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Premise (from writer): When a professional contract killer discovers he’s become the target of an assassination himself, he teams up with the would-be killer to figure out who set them up.
Why You Should Read (from writer): Been a screenwriter for a certain number of years, written some amount of screenplays, placed in various categories of various competitions, and done other unspecific things. But why should you read this specific script? I don’t know. Because I think it’s a decent script. Because I’m genuinely curious what kind of bashing Carson gives it. Also, this was a top 10 script in the Industry Insider Competition – Roger Avary round. No, it did not win the coveted honor of first place, but Fargo also lost best picture to The English Patient, so clearly people do make mistakes.
Writer: Matt Williams
Details: 114 pages
Ugh. Another hitman script.
In the immortal words of Darth Vader: “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO-OOOOOOOOO!”
Has there ever been a hitman script that didn’t follow the exact same formula as every other hitman script? A cursory glance through my memory banks says, “Nuh-uh.” And thus I’m stuck eye-muscling my way through yet another generic story with yet another generic outcome.
Unless! Unless, The Savage South locates the hitman-script-miracle-serum and injects itself before it’s too late. Maybe with the help of Kevin Costner? Hey, didn’t I just write an article about positivity yesterday? Shouldn’t I have hope? Shouldn’t I be channeling the sweet-sounding hum of Nutty Australian Lady’s soothing voice? Please, I want more money to show up in my mailbox!
40-something Jeff Hollis is a hitman in New Orleans haunted by his gangster father’s murder of his mother. He works mainly for a group called the Dixie Mafia. And while you’d hope there was something unique about this deep south band of criminals, they’re really no different from any other mafia. They do unsavory things. They make a lot of dirty money. And if someone steps out of line, they call on old Hollis to put a bullet in their cranium.
Except one day, all of that changes. Hollis’s boss, Myron, tells him to make a pick-up for him, a job he doesn’t typically do. When Hollis gets there, he meets Eddie, a pathetic sort who confesses that he’s been sent here to kill Hollis but can’t go through with it. By whom, Hollis asks. Hollis is shocked to learn the trail leads back to the man he trusts the most, his boss and friend, Myron.
So Hollis grabs Eddie and they go to kill Myron. But just as Hollis is about to pull the trigger, Myron asks Hollis why he (Myron) would send the most inadequate hitman in history to kill him? Hollis takes pause. It does seem rather strange. Myron goes on to say it’s because he wanted Hollis to live. He was actually following an order from the leader of the Dixie Mafia, the reclusive Dominic, an order he couldn’t refuse unless he wanted to end up sans life.
So Hollis and Eddie go to find this guy, only to learn that Dominic has sicked the number one hitman in the country on Hollis, a bad motherfucker known as The Irishman. And if that weren’t bad enough, there’s a cop named Kessler who’s chasing Eddie for another murder entirely. In other words, there ain’t a lot of wiggle room in this pursuit.
Along the way, Hollis learns about the elaborate string of secrets and lies that led to his mother’s death, and how they had nothing to do with his father, but rather all point back to Dominic. Problem is, finding this guy is impossible. That is until an unlikely ally joins Hollis at the last second, prepared to help him achieve the justice he deserves.
What the hell. This was really good!
To be honest, I was a little dreary-eyed at first. The script took its time getting started. And that’s its biggest weakness. I eventually realized that all the early scenes are setting up the cast of characters, which eventually pay off. The thing is, I’ve read so many scripts where writers do this only for things NEVER to pay off, that I didn’t trust they would here either. Once I realized this was the real deal, I actually went back and re-read a lot of the early scenes.
The strength of this script is in its incredible plotting. Every piece of information is important. Every twist and turn has a purpose. And every character is in the script for a reason. There were two hook points for me. The first was when Hollis gets set up. That’s when I sat up (literally) and said, “Hmmm, okay, I’m intrigued now,” (around page 27) and the second is when Myron explains to Hollis the much bigger plan going on (around page 60 – the mid-point shift). That’s when I officially said, “Okay, I’m in it now.” I honestly haven’t read a script this well plotted, amateur or pro, in a long time.
In fact, I want to do something today that I don’t usually do. I want to speak directly to the writer, because I feel like if he can fix some of this stuff, he can really have a special script here. So these are the things I felt needed work.
The first act – The opening scene was good. It catches our interest and makes us want to find out who these guys are. But after that, I was bored for 25 pages. I just kept meeting people who didn’t seem important at the time. Hollis kills a man who seems insignificant. Hollis talks to a bunch of people in rooms. Kessler talks to people in rooms as well. I think readers are going to zone out somewhere in the first 30 and start skimming on you. Either move these scenes along faster, condense this section, or make it more entertaining. I don’t know if the scenes need more conflict, a bigger mystery box, more suspense, or what. But I didn’t get hooked until Hollis and Eddie met.
You can do more with Eddie – I think I know what you’re going for here. You’re trying to make Eddie the lovable loser. The guy who we’re hoping we’ll figure his life out. While the backstory with Eddie and his family is good, Eddie is eventually relegated to the “question-asker” character (see Ellen Page in Inception), someone to have around so our main character, Hollis, can bounce exposition off him. I don’t think Eddie needs to be the outrageous comic relief or anything (Kevin Hart), but he needs more personality. He needs to stand out somehow.
The Irishman must be bigger – As I was writing the above plot synopsis, I started writing this line: “The Irishman is a hitman that would make even Quentin Tarantino blush.” But then I realized that wasn’t true. He wasn’t unique enough. Wasn’t big enough. The Irishman is a solid bad guy, but he’s nowhere near as nuts as he could be. You need to think Anton Chigurh territory, maybe not that bizarre but definitely that memorable. This guy slits the throat of a patron who mouthed off to him. That doesn’t even make sense (he’s endangering his mission, since the waitress would’ve tipped off the police on who to look for). I believe you’re capable of writing someone a lot more original.
Kessler – While I understand that Kessler’s cutaway storyline adds a sense of urgency (someone chasing Hollis), I never really believed he was going to be a problem for Hollis. Maybe it’s because of that opening scene, when we see that Hollis clearly has him under control, or maybe it’s because Kessler’s too “light.” That and his scenes aren’t very interesting. You can boil them down to a dozen variations of “Do you know where Hollis is?” Just like Eddie, just like the Irishman, Kessler’s gotta have more shit going on. I don’t know if he needs to be reckless or dirty or unpredictable, but if he’s this perfect polite cop who only exists to give us something to cut away to, I’d rather not see him in the story. We have to make this guy more watchable. (crazy thought: Maybe make him a woman instead? Pitch it to Brad Pitt’s people as a way for Brad and Angelina to work together?)
The Dixie Mafia – Finally, I want to know more about and feel more of the Dixie Mafia. What’s different about these guys? What do they do that other mafias don’t? Find out what’s unique about them and exploit it. Remember that if you’re not exploiting the very things that are different about your story, then what’s the point of including them in the first place? Why not make them the Russian mob or the Italian mob? Do a little research, find out what makes this mob tick, and then slather your story in it. Because that’s one of the reasons I was checking out early. Things felt too generic – like every other hitman/mafia script I’d read.
Matt Williams, thank you for surprising me today. I had a long day (met some great Scriptshadow readers for 3 hours but they tired me out!) and was three-limbs into bed before this nice little gem pulled me back out. It’s not quite there yet, but dammit it could be. This was a cool script, and something that’s certainly worth checking out.
Script link: The Savage South
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Remember that if all the good stuff happens later in your script, you’re probably in trouble. Readers love to start skimming once they get bored. So you gotta grab them from the start and never let go. If you have a heavily plotted script like The Savage South and you need that first act to set up a lot of stuff, that’s fine, but REMEMBER TO MAKE THOSE SCENES ENTERTAINING AS WELL, AND NOT JUST SET-UP. Each scene should be a story in itself that you’re trying to entertain a reader with. If three scenes go by that are all set-up and no entertainment, that’s pretty much it for you. Whether they keep reading or not, the reader has mentally given up on you.