Passengers

Prometheus_15I’ve had this script for three years. It’s one of those that was always near the top of my reading list, but for some reason, never made it to that pressing phase where I just had to read it. The Deadline article detailing the possibility of production for Mr. Spaiht’s story changed everything. I am so glad it did.

So, yeah, I loved this script. I would put it in my Top 15. It is a beautifully written and sweet [without ever getting sacchariney] love story. I understand, now, why Mr. Spaihts is the major screenwriting power that he is. I doubt he will ever be out of work. A writer who can write a script this good deserves all the credits his imdb page can absorb. If you haven’t read this before today, find the pdf and start reading. (1) This is the goal at which we aim.

Why is this script so good? First, it has a great premise. So simple—a man stranded by himself on an interstellar voyage must decide whether to wake up another hibernating passenger to keep him company. The simplicity of this premise should make you penitent. If you can’t see the movie in that forest, you need to quit writing scripts… today.

Second, the writing is technically perfect. The draft I read contained two typos. The description is visceral without being flowery. It paints a picture, but doesn’t draw your attention to the canvas. If you struggle with any aspect of how a screenplay should read, study this script. It is a masterclass in the craft of spec writing.

Third, it’s structure is fantastic. We meet Jim on the bottom of page one and we don’t meet another human until page 35. AND YET, there is so much suspense in these 35 pages of loneliness that I, literally, couldn’t read the script fast enough to satisfy my need to know what was going to happen next. Once we do meet Aurora, we then have to contend with our knowing Jim’s hibernation secret AND our knowing that Aurora does not. Beautiful, masterful, story design.

Our window into this secret is Arthur, an android bartender whose appearance every five pages [or so] is designed to make us fear the rupture of the secret. Plot points like this are gifts from the firmament of Story. I know I’m reading something great when I find myself wishing that I had been the one to think of it. Passenger’s structure is so obvious, its profound. We can all design a story this structurally brilliant; so how come we hardly ever do? This script is proof that Great Structure does not have to be synonymous with Complex Structure.

Passengers gives Jim an ethical dilemma as a choice, then has him keep it secret from the most important person in his life, all while toying with us [the audience] over when this secret will be revealed. After this, it tidies up the ethical choice with a meteor. It then logically resolves the split the choice caused between its leads.

And that… is THE SUM of the structure of Passengers. So simple and so brilliant.

Fourth, the script is endearing. In simple terms, again, this is important because it’s a spec. We care if Jim and Aurora live through their ordeal because Mr. Spaihts makes them abundantly likeable. I sympathized so much with Jim, I barely faulted him for his improper choice. The script is brilliant, structurally, because it manages to provide a Real reason for why this choice was not as wrong as it initially seemed. Spec writers should obey the maxim to provide a happy ending, and Mr. Spaihts does. The fact that he is able to do this in an intelligible way that resolves the issues the script creates is what makes the script so endearing. In purely economic terms, this is also the result at which we aim. Wide audience appeal.

Lastly, the script has a great theme. I take it to be contained in the following two passages. The first is from page 17:

ARTHUR
Lot of self-pity.

JIM
Self pity? I’m going to die of old
age on this ship!

ARTHUR
Jim, we all die. Even androids end up
on the scrap heap. It’s not dying
that matters, it’s living. This is
your life. Are you going to live it
or lie down and die?

Mixed with this from page 80:

AURORA
It’s the modern way of life. We
surround ourselves with people. A
constant din of conversation. As if
we need the mirror of other faces to
see ourselves. The clamor of voices
in our ears to reassure us that we
exist. Do we need it? Can we live
without it?

The answer is: we can’t live without it. Resolving this into a theme yields:

No life is worth living if it can’t be shared.

Whatever we accomplish individually [the script tells us] is immaterial compared with whatever we experience together. Art, science, achievement, all are unimportant. The only thing in life that matters is the way that you love the ones you love. Of course, I’m going to respond to this. It is the first pillar of my own personal metaphysics.

In summary, this is an excellent script. I believe, without qualification, that ANY script written this well, with a premise this good, would give you the same career trajectory as Mr. Spaihts. For that reason, if you haven’t read this script before today, find a copy.

Rating: Required Reading

Footnotes:

1 You can email me if you want.

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