Tuesday, 26 January 2016

CASTLE DRIVE - BIOPIC CRIME

LOGLINE: Based on real events, the story of the writing of Fatal Vision, the 1983 bestselling true crime classic that chronicles the summer journalist Joe McGinness spent with “Green Beret Killer” Jeffrey McDonald while he was on trial for the brutal murder of his wife and children.

WRITER: Matthew Scott Weiner

SCRIPT BIO: 14 votes on the 2015 black list.

STORY:

Castle Drive recounts the story of the esteemed true crime writer Joe McGinnis (37) as he covers the trial of the 'Green Beret Killer' Jeff MacDonald.

Jeff was acquitted of the first degree murder of his wife and two children 9 years earlier, but now he is being tried again as his case didn't fall under the double jeopardy law because of a technical loop hole.

Joe has his own share of problems. He is a 'once-was' writer. He's been trying to get a new project off the ground for years, but with no success. His publishing house are on the verge of dropping him. He has a new baby on the way with his new wife, he's a nasty alcoholic, and he's a terrible father to the children he has with his ex-wife.

Jeff allows Joe full access to him and the trial in order to write a book. 

As the trial proceeds Joe comes to learn that Jeff is a socio-path, and he believes without a doubt Jeff killed his family. 

The judge ruling over the trial is prejudicial against Jeff, not allowing key testimony and character witnesses to support Jeff's case.

Despite Joe believing that Jeff is guilty, he is torn as to how to write the book as it it plainly evident that Jeff was not afforded a fair trial. 

The question driving the story becomes, will Jeff be found guilty or not guilty? And in what way will Joe write his account of events. 

INITIAL REACTION:

This story is great. Notice I say the word 'story'. The writing couldn't be more overloaded. Almost every single form rule was broken here, but despite the clunkiness of the writing, the actual story is fantastic. 

I'd highly recommend this one as a read. And to that end I'll try not to spoil the ending. 

Joe's character is set up at the start of the film with several great flaws. He's an alcoholic, he is estranged from his children with his ex-wife. He is motivated, his career is on the verge of collapse, so the stakes are high. 

When you set up a hero with a good flaw, or in this case, several flaws, there's room for that character to experience change. Change is one of the most interesting things about cinematic stories. 

There's nothing more dull than watching a character that doesn't really have any flaws go on a journey, and at the end of it, that character is pretty much the same as they were when we first met them.

But this seems to be the way with sooooo many of these black list scripts. 

When a character doesn't have a flaw it feels like they are two dimensional. Flaws give a character depth. Joe has a great sense of depth.

Flaws also tie into reality. Show me a person who believes they are not flawed, and I'll show you their flaw. (Hubris? Narcissism?) -- Everyone is flawed in some way or another. 

When you write a character that doesn't have any flaws causing problems in their life, they won't come across as real. They'll come across as manufactured. 

The two main characters here, Joe and Jeff, both have incredible flaws. 

Jeff is a sociopath. Flaws don't get much bigger than that. Sociopathic personalities make for incredible characters. They understand that what they do is wrong, but they don't feel any emotion about it. 

The main problem (aside from the clunky writing) is the relevance of this story.

Sure, it's incredibly well told, the characters are great and the structure is great, but ultimately do people still care enough about this killer to warrant this story being made?

For what ever reason, society in general has a morbid fascination with serial killers. The Green Beret Killer is not a serial killer. He's a father that is accused of flipping out and murdering his family. 

As horrific as that is, I ask again, is there enough 'weight' behind that killing to justify a feature film being made? 

Sadly, I'd personally answer no. 

In Cold Blood was incredible for a number of reasons. Foremost because it was the first of its kind. Capote invented True Crime with that book. The film Capote was about an iconic writer and his battle with alcoholism. 

Here we have a writer also battling alcoholism, but is he iconic? Nope. Not in the way Capote was. Also, the book made it to number 6 on the New York Times best seller list. 

6.

Not 1.

But 6. 

Says a lot about public interest in the story at the time (1983). Imagine public interest in this story today.

CONCEPT:

Concept here is pretty low. It's true crime about a murder. A family murder. 

That's it. If this were a serial killer I could get behind the idea more. But it's not. 

The story behind the Zodiac Killer made for a great film. The story of the Green Beret Killer is nothing in comparison.

CONCEPT RATING: 4/10

CONCEPT TIP: Is your story relevant? Is it really worthy of being made into a film. If your honest answer to that is 'no', no matter how well you write it, it's going to be a hard sell.

FORM:

All over the place. CAPS are used in dialogue. The descriptions are SOOOOOO over written it's not funny. Which is a shame as the actual writing is great, but there is literally 4 times too much here.

Really needs a trim.

FORM RATING: 4/10

FORM TIP: Learn the freakin' rules. There are some really simple formatting rules for screen writing. You're only going to help yourself if you take the time to learn them.  Buy How Not To Write A Screenplay. It's a great book. 

STRUCTURE:

Structure here was pretty damn good. That stemmed from Joe's fantastic set of flaws. He had a lot to work through. When your hero has flaws you have structure beats that you can use to guide your story. 

STRUCTURE RATING: 8/10

STRUCTURE TIP: If you have flaws in your hero, be sure to resolve them in some way. Giving a hero a flaw at the start of the film, then having them kind of confront the flaw, only to revert to their old ways by the end of the film is almost as bad as not giving your hero a flaw in the first place.

CHARACTERS:

Really well developed characters here. Even the ancillary players popped. They all had their own distinct way about them. If anything, this script is worth the read as a character study. 

CHARACTER RATING: 8/10

CHARACTER TIP: Be careful to make sure your main characters stand apart. This film would have failed if Joe and Jeff's personalities had crossed over too much. They crossed over to an extent, which made their friendship seem genuine, but there was enough clarity of difference between the two for their unique identities to shine through.

DIALOGUE:

Dialogue was well written. There weren't too many 'hold the phone' moments, but there was never a piece of dialogue that dropped the ball, that felt unwarranted or out of place. 

DIALOGUE RATING: 7.5/10

DIALOGUE TIP: Until you are sure you're really good at writing dialogue I would suggest playing it on the safe side. That's not to say you shouldn't try to give your characters their own unique voice, what I mean is to watch how far you push the way a character speaks. Err on the side of caution when trying to write spritely dialogue. 

VOICE:

Drowned out by the over writing. Which is a shame as I'm sure the voice could be significant here. The story is incredibly well told, the characters, the dialogue, if only the descriptions were 1/4 the size, the voice of this writer would have had a chance to shine.

VOICE RATING 6/10

VOICE TIP: Give your writing a chance to be read. If you're writing descriptions that are 7-10 lines long, very few readers will take the time to read them. When a reader is skim reading they don't get a chance to fully appreciate your writing style. They're only getting snippets of it.

PRODUCTION:

I wouldn't put money down on this.

There just isn't enough gravitas to the story for it to warrant drawing a big enough crowd.

It's period - negative.

Multiple locations - negative.

Cast - medium sized - kind of negative. 

No VFX - positive.

Not much in the favor of this script when you look at it from a commercial stand point. 

It'd be a 20 mill + production.

SUMMARY:

Despite the writing being super dense, this is a brilliant story well told. Unfortunately, there just isn't enough 'weight' to the concept to make this into anything like Capote or Zodiac.

OVERALL RATING 7/10