What if I told you that there was a new horror film coming from a Shyamalan but that it WASN’T M. Night Shyamalan? Would you believe me? Would I believe myself? Alas, this newsletter’s big script review comes from Night offspring. Are we ready for a whole new generation of twist endings? I also share my thoughts on the new Mandalorian season and if it’s possible to die from cuteness overload. I give you two big tips on movie idea theft, one regarding a scenario you shouldn’t worry about, and another about a scenario you should. I give you a dialogue book update, some tips we can learn from a couple of recent Amazon purchases, and my assessment of, quite possibly, the most confusing movie I’ve ever come across.
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Yesterday, we took a look at a screenplay covering the famous Betty and Barney Hill UFO sighting. This, naturally, led to some discussion in the comments about the greatest UFO movie ever made, Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
I don’t need a reason to get me to watch Close Encounters again. Just a passing mention of it and my TV is already firing up because who doesn’t want to watch an iconic film about UFOs? While watching Spielberg’s near-perfect movie, I discovered something that shocked me. It’s something you don’t see anymore.
That something is: THE HEIGHTENED MOVIE MOMENT.
These are the moments in his movies that Spielberg basically writes himself. Or, if he doesn’t write them, he conceives of the sequence and tells the writer exactly what he wants. His screenwriters may write the scenes whole cloth where the government explains to Indiana Jones where the Ark of the Covenant might be. But the scene where Indiana is dragged by a truck before eventually overcoming the truck and beating up everyone on it? That’s all Spielberg.
Basically, what the heightened movie moment is, is a big moment that is meant to be captivating all on its own. Some people might call these “set pieces,” which they can be. But they’re more than that. They’re clever imaginative dramatized scenarios that pack a punch and are highly memorable.
Close Encounters is PACKED with these moments. And the more of these moments I saw, the more I wondered why this art has been abandoned.
I would argue that Spielberg himself doesn’t even do it anymore.
So what are these moments specifically?
The first occurs with some scientists showing up in a blustery dust storm in the middle of Mexico. They’re being frantically led somewhere, the suspense building as to where and what’s going on. Then they finally come around a bend and see that there are two dozen World War 2 planes just parked out in the desert, which we quickly learn all went missing during a mission over 30 years ago.
This is followed by a really smart scene where a plane nearly hits a UFO at night. But we’re never in the plane. We see this happen back in the air traffic control tower. Our featured controller helplessly watches as an object is hurtling towards one of the planes on his screen. Again, the suspense is high. Is it going to hit this plane and kill 200 people? Then, at the last second, it disappears.
In the very next scene, we get what is, probably, the most famous image from the movie, which is when the little child is woken up by all the flashing moving electronic toys, and then follows the noises out of the house.
That’s three scenes in a row that all work individually. In other words, you don’t need to know anything about what’s going on in the movie to enjoy the scenes. Because they’re creative, imaginative, heightened, suspenseful, and are constructed as if they are their own little story with a beginning, middle, and end.
Just a few scenes later, we get another famous heightened movie moment. This is the one where Roy, our protagonist, stops his car at night, another car pulls up behind him, but then that “car” rises up and hovers above him because it’s not a car, it’s a UFO. And this UFO then proceeds to magnetically lift up everything in his car.
What’s amazing is that all four of these great scenes happen BEFORE THE 20 MINUTE MARK.
Think about that for a second. Most writers can write 5-6 movies before writing one truly memorable heightened movie moment. Spielberg had four of them within twenty minutes!! That’s INSANE!!
After the movie cools down a little bit, we then get another classic heightened movie moment where hundreds of Indians chant a strange little hymn while praying in a remote city. We get Roy going nuts, collecting items around the neighborhood in a deranged state so he can build his rendition of the mountain he keeps seeing in his dreams. And then you get that amazing final set piece where the military makes official contact with the aliens.
When do we ever get sequences like this anymore? Truly creative thoughtful suspenseful moments that are so impactful that you talk about them with people immediately afterwards? You don’t. Most of today’s “heightened movie moments” are just superheroes fighting each other.
I suspect the problem is that the special effects technology has gotten so good that people don’t have to think creatively anymore. If you can do anything, you end up doing the obvious thing. Captain America vs. Captain America. Sure, it’s a fun scene. But does it require the thoughtful energy and creativity it takes to come up with any of the Close Encounters moments? Not even close. It’s the kind of scene that Chat GPT would come up with. There’s no heart, no soul.
As I started to think about Spielberg, I realized that he built his entire career on this. He built his career on a guy running from a boulder in a cave. He built his career on people wrestling back an angry caged velociraptor. He built his career on kids flying on bikes with an alien and a full moon in the background.
Every movie he used to make, he would think of those individual powerful movie moments that work all on their own. And we just don’t see that anymore. And, again, NOT EVEN SPIELBERG does it anymore. It’s like he’s forgotten what made him great.
I think you know where this is going.
I want you to start incorporating this secret old Spielbergian philosophy into your own scripts. Think about five magical moments that take advantage of your specific premise and then incorporate them into your script, even if it means building your narrative around them. Because if there’s anything today’s taught me, it’s that a script is worthless if it doesn’t have any memorable moments.
How do you achieve this?
I know that Spielberg did a ton of research in Close Encounters. He hired J. Allen Hynek, the number one UFO authority in the world at the time. And Hynek just bombarded Spielberg with all these crazy UFO stories he’d investigated.
Spielberg then took the ones he liked the best and he built little mini-movie scenes around them. Just like any artist should do, he took the root of the real-life experience and he looked for ways to make it more dramatic and impactful.
For example, when it comes to the famous scene of a UFO appearing above a car and turning everything in the car off, I suspect that Spielberg may have added the idea of the UFO first coming up behind them and looking like headlights. And then I’m guessing he added the magnetism pulling everything in the car upwards.
So look to real-life events in the subject matter you’re writing about to find the foundation of your heightened movie moments. For example, if you’re writing a plane crash movie, research 10 famous plane crashes. I’m sure you’ll find one you can use as the foundation for an amazing movie moment (which actually happened, by the way – John Gatins, who wrote “Flight,” heard about a plane that got inverted once in flight and used that as the basis for his movie’s crash).
You should also be drawing from experiences in your own life and looking for ways to dramatize them. I think of all those toys going berserk at once. I’m guessing that wasn’t something Allen Hynek offered. Spielberg probably had a memory from his childhood of a few of his electronic toys moving around and realized it would make for a highly dramatic moment if he could exaggerate it and have a bunch of toys moving around at the same time.
So use those moments from your life that really affected you and build scenes around them. Oh, and DON’T USE MOMENTS FROM MOVIES YOU’VE SEEN. Then you’re just copying.
Also, use suspense! Notice how Spielberg doesn’t just come into these scenes and give you the information. He draws it out for as long as he can in order to get the most entertainment value out of the scene. So, when they get to Mexico, in the opening, we don’t plop down in front of all the missing planes right away. We meet people beforehand. We see their excitement and confusion. We want to know what they’re excited and confused about. The planes aren’t clear at first. They are hiding amongst swirling dust (more suspense! What are we looking at??).
Even when the planes do become clear, we’re not even sure why we should we be freaking out about planes. We have to go a few more beats into the scene before we find out that these are lost planes from World War 2. It’s a clinic in writing an entertaining scene.
Since writers aren’t doing this anymore, everyone reading this article has just been given a golden ticket to writing awesome screenplays. Because if you can bring this practice back effectively, your scripts are going to be so much more entertaining than the stuff everybody else is writing. Personally, I can’t wait to see what you come up with.
Genre: True Story/Sci-Fi
Premise: The famous 1961 UFO case of Betty and Barney Hill, an interracial couple who had a close encounter of the 4th kind with aliens on a remote highway.
About: This script finished Top 15 on last year’s Black List. Today’s writers have one small produced credit, called The Republic of Rick, which came out in 2014.
Writer: Mario Kypianou & Becky Leigh
Details: 96 pages
UFOs are real.
And when I say UFOs, I don’t mean Unidentified Flying Objects. I mean these things flying up in our skies are intelligently controlled alien ships. And we’ve seen them over and over again, throughout time, and pretended they were a figment of our collective imagination. B.S.
For those of you who are skeptical, check out this podcast where a former flight officer who had some UFO experiences is starting to interview pilots who have seen UFOs. In this episode, a very established pilot talks about seeing three classic disc UFOs flying near his 747, and talking about it with the pilots in the plane ahead of him, who also saw the discs.
To that end, this might be the only screenplay on the Black List that has a social component to it (an interracial relationship) that doesn’t feel like a writer trying to game the system. Because the interracial relationship is actually a critical component to this famous sighting.
You see, back in 1961, it was not popular to be in an interracial relationship. And, therefore, it was very much in this couples’ best interest NOT to talk about this UFO publicly. It would put them in the crosshairs of a highly judgmental media and nation. And yet they did talk about it, which tells me that what they saw was real.
The year is 1961. Barney, black, in his 30s, is a post office worker. He’s just married Betty, who is white. They are an interracial marriage when interracial marriages were still illegal in 30+ states.
These two live up in New Hampshire where, while interracial marriage is legal, it is still frowned upon by some. Barney is excited about his future. In addition to working for the post office, he is part of a civil rights group that is tracking the housing situation in New England, where white neighborhoods are making it difficult for black people to move in.
Late one night, while heading home through the White Mountains, Betty sees a light moving around frantically in the sky, and then, less than a minute later, a giant tic-tac shaped ship stops in front of them. Both Betty and Barney go into a trance, and the next thing they know, they’re waking up in their home the following morning.
Betty remembers everything surrounding the UFO event but Barney seems determined to pretend it never happened. He’s freaked out by the experience. Which is the exact opposite of what Betty wants, who’s chatting about it to anyone who will listen.
Of course, in 1961, when you said you saw a UFO, people thought you were crazy. Barney starts getting angry with his wife because they already have enough crap to deal with – namely that society doesn’t want them to be married to each other. This is just bringing on more scrutiny.
But Betty keeps yapping away, which leads to them going to a hypnosis expert. The hypnosis dude puts both of them under and asks them to recount what happened that night. He’s freaked out by the fact that both their stories are similar. This man doesn’t believe in UFOs. So he comes away from it thinking they experienced some sort of collective trauma that induced a case of mild schizophrenia.
Barney, now having to admit that he really did see something that night, is unable to handle the reality. He starts to go into a deep existential crisis, while also having to balance his political aspirations with the growing media interest in his story. Can he make real civil change if people think he’s a UFO nut? We’ll see.
This script did about what I was hoping it would do. It combined the story of a married couple dealing with racism who are presented with a situation that complicates that racism and forces them to make a choice. That choice is to shut up so they don’t have to deal with racism. Or to talk about what happened, in which case, their interracial marriage will be on blast to the world. It’s a very difficult position for someone to be in at that time.
Which is why it works. You want to put your protagonists in difficult situations. Not just physically. But internally. These situations should be challenging them inside. Barney is going through so much with this sighting. Cause he’s dealing with it on two fronts. One, he doesn’t believe in aliens. So he can’t reconcile the fact that he saw them. And two, speaking about aliens destroys his chances of making a positive difference in society.
I thought that was well done.
I also liked the general setup of the story. When you break stories down, they amount to: an INTERRUPTION of the NORM. We go about our normal boring lives and then, one day, two robots show up at our doorstep with a message from a princess saying she needs you to deliver the droids to her father. This is the INTERRUPTION.
The mistake a lot of writers make is that their interruption doesn’t really interrupt anything. There’s nothing going on in their lives. So the interruption becomes both the NORM and the INTERRUPTION. “White Mountains” does it correctly. Barney has a lot going on in his “norm” life. He’s trying to affect change on society and help black people have better opportunities by moving into nicer neighborhoods.
But the interruption may ruin all that. Which gives you the proper dualism. We have him trying to change the community. And we have this alien thing that keeps trying to ruin his pursuit.
I read scripts all the time where Barney wouldn’t have been doing anything in life of note. He’d just be working at the post office and that’s it. So, then, when this sighting came along, we wouldn’t have even needed to cover his life outside the sighting cause nothing’s going on there.
Another thing this script did well was draw the suspense of the sighting out. They could’ve given us the whole shebang in that opening scene where the aliens take Betty and Barney aboard the ship. But we only see the beginning of that interaction. That’s how you create suspense. You give the audience a taste of something they want, and then you make them wait before they can fully bite into it.
The writers wisely do this a second time when the hypnosis therapist has them come in and recount what happened. We actually don’t see what happens while under hypnosis either. It isn’t until later, when Betty and Barney keep seeing weird things in the skies and in their dreams that they demand to hear their hypnosis.
FINALLY, we see what happened that night. Again, this is good writing. This is the thing we all came to see. So you want to make the reader wait for it.
I didn’t love the script, though, and I had a hard time figuring out why. Because, as I’ve told you, I love this subject matter. But I think what I wanted was a more profound explanation or revelation of what happened that night. I wanted to learn new things about this famous case.
There is a sort of new revelation in that the ship was a tic-tac, which we now know is a common UFO that a lot of military personnel see. But, back then, I think people referred to the shape more as an egg since tic-tacs hadn’t been invented yet. So it was cool to find out that this specific UFO that was famously captured on video in 2012 by an Air Force pilot, has actually been shooting around our skies since 1961.
It’s a solid script, especially if you like this subject matter. I would’ve preferred more UFO geekery in the end than social commentary but that’s just me.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Give your characters an actual life to interrupt. Your characters shouldn’t be waiting for your movie to start. They don’t want the movie! They just want to go to work and pursue their lives. So give them an actual life to pursue and, that way, when the interruption shows up, it’s in constant battle with their actual lives.
Premise: When a runner sells his extra New York Marathon entry off for cash, he unwittingly invites a terrorist into his life.
About: This script sold for 750 thousand dollars back in 1995. Three writers wrote it. Kirk De Micco would go on to write The Croods and a lot of other kids content. Stuart J. Zicherman would go on to write the Ben Affleck movie, Elektra. He has since written steadily in television. Most recently, he wrote episodes for The Shrink Next Door and Alaska Daily. Trotiner moved onto producing. His most well-known recent project is Braven.
Writers: Kirk De Micco, Glen Trotiner, and Stuart J. Zicherman
Details: 1995 draft – 132 pages
Peaky Blinders actress Charlie Murphy for Shawn?
One of the things I sit around and spend way too much time thinking about is, did screenwriters work harder back in 1995 or do they work harder now? Cause back in 1995, scripts sold so frequently that there was this belief that you didn’t really have to do much to sell something. So why work hard?
While it’s much harder to sell a script in 2023, I still get the sense that aspiring screenwriters don’t work as hard as they used to. The large majority of the scripts I read today feel like they’re 4-5 drafts from being anywhere near maxing out their potential. I don’t know. What do you guys think?
What intrigued me about this script is that it’s supposed to be a little more sophisticated than your average 90s spec. It’s constructed to make you think more. Let’s see if that’s the case.
26 year old New Yorker, Jamie Mitchell, works as an assistant to Hank Goldberger, the man in charge of the current president’s re-election campaign. Jamie has politics in his blood, as his father was a well-known politician. But he’s got something else in his blood as well – running.
The New York marathon has 100,000 applicants. And it only awards 20,000 entries. Since Jamie, who’s also in law school, has never gotten in, he decides to enter under four different names this year, quadrupling his chances. As it so happens, he gets in twice, once under his name and once under an alias, Stephen Bloom.
Jamie tells his 2 years-long girlfriend, Wendy, that he’s going to make a little cash on that second entry and sells it in the classifieds. He meets up with a beautiful young Irish buyer named Shawn, tells her he’s Stephen Bloom, and then sells his “Stephen Bloom” entry to her.
Jamie can’t stop thinking about Shawn for some reason, so when he runs into her again (literally, they see each other while running), it doesn’t take much for him to get lured back to her place and have wild sex. When Jamie doesn’t go home that night, Wendy dumps him. And then when Jamie goes to check on his best friend, Barry, he finds out he’s been executed in his apartment.
It doesn’t take much for Jamie to realize that Shawn is involved, especially because she tells him she killed Barry. She also informs Jamie that he’s going to help her with a bombing during the marathon as she needs to do it for the IRA. He refuses, running to the Feds, who tell him that they need him to work with Shawn to find out exactly what she has planned. Needless to say, Jamie’s life has turned upside-down, all because he tried to cheat the system. Dishonesty doesn’t pay, kiddos.
This was a really sharp script.
I’m struggling to figure out why it didn’t get made. I suppose the setting might have felt low-stakes. Yeah, you have the president involved. But the story really just revolves around this marathon. So I’m guessing the studios looked at the marathon as not the easiest thing to build a marketing campaign around. This was, of course, well before the whole Boston Marathon bombing.
The script has a really interesting villain in Shawn. This was long before it became fashionable to cast female villains. So the script feels a bit ahead of its time. And she isn’t just a face. She’s legitimately terrifying. Not only does she kill your best friend, execution-style, but she calmly tells you about it the next day. All while sleeping with you the night before to destroy your relationship.
Have mercy on me.
I have to think the IRA connection may have not have been impressive to execs either. I know the IRA is a big deal in Ireland. But it doesn’t translate well to New York. When you’ve got New York, you usually want a villain aligned with a much bigger cause. Also, where’s the connection? What does taking out presidents in the U.S. do for Ireland. They kind of explain this but no matter how they phrased, it still felt small potato famine. Hey, I’m Irish. I can make that joke.
This is why it’s worth spending that extra time to figure this stuff out as a screenwriter. You’ve got a strong villain. But that’s only half the battle. They need a high stakes cause that draws an audience in. One of the reasons I didn’t go see Ant-Man 3 was because the villain’s stakes seemed so low. What did Kane want? Was it to get out of the Micro Realm or whatever? If so, that was not conveyed well in the trailers. So… why is it important that I see this movie?
Contrast this with Thanos. It was made clear a thousand times what this guy was trying to do and it was enormous. So I felt the stakes. I felt I needed to be there.
If there’s one other thing I would’ve pushed for in the screenplay, it would’ve been to work that Jamie-Shawn relationship more. That’s the kind of relationship you want the Feds to come to Jamie about and say “This girl is playing you. We need you to work with her so we know what she’s up to.”
Instead, Shawn shows her cards right away, which means that he already knows she’s bad. She knows he knows she’s bad. So there’s no subtext or dramatic irony in any of their conversations. If Shawn doesn’t know that Jamie is onto her, now you’ve got all these great scenes where Jamie is trying to keep his secret and Shawn might figure out that he’s onto her.
The great thing about doing it that way is you can still do the original thing you wanted to do – making Shawn this cutthroat crazy killer who bullies Jamie into doing what she wants. But you just get to that plot point later in the script. Which gives you the best of both worlds. Jamie trying to work an ignorant Shawn. And then Shawn finding out (on page 75 or something) that Jamie is onto her, and turning into a psychopath.
But even though they didn’t go in that direction, the script still has a lot going for it. The dialogue is a lot better than most of the dialogue written at that time from writers not named Tarantino. And it’s got a really good third act. So this one is definitely worth checking out.
Script link: a day in November
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: There’s something about a big event that’s non-traditional to these types of movies that sets your movie up for a really fun third act. Cause when you think about it, all these movies end in the same place. A shootout in some warehouse or some industrial area. By building this story around a marathon, you get to build your third act around something we don’t usually see in movies. And that’s where you’re going to find those original moments. So look for EVENTS as something to build a concept around. And then you have this beautiful original third act ready to go without having to think about it.
Premise: (from IMDB) An oddball group of cops, criminals, tourists and teens converge on a forest where a huge black bear goes on a murderous rampage after unintentionally ingesting cocaine.
About: A couple of interesting tidbits about this one. A writer named Jimmy Warden wrote it. His only writing credit is as a co-writer on The Babysitter sequel. Now, you may remember who wrote the original Babysitter, Scriptshadow’s very own unhealthy obsession in screenwriter form, Brian Duffield. Brian Duffield, by the way, is a producer on Cocaine Bear. Jimmy Warden was an actor on the original Babysitter. So, if you connect the dots, Duffield and Warden met on Babysitter, became chummy, which led to Warden co-writing the sequel, and then when Warden wrote this, the first person he took it to was Duffield. Then you have Elizabeth Banks directing (she called the choice “a potential career-killer”) and Phil Lord and Chris Miller shepherding the project (which would explain casting their Han Solo actor, Alden Ehrenreich, as Eddie).
Writer: Jimmy Warden
Details: 95 minutes
The new game plan for every movie project in Hollywood is to set box office prospects LOOOWWWW. Cocaine Bear made 23 million dollars this weekend, which, an an average box office enthusiast, you would say was LOW. But here’s the trick. Over the week, the trades talked about how Cocaine Bear would be lucky to make 18 million. LUCKY, they said!
Then you make 23 million and your movie is, all of a sudden, a superstar. But is Bear’s high/low 23 million the story of the weekend or is it Ant-Man 70% drop-off? Marvel. Dude. What are you doin’ man? Time to focus on making good movies again.
Okay, Cocaine Bear. Good? Bad? Strange? Cocainey?
Cocaine Bear is set in 1985 where some drug plane was flying along and, for whatever reason, they needed to ditch all the cocaine they were transporting so they threw it into the Tennessee woods below. Low and behold, a bear came along, ate it, got really high, and decided to go on a killing spree.
Meanwhile, two factions of people are wandering around the woods at this time. There’s Eddie and Daveed, two doofus criminals ordered to go into the woods and retrieve this cocaine for the guy who was shipping it. Daveed is the muscle and Eddie… well, Eddie is having a full on breakdown because his girlfriend just died.
Elsewhere in the Tennessee wilderness is Sari, who I guess is supposed to be a redneck but she’s the most soft-around-the-edges redneck I’ve ever seen. Her 12 year old daughter, Dee-Dee, who is also supposed to be a redneck even if she looks straight out of Central Casting, runs off into the woods and Sari must find her. She meets up with an aging female park ranger who’s trying to get it on with a young flamboyant tree scientist and is angry that Sari has just cockblocked her.
The bear lurks around, killing people left and right, in the goriest of ways. Because he has to. He’s high! But I thought cocaine suppressed appetite. Maybe I’m not supposed to think that deep. The real bear died 30 seconds after ingesting the cocaine so we’re already straining credibility here. Suspension of disbelief sushmension of sushbelief. As I review I read best sums it up, the rest of the movie, “Pretty much does exactly what you think it’s going to do.”
Cocaine Bear is what happens when the screenwriter does a pretty good job but the director fails him. Because I could see a lot of this movie working if it had funnier actors. But Elizabeth Banks really dropped the ball when it came to casting. It’s something you might miss on because none of the actors are actually that bad. But none of them are funny either.
This is a movie that needed legit comedic actors. Not these tweeners who only dip their toes in comedy once in a while. So many of these scenes depend on these actors being able to riff with each other while the bear either lurks close by or inserts himself into their activities.
I mean there’s an entire scene where the drug dealers and a cop are having a showdown with the cop stuck on top of a gazebo and the drug dealers are down on the ground where they’re in danger of being attacked by the bear. At one point the bear passes out on top of Ed, trapping him. It had to have been a 10 minute scene of all dialogue. And while the scenario was funny in spirt, the actors just weren’t able to make you – you know – LAUGH.
All I could think about was if Zack Galifianakis or Ed Helms or Adam Devine or Jonah Hill were in the movie, how much funnier the scene would’ve been. Because those guys actually understand the comedy DNA. These guys are just saying memorized lines. With the exception of Alden Ehrenreich, who was at least fully committed to his role.
A better example may be the trailer that played in front of Cocaine Bear called Mafia Mamma. It was a solid comedy premise. A suburban woman gets the call that she’s been chosen to take over her deceased grandfather’s crime business. She’d never even spoken to her grandfather so she’s completely out of her league in this world. And that’s, of course, where all the comedy comes from.
The problem is that the lead is played by Toni Collette! One of the best dramatic actresses of our time. So every single comedy beat in the trailer feels off. Cause she’s not a true comedian. All you can think is how much better the movie would be with Melissa McCarthy in the lead. Which is exactly how Cocaine Bear plays out, exact times 10 because none of the actors are right for their parts.
I mean there’s this one scene where Daveed beats up a group of druggies in a bathroom and because O’Shea Jackson is not a comedian, we have NO idea if this scene is supposed to incite fear or if we’re supposed to be laughing. There were half a dozen scenes like that.
I can’t help but think that this is the result of the drastically changing landscape of feature film comedy. It seems to have sent all our good comedy actors off in other directions because they can’t depend on that feature comedy money anymore. So maybe it’s harder to lure these people back to comedy films on the rare occasion you’re making one.
Also, the movie is tonally all-over-the-place. And, going off of Warden’s interviews, I’m going to have to blame that one on him. This from his interview with Indiewire:
“With [producers Phil] Lord and [Chris] Miller, with Elizabeth Banks, and with Universal behind it, there wasn’t much in there that I wrote that they were like, ‘You just went too far. We’re not doing that,’” he said. “It would’ve been, ‘Hey, maybe we shouldn’t have 12-year-olds do cocaine in the woods.’ Every time when I was hitting these set pieces, I was like, ‘I just need to one up. I want somebody to tell me to tone it down.’ And they never did.”
Then you had the gore:
“I write a lot of movies like this, where it’s like you can take it up to a certain line, and if you straddle that line, you’re going to make people feel uncomfortable, but if you go over that line, you’re going to make people laugh,” Warden said. “So, with the gore, in a certain respect, if we toned it down at all, it may not have worked as well with the comedy.”
He’s dead wrong about this.
There’s a scene where this nice young lady ambulance driver who we like is trying to race away from the bear, ends up hitting a tree at 60 miles per hour, flies out of the windshield, straight towards the camera, tumbles around until she stops, only her face in the frame, and the life goes out from her eyes.
Yikes. This is comedy?? This shot that could’ve easily been lifted from Saving Private Ryan. For crying out loud, get your tone under control. Sheesh!
As you can see, there’s no one thing that kills Cocaine Bear. It’s all the little things. The RT score is wrong, I think, because people really want to like this movie. And so did I. This is the kind of idea that’s perfect for the spec script market. But this mish-mash of issues the writer and director inadvertently created for themselves is too much for the film to overcome. It’s messy. It’s unsettling. But most importantly, it’s not funny enough.
[ ] What the hell did I just watch?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the price of admission
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Laziness pays! Cocaine Bear was born by its writer avoiding writing.
What’s our favorite screenwriting avoidance activity? The internet! Warden was looking through the internet where he stumbled upon the Cocaine Bear story and thought it would make a perfect movie. So, the next time you decide to avoid writing, AVOID IT WITH PURPOSE! Look around for those weird stories that just might – JUST MIGHT – yield a great movie idea.