Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Used Poorly

You know the feeling. You are closing in on FADE OUT on your new script and you read in the trades about some other script that just sold for a pile of money with the same idea... just the stupid version. This happens all the time to me - I remember having a conversation with a producer who was once interested in the screenplay which would become CROOKED right after the movie 16 BLOCKS came out about how it was the stupid version of my script. Of course, about a month later CROOKED would have its own stupid version. But the problem is, once that script is sold or film is made your idea is “used” and difficult to get anyone to read or buy. Sure, sometimes one studio will want to compete with another by buying a similar screenplay... but often you pitch the script and they mention that other film as the way to not have to even read your script.

So, as I’m still trying to get to the finish line on SECOND SON (didn’t happen while I was away from LA), I see the trailer for this film LEGION... which is about protecting a chick pregnant with the second son. Crap! But the trailer barely mentions this, because it seems to be too busy ripping off Greg Widen’s GOD’S ARMY (PROPHECY) about a battle between angels on Earth. Oh, and also seems to be ripping off FEAST of all things, because the battle seems to take place at some roadside diner in the middle of nowhere. Oh, and the things attacking the diner seem to be some fairly generic zombies. The trailer isn’t doing anything for me, except pissing me off that it’s also about the second coming... like my script.

The next day, I go over to the excellent blog Script Shadow, and there is a review of the screenplay. Now, this may sound crazy to you - but I am actually hoping that LEGION is much much better than the trailer. I am hoping that LEGION is an amazing movie that completely knocks my socks off. Why? Because if I’m going to lose this screenplay contest, I want to lose it to a great movie. I want LEGION to be the film *I* wanted to see when I came up with the idea for SECOND SON (which is really 2ND SON with the S a backwards 2 so that you get three characters one way and seemingly three characters the opposite way, and the script centers on three characters - I think about stuff like this because it kills the time when I should be writing scripts). If I get beaten, I want it to be by a better project. I want LEGION to be the movie I was writing, but cooler. Better than what I was writing.

Aside: 2ND SON is actually a page one rewrite (not a single word from the original so far) about a woman pregnant with the President’s illegitimate son. So I’m grafting this new idea onto the story - and it’s managed to change everything. But this script was never intended for my “A Team Stockpile” of scripts that go to agents and managers as potential big studio sales. This script was always intended as just some cruddy little action script I could sell while I was waiting to sell one of the big ones. This was never anything other than a second string script...

So, when I read the script review at Script Shadow, I am hoping that LEGION is the brilliant and better version of my script. It’s the one that *should* be made. But the review... well, they don’t like the script at all. Seems the thing is boring and has crazy plotting and gets even basic religious stuff wrong. Now, I haven’t set foot in a church since I graduated High School, but I can still read books and the Google function on my computer works well - so I know how many Dead Sea Scrolls there are and basically what each is about. I did a bunch of basic research and some more thorough research whenever it was required in the story. I’m sure I got some things wrong or only half right, but I don’t think the normal person in the audience would ever notice. I don’t think any studio reader would be pulled out of the story by something that is obviously just wrong - as they were in LEGION. And the script review makes it sound even more like a rehash than it looked in the trailer. Yikes!

Now, here’s the part that probably pisses me off the most: Probably because 2nd SON is a page one of a completely different script, I have gone out of my way to come up with cool types on demons that attack them. I have “snake spitters” who look just like anyone you know - like your best friend or your grandma - but they spit rattle snakes at you. I have “dust devils” that form from the dust under your bed or the dirt in your backyard... spinning until they become humanoid. They blast down your throat and into your nose, chocking you to death. Oh, and if you lock yourself in a room (with no dust under the bed or behind the furniture) you better make sure there isn’t a gap between the door and jam or a window partially open, because these things with turn back to dust to get inside... then re-form... then kill you. I have “brimstoners” who can turn into fire and burn you alive. I have all kinds of cool demonic things that are out to get those three characters on the run. I took the time to come up with something that wasn’t just zombies. How many hundreds of zombie movies have we had over the past few years? Why not come up with something we haven’t seen in a while?

And, I don’t know what happens in LEGION, but in 2ND SON, the bad guys actually get the pregnant gal, and our heroes have to get her back before they kill the unborn savior. So the story travels into the sewers... and into that passage-way to Hell that’s down there. Because if you’re the Vatican’s version of Indiana Jones who no longer believes in *organized* religion and the only one who will help you is some hospital orderly who sings in his church choir and believes in the church but not God, the last place you want to go is Hell - where you are seriously out numbered and have no chance of surviving. But, I guess a truck stop is a better location. I was thinking low budget - and some Hell set built in a warehouse in Valencia. I wanted to make this as difficult for my characters as possible, and as interesting to the audience as possible. If I’ve seen it before, I don’t want to see it again. I’ve seen zombies. I’ve seen truck stops. I’ve seen angels battle on Earth. Yes, I have also seen Indiana Jones... but his quest is over in the first 10 minutes when he gets the scroll, and the rest is kind of Indiana Jones out-of-water with him in Detroit fighting demons. Haven’t seen that before.

I try to make every moment in my scripts something interesting or involving or amusing. Not that all of it works 100%, but I *try* to make it work. The opening scene of 2ND SON has him measuring a distance - so I had him measure in cubits... and his arm was too long so he has to use someone else’s arm... and that person is reluctant for several reasons... and our hero gets so wrapped up in measuring that he almost walks off a cliff... and, well, as many cool ideas as I could come up with for that scene. I kind of look at cool ideas like those jokes in AIRPLANE! - not all of them are going to work (have the audience think, “That’s cool!”), so you have to put in as many as you can. I look at a scene, what needs to happen, the location, the characters; and I brainstorm up as many ideas as I can. Some don’t fit - so I toss them. Nothing worse than trying to force something cool into a scene where it doesn’t belong. But the ones that work I try to find a place for. Not all end up in the script, that’s okay. When I see a movie, one of the things I love is when they do something cool that’s *not* some big thing. Some little detail. Some minor thing that shows imagination. In the first TERMINATOR movie when Ah-nuld speaks on the phone in the mother’s voice it just blew me away! That’s nothing big or flashy - just one of those little ideas between the big ones. A little moment that could have been just some normal thing we’ve seen a million times before. But where’s the fun in that? You know, when the dust bunnies under the bed begin forming into a *person*, I hope the audience will think that’s cool. I hope they will go home after seeing the movie and sweep under their beds. When one of the dust devils turns back to dust and blows into the sidekick’s nose, I’m hoping the audience goes “eww!” and remembers the time dust blew in their noses. And hopes he can blow it all out before it gets to his brain.

Yes, this is one colossal sour-grapes vent, and I’m sorry you had to read it. I’m sure LEGION will be an amazing film and that if the shoe were on the other foot everyone would be complaining about what a piece of crap my script is. Except my script was always intended to be on the B Team. Maybe that’s a good thing - my script can now sell as the “rip-off” of LEGION. (Um, wasn’t EXORCIST 3 titled LEGION?) Well, to do that, I have to finish the sucker. Better quit complaining and get back to work.

SCRIPT SECRETS: LONDON - October 10 & 11, 2009 - Seating Is Limited!

- Bill

My attack on the United Kingdom continues on Movies 4 Men 2:

9/10/09 - Back To Back Martell Movies!

15:45 - Black Thunder - When the world's most powerful stealth jet fighter falls into enemy hands, only one man can get it back. Starring Michael Dudikoff.

17:30 - Crash Dive - The crew of a nuclear submarine rescues supposed victims of a boat disaster, but the victims turn out to be terrorists intent on capturing nuclear weapons aboard the sub.

I am so sorry!

Classes On CD - Recession Sale!
Blue Books are back!
- Sweet 17 Bonus - a Joe Eszterhas book!

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Should I Pay For Notes? - a brand new tip! And Wednesday, another new tip called YOU CAN'T DO THAT IN A MOVIE! about going over the line on purpose to wake up the audience. Working on a new tip for Thursday on Making Your Script Seem Real and one of Friday on Conflict Driven and maybe one on Monday about Character Conservation.
Yesterday's Dinner: Chicken Caesar Salad.
Bicycle: I have still not taken a ride down to look at the flood area! But yesterday I did take a medium length ride into NoHo.


Choppednuts said...

Your version sounds like a lot of fun. Bummer.

The Moviequill said...

about your You Can't Do That In A Movie tip, where you mention doing that wild chase scene to try and grab that over-tired reader who is on his 9th script looking to toss some away? you would still have to put in a smallish "you can't do that" scene in the first few pages or else he/she won't even get to your chase scene right?

wcmartell said...

You have to involved the reader in the first ten pages even if you are writing a frilly shirt drama.

And it's not about wild chases - you can do those in a movie.

- Bill

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