Thursday, November 28, 2013

(Unproduced) Screenplay Review: When The Street Lights Go On

"Becky and I became friends again during that Midwestern winter. We cruised around in my car beneath newspaper skies and smoke stained snow, listening to the Beach Boys."

Premise: In the 1980s, after a double murder in a small town, those close to the deceased try to go on living.

Written by: Eddie O'Keefe & Chris Hutton

Technical: 108 pages. June 29, 2011 draft.

The town of Colfax, Illinois. It's the summer of 1983.

Chrissy Monroe, seventeen, is secretly dating her school's young hip English teacher, Mr. Pulaski. One night they are in his car, and Pulaski is telling Chrissy that he is going to leave his wife, to be with her... when a man enters the back of the car, pointing a gun to Pulaski's head. He forces them to drive into a secluded forest, and then murders them.

Chrissy and Mr. Pulaski's bodies are found by fifteen year old Charlie Chambers. (An older Charlie is also the narrator.) The other main characters are Becky Monroe (Chrissy's younger sister), Ben Kirchhoff (star of the school football team; he was Chrissy's boyfriend), Detective Hoffman (he's investigating Chrissy's murder), and Casper Tatum (the town rebel, and lead suspect in the double homicide). The script follows these individuals, and their friends and family, as they try to make sense of the murders, and move on with their lives.

Casper is in a gang called The Hillbilly Wolves (ugh). Charlie writes for the school paper. Hoffman investigates the Monroe-Pulaski case, himself a sickening agglomeration of verbal-abuse, homophobia, deficient social skills, and perposterous behaviour. Becky and Casper - sister of the murdered girl, and lead suspect in the murder case - begin dating. But Ben developes feelings for Becky too, and has a serious rivalry with Casper. During it all, no one seems very bothered by the loss of Chrissy and Mr. Pulaski.

The first three quarters of the script is a sewage-quality wreck. The flashbacks, the voice over, the flashbacks with voice over.... it's all a mess. (Most of the time the narration just telling us.) It's way, way too overwritten. And it couldn't get any more trite:
The SOUNDS of July play over the following string of images: 
I. A group of CHILDREN play on a Slip-n-Slide. 
II. Two teenage GIRLS sunbathe on the hood of a newly washed Trans Am. Journey BLASTS from the radio. 
III. The high school FOOTBALL TEAM practices drills under the sweltering sun.
And talk about on the nose (here is one example):
I was taking notes on football
practice for the newspaper.
Charlie’s Father flips a page in his book. 
Shame you can’t be on the field
like I was instead of reporting on
the drills.
I know, Sir.
Hoffman's dialogue is nonsensical, inappropriate, and unrealistic. For example, the way Hoffman speaks to the Charlie (who discovered the murder scene) doesn't make any sense. The first thing he says:
Alright Chambers, why’d you leave
your bicycle?  
I dunno, Sir. I forgot about it. I
just ran home.
Or what about when Hoffman is questioning Chrissy's boyfriend, Ben:
How do you feel about the fact that your girly was tap assing with that faggy English teacher.
Or Hoffman at the PTA meeting:
Why have no arrests been made?  
Because there is no one to arrest.  
And what is the likelihood of the
killer striking again?  
Low. Murderers very seldom strike
the same place twice. We also have
cops patrolling the town up the

"When The Street Lights Go On" seems like it was written by guys who haven't had a lot of experience, who aren't very mature, who have never felt loss, and who have read too many Hollywood screenplays. Needless to say, the treatment of the subject matter is insensitive and puerile.

And it is just so poorly written. For example, Charlie's introduction:
Charlie looks like a young Spielberg. He wears an old bomber jacket and a pair of Coke bottle glasses. Thoughtful. Boyish, but cool. The kind of kid who’s had character since he could walk.
Our town was put under a dark spell in the summer of 1983. I observed it all from my Schwinn Sting-ray. It began with a fire and didn’t end until six months later when the Monroe sisters were finally dead--
--robbing us of our juvenescence and spreading unshakable anxiety like cyanide in the minds of those who remember.
A lot of the writing, especially the descriptions, just don't make any sense:
Ben leans against the Mustang parked in his driveway. He looks as cool as a drunk high schooler can.
Another example:
In their moments of solitude each
yearned for the other. They counted
down the days till they could
reunite on a slate black chalkboard
in the back of their minds.
And people's reactions don't make sense. Like Charlie; for some reason he really wants to cover the murder of Chrissy Monroe for the school paper. He doesn't seem affected by the fact that he was the first to stumble across the murder scene (there are only, literally, two lines hinting at any sort of trauma, on page 22, when Charlie envisions Chrissy's dead body in the bottom of the school pool. But he doesn't freak out; he just wipes his goggles?)

No one in Colfax (that we see) really cares about the murders, except maybe Chrissy's parents. But other than that, the town isn't affected.

I have many more complaints, but I will just add this last one, because it is so bizarre: why, for no reason, do the characters sometimes became aware of the camera?
The hallway is now empty. We rapidly push in on Ben who is in
the distance chucking a tennis ball at a locker bay.
As we get closer, he turns to the camera and throws the
tennis ball straight at the lens.
The glass SHATTERS.
The bottom line is that the writers don't take the script seriously, and it is tremendously lazy. Really, the carelessness is shocking. It doesn't seem like the writers put an ounce of effort in. Much of the script is unintelligible, and the writers are either unable or unwilling to clearly, concisely articulate their ideas. Any fleck of potential is lost amongst the deluge of weak writing.

Around page 80, Casper murders Ben in front of the entire town at the halloween carnival, Becky drops out of high school, and the quality of the screenplay improves dramatically. Like from an F grade to a B grade kind of improvement. Past this point it feels like a different script altogether (a great compliment and a great insult to the writer).

Whether you should read "Streetlights" depends on yourself. As usual, one cannot just skip to page 80, and read from there to the end. There will only be impact if one reads through everything prior to that. If you are really dedicated, the final 30 pages are, for the most part, quite spectacular.

O'Keefe and Hutton come off as jerks that are not writers, but just type the words for the money; the kind of guys who want to get as much as they can from as little effort as possible. Do not associate the names O'Keefe/Hutton with passion, integrity, intelligence, or sensitivity. They're children of Hollywood, but instead of being pimped out (as Hollywood's children usually are), they're prostituting themselves out, for as much money as they can carry.

About: "Streetlights" placed 2nd on the 2011 Black List.

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