Are you ready… for Die Hard with a 9 year old girl?
Premise: After witnessing the murder of her daddy, nine-year-old Becky and her dog set out to teach the scumbags responsible that Hell hath no fury like a pissed-off little girl with nothing to lose.
Why You Should Read: It’s my belief that somewhere deep within the human psyche there exists a zone of intense fury that, thankfully for most of us, will never manifest itself. A level of rage that can only be triggered by a morally reprehensible and personal transgression – like the murder of a loved one. That’s the core idea that kept insisting I write this script. And the most compelling perspective I could think of to explore that idea from was that of a young kid. So I knew going in that it could be polarizing and striking the right tone would be tricky. But I’m very pleased with how it’s come together and would really love to hear the thoughts of the ScriptShadow community. Thanks for looking!
Writer: Nick Morris
Details: 93 pages
A long long time ago I remember seeing a trailer for a movie called “Blue Streak.” It starred the great one himself, “Big Momma’s House” actor Martin Lawrence. The setup for the movie was: Martin Lawrence’s criminal protagonist knows the police are about to catch him for stealing a diamond, so he hides the diamond in the ceiling of a building under construction. He’s later caught and sent to prison. Two years later he gets out and comes back to retrieve the diamond. Only now the building is… a police precinct. So Martin Lawrence must pose as a cop to retrieve the diamond.
When I saw that trailer, I thought to myself, “That has to be the greatest setup for a movie ever!” I mean, what a clever concept. Now since then, I no longer believe it’s the best idea ever. But it’s still a damn crafty idea. As a plot device, it’s as clean a setup as you’re going to get. Someone has to ditch something illegal then come back to get it later, except now the conditions aren’t ideal for retrieval.
That’s the setup for today’s script. But the question we’re all wondering is, can it survive without a role for Martin Lawrence?
Jeff is driving his 9 year-old daughter, Becky, up to their cottage with their two dobermans, Diego and Dora. Becky’s still reeling after the death of her mother and is furious that Jeff is bringing up a new woman for Becky to meet, Kelly. Jeff assures Becky that no one can ever replace mom, but to please give Kelly and her 5 year-old son, Ty, a chance.
Becky’s not having it, storming off to her tree-house after Kelly and Ty arrive. Little does Becky know, her tantrum may have saved her life. Four escaped convicts, leader Dominick, muscle Apex, pervert Cole, and pedophile Hammond, descend upon the house looking for a key Dominick hid there ten years ago.
The four rough up Jeff, Kelly, and the kid, asking for the key, before Dominick realizes a young girl is out there, and she may hold the literal key he’s been looking for. So Dominick sends his boys out to go look for her, but Becky quickly outsmarts them. And when she gets Cole in a compromising position, she slams a broken wine-glass handle through his eye, killing him. It’s on!
(spoiler) Unfortunately for Becky, Dominick blows Jeff’s head off, which technically makes Becky an orphan. It also makes her pissed. So while Dominick’s men run around the property in search of that key, Becky runs around in search of revenge. And she’ll use any graphically violent means possible to get it!
One of the things we talk about here is irony. A big tough muscular guy working as a bouncer is expected. A small weasly geek with glasses working as a bouncer, and being good at it, is ironic. You’re looking to add irony wherever possible in a screenplay because it’s one of those things that, when done well, works like a charm.
Nick took that route here. Instead of a tough-as-nails New York Cop running around a property killing bad guys, Nick inserts a clever 9 year-old girl. It’s ironic, so it’s good, right?
Well, the thing with screenwriting is that sometimes rules collide. Something you’re told you should do overlaps with something you’re told you should never do, and a judgement call needs to be made. You can make the argument that There Was A Little Girl violates one of the most important rules in screenwriting: suspension of disbelief.
Is it believable that a 9 year-old girl could take down a group of big burly criminals in a non-comedic setting? I’d have a tough time believing that 9 year-old girl would have the strength to even stab someone with a wine glass handle.
However, there may be a solution to this. One thing I could buy into was a 9 year old girl with two full-grown trained Dobermans killing a group of men. If you kept both dogs alive and she used them for the bulk of her attacks, I might be able to buy into that. Maybe they were even fight dogs that Jeff rescued. So they have killing in their DNA.
The thing I’m more concerned with in There Was A Little Girl, though, is the dialogue. It lacks color. Throughout the first half the script, almost every line of dialogue is very basic, one or two lines. There’s zero spice. Here’s an example. Jeff greets Kelly when she arrives…
“Man, I have been waiting for this.” “Me too (looks around) Wow, you weren’t lying. This is beautiful!” “Thanks. You found it no problem?” “Yeah, well, I found it. Your sketchy-ass directions were no help. Thank God for GPS.”
‘Sketchy-ass directions’ is as colorful as the phrasing gets in this script. And it’s rare.
Look, dialogue has always been a weakness of mine. I’m aware of how difficult it is to write. But you at least have to try. Add some color SOMEWHERE. Here’s Dominick’s longest chunk of dialogue in the script: “Christ. I do not need this shit right now, Apex. Okay? There’s no time. There’s just no fucking time. I’ve been here too long already. They’ll be out searching by now. Door to door. Even if they don’t remember this place, they’re still gonna eventually show up here. Right?!”
The sentences are all very short, very to-the-point. There’s zero color. Check out Tommy Lee Jones’s famous line in The Fugitive: “Alright, listen up, ladies and gentlemen, our fugitive has been on the run for ninety minutes. Average foot speed over uneven ground barring injuries is 4 miles-per-hour. That gives us a radius of six miles. What I want from each and every one of you is a hard-target search of every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse in that area. Checkpoints go up at fifteen miles. Your fugitive’s name is Dr. Richard Kimble. Go get him.”
Is it fair to compare Dominick’s line to one of the most popular movie lines in history? No. But I’m trying to make a point. You need to do more with dialogue than just keep the plot moving. Especially in a script like this where you have criminals. Criminals are ideal vessels for spouting colorful dialogue. That’s the first thing I’d tell Nick to do here – do a dialogue pass and FIND THESE CHARACTERS’ VOICES!
Lastly, the plot is too predictable. I was way ahead of the script, often waiting for the writer to catch up to me. (spoiler) Jeff’s death might have been a surprise had I not read the logline. But that was it.
I’ve found that you can sometimes get away with a predictable plot. But only when the character development is strong. In other words, you’ve got to give us one of the other. You can’t give us neither. And There Was a Little Girl had neither. Apex’s conscience was the closest thing we got to a character arc. We needed more.
This is the second amateur script I’ve read in a row (not last Friday’s script, but a consultation) where the writer could’ve benefited from more time with the characters before the inciting incident. That would’ve allowed us to give the characters clearer flaws so we knew what they needed to work on. I know everyone’s afraid that if they start the script too slow that the reader will get bored. But if you give us a teaser that rocks our world (and There Was a Little Girl had a pretty good teaser), you can take your time setting up the characters before the inciting incident occurs. I barely knew Kelly before Dominick showed up. And since she’s the one who survives between her and Jeff, that was a problem, since I could care less about a woman I barely knew.
I like the marketing image of a girl (who will need to be older) with two vicious dobermans staring into a house at night. But this is a tricky one. Will people buy tickets to a movie with this young of a lead that’s this violent?
Script link: There Was A Little Girl
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: How do you add color to dialogue? Here’s a trick. Think of all the people in your life, past and present, who have weird/unique/fun/interesting ideas/thoughts/speech-patterns/obsessions. Find one that’s similar to your character and write the character the way that person speaks. I was briefly friends with a guy who’d spent a year in China. All he could talk about when you brought up anything was how differently they “did it in China.” It became so annoying that I Peking ducked out of that friendship. However, those are the types of people you’re looking to for inspiration if you want to add color to dialogue.