Friday, April 13, 2012

Screenplay Review - Zombie Knights (Amateur Friday)

Knights. Zombies. Guaranteed awesomeness or guaranteed awfulness? Read a script from a very UNIQUE screenwriting team and come to your own conclusion.

NEW Amateur Friday Submission Process: To submit your script for an Amateur Review, send in a PDF of your script, a PDF of the first ten pages of your script, your title, genre, logline, and finally, why I should read your script. Use my submission address please: Your script and “first ten” will be posted. If you’re nervous about the effect of a bad review, feel free to use an alias name and/or title. It’s a good idea to resubmit every couple of weeks so your submission stays near the top.

Genre: Zombie/Period
Premise: (from writers) A war-battered knight returns from the Crusades to find his homeland terrorized by victims of a lethal fever who rise from the dead, hungry for human flesh. Sir Thomas shepherds survivors to the Castle Bridgenorth, where he leads a war of attrition against an army of the undead – even as he battles his own demons.
About: Zombie Knights was sort of the sleeper logline hit of our mini-logline contest a few weeks ago that produced “Breathwork” and “Soundtrack.” Here was their “why you should read our script” argument in their query letter: “Hollywood, they say, is looking for the same -- but different. Our screenplay is an effort put a fresh spin on the tried-and-true zombie flick by setting it in the Middle Ages. We also try to use the format to address greater themes of faith and humanity. And, oh yeah, with lots of killing zombies with axes and swords and maces and stuff.”
Writer: Clint & Taylor Williams
Details: 103 pages

Well this is a first. I can safely say that I’ve never read a script by a father-son writing team before. In fact, this may be the first father-son writing team in the HISTORY OF SCREENWRITING. That’s pretty cool but, man, I’m assuming it would cause some unique challenges. I mean what happens when the son gets grounded and the Nicholl deadline is days away? “No, you can’t go see your friends tonight! But could you clean up the dialogue in the dungeon scene?” Awk-warrrrrd.

As for the age-old complaint that we have YET ANOTHER ZOMBIE SCRIPT, I’ll give it to the Williams’s…es that a middle ages setting does feel different. But I don’t care if it’s set in the Paleolithic ages – bottom line is the script has to deliver. So is Zombie Knights one of those freaking crazy ass sprinting zombies from 28 Days Later or is that half-bodied pathetic one-armed dragging zombie from the pilot of The Walking Dead?

It’s the 11th Century when things like polio and leprosy were commonplace. Catch a couple of those miscues and you could actually BECOME a zombie without being a zombie. Add on to that that you had to hunt your own food and we are talking major suckage.

But what sucks even more is that a terrible plague is spreading through the land. It makes the dead rise up and want to eat your brains. Of course, since it’s a thousand years before George Romero and Wikipedia, nobody knows what this disease is. They do know that if they shoot the diseased through the head with an arrow, though, they die. And that’s good enough for now.

After coming back from a work trip (also known as the Crusades) a group of knights led by rough and tumble Thomas and the clean-cut Clinton, realize that the place they left no longer exists. Everybody’s dying and after they die, they get up and try to eat you. While these strange undead creatures are harmless by themselves, they’re quite dangerous in bulk.

And when the bulks get too bulky, our Crusaders realize they have to flee the city and find safety somewhere else. So they take all the remaining townspeople and take a field trip across the land until they find an abandoned castle. Hey, zombies may be dangerous but they ain’t too good at scaling walls, so it seems like a good place to set up camp.

Things are nice and safe for awhile, but the zombie hordes outside the castle keep getting bigger, making a trip to the grocery store that much more difficult. Naturally, supplies get low and they realize that if they don’t find a way out of this undead mess, they’re going to starve to death. So the group comes up with the idea to dig a tunnel underneath the castle, Great Escape style. But will they be able to pull Operation Dirty Fingernails off in time? Click the script link below and find out for yourself.

Okay, Zombie Knights. A neat idea. Some solid writing. But a lot of beginner problems. Beginning with the very first scene.

Why are we opening a movie with knights being welcomed back from battle? I understand that it introduces the characters. I understand that it sets up how important these characters are. But it’s not a SCENE. A scene has decisions to be made. It has choices for your heroes. It has a PROBLEM that needs to be solved. That’s when a scene is exciting/interesting. And if there’s any scene that needs to be exciting and/or interesting, it’s your first one. Cause that’s the scene that’s either going to draw your reader in or not.

I would start this movie off with the crusaders in battle, beating ass and taking Old English names, and then at the end of the battle, after everyone’s been slaughtered, one by one, the dead bodies start getting up. What the f*ck is going on??? They have to defeat each of them a second time! This is off the top of my head and you’d probably need another 10 drafts to come up with a cool original version of it, but THAT’S a scene. THAT’S something happening. People galloping in on horses isn’t a scene. And it definitely isn’t an opening scene.

This opening is then clouded by the death-knell – a dozen characters being introduced all at the same time. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh!!! Why God why?? The bulk-introduce is a well-known script-killer. You’re practically begging the reader to forget every character in your script by doing this.

Anyway, this is followed by a strange montage sequence of our knights fighting a bunch of battles over the years. However it wasn’t clear that time was actually passing (there was no mention of any “MONTAGE” anywhere, which was the source of the confusion) so we had this sort of comical scenario where our heroes would fight a HUGE battle, go have lunch in the forest, go fight another HUGE battle, go have dinner in the forest, go fight another HUGE battle, go have breakfast in the forest. It was funny. It was like they defeated 8 huge armies in two days. A simple “MONTAGE” slug would’ve helped this.

Then, when they get to the castle, we run into a problem I’m always warning you guys about. The “sit still and wait” problem that occurs when you place your characters in a static location. It’s just not interesting to watch people hang out and wait. Waiting is boring. Audiences want characters who are ACTIVE. That’s why the “stuck in places” movies that work are the ones where the characters are desperately trying to get out (i.e. Aliens).

The next problem is that there’s no urgency at all. I think the characters actually have months to hang out in this castle. That’s not a movie. And it’s definitely not a zombie movie, where we have to feel the urgency of the zombie threat getting closer. If I were the Williams’s…es, I would make this a 1 week deal. They get to the castle, the zombies start scratching at those rocks, and bit by bit they’re able to dig pieces of that wall off. They’re getting closer and closer to getting in. So our guys build the tunnel and you play those two angles against each other. Our guys have to finish the tunnel before the zombies break through that wall.

Because if you don’t have urgency in a movie like this, you don’t have a movie.

Also in this kind of movie, you need conflict. You need people disagreeing with each other about how shit needs to be done. That way the characters aren’t just fighting zombies, they’re fighting each other. Drogo, a character who joins the group before they get to the castle, should be this character. He needs to be the dissenter. He needs to be the one who wants to do things differently. And it can’t be polite either. It needs to be some heavy ass conflict where you’re wondering if these guys are going to kill each other before the zombies kill them.

Like I said, this was well-written, but it needs some stronger storytelling. Goals, urgency, conflict, that sort of stuff, before this zombie script can play with the big boys.

Script link: Zombie Knights

[ ] Wait for the rewrite
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: Tell a story with your scene! That opening scene really bothered me because there was no story being told. It was just introducing characters. You have to entertain the audience, remember. Look at the opening scene in Aliens. We’re in some frozen ship. We’re not really clear what’s going on. Some sort of lazer thing starts cutting through the door. There’s mystery here. There’s anticipation. Something INTERESTING is happening. And this approach shouldn’t just be used for your opening scene. ALWAYS try to tell a story in your scene.

What I learned 2: The bulk-introduce. Guys, stay away from the bulk-introduce if at all possible. Because if we start mixing up your characters right away because they’re lost amongst a dozen introductions? We’ll be confused during every aspect of your story because we’re going to keep saying, “Who’s this character again? What’s their relationship to the story?” And that’s a script-killer.