Monday, 29 February 2016

GREAT FALLS - CRIME DRAMA

LOGLINE: After negligently killing a hunter with their patrol car, an alcoholic Sheriff’s Deputy and her superior officer must decide what to do with the only witness to their crime – a death row inmate only days from execution.

WRITER: Andy Friedhof

SCRIPT BIO: 11 votes on the 2015 black list.

STORY:

STAN and JOSIE are two highly unlikeable state troopers in GREAT FALLS (near the Canadian border) who are entrusted with transporting BERNIE HOULE to his execution some 2 hours drive away. 

Bernie is a native American, convicted of first degree homicide. There's no doubt about his innocence, even Bernie confessed that he killed a couple in cold blood. Ironically, Bernie is the most likeable of all the characters in the script. 

As they drive to his final destination, Bernie bates Stan so much that he takes his eyes off the road for a moment - just long enough to run someone or something over. 

When they check the body they hit, they find the remains of a human - very much dead. 

What to do? 

Josie wants to confess, but Stan, in his infinite wisdom, decrees they'll both be up for vehicular manslaughter - a minimum of 2 years. 

You see, Josie grabbed the wheel during the crash, so it's just as much her fault as it is Stan's - or so Stan argues. Oh, yeah, and Josie is 'high' on Adderall, so Stan uses that to leverage her into abetting him scoop the dead man up into the trunk of the police car.

Now the main problem is Bernie. He's witness to what they did. 

After much conjecture, Stan convinces Josie that Bernie was about to be killed by the state, so what's the difference if they do it themselves - before he has a chance to tell authorities about what they did. 

Josie agrees reluctantly - and enlists her brother Kyle to help. But rather than just shoot Bernie they decide to kill him in the same way the state had planned - death by lethal injection. 

The question becomes - will they manage to do it, or will they be caught... 

INITIAL REACTION:

There's a lot of good writing in this script to recommend it. But at the same time, there's a few decisions that aren't that great. Then there's the dialogue that reads like cardboard. 

The main problem with this script is EMPATHY - or rather - the lack of it. 

It's imperative we CARE for ONE of the characters in the story you're telling.

A HUGE mistake sooooo many writers make is to assume we're automatically going to LOVE the character you put in front of us just because you put them on the page.

NOT SO.

In the world of film we judge characters by their actions. If your characters don't DO anything that makes us like them, we're not going to feel connected to them. 

Successful films create a VICARIOUS connection between the viewer and the main character. This is done through empathy. No empathy = no connection. 

This is another reason why it's important to focus your film with ONE clearly defined main player. 

When you have two or more (as this film has) main characters, the viewer doesn't know who is supposed to be their avatar in the film. When that happens, the viewing experience becomes objective, rather than subjective - we're watching, rather than experiencing. 

Let's break this one down...

CONCEPT:

The logline didn't grab me. I almost didn't read this one based on the logline. There's something about it that seems contrived - it's a 'what if' scenario that would only ever happen in a film. 

The concept here is - what would you do? Kill someone who is going to die anyway to protect yourself? 

It's a very gray moral question. Arguable on both sides.

The execution of this concept is what saved it. The execution goes places I really wasn't expecting, and did it really well. 

But on the concept alone - "Two unlikeable police officers must decide if they should kill a death row inmate to protect themselves," - this isn't something I'm excited to see as a film. It's not an idea that explodes off the page as a must-see film. 

CONCEPT RATING 5/10

CONCEPT TIP: Before you commit to an idea, whittle it back to its core. What is the story about? What is the big idea? Imagine the poster, the trailer - then try to be objective - would you want to see that film if you hadn't created it? if not - move on to the next idea - or develop that idea into something that makes it a must-see.

FORM:

Very interesting here. The writing is exceptionally good. The form is very different, unorthodox, but it works - the reason it works is because the story IS NOT over written. 

If the writing here had been denser, no way the form would have worked. 

The writer doesn't use SLUGLINES. He uses BOLD on a new OBJECT every time he switches scenes. 

I wouldn't recommend writing like this - but it does work really well when done properly - as it is here.

FORM RATING: 8/10

FORM TIP: Study this style - if executed well it adds to the flow of the story. Sluglines can break the flow of a script. I mostly don't read sluglines anyway - I usually skip over them and let the scene tell me where I am. But when the scene is muddy, unfocused, as often happens, a slugline is a great anchor to reorient yourself. 

CHARACTERS & DIALOGUE:

Characters here were bountiful - which was good and bad. The concept felt contrived - a movie-idea that would only happen in magic-land - but when we get into the development of all the ancillary characters there's a depth to the writing and the story. 

It becomes more a character drama with this weird scenario tying all the players together. 

To this end, the characters are fairly well realised. They're all a little cliche - but not too over the top. 

Dialogue is where these characters fall down. They all have exactly the same voice. If you took away the character name, there's no way you could tell who was speaking. 

CHARACTER RATING: 7/10
DIALOGUE RATING: 4/10

CHARACTER TIP: Beware the trope. If you're writing a character we've all seen before, try to write them in a way that's new. Think about the way you would expect someone else to write them, then flip it. Write the opposite. But always go for the subtle version of your character. When you OVER WRITE your character, no matter how well you do it, they won't come across as real.

DIALOGUE TIP: Differentiate the WAY your characters speak. There's countless different ways people speak. Everyone you know has their own peculiar linguistic style. If you're stuck trying to create a unique way for your characters to speak - look at the people you encounter daily - use their traits in your characters. 

VOICE:

Well written, with an intelligence behind the execution gives this script a voice of some sort. It didn't explode off the page, but it left a very clear picture of the story in my mind. When a script stays with you after the read, the voice is usually something to do with that. 

VOICE RATING 6/10

VOICE TIP: This script could have had a more powerful voice if the DIALOGUE had been really developed. To that end, it seems that dialogue is really important to defining your voice. 

All the scripts I've read this year that have had a strong voice have also had exceptional dialogue. 

PRODUCTION:

I wouldn't put money into this. It's essentially a drama. Sure, there's a crime in there, but crime dramas are what we watch on TV for free - we don't want to pay $$$ to go and see them at the movies. 

It's got multiple characters in multiple locations.

The budget would be around 15 mill. Hard to see a return on this unless you got A listers involved, but that would hike the budget way up - closer to 40 mill. 

Prisoners - was an example of a great DRAMA that made money - but the idea there was bigger than here. It was - WHAT WOULD YOU DO TO PROTECT YOUR DAUGHTER?

That's a much bigger question than two unlikeable cops tossing up whether or not they should kill a prisoner to save their ass. 

SUMMARY:

A so-so concept executed really well. Dialogue needs a complete re-write - and the characters need to be re-thought - they're just too cliche as they are.

I doubt it'll make money. 

OVERALL RATING: 6/10