Friday, May 4, 2012

Screenplay Review - Population Zero (Amateur Friday)

Will I still choose amateur zombie scripts after today's review? Read on to find out.

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: Horror/Comedy?
Premise: (from writer) The only thing worse than the deadly virus that infects the people of a small Minnesota town is the mysterious soldiers who arrive to cure them.
Writer: Phillip Walton
Details: 108 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).

Let’s begin the Zombie chant!

Zombies, zombies, zombies, zombies!!

Or wait!

What about this chant instead….

No zombies, no zombies, no zombies!!

Or wait. Huh?? What’s going on right now? I’m confused.

Well what if I told you that someone had written the perfect zombie movie? A movie that could appeal to both zombie fans and non-zombie fans alike? The zombie fans would get their zombie fix. And the non-zombie fans would get a sigh of relief that they didn’t have to endure yet ANOTHER zombie movie. Is that possible? Writer Philip Walton wanted to find out. But has Phil bitten off more human flesh than he can chew?

Ehhhh, no. Actually, I’m concerned with whether he’s bitten off enough. In fact, I’m not sure he’s bitten off any. If you’re going to write a zombie movie, you're probably going to want to put zombies in it. And that's where today's review begins. Sit down my friends, grab a hot cup of cocoa. Throw a few extra marshmallows in there. Go ahead. No one’s looking. Make sure that fire’s burning bright. It's time for Father Scriptshadow to tell you a tale….

Two pretentious quotes on the first page. Two!

Come on guys. The quote thing. Don’t do it. It makes you look like you’re trying too hard. Especially in a movie like this, which is essentially a horror-comedy. I mean, are we really busting out Leviticus 27:29 on page 1?

This is followed by a first page that looks like every alphabet in the world got together and had a party. Too much text! This is your very first scene! Do you really want someone opening your script to a mountain of text?? When that happens, the first thing they think is, “Oh god. This script is going to take forevvvver.” And then they get all depressed and hate every screenwriter who was ever born. Be inviting with your first page! Let them into your home. Lots of white space. White space = good.

Then we introduce two soldiers trading Tarantino-light dialogue (about the difference between horror movies and action movies). Nooooooooooo. Tarantino dialogue is one of those sure-fire tells of a beginner. Which made this three strikes before page 5. You got three strikes within 5 pages, it’s really hard to come back from that.

BUT – the script must go on. And so shall this review. Hopefully, Phillip can recover.

The story here follows a virus that has escaped into small rural Minnesota towns. So the government sends a containment unit in to quarantine the virus. But people keep seeping out, allowing the virus to infect other towns. So the containment unit keeps moving from town to town, taking care of business.

We begin in Rock Springs, Minnesota. It's the kind of middle-of-nowhere spot that everyone’s trying to get out of but no one does. Oh how prophetic that will turn out to be. Although I’m not sure if there’s a main character, we spend the majority of our time around three teenagers: perfect Sarah, slutty Kelly, and Justin Bieber’esque Bobby. The three start to sense something is off when one of the locals gets really sick.

The next thing they know, an army moves in to quarantine the town. This army is led by a really evil sergeant named Hollis. Hollis has an interesting approach to quarantining. If he doesn't like the way something’s going, he shoots people.

Once Sarah, Kelly and Justin Bieber realize that this is an evil army and not a nice army, they have to find a way out of town. But when Kelly gets captured, Sarah and Bieber have to go and save her. And that's pretty much what happens. There is very little to no plot here.

So did Phil make that recovery?

Unfortunately, I have to say no. Let’s go back to that Tarantino dialogue. This is SUCH a tell that you’re dealing with a beginner so I have to bring it up again. Any time you have two characters *JUST* talking about their views on pop-culture or theories and such, it's a wasted scene.

Here’s the thing though. You’ll see professional writers do this in moderation. But they’re ALWAYS DOING SOMETHING ELSE WITH THE SCENE AT THE SAME TIME. They’ll have their characters going after something, trying to achieve a goal. Look at the opening of Pulp Fiction. Those guys are going to kill someone WHILE they’re talking.

And the “while” is the key. If there's no "while,” then all you have is a bunch of empty talking. Which means you’re losing the reader. And it’s all even worse if it’s happening within the very first scene!

Now I should cut Phil some slack because he’s cutting to a woman running while the guards talk, so there is *some* suspense involved. But the dialogue so dominates the scene that it doesn’t matter. You gotta keep in mind: Readers are ready to mentally check out on you within the first five pages! They will read the rest of your script with only 30% of their brain if possible. So you can’t take any chances in those opening pages. You gotta do something to wrangle us in.

But what really hurt this script was the fact that there were…no zombies! And I say this as someone who’s not a huge zombie fan. BUT, if you’re going to write a zombie movie, there’s a certain expectation the reader has that there are going to be ZOMBIES. When there isn’t, we’re just confused. I remember seeing page 57 here and thinking…WHY THE F$%& ARE THERE STILL NO ZOMBIES????

But that leads us to another question – was this ever a zombie flick in the first place? I’m still not sure. I mean, in that very first scene we talk about zombies. The infected sure look like zombies. Yet towards the end of the script, I started to wonder if this was just some random virus that had nothing to do with zombies. If that’s the case, and it *was* just a virus? Hmmmm…I think that’s boring. Especially since we learn absolutely nothing about the virus and only see it transfer to a couple of people the entire script.

There was some okay stuff with Big Meanie Hollis and his sort-of mini-terror organization. But it's really hurt by the fact that there’s no threat from the virus. There are no zombies. There’s nothing but a few stragglers who get infected. I just think this was a huge miscalculation. It left this gaping hole in the story where the audience was waiting for something that never came.

If I were Phil, I would rewrite this to include zombies (or some new form of zombies). You can still have Hollis reining terror over everyone. But now there's this second variable that poses a danger to himself as well as the people. It would add a complication the story desperately needs.

Some major work needs to be done with the characters as well. Outside of Hollis, I don't remember anyone. We need to give these characters some history, we need to develop more compelling relationships between them, we need to give them some actual flaws. So little character work has been done here that it’s impossible to root for anyone.

There's an inkling of a good idea here though. A group of people containing a zombie outbreak being more dangerous than the zombies themselves is a clever twist. But in order for it to work, we need those zombies in there threatening both sides.

I know this review was harsh but, as always, it was done with love. I care about Phillip getting better as I care about all of the readers of this site getting better. But one of the shitty things about getting better is that five minute period where you hear that honest reaction to your latest screenplay. It's a terrible feeling after you put in all that work. You wanna go hang your laptop computer. But I promise you that once you get past that, as long as you have a positive attitude, you'll be inspired. And you’ll write a MUCH better script. So I wish Phillip the best and thank him for letting me break down Population Zero in front of the world.

Script link: Population Zero

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

What I learned: The opening talky scene got me revved up. So here’s my advice to all…

1) Go through every single dialogue-focused scene in your script.
2) Ask if you can do the scene better by showing action instead of dialogue.
3) Change three of those scenes accordingly (to no dialogue).
4) Thank me because those scenes WILL be better.