FRIDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:
KITCHEN SINKING YOUR SCRIPT
You have this great idea for a cop-drama about police corruption, there's this cop who discovers that one of the guys he works with is taking bribes, and when he investigates, he discovers that *all* of the cops on the force are taking bribes! And when he goes to the chief and tells him about it... even the chief is also on the take! And now all of the cops are after our hero!
But you have this other idea about a cop chasing a serial killer, and discovers that the serial killer is the son of a millionaire who has the best lawyers in the world and can bribe anybody and change all of the evidence, so that the cop can't make an arrest.
Then you come up with the genius idea - combine both ideas! Now it's the millionaire who is bribing all of the cops!
But you also have this idea about a guy whose wife is a drug addict and gets divorced and has to raise his son alone, and get back into the dating world. Hey! Even a story about a cop hunting a serial killer while he deals with rampant police corruption needs some romance, right? So you add this idea in with the others.
Hey, and just when the cop is getting close to finding the evidence, the bad cops kill his ex-wife with an overdose!
And the cop is dating again, right? So we could use this as a great way to throw in some gratuitous nudity! He can date some hot chick who takes off her clothes in one scene... or maybe two.
But our cop hero can't ride off into the sunset with the hot chick, because she's naked and likes sex... that makes her a slut. What kind of a mother is that for his son? No - we need a nice girl, too. The one he doesn't even notice at first. Hey, she could be his kid's 2nd grade teacher! They could meet at a parent teacher conference... because his son is acting out due to the divorce. We can have all kinds of scenes on the playground where the kid gets into fights or gets teased or both.
Hey... what if one of the other kids is the son of a corrupt cop? And they're best friends, but their dads are mortal enemies! And we could have this great father and son scene where he talks about the difference between adults and kids and the real value of friendship. People would love that!
And to show what a nice guy our hero is, let's give him a dog - people love dogs! Hey, it could be a police dog! A *retired* police dog!
But, wait - we need some story things for the serial killer and his father! And the chief of police needs some cool scenes! And the hero should have a lucky leather jacket that he wears all the time. And then he leaves it somewhere right before the big shoot out! And we also need some scenes that...
I have read scripts like this. The writer wants to put every good idea they have in one script, thinking that will make it supergood. Instead, it just makes it a mess. You end up with a scatter-shot plot that reads like four producer's assistants carrying scripts slam into each other in the hallway on their way to the copy machine and all of the script pages get mixed up... because they are in a hurry, everyone gets pages 1-110... but not all from the same script. The movie seems like it has ADD.
That's what LEATHERHEADS (2008) seemed like. You can't do everything in one film, you have to make decisions. You can't please everyone, and though Ricky Nelson is right that you have to please yourself, it's also nice to please some segment of the paying public while you're at it. The problem with making a movie that tries to please everyone is that it usually pleases no one... and LEATHERHEADS suffers from trying to be all things to all men and women and ending up being nothing. They try to cram in everything but the kitchen sink, and it ends up sinking the film.
ALL KINDS OF COMEDY
LEATHERHEADS tried to be every single kind of 1940s comedy in one film: a Howard Hawks screwball comedy, a prat-fall physical comedy that seems Keystone Coppish, a Preston Sturges style ironic comedy, and a half dozen other styles and tones... all at the same time. Plus, it's a newspaper story and a romance and a football story and a war hero movie and another half dozen subjects all crammed into one film. They may have been able to pick two types of comedy and two types of story and come out with a film that works, but they ended up with everything but the kitchen sink. Which is why you don't even remember this movie a decade later - even though it was filled with movie stars!
There were some laughs, but it never adds up to anything... so the laughs didn't build,
George Clooney played a pro football player back in 1925 when teams played in cow pastures and were sponsored by small businesses, the way they sponsor little league teams today. They have one football, and if anything happens to it - the game is over. When the team's sponsor pulls out, everyone goes back to their day job except Clooney - he has never done anything but play football. When he finds out that *thousands* of people go to Princeton football games every week to see Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski) play, he decides to find some way to get the college kid to play on their team. Meanwhile, in another plot, Rene Zellweger is a saucy reporter who is given the assignment to expose a war hero (Krasinski) who is cashing in on his fame, is really a fraud. Oh, wait, they're the same guy. And he has a shady agent, played by Jonathan Pryce... even though he's a college player and there really isn't any such thing as pro football at this point... so why does he need an agent? Anyway, when Clooney makes them an offer to go pro, pro football is kind of born. Zellweger now covers the birth of pro football, as she also tries to expose Krasinski as a fraud... and this leads to a love triangle, and hijinks ensue.
Sounds a lot like my fake police corruption and serial killer story, doesn't it?
TOO MANY STORIES
My friend John Hill (QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER) says that movies are simple stories about complicated people. Too many writers confuse being complicated with being complex. You want to go *deeper* into the story, pulling back layers; rather than go *wider* by adding extra subplots and bits that are glued on from the outside. You want to start with a streamlined story that is easy to understand, then really dig into it.
I think LEATHERHEADS should have just gotten rid of the whole fake war hero thing and focused on football. That's what it was supposed to be about, right? The early days of pro football. They should have had Zellweger be given the assignment to cover Krasinksi due to his product endorsements (which don't get much time in the film, yet are a major part of the world of emerging pro football). By removing the whole war hero thing, we could spend more time on football - and instead of *talk* about how pro football has all of these fun, colorful plays, we could actually *see* them. More football in the movie about football! We do get a Statue Of Liberty play, but I want to know what the Crusty Bob is - they talk about it throughout the film.
When Krasinski first joins the team, there's a ten second discussion about the difference between college plays and pro football plays... but it would have been nice to see them try some college plays in the pro world. Since an important part of the story seems to be the difference between the structured world of college ball vs. the unstructured world of pro ball... and how that changes when pro becomes "legitimate"... it would be nice to see more of that on film. That's going deeper instead of wider.
It would have been nice to see more of the guy's day jobs, and more personality and character for the other guys - they don't have much screen time right now. Football is a team sport, except in this movie. The other guys on the team are basically extras who pop up in those rare scenes where football is actually played. And the film misses some great moments - when Clooney tries to sign up for unemployment, they ask what skills he has and what jobs he's had... and that's the end of the scene. They could have had him say he's been playing pro football for the past 20 years, "You can't make a living playing football", and Clooney responds that is why he's here. And find some other ways for Clooney to show his love for the game - which we really don't get in the film. Again - if the film is about football, let's make it about football.
There are some laughs here and there in LEATHERHEADS, but I also wonder is a story this muddled and difficult to describe is the best choice for a period film - where the average audience member may not identify with the time period... and the cost of recreating that time period makes the film somewhat expensive to make. A straightforward romantic comedy against the background of the birth of pro football would have been less confusing and maybe appealed to a larger audience.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Often on a movie like this, all of the extra plots and extra characters and that dog they threw in are the result of over-development. That was probably the case here. All of the execs think that everything they add makes the script that much better, and like the screenwriter of that cop corruption/serial killer script - they end up with a mess. As with all things in Hollywood - no one wants to *buy* a script this messed up. That gives them nothing to do. They want to buy the great script, then mess it up... "Kitchen sinking" it until it has completely sunk.
The key is always to dig deeper instead of to go wider - to explore more details of the story instead of paste on other elements from the outside.
What is the story about? The birth of football as a sport. Okay - instead of our newspaper story or our screwball romantic comedy or all of those other things - we are going to focus on the birth of football and find all of our story elements from there.
We may still have our saucy female reporter for the romantic comedy element, but instead of investigating a fraudulent war hero, she is focused on this new professional football league. Football becomes the thing that connects all of the story strands - instead of having a bunch of story
strands that aren't really connected at all. We are going to focus on the birth of football as a professional sport. Every single character is connected by the birth of football as a professional sport.
College football only matters as it is connected to the birth of football as a professional sport. Being a war hero? Doesn't matter at all. Being a fraud? Doesn't matter at all. The romantic comedy thing? That can work as a "doorway" into the story - our spunky reporter can be covering the cow pasture league and we see the story from her POV. She is attracted to both men, and we get a love triangle where each man tries to win her over - on the football field!
And we are going to establish a tone and stick with it - instead of changing the tone just to get a laugh. You may get a laugh, but it is at the expense of the story. Which is more important in the long run? It's always going to be the story!
Your Screenplay Checklist:
1) What is your story about? Get rid of anything else - and whatever you do don't graft on any subplots from the outside!
2) How do all of the characters *directly* connect to that story?
3) Have you gone deeper into the subject of the story, or just gone wider by adding other stuff?
4) Once you have established the tone - do you stick with it? Don't kill your story for a cheap laugh... that becomes an expensive laugh!
5) Are you telling the same story from the first page until the last??
My suggestion - write a 3 sentence logline for your script. Tape it to your monitor. Everything in your script must be included in that logline. No extra plots, no characters that are not part of telling that story, no scenes that aren't part of that story. *That* is the story you are telling. You want a focused story - not everything but the kitchen sink.
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