Today’s script comes from writer Joe Gazzam. I’m not familiar with his other script that sold last year [Replay] but, selling two scripts in a down year for specs, makes him a screenwriting object worth investigating. This one finished on the lower end of The Black List, but I drew no conclusions from that since Rothchild finished near the top and I think that script was a stone’s throw away from awful.
Since I’ve begun “life” three of my screenplay internet critiquing, I’ve occasionally abandoned my rubric scoring method for more general reviews which are less intense reading experiences. It occurred to me the other day that I hadn’t offered any explanation for why I’ve been doing this.
Basically, I’m bending each script I read into a tool for learning something interesting about screenplays to the mind of an aspiring screenwriter. If a script is only slightly above [or even mildly below average] in terms of craftsmanship, it doesn’t seem as helpful to subject it to the five question review process. In every instance so far where I’ve read something that fit in that slightly above to slightly below spectrum, I’ve also noticed that the script demonstrated a generic principle about screenwriting which would be more useful than dissecting our craft. [For instance, Yellowstone Falls, demonstrated how to subvert reader expectations in order to DARE readers not to recommend your story.]
So, Shadow Run is a very well-written screenplay. It is adequately structured, and has acceptable dialogue. But, it didn’t inspire me to write about those things in terms of my five question format. Instead, Shadow Run got me thinking about story plausibility. The overwhelming question I was left with after I consumed this script’s Fade Out was:
Why are reader’s reactions to plot holes so unpredictable?
In order to discuss this question adequately [in relation to Shadow Run], it will be necessary for me to give some story details. As far as possible, I will only lay groundwork so that the script will not be spoiled for anyone who would like to read it. I will not be trying to paint the script in synopsis form, but merely to give the flavor of how it unfolds. I’ll try to give enough context so that an uninitiated reader can determine if I am right that this story rests on multiple story pillars that can’t support its weight. After this, we can then ask:
Why are reader reactions to plot holes so unpredictable?
Shadow Run has an absolutely brilliant story choice at its center. [I want to point this out before I begin to pick on the script.] Its two main characters are mortal enemies—who must become friends to achieve their goals. CIA Protagonist Daniel hates political prisoner [and seeming] antagonist Gamburg so much that he literally wants to kill him. Without giving away specifics, I can say that today’s author manipulates his story perfectly to FORCE Daniel to protect Gamburg. And, without a doubt, this is the core of the story… sworn enemies banding together to achieve a greater good against their better instincts.
This is a piece of story design THAT WILL ALWAYS WORK. When I get to the rating, and I end up giving it a “worth reading”, 75% of the reason for why that will be so is owed to this structuring device. It is brilliant. If you haven’t considered appropriating the idea to one of your own projects, do so. I give the script a lot of credit for navigating the waters of credulity owing to a competency at the core of its plot which is worth studying.
In broad strokes, these two enemies must work together to get Gamburg back to Russia in exchange for complementary political prisoner [and genius virologist] Dr. Frederickson. Frederickson is the only one in the world who can design an antidote to an extremely viral bug which has been released into the US by a homegrown terrorist.
Of course, the script comes replete with double and triple crosses which I won’t unveil to protect the integrity of the story. Suffice it to say that, if the script is to be taken seriously, the entire viral attack was orchestrated solely to get Gamburg on a plane with Daniel. So that the triple crossers could blame Gamburg’s intended assassination on Daniel.
If that is not a Rube Goldberg definition of an assassination plot, I don’t know what would qualify.
First, Gamburg is in CIA custody at one of those black ops locations which have grown ubiquitous in our Zero Dark Thirty Age. Can they not just kill him there? Why has he SURVIVED in custody for seven years if he is such a threat to the powers that be?
Second, starting a viral epidemic which could wipe out almost everyone on Earth seems like an escalation of stakes way beyond what is necessary. Can the triple crossers not see that even if they win, they lose? Beyond that, the triple crossers increase their culpability by allowing the hours to drag on in the search for Gamburg and Daniel. Wouldn’t it be smarter to get the ball rolling on plan B long before people start dying from the virus?
Third, the Russian people are people too. An epidemic virus is raging across the world. Are the Russians REALLY going to hand over the one man on the planet who can immunize them… in exchange for a run of the mill spy?
Fourth, a viral epidemic rages across the eastern seaboard of the US. Yet, wherever Daniel and Gamburg go, the people in those locations act as though nothing much out of the ordinary is happening. If a lethal virus breaks out infecting 50,000 people IN DAYS, wouldn’t the world be consumed with hysteria?
Fifth, Dr. Frederickson designed the virus. He is the only one with a cure. For some reason, the Russians are willing to help. Yet, no one in the story thinks to hook him up, by an internet connection, to American doctors to get working on a cure. Does it make sense for the world to wait for a complex prisoner exchange to actually happen before anyone gets busy on an antidote?
I think all these challenges would stand up on cross-examination. There is a small bit of ambiguity centering around whether the terrorist who opens our story is really under the employ of the triple crossers or not. He may just be a lone wolf who the triple crossers use to get at their “assassination of Gamburg” plans. The script never answers this definitively. However, even if the virus isn’t released specifically to get Gamburg on a plane with Daniel, it remains true that the triple crossers use the outbreak as a means toward getting Gamburg and Daniel together on that plane.
In other words, there is no possible world in which this story ever takes place. No triple crosser, no matter how corrupt, would see the mass extinction of the human race as an acceptable side-effect of preserving his/her career. The contortions required to view this scenario as viable require humans [as we know them] not to exist. So, my question is:
Why are reader’s reactions to plot holes so unpredictable?
As much as I would like to claim I do, I don’t have the answer.
Rating: Worth Reading
I give the script this rating because of the relationship between Daniel and Gamburg. I believe there is a piece of story structuring here worth learning from and even imitating. In addition, the writing is sound and the story generates solid, propulsive momentum toward its conclusion.
I would love to hear if anyone has an answer to the question posed by this review.