Tuesday, 22 March 2016

THE CANYON - DRAMA

LOGLINE: When parents reunite with their grown children for a road trip to hike the Grand Canyon, the family conflicts on the way prove far more gruelling than the twenty mile hike.

WRITER: Alex Koplow

SCRIPT BIO: 6 votes on the 2015 black list.

STORY:

ERIC DAVIDSON is a 30 year old illustrator. He's a talented artist. Presently he works for the biggest children's wildlife animation on TV called Foxfield Forrest. 

Alas, Eric is not an illustrator on the show, in fact, 6 years ago he started with the TV program as an intern, and now he's just been made head of online media marketing - something he really doesn't want to do.

That afternoon - Eric has a meltdown - he starts tweeting malicious posts from the official Foxfield Forrest twitter account - and he's soon fired.

6 weeks later Eric is still unemployed, supposedly suffering from artists' block. He's drawing some fantastic illustrations, he's just not putting himself out there. Also he's a hypochondriac. He constantly searches the internet for the symptoms of rare diseases in the hope that he has one.

Eric lives with his long term girlfriend - Amy. She's also in her 30s - but Amy is the antithesis of Eric. She has her life together. She's a lawyer earning top-dollar. She's constantly urging Eric to put his art out there, but Eric just isn't ready for rejection. 

Eric and Amy are soon to be married. 

Eric purposefully ignores his parents - MARY and DONALD. Despite having a family trek planned together. They're going to do the Grand Canyon trek as a one day walk - something that park officials specifically advise against. The trek should be done in at least 2 days as it is a 20 mile round journey. 

Eric and Amy join Mary, Donald and Eric's sister - Tessa and her fiancĂ© Kevin - and set off on the road together heading toward the Grand Canyon.

A day into the trip, Mark discovers that her husband - Donald - has been having an affair. 

Any normal family would abort the trip and deal with this problem - but no - they decide to continue on and do the trip - which is just odd.

From here on there is a serious amount of tension between everyone on the trip. 

The 'family' go and stay with an Aunt - here they spend several pages just talking about life.

Then they go to the Grand Canyon and set off. Well, Donald, Tessa, Eric and Kevin do. Amy and Mary stay behind. 

During the hike, Donald sprains his ankle - and Eric has to rush off to get help for him. Which he does. 

Meanwhile - Amy and Mary have been engaged in deep philosophical chats about relationships which gets Amy thinking, shakes up her thoughts on marrying Eric.

Eric and Mary manage to get Donald out of the Grand Canyon and to a hospital where he's fine. 

And that's about it.

INITIAL REACTION:

There is a lot of good in this script - but there is more bad than good.

This is in the vein of Little Miss Sunshine - but where LMS had exceptionally well drawn characters, this has mediocre characters. Where LMS had incredible dialogue, this has okay dialogue. Where LMS had a goal and some sort of stakes - there is no real goal here - not one that actually matters. 

This script is a straight forward family drama. Its main problem is that nothing really happens. Sure there's bickering between family members, but that's not enough to drive a story. 

If the main engine of your story is 'squabbling family' your story is in trouble from the start.

CONCEPT:

Mildly dysfunctional family goes on family trip to grand Canyon but it's discovered the father was cheating.

That's it. That's the concept right there. 

This is not something that screams out to be made into a film. This is not a concept that when people hear about it - will make them rush to the cinemas to see. 

CONCEPT RATING: 1/10

CONCEPT TIP: 

Don't write a family drama. If you're starting out as a screen writer - this is the hardest genre to excel in. 

Family dramas haven't made money in a very long time. Look at the movies that are making money at the box office - how many family dramas have you seen in the last ten years? Less than 2? How many actually made money? 

I can't even recall a straight forward family drama that made money since American Beauty. But even in American Beauty there's a murder. There's something for us to hang our hats on. Here, in Canyon, we have a sprained ankle. In American Beauty - we learn in the opening scene that a murder will take place. Here in Canyon, we have to wait until page 80 for an unlikeable character to sprain his ankle.

Seriously?

FORM:

Form isn't too bad here. The writing isn't as smooth as it could be. It took me about 10 pages to get into the writer's 'style'. 

It's also written more as TV than as a film. TV scripts are 90 dialogue. This script is about that. 

Otherwise this script is well formatted. Locations are easy to follow, there's no use of underlining, bold, or italics. 

It comes in at 109 pages - but could easily come in at 90 pages. 

FORM RATING: 6/10

FORM TIP: Keep your scenes lean. In this script there were a lot of scenes where information we'd learned in the previous scene was explained to a new character in the next scene. Never do this. Never have one character explain to another what the audience already knows. 

STRUCTURE:

Structure here is waaaaay off. 

Eric's main flaw is that he doesn't want to put himself out there. How does going on a trip to the Grand Canyon test that flaw? The answer is - it doesn't. 

If he was really against the trip and really didn't want to go - then by being forced to go on the journey it awakens something within him - and when he gets back from the trip he is motivated and focused to put himself out there - then yes - it could have worked. But that's not what happens. In fact Eric doesn't change throughout the script. The person that changes is Amy. 

This is a major problem with this script - who's story is it? We start with Eric - we spend most of our time with Eric - but the three characters that experience change are Donald, Amy and Mary. 

There is no inciting incident. 

It is discovered on page 35 that Donald has been cheating on Mary.

This needed to happen on page 12 by the latest. But it's still not an inciting incident.

Inciting indents TEST THE HERO'S FLAW. This does not test Eric's flaw. If indeed this is Eric's film?

That's another major problem with this script. Ultimately, this story is either Mary's or Amy's not Eric's. 

They are the two people in this film that are affected by the events the most. 

I think, this could be a really interesting script if we'd spent our entire time with Mary, if the film has been told from her POV. She is the person that the inciting incident happens to. It is her world that is shaken up. Not Eric's. 

Also, Empathy is a problem in this script.

At no point do we like Eric. There's no real active empathy for him. We feel more for Mary than we do for Eric. 

There's a small amount of passive empathy for Eric at the start - in that - he doesn't get the promotion he wants - but Eric, I'm sorry buddy - that's just called life - and what you don't do is throw a hissy fit and start tweeting really inappropriate things to 100's of thousands of kids.

I think the writer thought this was going to be edgy - it's not - it's negative empathy. I don't like people who throw tantrums, I like people who are proactive about changing their lives. 

STRUCTURE RATING: 1/10

STRUCTURE TIP: This is often a problem with ensemble films - the writer doesn't know whose story it should be. If you have a multi-protagonist script under way - and you're having trouble with it - stop and ask yourself - honestly - who's story is it? 

Often when we start a script he have a main character in mind - but as we write, the story evolves in a different direction - and smaller characters become more prominent. Ask yourself - if your script would be better told from one of the other character's POV's. 

This script would be much better served if it were Mary's story. 

CHARACTERS & DIALOGUE:

Characters and dialogue were okay here. But when you're writing a story that basically doesn't actually have a story - you need to make sure your characters and dialogue are 11/10's. 

Here, they are not. 

Ever character has exactly the same voice.

Almost.

Mary seems to have the most distinct voice and personality - another reason to make this her film. 

And as far as other characters go - they're all tropes -- 

The father who wants the son to follow in his footsteps - never seen that character before.

The tension in the relationship because one is financially better off than the other - never seen that before.

The father who was cheating on the mom - never seen that before.

The other sibling who has the perfect relationship - never seen that before. 

The family vacation where something happens and the family is forced to examine itself - never seen that before.

Sigh.

Every choice here was the first choice. Every choice here was a trope we've seen countless times before. 

Even Eric's morbid fascination with hypochondria feels forced - like the writer was trying to add something quirky to his character. 

Eric's obsession with illnesses did not arise naturally from the storyline - it was hammed in by the writer to give him a sense of depth I guess - but it doesn't feel real.

CHARACTERS & DIALOGUE RATING: 5/10

CHARACTERS & DIALOGUE TIP: Don't go the obvious route. This is another reason why Little Miss Sunshine worked. It had characters we had never seen before. I had never seen a teenage mute before. I had never seen a 5 year old beauty queen. The grand father was unique - even the mother - the father - all the decisions were well thought through.  Here, they are all obvious and dull.

VOICE: 

The writing is clean and the dialogue, while dull, seems to pull you along. 

The one thing this scripts has going for it, is that it forces you to examine yourself, forces you to ask the questions it raises about yourself, which is why I think it made it to the black list. 

The voice here is okay - it doesn't stand out as some do, but it's memorable to a certain degree.

VOICE RATING: 6.5/10

VOICE TIP: For the first 50 pages there were no spelling or grammatical errors. This instilled a confidence in the writer for me. But then after page 50 there were about 10 mistakes. Which distracted from the way I thought about this writer. 

To this end, it is worthwhile getting a professional to proof read your script. The less errors you have the stronger your writing will come across.

PRODUCTION:

The only way this script could get anywhere is if it has exceptional cast attached. We're talking a-grade  players - and not just the names - but the names that can really act. 

Short of that and you have a really dull family drama that goes nowhere.  

I would never put money into this.

There's no chance it will make any money back. 

The only up side to this script's production is that it is a pure drama through and through. There are no VFX - there are no stunts - there's no need for sets. It would be a very easy shoot. 

While I think about it, I must bring up the film and script BUTTER.

Butter was an exceptionally well written comedy/drama. It had exceptional cast. 

Google how much money that film made at boxofficemojo.com

That script was ten times as good as this script. 

SUMMARY:

A non-starter concept told from the wrong POV.

OVERALL RATING: 3/10