A couple of months ago I learned that BENEATH THE SURFACE was a semi-finalist in the CineStory Screenwriting Awards. Founded in 1995, CineStory is all about nurturing undiscovered talent. As their website states: The aim is to provide a supportive environment in which screenwriters can push their creative boundaries while discovering practical steps needed to elevate their skills to a professional level and become a working writer. Out of over 500 submissions, BTS landed among the top twenty-five scripts, making me eligible to attend the annual CineStory Writer’s Retreat that takes place at the end of September. Sign me up! The great thing about the retreat is that in addition to meeting other writers like myself, I’ll also be engaging with a group of industry professionals – writers, producers, agents, executives – who will shower us with their expertise and advice. In fact, each participant is paired with a “mentor” and we’ll be spending three 90-minute one-on-one sessions with them. CineStory is giving us the option to bring two projects to workshop at the retreat so in addition to BENEATH THE SURFACE, I thought I’d offer up my science fiction thriller MALFUNCTION.
Remember that one?
Back in February I proudly declared that I finally finished the first draft of MALFUNCTION. Ah the relief and satisfaction that comes with completing a 100+ page screenplay. At the time, I figured I would wait a week or two before revisiting the script to start the rewriting process. Well, that stretched out to six months until I finally reviewed my draft last week to see what kind of shape it’s in for CineStory. Trusty red pen in hand, I curled up with a hard copy of the script, prepared to make a few general notes and changes so that I would have a presentable first draft.
Ah, naive, naive Deirdre.
Let’s just say for a sci-fi thriller, MALFUNCTION was light on the sci-fi and even lighter on the thrills. I realized about halfway through my reading of it that there was no way in hell I would be bringing this screenplay to the retreat. No, the surgery required for this rewrite is too brutal and bloody to inflict upon a mentor. In fact, I’m not convinced the patient can even be saved.
A quick side note: when the movie LIMITLESS came out last year, I was actually a little worried that MALFUNCTION would be too similar to it. In LIMITLESS, Bradley Cooper’s character is a down-on-his-luck writer who stumbles across a secret drug that gives him super-human capabilities. MALFUNCTION showcases a troubled Chicago cop on the brink of losing his job, who suffers a serious head injury during a local softball game. After he recovers, his mediocre work performance improves dramatically, but are these heroics a stroke of luck or a sign of the supernatural? Well, after reading MALFUNCTION I realized that I have nothing to worry about…because LIMITLESS is a far smarter and far more exciting film. (Seriously! See it!)
What’s at the heart of MALFUNCTION’s malfunction? What is the script’s fatal flaw?
I have a passive main character. I know it sounds like Screenwriting 101, but my troubled Chicago cop spends most of the film reacting to what’s happening to him rather than driving the film forward through his behavior and choices. At least when Bradley Cooper realized the power of the drug he was taking in LIMITLESS, it compelled him to seek it out more – to the point of addiction. Dangerous addiction that placed him in life-threatening situations. Unfortunately, when you have a relatively inactive main character, it’s hard to feel that the stakes are high – or that there are any stakes at all. The result: who cares?
Such a bush league mistake. But a good reminder that while certain scenes may stand on their own and clever dialogue might be speckled throughout, the “whole” should attempt to equal the sum of its parts. Alas, I’ve built MALFUNCTION on a foundation of sand.
So what am I bringing to the CineStory retreat? You’ll just have to wait for the next entry! (And that final attempt at creating mystery and suspense as I sign off on this bloggy post is still more engaging than MALFUNCTION. Trust me.)