As I explained in yesterday's post, I'm not purchasing a review from the Black List readers, in part because the timing means that the value of the review might be questionable. However, I've invited some of my trusted industry associates to offer their opinions on the script, starting today with Brian Scully.
I first met Brian via Twitter a couple years ago. I admit, after a few conversations, I followed him mostly because I thought he was the Brian Scully who wrote for The Simpsons, and after I'd discovered the truth it was too awkward to unfollow. Fortunately he turned out to be a pretty cool guy, and a rather talented writer. In fact, he started writing "professionally" at 14 when Star Trek: Voyager, and later Star
Trek: Enterprise, gave him a standing invitation to pitch to them after
submitting a spec to them.
Scully's script, COUNTERPOINT, a romantic
thriller/drama, was recently optioned with financing currently being
raised. It also was on last year's Hit List. It's a really solid script, but it's nothing compared to his current spec, MERCIFUL, an action-thriller that is one of the best scripts I've read all year.
I was in awe multiple times while reading MERCIFUL, which is the story of a woman traveling across the post-apocalyptic remains of the country to reach the daughter she hasn't seen since the start of the chaos. The script is full of evocative, visceral writing. There are longer-than-usual stretches of silence, which really lets the visuals tell the story. I told Brian after I read it that perhaps the biggest compliment I could give was that he genuinely surprised me.
So when it came time to give my script to people who were going to push me, Brian was at the top of the list. The first few reviews came in and were very positive. You give a script to writers, you're going to get plenty of notes and suggestions because that's what writers do - but most people were really into it. However, I had one reader whose notes ran counter to that, and so I was pondering if perhaps the script needed an overhaul that the others were seeing.
It was in this context that Brian emailed me his notes. He went in depth, not just talking about the broad premise and characters, but having notes about specific pages and scenes. Often he was writing stream-of-consciousness, describing his reaction to an event as it played out. And let me tell you - he GOT it. I don't think I've ever seen someone so completely understand what I was going for in a script. Every emotion he experienced, every reaction he had, was precisely what I was trying to achieve. And by this point, I knew that Brian knew what made a great script because he'd written one himself.
That review gave me a lot of confidence that there WAS an audience for what I was writing and that I shouldn't second-guess my instincts. So because of that, I can think of no one better suited to tell industry members why they should download TOBY IS NOW FOLLOWING YOU on The Black List site. Take it away, Brian...
We all love GROUNDHOG DAY, right? Everyone should, and if you don’t, you’re fired from life. Well, think for a moment about Bill Murray spending countless days following the same routine to glean even the tiniest new piece of personal information about Andie MacDowell as he attempts to seduce her, and with each new day and each new piece of info he’s “armed” with, he gets closer and closer to what he wants.
…Have you ever considered how genuinely creepy that is? Ever stop to think that this efforts in slowly accumulating knowledge about her life in order to appeal to her more effectively is really, really disturbing? He’s earnest about wanting to know her better, he wants the two of them to click, so could his efforts really be so bad? Is it just an overreaction?
Welcome to just a hint of what’s explored so effectively in TOBY IS NOW FOLLOWING YOU. It’s one of the most compelling dramatic thrillers I’ve read in a long while. The idea of our digital footprints, how detailed they are and how actual privacy has become a distant memory, is explored here from all angles, through numerous characters, but especially our rich and complex lead, Toby, and the woman with whom he’s become infatuated, Nina.
What this script does is lead you gently to the top of what becomes a very slippery slope, letting you see why Toby is a legitimate hero (flawed as he is) and unworthy of scorn… and then the script gives that last nudge so you can start sliding down the slope. Over the course of a brisk and taut 90 pages, as personal lines begin to blur, the true horror of the film builds unrelentingly as Toby loses himself further and further in his obsession.
But, Toby is no psychopath. He’s not some deranged criminal. He’s not a predator seeking to harm. There’s no malice. Toby is a legitimately earnest, heartfelt and charming guy who could fit very comfortably in even the safest of romantic comedies. And that is PRECISELY why this script becomes so damn haunting and unsettling — because Toby is not a monster. And yet, his actions become monstrous. By the time you finish reading this script, a terrifying realization dawns on you — Toby, by being so incredibly human and well-drawn throughout, could be your neighbor. He could be your best friend. Oh god, he could be your significant other. Oh god… he could be YOU and you’ve never even realized it.
TOBY IS NOW FOLLOWING YOU is such a good thriller because it holds the mirror up to us and lets us see just how slippery that slope is with our own behavior in this digital age, how easily we may find ourselves crossing those lines in life, and how little we realize it. With our lives becoming more keyworded and searchable by the minute, and the myth of privacy becoming more and and more understood, there is no better time for a strong story to hit home about the world we live in, and TOBY IS NOW FOLLOWING YOU is that story.
Industry members of the Black List site can find TOBY IS NOW FOLLOWING YOU here.
Brian Scully is currently repped by Kathy Muraviov at The Muraviov Company. You can find him on Twitter at @brianscully