Posts in: May, 2010

Objects in Mirror

(Written with a Partner Who Prefers Anonymity)

Title: Objects in Mirror

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Draft: Second

Length: 110 pages

Logline: Cynical rock journalist Meghan Larris has earned a reputation as a harsh critic and blunt interviewer, alienating many of pop music’s brightest stars. After verbally abusing a veteran coworker’s enthusiastic review, Meghan finds herself one mistake away from losing her career. In desperation, Meghan pitches an interview she hasn’t yet landed, with the recent winner of the wildly popular reality competition show Pop Icon.


First Draft—4/26/10

Second Draft—5/21/10

Click the image to download the complete screenplay for just $2.99.

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(Late Edition) Script Review: Harry Brown by Gary Young

[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.]

Sometimes I get busy. Longtime readers know my comically inconsistent posting routine is one of the few charms of Stan Has Issues™. I did like the habit of posting one script review a week. That was something I figured I could handle, because even if I got busy, I could write several when things were slow and post them when I anticipated getting busy. I had it all planned, on an assembly line, with spreadsheets and dates and I’ll do this script for this week and that script for that week.

It all fell apart when (a) release dates for films whose scripts I’d already read professionally kept getting pushed back, (b) I had zero interest and negative motivation in reading different scripts to substitute my original picks, and (c) my planning went to shit, so I suddenly stopped preparing reviews in anticipation of getting busy, and instead posted pathetic rants about women. I’m okay with the pathetic rants. In fact, as you may have noticed from the disclaimer, I don’t really consider these script reviews to be actual “content.” I much prefer either ranting about general screenwriting trends or chaotic broads, idiot friends, and why nobody but me knows how to drive. I just find myself lacking the time to accomplish the feat of writing about what’s going on with me. Not to sound glib, but I’m 100% serious when I say I’m too busy living life to blog about it. I know—weird, huh?

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Author: Unknown

Genre: Comedy/Kids/Animated

Storyline: 6

Dialogue: 5

Characterization: 5

Writer’s Potential: 5

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]




In order to impress his childhood sweetheart, a clumsy cat tries to become a TV star.


GATURRO (a cat) arrives outside the house of AGATHA, the female he loves. She’s returning home from a trip. Gaturro smooths his fur, tests his breath, and holds up a banner welcoming her back. Agatha can’t see the banner because her owner has stuck a suitcase in front of her. Gaturro moves so she’ll have a better view of him and gets tangled up in the banner. When he finally gets untangled, a fancy toy car drives by just before Agatha sees Gaturro. Driving the car is MAX, a suave but self-absorbed cat. Agatha’s pleased that somebody remembered her homecoming and drives off with him. Depressed, Gaturro wanders the neighborhood roofs. He finds a photo album featuring himself and Agatha. He looks over the photos, which come to life as he recalls each moment of humiliation: drawing a cheesy, child-like sketch of himself and Agatha while Max commissions an elaborate painting depicting Max and Agatha as a king and queen; Gaturro and Agatha clumsily chasing a butterfly, smashing into each other; finally besting Max by buying a bouquet of flowers for Agatha when Max only bought a single rose, only the rose transforms into a dazzling diamond and catches sunlight at the perfect angle to instantly fry Gaturro’s bouquet.

Gaturro complains to his friends, KATY KIT, EMILIO, and LONGO, about Agatha. His friends agree that Agatha is a tease and Gaturro should move on. Katy Kit suggests Gaturro get some self-confidence and show Agatha he is brave and daring. Gaturro finally catches up with Agatha, who gives him the cold shoulder for not remembering her return. Gaturro tries to explain what happened, but she accuses him of just making excuses. Gaturro instantly demures, until he remembers Katy’s confidence suggestion. He orders Agatha to choose between himself and Max. Agatha tells him Max has proposed. Gaturro is crushed, even though she hasn’t decided whether or not she’ll marry him. When Agatha lists the qualities she looks for in a man, Gaturro imagines himself as a secret agent who can easily best Max. Agatha orders Gaturro to stop daydreaming and pay attention to what she’s saying. They pass an electronics store with TVs in the window. Agatha watches Tick Cat, a popular superhero show, and tells Gaturro he should be more like MICHOU, the star of Tick Cat. On the show, Michou as Tick Cat fights off a vicious pit bull. She wanders off, leaving Gaturro to wonder if he should be more like Tick Cat or the actor playing Tick Cat. He reasons that actors are more powerful than superheroes, so she must have meant Michou.

Meanwhile, at a TV studio, Michou performs on a soundstage. His overbearing (human) owenr/manager, MIMICHA, watches. Human director ALPLATO calls cut. Mimicha confronts the show’s human PRODUCER, demanding double the pay for Michou, whose popularity has skyrocketed. Producer refuses to agree to her terms, so she takes Michou and leaves. Producer panics, begging Mimicha not to leave. They play tug-of-war using Michou as Producer explains he has no money. His complaints fall on deaf ears, and Mimicha finally leaves. Alplato suggests setting up an audition for a new cat. Producer orders him to create an ad campaign for an audition tomorrow. The next morning, at Gaturro’s home, he drives owners DANIEL and LUZ crazy begging for food. Daniel places newspaper on the floor for Gaturro, and he sees the audition call. He grabs the newspaper, but his disgusted owners take it away, ball it up, and throw it away. Gaturro panics—he needs the address. Fortunately, the TV shows a similar ad. Gaturro tries to get his owners to pay attention to the TV, and also tries to show them how funny he is. Irritated, Daniel tells Luz to take Gaturro to the audition, to get him out of the house. Luz doesn’t want to, so Gaturro continues with his comedy hijinks: smashing vases, covering Daniel’s car with muddy footprints, drawing mustaches on the photos of all of Luz’s friends. Max overhears Gaturro excitedly talking to Katy Kit and Emilio about his plan to become a huge star and win Agatha’s heart.

Luz and VALERIA take Gaturro to a pet shop, where a hairstylist contorts his hair in various ridiculous styles. Gaturro panics when she tries to wash his hair. He flees, and the hairstylist goes after him with a net. Producer complains to Alplato about how awful the auditions have been. Alplato doesn’t trust him, so he decides to look in on the auditions from now on. Stressed out, Producer sees Gaturro in the pet shop window, surfing across the floor on a box of soap, trying to elude the hairstylist. A crowd has gathered to watch Gaturro, laughing hysterically. Producer realizes he’s found his next star, but he can’t catch Gaturro, either. Max asks Agatha if she’s made a decision about his proposal. She tells him to stop pressuring her, and accidentally calls him “Gaturro.” Max is perturbed. A young mouse actor, RAT PITT, auditions for Producer, who is irritated because the audition called for cats, not rats. Producer starts sending a trained pit bull to attack bad auditions, which panics Gaturro. He hides in the prop room, where Rat Pitt finds him. Pitt thinks Gaturro is going to eat him, so he pretends a prop dog is his friend, until the head falls off. Gaturro timidly introduces himself, explaining he’s there for an audition. Seeing he’s friendly, Pitt gets an idea. He convinces Gaturro they should audition as a team. When he finds out Gaturro is not serious about his craft, Pitt almost changes his mind, but he realizes it’ll be easier to mold Gaturro and make him do his bidding. He dazzles Gaturro with a musical number, which leads to a montage of Pitt training Gaturro and the pair rehearsing an audition piece. Gaturro is a strong performer, but when he’s called to audition, he freezes.

Producer, who recognizes Gaturro from the pet shop, is sincerely disappointed. Alplato is angry and sends the pit bull after him. This brings Gaturro back to life. He runs away, comically clumsy. Pitt capitalizes on the situation, dressing up like a woman and pretending to be a damsel in distress, in fear of the pit bull. Gaturro hams it up, pretending to be a superhero. Suddenly, Producer and Alplato change their opinions. Up in the rafters, Max holds a flea-ridden dog up to a fan, sending the fleas down to infect Gaturro. Gaturro freaks out, trying to get rid of the fleas, inadvertently infecting Producer and Alplato. He leaves the audition, dejected. Pitt tells Gaturro not to give up, but Gaturro knows it’s all over for him. However, Producer and Alplato have other ideas: Flea Cat, the comic superhero. When Gaturro arrives at home, he’s surprised that his owners greet him happily, as a star. Producer is there, explaining their Flea Cat concept. Michou disappointedly watches Flea Cat, realizing Gaturro is poised to be a bigger star than he is. A brief scene shows the superhero’s origin story: bit by a radioactive flea, Gaturro is granted super powers, which allow him to save cats from dangerous creatures like pit bulls. Gaturro’s friends watch the show and congratulate him. Agatha is overjoyed at Gaturro’s success, but she masks it with aloofness. Gaturro tries to impress her, but he’s mobbed by a bunch of female cats wanting autographs. Max swoops in and takes Agatha away. A montage follows, depicting Gaturro’s rise to fame: getting mobbed by female cats, photographed by paparazzi at restaurants, photo shoots for magazines, going on a spirit quest in Inda.

Agatha comes around Katy Kit and Emilio looking for Gaturro. She tells him he’s all over the city, and Agatha realizes Gaturro’s face is on everything—billboards, posters, magazines, products. Mimicha angrily learns of rumors that Gaturro will be nominated for an “Oscat” award. Gaturro is bored with fame and fortune, because he’s alone. Pitt’s ego has inflated despite the fact that he’s a supporting player. Agatha watches Flea Cat. In her mind, the villain Gaturro fights morphs into Max, and the damsel in distress morphs into Agatha. Gaturro has the same imaginary thoughts, which boosts his performance quality. Alplato and Producer are thrilled—they know he’s destined for an Oscat. Finally, Agatha finds Gaturro and admits how impressive he is. Now that he’s more like Michou, Gaturro wonders if she’d reconsider dating him. Agatha wanted him to be more like Tick Cat, not Michou. Gaturro is embarrassed and ashamed. Agatha invites him to go for a walk. As they walk through a playground, they fall deeper and deeper in love. Max witnesses this and calls GATALINA, plotting something to break Gaturro and Agatha apart.

Producer and Alplato drag Gaturro away from Agatha, saying he can only date studio-approved women. Mimicha is enraged when Gaturro is granted access to a fancy restaurant for his date with Gatalina (the studio-approved cat) but Michou is not. Max buys a bunch of tabloid magazines for Agatha. All of them depict Gaturro’s love affair with Gatalina. Agatha says yes to Max’s proposal. Gaturro sees the same magazines and knows this will ruin everything with Agatha. Mimicha comes back to Producer, begging him to put Michou back on TV. Producer refuses, enraging Mimicha. Max purposely removes Gaturro’s wedding invitation from the pile. Gaturro receives his Oscat nomination, but it doesn’t cheer him up. Pitt tries to convince Gaturro to thank him in his acceptance speech. Despondent, Agatha realizes the Oscat awards ceremony is at the same time as their wedding ceremony. Max insists it’s a coincidence.

While Gaturro prepares for the award ceremony, Pitt overhears Max talking about the wedding. If Pitt tells Gaturro, that means he won’t be there to thank Pitt on TV. Pitt isn’t sure if he should help his friend or his career. Ultimately, he decides to help his friend, telling Gaturro about the wedding. Max sees Pitt and chases him. Pitt manages to get to the ceremony. Max uses a poster of Gaturro as a mask to get past security. Mimicha, who can’t get past security, sees him and thinks it’s the real Gaturro. She chases him. Max steals Mimicha’s purse and hangs it on Gaturro’s dressing room door. Mimicha finds it and grabs Gaturro, dragging him away. Happily, Max rushes off to his wedding. Later, Michou wakes Gaturro. Gaturro is surprised that such a famous cat would talk to him. Michou performs a musical number about how overrated fame and fortune are, and how much he prefers to be a lazy stray cat. Gaturro asks Michou to help him get out of there, but Michou tells him escape is impossible—he’s tried. Pitt enlists the help of Katy Kit, Emilio, and Longo in finding Gaturro. When Producer and Alplato can’t find Gaturro, Mimicha talks them into replacing him with Michou. Daniel and Luz are disgusted at the mistreatment.

While Max and Agatha prepare for the wedding, Pitt and the others track Gaturro’s GPS collar to Mimicha’s car. They sneak into it, and she drives them back to her apartment building. They arrive in time to see Gaturro clumsily attempting to escape from the 10-story building. Gaturro and Michou fall, and their friends catch them. They all race to Max and Agatha’s wedding. Mimicha and Producer follow. Gaturro and the others try to have to get rid of them before they can get to the wedding. He dumps water into the street, causing Mimicha’s motorcycle to slip. Producer grabs Gaturro to take him back to the Oscats, but Gaturro makes an impassioned plea to stop the woman he loves from making a mistake. Producer lets him go.

With Rat Pitt and the others’ help, Gaturro arrives at the church at the last possible second, interrupting the wedding before Agatha can say “I do.” He climbs in through the bell tower, getting stuck in the bells briefly before falling into the church, destroying everything. Gaturro pleads with Agatha, but Max reminds her that he’s a “ladies’ cat.” Gatalina, moved by Gaturro’s love, admits Max set everything up. Agatha’s enraged. She dumps Max, but Max will not go down so easily. He sends a huge robot after Gaturro. Pitt arrives and steals the robot’s controls. He forces it to let Gaturro go and start playing music and dancing. The robot goes out of control, so Katy Kit throws the controls into water to short it out. The robot stops. Agatha is impressed by Gaturro’s heroics. Max is forced to work as the assistant for a mechanic. Gaturro and Agatha walk into the sunset, madly in love.

Alplato has a temper tantrum when he learns they’ve lost Gaturro. Then, he sees someone on TV doing a dance similar to Rat Pitt’s audition piece. He orders Producer to track down Pitt. Gaturro and Agatha sit on the roof together, happy everything is back to normal. Agatha admits she’s always loved Gaturro. A news report reveals that Mimicha has been caught and sentenced to clean up after zoo animals as a punishment for her animal cruelty.


Gaturro is a cinematic adaptation of a successful Argentine comic strip. As a kids’ cartoon, it’s fairly amusing and endearing. However, the story and characters aren’t particularly strong, and the script relies heavily on moviegoers’ knowledge of the comic. Consequently, it will likely have trouble finding an audience in regions where the source comic is not popular. As written, it merits a pass.

The first act sets up a fairly generic conflict—Gaturro versus Max on the quest for Agatha’s heart—and takes it to amusingly extreme circumstances. However, it doesn’t do a particularly good job of establishing the characters. As mentioned, the script relies a lot on audiences’ awareness of these characters and their relationships, so it doesn’t take the time to set them up here. That puts anyone unfamiliar with the comic at an immediate disadvantage, so despite the cute jokes, it will be hard for audiences to get invested in the characters if they aren’t in advance of the film.

The story is also pretty low stakes—other than the possibility of Gaturro ending up alone, there aren’t any. He stumbles into superstardom in the first act, and the second act doesn’t do much to develop that into something suspenseful or even interesting. There’s a bit of toothless showbiz satire, which ultimately leads to a reasonably good kids’ movie message about how it’s better to be poor and happy than rich and miserable (although it ignores the possibility of being rich and happy), but this is a script that relies on sketch-comedy-style comedic moments rather than pushing the story forward. The obstacles thrown in Gaturro’s path are easily avoided, yet he allows them to keep him from obtaining his goals.

Finally, in the third act, the writers start taking the story seriously, but by then it’s a little too late. It’s not so much a problem of predictability—it’s obvious from page one that Max will get what’s coming to him, and Gaturro and Agatha will end up together—as prolonging the inevitable. Long sequences like Mimicha kidnapping Gaturro don’t register as a difficult hurdle as a distraction designed to pad the script to feature length. Even though it’s merely a kids’ movie, a stronger story that gives Gaturro real consequences and a real drive to achieve his goals would benefit it. Instead, it limps toward the wedding confrontation, delivering a curiously low-energy resolution to an otherwise manic storyline.

All of this, obviously, roots back to Gaturro’s fatal flaw: he’s incredibly passive. He makes one decision early in the script—to be more like Michou in order to win Agatha’s heart—but he doesn’t so much take action as stumble blindly toward his destination. This automatically affects the pacing and suspense of the story, because Gaturro lets things happen to him instead of making things happen. Similarly, Agatha is oddly, almost comically bipolar. Her decisions make no logical (or even emotional) sense—they just exist to keep tossing generic conflicts into the story. Her incoherent decision-making actually becomes an intentional running joke at a certain point, but that doesn’t make her any more compelling as a love interest. Max is the same way: a generically evil villain who preens and schemes without ever feeling like his decisions come from a truthful place. Cartoonish, one-dimensional characters are fine in a story like this, but they’d be better if they had some kind of internal logic driving them, rather than making random decisions for unknown reasons that serve the plot instead of the character.

The script has a ton of supporting characters, but none are in the story enough to become compelling or interesting. As with the major characters, the writers are obviously drawing inspiration from the source comics and have no interest in drawing an audience from those who are ignorant of its characters and relationships. These supporting characters will probably seem fine to audiences who know the comics, but they will come across as bland an ineffectual to those who have no knowledge of them.

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Margin Call

Author: J.C. Chandor

Genre: Drama

Storyline: 4

Dialogue: 3

Characterization: 4

Writer’s Potential: 4

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]




When a mathematician discovers a revenue shortfall, a group of Wall Street investors must pull an all-nighter in order to figure out how to solve the crisis.


Talking heads on the radio announce the trading day is about to close, and word around Wall Street is that Goldstone Sterns Investment Bank plans to lay off 5000 employees. On the trading floor of Goldston Sterns, risk assessment analyst PETER SULLIVAN (27) and his buddy, SETH (23), watch in terror as human resource personnel sweeps the floor. An HR person taps Peter on the shoulder, asking if his name is Eric Dale. Peter breathes a sigh of relief as he tells her no. ERIC (mid-40s) is his boss. He’s led into a conference room, where HR lawyer LAUREN BRATBERG waits. She offers him a small severance package and gives him 24 hours to think it over. She also explains that, despite his 19 years of loyal service, for security purposes she’s disabling his phone and computer. Eric is shocked and humiliated. He asks about the work he’s in the middle of right now. Lauren explains they have a contingency plan and asks a security guard to escort Eric to his office to collect his things. Eric’s boss, WILL, greets Eric sadly, apologizing for what happened. Eric asks whose decision it was: SAM ROGERS or SARAH ROBERTSON? Will won’t answer. Eric assumes it was Sarah.

Peter and Seth say their goodbyes to Eric. Eric asks Peter to walk him outside. Eric gives Peter a USB drive and says it’s something he was working on and couldn’t finish. He trusts Peter to finish it, but he warns him to be careful. Peter is baffled. Will meets with Sam (mid-60s), who has just learned his dog is dying. Will isn’t sure how to react. He simply informs Sam that the remaining trading floor personnel are ready for him. Sam steps out on the floor, which looks like a ghost town. The employees have been reduced by 80%. Sam gives a rousing speech to the remaining employees, saying they survived because they’re better, and GS will weather this storm. Down on the street, Eric tries to use his phone. They’ve already deactivated it. He sees Sarah across the street and confronts her. She says nothing in response. Eric drops the phone and storms away. Seth and Peter sit on the trading floor, trying to recover. Seth invites Peter out for a drink, but Peter tells him he needs to stay and keep working. Once he’s alone, Peter looks at the hard drive Eric left for him. He’s stunned by what he discovers. He tries calling Eric, but the phone is disabled. Instead, he calls Seth, who is drinking with other employees, including Will. He orders Seth to bring Will back to the office. Seth protests that it’s after 10, but the tone of Peter’s voice tells him it’s serious. Seth and Will arrive at the office. Peter explains what’s happening to them: their investments are starting to test volatility boundaries, and if things start heading in the wrong direction, the bank stands to lose just over $1 trillion.

Will calls Eric at home, but he isn’t there. His wife politely takes a message. She doesn’t know he’s been fired. Will calls a car for Peter and Seth, ordering them to go find Eric. Will calls Sam, who’s reluctant to return to work. When Will says this isn’t something he can e-mail, Sam knows it’s bad and comes in. Peter and Seth wander aimlessly, failing to find Eric. They talk about the obscene amounts of money their superiors make and speculate on what the real bosses make. Sam meets with Will, who relays in detail everything that happened between Eric and Peter, and what Peter just explained to him about the bank’s financial situation. Sam wants to know where Peter is. Will calls Peter and Seth and orders them to return to the office. They get stuck in traffic, but Will is breathing down their necks, so they abandon the car and take the subway. Will and Sam meet Peter and Seth at the elevator and lead them into the executive board room, where Sarah, JARED COHEN (mid-40s, one of the top dogs of the company), and several lawyers wait. Sam explains everything yet again. Sarah asks about Peter’s credentials. He explains that he’s, essentially, a rocket scientist. He entered the financial world because it pays better. Their lawyers verify Peter’s numbers. Jared asks how long it would take them to quietly sell the bad mortgage securities. Sam says it’ll be at least four weeks, during which time they will continue to lose money and have to sell more.

Based on Jared’s line of reasoning, Sam realizes Jared wants to simply sell everything, all at once, firing the first shot on a tanking market. Sarah asks for time to confirm the numbers. Jared insists that they find Eric, because he’s the only one other than them who knows anything about this. Will takes Peter and Seth up to a roof landing on the 45th floor. After waxing philosophically about why people feel anxious on rooftops (which he attributes to people fearing they might jump rather than that they might fall), Will explains to Peter and Seth that Jared’s planning to dump everything. Peter and Seth are shocked that they can even do this. Will explains that if they know something in advance of the other banks on Wall Street, they can capitalize on it and lose virtually nothing. It doesn’t matter if everyone else loses everything. Seth pointedly asks Will what he does with all his money. Will thinks about it and explains, surprising himself by how much he spends on booze and strippers. They see a corporate helicopter arriving on the helipad above. Will realizes the truly important executives have arrived. Sarah arrives at Sam’s office to tell him and Jared what she and the other lawyers have uncovered. She says everything Peter calculated is accurate. He killed their cash cow, which was built on a faulty equation, and the only choice is to sell.

Jared brings Sam and Sarah to the elevators. He’s called CEO JOHN TULD. They reconvene with Will, Peter, and Seth, and they all head up to the top floor. Jared sternly tells the others to tell the truth at all costs. Not even Peter is smart enough to lie his way out of this. They all file into Tuld’s board room. He’s a surprisingly genial man. He greets them kindly and asks Peter to explain to him what happened. Peter goes through it all again. Tuld considers all the information and tells them all that there are three ways to succeed on Wall Street: be first, be smarter, or cheat. Tuld refuses to cheat, and although he has a lot of smart people working under him, he thinks it would be smarter to be first. Jared is pleased that Tuld is backing his plan. Tuld asks Sam how they would do it. Sam explains that everybody has to be on this, and they need to work fast, because by noon word will be out, and what they’re trying to sell will be worthless. Worse than that, the SEC will start poking their noses into what they’re doing. Sam warns Tuld that if they do this, they are killing the mortgage market, and they will lose the buyers they’re selling to forever. Tuld is fine with that, so long as their bank weathers the storm. He realizes that this is the start of their troubles, not the end, but when Sam points out that it’s only the start because Tuld is starting it, Tuld explains that he’d prefer to start than finish. Tuld asks about Eric. When he realizes nobody has found him, he sends his private security team to track him down.

Downstairs, Eric’s wife calls Will. She says he’s come home, but he refuses to speak to them. Knowing that Tuld’s men are on their way, Will drags Seth with him to warn Eric. Tuld explains to Sarah that her head is on the chopping block for this. She’s disappointed, but she understands. He asks her to stay until the markets close. Sarah goes to her office and tries to cry, but she can’t. She’s too numb. Peter gets coffee from a street vendor. A PRETTY GIRL passes by who he seems to know. Peter asks about her father. She half-jokingly asks if Peter has any good tips for her. He says, with stone-faced seriousness, “Sell.” She’s alarmed by his demeanor. Will and Seth arrive at Eric’s fancy townhouse. They explain everything that’s happening to him and warn him that Tuld’s men are coming, and either he can accept their offer of a massive bonus in exchange for silence, or he can prepare for them to fight him on his meager severance package. Eric laments his career, recalling his days as an engineer, building bridges to actually help people instead of coming up with equations to screw people. Will and Seth leave just as Tuld’s men arrive.

Tuld offers reluctant Sam a massive bonus for his cooperation. Sam reluctantly accepts it. He goes down to smoke a cigarette and finds Peter, still outside. Peter asks if they’re all getting fired. Sam assumes they are. Peter says he knows Sam’s son, and he’s a nice person. He asks if Sam has told his son about what’s happening. Sam says it didn’t even occur to him. Sam asks about Peter’s father. Another helicopter lands on the roof. Peter asks if he’s ever done anything like this before. Sam says no. Peter wonders if it’s the right thing to do. Neither of them are sure. Sam doesn’t want to think about the mess it will create. Sadly, they both go upstairs. In the executive bathroom, Sam bawls his eyes out. He tries to stop himself when he hears someone enter, but he can’t. It’s Jared. Seth explains that he knows he’s fired, but this is all he’s ever wanted to do. Jared apologizes with surprising sincerity. Eric arrives and meets with Sarah. After some awkward small talk, Eric agrees to take the bonus. The remaining employees gather for their morning meeting. Sam lays everything on the line, reluctantly telling them that what they’re doing will destroy their own jobs, but they have to do it to save Goldstone Sterns. Tuld arrives to give a similarly inspirational speech. A montage follows, showing the employees selling quickly, then congratulating themselves when they succeed. That night, Sam buries his dead dog in the backyard of his former home. His ex-wife, MARY, confronts him, fearing he’s a burglar. When she sees it’s Sam, she tells him he doesn’t live here anymore. Sam explains about the dog and tells her this was where she belonged. Mary leaves Sam to continuing digging.


Margin Call attempts to humanize the architects of the 2008 stock market crash. Unfortunately, although the writer creates situations designed to elicit sympathy, the writer fails to create characters complex enough to be sympathetic. The script isn’t much more than redundant scenes of people talking in board rooms, explaining and re-explaining the reasons for the crash, which might have been compelling if the dialogue weren’t so awful. As written, it merits a pass.

The first act rushes past the character introductions and goes straight to the layoffs, evoking an atmosphere of fear among the bankers. Eric’s firing, his ominous warning to Peter, and Peter’s subsequent discover of big problems serves as an excellent setup for a thriller that never arrives. After his discovery, the story settles into an annoyingly repetitive pattern of introducing new characters—each higher up the corporate ladder—to explain the exact same story to. The explanations are worded almost identically, and the reactions of each person is virtually the same. In other words, the script just spins its wheels for almost its entire 92-page length. The writer never makes any real effort to build any suspense in what’s happening to the characters’ jobs and place of employment. Even the subplot about the mysteriously missing Eric lacks suspense, because nobody really cares about him as a person. They only care about what he knows.

In the third act, the writer attempts in vain to paint these characters with a sympathetic brush. However, they aren’t really characters. With the exception of Sam’s cloying symbolic dog, the writer hardly reveals a thing about these characters beyond their jobs at the bank. They exist to dispense information to the other characters (and, by extension, the audience). The writer creates a perfect opportunity to show that these people who are demonized by the news media and the government have lives beyond their jobs, have goals and desires that aren’t simply rooted in greed, and maybe spend a few minutes considering the ethical dilemma of their choice. Unfortunately, the writer never capitalizes on this—the only ethical dilemma anyone’s worried about is how much money they’ll lose, which makes it extremely difficult for the audience to feel any response other than rage when they start having tearful breakdowns about losing their jobs—the same jobs that they, by their own admission, sabotaged by going too far to mess with the system.

The fact that the characters are so weak is a huge problem, because this is a barely a story. It’s mostly people sitting around trading floors, offices, and board rooms, bluntly explaining everything. Without strong characters to make what they’re discussing compelling, it’s hard to get invested in anything that’s happening in the story. Adding insult to injury is the dialogue. Every character—regardless of age, gender, or background—has the exact same speech pattern. The writer never uses the dialogue as an opportunity to reveal these characters’ personalities, even though it’s the only way to distinguish them when they don’t do anything but talk. They all seem exactly the same: obsessively focused on their jobs and on how to wriggle out of the crisis at hand.

Peter and Sam are the only characters who come close to having any sort of ethical judgment. They are both aware that what needs to be done is wrong, and the writer seems to be trying to make a statement about the fact that they know it’s wrong but do it anyway. However, this muddles the attempts to portray the other characters—the ones who lack such ethical guidance—as sympathetic. If the audience is supposed to feel betrayed when Peter and Sam simply go to work and do what they’re told, how are they supposed to feel when Seth starts bawling uncontrollably and Sarah attempts to have an emotional breakdown but is too numb to cry? Maybe this is difficult to determine because of how poorly the characters are developed.

This is a hugely problematic script that has noble intentions but fails to achieve what it’s aiming for. Although it’s a relevant story, it fails to tell audiences anything they don’t already know. It’s hard to imagine any amount of slick filmmaking or great acting will make this script work.

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My Tutor

Author: Mark A. Altman & Steve Kriozere

Genre: Comedy

Storyline: 2

Dialogue: 2

Characterization: 1

Writer’s Potential: 2

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A nerdy high school student and his obnoxious playboy father both fall for the same woman: the student’s French tutor.


Nerdy high school senior JOSH (18) is on the Mexican island of South Padre for spring break, with his obnoxious and equally nerdy pals STEVE and KYLE. While Kyle wanders around videotaping attractive women in string bikinis, Steve attempts to flirt with them but invariably makes an obscene reference to pornography, offending the women. Josh mostly stands with them in humiliated silence. The humiliation gets worse when Josh discovers his father, HANK, is at the same bar, doing Jello shots off a sexy local woman. It’s quickly revealed that Hank is a Joe Francis-like sleaze merchant whose highly successful Girls Gone Loco line of DVDs has made him rich beyond his wildest dreams. Steve and Kyle think Josh’s dad is the coolest. Josh disagrees. He tries to excuse himself to study for an important French exam he’ll have to take once he returns to school. Hank tries to talk Josh out of it, but Josh knows that if he fails French—as he is right now—he’ll lose his acceptance to Stanford and end up in community college. Steve and Kyle insist Josh stay with them and party the night away with Hank. A montage of photos showing all of them (except sourpuss Josh) having a night of drunken debauchery follows.

Josh returns to school, exhausted and mildly hungover. He fails the French exam. Steve and Kyle wonder why he took French to begin with, when he’s already practically fluent in Spanish. Steve realizes Josh took the class to get close to JENNY, a beautiful girl he’s had a crush on for years. Unfortunately, she’s dating COLIN, the school lacrosse star. Josh comes home angry. Hank hasn’t gotten out of bed for two days, attributing it to jet lag (even though there’s only a two-hour time difference). Hank notices Josh’s bad mood and wonders if he can help. Josh lashes out about Hank forcing him to party. Josh has one shot left—the final exam. If he can’t pass it with a B+ or higher, he fails the class. Hank declares he’s proud of Josh and that he shouldn’t give up on himself. Then, he watches TV. A traffic report by JANE HARRISON (late 30s) is on. He watches for a few moments before hurling his breakfast at the screen. It’s soon revealed that this is Josh’s mother and Hank’s ex-wife, whom Hank divorced when he caught her cheating on him.

The next morning, Josh wakes to the sound of the doorbell ringing. CLAIRE (late 20s and beautiful) is at the door. Josh mistakes her for a call girl, insulting Claire. Hank introduces her as an au pair. She’s shocked to find her chair is 18 years instead of 18 months. Hank asks if she speaks French, and when she says yes, he orders her to teach it to Josh. Claire initially refuses, but Hank points out that this will be the easiest job she’s ever had. Naturally, his obnoxious tone and rampant sexism turns Claire off, but Josh apologizes on Hank’s behalf, and Claire is impressed by his eloquence and humility. She agrees to take the job. At school, Steve and Kyle immediately want to know if Claire is hot. Jenny passes by, saying “hi” to Josh, who immediately reads way too much into the simple greeting. Steve and Kyle use the distraction to invite themselves over for band practice and video games. Josh snaps out of it, telling them he needs to study. As soon as Josh leaves, Steve and Kyle agree to show up at Josh’s unannounced. In the parking lot, MIRANDA approaches Josh tentatively. She tells him it’s her 18th birthday, invites him to her party, and pulls up her top, asking if she thinks Hank would approve, now that she’s 18. Josh says he doesn’t know, so she asks him to find out and bring Hank and his camera crew if they deem her worthy. Josh is baffled.

At home, Claire is annoyed that Josh is late. She immediately takes Josh to see Breathless, the Godard film. Claire explains that in order to speak French, he must understand what it means to be French. At first, Josh finds the film confusing, but he starts to warm up to it. Their talking annoys a patron, who shushes them. Josh insults the patron in French, but unfortunately, the patron knows the language and has an usher throw them out before the end. Josh apologizes to Claire. He asks her how the movie ends. She tells him the characters in the film had passion, not love, so they couldn’t stay together in the end. Josh thinks she speaks from personal experience, and she promptly changes the subject. At home, they find Hank desperately trying to impress Claire by cooking a variety of French dishes. Claire reveals she’s not actually French—she’s French-Canadian, although her parents are from Nice. She’s surprised that Hank has heard of Nice. He explains his ex-wife wanted to go there on a vacation, and he still sounds bitter.

Claire is impressed by Hank’s cooking. Hank tells her he once wanted to open his own restaurant, but Jane got pregnant, so he had to put the money to less risky use. Steve and Kyle show up at the house, desperate to meet Claire. Josh doesn’t want to let them in, but they convince him. The guys notice Hank flirting with Claire. Later, while playing video games in the basement, Steve and Kyle urge him to make a move before Hank does. Josh thinks they’re crazy, but they make him see that all the signs are there. Upstairs, Claire helps Hank do the dishes. She’s surprised he doesn’t have servants. Hank explains that he didn’t want Josh to grow up having everything done for him. Downstairs, Steve and Kyle discuss Claire’s body in obscene terms. Josh tells them to cut it out, and coincidentally, she happens to have come downstairs and heard everything. She says goodnight to Josh.

The next morning, Hank is shocked to find Claire sunbathing topless next to the pool. Josh is equally surprised and leaps to the conclusion that Hank is taping her for a movie. Jane arrives and demands to know why Hank hired a stripper to hang around in front of Josh. Josh explains Claire’s role in the household, but Jane is too horrified to believe it. She tells Hank she’s come to pick up her prom dress for their upcoming high school reunion. While Hank searches the attic for it, Jane tests Claire’s French. She’s impressed. After Jane leaves, Hank invites Claire to join him and Josh for a paintballing tournament. Josh wants to study, but Hank claims he planned this weeks ago. At the tournament grounds, Josh is temporarily thrilled to learn their opponents have canceled, but it’s short-lived. Hank has found new opponents: Colin, Jenny, and their jock friends. Steve, Kyle, and Hank take the tournament way too seriously, embarrassing Josh in front of both Claire and Jenny. Claire runs off, and they quickly discover she’s an excellent paintballer. She takes down all of the people on Colin’s team except him and Jenny. Hank and Josh are both impressed by Claire. They all decide to split up, with one group covering the flag and the other going after the remaining opponents. Josh strongly suggests Claire join his team, so Hank shoots him “accidentally.”

Dejected, Josh wanders through the woods. He comes upon Jenny, who mentions Miranda. Josh quickly tells her he was invited to Miranda’s party, and that he’s going. Jenny is surprised. She wonders if Josh is going to take Claire, whom she mistakes for Josh’s girlfriend. Josh rolls with that, saying she’s a foreign exchange student. Later, when Hank hugs Claire for far too long, Josh shoots Hank to stop him. Hank shoots back, and the two keep shooting each other until Josh accidentally hits Jenny. At home, Claire overhears Josh talking about Miranda’s party. Later, she gives Josh a surprise gift: a suit exactly like the one worn by Jean-Paul Belmondo in Breathless. Josh is not convinced he can wear the suit without getting his ass kicked. Claire explains this is the next step in his French lessons: he must be French. Josh agrees to wear the suit. Claire wishes him good luck at the party. He invites her along, but she says she has a date with Hank. Josh stews all the way to the party.

Hank takes Claire to a closed miniature golf course. She’s unimpressed with the location choice, but she agrees to sweeten the deal, challenging him to a game of strip miniature golf. By the time Hank and Claire are both completely naked, police arrive to arrest them for breaking into the golf course after hours. At the party, Josh drinks excessively. Jenny flirts with him, but Josh is too busy drinking to pay much attention—until she tells him he’s cute. Colin shows up and mocks Josh’s suit. Both Jenny and Miranda think Josh looks hot. Josh picks a fight with Colin, which leads to a drinking contest rather than actual fisticuffs. As Josh gets drunker and drunker on shots of bourbon, Jenny is irritated to discover Colin is just downing shots of iced tea. She tries to help Josh, but he vomits all over her cleavage. Later, Josh incoherently babbles in French about how much he wants Claire. The police, big fans of Hank’s work, let him and Claire off with a warning. Claire is impressed. Hank confesses he hasn’t had an actual conversation with a woman since he and Jane divorced. Claire suspects he was afraid of intimacy. Hank asks Claire about her romantic history, and she explains she was in loved with a wonderful, talented man who cheated on her, so she understands Hank’s fears and reservations. Steve and Kyle desperately call Hank to pick up Josh, who won’t stop speaking French and is threatening to dive off the roof. Claire has to talk him down. Josh demands to know why Claire went out with Hank. Claire says, “Because he asked.”

Claire wakes Josh the next morning to give him a disgusting hangover cure she invented. Josh gives Hank the silent treatment. When he goes to school, he’s shocked to find everyone cheering for him—he’s now a big hero. Jenny texts Josh that she broke up with Colin and asks him to be her date to the reunion party. Steve and Kyle are thrilled about this, but Josh is still hung up on Claire. Jenny and Miranda explain to Josh that they’re organizing the 20th reunion party, and the band canceled. They invite Josh’s band to play. Colin comes around, harassing Josh—who finally stands up to him. Instead of going after Josh, Colin roughs up Jenny. Josh punches Colin, then kisses Jenny. The student body applauds. Colin warns Jenny that she shouldn’t dump him if she wants to hold on to her chances of becoming homecoming queen. Josh tells Steve and Kyle about their gig. Josh and Claire do some last-minute studying the night before the French final. Hank interrupts, asking to talk to Claire. She returns after a moment to take Josh out. She tells him to bring his books. He takes her to a private beach, so they can continue studying without distraction. They converse in French. Claire asks Josh what he wants. He doesn’t know how to say it in French, so he asks her to swim. She says she didn’t bring a bathing suit, but neither did Josh. Claire strips down.

Later, Josh gets a text from Jenny saying she got back with Colin because she wants to be homecoming queen. Josh rolls his eyes and invites Claire out on a date for Friday, the night of the reunion party. Claire can’t—she already agreed to go with Hank. Josh storms into the house, confronting Hank about competing with him. He accuses Hank of being too juvenile. Claire witnesses the argument. The next morning, she’s gone. She leaves a note saying she returned to France because she doesn’t want to keep coming between them. Hank sees the note first and immediately heads for the airport. Josh sees this and is suspicious. He finds the note and confronts Hank in the driveway. Josh wants to go, but he has to take his final. Hank informs Josh that he canceled all his credit cards and wishes him luck. While Josh takes his final, Hank is detained at the airport for having a gun on his person. It turns out to be a paintball gun, and Hank realizes Josh planted it. After the final, Josh races to the airport. Steve and Kyle have made all the preparations for Josh. They paid for it by selling Hank’s Ferrari on eBay at a steep discount. After all of Hank’s delays, the father and son end up on the same flight.

In Paris, Josh steals Hank’s taxi. Hank gets in a cab and bribes the driver to follow Josh. They search the Cité Universitaire for Claire, but neither finds her. Eventually, they’re tossed out by security guards. Dejected, Josh and Hank reconvene to share their misery over crepes. At a park, they both spot Claire. She apologizes to both of them, tells them how great they are, but that she had to get back together with her ex. While Hank and Josh plead with her, they both keep shoving an annoying mime out of the way. It turns, out the mime is her ex. When they insult his chosen art, a team of ninja-like mimes come out of the woodwork and beat the hell out of Josh and Hank. Claire takes them back to her apartment to attend to them. Hank apologizes to Josh, saying he needs Claire more than Josh because the best years of Josh’s life are yet to come, but Hank’s are long past. Claire reminds Josh of Breathless—they had passion, but not love, and now it’s over. Hank and Josh thank Claire for everything. She offers to let them stay, but Hank opts to bring Jane in from the U.S. to take her to Nice. Jane takes him to a topless beach, thrilling him.

Josh returns to school to discover he has aced his final and will be going to Stanford. Four months later, he arrives for orientation. Right off the bat, he meets a beautiful French foreign exchange student and is smitten. She’s thrilled he can communicate with her in her own language. A month later, Hank and Jane arrive for parents’ weekend. Hank gets hammered with a frat while Jane waits impatiently and Josh dances with the French girl.


My Tutor aspires to be a 1980s-style teen sex comedy, which makes sense because it’s a remake of one. Unfortunately, this is a brainless, ragingly unfunny example of a genre that can be quite entertaining and endearing if done properly. The horribly inconsistent characters, unfocused story, and awful dialogue all contribute to the script’s overall failure. As written, it merits a pass.

The script’s characters are, by far, its biggest liability. Their personalities are all inconsistent, swinging wildly from scene to scene. Sometimes, Josh is the intelligent, responsible kid who is deeply respectful—almost reverent—of women. He suddenly does a complete 180 to sex-crazed horndog without any believable reason. Not even the fact that he’s 18 makes such wild personality deviations work—it’s just the writers sacrificing characterization to go for easy jokes. Josh’s arc relies entirely on Claire’s perception that Breathless will teach him how to be French, which is a bizarre turn of events considering the film is about a character who spends his life imitating American star Humphrey Bogart. The only good thing to come from this is that 0.1% of teenagers in the audience will have any idea what Breathless is.

Hank is an even worse case. He’s an obnoxious, drunken manchild who runs around videotaping underage girls taking their tops off, frequently having sex with these women—but, deep down, he’s really a sweetheart. The writers try for the limp (so to speak) justification that he felt so betrayed by his wife’s cheating, it created intimacy issues. All that’s well and good, except for the fact that he built his sleazy empire before the divorce. Whether or not he was actually having sex with his many teenage victims at the time is never said, but it’d actually be more interesting if he were that much of a hypocrite. Instead, the writers try too hard to make him a nice guy, because they finally realize—late in the script—that it makes no sense that Claire would be attracted to both sensitive Josh and lout Hank. Unfortunately, Hank works better as a stereotype. The wounded puppy dog routine would only fit with his personality if he were using it to trick Claire into sleeping with him, but this is not the case.

And then there’s Claire, the object of their mutual affection. Forget how creepy and disturbing it is for father and son to lust after and do battle for the same woman (the script certainly doesn’t notice how off-putting and unseemly this conflict is)—she’s another character whose personality is sacrificed both for lame jokes and for the lamer plot. In her first scene, she’s portrayed as an articulate, perceptive woman who sees right through Hank’s sleazy machinations and admires Josh’s kindness and sensitivity. Two scenes later, she’s sunbathing topless in front of them and acting like she can’t figure out why Josh is suddenly so nervous and Hank is leering. The writers spend the entire script pounding her into different shapes so she’ll fit the story they’ve created, and it’s never exactly clear why either characters fall in love with her. Lusting after her makes perfect sense, but the writers never develop her well enough for either character to fall for her. She’s simply an idealized woman who alternately loves old French films as much as strip golf.

The weak story is presented like awkward sketch comedy, never generating narrative momentum as it limps to the finish line. Each gag is virtually self-contained, giving the story an unfocused feel reminiscent of its inconsistent characters. The first act sets up one conflict (Josh’s need to pass his French class), the second act pushes it in another direction (Josh and Hank vying for Claire) while mostly ignoring the French class, and the third act brings it to a head as they race to France to fight for her love. In between, the writers shoehorn a lot of high school material into the story, but all of it feels like padding. The writers never make it seem important to Josh to stand up to Colin. He just does it because that’s the sort of thing that usually happens in a teen sex comedy. None of the high school subplots pay off in the third act, either. Jenny and Colin stop mattering somewhere in the second act, then disappear. This leads to a laughable resolution that leaves teen audiences with the message that they should forgive partners who cheat on them and try to make it work. The script is just too much of a mess to succeed on any level.

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The Last Hippie (a.k.a., The Music Never Stopped)

Author: Gwyn Lurie & Gary Marks

Genre: Drama

Storyline: 7

Dialogue: 8

Characterization: 8

Writer’s Potential: 8

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In the mid-1980s, parents try to use music to reconnect to their estranged son, who has a neurological disorder preventing him from accessing his memories.


In 1968, 17-year-old hippie GABRIEL SAWYER wanders through Greenwich Village, passing attractive hare krishnas. After flirting briefly, he gets woozy and has to pause, leaning against a wall until the feeling passes. In 1986, HENRY and HELEN SAWYER (both mid-60s) receive a phone call that Gabriel has been found wandering the streets of New York City. As they drive to the hospital, Henry plays “Till There Was You” from The Music Man on the car radio. This causes him to vividly remember dropping 6-year-old Gabriel off at his first day of school, in 1956, during which the same song played on the car radio. Henry tells his young son about the significance of this song in his life, that it was playing the first time he saw his future wife. Back in 1986, Henry and Helen meet with DR. BISCOW, a neurologist. He explains that Gabriel has an enormous, but benign, brain tumor that is pressing on certain parts of his brain that affect memory. They won’t know the extent of the damage until after they operate. The Sawyers wait tensely for the surgery to finish. Once Gabriel is in recovery, Dr. Biscow asks him a series of questions designed to test his memory. He assesses that Gabriel has reasonably good long-term recall, but his short-term memory has been drastically affected. As the tumor increased in size, it must have gotten harder and harder for Gabriel to form new memories, before he stopped having the ability altogether. The removal of the tumor will not change that, so Gabriel is permanently stuck at whatever time his long-term memories stop at.

In order to compensate, Gabriel suffers from what Biscow calls “joking disease,” which causes him to answer direct questions with glib responses. Henry wants to know if drugs caused all this. Biscow says no—it’s just an irregularity that caused major damage because Gabriel went untreated for at least 20 years. Helen realizes Gabriel left home 20 years earlier, after a falling out with his parents. Over the course of months, Gabriel recuperates, but his memory skills don’t return. He reacts to this by cutting himself off from the world, hiding behind “joking disease,” unable to respond coherently to anyone or anything. Henry has worked as an engineer at Eastman-Kodak for 40 years, but they quietly force him to retire because his mind is no longer on work. He has enough sick days built up to keep him afloat until his pension will kick in, but Henry’s still devastated at the mistreatment.

Henry and Helen bring some of Gabriel’s old possessions to the hospital, hoping to make his room a bit more homey as well as jog some old memories. Among these is an old trumpet. Henry recalls purchasing the trumpet for Gabriel on Christmas, 1956. Gabriel never seemed hugely fond of the trumpet, but Henry has high hopes. Still in 1956, Henry and Gabriel visit the gravesite of Henry’s brother, Gabriel’s namesake, who loved Count Basie, played the trumpet, and died fighting in Korea the same year Gabriel was born. They play Count Basie’s “Kansas City” on a record player. Gabriel asks if they’re playing the song so Uncle Gabriel can hear it in heaven. Henry says he hopes his brother hears it, but they’re actually playing it to remember him. In 1986, Gabriel has trouble sleeping, so a nurse sneaks him a portable radio, so he can listen to a classic-rock station. Later that night, the nurses hear Gabriel blasting the opening notes of the French National Anthem on his trumpet. They rush to his room, where they find him completely lucid.

The next morning, Biscow asks Henry and Helen if Gabriel ever played that song in the past. They say no. Helen speculates that he may have seen it on television, that he could always learn songs by ear quickly. FLORENCE, the nurse, confesses she gave Gabriel a radio. Helen hopes this means he’s coming out of it, but Biscow isn’t so sure. Helen wonders if the medication is helping, but Biscow insists all the medications are for hormone function, not neurologic function. Helen tells Biscow that Henry remembered the current Coca-Cola slogan. Refusing to give them false hope, Biscow tells Helen that he may remember small things from here on in, but that doesn’t mean he’ll make a recovery. Later, Henry and Helen sit with Gabriel, listening to a rock song on the transistor radio. Henry hates the music, but Helen insists she leave it on. The song takes them both back to 1968, when Gabriel played the same song with his garage band. Henry enters the garage and tells them all to go home. It’s dinner time. They frantically try to cover up the stench of cigarette smoke. Henry pretends not to notice.

Some time later, Helen learns Gabriel’s hospital bills are past due. She asks Henry about their financial state, and he gives her some vague non-answers. Helen marches into the Eastman-Kodak office and demands a job. When Henry’s boss refuses, she kindly informs him that this is the least they can do after forcing Henry out, and that she is college-educated, so she’s certain she can handle a lowly secretarial job. Henry is angry to learn she just up and got a job, without consulting him. Henry visits Gabriel at the hospital, causing him to freak out. His vague expectation was that Helen would come, and the presence of Henry disorients him. Henry leaves Gabriel a note reminding him that Dad will come every day at 10:00.

Henry researches at a local library and finds something that could be useful: an article about a college professor studying links between music and memory. Henry visits the professor, DIANNE DALY, and asks about her research. She explains the well-documented research about the effects music has on brain activity. She believes music uses an unknown system of memory that has not yet been tapped. She’s looking to prove this. Gabriel is smitten by an attractive cafeteria worker, CELIA, but he doesn’t realize he’s met her multiple times. Henry brings Dianne to the hospital. She turns his room into a “music lab,” filled with rhythm instruments like drums and tambourines (she has a theory that rhythm alone can tap into the memory). She starts by playing the French national anthem, which thrills Gabriel for a few notes, but after that he gets agitated. Both Dianne and Henry are confused. Dianne suggests Henry bring in records Gabriel would be familiar with from his childhood. Henry brings records of jazz songs and show tunes. Henry quizzes Gabriel on the songs, as he did when Gabriel was a child. Gabriel recalls the information, but he recites it robotically—the music is allowing him to recall, but not connect emotionally.

One night, Dianne hears “All You Need Is Love,” with its Marseillaise introduction, on the radio, and she realizes what Gabriel was listening to that night. The next day, she plays Magical Mystery Tour for him, and he’s suddenly lucid. He describes his love for the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Cream, and especially the Grateful Dead. She asks him a series of questions, but the only thing that trips him up is the current President. He immediately shuts down and returns to “joking” mode, until Dianne puts on a Grateful Dead album. Gabriel recounts the story of the night he almost saw the Grateful Dead. It was 1968—the same night Henry yelled at Gabriel to come in for dinner. Henry insists Gabriel must go to College Night at his school. Gabriel would rather see the Dead, but that’s not an option in Henry’s mind. Gabriel says he doesn’t even want to go to college—he wants to go to the Village and play music. Henry tells Gabriel he must go to college to learn the tools that will make him a successful musician. At College Night, Henry drags Gabriel from booth to booth. Gabriel asks about Princeton to get Henry off his back. He disappears into the crowd and sneaks out to a van, where his bandmates and secret girlfriend TAMARA wait. Henry busts Gabriel before they have a chance to leave. Angrily, Henry forbids Gabriel from seeing Tamara.

In 1986, Dianne explains Gabriel’s reaction to the rock ‘n’ roll music that spoke to him as a teenager. Henry is angry, feeling that Gabriel should respond more to the music they both loved—jazz. Dianne proves it to them by playing the Grateful Dead for Gabriel. She has to reintroduce herself and explain what she’s doing. She starts asking Gabriel questions, and he brings up a disastrous gig his band played at the high school, during a Vietnam rally. To Gabriel’s surprise, Henry wanted to attend, so he wanted to impress his dad by playing a jam-band cover of “Kansas City.” In the middle of the song, Gabriel burned the flag. This enraged Henry, who reminded Gabriel that his uncle died to protect that flag. When Gabriel got home, Henry had already destroyed his rock ‘n’ roll posters and records, which is what caused Gabriel to leave home and never return. In 1986, Henry is enraged that these are the sorts of things this horrible music helps Gabriel remember—things Henry has been trying hard to forget. Dianne tries to explain the emotional connection between memory and music, but Henry tells her they no longer need her help. Helen apologizes for Henry’s behavior and tells Dianne to keep pushing.

At home, Helen tries to convince Henry that it doesn’t matter what music brings Gabriel back, as long as he’s back. Henry considers it strongly. The next morning, he goes to a used record shop and trades his entire prized record collection for “everything you’ve got after 1958 that’s…loud.” Dianne plays some records for Gabriel. She tells a fable about a lion and a mouse and asks Gabriel to tell the story back to her. He does, but he twists the details, and it’s unclear if he’s kidding or he just can’t remember. Henry arrives at the hospital, surprising Dianne with a copy of Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited. Instantly animated, Gabriel draws Henry into a conversation about the first time he ever played the album.

A montage follows, showing Henry connect with Gabriel through conversations over the music he loved—Donovan, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and the Grateful Dead. Dianne tries to teach Gabriel a brief rhyme. He struggles to speak it back to her, but when she uses the tambourine to give the rhythm, he gets it. She’s pleased. Henry continues listening to the music with Gabriel, but he hates it. One day, Gabriel explains what the lyrics to “Truckin'” by the Grateful Dead mean, how the journey is important, not the destination. Henry actually listens hard to the lyrics and realizes Gabriel’s interpretation is accurate, and also that the song isn’t as horrible or incoherent as he believed. Some time later, Dianne asks Gabriel to recall the rhyme he taught her days ago. Again with the help of the tambourine, he does it. Time passes, and Henry becomes intimately familiar with the music, musicians, and lyrics, learning everything he can to use it as a springboard to get to know Gabriel.

On the radio, Henry hears a DJ talking about a contest that could win two tickets to a sold-out Grateful Dead concert. He frantically scrawls the number down using Helen’s lipstick. Henry takes Gabriel to the cafeteria, where he sees Celia. Henry’s surprised when Gabriel starts making connections even without music. He starts remembering things about Tamara as he talks to Celia. Henry asks Dianne if it would be possible for Gabriel to create new long-term memories using music. Dianne says it’s possible, but it would have to be a song he hasn’t heard before, one that has no clear associations with his past. That night, the DJ is finally giving away tickets to the Dead show. Henry frantically calls, getting a busy signal each time—and promptly has a heart attack from the stress.

Helen visits Gabriel, writing on his calendar that he’s coming home for Christmas. While recovering in the hospital, Henry obsessively listens to the radio, waiting for his chance. Finally, he gets through, talking softly so the nurses won’t find him on the phone after hours. He correctly answers a trivia question, winning the two tickets. Gabriel comes home for Christmas. Henry’s back home, too. He apologizes to Gabriel for tearing down his posters and throwing away his records. Gabriel asks how long ago that ways. Henry reluctantly tells him: 20 years. Gabriel is shocked—to him, it feels like only a few indistinct years have passed. Henry and Helen invite Tamara over. It’s an awkward reunion. She’s married and has children, but he still thinks they’re dating. Henry gives Gabriel his Christmas gift: the Grateful Dead tickets. Gabriel is thrilled. Back at the hospital, Gabriel is shocked to find a new, male cafeteria worker has replaced Celia. Panicking, he flees the hospital and finds his way to Tamara’s childhood home, terrifying her parents. He breaks his ankle trying to climb up to her window.

Dianne has to convince Biscow to allow Gabriel to see the Grateful Dead. Biscow finds her claims dubious and unsupported and has reservations about sending Gabriel into such an unpredictable environment. Dianne insists he has a special connection to the Dead. Henry pleads with Biscow, telling him that it took 20 years to find Gabriel, and Henry needs to have a real conversation with his son, one that he’ll remember. Biscow allows him to go to the concert.

They see a guy selling hemp shirts. Gabriel laughs at the idea that Henry would wear something like that, so Henry buys them both hemp tie-dye shirts. Gabriel is elated to see the Dead. He’s surprised that Pigpen isn’t there. Henry reluctantly explains that Pigpen died years ago. Gabriel seems absolutely normal, more lucid and at home than he’s been since his teen years. The Dead plays a newer song. It causes Gabriel to freeze for a moment, but he gets into the song. Henry realizes this is his moment to have a talk with Gabriel, but he allows his son to simply enjoy his music. They play Grateful Dead songs on the drive home, both of them feeling like this is a perfect night.

A year later, Gabriel frantically searches his hospital room for something, but he can’t remember what. Helen, dressed from head to toe in black, sighs that he misses his father. Gabriel’s confused—he recites the note that Dad comes every day at 10:00. Helen quietly tells Gabriel, and not for the first time, that Henry passed away. Gabriel’s shocked. Helen takes Gabriel to the funeral. She plays a bootleg recording of “Touch of Grey” from the concert Henry and Gabriel attended. The other mourners are a little puzzled by the song choice, but Gabriel stands there, able to remember his father in his old age, on their perfect night.


The Last Hippie is a downbeat tale of father-son relationships and loss. It’s a compelling story that has some problematic flashbacks but is otherwise solid, with mostly well-written characters. The resolution is a bit maudlin, but with the right actors and director, it could turn out great. As written, it merits a consider.

The first act does a pretty good job of establishing the story and characters in subtle ways, particularly the strained relationship between Henry and Gabriel. Although the story itself is fairly slow and not exactly scintillating, the way the writers play with Henry’s perception of his son (mostly rooted in their good times when he was young) versus the reality of his son in adulthood is intriguing and well done. The writers also do a nice job of using the overarching storyline—of Gabriel’s memory loss and the forced connections through sharing music—as metaphors for an old father trying to understand his confusing son.

The writers lose much of this subtlety in the second act, when the emphasis on music-oriented conversations with a lucid Gabriel and excessive flashbacks to 1968 threaten to turn both Henry and Gabriel into silly caricatures instead of multifaceted people. This is problematic mainly because the script doesn’t have a strong narrative to gloss over the on-the-nose dialogue and scenes blandly portraying Henry as a stern taskmaster and Gabriel as an iconoclastic free spirit. Strip away the memory loss, and it’s an incredibly simple story that needs to be about two strong characters. Fortunately, the writers don’t get too ham-fisted with their flashback portrayal of the characters.

The third act is difficult because it’s fairly saccharine, mainly chronicling Henry’s quest to take Gabriel to a Grateful Dead concert and share one perfect evening that his son can actually remember. The right director and especially the right actors could pull it off successfully, taking what reads as overly sentimental on the page and making it into gut-wrenching emotional scenes. This is not the most commercial script, but excellent actors playing these roles could result in awards nominations, maybe even wins, to boost its viability. One false move from the actors and directors, and the whole film comes tumbling down in a tidal wave of syrupy sweetness that will leave audiences annoyed an unaffected.

In the present-day (i.e., 1986) scenes, the characters are very well-written. Henry’s struggle to understand Gabriel is only heightened by Gabriel’s inability to remember anything but their worst moments together. Gabriel is an extremely difficult character that they do a nice job with, doing an excellent job of portraying his transformation from “joking” Gabriel to lucid “teen” Gabriel, using nothing more than dialogue. The flashback portrayal of these characters is a bit more problematic, eschewing the subtlety of the awkward present-day conversation in favor of bland, on-the-nose arguments that bluntly spell out things that are alluded to more subtly in the present. The flashbacks are mostly unnecessary and actually hinder both the story and the character development.

The supporting characters don’t get nearly as much material, but they’re vividly rendered by the writers. Helen is an impressively tough wife, Dianne’s fascination with Gabriel and her joy when he shows signs of improvement is endearing, Biscow’s stern pragmatism is unnerving but believable. The other characters have minimal impact on the story, but the writers give them the same attention and nuance they do to the larger roles.

A similar but less sappy ending would definitely benefit this script, but either way, this script is not particularly commercial. Good casting will improve its chances for awards to improve its viability slightly, but the soundtrack alone (which prominently includes notoriously expensive-to-license acts like the Beatles and Bob Dylan) will inflate this script’s budget to a degree that it may not end up profitable.

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The Home

Author: Eric Vespe

Genre: Horror

Storyline: 5

Dialogue: 5

Characterization: 5

Writer’s Potential: 5

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A young man forced to stay at a rest home for the elderly discovers a sinister presence is killing the residents.


ALMA (80s) wanders a rural highway during a powerful rainstorm. CHAPLIN (40s) and ROBERTS (30s) arrive to pick her up, but she puts up a fight, biting Roberts, who knocks her unconscious with a powerful fist. They return Alma to Everbrook Home, a long, one-story building built into a hillside. EMILY NAVIT (30s), the nurse, comes outside to greet them. Roberts, angry about getting bit, refuses to help—until the owner, GARY (50s), appears. Navit checks Alma to make sure there’s nothing terribly wrong with her. An ambulance arrives to drop off BEN (20s), an unconscious burn victim. Suddenly, glass shatters in Alma’s room. Navit rushes to check on her and find Chaplin has been killed by the flying glass. Alma is cut and bleeding. Slowly, Ben wakes up. His roommate, BEN (70s), is a friendly ex-Marine. Navit introduces herself and tends to Ben. He can’t walk and will have to stay at Everbrook until he fully recuperates. Gus wants Ben to be sent away, but it’s not an option. Navit and Gary clean out Chaplin’s office. Gary tells her he has “pressing business” and needs her to handle the day-to-day. Navit, who has a son, is not enthusiastic.

Gary does rounds, introducing the other relevant patients: ERNEST, an angry, foul-mouthed man; and GERTIE, a frail, dementia-suffering woman obsessed with creepy ceramic dolls. That night, Ben notices a violent tugging at the edge of his bed. It’s a clawed, blackened arm that seems to be coming from the floor. Gus, who seems to know what’s happening, orders Ben to look at him. He says calm, kind words to distract Ben from the arm, which goes away. Ben demands to know what it is, but Gus won’t discuss it until the morning. The next day, Gus and HOWARD (70s, kindly) discuss things with Ben. Gus and Howard have decided that the rest home is creating different tormenters for each the patients, because it wants them either scared or crazy. None of the staff wants to believe this is true. They rule the “home”‘s attacks as suicides. They almost convinced Chaplin, which is why the home killed him. Ben thinks someone might listen to him, but Gus isn’t so sure he’ll make it out of the home alive.

Navit brings her son, OTIS, to the hospital while she has to run things. He has muscular dystrophy and is aware that something’s wrong at the home, but nobody believes him. That night, the creature attacks Ben and Gus’s room again. It kills Gus. Ben is still too weak and pained to stop it, but he gives it a good try. Unfortunately, it results in him lying comatose for two weeks. However, his actions have endeared him to the other elders, who come and sit with him while he’s unconscious. When he wakes, Navit subtly accuses Ben of killing Gus. Ben tries to convince her there’s something haunting the home, but she refuses to believe it, thinking he’s too drugged and delirious to know what he’s talking about. Still, Ben is so sincere, it causes her to question Gertie, the craziest of the patients. Gertie cryptically and creepily explains that the home wasn’t good to Gus because he didn’t like it, but she likes it, so it treats her fine. In the recovery room, Ben stares out at a cemetery. Howard chuckles about the view. Howard explains that the home used to be a tuberculosis hospital for children, and that if children died, they set up tubes to dump the children into, which led straight into an incinerator. If the family had money, they’d bury the children in the cemetery.

When Ben is well enough to leave the recovery room, Howard wheels him to the common room, where several other residents are ready and willing to take action. They explain that they’ve tried to burn down the home, but they can’t. The others say you can’t kill ghosts, but Ben doesn’t think they are ghosts—whatever is attacking them is real. The discussion breaks down, with everyone sniping at each other, until Howard reminds them that the home wants them divided. Their best option is to stick together. Howard forces Ben to start walking, using the handrails on the walls to pull himself along. Navit sees this and warns him that he could be seriously hurt. Ben tries to reason with Navit about what’s happening in the home. Even Otis sees it, but Navit remains obstinate. That night, Ernest witnesses Gertie’s ceramic dolls come to life and feast on her. He and the other elders decide that they really do need to do something to stop it. The moment they make that decision, the creature comes after them. They all push their call buttons, and the nurses scatter, frantically trying to help the elders. A few die.

Navit starts to believe Ben. Together, they confront Gary, who doesn’t really care. Ben demands that they move the residents out of the home. Gary shows them a contract. Ben goes to Howard, Ernest, and the others to tell them that Gary is selling the home. They’ll all be moved to a new facility, and the building will be torn to the ground. They all agree it’s good news, but Howard points out that if the home knows it’s going to “die,” it won’t have any reason to take caution and keep from getting caught. This unsettles them. That night, a horrible storm kills the power. All the mobile residents are told to gather in the common room while the nurses go to move all the invalids. Toilets start backing up, so Gary sends Roberts to investigate the pipes in the basement. Down there, he finds that it’s flooding. A pipe explodes, killing him. Moments later, the generator kicks on. Down the halls, the nurses can hear loud screams. With each scream, the dim lights grow stronger. Navit takes notice. She races to help the invalid residents, but the doors all suddenly slam shut as she approaches. The only door that remains open is the recovery room, where Alma is mutating into some sort of tentacled zombie.

Navit returns to the common room just as Ben is about to lead the mobile residents to leave. Gary rushes in, panic-stricken, insisting they all leave. Despite his fear, he still refuses to admit anything supernatural is happening. Ernest confronts Gary violently, forcing him to admit it. Gary runs toward the front entrance, but he starts to see skeletons floating in the rising water. The cemetery has been flooded, so the skeletons are floating into the home. The water is too high for them to get out through the main entrance without a boat. Ben tells them the only other option is the rear entrance. Since the home is built on a hill, the rear entrance is higher ground—but it means they have to walk through the length of the home. They struggle through the knee-high water. They stop at a utility closet, each getting weapons like a fire axe and heavy wrench—including Otis, but not Gary. As they walk through the home, they see surreal sights: crazed, seemingly possessed residents eating diseased meat in the cafeteria, eerie splashing in the water, disturbing paintings lining the walls.

One of the patients, LUTHER, has a hard time with all the walking. He forces them to stop and rest, but Gary doesn’t want to stop. He runs off, so Ben follows him, forcing him to stop. One of the other nurses, strange and zombie-like, attacks Luther, Howard, and Navit, who have sent the other residents ahead. Navit tries to help the nurse, but she attacks. Luther sacrifices himself to save Navit from whatever it is that has infected the nurse. Meanwhile, the other residents are attacked by some sort of black, snake-like creature floating in the water. Ben hears all the screams. Ernest shouts for Ben to go on without them. All the residents have to beat on the snake with their tools in order to kill it. Ben doesn’t leave. He returns to Navit and Howard in time to find some sort of fungus-like growth feeding on Luther. Gary tries to stop the growth with the axe, but Ben won’t let him kill Luther. They fight over the axe, and Gary accidentally kills Howard with it. They’re both shocked. The rest of the group returns, distracting Ben long enough for Gary to run away. Ben decides he’s going to kill Gary, but he doesn’t have to: Gary hides in a supply closet, where the home promptly kills him. Ben is pleased to hear his screams.

When Otis sees the creature, Ben recites the same words that Gus said to him on his first night there—distracting Otis from the creature, causing it to leave. It’s a short-lived victory, however. A possessed resident leaps up from the water, grabbing Otis and pulling him under. Navit dives after it. Ben tries to, as well, but a corpse emerges from a floating coffin and attacks him. One of the other elderly residents sacrifices herself to decapitate the corpse, freeing Ben to help Navit and Otis. By the time they reach the south entrance, they’re the only three left—Ernest has mysteriously disappeared. Ben tries to open the door, but it won’t budge. The home is keeping them in as it collapses around them. Suddenly, the glass doors shatter. Ernest is the culprit. He pulls them all out of the house, and they narrowly escape as the building falls around them. Police boats scan the flooded area for survivors. They find Gertie, still alive, cackling like a madwoman, clutching her favorite doll.


The Home is a relentlessly mediocre variation on the haunted house story. It lifts most of its good ideas from other movies (notably Bubba Ho-Tep and Poltergeist, only without those films’ endearing sense of humor) and most of its disturbing imagery from Clive Barker stories. Lack of originality isn’t the problem so much as the writer’s intent on crafting nothing more than a by-the-numbers story populated by bland characters. As written, it merits a pass.

The first act introduces one of the script’s biggest problems: a leaden pace. It rigidly adheres to the formula of this type of movie, starting with a confusing “scare” moment, moving on to introduce protagonist Ben (as always, a new resident in the haunted house), and then delving in to the theatrics of dull shock moments and discussion of convoluted mythology. One of the more interesting ideas here is that Ben is little more than an invalid. Naturally, this development is hastily abandoned in the second act, as he regains his power to walk and the chronic pain from his burns is only used as a crutch to temporarily stun him later on.

The second act spends a lot of time on scary death moments, the home’s muddled mythology, and desperate attempts to convince the staff of what’s happening. It’s a tad repetitive, thanks partly to the lack of engaging characters, but the main problem is that what’s happening with the home is never entirely clear. This seems to be intentional, but the fact that the writer raises a number of options (ghosts of tubercular children, an ancient curse, or merely a house that is somehow alive and wants these people gone) without ever committing to one inadvertently causes an unsatisfying resolution. Without knowing what they’re fighting it’s hard to really get engaged in their struggle to defeat it—or, more accurately, run away from it.

The third act piles on the weird imagery to pad out an escape from the house that would have been slightly more satisfying if it were significantly shorter. As mentioned, there’s always the problem of them not knowing what they’re fighting or how to kill it. However, as with the second act, the third act gets repetitive in a hurry. The writer tries multiple variations on two basic attacks: strange creatures and possessed residents, who either drag people into the water or try to eat them. It works the first couple of times, but by the fifth and sixth times, it’s just tiresome.

A big problem here is the lack of compelling characters. Putting different, interesting characters into these repetitive situations would go a long way toward making them seem less redundant. However, the writer opts to give each character one basic trait (Ben is young, Howard is nice, Ernest is cranky, etc.) without ever going the extra mile to make the audience care about who they are and whether or not they survive. The lack of empathy hinders the script because, as the body count rises, there’s no mounting suspense. It doesn’t really matter who dies—even when it’s nice-guy Howard—because none of the characters are interesting enough and none of the relationships are strong enough to make the audiences feel anything beyond boredom.

If the home is supposed to be the antagonist, then it, as a character, is pretty muddled and poorly developed. As mentioned, it’s never entirely clear what’s causing the supernatural phenomena they witness. The writer never establishes rules to establish what it can and can’t do, so there’s no real mystery or intrigue there, except that it raises the question of why a seemingly omnipotent force can’t manage to kill a group of old people and a severely wounded young man. Wisely, the writer allows Gary to be a human antagonist, but his slippery weasel routine has been seen so many times in so many other movies—and not just horror movies—that he barely registers as a villain, and as with the good guys’ deaths, his murder means nothing.

The only thing that can come close to saving this script is good casting, to help it rise above its character problems, and good directing, to help it surmount is sluggish pacing.

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Author: Chris Sparling

Genre: Thriller

Storyline: 8

Dialogue: 9

Characterization: 9

Writer’s Potential: 9

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Disappointed consider


When three coworkers make a late-night stop at an ATM, they’re trapped and taunted by a mysterious man with an unclear agenda.


DAVID, 27, arrives for work at an urban highrise bank. A montage depicts his day as a financial advisor: starting out happy and optimistic, but quickly getting crushed by the stress and difficulty of the day’s market. At the end of the day, he has to make a guilty phone call to a client who has lost a lot of money, the week before Christmas. COREY, 28, arrives at David’s desk to invite him out for the evening. He overhears the end of David’s conversation and tries to convince David it’s not his fault. David feels horrible about the loss. Corey tries to cheer him up by saying it’s EMILY’s last day and that David should come out after work and try to ask her out again. David doesn’t want to repeat the humiliation he felt a year ago, but Corey manages to convince him. David watches Corey get increasingly drunk as he yammers obnoxiously to mutual friends. He awkwardly tries to talk to Emily, but he’s waited too long—she’s planning to leave the party. Desperate, David rushes out to the parking lot with a winter hat he knows isn’t hers, just to give himself a reason to talk to her. He asks her out awkwardly and causes her to miss her cab. He offers to give her a ride home, but Emily demures, saying she lives way out in the suburbs. David insists, so she agrees.

David goes back into the bar to gather his things when Corey sees him leaving and insists on a ride home—David had promised him earlier, and Corey won’t take the hint that he’s no longer welcome. David and Emily sit awkwardly in David’s car while Corey yammers on David’s cell phone, asking a friend to search the bar for his own phone, which he left behind. The friend finds it, just as David’s phone craps out. David tries to put it in the charger, but it slips. He lets it go, not wanting to freak out Emily by bending over her legs. Emily is cold, so David tosses his coat over her like a blanket. Corey belligerently demands food, noting a local pizza place that is open all night. He says he’ll only be a few minutes, but they need to stop by an ATM first, because the place is cash-only. They stop at an otherwise empty supermarket, which has a 24-hour ATM vestibule separate from the store. Because of the bad neighborhood, it’s enclosed in glass and requires the scanning of an ATM card in order for the door to open. While Corey goes to get the money, David makes an awkward apology. Emily thinks David’s nervousness is cute.

When Corey takes too long, David gets out of the car to see what the problem is. Not wanting to wait in the car, Emily follows. Corey’s card won’t work, so David uses his own card and gets out $100. They’re ready to go, when Emily suddenly stops—she sees something in the dark parking lot. The shadowy figure of a large, intimidating MAN. He simply stands and stares. The trio wonder who the Man is. Corey assumes he’s waiting to use the ATM, but David and Emily fear he wants to rob them. Annoyed, Corey steps toward the door—the instant he does, the Man steps closer to the ATM. Corey freezes, reconsidering. Emily wants to call the police, but Corey shouts at the Man, asking what he wants. The Man remains silent, staring. They don’t think he looks like a homeless person, but they don’t have a clue what he wants. They hear a noise—ROBERT (40s), a harmless man, is walking his dog through the parking lot. He unclips the leash and lets the dog run into the nearby woods, where a conspicuous industrial hose leads from a cistern to the supermarket. Robert makes small talk with the Man, who bashes Robert’s face in, beating him to death, taking his wallet, and going back to staring at the ATM.

Shocked, the trio decide to call the police—but nobody has a phone. Corey left his at the bar, David’s is out of power, and Emily’s is in her purse, in the car. They search the ATM for a panic button, but they find nothing. They have no way to alert anyone, and no way out. The ATM has poor heating (designed for only short trips), the time/temperature sign on the supermarket says it’s -5°F and they have six hours to sunrise. Emily wonders why the Man doesn’t come inside. David speculates it’s because he doesn’t have an ATM card. Emily wonders if Robert had an ATM card. This makes them all nervous. David gets his keys from Emily, deciding to make a run for his car. The Man sees this and edges toward David’s car. He gets into the unlocked car and fiddles around inside, eventually popping the trunk. He tosses aside a bunch of junk, including a folding lawn chair, before finding a tire iron and a tool kit. Now he’s armed, but he disappears, out of view from the vestibule. After a few moments of consideration, they start hearing banging—from the other side of the vestibule, as if the Man is trying to beat his way through the wall. Before long, the lights go out, replaced by much dimmer emergency lights. The Man returns to stare at them. David tries to shatter the glass walls, assuming that will trigger an alarm. The glass won’t budge. Corey and Emily join in, but it’s no use. Emily notices a sprinkler and wonders if the others have a lighter—nope. David sees a police car cruising along the edge of the parking lot. He shouts for help to no avail. The car drives away.

David hatches another plan: he’ll take all his money out of the ATM. It only has a daily limit of $500, so he can only take out $400 more. He asks Corey to take out $500, but his card still won’t work. Emily realizes something: if Corey’s card doesn’t work, but he still got past the card-scanner door lock…that means the door lock isn’t working. After letting this sink in, David continues to think of ways to give the Man enough money to leave them alone. Emily’s ATM card is in her purse, so she offers up some fancy earrings. David insists Corey give up an heirloom watch he wears. Corey doesn’t want to, but David forces the issue. He puts everything in a deposit envelope, which he quickly kicks to the Man. He catches sight of the Man on the side of the vestibule, using David’s tools to unsuccessfully open a side door to the vestibule. The Man takes a few steps toward the envelope, and David uses the distraction to sprint toward his car. The Man immediately gives chase. David gets into his car and discovers the Man has ripped apart his ignition. He manages to get Emily’s phone but can only dial 911 (not send) before the Man gets to him. He manhandles David, getting the phone away from him, but David manages to get out of his grip and run back into the vestibule. The Man stops 10 feet short of the vestibule, seemingly daunted. He smashes Emily’s phone and pockets the envelope of money and valuables, then goes back to work.

Emily and Corey peer through a metal grate into the room the Man is trying to get into. They theorize it’s the place where they restock the ATM. Corey considers pulling off the grate and sending Emily through the hole, then distract the Man so she can get out and run for help, but David doesn’t think it’s big enough to fit even Emily. Emily comes up with an idea: she heard that if you punch in an ATM code backwards, it’ll automatically alert the police, like a secret message. Corey thinks it’s an urban legend, citing “palindrome” ATM codes like 4224, which can’t be reversed. Emily thinks it’s worth a try, but the only result is the ATM eating David’s card. David wonders why this is happening. Emily entertains the possibility that he knows them, somehow. Corey brings up the client whose money David lost. David dismisses it, pointing out that the Man was already here, with no transportation. He couldn’t have followed them from the bar, and even if he did, why would he have killed Robert? David figures he wanted to rob the ATM, but they got in the way, but Corey doesn’t think that makes sense—they didn’t see him until after they got their money and were ready to go. He could have just stuck to the shadows but didn’t. As the conversation breaks down, all three discover they’re suffering from the early stages of hypothermia.

Emily spots a security guard car. They beat on the door and shout for his help. The security guard pulls up, looking concerned, but when they realize it’s not a real cop, Corey assumes he can’t help them—he’s not armed and not affiliated with the real police. Through the door, which they refuse to open, they beg for help. The security guard has trouble hearing them over the wind. Just as he realizes what they’re saying and sees Robert’s corpse—the Man bashes in his head with the tire iron. Emily starts to panic. Suddenly, the Man enters the vestibule. Freaking out, David lunges at him. He and Corey fight the Man, who fights back, and before long, they’ve strangled him to death. They breathe a sigh of relief that it’s all over—except the Man is still outside, watching them. The trio are horrified. It turns out the man they killed was a similarly dressed, similarly built man who simply wanted to use the ATM on his way to a third-shift custodial job.

Corey searches the janitor’s body for a cell phone, but he doesn’t have one. Things break down between the trio—David starts to blame Corey, while Corey blames David, and Emily starts to break down because of the hypothermia (which effects her smaller body more quickly). The Man watches, emotionless, as David and Corey begin to fight. Emily notices the Man is out of sight again. Angry and not thinking clearly, Corey decides he’s going to leave, despite the possible consequences. He gets a few yards out before the Man appears, brutally killing Corey with a screwdriver. David and Emily stare, stunned. David blames himself for Corey’s death and dragging Emily into this situation. Emily’s more pessimistic, disappointed that they all just stared there, assuming that because they haven’t done anything wrong, they’d be saved. What’s happening isn’t anyone’s fault but their own and the Man’s.

They hear some banging. Silently, they listen, trying to figure out what will happen next. Corey suddenly appears, beating on the door, not quite dead. David and Emily let him in and try to tend to their wounds despite lacking supplies and medical training. Enraged, David smashes the ATM with the wastebasket, hoping that will trigger an alarm. He bashes the screen, but all this does is destroy the camera that’s been recording their every movement since they entered the vestibule. Before long, water begins to pour from the heating vent—the Man has moved the industrial hose. That’s what all the noise was earlier. David and Emily struggle to move Corey’s body up to the signing shelf, but it’s futile. He’s dead. As the janitor’s body rises with the water, Emily notices something—a pack of cigarettes. She searches his body for a lighter.

Once she finds the lighter, they fill the wastebasket with as much dry paper as they can find, and they light it. David stands on the signing shelf, trying to reach the fire sprinkler, but he’s not tall enough. Emily demands to get on his shoulders, but it’s awkward and difficult for the hypothermia-suffering pair to position themselves properly under the sprinkler. After a great deal of effort, they get it, and a noisy alarm and strobe light blare. Unfortunately, it also starts spraying water down from above, causing the vestibule to fill even faster. The signing shelf cracks, causing them both to collapse. Emily smashes her head and falls into the water, dead. David crumbles, seeing the corpses floating in the water, knowing there’s no way out for him, either.

The Man kicks David’s car into neutral, stopping it in front of the security car. He uses the security car to ram David’s car into the vestibule, shattering the glass. Water pours out. David looks at the Man, who simply sits in David’s old lawn chair, watching, motionless. Blinded by rage, David emerges from the vestibule, grabs some lighter fluid from his car, douses his coat in it, lights it on fire, and tosses it on top of the Man, who doesn’t even attempt to fight back. David jabs the screwdriver into the Man’s gut—before realizing this isn’t the Man at all. This is the security guard, whom the Man propped up in the chair. The Man, meanwhile, is in the ATM vestibule, staring at David. Just before David attempts to go after him, the security guard’s pepper spray explodes from the pressure caused by the fire. David is stunned and blinded by the pepper spray, and the Man closes in for the kill—

—when police and fire officials arrive. The Man disappears into the shadows. David still has the screwdriver in his hand. The police order him to drop the weapon, but he’s so confused and disoriented, he doesn’t listen. They throw him to the ground. David begs for help, but the police don’t believe him. They handcuff him and throw him in a patrol car. A montage shows the police investigating the crime: the broken security camera; Corey’s screwdriver wounds; David’s toolkit being used to break into the ATM; in David’s trunk, they find Robert’s wallet, the deposit envelope filled with cash and jewels, and Emily’s cell phone with 911 still ready to dial; security camera footage of David bashing the ATM; David strangling the janitor; and, worst of all, no sign of the Man anywhere on the security camera footage. The reason he never came near the vestibule wasn’t because of the lock—it’s because he knew he camera’s sight lines. And, from the police’s vantage point, it looks like David did the crimes.

Meanwhile, as the sun rises over the horizon, the Man pulls an apron out of a locker room, then steps out into the supermarket, where he joins a dozen other cashiers as morning commuters do their shopping. The Man eyes the ATM vestibule, which still has signs of last night’s carnage, emotionless and composed.


Until its last 10 pages, ATM is a phenomenal script, a great single-location thriller in the vein of Phone Booth. The writer does an exceptional job of building suspense and piling on difficulties without every veering too far from the ATM vestibule. The main characters are interesting and well-defined through their reactions to their circumstances and interactions with each other. The thing that kills it is a horrible twist ending, which undermines everything that came before it. As written, it merits a disappointed consider.

The first act does a superb job of quickly establishing each of the main characters’ jobs, personalities, and relationships to one another, before thrusting them into the ATM. The writer also does an excellent job of addressing the cell phone problem most movies face: rather than going with the overused “no signal,” he comes up with clever reasons why none of the three main characters have access to a cell phone while within the ATM. Once the writer introduces “the Man,” it’s simply a matter of building suspense and raising the stakes, as the characters start to realize they’re trapped and need to figure out a way to either get out or alert the authorities from within this confined space.

The second act is where the script really shines. This is a writer who knows how to construct a slick, economical thriller. Reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s Duel, the Man manages to become a terrifying menace without ever uttering a word, or even coming out of the shadows. In addition to finding a way to escape or trigger an alarm, the characters have the challenge of figuring out the Man’s agenda (and, more importantly, his plans for them) without any hints beyond creepy sounds and the cold-blooded murder of anybody who comes anywhere near the ATM. With their failure to accomplish anything, and hypothermia setting in, the characters inevitably turn on each other, and the writer does a great job of making this play out in a believable fashion.

The third act continues to raise the stakes by killing off main characters, leaving David even more isolated as the Man escalates his torment of the ATM dwellers. David’s ultimate breaking point is satisfying, and even though it’s a bit of a cheat that his confrontation and murder of “the Man” turns out to be the dead security guard, it’s a surprise that works. Unfortunately, it’s followed by two surprises that don’t work at all, and are, in fact, so bad that they undermine all the great material the script has prior to it. First, David’s arrested for all the crimes based on laughable circumstantial evidence that any first-year law student could counteract with minimal effort. Second, the true identity of the Man is revealed: a vaguely sociopathic cashier at the supermarket. The writer wants to go for the big twist at the end, but it’s deeply unsatisfying to see the protagonist hauled off for no good reason. More than that, it opens up tons of unanswered questions that will leave audiences annoyed: what happens when the cops find harder evidence supporting David’s theory that a mystery man did everything? Does the Man just want to torment anyone who uses this ATM? If so, why aren’t the cops suspicious that insane crimes keep occurring at this particular ATM? It’d almost be better to never know his identity or agenda than to give him one that undermines his previous actions.

The Man remains shrouded in mystery, and that’s fine until the horrible twist at the end. All the other characters are pretty solid. The writer does a nice job of keeping all three consistent and well-developed, but he does even better at believably showing how this experience changes them over the course of a few short hours. As their survival begins to depend on taking action, David’s able to put aside his fear and do something, although Corey (the brash, drunk man of action before him) gets killed for making a bold move. It’s a little too easy to pin his motivation to Emily’s death, but the writer does a good job of developing their relationship quickly (and establishing that David has harbored feelings for her for a long time).

The twist ending is the only thing preventing this script from being an enthusiastic recommend. If the filmmakers make the ending less of a cheat, it’ll be a great, commercial film.

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Author: Karl Gajdusek & Eli Richbourg & Milo Addica

Genre: Thriller/Crime

Storyline: 7

Dialogue: 7

Characterization: 7

Writer’s Potential: 7

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When a gang of thieves holds a family hostage, the family is forced to face up to the lies they’ve been telling each other, and themselves, for years.


KATE BROOKS (35) arrives at her large, isolated home. The inside is as nice as the outside, signs of wealth abound. Her husband, IAN, has a titanium briefcase with a high-tech lock cuffed to his wrist. He pops open the briefcase, then pops open the safe, without the audience ever seeing what’s inside either. Kate pencils adjustments on an architectural blueprint for an incomplete extension to their house. She immediately gets into an argument with her daughter, AVERY (15), who’s dressed above her age to go to a party with older guys. Kate forbids it, calling every’s best friend a bad influence. Ian reluctantly gets involved, and both women turn on him—Kate because he’s never home, Avery because he automatically takes Kate’s side. Ian sends Avery to her room when she calls Kate a bitch. Later, Kate brings Avery dinner and has a calmer heart-to-heart with Avery, who apologizes for calling her a bitch. Avery locks herself in her room and, while her parents are distracted with rekindling their romance, she sneaks out to meet her best friend, KENDRA, both of them carefully avoiding the motion sensors on the home’s alarm system.

Kate’s romantic machinations don’t have the desired effect. It’s clear from Ian’s distracted reaction and Kate’s anger that their marriage is collapsing. While Avery and Kendra arrive at a suburban McMansion to join the party, Ian and Kate are surprised when police show up. Suspecting Avery has been caught stealing again, Kate goes upstairs to get her from her room and finds the door locked. She finds the keys to unlock it and discovers the room is empty, but that’s not so much of a problem when the cops reveal they’re not cops at all—they’re thieves dressed as cops, wearing creepy baby doll masks. Ian notices this and shouts for Kate to run. She flees to the garage, leaping into Ian’s Porsche as COP #2 chases her. She manages to get out of the garage, but COP #1 stands at the edge of the driveway, holding Ian at gunpoint. JAKE (19), the guy throwing the party, wants to sleep with Avery, even after he finds out her real age. Terrified, she turns him down. He tries to impress her by opening a walk-in safe and pulling out bundles of cash, which he uses to snort cocaine. Avery decides to leave the party.

Cop #1 and Cop #2 shove Ian and Kate back inside the house. Cop #1 is smaller and more nervous and intelligent. Cop #2 is a big, calm sociopath, who keeps counting down the number of minutes they have before police are likely to be alerted to their presence. They meet the third accomplice, BABY DOLL, a woman who is very impressed with the house and doesn’t seem to realize how serious the situation is. The gang disables all the phones. They demand the code for the Brookses’ alarm system. After stalling them, Kate finally gives it up. Cop #1 panics, realizing alarm companies usually allow two passwords: the real one, and an emergency one that alerts police. Kate apologizes. Cop #1 leads them into Ian’s office and orders Ian to open his safe. Ian refuses, asking them what they expect to find. Cop #1 tells them they know things about Ian, and the action flashes back to Ian attempting to sell diamonds to jewelers. Ian offers them a deal: since all diamonds have to be registered, his would easily be traced back if they stole them. Ian tells them he’ll take them to a “gray market” dealer who will recut the diamonds to remove their serial numbers, then sell them and give Ian the money. The thieves don’t trust Ian, but he refuses to open the safe.

Cop #2 produces a hypodermic needle filled with ketamine, which he threatens to inject Kate with if Ian doesn’t cooperate. A SECURITY GUARD from their alarm company shows up, interrupting the threats. He’s also wearing a baby doll mask. Kate recognizes the body type, which Cop #1 picks up on. Kate flashes on three weeks ago. WILL, the security guard, was a workman repairing their cable, whom Kate found very attractive (and the feeling was mutual, although they never acted on it). In the present, she begs Will for help, but he’s under the thumb of Cop #1. Will calls Baby Doll by her real name, TONI, when he’s alarmed by her pilfering the Brookses’ fancy things. Meanwhile, Avery arrives home from the party. As she sneaks up the driveway, Kendra calls. From inside, the thieves hear the phone and go on high alert. Cop #1 confronts Kate about knowing Will. He’s angry about the supposed coincidence. Ian demands to know what Cop #2 wants. He says he’s a debt collector, but hints that the debt may not be Ian’s. Cop #1 pulls off his mask, revealing himself as DON, and he concocts an elaborate story about Kate cheating on Ian with Will. She lets him believe the story. Avery enters the house, which the thieves notice quickly and go after her. Kate screams for Avery to get out of the house immediately. Avery runs for it, and Toni shoots at her incompetently, missing but causing Avery to take pause.

Once they’re all gathered in one room, Don informs them that his mother has a bad kidney, so he can either come up with $180,000 for a new kidney, or he’ll take one of theirs. Still, Ian refuses to open the safe. Don goes after Ian with the needle, but Kate gets the drop on him, pressing the needle to Don’s neck and threatening to kill him with the ketamine if the others don’t back off. Don barks orders for his people to kill the family the instant she dies. Weirdly, Kate uses this to threaten Ian: she will kill Don, prompting the others to kill the family, if Ian won’t open the safe. Ian does as she asks.

The safe clicks open, revealing that it’s completely empty. The thieves stare, baffled. They’ve done the recon—they know Ian is a diamond salesman, always taking important business trips. Ian tells them it’s an elaborate lie. He was fired but pretends he’s still employed for his family’s benefit. Ian vows to give them a kidney if he lets their family go. Don ices down the area and sterilizes the knife, keeping up the charade to terrify Ian before finally revealing the kidney “sob story” was never true. Cop #2 receives a phone call from someone who sounds like a boss. He informs Don that they have an hour to get the money, or they all die. Don strips the computers of their cables and tells Will to tie up the Brookses. Will whispers sweet nothings in Kate’s ear as he ties her up. Ian is horrified to discover that they know each other. Will insinuates they had sex, which Kate vehemently denies. Separated from the others, Don and Toni are terrified that “TY” (Cop #2) is going to kill them. They make plans to run off together, but Ty catches them.

Things add up for Ian: Kate staged this robbery, not knowing Ian’s dire financial situation. Kate sadly informs him she knew all about it. She tracked down the contractor working on their extension, he told her the reason he stopped work was because Ian stopped payment on a check, so she started digging. They start arguing about their lifestyle, and Ian is surprised to realize Kate doesn’t care about it as much as the family. Kate offers to give the criminals a diamond necklace Ian got for her. He adds a new, expensive diamond for every year of their marriage: 15 and counting. They agree to accept this, assuming it’ll cover the amount they need. Ian reveals it’s cubic zirconium. When he hit dire financial straits, he had to sell the diamonds and secretly replace them. The thieves don’t believe him, so he tells them to test it: diamonds don’t scratch. Don scratches them with a knife, and sure enough, they scratch. Kate’s as angry as the others. Meanwhile, Avery fakes a panic attack. Toni takes pity on her, which Avery uses to get the drop on her. It’s a short-lived attack, but it distracts the others long enough for Ian and Kate to smash a window, setting off their alarm. Will quickly plugs in the phone and fakes a party atmosphere. While Don and Ty hold Ian and Avery at gunpoint, Will forces Kate to get on the phone and pretend it’s all a misunderstanding.

The alarm company operator cancels the police call, but a security agent shows up anyway. Ty shoots him dead in cold blood, before Will has the chance to explain that this is protocol. All Kate would have had to do is sign a form verifying it was a misunderstanding. Ian tries to convince them there’s a second safe hidden inside the safe. Ty shoots Ian in the leg for making up such a horrible lie, and Don shoots Ty in the head for being such a hotheaded idiot. Shocked, Don and Will contemplate how they ended up here: Don was a big drug deal, but just when he finally made his big score, someone stole his $180,000, and now he’s in deep to gangsters. Toni’s a stripper who works at their club, and Ty is the muscle to ensure they get the money. Don orders Ian to open the briefcase. He does, but all they find inside are private detective’s photos of Kate and Will together. Fed up, Don decides it’s time to get rid of the Brookses—when Avery announces she can get them bricks of cash, from Jake’s house. All she has to do is go back to the party and sleep with him. Ian and Kate aren’t sure about this plan, but Don agrees to go ahead with it. He sends Toni with to make sure Avery doesn’t alert the cops.

Avery drives along a wet road full of hairpin curves. She intentionally rams the Porsche into a tree, steals Toni’s gun, shoots her dead, and staggers back in the direction of the house. Back at the house, Will’s mind starts to reel when Kate makes it abundantly clear that they never made love—his perception doesn’t match reality. She slipped, briefly, and allowed him to kiss her, and now he’s obsessed with the idea of rescuing her from what he perceives as a rotten life. Kate realizes that this is not a robbery: Will chose this family because of his delusion, and he stole Don’s $180,000 to finance his escape with Kate and Avery. Will denies it, but to Don, it makes a little bit too much sense. Just then, they realize Ty’s body is gone. They find him in the office, and Don shoots him in the gut. Ty confirms Will is the one who stole the money. Don’s fed up with all the lies, but he can’t dwell on it—Ian and Kate have run. They dive out the upstairs window into the unfinished extension. Don and Will hear them and follow. Ian shoots Don with a nail gun, and Don shoots back with his real gun, then strangles Kate. Will sees this and goes after his brother. The violence knocks away the drywall, revealing the walls of the extension are lined with hundred-dollar bills: $973,000, to be exact. Ian’s secret nest egg, which not even Kate knew about. Don illuminates the situation: Ian knew Kate was planning to leave him, so he hid all his assets so he’d have something left after the divorce. Ian denies this, but it’s not terribly convincing.

Don’s ready to finish them off—when Avery shows up, holding Toni’s gun on them. Will’s got a gun on Ian; Don has a gun on Kate. No matter who Avery shoots, one of her parents will die—except Will shoots Don before he can kill Kate. While Will has a mental breakdown, Kate grills Ian about the money. He explains he stole it from the company when they fired him unceremoniously. Ian asks if she was serious about the money not meaning anything? When she says yet, he lights a spilled can of paint thinner, which sends a trail of flame to the money, burning up the extension, and Will inside. The Brookses dive into their swimming pool, narrowly avoiding being engulfed in the flames. The fire spreads to the entire house. Just as Ian and Kate are able to reunite, but Will’s not through with them yet. Enraged, he goes after Kate, pulling her under. Ian dives in after. Avery watches the water, waiting for a sign of life. Eventually, Ian and Kate reemerge, while Will’s fire-blackened corpse lies at the bottom of the pool.

Later, as police and fire officials sort out what happened, Ian lets Kate and Avery know that diamonds, in fact, do scratch—but they don’t burn. Their insurance will pay off what they owe on the house, but if they can find the diamond necklace, they’ll have a nice new nest egg.


Trespass strives to combine a hostage thriller with a serious meditation on deceit and class warfare. It’s a gamble that yields mixed results. Some of the twists are clever; some aren’t. Some of the attempts to turn the tables are intriguing and heighten the suspense; others are silly and undermine the characters. There’s interesting material buried in this script, but overall it’s too uneven to work. As written, it merits a pass.

The first act starts things well enough: an affluent family in tatters, with a workaholic husband, bored wife, and rebellious daughter all at odds. The thieves’ siege on the Brookses’ house is chillingly effective, but problems crop up in a hurry. The use of excessive, often misleading flashbacks quickly wears out its welcome, but the writers continue to insert such flashbacks throughout the script, to little effect. There’s no real separation time to allow the gang of thieves or the Brookses to convene and reveal things that are necessary to the development of the story or the characters, which creates one of the biggest problems in the script: these groups are frequently distracted by things that don’t matter—they’ll matter eventually, but not at the times they’re set up. For instance, stopping to discuss fond marital memories with, say, a gun or a needle jammed into their necks rings false and casts a frustrating pall over the entire story.

Once Avery returns to the story in the second act, things start to get redundant. The writers effectively stick her into the same perilous situations Ian and/or Kate faced earlier in the first and second acts, only this time it’s the parents reacting to their child instead of a husband and wife reacting to each other. However, with similar situations and identical reactions. From there, the cause-effect chain moves too rapidly to build any real suspense. Take, for example, Kate’s decision to trip their home security alarm. It’s resolved almost instantly, with Kate dismissing it over the phone while her family stands at gunpoint. Not resolving it so quickly or tidily could have allowed for more natural discussions among the thieves about why they’re really at the house, and whether it was better to be arrested for murder or try to flee knowing gangsters want them dead, all the while building suspense as the Brookses listen to them discussing their options and realizing it doesn’t look good for them.

The third act resorts to standard action-movie fare. How many times have movies like this ended up in an under-construction area of the house, allowing the heroes to use all manner of construction equipment to surprise the villains? Worse than that, the script verges on horror movie territory. Every single thought-dead character gets up at least once, shambling like a zombie, unwilling to simply die. It’d be frightening and suspenseful if it happened once; three times, and it just seems silly. Burning the house, starting with the money lining the walls, is a little too over-the-top in terms of symbolism, but the resolution with the diamond necklace worked fairly well.

By design, the characters remain mysterious, almost until the third act. They hide things initially, then reveal things that turn out to be lies, before flashbacks eventually reveal the truth. This makes it fairly difficult to get a read on the characters and their motivations: did Ian really steal money from his company to get revenge, or was he planning a secret nest egg to hide from his wife? Was Kate telling the truth about Will, or did she lie because she knew he was too unstable to separate reality and fantasy? It’s hard to understand why the characters have done the things they have when the writers try to hide what they’ve actually done. The villains only fare better because their lies have less gray area than the Brookses: they’re bad people, even if they’re lying about why they’re bad. Overall, every character ends up suffering at the hands of the writers. The aforementioned decision to have them each get distracted from the immediate situation, in order to deliver otherwise irrelevant backstory or foreshadowing, makes them all seem a little inconsistent, a little stupid, and a little hard to believe.

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The Nth Degree

Author: James Bird

Genre: Comedy/Fantasy

Storyline: 2

Dialogue: 1

Characterization: 3

Writer’s Potential: 1

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A disparate group of people with mysterious ailments join together to find a doctor who can cure them.


KATE watches as her LANDLORD beats on the door of neighbor SPENCER’s apartment, threatening to bring a Marshal to escort her out of the building. He pins an eviction notice to her door and walks away. Spencer emerges from the apartment, sees Kate watching, and yells at her. Kate is inexplicably covered in water from head to toe. Spencer smokes a cigarette and reads an old letter in an envelope. She remembers (courtesy of a flashback) convincing ADAM to commit suicide. They both take an overdose of pills. After they’re both dead, MR. MACHINE revives Spencer with some magical, illuminated substance inside a brown bag. She begs him to let her die, but Mr. Machine says their work isn’t finished. In the present, Spencer hears crying coming from another apartment. She goes to investigate and finds Kate’s apartment floor soaked with water. She sits in a bathtub overflowing with water, crying. Spencer ridicules her, and Kate throws her out of the apartment. The next day, Kate apologizes to Spencer, who calls her a freak.

Meanwhile, ELLIOT is a bum who is missing his pinky finger. He has a letter from his father, begging him to come home, saying he’s dying. Over the course of one night, Elliot decides to take a bus back home, and more appendages start falling off: a pinky toe, a middle finger, eventually a whole foot. Kate works as a waitress at a restaurant. She’s having a hard time controlling the water that soaks her body. Her male customers make lewd comments about her being “wet,” until she vomits water all over their table. Spencer convinces MARY to commit suicide. This time, she waits to ambush Mr. Machine. When he arrives shortly after Mary’s death, Spencer beats him unconscious with a frying pan and storms out the door. Meanwhile, DR. W (50s) gives NOAH (30s) a list of names and tells him to hurry back. Kate comes home and finds Spencer lying on the floor of the hallway, having attempted suicide once again. Kate rushes to save Spencer, who is enraged once she regains consciousness. Kate finds Spencer’s letter, which is from someone who calls her special and insists one day he or she will find Spencer and explain everything. Spencer demands the letter back, and Kate denies reading it. Spencer accuses Kate of attempting some sort of lesbian necrophilia. Kate leaves.

Kate finds a letter taped to her door, from Dr. W, postmarked from “Wilby, Califoregon.” Kate is baffled, but whatever’s in the letter is enough to make her take action. She packs a box and waits for a taxi. Spencer sees her. Kate confesses she’s dying, and Spencer claims she is, too. They argue about whether or not wanting to attempt suicide counts as “dying.” Kate gets so worked up, she forgets her box. She comes back for it later, thrilled to find that Spencer has taken it instead of letting someone steal it on the street. Spencer confesses she’s leaving, too, and offers to drive Kate if she’s going north. The landlord and the marshal show up to take Spencer away. Kate decides to flee with Spencer. They hop into her van and head north. Mr. Machine checks Adam and Mary off a list of names that includes Kate, Spencer, and Elliot (among others). Elliot waits at a rural gas station off the Interstate. When Kate and Spencer stop for gas and food, Elliot hops into the van. Spencer immediately wants to throw him out, but he begs for a ride. Kate is sympathetic, and when he reveals he’s dying and headed for Califoregon to see a doctor who may be able to help him, they realize they’re all headed to the same place, possibly for the same reason.

Spencer is disturbed to learn Elliot is “melting.” Elliot and Kate try to get Spencer to tell them why she wants to kill herself, but all she’ll say is that she’s tired. That night, they sleep parked on the side of the road. The next morning, Spencer tells Kate that Elliot died during the night. Kate is horrified, moreso when she learns Spencer was joking. They argue about whether or not to stop for breakfast, and then on the most effective way to commit suicide. They realize they’re all orphans. Later, the van sputters to a stop, out of gas. The trio walks back to a gas station they passed, where they encounter Noah, who is ready with gas for them. He claims to be a psychic and knows enough about them to wow Kate and Elliot, but Spencer remains unimpressed. Noah cryptically tells them to take the Sadman with her. The trio returns to the van to find a parking ticket. Meanwhile, Noah returns to his car and pulls out a list identical to Mr. Machine’s. He circles Kate, Spencer, and Elliot’s names, then follows them in his truck. Flashbacks reveal that Noah is Mr. Machine’s son, and that because Mr. Machine killed a number of unknown people, Dr. W packed eight babies into Noah’s truck and begged him to take them to an orphanage far, far away.

In the present, Spencer passes a house isolated in the desert, covered in sand. Kate forces her to stop. Spencer doesn’t believe Noah, so she won’t stop. She accuses Kate of reading her letter (it was wet) and throws Kate out of the van. Elliot goes with Kate. Spencer speeds away. Kate and Elliot go to the sand house, where they meet BILL, a man grotesquely covered in sand. They explain the situation, but Bill doesn’t want to go with them. Eventually, he agrees to go—as long as Kate gives him a kiss when they leave, and a kiss when they arrive in Califoregon. Kate is disgusted. She decides to sleep on it. They spend the night at Bill’s house. The next morning, Kate wakes Bill up and kisses him. The trio leave together, with Kate and Bill crammed on a bicycle and Elliot on a wheelbarrow tied to the bike. Spencer parks her van and tries to commit suicide, but Mr. Machine revives her once again and forces her to find the others.

Noah follows Mr. Machine and Spencer. They go to the sand house, which is now empty. Noah takes Spencer away, leaving Mr. Machine behind. He returns Spencer to her van, insisting she take the others to the doctor. Spencer asks him all sorts of questions, but he’s evasive and simply says the doctor will answer the questions. Kate, Elliot, and Bill show up at a dive bar, looking for food. When a waitress mistakenly takes HANK’s beer, Hank accuses Bill of taking it and picks a fight. Bill gets his ass kicked, until Kate freaks out, and a sudden vat of water appears from above, crushing Hank. Spencer arrives at the bar, apologizing. When Hank regains consciousness, she beats him up. The others pile into her van. Spencer wants to know how to get to Califoregon. Elliot has a map, which says to “take the I-5 highway… then take the 5-1 low way to Califoregon.” Hungry, they stop at a diner. Spencer notices that Mr. Machine is working the grill. She slams into the waitress as she brings their food, accuses her of being clumsy, and orders the others to leave the diner. Mr. Machine comes after them, and they run. Flashbacks reveal that Mr. Machine blames Dr. W for the death of his wife, who died while giving birth to a child. Apparently, Mr. Machine manipulated and drugged his wife into staying with him. In the present, Noah helps them escape Mr. Machine, but he stays behind to fight him. Mr. Machine kills Noah.

The group knows that Spencer knows more than she’s letting on, but she won’t tell them much. They reach the California border, but there’s no “5-I low way.” Elliot notices that in the mirror, “I-5” looks like “5-I.” The others see what he sees, and Spencer throws it into reverse, which leads them to the “low way.” Eventually, they find Wilby and take the exit. Wilby isn’t much more than Dr. W’s house. He welcomes them home. They’re all baffled. Dr. W reveals that all of them are wizards, each with their own special powers, which they can control with his help. The only except is Spencer, who is a half-wizard, or “hazard.” Everyone’s disbelieving until he proves that they can manipulate the sand, water, and flesh that appear to be ailing them. They prepare to fight Mr. Machine. That night, Spencer floats up to the roof. This is her power, which she doesn’t believe she has. Dr. W can’t convince her that she’s doing this. The next morning, Dr. W creates “uniforms” for each of them (such as a rain slicker for Kate).

Just after they dress, Mr. Machine shows up in Noah’s pickup truck. Mr. Machine reveals that he’s Spencer’s father, and that her mother is the one who died in childbirth. He’s trying to rid the world of all wizards, because all of them—himself included—are an abomination. This gets Spencer in the fighting spirit. She hatches a plan, tricking Mr. Machine into thinking she’s killed all the others. Meanwhile, an invisible Elliot uses the distraction to empty Mr. Machine’s brown bag of magic powder into dead Noah’s mouth, reviving him. They replace the contents of the bag with sand from Bill’s body. Spencer and Mr. Machine flee quickly, and Spencer drives the truck off an incomplete bridge. She “floats,” returning to Dr. W’s house, while Mr. Machine plummets to his death.

Free of Mr. Machine, who has been drugging her the same way he did her mother, Spencer dreams for the first time ever. She sees the two remaining wizards. She knows how to find them. Noah uses what remains of Mr. Machine’s dust to revive Adam and Mary. Noah declares it’s time for them to rebuild their family.


The Nth Degree seeks to answer a question that has plagued moviegoers for decades: “How much worse would Waiting for Godot be as a road movie about wizards?” The script is little more than aimless, sporadically amusing dialogue and a dull road-movie plot, with a fantasy element haphazardly added to create the illusion something worthwhile is happening in the story. As written, it merits a pass.

The first act ambles lifelessly from one disjointed scene to the next. The writer desperately wants to create an air of mystery, but the key to doing that is actually compelling the audience to want to learn the solution to said mysteries, instead of just pasting scenes together where random characters do needlessly bizarre things with little rhyme or reason. Worse than that, the writer saddles his script with a protagonist who’s so unnecessarily shrill and bitchy, it’ll have audiences rooting for a quick yet painful death—and she’s ostensibly the hero of the piece!

The script finally attempts to have a plot when the characters hit the road in the second act, but the writer has the characters talk in irritating circles in order to pad out a story that evidently is not feature length. The scenes don’t build any sort of energy or drive the story forward—they just seem to talk until the writer gets bored with a certain combination of characters, at which points he puts them in a new setting with different people (like the dive bar) or adds a new character (like Bill) to do some more aimless rambling. The dialogue isn’t as funny or as clever as it needs to be to keep an audience engaged when nothing is happening except people yammering cutesy absurdities at one another. Meanwhile, the subplot with Noah tracking Mr. Machine and the endless flashbacks that spoonfeed backstory that, ironically (considering how obsessed the writer is with having the other characters talk without revealing anything), explains too much, making the third act annoyingly predictable.

Then again, since the third act is pretty much just more wacky dialogue with a few fight sequences tossed in, maybe it doesn’t matter how predictable it is. Dr. W doesn’t do much beyond explain everything that’s already been shown in flashback, and then some. By the time it arrives, the “surprise” reveal that they’re all wizards is as eye-rollingly obvious as it is stupid, and the final confrontation with Mr. Machine is neither exciting nor funny. It seems like they want to split the difference between Harry Potter and an X-Men or Justice League-type superhero squad, but this script lacks the mystery of the former and the action of the latter. It’s just an awful short-film script puffed out to feature length courtesy of reams of bad dialogue.

The writer’s inability to create compelling mysteries and pay them off in any satisfying way carries over to the characters. As mentioned, Spencer is the script’s heroine, and she is a nightmare. Maybe the half-assed explanation that Mr. Machine kept her drugged up explains some of her issues, but that doesn’t make her a character anyone would want to spend any time with—including characters in the film. Why do they put up with her? Because she has a van? At the eleventh hour, the writer tries to make her character a little bit sympathetic, and then a little bit triumphant, but it’s all a lost cause by that point.

The supporting characters aren’t much more than dialogue-spewing machines. They exist so Spencer has people to have circular conversations with, and to support the “mystery” that they’re all wizards being hunted by Mr. Machine for unknown reasons. The fact that they all put up with Spencer’s awful behavior is the script’s most compelling mystery, but it’s the only one that’s not overexplained by the writer—in fact, it’s never explained at all. Similarly, Mr. Machine is not exactly Voldemort. He never comes across as much of a threat, considering his M.O. is to force his drugged-up daughter to do his dirty work for him, against her will. The reasons for this are never satisfactorily explained, and while the final confrontation with him is deeply unsatisfying, the fact that he’s not as tough to beat as he looks will come as no surprise to audiences.

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