Just when we were ready to label the 2019 Black List a joke, today’s script not only earns an “impressive,” but should’ve been the number 1 script on the list.
Genre: (will reveal later)
Premise: A pair of out-of-work immigrant brothers catch a break when they are hired as day laborers to work at a house in the Hollywood Hills. But the job doesn’t go as expected.
About: Here’s writer Jared Anderson’s IMDB bio — Jared Anderson is a Los Angeles based Director from Salt Lake City, Utah. He earned a Directing Fellowship at the AFI Conservatory in Los Angeles where he made his AFI Thesis Film, “Unremarkable”, which in addition to playing at festivals worldwide, was nominated for the 2016 Student BAFTA Award, the 2016 ASC Student Heritage Award, won best dramatic short at the NYC Shorts Film Festival, and was selected as a Vimeo Staff Pick and currently has nearly 80,000 views. He is currently working with the creators of the new FX series, “Snowfall”.
Writer: Jared Anderson
Details: 101 pages
I’m going to warn you that you should read this script before you read my review. The best thing about this script is its many reveals. The script isn’t going to be a fun read if you already know what happens. So go download this script, come back, read my review, and we can all talk about how awesome it is.
Martin and Aracelli are a 20-something married couple who happen to be illegal immigrants in the United States. And they’re struggling badly. Their infant son has a sore on his forehead so bad it needs to be stitched up. Even then it doesn’t heal. But since they’re illegal, they can’t go to a doctor.
Aracelli tells Martin that today is going to be a special day. He’s going to get a job and bring home lots of money, which will lead to more jobs and more money, and before they know it, they’ll be living the American dream. So off Martin goes with his brother, Enzo, to Home Depot, looking for a labor job.
Enzo’s been in the U.S. a little longer than Martin and therefore speaks some English. That allows them to outmaneuver the other workers and get a job with not just anyone, but Gwyneth Paltrow-like movie star, Robin. Robin is very nice. -too nice, almost – and is thrilled to have the brothers helping her.
They get to her Hollywood Hills home and she explains there’s going to be a political fundraiser here in 48 hours and she needs the grounds spic and span. The main problem is that she invested in a marijuana business, which means she needs to move a bunch of imported dirt (yes, imported) into her basement, which is where the marijuana is going to be grown.
Neither Martin nor Enzo know what she’s talking about half the time (partly because they don’t speak English well and partly because she’s crazy) but what they do know is that something’s not adding up. There are some rather large black birds that fly around in the house, there are certain rooms that are off-limits, and, oh yeah, Robin just shot someone upstairs!
The two run upstairs to see that a migrant worker, not unlike them, is on the ground with a gunshot wound, dying. Robin screams that she opened the door and he just started attacking her. “We need to call the police!” She says. But then “realizes” something. “You two aren’t illegal, are you?” Neither of them answer. “Because the police will question you, they’ll find out you’re illegal, and send you out of the country.” Instead, she offers, you should just leave.
Martin and Enzo run out, wondering what the hell just happened. They decide not to tell their family and forget about the whole thing. But the next morning, Robin shows up at their house! Did either of them tell her where they lived? She says she needs help finishing the job, and to Martin’s dismay, Enzo, who’s been acting strange all morning, says he’s going with her. Martin goes to protect his brother. But, as it turns out, Enzo’s going to need a lot more than his brother’s protection to get out of this alive.
Just to be clear, I deliberately left out some key details to preserve the script’s primary mystery.
There’s always a scene that comes along in a good script that confirms to me, “Okay, I’m in good hands.”
That scene happens in The Laborer when the brothers were at Home Depot trying to get a job for the day. Anderson had already done a great job setting up the dire circumstances the brothers were living in. There are too many people living in their house. They have no money. Martin’s son needs medical attention. It’s not good.
The reason this is important is because when you get to scenes like this one, where your heroes are trying to achieve something, the more that’s at stake, the better the scene will play. We’ve set up that the stakes are very high for them getting this job. So you can feel the suspense as they wait for their opportunity.
But Anderson doesn’t stop there. He uses the R2-D2 trick. What’s the R2-D2 trick? It’s a time-tested guaranteed-to-work screenwriting tip!
What happens is that Robin comes over and looks at all the laborers to try and find one for the job. But she doesn’t pick Enzo and Martin. She picks some other guy. And we watch as she walks away with the guy, to her car, the job lost.
But Enzo doesn’t quit. This is his dream job, working for this woman. So he runs up and he pitches Robin him and his brother. Two-for-one. Robin thinks about it and agrees.
For anyone who forgot, in Star Wars, there’s a scene where Luke Skywalker and Uncle Owen are buying droids from the Jawas. They pick C-3PO and some red droid. We watch in horror as R2-D2 is left behind, splitting up this comedic duo we’ve fallen in love with. Can it be true? R2-D2 is going to be left with these things???
However, at the last second, the red droid pops a power converter and C-3PO pitches Luke on taking his buddy R2-D2 instead. Luke agrees and, thank goodness, our droid team is reunited.
Same idea here in The Laborer. Anderson could’ve easily had Robin walk up, look at everyone, point to Enzo and Martin, and off we go to the house. But where’s the fun in that?
Or, the bigger question all screenwriters should be asking is, where’s the fun in certainty? There isn’t any. Drama comes from un-certainty. You have to constantly create doubt as a storyteller. You must make us think, over and over again, in many different scenarios, that our heroes will fail. So when they get their wins, it feels earned, but, more importantly, it was a lot more entertaining to watch.
But here’s the kicker. That was just a normal scene in The Laborer. Things get a lot lot crazier in this movie. If you want to know what readers are looking for, this script is it. We’re looking for familiar stories that are told in ways we’ve never seen them told before.
You have no idea where this script is going. I mean, there’s one scene where Enzo goes to a reclusive gay bathhouse where I was sitting there shaking my head asking if I’d been transported into another reality. And I’ve read some crazy scenes before. They usually go off the rails. But this one culminates in an image that will haunt you for the rest of your life. I promise you that.
This script is so wild and fun that I kept waiting for it to fall apart. It’s one of the bummers of the job. I’ve watched so many great scripts crumble right before they get to the finish line that I don’t want to get my expectations up for a great ending only to be disappointed once again. But this is one of the rare scripts that nails the landing. There’s nothing I like better than a clever twist. And this has one.
It also has a lot of unexpected developments. Every time I thought I knew where it was going, it would surprise me. I’m actually jealous. Cause, usually, I can predict scripts like they’re written on the back of my hand. I watched “Underwater” last night and it was like it was spat out of some rudimentary screenwriter AI. Every single beat was hit at the exact moment it was supposed to hit. And there wasn’t a single surprising moment in the film. I don’t know how this Jared Anderson guy approaches his structuring, but I want to know. It seems like he has a system where whenever the normal path is to go right, he makes sure to go left, and vice versa. The Laborer is a very well-crafted consistently surprising puzzle.
I won’t say more than that. I’ll just say read it and prove to me there was a better script on this year’s Black List. Right now the only four good scripts on the list are The Traveler, The Menu, The Process, and now this.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] genius
What I learned: You always want to add layers of difficulty for the hero’s journey, even if a layer makes it JUST A LITTLE BIT HARDER than it usually is. Because the worst thing you do can do for your hero is to make things easy. Easy is boring. So by adding layers of difficulty – and you can add as many as you want – it creates more obstacles that the heroes must overcome. It was really clever making it so that Martin and Enzo only understood 40% of what Robin was saying. It added that one extra layer of difficulty in the communication, which made it that much harder to win in the end.
P.S. If anyone predicted where this script would go, I want to hear from you. But I can promise you, even with me telling you to watch for the unexpected, that you won’t be able to do it. :)