Friday, November 18, 2011

Amateur Friday - Mrs. Satan

Genre: Horror-Comedy
Premise: (from writer) The most reviled teen in town has 96 hours to find her soulmate or become Satan's new bride.
About: Every Friday, I review a script from the readers of the site. If you’re interested in submitting your script for an Amateur Review, send it in PDF form, along with your title, genre, logline, and why I should read your script to Keep in mind your script will be posted in the review (feel free to keep your identity and script title private by providing an alias and fake title). Also, it's a good idea to resubmit every couple of weeks so that your submission stays near the top of the pile.
Writer: Gary Rowlands
Details: 102 pages (This is an early draft of the script. The situations, characters, and plot may change significantly by the time the film is released. 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).

Hey, what’s wrong with using the comments section to get me to review your script? That’s what Gary did with the help of longtime reader Poe. Of course that wasn’t the only reason I reviewed Mrs. Satan. As I’ve mentioned before, the amateur script is usually the last one I read during the week. Why? Well, because it’s usually the least goodest script I read all week. So I put it off til the last second.

I’m not the only person who does this. Most readers approach it this way. They have a stack of scripts to plow through and chances are they’re putting the amateur submissions at the bottom cause history tells them they’ll be the hardest to get through.

THIS is why industry people are constantly telling you: Low page count. Lean writing style. Thriller or a comedy. Go with things that make the read faster. You see there are “easy” reads (fun subject matter, easy to understand narrative) and there are “tough” reads (complicated period pieces, tons of characters, dramas without a clear narrative). You’re usually hitting your reader at his most tired, at his most impatient state. So you want to make the read as easy for him as possible. And all I had to do was look at the title (“Mrs. Satan”) and I knew Gary’s script would be an easy read.

True to form, there’s not that much explaining that needs to be done for Mrs. Satan’s plot. 18 year old goth-ish bully Angel (heh heh) is a great big meanie. She and her friends, Lizzie and Evelyn, spend the majority of their time playing pranks on people. In fact, the movie starts off with Angel dressed up as the Grim Reaper and walking through an old folks home, scaring the bejesus out of its inhabitants. I have to admit, it was pretty funny. My favorite part was starting on the Grim Reaper (who at this point we believe is the REAL Grim Reaper), who approaches the home dourly, reaches to grab a doorknob… and it FALLS OFF. He stares at it, pissed, and chucks it away. That’s when we realize it’s Angel.

But Angel does a lot worse than that. In fact, she fabricates an entire story about the local priest “touching” her inappropriately which sends him to jail! Which proves to be a lousy decision because the priest’s nephew, a fisherman who lives nearby, actually DIES, and his first mission as a ghost is to find the devil a bride. Doesn’t take long to decide who that’s going to be.

So the nephew starts haunting Angel, telling her that the devil’s going to make her his bride in a week. She thinks he’s joking but then sees his death reported on TV. Uh oh. This shit is for realz! After brainstorming how the hell (get it! “Hell?!”) she’s going to get out of this, she comes up with the plan of getting married. If she’s already married, Satan can’t marry her.

Problem is, everyone kind of hates Angel. And even the ones who don’t hate her aren’t keen on some psycho chick wanting to get married at the end of the first date. I mean talk about clingy!

Complicating matters is that the devil’s put a spell on Angel that’s created a really bad rash on her face, making her super ugly. This forces her to, in a last ditch effort, try to marry a blind guy. But just like the other guys, he gives her the Hellsman. I mean the Heisman (I’m on fire here!).

During all this, Angel and Marlon (the dead nephew of the priest) start to like each other and now Marlon’s not so sure he wants to help the Devil. However, the Devil isn’t too keen on that plan, and makes it clear that it’s either his way, or the highway. TO HELL!

Mrs. Satan is, indeed, an easy read. It’s got all the screenwriting staples in place (the GSU is rockin’). The goal is to find a husband before the devil makes her his bride. The urgency is she only has a week to do it. Stakes are if she doesn’t succeed, she goes to hell. Definitely something worth avoiding.

However, that knowledge only gets you through the door as far as the reader is concerned. It shows that you’ve been at this long enough to understand basic story principles. Now you have to show that you understand the nuances of storytelling – the guts that make a screenplay pop.

I think the biggest problem with Mrs. Satan is Angel’s age. Having her still be in high school feels wrong for some reason. This seems like it should be a story about a 24 or 25 year old, not an 18 year old who still goes to math class every day. “Sophistication” may be my issue. Since nobody except those kids on MTV reality shows gets married (and pregnant) at 18, it just felt like Angel was dealing with an unrealistic issue for her age group.

Another roadblock Gary battles is getting us to root for an unlikable protagonist. This is a bad person. The scaring old people sequence was kind of funny. But accusing an innocent priest of raping you? I don’t know. And that’s the challenge here. You have to make your protagonist bad enough so that she’d go to hell, but “good” enough so that we’ll like her (or at least root for her). Angel was funny enough that I was usually on her side. But she did enough bad shit in the beginning that, to be honest, I didn’t care whether she ended up in hell or not. And that’s a problem, since those are the big stakes of the movie.

Gary wisely combats this with a “save the cat” moment early on, having Angel beat up the town bully who’s picking on her younger brother, but I’m not sure she earns enough points to make up for all the other shit.

It’s also said in this business that while audiences are forgiving of unlikable male protagonists, they are NEVER okay with unlikable female protagonists. I don’t know how true that is. Bad Teacher just made boatloads of cash. But I know it’s something producers are afraid of (and when you think about it, Cameron Diaz is kind of “man-ish”).

I also had some problems with Angel’s attempts to get married. You’re a hot 18 year old girl. I think you can find someone dumb enough to marry you. So I didn’t believe she’d have so much trouble in that department (I was also unconvinced that this would really stop the Devil – I mean he is the Devil. Is a fake marriage going to stop him?).

As for everything else, I’d like to see more heart and character exploration in the script. We do get Angel changing in the end, doing all these good things for others, but it seemed tacked on. Up until that point, it was hijinx galore. I would love to know WHY Angel became this way – why she got so much happiness out of hurting others. It’s implied that her mom dying had something to do with it, but it’s all rather loosely explained. I feel this script needs to be about a girl learning to respect others and help others, and while there’s some of that here, it wasn’t enough for me to become emotionally attached to the material.

Not a bad script at all, but not enough punch to get my juices flowing.

Script link: Mrs. Satan

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

What I learned: I don’t know why I keep referring back to Karl’s script this week, but there’s something we were talking about there that I think is an important lesson. You can’t get hung up on one script. You have to keep writing new stuff. New scripts bring up new problems, which improves you as a writer. If you’re tackling the same old issues over and over again, you’re not getting better. This script is a great example of that. Sooner or later, you’ll write a script with an “unlikable” main character. The trials and tribulations that come along with trying to get an audience to root for an unlikable protagonist is one of the most important lessons in your education as a screenwriter. But if you never encounter it, you’ll never know how to deal with it. I think Sean was saying this yesterday as well. Keep writing new stuff guys. And if that first script really means something to you? Don’t worry. It’s not going away. You can come back to it a year from now. And you’ll be a better writer when you do.