Guys, I got nothing. I’m recovering from a Super Bowl food coma. But that’s not the worst of it. I’m also suffering from a The Last Witch Hunter coma. I unfortunately rented the film, and I’m more hungover from watching 30 minutes of that thing than my first Freshman year of college party, where I drank half a bottle of whiskey.
The thing that kept going through my head while watching this movie was, “Writers actually got paid to write this.” It flies in the face of everything I teach on this site – that you have to write something great to get noticed, to break through. Well, all those writers have to do is point to this movie and say, “No you don’t.” I mean I thought we’d reached the point where when someone writes the old “Bugs fly out of the mouth” scene, that that spec or those writers were automatically suspended by the WGA for the next five years. Or, even if you managed to survive that, that lines like, “You’re too late Witch Hunter,” would be the nail in the coffin. I guess not. At least it has, “You Know Nothing John Snow” Girl in it.
On a more upbeat note, I finally watched Spotlight. You may remember me hating this script. And while the movie was better than the screenplay, I’m still shocked by it. This is the only film I’ve seen since I can’t remember when where zero attempt – absolutely NOTHING – was put into character development.
We didn’t get to know the characters’ backstory, their personal lives, their relationships with one another. It was the oddest thing I’ve ever seen, particularly for an awards-seeking film. And after doing some research, it seems like this was the plan. They wanted the focus purely on the investigation as they felt if they dug into the characters, it would distract from that aspect. I still don’t know what to make of it because the material they’re working with is so good that you’re still invested. But if they’d put 1% effort into building these characters up, this would’ve been a much better movie.
Finally, the 2016 movie season officially starts next weekend! Can you believe it? Movies worth seeing in early February!! We get Deadpool, which looks awesome, AND Zoolander 2, which you know is going to have some big laughs. As someone who hasn’t had a reason to go to the theater since Force Awakens, I welcome this development. Are you team Deadpool or Team Zoolander?
And let me just throw this out there before I go. How come everyone in Deadpool looks so good, and yet everyone in X-Men (its sister-film, which just came out with a new trailer) looks so bad? Is it just me or is the make-up person who does X-Men the worst make-up person in Hollywood? Just the color of that blue Jennifer Lawrence character makes me nauseous. And all the other costumes look sooooooooo cheesy. Am I the only person who thinks this?
Finally finally, what was your favorite Super Bowl trailer??? Which of those films do you want to see the most? Civil War and Bourne for my money.
Today we’re going to do something different. There have been lots of writers submitting their scripts for Amateur Offerings but for reasons you’ll see in a moment, their scripts didn’t make the cut. The more I thought about this, the more I realized tons of writers go on making these same submission mistakes wherever they go, and no one ever tells them why their script or query is rejected. Therefore, they never get better and eventually give up. I want to change that today. I’d love it if you guys could explain to these writers why their submissions aren’t getting any traction. I’m hoping for a helpful and encouraging vibe, not an “Oh my God, you’re an idiot” vibe. Despite that, we’ll still be voting. I plan to review the winner next week. And who knows? Maybe I’ll be wrong and one of these scripts will be awesome. That would make my week. Good luck! :)
Remember, you can submit your own script to challenge your peers by sending me an e-mail (email@example.com) with your TITLE, GENRE, LOGLINE, WHY YOU THINK IT DESERVES A SHOT, and a PDF of the screenplay. A good review tends to get writers some industry contacts. So who knows, maybe you’ll be the next “The Last Alchemist.” Keep’em coming!
Title: Kill easy
genre: serial killer, thriller
logline: a teenage girl whose parents are murdered is going on the road to kill serial killers, retaliating for her lost childhood getting help from another serial killer, finding out this comes with prices to get payed.
wysr: I was reading in the book of blake snyder about the importance of killer titles and killer hooks. It inspired me to write a story about killing, changing the perspective and let the ‘victim’ do the bad things. I followed the blake snyder beat sheet to the letter just to see if it works for me. I liked writing this very much and I hope you like it as well. Sorry for my misspellings, I did my best.
I consider myself as a close to semi pro writer considering the fact that an other screenplay I wrote now is being finished to go into production in my country. Unclear is if it will be really happening. I ‘m a regular visitor of this site since a couple of months and have learned mega. Wishing you all the best and keep writing.
Title: Ski Furious
Genre: Action & Adventure
Logline: Female FBI agent rookie Ryan Coolridge infiltrates the world of extreme skiing looking for a group of skiers pulling off truck robberies on mountain roads.
Why you should read: This script I wrote over the weekend so it’s super fresh. Now that either means it’s terrible, genius or has promise. You can download and decide. The logline looks familiar – think The Fast and The Furious and Point Break but I throw in some twists and turns. I hope I make to Amateur Friday!
Title: Untitled Sci-Fi
Logline: A cold, orders first soldier is sent with a team into the quarantined city of Chicago to retrieve his estranged sister who may have found a cure for the VAIL, an alien virus that destroyed Chicago and turned its inhabitants into vicious monsters.
Why: In your review of “Unmanned” you talked about searching for a sci-fi that got to the premise, put a spin on the genre, and was willing to take chances — here you go. As for me, regular reader of the site, student of writing for many years. This is my culmination of several scripts, learning from a few different teachers, and failing, a lot. You want original, engaging sci-fi, this is your chance to get exactly that. Also, getting an idea for a title would be pretty f**king cool, too.
Title: Nuclear Solution
Genre: I’d describe it as ‘Light-hearted action’, but since that’s not a real genre, you decide.
Logline: After absolutely ruining the job they were hired to do, the protagonists have to tie up a loose end to avoid getting the blame for it.
Something interesting: Well, this is my third screenplay. Hope it’s not too amateur-ish for you. I put a lot of work into it, and I’ve gotten good reviews from people I know. So I’m hesitant, I really wanna know what someone who doesn’t know me and won’t act nice to me would think of it.
Genre: Dramatic psychological thriller.
Logline: After a traumatic experience places them together, a young woman, fearful of large dogs, agrees to watch a stranger’s aged dog. When she tries to find the stranger to give it back, her search becomes a dangerous and heartbreaking journey of self-discovery.
WYSR: I lost a pet recently. I went to a local pound to maybe adopt another. They say don’t look the dogs in the eyes at first. They may take it as a threat. Just stand close, let them feel you out. If the body language appears relaxed, then meet eyes with them. But it’s almost impossible. We communicate so much by meeting eyes. I could not do it. Besides, the looks from the dogs, one after the other, resigned to their fate, checked out totally or gone looney. So little hope. It was just overwhelming. So, I gravitated to those dogs who were blind. Found comfort in them.
And that day, with that experience, this story came to me.
It’s short for the time crunched AOW reader. It’s sweet. It has a girl and a boy who are meant to be together and life is cruel but does give them their moment.
It has a girl and a dog instead of a boy and a dog. It has grit and fight from both of them.
I did some cover art for it because I just couldn’t get that damn title centered on the page.
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.
Premise (from writer): A young man from a strict religious family awakens from a head injury with the personality of a vulgar, slutty party girl.
Why You Should Read (from writer): Tammi was included in Amateur Offerings last year, and while it didn’t get picked, I received a lot of positive feedback and thoughtful comments from those that read it. I recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to make the film myself. In a little over three weeks, I’ve raised almost $20,000. I would love to get feedback on the updated draft from you and the SS community before we (potentially) head into production.
Writer: Vinnie Pagano
Details: 91 pages
The quality of writing this week has been superb. It’s almost unfair to ask Vinnie to follow it. Because my bar, which had been subterranean for weeks, is back up to Olympic-record heights. And as I make that transition from the pro world to the amateur world, I’m posed with a question that never seems to go away: What’s the difference between a pro script and an amateur script? That’s a wide-ranging question with no easy answer but I will tell you the first answer that comes to my mind:
Feeling comfortable within the screenwriting format.
You can tell when someone’s been doing this for awhile. It’s like a veteran gaffer on a movie set. They always know where to stand. They always know where the camera’s going. They always know who’s going to be where and when.
Screenwriting is similar. Once you’ve written a million description paragraphs or introduced a thousand characters, you’re comfortable. And that comfort-level shows on the page.
With newer writers, they always seem to be fighting the format. You can sense when they’re unsure about something. Should I add an extra line here? Should I get out of this scene earlier? Even decisions such as “Should I include “CUT TO” become big deals. And readers sense your trepidation.
One of the purposes of a story is to not feel like a story. It should feel like things are unraveling naturally. With Tammi, I can tell Vinnie is extremely comfortable with the character. He knows her inside-out. I’m not sure he’s got the craft part down yet though. And that’s something I wanna get into.
Enoch is a sweet God-fearing college boy. He’s saving himself for the love of his life, Cloris. And when he goes back home for break, he joins the church play specifically so he can court Cloris, who turns out to be a rude two-faced bitchasaurus.
While at church, a giant cross falls down and knocks Enoch out. When he wakes up, he’s turned into a 19 year-old potty-mouthed super-slut named Tammi. This is baffling to Enoch’s churchgoing parents as well as his doctors. They chalk it up to some rare personality-changing affliction, and unfortunately have no timetable for Enoch’s return.
So “Tammi” goes home, immediately dresses up in drag, and starts painting the town red. She gets her best friend, Dennin (well, Enoch’s best friend anyway), to come out with her, and basically spends every second trying to get as fucked up as possible. Once she’s properly lubricated, she looks for any man who will have sex with her. And if she can’t find them, she insults them. Actually, Tammi insults everyone. That’s kind of her thing.
This leads her to Liam, a church-going man who Enoch saved that day from the cross, and she becomes infatuated with him. She sets her sites on banging him but of course Liam has zero interest in her. In the meantime, Tammi’s parents are semi-trying to find a cure for her. But they’re slowly coming to the realization that Tammi could be sticking around for good.
Let’s get something clear. Your enjoyment of this script is going to come down to one thing and one thing only. Do you think Tammi is funny?
As much as I wanted to love her, she was a bit too crass for me. That’s not to say Vinnie should change her. The great thing about comedy is it’s subjective. And it sounds like a lot of you loved Tammi. But that definitely colored my reaction to the script.
This goes into what I was talking about Wednesday, with the Hangover writers’ new script, Bad Moms. When you’re writing a comedy, it’s important not to ride the entirety of your script’s success on the comedy alone. Build a great story as an insurance policy.
That’s my number one complaint here. There was no story. I didn’t know what Tammi’s objective was other than existing. And when your main character is objective-less, your story usually follows that route as well. Again, with Bad Moms, our main character decided to take on the Queen Bee mom, via a PTA election, and that drove the story to its conclusion.
Vinnie does include a “church play storyline” here, but while that kind of frames the plot, it doesn’t feel important enough. It doesn’t matter for our main character whether the play is a success or a failure, because she’s off doing her own thing. And I often found myself questioning what that thing was.
This is what happens when you have a hero without a goal. If they’re not trying to do something, it becomes the writer’s job to come up with something for them to do. Does that make sense? Because it’s important. If your hero is trying to achieve something, you always know what they need to do next because it’s a step towards achieving that goal. If they have no objective, you have to constantly ask yourself, “What should I do next with her?” Do that enough times and the script starts to feel like it’s spinning its wheels.
Another problem you encounter with a character like Tammi, is running the risk of being one-note. Tammi is a crass one-line machine. And I noticed that on page 70, I was still getting the same jokes as I was getting on page 30. Someone says something, Tammi replies with something rude or sexual.
That can work in a skit, when you’re going for 3 minutes. But this is a feature. I actually looked back to other big-single-personality comedies like Borat to figure out how they pulled that off. And I noticed that while Borat was one-note, they put him in a lot of different situations, so that even though he was the same, the situations around him were unique. And that kept things fresh. In Tammi, we don’t really get that.
All this goes back to what I was saying initially. I’m not sure Vinnie’s entirely comfortable within this format. He knows his main character but he doesn’t know his story. Which is kind of ironic, since just yesterday I was saying character is everything. But yeah, that’s only true if the story is in place. And this one isn’t yet.
That’s not to say there weren’t some good things here. I liked the irony of placing the crass sex-addict in the middle of a church-going community. And there was some real effort made to dig into a few of the characters, such as the parents and Liam.
But the combination of not connecting with Tammi’s humor personally as well as the lack of a strong story kept me from enjoying this the way I hoped I would when I first read that awesome “Why You Should Read.” I wish Vinnie the best regardless. And I hope the on-screen version of this character is so hilarious that none of this nitpicking will matter.
Script link: Tammi
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: I’m not a huge fan of outshining your main character in their opening scene. I know Enoch is supposed to be uptight. But when he’s outshined 100-fold by another character in his first scene, it’s a bit confusing. It’s kind of like, “Wait, we have to now follow the boring person in this scenario?” I know there are extenuating circumstances (the opening character, I believe, is what inspires Tammi) but I might look into attacking this in a different way. When I meet the hero, I want him to be the focus of the scene. Not someone else.
A few weeks ago, a kind reader re-posted something I’d written awhile back about character. Here’s what I/he said:
“You must know how to plot, how to structure a story. But if you really want to make it as a screenwriter, learn character. Learn how to make a character likable. Learn how to make a character interesting. Learn how to arc a character. Learn how to create unresolved backstories for characters. Learn how to create unresolved relationships between characters. Because the truth is, anybody can learn how to plot a script with enough practice. So the pool of competition in that arena is endless. But the number of writers who understand (and I mean TRULY understand) character is far fewer. So if you can master that skill, you will be in very high demand in this town.”
This might seem narcissistic, but the whole time I was reading this, I was nodding my head, going, “Oh my God, that’s sooooo true.” And it is true. Character is what separates the raccoons from the squirrels. Studios can come up with their own concepts. It’s not difficult to say, “How bout Robots versus Monsters?!” They can get great actors. They can add A++ production design. They can market the shit out of anything. They can even cobble together a storyline if need be. But the one thing they can’t do? Come up with compelling characters that an audience cares about. It’s the one thing THEY NEED YOU for. This is why the skill of character creation is so valuable. It really is something that only a tiny percentage of writers can pull off. Want to join that percentage? Join me as I go into each of my five points.
1) Learn how to make a character likable.
It’s one of the first things that you hear when you start your screenwriting journey. “Make your main character likable.” This used to be easier. Have your hero save a cat or toss a hobo a dollar and you were set for the next two hours. But audiences have gotten keen to manipulation. Which means you need to be more sophisticated in your approach. The first step is to stop thinking of characters in terms of “likability” (one-dimensional) and instead, think of them in terms of “sympathy” (three-dimensional). Ask yourself, “How can I make the reader feel sympathy for this character?” One way is to show your character being taken advantage of. Such as in The Force Awakens. That asshole junk dealer would constantly rip Rey off, underpaying her for the immense amount of work she did all day. Who doesn’t feel sympathy for Rey in that moment? And it doesn’t even have to be that straightforward. Ozark gave us a hero who worked above and beyond to provide for his family, only to watch him come home and get ignored or taken for granted by that very family. Why do we sympathize with him? Cause it’s not fair! We want his family to acknowledge everything he does for them. To find out what makes people sympathetic, write down a list of all the people you like, in your personal life and in the public eye, and write down what makes you like those people (“Cause they’re hot” is not an acceptable answer). That’s a great starting point for creating sympathy in your own characters.
2) Learn how to make a character interesting.
Boring people don’t cut it in movies. You’ll notice that even the characters written to be “boring” are interesting in some way. Boring boils down to one thing – generic: A ho-hum individual who does and says the predictable obvious thing. Movies are bigger than real life, so characters need to be exaggerated in some way. That could mean over-the-top energy like Tony Stark or Lloyd Dobler (Say Anything). It could mean an insane drive to succeed (Tom Cruise in The Firm), it could be the exaggeration of a key character trait (Han Solo being selfish), it could be that they’re really passionate about or great at something (Matt Damon is the best botanist in the universe in The Martian, Keanu Reeves a 5-star killer in John Wick). But where most writers get tripped up in the “interesting” department is the main character. Since main characters have to be grounded in some way, it’s tough to make them super-interesting. How do you overcome this? Create conflict WITHIN the character. So Walter White. He wants to do the right thing. Help his family. But he has to do the wrong thing to achieve that (make and sell drugs). This makes a “normal” guy fascinating, since he’s constantly at war with himself. Same thing with Luke Skywalker in Empire and Jedi. Same thing with Michael Corleone in The Godfather. Jason Bourne always seemed to be at odds with what he was capable of. We’ll see it with Jason Bateman’s character in Ozark. It’s not the only way to make your hero interesting, but it’s one of the best ways. So if it fits your story (note: it’s not a given that it will), use it.
3) Learn how to arc a character.
There’s been some debate in recent years about whether arcing a character is necessary or not. “In real life, people don’t change!” is the battle cry against the practice. Yeah, but movies aren’t real life. And seeing a character evolve and change is one of the most powerful things the audience can experience while watching a movie. Because we all want to change. We all want to overcome that thing that holds us back. Think about it. Right now. What’s the thing holding you back from getting the girl, getting the promotion, getting the script sale, succeeding in life? Chances are, you know what it is. And you want to conquer it. But it’s hard. So you struggle with it every day. Well, movies allow you to explore this. And even better, they allow you (or your character) to overcome it. Arcing a character requires you to identify the limiting trait (flaw) within your hero. You then use your story to challenge that trait, and finally, show your hero overcome it in the end. In Inside Out, Joy’s (the yellow character) limiting trait (or “flaw”) is her obsession with everything being happy and perfect and ideal. She has to learn that not everything has to be happy and perfect all the time, and that the darker moments are what make the lighter moments shine brighter. Watching her finally realize this (and CHANGE) was one of the script’s highlights. Not every character will be perfect for arcing. But movies are more emotionally satisfying when you pull a great character arc off.
4) Learn how to create unresolved backstories for characters.
One of the quickest ways to make a character feel one-dimensional is to make him only exist within the two hours of the movie you’ve written. If you make that mistake, we will not connect with the character because we do not see him as a real person who has lived a real life. The way to fix this is to create an unresolved backstory. An unresolved backstory goes beyond traditional backstory because it includes the past in a way where it has to be dealt with in the present. For example, if a character says, “I dated this girl from Europe and it didn’t work out,” that’s normal backstory. Unresolved backstory is, “I was in love with this girl, but she had to move back to Europe after college and I always wondered what would’ve happened if we’d stayed together.” That’s unresolved as it means our character won’t find peace until he addresses this issue. An unresolved backstory can be physical or psychological. Physical is the example I just used. Psychological is something a character must overcome internally. Pixar’s “Up” is a good example of this. Carl Fredrickson (the old man) has to stop mourning for his dead wife. He has to accept her passing so he can start living a fulfilling life again. You’ll see unresolved backstory in a lot of Westerns as well. A man who’s family was killed needs to get revenge on the killer. Also, it doesn’t always have to be a huge thing. In Star Wars, Han Solo skipped on paying Jabba the Hut, and now Jabba has put a bounty out on him. So Han has to deal with Gweedo (Han shot first!) and Jabba himself in the Special Editions.
5) Learn how to create unresolved relationships between characters.
In screenwriting, relationships that are perfect are boring. Read that sentence again. Because if you ever write a relationship (marriage, best friends, brother-sister, work partners) that’s perfect, you are boring the audience to FUCKING DEATH. So, you need to create an issue in the relationship that will serve as the “unresolved” component, which the audience can now observe in the hopes that the characters will fix it by the end of the movie. Inside Out – Joy is always excited. Sadness is always sad. They never see eye to eye as a result. Luke and Han. Luke wants to help others. Han only wants to help himself. Ozark. Marty believes in being fiscally responsible and frugal. His best friend Bruce thinks you should spend your money and have as much fun as possible. Creed. Adonis wants to go go go, fight fight fight. Rocky wants to slow down, learn the basics, crawl before you can walk. You need something that creates a push-pull in the relationship, even if it’s as simple as seeing the world differently.
Beyond everything here, get to know your characters as much as possible. Write huge character bios if you can. A lot of writers will counter, “What’s the point? None of that stuff ends up in the script.” That’s true for the most part. But the more you know about a character, the more details you can add to their story. And readers feel that. They know when a writer knows their character and they know it when they’re bullshitting. Because when you’re bullshitting, your character’s life is consumed by generalities. Instead of a character working at a macaroon shop (unique, detailed) they’ll work at a coffee shop (obvious, generic). The more you know about someone, the more unique you can write them, and that’s going to set your characters apart. So take that knowledge and go give us some characters we’ll never forget!
Premise: A group of moms, sick of having to be perfect, throw the Mom Rulebook out the window and embrace an exciting reckless lifestyle.
About: This one comes from Hangover writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who will be making this their directing debut. It will star Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn.
Writers: Jon Lucas and Scott Moore
Details: 112 pages – June 9, 2015
Okay, it’s official. There’s a new secret drug in Los Angeles and just one pill elevates your screenwriting skills to Limitless-like levels, and all of this week’s screenwriters know where to find it. It’s the only explanation for the consistently awesome writing this week.
Either that or I’m in a really good mood and like everything I read right now. Kind of like when you’re dabbling around Itunes and you like every song you hear so you buy all of them and then a week later you launch that “Kickass New Music!” playlist you made only to wonder why the hell do you have a song by Ariana Grande and Phillip Phillips?
Amy Mitchell isn’t the perfect mom. But it’s not through lack of trying. She does everything in her power to keep her daughter, 16 year-old over-achiever Jane, and son, 10 year-old lazy-ass Dylan, productive and happy as clams. But as is the plight of the American mother, neither appreciates anything she does.
But the far worse thing about being a mom in this day and age is the way that every other mom judges you. And the queen bee of the judgers is Gwendolyn James, head of the PTA and all-around mom-tator. You either play by Gwendolyn’s rules (3 hour bake sale meetings) or pay the price (your kid mysteriously doesn’t make the basketball team that year).
Amy’s got bigger fish to fry though, such as her husband, who she finds out has been Skype-masturbating with some weird-looking woman for the past 10 months. Then there’s her boss at the trendy organic gluten-free everybody-has-something-to-offer coffee company run by people 10 years younger than her who always seem to be playing ping pong instead of working. Amy’s boss always overworks Amy because she’s from that older generation that actually does shit, refusing to pay her extra because, like, life is free and so are our feelings.
And then one day, Amy is done. She’s tired of trying to be the perfect mom. I mean why should she be? Nobody seems to notice. So she teams up with the already reckless single mom, Carla Dunkler, and the weirdo stay-at-home mom who’s got no friends, Kiki. Her new mantra is: Do Us. And that’s what they do. They start getting drunk, stop going to work, and skip daily errands to watch Channing Tatum matinees.
But when Amy’s newfound recklessness starts bleeding into Gwendolyn’s tight run ship (how dare Amy bring store-bought donut holes to her #1 nationally ranked PTA Bake Sale), Gwendolyn vows to make an example of her. But Amy pushes back, wanting moms to know that being a Gwendolyn clone isn’t realistic. That real moms are imperfect, and the sooner we accept that, the sooner we moms can start being real people again.
Bad Moms may not be reinventing the tire. But it sure added some kick-ass rims. What you realize when you read Bad Moms is how well these two know the craft. They hit all the major story beats (inciting incident, first act turn, lowest point) and yet you don’t notice because the story is so smooth, so natural. That’s one of the signs of a good screenwriter, someone who can hide structure.
Of course, while reading Bad Moms, I couldn’t stop thinking about The Hangover, and how different the two scripts were. That’s something writers don’t talk about enough. Each time you start a new script, you’re embarking on a new unique set of challenges.
Sure, there will be things that are the same (inciting incident, first act turn, lowest point), but the guts of the story will be different from what you’ve done before, and if you don’t know how to navigate those differences (or aren’t patient enough to figure them out), you’re going to be one pissed off over-caffeinated screenwriter.
With The Hangover, there was a goal, and that goal created movement (find Doug – which requires running around Vegas). Bad Moms doesn’t have that. It takes place in a suburb. Nobody has to find anybody. So where does the narrative thrust come from? That’s the first problem you have to solve when you write a movie like this. And that will always be harder. When you have that clear goal, like in The Hangover, the story will pull you along with it. Cause you always know where you have to end up.
Here, you have to manufacture thrust, and Moore and Lucas do it in a non-traditional way, sort of piece-mealing a bunch of engine fragments together. The first section of the script establishes our main character’s life. This section doesn’t necessarily have to have a goal, since there’s interest in getting to know a compelling character (or in this case, characters). We’ll stick with a directionless narrative for 20 pages if people are funny or weird or compelling, and their lives are interesting in some way.
Then, we have the breaking point (the inciting incident). Amy has a particularly horrible mom day and has had enough. This leads us to the fun and games section of the script. This is another section where we don’t necessarily need a goal. Amy and her friends are being bad and stupid and funny – which is the whole reason we paid for the film, to see these scenes. So again, we’ll go with it for awhile.
This is when the first goal arrives (around page 40 or 45 I think?). Amy wants to get laid. Her marriage has been dead for awhile, her husband’s now out of the picture. It fits perfectly with the concept (a bad mom!). This sequence goes for about 12-15 pages.
That’s when Lucas and Moore realize they need something bigger to drive the rest of the story or we’re going to lose interest. So they create this collision of titans – Amy vs. Gwendolyn – that results in Amy running against Gwendolyn for PTA president. I should note that this isn’t the main focus for the rest of the script (Lucas and Moore are still jumping around dealing with Amy’s various unresolved relationships), but it’s enough to frame the second half with some kind of purpose.
If I’m being honest, I didn’t think these goals were amazing. Do we really care if Amy gets laid? Do we really care if she wins PTA president? No. But the engine fragments give the story direction and a destination respectively.
Also, we can’t discount the x-factor here, that Lucas and Moore have an ace in their pocket. They’re funny. Like really funny. And the rule is, as long as the reader is consistently laughing, the plot doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s like being a hot girl. Your looks cover up a lot of your flaws. And the hotter you are, the more crazy or bitchy you can be (Hot Girl: “I really think dolphins are stupid and should be mass-slaughtered.” Environmentalist Guy: “Yeah, totally. They’re like the rats of the sea.”)
With that said, my theory is to always assume you’re not as funny as you think you are and make the story/plot awesome as well. That way, if the jokes are landing fast and furiously, you still have your audience caring about what happens next.
Finally, what Lucas and Moore bring to the table that elevates them above the average comedy screenwriter, is that they realize it isn’t just about laughs. Bad Moms is a stellar character piece. These two really get into the trials and tribulations of what it’s like to be a mom, how that affects your relationships at home, how you’re held to this impossible standard, how you’re being judged on a daily basis by other mothers who think you’re not parenting your kids correctly. I left this script having a better sense of what it’s like to be a mom. And if this was written by an amateur, I’m sure the most I would’ve taken away about moms is several wacky set pieces where moms smoke pot or something.
I’m REALLY worried about this cast. It feels like the B-Team to me. But if we’re only going on the screenplay, these two hit this one out of the park.
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] genius
What I learned: In a screenplay, names are faces. I want to stress this cause it’s important. Readers can’t see faces. Therefore, they associate each character with their name. Therefore, the name is the face. Which is why you want to give your character a name that visually personifies what that character looks like. Lucas and Moore did a spectacular job with this.
Kiki – the weird mom
Gwendolyn – the queen bee mom
Amy Mitchell – the all-American mom
Carla Dunkler – The wild mom
To sell my point here, imagine if we changed Gwendolyn’s name to “Norma.” I’m guessing her face and how she looks in general just shifted in your mind, right? That’s the power of a name.