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Genre: Sci-fi Thriller
Premise (from writer): A bio-mechanical man wakes with one memory: he must bring the woman he loves back to life. But his creator is on the hunt to catch his experiment, before the secret gets out.
Why You Should Read (from writer): A biologically engineered superhuman whose mind is half computer on the run through a post World War Three metropolis. Chased by cannibals, a cyborg with an identity crisis, a mysterious thin man, and corporate kingmakers. Helped only by an apathetic news anchor with hedonistic tendencies. — This is a story about the inevitable melding of man and machine, the digital world and the real one. The future of the internet and the human body. It questions how we will maintain our human identity in the face of exponential technological growth. — It’s Bourne+Blade Runner+Frankenstein with a hint of Hitchcock style thriller, Cronenberg and the Matrix.
Writer: Mike Wolpoff
Details: 110 pages

8300-post-apocalyptic-gas-mask

It’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY weekend. FINALLY! I’ve been waiting for this freaking movie all summer. Not that Transformers 12 and Brett Ratner’s take on Hercules haven’t kept me riveted in the interim. But let’s be serious. This is the only major studio release this summer that’s actually taking a chance. And I LOVE when studios take chances. I LOVE that Marvel isn’t sitting pat on its Avengers franchise.  If you could see me right now, I’m literally jumping up and down on my couch like Tom Cruise.

Reading “Adam,” I couldn’t help but think of “Guardians.” It created its own unique sci-fi world as well, and while it pulls you in initially, there’s something missing from it all, and I’ve struggled to figure out what that is. It made me wonder, if Guardians of the Galaxy wasn’t a Marvel franchise, but something some random screenwriter came up with, would a reader call it too weird? Too left of center? Would it even get picked for an Amateur Friday slot? These questions were on my mind while reading “Adam.”

It’s the far future. We’re on the outskirts of an immense city on an ancient trash field. A hungry scavenger is looking for food and comes across two hermetically sealed coffins, one holding a man and one a woman. Thinking he’s going to be eating some tasty human flesh tonight, he grabs the coffins and heads home.

Once there, he opens the male coffin, only to find that the inhabitant is alive, and more robot than human. As we’ll find out later, his name is Adam. Adam’s all torn up about the girl in the other coffin, but can’t quite remember why. We get the sense, though, that they were once together until something tragic happened.

Unlike Adam, the girl is all human and near death. So Adam heads to the city to find a doctor who can save her. He meets with a local reporter, Dana, who helps Adam navigate the city, but eventually finds out that someone’s after him, potentially the person who turned him into this half-robot thing in the first place.

Needless to say, he eventually gets caught, and is devastated to learn the truth about himself. But maybe he can salvage it all by saving the girl. That is… if there’s enough time left.

“Adam” was like a plane that took off but never quite got over a thousand feet. The thing is, it has all the elements for a good story. It has a hero with a strong goal – save the woman he’s with. It has a mystery. Adam doesn’t know who he is or how he got this way. It has an emotional core (the love of the comatose woman). And the world itself is pretty interesting, with its outer trash fields, its Old City, and its New City.

So what’s the problem!?

I think it’s two-fold. I never felt like I knew or understood Adam. His character is so shrouded in mystery, even to himself, there was nothing to latch onto.

If the reader doesn’t latch onto the main character, a chain reaction starts. If you don’t care about the protagonist, you don’t care about what he’s after. If you don’t care about what he’s after, you’re not engaged by the obstacles preventing him from getting it. If you’re not engaged by the conflict these obstacles create, you’re not really engaged in anything.

That’s why creating a compelling main character that an audience cares about – and doing it QUICKLY – is so widely taught in screenwriting books and schools. It’s why you still remember the opening sequence of Raiders of the Lost Ark to this day – because they dedicated that opening to making you understand and love that character.

The second problem is that Adam’s mystery box isn’t that mysterious.

He’s yet another experimented-on sci-fi amnesiac character, something we’ve seen before, and we’re supposed to be interested in how he got this way. But all the reveals seem to tell us what we already know – that he was experimented on. There was never any shocking surprise about his past that made you straighten up and start paying closer attention.

Remember, a mystery box isn’t just cool because it’s a mystery box. It has to be a cool mystery box! It has to actually be mysterious and shocking and surprising as the pieces of the box are revealed! If your mystery box is just there as a formality, the reader’s likely 50 pages ahead of you, as I was here.

One of the reasons Source Code (another amnesiac film) was one of the best scripts around for so long was because each new reveal to the main character’s mystery was shocking. We weren’t expecting it, which is what compelled us to keep reading.

Yet a third problem is that the key relationship here (between Adam and Dana) isn’t very interesting. Part of the issue is that Dana isn’t a love interest. You run into this snag whenever your protagonist is in love with someone who recently died, is being held captive, or, in this case, is comatose.

When you don’t have romantic tension in the key male-female relationship in a film, there isn’t much left to keep the audience into that relationship. “Are they going to be good friends at the end of this?” isn’t a question everyone’s dying to know. Think about it. Can you name any mainstream movie where the main male and female character aren’t involved in a romantic storyline (or, at the very least, don’t have some sexual tension)?

But Dana isn’t the real problem here. It’s Adam. I don’t know enough about this guy. Someone from the comments in Amateur Offerings brought up that it might’ve been a better idea to keep Bob as the main character (Bob is the one who found Adam in the trash fields). The argument was that Bob was more human. His problems were more relatable to an audience. And I agree. I would’ve understood that character and his journey better. With Adam, I have a hard time understanding anything beyond what I see on the surface.

So if I were Mike, I’d focus more on creating interesting relationships. Unless Adam’s mystery box is going to have a much more exciting and surprising reveal, let’s focus on the flesh and blood characters we can see. In other words, Adam’s relationship with some coma girl who we’ve never met probably isn’t going to whet the audience’s appetite for more. We want compelling relationships between Adam and Dawn, or Adam and Gabriel. Leading with your characters should also give you more story ideas, so let’s start there and see how it goes. Good luck and maybe we’ll see “Adam” again as a Comeback script in Amateur Offerings.

Script link: Adam

[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: How interesting a relationship is should be directly proportional to the amount of time that relationship takes up in the story. So whoever two characters are around each other the most in your story, that should be the most complex, most interesting, most captivating relationship in the script. The next two characters around each other the most should have the second most interesting relationship. And so on down the line. Adam and Dana are the two characters around each other the most here, and they probably have the least interesting relationship in the story.

What I learned 2: The worst kind of mystery box is one where the contents aren’t all that mysterious. You have to work in a complex series of reveals with your mystery box that are each surprising in their own right, until the final reveal, which should be mind-blowing. If you don’t have that big shocking intense reveal to your mystery box, then you probably shouldn’t go with one in the first place.

  • Matthew Garry

    I read Adam during the AOW (52). So I’m going off memory here, which isn’t all that bad a perspective.

    The good:
    The hook. A guy falling apart roaming through mountains of trash, talking to a rotting dog-skull on a stick. I think I even remember his name (“Bob”), so it must have made some impact, since I can remember it. (or maybe Bob is just a memorable name. I think the butterfly in “Of Glass and Golden Clockwork” was called Bob too.)

    A good hook is important. It sets your narrative momentum into motion. Its job is to make an audience ask “What?” or “Why?”

    What is going on, what is happening, what has happened, why are two naked guys driving an rv with two corpses in the back through a desert…I have to know. Tell me more!

    The bad:
    The structure. I can’t remember much of the rest of the story, which probably means there were no defining moments, which in turn means there weren’t any defining or memorable plot points, which means there aren’t clearly distinguished acts, which means the whole story sort of coagulates into a formless shape, which comes full circle and means it is hard to remember.

    The ugly:
    The coffin. One of the things I *do* remember clearly is the coffin. It’s omnipresent. The protag lugs a man-sized coffin around for what feels like it must have been the largest part of the movie.

    It’s good practice to rewrite every scene at least one. First you write it down. Then you put all the tiny actors and props into the little theatre in your head, yell “action” and then transcribe that scene back again on the paper. That way the coffin would have stood out immediately as a very distracting prop that is constantly on screen. (It also prevents stale dialogue. If it bores you in your head, your dialogue might need work.)

    I know Adam is superhuman in that regard, so physically he could handle the coffin, but imagine if Frodo would have had to destroy the “one mini-fridge” instead, and would have had to lug that thing around for the entire story. It would have been distracting to say the least.

    • charliesb

      I remember the coffin being an issue for me as well. I couldn’t pin down how it looked because he was pulling it, pushing it, tossing it around, and that really pulled me out of the story.

  • Linkthis83

    Congrats to the writer of ADAM for getting this review. Here are my notes from that particular weekend:

    ADAM

    P2 = struggling to picture some of these visuals

    P5 = He is more than human. The next phase = this is nitpicky of me, but I feel this is a bit of a cheat. And as I read further, you don’t really need this. We are going to learn that he is the next phase in moments.

    P9 = Waste Mountains = Bob called them Fill Mountains earlier. Is this a mistake or purposeful? Highlighting it just in case.

    P13 = stopped

    Summary: I like sci-fi films, but I don’t like reading sci-fi scripts (nor would I want the burden of writing one). I think the writing is good here. I personally struggled with a lot of the visuals you were trying to create. That’s one of the problems for me reading sci-fi scripts; if I don’t create the visual, and the visual I need is story relevant, then it hurts my comprehension of the story. I was able to keep up with yours, but then I spend more time thinking about what things should look like more than I’m just going along with the story. Again, not really your fault, but where I’m script challenged.

    I feel like these early pages are expecting the readers to keep reading because of all the mystery boxes you’ve created. I do like that you actually have the guy stating to Gabriel that he needs to get the coffins back. However, some of these mysteries are ones that work against my interests. I prefer details with my mysteries. Not these coffins/capsules have been missing for five years, have been unsealed and must be retrieved. I guess what I want is the stakes. Even if it’s fake stakes. Give me some sort of detail. He’s too casual for something that is of great importance. I’m assuming the cyborg is badass to only send him. What I’m trying to get at is if they are EXTREMELY important, something in this scene should give that away. But it feels like it’s being subdued for mystery’s sake. Or…I don’t know what I’m talking about. This is also possible ;)

    I liked the world. I liked the set up. I liked Bob. I felt Bionic Man would’ve reacted more to the fact that Bob stabbed him. Like maybe responded to Bob like he was a threat. I’m assuming the chick is supposed to be Eve? After meeting Gabriel I wondered if she was more advanced than Adam (more like Gabriel).

    –After re-reading my notes, I think what are missing from your mystery boxes are DETAILS TO GET US TO INVEST. — These are your opportunities to show/tell us why we should care about these moments.

  • carsonreeves1

    I’ll be reviewing Guardians on Monday so there will be ample opportunity to discuss. Seeing it tonight at midnight!

    • klmn

      Hope you’re feeling better Carson.

      I also hope you haven’t brought Ebola back to LA. I might want to go there sometime.

  • http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1888937/ Rick McGovern

    Everyone I know loved it. Watched it with my daughter and my friend with his daughter this morning. Didn’t feel like a Marvel comic… felt more like a comedic Star Trek… or a more action packed Galaxy Quest, which to me isn’t a bad thing.

  • Scott Crawford

    A lot of stage direction and not much dialogue is asking a lot of a reader. I’ll be honest, I’m not that excited about post-apocalyptic stories (and other people might not like what I’m writing, it’s all opinion) so I scanned through the script.

    What I do – and I think it’s a good idea – is scroll fast down the script (in PDF form is best) and see what patterns are made. If it’s an “I” (all dialogue) or a “T” of an “F” (mostly dialogue with the occasional line of scene direction, or it’s ALL scene direction, then that’s bad. It should make a “swirly” pattern, half dialogue, half scene direction. (People will have their own preference, but I think you should look at a PDF of a Michael Mann screenplay – there are plenty on the ‘net – and notice the “swirly” pattern made by his dialogue/scene direction mix.

    Don’t bother with automatic CONT’Ds after dialogue – not necessary, and with the number of scene/shot changes there’s an inconsistency – Bob will speak twice in a row and there will be a CONT’D, then later speak twice in a row and the CONT’D won’t be there because there’s a slugline and short bit of text in between.

    It’s a nice idea to write a SILENT screenplay, but we all have to be aware that are many agents, producers, movie stars, maybe not directors, but there are people who will scan through a script ONLY reading the dialogue, and if you can’t hook those people in with your story and your characters, then they will given up long before you have impressed them with a description of a sunset.

  • Citizen M

    I read the whole script again. While there is certainly some imaginative writing, I felt the script lacked an emotional heart.

    The problem for me was, I didn’t know what kind of thing Adam was. As an artificial cyborg we would not expect him to show emotions like love or loss. But apparently he was an ordinary human with some enhancements but his memory wiped. My problem was I kept thinking of him as a Spock type character, an emotionless calculating machine. I couldn’t imagine him as a feeling human being. If we have no memories to compare current circumstances to, how do we know right from wrong, whether these are happy times or sad times. We accept that things are the way they are.

    Dragging Eve’s coffin around with him was also a problem. I an’t visualize someone going through all his scrapes and escapes carrying a coffin. It seemed almost laughable at times. Perhaps Adam could remember Eve and try to locate her. It would solve the coffin problem, but of course need a major rewrite.

    I also had a problem with his memory being wiped but him still knowing how to hack into all sorts of devices. How can you be a demon coder with no memory?

    Ultimately, I found the script to be without purpose. On AOW the author said Adam was trying to be human. Presumably that was to be our point of identification with him. But I never got that. I never felt emotionally involved with him. I think we need to know more about what it is like to be Adam on an emotional level.

  • ripleyy

    Gotta love the dance off. One of the most unexpected, yet funniest thing I saw all year.

  • Randy Williams

    Congrats to the writer for making it here!

    I really loved the small story of Bob, and, honestly, was devastated when he was eaten alive by Cannibals.
    I just couldn’t find someone as vibrant and compelling to follow after that.

    The story suddenly grew humongous, too, with so much world building and masses of extras that I was distracted from my job to find someone to hook up with. Adam seemed too passive and Dana for me became his erotic foil. So, I tried to immerse myself into this world and because I think this way with my own scripts, not the writer’s fault, all I could see was $$$$$$$. How expensive this would be to make.

    My favorite parts were the beginning and the rave. Maybe rewrite with Bob the main character, pulling these coffins into a desert rave. One location, one goal. One twist perhaps at the end on whom Bob really is. Sex, drugs, rave music and an origin story.

    • Scott Crawford

      If a screenplay’s really good, it doesn’t matter how much it costs to make (below the line), they’ll make it. It only really matters if your’e pursuing independent producers or the low-budget market, and even then, with today’s technology, anything’s possible on a budget. Reducing the number of locations will always help, though.

  • fragglewriter

    Great tip. I think having a mystery box and knowing what to pack it with is difficult sometimes in a movie unless you go the Hitchcock or Shaymalan way and just have one mystery and explore differ angles or point of views.

    • Scott Crawford

      Good idea if your “mystery box” contains a personal, human revelation. Just watched the BBC mini-series Smiley’s People with Alec Guinness, the sequel to Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy. For several days I was hooked into the mystery, unable to figure out the connection between events. And then, final episode, you open “the box” – and it breaks your heart. A character we thought was a cold, emotional killer – and he is – but what’s in the box (I don’t want to give it away) is something he’s willing to risk EVERYTHING for.

      Won’t work EVERY time, but worth a try.

  • IgorWasTaken

    OK, this ain’t my genre, but a few notes about page 1.

    We meet DESERT MAN. Seems to be an odd name for a guy on a trash pile where it’s raining. We don’t see a desert; we don’t sense one as deserts and rain aren’t usually in tandem.

    “He balances on a RUSTED STEEL WALKING STICK.” As he climbs a pile of trash?

    The scene heading reads “MOUNTAINS OF TRASH”. Then we’re told the Man “tops a peak.” Then he’s “atop the mound“. “Mound” detracts a bit from a sense of “mountains”.

    There’s no mention in the beginning of the scene where any light is coming from to illuminate the trash pile and the Man. But then in the middle of the page, we’re told, “A glint of moonlight reflects off a metal corner”. While it’s raining?

    I searched the pdf and the first and only mention I found of a “desert” is on the last page, page 110.

    Now, maybe if I’d read past page 2, I’d find out why this guy is known as Desert Man. But without a desert, and with rain, an opening character named Desert Man confuses me in a bad way.

  • klmn

    I get the impression this is made from the parts of other movies, and the parts don’t really mesh. The desert man picking through trash seems at odds with the high tech elements, like a “hover bike.”

    Also I don’t see a lead character that an audience could identify.

  • leitskev

    “How interesting a relationship is should be directly proportional to the amount of time that relationship takes up in the story.”

    I’ll have to think on that, but I’m not sure how true this rings. I DO think it’s a good point from this perspective: once you isolate which relationship in the story carries the most emotional weight, you want to milk it for all it’s worth.

    But that does not always equate with time spent together. How much time does Michael Corleone spend with the Don? I think this kind of thing really varies from story to story. Sometimes all of the energy of a relationship is focused into a few key moments.

    I think the problem that Carson has identified is that often the writer undervalues what may be the most interesting or moving relationship, or doesn’t identify it, so doesn’t properly milk the drama out of it. I came to the conclusion a couple of years ago that the Hero’s Journey(or any of the other structures) has caused tremendous harm in the construction of stories in one regard. Now bear with me before everyone gets upset.

    Yes, the Hero’s Journey is brilliant. A treasure of insight.

    But…it has caused writers to lose focus on what drives the emotion in drama: the relationship between characters. By focusing on the hero’s “path”, those relationships become secondary…when it SHOULD be the other way around.

    The character’s need to change is NOT primary. Sacrilege, right? Keep your shorts on. Change is just another obstacle set on the path of the RELATIONSHIPS between the characters. Imagine a rom com set up. We see two characters we want to be together. Obstacles are set in the way(the 2nd act). These obstacles are both inner and outer. The inner obstacle often involves the need of one or both of the characters to change in order for them to end up happily together. But note that change is secondary…it is just another obstacle, like the blizzard preventing the hero from climbing Everest.

    When we understand that it’s the relationship that draws emotion out of the audience, and therefore that it’s the relationship that is primary, the “arc” of the hero assumes its proper role. In fact sometimes the idea is that the character must not change, must resist great pressure to change.

    The essential relationship in Star Wars is not Obi Wan and Luke. It is Luke and Hans. An we don’t want Luke to change, we hope Hans does. We want him to adopt the heroic goals of the protagonist, Luke. Yes, Luke must learn to accept the force, yada yada. Who cares. The emotional center of the story is the RELATIONSHIP between Hans and Luke. That relationship never reaches its potential unless Hans changes. Creating that potential is what draws out interest, it’s what we invest in.

    Which is why it was necessary for Hans to reject Luke’s plea to join the rebels. And the highlight of the story emotionally us when Hans returns in the nick of time. It’s NOT when Luke takes off his headphones and trusts the force, as the Hero’s Journey would suggest. It’s when Hans shoots Vader out of the picture.

    I’m lucky if one person read this far, but always fun to discuss! I think Carson is onto something, but I word consider wording a little differently. Maybe change the word “time” to “focus” in the sentence quoted above.

    • Midnight Luck

      I read it all the way through.

      I agree with all your ideas. I think what you are saying makes a lot of sense.
      I have always wondered if any of the regimented “rules” hinder creativity for writers. I would put the “Hero’s Journey” at #1 for most used preconceived ideas and rules.

      It does seem to give readers an expectation of what to expect as you read a script / story. If the writer doesn’t hit those beats or complete the Hero’s arc to the readers predetermined ideals, they will consider it a failure.

      It seems there are an infinity of ways to layout, write, or create a story. But a huge problem I have with how people discuss Screenwriting is, they pile it on with all these MUSTS and RULES that everyone has to follow.

      However, then immediately after all this they praise authors for Breaking the Rules, Giving us something Unexpected.

      I think, as long as the story, characters, and ideas presented in a story follow a path which makes sense (for the story), and contains interest and excitement, it can work.

      Great post, enjoyed it much.

      • leitskev

        Thanks for the discussion, Midnight.

        I love The Hero’s Journey. Not only as a useful tool for story making, but as a philosophical treatise on the nature of man. But I have never been one to accept anything without a little questioning. For example, I did some amateur investigation into myths of various cultures, and it seemed to me that Campbell was being extremely selective in the myths he chose in order to support his theory. The problem is not the theory. The problem results from trying to reduce something so varied and complicated as human myths into one all encompassing theory. And when one takes an independent look at the myths of any culture, it’s kind of obvious that Campbell was forcing things into his structure. The Hero’s Journey is a work of genius worth reading over and and over, but it remains limited by its ambition.

        In screenwriting, the problem probably began with this attempt at reduction. I enjoyed Fields, Seger, McKee, Snyder, but when they attempt to reduce story to a format they can consider a kind of mold, they begin by looking at the most irreducible element: the protagonist. Which leads them to consider everything about the hero’s path of development…her arc, her growth. This is like analyzing an organism by just looking at one cell, however. They neglect the relationships between the parts.

        The result is they tend to confuse what is primary with what is secondary. The need for character growth, at least in story, is generally secondary. It’s just another obstacle that has to be overcome for the story to get to where we want it. Note I did not say “for the hero to achieve his goal”. Because that may or may not be where we want the story to go.

        It might be that the creators that can make story like this do it mostly on intuition. I don’t know. But when I break down story(prose or film), it seems to me that more than 90% of the time it’s the relationships between the characters that moves us the most. And moving us is the most important thing a story can do. Yet none of the theorists deal with these relationships…or when they do, they do so only in regards to the way these relationships affect the hero’s path. That’s putting the cart before the horse, and that’s where the gurus have gone wrong.

        I think structure maybe is like this:

        — the second act is the struggle part of the story. The character(s) struggle to survive, win, succeed, etc.
        — the set up which comes before(first act) exists for one purpose: to make the struggle matter to the audience. This does not mean we have to “like” the main character. It means more simply that we have to care what happens in the struggle that follows. A rom com set up gets an audience to want to see the 2 characters come together. An underdog story presents us with a downtrodden hero that we hope will rise to the top. There are many ways. In House of Cards, the hero is extremely flawed. But he’s interesting, and at the center of power his life is compelling, so when he gets screwed out of a promised job, we are eager to watch to see what he will do. Not only does this character not save a cat, in the opening scene he kills a dog with his bare hands.

        The set up is an investment the audience is willing to make because it is what will make the struggle matter. Anything in the set up that is not designed to make the struggle matter, no matter how exciting the scene, probably does not belong there.

        — and of course the third act resolves the struggle.

        One other thing: it seems to me the creation process…set up, struggle, resolution…can reboot during the story, though the overall story line remains unresolved until the end. So for example there can be subplots, or a new set up at the midpoint. These new set ups can even involve the introduction of new characters or story lines.

        I agree with you, Midnight, and I think rules should be both utilized when helpful and discarded when not. I also think there has been a mistake in the way these “rules” have evolved. By focusing on the “journey” of the hero, we overemphasize his growth path and see the characters he relates with as being steps on the path. When it comes to compelling story that moves us, it’s really the other way around: those aspects of hero growth are merely devices and obstacles to accentuate what really matters — the relationships.

  • http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1888937/ Rick McGovern

    This has to be a world record for least amounts of comments on AF… was it because it was posted late? That’s too bad.

    Since the writer didn’t get the full treatment from the readers, maybe he should get to bring it back… wonder if the writer even knows it was even reviewed.