Yellowstone Falls

yellowstone falls picThis script came with a recommendation from site contributor walker. I had been lamenting The 2014 Black List offerings and he told me that this one [despite some challenges] was worth reading. Man, was he right… on both counts.

This is, without question, the strangest script I’ve ever read. I had no idea what it was about, and opened it without doing any preliminary research. If pressed [and based solely on the title], I would have described it as some sort of man against nature story in the vein of 127 hours. Bizarrely, even though that assessment was completely wrong, it was also more than half correct. Paradoxes of that sort, have to be investigated [and at 54 pages, it won’t take you long] so I’ll spoil some of the usual suspense by saying… you should definitely give this script a read.

Since I don’t go in for plot summaries, and since there are about 25 lines of dialogue in this script TOTAL, there isn’t a lot for me to talk about in terms of screenwriting architecture. I will put one spoiler into this paragraph [so skip the rest of this sentence and paragraph if you are militant about reading unspoiled stories] by admitting that this is actually my favorite Zombie Apocalypse script, ever. [Of course, that is not saying much since I don’t like Zombie stories.] I didn’t see those “Predators” coming, at all. I will also say, there is a lot of visual subtext in this movie which is excellent. I don’t know how a director will draw these things out of Canine Actors, but [as a mere story] (1) this aspect of the writing was impressive.

I talked about visual subtext in some of my old [deleted] articles, but it is not something I’ve seen discussed anywhere else. Mainly, I think this is because you don’t want subtext in the action, you want it in the dialogue [otherwise you’re directing on the page]. But, sometimes, actions do speak louder than words.

Harrison Ford summed this idea up with his quote about a monologue he was supposed to deliver in Air Force One. [Paraphrased because, you know, it’s just Harrison Ford we’re talking about and maybe it’s even… ironic as a paraphrase].

“I can say all that with a look.”

For sure, Yellowstone Falls says a lot with its “looks”.

Without going through a plot summary, I feel there are two very important things to talk about concerning this script:

1. How [in the name of everything that is sacred about spec scripts] did this make it past the gatekeepers?
2. How [in the name of everything that is sacred about producing films] do you make this script into a movie?

Tackling the first question first, I can tell you that I am stunned this script is on The Black List. You might interpret that as a criticism, but I actually believe it’s a compliment… to the gatekeepers. I’ve now read nine scripts on this year’s list and the first eight were barely literate—as far as I’m concerned. This script is actually good. Even more than being good, it’s recklessly interesting. I can’t believe a line of people trotted out their credibility to support it. My faith in the gatekeepers is half restored.

As for the second question, I’m at a loss. I have no idea how this script finds a route to production. I think it would take a Terrance Malick, PTA [or maybe J.C. Chandor] as director to get any studio to greenlight this thing. There are no parts actors would want to play because they are no parts for actors in this script. Most of the reveals work because the author is allowed to say things like “Pure Black Wolf thinks…”, laying aside the advancements in animal handling, I don’t see how you get these WILD animals to hit their marks. The Zombies preclude the possibility of this being a kid’s film, so your audience is going to be the horror crowd [people who show up to see Zombie films], but there isn’t enough gore in the script to sell the scares.

I see exactly two models for this script, Black Beauty and All Is Lost. The difference [the incredibly important difference] being that both of those scripts FEATURED real live people in the protagonist role. If some arthouse director accepts the challenges this script presents, I will be rooting for him or her. And if any one of you understand how to circumvent those challenges, please tell me in the comment section below.

Rating: Recommended Reading (2)

Footnotes:

1. To quote Shelley’s review of his wife’s book.
2. The rating should be understood to be an evaluation of the uniqueness of the script’s premise and execution. You may never read another script like this one. The script is good and well-written, but it’s unlikely that anyone out there ever idolizes it.

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3 responses to “Yellowstone Falls

  1. I am glad you found it worth the read. I think the writer deserves great credit for the originality of his premise, which created a buzz in HW and led to the sale of this script.

    He has first-rate reps and a track record, with three other spec sales I believe. So that answers one of your questions: this script did not have to run the gauntlet of blind reads that a spec from an unknown is subjected to.

    As to how they make this into an artistically or commercially viable movie, I don’t know. I think the lesson here for writers is about maximizing your opportunities after you make your first sale.

    • That does answer the first question. I am happy the script was sold– I didn’t know that. I still think it’s a minor miracle that it has made it that far. Even someone as enthusiastic about original, risky, stories as me, has trouble seeing how that second question gets answered.

      I would love to see someone try.

  2. Just an opinion, but the animals would all have to be cg. It’ll be very expensive… so either a director with a lot of pull can get it made right, or they’ll change the script and stick a bunch of humans in it which would make the script lose a huge part of it’s appeal.

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