The History of the Script

An Essay

After completing several short films, and therefore my informal education as a filmmaker, Alex and I decided it was time to create a feature film to get our production company off the ground.  We met to decide what kind of film to make and we started with deciding the guidelines.  The purpose of this film is to be able to sell it at a profit to pay for the next film.  Since we have limited resources, it needs to take place in present day to save on costuming, it needs to be the kind of film we can shoot in Kansas City, and it needs to showcase our talents with stunt work. 

Immediately, we dismissed porn.  While it is the most financially lucrative option, finding performers would be difficult and the social stigma attached to production would hinder future efforts in legitimate filmmaking. Next we dismissed doing horror movies.  It seems like everybody’s first film is a horror film.  It is also extremely popular, but it focuses more on makeup and special effects, and frankly, we both feel it is overdone.  Especially zombie movies. So we settled on an action film.

We want the movie to sell well.  Both Alex and I are film fans, so we set out to create a script for a movie we want to see ourselves.  We both feel that Hollywood is losing its imagination, with the plethora of remakes, reboots, and sequels dominating today’s market.  The truly successful films have been the ones that take a creative chance by doing something original, or at least something that hasn’t been done in a long time.

Action movies fit right into our bailiwick.  What kind of action movie?  Why, a spy film, of course.  I don’t recall there being much discussion on the topic.  We are fans of the classic spy movies from the 60s, James Bond, Matt Helm, Derek Flint, etc.  Spy films that revolve around the villain hell bent on world domination or worldwide chaos.  Auric Goldfinger or Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

But we’re on a budget, so outlandish spy gadgets are out.  We created a script that uses a hero that must rely on his wits and physical abilities to survive.  Since we have to cut back on the spectacle, we had to focus on intelligence and misdirection.  A clever plot and interesting characters, which we both agree are the most important elements of any script.

We also need to have a sense of humor, but not create a farce.  So we added the comic relief character. A cabbie named Bernie, whose mastery of the English language is limited at best.  We even toyed with the idea of Bernie being a spy himself, but could never quite figure out how to make that work.

The damsel in distress was inspired by the original Terminator.  A Sarah Connor type of woman who is thrown into the middle of in impossible situation and must learn to adapt and survive, with a little help from a friend.

And the Mcguffin.  What is the reason for all this spycraft being thrown around?  In every generation, there is a mysterious foreign power behind everything.  In the 20s, the foreign power spoke with a Slavic accent due to the Russian Revolution.  In the 30s and 40s, the unnamed foreign agents spoke with a distinctly German accent.  During the Cold War, the agents spoke with a Russian accent (again).  Post-9/11 the accents have changed to suspiciously Arabic.  We decided not to cater to American fears for our villain.  Instead we went back to our old roots by making the villain someone simply devoted to personal power.  What could he employ to gain this power?  A computer virus, but more devastating than the virus people are used to.  Technically, it’s a worm, not a virus, but the general public is unable to make the distinction.  What is scary is that the virus we created for our Mcguffin is theoretically possible.  The world is increasingly dependent on technology.  Our villain plans to throw the world into chaos be removing that technological ability world-wide.

Now we have our hero, our villain, our girl, our comic relief, and our reason for the plot.  Next, we started writing an outline of how these elements come together, including plot twists, fake-outs, and action sequences.

And that’s where we stopped.  For six months the idea of the film kept rattling around in my brain.  When my day job came to an end, I asked Alex to send the outline to me.  On reading it, the film started playing in my head.  So I started writing the visions down, and twenty minutes later, I had the first sequence written.  I stopped writing, but for the next 20 minutes, I kept seeing what happened next, so I sat back down and wrote until the ideas stopped coming.  Whenever I painted my characters into a corner, I knew they would get out somehow, so I just kept writing, planning on writing how they escaped their predicament later.  When the idea for the fix came to me, I wrote a flashback scene and kept writing.  Finally, I was tapped out.  I stopped writing.  Four hours later, inspiration struck and I wrote until the first draft was completed.  The ending was rather dark, which didn’t bother me too much. I was trying to avoid the predictable plot clichés that come from the Hollywood grist mill. 

I sent the script to Alex and he read it.  He was enthusiastic.  He asked, “When are you going to write the ending?”  Fine.  So I sat down and started writing again.  From that came an even more interesting and unpredictable ending.  What followed was three months of back and forth with Alex, altering characters, adding scenes, changing motivations, changing backstory, changing psychological profiles, changing who was working with whom.  Heroes became villains, villains became heroes.  Finally, I brought in one of my former co-workers, who was exceedingly well read and responsible for creating riddles and puzzles for the company newsletter.  Jon added his input, forcing both Alex and myself to rethink and rewrite the script some more.  By the time we were finished, we had a script that was airtight.  No plot holes.  No character inconsistencies.  No wild changes out of the blue.  It was a script that moved and kept readers asking, “What happens next?”  Alex printed the first 10 pages and had several people read it.  They all wanted more.

You might be interested to know what influences went into this script.  I’m a big fan of “Chuck” the TV series.  The humor in the script is greatly influenced by that show.  The name of Lassiter was inspired by a character in “Psych” the TV series, but the character himself was patterned after Charles Dance’s character in “Game of Thrones” the TV series.  Jen was patterned after both Sarah Connor in the original Terminator and a girl I once knew.  Our spy was heavily influenced by the Connery Bond films and Daniel Craig.  Sherlock Holmes was another source of inspiration, as well as Hitchcock’s “Psycho”. Classic heist films, such as “The Hot Rock” were going through my head while writing.  The spy techniques were derived from my studies of spies and spy tech while growing up.  The McGuffin was derived from my experience as a computer programmer.  “Get Smart” and “Hogan’s Heroes” influenced the writing.  Our villainous organization was based on the Nazi hierarchy, with deliberate parallels made between them.  Not all influences are intentional, but upon reading the script, I was able to make the connection to where my ideas came from.

We jumped into preproduction.  With each production head we hired, I told them as little as possible about the script and asked them to read it and give me their initial, unvarnished impressions.  The reason for this practice was to get a fresh perspective on a script that I had altered so much that I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.  One or two plot holes were found from previous rewrites and corrected, but in all cases, the response was overwhelmingly positive.  In fact, they’re already talking about sequels.  Alex and I had agreed at the beginning that we didn’t want any sequels to the film.

Now even “No Sequels” Alex is hatching plot lines for a sequel to this movie. If you knew Alex personally, you would know that his hatred of sequels borders on pathological. Whenever he is asked about sequels, his response is always the same, “Sequels SUCK!”  He has become an avid fan of this script and of these characters.  Is a sequel possible?  I suppose so, but I’m not really thinking too much about it.

My focus at this point is to complete this film before worrying about creating the next one.  And yes, I hate sequels as well.  Very few ever live up to the original.  That said, once this whole project is a distant memory, inspiration may strike and I’ll sit down and write the next episode of our spy world.