Congrats to Paul Schellens! Who yesterday won the “Introductory Character Scene” Contest. Really good scene – did everything I asked for. Was even clever enough to use a scene I’d previously suggested, which always gets you points. :) Nice job, Paul!
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Premise: After accepting a gig to craft a demon mask, a makeup effects artist must protect her and her daughter from her abusive husband and the sinister forces that stalk them.
Why You Should Read: I’m not a mother but I want to be (eventually). I also want to be a paid screenwriter, proficient Japanese speaker, dog owner and in another life, Cirque du Soleil performer. What most people know (especially in this industry), is it’s really hard to find balance and sometimes you must sacrifice something to get your heart’s desire.
Besides that idea, I wanted to pair movie horror with the real horror of domestic violence. I researched, googled and trolled forums to craft my story. It wasn’t until after a reading when a woman approached me that I realized I was telling her story. It hurt to hear her share her accounts of abuse that she’d mostly kept to herself. I hope if anything this story inspires people to take control of their own lives.
Details: 103 pages (updated draft from last week)
Guys, I’ve been doing this for awhile now. So please stop. Stop trying to game the system. It’s not just a bad idea here at Scriptshadow. It’s a bad idea for your pursuit of success in this business. If your script didn’t get the requisite number of votes to win a review, read the comments and figure out what the problems were. This is one of the only places on the internet where you can do that. So take advantage of it.
I love self-promotion. It’s a huge under-talked-about element of this business. But self-promotion cannot prop up subpar writing. You have to get the writing part down before you blitz the world with your work. But how do you know when you’re ready, you ask. That’s a bit harder to determine. But Scriptshadow is a great place to start. If legitimate people aren’t voting for your script and if those same people are agreeing on common issues, accept that you have some work to do and then go get the work done. There are no shortcuts here. So stop trying to create them.
Okay, I don’t want to take away the spotlight from the true winner the week, Devil’s Workshop, so let’s get to it! Note that I’m reading a newer draft than the one you guys read, I’m guessing because Katherine incorporated a few of your suggestions.
Serena Berkin is in an abusive relationship in every sense of the word. At the center of the abuse is her husband’s, Isaac, desire to have a child, something Serena has been secretly preventing by taking birth control pills.
But when Isaac discovers her secret, he eliminates that problem and the two end up having a daughter. Flash forward nine years where the bulk of our story takes place. Serena is now a struggling make-up artist secretly using the money she makes from jobs to save up so she and her daughter, Charlotte, can get out of this dungeon of a marriage.
So Serena takes a job on a low-budget film that needs a demon character quickly. As she starts creating this demon, strange things start happening around the house, such as Charlotte talking to people when no one is around and waking up with strange bruises on her body.
At first Serena assumes that the culprit is Isaac. But when Isaac is sent to jail, Serena notices that Charlotte’s strange behavior and mysterious injuries continue. In comes Isaac’s mother, a rich old hag who would stick up for her son if she found out he was one of the 9/11 terrorists. She’s convinced that it’s Serena abusing the child, and begins proceedings to gain custody of Charlotte.
In the meantime, as Serena continues to create this monster, stranger and stranger things begin happening, such as the actor cast to play the demon taking on the persona of the monster when he wears the suit. Is he just method acting? Or could this be something more?
Serena holds off on the assumption that this suit could actually be demonic until the evidence is too strong to ignore. But by that time, there are so many people closing in on her, trying to steal the daughter she, ironically, never wanted in the first place, that this demon may be the least of her worries.
Wow, this was a good script!
I really only have one major complaint, and it’s the opening scene. The scene shows our main character, Serena, secretly taking birth control pills, her husband discovering her, and then him pinning her against the wall. We then see: “9 YEARS LATER.”
I bring this up because I see it a lot. The starting-off-with-a-flashback scene that isn’t big enough to necessitate a major time jump afterwards. Look, it’s a good scene. Our main character is discovered pulling off some shady shit by her abusive husband.
But that’s not a “CUT TO 9 YEARS LATER” opening scene. If you’re going to cut to 9 years later, you have to hit us with something huge in that opener. Somebody needs to die. Something utterly unforgettable needs to happen.
A couple of weeks ago we had “American Witch,” which started with a group of people carrying a witch into the caves and burying her alive as she stuck an acorn up her vagina which we then watched grow over the next 100 years. THAT’S a scene worthy of jumping forward in time after. This is just a normal well-written scene.
But after that, the script gets good. Katherine does a really nice job of building an emotional core into her story. Sure, this is about a demon suit that may or may not be associated with the devil. But it’s also about a woman who’s trying to protect her child from an abusive husband.
And what’s cool about The Devil’s Workshop is that it isn’t straightforward. It’s not black and white. I loved that this is a daughter Serena never wanted. And now, ironically, she’ll do anything to protect said daughter against the man who DID want her.
Another thing I want to touch on is originality. Look, we’re all trying to come up with that premise that nobody’s heard of before. That’s what turns heads in Hollywood. But it’s hard to find anything original when you’re competing against 100 years of film.
Lucky for writers, there’s a “next best thing.” Which is a world or a job that not many people know about. In this case, that’s a make-up artist. The reason this still works is because a lot of what you’re going to be writing about are things that the average person doesn’t know about. Which means your script is going to feel “new” and “fresh.” And that’s exactly how I felt here. Sure, we’ve seen plenty of horror films like this. But not from a make-up artist’s point of view. So that was fun.
Katherine wraps all this up by writing about something she cares about, that she’s emotionally invested in – abuse and the power of standing up to it, of getting out of it. Never underestimate the power of something you care deeply about. It comes out in the writing and it turns your script from just another horror flick or just another thriller flick, into something that hits people on a gut level. And that’s how you write a screenplay that stays with someone. You hit’em in the gut.
I really liked this. The only other change I’d suggest is possibly making Isaac more three-dimensional. You want to be careful not to make your villains too villain-y. Isaac coming home and calling his wife’s make-up work garbage is a bit on-the nose. What if that’s what he loved about her? Her artistry? That would make him even more fucked up that he’d be able to go from that to beating her.
Just a thought. But in the end, these problems were minor compared to the script’s strengths.
Script link (new draft): The Devil’s Workshop
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Everybody says, “Write what you know,” but then you have writers who all they do is play video games all day, so they write about a character who plays video games all day. “Write what you know!” they defend their script with. Uhh, no not really.
So today, I’m going to make two addendums to this famous piece of advice.
1) Write about the most interesting thing you know.
2) Package your “write what you know” idea inside a marketable premise or genre.
Let’s say you’re a housewife. You could write a story about being a houswife because you know it well. But is there enough to work with there? Is it that interesting? Probably not. But being a make-up artist? That’s a pretty unique job with some potentially interesting avenues to explore. I’d pick that over a housewife in a second.
Next, create a marketable component around your “write what you know” subject matter. For example, Katherine could’ve written a drama about a make-up artist who’s in a custody battle with her child. But that’s not going to sell tickets. Instead, she placed her subject matter in one of the most marketable genres in the movie business – horror. And the result is something that could actually be a movie. Well done!