Busier than normal here at the household. One of the Dragon Gods of Screenplay Heaven got sick and I had to take him to the vet. So I’m reposting my newsletter review of BIRDMAN, which is from a long time ago. Now since that time, they’ve come out with a trailer. And I’ll be the first to admit, the trailer looks awesome. It’s unique in all the right ways. It takes chances. It’s fun. But I’m not backing off my review. The script was borderline unreadable. And I know my review was a little mean-spirited, but as I know all of you can attest to, there’s nothing that gets you more riled up as a reader than a comedy where nothing is funny. Now whether this is another case of a “what the hell did I just read” turning into True Detective, we’ll have to see. But it’s pretty easy to come up with a cool looking trailer that then becomes a terrible movie. Heck, we see it every month. I’m hoping I’m wrong though. I’m hoping Inarritu had some vision that went beyond the script, which can sometimes happen with writer-director projects. So here’s my original newsletter review of Birdman. Also, I WILL be sending out a newsletter later this week. If you’re not on the list, you can join here.
Premise: A famous director turns away from his successful blockbuster movie franchise to try and make it on Broadway.
About: “Birdman” is Alejandro Inarritu’s first foray into comedy. He’s best known for his dark gritty dramas like 21 Grams, Amores Perros, Biutiful, and Babel. Birdman is finished filming and stars Edward Norton, Michael Keaton, and Naomi Watts. Now, Inarritu actually has a little bit of history with the screenwriting world. He used to work closely with writer Guillermo Arriaga on all his films. Then Arriaga, a screenwriter through-and-through, began a personal campaign pushing the agenda that writers and directors should share an “auteur” credit in every movie, as they are just as responsible for the movie as the director. That pissed Inarritu off, who strongly disagreed, and the two’s friendship and working relationship fell apart as a result. This happened during the writing of Babel, and the two haven’t worked together since. It’s an interesting development in that one could argue that Biutiful was Inarritu’s worst film, and it was his first full movie without Arriaga. Coincidence? Maybe the script for Birdman, which Inarritu is the head writer on, will help us find out.
Writers: Alejandro G. Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo
Details: 121 pages (Sept 10, 2012 draft)
I’m always interested when someone who’s successful in one arena tries to break out of the hole they’ve been pigeoned in (get it! “Birdman!”) into another arena. Not only is there the curiosity factor of if they can do it, but there’s a lot on the line. Everyone’s doubtful that you can pull it off, and they’re kind of ready to rip you apart if you fail. And there’s no genre harder to pull off than comedy.
So to hear that Inarritu was making a comedy – he being responsible for some of the most depressing films of the last decade – well, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t surprised. Did Inarritu have a secret life? Did he stay home late at night watching Chris Farley movies and making farting noises with his armpit at the dinner table? Or was he just sick of being tabbed the super serious guy? Or better yet, did he just want to prove he could do it? These were questions I was curious to have answered.
Our oddly named hero, Riggan, is a 55 year old director whose successful film franchise “Birdman,” has made him a household name. But when given the chance to make a fourth Birdman film and add even more money to his coffers, Riggan decides, instead, to try out Broadway – to make a serious dramatic play which will bring him the respect he’s always longed for.
The problem is, he hates his lead. Which is a huge issue when your play debuts in a couple of weeks. Luckily, that lead gets injured, and Riggan is able to replace him with a hot Broadway actor named Matt Skinner. The Brando-like Skinner may be a better actor, but he’s also nuts. He lives and breathes his characters, and isn’t afraid to fuck with the production in order to get what he wants. For example, one day he sets fire to the set. Why? Cause he’s Matt Skinner!
If Riggan only had to worry about Matt, he MIGHT be able to get through this. But he’s also going a little nuts (he constantly talks with a manifestation of his Birdman character throughout the movie). He’s got a daughter who hates him, seemingly because he doesn’t know what Twitter is. And there are numerous cast and crew members who are banging (or wanting to bang) each other, inadvertently destroying this delicate production Riggan’s worked so hard to create. Will Riggan figure out a way to save his play and finally earn the respect he feels he deserves? You’ll be able to find out this fall.
Okay, I’m just going to come out and say it. This was terrible. I mean, it’s pretty much a failure on every level. This is a comedy without any laughs. The tone is all over the place (dead serious one moment, overly goofy the next). And I’m wondering if the script’s shortcomings are an ESL issue. Because very little made sense. I know I couldn’t write a comedy in another language. So there’s no shame in it. The shame is in trying to do something you shouldn’t have done in the first place.
Birdman’s problems go deep. Within the first 5 pages, I was confused. First of all, the main character starts in his dressing room, then walks out onto a stage, where the other characters are having a discussion about a psycho ex-boyfriend, which we believe to be a scene rehearsal. But then they turn to Riggan and ask him, mid-rehearsal, what he thinks about the matter. He says something to the effect of, “I don’t know the guy so I don’t know,” and we begin to think that maybe this isn’t a rehearsel. That it is, in fact, actors talking before rehearsal.
But then later in the conversation, Riggan gives one of the actors an acting note preceded by the parenthetical (as the director). Oh! I guess Riggan is the director now. Nobody told me that. Guess we were supposed to figure it out on our own. Except then we realize that Riggan is both the director AND the lead actor. So now I’m going back to the beginning and trying to figure out what this means. Was this a rehearsel or actors chatting? If it was rehearsel, why is the director AND lead actor not out there rehearsing with them? If it wasn’t a rehearsal, why is Riggan giving directing cues mid-coversation?
I see amateurs make this mistake a lot but rarely pros. Whenever you’re setting up a complicated situation (a writer-director you haven’t set up yet walking into an ambiguous scene), it’s your job to identify that it might be difficult for the reader to interpret and call upon your clarity wand to clear things up. Tell us Riggan is both the director and the lead actor in a description paragraph if you have to. Confusing a reader right off the bat in a screenplay is one of the worst things you can do. They lose trust in you and the script IMMEDIATELY and from that point on, you’re playing catch-up with their trust.
On top of this, it’s never clear if Riggan was the director of his famous franchise, Birdman, or the lead actor. He’s portrayed as a director in our story, so we naturally assume he was the director of Birdman. But then it’s indicated he ACTED in those movies too. This is so unnecessarily confusing. Why not just go with one or the other?
I loved Amores Perros. It made me an instant Inarritu fan. Babel had some really great moments in it as well. So I’ve always had a soft spot for Inarritu as a director. But comedy is not his forte. I respect stepping out of your comfort zone. But I mean… yikes. This is not funny or good or clear or anything that a screenplay needs to be. It wants to be five different movies instead of one. I mean, not even the basics are in place. There are no stakes! What happens if our main character, who has hundreds of millions in the bank, fails with this play? He goes back to making Birdman 4. Nothing is lost. Nor are we ever told what this play is about. This is a movie about a play and I don’t know what it’s about!
The only cool thing about this script is that Michael Keaton is playing Riggan – Keaton, of course, of Batman fame. There’ll be some nice irony here in that he’s basically playing a version of himself. And I see that Inarritu is doing a little auto-biographicalizing of his own. He’s trying to get some demons about the business out – how does one be a successful artist and balance family at the same time?
I like when writers bring their own problems into their characters as that’s usually when we see the deepest most meaningful exploration of character. Unfortunately, there was nothing authentic about the Riggan-daughter relationship. I don’t know. It was just… off. Her big monologue in the movie – the one that breaks down their relationship with one another – amounts to “You need to use Twitter more!” Does any of this script make sense? Or more importantly, has nobody told Inarritu that his script isn’t any good?
I think there needs to be a system in place where production companies and studios send their scripts out to a neutral party – someone who has zero skin in the game. Because a lot of money is about to be spent. Don’t you want someone telling you if your script is terrible? Don’t you want that chance to avoid a colossal mistake? Or to fix what’s broken? I get the feeling this script was written in a vacuum and these guys didn’t have anyone telling them how off it was.
Then again, it’s a comedy. And comedies are easy to hate if you’re not “getting” the sense of humor. So maybe I’m just not getting it. Also, the movie starts out with Michael Keaton floating in mid-air and never goes on to explain why. With a universe that untamed, maybe this isn’t the kind of script meant to be judged. Maybe you’re supposed to throw logic to the wind and just go with it. But there’s a fine line between that kind of movie and one that throws a bunch of nonsensical crazy shit at the screen and hopes it hits. Let’s hope Birdman isn’t the latter.
[x] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: If you want to go “off the reservation” with your script, like Birdman, go ahead and do it. But please take the time to be clear about what’s happening on the page. The wilder your story is, the less reference we have to draw on, which means we need more hand-holding along the way. If we’re confused about something as simple as what your hero does, that can kill the entire reading experience.
What I learned 2: When you write a dialogue scene, try not to think of it in terms of what you (the writer) need to do with the plot. Think of it in terms of what the characters need. This is a common mistake all writers make. We’re so focused on moving the plot forward or getting in those important lines of exposition, that we forget that in real life, there’s no all-knowing entity sitting above people forcing them to do anything. In real life, people just talk. So you kind of have to take yourself out of the equation and approach the scene from inside the two characters. They’re not thinking about what you, Aaron Sorkin, need them to say so he can properly pay off that first Act setup. They may just want the girl across from them to know that they like them. If you do this properly, your scenes will stop feeling stagey and plot-driven and start to feel more like two people actually talking.
A quick thought on the Emmys. Breaking Bad dominated with 5 wins in important categories, taking out True Detective, which only received one (for directing). Mad Men shut out again. Has that show lost its juice? Also, why is Game of Thrones ignored at the Emmys? Is that just a show for geeks? Is it because 75% of the writing is exposition? Do voters not take it seriously? Share your thoughts on the Emmys in the comment section…
Genre: TV Pilot – Drama
Premise: When three high school girls do a porn video for some quick cash, the repercussions of their actions take a toll on the small town where they reside.
About: Sea of Fire was originally a Dutch show, ported over here for an American treatment. The show is being described as a modern-day Twin Peaks (I will confirm after reading it, that it is nothing like that show). This draft of Sea of Fire was written by long time TV writer, Steve Maeda, who’s written on such shows as The X-Files, CSI: Miami, and Lost. – It should be noted that this is not the final draft. They would later bring in one of Shonda Rhimes’s writers (on Grey’s and Scandal), Jenna Bans, to do a rewrite, where she changed all the character names. Whether that means they just wanted different names or they totally scrapped this draft by Maeda, is yet to be known.
Writer: Steve Maeda (original show written by Frank Ketelaar & Robert Kievit)
Details: 60 pages (1/19/13 draft)
When someone throws these ingredients at you, you’re thinking, at the very least, you’re going to read something interesting:
1) 3 high school girls secretly create a porn tape.
2) The town they live in finds out about it and the tape’s repercussions slowly destroy said town.
3) Adapted from a Dutch television show.
4) Said to be David Lynchian.
This is the kind of scandalous subject matter that if you take chances and push boundaries, you can create something epic. Unfortunately, that’s not what we get here. Instead, “Sea of Fire” is like a cross between the recent 90210 update and that show “Revenge.” Now I’ve never seen Revenge, but I’m going off their over-the-top promos, where someone’s always dying, coming back to life, cheating, or getting pregnant. Sea of Fire is very much in that mould.
It follows three 17 year-old girls in the town of Santa Cruz, California. There’s bad girl leader, Megan, gorgeous second-in-charge Polly, and third wheel, Elena. When we come into the story, Elena is pissed at Megan for reasons that will be revealed later. But Megan couldn’t care less. Being the bad girl that she is, she’s already off stealing a dress for tonight’s party.
Which is ironic because her father, Mark, is a cop. When we meet Mark getting ready for work, he checks his e-mail to find that someone’s sent him a preview link to a new porn site. Mark is shocked when he sees that the girls in the video are Megan, Polly, and Elena.
Now this is sensitive stuff. Mark can’t just put the site on blast. He doesn’t want anyone to find out his daughter was in a porno. So he approaches Polly’s dad, Peter, to get his take. The two agree that they should keep it quiet for now, and they definitely can’t tell Elena’s dad, who would go insane if he found out.
It just so happens Elena’s dad is having his 50th birthday party tonight, which all the adults and all the children will be attending. It’s here where Mark finds his daughter and questions her about the site. Megan is defiant. “So?” she says in that carefree way only teenagers can pull off. She wanted the money.
In the meantime, Elena storms out of the party for what is believed to be porno PTSD, and is chased by her drunk boyfriend, Slater (yes, her boyfriend’s name is Slater), towards a cliff. The two get in a fight, she scratches his face, Slater passes out, and when he wakes up, Elena is gone.
Slater stumbles back to the party, where he’s immediately questioned as to the whereabouts of Elena. When he says he lost her, an impromptu search begins. But when questions start getting asked, everybody’s individual secrets prevent would-be clues from being revealed. And for that reason, it doesn’t look like poor Elena will ever be found alive.
I want to start off by talking about false hooks. A false hook is when you hook us with one element, but then the show or the movie really isn’t about that element at all. So here, we’re hooked by this idea of a scandalous porn video. That’s the unique factor that pulls us in. But Sea of Fire really isn’t about a porn tape. It’s about a girl who’s gone missing. And isn’t that the premise for every other show on television?
So I felt a little duped. On top of this, it drives me crazy when writers fudge the catalyst moment. The catalyst moment is the moment that propels your story into motion. So here, it would be the disappearance of Elena. If you cheat as a writer – if you artificially hide what happened when there’s no reason that the moment should be hidden other than that you want to create a mystery – that’s cheating.
Here’s how the disappearance plays out. Drunk Slater is near a cliff with Elena. He’s yelling at her, asking her what’s wrong. He grabs her. She scratches him to get away, he falls on the ground and…COMMERCIAL BREAK! When we come back, waddaya know! Slater is conveniently passed out. When he wakes up, Elena is gone. This conveniently sets up a multitude of possibilities of what could’ve happened (Elena fell off the cliff, she ran away, Slater did something to her and forgot, she was taken). But the moment is so manufactured (why would someone pass out after getting scratched, drunk or not??) that we don’t buy it.
And now, the entirety of the show – the next 100 episodes – is built off a catalyst that was a cheat. I can’t stand that. Why not just have Elena walk into the night to get some air then never come back? That would’ve been so much more honest and terrifying (our imaginations would’ve gone crazy trying to conceive of what happened). I guess because with the scratches, that makes Slater a suspect, a plot point they can play with early on. But if you’re sacrificing a believable catalyst to get that plot point, is it worth it?
Sea of Fire also had a bad case of “old people trying to write what they think young people sound like and are 7 years behind” syndrome. So the teenage characters were using ill-fitting words like, “A’ight” and “True dat,” – real cringe-worthy stuff. If you’re older and you want to write teenage dialogue, go over to Youtube and search videos of teens talking. Don’t go off your memory, as your memory is typically way behind. Teenage-speak is constantly evolving. If you’re behind on it, the story loses credibility.
I’m not saying Sea of Fire is all bad. It’s soapy (REALLY soapy – like you won’t need to bathe for weeks after watching it). But it niftily gives all its characters secrets that prevent an easy case. For example, Polly’s mom, Kristen, is cheating on Polly’s dad. When Kristen and her lover leave the party for a make-out session, they see troublemaker Freddy break into a construction site. When Freddy is later tabbed as a suspect in Elena’s disappearance, Kristen can easily provide an alibi for him, but of course won’t, since she would then have to admit to her affair.
There was a lot of stuff like that in Sea of Fire, and for the most part, it worked. But there’s a big difference when you see all these soapy elements in a show like Sea of Fire, which is taking itself seriously, and a show like How to Get Away With Murder, which is just having fun. You know “Murder” is silly entertainment so you go with it. With Sea of Fire, you get the feeling it’s aspiring to be more, so the over-the-top soapy stuff sometimes undercuts the drama.
But it’s weird. One of the things I’ve noticed since focusing more on TV is that it draws a lot more on its soapy elements that I’d previously thought. Even some of the most esteemed shows, like Game of Thrones, are essentially about who’s sleeping with who, who just got pregnant, who murdered who, and so on and so forth. But I’m not sure how a show like Game of Thrones gets away with it while Sea of Fire comes off looking cheesy. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
It’s important to note that when I don’t like one of these pro scripts or pilots, they’re still pretty solid. I mean, this is definitely better than all the amateur scripts submitted to the site. But I couldn’t shake the feeling the whole time that I was reading “90210: The Edgy Version.” Maybe the creators felt the same way, which is why they brought in Bans? Either way, I hope they figure it out. It’s definitely an intriguing premise that I don’t feel was utilized to its full potential.
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Tell us your story through action and dialogue. Do not tell it through description. If I see the bartender discreetly place his hand between married Kristen’s legs and she seems to like it, and this is then followed by some flirty banter between the two, I don’t need the writer to tell me in the description: “And that’s when we realize it. KRISTEN IS HAVING AN AFFAIR.” I think it’s pretty clearly implied that Kristen’s having an affair already. (note: I’ve heard professional writers complain that when they try and be subtle about this stuff, dumb execs don’t get it, which requires them to be more on-the-nose in subsequent drafts. So that may be the case here. But it’s still a practice I’d avoid as a spec writer, as it can easily ruin a shocking moment).
Premise: When a father-son team performs an autopsy on an unidentified female found under mysterious circumstances, strange things start to happen inside the morgue.
About: The Autopsy of Jane Doe finished near the middle of last year’s Black List (it should be noted, however, that this draft is from a year earlier). The script was written by Ian Goldberg and Richard Naing. This will be Naing’s first produced credit, although he had an associate producer credit on Better Living Through Chemistry, which starred Olivia Wilde. Goldberg, on the other hand, has been around for awhile. He wrote on The Sarah Conner Chronicles, Criminal Minds, and Once Upon a Time. Probably the most interesting thing about this project is that it’s being directed by Andre Ovredal, who directed the amazing TrollHunter. Going from full-on wilderness, where you can shoot anywhere and include anything, to a tight underground room, is going to be a tough challenge. But if there’s anyone who can do it, it’s the guy who found and documented real live trolls.
Writer: Ian Goldberg & Richard Naing
Details: 91 pages – June 2012 draft
Something that will always be true through the end of screenwriting time: If you can come up with a fresh way to place a high-concept inside a contained location, and you can execute it adequately, someone will buy your script. It may not be for a ton of money, but it’ll sell.
The problem with the contained horror/thriller is that everyone did it to death three years ago and ran out of ideas. We were stuck in coffins, stuck in cars, stuck in ATM booths, stuck in ski chairs. There are only so many places one can get stuck in (Open Me – A man accidentally gets stuck inside a gift-wrapped box on Christmas. The problem is, nobody wants to open him.).
But here’s where The Autopsy of Jane Doe was smart. While all these other writers explored their concepts through “what contained scenario haven’t we done yet?”, Goldberg & Naing approached it from the idea side. Come up with an interesting situation, regardless of place, then see if there’s a way to contain it.
When you look at The Autopsy of Jane Doe, it could’ve easily been a procedural thriller. A mysterious woman dies in the basement of a home – we have to find out who she is and how she died. The autopsy turns up some strange conflicting clues, and we follow a couple of cops who hit the pavement and try to find out what happened – a Silence of the Lambs or Seven type thing. In other words, this could’ve worked as a normal movie.
But once we get to the morgue, that’s where we stay for the entire running time. The script follows 50-something Tommy and his son, 25 year old Austin. Tommy has been in the autopsy business his whole life and loves working with his son. But Austin wants bigger and better things in life than… death.
That night, the two are delivered a strange “Jane Doe” discovered at a murder scene and get to work. But everything about the body feels off. The tongue is severed. There’s a synthetic strand of string in her mouth. Her lungs are blackened as if she’s been smoking for 50 years. And then it gets creepy. Here insides were slashed, yet her body has no indication of surgery. How could someone have gotten inside of her to cut her?
Complications arise when a bad storm moves in and starts knocking out the electricity. It gets so bad that one of the trees outside the morgue crashes up against the doorway, locking them in. Oh, and that’s when the shit really hits the fan.
After going back downstairs, they find that all the body drawers have been opened… with ALL THE BODIES GONE. They start hearing noises all around them. At first they go looking for the source of the noises, but once it becomes apparent that said noises may be … paranormal… they head in the opposite direction.
The problem is, there are only so many places to hide down here. And whatever spirit this Jane Doe brought into the morgue is, it doesn’t want to let them off easy. Flap…flap…flap. Those are the sounds of footsteps coming from bodies that shouldn’t be walking. One of the many bodies who follow the bidding of… Jane Doe.
This script does a lot of things right. Like I mentioned before, the writers created a high concept that could be shot cheaply. They set up a mystery immediately (grab that reader IMMEDIATELY!) when, in the very first scene, the cops find Jane Doe in the basement of a triple-homicide.
Then, once we meet our morticians, we see them doing their job, in detail. This is a very important but underrated part of screenwriting. Whatever the main trade or subject matter in your movie is, you have to convince the reader that you know more about it than they do. That’s because the moment you achieve this, the reader trusts you. Goldberg and Naing get into the itty-bitty details of an autopsy (order of procedure, tools, etc.), so that you trust them to tell this story.
I continue to see amateurs make this mistake and it’s a surefire way to know if a script is bad. If I know more than you do about the main subject matter you’re covering, then how much effort did you really put into this script?
But let’s be honest. When it comes to a horror script, one thing matters above all others. IS IT SCARY? Jane Doe is scary. There’s a moment in the morgue hallway where one of our previously dead bodies is walking towards us, a bell on his toe (put there earlier just in case he was still alive – ring-a-ling-a-ling), and with each cut-out of the lights, he emerges 10 feet closer. I needed a steady stream of “turn on all the lights in the house” after that one.
And I like stuff like this because it emerges directly from the concept. We’ve seen dead bodies walking around in a million horror movies before, most of the time with no explanation. But here, in a morgue, it wouldn’t make sense UNLESS the bodies were used. Why set your story in a morgue if you’re not going to utilize all the dead bodies?
I did have a few issues with this draft though. It rests a little too heavily on common horror movie tropes, such as the oldies song that keeps popping up on the radio. A lot of jump scares. Looking through keyholes and seeing scary eyes looking back. And there are only so many times you can run back and forth in a hallway before things start to feel repetitive.
Of course, this is the classic challenge of a contained horror film. You’re ALWAYS going to run into this problem and it’s never an easy solution. All you can do is run through as many options as you can think of to make sure you’re using the best ones.
I also thought the relationship between dad and son could’ve been better executed. The way it stands, Austin doesn’t want to be here, and the dad kind of knows this and accepts it. It felt to me like there needed to be a lot more conflict between these two – that the dad should’ve been more adamant about Austin sticking with the family business. You need that kind of thing because there’s a lot of downtime between scares in a horror script (always more than you think when you start writing it), and if your characters don’t have something interesting to hash out, the reader gets bored quickly. Always remember that a horror movie needs to be ABOUT PEOPLE FIRST. We won’t be engaged in the horror unless we’re pulled into the relationships.
I hope Naing and Goldberg have figured out solutions to some of these issues in subsequent drafts. With Ovredal at the helm, this could be really fun. From my understanding, this is in pre-production. So with horror movies shooting and editing quickly, we’ll probably be seeing it soon.
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: This is something I honestly have no answer for. How do you come up with new scares in the horror genre? Literally EVERYTHING has been done. As I was reading this, I’d read a scare that I’d seen before, but then I thought, “I’d have probably done the same thing.” I mean aren’t there only so many ways to scare people? I’m going to challenge you horror aficionados (Poe! Are you listening??). How do you come up with fresh scares? And I’ll go one step further. Give me some fresh scares you would’ve put into this specific script.
TITLE: Watching Over Remie
GENRE: Psychological thriller
LOGLINE: A seemingly contented housewife slowly becomes obsessed with the idea of protecting her five-year-old daughter from possible harm, eventually turning to violent and psychotic measures to keep her safe.
WHY YOU SHOULD READ: What do you get when you combine the best of French thrillers with a Hollywood bend? Had numerous offers to develop so far in both Europe and US. But the real reason to read is there are a few scenes that will disturb the crap out of you. Happy sleeping!
TITLE: The Boogeykids
LOGLINE: Hell’s minions disguised as Girl Scouts ruin the trip of some weekend warriors.
WHY YOU SHOULD READ: I enjoyed your article about rewrites and Raiders of the Lost Ark. I also consider the film perfect so it’s hard to believe any version of the script was passed on. Anyway, I myself have been reworking a screenplay I never submitted to you. Most of the rewriting has been to develop my protagonist around the persona of Shia LaBeouf, who I like as an actor. The title, genre, and logline follow.
TITLE: Treasures of Fate
LOGLINE: Two grave-robbing brothers race a brilliant military bureaucrat to find ancient prophecies of immense value and power. But as secrets and betrayals continue to mount, their biggest obstacle may be each other.
WHY YOU SHOULD READ: We think action films should be fun without being stupid. So this isn’t a script about invincible emotionless assassins, or time-travelling robots fighting vampire-Nazis. It’s an adventure centred around the relationship between two brothers, with big, twisty set pieces to keep pulses high. It’s like throwing Murtaugh and Riggs into an Indiana Jones film.
GENRE: Satirical Dark Comedy
LOGLINE: When his girlfriend becomes an overnight movie star, a lady shoes salesman must now become famous or he risks turning into the next Kevin Federline.
WHY YOU SHOULD READ: Everyone nowadays dreams of becoming famous. You hit upload, wait around like a child on Christmas Eve, only for someone to eventually gift you a “like” on social media. Our melting pot is currently overflowing with fame whores who move to Hollywood, begging her to make their dreams come true.
As a fame whore myself, let me tell you… life is tough, life in Hollywood is impossible.
Imagine being one of the few in Hollywood who’s not a fame whore. You finally meet the only “great girl” in town, and then somehow you get her to fall for you. Sounds like a perfect Hollywood ending, right? But the only things in Hollywood that have Hollywood endings are Hollywood movies.
Your “great girl” lands the lead in the biggest movie in the world, becoming the next Jennifer Lawrence overnight. You sell ladies shoes. The “great girl” thinks that’s fine, and loves you for you… but the world thinks that makes you a loser, the next Kevin Federline.
Your name is Ernest Pope, and #TRENDING is your story. It’s a satirical dark R-rated comedy.
TITLE: The Anunnakis
GENRE: Sci-fi comedy based on ancient astronaut theory, UFO phenomena, and conspiracy schemes.
LOGLINE: When an advanced race of reptilians, descendants of the dinosaurs, threatens to wipe out humanity through spontaneous combustion, three misfits from Planet X put the fire out–even as a government shadow agency tries to stop them.
WHY YOU SHOULD READ: I am a legal alien living in Paris. I’ve written several plays, novels and screenplays. Produced in New York, Los Angeles, and Paris; published in France. Never quit my day job. The Anunnakis is my fourth attempt for a close encounter with Hollywood. Months ago an English theatre group in Paris did a public reading of it. The riotous laughter of my fellow expats took me entirely by surprise, making me regret not getting it on tape. However, I feel that my extraterrestrial comedy may crash unless I get some airworthy comments from the Scriptshadow fans, who, except Grendl, adore Carson as much as I do. So here I come in peace. My main concern is whether the story is easy to follow. I like simplicity, but I detest simplistic stories. My approach to comedies is slightly different than action movies. If an action movie is a steep climb, a comedy is a winding staircase. If it’s funny, it flies; if it’s not, it dies. This being said, you can fire back at me anything that doesn’t fly with you. You will be kindly rewarded with a sightseeing trip to the rings of Saturn. And if you happen to be an abductee or a cattle rancher, you’ll be handsomely reimbursed for your missing time or your missing cows :)
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): To save his scandal-plagued career, a sex-addicted footy star enters an experimental Swedish rehab facility that is actually a castle of machismo-draining vampires.
Why You Should Read (from writer): You’ve read the title, right?
Writer: Scott Robert Chamberlain
Details: 99 pages
Whoa. This Amateur Offerings was TOUGH. Four scripts received equal mention in the AF comments section. Lost Continent, Swedish Lesbian Vampire, The Tallest Darkest Leading Man, and Code Black. I don’t know if the competition was too stiff or too easy, but I kind of wish someone would’ve mixed all of them into a super script. Code-Breaking Black Lesbian Vampires Confuse Sweden for The Lost Continent. That’s a movie I’d see tomorrow.
Let it be known that I TRIED to read Lost Continent. And the writing was good! But my focus was so zapped from two unrelated scripts earlier in the day, I kept having to go back and re-read every name and city twice (with them being ancient and unfamiliar and all). After that occurred a dozen times, I was like, “This is going to take me forever!” So what did I do? You better believe I asked Swedish Lesbian Vampire to the dance. I was fully expecting her to make me buy a corset. But this girl was an easy date. All I had to do was show up (IQ not required). How did the dance turn out? Did I get laid? (this analogy is starting to get weird). Read on to find out!
Asking “What’s the plot” to a movie called “Swedish Lesbian Vampire Wonderland,” is kind of like asking, “What are the ingredients?” in mashed potatoes. In fact, you can pretty much excise the “L” from “plot” when you’re dealing with a script like this, and just light up a doobie.
But for those curious, there ARE a series of events happening in a cause and effect manner here, indicating a loose definition of the word “plot.” And so I’ll do my best to relay said events to you.
Blake is a dude. A football dude. He’s a star player football dude. But what he’s really a star of is banging.
Blake loves the mamacitas. Well, he loves each of them for ten minutes, but then he loves another one. And then another one. Let’s be honest. Blake is a slut. He smashes and dashes. But one night it all catches up to him when he bangs an entire sorority house, and the girls sue him for sexual harassment.
Blake’s told by his lawyer that they’ll drop the suit if he goes to rehab, so Blake heads to one of the best rehab facilities in the world, some Swedish castle place filled with sex-crazed lesbians.
Blake takes his pot-smoking less talented little brother, Dave-O, and off they go, Blake to meet his rehab stay quota and Dave-O to prove this place is a sham. When they arrive, they’re greeted by a bunch of gorgeous women who seem to have the magic touch. Every man under their care is turned into a docile loving commitment-centric partner.
But Blake and Dave-O figure out quickly that they’re achieving these results with the vampire equivalent of a ponzi scheme. If you don’t acquiesce, they turn you into vampires. If you do acquiesce… they turn you into……. Vampires? I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure when they turned you into vampires and when they didn’t. I just knew we didn’t want Blake or Dave-O to be turned into vampires.
There’s a sort-of queen vampire chick who wants to take Blake down. There’s a hot vampire chick that kind of likes him. And then there’s “the one that got away,” Blake’s true love from childhood (who’s ironically, a virgin) back home. She’s getting married next week so Blake figures if he can just get out of here alive with his brother (or without him, it doesn’t really matter), he’ll do the right thing, marry the girl of his dreams, and live happily ever after.
A script like this has one quota to hit. It has to be fun. That’s all. It doesn’t matter how the writer achieves this. Whether you’re a Blake Snyder beat sheet maniac or you’re a first-timer following your instincts: Be fun. We’re happy.
But here’s the catch. There’s a big difference between the writer having fun and the script being fun. Just because the writer’s having the time of his life doesn’t mean that’s translating to the page. But that’s exactly what the writer assumes. It’s one of the 7 great screenwriting paradoxes. You want to have fun. Just not for yourself.
So where does the fun land with Swedish Lesbian? It’s hard to say. I know that I wasn’t laughing a lot, and I was trying to figure out why. Let’s look at the first scene. A guy bangs a girl, then walks into another room and bangs 12 girls. Then we’re told he’s a sex-addict and needs help.
It all felt a little too on-the-nose for me. He’s a sex addict and then he’s just banging an entire sorority. There was nothing surprising about it. Then again, if I were playing devil’s advocate, I’d say, “That’s the point. That’s what’s funny. It’s over-the-top.” Okay, I thought. So let’s say it’s funny. Why am I still not laughing?
Let’s look at Blake, our main character. Blake is a guy who seems upset by the fact that his life is complicated by being able to bang too many women. This is the man we’re being asked to root for, to relate to. A man who feels bothered by having too much pussy. Hmmm. Not sure I feel bad for the guy.
This is why most comedies follow underdogs, because it’s a lot easier to care about underdogs. That’s not to say asshole main character comedies don’t work. There’s something we enjoy about seeing the jerk get what’s coming to him. But without that “connection” factor between the main character and the audience, it’s always more of a risk.
The battle between writer and reader is usually won or lost early on. If the reader likes the main character and likes the setup, there’s a good chance you have them for the rest of the script. If they don’t, you’ve probably lost them, no matter what you do from that point on (a point I know I make a lot – but I want to drive home how important this is).
It certainly didn’t help that the rest of the setup didn’t make sense. Our main character, Blake, is a womanizer. He’s going to be sued by a bunch of girls he banged for harassment unless he goes to rehab. So the rehab he goes to is a sex-crazed lesbian wonderland? Does this make sense to anyone? I know a character brings the preposterousness of this up: “I know it sounds weird. But trust us.” Still, I would’ve made the rehab a giant secret. It’s only when Blake gets there that he sees all the hot women and wonders what’s going on.
But yeah, once we get to the castle/wonderland, there’s a clever little “Alice In Wonderland” theme going on. But things start to get redundant pretty quickly. We’re running away from lesbian vampires. And then we’re running away from more lesbian vampires. And then we’re…you guessed it… running away from more lesbian vampires. It’s funny in a silly “you definitely need to be stoned to read this” sort of way. But again, since I never connected with Blake, I didn’t care what happened to him amongst all this chasing.
Of course, this brings up the obvious question: does it matter? I mean, you’re going to have half-naked lesbians running around for 100 minutes. Is 15 year old Timmy who secretly rented this on Itunes going to say to his Tinder-obsessed best friend Char-Dog, “Well Charry-Dee, I certainly would’ve enjoyed that more had they included a better mid-point twist. Alas, they did not, and the second act really fell apart as a result.” Probably not.
But I would warn Scott not to depend too heavily on the T&A factor. Outside of the concept, these scripts still need fun characters that we give a shit about. And having an entitled asshole who’s whining about the fact that he can’t bang more girls leading your story might need some tweaking. If there’s any way to make him more likable, do it. Or maybe make underdog Dave-O the main character? And Blake the co-star? Food for thought. That reminds me. I need a snack. Got the munchies for some reason.
Script link: Swedish Lesbian Vampire Wonderland
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: The setup of your main character and the setup of your plot are the two most important things about your first act. Unless you nail both, there’s a good chance your reader won’t be interested in reading on.