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Genre: Horror
Premise (from writer): When a young geneticist attempts to save the world’s forests from a rabid insect infestation she unwittingly unleashes a plague of apocalyptic proportions.
Why You Should Read (from writer): A new, original monster for the horror/nature gone wild sub-genre based on real science and current environmental concerns – and it’s a pretty swift read at 103 pgs. Plus, the first and last lines of dialogue are ‘fuck’ and ‘beautiful’ ;)
Writer: Drew Bryan
Details: 102 pages

ellen-page-beyond-two-soulsEllen Page for Gemma?

I’m open to these kinds of scripts because they make movies. It’s not high art. It’s not Citizen Kane. But you have to see a script for what it’s trying to be, and judge it on if it succeeds. If you’re trying to be a dumb fun horror film, then you gotta try and make the “A” version of that. I downloaded a cheap fun B-movie called “Splinter” from Itunes the other day and loved it. It was stupid. It was ridiculous. And it was the exact kind of movie you want to watch on a Saturday night.

I need to find the people who like to make these movies though cause when I find a good B-horror script, I don’t know who to send them to. Lots of producers are afraid to touch these because they don’t want to be known as the “B-horror” guys, even though there’s a lot of money in B-horror. So if you’re one of these producers, e-mail me. Cause I wouldn’t mind being part of the next Tremors franchise.

Is Gripper one of the winners?

Well, it sure has a hell of an opening. We’re in the middle of a forest fire with two firefighters, 25 year old Gemma and 25 year old Bobby. This fire is bad news. So bad that it four-walls them. No way out and not wanting to burn to death, Bobby allows Gemma to kill him. So she takes a fire axe and SPLITS HIS HEAD OPEN! Good thing he axed nicely.

Before Gemma can join Bobby, a small hole opens up and she’s able to escape the fire. Gemma is so scarred by the ordeal that she does some investigating and finds out that forest fires are created by a certain beetle that eats away at the trees and makes it really easy for forest fires to spread. So if she can find a way to kill that beetle, she can stop the forest fires, and she won’t have to split anybody’s head open anymore.

So Gemma, who’s now a scientist of some sort, finds this fast growing-fungus that kills these beetles. But when she tests it, the fungus is out of control. It’s a bust. But it’s enough for Gemma’s former lover and boss, the darkly handsome Darius, to take the product out in the filed and test it.

So he hires a bunch of clueless assistant-types and takes them to a recently burned-down forest to see if he can get this fungus operating. Meanwhile, Gemma heads out to another part of the same forest to perform some other fungus related experiments with her new boyfriend, surfer-dude, Tor.

After a night of crazy sex though, she wakes up to find Tor not in the tent, but up on a tree, frozen in a strange comatose like state. It’s creepy. And it’s also the exact same thing the beetles in her experiment did when they were infected with the fungus. Uh-oh. This could be bad.

So Gemma heads over to Darius’s little operation, since she knows they have better equipment than her, and asks for help. They hike there, cut Tor down, but he’s acting nutso, twitching and cracking in weird ways, and desperately trying to get back up on that tree. This begins the infestation, where one by one, our team will get infected, with no help in site. Will they figure out a way to stop the mad fungus before it turns them all into fungus-creatures? Click on the link at the end of the review to read the script and find out!

Gripper started off great. I was NOT expecting that first scene. But then things start to get a little messy. We get one giant 10 minute scene (split into two halves) documenting this beetle experiment, and that was the first time my impatience set in. You never want to give a scene any more time than it needs. As soon as the reader feels like we’re hanging around too long, we get uncomfortable. And this goes double for anything within the first fifteen. Readers expect you to have them laser-focused during that time, or else how can they expect you to keep their interest 60 pages from now?

In addition, it was unclear to me why our main character, Gemma, who was a firefighter in that first scene, was now a scientist. Those are two completely different jobs that require two completely different skillsets. In retrospect, maybe they were in that fire AS SCIENTISTS and not firefighters, but if that’s the case, that needs to be made clear.

From there, we set out to this dead forest, and I was confused again. I thought Darius and Gemma were going out there together. I swear there was something in the dialogue that implied that. So later, when Gemma comes to Darius’s camp for help and he asks her what she’s doing out here, I was confused as hell. I eventually realized that they had both come to the same forest, but separately, for different reasons. That seemed overly-complicated. Why wasn’t the story written to get them there all together?  Having two teams just confuses things. It makes it harder for you to write. And it makes it harder for us readers to follow. So it’s a lose-lose.

From there, I don’t think the story got going soon enough. I believe I was on page 50, halfway through the script, before they tried to get Tor out of that tree. That’s 50 pages without very much happening. Remember that you need STORY DENSITY in your script. You need to fill the pages up. Not drag things out. I felt like things were being dragged out.

The characters were okay. But nobody felt “real” enough for me to really care. Gemma herself was a strange character. It appears she has three different boyfriends in this (Bobby, Darius, and Tor), which is fine. I’m all for banging as many people as you want, but in a script, it just looks unfocused. We don’t know what to make of it.

And then when Tor starts turning into one of these spore-like hybrid monster thingeys, Gemma is strangely unaffected. She’s more concerned about capturing and quarantining Tor than she is losing someone she cares deeply about.

When you’re writing one of these movies, which is basically a zombie movie (or an “infected” movie), this is one of the best conceits you have. Is having someone love someone else, and then that person gets infected, and our hero has to figure out whether to kill them or not. Watch that opening episode of Walking Dead, where that father has to decide whether to shoot his zombie wife. How hard it is for him. That emotion is pouring off the screen. We don’t get any of that here. Nobody really seems to care about one another so it doesn’t really matter if someone gets hurt. That needs to be fixed.

This is all very hard for me to say because I think there’s something here. I think the monsters Drew’s created are borderline genius. I’ve never seen anything like them before. Where I see writers fail in this genre, is when they make monsters that they just think are cool. They haven’t really thought about them, their origins, their evolution, the reasons for why they look the way they do.

Gripper put a lot of thought into its monsters. I love the way they crick and crack and twist. The way they have to climb up high on the tree, just like the beetles did, the way the long spine grows out of their mouths and the spores explode up out of them, populating more areas in order to spread the disease. It’s freaky as hell and is going to make for one hell of a visual.

But none of that matters unless this other stuff is shored up. Cut down all the techno-babble in that early ten-page scene. Get them out to the site sooner. Make it one group, with Darius and Gemma together, instead of two separate groups. Cut down your character count. There are way too many people here and it was hard to keep track of them. And then just work on your character building. Make sure people actually care about each other so that when they start dying, there are emotions involved.

Oh, and one more suggestion. Usually in these movies, there’s one big final ‘super version’ of the creature. This is a really cool creature you’ve created. I wouldn’t mind seeing a version of it that’s balls-to-the-wall insane.

There’s something here, Drew. It’s just not there yet. Good luck on the rewrite though. You seem like a fungi. ☺

Script link: Gripper (note: This is an updated version of the script from the one in Amateur Offerings with changes made based on commenter feedback)

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

What I learned: Before you kill off a character, make sure there’s someone who cares about that character. That’s the only way you’re going to get emotion out of us. My favorite example of this is in Aliens with Vasquez and Drake, who were best friends. When Drake got killed, Vasquez went nuts, so we actually cared. Had they not known each other, our reaction to Drake’s death would’ve been less intense. That was my problem with Gemma and Tor. I didn’t think Gemma gave two shits about him. So who cares if he turns into a monster. And they don’t even have to be boyfriend-girlfriend for this to work. They could’ve been best friends since they were kids. But they need to care for each other.

  • Citizen M

    “You seem like a fungi.”

    A Carsonism hall-of-famer.

    • Wes Mantooth

      Tag line: Gripper. A Fungus Among Us.

  • Al Mockler

    Not read it, but from Carson’s description the infected sound exactly like the creatures from the very recent “The Last of Us” on PS3.

    • D. Bryan

      True, though I actually started to outline this in ’08 ;)

  • Poe_Serling

    Since I’ve already posted my thoughts/suggestions for this project way back on the 3/1 AOW, I just say:

    1) A big congrats to Drew for getting his eco-horror script into the AF spotlight.
    2) It’s always refreshing to see a writer using the AOW comments to tighten and improve their material.
    3) I hope you get even more constructive feedback in today’s post to take your story to the next level.

    • D. Bryan

      Thanks Poe – if you do ever get a chance to read it through I’d appreciate it if you pass on your thoughts.

  • Eddie Panta

    SS: I need to find the people who like to make these movies though cause when I find a good B-horror script,

    Where to find a B-Movie horror producer in L.A. ?
    Just go to North Hollywood and throw a rock… you’ll hit one. And do me a favor, Carson, throw it hard!

    • kenglo

      Actually, go to InkTip…. LOL

  • ElectricDreamer

    Congrats on the AF review, Drew! Hope you get some great notes.
    I tinkered with a bio-horror concept similar to this in 2012.
    The nature doc footage is begging for the silver screen:

    But now that it’s plastered all over a popular video game, everyone knows about it. *sigh*

    I read the new opener (will continue later) and the changes confused me.
    You made your lead scientist/protag also a firefighter now?
    Was she there researching the fungus and somehow got caught in the blaze?
    On top of that, you’ve turned your protag into a murderer in the opener! Yikes.
    That’s great for a mystery/thriller loaded with subtext, but this is a creature feature.

    Why not let your protag be a hero to start your story?
    Gemma somehow saves the firefighter, but… he gets infected by the fungus.
    But only the reader knows about this so far. Mmmm, juicy subtext!
    Doctors clear Jimmy to go home and BAM! You get your “Typhoid Mary” in the opener!

    Gemma does her field research while the fungus spreads in a populated community.
    The irony of Gemma saving him means — she’s responsible for the outbreak!
    Accidentally, of course. But that’s a great MOTIVATOR for her to stop the creatures!
    I’d want to see her succeed after all the hard work she’s done.
    Something like this is a big hole for your hero to climb out of.

    Rework your opener to be the proverbial nicotine that addicts the reader to your tale.

    • mulesandmud

      Seems like Drew incorporated some good feedback about adding Gemma to that opening scene, but the changes he made have been stitched into the script with the seams still showing.

      This happens a lot with rewrites. As you make changes, the script becomes a bit of a frankenstein monster and starts to feel jumbled, like a collection of sequences from different (but similar) scripts. Which is fine – it has to get worse before it gets better. Gradually, the bumps get smoothed out and the script starts to feel like a single piece again.

      Seems like we’re catching Gripper mid-stream here. Drew, kudos to you for making strong rewrite choices and getting the work out there. Keep pushing!

      • kenglo

        Yeah, the opening changed so dramatically its like mules said – “stitched into the script with the seams still showing”. I liked the original opening, even though a lot of folks didn’t.

        Nonetheless! Congrats on the AF read, Drew!

  • Randy Williams

    Congrats to the writer for burning through the competition and getting here! Well done!

    The gold, for me, in Gripper was the science itself and Drew’s ability to make it interesting. I could see how it might impact on the characters from the very beginning and I wanted to stay for the ride.

    He populates the story with some astonishing visuals, I thought, but also too many characters. At this stage of writing most of us are in, I hardly think our scripts will suffer if we combine a character or two with other characters.

    The dross is probably just my own expectations for this. I can SO see the poster to this movie. A girl gripping to the top of a pine. At first we don’t see the out of place, but moving our fresh popcorn in the lobby closer to the image, that spine growing from her mouth makes us drop a few pieces on the red carpet.

    Walking into the movie, I’d expect something much darker than the tone of this conveys. Characters much younger, freshmen college age. A central romantic couple. Agree with Scriptshadow, on killing off a character that is not cared about. Another option is to kill off a character that is an important ally to the enemy of your protagonist.

    Personally, I never got bonded with Gemma. (that name in itself, brings up Italian, hugs, sit down for pasta, you had enough?) Maybe it was her “coming hard”? I don’t know. Do we resent female characters that come harder than we do? Could be. Anyway, something missing there for me with her.

    Certainly lots “worth the read” in here for me, just didn’t meet my personal likes.

  • drifting in space

    I’d like to start with a “What I learned”: I think we all learned a bit about Carson here today. “I’m all for banging as many people as you want.” Closely related; another word for mushroom is smut. All things I learned early this morning.

    ANY WHO!

    So I got about halfway through this last night. Now I admit, it was late. Around midnight. Unfortunately, I left my notes at home but I will try to remember them here as best I can. I perused the comments from the AoW Gripper was a part of. I feel like a lot of the same issues are still present in this version, which is the one I read.

    I also think that Carson’s review was not fully invested, as he missed a few key elements. His suggestions would make this a campy B-Movie horror flick. I hardly doubt that is what you were going for. On the other hand, this was your shot and I think this could have used a few more eyes/revisions on it before getting a chance in the sun.

    I will give you the fact that it is well written. You seem to know mostly where you’re going with this idea. The real thing that’s holding it back are the thin CHARACTERS and EXTENDED SCENES full of TOO MUCH EXPOSITION.

    As the King would have said if he was a writer:

    A little less conversation, a little more action please
    All this exposition ain’t satisfactionin’ me

    OKAY, here we go!


    1. Too. Many. Characters. There are like 16 introduced in the first 30 pages. And to make it worse, they are all the same. None of them are memorable. Gemma reminded me of a smarter Katniss (from the movies, not the books). She killed Bobby with little remorse. Speaking of which, who the fuck is Bobby? Doesn’t matter long though, he dies pretty quickly. The group in its entirety seems to be a frat house full of the cliche characters. The handsome lead. The nerdy Asian. A couple hippies. All in their 20’s. And from what it seems, living together? And guess what? They all smoke weed! Of course they do! Leading researchers in pursuit of a monetary grant to save a forest and continue their work ALWAYS SMOKE WEED! And sleep around to boot!

    2. A lot of the sentence structure is awkward. This trend starts with the first sentence. It slows the read down. Coming in at 103 pages, this shouldn’t take very long to read. But my patience was tested by page 15.

    3. The dialogue is on the nose. Now, I understand this is a science fiction type screenplay. Some of the exposition is necessary. But the scenes drag on too long and the wind is sucked out of the sails. It sounds like you did your research and I’m trusting all this science jargon is correct. Even then, it’s way too much.

    4. The part of the plot where they are split into two teams reminded me of Jurassic Park 2. One team, a heavily funded group wanting to keep funds flowing, comes in with their lab set-up and helicopters; the works. The other group, scrappy and small, goes in for the opposite reason.

    5. I don’t feel the STAKES. I mean, yes, they are in danger of losing their funding. But, Darius takes care of that. At this point, like any drug trial/testing, now they have to use it in the field. What are the stakes after he agrees to go to the forest? Do their job? This emotional beat hit way too early. Then when the group splits, we have no stakes. Just a sabotage story. Which was thinly veiled. In my notes I wrote “she is going to sabotage Darius, I’m calling it” then literally a few pages later, Tor says it OUTRIGHT. ON. THE. NOSE. You already hinted at it. You didn’t have to say it. That was the problem with the 10 page lab scene. You are TELLING us and SHOWING us. Redundant.


    This is the part of giving notes that I am working on. It is my weak spot so forgive me if I miss something.

    So we start off with a scene that has nothing to do with the next 40 pages. Aside from the fire I mean. Yes, the fire has to do with the story. I’m talking about the CHARACTERS. We meet FOUR people. The firefighters quickly die. Because, you know, they aren’t the professionals where as the two young scientists, inexperienced in this type of situation, keep going. Then, dead end. Logical choice? Split a character’s head in half. One we haven’t gotten to know yet. It’s an empty kill. He’s sad, then a crazed grin, then sobbing? Put yourself in those character’s shoes. That is not how that would realistically play out. Then the idea of jamming your head onto the pick side of an axe? Jesus. I don’t think so. This whole scene is for shock value. Especially a deer on fire. Are you kidding? People don’t want to see that. As humans, we are somehow more sympathetic to animals than we are our fellow humans. The deer on fire was unnecessary and would not play well. That is one of the first cuts they’d have you make. Actually, I’d just cut this whole scene. Maybe just have Gemma running through the forest that is on fire. Maybe she wasn’t supposed to be there. Company land and all. Now she’s about to die. She finds the fungi and it leads her to an escape. It’s fate. And the same emotional impact. Then we meet one of her revolving door boyfriends.

    Then we go to a research lab! We’ll be here for awhile. We meet Gemma again. Totally unaffected by Bobby’s horrific death. Some suits are looking to fund this project but she obviously is not having it. I know, it’s hard to understand that funding for science is hard to come by and you have to play their game. But she looks like a young brat. Oh wait, that’s because she is. None of the characters are very “mature and respected” at this point. They all seem like frat house interns.

    So she leaves. Duh. Darius is like, uh, no problems. So after 5 pages of explaining what is going to happen, they show it! I suppose at least we know what is going on since we were just crammed with exposition. This all needs to be trimmed. Find the CORE of what you want to happen here. This is all fine for the first draft. You just write it all out. I feel like you were so proud of how smart this all sounds, it HAD to stay. But it really shouldn’t. If I’m in the theater watching this, I’m glancing at my phone to see if I have any new emails.

    So then, the experiment goes horribly wrong. Their numbers are off, whatever. Probably because they are 25. And more interested in witty comebacks and one-liners. Actual research and dedication is for the birds. Even after the disaster, the suits are still interested! They want to push this fucking disaster to trial. Why not, right? What could go wrong, aside from EVERYTHING THAT JUST DID!?!!!

    Darius agrees to move forward as long as it is on his terms. Which basically just means he wants to go back to where the fire was. Which I pretty much assumed was the point of all this… Then the suits want to know if Darius can “control” Gemma. Because she has TOTALLY been a wildcard so far. Well, I guess she did murder Bobby. Which no one has mentioned. The first thing I’d ask when she got back is… where’s Bobby? He must not be important. Which makes his inclusion in the opening scene totally random and pointless. These things need to tie together. There is no cohesive narrative. It’s just a string of scenes you thought were cool. At least that is the impression I’m at so far.

    So, the experiment goes terribly. No probs, they got the funding! They shut ‘er down after a TREMENDOUS EXPLOSION! Where no one gets hurt… thank God, right? JUST KIDDING! A single sport wafts through a crack, down a corridor of a sprawling campus research lab, through a hole, over the mountain, through the woods, and lands PRECISELY UNDER THE RING OF A CHARACTER HASTILY INTRODUCED EARLIER! And on a rash! PERFECT!

    So now we’re back at the frat house? Seems like it. They’re drinking, smoking weed, playing beer pong, being a bunch of… college kids? I thought they were researchers? I guess you can be a party animal and genius. Val Kilmer was.

    Anyway, so they pass the pipe along and spout some awkward dialogue. Very “bro” type atmosphere. Then we have some tension! A love triangle! But it’s over with Gemma and Darius. JUST KIDDING! It’s not! They have some great sex. Gemma is falling into the common “I don’t know what I want, oh, I’m full of angst” trope. I don’t think a lot of women will fall in love with this character. She’s borderline offensive to women.

    So they finish (hard, by the way, so you know they were super into it) and she hates Darius. Of course. They make sure we know it with a few pages of dialogue. I know personally, there’s nothing I love more than exchanging quips with the lady I had sex with but dislike entirely for a few minutes. Gets me going.

    Then Tor walks in. He obviously is heartbroken but plays it cool. This scene is well-written, just very generic. This always happens. I’d love to see a new spin on it.

    So they get the budget. Time to roll out. Obviously Vern is under the weather. Gemma’s access is denied and not explained why. No one seems to give a shit. Vern freaks out, imitating the beetle experiment. This is our first clue. It’s a nice plot point. Well placed and well written. After nearly 30 pages, my interests are finally aroused!

    So here we are. The “teams” are deployed. One team, the “A-List” crew, full of such stereotypes as the rugged guy. The casual surfer guy. Another hippy chick! A rugged woman. They are all together by the way. Because why the fuck not.

    Here’s where I started really losing interest. They are there to conduct an experiment and you automatically went with the “soldiers with guns helping scientists route.” It works in Jurassic Park because they are researching DINO-FUCKING-SAURS. Here, it’s some exploding beetles. They don’t know what’s going to happen. This is a little extreme and cliche to me. Now Darius is in on it? What the fuck are they going to do? The story is getting a little messy here.

    So along with this group is the pairing of Tor and Gemma. Of course. He has feelings for her, she’s indifferent. Oh, will Peeta ever get Katniss? Oh wait, wrong movie. Sorry.

    Anyway, they teamed up to sabotage the other group. Who knows why. I’m sure it’s explained later. I didn’t find out. Around here is where I quit anyway, so I can’t comment any further… I can see where this is going though. It sounds like it gets cool.

    PRO: You have a GREAT transition into Act II. It just took for-ev-er to get to it. I’m assuming Vern turns into mother nature or something. Maybe Gemma does. Fungi minions attack? An outbreak? All of these possibilities are set-up, so good job there.

    Sorry if this feels like an attack. It’s not. You have some chops. You just have to kill some of it.

    These two things will help this story tremendously:

    1. Reduce character count. Develop a small handful of the characters. Flesh them out. Have them drive the story forward. Right now, the story is everywhere. Gemma is barely the main character. She’s only in 3/4 the scenes, if that. On paper anyway. I understand she’s IN the lab during the scenes, but she doesn’t say much. Just broods. No one wants to watch this.

    2. Trim the fat. Find the CORE of the scene you want to tell. Get in, get out. When a scene drags on, we start skimming. I’m sorry, but it’s what we do. I realized I was skimming and had to go back. Only then did I realize I had skimmed like 8 pages. You don’t want someone skimming chunks of your story like that. ESPECIALLY if it’s only 100-105 pages.

    Sorry if this is a lot. I had more notes, believe it or not. Can’t remember everything. Maybe I can update when I get home from work tonight. Like I said, I had a few pages and I only read 35-40 pages. A lot of my issues were mentioned in the comments of AoW. Hopefully you take this experience into the next rewrite. You have something interesting here, so don’t give up on it.

    How much time did you spend outlining this? Developing the story. To me, it’s a cool concept with a neat hook and little else. I wish Carson would have put more effort into his review and help you take this to the next level because I think it has potential. It’s not really a movie I’d see, but there may be a market for it.

    Feel free to email me if you’d like to discuss. driftinginscripts at gmail dot com.

    • Poe_Serling

      “Unfortunately, I left my notes at home but I will try to remember them here as best I can.”


      • drifting in space

        I shouldn’t have stayed up so late playing Titanfall.

        • Poe_Serling

          I’m not into gaming, but those in the know tell me that Titanfall is the one to play.

        • Alex Palmer

          Good thing I can’t afford a PS4, ’cause I’d be playing the shit out of Infamous instead of writing ;)

          • drifting in space

            Being from Seattle, that one looks fun as well.

    • Linkthis83

      Ummm…it’s a good thing you left your notes at home ;)

      • drifting in space

        I realized about half way through it was long winded but decided to go with it anyway.

        • mulesandmud

          “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

          –Mark Twain

          • drifting in space

            Nailed it.

    • Randy Williams

      I actually liked the deer on fire, running through the forest like an airplane with a vapor trail.

      Visually, it’s arresting, dark? yeah. I suggested a darker tone for the script in my comments.

      Even with the tone as it exists, you can blame the beetles. Animals who suffer because of other animals. Doesn’t that get a pass in Hollywood? All those Disney wildlife films I cringed at as a child when the lion chased the antelope?

      • drifting in space

        To each their own. That is just how I feel. I am affected by needless animal suffering. Here, I feel like it’s just for shock value and has no story relevance. It appears in the last draft there was also a snake on fire? But I can see it from your POV as well.

        • Randy Williams

          Yep, remember that snake, wise cut, that’s a bit comical.

          Like your notes a lot, John Q Public Moviegoer and caring parent. I could use some of this scared straight approach. Been a victim of too much nicey nice. If you’re up for any charity work. I’m anxious to improve on my own script. Would love your input.

          • drifting in space

            Sure. I might not be able to get to it right away, but we can start a discussion. I’m working on a submission for the Writer’s Store contest so a lot of my free time goes into that.

            driftinginscripts at gmail dot com.

    • Kirk Diggler

      >>I also think that Carson’s review was not fully invested, as he missed a few key elements. His suggestions would make this a campy B-Movie horror flick. I hardly doubt that is what you were going for.<>>> 1. Too. Many. Characters. There are like 16 introduced in the first 30 pages. And to make it worse, they are all the same.<<<<

      It's a good point and it's a mistake that we've all made (I know I have). Reducing character count also goes a long way toward solving the 2nd part of your equation, the sameness of character. It's hard to have 16 unique characters isn't it?

      But this is a double-edged sword. It's clear the writer needs cannon fodder, he needs disposable characters to die, but then we always complain, "Jeez, I didn't care because we barely knew him/her." I think there are different rules in this type of story. Not every character can be fleshed out, it's too time consuming (we'd complain that we're bored, no action!) So I kind of understand WHY the writer went for certain character tropes in the characters that he knew would die, because it's that's the only way we could remember them. (Asian, Hippie, etc)

      This isn't Jaws, with the three main characters hunting a shark, each character distinct and fully fleshed out. In a movie like this, we want our gory deaths, and if it's done in a unique way, we'll forgive the lack of character development.

      • drifting in space

        I agree. I’d say focus on a few characters and flesh them out. Have the rest be LAB ASSISTANTS and SOLDIERS. That way we don’t have to care about them but can watch their gruesome demise.

        • Kirk Diggler

          P.S. Your notes are intense (in a good way). Very thorough, very critical (again in a good way) and one of the reasons i enjoy this site.

          • drifting in space

            The more critical I am is directly related to how much promise I see in a concept. This is unique enough that it should be refined into a nice, polished draft. He’s well on his way. More than I can even say for myself.

    • NajlaAnn

      “Reduce character count.”

      An issue I have as well with first, second and third drafts. Thus, I go back and identify any filler character and eliminate them. Frequently, two or three characters can be combined into one. These two techniques always works for me.

      • drifting in space

        I do it as well. When you combine them, sometimes you are left with a deeper single individual instead of three thin characters. I try to keep my character counts down because those type of scripts always end up with dozens of talking head scenes.

        Dialogue takes up so much space and if 6 people are talking in a scene, you can easily burn through a few pages for 1 scene.

    • Rick McGovern

      Well, in Carson’s defense, he’s not getting paid to do a thorough breakdown of what’s not working and what is. I think for a free review… it is what it is. Like a teaser… and I think it works.

      If this was a paid review… now that’s a different story ;)

  • John Bradley

    What I Learned: When submitting to AW make sure you have a compelling opening scene as most readers (myself included) don’t make it past page 25. I mean, we do have 5 scripts and most of us are busy. Gripper had a visual opening that showed a pretty darn good command of craft. I think after that opening scene, a common complaint was characterization, so Carson’s review fits in line with the SS community. This was my pick to get reviewed and I’m glad it did.
    With that said, congrats Drew! There is a ton of positives to look at in this review. In my opinion you have both a creative imagination and real writing chops. Those are the most important things and will serve you well. I look forward to seeing more of your work in the future.

  • Linkthis83

    Congrats, Drew.

    Opening Scene: I liked the changes you tried to make here, but I still think that it’s not flowing. I realized when I suggested last week making Krista into Gena that you’d run into the issue of firefighter/scientist. I don’t think you need this combo. I think you could find a plausable reason for a scientist to be in this area at this time. Plus, it’s the start of the movie so I don’t think too many people will get hung up on it. And, you can cover it probably in some sort of quick dialogue exchange later (if you had to).

    I also feel that in this opening scene that Gemma doesn’t quite have the raw fearlessness that Krista did in the previous draft (this could also be just because I’m now familiar with the story – It also might have to do with the Krista I envisioned from my suggested take on this scene).

    I highlight this because I feel that Gemma was kind of let off the hook in this new opening. Thus, it also sucks that she killed Bobby when they could’ve survived. The reason I would lean towards a scene like my suggestion is because in that scene we learn that Krista (Gemma) will do what she HAS to do to survive. We learn about her character in this time of extreme stress and death. I have no idea the likelihood of survival if she was to scale this tree (and still have her tent), but I think showing her surviving because of her own wits and determination carry a lot more weight with her character for the rest of the story (and this might just be me).

    Now, regarding the firefighter/scientist issue. Right now you have them as firefighters I assume to give them a credible reason for being in this forest. However, we see three firefighters die right away and Gemma and Bobby don’t even acknowledge it. Not even one big cliched “NOOOOoooooooooooo!” So it’s hard to buy them as firefighters.

    Keep them as scientists. Maybe they are there because of Gemma’s diehard personality. She wanted to inspect the forest in this intensity to see if she could learn anything. Maybe they snuck in there to do this and the winds changed and next thing you know they are in the thick of the shit. The nearby firerighters were trying to rescue them. And in so doing lose their lives. Or, perhaps Bobby and Gemma have some firefighter gear on the other firefighters provided. But they are still in mostly civilian clothes. You see what I’m getting at. This makes all of this more plausible. And we get to learn/see what Gemma is capable of.

    I know her killing Bobby is bold and probably a difficult thing to remove, but I think you might need to alter this slightly. I would make sure you get a lot of similar feedback on that before doing anything with it though. For me, it’s a personal story choice. I think it’s a bit too dramatic and bold for bold’s sake. To hook the reader or for shock value. And it’s easier to do here because people don’t know these characters. However, it is your Gemma character introduction. So…unless this similar situation comes up later where she has to kill a pal, or hesitates because it reminds her of Bobby, I’d probably tone it down. Make Bobby already being consumed by flames and she puts him out of his misery. Just a suggestion.

    Once I read this new opening I decided to focus on it most of all, because it is the most important part of your fantastic concept right now. Plus, you already have a very intersting opening scene, which is why I decided to spend most my effort on it.

    Hopefully, others will read my suggestions and provide their own feedback as well. For me, story development really comes from conversations and not one-off comments.

    Thanks, man and congratulations again. I do have a feeling you’ll be getting some calls about this. And if not, hopefully you’ve popped up on some radars.

    Here is my summary from AOW:

    I have mixed feelings about your opening scene. I think it makes an attempt at being a great visual with some worthy characters meeting their demise. And this demise introduces us to this tree and the story. However, I feel this opening is a cheap trick. I don’t believe that the tone that the murdering Krista set is going to be consistent with the rest of the story (and I don’t feel it was with how far I read). The other thing to is, I liked Krista. And I believe you did too. That’s why you made her Gena :) I would really like a way to make Krista into Gena for real. Based on the feeling I get about Krista’s character, I see that opening scene playing out more like:

    Bobby is still weak. He and Krista are fleeing together. Bobby is losing heart and falling behind. Maybe he’s injured. I don’t know. His panic and fear of being burned alive start to overtake him. Krist/Gena sees the tree. Yelling at him to just make it to the tree. He’s wailing and Krista knows he’s not going to make it. she also sees that Bobby is terrified. Pulls out her axe and kills Bobby. Puts him out of his impending misery. He doesn’t see it coming and it’s NOT a beautiful moment. After killing him, she takes his axe and hauls ass to the tree. Begins using the axes and whatever other necessary items that are on her person to start scaling/climbing the tree. This chick is a survivor. She is a fighter. She is not going gentle into that good firestorm. I’m assuming this tree has no low branches or else they would’ve tried climbing them in your original scene. If Krista could survive this and be your protagonist, then you’ve taken a scene that you’ve created and showed who this character is and what she is made of.

    • Linkthis83

      Oh, and another thing I thought of to support my suggestion of her climbing the tree to survive:

      Her climbing the tree to survive mimics the upcoming terror she’s about to face.

      I’m completely unawares to my own genius. LOL.

      • drifting in space

        That scene would make it POP!

      • BennyPickles

        It would be a pretty awesome reveal if you started close on her, still alive, then slowly pulled back to reveal she’s sitting in the only remaining tree left. Then slam to a title. That’d be extremely cinematic, I think.

        • drifting in space

          I really like that idea. I’d be on the edge of my seat for that.

        • Linkthis83

          Just saw the newsletter…

          Congrats, Benny! I’m looking forward to checking it out.

          • BennyPickles

            Thanks! Not sure whether to be excited or scared. Perhaps both.

          • drifting in space

            Will you be changing anything from the submitted draft? If not, I’ll make sure to take a look prior to the review date.

          • BennyPickles

            I’m on page 35 of a cleanup pass at the moment, getting rid of some of the pointlessly fancy descriptions and melodrama, which were people’s two main complaints on AOW. So far, I’ve trimmed off two hole pages!

            I may send the revisions to Carson, but that’s more because he seems like the type that may get hung up on it. There aren’t any major changes – I’ve been holding back on those until after AF. So it’s up to you. But personally, I wouldn’t wait for it. Just keep it in mind.

    • mulesandmud

      I remember your suggestion from the previous thread, Link; it’s a good one.

      Gemma scaling the tree makes her smart and resourceful instead of culpable in the somewhat unnecessary murder of her friend (crazy way to meet a character, especially if the story doesn’t revisit her guilt about what she’s done).

      I haven’t read to the end, so I don’t know if this mercy killing of Bobby is thematically relevant in some way, but if not, is it really necessary? Maybe Bobby tries to climb the tree too, but falls and dies because he’s not as tough as our protagonist.

      • Breezy

        “Maybe Bobby tries to climb the tree too, but falls and dies because he’s not as tough as our protagonist.”
        That would make for a more dramatic scene too. Gemma’s strength pitted against Bobby’s weakness. Standing up for/trying to help the weak makes her look better than her using some sort of euthanasia

    • kenglo

      I like the last part of your suggestion(s) Link – If he would have went that route, it would have been a better opening, and it would have flowed with the rest of the story.

  • D. Bryan

    It’s Friday night here in Denmark and the wine is about to be popped and the dinner about to be served. A BIG shout out of gratitude to all who’ve engaged and invested in Gripper thus far. Truly thankful for all the insightful notes and support! Will get back with my thoughts over the weekend…

    • mulesandmud


  • ximan

    I actually like what I’ve read so far. Congrats Drew! :)

  • Eddie Panta

    Well… Poe_Serling hogged all the good points already… :)

    But I’d add that this is a great example of how a SHOCKING OPENING can really make your script stand out. Unfortunately, as you read on, these shocking moments don’t really come together or add up to a specific genre.

    But what ” I ” learned is that each scene needs this shocking moment.

    Screenwriters are like journalists that don’t have to tell the truth! So don’t try and convince me you’re telling the truth. Tell us lies that tell bigger truths.

    The other thing I learned is that if the message in the scene is complicated then simplify it. IF the message in the scene is too simple, then complicate the matter. That’s what journalist do… not to mention lawyers.

    Typically, the way this story would go down is that the super sexy scientist lady would leave the lab, that his to say our hero, the lab lady journeys, she will meet the bone-head, the everyday guy, Tor, who is a survivalist / firefighter.

    The lab lady will need to explain the super science to the bone-head Tor, i.e. the audience, in a dumbed down version, much the same way it’s done in the last Bourne movie. The science exposition is condensed, and simplified and color coded for the audience to consume. Bourne needs the red, blues, greens — the pills. While the lab lady spouts out the science of it, we haven’t retained any of that info, nor do we want to.
    All we understand that there is a need for the pills and there is pressure, a ticking clock, a deadline to get them.

    The story structure should make the scientist need to join forces with Tor to solve the problem. Then like in the CSI shows you do a – MEANWHILE… BACK AT THE LAB, and condense those scenes so that the lab people are under a pressure of the clock to find the answers. the Lab lady and Tor are feeding them info from the field.

    Like I said, this is the typical approach, pretty straightforward stuff, you might want to try the easier route first, then see where you can veer off the road of this well established story structure.

    No doubt, the ECO-HORROR element is working here. This could indeed attract a producer, especially since it seems the writer has a firm grasp on the supernatural science of it.
    It appears, the writer has a creature that is his own creation. That in itself is copyrightable.

    Characters are the issue here. The writer seems unable to decide who to focus on.

    I recommend you take the story out of the lab and put it on the road, incorporate a time bomb, and of course the creature should come in by the mid-point at least.

    • Poe_Serling

      All good points. It kinda echoes/reinforces what Carson wrote above:

      Cut down all the techno-babble… Get them out to the site sooner… Cut down your character count.. Make sure people actually care about each other so that when they start dying, there are emotions involved.

      As I mentioned to Drew back on 3/1, he should spend an evening or two with del Toro’s Mimic. Not to mimic that particular storyline, but to see how the film introduces its characters and their development, setting the tone of the material, and making the scientific mumbo jumbo more accessible to the average moviegoer.

      • Eddie Panta

        Ah… But therein lies the problem and the hole in Carson’s theory…

        I didn’t agree with the “we need to care about a character before you kill them off…

        I would change: “characters we care about” or “characters other characters care about” to characters we are sympathetic for.

        We don’t really know that first two characters that are killed in JAWS, they’re not really part of the main story. We feel sympathetic towards them though.

        In a creature feature we can’t know or care about each character that gets stomped under Godzilla’s foot.

        So while this rule does apply to some genres it’s not as accurate for a creature horror movie. Especially since you see so many “unknown” characters die in the cold opens, never to again return to the story.

        The more you care are about a character, the more you establish them, the more you establish them, the more the audience knows they’re not going to die, cause you’re not going to kill your leads.

        Which is the real reason ALIEN works, because they didn’t establish the lead until late in the story which is something SS deplores. Also, it’s a shared narrative, each character drives the story.

        Oh, and in an SS 2013 top ten favorite, Ti West gets it first in You’re Next, we have a only a single moment with him… A few lines about who he is — a filmmaker, the artsy guy – then swack, he gets it, right through the head. Bang! Dead! Who’s next…?

        Who from the table will rise up as the lead is suspenseful because we have not yet been told to who to care about the most.
        So I believe I’ve shown Carson’s theory on that to be false and also contradictory to previous reviews.

        You can’t lessen the character count and increase the body count.

        Then only the day-players we get it.

        We don’t need to care about or even know the dead character, rather only how it will inspire the lead to take REVENGE! .

  • Rebecca

    I also already posted on Gripper but as you’ve made amends I did a re-visit. Early establishment of Gemma’s character seems to be the area that has been picked up on.

    From what I can tell, Gemma is a highly intelligent character who is fixated on the science, and determined to be seen as cool and collected, as well as intelligent. But, she is also human, the problem is bigger than her, and she just put an axe through a colleague’s head, and survived herself (so some natural guilt there).

    The key is that the opening situation she is in is something no one could deal with – she is setting her own bar of ‘calm under pressure’ inhumanely high – and that’s why it doesn’t quite ring true when you read it – no one, however determined, could be that cool – the viewer may not engage with someone they see as an ice queen.

    So I would:
    Make her the person that throws up, rather than Tor, maybe he arrives, she hides it from him. That would show us ‘affected but doggedly cool’ in one quick move.
    Maybe Tor sees her do this, but doesn’t mention it, just hugs her or something – establishing their relationship, underlining Bobby was a colleague and Tor the love interest. Also I think she should tell Tor, not Bobby, that it’s all her fault – if she lets her guard down with him, then we see she trusts (ergo cares for) him, which is needed for later.

    This also works because I don’t think she would manage more than a ‘sorry’ to Bobby considering the situation – and you’re currently having her develop more of a relationship with Bobby who dies a second later (which she is currently quite unfazed by) than Tor who needs her attention to make that element of the story convincing.
    When she sees something strange/firefighters come, she can then switch into ‘focused’ mode, and can go back to being calm and collected.
    You could do all of the above without dialogue, if needed, and it would still work.

    On to later bits – the fact that it was her fault they were there in the beginning may introduce a good conflict with another character – why is she putting colleagues in danger: for her own ambition? A brilliant British TV series Line of Duty used this recently – a female detective got her colleagues killed by entering an ambush without back up. In the following days, colleagues back at the station violently pushed her head down the staff toilet in revenge and anger at ‘killing their own’. It was shocking because it was a group of men that did it – not something you would expect to see, but got across their anger far better than any name-calling would have done. Not suggesting that level here, but that resentment could be an interesting dynamic in the next scene, where you need to slip in information but keep up the conflict + momentum from the opener – was Bobby someone in the team’s best friend?

    That’s my tuppence, as we say in the UK. Good luck with the script!

    • Rebecca

      An extra thought to this – the opener sets up the potential for an easy way to simplify the lab scene.
      Gemma’s team want to quit after their colleague dies – it’s too dangerous, not worth it, etc. She has to convince them to stay by using samples she found at the scene to prove her theory works (the bit with the glass tank). She needs this – ambition, but also to salve her own conscience about Bobby (his death was for something). The team can be walking out of the door as she frantically tries to get them to stay. Each of your characters can show their motivations by arguing – maybe Darius sides with her, maybe Tor betrays her and initially agrees with the others. It adds lots of conflict, drama, and urgency to the scene – and you get to slip in the science unnoticed. The credibility of the science is that after seeing it, they all stay – the audience knows it must be good.

  • D. Bryan

    A shame we really have to deal with these types on SS:

    Justin Ward facetofaceisbest@gmail.com6:38 PM (2 hours ago)

    to me

    … but I had the experience of reading some of your screenplay and it SUCKS. Actually, the word pedantic comes to mind (instantly.) What sort of a writer writes the word ‘fuck’ as opening dialogue? What sort idiot does that? I hate your script so much, and believe me, by making you aware of this, I am doing you a favor. I don’t care what those asshole on SS say about your work, it sucks big time. I read in one of your SS posts you have been hashing this story out since ’08. Six years and you start your script with the word, ‘F**k’.

    You’re the sort of writer I’d like to beat the shit out of.

    All the best with your career–JW

    • drifting in space

      Yeesh, that’s really not cool. Thankfully those types are few and far between.

    • BennyPickles

      I kind of feel sorry for those sorts of people. There is obviously something else going on with their lives that would bring them to directly message their ‘hatred’ to someone they’ve never met. Call me optimistic, but I don’t think anyone’s THAT messed up without there being some personal reason behind it. Hope things get better for him.

      • walker

        You are a nice guy, because I see something like that and frankly I hope things get worse for him.

        • BennyPickles

          I’ve had moments in my life where I felt like tearing into some random person on the internet for no good reason. I think we all have. So I would never want to wish bad on anybody, regardless of what they say.

          • walker

            Obviously your attitude is laudable, and you will bank some karma ahead of next Friday. I think I am just scared because I know deep down that I am the sort of writer he’d like to beat the shit out of.

          • Nate

            I agree with you when you say we’ve all felt that way but the difference between you, him and the rest of us is that he actually ripped into some random person for no good reason. He carried it out.
            Not only did he tear into Drew’s script, he also threatened him. And it wasn’t even constructive criticism. It just plain animosity.

            In my eyes that automatically makes him a complete prick, regardless of whatever problems they have.
            I think if you act like an asshole to someone on the internet just because then you deserve to be seen as one.

        • kenglo

          Probably already worse for him, that’s why he rants like that….

          Garland Greene: [talking about Billy Bedlam]
          He’s a font of misplaced rage. Name your cliché; Mother held him too
          much or not enough, last picked at kickball, late night sneaky uncle,
          whatever. Now he’s so angry moments of levity actually cause him pain;
          gives him headaches. Happiness, for that gentleman, hurts.


      • Breezy


    • kenglo

      LOL most people who threaten to beat the SH*T out of someone have never in their life ever beaten the sh*t out of anyone……keep writing Drew…..he’s just mad yours is here and his isn’t…..

      • Nate

        Keyboard warriors are the kind of people who would apologise to you whilst they’re picking their teeth up off the floor. Have you noticed how they’re all Navy SEALs who took part in the operation to kill Bin Laden? To be honest I didn’t know you could fit that many people into two helicopters.

    • Linkthis83

      It’s probably just FONT ENVY.

      Guy’s probably working with a 4pt wingding. Don’t hate on him too much. We can’t choose our fonts.

    • mulesandmud

      This guy better be careful or he’s gonna get kicked out of pre-school with a mouth like that.

    • Nicholas J

      HA! Funny stuff. I would love to see some of Justin Ward’s work.

      • walker

        I believe Justin Ward is the author of “Griper”.

    • Ange Neale

      If I remember rightly, Richard Curtis in ‘4 Weddings and a Funeral’ opens with several iterations of ‘Fuck!’ and ‘Fuckity-fuck!’ and what-not as protag Charles — supposed to be best man — realises he’s slept in. Funny as hell.

      • Linkthis83

        So is this an example of why it’s okay for Drew to start this way or an example of a pedantic movie? ;)

        • Ange Neale

          Maybe I’ve missed something here… I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but if it works… (Maybe it doesn’t and that’s what I’ve missed? Hmm. Will go away and read it then get back to you, Link.)

          • Linkthis83

            I’m just kiddin’, Ange. I know it was to support Drew.

          • Ange Neale

            Oh, okay – I’m having a dumb-ass moment. I’m still on my first cup of coffee for the morning (here in Aus it’s Saturday a.m.) and brain’s still booting up. BTW, got my ‘Cloud Factory’ down to 129 pages and ditched the contemporary bookends that caused soooo many probs – I know 9+ pages still have to come out, but it’s getting there. You guys were a goldmine!

          • Linkthis83

            Oh that’s fantastic news. I got to go to Australia in 2008 for work. It was awesome. Except for the flies and the sun. The literal sun was a pain :)

            I got to see quite a bit of countryside: NSW, QLD, ACT, SA, Snowy Mountain region, Adelaide, Millicent, Wagga Wagga, Brisbane, Gladstone, Biloela, etc.

            Sorry for not making my statement clearer. I do that from time to time trying to be funny.

            I’m glad you’ve been able to make that much progress already. Excellent news.

          • Ange Neale

            Oh, boy – you really did get around!

            I live in Adelaide. Just as well you weren’t here earlier this year. It went from stinking hot to ridiculously, is this some kind of cosmic-effing joke? hot.

            I think the day I wrote my cranky WYSR rant with Lindsay Doran TED reference, it was 42 or 43 celsius – about 108, 109F or thereabouts. But nine or ten months of the year, it’s just lovely!

            And funny’s good – I get it better when I’m more awake.

          • Matthew Garry

            I’m looking forward to the new shorter version. If you’ll grant me a sneak preview, feel free to send it to

    • Wes Mantooth

      Excruciatingly ironic that an internet tough guy has the email “facetofaceisbest.”

    • JakeBarnes12

      That’s truly disgusting, Drew.

      What kind of bi-polar rage monster would make such venomous personal attacks?

      Certainly no one we know round here.

  • cjob3

    “Good thing he axed nicely” is one of the best bad jokes I’ve seen in Carson review.

    • Breezy

      something about this pun is just… RATCHET

  • Nicholas J

    Maybe you should vote next time then. Or better yet, throw your own script into the mix and see how it does.

  • Charlestoaster

    Hey Carson, I do know a publicist for these type of B-movies who might be able to hook you up with a B-Movie producer. He worked on “Big Ass Spider,” “Gilla,” and now “Christmas At Dracula’s.”

    I don’t think they’re accepting scripts because they usually write their own but hey a contact is a contact.

  • Wes Mantooth

    Read the first twenty. It’s a better opening than the original I read a couple weeks ago, but it still needs work. First, it really makes no sense why Gemma and Bobby are in this raging forest fire. They’re scientists, not fire fighters. What are they doing there? I know an axiom of screenwriting is to start a scene late, but this felt too late, like I missed some crucial bit of information. Next, it’s never a good idea to have your hero cleave an innocent guy’s skull a la Jason Voorhees. Yeah, she was putting him out of his misery(or so she thought; if she just waited a moment later, they both could run through this “slit” in the fire), but that action taints her character. It’s hard to believe a scientist committing such a gruesome act.

    Might be better to have Gemma enter the story after the fire. Maybe one of the firefighters survived by clinging to this tree? As for Bobby’s body, why would Tor say “He must have been right behind you when he got caught?” Dude’s head is a canoe. Kinda obvious it wasn’t the fire that got him.

    The next ten pages were a whole lotta mycelium mumbo-jumbo and a cavalcade of characters, who we all know will be “cannon fodder” later in the script. Heavy on science, very light on scares or suspense. This is the point in the script where you need to actually establish the threat. Show us the fungus spreading, devouring creatures in the forest. Or does the fungus actually “move?” I didn’t read that far. As a writer, this could be a problem you face with a non-kinetic monster. It’s more like an “Outbreak” kind of a deal, where science eventually defeats the virus, instead of the hero slaying the beast. Tougher to pull off, IMO.

    Carson made a great viewing suggestion with Splinter. Bare bones, contained horror with a minimum of characters. But they managed to take a somewhat similar idea(parasitic organism that absorbs its victims) and turn it into a good old fashioned B-movie thriller. Also, you might want to check out an episode of the X-files called El Mundo Gira. It’s about a Mexican immigrant who has the ability to kill people by infecting them with a fungus.

    This premise has possibilities, but you need to work on Gemma’s character and you definitely have to crank up the tension in the first act. Good luck with it.

  • Citizen M

    The bottom line: [x] what the hell did I just read

    I thought we were in for an intelligent eco-thriller. Instead, it was same-old, same-old “cabin it the woods” type stuff.

    First question — what is the movie about? The answer to this question is always your second act. In this case, it’s a movie about a group of science guys and others on a burned-out mountain top who get progressively infected by a fungus that causes them to climb trees and freeze. So what’s the big problem? If someone is up a tree they are not life-threatening. It turns out they are breeding spores which could infect more people, so the problem is actually to stop the spores spreading, not that you’d know it from this script, which is all about who’s gonna kill who.

    I’d drop the first scene entirely. What is it telling us about Gemma? It might be mercy killing but it’s still killing. She is a tough cookie. Later they revisit the scene and she pushes a stone to towards the dead man’s skull, presumably to make it look like he fell and cracked his skull. (Not that anyone could mistake an axe wound for a compression fracture.) It tells us Gemma is dishonest and sneaky. This isn’t saving the cat. This is strangling the cat and flushing it down the toilet. Having painted her as tough and dishonest, you never use those characteristics. She’s… well, I’m not sure what her character is.

    (The first scene might make sense if there was a fire in the finale and she used a fire tent to survive and confront the bad guy.)

    Then Tor is the one who makes the vital observation that the tree survived. So she’s not a particularly good scientist either.

    The scenes in the lecture room and lab were badly handled. First, they could be a lot shorter. Second, they introduced a lot of people without making clear their characters, relationships, or function. Third, they introduced the necessary science background in a way that makes me doubt the writer knows what he is talking about.

    I’ll put the science stuff in a separate post, but really, it’s just a macguffin. You want to get your group of people in an isolated environment with a mutated fungus killing them off and see how they react. The science is just a way to do it persuasively.

    First, it’s common knowledge that the pine beetle is killing off the forests because warmer winters are not killing off the pine beetle. Introduce that in a nature program on TV or kids visiting the forest or something. The real problem for Westfor is how to kill the pine beetle. So you could have two competing groups sponsored by Westfor and they’ll fund the most promising. They are under pressure from shareholders. They need results. Gemma comes up with the “accelerant”. It looks promising so they go to field trials despite her misgivings that it’s not been tested thoroughly enough. In the field she see disquieting signs and wants to stop the trials. Darius won’t, and that’s when the group splits and things go pear-shaped.

    The hunting and killing I won’t comment on, just to say it’s not my thing. The sex was way too graphic. Don’t forget the main audience for science fiction is 14-yr-old boys, and this was too much for them. You should aim for PG-13, max.

    As for the mystical elements like bonding with the mycelium and suchlike, well, let’s just say I found it implausible.

    The dialogue had too many lines that were just expressions, like “Really?” “Really” “Excuse me?” “Looks good”. This is not dialogue. It doesn’t move the story along or reveal character. It’s just filler the actor could ad-lib on the scene. Cut it out and you will have a shorter script. Too short, in fact. I don’t think there’s enough meat on the bones. It needs more substantive action and/or plot.

    Some detailed comments:

    1. “flame and molten debris” describes a volcano. A forest fire has sparks.

    6. You could cut the lecture and go straight to the demo. They could do any exposition in a walk and talk. But most of what Gemma says they know already. They are forestry professionals. And why does Westfor have a legal person there? It makes no sense. A financial guy maybe, or someone from marketing who wants to assure green credentials, but not legal.

    6. “Then TOR spills a box filled with LARGE-JAWED ANTS.” WTF? What does this have to do with anything? Leave out.

    8. Gemma to innocent Vern: “Do that again I’ll kick your teeth in.” Wow. I love this girl, not.

    9. Gemma dry swallows two red pills. What’s her problem? The pills never feature again. Lose the scene. It’s filler.

    9. The Westfor lab needs more description. Give us a sense of what the place looks like, particularly the test chamber. First, the name. It’s not actually on Westfor property. It’s part of the university. Maybe a sign should make clear it’s sponsored or something. maybe there could be hints of other teams working on the same problem.

    10. “The wasps and ants are our control species” Actually, you would run two identical tests, one with accelerant and one without. The one without is the control. The wasps and ants being affected is a major defect in the script. No scientist would go ahead if non-target species were affected. And it suggests that when they do the trials all insect life dies and that is the real danger. But that’s not the case at all. No other species are harmed in the trial. Wasps and ants should be UNaffected.

    10. A suggestion: have the accelerant derived from human growth hormone. It is persuasive that it speeds things up but humans become susceptible to it..

    11. They say they need “carriers” to spread the spores, they can’t rely on spraying. Yet in the trials they only spray, they never worry about carriers. I suggest leaving out the concept of carriers.

    11. The terrarium. To me, a terrarium is something like a glass fish tank, only with soil. Yet here it seems variously to be a small tank or a room-size chamber with nitrogen freezing sprayers(!). Please clarify in your description.

    13. Note: spores are yellow, accelerant white. You got them mixed up in the field trials later.

    15. Exploding wasps and ants. Seriously. Forget about them.

    17. The mycelium grows and the TERRARIUM EXPLODES. At this point I tuned out. The script became ridiculous scary monster stuff. Mycelium is spider-webby stuff. It’ll never explode anything.

    In any case, Westfor would never be invited to an experiment. They would have done all their experiments, found something promising, then arranged a demonstration for the Westfor honchos, confident that everything was going to go right and they would get the next round of funding.

    And no one would spread exploding mycelium out in the wild. It’s a worse move than going into the scary haunted house alone.

    My suggestion: The demo goes fine, but out in the field some factor they should have thought of causes the mycelium to go rogue.

    18. “Air thick with tension” We are missing a scene where they argue the pros and cons of proceeding with field trials and we get to know the characters and conflicts. Suggestion: things go fine until they are isolated out in the mountains.

    26. “Westfor approved our budget.” Hang on a mo. This is written as if it’s the night after the party and the sex scene. Yet somehow they’ve got a chopper organized, spores and accelerant manufactured in quantity, and the team put together with Gemma out of the loop. I think there are one or two scenes missing here. Several weeks must have passed.

    27. “If we don’t agree to the conditions it all stops here.” So what are the conditions? Darius is running the field trials. What is he hoping to achieve? We need a briefing session prior to the mission, like for a military operation, explaining the protocols and the results they are looking out for. Followed by a brief montage of them actually setting up camp.

    27. “Gemma kicks open the door, exiting the building with a box of belongings.” Has Gemma been fired? Has she resigned? Scene missing, explaining also why Tor’s with her, and why she’s off to the same site.

    29. Surfer dude, druggie chick, ex-Marine, tough wife, rifle, shotgun, phosphorus grenades. Gemma totes a pistol, Tor a crossbow. Just a normal biology experiment. Not. If you hadn’t already lost me, you would lose me now.

    29. The Research Camp needs more description. later you refer to it as Research Block and Darius’ Lab. How is it laid out? We know there are two containers, also a Cook Tent and personal tents. help us to set the scene mentally. And the Westfor Lab is also referred to Maynard’s Lab. Keep scene headings consistent.

    34. The tree planting is something new. It should have been motivated in the scenes with the Westfor people.

    I can understand them planting trees in the burned-out area, but why spray spores there? The pine beetle is attacking the living forest, not the burned-out forest. They should spray the living forest and observe results.

    39. Vern is still alive. How long since he was infected? There’s a time problem here. If it’s some weeks since the terrarium exploded, as I think it needs to be to set up the field trials etc, then Tor should take equally long to get infected. Or it should be explained why Tor’s infection proceeds much faster than Vern’s. (The accelerant, maybe?)

    47. What is Gemma shooting with the crossbow? If it’s a line, didn’t Tor already shoot a line.

    47. “Darius examines the thriving seedlings that have sprung up.” Presumably the seedlings surfer dude planted. How much time has passed? Did these grow overnight?

    48. “A BOOM OF THUNDER and it starts to rain hard.” Do we really need the rain? I know it’s to intensify the drama, but to make rain on a burned-out mountainside is a major production problem. Hoe do they get the equipment up there?

    50. Getting Tor out of the tree was probably the best scene in the script.

    63. The fungus cave. If you hadn’t already lost me twice, you’d lose me now.

    Niggles: 21. catch their breathe/breath; 30. boney/bony; 36. Your with me/You’re; 39. marine core/Marine Corps; 43. Bed bugs bight/bite; 56. catching their breathe/breath(s); 66. peaks out at/peeks; 87. loads a fresh shell in the breach/breech 87. white phosphorous grenades/phosphorus; 89. realizing its over/it’s.

    • Wes Mantooth

      “This isn’t saving the cat. This is strangling the cat and flushing it down the toilet.” Early contender for quote of the year.

    • Citizen M

      Looking at the science side, bear in mind
      – I’m a guy who likes more science and less fiction in his science fiction
      – I recently looked at this stuff in connection with organic gardening. Although I don’t understand it completely, I have a rough idea
      – This doesn’t affect the meat of the script, which is the actions on the hillside.

      It’s common knowledge, certainly in forestry circles, that the pine beetle is the bad guy. The question for science to solve is how to kill it off. When the killer fungus is discovered, that’s the obvious route to go.

      The problem then becomes, how do you make more of it, and make it more virulent?

      Answer: some sort of breeding program, and an accelerant.

      That naturally gives you two teams: Team Gemma working on producing more spores, and Team Darius working on making them more deadly. Note that the problem is similar to weaponizing anthrax, which also spreads via spores.

      So maybe Darius has a military background in biological warfare, which Gemma hates, but he’s also a handsome devil she’s attracted to, and he works in the same laboratory for a rival team. Conflict!

      Then when they both report success, Westfor tells them to combine. Gemma to make more spores, and Darius to make them more deadly. Get out there and prove it works if you want more funding. Gemma is reluctant, she wants a more biological method of spreading them, she sees danger in indiscriminate spreading, but Darius gung-ho. Spore bombs, baby! And each has their own dedicated team of researchers and technicians, which gives you all the characters you need plus a built-in conflict. Bio versus bombs.

      On the mycelium side, I don’t think you’ve thought this through. Mycelium are threads put out by fungi. The threads get intertwined with specialized plant roots and enable the fungus to feed of plant sap while donating nutrients to the plant. It’s a symbiotic relationship which enable both to grow better.

      But these are ground-dwelling fungi which feed off sap. They are not Cordyceps which feed off insect juices. If the Cordyceps is eating pine beetles, why would it need to grow in the soil? Although a tree-loving fungus that enhances tree growth would be valuable to Westfor, I think you are combining two irreconcilable elements. Frankly, I’d drop the mycelium and tree-planting altogether, and focus just on the beetle-eating Cordyceps.

      • mulesandmud

        Such incredibly precise notes. Truly, I look forward to one day sending you a script jam-packed with pseudoscience, if for no other reason than the pleasure of watching you tear down my house of cards.

  • Wes Mantooth

    I have a sneaking suspicion that Not This Time is the noxious troll Justin Ward, who registered the same “f-word” complaint to the author via email.

  • JakeBarnes12


    Mention “bi-polar” and “rage,” look who shows up.

  • carsonreeves1

    I wouldn’t be a part of it. I just need people in this space to send scripts to. But it sounds like you don’t need scripts so problem solved! :)

  • carsonreeves1

    I agree that all that exposition needs to be cut in half, maybe a fourth.

  • Matthew Garry

    Just as a matter of interest–no details needed, where do you find scripts in your branch and how do you pick them? Do you read them with different requirements?

    And how do you package them?

  • haynesholiday

    Glad to hear you dug “Splinter.” ;)