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Genre: Action Thriller
Premise (from writer): An amnesiac security officer must solve the mystery of the night he and his daughter went missing in order to find her before the rogue network of sophisticated criminals tracking him.
Why You Should Read (from writer): What I did here is set out to write a script that used the gothic surroundings of Prague as a noir character. While the thematic elements of both Bourne & Taken somewhat inspired what I did here, this is designed for an A-list actor to sink their teeth into because it’s largely the story of one man, who remains the focal point throughout, and his struggle to get his memory back and find his daughter. It’s not conventional in its approach and I’ve been told the ending is wickedly un-Hollywood. Because it’s not exactly conventional, I thought this may be a good discussion piece for the variety of writers on your site.
Writer: Nolan Treaty
Details: 107 pages

movies-filth-james-mcavoyJames McAvoy for Sam?

The Followed barely won out an evenly matched Amateur Offerings Weekend. The readers continue to lambast the fact that none of the scripts sound exciting or original. Hey, give these guys a break. It’s hard to come up with a flashy exciting idea. If it wasn’t, everybody would be a millionaire.

But at the same time, I understand their frustration. These loglines do feel a little dull. And while it’s true that it ultimately comes down to execution, it’s much harder to execute the 20 major elements that make up a great screenplay than it is to brainstorm one cool idea.

With that said, the big movie coming out this weekend is John Wick, about as straightforward an action flick as you can get. Let’s hope that taking this same approach turns out well for Nolan Treaty.

30-something Sam has amnesia. And if that’s not bad enough, he’s got some guy named Max calling him every day telling him to get the job done. What job? Sam has to neutralize some target before that target “cripples the system.” Seems a lot to take in for someone who can barely remember his own name.

But Sam soldiers on, listening to this random Max fellow because, we assume, he believes it’s his job to. A few pages later and we learn there’s a big economic summit in Prague and that the SEC director was murdered a few days ago. Now, apparently, whoever murdered him is planning to murder again. That’s what Sam’s trying to prevent. Or so we’re led to believe.

When Sam heads to the hotel where the summit’s being held, he’s stopped by someone named Jakub, who informs Sam that he used to work here! And that the cops are looking for him! Could Sam have been involved in the murder somehow? Jakub assures Sam that the police only want to talk to him, and that he should do so unless he wants to get into more trouble.

Sam also starts remembering something else. He has a daughter! Alison. And she’s gone missing since the big murder. So Sam shifts his focus from taking out the target to looking for his daughter. As all this is going on, Sam keeps getting little flashback memories of his life before the amnesia, which puts all this new information he’s been given into question!  When it’s all said and done, Sam will have to trust his own instincts if he wants to save his daughter and the summit.

Trance-james-mcavoy-35064718-1916-796

I was kinda flabbergasted after reading this one. It certainly felt and read like a thriller. It was sparse. There was plenty of mystery. And yet I never once found myself engaged. I always felt like I was standing outside of the story instead of in the middle of it. Figuring out the exact reasons for this proved challenging at first.  But I eventually discovered five major problems that plagued the story.

RUSHED – The writing felt rushed to me, as if the writer had watched Taken and The Bourne Identity back-to-back, then wrote this in the next 48 hours. The very thing that makes it read like a thriller (the sparse breezy writing) also hurts it. There’s a lack of specificity. There are so many variables without a constant in sight. So the story felt floaty. Mystery men giving directions. Economic Summits whose existence were never satisfactorily explained. Missing daughter storylines arriving out of nowhere, as if they were thought up on the fly. I apologize to Nolan if this took him a long time to write. But it sure felt to me like it was written quickly.

FAMILIAR – Rushed and familiar usually go hand-in-hand. When you write quickly, you tend to write obviously, which amounts to a lot of clichés and familiar elements. There’s a moment where Sam is attacked by a cop and he does some super cool beat-down move with no idea how he did it. Isn’t that exact same scene from The Bourne Identity?

VAGUE – I’m not sure I ever understood what was going on here. Every plot point was so vague and sparsely explained that instead of gaining clarity as the script went on, I became more confused. I think if Nolan would’ve solidified A FEW PLOT POINTS early, this could’ve been fixed. Look at the screenplay for Unknown White Male. In that script, our main character and his wife check into a hotel together. When his wife goes missing and he finds her at the Gala later, she claims to have no idea who he is. Since we started on solid ground (we knew they were married), this plot development gives us a sensical objective (find out why my wife doesn’t recognize me). In The Followed, we were never on solid ground, so every plot development that came at us just made things more confusing. Starting on shaky ground can work sometimes, as it did in Source Code. But Source Code did a much better job giving us clear answers as the screenplay went on. The Followed appears set on doing the opposite.

GOALS CHANGE – At first the script is about finding out who’s trying to kill this second SEC guy. But then, halfway through, this daughter character enters the picture, and we go through a murky dual-goal period where Sam’s trying to find the target AND his daughter, two seemingly disconnected objectives. Eventually, he stops searching for the target altogether and simply focuses on his daughter, which, quite frankly, wasn’t a very interesting storyline. I never knew the daughter in the first place and therefore didn’t care if she was safe or not.

PLOT NEVER EVOLVED – I remember reading a scene around page 75 with a character sneaking around in a hotel.  I then remembered that I’d read a scene around page 10 where a character was sneaking around in a hotel. I paused, thought about it, and realized there had probably been a dozen scenes up to this point of characters sneaking around in hotels. This was a major reason I didn’t enjoy the story. It never evolved. Characters were always doing some variation of the same thing.

When I really look at The Followed, I think the biggest problem is that there’s no intricacy in the plotting. The reveals weren’t solid or exciting enough (a mysterious outfit is taking out several members of the SEC so they can get their own guys in there). And there were too many things left up to question (how does this guy know how to take down police officers? If you lost your memory, why are you taking orders from a random person on the phone?). It was one of those scripts that felt more like a dream than a carefully plotted thriller where every beat connects seamlessly with one another.

I didn’t think The Followed was bad. Just uneventful. It’s the kind of script mistake a lot of intermediates make. They have the skill to write up something that looks and acts like a script. But they don’t put in the hard work to make the story unique and stand out. Unfortunately, The Followed wasn’t for me.

Screenplay link: The Followed

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

What I learned: Watch out for word gunk. These are unnecessary words (or groups of words) that gum up sentences and make them difficult to read. Here’s an early sentence in The Followed: “A nervous quality to a more than average all-American guy who should be anything but.” What?? There’s way too much word gunk in here: “…to a more than average…” “…who should be anything but…” This is the epitome of rushed writing. Take a step back and look for ways to simplify this sentence. “Despite his all-American disposition, there’s a nervous quality to Sam.”  Simple and easy to read.

  • Ryan Sasinowski

    These are pretty good notes. Very specific examples of specific problems. I feel like these should be used more frequently in Amateur Offerings.

    I know I would find these problems laid out in this manner most helpful if it were my work under the Scriptshadow microscope.

    • carsonreeves1

      I like doing it this way too. It’s just sometimes the problems flow out differently. Sometimes they feel ordered in my head, and other times more stream-of-conscious.

      • chocolate fever

        Somebody for review The Log in Your Eye please.

  • James Michael

    Ok, I read the first 17 pages of this before stopping.

    My main issue with this was confusion. So much confusion. We open with Sam on the phone to Max whose telling him to follow the Turk. Which he does (for some reason) he follows him to the hotel room where i was pretty sure he killed him with that little vial (but he didnt he was alive again on page 11 which was also confusing, so i guess he wasnt killing this Turkish guy? so why was he following him) Then he bumps into Jakub who tells him he killed someone, who he for some reason ignores. He seems far more interested in following orders from some guy on a phone who he doesnt know.

    Then he’s back at the payphone and this is where i really started to get confused. It almost felt to me like this convo (pg 10) was a continuation with the convo on pg 1 and all that stuff that happened in the middle (him following the Turk, poisoning him, checking his room) happens after his phone call to Max. Almost like a flash-forward. Or did he jump back on the phone after following the Turk? Because then he starts following the Turk again (whose definitely not dead) where he discovers the method they’re going to use to kill somebody. He’s now back in the phone booth and after that he’s back in the hotel. It’s about here i check out.

    I guess the problem with writing amnesia scripts is you’re trying to simulate the confusion the protag feels, putting the reader in the same position. But this just makes the script really confusing. I think you need to clear up those first 15 pages. Make the goal of Sam clearer (i still wasn’t sure what it was) sometimes trying to be not so ‘on the nose’ with dialogue can just be confusing. Maybe you need to have Max say ‘go track this guy down and figure out what he is doing.’ Even better have Max blackmail Sam straight up so Sam has to follow this random voice on the phone. A big issue for me was believing that Sam would just do all this stuff cause a guy on the phone told him too. Otherwise a guy with amnesia might just say ‘fuck-off random voice’ and go get a drink by himself while he figure his shit out.

    Um I hoped that helped. I wish I had time to finish the script, hopefully some of my issues with confusion get cleared up a little later in the story. anyway good luck with it and congrats on getting the review spot for the week.

  • fd

    So one day after I get slated for criticising the poor writing in a script that people loved, and everybody tells me it’s all about the story and the atmosphere and I should take the broomstick out my proverbial on the writing aspect, today’s What I Learned is about sorting out the writing.
    That is exactly what I mean. If the script isn’t good, the writing is suddenly important, and if the script is good, the writing doesn’t matter, so instead of trying to find pseudo-reasons for not liking the script, why don’t you just say “sorry, I couldn’t get into it”. The sentence criticised here is no worse than yesterday’s shape-figure and snow crunches and fridges you could hear 100 yards away through a window.
    What I learned: the writing is at the bottom of the list of things that matter.

    • Casper Chris

      Two days after.

      Carson wrote in his review that day:

      I’ve mentioned this before, but when I really like a script, it’s hard for me to break it down. I’m so caught up in the story, I’m not paying attention to a lot of the technical aspects.

      Then you responded with:

      I’m just saying that these kinds of errors are things that Carson cites as problems in other scripts that do not appeal to him. I am here trying to figure out how to write a script that readers will like, and I see masses of exactly the same errors here that are obviously suddenly of no importance in this script, in a tiny, representative excerpt that contains as its highlight a very derivative and cheap scare. Is the writing important or not?

      Instead of trying to figure out what’s more important, why don’t you aim for both? Both great writing AND great story?

    • On writing

      25-30% Idea

      40-50% Execution of idea
      25-30% Writing (dialogue and scene direction)

      It does vary. I would say it’s not more than 50% dialogue and scene direction; if that’s the case, then the story – without “snappy” dialogue – would be less than average.

      What I learned (a while back now): Spend some time on your idea/story before writing dialogue. Say three weeks at least before starting your first draft.

    • guest

      “The sentence criticised here is no worse than yesterday’s shape-figure and snow crunches and fridges you could hear 100 yards away through a window.”

      I disagree. February’s sentence may have been a bit redundant, but I knew what it meant. When I first read that sentence from The Followed it meant literally nothing to me. I couldn’t unpack it. Also The Followed is more confusing from a story perspective.

      So slightly clunky lines in a script with a comprehensible plot is forgivable. Completely meaningless lines in a script that’s giving me narrative migraine isn’t.

    • Nicholas J

      You complained about February because the character saw the “shape of a figure” walking out in the snow. What’s confusing about that? Redundant, sure, but makes complete sense to me. That script flew by, and barely anything tripped me up while reading it.

      Totally different compared to today’s “a more than average All-American guy who should be anything but.” Apologies to the writer, but that doesn’t make any damn sense. I’ve read it twenty times and have no idea what the writer is trying to say.

      I would agree that writing is at the bottom of the list of things that matter. Unless it’s horrible. Then it’s at the top.

      • klmn

        Yeah. I can’t tell if it’s an average guy or an all-american guy. And I have no idea what he should be.

        • brenkilco

          Think he’s trying to say that his nondescript, all American looks belie the dark truth of who he is, but it’s pretty jumbled.

          • Nicholas J

            I figured the “he should be anything but” referred to him being nervous. Like normally he’s cool-headed and stoic, like Liam Neeson in Taken or something, but since he doesn’t know he has all these awesome skills, he has no confidence.

          • klmn

            I don’t know where you or the writer live, but in the US, All-American has a connotation from sports, meaning the best. The opposite of average.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All-America

          • brenkilco

            When not specifically referencing athletes the accepted definition of all american is:

            possessing qualities characteristic of American ideals, such as honesty, industriousness, and health:”his all-American wholesomeness”

            AKA a boy next door type, not a tall at odds with the idea of average.

          • klmn

            The average American is far from ideal by any measure.

          • brenkilco

            Let’s agree this sentence has multiple problems and that any guess as to it’s intended meaning is just that.

    • Citizen M

      In my experience, pace will cover up a lot of evils.

      As long as the reader is anxious to turn the page to find out what happens next, he or she is not too worried about the writing or minor plot holes etc.

      It’s when the action slows down that you start noticing all the little niggly bits.

  • Matthew Garry

    While everybody can and should vote and comment in whatever way they see fit–as long as it’s constructive and not malicious, sometimes it seems that a lot of readers peruse the first few pages, like or dislike the story, and vote accordingly as if it was an online talent contest.

    That’s perfectly fine as long as you realise that does very little for you as a writer. Reading others’ screenplays is most effective if you stick with it until you can, for yourself, clearly formulate what is wrong with it. So not just a gut feeling, or a general dislike, but to try and put into words the reasons *why* you feel that way. In short: make sure to draw up your own little “What I learned”. If you can’t do that yet for a particular story, keep on reading until you can. In that way screenplays that “aren’t there yet” are just as valuable as the good ones, and for the ones that are really lacking it should be easy to come up with a “What I learned” early on, so there’s no reason to read it to completion.

    From my perspective, there’s some irony in that I generally feel that the commenters who read the most, are actually the ones who need it least. Which, when you think about it further, isn’t ironic at all, but just plain makes sense.

    One of the contestants was “Misfire”. I’m not sure it should have won, and probably neither is Andrew (the writer), because a lot of it is sort of nudge-nudge wink-wink with regard to aspiring screenwriters. It did catch some flack in the comments for appearing not to be a serious attempt.

    The reason you should have read it though, in spite of not being all that serious, is that the pacing is really good. Every writer, and especially comedy writers, should have allowed themselves to pick that up, and try to figure out how Andrew made that flow so well. That’s real value you can take away from these amateur scripts, and apply directly to your own writing, but you have to stick with them and give them serious thought.

    As far as Andrew’s writing goes: I didn’t actually find “Misfire” exceptionally funny, but there was a lot of quality on display. And with his kind of productivity, it’s only a matter of time before he puts out the right story at the right time. So make good use of his stories before he no longer has time to participate.

    • Levres de Sang

      We seem to be on the same page, here… From my review of MISFIRE a fortnight ago:

      Ultimately, I’m not sure how a Carson review will help Andrew at this juncture. He clearly knows his way around a script, but says himself that MISFIRE will “never be made” — and I suspect that’s not his immediate intention. Rather, it feels like a selection from a wider portfolio. One that can’t be too far from cracking the Hollywood fortress.

    • Andrew Parker

      Thank you for the kind words, Matthew.

      Misfire was probably a bad fit for Scriptshadow. Plus it has some serious flaws. I violated two of my important tenets of comedy: 1. I didn’t make it about a central relationship. 2. I didn’t make it about a universal experience.

      In case anyone is interested, below is a stream of consciousness of what I see when I read good comedies:

      -For comedy to work, relationships need to be on the line
      -People you love or institutions you love need to be in peril
      -Things need to zig where you think they’re going to zag
      -For action comedy, the relationship plus the lives of those involved need to be in peril
      -It’s either about two people or a group of people
      -Best if it’s a life stage or something that’s universally experienced
      -Pick a unique or interesting or at least specific location
      -There needs to be an inciting incident that’s the hook of the movie and a very low point for the characters and always celebration at the end
      -Everything is better with dancing or singing
      -The comedy needs to be both timely and timeless
      -Is it a relationship we haven’t seen before? Great. If it is a relationship we’ve seen before, how do we subvert expectations?
      -Keep things propulsive, never slow down
      -Conflict is funny
      -Audiences want to root for an underdog
      -Did I mention singing and dancing? It’s huge
      -Things are always more embarrassing when done in front of a group
      -You have to push the envelope these days to get people’s attention
      -A character who always thinks he’s right but is always wrong will never not be funny
      -It’s fun to fight authority or conventions
      -Can you do something structurally interesting?
      -People care about titles, especially ironic ones
      -Always dance, always sing, always celebrate

      • Randy Williams

        “You have to push the envelope these days to get people’s attention”

        This is (maybe a sad fact) is what prevented me, personally from continuing to read “Misfire”. The well worn scenarios and characters I got from the beginning immediately put up a block for me to the story, chokes my laughing mechanism and it was difficult to continue on to find what the writer really did well with in the script whether it’s pacing, in Misfire’s case, or a great third act. How many critic reviews say a movie falls apart in the third act? I want to get there to see how it’s done properly.

        “The Followed” immediately pushed the envelope. The script I voted on, “The Log In Your eye” did too.

        • Andrew Parker

          That’s why I voted for “The Log In Your Eye” also. It had a few issues, but it also had a quirkiness and unique sensibility that you don’t often see here. The writing felt very relaxed and almost like he was just winging it, and yet it still kinda worked out.

      • Ryan Sasinowski

        These are great! I’m definitely going to remember them!

      • carsonreeves1

        Actually, I don’t know if there was a better place for this script! This is the only site where more than 10 people know who Brian Duffield even is.

        By the way, has anyone read Vivian Hasn’t Been Herself Lately from Duffield? I’m planning on reading it soon, but was curious what others thought.

        • Ryan Sasinowski

          Haven’t come across that one yet.

        • ripleyy

          It’s unusual, to say the least. I liked it.

        • http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1888937/ Rick McGovern

          Eh.

          Made it about half way.

          I probably would have continued if he didn’t literally steal Gollum’s character from Lord of the Rings and make him a woman. It was annoying, and a complete rip-off of his character. You replace her with Gollum and you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

      • brenkilco

        You’re describing a type of comedy. Maybe most successful big screen comedies. But I’d like to throw in a word for comedies that are anarchic, built on brilliantly engineered laugh sequences, ice cold or pitch black. Duck Soup, A Shot in the Dark, Holy Grail, The Wrong Box, The hospital, Playtime, Dr. Strangelove, Kind Hearts and Coronets, MASH. Importance of Being Ernest may be the best comedy of the last 150 years and you really don’t give a damn about any of the characters in it, or even accept them as entirely real. But they are funny.

    • mulesandmud

      It’s so damn tempting not to finish reading anything these days – scripts, books, newspaper articles – or worse, to just skim these things, which creates the illusion of having read something while hardly exercising any intellectual muscle (like sit-ups where you just keep your back on the ground and bob your head up and down).

      I’m not sure if AOW would even be possible if people were expected to read entire scripts, but regardless of that, your point still stands: we shouldn’t satisfy ourselves with mere impressions of things we read, with should make the effort to reflect on and articulate those thoughts. Articulation, after all, is what we do.

      Not too long ago I found a postcard that said AN ARTIST IS SOMEONE WHO FINISHES THINGS. I keep that and a few other notes tacked to my monitor, to remind me that two half-scripts don’t equal a whole one. Endings take more work than beginnings, and better work, because knowing the ending arcs back to everything you’re written before.

      Seems like that thought applies as much to what we read as to what we write.

      • Nicholas J

        two half-scripts don’t equal a whole one

        Damnit mules you just cut my portfolio in half.

        • mulesandmud

          Not necessarily. Lots of bad first halves in Hollywood. Maybe that could be your thing.

          EXEC 1
          I read the new draft. The opening is a mess, I don’t buy the inciting incident, and the break into two doesn’t lock us in.

          EXEC 2
          (reaching for phone)
          Don’t worry. I know a guy.

          • BSBurton

            why haven’t you responded to my email lol

      • Citizen M

        Real Artists Ship

        An old saying at Apple Computer, attributed to Steve Jobs, meaning that while producing stuff that is cool, elegant, innovative, and Insanely Great is important, it is even more important to actually produce working software that can be delivered to users.

      • carsonreeves1

        But this is a reflection of our society today and something screenwriters need to keep in mind. There’s so much to read out there, from blogs to articles to books to the next script (I have 50 Kindle books on my ipad I keep cycling through because not one of them has pulled me in yet) that “better than average” isn’t going to cut it like it used to.

        People have too many reasons to put your script down so you can’t give them one. You must write like you know the reader wants to quit on you and therefore make it impossible for them to stop. Every single scene must be compelling.

    • Nicholas J

      I get what you’re saying, and when I have time I try to do exactly what you’ve said here when it comes to AOW. I think it’s a great way to learn as a writer.

      But the whole point of AOW, to my understanding, is just to find a script worthy of Amateur Friday. The winner gets their script on AF, gets the Carson review, and gets an entire day dedicated to feedback from the community. So it IS an online talent contest, with AF feedback being the prize. People that give feedback to every AOW script are going above and beyond the call of duty. That’s not to discourage them from doing so, they’re what makes AOW great, but it’s not required.

    • klmn

      It’s a rare script that starts out poorly then turns good. If you crash your car pulling out of your driveway, you won’t have a good trip.

      Look back to C’s article on screenplay beginnings.

    • For what it’s worth

      I take your point, but I think AOW should at least reflect some of the realities of Hollywood/the film industry, and that is, if the logline sounds familiar, and if the first pages don’t grab you, you can delete it, ’cause there’s another dozen scripts in the same folder you can read instead.

      Tough but true.

      Nolan took a risk with “The Followed” because it’s familiar territory. He also only scored a 2/5, 4/10, D-grade, below average, wasn’t for me. So his chances of people putting aside over an hour to read the whole script based on this review are slim.

      • pmlove

        I think ‘Wasn’t for me’ IS average. It’s a bell curve.

        Most meet expectations. A few exceed it (worth the read). Very few dip into Impressive and almost never a Genius. Similarly, almost never a ‘What the hell..?’

        • For what it’s worth

          True, but who wants a “Wasn’t for me” score? Even a “Worth the Read” seems low, especially as Carson appears generous with amateur scripts (so “February” was an amateur script, it would be Genius – thought for food). Aim for “Impressive.”

    • Midnight Luck

      Well, if you have 5 Amateur scripts to read (that’s 500+ pages), and you want to give a good understanding of their skill, and how you felt about them, I think one of the best ways is to see *WHERE YOU STOPPED READING*. And then STOP.

      I don’t know how much value there is in staying with a screenplay that is really rough, has many problems, doesn’t work for various reasons. Yes there are many people who can benefit from reading these and analyzing why it isn’t working, and breaking the whole thing down, and writing a synopsis of it, and pinpointing page by page and line by line what is a problem and why, then giving it an overall look and detailing how it works or doesn’t work as a whole.

      Yet I don’t think that is very effective, or possible, or truthful for most people. Most people aren’t going to read 500+ pages of Amateur work over a weekend and detail out why or why not it works.

      When I read I give the FIRST PAGE the most attention, and then the FIRST TEN the second most important attention. If it is working I will read more, until I am done, wherever that may be. I can tell very quickly if a script is working, brings the goods, or has a ton of problems and isn’t working.

      At the same time we all are trying to narrow down which of the 5 scripts is going to be chosen for Am Friday. So to me, giving feedback based on forcing yourself to read through 5 scripts and many of them not working for you, isn’t a smart use of time. I believe most people can give just as good of feedback from the first 10 pages as they can from reading an entire 120 pages. Yes they might not be able to point out that on page 88 the writer misspelled X, but it isn’t that important in the scheme of things.

      And if everyone says, oh but you have to get to the last scene (or 2/3 of the way through) where there is a twist, because then EVERYTHING makes sense! and then you get what the whole thing was about and it comes together. Well, if the first 118 pages weren’t working for various reasons, I highly doubt that the twist or the reveal will make it so the entire rest of the script suddenly becomes light years better. It just means the rest of the script has categorical problems with how it is constructed, with creating interesting characters, with setting up drama.

      • pmlove

        I agree… for the most part.

        The one downside is that this method naturally favours an intriguing set-up, rather than good execution. The ‘LOST’ of scriptwriting (intriguing set-ups with no thought out pay-off [other opinions are available]).

        This script suffers because it is trying so hard to give a satisfying pay-off, that the lead up doesn’t tick as well as it might. The downside is that it gets more negative feedback as a result, than the script that, on average is just as good but focuses on a great set-up but no payoff.

        I’m not saying it’s anyone’s duty to read the whole thing, but it’s worth acknowledging at least that the notes might be meaningless taken out of context. Here, for example, it’s an easy note to say that Sam should have to work harder to get in to the Turk’s room – show he’s a pro. I made that note. But, in the context, it’s wrong. Sam isn’t a pro.

        It’s kinda the same reason that grendl’s script ‘Undertow’ received negative critique. Nobody makes the Met in such a short space of time. But, as it turns out, that’s the point. It’s a fantasy.

        None of this is to excuse early pages that don’t work but just to note that a consequence of just reading the first ten may be to promote AOW entries with exciting starts with potentially unsatisfying conclusions.

        • Midnight Luck

          I believe most people can tell within 10 pages (maybe 20 for certain scripts) if the story, the execution, and the skills there to give you a solid enjoyable experience. They don’t need to get to page 90 or 100 before they can tell if this is a well told, effective, and interesting story. And they certainly don’t need a twist at the very end, or even most of the way through, before they can deduce if they are intrigued by the story.

          Now I will give you that, in a way, front loading a story with an exciting intro might not be as “fair” to other stories which don’t do this. But I am not saying every story has to have a 007 intro to get noticed. No, I am saying that those 10 pages HAVE TO intrigue, captivate and grab you, in whatever unique way is right for THAT story. It doesn’t have to be with full testosterone action.
          In fact this story is trying to do just that, however it doesn’t work. There is nothing to grab onto. There is a lot of convenience writing, there are shallow characters, there is action for actions sake, and nothing of interest. This is because there is not a single person to care about, we don’t know anything about anyone, everything is circumstantial and superficial. Great he is running around doing this or that, he is getting mysterious phone calls from “someone” telling him to do “something” for “very important reasons”, yet they aren’t important to us, the reader, the viewer. We have just been dropped into this world, but the writer doesn’t bother to make this world unique, interesting, captivating or important to us. It needs to be SO important to us that we won’t decide something else is more interesting.
          And for me, 15 pages in, this is not interesting. I haven’t found one thing to hold onto which captures any of my attention. This story is literally without drama. On top of that, it actually does seem like ALL the other stories we have seen before. And after reading Carson’s coverage I have to agree with myself, it wasn’t worth continuing on. The whole story was a complete replica of UNKNOWN (mix up the viewer by making the Protag have Amnesia and be a spy or killer and unsure what is going on). With shades of Bourne Identity (amnesia again, but with mad skills thrown it), and many shades of Taken (missing daughter, redemption), and as all the parts of the story play out, Exactly like each of the parts of those stories it pulls from.
          It is like the writer thought they could piece all those parts together and the parts would be greater than the whole.
          But the whole always has to work for us from Pg. 1. From that initial opening page it HAS to make sense to us, HAS to build an interesting world and life, a life we REALLY want to be a part of and know more about.

          And I am in no way just talking about this script, I am talking about with ANY script. We have to want to KNOW MORE about the world, to such a degree we must know what happens on Pg. 2 or 10 or 50 or, yes, that twist on Pg. 101.
          But the writer MUST get us to Pg. 101 by making ALL the rest SO interesting, that Page after Page, One page after another, we won’t want to put it down.

          • brenkilco

            I’m really uncertain about where a script ought to be or exactly what or how much ought to be demonstrated in the first ten pages. I realize today that the audience is way beyond ADD, to a point where a single keystroke will provide another entertainment source so that even an instant’s inattention can be fatal. I worry about scripts and stories being warped by this fear. In many of the greatest scripts the first ten minutes are by recent standards fairly leisurely. We are dropped into a world, meet some characters, are introduced to a situation that suggests or points us toward a potential conflict. The opening should intrigue and suggest possibilities but if you insist on cramming in more you risk a thinly plotted tale that will lose a reader’s interest later on. Traditionally the first act break occurs near the half hour mark because for stories worth telling it takes that long to do the heavy lifting required to set the story in motion. I am not excusing dull first acts. Merely suggesting that if the writing is dull, accelerating the introduction of the plot is probably not the solution.

          • Midnight Luck

            This is exactly what I am saying.
            I don’t think scripts should pander to the ADD crowd. I don’t think it is beneficial to throw a bunch of action and banal energy into a story, just to try to get people’s attention. I believe it needs to be intriguing to the reader. It needs to peak their interest on many levels. It needs to bring mystery and thrill, while making you fall in love with the characters and instill a feeling that you MUST see where it goes and what happens next. This can be built in a million different ways, and in all honesty, action is the LEAST effective way to pull people into the story, UNLESS, you have set the stage, created beautiful characters, an interesting environment and world, and then interjected a captivating storyline.
            Take a movie like The Bourne Identity. The first one was off the charts one of the best thriller / action / drama movies of the last 10 years. Bourne Identity 2 and 3? While they were still decent, they weren’t nearly as interesting or effective, because they didn’t focus on the most interesting parts of the story like the first one did. They focused on Flash, action, and frenetic pacing and camera work. They were trying to inject the story with EXCITEMENT through an artificial medium. The first one took its time, had a varied pacing throughout the movie, let the thrill scenes build, let you relax and then BOOM! startled you with something you weren’t expecting. The second and third just put the throttle to the redline, and pushed go. Full speed all the time.
            My point being just that, a script needs to know what its story is, and the best way to tell it. If SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION started with a car chase and gun battle it would have been out of place. And if it was only there to get the reader / viewers attention so they would keep going with the script, it would have been untruthful, and quite lame.

            Writer needs to find the honesty in their storyline, and how best to tell the tale they are making.

          • brenkilco

            I confess that while I find them enjoyable I also consider all the Bourne movies to be a bit under plotted. And that fragmented Greengrass editing gives me a pain. But Bourne 2- I can never keep the actual titles straight- is flat out misshapen. The big action sequence is a car chase. And it takes place literally after the movie is over. The entire plot has been resolved, the bad guy exposed. We’re done. So now let’s have a char chase. So Bourne can hunt up somebody and apologize. Ridiculous.

            As to your larger point, we seem to be on the same page. Was trying to think of the great movie with the most daringly, slow burn opening. The two I come up with are the Birds, which is a fairly tepid romantic drama for nearly forty five minutes and Rosemary’s Baby, which without Polanski’s subtle genius for creating unease would have had audiences checking out long before the evil showed up. As you say, every story needs to find its own rhythm..

  • brenkilco

    A suggestion. Since the newsletter is erratic, at least in my email, what about posting the links to the AOW offerings with your monday column. Leave the formal AOW post for the weekend but give the commenters a genuine opportunity to digest the scripts before they become the subject of conversation. Now this may not work, and may lead to a lot of stray OT comments during the week. But the writers are bound to get more thoughtful feedback.And it makes life easier for those commenters who would like to give the offerings a fair shake but just don’t have the time on a saturday to get into them all.

    • carsonreeves1

      I’m trying to do something like this without (as you said) creating stray comments ahead of time instead of on the day. I agree that it’d be nice to give people more time to read these.

  • Randy Williams

    Congrats to the writer for making it here!

    I thought this was an ambitious script that most of us would be afraid to even consider attempting and our results would be doubly confusing.

    My chief problem with it was I wasn’t really invested in the protagonist. I felt the flashbacks could have been more specific as to his character, the effect he had on people in his life, his relationship with his daughter. I wanted to really know that “kidnap victim” who was searching for himself.

    The flashbacks could have also eliminated some of the confusion readers seem to be having with the story by dropping “clues” to the plot circling the protagonist that would clear things up.

  • Scott Strybos

    FAMILIAR: “When his wife goes missing and he finds her at the Gala later, she claims to have no idea who he is.” This is another scene I feel I have seen more than a few times before. Off the top of my head, I immediately thought of Liam Neeson’s film, Unknown. And that scene was in the film’s trailer. So it wont just be the people who saw the film who remember it… There has to be a more interesting way to approach this scene.

  • Nolan

    Thanks for the review, Carson and all feedback from everyone.

    • carsonreeves1

      Keep writing, my friend. I may not have connected with this one, but I know today’s feedback will make you a better writer and the results will show in your next script. :)

      • Nolan

        Thanks, Carson. Didn’t mean to give you a headache!

      • Levres de Sang

        I completely agree. The Black List is a pretty decent option, but AOW feedback (l printed out 10+ pages of notes) was nothing short of extraordinary. One of its most instructive aspects, in fact, was comparing reactions to the most loved script with those to one’s own.

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

    Major problem #6 for me was: Zero DRAMATIC IRONY in the script.
    It’s the reason why I couldn’t get past the story’s first act.
    You’ve got to bread-crumb the mystery to ANCHOR the reader in your tale.
    Give us a seemingly clear fact or two we can cling to while establishing mystery boxes.
    Citizen M’s take on dramatic irony from the Rebel City review says it best:

    “When the audience knows more than the characters (dramatic irony), you
    are generally okay. When the characters know more than the audience,
    tread carefully. The audience doesn’t like being kept out of the loop.
    We want to feel superior and omniscient, not like ignorant fools.
    Generally, when there are mysteries, we uncover them with one of the
    characters. that’s not the case here. Everybody seems to know what went
    on except us, until the last minute. Even then I’m not sure I understood
    what went on.”

    I know using this device will help Nolan enhance his script. Good luck with your project!

    • BSBurton

      great advice and a nice throw back quote :)

  • Citizen M

    p 1. – If the wind is swirling, how can you have a “calm, almost serene feeling”? The first sentence is over-written.

    p. 1 – “a voice that screams seedy government official.” I’d like to sit in on the auditions for this part. Expect some very weird accents.

    p. 3 – If a scene is seen through binoculars, give it a sub-heading BINOCULAR POV:

    p. 4 – First show the CU of the transmitter on the Turk’s jacket, then show Sam listening in. It’s easier to grasp the situation that way.

    p. 4 – Getting confusing already. Sam is sitting on the floor listening to his bug via his laptop. He hears running water via his bug. This triggers a watery flashback. Okay. But then he hears a door slam via the bug. This triggers a totally different flashback having nothing to do with the first flashback or the door slamming. Not okay. Then suddenly he’s on the balcony, staring at the sky and being confused. Then the Turk’s voice s heard. Who hears it? Sam is not listening in. Where are we, the audience, placed that we can hear it? Does this mean the Turk has left or the Turk has returned. Presumably it means the Turk has left because Sam goes to infiltrate the hotel.

    I would simplify this sequence considerably. Have only one flashback. Have a clear sequence. Sam sees light go off via binoculars. Sam hears door slam via bug. Sam leaves own room. Sam at hotel, attempting to enter Turk’s room.

    p. 5 – Where did Sam get the white chef’s coat from? This is another page that is totally confusing. It appears to mix up two similar scenes from different time periods, as far as I can tell, but there is no FLASHBACK on the cue, so maybe it is all one scene.

    Sam goes in the back, up an elevator to the second floor, gets a white coat from somewhere (or was he wearing one the whole time, it’s never clear), and enters the kitchen. Is the kitchen on the second floor? I thought hotel kitchens were on the ground floor to make deliveries easier.

    A staff member pushes a tray down a corridor. What floor and room number? We should know this. Help the audience to understand the geography.

    Sam leaves the hotel and dumps the white coat. “Moments later” he is in the same hallway the food tray was in. How is he dressed now? How do we the audience know this is the same sequence, or a flashback or flashforward? You need to show Sam dumping the coat and entering the hotel again.

    p. 6 – The Turk is in the room, unconscious. Yet the last we heard of the Turk was the door slamming as he left the room, at which point Sam went to the hotel, presumably to search his room while he was out. But it seems I have misunderstood the sequence, or maybe we have been watching flashbacks mixed up with present time, just the same as Sam himself cannot sort out present and past in his mind.

    In any event I am too confused to be invested in this story. I know nothing about the protagonist, or what his mission is, or what the stakes are. There is nothing particularly interesting or entertaining about the setting or the situation. If the Turk is the shark, he hasn’t shown his teeth yet.

    Since Sam’s moves are relatively logical, presumably the scenes we are seeing are Sam pre-amnesia, but if so, why did he tell Max, “Something is happening to me”? Is he losing his memory gradually? Seems strange. I thought amnesia was caused by a sudden blow to the head and happened instantaneously. Maybe clarify just what affects Sam.

    I’ll stop with detail notes on page 6 because maybe I’m mistaking the writer’s intention. Maybe I’m supposed to be mystified. But in general, the audience needs to know where in the timeline any particular sequence is, and what the protagonist is trying to accomplish. I was never sure where I was, or what Sam was trying to do.

    A suggestion: Start with Max. He has an agent in Prague who is going to pieces. He cannot get anyone else because of [whatever], so he must somehow help Sam to do his job otherwise [big stakes]. Show how it is vital it is for Sam to succeed, yet he cannot because he has amnesia.

  • Gman

    First 10 pages. But wait. I kind of feel bad about not going past ten, but the more scripts I read the more I understand just how important they are. It’s that first impression. That first date. That golden opportunity to build trust with your reader.
    Unfortunately for me, what I got instead was confusion.
    We start in a phone booth and Sam is out of sorts. Don’t know why but that’s okay at this point.
    Then we cut to the train, but I don’t know if this is a flashback or not. I kind of think it is because we’re sort of conditioned to think that; it had that seen-that-before feel to it. But I’m sure it is a flashback really. Could be the next day for all I know. If so, it’d be nice to have some transition scene where Sam goes back to his room to try to get himself together.
    Then we get to the hotel where Sam watches from the darkness from across the street. But then we cut to Sam in his studio apartment. How did he get from the street to his apartment? Further, he just happens to have an apartment directly across from the hotel?
    Then we get a couple of flashbacks out of nowhere. Seemingly unmotivated. Now as a reader I’m getting really disoriented, and not in a good way.
    On the whole, I do think you have the ingredients for an engrossing beginning, but you’re trying to be too clever by half. The “following” of the Turk really had my interest, but that was undermined by all the constant flashbacks.
    Action-wise, your descriptions of Prague are probably overwritten. I think most people with some life experience know just how awesome and atmospheric Prague is. And if you don’t, there’s always Google Street View. Still, your choice of Prague as a setting is a fine one.
    I’d like to read a clearer draft some day. Liked the title.

  • jw

    Look Nolan, this is arguably the most ambitious amateur script we’ve ever seen here. Bottom line. It needs a bit of cleaning, but there’s something here that NO ONE is mentioning and that Carson didn’t even mention and that is STRUCTURE. Your structure here is fucking awesome and the way you move from scene to scene is crisp. Outside of maybe being more clear, you are telling a VISUAL story and what no one around is talking about is how scripts are FILMS. It’s about the visual and it’s not about the sentences. And, holy crap, this ending? The question is, did Carson actually get to the end of this script? I find it hard to believe that he did, and literally chose not to mention ANY of it, even if he hated it. What this script does at the end takes everything we thought we were going through and flips it on its head, which I thought was fucking nuts! Maybe don’t end the final page that way, but outside of that, the end is dope. Clean it up, streamline it (don’t dumb it down), and then make it yourself. Has the potential to launch a career. Keep it up!

    • brenkilco

      Had read thirty pages and based my initial impressions and Carson’s review was not inclined to read further. He’s talking about something that doesn’t build and becomes repetitive. Your’re describing something that, prose problems aside, not only comes together but ends with a twisty bang. So I’m going to finish it. Hope you’re right.

      • jw

        brenkilco, I enjoyed it and I think most would, regardless of the house cleaning it needs to go through. The larger problem is that as you read, you feel like you’ve seen it before, but then in the end it hits you with a brick upside the head and I think it’s a shame that a review like this gets disseminated and then people stop reading and it robs them of something this clever. I agree with everyone that you have to write to allow the reader to get to the end, but jesus, if you stopped any film 15 minutes in or in the middle you could say that it sucked. If you don’t see it to the end then you have ZERO perspective and you’re commenting on something you actually have no clue about. I would say to most NOT to do that because it’s an uninformed opinion.

        • Linkthis83

          When I first started reading AOW entries, I’d always qualify them by stating that I don’t like criticizing set-ups if I’m not going to hang around for payoffs. So with the time I put in, I try to decide if it’s the story I’d want to stick with further. But even that approach works against a story like this if it has the potential to deliver like it has for you.

          When I watched the movie TRIANGLE a few months back, I wasn’t very far in and thought “this does not feel unique or different. I’m not really enjoying this.” I then wondered “What if it’s on purpose?” – TRIANGLE delivered and thensome. I’ve been trying to apply that approach to all scripts now – giving the writer more credit and room to tell their story – yeah, if you hang around, you’re going to get burned on some scripts – but that’s the nature of the story beast.

          • jw

            * Comment of the day. Nice, Link!

          • Linkthis83

            I don’t think the comment is worth any one-day accolades, but appreciate it anyway.

        • brenkilco

          OK finished it. It was reasonably enjoyable. But I’m not nearly as high on it as you are. There is no climactic twist. In fact, ending the script in suspension, as the writer does. makes for a less than satisfying finish. The twist comes at the midpoint. And I really had trouble with it. First, how did Sam get amnesia? He apparently had it before the interrogation began or was it the result of some drug he was given? Did I miss something? In any event he’s got it and the bad guys are confident that they can convince this concierge that he’s a secret agent chasing down an assassination plot. Not sure why they’re so confident or exactly how they did convince him of this. It’s pretty murky. And the whole basis for this, that increasing his stress will bring his memory back is pretty flimsy. Having your child lost for days in a strange city would be enough stress for most people. Why didn’t they get one of the bad guys to simply pretend to be a friend of Sam’s helping him to track down his lost daughter? Wouldn’t that have worked just as well? Ah, but then we wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting as spending the first fifty pages of the script with a guy we believe is a spy. There a lot of less than fascinating running in place to the point we learn more or less what’s what and quite a lot of running in place after, while we wait for Sam’s memory to return. One problem is that for most of the story the bad guys aren’t chasing him. They’re just waiting around. And again, maybe i missed something but I was never quite clear whether some of the bad guys were actually corrupt czech police or just guys dressed like czech police.

          Bottom line. Youve got a basically simple suspense story wrapped in an incredibly elaborate package. It might work on screen. Didn’t quite do it for me. But it’s certainly one of the better Amateur offerings I’ve read on this site.

    • Nolan

      jw, thanks for the message and motivation. I wrote this a few years back and wanted to throw it out to the community to see what its prospects looked like around this time period. I definitely should have “cleaned” it up a bit before doing so, but thanks again for the compliments and now I know where I need to take it. Again, I appreciate all feedback from everyone.

    • carsonreeves1

      I did make it to the end, lol. But I’d mentally given up on the story and so the ending didn’t really change that for me.

      What do you think is unique about the structure here? I found it to be pretty straightforward if a little bit labored with the constant flashbacks that usually didn’t offer enough to justify their existence (in my opinion of course).

      • jw

        I think you’re right in that mentally this is a tough story. If Taken, which I couldn’t stand, is on one end of the spectrum of the simplicity scale, then yes, this is definitely on the other. In part because it’s fucking smart and it doesn’t spoon feed the same requisite crap we always see over and over. Flashbacks are always tricky to use in terms of writing, but here there is a legitimate reason — the flashbacks are caused by stressors and then it ends up being that all of it is on purpose. For me, that’s not flashbacks for the sake of flashbacks, it’s actually a 2-for — it’s giving us information about the backstory while also advancing the story in real-time. I get it, it’s not the easiest thing to follow or digest, and likely for the “mass audience” would have to be dumbed down, but if made independently I think it could make waves. I can understand why people love the simplicity of something like Taken, but to me it’s just commercial crap.

  • Scott Strybos

    OT: Can a story exist without interpersonal conflict?

    I am breaking a story that has only one character and therefore only internal and external conflict. I tried incorporating supporting characters but, because their sole purpose was only to add interpersonal conflict, they always felt thin and superfluous. Can a story succeed without this important source of conflict? Will the story feel empty and half-finished without other characters?

    • Andrew Parker

      If you can hire Tom Hanks, set the story on an island and there is a volleyball… yes. But truthfully, you need man vs. nature or man vs. perceived visions if you don’t have other people. Carson actually just reviewed woman vs. shark in a newsletter, and that worked out good. It has to be man vs. something though.

      • Scott Strybos

        I have man vs. nature. And man vs. himself. I just don’t have man vs. man, which almost every story has. And is a rich and important source of conflict.

        • Andrew Parker

          I think you’re right that man vs. man is in almost every story. Even Cast Away was bookended by Hanks interacting with people. You need a really awesome location and a very strong director if you don’t have people. But on the bright side, your script should definitely be cheaper to shoot.

      • brenkilco

        I recall my old high school English Teacher saying there were three types of stories: man vs. man, man vs. nature and man vs. himself.

        • Scott Strybos

          I liked Carson’s simple categorization of conflict: 1) personal, 2) interpersonal, 3) external.

  • mulesandmud

    Readers don’t owe writers anything, that’s for sure. And feedback given out of a sense of obligation can easily lapse into under-thought boilerplate, which is no help to anyone.

    We do have an obligation to ourselves, though, to keep our tools sharp, otherwise we risk getting lazy and complacent. And reading is a big part of the toolbox. For me, that means not getting too comfortable with the convenience of bailing on things I start to read, or watch.

    And so, on occasion, I force myself to finish a read even after it starts to feel like work, sometimes specifically because it starts to feel like work. As Matthew Gary suggests, there’s value in soldiering through a tough read to figure out what exactly isn’t working.

    On the other hand, hey, there’s only so much time in this life, and if I get the distinct impression that I have nothing to give or take from a script I’m reading, then fuck it, time to move on.

    • carsonreeves1

      I pretty much echoed this in my response before reading yours, Mules. Sorry! :)

  • scriptfeels

    Glad Carson reviewed this script! Although I didn’t think it had the best writing, I wanted to read Carson’s critique on it and was satisfied with why it wasn’t for him. One part I liked about his feedback was the section ‘goals change.’ I think its okay for a story to change goals during the film, but that change has to be backed up and in this case it wasn’t. I agree with Carson’s comment in regards to Sam’s daughter that there weren’t emotional stakes because we never saw their relationship for ourselves. I’d like to see where this script goes after a dose of ss feedback. I enjoyed this script while reading it and agree that the writing felt rushed, but that it has potential for a thriller i’d want to see. I also had a similar critique of solidifying plot points, but I think that it “became more clear when we found out Sam was following the Turk to find
    out who he was going to kill and how, and then after he found that
    information to stop him.” -quoted from my af comment. Overall, I understand Carson’s feedback and can understand his train of thoughts from reading a chunk of the script myself and reading his comments and my own from last week. A well written Amateur Friday post imo.

  • Jarman Alexander

    “I know it’s not fair to list finished films that became classics, but that’s what a screenplay is up against, fair or not.”

    Agreed. It doesn’t matter if there are 300 movies made every year that may be a worse story than what’s in your script because not many will see those, but EVERYONE WHO COULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU WILL SEE the ten best movies made every year, so that’s what they will remember when they’re reading your script.

    Through no fault of their own, your story will be compared to the greats and it’s squarely on you if it doesn’t measure up. This is why concept is stressed so much on this site. A great concept is an easier path to a great script and potentially a great movie.

  • pmlove

    OK – I read the whole thing.

    It’s ambitious. That’s a good thing. There’s a reasonable twist at the end (SPOILERS – although it’s something of a re-take on something we’ve seen before. Parallax View, things of that nature – seems to be coming up a lot here that film). A good read but needs beefing up and falls foul of some peculiar logic and too many occasions of ‘what to do now?’.

    A few hasty thoughts:

    At the moment, it falls foul of some story logic questions and changes in tone/theme. The first 60 pages or so are rife with paranoia, who to trust, etc. I liked these the most. Whether any of this actually happened. The second half turns into a reasonably generic chase to find his daughter, with some peculiar logic thrown in.

    THE SCHEME

    Max wants to find Alison. He needs Sam to be in the hotel to trigger the memory of where Alison is.

    – he has an open discussion seemingly in front of Sam about how to do this
    – rather than just wait for Sam to return to work at the hotel, remember where Alison is and follow him to get her, he concocts an elaborate scheme. Presumably without knowing precisely the depths of Sam’s amnesia, there’s only so far he can take this or be sure it will work
    – we miss Sam being convinced into Max’s story. I’d need some convincing I was a government agent. Sam’s also fairly strong willed for a hotel security guard when it comes to piecing together these clues. I feel like he’d need more guidance
    – Sam figures out he’s being set-up. After this, Max makes no further contact. And, despite knowing this, Sam changes his goal entirely from completing a task he’s unsure of, to doing exactly what he knows he’s being set-up to do?
    – What is Sam’s perceived motive here? I think you could add this in. Perhaps he argues with Gallardo in the hallway, instead of having a ‘how are you?’

    EXPOSITION

    The story moves along at the pace dictated by Sam’s flashback memories. This feels too convenient. There are many times where the story feels like it grinds to a halt, Sam goes back to the apartment to have a flashback, then we’re off again. I’d try to work in some ways to make it flow together. Plus, as a result, none of it feels EARNED.

    Max and his daughter need to be linked from the outset somehow. After around p60, I lost the logic of Sam’s deductions. The disappearance of his daughter didn’t seem related. Can’t this be his goal from the get go? Max will help him find his daughter but first they need to stop the assassination attempt? These two plotlines need to tie together more seamlessly.

    It really felt like a jarring shift once the ‘set-up’ was arrived at. Plus, I don’t think it would hurt letting us know why Alison is so important and have him after her earlier. Otherwise she very suddenly becomes an important goal without anything external changing (and we don’t know why) – this is why it feels odd.

    PARANOIA

    You throw in a lot of clues about what is the reality of the situation but these never felt like they pay off. Jakub alludes to the fact that Sam is crazy and making the whole thing up but then it goes nowhere – Sam seems more sure as he goes on and the paranoia goes nowhere – just descends into a chase for his daughter (again, divined through conveniently timed flashbacks).

    I think you could play on this more. Jakub’s skepticism is gone as soon as it arrives.

    SEC

    Given that prosecutions are thin on the ground for bank employees, the motivation feels thin on the ground. HSBC is caught for laundering drug money and very little happened. Need a stronger rationale I think.

    Few page by page comments:

    p5 – not clear how he got in the room without a key? This opening sequence is a chance to see Sam being a pro but you skip some of the details that would make it interesting – it’s too easy.

    p13 – which door slams shut? why isn’t Sam bothered?
    p14 – don’t think you need the seeds flashback
    p28 – action sequence needs a bit of clarity
    p29 – how did he find Jakub’s place? wouldn’t he want a few more questions answered (esp re: who Jakub is?)

    p31 – feels like a peculiar conspiracy to believe in. They kill the main guy, then want to kill his successor? Surely Sam would be bouncing around how illogical this seems. Why not kill both at the same time?
    p34 – Again, seems a ridiculous conclusion to draw. Just keep killing people until your guy is next in line?

    p34 – minor point but these kind of speeches are rarely so defensive (the last para).

    – at this point, I’m entertained. We’re dropped straight into the story and it gets going fast. There’s a familiar feel, sure, but it’s going so quickly that I also feel that this is all setup.
    One thing I will say is that Sam is hard to care for in the first 30 or so. He’s not unlikeable, he just never has a genuine character interaction with someone. I think if I was Sam, at this point (although it’s unclear how long he’s been like this), I’d seek solace in a neutral third party, which might also give us a chance to get to know Sam a bit and give him something to lose. He’s a bit blanket paranoia (but yet he still does what everyone says?) at the moment.

    p37 – Turk’s dialogue is a little too straightforward on-the-nose exposition. Bit of an unsatisfying end to the Walsh set-piece, plus handed straight to Sam. Think you could inject some more tension/action here.
    p54 – a few too many of these scenes. Sam searching for something but we’re not sure why, who or what
    p57 – not sure why they’d have such a conversation with Sam nearby – does he know their plans or is this just for the audience?
    p60 – Main problem here is I don’t follow the logic of Sam’s paranoia. Max is all a set-up. OK. If he believes that then… what? He wants to find Alison. OK. So why not go to the police (who he also believes are trying to find her)? Why go back to the hotel/try to find Jakub? I think you need to follow the old JJ Abrams bit here – solve one mystery, set up another. Otherwise I’m confused by why Sam’s acting this way. Alison and the Walsh storyline are thus far independent. All the sneaking around related to the Walsh/Max story. We lose that (Max is a bullshitter, so who cares anymore if we finish that story or not?) and we’re back to square one.

    p61- think the meeting in a church is a little tired now
    p66 – why wouldn’t they have had this chat the first time they met? especially if Sam’s ultimate goal is to find Alison. Plus – why is Alison so important? Or, at least, why does Sam believe that everyone would want to find her?
    p67 – having a hard time getting a feel for Sam’s job. Hotel security would be supplanted by bespoke security for diplomats etc. So Sam being friends with Jakub and the bar guy etc but also having the skills he possesses doesn’t feel real (whether it should or not, I’m guessing we should at least buy into Sam being a security guard).
    p76 – so, presumably Alison witnessed the Gallardo death/murder – not sure why you wouldn’t just tell us this as it gives us the stakes/urgency to find her? Or at least is a good reason if that isn’t it
    p80 – there’s been pretty much no consequence to realising Max is a set-up. Why isn’t Max trying to contact him and continue his ruse? He’s got him tapped?
    p87 – Matt??
    p90 – feels odd that Alison wouldn’t have mentioned something to Sam?
    p94 – Berlin isn’t south from Czech Republic? Presumably they are going north?
    p96 – would probably be WC (restroom)?

    • brenkilco

      Agree. See comments to Jw above. Never bought the premise of an amnesiac being manipulated so easily and confidently. And the big reveal doesn’t belong at the midpoint. What’s actually going on, a juvenile murder witness being sought by bad guys, is so much simpler than the elaborately contrived setup that it’s a little irritating.

      • pmlove

        I wonder whether it would better if the opening lost all the amnesia stuff. Just spitballing here, but something like:

        – Alison overhears the plan for the murder (off-screen)
        – Sam does his day job, get a feel for him and the place. Maybe he’s upset about being taken of detail for the SEC guests – thinks he’s good enough (argument, motive)
        – Goes to collect Alison, she’s gone
        – Sam is told by a helpful guest that he’s saw Alison being taken by the person in room X. Sounds like a kidnapping.
        – Sam goes in,rifles through the stuff for clues
        – Goes home, his apartment has been ransacked etc (causing daughter to run off somewhere)
        – Gallardo turns up dead
        – New security allows him back in to help search for his daughter (as a favour/set-up), search security tapes etc.
        – Heightened security for the conference, security invites him in to help out, helps him find daughter in the meantime
        – He leads them to his daughter, whilst being set-up as a future assassin etc (a la SHOOTER), scoping the conference as an ‘unofficial’ security guard – later claimed to be off the books etc.

        Ah, who knows. It’s tough.

        But the amnesia feels too light to rely upon for Max. The opening reads like it’s too easy for Sam to sneak in, but in a way it might work better if it was even easier – too easy. At the moment, it relies on Sam being quite tenacious, which I don’t believe for an average security joe (whether he believes he’s an agent or not).

        • brenkilco

          Yeah, it’s really tough to buy a house detective as superman.The thing is if you lose the amnesia angle and all the secret agent mishegoss, what you’re left with starts looking a lot like Taken light. Call it Lost. Oh wait, you can’t use that title. Lost is taken.

  • pmlove

    Article suggestion: MacGuffin plots and ways to execute.

    We’ve had a few stories on here recently about finding X and different ways of dealing with them. How do you stop it becoming a ‘person X went to person Y and asked ‘where is person Z?” on loop (which I think was one of the criticisms levelled at Rebel City, for example)?

    Mini-goals? Find out the method to find them first and then focus on the intermediary goals – the ‘how to’ find them? Find it early and then have a follow on ‘it’s bigger than I thought’ plot?

    Just an idea.

  • SendHimtoBelize

    Read 10 pages.

    Baseline reality: Nothing is established before the story is set in motion. We are left to assume everything.

    Conceits: too many conceits for one film I think, or they might just be thrown in together too quickly. It would be like Jason Bourne waking up with amnesia and discovering he is super-human in the same scene. You need to space them out.

    Generally I was very confused reading these pages. It’s the Bourne Identity by David Lynch, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but presumably not what you were going for.

    • Gman

      Couldn’t agree more. You encapsulated my view succinctly.

    • BSBurton

      greatest name ever.

  • carsonreeves1

    There are two ways to approach this. If you’re just reading a script for entertainment purposes, you owe the reader nothing. If they start their script with “FADING IN LIKE A FINE WINE” and you think that’s the dumbest opening you’ve ever read, stop right there and throw the script away. Likewise, if there’s an overly wrought melodramatic scene in the first five pages, toss the script away.

    But if you’re trying to learn screenwriting, it will definitely help to read as far as you can manage. Some of your biggest ah-ha moments will come when read a terrible scene or a dumb character, and then you realize… “Oh shit, I do that too.” You don’t tend to have those moments when you’re reading something good. In a lot of ways, great writing can fool you into a false sense of security, that it’s all very easy, when, of course, it’s anything but.

    • Ryan Sasinowski

      Agreed. There was one script I’d read from here a while back. Probably one of the worst things I’d ever read. Without divulging too many details, the three main characters were so poorly described (names only) that it came as a shock when one of the guys mentioned he was black when he was hitting on a girl.

      That’s sort of when I realized I’d done something similar in a couple scripts, where I’d just said the name of the character.

      A while back, I came up with a saying I live by now: No matter what, your character won’t come across on the page anywhere close to how they do in your head.

      It’s a lot like one of Carson’s tips from a while back (GoodFellas, I think?) where he’d said, “Unless you tell us, we won’t know.” He used a guy who may or may not be in the same room as some other characters as a situation. (He described it better than I did, obviously.)

      One tip I’d read was to have a friend read through your script, and then go over it with them on a scene-by-scene basis, and ask what happened. If everything is clear, you’ve done your job.

  • jw

    Grendl, I love when you respond. It’s always classic, so here you go, kid…
    Intro gives us character — a guy struggling to remember, but is being “guided” on a “mission” that revolves around the economic summit. He looks to be a solid guy who could kick people’s ass if needed and he seems to have some decent skills in tracking.
    Main character initially refuses to believe he knows Jakub and that anything he’s saying is true. He stays the course on his mission to follow The Turk until he comes across the flashback of the little girl and then something triggers an internal response to that.
    Transition out of act 1 is where Jakub is confronted about the girl and he finds out it’s his daughter. He leaves and confronts the guy on the phone, which is where as a character he starts to distrust his situation and it pushes him out of his comfort zone. We, as the audience, also see here HOW he met the guy he’s currently working with and what that situation was like.
    This, all in between him “following” the movement of The Turk. Shortly after he discovers who he believes “the mark” is and focuses his attention around that individual.
    Further in we meet the “supporters” with Jakub and his wife and we come to understand a bit more about his background in a past he doesn’t remember, but the question invariably looms — who can he trust?
    What we see is that the flashbacks are often triggered by stress. He gets chased, gets in a fight, etc… and then something happens, which leads to him starting to remember her. Leading to his ability to trust Jakub.
    The 1/4 point of act 2 leads to the revelation that the main character’s daughter is in fact the target and he now believes that his daughter is in danger. He must now find her while continuing on his other mission, but these two missions are bound to collide at some time.
    Mid-point he discovers the tapes missing in the hotel and gets zapped by one of the officers, and in doing so, it triggers his memory about how he got there and the fact this was all a setup from the beginning. The people chasing him WANT him to get his memory back. They went looking for his daughter, took him when they couldn’t find her, tried to get out of him where she was and in the process became so aggressive that he lost his memory. They had to figure out a way to get it back and they knew that “stressors” and a familiar environment would do it. Which means that everything we’ve just witnessed was actually on puppet strings.
    —-
    Would you like me to continue?
    BTW – if you thought the midpoint twist was a bit wicked, that’s not the half of it.

    • pmlove

      One of my issues was that this midpoint twist aligns the goals of Sam and the chasers. After finding this out, he uses all his energy to find his daughter and get his memory back – exactly what they want – and he knows it!

      Makes it difficult to care if he’s not struggling against the conspiracy (perceived or otherwise).

  • BSBurton

    I love his reviews. We have something in common now!

  • grendl

    Wow, this isn’t being released until late November?

    What horrible timing they have.

  • rickhester

    Reminder: Writing is art, not science.

    • Paul Clarke

      Everything is science.

      • rickhester

        It takes an artist, not a scientist, to tell a good story.

  • Citizen M

    I read two more pages.

    p. 5 – “The door handle jiggles and clicks open.” Being able to open locked doors is an important skill. How did he do it? Show us. It is a clue as to his abilities, about which we know very little.

    p. 6 – Have I got this right? Sam enters the room. He has made no effort to ascertain if his knock-out drops he put in the soup have worked. He must have a lot of faith in them. Luckily, the Turk is out cold even though his food is “just grazed”. The Turk is in his bedroom, as though heading for bed. Was he in dressing gown and pajamas, or still in his business suit, or maybe evening dress? I cannot deduce what the Turk must have done to arrive on his bedroom floor.

    He searches the suitcase, which contains among other things a set of hotel towels. Comedy moment. The Turk steals towels, just like us ordinary folk. Or is it? We are told Sam “strangely gazes” at them. Does he see some sort of significance in the towels beyond petty pilfering?

    Note at this point we know almost nothing about Sam or the plot, so we are looking at every tiny action trying to pick up clues.

    Okay, so he notes red seeds and photographs an apartment door key. Routine spy stuff. But then there’s a “CREAK in the floor behind him” (the best hotel in Istanbul has creaky floors. Who knew?). He turns but there’s nothing behind him, only the Turk on the floor.

    But a hotel manager’s uniform in a slightly-open closet suggests someone came in and hung the uniform up behind Sam’s back.

    At this point I just give up. How is this possible? We are told there is a living room and a bedroom in the suite. I presume there’s a bathroom as well. The door from the passage presumably opens into the living room where Sam was examining the luggage. It is simply not possible for someone to enter, hang up a jacket, and leave, without Sam noticing them.

    p. 6 – Sam leaves and slips on his flat cap, which presumably makes him anonymous.

    The only flat cap I know is the British workman’s cap common in the 1930s that I can’t imagine anyone in Prague wearing unless they are being ironic or trying to make a statement. But whatever it is, if it is pretty universally worn by the citizens of Prague, that should have been noted in the early paragraphs setting the scene.

    —-

    There’s just too much wrong with this script.

    Firstly, the protagonist has it far too easy. Being able to pass unnoticed in and out of a modern high-class hotel, enter locked doors, and drug food with no control that the right person will eat it, all without a hitch, is too much to accept. Character is revealed through struggle and overcoming difficulties. But our guy hasn’t had to struggle; he has encountered no difficulties; therefore we know nothing of his character and cannot identify with him.

    In a typical movie, Sam sees the food tray on a cart with a room number in the corridor. He drugs the soup and goes away. A waiter comes by, picks up the tray, and takes it to a different room. Another waiter puts another food tray on the cart with the room number, and takes it to the Turk. Now we the audience know the Turk won’t be drugged when Sam returns, expecting him to be drugged. Tension. What is Sam gonna do? And later perhaps a bit of a comedy moment with the wrong guest drugged and falling asleep in a funny situation.

    But maybe it’s not that kind of movie. Maybe it’s more like Three Days of the Condor where the unravelling of the mystery is important, not the overcoming of difficulties.

    But with Three Days of the Condor and similar movies we get to experience the mystery with the protagonist. We recognize every fresh twist when it happens and suffer along with the protagonist.

    Here, we have no idea what Sam is trying to do. Why are we even seeing these scenes?

    Is it to establish that Sam is a gifted agent, a master of disguise who knows locksmithing and drugs, which abilities he will use later? If so, we need a clearer situation. He has a problem. He overcomes a problem. We see what he can do. Now he gets a really big problem which is a bit beyond him. Game on.

    Is it to set up the stakes. Obviously not, because we have nothing except Max saying someone will cripple some system. We don’t know who or what sytem, or even if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. I’m assuming Sam is a good guy, but maybe he’s a baddie and I want his system crippled.

    These first few pages are the establishing pages, that set the scene and lay out the problem. I know writers are encouraged to get into the action early, but if we are dumped into the middle of a situation without any context, the rsult is confusion.

    I think that is what has happened here. The writer has rushed into the story too early.

    Maybe take a page or two to set up the economic summit, establish who the main players and the issues are, and the nasty consequences of failing to get the right policies adopted or whatever Max and his team are trying to accomplish. Then introduce Sam and his failing memory.

    But I gather from other comments the story is really about Sam trying to find his daughter. All this economic summit stuff is a sideline. In which case you need to set up the family side of Sam’s life, not the business side.

    I read on to the half way point at page 54. It’s as if the story was broken up into bits and re-assembled at random. The same type of scenes are repeated over and over. There’s no sense of forward momentum, of any plot developments. It’s just follow the Turk, run from the cops, chat to Jakub, speculate about Alison, have cryptic conversations with Max, over and over.

    I would have to rate this [x] what the hell did I just read.

  • Franchise Blueprints

    OFF TOPIC

    This is better than the majority of animated feature films they’ve put out over the last 10 years.

    ENJOY!

    • Poe_Serling

      That was fun one!!!

      My two favorite animated shorts at this time of the year…

      1) Disney’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow with narration by Bing Crosby.

      2) And this one featuring the voice talents of James Mason:

      • klmn

        [XX} Genius.

        What I Learned. Don’t bury old men under the floorboards.

      • klmn

        This one came up on the next screen. Another good animation.

  • Linkthis83
  • Citizen M

    There’s a science to good writing, sure, but there’s an art to choosing good ideas to write about.

  • Casper Chris

    It can work. But as always, it works a lot better on screen.

  • klmn

    One common way to slip in exposition is “sexposition.” For instance, setting a conversation in a strip club.

  • walker

    This is the second weekend in a row without amateur scripts to review and I must say it seems something of a missed opportunity.

    • Levres de Sang

      I’ve been checking-in every couple of hours! It’s certainly a mystery…

      • klmn

        Word is that C’s Halloween costume is a mystery box.

    • klmn

      Maybe C has something special planned for Halloween week.

    • Poe_Serling

      Agree.

      I was kinda surprised that Carson didn’t scare up some AOW fun. Then again, I was really surprised that Carson had a Halloween week of scripts before Halloween week.

  • brenkilco

    Don’t know if this is exactly what you are shooting for but there are some comic movies that show you an event in the clockwork way characters expect it to happen and then repeat it in the disastrous way it actually happens. Most notably the Michael Caine caper movie Gambit and the Preston Sturges Comedy Unfaithfully Yours. You might check them out and see how well you think the technique works.

  • carsonreeves1

    Nice Post Hackofalltrades! Post more. :)

  • Citizen M

    Yeah. You get one free pass, maybe two, from the audience. After that you better deliver.

    I started the script for the third time this morning. I could see the outlines of an interesting story developing, but found even more niggles and confusions, so I stopped early.

    I don’t know what to suggest. A different POV maybe. Certainly much more attention to detail.

  • Meta5

    I recall something about 50 First dates being rewritten so that it was set in Hawaii. That way the cast and crew got to spend a few months there on the studios dime.

    Prague is no Hawaii but I could see talent being attracted to having a working vacation there.