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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.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

FFFJ: Furry Vengeance

So, time once again for me to come out of my quasi retirement to "check in here at the office." Thought I'd post another FFFJ (From the Files of Fun Joel) screenplay review, since I saw this movie has just come out this weekend. Additionally, since my comments from when I read the screenplay seem to have been effectively shown to be accurate, figured it was further worthwhile.


So, I read this screenplay professionally back in June 2008, and ended up rating it a PASS. The writers (Michael Carnes and Josh Gilbert) got the slightly better response of WEAK CONSIDER. Here's how I summed up the plot in a logline:

"Forest animals unite to combat a development project led by a neglectful father whose son hates his lack of conservationism."

For those who don't know, PASS means the script is bad, not that it should be passed on to someone else to look at. My comments in brief were summarized as:

"A repetitive script and major similarities to other recent projects marks this as less than promising. And a decidedly mean-spirited comedic style also hurts its chances for XXXXX production."

Still, the negative comments about this script were of course more detailed than that. Here are my comments:

Furry Vengeance is a mildly entertaining script with a good (though obvious from square one) moral. At the same time, however, the film grows extremely repetitive, and thus boring. Furthermore, the comedy is extremely mean-spirited, which though it works, is still not the best tack for family programming. Ultimately, the film is good but far from great, and unlikely to be worth pursuit for XXXXX production.

Clearly, the subject of Furry Vengeance makes it a decent film for XXXXX consideration. Conceptually, this is prime family film territory. It is in execution, however, that this film loses its potential. Firstly, on its own terms, the screenplay falls short. Though the concept starts out as mildly entertaining, in short order the gags become overly repetitive. There is little difference between the animal attacks at the beginning of the film and the end. Yes, the scope increases somewhat, but overall they don’t feel different enough.

Compound this problem with the fact that it feels unoriginal in comparison to other similar films. Many of the specific gags feel as if they were pulled straight out of Evan Almighty. And then the climax and many other gags are overly reminiscent of Hoot (not the best predecessor).

Slapstick comedy by its very nature stems from people getting hurt. But in this script, the gags seem overly mean-spirited. While there have been many family films that have employed such a comedic style, it still feels as if it isn’t the most responsible material to be putting in front of kids.

In the end, this script could potentially turn a profit. Though even that is not assured, due to the aforementioned reasons. Still, since this is not the most promising script out there, and since it's not a particularly strong concept either, there seems no reason for XXXXX to pursue this property.

So, how does this match up to the final product?

Well, for starters, it is worth noting that it opened with a weak $6.5 million box office. Who knows how it will perform in the long run. As this review points out, the film has "no significant competition in the family-movie sphere."

More importantly, though, the reviewer points to some of the same pros and cons that I did, which underscores why it likely had such a poor opening.

While parents' minds wander, young kids will enjoy the slapstick, much of it involving pee and poop, in this tale of enterprising woodland creatures determined to save their home from developers....

From defecating birds to squirt-happy skunks, screenwriters Michael Carnes and Josh Gilbert substitute crude gags for humor at nearly every turn.

I always take pride in seeing my comments borne out at the box office, and I am proud that I recommended my employers not move forward with production on this low quality project.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Good New Research Tool

If I updated my sidebar links at all (been years, I'd guess) I would definitely be included this new one in my "Research Tools" category (and/or in "Stir the Creative Pot").

There is a new (to my knowledge) search aggregator specifically designed for creative people: creativesear.ch. Brought to you by D&AD, an educational charity connected with the design and advertising communities, creativesear.ch delivers search results from Google, Google Images, YouTube, Wikipedia, Flickr, Twitter and many others. And all in a visually appealing layout/design.

While designed (I think) for visual creatives (e.g. graphic designers), I can also see this becoming a very handy tool for screenwriters (and other creative writers) while in the research phase of a project. Try it out by typing in a search term at the top of the page, and let your creative juices flow.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

FFFJ: Where the Wild Things Are

Let me preface this screenplay review by stating that I really hope I was wrong. It has happened with one or two scripts before, where when they came out I realized I just didn't get what the screenwriter was going for. And if that happened here, I would attribute it to the fact that Spike Jonze was both (co-)writer and director of this project, and thus may not have fully communicated his vision on paper. This often happens with writer-directors or with writers who are working closely with a director while scripting the film.

Still, I love the Wild Things book, and have been a fan of Spike Jonze's for a very long time. So I really do hope this film turns out to be a really good, fun, imaginative one. But if it does, my guess is that it will be more the result of the various changes they made to it in the time after I read this script.

For starters, I read this screenplay at the end of November 2005, and the draft was dated October 12, 2005. So there was certainly plenty of time to update this script between then and now. But to be blunt, I thought the screenplay was terrible. And yet, I recommended that the company consider the project, solely for the underlying material. Jonze and Dave Eggers' screenplay, however, was really weak, in my opinion. Here's what I wrote back then:

Where the Wild Things Are has only one thing going for it, and that is the underlying book on which it is based. The script does a poor job of adapting the material, and the writers show no evidence of understanding how a script would best communicate the core material. Still, should any attachments be amenable to the essential rewrites, the project may be worth XXXX's attention for the value of the property itself.

It is no secret that Sendak's book is one of the most beloved children's books of all time. But the difficult journey it has taken to silver screen production is equally well-documented. If this script is any indication, the film version would be an unlikely success. If, however, a stronger screenplay adaptation becomes a possibility, XXXX should certainly consider getting involved.

As with such books as Jumanji, the key difficulty here is how to expand a short children's book into a feature length film. Where Shrek was successful in this regard, and Jumanji only moderately so, this script fails. It takes way too long to get going, features a number of extraneous scenes and elements, and fails to gain any momentum. Furthermore, it is sloppily scripted, with characters popping up without introduction and others introduced multiple times. But the biggest technical weakness of Jonze and Eggers' script is the plethora of unfilmable asides that are used to deliver character, rather than actions or dialogue, as is truly necessary in film.

A further issue with the screenplay will likely be its inability to successfully reach the youth market that must be it's primary target audience. While adults will likely appreciate the story's metaphoric aspects, and kids may subconsciously absorb some of this as well, the film's story, on its face, will likely bore children. While certain scenes are certain to please and entertain, too many scenes develop too slowly, and the storyline barely moves at all. It develops slowly, Max is overly passive, and he never really finds a clearly articulated goal.

Ultimately, the only real reason to consider this screenplay is for the potential held by its supporting material. But this is certainly a strong enough reason to warrant some consideration.
Not pretty, eh? So, as I said, I hope I was wrong. But this review makes it seem that instead of fixing the problems with the story, Jonze simply tried to overcompensate with visuals. As it says:

Fleet of foot, emotionally attuned to its subject and instinctively faithful to its celebrated source, "Where the Wild Things Are" earns a lot of points for its hand-crafted look and unhomogenized, dare-one-say organic rendering of unrestrained youthful imagination. But director Spike Jonze's sharp instincts and vibrant visual style can't quite compensate for the lack of narrative eventfulness that increasingly bogs down this bright-minded picture.

I am sure that that sort of strategy will work for many audience members. And by the way, this review is not much different.

The question remains whether a large enough portion of the audience (both adult and kid alike) will find the visuals appealing enough to make them overlook the lack of a solid story. Of course, it will have a good opening just due to people's interest in the film. The question remains, however, whether this will actually be the great film that so many hope it will be.

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Monday, September 14, 2009

FFFJ: Dorian Gray

The impetus for me posting to the blog today was this review I read in The Hollywood Reporter, about the new film Dorian Gray that screened at Toronto International Film Festival. I remembered that I had read the screenplay for it a little over a year ago (in June of 2008). So I thought it would be a great opportunity to post another in my continuing series FFFJ: From the Files of Fun Joel.

Many of you know the story that the film is based on, but in case you don't, here's my Logline for the screenplay:

"Young heir, turned on to hedonism, maintains his youthful appearance while a portrait ages and shows his soul's true blackness."

Ultimately, I gave this screenplay a WEAK CONSIDER and the writer a CONSIDER. My main reason for this was that the script was well-written, but the style seemed very odd for today's audiences. And I think that Brunette's review in THR picks up on similar things. He writes:

Whether or not the re-interpretation is always successful is another question entirely, but superb production values and imaginative, vigorous camerawork, music, and editing should carry the film a long way. It's not exactly clear who the audience is for this occasionally subtle literary adaptation that also aspires, almost against its will, to be a horror movie, but it deserves to find an audience somewhere.

So, on to my critique then. Here are the comments I wrote on Toby Finlay's screenplay:

Dorian Gray is a well-written gothic horror script based on the famous Oscar Wilde novel. Yet while it is as good an adaptation as could be, the fact remains that the story feels dated and may not appeal to modern audiences. Coupling this with the budget such a period film will likely require, the film becomes a much less promising commercial endeavor. Bottom line, if this type of film is on XXXX’s agenda, this could be an excellent choice for production. But on its own merits, the film would likely not be the strongest candidate for development.

While there is much to like in this story, the style remains firmly rooted in another time. Gothic horror of this nature is far removed from the style of horror that plays well today. And though the story is certainly not without its charms, it remains a dated style. Because of this, Dorian Gray may have a difficult time finding a sizable audience. Finlay, it should be noted, has done a good job of at least attempting to update the story. The addition of Emily, the excising of some of the more dated sequences (e.g. the hunting party), the extension of the book’s time span, and the greater grounding in the birth of modernism are all adjustments that help widen the film’s appeal. But it still seems unlikely to be enough, as the story’s core maintains the same feel.

At the same time, should XXXX be in the market for a film of this nature, despite its built-in problems, this script would be as good as any of its type. It is a solid effort with good pacing and excellent structure. Characters are strong, as is dialogue. And Finlay is also worthy of further consideration as well. But most probably, the film is unlikely to succeed commercially.

With a relatively large budget and a dated feel that will alienate many audiences, this film will be fighting an uphill battle to find commercial viability.

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Less Than a Year

So people ask me periodically if my blog is dead. I tell them it is more like "retired." Not in the sense of a sports player whose number is "retired." When that happens, no one gets to wear that number again, so it is taken out of circulation.

I mean it more in the sense of a guy who retires from his job, but might still occasionally pop back into the office to say Hi, answer some questions, and maybe even do a drop of work.

So that's my intention for now. I don't suspect I will be a "full-time" blogger again. But I don't want to shut it down entirely. I'd rather just post occasionally, whenever I feel I have something else worthwhile to say. I know that means I will probably not have a very large readership, but so be it. If anyone cares to read and/or comment, I welcome you and your loyalty. If not, I'll just write for the heck of it!

All this by way of intro to my next post, to come momentarily. :-)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Expo Reminder & Drinks Gathering Announcement

So, first of all, I wanted to remind you all one last time about the two seminars I am teaching at this year's Screenwriting Expo. After being named a Star Speaker the last three years at the Expo, I've been invited back to present my most popular seminar from last year, "Effective Use of Flashbacks and Voiceovers."

Even more exciting for me is the new seminar I will be teaching this year: "Writing in a Web 2.0 World." In preparing this seminar, I've had the chance to speak to many professionals who are very involved in the world of web video, and the like, and have also read and watched a ton of material on the subject. The seminar will exploring what is unique about writing scripts for the web, as well as highlighting ways to market yourself, network, and straight out work using Web 2.0 technologies.

Furthermore, I wanted to spread the word about this year's 4th Annual post-Expo Scribosphere Drinks gathering on Sunday night. All are welcome to join, so please come if you are at the Expo, or just feel like popping over anyway. This year we'll be returning to the scene of the first year's gathering, the beautiful Moroccan-themed (and nearby) Figueroa Hotel, and we will be at the poolside bar. The Fig is at 939 S. Figueroa St., 90015 (for your GoogleMaps-ing pleasure), and is easy walking distance from the Convention Center. Figure we'll start by around 6:00 on Sunday evening, though I may arrive sooner. We'll end whenever things just wind down naturally!

Feel free to leave a note here, or email me, to let me know that you'll be joining. Also, if you'll be attending the Expo and want to meet up some other time, feel free to get in touch as well!

Hope to see many of you there!

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

New Screenwriting/Indie Production Website

I recently learned about a new website that is designed to help collaborations through the entire production process. Named Five Sprockets, the site offers some free software (including yet another free screenwriting application) and free registration. The site's name is a reference to the five stages of the production process: Development, Pre-production, Production, Post-production and Distribution.

I have not tried out the screenwriting software, so to be honest I can't speak to its quality. But what attracted me most to the site is its "Community" section. In an easy-to-use format, the section offers how-to videos for use by indie filmmakers, articles aimed at guiding the developing screenwriter (a number of which seem to offer solid insights), event listings, and discussion forum. There is also a job board, though at this point listings are still extremely sparse (the site is still in beta).

There are many sites out there aimed at this niche, and I can't claim to have spent much time on all of them. But this site definitely seems like one worth keeping an eye on!

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Late for Halloween

I just saw this "trailer" that would most appropriately be titled Halloween at The Office. I got a kick out of it, though it is not nearly as well done or entertaining as Shining.

Interesting how horror and comedy seem to often work as two sides of the same coin. To wit, this story about a new project for Xbox Live.

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