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January 28, 2010

The Chalet Girl

Author: Tom Williams
Genre: Romantic Comedy/Sports
Storyline: 7
Dialogue: 8
Characterization: 7
Writer’s Potential: 7

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Consider

Logline:

A working-class skateboarding champion is forced to take a servant job at an Alpine resort, where she discovers snowboarding.

Synopsis:

Displaying remarkable skill and fearlessness, KIM MATTHEWS, 16, wins a huge Essex skateboarding competition, to the excitement of her parents, BILL and THEA (both 40s). Three years later, things have changed: Kim works a demeaning job at a dingy fast-food joint to help support her father. Thea was killed in a car accident some time earlier, leaving Bill crippled with grief and depression. Bill and Kim are struggling to keep up with influx of bills. When Kim hears about a job working for catering agencies — which pay well for minimal work — she starts interviewing with these agencies. Unfortunately, she lacks the right “posh” breeding to get hired. After striking out at three different agencies and groveling to the manager of her fast-food joint for more hours, Kim lashes out at her fourth interviewer. The interviewer is impressed with Kim’s honesty and insight, but it still doesn’t land her the job — until the interviewer gets an emergency call but has nobody to fill the vacancy.

Kim turns down the job, working as a chalet girl for a wealthy family vacationing in the dark. She’s afraid of leaving Bill alone for four months. Her best friend, TRACE, tells Kim about the snowboarding she can get involved with. After placing some fresh flowers on the road where Thea was killed, Kim decides to take the chalet girl job. A montage follows, as Kim attempts to train Bill on cooking and cleaning. When that fails, she sets up weekly grocery deliveries and automatic online payments for all their bills. Still reluctant, Kim leaves for St. Anton Bahnhof, a village nestled in Tyrol, Austria. Kim gets off the train, where GEORGIE (21) waits. She’s stunned and disappointed by Kim’s obvious lack of breeding — she’s amazed by the sight of the mountains and the luxury of the chalet’s servant quarters. Georgie is abrasive, but Kim gives as good as she gets, leading to something close to mutual respect. Shortly after her arrival, Kim attempts to snowboard — using her skateboard. She immediately wipes out and is laughed at by a bunch of ski school children. Georgie shows Kim the gourmet kitchen. The fancy food is new to Kim, but she’s a natural cook, to Georgie’s annoyance. They go to the local airfield just in time for the family’s plane to land. The family’s pompous Austrian ski guide, BERNHARD, scoffs at the girls’ tardiness. The plane lands, and off come the Madsens: good-natured father RICHARD, unpleasant American mother CAROLINE, handsome son JONNY, Jonny’s girlfriend CHLOE, and Chloe’s brother NIGEL. There’s an immediate spark between Kim and Georgie, in spite of Georgie misinforming Kim about how to behave around the family, leading to humiliation. Caroline is immediately horrified by Kim.

At dinner, Georgie forces Kim to stay in the kitchen, not serving anything. Afterward, the family amuse themselves by rubbing each others’ faces with a burnt wine cork. Kim’s baffled. She’s even more baffled when the family trots out Georgie to perform a song with her musical armpits. That night, Georgie gets drunk and fools around with Nigel. The next morning, she won’t wake up. Kim is forced to save the day, whipping up caviar omelettes. Richard and Jonny are impressed, but Kim is shocked when she discovers the cost of the caviar. Free for the day, Kim digs through the chalet’s ski equipment until she finds a real snowboard. She’s horrible, again embarrassing herself in front of the ski school kids. She tries again the next day and goes to the snowpark to test her skill. Almost immediately, she crashes into MIKKI (20), a Finn whose grasp of English is not great. Attracted despite Kim’s rebuffing, Mikki agrees to teach Kim how to snowboard. Mikki encourages Kim to enter Ticket to Ride, Tyrol’s biggest snowboarding competition. Kim laughs off the suggestion, but Mikki thinks she might be good enough in three months.

Caroline gives Jonny an engagement ring that belonged to Richard’s mother. Kim arrives for dinner, dressed up to join the family at the table, but Caroline ridicules her apparel. Jonny is suitably impressed, however. Kim struggles to open a champagne bottle and ends up firing the cork into her nose. Jonny helps her tend to the wound with an ice pack and some champagne. Kim confesses to being overwhelmed by the surroundings. Jonny is understanding. The family returns home for the week. Richard offers Kim a free lift pass and a 500 euro tip. Kim’s thrilled. A montage follows, as time passes and Mikki trains Kim. Georgie runs into Mikki, whom she knows and is attracted to (but she won’t admit it). Kim meets TARA, an expert snowboarder, who gives Kim some tips. She sends Kim to rent some newer equipment from WILLY, an affable German. Kim mentions Tara’s name and gets a steep discount on her rental. Reluctant about spending the money on this instead of bills, Kim ultimately decides to go for it. The montage continues, as Kim gets better at snowboarding and becomes intensely focused on mastering various tricks.

Georgie finds out it’s Kim’s birthday and drags her out to the village to celebrate with Mikki, Willy, and others. Kim has a bit too much to drink and ends up naked in a hot tub — just as the Jonny, Chloe, and Nigel make a surprise reappearance. Jonny is surprisingly kind-hearted about the affair, asking only to be invited the next time Kim has a birthday party. Jonny convinces Bernhard to keep quiet about it. The next day, Kim calls Bill, who’s struggling at home alone. She goes skiing/snowboarding with Georgie, Jonny, Nigel, and Chloe. The flirting between Kim and Jonny intensifies on the slopes, making Chloe jealous. In an attempt to one-up Kim, Chloe ends up breaking her leg. Jonny takes her back to London. The next day, Tara watches Kim at the snowpark and encourages her to sing up for Ticket to Ride. Kim considers it.

Mikki wants Kim to incorporate more jumps into her routine, because air gets bigger points than tricks. Kim goes for it, but as she makes the leap, she has a post-traumatic stress reaction, reliving her mother’s car accident, and is forced to bail before she seriously injures herself. Mikki decides to help Kim push through it — by getting her drunk. It doesn’t work, and Kim ends up with a cut-up face and an arm in a sling. Bill calls, but she won’t talk to him. At home, Bill flirts with LEXI, the grocery delivery clerk. Lexi’s stunned by the disarray the house has become. She forces him to clean the place up. Days later, Kim is feeling better but refuses to continue training. Georgie wonders why, but Kim won’t answer. Jonny returns with Richard and a number of high-powered British executives, all of whom sexually harass Kim and Georgie with alarming frequency. Wanting the tips, the girls take it with gentle good humor. The group goes for a picnic in the backcountry. When Jonny tries to get the others to calm down, Richard takes him aside and reminds him of how important these men are. After awhile, Jonny simply can’t take it anymore — he yells at the others, who quiet down. Jonny and Kim decide to stay behind while the others live. He skis while she snowboards. Kim opens up to Jonny about her mother and her problems, and when Jonny tries to relate, she mocks him for being a wealthy kid with no real problems. The date ends with awkward silence.

Jonny hires Kim to be his snowboarding instructor. He wins her over again. They end up falling on each other and kiss. Bernhard observes this from a ski lift. When Jonny tries to cajole Kim into entering the tournament, Kim gets suspicious and realizes Georgie is behind it. She confronts her, angrily, then goes to the bar to drink, alone. Outside the bar, Jonny waits. He apologizes and confesses that he’s falling in love with her. They sleep together. The following morning, Caroline bursts into Jonny’s room and finds Kim in the shower, singing “Sex on Fire.” Kim realizes that, back in London, Jonny proposed to Chloe. Enraged, she storms away — but she’s more pissed at Georgie for not telling her. Kim packs her things, returns her rented snowboarding equipment, and boards a train back to Essex. She tells Bill about the snowboarding competition. Even he encourages her to go, saying they can manage another week. He tells her it’s what Thea would have wanted, and that’s what convinces her. She returns to St. Anton Bahnof.

Mikki continues training Kim. She still can’t get big air. She tries for it during the qualifying event and ends up crashing — landing her in the 21st slot, when only the first 20 get to compete. Kim and Georgie make up. Meanwhile, at Jonny’s engagement party, he breaks up with Chloe. She’s enraged, causing a big scene. Upset and unable to sleep, Kim hits the slopes in the middle of the night. She comes upon Willy, who advises her to ride for herself — not the competition, not her parents, nobody but herself. Bill pays a tearful visit to Thea’s grave, letting her know that Kim has regained her fearlessness, and he’s decided to follow her lead — by inviting Lexi over for dinner. Kim learns that Jonny and Chloe broke up.

Kim visits Tara and Willy before the competition. Tara’s in extreme pain, the result of an old back injury. Willy injects cortisone into the area. Kim wishes Tara luck, and Tara makes the decision to take herself out of the tournament, which gives Kim — the first reserve — the opportunity to compete. Kim balks, but Tara and Willy are insistent. Kim goes out, ignoring the competition, ignoring the fear and the PTSD, and just boards for the pure joy — and wins the competition, which includes a 5000 euro check. Sponsors, agents, and the press surround her immediately. Georgie and Mikki — who announces he’s her agent — come to Kim’s aid amid the chaos. Jonny arrives to congratulate her, but Kim’s still pissed — but she’s fallen enough in love with Jonny to forgive him. They kiss.

Comments:

The Chalet Girl is a straightforward romantic comedy in the vein of Whip It. It’s not revolutionary, but it is funny and likable. The story has some redundant moments in its snowboarding training and the way the two romantic leads circling each other, but overall, it’s solid and engaging. As written, it merits a consider.

The first act does a nice job of setting a humorous tone amid grim circumstances, establishing the high point of Kim’s life and following it up with her depressing present-day circumstances. It also does a great job of establishing the setting, the many supporting characters, the core conflicts, and — most importantly — developing Kim’s character. While the writer does all this heavy lifting with seemingly minimal effort, he also keeps the script witty and entertaining.

The second act is where the redundancies creep into the story: too many training montages, too many repetitive scenes showing Kim’s fear, and too many scenes depicting the unrequited attraction between Kim and Jonny. Although the writer may get redundant, he doesn’t linger — the script moves quickly enough that the repetitive scenes are mildly annoying rather than frustratingly tedious.

However, the writer puts so much emphasis on Kim’s fear and post-traumatic stress reaction in the second act that it’s sort of a cheat that she gets over it so easily in the third act. She doesn’t struggle at all with it in the final competition, making her first-place win feel a little more unearned (dramatically) than it should. On the other hand, the writer provides satisfying resolutions to the many other dangling plot threads in the third act. As with the redundancies in the second act, Kim’s rapid, effortless win could be much worse than it is — but it could also be better.

Kim is a particularly strong, empathetic character. As the story’s protagonist, the consistent, three-dimensional portrayal allows some of the more farfetched moments (like attempting to snowboard with an actual, wheeled skateboard) seem both believable and funny. Jonny is a bit bland, but the writer does a really nice job at showing how much he cares for Chloe without actually loving her, which allows something as absurd as his engagement to her to feel like more than a plot contrivance.

The script is loaded with stock supporting characters, but the writer manages to imbue each of them with unexpected qualities that make them a little more interesting. The only exception to this is Caroline, who spends the entire script as shallow and ruthlessly evil. The writer never takes the time to humanize her. On the other hand, he makes even tiny roles like Chloe and even Lexi the grocery clerk feel like nuanced, real people. Caroline aside, the writer’s attention to the characters works to make the usual romantic comedy tropes feel fresh or, at least, like real people doing things for believable reasons.

A strong actress playing Kim, suspenseful snowboarding sequences, and judicious editing in the second act will make this into a solid, winning romantic comedy.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 11:54 AM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

January 27, 2010

Demon Road

Author: William Butler & Michael S. Deak & Matt Morgan
Genre: Horror/Thriller
Storyline: 5
Dialogue: 5
Characterization: 4
Writer’s Potential: 5

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

A troubled woman running from the law and a mysterious hitchhiker team up to take down a trio of hot-rodding ghosts haunting a stretch of rural highway.

Synopsis:

The county SHERIFF and a DEPUTY attempt to pull over a classic GTO driven by RUBY (20s), but she forces them into a chase. When Ruby almost hits a hitchhiker (later identified as DANNY) walking in the road, she swerves and almost speeds into a ravine. This gives the Sheriff and his Deputy the opportunity to catch up. While the Deputy runs Ruby’s license, the Sheriff admires Ruby’s meticulously restored GTO and agrees to let her off with a simple moving violation — when he’s suddenly hit by a dusty old ‘57 Chevy, blasting music from the late ’50s, roaring down the highway. The car doubles back and slams into the police cruiser, dragging it and the Deputy into the ravine. Ruby takes a moment to recover from the shock when she sees the Chevy’s lights click on at the bottom of the ravine. She runs to her car.

As she drives, steam begins to leak from a tear in her radiator hose. As she approaches a town, Ruby is forced to stop at an abandoned gas station. She pokes around inside until she finds some duct tape, which she uses to patch the tear. She tries to make a call on her cell phone, but there’s no signal. She goes to a phone booth that doesn’t work when Danny sneaks up on her. She reflexively punches him, and although she continues to distrust him, his kind and calm demeanor seem genuine enough that she gives him a ride into town. As they drive, Danny grills Ruby about herself — she’s a professional roller derby skater on her way to Tucson with a lockbox full of stolen money she wants to use to help her sister. Meanwhile, the ‘57 Chevy has freed itself from the wreckage and joins a Ford pickup and ‘55 T-Bird for some mayhem. Along the highway, Ruby and Danny pass various wrecked cars. An elderly man, SCOOTER, tows the cars to his junkyard. When Ruby asks him what happened to the cars’ drivers, Scooter doesn’t answer.

Ruby and Danny arrive at the town’s surprisingly active diner. Danny insists on waiting in the car while Ruby goes inside to call her sister. Inside the diner, Ruby runs afoul of a biker gang (fronted by RICKY and CHULO) and a group of drunk guys but makes a good impression on kindly diner owner MAGGIE and an old man who drives an RV, FRANK. Frank explains to Ruby that, one night a year — Demon Night — Old Route 58 is haunted by a pack of murderous ghosts in muscle cars. Ruby thinks it’s ridiculous and insists on using the phone and getting out of there. Maggie tries to keep Ruby occupied with coffee and pie. The drunks leave in their rice burner and are quickly pulverized by the trio of vintage cars. During the mayhem, we finally see the cars’ drivers: BETTY SUE drives the T-Bird, JIMMY DEAN drives the truck, and DADDY-O, the leader of the pack, drives the Chevy. They’re teen ghosts dressed like ’50s hoodlums.

Ruby finally gets ahold of her sister when the phone loses its connection. Maggie tells her to wait; the phone will come back eventually. Ruby insists on leaving, so Frank shows her the route to the Interstate on his map. Outside the diner, a patrol car shows up. Danny panics and runs away, hiding in an outdoor restroom. Betty Sue speeds by, catching the patrolman’s attention. He gives chase. The Chevy rolls up alongside Ruby’s GTO before slowly moving away. Ruby goes out to the car and sees Danny is gone. Inside the diner, Frank picks a fight with the bikers. Ruby panics when she hears gunshots and decides not to wait for him. She accidentally backs into one of the bikers’ motorcycles, and she speeds away. The bikers chase her. Just as they catch up, Frank shows up in his RV and starts throwing dynamite at them, killing all the bikers except Ricky and Chulo. Ruby spins out after almost hitting the flaming wreckage of the patrolman’s car. Frank handcuffs Ruby to the steering wheel of the GTO, apologizing while explaining he’s setting a trap — he’s been coming out here for three years trying to kill the ghosts, so he wants to use Ruby and her car to lure them. The ghosts arrive and circle Ruby’s GTO. Frank appears with his dynamite, but the cars avoid the explosions. Danny shows up and picks the lock on Ruby’s cuffs just as Frank accidentally blows up his RV and blows himself up with the next stick of dynamite. Ruby tries to get the cash box out of the GTO, but it won’t budge. Danny grabs her, and they hop on his stolen motorcycle.

Danny leads the ghost cars into a nearby abandoned Christmas theme park. The bike speeds through a bridge the huge cars can’t pass. Pissed, Daddy-O emerges from the car — and his appearance changes from a normal teenager to a disgusting, corpse-like creature. Daddy-O starts talking, and it would appear he knows Danny. Daddy-O threatens him a bit before Danny and Ruby speed away. Danny stops the bike in the center of the park’s midway. He assures Ruby they won’t follow without their cars. Ruby demands an explanation, so Danny tells her everything (with the help of a flashback). In 1958, Danny was friends with Daddy-O, Jimmy Dean, and Betty Sue, whose main hobbies included hanging around Santa’s Village and harassing 14-year-old pipsqueak Scooter. Danny fell in love with VICTORIA, the sheriff’s daughter. He decided to change his life, but the only way he and Veronica could stay together was to leave town. They made plans to do so, but Daddy-O wasn’t happy about it. As the couple attempts to leave town, the trio of cars pursue and crash into them. Victoria is killed. His father is the first to arrive on the scene. Distraught, he shoots Danny in the head, then hunts down the other hoodlums and kills them — forcing them to handcuff themselves to their steering wheels, then burying them alive at the construction site for the new highway — Route 58.

Back in the present, Danny explains that he doesn’t understand why they’re all still there for one night each year, but it’s his mission to get past the county line. He tells Ruby he’s gotten close to it in the past, and he knows the others are afraid to cross it, but he hasn’t quite made it. When he saw Ruby’s driving skills, he knew she’d be the one to get him across the county line before 6:30 — the time they disappear. Ruby’s angry that Danny didn’t tell her the truth earlier. She goes to retrieve her car. Danny insists on coming with her. At the GTO crash site, Scooter prepares to tow it away. The ghosts continue to harass him. Ruby and Danny track them all back to Scooter’s junkyard. As they creep through the yard, they’re chased by Scooter’s guard dogs. They manage to get away. Ruby takes a shotgun from the tow truck and threatens Scooter with it until he releases the GTO, but the other ghosts arrive.

Danny runs away, knowing they’ll chase him over Ruby — but Betty Sue doesn’t. Ruby shoots at her a couple of times, without any effect, before Scooter wraps her up in a tow chain. Ruby kills him and goes after her car — when Ricky and Chulo show up, armed and still angry. She hides from them as they leave, looking for her nearby. With lightning speed, she rebuilds the engine Scooter disassembled. Meanwhile, Danny pits Daddy-O and Jimmy Dean against Ricky and Chulo and flees, heading back to Ruby. Betty Sue gets into the tow truck — to which the GTO is still attached — and tries to pull it apart. Ruby blasts Betty Sue with a lit blowtorch, causing her to speed into a propane tank, which explodes. Daddy-O and Jimmy Dean quickly kill Ricky and Chulo and head toward the explosion. They’re surprised to find Ruby carrying Betty Sue’s trademark pink fuzzy dice. Danny speeds behind her in the GTO, pulverizing Jimmy Dean. Daddy-O is impressed, but Danny loses control of the car and hits Ruby. Daddy-O gets to her before Danny can. Danny begs him to let Ruby go. Daddy-O convinces Danny to leave without her. After he goes, Daddy-O knocks her out.

Dawn comes. Danny speeds in the direction of the freeway but suddenly stops and turns back. Ruby wakes in Daddy-O’s Chevy, which is decaying like an old coffin. Ruby tries to fight him, but she can’t. Danny suddenly slams into the Chevy, causing it to spin out. Ruby beats the hell out of Daddy-O until Danny pulls alongside with a shotgun and shoots Daddy-O. It distracts him. Even more distracting is the reappearance of Betty Sue, who comes after the Chevy — she’s not happy about the new woman in Daddy-O’s life. Ruby and Danny use the distraction to get her back into the GTO. They speed onto the freeway, pursued by Daddy-O and Betty Sue. Throwing modern cars into the mix makes the pursuit a little more difficult. Daddy-O’s Chevy is crushed by a tanker truck. Ruby rolls into a cement riverbed. Betty Sue follows and eventually crushes the GTO against one of the walls. Danny is thrown out of the car. Ruby’s cash box is crushed. The money floats away in the breeze. Ruby gets out of the car and beats on Betty Sue until she crushes her burned-out skull. The tanker truck careens off the highway and into the riverbed, heading right for the GTO. Danny regains consciousness and sees Daddy-O is the one driving the tanker truck. Danny tries to shoot him, but the gun is empty. Ruby tries to get the GTO to start, but it refuses to turn over. She finally gets it started, checking her watch, disappointed that there’s not much time. She speeds back to the tanker truck, then dives out of the car, sending it on a collision course with the truck. Both explode.

Saddened by her failure, Ruby skates alongside the highway. She’s picked up by a friendly driver. Betty Sue smashes through the passenger window and yanks Ruby out. Ruby beats Betty Sue up with what’s left of the cash box, then drags her across the county line, at which point she bursts into flames. Up the highway, Ruby spots Danny past the county line, hitchhiking. Pleased, she continues to skate.

Comments:

Demon Road seems to want to pay homage to the cheesy drive-in movies of the ’50s and ’60s. Instead of putting unique spins on the standard tropes or even exploiting the silliness of these films for comedic effect, the writers present a straight-faced story cluttered with clichés, poorly defined characters, and a bunch of car chase moments that have been seen elsewhere, multiple times. As written, it merits a pass.

The characters never rise above generic stereotypes. Ruby is the tough-but-vulnerable heroine, Danny is the wimpy sidekick, and the remaining characters — including the trio of villains — barely have enough depth to be considered stereotypes. Aside from colorful physical descriptions, all of these characters are simply hell-bent on chasing, shooting, and punching.

Giving Ruby and Danny a lot of ghosts and bikers to fight might keep the action varied (although it doesn’t — it’s one repetitive, shotgun-laden car chase after another), but it doesn’t add up to much when the writers don’t take the time to make anyone care about either the heroes or the villains. Even when the script tries to make the characters interesting, they rely on stale clichés like giving Ruby an offscreen sister to protect or having Danny turn out to be a ghost with a connection to the villains.

There’s not much to the story. It’s almost nonstop car chases, with a few short scenes here and there to deliver backstory and plot. The first act introduces the characters and basic setup with relative ease but not much intrigue, primarily because the thin characters don’t sell the various conflicts very well. The second and third acts are little more than a series of chase/fight/shootout sequences, interrupted with one long flashback that explains everything the audience needs to know about the characters’ backstories and present-day motivations.

The combination of weak characters and simplistic narrative obliterates the suspense that should be building throughout the story. Whether or not Danny will make it to the county line on time is an afterthought until they get to the freeway in the last few pages of the script, and Ruby’s efforts to get to her sister never seem to mean much to her or the story. All of this is undermined by the perplexing ending in which the writers defy the rules of their own story by having the ghost characters reappear long after they should be gone. The writers define a hard time for their appearance — one night a year, from 6:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. — in an effort to add a little more suspense, but changing it arbitrarily will only frustrate audiences instead of delivering the happy ending they’re aiming for.

The inconsistencies with the script’s internal rules governing the ghosts are a recurring problem. Sometimes, shooting them tears holes in their faces; sometimes, the bullets pass right through them. The ghost villains look like ghouls whenever they’re out of their cars, but Danny passes as a normal person. At times, the ghosts appear to have superhuman strength; elsewhere, mere mortals can pummel them with ease. These are all small details, but they add up to big problems — especially when one of the only hard rules the writers establish (the one about the ghosts’ timeframe) is violated for a ridiculous “twist” that leads to an unearned happy ending.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 9:57 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

January 28, 2010

Isolation

Author: Chris Billett and Stephen Kay
Genre: Thriller
Storyline: 3
Dialogue: 5
Characterization: 3
Writer’s Potential: 3

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

A young doctor struggles to understand how she ended up in a hospital isolation room, suffering from an unknown disease.

Synopsis:

AMY MOORE (20s) wakes up in a nondescript hospital isolation room, surrounded by curtains. She’s hooked up to machines and looks like hell. She doesn’t know she got there. She presses the call button, but nobody answers. Amy tries to get up, but she’s quickly overcome with dizziness and nausea. She accidentally yanks out her IV as she vomits and collapses. Some time later, an orderly (JAKE) arrives to fix her IV and clean up the mess. Amy asks questions that go unanswered. All Jake will tell her is that she’s been here for two days and slept for most of that time. He goes to get the doctor. Later, DR. SLOAN arrives. Sloan responds to Amy’s questions with a lot of vague non-answers. He’s surprised that she knows what pulmonary edema is — turns out, she’s a doctor. Sloan offhandedly mentions they’re in a makeshift decontamination facility, but he won’t explain why she (and apparently other) patients need to be decontaminated. Sloan promises to contact Amy’s father, also a doctor. He leaves, turning the lights off.

That night, Sloan arrives at home. He looks at a photo of himself with a woman, but spills hot tea on his hand and drops his mug, shattering it. Sloan yells to an unseen occupant of the house that he’s all right. The next day, Amy asks about her father. Sloan says he came by, but she was asleep. Sloan shows her the haphazardly constructed toilet. He tells her they don’t know what’s wrong with the patients — they’re trying to treat a disease without knowing what they’re fighting. Amy’s shocked, but Sloan’s bedside manner reassures her. Sloan sits at a table with Jake at a coffee shop filled with doctors. The nurse fails to respond to the call button again, so Amy forces herself out of bed and tries to get to the toilet. She crashes into it and her head bleeds. In a mysterious observation room, cameras monitor Amy’s every move. Sloan watches these monitors and hurries away.

Sloan and Jake patch Amy up and get her back into bed. Sloan tells her not to push herself too hard. Jake gives Amy a replacement gown. While Jake stands in a corner, away from her, Amy struggles to get into the new gown. She asks Jake to help her tie the back. Jake comments that he used to tie his sister’s dresses when he was a kid. Amy asks Jake to get her a radio, because the TV doesn’t work and she’s going stir crazy. Jake tells her he’ll see what he can do. Sloan comes upon Jake, looking through a storage room filled with medical supplies. Jake asks if he can give Amy a radio. Sloan tells him no. Back at home, Sloan browses through old medical journals, reading about alternative medicines and terrorist attacks. Some time later, Amy wakes with a start. She hears somebody tapping from the next room. Amy struggles to get up, pulls back the curtain, and finds a Plexiglas window, revealing a second isolation room. A hideous, ill man taps on the glass. Amy is horrified, but then she recognizes the man.

Flashing back to the previous week, young residents cross the hospital parking lot. Among them are Amy and PAUL — the man in the other isolation room. They flirt. Paul has a horrific hacking cough, but he refuses to get it checked out. In the present, Amy begs Paul to explain what’s going on. They can’t hear each other through the window, so Paul writes on the glass: “NOT SIC.” He hears a noise and can’t write anymore. Amy also hears a noise — someone’s entering her room. She hides near the toilet closet as Sloan enters, startling her. Sloan is impressed that she’s doing better. He mentions certain other patients are not responding to the treatment as well as she has. Jake brings Amy some food. Amy asks him to keep her company and, to get the conversation going, asks about his sister. Jake tells her his sister is dead. Amy’s shocked and sympathetic. Amy tries to grill Jake about Paul, but he refuses to answer and excuses himself quickly. Later, Sloan chastises Amy about prying information out of Jake.

That night at home, Sloan chops vegetables for a salad when he hears his TV turn on. Sloan goes into the living room and sees LIZZIE — the woman in the photos with him — acting sweet. He softens, but the image suddenly shifts to chaotic handheld footage of Lizzie being rushed into the emergency room. Sloan demands that the figure in the living room turn it off. He obliges — it’s Jake! Meanwhile, Amy puts two and two together on feeling worse every time she’s hooked up to the IV and the “not sic(k)” message from Paul. She pulls the tubs out of the IV and gives herself a few minutes to normalize. She gets up and goes to the other isolation room. Inside is Paul, lying unconscious on the floor. He looks dead. Sloan rushes in and performs emergency surgery on him — alone. Amy isn’t sure if this is murder or a desperate effort to save him. Terrified, Amy runs for the door of her own room. The door opens — to another door, an outer door that’s locked and impossible to get through. Not long after, the door opens. Amy immediately slams it shut — catching Jake’s hand in the door, smashing his fingers and causing him to drop something. When she hears Jake’s voice, Amy stops and apologizes. Jake wonders why she’d react so violently to Sloan. What he dropped was his own iPod, which he brought so she could have some music. Amy feels awful.

Amy demands to speak to someone in charge, but Jake refuses. Sloan arrives shortly thereafter, sending Jake and his iPod away. Sloan apologetically tells Amy that he lost Paul. After he leaves, Amy removes the tubes from her IV again. In the mysterious observation room, Jake watches Amy on the monitors while Sloan accosts him about the iPod. At the same time, Amy finally discovers the cameras — and she’s pissed. When Jake shows up the next morning, Amy attacks him, demanding to know where she is and what’s really going on. Jake easily overpowers Amy, accidentally knocking her out. Jake tells Sloan, who puts her back on the bed and ties restraints. When Amy wakes, she tries to break free. Sloan assures her it’s a precaution and urges her not to struggle. This phrase rings a bell with Amy. Once again, she flashes back to the hospital parking lot that night. She and Paul part ways, and Sloan attacks her, injecting her with something that paralyzes her. Across the parking lot, Paul comes back to Amy, so Sloan injects him, too.

In the present, Amy screams for help. The TV suddenly turns on, broadcasting the second isolation room. Using a baby monitor to communicate, Sloan wheels in the latest patient — LAWRENCE MOORE, Amy’s father. He’s paralyzed in the same way that Amy and Paul were. That night, Jake confesses to Sloan that he isn’t sure Lizzie would have wanted all this. Sloan reassures him that they’re doing the right thing and everything will be fine. The next morning, Moore is able to speak if he struggles. Sloan arrives to explain everything, with the help of a flashback: not long ago, Lizzie was rushed to the ER after a car accident. Amy and Paul tried to save her. Sloan demanded answers but was rebuffed. She died. Amy argued with her father that they didn’t do everything right — they could have saved her. Jake happened to catch all of this, including their private argument, on tape. In the present, Sloan shows Moore an article showing that he was absolved of all wrongdoing in Lizzie’s death.

Sloan tells Amy that stage one of his torture experiment — helplessness — is over. Now, they’re on to stage two. Sloan performs amateur surgery on Moore, claiming he wants to help him but really intending to kill him. Amy breaks free of her restraints just as Sloan cuts Moore’s throat. She gets out of the room and finds herself in a strange hallway of plastic tents and packing crates that once held used medical equipment. Eventually, she discovers she’s in a huge barn. Amy gets to the door and runs out. Outside is a vast avocado field. Amy runs; Sloan chases her. She manages to outrun him until she reaches a house — his house. Meanwhile, Jake has watched what transpired from the observation room. He works feverishly to delete the hours of video they’ve accumulated. Amy gets into the house and calls 911, but she doesn’t know where she is and Sloan is hot on her trail. She tears open kitchen drawers until she finds a huge knife.

Then, Amy gets distracted by the sound of her recently deceased father’s voice. She goes to the source of the sound, upstairs. She calls out, and Jake realizes Amy’s in the house. He deletes the last of the videos and goes after her — but Amy’s stunned by reliving the death of her father, so she can’t move. Jake runs right into the knife. She immediately gets into ER doctor mode, attempting to save him. Without any medical equipment, it’s impossible. Jake bleeds out. Sloan arrives just in time to see him die. Sloan injects her with the paralyzing agent once again, then drags her away from the scene.

In the observation room, Sloan discovers all his video is deleted. He’s enraged. He complains to a paralyzed Amy that she fell victim to the “bystander effect” — if people stand in a crowd doing nothing, then nothing becomes the right thing to do, but she should have stood up and done something. Amy is not in a position to argue one way or the other. The next morning, Sloan has completed some sort of outdoor gardening project, smoothing out an easy-to-ignore patch of dirt under the shade of a tree. Under that piece of earth, Amy has been buried in one of the medical equipment packing crates. Sloan has set up a tiny camera to record it. That morning, Sloan goes to a diner and orders a meal for Lizzie and a hot cocoa for Jake. The waitress greets him with a puzzled look, but Sloan doesn’t care. Amy dies in the crate.

Comments:

Isolation strives to be a heady thinkpiece tackling issues about medical malpractice, voyeurism, and the power of grief. In actuality, it’s a glorified snuff film. The big mystery is easily predictable, and it’s never clear who we’re supposed to root for, which makes the ending as confusing as it is unsatisfying. As written, it merits a pass.

The first act makes a valiant attempt at creating an eerie air of mystery, but it’s obvious early on that things are not what they seem. Despite the frequent attempts at misdirects, the script contains only one mild surprise (that Lizzie was Jake’s sister as well as Sloan’s wife). Because the story is confined to one basic setting and the hidden agenda is so easily guessed, the second act feels like a lot of repetitive wheel-spinning to pad a thin narrative to feature length. Suspicious Amy tries to figure things out, doesn’t get satisfactory answers, tries to get out, and fails.

The third act takes the script to a weird level that certainly makes the script unique, but not in an admirable way. In a failed effort to give some pathos to Sloan, the writers switch it up by painting Amy as a villain (albeit a reluctant one), and in a warped way, it seems as if they want Sloan to be the hero. Sloan’s wife is the one who was killed by evil doctors who didn’t pay a price for it, so it seems the doctors are just getting what they deserve through Sloan’s torment and eventual murder. This leads to an infuriating resolution in which Amy — the heroine for 7/8ths of the story — gets buried alive while Sloan gets to cheerfully pay homage to his departed family.

It doesn’t help matters that Sloan and Jake are easily the most well-developed characters in the script. The writers don’t make either of them sympathetic — which makes the ending all the more inexplicable — but they do allow the audience to understand and empathize with their misguided revenge scheme. However, spending so much time obscuring who they really are only serves to undermine the characters. Because of the story’s predictable nature, the audience will know from the moment they see them that these characters aren’t who they seem to be. It’s more frustrating than rewarding trying to figure out what to trust and what to assume is part of their false identities.

Meanwhile, very little is learned about Amy. She’s a recently anointed doctor with a faulty conscience and a high-powered surgeon father. Granted, it’s difficult to create a deep character when that character spends the bulk of the story in a weakened, almost immobile condition, but that just means both the character and the overall story suffer from debilitating problems. It’s easy enough to relate to Amy’s fear and confusion, but at the end of the day, she’s not the world’s most interesting character. Even if she were, a last-second 180° turn in what we thought we knew about the character simply ruins everything.

The script’s fatal flaws are too numerous to assume any amount of great filmmaking will redeem them. The writers are clearly interested in creating a lower-rent Saw, but this misses the mark.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 11:06 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

Vamps

Author: Amy Heckerling
Genre: Romantic Comedy/Horror
Storyline: 4
Dialogue: 7
Characterization: 5
Writer’s Potential: 6

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

Two vampire party girls face persecution and find love in New York City.

Synopsis:

GOODY (20s), adorable in an old-fashioned way, wakes from a nightmare about happy beach bunnies frolicking on a sunny beach. She sleeps in a coffin, and she’s waking up at sunset. Her best friend and roommate, STACY (20s, also a vampire), sleeps in another coffin. Goody wakes her up. Stacy complains about running low on home soil, which is making her wake with back pain. Stacy talks with a college academic advisor. When he says she needs to retake classes she took decades ago, Stacy hypnotizes him into giving her the classes she wants. Goody and Stacy have a night job for a pest-control company. They kill rats and drink their blood, poking them with straws like juice boxes. They’re summoned by their “stem” (the oldest surviving vampire in their line), CISSERUS, a beautiful and commanding woman. She wants them to try on the latest fashions for her and chides them for not feeding on humans. Stacy and Goody go clubbing and try to pick up guys. They run into RENFIELD (an accountant who desperately wants to be turned into a vampire) and VADIM (the vampire equivalent of a date rapist). Goody has a hard time keeping up with the trends. Vadim warns Goody that Cisserus must stay alive, or else any of her “offshoots” (i.e., Goody and Stacy) will rapidly progress to their real ages. This will, in effect, bring Stacy back to life but age her to her 40s (she was turned 20 years ago), but the much older Goody will surely die.

After picking up their guys, Goody and Stacy separate for the rest of the night. Goody’s beau, a bland rock singer, snorts some cocaine and gets a nosebleed. Goody can’t resist the temptation to lick up the blood. Meanwhile, Stacy has a similar response when her beau talks nonstop about her “sucking” him — but both resist the compulsion to kill the men. When they return to the apartment, the girls commiserate about the weird experiences. Stacy checks the mail and finds her expected shipment of hometown soil has arrived — but it’s been destroyed in transit. Stacy thinks it’s a Homeland Security conspiracy, but Goody laughs off the suggestion. Meanwhile, police have found Cisserus’s latest victim in a dumpster. DR. VAN HELSING, on behalf of Homeland Security, wants to investigate the unusual rash of “animal deaths,” but the cops scoff at his lack of jurisdiction and send him on his way. The next night, Goody and Stacy attend a “Sanguines Anonymous” meeting. Privately, before the meeting, Goody confesses to VLAD TEPISH (a Bela Lugosi type), a Romanian stem, that she was turned in 1841. She asks about Vadim’s warning, and Tepish insists he’s seen it happen. Goody’s afraid that the heat will come down on Cisserus, and she’ll end up dead, but she’s glad to hear Stacy will be somewhat okay.

The group goes around the room. Tepish describes his story, making it clear that he is Vlad the Impaler. Stacy explains her story, and that Goody saved her life by insisting Cisserus turn her into a vampire. After the meeting, Goody complains about current trends and how stupid young people are. Stacy seems unfazed. Goody hasn’t told Stacy how old she truly is, so she’s surprised that no photos of Goody exist. Stacy quickly whips up a composite photo on her computer, which looks identical to Goody. Goody is touched and sort of shocked. The next night, Stacy starts a class on Surrealism. She sits in the back of the class and cracks jokes with JOEY VAN HELSING, a cute Indian guy. When she finds out the name, Stacy shrugs it off — he couldn’t possibly be related. Stacy and Goody go to work, this time at a hospital. Stacy accidentally eats some lab rats that have been injected with drugs. She begins hallucinating. Meanwhile, Goody spots someone from her past — DANNY (60s, an ex-hippie), whose wife has been diagnosed with cancer. Danny spots Goody. She hides from him, then drags Stacy out under the cover of darkness.

The next day, Danny investigates who last night’s exterminators were. That night, Stacy receives a jury duty summons. They’re both shocked, as they live entirely off the grid — however, Stacy is still listed as alive, and she voted for Mike Dukakis before she got turned. At their SA meeting, a fake vampire infiltrates it, but the real vamps scare her away. The group discusses the harassment they’ve been experiencing. Stacy’s jury summons is just the latest in a string of government interference in their lifestyle. They decide to get as many vampires — including stems and “human feeders” — involved as possible. They need to know the full extent of the conspiracy. Goody and Cisserus are at a loss, because they don’t know where her resting place is. Later, Stacy goes on a date with Joey. He takes her home, where she meets Dr. Van Helsing and his Indian wife. They’re polite but suspicious. Stacy flees quickly. During the day, Van Helsing uses Homeland Security resources to track and kill vampires in their resting places. At work, Goody is shocked when Danny shows up and starts talking to her. She quickly lies that Goody was her mother, who has passed on now. Stacy is impressed by the smoothness of her deceit. Dr. and Mrs. Van Helsing sit down and encourage him to stop seeing Stacy. He refuses.

Goody spends time catching up with Danny and falls in love with him all over again — but before anything can happen, she’s summoned by Cisserus. Goody and Stacy discuss with her the conspiracy, but she’s uninterested — she wants their help getting her on a cargo jet to Spain. She’s obsessed with having a Spanish rock star. Joey calls Stacy and tells her that her parents liked her well enough, but they thought she was suspiciously pale. Stacy makes excuses, then immediately goes to town with every fake-tanning scheme available. She ends up looking like a ridiculous orange mess. This makes the Van Helsings even more suspicious. Joey shows Stacy the family’s weapons, which includes a special decapitating sickle designed to be placed inside a coffin with suspected vampires. They have an awkward dinner. Shortly after Stacy and Joey leave, the fake vampire who crashed their SA meeting comes out of a hidden room. She can’t positively identify Stacy as a vampire, to Van Helsing’s annoyance.

Goody prepares for a pseudo-date with Danny by dressing in a hodgepodge of fashions from the 20th century. Danny’s house is a mess — he works for the ACLU, which occupies most of his time. He tells Goody he’s done the research on her “mother” but found that she lives completely off the grid. He dismisses her by saying he’s going to the hospital, but she agrees to go with. While on the subway, they see an elderly couple attacked by two muggers. The elderly husband starts to have a heart attack, so Goody reluctantly intervenes, using lightning-fast skills and super-strength to incapacitate the muggers, then tears open the elderly man’s chest and spits in it, causing his condition to stabilize. She hypnotizes everyone on the train into thinking they saw something else — except Danny, who’s horrified. Danny realizes the vampire explanation makes a surprising amount of sense. Goody explains that she has venom that thins the blood, so spitting in his chest saved the elderly man’s life. Now that he knows he’s with the right person, Goody apologizes for abandoning him years ago.

Stacy and Joey have wild sex. Joey is blown away by the experience. Stacy has to rush to get home before sunrise. That night, the vampires finally have their meeting. Goody brings Danny into the meeting. He explains that, legally, Homeland Security can do all the things it’s doing to get the vampires. The only possible way to get rid of them is to avoid being located — stop using technology, go completely off-grid. After the meeting, Joey confronts Stacy — he’s realized she’s a vampire. He’s not mad, though. A montage follows as their love grows, culminating in Joey driving to Boston to get some hometown soil for Stacy. Just before sunrise one night, Goody thumbs through her farmer’s almanac and realizes a total eclipse is coming up in two weeks. She brings the news to the group, and they immediately strategize. If they time things just right, they can all clear up their various nuisance summons and tax audits before the eclipse is over. For the people who need to be in two places at once, those skilled in hypnosis agree to confuse the city employees into believing the others are there. By the day of the eclipse, the hypnosis vampires go everyone one better — rather than removing the recent summons, they erase the vampires’ full lives from the computer systems. That night, the vampires celebrate their victory over the government.

Stacy begins throwing up every time she wakes. Cisserus kills another man and forces Goody and Stacy to dispose of the body. Van Helsing finds security footage of a man seeming to “fly” off the Williamsburg bridge — the vampires don’t appear on camera. Goody sits patiently with Danny as he describes the torturous path his wife has taken. Goody realizes their love, to him, is little more than a distant memory. Goody asks Tepish about Stacy’s illness. Tepish believes she’s pregnant — it’s possible for vampires to get pregnant, but they’ll never carry the child to term. He says she’ll be fine in a week. Goody and Stacy find out about the bridge video and realize Cisserus is just plain going too far. Goody also tells Stacy she’s pregnant. To her surprise, both Stacy and Joey are thrilled with the news — but not with the news that the baby won’t survive. Renfield shows up with a new phone — the Google Wave. Goody flips out about technology ruining their lives. Goody asks Stacy to weigh the pros and cons of aging and how much she wants the baby. Stacy feels it’s time to grow up.

Goody brings Vadim and his stem, DMITRI, to the hospital to visit Danny and his wife. Goody asks Danny how he’d feel about his wife surviving. He realizes what she’s asking and tells her to do it. Dmitri turns Danny’s wife into a vampire (in this script, only the “stems” have the ability to create new vampires), and her strength returns immediately. Danny is grateful. Goody visits Van Helsing. They agree to a truce — she’ll supply all the information he needs in order to kill Cisserus. Van Helsing agrees after Goody explains the pregnancy and the seriousness of Stacy and Joey’s relationship. Goody also explains how old she is and why she became a vampire: at the height of the cholera epidemic, her entire family had died except her children, who miraculously lived through it. When Goody began feeling symptomatic, she met Cisserus and begged to be changed, so she could raise her kids. Van Helsing looks up Goody’s great-great-great-grandkids and discovers, with one exception, they’re all highly successful professionals.

At Grant’s tomb, Goody assists Van Helsing in killing Cisserus by decapitation. Van Helsing buries the head under Grant’s tomb. Stacy is immediately transformed to a woman in her 40s — but, thanks to clean living (while alive) and genetics, she doesn’t look much older. Goody, on the other hand, continues to age slowly, to Stacy’s surprise. Before Goody can die, Stacy realizes the sacrifice she’s made and thanks her. They take Goody to Times Square as the sun rises. Nearly 200 years spent in New York City flash before her eyes — the many great moments of her long life that occurred in Times Square. Finally, she turns into a skeleton and dissolves to ash.

Some time later, Stacy and Joey look more like adults than goofy college students. After arguing about Joey checking out a younger woman, they go to the Van Helsing home, where Van Helsing plays with their new baby, Goody.

Comments:

Vamps attempts to tell a coming-of-age story about two young women. It has a fun concept and some cute spins on traditional vampire lore. Although it’s amusing, the unfocused narrative and inconsistent characters add up to a frustrating experience. As written, it merits a pass.

The biggest liability of this script is its story’s lack of drive. The first act sets a meandering pace as Goody and Stacy move from one comic set-piece to another without much purpose. Although some of these seemingly random, pointless scenes exist to give the characters a little depth, they prevent the script from having narrative momentum. Instead of cause-and-effect, there’s a lot of wandering around and talking about vampire lore.

Even in the second act, when the script finally finds its plot around the halfway point, it feels like too much of an afterthought. The vamps spend a disproportionate amount of time discussing their plans for the eclipse, but the eclipse itself is condensed to a few brief, unsatisfying scenes. If the prelude to the eclipse had been more engrossing, or the vampires’ lives seemed more perilously affected by the government, perhaps the brevity of these scenes wouldn’t feel so disappointing. It’s the combination of this brevity and an overall lack of jeopardy and suspense that make the script feel plodding and aimless when its tone suggests a breezy, fast-paced comedy.

In the third act, it seems the writer finally realizes what she wants this script to be about — two vapid girls facing adult problems that force them to mature — but it’s too little, too late. Because the story is so unfocused, the big changes Goody and Stacy experience in the third act seem more contrived than they should. It’s unfortunate, because it’s really a smart idea for a vampire story — it’s just not very well-executed.

Goody and Stacy’s third-act transformations seem so contrived, in part, because their characters are so inconsistent. At times, Goody seems like a vapid, unintelligent party girl; at other points (sometimes in the very next scene), she’s portrayed as a sophisticated woman whose 200 years on Earth have made her incredibly wise. Stacy is not much different — from scene to scene, she goes from nerdy college student pining for her beloved 1980s to a flighty idiot obsessed with texting and Twitter. These wildly varying traits don’t form complex characters — they just seem to have personality overhauls whenever it serves the joke of the scene. This makes it difficult to buy into what little jeopardy they face throughout the script, and it makes it especially hard to feel a real emotional impact when Goody sacrifices herself so Stacy can live.

The supporting characters consist mostly of cute caricatures of famous characters in vampire literature. Like the main characters, their personalities change at the drop of a hat to suit the jokes. Some of the references to Dracula and Vlad the Impaler are funny, but overall these characters don’t have much else to make them compelling or entertaining.

Skillful direction and the right casting could make this work, but it seems a little more like the next Cirque du Freak than another Twilight.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 6:20 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

January 30, 2010

Bad Luck

Author: David J. Schow
Genre: Comedy/Horror
Storyline: 3
Dialogue: 3
Characterization: 5
Writer’s Potential: 3

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

A college student is forced to question her disbelief in superstitions when her friends begin dying in superstitious ways.

Synopsis:

A muscle car speeds toward an intersection as the traffic signal turns yellow. It turns red, but rather than stopping, the driver swerves, clipping another car. A delivery truck smashes into the muscle car, crushing it. Cops on the scene talk to the driver of the car that got clipped. They’re all interrupted by MARINA KILBOURNE (20s, currently distraught), who insists this was not an accident.

One week earlier, Marina talks seriously to her father, CARL (50s), about her mother, MARTA (40s). Marta is a little nutty — obsessed with the idea that silly superstitions will ruin her life. She’s fortified the house against mirrors breaking, cracks to step on, black cats, ladders, etc. She uses as her bible Better Safe Than Sorry, the latest self-help book about better lives through identifying and avoiding the superstitious causes of life’s problems. DAVANNA FORTUNE wrote the book and has captured the hearts of fearful Americans. Right now, Davanna is on the ledge of a New York City highrise, not trying to talk down a suicidal woman but trying to convince her to believe in Davanna’s philosophy. The moment the woman agrees, Davanna literally sucks the life from the woman, leaving nothing but a dusty skeleton. Feeling satisfied, Davanna goes to tape a daytime talk show, on which she promotes her book. She describes the definition of luck and identifies the many superstitions out there as luck insurance.

As the talk show plays on the TV, Carl tries to convince Marta to take her medication. Panicking, Marta insists she’s only trying to protect the family. Accompanied by boyfriend MICK, Marina attends a college class held by PROFESSOR DEUTSCH, another man obsessed with superstitions. Marina scoffs at the notion, a complete nonbeliever. She escapes the class early when her father sends her an emergency text message. Carl tells Marina that Marta has been institutionalized. Mick takes Marina to the hospital, where they discuss Marta’s symptoms with Carl in greater detail. Marina insists on looking at the house. Mick goes with her. After having sex in Marina’s childhood bedroom, they survey the house. It’s a disaster area, cluttered with Davanna Fortune’s many books and a lot of notes to explain the strange, superstition-avoidant changes Marta has made to the house. As they talk about it, Mick shifts the conversation to an uncomfortable topic: her moving into his condo. Marina makes excuses — bottom line, she’s not interested.

Back at Marina’s big, roommate-filled group house, she complains to her roommates (VIRGINIA, DARCY, and Virginia’s boyfriend, DONNY) about Mick’s pressure. Darcy acts like she speaks from experience when she urges Marina not to become another of Mick’s “possessions.” Virginia simply complains that she may be pregnant. Marina also complains about Deutsch’s class and the stupidity of superstitions. The others disagree — each of them has at least one superstition that they honor and believe in. Angry, Marina decides to confront Davanna at a local book signing. Marina spots Deutsch waiting in line. He says he wants to charm Davanna into guest-lecturing. CYRIL, Davanna’s bodyguard, tries to keep Marina away, but she’s vicious, accusing Davanna of preying on people’s fears. Davanna denies any responsibility, saying the only way to make a superstition real is to believe it’s real — in other words, Marta brought it on herself. Marina accuses Davanna of exploitation, then storms out as Davanna’s fans glare.

Marina complains to her roommates about how things went. Amused, the whole group (except Marina) decides to attend Davanna’s guest lecture in Deutsch’s class. Davanna reinforces the reality of superstition while simultaneously complaining that people only believe in them because they can’t take responsibility for their actions. Marina shows up late, and Davanna forces her onstage — forces her to stand on a crack. Simultaneously, Marta’s spine is torn apart. Marina is horrified when she finds out. Darcy offers sympathy. Marina thinks Davanna had something to do with Marta’s death, so she and Darcy decide to go after her — starting by finding out from Deutsch where she’ll be. When they arrive at Deutsch’s house, they find the door is open. Deutsch’s feet have been chewed off by his pet rabbit. Both Marina and Darcy are repulsed by this. They notice whoever did this stole the assigned “superstition diaries” from his students. Barely conscious from the lack of blood, Deutsch warns that Davanna is after Marina. The girls call 911 and try to explain what happened to CONNER, the detective on the scene. He thinks the girls had something to do with it — their explanation about Davanna is too ridiculous to make sense to him.

Meanwhile, Cyril and Davanna pore through the superstition diaries, shocked and amused by some of the students’ superstitions. Whatever Davanna’s plan is, she’s encouraged when she finds Marina didn’t really complete the assignment — she just wrote a note to Deutsch saying she doesn’t believe in superstition. That night, Donny buys some beer and throws it into his muscle car. As he drives, a black cat passes by the car. Donny freaks out, afraid to pass its path. He gets out of the car and tries to find the cat, but when that fails, he turns around in the opposite direction. As he races toward a yellow light, he discovers the cat is inside the car. The opening car crash, and Marina’s subsequent harassment of the police, is repeated. After insisting the accident is not really an accident, it’s revealed that Virginia and Darcy are with her. Virginia is an emotional wreck. Conner shows up on the scene and leaps to the conclusion that Donny was drinking. He does reluctantly admit that Deutsch has stabilized and regained consciousness, and he has told the police the girls had nothing to do with the incident.

The girls and Mick go to a bar to drown their sorrows. While Virginia gets hammered, Marina insists Davanna is somehow responsible for these “accidents” — somehow, Davanna is in league with supernatural forces. Even Darcy thinks that’s ridiculous, particularly because there’s no logical reason for Davanna to target Marina. Marina decides they need to see Deutsch at the hospital and figure things out. Virginia says she won’t tomorrow — it’s Friday the 13th, and it’s two minutes to midnight. Virginia realizes she’s spotting, and she’s happy — to her, this means she’s not pregnant. Mick drives the girls back to their group house, but he and Marina keep going to the Kilbourne house. She finds Carl at a cracked vanity mirror — and it turns out, he’s inside the mirror, somehow. Carl is terrified, and so is Marina. The mirror shatters to pieces. Meanwhile, Virginia’s spotting turns into a flood of blood. Darcy tries to help her, but she bleeds out too quickly. Mick returns to his under-construction condo. For some reason, workers are there, and they slam wrecking balls into the building. Mick narrowly escapes. The fire department shows up, confused. Mick walks under a hook and ladder truck and is immediately killed by a high-pressure fire hose.

Marina returns to the group house to find Darcy covered in blood. The cops have already shown up, so Marina sneaks them out before they’re accused of yet another murder. To get in to Deutsch after visiting hours, the girls’ fake an emergency situation (using Darcy’s blood-covered clothing as a believable cover). Marina sneaks away to see Deutsch. Deutsch tells Marina that Davanna chose her for something special, but before he can explain what, Deutsch frantically tells her not to let Davanna reveal her “real” face. Marina is forced to flee before Deutsch’s nurse shows up. Davanna arrives, acting the part of Deutsch’s nurse. Her face transforms into something monstrous, robbing Deutsch of life the same way she did with the woman on the ledge.

Marina and Darcy break into Deutsch’s faculty office to find information on Davanna’s whereabouts. While Marina looks through his appointment book, Darcy looks through his research. She starts to piece together that Davanna may be a manifestation of “Lady Luck.” Marina finds Davanna’s address — she’s renting a large, old house on the edge of town. They break into the house. Davanna is well aware of this before they even get inside. She sends Cyril after them. Cyril tries to stop them, but the girls quickly toss him down the cellar stairs, locking him up. Marina and Darcy confront Davanna in the parlor. Darcy tries to throw holy water at Davanna, who laughs at the suggestion that she’s a witch or any other supernatural creature. She pulls out a decidedly un-supernatural gun and shoots Darcy.

Davanna gives a long speech about why she’s tormenting Marina — it’s easy to keep suspicious people believing. What she thrives on is converting nonbelievers, and she gains more energy the less a person believed before the conversion. If Marina would just admit she believes in the superstitions that have killed her friends, Davanna would gain some power. Davanna hands Marina the gun and tells her to shoot if she really doesn’t believe. Marina does shoot, but the bullets pass through Davanna. Davanna’s face begins to contort to her “true face.” Behind her, Marina sees letters being written in a mirror that Davanna stands in front of. The words form: “Hold her legs.” Marina grabs Davanna’s legs, and Carl’s arms grab Marina from inside the mirror, pulling her halfway in. The mirror then shatters, leaving nothing but Davanna’s bottom half. Darcy barely survives. The cops have to release them because they lack evidence. Some time later, a young girl named “Fortune” starts her first day at a private school.

Comments:

Bad Luck aims to be a sort of tongue-in-cheek take on the horror movie, but it’s neither funny enough to forgive its incoherent story nor serious enough to engage its prospective audience. As written, it merits a pass.

The first act manages to embrace every available horror cliché without ever establishing what the story’s about or where it’s headed — and not in a way that’s satisfyingly unpredictable. It’s just unfocused and ramshackle. Every character talks almost nonstop about superstition, only occasionally interrupting the pseudo-philosophical rambling to shoehorn bland romantic troubles that add nothing to the story or characters. The writer simply brings in boyfriend characters to increase the body count.

The second act is where the killings start, but they’re all so obvious and predictable — stepping on a crack, a black cat crossing one’s path, walking under a ladder. Early in the script, Davanna mentions several more obscure traditions with superstitious roots (such as clinking glasses before toasting to ward off demons) that might have made for a more interesting, inventive storyline. On the other hand, the script has a gratingly “silly” tone, so the unimaginative deaths are probably intentional. Unfortunately, they don’t intensify either the comedic or horror stakes — they’re just silly and unimaginative.

All of this leads to a disappointing, frustratingly predictable third act in which Davanna reveals every nuance of her master plan like a James Bond villain — but the plan is not surprising, funny, clever, scary, or anything else. It’s simply just what anyone in the audience would expect. The writer spends much of the second act having the characters speculate on Davanna’s motives, but he never takes the time to make her behavior mysterious. The fact that it’s more comedic than anything else makes it harder to quantify its story problems, because the writer clearly doesn’t take the story seriously — but because its humor is as painfully cliché-ridden as its attempts at horror, virtually every moment in the script falls flat.

The characters are cartoons. Not a single moment in the script is recognizable as authentic human behavior. It’s not about realism so much as believability — if a character’s behavior is not in any way relatable to the audience, how do they empathize with what’s happening on screen? Marina comes closest to having a little humanity, but mainly because we spend more time with her than any of the others. She just doesn’t seem to do much except talk about what’s happening in the plot. Sure, there’s her anxiety over moving in with Mick, but the writer can’t even be bothered to have Marina react to Mick’s death (at the end of the script, she’s not even aware that he died) much less provide a satisfying resolution to that small character moment.

The supporting characters vary from ridiculous caricatures (particularly Marta and Deutsch) to having no distinguishable personalities (Virginia and Donny). The latter group exists to provide fresh bodies to theoretically raise the stakes, but how can the stakes be raised if Marina doesn’t know that these characters have died — or worse, if the audience doesn’t care that they’ve died? As for the caricatures — well, they’re there to provide nothing more than laughs, but the things they say and do is more bizarre and disquieting than funny.

Bad Luck is too big a mess to be fixed with anything other than major script revisions.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 12:40 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

January 29, 2010

The Chain

Author: Unknown
Genre: Crime/Thriller/Political
Storyline: 6
Dialogue: 7
Characterization: 5
Writer’s Potential: 6

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

In 1999, Nebraska sheriff’s deputy unravels a conspiracy involving illegal immigrants and the meatpacking industry.

Synopsis:

A montage shows “the chain” — cattle going from pastures to dinner plates. The montage focuses on the Cattle King Beef Company and shows mostly Mexican workers in the slaughterhouses. At a diner in Cullom, a small meatpacking town north of Omaha, Deputy RANDALL PALOMO (early 30s, half-Mexican) eats steak and eggs for breakfast. Another deputy, COOPER ANDERSON, shoots the breeze with Randall before leaving to work on his sheriff election campaign. Randall drives through town, where support banners for Cooper are prominent. He meets with KATRINA WELLS, an uptight reporter with a silent attraction to Randall. Randall feeds Katrina files for an investigative report she’s working on. Randall asks about the subject she’s investigating, ENRIQUE ROSALES, but Katrina keeps her mouth shut. Coincidentally, that afternoon Randall pulls over a speeding truck driven by Enrique, a scarred rougneck who speaks no English. He rides with his wife, LOURDES, and their baby, JEZEBEL.

Randall doesn’t speak Spanish, so he can’t communicate with Enrique. Noticing Randall’s nametag, Lourdes speaks to Enrique in English, cooperating fully and providing her own license. Randall asks for Enrique’s papers, but she says he doesn’t have any. She tells him they’re on the way to Mexico, but Randall brings them in, anyway. The sheriff, ENLOW (60s, on the verge of retirement), is not happy to hear that INS won’t spend the time or resources to deport a single illegal. Enlow and Cooper complain about the release of TROY PHILLIPS, a once-wealthy meatpacking kingpin who was imprisoned after a scandal. Randall takes Lourdes and Jezebel to a mansion owned by DARLENE SANTOVILLA (30s, attractive). Haggard, disheveled Troy greets them, to Randall’s surprise and annoyance. Darlene flirts with Randall as she explains Troy is around to finally settle their divorce. She thanks Randall for helping Lourdes and Jezebel. Randall is captivated.

When he returns to the station, Randall is surprised to hear that Enlow is transporting Enrique to the county line. Later, Katrina shows up at Randall’s home, angry that he arrested her contact. The next morning, Randall is called to a murder scene at Troy’s abandoned meatpacking plant. Enrique and Lourdes were both killed and dumped there. Trying to figure out what happened to Jezebel, Randall drives back to Darlene’s mansion. She’s just found out about the murder and had no idea they even left. Randall wonders if there’s any family she could have been left with. Darlene begins crying, so Randall vows to find Jezebel. Pissed off, Katrina returns Randall’s file on Enrique. Randall drives to the nearby INS detention center and asks around about Enrique. He’s given the Rosales’s home address and a “Spanish for Law Enforcement” tape. He drives to the Rosales’s house. Eventually, he finds a recent photograph of Lourdes and ANGELINA, another young Mexican woman. He drives through the Mexican part of town, trying to track this woman down. The citizens are uncooperative. Eventually, he comes upon a daycare center. He asks if anyone knows any of the people in the photo. One child, GUILLERMO (7), announces that Angelina is his mother.

After Angelina picks Guillermo up from daycare, Randall tails her back home (which has been painted with threats and racial slurs), where he finds Jezebel. He uses Guillermo as a translator to explain she’s not in trouble and he’s happy Jezebel is safe. He ask Guillermo if it was Enrique or Lourdes who left the baby. Guillermo says it was vandals. Randall calls Darlene to tell her he found Jezebel. Darlene asks him to pick her up because Troy won’t leave her alone. They go to an upscale bar in Omaha, where Darlene fits in but Randall doesn’t. Randall and Darlene agree not to tell anyone about Angelina having Jezebel — all they’d do is take her away. Randall grills Darlene about Troy. She tells him Troy was turned in by his business partner, WARREN SINCLAIR, who took over after Troy went to prison — but Troy deserved what he got. Meanwhile, Sinclair’s business connections helped Darlene start over running various local charities. On the way back to town, Randall notices they’re being followed. Darlene assumes it’s Troy. Randall decides he wants to have a talk with him. Darlene tells him Troy hangs out at the meatpackers’ bar. Randall goes to the newspaper office and digs through the archives for information about Troy. Later, he goes to the meatpackers’ tavern. It’s filled with sinister illegal immigrants. Randall isn’t intimidated — not even when one of them, on orders from Troy, knocks Randall down and carves a line in his cheek. Randall announces he’s convinced Troy killed Enrique and Lourdes. He also orders Troy to leave Darlene alone.

Randall leaves the bar. He notices he’s being followed again, so he stops and prepares to attack the tail — but it’s Katrina. She’s following him because he’s become part of the story. Randall demands to know what she knew from Enrique. Katrina doesn’t know much, because he was killed before she could talk to him, but she knows Enrique feared Troy and was on Sinclair’s side. Enrique found out Troy was planning to unionize the meatpackers — a violation of his parole — so he killed the Rosales’s to prevent anyone from finding out. Randall returns to Darlene’s mansion. He sees a few immigrants sprint in front of his car as he approaches. Randall chases them, but they run into the guesthouse and locks the door. Randall demands to know who is inside. Darlene’s maid, LUISA, refuses to say. Randall tells Luisa that Darlene is in danger. She tells him Darlene is at Sinclair’s mansion. Randall drops in on a posh party at Sinclair’s. He warns Darlene to be careful. He’s convinced Troy killed Enrique and Lourdes. Sinclair overhears them and involves himself in the conversation. Randall tells them he can’t prove anything yet.

Darlene shows up at Randall’s house unexpectedly. They have a significant conversation about how it feels to have Mexican roots but be raised in the American way — feeling torn between two worlds. They kiss. The next day, Randall has a meeting with Sinclair. Sinclair gives a tour of the factory, showing that things aren’t as grim as they seem on the news. Randall doesn’t quite believe him. Later that day, Randall joins Cooper outside of Troy’s old, junked-out farmhouse. Randall explains his theory that Troy killed the Rosaleses. Although he has no evidence, he thinks he can get Troy to confess. As they approach the farmhouse, someone starts shooting at them. They duck behind the old husk of a burned-out school bus. Cooper starts shooting when he hears rustling in the weeds. He ends up killing Sheriff Enlow. Cooper is devastated, but Randall just wants to figure out why Enlow was there, and why he was shooting at them.

The mayor makes Randall the interim sheriff until the election. Outside, the press is crazy. Katrina manages to pull Randall away from the fray. Randall explains to her what happen, and they try to piece together why it happened. Randall’s best guess is that Enlow was an assassin working for Troy. Katrina warns Randall that Darlene is using him. Randall is annoyed by her jealousy. Darlene invites Randall out to dinner in Omaha, to celebrate his new interim title. Under the circumstances, Randall has a hard time celebrating. Randall tries to talk through the case with Darlene. He speculates that Troy’s vendetta with Sinclair might have to do with her. This incenses her. She finally admits that Troy might be mad because he put everything in her name and ordered her not to spend anything until he got out. Instead, she donated every penny to Sinclair’s charity, and Sinclair hired her to run the foundation. Troy doesn’t believe the money’s gone. She apologizes for her deception, then excuses herself.

Randall tails Troy from the bar to a sleazy motel. Along the way, Troy picks up a woman who looks suspiciously like Darlene. A few hours later, the woman emerges from the motel room, alone. Randall confronts her — but it’s a prostitute, paid to dress like Darlene for Troy’s pleasure. Troy hears the commotion and comes outside. Randall gets Troy to calm down and asks about Enlow and Enrique. Troy gives a heartfelt speech about changing his ways in prison, with the help of a terrifying cellmate obsessed with rehabilitating fellow inmates. Troy promises he’s on the straight and narrow, and he really wanted to unionize the meatpackers to help them. He never knew what Enrique knew, and he doesn’t know how Enlow’s involved. Troy takes Randall to Sinclair’s plant. He bribes one of his illegal friends to let them onto the night shift kill floor — literally a night-and-day difference between it and the day shift. All the USDA inspectors and white employees are gone. It’s a grueling, Jungle-type scenario.

The next day, Randall goes to see Cooper. He tells Cooper that Enlow killed the Rosaleses and Sinclair is involved somehow. If Randall can prove it, Cooper may have a shot at the election. Cooper isn’t too concerned — he has a private security job lined up. Nevertheless, Cooper thinks about it and remembers that Enlow was holding Lourdes’s pager for some reason. Randall speeds away. He looks through the murder evidence and finds the only thing missing is the pager. Randall asks Katrina what would be needed to find a call log for a pager. Katrina says they’d need the pager number, the company that manufactured it, and a warrant. Randall thinks Enlow got rid of Lourdes’s pager because he called them for a “meeting” from a number that would trace back to him but didn’t realize it until it was too late. If he can get the number, it will prove Enlow killed them.

Randall goes to Darlene’s mansion. He demands to see Luisa’s pager. When Luisa goes to get it, Randall sneaks a look at her Rolodex. He finds Lourdes’s pager number and writes it down. Luisa returns with the pager, and Randall makes note of the brand. He also notices the guesthouse suspiciously empty. He goes out to it and bangs on the door, drawing his weapon. Darlene shows up and announces that the well-dressed Mexicans inside are merely friends visiting for a little while. Embarrassed, Randall leaves. He gives the pager information to Katrina, who agrees to track it down when Randall tells her he’ll give her a story that will help her take down Sinclair. Randall tails Darlene to a railyard next to Sinclair’s factory. (Sinclair owns the yard and the many boxcars in it.) Randall watches as Darlene arrives at a boxcar surrounded by goony security guards. They open the doors to one boxcar and begin dragging out dead bodies.

Randall is shocked by what he’s seen, but before he can react, his scell phone begins running. Randall fumbles to turn it off and then runs from the security guards. He hides in some overgrowth, and he discovers Cooper is one of the guards. Cooper holds a gun to Randall’s head, but thinks better of it. Instead, he walks away, leading the guards away from Randall. Later, as Randall tries to find Cooper on more neutral ground, Katrina calls him. She has the number — it matches Enlow’s cell phone. Randall searches Cooper’s patrol car. In it, he finds white paint and a brush. He goes back to Angelina’s house — now abandoned — and matches both to the slurs painted on her house. He eventually tracks Guillermo to a local Mexican restaurateur. Randall shows Guillermo a photo of Cooper and asks if he was the one who dropped of Jezebel. Guillermo says yes. Randall looks for Cooper and finds he’s shot himself. His note says that he didn’t kill anybody.

Randall goes to Darlene’s mansion and handcuffs her. He takes her to Troy’s abandoned plant and threatens to kill her just as the Rosaleses were unless she gives him some answers. Finally, Darlene admits Sinclair hired Enlow. She’s broke and had no option but to do what Sinclair ordered. She refuses to tell him where the bodies are buried. Troy arrives — he’s in on this with Randall. He agrees to hide her in Mexico City. Randall returns to Katrina with a tape recorder of Darlene’s confession. Randall begs a local judge for a warrant to search Sinclair’s railyards. Under old, abandoned boxcars, they find body after body. The FBI raids the killing floor and arrests all the immigrants, who are given amnesty in exchange for testimony in a case against Sinclair. They mayor is enraged that Randall would decimate the town’s economy in one fell swoop, but Randall feels confident he did the right thing.

Comments:

The Chain makes a valiant effort to expose the corruption in the meatpacking industry and illegal immigration. Unfortunately, the combination of outdated information and a somewhat bland central mystery undermine the script’s lofty ambitions. As written, it merits a pass.

The story uses a traditional film noir structure: a lone antihero tugs at a string nobody else has any interest in unraveling, leading from a murder to a massive corporate conspiracy. However, the script puts more emphasis on political grandstanding than on engaging the audience with its various mysteries. The first act does a pretty good job of introducing a wide array of characters, but the plot itself moves from one interrogation scene to the next with surprisingly little energy or suspense.

The second act attempts to intensify a romantic triangle between Randall, Darlene, and Katrina, but it never jells. Randall and Katrina have no chemistry on the page, and the fumbling relationship between Randall and Darlene is, quite simply, nothing new. Similarly, the main plot’s emphasis on small-town corruption, worker exploitation in the meatpacking industry, and the dangers of illegal immigration don’t contribute anything unique or even interesting to the national conversation about these topics. If they expect to lure an audience knowledgeable in these subjects, they’ll come away restless and annoyed. The script is filled with outdated, widely documented information, but the writers don’t even have a point of view about it. Then, rather than upping the stakes for an intense third act, the story pretty much peters out. Everything wraps up in predictable yet unsatisfying ways.

Maybe that’s because the script lacks a compelling lead character. Aside from making Randall half-Mexican, he remains a dull enigma. The writers try to give him some offbeat traits: for no apparent reason, he spends his off-hours sorting through his deceased mother’s possessions, but this adds nothing to either the story or the character. His total ignorance of the Spanish language also rings false — even if he never learned Spanish, living (and especially working in law enforcement) in a town with a sizable Spanish-speaking community makes it seem far-fetched and, frankly, stupid that Randall wouldn’t know basic phrases like “¿Habla inglés?” As mentioned, the writers try to spice things up by involving Randall in a love triangle that falls flat. The fact that Darlene is so obviously deceitful but Randall falls for it hook, line, and sinker only serves to make him seem like an idiot.

The supporting characters don’t fare much better. The script never makes any of these characters more interesting than what they appear to be on the surface. Even when the writers try this, it falls flat. For instance, in Randall’s first meeting with Troy, Troy’s friends hold Randall down to let him beat on him, and Troy willingly allows one of his cronies to carve up Randall’s face. Later on, the audience is expected to believe he made a total reformation in prison and is only trying to help them? By encouraging them to assault and threaten the life of a sheriff’s deputy? More often, though, the writers simply don’t attempt to imbue the characters with anything more than one-dimensional stereotypes, mouthpieces for the writers’ politics rather than seeming to have lives of their owns. This overall lack of personality contributes to the script’s leaden feel.

This script will have a hard time succeeding without significant rewrites.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 6:45 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

The Good Doctor

Author: John Enbom
Genre: Drama/Thriller
Storyline: 7
Dialogue: 8
Characterization: 7
Writer’s Potential: 7

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Consider

Logline:

A lonely first-year resident secretly makes his favorite patient sicker in order to keep her in his care.

Synopsis:

MARTIN PLOECK (27) arrives in Southern California to start his post-medical school residency. Martin is quiet and passive, in stark contract to fellow first-year resident DAN, who’s gregarious and confident. Dan invites Martin to a party, promising the beautiful daughter of a cardiologist will be there. Antisocial Martin skips the party. Martin treats MR. SANCHEZ, a Spanish-speaking patient. Despite Martin’s inability to communicate with Sanchez, Martin fills out his orders based on an admit sheet showing Martin has no known medication allergies. During rounds, WAYLANS chastises Martin for looking only at the symptoms instead of finding out relevant personal information about the patient. Privately, Martin asks Waylans about the likelihood of getting an infectious diseases fellowship. Waylans warns him not to get ahead of himself.

A brusque nurse, THERESA, barks at Martin because she can’t read his sloppy handwriting. Martin arrives at an exam room, where DIANE (18) waits with mother MRS. NIXON and sister VALERIE (22). Diane feels ill but isn’t quite sure why. A nurse tells Martin he’ll have to draw Diane’s blood himself because they’re understaffed. Martin is uncomfortable with the task and the sight of blood, but after a few attempts, he gets it right. Mrs. Nixon is a little unenthusiastic about Martin’s lack of confidence. An orderly, MIKE, pops in to take Diane to her room.

Martin goes to a bar after work and meets Dan and his beautiful new girlfriend, CHRISTINE (the cardiologist’s daughter). Dan is nothing but charm and wit. Martin has nothing to contribute. Martin is able to diagnose Diane’s illness — a severe urinary tract infection. He puts her on antibiotics. Diane is impressed with his knowledge, and he even wins over Mrs. Nixon. When Diane’s obnoxious boyfriend, RICH, shows up for a visit, Martin’s heart sinks a little. Theresa drags Martin out of the room to look at Sanchez, who appears to be having a severe reaction to the prescribed penicillin. Martin is shocked, explaining the admit form specifically stated he had no allergies. Theresa shows him the admit form, which actually notes his penicillin allergy. Martin doesn’t believe this. Theresa files an incident report. Worried, Martin asks Waylans how this will affect his possibility of getting a fellowship. Waylans urges Martin not to worry about it, but he isn’t very reassuring. The next day, Diane is feeling better. Martin is encouraged when he hears her breaking up with Rich over the phone. Martin subtly asks her about the relationship, then charms her with his wit. Martin relaxes, feeling a little more confident — until Theresa pulls him away, again criticizing his sloppy handwriting. He tries to stand up to her, but she is a difficult woman.

Mike sympathizes with Martin’s problems with Theresa. He jokingly suggests that doctors should know all the ways to secretly kill people who get in their way. When Martin returns to Diane, she has overheard the interaction with Theresa and tells Martin he’s a good doctor. The next morning, Waylans looks at Diane’s chart and decides she’s ready to go home. Martin fails to convince him to keep her there for another day. Martin goes to her room to say goodbye, but Diane’s already gone. MR. NIXON, her father, packs the last of her things and asks about the condition. Martin tells him to make sure Diane continues with the course of antibiotics to make sure the infection doesn’t return. Mr. Nixon tells Martin that Diane took a shine to him and invites him to dinner. Martin accepts. Mike brings Martin his next patient, a disoriented but voluptuous woman. Mike feels like he’s found a kindred spirit when he spots Martin glancing at her breasts.

Martin goes to dinner at the Nixons. He’s annoyed that Diane isn’t there — she went out with Rich, with whom she got back together. Valerie flirts with Martin intensely. The family is a little gregarious and obnoxious. Eventually, Martin excuses himself to use the restroom. On his way, he sneaks into Diane’s room and steals a photo of her. In the bathroom, he calls his own pager and uses this as an excuse to leave the dinner. The Nixons understand. That night, Martin goes to the bar. Through the window outside, sees Dan laughing with Christine and notices Theresa is one of the gang, so he decides to go home alone. He puts the stolen photo of Diane into a frame.

Waylans has a discussion with Martin about his lack of confidence with the patients. Martin explains that he really wants to be a doctor, but it’s taking him time to learn, and people like Theresa aren’t helping. Waylans understands to some extent. Valerie calls Martin to tell him that he left his jacket at the Nixons. Martin contemplates his loneliness and alienation and comes to a decision. He returns to the Nixons’ house to pick up his jacket and asks to use the bathroom. Inside the bathroom, he quickly replaces the medicine in Diane’s capsules with innocuous lactose powder. Before long, Diane is back in the hospital, her infection acting up. Martin is pleased to see her again. Martin is rushed to Sanchez’s room, because he’s presenting with new symptoms. Martin realizes he was never suffering an allergic reaction to penicillin — it was a result of improperly administered antibiotics. He shows the findings to Waylans, pleased that he’s finally beat Theresa at her own game. Martin flirts with Diane and tells her they’ve put her on stronger antibiotics to fight what is evidently a more severe strain of infection. While Diane sleeps, Martin secretly replaces her medication IV with generic saline.

Later, nurse MARYANNE apologizes for screwing up Sanchez’s medication. Martin feels horrible for getting her in trouble — he was after Theresa. Before long, Maryanne is fired. Martin’s confidence improves as he consults with Waylan about tests and courses of treatment for Diane. He impresses Waylan. One night, while Martin’s in the supply room scrounging for more saline, Mike barges in with the drugged-out voluptuous woman, intending to have sex with her in the supply room. Mike realizes Martin is up to something, too, so Martin agrees to look past this indiscretion. Diane is very trusting and admiring of Martin’s abilities — this, too, improves his confidence. When Rich shows up at the hospital, Martin instructs him not to see her. Waylans brings in a specialist to consult with Diane’s case. He gives Martin tips on impressing the specialist, who is on the fellowship committee. Diane ends up going into surgery. Martin stays by her side the whole time, which makes Mike suspicious something’s going on between them.

While Diane is unconscious, Martin awkwardly kisses her. He drains her antibiotics once more, promising himself he’ll only do this for one more day, but the guilt catches up with him. He decides to replace the saline with real antibiotics, but Theresa enters Diane’s room and won’t leave. He keeps watch but ends up falling asleep. When he wakes, it’s too late — she’s been rushed to the emergency room, where she ends up dying. Racked with guilt and sadness, Martin goes home. The following day, Theresa surprises Martin with compassion and sympathy. Waylans asks Martin routine questions to ensure his emotional response to his first patient death is reasonably healthy. When he’s satisfied, Waylans dismisses Martin. Later, Mr. Nixon barges into the hospital, accusing Martin of killing his daughter. Waylans comes to Martin’s defense.

Martin is surprised that this death becomes a boon to his career — the specialist wants Martin to assist with a study of this particular infection, which will look great on a fellowship application; Dan introduces him to Christine’s beautiful cousin; and he’s bonded with Waylans and Theresa, who now consider him a “real” doctor. Then, Mike decides to blackmail Martin. He’s found a diary Diane kept, which apparently chronicles a fantasy sexual relationship between Martin and Diane. In exchange for silence, Mike demands prescription painkillers. Martin has trouble getting them. At first, he only gives Mike a few. Mike keeps threatening that he’ll hang on to the journal and use Martin as his personal pharmacy forever. Martin requests some volatile stomach medication, which he paints to look like Percodan. He hands these over to Mike, but the plan seems to backfire when Mike pops them right in front of Martin. They affect him rapidly. Aware of what Martin has done, Mike tries to take him down with him. To the rest of the hospital, it looks like Martin was trying like hell to save him.

Waylans tells Martin most of the staff suspected Mike was a drug user — this time, he got ahold of a bad batch. Martin rummages through Mike’s things and finds where he hid the diary. He takes it back to his apartment, where he’s in the midst of reading it when the police show up to ask follow-up questions. Guilty, fidgety, and stammering all over himself, Martin all but confesses to a death they don’t even suspect was a murder. Knowing things aren’t going well, Martin grabs the journal and scrambles into his room, very suspiciously. The police beat on the door, and Martin contemplates escaping through his bedroom window. Instead, he flushes the incriminating diary pages down the toilet and claims he got an emergency page and needed some documents. The police seem okay with this explanation. Martin gets together with Christine’s cousin. Some time later, he introduces himself to another patient — another teenage girl. She asks if his tests will hurt. Martin tells her not to worry — he’s getting better at this every day.

Comments:

The Good Doctor is a well-written but bleak character study of a lonely doctor who makes a lot of bad choices for complex reasons. Although the reasons for his deplorable actions are made abundantly clear, the unpleasantness of the protagonist is still a big hurdle to overcome with audiences. As written, it merits a consider.

It’s not easy to sympathize with anything Martin does throughout the story. He’s simply not a sympathetic character, a fact that the writer seems to embrace the majority of the time. The script does contain a few scenes to elicit sympathy for him, however, and these scenes ring false every time. What the writer does well, however, is making Martin’s bad behavior understandable to the audience. The toxic combination of loneliness, ambition, and insecurity make him into a compelling, if repugnant, character. Audiences may relate to his psychological turmoil, even if they don’t agree with the choices he makes. They will not feel sorry for him, though.

The supporting characters are a mixed bag. Each member of the Nixon family, including the teenage son who appears in only one scene, is fully realized and interesting. The hospital staff, on the other hand, relies a little too much on stereotypes. Dan the cocky stud whom Martin envies, Waylans the ineffectual bureaucrat, Theresa the shrew — not much that hasn’t been seen in other medical movies. Similarly, Mike, the blackmailing drug addict patient rapist, is a little too over-the-top in his bad deeds. This serves to make Martin’s murder of him seem more justified (even though it’s not), but it mainly makes Mike look like a far-fetched cliché than a real person.

This story is pretty solid, with a few exceptions. The first act does a nice job of setting the deliberate pace and melancholic tone. It takes its time in establishing quiet Martin’s desires, but it all pays off well in the second and third acts. Once Martin has made the decision to secretly make Diane sick to cure his pathetic loneliness (and build his confidence), the writer does a nice job of gradually increasing the suspense the farther Martin pushes his secret agenda. By this point, Martin’s occasional wistful gazes at the other doctors performing competently or having fun with their girlfriends are unnecessary, but the writer continues to add these moments in a vain attempt to make the audience feel sorry for him.

The third act pays off without feeling like too much of a cheat. The writer does a nice job of showing the misguided trust the doctors put into each other, and the police put into the doctors. Mike’s blackmail and subsequent murder might be a little too neat and tidy, but the writer’s portrayal of Martin’s guilt is effective. Only the final scene is a letdown — after Martin spends the third act wracked with guilt, the life he was so desperate for (success, fellowship, pretty girlfriend) falls into his lap, yet he’s going to continue doing horrible things to patients? It’s a creepy “fade to black” moment, but it doesn’t make any sense.

Despite the misgivings, a strong actor and/or big star in the role of Martin will ensure some sort of success. Martin is an extremely well-written character. Perhaps a competent supporting cast can also elevate the supporting roles beyond stereotypes.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 3:52 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

January 30, 2010

Zebras

Author: David Williamson
Genre: Docudrama/Sports
Storyline: 6
Dialogue: 7
Characterization: 6
Writer’s Potential: 7

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

In the early 1980s, a rebellious South African record producer coaches a mixed-race soccer team in an effort to fight apartheid racism.

Synopsis:

Amid a protest/funeral procession in a segregated rural township near Johannesburg, a group of 12-year-olds play soccer in the dusty streets. They include star athlete BRILLIANCE, religious CHRIS, clown PERCY, tiny SIPHO, and nerdy SERAMI. Not surprisingly, Brilliance is by far the most talented of the group. Afrikaner militants come to stop the funeral procession. Defiantly, the kids start kicking their soccer ball back and forth over the tank. Enraged, one of the officers shoots it. In downtown Johannesburg, PAUL KRIGE (20s, an English South African) interviews with STAVROS for a position at his record label. He impresses Stavros with his knowledge of rock, so he’s hired. He makes awkward introductions with the rest of the staff: ANNETTE, an attractive and sophisticated Afrikaner; and blacks PETE and ZOBO. Paul is crippled by prejudice against both Dutch-descended Afrikaners and blacks. Pete and Zobo let it roll off their backs, but Annette immediately dislikes Paul — both because of his English background and his love for rock music (she’s the manager of the label’s classical artists).

Paul tries to sell the music Stavros produces to various record stores. It’s easy to sell, but Paul finds the music cloying and terrible. He asks Pete and Zobo if they know of any better talent. When they argue no white bands are good, Paul asks them to find some black groups that are better. Paul coaches a group of young Afrikaners in soccer while Pete and Zobo look on. They’re both impressed with Paul’s skills. Paul wonders why they’ve followed him. They want to take him to hear new music. In the car, the trio crack racial jokes to relieve the tension. Pete and Zobo take Paul into Soweto, their segregated township. Paul is terrified of the dangers a white man would face in such a place. Pete and Zobo introduce Paul to some of their musician friends. He’s amazed by their talent — and even more amazed by Pete and Zobo’s talent. Pete is an extremely talented musician and producer, and Zobo is a great recording engineer. Outside, Paul sees the kids — including Zobo’s son, Brilliance, and Pete’s son, NEIL — playing soccer. He’s impressed, especially by Brilliance. Brilliance performs a special move he calls “Tsamya,” a risky move that pays off against his less talented friends. The fun is broken up by ARCHIE, a township radical who’s enraged at the sight of a white coaching his children (his son is Serami). Zobo stands up for Paul, but Archie sends Serami home. Paul brings the recording to Stavros. Annette insists on listening, to Paul’s annoyance. She naturally hates it — and so does Stavros. He doesn’t understand why anyone, even the blacks, would buy such music.

Paul quits and founds his own label with Pete and Zobo. His mother, STORM, is livid that his son intends to make a living making and selling “black music.” Some time later, a radio DJ tells Zobo he can’t play their music because the government says the lyrics have secret communist messages. He and the others are infuriated. They try to sell tapes on street corners in Soweto, but they don’t sell any until they slash the prices to a loss. One day, while training at his soccer club, Paul is surprised to see Pete and Neil. Pete saw an ad for under-13 soccer players. When Paul starts to protest, Pete points out that the government recently changed the segregation laws — mixed-race teams can play together. Paul tries to convince others at the club to let Neil play, but they refuse. At work, Zobo complains about the racism. Brilliance rushes in with yet another deflated soccer ball — a result of them practicing on a gravel field. Paul gets an idea. He brings the group of black kids to work with the E team, the worst players at the club. The whites don’t have a complete team, so Paul pads their numbers with the blacks. The others complain that Paul will lose focus from the senior teams he coaches, but Paul is insistent that he can coach these boys into a winning team.

It’s an uphill battle. The black and white teammates don’t get along, especially when Brilliance is made team captain. The whites make the excuses that their parents won’t let them play. Paul consults with the parents. Even though they clearly aren’t happy about it, they want to appear liberal, so they allow their kids to play on the team. This doesn’t make the kids any happier, however. The kids won’t work as a team. Paul has to convince them to stop arguing and work together. At a fancy restaurant, Paul spots Annette with her fiancé, JANSIE. They flirt with each other, to Jansie’s irritation. At the next practice, Archie shows up with a group of other radical activists, all pissed about this arrangement. Archie takes the kids and leaves. Paul forces Zobo to drive him into Soweto, where he confronts Archie. It takes some effort, but Paul makes Archie see that this arrangement is a positive step in uniting South Africa. When Archie returns the kids, he sees that they don’t get along with the whites. Similarly, he doesn’t get along with HANSIE, the father of one of the white kids (TOM).

Meanwhile, CHRISTIAN (Annette’s wealthy, well-connected father) conspires with another soccer coach, STANLEY, to stop this team. Stanley forms a plan. Some time later, he confronts Paul in front of his team, challenging his kids to play the A team. Paul ups the stakes: if they win, they become the new A team. When the A team’s coach asks for a team name, a sarcastic kid from the A team yells, “The Zebras,” because they’re half-black, half-white. Despite the hostility, the teammates actually like the name. Paul rallies the kids and puts inexperienced Neil in the goalie position. They play against the A team and win, narrowly. Stanley is stunned. This interracial group is now the A team. Paul sends Annette a tape of his latest release, suggesting she use the band at her wedding. Annette is surprised that she sort of likes the music. She mails him a Schubert record. The Zebras battle St. Martins, but they’re down two goals and the team starts to unravel when a ref unfairly calls a foul. They end up losing the game. Stanley wants Paul to give up the A team title, but Paul argues they can’t do this after one game. At the next practice, he tries to bring the kids together yet again, but it’s not working. Archie demands that each black boy partner up with a white boy and talk until they find some common ground. Paul insists Archie and Hansie do the same. They all manage to connect to each other in surprising ways, and suddenly the team starts to jell.

At the next game, the Zebras tie because Neil is skittish when the ball flies at him. Paul works one-on-one with Neil, helping him calm himself and take the hits. A montage shows the Zebras continue to play, undefeated. Annette surprises Paul at work. She’s dumped her fiancé. Zobo warns Paul about going after Christian Kruger’s daughter. Paul doesn’t listen — he starts dating her, to the annoyance of her parents. The Zebras play St. Martins — the champion team — again. Brilliance performs his “Tsamya” move and scores a goal. Enraged, Paul orders Brilliance never to make the move again. Brilliance takes himself out of the game and quits the team. They lose, 4-1. Annette takes Paul to a fundraiser hosted by Christian. Paul is not happy to hear the hypocritical rich talk about helping the blacks financially in the same breath they talk about the importance of segregating them. He offends Christian and storms out of the fundraiser. Christian talks with JOHANNES, the head of BOSS — the Afrikaner secret police — about Paul.

Paul begs Brilliance to return to the team. Zobo figures out a compromise: Brilliance can do Tsamyas only when the Zebras are far enough ahead that it won’t matter if he fails. Paul refuses, so Brilliance stays away. Reluctantly, Annette breaks up with Paul. As soon as she leaves, she’s mugged by a couple of young blacks. Paul comes to her rescue. He asks her for one more chance, to show her what he’s actually doing. He takes her to a practice, where she’s surprised to see how normal and apolitical it is — just kids playing a game. She realizes she’s fallen in love. Angry that the Zebras keep winning, even without Brilliance, Christian goes to Johannes and orders him to bankrupt Paul’s label. Johannes pays Stavros to poach Paul’s clients. After a game, Paul drives the white players and Annette into Soweto. She’s horrified to see, for the first time, how the blacks are forced to live. The younger kids don’t quite understand it. Archie is enraged to hear Christian Kruger’s daughter is poking around. He verbally abuses her until Paul takes her home. When Paul takes Archie’s side, Annette breaks up with him.

Paul finds out that most of his clients are leaving. The label is wrecked. Paul is shocked to learn they’re going to Stavros, who hates this sort of music. He realizes something’s wrong. Christian decides to have the Zebras play St. Martins before a black soccer championship, to humiliate the team in front of tens of thousands of blacks, thus reducing support for the political movement rising because of this team. Serami takes part in a protest, resulting in the police beating him badly. He can’t play. On his way to visit Serami, the police pull Paul over, take him to their headquarters, and beat him nearly to death. Annette comes back to him, angry that her father could support a government that would do this. When Paul is released from the hospital, he quits coaching the team. To his surprise, Storm shows up at the label offices. She reminds him of a pair of bullies that kept taunting him, until he finally stood up for himself. This energizes Paul. He returns to the team, begs Brilliance to return as well, and brings the Zebras to the Ellis Park stadium. During the first half, the Zebras don’t do well because St. Martins cheats (they have a ref in their pocket, and they’re using kids older than 13). Annette humiliates Christian by rooting for the Zebras. During halftime, Paul strategizes for the second half, but the police drag him off. He can’t finish his thoughts. The police hold him until the second half starts. Despite these tactics, the Zebras end up winning — once Paul, on the sidelines, orders Brilliance to do a “Tsamya.”

Closing title cards describe the aftermath: Paul became a marked man after the game and fled to Australia, where he became a high-level record executive; Pete and Zobo continued the Sounds of Soweto label, which flourished; the kids all led successful lives.

Comments:

Zebras is a sort of small-scale version of Invictus, telling the true story of a soccer team that attempted to unite South Africa. While it’s interesting and different enough from Invictus to avoid seeming derivative, the writer takes on so many characters and so much story, the script loses sight of the human drama of a deeply divided soccer team. As written, it merits a pass.

The first act does a nice job of establishing Paul, Annette, and the black characters. It also does a reasonably good job of balancing Paul’s personal and professional life with the foundation of the Zebras. However, the script breezes a little too quickly through Paul’s transformation from typically prejudiced white South African to champion of equal rights for all. The second act tries to balance the soccer action with Paul’s budding relationship with Annette and the increasingly intense politics of the region. This is where the script begins to lose focus. The kids and the team are never as interesting as they could be because the writer spends a great deal of time reminding audiences that apartheid was wrong. It’s not that this shouldn’t be dramatized — just not at the expense of getting a better understanding of the characters, there desires, and more interesting conflicts among the teammates.

The rousing championship game in the third act does a lot to make up for the earlier story problems, but their win comes a little too quickly in the second half of the game. Paul making such a big deal about Brilliance’s “Tsamya” moves earlier in the script makes it too obvious that it’ll be the thing to save the day. More than that, though, the writer never makes it clear why Paul is so opposed to the move. It’s a major source of conflict in the script, so it’s a little infuriating that it goes unexplained. While it ends on a positive note, the closing title cards hint at a darker truth — Paul has to flee the country for standing up and winning. While that’s not exactly the stuff of happy endings, it would have been interesting to see that dramatized rather than relegated to a “Where are they now?” title.

To his credit, the writer gives a lot of background information on many of the characters. Although Paul has a lot of depth and nuance, one aspect of his personality remains a frustrating mystery throughout. The writer makes a point of showing that Paul is not a political man, but he doesn’t make it clear whether or not Paul understands that his decisions have political ramifications or not — whether politics motivate him or not, he’s sometimes portrayed as reckless and irresponsible for dragging kids into something he should know will lead to danger for all of them. His relationship with Annette should be the key to understanding his real feelings and motives, but instead they just argue about the politics that are supposedly not driving him.

The black supporting characters are universally well-written and interesting, even though the writer doesn’t focus on the team’s interpersonal conflicts nearly enough. As a result, the white players on the team get the short shrift — we don’t know much about them beyond their names. One plays the violin, and one’s an Afrikaner (apparently rare for South African soccer), but the writer doesn’t develop them nearly as much as the black players. In much the same way, Christian and his wealthy/politically connected friends are portrayed as irredeemably evil. If the writer had given as much nuance and complexity to these characters as he did to the black characters, this script might have turned out a little more complex and surprising.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 7:20 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

January 31, 2010

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Author: Mel Gibson
Genre: Crime/Action/Comedy
Storyline: 7
Dialogue: 7
Characterization: 8
Writer’s Potential: 8

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Logline:

Amid the chaos and corruption of a Mexican prison, an American criminal bonds with a Mexican boy.

Synopsis:

After a reckless chase along the U.S.-Mexico border, a pair of bank robbers flip their car at a high speed against a wall dividing the two countries. A Mexican cop, VAZQUEZ, faces off against an American cop over who has jurisdiction. Eventually, the American gives up and lets Vazquez take them. The car’s DRIVER and his partner (who wears a smiling clown mask) are interrogated by Vazquez and one of his four partners, LUIS. Driver refuses to give up any information about himself, and they can’t find anything on him since he’s had his fingerprints removed. During the interrogation, Driver’s wounded partner dies. Driver is sent to a “classification cell” in El Pueblito, a vast prison in Tijuana. In this large cell, LACRAS (soldiers of the prison’s “self-government”) corral the new inmates while the PRISON DIRECTOR strongly hints that the prison experience will go a lot better if the inmates bribe officials. Driver watches the lacras humiliate and beat other inmates for their shoes. Driver is ready for them, and he beats the lacras — led by CARLOS — pretty well before they gang up on him. That night, the newcomers are dragged out of the classification cell and into a crowded courtyard that looks reminiscent of a village square: people take water from a huge well in the center, kiosks selling food and merchandise have been erected, etc.

The prison buildings are laid out in a complex, labyrinthine structure, making the place seem small when, in reality, it’s quite large. Driver is led to a cellblock, which he moves through in an attempt to find a place to sleep. The place is jam-packed with prisoners. He ends up going back into the courtyard to try to find a spot, when he sees Carlos enter a small building. Driver follows Carlos into a bathroom. He knocks Carlos unconscious, takes his gun, money, and watch. Driver hides the gun on a light fixture hanging from the ceiling. Back in the courtyard, Driver tries to find a place to sleep. He spots a doctor shooting inmates with heroin. Driver finally finds an empty place along the wall, next to a filthy man with bad gas. The next morning, lacras wander the grounds, waking inmates. Driver heads to the main square, which is like a full town: taco stands, fruit stands, clothing, shoe repair, churches, a soccer field, shack-like apartments. Driver notices full families, including young children, living in this place. Some of the mothers take their children to the gates exiting the prison, and the children are allowed out. Driver doesn’t understand why.

Driver is assigned a job by one of the lacras he beat up. As a result, he gets garbage duty. He’s led through a huge maze of dusty streets to an enormous garbage dump. Midday, a nurse shows up with a bunch of lacras. They pin Driver to the ground (he fights the whole way) while she draws blood. Driver is baffled. Driver returns to the main square, where he spots Carlos and CARNAL collecting rent from the apartment-dwellers. Another man, CARACAS, commands fear and respect as he moves through the square. He joins Carnal and Carlos. Driver makes a note that Carnal makes no move to give the rent money to Caracas. Caracas’s cell phone rings. The call is coming from a man observing the square from a balcony — JAVI. Before Driver can watch more, a guard announces he has a visitor. The visitor, known only as EMBASSY GUY, is a fat and corrupt agent of the U.S. embassy. He tries to get some information out of Driver, who won’t talk. Nevertheless, Embassy Guy doesn’t believe the official report — that Driver was caught trying to bring a car full of valium into the U.S. The lack of fingerprints tell Embassy Guy that Driver is a career criminal who wouldn’t waste his time on something so small-time. Embassy Guy demands a monthly fee in exchange for protecting Driver’s life while he’s in prison. Driver realizes if he wants to get out, he’s going to need money. While nobody’s looking, Driver steals lighter fluid from the taco stand, then douses it and throws a lit cigarette at it. While everyone’s distracted, Driver steals the money from the doctor’s heroin shack and takes it to El Pueblito’s “7-Eleven” — a surprisingly well-stocked convenience store. There, Driver sees THE KID, a 9-year-old buying a Coke. The Kid spots him, too — buying cigarettes.

Outside, The Kid sneaks up on Driver and asks for a cigarette. Driver refuses, until The Kid coolly extorts him by implying he knows Driver burned the taco stand and stole the doctor’s money. Driver hands the cigarette over. Driver asks why so many families are here; The Kid says those with money can bring their families to stay with them. Driver wonders why The Kid doesn’t go to school with the other kids. The Kid says he’s “special,” so he can’t leave the prison. Before he can explain the comment, The Kid’s MOM appears, enraged to find The Kid smoking. She storms away with the kid. Later, Driver watches Carnal and Carlos evict a woman. He approaches Carnal, asking for a place to stay. With the amount of money he has, Driver can’t get much more than a coffin-sized private room — but it’s better than outside. That night, Driver buys his way into the bathroom and showers for the first time since his arrival. It’s a nice, peaceful feeling. Outside, Driver watches the hookers and junkies wandering the square. He discovers an elaborated, gated-off VIP section of the prison, where inmates live in the equivalent of suburban homes and enjoy a fancy-dress outdoor casino. Driver sees Mom inside. She sees him staring and comes to the other side of the gate, where she punches Driver out. The Kid watches this. Mom is angry that he’s out at night.

The next day, Driver talks to The Kid about escape. He thinks it looks easy, considering they let family members in and out all day. The Kid explains it’s more complicated than that. He says that even Javi, whose corruption runs the prison, has to come back if he leaves. The Kid mutters that he’ll kill Javi someday, but he won’t explain why. While they watch, The Kid explains everything: Caracas is Javi’s brother, Carnal is their cousin, and they’re all in it together. Driver asks about them drawing blood. The Kid won’t talk about it. Embassy Guy meets Vazquez and a partner, ROMERO, at a nightclub. He shows them a newspaper showing that Luis was tortured and killed. He thinks this has something to do with them arresting Driver and offers help — for a price. Vazquez sends him away. At night, Carnal comes to The Kid’s house and forces Mom to visit Javi. She unhappily leaves.

The next day is Sunday, family visiting day. The place is more packed than usual, and makeshift conjugal visit tents have been erected for the event. Driver sees The Kid staring bitterly at Javi across the square. Driver asks how The Kid plans to kill him. When The Kid tells him he’ll stab him in the stomach, Driver explains why that’s a bad plan. The Kid realizes Driver isn’t kidding around. The Kid explains that he and Javi share an extremely rare blood type — also shared by The Kid’s father, whom Javi killed two years ago to replace his liver. He wants The Kid around in case he needs another replacement. This is why they test the blood of new inmates, but so far, nobody has come up a match except The Kid. Heartened by The Kid’s opening up, Driver explains that his first stint in prison (at age 14) was the result of trying to kill his father. He urges The Kid to do it right if he’s going to kill Javi. They need a plan, so Driver decides they need to keep watching and figuring things out. The Kid eavesdrops on Javi and Caracas and learns neither of them trust Carnal, who is stealing from them. Seeing the bond forming between Driver and The Kid, Mom softens to Driver. Driver is taken to see more visitors — Vazquez and Romero. They sarcastically thank him for his “financial contribution” to their families (they took the money from the bank heist). They ask where Driver got the money, because they fear somebody might be looking for it. Driver refuses to tell them. Instead, he tells them to stop spending the money, hide it, and lay low, so that when he gets out and kills them, he’ll have something left to retire on. The cops aren’t amused.

Driver comes up with a plan to steal Carnal’s wad of rent money. He gives Carlos’s watch to The Kid to distract Carlos. When Carnal is alone, Driver picks his pocket while he crosses the crowded square. Later, Driver and Mom bond over their respective bad relationships. She explains that she and her husband were drug dealers. Driver gripes that his wife left him for a business associate, “Reginald T. Barnes,” who screwed Driver over and sent him to prison. It’s Driver’s dream to kill Barnes. Caracas comes to Carnal to collect the rent money. When Carnal insists he was robbed, Caracas is enraged. Carlos realizes Carnal must have been robbed when he saw The Kid with his watch. They know Driver, who’s been spending a lot of time with The Kid, must be behind the robbery. Embassy Guy shows up at the Tijuana impound lot and finds four American hitmen searching the car. He offers to send them to Driver if they pay him enough.

Carnal and Carlos burst into The Kid’s house, angry about the stolen money. They knock The Kid out and Carnal rapes Mom. Carlos goes outside and finds Driver. When he starts shooting, Driver runs into the bathroom, grabs the gun from the light fixture, and kills Carlos. Meanwhile, Caracas bursts into The Kid’s house and is shocked by what Carnal has done. He beats the hell out of Carnal. Driver bursts in and kills Carnal just before he can knock out Carnal with a frying pan. Javi has his lacras beat the hell out of Driver and take him to a private dungeon. Caracas tells Javi they should kill Driver. Javi goes to talk to Driver, who is impressed by how much Driver has learned (he mentions the liver) and his brazen attitude toward Javi’s own relatives. Embassy Guy visits Driver, wanting his payoff. Driver does pay him, and Embassy Guy lets slip that hitmen are after him. Driver realizes he needs to do something to get his money.

Driver tells Caracas about the money Vazquez and Romero recovered after his arrest and tells them he stole it from a gangster in San Diego. Meanwhile, the hitmen have found Vazquez and Romero and torture them. The duo only recovered half the stolen money — there’s still $2 million unaccounted for. The hitmen cut off toes to encourage the men to talk, but they sincerely don’t know about additional money. FRANK, a mobster-type, calls the hitmen’s computer through Skype and orders the cops to tell him what happened to Driver. They say he’s in El Pueblito, but he had no ID or fingerprints. Frank orders his men to go after Driver in the prison. Caracas and Javi discuss the problem with Driver. Embassy Guy meets with the hitmen outside the prison, with Driver’s file. Inside, Embassy Guy makes sure the lacras know exactly where the Americans are coming from. They set up snipers in a watchtower.

The Americans and lacras go toe to toe in the main square, shooting other inmates in the process. The Kid and Mom are in the fray. When Driver spots this, he goes after them and makes sure they’re hidden under cover. He starts shooting at the Americans. After a long shootout involving the casual tossing of grenades, the Americans are eventually killed (as are many lacras). Javi and Caracas decide to let Driver out. He’ll recover all the money — taking only a small cut — if they let him out to kill Frank. They agree. A prison printing press makes Driver a fake driver’s license. Javi calls two hitmen of his own to take out Driver after he takes out Frank. Javi and Caracas supply Driver with a car, weapons, and expenses. After Driver leaves, the Prison Director tells Javi that the government is shutting down the prison, and they intend to send a small army to ensure that the prison stays shut down. Javi doesn’t want to risk losing The Kid, so he decides to have the transplant done before they shut down the prison.

In California, Driver spots Javi’s hitmen following him. At a gas station, he tampers with their car, forcing them to stall a few miles up the road. Driver sets up a sniper perch and takes them both out as they check the engine. Driver continues on his way. Meanwhile, Mom realizes something’s happening. She brings The Kid to a friend’s home, and they hide him in a hole in the closet. Javi ties Mom to a chair and tortures her, but she won’t talk. Angered, The Kid reappears in the doorway and pokes himself in the side, trying to destroy the liver before they can take it. Imitating Sean Connery, Driver makes a phone call to STEVE JOBS and requests a meeting. Jobs agrees and sets it up. Driver then calls Frank’s LAWYER, imitating Jobs, and requests a meeting with Frank, strongly implying he wants to get in the coke-dealing business. Lawyer discusses this with Frank, who agrees to set up the meeting.

Driver shows up at Apple Computer’s headquarters, pretending to be Sean Connery’s assistant, “Reginald T. Barnes.” He carries an umbrella despite the sunny day. Driver is cordial to Jobs shortly before tying him up and putting him the bathroom of his private office. When Frank, Lawyer, and Frank’s BODYGUARD arrive, Driver pretends to be Jobs’s assistant. While pretending to make drinks for them, he throws a grenade at them and hides in the bathroom. All three are killed. The concussion sets off the fire sprinklers. Driver opens his umbrella and walks calmly out of the office. The doctor rushes The Kid to the operating room. He stabilizes him and realizes The Kid missed his heart. The doctor says, at the earliest, they can operate the following morning. Driver returns to Tijuana, where Embassy Guy is traumatizing two teenage prostitutes by forcing them to eat chiles dipped in hot sauce. After Driver finds out where his car is being held (and learns about the raid on the prison), he has the girls tie up Embassy Guy and slather some hot sauce in his nose.

Driver returns to the prison, using Embassy Guy’s credentials to get inside amid the chaos of federal soldiers rounding up as many inmates as possible while the lacras shoot back. Using the backdrop as a distraction, Driver manages to sneak into the VIP section. He holds a gun on the doctor until he puts The Kid’s liver back. Caracas bursts in. Driver threatens to kill Javi if he doesn’t bring Mom to him. Per Javi’s request, an ambulance shows up to transport him to the new prison. Caracas returns with Mom. Driver shoots him in the head, then shoots Javi. Mom shoots the doctor. They take the medics’ clothes and rush The Kid to the ambulance, which takes them out of the prison quickly. Some time later, the patched-up Driver, Mom, and The Kid go to a Tijuana junkyard. Driver’s car has been stripped for parts, but the spare tire is rusted onto the trunk. With considerable effort, Driver breaks it free — and finds the other $2 million. Meanwhile, hitmen burst into Driver’s EX-WIFE’s house and kill REGINALD T. BARNES in front of her.

Driver, Mom, and The Kid relax on a Mexican beach.

Comments:

How I Spent My Summer Vacation is an offbeat action script that’s frequently entertaining and engaging. However, its third act takes the story completely off the rails in a way that’s still entertaining, without making any actual narrative sense. As written, it merits a consider.

The first act is very strong, introducing Driver and the world of the prison with meticulous detail and surprisingly little dialogue. Although Driver spends much of the first act merely snooping around the prison, he remains an active, engaging character — a smart guy doing his homework before he really takes action. The second act continues solidly enough, deftly balancing a number of subplots — the corruption within the prison, the importance of The Kid’s liver, and Embassy Guy playing everyone against each other in his pursuit of compensation — as Driver’s frustration with the prison and the people in it mounts.

It’s when Driver leaves the prison in the third act that the story goes a little insane. The writer introduces Frank and turns him into an important villain within a few pages. This is followed with a truly ridiculous (and tonally jarring) scheme to kill him by taking advantage of Apple CEO Steve Jobs. The first two acts have their moments of levity, but overall, it’s a mostly tragic examination of a Mexican prison gone awry. Driver does eventually deliver justice to those who ruined the place (and made The Kid and Mom’s lives a living hell), but everything that happens when Driver leaves the prison feels like an unnecessary, weird-for-weird’s-sake distraction rather than a natural narrative progression. As a result, the writer breezes past the final confrontation with two villains we’ve grown to hate (Javi and Caracas). The ending is satisfying enough, but the loss of focus in the third is as frustrating as it is mind-boggling.

The characters are pretty solid. The writer does a great job of revealing the characters through their actions more than their words, and he builds a vast, nuanced world within this crazy prison. Whether it’s realistic or not makes little difference; the writer manages to make everyone and everything (up until the third act) feel real with impressive verisimilitude. Driver, in particular, is very well-written: a quiet, steely-eyed antihero who manages to stay interesting instead of being tedious.

Driver’s bond with The Kid and subdued relationship with Mom are also handled well. The Kid’s youthful angst is effectively disheartening, but it never goes over-the-top. Mom isn’t quite as fully developed, but the writer wisely eschews a stereotypical romance with Driver. An attraction is there, but it doesn’t go too far too quickly. The villains within the prison are also pretty interesting — pragmatic, violent businessmen who nonetheless have a strange code of honor. They’re not good people, but they’re also not cartoonishly evil, which makes them a little bit more frightening. Even Embassy Guy, the character who comes closest to being a full-on stereotype, manages to let his greed take his character to interesting, unexpected places.

Only Frank stands alone as a poorly defined, never-interesting character who serves little purpose beyond dying. As mentioned earlier, the writer puts an amazing amount of emphasis on this death, which causes the third act to feel rushed and unfocused. Other than his role as the guy Driver stole the money from, he serves no story purpose whatsoever. The writer could easily remove Frank and the hitmen chasing Driver and have a tighter, more focused script.

Despite the problems, the script is still engaging, offbeat, and action-packed. It’s possible that a great actor playing Driver can help smooth over the unfocused third act.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 11:59 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

January 12, 2010

Script Review: The Book of Eli by Gary Whitta and Anthony Peckham

[In lieu of actual content, for the next several weeks I will present, at least, one review of an upcoming film each week. These are scripts that I’ve been paid money to read, and many of them contain watermarking, identification numbers, password-protection, and other ways of tracking what company it was sent to; because of this and my desire to keep my job, I will not offer downloads for ANY of the scripts I review here. Don’t bother asking.]

The Book of Eli tells a pretty straightforward western story: one taciturn man shows up in a town controlled by a power-hungry madman. Captain Taciturn (hereafter known as Eli) has something the madman wants, and the madman is confounded when Eli won’t give it up immediately. He’s not used to a fight, but a fight is exactly what Eli intends to give him. Does any of this sound familiar?

The amazing thing about The Book of Eli is that it uses genre tropes so damn effectively. It paints a startling, “a few years after The Day After” nightmare world, but aside from that, it’s your standard western plot. More than anything, it shows the importance of developing characters. Audiences are much more willing to go along with a plot they’ve seen before (and what plot haven’t they seen before?) if the characters within that well-worn storyline breathe new life into it.

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Posted by D. B. Bates at 1:54 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Script Reviews, Reviews

January 5, 2010

Script Review: Daybreakers by Michael & Peter Spierig

[In lieu of actual content, for the next several weeks I will present, at least, one review of an upcoming film each week. These are scripts that I’ve been paid money to read, and many of them contain watermarking, identification numbers, password-protection, and other ways of tracking what company it was sent to; because of this and my desire to keep my job, I will not offer downloads for ANY of the scripts I review here. Don’t bother asking.]

Here we are in the world of Daybreakers, in which vampires have become the majority (after some sort of viral pandemic) and the few humans left (5% of the total world population) are hunted for their delicious blood. After establishing this offbeat world and its central conflict — that vampire numbers increase while the “food” supply dwindles — the writers focus on hapless vampire hematologist Ed Dalton. He works for a pharmaceutical magnate, Bromley, who farms humans to provide blood for vampires. Ed, who’s conflicted about using humans, has the moral-balancing task of coming up with a feasible substitute that can sustain vampires without requiring them to kill humans.

One night, Ed comes upon an erratically driving car, which narrowly avoids hitting his sunlight-proofed Escalade. The car’s on the run from the police, because it’s filled with humans (including AUDREY, the de facto love interest). Ed surprises the humans by allowing them to hide in his Escalade while he lies to the police about where they ran off to. Once the police get a safe distance away, the humans leave — but not before Audrey notices Ed’s work ID badge, which identifies him as a hematologist. Ed continues home, where younger brother FRANKIE has returned from military service (in this world, the military simply hunts for human camps). It’s Ed’s birthday — which Ed deems meaningless, considering his immortality — so Frankie surprises him with a premium bottle of 100% human blood. Ed and Frankie argue about the righteousness of killing humans to feed on their blood.

Before the argument can get too heated (though it does get heated enough for Frankie to smash the bottle against the wall), they’re attacked by a “subsider” — a freakish sort of vampire who feeds on other vampires (and/or themselves). This is the sort of world they live in. Frankie and Ed dispatch the subsider. After the police sweep the scene, they discover the subsider was actually a neighbor who disappeared. Ed is incredibly disturbs and feels increased pressure to come up with a substitute. Later that night, Audrey sneaks into Ed’s house, announces that the vampire world is falling apart (citing, among other things, the opening scene — a child vampire committing suicide after deeming an ageless body pointless). Ed tells Audrey he can’t help her, but she gives him a note with a meeting place and time. After Audrey leaves, Frankie hears the commotion and wonders who it was. Ed says it was nobody, but Frankie is quietly suspicious.

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Posted by D. B. Bates at 4:54 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (9) | Script Reviews, Reviews

January 26, 2010

Commercial Conundrum

This week’s attempt at a script review put me in an awkward position. You see, I haven’t read any of the scripts that are opening. A few weeks ago, I read some bad intelligence telling me Gavin O’Connor’s Warrior will be out this Friday. Turns out, that’s not the case. I guess it’s coming out way the fuck in September, and I really don’t want to be reviewing scripts more than a week or two in advance of their release. So, instead, I’m writing one of the many promised non-review articles that I’ve been too lazy and/or busy to get done.

Something’s been bugging me for the past few months. I got used to writing development notes, which outline a script’s strengths and weaknesses while offering suggestions for ways to improve the script. (That way, Your Boss — who, if you’re lucky, will read maybe one out of every ten scripts he or she forces you to read — will have something reasonably intelligent to say in his next meeting. It’s an elaborate charade, and everyone knows that his or her notes are coming from some borderline-retarded, caffeine-addled reader, yet nobody ever says a word.) On some level, you deal with marketability, but everywhere I’ve worked, they’re surprisingly concerned about making the script as good as possible. In other words, they’ve already convinced themselves that they can sell the product — so now, the challenge is making the product great.

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Posted by D. B. Bates at 2:45 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Blog Posts, Murdstone & Grinby, The Reader