Saturday, 11 June 2016

AMC - LODGE 49 - TV pilot

LOGLINE:  A young knucklehead from Long Beach joins a dusty old fraternal lodge.

SCRIPT BIO: Pilot for AMC. Peter Ocko is show runner. Exec produced by Paul Giamatti.

STORY:

We meet Sean Dudley, the driving force behind Lodge 49 - as he finds a small 'gold' ring with a Lynx engraved in it on Long Beach, California.

We soon see that Dud, as he is known, is about as down on his luck as you can imagine. His father's swimming pool supply business that he inherited after his father's death hasn't turned a profit in years. His family home sold as a foreclosure, he doesn't actually have anywhere to live - he currently sleeps (illegally) in his former apartment - he only has a handful of change to his name.

Dud is a quitter, he never follows through on anything. 

Dud tries to sell that 'gold' ring to a pawn broker, but is told that it's not made of real gold, it's a membership ring for the fraternal order of the lynx.

Dud thinks nothing more of the ring, until a strange coincidence has his car run out of gas directly in front of the Lynx fraternity building. 

With no other life direction to follow, Dudley applies for membership at the Lynx fraternity. Here he meets Ernie - the second main player in this pilot. Ernie is about to step up into the  pole position at the Order of The Lynx, but Ernie is also in debt $2k to some ne'er-do-well. 

Ernie decides to dupe Dud into thinking there's a $2K admission fee for joining the fraternity. Dud takes a high interest loan from a pawn broker to get the $2k together, then joins the fraternity in the hope that contacts made there will help him get his life back on track. 

Dud feels there is a higher calling directing him to join the fraternity. That finding the fraternity ring and his car running out of gas outside the lodge were no mere coincidences, they have a higher meaning - he's just not quite sure what.

(Spoiler) When Ernie is appointed the highest order within the fraternity, he is granted access to an inner sanctum, a room where no other member may go. Here - in the closing hook of the pilot he sees a photograph of a previous high order member of the lynx from 1945 - the man in the photo is a doppelgänger for Dud.   

Da, da, daaaaaa

INITIAL REACTION:

There was a certain amount of bias on my behalf going into reading this script. It's being produced by AMC - so that means it HAS TO BE GOOD RIGHT?

I was reading it with eyes that knew some producers who have a great track record decided that this was good enough to pump money into. 

Had I come upon this script by chance, with no contextual knowledge of its attached talent, I don't think I would have given it as much leniency as I did.

See, there's a lot going wrong with this script even before I read the first word.

How's that you say?

How can you judge a script before you read a word?

Well, the answer to that is easy.... 

I just look at the page. I look at the formatting.

Now, in the world of screenwriting there are certain 'principles' that experienced writers follow. First time or relatively new writers eschew these 'principles' for a myriad of reasons.

The first thing the trained eye looks for is the black to white ratio on the page. If there is far more black than there is white, you know you're about to read an over-written script. 

When a script is over written, it's because the writer hasn't taken the time to take a 10 word sentence and write it in 7 words. They haven't taken the time to take a 50 word paragraph and write it in 30 words. 

You get the idea. 

Experienced writers work on their sentences - parring them back until they are as lean as possible yet still convey every ounce of nuance required to tell the scene.

Here - in Lodge 49 - there is a bad black to white ratio. And when I started reading - you guessed it - the writing was dense. 

Here's a really simple screen writing error made in the second sentence on the first page - he writes ' We see...' 

You should never write 'we see.' Just describe what we're seeing. Of course we see it. You're describing it aren't you? It's going to be filmed, then put on screen right? 

It's superfluous to write 'we see.' 

The writer is also guilty of a second rookie mistake - often he writes - 'Dud is running down the beach...' - or something like that.

This is a clunky way to write - Dud runs down the beach.

That's two really simple screenwriting mistakes very early on in the script. 

The second main problem I had with this script is the 'why should I stay watching? factor.'

For 60 pages we follow Dud around, seeing just how bad his life is and how hopeless he is at doing anything right.

There just wasn't enough to really engage me. 

Take Breaking Bad for instance. 

First of all it starts with an awesome hook. A cut ahead to the penultimate moment of the pilot - Walter White is in his underpants in a mobile meth lab in the dessert with what sounds like police coming for him. 

That is a huge hook. That makes me want to stay tuned to find out how the hell that happened!

Then compare that to the hook here - well technically there is no hook. Dud finds a gold ring on the beach. That's it. That's the hook, the mystery that's supposed to keep me glued to the screen for the next 45 minutes?

No sir, it's just not enough. 

Then look at the empathy in Breaking Bad - Walter White finds out he has terminal cancer in that first pilot - he figures out that he needs about $700k to see his family straight after his death. So he concocts a plan to cook meth and sell it to make sure he can leave money for his family. 

What's the goal in Lodge 49? 

Well, there is no goal. 

Dud ambles along for 60 pages, then finally joins the lodge because he's got nothing else going for him. 

It's just not enough to drive the story. 

This highlights the importance of GOALS and STAKES.

If your story doesn't have a CLEAR GOAL - your audience is going to get bored quickly. If there are no STAKES attached to the goal - then your audience isn't going to care weather or not your hero achieves their goal.

THE TAKE AWAY....

How to apply this to your script...

Firstly look at your script's MAIN GOAL. 

Identify it. 

And be honest. 

Lodge 49 - honestly - doesn't have a goal. There is no goal.

Someone might argue that Dud's goal is to 'better his life' - which would be a fair argument. But is that enough of a goal to drive a TV series?

To answer that question - you need to look at the STAKES - what happens if Dud fails at bettering his life. 

The answer is - not much really. He just keeps going about his squalid life as it is. 

So the stakes there are low.

Now - look at the stakes in Breaking Bad - if Walter fails to make the $700k before he dies- he leaves his wife and crippled son in a HUGE debt that would ruin their lives. 

That's a MASSIVE amount of stakes by comparison.

So back to your script - 

Identify your script's goal. 

Ask yourself honestly - is your script's main goal enough to drive the story?

If the answer is no. Then re-write until you have a strong main goal.

Then when you have that - look at your script on a scene by scene basis. Go into each scene and ask yourself - what is the micro-goal of this scene?

If your scene has NO GOAL - then re-write it until it has a goal. The goal can be as simple as getting to a shop in time to buy something important - but there needs to be a goal to the scene. 

If in the same scenario - the same character was on their way to the shop to buy something - but the shop is open 24 hours - there's no sense of urgency to the scene. 

That raises the importance of URGENCY. 

The film Transcendence - failed miserably to understand the importance of Urgency.

I'm not sure how long precisely, but I think that film was set over a 2-3 year period. 

2-3 years??? What the hell?

There's no urgency there what so ever. Just one of the million reasons that film failed.

In summary -- 

Look at the main goal in your film - then look at the scene by scene level goals - make sure that each scene has a micro goal - and that there is an urgency to the goals, and stakes attached to them.