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

fortune-cookie

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.

  • Tschwenn

    The script felt more like a TV episode. It just was not very dynamic
    or compelling. It’s too thin on plot and conflict. It seems like the
    writer only had an idea, but did not outline or think ahead of how they
    can make the plot develop and strengthen with twists & turns.

    It’s never clear what the deal is or involves. If it’s so important,
    explain it. It doesn’t have to be blockbuster deal, but I found it
    strange that it was only alluded to. The writer should also explain why
    each of the business associates (Mikael, Rob, Matt and Katie) are there.
    What purpose do they serve for their business? What are the
    relationships between them?

    page 10: What kind of business are they in? What does the deal
    involve? What are the relationships between everyone? How are they all
    involved with the deal/business?
    page 14: stop describing everyone’s
    eyes and each minute physical action (looking, picking something up.)
    Instead, rely on the scenario to dictate how we (as the reader) know
    what they are doing.

    page 17: the dialogue is flat. No subtext. These people are rather
    uninteresting. I don’t care what happens to them. If you are going to
    have a one-location script you absolutely need an awesome concept AND
    sharp dialogue.

    page 20: too much reliance on the characters on the phone. There is no conflict yet.
    page
    24: our first interesting moment – Katie realizes all the fortunes have
    come true (except hers). But she (and the reader) have to actually have
    a moment when we believe her fortune will come true. If not, then
    there’s no reason to continue reading/watching this unfold.

    page 27: typo: you need to capitalize “for real.”
    page 41: The
    negotiation is unclear. Seems completely unrelated to the overall
    conflict. No irony in it. Need irony for conflict and development of
    plot.

    page 44: Show over tell – “he speaks fast with a mil Irish accent that
    is sometimes difficult to follow, especially for Mikael.” Why not just
    have him speak?
    page 54: I thought Duncan was ‘the man’ in charge. But now he’s saying he does not have the final say. Which is it?

    page 59: once Jeff becomes the waiter, this the whole tone turns silly.
    page 60: why is she still changing/half naked? Shouldn’t take so long.
    page 61: “Irene is somewhere between outrage and fear”. Um, that is the whole spectrum.

    page 67: give us a visual – what does Matt’s injury look like? All we get is “ahhhhh”. That tells us nothing.

    Writing/action blocks are rather flat. No energy.

    page 68: the police have no idea what is going on yet. They would not
    label her a terrorist without knowing any facts. Terrorists do not hold
    up diners.
    page 68: why is she still half naked? This is taking forever. Unrealistic. Silly.

    page 73: Regarding the demands: this is turning too silly. As if the
    writer wasn’t sure what they intended to write. Tone is all over the
    place. Plot lacks focus.
    The ending: makes absolutely no sense. Why kill herself? Is she crazy before all this happened?

    Suggestions:
    -start the script earlier, with each of them on their
    respective way to the meeting. Have them on the phone, rushing (Rob
    with his wife promising to be home soon) – that way we get their
    personalities AND an explanation for how they fit into the company. I
    still have no idea what function Rob, Mikael and Katie serve. The writer
    will also then be able to establish why the will NEED to leave the
    building – an actual conflict.

    -as things stand, most of the script is back & forth arguing –
    which is not very compelling. Especially the opening 25 pages. We (the
    reader) should be picking up on coincidences that land on page 25 with
    Katie realizing their fortunes have come true.

    -the writer needs to establish in Katie’s mind (as well as the
    reader’s) that her fortune will ABSOLUTELY HAPPEN if someone leaves. We
    need more coincidences to build up to an honest belief in the fortune
    coming true. And even that might not do it – I just think this concept
    may be too thin and unbelievable.

    • Gregory Mandarano

      Great review, though katie didnt kill herself. She lowered her gun and was taken out by a SWAT sniper. Brains meet wall. Kind of sketchy that would happen as a hostage was leaving though.

      Did this script remind anyone else of the Twilight Zone episode with Shatner Nick of Time.

      http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nick_of_Time_(The_Twilight_Zone)

      • Tschwenn

        Okay. Thank you for clearing up the ending. Still doesn’t work.

      • Poe_Serling

        Nice catch regarding the TZ episode of Nick of Time. Perhaps it was one of the inspirations for the Fortune Cookie script… let’s hope today’s writer chimes in.

        Here’s a great interview with writer Richard Matheson talking about his career and the scripts Nick of Time and the other TZ classic Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, which also starred William Shatner:

        http://www.emmytvlegends.org/interviews/people/richard-matheson#

        • William Mandell

          I haven’t seen that, but I’ll have to check it out!

      • William Mandell

        The new draft of this script has a different ending where Katie lives. During her struggle with Irene it turns out there’s no bullets in the gun. So then the struggle turns into a fight for the keys to the front door. The new draft is cleaner (I think it’s the one Carson read).

    • William Mandell

      Thanks for the detailed review. It gives me a lot to consider for a rewrite.

  • ripleyy

    This is like “Compliance” and “30 Minutes Or Less” had a baby. It’s sad to hear it isn’t as good as it appears to be. Making a character too vulgar is a script-killer in my opinion. I would downscale this down to just Katie, Mikael and Rob (as suggested) but make it maybe a reunion instead of a business deal and have Katie struggle as everyone comes in and leaves.

    Also, I would make it that every person who leaves, Katie gets sicker and closer to death, which means she has only so many people she can allow to leave before she dies – this leads to some sacrifice but if Katie is selfish, then that means she’s going to have to overcome her selfish behavior.

  • Avishai

    Just based on the story description alone, before Carson goes into any real detail about his thoughts on the script… this sounds like a great premise. The problem is, I can only imagine it being played straight. I can imagine if Matt was a decent guy, and wanted to leave so he could get his money, but if he does, Kate will die. That would be a great conflict. If Matt’s a douchebag, then no question, we don’t want him to succeed. But imagine if that was a tougher question for the audience. Granted, Kate has higher stakes, but it would add a layer to the movie… theoretically. I haven’t read the script. I don’t know anything about it other than what I hear in this review. I’m just riffing on the premise.

    • Jonathan Soens

      I had the same thought. It has a premise that automatically makes some part of your brain say: “Oh, that right there is a movie. That’s going to be made into a movie.”

      I also agree about Matt. I couldn’t put my finger on it when I read it, but after reading others saying the same thing, I agree Matt was too over-the-top. And it was actually somewhat needless because the truth is that it would probably make the story a more complex situation if we had conflicted feelings about keeping everyone in the restaurant. It makes it too easy for us if we feel justified in wanting to keep people in the restaurant. We should feel conflicted about the fact that we’re rooting for the hero to succeed in keeping everybody from leaving.

      I think, after giving it thought, here’s what I probably would do:

      – I’d dial down the Matt character. Or do a better job of giving him some kind of ramp-up to his over-the-top moments. I don’t have a problem with a character being vulgar and horrible, but I need more of a build up. I still liked a lot of his antics, but in hindsight I see what others are saying about him maybe being a a bit too much. He had a cartoonish moment or two where he I was very aware I wasn’t watching a realistic bad guy and was instead watching a caricature of a movie d-bag (like the coked-up guy in “Diehard” taken way too far).

      – I think I’d take the “contest winner” story and give it to the guy with the pregnant wife. I’d set it up so that the character is (whether he knows it or not) about to lose his job. And he needs that prize money to provide for his growing family. That would really ratchet up the stakes of his storyline. I mean, is it really the end of the world when a father can’t make it there for the birth of their kid? Yeah, it kind of stinks, but it’s not a total life-changing disaster. Especially if the wife was cheating on the father anyway. By the way: I think it hurts the stakes when you make it somebody else’s baby and have the wife cheat on him. I’m just not that invested in him being by his cheating wife’s side while she births somebody else’s child.

      – I do like the idea of adding bite-size scenes of each character on their way to the restaurant. When I discussed the script on the Amateur Saturday post, I gave the writer kudos for not looking for ways to weasel out of sticking inside the restaurant the whole time. But Tschwenn’s suggestion of showing them on their way to the restaurant seems acceptable. Like the beginning of “Breakfast Club” when we see all the kids being dropped off for Saturday detention before spending the whole rest of the movie confined to the school. If you gave each character a snippet-of-a-scene where they arrive at the restaurant and somehow give us a glimpse of their personality (before they’re seated at a full table and it becomes harder to to learn everyone’s names and figure out what everyone is like), I think it might work. You’d have to write some really efficient material to relate each of their personalities/stories in such brief snippets, though.

      • gazrow

        Some really good ideas/suggestions here! :-)

      • William Mandell

        Lot’s of great suggestions here. I like the idea of merging Matt and Rob, or at least rob having the fortune for the money. Definitely something I might explore. Thanks!

    • William Mandell

      That’s an interesting idea, I’ll have to think about that.

  • Gregory Mandarano

    Jeff was the worst character. The whole waiter thing ruined the mood. The coffee convo was absurd and so were the demands. Like the cops are gonna ask for a terrorist in negotiations or give a tv and snacks. It was unbelievable. I think this script would be much better if the comedy was completely eliminated. The s cript thrives on the inherent suspense of them being taken hostage and the comedy dispels that sense of fear and all thats left is nothing. I understamd the tone I think that the writer was going for, but I was hoping once katie took action things would turn darker and they just kept getting more lighthearted. Also the end was too predictable. This is a killer concept but the whole thing needs to seriously up the drama and believability. It needs to capitalize on the suspense rather than ignore it.

    • wlubake

      Wonder what the influences were. To me, the setup is much more thriller than comedy. Compare it to Airheads and Best Men, where we have comedic hostage situations. Those movies do a good job of balance. Best Men seems like a better example, as there is some heavier stuff in there (a character dies, life in prison, etc.).

    • witwoud

      This set-up is waaay too contrived for a serious thriller, surely? It would be one of those films like Flight Plan that begins with a cool concept and then ties itself into ludicrous knots trying to justify it. To me, this absolutely HAS to be a comedy.

      • William Mandell

        I think the way I could make it a serious thriller would require having a logical explanation for why the cookies have the messages. As well as a page one rewrite. I don’t know if I’ll go that way, but the idea is on the table.

    • William Mandell

      Making a “thriller” version of this is definitely something I’m considering.

  • Bella_Lugossi

    This could be Phone Booth with food.

    • Sly

      Taco booth?

      • Jonathan Soens

        Food truck.

        • klmn

          For Carson to like it, it would have to be In ‘N Out.

          • Gregory Mandarano

            Itd just be “In” cause theres no out or katie dies.

      • GeneralChaos

        Window Booth.
        I think a better title for the reviewed script might be Fortune, tying in the cookies, the lottery winnings and the theme.

        • carsonreeves1

          Ooh nice. I like that.

  • JakeBarnes12

    ” 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.”

    You’ve never been around me after I’ve had a half can of Coors Lite.

    • klmn

      A half can?

      Take your cue from Beldar Conehead, my friend. “Consume mass quantities.”

  • MayfieldLake

    I agree that there is an interesting set up with the fortune cookie. But it’s hard for me to take that setup straight. To me it has to be comedy all the way, and I don’t feel it’s a feature length comedy. I feel that it belongs more as an episode of Cheers or Seinfeld or something. Imagine if Cliff in Cheers got that fortune and no one else takes it seriously but him. I’m already laughing. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I suggest you move Cheers to the top of your Netflix que (sp).

    • JakeBarnes12

      NORM!!

      • MayfieldLake

        “What can I get for you today Mr. Peterson?”

  • WALKandTALK

    This is a business dinner–why did they eat before the client showed up?

    It would be more suspenseful if they get the fortune cookie with the client at the table after they’ve all eaten and talked business… and he gets one too… and no one knows what his says….

    • AJ

      In the end… He pulls the trigger with the gun to her head — blood spews across the restaurant onto his fortune that lies on a table… “You will have to kill someone to leave this restaurant alive.”

      • William Mandell

        Haha, nice!

        • AJ

          There are so many great places to go this way. You just make the business man show up to secure a deal to ship antibiotics to a civil war torn area of Africa (or something dealing with piece/valuing human life), and this ending is loaded with a lot more impact because we know how much this man was struggling with his own fortune throughout the movie, even though we weren’t aware of the cause (that he must go against his value of human life) of his struggle until the credits are rolling.

          • William Mandell

            Wow, cool ideas man. If I went the suspense route, that sounds like a way to go!

          • AJ

            Yeah, this would definitely only work the suspense/thriller route. This script was the first amateur script I read to completion and it was because the concept interested me so much. When I read the premise, I thought there’s no way this isn’t already a movie or book. It’s such a perfect concept. As I read it, I just saw so much potential for the thriller route and so many places where depth could be easily added in. It was great writing and I hope you take your time and enjoy the next draft!

    • William Mandell

      Sheesh, that’s kind of a good point.

  • Kieran ODea

    Thanks for the super early post. Glad I don’t have hit F5 20 times today!

  • bruckey

    Just like ‘BRAKE’ it’s a low budget project that would go straight to dvd.

    • ripleyy

      I’m pretty sure Brake originated from Scriptshadow, either through AF or a contest and that it was written either before Buried or after it, I can’t remember but it’s funny you brought it up.

    • William Mandell

      That’s actually the idea I’m working with now. I’m in talks with a small production company to shoot this on a micro budget.

  • Carson D

    I apologize for hijacking this article (feel free to down vote it so it falls to the bottom), but I just wanted to run this logline through you guys for inputs. It sounds quite generic to me so I just wanted to make sure that it hasn’t been done or written before.

    Genre: psychological/supernatural thriller (think Rosemary’s Baby meets Carrie)

    After a bitter divorce leads her womanizing father to move away, an 11-year-old girl begins to experience hauntings around her and the house. At first, it seems as though he is behind it to gain her custody, but as the hauntings grow more and more explicit/supernatural (vivid dreams, hallucinations, etc.) — even her mother is eventually convinced.

    Thanks for any comments and suggestions.

    • witwoud

      It doesn’t sound awful, but …

      My immediate thought is that there is a lack of meaningful connection between the divorced father and the haunting. I mean, if it’s NOT the father who’s behind the haunting, then what’s he doing in the logline at all? TBH I’d be more interested if he died in a car accident while drunk … and then the haunting starts.

    • JakeBarnes12

      Yeah, witwoud nails it — what the logline boils down to is “A young girl is haunted and it seems like it’s not the father.”

      Further, having vivid dreams and hallucinations is not being haunted in the supernatural sense — it suggests mental trauma. Of course the two can be connected, but they’re not the same. Haunting suggests external manifestations.

      The logline needs a twist, a hook. What is it about this idea that makes it special, stand out from the crowd? That’s what you should be working on.

      Hope this helps.

  • IgorWasTaken

    Carson, about “Tonal inconsistency.”

    I know that’s an issue. And a very real challenge.

    But I think “tonal inconsistency” is really only an issue when… the reader feels the script otherwise doesn’t work.

    Consider: Trues Lies and Lethal Weapon 2. For example, Lethal Weapon 2 had Joe Pesci cracking wise, packaged with real stuff about apartheid.

    And then there’s Tarantino.

    Actually, maybe it’s simply about humor working (or not). Gilbert Gottfried’s material is outrageous, but he’s able to sell it. Same with Louis C.K. Put that same material in the acts of other comedians, it’s unlikely to work.

    So, Carson, about your suggestion to play things closer to the middle – Yeh, maybe that’s easier to execute. And yet, that way might end up not working, either, because sometimes the only way to make humor work is by doing things on the extreme. By creating as much distance as possible between the setup and the punchline.

    Beyond that, if we want to have the extreme light/dark stuff in our script, a key requirement seems to be that we give the reader a sense of that in the first 10-12 pages. IOW, the first 10-12 do set the tone, but they also set the sidelines – as narrow or as wide as we intend them to be.

    • JakeMLB

      The tone should be clearly established on the very first page. If you need examples of setting tone, read THE SIXTH SENSE or OBLIVION. Great writers make it explicitly clear from the first few lines of a script what the tone is and its adhered to rigidly throughout.

      One of the biggest issues for new writers is their inability to clearly define tone. What it comes down to IMO is diction and the ability to write. You need “confidence” in your words. That said, it’s difficult to teach tone and confident writing but everyone can recognize when it’s absent.

      It really comes down to being a writer first and a screenwriter second. Can you succeed in reverse? Sure, but examples are few and far between and it’s highly genre-dependent. Only comedy writing can survive paper-thin descriptions.

      • IgorWasTaken

        Can the tone be established on page 1? Sure. Is it great when that happens? Yeh.

        I think I used “tone” in a different way than you used it in your reply. That’s fine. I think it can be used in both of those ways, but my context was explicitly “comedy”.

        There are many, many comedies that provide zero hints on page 1 that
        they are comedies. Even comedies to which “paper-thin description”
        would not apply.

        • JakeMLB

          Maybe but that’s probably the exception not the rule (and it’s probably less likely for a spec script) but we might be talking about somewhat different concepts. It’s pretty rare to find a professional script that doesn’t set the tonal expectations on the first few pages through the actual action on the page or through the style of writing including asides.

  • Ambrose*

    Carson,
    Sorry for going off-topic but I hope you’ll write a review or an article on the current movie, ‘Now You See Me’.

    The movie should have been titled, ‘Wake Me Up When Something Interesting (and Plausible) Happens’.

    I haven’t read the script, I’ve just seen the film.

    I would like to read the script though so I can see if some of the things in the movie are adequately explained by the writer or are just as confusing and unexplained as they are in the finished film.

    This is a movie that tries to be way too complicated for its own good and simply ends up being convoluted, boring, and worst of all, unsatisfying.

    Oh, and did I mention that there were plot holes, and there was more pipe laid here than in the Alaskan Pipeline?

    And that the ending was a complete joke?

    So, Carson, I implore you to open up a can of whup ass on the mediocre piece of entertainment that is ‘Now You See Me’.

    • Acarl

      Carson reviewed this script a few years ago and gave it a’ [XX] worth the read’. Not sure about the script to screen but the film itself was damn good IMO.

      • Ambrose*

        Thanks, Acarl, for letting me know that Carson reviewed the script a few years ago.
        I’ll go back and read it. I’m curious to see if some of the holes are in the script as well.

        I’m glad that you enjoyed the movie.
        I found it insufferable.

  • Maggie Clancy

    I still don’t know what to make of this. It was an incredibly easy read, and although it wasn’t my cup of tea, I could see it falling in the vein of “The Signal,” a bizarre “what the hell is going on I am going to keep watching to see” sort of thing. The writer could definitely brush up (and tone down) some/certain/all of the characters. I wasn’t happy with the ending, seemed to cliche. Interesting idea, just needs to be refined.

    • William Mandell

      The new draft (6th) has a different ending. In the new draft, in her struggle with Irene, it turns out there’s no bullets in the gun. She lives in the new draft.

  • William Mandell

    Hello Carson,

    Thanks for your thoughts of Fortune Cookie. I’ve had an issue with tone in this spec since its first draft. I had previously come to a decision of taking this either in the direction of full suspense/thriller or making it a straight comedy. This draft (the 6th) I was aiming more for the comedy aspects. But I imagine that if I went the other way it might be easier to pull off.

    Comedy is tough to get a consensus on. I’ve received the note about Matt over the top and being a bad character before, but on more than one occasion I’ve gotten the note that he’s their favorite part of the script.

    If I do a rewrite of this, most likely I would switch genres and make this into a straight up thriller, possibly even horror.

    Thanks for the read.

    -William

    • Citizen M

      The problem with writing this as straight up thriller or horror is that fortune cookies are inherently funny. It’s hard to take them seriously.

      Then there’s The Fortune Cookie (1966), Fortune Cookie (1999), and Cookie’s Fortune (1999) — all comedies. That’s some momentum to overcome.

      • William Mandell

        I might concur with that. The reason I decided to make this a comedy is because any time I mentioned the premise to anyone they started laughing.

        Oh, and a side note, my grandfather did the editing for “The Fortune Cookie (1966)”.

        • Poe_Serling

          “my grandfather did the editing for “The Fortune Cookie (1966)”.

          Hey William-

          That’s really cool. Thanks for sharing that with us.

          From Wiki, I see that your grandfather had a long and impressive film career to say the least:

          Mandell won the Academy Award for Best Film Editing for The Pride of the Yankees (1942), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), and The Apartment (1960)… was nominated for the Academy Award for two additional films, The Little Foxes (1941) and Witness for the Prosecution (1957).

          Just curious – are the Academy Award statuettes still on your family’s mantel somewhere?

          • William Mandell

            When I was a child, I remember the statues on the mantle. All three of them. By the time I was a teenager, they weren’t there anymore. I didn’t think about it until I was an adult. And my parents are vague on the issue. I didn’t learn very much about my grandfather until I was an adult.

          • Poe_Serling

            There’s a story in itself… The Three Missing Oscars. :-)

            I’ve noticed over the years that just about any Oscar on the auction block tends to generate a lot of interest and money.

          • William Mandell

            I’m ashamed to admit, that was the fate of at least one Oscar. I believe the Film Academy intervened and confiscated the other two when my parents tried to sell them as well. Perhaps one day I will be in a position to reclaim them.

      • Linkthis83

        I think if you set the right tone before they get to the restaurant (if you do this set up) then I don’t think we would find the fortune cookies to be all that funny.

        Just have them as a normal end of meal thing without highlighting them, until the messages start to become part of the story as each character reveals his or hers (by starting with one laughing about its relevance or something). Or, you could even have the characters themselves play off of fortune cookies being silly, until they are not!!

        I really like this story more as a thriller (especially because of AJ’s suggested ending – what a kick ass twist)!!!! However, then I feel that you will need to explain or infer how and why the messages are in the cookies (which you wouldn’t necessarily need in a comedy – no need to explain how the Zoltar Machine works or how you get stuck reliving the same day over and over again).

    • GeneralChaos

      Some people probably couldn’t agree on Matt because of confusion on the tone. Had it been an outright comedy, he may have been a little more palatable to them. Even as a comedy, you might have to tone him down a little so he isn’t a complete douche (unless that’s what you’re going for).

      • William Mandell

        Well, if there was a villain in this story, it would probably be him.

    • MichaelWhatling

      I actually liked the humour. It was probably a lot more flippant than the material dictates, but I still enjoyed it. It reminded me of a screwball comedy popular in the 30s.

  • m_v_s

    A great positive to this week’s “smack-down” are the helpful comments being provided on why some scripts don’t appear to be “working”. The key (for me) so far is outlining. Not just coming up with a great concept but being able to plot that concept from start to finish before beginning to write.

  • William Mandell

    I haven’t explained them. I wanted to explore a theme of self-fulfilled prophecy as I was writing this. Don’t know if I pulled it off though.

  • wlubake

    This goes to a fundamental point we discussed a few days back helping out with a logline. You can’t hide your secrets that are fundamental to making your story stand out. You shouldn’t even consider them secrets. Why? Say this thing sells. What are they going to market it with? Creepy imaginary friend stuff. That’s the hook. You have to hang it out there.
    Keep the Satan stuff concealed in the logline, but suggest something is amiss. Further, I think you should rethink the “haunting” aspect. Don’t have the imaginary friend come back out of nowhere. Make him the source of comfort the girl turns to with her father leaving. Finally, I’d make her slightly older, for casting, marketability, and emotional maturity. Dakota Fannings don’t come around every day.
    My take:
    “After being abandoned by her father, a 13-year old girl turns back to her long lost imaginary friend for comfort, only to find him much more sinister than she remembered.”
    My guess is that you could keep most of what you have built, but only reconstruct the first 3rd of the film slightly to firmly introduce the imaginary friend by the end of the first act.

    • gazrow

      “After being abandoned by her father, a 13-year old girl turns back to
      her long lost imaginary friend for comfort, only to find him much more sinister than she remembered.”

      That’s a really good logline! – You certainly have a talent for writing them! :-)

      • wlubake

        Thanks. This would be the perfect subject matter for the Scriptshadow forums if that ever happens. That and concept development. I have a running list of concepts I would love to get help vetting.

    • Poe_Serling

      I agree with gazrow – that’s a ‘really good’ logline.

      And speaking of Fanning, she already has a similar project on her resume: Hide and Seek with Robert DeNiro.

      As a widower tries to piece together his life in the wake of his wife’s
      suicide, his daughter finds solace — at first — in her imaginary
      friend.

    • Will Vega

      “After being abandoned by her father, a 13-year old girl turns back to
      her long lost imaginary friend for comfort, only to find him much more
      sinister than she remembered.”

      I was about to concoct one but that one is really good.

  • carsonreeves1

    I think an all-out comedy could work, but the reason I didn’t suggest it here is because I feel like William’s strengths lie more in the thriller and suspense areas. The comedy just felt too scattershot to me.

  • MayfieldLake

    “Just the usual: a froth of beer and a snorkel.”

    “A reason to live. Give me another beer.”

  • Bobby

    People seem to be missing (from logline) that Katie is the protag, yet she’s the least utilised character in the script. Pages upon pages fly by without so much as a breath from her. She’s also so passive to the point of being annoying. More interested in letting Mikael close the deal than figuring out how to save her life! You can argue she’s been selfless but it makes no sense. She can’t go to work if she’s dead.

    The concept is ripe for comedy but it’s not there at the moment. I’m writing a contained comedy at the moment (with half the amount of characters that’s in this) and it’s a challenge to keep it moving/compelling. What I’ve found really works is a solid theme to keep it all together so maybe something to think about?

    Oh and one more thing, Duncan’s dialogue was way off. I’m Irish and we do not speak like that (me mutter!?!) unless it’s Tom Cruise in “Far and Away” :-)

    Best of luck with the rewrite!

  • Michael

    I agree with every ounce of Carson’s criticism. Nevertheless, this is the only script I was able to read to the end from this week’s crop. Despite hating the dialog and tonal issues, the simple yet intriguing premise coupled with clearly distinguishable characters and a fast read made this hard to put down. That’s worth noting.

    The first thing to fix, if this is Katie’s story, you have to make it her story. Her character is too far in the background for most of the story. Have her interact with all of her cohorts so when we get to the dinner we know the relationship she has with each of them. Then, when she’s placed in this extraordinary situation we’ll sympathize or be repelled by how she reacts to each of them. There needs to be context and subtext that isn’t there right now. We need to get to know all the characters better before they are thrown into this situation.

    I liked that it was contained, but would advise as others have, to do a little un-containing. This would be the best way to fix the getting to know the characters. Let’s see Katie getting run over by everyone at work. Let’s see Mikael at home being pummeled by his wife and mother-in-law and then have his same inability to cope carry over to work and the business dinner. Matt can still be a dick willing to do anything to succeed, that’s a great character, just make him believable as Carson suggested. Make all your characters believable, such simple but great advise, thanks Carson.

    As much as I liked the premise, I wasn’t happy with leaving it unexplained. Again, like others, I think that’s what made this feel a little thin to me and made it feel like an episode of The Twilight Zone. I’m not sure how you fix that. It’s the conundrum of coming up with a great premise and then needing an equally great way to pay it off. Most of us never come up with the payoff and that’s what separates us from the pros. Regardless, here’s my best suggestion if you don’t mind. The Chinese restaurant seemed an odd place for an important business meeting. I would change Duncan to Chinese descent. Make this a large trade deal opening up a new market in China. They’ve never met our Chinese Big Shot before, it’s their first meeting on his terms, and so it was Mr. Big Shot who chose the restaurant. Mr. Big Shot had them start without him. He’s arranged everything; it’s all a test (but we don’t know this until the end). The waitress delivers the right cookie to each person at the table, though it seems random. What appears as a mystical event with the fortunes coming true is anything but. Mr. Big Shot could be present the whole time as a patron at another table, like the villain in a Saw movie. The script needs some twists like that, not necessarily the ones I’ve suggested.

    Carson started The Ship Of The Dead post by saying: “Well, if there’s a script this week that had the best chance of being purchased based on the logline alone, this would be it.” I’ve got to disagree. I’d buy today’s script on the premise alone. Carson’s pick may be contained but it’s contained in two remote and expensive places to film, out on an ocean and in the Arctic. To save money you would do as much as possible on a stage, but you’re still looking at a hefty expense and the need for extensive CGI. Fortune Cookie could be shot for next to nothing, even after adding locations as people have suggested. Look at the success of The Purge and Sinister. This is the type of script Blumhouse Productions is always looking for. It fits their “could be shot for under $3 million” formula, with the potential for big upside profits if it hits and an easy break even in the after market if it doesn’t.

    There’s a guy hanging around this site who proclaims he wants to produce. I would start small with something you could produce on pocket change. It’s working for Jason Blum.

    Good luck with the rewrites William.

    • William Mandell

      Michael,

      I love your suggestions! Making Duncan Chinese and linking him to the cause of the fortunes is a great idea!

      And yeah, I also concur with your argument that my script is the best buy for a producer. I actually liked “Ship of the Dead” but that thing would be a nightmare to film. I wrote this while being mindful that I might produce it myself.

      Anyway, great suggestions!

    • IgorWasTaken

      About making Duncan Chinese – Next time you are at a Chinese restaurant, try to notice when the waiter brings the check to some Chinese diners… No fortune cookies. AFAIK, that’s SOP: Fortune cookies only for people who aren’t Chinese.

      • Michael

        Mr. Big Shot/aka former Duncan, would never be at the table with them dining, nor after, so that doesn’t apply. Most likely a fake surrogate would arrive as Duncan does after the meal in the scenario I suggested. Just spitballing, I’m sure there are better options. I need more time and scotch to come up with one.

        I’ll check out your supposition the next time I’m in a Chinese restaurant. :)

  • wlubake

    Well, Poe points out Hide and Seek (I remember it existing, but didn’t know what it was about).
    I’d also think long and hard about investing too much time in this if you are “not a big horror/supernatural person”. Go with what you know. Take it from one with experience. My first completed feature was a Rom-Com. I watch far more of these than I care to (side effect of marriage), plus they are formulaic, so it seemed like a good idea for a first feature. In the end, all the outlining, plotting, character development, EVERYTHING, didn’t matter, as the script ended up feeling flat. It’s because my I approached it with all head and minimal heart.
    That’s a long-winded way of saying you should write what you love. Otherwise, it can be as technically sound as possible, but will feel empty. At least for your first few scripts. Then, I feel that writing becomes a passion in and of itself, and you can put yourself into your material more freely (once the technical side is more natural).
    Good luck.

  • Poe_Serling

    A few other horror/supernatural films that involve an imaginary character or two:

    Paranormal Activity 3, The Other (1972), The Others (Kidman film), Amityville Horror, The Shining, The Innocents, The Uninvited, and so on.

  • Garrett

    There will always be the types of people who “digg” that type of language in a movie, but for the majority, I’d echo Carson’s warning and say being disgusting just for the sake of shock value or just because it’s “race-y” doesn’t mean it belongs in one’s movie.

  • Gregory Mandarano

    As far as believability goes, if I won a million dollars but had to be somewhere in 90 minutes, id have been out that door immediately. No phone calls, no chatting. Run!

    • Gregory Mandarano

      I feel like the solution to this is make his reaction to the phone calll and his immediate attempt to leave the instigating event that causes katie to hold them up. When everyone flips out thats when she reveals her fortune and demands to know why matt is so intent on leaving. Then reveal hes won a million, shes right and others are encouraged to believe her. And even he should believe. He should completely believe, so his decision becomes kill katie for a million dollars. And its not like hes really killing her. Hes just walking out that door.

  • carsonreeves1

    awhile ago. except for in my newsletter.

    • m_v_s

      Didn’t you give Black Wednesday a worth the read?

  • William Mandell

    Yeah, you would hope something rubbed off…

  • J.R. Kinnard

    I love the premise of this script! It fills the mind with all sorts of possibilities.

    But here’s the problem…

    None of those possibilities involve a dark comedy (for me, at least).

    I think this is a pretty clear case of premise and genre not matching up. As a result, I had no idea what the script was trying to be. In the beginning, it reads like a suspense thriller. Then, about midway through, it becomes a farce. Then it concludes with several monologues and an ironic statement about destiny.

    I like the idea of the entire story taking place in one restaurant. However, we need to see every nook and cranny of that frickin’ restaurant. And you need to USE every nook and cranny, too. That way you can give the illusion of having more set pieces, thereby imparting more forward momentum, even though we never leave the building.

    This will also provide places for characters to hide, conspire, etc. Basically, give more opportunity to develop the characters and give them individual motivations.

    But here’s the thing… we know absolutely nothing about any of these characters, especially Katie. They are more caricatures than characters. And because they never become fully-realized characters, we never care about them and we never feel the impact of what ultimately happens to Katie (and by the way, I LOVED the ending; it’s my favorite part of the entire story).

    The point of a dark/black comedy, if I’m not mistaken, is to convey a moral lesson to the audience using characters who have no hope of ever learning said lesson. Everyone goes through this horrible (usually violent) process and yet they learn nothing. It’s through their stupidity that we learn something, while having a good laugh at their expense. Like laughing at our own stupidity without actually feeling stupid.

    But we need a character to guide us through this process. Someone who is “sane”. Someone we can relate to. Someone to stand back and say, “These people are freaking nuts!” I think Jeff COULD be that character with a little work, but as things stand, there’s no one we can cling to in this script.

    And speaking of characters…

    I’m not sure I’ve ever wanted a character to die more than I wanted Matt to die. In fact, I wanted some horrible, ironic death involving his penis and a morbidly obese girl.

    But I digress.

    I love black comedy and satire, but this just didn’t do it for me. I freely admit that maybe I just didn’t ‘get it’. Humor is subjective, and I just didn’t laugh. Plus, I’m not sure it fulfills the functions of a dark/black comedy.

    If it were me, I’d rework this into a contained suspense thriller.

  • rosemary

    For some odd reason I enjoyed it

    • Gregory Mandarano

      I enjoyed it too and it was my vote for review in the saturday matchup. I agree with carsons analysis and encourage the writer to reexplore the script with the insights hes garnered today.

      • rosemary

        right on

  • ximan

    “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.”

    ^^^^THIS!!

  • JT

    I never picked this one up as it reminded me too much of that Shatner Twilight zone episode.

  • wlubake

    Carson D – I have an opportunity to provide logline coverage services for a fee and need to provide examples of previous advice. Do you mind if I include your logline above as a “before and after” example? It may be posted publicly on the coverage site. Thanks for considering.