Thursday, January 19, 2012

Amateur Thursday! - Funny Money

Amateur Friday Submission Process: To submit your script for an Amateur Review, send it in PDF form, along with your title, genre, logline, and why I should read your script to Keep in mind your script will be posted in the review (feel free to keep your identity and script title private by providing an alias and fake title). Also, it's a good idea to resubmit every couple of weeks so that your submission stays near the top of the pile.

Genre: Comedy
Premise: A print shop owner who moonlights as a counterfeiter finds himself in over his head after a money deal gone wrong.
Writer: Robert Cornero
Details: 142 pages

Amateur Friday has been switched to Amateur Thursday this week!

So today we’re going to do something different. Robert, a longtime reader of Scriptshadow and a really nice guy, e-mailed me to let me know he had finally written a script he was confident enough in to submit to Amateur Friday. There was only one problem, he noted. It violated one of my most hardcore rules. It was 142 pages long.

I told him I couldn’t read it. 142 pages? There was no way. We then had a back and forth discussion/argument on why a script can’t be 140 pages. I argued my side. He argued his (his main point was that his script was dialogue heavy, which takes up a lot of space). And at the end of the discussion, I realized, this is the exact same argument I hear from every screenwriter who writes a long screenplay. So that gave me an idea. I could use this script as a learning tool. I would show writers our argument, and then, assuming I was right, use the review to show why a 140 page script shouldn’t be written. At the same time, I would be open-minded and give the script a fair shot. If Robert proved me wrong, I would happily admit so, and writers everywhere would have new ammunition for their super-sized screenplays. So, here was our e-mail exchange…


Hey Robert,

I hear you. Dialogue heavy scripts are a little longer, but 142 pages??? I'll be honest. If that landed on my desk and I didn't know who you were, I would never read it. That's not true. I MIGHT read the very first page. If it made me BURST OUT LAUGHING then I'd keep reading. But comedies are supposed to be lean and mean, not bulky, even WITH dialogue (remember, most comedies are dialogue based, so you don't get much leniency in that area). If you got it down to 110, I'd put it in the mix. The thing is, I've only ever read 2 scripts over 130 pages that were good. The Social Network and Brigands Of Rattleborge. That's 2 in maybe 400. I know you think yours is the exception, but every one of those bad 130+ page scripts also had writers who swore theirs was the exception. So it's hard to believe anyone when they say that.

Gut that puppy! I know it's hard but you gotta do it. :)


I hear ya. Believe me, I hear ya. It wasn't a choice I made lightly, and it's still something I'm concerned about, not for story reasons, but exactly for the kind of length-bias you echoed here - which isn't to accuse you of being biased. After all, there's good reason for it - there are a lot of bad writers out there and they tend to multiply their words. But I have to wonder if Hollywood as a whole suffers for its reluctance to read lengthier pieces (or at least automatically equating length with story quality). I mean:

Citizen Kane - 167 pages.
The Shawshank Redemption - 131 pages
Silence of the Lambs - 145 pages
Batman Begins - 150 pages
The Dark Knight - 141 pages
Toy Story 3 - 131 pages
Lord of the Rings - 173 pages
Inglourious Basterds - 166 pages
The Hurt Locker - 131 pages
Inception - 147 pages
City of the Gods (Darabont) - 141 pages
Smoke & Mirrors - 128 pages
Catch Me If You Can - 134 pages

And of course, all established pros, right? They get to do that because they earned it, or so the logic goes. But it seems that lengthier scripts generally turn into better, more timeless movies than their shorter brethren. It's just a fact of the page; you're never, ever going to jam as meaningful a story into 90 pages as you would spending 130 pages on the story.

Idk, maybe I'm wrong, but a lean cuisine, microwave friendly script is not going to be as satisfying as a home cooked meal script, meat, potatoes and all. Just because 90-110 is dominant doesn't mean it's healthy, or good.

Maybe there's an article somewhere in that thought there for Scriptshadow.


Lol, that's not really fair to list those movies. I could also list you the 398 130+ screenplays that I've read which have been terrible. That would multiply exponentially if you included the ones ALL the readers in Hollywood have read...

Ager's Toothache 159 pages
Prophecy Boy 181 pages
Caramel Is My Favorite - 143 pages
The Barber Ate My Baby - 156 pages
(and on for another 50,000 scripts)

Here's the thing I ALWAYS see with big scripts. They always show a lack of discipline. They always include more than they should. It's incredibly rare that I read a long script where the writer ACTUALLY utilizes every single one of those pages. Am I saying yours can't be that one? No. But I'd probably want to read something of yours that was 100 pages so I could at least see if you could write before I gave you that chance, you know?

But you're right. It's reader-bias that's your biggest problem here. It doesn't really matter if your script is good or not. If it's 140 pages (with a comedy no less, which are supposed to come in between 100-110), they're not giving it a chance.


But haven't you read an equal, if not greater, amount of terrible normal-sized scripts? My point in listing those was to show there's no direct correlation between length and skill.

I mean, the 90-110 page rule isn't exactly a hidden secret. Everyone knows it and shoots for it. I'd be willing to wager that the vast majority of terrible scripts out there fall into the 90-110 page category. So the question is, why then don't "normal" scripts get the same negative reaction?

When it comes to long scripts, if a reader gets a terrible one, it just takes the reader longer to figure out that it's terrible, and because they've spent that much more time on it, they get that much more fed up and end up decrying all long scripts. We live in a microwave culture. We want catharsis immediately. We want gratification and pay off right away. A great example is The Godfather. That script would not get made today. It barely got made in the 70's and today, it wouldn't stand a snowball's chance.

Anyway, thanks for the conversation and feedback. It's given me some things to consider. My hope is that the reader won't be dismissive when they arrive at page 1.


The longer scripts are always worse for three reasons. 1) They're always more unfocused (naturally, since the writers are using the extra pages for the wrong reasons), 2) Instead of only having to endure bad for 100 pages, you have to endure it for 140, which if you read a lot of scripts is the worst! and 3) They steal an extra 30-40 minutes out of your day. Readers live to work on their own writing. When a script steals nearly an extra hour out of their night, they get mad as hell.

Robert, all I can say is that when I was just writing, I thought the EXACT SAME WAY you did. I was making these exact same arguments to people. In fact, most young writers offer these same arguments. It took me being on the other side to realize how wrong I was.



And I agree with you, for the most part. I see the value and truth in what you are saying, and what many have said before you. I guess I just wish I could communicate the gravity with which I made that decision to allow it to be long, so that you would understand that page count is not something I take lightly.

Anyway, I'm not going to worry about it. Whether it moves forward or not is largely out of my hands at the moment.

And that’s when I offered to read his script if I could post this discussion. So, it’s time to look at Funny Money and see if it’s worth the 140 pages it takes to tell its story or if it, indeed, could’ve been cut waaaaay down. Let’s begin…

Funny Money follows a 30-something print shop owner named Andrew Piero. Andrew is raising his 11 year old precocious son on his own because his wife died after a very long and expensive battle with cancer.

But we soon learn there’s more going on to Andrew than we thought. He and his 70-something assistant, Hugo, are counterfeiting money in their basement! These guys just print money at will. What they find out, however, is that the Feds might be onto them. The bumbling duo of Agent Charlie and Agent Cynthia have been monitoring them for weeks. They just need that last “smoking gun” piece of evidence to convict them.

Once they realize this, Andy and Hugo decide to make one last giant sum of money and then dump the equipment. This is where the story got a little confusing to me, but I believe they need the help of some special guy who knows the secret ingredient that the U.S. Treasury is adding to all their new bills, in order for their fake money to look/feel authentic. And it just so happens this man operates out of Monte Carlo.

Cut to Europe, where we meet Marie Aubert, a sort of gold digging con woman, the hotter younger female version of Steve Martin in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. This woman sucks men out of all their money then moves on to the next target.

She runs across Andrew and Hugo, as well as Agents Charlie and Cynthia (who are following them) and puts two and two together. These guys are up to no good. Being her con-woman self, she decides to play both sides of the fence, telling the agents she’ll help them for a sum of money and our heroes she’ll help them for a sum of money. In the end, she’ll be able to run off and live happily (and lavishly) ever after. Except complications arise when she starts to have feelings for Andrew. Ahhh, might Marie have finally met her match? Love? And does any of this even matter, with our agents close to finally securing the evidence that they need?

So, we shall ask the age old screenwriting question once again: Is it possible to write a great 140 page script? Or is this proof, once again, that all super-long amateur scripts are going to be wandering messes? Well, I hate to answer this so anti-climactically, but the answer is…I’m not sure. The thing is, Funny Money has some story issues that have nothing to do with page length. And it’s only once we fix those that we can determine how length affects this screenplay. Having said that, there were numerous places I felt could be easily cut.

Let’s start at the top. The opening scene was quite strange. Andrew buys a ham. Another man steals it from him as he walks out the door. Andrew chases him, corners him, and then pays him $375 for the ham back. I believe this was to show that money wasn’t a problem for Andrew, but I was having a hard time accepting the logic of the scene. Why not just go to one of the 800 other butchers in Manhattan and buy another ham for 30 bucks? Or back to the one you just came from? I’m assuming butcher shops keep more than one ham.

But that issue paled in comparison to the big issue I had with the script. What was Andrew’s motivation for needing all this money he was printing up in the first place? He lived a very middling existence. He didn’t have fancy cars or a nice place. Through all of these money-making montages, the implication is that hundreds of thousands of dollars is being made. Where exactly is all this money going if he’s not using it? And if he’s not using it, why does he need it? I’m sure it’s not every day that he gets a ham stolen from him.

Eventually we’re told that Andrew’s wife died from cancer. And her care was expensive. So maybe – though it’s not ever made 100% clear – he’s using the fake money to pay off her medical bills? The problem with this is two-fold. One, we never actually see him PAYING a medical bill. So is the reader supposed to assume he’s doing this off-screen? And two, he’s not printing money out of an HP inkjet printer here. He’s got huge heavy-duty equipment that can print dozens of hundred dollar bills at a time.

I’m not a math-major. But let’s just assume worst-case scenario here. His wife’s cancer cost them 2 million dollars. From the equipment I’ve seen, I’m thinking he could probably print that up within 2-3 weeks tops? Yet it’s implied his wife has been dead for years. So what’s taking so long to print up all this money?

Anyway, after he and Hugo try to print up one last lump sum, I either missed a key plot point or something wasn’t explained well, because I couldn’t figure out exactly why they needed this guy in Europe. I think it was to secure some special ingredient that was being used in all the U.S.’s new money. This was probably the death knell for me because not only did I not understand why our main character printed up so much money that he never used, but I didn’t understand the main goal of the movie – why he’s going to this European man for help. I mean, it’s not like if you print up money without the special ingredient that it won’t be any good. Hundred dollar bills from 10 years ago are worth the same as hundred dollar bills being printed today. So who cares if you print old bills? Due to all this shaky logic, it was hard to give myself to the story.

Once they get to Monte Carlo, Marie approaches Andrew about the agents chasing him and offers to help, but when they go back to the room to get Hugo, he’s gone. At this point I assumed that Hugo was some sort of double agent and had screwed Andrew over, which I thought was sort of a cool idea, as Andrew’s plan couldn’t work without him. But then later we learn that Hugo just LEFT! He left because he got a strange phone call from someone totally unaffiliated with the plot. I can’t appropriately convey my response to this choice. But it was somewhere between utter frustration and complete bafllement. A main character exits the story because of a random phone call??

From this point on, I was just confused as to what the story was about. I guess a new goal was introduced where they needed to get Andrew a passport so he could get back to the U.S. safely (because Hugo had his original passport maybe?). But it seemed like such a strange choice to have this entire story build up what they needed to do in Europe, only to have your character get there and have to come right back. Dramatically, it’s sort of uninteresting. I didn’t love the storyline with the mysterious money-ingredient guy, but at least that storyline held some promise.

As for the length of the screenplay, there were definitely places to cut. There’s an incredibly long scene early on, for instance, where an insignificant character Marie is talking to breaks his finger. It’s something like 3-4 pages of a man talking about how his finger is broken. Those are the easiest cuts to make in a 140 page screenplay.

We have a pointless scene on page 53 where Andy talks about how his feet hurt. Easy cut. Andy doesn’t meet the love interest until page 65!!! He needs to meet her by page 30 (and we should be in Europe by page 20 at the latest – probably earlier). We have this whole random Blackjack storyline with Marie, who is some sort of Blackjack genius and can beat the dealer every time. When I refer to scripts “wandering,” this is what I mean. Blackjack should have nothing to do with this story. It needs to be ditched (Also, if she’s so great at blackjack, why does she need men for money? Why not just win a billion dollars for herself in Vegas?).

Hugo gets a 7 line paragraph description. Unacceptable in a 140 page screenplay. On page 88, characters spend a half a page ordering drinks. Ordering drinks is not interesting and should never be included in your script unless it’s plot related. Just from a general first read, I would’ve been able to chop 20 pages off this guy without a second thought. Then you just have to go in there and do a bunch of minor snips to bring it down to 110.

The thing is, Robert clearly has some talent. The dialogue at times is funny. The idea of a printer who’s secretly a counterfeiter is one with all sorts of potential, but I don’t think this story allows any of that potential to be explored.

I see this kind of script a lot actually. It happens a lot with young writers. There’s some talent on display, but the script reads like it only makes sense to the writer himself, as if he thinks we’re in his head with him. For example, if the point to printing all this money is, indeed, to pay for his wife’s medical bills, that needs to be shown somewhere. We need to know how much money is left on the tab. We need to see him paying the hospital bills. We need to understand HOW much money his machines can print at a time so we understand WHY he hasn’t already printed up enough money to pay the bills. I’m sure all of this is clear in Robert’s head, but unless he shows it to us, we’re left in the dark.

This is all tough love here. Robert’s always been super nice to me. And I take no happiness from digging my claws into this script as deeply as I have. But I’m hoping that, like most everyone who submits for Amateur Friday, these notes end up making the script (and the writer!) better.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: If your script is heavy on dialogue, you need to lose some weight in your description. Dialogue takes up a lot more space than description. So if all that dialogue is pushing you past the 120 page mark, do yourself a favor and thin out ALL YOUR DESCRIPTION LINES to make up for it. You can’t complain that your script is long because of the dialogue, then have a 7 line introduction for one of your characters. I would try and keep EVERYTHING under 2 lines. That’s the sacrifice you have to make if you’re going to have a dialogue heavy script.