Tuesday, 15 March 2016

LOU - DARK COMEDY

LOGLINE: An elderly woman who hacks out a rough existence on a remote island is forced to help her dimwitted neighbor rescue her daughter whose ex has kidnapped her and escaped into the woods.

WRITER: Maggie McGowan Cohn

SCRIPT BIO: 8 votes on the 2015 black list

STORY:

We're told at the start of the script that Lou is 'elderly' - so I'm going to assume that she's over 70 years of age. 

Lou is not your typical old lady. She's a former trained assassin - used to work for the CIA. We don't know that up front but we soon figure it out.

The opening scene is Lou out in the woods - hunting deer. 

She's a keen marksman with a rifle and even better with a blade. 

After killing her breakfast - she stops off in town to buy provisions. There's a storm coming and being that Lou lives on an island off the coast of Washington - when a storm comes it usually means power outages and flooding and a whole assortment of storm associated damages... 

Oh, I almost forgot - this tale is set in the eighties.

We soon meet Hannah - a down on her luck single mum who lives in a 'trailer' on Lou's property. Hannah is living out here in the middle of nowhere on an island for two reasons - 1) The rent is so damn cheap. 2) She's in hiding from her ex-husband the father of her 5 year old child - Vee.

Her ex - Phillip - is described as a 'monster' of the worst kind. 

Life has gotten a little easier for Hannah of late as she learned recently that Phillip died in prison. 

Which is odd - when right in the middle of the storm that night - Phillip shows up at her trailer and kidnaps Vee.

At the same time - Lou is in her home fixing to shoot herself in the head. She's fed up with life and figures this is as good a time as any to end it. 

Right when she's about to pull the trigger - Hannah comes banging on her door, screaming that Phillip is alive and that he's kidnapped Vee.

Lou, being the ex CIA assassin that she is, decides that she'll do one last act of valour before ending her time on this earth, and decides to help Hannah track down her daughter. 

A quick investigation of Hannah's trailer reveals a brightly colored plastic egg, with a piece of paper within - upon which is written some longitude and latitude co-ordinates.

Either Phillip is the world's worst kidnapper - or he wants Hannah to come and find him?

Either way, Lou and Hannah tool up - (get guns and knives) from Lou's personal collection then set off into the woods to rescue Vee.

The local police soon get wind of what's happened, they report it to the mainland and the world's worst FBI agent is sent out to the island to investigate.  

The question becomes - Why did Phillip leave co-ordinates for Hannah to find him, and what's really going on out there in the wilderness - oh, yeah, and will Vee live through this safely?

INITIAL REACTION:

This was a highly enjoyable script. 

It's not perfect by a long way - but it's better than a lot of scripts I've read recently.

I wasn't sure at first if it was a comedy or not. And I guess, that's the most important thing to talk about today. 

TONE -- be sure that you nail your script's tone from the very first scene. 

If you want to see how UNCERTAIN-TONE can RUIN your film - watch TOWER HEIST.

That film has no idea what it wants to be. It says it's a comedy, but really - it's a dark drama with elements of comedy thrown in at inopportune moments.

The opening scene of Lou - while entertaining - doesn't setup that this is a comedy. 

It's Lou out hunting. She shoots a deer and scares a couple of old people out for a nature walk.

I guess that could be funny - if executed in a different way, but the way it is doesn't firmly say to the audience, this film is a comedy. From that opening scene I thought it was a setup for a thriller. 

The second main problem with this script is the lack of POV consistency. 

We start with Lou. The film is called Lou. So you'd think this film would be all about Lou. Presently, it's about 1/3 about Lou. The other 2/3rds are about all the other characters. 

This script felt like Hannah was just as big a player as Lou. 

Phillip, the police and FBI had their characters developed to the point of being major players. 

So, to that end, the film became ENSEMBLE.

The one problem with writing ensemble feature films is - 99% of the time they don't make money. In fact, 99% of the time they're a critical failure also. 

Why? Because when a film is ensemble, and we don't spend at least 90% of our time with one main character, the vicarious element of the film experience is lost. 

Why is this lost? 

Because when you have multiple players in a feature film - odds are - only one (if your lucky) will have a flaw. The rest won't have a flaw.

That's not entirely the case here.

Lou and Hannah have flaws. Those flaws are developed throughout - but then you have at least half of the script with characters who don't have flaws - Phillip - the police - Hannah's best friend - her boy friend, the FBI. 

This film would play better if we spent more time with Lou than all the other players.

Let's get into it...

CONCEPT:

The concept here is pretty damn good. Retired CIA assassin is roped into one last final mission - that's something we've all seen before - but we haven't seen it as a dark comedy. 

If this film were a straight up thriller - I don't think it would have worked as well as it does.

This concept also has a very clear goal - Save Vee. 

Films without a clear objective tend to wander.

If you've seen the film Trumbo or read the script - you'll know what I mean. 

CONCEPT RATING: 8/10

CONCEPT TIP: The same but different - is what Hollywood wants. Go through all your ideas you have - and do the genre-switch-game with them. 

Example - say you've written a story about a young person with cancer - but it didn't get any positive reads from anyone so you gave up on it. Get it out, dust it off, and change the genre. 

Think how that same film would play if it were a comedy? How would it play as a Horror? As Sci-Fi? Imagine it as a musical? - Does your idea suddenly seem like it's the 'same but different'? If so - re-write it in that new style. You'll be surprised what happens. 

FORM: 

Form was near perfect here. You know how I know that? As I'm writing this, I can't think of one beat where I thought, 'oh, that's poorly formatted.' 

Good execution is silent execution. 

It's when you notice something - that it hasn't been executed well. 

FORM RATING: 9/10

FORM TIP: Read this script - see how Maggie formats. How she writes. There's loads to be learned.

STRUCTURE:

Structure was so-so here.

There's a clear ordinary world. Then there's a clear inciting incident which leads us to the end of act 1.

Most writers can nail act one.

It's act 2 where the stumbling begins. And it happened here.

In a well structured screenplay - act two won't feel drawn out or sluggish. Why? Because when certain beats are hit through those middle 50 pages - the story flies by.

But when you don't have a clear structure through this middle 50 pages - that's when the story starts to lag - as it does here. 

STRUCTURE RATING: 6/10

STRUCTURE TIP: Having a comprehensive understanding of the Hero's Journey is the best remedy for the act 2 lag. It's always very clear when a writer understands the hero's journey and when they don't.

CHARACTERS & DIALOGUE:

Character's are well developed - to a certain degree. As I mentioned earlier - only Lou and Hannah seem to have flaws.

I have to commend Maggie on how well those flaws are written.

Going back to the - good execution is silent execution - principle - I had to stop and think for a beat deciding if Lou and Hannah had flaws. When I thought on it - yes - they do. But it was good that it wasn't OBVIOUS.

A lot of screenwriters starting out will learn the major principles of screenwriting, then execute them OVERTLY - anyone can do that. The real skill in screenwriting is being able to write subtly. 

To be able to write in a way where you execute all the key elements of a screenplay - but you do so in a fashion that it all seems neatly wound together in the story - we don't notice the individual elements. 

Dialogue here wasn't as good as it could be. All the characters had a very similar style of speaking. Which is a shame, as some stories lend themselves to a more diverse array of characters than other films.

This is one film where you have characters from all walks of life coming together - yet they all speak in the same way. 

In fact, this is the most common re-occuring problem with dialogue.

Almost every script I've reviewed this year has suffered from - same-voice-itis - where the writer has each character talking about different things - in the same style of voice. 

 CHARACTERS & DIALOGUE RATING: 7/10

CHARACTERS & DIALOGUE TIP: If you're writing an ensemble film - please, please, please, make sure EVERY character has an arc. Or at least 4 out of 6 of the characters. 

And for Dialogue: Once you have your holding dialogue down - when you're happy with WHAT each character is saying - go through and create unique syntax for each of your characters. Create a unique way for them to speak. It's tough - but doable - and when you achieve it - your characters and your VOICE will stand out for it.

VOICE:

Voice was okay here. Didn't explode off the page - but the sum of all the elements that went into making this screenplay work together as a whole. 

The strongest element of this writer's voice is her understated humor. While I commend her on that - as with a lot of strengths - this strength is also a weakness of sorts.

This script wasn't over the top funny - it was subtle humor all the way through - which I enjoyed - but it took 30 pages to realise this was a dramedy - (drama-comedy) not a thriller with humorous elements. 

You need to be clear what your genre, and hence, your tone is from the start.

VOICE RATING: 6/10

VOICE TIP: Nail your genre from page one. Don't allow any room for misinterpretation. The clearer your style and tone, the clearer your voice.

PRODUCTION:

I can see this film making money. 

Well executed comedy's make money in America. They don't travel so well - meaning they don't make much money in other countries. 

I would put money into this if the POV and the TONE were sorted out. 

Depending on who carries this film - who the lead it - this film could be made for less than 5 million. If that were the case - it would almost certainly make money. 

SUMMARY:

Great concept - executed well. Could be better - but even as it stands, this is a strong script.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10