, 2006
Author: Brian McDonald
Writer’s Potential: 5
Logline:In 1923, a priest and a man who sees ghosts try to stop an army of German ghosts killed in World War I.
Synopsis:Chicago, 1923. A new mother discovers to her horror that her baby boy begins cursing at her in French and smoking cigarettes. The local priest, FATHER O’LEARY, attempts to exorcise the demon, but he fails. O’Leary thinks, perhaps, it’s something different from demonic possession. He seeks out a man called BIXBY, who’s agreeable, although a little odd. He speaks to somebody O’Leary can’t see — he claims it’s his wife, but when O’Lear mentions his understanding that Bixby’s wife has passed away, Bixby becomes angry. O’Leary and Bixby go to the mother’s house, where Bixby explains it isn’t demonic possession — he’s possessed by his previous incarnation, a Frenchman from the 1600s. Bixby has a calm conversation with the baby/Frenchman, makes the spirit realize he’s dead. The spirit soon dissipates.
O’Leary accompanies Bixby on another haunting case. He explains that many spirits simply don’t realize they’re dead. When you make them realize it, they will go away. He shoots the ghost with a gun, and the ghost disappears. He explains that, since they don’t know they’re dead, doing violence to them — such as shooting — works just as well. A few days later, O’Leary learns that ghost sightings have been seen all over Western Europe, but adding insult to injury — there is a report of a ghost killing a living person. Bixby refuses to believe it, but his ghost wife convinces him that it’s true and they need his help in Europe. Reluctantly, he leaves her to go with O’Leary to Europe.
In London, they first go to Scotland Yard, where the Desk Sergeant sends them away. Bixby is intercepted by SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE, a man interested in spiritualists like Bixby. Doyle vouches for Bixby and insists that he can help. Doyle has borrowed some evidence from a ghost killing in Bristol, and they first take it to a psychic medium. She turns out to be a fraud. They next visit a girl in a mental hospital, and she’s the real deal — touching a cup allows the ghost to take possession of her. Bixby and O’Leary learn this ghost was a German soldier who died in the war. He tells them the war isn’t over, that killing them will only make them stronger. Bixby believes the numerous ghost sightings are all German soldiers, intending to rise up and win the war.
Bixby and O’Leary go to France and investigate a battlefield in the countryside. In the village, a man has been shot by a ghost soldier. Bixby probes the dead man and finds inside him not a bullet, but a gooey substance — ectoplasm. The ghosts are shooting ghost-bullets, which means they have a limitless supply. O’Leary speaks at the funeral of the dead man, while Bixby translates it into French. Meanwhile, in Munich, living German soldiers want to maintain control over the ghost forces. A menacing man, GENERAL BERNHEIMER, commits suicide during a party, believing he’ll rise as the ghost to lead the German forces and ensure nobody convinces them they’re dead. This works, and the ghost of Bernheimer rides a spectral horse through Paris, leading an entire ghost army.
Awakened by the noise, Bixby and O’Leary see the soldiers marching through Paris. O’Leary confronts Bernheimer, who explains they want to finish the war. Bixby tells Bernheimer he’s dead, then attempts to prove it to him by shooting at him several times. It has no effect, which stuns Bixby and O’Leary. In response, Bernheimer slashes Bixby across the chest with a ghost saber. O’Leary gets Bixby to a hospital. When he’s patched up, they’re met by another medium, a MADEMOISELLE DELAUNAY. She feels Bixby’s wound and insists “ghost dancers” are coming. Disappointed, Bixby thinks she’s wasted their time — he actually thinks she’s referring to his wife, with whom he dances frequently.
Bernheimer’s pleased that word of the ghost troops has spread all over the world. He explains to his troops that they are indeed dead, but the important thing they must remember is that because they are already dead, they cannot be killed again — they shouldn’t fear any human weapons. O’Leary and Bixby decide to blow off a little steam by getting drunk. While intoxicated, Bixby has a realization — Delaunay wasn’t talking about his wife, she was talking about the Indian ghost dance ritual. He explains it to O’Leary: they believed that, in doing this ghost dance, all the dead Indians would return and their numbers would overwhelm the white man, forcing them to leave. Bixby realizes that the Germans have performed the ghost dance — this is why their ghosts won’t leave. Meanwhile, the German ghost soldiers wreak havoc on London. When the French hear of this, Paris is a mess — everyone wants to leave, including Bixby. O’Leary tries to convince him to stay but can’t; Bixby’s a coward. On his way to the boat, Parisians are struggling to get on, but officials will only allow ticketed passengers. This includes a mother and father whose child has no ticket. Reluctantly, Bixby gives the child his ticket, then returns to O’Leary.
As French soldiers prepare for battle, O’Leary blesses them. Bixby tells O’Leary he’s realized something — he believes the ghosts’ ectoplasm can hurt them because people believe it can. He hypnotizes O’Leary into believing he cannot be injured, then forces a reluctant O’Leary to do the same to him. Knowing that this will work, they spend hours hypnotizing each French soldier so that they will not be hurt. The ghost army approaches on the horizon. There are thousands of them, from all time periods. The French fire on them. Some of the ghost soldiers do fall. They’re chastised by Bernheimer, who screams that they cannot be hurt. The Germans fire back, the true test of Bixby’s hypnosis — which doesn’t work. The ectoplasm still kills men; they just can’t feel the pain.
In the chaos, Bixby and O’Leary trace loudspeaker wires to a microphone being used by a French officer. Bixby convinces him to teach them to use it. He gets on the loudspeaker and reminds the German soldiers of the futility of war and of the living people they’ve left behind that they’re hurting by not crossing over to the other side. The German soldiers are affected by this, and they dissolve — except for Bernheimer, who goes after Bixby. Bixby stands his ground, announcing that if Bernheimer kills him, Bixby will haunt him for eternity. Just as Bernheimer gallops toward him to run him through with his ghost-saber, he disappears, leaving Bixby unharmed. Back in Chicago, Bixby puts flowers on his wife’s grave, finally accepting her death.
Comments:This script is loaded with imagination, interesting ideas, and a great hook. The idea of living German soldiers “perverting a religion” — very similar to what the Nazis would do 10 years later — to raise an army of dead soldiers who can fight endlessly without dying is great. Showing that false mediums are tainting the work of those who really do have gifts, establishing some fresh and interesting “rules” to ghosts — all this stuff is really interesting and, for the most part, well done.
Where the script suffers mostly is with a logic breakdown in the third act. Here you have a known ghost army (even the most disbelieving, cynical person on the planet would have to acknowledge its validity after seeing the ghosts with their own eyes) with a distinct advantage over “normal” ghosts, in that most of them realize they’re dead and therefore cannot be killed again. They have all the advantages — they can kill living people, they can continue drawing endless numbers from past wars, and in retaliation…the living army can’t kill most of them and has a finite number of people and resources. So why, then, are French soldiers lining up and preparing to fight them as if this is a normal, everyday battle against living combatants? It seems like the type of situation where even the bravest of the brave would recognize the futility and stupidity of attempting a conventional battle with the ghost army. It seems a little more reasonable that they’d attempt it when Bixby is running around saying he can hypnotize them into not being hurt, but they’re preparing for battle before this happens.
This logic problem leads to others. It’s explained early on that ghosts are bound to certain places — perhaps where they’ve died, or where they have unfinished business. Whether or not they’re able to leave the places to which they’re bound is never clear, but it seems pretty well implied that they can’t. They’re stuck where they are until they’re expelled by a spiritualist like Bixby. So how are these ghosts breaking free? This is a problem that can easily be resolved with a throwaway line or two — perhaps Bixby expressing surprise that they aren’t bound to “haunt” places like conventional ghosts, just like they can kill unlike other ghosts.
During the battle, it becomes evident that these ghosts have teleportation capabilities. They can disappear and reappear somewhere else at will. What are the practicalities of this? Are they limited by being able to travel only small distances? It gets a little confusing as to why they’re marching along the French countryside in the distance, and then when they’re much closer they use teleportation to confuse the enemy. Why wouldn’t they just suddenly appear? To that end, why does the ghost army simply march through Paris? They go to London and attack everyone and everything in sight, then march back to Paris to attack — why not launch an attack while they’re there? Why give them the time to prepare any defense, no matter how misguided? A surprise attack might actually help the problem of France’s defense — fewer soldiers would know or believe these soldiers could be ghosts.
Finally, Bixby’s speech at the end — I personally agree with his sentiments and think it’s well-stated, but would it stop these ghost soldiers? Isn’t it possible, maybe even likely, that a majority of them would believe that fighting, not peace, will provide the best future for their living loved ones? Wouldn’t they believe that, as an unstoppable ghost army, the living Germans will never be attacked or hurt? They have an impenetrable, unkillable military force that doesn’t play by conventional rules, and they (theoretically) believe in the cause and that winning this war will provide the best future for the German people. Would Bixby’s words make them stop? It’s possible, but perhaps the conflicted nature of these soldiers needs to be explored a little bit — perhaps a few low-ranking soldiers disagreeing with Bernheimer behind his back — in order to make it believable that all these soldiers would agree.
Bixby and especially Father O’Leary aren’t all that interesting or well-defined, which is unfortunate. Part of the problem is that they know each other already. They aren’t exactly best friends, but they don’t spend a lot of time in the “getting-to-know-you” phase, which would not only allow them to learn more about each other, but allow us to learn about them. If they were introduced to each other at the beginning, rather than O’Leary already knowing Bixby, this would help. This would also generate much-needed conflict between them; nearly all of these scenes are Bixby and O’Leary together. O’Leary doesn’t know a whole lot about spiritualism, but he seems to believe in it fully. If O’Leary, having just met Bixby, were new to this world of spiritualism, new to seeing and understanding ghosts, he might be more skeptical. This would not only generate conflict but make Bixby’s explanations and stories of different cases flow a little more naturally.
Bixby has a few interesting tidbits — of course his career as a spiritualist, his own skepticism of ghost sightings, and the relationship with his dead wife — but O’Leary has almost nothing. He’s a priest, seems devout, and — what else? His penchant for whiskey is an interesting little tidbit, but he’s an Irish-Catholic priest in what was at the time one of the most corrupt cities on Earth, a city where much of the liquor bootlegging, prostitution, and gambling was run by two rival ethnic groups — Irish and Italian — with one thing in common: Catholicism. Many priests in that time, in that place, were about as corrupt as the gangsters (many actually coming from crime families for the specific purpose of bending local congregations to their will). This could lead to a lot of interesting characterization on O’Leary — is he corrupt? If so, how much? If not, does he get a lot of pressure from criminals? Is he conflicted in any way about his corruption or lack of it? O’Leary has the potential to be fascinating, but right now he’s not developed at all. Bernheimer suffers largely the same fate. It’s clear he wants to continue fighting the war, but why? Some people attribute the cause of World War I to influential war-mongers (politicians, wealthy industrialists, high-ranking military officers, etc.). Could this be Bernheimer’s interest in the continuing the war? We don’t need a lot from him — just a little something to give him some dimension.
I had a lot of downtime while working at Motorola, so I used to go down to the cafeteria, study for the LSAT, and write song lyrics. I decided I wanted to record an impassioned, solipsistic album about the collapse of my most recent relationship, but I’m terrible at lyrics. I decided the best way to give them some structure would be to follow classical poetic conventions. So, if you pay attention, you’ll find the verses are in iambic pentameter, with a nontraditional rhyme scheme. It was also my first experiment with a wall of sound, which I think turned out pretty well.
Incidentally, you may notice that this song, impassioned though it may be, has nothing to do with the collapse of my most recent relationship. Indeed, it’s an oddly comic song about an undercover CIA agent who brings a hulking Soviet back to the U.S. to train as a professional wrestler. Allusions to a homosexual relationship and the city of Kiev smelling like the popular dish chicken Kiev make this one of my favorite songs. It proves I can write a song with witty lyrics that isn’t totally explicit.
August 12, 2006
To my surprise, last night The Manager actually sent the money he offered to cover that script. I figured losing out on that would be (deserved) punishment for talking shit, but he came through. I’m impressed.
August 10, 2006
It’s been a pleasant month, interning for The Manager, reading some of the worst screenplays in the history of mankind for no money. For me, it’s actually kind of nice. You learn similar things from bad screenplays that you do from bad movies. It’s nice to read a script and say, “Jeez, this was bad — but why, and do I have the same problems in one of my screenplays?” Even better, it makes me say, “Good God, this is a piece of shit — I can do better.”
This happened to me recently; reading an awful adventure script, I said, “Fuck, I can do this better,” so I dusted off an extremely old and awful script I wrote, gutted it, and rewrote it from top to bottom. I sent it to my friend Matt — the guy who told me about The Manager in the first place — who loved it. He said it “could be an Adult Swim series,” which insulted me but it was meant as a high compliment, so I took it in the spirit he intended. It’s nice when something inspires me to do better, even if it’s “Adult Swim series” better. What would happen if the flow of bad-to-slightly-above-mediocre scripts dissipated?
This week, I almost found out.
August 13, 2006
One of my reasons for not liking The Manager’s script: it read like propaganda for an actual, real-world dance contest he sponsors. It creates a bizarre, goofy mythology for the competition and beyond that has no real reason for existing. That was one of my main sources of disappointment, but I felt like I couldn’t use that as a criticism because The Manager didn’t know that I’ve spent enough time Googling him to find loads of information about him, his hopes and dreams, and this particular dance contest.
Yesterday, my sister called me up. I haven’t talked to her in a long time, mostly because every time she calls my mom puts it on speaker phone so the whole family can enjoy scintillating conversation about University of Illinois sports and other things I don’t give a shit about. Also, she’s a total motor-mouth, and the speaker phone makes us hard to hear, so it’s impossible to get a word in edgewise. It’s amazing to me that an asthmatic can talk for so long without breathing.
It’s easier to hold a conversation on an even keel when we aren’t on speaker phone. The only way to take part in the conversation is to flat-out interrupt her (which she does to me as much as I do to her), although when it’s been a long time since I’ve spoken she does usually ask questions about what I’ve been up to. So I explained to her the entire saga of what’s happened over the past week, everything about Matt, The Manager, the script, et cetera. I finally told her a few reasons why I didn’t like the script — chief among them, that it’s propaganda for a real dance contest he’s sponsored in a major city near Seattle.
“Wait a minute,” she said, recalling the title and making note of the city, “I think I’ve heard of that.”
“No shit?” It probably won’t surprise you that I was flabbergasted.
“Yeah,” she said, “I think they play that on public access, on the same channel where they show all those weird Japanese game shows.”
I couldn’t believe it. A lot of the advertisements and shit I had seen while Googling had mentioned the competition was also a “hit TV show,” but I figured that was bullshit.
“I didn’t realize it wasn’t based in Seattle,” she continued, “but I’m sure I’ve seen it before.”
“You’re kidding,” I said. “So it’s like, people dancing in what looks like a big boxing ring — “
“Yeah, and the winner is picked based on the scream-o-meter!” Both of us were getting excited at this bizarre, amazing coincidence. She was thrilled and amused I’d heard of this stupid public-access show; I was shocked and amused that she knew what I was talking about.
I agreed with her on the scream-o-meter; while there’s no reference to that in the script, it’s definitely made clear that the winner is chosen based on audience reaction.
“I’m not kidding, Derek, everybody around here has heard of this stupid thing,” she said. “We’ve all seen it, to the point where I’ve actually had a long conversation with the girls at work about just what the fuck it’s supposed to be. It’s even weirder than the Japanese game shows.”
I couldn’t believe it. Not only did it strike another blow to my waning fear that The Manager is a some kind of small-time con artist, I was once again amazed that The Manager really does have this amazing passion for what he does. I’m not a dance fan, so I’m not exactly leaping on board the lovefest with him, but his intensity and passion for it — so much so that he wants to make a movie about it to make the contest even more popular — goes a long way toward making me more comfortable with him as a Manager.
Matt e-mailed me the other day saying sometimes he doesn’t bother writing coverage on a script that’s truly awful, but if The Manager is hyping it up, he’ll do the coverage no matter what. We both see that passion, and even if something has a bunch of problems it not only makes us want to do the coverage instead of just saying “This is a waste of time” — it actually inspires us to try harder to solve the problems and make it good enough that we’re passionate about it. The Manager is just starting out, maybe he’s not totally sure what he’s doing, but if he could be as passionate about mine (or Matt’s) scripts as he is about these other projects, that’s a desirable element to have: our advocate, always rooting for us and wanting us to get better. That’s what makes a good manager.
Well, that and business sense. He’ll get there someday.