Abandoned screenplay ideas

"Centurion"

Based on and named after the drinking game "Centurion", in which you drink one shot of beer per minute for 100 minutes. This movie takes place in real time and focuses on a group of university students who gather together in somebody's room to play the game. Each is drinking a different beverage.

The movie would be talking heads, driven by compelling Tarantino-style dialogue between interesting characters with a year or two of shared history behind them. The dialogue would probably eventually have to stop being about nothing in particular and start moving forward with some sort of actual story. Perhaps terrible revelations occur or the whole dynamic of the friends changes at this pivotal moment in some way. The drinking does not stop - some succeed in the game, some become weary or ill and drop out. The minute-by-minute pace of drinking provides a background, a rhythm, perhaps breaking up the whole movie into one hundred 60-second skits.

I never really nailed any of this down. My stories are more driven by science fiction concepts than by characters. This is not an easy thing for me to write. During NaNoWriMo 2010, due to a shortage of ideas, I visited this concept for two days: Centurion and Minutes 7 to 13. The results were, at best, mixed.

Update 2013-07-26

The World's End (2013) is a film revolving around a protagonist obsessed with completing a twelve-pub crawl, despite dramatic personal revelations and also a robot invasion of the world. The similarity in concept is striking enough that I think the "Centurion" pitch can be discarded either as too similar or as successfully executed.

"100 Minutes"

In the movie "Deep Impact", the asteroid was discovered about three years before it was actually due to hit. In the movie "Armageddon", they had three weeks.

In "100 Minutes", they have one hour and forty minutes.

They still make it.

This, like "Centurion", is a real-time movie. Because I am obsessive about this kind of thing, this movie would have a running time of precisely 100 minutes. The title card, "100 minutes" would appear for exactly one frame at the beginning of the movie before instantly beginning to count down: "99 minutes 59.97 seconds" and so on. Earlier works of mine cannibalised for this idea are Valuable Humans In Transit, Your Radical Ideas et al. and Asteroid McAlmont.

There are two parts to the setup. Firstly, we have to establish a fictional universe in which it is both technologically feasible but still watchably challenging to actually prevent an asteroid impact, from a standing start, in less than two hours. To do this we set the movie - according to the caption - "Twenty-Five Years From Now", in a future where nanotechnology has been completely perfected. It is a historic day, the day when, according to the news, everybody in the world has been raised above the poverty line. There are still problems, sure, but everybody has unlimited free access to food, water, electricity, medicine and education, because nanotechnology can give you all of this stuff basically for free. Nanotech is used to lay cables and build buildings and repair roads and construct vehicles. All you need is a blueprint for what you want to create. Of course, creating sound blueprints is much more difficult and time-consuming, but it's no big deal.

Now, what's to prevent people from just manufacturing bombs, bullets and knives? Well, that's revealed later in the movie, but the answer is in fact that a sentient AI - which, as usual, I shall call "Tyro" - which is part of the global nanotechnology service has a clear picture of what constitutes a bomb, a bullet or a knife and deliberately steps in to prevent that from happening. Nanotechnology is an incredibly dangerous genie, and the only way to make it safe is for there to be a benevolent genie keeping it in check.

Space travel is still a thing in this future, but it's still very difficult and very dangerous. Our male protagonist - whom, for the sake of argument, I shall call "Ed" - works for NASA.

Secondly, we have the female astronomer, Ed's ex-something (I haven't worked out why they split as yet or what either of them did afterwards). Call her Jen, I guess. It is Jen who discovers the asteroid and computes its trajectory. She does this about an hour before the movie opens. Realising that the world is going to end, she re-evaluates her life, realises who it is that she wants to spend her last moments with, and drives to Ed's house in order to reconcile.

As the movie begins, Jen arrives at Ed's house and explains that the asteroid is going to kill them all in about 99 minutes' time. She goes on to explain the rest of the above, but Ed isn't listening. He is doing mental arithmetic. He decides that even with 98 minutes left on the clock, the disaster can indeed be averted, and he sets out to actually do it, with Jen in tow.

What follows isn't so clear. They travel to NASA or something? Early on, Ed deduces the existence of Tyro and secures its assistance. Once they have this incredibly powerful AI on their side, Ed has Tyro build some incredibly cool huge humanoid mechanoid robots. Since Tyro can solve incredibly advanced (previously unsolved) physics problems from scratch in relatively short time, Ed has Tyro invent some sort of instantaneous-transit hyperdrive and send some mechs to rendezvous and match velocities with the asteroid to get a good look at it and come up with further plans. (Remember, an asteroid moving that fast is essentially impossible to catch by normal means.) At this point it's discovered that the asteroid has engines built on it - it has been pushed towards Earth as a deliberate attack. But the engines are human-built! Aliens aren't involved. The asteroid defends itself; some mech ends up using up part of its pilot as reaction mass; the situation gets more desperate; various measures fail. Ed is angry that today, the day when humanity finally made it, is the day it might be exterminated. They come up with an "inverse tractor beam" thing which involves building huge green lasers as big as aircraft carries in countries all over the hemisphere facing the asteroid - even with these cranked up to maximum, the thing keeps falling at the same rate. They even come up with a "momentum cannon" which should be able to stop the asteroid dead, but it doesn't work! As time passes, a continuous score becomes more intense and increases in pace, racking up the tension and the heart rate. The clock is almost always visible in shot, and mentioned very frequently in dialogue. The clock creates a rhythm to the movie.

Eventually, with about fifteen minutes to go, Ed runs out of options. He orders Tyro to go to plan B (or C, or F): "Begin the evacuation of Earth." Every human being on Earth is swallowed up inside some kind of bubble and the cities are swallowed up in bigger bubbles and the whole population starts lifting off into space. This is the last resort. The humans will survive; the planet won't. Ed insists on staying behind to the last moment and Jen stays behind with him.

The action is deliberately left incomplete and the clock is deliberately left still running down while the credits roll. Just to keep you in your seat and drive you crazy and also to make sure the running time works out to exactly 100 minutes including the credits. Ed and Jen end up on a mountain, facing the asteroid down with a baseball bat. Oho!

I haven't worked out what they say to one another in the last moments when Jen finally has Ed's attention. The idea I do have, which I know isn't very good, is this: it turns out that the asteroid was launched at Earth specifically to make Jen go and reconcile with Ed by some third party, either Tyro or somebody who gained control of Tyro. In the very last split second before the asteroid hits, they do in fact reconcile properly. Then-- if you understand what was happening-- with the reason for the asteroid to fall gone, the asteroid stops falling and just hangs there, suspended by whatever technology was previously aimed at it. Either the final frame has the asteroid stopped, or the movie cuts out at the frame before impact and you have to guess what happened next. I don't know??

But I don't think that's the best concept, and I don't really have anything else to replace it.

"One Hour Fight Scene"

This is a movie with the special effects budget of Transformers but with all of the story removed, for approximately half the running time.

As in, completely removed. This movie is a single gigantic continuous action set piece. Any dialogue (minimal) occurs during the action. Any story (minimal) is advanced directly through the action.

Basically, an unnamed hero character is dropped off by some sort of nondescript van or Jeep on the outskirts of the suburbs of a gigantic totalitarian futuristic city state. He then fights his way through all of it. This guy beats up literally a million people one at a time. The battle escalates from hand-to-hand combat to fighting infantry to slightly prolonged battles against skilled one-off opponents. Knives and swords to guns and rifles and rocket launchers. As time goes on the guy gathers powers somehow and becomes able to do insane martial arts moves and kick holes in tanks. He deflects shells, he throws people through walls. He catches and defuses incoming nukes in mid-air.

The action is constant and insane and constantly increasing in ridiculousness and scale. He takes on a hundred thousand guys in a sports stadium. He wrecks trains, downs aircraft, topples buildings, redirects rivers. Land and air vehicles, robots the size of aircraft carriers. It is fun to watch at first and exhilarating, but inexplicable. Long before 15 minutes have passed, it becomes harrowing. After 30 minutes you are going out of your mind. You have had enough. You want it to end but it won't. By the end of the movie you are baffled, incredulous, exhausted, shocked, maddened and delirious at what has transpired on the screen. The only reason it's a one hour fight scene is because the budget probably wouldn't stretch to two solid hours.

Eventually he reaches, penetrates and scales a colossal citadel at the centre of a city and fights a big bad guy in a climactic showdown which shatters continents or something. He wins, the end.

The purpose of this movie is to give you too much action. This is intended to represent the logical extreme of the action movie concept, the maximum amount of action in a single movie. It abandons all pretence of plot in order to show you why plot is necessary. The desired reaction is for you to stand up and walk out early, having had enough.

Hitch-Hiker movie concept

A serial killer who picks up hitch-hikers and kills them inadvertently picks up a serial killer who hitches rides with people and kills them.

It's a romantic comedy.

Okay, I'm not entirely positive that this is my idea. Something in the back of my head says that I stole this from somewhere. If anybody can cite precedent I'd be pleased to retract it. That said, here we go.

This is a dark comedy driven by coincidence. The characters in question are known to different jurisdictions of the US - the first serial killer is perhaps driving to a neighbouring state in order to evade local law enforcement or something. Both killers happen to be known as "the Hitch-Hiker Killer", leading to confusion. A hilarious cat-and-mouse sort of slapstick scene plays out at a motel when both killers are attempting to get the drop on the other and somehow not realising what is actually going on. Then they fall in love. Coincidentally, one of the cops leading the investigation has the same name as one of the killers, and gets caught by the other jurisdiction's police force in a case of mistaken identity. The two killers fall in love, and bond over killing and breakfast. They compare notes, and finish each other's sentences (kills). Et cetera.

"Chess"

A solid fantasy chess-based screenplay could seriously rock summer 2014. See.

"Nerf"

The toy licence. James Bond/Spy Kids sort of plot. All of the weapons are Nerf-based; nobody ever comments on this. Like the splurge guns in Bugsy Malone, anybody hit with a Nerf pellet or whatever is dead, even though they are blatantly alive. Probably all the characters would be adults, though, in a kid-appealing Star Wars sort of way.

The doomsday weapon is an intercontinental ballistic Nerf gun, firing a column of sponge the size of a 747's fuselage across 10,000 miles. Everything is okay because it eventually bounces harmlessly off Washington, DC.

"FTL"

This would be essentially the movie "Apollo 13", but set in the future instead of the past. It would be a detailed, hard science fiction movie (except for the FTL drive bit). The ship would not be magical and fancy, it would be a working piece of equipment.

The first scene is a man at a whiteboard scribbling equations, which eventually lead to a "> c" terms at the very bottom right. As the camera pushes slowly in on this term, more people gather around and the term is reproduced on screens and projectors and televisions as it comes under greater and greater scrutiny until it's finally accepted that FTL travel has just been proven possible. Then you get the title card.

This movie would fall into a category that I like to call Big Project movies, where everybody in the cast has to work together in order to make a single thing work properly. Most heist movies fall into this category, as do Apollo 13, Contact, Back To The Future Parts I and III, and any episode of Thunderbirds.

Conflict would be driven by mechanical failure, not character clashes. Conflict would be resolved through smart engineering and detailed, intelligent problem solving. In the end, they may or may not actually make it to Alpha Centauri; or they may make it, but not make it back.

Update 2015-11-08

The film The Martian is almost exactly what I was describing here and I was really pleased to see how well-executed the concept was. Vindication, maybe!

"Rocket Launcher Squad"

Essentially a police procedural focusing on the exploits of a special division of the New York police department whose members exclusively carry rocket launchers instead of hand guns. Loose cannons, 48 hours before you're off the case, turn in your badge and sidearm (<clatter>, <KER-CLANGG>), et cetera, with lots more explosions.

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Discussion (34)

2012-06-13 22:51:01 by meork:

That chess movie sounds rather like Homestuck.

2012-06-13 23:16:41 by Ben:

There was a VH1 anthology years ago which had a story which had the hitchhiker-serial killer picked up by serial killer of hitchhikers thing, although without the romantic comedy bit: a quick google search reveals the anthology was called "Strange Frequency" and the specific tale was "My Generation".

Regarding FTL, I think ideally they should realize that they have a chance of making it back, or they can press forward and be the first people to reach Alpha Centauri, and the crew dramatically and unanimously chooses the latter. The cast portion of the credits is set up as pages from a (further in the future) history book.

2012-06-13 23:23:51 by EthZee:

I will pay actual money to go see One Hour Fight Scene. In 3D. And then I will buy it on Blu-Ray.

2012-06-13 23:41:28 by DanielLC:

"... facing the asteroid down with a baseball bat."

That's the third time I've seen that.

http://www.kiwisbybeat.com/minus37.html

The second time I can't seem to find.

"One Hour Fight Scene"

That sounds a lot like River Tam Beats Up Everyone

http://xkcd.com/311/

Trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m39ydsOPSww

I think One Minute to Impact and FTL share a problem. You're just making up the science, so whatever they try to do is just stuff you let them do. It's not them vs. their environment; it's them vs. you.

Also, with FTL, involving the discovery of FTL doesn't seem like a good idea. They'd have used a large number of unmanned probes long before sending people, so there's bound to be a lot of time in between.

2012-06-14 00:06:05 by qntm:

There are obvious solutions to all of those objections, but I've consciously decided to abandon these ideas, so I'll let you work them out for yourself.

2012-06-14 01:29:52 by Mike:

@meork Only in setting. The plot is really, really different. Not even the characters have any semblance. Except the fact that the queen is the real power behind the throne, and maybe that a lowly white pawn is the hero of the adventure. But that's it.

2012-06-14 01:41:19 by JeremyBowers:

Obviously, "One Hour Fight Scene" and "Rocket Launcher Squad" are in the same universe. It's a franchise! Pick up the phone, your agent is calling.

2012-06-14 03:49:06 by IanO:

so, can we use these ideas, if you're officially abandoning them?

2012-06-14 07:19:36 by PaidShill:

meork, I would argue that the reason the chess movie sounds like Homestuck is because Homestuck also uses chess motifs, just like Sam's idea. Chess has been around for a long, long time, and many, many works have used it as inspiration.

2012-06-14 08:42:33 by Lauren:

"One Hour Fight Scene" reminds me A LOT of Jhonen Vasquez's movie designed to torture the audience.

2012-06-14 17:14:21 by Newfur:

@Lauren: which?

2012-06-14 21:53:28 by Thrack:

Wait, so in 100 Minutes the correct course of action is *don't* save the world? I recall your blog entry about "One Chance" in which you said "Given the choice, always save the world." Is this part of why you are abandoning the idea?
http://qntm.org/chance

What about your Charity Movie idea? Though that didn't really have anything to to do with the movie itself. Oh, I know, it should be a SBaHJ film! I don't think I even made it two dozen pages into that thing.
http://qntm.org/charity
http://www.mspaintadventures.com/sweetbroandhellajeff/

I like the FTL idea. I think about how people might achieve difficult challenges like that occasionally but I generally start from a more primitive technology, partly because it is more challenging and partly because I *know* the limits of the technology whereas I can't be fully certain what the limits of technology 50 years from now will be. If some global disaster befell humanity (maybe a giant meteor or near Earth supernova) during the early 1900s or 1800s or even earlier, could anyone survive? Could civilization survive? Maybe on an alternate Earth or alien world in which technology developed differently? Or see what ancient Rome would do with radioactive fuel. Basically anything that you would expect to all but require advanced technology.

2012-06-15 19:51:40 by Lauren:

@Newfur ha ha.

In one of his "Meanwhile..." strips he has "a horrible film directed by Jhonen Vasquez." It's included in SQUEE'S Wonderful Big Giant Book Of Unspeakable Horrors.

2012-06-16 05:27:54 by Aegeus:

The one-hour action movie reminds me a lot of a videogame: Just Cause 2. It starts with the hero infiltrating a military base with a grappling hook, escalates to Grand Theft Auto-style shootouts, escalates to the president's army of ninjas, escalates to a gunfight with a crazy Russian in a tank atop a skyscraper, and the hero and villain have their final showdown surfing on nuclear missiles. And I'm sure they would have escalated it in the way you described if their budget and game engine could support it. Not surprising, since it's basically if Michael Bay directed a James Bond movie and turned it into a game. Anyway, that's probably a good place to start looking for ideas. Cut out all the boring cutscenes where they talk instead of blowing stuff up, and you'd have a pretty solid action movie.

2012-06-16 22:35:45 by Ben:

@DanielLC, the other baseball bat vs. Earth-destroying asteroid example you're thinking of is probably from FLCL, episode 4.

2012-06-17 00:00:07 by TJSomething:

Maybe 100 Minutes should end like with Ed and Jen making up. Halfway through a sentence shortly afterward, a flash of light comes from the meteor. It explodes into a flaming message:

Congratulations, Ed!
-Tyro

Ed: What the f-

The movie ends, censoring Ed.

2012-06-17 19:40:44 by Moravio:

The hitch-hiker romantic comedy sounds hilarious. Especially the part about one cop being arrested for mistaken identity. A movie like this needs to have as many contrived coincidences as possible, with trivial things like basic probability and common sense thrown out the window.

2012-06-18 02:01:45 by Solus:

Since the chess page doesn't have comments enabled, I'll just put this here.

Motive: Each side has stolen the other's technology/magic/whatever which can resurrect dead members of their colour only.
That way, the Queen can die on the way in, and her loyal pawn makes it to the machine (or whatever) in the heart of the enemy castle, but is killed as it is activating. =B

Of course, he could just be brought back after the Queen has destroyed his killers... unless they hit it while firing at (what kind of weapons do they have? =S) the resurrected Queen.
This page is just for ideas after all. =/

2012-06-19 15:17:51 by JoetheRat:

A part of the difficulties is that while many of these are interesting concepts, they aren't all going to make solid "movies". Some of these would make better graphic novels. Some of them would be good arthouse.

The one hour fight scene sounds like a video game because it's basically all you really care about in your average FPS or side scroller. Kill stuff, get more powers, carry on. It's about as exciting as watching someone else play - so tastes will vary.

Really, we could use more "trying to save the world with a big stick o' wood" media.

2012-06-21 15:16:59 by ejl:

W.r.t the nerf gun one -- see the notable NBC sitcom /Community/ for a take on this concept (in fact 2 takes, the second even more elaborate and ridiculous than the first) with their acclaimed paintball episodes (seasons 1 & 2).

2012-06-23 00:24:54 by pascal:

One Hour Fight scene also should be one shot, steadycam, like Russian Ark, though you stop watching for other reasons

2012-06-26 10:29:41 by Solus:

Apparently there exists a movie called "Pick Me Up" similar to one of these.

http://chzmemebase.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/internet-memes-yo-dawg-i-heard-you-like-serial-killers.jpg

2012-06-28 15:13:18 by a:

This video has a similar concept to the hitch-hiker pitch:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNeToSBKcSA

2012-06-28 18:53:37 by Kyle:

Fight scene sounds like xkcd 311.

2012-07-03 04:37:48 by Joseph:

"Rocket Launcher Squad" feels like it's straight out of Goldeneye/Perfect Dark. Enemy Rockets is such an amazing cheat, and really, a new way to play the games.

2012-07-27 05:32:18 by Alexis:

@100

If the engines on the asteroid were man-built, and it was designed to destroy the planet with Tyro but not humanity... Couldn't it have been that other humans built it to free themselves of Tyro's omnipotent control? The world might require more hints of dystopia rather than the utopia described for this to work out.

2012-07-27 10:54:55 by qntm:

That sounds pretty good, actually. But how to build the engines without Tyro realising?

2012-07-27 13:52:47 by Alexis:

@Sam, there are several possibilities there too... People working secretly from a space station or a lunar base, beyond Tyro's control?

The fact that others would try to free humanity from Tyro isn't necessarily incompatible with the main characters seeing their world as an utopia, it could even bring interesting philosophical questions to the audience/readers. The realisation that it was man-built and for what purpose could come near the end, when they finally give up and it leads to the ending you suggested.

I think the ideas could add a lot of depth to the story.

2012-07-29 21:28:16 by mark:

Well, i like your one hour action movie concept, but something comes really near.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0286098/

The other Tsui Hark movies are too nonstop action, but also a lot of Hong Kong movies follow the nonstop action script.

2012-08-01 12:35:54 by megaminxwin:

Man, now I really feel like making 100 Minutes for some reason. It seems like it could be an amazing idea if it was put into practice well.

2012-09-20 19:38:21 by Sydney:

"That sounds pretty good, actually. But how to build the engines without Tyro realising?"

You think that when nanotech 'saved the world', the real scientists stopped? We can do everything you can do - and we understand our science better than you understand your magic.

2012-12-23 14:24:45 by Caedmon:

The part that strikes me about '100 Minutes' is that we don't have to allow the problem, that the science basically becomes impossible instantly, to weaken the story. We can turn that into the climax that reveals what's really been going on this whole time.

So we have this benevolent super-genius computer that can create anything, but has to play by the rules built into its mind never to harm humans. And the big reveal is that it wants to inherit the Earth for itself, to rebuild in such a way that it doesn't need to take care of the humans. It is benevolent, yes, in that its actions always have to serve the interests of Humanity, but it eventually ends up believing that it can best do that basically by sealing humans in a bubble and putting them in stasis or something, so they'll take up less energy to maintain.

But it can't force them to take actions against their will. So it plays both sides of the situation, the asteroid's attack and Humanity's efforts to stop it. And of course nothing works, because the whole situation is a con, the purpose of which is to convince Humanity that they don't have the time to deal with this situation, they need to give themselves over completely to Tyro. The solution to abandon Earth is an unconditional surrender of the basic human rights that Tyro has been built to uphold; they cannot be taken, only given away.

So that's what's so infuriating to Tyro at the end. He's playing chicken with humanity, and these last two humans just will not bend. Whether by discovering (or at least suspecting) Tyro's secret motives, or (better option in my mind) sticking with their planet out of a sense of honor or nostalgia or hope, or any of the billion illogical things that humans do that robots loathe.

I dunno, just kinda thinking out loud. I liked the setup of 100 Minutes a lot.

2013-03-26 06:01:43 by massarem:

I am so deeply furious with you for tantalizing us with these ideas and then not creating them.

...I would love a movie like FTL. In most of my favorite stories, the antagonist is a problem to be solved, not a villain. SF writers who are good at this: John Scalzi, China Mieville, Stanislaw Lem

2014-06-17 02:43:24 by Kyle:

This article inspired a short story I'm writing that could easily be turned into a film featuring 120-180 minutes of battle between an army led by a righteous warrior seeking vengeance and the castle of the king who wrong him