FRIDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:

CONFLICTING CONCEPTS


Remember the series of commercials where two people would collide, then exclaim: "Hey! You got chocolate in my peanut butter!" "Hey! You got peanut butter in my chocolate!" - the buddy cop comedy SHOWTIME was the film version. It feels as if two - or maybe four - office assistants collided in a hallway, script pages flying. "Hey! You got parody in my ultra-derivative action script!" Because there isn't enough gig-space on this website to list all of the credited writers on SHOWTIME, that may have been exactly how this script came to be! It sure doesn't read like something than someone wrote...

Now that Eddie Murphy came back with DREAMGIRLS and then left again in the awful STARSHIP DAVE (or whatever they called it) and the flop IMAGINE THAT, I thought it would be fun to look back on some of those movies he did that may not be making his current resume, starting with the all-star flop SHOWTIME (which made a recent list of WORST buddy cop movies of all time).

SHOWTIME begins with a scene that completely undercuts its next scene! It opens with DeNiro lecturing to a classroom full of kids about being a cop... then goes to a scene where overly ambitious patrolman Eddie Murphy is playing video games in a convenience store when a grungy guy comes in to buy an Icee - and Murphy notices that he's armed. Murphy follows the grungy guy, he pours out the Icee on the street, sticks his gun in the plastic cup, then enters a store. Sounds okay - but here's the problem: the grungy guy is DeNiro and we've already established that he's a detective in the completely out of character scene at the beginning of the film. So we know that Murphy is making a mistake from the beginning, which makes him look like a moron. The more Murphy watches DeNiro, the more stupid he seems. We completely lose identification with him, because we know DeNiro is armed because he's a cop. If we DIDN'T know that DeNiro was a cop the scene would have been really effective - we would completely understand Murphy's actions. We know that DeNiro will be his partner from the poster, but what if this is a 48 HOURS in reverse thing? What if DeNiro is a crook who has to partner with Murphy? Without the classroom scene, the audience doesn't know what happens next, with that scene they are miles ahead of the story!

The film continues to splinter as it goes on.

One concept seems to be a parody of reality TV shows - DeNiro and Murphy are partnered for a reality cop show that might save a failing network, and producer Rene Russo goes about teaching them to act like movie cops (with the help of William Shatner, playing himself) and refurnishing the police station and their apartments to look "more real" (ie: more like TV show cops). DeNiro is assigned a dog, both are given outlandish cars, new wardrobes... This concept is all about the difference between reality and TV and how the media changes reality to create Reality TV. It's a comedy like NETWORK...

But not for long. Because another concept is parody of Buddy Cop Movies. DeNiro and Murphy are forced to work together, have their disagreements, get thrown off the case, and have those moments where they finally open up to each other... except it's all played with the same tone as AIRPLANE. Everything about these characters is so over the top that they are cartoons of buddy cops, doing all of the things we've seen a hundred buddy cops do before them. We laugh at them! They aren't real characters, they're ultra-cliches!

The third major concept is in direct conflict with the previous two... It's a standard buddy cop action movie like LETHAL WEAPON - the kind that's made fun of in the second concept! The most cliche, poorly plotted buddy cop film you've ever seen - cliche villains are using these mega-guns to pulls armored car robberies and kill anyone who gets in their way (there's a scene where they shoot a house to pieces that is played seriously... except the same scene was played for laughs back in 1980s HOPSCOTCH with Walter Matthau). This plot is so lame that you wonder why the crooks aren't in jail 5 minutes after the film starts. Dumb crooks means the protagonists don't have to be smart to catch them... and do you really want your protagonists to be stupid?

It's a floor polish! It's a dessert topping!

These three concepts, and a couple of others, fight for screen time. You never know whether this scene is supposed to be a parody, or a reality. Are DeNiro and Murphy buffoons like in AIRPLANE or are they supposed to be reality-based characters? The film tries to have it both ways, and as a result succeeds at neither. When we find out that DeNiro is divorced and lonely, is that real or parody?

And we keep getting additional subplots that have nothing to do with the story - they just serve to dilute it. To keep your script focused, you need to chose ONE concept. Subplots are fine, but they will be part of the main plot - like splinter beams from a prism. Each beam illustrates a different aspect of the main conflict or shows a different step in the solution of the main conflict. Dealing with each subplot moves your protagonist closer to the solution of the main plot.

To keep your script moving you need a strong external conflict - an obstacle that comes between the protagonist and their goal. ONE conflict. Not a scattershot group of conflicts. What does the evil villain have to do with the reality TV show? If we removed the reality TV show concept, there would be no impact at all on the villain & big guns concept. If we removed the villain, the reality show concept would actually work better. There would be more time to explore the way TV changes reality to create entertainment, and we could FOCUS on how DeNiro deals with this. Instead we have too many concepts at war with each other - and none of them get enough time to work. The pieces are all from different puzzles, so they don't add up to a picture. It's just a mess.

For your script to work, someone has to want something and someone else wants to keep them from obtaining it. One conflict per story... One main concept per story. Every subplot is a way to explore the conflict in your main plot. All of the pieces are from the same puzzle. All of the pages need to seem like they are from the same script. Your screenplay needs to be one focused story about a character in conflict... not like the result of two office boys with scripts colliding in a hallway. One script = one main concept.

Don't over complicate things, or try to be all movies to all people.

* Who is your protagonist?
* What does your protagonist want?
* What keeps them from getting what they want (something physical)?
* What is the emotional problem they have to deal with to get what they want?
* What happens if the fail? What is at stake?

Write up the logline for your screenplay. That is the story you are telling, not some other story.



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