Friday, March 30, 2012

Screenplay Review - Soundtrack (Amateur Friday)

A couple of weeks ago, you guys got to choose from ten loglines to determine which script should be reviewed for Amateur Friday. Today's script finished in second place!

NEW Amateur Friday Submission Process: To submit your script for an Amateur Review, send in a PDF of your script, a PDF of the first ten pages of your script, your title, genre, logline, and finally, why I should read your script. Use my submission address please: Your script and “first ten” will be posted. If you’re nervous about the effect of a bad review, feel free to use an alias name and/or title. It’s a good idea to resubmit every couple of weeks so your submission stays near the top.

Genre: Romantic Comedy
Premise: When a burgeoning composer hits his head, he begins to hear his life’s soundtrack; a soundtrack that is prompting and pushing him back to his ex-fiance. But will he follow the guidance of the music?
About: Last week I held a mini-competition for 10 amateur Friday submissions and let you guys pick your favorite loglines. Soundtrack finished second, but when the first 10 pages of the Top 3 vote-getters were posted, Soundtrack received the best response of the bunch. Don’t worry, I’m not shafting the winner, Breathwork. I’ll be reviewing that next Friday (and I must say, it should be an interesting discussion – e-mail me if you want it). In the meantime, keep sending in those Amateur Friday entries (follow the submission process above!). With this new “Choose From 10” format I’m instituting, more of you have a chance to get your scripts seen by the world!
Writer: Nathan Shane Miller
Details: 104 pages (This is an early draft of the script. The situations, characters, and plot may change significantly by the time the film is released. This is not a definitive statement about the project, but rather an analysis of this unique draft as it pertains to the craft of screenwriting).

Andy Samberg for Ian?

I want to say a couple of things before I start reviewing today’s script. First, my latest obsession is figuring out what makes a script "impressive” as opposed to “worth the read.” What is that special ingredient that lifts it up into that rare air?

A big part of it, I realized, was connection. You, as the reader, have to connect with the story and the characters on a personal level. If you don’t, no matter how well that story is executed, there's going to be a divide between screenplay and reader. So the question is, how do you do that?

What I realized gave you the best chance was creating characters with depth, who are sympathetic, who are empathetic, who are relatable, and who are identifiable. If there’s something in ourselves that we see in the character, we will want to follow that character, and by association that character’s story.

But achieving that is tricky to do. You have to build a history into your character. You have to put them in situations that are relatable to others, yet still have those situations feel original and fresh. How in the world do you make something relatable yet different? I’m not sure I’ve figured that out yet. But the point of this long winded rant is that you need to be focusing on the story of your characters as opposed to the story of your story. Because your characters are what we’re going to connect with the most.

So how does Soundtrack make out in all of this? Grab your fiddle, strum a tune, and find out.

30 year old sorta-successful composer Ian is having a tough go of it. He's got the biggest potential job of his life coming up, and he still hasn't figured out the theme song for the main female character in the movie!

A big part of that is that he still hasn't gotten over his ex-fiance, which is strange, because he doesn’t seem to like her all that much and he already has a new girlfriend, Tracy, who, while a little materialistic, is super supportive of his career. In fact, she’s the one who got him the meeting with the big producer who’s going to change his life.

But a few days before the meeting, Ian slips and bumps his head on the kitchen floor, and when he wakes up, well, I think you know what happens next. He starts hearing the soundtrack of his life!

No doubt, this is the best part of the screenplay. Nathan has taken the Blake Snyder “fun and games” adage and really gone to town with it. For example, when the not so nice Tracy approaches, Ian hears the “Imperial March,” Darth Vader's theme from Star Wars.

When someone he doesn’t like approaches his door, he hears the Jaws theme. When he's late for work, he hears an adrenaline fueled action theme. But easily my favorite moment was when he goes to see the doctor, who happens to be Asian, and inadvertently hears really racist stereotypical Asian music – not easy to explain when the doctor, in order to help him, wants to know *exactly* what he’s hearing at this moment.

But while this may be funny for us, it's not funny for Ian, who must now pitch his idea to a producer with the soundtrack of his life pumping through his eardrums. Naturally, the pitch ends in disaster (he should have read Mike Le’s pitching interview!) but the producer decides to give him one more chance. Come up with the female lead’s theme by the end of the week and he’s hired.

However, no matter how much Ian brainstorms, he can’t figure it out. Eventually, he realizes that the only person capable of giving him the feeling he needs to complete the theme is his ex-fiance, Kaitlyn. Since Ian backed out of the wedding, though, Kaitlyn isn’t exactly rearranging her schedule to help him. In the end, Ian will need to reconcile the mistakes he made with Kaitlyn to save his career.

The reason I didn’t pick up Soundtrack earlier was simple. I’ve seen these kinds of premises before, and they almost always play out the same way. Great opening. But as soon as the charm of the concept wears out, the story collapses. In other words, after that “fun and games” section, the writer sort of realizes, “Oh shit. I have to actually write a movie now.” And while Miller lasts longer than others, Soundtrack definitely suffers from the same issue. I mean, I don’t even think there were any music cues for the last 45 pages. It was almost like the story lost confidence in itself.

But what about the characters?? Isn’t that how we started this review?

Well, let’s start with the main relationship. I thought it was pretty sloppily handled. For the majority of the script, I had no idea what the specifics of Ian and Kaitlyn’s relationship were. I didn't know if they’d gone out for 10 weeks or 10 years. I didn't know who broke up with whom. Heck, I didn’t even know they’d been engaged until halfway through the script. The whole relationship was so vague that I spent more time trying to figure it out than I did simply enjoying their scenes.

This lack of clarity extended to Ian’s motivation in the relationship as well. For the life of me, I couldn't understand what he wanted out of the relationship. Did he want Kaitlyn back? Did he not want her back? Did he like her? Did he not like her? I never once got a read on his feelings, and a big part of that was how unclear their backstory was.

This vagueness was a problem in other parts of the screenplay as well. For example, I had no idea that his current girlfriend was a bad person until the musical cue of the Imperial March started playing. I was baffled. “Why is the Imperial March playing while his kick-ass girlfriend is around (who got him a great opportunity with this big producer!)?” It just didn’t make sense. Eventually I realized the girlfriend was materialistic and bad for him, but I certainly didn’t know that early on.

The moment where I officially checked out of the story though was when Ian went to Kaitlyn's parents’ house. I had no idea why they were at the house. One second they were talking at Kaitlyn’s and the next she was like, you need to apologize to my parents! Then we spend 20-some pages at their house out of nowhere. I just didn’t know where the story was going anymore. I still wasn’t even sure if Ian liked Kaitlyn so there were absolutely no stakes to getting her parents to accept his apology.

Overall, Soundtrack was an odd duck. It started out strong. The soundtrack gimmick was great. I thought Nathan's writing was good. He moved things along at a brisk pace. Then it hit the midpoint and started to lose steam, and by the end, I didn't really know what we were focusing on anymore. But Miller shouldn’t be too down about this. I see good writers get stuck in this genre all the time. Maybe picking a concept with a little more meat next time will help.

[ ] Wait for the rewrite
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: Like I said, this happens a lot with these high-concept ideas. The script starts out strong because the hook is fun. But when it’s time for the script to depend on the story and not the hook, it isn’t prepared to do so and falls apart. To avoid this, make sure the basics are in place. Your character goal should be strong. Your character goal should be clear (I’m still not sure what he was trying to do with Kaitlyn so it definitely wasn't clear in this case). And make sure the central relationship is compelling enough to last an entire movie. Again, the main relationship was so muddled/undefined that when it was time for the script to rest on it, it wasn’t prepared to do so. Get those basics in place and your script has a much better chance at working.