I really like Tom Shadyac’s Evan Almighty. No one else did. Maybe I was just in a good mood when I saw it, and maybe I just like the overall message of the movie.
But wow, what terrible reviews! And the box office was off, too. Evan made only $31 million in its first weekend, compared to the $60 million of its “prequel,” Bruce Almighty‘s opening, and the Steve vs. Jim arguments began right away.
But we must ask what went wrong story-wise. Where did the filmmakers go off the tracks? Was this sequel just misguided from the start, or was there some other reason this ark was left high and dry?
I got an email from screenwriter Joe White about this. Joe, a veteran Cat!-ite who is working on a great spec comedy himself, pointed out something smart.
Why Evan came up short while its cousin Bruce Almighty succeeded is simple: It’s fun to have the powers of God, but no fun to be under God’s thumb cursed by having to build an ark.
Also there is a “Watch out for that glacier” problem as, like Deep Impact and Armageddon show, waiting for the inevitable flood – or a comet hitting the earth – means there’s a lot of time to kill until that cataclysmic ending we’re all on pins and needles hoping to see!
In short,while Evan has a Fun and Games section (all movies do), the “fun” of this particular premise isn’t very.
And in hindsight, this simple difference may have decided Evan‘s fate. Bruce is more of an “empowerment” tale, Evan more a “comeuppance” tale. And apparently in and amongst all the summer movie traffic, fun is always more fun.
Could it be that this simple story problem made all the difference?
I think so.
I have been pitched numerous scripts in the past few years that fall into this same trap. What is “fun” about this comedy? – or any movie we are working on – is something we should all ask ourselves. What is the “empowerment” of your movie notion? Why does the “promise of your premise” sound inviting and an escape, and not a chore?
At its most basic level, Joe’s argument has a lot of merit.
Our number one job, and the reason I always send writers back to do heavy work on their logline is: We must create a concept that (no matter what the stars or the budget or the studio) people want to RUN to see. It can’t just be “cute” or “okay” or “pleasant”; it must grab us by the lapels and drag us to the Cineplex.
On my current list is Ratatouille, an original concept that promises great character work, a great message, and the talents of Brad Bird (The Incredibles).
It sounds like fun.
Is your concept?
If not, don’t write it.