Monday, 11 April 2016

INVARIANT - THRILLER - SCI-FI

LOGLINE: Two students investigating the nature of time discover a way to send messages to the past and soon find themselves fighting desperately to change the future they’ve been shown.

WRITER: David Marmor

SCRIPT BIO: 2016 spec script repped by Peter Dodd of UTA.

STORY:

We're first introduced to Max (30s) by way of high contrast VHS footage from a home handy-cam from the 90's. Max is only a kid at the time, and he's intrigued by a science experiment his father and a colleague are working on. 

It involves a dark black crystal that doesn't make much sense in the opening scene, but we later learn if you shoot a laser into the crystal and control some other variable, the crystal can delay or speed up the laser coming out the other side.

That's the nexus of this story. Once you get your head around this slightly tenuous concept, once you buy into the idea that a crystal can not only delay information but speed up information then the story really is incredible. 

What do you mean by 'speed up information?' I hear you ask. Good question. The idea is that if you're about to do something, the crystal knows you're about to do it, and will do what you were about to do, BEFORE you do it. 

Confusing - right? But for the sake of the story, let's move on, and just 'ACCEPT' that this crystal CAN  transmit information through time. 

Max teams up with the lovely Louise, an undergrad student studying physics, and together they manage to harness this magical crystal's powers and create a device where they're able to send messages back in time.

They soon receive a message from themselves in the not too distant future, a few hours forward, telling them that they're being hunted by some government group. And sure enough, it's true, a government henchmen and his cronies are soon hunting them down.

The power of being able to send messages back in time has to be the ultimate weapon ever created, you could literally do anything with such power. Change the outcomes of wars, prevent assassinations, anything you can think of could be done. 

That kind of power is something every government and ruling body in the world wants.

Max and Louise are soon on the run from a government agency willing to kill them to get this device. Their only hope of survival are the message they're receiving from their future selves.

The question becomes, will they survive and if so, what will ultimately become of this incredible new device and the power it wields?

INITIAL REACTION:

I've talked about intelligence before on this blog. Today is a good example of when a script has obviously been well thought through. 

Compare this script with the script of Mobilized. 

This is a script that an intelligent person has really thought through. Mobilised read like a 9 year old was regurgitating 50 different films and mashing them together into one. The intelligence behind Mobilized was sub-par to be kind about it. 

This script is very considered. 

It's not bullet proof. This script's biggest asset - It's IDEA - is also one of its weakest points. 

It posits that the hero of the story can send messages through time via a mysterious dark crystal. That's what this story hinges on - if you can buy into that premise, then you're in for a great ride, but if you find that too hard to swallow, then the rest of the story falls apart.

I'm one of those that buys into the premise  While it's wholly unrealistic in real world terms that such a crystal exists, within the CONTEXT of the story written it's believable. 

And that's a very crucial thing - you can do ANYTHING you want in a story, so long as you do it in a convincing way. So long as you create rules and stick to them in the world you're creating, no matter how absurd in real life, the audience will go along with it, so long as you stay true to the rules of the world your create.

CONCEPT:

This is a killer concept - Scientist is able to send messages back in time. It's not entirely new - but when you get into the execution of this idea - it comes across as fresh. 

As the general public gets more and more film savvy, the bar for what will keep people entertained is slowly being raised. 

Film ideas that got people to go to the movies in the 80's are laughable these days. Watch any Chuck Norris or Dolph Lundgren movie and you'll see what I mean. 

CONCEPT RATING: 8/10

CONCEPT TIP: Inject intelligence into your writing. Take the script you're presently working on and ask yourself, are you challenging the audience? Or are you just trying to create something that will appease the masses? If you push the bar, if you really think through every beat and aspect of your story, it will only benefit you and your script. 

FORM:

Form wasn't perfect here, it was a little over written and there was over use of bold and italics.

But as I've said before, form is the first thing that producers and agents forgive so long as you are telling an intelligent, creative story. 

FORM RATING: 6/10

FORM TIP: Form is the easiest thing to learn when writing scripts. Spend some time researching the best way to format your screenplay. There's lots of good resources - How Not To Write A Screenplay - is one of the best.

The second best way is to READ a lot of screenplays that are out there. Look at the way they are formatted. Think about what formatting guides work for you as a reader and what distracts. 

STRUCTURE:

Structure here was okay. I don't think that Max actually had a FLAW. 

It's setup at the start that his parents die in a fire, and that's what's driving him to be able to send messages back in time. But that's not really a flaw.

It could be a flaw, if his obsession is causing problems in his life, but it's not really doing that. He is obsessed, but not in a detrimental way. 

When your hero doesn't have a flaw, structure begins to waver. As happens in this script. 

But there is one small up side to eschewing traditional structure, it means you can surprise your audience. 

The heroes journey structure was quite a new thing in the 90s. It is now very well known. So well known that it has become formula. The real skill in screenwriting these days is to KNOW the hero's journey and use it, but to do so in a way that isn't obvious. 

Sometimes a writer can luck it by writing a non-hero's journey film and it's really engaging BECAUSE we have no idea what will happen next. I think that's the case here in Invariant. 

The writer didn't follow a traditional structure, which would be death to the script in 99% of cases, but here the script works. 

Why?

Because of the first positive thing I mentioned about this script. It's INTELLIGENT and every beat is well thought through. 

We also have other elements driving the story. 

While there isn't a closed-end goal - the heroes do have a series of micro-goals -- being that their lives are in danger. Some powerful government agency is out to kill them and get this device. 

Their micro goals are to evade capture along the way. Now, this only works because of the setup of the film. We have a scenario where a future version of themselves is communicating with the present day version of themselves to help them survive. That's mind bending in a Matrix kind of way. 

Had this been a film about two convicts who escaped jail and go on the run, then it wouldn't have been so interesting. There's only so long we can watch a couple of the run from the law. 

STRUCTURE RATING: 6/10

STRUCTURE TIP: Surprise yourself. If, as you're writing you're able to write a beat in that you didn't expect to happen, then you will be sure to surprise your audience. 

Try the paint-yourself-in test. When you next have your hero in a tricking situation, rather than have them get out of that situation the easy way, go the hard way. Write them into a corner. 

Then this is the test - try to write them OUT of that corner - but in a way even you didn't see coming. It might take you a day or two to figure out how to get them out of the corner, but when you do, you will have a moment in your screenplay your audience didn't see coming. It will also add to the intelligence of your script.

CHARACTERS & DIALOGUE:

Max and Louise are well rounded and well created. They're not perfect, but as they stand I'd give them 8/10's each. All the other characters aren't so well rounded, which would normally be a problem, but here, in this script, because we don't know so much about the bad people chasing them, that only adds to their enigma. 

Dialogue isn't anything to write home about. And in fact, in this very strong script I'd say that dialogue is the weakest element. 

There's not much difference between the way Max and Louise talk. If you took away the character names you couldn't tell who was who by the WAY they speak. 

CHARACTERS & DIALOGUE RATING: 7/10

CHARACTERS & DIALOGUE TIP: Dialogue is a really powerful way of creating vibrant characters. When your dialogue pops, your characters will pop. 

Why is that?

Because when you put time and effort into understanding HOW a character speaks and WHY they speak that way - then you're really starting to understand WHO your characters are. 

When you know who your characters are, you're better able to make character based decisions. Meaning - you make decisions in your script that are TRUE to the nature of your characters. 

VOICE: 

Voice is pretty good here. If the writing was trimmed back a little and the formatting mistakes were cleaned up, if the dialogue were tweaked and a decent flaw added to Max then the voice in this script could be exceptional. 

VOICE RATING: 7/10

VOICE TIP: Perfecting each of the aspects of your script will bolster and improve your voice. 

PRODUCTION:

If this script were cleaned up as I have mentioned, then yes, I'd definitely put money into this. But I'd insist that it be kept to a 10 mill budget. 

Sci-fi is hard to make money on. There are exceptions to this rule - Matrix, Star Wars etc - but when you have something like this script - which is essentially an everyday thriller set in the ordinary world with ONE sci-fi element (send messages back in time) - then these kind of films are hard to get much more of a return than 50 million.

SUMMARY:

Intelligent concept very well executed.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10