Whiskeytown

Author: Craig Schwartz
Genre: Drama
Storyline: 7
Dialogue: 7
Characterization: 8
Writer’s Potential: 7

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Logline:

A traveling horse-trainer makes a stop in a small California town and discovers the son he abandoned 12 years earlier.

Synopsis:

In Whiskeytown, California, a man in his mid-30s named JOHN COMBER arrives with his assistant/girlfriend PAM and hosts a seminar on training horses not to fear loud noises (like firecrackers) or strange objects (like plastic bags). He catches the attention of an ATTRACTIVE WOMAN in the audience. That evening, he sleeps with a local waitress named CHARLOTTE. This prompts Pam to leave him, but not before trashing their motel room. She also takes their truck, his only form of transportation. He’s stuck at the Whiskeytown Lake Resort. He strikes up a friendship with the owner, an elderly gent named CHROME. They swap war stories and horse stories. Chrome takes care of his 12-year-old grandson, RYAN SMITH, who takes an unnatural shine to both John and his horse, Tommy. Lacking an assistant, John asks Ryan to help him with his next horse seminar. A horse enthusiast, Ryan loves the idea. Chrome isn’t so keen on it, however. He reluctantly allows it, however.

Later, Chrome explains Ryan’s story to John: his father knocked up Chrome’s daughter and disappeared. She raised Ryan by herself until he was about five or six, when she went out on Whiskeytown Lake and either committed suicide or was the victim of a fatal boating accident. Since then, Chrome has raised Ryan as his own son. After seeing a picture of Chrome’s daughter, John realizes something awful: he fathered Ryan. Although he has never been to Whiskeytown, he met her in nearby Anderson, they had a few nice nights together, and he moved on. This has been a pattern for most of John’s life.

Once John realizes he is Ryan’s father, he has one goal in mind: he wants to buy a truck from a man named ALBERT and get out of town. He also distances himself from Ryan, after agreeing to teach the boy how to ride. John explains the situation to Charlotte and wonders what he should do. Charlotte thinks he should at least tell Chrome and perhaps figure out a plan to tell Ryan. John believes that’s easier said than done, since Chrome has already told him he has a lot of anger directed at the anonymous father. He does tell Chrome, though, and it goes about as well as he expects: Chrome gets so angry, he has a minor heart-attack.

While hospitalized, Chrome insists that Ryan stay with his friend ERNEST and his family, rather than with John (who until now had been bonding quite well with both Ryan and Chrome). John discovers not only has Albert taken his truck on a trip — it’s broken down. He’s still stuck in Whiskeytown. He tries to make things right with Chrome and fails. Ryan sneaks away from Ernest’s house and begs John to teach him how to ride. John finally agrees, and has a nice day bonding with his son. The next day, Albert returns with his truck. Chrome is released from the hospital. Charlotte agrees to take four months off from college to be John’s assistant. But John’s not so sure he’s going to leave so quickly. Chrome and Ryan agree to take John out to the middle of the lake to see the old Whiskeytown, which was sunk years ago when the government flooded the valley.

Comments:

This screenplay is loaded with interesting, well-drawn characters. The author does a very good job of revealing individual personalities through dialogue and detailed action. It brings them to life. It also has a nice, strong sense of place. Scenes and character relationships are loaded with conflict, both internal and external. There’s not much to complain about here, but the story does have a few issues. It doesn’t feel like John and Ryan really get to bond as much as they could. As written, it appears the author intended John to be the protagonist and Chrome the antagonist. It seems more logical that Ryan, innocently hero-worshipping a man he never knows is his father, be the protagonist. John, who discovers his role in conceiving the child early on, is the antagonist in two ways: first, he starts to rebuff Ryan’s desire to learn horse-riding; second, he has no interest in being Ryan’s father. He’s flawed and sympathetic, and the story should still revolve around him and be told from his perspective, but most of his behavior through the screenplay is antagonistic. The author should reshape the dynamic between John and Ryan to fit this mold, concentrating less on the conflict with Chrome and more on the conflict generated by the complicated relationship between John and Ryan. Other than this, the story works well as it stands.

Posted by D. B. Bates on July 7, 2006 4:09 PM