Friday, August 3, 2012

Amateur Friday - La Mujer

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: Drama
Premise: (from writer) A mysterious and beautiful woman with a unique gift travels through Latin America changing the lives of everyone she meets, while a reporter seeks to uncover the horrific event that prompted her journey.
About: I picked this one because it sounded different and I liked Steve's query letter.  Here it is...

Top 10 Reasons Why You Should Read La Mujer:

10. I’m the only screenwriter in Costa Rica who has never been fired by Mel Gibson.
9. Just saying “La Mujer” makes you sound sophisticated.
8. I know how to thank you in multiple languages.
7. I’m smart enough to listen to the critics and I work like hell at improving my writing.
6. A good review could net you a deluxe vacation to Costa Rica (not really, but just imagine).
5. It would be good for you to know “the next big thing” in Hollywood. I take care of my friends.
4. I just reworked the third act, so it is less likely to be a steaming pile of crap than it was a few weeks ago.
3. The script has an original premise that you will enjoy.
2. I think you are a genius.
1. La Mujer is a damn good script.

Writer: Steve Lucas
Details: 110 pages

Writer's pick for La Mujer - Dayana Mendoza

A good blogger never lies.  So I'm not going to lie to you today.  Last night I watched the video for Gangnam Style 213 times.  I just...I just couldn't stop.  I memorized the lyrics.  Practiced the dance moves.  Wikipedia'd "Psy."  And you know what?  I feel like I've learned something.  So much so that I almost ditched today's script review to review the Gangnam Style video instead.  However, I realized that the video was so amazing that no amount of analysis could do it justice.  It would get a [xx] genius rating without question.  I mean the video not only makes a profound statement about horse dancing (one that puts the Chik-Fil-A debate to shame), but also the power of "sexay lady."  It teaches us that when you have a "sexay laday" dancing next to you, you can act like a total lunatic and it doesn't matter.  These are life lessons we're learning here, kids.  Life lessons.

Where does that leave us today?  With a script that has a really tough act to follow, that's where.  The last 12 hours have brought me so much joy, that La Mujer would have to take me through a life's worth of emotions and back again if it was going to have a shot at "worth the read" status.

I will now channel the elevator shot from Gangnam Style to review La Mujer.

La Mujer is about...well...La Mujer!  A beautiful "sexay laday" who walks around South America whispering profound statements into people's ears that change their lives for the better.  We don't hear any of these profound statements - not yet anyway - we just see people's eyes light up and their world's rocked.

In the meantime, we meet Thomas Kemp, a journalist for the New York Times who seems to be going through some mid-life crisis.  Despite having tons of work to do, he's obsessed with finding his birth records, to the point where he assigns an intern to take care of his work while he heads down to South America to find them.

Unfortunately for Thom, his boss, Clara, doesn't have...what are those called again?  Oh yeah, FEELINGS!  She could give a shit about Thom's soul-searching.  It just so happens that a prominent Ecuadorian ambassador, one who was best friends with the U.S. president in college, has been slaughtered, along with his family.  Clara wants Thom in Ecuador now to get the story.

Thom begrudgingly goes, and along the way hears about this La Mujer woman.  She's becoming a sort of traveling celebrity, instantly changing the lives of everyone she comes in contact with.  Thom thinks that sounds like a much better story than the slaughtering of a prominent family for some reason, and unofficially decides to focus on her.  Maybe she can clear up this whole birth certificate thing he's been obsessing over while he's at it.

Problem is, there are some people who don't like the fact that La Mujer's alive.  I'm a little unclear on the specifics, but I think she was supposed to be killed some time ago, along with her daughter.  The bad guys who did this, then, are shocked to learn she's not only alive, but going around whispering in people's ears!!  So they regroup to find La Mujer and kill her off for good.  Which means if Thom's going to get the birth certificate thing figured out, he'll have to move fast!

You have not lived until you have tried the Gangnam Style Horsie Dance

In the immortal words of Psy, the genius behind the greatest song ever conceived: "Beautiful, lovable, yes you, hey, yes you, hey, beautiful, lovable, yes you, hey, yes you, hey. Now let's go until the end.  Oppa is Gangnam Style."

That actually has nothing to do with this review.  I just wanted to quote Gangnam Style.  Anyway, while La Mujer gets some points for its mystery elements, such as who this La Mujer lady is and why is it that everyone freaks out when she whispers in their ear, the script as a whole suffers from two tried and true beginner mistakes which I harp on all the time here at Scriptshadow...

Clarity and Focus.

The story is unclear. The plot is unfocused.  Add those two mistakes together and it's hard for a script to recover.  Let's start with the clarity thing.  I couldn't for the life of me figure out what Thom was looking for.  Something about his birth certificate?  But his birth certificate was being kept from him for some reason?  Maybe because he was adopted?  Did he just find out he was adopted?  Does he only suspect he was adopted?  Or has he always known and just now decided to look into it?  I have no idea.  Because the script is unclear about it.

And because it's unclear, there are no stakes attached to his success or failure.  If he doesn't find out who his parents are, what happens to him?  As far as I can tell, nothing.

La Mujer's storyline is also unclear.  She seems to be roaming the countryside, telling people secrets about themselves that are impossible for her to know, which was a little intriguing.  But where is she going?  What's her goal?  In the end, she ends up at the home of one of her attackers, but I can't tell if that's where she was always going or if she was just wandering around aimlessly and eventually ended up there.

This leads us to the issue of focus - if we don't know what your characters are doing - what their goals are - then the story is going to seem random to us.  I never knew what La Mujer was doing.  I never knew what Thom was doing.

The only time the script took on any type of focus was when Thom's boss ordered him to investigate the massacre (which happens around the midway point).  FINALLY, the story seemed to have a clear objective.  Unfortunately, that storyline was dealt with in the same unclear manner as everything else.  There was some confusion as to whether 8 people or 6 people were murdered, but I couldn't ever figure out what that had to do with anything.  In addition to that, Thom didn't even care about the investigation, so we had an unclear set of circumstances and an unmotivated protagonist.  Not exactly the stuff great stories are made of.

If I were Steve, this is what I'd do.  Have the massacre happen RIGHT AWAY.  Maybe it's the first scene of the movie.  Then, have Clara assign the story to Thom, who goes down there to investigate it.  Drop the weird birth certificate stuff.  It was confusing and not very interesting anyway.  What this will do is tell the audience from the get-go that THIS is the story's focus - the investigation of the massacre.

From there, you can weave in the mysterious La Mujer.  Maybe, on the day of the massacre, a lot of people claim to have seen her around town.  So Thom wants to talk to this girl for his investigation.  Now we're not playing "Guess the motivation."  Every plot point is clear from the get-go.  You can still keep La Mujer's goal a mystery to the audience.  The reason it was a problem before was because both her AND Thom's objectives were mysteries and it just led to a whole lot of confusion.  Since you've established Thom's goal right away, the audience will be more tolerant of a secondary character being a mystery.

However, make sure that YOU know where La Mujer is going and what she's doing.  Her ending has to make us go "Ohhhh, of course!" instead of, "Uhhhhh, what??" which is unfortunately how I responded to her climax in this draft.

Script link: La Mujer

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

What I Learned: When someone complains that your script is "unfocused," it usually boils down to one of two things - the goal for the main character is unclear, OR, there's no goal in the first place.  Think about it.  If your main character has a clear objective (or "goal") then the story automatically stays on track, since the character is focused on achieving that goal.  In La Mujer, Thom does have a goal - to figure out who his parents are I think?  But it's unclear as hell, so we're not really invested in it.  This makes the story seem unfocused and we eventually check out.