Tuesday, 5 January 2016

A SHOT IN THE EYE - SCI FI

LOGLINE: In the future criminals can be released into a work program where they find themselves squaring off against robots controlled by gamers.


WRITER: Dan Futterman

AGENCY: UTA, Dan Erlij, David Kramer, Julien Thuan, Nancy Gates, Peter Benedek

SCRIPT BIO: Received 26 votes on the 2015 Hit List. 

WRITER BIO: Dan wrote the screenplay for the film CAPOTE, for which he received an Academy Award nomination, and Independent Spirit, Boston Society of Film Critics, and Los Angeles Film Critics Association awards. He received a second Academy Award nomination for co-writing the script to FOXCATCHER in 2014. Futterman is also known for several acting roles, including Val Goldman in the film THE BIRDCAGE, and Vincent Gray on JUDGING AMY.

THE STORY:

Set in a post apocalyptic near future where the earth has been partially destroyed by nuclear waste, criminals are released from prison as the government can't afford to keep them locked up. Not all the prisoners, just some. How the selection process is made is not touched on at all. Being just the first of a myriad of problems and bullet holes in this appalling script. 

In prison we meet our HERO Frank. He's white, middle aged. As we all know, to survive in prison for any length of time one must join a gang. Usually the gang you join is decided by the colour of your skin. Not for Frank. Instead of joining the Aryan army, or brotherhood or what ever they call themselves, he has a Korean flag tattooed under his eye and is affiliated with the Korean gang. He also speaks Korean. 

For no reason Frank is released from prison with a bunch of other hardened criminals. Just before they leave, they're spoken to by a rather cryptic CJ - a company man from some agency looking to recruit hardened criminals fresh out of prison. For what job? We have no idea, but it sound nefarious. 

Enough of that, Frank is set free. It's worth a note that he's 'beefing' with some fellow white inmates who don't like Frank's decision to shirk his own skin tones and hang with the Koreans.  

Frank goes and visits his Korean wife/girlfriend and his seven year old, half Korean daughter. The short of it is mom's pissed. She doesn't want anything to do with him. He sold drugs and abandoned her and that's as good as a triple strike to her. The dialogue here is so on the nose that she as good as says, 'You sold drugs, I don't want you in my life anymore.' 

As Frank laments his situation, across town in a gaming den, (because in a post apocalyptic future it's imperative we have gaming dens right?) we find Derek playing a simulation game. Derek's your typical angsty young man. A chip on his shoulder, he's just not sure why? But damn it, he's got a chip. 

Derek is really good at killing people in the simulation computer game, but it seems he plays by himself, not for the team. Though, that isn't explained as a problem until later. Right now, he's great at killing computer generated people, in fact he seems to take a sociopathic pleasure in the process of.

Short of cash, Frank spends a while looking for a job, but being an ex-con he finds the going tough, surprise, surprise. So he calls CJ, and CJ takes him by helicopter, along with 30 other ex-con hopefuls to a part of town that's still highly nuclear waste toxic, where... lo and behold, these men are hunted in real life by the very same androids that Derek controls in his simulation kill game.

Co-inky-dink? I don't think so. 

Of course Frank is the only one to make it out alive, and he's paid admirably for his efforts. He gives this money to his wife, then goes back in for round two, even though he kinda doesn't want to. 

He of course survives again, managing to save the life of a couple of his fellow ex-cons. He gets paid more money which he also gives to his wife, then is given a chance to go and meet with head of the gaming simulation company who turns out to be Derek's father.

It's explained, literally, by the father, that the government can't afford to fight terrorism and other bad guys around the world, so he bought the rights to this simulation kill game and has been looking for someone good enough to be the ring leader and teach the band of killer gamers to work together as a unit. 

You guessed it, that man is Frank!

But as you also guessed, Derek is pissed about this. He's a lone killer, doesn't want to conform. Plus this is his daddy's sim-kill game. Surely that means by proxy, it's his?

Will Frank be able to over come Derek? Will Derek learn to be a team player/killer?

Wow,  where to begin with this scatter script? It reads like it was dictated by a 9 year old after drinking a gallon of espresso. Java. If you had a six year old and he was in the midst of a terrible fever and you said, quick, tell me a killer robot story, this would be what you'd get - verbatim.

Let's break this sucker down.

CONCEPT

There is a kernel of a cool idea here. Being the main reason this has got so much traction. But the execution is so bad, it's embarrassing to read. It's even more disheartening to think that it has a huge studio behind it. I believe that is testimony to the writer's previous credits rather than directly attributed to the script here.

The concept of a simulation kill game that in fact operates in real life, is a pretty cool idea. But it's something that literally thousands of people (namely gamers) say (or think) on a daily basis as they're playing their sim-kill games. 'Wouldn't it be cool if we were really killing real people in the real world.' Then someone says, 'hey, that'd be a cool movie idea,' and there's a chorus of agreements, someone says they're going to totally write that script up and send it out, only they all go back to playing their sim-kill game and never write the script.

Except Dan Futterman did. And how I wish he didn't. 

So there's a cool kernel of an idea here, you can see the trailer easily. But the execution of the story is beyond bad. 

CONCEPT RATING: 8/10

CONCEPT TIP: Having a great idea by itself isn't enough. You need to house that concept in a strong story structure with realistic dialogue, spoken by real characters. A Shot In The Eye relies entirely on its core concept, it does little if nothing towards housing it in a decent story.

FORM
Shot's form is terrible. Dan constantly directs the camera. Leave that to the director. As a writer it's your job to convey the story. Not how close the camera is to an actor's face. Let alone the movement of the camera.

He also over describes. Dan constantly has blocks of description over 5 lines long. He even gets up to 12 line paragraphs. What is this, a novel?

It slows the rest down soooooo much. And it forces you to skim read if you want to get through the script in less than 12 hours. 

Dan also writes about things that the character is thinking. Only write about what the character is DOING. Not THINKING.

FORM RATING: 2/10

FORM TIP: If you can't see it on the screen, don't write it in the script. SHOW through action. Don't TELL through writing. If your character is feeling sad, don't say they're felling sad, show us how they embody the emotion of sad. What are they DOING that lets us know they're sad?

STRUCTURE

Holy shit sticks. I don't even know where to begin with this one. Have you ever played pick-up-sticks? Or the card game pick up fifty-two? Or have you ever seen a bowl of spaghetti dropped on the floor. 

You see where I'm going with this. Those three things are perfect analogies for the structure of this screenplay. (If you can call it that).

I could write for hours on how bad the structure was here, but I'll try to keep it short. By page 47 Frank has no discernible active goal. 

What do you mean by active? Something he has to go after. He has passive goals in the form of evading being killed by the robots and the his ex-con enemies. 

What makes a story feel focused is when the Hero has a clear objective. Do X or Y.

Y is the stakes in that equation. What will happen to him/her if they don't achieve X. 

When X is evade someone, or go on the run, the Hero has an open ended goal and consequently the story will wander. We won't know what it is that the Hero needs to achieve to return their life to status-quo. 

In Shot, I believe around the 90 page mark Frank gets his first goal. Head up the team of sim-killers, become their leader and lead them into battle. 

Page 90 is way to late for the Hero's first goal. 

As for a flaw? Frank doesn't seem to have any kind of flaw. There's nothing internally holding him back. 

When a Hero has no internal journey, the story becomes spectacle, it's all external journey. Film is about creating a vicarious connection between the audience and the Hero (and other characters). The best way to create that connection is in one of two ways. 

ONE: Flaw. We relate to people who are flawed and want to change. 
TWO: Empathy. We like people who we feel empathy for. 

In Shot, there's very little active empathy. There's some passive empathy, where Frank is the victim of a bad scenario, but that's not enough to make us feel a vicarious connection with him. 

The Call To Adventure is CJ asking him to go and be a guinea pig in the kill zone for the kill-bots. 

The Call To Adventure is supposed to test the Hero's flaw.

The one thing the Hero doesn't want to do is the one thing they must be called to do.

In Shot, the Call does not in any way test Frank's flaw. Why? He doesn't have a flaw in the first place.

Sigh.

Enough on structure. I could write a 1000 page thesis on how bad the structure is here. Safe to assume Futterman has absolutely no idea about structure what so ever. 

'But he wrote Capote'  I hear you screaming, and Capote was great right? It has great structure? 

Biopics are the one genre where you can move away from traditional structure guide lines as much as you want. Why? Because we're following a person's life and as we know lives don't necessarily follow a set structure. 

We're happy as viewers so long as there is some sort of goal and there is CONFLICT.

Of which Capote had double doses of.

STRUCTURE RATING -2/10 (Yes that's a negative 2 out of 10)

STRUCTURE TIP: Understand structure and the beats of Hero's Journey before you veer away from them. It's fine to move outside the structure of the HJ, just know how and why you are doing so. Writing willy-nilly will produce the bowl of spaghetti dropped on the ground effect described earlier.  

CHARACTERS: 

The characters are paper thin here. They're all interchangeable. Not one of them feels like it has any kind of depth or unique personality. 

CHARACTER RATING: 2/10

CHARACTER TIP: Understand each of your characters. Know who they are. Their backstory. Understanding your characters will feed into the decisions they make. It will allow you to SHOW who they are. Rather than TELLING us who they are. 

DIALOGUE
The writing here could not be more on the nose. There's no nuance to the dialogue. Each character speaks in exactly the same way that all other characters speak. There's no under tone. No layers. 

DIALOGUE RATING 2/10

DIALOGUE TIP: Give each of your characters a unique voice. Listen to three of your closest friends. Listen to the way they speak. Each person has their own voice. Think about what it is that makes their style of speaking unique, then try to apply something similar to your characters. 

VOICE
Shot reads like it was ghost written by an over zealous father of a 9 year old that doesn't understand the word 'no'.

There is a voice here, but it's not one that I would recommend you attempt to emulate. 

I felt battered by the time I had finished this script. 

VOICE RATING: 3/10

VOICE TIP: Record yourself reading your screenplay aloud.  Play it back to yourself. Does it flow, does it sound like something you would want to hear read out loud in its entirety? If not, consider the way you've written it. Consider each sentence. Re-write each sentence until it has a flow to it.

PRODUCTION
Shot is an epic sci-fi battle. Multiple locations, huge amounts of VFX. Cast of hundreds.

This would be hard to get made for less than 50 million. Realistically 80 million. 

You'd need a huge studio behind it to make it happen. Sadly, Sony is behind this. If it does get made, I don't see this film making money. 

Remember, to break-even at the box-office you need to make three times the budget of your film. if this film costs 80 million to make, the box office needs to be around the 200 million dollar mark.

I don't see that happening, not with this current draft.

BUDGET RATING 50 million plus.

BUDGET TIP: If you're writing for the 50 mill plus category, create characters that A listers will want to get behind. Without that, getting it off the ground, even when a studio is behind it, will be difficult. 

SUMMARY
Shot has a strong central premise executed in one of the sloppiest ways imaginable. This could be a really powerful, high concept piece, but as it stands it's a dropped bowl of spaghetti on the floor.

OVERALL RATING 3/10

SCRIPT LINK for educational purposes only: A Shot in The Eye.