All is Lost (2013), written by J. C. Chandor, is a survival film that depicts the story of a lone man whose sailboat sinks, leaving him stranded on a lifeboat in search of help.
I read the February 28th, 2011 version of the script, which came in at 32 pages. Yes, that’s right, 32 pages. The rough standard for screenplays is between 90 and 120 pages. With that said, Chandor directed this script, so he had ultimate creative control. I also read some sources which note there are other, longer versions of the screenplay. But the short length certainly makes it unique.
Let’s jump into the analysis.
- Draft Read: February 28th, 2011
- Type: Spec
- Page Count: 32
How is one supposed to analyze such a unique screenplay? For reference, along with only being 32 pages, the script has almost no dialogue, which I presume makes it appealing in the international market.
To me, this isn’t a screenplay that could be objectively good or bad. Sure, there are some grammatical errors and the action lines are a bit clunky. But again, it’s not a spec script. This is the type of screenplay that could turn into an epic, visually and aurally stunning movie, or be completely wasted. For those in the UX design field, I would compare it to an ultra-low fidelity mockup.
The plot (explained below) makes logical sense. Spoiler alert: A man reaches his all is lost moment and then is miraculously saved. The inciting incident, a loose shipping containing making a hole in the protagonist’s sailboat, starts the chain reaction of cascading difficulties the man must face. The man keeps trying to find solutions, but the situation grows hopeless: And if you strip away all of the complexities, that’s the general structure of most screenplays. Comedies also share this structure, but since the stakes, life or death, are so serious, it’s truly an action/survival film.
The linear plot is pretty simple to follow: A man in a sailboat. A storm forces the man to abandon his ship. Now stuck on a lifeboat, the protagonist tries to attract the attention of nearby ships. The man is continually beaten down as he tries to live, and then is saved.
The main character isn’t described in detail (besides his weight loss as the situation grows dire) Although, in the film, he’s played by Robert Redford.
Dialogue & Pacing
Virtually no dialogue.
The script reads quickly and uses the man passing out or falling asleep to cut between larger timeframes.
It’s a story we have read 100 times: Whether that’s Cast Away, Robinson Crusoe, The Swiss Family Robinson, or a news story that hits the press every few months. Okay, it’s a little different because the man never reaches land, but the beats are the same.
It’s an impactful narrative because it’s the story of man vs. nature. Hint: Nature wins. You root for the man, even though he is somewhat reckless and responsible to be put in the situation in the first place, to begin with.
I said somewhat responsible because ultimately it is a (man-made) floating shipping container that puts the whole story in motion. Is that why the Act 1 title card is man vs. man?
Best Part of The Script
Two scenes worth reading: The storm hits the sailboat (starts on page 11), and the climax (pages 30-32), where the man lights his raft on fire to attract the attention of passing ships.
You could probably knock out this script in 45 minutes, so it’s worth reading the whole thing.