Logan Martin’s script, “Meat,” becomes the first amateur script to make it into my Top 25 in over 5 years!!
Premise (from writer): A misanthropic man notices bizarre changes in himself, his wife, and the animals inhabiting the territory around their homestead as they attempt to survive self-imposed isolation.
Why You Should Read (from writer): After moving from North Dakota post-college at the end of 2016, I started to write scripts in my spare time and fell in love with it. My first screenplay placed in the top 20% of the 2017 Nicholl fellowship, and as of now I’ve “finished” five features and am working on my sixth. I aim to create original, meaningful stories, but even more so focus on presenting them in a unique way. MEAT has been compared to The Witch by readers due to its low budget, as well as its setting and tone. It’s an unconventional horror story that poses a moral question without appearing pretentious.
Writer: Logan Martin
Details: 72 pages!
Okay, I have to admit I’m a little nervous. I like this script so much. And I’m afraid I’m not going to convey all the reasons why in this review. I’m not going to articulate something or I’m going to forget a key reason for its awesomeness.
But the biggest thing I want to get across is that this is one of the best ways to break in as a screenwriter. Find a topic that interests you, come up with a story, then tell it in a way that best shows off your voice.
Because beyond this just being a great script, it’s a tremendous showcase for the unique way in which the writer sees the world.
Does that mean Meat’s perfect? That’s a tough question to answer. It’s perfect for what it is, for what it’s trying to be. But as a piece of screenwriting, it’s filled with lots of “mistakes” and rule-ignoring. However, I contend that following the rules is how you write a good screenplay, but breaking the rules is how you write a great one.
Meat introduces us to 30-something couple Ben and Rein. Ben and Rein are normal adults in every way but one – they live in the middle of nowhere, off the grid.
We learn later that they both had normal jobs, lived in the city. But at a certain point they became exhausted by the monotony of it all – the rat race, that thing all of us get sick of sooner or later. The difference is, Ben and Rein decided to do something about it. Or, maybe it was more Ben than Rein. But we’ll get into that more in a second.
When these guys say “off the grid,” they really mean, “off the grid.” To the point where they’re hunting their own food. Ben enjoys the thrill of the hunt, and he’s got a particularly healthy deer population to shoot away at. They also have rabbits skittering about, chickens, and a couple of pigs (Bert and Ernie) in their mini-barn next door.
Every night, Ben prepares some juicy red MEAT for dinner. He takes pride in the fact that he’s killed and prepared the meal. So there’s nothing that makes him happier than sitting with Rein after a long day and eating. That juicy bloody dripping red… meat.
The only thing left in life that agitates Ben is going into town. There are still supplies the two can’t obtain on their own. And so a few times a year, Ben has no choice but to make that trip to the grocery store and stock up on necessities. Ben dislikes his latest experience so much, he proposes to Rein cutting the store out completely so that they’ll finally, officially, off the grid. Rein’s hesitant but if it’s what Ben wants, she supports him.
As the days go by, we get the sense that Rein is having some regrets about this new life of theirs. It’s not blatant. She’s always agreeable and on board with her husband’s choices. But Rein may not have envisioned that “off the grid” was this off the grid.
And so one day she drops a bombshell on Ben. She no longer wants to eat meat. Ben stares at her, stumped. Hunting, preparing, cooking – they’re his favorite thing to do for her. “Why?” is all he can think of to say. While she doesn’t say it then, it’s clear that the process of killing animals and eating them has started to affect her. “Well, if that’s what you want,” Ben concedes.
And while they don’t know it yet, that tiny choice is the beginning of the end. Without a sufficient amount of food and protein, Rein starts getting thinner and thinner. Ben is increasingly frustrated with her decision, but he’s dealing with his own issues. Not long after that day, Ben goes hunting, and when he lines up a deer in his scope, he sees that a second deer, next to it, is… STANDING UP ON TWO FEET. As if talking. Ben lowers the rifle to watch the deer disappear into the woods.
Ben’s shaken by the experience as it was just so real.
As time goes by, Rein becomes more resistant to Ben’s hunting, and seems to be getting too close to the animals, particularly Bert and Ernie, their pigs. One day, one of the pigs gets out of its pen, and Ben goes chasing after it, following its tracks in the snow. To his shock, after awhile, the tracks turn from four separate feet… to just two.
And if that isn’t bad enough, the next time Ben goes hunting, he gets shot at. What the hell is going on? When he comes home later to find that Rein has made dinner with three table places instead of two, the truth of just how fucked up things have gotten comes to light. But what Ben doesn’t know is that it’s gotten far worse than he can imagine. And that he finally may be the hunted, rather than the hunter.
Oh man. Where do I start with how good this was!
Let’s start at the top and discuss the TENSION in Ben and Rein’s relationship, something that was felt from the get-go. This choice was paramount to the script working because, remember, 80% of this script is two characters. So you need some sort of conflict to make that interesting for that long. By adding this underlying tension to Ben and Rein’s relationship, you build SUBTEXT into every conversation they have. Every word has an additional meaning. A simple “How are you?” doesn’t mean “How are you?” It means, “Why aren’t you talking to me? Why are you acting so weird? Did I do something wrong? I’m trying to be respectful here and not push but I’m getting frustrated.”
This is something newbie screenwriters don’t get. Every time a character in one of their scripts says, “How are you?” it literally means, “How are you?” Which is boring. And that’s not to say sometimes “How are you?” can’t mean “How are you?” But it’s when EVERY line is literal that dialogue becomes patently boring. This is where the critique, “Your dialogue is on-the-nose” comes from.
Martin needed to stick the landing on that relationship because, as many of you noticed, there wasn’t any GSU in Meat! “Yo Carson. Didn’t you say all scripts need GSU to be good? Why you lie?” Sheesh, get your bloody meat hooks off me. GSU is the main ingredient required for mainstream genre screenwriting – horror, thriller, action, adventure, sci-fi. But it isn’t a writer’s only option. And it’s used less frequently with indie fare, which is what Meat is.
If you’re not going to utilize the GSU formula, your next best option is creating a dramatic question that drives the narrative. That’s a fancy way of saying: Have an overarching question that the audience wants to see resolved. In the case of Meat, it’s “Are these two going to make it?” It will, of course, be up to the individual reader to determine whether that question is interesting enough for them to be invested. And I would assume that, for some of you, it wasn’t. You didn’t care if these two “made it” or not.
This is the danger of moving away from heavy horsepower storytelling tools like GSU (goal, stakes, urgency). Is that people with short attention spans or less interest in the psychological battles of characters aren’t going to jump on board.
But see, this is why I think Meat is so great. It’s not just about the frame-battle between its two main characters. Martin starts adding little mysteries here and there that add layers to the story. When Ben starts seeing animals propped up on two legs talking, it’s like, what the fuck is going on? And when he starts getting shot at, it’s like, who’s shooting at him?? It could be their neighbors, it could be Rein, it could also be… the animals he’s been hunting.
And there’s actually one big advantage to a non-GSU script. It’s easier for the writer to stay ahead of the reader. If your hero has a clear goal, like getting the Ark of the Covenant or killing the terrorists, there aren’t a ton of ways to achieve that goal. As readers, we have a good sense of how things are going to play out, even if we don’t know the exact path by which we’ll get there.
Without that clear end point, the writer can yank the reader around in a multitude of unexpected directions because the narrative isn’t being pulled towards an obvious one (kill the terrorist). And that’s why I enjoyed this so much. I had no idea where it was going, pretty much up until the final page. And I can count the number of times that’s happened in the past year on one hand.
Now a lot of you may point out the short page count. And yes, I agree that that’s a problem. The industry standard for a feature is between 90-120 pages, with the sweet spot being between 100-110. However, if you are going to make a mistake in this area, it’s better to be on the low end (less than 90) than the high (over 120).
I fought with the 75 page count for awhile, wondering if it was because of the lack of dialogue. Dialogue takes up more space, so if you don’t use a lot of it, your script is going to be shorter. And there wasn’t a lot of dialogue here. Which I liked, by the way. It made it so that each time there was a conversation, that conversation had weight.
In the end though, I think this needs to be beefed up (no pun intended). You need one more subplot. And I’m not sure where that’s going to come from. I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments. I’m thinking Ben gets most of the focus here. So a subplot that focuses on Rein would be nice. Maybe something where she spends more time with the pigs and chickens, especially since the pig payoff in the end is so great. If we can just get this up to 85 pages, I think you’ve got enough for a feature.
Man, I really liked this. Never has a sentence as simple as, “I don’t want to eat meat anymore,” shaken me so much. And that’s a testament to Logan and his amazing ability to capture the depth of this fractured relationship. I mean hell, this script even had a dream sequence in it (a HUGE Scriptshadow no-no) that a I liked. Has the screenwriting sky fallen?
I would love for “Meat” to get as much publicity as possible because I think it deserves to make the Black List. It’s exactly the kind of script they used to celebrate before they went all true-story/biopic. Hopefully the industry recognizes that it’s still possible to write original unique stories. Great job, Logan. I hope this script jump-starts your career!
Script link: Meat
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[x] impressive (Top 25!!!)
[ ] genius
What I learned: Learn to dramatize your ideas. Say you want to make a statement about our society’s obsession with killing and eating animals. The bad writer will come up with a series of scenes of characters debating the issue. “Meat eating is bad.” “But we were put on this earth to hunt. We need food.” “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, no one would eat meat anymore.” Watching and listening to shit like that is nauseating. As a writer, what you want to do is DRAMATIZE your idea, like Logan did with “Meat.” In order to make a statement about this topic, he placed two characters up in the middle of nowhere where they had to hunt their own food then had one of the characters no longer want to participate, leading to an organic exploration of the moral implications of an animal-killing meat-eating culture. Always look to dramatize your ideas!