Sunday, December 11, 2011

First Ten Pages Week - Stationary (Winner!)

For those unaware, this week is First Ten Pages Week.  I'll be posting reviews of the first ten pages from amateur scripts whose loglines won a Logline Contest.  For more info, check out the original loglines here and the Winners Post here.  You can also download the first ten pages of all five winners here

Genre: Comedy-Drama
Winning Logline: A businessman begins seeing Post-It Notes that give him directions on how to improve his life.
About: Welcome to the first annual “First Ten Pages Week.” What I did was have readers send in loglines then vote on their favorites. The top five loglines, then, would get their first 10 pages read. With any of this week’s reviews, if the comments are positive enough, I’ll review them in full on an Amateur Friday. But the reason I'm really excited about this week is because I get to do something I rarely get to do in reviews - and that’s analyze SPECIFICS. So let's get started with the number one vote-getter, Stationary.
Writer: Daley Nixon

One of the things you learn when you comb through tons of loglines and read tons of scripts is that the more vague a logline is, the shakier the script tends to be. If you don't lay out a clear goal and a clear line of conflict in the log, there's a good chance you don't know to do so in a script either.

That was my big worry here. It's a neat concept. But where's the goal? Is it to improve his life? That’s pretty vague. And there doesn't seem to be any clear conflict either. What gets in the way of these notes improving him? I’m not sure. So I’m a little afraid we might be heading into choppy waters here.

The first 10 pages of Stationary follow our hero, 20-something Noah Greenwood, going about his daily routine. Not surprisingly, his daily routine is pretty shitty. He lives by himself in a dirty apartment. He seems to be late to work every day. Simple activities like getting a coffee at Starbucks appear difficult for him. Nobody at work likes him. There's a hot girl in his department who he has no chance of getting. And after the day is over, he goes home, goes to sleep, and starts the cycle all over again.

So, were these pages any good?

Unfortunately, those fears I had proved to be warranted. This is something all writers have to battle. The person reading your script is judging you every step of the way, EVEN BEFORE THEY’VE STARTED READING YOUR SCRIPT. They're looking for signs of whether this will be a fun 90 minutes or a miserable 90 minutes. In this case, it's looking closer to the latter. Let me explain why…

We start off with “20-something” Noah Greenwood. My reading experience has taught me that writers usually write main characters that are the same age as them. So now I'm thinking Daley is 24-25 years old. 24-25 is usually the age most screenwriters start writing screenplays. So I'm already thinking this is probably one of Daley’s early efforts, which means it’ll likely be laced with a lot of first-timer mistakes.

That assumption is proven correct less than 3 words later. Here’s Noha’s introduction: “NOAH GREENWOOD (mid 20’s) falls out bed.” It seems like we’re missing an “a” in the very second sentence of the screenplay. I don't even know how to say this without getting angry. How do you expect anyone to take you seriously as a screenwriter if you forget a word in the second sentence of your screenplay? My experience has taught me that there is now no chance of this script being good. So I’m bummed. Because I was hoping for more.

This is followed by Noah throwing a tennis ball at the alarm clock to turn it off. This isn't as bad as missing a word in the second sentence, but throwing something at the alarm clock to turn it off is an action I've seen way too many times before. You gotta do something different. Have him use something to fish the alarm clock over so he can turn it off. Anything but throwing a tennis ball at it.

Adding to the clichés, we have a mid-20s character waking up inside a dirty room. Again, I'm not freaking out about this choice, but how many times have we seen a mid-20s character waking up in a trashed room? We’re less than a page into this script and I’ve already encountered two big clichés.

On the plus side, I like the decision of the mom leaving an answering machine message saying they need to talk later. It's always good to set up future scenes so the audience has something to anticipate. We may not have a goal for our character yet, but that's tempered by the fact that we know he has a future meeting with his mother, who obviously has something important to talk to him about.

Unfortunately, the grammar and spelling mistakes keep coming in Stationary. Someone takes “a centuries” to order coffee. Then we have “abit” of a problem at the Starbucks (instead of “a bit”). Still, I did laugh when Starbucks ran out of coffee beans. That was funny.

On page 3 we have a couple more grammar mistakes as well as a misused comma (which should have been a period). After that we have a parenthetical that’s formatted so that it’s aligned with the dialogue. This may not seem like a big deal, but when I've already seen all these mistakes, it’s a killer, because it confirms the writer doesn’t have any interest in putting forth his best effort.

I could keep harping on these mistakes which continue to show up throughout the 10 pages but I'll just jump to page 8. At this point, we’re on our second day, and we still seem to be hitting on the same things over and over again. Why do we need to see Noah sitting at the lunch table alone a second day in a row? We've already seen it once. We've also already seen him get looked over by the girl. Why include an additional scene that repeats that information? This is a common mistake made in amateur screenplays. The writer believes that they have to tell you something seven or eight times for you to get it, even though we got it the first time. Professional writers jump right into the story. They tell you what they need to tell you and then they move on.

It was around this time that I realized I didn't even know what Noah looked like because he was never described. This is a huge deal. Is Noah fat? Ugly? Handsome but doesn’t know it? Does he wear cheap clothes? Does he simply have bad fashion sense? This movie is about a man who’s going to change his life and we don’t even know what needs changing because we don’t have an inkling of what he looks like! You have to convey to us who your main character is. A good description is the very first (and easiest!) step towards achieving that.

The good news for Daley is that I see these mistakes all the time in amateur screenplays. He is not alone. This is the way a lot of new writers write. They don't have a lot of respect for their work. They don't really care if things look good or read well. They figure that as long as they get some semblance of what they're trying to say onto the page then they’ve done their job. Unfortunately, that's not what the industry is looking for. The industry is looking for professionalism. They’re looking for writers willing to go the extra mile. Who try to make their characters and their storylines unique. Who make choices they haven’t seen before. Who take pride in their work. Who want to be looked at seriously. Don't just make things “okay.” It’s your job to give us 100% of what you have, whatever “what you have” is at the moment. I feel like Daley’s given us about 30% of what he has. You can do better than this Daley. Get back in there and really push yourself this time. Good luck.

Link: Stationary (First Ten Pages)

Would I keep reading? – Not with this many mistakes. The writer doesn’t take enough pride in his work. Too much stuff is repeated, which implies the story will be slow and repetitive. There were some laughs, but not enough to overcome these problems.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me (the laughs barely kept this out of the gutter)
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I Learned: One of the biggest mistakes new writers make is setting the bar too low. The bar they use is movies like Transformers 2 or Vampires Suck. They say, “Well those scripts weren’t anything special. Therefore I don’t have to be special.” This is what I want you to do. Take that standard you believe is the standard Hollywood judges its scripts by? Then multiply it by 1000. That's the real standard you’re being judged by. I'm not going to get into how a big studio film is able to get away with bad writing. You just have to trust me when I say you're being judged on an infinitely higher level. So don't submit anything where you haven't given your absolute best!