Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Screenplay Review - The Almighty

Genre: Action
Premise: A young man who has the ability to see manifestations of evil in people, must save the world from Lucifer.
About: Okay, so a little history on this script.  This is not a spec sale.  Nor has it been optioned to my knowledge.  I'm reviewing it because it was highly recommended to me by a reader of the site.
Writer: Dempsey Tillman
Details: 108 pages

When you're in my position, one of the things you get used to is people referring "amazing" scripts to you that turn out to be not so amazing, usually because it's the person who referred it's own script.  I actually had a hilarious experience recently where a guy e-mailed me and said he'd found this dusty old screenplay at an estate sale and that it was the best thing he'd ever read and he wanted to send it to me.  So he does, and it's a PDF document clearly printed from the Final Draft program.  I mean come on.  If you're going to lie, at least go through the process of making the lie look legitimate.

And hey, I get it.  You gotta try everything in your power to get read.  I will say this, however.  A reader will never be as relentless as when he's told something's amazing and it's not.  Nobody likes to be conned.  So it's fake referrals like this that get the most backlash.  That's why I suspect there will be plenty of pissed off comments today.  People want a venue to vent their frustration.  And I have a feeling it's going to get ugly.

So what is The Almighty about?

Oscar Renfro has been seeing creepy things ever since he was a kid.  Like people turning into monsters n' stuff.  In that sense, he's like Cole from The Sixth Sense.  He sees ugly people.  The doctors have a perfect explanation for this.  He's a paranoid schizophrenic.  So they prescribe him a bunch of medication and the visions kind of go away, but never disappear completely.

In fact, Oscar's walking through the city one afternoon when a homeless man approaches him telling him he best stop taking his medication because it's covering up his gift.  He can see evil in people, which is something he should use to save mankind.  Apparently Lucifer's making an appearance on Earth soon and if Oscar doesn't use his power for...something (was never quite sure what), then Lucifer's going to take over the world.

Oscar, who works at the DMV, ignores the crazy homeless man (and I don't blame him), but later that day while he's supervising a driving test, the woman driver accidentally scrapes against a school bus, sending sparks into the car, which make her catch fire and burn to ashes right in front of him, freaking Oscar out!  Except five seconds later she's totally fine.  Errrr....ummm...what???

Oscar's boss yells at him, and Oscar realizes that the pills just aren't helping anymore.  Afraid that he's going to hurt his wife and son during one of these freak-out sessions, he sends them away and admits himself into a psyche ward.  But not before a demon attacks him on the bus and the video goes viral.  Now Oscar has to go on the run, since everyone wants to know what the crazy demon-fight was all about.

Enter a dude called THE MESSENGER.  The Messenger really really really - like really really wants Oscar to accept his powers.  He tells him that Lucifer's coming to steal his secret ability to see the bad in people (The devil doesn't have this ability himself????) and once he does, he'll be able to take over the world.  I think.

From that point on, for the final 50 pages, I truthfully have no idea what happened.  It was as if 20 random stories were thrown into a blender and spat out into one long 50 page action sequence.  I take notes when I read these scripts so I can keep track of the plot, and there was a point late in the story where I wrote, "Mom sucked into vortex."  It was time to say goodbye to The Almighty, referral and all.

Something I'd like to remind people is that Hollywood is a VERY liberal town.  Look no further than the recent Chik-Fil-A spat as proof.  If there's one thing that there's a strong resistance to here, it's a heavy Christian agenda.  So when you write an entire screenplay that's clearly pushing that Christian agenda, chances are it's going to be met with fire and brimstone.

I know, I know.  The Passion Of The Christ made a bazillion dollars, but nobody in town wanted to distribute that movie.  It was only because of Mel Gibson's star power that it got out there.  So before even getting into the mechanics of this one, I kinda feel like this type of script is dead in the water.

Put plainly, The Almighty felt like a cliche jumble of ideas with no plot.  While at first I was able to decipher some semblance of a story, the script continued to get more and more confusing as it went on.  This happens a lot with amateur writers who spend a ton of time on the first 30 pages, but maybe 1/4, even 1/8 the time on their last 80.  And it shows.  I literally had NO IDEA what was happening after the midpoint.

Lucifer was coming to earth for some reason.  He needed the power of someone who could see evil to take over the planet?  Lucifer can't see the evil in people himself?  I'm already confused.  Then there was this guy called The Messenger, who may or may not have also been the cliche Homeless Guy spouting out end of the world sermons at the beginning of the story.  The Messenger spends most of his time reminding Oscar how great God is.

The Messenger also, a la The Ghost Of Christmas Past, takes Oscar back to witness his childhood to learn some valuable lessons or something.  Some Fallen Angels show up, intent on kicking ass.  Oscar's best friend, Cole, turns into Lucifer for some reason, but not by himself.  He becomes Lucifer in conjunction with his jail cell mate, so they both speak at the same time in Lucifer's voice??

Random people, like the police detective, become Lucifer too - I think.  There's a ton of bible gobbledy-gook spoken, about how "He" is our savior and "He" will make everything all right, and then lots of quotes from the bible, I think.  All of this is a big deal because Oscar doesn't believe in God, even though he sees demons on a daily basis.

I don't know.  After that, it just turns into this huge melee of confusingness.  I rarely knew where we were or why.  They need to take the Messenger to the hospital or something.  Cole, who was Lucifer, is no longer Lucifer.  Lucifer jumps into a bunch of other bodies.  Oscar has to find him and stop him.  Reading the final act was a bit like drinking a case of beer and being taught Calculus and Spanish simultaneously by a Chinese speed-talker.

I hate to beat a dead horse but this comes down to the same old same old - the writing isn't clear.  It's confusing.  The writer knows what's going on in his head.  But he hasn't yet learned the tools necessary to convey those thoughts in a coherent manner to the reader.  Therefore everything feels random and confusing.

You need to go back to basics.  A clear goal that the main character is going after.  Establish someone on earth as Lucifer.  Then establish that the main character is going to have to kill him.  That way, we understand the objective of the story right away.  KISS folks.  Keep things simple stupid until you have a grasp on the craft.  To be honest, I didn't think The Almighty was that bad at first.  It wasn't until the non-sensical second half that I had no choice but to give it the lowest rating. :(

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

What I learned: Recently, a writer chastised my consulting notes because I "missed things," many of which he detailed in a rebuttal document.  When a script is written clearly, the writer has a point.  But when it isn't, the writer has no idea how difficult it can be to follow along.  For example, if the reader doesn't understand what happened in the last four scenes, if he doesn't know who these three new characters are, if he doesn't know how any of the characters are related to each other, if he doesn't understand why we keep cutting to a character on a train who never becomes part of the story, if he can't keep up with the time jumping since the writer never notates it, if it takes 2-3 read-throughs on every scene just to understand what's going on... then the reader'll be lucky to catch 40% of the details on the page.  Which brings me to my point.  If something is wrong, it is NEVER the reader's fault.  Maybe the reader did tune out and miss something.  But it's your job as the writer to figure out why you the reader tuned out in the first place.  So any time you're told, "This didn't work" about your screenplay, don't fight it.  Figure out what you did wrong and fix it.