Premise: A Bob Ross-esque PBS painting show host must fight for his career when his station brings in a rival painting host.
About: “Paint” landed on the bottom half of the 2010 Black List. Brit McAdams, the writer, directed the Daniel Tosh web series, Tosh.0. He’s worked on some other internet related content, but this appears to be his first feature script (or at least the first one that got noticed).
Writer: Brit McAdams
Details: 112 pages, Sept. 09 draft (This is an early draft of the script. The situations, characters, and plot may change significantly by the time the film is released. This is not a definitive statement about the project, but rather an analysis of this unique draft as it pertains to the craft of screenwriting).
20 pages into Paint, I wondered if it wouldn’t have been a better idea to watch paint dry. Was this Franklin Leonard’s idea of a joke? A Black List entry meant to test just how much influence he had in Hollywood? “Hey guys, look! I can make anything a hot property!”
The problem with Paint was that it was just so…weird. I assumed it was a comedy going in. But the humor was so dry I needed a humidifier to make it to the second act. It wasn’t until the halfway point that I began to warm up to McAdams’ unique sense of humor. If I was forced into summarizing the tone, I’d say it was like an adult Napoleon Dynamite, even though I’m not sure exactly what that means.
I’d never seen Bob Ross (the real life guy who “Paint” was based on) before, but I looked him up on the internet and the first video Youtube returned was a 2 minute clip from his show that had over a million hits. A million hits? I pressed play, half-expecting his hair to catch on fire. Not the case. It was just him. Painting. A mountain. And talking about it.
What the hell??
Carl Nargle plays the fictional version of this man. He’s in his mid-40s, has a large unseemly afro, speaks in a whisper, and never paints without a pipe. Every day he does a show where he paints a mountain. And bushes. And animals. But never animals in front of bushes. He always paints animals behind bushes. That way the viewer has to work to imagine the animal, forcing them to become a part of the painting.
Carl Nargle also loves the ladies. Well, he loves to make love to the ladies. And he has bedded four generations of women here at the station, including 55 year old former secretary Wendy, 45 year old former secretary Beverly, 35 year old current secretary, Katherine, and most recently his 25 year old assistant Jenna.
What’s unique about this situation is that all the women still carry a torch for him. This was a big reason why it took me so long to “get” this script. I didn’t understand a) why all these women still loved a man who dumped them once they got too old, and b) why they’d talk openly about how much they still loved him. I mean here you have his current girlfriend, Jenna, getting advice from the other girls on what to expect when her and Carl have sex for the first time, as well as hearing how much they still wanted him. Yeah, cause women love to hear how much their boyfriend’s exes are desperately trying to get him back.
But this God-like domination he has over his staff is about to be swashbuckled. That’s because a new painter who’s even more soft-spoken than Carl is hired to do a second painting show for the network. Stephan is 20 years younger, handsome (relatively speaking), but most threateningly, does not just paint mountains. He paints people, underwater villages, even animals IN FRONT OF BUSHES! Blasphemy!
Carl writes Stephan off as an MTV flash in the pan (Carl’s old enough to believe that MTV is still “in”). But when Stephan starts getting higher ratings in the younger 12-24 demographic (“higher” meaning a .2), Carl’s show all of a sudden doesn’t look so important. In fact, whereas before all the crew would take their lunch breaks to watch Carl’s show, they now take their breaks to watch Stephan’s!
Their brewing rivalry reaches a head during the PBS fund drive, where 2 lucky bidders win a chance to have their portraits painted live by Carl and Stephan. Carl gets the higher bid, which secures his spot as PBS’s top painter, but falters under the pressure, painting a mountain instead of the woman’s portrait. He’s let go soon after, and his life spirals out of control.
I remember seeing Wes Anderson’s Rushmore for the first time and having no idea what I was watching. It was so weird and different that I couldn’t tell if I was enjoying myself or if I was miserable. It wasn’t until weeks later, still thinking about the movie, that I began to understand its brilliance. I’m not going to put Paint in the same category, but it is a script that requires a cool down period.
What saved it for me was the second half. Once Carl fell from grace, the humor really kicked in. He’s forced into a teaching job where everyone thinks he’s a hack, becomes a greeter at the state welcome center, and is finally forced to take a snow-plowing job. We delight in his misery because, quite frankly, he was a pompous asshole who used his “fame” to take advantage of people.
But more importantly, there’s a STORY in the second half. The first half feels like a fever dream, the writer just making shit up as he goes along. But when we begin to see all that crazy stuff pay off (for example, we learn the heartbreaking reason for why Carl only paints mountains), we realize there’s a plan to all this, and it isn’t just one long extended SNL sketch.
From a structural standpoint, Paint is interesting in that there’s no character goal driving the story. We talked about how important this was during Comedy Week (it was present in every script), so then why didn’t it matter that it wasn’t used here? Well, it did matter. A big reason why the first half wanders so much is that we don’t know where the story is going because there’s no goal.
However, an alternative that works in comedies (and thrillers for that matter) is throwing your character into a conflict-heavy situation and watching their world unravel. So in The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, the mom doesn’t have a goal. But when the new nanny shows up, her world begins crumbling around her, and that’s where the entertainment comes from, us seeing that world unravel. This works especially well in comedies because watching that world unravel isn’t just interesting, it’s funny, as is the case with Paint.
Still, I only recommend this route if you know what you’re doing because it practically requires going with a passive protagonist (obviously if your protagonist doesn’t have a goal, he’s passive), and we all know how difficult it is to make a passive hero work over the course of an entire movie.
The only other big issue I had was the opening. It just took too long to get things going. We get like 80 scenes telling us that all the girls love him when we could’ve had a single scene with him painting and all the girls with hearts in their eyes. We would’ve "gotten it" and been able to move to Stephan’s arrival, which is where the story really starts to pop. But I have to say, for a script that was 10 runs down in the fifth inning, it was nice to see a comeback. I’m not sure it won the game, but at least it made it entertaining.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Oftentimes I read a script that takes forever for the story to begin, only to check the page count and realize that everything is happening exactly where it’s supposed to. So here, Stephan shows up on page 23. That’s about where the first act break should be. Which is weird, cause it felt like he showed up on page 50. Here’s why that happens. There’s a difference between how long a script ACTUALLY is and how long it FEELS like it is. Everyone who reads this blog knows what I’m talking about. You’re trudging through a script, bored out of your mind, check the page count, expecting to be on page 70, and realize you’re only on page 30! Ahhhh! This is usually due to the fact that the script is repeating itself, is dragging out unnecessary plot threads, or in the case of Paint, setting up characters instead of pushing the story along. The first act of Paint is a series of scenes setting up Carl as a painter and the 5000 girls who like him. Contrast that with a comedy we just reviewed, There’s Something About Mary, where an actual story emerges. A nerd impresses the popular girl and wins the opportunity to take her to prom, which then goes horribly wrong once he gets to her place. Those early pages fly because something is HAPPENING. It isn’t just a bunch of people being set up. So set up your characters at the beginning of your story, but try to do so while telling an entertaining story.