Information for Screenplay “Baltimore Is Missing”.
This script did not place in the Project Greenlight contest, so I can now make it available (as of 03/26/2004).
The link for the pdf file of the script is here: Baltimore Is Missing.
Here is the logline that was used:
An aging nerd is invited on a train journey that offers him both escape from impending apocalypse and a second youth, if only he can pass a tribunal.
Here are the verification questions:
1) Jason is a young physician (or at least a med or nursing student). T
2) Sheila gets pregnant by Bill. F
3) The culture of New Baltimore is driven by making money. F
4) One of the tasks assigned by Sydney is telemarketing. T
5) When Bill visits the gay discos, he repeatedly looks for potential companions of his own age. F
6) As depicted in the script, Grand Rapids is a city with some multi-story apartment buildings. T
7) As the film ends, Joetta is setting up an adult-oriented business on the Internet. F
The script does have a small amount of explicit language and implied sexual or otherwise disturbing situations, corresponding to an MPAA rating of "R" so it is recommended for age 17 and older. For more on Internet censorship see the COPA litigation page and adult access page. It is possible that the online copy of the script would have to be edited to comply with a strict interpretation of COPA if it were upheld, even at the detriment of legitimate artistic effect.
Note: April 12, 2004. I have made slight editing changes to the displayable text to remove offensive words.
The "apocalyptic" situation is caused not by terrorism but by a natural event (the approach of a brown dwarf star to Earth), but the political aftermath is similar to what could happen after a catastrophic terrorist incident. The premise of the film may be a little bit like the 1990s Stephen King miniseries, The Langoliers.
This work is registered with The Writers Guild of America, West, Inc., Intellectual Property Registry, 7000 West Third Street, Los Angeles, CA 90048-4329. The certificate is 238144, dated 2/27/2009. The text that I have made available online is very slightly different from what was filed. There is also a copyright application pending with the Library of Congress, 2/28/2004.
This film is intended as a mixed genre "black comedy" and horror satire of a number of modern societal problems. It is supposed to be funny that an entire city disappear, and then that most of known civilization could vanish. "Civilization" is placed in a hopeless situation by the sudden appearance of a brown dwarf star, but the more double-edged characters find they can escape by "annihilating" most of their old world and entering a parallel world, where some of the characters will find that they are being manipulated like puppets to start over with a simplified "model" world. Imagine a model railroad set that is actually lived in by real "beings." There are, of course, other variations of this idea (Small Soldiers, The Indian in the Cupboard, Puppet Master, maybe even Toy Story) in motion picture literature. This film is more adult.
I do have some feedback from the Project Greenlight reviewers and I will discuss the remarks here (4/4/2004).
The site http://www.screenplaymastery.com/structure.htm proposes a six-stage plot structure (overlaid on top of a three-part structure), by Michael Hauge, that is useful to analyze. With this script, I'll present my treatment and turning point analysis in the same narrative (I have separate narratives for my other feature).
Treatment Narrative and Turning Points (or "Plotline Beats")
In my screenplay,
State 1 (setup) happens when Bill is rebuked at the gay disco for his interest in younger men and then goes home and finds out that a computer system that he supports has gone bonkers, and then when he tries to support it things get out of whack.
The first “turning point” comes when the young doctor Jason invites him to drop everything and go on a journey to redeem himself and find his lost youth through a “tribunal” or hazing ritual that he had skipped in college as a young man (Okay, that could have been clearer here!!) .
The second stage, the “new situation” occurs as he gets fired from his job and goes on the journey. At the same time there are rumors on the Internet of apocalypse. The second turning point perhaps occurs in the tunnel on the train when everything goes bonkers and he finds that the city of Baltimore has disappeared. This is around page 18, about 15% into the movie (maybe too long). At this point the moviegoer is supposed to accept the supernatural, of going into parallel dimensions across branes.
He is in another world, which may or may not be another planet as he deals with various characters along for the ride, some of whom remind him of people he knew earlier or who may be reincarnations of these people. He makes “progress” (Stage 3) as he starts his “apprentice-like” tasks, and if the older character Sydney has the assertiveness of Trump, he may be a rebirth himself of one of Bill’s old nemesis. The gets to a point of no return with the telemarketing task, where he makes cold calls to angels (they aren’t on any do-not-call list) and finds out he is investing the the souls of people he knew once. This justifies the flashbacks, that scriptreaders found distracting. But now he knows that he must be in some kind of parallel world where his own ideas matter more than old fashioned ideas of family, money, job, etc. As he continues the train journeys through a couple more communities (in stage 4), he figures out from the other characters, a couple of whom he is sexually attracted to what may be coming. At the same time, he “resumes” a simple heterosexual relationship with past girl friend, Joetta, from old times. He is attracted to her in a base kind of way that confounds him. At the same time, each successive location that the train visits takes him farther back from modern technology towards “real life.” (He “trades in” a modern computer for a TRS-80, for a typewriter, etc.)
Here, I agree, there is no real setback that normal plot development would call for. Bill wants the tribunal, but perhaps you could the hazing scene itself as a kind of setback: it should be shameful, but he enjoys it. After the hazing, he finds himself a puppet living in a model world run by his old nemesis, Syd. But he is given another chance, for life in New Baltimore, which is in a simplified parallel world. It is a kind of Atlantis. This is Stage 5, the “final push.” He finds out it will be destroyed soon, even as he is prepared to enjoy himself with one last night on the gay disco scene there. One of his heroes “Tobey” confronts him and sends him back to a simple life in the country with his now-“wife” Joetta, to raise a kid on another planet in a simpler society without access to modern technology. That is the aftermath and a muted “payoff.” The film comes to a pianissimo ending.
True, this is a bit like a dream. It’s supposed to be a satire of our values and their connection to vulnerable technology. One problem is that the stakes seem misplaced: the real “heroes” (Clark, Tobey, who may be angels themselves) seem to face few problems and stand to benefit from global carnage. Bill will get squashed unless he plays by rules that he once helped create. So there is a lot of symbolism. That’s hard to put in a spec script that is supposed to be short and visual. But that’s my gig.
You could also talk about suspense plots and emotional plots.
There is the site http://www.vcu.edu/artweb/playwriting/screentips.html
Which advocates a difference between these two kinds of plots, and emphasizes that film is about visual (not verbal) storytelling with a great deal of emphasis on physical events and on what “happens” as opposed to just why. Here, the “inciting incident” is Bill’s early rebuffs in the bar and at work, and an invitation to redeem himself for a world that will become unrecognizable anyway. But the “why” becomes much more important to me.
Some readers may have objected to the use of the boxcar train, and the implied comparison of the characters' journey with the Holocaust. But this comparison is tenuous. Here, in the parallel world, they are going through a trial that will lead most of them to a reduced existence, but it is hardly anything like the camps. This is supposed to be a parable about the potential of "right wing" values in a culture after a traumatic event. There have been other science fiction treatments of other worlds (planets) with rather feudal, authoritarian societies in which only a few centralized places have access to modern technology and where life for most people is planned communally. Indeed, democracy may be relatively uncommon in the universe among civilizations. Grim, but likely.
I think there are some visitors who like the concept but who would want a complete rewrite to make it "wilder." It's a bit more understated than the PGL winner "Feast." If this project sold, I would be very open to working with experienced screenwriters on other treatment details and rewrites.
With one exception, the five screenplays that I reviewed for PGL emphasized physical events that led to surprises and paradoxes. (One of these made the top 1000.) One of the others, however, was quite apocalyptic, and I found it the most fascinating. You know who you are.
©Copyright 2004 by Bill Boushka