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Genre: Crime-Thriller
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.
Writer: Somersby
Details: 112 pages

emmy-nominations-snubs-surprises

Mireille Enos for Tecca?

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.

  • carsonreeves1

    I’m just realizing now that “Mireille Enos for Tecca?” could easily be misinterpreted as an alien’s line of dialogue from Star Wars,

    • brenkilco

      It’s klaatu barada nikto in Spanish.

  • ThomasBrownen

    “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?”

    Back for AOW, I read the first twenty-some pages and then the last five pages to see how this script ended. It’s interesting that the script keeps the murderer a secret for much of the story. I was actually expecting this script to take more of a Prisoners approach to the situation: we know early on that it’s the mother, and we watch her go farther and farther into dark vigilantism until she has to pay the consequences for her actions. I can see how the script currently has a mystery to it by hiding the murderer’s identity, but I wonder if revealing early on that it’s the mother lets us have more character development with the mother. There can still be plenty of dramatic irony in the scenes when we know who the murderer is but the police don’t. Still, that seems like something of a big change to the script, and might be an entirely different story from the one Somersby wants to tell.

    Anyhow, congrats to Somersby!!

  • S.C.

    Crime films were hugely successful in the 1970s (and 80s and 90s to lesser extent) despite the presence of cop shows on TV. The films could show things the TV shows could not:

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/3/34/Bustingposter.jpg/220px-Bustingposter.jpg

    What this film exposes about undercover vice cops can’t be seen on your televsion set.

    Now it’s different. You have to give people a reason to pay money for a movie ticket (and parking and babysitter, etc. for a night out) to see something that could be an extended episode of CSI.

    Detroit. Police lieutenant. Gang members. All a bit too straightforward, in my opinion.

    Chinatown. Chinese-American cops. Triads. Different.

    Ninjas! Throw in Ninjas! Then in might be something fun!

    But as it is, complicated plot included, doesn’t seem like a fun night out at the flicks.

    • Randy Williams

      “Busting…only at a movie theatre!”
      What, is this the Pee Wee Herman story?

      • S.C.

  • brenkilco

    Spoiler alert. Competent and well written as carson has observed. The premise, sort of death Wish by proxy, is somewhat different. But the plot is just OK. A decent Law and Order episode. No more. It’s a procedural for the most part but in the end the detection doesn’t amount to much. The convenience store killer pulls another job with the same gun, is killed. The gun connects to his accomplices. That’s basically it. Not much more to the vigilante investigation. Oh, the mom works for a law firm that defends gang members. So she knows their addresses. Must be her.

    You can turn on Netflix and find ingenious police procedurals from the U.S., England, Scotland, Wales, France and even Sweden. From sunny, classic Christie to gut churning, pitch black noir. Long form. Episodic. Movie length book adaptations. Whatever you want. It’s endless but it’s still only the cream of the crop. The bar for this stuff is sky high. So it isn’t enough to have a decent premise. Your execution has to be a 9.5. Fascinating clues, brilliant deductions, mindblowing reveals, and jaw dropping reversals. And that’s not all. You need to do your research. Because if the investigative details don’t ring true the audience today is going to know it. Just OK isn’t good enough anymore.

    • S.C.

      Changed what I was going to say… Would you recommend that Sommersby (or a writer with a similar script) changes the premise or improves the story?

      Ideally I know it would be both, but do you think this premise is worth pursuing its present form (I’m not sure it is worth it)?

      • brenkilco

        Not sure it can be made big enough for a movie and I doubt TV crime shows buy spec scripts so without some big hook I’m not sure it’s worth pursuing. If it were me- and the writer may well have different interests- I would have focused on the cops and I would have structured it differently. Course saying I would have doesn’t mean that I could have. Don’t start with the convenience murder. Start with the murder of the innocent grandmother. Clearly an assassination but random, inexplicable. Then you’ve got a helluva lot of detection to do. From granny to her grandson to the gangs to possibly vengeful victims of their countless crimes. Then I think you’d have a story that plotwise would require the writer to really step up. If you really want to tackle this kind of stuff you first have to make it impossible for the cops to figure it out and then come up with a perfectly plausible and logical way for them to figure it out.

        • S.C.

          I agree. People hate when I say it, but I think Sommersby may be better coming up with a more exciting, audience-friendly premise (I’ve suggested Ninjas half-jokingly, but some concept like that) and then pursuing those ideas through that new premise.

          Sort of the old idea of redoing it in space. Or underwater.

          I know some writers want to write gritty realism (I was like that when I was young), but we have to be realistic about what’s going to do our careers any good.

          • Magga

            To be fair, going to med-school or something will do our carriers a lot of good. Meaning, money is not the reason to do this

        • Bacon Statham

          I think the current set up of the story will only work if the vigilante is someone we can root for 100 percent.

          What if Tecca was a dirty district attorney who was prosecuting a V-Boy for the murder of a young woman and was paid by his crew to ensure he gets off free. She needs the money and she’s done it before, so she accepts. He gets off free, but winds up dead and the crew, thinking she had something do with it, murders her two sons in retaliation, so she starts killing their family members (who are way worse than the gang themselves) off one by one.

          However, it turns out that the boyfriend of the young woman who was murdered killed the V-Boy instead. Eventually, when he realises that two innocent kids were killed by the V-Boys, he puts two and two together and realises that Tecca is the vigilante. So feeling guilty he goes after the gang instead.

          That’s how I’d do it.

          Now the family members are complete bastards and deserve to die. Tecca is someone you can root for and the mistaken identity angle is still there with the addition of the second vigilante (the boyfriend).

          • brenkilco

            Might work. You’ve pretty much eliminated the procedural angle. Still not sure how sympathetic I would be to the DA. Sorta made her own bed. And still not sure why the family members are so bad.

          • Bacon Statham

            It might work if she was blackmailed into getting the V-Boy off free instead of being paid to do it. And I’d make the family members even worse than the gang itself, so you feel compelled to root for Tecca. One family member could be a paedophile, another could be a big time drug dealer. Even they’re bad people, they’re still someone’s family and you’ve still got the hook of the story.

            It might add another angle to the story. The big time drug dealer could be the brother of the V-Boy who was murdered. He could put a bounty out on the vigilantes head.

            I’d lose the whole innocent blood for innocent blood angle. I find it hard to root for someone who kills a grandmother and a young boy out of revenge. It doesn’t ring true.

    • Randy Williams

      Yeah, those police procedurals from Europe are damn good and I feel guilty and amazed I’m watching them for free,
      And the only reason, perhaps, those writers are not our competition is because maybe they’re too busy writing future episodes and enjoying the money to write specs?

      Otherwise, like he said. Bar for this type of stuff? Sky sky sky high.

      • Magga

        Why would they compete in the U.S when they’re already working in Europe? I’d get why in the days of gigantic paydays, but these days there are many countries that may be preferable to America for screenwriters. I myself started rewriting my script in my own language after watching a roundtable of studio heads during Oscar season

    • walker

      Seriously didn’t you just copy and paste that from another of your comments?

      • brenkilco

        No, but I would never bet against my repeating myself. I don’t remember what I had for breakfast this morning.

        • Felip Serra

          Leonard Shelby? Is that you?

  • Bacon Statham

    SPOILERS

    ”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.””

    Come on, man, that’s pretty heartless. Unless they were much worse than the gang members themselves, they didn’t deserve to die. And they weren’t. Sylvia (Trey’s girlfriend) needed knocking down a peg or two because she was a bit of a bitch, but she didn’t deserve to die. None of them did. Especially the grandmother and young boy. In the end, it didn’t mean shit anyway, because the V-Boys weren’t even responsible.

    I like the concept. It’s quite a good little twist on the genre. It’s a reverse Death Wish, but the only way it works is if the family members are complete bastards. If they’re much worse than the gang members themselves. I could get behind the vigilante if that was the case, but as it is right now, I absolutely hate them. Out of every character in the script, they were by far the worst. They were worse than the gang members they wanted to see suffer.

    I know what Somersby was going for though. You hurt the innocent, I hurt the innocent, but I just don’t think it works. Imagine if Paul Kersey did that. We’d hate him. So why should the vigilante in this story get a pass?
    The reason why people love The Punisher is because he only goes after the scum of the Earth. Look at Four Brothers. A sweet little old lady is murdered in cold blood and her four sons avenge her death by going after the people responsible, not the family of those responsible.

    • wlubake

      It reminds me of the concept from Swordfish: “They bomb a church, we bomb ten. They hijack a plane, we take out an airport. They execute American tourists, we tactically nuke an entire city. Our job is to make terrorism so horrific that it becomes unthinkable to attack Americans.”

    • http://vimeo.com/adamwparker Adam W. Parker

      I agree. That’s why Tarantino only picks people that are directly responsible or reprehensible to a cartoonish degree as fodder for the protag in his revenge stories. I don’t know if this relates to this story or not, I haven’t read it.

      • Bacon Statham

        That’s why I like Four Brothers so much. The villain telling one of his employees to go sit at the kids table or eat food off the floor is that cartoonish, it’s quite satisfying when he gets what he deserves. I think if you’re gonna write a revenge flick, that’s one film you need to watch.

  • mulesandmud

    In HOLLAND, MICHIGAN, the main character wasn’t the killer, her husband was. And we figured it out at around the midpoint, leaving plenty of time to deal with the consequences of that discovery.

    Carson still makes a good point, though.

    I suspect that by making Tecca the main character of this story, Somersby would have to ditch the mystery aspect entirely, and focus instead on really exploring this character as, driven mad by grief, she makes the morally awful decision to torment her sons’ killers by murdering their loved ones.

    What the script would lose in mystery, it would gain in suspense, and then some. You would be able to generate amazing tension when, say, the cops drop by to give Tecca an update on the case, and she must scrambles to hide the murder weapon she just used the night before. That’s great situational and dramatic irony.

    In the mystery version of that scene, the cops drop by and everything plays out like a standard procedural, since we’re forced to stick with the least interesting perspective in the room, the cops. Tecca maybe acts a tiny bit strange, but not too much, or that gives away your surprise.

    Fuck surprise.

    I don’t know how many times I have to quote the same fat bald dude, but well, whoever this guy is, he keeps saying brilliant shit:

    Somersby, this is not necessarily a recommendation to go down the road of making Tecca your protagonist, just an rundown of what that would gain you compared to what you’ve got now. It would be a tricky gambit to pull off, both in terms of making the character believable and maintaining audience sympathy for her.

    I think it’s worth considering the Tecca option though, as well as other similarly dramatic re-conceptions of this story. You need to find the version that will let you spend the most time with the most interesting possible characters, and so allow you to tell your story from an exciting and unfamiliar point of view.

    Whichever way you decide to go with it, make sure you really push yourself. Writers have a terrible habit of marrying themselves to their first draft, and limiting their rewrites to mostly cosmetic changes. I really don’t think that’s enough here. For the best parts of your revenge-killing premise to stand out, this needs to become either an ambitious character study or else a far more deftly executed procedural.

    Good luck with it.

    Everyone: don’t be afraid to completely re-break your story during a rewrite, collecting the valuable insights you’ve learned thus far and ditching literally everything else if need be. Remember, the only person this stuff precious to is you.

    • brenkilco

      Agree that if this becomes a suspenser from the killer’s point of view, a la Death Wish, Tecca will have to be fleshed out and made a whole lot more understandable. As it is she’s not really much more than a plot device. It would take more than grief to turn an ordinary, law abiding professional into a peculiarly sadistic homicidal maniac who target innocent people. The writer would have some splainin to do.

      • mulesandmud

        Definitely wouldn’t be easy, which is exactly why it’s interesting.

        In that version of the story, I don’t think the victims could be wholly innocent right out of the gate. There would needs to be a moral progression, a descent.

        The first victim could be someone truly awful, who arguably deserves it. Maybe he even initiates the violence by attacking Tecca, who is snooping where she shouldn’t, and she kills in self-defense.

        Then, Tecca gets inspired and fully conceives her crazy plan. She goes after another relatively bad dude, and succeeds, maybe even helps someone in the process, which makes her feel righteous and empowered in her mission.

        After that, the victims could gradually grow more questionable – we see how they support their families, etc. – until eventually Tecca must confront the fact that she is killing a true innocent. The question becomes: how far down the rabbit hole will the inertia from her grief carry her?

        MONSTER is a good reference here; Charlize starts as victim but ends as serial killer. She’s both heartbreaking and repellent, aka a dynamic character.

        • walker

          Unfortunately I think there is little doubt that Monster would get the wasn’t-for-me-not-big-enough-for-a-movie reception from this crowd.

          • S.C.

            I don’t know about not big enough for a movie – it WAS a movie, but I don’t think it’s necessarily spec material for a non-directing newbie writer. That’s what “this crowd” might say as they queue up to see AVENGERS 2.

        • Bacon Statham

          That is a story I could get behind. She doesn’t start off killing innocents, but she eventually does. I like that idea.

    • Felip Serra

      Excellent comment (as is usually the case.)

      My main criticism from last week was that Somersby was juggling two genres, Crime Procedural and Serial Killer, and though on the surface they seem complimentary the combining of the two confuses where the dramatic tension need be placed. It’s becoming clearer that should this story continue to evolve it must choose one path.

      I think the Tecca as “vigilante”, of the two, is the stronger. However I don’t see from a straight revenge angle, similar to “Cielo Drive” from two weeks ago. I see a woman already on the edge, bad marriage and overworked, who’s then pushed over it. What now? By the circumstances of her grief and anger she throws herself into a dangerous world she knows nothing about, trying to find answers and closure. But the further she descends into it the more it influences her actions to surprising and violent ends.

      Another advantage: Strong female parts are always in demand, regardless what the box office is currently dictating.

    • Evangelos

      Maybe add, oblivious to each other (big reveal) the father is also killing V-boys.

  • Magga

    Haven’t read the script, haven’t even gotten to finish Miss America yet, busy and other excuses. BUT! A high concept crime thriller is staring the writer in the face, and I’d write it myself if the two main elements weren’t stolen from Sommersby’s script. I’d dozed off before opening this review, so I misread it, and nearly jumped for joy at the story. Then reread it after two cups of coffee and realized I had misunderstood everything because I only picked up tiny pieces of what was written. But what about this angle:

    A young man murders someone. The protagonist is his sister, and she is shocked beyond belief. She does what she can to get money for bail, her mother helps out, but her brother is seen as too dangerous and won’t be let out. Then her uncle is killed! More shock and horror. Then her mother escapes an attempt on her life! She realizes that someone is going after the family of the murderer! Including her! The police don’t believe in the theory, something doesn’t add up, so she goes it alone, trying to find out who could do this, while seeing death around every corner, in public places, in people’s homes. She discovers that her brother is innocent, and gets the evidence to the police. He gets out of prison, but is killed that very night. Who set him up? The one person she trusted, her own mother, has concocted this big thing in order to have a reasonable excuse as she offs her entire family. So in the last act there’s a fight to the death between a young girl and her own mother. I don’t know why the mother would do this, but to me, that’s a BIG story

    • brenkilco

      Big, but is it believable/ Never like those movies where some character who has acted perfectly sane and rational through the whole thing suddenly reveals himself to be batshit crazy at the climax.

      • S.C.

        WHISPERS IN THE DARK comes to mind… although I quite liked it, including the end where the perfectly sane and rational guy goes batshit crazy.

        Depends on tone, whether you’re going for gritty or just entertaining.

      • S.C.

        EYES OF LAURA MARS too.

        • brenkilco

          Ugh. Bad movie. didn’t John Carpenter write it?

          • S.C.

            “Technically, Eyes of Laura Mars is not a John Carpenter film (it was directed by Irvin Kershner), but one based on a screenplay he had written titled “Eyes”. Producer Jack H. Harris, who was involved with Carpenter’s first film, Dark Star, handed a treatment of “Eyes” to Jon Peters at Columbia Pictures, who liked the concept of a woman who psychopathically witnesses murders through the eyes of the killer. Unfortunately, the script would go through a number of transformations over time, leaving little resemblance between Carpenter’s original vision and the finished film.”

            http://www.rowthree.com/2008/03/02/the-films-of-john-carpenter-eyes-of-laura-mars-1978/

          • S.C.

            “In Hollywood, there’s an old saying that claims, ‘The better the villain, the better the movie’. That’s not necessarily the case in the sense of what’s scary. What’s scary is something that’s random, that’s unknown. The unknown killer that walks up and kills you for no reason is utterly terrifying because you are defenseless against it. In my original version of ‘Eyes’, a normal person was suddenly seeing through the eyes of a psychopath. To me it was a really very chilling idea, but to make him somebody that the lead character and the audience knew, all of a sudden the problem opens up like a yawning pit!” John Carpenter

          • brenkilco

            in this case accent on the yawning.

      • Magga

        To be fair, most murderers are batshit crazy and most murder mysteries have plenty of suspects and the ones who seem guilty are usually misdirections. But yeah, there needs to be an explanation, though I see more of a Dario Argento movie here than a Zodiac, if you know what I mean? Either way, it’s not my story to tell. I guess my main piece of definite “advise”, again having not read the thing, is to make the lead one of the innocent family members.

        • brenkilco

          I have only sat face to face, through a glass, with one convicted murderer. Had shot a gas station attendant through the head. For no particular reason. My honest impression. He seemed a perfectly ordinary, nice guy.

          • Magga

            I used to live with someone who was convicted of violent crimes, not murder, but stabbings and armed robbery and all kinds of things. He was given a room by the government as a sort of get back to society-program, even though the others renting the house were just students. He was a nice enough guy, but suddenly one day he got insanely angry because I’d forgotten to lock the door to the main entrance, literally threatening to kill me while screaming and kicking the walls. Next day he acted as if nothing happened. Then other people who had just gotten out of jail came by the house all the time, and it turned out they were fans of a surreal sketch-comedy show I was making for Student TV. No one watched it, but it was huge in prison. That really weirded me out

          • brenkilco

            Hey, a fan base is a fan base.

          • walker

            Sometimes one’s fans are base.

      • Magga

        Actually, thinking about it, I find it more believable that someone would kill their own family than the entire, innocent family of someone else. Based on previous mass murderers and such, I mean

        • Citizen M

          I worked with a guy that shot his wife and four kids, then himself. Quiet guy, kept himself to himself, no known problems, deacon in the Dutch Reformed church. No one knows why he did it.

  • walker

    The killer in Holland, Michigan was the protagonist’s husband. As a character it was a total writer’s cheat, implausible and sent the story off the rails. He is a boring insubstantial dweeb right up until he is needed for the plot, then he becomes an icy, meticulous evil genius.

  • Frankie Hollywood

    “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”.

    Make the mom an ex-Navy SEAL (an experiment the Navy tried, succeeded at, but kept under wraps = no P.R.). After her sons are killed she turns into an Urban Female Rambo, and when her former C.O. hears about what’s going on he flies in and assists — both sides.

    It’s a hell of a different direction, but maybe that’s what it needs.

    Urban Female Rambo, there’s your Pitch.

    Either way, GOOD LUCK Somersby.

    • S.C.

      Pambo.

      Revenge doesn’t have an Adam’s Apple.

  • walker

    By the way neither of the “crime spec scripts” that Carson mentions (The Equalizer and John Wick) is a crime spec. They are adolescent male revenge fantasies based on a superhero origin story template. Hitmen are a fantasy, CIA killing machines are too. Obviously this is part of their appeal, which I personally find offensive, but bottom line they are not crime specs.

    • S.C.

      Well aren’t you a little ray of sunshine.

      • walker

        Actually I am a ray of fresh air, and a breath of sunshine.

        • klmn

          And now for some El Rayo X (and David Lindley).

    • Midnight Luck

      I just found JOHN WICK offensive. And stupid.
      The Equalizer had some interesting things about it, but poorly done for the most part. Sadly, and I hate to say it, they completely miscast Chloe Grace in the hooker with a heart role. She was too young, and too uncomfortable with herself in the role. She just plainly seemed wrong in that role. I also disliked them using a “hooker with a heart of gold” role to elicit sympathy.

  • Howie428

    I think the big missing ingredient in this is the grief. It is the driving element of the story, in that it triggers the killing spree and it is the punishment being dished out. However, we don’t see much of the initial grief of Tecca or Marc, and then we see little of the grief impact on the V-Boyz of having the people they care about killed.

    The police aspects of the story feel mechanical, like TV detectives investigating the case of the week.

    Having said that the finale does have a strong tension to it and a solid payoff.

    I think I’d be on the side of people who say that hiding Tecca through the story probably isn’t worth it. The reveal didn’t surprise me at all since I had the killer identified right after reading the first act and the logline. So perhaps you could focus the story in on Tecca and specifically show us how her grief affects her.

    For me the people carrying out the investigation need to have a personal stake in the story. That seems to suggest shifting the lead investigative role to one of the V-Boyz. Upon hearing that his group is accused of this crime he could start by investigating his own members, before discovering who actually did it. Of course the challenge would be to prove it and to persuade the police that they are under attack by a vigilante.

    Changes like that would hopefully bring forward some of the key story beats, so that the middle of the story becomes more dynamic, and you can get to the moral confrontation side of things earlier on.

    • Bacon Statham

      ”For me the people carrying out the investigation need to have a personal stake in the story. That seems to suggest shifting the lead investigative role to one of the V-Boyz. Upon hearing that his group is accused of this crime he could start by investigating his own members, before discovering who actually did it. Of course the challenge would be to prove it and to persuade the police that they are under attack by a vigilante.”
      The way that Trey was introduced, I kinda thought he would end up helping Brant and Marietti track down the vigilante. Maybe Somersby could change it so that he becomes the protagonist. It might be a good idea to shift the investigation to the other side of the fence like you said.. Show it through a gang bangers eyes instead.

  • Eddie Panta

    OUT of the FURNACE was a revenge story set in a dangerous town with a shared lead.
    It didn’t fair well at the box office, but it was a huge spec sale. The writer created some amazing characters, but were they larger than life?

    Well, probably not in comparison to John Wick or The Equalizer. But Carson does have a point, cause Inglesby’s next script was RUN ALL NIGHT, which is another revenge story about a hitman in wrapped up in a 24hr, non-stop, Liam Neeson GSU bone cracking journey.

    Out of the Furnace has some issues, but I never finished watching either The Equalizer or Jon Wick, which were both simplistic and routine HITMAN with a HEART stories. Both had overly used devices to illicit sympathy. One falls for the prostitute with a heart, a brain, and real feelings, the other for his dog and his car.

    I commend SOMERSBY for attempting an urban revenge tale without a traditional lead, were the event, a killing, takes center stage. A who-dunnit seems to fit right in to an ensemble cast like this. It reminded me of FRAGMENTS, a script by Roy Freirich, which isn’t about revenge but does follow a large cast of characters after a senseless slaying, In Fragments, none of the characters, the survivors, are allowed to eclipse the event.

    But I think the problem here may be that the intro with the two brothers was a bit misleading, it felt like they were going to be the main characters, two young brothers being shot dead gets you all the sympathy you need. So, although I enjoyed the scene of them leaving the stadium, in the end, it wasn’t necessary.

    These opening sequences need to be more visual vignettes, less detailed, and without the common traits of a TV procedural.

    The main challenge with an ensemble cast is going to be what you reveal and when. A story like this should release details slowly and be arranged so that characters don’t have to be told information that the audience already knows. Where the two brothers were coming from is information we can pick up at the time
    the mother, Tecca, is learning that they’ve been killed. This way,
    there’s a turn, a new beat in the scene where a character needs to catch up with the audience.

    Re: TITLE PAGE

    The title page font is fine by me. Though it does look like Ralph Steadman’s inking for the Hunter S. Thompson stories. Basically, any font you pick instead of design yourself will remind someone of another brand. Designing your own logo or graphic for the title page is not a bad idea, especially if it’s sci-fi, but you really need to make it your own.

    • charliesb

      OT: Speaking of OUT OF THE FURNACE

      Did you see the trailer for BLACK MASS? (also directed by Scott Cooper) Despite the hair piece and strange contacts, I thought Johnny Depp was freaking mesmerizing in it. We’ve been watching him play various versions of the same quirky outsider for so long, I almost forgot how good he can be.

      • Midnight Luck

        I thought it was an awesome trailer where the “pressure cooker, creep factor” keeps rising as it plays out. You could tell there was something not quite right with this guy, and you are on pins and needles wondering what is going to happen. Is he going to hurt the other guy? or not?

        It reminded me of the “Do you think I’m funny” scene with Joe Pesci in GOODFELLA’S. As it keeps going on for an unnatural amount of time, you start thinking, “he might just kill Henry Hill”.

      • Eddie Panta

        I actually hadn’t seen it until you sent the link.
        Glad I caught it before the article here on SS.
        A character’s eyes are very important.

  • S.C.

    OT: Anyone excited by this guy’s return (and the way he’s doing it)?

    • Magga

      Dunno, but I’d love to get that level of photography on my own phone

      • S.C.

        There’s a question of whether this is a found footage movie – as publicized – or not.

    • Eddie Panta

      I’m more excited about that Celebrity Cruise.

      This trailer needs that Nirvana song SLIVER… Grandma take me home… Grandma take me home

    • Kirk Diggler

      Looks like Shama-lama-ding-dong is doing horror parody now. There’s no way that is unintentionally bad, right? Then I think of The Happening and realize, yeah, he sucks.

      • S.C.

        It is listed on imdb as horror/comedy, so I think that’s fair enough. Actually I liked The Happening – the whole film was like the hanging scene from The Omen. I never QUITE got the whole Shyamalan hatred thing. I didn’t like all his movies, but the guy showed talent.

        I think this quirky take on kids-in-the-oven type fairy tales puts him back on track. Mega-budget fantasy wasn’t really his thing.

        • Kirk Diggler

          The trailer is terrible. Just awful. YMMV.

      • charliesb

        I’m probably being over sensitive* but God do I wish that “parody” of his name would fucking die. It’s fine to hate his work, hate his ego, even hate his face if you’re so inclined, but do we have to make fun of his name just because it’s hard to pronounce?

        *Full disclosure, my own last name is hard to pronounce and often butchered.

  • klmn

    Carson, how can you call The Equalizer a spec?

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088513/combined

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

    Congrats Sommersby, great to see a top commenter land in the AF spotlight!
    Nice to see that hard-earned status pay off for a regular contributor.
    First off, this is an easy read, not a surprise given the source.

    Seems odd the boys don’t use Waze or some other app to navigate.
    GPS has been standard for a long time, even in my poor neighborhood.
    Irks me to no end to see a murder hinge on a logic gap and convenient timing.
    Everyone uses their cellphones or GPS device to navigate these days.

    Not sure why we needed the domestic stuff at home with the kids.
    Consider starting with the detective and then filling in the details.
    Doesn’t read like its story critical to see the entire murder happen.
    Because now, I’m ahead of the cops. I have to wait for them to catch up.
    These kinds of scenes tend to feel unrewarding to readers. Get rid of them.

    Whereas, if we arrive with the police, the reader only gets RELEVANT FACTS.
    And it’s delivered by authority figures, the cops. So we believe them.
    This take on your opener would draw me into your story. Consider it.
    Overall though, this is a solid read with a genuine crisis to resolve.

    The video content in italics is tiring. Have a cop sum it up for us, please.
    I’m not complaining about your formatting, it’s pretty clean.
    Save for a curiously thin margin at the bottom of some of the pages.
    The Burden of Investment (BOI) of those video logs was weighing me down.
    Giving us more cop time accelerates your tale and eliminates the BOI on readers.

    I recommend cutting out the opener showing the kids’ murder.
    You eliminate so many potential MYSTERY BOXES far too soon.
    And there wasn’t anything in those pages that I didn’t gather later.
    Don’t pass up this juicy opportunity to compel the reader to be observant and reduce BOI.

    And I also think it will allow you to get to the RETRIBUTION part of your tale sooner.
    It’s all over your logline, but there isn’t a single hint of it in Act One.
    Knowing the killer’s identity, I went back and re-read the opening pages.
    I still don’t see the value of those 8 pages of pre-murder business.

    Personal pet peeve: I absolutely LOATHE the word, “Homies”.
    Also, the term is Mexican in origin, reads out of place in Detroit.
    But there’s plenty of Homeboys all over my L.A. County hood.

    P. 55 I feel like Mark should be BEGGING for death here.
    He’s a tortured soul… “Go ahead, pull the trigger! Do it!”
    The gang would see the DEATH WISH in his eyes and probably back off.
    This new beat would be a great RED HERRING for your killer reveal.
    Make the cops focus on erratic Mark sooner, all the while the real killer is free.
    And maybe that pressure compels Mark to eventually take his own life?

    P. 63 Keeshawn & Delroy scene would support starting your story later.
    This dramatic irony needs to happen sooner. Not enough of it in your script.
    Bait the reader with this and we’ll keep turning pages. However…

    If we start the investigation with granny, that re-shuffles the deck.
    Everything that’s come before can be summed up by the cops to us.
    Use this in conjunction with say… pressure from City Hall/Governor!
    Now you’ve got a powder keg of gang deception and a political nightmare.
    That may be enough to keep this tale focused on cops instead of your killer.

    P. 70 Brandt sums up everything we had to read through in Act One.
    This further supports starting your story later with granny’s demise.
    Sometimes you gotta write the backstory to REFINE your tale down to its meat.
    I went through this with my first script, had to re-crack the story.
    Didn’t realize it myself until I read the pages later.

    P. 86 We get the vigilante reveal. But it we knew their identity much sooner…
    Those cops interviews would be SUPER TENSE, thanks to dramatic irony.

    SUMMARY: Competent writing. There’s a real challenge here for future drafts.
    The ensemble approach isn’t shepherding the reader to the your best stuff.
    And that is making the reader CARE about your would-be vigilante.
    That’s the engine that drove, PRISONERS. This is a female-driven take on that device.
    Put us inside your vigilante’s head. Force us to EMPATHIZE with your killer.

    I feel like we’re saddled with uninvolved supporting characters for the duration.
    The juiciest arc in your tale is watching a caring person turn into a vigilante.
    We want to see how that happens, everything else is strictly procedural.
    Force the reader to watch that descent from grief into madness.
    It’s a big leap. I know. But this big STORY CRACK will elevate your tale.
    This new approach is the textbook definition of — ELEVATED GENRE.

    I have a bold suggestion…Swap out Plot Cops for following your Vigilante.
    When cops come to them with news, the TENSION is now SUPER HIGH, why?
    Because we know the truth! All thanks to tasty DRAMATIC IRONY.
    Give the reader that much insight into the drama and we’re hooked.

    Or if you want to keep it largely procedural…
    Start with the first innocent victim of the vigilante. Granny.
    Then bring in your cops to find out why an innocent was hit…
    Gangs don’t kill grannies, what gives Detective? Hmmm, a mystery.
    With this take you can keep the killer’s identity concealed for a while.
    This allows the reader to play catch up about the dead white kids too.
    We can hear about that case in the news, then it connects to our victim.

    Also…The city could be outraged, those dead white kids parents’ are in POLITICS.
    A scandal like that causes all sorts of problems for your lowly detectives.
    Their superiors pressure them for fast results, careers are on the line.
    A simple adjustment to the victim’s backstory SUPERCHARGES the TENSION.
    If you want to tell your story with cops, these COMPLICATIONS can help.

    A Vigilante killing innocents won’t fly, unless we’re in their head and EMPATHIZE.
    In our eyes, your killer is just as much of a monster as those that killed the white kids.
    PRISONERS did a fine job of exploring that moral chasm as its protag struggled.
    But there wasn’t a Point of No Return cuz the victim was kidnapped and kept alive.
    In DEATH WISH, we stay with our vigilante killer and witness his moral descent.
    We SYMPATHIZE with him, because he lost EVERYONE that mattered to him.
    If you can make me care about your vigilante, then take this dark arc and run with it.

    But as written, Retribution intentionally doesn’t have a clear protag.
    No one the reader’s invested in. Act Two mostly pushes plot across the page.
    If the cop investigation was amazing, I wouldn’t care at all about a sole protag.
    But merely solid isn’t enough to keep a reader hanging on until Act Three.

    I hope there’s some wisdom in either one of these approaches that helps out.
    Best wishes to Sommersby on future drafts, I’d be happy to read for him again!

  • charliesb

    Congrats Sommersby, I finished the script last weekend, but thought I’d wait till today to chime in with some thoughts/suggestions.

    Overall your script is well written, other than the opening scene which feels a little too convenient, I think the procedural parts of your script are great and believable. I agree with Carson that you need to focus the story on a main character, but I would choose Marietti instead of Tecca.

    I think what’s missing from this script are the parts where we get to know and understand the characters beyond their views on this case. We need to feel that these characters are fully fledged human beings who go on to do other things when they walk out of the scenes we’ve just read.

    The other thing that stuck with me was how quick Tecca became a cold blooded murderer. And while Carson may think that these people deserved it, they were just family members of the “alleged perpetrators” gunning down someones mom, or girlfriend is even more cold blooded than the original murders in my opinion (another reason I’d remove the opening scene). I think we need to feel the build up of hopelessness and anger that Tecca feels before she snaps. I know most people hate the jump forward, but I think it might work in this case.

    My suggestion is that you show the case spinning it’s wheels, you have higher ups pushing to drop it/close it whatever, you show Tecca and her husbands frustration and their marriage continue to unravel.

    You jump forward a bit, and Tecca’s husband is full on drunk loser who lives on his boat, and Tecca has started a “relationship” with Marietti. Now I know that seems a bit much but hear me out. This is a way for you to both keep both parts of the investigation tethered together, and a way to give Marietti some real stakes. No way he believes that the woman he’s sleeping with is the murderer. Maybe Marietti has done something like this before (slept with someone inappropriate) and this is a source of conflict between him and his partner. Maybe there’s conflict between him and Dobb’s because she’s the women he actually want’s but she won’t date cops. There’s also conflict between him and Tecca’s husband, because he’s put two and two together and knows what’s up. Point being, we need more personal conflict.

    Tecca on the other hand, moved herself into this position on purpose to stay on top of the case, and maybe to manipulate the evidence trail. Marietti sees her crying after killing her first victim and assumes (as we do) that she’s crying over her sons. We get to see the mindset of the killer without realizing it’s the killer until later on in the script.

    Whatever you decide to do, I do think flushing out these characters a bit more (outside of the case) will help.

    Congrats again, and good luck with it!

  • ripleyy

    Congratulations to Somersby. Glad to see he finally got his moment in the sun!

    Another reason why John Wick worked is because it even dabbled (and by dabble, I mean tipped its toe in the water and no more) into the comic book trend in the form of subtitles. The directors have even confirmed this.

    Storytelling is now a product of inbreeding. That’s the truth. Storytelling has, and will continue to be, a product of inbreeding where ideas are inspired by other ideas that are merged with another idea that was inspired by something else – and I can’t tell you for certain if this is a good thing and whether or not the future of storytelling is going to survive (someone will try, I’m sure, to bring up the “storytelling is art” debacle, in which I will say art as in painting has never suffered from this and photography stays mainly to itself).

    Where this is going is that I think we need to continue to push ideas harder and further we go along with it. A couple of years ago, we never got shows on television like Game of Thrones because that was dark and twisted, and now numerous shows like that are popping up everywhere. Television is rejuvenated because of this.

    If you want to continue to stay on top, ideas need to treated less with care. They need to be darker, they need to keep pushing the envelope further and further away AND you need to go to the places no one will want to go. Those dark pockets, those territories writers are unwilling to go because it makes them feel uncomfortable.

    Ideas are plentiful so I know for certain storytelling will never die out. It won’t. No matter how bastardized ideas may become, how dark they will have to be, there is no shortage, it’ll just be a lot more difficult to up the ante and overcome the high standards. That’s basically what I’m getting at: ideas are going to get a lot tougher to set themselves apart, to stay on top, and to overcome the bar that something previous to it has set. But that bar can always be jumped over and it is not as impossible to do as I’m making out. It’ll just require a lot more thought and cunningness.

    I think, in terms of Retribution, the idea is just too safe. I may not have read the script, but going off the review alone, I think that in order for this to set itself from everything else, it’ll have to overcome that bar I talked about. I have faith Somersby could overcome that bar quite easily.

    In the end, I think ideas are going to need a lot more thought. It isn’t like the early days when ideas like this were considered groundbreaking. Unfortunately now the opposite has happened: ideas like this one are safe.

    Being surprised is getting extremely difficult now because we’ve seen a thousand variations of the same idea. Horror, despite how much I love it, is just near impossible to make scary anymore because of the inbreeding I talked about (ideas that borrow off other ideas and merging with another).

    Paranormal Activity was scary shit, now it’s not. That brief moment made me realize horror could very well be relevant again. But it won’t be now, nor tomorrow.

    But this also lends itself to something else: We’ve now become so aware of what is happening that it’s easy to find an original idea and exploit it the best we can. Original ideas are currency that will get you further ahead, make you smarter, and will make a little more money if they’re successful. Studios have become subjects to this mindset where if one idea worked, surely this replica will. I’m here to say this isn’t a factory where we build the same exact replica (ie: another Bad Boys-like film) and continue. It’s more than that.

    You give the audience an original idea and they’ll scoff it down them. They want more. Find that original idea, one that one virginal, golden gem in the sand, and sell it.

    The downside? That original idea will become a subject to inbreeding. Someone will see it, think “Yeah! That’s a good idea!” and manipulate it. Someone comes along, sees this, continues until that one idea that was pure, is no longer that.

    Basically, when it all comes down to it, is this: You have a choice to come up with a wholly original idea and hope to God it works. That it pays off, because if you do (think FOUND FOOTAGE), you’re going to bypass a lot of lines to make it to the top. Studios will see the success and add it to their production line to replicate it later over and over.

    OR

    You can continue this bandwagon where you piggyback off another idea. If you do, and that is COMPLETELY fine if you want to because I personally do, make sure that idea you’re using is pushing as many boundaries as absolutely possible. Go big, or don’t go big at all.

    • charliesb

      A couple of years ago, we never got shows on television like Game of Thrones because that was dark and twisted, and now numerous shows like that are popping up everywhere. Television is rejuvenated because of this.

      I’m not sure it was the dark and twisted storylines that kept those shows from being made, it was the budgets. The rise in popularity of non cable tv is what’s making these shows possible. ROME aired 10 years ago and that show had some pretty dark and twisted story lines.

      If you want to continue to stay on top, ideas need to be treated less with care. They need to be darker they need to keep pushing the envelope further and further away AND you need to go to the places no one will want to go.

      I’m not convinced that “darker” is always the answer. I think “realistic” is a better goal. People have become really good at sniffing out insincerity. Understand the world of the story you are telling and be true to it.

  • Travis Jones

    I caught that Tecca would do something at the funeral. Her reaction (brooding) didn’t ring true of a mother with two dead sons. Also, family members aren’t allowed at enterments, as far as I know.

    I’ve seen suggestions of pushing the Point-of-view to Tecca. That is interesting. Maybe even switch POV at an unorthodox point. The best and most unexpected reveal in any thriller to me is John Doe showing up at the precinct at the end of Act II in Seven.

  • carsonreeves1

    Let me put it this way. If you read two stories in the newspaper, one about an innocent young girl getting killed and one about a serial killer’s mother getting killed, which one makes you more upset?

    In a perfect world, every life is equal but that’s not reality. Especially in fiction, since we know people aren’t really dying. Silence of the Lambs doesn’t work if the person kidnapped is a 20 year old man as opposed to a 20 year old woman.

    • Bob Bradley

      This is bad psychology. Movies have blunted our perceptions
      (and maybe that’s kept us sane.) I don’t think your remark is defensible. In reality. Maybe the better point is that the writer didn’t make you care about the innocents or really anything. He cared about his concept and his plotting. But he didn’t live in any of the characters. So who cares who lives and dies? In John Wick I didn’t care about any of the characters either. But it was cool to watch people get killed in skillful ways. In reality, this is sick. In stories, it’s okay. I guess.
      A mother turning serial killer is a big idea. But it’s also a bad idea…possibly brought on by watching too many movies…which have blunted your perceptions and made the writer find an extreme idea and execute it. But he didn’t bring the reader in because….who really wants to go there? Nobody wants to feel all that pain. It’s what makes us not feel. Not feeling is your enemy.
      I thought the Sharon Tate’s dad script was a good idea because we could clearly root for him…until he gutted a young girl-murderer and then what am i really rooting for? Everybody, at a certain evolutionary level, wants justice. But there is no justice without mercy. If you write with no mercy I think your script will suffer for it.

    • Ninjaneer

      O.T.
      C-sauce, are you planning on doing a movie review of Ex Machina? You gave the script a WTR but I’d be interested in what you think of the finished product.

      Sometimes when I read a script or watch a movie I think “I wish I would have written that”. Ex Machina falls into that category for me.

  • carsonreeves1

    I agree the dialogue could’ve had more pop. But can you give a specific example of a line or exchange that didn’t work and why? Might be helpful.

  • Evangelos

    For me, making it from Tecca’s point of view and watching a grieving mother submerge into murder and oblivion is so much more interesting then finding out from someone else’s point of view. Not every story needs a mystery, but there are still ways to add mystery from this perspective.

  • S.C.

    We’ve been over this umpteen times.

    “Umpteen” sounds British and a bit old-timey. How about a million times?

    Okay, Ma…. We’re hardly moving, Mom.

    Ma and Mom. Two different terms of endearment in the space of twenty seconds.

    Point made.
    Only cause you say so.
    Gotta run. Don’t wait up.

    These don’t sound like young kids. It sounds like… MOVIE dialogue.

    Maybe if the kids spoke in monosyllables.

    OK.
    Whatever.
    Sure.

    Sound more like kids now.

    TY
    Shit ever goes down on this, we ain’t taking the fall for you, Delroy. Best you just disappear.

    DELROY
    …What?

    TY
    I said disappear. We don’t want to see you around no more. Make yourself scarce. Simple as that.

    I’ve not read the whole script but I’m imagining that Ty and Delroy are street hoodlums, ruffians, maybe ethnic.

    Ty’s first line isn’t too bad. Not memorable, but passable. But “Make yourself scarce. Simple as that.” could be an old lady talking.

    Maybe drop Delroy’s interruption too.

    TY
    I’ll make it so simple for you. Shit goes down on this, we ain’t taking the fall. You best just disappear, Delroy. Like forever.

    I don’t know if that’s great. Being a Man of Kent and not of an “urban” persuasion, I find it best to just make up street slang rather than trying to copy it.

    No. I want a guarantee. Your word on all you hold holy and loving and sacred. It’s important to me… You tell me the truth and I’ll surrender the weapon.

    That’s GOOD dialogue.

    What I would do, if you can, is do a character report in Final Draft, look at each character’s dialogue on its own then make notes if the dialogue patterns don’t match line for line.

    Make sure someone can tell which character is talking without having to double check the name above the dialogue (sounds tough but it’s actually quite do-able).

  • klmn

    Maybe it should be like Death Wish. Tecca would be an avenging mom in the beginning, and go on to become a vigilante in the rest of the movie – and in the sequels. That would be something I’d like to see.

    And there are plenty of older actresses who have trouble getting parts. Maybe Kathleen Turner or Kathy Bates. And that’s just the Kathys.

  • Michael

    Well deserved review, congratulations to Somersby. As Carson and others point out, Somersby is past that first hurdle of writing cleanly so his technique doesn’t get in the way and we can focus on bigger issues. I especially liked his writing during the action scenes where a fast reading pace is required. Somersby is also strong in his visual descriptions, I could see the movie as I was reading.

    He has a lot of characters and they are easily distinguished, even thought he was thin on character descriptions. Personally, I’m the most forgiving about that because by the end of casting, a man could become a woman, fat to thin or young to old (like Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow). Writers should be better about putting personality traits in their descriptions, which reveal more about how the character will act. Specifically to Retribution, we need to spend more time with Tecca and Marc before they get thrown into the meat grinder. I wasn’t put off by not having a main character to follow, Carson’s one-on-one connection, but spending more time with the Bellwood’s in Act 1 would have cured that problem given where the story ends up.

    As far as the plot and story go, brenkilco’s review pretty much nailed it. For the most part this is “been there before,” with no surprises. The core plot point of Tecca killing the wrong people for the wrong reason has some great potential, but I don’t think that point connected because there didn’t seem to be a central theme to reinforce that point. In general, this is a huge problem with a lot of scripts. Whether because of genre or whatever, so many writers don’t feel the need to include an over arching theme in their scripts. Well, that’s the subconscious glue that holds a story together. It should be the only reason one choses to tell any particular story. I think if Somersby could define what that is in this story and focus it through Tecca’s journey, you could have a very impactful story.

    George touched on what I think is Somersby’s next big hurdle and that’s the dialog. Carson asked for some examples, well sorry, I say throw a dart, you can’t miss. Maybe it’s the genre of procedurals where detectives have to discuss the evidence, but everything is discussed so straight forward and on-the-nose. It’s as if the characters are thinking out loud, I felt like a mind reader. And it wasn’t just the police talking like that, every character did. No subtext, no dramatic irony, only this is this and that is that. The characters basically said everything that happened, even though we already knew it and stated to some degree what was about to happen, spoiling every twist long before it happened. There were literally no surprises because in some fashion the writer foreshadowed them happening.

    To see specifically where I had these issues, here are my notes as I read. Some are nitpicky, some my personal taste, some substantial and harsh (sorry, I would want those kind of notes):

    P. 5 “There’s tension in the air.” Don’t describe what is going on emotionally, find an interaction between Tecca and Marc that portrays tension and describe that.

    P.10-11 Minimize police talk about the evidence. Some of it is just to make them sound like experienced cops, which we assume they are and the rest is the cops bringing themselves up to speed with information we already know. These two pages could be one half page and move the story along.

    P. 12-13 Not liking the dialog between Gyro and Jasmine. This is a 19 year old gangbanger and his mother. The dialog reads like an average mother quizzing their son for coming home late and not acknowledging the gangbanger reality that exists between them. The tattoo and job conversation seems too convenient, they must have had this discussion a hundred times by now, so there should be deeper emotions exchanged between them that would add a lot more substance to this scene.

    P. 15 Brant busting on Dobbs is okay, Marietti doing it is too much. Etch-A-Sketch joke doesn’t work because Dobbs didn’t create the video, she’s just playing it. Besides, all surveillance video looks like crap, so Marietti’s jab at her makes no sense.

    P. 20-21 “Do you have children?” “Then you can’t understand what it’s like to lose them.” These are two of the most overused lines of dialog for this scene, these need to go.

    P. 22 “What did I do? I didn’t do nothing!” “Then why are you running , asshole?” Again, two crazily overused lines, the first ones that come to mind when writing a foot chase scene.

    P. 30 EXT. OFFICE BUILDING – DAY A beat to establish, then—
    Lose this, it’s unnecessary.

    P. 30 Do you need this back-to-work scene?

    P. 49 Another establishing shot, slows the read down. (Note: lose all of these.)

    P. 50 “Call Dobbs…” Instead of calling Dobbs to find a connection, the connection should already be made. Let’s move this procedural along. The thought that made you write this dialog is the same thought the reader is already having. You need to get ahead of the reader and surprise us.

    P. 52-55 Nerf gun scene, first good scene in the script. I would have liked to see Julio shoot the flare into Marc’s car, setting it on fire, leaving Marc to deal with it.

    P. 63 ***SPOILER*** I know you want those big twists, but this one doesn’t work for me. Not liking that Delroy is Hoodie #1, he’s the first CI Marietti questions and that is too much of a coincidence for me. More importantly, the detectives have focused in on the V-Boys from the start, so Marietti would start his investigation with someone with close ties to the V-Boys, not someone from another gang.

    P. 63-64 Questioning the authenticity of the ethnic dialog. It sounds off throughout the script.

    P. 68-69 ***SPOILER*** This scene makes it obvious that Tecca took the gun. If your next big twist is Tecca is the killer, you just spoiled it.

    P. 69-72 This whole scene between the detectives is repetitious and on-the-nose, you are walking us through the logic of the detectives catching up with what we already know or highly suspect. It’s a “nothing new here” scene.

    P. 74-75 Nice Pizza Shop scene.

    P. 76 Tecca: “…Did he mention anything about the recent shootings?” That nails it, she’s the killer. There is no way she would ask such a leading and stupid question. This whole scene has to go.

    P. 79 Describe Rosie and Dobbs as shaking their heads “NO.”

    P. 81 Marc: “Actually… no.” Unless he bought the gun illegally off the street, which he wouldn’t admit to, you can’t buy a handgun without first doing the paperwork and being approved. And in Detroit, you would need a gun permit before you could do any of that. This dialog would get him a mandatory year in jail at the very least.

    P. 82 Now Marc’s buddy is going to do some mandatory time in jail. You need to research handgun laws.

    P. 86 Too coincidental that Delroy fingers Dante and Dante was represented by Tecca’s law firm.

    P. 86 Dobbs: “But she has access to the files.” OMG, not only is this on-the-nose, but you underlined it to make sure we didn’t miss it. That dialog is pink-elephant-in-the-room-on-the-nose, there is no way we will miss it. You have a strong need to over explain in dialog things the character is just figuring out that the reader has known for forty pages. Experiencing a characters moment of revelation in this manner is anticlimactic. You need to have moments where it’s a revelation for both the character and the reader, otherwise, it’s just more repetition of information we don’t need.

    P. 87 “It’s Tecca.” From my prior notes, it’s no surprise. This would be a great twist, if you hadn’t given it away several times leading up to the twist.

    P. 89 “…Two weeks ago.” and “Kenny! The file room! Now!” At this point, the liability to the law firm is astronomical, more than ever Howard would be saying get a warrant and preemptively fighting the issuing of a warrant. Here’ a chance to put a real obstacle that in the path of the two detectives, that makes sense, but the opportunity is passed over.

    P. 89 Okay, a lot of sound and fury about what to do to prevent Tecca from killing anyone else. How about calling her cell and asking her to come in? I’m sure the cat’s out of the bag because Howard is calling her immediately to say “What the fuck?” and “We’ll represent you.”

    P. 90 Reeva: “No one’s gonna shoot us.” Okay, this is a teenager saying this, but this whole scene is like one of those scenes in a bad horror movie where after, half their friends have been killed, the character still makes these kinds of comments. This is a serious drama and the characters should take it serious at this point, even a teenager. They should be like “Some crazy white bitch is after my ass” and be all that about it. This is a tough neighborhood with tough people, strike a different tone for this scene.

    P. 91 Jasmine does more explaining of what we already know and so on-the-nose.

    P. 97 Marietti: “Hey, Dobbs…” We know what he’s going to do, do you have to tell us and ruin it? Why aren’t the V-Boys surrounding the basketball court as he walks away and bang, they’re dead?

    P. 100 Okay, sorry, I don’t mean to be snarky. The obvious is finally happening, but first, once again, you character (Marietti in this case) feels compelled to explain the obvious before letting the obvious happen. This should have happened back on P. 97.

    P. 105 Is Tyrese, Sgt. Gibson?

    P. 106 I think you have a time line issue with Marietti picking up Marc Bellwood. Did everyone just sit around for an hour?

    P. 109 Sgt. Gibson: “If that looney tune makes any sudden moves, take her out.” Again, you are foreshadowing what is going to happen and ruining the surprise.

    P. 111 Ty and Keeshawn should and would be dead. It defeats the purpose of the earlier scene that they are not, because it was the only way they were going to receive justice.

    Somersby, you are one of the best commenters on this blog, so I hope these notes are helpful. While this script wasn’t for me, I wish you luck with it and all you future writing.

  • Citizen M

    Finished it. Very professionally written.

    Overall, I enjoyed it, but I felt around page 41 it came to a fork in the road and took both paths, splitting the story evenly between the police and the parents. This led to a loss of pace and momentum. I think you should concentrate on one or the other (my vote would be to make it more of a police procedural).

    Some random notes:

    – We need a scene in the beginning showing the boys in an affectionate relationship with their parents to motivate the mother’s grief.

    – Maybe the younger cop could be connected to the family, like an older brother, or a sister’s boyfriend. Maybe he also could have given them a lift to the ball game, so he feels personally responsible for the murders.

    – Make the father more of a right-winger, but he’s all tough talk and no do. Helps to throw suspicion on him.

    – Some of the twists were too blatantly telegraphed.

    – Try and get more of a sense of place. If the words Detroit and Grosse Pointe hadn’t been mentioned, it could have been anywhere.