Friday, April 20, 2012

Screenplay Review - We, Myself and I

She's turned a number of your boring loglines into logline tour-de-forces. Now she gets her screenplay reviewed on Scriptshadow!

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: Drama/Romance
Premise: (from Dianne) After one of her alter-egos seduces the guy she’s been crushing on, a shy college student with multiple personalities struggles to get rid of her meddlesome headmates and find love on her own.
About: Dianne Cameron has been a longtime reader and commenter on the site. She may be the best I’ve ever seen at breaking down and fixing loglines. But a logline is a lot different from a script. So let’s see if that talent extends to writing screenplays!
Writer: Dianne Cameron
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).

It's pretty amazing what a title change can do. When this script was titled Plurally Inclined, I wanted to stay as far away from it as possible. The title made me squirm and wiggle uncomfortably. When it popped up in my Inbox as “We, Myself and I,” however, I couldn’t imagine NOT reading it. It was all of a sudden friendly and approachable. So my friend, a word to the wise: Never stop until you have the perfect title! It REALLY DOES affect how someone sees your script.

And now to the main event…

Heather Lee is a 19-year-old intelligent shy figure skating sophomore. Her best friend Zoe is an outgoing fire cracker hot fashionista. Her, um, little sister maybe(?), B.J. is cute and precocious. And then her oldest friend, Suzanne, is a moody French chick who spends way too much time complaining about the world.

Oh yeah, by the way, these are all one person - Heather. That’s because Heather has multiple personality disorder. All of these people are just figments of her imagination.

So Heather has a crush on frat boy Matt but has been too shy to do anything about it. Well Heather, waiters become lonely neighbors. Your alternate personality number one, Zoe, takes over your body, then takes over Matt, leading him back to his dorm room and giving him multiple…other things. By the way, Zoe is 17 years old. Which means Matt’s just committed statutory rape. I think?

When Heather finds out Zoe stole her man, she’s furious, but such is the life of a Multiple Person. It’s hard enough to control the urges of one woman, let alone four!

Anyway, the one person who understands Heather and what she goes through is her best friend Tyler. He knows about her multiple personalities and is her one shoulder to cry on. In fact, the two seem like a perfect match, yet Tyler is inexplicably dating someone else who he doesn’t have NEARLY the same chemistry with. So what’s going on?

I’ll tell you. (spoiler) - In the best moment of the script, we find out the girl Tyler’s dating isn’t real. It’s another one of Heather’s personalities! Zoinks! Tyler’s actually in love with Heather, but can’t do anything about it, since you can’t be with a girl who goes off and sleeps with other guys, even if they’re not technically sleeping with them…yet they are.

So we follow Heather as she navigates through this minefield of multiplicity, experiencing the trials and tribulations of a young woman fighting an already difficult stage of her life with 5 times the obstacles. Will she find a way to be with Tyler? Does she really like Matt? How does she satisfy her other personalities and still satisfy herself? Questions abound in “We, Myself and I.”

Okay, I have a lot to say about this one. I know people will want to talk about the pictures on the title page, but the pictures are the least important piece to this puzzle. And it is a puzzle. A great big giant puzzle we only have one third the pieces for.

I think Dianne may have bit off more than she could chew. The difficulty level for this script is through the roof. I’m not sure she knew just how challenging it would be to convey what she was trying to convey when she started this thing.

Let’s start with the rule-set. The rules in We, Myself and I are never made clear. Sometimes Heather can become one of her other personalities. Other times she can sit down and talk with her other personalities. I’m betting Dianne did her research and both these things are possible, but boy was it confusing to someone reading the story.

For instance, sometimes she seems to forget when she becomes other people (Zoe sleeping with Matt) and other times she can remember. So what *does* happen when she’s another personality? Does the rest of her just black out? Does she only remember a third of her days, for example, since she’s another personality for the other two-thirds? I know there’s only so much time and you can’t explain everything to the reader less you bore them to death, but these are extremely important details if we’re to understand what, exactly, is going on.

On top of this, what’s happening doesn’t make sense. A girl with multiple personality disorder has snuck into a college? Do her parents know about this? Are they okay with their daughter, who can become a different person at any moment, roaming around freely? Isn’t that dangerous? Wouldn’t they be worried something might happen to her? Unless she’s tricked her parents too? Although maybe her parents aren’t around anymore and I missed that. Still, that would make this way too convenient.

And wouldn’t her professors or someone at the college have figured her secret out by now? She can’t control when these personalities take over, right? So the chances of her walking around freely and never once slipping into another personality in class or somewhere else are next to impossible. Yet she still seems to be fooling everyone.

This begs the obvious question – why not make this a comedy? If it were a comedy, the audience wouldn’t be asking any of these questions. Or, I should say, they wouldn’t care as much. But by treating the subject matter seriously, you have no choice but to explain these plot holes. And the fact that they aren’t explained undermines any chance of us taking the story seriously.

Personally, I think it would be a lot more interesting to tell this story as a comedy from the point of view of a guy who starts dating a girl who has multiple personality disorder. Now you don’t have to worry about covering this complicated rule-set because Heather would no longer be the main character.

In addition, I’d probably take out the college setting. There's something very “low stakes” about college. People go to college to take classes and party. There’s nothing to lose (unless you stress a scholarship or graduation they’re in danger of losing). It feels like the kind of subject matter that you’d have more options with in the real world. And plus we’d take it more seriously (if that’s the route Dianne wanted to stick with). I never felt that Heather was in danger of losing that much in this story.

On top of this, I’m not sure there’s any GSU. Not that GSU is the end all, be all, but I definitely felt like this story was lacking momentum and forward thrust. What were we pushing towards? What was the point of all this? Was it just to experience a semester in the life of a young woman with this disorder? I guess you could go that route but from a story point of view it just isn’t very interesting.

The lack of GSU also led to murky writing choices. If your main character’s not after something (a goal), you, the writer, don’t really know what to write next so you basically guess. I remember at one point, for example, towards the end of the screenplay, we switch over to Matt as sort of a mini-main character. I barely knew Matt and definitely didn’t care enough about him to be alone with him for a sequence. At that point I truly had no idea where the story was going anymore.

In Dianne’s defense, I see even the biggest A-list writers struggling with this idea. It’s just so complicated. My suggestion would be to simplify it as much as possible and make it a straight comedy. It would make writing the story so much easier. But I wish Dianne the best of luck with it. Her contributions in the comments section have been invaluable!

Script link: We, Myself and I

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

What I learned: Be aware if you're writing a rules-dependent script. There are certain stories where the rules have to be spelled out clearly for the audience or else we're not going to know what’s going on. Sci-fi (Matrix, Inception) and fantasy (Lord Of The Rings) usually fall under this category, but every once in awhile you write a story like We, Myself and I that requires the same amount of explanation. In these cases, you have to think about EVERY SINGLE QUESTION THE AUDIENCE MIGHT ASK ABOUT THE RULES and make sure they’re answered. Not only that, but make sure they’re answered invisibly – hidden inside dialogue and action so as not to draw attention to themselves. Star Wars does a good job of this. We learn the force through actions (Darth Vader force-choking an official for questioning him) and intriguing backstory (Obi-Wan telling a desperate-to-know Luke about how his father used to be a jedi). Diane DID use a lecture scene explaining what multiple personality disorder was, but not only did it feel forced (a professor who just happened to be talking about the very disorder our main character suffers from in a lecture?) but it wasn’t enough. It was only about 30% of what we needed to know. Rule-sets have no “one-size-fits-all” solution, but as long as you’re aware of what the audience needs to know in order to “get” your story, you should be able to write in what you need to.