Friday, July 20, 2012

Screenplay Review - Mad Dogs (Amateur Friday)

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: Grindhouse/Horror
Premise: A repressed teen werewolf tracks down her estranged father -- the sheriff of a resort that caters to the hedonistic pursuits of werewolves -- but an outbreak of weaponized rabies turns their reunion into a fight for survival.
About: A couple of Saturdays ago, I posted 20 logline submissions for the Scriptshadow community, allowing you, the readers, to determine who I would review for the next few Amateur Fridays.  Mad Dogs had some of the best feedback on its first 10 pages, which is why I'm reviewing it today.
Writers: Chris Hicks & Francis Lombard
Details: 117 pages

I got home last night from Dark Knight to no internet and therefore didn't learn until this morning what had happened in Colorado.  I'm not sure there's anything to say in these situations outside of there are some serious lunatics on this planet.  And that's unfortunately never going to change.  I will say that I've sat inside a movie theater a number of times thinking, "Jesus, this would be the ideal place for some psycho to attack people.  There's nowhere to run."  So as messed up as it sounds, I'm surprised something like it hasn't happened sooner.

I'll have my Dark Knight review ready Monday, but for now let's make the awkward segue into today's review.  I see no reason why these two longtime Scriptshadow readers should suffer because some freak decided to go postal.

Mad Dogs starts off in Baja, Mexico following Cassie Youngquist as she races through the Mexican desert in search of her estranged father, Roy Barton.  She stops by a dilapidated church to see if they can help but quickly finds herself yanked into a back room where some Arizona college kid is being bound and drugged.  He tells her to run but she's already a step ahead of him, bolting out the door while seriously wondering whether Sunday school for her future kids is worth it.

A few miles down the road she finally finds what she's looking for - a town.  But not just any town. This one is walled in, almost like a compound.  Once inside, we can see why.  People fuck, drink, beat the hell out of each other, all in plain sight.  It's like one giant never-ending nightclub scene.  And it's here where her father's supposedly staying.  Hmm, must be a real winner.

Cassie asks anyone who will talk where her father is but every time she mentions him, she's met with a snarl.  And "snarl" is appropriate because guess what?  Everybody here's a werewolf!  Yes, this is a werewolf town (appropriately titled "Moonshine") and they don't like outsiders.  But the only thing they dislike more than outsiders are humans, and Cassie's father is just that - a human.  In fact, he's the resident sheriff of the town, known as "The Dogcatcher."

Sporting a lasso and an attitude, he makes sure every werewolf stays in line (well, as much as werewolves can stay in line that is).  When Cassie finally confronts her father, he's both upset and happy that Cassie's here.  I mean, you don't want to lure your daughter into a city of bloodthirsty dog-humans, but it sure is nice to see the fam again!

However, Cassie's not as defenseless as she first seemed.  Yup, our girl Cas is a werewolf too!  Oh, the irony.  After the two swap stories, that Arizona church kid appears in Moonshine, looking delirious as all get-up.  They don't know it yet, but Arizona has himself a bad case of werewolf rabies, and every werewolf he bites is getting the same.

When Cas and Dad realize what's going on, it's too late, as the infected have spread to over half the town.  Now would be a good time to call it a day, but Dad's son and mother are stuck at the house in the middle of town.  He'll have to go save them if they have any chance of survival.  And Cassie, who so hates being a werewolf, will need to master her werewolf-ism to help.  All of this happens on the night of the clearest full moon in a century of course, making things reallllllly difficult.  Will they make it out alive?  Or will our heroes become werewolf stew?

First thing's first. This was a lot better than yesterday's script.  Whereas zero effort was put into that screenplay, you can tell that Chris and Francis have put a lot of work into this.  They've created this fully realized town with history and depth and hierarchy and imagination.  I particularly liked the idea of a "Dog Catcher," a sheriff for a werewolf town.  I also loved that he was human, immune to the werewolf "disease."

Another thing that popped out at me was how visual the screenplay was.  It just has all these great images, like the debauchery happening at the bar followed by the transformation of everyone into werewolves.  The Dog Catcher slinging his lasso around, tying werewolves into submission like calves.  The patchy rabies-infected werewolves would be a creature feature dream come true.  I could SEE all of this up on the big screen and that's a huge deal when reading a screenplay.  You have to be able to SEE and imagine the movie and that wasn't hard at all with Mad Dogs.

On top of that it just read well.  Granted Chris and Francis are following one of the worst-written scripts on the site, it was nice to read a script where the writers actually respected the English language.

Having said all that, I'm not sure I ever got into this story after Cassie's arrival.  There's no real goal here, which is okay in some situations.  But the story approach that Chris and Francis use is the "impending sense of doom" engine - a sort of "dramatic irony" in that we know the town is slowly being infected by rabies but our heroes do not.

There's a certain level of intrigue attached to that but my problem is that the scenario goes on forever.  Or at least it felt like it did.  I mean we just got scene after scene of Cassie and her dad talking.  Cassie meeting up with boyfriend werewolf guy (Fenris).  And other people sort of vaguely getting the sense that something was wrong.

Then, when they finally found out, they needed to save the son and mother.  So we finally did have a goal for the story.  But this ALSO took way took long.  I just remember pages upon pages of very similar scenes.  And I don't think we need to look much further than the 117 page count to verify this issue.  I mean aren't these Grindhouse movies supposed to be lean?  If you cut the first half of this screenplay by 10 pages and the second half by 10 pages, forcing yourself to get rid of all the redundancy, this script would fly.  And I'm actually surprised by Francis and Chris because I know they've been reading the site forever and I know they know how I feel about page count.

This is such a problem with screenwriters.  Even the ones who know their scripts need to be shorter consider themselves exceptions to the rule.  They think that THEY'RE the ones whose writing is so great that there's no way they can cut anything.  It's arrogance really and if you want to be a good screenwriter, you have to keep your arrogance in check.  You are not the exception.  Don't fall into that trap of thinking you are.

From a story point-of-view, one of the bigger changes I'd suggest for Chris and Francis is to make their heroes more active.  Again, once Cassie gets to town, the protagonists are stuck waiting for half the movie.  Audience don't like watching characters wait.  So why not do more with this Chinese vile (the one that contains the virus)?  Have the Dad and/or Cassie actively looking into it.  Now, concurrently with the behind-the-scenes infections, we're watching our heroes DO something, instead of watching our heroes wait for something.

Because to be honest, as it stands, the story only seems to exist to highlight this world.  And it is a cool world, but the audience still wants to be told a story.  They want characters going after things.  And that happens too late in this script.

Clearly one of the better-written amateur scripts on the site but I still think the script would benefit greatly from a story overhaul with more emphasis put on an active protagonist(s).

Script link: Mad Dogs

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

What I learned: This script makes a common mistake I find in fantasy and sci-fi scripts, which is that the writers get so caught up in building their world, that they forget to focus on the more important aspect of the screenplay, which is the story itself.  Yeah, your world is cool.  We get it.  But we got that on page 20.   Now it's time to entertain us.