Focus Lost

Doug Cooper

Book Cover

GENRE

DRAMA SUSPENSE / THRILLER

    Core Theme

    REVENGE

    TIME PERIOD

    Contemporary

    COMPARABLE TITLES

    MULHOLLAND DRIVE, NIGHTCRAWLER, ENTOURAGE

    CHARACTER LIST

    • GABE: 27. LEAD. LOYAL AND ARTISTIC.

    • LEVI: 30S. FAMOUS ACTOR WHO'S NEGATIVELY IMPACTED BY GABE'S ACTIONS.

    • EVA: 30S. LEVI'S AGENT WHO PUTS EVERYTHING IN MOTION, AND GABE'S LOVE INTEREST.

    • ABBIE: 16. GABE'S YOUNGER SISTER AND DEPENDENT.

    • MARCUS: 20S. DEPUTY DA WHO NEEDS GABE'S HELP TO BRING A CASE AGAINST LEVI.

    • EMILY: 17. HOLLYWOOD STARLET AND LOVE INTEREST TO LEVI.

    Logline

    The line between passion and obsession runs through us all.

    Target Audiences

    Age: 35-54

    Target Gender: Universal

    Setting

    Los Angeles

    Based on a True Story

    No

    Publishing Details

    Status: Yes: with a Publisher

    Publisher: Rare Bird Books

    Year Published: 2019

    Starting Description

    Levi Combs never planned to rocket to stardom. Eva Florez knew he would the moment she saw him. Gabe Adams didn’t want anything to do with celebrities. But after Gabe’s sister sells his photos of Levi with a young starlet to a tabloid website, their lives become intertwined forever.

    Ending Description

    With the police after Levi, he kidnaps Gabe's sister to trade her life for Gabe's and Eva's. After the exchange, Gabe frees himself and causes Levi's Jeep to crash, sending the Jeep over the ledge of a canyon. As the Jeep teeters on the brink they must decide to either work together or die together.

    Group Specific

    Los Angeles

    Hard Copy Available

    No

    ISBN

    1947856898

    Mature Audience Themes

    Language/Profanity, Nudity,Substance Abuse,Sexual Abuse,Nudity, Language/Profanity

    Plot - Other Elements

    Twist, Philosophical Questions, Meaningful Message

    Plot - Premise

    Overcoming Monster/Villain

    Main Character Details

    Name: Levi Combs

    Age: 32

    Gender: Male

    Role: Antagonist

    Key Traits: Heartthrob, Charming, Aggressive, Sexy, Narcissistic

    Additional Character Details

    Name: Eva Florez

    Age: 36

    Gender: Female

    Role: Antagonist

    Key Traits: Aggressive, Power-hungry, Sexy, Villainous, Engaging, Beautiful, Manipulative, Narcissistic, Secretive, Seductive, Aspiring

    Additional Character Details

    Name: Gabe Adams

    Age: 35

    Gender: Male

    Role: protagonist

    Key Traits: Honorable, Modest, Naive, Selfless, Engaging, Gracious

    Additional Character Details

    Name: Emily James

    Age: 17

    Gender: Female

    Role: Tempter

    Key Traits: Beautiful, Power-hungry, Seductive, Sexy, Aggressive, Aspiring

    Development Pitch

    Escaping the increased scrutiny from their recent hit movie, actor Levi Combs takes his young costar Emily James out to a remote waterfall in the California wilderness. Concerned about the relationship, his agent Eva Florez anonymously tips off photographer Gabe Adams about the waterfall, knowing he’ll want to photograph it and hopefully capture them as well. Not recognizing who Levi and his costar are, Gabe plans to discard the photos, but his younger sister, a huge fan of Emily’s, sells them to an entertainment site to help Gabe since he has sacrificed so much raising her after their parents died. Attempting to mitigate the damage she caused, Eva seduces Gabe to stop him from releasing additional photos and becoming a witness for Deputy District Attorney Marcus Ambrose, who has his own personal score to settle with Levi. Blending the nuance and insight of literary fiction with the big-screen magic of a Hollywood thriller, Focus Lost takes readers to the border of passion and obsession, daring them to step across the line.

    Genre

    THRILLER, DRAMA, MATURE AUDIENCE

    Brief

    An actor in his prime faces the truth that his career could be derailed by his burgeoning relationship with a young starlet. The photographer accidentally involved in the scandal finds his life completely upended as he’s dragged into the harsh reality of Hollywood. As he strives to protect his teenage sister, the actor’s agent ruthlessly protects his career and her own bottom line by putting the photographer in harm’s way.

    Overall Rating

    FAIR

    Point of View

    THIRD PERSON

    Narrative Elements

    Authors Writing Style: FAIR

    Characterization: FAIR

    Commerciality: FAIR

    Franchise Potential: FAIR

    Pace: FAIR

    Premise: FAIR

    Structure: FAIR

    Theme: GOOD

    Accuracy of Book Profile

    The logline in the Book Profile does not actually tell us anything about the story, and needs to be clearer and give some idea of the plot. The first paragraph of the short summary is great (and closer to a logline), but the second is confusing. The target gender is absolutely male. The audience also probably shouldn’t be LA-specific, as this reads as a tourist or out-of-towner’s Los Angeles, not a native’s. The character’s ages also make no sense. Abbie is 16 and Gabe is 35, but he was also 18 when Abbie was 7. This lack of attention to detail is a little frustrating.

    Draw of Story

    The danger of Gabe catching Levi and Emily in the act, and in turn of Levi catching Gabe, sets up a thriller premise that’s interesting. Though this is lost for most of the intervening pages until the end, it’s very engaging at the outset.

    Possible Drawbacks

    The most difficult part of reading this book was the persistent sexism. Though it could be confined to Levi’s own views, the book makes no attempt to do so. Instead, there’s a consistent attempt to rationalize that Emily (who is 17, and even younger in a flashback) is some kind of sexual predator and Biblical temptress, and men shouldn’t be held responsible for their own actions. Beyond this upsetting issue, the writing is subpar at times. It feels as though the writer is merely summarizing the story, rather than letting us live it. We know every characters’ thoughts and feelings, and there’s no sense of discovery or suspense for the audience.

    Use of Special Effects

    THE STORY RELIES A LITTLE BIT ON SPECIAL EFFECTS

    Primary Hook of Story

    Gabe and Abbie’s relationship dynamic is the most compelling thing about this story, and him giving up his future to take care of Abbie is great. Their sibling dynamic of sacrificing for each other is such a pleasure, and it could be leaned into even further.

    Fanbase Potential

    A fanbase is unlikely. The character motivations are often inscrutable. It’s difficult to relate to nearly anyone here, despite maybe Abbie (who is 16). Levi and Eva are despicable people, as is Emily, and it’s not even in a fun or entertaining way. Hollywood stories succeed when they engage in the wish fulfillment aspect, and this does not do this. The story only shows a disgustingly dark underbelly of the entertainment industry.

    Awards Potential

    Potentially with the right leads, this could garner awards draw, but it’s unlikely due to the genre and general lack of morality, unless the right director was attached.

    Envisioned Budget

    MEDIUM BUDGET

    Similar Films/TV Series

    MULHOLLAND DRIVE; NIGHTCRAWLER; ENTOURAGE

    What’s New About the Story

    The overall plot is actually very unique, it’s just not one that’s in high demand. The characters have to be made more likable and far more relatable. To enhance the unique elements, focusing more on Gabe and Abbie would be a great start, as their story is more compelling than that of a spoiled Hollywood actor obsessed with a 17-year-old girl.

    Lead Characters

    Unfortunately, most of what stands out are Levi and Eva’s awful, bloodthirsty traits. Gabe and Abbie aren’t particularly unique, but their sibling bond has a “Dawson’s Creek” sort of charm to it.

    Uniqueness of Story

    This is unique, it’s just not a commercial draw. It would be extremely off-putting to most audiences, and the story has to be clarified before anything else. This is too muddled with too many storylines that intersect in inorganic ways. The rampant misogyny also needs to be addressed.

    Possible Formats

    Film - Streaming

    Analyst Recommendation

    WORK IN PROGRESS

    Justification

    The plot needs to be revisited. The characters are unlikable, cliches rebound, and the story meanders pointlessly for a large chunk of the novel. When it finally begins to pick up, it becomes more and more outlandish for no real payoff.

    Tips for Improvement

    In case of screen adaptation, the characters would have to be greatly improved, and the sexism would have to be addressed. This novel holds the view that women can be blamed for all of men’s follies, and nearly every female character is either assaulted or simply a sex object. Or both. Even Levi gets off easy, as he simply dies quickly rather than face justice.

    Brief

    An actor in his prime faces the destruction of his career due to his relationship with an underaged starlet. The photographer who unknowingly revealed the scandal finds his life completely upended as he’s dragged into the harsh reality of Hollywood's most elite -- and most ruthless.

    What We Liked

    - Gabe and Abbie's relationship has a charm similar to successful and enduring sibling relationships in TV and film. They're ride or die, and their love is clear through the sacrifices they're willing to make for each other. It's partially Abbie's choices that damn both of them, and leave them struggling to climb their way back out of the whole they've accidentally wound up in. Their dynamic has a very "us against the world" element to it, and it's endearing and heartening.
    - Film: Told in a mixture of present day and flashbacks of each main character's backstory, this would be an ensemble film that draws everyone together in a messy, violent climax sure to have an audience on the edge of their seats. Discovering the true depths of depravity of these characters, and the Hollywood ecosystem they call home, would make for a thrilling film.
    - TV: Adapting the novel for TV would serve to heighten the thriller aspects of the story, and to really create moments of suspense. Allowing the audience to slowly see Levi's mania develop, as well as disguising the lengths to which he and Eva are willing to go, would draw in an audience and leave them wanting more each episode as more is revealed.
    - Key points: Easy to film in and around LA; Big cast creates more opportunities for A-list talent; Several strong female characters; Thriller elements; Forbidden romance between Gabe and Eva.

    Synopsis

    At a secluded waterfall outside of Los Angeles, young starlet EMILY JAMES comes onto leading man LEVI COMBS. Though Emily is only 17, Levi brought her here for the day to get away from the city and the pressure of their famous lives. Though he initially tries to resist Emily’s wiles, he gives in and the two have sex at the base of the waterfall. Nature photographer GABE ADAMS accidentally comes upon them, but he doesn’t turn back. Instead, he gets closer and takes several intimate photos of the couple. Levi sees the glare of Gabe’s lens and runs after him. He threatens Gabe and the two scuffle, but Gabe manages to get back in his car uninjured. As he takes off back for the city, Levi calls his longtime agent, EVA FLOREZ, to have her police friend run Gabe’s plates and get his information. 


    Eva can do one better, though, as she already knows exactly who Gabe is. Though Gabe doesn’t know it, Eva nudged him in the direction of the waterfall. Gabe has a stand where he sells his photography, and Eva had someone tip him off to the waterfall near Levi’s land. Gabe is totally ignorant as to who Levi and Emily are, much less the illegality of their actions. He doesn’t realize until he goes to delete the photos and his younger sister ABBIE (16) sees them. An Emily James fangirl, Abbie insists that Gabe sell the photos to a tabloid site as they’d be worth a lot. Gabe refuses, and even considers going to the police since Emily is underage. He ultimately decides to delete the photos, but Abbie secretly sends some of them to herself before he does. Gabe has a big opening at a gallery that night, and he’s too distracted to take care of the photos quite yet.

    It’s his first opening, and it’s a rousing success. There, Gabe meets Eva, who lies about what she does and gives him a fake name. She flirts with him, and the two go home together. Meanwhile, Abbie and her friend go to see the movie FOR LOVE, the new Levi Combs and Emily James vehicle. Levi plays Emily’s father, who is imprisoned for a murder that Emily’s character committed. The movie is getting Oscar buzz, both for Best Picture and Best Actor. Afterward, Abbie shows her friend the photos and contacts a gossip news site. Acting as Gabe’s assistant, and insisting his studio be credited for the racy photos, Abbie sends along five of them for a $10,000 paycheck. Not knowing that Abbie has already sold some of the photos, Eva attempts to locate them on Gabe’s computer after they have sex. He’s not suspicious, buying her excuse of needing to check her work email. Annoyed she can’t copy the photos in front of him, though, she leaves in a rush. 


    Gabe is upset that Abbie sold the photos, but he understands he did it to try to help him. Gabe has been looking out for both of them since their parents died in a car accident the night of his high school graduation nine years ago, putting his own life on hold. Abbie feels guilty for everything he’s sacrificed, though of course Gabe doesn’t see it that way. He’s able to provide for them doing what he loves, despite how difficult it can be at times. The photos of Levi and Emily quickly grab headlines, and the stars themselves claim they were just swimming and nothing happened. The photos are highly suggestive, but the ones Abbie sent aren’t explicit. The photos catch the attention of MARCUS AMBROSE, a deputy district attorney who has it out for Levi. Several years earlier, his sister TAMARA was left as wreckage in Levi’s wake. The two dated when he was hired on for his first ever gig on her TV show, but he had her fired when they split up, as she was stalking him. Tamara turned to drugs and died of a heroin overdose, and Marcus has never forgiven Levi’s role in her death.

    Despite being sexually abused as a young girl, Eva refuses to help Marcus build a case. Gabe refuses separately, and he claims there are no further photos. He’s worried that Abbie will reveal she’s the one who sold the photos, and that she knows there are more, so he takes total responsibility for selling them. Levi and Emily gather with their representatives to discuss a game plan. Everyone but Levi agrees that the two should stop seeing one another for the sake of their careers and the new movie’s success. Emily reassures everyone it was consensual, and she was the seducer, but Levi is hurt that she wants to distance herself from him. He confronts her at her hotel after, growing more and more agitated despite Emily trying to remain professional in front of a crowd of paparazzi. Levi breaks, blaming Emily for everything, and punches one of the men. Furious at Gabe for taking and selling the photos, thus ruining his new relationship, Levi hires some muscle to confront him and get the rest of the pictures.

    
The bruiser beats Gabe up, and steals the memory card from his camera before breaking it. However, it’s the wrong memory card. Eva calls Gabe after she finds out what Levi has done, putting on a sweet and concerned act. Though Gabe knows now that she’s Levi’s agent, he agrees to let her come over. He tells her there are more photos, and that Abbie’s the one who sold them in the first place. He even tells her that the DA has been asking questions. Eva again tries to steal the photo files, and Gabe again catches her in the act. He tells her to take them, wanting the whole business done with. He’s upset that she’s there for the pictures and not for him, and he was hoping she would come clean. When Abbie comes home to find Gabe badly injured, she calls Marcus to tell him everything: that she sold the photos, that there are more incriminating ones, and that Eva now has them.

    Despite the possibility of being charged for statutory rape, Levi wins the Oscar for Best Actor. He’s booed when he takes the stage, and he makes a stir in his acceptance speech by all but professing his love for Emily. She’s embarrassed, and declines his invitation to any after-parties. The next day, Levi agrees to buy all of the artwork at the gallery where Gabe’s work is displayed, on the condition that the owner stop selling Gabe’s work. Though the owner feels bad, she can’t in good conscience deprive the other artists of the sales, nor the gallery of the money. Gabe comes in at the same time, and he’s furious. He and Levi have an altercation, but Levi is much stronger and subdues Gabe. Levi charms a young woman named MARA and takes her back to his place. He insists on keeping her phone while she’s there, before plying her with alcohol and tying her to his bed. He then lets his python HANNAH out of her cage so that she can be on the bed while they have sex. Freaked out, Mara uses the safe word they agreed upon, but Levi doesn’t stop. Afterward, Mara agrees that it was all okay.

    Just as Eva facilitated Levi’s big break into show business, his fame catapulted her success as an agent. The two were intimate in his early career, though they haven’t been for awhile. Emily goes directly to Gabe to try to seduce him into giving her the extra pictures, not knowing Eva already has them. He protests that she’s a minor, but she tells him that she lost her virginity by her own volition when she was much younger to a 25-year-old who worked on the set of her show. She’s a woman and can make her own decisions. Gabe is uninterested, and Emily attempts to turn to blackmail, but Abbie comes home and interrupts them. At his mansion, Levi gets into a scuffle with a paparazzo. He knocks the man out and drags him inside. When the man wakes up, Levi, enraged, cuts off part of his ear before slicing his throat and killing him. He hides the body in a large freezer in his garage and cleans everything up. That week, his latest movie, which he invested everything, tanks. He fires Eva as his agent, and accuses her of arranging the whole scandal as a way to get them back together. 


    
Marcus and the DA’s office get a warrant to go back to Eva, and this time she’s forced to comply. She hands over the remaining photos, which are much more explicit. On his own, Gabe goes to Marcus and agrees to testify that Levi and Emily were definitely having sex when he saw them. Eva goes to Gabe’s home studio and buys three photographs, trying to help him out financially since he lost his showing at the gallery. Levi is arrested for sex crimes but released on bail. He gathers his gun and his snake and flees. However, he figures out why Marcus looks familiar, and his lawyers go after the DA because of Marcus’s grudge due to Levi’s connection to his sister’s death. Marcus insists he’s impartial and can nail Levi. Levi breaks into Eva’s house, snake in tow, and the two have violent sex. He grows angry when he realizes she’s working with Gabe, planning to hire him on as an in-house agency photographer, and leaves afterward. 


    
The paparazzo that Levi killed was known to be at Levi’s house before he went missing, and Marcus gets a warrant to search the property because of other charges. They find part of the man’s earlobe and traces of blood, before they find the body itself. Levi goes to Gabe’s house and kidnaps Abbie. He takes her into the countryside to an abandoned farm that he owns. Gabe and Eva race after them, and Eva secretly contacts Marcus despite Levi’s insistence they not go to the police. Abbie nearly gets away, but Levi catches her. He trades her freedom for Gabe and Eva. He drives toward the edge of a cliff with Eva and Gabe tied up in the car, dooming them all. Marcus shows up with the cavalry to find Abbie alone. Gabe and Eva are able to escape from Levi’s car, and Gabe insists they have to pull Levi out before the car goes over the edge. Eva grudgingly agrees, but she lets go at the last second without Gabe’s knowledge. Before she does, though, she tells Levi that she did send Gabe to the waterfall to take the photos. Then the car, with Levi and his snake inside, crashes to the canyon floor before bursting into flames. Gabe, Eva, and Abbie hold each other as Levi burns below.

    About The Author

    Doug Cooper is the author of the award-winning novels Outside In and The Investment Club. Always searching, he has traveled to over twenty-five countries on five continents, exploring the contradictions between what we believe and how we act in the pursuit of truth, beauty, and love. He has called Cleveland, St. Louis, Detroit, New York, Las Vegas, and Oslo, Norway home, and now resides in Vermilion, Ohio.