Friday, December 23, 2011

Amateur Friday - Sammy Jingles

Genre: Family/Holiday/Musical
Premise: When a toy factory tour guide is framed for Santa's kidnapping on Christmas Eve, he sets out on a race against time across mythical Christmastown to clear his name, and save Christmas.
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: Patrick Bonner
Details: 107 pages


Oh man. That was lame. I gotta be honest with you though. It’s gonna get lamer. All I can think about is all of the presents I'm going to be opening in 48 hours! Yahooooo! Dot com. I still remember when I was so excited about Christmas that I would secretly open my presents the night before then sloppily wrap them back up and tell my parents (completely unprovoked of course) that I saw the cat hanging around the Christmas tree and he'd scratched open a lot of the presents so I found it appropriate to tape them back up. And I was convinced that I got away with this every time.

Which brings us, appropriately, to today’s gift under the tree. Yes, I’m talking about Sammy Jingles!

Sammy Jingles lives in a faraway place called Christmastown, where elves and Christmas-like creatures frolic around like college kids on shrooms. Or wait. I mean children on sugar-highs. Let’s keep this PG. But to be honest, Christmastown isn’t one giant American Idol dance routine. No no no. You see, there's a lot of pressure in this business, especially around this time of year, when Operation Chimney Assault is rapidly approaching.

It's also a stressful time for our hero, Sammy, as Christmastown’s retiring governor is about to name his successor. It’s down to Sammy, the nerdy but cute Emma, and the Brody Jenner lookalike, Arnold, who also happens to be the big maestro’s son.

Sammy, who works as a tour guide in Christmastown for visiting elves, needs this job. Not just because he's been working towards it for years, but because Sammy desires to be important. His goal in life is to be the number one celebrity in Christmastown.

Well, a few days later he gets his opportunity, though he doesn't realize it at first. Santa Claus, who spent the last 360 days working out to get rid of his Rosie O’Donnel’esque pepperoni pouch, is kidnapped by someone (or something??) and dragged into the Ice Forest, where even the bravest elves won’t follow. But when Evil Arnold places the blame on Sammy and Emma for the kidnapping, they have no other option but to go find Santa and prove their innocence.

Along the way they meet some lonely trees, a Frosty the Snowman who’s sort of gone insane, and eventually Santa Claus himself, all with the appropriate amount of jingling in between. The question is, will they get Santa back in time to save Christmas? Or will that even matter to Sammy when he sees an opportunity to grab Kardashian-like celebrity status?

The first thing you realize about Sammy Jingles is that it's written with love. And I mean a LOT of love. Believe me, readers are well aware when the writer is passionate about the material and when he isn’t, and there’s no question that Patrick is passionate about this story. I might even wager that he lived in Christmastown once. I mean how can you argue with a song called “Hangin’ Stuff” set to the Backstreet Boys’ “Hanging Tough?” Or a deliriously insane Frosty The Snowman? Or Sammy Jingles making an audition tape for MTV’s The Real World? Or a best friend named Emo who’s the most emo emo you’ve ever met?

This is Christmas and with any Christmas movie you want to have fun. You want to rack up the puns (CNN’s “Anderson Cooler”), you want to inject it with a heaping of heart, and you want to sing that heart out. Patrick does that here. The sheer level of detail that has gone into each character and each scene and each location and each song tells you that this man loves his story.

But not all is well with Christmastown. Sure the city is beautiful, but it’s also oddly constructed and over-decorated in places. I’ll start with what I believe is a critical scene mistake. The tour guide scene. This happens in the first act when Sammy is showing a group of elves the toy-making building. Patrick uses the scene to set up the rules of his world.

The problem is just how many rules there are (you will always face this problem when you have to do a lot of world-building in your screenplay) and if you try and pack too much explanation into a single scene or sequence, it becomes exhausting and grinds the story to a halt.

First we have the wish book which should have its own movie for how complicated it is. There are five different types of wishes, all color-coded, and we go through each painstaking one of them. Then the exposition shifts to how Sammy is up for a big job promotion. Then, after we’re all tired out by that, we go through a whole song. And then after that, the Mayor/Governor comes in, and we broach, once again, the job promotion issue, meeting all the major players. This kills the momentum of the story before it’s even started.

Yes, of course, you have to set up your story. But you also have to make your setup ENTERTAINING. Too many writers forget about the second part and are just happy to get all their exposition out of the way. Moving forward, I would split all of this info up into different scenes and simplify where possible (i.e. take the wish book down to 2 wishes, not 5).

My second big issue has to do with Santa Claus. And I told Patrick this. It feels odd to me that Santa Claus is completely separate from Christmastown. I think Patrick told me that that's what he was striving to do. He didn't want to tell a traditional story about Santa Claus but rather a story about the elves. Still, it's very hard to watch a Christmas movie where Santa Claus is treated as an afterthought. It's kind of like being told you're going to the ice cream shop but there’s not going to be any chocolate. It’s strange, right?

There’s also a huge structural issue with the big guy. Santa Claus gets kidnapped near the end of the first act…AND NO ONE CARES! Just the fact that Santa Claus is kidnapped from the North Pole would be a huge deal I’d assume. But the fact that it’s also a week away from Christmas!!!??? Why wouldn’t everyone be on DEF CON LEVEL 10 searching for the guy?? Instead, here, everybody goes and sings at a bar.

It isn't until 15 to 20 pages later, when Sammy is blamed for kidnapping Santa, that he decides to go after him. This needs to change immediately, particularly because of who Sammy is. Sammy is a character who desires celebrity. The second that Santa disappears, you need your celebrity-starved hero to realize that this is his ticket to stardom. Save Santa and everyone will love you.

In addition to just making more sense, making your hero more active, and having your hero act more within character, it would get rid of the worst part of the script, which is those 20 pages after Santa is kidnapped and nobody does anything.

If Patrick could fix these two problems - the early doomsday exposition scene, and getting characters out after Santa immediately - I honestly believe the script would be a thousand times better.

Finally, I should mention the songs because this is a musical. I'm not going to pretend like I understand musicals that well. I've read maybe five in my life. The tough thing about musicals is that it doesn't matter how good your lyrics are or how amazing your writing is, you will never come close to conveying the way a song feels when you hear it. And so a lot of times I was skimming through the songs because I didn’t know anything besides the chorus and therefore couldn’t match the lyrics to the melody. That said, I loved Hangin’ Stuff. “I Love Mistletoe,” was great. And “Put Some Tinsel On Me” was cute.

I think this script has a ton of potential. I love the way Patrick's mind works. I love his sense of humor. I love his dedication to exploiting every little crevice of his story. There’s no doubt he has that elusive “voice.” We just need to get some of the mechanics on par with the passion.

This script hovered somewhere between a “worth the read” and a “wasn’t for me.” So what does it get, two days before Christmas? Hmmmmmm….

Script link: Sammy Jingles

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] A Merry Carsonmas (and people call me a Grinch. Humbug!)
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: Patrick’s writing suffers from a habit of staying in his scenes too long. I saw it in numerous places where the scene had already ended but Patrick kept writing. I pointed out the tour guide scene as one example. I saw it with the tree scene as well (when they first meet the trees in the forest). And I saw it scattered about in a bunch of other places. Remember guys, you not only want to get into your scene as late as possible, you want to leave your scene as early as possible. Don't be the guy hanging around the party after everybody’s left. When the party’s over, it's time to go.

Happy holidays to Scriptshadow Nation!