Genre: Horror
Logline (from writer): A home-invading female serial killer stalks a true crime author whom she wants to write her bloody life story.
Why You Should Read (from writer): The most famous home invader in all of fairy tale history has never gotten her own movie. This is a modern take on one of the most globally recognized public domain characters that Hollywood hasn’t cracked. The script was a Finalist in two screenwriting contests: Fresh Blood Selects & Search for New Blood 3. For this new Amateur Friday draft, I took the AOW notes to heart and trimmed down the opening pages and minimized the early voiceover.
Writer: Brett Martin
Details: 99 pages (note: This is a new draft that was sent to me tonight! So it’s hot off the presses and different from the drafts you guys read on Amateur Offerings).

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Today’s Amateur Offerings winner got a big reaction out of me.

At times I was impressed. Other times I was angry. Sometimes I was intrigued. A number of times I was disgusted. A lot of times I was frustrated.

Whichever way you look at it, I was feeing something while reading this.

The important question, however, is “Was the ultimate feeling a good one?” And I’m still not sure I know the answer to that. Because there were times where I felt this script was more about the writer than it was about the story being told. It felt like Brett so badly wanted to put his mark on this that the story may have ended up playing second fiddle.

Despite that opinion, the script definitely has a voice. It doesn’t fall victim to the “Seventy-Five Percenters” curse, which is a term I use to describe the 75% of scripts I read that are so average, I forget about them the second I put them down. Goldie does what a script should do – it makes you remember it.

But remember it how?

The plot follows our title character, Goldie, a 20-something hot blonde who likes to murder families in her spare time, particularly units with a mom, dad, and blonde daughter. So, suffice it to say, she has issues.

Goldie’s latest obsession is a woman named Sara Berenson, the author of a best seller who’s reached a bout of writer’s block so crippling that she hasn’t written a word in months. Sara likes to do the Stephen King thing, leaving her family in the city while she writes at a remote cottage. And right now, she’s up there trying (and failing) to force out her next masterpiece.

Goldie google maps Sara, pitches a tent in the forest, and starts watching her from afar, learning her routine and looking for a way to integrate herself into Sara’s life. She finds a local hunter, Peter, and pays him to scare Sara while she’s out riding her bike. Then, just before Peter and his buddies can “hurt” Sara, Goldie comes swooping in and “saves” her.

Once back at Sara’s place, Goldie admits she knows Sara is a best-selling novelist and came up to these parts looking for her. Sara is predictably creeped out, but this Goldie girl did save her, so she allows her to stick around. Eventually, Goldie pitches a book to Sara about a young woman who goes around killing families.

For reasons that remain unclear, Sara doesn’t consider the possibility that the creepy weird fan who admitted she stalked her up into the woods might be the very psychopath Goldie’s “story” is about.

In the interim, the girls must fend off a slew of horny men who include Sara’s secret lover, Rick, and Peter’s hunting buddies. Rest assured, there is a lot of bloody slaughtering that goes on. All of which needs to be taken care of before Sara’s family comes to visit and she can finally finish this book and move on.

Brett’s done something I’ve been telling everyone to consider – take the fairy tale genre and flip it on its head. Now, to be honest, this isn’t what I imagined when I said that. But maybe that’s a good thing. If it’s what I expected, then the idea probably isn’t fresh enough.

Brett also takes a lot of chances here. I mean, things get weird. We’ve got a fairy tale heroine who masturbates to photos of happy families. And that’s just the appetizer. I’m not surprised at all that this kicked ass in a couple of horror screenwriting contests. The writing is bold and strong.

With that said, a couple of issues kept popping up while I was reading. The biggest of which was that the writing felt like it was trying too hard. This script became more about shocking you than it did about telling a good story.

The family photo masturbation is one example. There’s also a moment where Goldie breaks the fourth wall and tells us she’s going to kill us if we tell anyone her secret. There’s a moment where we inhabit the body of someone Goldie brutally slaughters. There’s a moment where Sara, who, up until that point was, at worst, a cheater, becomes sexually turned on when she sees Goldie torturing a man to death.

I just felt like the writer was asking the question: How can I best shock the audience in this moment? Rather than: How can I milk the most drama out of this sequence? How can I illicit the most emotion out of this scene?

Remember that shock is just that – shock. It lasts for a second then it’s gone. So it’s not a great screenwriting tool to utilize. As a screenwriter, you want to look for tools that keep the reader’s interest over an extended period of time. That’s why suspense is such a great concept to learn. You can use it to draw a reader in over 20-30 pages if you do it right.

Another thing I had an issue with was that the characters didn’t act like real people. They acted like movie characters.

I’ll give you a couple of examples. Why would Goldie immediately tell Sara that she knows who she is and drove out into the wilderness to find her? You’ve just put your “target” on Terrorist Threat Alert Level 10. You might as well have worn a shirt that said, “I’m a crazy stalker who might kill you.” It would’ve made a lot more sense for Goldie to feign ignorance about who Sara was, then work her scheme in once she gained Sara’s trust.

As for Sara, I repeatedly asked why she was allowing this girl who was clearly a psychopath to stay with her. Goldie would scream at Sara, threaten her family, tell Sara she wished she had been gang-raped by Peter and his friends. Yet one scene later, Sara would be allowing Goldie back into her good graces.

True, there were times where there were extenuating circumstances (Goldie rushing to Sara’s defense when the man she was having an affair with was trying to rape her) but those scenes were so manufactured (How did Rick go from a casual affair to an obsessed rapist?) that you knew the only reason they were there was to create a scenario by which Sara giving Goldie another chance made sense.

This is something we don’t talk about a lot because these are the nuances of screenwriting and the nuances of screenwriting don’t have fancy names like “inciting incident” or “mid-point twist.” They’re mostly about feel. And where the mistakes are made in “feel” is when the writer wants something to happen so badly that he’s willing to look past a truthful moment in order to get the plot to where he needs it to go.

And that’s the thing that ultimately kept me from investing in this script. It was more about the writer than it was about writing a believable great story.

My advice to Brett, if he wants to write another draft, is to drop the gimmicks and the shocks. Instead, focus on writing a great story. Even if you made that one change of Goldie not telling Sara she knew who she was, you’d have a good 20-30 pages driven entirely by dramatic irony – the fact that we know Goldie is dangerous but Sara does not.

And really get into your characters’ heads and try to be truthful. Don’t write the movie scene. Write what people would really do. Because, right now, the swings in emotion (a character hates another character one second, then four dialogue lines later, they’re best friends again) just aren’t realistic. And the reason for that is you’re not treating these characters like real people. You’re treating them like pawns.

I hope you take all this to heart, Brett. You’re one of the most positive guys out there. And you clearly have talent. It’s just tweaks in the way you approach the writing that are going to pay dividends. Good luck!

Script link: Goldie (newest draft)

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

What I learned: One of the biggest problems I notice in the amateur scripts I’ve read lately is writers don’t treat their characters like real people. If a character is about to get shot, they’d rather write a cool move line (“Go ahead, do it”) than ask what that character would really feel and really say in that moment. In other words: THE TRUTH. Look, you have some creative license to massage reality in storytelling. And there are certain projects that are built around being unrealistic. But for the most part, you should look to be truthful. Because the more you manipulate reality to fit your writing agenda, the less we’re going to believe in what’s happening.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/pub/brett-martin/52/702/72 ElectricDreamer

    Hey Big C! (What would be in a Big C Burger?!? I wonder.) Much obliged that you chose to shine the AF spotlight on me again. This is my fourth win. Thanks for all the thoughtful insights, I’ll definitely take them to heart. I love notes that challenge me to reevaluate my script. Today, I slashed five pages out of Act One and it felt great!

    GOLDIE is a brash spec I designed to provoke and crash gates. A calling card script. Sure, I could’ve told the tale from the writer’s POV, but I didn’t want to write another Hand that Rocks the Cradle or Single White Female. I took my narrative cues from Nightcrawler and chose to focus on the goal-oriented serial killer’s POV.

    AOW has been ridiculously good to me over the years. It’s brought me many friends that have shaped my career in ways that I could never do on my own. Even though 3 SWEET THINGS never made it to AF last year, folks may remember the script caught the attention of BoulderLight Pictures. After a great meeting, they kept in touch and sent me tons of pitches. Well, last week we finally agreed on a project that I would write for them! So, my advice to the SS faithful is: Be bold and take chances on ideas that scare you. Because you never know who is watching here and will open their doors to you! And first, BITCHES!

    • Cavil

      That’s impressive – congratulations. Must be an exciting time for you. I like how positive your energy is. Maybe you need that kind of go-get-em attitude if you’re going to crash the Hollywood security gates. In which case I don’t have a prayer…

    • Scott Serradell

      Well. A hearty congratulations, Brett. And a double victory perhaps, as this may ignite some fresh blood into AOW. Let us hope we get more submissions that illicit some enthusiasm from us readers and cultivate some great notes from Carson.

      “Be bold and take chances on ideas that scare you.”

      Solid advice. Best of luck on your newest endeavor.

  • BMCHB

    [xx] Impressive

    That’s my vote.

    ED/Brett, you’ve written something wonderful. If I had a couple million we’d be developing this right now…

    I hope so much that there is a producer out there that will recognise the potential in this script.

  • BMCHB

    My new rating system for AF/AOW…

    [] Your Momma likes your stories
    [] You can spell
    [] I’m reading because I’m the enjoying the words
    [xx] This could be great
    [] I know an ex-supermodel who can get us a kilo of coke on credit