Screenplays

General Introduction – I have written 39 full-length feature screenplays over the past 30 or so years. Four of these scripts (Thou Shalt Not Kill . . . Except, Lunatics: A Love Story, Running Time and If I Had a Hammer) I have made into films myself independently; one, Humans in Chains which was retitled Alien Apocalypse, I just made for the SciFi Channel; and one other script of mine, Cycles, was sold to Beacon Entertainment (producers of Air Force One) and after nearly ten years in development hell, finally went into turnaround. I heard that director/writer Phillip Kaufman (The Right Stuff) was attached to it for a while, and it's title was inexplicably changed to Griffin.
  
INSURGENT: THE CAPTURE OF OSAMA BIN LADEN

Gary Jones and I came up with this story last spring, and had a first draft by July.  Our plan was to shoot the film very cheaply, then open it in New York City on 9/11/11, the tenth anniversay of the 9/11 attacks.  We budgeted the film, got prices on theater rentals in Manhattan, and were entirely ready to go . . . but couldn't get the financing.  Good thing, too, because we would have been in post-production when the news of Osama Bin Laden's death was announced.  Anyway, this is how Gary and I envisioned it.

  

"It's a Lost, Lost World" was the third script that Paul Harris and I wrote together. It was intended for Bruce, Ted, Renee O'Connor and Lucy Lawless. Paul is a much bigger Lost World fan than I am, so it pleased the hell out of me when I came up with that title (in the shower), laughed, thought, "Paul will love this," pitched it to Paul and he laughed, too, and immediately wanted to write the script. It was actually quite a difficult script to write, but no one ever said art, particularly comedy, was easy. To me, "It's a Lost, Lost World" is a sure-fire moneymaker, but clearly, what do I know?

  

I came up with the title, "The Horribleness" (which is an homage to "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken"), and the first gag, then asked my very good buddy, Paul Harris, to help me write the script.  Although Paul and I are close friends, our one attempt at collaboration ten years earlier, "Buds," had been rather contentious, and neither of us was happy with the final results, so we avoided writing together for a decade.  It turned out, however, that writing "The Horribleness" with Paul was the most enjoyable writing experience of my life.  It wasn't an easy script to write--slapstick comedy may well be one of the most difficult genres to write--and me and Paul worked hard on this for about five months.  But we had a terrific time, and laughed a lot.  I hope you do, too.

–I came up with the idea in 1988, wrote the script in 1990, then finally shot the film in 2004.  It was shown on SciFi Channel in 2005 and became their highest-rated stand-alone movie ever (for further details please read "The Making of Alien Apocalypse").  This is the numbered shooting script, but does not contain the lines and shticks Bruce and I inserted during production, like the running hand-shake gag, or pointing at the green alien blood on his sleeve and saying, "This isn't coming out."

 
"If I Had a Hammer" script
–President John F. Kennedy was assassinated when I was six years old, and though I don't remember the actual occurence, I do clearly remember the funeral.  I didn't give Kennedy's assassination another thought for about the next ten years, until they finally released the Zapruder film.  Very little in life is as clear to me as where the killing head shot bullet, the shot that throws Kennedy back and to the left and takes off the side of his head, is coming from, which is in front of him on the grassy knoll.  Every single eye witness who was interviewed said that they heard a bullet come from the grassy knoll, yet none of that testimony is in the official record, the Warren Report.  So what really did happen?  I've been mulling that over in my head for years.  Finally, Oliver Stone made the brilliant film, "JFK," and it got me thinking about the subject again.  And since I flatly don't agree with Mr. Stone's conclusion, that LBJ was behind it all, then there still remains the real story to be told.  Since I believe a writer must be like a detective and try to get at the real motivations for things, this event has always intrigued me.  What really did happen that day in November, 1963?  This script is my attempt to make sense of the facts, apply the proper motivations to the correct people, and put it all in chronological order, something no one else has yet done.


"If I Had a Hammer" script
–My very good, late friend Rick Sandford, and I really put our hearts and souls into the writing of this script, way back in 1989. It was then critically ripped to shreds by nearly everyone who read it, the main gripe being that it was about the film business. Also, that the female lead was not "likable." But Rick and I specifically didn't want her to be all that likable. We made her beautiful and intelligent, but somewhat unlikable, because (we surmised) if you're beautiful and intelligent, you don't have to be all that likable. Anyway, I just saw "Adaptation," which is also about a screenwriter and the film he's writing, and was put in mind of "Above the Line." Obviously, nobody has a problem with films about filmmaking at the moment, so maybe it was just ahead of its time.

"If I Had a Hammer" script
 –I love the idea of the change of eras in Booth Tarkington's "The Magnificent Ambersons," of the old days ending and the modern world beginning. Tarkington chose the 1800s as the old days and the 1900s as the modern world. I used pre-Beatles on "The Ed Sullivan Show" and post-Beatles on the show, as the change in eras from folk music and it's ethics to rock & roll and its accompanying mindset. Within that change I believe that both a sense of innocence and commitment were lost. That was the basis for the story of "If I Had a Hammer."

 –This is the script that was rewritten more times than any other script I've ever written (14 times.  See both "The Making of 'Lunatics: A Love Story'" and "Monsterization" for further details).  There are quite a few differences between the script and the film.

Dark of the Moon

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Scott Spiegel and I wrote this script for Renaissance Pictures under a development deal.  We wrote, and rewrote, and rewrote some more for over six months before the whole project was dropped.  Clearly, Scott's and my big influence was "Rosemary's Baby."  But this script, I'd say, is not a rip-off or a remake, it was "inspired by" Ira Levin's story, and I think it's important to be inspired by something, otherwise you just end up stealing.

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–This was my homage to "It's a Wonderful Life."  It also contains a premise I think is still interesting – how does a homeless person get that way?  I believe that it's probably a somewhat difficult script to read, but hey, nothing says that drama necessarily has to be fun.  Sometimes it can be painful and difficult.  But I do think this script knows what it's about and does pay off, so I'm still pleased with it.

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–Scott Spiegel and I wrote the first draft of this script in nine days, then spent the next six months rewriting it trying to get it to make sense.  Interestingly, at some point over a year after we had pitched this script all over town, and had been back to Columbia a few times, they released a picture called "Breaking In" (starring Burt Reynolds and Casey Siemaszko, with a script by John Sayles) with a very similar premise and a very, very similar opening scene.  Coincidence?  You tell me.


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–This is the next script Scott Spiegel and I wrote after making "Thou Shalt Not Kill . . . Except."  There was serious talk for a month or two of Renaissance Pictures making this film right after completing "Evil Dead 2," but alas, it did not come to be.  It's too bad, though, because I think it's a funny script.

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"Cleveland Smith Bounty Hunter" was originally a 9-minute 16mm short film that Scott Spiegel and I, with the assistance of Bruce Campbell, Sam Raimi, and Rob Tapert, made in 1981.  Scott and I spent the next three years attempting to raise the money to make "Cleveland Smith" a feature, which we never managed to do.  The script went through a number of drafts and this is the final one, dated 1984, with illustrations by Jeff Ginyard.

Buds

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At the end of 1991, feeling utterly defeated by the film business and Los Angeles, I moved back to Michigan and got a job selling furniture.  My good buddy, Paul Harris, who was working the night-shift at a self-serve gas station at the time, and I wrote this script in the evening and on weekends, and then I actually typed it up at the furniture store while waiting for customers to come in.

Ball Breaker

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This is the script of mine that's been out to the most places over the years and that's gotten the biggest responses.  It still hasn't been made, but it seemed like it might get produced a couple of times.  When Scott Spiegel and I initially wrote this story in 1989 our intention was to come up with a no-bullshit, no-nonesense cop movie.  I wish they'd still make movies like this, too.

The President's Brain is Missing

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This script was initially entitled "Average Joe," which may be more apt, but it kind of bored me.  This was written specifically with Bruce Campbell in mind to play the president.  It was written in 1996, when Clinton was running for re-election against Bob Dole and the idea of a young, stupid Republican president we were envisioning Dan Quayle actually being president seemed absurd.  I wrote this with the idea of shooting it as an independent feature, but ended up making "Running Time" instead.

The Biological Clock

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I began writing this script in 1993, before I went down to New Zealand the first time to work on "Hercules."  I noodled around with it for a couple of more years, then updated it once or twice over the next several years (it's dated 1998), then dropped it from my consciousness entirely.  It's my only script based on a sexual fantasy, and I found it to be a rather interesting creative enviornment.  The female lead is based on two women I know well, neither of whom have I ever been involved with.  I must confess that I've always liked this script.

Devil Dogs: The Battle of Belleau Wood

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– This was probably the most difficult script I've ever written.  It's a true story that involves quite a few characters and it took a lot of research.  I would think that I'm as up on Gunnery Sgt. Dan Daly as anybody presently living on the planet.  Trying to get into Sgt. Daly's head to figure out his motivations was probably the most difficult writing task I've ever given myself.  You can judge for yourself my level of success.

Cycles

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– I am one of the very few people that I know of that's sold a spec screenplay.  I know a number of people that have made a lot more money than me writing screenplays, but they were all commissioned or developed.  The script that I am referring to is called CYCLES and it was purchased by Beacon Communications (producers of AIR FORCE ONE).  Although I have recently heard that CYCLES is on the development "fast-track," it has not been produced, nor do there seem to be any immediate plans to do so.  Nevertheless, I did sell it.
(Read Josh's related essay, "Writing and Selling a Screenplay.")


Running Time

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– Writing the script was by far the single most difficult aspect of making "Running Time."  I spent over eight months writing and re-writing this script.  The big trick with a story like this was having every scene be contiguous with the previous scene, which is not how movies are written.  We are all very accustomed, at this late date, to have a character exit one scene and simply arrive at the next scene, without being bothered about how they got there.  If every scene is directly connected to every other scene, then we must see the characters go from one place to the next with no loss of time and this makes things very difficult.  I attempted within this very limiting structure to tell a story that has a theme, a point, and some level of subtext, something you don’t get in most movies these days, let alone one that has these sorts of structure and time constraints.  Whether or not I pulled it off, however, is for you to decide.


Thou Shalt Not Kill... Except

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– This script was written over the course of five years—1979 through 1984.  I began writing it under the title "Bloodbath" with Sheldon Lettich (writer/director of "Lionheart" and "Double Impact," to name a few).  Our first draft was 185 pages long and very, very serious.  I decided that this was not the direction that I wanted to take this story and Sheldon and I dropped it.  After completion of principal photography on "Evil Dead" in early 1980, Bruce Campbell and I re-worked the entire story on the drive back to Michigan from our location in Tennessee.  I then re-wrote the script into a 32-page draft, entitled "Stryker’s War," and shot it as a 45-minute super-8 movie starring Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi.  With this pilot-version of the film, I then attempted to raise money for the next two years and failed.  I put the whole thing aside and moved onto other projects.  These other projects all crapped-out too over the course of the next two years.  I was ready to throw in the towel and move back to L.A., but Scott Spiegel (co-writer of "Evil Dead 2" and writer/director of "From Dusk ‘til Dawn 2") suggested that we resurrect "Stryker’s War," which we promptly did. Scott and I then very quickly re-wrote the script and shot the film.

Teddy Roosevelt in the Badlands

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– This script was written as a two-hour TV movie, meaning that it has seven acts and is 90-minutes long, thus leaving space for 30-minutes of commercials.  This story is entirely true except for the big finale, which ought to have happened, but didn’t.  Sadly, the only place left that produces historically-based drama is TNT and since they already made a Teddy Roosevelt film – "The Rough Riders," which totally sucked – they probably won’t be making any more films about TR soon.

Historically-based action dramas (like "Bridge on the River Kwai," "The Sand Pebbles" or "Lawrence of Arabia," to name a few) are what I miss most about the contemporary movie scene.  I believe that it is a complete and utter shame that these sorts of stories have been relegated to the shit-heap of TV movies.

P.S. I have adapted this script back into the normal screenplay form because I liked it too much to have to keep seeing it in TV movie form.  If it's not going to be made, the script may as well be in the form I like most.


The Winds of Fate

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– At some point during 1985 Bruce Campbell and I wrote the treatment for this story.   Bruce then went off to make "Evil Dead 2" and I moved to Los Angeles.   In 1988 everything in my life had hit rock bottom: I couldn't get any sort of work in the film business, nor could I get the distributor of "Thou Shalt Not Kill . . . Except" to return any money.   My brain locked up and I didn't know what to do.   I was 30 years old with no prospects.   One day Bruce came by and casually dropped the treatment for "The Winds of Fate" in my lap.   He said, "I always liked this story.   Write the script, you haven't got anything better to do."  I couldn't think of a single objection, so I wrote the script.   Over the intervening years, Bruce and I have never stopped liking this story.   I hope you like it, too.

 

ALL SCREENPLAYS ARE COPYRIGHT © JOSH BECKER

 

 

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