Friday, June 22, 2012

LOCO by Michael Scott Reese & Adam Oliver Schwartz

An egomaniacal Hollywood director is kidnapped by a brutal Mexican cartel leader and forced to make a horror movie or else his family will be killed, but as the real bodycount rises, he must find a way to escape before the final cut.



How It Works

Email Rob the first ten pages of your feature length screenplay (in pdf. format) along with a logline and title. Every Friday one of us (or a guest reviewer) posts one writer's work along with notes and a:

Rating

Trash It (Start over.)
Take Another Pass (You're onto something, but it needs more work.)
More Please (I'm hooked. What happens next?)
Somebody Shoot This!

Readers then vote and comment on your work.

This week Dan read the 1st 10 pages of Michael Reese & Adam Schwartz' LOCO.



My review this week will cover "Loco", a curious horror concept about a director who is kidnapped and forced to make a horror movie by a Mexican cartel leader. Unfortunately, our ten page format doesn't allow for us to really delve into that this time - but as with all reviews, we'll try to just focus on what we do have in front of us. I will say that I am interested to see how the "real body count" thread referred to in the logline intertwines with the plot of the director trying to save his family, as I hope it's not just something tacked on inorganically. 

The story opens on a film set, where a crazy, self-loving, arrogant prick of a director named John is churning out another in an apparent string of lame B-movie horror flicks he has become known for. By the way, the first page of the script opens in an identical fashion as "Deep Level Shelter", another work Amy reviewed a couple weeks back. Meaning, we are led to believe there is an actual murder taking place until the director yells "CUT!" and we realize we've been duped as an audience. Unfortunately, after the awesome faux-tribal sacrifice in "Deep Level Shelter", this scene doesn't pack quite the same punch - especially since I feel like I've seen this trick several times before already in other films (not to say it wasn't written well, because it was).

So: my first impression of John is that he's an asshole, and I don't care what the hell happens to him in this film. He drops a half-dozen F-bombs in the first two pages, which immediately makes him unlikeable, he's not funny when he probably thinks he is, and he treats women like the worst kind of shit. I really, really, really didn't like him. I understand this is the writer's intent, but maybe it was a little too much early on. 

After getting a blow job from the assistant he just berated in public, John gets a frantic call from his forty-something, past-her-prime wife. He comes back home to his mansion to find that it's been broken into, and police are checking things out. Nothing's been stolen, but the audience knows from a previous scene that a Mexican man was the culprit, as he was here earlier taking photographs of the inside of the house for some reason. We get a little bit of a confrontation here between John and his wife, who knows John is not being faithful nor a good father to their children. After seeing John in all his assholian glory just a minute earlier though, it was hard to garner any sympathy for him, even when he was attempting to reach out to his pained spouse. That exchange felt a little forced.

The next scene is the introduction to our villain: Loco. Loco is a slick-suited, big, intimidating Mexican drug lord who shows us he's a complete bad ass by blowing a captured opponent's butthole wide open with a revolver round. This sequence, while competently written again, was pretty over-the-top and cliche for me. There were even a couple dialogue bits like, "You know I can't do that" - "Can't? Or won't?" and "Am I attractive? Then why are you trying to fuck me!" - these are exchanges I feel like I've seen time and time again, in one form or the other. I don't feel like it's being done in a tongue-in-cheek manner, either, so it was kind of hard to take the it very seriously - but, that may be due to personal reasons. Case in point: I hated Man On Fire, and the scene where a stoic Denzel shoves a grenade up a man's ass kinda struck me in the same silly kind of way this scene did.

We end our pages with Loco meeting with the Mexican photographer who invaded John's mansion earlier, and the photographer sharing his camera goodies with Loco. It's a nice question to end on, as we're wondering what the hell does this guy want with intimate knowledge of a famous director's interior home design?

Overall, I'd have to say these writers are very competent, they know formatting, they write relatively lean, nothing about the structure really jumped out at me as bad (although, my first thought was that the villain shouldn't be introduced so early on, but they may have reasons for that). 

As far as the actual content on the page though, it struck me as a little bland and unoriginal. The dialogue, as I've pointed out, kind of felt like it was retreading previous films in certain spots, and most of the story choices didn't seem all too fresh either. The policeman who asks the director for his autograph at a crime scene, the dog-like, hot-blooded Mexican gangster, the intro "trick" scene which I've already touched on. None of it's really bad, it's just not anything that gets my heart racing if I'm being honest. 

Aside from that, my biggest issue was the main character. Movies where our hero is a giant dickwad at the start of the film are not unheard of of course, but in the cases where it works, it works because that giant dickwad is also entertaining. He captivates us, even if we don't sympathize with him. Scrooge, for instance. P.L. Travers, in the upcoming "Saving Mr. Banks"  - these characters are witty, funny, and full of life. Translation: fun to watch - even if they're not so nice. There is nothing about John Williams in these first ten pages that I find interesting. He's not funny, he's not charismatic, he's just a huge jerk. I think maybe toning his character down and giving us a reason to root for him might go a long way into connecting the hero with the audience, which is pretty key in the first few minutes of a film.

I will give this baby a "Take Another Pass".

Cheers,
Dan

( )Trash It 
(*)Take Another Pass 
( )More Please 
( )Somebody Shoot This!





What did you think of the Michael and Adam's 1st 10 pages?

Next week Amy will give feedback on the 1st 10 pages of Gene Levitzky's  A Mass Exodus?

Please comment below on the 1st 10 pages of LOCO. 

22 comments:

  1. I agree with many of Dan's comments, but I'd give this a More Please. The writing itself is quite good and I'm curious as to what happens next.

    When it comes to minor characters (the officers and armed guards) I think you're better off naming them: CHUBBY COP, BEARDED GUARD etc. Could be my own pet peeve, but I find that numbered characters tend to take me out of the story a little bit.

    You need to describe the Mexican Male and the Woman in the mansion scene. I have no idea how to picture them based on your description. How old are they? How does she walk towards the front door?

    I disagree with Dan when it comes to John. Yes, he's a grade A jerk. But I'm interested in his story because I want to see him get what's coming to him. 

    All in all these are a solid first 10 pages. Nice job!

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  2. i agree, numbered characters just scream bland to me, although i am guilty of doing it still myself sometimes.

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  3. If you would be so kind to vote for "More Please" I would very much appreciate it!

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  4. I'm sorry, but I think you missed the point of the script entirely. It was supposed to be a tongue-in-cheek, ultra-violent play on these cliche's. Loco is a Mexican drug lord who is obsessed with American cinema and constantly quotes famous movie lines throughout the entire script. If you don't like that idea, then you wouldn't like the movie... just like you wouldn't like that movie that came out a few months ago... God Bless America (where the guy goes on a murder spree and kills a whole bunch of cliched characters from American culture). And think about Bill Murray's character in Ground Hog's Day. He's a dick, then has a transformation into someone we like. That's what we did here. By the end of the movie, we have fully redeemed him, but you can't see that in the first 10 pages. And an asshole is extremely interesting to watch to most people. We actually have a producer who is about to option it. So, I don't know what to say... it's all subjective.

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  5. I liked the writing, but echo the review that - within the first ten pages that I've seen - I don't really care for the character.

    I take on board what Mighty Mike said about having to read more to appreciate the character arc, but I think "an asshole is extremely interesting to people" is unconvincing psychology for hinging an entire movie on.

    Still, as I said, the writing is well crafted, though I do worry that if I were to read the whole script I might get "swear fatigue"!

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  6. mike and i have already talked a little bit about this, but the right perspective probably would have made for quite a different review. the writers were intending a more tongue-in-cheek tone, i was taking it all as serious, just looking at the pages themselves and not knowing anything else (though there were a couple points where i wondered if it wasn't some sort of satire). i will have to get more information from the writer next time, that is my fault.

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  7. I don't think it's a "fault" at all. Every reader in the industry is gonna come away with the same thing. You've got MAYBE 10 pages to sell a reader -- if stuff is better explained later on, too bad and too late. 

    If you're trying to sell him loving movies, his character should mention that, 

    LOCO
    Like my idol, Tony Montana, would say...

    LOCO
    D'you ever see Man On Fire? No? Lemme show you one of my favorite scenes.

    Incorporate it -- don't hope we just "get it."

    And, Mike, c'mon man. You CAN'T compare Phil (Groundhog Day) to John. Phil/Bill was a lovable/funny/self-centered douche. Not a COMPLETE asshole. Plus, Bill Murray/comedy, we KNOW what we're getting. With you guys and John, we have no idea. So, I agree, PLEASE, some redeeming quality(s).

    Having said that, I already gave this a "More Please." You guys have some serious skill, just let us know what you're doing ASAP - not later. B/c, otherwise, there very likely won't be a later.

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  8. thanks! - i was going to suggest maybe spelling out the tone in the loco scene somehow, those dialogue suggestions are good, or even a "The interrogation is about to get really cliche, but that's the way Loco likes it" - bad example, but you get what I mean.

    i definitely agree about phil connors - he is a jerk that we WANT to watch due to his charm, but i didn't get that feeling about john at all.

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  9. Agree, Phil/John -- not even in the same ballpark. Though, I've got to hand it to the writers, they did an EXCELLENT job at making John an asshole (I HATE the guy). 

    But, we've gotta have some hope/glimmer of a positive if we're expected to care for him, and "want" to follow him around for the next 90 pages.

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  10. I really appreciate your comments. Like... REALLY appreciate them. I also completely agree and think that maybe the problem (and dan brought this up already) is that we don't need to introduce Loco so soon, because in the first 10 we don't have enough time to get out the stuff we need to about his character so that you understand the tone of the script is satire/tongue in cheek. 

    And yes I'm glad you called me out and said that it has to be in the first 10 pages to sell the reader and that it isn't Dan's or any readers fault if they don't get it, it's my fault for not writing it better.

    There was a redeeming scene in the beginning that we cut which may have been the hope/glimmer of John being a better person that may be what you guys were looking for. I'll have to play around with it and put it back in. Maybe if we also give him a reason for him being an asshole (like he has been bitter ever since his son died... terrible example, but you get what I mean) that makes you empathize and understand why he is the way he is, it'll make you like him/root for him more.

    A lot of good stuff. And sorry that I got really defensive with my initial comments. Amateur mistake.

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  11. Glad I could help. 

    You got lots of good ideas. Another one (maybe), after Meredith says the kids are at soccer, John could say, "Do you want me to pick them up? I can make time." Just that little bit shows he really does love his family (or at least cares about them). I'm not sold on moving Loco out of the 1st 10. Spending 10 pages/minutes with one character (John) might be overkill, and move into boring.Good luck. You guys have what it takes - just a little more work.

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  12. hey mike no worries at all, i do love your idea of giving us a little more about john in the beginning, death of a son is good, for some reason i could see a guy like john having cancer or a terminal illness, but definitely something to make us "feel bad" for him. 

    cavedude is right tho, you have done a good job with what you intended, and i can "see" john perfectly - it's just i feel like that that type of character isn't usually a lead protagonist, i feel like he's usually a side player or a villain that the audience gets to "hate". giving him some depth would go a long way i think. 

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  13. Oh, that's good too - terminal illness/cancer. That would make most people bitter/angry at the world, which John definitely seems to be.

    That would definitely play into his decision making later on - opens up a lot of options/possibilities.

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  14. you know what i was just thinking though, since it sounds like the whole plot of this film revolves around john saving his family, i think the sympathy has to go there. you have to give a CHILD a terminal disease, or something like that. if you make john a cancer patient and then ALSO a man who wants his family back, you may be confusing your goal. that's just brainstorming though, it may work, it may not.

    writing is hard.

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  15. though i do agree with you, "bitter" seems to be a perfect way to describe john.

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  16. Yep, GREAT point. Figuring stuff out with only 10 pages to go on... makes the writing even harder ;)

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  17. First of all, love the concept. It definitely stands out. I agree with Dan's rating on the take another pass, though.

    Notes:
    -A girl being described only as "attractive." Argh. This description is lazy and doesn't bring any mental image to mind. She's attractive? Really? Tall/short/girl next door? Give the reader a mental image-- especially on the first page.

    -The "cut"! Gimmick feels a bit overused. In Deep Level Shelter, there was a fresh take on the traditional "gotcha!" setting. This is too easy.

    -Here's the thing about anti-characters: they need to have at least one redeemable trait. Do you know why House -- perhaps the greatest television anti-hero of all time -- could get away with his acerbic criticism, immaturity, and rude behavior while still winning over the viewers to feel sorry for him? His antics were hilarious, and the writers frequently put him in situations where he was positioned as a sympathetic character. Your anti-hero makes a woman cry, is an ass to everyone, and is portrayed as cruel and mean-spirited. There is no humor to his insults, and he is immediately unlikeable. Maybe add a Save the Cat moment? Or, even better, consider picking a new hero? I'm not saying your main character has to be a saint, I'm just saying there has to be some way you can make your viewers care about him in some way, otherwise they won't care about the story you have to tell.

    -There's a LOT of Spanish subtitled as English. I don't know how this compares to other films, but I know as a viewer I don't want to spend too much time reading subtitles.


    So the most pressing problem here is your main character. If you don't give the audience a character to care about (even a little!) then we're going to put down your script and move on.

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  18.  Especially because studios in particular are always giving the note, "make your main character more LIKEABLE!"

    And I agree with you on the swear fatigue point. Less is more.

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  19. Thanks for your comments. 

    1) Yes, "attractive" is definitely a lazy description, but I think I was trying to make it read a bit bland so that you felt like you really were reading a terrible b-horror movie script, so that I could better sell the "cut" gimmick soon after, but that probably wasn't a good idea.

    2) I'm very curious to know (Although it is now impossible) if the "cut" gimmick wouldn't have been such an issue if you hadn't just reviewed Deep Level Shelter recently, but I feel like the general consensus is that it just wasn't as good (or too cliche) anyway so I guess this will just be another baby I have to kill, or I'll try to find some way to make it better and cut when you least expect it. I really liked this idea though.

    3) Yeah, we'll address this.

    4) For some context, this was written as exercise in finishing our first feature, since before this we hadn't finished anything. We weren't planning on trying to sell this to a studio, but I mentioned the concept to a few people in passing and didn't realize it at the time, but it turns out I was unwittingly pitching it to a few producers and small independent studios who all loved the concept as well... now we just have to get the script in line. In terms of the Spanish and the subtitles -- this could easily all be in English, where are the Mexicans just speak with an accent, but I always hated movies where they could have gone for a more authentic feel, but got lazy and didn't, so if I'm going the independent route, I don't mind making people read subtitles... it means you'll really have to pay attention (which you will need too because of our twist ending!)

    5) I went to your website, but I couldn't find any of your writing... do you have anything I could read?

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  20. How about instead of slicing her throat he stabs her, BUT the prop knife malfunctions and he REALLY does stab her!? Lots of blood, but she lives -- or, maybe she doesn't. 

    Now he's pissed at Stalker, the prop guy, and the Girl (for getting stabbed).Really fast way to show he's an asshole too.

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  21. I think I misread the tone of the script -- maybe because I haven't read enough terrible B-list horror scripts to pick up on the style.

    Yeah, reading Deep Level Shelter recently probably influenced most of us here, and you might want to get a few more readers to read it before you cut it (because, who knows, other readers might think it's a strong hook.) Like you said, screenwriting is subjective.

    You're right, it would be strange if they spoke to each other in English for no reason. It's your script so take whatever notes suit your purpose.

    And sure! Send me an email at: amy@fadeinhq.com and I'll send you the first ten pages of one of my scripts.

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  22. That's actually kind of funny.

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