How I Would Script: A Left Behind Limited Series

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How I Would Script is a weekly column at The Open Man by Joseph Nardone. In it, our favorite, most handsome Internet Scribbler maps out how he would recreate whatever TV show or movie that is on his mind. Have a suggestion? Hit him on Twitter @JosephNardone.

This is probably our strangest How I Would Script yet, as we’re about to discuss turning a series of novels-turned-movies into a limited series (new slang for mini-series).

People might only remember Left Behind as the failed Nic Cage vehicle from a few years back. Poor us.

Cage was/is notable because #NBATwitter adores him and casual social media members fine him endearing for his endless pursuit of playing the character of Nic Cage — amplified by a million.

The Nic Cage version of Left Behind was a disaster. It was poorly produced, acted, scripted, and it became clear rather quickly that it was going to be a wee-bit nonchalant with the source material.

For what it is worth, the source material is fine(ish), but it is also flawed. It is fine if the producers of that version of the movie wanted to take some liberties. It just would have been finer had it been done well.

I’m actually a rather large fan of the original Left Behind trilogy. Yes, there were three Left Behind movies created prior to Cage becoming a pilot. In those films, Kirk Cameron of Growing Pains fame played the lead, with Louis Gossett Jr. dropping in later in the trilogy, and a bunch of other people never to be heard from again (I think?).

If you went into those films with low expectations, which I did, you left pleasantly surprised. The budget was low, the acting was barely average, and the tone of each movie grazed along the corny-AF trail, but it was entertaining enough.

It still could have been better, though. That is why we’re doing a How I Would Script of it.

Enough of the tomfoolery, shenanigans, and general dickwashery (new word I just invented), let’s make a Left Behind limited series.

Why A Limited Series (instead of a movie)?

This is a great question. It is almost a direct result of trying to cash-in on this weird trend happening in Hollywood these days.

Well, um, it isn’t really a trend. It is just something that happens sometimes; that sometimes once great actors, who might still be great but are going overlooked for movies, will take a shot with inspired content even if airing on a normal picture-box.

Think of some of the big “movie star” names who have tried to do television the last 10 or so years. Christian Slater’s A-list bubble burst long ago, but he’s found a great niche in Mr. Robot; Timothy Olyphant went from being a weirdly miscast movie actor to a guy joining Justified in a star-turning moment; and so on.

Some don’t work all that well. Sarah Michell Gellar has failed going to TV (numerous times), Kiefer Sutherland  is batting .350 in his network television career (his new show, Designated Survivor, is surprisingly decent), and the late Robin Williams attempt at returning to the boob-tube proved iffy.

Almost all of those actors and actresses have something in common, though. They, with some exceptions, turn to TV after their star has faded. Furthermore, they go to TV for projects that don’t seem to fit them (in hindsight they do, but who knew Slater in Mr. Robot would be similar to John Travolta revitalizing his career in Pulp Fiction?).

There’s more to this than that.

We need to present a situation where a rather long and convoluted story can be told, yet the audience won’t lose interest/track of the show’s plot points because there’s too much time between movies to keep up with it all.

It is also why…

This is going to air on Netflix

All the reasons mentioned above. ALL. OF. THEM. Plus the ability to binge them. Something that has made shows like Stranger Things all that much more enjoyable.

As we’ve previously discussed, Winona is one of my first crushes

Considering the original Left Behind left its first two movies with cliffhangers of sorts, it would fit nicely within the framework of a streaming service. Let the viewer consume the show at his or her own pace, but do not prevent watcher-of-the-product from seeing what happens next.

Honestly, if I ever become smart enough to create my own television show, Netflix (or Amazon) would be the first place I would pitch my genius idea. Not only is a Netflix not burdened by network television’s weird “there must be 20-plus episodes per season and infinity-number of the seasons” rule, but it cares not if it is only six episodes per season over four seasons.

It seems to prefer the creative mind’s objective number to wonderful product as possible approach over the business person’s subjective mind as to what creates the most money for the network scam.

We Won’t Hammer Christianity To The Ground

Left Behind plays heavily on Christianity. The end.

OK. Slightly more seriously, Left Behind — at least the initial intent of it — seems to be rooted as a series of books for Christians and Christians only. That really puts the story out of the hearts and minds of many a potential consumer.

Thing is, obviously, the foundation of Left Behind’s plot is part of the Christian belief system, even if some liberties are taken.

If you’ve read this far, you have a vague idea of what Left Behind is about, but for those unaware; it is about the Rapture. People vanishing all of a sudden, the aftermath of that, Satan trying to rise while pretending he might be Jesus, and so on.

You know, the usual.

The kicker here, for me at least, is that everyone can get behind the idea of a show about the Rapture. The Leftovers, while not the Rapture, dabbled in this a little. You can do that … just while avoiding the pitfalls that come with making it about “Christians overcoming.”

Let it be about all people, from all walks of life, dealing with the same issues. Don’t hammer home, especially not as bluntly as the original trilogy did, the point that this story is about Christianity and whatnot.

Four-Step System

Preferably, this limited series would go as such (airing on Netflix): Four episodes, each between 1-2 hours (depending on content). That is it.

I had to note that, as we have a four-step system that makes this all pretty easy to map out.

Format: Each episode deals with a major theme, yet it differs slightly from the original trilogy’s storytelling aspect because this isn’t 2000 nor are we hiring Nic Cage.

We will go through each of the four steps together, touching on the theme and plot points of each. Just remember each of the following four sub-headers are the four episodes in question.

Meeting Key Characters, Rapture Not Until The Very End (E-1)

Getting the cat out of the bag first: The Rapture should not actually happen until the very end of the first episode.

  • It is a cliffhanger
  • It allows for us to meet characters NOT under distress.
  • We get to meet the people they are about to lose.
  • We lose those people with our main characters.
  • Everyone cares more.

In the trilogy, as well as the Cage debacle, the Rapture happens far too soon. It isn’t any of those movies’ faults, as the directors were trying to make a timely movie, but this format allows for us to do a slow-burn and be able to properly develop our characters.

That simple, really. But it is incredibly important because there’s so many god damn key characters. You don’t want to rush it, as you need the viewer to appreciate, care for and understand each.

Image result for brad johnson left behind gif
I LOATHED Brad Johnson’s character in the original.

Fallout From The Rapture (E-2)

When the Rapture happens, you will be so invested in all the characters that you’ll hit the “play now” button so fast on your Netflix machine it might explode.

Now we get to see the fallout from it all. How the characters — we are now invested in — deal with loss, tragedy, and the general confusion that is millions upon millions of people randomly vanishing.

That last part here is KEY. People in the original were far too shoulder shrug emoji with people disappearing. It was a big deal, then as quickly as they overcame their losses (which was far too quick) they essentially gave up trying to care about the “why it happened.”

It was as simple as “either you were a Christian and knew it was the Rapture” or “you weren’t an important enough character to care to know what the hell was going on.”

That is awful storytelling.

In our limited series, not all of our characters would even consider this the Rapture (as it is believed to be in the original). Some will try to explain it using science, others with religion (for sure), and some will feel the weight of sudden loss so much that they straight-up hate anyone who even tries to figure it out.

Also, people will believe it to be the work of aliens. Why not?

We don’t want this version of Left Behind to remove itself too far away from the books, so yes, it is technically the Rapture — we just won’t be hammering it home as the main point of the story. The main thing here is people vanished and people vanishing is horrible no matter the word used to describe it.

At some point of our story, one of our main characters will learn about Satan being a thing, but they will not know who that person is. Just that this is a sign of the good old end of days.

The cliffhanger of this episode, as our characters are trying to sift through all of their nonsense, is the introduction of Satan — who, of course, is in human form and introduces himself as a good guy.

Unlike the original trilogy, or (again) whatever the hell that Cage one was, we will be slightly less blunt about it.

We are going to introduce two characters near the end at the same time. One is Satan. The other is Jesus H. Christ. But we won’t know which one is which until later. We just know that those two are our prime suspects.

In the original(s), we meet Satan and pretty much know he’s Satan off the bat. Let’s add some mystery to this and also a new character.

And, seriously, who is opposed to adding mother loving Jesus to the cast?!

Aside: Does Jesus H. Christ have an IMDb page?

My bad

Both of these characters will obviously need great casting. I suggest the aforementioned Christian Slater because he’s my bae and Shia LaBeouf — OR Jenna Fischer (potential star-turning moment!).

Get To Know Satan/Jesus, Main Characters On The Hunt (E-3)

We need to get to know Satan and Jesus a bit more. My suggestion is that both are portrayed as good-doers for the first hour of episode three.

It is also important to note that, at least early on, both characters don’t even know they are Satan and Jesus. They learn that later. For now, normal humans.

As we are doing that, we dip in and out of our non-super human folks’ story-arc, as they are trying to figure out which of the two are Satan and which one is the devil.

It is pretty straightforward, honestly.

In the original, a few of the key characters end up working for Satan. My idea here is that nearly all, save for one or two “safety net” characters, end up working for both of the super-human people.

People die, mysteriously, on both sides along the way.

We continue to learn about each as the characters do. We learn together.

Near the end, but not exactly the end (think 20 minutes before end of episode), our normal characters argue about who is the devil and who is Jesus, as well as coming up with a plan as to how they will defeat the guy in charge of Hell.

Here is the climax:

Wait. No. Not that kind. Put the sock away, perv.

Climax:

They decide on killing Politician Person-X. Plan is all set. The plan is, naturally, complex and convoluted and too weird to be conjured in anything other than fiction.

As they are about to destroy Politician-X, who they decided is Satan, they witness the two politicians arguing. They go on and on about what should be done next, while each reveal who they actually are (Satan and Jesus) to each other, and then BANG!

The politician our characters thought was Satan was MURDERED by the real Satan.

There’s a few twists here.

  • Our characters were about to murder Jesus, which will make them question everything.
  • WE JUST KILLED FREAKING JESUS IN OUR SHOW!

We are badass.

The War to End Wars (E-4, Finale)

Two-hour special, baby!

Again, as it always easy, pretty easy to plot out the format.

Our good-doers, who nearly murdered Jesus at the end of the last episode, deal with that for the first 30-40 minutes. Satan, in the meantime, is getting ready to destroy mankind once and for all.

That seems like pretty important stuff.

So, uh … here is the thing. You’re not going to like me from this point on (assuming, for some reason, you were cool with me killing off Jesus).

E-3’s match-up was bigger than the Super Bowl!

The next hour or so is exclusively about the War to End All Wars getting ready to take place. We see TV news people question the decision to give so much power to Politician-Y (Satan), military leaders blindly following his orders, and we get a montage of bombs going off all over the planet.

Yeah. Yeah. It is nearly an hour of Michael Bay-ish type of directing by me, but we need to see the scope of the damage caused by Satan. We need to feel it in our very core.

What’s the ending, you ask? If Satan is blowing stuff up already, where’s our feel-good moment?

Alas, I’m a dick. We don’t get one. Instead, as judgement is pouring down on the planet from Satan, our characters are inside a church talking to each other about how they failed the human species. That they, our heroes, believed Jesus to be Satan and were ready to kill him.

BOOM! Loud explosion as we see our main characters talking about ALL their life regrets. Screen fades to black…

/”Don’t Fear The Reaper” quietly begins to fade in.

One of our main characters murmurs, “We’re … we’re still here.”

FUCKING SEQUEL BABY!

Give me all your money.