Almost Famous (a.k.a. "horseshoes and hand grenades")


Yesterday I ranted about the Sins of the Ding-Dongs in the so-called "Christian" church in America, so maybe today I should confess that in real life, I'm actually not all that much of a shining, prophetic light.

Yea and verily, I myself do very little (read: nothing) to ameliorate the hard lot of the poor in this country and around the world, and although I could quite readily scribble out a litany of probably-legit-sounding excuses, the truth is that A. I'm sort of a hypocrite, and B. I was maybe-kinda-sorta just venting frustration at the fact that no matter how hard I seem to work, other people always seem to win. You know, the Game.

That's not to say I think you should allow the shootability of the messenger to distract from the truth of the message. Just pointing out that when it gets right down to it, I was probably less pissed off about economic injustice (which, truth be told, more just depresses me) than I was anxious about two particularly nail-bitering Things I've been going through, lately.

Thing One:
My script POUNDERS had made it through two rounds of vindictive judgment in the Big Break Screenwriting Contest, giving me a one-in-fifty-eight chance at some actual money. Like, continue-to-write-full-time money.

Thing Two:
I put my script GINSENG onto the Blacklist website, which is this thing where you pay for reads and if they give you an 8/10 or higher, they'll throw your script right down on a whole bunch of industry desks.

Today, the nailbiting is finished. 

First, POUNDERS did not advance.

And Second, I got my first Blacklist review back, and the Reader didn't quite like GINSENG enough to push it on through. That's right, seven-out-of-ten. Half a year's work, and thanks for trying.

Now, to be fair to myself (And why not?), this isn't actually horrible news. 

First, because GINSENG's already got people attached to it and some solid leads on financing (I'm going for the scatter-shot approach with this career of mine), and second of all, because the reviewer didn't actually have anything truly negative to say about the script. He/she/it seemed to quite like GINSENG, actually, and was rather complementary. He/she/it just thought that... actually, you know what? I'll just post the review and let you see for yourself. Not as painful as some of the rejections I've gotten, but still disappointing.

So, what is GINSENG?

GINSENG: An aging alcoholic takes one last stab at atoning for his past by dragging his unwilling adult son on a camping trip in the Appalachian mountains. But his plan to dig a little wild American ginseng while he’s at it draws the ire of territorial locals, and father and son must work together to stay alive.

And here's the review:

The story is expertly paced; the family drama is given enough time to develop and connect with the audience before the thriller elements start coming fast and furious. This fosters a stronger connection with the leads - their struggle has real emotional stakes - and makes the appearance of violence and death feel shocking rather than inevitable. Virgil and the boys have a fairly conventional role in the story, but the choice to make Virgil a very smart, well-spoken individual in a redneck's body is exceptionally clever. Paired with the fact that it is Jerry - rather than the locals - who initiates the conflict, the villains in this story are allowed to be much more human than they might otherwise. The final beat between Rick and Derek hits the perfect note - they feel like two emotionally exhausted men, not a hero and a villain facing off. In essence, GINSENG is doing something very simple very well, creating a more sophisticated update of the DELIVERANCE formula that lingers on hurt feelings and father-son bonding rather than physical torment. The actual action scenes may be routine, but the stakes are much higher than average because no character is allowed to become a caricature.

It's more of a solid version of a well-known story than a truly unique concept, so there is the tiniest bit of surprise missing from the story; Virgil's role in the story is very obvious from the first moment he appears, no matter how well-developed he is. The script is above average in every aspect, but it does have a fairly expected plot arc. It's not so much a weakness as a limitation.

With the low budget, tight pacing and solid roles for actors in two different age demographics, this definitely feels like a commercial concept. The likely home is probably VOD/streaming (unless some A-list cast gets involved), but the great thing about GINSENG is that the budget is low enough that it can turn a profit with just about any kind of release. Audience satisfaction shouldn't be a problem; the care with which the characters in this film are treated really puts it a step above the typical "hikers vs rednecks" thriller setup. Strong commercial prospects as a contained drama/thriller, although likely more on the indie side of the industry.
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