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Genre: Crime/Drama
Premise (from writer): Having been kidnapped in South Africa, a resilient young traveller is forced into criminal activity by his captors in order to repay the ransom his family could not afford.
Why You Should Read (from writer): I got notes for this [from Carson] about a year or two back. Following some rewrites, it’s had a couple of producers on and off the project, getting closer each time. I’m looking to find out why this script hasn’t gone beyond getting interest into getting made.
Writer: Ned Kilgannon
Details: 112 pages

Fortis-in-time-2011-27067383-1920-816Alex Pettyfer for Cassius?

Today’s writer, Ned, asks a great question. A question that thousands of Hollywood insiders and outsiders ask all the time. Why hasn’t my project, which has gotten interest from a lot of people, been able to take that next step and get made?

It’s a frustrating question for people particularly because they see so many bad movies getting made. And then they have their project, which they think is pretty darn good, and for some reason it can’t cross the finish line.

Well, I have some theories about this, which I’ll be glad to share in a second. But before I do that, let’s take a look at the script at the center of our question… Devil In You.

22 year-old Cassius Ramsey is just another spoiled rich kid who’s got money to burn.  He chooses to use that money to roam the earth while he figures out what to do with his life. His travel partner, Max, may not have the same deep pockets as Cassius, but he’s got the same spirit for adventure.

Somewhat bored with the typical touristy places kids travel to, the duo decide to check out South Africa, thinking they’ll have a more “original” experience. But as soon as they land, they notice some sketchy men targeting them. Then, on the bus ride out of the airport, they’re stopped and kidnapped by a ruthless gang of criminals.

When the criminals find out Max’s family is penniless, they kill him. But the criminals’ kidnapping-for-cash job doesn’t go as planned when Cassius’s estranged father tells the kidnappers to fuck off. Facing death himself, Cassius pleads with the crew to let him join them. He promises he’ll pull his weight.

The intimidating but pragmatic leader, Jacques, gives Cassius a test to rob a local woman, and he passes with flying colors. Soon, Cassius finds himself moving up the gang’s ladder as he excels at every job and continues to impress Jacques. There’s something exciting about this life that plays to Cassius’s sense-of-adventure. But at a certain point, he starts to yearn for home again, and ultimately must decide whether he wants this life, or his old one.

Before I can answer Ned’s question, I first want to provide what, in my opinion, are the four types of ways movies get made.

The first tier are the sure-things. These are the projects that are so good, either through concept or execution, that nothing can stop them from getting made. These are the Jurassic Parks, the Hangovers, the Transformers, the American Beautys. Everyone knew these movies were going to get made as soon as they heard the concept or read the script. These projects are forces of nature.  Nothing can stop them.

The second tier are the studio mandated movies, the ones that are created solely because the studio believes they’ll make money. These are typically spearheaded by producers who don’t really care about the quality of movies so much as what they do to their bottom-line, and the results reflect that. Sometimes you get your Sex Tapes and sometimes you get your Snow White and the Huntsmans. Somteimes you get your Blendeds and sometimes you get your Lego Movies.

The third tier are the writer-directors out there who have the power to make films just on their name. This is actually where a lot of the bad movies – the ones where you wonder “How the hell did that get made?” – come from. There are no checks and balances on these scripts since the writer-director can make whatever they want. And while sometimes that can be a good thing. Other times it can be a disaster. Sofia Coppola’s “Somewhere.” Jason Reitman’s “Labor Day.” These are Tier 3 films.

The fourth and final tier is where everyone else lives. The rest of the projects get made through good old fashioned passion. Because think about it. Nobody wants to make any movies outside of the first three tiers. Therefore, the only way to get a movie made is if you cheerlead your project into existence, if you send it out to everyone, if you push it through wall after wall, if you pester anyone you know to read it, no matter how uncomfortable that pestering becomes.

A movie like The King’s Speech is a perfect example. Nobody wanted to make that movie. Seidler sent it everywhere. Thinking Geoffrey Rush would be the perfect actor for the part of the teacher, he went through his agent. The agent told him to fuck off, that Rush would never have any interest in the part. So Seidler actually found out where Rush lived and sent it there. Rush read it and loved it. Seidler’s passion for his material got the movie made.

Here’s the thing with passion though. People don’t get passionate about shit. You can try using a bunch of smoke and mirrors but if your script’s bad, no amount of cheerleading’s going to get you followers. So having success in the fourth tier usually dictates a minimum amount of quality. The higher the quality your script is, then, the more likely your passion will catch on with others, and the easier it will be to get your script through the system.

Which brings us back to Devil In You. Devil in You, I believe, meets the minimum level of quality required for a Tier 4 project. It’s a solid script, in the vein of movies like Goodfellas and The Godfather, about a guy moving up inside a crime organization, with a unique spin in that it’s set in South Africa and has an unlikely hero.

So why isn’t it a sure thing yet? My feeling is that it’s not big enough. If you look at films like The Godfather and Goodfellas, you got the feeling that our characters were moving up higher and higher into a bigger and bigger world. Just the other day I was talking about how you never want the word “small” in your logline. Nobody makes a movie about “small.” And yet that’s how this feels to me. It’s a relatively small gang and it never grows. With some minor exceptions near the end, I never felt like the crimes they pulled got any bigger, any badder. Cassius definitely moves up within the gang, but I’m not sure that matters if the gang’s influence within the community itself doesn’t grow.

Also, I didn’t really know where the script was going. It didn’t seem to be driving towards that big climax. Again, it felt stagnant, like the gang was just going from one average robbery to the next. For example, your typical heist movie will have the “big last heist.” So we have something to look forward to. Or if you don’t have that, then you at least have to have the feeling that things are getting bigger and that they’re coming to a head. Like I was saying the other day, you need to feel like the balloon’s blowing up. I’m not sure I ever felt that here.

So if I were advising Ned on this particular project – helping him find a way to get this made, I’d tell him to think bigger. Have this gang grow more with each robbery. Just like all these crime movies, show Cassius move his way up the ladder until he’s a serious badass. I guess that’s another problem I had. I never saw Cassius as anything other than that traveller. I never saw him truly lose himself in this world. And I think that’s because Ned was constantly pumping the breaks.

As far as some personal opinions, I’d make Jessica Jacque’s girlfriend, and have her and Cassius have to sneak around.  I’d also ditch the Robin Hood stuff.  If we’re going to make these guys bad, let’s make them bad.  Let’s have Cassius truly have to cross over into a brutal world.  True, the Robin Hood stuff makes Jacques and his outfit more interesting, but I think it limits the gang in how far they can go.  That’s how I’d attack it if I were him.

So to summarize, the less impressive the script is, the more passion will be needed to get it made. You can either try to supply that passion yourself and be the biggest cheerleader in the world, or you can get back to work on the script and let it do the work for you. I think Ned’s a really good writer. I just think this script needs to feel bigger. It needs to build more. What do you guys think?

Script link: Devil In You

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

What I learned 1: It’s hard to cast 20-somethings (especially early 20-somethings) to carry a movie.  Studios are reluctant to do it unless it’s a high school or college film.  It’s not that it’s never done, but in genres like crime, they typically like someone older.

What I learned 2: You want to make your writing easy on the eyes. You want to make it a pleasing read. The excessive use of dashes and capitals made for a harder read than usual here. As someone who had just read two really easy-to-read scripts, this stuck out. Here’s a sample of what I mean.  This hurt my eyes.

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 10.28.05 PM

  • klmn

    I read the beginning of the script and I found nothing appealing or interesting about the characters.

    And stealing a bottle of champagne isn’t much of a hook.

    • peisley

      Agree about the champagne hook. I’m confused as to why this is a catalyst for them to be targeted. I, too, only read the beginning. So, if there’s more to this, I apologize.

      • carsonreeves1

        While I understand what Ned is going for (creating this feeling of fun, excitement, and adventure with our two characters), I agree this opening scene is lacking. There’s nothing special or unique or intriguing about it. That needs to change.

        • Randy Williams

          And it takes place in Brazil during Carnival.

          I think with any location, you have to make the reader really want to be there or really not want to be there. There should be no middle ground.

          For such an exotic location, I was stuck in the middle ground on this one. Not a good place.

        • klmn

          Compare Ned’s opening with the opening sequence of The Wild Bunch that sets the stage for the whole movie.

          It’s in three short clips and there’s a bit of overlap, but it’s the best I could find.

          http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xyudwu_the-wild-bunch-scene-scorpion_shortfilms

          • brenkilco

            In fairness, comparing the opening of most scripts to the Wild Bunch is like comparing your average cemetery crypt to the Taj Mahal.

          • klmn

            Still, we should know what a good opening is. And we’re not going to get to the big leagues lobbing softballs.

            At a minimum, the opening should hold our interest and relate to the theme or plot, preferably both. Or go for the triple and do some memorable character work.

            My favorite part of the Wild Bunch sequence is when Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan) shoots the temperance band tuba player standing next to Pike Bishop (Bill Holden).

            Bishop hesitates just an instant, then pow – he shoots the man next to Thornton. There’s no way those two are going to shoot each other.

          • brenkilco

            Everything happens very quickly but I always thought that Thornton tried to shoot Bishop and the tuba player just got in the way.

          • klmn

            I don’t think so. Thornton agreed to lead the posse to Bishop, he didn’t agree to kill him, iirc.

          • brenkilco

            Harrigan’s orders seem a little more specific. ” I want them all back here, head down over a saddle. Thirty days to get Pike or thirty days back to Yuma. “

          • davejc

            The kids torturing the scorpion also opened Wages Of Fear. I wonder if Peckinpah is referencing the great Clouzot here.

          • brenkilco

            Per a bio I read kids putting a scorpion on an anthill for fun was something mentioned to Peckinpah by actor director Emilio Fernandez who played Mapache during production. The image screamed metaphor and Peckinpah started yelling for ants and scorpions.

          • klmn

            In the script I read by Walon Green, the scorpion scene is absent. I figured Peckinpah came up with it.

            But there is an old Western expression – I forget the context I encountered it in. It compared a situation to “three scorpions fighting in a bottle. When it’s over, one will be sick and two will be dead.” It’s not an exact match to the Wild Bunch scene as it doesn’t include the children, the fire ants, and the flames.

          • klmn

            I haven’t seen that one. Thanks, I’ll have to check it out.

          • klmn

            Found it, en francais.

            One kid and some cockroaches. No scorpions, no ants, no flames. I don’t see a connection.

      • Randy Williams

        It’s not a catalyst for them to be targeted. The champagne stealing happens in a totally different continent. I guess it’s just to show their urge for adventure.

        Carson recommends the story be “bigger” A similar story made “bigger” might be changed to relate to current events. Let’s say one of the boys persuades the other to go somewhere for a “different” adventure but it turns out he’s been unwillingly volunteered to join something like Isis? Any reluctance on his part would make him an enemy of the group and already an enemy of his own country. Between a rock and a hard place is a good place to put a character.

        • peisley

          The slow burn opening might work, but today, at least in the US, they want it germane to the big story from page one, certainly in the first five pages.

          I would say as far as doing big goes, choose something that really pops your buttons. It doesn’t have to be topical. Current events could actually work against you and date the script in the future unless you’re specifically doing an expose on that topic throughout the story. Big could be, as Carson suggests, the main character getting deeper into this gangster world. The important thing is choosing something that excites you. It’s a hard enough slog as it is.

  • James Michael

    I havn’t read the script but I wanted to say that the logline is really intriguing, a cool unique concept I thought. I’ll definitely give it a read now.

    Based off Carson’s outline I’m hoping that the moral ambiguity of his situation comes into play where he has to question how far he’s willing to go. It’s a pretty crazy situation to find yourself in — good boy turned/forced to be bad to save his own life. How much does he value his life over the life of someone else i.e committing murder

    Good luck with it and congrats on making the review

    • carsonreeves1

      There’s not enough of that. Though there’s a particularly good scene late in the script where his moral compass comes into play (the bride scene).

  • peisley

    Cheers getting this to producers for consideration. Is that how they’d say it in South Africa? We’re kinda dumb here about things like that. I’m under the impression you’re probably from there or the UK. Which, if that’s the case, leads to another question as to whether you are trying to sell it to the US market or there. I supposed the obvious answer is, I’ll sell it anywhere, but I do ask for a reason. If the UK, then your frame of reference may be off-putting to an American reader. Put another way, you have two main characters in the beginning who are (apparently) both foreign to us. What’s more, you have these two guys out of their own element and in a country that’s foreign to them. It’s not a bad thing, of course, and could be to your advantage, but it does make it harder to identify with them. If it’s the UK market you are targeting, then it’s not such a big deal.

    What I believe may be one obstacle in either marketplace could be the writing choices. Carson illustrates the excessive use of dashes and caps, but I think it goes deeper. There’s a static quality and that’s especially deadly to an action-oriented script. The descriptions are very generalized with no color. Example: “The carnival atmosphere has carried over into the bars. Loud music. Drinks flowing.” There’s no there there. It doesn’t have to be all purple prose, but give us some energy and insightful observation. You may know this country, but we don’t and would like to have a bit of a ride.

    On the other end of the scale, some editing could pick up the pace. “Leaving his bags with Max, Cassius weaves through the crowd, showing complete disregard for the pounding rain as he approaches the taxi rank.” A lot of that is unnecessary.

    Also, unless there’s a reason for describing his or anybody’s piercing blue eyes, I wouldn’t. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that description and its a red flag for a reader. It may also limit casting choices.

    Totally agree with Carson about making things bigger. Most likely if you go there, then the writing going to take off. The energy will be different. The characters will be confronted with awesome personal transformations. Best of luck.

    • klmn

      I’m also curious about what country Ned was pitching this script.

  • AlanWilder

    I apologize if this is somehow adressed in the script, but as I read this review the name “Cassius Ramsey” stood out like a sore thumb. It sounds unrealistic and OTT, like someone Dennis Rodman, Arnold (“John Matrix”, anyone?) or Sly Stallone could have played in their heyday, and it managed to plant some seeds of doubt in my mind regarding the tone of the script.

    • carsonreeves1

      I’ve been seeing a lot of these movie names in scripts lately. Like you say, use them if you’re doing Expendables 4. Otherwise, stick with more naturalistic names.

  • Magga

    OT: I need advise on a shot. I’m writing a scene where a character says one thing while insert shots show us the exact opposite. I’m racking my brain, and can’t find a way to visually convey that he’s a virgin. I hate to write things I didn’t dream up myself, but I’d love to get this particular shot out of the way. Suggestions? And congrats on getting the review

    • Jeaux

      Can you not just have VO describing his non-virgin activities/conquests while visually we see the opposite? for example:

      Virgin (V.O.) – So I’m on the sofa banging this chick, right? We’re going at it for hours.

      Virgin is on the couch alone immersed in a video game. Various empty soda bottles and snack containers reveal he’s indeed been at THIS for hours.

      Unless of course that’s what you already had in mind and need something else. Good luck.

    • S_P_1

      You could show he has multiple boxes of condoms, various Karma Sutra novels on his shelves, multiple copies of Better Sex videos, The Dummies guide to How to have Sex, Tijuana Bibles on the nightstand, multiple copies of sports illustrated swimsuit issues stuck together, posters of Bo Derek to Nicki Minaj hanging up, show his cell phone has all male contacts, you can also show verses of the bible posted against premarital sex, have a large picture of his mother / grandmother in the bedroom. Or this is very subtle show his sister living the lifestyle he wished he had.

  • https://thebarkbitesback.wordpress.com/ Jim

    Without having read this, it sounds that, at least tonally, it might be reminiscent of Animal Kingdom which explores an Australian teen getting pulled into the crime world of his dysfunctional relatives that take him in.

  • fragglewriter

    I’ve read until page 31 of this script. Even though I enjoyed the script and think Ned’s writing is fantastic, something felt like it was missing. I was all into the script until I felt that Cassius’s was all action, and nothing else. I’m the first to say that I love action films, but this character felt over-the-top with no flaw/vice to keep me intrigued except that he wanted to go home.

    I think the story is a geat idea, but I didn’t read the entire script to see if Cassius’s still had any interest in going home. I agree with Carson that it felt as if Ned pulled the breaks. let Cassius’s commit the crimes but also have an ulterior motive. I don’t know if I totally agree with having him sneak around with Jacque’s girlfriend, but something that would be detrimental to if the crew found out and if Cassius’s doesn’t succeed.

  • jw

    Carson, I’d like to see a post about “quality” in terms of the subjective definition. While watching ’12 Years a Slave’ I kept asking myself a few of the questions you posed here — “where is this going?” “why is the main character basically a passive participant in the journey?” “why did Pitt’s character come in so late and for so short a period to have so much impact?” “why does the protag not exactly seem to be working toward a goal, other than to stay alive?” All of these things I knew a “reader” would absolutely trash an “amateur” writer for doing. I can hear it now, “You cannot introduce a character that is going to have huge impact on your protag in the 3rd act. All characters much be introduced…” blah, blah, blah…. “Your protag can’t just go along with being a slave, he has to try to escape and he has to never give up.” And, as I watched this movie, which I actually liked, there were these instances over and over and over that exactly mirror the things mentioned here. So, I’m wondering, if they’re also in an Oscar winning film, what gives? Is it just that if the script gets to the right a-list actor and they’re game that all or most of these things take a back seat?

    • ASAbrams

      Is passive in this movie being defined as “always trying to run away”? Because Solomon was always trying to get home…until he had almost given up at the very end. He was trying to send letters. He risked his life trying convince someone to tell others he was free (it wasn’t just Brad Pitt’s character he told, you know). He argued with the foremen to keep his dignity (trying to keep his independence). Solomon was always doing things. At great cost to his life.

      Active doesn’t equal physical action. It’s moving towards a goal, as opposed to simply letting things happen.

      • jw

        Actually, I’d have to say that “escaping your captors” is actually physical action. He runs into the woods, comes across some guys and instead of continuing decides to go back. So, while he may have been trying to get home “intellectually” there was really no way that was ever going to happen during that time period, which makes the actions a little mute and irrelevant. He just felt really, really passive to me. But, that can be subjective.

    • SendHimtoBelize

      You can’t honestly be comparing a true story to the Hollywood formula…. (a true story doesn’t need to follow these beats at all, in fact it shouldn’t)

      • jw

        Do you honestly believe Hollywood doesn’t take liberties with “true” stories?

        • SendHimtoBelize

          As an experiment, here is 12 Years a Slave by Blake Snyder:

          Solomon Northup is a free African American plantation owner who happens to own slaves himself. While not a cruel Master he doesn’t understand his slaves’ desire to be free because he was born a freeman. He also drinks heavily because he is generally discontent with life. He is probably having a mid-life crisis or something. (Theme Stated)

          One morning, Solomon appears particularly calm. He whispers something into his Manservant’s ear. The Manservant looks visibly shaken. On a trip to the local slave market to buy some more slaves he calmly sells himself into slavery…. because you know active protagonist…..(Catalyst)

          On the long journey to his new plantation he debates whether slavery is really for him. (Debate)

          On reaching the new plantation he burns all his documents and any traces linking him back to his former life and decides to properly embrace his new life as a slave. (Break into act two)

          While the work of a slave is hard, Solomon flourishes and is revitalized. He makes a lot of new friends, loses weight, cuts down his drinking and is generally more positive about life. He starts a relationship with a female slave and he is able to get it up for the first time in years. The relationship is going really well but he slips up and tells her is not really a slave but a freeman looking for a new lease of life. His girlfriend rejects him and informs the other slaves who begin to turn on Solomon. One night a barn burns down and Solomon is blamed by the other slaves. (Fun and games)

          Solomon is beaten and sold to a new master down the road who is known for his cruelty (Mid-point)

          Solomon tries to knuckle down at his new plantation but life is much harder. The new owner heard about his story and actually enjoys the irony of it all. He is mega cruel to Solomon. He buys Solomon’s girlfriend from the old plantation to make him even more miserable (The bad guys close in)

          Solomon decides that slavery is bad and tries to escape. He plans his escape meticulously but he is caught during his preparations. He is to be executed in the morning in front of the other slaves. (Dark night of the soul)

          On the morning of his execution Solomon is ready to die but he looks into the eyes of his girlfriend and sees her suffering. He stands to his feet and makes an impassioned speech in front of his fellow slaves about the horrors of slavery and how it has to stop. This actually causes an revolt on the plantation and Solomon and the other slaves flee the plantation. The slaves are all on the run but are slowly being recaptured. Solomon manages to evade his pursuers and make it back to his plantation. (Break into act 3)

          Solomon sells his plantation and uses all the funds to free his slaves. He returns to both the plantations he worked on and frees all the slaves there too. He reunites with his girl friend (Finale)

          Solomon who is now happy and healthy with his girlfriend by his side leads a rally against slavery. (Final image)

          • S_P_1

            I realize this is a sarcastic example of Blake Snyder. But in a way it trivializes the seriousness of the movie.

    • Casper Chris

      He definitely felt passive. And I think you’re right; Carson would’ve complained about it. He would’ve called for more GSU.

      I think a strong moral/social commentary/thematic core (and in this case authenticity) can overcome weak GSU. Especially in the eyes of critics/Academy Award members.

      If you want to win Oscars, focus more on that stuff. What can your story tell us about the human condition and the world we live in? What can we learn from it?

      As great as The Disciple Program is in terms of structure and GSU, in the world of Oscars, it’s a dud. An empty vessel. A whole lotta nothing.

      • jw

        Agreed. And, that’s what I was getting at, but not necessarily to the point of “here’s how to win an Oscar” but in terms of getting something made we see this all the time. Big actors in films that don’t follow formula, small budgets, seemingly little originality and the list goes on and on and on, yet when it comes to the speech about “breaking in” or in this case “getting something made” there is a particular emphasis on certain aspects and I’m wondering if we actually bring a bias to our critique of something that in the hands of “a name” we would call auteur or “indie”? There’s this naturally inherent process where if I was to write Gone Girl and send it to someone, they may say, “yeah, this is pretty good, but it’s probably a Lifetime movie.” Whereas David Fincher says, “I’ll do it” and all of a sudden it’s the most buzzed about film in the second half of 2014. Did the “quality” of material change based upon who says “yes” to it, or is it simply our interpretation of the material being skewed based upon who the attachment is? I find these dynamics interesting in observation.

    • Dale T

      In his defense though a number of his favorite screenplays buck trend of his own advice.

      • jw

        Ironically, you’re absolutely right.

    • Bifferspice

      You wouldn’t get slaughtered for anything if its a great script. All these rules, they’re like the save the cat rules. They’re applied retrospectively to explain why a script doesn’t work. If a script works for you why would you demand the act break to be moved? If the ending has you tearing up, why would you say the character needs to arc? None of it matters a damn unless your script sucks and you’re trying to work out why.

      • Malibo Jackk

        Heard Shane Black say something kinda similar
        (as well as another screenwriter questioning the need for arc)
        in a recent AFF podcast.

    • carsonreeves1

      I still haven’t seen Slave because when I go to the movies, I usually go to have a good time. And this looked like it was going to send me into a depression fueled coma. So I can’t accurately answer this question. What I can say is that every script is the sum of its parts. While it may lack in some places, there’s a chance it excels in others, and that, in the end, the good stuff outweighs the bad . That’d be my guess here?

      • klmn

        Take a dose of castor oil and see the film.

  • GoIrish

    Can certainly have interesting reads when words have different meanings in different countries/areas. Every time the writer used “clocks/clocking” I thought someone was throwing a punch. So, the reaction of the two bartenders was a little curious.

    “Arriving, he clocks the TWO BAR STAFF. One turns to make a drink. The other moves to the other end of the bar…”

  • http://joelthomaswrites.com writerjoel

    “These are the projects that are so good, either through concept or execution, that nothing can stop them from getting made. These are the Jurassic Parks, the Hangovers, the Transformers, the American Beautys. Everyone knew these movies were going to get made as soon as they heard the concept or read the script.”

    I had to unpack this. I don’t think ANY of the movies you listed here are as you describe them! I don’t mean to say that they aren’t great concepts, but any one of them from a nobody could get called “execution dependent” and tossed to the pass pile without an attachment. And each of them has a HUGE attachment. Jurrasic Park: First a novel from one of the most proven masters of crossover-to-film fiction in the world. The Hangover: not only written by guys with multiple produced movie credits, and uncredited work on Wedding Crashers, but also inspired by a true story from a guy who happens to have his name on the door at Benderspink. Transformers: a billion dollar toy property. Even American Beauty had Alan Ball, who before becoming Alan Ball, was merely Alan Ball, writer for hit tv shows Cybil and Grace Under Fire. And furthermore, American Beauty couldn’t get an A-list director attachment (over 20 passes), and had to “settle” on a theater director, Sam Mendes (that choice certainly worked out well!).

    I’m just saying, obvious, can’t miss scripts don’t exist except in hindsight. Just ask the 20 directors who didn’t see a winner in American Beauty.

    From what I’ve seen, getting a movie made takes two things, assuming you have a worthy script. Either the movie can be shot for no money outside the Hollywood system, or else you get an attachment. No attachment? You have a writing sample.

    • Malibo Jackk

      Agree for the most part.
      But it helps if you start with a concept
      that someone can get excited about.

    • carsonreeves1

      whaaaat? Jurassic Park was considered the most surefire concept ever. People wanted to see that movie the second they heard it announced in the trades. American Beauty was the most loved script in town by a country mile. Everyone who read it loved it. People were just waiting for the technology to catch up to make Transformers. Once it was ready, everyone knew it was going to make billions. I mean even the worst filmmaker in the world couldn’t screw it up. Hangover was a genius comedy concept that everyone wanted to make.

      Of these, I suppose American Beauty is the most controversial on the list. But I still contend it was such an amazing script it was bound to get made no matter what.

      • http://joelthomaswrites.com writerjoel

        Thanks for the response, Carson! And let me be clear: I’m not saying that the concepts aren’t great. But I think you’re mixing up concept and packaging.

        Everyone wanted to see Jurassic Park made by Steven Spielberg based upon the blockbuster novel by Michael Crichton the second they heard it announced in the trades. People were just waiting for the technology to catch up to a billion dollar toy line to make it into a movie. And Hangover was a Benderspink-after-Wedding-Crashers comedy that featured uncredited writers from that previous blockbuster.

        In another universe, Uwe Boll delivers Jurassic Park, based on his own script, and the response gets a lot more tepid. Is it going to be cheesy? Sounds cheesy. Pass.

        If Transformers is such a great “concept”, why does it have to wait for technology? Or is that part of the packaging, separate from the script? And again, it’s based on a billion dollar toy line. Without the toy line, it’s a potential Trollhunter. Wait for it on Netflix.

        And if American Beauty truly was, as you say, “such an amazing script it was bound to get made no matter what”, then how is it that every script you’ve ever liked MORE than American Beauty (Brigands of Rattleborge) hasn’t gotten made?

        Let me take us to common ground: As Malibo Jackk says, great scripts find passionate people who know how to package them to get Hollywood excited. If you have a script that is truly great, but you have no credits, you’ll find someone who loves it, and they’ll package it to get Hollywood to love it. But without a star, a director, or a production budget under the WGA qualifying 5mil, I don’t know if you sell it. You can get work from it, but it won’t get made.

        • Casper Chris

          And if American Beauty truly was, as you say, “such an amazing script it was bound to get made no matter what”, then how is it that every script you’ve ever liked MORE than American Beauty (Brigands of Rattleborge) hasn’t gotten made?

          Has Carson said he likes Brigands of Rattleborge better than American Beauty?

          • http://joelthomaswrites.com writerjoel

            True, but my point still holds unless Carson really does like American Beauty better than any unmade script EVAR.

          • Casper Chris

            I have never read an unmade script that was better than American Beauty. Granted, I haven’t read as many scripts as Carson…

            Jurassic Park became a surefire concept the moment the special effects people did that first T-Rex test. Doesn’t matter who the director was or if there was a novel. People wanted to see dinosaurs brought back to life.

          • http://joelthomaswrites.com writerjoel

            I’m pretty sure that by the time they were testing CGI, the property was already purchased, with Steven Spielberg attached, based on Michael Crichton’s bestseller. I keep needing to stress my contention: These movies moved into production based on a lot more than a concept or a script, even if the concepts and/or scripts were great, which they were, every one of them.

          • Casper Chris

            You don’t think Spielberg became attached based on the strength of Jurassic Park’s concept? It’s a genius movie concept. The only hurdle, really, was whether they could make the dinosaurs believable. That CG T-Rex removed all doubts.

          • http://joelthomaswrites.com writerjoel

            No. I think Spielberg became attached based upon a concept already vetted by the bestseller list. He then probably had the studio commission a script based upon the source material, co-written by A-listers Crichton and David Koepp. Which then probably garnered the greenlight from the studio based upon Spielberg’s attachment, the bestseller list, and a double-team A-lister script. These decisions were not made ENTIRELY by the quality of ideas. Hollywood likes track-records. A lot. Ideas matter. They’re not everything to a movie getting made.

          • Casper Chris

            Gah, my computer crashed as I was typing. I’ll try again:

            You’re describing a chain of events that led to the movie getting made. But that chain of events was set in motion by a genius concept, and if it hadn’t been that particular chain of events you’re describing (THAT director, THAT screenwriter), it would’ve been another. Like Carson said, it’s the kind of concept that cannot be denied.

            Jaws in the ocean = massive blockbuster hit
            Even bigger jaws on land…

            No wonder Spielberg was in (again).

          • http://joelthomaswrites.com writerjoel

            In regards to Jurassic Park, the chain of events was NOT set in motion by a genius concept. It was set in motion by a book that was written, published, and catapulted to the top of the bestseller list. Same thing goes for Jaws, btw. I’m not saying it’s ISN’T a genius movie concept: I’m saying that you can’t say it’s guaranteed to be made without its stellar pedigree. Or even WITH its pedigree, really. To cement the point, we probably only need to ask Steven Spielberg if he thought the movie was GUARANTEED to be made. He would probably have a dozen stories of how the project almost died, as seven out of ten of Steven Spielberg’s projects probably do. When you’re Steven Spielberg, and your batting average of development versus production is mostly misses, that tells you: It be hard to make movies.

          • Caleb Yeaton

            As far as Jurassic Park goes, they actually were. I agree with your other points, but it’s widely known that studios (and yes, Spielberg, who was bidding with Universal’s money) put in massive bids on the rights to make Jurassic Park before the novel was even published or on any kind of bestseller list. So, yeah, the concept alone is pretty much what got Jurassic Park sold. And considering how different the novel and the book are, that movie likely would have been made regardless of whether the novel was garbage or not.

            Actually, Crichton’s basic idea for Jurassic Park (man creates dinosaur) started out as a screenplay before Crichton decided to make it a novel.

          • http://joelthomaswrites.com writerjoel

            In another post, I considered conceding how often movie rights for books are purchased before the book comes out, but figured it wasn’t relevant, as the purchase is still based on the value of the IP that is guaranteed to be published, and the publishing history of the author. It’s still not ENTIRELY idea driven. And did you know that Spielberg first learned of the dinosaur idea while he was already in development with Crichton on another screenplay that would eventually become the tv show, ER? So, yes, Jurassic Park had heat before it got published. But that was in large part because Crichton was already Crichton, and already working with Spielberg on another project.

            I really don’t want anyone to lose sight of the fact that I agree that Jurassic Park was one of the greatest movie ideas ever! I’m just saying Crichton wasn’t nobody. He already made two blockbusters based upon his novels. He already had earned Spielberg’s ear. They were buying HIM as much as the idea. Remember, we’re debating the premise that Jurassic Park was GUARANTEED to be made on the idea alone.

          • Casper Chris

            Remember, we’re debating the premise that Jurassic Park was GUARANTEED to be made on the idea alone.

            If there ever was a film guaranteed to be made based on concept alone, Jurassic Park is it. The fact that the concept was realized as a novel before it was realized as a movie, doesn’t diminish the inherent strength of the concept.

          • http://joelthomaswrites.com writerjoel

            We really do agree about the awesomeness of the idea for Jurassic Park. The film’s pedigree neither diminishes nor improves the strength of the concept. But it does improve the packaging. This discussion began with Carson listing films which he thought were guaranteed to be made based upon the concept alone: I countered that all of his examples were brought to market by pedigree as much as concept, and that without their pedigrees, or even with those pedigrees, they had no such guarantees of being made. I’m not anti-concept: I’m a realist about packaging.

            Let’s look at a film example where the concept was much more important than packaging: The Sixth Sense. Even here, Shyamalan was a working writer/director with credits. But he was no Crichton/Speilberg/Toy Conglomerate. Disney bought the script for 2 million and agreed to let Shyamalan direct it, based only on the love of the script. Except that not everyone at Disney felt the same way: The guy in charge was fired over the deal, and Disney sold off the property to Spyglass. In hindsight, it’s easy to pick the guaranteed winners!

            This is my point. I’m beginning to wonder what you think my point is: Do you think I’m saying concept doesn’t matter? That screenwriters who don’t know Spielberg have no shot? I’m one of those screenwriters! I certainly do NOT think that.

            And now, let’s unpack this gem:

            “Crichton wrote about 30 novels. Spielberg only directed two of his novels as films. BOTH were based on the concept of Jurassic Park. Spielberg was all about the concept, don’t kid yourself.”

            Do you mean that all of Crichton’s other projects were conceptual crap? ER was crap? Twister was crap (I actually don’t like Twister, but let’s respect concepts over executions)? I don’t know about you, but I can’t go on writing if it turns out THE Michael Crichton only ever had one good idea. And if the concept of Jurassic Park is so amazing, why didn’t Spielberg direct the third and fourth one? In order to discount the point that Spielberg wanted to be in the Michael Crichton business before Jurassic Park existed, you’ve wandered onto pretty shaky ground.

          • Casper Chris

            Carson listing films which he thought were guaranteed to be made based upon the concept alone

            Incorrect. Carson specifically wrote:
            These are the projects that are so good, either through concept or execution, that nothing can stop them from getting made.

            Do you mean that all of Crichton’s other projects were conceptual crap? ER was crap? Twister was crap (I actually don’t like Twister, but let’s respect concepts over executions)?

            No, I don’t mean that. There’s more than the extremes “crap” and “genius”.

            In hindsight, it’s easy to pick the guaranteed winners!

            Great concepts (and executions) have a tendency to attract great “packages”. So it’s also easy to say afterwards that it was the package, not the strength of the concept/execution. The toy potential of Jurassic Park is part of the concept. It’s part of what makes the concept great.

            And if the concept of Jurassic Park is so amazing, why didn’t Spielberg direct the third and fourth one?

            I think he was ready for new challenges at that point.

          • http://joelthomaswrites.com writerjoel

            You have a point about Carson’s use of “execution”, so let me rephrase: Carson’s claim that four specific movies were guaranteed to be made due to CONCEPT or COMPLETED SCRIPT alone failed to recognize the role of PACKAGING in those film’s “guaranteed” production. I thought I was clear in other posts that scripts, like concepts, were mere “writing samples” without packaging. I’m happy to concede the point if it helps us understand one another better.

            You also have a point about the details of Jurassic Park’s production, brought to us by Caleb (Thanks Caleb!), pointing out how its movie rights sold before the book’s publication. Note, Caleb agreed with my overall point of packaging:

            “I agree with your other points”

            Now, I responded to Caleb, which you skip over. I confessed my knowledge that oftentimes, movie rights for books are purchased before the book becomes a bestseller. I didn’t know that was the case with Jurassic Park, but I knew that it COULD be. I ignored the possibility because I didn’t want to get the discussion off track over the larger point that these books aren’t just concepts or scripts any more. They are PACKAGING: They’re a publish date, and a print run, and likely an author with a track record. I then added my own bit of lore to the Jurassic Park story, writing:

            “did you know that Spielberg first learned of the dinosaur idea while he was already in development with Crichton on another screenplay that would eventually become the tv show, ER? So, yes, Jurassic Park had heat before it got published. But that was in large part because Crichton was already Crichton, and already working with Spielberg on another project.”

            At this point, I have a question, Casper: What point are you arguing for? Because Caleb’s point doesn’t change the fact that Crichton was already a juggernaut when he sold Jurassic Park. He was already working with Spielberg on ER. He wasn’t just a writer, he was a PACKAGE. Through this discussion, I keep agreeing that Jurassic Park is an AMAZING concept: I just don’t think Carson can say the movie got made on the concept alone when the creator’s pedigree was so impressive. But I explicitly am NOT saying that concepts don’t matter. Earlier, I wrote:

            “Let me take us to common ground: As Malibo Jackk says, great scripts find passionate people who know how to package them to get Hollywood excited. If you have a script that is truly great, but you have no credits, you’ll find someone who loves it, and they’ll package it to get Hollywood to love it. But without a star, a director, or a production budget under the WGA qualifying 5mil, I don’t know if you sell it. You can get work from it, but it won’t get made.”

            In your last response, you echo Malibo Jack’s and my point:

            “Great concepts (and executions) have a tendency to attract great “packages”.”

            You see? We’re not even disagreeing, are we? Then you follow up with:

            “So it’s also easy to say afterwards that it was the package, not the strength of the concept.”

            You’re right: Afterwards, it IS easy to say it was the package that got Jurassic Park made–because that’s true. In all this discussion, we’ve talked about CONCEPT and PACKAGE like they’re two entirely different things. But they’re not, really: All packages contain a concept, don’t they? When you’re a nobody without credits, your package starts out as just a concept. When you’re Michael Crichton, your package starts out as a concept being shepherded by Michael Crichton.

            So maybe this will get us to common ground: Jurassic Park was made on the strength of its package, which includes, but is not limited to, its concept. Without the amazing package, Jurassic Park was not guaranteed a greenlight, but the concept was so good that it could have attracted an equally amazing package on its own. But then again, maybe not. We’ll never know. What we do know is that, in this reality, the package for Jurassic Park was baked into the genesis of the concept, and doesn’t fit Carson’s criteria for a film that got made on the strength of the concept alone. A better fit would be The Sixth Sense, which was by no means guaranteed production based on its concept alone, as Disney fired a guy for greenlighting it. How’s that?

            Oh, one more thing: First you argue that Spielberg only made one out of Crichton’s 30 concepts because:

            “Spielberg was all about the concept, don’t kid yourself.”

            You then sidestep my point that you’re calling all of Crichton’s work other than Jurassic park “crap”, by saying there’s a middle ground between “crap” and “genius”. Okay, fine: replace “crap”, with “not good enough”. You’re saying Crichton’s work wasn’t good enough. My point still holds. And then you write that Spielberg didn’t direct the next two films because:

            “he was ready for new challenges at that point.”

            Basically, only concept matters, except when it doesn’t. Would it kill you to concede that there are a number of reasons why Spielberg decides to direct a movie other than the concept alone? You’re twisting like a pretzel over nothing.

          • Casper Chris

            I just don’t think Carson can say the movie got made on the concept alone

            That’s not what he said. Again, you’re twisting things (you’re the one twisting like a pretzel).

            You’re right: Afterwards, it IS easy to say it was the package that got Jurassic Park made–because that’s true.

            You’re confused. The point is that the concept of Jurassic Park was so strong that it was guaranteed to get made into a movie (THAT is what Carson said). The fact that the concept went on to attract big names and gather a solid package around doesn’t contradict that notion. If anything, it reinforces it.

            Note, Caleb agreed with my overall point of packaging:

            Caleb disagreed with you on Jurassic Park which is what we’re discussing.

          • http://joelthomaswrites.com writerjoel

            Casper, do you live in LA?

            Assuming he does, who thinks Casper and I should get a beer and argue this some more? Upvote this to say yes. I’ll bring a Jurassic Park hardcover to the bar, where Casper and I will both sign it and send it to Carson.

          • Casper Chris

            haha

            No, I live in Denmark. Been teaching myself English arguing with people on the interwebz.

        • carsonreeves1

          Yeah, concept might be too specific of a term here. I think the concept was perfect for Jurassic Park. I guess we disagree there. But Transformers it was more the idea of cars turning into robots being a bona fide hit no matter who made it. Not sure if that falls under “concept” or not.

          I don’t think Brigands is close in terms of the impact the American Beauty script had on the town. Everyone in town thought that AB was genius. There are still a number of people who think Brigands is too slow moving. But I hear what you’re saying. Sounds like we disagree slightly on some of these things.

          • http://joelthomaswrites.com writerjoel

            I totally agree that if Jurassic Park didn’t exist, and a nobody pitched the idea, they’d get traction! It’s one of those ideas that screams movie. I only balked at the notion that it’s guaranteed to be MADE. There are amazing ideas that are bought and developed and ultimately not made, because they lacked the final oomph of packaging to justify the dollar amount.

            As for American Beauty being beloved, is that a guarantee to it being made? if so, why did 20 directors turn it down?

          • Panos Tsapanidis

            I’m definitely with @writerjoel:disqus on this one, and, I’m actually surprised @carsonreeves1:disqus still sticks to his guns after joel’s comments.

            In my opinion, the script that was a force of nature as Carson puts it and represents the first tier, is The Matrix.

      • S_P_1

        I have to agree with writerjoel on Transformers. Which was originally released in 1986 from Marvel under license from Hasbro. Transformers the Movie is still the best version of Transformers released IMO. You mentioned technology had to catch up to the reboot of Transformers but in 1986 Aliens, Top Gun, Iron Eagle, Short Circuit, and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was released. Industrial Light and Magic had been providing SFX and VFX since 1975. So the technology has been around for a long time to bring the Live Action version to the screen. And if you truly want to stretch the concept Gohira movies have been out since 1954. Transformers would definitely fall under that category.

        Last but not least lets not overlook the fact Transformers the toy was lucrative long before the live action movie came out.

  • Scott Strybos

    I just found this trailer for a documentary about showrunners called “Showrunners”… They’ve interviewed everybody and it looks really good if writing for television is a subject you are interested in. Comes out on the 31rst.

  • carsonreeves1

    I’d be on board with an opening scene setting up his relationship with his father IF you could figure out how to do it in an interesting way. Either way though, I agree with everyone else here. Play around with some completely new opening scenes. Write a few for shits and giggles. See if anything sticks.

  • GYAD

    OK, I read up to p.25 last time, so here’s my notes on the rest:

    p.26 Why hold onto him for a month before doing anything? That’s a lot of food and water for nothing, especially as they’re just gonna test him.
    p.26 How can they hurt his sister if she’s in another country?
    p.31 Probably easier just to write “spots” or “sees” rather than “clocks” every time.
    p.32 I just don’t buy Robin Hood criminals…especially not after they murdered Max in cold blood. It seems schizophrenic.
    p.32 “Jessica Ellis”? This is South Africa, not England. Also, are they “milling about” or involved in “their games”?
    p.32 Why do the criminals have a village? A farm complex would make much more sense.
    p.33 How can the criminals let Cassius’s family go…aren’t they all in another country?
    p.36 So it’s been a month but they’re only burying Max now? Also, why are they using body bags? Do the criminals have a stock of them or something?
    p.43 “not a chance I’m afraid” — the gang all sound far too English.
    p.45 The shift from hostage to celebrated member of the gang happens far too quickly. Also, does Cassius remember that these people murdered his best friend.
    p.49 They live in huts? What are they, bushmen?
    p.51 Jacques dad wasn’t just a racist lawyer…he actively tried to lock up people he knew to be innocent because they were black? Possibly a little over the top…
    p.60-61 Woah. Monster montage: eighteen different things happening. That’s not only too much, it also means lots of dramatic scenes – like Cassius taking the lead in planning a job – are flashing past.

    …and I’m afraid that on page 70 I gave up. It just wasn’t doing it for me and I didn’t fancy another fifty pages I’m afraid.

    My biggest problem is the clash between the concept and the delivery. The idea of some rich boy getting sucked into the nightmarish Joburg underworld was what excited me; a sort of African reverse “Training Day”. But what we got was some sort of odd Robin Hood story which was not only unbelievable but also dissipated all the menace and exoticism of the setting. This story could have been set in the UK or USA and it would barely have changed.

    Also, I found it very hard to find much to sympathise with in the story of a rich boy who does a stupid thing that gets his best mate killed and then promptly goes into crime with the murderers. He just seemed to forget this (as did the criminals — he is after all a witness to murder whose testimony could get them all sent down).

    It’s also really weird that everyone in this story seems to be white and specifically of English heritage (with a few Afrikaaners around the edges).

    Finally, at a certain point this hit the second act blues bad, with a repetitive series of robberies, bonding with the criminals and lusting after Jessica. This culminates in the monster montage which pushed me over the edge. It felt like the page count was so high because of all the repetitive scenes that some of them got put in the montage to drop this below 120 pages (and at 113 it’s still too long; 100 max for a thriller like this).

    The writing is pretty good, even if the dialogue is pure Home Counties, but for me this was a story that just seemed to lose its way and meander out. It ended up just reminding me of a better film about an unorthodox South African criminal called “Stander” which was much tighter, more believable and dramatic.

    • Nate

      Haven’t read the script yet, but going off Carson’s review and your comments, I’d have to agree that the Robin Hood criminals feels out of place after they murdered Max. It would have to be one or the other. Either they’re Robin Hood criminals or DeNiro’s crew from Heat.

  • jw

    An interesting perspective on theme trumping story. The reason I may say that universally I can’t agree with that is because there are plenty of times where theme shines through in a shitty film. This was by no means a shitty film, but if we simply took the fact that the film has a “great theme” as the reason for its triumphs, without addressing aspects of the story that maybe could have been enhanced or improved, I’m not sure that’s legit either. I would also argue that “reasons” for Oscars can also be political. Hollywood is somewhat contrite in the fact that roles for minorities, while having gained significant ground, still struggle to break free of stereotypes, thus, my view on this is actually a bit different in that the “Academy” as a whole likes to get behind these films every few years to make themselves feel a bit better about a system that isn’t as welcoming as it would love to be seen. Definitely a solid film though, just one I felt took a different route than we talk about most of the time.

    • http://vimeo.com/adamwparker Adam W. Parker

      Good points. I mistakenly equated quality with winning an Oscar – not mentioning the politics.

      But theme does not trump story – it is the story. I felt that coming through because of the acting, directing, costumes, music, etc. Theme is not something that’s an afterthought on the story – it’s the heart of the story. And it’s the jumping off point for any mature criticism.

      Without theme as the underlining force, our criticisms are just personal preference. We subliminally take this into account when considering a script’s genre – it is the promise of a certain type of theme. To judge 12 Years as an Action movie would miss the point entirely. Tone is another consideration of theme, as well as setting, etc.

      It’s the reason I knew Edge of Tomorrow would HAVE to have a certain scene (“How long have we been looping?”) if it was to fully address the theme.

      Maybe my definition is different. Theme is not a moral to the story. It is the emotional debate or central conflict presented, usually within the protagonist.

      If I ever say a weak movie has a strong theme, it’s similar to saying that the craft isn’t polished but the heart shows through.

  • andyjaxfl

    Carson, can you go into a bit more detail about the dashes? It seems like your What I learned 2 was cut off, but I’m curious to know a bit more about your thoughts.

    I’ve read a lot of great scripts with dashes, including Desperate Hours and Interstellar (and a few by Orcman and Kurtzi). Desperate Hours has frequent ellipses too.

  • Bacon Statham

    Just so there’s no confusion, I’m the Nate that responded to GYAD. I don’t want people to think I’ve gone schizo so I created a proper account. I have a feeling I know what’s happened here. Either I upset someone with my comment yesterday or this is just one big coincidence.

  • Michael

    I have to hop on a plane, so only got time to look at the first ten pages. My notes seem to be in line with Carson’s review and the general consensus. I do like the premise, just not seeing much of it in the first ten pages other than setting up that Cassius likes to travel. My biggest note agrees with everyone, start the story in South Africa, get the premise rolling sooner. Here are my notes as I read:

    P1 Do we need to extend the action of the boy lighting the fireworks or could we use those additional lines to give us a more engaging description of the carnival atmosphere?

    P1 “The famous street carnival is in full flow.” This feels like it should be the opening line for this scene, then follow with your description of the carnival.

    P1 Cassius is a cool name, but Cassius Ramsey, are you obsessed with the ancient world? Max is not bad by itself either, but when you extend it to Maximus and put together with Cassius, now we are in ancient Rome. It’s too much.

    P1 “Behave.” What young twenty-something says that? In general, the opening dialog doesn’t ring true, especially for two life long friends. And the “Notting Hill” reference Max is commenting about is lost on me (One of you Londoners want to enlighten me?).

    P1 “See where the tide takes us.” Clichéd line, lose it. And again, what young twenty-something talks like that?

    P2 Shorten “BRAZILIAN GIRL, approximately early 20’s…” to “BRAZILLAIN BEAUTIES.” It should be plural, because you say “they take us…” in the next line and they are with two girls in the next scene (make them women, not girls, always sexier).

    P2 Anna and Emma seem like very pedestrian names for Brazilian beauties. This is the time to assign exotic names to the characters.

    Why are these English girls, it defeats placing them in an exotic location. And while we are at it, why isn’t this story starting in South Africa where the story is set. The Brazilian carnival thing has been done. I’d bet there are some wonderful locations and cultural events in South Africa you could be taking advantage of (please way in on this point Citizen M) and establish your main story from the get go instead of starting from scratch when we finally get to where the story really takes place.

    P2 “Our hipster friend…” Cassius is a hipster? Wow, that comes with a lot of specificity and should have been conveyed in your initial description of Cassius. “Standing out with steely good looks” and “hipster” are two images that clash.

    P3 The dialog for this scene seems very placeholder and it is not distinguishing the characters. The scene reads like the writer is having a conversation with himself. Cassius and Max sound like Ned 1 and Ned 2, and the girls sound like female Ned 3 and female Ned 4.

    Alright, I get that you want to establish Cassius as adventurous and a risk taker, but the scene of him stealing a bottle of champagne is playing into a fear I’ve had since reading the logline. A guy who will do anything to save himself is not necessarily a guy I’m going to want to root for. And in your first scene of substance, Cassius is basically an asshole. Yeah, there’s a fun, youthful indiscretion and daringness to it, but it doesn’t get us on his side. I’m not looking for a blatant save-the-cat moment here, just something that tells me he’s the protagonists other than he has more lines and action than the other characters. This is just a nagging thought at this point, I won’t rush to judgment.

    P7 “Was that insufficient?” Are these twenty-something’s or lab technicians? Really, who talks like that, at any age, after getting laid?

    P7 What’s a tannoy? I’ve stopped reading to Goggle it. The airport public address system. Is that what they call it in South Africa?

    P7,8,9 This three-page scene discussing where to travel is a death scene for this script. It just kills your story, you should lose it.

    Okay, through the first 10 and I’m scratching my head as to why this adventure isn’t starting in South Africa? I’m not buying the bit with the customs official marking them for kidnapping because their passports show they travel a lot. It’s not like in Taken where you can look at a pretty young girl at the airport and that is all you need to know to sell her into prostitution. Establish the two protagonist staying in the best hotels and lavishly spending their way through Johannesburg’s nightlife. That would be far better than starting this story in Brazil. Have them made for travelers with means by how they spend money, rather than one cell phone call from a customs official, who couldn’t possibly know for sure from the stamps in their passport. That scene could be the first step in targeting them, but you need the rest to place a bullseye on them.

    Sorry have to stop for know, but I am curious to read on, always a good thing.

    Just to address Carson’s second WIL: I think it was Sun Tzu who said in The Art of Screenwriting, “He who emphasizes everything, emphasizes nothing.” For anyone who has been reading this site for more than a few months, it is hard to believe we have to give this note. This is a huge red flag and you should just accept it.

    I’ll try to get back to the rest of the script. Congrats to Ned and good luck with the rewrites.

    • Bacon Statham

      ”P1 “Behave.” What young twenty-something says that?”
      To be fair, I’m 24 and I say that to my friends. It’s just a way of telling someone to give it a rest if they’re annoying you. It’s not meant in the way you’d tell a child to behave.

      • Michael

        Is it also an English expression, as in Austin Powers? I had that as a note for Paul Clark’s script last AOW, where several English expressions were used when the writer’s intent wasn’t to depict anything as English, but they seemed to be using the expressions out of personal habit.

        • Bacon Statham

          I think it is mostly an English expression. I’ve never heard anyone other than a Brit say it before.

  • Ken

    I like the use of dashes

    • klmn

      Dash you!

  • Caleb Yeaton

    I couldn’t read much, thanks to work. I really like the premise, but I kept thinking while I was reading up to page 23 or 24 – sorry I can’t read more; I’ll check back in if I can – that becoming a thief really wasn’t going to be a problem for Cassius. For starters, he’s a ballsy dude. During the opening stretch, in the club, he really goes for it – he’s resourceful, quick-thinking, and ballsy. In other words, he’d make a damn good thief, which kind of kills my interest. For me, that’s kind of like pitting Batman against a bunch of blind guys armed with wiffleball bats. He’s Batman. He’ll be fine. The same thing goes here – and I really, really hope the script proves me wrong, but a quick glance at the comments tells me otherwise.

    My big suggestion, based off of what little I read, would be to just have Cassius fuck up stealing the bottle of champagne. Right now, I think “Oh, Cassius is going to be a criminal? Eh, he’ll be fine,” due to that opening sequence. And, really, my reaction should be “Shit, how the fuck is this going to work out for him?” You don’t get that reaction if he’s doing something he’s good at. If he whiffs the robbery and gets smacked around by the bouncers – he can still have sex with Anna and bro-five Max about it, since the girls would likely appreciate the ballsiness of his stunt, even if he got beat up – it’d add suspense later on when Cassius falls in with the gang and has to operate on their level. Stack the deck against Cassius. Making him a hostage whose only way out is to do something he’s good at is fine, but if he’s forced to do something he’s NOT good at but MUST succeed at if he’s going to stay alive, it’s a little more suspenseful, right?

    And offing Max is a great curveball to throw at the audience, I think.

  • Citizen M

    It started off well but didn’t end well. Somewhere along the line the GSU evaporated.

    The logline says Cassius turns to crime “to repay the ransom his family could not afford.” A worthy goal. But that’s not in the script. In the script his wealthy father refuses to pay and the bad guys start using him as a crook basically as an amusement.

    Later Cassius twice asks to work for them to let his family go (p. 33 and p. 58). But the threat to his family is never credible. They never present evidence that they can carry it out (and later we learn they can’t). Without a credible threat there are no stakes, and Cassius is just a rich kid having an adventure.

    It’s all open-ended. There’s no deadline by which something must happen, like Cassius must raise a certain amount of money, or Cassius or his family die. So no urgency. He becomes a criminal until one day he decides he doesn’t want to be.

    The bush camp is realistic. It is the ambition of many Joburgers to make their millions and retire to a game farm (in Cape Town where I come from it’s a wine farm they aspire to). But Jacques’ Robin Hood complex was harder to accept. I can believe Jacques sinking his booty into a “save the rhino” type operation to salve his conscience, but not giving it to homeless shelters. (Anyway, the cops would learn they should watch homeless shelters after a robbery.)

    There were some good action scenes, although I occasionally couldn’t follow what was going on, but overall I felt the motivations and issues needed to be clearer. There was some talk of why people do what, but none of it convincing.

    The heart of the story is a normal English guy willingly joins a vicious criminal gang is South Africa. It’s an extraordinary circumstance, and needs extraordinary motivation.

    p. 2 – Establish the coin flip thing. They should flip for who gets which girl.

    p. 7 – You establish Cassius as a hell-raising daredevil. But not as someone who wants to build a school in Africa. Maybe he fancies a girl who has done relief work in Africa and who rejects him because she thinks he’s a shallow pleasure-seeker. Maybe also his father has the same opinion of him. So he decides to reform.

    p. 8 – Maybe flight is Rio – Joburg – Thailand. Seems likely, looking at globe. So they could stop off in Joburg on impulse. (But what about visas?)

    p. 9 – Johannesburg airport is named Oliver Tambo these days.

    p. 9 – Maybe Ramsey is a well-known trade name e.g. Ramsey’s, a high-end store such as found in duty-free shops, and the customs officer comments on it. Hard to believe the computer gives his financial status.

    p. 10 – Joburg is in a winter rainfall area and is usually sunny. Short sharp afternoon thundershowers is the normal pattern. Persistent grey skies and rain are unusual and would be costly to film.

    p. 15 – Cassius is more likely to say to Jacques, “Why have you kidnapped us? What do you want?”

    p. 17 – “…why are you threatening to kill us?” Jacques hasn’t actually threatened to kill them. The bad guys tote guns to prevent them running away, presumably.
    Expect the dialogue to go, Why kidnap us? Ransom. If no pay? We kill you. Why kill us? To maintain credibility.

    p. 17 – A thought: If Cassius knows where their base camp is, they can never release him, because he will lead the cops to their hideout.

    p. 18 – Cassius using his shoe to tell time suggests he has been in the cell for a couple of days, long enough to pick up a pattern. (Amount of time that has passed is a bit of an issue with this script.)

    p. 26 – Jacques’ decision to use Cassius seems a bit sudden. Maybe it’s more gradual. Cassius cleans toilets, works in kitchen etc under guard. He must “earn his keep” until dad pays up. Gradually gets accepted. Maybe gets used when a gang member drops out. But has to undergo initiation, like ATM snatch.

    Also, would like threat to sister to be more present, and escalating. Keep the pressure on Cassius.

    p. 33 – How much time has passed from the ATM caper on p. 31? When Cassius asks to work with the gang he mentions he’s been doing minor stuff, so presumably he has pulled off more robberies. His progression up the crime ladder should be shown.

    p. 35 – Jacques: “No harm in a little trial.” I thought the ATM grab was the trial. What was it, then?

    p. 36 – Cassius buries Max. More than a month has passed. The body must be very decomposed and smelly by now.

    p. 38 – Not sure why Vincent is on the scene. Are they robbing their associate, or is he robbing the betting shop at the same time?

    p. 38 – “He hits the horn… Silence….” I read this as the horn sounded but there was no reaction from inside the building. Make clear that it’s the horn that is broken.

    p. 39 – Using a wrench on the steering column as a steering wheel. I have seen it with my own eyes on a minibus taxi.

    p. 41-59 – This is a big flat spot in the story. It’s basically just stuff happening within the group. It’s not Cassius moving towards some goal.

    p. 61 – Cassius getting with Jessica seems a bit sudden. I’d like to see more of a courtship.

    p. 79 – The name is spelled Van Der Merwe not Merve.

    p. 80 – Shamwana raid. I found the action a bit difficult to follow.

    p. 91 – Here and elsewhere I found the philosophizing dialogue a bit unrealistic.

    p. 94 – Jacques: “It’s okay, Cassius. I forgive you.” So they have an argument, he imprisons Cassius, Cassius cries and says he’s sorry, Jacques forgives him and lets him back into the gang. Not buying it. Doubt the other gang members do, either.

    p. 97 – Ty is a loyal lieutenant to Jacques. He needs more motivation to betray him this way.

    p. 103 – Good switch. The kidnapper to be kidnapped.

    p. 112 – Crappy finish. Too open-ended. Nothing resolved.

  • Gman

    Sorry, I did not buy the premise that a cutthroat gang of
    criminals would let a punk kid (in their eyes) participate in their criminal
    activities. I don’t care how much pluck or initiative Cassius shows. These guys
    aren’t CEO types looking for the next upstart go-getter. They’re killers, as
    evidenced by Jacques’s lack of hesitancy in killing Max.

    However, I think you can fix this fairly easily by providing
    Cassius a special skill that Jacques discovers he needs. For example, Cassius could be computer expert,
    a hacker no less, with the ability to steal with a few keystrokes. Jacques and
    his boys wouldn’t even have to get off their asses to score. Now that would be
    a valuable asset to Jacques and a strong reason not only to not kill Cassius,
    but integrate him into the gang. It would also, maybe, solve your problem of
    Cassius being too young to cast. It is entirely believable that a 22-year-old
    would be a computer whiz and would use his skills as such to help and/or save
    himself.

    Looking down the line into Act 2, you can play off the trust
    Cassius engenders in the other gang members and, perhaps, even have Cassius use
    his special skill to somehow extricate himself from his predicament.