Premise (from writer): A young girl joins forces with her womanizing, alcoholic father who abandoned her years before, and a group of escaped slaves, to track down the confederate soldiers who murdered her family.
About: This western won first place in the Script Pipeline contest last year. Matt at SPL said my latest (and much improved) draft was the best western he’s read in 10 years. Then he went on to say the only thing holding it back is that it’s a western. Well, shit! The producer of Bone Tomahawk, who is also producing a new movie with Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn, said he really enjoyed it and asked if it was still available. So I have my first meeting today (Tuesday June 6th). By the time it’s up for AOW (if I make the cut) I should have an update. So while I love the script and the characters, and while I also feel it’s strong overall, I know it’s not perfect and a work in progress. That’s where Carson and you lovely people come in… and with your help I know I can make it stronger than it is, give eyes to the weaknesses that I may have overlooked. Stuff to cut, stuff to expand, stuff to improve, etc. I also want to test the waters and see how people as a whole feel, react, and respond to the story and the characters. Hopefully this sees Saturday for voting and Friday for reviewing. I also promise to be part of the converation, which a lot of these AOW writers don’t seem to do. Thanks for reading and giving it a shot!
Writer: Rick McGovern
Details: 116 pages
We’ve got a wacky weekend in front of us. I can feel it.
For us movie geeks, we have a plethora of options eager to steal our bitcoins. If you’re an unabashed super-hero lover, the latest reboot of Spider-Man is out. I’m curious about this installment, but mainly because the director of Cop Car is directing.
We’ve also got that cool weird ghost movie hitting arthouses, A Ghost Story. That comes from the director of Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. If $15 and a car ride is too much for you, you can check out a similar film in Personal Shopper on Itunes, the Kristin Stewart film that took over Cannes. I’ve seen this film and it’s… interesting. The oddest thing about it is that midway through it turns into a texting thriller.
If you want to pay nothing and get REALLY weird, you can check out Okja on Netflix, directed by the guy who did Snowpiercer and The Host. Finally, if you’re not in the mood to Netflix and chill, I’ve got a fifth option for you. Read today’s script. Because you know what? It’s pretty damn good.
It’s 1862, West Virginia, summer, and 12 year-old Lucy is chasing down a wounded Confederate soldier. When she finally catches up to him, she shoots him the face. Welcome to Bury Your Dead.
Lucy walks back over a hill and into her house, where we see her two dead parents. We start to put the pieces together. Confederate Soldiers came here, killed her family for sport, and left. But not her whole family. Lucy releases a trap door revealing a secret room where her little brother Steven is hiding.
Lucy then heads outside, where 14 year-old Confederate soldier, Devin, is tied up. Lucy makes Devin tell her everything he knows about the men who killed her parents. She then grabs both boys, throws them on some horses, and trots into town.
The first person she finds is Jimmy, her father. Well, her biological father that is. Jimmy left them a long time ago and hasn’t so much as sent a Christmas card. She wants Jimmy to look after Steven while she goes and gets her revenge.
Jimmy, a first-class drunk, tries to talk her out of this madness, but eventually gets pulled into her journey, along with Steven, and along with Jimmy’s current wife, Gertie, who hates his guts for fucking every prostitute this side of the Mississippi River.
The odd bunch travels across the plains until they run into a trio of recently freed slaves led by a giant of a man named Isaiah. Isaiah agrees to join the group, making for maybe the weirdest revenge party in cinema history.
Along the way, Lucy tries to focus on her revenge plan despite the fact that she’s still pissed off that Jimmy left her. Jimmy tells her he’s going to make up for it by taking her to some men who can send these Confederate killers to hell. However, when they finally get there, it’s revealed that the “men” are Jimmy’s brother, and his whole promise was a trick. He wants his brother to raise Lucy and Steven.
Furious, Lucy heads back out to complete her revenge, and, as fate would have it, runs into the killers. Will Lucy close the loop? Or has she learned enough along this journey to forgive them?
I knew immediately that this script was going to be good. You know that old saying, “You can tell a good writer by their first scene?” Yeah, that applies here. We start in media res, not only with a shocking action – a 12 year old girl violently killing a soldier – which alone would’ve been enough to rock our world. But there’s also a mystery involved. What’s going on here? How did we get to this point?
Watching Lucy go back and clean up the aftermath of her parents’ death, and being able to put the pieces together ourselves about what happened – that’s so much more interesting than had we watched this scene unfold linearly, from the moment the soldiers arrived. Why? Because we’ve seen that scene before. But we haven’t seen it told like this. That’s what told me I was dealing with a much better writer than your average Joe.
The script is also one giant testament to character development, specifically the art of the backstory. EVERYBODY had a backstory here. Everyone had a past and a reason for what they were doing. We even get a backstory for a dog! And it’s one of the better backstories in the script!
To give you an example, when we show up to Jimmy’s brother place, the brother is in a wheelchair. Half his face is burned. We find out his wife died in that burning incident. And that the woman he’s with now is who nursed him back to health. This context adds so much more texture to each character, providing that elusive “3rd dimenension” that producers and agents keep telling you your script is missing. Rick nailed that part of the screenplay.
Now some of you might be saying, “But Carson. Doesn’t backstory slow the script down?” It does. Whenever someone talks about the past, we’re telling and not showing. And a lot of telling can get boring. But backstory can work despite its propensity to slow down the script in the same way that a great quarterback can get away with throwing off his back foot. When you’re a good writer, you know how to make it work.
For example, a good writer knows that after a really intense action scene, the audience actually wants a moment to recover. And that’s the perfect time to slip in a backstory monologue. A good writer also knows that backstories are only interesting if they’re unique and specific. And almost all the backstories here are. Had Rick busted out the old, “My dad used to beat me with a belt every night,” backstory, that goes right through one reader ear and out the other. Almost every story is creepily specific.
The dialogue here is also on point. Nearly every line is approached to sound a little different from what we’re used to. When Jimmy yells at Lucy for being reckless, Isaiah doesn’t come back with, “He has a point, Lucy!” which is what 95% of writers would’ve written. He comes back with, “He ain’t exactly fibbin’ on that point, Lucy.” It’s dialogue like that that elevates a script.
In addition to that, I loved the quirkiness of this group. I loved that there were all these strange links between the characters. I liked that there was lots of conflict, and that none of it was forced. Lucy’s problems with her father felt organic. Jimmy’s wife’s problems with Jimmy were realistic. The script might have benefited from a character who was a little more negative or dangerous. But, for the most part, I liked the group dynamic.
If I had to nitpick on anything, I’d push back on Isaiah. Of all the characters, he was the only one who approached cliche. And the scene where Lucy whips Isaiah was the only scene that felt forced in the script. I didn’t buy it.
But I like how Rick concluded the story. I like how he didn’t wuss out, which I think a lot of writers would’ve. This kind of writing shows real talent. And I hope something comes of it for Rick.
Screenplay Link: Bury Your Dead
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Whatever the obvious conclusion is to a scene, try to add one extra unexpected beat. My favorite scene in the script is when our crew comes upon a woman drowning in a carriage while crossing a river. They work together to save her, which would’ve been a nice scene on its own. But then once they look inside, there are two men with her, both pointing rifles at them. This extra beat turns a decent “save the drowning person” scene into something unexpected.