Fun Joel's Screenwriting Blog (US), January 10, 2008
by Joel Haber
So Emily recently brought to my attention that Jon Spaihts' Passengers was among the screenplays on this past year's Black List. For those who aren't familiar with the Black List, or who would like to see the full list, you may go HERE first. I'll wait.
Now I had glanced at that list when it was first released, but oddly I didn't notice Passengers, even though it was listed at number three. But I actually read Spaihts' script back in the middle of June. When Emily mentioned it to me, it rang a bell. So I figured I'd use it as my next FFFJ post.
Since this is still recent, and since my comments (in this case) made it a PASS for the specific company I was reading for, I've decided not to post my full comments on it. Instead, I will excerpt some quotes and summarize some other points. Here we go:
LOGLINE: An interstellar traveler finds meaning in life when his hibernation pod malfunctions and he wakes alone, 90 years too soon.
Overall, I liked Passengers, though I did have a few reservations about it. One of the things I liked best about it was that while it had a strong and unique concept, it still would not cost much to make.
Passengers is unique and thoughtful science fiction film that has the added benefit of not requiring an exorbitant budget to produce, due to a small cast, single primary location, and few serious effects shots.
At the same time, however, I recognized that even with the low budget, this was not likely to be a runaway blockbuster success.
The film’s potential to be made for a budget lower than most Sci-Fi films suggests some commercial viability. Of course, its more intimate, dramatic and less action-oriented nature suggest it will never become a blockbuster.
Still, I liked the overall concept of the film.
[The concept] is both unique and thought provoking. As an audience, we can easily empathize with Jim and Aurora, and wrestle with their dilemmas ourselves. The film is an excellent example of finding a story out of a “what if” scenario.
I did, however, have some problems with the plotline.
There are a number of plot holes that might not be terrible, but still exist. None of them alone is that bad, but in conjunction with each other, they do weaken the story somewhat.
And in my discussion with Emily about the script, it was one such plot flaw that (in my understanding) made her dislike it. This differing take on things can be instructive for an understanding of how script readers think, which is why I wanted to bring it up.
When I read a screenplay professionally, I am not just looking at what is on the page. Rather I'm looking at a combination of what is on the page and what could be on the screen. Most screenplays have flaws, some greater and some more minor. When a flaw is more directly tied to, and inherently a part of a screenplay's structure or concept, it becomes a much greater obstacle to the film's success. It is a central flaw. In this case, while the series of plot weaknesses might have compounded each other to become a larger problem overall, none of them could not have been rectified with relatively simple rewrites.
So to Emily (and again, this is in my understanding of her complaint), how could a script with such a glaring error make it onto the Black List? Whereas, to me the idea was: though not perfect, this script has a lot going for it, and the weaknesses it has could be easily fixed. Plus, there was a reason it was on the Black List -- those were scripts that were not going to be released this year. They all had some problems to them!
Anyway, in the end I gave the script a PASS anyway. But not because of the script's weaknesses. Rather simply because the script did not match with the mission statement of the specific company for whom I read it. And this is another point to remember when thinking about script readers. We don't evaluate scripts in a vacuum. We read them and evaluate whether they would make good films, but also whether those would be the types of films that our employers make. For example, if I read for a company that exclusively makes films in the $20 million budget range, a film with a $100 million budget will never be right for them, no matter how great that script is.
So, I'd say that Passengers is worth a read. Yes, there are flaws in it. But overall, there is also a lot of promise in it.