First of all, sorry to the six of you who read this blog that I’ve been away for so long. Work and whatnot. And the flu. And the podcast! If you’re not listening to THE BROKEN PROJECTOR, well…you goddamn should be. So get on that.
Next week, I’m going to write a little piece about facing rejection as a writer. It happens. It happens a lot, and especially when you’re just starting out, just getting a feel for screenwriting. SPOILER: You need that proverbial thick skin. If you don’t yet have it, you need to develop it. If not, the process of screenwriting will swallow you whole. It’s not even a question of if, and the when might happen before you even have a chance to blink.
Scott and I tackle this on Episode 5 of BROKEN PROJECTOR (“Should Han Shoot First?”) in the form of answering a listener question, so give that a listen, and then come back next week for a deeper discussion.
This week, though, it’s Oscar time. And in light of that, I thought I’d take a few minutes to talk about some scripts I really loved over the years.
As many of you know (I’m very popular and people know things about me, if you DIDN’T know), I was a studio reader before someone was dumb enough to pay me actual money to write. In that 4.5 years, I read a TON of scripts – somewhere around 5,000, by my count. I read for my job. I read for my education. And I read because I was DESPERATELY chasing down material that would blow me away. Maybe five out of every hundred scripts I read were REALLY good. So script reading is a bit like heroin – you keep chasing the high of reading a great script. The only difference is that, once you find it, it’s totally worth it all over again. Heroin just, you know, kills the shit out of you.
That in mind, here are a few of my favorite scripts from my time as a reader. Not all of them, but the ones that, for me, really landed. But a few caveats:
First of all, this is lazy as hell. I know all the titles for these scripts for sure; for some of them, though, I’ve forgotten the writer’s name. Honestly, there are a couple that I’m not even sure ever sold, so it’s not like I can look them up. Also, I might get some details wrong. One of these scripts I read nine years ago, and I know the broad strokes and can remember some of the jokes, but I’m fucking old. In other words: the sentiment is wholly accurate, but the finer points might not be. And while I suggest you go out and find all of these for your own reading pleasure/education, some of them may be unfindable. So…sorry for the cock tease there, as it were.
Onto the scripts!
THE FARNSWORTH INVENTION by Aaron Sorkin
Fucking out on a limb, aren’t I? Starting this list with a Sorkin script? I know. I’ve got balls.
This is one of Sorkin’s unproduced masterworks, a script I read for New Line Cinema during my very first week on the job. Funny story: I remember Luke Ryan and Jeff Katz, who were overseeing the readers at the time (and who were JUST transitioning to exec positions), telling me specifically, “Be VERY careful about what scripts you Consider for the big guys here. Recommend something they really dislike and you might be in trouble.” Good to note. So on, like, my third day, I was given this script. By Aaron Sorkin. For the head of the studio.
Long story, short, I RELUCTANT PASSED ON AN AARON SORKIN SCRIPT BECAUSE I WAS AFRAID OF GETTING FIRED. A few weeks later, New Line bought it for some ungodly amount of money, and my path of sub-mediocrity was officially laid out in unbreakable stone.
Mostly I just really wanted to tell that story. But obviously, this is an incredible script, set during the invention of the television and the struggle that ensued, a classic David and Goliath story. I believe, at some point, it was retitled PHILO. Anyway, just tremendous. Seek it out.
A KILLING ON CARNIVAL ROW by Travis Beacham
If you want to write scripts, chances are you’ve already read this one, potentially (in my opinion) the best unproduced script in Hollywood. I was so baffled that no one could ever figure this out, and especially once we saw that you could make an enthralling, budget-friendly version of this based on the 300 or SIN CITY model. It makes me angry that it’s still unmade.
For those of you who HAVEN’T read it, do so. It’s a fantasy set in a city where people live alongside fairies, vampires, and all kinds of mythological and invented folk. Someone is killing said fairies, and a fairy-hating detective gets sucked into the investigation of who and why.
Worth mentioning: read the versions of the script before Guillermo del Toro got his hands on it. I love GdT as a director, just like everyone else, but MAN did he muck this one up as a writer. Actually, get both versions, read them, and tell I’m wrong. HINT: I’m not.
SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO GET ME
I wish I could remember this writer’s name, because oh my CHRIST I want to kiss him/her on the face for this. I read this in my first six months on the job, and it STILL blows me away in its inventiveness and ability to give the middle finger to all that is holy.
It’s a dark, dark, DARK, deviant comedy about a man whose family is cursed by Santa Claus. Once a generation, he comes to steal the true love of the oldest brother in the family and take her to the North Pole to be his Mrs. Claus. When it happens to our protagonist, he thinks all is lost. He’s then visited by the Easter Bunny, a war-hungry near-schizophrenic who’s fucking tired of Santa getting all the holiday recognition and wants to take him down.
Um…it’s REALLY R-rated. And there’s a scene where the main character and Easter Bunny go to wage war on Santa, and we see that the Easter Bunny has a giant statue of himself, festooned in guns and armor and wearing a GIGANTIC codpiece. Also, he throws Easter eggs that are really grenades.
Do you really need me to explain more? Go find it.
This one has such a special place in my heart, because it’s in the exact same mold as one of my all-time favorite movies (A CHRISTMAS STORY), but updated for a very, very specific and wonderful time of my life.
It’s basically the same story as that of Ralphie and his Red Ryder BB gun, but transplanted to the 1980s during the seminal moment for any young man of my generation: the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System. In this story, there’s the one rich kid in the neighborhood who gets his Nintendo MONTHS before anyone else, and his house is basically an asexual brother from there on out. But there’s a tragedy, and all of a sudden, the parents in this small town (outside of Chicago, I believe) ban sales of Nintendo systems. Thus, our 10 year-old(ish) heroes set out to get their own Nintendos for Xmas.
Yeah, so…this is one that I think might be the hardest to track down. Sorry about that.
UNTITLED BILL CARTER PROJECT (FOOLS RUSH IN)
This is my favorite script I’ve ever read in my life, and I am KICKING myself for losing my hard copy of it. It was on the Black List in 2007 and will probably never get made – but not because it’s not amazing. It is. And if there’s ANY script on this list I demand you seek out, it’s this one.
It’s the story of the writer, Bill Carter (and I believe it’s the same Bill Carter who wrote THE LATE SHIFT, but don’t hold me to that), and his true-life experiences in war-torn Bosnia in the early 90s. After the death of his wife (or girlfriend, can’t totally remember which), Bill heads to Sarajevo, just sort of emptily wandering, maybe even subconsciously suicidal. He starts off as a mere lurker, observing the war from afar, but eventually he falls in with the humanitarian effort and ends up becoming a key cog in the peace process.
It might not sound like it, but more than anything, this movie is FUNNY. It’s not a comedy, per se – more of a dramedy – but if you can eke out real, heartfelt laughs in a story like this, you’re a master. The dialogue is sensational and the characters are perfectly rendered. The big issue here is that it will likely never be produced because the cost of recreating a city at war is probably far too high. But I hold onto the bleak hope that someone like Megan Ellison comes along, says fuck it, and throws money at this thing. It’s beautiful and wonderful and near-perfect. Get your hands on it.
There was a script going around at one point titled the same that eventually became the Chris Weitz movie A BETTER LIFE; this is not that script. Nay, this one is far more…special.
This is a movie about a gardener, strangely enough, who comes across an old terrarium filled with odd plant life. He takes it home and comes to find it inhabited by a tiny little man. The gardener finds that not only can he communicate with the man in the terrarium, but that the man thinks the gardener is God. Over time, the gardener advises the MITT, eventually watching as his fragile ecosystem/universe spirals out of control based on his decisions.
I know this sounds completely fucked, but it’s played straight, as if this is all happening to someone in the real world. And it’s LOVELY. Wish I could remember more about it, but again, I’m an idiot. If anyone gets their hands on this, PLEASE let me know. I’d love to read it again.
IRON JACK by Johnny Rosenthal
I’ll keep this one short, since the description should be enough and I don’t want to ruin the jokes for you: it’s a FORREST GUMP-type story, but written as an absurdist comedy with a main character who’s a pulp adventurer. Set in the 1920s, I believe. It’s fucking hysterical.
This script was the target of a massive bidding war, and I remember being super excited to read it because a film exec called me up at 5PM one day and said, “I need this read in an hour, and I need you to have a definite opinion as to whether or not it’s worth buying tonight.” It was. Laughed my ass off the whole way through.
K-12 by Joey Aucoin
This one hit me right in the bread-basket. It’s a very simple, John Hughesian story of a boy and a girl who meet in Kindergarten and have a relationship throughout their school careers that teeters on the brink between love and friendship. And occasionally hatred.
It’s pretty perfect, and I’ve always been bummed that it’s never been produced. There are challenges – you essentially have to change the main characters often to account for the leaps in age – but it’s totally worth it. I think you’ll find the same if you get your hands on it.
If any of you have any updates or corrections on any of these scripts, having read them yourselves, please let me know and I shall update, giving you credit. Please seek these scripts out – you’ll be a better writer for the education and you’ll have absorbed a few really awesome stories in the process.
Here’s a link to CARNIVAL ROW for interested parties: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/13289825/scripts/A-Killing-On-Carnival-Row.pdf
p.s.—pretty sure SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO GET ME was written by David McHugh & Matt Flanagan.
got a copy of Gardener if you want it – email me. (it’s by Jay Sherman)
Santa Claus Is Coming To Get Me was Matt Flanagan & Dave McHugh