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Genre: TV Pilot (Crime Drama)
Premise (from writer): An ambitious junkie and his severely traumatized war veteran sister, struggle with working for their manipulative crime boss father’s drug trafficking business.
Why You Should Read (from writer): The Sopranos meets Breaking Bad…. Could the bar be set any higher? Back in February when I uploaded Shrapnel to the Black List, it was ranked no. 2 overall on the monthly list. At its core, Shrapnel is about a brother and sister fighting their true identities trying to be people that they’re not in order to please those around them. Anyway, with the main goal of becoming a TV writer, the purpose of Shrapnel is to serve as a convincing staffing sample for similar genre/tone shows. It is not the most high concept of ideas and as a consequence I don’t expect to become the next Mickey Fisher with this project. I simply wrote the show that I want to watch. But concepts aside, the reason why we tune into our favourite shows each week is because of the characters, and hopefully the dried blood of my passion for the characters/story world is evident on the page.
Writer: Cameron Pattison
Details: 70 pages

MISFITS_IWAN_007midresIwan Rheon for Tommy?

Meth.

Need I say more?

It’s everywhere.

Who wouldn’t want to write about meth after watching one of the greatest shows in television history?

Bitch.

Not only that, but one of the best internet time wasters in the world is looking at those “Faces of Meth” sites. You see the user before meth and then after meth, and let me tell you. It’s the most entertainment you can have on your own outside of, well, doing meth!

But I got bad news for meth lovers. You don’t want to write about meth. Ever since Breaking Bad, half the pilots out there cover meth-dealing, heroin-dealing, or some other drug dealing. That’s the problem with chasing trends. You never know if you’re going to snatch onto the trend’s tail, or fall down on your face and watch it float away.

I’d go so far as to say Meth/Drug centered pilots are the pilot version of zombie specs. Everyone’s got one. And when everyone’s got one, there are only two ways to stand out. You have to find a unique angle that hasn’t been done before (meth addicted talking unicorns?) or you have to be an amazing writer who writes the shit out of your pilot. Let’s hope Cameron beats the odds and nails one of the two.

Shrapnel follows a rather informal narrative, jumping back and forth between different sets of characters in different situations. Our main character is Tommy Harris, a 20-something young man who lives in a small town where everyone’s struggling to pay the rent. The best way to keep a roof over your head in these parts is to… you got it… sell meth!

Tommy doesn’t want to do that. He’s got a nice thing going with his fiancé, Sarah, and despite his Drug Kingpin father, Vincent, pushing him to commit to the family meth business, you get the sense that Tommy wants to live an honest life.

Meanwhile we meet Rene, a 30-something lesbian military vet who’s in an even tougher situation than Tommy. She’s got a wife, Dani, and the two are trying to raise their 4 year-old son, Luke, despite Dani’s overbearing mother trying to gain custody of the child.

The two storylines each have their own twists. In a flash-forward at the beginning of the pilot, we see that Tommy’s killed Sarah for “the family.” We then jump back to a week earlier to figure out what led to this.

Rene and Dani are so broke they’re forced to live in a cheap hotel. It gets so bad that Rene pawns their wedding ring to pay for their room. But when Dani spots her wife ringless, she gets upset, so Rene goes about trying to get the ring back, eventually connecting with an old war buddy to steal it. As you’d expect, that doesn’t go well. At all.

There are other players involved. A young naïve kid, Chris, is working for Vincent. When he does something wrong, Vincent has him make up for it in the worst of ways. Then there’s a highway massacre where another meth-connected family mows down a group of cops.

There’s also the degenerate Mickey, Vince’s right-hand man, a soul so devoid of a moral compass, he’d probably skin a man alive if Vincent told him to.

In the end, we learn whether Tommy did, indeed, kill Sarah. We also reveal that Rene is Tommy’s sister and Vincent’s daughter, and that the only way she’s going to be able to provide for her wife and son is if she gets back into the family business, a move she’s been avoiding her entire adult life.  I guess it’s true what they say.  The family that draws breath together sells meth together.

I don’t know if Shrapnel’s a show. But Cameron sure is a good writer. Read the first scene of Shrapnel and I dare you not to keep reading. There’s a heavy atmospheric intensity to the way this man sees the world that makes you an audience member when you read him, not a critic.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Cause this site is about learning, I have to be critical, and while Shrapnel is, by and far, a strong sample, there were some things that didn’t quite click.  Or, to use meth-speak, Shrapnel was only 70% purity.

My biggest issue is that if you didn’t tell me what the pilot was about beforehand, I’d have a hard time figuring out what the story was. Don’t get me wrong. The writing is stone cold impressive:

Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 1.47.26 AM

But as we jumped back and forth between Tommy, Sarah, Rene, Dani, Vincent, Chris, and Lou, I had a hard time keeping up with how it all fit together. And I get that that was the idea – we needed to keep reading to figure it out. But because I didn’t know how, specifically, Rene and Dani were involved with Tommy and Vincent, their story felt a little out of tune for me.

With Tommy, we get that opening scene which adds purpose to his storyline. We see his fiance dead, cut to a week earlier, and we see him with her, alive. Happy. Therefore as that story progresses, we have a reference point for what to look for.

I didn’t have that reference point with Rene and Dani.

You can sometimes pull that off if the “out in left field” storyline is compelling on its own merit, but the struggle of trying to get a job and retrieve a wedding ring didn’t quite do it for me. Without understanding these characters’ importance, I didn’t care if they succeeded or not.

One of the problems with writing “Traffic” narratives (multiple story threads that are happening independent of each other), is it’s a lot easier for the reader to get lost. A writer must ALWAYS take this into consideration so that they throw in the occasional reminder of what’s going on. I call it “holding the reader’s hand.” The higher the difficulty level of your story, the more you need to hold the reader’s hand throughout it.

Cause I needed that. I got lost. In one scene, Chris ends up sleeping with Sarah (Tommy’s fiance) while Vince videotapes it, and I guess all three parties were in on it. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why anyone would do this, but it definitely felt like one of those “throw real-world logic out the window” situations. The audience always smells it when characters aren’t acting honestly, so the scenes never work.  And I didn’t believe Sarah would fuck Chris under any circumstances.

As for Sharpnel as a TV show, here’s how I see it. The script definitely achieves what it sets out to do. Sopranos meets Breaking Bad is EXACTLY how I’d pitch this. And while Cameron isn’t David Chase or Vince Gilligan, he’s pretty darn good. This guy can make dirt sound exciting.

I’m just worried about the lack of a hook here (which he admits is a problem).  Breaking Bad had a chemistry teacher who was forced to cook meth to save his family. Sopranos had a mobster with a therapist. Shrapnel needed something to stand out.  I so often hear writers say what Cameron said up above.  “I knew there was no hook but I just wanted to write it anyway.”  You can FIND a hook, people, and still write the show that you want.  It takes a little longer to figure it out, but it’s worth it.  A hook ALWAYS gets you a leg up on the competition.  And this is a competitive fucking industry so you need every leg up you can get.

Still, if you’re a producer looking to develop dark gritty TV ideas and need a writer, you’ll definitely want to sample Shrapnel. It’s one of the better amateur TV pilots I’ve come across.

Script link: Shrapnel

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

What I learned: An “out in left field” plotline is a sub-plot that operates independently from the main plot. There’s zero crossover into the main plot until some point later in the story, when the two plots finally intersect. Father Karras’ sub-plot in The Exorcist is an “out in left field” plotline. The idea behind this device is to create a dramatic curiosity in how this “isolated” storyline is going to connect to our “central” storyline. The problem with these, though, is that if they’re not great, audiences tire of them quickly. They become impatient with the fact that they don’t seem to have anything to do with our movie/show. I didn’t think Shrapnel’s “out in left field” Rene storyline was bad, as the characters involved were strong. But the storyline itself didn’t interest me, and I turned on it as a result. So my advice with these, is, if you’re going to write them, make sure they’re an excellent standalone story. They have to work on their own. That way, even if we can’t figure out how they connect with our main plot, we’re still enjoying ourselves.

  • Ange Neale

    “I’d go so far as to say Meth/Drug centered pilots are the pilot version of zombie specs.”
    Bloody hell, Carson — those ‘Faces of Meth’ images are completely creepy — they become zombies. What a tragedy of Biblical proportions. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

  • jw

    Looks good! I like what Cameron’s done here because his writing is ENGAGING the reader. He doesn’t give a shit about “unfilmables” which is great, because the only people who do are amateur writers or readers who can’t get their heads out of books. He cuts on imagery, which is great and he dives into the character immediately. What I would say is that this script is too long and thus, it definitely needs to be chopped. House of Cards pilot (no commercials) was 65. I’m okay with the idea of the “slow burn” but odds are the teaser in this would likely become about a minute or a minute-and-a-half. I get why Cameron has it stretch, but I also think brevity can go even further in terms of impactful characterization. There are only so many times we need to see the character’s eyes in the first 3 pages. Overall, good stuff.

  • Matthew Garry

    Goes to show that one man’s “stone cold impressive” is another one’s “if-I-wanted-to-listen-to-William-Shatner-performing-Rocket-Man-I-would-do-just-that.”

    I found it very hard to read, having to cobble together adjectives and nouns seperated by scene headers, missing verbs, constant pauses, etc. All those stylistic decisions detracted from the story for me, rather than enhancing it.

    I’m fine with using verse to underline the mood or tone of (parts of) a particular scene, but sometimes a bloody, cracked windshield is just that: a bloody, cracked windshield.

    • Marija ZombiGirl

      I’ve only read 15 pages so far but I’m somewhere between your and jw’s post right above. I think the character work is great and the first page definitely hooks the reader. But I was also a little distracted by the stylistic writing, having to go back and forth a few times. Yesterday, the subject was power words which led to metaphors and/or unfilmables being discussed. I don’t mind sparsely used metaphors if they underline something important but there were a couple of true unfilmables in here that I could have done without. Still, Cameron can definitely write and I can easily imagine this getting picked up or a producer taking a real interest in him so best of luck :)

      • Ange Neale

        Marija, if I remember rightly, you’re French, non?

        That being the case, Happy Bastille Day for Monday, darl!

        • Marija ZombiGirl

          Hey :)
          Technically, no – I’m from Denmark, I just live in France ;)
          Thank you !

          • IgorWasTaken

            Til lykke!

  • IgorWasTaken

    Carson wrote: “But Cameron sure is a good writer. Read the first scene of Shrapnel and I dare you not to keep reading.

    I took the challenge and… No. I didn’t want to.

    As I read the scene, lots of stuff seemed unneeded, forced. After reading the first page, I realized that it was unneeded.

    Young and naive. Ambitious eyes that long for more.

    Then we get, “His eyes swollen and blood red, weeping clear puss.

    And yet just a few lines below that: “Tommy’s bloodshot,
    swollen eyes struggle to focus on the road.

    Then: “The reflection of 200 feet tall Western Hemlock evergreens
    pass by the window, native only to WASHINGTON STATE.

    “Reflection”?

    – it’s a young FAWN.” Unless it’s maybe a newborn, “FAWN” needs no modifier about its age.

    Carson, the lines you quoted as “stone cold impressive” I think are way overdone:

    Sharp, good looking features loosened up by substance abuse.
    Young and naive. Ambitious eyes that long for more. But right
    now, all that matters is he’s–

    • brenkilco

      Those are some pretty amazing eyes, he’s got. And though I’m not sure it’s technically incorrect in general people weep and eyes ooze, especially when it’s puss, even the kind that can’t conceal longing and ambition.

      • IgorWasTaken

        OK, let’s say that swollen/blood-red/pus-weeping eyes can somehow show longing & ambition. Still, does it help the story – does it help the writer – to put longing & ambition right there, on page 1?

        From a writer’s POV, I can understand that if all we put on page 1 is Tommy with a pummeled face and track marks, we’re concerned the reader will react with, “Why should I care about this guy?”

        So we hedge things a bit by slipping in some mention that Tommy is actually not a bad-looking guy, though that’s hard to see at the moment. We tell/hint to the reader that Tommy is going to look better in a day or so.

        But what’s the upside of going beyond that? The upside of also telling us on page 1 that Tommy also has “ambitious eyes that long for more”? I think it actually hurts the story, the writer’s cause.

        Tommy’s ambition, his longing for more should be a reveal some number of pages later. Let the reader have this opening moment with Tommy simply as he appears to be – looking like shit.

        In fact, in Scene 1, let us see Tommy without even a hint of ambition or longing. Then surprise us on page __ when he shows us that about himself.

        • Linkthis83

          “OK, let’s say that swollen/blood-red/pus-weeping eyes can somehow show longing & ambition. Still, does it help the story – does it help the writer – to putlonging & ambition right there, on page 1?”

          I believe the answer is = there is no answer. It’s all situational. If the script is getting passed on because of it, then it certainly doesn’t help. If it helps bring somebody into the story, then it’s good thing the writer did it. The only thing we have to go by here is the feedback.

          For you, it takes you out of the story. Because of that, you question it’s usage. For Carson, it brought him into the story. This happens all the time on here. There’s no one way to write something that appeases everyone. For me, appeasing everyone isn’t my goal. Nor is appeasing a few. I want to write how I feel like writing. What works for me to tell a story. If my way alienates some readers, that sucks, but if it’s HOW I WRITE, then it’s HOW I WRITE.

          The focus which you have put into the words/sentences the past couple of days are far from how I look at scripts. I equate that kind of focus to pausing a movie every couple of frames and deciding what’s best.

          I am NOT saying there is anything wrong with that approach. I’m just offering a perspective that is different from yours. I want STORY first. So if that is a tool a writer chooses to use, then so be it. It’s also possible that the writer isn’t CHOOSING this specific tool. This just might be how they write. If it’s a device that is so overused it is distracting, then I’d advise toning it down. If it’s something done rarely and just to help get the reader aligned with the character, then that’s fine. Some think it’s a cheat and shouldn’t be used, others don’t care. I don’t really care, as long as it doesn’t repeatedly take me out of the story.

          When it bothers me is when a writer tells us something story specific in that manner. Then it’s an issue for me.

          “In fact, in Scene 1, let us see Tommy without even a hint of ambition or longing. Then surprise us on page __ when he shows us that about himself.”

          It could be hedging, but it could just be the writer writing however they feel like writing. But it is true, the reader may not hang around long enough to learn about that.

          In other words, I think it’s a bit nit picky. However, you perspective is your perspective and you know what takes you out of a read. I just wanted to tell my side of it.

          • IgorWasTaken

            LT83 wrote: “I want to write how I feel like writing. What works for me to tell a story. If my way alienates some readers, that sucks, but if it’s HOW I WRITE, then it’s HOW I WRITE.

            OK. Just, if that’s your POV and you post a script here, it would help if you let us know – because you’re saying you want to know if your script works, but you don’t want notes.

          • Linkthis83

            C’mon now, that’s not what I’m saying.

            What you’ve done today is suggest that the writer change his script based on how you’ve reacted to it. But yours is just one reaction.

            So I’m saying that if my way of writing affects people a certain way, I’m not going to immediately change it. I’m going to take in the feedback and make a determination. You’re not offering both possibilities in your post, your saying it shouldn’t be done. That’s how I interpret what you wrote.

          • IgorWasTaken

            LT83 wrote: “What you’ve done today is suggest that the writer change his script based on how you’ve reacted to it. But yours is just one reaction.

            Yes, exactly.

          • Linkthis83

            LOL. Alright then. No discussion it is. You responded to me saying I don’t want notes on any script I write and “Exactly.” Fair enough.

          • IgorWasTaken

            You were challenging my posts as if I’d said, “This is The Word from God.” And as part of that, you wrote, as if I’d not know this – “But yours is just one reaction.”

            I never wrote that my post was anything more than “just one reaction.” So, at the end of your long objection, I really didn’t see the problem. You say my post is just one opinion; I agree my post is just one opinion.

          • Linkthis83

            I offered my perspective. You interpreted it as a challenge. Which I was hoping to avoid by acknowledging that it’s yours and I don’t think it’s wrong and that I just wanted to share mine; in my original post.

          • IgorWasTaken

            Carson posed a challenge in his review: “Read the first scene of Shrapnel and I dare you not to keep reading.

            My posts today have been in that context.

            And yes, I often post “micro” notes here. And I usually label them as micro notes. Today I didn’t because I said I was taking Carson’s Scene-1 Dare.

            The POV of posts here every day are myriad. Some comment on the overall story. Others on elements of the story. Some point out typos and incorrect historical references. Some do all of those.

            I think it’s broadly acknowledged that even a brilliant 110-page script can die because people are put off or not engaged by the opening pages.

            Carson clearly liked this script. Carson reads a LOT more scripts than I do and he’s clued into things about screenwriting that I certainly am not. But, take a look at Somersby’s post here – cataloging all of the “eye” references in just the opening 1 1/4 pages. I agree with him – that’s a problem. And I think it’s the kind of problem that might inspire people to put down the script.

            And so, again, in the context of Carson’s “dare”, I commented on page 1 – that I had problems with it, and I included my suggestions for making it better. Pretty much SOP around here.

          • charliesb

            If my way alienates some readers, that sucks, but if it’s HOW I WRITE, then it’s HOW I WRITE.

            You don’t really mean that do you? I mean surely you are open to the idea that you may need to periodically change the way you write to better convey your story, ideas, etc. As amateurs writers hoping to sell our work, is not pretty much guaranteed that at some point we will have to “evolve” our writing as we read works by others, discuss them and apply that gained knowledge to our craft?

          • Linkthis83

            Amateur scripts alienate people all the time on here. I know that my writing isn’t going to appeal to everybody. That’s okay. I’m not saying that I don’t have more to learn, won’t benefit from feedback, or won’t use any of it. I used a lot of it when I posted pages on here back in April. I was extremely grateful and lucky that people took the time. I’m saying that if I have a way that I write, if people tell me it’s too much of this or too much of that, well, if I like writing that way, then I will keep it. If I change my style to fit feedback I don’t agree with, then I’m letting others dictate how I write, and that doesn’t help me. That’s where people get lost trying to find their voice. I believe in myself and my ability. I don’t believe I’m above people. I read amateur scripts and give feedback all the time. I do that for me and for the writer (should they get anything useful from it). Trying to understand and solve why I don’t think something works in a script has been the most valuable exercise for me. And I’m giving my opinion on what I think helps execute their intentions for the story. If they don’t agree and keep their script as is, I’m not going to begrudge them for that. It’s their work. They should stand by it if they believe in it. Who am I to say that they are wrong for doing so? I will take that very same stance. I know that no matter what I write it’s not going to get better without the help of others providing feedback. It’s 100% necessary. But I’m also allowed to approach the work the way I want. That’s one way it makes it mine. If I complete scripts that make me happy, then I’m successful. If I complete scripts that tell stories that make people invested, then I will be ecstatic.

            I also know that the majority of feedback comes from a place where people think a writer is doing something that hurts their chances of getting their script purchased and made. The reality is, they don’t know that for a fact. It’s what they believe based on their experiences thus far. I’m completely okay with taking certain risks (and I may not believe they are risks at all).

            I will always be open to criticism and feedback and always tell others I could be wrong. But I also know this from everything I’ve researched, read, watched, heard, discussed = there is no one correct way to write a script. So I will evolve, but writing the way I want.

            And I don’t think I will have to periodically change the way I write, I will always have to change the way I write because I will never be writing the exact same thing. Every writer has to change. The script demands it. The story demands it. The genre demands it. The characters demand it. No two scripts are the same.

            -There are so many variables in this endeavor. The first one that matters is: Can I write? As of right now, I believe I can. And I want to get better. But part of getting better is believing in yourself and your ability. Not just to give in to popular criticisms.

            I didn’t mean to write all this. I’m bold in my stances regarding the craft. And honestly, the others around SS that are bold, tend to chime in less. I naively think it might help an amateur when they see another one post strongly about something. When I first showed up on the scene I was influenced by everything and everybody. It took me about 10 months before things became a lot clearer for me. And you have got to believe in yourself and your ability. Plenty of professional writers still struggle with writing. You don’t just keep learning and then one day you’ve mastered it. It’s always a fight. Yes I think I will “evolve” as a writer, in fact I have no doubts that I already have, but I think a major factor in that evolution is COMPREHENSION. Understanding the whys and the whats of a script/story are what lead to evolving.

            One final note, I love discussing the craft. Especially with the writers on AOW. I love hearing what their intentions are and why they made certain choices. I like to see what I missed as the reader that they might’ve actually made clear as they wrote it. I don’t believe READERS are always right.

            I could write forever about this. Sorry I’ve already written so much. I appreciate the comment though, sincerely.

          • charliesb

            i hear what you’re saying. And I’m glad you’re opinion on “HOW I WRITE” is a lot more in-depth than that one statement I called out.

            What stands out to me in your comments to Igor is that you seem to be worried that taking his advice (or similar advice) would result in some how suppressing or changing the writers “voice”. However I think the type of feedback that Igor was giving is not nick picky as you called it, but the type of feedback that can help shape and refine it.

            Voice is very different than the mechanic’s of writing and I think that Igors’ complaints and suggestions speak more to the latter than the former. As screenwriters our job is to convey the story as clearly as possible. Removing a few extraneous words from Cameron’s descriptions is not going to quiet his voice, it’s going to make it stronger.

            Of course this may be a case where we just have to agree to disagree. I (like Igor I think) also place a lot of importance on how sentences and descriptions are formed and am easily taken out of the story when something does not roll over the tongue quite right. I’d like to believe that there exists a happy medium of “purplish” (lilac perhaps) prose and clean writing that makes a screen play clean, clear and engaging.

            P.S. I know you love to discuss craft, I may not post everyday (or week even), but I’m here reading. :)

          • Linkthis83

            I think that’s all valid and fair. Honestly, I was cognizant of the fact that my perspective could be taken a certain way and I tried to make sure it didn’t by saying that I was just providing my perspective and that I didn’t think what he wrote is wrong. Which means that I don’t think that you are wrong either. I don’t so much believe in the “right” and “wrong” of writing. There are too many scripts out there with examples of these things that are successful. But we do need to always remember our place: we are amateurs first :)

          • IgorWasTaken

            Thanks, Charlie. And I agree with your distinction between voice and mechanics/craft. Well said.

            And so, there were some things that I didn’t like, but that I didn’t comment on because they struck me as style choices (i.e., voice). Such as the eyes with “weeping clear pus” – among other reasons, because how close would the CU have to be to see that? (see image below, from “Un Chien Andou”). I’m also not a fan of double-dashes without a space before and after. But again, that’s a style sort of thing, and I’ve certainly seen writers use that.

            BTW, if the writer Cameron happens upon this post, here’s another small suggestion for page 1: Consider changing your first slugline from INT. CAR – NIGHT to just WINDSHIELD. And then your first real slugline would be after that, EXT. CAR WASH – CONTINUOUS.
              

        • brenkilco

          If you want to introduce a character by saying he’s an ambitious guy who longs for more I have no problem Sure his words and actions will have to convey this to the audience that will never see the description but it’s reasonable to want to provide some sense of who he is. However, it’s more than a little incongruous to describe him this way while he’s hosing human blood out of his car. And it’s just purple prose silly to suggest that his eyes are going to convey these qualities. BTW eyes don’t long for more. They don’t long for anything. They’re eyes.

          • IgorWasTaken

            brenkilco wrote: “If you want to introduce a character by saying he’s an ambitious guy who longs for more I have no problem… [fine]. However, it’s more than a little incongruous to describe him this way while he’s hosing human blood out of his car.

            Yeh. I have no problem with “cheats” during character intros – telling us where he went to school and he’s sad because his gf just dumped him – but in a scene like the one on page 1 of this script…? That was another aspect that made it seem weird to me.

        • Ange Neale

          I wondered at the time: wouldn’t meth destroy any ambition and longing… except for more meth?

  • Randy Williams

    Congrats to the writer for a worth the read!

    There is much to admire about the writing style.

    However, personally, I couldn’t get into the story. It felt forced, especially everyone being so mean to the poor lesbian. Doesn’t she ever run into anyone that isn’t anti-gay, anti-veteran? Was this supposed to endear us to her? It didn’t work for me. I checked out when they killed the pawn broker. It was like they killed the actor who was hired to play the meany oppressor. Nothing was real to me.

    Carson wrote, “Without understanding these characters’ importance, I didn’t care if they succeeded or not” Could something expound on that? What does he mean, “characters’ importance” there?

  • Somersby

    Too much over-writing here. Distractingly so. Take a look at the number of eye references:
    …Ambitious eyes long for more
    …His eyes swollen and blood red, weeping clear puss.
    …Tommy, clothes covered in dirt and dried blood, feverishly hoses the car with vacant eyes.
    …stares blankly at…
    …Tommy’s bloodshot swollen eyes
    …His blurred vision focuses on—
    …Tommy stares at the lifeless fawn with a solemn gaze.
    …His eyes are dry.

    And that’s all in the first one and one-quarter pages.

    There are a number of badly constructed sentences as well. “He opens the back door of his car with a pale face.” (He’s opening the door with his face? The car has a pale face? ) “The Man turns to Tommy covered in the buck’s blood”. (Who is covered in buck’s blood? Tommy or the turning man?)

    I know the intent… at least I think I do. But the over-writing is awkward and intrusive, drawing the reader to the writing instead of the story. I feel the writer needs to let the story breathe on its own. Right now every moment, every character’s emotion is described and explained, making sure we (the readers) get it. Not necessary. Trust the dialogue. Plus actors hate to be told how to play out every beat on the page.

    This could easily be trimmed to 58 pages if just the excess description and directions were eliminated.

  • ElectricDreamer

    This pilot falls into what I like to call the Secret Double Life (SDL) TV sub-genre.
    Each aspect of that life MUST BE in direct conflict with the other…

    The Sopranos: Therapy vs. Mob Life vs. Family.
    Boardwalk Empire: Philanthropist Politician vs. Crime Lord.
    Breaking Bad: Teacher vs. Drug Lord vs. Father Figure.
    The Americans: Mother Russia vs. Family Life Behind Enemy Lines.

    But I didn’t get in Shrapnel how these diametrically opposed elements would clash.
    Everyone one of the aforementioned shows HAMMERS away on that central conflict.
    Shrapnel will benefit from a similar SDL device to enhance the solid character work.

    • charliesb

      This is awesome. Something I’ll have to remember in my own writing.

    • pmlove

      Good point. I think the other thing it allows is that the conflict means they are different and therefore likely to approach things in a new and interesting way.

      Seeing Walter White break into the meth business was interesting because he approached things in his own way. Seeing Tommy in Shrapnel get dragged in is likely to be less exciting from the get go as he is ingrained in the family business – any choices are going to be driven from that experience and likely to repeat the standard tropes without trying something fresh.

      Still don’t get the love for The Americans mind you. The conflict feels forced (and more seems to be the male character liking America vs the female character being loyalist Russia, than spy vs family life).

      But yes, Shrapnel needs something that will make me think that Tommy is likely to approach things in a way I haven’t seen before, just like a mobster in therapy or a teacher dealing drugs.

      • ElectricDreamer

        “Good point. I think the other thing it allows is that the conflict means
        they are different and therefore likely to approach things in a new and
        interesting way.”

        Spot on. This formula virtually guarantees inter-conflict between characters.
        One of the most common movie forms: The Buddy Action Comedy.
        For example, a criminal and a cop approach EVERYTHING differently.

        If done right, those two folks can’t agree on much of anything = CONFLICT.

  • IgorWasTaken

    Carson wrote: “A writer must ALWAYS take this into consideration so that they throw in the occasional reminder of what’s going on. I call it ‘holding the reader’s hand.’ The higher the difficulty level of your story, the more you need to hold the reader’s hand throughout it.

    I don’t know about others here, but I was always felt pangs of embarrassment when I would consider doing that.

    But then I had a pro tell me about one of my scripts with lots of characters – and the first character we meet is not the protagonist – “Add this to his intro: ‘, our hero.'”

    Since then, I’ve seen that in a few pro scripts, and in those scripts it worked fine: “JANE, 27,… , our hero.”

    Of course, instead of doing that with a comment in the action, sometimes you can get a (different) character to provide the hand-holding for the reader.

  • ripleyy

    So no love for Cartella? That sucks, but still, Shrapnel seems like an interesting idea. I read some pages of it back when it was first published but I didn’t connect with it.

  • IgorWasTaken

    Yeh, I get that literally about “loosened up” skin. But IMO that phrase has such a positive ring to it because it’s so often, “Have a drink and loosen up.”

    I’ve never heard that phrase used for skin – except when someone’s explaining how to prep a turkey for Thanksgiving.

    So for me, the strong positive sense of the phrase interfered with the literal meaning.

  • TomG

    I’d always thought it was impossible to sell a TV pilot without extensive experience and/or connections, but ‘Extant’ seems to prove there’s at least a remote chance. Here’s the writer’s story…

    http://gointothestory.blcklst.com/2014/07/interview-part-1-mickey-fisher-writer-extant-cbs-series.html

    OT: I’ve enjoyed the discussions this week about various descriptive styles. I’d love to read ‘Killing on Carnival Row’ (based on my understanding of how it stretches boundaries) or Desperate Hours if anyone would be kind enough to send to tomgarf1 @ gmail. These being the top picks of Carson and readers. thanks!

    • walker

      Once you are signed by Brooklyn Weaver, you have connections.

    • gazrow

      Sent. :)

      • Ange Neale

        Gaz, if you wouldn’t mind, neal0018 at gmail dot com, too, please? Thank you!

        • gazrow

          Sent. :)

      • andyjaxfl

        Voting up because Killing on Carnival Row is fantastic.

  • walker

    Pus bothers me in almost any circumstance, but even more so when it is misspelled on page one of a script. Puss on the first page, well… I’ve read a few of those too.

    • Guest

      .

      • walker

        Puss got your tongue?

        • Ange Neale

          No — that was mine that I deleted. Don’t know why it changed back to ‘guest’ – I had ‘fessed up to it.

          • walker

            That’s ok I just wanted to make that quadruple entendre.

          • Ange Neale

            ‘Cos double and triples are for underachievers.

          • walker

            Underentendres.

          • walker

            Vaginas?

          • Ange Neale

            Walker, my goodness! Pussies, darling!

          • walker

            Yeah I was just being a dick.

    • Ange Neale

      I replied to your post but thought better of it, Walker — deeply disturbing. My apologies.

      • walker

        For those long lonely stretches of writer’s block, I suggest reading Save the Puss. It even comes with a handy beat sheet.

        • Ange Neale

          Nothing like applying our creativity to coming up with ways to misspell bodily flooids.

          • walker

            Just try not to mispill them.

          • walker

            By the way “deeply disturbing and ill-considered” was the general consensus on my last script.

          • Ange Neale

            Ah, but you get redemption points for creative spelling and incorrect yoose of apost… apusstrufees. Blud. Pheesees. When you’re skin phalls of after yoove zombifryd…

        • Ange Neale

          A somewhat sticky and dripping beat sheet.

  • gazrow

    Congrats to Cameron on getting a “[x] worth the read” as well as a strong endorsement of his writing from Carson! :)

  • walker

    “And this is a competitive fucking industry so you need every leg up you can get.” I feel that this sentence from Carson is replete with possible jokes.

  • charliesb

    There is a small market. You may be able to sell your script, but you’re not going to be running the show. If you’ve got some credits to your name you might be paired up with a powerhouse as an executive producer to help guide you (eg. Helix). But most likely it’s going to serve a sample to get you staffed. Of course TV is blowing up all around us and the rules might be changing. At the end of the day, just like film, write something amazing and the right people will (hopefully) find you.

  • pmlove

    As a reading experience this was better than everything else in this cohort. I was in from the start. The real weakness is not whether his eyes are honey glazed on the first page or twinkling with determination, it’s that the lead character’s (Tommy) storyline is the least interesting.

    Contrary to Carson, I was invested in Rene’s storyline – I loved the diner scene. The whole thing had some depth. Far more so than the generic but reasonably-executed Tommy story which is where, if anywhere, I was bored.

    On left field stories: I like them. It’s a choice. I don’t think you need to explain – indeed, please don’t. It ruins it. I’m not an idiot. The plot is compelling enough (to my mind) to stick with it.

    Take TV shows like The Bridge (the Danish version – I believe there are at least a UK/French and an American/(Mexico/Canada) too). This has concurrent storylines for three episodes before they link. Not that that’s the gold standard but it isn’t a death knell.

    It’s good writing. Any technical error on the eyes was irrelevant for me – I was interested. It conveyed tone, quickly conveyed the character. I was in the story. And then it moved on so I didn’t have time to dwell on it. Any improvements are on the generic idea.

    So go think up something original and get to it.

  • charliesb

    I didn’t finish the script, but my worry here is that the subject matter is a little too “gritty” for television. Carson made a good point about Breaking Bad and Sopranos. My mom watched Breaking Bad, that’s possible for me to say, because A) Breaking Bad, took it’s time getting into the really dark subject matter and B) it featured characters that she could understand and sympathize with, so by the time the shit hit she was already invested in Walter, his family and Jesse.

    Shrapnel is dark in a way that I think can work in 2 hour movie. But week after week might be hard to sit through (I’m going through this right now with The Leftovers – what a depressing show). These are not characters we identify with, they’re the people that a lot of us want to pretend don’t exist. There is no character that is my “in” to this world. I’m watching everything from the sidelines, and if I’m not liking what I’m seeing, I’m just as likely to look away.

    Stories about criminals and drug users and peddlers always have a level of intrigue about them, we imagine we could easily solve our problems by robbing a liquor store or mixing up a batch of meth. We watch characters live out these dreams and feel good when these characters eventually get there comeuppance because as much as part of us wants these people to get away with their crimes, there is a part of us that needs the validation that it isn’t better on the other side of the fence.

    If you look at the numbers for Breaking Bad, they are not super fantastic. It saw a big up swing in the numbers around season 3 when the media started pushing it really hard. But even the series finale brought in 1/3 of the amount of people who watched the season five opener of the Walking Dead.

    I watched an episode of The Walking Dead with my mom, who couldn’t understand “why I would watch a show about dead people coming to life and biting the faces off the living”. But as she watched it, she started to get really interested in the characters. She kept asking me questions about Laurie and Rick and why Shane would lie about Rick being dead. As turned off by gratuitous violence as she is, the characters pulled her in.

    When we write gritty, or dark subject matter for television, I think we need to be thinking about our mom’s (or someone’s mom anyway) as part of the audience. Because the kind of numbers you need to get picked up/renewed on television these day’s require a lot of moms to be watching. That doesn’t mean tone it down, it means find a way for a person who has little interest in meth, murder and mayhem to become invested in your story. You don’t need to shock us 5 times in your pilot, we need to find a way to relate to your characters, your concern should be believability, which is a completely different thing from truth.

    • Somersby

      Excellent comments.

    • Magga

      I haven’t read this script, so I may totally agree with you, but in regards to what works on TV I’m not sure you’re right.

      The entire reason for this golden age of TV we just went through was that the number of providers made niche markets possible, and that shows went for truth over sympathy. TV can get back on track if people understand that making a niche LOVE something is better than making everyone LIKE something. This was literally the motivation behind making Breaking Bad and Mad Men. HBO admitted their mistakes when the bosses did a panel in Norway recently, and are working at making more specific and less broad shows. The quality of TV is that it doesn’t try to reach everyone’s kids and parents, but that the people who love the show are willing to pay for a channel/write angry letters to cable providers when they threaten to drop a channel/will subscribe to a specific streaming provider/will be brought to a place where they are willing to buy similar entertainments. My mother in Norway, my father in France, my brother and my granddad, all have discovered Mad Men independently of each other, and yet the ratings are not that high. That’s because people have a number of ways to get to shows, and judging by who watches something live is no longer relevant. Breaking Bad is probably a bigger phenomenon than Walking Dead, though we’re living in a time when this is hard to measure accurately. But the stated goals of several outlets are to go for love rather than wide acceptance, and specificity and disruption are probably the keys to that. I hope so, or we’ll never get back to Golden Age-level quality and TV will go the way of cinema.

      • charliesb

        I wish I could agree with you, but unfortunately I don’t think niche markets are enough. A golden age of television (for me) is not tons of good shows fitting niche markets, it’s superior writing, acting and cinematography across the board. It’s my mom finding merit in Walking Dead, it’s me getting the same level of enjoyment from an episode of Hannibal that I do from an episode of Downtown Abbey (the early years). I don’t want a few shows that cater to my favourite genres, I want everyone (the majority) to find worth in a variety of types of shows.

        Breaking Bad is great example of this. I liken it to the movie Titanic. When Titanic came out, the first week it didn’t do very well, it made some money, but considering what it cost, nothing to get too excited about. But word of mouth got around. And the second week the theatres were full. You know why it was the highest grossing movie of all time? Because it brought people who who had stopped going to the theatre back to the movies. The older people came in droves. Them + your parents + you + everyone who just wanted to see Leo = BOX OFFICE BANK.

        Breaking Bad was on for 2 & 1/2 season before it “blew up”. The “niche” market had been watching it since the beginning. A lot of us knew Vince from X-files and were there since day one. But it only became a phenomenon when EVERYONE starting watching it. When soccer mom’s and underage kids, your mailman, massage therapist, barista etc would say “Did you watch Breaking Bad?” and about 5 other people would pipe up “NO SPOILERS!!” Vince and his team were able to tell a story about a man who sold meth, murdered people, got in bed with crime lords and Nazi’s, to people from every walk of life. And IMO that is what we should all be striving for. If your story is interesting and engaging why would you only want a niche group of people to see/hear it?

        “That’s because people have a number of ways to get to shows, and judging by who watches something live is no longer relevant”

        Yes and no. TV is, and for the foreseeable future will continue to be about advertising and advertising is about numbers. Yes, channels like HBO, Starz, Cinemax, etc make their money by people subscribing to their channels, but again a niche market isn’t going to bring in enough revenue to keep a small show airing. The only reason Breaking Bad and Mad Men existed when they did is because AMC was a relatively new channel and willing to take risks (that paid off) with their content. As their profile and subsequently caliber of advertisers grew, they became less forgiving in both subject matter and numbers. 9 times out of 10, numbers is going to be everything and reaching that target market of 18-49 is the ultimate sweet spot.

        ETA:

        I find it funny that an AMC Exec would be telling you that they are interested in “making more specific and less broad shows” since that hasn’t gone very well for them. Low Winter Sun, Rubicon, Turn, Halt and Catch Fire. Each of these shows are pretty specific, and they’ve all done pretty poorly. AMC is not giving them a few years to find their critical acclaim or build their audiences, half of them were yanked in the first year. (Though Turn was miraculously renewed and Halt & Fire has not been cancelled yet, but it seems likely).

        • Casper Chris

          “I find it funny that an AMC Exec would be telling you that they —are interested in”making more specific and less broad shows” since that hasn’t gone very well for them… […] “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that their shows with the most mass appeal have been the ones that are the most successful for them. Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Walking Dead.”

          Neither Breaking Bad, Mad Men or The Walking Dead scream mass appeal to me. They all seem like properties that, simply based on their very specific subject matter, has the potential to turn off as many viewers as they attract.

          On a macro level, Breaking Bad, for instance, does not appeal broadly. It cuts out a niche for itself with its cancer-ridden and morally ambiguous protagonist and its New Mexican setting overflowing with crystal meth, dope fiends and violence. It’s on the micro-level that the writers make sure to include elements that can potentially ensnare your mother and grandmother.

          In other words, the key is specific on the macro level, broad on the micro level. If you do specific really well, you’re more likely hit it off in a major way with one specific audience and then the excitement generated with that audience rubs off on others (the power of word-of-mouth). Breaking Bad is the success it is exactly because the show runners didn’t set out to make something that catered to as many people as possible. Quite the contrary.

        • Magga

          It was HBO who said that, not AMC. AMC chose Mad Men and Breaking Bad in particular to appeal to niche audiences, then got greedy when Walking Dead broke out in such a huge way. Their channel simply ran older movies, and since other channels did the same thing, they were in danger of being dropped by cable providers. They decided to go into original programming aimed at a small audience who would write angry letters to cable providers if the channel was dropped, and their passion was expected to be stronger if the shows served a niche that was underserved by other providers. Same story with The Shield, and similar niche thinking gave us The Wire and Deadwood. Halt and Catch Fire is a very transparent attempt to merge their big hits, ie “what if Don Draper asked Walter White and Lisbeth Salander to make a computer in the eighties”, the other new shows they’ve made are also attempts at reaching an established audience instead of finding a new and specific one. As seen by the splitting of seasons etc, they’re risk averse at the moment, and it’s hurting them. Having said that, I think it’s very little we disagree about here.

  • CamoPatto92

    Hi Brianna. Thanks for the congrats! I read Cartella a few weeks back and thought Shrapnel wouldn’t get picked. Great script!

  • CamoPatto92

    The Writer of Shrapnel here. Long time lurker on the site. Thanks to everyone who took the time to read whatever they could of my pilot.

  • IgorWasTaken

    And so, Saul won’t be submitting a script for Amateur Offerings Weekend?

  • Malibo Jackk

    Am hiring this guy to pitch my script.

  • Magga

    “Pay no mind to people who don’t celebrate you” and you’ll never learn a thing

  • Midnight Luck

    That is all i ever thought from the moment i saw the first advertisement for THE SOPRANOS. I also couldn’t believe no one made the connection. It was so obvious. It was the exact same HOOK they used, but they cloaked it in a GODFATHER like family Drama instead of Comedy and called it unique.

    Whenever i brought it up to people they would say “no, but it is so different, you don’t get it”, but i did get it. Very much so. They didnt understand that the HOOK was what i was talking about and that that is what was identical.

    • Malibo Jackk

      David Chase once described the show as
      — a gangster who has mother issues.
      (The mother character is said to be based on his own mother.)
      He says they looked at 500 woman who all played Italian mother
      stereotypes and it wasn’t until Nancy Marchand auditioned that someone noticed the similarity and remarked — ‘That’s your mother.’

      ANALYZE THIS sounds like it is the psychiatrist who has the family issues
      — as well as a gangster client who has gangster problems.
      (Haven’t yet seen the movie.)

      • Midnight Luck

        Yes all that info is great to know and is interesting,
        But what i am talking about is that when ANALYZE THIS was released, the idea, the HOOK, was: A gangster who needs to see a psychiatrist to help him deal with being a gangster.
        At the time it was hilarious and totally unheard of, a completely unique and just awesome idea. The “why didn’t i think of that” kind of idea.
        When SOPRANOS did it they played off the EXACT same HOOK, and even played up the humor of it in the trailers. Yes it may also be about other things, where as Analyze This was more one note, but still:
        the CORE HOOK, was exactly the same.

        • Malibo Jackk

          Who’s the protag?
          SOPRANOS — Tony Soprano
          ANALYZE THIS — The psychiatrist

          (The same but different.)

          • Linkthis83

            Yes…but what’s the HOOK? ;)
            (The same and same)

            I only did this because it feels like you could then also say…What’s the genre? Midnight’s emphasis is the HOOK.

            Sorry. I’m bored today. Just wanted to play along.

          • Malibo Jackk

            Hey link
            I have no interest in watching ANALYZE THIS.
            But LOVE the SOPRANOS.

            i guess you could say I see a different HOOK.
            ANALYZE THIS hook — A psychiatrist has a gangster as a client.
            SOPRANOS hook — A crime boss needs a psychiatrist to deal with
            ‘family’ issues.

            Between you and me, we can call them the same.
            But if you going to pitch your ideas…

          • andyjaxfl

            Analyze This is pretty damn good. It’s the sequel that is a complete and utter disaster. Robert DeNiro ends up visiting Billy Crystal because he can’t stop crying during emotional commercials. It’s worth the rental just to se Bobby D cry…

      • Kirk Diggler

        Analyze This is to The Sopranos as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is to Christine. In other words, hardly alike at all. Both CCBB and Christine feature cars with magical properties… and that’s about it. In both cases, the approach to the storytelling was quite different.

  • Howard Irons

    Hey everyone. Your friendly neighborhood lurker here. This is off-topic but, wanted to share this video that I saw. Very daunting process but I can definitely see its merits.

  • cjob3

    I always wondered what the original plan was. Such a shame. The episode after her death, using existing footage, was so clunky and jarring.