Ghosts of San Francisco: Screenplay Review
Ghosts of San Francisco is a screenplay written by David Seader. In a series of vignettes wielding Harmony Korine-like voyeurism, a young Corbin takes audiences on a drug-fueled look into his life and adventure to regain his college scholarship after being kicked out for assaulting a homeless man. Through his journey he manages to find a story to write for an upcoming screenplay which one may argue is the silver lining amidst the chaos.
Though Corbin may not be a likable protagonist in the traditional sense, his penchant for sexual exploits may be shocking enough to keep you interested in what kind of mischief he gets into next. After he is kicked out from college he becomes a drifter who must find places to crash, drugs to do, and people to screw as he attends mandated therapy. Through the device of therapy, Corbin finds a way to reflect upon his life and reshape life events not as mistakes, but artistic experiences that define his storytelling.
Like the protagonist in Fellini’s 8 ½ he can’t seem to keep his dick in his pants. He has no problem screwing women in public park bathrooms just because. Corbin, however, has a special sort of connection with a woman named Kayla. Aside from the hedonistic drug use, there is a gentleness to their strange connection.
The script excels in its meditations on filmmakers - where Corbin’s personality shines. These nice personality moments are mixed in with a great deal of problematic characterization of women. In the majority of the script, women feel objectified. Kayla feels like a manic pixie dream girl whose sole purpose is to enliven a man’s - namely Corbin’s - happiness. As a reader or watcher you may find yourself asking what do these girls want besides Corbin? How do they feel independent?
The dialogue suffers from verbosity, and not the Tarantino kind in which the tangential keeps you entertained - but dialogue that feels like it didn’t need to be present in order to get points across. The added “ohs” “ums” “oks”, the repetitive sentiments, and the lack of formatting and spell check halted the flow of what could have been more engaging philosophical or artistic discussions. Oftentimes the characters came across stilted, with ancillary characters that lacked a clear personality or maybe did not seem believable for the world set out. Dialogue could also be on the nose, with characters saying exactly how they’re feeling when they could have said the same with subtext or a facial expression.
With the vignette structure, a loose plot is inevitable, but there could have been more variety in the vignettes. It felt at times there was untapped potential. For instance, in Harmony Korine’s Beach Bum the adventure keeps climbing into absurdity. In Ghosts of San Francisco some of the sex-sploits and drug instances felt like they could be amped up or turned on their head to explore a greater surrealness or absurdity. To put it bluntly another way, “if you’re gonna go there, go there.” Pull no punches. Tonally it felt like it was dramatic teasing absurd ideas, when it could go full absurdity.
Beyond these issues, there still lies a strong core idea, an interesting hook, and compelling opinions on art. While it feels like it needs significant development, it’s clear Seader has a voice. Like Corbin, perhaps he just needs to not be afraid to go for it, and not be afraid of editing.