Friday, July 13, 2012

Screenplay Review - The Real Jeff Spencer (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: Romantic Comedy
Premise: An average Joe - with the same name as a TV star - begins a text-messaging relationship with a Hollywood starlet who falls for him.
About: On Saturday I posted 20 logline submissions for the Scriptshadow community, allowing you, the readers, to determine who I would review for the next two Amateur Fridays.  The Real Jeff Spencer emerged as one of the top contenders, which is why I'm reviewing it today.    
Writer: Fred Nutter
Details: 95 pages

Will the real Jeff Spencer please stand up?

I need to talk to him.  Ask him a few questions.  Such as, "Will Carson once again completely disagree with his readership when it comes to a comedy script?"  I've already had a couple of pro Jeff Spencer e-mails sent my way and am wondering if that's the general consensus.  And if so, what's my consensus? Am I texting Jeff Spencer back or am I leaving him hanging?  y don't u read the revu & fnd out urself.

We meet Jeff Spencer on his 25th birthday hanging with his best buddies Brendan (the stud of the group), Stevie (the inappropriate fat friend), and Cooper (the not flamboyantly gay friend).  They're drinking at a hip hotel bar, talking about the big 2-5, when Jeff Spencer appears up on television.  No, not this Jeff Spencer, but the "real" Jeff Spencer, TV super-stud vampire on the show "Shadows."

Hahaha.  Jeff has had to deal with this joke ever since this ass-clown became famous.  But he takes it in stride, yukking it up with his buddies and letting them have their jokes.  When the laughs are over, the conversation turns to the fact that Kaitlyn Taylor, the most beautiful actress in the universe, is in town shooting something.  Not only that, but the rumor is that she's staying right here at this hotel!

Liquid courage enables the friends to ask the front desk what room she's staying in, which they inexplicably give them, and they call her up with Jeff's phone.  It goes to voice mail and they think nothing of it, getting drunker and partying into the night.

Well a day later Jeff gets a call...from Kaityln!  She wants to say thanks for calling.  Of course, there's a catch.  Kaitlyn thinks this is TV star Jeff Spencer and not "Fake" Jeff Spencer.

When Jeff tells his buddies about the case of mistaken identity, they want him to take full advantage of it.  They want him to...TEXT HER.  Jeff is not a texter by nature and initially resists but the opportunity to communicate with his dream girl is too awesome to say no to.

So he texts her.  And she texts back.  And he texts back.  And she texts back.  And they start a little texting relationship.  Jeff's friends get so involved in this relationship that one of them actually puts together a Kaitlyn "strategy team," four girls dedicated to studying Kaitlyn so that Jeff's texts have maximum texting punch.

Of course, Kaitlyn eventually gets to the point where she wants to see Jeff.  Which is a problem.  Since Jeff isn't Jeff.  He's "Fake Jeff."  Jeff makes up a variety of excuses why he can't see her and she eventually leaves it at this - she'll be at a club for a big party.  If he wants to come by and say hello, it's up to him.  Will the fake Jeff Spencer have the guts to go and tell Kaitlyn that he's not the real Jeff Spencer?  The script is yours to download and find out!

I can see the marketing campaign for this one already.  Millions of texts appearing on smart phones everywhere. "Is this Jeff Spencer?"  It's a catchy little name, isn't it?  Almost tailor-made for movie advertising.

However, I'm afraid the problem here is that Jeff Spencer's story could probably be boiled down to a single text.  I mean this plot is sooooooooo simple.  There is so little that happens that it was hard to get emotionally involved.   I mean it was basically, "She texted me.  Should I text her back?"  "Yes."  Two scenes later. "She texted again.  Should I text her back?"  "Yes." I rarely fault a screenplay for being too short, but looking back at Jeff Spencer, I feel like I've been the victim of a screenplay drive-by.

This also feels like it's been written too fast.  Important plot points have been glazed over.  I mean these guys ask the front desk for the room number of the most famous actress in the country and they just GIVE IT TO THEM???  The guy who earns $5 an hour running a Motel 6 night desk wouldn't give you the room number for one of his customers.  But I guess they give away famous people's room numbers at prestigious hotels if you ask nicely.  And it would be so easy to have fixed this.  If they had been best friends with the desk person, then it'd be believable that she'd give them Kaitlyn's number.

Then they call the room with Jeff's phone.  This then becomes how Kaitlyn gets Fake Jeff's number.  But how did she get his number if he called the room phone?  Maybe I'm missing something obvious here but I couldn't figure that out.

Once we get into the story, the thinness really starts to hurt things.  There are zero subplots here.  We have 3 other characters and none of them have anything going on other than helping their buddy.  Jeff doesn't have a clear job as far as I can tell.  Maybe it has something to do with editing (since he edited something for Kaitlyn at the end) but I couldn't figure that out during the story.  So it just felt like a main character whose only job was figuring out what to text a girl.

Finally, the main character didn't have a flaw.  In a comedy, you pretty much have to give your main character a fatal flaw.  Even Mikey's flaw in Swingers (which is referenced several times here) is that he can't let go of his old girlfriend - he can't move on - and that's what gives his character depth.  If he was just a guy trying to pick up girls in Hollywood, we wouldn't care.  It's that he's trying desperately to get back on the horse that makes him interesting.  Here, with Jeff, there's nothing going on inside of him, which just makes you feel like there's nothing that's happened in his life beyond this event with Kaitlyn.

What really makes or breaks these scripts, though, is dialogue.  And the dialogue here is okay.  It sounds like a group of 25 year olds talking, which is good.  But the dialogue cannot just be "okay" in these scripts.  It's gotta be fucking hilarious and smart and clever all the time.  It's basically gotta blow you away.  Either that or the story has to be amazing so there isn't so much pressure on the dialogue.  But since the story is so thin, everything rests on the dialogue and "relatively solid" just isn't good enough.  It's gotta be great.

If I were Fred, I'd focus on some simple things here.  Give the main character a fatal flaw.  Add some subplots for the other characters.  Add some variety to the main plot.  And keep pushing yourself on the dialogue.  Keep rewriting it until every single scene is the best you can possibly make it.

This one needs to be beefed up, and therefore wasn't for me. :(

Script link: The Real Jeff Spencer

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

What I learned: The one area where you can NOT be lazy in your writing is during major plot points.  These are the pillars that hold your entire screenplay up.  If you fudge them, the story comes crumbling down.  Kaitlyn getting Jeff's number is the KEY PLOT POINT that sets up the entire story.  So to write that the desk person would give four random drunk dudes the room number of a major actress is ridiculous. When that's followed by a lack of clarity in how Kaitlyn got Jeff's number (the call was made to the room phone, not her cell phone), the whole plot falls apart, because the entire texting relationship is born out of an unclear event.