Today’s script won 25,000 dollars. But will it win the hearts of the Scriptshadow readers??
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) In the Mid-Twentieth Century a mysterious boy with Christ-like healing powers must bring together a racially charged town before the vindictive Mayor’s son murders him.
About: This is the script that generated the most discussion from last weekend’s Amateur Offerings. It recently won the $25,000.00 GRAND PRIZE at KairosPrize Screenplay Competition sponsored by www.movieguide.org.
Writer: R. W. Hahn
Details: 117 pages
I wasn’t too excited about the way the Amateur Offerings Weekend went two weeks ago, particularly in response to this script. I find that whenever a script wins a contest, it also hops inside a piñata. A piñata at a party attended by every screenwriter in the world. And they’re not leaving until they bash that thing to pieces. Why this is, I don’t know. I think there’s some frustration there that THEIR script didn’t win a contest. And that taking this other script down will somehow alleviate that pain.
But then I found out this was a Christian-themed script (“Faith based” I think you’d call it?) and that it won a Christian-themed contest. I don’t think you could put a bigger target on your back. Contest winner AND faith-based?? People have such strong opinions about religion. Get two opinionated people with conflicting beliefs in the same room and it isn’t going to end well.
And I understand the reaction. You read something you don’t believe in AT ALL and it gets you riled up. You want to scream, “Do you really believe in this???” And the same can be said of the person/people writing the script. “How could you NOT believe in this?” So to bring that kind of script into the mainstream is one hell of a risky move. I give R.W. major props for taking that chance.
Truthfully, though, I don’t care about any of that stuff. All I care about when I sit down and read a script is being entertained. I don’t care if you write a screenplay about bathtubs. If it’s a damn good bathtub story, I’ll be happy. So with that established, it’s time to see if Gideon is any good.
60-something African-American preacher Leon Swanson’s just run out of gas in a small town. He pulls up to a tiny gas station, but is frustrated to find that it’s closed. However, a sign has been left, “Open After Service.” So Preacher Leon, who you’d think would be understanding of this type of delay, trudges over to the local church to look for the gas station attendant. However, when he walks inside, he’s greeted by a church member who tells him they’ve been waiting for him! Their previous Preacher died, and God told them a new one was coming. Leon appears to be that someone.
Even though Leon isn’t interested in leading someone else’s congregation, he gets the feeling that they’re not letting him go anywhere until he gives them something. So he goes up to the pulpit and tells a story.
Cut back to the year 1939, where we meet 35 year-old Jenny. Jenny’s a maid at the local town motel and seems to live a pretty sad life. Even though she resides in the biggest house in town, everybody hates her. We don’t know why, but when Jenny walks into a store, everyone turns the other way.
Lucky for Jenny, as she’s cleaning out a room one day, she finds a baby! Naturally, she snatches that little ball of drool up and takes it home, not telling anyone about it. The baby, whom she names Gideon, starts to grow up, and it’s clear right away that he’s different. As in when he touches animals that die, they come back to life. THAT kind of different.
Back in town, we meet a group of young friends. There’s Young Leon (the old man telling the story), overweight Leftover, stump-legged Petey, bucktoothed Weasel, and skinny Skeeter. This group of misfits also includes the town bully, Josey, Petey’s older brother. Why you’d allow the town bully to be a part of your group, I don’t know. But that’s the case here.
Getting back to Jenny, we eventually learn why she was shunned. Her grandfather built the first colored church in town, and the white folks didn’t like that. So of course when he died, they shifted their anger over to Jenny.
But things have started to get better for Jenny. When her boss dies, Gideon puts his hand on him and he rises from the dead! Now it isn’t just animals Gideon’s healing, it’s people! And more and more people get wind of this and want in. Pretty soon, if you have a hangnail, you’re marching up the mountain to get a little Gideon love.
As you’d suspect, Josey isn’t keen on someone other than him being a local celebrity. So as the town gathers for some mass miracle-making, Josey prepares to end this Miracle Party once and for all. What happens next will test the faith of the town, not only in God, but in themselves.
Before I get into any deep analysis, I want to point out a couple of things. First, I can see why this did well in a competition. The writing is borderline impeccable. R.W. should consider writing novels. The dialogue also felt really authentic, which isn’t easy to do when writing 1939.
With that said, this story didn’t capture me, and I’ll try to explain why. I always tell you guys that the best engine to drive your story is a goal – a character going after something. The second best engine is a mystery. Set up a good mystery and we’ll stick around to find out what’s behind it. If you’re not using one of those two things to drive your story, it gets exponentially harder to keep a reader’s attention.
The only mystery really keeping my attention here was why everyone hated Jenny. That mystery deepened when we found out she lived in a mansion. However, once we know it’s because her grandfather built a “colored” church, there really wasn’t anything left driving the story for me. I didn’t understand why I was supposed to stay interested.
Gideon is a mystery in himself, but there are a couple of things wrong with him. One, we don’t learn anything about Gideon the person. We know Petey lives every day under the threat of his evil brother. We know Josey’s jealous and full of rage. But what do we know about Gideon? Nothing.
And he’s potentially the most interesting character in the script. He has a special power. He can heal people. He can create miracles. Imagine what kind of burden that is on a young child. How much pressure comes with it. But we never see any of that. We just see Gideon when he’s healing and happy.
Another thing that bothered me about Gideon was how repetitive his storyline got. He would heal someone. They’d be happy. Then someone else would come along. He’d heal them. They’d be happy. Then someone else. Heal, happy. Then someone else. Heal, happy. I began to roll my eyes because I always knew what would happen next: Gideon’s going to heal someone and they’re going to be happy.
How come nothing unexpected ever happened with Gideon? How come someone didn’t come along that he couldn’t heal? Or why not have an evil character kidnap Gideon and use him and his powers for his own nefarious purposes?
What this script needed was a good mid-point shift. It needed something to make the second half of the story different from the first. Cause that was a huge problem. Once Gideon starts growing up, nothing surprising happens. I’m not saying that my kidnapping idea is a great one, but do you see how, if it happened, it would make the second half of the story totally different? We wouldn’t just be repeating what’s already happened over and over again.
There were some story/structural choices that confused me as well. This movie starts off about Leon, then becomes about Jenny, and then, out of nowhere, jumps into this group of kids. I didn’t understand how we got to these kids or why we were all of a sudden following them. I eventually got used to it, but I never felt like they were a natural extension of the story. I thought this was Jenny and Gideon’s story.
That’s not to mention Young Leon. He’s our preacher. He’s the one telling the story. Yet of all the kids we follow, he’s the least significant. Shouldn’t he be the most significant? As the person telling the story, shouldn’t Young Leon be the main character? There’s even a moment towards the end (spoiler) after Gideon is killed when Leon says something about him being his best friend. His best friend?? I never saw the two talk to each other once.
Yet I thought that would’ve been a much more interesting story. You have Jenny on one side, who’s been shunned from the town because her father built a black church. After years of turmoil, she’s finally starting to make headway with the town. They’re starting to accept her again. Then her white son, Gideon, becomes best friends with Leon, a black kid, and the scrutinizing begins all over again. Jenny has to make a choice. Does she pull her son away from that friendship to make her life easier, even though she knows it’s the wrong thing to do, or does she allow them to continue their friendship, even though it’ll make her life miserable again?
However, this leads to another problem I had, which is I didn’t think the race storyline was well integrated into the story at all. It was a problem for Jenny’s grandfather, but outside of one scene where Young Leon gets picked on for being black, race isn’t really a central part of these characters’ problems. To be honest, the race stuff feels like one of those things that’s been painted on or left over from an old draft. It doesn’t feel INTEGRATED. If this is going to be about race, then MAKE THE STORY ABOUT RACE ALL THE WAY THROUGH. Not just at the beginning and the end.
For me, this story became too predictable and too straight-forward. It didn’t surprise. It needed more twists and turns. It needed to take more chances and go to more unexpected places. As it stands, the quality of writing is really high, but the story itself needs an engine. I thank R.W. for submitting it and going through the always torturous experience of getting critiqued in front of the world. As tough as it is, there hasn’t been a single Amateur Friday writer who hasn’t gotten better from it. So I know he will too. ☺
Script link: Gideon
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: These days, there’s usually a specific contest out there for your kind of script. While Gideon might have struggled in a traditional contest, it was perfect for a Christian-themed one. Heck, China just opened a screenwriting contest for scripts that center around its cities. So find the competition that fits your kind of script and you’ll have a much better chance of winning that top prize.