Adland By Simon Wakelin
Adland, is a feature length comedy screenplay written by Simon Wakelin and is an Austin Comedy Short Film Festival Fall 2018 Official Selection. Learn more about screenwriter Simon Wakelin at www.simonwakelin.com. Synopsis "Dark Comedy: A liquored-up yet wildly successful director must shed his vices in time to stop a madman's murderous war on corporate America."
SYNOPSIS: A CREDIT SEQUENCE featuring images of some of the most familiar brand names popularized by advertising transitions into events from 20 YEARS AGO. Super 16mm stock captures the era. Director WARNER BATES (mid 20s), has a plan. First, he goes to a cemetery and pays for three coffins and three burial plots. Then he goes directly to an ad agency and shoots and kills the three ad executives that tampered with the editing of his commercial.
Meanwhile, over at the HELMER estate in New York, young TOMMY HELMER watches TV as he prepares to leave for boarding school. The news on the TV reports the shootings and shows the aftermath of the carnage on the streets of Manhattan. Later, Bates looks on as the three graves he paid for are dug, proud of his work. Police arrive on the scene with the intention of arresting him, but Bates is able to escape into the night.
Pristine 35mm stock. The California coastline transitions to PRESENT DAY, sweeping into a Beverly Hills ad agency where contemporary executives await the arrival of the director of their commercials, TOMMY HELMER (now 30). Rather than attend his scheduled appointment, however, Helmer has opted to attend a concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London. He is extremely drunk, but a text message from his producer, SOPHIA SAVANNAH (30s), soon has him on his way.
Savannah arrives for the meeting the following day where she, CEO MARTY MULLIGAN (50s), and his FLEET OF EXECS await Helmer's arrival. Helmer scoots in, fresh off his red-eye from London and drunk out of his mind. Mulligan is appalled, but it is clear that Helmer is given a lot of leeway. As Mulligan explains, Helmer is the best in the business, having won more awards than Streisand, Streep, and Nicholson combined, while a YOUNG EXECUTIVE adds that Helmer is advertising's spiritual leader. Clearly, the demand for his directing services earns him many free passes. He may be supremely talented, but even he is beginning to push his luck. Helmer is successful, good-looking, and rich, and has abused his substantial means to the fullest. He spends most of his time drunk, partying in Vegas, and hooking up with models, prostitutes, and actresses, and spends very little time focusing on his work.
Helmer’s reckless ways ultimately do catch up with him during the production of his latest big- budget commercial for Mulligan. He's been given a clear concept of what the commercial is to be, but Helmer decides to take liberties with the premise and introduce a very out-of-place grizzly bear into the ad. Savannah cautions that this move is a mistake, but Helmer defends his art, and sticks with the grizzly., but soon discovers that he has been replaced with another director who is re-shooting the commercial and eliminating the bear.
Helmer is furious at the loss of creative control, and as he throws his cell phone against his apartment wall there is a knock at the door. He is greeted by THE CLOWN (50s) who has arrived for a kid’s birthday party, and disappointed to have hiked up so many stairs only to have found the wrong apartment. No problem, Helmer invites him in for a drink. The pair enjoy beverages as Helmer explains the recent downturn in his career.The Clown listens intently, offers a sympathetic ear, and has a solution. He just happens to be a member of the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army, a group of clowns that use their clowning skills, along with non-violent direct action, to oppose society’s injustices. The Clown explains that Helmer’s predicament is clearly a case of injustice, of “profit over dignity,” and that the grizzly bear should be in the commercial.
Helmer’s barely lucid mind likes what it hears, and he agrees that the kids of the world could use the grizzly instead of prefabricated ideas fed to them by corporate America. Better yet, The Clown works for free, and Helmer is eager for The Clown to help him defy one of the biggest talent agencies in the world, Mulligan's agency, if he’s up for it. The Clown agrees, and leaves.
The Clown arrives drunk at his next birthday party where mayhem ensues. He juggles fire in front of an audience of terrified kids, and clumsily sets fire to his clown outfit. He sprints away from shocked parents, jumping backyard fences until he finds a neighbor's pool to douse the flames.
Helmer meets The Clown at a cafe to brainstorm. The Clown, in his singed outfit, advises that Helmer share his ideas through a manifesto which Helmer then produces in the form of several blank pages that end in a single line granting him total creative control. It’s not a manifesto, it’s a contract, but The Clown heaps praises on Helmer for his masterful effort. The Clown then berates a waitress for adding generic ketchup to an empty Heinz bottle and goes on a rampage destroying tubs of generic dip in the cafe.
With the manifesto complete, The Clown joins Helmer in his subsequent meeting with Mulligan, but their joint efforts fail to gain them any ground toward having the grizzly back in the ad. Helmer is again frustrated with the wasting of his time, energy, and creativity. The Clown attempts to rally him once again to the cause of opposing corporate, commercial influence, but Helmer makes it clear that he is done with their bizarre form of activism.
Savannah reaches Helmer at his apartment and explains she has remedied the situation. Mulligan will retain Helmer's services if he commits to dropping the grizzly from the ad. After Helmer's inflated ego calms down, he finally concedes, accepts the offer and hangs up. Helmer finds a red balloon floating outside of his front door with a message attached. It is from The Clown, stating their movement has begun, and that Helmer should meet him immediately at Mulligan's agency.
A protest outside Mulligan's ad agency is in full effect, where hundreds of people lie naked in front of the agency building. The Clown whips naked bodies and announces on a megaphone that he is weaning them off of the corporate giant’s propaganda. Helmer arrives dumbstruck by The Clown's antics as the protest gets out of hand. Savannah watches the news on her apartment TV and sees Helmer is arrested. She bails him out of jail and tries to get him to take other directing opportunities, and away from The Clown.
Savannah drops a bombshell when she reveals that she is dying of ovarian cancer. Helmer immediately gives up on booze and the playboy lifestyle and turns his attention to doing whatever he can for Savannah. No amount of money will cure her. Sadly, Savannah dies, but Helmer has matured and found a permanent sense of balance in his life. Helmer is now working on his own, and adapts to a more conventional lifestyle, enduring the daily commute back and forth to work. The Clown spray paints his anti-corporate messages along the freeway in hopes of appealing to Helmer.
The Clown makes another attempt to lure Helmer back to his cause during a round of golf, pleading to help him “awaken the stumbling masses” from their brainwashed, advertising-induced hypnosis.
Helmer informs The Clown that he has no interest, to stop harrassing him, and that he will be laying low in a hotel for a while. Wheezy will have none of it, and protests by running across the golf course, stripping off his clown costume until he stands naked on a hill, and then runs away.
Helmer lounges peacefully by his hotel pool when a disturbance in the lobby gets his attention. He investigates, and finds The Clown in the clutches of staff members, belting out words of caution about the corporate influence the hotel patrons are living under. Although he is no longer in costume, The Clown still wears his red nose and wig, but these come off in the scuffle, revealing The Clown to be WARNER BATES, the director turned killer from the FADE IN.
Helmer intervenes, frees Bates, but soon regrets it as Bates spouts the demented ramblings of a madman, convinced Helmer will join his crusade to destroy advertising and force people to question the machine. Helmer outright rejects his ridiculous game plan, but Bates won't listen. He hands over a .357 magnum to Helmer, insisting that he kill on behalf of their cause. Bates is escorted out of the hotel by security.
The next day Helmer receives a written note: “Mulligan is dead. Death to oppression.” Helmer knows the message is from Bates and believes he is serious, immediately driving to Mulligan's agency to warn him. En route, he learns that Mulligan is actually back at his hotel hosting a conference, so he whips his Ferrari around and heads back.
Back at the hotel, Helmer finds Mulligan in the restroom and warns of the imminent danger at hand, but they are ambushed by Bates who jumps out of a stall, and still carries the .357 magnum. Holding them at gunpoint, Bates forces both up to Helmer's hotel room. Police arrive on the scene, and pound on the locked hotel room door, causing a struggle to break out between Bates, Helmer, and Mulligan. Mulligan is knocked to the ground as Helmer tries to wrestle the gun from Bates. The gun goes off. Mulligan is hit in the side. Bates gets the upper hand as Helmer checks on the wounded executive.
Bates sets fire to the window curtains and yanks Helmer across the room, over to the window. The fire quickly escalates in the room. Bates is about to shoot Helmer, but Helmer throws his body backward, and smashes through the window, bullets narrowly missing him as he falls into the hotel pool below. Helmer surfaces to see Bates above, still in the hotel room, surrounded by violent flames.
Police raid the room and rescue Mulligan as flames burn up the room and encircle Bates. Bates accepts his fate, and sits cross-legged on the floor. Thick smoke rolls over his head and out the smashed window as he lights on fire, fully engulfed in flames.
Helmer stumbles out of the pool, staggers away from the hotel fire and out toward Sunset Blvd. The Santa Ana winds blow strongly, gusts carrying the flames from the hotel onto adjacent buildings and billboards. Helmerwaves down a cab, ordering the driver to take him anywhere. Helmer looks on as ads and the logos of iconic American brands burn to the ground in Hollywood. The cab continues on, and disappears through thick, churning smoke... FADE OUT.
Simon Wakelin Writer's Statment
ADLAND is a clever, dark comedy that pokes fun at our capitalist society. It serves to criticize the extent to which advertising messages shaped by a few powerful companies impose culture and point-of-view on the masses, and does so through humor in the form of exaggerated personalities and circumstances.
The story is fast paced, compelling and engaging. It immediately grabs the reader with crazy WARNER BATES killing three people and then vanishing. The subsequent scenes of a Scotch-swilling eight-year-old kid TOMMY HELMER compel the reader to try and figure out what the connection is.
The story then shifts to 20 YEARS LATER, quickly introducing Helmer's now booze-induced antics and best attempts at career suicide as a director in Hollywood. THE CLOWN follows suit, and maniacally communicates the story’s central contention, quickly moving the story to its climactic resolution. The Clown is plain insane, mouthing off radical babble, while MARTY MULLIGAN is the pompous ad exec.
Initially, the villain is really Helmer himself. He is his own worst enemy. He screws up his own life by drinking, partying and refusing to follow orders. SOFIA SAVANNAH is the take change producer, the dry voice of reason, while Helmer is her adolescent and clueless charge.
Savannah is hilarious, colorful, and easy to root for. Her career is on the line so she has a valid interest in Helmer's success, as well as genuine affection, while Helmer is the one who is out of control and causing so many problems. Savannah keeps Helmer's ego in check throughout, developing conflict between the two; the reader roots for Savannah to rein Helmer in, and Helmer is finally jolted back to reality after Savannah's untimely death.
The Clown and Helmer initially bond but their friendship quickly fizzles. Helmer just wants to get rid of The Clown but he doesn't know how. With Savannah no longer around, Helmer is left to fend for himself while the Clown mounts his attack, stalking Helmer until the resolution. Recall Bill Murray's character in WHAT ABOUT BOB? who won't leave Richard Dreyfuss's psychiatrist character alone.
Adland is reminiscent of FIGHT CLUB in its offbeat approach to societal observations, even concluding with disastrous images of the antagonist's efforts paying off. Adland could also be thought of as a twisted comic take on THE FISHER KING, the emotionally touching story of an arrogant DJ and his friendship with a street vigilante. SW