I want to try a new exercise today. I want everyone coming to Amateur Offerings to read at least ONE SCRIPT until you get bored. Then, share the EXACT MOMENT when you gave up on the script and why. This is invaluable feedback to writers as most writers have no idea what’s going on in the reader’s head when they read their screenplays. I expect this to be a helpful exercise. Also, another reminder that the Scriptshadow 250 Contest deadline is in three and a half months! Incentive to write your asses off!
Title: The Pool Boys
Logline: Two brothers reunite after the death of their father and decide to start their own business cleaning pools: their first real client, the mob.
Why you should read: This story is exactly like A Beautiful Mind….except it’s not….at all. We penned this script as an ode to the throwback comedies of our youth (The 90′s) . It’s got good laughs, family values and some heart….and of course, girls. (Nip-Slip on page 36, you’re welcome)
ABOUT: Steve and Tim are both unemployed, and have lots of free-time….a lot. Even so, Steve recently managed to get one of his short stories produced – Mr. Happy, which stars Chance the Rapper and premiered on VICE in March of 2015. — Tim works as a janitor at night at a very prestigious university. He recently solved an extremely difficult mathematic equation that blew away the faculty, considering he is a janitor. He is currently being groomed by one of the professors.
Title: 51 DAYS
Logline: Under siege following a gun raid gone wrong, an embattled preacher must fight to protect his flock against an army of federal agents and a rogue disciple hell-bent on ascending to power.
Why You Should Read: Because you enjoy reading screenplays.
Logline: After two teens are murdered, a Detroit police lieutenant is hard-pressed to end an unprecedented wave of retributive violence—not against the gang suspected of killing them, but against the gang members’ families and loved ones.
Why you should read: I’ve written a number of scripts, and up to this point they’ve all been fairly comfortable, meaning they were in genres I felt I could do well. Mostly light comedies and family-oriented scripts. But I had an idea for something quite a bit darker and edgier rolling around in my brain for some time now. “Retribution” is the result. — It’s probably the most complex, layered story I’ve written. The challenge for me was to make it a clear and straight-ahead story despite the complicated storyline. I’d love to hear from the Scriptshadow community whether or not they think I’ve succeeded.
Title: Rock ‘N’ Roll Termites
Logline: The biggest secret in music is one of the smallest things on the planet: TERMITES.
Why you should read: Pixar meets Spinal Tap. Animation turned up to 11. That’s not to say I rocked this baby out overnight. I made countless rewrites with the goal being to get it as close to “Pixar quality” as a single writer could get. RNRT made the second round in this past year’s Austin Film Festival screenplay competition. I’m a daily reader of Scriptshadow, for many years now. I love the community and would appreciate any feedback or thoughts, especially since it has been ridiculously hard to sell/pitch/get anyone to read an animation spec. I don’t normally write animation, but this was an idea I couldn’t NOT write. And I’m glad I did, cause it’s the best thing I’ve ever written.
Title: OMAHA TOWER
Logline: The lone human attendant to the world’s first computer-automated air traffic control tower must avert catastrophe when, upon realizing the computer has rerouted two 747′s into collision course, he receives a mysterious transmission warning that if he lifts a finger to stop it, his family dies.
Why You Should Read: This script is an ode to my dad. He was a Navy pilot who later in life built his own small plane, and the hours of sitting up front with him as a kid listening to the slang-laden pilot/controller chatter on the headset burned a curiosity into me for the weird wonderful inside world of fliers. He passed away in a plane crash due to instrument failure a few years ago, and this is the kind of movie he would have dug.
Get Your Script Reviewed On Scriptshadow!: To submit your script for an Amateur Review, send in a PDF of your script, along with the title, genre, logline, and finally, something interesting about yourself and/or your script that you’d like us to post along with the script if reviewed. Use my submission address please: Carsonreeves3@gmail.com. Remember that your script will be posted. If you’re nervous about the effects 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 (from writer): Action
Premise (from writer): “Taken” set against the Manson Family murders. Sharon Tate’s father, an Army Intelligence vet, takes matters into his own hands when he infiltrates the L.A. underground scene in order to find her killer. — Tate’s father does go undercover but it’s never been revealed what he actually found. He was close enough to finding something that the LAPD were nervous about his presence.
Why You Should Read (from writer): My name is Erik Stiller, and I’ve just been promoted to Staff Writer for the upcoming season of CBS’ CRIMINAL MINDS. If you like LA history and revenge-action with a good man doing brutal shit then check out this feature.
Writer: Erik Stiller
Details: 95 pages
So yesterday the new Star Wars trailer surfaced. Due to potential spoilers, I’ve mastered the art of watching the trailer without actually watching it. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 times. It’s not easy to do but I will say this. Something about this movie feels small. I can’t put my finger on it. But it feels very contained.
I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. One of the big issues with the prequels was that they tried to cover too much ground. The original Star Wars was a much simpler story. That would seem to support Abrams’ attempts to do the same. But even Star Wars felt bigger than what I’m seeing here.
A couple of other thoughts. Everyone’s going nuts over the opening crashed Star Destroyer shot. But that shot is partially ripped off of a famous Star Wars video game (which I’ve included above). Another shot everyone’s going nuts over is the final shot of Han and Chewbacca. The problem I had with that shot was that the two looked like they were posing for a selfie. Possibly even using a selfie stick. It felt very stilted and inorganic. Put them in the cockpit. Have them doing something, anything. Finally, I think the trailer inadvertently reveals a huge spoiler. This is just my theory. But it sure looks like Luke may be that masked bad guy.
What does any of this have to do with Cielo Drive? NOTHING! Which is the perfect segue into our plot summary…
It’s 1969 and 50 year-old Paul Tate is feeling good. Sure, there were too many hippies back then and everyone smelled like Freddy Mercury’s socks after a 3 hour concert, but Paul’s got a beautiful wife and three daughters, one of whom (Sharon) is pregnant and married to a famous Hollywood director. Life is good.
Then Paul gets the call that all parents dread. Except somehow, this call is worse than all of those calls combined. Sharon’s been brutally murdered, her baby carved out of her stomach.
Now you have to remember, back when the Manson murders happened, they didn’t have any leads for a long time. The whole thing baffled the LAPD and every Frank, Sarah, and Harry had a theory about what happened. Paul, a military man, didn’t want to wait around for them to figure it out. So he drove out to LA and started his own investigation.
It’s here that he meets Emily, a young bartender who likes to have a good time. Emily becomes a bit infatuated with Paul, agreeing to let him use her place as a home base. Paul is all business though, slurping through the seedy Sunset Strip for any tip to his daughter’s murder he can find.
As we watch acts such as Jimmy Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and The Doors play in the background of the Whisky A Go-Go, the militaristic Paul questions high-profile groups like the Black Panthers and the Hell’s Angels, convinced they know something.
Eventually, Paul runs into a young woman who’s wearing his daughter’s bracelet, and she tells him about a man living in the desert who thinks he’s God. Paul concludes that whoever this “God” is, he’s the man who killed his daughter. So he heads into the desert to enact justice, law be damned.
I’ll start off by saying this was a LOT better than Tuesday’s mess of a pilot, Aquarius, which is somehow going to be shown on the air. Whereas that story was all over the place, this one is flat-out focused. We have a man looking into his daughter’s death. It makes this a really easy read.
I also like when writers take subject matter that’s been covered extensively and find new angles into it. I mean how many movies and shows and books have been done about the Manson murders? Hundreds. So to find this new angle of Sharon Tate’s father investigating her death was a smart move on Erik’s part.
My issue with Cielo Drive is similar to the one I had with Aquarius. And that’s: is this story worth telling? We already know how it ends. So instead of us wondering what Paul’s going to do next, we’re waiting for him to catch up to us, to find Charles Manson. And it’s just hard to create suspense when the reader’s always ahead of you.
Now if we could’ve built a story around Paul finding something NEW about the case that nobody had ever picked up on before, now you have my interest. Because now you’re ahead of me.
We’ve actually seen this work before. A couple of years ago, one of the big spec sales was “Inquest” by Josh Simon. Here’s the logline: “After the death of Princess Diana, a reluctant investigator is hired to ascertain whether her death was premeditated. And in the process, he begins to uncover a conspiracy that compromises his own safely.”
We also see this in once-hot spec, Slay The Dreamer, about a conspiracy behind Martin Luther King’s murder. I don’t know about anyone else, but when I read any kind of history, fiction or non-fiction, I like to leave knowing more about the events than what I knew going in. That’s what I got from those screenplays. Cielo Drive was light on new info, and since that’s what I craved, I left frustrated.
I also thought the relationship between Paul and Emily lacked clarity. It’s played with romantic undertones, but since we know that Paul has zero interest in Emily, and that he has a wife and family, and that he just lost his daughter, even hinting at a sexual relationship feels wrong.
If I were Erik, I’d treat Emily more as her own character with her own issues that she needs to overcome by the end of the story. Or, since you can’t go with a romantic subplot here, maybe you pair Paul up with someone else. A young lost hippy, the kind of guy who could easily be manipulated by a guy like Charles Manson. Now Erik acts as a sort of mentor to this kid, steering him away from the bad life he almost certainly would’ve led had he not met Paul.
Stiller is a hell of a writer. This was an absolute BREEZE to read through. I just have some philosophical differences with whether this story is big enough to warrant telling. Will be interested to hear what the rest of you think. Enjoy a Helter Skelter Star Wars trailer watching weekend!
Screenplay link: Cielo Drive
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Don’t just arc your protagonist. Try to arc as many characters as you can in your screenplay. Look for ways to make every single key character change. Reading through Cielo Drive, it felt like Paul was the only character Erik cared about. And maybe that’s because he sees this as more of a “Taken” like movie. But I think there’s the potential for so much more here. The subject matter is so dark, it’s almost begging to be explored on a deeper level.
Premise: Based on true events, an English lawyer is tasked with looking into Princess Diana’s death under the pretense that there may have been a conspiracy to murder her.
About: There haven’t been many outright spec sales this year, but this is one of them. The writer did not use his real name when going out with the script though, choosing instead to go with the pseudonym, “Sam Cohen” (instead of Josh Simon). Why? Because he used to be an executive in the industry. Now whether he was afraid of sending a script to all the people he pissed off or simply trying to get a sale on his talent alone (and not his name) is for you to decide.
Writer: Josh Simon
Details: 112 pages – March 2013 draft
Why is that whenever some famous person dies, there has to be a conspiracy? Why can’t people just die and be dead? Maybe because then there wouldn’t be any movies? Anyway, I have to admit I’m not DESPERATE to read a conspiracy movie about Princess Diana’s death. I find the events of that night to be pretty straightforward. They were trying to escape from paparazzi. Went too fast. When you go too fast you lose control. Boom, crash, end of story.
But I guess there’s this intrinsic need in us not to trust. Some well-known journalist once said that people are unable to accept chaos. It’s too terrifying and goes against the element of control we all so desperately cling to. If there’s a conspiracy behind something, it means that the event was “controlled,” and therefore we can live our lives happily knowing that something this terrible and chaotic could never happen to us.
I’m not sure that theory makes sense but neither does Princess Di being secretly assassinated by the Queen. I mean seriously. Just roll with me for a second here. Let’s say you were in a position of power and needed someone killed. Would you really do it by staging a car accident? How many variables need to go right for a car crash to kill someone? A lot. The person can’t be wearing their seatbelt. The car has to make impact with the right thing as opposed to just spin out. It just seems really inefficient and difficult to pull off. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
British prosecutor Michael Davies is one of the only honest lawyers left in town. This is a guy who doesn’t play dirty. He doesn’t have any allegiances. He just wants to see bad guys who do bad things go down. Which is why he’s hired by billionaire Mohammed al Fayed to look into his son’s car accident.
For those of you like me who don’t know anything about the Royal family, Dodi al Fayed was the man who was dating Princess Diana at the time of the crash. He also lost his life in the accident. Mohammed is convinced that his son and Diana were murdered because Dodi was about to ask for her hand in marriage and the Queen didn’t want an Egyptian to be a step-father to her grandchildren or something. A little convoluted a motivation, yes, but in Inquest, nothing is quite as clear as you’d like it to be.
Anyway, Michael begins a hush-hush investigation into the accident but the British government catches on and they’re pissed off. Unfortunately, they can’t terminate the investigation because if the press picked up on that, they’d think the government was hiding something. So they actually encourage Michael to do his investigation – just try to get it over with as quickly as possible.
Michael focuses most of his time and resources on the person many believed Princess Diana was closest to – Paul Burrell, her butler. Burrell is sort of a mystery wrapped in a riddle, as he’ll reveal some deep long-held secret to you one second, then claim it was nothing important the next. But apparently Burrell had some sort of box with all of Princess Diana’s secret writings in it, some of which detailed how the Royal family was trying to kill her, and if she were ever to die, he was supposed to show everyone the box.
That was the idea anyway. For some odd reason that either wasn’t clear in real life or wasn’t clear in the script, Burrell no longer has this box. Which leaves Michael to make his case on hearsay alone – not easy in a town where people like to gossip more than a season of Real Housewives of Atlanta.
Another big lead is the Princess Di equivalent of the “second shooter.” Apparently, there was a mysterious white car seen during the crash that no one was able to find afterwards. Many thought the car was involved. Michael finally finds the possible owner of the car, goes to his house, and while approaching the car, it blows up. This is the only time in the script where you’d be even remotely suspicious that something sneaky may have happened. But I have a suspicion this isn’t the way it really happened. Some creative license was likely taken here.
Anyway, Michael fights all the people who are trying to shut down his investigation or encourage him to quit, while trying to get to the truth of the matter, a truth if he doesn’t find, no one else ever will.
“Inquest” is a fine script. It’s no worse than fine. No better than fine. It’s exactly fine. It got me curious enough so that I wanted to get to the end and find out what happened, and if you’ve achieved that, you’ve done your job. But where Inquest falters is in the story it promises to tell versus the story it DOES tell.
If you’re going to tell a conspiracy theory story, you need to have an actual conspiracy! Or at least strong evidence that something shady happened. I kept waiting for that piece of evidence that was going to rock my world but it was like all my Match.com dates – it never showed. When you see how creative conspiracy theorists can be when they come up with theories (hologram planes flying into the World Trade Center anyone?), you know how normal this crash must have been because the conspiracy nuts have nothing. I mean there’s a “flash” someone supposedly saw before the crash, which potentially indicates a military tactic used to disorient drivers. There’s the mysterious white car. There’s Princess Di’s driver supposedly meeting with French intelligence earlier in the night and getting paid a large sum of money (so wait, the driver accepted payment to commit suicide in order to murder Princess Diana??).
I just kept waiting for something to come up that would convince me something went down and it never did. The final 30 pages then become the court case and we quickly learn that making a court case exciting is really hard when you don’t have any actual evidence. Michael just wanders aimlessly through his questioning until we’re wondering if the conspiracy here is to put us to sleep.
And so much of the court scenes were geared towards trying to prove that Princess Diana was pregnant – I suppose because that’d mean the baby was the motivation for the hit. The problem is, WHO CARES IF SHE’S PREGNANT? She could just be pregnant! Proving she’s pregnant doesn’t in any way, shape or form prove this was a conspiracy. And that really embodied the spirit of the trial – Michael grasping at straws.
Another problem was that since all of the focus was put on the investigation, we never really got to know the person doing the investigating. When you write a script, no matter what the goal or journey is for your hero, you have to remember that the inner journey of our hero is almost always more important. To create an inner journey, you have to create flaws and problems and relationship issues in the hero’s life. These were touched on here but never in any substantial way. Silence of the Lambs is nothing if it’s just a man acting psycho behind a piece of glass. It needed that human struggle element. It needed Clarice to get past her demons from the past. I didn’t see that here at all.
Despite all this, the script gives you just enough to string you along. When it’s all said and done, it ends up being fool’s gold of course, since we never do get that smoking gun, but I suppose conspiracy theorists with a little more imagination than myself will find it entertaining. I mean this is really well written and researched. The amount of work that went into it far exceeded my expectations. I guess there’s a lesson there. If you’re going to write a thriller, research the shit out of everything. Even if the story itself isn’t perfect, the amount of research will help suspend our disbelief.
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: If you’re going to put your character on the phone with someone we haven’t met yet, I’d advise giving them a “phone introduction,” a bare-bones intro that tides us over until we meet them for real. I read so many scripts where the voice on the other end of the phone ISN’T introduced (we just see their name over their dialogue) and it’s frustrating because I have no idea who it is our character is talking to. “Inquest” makes this mistake when Michael is talking to someone named “Clarke” on his cell-phone. Who the hell is Clarke? I don’t know. A simple prelude like, “Michael’s talking to Clarke, a deep-voiced authoritative type who we’ll meet later.” It’s KIND OF cheating since you’re taking us out of the story for a second, but I’d rather you cheat than I be confused.
IMPORTANT NOTE: THE SCRIPTSHADOW 250 CONTEST DEADLINE IS NOW 3 ½ MONTHS AWAY!
On a lark I decided to catch the Bates Motel TV show recently. I mean how bad could it be? It had Carlton Cuse as the showrunner, who did Lost. And the cast looked strong.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised so far. I mean, you have to come to terms with the fact that the show takes place in the present (Was Norman Bates cloned?) but once you do, it’s entertaining television.
I bring this up because I’ve been watching a lot of television lately – trying to crack the TV code – and I’ve come to the realization that writing for television REALLY HELPS when it comes to writing character.
That’s because you’re forced to know a lot more about your characters in TV than what’s happening in the here and now. You’re thinking three episodes down the road. Six episodes. Even twelve.
As someone who reads a lot of features – features that leave me feeling zero emotional attachment to the characters – this is a revelation. Taking a long-form approach to character forces you to know your characters in a way you never would on the feature front.
Which brings us back to Bates Motel. There’s a moment early on in the second season where Norma Bates’s brother comes to town. And it turns out he and Norma share a dark secret. Normally, this is something a feature writer wouldn’t know, especially if the brother never appeared in the movie. But here, the writers had to know because his entrance into the story needed to be built up.
So as an exercise, I’d like you to approach your feature characters with a TV mindset. Get to know them beyond the 110 minutes that take place in your story. This simple change is going to add a depth and dimension to your characters that you never knew was possible.
To get a little more specific, we’re going to call this the 3-D Method. Those three “Ds” represent the PAST, the PRESENT, and the FUTURE of your character. I guess in a way you can look at me as the ghost of screenwriting. But the budget’s cheap so I’m going to have to play all three parts. Let’s get started.
The “PAST” component of character creation is almost exclusively reserved for backstory. It means figuring out as much about your character’s life, up until when your movie begins, as you can. We can actually break this down into two sub-sections. “Relevant to Plot” and “Non-relevant to Plot.” When you’re figuring out backstory that’s non-relevant to your plot, it’s more for you than the audience. A lot of this stuff will never make it into the script, but it will inform your choices about the character. For instance, if your character was raped when she was 15 by a close family friend, she’s probably going to have a problem trusting men. Therefore, you can add a little distance to the character’s personality when she’s around men she doesn’t know. She’s the kind of girl who hangs back and needs to get to know the person before she opens up.
“Relevant to plot” backstory is much different. This is backstory that will directly play into the plot at some point in your movie. So say your main character had an old girlfriend he was never able to get over. Now he’s happily in a new relationship. Near the midpoint of your movie, then, that ex pops back up and has your character second-guessing his current relationship. Obviously, relevant backstory should take precedence. But backstory that isn’t directly related to plot is still mucho importento. The writers who stand out are the ones who add specificity to their writing. And you achieve this by knowing as much about your character’s past as possible. I mean Batman is just a guy in a mask if he never had that experience with the bats. The more you know about your character’s past, the more real they’re going to appear on the page.
The present is really about your character’s IMMEDIATE MINDSET. What’s going on in that head of his within the two-hour lifetime that is your movie? There are a few things you want to explore here. First, know what your character wants RIGHT NOW, as in IN THIS STORY. They might want a promotion. They might want an engagement ring from their boyfriend. They might want to kill the bad guy. Know what’s driving them. Next, know what mental block is holding them back from achieving that. Maybe they doubt they’re strong enough to make a difference (The Matrix). Maybe they put work/country over family (American Sniper/Interstellar). Maybe they’re afraid of becoming old and boring (Neighbors). Get in your character’s headspace and understand what their issue is RIGHT NOW.
Finally, understand the key issues in your character’s current relationships. Maybe one character believes we need to seize the day while another believes we need to focus on the future (Jack and Rose in Titanic or Ferris and Cameron in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). Maybe your character struggles with opening up to others (Skeleton Twins). You can’t explore characters in any meaningful way unless you have unresolved issues in those characters’ relationships. There will be some crossover between the past and the present depending on if the characters knew each other before the movie started. So with Skeleton Twins, about a brother and a sister, they’ve known each other their whole lives so this is as much a past issue as it is a present one. With Titanic, the issue is purely in the present since the characters meet for the first time on the boat.
This is where the TV approach really kicks in. In TV, you need to have a plan for the show’s future. You can’t just make shit up on the fly or the show will fall apart (see “Prison Break” or “Heroes”). For example, you might know that a friend of the main character dies a year down the line. This knowledge allows you to build stuff into the present storyline that will make that future storyline stronger. So you might build a deeper friendship between the two characters so that when the character DOES die, it’ll hit the audience harder. Now, obviously, with features, knowing if a character dies a year down the road isn’t as relevant since it won’t affect the current movie. But there are aspects of the future you do want to think about. For example, where do you see your character five years from now? Are they happy? Successful? Or are they unfocused, self-destructive, no better off than they are today? Probably the most important question you want to ask is, what’s your character’s goal in life? Where do they want end up? Do they want a family? Do they want to still be partying at the nightclubs 7 days a week? Or maybe they want to follow their dream of writing a novel. Answering that question will give you loads of insight into who your character is. You can really get into the psychology of a person by knowing what they want out of life.
Once you know someone’s past, present, and future, you essentially know their entire life. One of the easiest ways for me to spot a newbie is that their knowledge of their characters is limited to the amount of time their story takes place. They don’t know where their characters have been and they definitely don’t know where their characters are going. The 3-D Approach insures that you know every aspect of your character – present, past, and future. And while I can’t promise you that using 3-D will help you create superb characters every time out, I can promise you that it’ll make your characters way better than if you did nothing at all. So let’s write some kick-ass characters this weekend. And feel free to share some character-creating secrets of your own in the comments section. :)
Genre: Sorror (Sort of Horror)
Premise: The illustrious “Fevre Dream” steamboat’s maiden voyage is disturbed by a mysterious passenger who may or may not be a vampire.
About: With Game of Thrones coming back to TV this week, I thought it’d be the perfect time to review a script by… George R.R. Martin??? Yes, believe it or not, Martin wrote a screenplay. It was adapted from one of his own books, Fevre Dream, and written back in the 90s. The script received renewed interest, obviously, when Game of Thrones became big, but apparently missed a window with a big-time director (who Martin wouldn’t reveal) in 2013. Still, Martin is hopeful, and says if the movie ever gets made, this is the draft they’ll use.
Writer: George RR Martin
Details: 129 pages (undated draft, but was written at some point in the 90s).
So when I was researching this script, I came upon a 2013 quote where Martin sounded very hopeful about an A-list director who wanted to make this film. That never came to light. And it reminded me that even when you’re as hot in Hollywood as someone like Martin was in 2013, it’s STILL tough to get a director attachment.
Getting a major director to attach himself to your script is one of the surest ways to get your movie made. BUT. Getting a major director to attach himself to your script is also one of the HARDEST things to do in the business. Actors can make three movies a year. A director will spend three years of his life on a film. Think about that for a second. That means in a, say, 20 year career, a director can only make SEVEN MOVIES. So he has to be very very very choosey. Yet when a director does commit, you’re golden. Your movie is greenlighted and it gets made and your life changes.
So if there’s one question that I think we should try and crack here on Scriptshadow, it’s: How do you get a director to attach himself to your script? What kind of scripts do directors like to direct? Obviously something visual. Something that allows the director to play, possibly try new things that haven’t been done before.
We were just discussing this with Ready Player One in my newsletter. If you’re going to get Spielberg interested in a sci-fi or adventure script, you can’t give him your version of an Indiana Jones type movie. Spielberg’s already done that. If he’s going to commit to that genre, you have to give him something he hasn’t done before. A race in the middle of Times Square with the Back to the Future car and dinosaurs on the course? That’s something he hasn’t done before.
The tricky thing is that every director’s different. Nicolas Winding Refn doesn’t want to make the same movies as Clint Eastwood who doesn’t want to make the same movies as James Wan who doesn’t want to make the same movies as Martin Scorsese.
Muddying the waters more is that some directors are just interested in character. And actors like these directors because they’re more likely to bring them accolades and respect. Damien Chazelle isn’t the kind of guy who’s going to make Jurassic Universe. Yet two of the hottest stars in Hollywood, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, just signed on to his latest project because J.K. Simmons won an Oscar in Chazelle’s last film (Whiplash) and if he can win Simmons an Oscar, then maybe he can win them an Oscar. So maybe that means you should write for character to indirectly get to the director.
I don’t know the answer to this question but I do think you should always keep the director in mind when writing a script. Whatever types of movies you like, study the directors who direct those kinds of movies, figure out what things they’re drawn to, and then make sure you include those in your own script, only do it with a new twist or with even more imagination. Again, you can’t just give directors the same thing. They want that “next thing.”
Today’s script, Fevre Dream, is very director-friendly. I haven’t seen this kind of attention to detail since James Cameron’s infatuation with the Titanic. The story follows an uptight steamboat captain named Abner Marsh. The burly Abner lost a fleet of his ships recently in a series of crashes and has put all his remaining money into the Fevre Dream, which he claims is the fastest steamboat in the country.
One of the fun things you learn reading Fevre Dream is that there used to be these unofficial steamboat races down the river, with every captain trying to prove his dick, err, his steamboat, was the biggest, err, fastest. The faster the steamboat, the better the reputation, the more customers, the more money you made.
But Abner has to make a deal with the devil to get this speed. Short on cash, he brings in a partner, the mysterious Joshua York, a fair-skinned Englishman who has only one rule. He needs to conduct business in every town they visit.
Seems like a small favor to ask, but Abner soon finds York disappearing into these towns for 2-3 days, holding up his boat, starting the Fevre Dream off with a bad reputation. Not only that, but he always brings mysterious characters back with him. These individuals, like York, are never seen during the day. And their social skills are so serial-killer-like, they begin scaring the other crewman.
It doesn’t take a White Walker scientist to tell that these folks are vampires. But what are they doing on the boat? What is it they want? That becomes clear when York finally confronts another vampire, a gentleman named Damon Julian who’s lived for THOUSANDS of years to York’s hundreds. These two will eventually square off. And the Fevre Dream, unfortunately, will be caught in the crossfire.
I’d like to begin by saying: THIS IS HOW YOU START A SCREENPLAY.
If you can’t grab your reader right away, why would the reader believe you could grab them for an entire story? And a great way to grab a reader is to make them feel EMOTION.
Fevre Dream starts with a black teenage girl being auctioned as a slave. Men bid on her heartlessly, as if she were an object. And when the money gets higher, so do the demands. The men want to see “what she’s working with.” And so the girl is required to disrobe and stand completely naked in front of these men.
It’s a scene so unsettling that you can’t help but be affected by it. So affected are you, in fact, that you don’t realize Martin’s roped you in.
But what really sets Fevre Dream apart is its attention to detail. I recently read a script about a game designer. My big complaint to the writer was that at the end of the script, I didn’t know any more about what a game designer did than what I knew at the beginning of the script. That’s a big fail. Whatever your subject matter is, you better make sure the reader leaves the story knowing more about it.
And here, the way Martin lovingly describes the design of the steamboat, how it runs, how it’s managed – it made you feel like you were back in 1850, like you really knew what riding on these steamboats was like. That’s what great scripts do. They bring you into their reality.
Where the scripts starts to get shaky is in its depiction of vampires. So much time is spent explaining to us what these vampires weren’t (they’re not affected by holy water. They don’t need to sleep in coffins. They don’t leave a pair of bite marks on your neck), that I was never sure what they were. I didn’t know the rules. They drank blood. They could walk around in light sometimes. Other than that, they felt ill-defined. And that’s when I realized why Fevre Dream wasn’t the kind of hit Game of Thrones was.
I don’t think Martin knew what he was writing here. Is this a steamboat movie with vampires or is it a vampire movie that takes place on steamboats? It feels to me like Martin was fascinated with steamboats but knew writing a story JUST ABOUT THEM would be lame. So he decided to add vampires.
The results are uneven, but that doesn’t mean the script doesn’t work. Martin has such a love for everything he writes that that love washes over you. He makes you a believer.
Martin’s also really good at shocking you. There’s a scene in this script that is one of the most shocking I’ve ever read. It’s so disturbing that most of you wouldn’t be able to handle it so I’d suggest you never look into it.
But in a strange way, I admired the scene. So many writers know where the “Hollywood Line” is. And by “Hollywood Line,” I mean that line that Hollywood doesn’t want you to cross less the audience gets offended. It affects everything we see because we know that in the end, it will always be okay.
But when you decide to cross that line? When you ignore it? You force the reader to revaluate everything they think they know and now they have no freaking idea what’s going to happen next. That’s territory rarely explored in screenwriting. So it’s refreshing when I see it.
Fevre Dream is a strange tale. I’ve seen some odd mash-ups before (Hansel and Gretel as gun-slinging killers?) but steamboat porn and vampires is a first. If you’re weird and have a high tolerance for one extremely violent scene, this script is out there. Grab it and take a read.
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Sounds. A lot of screenwriters are so focused on the VISUAL side of their screenplay that they forget about the audible side. Sounds add dimension to the read. And the more dimensions you add, the more you can trick the reader into believing in your world. Key in on any important sound and describe it as well as you can. For example, when Damian (one of the vampires) is first introduced, Martin reserves a line just for his voice: “His voice is dark and sensuous, rich as a fine cognac.” A tiny line but I could hear Damian’s voice after that. It broke down one more brick between reality and fiction.