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Genre: Dramedy
Premise (from writer): Two estranged sisters from New York travel to rural China to receive an inheritance from the father they never knew. Once there, they find themselves on a wild journey of self discovery as they race the clock to pass physical and psychological tests set forth in their father’s will that will earn them his mysterious legacy.
Why You Should Read (from writer): I’ve been an avid reader of SS since its inception, and in fact had two of my first [very shitty] scripts privately reviewed by Carson around the same time he moved to LA. The good news is I managed to get both those scripts to a point where they received 7s on the Blacklist and made finalist in a handful of competitions, the bad news is that the concepts were inherently flawed and would never move beyond this, or get me any read requests. — 4 years and 6 scripts later, I finally feel like the new scripts I’m currently tackling could be ‘the ones’. — Made in China is not one of those scripts. ;) But it is the only script I’ve ever pitched to prodcos and actually got read requests from (no callbacks). So, as ready as I am to throw this script in a draw and move on, I feel like I owe it one last chance to find out why the logline appeals (over 2:1 pitch-/request ratio) and where I’m failing to deliver what I promise in the premise. I’m hoping the generous SS community could tear this apart. I like brutal honesty, it’s the only way to grow. :) Thanks!
Writer: Billie Bates
Details: 92 pages (this is an UPDATED version of the script from last week. Billie has incorporated some of the notes you guys gave her. Of course, I have no way of knowing how much is the same and how much is different)

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The pool of bankable Asian-American actresses is tiny. Maybe Maggie Q for Lin?

I was looking forward to reviewing this. I read a couple of Billie B’s scripts a couple of years back when she was just starting out . Although it’s been awhile, I remember her struggling with the typical new-screenwriter problems. Unfocused concepts. Unfocused narratives. Stories that didn’t seem to know what they were.

To see her win an Amateur Offerings round shows just how far she’s come. And it’s a reminder that you can get better with practice and dedication.

One of the advantages I always felt Billie had was her one-of-a-kind life experience. She got to do things that the average person did not. That can allow for a unique perspective when you write. Let’s see if that, along with a couple of extra years of hard work, has resulted in a script of significance.

26 year-old Chinese-American, Lin, is all work and no play. She works for a wind energy company in New York and her mentor boss, Sandra (somehow even MORE work and no play) has Lin in line for a dream promotion if she can land two major deals, one in China and one in Detroit.

On the other side of town is Lucy, Lin’s sister and a 21 year-old VIP bottle service girl. Lucy’s life is… well… a little less focused. She gets drunk at work every night and then posts party pictures to her half-ass party blog the next day. It goes without saying that the two don’t see eye-to-eye on things.

The two get a surprise call from their grandmother who informs them that their absent Chinese father who they never knew just died, and they need to go to China to collect the inheritance. Lucy’s cash-strapped and excited to go. But Lin’s got better things to do than travel halfway across the world to collect a couple hundred yuan.

However, Lin’s company’s Chinese client says they’re making a decision on the account soon, and Sandra encourages Lin to go there and wrap things up. If she does, Sandra assures her, she’ll get that giant promotion.

Lucy’s ecstatic when her older sister wants to go to China with her, having no idea that the real reason Lin is going is for work. And so the trip starts out awkwardly, with Lin looking for ways to ditch Lucy and get her account details taken care of.

Unfortunately, the inheritance turns out to be no simple matter. The holder of the estate, an older Confucius-like figure named Ming, tells them that their father required them to find four separate keys spread throughout the area. Then, and only then, will they receive their inheritance.

Lin is annoyed but Lucy is excited. The two find themselves travelling outside the city to a small village where their mother (who died during Lucy’s birth) and father supposedly met. It is in this serene town that the sisters are finally forced to put down their electronics and busy lives and focus, for the first time, on one another. Fixing their broken relationship, it turns out, will be their true inheritance.

Made in China is a quirky mix of Rain Man, Lost in Translation, and The Descendants – a unique script that takes us on a journey we haven’t quite seen before.

My first thoughts? Wow, Billie has improved A LOT. You can see it in the very first scene. I love the detail where Lin’s over-stressed boss, Sandra, is raking a Japanese garden inside her office, and hands the rake to a confused Lin, informing her to continue raking while she fills her in on the company’s state. The look on Lin’s face as she quietly rakes and listens to her boss is a wonderful little “movie moment.”

The writing was better too – crisper. For example, here’s the description of Lucy: She’s 21, Chinese American, hair extensions, eyelash extensions, nail extensions. Could do with brain extensions.

A lot of the writing is like that – non-perfunctory where you could tell some real thought was put into it (more on that later in the “What I Learned” section).

As I said in the opening, my big question was, could Billie write a script with some actual focus? It’s been so long since I read her first script, but I distinctly remember it was about an elite flight attendant who had gotten a rare job flying around a Saudi Prince, but that that same character also wanted to become a five-star chef.

I was so confused. The character, in addition to flying around with this prince, was practicing cooking, and at one point wanted to be a 5-star AIRLINE chef. And look, we all have this problem in our first few scripts. We seem oblivious to the concept of focus. We feel that as long as we can think it up, we should include it in our story, regardless of whether it has anything to do with the subject matter.

I’m happy to say that Made In China knows exactly what it wants to be. This is about two sisters figuring out their relationship amongst the background of a quirky China trip. Billie does a good job adding a time constraint (they only have a week before Lin must be back for work) as well as stakes (Lucy needs to complete the inheritance quest cause she’s broke – Lin needs to land this account or she loses the promotion). Overall, it was a much cleaner story.

So here’s the 64 thousand dollar question: What’s preventing this script from selling? Or getting Hollywood interested?

This is always hard to answer when you have a competent script, which Made in China is. Sometimes it’s a matter of writing the right script at the right time – you just happen to write a sister-adventure at a moment that Reese Witherspoon is looking for a sister-adventure.

But because you can’t account for those things, you have to look at the script as a whole, and there are a couple of things that popped out to me. First of all, this isn’t a saleable genre. There’s no romantic component here. And while I know that’s becoming a popular war-cry amongst the female screenwriting community – writing a script about women where men don’t play a role in the story – I think that unless you’re writing inside a saleable genre, that Hollywood is still scared of that approach. As forward-thinking as Hollywood is, the average woman in the flyover states sees nothing wrong with plunking down 15 bucks to see a woman swoon over Bradley Cooper.

The other issue is that while Made in China’s execution is good, it’s not great. The relationship issues between Lin and Lucy started to get repetitive quickly. Lin is uptight. Lucy is loosey-goosey. They don’t see eye-to-eye. Are we really exploring any new angles on that on page 65 that we didn’t on page 35? I’m not sure we do.

And that, at least partly, goes back to the lack of a romantic interest. One of the nice things about the similarly constructed Rain Man, about two brothers trying to fix a non-existent relationship, was that there was a third romantic interest character. What that does, besides add the romantic component, is take some pressure off the brother relationship to do ALL the character lifting in the movie. It gave the movie a chance to go off and breathe sometimes away from the brothers. And we didn’t get that here.

And the more I think about it, the more I wonder if this sister relationship was broken ENOUGH. These two didn’t see eye-to-eye, but it was more of a surface-level difference of opinion in the way each lived their lives. There were no deep-rooted issues there. And again, if you’re struggling on page 65 to find a different angle to explore your key relationship from, it’s going to help if the issues in that relationship are more deeply rooted.

Finally, while I thought the end was fun, I’m not sure I bought it. (Spoilers) Ming being the dad was definitely a surprise. But I, surprisingly, didn’t feel anything when that was revealed. A big reason for that was that Ming himself was so surface level (he was basically a much lighter version of Mr. Miagi). Had Billie given Ming more to work with and injected him into the story more thoroughly, I’m sure his reveal at the end would’ve landed with more gravitas.

So in the end, Made in China suffers one of the most frustrating fates a screenplay can suffer from. It’s a “pat on the back” script – a script you read and say to yourself afterwards, “Not bad.” Here’s the thing to remember though. That’s a TREMENNNNNNDOUS accomplishment. The large majority of scripts out there are unreadable past page 15. But, unfortunately, it’s not the kind of script that opens doors. It’s not the kind of script where you go, “Whoa. I have to tell someone about this right away!” To do that, you gotta have something extra (a big concept, something controversial, a super-unique voice, a flashy key character). And I suppose that’s why it’s not kicking up more interest. Still, Billie should be very proud of how far she’s come. Keep at it!

Script link: Made In China

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

What I learned: I notice a lot of writers putting in strong line-by-line writing effort in the first act, who then abandon that attention-to-detail later on in the script. It’s not a mystery why this happens. As writers, we tend to spend five times as much time on our first act than the other acts (a big mistake, by the way). But if you really want to impress the reader, make sure you’re bringing that line-by-line attention-to-detail just as much on page 70 as you did on page 20. I loved that description of Lucy early on: She’s 21, Chinese American, hair extensions, eyelash extensions, nail extensions. Could do with brain extensions. But I wasn’t getting those kinds of lines later in the script.

  • Dan B

    I didn’t get a chance to read this, but I think I’ll check it out. From everything I heard on AOW, it was very well written.

    While I see how a story revolving around two Chinese American sisters going on an adventure together isn’t going to make people think “Big Bucks!” But there are a lot of movies made that don’t have these concepts. Nat Faxon and Jim Rash did The Decendents, The Way Way Back — both of which were sort of Dramedies. Allen Loeb just sold Collateral Beauty. Everything Alexander Payne.

    Is already having a reputation the secret to getting these “small concept” films made? Is there something that could make this easier to sell for a non-insider like making it more of a comedic? Make some of the actors “to die for parts?”