Monday, May 31, 2010

The Low Self-Esteem of Lizzie Gillespie

Genre: Romantic Comedy
Premise: A young woman with low-self esteem begins dating an extremely attractive man.
About: Purchased by Mandate pictures, The Low Self Esteem of Lizzie Gillespie finished with 7 votes on last year’s Black List. Mindy Kaling plays Kelly Kapour on The Office, a show she also writes for. Brent Forrester has an impressive pedigree behind him. He’s worked on The Ben Stiller Show, The Simpsons, King of The Hill, wrote an episode of one of my favorite extinct shows ever, Undeclared, and also works as a writer on The Office.
Writers: Mindy Kaling and Brent Forrester
Details: 121 pages - June 17, 2009 (This is an early draft of the script. The situations, characters, and plot may change significantly by the time of the film's release. 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).

You know I kind of like Mindy Kaling (Kelly Kapour on “The Office”). Here’s my only question for Mindy though. If she’s a writer on The Office, why doesn’t she write herself into more episodes? Kelly disappears for long stretches at a time, so much so that I’ll occasionally wonder if she’s still on the show. She’s a lot funnier than some of those people who get way more air time. That leads me to another question. In The Office, all Stanley does is sit at a desk all day. That’s his job. He never says anything or interacts with anyone. However long it takes to film those episodes, he just sits there. Does he consider himself the luckiest person ever to get paid to sit around and do nothing? Or is he frustrated that he’s basically a glorified extra?

I’m getting off track here. Okay, so, I always find it interesting when TV writers (specifically sitcom writers) cross over into features or vice versa. It’s a totally different beast, both ways, especially if you’re coming from the sit-com world. There’s some obvious crossover – the story element is similar and some of the character stuff is the same – but it’s a lot harder to build a story over a 110 minute period than it is 22 minutes. You have to know when to let the story breath, when to step on the gas, etc. It’s not as simple as writing longer scenes. So did Kaling and her writing partner, Brent Forrester, pull it off? Let us find out.

Lizzie’s never been the kind of girl to turn heads. She’s plump in a cute way, but you’d probably be stretching it to call her pretty. So it only makes sense that at some point in her life she made the decision to categorize all hot guys as unobtainable. As a result, Lizzie only dates dweeby dorky dudes who “look like Ira Glass.” I don’t know who Ira Glass is but with a name like that, I’m guessing he’s no Vin Diesel.

So one day, while taking her friend’s daughter to one of those cheesy low-budget Children’s Museum plays, she meets Patrick, who’s so good-looking he makes Brad Pitt self-conscious. Patrick’s a barely in-work actor (if you call children’s plays work) and also surprisingly humble. When Mindy bumps into him after one of his shows, the two hit it off in a weird way and agree to meet up later, amongst friends.

Lizzie thinks nothing of it because of her “never-believe-hot-guys-like-her” training. To her he’s just a dude who needs a friend. Her friends, however, are convinced he has the hots for her, and thus begins the awkward dance we’re all so familiar with you start hanging out with someone of the opposite sex and the signals get crossed and you’re stabbing yourself every night trying to figure out if it’s a friend thing or a let’s get jiggy with it thing. Thank God for Facebook flirting, right? Remember when you used to have to…gasp…call people to get an idea of how they felt?

Anyway, eventually the two end up together, and Lizzie has an entirely new set of problems, which involves combating her daily insecurities. For example, she refuses to get naked in front of Patrick out of fear he’ll think she’s fat. In case you were wondering if Lizzie has low self-esteem, she reminds you every chance she gets.

Then before she knows it, her insecurities get the better of her, and she inadvertently orchestrates her relationship’s demise. We’re left to wonder if it’s possible for a couple, whose looks are so far apart on the good-looking spectrum, to survive in an image-conscience world.

First, the good. Kaling and Forrester predictably have a knack for dialogue and character. All the characters here are memorable and fun. I wouldn’t call it a chuckle-fest but I laughed my share of times. For example, we get the most awkward dirty talk sex scene ever, (her previous boyfriend offers this weird commentary during some heated sex) “Are you my wife?” “Are you the mother of my kids?” And Lizzie’s friends are also pretty funny, such as when her best friend Maggie tries to cheer her up after Lizzie’s Ira-Glass-like boyfriend dumps her. He was a loser, she tells Lizzie. “Maybe he was a loser. But he loved me.” “He didn’t love you, he was sleeping with an anorexic vampire.” “Why would you mention how thin she was?”

But the problem here is exactly what I worried about from the beginning. There’s no real story to sink your teeth into.

Back in the day, most romantic comedies had a story behind them. In Pretty Woman, there’s the whole “he buys her for the week” angle. In Notting Hill there’s the whole “dating a movie star” angle. But then Judd Apatow came along and kind of changed the game, creating rom coms based more on ideas than on stories. 40 year old Virgin. Knocked Up. But see even those movies had something to hang their hat on. We want to see if Steve Carrell is going to get laid. We want to see if Seth Rogan can become responsible enough to raise a child. Here, the entire movie is based on the protagonist’s character flaw, Lizzie’s low self-esteem. Lizzie’s not really going after anything. She’s just living her life. And for a script that’s 120 pages, that’s not nearly enough to keep us engaged.

The characters end up wandering around a lot, and the above reason is why. If there’s no ultimate goal for our main character to try and achieve, no ticking time bomb pushing us forward, then there isn’t a whole lot for our characters to do but sit around and talk to each other. There’s really only one romantic comedy in history that got away with this and that’s When Harry Met Salley, which to this day is one of the biggest anomalies in screenwriting.

This script actually reminded me a lot of She’s Out Of My League, which I reviewed a long time ago and which I thought was a little better than this. The Low Self Esteem of Lizzie Gillespie has some bright moments. Let’s just hope the next draft builds more of a story around those moments.

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

What I learned: There are three types of goals you want for your characters. First is their story goal. What is it they’re after? This is the engine that drives your entire story so it’s the most important goal of the bunch. In The 40 Year Old Virgin, for example, Steve Carrel’s story goal is to get laid. The next type of goal is the immediate goal. This goal is constantly changing during the story and refers to whatever your character is trying to achieve right now. This is usually a subset of the main goal. Your character must get *this* (whatever “this” is) before they can get the final goal. Using 40-Year Old Virgin again, Steve Carrell first goes to a club to find a girl he can have sex with. His goal then, is simply to bring a woman home. A few scenes later, his goal is to try and ask the E-Bay store girl on a date. The final goal-type is one that’s the least utilized in movies, but important nonetheless. It’s your hero’s life goal. Beyond this story, what is it your character really wants? The reason a life goal is so important is because it often defines a person. When someone tells us what they want to do more than anything else in the world, that’s a pretty big indicator of who that person is. Lizzie has a nice life goal here. She wants to be a dramturge, which is the person who provides historical context at the beginning of a play. It’s weird and quirky and different, which are the same advectives you’d use to describe Lizzie. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Howl (Book 3: John Dead, Texas Ranger)

Ahhh, a day off. Remember when we used to have those? I mean sure, technically us in America have Memorial Day today and don't have work, but somewhere around 10 years ago holidays just became "get all the shit done you couldn't get done otherwise" days. There is no such thing as a day off anymore. And that's good news for you guys because it means that you still get a review! Yahoooo! So I'm going to leave the rest to Roger as he busts out a script with so many genres it needs its own multiplex. Here's "Howl..."

Genre: Time-travelling werewolf Western (Okay, okay: Adventure, Horror, Science Fiction, Western)
Premise: A time-travelling Texas Ranger has spent the past 500 years hunting a particularly nasty werewolf. When he finally corners him in modern-day Texas, he'll need the help of an unlikely posse to save the world from chaos.
About: This script was picked up in 2001 by Warner Brothers sans producer with Lemkin attached to direct. Back in October, I reviewed another Lemkin script, titled $$$$$$, about a modern day city war in Los Angeles. Lemkin's writing credits include Red Planet, The Devil's Advocate, and Lethal Weapon 4. Upon being asked about "Howl" and his opportunity to direct, "It still makes me laugh and I assume still terrifies them which is why it hasn't happened."
Writer: Jonathan Lemkin
Details: Third Draft

If I wasn't a fan of Lemkin after reading $$$$$$, well, "Howl" won me over a lot sooner than the moment when Wanda, an ex-stripper and Waffle House waitress who has been recruited into a posse of werewolf hunters by a time-travelling Texas Ranger, dons a scant Red Riding Hood outfit and black fuck-me pumps and lures an army of werewolves into a seedy alley that has been converted into a kill box by the posse.
That's a little over eighty pages into the script, but by then, I had already fallen head-over-heels for "Howl", which I read on a plane cramped between two linebackers.
The title indicates that this is the third installment in what's a nod to serialized adventure storytelling, and the next page serves as a warning to a particular type of reader:
If you don't read comic books, stop.
Don't bother to read this. It'll just confuse you.
Watch the Bloomberg channel or something. Trade some stocks on-line. Worry about the Nasdaq.
For God's sake don't read this and complain that it's not something else. It's not.
As a guy that not only loves this kind of material, but writes it himself, I turned the pages with gusto.
Who the hell is John Dead?
Professor Jane Hamilton is the New Texas gal who discovers our time-travelling gunslinger. When we meet her, she's arrived with her archeology team at a construction site in the middle of West Texas in the middle of the night. The foreman greets her, hopes that they haven't stumbled across Indian ruins, because he can't pave over that. A likeable woman, she's brought the crew a ton of road beers while she investigates the site. These thoughts tell you everything you ought to know about Jane, "There's no adventures anymore. We just dig up what's left. Everything's linked by cell phone, internet, alphanumeric pager. Your GPS tells you exactly where you are at all times. You can't even get lost. That's why there's no men. Only boys and toys."
Well, what Jane doesn't know, is that she's about to meet a genuine, honest-to-goodness, real man.
Using state-of-the-art seismic imaging equipment, she discovers a western town from the 1880s. There's even a graveyard. It all looks pretty typical, but then she notices the oddly-shaped crypt calling attention to itself amidst the usual headstones and caskets. It appears to be a hypostyle, hieroglyphic-covered burial crypt that seems to be a replica of a three thousand year old Egyptian building about thirteen thousand miles from home.
She writes it off as the burial site of a crazed Egyptology enthusiast, so she puts an underling in charge. Of course they discovered mummified remains, and the underling even breaks a wax seal on one of the bodies, something he's going to regret in a few minutes.
What appears to be a cowboy and his dog are also discovered in the strange crypt, and they transport all the remains to the University of Texas at El Paso Medical Center, where of course, the body of the dog disappears and people die horrible, horrible deaths.
John Dead is the cowboy, and he awakens, pretty pissed off to discover that the dog has escaped. Dead wears new-fangled Levi jeans from 1874. White shirt. A pair of seven and a half inch Colt .44-40 revolvers on a gunbelt, Bowie knife in a scabbard, and a Winchester 1873 lever action rifle over his shoulder.
Dude is vintage.
He's on the hunt. He blends into El Paso, Texas, because, well, the guy's a motherfucking cowboy. He realizes a hundred years have passed by picking up a paper, finds a coin shop that buys precious metal, which he has a lot of and exchanges for new money. He takes this money, goes to a gunshop, invests in cartridges, primers, powder, scales, bullet molds, crimpers.
In other words, everything you need to make your own bullets.
At a flop house, he boils silver, and proceeds to make a shit-ton of ammo. At the Texas Ranger Offices, he asks to see the ranking officer. He's brought to Ben McCulloch's office, where he shows his one-hundred year old Ranger badge and a leather-bound ledger.
McCulloch says, "I take it if you're here, there's trouble." He knows about John Dead, but he can't quite believe the man is real.
He opens up a safe for Dead, revealing more ammo in wooden boxes. Dead requests some Rangers, but McCulloch explains, "We ain't had any call for our original mission for the most of the last hundred years."
So, this mean Dead is going to have to form a posse. He needs outlaws, mean sons-of-bitches.
Who gets to be part of Dead's posse?
McCulloch sends Dead to a roadside café where we meet Lumber, former road captain of the Pagans MC. Dead tells him, "I want a man who when it comes to nut cuttin' time, knows how to die standing up. I want a man to watch my back. Pay is a thousand dollars a day. Ten days up front."
"What exactly is it you're doing?"
"Hunting a werewolf."
Well, ten grand is ten grand. He accepts.
Then there's Wanda, the local slattern waitress who Dead and Lumber save from a bunch of rowdy customers, although they can't save her from getting fired. She asks to tag along with them, and Dead agrees, as she seems to be a radar for when people don't seem like...people. In the old days, he used to recruit prostitutes for this task.
She asks, "So where're we goin'?"
"Looking for a dog."
They go to a ranch house, where a man is breeding and training pitbulls to fight. Dead, against the breeder's warning, steps into the yard, and stares down the alpha. The alpha backs off, and all the other dogs hang back, except one, who approaches Dead, curious.
"Won't fight. Friedrich."
"Shows his belly?"
"Won't pit."
"Dog ain't afeared. Just ain't stupid. We'll take him."
And last but not least is Jane, whom Dead sees on television talking about the mummies. In a moment of misunderstood sarcasm, she reveals that the thieves should return the bodies to her as there's a pretty terrible curse associated with them.
Dead hears this, explains, "She's either a fool admitting she can read the curse and a threat to them...or she's one of 'em and she let him go on purpose."
So who is this werewolf and what's his plan?
His name is Marrok. He's a follower of Anubis, and his goal is to unleash seven years of devastation and death on Earth. See, Marrok is gathering a pack, because he needs to "kill an entire town in the light of a full moon, drench himself in the blood, as the last scream echoes, the pack is annealed, protected from silver for seven years.
This is information they discover thanks to a guy named Lobo, a priest who was part of Cortez' expedition. He was bit but not killed as an insult to the Church, but the Indians took him on as a shaman.
Lobo tells them, "All of the great calamities...The Black Death, Khans sweeping out of Mongolia, Fall of the Roman Empire...They were fermented by a Were or a lie to cover up something a Were had done during a frenzy."
Crazy. Does it work?
Fuck yeah, it does. But look, it's not a character study. Dead's flaw is that he's a virgin. He can never get close to a woman, because whenever he does, Marrok kills her. It's his way of torturing Dead.
And his inner conflict is over his feelings he has about Jane, a woman unlike any he's ever met before. In fact, he even asks Wanda about love and she reflects, "It's like wanting to be with someone so bad, you'd cut your arm off to be with them. And not miss it."
And it's a cool, satisfying theme. There may even be a scene, that quite literally, embodies what Wanda says about love.
And although the characters are quirky, that's as deep as it gets, but it works anyways because it's just well-executed fun. It delivers everything you want to see in a Texas Ranger Posse Vs. Werewolf Pack movie, and there's some inventive set-pieces that don't disappoint.
How different is it?
Well, have you ever read a script with a werewolf hunting dog that tries to protect its masters by taking on a super-alpha, only to be bit and turned into a human male? It's strange, it's funny, it's surprising.
The carnage in this thing is not for the squeamish. Yes, entire busses full of people get eaten. Towns are massacred. A motorcycle gang is converted into werewolves and there's all out war on the Texas roads.
This baby is bloody. As any self-respecting werewolf movie should be.
What separates "Howl" from the rest of the pack?
For the record, my favorite werewolf movie is the Neil Jordan adaptation of Angela Carter's The Company of Wolves. That's followed closely by John Landis' An American Werewolf in London and then the original The Wolf Man.
"Howl" fits somewhere within that triumvirate, a pulpy and campy action-adventure that is easily the best werewolf script I've ever read. It cures the staleness that has settled over the genre as indicated by everything from the Underworld franchise to The Wolfman remake. We're used to watching men transform into hulking beasts. That's nothing new. Perhaps we've experienced all of the horror and subtext that's possible within that, so what's the point in making another movie about werewolves?
Lemkin has created an interesting mythology that's all about the invasion and violation of community and security. John Dead explains, "...wolf was the greatest threat to family, community...Lotta places wolf was the largest, meanest thing you were likely to run into...but different countries, different Weres."
And I love that.
As someone who values the need for community, this spoke to me. These monsters are creatures that have made a pact with evil and they've discovered a way to become invincible that is based upon the ritualistic destruction of a community. To me, that's disturbing.
And these things come in droves. A horde. A terror shared with the threat in 28 Days Later, which will be remembered for its fast-motion tweak on the zombie mythos. "Howl" kind of does the same thing, but where the above flick was full of despair, this tale is occupied by a badass comicbook hero whose presence creates a bottleneck against this evil.
John Dead and the quirky recruits of his posse presents an original heroism and spirit that would separate "Howl" from all the other werewolf projects out there if its unique mythos, invention action sequences and fun narrative drive didn't already make it the leader of the werewolf pack.

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

What I learned: The final third act battle, the confrontation with the Jungian Shadow archetype, is a master class in raising the stakes and throwing obstacles at the protagonist. Everything about Dead's plan is turned on its head by Marrok, exploiting all the mythology set-ups Lemkin peppered the script with. The werewolf mythology here is that if a werewolf bites a human, the human has to kill the werewolf before the venom takes root, otherwise they become one. Now, that's not all. There are other rules that Lemkin sets up, but every single one is used against the hero.
Marrok explains, "Right about now, you're thinking if I could only kill the Were that bit me...and you know what's funny, you can't. Cause I'm pretty much impervious to everything. Except maybe fire hot enough to boil silver...But...the trouble with burning me is, that won't work now either. Cause you can't commit suicide. Cause self-destruction isn't an option for a Were, which you are about to be. So now you can't die and be my guardian forcing me into the afterlife. Cause you ordered the fire and now it can't kill you. And you can't leave cause you've bound in the followers of Anubis of which you are now one..."
John Dead finds himself in a situation that seems to have no escape. Which makes how he's going to get out of such a situation a mystery for the reader. Mystery and subverting expectation can keep the reader turning the pages. What's even better is when the solution, the escape, the last Hail Mary, is unexpected, satisfying and in-tone with everything that came before it.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sunday Book Review (Gone)

Watch Scriptshadow on Sundays for book reviews by contributors Michael Stark and Matt Bird. We won't be able to get one up every Sunday, but hopefully most Sundays. Here's Matt Bird with his review of "Gone!"

Yup, it’s another teen novel. I never intended to be the “teen guy” around here, and I had a list of adult books to choose from for this article, but then something happened that hadn’t happened in a while: I finished a novel not because I should but because I wanted to, and the whole time I was thinking “You know, this would really make a pretty kick-ass movie.” So I figured “screw it, that’s the one I should write-up, even if it is teen again.” I am afraid, however, that I’m going to lose most of you with the cover. If you read a few teen novels, one thing you realize is they're sometimes plagued by cheesy covers. This book is very much written at the same level of sophistication as a Stephen King novel, but it’s got a very Gossip-Girl-y cover. Another reason why I was pleasantly surprised at how bad-ass it was.

I’ve been reading a lot of first chapters of novels recently. (Full disclosure: in addition to my screenwriting, I’m writing a teen novel myself.) I do it to see a lot of different styles, but also because I rarely feel the urge to keep reading. I’m a tough crowd in general, and I’m not the intended demographic for these books anyway. Then something funny happened with Gone. After I read the first chapter, I felt the urge to read the second, just to find out what happened. And then I pretty much ate the whole thing up.

In the movie world, we worry a lot about ideas getting used up, but the book world is much more “live and let live”. The premise of this book is basically “What if Stephen King wrote a book about a small town that suddenly gets sealed within a force field and degenerates into civil war.” (Grant wears his inspirations on his sleeve: the national park inside his bubble is called Stephano Rey National Park) Then, just after this came out, Stephen King himself revealed that he’d been toying with just such a novel for years, and released his own version.

Problem? Nope. They both blurbed each other. But then there’s the other half of this book’s premise: every adult inside the bubble has blinked out of existence! Well, a year later, another big teen novel came out in which everybody over fifteen becomes a zombie: The Enemy by Charles Higson. Once again, what could have been a problem was turned into a friendly blurb-exchange. And why not? We overprize ideas in the screenwriting world. Yes, this book has a wild high-concept, and that’s what got me to read the first chapter, but I kept going because the dialogue felt authentic, the characters’ motivations were compelling, and it was well-written in a way that “beach read” books like this rarely are. Movies worry so much about ideas because they’re really only interested in getting you in the door. Books aren’t overly-bothered about that because they know the real challenge is to get you to finish the thing. They make their money over customer loyalty.

So why would this make a great movie? Because it tackles the same themes as a lot of other popular books, but in a much more cinematic way. There’s a ton of Post-Apocalyptic Dystopian titles out there right, led by The Hunger Games. Roger recommended The Hunger Games for adaptation in the very first of these columns, and I do have to agree, because it combines a high-concept action premise with a huge fan base. They’re mounting a big-budget adaptation now, and the pre-existing fans alone may be enough to sell it, as was the case with the Twilight movies, but if they’re hoping to actually win new fans without making the sort of adaptation decisions that alienate the existing ones, I think that they’re going to run into problems, with both the world-building and the ending.

I have a theory: post-apocalyptic movies only work if no new society has arisen. The Mad Max movies work because it’s still like our world except that it’s gone straight downhill. But as soon as another world has replaced ours, you get into trouble. Zardoz territory. Why has there never been a good movie of 1984, or Brave New World, or Fahrenheit 451, or The Time Machine? It’s the nature of cinema. Novels can talk to you directly and tell you what’s going on in the new world, but in movies all the information is conveyed through characters’ experiences and they’re only going to react if they’re encountering something for the first time. Both Gone and The Hunger Games, for instance, have mutated animals in their apocalyptic settings, but in the latter book, the heroine already knows what they are and describes them within the narration strictly for the reader’s benefit. And so on throughout every aspect of that futuristic world. How will that work in the movie? Gone, on the other hand, is cinematic: we start in our world, then the apocalypse happens on page one and we and see it swiftly become a bad world, step by step, and we see the logical reactions of our heroes to each change.

And that’s the other thing I want to praise about this book: the structure is just rock solid in a very popcorn-movie way. My wife always alerts me when there’s a new book with a really exciting premise, and I used to get excited until I realized that most high-concept best-sellers just don’t build the way that movies do. They might contain a high-concept idea, but they rarely ramp up to a big conclusion where the personifications of those ideas have a mana-a-mano smackdown. I hate to keep picking on The Hunger Games, but the conflict in that book, for all that it seemed cinematic, was actually way too internalized to easily adapt into a movie (a few spoilers here): The government orders a girl to kill a bunch of people, and she does, and then they order her to kill her friend, and she figures out a way to get out of that, and so she wins the games and then goes home. Since we’re inside her head, we knew that she hates the government now, but you would never know it from anything she does. She never takes any anti-government action. It’s still basically an internal book: about a girl coming to a secret realization about her government.

In Gone, on the other hand, every internal secret leads to an external confrontation. The ending is just as sequel-riffic as a lot of these other books are, but along the way each character grows and changes and settles their conflicts, at least temporarily, out loud. The biggest obstacle to adapting Gone would be that the underlying situation doesn’t really resolve at the end (two more novels have come out and there will be six overall), but the civil war storyline does totally resolve in a very satisfactory way, making this feel like a complete story.

I still haven’t really gotten around to explaining the story of the novel, which is pretty simple and nothing we haven’t seen before, but it's an effective variation on a theme: A small town in California had an accident at the nuclear power plant fifteen years ago. The kids born since are starting to get mutations that give them superpowers. An autistic kid’s powers go haywire and cut the town off from reality, banishing or killing all the adults. It’s sort of the action movie version of the old Jerome Bixby short story (turned Twilight Zone episode) “It’s a Good Life”. The teens left in town have to take care of the little kids and grow up quick. Then the violent kids from the reform-boarding school on the hill come down into town and take over. Our heroes have to lead a counter-revolution, all while discovering their individual powers and trying to figure out how one of them caused this in the first place.

Have these books been optioned? They don’t show up on IMDB pro, but here’s a video of the author talking about how some discussions are ongoing. I wouldn’t be surprised if, as Hollywood deals with the problems of building some of these post-apocalyptic worlds, they don’t start to seek out novels like this one instead, where we get the pleasure of seeing the world turn apocalyptic onscreen.

Matt Bird bloviates about movies (and occasionally comics) everyday over at Cockeyed Caravan.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Nightmare Of Hugo Bearing

Okay, so Amateur Month is officially OV-AH. That was fun. And at times scary because some of you are terrifying. It's appropriate that today's script is about nightmares because I think I'll be having plenty due to Estrogen Deprived and Effscottfitz. If this is your first day back to Scriptshadow in awhile, you can go to Amateur Week here, Repped Week here, Favorites Week here, and of course, don't forget to sign up for a tracking board if you haven't already. I fixed the damn pricing thing I screwed up on, so it really is $44.25 now. I promise. -- Hope you guys enjoyed this month as much as I sometimes did. We'll have to do it again sometime. :)

Genre: Adventure/Children’s
Premise: A young boy teams up with a nightmare hunter to help him catch a monster that escaped from his dreams.
About: In 2002, Spielberg/Dreamworks picked up this very hot spec. The project unfortunately fell into a nightmare of its own (known as Development Hell) and unlike in the script, there was no one to save it. But Spielberg was a huge champion of the writers and tabbed them to write a couple of adaptations, including author Scott Lynch's fantasy epic "The Lies of Locke Lamora,” about a likable con artist and his band of followers, and an original idea of Spielberg’s, "Charlie Dills.” (Don’t know what this is about – maybe It's On The Grid knows???). But their adaptation with the best title by far, is the script they wrote for 1492 Pictures, titled: "Carpe Demon: Adventures of a Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom.”
Writers: The Brothers Hageman
Details: 99 pages (This is an early draft of the script. The situations, characters, and plot may change significantly by the time of the film's release. 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).

Wow, I don’t review many children’s scripts on the site. But I love a good high concept idea and this is about as high concept as they come. So hey, why not change it up?

I mean we were all kids once. I remember as a young tyke, watching “Tales From The Crypt” and one of the tales was about a dead guy who came back to get his birthday cake. He kept repeating the phrase, “I waaaant my caaaaake,” as his deteriorated skeleton of a face oozed worms and slime. That night, I sat scrunched up in the corner of my room with a hockey mask, a baseball bat, and any sharp object I could find, staring at my door til the sun came up, convinced Mr. I-Want-My-Cake Man was going to burst through that door and take me to Deathville.

Which is the perfect segue into today’s script, which is all about nightmares. Hugo Bearing is an 11 year old orphan (that’s old in orphan years btw) who’s plagued with horrifying dreams every night he goes to sleep. In his nightmares is the sickly evil spider-ish monstrosity known as Mister It. Mister It doesn’t just scare Hugo, he psychologically burrows into him, reminding him that no parents will ever come to adopt him, and that he will always be alone...forever.

Hugo’s best friend is the pudgy tag-a-long known as Asmus Fudge (note – All of the names in this screenplay are absolutely brilliant). There’s also the twins, Eye-Patch Pete, and the eternally cranky Benny. As Hugo is the oldest, he’s the one they all look up to. And for that reason, he’s reluctant to tell them about his secret – that his nightmares still haunt him.

So what’s the only thing worse than a nightmare? A nightmare that comes to life of course! And unfortunately for Hugo, Mister It escapes from his dreams into the real world. After he slithers away, Hugo meets 70 year old Atticus Marvel, a green trench-coated Nightmare Hunter. A cross between “Sherlock Holmes and Don Quixote,” Atticus is quite the badass for someone who gets a senior discount. He informs Hugo that they have a problem. Nightmares aren’t allowed to exist in the real world, and it’s their job to capture his nightmare and put it back where it belongs.

As their journey unfolds, Atticus explains the rules of Nightmare Hunting. Nightmare Hunters are kind of like Jedi. They’re called in when a nightmare gets unruly. Old stories you hear about dragons and goblins? Those were simply nightmares who escaped from people’s dreams. Nightmares are identified by their class. The higher the class, the more dangerous they are. For example there’s a Class 2 Trundle Trotter, there’s a Class 3 Obesian Snackpacker, and so on and so forth. (did I tell you these names were great or what?)

The reason it’s so important to find Hugo’s nightmare is that he’s a class 10, and class 10’s are capable of spawning other nightmares, which is exactly what starts happening. If they don’t get Mister It back into the dreamworld soon, the entire planet will be invaded by a nightmare army.

The first thing that popped out at me here was the sheer breadth of imagination. It really feels like these guys thought this world through. The mythology, while occasionally silly, is easy to buy into. I mean the whole "monsters throughout history being escaped nightmares" thing was really clever. I also loved the whole class system and how it operated. For example, nightmare class is dependent on how extraordinary the subject’s fear is. Mister It is a Class 10 because Hugo is so terrified of him.

I think this leads to my only beef, which is that maybe the characters aren’t as deep as they could be. I mean, Hugo's situation is a perfect setup for a major character flaw. Hugo somehow needs to overcome his fear of Mister It in order to take him down. But I was never really sure what Hugo’s flaw was (what caused his fear), other than the very basic: he was scared of Mister It. Therefore, the character arc (Hugo overcoming his flaw) doesn’t resonate. Then again, this is a kid’s story. So maybe it doesn’t matter.

Another potential problem is the world the story takes place in. Even before the nightmares arrive, the town is described in a very fairy-tale like manner. I would imagine that throwing nightmares into that world wouldn’t provide enough of a contrast to take advantage of the concept. In other words, we may feel the impact more if the town were realistic. Throwing a dream into a world that’s already dreamy prevents them from sticking out, right? But again, this is a choice they went with and it’s not like it's a dealbreaker.

I’m not easily won over by children’s movies. Whenever Harry Potter pops up on my boob tube, I can’t help but wish I'd run into him one day in a dark alley so I could punch that little zig-zag mark off his noggin. But this was cute. It won me over.

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

What I learned: So we’ve talked a few times about the mid-point and what a good mid-point achieves. Usually – not always, but usually – a midpoint is where you raise the stakes of the main goal. So if it’s a story about trying to get to the moon to save 3 astronauts who are trapped and running out of supplies, the midpoint might be the shuttle that’s going there blowing up a day before launch. Time’s running out. Their predicament is a thousand times worse than it was a day earlier. The stakes have been raised. The Nightmare Of Hugo Bearing has a nice midpoint. Initially the goal is to capture Mister It and put him back into the dreamworld. Difficult but still doable. Exactly halfway through the story (the midpoint) we learn that Mister It is a Class 10, which means he can spurn other nightmare creatures into existence. Talk about raising the stakes. Now, they not only have to capture THIS nightmare, they have to capture ALL of the nightmares he’s created. Go to the middle of your script right now. Do you dramatically raise the stakes of your story?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Why Bad Scripts Sell and Why It Shouldn't Matter To You

I’ve been receiving this question a lot lately so I thought I’d write an article about it. The question is, “Really? This script sold?? This is what passes for worth half a million dollars these days?? Are you f’ing kidding me??” Loose translation: “Why do bad scripts sell?” I think it’s a fair question to ask. But I don’t think it’s the right way to ask it.

Almost every single spec sale script I’ve read shows a basic understanding of how to tell a story. What I mean by that is they have a beginning, a middle, and an end. And they understand that the beginning is their setup, the middle is their conflict, and the end is their resolution. 90% of amateur screenplays I read do not possess this understanding. The story usually stumbles, rambles or wanders because the basic notion of what’s supposed to happen in each of these sections hasn’t been learned yet. This accounts for a percentage of the confusion of why people don’t understand why “bad” scripts sell.

But the remaining portion may be perfectly valid. The script is simply, technical skill or no technical skill, not very good. So how does this happen? Don’t I (and everyone else) always preach that in order to sell a script you have to write something GREAT? How can that be true when all these mediocre scripts are getting snatched up for hundreds of thousands of dollars each year?

To answer this question, let’s look at a few examples for why a bad script might sell.

Example 1: A company is looking for a specific kind of script for their slate. Maybe it’s a teen sex comedy. Maybe it’s a Halloween’ish horror flick. Maybe it’s an erotic thriller. So they put out some feelers to agents they have relationships with, who in turn speak with the writers they represent, who in turn find old scripts that sound close enough to what the company is looking for, which they then clean up and send to the company. The company reads all the submissions and ends up buying the one that best fits their needs. Is the script always great? No. But it’s close enough so that, with a little development, they’re confident they can get it into good shape.

Example 2: Company D is looking around and realizing that the whole graphic novel craze, the one they thought would be over in two minutes? Well, it’s obviously here to stay. And while they were asleep at the wheel, their competition snatched up all the best properties. Feeling the pressure from inside and outside their company, they need a cool graphic novel to compete. So there’s a savvy intern who has a writer friend who just adapted a cool but obscure graphic novel. Does the boss want to read it? Of course! He needs a graphic novel property yesterday. Because the pressure’s on, he bypasses his reader and reads the script himself. Through the filter of desperation, even though he knows the script needs a lot of work, it takes care of a very important need, so he buys it.

Example 3: A writer coming off a recent sale delves back into his library of scripts, does a quick rewrite on one of them, hands it to his agent who packages it with a hot actor and producer, and sells it a week later. Is the script good? Maybe. Maybe not. So why did it sell? Because the writer had heat. Because being able to flaunt a script from the "hot new writer in town" brings attention to a company. Because in the business world, people aren’t very good at measuring the value of art. So they go by track records. If the script is from the guys who wrote The Hangover, starring Jim Carrey with Wes Anderson attached to direct…that’s a package they can trust. From a business perspective, if you include the script as one of the four elements being sold (script, writers, actor, director), which of those elements do you think carries the least weight? Obviously the script. This kind of thing happens quite often.

Example 4: A production company is developing a movie about an overweight Casanova. They hear that a new script is hitting the market about an overweight seductress. Uh-oh, if that movie’s made, their movie’s dead. So what do they do? They buy the script to bury it! Yes, this really happens. They will buy the script, whether it’s great, okay, or terrible, just to eliminate the competition.

So now you know Hollywood’s dirty little secret. Bad scripts do sell! But here’s the thing about all of the above examples: THEY DON’T APPLY TO YOU. Go back and read that capped sentence a dozen times. None of those examples apply to your situation. You don’t have agents or managers or the luxury of pitching movies over lunch to people who can actually make them. The ONLY thing you have…is your screenplay. And that’s why YOUR screenplay DOES have to be great.

And this goes back to what I was saying earlier. It takes time to even understand what “great” is. It takes writing half a dozen screenplays, studying all the major screenwriting books, reading at least 500 spec scripts, getting 100 people to give you feedback. It’s a humbling reality but learning how to write something awesome TAKES TIME.

I think the problem is that we hear these once every decade stories about Quentin Tarantino and Diablo Cody and we think that’s the only way to break in. “Nobody” to “Household Name” in less than 24 hours. Sure, if you’re singing on American Idol. But that’s not the way most screenwriters succeed in this business. Diablo Cody and Quentin Tarantino are the lotto winners. The rest of us have to earn our millions the old-fashioned way – through hard work and perseverance.

That means writing your first spec, making a million mistakes, writing another one, making half a million more, writing your third one, then entering it in contests, then sending query letters to managers who never get back to you, and even though you really don’t want to because you know it’s going to be awkward, calling that friend of a friend of a gaffer because he’s the only person you know in LA and begging him to read your script, and doing all that shit for two years until a manager finally calls you back and wants to hip-pocket you. It includes taking any meeting (in person or on the phone) and selling the shit out of yourself and finally getting a lousy $1500 re-rewrite on an awful independent horror film even after your manager disappears with the money and you’re forced to do it for free. Then taking more meetings and landing a few more small gigs and through the connections you’ve made, finding an agent. Then getting some even bigger jobs, and maybe becoming a jr. writer on a TV show that ends up becoming a cult hit, and using that buzz to rewrite some direct-to-DVD sequel for a movie you actually watched in the theater, and then, through this vast network of connections you’ve created during all this time, going to your top 5 contacts when you’re finally convinced that your action-adventure masterpiece in the vein of Indiana Jones is ready, and pitching it to them. And having them all say no to you, and then seriously considering giving up this crazy business because all it is is a bunch of heartache and then getting a call from someone you don’t remember and having them explain that you sent them a script seven years ago when they were a gaffer, and now they’re a producer at Warner Brothers and they just read your script and thought it was amazing, but it’s not quite what they’re looking for, but oh by the way, do you happen to have anything in the action adventure genre? Maybe something like Indiana Jones?............And somehow, one week later, you did it. You sold a fucking screenplay.

And if that sounds like the most miserable experience ever to you, then I’m going to be honest here. You probably aren’t cut out for screenwriting. Because this is how people usually find success in this business. And for those who stick around, it’s wonderful, because you realize at some point that it was never about the spec sale in the first place. It was about your love of writing.

So I’ll say it again. The one thing that you have 100% control over in this crazy industry, is writing the best script you’re capable of writing. That’s it. Don’t get caught up in whether some shitty script sells and what that means for your writing. That doesn’t have any bearing on you whatsoever. You just need to write the BEST SCRIPT you’re capable of writing. That’s it. And if you keep doing that, over and over again, at a certain point, you just may write something amazing…that sells…to a gaffer.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Favorites Week 2 - The Incident

We're wrapping up "Amateur Month" this week. The first week, we allowed any writers to send in their script. The second week we had repped writers only. Last week we had Favorites Week. This week is going to be wonky but all you need to know is I'm throwing in one more Favorite. The Incident!

Genre: Sci-Fi/Paranormal Thriller
Premise: A small documentary team goes back to a Russian mountain, the site of one of the world’s most famous unsolved mysteries, to try and figure out what really happened there.
About: This is an interesting situation. Russ was somewhat reluctant to let me review “The Incident” on the site. Not for any SS related reasons though. Even though the script secured him his first manager a few years ago, he sees it as more of a “stepping stone” than anything else. He doesn't think it's good enough. I think he’s way off course. We tend to get bored with our ideas after we’ve worked on them forever. But we forget that each time someone reads our script, it’ll be their very first time. He may have been discouraged by The Nichol Contest, of where The Incident didn’t even make it out of the first round! Normally, my experience has been that if a script doesn’t advance in a contest, it doesn’t deserve to. But this flat out shocks me. I mean, even if you didn’t like the story, you can’t argue that the writing’s solid as hell. This may have more to do with Nichol’s notorious obsession with weighty fare, but it’s a great reminder: Don’t let the Nichol contest (or any contest) be the end all be all to gauging your screenplay or your writing. Keep fighting.
Writer: Russ Bryant
Details: 103 pages

Russ is an old-fashioned guy who believes in hard work and perseverance. Like a lot of the people who’ve been featured on Favorites Week, he’s been writing for a long time, becoming a student of the craft and steadily getting better. It’s something I remind every screenwriter. This is a marathon, not a sprint. You’re probably going to write five scripts before you write anything good. Embrace that process instead of trying to circumvent it. If you try to hit a home run on the first pitch, it will only lead to a lot of misses and a lot of frustration. I want to talk more about that tomorrow. But for right now, let’s discuss his script.

Serious-as-cancer Hugh Moore investigates incidents, specifically the unsolved kind. This planet has been known to spit out some pretty strange happenings. Hugh is the scientist who goes in and spits them back in. No, this isn’t a goofy episode of Fringe with Pacey mugging for the camera. This is a story about a committed man who seeks out the truth at all costs.

The holy grail of unsolved incidents has always been the Dyatlove Party. In 1959, a group of Russian friends took a ski trek up the notoriously spooky Yural Mountain. Weeks later, they were all found dead. Two were in the trees, three were trying to return to camp, and four others were buried, with massive internal injuries but no external ones. The Russian army quickly closed off the area and investigated, but the case was never solved.

Now an all expenses paid trip with scientific equipment and foreign guides to Yural Mountain isn’t cheap. So when Hugh is offered everything paid in full IF he agrees to allow a documentary crew to follow him, he agrees only because he knows this may be his only shot.

Joining him will be Eli, his sketchy producer, Tara, his old girlfriend and former partner, a 3-man production crew, a hotshot mountain climber named Chad Baker, a beautiful Russian cultural anthropologist named Ania, and 70 year old Yerik, a member of the original search team.

Up to the mountain they go and the tension equals the altitude. The producer wants some meaty conflict for the camera – preferably Hugh and Tara rehashing old problems – but all Hugh wants to do is figure out what doomed those poor souls back in 1959.

Tara, a bit of an eccentric, is leaning towards aliens being involved. There have been numerous sightings of strange crafts around the mountain throughout the years. It’s conceivable they may have attacked the group. Ania believes that a native tribe known as the “Mansi” murdered them. Others believe it was an avalanche. But no single theory can explain all of the deaths, which is why Hugh is here. He thinks a straight-forward scientific approach is the key to finding the answers.

Except he won’t get the chance. Almost immediately, things start going wrong. On the first night, there’s a minor avalanche, which separates the group. Some members spot a light off in the distance. They choose to follow it. Others find footprints, which they also follow, only to find that they abruptly stop. How do footsteps stop?

And then it gets really bad. The group is split up in a way that’s eerily reminiscent of the team from 1959. They’re starting to see things that don’t make sense, do things that defy rational explanation. This isn’t a story about finding out what happened that fateful night. It’s a story about getting off this mountain alive.

The first thing I want to point out here is something that’s so crucial to writing a good screenplay. We get into this story right away. We don’t start off watching our protagonist sit in the park. We don’t see him having a couple of deep conversations with friends and family, updating them on what’s going on in his life. We don’t watch him drive up Highway 1, searching for meaning, wondering if he should continue his career or move on to something else. We don’t wait 30 pages for our hero to start talking to people that actually have something to do with the story.

No. We jump into the story RIGHT AWAY. The very first scene is Hugh explaining to the documentary financers what the Dyatlov Incident is. And it’s such a fascinating story, we’re immediately intrigued. And it doesn’t stop there. We actually GET ONTO the mountain by page 13. Page 13!! An inexperienced writer wouldn’t have us there til page 50. This is such a basic rule, but it’s one I see ignored in almost every amateur screenplay I read. Get to your story RIGHT AWAY. You don’t have time to diddle-daddle.

Now while the entire first half of the script is almost perfect, it starts running into some trouble in the second half. Character motivations get sloppy. Geographically we don’t really understand where everyone is or what's going on. But most importantly, the explanations behind the mysteries are too vague. The thing I’ve found with this kind of movie is that the more clear your explanations are, the better. If you can explain the movie’s central mysteries in a single sentence, you’re on the right track. But when your explanations start reaching paragraph length, and it sounds more like you’re trying to convince the reader than simply tell them, that’s a really bad sign.

Another issue is that there isn’t enough inter-character or internal character exploration going on. A second act is really less about the plot and more about the issues the characters are experiencing. Them trying to grow and overcome those issues, whether they be within themselves or with someone else, is what keeps us entertained. So in Aliens, for example, the middle act was more about trust than it was about the aliens. Ripley doesn’t trust these marines when they get to the planet. Her skepticism is verified when Burke tries to hide an alien inside of her. When Newt disappears, it’s about living up to the trust Ripley promised her. And in the end it’s about Ripley trusting Bishop to wait for her, even though he signifies the core of her distrust (dating back, of course, to the android deceiving her from the first Alien). That’s a lot of character stuff going on in what’s supposedly a big dumb movie about killing aliens.

There are shreds of character issues here in The Incident, such as past relationship issues with Hugh and Tara, but it’s too ill-defined to warrant any true emotional investment. So I think if Russ would’ve focused more on the characters here in this act, and less on the bells and whistles (mysteries and twists), he would’ve been in better shape.

But the ending here is the real issue. Like I mentioned above, it’s too muddled to satisfy our appetite. And I think the same rules about the second act apply. The concept gets the audience in the door. But the character’s journeys are what keep them around. And I know I’m going to get roasted for this but I don't care. I thought Lost did a brilliant job in their finale on focusing on the character issues as opposed to the more tempting plot revelations. The entire episode was about characters finding redemption, coming to terms with their faults, and resolving the conflicts between each other. Although it would’ve been tempting to build the ending around one giant twist or revelation, it never would’ve worked. Emotionally, we got way more out of seeing these characters come full circle.

Now I’m not saying you should totally abandon plot in your endings. You still have to conclude your story. Haley Joel Osmet still needed to see dead people. But your focus should always be on the characters first. The plot ending is icing on the cake. I think had Russ taken this approach (or if he does take this approach in the future), he could create something amazing.

It sounds like I’m tearing down the script here but I’m not. I think this script, particularly with Russ’ talent, has the kind of potential to not only get purchased, but to become an actual movie. So I’m curious, after you read it, what your suggestions will be to conclude this in a satisfactory manner. Cause I have a lot of hope for this screenplay. Take a look and tell me what you think.

Script link: The Incident

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

What I learned: How to introduce a character the right way! The Incident isn’t perfect in this respect, but I noticed that more times than not, Russ got it right. Amateur writers make the mistake of thinking they can introduce a character like this: “JOE, tall and skinny,” and we’ll know exactly what they look like, exactly who they are, and exactly what’s going on in their heads, FOR THE ENTIRETY OF THE STORY. We don’t know your character from Adam. Just because you know where he went to school in 3rd grade doesn’t mean we know. We only know WHAT YOU TELL US. So there are two things you can do when you introduce your character to make sure we never forget him/her. First, give us an awesome description. Something that lets us know exactly who the character is. Here’s a description of Colter from Source Code: “Colter looks to be thirty years old. A military buzz cut. A disciplined physique, lean and spare, almost gaunt. Skin burnished by hears of desert sandstorms and equatorial sun. His expression, prematurely aged by combat, is perpetually wary, sometimes predatory, accustomed to trouble.” Now that’s a little longer than I'd prefer, but you tell me you don’t know exactly who that guy is after the description is over. And tell me you don’t know a million times more about Colter than this guy: “JOE, tall and skinny.”

Second, put your character in a surrounding that tells us exactly who they are. This isn’t always possible because the intricacies of your story (and where your characters need to be) may prevent it. But if you can do, do it. For example, if they’re a famous mountain climber, we should meet them on the most dangerous mountain in the world (which is how we meet Chad here). If they’re a ladies man, introduce them at a bar, chatting up a woman, then getting a text from ANOTHER woman. You get the idea. If we SEE the characters in the element that best represents them, that goes way beyond just knowing what they look like.

Always do at least one of these when you're setting up your characters, but I’d strongly suggest you do both. If you do it right, I promise you the reader will know that character better than he knows his own best friend.

The Beat Down

We're wrapping up "Amateur Month" this week. The first week, we allowed any writers to send in their script. The second week we had repped writers only. Last week we had Favorites Week. This week is going to be wonky. Roger will review another "random" Amateur script. Tomorrow I'll review another of my favorites. Wednesday I'm busting out an article that I hope will be inspirational for all you writers. Thursday is still undetermined. And Friday I'll be reviewing the script for an upcoming sci-fi/horror movie which I really liked.

I've also decided to continue the tradition of reviewing amateur screenplays. On the last Friday of every month, I'll review one amateur script. The angle will be more one of helping to improve the screenplay than flat out reviewing though, so we all learn something from it. If you're interested (and you can handle criticism!), send me your script along with a convincing argument for why I should read it to Don't be upset if I don't choose your script. I'll only be able to review .1% of the entries!

Also, don't forget to check out the "Tracking Board Post." Now here's Roger with "The Beat Down."

Genre: Crime, Black Comedy
Premise: Two cool, small-time cons steal a lotto ticket worth $100,000 and hit the road in search of someone straight to cash it for them.
About: One more Amateur Script, in which the writer made a convincing case on why I should give the script a read: He wants honest feedback and recommendations for how to fix his script.
Writer: Matt Racicot

During the middle of Amateur Week, I received an email that made me laugh. The first few sentences implied that the writer thought this month’s theme transformed ScriptShadow into some sort of bloody, experimental gladiatorial arena, or at the very least a classroom where the walls were stained with the dregs of 3-hole-punch dreams and cots full of rookie writers and bruised egos.

The writer, against all odds and conventional wisdom, wrote to me, expressing that he wanted his script to be in on the action. He seemed to be a guy that had been keeping tabs on the type of material I like, as evidenced by his script’s logline. A crime story about some cool cons trying to find a legit citizen to cash their winning stolen lotto ticket. Visions of Charlie Huston and Elmore Leonard protagonists strapped into a rollercoaster ride of Grindhouse Violence were swirling on the movie screen inside my head.

I wasn’t totally convinced though. This was an unknown writer, and would he really want me to criticize his labor of love in front of the online Screenwriting Community?

But then I read this line: “I wanna know what’s wrong with my script so I can fix the fucker...”

And that clinched it for me.

So in the spirit of the critique workshop, I’ve decided to review Matt Racicot’s “The Beat Down”.
Who are the cool cons this caper is about?

James is a Jimmy Dean-cool, small-time con (I really enjoyed some of the character descriptions here), and when we meet him he’s standing under a single lamppost, surrounded by Asian gangbangers. Him and his associate Sam, work for the Italians, but they’ve both been caught stealing heroin from the Asians, and are about to be appropriately punished.

The Italians, wanting to continue business with the Asians, give up James and Sam to smooth things over. In situations like this, I’d imagine that this crime syndicate would kill both men for their transgressions, but no, they hand James a gun and force him to shoot Sam dead. And that he does, although he doesn’t seem to feel much guilt about the deed, shrugging off this peculiar brand of punishment.

Diamond is James’ pinup sexy, Rockabilly girlfriend.

I really like how the writer describes Diamond, “As lovely as a rain drop dancing on a rose.” I think it captures a tone and style I wish was woven throughout the script.

Diamond works in a convenience store, and she does something interesting in her introduction: A customer arrives with a lottery ticket he wants her to check. She runs it through her machine and discovers it’s a winning ticket. But instead of handing it to him, she drops it and switches it with another ticket before handing it back.

So Diamond totally scams this guy out of a $100,000 lotto ticket?

Yep. And you think that’d be all she wrote. Our cool couple cashes in their ticket and they live happily-ever after like the minimum-wage kids Clarence and Alabama in True Romance.
Except there’s two complications. One is that James is an ex-con and the ticket “will come up stolen. They investigate this shit now.”

The second complication is Mickey.

Mickey is the guy James takes orders from with the mob, and he’s not so much pissed at the fact that James was stealing from the Asians, but that he got caught. As far as Mickey is concerned, James owes a debt, but he’s willing to wipe the slate clean if he leaves Seattle in the next twenty-four hours.

Fair enough.

But for reasons I didn’t quite understand, when Mickey catches wind that James and Diamond have skedaddled, he tracks their movements, learns that they’re making a pit-stop in Eugene, Oregon on their way to California.

When I look over it, I think it’s implied that Mickey is obsessed with Diamond, but I’m not sure. Otherwise why would he follow a guy across state-lines when he wanted him to flee town in the first place?

And that’s one of the issues with the script, character-wise. The motivations aren’t consistent, and there are setups without payoffs; and payoffs without setups. Which makes the plot a bit confusing and scattered.

So James and Diamond go on a quest to find someone straight to help them cash their lotto ticket?

That’s the concept. But, the execution doesn’t fulfill the promise of the concept. I was intrigued by the first act, and couldn’t deny that there was talent in the writing, although the dialogue wavered from entertaining to trying-to-hard.

But the script fell apart for me in the second act, which is usually the case with rookie scripts. They start to wander, unsure of plot. It seems like the characters lose sight of their goals, and scenes begin to feel tangential, distracted.

It’s basically filler.

In the second act, the script begins to focus a lot on another couple that was introduced in the first act, Bea and Will. They’re driving in a mustang, and we learn that Bea is an eccentric actress preparing for an audition. She’s reciting Irwin Shaw’s Bury the Dead.

She seems pretty crazy, which is confirmed when she randomly pulls out a gun to the surprise of Will, her intellectual boyfriend. She seems a bit like Mallory from Natural Born Killers, except Will is no Mickey. He’s pretty reserved.

He almost gets into a wreck when she starts giving him road head in their introductory scene.
They get a lot of screen time, and I began to feel unsure of which couple I was supposed to focus on. Because they don’t feel like a real foil to James and Diamond, their existence felt extraneous.
Of course the couples collide in Mt. Hood, Oregon, when they end up neighbors in the same motel. Bea seems attracted to James, and we learn that James isn’t that interested in his own girlfriend, Diamond.

I was confused about this point because he seemed pretty happy to be with her in the beginning, even if he wasn’t able to return her ‘I Love You’s’. This point seemed undeveloped, and I didn’t understand their relationship. Why were they together? Why were they engaged if he didn’t love her? I wasn’t shown a reason.

So when James takes Will out to a bar, and starts hitting on all the girls there, I was not only confused, but I began to dislike his character.

After a crazy night, James decides that Will is the guy that can help them cash the lotto, and things get dicey when Mickey arrives looking to snatch Diamond away from James.
It all comes to a head at a campsite on a mountain road when infidelities are revealed, a marriage proposal is rejected, and guns come out.

What were the issues?

The characters were underdeveloped. I wasn’t sure who James was or what he wanted. I know he wanted to cash the ticket, but why was he with Diamond? He felt one-dimensional, and I never got a solid read on his psychology or what lengths he would go to in order to cash the ticket. As such, there was no inner-conflict (his flaw) I could really hook into other than that he was an asshole, which just made him unlikeable.

Setups with no payoffs. In one of James’ first scenes, we learn that he’s obsessed with Bruce Lee and martial arts. He also owns a samurai sword, which he brings with him on the road trip. Now, I was expecting a few things here: James beating people up, or possibly doing something crazy to someone with a fucking samurai sword. dice. It ultimately gets thrown into some bushes.
Payoffs with no setups. James cheats on Diamond various times, but I didn’t understand his motivation. He’s engaged to Diamond, and seems pretty okay with that. There’s one point where it even seems like he’s in love with Diamond by the way they talk to each other, and he didn’t feel like the type of character that would be a cheater at all.

The plot was unsure of itself. The pace was too mellow for such a cool logline. Lots of scenes of characters talking, but it doesn’t feel like anything is happening. I really felt like the ball was concerning the execution.

No ticking clock. No stakes. Which contributed to the leisurely pace.

But how could we fix it?

I think the writer should focus on telling this story from the focus of his main couple. Let them have the majority of the scenes, and really define who they are and think character motivations and plot details through.

For example, why did Mickey follow them out of town so doggedly? A fix could be that they stole the ticket from him, and basically you have him hunting them for a payday. Or, maybe he’s Diamond’s ex-boyfriend or ex-pimp, and this is a personal matter for him.

I like that we got to the lotto ticket business in the first ten minutes, and I think the script needs to pick up the pace and keep it. Make it a chase movie instead of a languid road-trip tale.

Perhaps throw in some other parties who are interested in the ticket as well, anyone from more people from Diamond’s past or James’ enemies.

To make things interesting, do a reversal concerning the so-called straight people they need to cash the ticket. For all we know, they seem alright, but then spin it so that they’re actually worse than our cool cons. They can double-cross our anti-heroes.

Hell, you could even write it as a movie about love, leaving and resolution. What if James loved Diamond, but Diamond left him when she got the ticket? And he had to pursue her and they had to resolve their relationship?

Either way, the plot needs to be tightened with more obstacles getting in the way of the protagonist’s clear goals, but it should serve the story of James and Diamond’s relationship. The story should be about them and the conflict in their relationship and how they ultimately resolve it.

Script Link: The Beat Down

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

What I learned: Give your protagonist as much screen time as possible. They should not only be in the majority of the scenes, but they should also have most of the biggest moments. It’s hard to pull off an ensemble piece because every character has to have solid motivations and compelling arcs and concrete goals that payoff accordingly. It’s hard to pull off dueling protagonists, or in this case, couples, as it always feels like one pair is stealing valuable time away from the other’s story, or is diminishing it somehow. Ask yourself, okay, whose story here is worth-telling? Whose is more compelling? That character is the engine of your story. Focus on them.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Scriptshadow Readers Lost Finale Talkback

I would say, in order to stay with the theme of the site, that you're only allowed to talk about the Lost finale in relation to writing, but we all know how good that's going to go over. So I expect all the usual criticisms about 10,000 mysteries and no answers and people who've only seen a few episodes blasting it for how terrible it is. And I can live with that. But I will say this. Ending a series like Lost has to be one of the biggest challenges in the history of writing...ever!

Now I'm not going to watch the episode until later tonight when it becomes available online (I don't have ABC - don't even ask). So I won't be leaving my impressions about the show until later tomorrow probably (Monday). But for now, feel free to have at it. Was the Lost finale all you had hoped for?

EDIT: Lost Finale Thought (spoilers)

Wow, I have to say, the finale was pretty damn incredible. I'm a little too emotionally beat to get into a rational discussion about it, but I will say this. They made a really smart choice and a choice that's a great lesson for all writers out there who are writing endings to their scripts. The finale was entirely character-driven. It was a bright move to deal with all the major secrets in the pre-finale episodes. Because the truth is, there wasn't any major plot twist or revelation that would satisfy us. It was all about these characters coming to terms with themselves, exorcising their demons, and ending their journey. That's why the episode was so awesome.

And as far as the one "revelation" (I put it in quotes because it's been pretty clear that it would be something *like* that for awhile), I thought it worked perfectly. There was something about the way his dad worded it that captured the imagination. He didn't say "heaven" or "an alternate universe." He said, "A place you guys built so you could find each other." I don't know why. That just made perfect sense to me.

And the final image was wonderful, with Jack lying in the bamboo field, just like in the opening episode, and Vincent coming over , like in the first episode, so he didn't have to die alone. I thought it was a series of strong choices. Probably my favorite episode of the series, right up there with the pilot, Walkabout, and The Constant. A great way to end a great series. :)

Sunday Book Review - The Man Who Ate The 747

Watch Scriptshadow on Sundays for book reviews by contributors Michael Stark and Matt Bird. We won't be able to get one up every Sunday, but hopefully most Sundays. Here's Stark with his review of The Man Who Ate The 747!

Welcome once again to Scriptshadow’s Sunday Review of Books where we make the jobs of sexy studio story editor’s even easier by picking some primo books that they need to be turning into flicks. Plus, for our faithful readers learning the craft, we suggest some light beach reading cause who really wants to get sand up in their laptops?

Today, watch me pull something out of my hat that I know our site’s creator will really like. It’s perhaps the magic hybrid producers have been in search of for decades now – A chick flick that guys will actually want to go see!

Don’t judge me cause I like the occasional chick flick. Maybe I’m just a little Estrogen dominant from all the bottled water and hormone injected happy meals I’ve had. Hell, those great screwball comedies of yesteryear were all romcoms – just with snappier dialogue, double beds and way better actors.

Ben Sherwood’s The Man Who Ate the 747 is a wonderful, old fashioned screwball comedy about an obsessed man who ingests a bunch of screws, bolts and metal shavings for the gorgeous gal he loves. This is something that would definitely appeal to old movie buffs, date night audiences and the whole Focus on the Family Crowd. The curb appeal is wide!

Why do I think this is a flick that guys would line up to see? The dude is eating a fucking plane!!! Ze Plane, Boss!!! He’s eating a Snakes on a fucking Plane plane!!! He’s eating a Joey, do-you-like-movies-about-gladiators Airplane!!! What real man wouldn’t want to see such extreme competitive eating?

Sherwood, a former producer for Good Morning America already has his second book, The Death and Life Of Charlie St. Cloud, heading towards the silver screen with Zach Effron in the lead. Old posts indicate that 747 was optioned by Bel Aire Entertainment and even at one point destined for Broadway as a musical. My research may be off, but nothing seems to have yet taken flight.

C’mon, Hollywood, let’s correct that error with a gentle nudge.

For the record, the book chronicles the story of the greatest love ever.
And, that chronicler should know. J.J. Smith has traveled the globe a few thousand times over for the World Book of Records. He has measured the world’s largest, unbroken apple peel; calculated the furthest flight of a champagne cork from an untampered bottle and documented the longest ever attack of the hiccups.

He is best friends with pole sitters, corn palace builders and the guy with the world’s longest and dirtiest fingernails. J.J. has a really cool, freaky job!!! Another excellent man-draw for the film. Groovy gig aside, the man is stuck with a head full of statistics and a heart hopelessly set on autopilot.

Luckily, hearts, like world records, are about to get broken!

We start out in Paris, where we find a couple pulling a tres romantic Robert Doisneau, trying to break the record for the longest kiss. Merde, they miss it by a mere four minutes and J.J. high tails it out of there. Second place means nada in his book.

Although J.J. specializes in the superlative, he is actually rather ordinary – an average man with average looks and an average height and weight. His parents didn’t exactly set him apart, saddling him with the truly unremarkable name of John Smith.

Written in 2000, we’re thankfully free of American Idol, Jackass and You Think You Can Dance. But, the World Book of Records still has some serious competition with Cops, When Animals Attack and America’s Most Awesome Videos. To save his job, J.J. now needs a story his readers can really sink their teeth into.

He finds that story from the santa-sack-sized-stack of letters that arrive daily to their office.

A story that takes him to America’s heartland – the small, small town of Superior, Nebraska. Now, I’ve spent a few years in a small town. It wasn’t anywheres as romantic. It was pretty much a rural prison sentence in one of the few places that Starbucks and Barnes & Nobles forgot.

Superior is a folksy, charming place chock-full of eccentric characters that would rival Twin Peaks, Stars Hollow and whatever fanciful town the Runaway Bride just couldn’t run away from.

Seems, a few years back, a 747 crashed landed in Wally Chubb’s field and he started eating it as a testimony of his pure (but unrequited) love for Willa Wyatt, the only person in town who dutifully showed up to his 10th Birthday party.

Note to producers, I see Karen Black safely landing that fucking plane in the flashback.

Willa (Can you say O Pioneers!) has grown up into a real firecracker, sticking around Superior to take over her dad’s newspaper. Now, what kind of screwball comedy would it be without a sharp shooting, crack reporter in the mix?

She has good reason to be suspicious of strangers. Traveling salesmen and hucksters have passed through here before, pursuing the beauty and breaking her heart. She’s pretty guarded when J.J. comes to town, trying to find the jet-eating curiosity. He may not be the slickest city slicker, but she vows to protect her quirky town from him and the media circus that soon follows.

And, of course, J.J. quickly falls head over heels in love with her.

Wally has no interest in breaking any records or getting an endorsement deal with Pepto Bismol, so J.J. has to connive and convince the farmer to continue his fancy feast. He needs the story so he can stay close to Willa – even if his great scoop may have some fatal colon-colliding-consequences!

I’m not gonna spoil any more of the nuts and bolts of the tale. Go read it. The Man Who Ate the 747 could be your next Nothing Sacred. Your next what??? For you whippersnappers without subscriptions to Turner Movie Classics, I recommend you start delving deeper into the history of cinema. There were some rather great romantic comedies made before Lopez and Anniston hijacked the genre.

Now, cause I want this filmed soooo badly, I might as well cast the whole project for you. I see the serious-sided Jim Carrey as J.J., Jenna Fischer as Willa and Patton Oswalt as Wally (cause the man is a damned underused genius). Get the writing team of Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who wrote the freak fantasy dejour, Ripleys Believe It or Not, to adapt this to screen (Hell, I’d pimp myself for the gig, but there’s that pesky non-self-promotion clause in my Scriptshadow contract). And, to direct – Duh – Gary Marshall. For you newbies who just moaned, you best pick up a copy of his amazing bio. “Wake me Up When It’s Funny.” If you don’t soil yourself laughing while reading it, you are either an uber snob or in a vegetative state

What I learned: Whimsical is sometimes pretty hard to pull off. Especially in these United States. Set something far off in the Caribbeans and you can go all Gabriel Garcia Marquez on it. Place it in modern day America and you’ll have to tread more carefully. The TV show Pushing Daisies nailed it perfectly. Cougar Town, on the other side of the slug, better start watching its whimsy factor, Stat! Ugh, it’s like getting force-fed 18 bags of Mint Milanos every episode. Who knows? Maybe they’re willfully turning their audience into Foie Gras.

So, for discussion: How does one balance their magic and romance with their realism?

Stark’s further rantings and rave-ups about both trash and culture can be viewed here:

Friday, May 21, 2010

Favorites Week - Cylinder

Script link now up!!! :) :) :)

For the month of May, Scriptshadow will be foregoing its traditional reviewing to instead review scripts from you, the readers of the site. To find out more about how the month lines up, go back and read the original post here. The first week, we allowed any writers to send in their script for review. Last week, we raised the bar and reviewed repped writers only. This week, we're doing something different. I read a lot of amateur scripts. Some through my notes service, some through contests, and some through referrals. I wanted to spend a week (or maybe two) highlighting some of the best scripts I've come across. All these scripts are available. So if you're a buyer and it sounds like something you may be interested in, then get a hold of these writers through the contact information on their script before someone else does. Monday, Roger reviewed a cool script from Michael Stark titled, "Treading On Angles." Tuesday, I reviewed our first female writer of Amateur Month, Lindsey, and her script, "Blue."
Wednesday I reviewed the sci-fi thriller/procedural, "Nine Gold Souls." Yesterday, I reviewed another sci-fi piece, "The Translation." And today I review a teenage thriller.

Genre: Thriller
Premise: Seven teenagers head into the Louisiana forest to celebrate a birthday. But when one of them is accidentally killed, the rest must figure out what to do with the body before the night is up.
About: Jared is repped by Sarah Self at The Gersh Agency and managed by Jim Thompson at Original Content.
Writer: Jared Romero
Details: 110 pages

Oh man, I still remember when I first read this script. It was in the same contest I read The Translation in and I had just read 40 horrible screenplays in a row. That’s the thing writers don’t get about readers, is they can read dozens and sometimes HUNDREDS of scripts until they find one that’s actually good. That’s why they’re so skeptical of your script. Cause the previous 99 were terrible! I was expecting another ho-hum teen-angst-thriller flick here, but what I got instead was an expertly crafted thrill ride.

So you want to know the number 1 way to get an agent? I’m going to tell you right now and I’ll use “Cylinder” as an example. After reading Cylinder last year I felt like my body had been injected with the same adrenaline as Jason Statham in Crank. It was a pure rush and I kept thinking, “This is really fucking good.”

So I e-mailed a writer I knew and I said, “I think this script is really fucking good (RFG).” And he was busy but he ended up reading it anyway and to my surprise he responded, “Yeah, this script is RFG. Let me give it to my agent.” His agent was at Gersh so he brought it to her and after reading it she agreed that it was “RFG,” so she signed him. And that’s it. That’s how you land an agent. You write a RFG script and you keep pushing it (to contests, friends, whatever) until sooner or later someone who matters gets their hands on it and gives you a break.

Ahh, but let’s remember the key to this whole equation working – The script has to be REALLY FUCKING GOOD. Do not begin this process if you have a script that’s SPBFTMPU (sorta pleasant but for the most part unentertaining). But wait, you say Carson, how do I know if my script is RFG???

I shall reveal to you now how to tell if your script is RFG. First, give it to a couple of friends. But before calling them to get their reactions, make sure to plug in your “friends always react more enthusiastically than they really feel when they read their screenwriter friend’s script” variable. In other words, if they say, “I thought it was pretty good,” it means they outright hated it.

However, if these friends are jumping out of their skin and can’t stop saying things like, “No, Diablo. This script is really really good. Like I was crying at the end,” and quoting lines back to you and coming up with inspired ideas to make it even better, and inquiring repeatedly in the coming weeks to find out who you’ve sent it to, well then your script is RFG and you should send it out.

But if they’re saying, “Yeah, it was good,” in the same voice people use when they tell the parents of an ugly baby how cute he is (you know what I’m talking about – where they won’t make eye contact when they say it?), then don’t waste people’s time. Continue working on the craft and start something new. Cause if there’s one thing I’ve learned about contacts/friends/family, it’s that they form an opinion about you the first time they see your work and they NEVER change that opinion.

Hey wait a minute. Aren’t I supposed to be reviewing a script? Right. “Cylinder.”

Okay, so Cylinder has an admittedly simple premise. But where it excels is in its EXECUTION.

It’s Charlie Robichaux’s birthday. He’s 17 years old. The world could not be more firmly fitted in the palm of Charlie’s hand. He’s a nice kid, a smart kid, an ideal best friend, would give you his last dollar if you needed it. The only negative in Charlie’s life is his workaholic father, a District Attorney who’s cracking down on today’s reckless youth. If your kid drunk drives and kills an innocent civilian, Charlie’s dad is the one who will make sure he goes to jail for the rest of his life.

Immediately after meeting Charlie, we’re introduced to his friends. There’s cute Sam, a blonde girl-next-door type who’s got a crush on Charlie. There’s the dorky Theo. There’s the drop dead gorgeous Laurie (Meghan Fox type – which is good cause I hear she needs a job). There’s preppy Matt. And there’s Jackson, a bit of a townie. While this group wouldn’t normally all hang out together, it’s Charlie’s birthday so an exception is made.

As a present, they drive him out into a clearing in the Louisiana forest to an old deserted mansion so they can get drunk and fuck around. But things get interesting when Jackson pulls out a revolver. Some of the guys freak out. Others laugh. It’s just a gun, they say. But that gun becomes their central source of entertainment. They set up a makeshift shooting range with beer bottles and the fun begins.

In the meantime Charlie and Sam escape, and she finally reveals to Charlie her hidden crush. The two start making out. It’s quickly turning into the best birthday party Charlie has ever had and then…and then something goes horribly wrong. Sam pulls away to find Charlie non-responsive. That’s when she notices the large hole in his head with blood gushing out. Charlie’s been killed by a stray bullet.

Now there aren’t many times I’m genuinely SHOCKED while reading a screenplay. But this shocked me. And the funny thing is, we were just talking about this the other day (or at least I was talking about it. I don’t know if you guys were). They just killed off the main fucking character!!! I was SO shocked, in fact, I actually went back and re-read the scene. Did they just really do that? Did they kill off the protagonist?? This had to be how audiences felt when they first saw Psycho (I never experienced that feeling as the first time I saw Psycho, I’d already been told what would happen).

This was such a brilliant move on so many levels. We were excited for Charlie’s future. We identified with him. And the second he dies…we feel completely lost. Now what? Now who? What the HELL is going on? Who’s our lead? Who’s going to carry us through the rest of the story??

And this isn’t even the only great moment in Cylinder. There’s two of them. Later on there is, if it’s ever filmed, what will be known as the greatest Russian Roulette scene ever etched in celluloid (or digitoid). It’s ten dozen kinds of awesome.

After Charlie’s death, the group begins a mad dash to figure out how to deal with the situation. Some want to go to the cops. But that will most surely ruin their lives. The colleges they got into, their standing in the community. All of that will go up in smoke. So they begin to concoct a plan B. Problem is, the longer the decision-making goes, the less they begin to trust each other, and the more drastic the actions they take.

Cylinder takes what would normally be a predictable setup, throws a twist into it, then takes what would normally be a sloppy execution, and crafts a set of sequences that keep us engaged the entire time. I can’t stress how often these kinds of scripts devolve into a repetitive sloppy narrative. But Romero has carefully plotted out each sequence so that the chaos has form, so that there’s a method to the madness. The result is a confident story that always knows where it’s going.

I also loved how honest the conflict read. Once Charlie’s dead, you really get the sense that these characters are weighing their futures against the cover-up. They know Charlie’s father is the D.A. They know he’ll make sure none of them have anything resembling a life for as long as they live. So watching that inner conflict play out with the characters who loved Charlie the most, the ones who were closest to him, the ones who know what the *right* thing to do is, that’s where the script really shines.

I don’t really have many criticisms except that the concept is a little bland. When you hear it, you don’t think, “Oh cool, I’ve never heard of a movie like that before.” So the lack of a wow factor has kept this manimal from being unleashed. Cylinder used to have a sloppy first act. But Jared has since streamlined it and it reads effortlessly now. This is just a really prime example of great execution. I hope someone finds this and does something with it.

Script link: Cylinder

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

What I learned: I’m going to stay on my whole “RFG” kick and talk about gauging the quality of your own script. And I want to discuss it in regards to getting notes back. Unless you’re receiving notes from a professional, it’s your job to “read” into the intent of the note, because if you’re giving your script to a friend or acquaintance, they’re not going to be honest with you. Think about the consequences if your friend tells you they hate it. You’ll be pissed at them and potentially permanently damage the relationship. So instead they’re going to be critical in the nicest possible way. I’ll never forget this note I received on a scene in a script I wrote a long time ago from a friend who worked in the industry. The script was a drama (important) and the scene was a traditional guy meets girl scene. The characters are outside a restaurant when they run into each other. He introduces himself. They talk. He gets her number. After saying goodbye, he turns around and promptly runs STRAIGHT INTO A TREE and falls on his ass! Now I thought this was the funniest thing that could possibly ever happen in a movie at the time (I know – I was deeply disturbed back then). But for whatever reason, my friend just couldn’t understand it. She kept asking, very politely, why, in a drama, people were crashing into trees and falling on their ass. I chalked it up to her just not “getting me,” and kept the scene. Cut to me reading the script three years later and realizing it was THE WORST SCENE IN THE HISTORY OF EXISTENCE! I replayed our conversations in my head and I realized that she wasn’t “politely” asking me why I had the scene in there. She was trying to say, albeit in the nicest possible way, that the scene SUCKED BEYOND ALL RECOGNITION because it made absolutely no sense and violated the tone I’d spent the previous 40 pages setting up and was essentially a Three Stooges prat fall in the middle of Terms Of Endearment. The point I’m making is, because I was focusing on *what* she said – that she disagreed with the choice – I missed out on what she was *trying* to say: “You need to get rid of this scene or readers are going to think you’re a two-bit hack.” So always take into consideration that friends and family are going to be nice to you when giving notes. It’s YOUR job to read into what they *really* mean.

In fact, I'm going to pose a challenge to the Scriptshadow readers. I want you to call up the last person who read one of your scripts and I want you to say to them, "Joe, remember that script I sent you? Remember everything you said? I want you to pretend like you're talking to someone you don't know right now. I want you to be brutally honest. What did you think?" And I want you to write the responses down here in the comments section, good or bad. Then take it one step further. Ask them WHY they felt that way. Try to get to essence of their issue with your script so you can improve.