Again, Amateur Offerings is when YOU the Scriptshadow readers submit your own scripts in a Battle Royale format. The script that gets the most votes in the Comments section gets a Friday review, where, if the script is good, good things are known to happen. And it’s a special Amateur Offerings post since one of the scripts comes from an idea of mine! Shadows Below is based on an idea I threw out there in an earlier post. Gregory took that idea and he and his partner ran with it. I don’t want to weight script reads though. Try to read as many scripts as you can. Then vote for your favorite in the comments!
Title: Shadows Below
Genre: Action Thriller
Logline: After terrorists attack China on the 4th of July, a submarine commanded by the President’s Daughter and a team of Navy SEALs are all that stand between the US and Nuclear Armageddon.
Why you should read: Hidden around the world are submarines with only one mission: Nuclear Counter-strike in the event of war. Known as doomsday subs for their ability to destroy the world, redundancy protocols give their Captains absolute authority to launch ballistic missiles if communications with command ever stops. — SHADOWS BELOW is a modern day action / thriller that revolves around the President’s Daughter and the US submarine she comes to lead. After American terrorists nuke China’s Naval Command on the 4th of July, a Chinese doomsday sub Captained by a legendary Admiral goes rogue and has just under four hours to start a war by nuking Washington DC. — SHADOWS BELOW highlights every aspect of our Navy, from SEALs to Top Gun Pilots, submarines, and aircraft carriers, all engaging in a desperate battle just off the coast of DC to save America. — It is INDEPENDENCE DAY meets THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER with a female protagonist.
Title: Nerd Got Game
Genre: Teen Comedy
Logline: A high school science prodigy attends a State science convention where he meets a local girl who turns his world upside down.
Why you should read: Nerd Got Game has been through ten plus drafts, including a page one rewrite. The end result is a lean 90 page script that’s ready to go. I love the old John Hughes films from the 80’s and more recent teen comedy efforts like Sex Drive (2008), Easy A (2010) and The DUFF (2015). But teen comedies, like romantic comedies, seem to be a rare bird these days. Time for a comeback.
Title: Sessions of Lead Belly
Logline: A Southern black folk singer walks the line between a violent criminal life and becoming a great American musician.
Why you should read: Inspired by the likes of “Raging Bull” and “Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould”, “Sessions of Lead Belly” is stylistic bordering on surreal and strives for quality even at expense of authenticity. — The nonlinear structure throughout different periods in Lead Belly’s life of the early 1900’s is patterned to best draw interest and convey information, exploring who Lead Belly is and why, as well as the futility of triumph and meagerness of survival against all odds. — Every sequence is nearly standalone, playing out as ambitious mini-stories and innovative short films, each with a calculated build and unique style.
Title: The Feed (based on the novel “Feed” by MT Anderson)
Logline: In the 22nd century, a complacent teenager’s life is thrown into disarray when a rebellious girl shows him that his Utopian world isn’t as perfect as it seems.
Why you should read: Yes, this is another teen dystopian sci-fi story. In 2100s America, our brains have been supplemented with “Feeds”. Feeds are amazing sources of information, communication and connectivity. Yet people are further apart than ever, unable to express anything but boredom and materialism. It’s a script full of big ideas like dependence on technology, corporate control, and big-brother paranoia. But more than any of those things, it’s about people. People who are still people, despite being profiled as consumers, targets, and cogs in the machine. — This is my first attempt at a feature-length script, something I finished working on last summer but was just inspired to submit (as I think adaptations are ineligible for SS250). I’ve written two shorts; one was made into a tiny indie and the other was the recipient of a large cash award within my university. The Feed is based on a novel I truly love, and I hope that the script shows that love for the core story and characters.
Logline: A newlywed discovers her family has secretly been hunting down werewolves for centuries and must now choose between the life she has and continuing the family legacy.
Why you should read: This is a dark monster tale with some humorous character interactions to ease the ride. It is a telling of how secrets and betrayals can remold us while perpetuating the cycle of revenge no matter how desperately we fight against it. We are, after all, human. I am a nobody putting my spec out there hoping for an “Immaculate Reception” just to get it read. I have submitted this before to you, and you are probably sick of hearing from me however, I am persistent. Although I thought it was ready for contests, and I did send it to Scriptshadow 250, I highly doubt it will make the cut in any contest, because after I sent it, I found errors (I truly suck at proofing), but there may be other reasons it won’t make Carson’s list, or any list this year. However, since that time, it has gone through some revisions that I believe have removed these reasons, while painfully proofing it, and:
— In June 2015: LEGACY was requested by 2 production firms to read.
— Has nabbed a Wildsound contest WIN for a screenplay read, and is scheduled for August 2015.
— Made the semi-finals for 1/2015 “Table Read My Screenplay” Park City, Utah contest.
So, that’s progress, which I would like to continue by having it reviewed here by the SS community, so I have to ask, Carson, are you my ‘Franco Harris?”
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 troubled detective operates outside the law when he buys an underage prostitute to perform “favors.” But when a 16-year-old girl goes missing and he must use her diary to reconstruct the events that led to her disappearance, an unimaginable truth emerges.
Why You Should Read (from writer): You once wrote on your blog that you had passed along a script because it was RFG (Really Fucking Good). The person you sent that script to, agreed with you about it being RFG and they passed it along, etc. — Well, I’ve been told that my script is RFG and I’m passing it along to you as I’d like to see what the SS community thinks. — It’s a dark tale and honestly, I was in a fucked-up place when I wrote it. Hell, I still might be there. But while I love reading a good mindbender, I loved writing one even more.
Writer: Carver Gray
Details: 125 pages!!
It’s time to break out those stars and stripes and celebrate America’s birthday everyone! How do we do that on Scriptshadow? By reviewing a script about a missing girl who’s likely been brutally murdered. Woo-hoo! What’s more American than that!
Ahh, you think I’m joking. We’ve had a handful of angry commenters over the years complaining of too many “missing women” scripts. But here’s why I think the formula works. There’s something about a young beautiful woman that represents hope. We see endless possibilities in that life. So when that’s taken, it’s like our own hopes and dreams (a very American ideology) are taken as well. So there’s a symbolic nature to getting that girl back. It’s like getting our dreams back.
“Unlawful” follows 27 year-old detective, Ryan Risberg. Ryan’s finally coming back to work after a stint at rehab and that treatment must’ve kicked ass because he’s already shooting up heroin 24 hours into his recovery.
To facilitate his addiction, Ryan buys a hooker for the week, 14 year-old, Deja. Because Ryan’s scared of needles, he needs Deja to inject him. This will cost him a pretty penny – $1500 to be exact. I have a feeling Ryan could’ve done better by shopping around.
The first day back at work, Ryan’s assigned the case of a missing 16 year-old girl, Sadie Mullen. Sadie slipped out of her house one evening and never came back. The cops aren’t sure if she just ran away or there’s foul play involved, so that’s where Ryan comes in.
Through Sadie’s best friend, Jolene, Ryan learns that Sadie was seeing some frat boy named Nick. The two went out one night and Sadie hasn’t been seen since. Complicating matters is that Nick is missing as well. Did he kill Sadie and go on the run?
Meanwhile, Ryan is getting high on anything he can find (his current infatuation is air dusting compressors) and dealing with his own demons – a daughter he had when he was younger that the mom ran off with. As he gets closer to finding out the truth of what happened to Sadie, he begins to suspect that, gasp, she might be his child.
Unlawful is solid. Carver sets up a really nice mystery here. It gives our main character a noble goal that powers the story through its running time. Carver’s obviously put a lot of effort into Ryan, as well. The dude is really fucked up. And his relationship with a 14 year-old black prostitute gives the script an edge.
And that’s EXTREMELY important when you’re writing dark thrillers. I often feel that for a dark thriller spec to sell, you have to be the most fucked up kid on the block. You have to be able to go to places that other writers can’t or are afraid to. That’s why Lambs and Seven still resonate today. They went to some really dark fucked up places (a form of torture where you simultaneously starve the person yet give them just enough calories to keep them alive? WHO THINKS OF THAT???).
I also thought the ending was great. And it saved this script for me because through the bulk of it, I was mentally leaning towards a high “wasn’t for me.” The ending (spoilers!) has Jolene killing both Nick and Sadie. And also, it turns out that Jolene is Ryan’s daughter. So he’s captured the killer, but he now has to decide whether to put the daughter he’s been looking for all his life behind bars for the rest of her life. That’s a great dilemma!
Here’s where Unlawful went sideways on me. IT’S FUCKING TOO LONG! This is a 125 page script. Really!?? For a single-thread plot?? I get it if you’re writing Pulp Fiction with multiple narratives or a script with a more complicated structure (the dual-character-perspectives of Gone Girl). But this isn’t that. I suppose we do get some backstory scenes with Sadie’s diary. But that’s not enough to justify 125 pages. This shouldn’t have been a page over 110.
And readers know this. And you can lose a reader that way. Remember, readers are always scared to recommend things. They’re afraid their bosses are going to come back and say, “What is this crap? This sucks.” And it makes them look like they have bad taste, the last thing they want their boss to think of them.
So it’s almost like readers are looking for you to give them reasons to say no. That way, they can rationalize not passing the script along. In this case, a seasoned reader will say: “This is pretty good. But he doesn’t even know that a script like this should be 110 pages. He’s obviously a beginner.”
So that’s the first piece of advice I’d offer Carver. Make this lean and mean. And I say that not just as a page Nazi. I say it because the middle act drags. We start to get a little bored. Cut out every scene that isn’t absolutely necessary so we move through this mystery faster.
My other issue is Deja. And I’m going to contradict myself here for a second. Yes, I like the edge that Deja brings. BUT her character is so cut off from the rest of the story that I’m not sure it’s worth it. I say this all the time but be careful of plotlines that are off on their own island (that don’t co-exist with the rest of the plot).
If you want to include Deja, she’s going to have to become part of the bigger story at some point. Even so, you already have two 16 year-old girls you’re dealing with (Sadie and Jolene). So can’t we use one of them for this role? Or an approximation of this role? In other words, you need to give us some damn good reasons for adding a third teenage girl.
Also, if you do keep Deja, give her more of an arc. We need to see her change. If you wanted to kill two birds with one stone, maybe she starts to help Ryan find this girl. And through that experience, she can learn that she doesn’t want to prostitute anymore. Now that I’m thinking about it, the older cop and young prostitute teaming up might come off as a little goofy. But we need to find SOME WAY to connect Deja with this story. Right now, it’s not happening.
If you can cut the length down here and figure out what to do with Deja, you’ll be in really good shape. Also, add a couple more WTF scenes – scenes that really push the boundaries, like the drug-test dehydration scene. Prove to us you’re the most fucked up kid on the block (as long as the scenes are organic to the story and not just there to be fucked up!). A lot of writers are writing these scripts so you have to demonstrate that you’re creatively darker than they are. I wish you luck, my friend. And good job!
Screenplay link: Unlawful
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Figure out which character in your script is the best candidate to arc. In other words, the best character you can take from a negative place at the beginning of the screenplay, to a positive place at the end. Not all characters are created equal and some characters aren’t built for huge character arcs. Take Ferris Bueller, for instance. Ferris lives a great life, loves his friends, and is always happy. He doesn’t really need to change. Cameron (his best friend), on the other hand, is always depressed, doesn’t believe in himself, and has major issues with his father. He’s a much better candidate for change. I don’t think nearly enough was done here to arc Deja. Yeah, she goes back to her family but it sort of comes out of necessity, because the story no longer needs her, not because it needed to happen for her. So look for those character-arcing candidates, guys. Those arcs, when written well, can have a powerful impact on the audience. We just love seeing people learn and become better. It makes us feel like we can do the same.
So a few weeks ago I was watching a short film (actually, it was the one I linked to in my newsletter) and I marveled at how easy it is to stand out in that medium. You have so many tools available to you. You can do something funky with the color grading (the green tint used in The Matrix). You can add a weird soundtrack (Gregory Go Boom). You can play with the camera angles, add creative camera movement, dress the set in a weird way (a la Wes anderson). The opportunities are endless.
Then you slide over to the screenplay side and… all of that is gone. You’re working with black and white. Not even images. Just words. There’s no musical cue to set the tone or sound effect to heighten the atmosphere. And that got me thinking. What can writers do to make their scripts stand out? I started thinking back to all the scripts I’ve read and specifically to the ones that left an impression. Was it only about the story? Or were there specific areas where you could make an impression? That’s the question I want to answer today. Here are six things you can do to make your script stand out from the pack.
Take pride in your presentation – Scripts riddled with weird presentation issues leave a bad taste in my mouth. Like the other day I was reading a script where a character name was at the bottom of the page, and the dialogue for that character was at the top of the next page. How am I supposed to see you as a professional after that? So start using professional screenwriting software, whether it be Final Draft, Fade In, even Celtx. This takes care of 90% of your presentation issues. From there, aim for a zero-mistake policy with your grammar and spelling. And avoid manic writing styles (lots of capitalization, underlining, italicizing). You may think you NEED TO WRITE WITH A BUNCH OF CAPITAL LETTERS AND BOLD AND ITALICS TO STAND OUT but all this does is make you look unsure of yourself – like you don’t think your story is good enough to be told without screaming. Whether I like a script or not, I always respect the writer who takes pride in their work. Those scripts always stand out to me.
Voice – Identifying something you want to write about is only half the battle. The other half is identifying how you’re going to present it – how your specific presentation is going to make it unique. This is the most effective way of standing out in screenwriting – writing in a unique voice. Take note, however, that “voice” has a volume dial. You can turn your voice up to “10” (tell your time travel story through the subconscious of a rabbit with Tourette’s Syndrome) but that might be too weird. On the flip side, if you don’t turn the “voice volume” up at all, nobody’s going to hear you. Take Tuesday’s two Narcos pilots. The first draft was slow, droll, painfully linear, and something we’ve seen a million times before. It lacked a single unique trait. The second draft shifted the perspective to a disembodied voice over and focused on a whirlwind retelling of Columbia’s exciting drug trade history. The exact same subject matter went from being boring to being fun – and it was all due to the voice it was told in – one that was more energetic and that changed up the perspectives of the main characters. So think hard about how you’re going to present your material. It has a huge impact on the read.
Start telling a story and never stop – Too many writers start their scripts in “set up” mode. They’re focused on setting up characters, relationships, backstory, jobs, plot exposition. As a result, we feel like we’re back in 6th grade reading comprehension class. Like, “Oh man, I better write down that John here lost his brother when he was 10 or I’m going to get an F.” Scripts should never feel like work, especially spec scripts. To that end, start telling a story from the very first line of your script and don’t stop until you type “The End.” The other day I rented this amazing foreign film called “Wild Tales.” It starts out on a plane, and an older man begins hitting on the woman next to him. Within 90 seconds, the two realize that they have a mutual friend. As they begin talking about this friend, someone in a nearby row pops up and says, “I’m sorry. I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation. I know that man as well.” And then another person pops up, and then another. We begin to realize that everyone on this plane knows this man. I’m not going to tell you what happens next to drive my point home. You’re already hooked. You want to know how all these people know the same person and you want to know what happens next. That’s what telling a story is about – it’s about hooking the reader immediately and not letting them go. Too many writers believe in some unwritten rule that it’s okay to bore the reader for awhile as long as you entertain them later. I’m sorry but it doesn’t work like that.
Thoughtful character introductions – It always leaves an impression on me when a writer writes thoughtful descriptive character introductions. Characters are really important. They’re the lifeblood of your story. And when you watch a movie, you get a sense of the character right away just by the way they look. Think about any of the characters in The Big Lebowski (or any Coen Brothers film for that matter). They really make an impression when they arrive onscreen, right? Well, you should try to replicate that on the page. And the only way you’re going to do that is with a thoughtful description that captures the character’s essence. To achieve this, identify a character’s defining characteristic and make that the focal point of their description. Here’s how The Dude is introduced in The Big Lebowski: “We are tracking in on a fortyish man in Bermuda shorts and sunglasses at the dairy case. He is the Dude. His rumpled look and relaxed manner suggest a man in whom casualness runs deep.” Isn’t that so much better than, “This is the Dude, a bored-looking man who walks through the supermarket isle?”
Paint a picture when you write – Lots of writers use the Dragnet approach to screenwriting (“Just the facts ma’am.”). So they’ll describe a bedroom this way: “The room is messy and has a single bed in the corner.” There’s nothing wrong with this. But come on. You’re a writer! Be creative. Paint us a picture. Maybe, “The room is populated with endless stacks of old Popular Science magazines. The bed in the corner is buried in various fast food bags.” You see how much more information the second description gives us? How much more you know about the person living in that room? And I know what you’re thinking: “But you tell us to keep our writing sparse, Carson.” That’s true. If a room isn’t relevant to the story, a quick and dirty description is fine. But if a location is relevant to the story or your characters, take a little extra time and paint a picture for us. Just do it in as few words but do it. If your entire script is told in a “just the facts ma’am” manner, it’ll register in the reader’s head as a big ball of genericness.
At least one larger-than-life character – When I read a script, I need at least one character who pops off the page. It doesn’t have to be the main character. But it’s gotta be someone. That way, I’m always looking forward to that character coming back (and that keeps me reading your script!). The most obvious example of this is Hannibal from Silence of the Lambs. Just a larger than life character who’s constantly surprising us. But your memorable character can be someone who’s crazy (The Joker), funny (George Clooney’s character in Gravity), a little bit dangerous (Quint from Jaws). If every character in your story is stuck firmly on the ground, you’ve probably got a pretty boring screenplay. You need that one character who’s at least 500 feet above sea level.
To sum up, I think the biggest way to stand out as a screenwriter is to be creative where others settle for being ordinary. Are you the writer who’s going to mail in one more generic car chase? Or are you going to put your character in a stationary bullet-proof super car with 20 cops firing AK-47s at it from less than 10 feet away and your hero has nowhere to go (Captain America 2). Are you going to give us one more generic boy-meets-girl rom-com? Or are you going to put that relationship in a blender like 500 Days of Summer? Are you going to demonstrate your main character’s detachment from life by making him yet another drunk? Or are you going to pull a Collateral Beauty and have him mindlessly building domino sculptures all day? Remember guys, it’s easy for readers to measure effort. We know when you’ve really put a lot into a scene and when you’ve mailed it in. You can never trick the reader. So put every ounce of your soul into every ounce of your screenplay and I promise you, you’ll stand out.