LOGLINE: After the Head of the French National Assembly is placed under house arrest for accusations of sexual assault, he must live in a guarded apartment with his estranged wife until the case comes to a close.
WRITER: Ben Kopit
SCRIPT BIO: 37 votes on the 2015 black list.
Unorthodox. This is not so much a screenplay as it is a stage play. It pretty much breaks every single one of the screen writing rules. There is NO GOAL. There is NO EMPATHY for ANY of the characters. There is no SHADOW. There is a huge FLAW but the main character makes no attempt to resolve this. In fact, all the characters are flawed and only the daughter changes her way, but there's no great journey about it. She's flawed. Her parents say, please don't be flawed, she says okay.
You might think I hated this script. I did not. There was something engaging about it. The dialogue is brilliant, and while the concept is basically non existent, the engine of this script is morbid fascination.
That's not a story engine I'd suggest you use to drive your script. But somehow, it works here. These characters are so awful and strange, yet so incredibly honest. They all say exactly what's on their mind, even in the presence of strangers, and there's something uniquely liberating about that.
I think we've all been in circumstances when we were so frustrated we just wanted to tell people what we really think, but we bit out tongue for the sake of social conformities. There are no conformities in The Libertine, that's for sure.
Read the logline, you've got the story in its entirety. MAURICE, a high ranking French politician is under house arrest in New York for sexually assaulting a maid. A condition of his bail is that his wife EDITH live with him until the trial. Then there's their daughter JACQUELINE, who loves going on TV and defaming her father, calling him a snake and pig etc.
And that's the story.
As I said there's no goal. You might think trying to beat the sex charge would be a goal. And it is, to Maurice's lawyer, NICK, but this isn't his story and Maurice couldn't care less about the sex charge. In fact he's kind of proud of it. He cuts out newspaper articles about it and displays them on the living room wall as a kind of trophy cabinet.
Edith is in New York trying to acquire a massive media company. And that's about all there is to The Libertine.
Oh, there is a dinner party, well not really a party, but when Maurice finds out there is a another man under house arrest in the building, he invites him over for dinner.
The man and his wife come to dinner, hilarity ensues, then they leave. Nothing changes.
Oh, and Maurice has a penchant for hookers and strippers. He has two hookers sent to the apartment, both times his wife busts him, and he spends hours watching strippers on web-cams.
Is there a question driving the story? I guess it could be, 'is he innocent?' I think that's what it's supposed to be.
I think the idea here is to play on your prejudices. Just because a guy likes hookers and strippers, does that automatically make him a sex offender?
It plays on our preconceived sense of right and wrong.
Does it work?
Kinda. Kinda not.
Let's break it down and see where The Libertine excels and where it falls apart.
Concept here is almost non existent. Concepts don't have to have a goal. Look at the awesome film Chronicle. There was no goal immediately present in that concept - which was - 'Three teens develop psychokinetic powers after discovering an alien craft of some sort.' No goal implied. But there is something out of the ordinary. Psychokinetic powers automatically conjures a million different really cool things, all with plenty of room for conflict.
The Libertine's concept is, 'Rich asshole awaits trial under house arrest for sex offence.'
No implied goal. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Nothing terribly interesting. Room for conflict, maybe? If the concept was, 'Rich asshole awaits trial for, he is sex offence under house arrest, that he is wrongly accused of.' Then you have an inkling of a concept. The man's innocent, the story goal then becomes, how will he prove his innocence. But there's nothing like that here.
CONCEPT RATING 2/10
CONCEPT TIP: Don't use The Libertine as an excuse to write a go nowhere drama with no story goal. This script is an exception, not the norm. By all means write a go nowhere drama if that's what you want to, but know that you're stacking the odds against yourself from the word go.
Do the concept test. Be honest, write down your script's concept in it's simplest form. Read it back to yourself. Does that concept pop like the concept of Chronicle? Or does it bellyflop like The Libertine concept?
Form here was great. The layout was straight forward. No use of bold. No underlining dialogue. No directing the actor or the camera. Slug lines clean and clear.
This script is very cleanly written. The writer KNOWS the screenwriting form rules. And to that end, the script is incredibly easy to read.
FORM RATING: 9/10
FORM TIP: This script is proof the screenwriting rules work. Try reading this script for yourself. It flows. It rolls. There is no stop/starting. There is no, 'getting used to the writer's style.' Your eye falls down the page because of the great use of form.
I can go straight to the rating here. 2/10.
There is no structure. It's one long second act from start to finish.
NO ATTEMPT TO RESOLVE THE FLAW.
Even the inciting incident happened before we got to this script.
If we'd started at the party prior to when the offence took place that would be the ordinary world.
But we didn't.
If we'd then seen the sexual offence take place, you could loosely call that the inciting incident. Or rather, the maid going to the police and pressing charges could have been the inciting incident.
Then his arrest would have been the call to adventure as it would have tested his flaw.
Remember the inciting incident and call to adventure are two different things.
The inciting incident is the EVENT that will test the flaw of the hero.
the call to adventure is when the hero LEARNS about the EVENT.
The police could then ask Maurice to surrender to the police, but he refuses - that would be the refusal of the call.
Then Maurice realises if he doesn't give himself up he's going to be in more trouble, that would be the CATALYST.
Just quickly on the catalyst. This is the event that FORCES the hero onto their journey after they have refused the initial call to adventure.
Then there would be the trial where Maurice is released on bail under house arrest.
THEN we begin act two in the apartment where Maurice is under house arrest.
But in The Libertine there is NO FIRST ACT. It starts at act two, and continues until the end.
NO ACT THREE.
STRUCTURE RATING: 2/10
STRUCTURE TIP: If you're going to write a screenplay, understand the three act structure in the very least.
Boom. This is where this script excels. Though we dislike everyone of these players, they are all very well written and incredibly well thought out. Even more, these characters are true to themselves.
This script is essentially a character piece, in the same way THERE WILL BE BLOOD is a character piece. It's not so much about the story, or the structure, it's about the characters and introspection into who they are.
This script will get made because the characters are so damn great.
I can easily see someone like Deniro jumping at the chance to play Maurice. Why? Because Deniro can take chances. What does he care, he's proven he's one of the greatest. Actors of his calibre can play roles they want to.
CHARACTER RATING: 8.5/10
CHARACTER TIP: great character work will carry your script a long way. Mix that with a decent concept and you're already way ahead of the pack. Spend time on your characters and only go out with your script when you're sure they ALL pop in their own unique way.
Dialogue always ties into character. If you know your characters, odds are you'll know the way they speak.
The characters were great (if not despicable) inThe Libertine. Each one felt real and well thought out. Consequently their dialogue shone through.
If for no other reason, I'd recommend reading The Libertine as an exercise in reading great dialogue. There is a lot to be learned from it.
DIALOGUE RATING: 8/10
DIALOGUE TIP: Workship your character dialogue. Once you understand your characters, go and write a scene that you have no intention of using in the script. Create a scenario, throw in some conflict and let your characters talk.
This is a great exercise, as it frees you up from worrying about story, worrying about page count constraints. Just free-write your characters arguing with one another and see how their voices develop.
Make sure they are disagreeing. There is nothing more boring than watching two characters agree with each other.
Voice here was good. It didn't explode off the page, but it got the job done. There was a great confidence to the writing. Which helped every time I stopped to think, 'hey, this screenplay is breaking every rule there is, does this person know what they're doing?' Then I looked at the form, which was perfect, and the writing style was great also.
These two things, voice and form, instil confidence in the reader.
VOICE RATING: 7/10
VOICE TIP: I just realised how form feeds into voice. If you have terrible form, if your layout is all over the place, this will weaken your voice. Learn form to help develop a stronger voice.
Under 5 mill easy beans.
ONE LOCATION! That's film making gold right there.
DRAMA - no elevated concept - that's a negative, but look at the audience for this. It'd be over 30's. So to that end, it being a drama is not so much of a detractor.
This will require some big name actors, but the fact that it could realistically be shot in two weeks, means this will get made.
I'd put money down on this. It won't make huge dollar return, but if done well it could stand to double your investment.
Unorthodox. Breaks all the rules. But somehow remains an engaging read. I don't recommend using it as blue print for your next screenplay. But it does nail some of the most important things to nail in a script. It has great
LOW CAST COUNT
These are 5 big pluses for this script.
OVERALL RATING 6.5/10
P.S - this script is not over-written. If it'd come in at 120 pages, that would be the kiss of death for this. But as it stands it comes in at a lean 99.