Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Amateur Week - Premeditated

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. This first week, we're allowing any writers to send in their script for review. We warned them ahead of time that we'd be honest and judge their material aggressively, so put that Kleenex box away. There's no crying in screenwriting. Actually, there's lots of crying in screenwriting but that's besides the point. On Monday, Roger tackled "Hell Of A Deal" by Joe Giambrone. Tuesday , I took on "The Deja Vu Of Sidney Sumpter Stu." Yesterday, the controversial review of "Blackball," and today, I'm reviewing the thriller, "Premeditated."

Genre: Psychological thriller
Premise: After a disturbed man claims to have no memory except flashes of brutally murdering his still-living psychiatrist, the psychiatrist must race to find out what really happened before the patient's "memories" become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
About: Script number 4 in Amateur Week!
Writer: Mark Casey
Details: 102 pages

People wanted horror. I tried my best. But in the end I couldn't find anything I knew had a good shot with me, so I kind of compromised, bringing in this psychological thriller with a horror feel to it. I mean, what's a scarier setting than a psyche ward, right? Despite the debate about what, if anything, this week is accomplishing, I push on. And I bring you good news. This is the first script not to receive the lowest rating. As you can see, it's got a nice hook, but what's it about? Well, keep reading.

“Premeditated” begins with one of those lines so good, you can actually see the trailer. Evan Gaither has just walked into a psychiatric ward with blood all over his body. He’s met by a resident doctor, the pretty and overly-caring Angela Bates. The mumbling Evan is barely keeping his shit together, clearly disturbed by the evening's events. “I killed someone,” he sputters. “Who did you kill?” Angela replies. Evan looks up at Angela for the first time. “You.”

Boom! Lol. Are you hooked yet? I know I am.

“Premeditated” understands what it is, a complex psychological thriller in a simple setting. In fact, the script involves only four key characters, three of whom may be responsible for the murder that occurred. Or, I should say, the murder that's going to occur. See, the reason Evan believes he killed Angela, even though she’s very much alive, is that Evan has somehow already been to the future and experienced the murder. How he traveled there isn’t clear yet, but it has something to do with his rapidly deteriorating mental state.

Most nurses would be wary of someone who’s just told them they’re their killer, but Angela is so caring and curious that she decides to personally take Evan on as her patient. Her pursuit of the truth behind his claims is complicated , however, when the detective assigned to Evan’s case is none other than her ex-husband (John). Although the reasons for their break-up remain a mystery, it’s obvious there’s still some unfinished business between these two.

Throwing this already whacky set of circumstances into further disarray, we learn about a recently unsolved missing girl case that police suspect might be tied to Evan. John specifically thinks that Evan is involved and warns Angela to let the system take care of it. But Angela can't keep her helpful mits off Evan, and soon finds herself in numerous creepy sit-downs with him as he slowly unravels the clues to the killing. The question is, which killing??

In the meantime, John puts some feelers out and gets some disturbing results. The blood on Evan’s clothes when he walked in that first day? It matches Angela’s. Angela also, courtesy of Evan's directions, has found a mysterious knife covered in dried blood. John, torn between loyalty and suspicion, is now begging Angela to stay away from Evan, as his partners back at the precinct are starting to suspect that Angela has some connection to this missing girl.

The final variable in the equation is Evan’s evil older brother, Lee, who spent much of his childhood beating the shit out of Evan. Lee is actually also a patient here at the facility, and may have something to do with Evan targeting the facility in the first place. When Angela starts questioning Lee, who gives her a second avenue into Evan’s behavior, she begins to wonder if he isn’t the mastermind behind the missing girl. So what is going on exactly? Did Evan kill this girl? Did Evan kill Angela? Did Lee kill the girl? Is Angela involved in the kidnapping? What exactly is going on in Premeditated?

I think there were some really nice things about Premeditated. Out of the three scripts I’ve read so far, it probably showed the best understanding of 3-Act structure, so it had a nice flow to it. I thought all the characters had interesting backstories and relationships with one another. The initial mystery really hooked me and I was genuinely wondering all the way until the end if Evan was going to kill Angela.

But I also had some problems here. First of all, the story became repetitive in places. After awhile it just seemed like the same things were happening over and over again with slightly different variations. Evan’s cryptic personality also began to wear on me. He spoke in stutters and half-finished sentences and while early on, this was intriguing, after awhile I wanted more substance from him. This issue was compounded by his brother Lee, who also spoke in a series of riddles and since a lot of the scenes took place with Angela and Evan or Angela and Lee, you felt like you weren’t getting enough of a return on your investment. You wanted more to *happen* in these scenes.

Coming from someone who liked “repetitive”-themed scripts like Source Code and All You Need is Kill, I’ll try and explain what the difference here is. The key to making ideas like this work are the revelations. They have to be big enough to break up the monotony inherent in the repetitive structure. In Source Code, each revelation makes you see the story from an entirely new perspective. Here, the revelations don’t so much make you see everything differently as they do verify what you were already suspecting. The blood on Evan’s clothes being hers for example. We kind of knew that was coming. So it didn’t change the story enough. That’s probably the first thing I’d tell Mark. Is make the twists in here bigger and more challenging. You have to really jolt the reader. Remember, they've seen EVERYTHING before.

My other big problem was that I had a hard time linking the missing girl storyline and the “Angela future murder” storyline. I liked the idea of it. It was a good way to give all of this a “real-world” explanation. But the way Angela’s accused of being involved in the murder didn’t’ make a whole lot of sense. She’s a doctor who’s never been arrested in her life and has no motive whatsoever to kill a girl. Why would she start now? Also, the conclusions drawn as to why she was involved don’t hold water. For example, if it was her blood on Evan, what does that have to do with a completely separate person’s disappearance? This might’ve worked better had Angela had some suspicious history. For example, maybe her old child went missing a few years ago and was never found (which is what led to her divorce with John) and the community always suspected her of being involved. Now the reader can start drawing logical conclusions between the two storylines. And if I’m being honest, I think this would’ve led to some higher quality mysteries. What if, at some point in the story, for example, Angela started suspecting that Evan knew where HER child was? Isn’t that more interesting than the whereabouts of some random girl nobody in the story has any connection to?

There were some minor quibbles as well. Why was Angela so intent on helping this random man she didn’t know? Why would Angela willingly walk into a man’s cell at night with no one else around who less than an hour earlier claimed to have killed her? Logic things like these need to be addressed.

I think in the end the script walks that fine line of confusion fairly well. It reminded me in many ways of “The Butterfly Effect” and that Adrian Brody-Keira Knightly flick, “The Jacket,” where you’re never quite sure what’s going on. But those types of movies tend to divide audiences severely. They either love them because they get to fill in the gaps themselves, or hate them because they haven’t been given enough information. I lean more towards needing information. I don’t need my I’s dotted and my t’s crossed, but I do like to feel like it all made sense. And because the pieces didn't quite become a "whole" here, it wasn’t for me. But I have to admit, it was still an interesting script.

Script link: Premeditated

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

What I learned: If you're writing a drama or a thriller, when you’re thinking up your hero’s romantic interest, consider bringing in someone who has unfinished business with them. Recent breakups, divorces, a key event that drove the two apart. It's a staple in drama but almost always a great B-story because there's so much history already built into the relationship. The conflict is there from the very first scene. You can always bring in someone new, but it's going to take you time to build up that relationship to achieve that same level of conflict.