Taking Woodstock

Author: James Schamus
Genre: Comedy
Storyline: 7
Dialogue: 8
Characterization: 7
Writer’s Potential: 8

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Logline:

A son schemes to save his family’s failing Catskills motel by bringing the Woodstock music festival to the little hamlet of White Lake, NY.

Synopsis:

Summer, 1969. A British gentleman arrives at the dilapidated, failing El Monaco Motel, run by apathetic JAKE TIBER (mid-60s) and his hostile, Russian wife SONIA. Sonia makes a chore of checking the man in, then watches a news report bringing us up to speed on current events: things are bad in Vietnam and Israel, while NASA eagerly awaits the arrival of the Apollo 11 crew on the moon. The gentleman comes back to complain about the room and demand a refund. Sonia argues with him until her son, ELLIOT, shows up. She tries to get Elliot to fight on her side, but he ignores the gentleman and reminds her they’re late for an appointment. They go to the bank in town, where JACKSON lets Jake, Sonia, and Elliot know that their motel is in dire financial straits; if they don’t pay off what they owe by the end of the season, the bank will have to foreclose. Elliot tries to work some magic by reminding the bank manager he’s the president of the Chamber of Commerce and that he’s forcing some initiatives that will bring more tourists past the failing motel. Jackson’s not buying it, so Sonia accuses him of anti-Semitism. Elliot calms her.

Elliot drives into New York City. Workmen are readying furniture to move out of his apartment. His sister, ESTHER, waits for him there. She asks if he’s gotten money owed to him from mobsters for whom he designed a club. Elliot mutters that they have a strict policy of not paying designers. Elliot tries to sell Esther some of his paintings, but she already has too many. She wonders why he doesn’t just go to California, but Elliot doesn’t have the money. At a gay bar, Elliot asks his friend STEVE for advice; Steve just mocks Elliot’s parents and tells him to go to California. Elliot drives back to the El Monaco, where he finds Jake pouring bleach into the pool. Sonia yells at Elliot for wanting to wash used sheets. He’s baffled.

Elliot runs a Chamber of Commerce meeting in the basement of the local church. It’s just Elliot and a group of mostly bored locals, none of whom have any real idea of how to jumpstart the town’s economy — the best suggestion is a Pamplona-style running of the bulls. DAN tries to move them on to more important business — like preparing for his fish-toss tournament. After the meeting, Elliot says goodnight to Dan and his wife, CAROL. Suddenly, Dan’s freaked-out brother, BILLY, leaps out of their car, having something resembling a Vietnam flashback. Dan calms him down, then head home. Later, at the El Monaco, Elliot has sex with Dan; afterward, Dan gripes about his brother, then drives home, afraid to leave Billy alone with Carol for too long. At the local drugstore, Elliot runs into MAX YASGUR, a pleasant dairy farmer who’s looking forward to Elliot’s annual music festival. He says he loves listening to Elliot’s records on the lawn. Elliot excitedly announces he’s trying to get live music this year. He’s shown a newspaper announcing a big music festival, headlined by Janis Joplin, that’ll be hosted in nearby Wallkill. At the motel, Elliot discusses setting the motel on fire to collect the insurance money; Jake nixes it by saying they canceled their policy. Elliot discovers that Wallkill’s mayor canceled the music festival because of the hippies.

When Elliot overhears some others mention how great it’d be to host the festival, he gets an idea and puts in a call to the person in charge — burnout wannabe-visionary MICHAEL LANG, who arrives shortly thereafter by helicopter, along his assistant, TISHA, and investors, MEL and STAN. Michael reminds Elliot that they grew up together in Bensonhurst; Elliot barely remembers him. Elliot shows them the land beyond the hotel — it’s a swamp. They’re ready to pack up and go when Elliot realizes Max has acres of unused land that could be use. They work out an arrangement with Max and Elliot — $5000 to use Max’s land, $5000 to rent out the El Monaco for the season and as a fee to sell festival tickets, plus $25,000 to Elliot for his services as “liaison.”

Soon, Max realizes what a burden hosting this festival will be and demands $75K. The investors don’t want to pay it, but Max needles them, saying they spent a million in Wallkill, so $75K is a drop in the bucket. The investors are still reluctant, but they’re pressed for time — they agree. Later, Dan and some other townspeople confront Elliot over ruining the town by bringing in hippies. Elliot disagrees, as do several other local hotel owners who have already sold out for the season. Elliot comes home to find Jake and Sonia baffled by some hippies who want festival tickets. Elliot translates. At a Chamber of Commerce meeting, Elliot is greeted by half the town hurling insults at him. He shuts them up and gives a melodramatic, Capra-esque speech about what a great opportunity this is. After a beat, they continue to hurl insults. Elliot adjourns the meeting and sneaks out the back entrance. Michael convinces Elliot to act as a local spokesperson for the festival, but Elliot’s terrified to do the job. The hippie element continues to grow in the town, as do various anti-Semitic and anti-Elliot signs from townspeople, placed in front of the motel.

News hits about the Tate/LaBianca murderers and the word that it was done by hippies who are still at large. The town is in an uproar, include Sonia. Elliot notices the townspeople are profiteering off the hippies’ gullibility, Sonia included. He yells at her, but she pays no attention. A couple of menacing townspeople try to threaten Elliot, Jake, and Sonia into paying them to act as security. The family gets into a raucous fistfight with to them until they back down and slink away. Elliot takes Michael to Jackson to open a savings account. Jackson doesn’t want to handle hippie money, until Jackson presents him with $250,000 in cash to deposit. He immediately closes up for the day and handls Michael personally.

Elliot apologizes to Max for bringing in all these hippies, who have started to camp out on his property weeks before the festival will start. Max thinks they’re great — the only people he has a problem with are his intolerant neighbors and ex-friends. Elliot means an ex-Marine transvestite named VILMA who offers security services. Before Elliot’s big, public press conference, he’s nervous, so a YOUNG GIRL gives him a joint. He gets in front of reporters and embarrasses himself — but worse than that, he suggests that people who come to the festival will get in for free. This brings a massive surge of people, none of whom intend to pay for tickets. Vilma and Jake direct a huge traffic jam outside the motel — the first time something like this has ever happened. Afterward, Vilma mentions how complimentary Jake is about Elliot’s paintings. Elliot’s baffled. There’s a news report of State Police making the thruway, which is backed up from the George Washington Bridge to the Catskills exits, one-way. Sonia fears evil spirits, fears even more that Jake will have a heart-attack from all the excitement, and fears the guilt Elliot should feel for causing it.

Some of the townspeople band together to shut down the concert, as news reports announce more than 500,000 people have arrived in White Lake. Elliot laughs at them, and so do the police. Vilma and Jake chase the locals around. Because of the traffic, Elliot asks a State Trooper to escort him from the motel to Yasgur’s farm. A montage of Woodstock activities follows. Elliot hooks up with a couple of random strangers, who convince him to drop acid. An acid-trip montage follows. Elliot goes back to the El Monaco, where Jake and Sonia both generally act like parents, humiliating Elliot and causing him to lash out at them and then leave. Vilma gives Jake and Sonia some hash brownies. Later, Dan comes to Elliot to make a quiet confession: Carol left him because she caught him cheating with two Negroes. Elliot laughs, but Dan gives him a note to give to Billy, then leaves. Elliot wakes his parents and discovers Sonia has saved $97K over the course of 20 years — but she was still going to let the motel fold because they owed $5000. Jake had no idea, but the parents decide that now that they’re rich, it shouldn’t matter. Elliot is flummoxed.

It begins to rain, delaying the concert as the crew deals with the difficult electrical situation. Elliot gives the note to Billy, which says that Dan ran off to enlist. Both Billy and Elliot take this hard. Jake thanks Elliot for bringing the concert here — it reinvigorated him during a time when he felt his health was failing. Elliot saved his life, and Jake wants to return the favor. He begs Elliot to go. Before he leaves, Elliot asks Jake how he stayed with Sonia for 40 years. Jake smiles and says he loves her. For the first time, Elliot arrives at the concert — just as its ending, with Jimi Hendrix playing the last notes of his “Star Spangled Banner.” He bumps into Michael, on horseback, who tells him that he’s planning another, even better concert in San Francisco and that Elliot shouldlook him up if he ever makes it out that way. Michael rides away as Elliot watches the concert cleanup.

Comments:

This script is at its absolute best when it focuses on Elliot and his family. Their internal struggles, as well as their unity to fight the encroaching hippie lifestyle and the outdated conservative values of their friends, makes for the only really compelling stuff here. Every time Elliot was with the family, the script hums along — great, well-written characters thrust into situations that overwhelm them.

Unfortunately, the script strays from the family too often. There is a ridiculous number of characters and little tangential not-quite-subplots littering the script; I omitted most of them from the synopsis because they’re both irrelevant to the main narrative, and they’d make the synopsis about 17 pages long. There’s so much going on, but none of it comes close to being as interesting as what’s happening with the Tiber family at any given moment. Admittedly, this includes things like their interactions with people like Dan, Billy, and Max, as well as the festival promoters — but when the writer drifts away from the Tibers interacting with these people, and each other, the story instantly becomes less interesting.

Because the writer veers off the beaten path frequently, especially in the second and third acts, the overall story feels loose and unfocused. The plethora of supporting characters have little to no development (other than Dan and Billy, and to a lesser extent Max and Michael), which makes their misadventures even less interesting. It’s a shame, because the core story is actually very funny and has a lot of heart.

Posted by D. B. Bates on October 23, 2008 2:49 PM