Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Tuesday Talkback: My Dead Idea File of Shame

Going through old writing folders is a little bit like looking at old yearbooks full of bad haircuts and fashions.  Last week, I was digging through some old files and I found an old treatment of mine.  Actually I found many old treatments among some scripts that were either half-written and abandoned, or completed and abandoned with good cause.  Of all my dead ideas, this is the one that I can't see ever revisiting in any form.

As I recall, this incomplete pitch document was actually derived from an email where I pitched my idea to a friend, seeking his feedback. It's dated April 2006, which seems about right to me.  What's notable is that by that point, I'd been reading scripts for a while, so there are a couple of points here where I should have known better.  Take a look and see how many of my own rules I manage to break here.

In my defense - the idea NEVER got past this stage.  I pursued concepts with stronger legs.

The Pitch: a "Scary Movie" like parody of the recent spate of "important" movies with a simplistic social issue at it's heart.

Examples include:
Traffic - "Drugs are bad, mmmmkay"
Syriana - "The oil industry is corrupt and anyone connected to oil is morally bankrupt."
Crash - "Racism is bad."

What do all these movies have in common? Well each of them is essentially a collection of subplots, often held together by only the barest of plot connections. In order for the writer to make his points to the audience, all subtlety goes out the window. Instead, characters are reduced to easily recognizable stereotypes - which makes them ripe for parody. They are as cookie cutter as the players in your standard action movie or romantic comedy.

Now, for our parody we need to find a social issue to blow out of proportion - one that also allows us to mock these other films. Since this film is in part intended as an indictment of the films it spoofs, I suggest we practice the same sort of subtlety as the filmmakers we intend to mock.

In other words, if we're going to say something about Hollywood movies, the industry we should choose is Hollywood.

Plot A - borrowed from the Michael Douglas plot of Traffic. We start with a noted director/producer/studio exec who has just been announced as the head of the MPAA. His mandate is to go in there and clean up the violence in today's films. All the while, he's unaware of the effect that the smut in the movies is having on his own teenage daughter. Through her, we parody not only the Erika Christiansen plot in Traffic. but we also attack the "edgy" films that purport to be deep explorations of teenage sexuality. (cf. Thirteen, Havoc.)

These are films that use one hand to wag their fingers at society for turning 13 year-old girls into blowjob giving, nipple-pierced repositories for VD - while using the other hand to masturbate to the bare-breasted teenage starlet they've seduced into believing that she can be taken seriously by rubbing her naked nipples and moaning orgasmically on camera.

Plot B - This means that somehow, our protagonist must be involved with a film like Thirteen. He might even think that a film like this is an "important movie" that will serve as a wakeup call to America. Instead, all it does is propagate the behavior it condemns.

Plot C - Now, we need a Middle East connection as a way to lead into a Syriana/ Fahrenheit 9-11 parody. Perhaps this is all part of an insideous plot to sexualize young teenage girls and sell them overseas to the Sultan of Brunei. It's a slave trade of sorts, and in return, the government gets inroads to oil, and the studios get sweet tax breaks on production, as well has competitive rates on distribution in foreign markets. (In true Syriana fashion, the jargon and connections in this point of the film should be almost deliberately impenetrable.)

Stray characters and notions to consider:

- We need a Clooney character. I don't know where he fits in, but there must be an equivalent to his role in Syriana.

 - Spoofing the subtitled Benecio del Toro subplot in Traffic, I propose that we have all the executives in one subplot only speak in insider industry-Variety jargon. Naturally this will be subtitled. [I can't find the follow-up email, but this eventually grew into a larger subplot where the executives got lost in one of the foreign territories they visit and are unable to communicate due to their dependance on insider jargon.  In hindsight it sounds like I was trying to rip off Babel, but that film wasn't released until at least six months later and probably wouldn't have been on my radar at that point.]

 - One part of Crash that really bugged me was the Ryan Philippe scene where he shot the unarmed kid. I thought that was too big a leap in his character in too short of a time. However, I do have a good idea for a parody....

Our Michael Douglas character spends the whole movie condemning another executive's lewd, sexually harassing behavior. After severing business ties with him, the other exec tells him, "Talk to me in a few years, you'll get it someday." Then later we'll see our hero working late at night in the office, a shapely intern or D-girl the only other one who's staying as late as he is. She seems to be coming on to him, subtly flirting. Our hero is clearly tempted, struggling the whole time. Then she seems to make a provocative move, inciting him to sexually harass her... unfortunately, he's mistaken and is almost immediately disgusted with himself for his moment of weakness.

 Okay, so I had the guts to look in the mirror.  Now YOU pull out some of your dead ideas and appreciate how much you've grown.   What are some of your worst ideas?


  1. Eurgh, I'd better not. I can't guarantee I'm not still working on them.

  2. Giant alien gods Rokalamonda and Loonyagnops land on opposite sides of the world, generating two huge oppositional religions which battle it out, resulting in the destruction of the human race. Then the Supranatural Duo take off to go obliterate another world. Together forever....

    Yeah, it was meant to be funny. But you're not supposed to be laughing at the writer....

  3. Um - when I was in 6th grade I tried to write a sequel to The Monster Squad, that would star me of course. Yes, a total Mary Sue.

    Glad I finally figured out that writing isn't my talent.

  4. "...unfortunately, he's mistaken and is almost immediately disgusted with himself for his moment of weakness..."

    better yet, the intern was really a Dateline undercover reporter exposing (pun intended) sexual harassment in a workplace. Luckily, right before she sends out the tapes he backs over her in his Prius (obviously she could not hear him coming).

    Now, nobody saw this accident but a parking attendant who is originally...from Brunei.

    1. I totally meant to reply to this sooner, but this is verging on brilliant.

  5. I tried, for my own pretentious amusement, to adapt the Bob Dylan-penned Traveling Wilburys Springsteen pastiche "Tweeter and the Monkey Man". For years, I thought it was about two male drug smugglers in a sarcastically-described part of Jersey. Turns out, it's about a male and female duo - I think.

    The script ended with our heroes blowing up on the Verranzo.

    Tweeter get shot to death by the cops.

    The Monkey Man says something like, " We piss this earth. We fuck this earth. All you mothefuckers gonna die."

    He chucks a firebomb at a gas truck. Boom!

    As black smoke billows in the sky, we hear Monk's last bit of VO narration:

    "Tweeter used to say the only thing that separated us from the animals, was that we were from Jersey. I never told him. I was born in New York."

  6. My first script was a comedy ( my one and only comedy)and was about a guy on a college campus who's outed as having a small penis. He then has to go up against the "biggest" guy on campus. Presumably hilarity ensued. But it just sucked. I found a copy of it about a year ago, but couldn't bring myself to read it. Ugh.

  7. I once thought that Condoleezza Rice's early career would make a good TV series. Sort of "Waiting to Exhale" meets "The West Wing". I think I was sane enough to make it a contemporary setting and change her language from Russian to Arabic, but beyond that...