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GOING TO CALIFORNIA

Script Review: GOING TO CALIFORNIA

by Darwin Mayflower

WARNING: SPOILERS!

(10/18/00)NOTE: The screenplays we review are often in development and may experience many rewrites, some could end up being completely different than what is reviewed here. It is our hope that our reviews generate more interest in the film. Thank you.

Hi folks, Chris here. Scott Rosenberg is my personal hero, any screenwriter who can date the likes of Elle Macpherson, Lauren Holly and Claire Forlani has to be a hero to screenwriters everywhere ;) With that said, he's not a bad writer either. His THINGS TO DO IN DENVER WHEN YOU'RE DEAD is a great script. Darwin checks in with word on Scotts pilot script GOING TO CALIFORNIA, an hour-long show that had been planned for the WB. Here it is:

I cant think of a more popular screenwriter than Scott Rosenberg. Its a rare occurrence when a screenwriter is "a name." Meaning his name on a movie matters to an audience. It can get butts in the seats -- it gets flashed after the title -- people see a trailer and whisper to their next-seat neighbor, "Ooooh, the new Charlie Kaufman movie."

I suppose William Goldman was one of the first "name" screenwriters. Because of his unique, individual style and the quality of his work. Not to mention he started out as a famous novelist and then became a screenwriter.

Shane Black took his place (and even some of his style) in the 80s and early 90s. The difference was that most people talked only of Shanes huge paychecks and when that happens people tend to grow a bit jealous and miffed and the backlash begins.

Whats strange about Scotts huge popularity is that he doesnt have many credits -- and the few he does are movies not too many people have seen.

His first credit is for THINGS TO DO IN DENVER WHEN YOURE DEAD -- the nonsensically titled film almost everyone considered a rip-off of all things Tarantino. Whats interesting about the movie is not Chris Walkens umpteenth weirdo role or this being the last movie Andy Garcia made where anyone still cared about him, but instead that the movie was torn to shreds by critics -- everyone called it a cheap knockoff of PULP FICTION -- yet still it created this lunatic fringe following. Which, in a way, sums up Scotts odd career.

Because its mostly based on his uncredited work or unproduced work that this renown was engendered.

Scott has disowned DISTURBING BEHAVIOR; BEAUTIFUL GIRLS was a flop; CON AIR had plenty of uncredited work by Jonathan Hensleigh; GONE IN SIXTY SECONDS also had plenty of uncredited work by Jonathan Hensleigh...and beyond that -- unless Im forgetting something -- we have his most known, but briefest work, that has somehow done wonders for him: his two scenes in ARMAGEDDON: the animal-cracker bit and Bens terrible song-singing before he boards the spaceship.

Scotts best work has not seen the light of day, but hes so popular and his work is sought out so frequently that it doesnt matter. Fans outside of Hollywood have actually read BAD MOON RISING, JOHNNY DIAMOND and DOWN AND UNDER (which has been rewritten on Scott). So the fact that these scripts may never get made is irrelevant. And I say this is probably advantageous to the writer. They complain a lot about people selling their work -- and maybe they have a point -- but in this case Scott has built a near empire -- his fans expect the Scott style: weird, arcane dialogue, funky names, pop culture references galore -- based on work fans went out and bought.

In any event -- I took a look at Scotts pilot script for GOING TO CALIFORNIA. A planned hour-long show for the WB.

I couldnt dredge up much info on the show and, as far as I know, the pilot was shot and not picked up.

And I have to say Im surprised. Because for the first three acts of this script, dated November of 99, we have a sleek Rosenberg tale: no objective to really speak of, but a bunch of interesting characters standing around spouting rapid-fire funny dialogue laced with more references than you can keep up with.

I think Scotts main problem as a writer is that even when hes on he borders on irritating you. Hes like the smart-alecky kid who wants to impress everyone and, sometimes, can -- but at other times makes you want to throttle him.

But in this case, unlike in, say, his draft of GONE IN SIXTY SECONDS, the cadence is solid and the script flows with an ease and fluidity.

This is basically a retelling of the dreadful BEAUTIFUL GIRLS. But only with a much more mature writer at the helm. We are once again in Boston, Scotts hometown, and a bunch of too-cool-for-school twentysomethings without direction groove about girls, their lives, their small problems. One of the guys, Cassidy, flees when his girlfriend dumps him after six years of dating.

Ungalow, an overweight linebacker type, realizes their set lives in their small town isnt going to lead anywhere and uses Cassidys escape as an excuse to leave the town with Space, another young man who works in a hardware store but really wants to write (or so it seems; this would be the Scott stand-in).

The girl that dumped Cassidy, the TV-pretty Lisa B., scams her way in Ungalows ride and they head off for big, bad Pittsburgh.

Space and Lisa B., you see, had a one-night fling years ago that Lisa threw up in Cassidys face when they broke up. And could be one of the reasons Cassidy was so upset that he ran away to start a new life.

This leads to a small conflict and an incredible amount of funny dialogue from Ungalow.

The script moves, which I always consider a top priority for a screenplay, and it would be nearly flawless...except --

It works too much like a movie script. It gives us a story, uses its characters, and doesnt really leave those gaping holes a TV show needs so they can be filled each week. The Space-Lisa B. conflict just isnt enough; its so slight, in fact, that it probably shouldnt have been there to begin with.

There are a few other problems, too: the fourth act of this script is kind of bizarre in its lameness. Lisa B. runs into a couple of jocks who basically molest her in a bar (sure, sure) and has to face them again, in her desperation, when a strange old black man says he knows about Cassidy and will only spill the beans if she helps him beat the jocks at a game. But if they lose she has to spend the night with one of the slobbering, stereotypical football-players.

And the contest? Fooze ball. The climax of the script is a fooze ball match. I dont think Martin Scorsese could make that exciting.

The match and the ridiculous outcome kill the momentum of the script and its overall lack of intelligence leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

The character of the old black man, Speedway, a fast-talking, lyrical-inclined person you only find in film, is terrific and its a shame hes only a one-time deal.

Which leads to something else. The ultimate plot of the series -- a DAWSONS CREEK meets THE FUGITIVE attempt -- where these three people travel from state to state meeting new people and experiencing different towns, all the while looking for the one-armed-man-ish Cassidy, sounds terrible. How long can we really expect people to believe these kids would look? A year? Two years? More like one week and theyd go back home.

The title is GOING TO CALIFORNIA. When they dont make it there by the end of the first script its a big disappointment. In the last scene we hear that Cassidy has gone to Memphis and this leads to an obvious Graceland joke and they head off into the sunset to find Cassidy in Elvis-land. Which shows you where this things head is at.

GOING TO CALIFORNIA is, clearly, a semi-autobiographical tale. Scotts from Boston -- Scott dreamed of being a writer once he was out of college -- Scott went to California and did just that.

Maybe if Scott actually got them to Cali and showed them trying out a new life -- a bigger, more complicated life -- the show itself would have stronger legs and a larger appeal.

As it is...I guess that didnt happen. Which is a shame. Because this pilot shows Scotts toned talent for speech (hes like a less showy, pop culture obsessed Hal Hartley) and this might have been the only way wed ever get baselined Rosenberg, untouched by anyone, shot straight into our eyes and ears.

Until another TV project pops up or Scott finally directs...well always have his scripts. And I suppose thats good enough for now.

The following is a brief scene from Scotts script and an example of whats been talked about above (this is from a revised draft dated November 18, 1999; pages 44-45).

UNGALOW: But if youre depending on Ikey, Joey Fuzz and Eddie Latekka to safeguard your sweeties sassafras... Then youre in trouble...

SPACE: "Sassafras." Explain "sassafras."

UNGALOW: Slang for the female power source. You can use anything. All is permitted...

SPACE: "Sassafras" is, like, bean stew...

UNGALOW: Thats succotash. Which also works nicely...

SPACE: As in "Claires succotash"...?

UNGALOW: As in Claires succotash. As in danger. Danger! Danger! Succotash In Danger Of Contamination --

SPACE: "Contamination" -- ?

UNGALOW: Slang for penetration. Same deal. All is permitted.

SPACE: Im outta here --

UNGALOW: Where you going -- ?

SPACE: Im going to find Lisa B. Shes alone out there. Just her and... Her succotash.

-- Darwin Mayflower.

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