Today’s script made some noise in the Scriptshadow Newsletter, but does it pass the Carson Screenplay SAT? Read on to find out.
Amateur Friday Submission Process: To submit your script for an Amateur Review, send in a PDF of your script, a PDF of the first ten pages of your script, your title, genre, logline, and finally, why I should read your script. Use my submission address please: Carsonreeves3@gmail.com. Your script and “first ten” will be posted. If you’re nervous about the effects of a bad review, feel free to use an alias name and/or title. It’s a good idea to resubmit every couple of weeks so your submission stays near the top.
Premise: (from writer) A mysterious drifter with a dark past stumbles into a small town where he rents a room in the attic of a strange couple’s home, but he may not be alone up there.
About: Today’s amateur script got the best response from the amateur script entries in last week’s Scriptshadow Newsletter. To be a part of the Scriptshadow Newsletter, contact me through the site and “opt in” to the newsletter at the bottom the submission box.
Writer: Chris Rodgers
Details: 92 pages
I’ve read scripts like this before. Scripts that are so sparse, you’re almost searching for the words between the words, like they may have gotten lost in the transfer from the writer’s computer to yours. Emma is better than most scripts that come through the Amateur Friday pipeline, but I don’t know if it’s at “worth the read” status. It’s got too many quirks. The voice contains an extra dose of bizarre. People don’t speak like real people. At times I almost thought this thing could be animated, its cartoonish qualities shined through so aggressively.
And yet through it all, I had to keep reading. I said this to Miss Scriptshadow at one point: “I don’t know if I like this script. But I sure as hell want to find out what happens.” Have you ever read scripts like that before? Where finishing them basically becomes a grudge match? I don’t mean to devalue Rodgers’ script. He’s got a funky interesting style to him. But Emma is one of those scripts you finish with a startled look on your face. Like you’ve just woken up in a room you don’t recognize.
20-something Johnny has scoot-dazzled his way into a small town in the middle of nowhere. This town’s so sparse you can walk into a restaurant and not find a single patron. Except for today that is. Because Johnny’s our single patron, and it’s here where he meets short-order cook Darrell, a local idiot with an asshole older brother and a hypochondriac mother. After some small talk, Darrell tells Johnny that if he’s looking for a place to stay, he should check out Chuck and Mary’s place. They usually rent rooms out.
So away Johnny goes where he meets 30-something Chuck, who’s plagued with burns all over his body, and 50-somethng Mary, who can’t stop yelling at Chuck about whatever the hell comes to mind. They seem like a strange couple, but not half as strange as the place they live in. That’s because the place they live in is HAUNTED!
Johnny figures this out early on when he sees the ghost of a girl named “Emma” sneaking around. A little research reveals that Emma used to be a model and was best friends with Mary. But then Emma went off to California to pursue her modeling career and disappeared. She now haunts this house for some reason. Even Chuck admits to seeing her.
These two aren’t the only ones with some backstory. It turns out our buddy Johnny has escaped a mental institution, making these Emma spottings suspect. Is he really seeing her, or is he just having an episode? And what about these rumors that Chuck’s hiding a huge stash of millions in the house? Could that be Johnny’s ticket to freedom for the rest of his life? And how far will he go to get that freedom? These are the haunting questions Emma asks.
Emma’s not one of those scripts you can just synopsize. You kind of have to read it to understand it. Take the first dialogue exchange in the script for example. It sets the tone for everything you’re about to read. Johnny’s just walked into the diner where he meets Darrell. J: “Um, can I just have a cheeseburger combo with a Coke?” D: “I’m sorry, we don’t have combos.” “Oh. Well, can I get a cheeseburger, a medium French fry, and make the drink a large.” “What kind of drink sir?” “Coke.” “Is Pepsi O.K.?” “Pepsi?” Darrell nods. “Come on. I just walked—never mind, give me a root beer.” “Good choice, sir.” “You don’t have to call me sir.” “Okay.” “Why would you say that root beer is a good choice? What makes root beer so great?” “I just like it.” “Oh.” “That will be four dollars and twelve cents.”
I don’t know about you but that dialogue feels awkward. And not purposefully awkward. Just awkward. The stuff about the root beer at the end is random. It doesn’t seem to have a point. And the early Pepsi challenge takes up a lot of time and doesn’t have a payoff. When you’re exchanging dialogue, especially early on when we don’t know your characters yet, you want to use that dialogue to teach us about your characters.
Take The Equalizer, which I review in this week’s newsletter (which you can sign up for here). In one of the early scenes, the main character is talking to a woman at the diner (so a similar location). The conversation centers around the book our hero is reading (The Old Man And The Sea). This tells us a little about our character. He reads old books. Which leads to the question: WHY does he read old books? We want to find out so we keep reading. The point is, we’re learning about the character through his exchange with someone else. I’m not sure we learn anything about these two characters in this conversation.
I think that’s something a lot of young writers don’t know. When you write dialogue, you’re either trying to reveal story or reveal character. It may seem to the audience that the conversation is casual. But what they don’t know is that you’re secretly passing along key information to them through the characters’ “casual” exchange.
Another thing that bothered me here were the flashbacks. I wasn’t sure what the point of them was. They pretty much kept telling us the same thing over and over again – that Johnny was in the nuthouse. That meant each subsequent flashback was extraneous. It was information I already knew. If there was an evolving storyline to these flashbacks, a mystery we wanted answered (aka, Johnny wakes up in a cell with a stabbed cell mate – and each scene gets us closer to why that happened), I would’ve been fine with them. But they didn’t evolve, leaving me to wonder what their purpose was.
With those things said, there were some interesting things going on in Emma. I thought some of the characters were pretty well drawn. Well-drawn characters typically evolve from well thought-through backstories. And this whole backstory where Chuck was burned during his electrician job and won a multi-million dollar lawsuit against his company – that was admirably constructed.
I also thought the mystery behind Emma was strong. How Johnny would see her with plastic wrapped around her face and body. That was creepy. And while the reveal for how she ended up that way wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t bad either.
Here’s where we run into a problem though. You have a haunted house script titled, “Emma,” and it really isn’t about Emma. It seems to be more about Johnny running away and hiding in this town. The Emma storyline is more of a subplot. If I were Chris, I’d give Emma a much bigger role. This movie has to be about her. I’d also create more of a conspiracy around her death. Possibly expand the amount of people inside the town who know what happened, and then place Johnny around more of those people. I didn’t like how we basically had two locations in the movie – Chuck and Mary’s house and the diner. It made the script feel too small. Let’s explore this town more, get to know more people, and this will start to feel like a movie.
I wouldn’t tell someone NOT to read this script but I probably wouldn’t go around recommending it either. I will say this though. I’d read Chris’ next script for sure. I feel like he’s still learning the craft and will continue to get better. I’d focus on adding more layers to his future stories. This one felt TOO simple. With a little more town exploration – bringing in a few more characters – he might’ve struck gold. I wish him luck. His voice is unique enough to make me think he’s got a future.
Script link: Emma
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Treat character reveals like commercial breaks. When you’re writing mysterious protagonists, you want to give a little info about them in each scene, but also tease a mystery about them for later. If there continue to be mysteries about our hero, we’ll want to keep reading to find out what they are. So in The Equalizer, via that scene I mentioned above, we give the audience a little piece of the protagonist by revealing that he reads old books, but we don’t tell the audience WHY he reads those books yet. We “cut to commercial” and reveal that info later. If you answer all the little mysteries about your character right away, why the hell would we keep reading?