Monday, August 24, 2009
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Bio: Alex Blair works at a plant nursery and studies at UT Austin. He also writes spec screenplays. Contact.
Logline: Sam and Dean are badass mercenaries. But when their friend goes missing by a suspected Canadian, they go after all of Canada. (COMEDY)
Note: This is Act I only. If you like it, urge him to keep going!
I’m going to ignore formatting and grammar and talk about big picture stuff—
The script has promise. It’s zany, it’s quirky, and Dave and Sam are good characters. I’m going to start with big picture stuff. Your plot seems to be a rescue mission that doesn’t come in until page 29 with the line: “let’s go get our friend?” The first part of your screenplay is setup and it manages to introduce exposition about Sam and Dave and it tells me about their interests, their chemistry, and their quips. They are funny characters. I like their relationship and I buy them. I’m not sure which one I like better, and in turn, I feel like both the characters could be interchangeable. I don’t feel like the characters are different enough for me to distinguish between who is saying what. This is a problem, but I think you can manage to get away with it, because ultimately, they are best buds, and let’s be realistic: best friends talk alike.
I’d rate your character development at a B+. This is a strong element at work in the screenplay. On screen, they will be likeable goofballs, and I enjoy their humor. I can tell you managed to work some of yourself in there, and for this, I love it.
Your strongest suit, which unfortunately will not make it on screen, is your description. You’ve got a lot of good lines comparing things, introducing people, and economy. “Like a balloon/porcupine farm.” Etc.
The first twenty pages of your screenplay need serious work. Not in terms of lines or characters or humor, but in terms of story. The first ten pages are the most crucial thing in selling a spec, and to be honest, I wouldn’t have kept reading past page ten. It’d go to the bottom of the stack.
Let’s examine why: plot. Your plot and story need work. You spend roughly ten pages with Sam and Dave and then move Lafayette (here on L). L seems unrelated to the plot in large ways, and ultimately, Sam and Dave seem inconsequential. I have no idea what the story is until page 29. Some boys go to Canada, there’s this Canadian badass L that really likes Canada, but it doesn’t fit. Granted, I’m only reading the first Act, I know you will eventually tie these two elements together in some sort of ridiculous climax that involves firing a tank and a brewery.
L’s introduction goes on too long. He’s walking and talking around town for 2-3 pages and I’m bored. Show me one scene, and move on to the kidnapping of Marty. The Gypsies are interesting characters and have funny lines: “your hair is so soft/like a bunny.” They seem unrelated.
The main problem I had with your script is nothing felt connected, everything felt disjoined and the scenes didn’t seem to flow into each other. Your scenes in terms of Dave/Sam’s arc and L’s arc FLOW, but together they seem like fire and ice.
Let’s talk about motivation. The motivation of your main plot (Sam/Dave rescue Marty) is weak. They don’t really want to do in the first place. No main character, no matter how jokingly should say: "I guess we can rescue Marty." Granted, I've made a similar mistake in my earlier screenplays but it can be fixed in rewrites.
I’d cut down the penis/sex joke subtext. You have it featured so much in the script that you really lose the humor. Sam/Dave make so many jokes about tanks and dicks and sex that I’m tired by page ten. Then when really funny lines come along I’m not convinced.
Let’s talk dialogue. Your dialogue is witty, but it rambles a lot. I’d work on cutting down useless words. I’m skeptical on a paragraph of dialogue that goes for longer than 1 sentence. Sometimes you can get away with 2. Three is max. You better have a damn good reason for 4-5. Like I’m revealing everything about my movie in these next lines.
Page 6- “Eye to eye, toe to ear.” Awkward. Can see what your going for, didn’t work.
Page 7- “nefarious.” Nobody would say this. Remove.
Page 13- “root beer.” This scene was hilarious. Nice work.
Page 15- “throw Marty in traffic.” This was your best line. So simple, yet so effective. No sexual references yet it still soared.
Page 18- "sixteen teeth" = lol
You do a good job of naming the horses, the tanks, it creates characters where they shouldn’t be.
“Well, Oh, Oh yeah, Now” --
I noted this many times during dialogue. Please watch unnecessary “well, oh, oh yeah,” in dialogue. I feel like screenwriters do this because they don’t know what they want to say when writing, and they end up with unnecessary words. The actors will add stuff like this. I’d work on trimming down lines.
Page 25/26- Sexual humor that works.
Page 28- Solid Gypsy dialogue with muffin on page.
Motivation: they don’t like Marty. This needs to change.
Sidenote: clever introduction about The Strangers.
This is all I can think of right now. If you have specific comments, or want me to expand, like me know. I’d be happy to expand on any of my ideas. I’d love to help rewrite dialogue or rethink plot points.
Readers: feel free to criticize my comments or the script. Round table is the best type of table.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Bio: Jack Simmons is a slam-poet and screenwriter from Austin. Contact.
Note: For the sake of protecting aspiring writers Jack is a pseudonym.
Logline: Ralph and Marty eat the same thing at the same restaurant day after day. Then one day, the menu changes. (SHORT)
I’m going to ignore formatting or grammar and talk about big picture stuff –
First things first, page count in a short is immense. Usually in feature length scripts shaving off a page or trimming down a scene doesn’t change much to the over arcing story. Here, in a short, doing the same thing will drastically cut down your story by a 1/6th, 1/5th, 1/4th, etc. I bring this up because your story needs some overall reduction. I’ll get into that later.
Thematically, I take away the idea of monotony, that people are slow to change when change comes. You do a good job of visualizing this with Marty and Ralph’s dialogue. Day after day, we learn that they order a “spinach salad,” or a “Miami soup.” These elements introduce the viewer to the idea of repetitions, and you establish theme efficiently.
But, theme is also what hurts you more than it helps you. Audience members are smart. We understand repetition quickly. You spend almost 3 pages establishing (in a short this is HUGE) this. I’d cut this down. You can introduce that Ralph and Marty do this in almost 1.5 pages. I’d estimate with jump cuts and scene blending, you could merge the first 3 pages by half.
How to do this?
- Cut the first 7 paragraphs of descriptions into two. I’ll walk you through it --
Booths line the windows, spinning-stools stand near the serving counter.
Patrons occupy less than half of the seats.A single host podium rests near the entrance. The HOST, a 17 year-old girl, stands and doodles pictures of islands with
the children’s crayons and place-mat.
On the front host podium reads a sign: “THE MENU” This serves as the title.
The entrance door CREAKS open, the Host looks up. A sign of recognition.
TWO MEN walk in the foyer: MARTY JACBOS (30s), a taller, bearded man with glasses and a white t-shirt, shorts, and RALPH MEIZEL (30Ss) a shorter, cleanly shaven man with a white polo shirt and jeans.
They reach the host podium. The host places her scribbles away. Grabs two menus.
American diner. Few patrons occupy booths.
The HOST, 17, doodles islands with crayons, bored. She greets MARTY (30s), taller and RALPY (30s) shorter. Places her “art” away and grabs two menus.
It’s economical without losing too much of the necessary description. Do we need to know the title? No, an editor or director will take care of that placement.
Eliminating extraneous description will be useful in cutting down page count and will also be a blessing for the readers. When revising it’s important to always always look at what can be said in fewer words.
- Use jump cuts to shorten repetition or clever editing you can direct through your writing.
You’re aiming for theme here, trying to set us up for the ending, when the sandwiches and salads don’t arrive; our protagonists are slow to change. There are more clever ways of doing this. For example, you could set us up with them ordering even before the waitress hands them menus. What does this establish? Repetition. Your goal. So check that off. Move further into the scene. They sit, bark off their orders and then food arrives. Then cut several times to new plates and the same food arriving. Maybe three times, maybe four. Here's how I would tackle this (It's modeled after Josh Schwartz's method) –
SERIES OF SHOTS –
-- Miami Salsa Soup’s set down.
-- Spinach Salad's set down.
-- Same items, new plates, are placed as the days go on.
Repetition? Another check mark. Plus, it’s got that Jason Reitman/Flight of the Conchords indie quirk to it. I can just picture all the table clothes changing and the plates dancing as more and more plates are set down.
I’d estimate you could write all this in a few lines. A huge success, because ultimately, your short is asking to be five minutes.
At the end of page three you establish conflict. The familiar teenage waitress is now replaced, the first hint that repetition for our protagonists is about to be broken. But this comes in at—
Conflict should be earlier. Often, grizzled screenwriters introduce conflict by page one. This is why I sometimes cannot stand novels. I am just itching for conflict. A huge personal side note so let's move on—
You wait a significant amount to introduce conflict. If your short was a feature length and we maintained a ratio of page count, you would probably introduce conflict on page 20-25. This is bad news. For a short, we’re looking at page 2, even earlier if we can.
Now, with rewrites you can push onwards, trim descriptions and use jump cuts/Schwartz's montage method and introduce the change of the waitress by the beginning of page two.
Here’s what I see as major conflict –
- Waitress change
- New cook
- Menu reduction/elimination
Your ending lacks a conclusive bite. I’m done reading it and I’m left thinking “What? That’s it?” I read all of that for the two men to leave? I wanted something bigger, something grand. I felt anti-climax to the tenth degree.
As your short is set up, unfortunately I don’t imagine the ending changing rather than a few logistics. Conceptually, it will stay the same. The men decide to leave after their food they’ve become so accustomed to no longer exist. This is a problem conceptually in your short. If this changes your entire story changes. I think eliminating the extraneous pages will get us to the ending faster. If we can tell this story in four minutes? All the better. People may not ask these questions.
I imagine this short being successful at some place like NYU or some artsy school in San Fran (excuse the over generalization). For me, it’s rather boring or “snore.” The execution is solid, the concept shaky. A big problem is when I’m reading this, I’m not really rooting for anybody and furthermore, I don’t have a sense of either character. Except that they like going to the same place and eating the same entree every day, which in turn, says something about human nature, but I don’t have any quirks (read: Seth Cohen from the OC, Sock from Reaper) or memorable lines (read: Vic Mackey from The Shield), or humorous (all three). This leads me to your biggest issue—
Your major problem – Why do the characters want this? We know they want repetition. But why?
It could be as easy as a line fix to the waitress, -“What do you want?” –“Comfort.” (not that but you know). I want to see a rewrite soon, Jack! Get on it!
Readers: feel free to criticize my comments or the script. Round table is the best type of table.
Monday, July 27, 2009
Bio: Smith lives in L.A. and writes spec screenplays. Contact.
Logline: Emily is forced to visit her grandmother for the weekend. Her grandmother also happens to be possessed by the devil. (HORROR/COMEDY)
I’m going to ignore formatting and grammar. Try and talk about the big picture stuff –
You’ve written a strong, but cliched intro. I have nothing wrong with that (I wrote the most generic teen drama ever), that said cliché doesn’t bother me, but it bothers others. Honestly, if I was a studio exec and reading this as a spec screenplay I probably wouldn’t make it past page 4 because your script is so much like the beginning of the Exorcist/Constantine/ any exorcism type movie. Girl tied to a bed, crazy demon shit, some killing, etc. I’d go bigger with it; I’d go Final Destination big with it. Have the deaths be bigger. We talked about Drag Me To Hell and the beginning of that movie was bigger. It had a kid dragged to Hell, which essentially set up Alison Lohman’s downfall at the end. Your movie doesn’t have any sort of conclusive bite, it has instead, reoccurrence, the idea that the demon will continue to posses’ people over and over again, which is a morbid thought, but I think the reason Drag Me To Hell was so strong was because it had a detective element in it. Lohman and Mac Guy searched for ways to stop the curse, they had a list of plans from that Indian dude, and they tried to exorcize that demon. I know I’m recounting stuff you already know, but that said, I think your movie needs something more concrete. Half your movie contains Emily trying to survive Grandma, which is awesome, but I think there needs to be some sort of goal for Emily, “this is how I stop it,” the audience will get behind you and then when your ending is as dark as it is now, it’ll be fine.
I’d cut down the cussing tenfold, it’s quite a bit more shocking when she says “they fucking lied” on page 55 if you de-emphasize the cursing in every sentence. You can still have her curse especially when you bring in the point about Grandma telling Emily’s mom not to curse.
Page 50. The midpoint. Grandma chases Emily after a good conversation about where I think your plots going to go, Emily could get possessed. The buildup begins strong, but falls flat when Emily gets to her room. I need a sense of urgency, I don’t feel this. You do a good job of showing Emily’s realization after seeing Rusty’s corpse, but again, Grandma/demon tension falls flat. I’d have her break into the room, then have another fight but this time, Emily knocks her out then does all the duct-tape, rope stuff.
Page 60 – Buford/Wilson dialogue. You’ve got the opportunity for a good joke here. –Bullshit, dad.
--Bullshit’s the day you were conceived/Bullshit’s your face (not good)/Bullshit’s your mom’s uterus, etc.
Page 61 -- Gaylord? Out of the blue. Plus, wittier response are possible – “Really, assclown (not that but, you know).”
Henry’s dialogue about blood on shirts = awesome.
Cut the exposition by starting later, open onto the line of “Ms. Milum’s possessed by the devil….” You’re reiterating information our already smart audience will be able to interpret. Start later, problem solved. Sidenote: because you’ll be cutting a lot, work in the hammer line, it’s a good callback.
Wilson = pretty lol.
Why would Henry’s dad/Wilson not accompany them to stop a devil possession? I’d address this issue.
So Grandma/devil can crack her bones into place and or break furniture easily but she can’t rid herself of some duct-tape/rope? I’d consider making this a better reason. No reason something as simple as this should cause anyone to not make this movie. It needs to get made. Basically, you should have a cross or a symbol or something anti-devil-like be around her so that it makes sense why Grandma can’t get free. “Henry, remove the cross, etc.”
I feel like Pat/Linda get along pretty well at the beginning of your story and then you show me on page 78 that they’re not. Arguing about music? An issue for getting divorced? Trivial. I need something bigger. Something legitimate. Also, now that I think about this you ran into the issue of show vs. tell – you reveal in dialogue exposition of Emily to Rusty “they always do this/fighting and arguing.” We come in on the tail end of an argument but I don’t feel the hate. Create actual conflict for Pat/Linda, I’ll get behind Emily’s sadness, then when you reveal it from Grandma to Emily, I’ll care (more). Page 11-14 establish this, but it’s more jokey/sarcastic which leads me to believe they somewhat like each other, I’d rework it so they seriously are on the verge of breaking up. Sidenote: page 81/82 onwards you do a good job of showing evidence of a divorce – I’d play this up earlier!
CAPS. I’d cut them. I’m In the middle of writing a horror script as well, I understand the urge to have them, but they distract. I can’t follow a pattern as to why you have them (besides sounds), thusly they annoy me. I’ve heard (and read) that JJ Abrams’ capitalizes sections of his scripts (read: LOST’s pilot), and he mentioned he does it to change up the flow and attract studio heads into pacing, and allow reader’s to understand the urgency of the story. Also, LOST does things its own ways like cussing during description, making everything less formal and more free flow, apparently ABC execs eat this shit up.
For example, copied out of Lost’s pilot (an exceptional piece of writing, but we’re not Abrams quite yet) –
777 – PASSENGER AIRLINE – 250-Seater – the MIDDLE SECTION of the fuselage PLOWED INTO THE SAND – one WING STICKING STRAIGHT UP, TOWERING SEVEN STORIES INTO THE SKY, sporadic SPARKS BURSTING FROM THE INVERTED ENGINE, showering down on the absolute MAYHEM on the sand –
It’s good writing, visual, vivid, emotional. But, again, I think caps are annoying in the same way writer’s tend to be like: “and then we look up to find a GHOST!” Capitalization marks bug the shit out of me, usually I’m willing to forgive it, but I feel like it’s the writer screaming at me telling me “hey! Look at how exciting this is!” If you’re confident in your ability to write, you’ll execute these ideas in the story, the dialogue, the tension. You don’t need caps to get this idea across. Your writing is strong enough to survive on its own without capitalization.
Once Pat and Linda arrive, Emily/demon running around trying to hide the evidence is good. Especially because I was rooting for Emily/demon to not get discovered by Pat/Linda. The fact that you create pathos with demon Emily is exceptional. I shouldn’t root for Emily, but I DO. It’s awesome. My only suggestion on the ending is extend the conflict of Pat/Linda moving about the house. It’s awesome, especially the bat lines, I want to see more. I’d add in one more page of it.
Dude, Henry never hammered ANYTHING. WTF. I wanted that so badly. The audience will also. Henry needs to hammer something immediately. You set it up then forgot to call it back (minus lines).
This script should be 90 pages. I’d work on cutting extraneous bits out, because studio produced horror movies shouldn’t run longer than 90 pages. It’s arbitrary, it’s bullshit, but it’s the way Hollywood works.
What can you cut?
- The opening can be tightened to two pages.
- Emily at school. You never call any of this back. It can be shortened to at least two pages.
- Emily’s search for Rusty. You can eliminate a page. (almost to ninety!)
- Dialogue. Shorten Henry’s monologues. He talks for quite a bit when we first meet him. The masturbation thing? Can be funny. I’m in different. Check with others.
- Tighten stuff around the midpoint. The chase can be executed more quickly, with more life threatening situations thrown in.
I’d check out “Cabin in the Woods,” it’s written by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard (Cloverfield, LOST, etc.) It’s a damn fine example of how to write horror. Whedon and Goddard play up tension and pay off call backs pretty well. Yes, it’s an average horror movie, but the script is written competently.
Why does Granma talk about Heathcoat if she’s already possessed?
When exactly does she become possessed? If you answered this, I missed it, I’d make it clearer.
Grandma needs to be more threatening. She cusses a lot, she makes Emily uncomfortable, you can improve raising the stakes with physical danger. Maybe introduce a bit where she’s intellectually scary to Emily. I can control Henry, others, animals, etc.
Maybe if you introduced Grandma’s descent into possession different – for example, what if you showed her sticking her hand into boiling water? Leaving the microwave on too long, the oven, thereby working in physical danger towards Emily. You could also mix these types of things in with aging or her general oldness.Overall, it’s solid material. I wish we could sit down in person (I’ll be in LA come Jan) to sharpen dialogue. I have a hard time talking about dialogue in notes. I think your dialogue could be a bit snappier, this is first draft, I’d look at ways to shorten lines and make them more punchy. Example, Henry’s heart speech at the end. That rambles a bit too long, in revisions you’ll likely shorten it.
Readers: feel free to criticize my comments or the script. Round table is the best type of table.
Neil seeks to improve a writer's spec screenplay.
Ryan wants to save you money on recent Hollywood movies.
Posts will cycle from a recent Hollywood movie review to comments and feedback on an unproduced Hollywood spec.
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