I predict today’s writer will be writing movies we see one day. So how come I’m not onboard with this skill-rich script?
Premise: (from writer) Fatherless Copywriter, Nick Adams, uncovers a stash of immaculate love letters dated the year he was born and post marked from Key West and Havana, Cuba. Convinced he is Hemingway’s bastard love child, he travels to Key West with teenage son in tow to usurp his birthright.
About: This is an amateur script that came referred to me by one of my consultants.
Writer: Eric Brown
Details: 113 pages
Now that we’ve proven there’s undiscovered talent out there just waiting to be found (Patisserie baby!) I’m back on the amateur bandwagon, hoping to bring more scripts to Hollywood’s attention. Hemingway Boy, I’ve been told, has a shot at being one of those scripts. The script was given to one of my consultants for notes and later recommended to me (which doesn’t happen very often).
In the time it’s taken me to finally read and review it on the site, it was picked as one of the coveted “referrals” on The Tracking Board’s site. One person recommending a script can always be a fluke. Two? Means we probably have something good here. And since my taste matches up well with Christian’s (my consultant), I figured Hemingway Boy might be able to bring me to my screenwriting happy place.
40 year old Nick Adams feels trapped. As writer Eric Brown points out, he’s like “all of us” in that respect. You know when you’re a kid and you plot out where you’ll be in 30 years? Yeah, well, Nick’s at the opposite of wherever that is. How opposite? Well, he writes advertising slogans for baby food. And while he gets paid a lot of money for it (he’s even in line for a promotion!), how excited can you get when you’ve won over a target audience who’s not only illiterate, but hasn’t learned their ABCs yet.
In addition to the career stuff, Nick has to take care of a chirpy mother with early onset dementia. He must contain an increasingly rebellious teenage son (Sam). And he must learn to be civil with his irritating ex-wife.
Well at least one of those problems gets solved when Nick’s mom kicks the bucket. But just when he thinks that’ll calm things down, Nick stumbles upon an old box of love letters written to his mom from a mysterious man. After doing a little research, Nick becomes convinced that that man is Ernest Hemingway, and that his Mama Mia’esque mother made him the bastard child of the famous author.
Feeling some purpose for the first time in his life, Nick grabs his son and heads to the town in Florida where Hemingway spent most of his life. He hopes to ask around, find out if anyone saw Hemingway and his mom together, and go from there. When he gets there, he’s greeted by his tour guide Joe Jack, a step-father of sorts who dated Nick’s mother for awhile. Back then he was a pretty selfish prick, and now he wants to make up for that phase in his life by helping Nick however he can.
Once set, Nick meets a bus driver named Charlie (noooo – not the female love interest with the male name!) who he starts to fall for, while Sam ends up meeting a too-cool-for-school hottie named Stacee who he falls madly in love with. We jump back and forth between these relationships as they equal parts sputter and sparkle. With time running out before Nick has to be back in Detroit for work, it’s looking like he’ll never find the truth. That is until he locates an old friend of his mom’s who lives in Cuba. Going there is a risk, but Nick HAS to know. So grabs a boat and endures the final leg of his journey.
Here’s the thing about Hemingway Boy. It’s written by a real writer. It’s not one of those amateur scripts you read and say, “This guy isn’t even ready to be judged because he doesn’t know how to write yet.” Brown knows how to write. He’s very comfortable in this medium. For that reason, I see this more as a professional script than an amateur one. And for that reason, you’re going to judge it like a real movie, not on its mistakes, but rather its choices.
While I can understand why people responded to this, it wasn’t quite my cup of tea. Let me try and explain why. I don’t react well to scripts that are high on quirk. Scripts that feature the kooky grandmother, scripts where billboards are talking to our characters, scripts where every other character is flamboyant or over-the-top. I’m a big believer that the story always comes first. So if I feel that the writer is more interested in coming up with a wacky character than they are pushing the story forward in an interesting way, I start to turn on the script.
I do this because I’m now focused on the writing instead of the reality the writer’s created. In other words, I’m out of the story. And you don’t your reader to be outside the story thinking about YOU the writer writing this. The spell is broken once that happens. And I found myself increasingly reacting to things other than the story.
The first moment this happened was Grandma Janice (I say “grandma” if we’re looking at her through Sam’s p.o.v.). As soon as she came in and started acting kooky and quirky, I said, “Uh-oh,” under my breath. I’m not going to lie. I hate the unpredictable “says whatever’s on her mind” grandma character. I see it so much. I think it’s so cliché. It’s kind of like screenwriting kryptonite to me (ahh, I can’t seem to forget Man of Steel!). And I’m not saying you should never write the character. Obviously people respond to it (who doesn’t like Betty White in The Proposal?). But that character kills me so much that when she showed up, I instantly turned on the script.
And if that was all, I might have rebounded. But it felt to me like every character was over the top. For example, Joe Jack, the grandfather character, almost seemed like a male version of Alice. He was big, loud, over-the-top, and always said embarrassing things. So again, we’re favoring quirkiness over reality. And I get that that’s a choice. I’m not saying it doesn’t work. It just doesn’t work for me.
On top of this, I couldn’t pinpoint why exactly Nick wanted to know if Hemingway was his father other than it would’ve been kinda cool. He mentions a couple of times that he just wants to know where he came from, but we seem to be missing out on a potential bigger story here. I wanted to know exactly why Nick needed this answer because it was the question driving the entire story. And if I’m not even sure on why he’s going after it, it’s hard for me to 100% engage in that quest with him.
With all that said, there’s definitely something here. While I didn’t like how extreme the characters were, there was a lot of depth to them. And all of them stood out, which can’t be said about the majority of amateur screenplays out there – which struggle to come up with a single memorable character. That’s a big-time writer skill. I thought the stuff with Sam and Stacee was interesting (although I was hoping he would end up with Stuckey, her younger sister). There’s definitely a goal here (trying to find proof if he’s Hemingway son). There’s some urgency (he’s only got two weeks). There’s plenty of conflict in the scenes, with characters meeting obstacles in whatever goal they’re pursuing. The 3-Act structure is in place.
So it’s clear Eric knows what he’s doing. My preference was just that the script be a little more grounded in reality and less proud of itself. I wanted more people who acted like people as opposed to caricatures of people. That would’ve pulled me in and made me believe in everything more, instead of concentrating so hard on the person writing the script. Then again, the same thing can be said for writers like Tarantino or Shane Black, and they’re doing all right. So maybe I’m just being Grumpy McGrumperbottoms. What did you guys think?
Script link: Hemingway Boy
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me (but this writer shows a lot of promise)
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: I’m a firm believer in the hero going after the goal hard. If he’s not going after the goal hard, that tells me he doesn’t want it that much, and if he doesn’t want it that much, then why should I want it for him? Nick’s actions never matched up with his words. He always felt a bit too casual in his pursuit. I wanted him to be dedicating more time to this endeavor. I wanted to feel more urgency and desperation.
There’s a reason I’m busting out The Dark Knight for this week’s Ten Tips. This weekend I experienced a super-human catastrophe in Man of Steel. And I want to look at an actual well-made superhero film to see how to do it right. What’s interesting here is that two of the major players are the same in both projects (Christopher Nolan and David Goyer). The big flashy addition is Zack Snyder, which tells me that his paws may have been the ones that dirtied up the Man of Steel waters. With that said, I’m not going to pretend like The Dark Knight is some tour de force in screenwriting. I’ve battled many a time with this screenplay and feel that it has just as many weaknesses as it does strengths. With that said, it’s a far superior screenplay to Man of Steel, particularly in the area of character. So let’s see what we can find when we compare the two behemoths. I suspect some some nifty tips!
1) Give us a main character who’s active – It’s one of the simplest and often-stated screenwriting rules there is, and yet us screenwriters constantly forget it, finding ourselves 60 pages into our screenplays and wondering why they’re so boring. One only needs to watch Man of Steel to see how an inactive main character can destroy a movie. It makes them (the main character) bland, which forces the story/plot to work overtime to overcome this issue. That’s likely why we had so much overplotting in Man of Steel. The writers sensed something was wrong but couldn’t figure out what, so they just kept ADDING MORE PLOT. The simplicity of having an active main character is that they forge forward, carving out the story on their terms. Look at Bruce Wayne. The guy wants to make a difference so he creates Batman to do so. He WANTS to fight crime and clean up the streets, so he’s always out there actively pursuing that. Superman in Man of Steel is the opposite.
2) Beware the reluctant protagonist – Building on that, Man of Steel made me take a hard look at the reluctant protagonist. By “reluctant,” I mean a character who’s reluctant to engage in the central conflict of the film. That’s Clark Kent. He’s reluctant to get involved in the world’s problems. A big reason this doesn’t work is because by being “reluctant,” you’re basing the entirety of your hero on a negative trait – avoidance – which pretty much goes against everything that’s fun about movies (our hero ENGAGING in the adventure). There are movies where it works (Michael Corleone in The Godfather) but it usually doesn’t, especially in action movies. The word “reluctant protagonist” now scares me. It should probably scare you too.
3) Just tell us what’s happening dammit – I’ve read a few amateur screenplays recently where the writer tries to do way too much with their action description. They write stuff like, “Sweat glistens off Joe’s knuckles as he wrestles the gun out of his pocket.” There are times where you want to add a little flair to your writing, but for the most part, just tell us what’s happening. Here’s how Jonathan and Christopher Nolan write an early scene before the bank robbery in The Dark Knight: “A man on the corner, back to us, holding a CLOWN MASK. An SUV pulls up. The man gets in, puts on his mask. Inside the car – two other men wearing CLOWN MASKS.” These are two of the top writers in the business and every word in that description is something a third grader would understand.
4) “A&P” (An Active main character with Personality) – The character type who’s typically the most fun to watch is ACTIVE (making his own decisions and pushing the story forward himself) with PERSONALITY (is charming or funny or clever or smart or a combination of all these things). Look no further than one of the most beloved characters of all time, Indiana Jones, to see how that combination works. Or Iron Man. Or Sherlock Holmes. While I wouldn’t say Bruce Wayne is going to open at The Laugh Factory anytime soon, he does have a personality, likes to have fun with his money, and has a sense of humor. Combined with his desire to fight crime (being active), he’s got the coveted A&P. Superman in Man of Steel has neither the A or the P, which is why he’s so forgettable. As a rule, try to have the A and the P for your protag. If you can’t, give him the A or the P. If you can’t give him either, I guarantee you you have a boring protag.
5) Backstory is the enemy – Remember that superhero origin stories are by definition required to show us the backstory that led to our hero becoming who he is. In the real world of spec screenwriting, backstory is the enemy. Unless there’s some really unique or traumatic or shocking thing that happened in our character’s past, don’t show us. And if you do, show us only the bare minimum of it. It can even be boiled down to a quick expositional sentence if you do it right. Batman Begins handled its backstory a lot better than Man of Steel, but in both cases, the main plot (taking down the Scarecrow and Zod respectively) had to be pushed to the second half of the script, something that will never be accepted in the spec arena.
6) Invisible Backstory is your friend - You may not tell us a single thing about your main character’s past, yet you – the WRITER – should know everything that happened to your hero since the day he was born. This knowledge leads to SPECIFICITY OF CHARACTER, a character who is unique because of the extensive “real” life he’s lived in your imagination. The less you know about your hero, the less specificity you’ll be able to infuse him with, which leads to genericness. This is one of the quickest ways I can differentiate the boys from the men in screenwriting.
7) Conflict is your weapon against exposition – One of the earlier scenes in The Dark Knight has Bruce talking to Alfred about needing improvements to the Bat Suit as well as getting info on the new District Attorney (who’s dating Rachel). It’s a straight forward exposition scene and, for that reason, one of the more forgettable of the film. Contrast this with when Bruce meets Harvey Dent (the District Attorney) out for dinner. Harvey’s with the love of Bruce’s life, Rachel, and Bruce has brought along a hot ballerina. There’s a lot of exposition in this scene, mostly in regards to Harvey trying to save the city, but the scene is fun because of the conflict: Wayne sizing up Harvey and the jealousy between Bruce and Rachel. Conflcit is your weapon against exposition. Use it whenever the evil EXPO rears its head (Nolan forgot this simple rule in Inception, which is why so many of his early scenes are boring. They’re pure exposition with zero conflict).
8) Brains over brawn – I think one of the reasons Batman is more popular than Superman is because he can’t just fly away. He can’t just use his heat vision to burn a hole through a guy. He’s gotta use his brains. Granted, he’s got a lot of money and that money has created a lot of gadgets, but Batman’s way more dependent on his wits than his powers. I bring this up because I read so many scripts where the writer gets his hero out of a battle with a gun or a roundhouse kick or a superpower. The thing is, it’s always more rewarding when the hero uses his wits (his INTELLIGENCE) to get out of that situation. So always look to your hero’s mind to solve his problems, first. Only use physical force as a last resort.
9) Have your bad guy earn his keep – Whenever I re-read The Dark Knight, I’m always studying the villain, since the Joker is one of the most famous villains of all time. He’s lasted decades, whereas most villains last the two hours that make up the film (Die Hard With a Vengeance anyone?). Upon reading The Dark Knight, I realized that for truly timeless villains, you gotta like them a little bit. And I think one of the reasons we like watching The Joker is because the guy earned his keep. He wasn’t handed anything. He had to rob a bank and infliterate and intimidate the biggest baddest nastiest dudes in town. As crazy as it sounds, we kind of respect him for that, and it makes us sorta like him. So make your bad guy earn his keep. We’ll respect him (and actually like him) more.
10) Rational vs. Irrational Villains – Something I noticed while comparing The Dark Knight to Man of Steel, is that they have two polar opposite villains. General Zod is rational and calculated and has strong reasoning for doing what he’s doing. The Joker, on the other hand, is irrational and unpredictable and confusing. No doubt The Joker is the much scarier of the two. Through this, I learned the value of bad guys who are a bit unpredictable, a bit out of control. When you think about it, those are the scariest people in life because they don’t have that “rational” button you can push. I was never scared of General Zod cause the guy was just so darn rational.
These are 10 tips from the movies “The Dark Knight” and “Man of Steel.” To get 500 more tips from movies as varied as “Aliens,” “Pulp Fiction,” and “The Hangover,” check out my book, Scriptshadow Secrets, on Amazon!
Superman is back and he’s moody as hell. I explore the consequences of that decision and much much more.
Premise: (from IMDB) A young man is forced to confront his secret extraterrestrial heritage when Earth is invaded by members of his race.
About: Warner Brothers is getting a little jumpy these days. Without the gargantuan Harry Potter franchise pumping out a new film every year anymore, and without Nolan directing Batman movies, they’re in desperate need of a huge new franchise they can depend on. They put all their chips into Man of Steel, and it looks to be paying off. The film made 125 million dollars this weekend, despite some not-so-enthusiastic reviews. Since Friday, public reaction has been split. Some like the film, some not so much. What did I think? Read on.
Writers: David S. Goyer (story by Goyer and Christopher Nolan) – Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster
Details: 143 minutes
I wanted to love this movie.
If you’ve been following my Twitter, you know that. I was so ready to fall in love with Man of Steel, I almost asked it to marry me. Of course, before the wedding, you have to buy the ring, and I bought mine, only to find out the diamonds were fake.
I really thought this Superman movie was the one. The last Superman (Superman Returns) was so miscast and uninspired, it nearly destroyed the brand. It was that catastrophe that helped Warner Brothers realize they needed to take Superman in a new darker direction, and I applauded them for that. That’s exactly what Superman needed. It needed filmmakers willing to take risks. Because the idealistic version of Superman is dead. Today, we want our superheroes flawed and a little dark. And that’s exactly what the trailer promised.
Too bad it was only a trailer.
Man of Steel was not just badly written, it was terribly written. Even more terribly written than Iron Man 3. I mean, at least Iron Man 3 had Robert Downey Jr. to make the dialogue sound kind of good. I do not have enough blog space to note all of the terrible writing mistakes here. And blog space is infinite.
For those new to the site, I don’t sit there and tally up “screenwriting mistakes” as I’m watching a movie, and if the movie violates too many screenwriting “rules,” give it a failing grade. I don’t care how a movie is written, as long as it entertains me. If a movie doesn’t entertain me (or in this case, lulls me to sleep), I go back to the screenplay to figure out why. There were certainly a few director choices that annoyed me in Man of Steel (the 15,000 shots of someone about to be rammed into, only for someone to fly across the screen and intercept the projectile/person at the last second), but if a script fails to connect this severely, it’s always the script’s fault.
So what was Superman about? Krypton, Superman’s planet, is dying. So Superman’s dad must save the future winged one by sending him to earth. The catch here is that Military Leader General Zod, who’s upset that the Krypton Government put them in this mess in the first place, wants to make sure Superbaby never gets off the planet because… well, I’m not entirely sure why. I think because he doesn’t want the Kryptonian bloodline to survive. Which doesn’t really make sense because I’m pretty sure Zod wants to survive. And he’s Kryptonian. Superman experts can clear this up for me in the comments.
Anyway, once on earth, this new 2013 Superman (now Clark Kent) is a drifter. He doesn’t have a job at the Daily Planet and wear glasses. He goes crab fishing and wears a beard. This new Clark Kent is reallllly moody. He’s so down all the time, and I suppose it’s warranted. He has these super powers but knows if he uses them, even for good, people will think he’s a freak, or worse, the government will lock him up. So all he really cares about is hiding, which is why we see him drifting from town to town, ignoring our good nation’s hitchhiking laws.
Unfortunately for Clark, the U.S. government finds another ship sent from his planet embedded in ice (I believe the ship was a scout ship sent to Earth to determine if it was a viable planet for invasion – which is how Superman’s dad knew to send him here). This attracts Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane to see what the government’s covering up. This results in Lois and Clark meeting and beginning a friendship, which is quickly ruined by our old buddy General Zod showing up and demanding the world give up Superman or be destroyed. Clark believes Zod’s going to destroy Earth regardless, so he takes on Zod and his Kryptonian clique in a fight to the death.
This is sooooo a simplified breakdown of the screenplay. So much more happened. DNAs, planetary codexes, terraforming. I could get into the immense amount of exposition-heavy plot there was here, but there were so many other issues that doomed this script, the first of which was the protagonist himself.
Superman was boring. Whether he was Clark Kent or the caped crusader, he was boring. I didn’t realize until now what the original Clark Kent reporter angle did for the character. It gave him a personality. Superman had to be stoic and on top of shit. Clark Kent didn’t. And it really made us fall in love him. New Clark Kent just mopes around and complains about his situation all the time. In a screenplay, your main character is everything. For that reason, you have to be aware of how any choice you make will affect the audience. If you make your main character a moping moody drifter, chances are he’s going to depress the audience.
But what really killed Man of Steel was that Superman was an inactive character. This is one of the first things they teach you in any screenwriting class and there’s a reason for it. If your main character isn’t carving out his own path – if he’s not leading the charge, he has a big chance of fading into the background and becoming boring, or worse, forgettable. There are stories where this kind of character can work, but in a Superman movie?? I don’t think that’s one of the places where you want an inactive protagonist.
I just remember in the original Donner Superman movie, Superman was always going out there and trying to save people. Here, we had the school bus scene and the oil tanker scene. So he DID save people, but both instances were in flashbacks (or pseudo flashbacks) and therefore felt like a thing of the past. And even if they weren’t, the writing made these moments feel so… depressing. Like something wrong was being done. It was bizarre. And even when Superman DOES decide to start doing things, the movie is ¾ of the way over, and the decision isn’t really his. He’s practically gotta be talked into it. In combination with a personality-less and depressing Superman, this overt inactivity made him an extremely boring character (not to mention he barely says anything the entire movie).
My next issue was the endless backstory being shown. When the movie started on Krypton and we were introduced to that world, I was like, ‘Ooh, this is cool.’ I liked the technology, the originality of the planet, even the political stuff, with Zod trying to take down the government. But then it kept going. And going. And going. And going. And going. And going. And going. And going. And going. I don’t know how long it actually was, but it felt like half an hour.
That’s THIRTY FREAKING MINUTES of backstory they’re showing us. While I understand there’s a LITTLE bit of exposition required for Zod’s later arrival on Earth, it did not warrant a 30 minute opening that could have easily been boiled down to a quick montage and/or some later exposition. Hey, I’m all about the showing and not telling. That is unless your showing takes FOREVER.
Which brings me to the flashbacks. Why were these flashbacks necessary?? I suppose there are a FEW people in the world who don’t know Superman’s origin story. Even still, the flashbacks prevented any rhythm at all from developing. Maybe, MAYBE, they might’ve worked if you didn’t make us sit through a half hour of backstory that could’ve been edited down to 3 minutes. But because it took us so damn long to get down to earth, we were already impatient. And that impatience meant we weren’t okay with stopping every 8 minutes for a flashback that told us something we already knew (or could’ve assumed).
Now, here’s the thing with the flashbacks. Goyer uses them to establish Clark’s flaw. Or at least his central inner conflict – that he can’t help people even if he wants to. Goyer wanted to establish that in order show change in Superman later on, when he decides to go against his father’s wishes and fight for the planet. So I get why that was included. But here’s the irony, that choice is what made Superman so boring. By creating a flaw that states you “can’t do anything,” you limit your character to an inactive tumbleweed.
Now, here’s an example of how screenwriting mistakes start compounding on top of each other. Because we spent the first 30 minutes of the movie on backstory and because we spent ANOTHER 40 minutes showing Clark try to adapt to the world amidst a series of flashbacks, we didn’t get to the actual freaking STORY until over halfway through the film – Zod showing up and demanding Superman be returned.
This should’ve happened 30 minutes in, at the end of Act 1, and could’ve happened without all the backstory. One of the oldest storytelling tenets there is, is “Come into the story as late as you can.” Never start earlier than you have to. And if you really really wanted the Krypton stuff, you could’ve done it in a three minute montage without dialogue, which would’ve been so much more impactful anyway.
On top of all this, I couldn’t BELIEVE how melodramatic, on the nose, and over the top all the writing was. Here’s a screenwriting tip: If you’re writing a human interaction that would never ever happen in real life, you probably shouldn’t write it. There’s this scene where Young Clark, at school, is overwhelmed by all his new powers (mainly his X-ray vision) and escapes into a custodian closet in the hallway. His entire classroom follows him as his mother comes along and has a heart-to-heart with him, through the door. We get this dialogue. “The world’s too big mom.” “Then make it smaller.” AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!! This conversation would never happen! The teacher would’ve whisked the kids back to class so Clark and his mother could be alone, not waited for a mom to try and coax her kid out of the closet. And what kid says, “The world’s too big mom,” after finding out they have x-ray vision?? What about, “Why the hell can I see through people??” The combination of the falseness of the scene, the falseness of the dialogue and the overly dramatic handling of the interaction, destroyed any realism this scene had the hope of accomplishing.
I mean there isn’t a single genuine moment in this film. In the original Superman, Clark’s dad dies of a heart attack. It’s quick and tragic and never lingers. Here, Clark’s dad dies IN A TORNADO!!!! He actually stands outside the car, with the tornado coming his way, as Clark watches him from an underpass, wanting to save his father. His father raises up his hand and just says, ‘No,” and allows himself to be whipped up by the tornado. ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME!!!??? Again, I understand that this is an exploration of Clark’s inner conflict going on here – whether he should show his powers or not (and all the Jesus themes that come with that). But do you have to use a dad dramatically waving his son off from a LEVEL 5 TORNADO to get that conflict across??? What are the chances of ONE MAN finding a crashed alien and being killed by a tornado in the same lifetime???? A quadrillion to 1?
I loved the set-design here. I loved the new Superman uniform. I loved Russell Crowe as the father. I love Michael Shannon (who played Zod), period. And when Zach Snyder’s on, he’s an A-List director. But the writing in this was so freaking bad, it was embarrassing. And what’s so baffling is I know Goyer knows what he’s doing. Even on his worst day, he’s not this bad, which makes me wonder where some of these script decisions came from. Is Snyder known for over-the-top melodrama? Is he the cause of this? I know Christopher Nolan (who oversaw this) loves exposition, which explains the first 60 minutes. But the worst scene in The Dark Knight is better than the best scene in Man Of Steel, so it couldn’t have been him. Maybe Jon Peters (infamous for parlaying a Barbara Streisand hairdressing relationship into a producing career) was still contractually allowed to make some story decisions? I don’t know. My gut tells me people who don’t understand screenwriting got to make some major story decisions because I can’t imagine a top level screenwriter writing a script this bad.
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Be wary of an internal conflict that makes your protagonist uninteresting. It can be so rewarding finding that flaw or inner conflict that allows you to explore your character on a deeper level throughout the script. With Will Hunting, it’s that he refuses to open up. With Luke Skywalker, it’s that he doesn’t believe in himself yet. With Clark Kent in Man of Steel, it’s that he CAN’T ACT. Does that allow you to dig into your protagonist and explore him on a deeper level? Sure. But the conflict dictates that your main character take on the very trait that makes characters uninteresting – not acting, which is what doomed this. Even if you got everything else right here (less backstory, cleaner plot) an inactive, reclusive Superman will always be boring. Let this be a warning not to write yourself into a corner with your main character’s flaw.
This is your chance to discuss the week’s amateur scripts, offered originally in the Scriptshadow newsletter. The primary goal for this discussion is to find out which script(s) is the best candidate for a future Amateur Friday review. The secondary goal is to keep things positive in the comments with constructive criticism.
Below are the scripts up for review, along with the download links. Want to receive the scripts early? Head over to the Contact page, e-mail us, and “Opt In” to the newsletter.
LOGLINE: A group of young girls survive a deadly tornado in a storm drain only to get trapped with the water rising.
TITLE: IN THE YEARS OF SONDER
GENRE: SCI-FI ACTION
LOGLINE: A sci-fi actioner set in 2045, the story follows two idealistic, advanced humans whose lives get turned upside down when a research doctor hunts them for experimentation.
LOGLINE: A college professor takes a yacht trip with her investment broker husband, but their plan for a relaxing weekend getaway turns into a deadly struggle when the skipper targets them in retaliation for the husband’s financial crimes.
WHY SHOULD YOU READ: The writer already has two story credits on tv shows including mega-hit, Glee.
TITLE: Son of the Devil
LOGLINE: When he realizes his girlfriend is missing, a pre-med student starts searching for answers, but before long he and his friends are being hunted by a cult whose leader claims to be The Devil.
LOGLINE: A pregnant teenager must kidnap her boyfriend, recently brainwashed by his family into an apocalyptic cult.
EDIT: SORRY! COMMENTS SHOULD WORK NOW!
I don’t give ratings like this to amateur scripts (or any scripts these days) very often. But I’m giving one today!
Amateur Friday Submission Process: To submit your script for an Amateur Review, send in a PDF of your script, a PDF of the first ten pages of your script, your title, genre, logline, and finally, why I should read your script. Use my submission address please: Carsonreeves3@gmail.com. Your script and “first ten” 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 Jewish woman in occupied France escapes the Nazis by changing places with a shop owner. But as her love grows for the other woman’s husband and child, so does her guilt.
About: This is…. Amateur Week SMACKDOWN – 5 scripts, all of which have been pre-vetted by the SRF (Scriptshadow Reader Faithful), vie for the Top Prize, an official endorsement from whoever the guy is who runs this site. Good luck to all!
Writer: Michael Whatling
Details: 111 pages – NOTE: This is a NEW DRAFT from the one originally posted on Amateur Offerings, with notes incorporated from those who read it.
Amateur Week Smackdown is coming to an end. Going into today, Tuesday’s entry, Ship Of The Dead, is the clear leader. It didn’t quite garner a “worth the read,” since its second half didn’t live up to its first. But it was the most marketable script, and the easiest to tweak, should someone want to buy it and turn it into a movie.
With that said, I’d been saving Patisserie for last because this one had gotten the best reception from all of you guys. Word on the street was that even a French A-list actress requested the script for a read. So if all else failed, I had a feeling Patisserie would save us from a trip to The Burning Fire Pit Of Forgotten Screenplays. Let us engage our Google Translation apps, jump on the Chunnel train, and dip our heinies in a little croissant butter. Time…..FOR SOME PATISSERIE!
It’s 1941. France is occupied by Germany. This means that every French town is infested with Nazi soldiers. Soldiers who are amping up their search for Jews. This is where our story begins. A group of Jews have been rounded up and marched through the streets of a small town, chained together, for everyone to see and understand who’s in control. These Nazis want the townsfolk to know that with the flick of a wrist, they could be heading to a concentration camp near you.
Emilie is one of these Jews. She’s stuck on the line. But when a fortunate trip by one of the older men occurs, it provides her with an opportunity to escape. So she darts over to a nearby Patisserie and scurries inside, all while an owner of the shop, the beautiful and innocent Mireille, is too stunned to say or do anything about it.
When the Germans realize they’ve lost the girl, they start freaking out. Realizing that they can’t show up to the camp one girl short, they grab Mireille, who somewhat resembles Emilie, clobber her unconscious, and go on their merry way, numbers intact.
When Mireille’s husband, Andre, comes home, he finds former Jewish prisoner Emile hiding in his shop, which he’s a little more than confused by. But Andre’s a nice guy, so he gives Emile some food and lets her play with his 2 year old son while he waits for Mireille to come home. Of course, Mireille doesn’t come home. Not that day, not the next day, and not the next.
Andre’s confused at first, then angry, and then obsessed about his wife’s disappearance. Unfortunately, nobody will talk to him about what happened that day. Nobody wants to piss the German soldiers off. So they tell him to shut up and stop making trouble. Eventually, Andre comes to grips with the reality that his wife isn’t coming back. And slowly, almost by default, Elise assumes that wife/mother role in the family, even taking Mireille’s official identity.
It doesn’t take long for the Nazi soldiers to get suspicious, particularly a snide little rat named Egger, who takes a liking to both Elise and Andre’s baked goods. He notices that Andre and Elise don’t look right together, and lingers at the shop after his nightly shifts, asking questions that neither of them can easily answer. We get the feeling that sooner or later, this is all going to blow up. The question is, on which side will the casualties lie? And will Andre ever see his real wife again?
About midway through Patisserie I let out a big sigh, pushed my computer away, and took a drink of water. This is a longstanding cue for Miss Scriptshadow to look at me and say, “Good or bad?” I needed to think about that question. It wasn’t a simple answer. I finally offered a reserved, “Good.” Then I paused. “But boring good.”
I wasn’t aware what I meant by that at first. I mean, I don’t think there’s any question that Patisserie is the best-written script of the week. The writer transports you to a place and time via a mastery of prose and atmosphere that leaves most writers in the dust. Good writers seem to have this ability, where you’re not even aware you’re reading a script while you’re reading it. It all flows so naturally. It all feels so real.
But still, even though I was enjoying Patisserie, there was nothing jumping out at me. It was all very understated. “Boring good” might actually be a harsh assessment. But it was definitely the kind of good that’s hard to get excited about. So yeah, I wanted to finish the thing, but I didn’t NEED to finish the thing. And that’s an essential difference between a good script and a great one.
Well, not so fast, Carson. As I entered phase 2 of the script read, something happened. Every five pages, the script got better than the previous five pages. And I’ll tell you when I realized I had something special – it was the scene where Egger (huge spoiler) lets Andre and Emilie know he knows their secret, so they kill him. It was just a really tense well developed scene with tension and suspense and dramatic irony and surprise. Whatling had done a great job with all the previous Egger visits setting this moment up, and the result was this victorious feeling for finally taking down one of the bad guys, mixed with horror as we feared the repercussions of the act. From that point on, I was president of the Patisserie Fan Club.
But there’s nothing that could’ve prepared me for the climax. Now I’m going to get into some major spoilers here so I recommend you read the script before continuing. But here’s why I was so revved up about this. I always say that if you REALLY want to give us a character to remember, give them an impossible choice. Give them a choice where there is no right answer, and where the stakes for the choice are sky high. And if possible, place that choice during the climax.
When we’re looking at Mireille screaming at Andre in the middle of the street, to please tell the German officers that she’s his wife, I mean… I had to do the “Readjust.” The “Readjust” is when you sit straight up, make sure you’re totally comfortable, then go back to reading. Bad scripts never get the Readjust. I remain slouched back the whole time during a bad script.
But even WITH that piece of advice I so often preach, I couldn’t believe what Whatling did with that final chapter. A German officer brings Mireille over to Andre and says she’s claiming that Andre is her husband, and that Ellie is a Jew. With Ellie standing next to Andre, the soldier demands that he tell him which one of these women is his real wife. I honestly had no idea what he was going to say. It was one of the most tension-filled climaxes I’ve ever read. It was that good. And it’s that scene that pushed this up to an impressive for me.
And you know what else made this an impressive? It’s another thing I always preach. You want your main characters to be the kind of characters that actors would die to play. Make them Academy Award worthy characters. I’m not kidding with what I’m about to say. If this script gets into the right director’s hands? If the right people are making it? I could see it garnering TWO Academy awards, one for the lead (Emile), and one for supporting (Mireille). Female actresses just don’t get the opportunity to play characters like this very often.
But there’s a lot more to celebrate here. I love how the entire movie is built on one of the most dependable screenwriting tools there is – dramatic irony. We and Emilie know what Andre does not – that his wife was taken by the Germans. And it was Emile’s fault! This provides an undercurrent of tension and suspense throughout the entire script, as we’re wondering when this information is finally going to be disclosed to Andre, and how.
And Egger – what a brilliant villain. One way I know I’m dealing with a good writer is when the villain isn’t an over-the-top evil asshole. Egger was a coward. A conniving slimy two-face who smiles and pretends he’s your best buddy, all while stealing from you. These are the villains that really stick with audiences – the ones we truly want to see go down. And boy were we happy when Egger went down.
Besides the slow first half, I really only have one complaint. (spoiler) I don’t think Emilie should give herself up in the end. When Andre tells the officers that Emilie is his wife, and he’s walking away with Mireille pleading to him on her hands and knees, I think that’s the end of your movie. It doesn’t get any more powerful than that moment. And to end on that…holy shit would that have everyone talking as they leave the theater – creating the kind of word-of-mouth that only much bigger movies with much bigger budgets and marketing campaigns can achieve. Something about Emile going back to give herself up felt like an extra ending to me.
That’s my one suggestion. But this isn’t a script that needs a lot of suggestions. It’s freaking that good!
Script link: Patisserie
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] genius
AMATEUR SMACKDOWN WEEK WINNER: Patisserie!!!
What I learned: There’s something about a villain who smiles while he steals from you that always gets audiences. A person who charges in and demands you give him money or he’ll shoot you in the face is boring. If that same person pals around with you for half an hour, then gently implies that for protection, you might want to fork over 30% of your paycheck? We will always hate that character more than the Obvious Guy. That’s why Egger was so genius here. He WAS that character.
Why this script SHOULD be purchased: Look, there’s no question this is a tough sell. However, there’s always going to be a market for World War 2 films. You should have no problem attaching two well-known actresses to this script, which should get you financing, which should get the film made. This ain’t going to be a The Purge return on investment. But it could be one of those “little engines that could” that battles for Academy votes come the end of the year.