What’s Fortune Cookie’s fortune? Crack open today’s review to find out.
Genre: (from writer) Contained-Dark Comedy/Suspense
Premise: (from writer) A young woman opens a fortune cookie with the prophecy that she will die if anyone leaves the restaurant. When the fortunes of her dinner companions come true, she takes the restaurant hostage.
About: This is…. Amateur Week SMACKDOWN – 5 scripts, all of which have been pre-vetted by the SRF (Scriptshadow Reader Faithful), vie for the Top Prize, an official endorsement from whoever the guy is who runs this site. Good luck to all!
Writer: William Mandell
Details: 90 pages
So far it’s not looking good for this week’s amateur entries. I was hoping we were going to find a few gems. Five scripts. All endorsed by at least SOME readers of the site. You figured at least one of them had to be good, right? Well we’re not done with the week yet so there’s still hope. But that hope is fading. Writers are bringing me “okay.” “Okay” doesn’t cut it in the spec world. There are tens of thousands of writers trying to break in with “okay.” If you want to sell a script or make some noise, you have to be heads and tales above your competition. I haven’t seen that yet.
Today’s script stir-fries its GSU in plenty of story sauce. Katie, Matt, Mikael and Robert are co-workers having dinner at a Chinese restaurant. Matt’s the company bigshot. Mikael’s the young up-and-comer with a lousy grasp of the English language. Katie’s Matt’s assistant. And Robert’s the veteran who’s more concerned with his wife’s impending childbirth than the latest company gossip. The four are eagerly awaiting another businessman to stop by so they can close an important deal.
Everything’s going splendidly until the fortune cookies show up at the table and each character checks theirs. Matt’s told he’ll become a millionaire. Mikael’s told he’ll get a promotion he doesn’t deserve. Rob’s told the baby isn’t his. And Kate’s told that if anyone leaves the restaurant, she’ll die.
It doesn’t take Kate long to realize that all of these fortunes have already or will come true (Matt’s just won a radio contest with a million dollar prize. All he has to do is show up at the studio within 90 minutes. Mikael will probably negotiate the deal which will get him the promotion. And everyone’s pretty sure that Rob’s wife’s baby is Matt’s. Everyone except for Rob that is).
Naturally, then, Kate figures that if someone leaves the restaurant, she’s going to die. So she commandeers a gun that she stumbled upon earlier in one of the restaurant’s drawers, and warns anyone that if they leave, she’s shooting. Problem is, it isn’t just the current Chinese restaurant roster she’ll have to keep from leaving. People keep showing up! First is the businessman they need to strike a deal with. Then Rob’s wife and mother-in-law arrive wanting answers. Then the cops are called in. And finally SWAT. That’s a lot of people to keep from leaving! But if Kate’s going to survive this night, that’s exactly what she’ll have to do.
Fortune Cookie has an intriguing setup. I liked that Matt won this contest and had to get to the station to claim his prize within 90 minutes, only for Kate to realize that if he does so, she’ll die. So we immediately have a suspenseful tension-filled situation. However, the tone here was really strange. I wasn’t sure if this wanted to be a comedy, a thriller, a drama. It just made some really bizarre tonal shifts.
For example, everything starts out light and airy as our characters discuss the impending deal. But when Matt realizes he’s won the million dollars, he calls his girlfriend and says, “Hi, baby. Guess what! Remember how we talked about buying a sailboat and just taking off to see the world. Well buckle up, ‘cause I just found myself in a position to make that a reality. But there’s just one problem… The cottage cheese dumplings you’ve got on your thighs. It kind of makes me throw up in my mouth a little bit. Yeah, and that brings up another issue. The sound of your voice makes my dick limp. Don’t cry… Look at this like a new beginning. You can start fresh with knowledge of what makes you a defective person. Oh yeah, and I fucked your sister.”
Then he calls his boss, and after railing on him for awhile, ends with, “Sorry to get you all hot and bothered, but I’ve got one more thing for you… I corn-holed your daughter.” Then he calls his mom. “Hi, Mom. Go fuck yourself.” Granted, we’re never supposed to like Matt, but this was just so vulgar and over-the-top that I turned on the script immediately. I mean I’m still not sure if I was supposed to be laughing at those lines or what. And that’s concerning.
Then later on, when our businessman arrives to negotiate the deal, Matt’s been tied up and hidden away so he doesn’t screw things upl. This forces characters to dress up and pretend to be people they aren’t, in order to push the deal through. One of those people is a waitress, who’s recruited to play someone from a third company (although that never completely made sense to me). When the businessman asks where the waitress is, a random hippy character sneaks over and throws on the waitress’s uniform to take his order. At this point I’m thinking, “Are we going straight up broad sit-com humor now?” Because that wasn’t the sense of humor we started with. And that’s what was so confusing.
On top of this, I wasn’t ever sure what the deal was about. It was a major plot point – one of the biggest in the script – yet I never understood the stakes for landing the deal. What happened if it didn’t go through? Why, when a girl is going to die if anyone leaves the restaurant, are we worried about closing a deal? This led to other questions. How long did Katie have to make sure no one left the restaurant? That was never clear. So I kept thinking, “Is she not EVER allowed to let anyone leave?” Because if that’s the case, she should probably give up. At some point, SOMEONE is going to have to leave the restaurant.
Another issue was that nothing about this situation felt realistic. Granted it’s a contrived situation. I get that. But it’s our jobs as writers to create the illusion that this is happening, and therefore characters should act and speak in a way that makes sense with the context of the setup. So why is Matt telling Rob, who didn’t provoke him at all, that he fucked his wife and came in her mouth? Why is he telling Rob he should be happy that he fucked his wife because now “you’re not gonna have some ugly fucking chud of a kid.” I know Matt’s an asshole, but even assholes don’t tell other guys, unprovoked, that they had sex with their wife, and then just start making fun of them for it.
Character actions have to feel real. And I think one of the reasons they didn’t here was because William never established that tone. Since we don’t know whether this was a hardcore thriller or goofy comedy, we’re not clear on which responses are right.
If I were William, I’d go back through this script and for every single line, ask, “Would a real person say this line right here?” Don’t use “movie people” as your guide. Ask if a real-world version of Matt would say some of those lines above. Because I’ve never in my life seen anybody even come close to approaching the vitriol he dishes out in those phone calls and then to Rob. And for that reason, I stopped believing in the story. The curtain was lifted. I could see the writer typing away instead of being lost in the world he’d created. That’s why you have to have characters act logically and realistically. Because if they don’t, you tip the reader off that they aren’t real.
I think there might be something here if we can find the tone, but we should probably move away from comedy in the next draft. The comedy aspects just don’t seem to be clicking here. Also, I’d ditch Matt completely. Come up with a completely different character who isn’t so vulgar and over-the-top. Those things are going to go a long way towards helping Fortune Cookie. But I’m not going to lie. It’s going to require a substantial rewrite to get this script where it needs to be. I wish William luck and hope he gets there. He seems very dedicated to the craft, and that’s going to serve him well.
Script link: Fortune Cookie
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: One of the easiest ways to find your characters’ truth is to ask, “Would a real person in real life, someone with the same general make-up as my character, do or say this?” If they wouldn’t, you probably have your character talking like a “movie character,” someone who just says or does things cause the writer wants him to. Those characters never feel truthful and always take the reader out of the story. So watch out for them. Matt was that character for me here.
Why this script isn’t ready for a script sale: Tonal inconsistency. This is unfortunately something that takes writers a long time to learn. You can’t jump around liberally on the tone spectrum. You can’t do a spit-take one second and a decapitation the next. Lightness and darkness must both exist a little closer to the middle of the spectrum, not at the extremes. This is why dark comedies are tricky for beginners. The tone is so hard to balance and therefore should probably be left to writers with a little more experience.