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Premise (from writer): After two teens are murdered, a Detroit police lieutenant is hard-pressed to end an unprecedented wave of retributive violence—not against the gang suspected of killing them, but against the gang members’ families and loved ones.
Why You Should Read (from writer): I’ve written a number of scripts, and up to this point they’ve all been fairly comfortable, meaning they were in genres I felt I could do well. Mostly light comedies and family-oriented scripts. But I had an idea for something quite a bit darker and edgier rolling around in my brain for some time now. “Retribution” is the result. — It’s probably the most complex, layered story I’ve written. The challenge for me was to make it a clear and straight-ahead story despite the complicated storyline. I’d love to hear from the Scriptshadow community whether or not they think I’ve succeeded.
Details: 112 pages
I believe all screenwriters should try and perfect a genre. And preferably, it would be the genre they love. Get in there, watch every movie ever made in that genre. Then write 5-10 screenplays in it. Just immerse yourself in all its unique traits. Because different genres have different requirements. For a good Thriller, you have to be a master of twists and turns. For a good Comedy, you have to be a master of witty dialogue.
However, it’s also important to push yourself every once in awhile. And that means getting out of your comfort zone – writing something in unfamiliar territory. These exercises can be unexpectedly exciting because there’s a new challenge around every corner. I’m not sure they ever end up being your best work. But they definitely help you grow and expand as a writer. Let’s see how Somersby did with this approach.
After watching a basketball game downtown, suburban brothers Noah and Wyatt hop in their car to head home. Wyatt, 15, insists on driving in anticipation of getting his license, but quickly gets lost in a bad neighborhood. When he goes to ask directions at a convenience store, he stumbles upon a few gangbangers robbing the place and gets shot dead. Noah makes a run for it but the thugs catch up to and kill him as well.
Hard-nosed veteran Lieutenant Jacob Brant and ladies man investigator Franco Marietti are assigned to the case, and immediately zoom in on a local gang known as the V-Boyz. But that’s no consolation to Tecca Bellwood, the boys’ mother. She and her husband, Marc, know that finding the killers isn’t going to bring their kids back.
Still, Brant and Marietti have to do their job, and start looking into the V-Boyz. That is, until, family members linked to the gang start getting shot by a mysterious killer. First it’s a V-Boyz wife, then a grandmother, then a girlfriend. Brant and Marietti figure it’s got to be someone who wants the V-Boyz to suffer, and Marc (the dead boys’ father) seems like the most likely culprit.
But as they continue to dig, the truth about the convenience store robbery surfaces, throwing everything into question. Who really killed those boys that day? And how is this mysterious killer connected to them?
Yay! We get a script by longtime commenter, Somersby. Not surprised at all that his script dominated last week’s Amateur Offerings. Someone with this much screenwriting knowledge wasn’t going to deliver something subpar.
I definitely liked parts of Retribution. In fact, I thought the last 30 pages were great! That’s when the script really came together.
But I can’t say the same about the first 80 pages. There was nothing wrong with them. In fact, they were very well-written. But something about them didn’t GRAB ME AND PULL ME IN. I was never that invested in the story. And I identified a few reasons why.
For starters, I don’t think this script had a main character. Not that every script needs a main character but if you DON’T have a main character, you risk alienating your reader. Readers want to latch onto someone. Relate to them. Empathize with them. In a way, a main character becomes the reader’s avatar in the story.
Without that one-on-one connection, getting a reader to emotionally invest in your story is a lot tougher. And that’s what happened with me. I was never emotionally invested because I didn’t have anybody to emotionally invest IN.
Also, up until page 90, the execution of the script, while technically perfect, was creatively basic. It was all very predictable and “been-there-done-that.” When you added that on top of having no one to connect to, it made for some average reading.
Finally, there was the serial killer element. This added the dimension, I’m guessing, that Somersby felt would make the script different from others in the genre. Which is good. That’s exactly what you want to do.
The problem, though, was that the people who were being killed were “bad” people. They were family members of gangbangers. So I didn’t care if they were killed. I was like, “Good, keep killing. These gang members deserve to suffer.”
That storyline was meant to create suspense. But since I didn’t care that these people were being killed and therefore didn’t care who was doing it, I had no real desire to learn the truth.
Despite all that, I give Somersby credit for the killer reveal. I wasn’t expecting that at all (spoiler: For those not reading the script, the killer ends up being the mom). And once the killer is revealed, the mad dash to stop her gives that last 20 pages all the energy the first 90 pages were missing. In fact, because the last 20 pages were the script’s best, we end up somewhat happy with the result.
But if I were Somersby, I’d ask myself if there’s a way to tell this story with a main character. I’d actually consider telling it from Tecca’s (the mom’s) point of view. That (spoiler) would make the reveal even more shocking. Although how you’d hide her involvement in the murders while following her as the main character, I don’t know. It’s possible though. Isn’t that what #1 Black List script (spoiler for the 2013 #1 Black List script) Holland, Michigan did?
Even if you were to solve that problem, you still run into the issue of: Is this concept big enough to power a movie? As I was reading this, I kept waiting for some hook to arrive that gave “Retribution” that “larger than life” quality I say I’m always looking for in a spec. Right now it’s a pretty standard crime-procedural. I think Somersby’s capable of more.
But it was still fun to read a script from Somersby. The script definitely had its moments. If the first ¾ was as good as the last ¼ this would’ve had my vote. As it stands, it didn’t quite get there. How about you guys? What did you think?
Screenplay link: Retribution
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: It used to be that studios would release 10-15 cop/crime films a year. They don’t do that anymore. And the ones that do get made get limited releases or go straight to digital. So I’d say, if you’re going to write a crime/cops/procedural script, find a flashy hook for it. Give us that larger-than-life high concept angle to really elevate it enough that studios would want to put it on their slate. The two biggest spec crime films of last year focused on the best CIA killer in history (The Equalizer) and the best hitman in history (John Wick). Their main characters were almost superheroes. Not to say we should’ve done the same here. But that’s what you’re going up against these days. You’re going up against these big-idea big-character crime films.