Amateur screenplay Scion had a promising first ten pages, enough to get a few dozen e-mails of endorsement. Let’s find out how the rest of the script held up.
Amateur Friday Submission Process: To submit your script for an Amateur Review, send in a PDF of your script, a PDF of the first ten pages of your script, your title, genre, logline, and finally, why I should read your script. Use my submission address please: Carsonreeves3@gmail.com. Your script and “first ten” will be posted. If you’re nervous about the effect of a bad review, feel free to use an alias name and/or title. It’s a good idea to resubmit every couple of weeks so your submission stays near the top.
Premise: (from writer) A naive young man’s dreams of a normal life is hijacked by a charismatic “faith healer” and a powerful media tycoon when both become hell bent on exploiting the young man’s amazing gift…the power to raise the dead.
About: Picked this script as it was one of the few amateur scripts I’ve sent out in my newsletter that I’ve gotten positive responses on. Most of those were based on the first 10 pages. Intrigued to see if the story was sustained afterwards.
Writer: Scotty Davis
Details: 128 pages
There’s a chorus from an old popular sitcom that goes, “You take the good, you take the bad, you take them all and then you have…the facts of life.” That’s sort of how you have to approach amateur screenplays. You’re only going to find that home run every 2-3 years. In the interim, you’re going to find a lot of screenplays that do some good things, but also some bad things. So as Scion started to lose focus, I had to remember that I wasn’t judging an Aaron Sorkin script here. This was a writer still learning the craft, and therefore he was going to make some mistakes.
Just the fact that so many people were able to read his first 10 pages and recommend the script to me was a great achievement for Scotty. But, unfortunately, it’s not the true mark of a good writer (or I should say, “a good writer YET.”). For that to be the case, you have to be able to tell a story all the way through. And that mainly means understanding structure. To tell a story, you need to know how to set up, how to build, and how to conclude, and that’s where I felt Scion fell short. Let’s take a look.
We open on Charlie Thompson racing his wife, Charlotte, to the hospital. She’s gone into labor and it’s one of the ugly kinds. Lots of bloooood. It doesn’t help that there’s a massive thunderstorm fighting them on their way there, and when they get to the hospital, it takes out all the electricity. The doctor does his best anyway, however as he’s helping Charlotte, a lightning flash COMES THROUGH the roof and grabs hold of her. Charlotte dies, but the baby, who we’ll come to know as Caleb, survives.
Turns out that lightning strike left some after effects. Caleb has the power to bring the dead back to life with just his touch. He uses this at first with animals, but eventually starts saving people as well. It doesn’t always work for some reason. But either way, his father, a religious man, tells him he has to be careful with his power. It’s not up to him to decide who lives and dies. That’s God’s decision.
Across the country there’s an up-and-coming 7 year old preacher named Levi Hawkins (yes, 7). Levi heals people too, in front of hundreds every week at church. He’s got a gift for turning people into believers but unlike Caleb, Levi’s healing isn’t real. His father manufacturers backstage deals with fake cripples to be “cured” and it’s made Levi a hot commodity, so much so that he gets his own TV show.
But that show falls apart when it’s clear these Healing specials aren’t getting the ratings they used to. Both Levi and Caleb continue to grow up, and then, when they’re young men, happen to be driving on the same road at the same time and crash into each other. Levi dies a bloody death but Caleb jumps out and pulls one of his life-gripper moves, bringing Levi back to the light. Aha, Levi thinks. This gives him an idea.
Levi whips up a new type of sermon, enlisting a reluctant Caleb as his helper. Levi isn’t just going to heal people this time around. He’s going to bring them back from the dead! Folks are naturally skeptical, but discreetly using Caleb’s touch, Levi’s able to back up his claims. Soon reality TV comes calling. They want to put his show on the air, and they think it’s going to be so big, they want to put it on post-Super Bowl, the biggest time slot of them all! The question is, will the reluctant Caleb do the show? Or will Levi be standing out there on his own?
First I want to point out the good things about Scion. Like I said, there’s a reason this was chosen off its first 10 pages. The writing is really crisp, really visual. I love how Scotty sets a mood and a sense of place. I was right there in that scene with Charlie rushing his pregnant wife to a hospital with a raging thunderstorm outside. It felt authentic. And it was CLEAR. I can’t stress how important that is. I was talking with a friend the other day about how some writers have clean easy-to-read writing styles and others have clunky styles, the kind where you have to read a paragraph twice every half page or so to understand what was said. Scotty’s writing was smooth and strong.
I liked his dialogue too. The thing with dialogue is you don’t always know why you like it. And some dialogue that people love, others hate. But I guess I liked this dialogue because it felt right. It felt like that’s the kind of thing these characters would say. For example, when the Sheriff comes to Charlie’s house looking for Caleb, this simple exchange follows: “I’m here about the boy, Charlie.” “My boy ain’t none of your business.” “Charlie, ain’t a soul in this county laid eyes on your boy in over three months. Folks around here just worried ‘bout him, that’s all.” This may seem like nothing special, but I read tons of scripts where writers would’ve written something like: “I’m here about your son.” “You don’t have permission to check on my son.” “I’m just doing what the office tells me, Charlie. Now let me in.” Small differences, but those difference MAKE a difference. It just goes to show how delicate dialogue can be.
On the downside, there are quite a few things that need to be shored up here. Not to beat a dead horse, but 129 pages on an amateur script raises red flags. It almost always means that the writer doesn’t know how to focus his story and that a lot of unnecessary scenes or subplots will be included. I hate to make that generalization, but it’s almost universally true, and lo and behold, it was the case here in spades.
There’s no real goal in Scion. It’s structured more like an artsy character study, with us following two characters’ lives, Caleb and Levi (as well as a TV producer, who I didn’t get into in the plot breakdown). There’s no rule that says you have to abide by popular dramatic structure, of course, but when you’re building your script around a high concept idea, such as this one, you probably want to play close to the rules. Goals, stakes, urgency. And there really wasn’t any of that here. It wasn’t until late in the story that a true destination was introduced, that being the Super Bowl show, and that had its own series of problems.
As I’ve said on this site before, no matter how good you are with structure, character, and dialogue, the strength of your story usually boils down to interesting and smart choices. You can have a character with a perfectly executed character arc. But if he’s an uninspired boring character, we won’t care. I felt Scotty made a lot of strange choices here that ultimately derailed the story. I thought the whole car crash between the characters was too coincidental. I thought a 7 year old preacher seemed far-fetched. This whole subplot about twins was unnecessarily confusing and never fit in. And then the Super Bowl show felt way too big for a story that had previously existed on an understated plain. At one point in Scion, even the CIA showed up.
If I were Scotty, I’d try to ground this more. Stop trying to infuse it with strange twin twists and the Central Intelligence Agency and Super bowl shows. It smells like you got bored with your own story and tried to throw in a lot of whammies in hopes that it would spice things up. But all it’s done is ruin the story’s focus.
I also think a lot of things could’ve been explained better. Scotty’s actual writing is clear. But there were certain story-related points that were left out or weren’t explained. I was constantly confused about how old the characters were as they aged, for example. I still don’t know if they’re 16 or 25 by the end of the story. Or Caleb’s power. I thought the whole reason he had that power was because the lightning struck his mom as she was giving birth. But then it turns out Charlie has the power too? And I’m still not clear on what the little snake birthmark meant.
Which leaves us in a difficult place. There’s clearly talent on display here, but also a lot of messiness, and more importantly, a lack of focus. Moving forward, I would suggest we come up with a simple goal, or at least individual goals driving each of the characters. Maybe Charlie left Caleb in a lot of debt, and Caleb has to find a way to save his chicken farm before [x] date. Maybe the fallen Levi has a one-shot pitch opportunity with a network for a show in [x] amount of days. He needs something to knock their socks off, and he hears about Caleb’s powers, so he goes and recruits him. With Caleb desperate for money, he has no choice but to join Levi.
These are off the top of my head, and admittedly generic, but they’re a good place to start. We need some sort of form to the story, because right now there isn’t any. And all of this stuff needs to be set up sooner. We can’t dwell too much on their growing up. I would get us further into their lives much faster so we can introduce these goals early on and set the story on track as soon as possible.
Scotty could be a force to reckon with in a couple of years. But he’s gotta work on the structure side of things before he can get there. I wish him luck! :)
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Beware the big late arriving plot point. I’ve seen these in a few scripts recently and I saw it here too. When you try to introduce a big idea as a plot point late in the movie, it never feels natural. That’s because you don’t have time to nurture and grow the plot point, and therefore it feels crammed into the final act. That was the case with the Super Bowl development (in my opinion). It just seemed to come out of nowhere late in the script. The bigness of a plot point like this requires a lot of set up to justify its existence, and you don’t have the time to do all that set-up so late in the story. That’s probably why it felt so out of place.