Not a flux capacitor in sight

No LUCY update today because my computer decided to show me how often it could show off the phrase “Not responding.”  That and updating some of my software took mind-numbingly too long.

I’m also working an extended shift for the next few days, which allows me a little downtime to read some of my Black List scripts before I settle in at the producer’s desk.

Today’s selection: LOOPER, by Rian Johnson.  Johnson did the very-good BRICK and the never-saw-it THE BROTHERS BLOOM.

It’s not easy to write a decent time travel script. BACK TO THE FUTURE is still the standard.  STAR TREK IV made it a key plot point. I saw PRIMER, but didn’t care for it much. And all those years watching the original DOCTOR WHO taught me a thing or two.

LOOPER’s concept is pretty original, but the logline “In the present day, a group of hitmen are sent their victims from the future,” really falls flat.  This is about ONE hitman and his ‘victim’.  And the story focuses more on the aftermath of time travel, rather than the act itself.

After time travel is invented (about 30 years from now), it is outlawed, so only criminal organizations have access to the technology.  They get rid of their victims by sending them back in time, where an assassin, or “looper”, kills them and disposes of the body.

But if the bad guys in the future are caught, they get rid of all evidence connecting them to the past, and if the looper is still alive in the future, his older self is sent back and killed by his younger self.  Thus, the “loop” is closed.

The story focuses on Joe, a looper.  There’s a ton of voiceover exposition in the beginning, but I suppose it’s really necessary to explain how everything works.

We get a glimpse of his life for about the first ten pages, then things really get rolling.  That’s all I can really say, because although a lot of the writing is jaw-droppingly amazing, there were times I wasn’t sure exactly what was going on.  Every once in a while there’s a lot of jumping around in terms of events unfolding, or something that happens in the present having an immediate impact on the future (including a well-done but disturbing scene of a man’s future self slowly losing body parts.  Draw your own conclusions).

I may have to go back and read it again, just to see if there’s something I missed.

There was a plot payoff I should have seen coming, but was too focused on trying to keep track of everything that was going on.  And one of the subplots didn’t seem to serve much purpose.

I suspect what appears on the screen may not match what’s on the page.  The writing is that good; almost poetic in some places.

According to Scriptshadow: “I have not read this but I know many who have. They basically tell me that the first half is the greatest script ever written. And then a weird twist happens and the second half just can’t live up to the setup.”

I don’t know if I agree with that “greatest script ever written” claim, nor would I say the twist is necessarily weird.  This is a time travel movie; there are only so many potential twists to come up with.  I also enjoyed the second half, partially due to the dual storylines that eventually converge.

I will say that the ending really caught me by surprise.  It was unexpected, and also worked that time travel aspect very nicely.

If anybody else has read this, I’m curious to know what you thought.

This started production in January with a tentative 2012 release date, but nothing more specific than that.

-Post-Oscar commentary. I liked Anne, was disappointed with Franco.  Somebody tweeted that he looked like he lost a bet.  I’d agree with that.

I thought there was a time limit on acceptance speeches.  Some of them went WAY TOO LONG. I’m looking at you, Amidala.

Sandra Bullock and Kevin Spacey would make great co-hosts.  That Billy Crystal/Bob Hope thing was pointless.  Sad to see what’s happened to Kirk Douglas, but glad he’s able to take part despite being 95 years old.

Of all the Best Picture nominees, I’ve only seen INCEPTION and TOY STORY 3, but will work on seeing the rest soon. Definitely TRUE GRIT and SOCIAL NETWORK, leaning towards THE KING’S SPEECH and WINTER’S BONE, maybe for THE FIGHTER and 127 HOURS.  Still not sure about BLACK SWAN and THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT.

I’d also really like to see THE ILLUSIONIST and the rest of the Animated Short nominees (since DAY & NIGHT played with TS3).  I’ll also check out Live Action Short winner GOD OF LOVE, since the wild-haired director said it was on iTunes (also liked his speech a lot).

And did anybody notice Jack Nicholson wasn’t there?  Did anybody care?

I excel at multitasking

(I wrote this on Saturday, but didn’t get to edit it until Sunday.  Apologies for the delay.  Since I haven’t seen a lot of the nominated films, I won’t have an Oscar post, but do plan on watching the ceremony.)

I did the midday traffic shift yesterday, which gave me the opportunity to work on LUCY. Some of my most productive days are when I can work between reports.

I wanted to streamline the current section, which is basically everything after the midpoint. I also wanted to see if I could fit in my Irishman subplot a little sooner, resulting in payoff either by page 75, or into the final quarter of Act 2.

I was able to cut 3 scenes, for a tentative total of 24. If that seems high, keep in mind that more than a few are less than a page long. I have a tendency to overwrite during the outline phase. I throw it all out there: action, dialogue and a lot of notes to myself (Why does she do this?, what happens next?, expand!, etc)

A member of my old writing group once asked how I was going to get everything I had in the outline onto the page. I see the outline as a guide with nothing written in stone. And if I think a scene is too long, I’ll edit it down until I think it works.

My goal for this week is to get past the page 75 twist. Fingers crossed.

Movie of the Moment: K is a huge fan of zombie flicks. For those unaware, she grew up near Monroeville, PA, where the mall is from the original DAWN OF THE DEAD. She even has a Monroeville Zombies t-shirt from Kevin Smith’s company.

We watched the French horror THE HORDE, courtesy of Netflix. It has a great premise: a team of cops go into a gangster’s high-rise hideout to exact revenge for a fallen colleague. Then the building is attacked by zombies. Both sides team up to get out alive.

It was…okay.  Generous helpings of overacting, angry acting, repetitive dialogue and too-fast editing. I was under the impression there was lots of gore, but there wasn’t (at least for me). I was more squeamish when one guy kept slamming a zombie’s head against a cement post. That was due more to the sound effects than the visual.

They never really explain how the zombies came to be, but there are some mysterious explosions off in the distance soon after the beginning. Our theory was it was some kind of virus bomb-detonation thing.

I enjoy a good zombie flick, but there really seems to be an overabundance of them lately. We need a new genre!

Go Into The Story wrote earlier this week about the sale of ZOMBIE PET SHOP, which would be animated and family-friendly. Seriously? Wouldn’t it be easier to just make a new batch of SCOOBY DOO episodes?

Say when

Rain has returned to the Bay Area, which means another 4:30 to noon day for yours truly, followed by an appointment in the afternoon, which means no physical work on LUCY.

Mental work, though, is another issue.

I printed out the outline pages I have so far, and realized something I haven’t noticed in a while: I have a lot going on in this story. And when I say a lot, I mean Faulkner-on-a-roll lot.

There will be lots of editing when I reach the end, but I have to stop myself from doing it now. It probably doesn’t help that I keep putting more stuff in and expanding and creating more storylines. Just trying to tie it all together. Honest.

It’s getting more complicated, despite my efforts to have that not happen. I know I’ve mentioned the number of scenes per section of Act Two, and it’s still too high.

I look at well-done action films (DIE HARD, RAIDERS) and there is no fat to those stories. Everything serves a purpose AND moves the story forward. Me, I got too much fat in mine. It slows things down.

I need to start swinging my metaphoric editor’s butcher knife and trim a lot of it away.

-Just a quick plug for script analysis service Script Quack, listed just over there on the right in the blogroll section.  I used them last year for DREAMSHIP and they came through with some fantastic feedback.  My original plan was to take their very thorough notes and do a rewrite for this year’s Nicholl.  Probably won’t happen due to all my work on LUCY, but definitely for next year.

While some places charge $200 and up for basic notes, Script Quack was only $99, which is a real bargain.  I highly recommend them, and I don’t get anything in return for doing so.  So there.

The benefit of taking a break

Today was the first time I really got to sit down and work on the LUCY outline.  I’d been thinking about some of the minor hurdles I was trying to get over, which included what my bad guy wants and how that impacts Lucy’s story.

My page one is always the title, logline and plot point breakdown.

I looked at the logline, which has always given me trouble, and erased it.  I wanted something new.  Something that really encapsulates the story down to its bare minimum.  It took a couple of tries, but I came up with one that works.  I”ll probably change it again at least a few more times, but it works for now.

I looked at the plot point breakdown.  Something didn’t seem right.  The story’s there, but not the way I think it should be.  I change a few words here, add some there, and suddenly, it seems stronger.

And now into the outline itself.  Like I said, I’ve been struggling with the bad guy’s goal.  Then I realized I was worrying too much about the little things and not focusing on telling a story.  I wasn’t enjoying myself.

So one of my original plot points gets changed just a little bit.  The what is different, but the result is still the same.  And to make it that much better, changing that enables me to use it in a bigger, better way for Act Three.

So far, so good.

I’m still in the third quarter of Act Two, and realize I can flesh out at least two sequences, which really helps strengthen the story.  And I also discover I can change the setting of an important sequence, while also bringing in that much-liked rotund character from a few weeks back.

Like I said at the beginning, I really like how it’s all coming together.  True, there are a lot of details that have to be worked out for the rest of Act Two (escalating conflict!), and I started listing what needs to happen in Act Three.

Most importantly, it feels fun again.  Which is always nice.

Movie of the Moment: IT’S A TRAP!, Family Guy’s take on JEDI.  Fun, but the first two were better.  Some truly hilarious moments, but they seemed few and far between.  It’s a good thing they’re not doing these anymore.  It really seems to have run out of steam, which is even acknowledged in the opening crawl.

It’ll be interesting to see what, if anything, they take on next.

If BUFFY had been on the History Channel…

I’ll have a LUCY progress update tomorrow.  I didn’t get to work on it over the weekend because there was a ton of hockey stuff for V, as well as the latest in my culinary repertoire of making a roasted eggplant soup with goat cheese dumplings, which ate up (no pun intended) most of my Presidents’ Day afternoon.  Suffice to say, I was wiped by day’s end.  It also didn’t help that the soup had to cool off before you could eat it, which is why we had Thai food.

But I did manage to finish the book, then the script of ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER, both by Seth Grahame-Smith, who also wrote the hit genre mash-up PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES.

I’ll start with the book. I’m a huge fan of US history, so I was looking forward to it.  K liked P&P&Z, but thought I would really enjoy this.  It starts out with an introduction told in first-person narrative, then shifts into a historical ‘record’.

It takes the concept of Lincoln having kept a journal of his vampire-hunting exploits, including how his mother was killed by one to pay a debt to a land-owner.  This is the trigger that sets up Abe’s lifetime goal: eliminate all vampires.  Clever.

It seems like Grahame-Smith started with Lincoln’s history and applied vampire elements where they would fit best, including his first love being killed by one, and the brilliant notion that vampires were the biggest supporters of slavery (and therefore the Confederacy as well).

It was a quick, easy read, and definitely would make for an entertaining movie.  I just had a few problems:

1. The cheesy-looking ‘photographs’.  Grahame-Smith even acknowledges a friend for her ‘Photoshop genius’.  I realize photography was in its infancy, but they just look silly.

2. The idea that John Wilkes Booth was a vampire himself.  Not bad, but doesn’t work for me.  I think it’s taking the vampire idea a little too far.

3.  A major character throughout the story is Henry Sturges, a vampire who helps Abe learn how to fight and defeat them (a self-imposed penance).  Henry is always offering Abe the chance to have someone he deeply loves be turned into a vampire; Abe always refuses. SPOILER ALERT!  The book ends in 1963, at Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech (in front of the Lincoln Memorial, of course), and Henry and Abe are there.  I didn’t like it.  It seems like a cop-out.

Personally, I think it would have been better to have Henry assisting other prominent figures as vampire hunters through history (Teddy Roosevelt, Charlie Chaplin and Elvis come to mind.  Admit it.  Elvis as a vampire hunter would absolutely kick ass.)

Now for the script, which was on last year’s Black List.  It takes almost the same approach.  It’s all told as history, but with a ton of Lincoln narrating in voiceover.  Maybe a little more than necessary.

It also does a bit of jumping around, chronologically, just to establish the Lincoln-vampire backstory/connection.  This is followed by some big sequences, including when Lincoln met Henry, Lincoln with Mary, and pretty much the latter half revolving around the Civil War.

What I found very interesting was that for the most part, the script started out very similarly to the book ( at least from a historical record point of view), then seemed to take a wild turn into flat-out action-adventure. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it came across as very in-your-face about it. “Hey, this is the exciting part, so pay attention!”

And since every story needs a bad guy, the idea of a ruling vampire is introduced.  I realize he’s the brains behind the vampire movement, but he doesn’t appear in that many scenes, so his role in the story isn’t as big as you would expect.

After the big showdown, it really speeds through to the end.  There’s only one scene regarding the assassination at Ford’s Theatre, and even that’s barely half a page, then it jumps ahead to 1965, with Henry and Lincoln side-by-side in Washington DC.  Again, I didn’t care for it.

It will be interesting to see what changes, if any, are made before this hits the big screen, which it appears it’s going to.

Tentatively scheduled for a June 2012 release, directed by NIGHTWATCH, DAYWATCH and WANTED’s Timur Bekmambetov, with Benjamin Walker as Abe.  I suspect this will be more popular on Netflix than in theatres.

I once again suggest that if this can be made into a feature film, then why not my idea of THE 3 STOOGES: UNDERCOVER G-MEN?

Movie of the Moment:  V’s afterschool is doing several dance numbers (none of which she’s involved in), including a Wizard of Oz storyline, which includes ‘Ease on Down the Road,” so we watched THE WIZ.

It was okay, but probably would have better to see the full-on Broadway version.

And you don’t know what difficult is until you try explaining 70’s black culture to a 21st-century child.