Premise: Mythical creatures and monsters have always lived here on earth with us, hiding in the shadows. Guess what. They’re tired of hiding in the shadows.
About: Here’s the thing I don’t understand. Hollywood is so obsessed with IP that they’ll prioritize a comic book turned script that nobody’s ever heard of over writing it on spec to begin with. It’s not even about getting something that’s done well anymore. It just needs to have been published in another medium. Anyway, Lore sold a few years ago for seven figures in a huge bidding war. The Rock was attached.
Writers: Jeremy Lott & Cory Goodman (story by Cory Goodman) – Based on the graphic novel by Ashley Wood & T.P. Louise
Details: 106 pages – 3/20/12 draft
I remember that this was a HUGE sale. And with The Rock starring, it seemed like one of those rare projects that was going to go from purchase to production in under a year. But how many times have purchase-to-production projects been destroyed by the Gods of Hollywood? What’s the old saying? We make plans and God laughs? Yeah, well, Hollywood laughs harder.
What I think is going on here is that Legendary, who spearheaded the project, moved from Warner Brothers to Universal and whenever that shit happens, everything gets fucked up. Then after this sold, the similar-feeling R.I.P.D. came out and did badly, scaring everyone to death. And now WB’s got this Fantastic Beasts movie that seems like a period-piece version of the exact same concept.
It just goes to show why it’s so hard to make movies in this town. The smallest thing can derail your project at any moment. Maybe if the script’s good enough, though, Lore can make a comeback. Let’s find out!
Calliope Saunders saw something amazing when she was 12. A man fighting a dragon-woman. Granted, you can see that kind of thing on Hollywood Boulevard three times a week. But she’s pretty sure this was, like, a real dragon.
Cut to Calliope all grown up, and she’s dedicated her life to figuring out where that creature came from. She’s convinced that there are places on the planet where certain electro-magnetic faults cross, and that those crossing-points are doorways to a monster world.
Despite her fellow scientists laughing her out of the room, Calliope learns just how right her hypothesis is when Shepherd guardian Jonathan Bradley comes to her defense just as a fairy attacks her. Calliope gets a crash course in monster history, where Bradley informs her that all sorts of creatures (sasquatches, minotaurs, fairies, vampires, trolls) are real and that sometimes they illegally step into our world, and guys like him have to stop them.
The two find out that Kiyo, that dragon-lady from the opening, has learned where these crossing points are. If she can get to them before Bradley and Calliope do, she can unleash all the nightmare creatures inside of them, and it’ll be bye-bye humans.
I could break this down the way I usually do and point out the pros and cons, but the truth is, this is a solid well-executed traditional screenplay. It doesn’t surprise you. But it moves along quickly and keeps you entertained enough so that you care. No small feat.
What I’d rather talk about today is team-ups. I was just reading a script the other day with a really good premise but it wasn’t working. It didn’t take long to realize that the main problem was the central team-up. It consisted of two women who had zero conflict, zero tension, and who seemed to get along great. Because of this, almost all of their scenes together were boring.
Coming up with the right team-up in a team-up film can be the difference between success and failure. No matter how cool your set-pieces are or how many million dollar effects shots you have, it all comes back to the characters and if the audience wants to follow them.
There are two core team-up options.
1) Buddy Cop Team-Up – This doesn’t mean a team-up that you only use in buddy cop movies. Rather, it refers to a conflict-heavy relationship between two men or two women where the parties are so different that they disagree on almost everything. This results in a lot of conflict and therefore a lot of entertainment. Keep in mind that the buddy cop team-up does not always need to be of the over-the-top variety. Not every movie is Bad Boys 2. You can play a team-up in a much more subtle manner depending on the genre, tone, and concept.
2) Sexual Tension Team-Up – The sexual tension team-up is when you take a man and a woman and you play up the sexual tension between the two. This is one of the most time-tested set-ups in film history and while the initial assumption might be that it’s cliche, it will work if done well. Also, like the Buddy Cop team-up, you will tailor the level of tension to the genre, the tone, and the story. It could be over the top like James Bond or it could be under the surface, like Once.
These are your two staple team-up options. Once you go outside of them, you can still make it work, but it becomes tougher. A third team-up option is friendship, like Eliot and E.T. But since there’s little conflict in a good friendship, you have to bring conflict in from the outside and have forces trying to tear that friendship apart.
Look at The Force Awakens. They went the friendship route with Rey and Finn. Now I ask you: was that a satisfying storyline? I’d say it was okay. But I didn’t leave The Force Awakens going, “Man, Finn and Rey! Wow. I have to get more of those two!” Friendship is tough to do because screenwriting likes extremes. It likes “we hate each other” or “we love each other.” If you’re in the middle, “Oh, we like to hang out on Saturdays when we’re bored,” it’s hard to make that entertaining.
There are other ways to get creative with team-ups. For example, bring someone in from the past! Now you have a different kind of conflict, one that’s built off of unresolved issues from the past, and therefore conflict with more weight. A classic example of this is Indy and Marion from Raiders.
Another way to deal with a conflict-weak team-up is to bring more characters into the group as the story unfolds. Luke and Obi-Wan’s team-up is fine at first. But if that’s all we had the entire movie? We’d get bored, because they liked each other so much. So what did they do? They brought in Han Solo. And all of a sudden there was tension and conflict everywhere.
Lore chose to go the sexual tension route between Calliope and Bradley and did a pretty good job with it. And that leads us to our final lesson. The reason why getting the team-up right is so important, is because that’s what’s going to make or break the movie. Writers erroneously believe it’s the awesome effects or cool set-piece that’s going to make their movie unforgettable. But when people remember their favorite movies, it’s always the characters. So make sure to get that right.
Lore was fun. This is becoming a familiar story set-up that a lot of writers are using though. We’ve got Ghostbusters, M.I.B., R.I.P.D., Fantastic Beasts. I don’t know if this is original enough to stand out anymore. You gotta find another way in. “Bright” is a good example of finding another way into the monster universe. What about you? What fresh new angle are you hiding up your sleeve?
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Think long and hard about the central-team up in your script and if it provides enough conflict/tension. If it doesn’t, that could result in a really boring movie, since that relationship will be onscreen far longer than any other aspect of the movie. You’ll definitely want to re-think the team-up in a way where there’s adequate conflict to explore.
When I read this script a long time ago, I hated it. But numerous people have told me over the years that I was wrong, that this script was great. So I gave it another shot. And you know what, they just may have been right!
Premise: A group of friends find a recently deceased’s author’s manuscript and decide to publish it under their name.
About: This is a Black List script all the way back from 2008 and one I’ve been meaning to review for awhile. I actually read this back in 2008 and didn’t like it. However there are some extenuating circumstances about the read that I’ll get into in a sec. In the meantime, I’ve heard several people mention over the years that I got this one wrong. That Manuscript is a really good screenplay. This is what motivated me to pick it back up.
Writer: Paul Grellong
Details: 8/6/2008 draft
A little backstory here. I read this a LOOOOOOOONG time ago. And I reviewed it somewhere. It may have been on Scriptshadow or it may have been in a comments section on another site. But I specifically remember reading it quickly. I had some pressing matter and had to zip through the script fast. And it always bugged me that maybe I didn’t give it a chance.
I think this is a writer’s worst fear. That the reader won’t give them a fair shot. And the truth is, sometimes they don’t. Readers are human beings with deadlines, day-to-day pressures, personal lives. Sometimes your script is the last thing they have to tackle before getting to see their boyfriend that night, or going out with their girl crew. Who do you think gets preferential treatment in that scenario? Hint. It’s not your screenplay.
This is why I advise making those first 5 pages awesome. It may be your only shot at reeling the reader in. It’s not unlike approaching a beautiful girl at a bar. If you do something unforgettable right off the bat, you just may convince her to give you a shot. But if you come in slow and drone on, it’ll probably end up in a half hour conversation to nowhere. Or worse.
If I remember correctly, Manuscript did not start out strong and that’s what led to me mentally tuning out. “Oh, this isn’t any good,” I thought, and upped the pace, wanting to get through it quickly.
Well, this time, I’ve got nothing to do but read this script. So let’s hope with this newfound focus, Manuscript does something for Present Carson it couldn’t do for Past Carson.
Elizabeth may not be a literary phenom yet. But she’s doing okay. At 21, she’s already published a successful young adult novel. Elizabeth seems like a nice girl. Lives in New York. Doesn’t have a lot of money. Lucked into a rich boyfriend, Chris, who’s got a little bit of Patrick Batemen in him (he runs TWICE a day).
Elizabeth is feeling the pressure from her publishing house to get another book out, and to take her mind off it, Chris wants her to meet his good friend, David, an aspiring novelist himself. David seems enamored with Elizabeth, particularly how she burst onto the scene with a New Yorker article at just 17 years old. He’s shameless in saying he wishes he had her career.
And then Chris leaves the room. And Elizabeth and David drop the act. The two know each other. Not only that, they used to sleep together. It was at a writing camp where the 16 year old Elizabeth went through David’s notebook and found that article, stole it, and sent it to the New Yorker under her name. Turns out Elizabeth isn’t so innocent after all. And when David threatened to expose her, she reminded him that he’d been having sex with a minor.
Back to now, where Chris and David bring Elizabeth over to their friend’s place, a once-famous author who’s now a local drug dealer. When they get there, they find him dead, but with a typed manuscript nearby. Chris grabs it, and when the three realize that it’s the only copy, Elizabeth comes up with the idea of publishing it under her name.
Chris is horrified by the idea. David isn’t surprised but wants no part of it. Until Elizabeth promises to use the buzz from the new book to get David signed with her agents and to start the career he so desperately wants. David reluctantly agrees, but when things start going well and Elizabeth isn’t holding up her end of the bargain, he begins to wonder if he’s made a giant mistake.
I remember now why I disliked this. I’ve never been a fan of talky New York movies and there’s a very specific reason why. I feel like New Yorkers believe their city and their lives are so interesting that all their scripts need to be about for you to enjoy them is them talking about life. Because of their big flashy New York opinions, we’re supposed to bow down and acknowledge how intelligent, wonderful, and cultured all New Yorkers are.
Yes, I admit, I may have some issues to work out there. I had a bad break up with a New York girl, okay. It’s complicated!
Truthfully, though, there’s only one good New York talky writer – Woody Allen. And he stopped making movies he gave a shit about years ago (now he just makes them to stay busy). So should anybody else even try?
It sure didn’t look like Manuscript tried. It opened with all the immediacy of a Tuesday night bingo game at the dollar store, which resulted in me wanting to bang myself over the head with the nearest manuscript. Maybe “Past Carson” got it right after all.
And then page 31 happened. That’s the moment when we find out that Elizabeth and David already know each other. There comes a moment in every script where you find out if it’s a movie or not. That moment happened here. We had ourselves a movie.
One thing that Manuscript taught me is that if all you’ve got to work with in your story is characters and dialogue, you better employ dramatic irony in some capacity. Dramatic irony is one of the most powerful writing tools there is, and it doesn’t require a single special effect, a single Hunger Game, a single super hero. All it requires is that one of your characters hide something important from another one of your characters.
And once we realized David and Elizabeth were hiding their previous relationship from Chris, we were hooked. This ensured that EVERY SINGLE CONVERSATION between the three now contained subtext. We knew something Chris did not. That made the dialogue a hundred times more interesting.
Another thing you need in talky scripts is TWISTS. Characters need to turn on characters. There needs to be a clever surprise or a shock that we weren’t expecting. And that happens here when (spoiler!) it turns out David and Chris were playing Elizabeth all along. There was no famous writer’s manuscript. It was a ruse designed to expose Elizabeth, and she took the bait.
All of this made for an exciting adventure that, after page 31, flew. But therein lies the script’s biggest problem. It took until page 31 to make us care. And that’s dangerous territory in today’s “ENTERTAIN ME NOW” society. We’ve talked about this before. Slow builds can work but you’ve got to employ a carefully constructed plan to keep the slow stuff exciting until the fast stuff arrives, and Manuscript didn’t do that.
Hence why I mentally gave up on it last time. And a reminder that all readers are looking to go into “skim-mode” as soon as possible. As soon as they decide your script doesn’t have the goods, it’s skim time. And what tells them you don’t have the goods may be beginning red-flag mistakes, or it may be like Manuscript, where not enough is happening for too long a period of time.
I don’t fuck around with that shit. “ABE” god dammit. Always Be Entertaining. Always keep the reader invested. It doesn’t have to be through fast-means either. Do it with suspense, mystery, intrigue, anticipation, foreshadowing. But if you take 30 pages to set your story up, even if your script DOES make the Black List, it might not have enough juice to get made.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: I think this script failed to become a movie because it took too long to get going. In this day and age, you need to hook the reader early. That’s not to say you need to hook them with your main concept. But you need to hook them with something that keeps them around UNTIL you hook them with your main concept. I just watched this short about a loser who takes care of his niece for a day. Take a look at how the short opens. It’s an immediate hook. We’re interested. Nobody walks away from that opening going, “Borrrrring. Pass.” You gotta hook people. Gotta hook!
Things get insane today. I mean like writers of Deadpool write about ninjas, cowboys, and vikings, with Quentin Tarantino making a cameo insane.
Genre: (cannot be classified)
Premise: A crazy man with three personalities, a cowboy, a ninja, and a viking, must defeat his evil billionaire boss before he destroys the world.
About: Uh, did someone say a Chris Pratt project written by the hottest screenwriting team in the universe? Do Mondays get any better? — Actually, a little more information on this. This is an early draft of the project written by Deadpool super-scribes Reese and Wernick. However, it looks like there have been new scribes hired since this draft to update the project. So take this for what it is – an early draft of a cool project that is trying to get cooler.
Writer: Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick (based on the Image comic book, Cowboy Ninja Viking, by A.J. Lieberman and Riley Rossmo).
Details: 119 pages – December 31st, 2011 draft
I chose today’s script because our big summer choice this weekend was Star Trek 3. Star Trek 3, the most bland sci-fi movie Hollywood could’ve possibly conceived of. And it did okay. But that’s only because “okay” has been redefined after every movie this summer has bombed.
When I saw “Cowboy Ninja Viking” I thought: “FINALLY!” This is the movie we need. Something with some god damned originality, Alice! Audiences are ACHING for a movie like this. It’s primed to be the next Deadpool.
But is it as good as Deadpool?
Hmmmm…. only a Scriptshadow review can answer that.
Duncan Trevello is crazy with a capital “K.” Wherever he goes, for as long as he’s been going, he’s had with him Cowboy, Ninja, and Viking, his alter ego multiple identities, all three of whom, of course, will be played by the same actor who plays Duncan (notable for major screenwriting lesson later on).
Duncan has been holed up in a nuthouse for eight years but escapes when he finds out his nemesis, Ammo, is coming after him. Duncan flees to Vegas where he gets on a black jack winning streak that would make Ben Affleck jealous (by following the crazy advice of his alternate personalties – like hitting on 19).
The pit boss is convinced that Duncan is cheating since no sane person would be making the choices that he’s making, so he pulls him into his office and beats him up. That’s when Duncan unleashes his secret, that he can take on the fighting skills of his three alternate personalities. So he beats the living hell out of the pit boss as well as a half dozen casino guards, and starts spending his money like mad all over town.
But Ammo finally catches up to him and takes him back to their master, billionaire Richard Blaq. We learn that Blaq plucked Duncan, as well as every multiple-personality orphan he could find, from his orphanage, and used his split personalities to create the ultimate fighting machine.
Duncan is able to escape once more, but when he learns that Blaq has created the most powerful computer chip in the world, he knows he must stop him. Because if Blaq has created something that powerful, he knows that he plans to use it for something awful.
Let’s get down to business, scribes. Why didn’t you think of this idea!!!??? This is the ultimate spec script idea. It gives a major actor FOUR DIFFERENT UNIQUE FUN ROLES TO PLAY. We talk about this all the time. Create multiple roles for a single actor to play and it’s fucking acting catnip! This was GUARANTEED to nab one of the biggest actors in the world. Not to mention PDA. Write a script that will either draw a producer, director, or major actor. This gets you your actor.
Better than that, it’s a best of both worlds project. Not only will this make money, but it gets you STREET CRED since it’s so weird. It’s the exact same thing that made Deadpool the envy of every studio in town. You get the money, the critics, the audience, and the opposite looks on Rodeo Drive than you get when you’re the producer of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Unfortunately, once you start comparing Cowboy Ninja Viking to Deadpool, the katana starts cracking at the seams.
Maybe Wernick and Reese fixed these problems in later drafts, but in this one, they’re pretty glaring. See, here’s the thing with this script and with these nutball hero scripts in general. You have two options. You can have the story mirror the main character and just be balls-to-the-wall crazy. Or you can keep the story clear and concise, which allows your main character to be the lone balls-to-the-wall element in the movie.
I prefer option 2. If everything is unhinged, there’s nothing to ground the story, and we’re never going to know where we stand. That’s exactly what happened here. A clear plot didn’t emerge until super late and up until that point, I had little idea where we were or why.
That’s a big question writers need to be constantly asking themselves:
WHERE ARE WE AND WHY?
If you don’t know where your character is in the story and why, chances are the reader doesn’t either.
At one point, Duncan’s back with Blaq and the two are just sort of hanging out, not really happy with one another but not really upset either. And I’m thinking, “Wait, why is Duncan just hanging out? What’s he doing? Why isn’t he attacking this man that he hates?” It was like the story stopped functioning for awhile.
Another issue I had here was how much of the story was driven by Blaq. Black was the one making everything happen. He was trying to capture Duncan. He was trying to put together this army of people with multiple personalties (but why???). He was making some super computer chip that was more powerful than anything.
Everything was so centered on Blaq, no time was left over for Duncan!!! And he’s our hero! And he’s probably one of the most interesting characters ever created for a big film. And he’s just sitting on the sidelines, watching Blaq do all this bizarre shit.
The best part of this movie is the first act, because that’s the only time that Duncan is active. It’s the only time he’s making his own decisions, driving his own storyline. This is a lesson for everyone. If your script goes on for too long where your hero isn’t driving the story, we’re going to get bored. We didn’t come to see your hero play second fiddle. We want him on first chair.
If I were these guys, I would’ve kept this whole thing in Vegas. It’s the perfect town for a character this weird. And the great thing about this idea is that it doesn’t need a giant plot. We don’t need to be whisked all over the world like in a James Bond film. Your main character is the entertainment. Save a ton of money, improve the chances of this getting made, and just set the whole shebang in Vegas and shoot if for 40 million. Everyone will go see this. It’s the movie that Hollywood needs right now.
A mess of a plot that needs fixing but this character is so fun, I say this is worth reading.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: The messier your main character, the cleaner the plot needs to be. If we’re trying to wrangle in fifteen layers of hero, we can’t be confused about what the hell is going on. Make it simple! This is actually what the original Deadpool did. Sure, it jumped around in time. But it was a crystal clear revenge film. We always knew what Deadpool was after.
It turns out that when I posted yesterday’s Amateur Friday review, it went on a post delay or something, so it didn’t show up for most of you until the evening. I apologize about that. If you have some time, though, check it out. I go over a lot of beginner mistakes that are huge tells to readers and identify you as “not ready for prime time.” I want all of you to be ready for prime time.
On another note, Lights Out is doing well! Remember that Lights Out is a Grey Matter film, the same company I teamed up with for my contest. So if you want to see winning script, Disorder, hit the big screen, go and see Lights Out! The better it does, the better chance we’ve got!
Onto Showdown Saturday! This is a HEAVY HITTER week, man. There are previous favorites, previous winners, and hot genres all in a single bunching. Read the scripts and vote for your favorite in the comments section! Winner gets a snazzy Friday review!!!
(3 Sweet Things has enough fans that I’ve brought it back for another shot!)
Title: 3 Sweet Things (updated draft)
Genre: Contained Thriller
Logline: Three girls conducting door to door surveys are lured into a twisted and deadly all-night game of cat-and-mouse by a psychopathic home owner.
Why You Should Read: Because this is the dark and twisty home invasion thriller that KNOCK KNOCK should have been. Fuck you for that weak shit, Eli Roth. My girls don’t have to act like overheated whores to get what they want from a man.
Title: Starring John Wayne
Logline: The true story of how John Wayne, guilt-ridden over avoiding military service in World War II, helped save the Marine Corps from being eliminated by Congress and the White House with his iconic portrayal of a battle-hardened Marine in the movie “Sands of Iwo Jima.”
Why you should read: The biopic craze that has gripped the movie industry in recent years has left out arguably the most compelling figure in the history of Hollywood: John Wayne. My script, “Starring John Wayne,” fills void. The script focuses on an overlooked and tumultuous chapter of Wayne’s life as he sought to atone for his lack of military service in World War II. A little about me: I am a journalist for a major news organization who has relentlessly and thoroughly researched John Wayne’s life with the goal of selling this script. I recently took a break from my job to be a stay-at-home dad for my baby boy after my wife went back to work. We watch John Wayne westerns and war movies during bottle feedings and diaper changes. I try out dialogue during the nap-time routine. And when the baby sleeps, I crank out pages. Thanks for your consideration.
Title: Under the Cover of Darkness
Logline: A man awakens without memory in the nightmarish world of history’s largest super-prison. As he fights for his freedom, he develops visions of a past he cannot recall, causing him to lose grip on the present — leaving only a matter of time before his past & present collide.
Why you should read: It’s the Bourne trilogy meets Oldboy. — You once gave some advice on how to generate a good starting point for your script. Basically, you had it down to: confined space, central hero, a mystery to solve, and keep them moving. I really took that into consideration when starting this script. I love The Twilight Zone. I love that the best stories involve basic human fears, and then build and twist them into simple, confusing, haunting stories. And I had a great idea: a regular guy (or is he..?) wakes up in a super-prison without any memory of how he got there. He’s innocent as far as he knows. It involves fears we all share: the innocent man accused, held against our will, losing our mind – really frightening shit.
Title: The Claiming
Logline: A paranormal expert who investigates a mysterious mansion falls in love with the blind pianist who lives there, only to discover it’s not the house that is haunted but her.
Why you should read: I’m both a horror fan and a hopeless romantic, so I set out to write a haunted house script that’s also a love story. The character of Alexa, the blind pianist, is the one I love the most out of all the characters I’ve ever written. I’d really like to know if the Scriptshadow readers find the secret that she hides as heartbreaking as I do.
Title: Bush Baby Summer
Genre: Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi
Logline: A small-town juvenile delinquent on a hiking trip with three other teens runs afoul of a D.B. Cooper-style air hijacker smuggling extraterrestrial cargo.
Why You Should Read: My previous script won AF back in November and I’ve taken everything I learned from the process of writing that one and from the awesome notes I received here, and poured it all into this one. Bush Baby Summer is (hopefully) a fast-paced outdoor action adventure with a sci-fi twist. It’s also my attempt to capture the oft sought after yet ever-elusive “Stand By Me meets E.T.” vibe. It’s currently a Page quarter-finalist under the title “Ramblers”, and – I just found out today – it placed among the top 10% at the Nicholl. Thanks for considering Bush Baby Summer for AOW. I look forward to some constructive notes (good or bad) from the community.
Premise: After their friends run a supposedly haunted red light and suffer horrible deaths, three disbelieving teens run the same red light to dispel small town superstition, only to find themselves the next targets of a sinister figure hellbent on revenge.
About: I’ve been teaching Pre-Kindergarten for seven years now, so trust me — I know horror. Besides wanting to bring the slasher film back for the Z Generation, I’ve always wanted to write a movie that made an ordinary thing seem terrifying. Think of what Jaws did for going swimming, or Shallow Hal for, uh, going swimming.
One night, while sitting at an empty intersection waiting for the light to change, I found myself coming up with reasons not to go through it. A car could smash into me. I could get pulled over. An unflattering photo of me taken from a traffic camera could appear in my mail. But it wasn’t until I convinced myself the vengeful ghost of a woman — a woman wrongfully killed at that very intersection by another red light runner — would follow me home that I knew I had something special.
I’m confident anyone who reads my script will never go through a traffic light the same way again. But don’t just take my word for it. Professional script consultant Danny Manus gave it a strong consider and called it, “A fast and enjoyable read with a solid climax, a couple good twists in the plot, some strong scare moments, suspenseful scenes, and enough gore to satisfy PG-13 horror fans while still having a solid mystery.”
So how isn’t this a movie yet? How am I still without a manager or agent? How did I keep you reading this long without the exchange of payment or sexual favors? Maybe you can educate an educator. I’m hoping you’ll give my script the chance for some extra attention and critique, but more importantly, I just want everybody reading it to have fun. Because I had a blast writing it.
Writer: Chris Shamburger
Details: 103 pages
So, honest first thoughts when I read this logline:
A haunted red light?
Ehhhh… I wasn’t too confident.
It seemed a bit goofy.
But then I thought about The Ring, one of the most popular horror movies of all time, and wondered, “Is it any less goofy than that? A haunted video tape?”
Then again, the great thing about The Ring was that the video tape was the ultimate visual freak fest. What you saw on that tape chilled you to the bone. It really helped you buy into the premise.
I’m not convinced a red light does that. But let’s find out. WAIT! Hold on. Press the walk sign button. Okay… and it’s green now.
We start off with an eclectic mix of high schoolers and college kids. There’s 18 year old Nikki, a young black woman with some sass. There’s Xander, 19 and athletic. There’s Hannah, 17 years old and eager to start going to college parties. And then there’s some periphery players, like Hannah’s older brother Jimmy, who treats her like a misbehaving child, and Rebecca, Jimmy’s bitchy ex-girlfriend.
So Nikki, Xander, and Hannah head to a college party at ASU where the talk is of a recent group of kids who ran a red light and all but one got butchered at a diner afterwards. When Xander hears that the operating theory is that they were butchered by a ghost who’d been killed when hit by somebody who ran the same red light, Xander wants to run the light too.
So he recruits Nikki and Hannah under the pretense that they’ll hashtag it and become internet famous, only to learn afterwards that there may be more truth to the story than he originally thought. When strange things start happening to them, the three each separately start investigating this woman who was killed, and find out some disturbing things about the incident.
Eventually, as you would expect, teenagers start dying, and the question becomes, is this really a ghost, or might it be a real life killer who’s big on road safety.
Okay so, we’ve got a lot of beginner mistakes here and I hope that by highlighting them, I can help Chris as well as other writers out. Remember that readers are quick to pick up on red flags. And red flags are like ants. Where there’s one, there are usually more. And remember when I said I was skeptical of the premise? That tends to be a red flag out of the gate. When the premise isn’t on point, other things tend not to be either. Unfortunately, that was the case here.
Starting with the opening scene where something immediately jumped out at me. Our drunk teenagers are in a car, but instead of acting like drunk teenagers, they’re spouting out functional backstory-laden dialogue such as, “It’s Rebecca.” “I haven’t heard that name in a while.” “We just started talking again.” “Why?” (remember that leading questions are bad!), “She’s the new president of Alpha Omega Pi.”
Does that sound to you like drunk high school kids? I remember the conversations myself and fellow drunken high school kids had and they were nothing like that. There were random screams and woops about nothing in particular. Someone would say out of nowhere, “We should go to New Orleans!” Someone would always mention some girl that someone recently banged and that “we should call her.” There’d be lots of laughter.
You have to honor the truth of the moment. If you prioritize screenwriting conventions over truth, your scene won’t feel honest, and that’s the case here.
Next on the docket is this description: “He’s so lit, you could probably read a book by him.” It took me several reads before I finally understood what the writer was saying. These overly cute descriptions are almost always the sign of a beginner. Pros prioritize storytelling over everything. They don’t want to break the suspension of disbelief and understand that lines like this can do that.
The exception is when they’re built into the style of the script and the writer is REALLY good at it. When cute lines like this appear out of nowhere, they’re lone wolves and draw attention. I’d avoid them.
Next you have the dialogue. One of the genres where dialogue is extremely important is teen movies. Teenagers are often at the forefront of whatever slang is dominating the zeitgeist, and seek to one-up one another with the latest burn or turn of phrase. For these reasons, when the dialogue in a teen movie is boring, it’s a huge mark against the script.
The dialogue here was very functional, very robotic, and didn’t sound like teenagers at all. When Hannah’s brother’s ex runs into her, she says, “And Hannah, when you see Jimmy again, please tell him I said hi.” That sounds like a 35 year old speaking. Not someone in college. The script was littered with dialogue like that. No style, no fun, no slang. There were a few sections that eschewed this, but not enough.
The next red flag didn’t take long to appear. When they go to this party, Matt, the lone survivor from the first gang to run the red light, gets out of jail after being questioned, and goes straight to this party.
So let me get this straight. You’ve just watched your friends die horrible deaths. The police think you may have done it. And the first thing you do when they release you is head to a party by yourself? But it gets worse. The first thing Matt does when he gets there is go to a bathroom, sit in a stall, and cry???
Why did he come to the party if all he was going to do was cry in a stall? Soon after, the stall is burned to the ground with Matt in it, and we have our answer. The writer wanted to kill Matt in this bathroom. He didn’t care how he got the character there, as long as he could have his bathroom killing scene.
This is another difference between amateurs and pros. Pros will find logical motivations for characters to do things. Amateurs don’t care about that stuff. They’ll pace their character through the most illogical set of actions (showing up at a party the second you’ve been released from jail for being a murder suspect, heading to the bathroom to cry by yourself) to get them to the scene they want to write.
This is why when people say that Hollywood movies are terribly written, I chuckle. Yes, there is badly written professional material. But the bad in those movies is “professional bad.” It’s a whole different level from amateur bad.
On the plus side, the premise began to win me over as the script went on. I thought it was clever to make the ghost woman an investigator who was in the middle of trying to find a missing child. It brought another level of mystery to the teenagers’ investigation. I mean who knows. I could see this being a direct-to-digital horror title. Why not? It has a great title. It’s an easy-to-understand concept. However, before you can rope in the people necessary to make this movie, you have to take care of these basic mistakes.
Script link: Red Light
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Another red flag is character descriptions that are purely physical. Here’s Xander’s character description: “XANDER, 19, stands on the front step, newspaper in hand. Lean, athletic build. Strong chin. He’s a six foot tall drink of water.” It’s almost always better to convey something about the character in their description. For example, a simple word like “mischievous” tells us so much more than that “he’s a tall drink of water.”