First Ten Pages: Adventureland (2009)

By December 20, 2017Main, Screenwriting 101

Breakdown by: Danielle Karagannis
Screenplay by: Greg Mottola

It’s the 1980s… It’s summer… And newly college graduate, James, is at a loss when he learns his (generous) graduation gift is no longer: a forty-two day trip around Europe that his parents can’t afford for him anymore. To make matters worse for James, this also means they can’t cover his Manhattan rent once he starts graduate school at Columbia University.

Officially stuck in his hometown, schlepping away instead of having a transformative cultural experience, he’s forced to get a mundane summer job. He finds himself working at the local amusement park Adventureland. And although it’s not what James had in mind… He quickly becomes a part of the Adventureland kinship, assimilating to ongoing ridiculous, romantic, irresponsible yet innocent scenarios… Proving to be a more transformative experience than he could have anticipated.

 Establishing tone and/or genre:

Adventureland’s tone is extremely attractive in nostalgia, while managing to not be too much of one thing. A dry, witty, tender comedy that unveils dramatic undertones and relatable conflict… And how that’s set up consistently carries through the story. The comedy is obvious, while managing to be subtle, which is how Adventureland’s tone assists in creating a story that translates as particularly genuine.

THE SOUND FADES IN SLOWLY

Shouted, drunken conversation competes with a stereo blasting
“Bastards of Young” by The Replacements. A couple wear
graduation mortarboards.

REVERSE ON

a pretty young woman, ARLENE. She’s avoiding James’s gaze.

They’re in a lived-in off-campus house. They hold cocktails in plastic cups. He leans in close.

JAMES
Hey, you want to get out of here–

ARLENE
(hasn’t heard him)
What a rager, huh?

JAMES
Yeah. Yeah.
(beat)
Isn’t it weird? That this all…this
happened right at the end of the
semester? You and…me.

She finally looks at him.

JAMES (CONT’D)
And we’ll both be in Manhattan come
September.
(beat)
I’m really…fond of you.

ARLENE
You’re sweet.
(beat, thinking)
James.

JAMES
Yeah?

ARLENE
I don’t think I can see you anymore.

CONTINUED:

JAMES
(stunned)
You don’t…? What do you…?

ARLENE
We’re graduating…it’s…

She signs heavily and looks away. James watches her, waiting
for more of an explanation. Instead:

ARLENE
(muttering)
sorry.

She walks away.

Introducing the main characters:

The first ten pages focus on setting up the protagonist, James. An intelligent, anxiety induced and semi-delusional young man who displays the perfect amount of ignorant privilege that’s often found at the ripe age of one’s early 20s. Keeping the attention on James during this time is pivotal, as it makes his development later on – which results in positives, negatives, comes full circle – more apparent. 

MRS. BRENNAN
What are we talking about?

JAMES
Um, my Europe trip? So my original
estimate for the whole trip was 1,568
dollars. But I’ve researched more youth
hostels and the median cost is a bit
higher than I thought, by seven dollars
and sixty-eight cents, multiplied by
forty-two days is $322.56. But the good
news is I still qualify for a student

eurail pass, which saves us $143.45. But
I also think my emergency fund is
unrealistic at $100, I should make it
$150. So, with the 768 dollars I have
from grandma’s trust fund, plus the 800
you guys are already giving me, I will
need another 229 dollars and eleven
cents. It makes the total for you guys
1,029 dollars and eleven cents.

MRS. BRENNAN
One-thousand and twenty-nine dollars.

BRENNAN
And eleven cents.

Silence. James’s parents exchange a look.

CONTINUED: (2)

MRS. BRENNAN
James, your father has been transferred
to a different department.

JAMES
Really? That’s great–

MRS. BRENNAN
It’s not a better department. We’ll be
making less money. Considerably less.

JAMES
Wh…what happened?

BRENNAN
It’s not a big deal, they just, they
reorganized a bit. It’s temporary.

MRS. BRENNAN
We hope. I’m sorry, honey, I know we
said we thought we could help with your
trip. We can’t.

JAMES
But it’s my graduation present.

MRS. BRENNAN
I know, but we don’t have it. We can’t
spare a penny for Europe. And we can’t
spare a penny for grad school, either.

JAMES
What? You were going to help me with rent?

MRS. BRENNAN
James, we cancelled our week in Montauk.
We can barely make the house payments.
We’re clipping coupons.

BRENNAN
Sorry, kiddo.

JAMES
What am I gonna do?

MRS. BRENNAN
If you decide you really want to go to
graduate school, you’ll commute from here.

JAMES
But…Eric and I are getting an apartment
In Manhattan…

CONTINUED: (3)

MRS. BRENNAN
If you want to eventually move into the
city, you better get a job.

JAMES
A summer job?

Crafting the world of the story:

Mottola fully captures that gut stricken feeling when one shuffles their way back to their hometown… Whether meant for a quick visit, realizing you need to crash in your parent’s basement for… ev… er or, like James, discovering that your Europe trip pre-graduate school is now a long lost dream.

As James absorbs his summer’s new reality, he is immediately thrown back in time… Being ordered around by his parents. Feeling small. Familiar faces. Childhood pranks. Then, having to succumb to a summer job and the wide range of adventures that follow… It’s like being fifteen all over again.

INT. RESTAURANT – DAY

James, dorky in a button-down shirt and knit tie, stands in
front of a RESTAURANT MANAGER, handing him documents.

JAMES
I really haven’t had many jobs, per se…
But here’s my academic record and my
extracurricular activates. I wrote for
the literary journal, ‘The Gordian Knot’.
And in high school, I got a 750 on the
math SATs, so I’d be good at tabulating
checks–

RESTAURANT MANAGER
These are the only jobs you’ve had?

JAMES
I also used to rake leaves for some
Neighbors, the Palmieri’s. I have their
letter of recommendation–

RESTAURANT MANAGER
(brusquely)
Fill this out. I’ll call you if anything
comes up.

EXT. BRENNAN HOUSE – DAY

James is mowing his parents’ lawn, a look of self-pity on his
face.

SUDDENLY

Tommy Frigo comes tearing down the street on his ten-speed.
He rolls up on the lawn, jumps off the bike and sprints at
James, a crazed look in his eyes.

CONTINUED:

FRIGO
Nad attack!

Frigo throws a punch at James’s groin. James manages to
partially deflect the blow.

JAMES
Frigo! Quit it!

The two young men start swinging wildly at each other.

FRIGO
Watch out, the lawn mower!

James turns for a second. Frigo wallops him directly in the
privates. James falls to the lawn, moaning.

JAMES
I’m going to fucking kill you, Frigo…

Frigo hops back on his bike.

FRIGO
Ha-hah, Brennan! Don’t choke on your own
goo!!

Frigo pedals away, cackling manically. We see that he’s
once again wearing his orange ‘Adventureland’ shirt.

Establishing theme and/or the message:

Numerous themes can be easily pulled from Adventureland, but one that is seamlessly executed is self-discovery… How adapting to change often leads to the next development in ones’ life. James’ character is all too relatable – graduating college with an idealistic plan, some kind of certainty… It’s adulthood, after all, right? Then, seeing how reality shifts and how characters have to shift with it. It resonates a common, and likely necessary, struggle endured by many in their 20s and easily beyond.

Setting up the dramatic situation:

Although a major dramatic situation is stealthily introduced beyond page ten, while still being in the first act, the initial and primary conflict for James is brought upon within the story’s opening set up… The fact he has to readjust and acclimate, and to do so at the only place that’ll have him: Adventureland.

INT. KITCHEN, BRENNAN HOUSE – DAY

Mrs. Brennan reads a library copy of a biography of Pope John
Paul II. James sits across from her, hunched over the
classifieds section, grunting as he reads.

JAMES
What can I get?! I’m not even qualified
for manual labor.
(reading down column)
carpenter…dishwasher…mechanic…
septic waste removal –– they won’t even
hire me. The only place I know I can get
a job is where Frigo’s working.

MRS. BRENNAN
Adventureland? You can do better. You
Have to try harder.

JAMES
I’m ‘O’ for twenty-two. I majored in
comparative literature and Renaissance
studies. Unless someone needs help
restoring a fresco, I’m screwed!

EXT. SUBURBAN BOULEVARD – DAY

TRACK WITH James on his bicycle, pedaling along with morning
traffic.

EXT. PARKING LOT, ADVENTURELAND – CONTINUOUS

James rolls into a large parking lot, passing under an arched
sign that reads “ADVENTURELAND”.

The additional dramatic situations soon to follow cater toward James maturing in various ways, even if that means he made mistakes to get there. An instrumental conflict that persuades this is the fact that he falls for an employee (Em), only to unearth that she’s been having an affair with the wannabe rock star maintenance worker of Adventureland. In the end, though, James is able to gain new perspectives, sticks up for what’s right, and realizes he’ll be okay figuring it out on his own… Earning a badge of independence.


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