Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Project Wilson Phillips - Team Wendy: Day 2

Download the Team Wendy version of the script HERE.

Bob Holt (p. 49-58) - This is my part of an email exchange I had with the person immediately following me. He found me via Twitter, seemed terribly confused by the script, and asked me several questions, including what the hell was going on, and what I tried to accomplish with my pages. I had gone so far as to outline every scene and make a character list trying to nail down who they were at any given point in the pages, so I was happy to share that work with him and give him a little push.


Hey Anthony,

Doug and Leliah: It seems like each writer wrote them differently. Sometimes good, sometimes not. Sometimes working together, sometimes working against each other. (For example, it seems they're working together, but then one writer wrote that Doug was protecting Trenton, so...)

Motive of the Vegan machine: Unknown. There was a mention of it becoming self-aware. There was really nothing else in there to suggest what its end goal might be.

So what I did (or tried to do):

1) Vegan needed a goal. I briefly mentioned world domination, robot overlords or what have you. It's general enough to build on, or just to leave abstract if you don't want to deal with it.

2) I didn't like the whole Vegan concept, so I decided to shut Vegan down. Also, I figured it would be a good Act II climax to shut it down for good. Maybe. Whether or not shutting it down succeeded or only made it angry is up to you. Basically, I wanted to give my push to the story without ruining everybody's fun if they wanted to keep it in.

3) Doug and Leliah. This was actually the craziest part - they were completely unmotivated, or maybe more to the point, randomly motivated. So I built in that part of Vegan's master plan were all of these doppelgangers to go around and do its bidding. Also, it made mistakes in replicating them - really just a way of explaining away
the character inconsistencies that plague the whole script. Do with it what you will.

4) Jackson. He was in desperate need of motivation and making his own destiny. I even have him say at one point that he needs to take action because stuff keeps happening TO him. Of course, then I make Cohen the main actor at the climax, so... Oops.

[Bitter Note: I didn't discover Bob and Anthony's collaboration until last week when they sent me their testimonials. To be honest, I would have discouraged this communication had I known about it at the time. I had taken some pains to ensure that no one had anyone else's email address, but didn't think anyone would use the names on the title page to track down the previous writers. I'll make the rules more explicit next time if you guys think this skirts the spirit of the experiment.]

Anthony Filangri (p. 58-69): Well when I first read the script, I was at a total loss. I had so much stuff going on with school, I really wanted to drop out. But karma is a bitch and I didn't want that on my conscience. So what I did instead was contact the writer who did his pages before me to see what the hell he made of the story. He wasn't really sure himself, but he explained it to me the best he could and what he planned to do with 10 pages which was -- try to get things into gear and shut the Vegan down.

So the vegan was shut down... but the third act was just starting. In the 10 pages before mine, it is said that the vegan had developed a brain of his own basically. Why not take it literal, and have a real life vegan -- a robot spawned out from the vegan before it was shut down. There were still secrets afloat, so the robot started killing people to get to them. By the end of my 10 pages, I set up a huge action sequence that hopefully the writer after me took advantage of. It was also up to the writer/s after me to come up with a twist in which I had no idea what it could be. Good luck to them!

All in all, it was a cheesy mess but I still had fun with it.

Delta Kirby (p. 69-79) Being the second-to-last writer for Team Wendy I knew I had to do three things: resolve certain aspects of the plot; begin a sequence of climactic events for the last writer to finish, while also giving him/her enough space to tie up the script and give it an acceptable ending; and reveal the identity of the shadowy figure.

I decided to make Jackson the Shadowy Figure because pretty much all of the living characters (six, not counting Jackson) were accounted for, except for an ancient journalist, and I didn't think an old man fighting the foul mouthed hero would be that exciting to watch. Funny, yes, but not exciting. It would also reveal that Jackson himself was a clone, and I believed that threw up a lot of opportunities for the person after me to use. Maybe Jackson joins AJ, maybe he's already lost and the whole world is clones, maybe he has to sacrifice himself to reset the world, I don't know.

I then wrote ten pages in which all but a couple of characters die, several things explode for no reason, and a group of evil clone office workers are destroyed by the corpse of an intern. Why? Because it felt appropriate for what I read as a self-aware sci-fi action thriller. Why set the last scene on Neptune? Again, because it felt like a direction the script would take.

Ben Ritter (p. 80-90): When I inherited the script, I had to read it three times. The second time through, I took notes to help me keep the different characters straight (with the cloning and the robots, I was pretty confused). I eventually ended up with the characters’ names in one column, their descriptions in a second column, and the word “dead” in a third column for all but two characters. It was inevitable, therefore, that my pages would constitute a showdown between the two living characters, Jackson and AJ.

Since it had been established that any character could be cloned and resurrected at will, the stakes seemed too low for a physical fight, so I thought that a battle of the wits (and some sort of moral decision) would be potentially more interesting. I also decided to flesh out the character of AJ a little more. We already knew that he was the richest man in America, a sci-fi fan, and considered himself to be something of a comedian. To this I added (I hope) a degree of vanity and loneliness (the previous author had decided that AJ lived in a palace on Neptune, so I thought these were attributes he would likely have). Throwing a costume party pretty much for his own benefit seemed nicely in-character, and I thought of the idea of him dressing as Emperor Palpatine pretty early (based on the electricity-throwing scene the previous author had written).
I had never gotten a really good feel for Jackson’s character throughout the script, and I feel that my characterization of him fell flat as a result. I tried to get some leverage out of his relationship with Candy, which previous authors had alternately developed and dismissed, but to be honest, in my pages, he’s mostly a straight man for AJ’s antics. Subsequent rewrites would hopefully amp up the relationship between Jackson and Candy a little in earlier scenes and make Jackson’s choice seem more natural.

I also regret that I couldn’t think of a way to tie in the very first scene with the woman identified as “Viper” (who may or may not be the same person as Leliah) torturing a young man in a dark room. (The “Vegans” teleportation system is also, confusingly, sometimes called “Viper,” but I think this was a typo by one of the earlier authors.)

I thought this project was an interesting experiment, and I’m glad to have been a part of it, but I don’t think the resulting script is very good. The biggest problem, I think, is that all of the authors (including myself) wanted to add something substantive to the script, so about every 10 pages, a character was killed, a character was revealed to have not been killed, a character was revealed to be a clone or a robot, a character traveled to Neptune, a character traveled through time, etc. At best, I think there is a certain campy charm to a script spiraling so wildly out of control, but this came at the expense of things like character development and coherence.

I think one key difference between this script experiment and improv (especially long-form) is that very few improv games would have someone exit the scene completely and hand the creative reins over to the next player, so (even with the “yes, and” principle in place) crazier impulses could, to some extent, be kept in check by the other players onstage. It’s also unlikely that anyone but a beginner would do something as drastic as pulling out a gun and shooting another character for shock value unless this action arose naturally from the scene. If you were to repeat this experiment, it might be interesting to have each writer write one character throughout or do something else that would allow earlier writers to have continued input through the later pages (maybe submit notes every 10 pages that the next author could read but wouldn’t be required to follow).


  1. I think Ben sums it up perfectly. There was no incentive to take 10 pages to tie up loose ends, and so we ended up with a barrage of plot twist after plot twist (myself included) to the point where absolutely nothing was as it seemed on the surface, and so there was very little to use as a foundation for a story. It certainly would have helped for previous authors to have a small amount of continued input - even if just to describe what they were trying to accomplish.

    So, if I had thought it was against the spirit of the game to share what I did with Anthony, I wouldn't have done it. In the email I received from him, he mentioned that perhaps his confusion was due to his inexperience in the sci-fi genre. I wanted to assure him that it had nothing to do with him or sci-fi, but was what happens when a bunch of writers go before you. I tried to tell him why I had made the decisions I had without influencing him to continue them in any particular way. For example, I didn't care for VEGAN, but if he did, then he could feel free to use it.

    I guess my input is this: If we're trying to put out quality collaborative scripts, we should be allowed to collaborate - at least chat. If it's all for fun and a lark and we throw it away at the end, then by all means keep authors in the dark. Maybe just by keeping everyone's names off the cover sheet until the end - I certainly googled every author who came before me, though I didn't end up contacting any of them.

    And I hope the writers who came before me don't take my comments too harshly. It's hero's work to get dropped into the middle of a story and turn out 10 pages in a week in the middle of whatever else is happening in your lives. It was fun to play with all of you.

  2. I tried to take my pages a bit more seriously (Delta Kirby) but I took the chicken's way out and tried to be as ridiculous as possible. I agree with Ben insofar as the script isn't particularly saleable, but I never saw it as anything more than an early draft. It's got some good ideas in there, and I'd love to see what a smaller group of writers could do by reworking it.

    That said, I think this was an interesting experiment in that it showed me what I would do when things didn't go my way (hey, let's kill everyone and send Jackson to Neptune). It's kind of like a (improv legend) Mick Napier experiment in that way. What he does is offer the class twenty dollars for the funniest person and, more often than not, the class winds up sabotaging each other's bits and hamming it up. He then says, "If that's what you'd do for twenty dollars, imagine how your SNL audition would go."

    So that's what I'm taking from this: If collaborations aren't going your way you can do the best you can anyway, or you can blow up marinas.

  3. Gotta admit that this entire script confused me a bit. But, no matter how confused I felt, I was into the action of it all. The plot twists, the reveals, the who knows what, all kept me intrigued.

    I really like the moral decision in the end. It added a bit of flair to a script that was incredibly action driven.

  4. Wow! Three really different scripts and yet some striking similarities. I especially love how poor Murphy got beat up for angst in all three.

    So, Bitter, is there a second one planned?