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Fun Joel's Screenwriting Blog


-- On Screenwriting and Related Topics

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Location: Los Angeles, CA

I moved from NYC to LA in October, 2003. And though I still think NYC is the greatest city in the world, I'm truly loving life here in the City of Angels. I'm a writer, reader, and occasional picture-taker.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

FFFJ: Passengers

So Emily recently brought to my attention that Jon Spaihts' Passengers was among the screenplays on this past year's Black List. For those who aren't familiar with the Black List, or who would like to see the full list, you may go HERE first. I'll wait.

Now I had glanced at that list when it was first released, but oddly I didn't notice Passengers, even though it was listed at number three. But I actually read Spaihts' script back int he middle of June. When Emily mentioned it to me, it rang a bell. So I figured I'd use it as my next FFFJ post.

Since this is still recent, and since my comments (in this case) made it a PASS for the specific company I was reading for, I've decided not to post my full comments on it. Instead, I will excerpt some quotes and summarize some other points. Here we go:

LOGLINE: An interstellar traveler finds meaning in life when his hibernation pod malfunctions and he wakes alone, 90 years too soon.

Overall, I liked Passengers, though I did have a few reservations about it. One of the things I liked best about it was that while it had a strong and unique concept, it still would not cost much to make.

Passengers is unique and thoughtful science fiction film that has the added benefit of not requiring an exorbitant budget to produce, due to a small cast, single primary location, and few serious effects shots.

At the same time, however, I recognized that even with the low budget, this was not likely to be a runaway blockbuster success.


The film’s potential to be made for a budget lower than most Sci-Fi films suggests some commercial viability. Of course, its more intimate, dramatic and less action-oriented nature suggest it will never become a blockbuster.

Still, I liked the overall concept of the film.

[The concept] is both unique and thought provoking. As an audience, we can easily empathize with Jim and Aurora, and wrestle with their dilemmas ourselves. The film is an excellent example of finding a story out of a “what if” scenario.

I did, however, have some problems with the plotline.

There are a number of plot holes that might not be terrible, but still exist. None of them alone is that bad, but in conjunction with each other, they do weaken the story somewhat.

And in my discussion with Emily about the script, it was one such plot flaw that (in my understanding) made her dislike it. This differing take on things can be instructive for an understanding of how script readers think, which is why I wanted to bring it up.

When I read a screenplay professionally, I am not just looking at what is on the page. Rather I'm looking at a combination of what is on the page and what could be on the screen. Most screenplays have flaws, some greater and some more minor. When a flaw is more directly tied to, and inherently a part of a screenplay's structure or concept, it becomes a much greater obstacle to the film's success. It is a central flaw. In this case, while the series of plot weaknesses might have compounded each other to become a larger problem overall, none of them could not have been rectified with relatively simple rewrites.

So to Emily (and again, this is in my understanding of her complaint), how could a script with such a glaring error make it onto the Black List? Whereas, to me the idea was: though not perfect, this script has a lot going for it, and the weaknesses it has could be easily fixed. Plus, there was a reason it was on the Black List -- those were scripts that were not going to be released this year. They all had some problems to them!

Anyway, in the end I gave the script a PASS anyway. But not because of the script's weaknesses. Rather simply because the script did not match with the mission statement of the specific company for whom I read it. And this is another point to remember when thinking about script readers. We don't evaluate scripts in a vacuum. We read them and evaluate whether they would make good films, but also whether those would be the types of films that our employers make. For example, if I read for a company that exclusively makes films in the $20 million budget range, a film with a $100 million budget will never be right for them, no matter how great that script is.

So, I'd say that Passengers is worth a read. Yes, there are flaws in it. But overall, there is also a lot of promise in it.

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Blogger E.C. Henry said...

AWESOME post, funjoel. Thanks for a little insight into your world. On the surface your coverage seamed great! I thought only writers were subject to second guessing. Too bad it extends, at least in part, to the readers too. STILL, your employers are lucky to have you. Don't let the cristism get you down. Keep up the great work! And keep looking for that one in million gem. You never know when it's going to cross your desk.

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

4:01 AM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Thanks, E.C., for your enthusiasm. But just to clarify, I didn't second guess myself at all on this. Nor did I receive any criticism for my comments. So, perhaps I was unclear in what I wrote, but thanks for your support nonetheless. :-)

10:45 AM  
Blogger Emily Blake said...

This story to have some really bad narrative choices. The very things the characters need to happen just happen without them having to do anything. That was my major problem with it.

My point about it being on the Blacklist is that I'm dismayed that a script with this big a problem was loved enough to make it on the list. The people who voted for this script above all others couldn't find a script they liked better? There are several scripts on that list that are very good as is. This one is not.

7:01 PM  
Blogger Emily Blake said...

Oops. I should proofread. This story HAS some really bad narrative choices.

7:04 PM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Fair enough, Em. I have not had the luxury of reading the others on the list, so I can't compare them.

But what I will say is that since readers look at potential, in addition to what is already there, a script of that nature even with its flaws might have greater potential than another script that didn't have any glaring flaws, but simply wasn't as good. Or commercially promising.

Alternatively, it could just be another example of Hollywood has no idea how to make a good movie! ;-)

7:05 PM  
Blogger Stephen said...

i haven't read "Passengers" yet (since i don't actually have it), but i have recently read another Blacklist script, "Burn After Reading," which I really liked (I admit, I'm a big Coen Bros fan)... What gets me is that it is WAY down the list. Makes me wonder if all the scripts above it on the list are that much more incredible, or if there are other "soft" factors (like your own prodco's specific needs, for example) that affect these scripts' reception regardless of their inherent qualities...

10:00 AM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Stephen -- I think you are right that certain "soft" factors are involved, though I don't think the ProdCo's specific needs would be one. This is a list of the scripts that people liked the best, but were unproduced, period. The ProdCo's needs would be a reason to give a script a PASS, but not when it comes to the Black List, as far as I know.

Thanks for stopping by and commenting. First time, right?

5:51 PM  
Blogger Stephen said...

yes, actually -- long time lurker, first time poster!

point taken re the rating diff between the Blacklist and everyday rating criteria.

6:48 PM  
Blogger Janelle said...

joel, do you know of any companies I can apply for a reader job? i work for ICM right now but not getting enough scripts

2:43 AM  
Blogger Fraulein said...

God, you sound like an utter corporate drone. There is no soul to your approach. Would never hire you as a reader.

9:17 AM  

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