Premise: (from the actual Black List) A nerdy high schooler, who fancies himself an amateur photographer, attempts to create a “Swimsuit Issue” featuring his high school classmates in hopes of raising enough money to go to summer camp.
About: The Swimsuit Issue finished number 3 with 35 votes on this year’s Black List.
Writer: Randall Green
Details: 105 pages
You may not realize it, but I can hear your brain right now.
I’m inside of your head. I saw an ad on Craig’s List for it recently and figured I’d sublet. The nice thing about being inside someone’s head is that you can hear things not even they can. You wanna know what I hear your brain saying while your mouth tells everyone that the Black List is bullshit? That it’s rigged and the quality of the scripts suck and no one cares about it any more? Your brain’s whispering, “I wish my script made the Black List.” Because like it or not, it’s an opportunity to be celebrated for your writing. And you don’t get many of those as a screenwriter.
So today, I’m going to fill you in on a few reasons why The Swimsuit Issue made the Black List (high up, for that matter) and your script didn’t. Hopefully, this will gear you up for next year’s attempt at the list. But first, let’s break down the plot.
Our hero, 15 year old aspiring photographer Zach Rosen, is sort of like a combination of Max Fischer (Rushmore), Napoleon Dynamite, and Ferris Bueller. He’s a high school kid who’s a little bit different. Well, okay, a lot a bit different. When we meet him, he’s been called into the principal’s office for hawking pictures of his half-naked plus-sized housekeeper, Esmerelda.
Zach doesn’t see this as inappropriate, however. He sees these photographs as art. And since he’s just moved into a new town and a new school, art is all he’s got. Well, except for his gorgeous girlfriend, Jenna, who he sees once a year at summer camp.
Unfortunately, Zach’s about to get some bad news. Because his father recently lost his job and his mom split up with him, the family (which includes Zach’s older drug-addict brother, Charlie), doesn’t have the cash to send Zach to a fancy camp this year. Which means Zach can’t see Jenna. Which means Zach needs to think of something fast.
So he comes up with the nifty idea to do a swimsuit issue of the hottest guys and girls at school and sell it. But he needs to make friends first. Luckily, he crosses paths with the “Greta Gerwig-like” Dana, a cool chick who seems to have it all going on – she’s confident, smart, cute, funny. Except Dana kind of gave one of the teachers a handjob in the cafeteria and he got fired. So everybody hates her.
Still, Zach and Dana team up, recruiting the hottest boys and girls they can find, culminating in a wild party at Zach’s place where he gets the photos. During this time, unfortunately, Zach’s camp girlfriend breaks up with him. His father goes on a drunken bender. His brother steals Dana right from under his nose. And everything about Zach’s future is destroyed.
Will Zach recover? Will he mend his relationship with his deadbeat brother and retain a friendship with Dana and Jenna? Or will he become just like the other members of his family and give up on life?
Okay, so I promised you answers on why this made the Black List and your script didn’t. So let’s not waste any time. Get your pens out my scribble-hungry brethren.
1) It’s a comedy that cares just as much about drama as comedy – The Black List rarely celebrates out-and-out broad humor. Agents, producers, and development folks like comedy writers who can explore drama in their comedies, and then find the comedy within that drama. There’s a whole lot of intense family shit going on in The Swimsuit Issue. It’s not just shit jokes and characters bumping into things.
2) It’s edgier than your typical comedy – The Black List likes when you go beyond the safe predictable boundaries of a genre, especially comedy. Zach’s doing lines of cocaine by the end of this script. We’ve got inappropriate student-teacher relations. In other words, the worst thing that happens in this screenplay isn’t a guy losing his girlfriend.
3) Deals with real complex relationships – The most forgettable comedies are ones that put zero effort into exploring relationships on any honest level. As this script goes on, we realize that Zach and Charlie’s relationship is really complicated. He’s an addict whose expensive trips to rehab have had a direct impact on Zach’s life. These two need to hash it out by the end of the story or we won’t be satisfied.
4) Unexpected dialogue choices – People often ask how I can spot a “pro” script over an “amateur” one. One of the easiest ways is dialogue choice. When a character says something, does the other character respond with a generic line or a line we’ve seen a million times before? Or is the response unique and unexpected? Most of the lines in The Swimsuit Issue are unique and unexpected. For example, later in the script, Zach’s mom says to him, “I want you to visit your brother this afternoon.” Now go ahead and write down how you’d have Zach respond to this. I’ll wait. Hopefully you didn’t write something like, “No.” Or, “Not gonna happen.” Okay, ready? Here’s his response, which is quite funny: “That’s eight or more unlikely steps from happening.” Even if you don’t like this line, note that it’s not a BORING line. It’s not an EXPECTED line. That’s the point.
Now the other day when I was breaking down this logline along with the rest of the Black List, you may remember me saying that I was worried the script didn’t have any stakes. “A kid makes a swimsuit issue for his school so he can go to camp” doesn’t sound like a very important journey.
But as we’ve discussed before on the site, stakes don’t have to mean the world is about to blow up. Stakes are relative to the situation. If a character wants something badly enough, then to him (and us), the stakes will be high. It turns out the missing ingredient in the logline was that the love of his life was at camp. And this is the only time during the year he’ll get to see her.
That tiny detail added the stakes to all of a sudden make this story worth telling. However, don’t wait until someone reads your script to figure that out. Include it in the logline. Because stakes are one of the key ingredients in getting someone to want to read a script. The new logline for The Swimsuit Issue, then, would be something like: An eccentric teenager attempts to create a “Swimsuit Issue” featuring his high school classmates in hopes of raising money to go to summer camp, his lone opportunity to see the love of his life.” That’s a bit rough but you get the point. Include those stakes!
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: This script had a goal (create the Swimsuit Issue to raise the money to go to camp). It had stakes, which we just pointed out. But it didn’t have urgency. I never felt like Zach was under any pressure to hurry up, and that definitely affected the story. The simple feeling that “time is running out” is an easy way to add intensity to your story, and is therefore recommended.
What I learned 2: I’ve found that 105 pages is the PERFECT length for a comedy script. If you’re writing a comedy, this is a great script length to aim for.
Sadly, my friends, there are no amateur offerings today. The next TWO Fridays are off, so last week’s round will be reviewed in the New Year. But I don’t want to leave you with nothing, so I’ll share something I thought about all of yesterday for some reason. My question is, will Guardians of the Galaxy be the equivalent of this generation’s Raiders of the Lost Ark? Is Chris Pratt going to go on to be a Harrison Ford like movie star for years to come?
It’s so easy to think, “Of course not! Movies then were so much better!” Well, a big reason they were “better” was because it was your first experience seeing that kind of movie, just like it will be this generation’s first experience seeing this kind of movie. I guess I’m trying to figure out if a movie like Guardians is really truly good, or just benefits from a lower overall bar. And is nostalgia keeping us from comparing the two objectively? I’m particularly interested in hearing from the under 25 crowd that didn’t grow up idolizing Raiders. Oh, and as long as I have you here with 5 days left until Christmas, make sure to stuff your digital stocking with Scriptshadow Secrets, which is only $4.99! $4.99 to become an infinitely better screenwriter. Uhhh, bargain!
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 tightly-wound retail store manager on the brink of being fired struggles to prove his worth against a crew who hates him, a competing retailer (who happens to be his ex-girlfriend) out to sabotage him and a mall full of crazed Black Friday shoppers.
Why You Should Read (from writer): Because it is a story about working in retail which means that while it’s written as a comedy, it could easily pass for a horror, a drama, a thriller, an action-adventure or any of the wild aspects that make working retail soul-crushingly awful and occasionally (oh so occasionally) great. Also, this script is very much a product of Scriptshadow. I studied screenwriting in college, but spent many years caught up in absurdly grand fantasy-adventure screenplays that were really novels written in Final Draft. And then I stumbled upon Scriptshadow, learned some new lessons, refocused my writing, and set out to create screenplays that were actually screenplays. “Black Friday” is one proud example.
Writer: Jason Tropiano
Details: 104 pages
Man, you guys make it hard on me. There hasn’t been a clear winner on Amateur Offerings for awhile. And when that happens, it means I have to decide. I hate deciding!
I ended up going with Black Friday for a couple of reasons. I think a comedy surrounding Black Friday is a movie. I can see the poster. I can see the trailer. Also, it’s that time of year. So shouldn’t we be featuring a holiday script? True, Inhuman had more votes, but I was only going to give it a second coveted Amateur Friday slot if it blew away the competition. There are only 55 Amateur Friday slots a year so I like to use that day to see as many new voices as possible.
It’s a month before Black Friday, and Jonathan, the manager at American Outfitter’s Roosevelt Mall location, isn’t wasting any time getting ready for the biggest day of the year. You see, Jonathan has a baby on the way and he hasn’t exactly been knocking it out of the overpriced hipster clothing park. All signs point to him being fired unless he makes this the best Black Friday in store history.
That won’t be easy though with a young disinterested sales team that has bigger plans in life than working in retail. Jonathan also has to contend with former flame Kennedy, who manages the Abercrombie & Fitch clone, Charley & Waves, across the way. Kennedy divides her time between finding anorexic looking sales-models to stand outside of her store, and plotting her revenge for Jonathan dumping her.
When the big day finally comes, the shenanigans are on. Kennedy fights way below the belt, printing up 50% off flyers for American Outfitters that the clueless sales team at AO start honoring, and having one of her employees defecate in one of AO’s fitting rooms. If Jonathan is going to last another day at this job, he’ll have to rally the disinterested troops, fend off all the sabotage, and clear things up with Kennedy. All before the closing bell rings at 10 pm.
The other day, someone said in the comments section that you shouldn’t send a comedy to Scriptshadow because the people who frequent this site don’t celebrate comedy – or, put more bluntly, they wouldn’t know what comedy was if it shat on them in a changing room.
I would rebut this. Comedy struggles to gain acceptance in every venue. It doesn’t get celebrated in screenplay contests. It doesn’t get celebrated during Awards shows. There aren’t that many comedies on the Black List.
The problem is that it’s really hard to be funny. Especially on paper. You don’t have the benefit of a comedian delivering your lines or a physical actor who can just contort his face in a way that makes you laugh. All you have is your words.
So it’s not that we here at Scriptshadow hate comedy. It’s that rarely do writers meet the bar the genre requires.
So how does Black Friday rank in regards to this bar? Well, from a story perspective, there are some good things here. I like how Jason created some really high stakes for our hero, Jonathan. Jonathan is on the outs at the company. He’s got a kid on the way. Black Friday is his only opportunity to save his job. We have a proper villain, Kennedy, who had a personal relationship with Jonathan (the personal relationship adds another layer to the story) and who creates plenty of obstacles to prevent Jonathan from reaching his goal. So structurally, I thought Jason did a good job.
But in regards to the funny factor, I don’t think we’re there yet. To start, utilizing the mockumentary style feels dated. That was all the rage five years ago, but I think people are looking for something new now. Ironically, telling comedy in a “straight” fashion feels fresh again.
I point this out because there were maybe 20 mockumentary-interview-specific jokes I didn’t laugh at because I’ve seen them all before. For example, when the clueless customer digs through their purse with 80 people in line behind them – then we cut to an interview shot of the salesperson giving a “Really?” look into the camera. That joke is too familiar at this point. It’s safe. So that’s 20 jokes right there that didn’t hit for me. I saw them coming a mile away.
So where do you find the funny? You find it in situations and in characters. That’s really your main job when it comes to comedy writing. You have to create funny characters and seek out funny situations. The only character I genuinely laughed at was Woo, the stock-boy with a penchant for extremely inappropriate rap music. He really stood out.
And the only situation that resonated was the fake 50% coupon debacle. But I don’t think enough was done with it. I like the idea of everybody coming to their store, seemingly exactly what they want, but then it getting completely out of control once they all start demanding half-off. The thing is, this problem was solved within a few minutes. There needed to be that moment where Jonathan secretly honored it for one problematic shopper to get him out of the store, then tried to cut the discount off. But by that point, everyone’s found out that the customer got the discount, and they’re not leaving until they get it too. Old customers also need to come back and retroactively demand the discount. It needs to get to riot levels. This is Black Friday. Excessive situations are expected.
Situational comedy can be fun to figure out. But it’s something you really have to spend time on. I would go so far as to say that if you’re writing a comedy, sit down for an entire two days and come up with 50 concept-specific situations, then cherry pick the best. Cause if you’re only picking from a nest of 4-5 ideas that popped into your head, you’re not going to be able to compete with the truly hilarious guys.
Finally, I’ll say this – the more I read of Black Friday, the more I wondered if this was the right approach. I mean, the script’s called Black Friday, but we start a month before Black Friday. We should be starting ON THE DAY. And I wondered if a Breakfast Club type approach might have been better. One day. Seven shoppers. Each with their own specific goals (maybe not all of them to get gifts) and, of course, everything under the Christmas tree goes wrong. Also, when I think of Black Friday, I don’t think of clothing stores. I think of big box retailers like Best Buy and Walmart. That seems to be where the real craziness is. And yet those businesses were left out. But even if you’re interested in mall-like stores, I’d go for more of a variety. A clothing store, a sports store, a candle store, a Radio Shack type store. We should be getting the entire scope of the mall, not just these two locations. That’s probably how I would’ve tackled it, at least.
There’s a lot of love here though. I can feel Jason’s own experience in retail shining through. But something’s missing and I can’t pinpoint exactly what it is. What did you guys think?
Script link: Black Friday
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Worst case scenario situations. One way to find laughs is to think of the worst case scenario for a character, and then put them in it. So for example, let’s say one of the employees at American Outfitters is OCD OBSESSED with his displays. That’s literally all he cares about –everything being folded perfectly and placed perfectly and the area being exceptionally clean. What’s that character’s worst case scenario? Each of you are probably thinking of something different. But chances are, it’s funny. Maybe, for example, a mother comes up and starts changing her baby’s diaper on the most important display in the store – the one OCD EMPLOYEE was working on all night! She’s just carelessly placing the dirty diaper on the most expensive shirt as if it’s nobody’s business. This approach is an easy way to generate 3 or 4 big laughs in a movie.
A lot of times I’ll get e-mails asking me why I don’t pick your scripts for an Amateur Offerings slot. The short answer is that the loglines or the queries aren’t good enough. But there’s obviously more to it than that and if I had the time, I’d e-mail you and let you know specifically why they weren’t chosen. Well, consider today my e-mail back. I’ve decided to highlight seven queries I’ve received over the past month and explain why I didn’t choose them. This is not meant to embarrass the writers in any way, but rather to help them understand what the person on the other end is thinking. Each query contains the ENTIRE text from the e-mail (minus the subject line). So if something is missing, it’s not me. Hopefully this is helpful to the original queriers as well as the rest of you. Let us begin!
Please post it for AOW! Because you’re awesome… I’m awesome… we’re all awesome! LOL. Thanks!
Title: MIDNIGHT LEATHER
Genre: Psychological Thriller / Horror
Logline: A troubled actress moves into an old-fashioned mansion to recover from a mental breakdown, but her husband suspects that she’s lost her sanity when she begins claiming that the mansion is haunted.
WYSR: Haunted house movies have two cliches that annoy me. First, matches and candles have open flames that are often used as sources of light without any regard for their safety. Second, cell phones either have dead batteries or are out of range. These cliches inspired me to write Midnight Leather, in which fire is dangerous and cell phones are ubiquitous. I hope you enjoy the script and I appreciate your feedback!
Why it wasn’t chosen: Let’s start with this one because it’s not a terrible query by any means. But there are a few things that worried me. First, the term “old-fashioned mansion.” “Old-fashioned” is such a generic word. With so few words to use in a logline, each one has to be really well thought out. That one isn’t. But the real killer was the Why You Should Read. Of all the immensely important things that are required for a good screenplay – character development, excellent plotting, strong dialogue, goals, stakes, urgency – the focus on open flames tells me that the writer isn’t concerned about the right thing.
-Cory Austin Edwards
Title: There Where The Judges Gather
Log line: Dylan is as straight edge as they come, a hard working young man dedicated to finding a purpose, Dylan strives for meaning. With his father dead and his mother in a mental hospital Dylan looses his job and must find a better way of payment. In response he begins taking up work with his friend Warren robbing his former Employers. The jobs are set up by a heroine crazed dope peddling minister(his actions are a metaphor for religious hypocrisy) and a two bit independent gangster type individual known as Lenny. As the crimes continue Dylan is brought too his knees as simple theft leads to murder. The darkness of the script is completely throughout as the reader will see the slow but steady build of the main character’s psychotic thinking. Again Dylan begins frustrated by his job loss for no reason and his family, Dylan is carrying individual He does not drink or smoke he always scene drinking from a glass of milk which displays his child like character, but his vice is soon turned to violence as a theft goes wrong and out of anger he begins to kill. There are many compelling stories involved such as the friendship between Dylan and Warren and the connection between his mothers nurse and Dylan. The entire story is told from Dylan who is talking too a priest before he is executed in the prison.
Why it wasn’t chosen: To most this will be obvious but a logline isn’t 300 words. It’s typically one sentence (sometimes two). What we have above is a summary. Also, it’s strange to start an e-mail off with a dash and then your name. Also, I see a lot of people capitalizing words in their pitches that aren’t supposed to be capitalized (Employers). I know tablets and phones sometimes randomly capitalize a word if it starts a new line. You shouldn’t be submitting something as important as a query from a tablet though. – Look, we’re all eager to jump into the game. But it’s best to do your research and understand how the protocol works first. You want to arrive to the interview looking professional.
TITLE Model Citizen
GENRE Teen / Fantasy / Comedy
LOGLINE A teen is granted special access to a hi-tech department store that can change people’s skills and identities.
(bolding here is writer’s) Jeff has completed three short films and five feature-length screenplays. His debut short “Don’t Slam (Don’t
Erase)” was an Official Selection of the New York Short Film Festival and played online in the Amazon/Tribeca Film Festival
Short Film Competition.
Jeff’s second short film “Attendance,” which he wrote and executive produced, was an Official Selection of the Show Off Your Short Film Festival in Los Angeles.
The film also received a Quarterfinalist distinction in the Fade In Magazine Awards.
His latest short film “Against the Wall,” which he wrote and produced, was featured on Amazon Studios, Ain’t it Cool News, G4TV, iTunes, and
VUDU. It played 12 festivals and received a 4 1/2 star review in Film Threat Magazine.
Other projects include a TV sitcom “Monster Suit Blues” (Semi-Finalist, Page Screenwriting Awards).
He is married with children and lives in NYC.
First 10 pages and the entire script are attached
Why it wasn’t chosen: It’s hard to convey this e-mail properly because formatting doesn’t transfer well to HTML. I tried to retain what I could. Outside of the janky formatting, this is the most impersonal query ever. There’s no actual greeting. The logline itself is too vague. Change people’s skills and identities how? It’s half a logline. And you don’t want to include a third-person bio of yourself. We know you’re talking about yourself so it’s strange. Just highlight your relevant achievements in an informal first-person paragraph.
Title: Executioner’s Torment
Logline: An esteemed judge and adviser to California’s leading candidate for Senator is locked in a passionate struggle between revenge and the family life he desperately covets.
Why You Should Read: Here’s to hoping that a trade of originality for a story well told is in play. This is a character-based drama about a family man with deep political influence who chooses to defend his own law within a world shrouded in lawlessness. It’s written more in the spirit of a Western than an action film about a genuinely decent man who’s taken a detour, putting all that he holds sacred in peril, as he struggles to contain a desperate need for revenge while navigating within a government deeply steeped in political corruption and media scandal.
Why it wasn’t chosen: This one doesn’t have a greeting either, but I’m more inclined to pay attention since the writer’s followed the submission rules and the actual writing is good. But here’s the funny thing. We always sit here and wonder what loglines the agents and executives are going to like. But we see the answer play out EVERY WEEK in Amateur Offerings, where you guys ARE essentially the agents and executives. And whenever I post loglines like this (non-high concept dramatic faire), you rarely read them. Since I know they’ll be ignored, I usually look for something else. With that said, the writer makes a crucial error in the logline. He chooses the general over the specific (“…struggle between revenge…”). Tell us SPECIFICALLY what the revenge is about. Because there’s revenge in a ton of stories. Remember that your job with a logline is to be as specific as possible so that your idea stands out from the rest. When you use generic words like “revenge” you imply that your script is also generic. It would be like if I wrote the logline for Indiana Jones as, “A professor goes on a quest for a famous artifact while battling one of the most terrible regimes in history.” Be specific and tell us the artifact is the Ark of the Covenant! Tell us that the regime is the Nazis!
Thanks for all the emails, blog posts and tweets kicking my ass into gear to keep writing.
TITLE – Harrison Quest
Genre – Comedy
Logline: Discovering that Harrison Ford plans on cryogenically freezing himself, three childhood friends embark on a heroic journey to find their idol and win him his long overdue Oscar — before it’s too late.
Why You Should Read -
What do you want to be when you grow up? An Astronaut? A scientist? CIA agent, doctor, cop, pilot? The President of the United States? These aren’t just the dreams of children. These are the faces of Harrison Ford.
Love him or hate him, his resume is ripe for a backdrop to an adventure story. I set out to harness that energy, while humanizing it through the story of 3 average guys. I think people rely on different passions to help inspire them through the sadder parts of life. I’m hoping that inspiration story will resonate on its own, while still being a chin-scarring, plane-offing, fugitive-chasing adventure homage to the most amazing leading man alive (that is alive, for now…dun dun dun etc).
PS – I wrote part of this at Indy’s boyhood home from Last Crusade, which is now a B&B. One example of how it’s a bit of a passion project, and could use some objective feedback.
Why it wasn’t chosen: This is a good query. Starts out with a short but sweet greeting. The “Why You Should Read” is well-written and conveys a lot of passion for the project. I almost chose it for that alone. But the logline prevented me from pulling the trigger. There are too many questions here. Why is Harrison Ford going to freeze himself before he dies? Don’t you wait until you die before you’re cryogenically frozen? How do you win somebody an Oscar? Are they going to make a movie with him? That sounds like a complicated process to document in a movie. Also, where are the stakes? Sure, it’d be nice if Harrison Ford won an Oscar. But I’m sure he’ll be just fine with his millions if he doesn’t. I really really wanted to like this one because I like the writer’s query. But I think either the logline or the story itself needs to be reworked to fix these issues.
Hi, my name is Drew Howard and I just recently finished this script I’ve been working on over the past few months. I put a lot of effort into it, and I think you’ll definitely be surprised by what you read. This script wasn’t made with the intention I would ever sell it. I didn’t hold myself back with the thought, “Could this actually be put onto the screen?” I just did my thing and ran wild with it. The script is imaginative, darkly funny, sad and cinematic. While on the surface, the plot could be seen as “high concept,” I think the story is actually deceptively simple. The characters grapple with real issues within the context of much weirder scenarios. Think if Woody Allen was placed in Blade Runner, and all he could think about was who he was going to fuck that week. I know you don’t read all the scripts, and I understand you’re probably very busy with many other things. If you could give my script a chance, I know you wouldn’t regret reading it afterwards.
Title: Murder Girl
Logline: Donna Summers, 19, and Kap Harrington, 22, are known around the world as the two human beings who can never die. Instead of saving the world or lending their bodies to science, they are instead pressured to date, or rather fuck, the other. The story follows the relationship between these two after a female android named P enters their lives on a whim.
Why it wasn’t chosen: Drew has a lot of passion. That’s clear. But this query is all over the place. There’s no focus to either the query or the logline, which indicates there will be no focus to the script either. I’d avoid giving too much information on the writing process. We don’t need to know you worked on the script for the last few months. Keep the time spent on the script to yourself. Also, get someone to read your query ahead of time for grammatical errors. “This script wasn’t made with the intention I would ever sell it,” should be, “This script wasn’t written with the intention to sell.” Even so, that’s not a detail you want to include in a query anyway. My advice to Drew would be: Keep it short and simple. And focus your story. No androids named P!
Logline: On the coldest night of the year, a Minneapolis drug runner and a conflicted cop cross paths after a deal gone wrong. But while they’ll need each other make it through the night, one of them won’t survive to see daybreak.
Why You Should Read: This time of year, everyone talks about writing the “anti” Christmas movie. However, the genre continues to thrive because such films readily embrace the basic tenet Carson harps on week after week – relationship-driven conflict.
On the surface, Minus isn’t a traditional holiday movie, and would seem to fit into the cadre of screenplays that are desperately trying not to fit in. However, that simply isn’t the case; the holidays are a time of familial bonds driven to the brink, and Minus is full of those; hell, there’s even a senior-citizen-double-suicide.
Whether your preferences are carols or corrupt cops, there’s a story here that will keep readers guessing while driving home the same values found at the core of any Christmas special. I just want to get you there in a more entertaining – and hopefully thought-provoking – fashion.
Why it wasn’t chosen: A couple of things stood out here. First, there’s no hook in the concept (it being cold out isn’t a hook). There’s nothing that stands out, that gets people excited. And I’ve seen a million drug deals go wrong in movies and TV shows. If you can’t make your logline stand out in a group of five other scripts on an informal Saturday website competition, how do you expect it to stand out against the thousands of scripts a year that Hollywood sees? I like that the cop and the criminal have to team up, but that needs to become a bigger focus of the logline in the next draft. What also worried me was the focus on Christmas in the “Why You Should Read,” and yet Christmas is never mentioned (or implied) in the genre or the logline. When I see things like that, it tells me the writer hasn’t thought everything through, so I’m less inclined to choose the script.
I hope this helps. What’d you guys think? Would you read any of these based on the query?
Premise: An irresponsible man attempts to raise his dead sister’s daughter, a child genius, until his mother comes to town and starts fighting for custody of the child.
About: This just landed on the 2014 Black List with 7 votes. Marc Webb (The Amazing Spider-Man 1&2) is going back to his 500 Days of Summer roots to direct the small character piece.
Writer: Tom Flynn
Details: 121 pages (undated)
I just read a quote by Tim Burton saying that the world will soon tire of comic book movies. I used to agree but I’m not so sure anymore. The only reason comic book movies weren’t around in abundance earlier was because Hollywood didn’t have the special effects to back up the vision the films required.
Now that that’s not a problem, comic book movies are actually perfectly suited for film. They carry with them action, spectacle, wish-fullfillment, and a lot of flashy characters. I don’t see them leaving the local Cineplex anytime soon.
But I’ll tell you one person who wants to leave them behind, and that’s Marc Webb. Webb’s initiation into the world of big-budget comic book movies hasn’t been a good one. The two Spider-Man movies he’s made have been pretty bad – jumbled messes with nary a clear plot. Of course, you could say the same about the earlier incarnations of Spider-Man. But the big difference there was that Sony wasn’t competing with the juggernaut known as Marvel. Say what you will about Marvel but they take their superhero films VERY seriously, and as such, they consistently deliver a quality product. Peter Parker’s one-liners all of a sudden aren’t enough to keep an audience interested.
Webb is clearly tired of this world, so he’s going back to his indie roots. And I must say, I commend him for doing so. Rarely do directors who make it to the big leagues with those big league paychecks go backwards, especially in an industry where movies like Gifted are lucky to get 100 screen releases and featured rollouts on Itunes.
But the very notion that Webb is willing to take that chance tells me this script has something going for it. And truth be told, I love these ‘gifted children’ movies. Call it the Searching for Bobby Fischer Syndrome. Exceptional intelligence at a young age is always a burden, and so there’s conflict built right into the character. Let’s see if Flynn nails this latest attempt at the genre.
30-something Frank Adler is an irresponsible bachelor if there ever was one. Seven years ago, Frank’s sister, Diane, a brilliant but troubled mind, walked in on Frank, dropped off her baby, then killed herself. And just like that, the eternal bachelor found himself father to a child.
And an awful father he was. Not knowing the first thing about parenting, Frank treated Mary more like a roommate than a daughter. Got a boo-boo? Go, like, find a band-aid or something. Luckily, Mary could handle it. Just like her mother, she was extremely smart. But at 7 years old, Frank’s realized that he can no longer keep this girl locked up in his place. He has to send her off to school.
Problem is, Mary’s like 100 times smarter than all the other kids at school, combined. Actually, she’s smarter than all the teachers, combined, including Bonnie, her primary teacher, who takes an interest in Mary’s unique talents, as well as her emotionally damaged but hot father.
Just as it becomes clear that Mary needs to be placed in higher education, Evelyn, her grandmother and Frank’s mother, shows up, demanding custody of the child. On the one hand, Frank doesn’t want Evelyn anywhere near Mary. She ran his sister (Mary’s mom) into the ground, and she’d do the same to Mary.
But there’s a little voice in the back of Frank’s head saying: “Freedom.” Finally, he can go back to living life his way, instead of being responsible for a child he’s no good at taking care of anyway. At least that’s what he tells himself. When the courts get involved and decide that NEITHER brother or mother is capable of taking care of Mary, they bring in a third party, a foster couple. But this couple harbors a secret that will throw everything off its axis, and force Frank to decide what he really wants out of life.
Gifted is a good screenplay, and further proof that if you can identify the key line of conflict within a logline, you probably know how to write a screenplay. You may wonder what I mean by that. Let me explain.
Your first order of business in a logline is to convey the plot, which essentially means the hero’s main goal, or the journey he’s going on. Indiana Jones goes after the Ark of the Covenant. But that’s only half the battle. You then have to identify the key line of conflict that’s going to impede upon that goal. In other words: What the fuck is going to get in the way and hamper Indiana from getting the Ark?
To see this in action, let me give you the NON conflict-laden logline version of Gifted: “An irresponsible man attempts to raise his dead sister’s daughter, a child genius.” There’s some semblance of a plot there. BUT THERE’S NO LINE OF CONFLICT. The idea is open-ended and therefore directionless. There’s no story yet! “…until his mother comes to town and starts fighting for custody of the child,” is the key line of conflict that all of a sudden gives the story a reason to exist. Without that conflict, the story has nowhere to go.
Now as much as I liked Gifted, it had some issues that kept it shy of “impressive” territory. One thing that drives me nuts is when a writer skirts reality in order to move the plot forward, particularly with a major plot point. I’ll have to get into spoilers to explain this.
Late in the story, Frank loses custody of Mary to the foster parents. But come on. There’s no way this would happen in real life. Frank loves Mary. He’s a family member. She loves him. He doesn’t do drugs. He’s not an alcoholic. He provides a roof over her head. He doesn’t neglect her in any way. And the courts give the child to a random foster couple instead?
The only reason this development occurs is because the writer wanted to advance the story. But audiences are savvy to this. They may not know the technical reason things feel off. But deep down they feel something isn’t right. And that something is cheating. The writer is pushing along false plot points when, in the real world, we all know this would never happen.
I think it’s one of the most disingenuous things you can do as a writer, is to falsely move your story along. It’s your job to follow an honest path. That’s not to say you can’t have the courts give Mary to a foster family. But you need to build in a legitimate REASON for it. If Frank were an alcoholic (or whatever kind of addict), for example, and was therefore truly unable to care for his daughter, I’d buy into the court giving Mary away.
And lastly, they need to do more with Frank’s character. If you’re going to write a drama, you have to recognize that the ONLY way to market the movie (since you don’t have explosions) is through an A-list actor. And A-list actors don’t sign on to play characters like Frank in his current incarnation. Frank’s a level-headed guy. He doesn’t have any huge issues. He’s a bit of a loser, but otherwise average. If an A-lister is going to be in a small movie and get paid a tiny amount of money, they want to either play a really challenging role, win an Oscar, or both.
My guess is that, as this script works its way through development, Frank will become more fucked up. He’ll become an addict in some capacity. And I don’t think that’s a bad approach. It actually makes sense because now, like I mentioned, there will be a reason for the courts to separate him from Mary.
And all this isn’t to say I didn’t like the script. I thought it was good. But these are the realities of the ways these movies are made nowadays. Big actor or go home. Making the main male character interesting/unique is the difference between getting Matt Damon or Josh Brolin. I hope they figure it out because this can not survive with Josh Brolin.
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: From now on, I want you to always include the key line of conflict in your logline. I can dismiss half the screenplay queries I get due to the lack of a key line of conflict in the logline. And if you can’t come up with a key line of conflict for your logline, chances are, you don’t have one for your script, which means you’ll have to rethink the story and add a key line of conflict.