Friday, July 27, 2012

Twit-Pitch Review - The Man Of Your Dreams

Genre: Romantic Comedy
Premise: (Original Twit-Pitch Logline) Man loves woman whose dreams predict future, but future she sees isn't with him. Can he convince her to choose love over fate?
About: Twit-Pitch Review Week - For those recently joining Scriptshadow, I held a contest a few months back called "Twit-Pitch," where anyone could pitch me their screenplay on Twitter, as long as it was contained within a single tweet.  I picked my 100 favorite loglines and read the first 10 pages of each (which I live-reviewed on Twitter), and then from those, picked the Top 20, which I'll read the entire screenplay for.  This week I'm reviewing four of the finalists.
Writer: Brian H. Baker
Details: 98 pages

Picking this script up again, I immediately remembered why I advanced it.  It starts off with a cute cuddly scene - a father and daughter joking around in a car - and when we least expect it, a truck comes out of nowhere and obliterates the driver's side, instantly killing the father.

I thought, "This writer knows how to grab a reader's attention," which is important.  Believe it or not, there are tons of writers out there who still write a very soft first 10 pages, reasoning that their script "takes time to get into," and "needs to breathe before it gets going."  You wanna talk about breathing?  Well those long steady breaths you're hearing in the distance?  That's your reader falling asleep.

I'm not saying every First 10 needs to have a car crash, or a bar fight, or a fridge nuked.  But something needs to happen in there to catch our interest.  You've already taken care of the hard part - coming up with a logline that's gotten us to actually OPEN the script.  Don't blow your chances by writing a boring First 10.

I became a little concerned after the car crash when I realized it was just our main character's dream.  The girl woke up from the nightmare, and was now really going to get in the car with her father.  She thinks her dream is a premonition, tries to stop him, but away they go anyway.  Cut to funeral.

I don't know.....something about it just didn't feel right.  I can't pinpoint what it was but I thought, "That could've gone smoother."

We then jump forward 18 years to present day and our little girl, Angela Pruitt, is now a successful sales rep at a pharmaceutical company.  She's actually going to a big conference this weekend where she'll be promoting a new drug her company is selling.

Little does she know, a self-made reporter/blogger named David ("handsome in an unkempt way") goes around specifically debunking these b.s. pills and has tasked himself with exposing the company's scam.  So he shows up to the conference under an alias, "Dr. Tom," and prepares to take them down.

But little does David know, Angela is specifically on the lookout for any doctors named Tom.  As we learned in the opening sequence, whatever Angela dreams comes true.  And her whole life she's dreamed that she's going to marry a "Dr. Tom."  Conveniently for the story (ahem), she never sees the FACE of this man in her dreams.  She only knows that she's at the altar marrying someone named "Dr. Tom."

Naturally then, Angela comes on to Dave...err Tom...hard.  And he's not complaining.  This girl's hot!  They spend the evening together, and it's clear that these two were meant for each other.  They ooze that disgusting couple perfection that the rest of the world's hopeless romantics would die to feel for just one second.

That is until Angela finds out Dave is lying, and that he's really, well, "Dave."  Dave admits he was bad, but is surprised at just how upset Angela is.  It's then when he learns about the premonition stuff, and that his lying wasn't just about the lying, but that his name doesn't match up with the man she's supposed to spend the rest of her life with.

Dave, who doesn't believe in any of this nonsense, suggests an idea.  In order to prove that her dreams don't hold any merit, he'll go interview all of the people in her life to, um...hmmm, well I'm not sure - I think figure out where this dream obsession came from and show that it's not real?

The problem is, while Dave does his Sherlock Holmes routine, Angela ends up shacking up with a REAL Dr. Tom, and becomes convinced that he's the one she's supposed to marry.  If Dave wants to win this battle, he's not only going to have to prove to Angela that she loves him, but that everything she's ever believed is a lie.

Okay....hmmm.  Well, I don't think this script suffers from the same problems as some the other Twit-Pitch scripts, which was mainly lack of effort.  But I'm not sure this story ever had a leg to stand on.  The foundation of this building was so flimsy, that it was hard to move around without the entire floor shaking.

I guess I never really got past the name thing.  It just seemed silly to build an entire movie around a guy who lied about his name.  I don't know what I was expecting after reading the logline, but definitely something more sophisticated than that.

When you combine that with this super-convenient plot device that Angela knows the NAME of her future husband and the JOB TITLE of her future husband, but not what he looks like?  It just felt like the writer was taking too many liberties, constructing a scenario for his screenplay to work, but not one that would hold up in reality, however skewed that pretend reality was.

Once you're not on board with the setup, it's basically impossible to win back the reader.  Everything they read has them coming back to that setup.  When Angela finds another Dr. Tom to date, all I could think was, "Really? She knows the name but not the face of the guy?  Plot Convenience 101."

But even if I hadn't had that problem, the plot itself doesn't develop in an interesting way.  This whole thing with Dave going out and interviewing family and friends...?  I'm not even sure what that's supposed to accomplish.  This is somehow going to help him prove to her that her dreams aren't true?  It felt like one of those situations where a writer looked at the vast amount of space ahead of him after he finished his first act and went, "What the hell am I going to do for the next 60 pages??" and figured investigating, while not ideal, would at least take up some time.

And you NEVER want to do that when writing a screenplay.  You NEVER want to bide time in your script.  Every storyline should be imperative.  Every story decision should have high stakes.  As Dave was interviewing the best friend here, I thought, "What happens if this goes badly?" Or "What happens if this goes well?"  I couldn't determine how the scene had any effect on the movie.  In other words, the stakes were unclear.

Take a scene in the recent spec script turned film, "Crazy, Stupid, Love."  Recently separated Cal and Emily, who we're hoping will get back together, are forced to come together for a parent teacher conference.  After a nice talk in the hallway, they walk inside the classroom and Cal sees that a woman he slept with recently is his son's teacher!  All of a sudden, there are real stakes to the scene.  Cal and Emily just made some major strides in the hallway, but now Cal must get through this meeting without the clearly upset teacher revealing their history.  The stakes are high.  20 years of marriage and a reconciliation are on the line.  I just never got the feeling that anything was on the line during that whole "investigation" subplot in Man Of Your Dreams.

Also, on top of this, as I try to tell everyone who writes romantic comedies, the dialogue has to be CRACKLING.  And when I say "crackling," I mean fun quotable lines in every conversation the two have.  I don't think I ever said to myself, "This dialogue is bad."  But I never thought it stood out either.  And if you want any chance in the world of selling your romantic comedy script, I GUARANTEE you, your dialogue has to stand out.

If that's not a strength of yours, you the writer have to decide whether romantic comedies are really your genre, or if you're putting as much effort into your dialogue as you can.

Romantic Comedies are hard.  And this script unfortunately fell into a lot of the traps amateurs fall into when tackling the genre.  Man Of Your Dreams felt like a car with all the standard settings.  When you write a script, you need to give us the car with all the upgrades.

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

What I Learned: Most writers write "placeholder" dialogue in their first few drafts - the basics of what they want the characters to say in each scene.  Then, once the structure and all the scenes are in place, they go back to each individual scene and rewrite the dialogue.  This is a critical point, ESPECIALLY if you're writing a romantic comedy.  You have to have fun with your dialogue.  You have to add flavor.  "How are you this morning?" might become, "Any crazy dreams last night Nostradamus?"  "I feel sick" might become, "I feel like my stomach snuck out of my body last night and went on a week-long bender."  And you know what?  I'd probably do this 8-10 more times for each scene, improving every line (particularly that weak last suggestion) until it was just right.  "Just okay" dialogue is a death sentence in a Rom-Com.