Thursday, 14 April 2016

MALPRACTICE - DRAMA

LOGLINE: A disgraced surgeon operating a black market clinic in Manila is called into action after he is enlisted by terrorists to assist in a plot to set off a bomb at a political convention filled with international dignitaries.

WRITER: Tyler Marceca

SCRIPT BIO: As far as I can tell, this is the next spec script from Tyler after he wrote the incredible screenplay "The Disciple Program". It's repped by WME T.J. Bernardy, Rich Cook &  Anonymous Content | Bard Dorros, Michael Sugar


STORY:

We open in Somalia where we meet Abukar and a young boy called Ismail. Abukar is a terrorist through and through, and today he has organised an incredible plot to break into and take over the American Embassy in Somali.

I won't get into details of the siege, other than to say it's epic and as with most of Tyler's writing, exceptional crafted. 

After this opening 'stinger' - we find ourselves in Manila where we meet the 'hero' of this film - one DARREN ATWELL (30s). 

Darren is addicted to pharmaceutical grade cocaine. He now lives in Manilla working in a back street kidney harvesting clinic. 

You see, back in the USA, Darren's addiction to cocaine led to him impaling one of his patients in the eyeball with a scalpel. 

He has been essentially disowned by his parents, and lives a terrible life here in Manilla, performing operations he doesn't want to perform, while numbing his pain with more cocaine. 

One day, while enjoying the high of the magic white powder, Darren is called into work as there is an emergency. 

Two rival gangs have been shooting each other and there are now several wounded men from both gangs waiting to be patched up in his clinic. 

Darren goes down to the clinic and does his best to help the gang members. It takes more than he bargained for, as the gang members are dead set on killing each other.

By this stage we're up to page 18 and you may have noticed as I did by this stage that we have no goal yet. 

We're just kind of rolling along.

We spend 7 pages watching the opening scene - the invasion of the US embassy, and now we're in Manilla - watching a washed up doctor snort coke and pull bullets out of gang members. 

Shortly after Darren has helped the gang members we shift POV and move over to Abukar and his right hand man - Fazul. They've just been shipped into Manilla in a container on a boat. One can only assume their presence in Manilla means something bad is gonna go down. 

Back at the clinic, Darren is paid a visit from a man with no nose, aptly named SPHINX. Sphinx works for the Hiasa gang and mysteriously just wanted to say thank you to Darren for fixing up his gang members. 

We soon learn that Manilla is hosting an international summit in Ermita, something to do with global security.

Darren is then picked up from his home by his driver Lau, who drives him to an opulent estate. Once they make it through the Fort Knox security measures, Darren meets the owner of the estate RAVALES (60s). 

Sphinx is at the mansion, and he knocks Darren out with a chloroformed cloth. Later Darren wakes up and finds himself wearing a suicide vest that is rigged to a patient's heart beat. If the patient's heart beat stops, the vest will explode. 

The patient is - Abukar - who instructs Darren that he wants him to perform domestic surgery on his face to make him look like someone who would be very unrecognisable. 

We're up to page 32 by this stage and we've reached our first goal. Darren needs to get out of this situation. 

I'll leave the story description there as this screenplay is worth the read and I don't want to get into spoilers.

INITIAL REACTION:

Firstly, let's talk quickly about Tyler's first script - The Disciple Program. TDP was an exceptional script. Tyler came out of nowhere, a complete unknown and sold that script for over half a million and signed with WME and Anonymous content. Two of the biggest reps in town.

Why was TDP so great. Aside from the writing being exceptional, the STORY was fantastic. 

There was a clearly defined hero who discovers his wife murdered by about page 15. He then goes on a very clearly defined journey uncovering the truth behind her murder.

From page 15 onwards in that script there was one clearly defined goal.

Now one of the major problems with Malpractice is that there is no MAJOR goal until page 31. And even then, that goal is not the MAIN goal in the story. 

Goals are so very important to story. Without goals, your story is ambling along without focus. We, as the audience can only handle an unfocused story for a short time. 

There's also another huge mistake that this screenplay makes. 

It shows us Darren's FLAW BEFORE we get to like him.

You really need to make me LIKE your hero BEFORE you show me his flaw. 

Think about how that works in real life. If you are friends with someone, then they do something to upset you, you are far more likely to forgive them, than if the first time you meet them they do something unkind to you. 

The same goes with characters in a film. Here, the first time we meet Darren we see him doing lines of coke by himself at home. He's obviously got an addiction and he's obviously got problems. 

We THEN see him saving the lives of the gang members. We like him for that. But we already dislike him for being a coke addict. 

Now had Tyler shown us Darren saving the lives of the gang member, THEN showed Darren doing coke, we would have been more sympathetic to him. 

That really is one of the major problems with this script. Empathy. At no stage do I actually feel for or like Darren. In fact, there's not one character here that I can identify with.

In Tyler's other script TDP - I loved the main character - why? Because Tyler built up huge amounts of empathy for him. 

CONCEPT:

I'm not really sure I even know what the concept here is. A good way to know if your concept is strong is to look at your logline.

Let's look at this logline:

A disgraced surgeon operating a black market clinic in Manila is called into action after he is enlisted by terrorists to assist in a plot to set off a bomb at a political convention filled with international dignitaries.

That logline is confusing. You really don't want a confusing logline for your story. 

'A black market surgeon is called into action' - what does that mean, 'called into action?'

It would be better to word it, 'forced to perform surgery on a terrorist'.

But then think about that. Your story is about a surgeon that's forced to perform surgery on a terrorist. 

Is that a really strong concept?

Compare this concept with the concept of The Disciple Program which was, 'A husband investigates the suspicious murder of his wife, uncovering a government conspiracy.'

That's a big concept. And it was well executed. 

Here we have a confusing concept that is well written, but the story is very slow.

CONCEPT RATING: 6/10

CONCEPT TIP: Think through your concept BEFORE you commit to writing. Once you've written 110 pages, it's much harder to then go back and change the core idea of your story. 

When your core idea is only 30 words in logline form - it's much easier to refine into something good.

FORM:

Tyler is probably one of the very best 'writers' I've read in the screenplay format. His use of words and his ability to construct a sentence is incredible. 

The Disciple Program was a sheer joy to read. 

While the writing here in Malpractice is very good, and the opening 20 pages are exceptional, the writing does slip off a little after that.

Tyler also uses bold for his sluglines which makes the read very distracting. 

Take a look at this script and see how he formats huge blocks of description into very easy to read and clean two line blocks. 

Ironically, one of Tylers strengths as a writer is his ability to focus on the minutiae, but sometimes that slows down the read. 

Focusing in on the fine detail of a scene really helps to bring that moment alive, but when you focus on the fine detail too much, the story will drag. 

FORM RATING: 7/10

FORM TIP: If you can get ahold of Tyler's first script - The Disciple Program, have a read. It is quite possibly the best formatted screenplay I have ever read.

STRUCTURE:

Now, in TDP there was a very clear and cleanly written structure.

Here, it feels like the structure is way off kilter. 

We open with a 7 page embassy invasion that really does nothing more than setup just how bad-ass the main bad guy is. 

That's wasted real estate. If you have to open on a hook opening that's nothing to do with your hero, try to keep it to less than 3 pages, then introduce your hero straight away. And remember - make us LIKE the hero, THEN show us their flaw. 

Darren's flaw is that he's addicted to cocaine - but there's a problem with this flaw -- it doesn't actually stop him from being a doctor.

Sure, you could argue that he's a doctor in Manila doing operations he doesn't really want to do, but the fact is, he's still a doctor performing operations. 

Let's think about what a flaw is.

A FLAW is a personality fault INSIDE your hero that stops them from achieving what they want or need to. 

It would be better if his addiction to cocaine stopped him from even being able to operate in this black market clinic. Then it would truly be a flaw.

As it stands, Darren's cocaine addiction is only a partial flaw. 

I would even go further and argue that cocaine addiction is not the underlying flaw. It's a manifestation of a flaw, but it's not the flaw itself.

The flaw, in Darren's case, is the personality trait that makes him deal with his issues by hiding behind cocaine. That's the real flaw.  But that real flaw isn't looked into by this story in its present form.

There's also too much negative empathy in this script for the hero. We later learn that because of Darren's addiction to cocaine he stabbed a patient in the eye with a scalpel. 

What Tyler is asking us to do, is to root for a really evil guy. He left a patent blind. That's fucked up. And it was his own fault. Now, had the patient had a seizure while he she was on the operating table, and Darren had stabbed her accidentally in the eye - that's one thing - that's an unfortunate circumstance - but here it is 100% Darren's fault he stabbed his patient in the eye. 

That's a hard hero to ask me to like.

STRUCTURE RATING: 5/10

STRUCTURE TIP:

Be sure you understand what a flaw is and how to use it with regards to structure. Read Christopher Vogler's The Writer's journey. Also, Save The Cat, and The Sequence Approach. These three books detail film structure really well. 

Second tip: Empathy. If you want me to like your hero - MAKE ME LIKE THEM. I don't automatically like them just because you wrote them down on the page. Show me your hero DOING things that will make me like them.

CHARACTERS & DIALOGUE:

In The Disciple Program, Tyler created masterful characters all with sensational dialogue. 

Sadly, here, the characters are not half as well written. Darren's character is well defined, as is Abukar, but here we have a lot of peripheral characters clogging up the read.

In TDP - every single character was totally relevant to the storyline. Even what you would assume were smaller bit parts, were all essential to the plot. 

Dialogue was also amazing in TDP. Again, sadly, here the dialogue does not have half the zing and pop his previous script did. 

CHARACTERS & DIALOGUE RATING: 6/10

CHARACTERS & DIALOGUE TIP:

Take your time. Don't rush. Firstly, understand WHO your characters are. Understand their motivations. When you understand that, then think about the way each character would speak. Try to create differences between all your characters in the way they speak. If you can achieve this your script will stand out from the masses.

VOICE:

Tyler has a very unique voice. I talk about intelligence in screenwriting on this blog often. Tyler is by far one of the most intelligent writers I've read in years. 

The main things holding back the voice of this script are negative empathy for Darren, and the disjointedness of the script. It feels really unfocused. Even at the half way mark I was asking myself, what is it that Darren must do? What's the main goal of the story here?

VOICE RATING: 7/10

VOICE TIP:

Voice really is the sum of all the parts of your screenplay. 

But, not every part of screenwriting weighs in as heavily as all the other parts. 

For example - your FORM can be a 2/10 - but if your CONCEPT is 8/10 - no one will give a shit about your form. 

I would rank importance like this -- 

CONCEPT is king. If you've got a killer idea but your structure, dialogue and characters are off, odds are people will still want to read your script, and you might even sell it. 

Producers will buy a GREAT IDEA that's poorly written then bring in a writer who understands Structure, Characters, and Dialogue to refine that killer concept into a strong script.

STRUCTURE is next. 

If you have a great concept and good structure, producers will forgive weak characters and dialogue. 

CHARACTES and DIALOGUE are really one and the same. If you have poorly developed characters, odds are your dialogue will suck. And likewise on the flip - if your dialogue sucks, odds are it's because you have really badly developed characters. 

PRODUCTION:

No sir. I would not put money into this. 

I would put money into Tyler's first script. 

But this one has too many problems with it as I've mentioned.

As it stands it'd be a 30 - 50 million dollar piece - but there's just not enough of a hook to the concept to get people to the cinema. 

A surgeon is forced to operate on a terrorist. It's just not a big enough idea.

It's interesting to note that when this went out in February, they pitched it as a DRAMA. 

Which is actually what it is. At first I thought it was going to be a thriller, but really, it's more about the character study of Darren, than the exciting storyline. 

Here's a production tip for you.

Dramas don't make money.

Not anymore.

They did, even 10 years ago dramas could make money. But now, people want to go to the cinema for an EVENT. They want to see something that will wow them. 

There is one exception to this rule (as there always is) - the gray army. 

The demograph of people 50 years and older. They still love going to the cinema to see a drama. But unless you're aware of that fact, and you're writing to that demographic, a drama will almost certainly fail to turn a profit. 

If you are writing a drama and you really want your piece to stay a drama, I'd suggest writing it in a way that it can be made for less than $5mill. 

OVERALL SUMMARY:

Weak idea executed in a so so fashion. 

Which is a shame, as Tyler has proven to be one of the very best writers out there.