Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Screenplay Review - The Gangster Squad

Genre: Crime/Period
Premise: A gang lord in 1949 Los Angels becomes so big that the only way the cops can handle him is to go off-book and wage a war against his empire.
About: I think Gangster Squad is based on a bunch of real articles from 1940s Los Angeles newspapers.  But it may also be a book, as the script says it's based on "Tales Of The Gangster Squad" by Paul Lieberman.  Either way, the story is adapted by author Will Beall, who burst onto the screenwriting scene with his script L.A. Rex (another LA war script - this one set in the present), which one of my other reviewers, Roger Balfour, loved, and which made the 2009 Black List.
Writer: Will Beall (based on the book by Paul Lieberman).
Details: 3/11/2011 draft.  (It should be noted that this draft is newer than the main one that's floating around out there.  So this script might be slightly different from the one you've read).

I've been hearing about this one forrrrrrever.  And the word on it?  GREAT.  But I haven't read any scripts by Will Beall yet because peripherally (hearing about him through others) his writing sounds like a bit of a loose cannon.  He makes up rules as he goes along, bolds, underlines, italicizes way too liberally, delves into the dreaded dual-line dialogue more than a fat man hangs out at Mickie D's, and generally favors style over substance.

BUT...I admit that's my take from afar.  And forming opinions on people before you meet them?  That's so high school.  So it was time to see what Beall was about on my own  And time to see if this script was as good as everyone was saying it was.

Mickey Cohen is a naughty naughty guy.  When he doesn't like someone, he ties him up to the back of two Cadillacs and has each drive in the opposite direction.  Why?  Because Mickey wants it all.  And he wants to instill fear in every single entity in LA so he can have it all.  He's got the cops.  He's got the judges.  No one fucks with Mickey Cohen.

And if you do manage to catch him in the act?  Well, he's got the best lawyers money can buy too.  Guys like Mickey NEVER go down.

Which is what the LA police realize.  They see that this man is slowly turning Los Angeles into a steaming pile of trash.  And if they wait around any longer, they'll be driving the dump trucks.   The guy who knows this more than anything is Sergeant John O'Mara, one of the only clean cops left in the city.  He and his superiors come up with an idea.  If they can't stop Cohen legally, why not attack him at his own game?  Why not put together a vigilante police unit, one that doesn't have to abide by the rules and regulations cops are bound to, to, pardon my french, fuck them up Old Testament style?

O'Mara is in.  Now it's a matter of finding his team.  He grabs: A tech expert, the first black lieutenant in the department, the "deadliest cop in LA," a young Mexican cop eager to prove himself, and a wild card dude who isn't sure which side he wants to play for.  The team goes in hard, hitting up Micky's deliveries and anything else he has his dirty paws in.

Mickey, along with everybody else, is just confused.  I mean, who the hell attacks Mickey Cohen??  The most feared man on the West Coast!!  But after he gets over his shock, he realizes these mystery dudes are a real threat, and he gets all his little horses and all his little men riled up for one specific purpose - to take them down.

Who's going to win this one?  Mickey?  Or the Gangster squad?

I know this is going to upset people, but this script was kinda designed for me to hate it.  Period crime dramas aren't really my thing, but a good story is a good story, no matter where it's set or who it centers around.  Case in point.  I've been reading Ken Follet's novel, "Pillars Of The Earth," set in the year 1100, about a mason looking for work in a world that doesn't have any for him.  If there's ever a subject matter I was designed to dislike, it would be this one.  And yet, it had me from the first page.

The novel starts with the hanging of an innocent man.  It's a heartbreaking and heart-pounding scene.  This is followed by the mason and his family losing their only lifeline, a pig they saved up for all year, stolen by an outlaw, who belts their daughter with a hammer to complete the crime.  Subsequently, the family follows him to town and comes up with a plan to attack the man to get their money back.  After another heartbreaking failure, the now homeless family is forced to live in the woods as outlaws.  The pregnant wife soon gives birth to a child and dies in the process.  The mason decides to leave the newly born baby in the woods to die, since there's no way to feed him.  Every once of these sequences just grabs you and yanks you in.

The point being, Follet uses basic character-focused storytelling to transcend subject matter, to make you connect with and care for the characters.  After someone belts a little girl with a hammer, who doesn't want to see the family get the villain back?  Take them down?  I never saw any of that with the characters in Gangster Squad.  I mean, they're much better written than yesterday's entry, "Oz The Great And Powerful."  But even the big dog, O'Mara - I only knew the basics about the guy. He was a clean cop and was in the war and...well, that's it.  He was a clean cop who was in the war.  Not exactly a five star motivation.

But the real problem here is the endless number of characters.  I stopped counting but I'm guessing there's somewhere around 40.  How am I supposed to keep track of 40 characters??  All the obvious problems popped up as a result.  I'd constantly forget who was who and have to go back and check, leading to dozens of read interruptions, a cardinal sin in writing (A reader should never feel like he's working to figure out what's going on).  After awhile I got sick of having to stop every two pages so I just kept reading, even though I wasn't 100% sure who I was reading about (writers should know this happens all the time.  At a certain point, a reader just gets sick of having to check back on stuff, and barrels forward without exactly knowing who's who - At this point, your script is usually screwed.  So always make sure every character is distinct and memorable!)

The real problem with this though is that the more characters you add, the less time you have to develop the key characters in your story.  A character is going to come off a lot more interesting if you have 40 pages to develop him as opposed to, say, 15, which is what I'm guessing the 6-7 key characters in Gangster Squad got.

This can be done (and needs to be done with Gangster movies, which are usually character heavy), but it basically amounts to figuring out ways to make characters relatable and interesting and deep in 1/4 the amount of time you usually have.  And only the most skilled writers can pull that off.

The thing is, the idea for GS is cool.  I love the notion of a team of cops putting down their badges to wage a war against a kingpin because that's the only way they can defeat him. That's a movie I want to see.  If we only would've focused MORE on that group, and not the thousands of other little subplots and characters instead.  Get to know each of those guys intimately, care about them, and then send them off against Cohen.  I mean that's how they did it in The Godfather and that worked out okay.

BUT! As we all know, this is a preference I get attacked for all the time.  It's the reason I didn't like Dark Knight Rises.  I like clean narratives where I'm not confused 30% of time about what's going on.  Some writers like to take the more ambitious "epic" route and some readers/audience members enjoy the larger canvas as they like having to work for their meal.  I dig that kind of story if the writing's clear enough to handle the larger tapestry.  But I didn't personally see that here.

On the flip side, the dialogue in GS is top-notch, and I'm guessing that's why a lot of people love it so much.  It is SO HARD to create authentic fun crackling dialogue for period crime pieces.  Believe me, I've read plenty of scripts where the writer couldn't come up with a single convincing sentence of dialogue from that era, so I know.  Unfortunately, that wasn't enough for me to join the Gangster Squad.  I think I'm going to go see what Mickey Cohen's doing.

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

What I learned: I will say this until the day I die.  The more characters you add, the less time you'll have to develop your protagonist (and other key characters). So think long and hard before adding that new character.  Do you really need him?  Can you use one of the characters you already have instead?  We'd much rather learn more about your hero than endure two scenes of Random Dude #5.  

Saturday, July 28, 2012


Friday, July 27, 2012

Twit-Pitch Review - The Man Of Your Dreams

Genre: Romantic Comedy
Premise: (Original Twit-Pitch Logline) Man loves woman whose dreams predict future, but future she sees isn't with him. Can he convince her to choose love over fate?
About: Twit-Pitch Review Week - For those recently joining Scriptshadow, I held a contest a few months back called "Twit-Pitch," where anyone could pitch me their screenplay on Twitter, as long as it was contained within a single tweet.  I picked my 100 favorite loglines and read the first 10 pages of each (which I live-reviewed on Twitter), and then from those, picked the Top 20, which I'll read the entire screenplay for.  This week I'm reviewing four of the finalists.
Writer: Brian H. Baker
Details: 98 pages

Picking this script up again, I immediately remembered why I advanced it.  It starts off with a cute cuddly scene - a father and daughter joking around in a car - and when we least expect it, a truck comes out of nowhere and obliterates the driver's side, instantly killing the father.

I thought, "This writer knows how to grab a reader's attention," which is important.  Believe it or not, there are tons of writers out there who still write a very soft first 10 pages, reasoning that their script "takes time to get into," and "needs to breathe before it gets going."  You wanna talk about breathing?  Well those long steady breaths you're hearing in the distance?  That's your reader falling asleep.

I'm not saying every First 10 needs to have a car crash, or a bar fight, or a fridge nuked.  But something needs to happen in there to catch our interest.  You've already taken care of the hard part - coming up with a logline that's gotten us to actually OPEN the script.  Don't blow your chances by writing a boring First 10.

I became a little concerned after the car crash when I realized it was just our main character's dream.  The girl woke up from the nightmare, and was now really going to get in the car with her father.  She thinks her dream is a premonition, tries to stop him, but away they go anyway.  Cut to funeral.

I don't know.....something about it just didn't feel right.  I can't pinpoint what it was but I thought, "That could've gone smoother."

We then jump forward 18 years to present day and our little girl, Angela Pruitt, is now a successful sales rep at a pharmaceutical company.  She's actually going to a big conference this weekend where she'll be promoting a new drug her company is selling.

Little does she know, a self-made reporter/blogger named David ("handsome in an unkempt way") goes around specifically debunking these b.s. pills and has tasked himself with exposing the company's scam.  So he shows up to the conference under an alias, "Dr. Tom," and prepares to take them down.

But little does David know, Angela is specifically on the lookout for any doctors named Tom.  As we learned in the opening sequence, whatever Angela dreams comes true.  And her whole life she's dreamed that she's going to marry a "Dr. Tom."  Conveniently for the story (ahem), she never sees the FACE of this man in her dreams.  She only knows that she's at the altar marrying someone named "Dr. Tom."

Naturally then, Angela comes on to Dave...err Tom...hard.  And he's not complaining.  This girl's hot!  They spend the evening together, and it's clear that these two were meant for each other.  They ooze that disgusting couple perfection that the rest of the world's hopeless romantics would die to feel for just one second.

That is until Angela finds out Dave is lying, and that he's really, well, "Dave."  Dave admits he was bad, but is surprised at just how upset Angela is.  It's then when he learns about the premonition stuff, and that his lying wasn't just about the lying, but that his name doesn't match up with the man she's supposed to spend the rest of her life with.

Dave, who doesn't believe in any of this nonsense, suggests an idea.  In order to prove that her dreams don't hold any merit, he'll go interview all of the people in her life to, um...hmmm, well I'm not sure - I think figure out where this dream obsession came from and show that it's not real?

The problem is, while Dave does his Sherlock Holmes routine, Angela ends up shacking up with a REAL Dr. Tom, and becomes convinced that he's the one she's supposed to marry.  If Dave wants to win this battle, he's not only going to have to prove to Angela that she loves him, but that everything she's ever believed is a lie.

Okay....hmmm.  Well, I don't think this script suffers from the same problems as some the other Twit-Pitch scripts, which was mainly lack of effort.  But I'm not sure this story ever had a leg to stand on.  The foundation of this building was so flimsy, that it was hard to move around without the entire floor shaking.

I guess I never really got past the name thing.  It just seemed silly to build an entire movie around a guy who lied about his name.  I don't know what I was expecting after reading the logline, but definitely something more sophisticated than that.

When you combine that with this super-convenient plot device that Angela knows the NAME of her future husband and the JOB TITLE of her future husband, but not what he looks like?  It just felt like the writer was taking too many liberties, constructing a scenario for his screenplay to work, but not one that would hold up in reality, however skewed that pretend reality was.

Once you're not on board with the setup, it's basically impossible to win back the reader.  Everything they read has them coming back to that setup.  When Angela finds another Dr. Tom to date, all I could think was, "Really? She knows the name but not the face of the guy?  Plot Convenience 101."

But even if I hadn't had that problem, the plot itself doesn't develop in an interesting way.  This whole thing with Dave going out and interviewing family and friends...?  I'm not even sure what that's supposed to accomplish.  This is somehow going to help him prove to her that her dreams aren't true?  It felt like one of those situations where a writer looked at the vast amount of space ahead of him after he finished his first act and went, "What the hell am I going to do for the next 60 pages??" and figured investigating, while not ideal, would at least take up some time.

And you NEVER want to do that when writing a screenplay.  You NEVER want to bide time in your script.  Every storyline should be imperative.  Every story decision should have high stakes.  As Dave was interviewing the best friend here, I thought, "What happens if this goes badly?" Or "What happens if this goes well?"  I couldn't determine how the scene had any effect on the movie.  In other words, the stakes were unclear.

Take a scene in the recent spec script turned film, "Crazy, Stupid, Love."  Recently separated Cal and Emily, who we're hoping will get back together, are forced to come together for a parent teacher conference.  After a nice talk in the hallway, they walk inside the classroom and Cal sees that a woman he slept with recently is his son's teacher!  All of a sudden, there are real stakes to the scene.  Cal and Emily just made some major strides in the hallway, but now Cal must get through this meeting without the clearly upset teacher revealing their history.  The stakes are high.  20 years of marriage and a reconciliation are on the line.  I just never got the feeling that anything was on the line during that whole "investigation" subplot in Man Of Your Dreams.

Also, on top of this, as I try to tell everyone who writes romantic comedies, the dialogue has to be CRACKLING.  And when I say "crackling," I mean fun quotable lines in every conversation the two have.  I don't think I ever said to myself, "This dialogue is bad."  But I never thought it stood out either.  And if you want any chance in the world of selling your romantic comedy script, I GUARANTEE you, your dialogue has to stand out.

If that's not a strength of yours, you the writer have to decide whether romantic comedies are really your genre, or if you're putting as much effort into your dialogue as you can.

Romantic Comedies are hard.  And this script unfortunately fell into a lot of the traps amateurs fall into when tackling the genre.  Man Of Your Dreams felt like a car with all the standard settings.  When you write a script, you need to give us the car with all the upgrades.

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

What I Learned: Most writers write "placeholder" dialogue in their first few drafts - the basics of what they want the characters to say in each scene.  Then, once the structure and all the scenes are in place, they go back to each individual scene and rewrite the dialogue.  This is a critical point, ESPECIALLY if you're writing a romantic comedy.  You have to have fun with your dialogue.  You have to add flavor.  "How are you this morning?" might become, "Any crazy dreams last night Nostradamus?"  "I feel sick" might become, "I feel like my stomach snuck out of my body last night and went on a week-long bender."  And you know what?  I'd probably do this 8-10 more times for each scene, improving every line (particularly that weak last suggestion) until it was just right.  "Just okay" dialogue is a death sentence in a Rom-Com.  

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Twit-Pitch Review - The Last Rough Rider

(Thursday review up early since I'm on the road to LA baby!!!)

Genre: Action
Premise: (Original Twit-Pitch Logline) It's 1901. Terrorists have just taken over the White House. And only Theodore Roosevelt can stop them.
About: Twit-Pitch Review Week - For those recently joining Scriptshadow, I held a contest a few months back called "Twit-Pitch," where anyone could pitch me their screenplay on Twitter, as long as it was contained within a single tweet.  I picked my 100 favorite loglines and read the first 10 pages of each (which I live-reviewed on Twitter), and then from those, picked the Top 20, which I'll read the entire screenplay for.  This week I'm reviewing four of the Twit-Pitch scripts.
Writers: Matthew Merenda
Details: 118 pages

Teddy Roosevelt - resident badass

I'm not sure it's ever a good sign when a contest entry comes with the e-mail, "Sorry for any typos.  I ran out of time."


You hear that?

That's the sound of my chin hitting my chest accompanied by a long slow wheezing sound.  I suppose I should be used to it by now - the lack of effort put into these Twit-Pitches.  But yesterday gave me hope!  It made me a believer in Twit-Pitch again!  I had fallen down the Twit-Pitch mountain but I had gotten back up and I climbed, oh how I climbed, to the top of that mountain again and I said to the people in the valley, "HALLELUJAH!"

Only to get shot in the back and tumble off the cliff once more.

Now we're not talking about a "Cut Copy Paste" reunion here.  The writing was competent.  And ironically, I only saw a couple of typos.  But this script confused me.  The first five pages were some of the strongest of the competition - with a group of 1901 terrorists breaking into a tower and stealing blueprints to the White House.  But for some reason - maybe from the logline? - I thought this script was going to be an action comedy.  But that's not the case.  It's a straight action film.  Which definitely took some getting used to (I think I gave up looking for laughs around page 30).  But even once I realized it was a straight action movie, I was frustrated by how little freaking happened!  I mean, there's a TON of action in this script.  More than a night in the Jersey Shore house.  But there's zero story.  It's as if Matt bought himself a case of Mountain Dew and wrote one giant 110 page action sequence all weekend.  I'll get more into that in a second.

Like I said, The Last Rough Rider begins in 1901 with a group of Columbians stealing the White House blueprints.  The scene creates intrigue.  It creates suspense.  It sets up a mystery.  What are they stealing the blueprints for?  Whatever are they planning to do?

We then meet Theodore Roosevelt and his 12 year old son, Kermit, hunting.  Teddy is big, tough and manly, whereas Kermit is weak, squeamish, and uncomfortable.  He's only here to impress his father but it's clear he'd rather be reading books or playing ches---HOLY F*CK!  OUT OF NOWHERE A BEAR LEAPS AT THEM!  Teddy and Kermit roll out of the way.  Now whereas most people would run AWAY from a thousand pound bear, Teddy Roosevelt runs AT the bear.  And wrestles it.  And kills it!

Yes, Teddy Roosevelt IS the last true rough rider.  And to drive this point home, he hauls the bear carcass into a cabinet meeting and starts gutting it (strangely, this is the only comedic scene in the movie).  Oh yeah, Mr. Roosevelt isn't president yet.  He's only vice-president.  And apparently he gets on a lot of people's nerves, to the point where no one thinks he's presidential material.  He's just not very...sensitive.

Anyway, while the cabinet bickers about a dead bear in the middle of the Oval Office, our evil Columbian terrorists sneak through the gate and take over the White House Hans Gruber style! You gotta remember this was pre 9/11....by 100 years, so security wasn't very tight.

They hold everybody hostage in the Oval Office except for Teddy, who they send off to a remote room.  Teddy isn't there for long, as taking out two guards is the difficulty equivalent of eating a stack of pancakes for him.  And from that point on....well...Teddy runs around the White House trying to save the good guys and kill the bad guys.  That's....about it.  There's nothing else that really happens in the story.  Which makes it kinda boring.

Now you may be saying, "Well isn't that exactly what Die Hard did?"  Yeah, but here's the difference.  Die Hard had plot developments.  Things were happening.  They were trying to open the 7 layers of the safe.  The media showed up.  McClane befriended the cop.  The power was cut.

Nothing happens in this story.  It's the most under-plotted script I've read all year.  It's just Roosevelt running around aimlessly.  There's no form to it.  There's no structure.  It's just the same scene over and over again.  I know this because when I read these scripts, I take notes on all the major and minor plot developments that happen so I can write a summary of the story in the review.  I went 80 pages here and didn't write a single thing because there wasn't a single development.

The only plot element driving the story was the admittedly cool X-Ray machine that the Columbian scientist was using to see what was inside the White House walls.  This is apparently what they came here for.  The problem is, we see this happen at the beginning of the takeover, and then we don't hear about it again for another 90 PAGES!  So the only interesting thing about the story was barely in the story!

It's your job as a writer to make something happen every 10-15 pages.  Give us a twist.  Introduce an unexpected element.  If the same thing keeps happening over and over again, we're going to get bored.  And that's why this feels like it was written in a weekend.  There just didn't seem to be any thought put into the plot.  It was just, "Let's have Teddy Roosevelt run around."

This is the kind of script that would've benefited greatly from clear "mini-goals."  Instead of only having a giant vague goal of "saving the White House," which leaves open the possibility of too much general-ness, lay out specific tasks Roosevelt needs to accomplish one after another to GET to the point where he saves the White House.  These mini-goals are the key to focus.

For example, John McClane's first goal is to contact the police.  Then it's to stop the police from mucking up the situation.  Then it's to evade the terrorists Hans sends after him.  Once you break your action movie down into these little chunks, giving your hero sequences to conquer instead of entire movies to conquer, the story becomes much more manageable.

To make matters worse, the only plot point in the movie (the x-rayed wall plot) didn't even pay off in an interesting way.  In fact, I don't even know if it made sense.  The Columbians were basically looking for the blueprints to the Panama Canal so they could...control it?  Or something?  How would blueprints allow you to control the canal?  And why did blueprints to the Panama Canal need to be hidden inside the White House walls?  And my history is shaky.  Had the Panama Canal been built yet?  Were they trying to control something that was already there or control something that would be there in the future?  No idea.  And why do we need an x-ray machine to check inside the wall to see if something is there or not?  Why not - oh I don't know - KNOCK DOWN THE WALL!??  Seems like it would be a lot cheaper and a lot faster.

I'm going to take a wild guess here and say this was written AFTER Twit-Pitch.  Once again, I'll remind you:  We readers know when a script has been rushed.  You're not going to trick us.  The choices are generic.  The plot is basic.  The characters are plain.  To get that stuff right takes time and a lot of rewriting.  So as much as you'd like to think you'll be the exception, you're not fooling anybody.  If you don't put in the work, it always shows.

This is sad because I was thinking Rough Rider would be a dark horse in the competition.  Instead it's a dead horse. :(

Script link: The Last Rough Rider 

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

What I Learned: You can't string medium-level plot mysteries out for an entire script.  The reader will get bored.  The whole "X-Ray of the wall" thing was kind of cool - but it wasn't "Wait for 90 Pages to Find Out What They're After" cool.  Audiences give you grace periods on your mysteries relative to how interesting they are.  Finding out what's inside a wall...I might give that 20-25 pages TOPS before it needs to be answered.  But freaking 90 pages?  No way.  

Twit-Pitch Review - Fatties

Genre: Dark Comedy
Premise: (Original Twit-Pitch Logline) When a lonely masochistic chubby chaser is abducted by two fat lesbian serial killers, it's the best thing that ever happened to him.
About: Twit-Pitch Review Week - For those recently joining Scriptshadow, I held a contest a few months back called "Twit-Pitch," where anyone could pitch me their screenplay on Twitter, as long as it was contained within a single tweet.  I picked my 100 favorite loglines and read the first 10 pages of each (which I live-reviewed on Twitter), and then from those, picked the Top 20, which I'll read the entire screenplay for.  This week I'm reviewing four of the Twit-Pitch scripts.
Writers: Matthew Ballen
Details: 92 pages

Rosie O'Donnel for Kathy?

Hey, what do you know?  More serial killers!  These delightful little rascals are dark comedy gold, which is why they never stray too far from a slugline.

Problem is most writers think that their character being a serial killer is enough.  As if that alone will capture our imagination.  Nope.  Fraid not.  Just like any subject matter, serial killers need a fresh take.  And today we get that fresh take.  Sealed up in a giant zip-lock bag.  Along with kittens.  And anal fisting (more on that in a bit).

Yesterday I complained that serial killer spec "Crimson Road" made too many safe choices, taking what should've been an exciting premise and boiling it down to a generic version of Scream.  If you're going to tackle something as ubiquitous as serial killers, you need to give us more than that.  You need to treat the idea in a unique way.  When I pointed that out, I told everyone to tune into today's review to see what I meant.

Fatties will offend a great portion of the people who read it.  But one thing you can't say about Fatties is that it's predictable.  Or obvious.  Or generic.  Imagine reading the same stories over and over and over again.  That's my life.  So when a writer has the balls to try something different, it ALWAYS stands out.  And I'm happy to have finally found a Twit-Pitch script that stands out.

Kathy and Linda are large and in-charge lesbian lovers.  Actually, Kathy's the one who's in charge.  She's the one tipping the scales at 400, and she uses every one of those ounces to get what she wants.  Poor Linda, who's a comparatively slight 300, basically spends her days making Kathy happy any way she can - usually sexually.  If the image of 700 pounds of naked flesh rolling around in a bed accompanied by phrases such as, "Yeah, that's how momma likes it" terrifies you, you probably don't want to read Fatties.  Because there's plenty of that.  Way too plenty!

Oh yeah, Kathy and Linda are also serial killers.  When we meet them, they have a cheerleader tied up in the basement.  As you'd expect, this is mainly Kathy's idea.  Linda goes along with it because she's terrified of making Kathy angry.  She remembers what it was like before Kathy came along - how lonely she was - and if she has to support her lover's little killing habit to keep her happy, well, it's a small price to pay.

Unfortunately, Linda's kindness allows the cheerleader to escape.  But before she can get very far, Kathy pops out of nowhere and chops the bitch's head off.  The killing happens way sooner than Kathy would've wanted, and that means finding a new piece of meat to torture.  Kathy turns to the Craig's List personals where she finds a man in search of a large woman.

Enter Gary - the single nicest guy in the world.  Gary's skinny, wiry, and has a lot of the same problems these women have - mainly that he's an outcast.  Nobody pays attention to him.  Nobody gives a shit about him.  If he can just find someone - anyone - to talk to, he'll be happy.  So when he puts up a personals ad looking for a large woman (to cuddle with - Gary loves cuddling), he's thrilled to get an e-mail back from a COUPLE.  Two big and beautifuls for the price of one.  Jackpot!

Gary heads over to meet the couple and is instantly smitten.  Of course, Gary would be smitten with a wireless router if it showed interest but still.  He really likes these chicks.  Which is a bit of surprise to them since nobody likes them.  But while Gary is looking for something more...emotional, Kathy is looking for something more... sexual.

She takes Gary home that night and completely degrades him, first by sitting on his face and second by...sitting on his face some more.  She has no interest in giving Gary any pleasure in return.  She just wants to treat him like the trash she believes he is.  The problem is...Gary likes it.  In fact, he LOVES it.  This infuriates Kathy so much that she starts slapping Gary while forcing him into repeated acts of sexual depravity.  But Gary likes it.  So she starts beating the crap out of him.  But Gary likes it.  Gary is like the Life Cereal Mikey of subservient sex.  No matter how many shades of gray Kathy throws at him, Gary likes it.

She finally stuffs him in their basement of torture, tells him he's going to be their slave, and that at some point in the near future, they're going to kill him.  But Gary likes it.  Humph.  Kathy is at a loss as to what to do.  She's not used to any of her victims liking anything she does.

Now during these slave sessions, it's Linda's job to come down and feed the captors.  Normally, Kathy's able to control Linda - reminding her that these aren't really people but rather playthings for their amusement.  But Gary is just so darn earnest that Linda starts to like him.  She begins to realize that the real enemy here is Kathy, who's taken advantage of her loneliness all these years to essentially make her a "slave with benefits."  Once Linda gets this in her head, she starts planning an escape with Gary.  Except Kathy's no dummy. She figures it out and her plan to kill Gary turns into a plan to kill Gary AND Linda.  Will Linda figure this out in time?  Will her and Gary be able to escape?  And how will Gary fend Kathy off with only one arm (more on that in a sec)?  Fatties offers all these wonderful answers and more.  Much MUCH more.

Did Fatties make me sick?  Yeah.  Did Fatties make me want to hurl several times?  Yeah.  But did Fatties make me want to keep reading?  Yeah.  And in the end, that's all that matters.  If the reader wants to keep reading, you're doing your job.

But the reason this script stands above all the other Twit-Pitch entries (so far) is that it makes unique choices.  Focusing the script around a large lesbian couple?  Never seen that before.  Making them serial killers and having them keep a wiry mustached chubby chaser as a sex slave?  Never seen that before.  A killer amputating a character's arm and then using it to anally fist him, all shown lovingly via a shadow on the wall?  Never seen that before.

But if this script were ONLY about the shock value, I wouldn't have given a shit.  What Matt does here is he actually creates characters.  He actually incorporates theme!  This script is about loneliness, and the depths humans will go to to avoid it.  For some it's being with a person they hate, if only because it's someone to lay their head down next to at the end of the day.  For others it's allowing yourself to be murdered, if only so you don't have to die alone.  I mean, it's freaking sad but you *do* sympathize with these characters because they're experiencing real-life relatable problems.  You feel their pain and care for them.  Which is why, even though they're being anally fisted with their own decapitated arms, you still want to see what happens next.

If I have a complaint about Fatties, it's that Kathy was a wee bit over-the-top.  And when I say "wee bit" I mean Mach 50 completely out of control batshit Gorilla-scary insane.  I mean at one point when her and Linda need money, they pop by an ATM and Kathy stabs a dude to death and steals his cash.  I know this isn't reality, but come on.  She'd be a little more careful than that seeing as she regularly keeps future murder victims in her basement.  Matt did such a good job bringing out the humanity in Linda and Gary.  Maybe a pass focusing on Kathy's past and her own humanity will add some depth to the character so she's not so dependent on shocking actions.

This script is weird.  This script is disturbing.  But I'd rather have weird and disturbing over "predictable" any day.

Script link: Fatties 

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

What I Learned: Quentin Tarantino once said, "You gotta be a little embarrassed when you give your script to someone.  You gotta be uncomfortable with some of the stuff you've put in there,"  I think there's some truth to that, especially when it comes to dark comedies.  If there isn't a single scene or character or moment in your dark comedy that makes you nervous about what people are going to think once they read it, you haven't pushed far enough.  Safe is always going to be boring.  

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Twit-Pitch Review - Crimson Road

Genre: Dark Comedy/Horror
Premise: (Original Twit-Pitch Logline) Can it get any worse than living next door to a serial killer? It can if you live on CRIMSON ROAD... the whole street is full of them.
About: Twit-Pitch Review Week - For those recently joining Scriptshadow, I held a contest a few months back called "Twit-Pitch," where anyone could pitch me their screenplay on Twitter, as long as it was contained within a single tweet.  I picked my 100 favorite loglines and read the first 10 pages of each (which I live-reviewed on Twitter), and then from those, picked the Top 20, which I'll read the entire screenplay for.  This week I'll be reviewing four of the Twit-Pitch scripts.
Writers: Anothony Filangeri
Details: 103 pages

Emma Roberts as Jill?

Just like that first president of ours, I cannot tell a lie.  This whole Twit-Pitch thing?  I'm starting to have my doubts.  We all know what happened on the last Twit-Pitch script I reviewed, and it only got worse when I went back through the finalists e-mails while looking for four scripts to review this week.  I thought I'd be opening e-mails with scripts attached.  Instead, I received four e-mails that basically said this: "Hi, err, um, Carson. So I was thinking about my script and I realized that, um, I have a job, and because of my job, I can't finish my script in time, for, um, the deadline?  So I'm probably not going to enter.  I hope that's okay and you're not upset."


I knew this would be an experiment.  I said so at the beginning.  But this is still an amazing opportunity for unknown writers to get noticed and nobody seems to be taking it seriously.  I know I could go back through the Top 100 and find replacements for these entries, but I'm probably not going to.  It's hard to drum up enthusiasm for people who don't take this profession seriously.

With all that said, I *have* read the first Twit-Pitch screenplay that's given me hope.  Unfortunately, you're going to have to wait until tomorrow for that.  Today's script, Crimson Road, doesn't quite live up to its premise. However, today's and tomorrow's scripts are a great contrast in what a writer must do to rope in a reader.  Whereas tomorrow's entry takes some hardcore chances, Crimson plays its inspired premise surprisingly safe.  Let's check it out.

17 year-old Jill Harris has just been released back into the wild after spending a couple of years in the looney bin.  Which is why no one believes her when, on one of her first nights back, she sees a man chasing a girl through the woods.  Even her former boyfriend, Stu, and her Deputy big brother, Hunter, give Jill the "Uh huh, we totally believe you" spiel.

But Jill isn't giving up so easily.  She's going to prove she's not the wacko everyone thinks she is. So she jaunts over to Crimson Road, a block full of houses plucked out of a Norman Rockwell painting, and targets the one unkempt house on the block.  It's here where she pops open a trash can and finds the bloodied shirt of the girl she saw in the woods!

The cops race in and arrest the house owner and it's looking like the case is solved.  But not so fast.  The police receive a DVD of an old man in a basement getting tortured!  Have they captured their killer or not??  And if that isn't bad enough, Jill's Uncle Fred, who molested her when she was a child, just got out of jail and moved onto Crimson Road, stirring up all sorts of bad memories in the community.

We eventually come to learn that this block is a community of serial killers who have a set of rules they abide by to ensure never getting caught.  But when Jill begins relentlessly looking into them, they realize that in order to keep their secret, they're going to have to kill her AND her friends.  Although Uncle Fred seems to be the ringleader, a calculated Anthony Perkins type named Ethan is the go-to killer when big jobs need to get done.  So that's who they set loose on Jill.  Will she survive?  Will anyone survive?  That's a question that will continue to be asked as long as there's a Crimson Road.

I think Crimson Road wants to be Scream.  Not so much in the self-referential way.  But it wants to be smart and funny while at the same time conveying a sense of danger for its characters.  The thing is, at least with how it's constructed now, it's neither smart nor funny.  Why do I say this?  Well, the area that's really going to set you apart in these categories is dialogue, and the dialogue here is painfully standard.

Whenever anybody talks to anyone in Crimson Road, it's the most straightforward conversation you can imagine.  People say EXACTLY what they're thinking all the time, making for one boring on-the-nose scene after another.  For example, I don't remember a single character uttering a single sarcastic line in Crimson Road.  And this is about high school kids!  Sarcasm is their second language!

Here's a conversation between Jill's friend Michelle and her ex-boyfriend, Stu.  MICHELLE: "So. Who do you believe?" STU: "Her parents. I think."  "Do you think she is lying?"  "But that is just it. It isn't like she is aware it's a lie.  Her dad thinks the medication she's on somehow screws with her head."  "We don't know if it didn't happen.  What she said a few years back definitely happened, did it not?" "And last week?  You believe someone tried to run her off the road?  I get it, lightning sometimes strikes.  It did earlier in her life.  Several times --"  "--so why couldn't it strike again last week?  Or last night?"  "Maybe last night did happen. But what are we supposed to do?  Believe there's some psychopath in town?"  "(remembering) Shit...I forgot. Her and I are supposed to walk to school together. What do I say?"  "Oh.  When's she gonna be here?"  "Any minute now." "I should probably get going then."

Not only does this not sound like two teenagers talking, it doesn't sound like two people talking.   This is a writer trying to convey information to the reader through two people talking and that's it. There's no nuance, no naturalism, no flavor.  Now let's listen to a conversation between two teenagers in Scream.  Notice the huge difference...

TATUM: "Do you believe this shit?"  SIDNEY: "What happened?" "Oh God!  You don't know?  Casey Becker and Steve Forrest were killed last night." "No way." "And not just killed, Sid. We're talking splatter movie killed--split open end to end." "Casey Becker? She sits next to me in English." "Not anymore.  Her parents found her hanging from a tree.  Her insides on the outside." "Do they know who did it?" "Fucking clueless--they're interrogating the entire school.  Teachers, students, staff, janitors..." "They think it's school-related?" "They don't know. Dewey said this is the worst crime they've ever seen.  Even worse than...(stopping herself) Well it's bad."

Notice how much more fun this dialogue is!  Notice how much more flavor it has!  "We're talking splatter-movie killed." "Her insides on the outside." "Fucking clueless."  "She sits next to me in English." "Not anymore."  As a writer, one of your jobs after you get the logistics of the dialogue down is to add flavor to it.  It doesn't feel like Anthony ever did that.  He just got the relevant information down and stopped there.  Now granted dialogue must be catered to the type of story you're telling and the types of characters speaking it. But I know this - there isn't any situation where teenagers speak like robots.  "Do you think she is lying?" should at the very least have a contraction: "Do you think she's lying?"

On top of this, there's zero subtext.  And subtext is what makes dialogue fun!  Characters need to be in situations where they're saying one thing but meaning another.  They have to be in situations where we know they're hiding something from the person they're talking to.

Take the above scene for example.  Stu used to be Jill's boyfriend before she went to the looney bin.  But it appears that Stu's now with Jill's best friend Michelle and neither of them have told Jill yet. Okay, that's a perfect set-up for subtext!  Stu's over at Michelle's house and Jill shows up unexpectedly.  Michelle and Stu freak out as she's coming up the stairs and she pushes Stu into the closet.  Jill pops in and now you have a conversation between Michelle and Jill.  You could have Jill confide in Michelle that she misses Stu but doesn't know how he feels.  Blah blah blah. You get the idea. A fun scene!  Instead, Anthony has Stu leave right before Jill shows up.  Boring!

Dialogue was just one element of this script that needed work.  I thought the choices here were way too safe and Jill's investigation was way too simplistic.  A solid attempt was made at giving Jill a backstory with her molesting uncle, but it felt mega-forced.  I mean how is it that Uncle Fred has gotten out of jail and moved back into town and nobody from the family knows about it??  There's just no way that happens.

But I wouldn't worry about that for now.  If I were Anthony, I would focus this next draft on dialogue. Learn to have more fun with it, to let the characters go instead of making their conversations so stilted and on the nose.  Learn to incorporate subtext as well to juice things up.  As for what I mean about the choices being too "safe," tune in tomorrow and I'll show you a script that does anything but make safe choices.  You'll be able to see the difference. Until then, what did you think of Crimson Road?

Script link: Crimson Road

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

What I Learned:  After you've come up with your premise, try to put your hero as CLOSE AS POSSIBLE TO DANGER in regards to that premise.  For example, if you're writing a story about the attack on Pearl Harbor, you probably don't want to focus on a character in Montana whose brother is stationed in Hawaii.  You want to focus on the brother stationed in Hawaii!  And you want to put him on one of the ships that's attacked!  Same thing here.  I thought this script would have been a lot better if Jill lived on Crimson Road herself, and slowly began to realize that her father was one of the serial killers (or maybe even her mother!).

Monday, July 23, 2012

Film Review - The Dark Knight Rises

Genre: Superhero
Premise: (from IMDB) Eight years on, a new terrorist leader, Bane, overwhelms Gotham's finest, and the Dark Knight resurfaces to protect a city that has branded him an enemy.
About: The final film in Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy.  Last year, I did a "Nolan Theme Week," breaking down Inception, Memento, The Prestige, and Batman Begins.  I also had Roger break down The Dark Knight.  Check out those reviews for my feelings on Nolan's writing.
Writers: Jonathan and Christopher Nolan (story by Christopher Nolan and David Goyer) (characters by Bob Kane)
Details: 164 minutes

I'm just going to say it: Nolan, you're getting sloppy.

And who can blame the guy really?  Nolan didn't want to make this film.  At least that's what I derived from his interviews after The Dark Knight.  However these days, you can't just make two of a franchise.  That word "trilogy" has changed all that.  Once that word became popularized there was no such thing as a sequel without another sequel.  And hence we have The Dark Knight Rises.

Why is this important?  Because when you're not 100% passionate about something, it shows.  And Nolan's lack of passion is on display here.  I mean, how do you follow up one of the Top 5 villains in cinema history?  Sure, you try your best.  But deep down you know you're not going to top The Joker.  It's like trying to get yourself up for the Cincinnati Open after you've won Wimbledon.

Now, to Nolan's credit, he doesn't go all George Lucas on us.  He doesn't bust out one draft and say "This is it."  But there's no question what we see in this Batman entry could've benefitted from another draft or five.  The Dark Knight Rises has occasional high points, but as a screenplay, it's an occupational hazard.

"Rises" starts off eight years after "Knight" with our favorite billionaire hobbled by a bad leg and a really long game of hide and seek.  No one's seen Bruce Wayne OR Batman in all this time and a lot of that has to do with Batman being blamed for Harvey Dent's murder.  Commissioner Gordon knows the truth, of course, but for whatever reason (read: story convenience) he keeps it to himself.

Batman's absence allows Scottish misfit and air filtration advocate Bane (who operates in the sewers of Gotham) to pick up where the Joker left off and make a play for the city, first through its finances, then through a football game with two pretend teams, and finally via a nuclear bomb.  After blowing up all the bridges to Gotham, he lets the world know that if so much as a shoe from the good guys reaches his city, he's blowing it sky-high.

He can do this because he's already taken out a hobbled Batman, sending him back to the prison cave he himself spent the majority of his life in, and is the only person to have escaped from.  This giant hole then becomes a test for Batman to "get his mojo back," as he must climb up an impossibly high cave cliff to get out, and gosh darnnit if the final jump to freedom isn't Matrix-like difficult.  Now if I were Bane, I probably would've, you know, KILLED Batman jusssst innnn caaaase he turned out to be the SECOND person to escape the cave.  But where's the fun in that?

As you'd expect, Batman gets out of the prison to the excited chants of his fellow inmates, who he's since become BFFs with, and races back to Gotham just in time to save the day!  Or does he?  Turns out Batty Bruce will have to make a choice involving saving Gotham or saving himself.  And since we know how cool of a guy Batman is, it's looking like our winged crusader ain't going to be saving himself.  Does that mean The Batman dies?  Well if Batman's armor can't even stop a kitchen knife from puncturing it, I doubt it can stop a nuclear bomb.  But who knows?  Stranger things have happened.

The Dark Knight is big and grand and epic and annoyingly confusing.  I mean, I understood the broad strokes of the plot, but that was it.  The rest of the script was as muddled as a first grader's recollection of his day.

One of my big problems with Inception, as you all know, was the 16 hours of exposition needed before we got to the actual story.  Nolan makes a similar mistake here, but with character introductions instead of exposition.  We have four key characters introduced, only one of which I had even the vaguest understanding of what he wanted, that being Bane.  And to be honest, I'm even a little unclear on him.  Bane wanted to take over Gotham because.....because why again?  Because he wears a mask?  Because he's bad?  Because bad people do bad things?

Who knows?  But hey, as Batman fans are quick to point out, The Joker didn't exactly have a solid motivation either.  He made life miserable for The Batman because he's twisted and sick and has nothing better to do.  And that seemed to work.  However, the Joker was incredibly charismatic - impossible to look away from - which covered up a lot of his plot-related shortcomings.  Bane just wears a mask.  A cool mask - don't get me wrong - but that's all I remember about the guy. That and he sounded exactly like Sean Connery.

That brings us to our other three characters - Cat Woman, Sleuthy McSleuthems, and Marion Cotillard. I still have absolutely zero understanding of what any of these characters had to do with the story.  The sad thing was that Cat Woman was probably the most memorable character in the film.  She was the only one with energy, the only one who brought life to scenes.  But if you took her character out, the movie would be EXACTLY THE SAME.  That's Screenwriting 101 there.  If a character isn't needed to tell the story, get rid of them.

That leads us to Sleuthy mcSluethems, aka Joseph Gordon-Leavitt.  Nooooooo idea who this character was.  He just seemed to pop up every once in awhile looking concerned and distrusting, which was perfect, cause that's exactly how I felt!  (Spoiler) Clearly, the only reason for this character's inclusion was his big reveal at the end, which was admittedly cool.  But this is another basic screenwriting tenant.  Don't make us suffer through a "nothing" storyline JUST for a twist.  The storyline itself has to be interesting, twist or not.  And there was NOTHING about this character that was interesting or even relevant.  Again, had you taken him out, nothing about the story would've changed.

Finally, that brings us to Marion Cotillard, the most confusing of all the confusing characters. Who was she?  No idea.  I think she was rich?  Influential?  Owned a company that made the sharpest knives in the universe?  This character was easily the biggest misstep as she had nothing to do with the anything outside of her own twist at the end, which of course had zero impact on us since we didn't understand who she was anyway.

So after the introduction of all these characters (as well as the re-introduction to Bruce Wayne), we finally got to the actual plot, halfway through the 164 minute running time!  And you know what?  When we did, "Rises" actually started to resemble a movie!  Bane takes over Gotham.  There's a ticking time bomb (literally).  And Batman has to escape his prison and save the day.  The second half of the film, for that reason, was actually pretty solid.  But I kept asking myself - why did we have to suffer through all that nonsense to get here?  Did we really need to meet all those characters?  Did we really need to set up all those story lines?

It's no secret that I like streamlined narratives, so I'm hard-wired to dislike this kind of script.  I resisted Dark Knight on the first few viewings for the same reason.  Eventually, however, I learned to like it.  An argument can be made for Nolan pushing the screenwriting medium - to not giving us the obvious "Fast and Furious" formula, but rather layering his stories with multiple character through-lines and heavier thought-provoking themes.  I get that.  But why do I feel like it was all done so clumsily?

Maybe further viewings will change my mind.  But right now, I thought this screenplay was a bloated mess.

[ ] What the hell did I just watch?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the watch
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I haven't learned:  Batman may be the most popular character in movie history.  I walk down the street and hear 50 year old men saying they can't wait to see this movie.  40 year old women saying they can't wait to see this movie.  I hear black, hispanic, and asians saying they can't wait to see this movie.  More than any other film, this character seems to capture people's imaginations.  People LOVE Batman.  So my question is, "Why?"  I ask because as screenwriters, our most important job is coming up with a main character audiences will love.  If we can do that, we can sell screenplays by the dozen.  So what is it specifically about Batman that makes him so likable by so many people?  I feel that if we can figure that out, it will help us with our own protagonists.

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: Carsonreeves3@gmail.com. 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.