Make sure to get those amateur entries in. There WILL be an Amateur Offerings this weekend. Title, Genre, Logline, Why We Should Read, plus a PDF of your script to email@example.com
Premise: During World War 2, a famous Jewish director was coerced by the Nazis to produce a propaganda film showing the concentration camps as a spa for Jews, all while being a prisoner in one. Based on the true story of Kurt Gerron.
About: For the past seven years, I’ve been writing, directing and producing my own short films. Since my love for making movies is bigger than my wallet, I almost went bankrupt because of it. With that said, a year ago I wrote this screenplay after a FULL YEAR of research. The story is full of irony, and I never understood why no one had made a movie about Kurt yet.
Writer: Marcos Vaz
Details: 116 pages
It’s so great to hear that Marcos is out there doing exactly what I told you to consider at the end of yesterday’s article. Stop waiting for people to give you approval. Bypass the bullshit and be your own approval.
With that said, if this is Marcos’s plan for a first feature, I’d probably advise him to write a cheaper movie first. For those unfamiliar with budgets, any sort of period film is going to cost a lot of money, because you’re recreating a world that no longer exists. Old costumes, old props, old locations, old looks. That gets expensive fast.
However, this is obviously a passion project for Marcos and what I’ve found is that if you are going to make your own movie, intense passion will inspire others to join your cause. People will want to be a part of your movie and they’ll help you find ways to overcome financial restraints. That’s how a ton of movies get made.
So let’s see if the writing matches the passion here.
Kurt Gerron is a famous Jewish actor, writer, and most prominently, director. His plays are legendary. And he’ll be the first person to tell you that. This guy’s got one hell of an ego on him.
When Gerron and his wife, Olga, are rounded up by the Germans and sent to a concentration gamp in Czechoslovakia called Theresienstadt, they receive special treatment from the start. The head commander at Theresienstadt, Karl Rahm, is a huge Gerron fan. So, at first, things are going swimmingly.
Then Rahm gets word that the Red Cross will be visiting soon. They want to make sure that the Germans aren’t violating any human rights. He becomes concerned that nobody here looks happy (I wonder why). So he gets this idea: Have Gerron put on a play. People will have fun producing it. People will have fun watching it. It should lift the spirits of the camp so that everyone’s busting a gut by the time the Red Cross arrives.
Meanwhile, Rahm is putting together his own “play” – as in, he’s going to make the prisoners act like this place is a blast. He’s got scripts for the kids and the prisoners and the staff, who all must hit their marks, say the right things, smile and convince these pesky Red Crossers that everything is just wonderful.
Gerron speeds through pre-production but isn’t able to get a show together before the Red Cross arrives. Strangely, that turns out to be no problem, because the Red Cross found everything to be lovely, even going so far as to write a glowing letter that appeared in all of the world’s biggest newspapers.
Because things went so well, Rahm gives Gerron another task. He wants him to film a documentary of Theresienstadt and make it look like a vacation getaway. Gerron is thrilled that he still gets to put on a show and gets back to work.
Unfortunately, with the Russian army closing in and the end of the war nearing, Rahm is forced to ship as many Jews as possible to the killing camps, and Gerron ends up being one of those prisoners. In the end, he dies in the gas chambers of Aushwitz.
Okay Marcos. I’m going to get a little intense here. But it’s only because I see a lot of potential in this. Unfortunately, if we’re going to meet that potential, we’re going to need a page 1 rewrite. And that’s because the plotting is all over the place. The King’s Fool has no structure.
Gerron gets to this concentration camp and his mission is to produce a play that makes the prisoners happy so they won’t incite suspicion when the Red Cross arrives. This is a strange goal for a movie, since you’re basically building an objective that the audience wants the hero to fail at. If our hero succeeds, a camp full of Jews lives on in misery. Not exactly a situation to root for.
In addition to this, we have this odd secondary play going on where Rahm is directing all of the prisoners to follow a script for the Red Cross. I must have asked myself a thousand times, why wouldn’t you combine these two storylines into one and have Gerron be the one who’s directing the pretend happy camp?
Because clearly, Marcos had trouble plotting them both. First of all, the prisoners never got a chance to see the play! Which I thought was the whole point – they would see it, be happy, and that happiness would convince the Red Cross that everything was great. Instead, the Red Cross shows up, and decides everything’s great anyway. So then what was the point of the play plotline?
As if this wasn’t problematic enough, there were still 42 pages left in the script! And the main plotline was over! What do you do now? Marcos decides to introduce a new plot where Gerron is asked to direct a documentary of the camp. That becomes the driving force for the rest of the film.
Because this plotline comes on so late, it doesn’t have time to properly build. And by the time it does gain steam, we have to end it. Which puts a confused exclamation point on this structurally schizophrenic film.
I will say that I loved the moment in Aushwitz where he and his wife perform this dazzling scene for the camp, only for us to find out in the closing title cards that they were killed as soon as they got off the train. The problem was, it was so clumsy getting here that we can’t appreciate the greatness of this scene.
This goes back to advice I routinely give on the site yet still writers refuse to listen. Keep your story simple. The more you complicate things, the worse your script is going to get. Unless you’ve written 20 scripts and understand how complexity works in plotting, keep it simple.
Throughout The King’s Fool, it seemed like Marcos was in way over his head. If he just would’ve simplified the plot, he’d have been fine.
That plot needs to be one of two things. Either Gerron is the director for the “pretend happy camp” Rahm needs ready for the Red Cross. Or Gerron directs the documentary of the camp so that it looks like a vacation spa. One of those two is your movie right there. And it’s probably the second one.
Not only would this be good for the film’s structure, but it would allow us to add some heroism into the story.
In the current draft, we learn that the Russians are getting closer. You’ve also built up this death sentence storyline where anyone who gets on the transports is going to the death camps. You could easily work those two elements into a heroic moment for Gerron.
While shooting a scene, I could see him learn that 2000 prisoners are about to be sent away on the transports. Gerron storms out and insists that they bring the prisoners back. “I need them for extras. We have to make this look real.” And there’s this big hubbub where Rahm won’t budge and neither will Gerron, and finally Rahm relents, giving him his extras, and Gerron just saved 2000 people.
I don’t know if stuff like this happened of course. But you need to look for moments LIKE this. Where the main character actually does something heroic.
More importantly, though, the plot needs to be simplified. I do believe there’s a movie here. This is an interesting setup. But holy heck do we need a proper plot.
Script Link: The King’s Fool
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: You don’t want to have to restart your story on page 75. If you have to give your main character an entirely new goal at that point in the story, there’s probably something wrong with your structure.
What I learned 2: When you include singing in your script, make sure to italicize all of it to visually differentiate it from regular dialogue.