Thursday, February 11, 2010

Thoughts on the screenplay: Dead Loss

I read the screenplay for Dead Loss the other day. It was a winner on the Black List this year, written by Josh Baizer and Marshall Johnson. And it taught me something.

This screenplay is fantastic not because it's that great a story, but because the writing is superb. It's an excellent case of brilliant writing overcoming a less-than-completely-original idea. It's a thriller about a bunch of crab fishermen on a boat up in cold ass waters. The shit hits the fan when they find a dude on a raft with diamonds and gold.

So it's A Simple Plan meets Dead Calm. It's your basic thriller plotline - greed wins and the guys decide to keep the money even if it means murder. Mystery guy tries to kill everybody. People die. The guys turn on each other. The money is not worth the price.

So we've heard it before, but this script still made the Black List. It made it because it just rolls right off the page like a steam train.

Yesterday I wrote about the importance of memorable character introductions - this is the screenplay that inspired me to think about it. When we first meet Cliff, he dangles deckhand Pete over the water because Pete won't put out his cigarette. I never forgot which one was Cliff and which was Pete. In fact, I never mixed up any of the characters in a story about a bunch of men on a boat. That's not an easy feat.


Check it:

Pete, Sol, Griggs and Nate watch helplessly as the raft below begins to sink...with Cliff and Montoya stuck inside.

Pete and Sol grab Cliff and Montoya’s safety lines...trying to pull them out.

THE SHIP BUCKS AGAINST A THIRTY FOOT WAVE...once again slamming the raft against the metal hull and COVERING THE DECK IN WHITE WATER.

Every man is knocked off their feet.

ON PETE as he’s washed over the side of the ship in nothing but his weather gear. He desperately tries to grab the rail, but no dice.

A LOOK OF HORROR ON HIS FACE as he disappears into the sea.

I was going to leave early from work yesterday so I could go home and jazzercize but I couldn't leave until I finished the script. I was so worried about these guys and I was really fucking upset that Pete went overboard. I kept thinking about that scene where he realized he was unable to stop himself from falling into the water.

I kept really hoping a couple of them lived and that's not an easy feat to accomplish in a screenplay.

Obviously we all want to think up some amazing high concept idea that's easy to sell, but every now and then you just read a script that jumps off the page just because of straight up good writing.


  1. IMHO it's important to LEARN why scripts are on the blacklist and not on film. Too often, aspiring screenwriters want to learn what producers liked about blacklist scripts and not the reason(s) that they passed it.

  2. Dead Loss sold and is in development.

  3. This is a good primer on never describe hair or clothes. The first look at the character should show them in their "world."

    GIRL# 1 - Cute, looking in a mirror, blows kiss at picture

    GIRL# 2 - Tall, pirouhetting.

    GIRL# 3 - Legs made for jeans, punches drunk guy at party.

    GIRL# 4 - cute, probing devil's advocate.

    This is paraphrased but it shows that people who hang out together do pick up similar speech patterns but not personality traits. Sometimes they may dress similarly, but will react differently to the same crisis.

  4. Dead Loss was, hands down, the best script I read all last year. Sure, we've seen the story before, but there was REAL depth to it's morality tale. Dostoevsky would have been pleased - seriously.


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