Welcome to Amateur Week! All week we’re reviewing scripts from amateur writers that got the best response from this post. We’ve already had one script perform REALLY WELL in “Fascination 127.” Will “Chase The Night” be the next big amateur script to celebrate? Let’s find out!
Premise: (from writer) On his 25th birthday, a troubled orphan receives information about his estranged mother, sending him into a world of corruption as he investigates the circumstances behind her life and death.
About: I knew this one depended on how unique and compelling the choices were behind the main character’s investigation. That’s what sorta worried me about this logline – that a specific compelling circumstance wasn’t mentioned, but rather a general blanket set of circumstances which were implied. The logline felt a little cold in that respect. But I liked the emotional component of the story, so I was interested to see if it connected on that level.
Writer: Thomas A. Schwenn
Details: 115 pages
Star Wars Tuesday. Blood List Wednesday. Disciple Program finishing #1. Halloween yesterday. How is “Chase The Night” supposed to follow all this? Good question. And I’ll tell you my biggest concern reading the logline. I thought it sounded a little boring. That’s not to say it *would* be boring. Just that the logline made it sound that way. Remember, your logline is like the billboard or trailer for a movie. It’s the only thing you have to promote your screenplay. So like a great billboard or trailer makes us want to see the movie, a logline has to make us want to read the script! It has to sound exciting!
Just to remind everyone, faulty loglines can be broken down into two categories. The first is that you haven’t adequately conveyed the excitement of your script. There is no excuse for this. If your script is exciting, you better workshop the HELL out of your logline to make sure it’s perfect and conveys the coolness of your script. The second issue is much more concerning. The concept itself stinks. This goes well beyond workshopping a logline. It means scrapping the entire script. Because no matter how you dress up your logline, how many times you reword it, it’s still going to convey an idea that isn’t very good in the first place. Which is why I always say, get your logline figured out first. Because eventually you’re going to be using that to market your script, and if it doens’t work now, it’s not going to work then.
Actually, I’ve seen this lead to a long-standing trend of trying to dress loglines up into something the script isn’t in order to get reads. You realize, “Ooh, if I stress the ghost aspect more in the logline, even though it’s barely in the script, it’ll sound better!” This is how I would classify Monday’s script, “Pocket Dial,” which promised a lot of modern technology relationship humor in its logline, but didn’t give us any of that in the actual screenplay. Not only is that going to piss readers off, but my question to these writers is, “If that makes your logline better, why didn’t you write that script in the first place?”
Okay, enough bitching and moaning. It’s supposed to be a happy day, a day in which we gorge on all the candy we accumulated last night. Oh, not that I went trick-or-treating last night. No, not at all. Why would someone my age go trick-or-treating? That’s ridiculous for you to even suggest that. I’m just saying that if I *was* a kid and I *did* trick-or-treat yesterday, that I would have a lot of candy that I’m eating right now – or that *that kid* would be eating right now. Not me. Cause I didn’t go trick-or-treating……Man, is it hot in here?
25 year old Tommy Young is not a happy compadre. He carries an old picture around with him showing a young woman, who we’ll come to know as Mariah, hanging out with two friends, Jack and Sam. Although we’re not sure why yet, Tommy has some business with these guys and that business needs to be addressed pronto.
He eventually finds one of the men, Jack (now in his 50s), washed up, drunk, and demands to know about Mariah. It’s here where we get a little more info on the woman. It appears that many years ago, Mariah was charged with killing her parents – Tommy’s grandparents. Yes, Tommy is Mariah’s son. He wants to know the truth about what happened that day, cause he’s convinced his mom would never do such a thing.
Well he’s not going to get that information from Jack because Jack’s Daniel (that’s my clever way of saying he’s wasted). So off Tommy goes to find the other dude, Sam, who’s since become a cop. Jack ends up kidnapping Sam no problem, then ties him up and starts asking questions. Sam denies knowing anything about Mariah, but starts to crack a little as Tommy puts the heat on.
In the meantime, Sam’s precinct gets word that he’s missing and starts looking for him, forcing Tommy to take Sam on the run. It’s here where we’re introduced to the main detective on Sam’s case, Frank Marshall. While Tommy and Sam skitter all over the city avoiding capture, Frank interviews friends of Tommy to get a beat on where he may be holding Sam.
At some point, Sam decides to help Tommy figure out what happened to his mom, although this was a seriously confusing part of the script. Sam is constantly asking to be let go, while also providing details and clues for Tommy to find out if his mom really killed his grandparents. Is he trying to get away or is he trying to help? To be honest, I was never sure.
And that’s pretty much how the rest of the script goes. It’s Tommy and Sam finding clues to help their case while Frank Marshall finds clues to save Sam. I wish I could provide more plot points but there really weren’t any. This was pretty straightforward. Which was the first problem of many I had with “Chase The Night.”
This was a strange script. Because from a distance, it had a lot of components that make up a good story. You have a guy looking into his mother’s murder case. So there’s a goal and a mystery there. And you have the chase aspect going on as well, in that at any moment, Frank could catch them. You also had high stakes, in that Tommy’s trying to free his mother from jail. But despite all this, the script struggles mightily to keep the reader’s attention.
We’ll start with the logline, which states that an orphan receives information from his estranged mother. I never saw that anywhere in the script. So I didn’t even know Tommy was an orphan. And because of that, I coudln’t figure out why he all of a sudden needed to do this. Why didn’t he do it earlier? And to be honest, I couldn’t even tell you what Tommy was trying to do! He just had this picture with these people in it. It wasn’t until halfway through the story that I understood what Tommy’s goal was. I still don’t know if that was done by design or by accident. But plot murkiness is a script killer, and this plot was murky.
But what really bothered me was how detached the writing was. Everything was so…clinical, so cold. The main character wasn’t very interesting. The story wasn’t very interesting. And a big part of that had to do with how little “voice” there was to the writing. All the words were where they needed to be. And it actually read quite well. But it was just so…I don’t know how to put it…”distant.” And that left me bored.
Also, I’m not sure the information in this story is dispensed in a way as to garner the most drama. For example, I didn’t know why Tommy was looking for Jack at first (other than that he was in the picture) so I didn’t care. I guess you can argue that you’re playing up the mystery behind the picture, but if you misjudge how interested the audience is going to be in regards to that mystery, you end up with a really bored reader.
Finally, I could never figure out what the rules of this Tommy/Sam pairing were. Did Sam want to get away? Did he want to help? It seemed like sometimes he wanted to bail (“Just let me leave. They’ll never find you.”) and other times he was Watson to Tommy’s Sherlock. There was this vague implication that Tommy’d convinced him to “do the right thing” and help him find out what happened to his mom, but even that was never clearly laid out. So it just felt comical that these two were running around town together. Are they friends? Are they enemies? I didn’t know!
If I were to give Thomas advice for his next script, I would say to add more character and color to his writing. Let’s have it pop off the page more. Try to be more clear with your plot and motivations as well. We need to know, definitively, why Sam is hanging around Tommy this whole script. We need to know, definitively, what this picture is about, how it got in Tommy’s possession, and why it’s motivated him to become Liam Neeson in Taken. And try to have a few more unexpected things happen during the story. This story unraveled way too predictably. I wish Thomas good luck on his next screenplay. Sorry I couldn’t get into this one.
What I learned: Your 3rd Act twist has to have a properly weighted setup, or else you end up with a “WTF” moment. (Spoiler) So the big twist here is that Stan Bell, the chief of police, covered up his son’s murdering of Tommy’s grandparents, blaming it on Mariah. Except here’s the thing, I hadn’t seen Stan Bell since page 15, where he was introduced for .5 seconds, then disappeared until the final sequence. How is that a satisfying twist? Shouldn’t we know the person who the twist is centered around so that we care? Shouldn’t he have 4-5 scenes of him dispersed evenly throughout the script so his reveal isn’t a total “wtf” moment? Make sure to properly weight your setups people, particularly if they’re setups to a big final payoff.