Genre: Family Comedy
Premise: The former lead singer for an Alt-Rock band must take his kids on the road with him when the band reunites for one of the biggest music festivals in the world.
About: Mega-writer Drew Pearce (Iron Man 3, Sherlock Holmes 3) teamed up with Jason Segal (The Muppets, Sex Tape) to sell this pitch for north of a million dollars a few years back. The scribes then went to work, but nothing ever came of the project. Today, we’re going to find out why!
Writers: Drew Pearce & Jason Segel (loosely based on the doc, “The Other F Word”)
Details: 106 pages (5/6/14 draft)
The aging rock star concept is one I see a lot. I think it’s because the rock star is the quintessential embodiment of Peter Pan syndrome. People enjoy the irony of seeing an aging rock star forced to grow up. But it’s also a sub-genre that’s never quite been nailed.
Are Drew Pearce and Jason Segel the writers to finally nail it?
Jim Stent is 35 and father to 14 year-old Tara and 8 year-old David. To people who grew up with normal lives, getting to be a dad to two wonderful kids might be the pinnacle of their lives. But Jimbo used to be a rock star! Well, that’s putting it strongly. But he was the lead singer of a fairly well-known alt-rock band in the 90s called Delinquents (no “The!”). And once you’ve had thousands of fans screaming your name, you’re not exactly pining to pack lunches on Monday morning.
To add insult to injury, Jim’s wife, Suzanne, is becoming the next Stephanie Meyer. Her werewolf books have gotten so popular that when you google Jim Stent’s name, his band doesn’t even come up anymore. He gets, “Suzanne Stent’s husband” instead! Jim is feeling more irrelevant every second.
So when his old guitarist, Richard, stops by and says that the 6th biggest rock fest in the world wants Delinquents to reunite, Jim is intrigued. But with Suzanne about to go on a book promotion tour, Jim’s stuck on daddy duty! That’s when Jim comes up with a plan. He’ll tell Suzanne that he and the kids are going on a camping trip instead, then go on tour.
Jim and Richard get the rest of the band back together (crazy Gene Biscuits, and mute bassist, and the lone female in the band, Blue). The plan is to play four small venues so they’ll be ready for the festival. Off on tour they go. But with kids!
The mini-tour is an ongoing balancing act as Jim tries to protect his kids from the unseemly aspects of rock glory. But in doing so, is unable to channel his inner rock star, leaving his performances devoid of energy and coolness.
Gene Biscuits finally has to step in, telling Jim that he’s become a lame dad. And that if Delinquents return is going to be successful, he’s going to have to leave the “dad” behind and let loose! But therein lies the question. Can Jim leave the dad behind? Or is that who he’s become?
I’ll be honest. I don’t like this genre. Personally, I think family comedy is where screenwriters go to die, the last leg of the tour, if you will. But there’s a way to make these movies work. It’s not like by deciding you’re writing a family comedy, the movie will automatically suck. School of Rock was a family comedy and it was good.
Here’s my operating thesis on what went wrong here. Family comedy works best when you define the line of what’s “too far” for a family comedy and you spend the entire script going right up to that line, even inching past it. Because that’s what makes people laugh. They don’t laugh at the safe obvious stuff. They laugh at stuff that’s gone a little too far, the stuff they’re not sure they’re allowed to laugh at.
School of Rock is actually a good example of this. Jack Black’s character perfectly walked that line of liking the kids but also making fun of them when a good joke presented itself.
Delinquents never gets anywhere CLOSE to that line.
The main joke in the movie is Jim rewriting “kid-safe” swear words that all of the band must use. You can’t say, “Motherfucker.” You must say, “Motherfrogger.” There might have been a version of this joke that was funny if the substitutions were funny. But they were all lame. And, jesus, swear jokes have been beaten to death in this genre. As far as I’m concerned, you get one “EARMUFFS!” zoinks swear joke in a family comedy and that’s it. Go challenge yourself and find some new jokes.
The rest of the script is similarly lazy.
A few weeks ago, we talked about the power of saying “no” to your characters. The more you say “no” to them, the more they’re forced to fight for what they want. And that’s the most entertaining thing about watching a movie – seeing your hero work hard to get what he wants.
But I want to talk about a bad type of “no.” The “fake no.” The “fake no” is when you say “no” to your character when it doesn’t make sense. The only reason you’re doing it is because Scriptshadow told you to. So in the first few pages, we establish that Jim is miserable and misses his former life as a rock star.
Then Richard shows up and says, “Hey, do you want to get the band back together?” Now, in real life, what does Jim say here? He says yes! This is exactly what he’s been waiting for! But because they needed conflict, they had Jim say no for NO OTHER REASON than this was a screenplay.
This leads to a big scene where the families get together for dinner and Jim “feels out” what people think about a reunion, the idea being that if it’s a positive reaction, he might be up for it. But the scene is lifeless because the device that got us here (the “fake no”) was so transparent.
And while the average viewer isn’t going to understand any of the terms I’m using above. Believe me. They subconsciously know when something’s off. You can’t bullshit audiences. They’re smarter than you think.
This script just needed to be more dangerous. It needed to take more chances. And I’ll give you an example of one of the first chances they should’ve taken.
The script starts in the present, with us getting to know Jim, the lead singer, and Richard, the lead guitarist. We also meet Suzanne, Jim’s wife. We then learn that the reason the band died was because Jim got Suzanne pregnant 15 years ago. He had no choice but to quit. He had to start a family.
Quickly after this present-day setup, we flash back to 15 years ago, when the band was on top of the world. Backstage, after a big concert, a 20 year old Suzanne walks into the room. She walks right up to Jim and gives him a big kiss. A few minutes later, she reveals that she’s pregnant, and we cut back to the present.
First of all, we didn’t need this scene. This was exposition that was already hinted at and could’ve easily been handled inside of one present-day line of dialogue.
Regardless of that, one of your jobs as a writer is to do the unexpected. Seeing a man with a wife in the present and then cutting back 15 years and showing the two of them together again – what’s the point of that? If you’re going to flash back, you need to give us NEW INFORMATION.
What they SHOULD’VE done is have Suzanne walk into the room, look like she’s going to walk up to Jim, but she walks right past him and gives a kiss to… Richard. It’s there we learn that Suzanne used to be Richard’s girlfriend. We would eventually learn that she was sleeping with Jim while she was with Richard, and that’s the reason the band broke up.
Now, not only does that scene have a reason to exist. But you have some MAJOR CONFLICT to settle in the present-day storyline, and you build that darker edgier comedy out of that conflict, instead of going to the kid’s swear-joke well.
I’m probably being hard on this because I really don’t like family comedy. But I still think this could’ve been a lot better.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Don’t say “no” to your characters just because a screenwriting website told you to. Every “no” you insert should be believably motivated by the characters and the situation.
Premise: A divorced mother must protect her drug-addicted daughter after she does something horrible to her abusive boyfriend.
About: This script was purchased by Black Bicycle Entertainment, who will produce with Scott Free (Ridley Scott). This team is also producing another Ingelsby script, The Burning Woman, which stars Anne Hathaway. Ingelsby is probably best known as the guy who was selling insurance in Pennsylvania when his spec script, “The Low Dweller” (Out of the Furnace), sold to Leonardo Dicaprio’s company for a million bucks.
Writer: Brad Ingelsby
Details: 115 pages
We are in the dark weeks of movie entertainment, my scribe-friends. It’s the end of summer, where studios dump tweener content they’re unsure of into the market and hope they catch fire. The Hitman’s Bodyguard? That concept is straight out of 2005. And what is, exactly, the genre for Logan Lucky? Comeheistindy?
Did you know that two weekends from now, there will not be A SINGLE NEW STUDIO WIDE RELEASE? You heard me correctly. ZERO! That hasn’t happened in 20 years. Now I’m not ready to say the sky is falling. We still have IT coming up and Star Wars, and the Oscar hopefuls will begin rolling out in the fall. But it sucks that there’s nothing out there to watch.
It’d be cool if they could give Good Time a wide release, my favorite movie of the year. But the truth is, those kinds of movies can’t survive in the Streaming Generation. If a film looks like it has the production value of a movie you’d watch on Netflix, people aren’t going to pay money to see it in the theater.
And that’s too bad. Because if this were 1997, Good Time would’ve made 60-80 million dollars and everyone would’ve been announcing the film as a breakout hit.
Which brings us to “Claire,” another good script that, unfortunately, also suffers from tweener status. It’s not a horror film. Not a comedy. It’s definitely not a super-hero movie. It’s not fast-paced enough to be a thriller. So the only way a movie like this escapes a 4 theater release is if David Fincher or Clint Eastwood signs on.
Is that possible? Sure. But so is winning the lottery.
Kate Garrett is in her 40s and, at first glance, seems to be living the life. She has a huge mansion that rests on 22 acres. She’s got horses, guest houses. Money seems to be an afterthought in Kate’s universe.
But as details emerge, we realize this utopia isn’t all it’s advertised to be. Kate’s divorced. The man she married was extremely rich, but he’s long gone, upgraded to a new family. So Kate spends most of her days wandering about the scenic acreage, coming up with things to do.
It isn’t long before we learn what Kate’s real job is: Claire. Claire is Kate’s 20 year old opiate-addicted daughter. We’re not talking casual addiction here, folks. Claire goes off for days at a time with her abusive boyfriend, Ryan, and rides the devil’s coat tails.
To make matters worse, Kate’s as addicted to enabling as Claire is to opiates. Whenever Claire comes home with puppy-dog eyes and a laundry list of apologies, Kate happily lets her in, nurses her back to health, only to be taken advantage of by Claire again, who takes her money, jewelry, anything that pays for the next high.
The first half of the script explores Kate’s loneliness in this giant house, and how that loneliness drives her enabling. Those little slices of daughter-love are the only thing worth living for.
But (spoiler) when her daughter gets in a fight with Ryan and accidentally kills him, Kate is forced to perform the ultimate enabling act – clean up and erase all traces of the murder. Kate achieves this. But just when we think the coast is clear, Kate’s own hidden addiction surfaces, which begins a chain reaction that forces Kate deep into the dark world Claire inhabited for so long.
There are two kinds of people in this world. Those who can’t watch Intervention. And those who can. Intervention is a docu-series where people get help for their addicted family members, usually daughters, sons, or spouses. I wouldn’t say there’s anything entertaining about the episodes. But there’s a weird high that comes from watching people battle their addictions.
On the one hand, you’re furious with them. They make their loved ones’ lives a living hell, then take advantage of that love to keep paying for their addiction. On the other, you want to see them get better, so you’re hoping they’ll be one of the few to somehow kick the habit.
If watching that play out is your jam, you’re going to love Claire. Cause this is the closest a feature script has come to mimicking the realism that is Intervention.
I loved the way this script started. It’s called “Claire.” But we start on someone named Kate. We get to know all about this Kate but, obviously, we’re wondering, “Who the hell is Claire???” It’s rare you find a writer clever enough to use their title as a form of suspense.
That’s basically all writing is, finding little tricks to keep the reader around, dangling a carrot in front of them if you will. And when that carrot has been reached, you better have another one dangling, or else why would they keep walking?
Once we find out who Claire is, the next carrot is the Intervention device – our simultaneous intrigue and anger with Claire. One second we’re happy that she and her mom are hanging out, having fun. The next we’re furious because she’s stealing Kate’s money and taunting her while she does it, anything to get that next batch of pills.
Ingelsby’s biggest strength is that there’s such a level of detail to his characters and the broken lives they lead that you believe it all. This is one of the hardest to do in writing which is why so many writers fail at it. They think to convince an audience that a character is a drug addict, you show that character stick a needle in their arm and fall back against a wall in ecstasy.
Not how it works, people. Want to know how I know that. Because “Claire” is one of the most realistic depictions of addiction I’ve read and we don’t see Claire get high once. We see her WHEN she’s high. But we never see her take drugs.
On Thursday, I’m going to talk about how to create this realism. It’s called “anchoring.” Anchoring is the process by which you anchor components of your story to components of your own life. It’s really the only way to build truly believable situations. And there’s no doubt in my mind that Ingelsby used it here. These scenes are so raw, so detailed, they have to be anchored in truth.
Another thing I like about Ingelsby is that he’s elegant and he’s thorough. For starters, this man cares about details. He knows that specificity sells realism. But he also thinks about the best way to convey that realism. He’s not boring about it. For example, when Kate goes over to her ex-husband’s house, she runs into Audrey, her ex’s new wife.
Inglesby writes a line which I felt perfectly captured how the new wife sees the old one. This is what he wrote: “Audrey regards Kate with a smile, polite but not friendly: Kate is an annoyance that must be tolerated.” That line gives me everything I need to know about that relationship in less than two seconds. That’s good writing.
If you’re someone who struggles with character development, this is a great script for you to read. We have everything from vices, to flaws, to backstory, to complicated relationships. It runs the gamut. So check this out if you can. And feel free to let me know what you think!
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Avoid anchoring characters to your imagination. Instead, anchor your characters to people you’ve known in your life. I promise you those characters will come off more realistic (MORE ON ANCHORING THURSDAY!).
There are no movies coming out this weekend. You know it to be true. Which means one thing. IT’S TIME TO READ SOME SCRIPTS! Will we find the next Das Chimp out of this weekend’s entries? Or the next Orbital (that’s an old-school Scriptshadow joke there)?
How to play: Read as much of each script as you can and submit your winning vote in the comments section. Winner gets a script review next Friday!
If you’d like to submit your own script to compete on Amateur Offerings, send a PDF of your script to firstname.lastname@example.org with the title, genre, logline, and why you think your script should get a shot. Good luck!
Title: Radiant City
Logline: In a post-apocalyptic city where people have gained the ability to cast ‘echoes’ – temporary copies of themselves – an Echo Crime Detective hunts a killer with the unprecedented ability to echo other people.
Why You Should Read: Radiant City is a noir-tinged sci-fi thriller with inventive set pieces, a racing plot, and a super strong protagonist that will have A-listers clamouring to get their agents on the phone. Well, that’s the dream anyway! Read a word, a page, or the whole thing – all candid feedback is welcome, you lovely people.
Title: THE COMEBACK
Logline: An inspiring story based on true events about an all-star high school quarterback that loses his throwing arm, but is determined to return to the game he loves with the help of a retired NFL physical trainer.
Why You Should Read: The script’s inspired by the true story of a one-armed high school quarterback from Seattle. I was so blown away by the kid’s determination, I wrote this tale that’s told in the vein of Soul Surfer and Rudy. Per Carson’s lesson, I said No to my protag as much as I could on his difficult quest of rehabilitation and redemption.
Genre: Crime Drama
Logline: After the elusive serial killer known as “The Exterminator” is apprehended under mysterious circumstances, an FBI Agent and a local journalist team up to find the real killer.
Why You Should Read: My name is David Fershtadt, and I am going to be a freshman in college this year. When I was in eighth grade, I sprained my ankle during basketball practice. At the time, I wasn’t that big of a movie fan. However, since I couldn’t walk for a few days, I decided to watch some movies. I went to the IMDb top 250 and picked some that I liked. Ever since, I have been a huge movie fan. Since I also love to write, I figured I should try to write a screenplay. I started writing Ridgeville two years ago, but gave up soon after. Recently, since it was the second semester of senior year, I had time to look at what I wrote, see what I could fix, and power through. Now, I have a finished feature length screenplay. I think you should read my script because I believe that it is compelling enough to keep your attention throughout. It will have you asking questions from the start and make you want to find the answers. I also want to be able to get feedback that will help me become a better writer, and I believe you can provide me with that. Thank you so much for your consideration!
Title: The King’s Fool
Logline: During World War 2, a famous Jewish director was coerced by the Nazis to produce a propaganda film showing the concentration camps as a spa for Jews, all while being a prisoner in one. Based on the true story of Kurt Gerron.
Why You Should Read: For the past seven years, I’ve been writing, directing and producing my own short films. Since my love for making movies is bigger than my wallet, I almost went bankrupt because of it. With that said, a year ago I wrote this screenplay after a FULL YEAR of research. The story is full of irony, and I never understood why no one had made a movie about Kurt yet.
Title: Genesis Protocol
Genre: Sci-fi / disaster
Logline: The year 2035. With Earth facing imminent destruction, a government space station — with capacity for only 150 people — becomes the last refuge for what will remain of the human race.
Why You Should Read: I’ve now written over a dozen screenplays but nothing prepared me for a story of this magnitude and complexity. For the first time ever I took on a writing partner — an engineer / scientist specialising in the design of space habitats — to make the script as accurate and authentic as possible. It has been a fantastic experience (for me at least, I can’t speak for him!) and we now have various other ideas brewing including a graphic novel. I hope you guys enjoy the script and thank you in advance for any feedback.
The winner of last week’s heated Amateur Offerings showdown finally gets its moment in the sun. But as every great tennis playing chimp knows, the sun gets awful hot without sunscreen.
Genre: Monkey Tennis
Premise: After a tragic tennis accident, a failed tennis pro seeks redemption by coaching a talented chimp and entering him in to Wimbledon disguised in a man-suit.
Why You Should Read: This is the greatest monkey tennis story ever told. It’s an ironic homage, a pastiche if you will – a spoof if you must – of the great animal-based comedies of the 90s like Beethoven, Flipper, and Dunston Checks In, each one of them an iconic work which has stood the test of time.
Writers: Chris Grezo & Rupert Knowles
Details: 110 pages
By themselves, the above words mean nothing. Invisible food-coloring, if you will.
But together? They represent one of the most powerful phrases in the English language.
Don’t believe me? Have you ever had a single passionate thought about the word “Das” before last Friday?
But look at how much controversy that same word created once combined with “chimp.” We had a fellow competitor questioning the sanity of each and every member of the Scriptshadow community when his script was defeated by Das Chimp.
Let us call a spade a spade. “Das Chimp” is the single greatest title to ever grace the pixelbytes of Scriptshadow. It is both simple, yet oh so complex.
And therein lies Das Chimp’s biggest hurdle. Could a title promise something so great, that it was impossible for the story to live up to it?
My friends, I’m ready to find out if you are.
So please, grab a beer, grab a racket, grab your favorite stuffed animal, and join me… for Das Chimp.
It’s never a good day when you kill your doubles partner. That’s what happened to John Protagonist, who lost his nerve when his tennis match got tight, accidentally hitting the chair umpire with a serve, causing a chain reaction of Center Court implosion, leading to a giant light landing on poor Hamish.
Adds a whole new meaning to the term, drop shot.
Fast forward 10 years and John faces each day with the regret of what he did to a man who didn’t deserve his demise. John heads to the zoo to share a beer with his custodian best friend, Duncan, when he sees a chimp effortlessly hitting a tennis ball against the wall.
John approaches the chimp’s handler, the excessively weird but beautiful zookeeper, Lily, and asks if he can teach the chimp (Pierre) tennis. Lily is game, but to do this, they’ll need to make sure no one realizes Pierre is gone. John comes up with an idea and puts Duncan in a monkey suit where he’ll stand in for Pierre.
Once John gets Pierre out on the court, he’s even better than he thought, so he starts entering Pierre in tournaments. The scrappy Pierre keeps winning, and actually earns a birth into Wimbledon! There’s only one problem. Monkeys aren’t allowed to play Wimbledon! Who would’ve thought?
So John gets another one of his genius ideas. He’ll dress Pierre up in a human suit. No one will know the difference. Meanwhile, John is dealing with some unexpected issues. Pierre is in love with Lily. And the reason Lily is so weird is because she was raised my meerkats. She has no clue how human interaction works.
But John’s biggest challenge comes when Britain’s #1 Doubles team is mauled by a wild boar. Britain comes to John and asks if he’ll team up with upstart Pierre to represent the country again. John is reluctant, but dons the headband once more, this time to play with a chimp… a chimp wearing a human suit.
Oh, I’m sorry. That’s not my assessment of the script.
I’m just noting that when you can include an elephant shit joke in your movie? And it’s FUNNY? By gosh you’ve already succeeded my friend.
But Das Chimp is no flash in the pan one-elephant-shit-joke wonder. Believe it or not, the majority of this script is funny. And not just funny, but well structured!
There’s an easy way to distinguish between “I don’t know how to write a screenplay” broad comedy and “I actually know what I’m doing here” broad comedy. Setups and payoffs. When I see lots of setups and payoffs in a broad comedy script, I know the writer has thought the script through, and, at the very least, completed a few rewrites. You can’t include too many payoffs without going through the script and figuring out where to set up them up.
For example, the crazed always angry Zoo owner lets out one of his wild boars at night to take care of people sneaking into the zoo after closing. 50 pages later, that same boar is responsible for sending John back into competition, after it mauls the other British doubles team.
And Lily is an entire compilation of setups. She acts beyond bizarre, to the point where you wonder if she’s retarded. Then we learn why she acts that way. She was abandoned by her parents as a kid and raised by meerkats. She would then get a job at the zoo because animals were the only world she understood.
But the best thing about Das Chimp is that Grezo and Knowles rarely make a lazy choice. Everything that happens here is either bizarre or the result of something bizarre.
I have no doubt that a less talented writer would’ve made Duncan (John’s friend) some corporate type, so as to properly contrast the friends’ lives (like the screenwriting books tell you to do). Instead, they make Duncan an animal shit-shoveler over at the zoo. And thank God they did. Duncan’s storyline – while in chimp costume, he falls in love with a real chimp, Princess – was my favorite of the script, and led to the biggest laugh.
In this scene, Duncan comes to talk to Princess. I dare you to read what happens next.
If I have a beef with the script, it’s that the setup could be sharper. Pierre’s ascent from chimp who likes to hit against the wall to rising tennis star is way too fast. I understand that we have to get to the story, but I never understand why it was so important that Pierre start playing tournaments. John’s motivation seems more tied to using Pierre as an excuse to be around Lily. He didn’t need to enter Pierre in tournaments to do that.
This may seem like nitpicking. But the script ends up taking its plot surprisingly seriously later on, retroactively sending me back to this first act, where the only reason things seem to be happening is because they need to for the script to exist.
Another area that could’ve been better is the Pierre tennis matches, which were too repetitive. A lot of Pierre running around for balls it doesn’t look like he’s going to get to… and then he gets to them! I speak from experience as I’ve written several tennis scripts myself. I’ve learned you need to limit the repetitive actions of the sport and focus instead on individualized non-playing situations.
For example, instead of writing an entire page of, “… and then Pierre runs over to get the ball, barely reaching it – BAM! – he hits it back…” you might focus on the fact that a ballboy suspects that Pierre isn’t human, and write in a series of moments where the ballboy is trying to figure it out.
Obviously, you have to include SOME points to build the drama in the match. But the strange thing about screenwriting and sports is you want to include as little actual playing of the sport as you can get away with. The exception would be if you’re focusing on something unique within the game. For example, if John’s racket cracks during a point and he doesn’t have a backup, so John needs to play a point WITHOUT A RACKET. We’re going to be more interested in that point because it’s unique. It’s not another, “…he reaches for the ball with all his might…”
Das Chimp isn’t perfect. But these two writers are DEFINITELY funny. I believe it’s a script worth perfecting. So I’d encourage anyone here that if they can think of more funny scenes for Das Chimp, to share them with the writers. The more laughs we can pack into this script, the better shot it has.
Script link: Das Chimp
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Give friends and family jobs that keep them closer to the story as opposed to further away. So you don’t want to make Duncan an architect or a stock trader. You give him a position at the zoo, where we can keep him close to the story without having to force it.
So the other day I FINALLY decided to watch “Atlanta,” the show from Community alum Donald Glover that had gone on to win a Golden Globe for Best Television Show, a Writers Guild Award for best Comedy Series, and was nominated for an Emmy in writing. Personally, I thought it looked pretentious and unfocused, so I never got around to watching it. Until now.
Before I get into my thoughts on the series, I have to share something with you. I hate Donald Glover. There’s something about the guy that rubs me like a bad batch of poison ivy. Discounting the fact that he’s an egomaniac who must prove he can act, direct, write, produce, rap, and do stand-up comedy, all under the guise of an “aw-shucks-I’m-just-trying-to-work” persona. Discounting the fact that there are articles being written about him that tell everyone to “underestimate Donald Glover at your own peril” (Gag me with an Instagram like). There are things even beyond those issues that I despise.
Mainly, that his writing is just okay. His dialogue is decent at times. But his storytelling leaves a lot to be desired. And his acting vacillates between mini mumbling monologues and looking like he’s so stoned that he might fall asleep at any moment.
Worst of all, it’s impossible not to know you’re watching Donald Glover whenever he’s onscreen. The Martian basically stopped for 5 minutes mid-film so that they could include a random “Donald Glover Short Film” Scene. I thought an actor’s job was to disappear into a role. Glover goes in the opposite direction, always wearing the same hipster clothes, always sporting the same trendy haircut, always giving the camera the same Donald Glover hangdog expression.
Which makes it all the more perplexing that the man is one of Hollywood’s fastest rising stars. And it really bothers me. Not because I don’t get the love for the dude. But because every time a writer or an actor or a director (or in Donald’s case, an actor/writer/director/producer/rapper/caterer/surgeon) rises up, Hollywood is telling you something: THIS IS WHAT WE WANT. Which means you, the aspiring multi-hyphenate, must understand why this person is ascending so that you can take some lessons from it and use them to further your own career.
Yet here I stood with Glover, unable to figure out how he’d separated himself from the pack.
I’m sure Glover’s old fellow staff writers on 30 Rock (where he started) are asking the same thing. Why is this guy blowing up while we’re still trying to get staff writing jobs on The Goldbergs?
Powering down my television after that decidedly average pilot episode of Atlanta, I finally figured it out.
Do you want to know what it is?
What Donald Glover has that all those other staff writers and bottom feeder feature assignment writers and aspiring amateur screenwriters don’t have is a VOICE. It’s undeniable. Glover is bringing something unique to the table that nobody else out there is doing. I don’t know what it is, exactly. But I do know that when I watch his shows or listen to the dialogue he’s written? It’s different. And the reason this is so important is that VOICE is the equivalent of GOLD in the artistic community – the most valuable commodity there is – to the point where it can propel someone like Glover to stardom.
Think about it. How many people in this business truly have a unique voice? Very few. The majority of Hollywood’s army are cogs in a machine, regurgitating or helping to regurgitate the same old movies and TV shows over and over and over again.
When someone emerges from that glut of sameness to give us something unique, they stand out like a punch at a cuddle party. In fact, the very reason I hate this guy is tied to his voice. That’s what voice does. Its unique point-of-view incites passion one way or another. In my case, it’s “or another” but for a ton of people, it’s “one way.” He’s got something unique.
As artists, there is no bigger fear than being bland. Wondering whether we’re one of those also-rans who doesn’t have anything original to say keeps us up at night. Don’t get me wrong. You can still work in Hollywood without a voice. If you can perfect form and technique and craft and understand how the storytelling and character creation mechanisms work, you can work in this town. But you’ll never be special. You’ll never stand out like Donald Glover.
So today, I’m going to help you find your inner voice. The bad news is, voice isn’t something you can construct through pure force of will. Your voice is who you are at your core and therefore emerges naturally. When you look at someone like Bill Murray, his unique persona isn’t calculated. It’s just him. On the flip side, there are clearly celebrities who enhance their voice in a calculated manner. Lady Gaga, for example, does a lot of calculated things in order to enhance her “voice.”
With that in mind, here are seven things you can do to find your voice so you can be more like Donald Glover and less like those journeyman staff writers on The Goldbergs.
1) Identify what your world view is – What is the operating thesis by which you see the world? Is it John Lennon-esque, that everyone should put aside their differences, hold hands, and find peace with one another? Or is it Machiavellian, where everyone’s backstabbing each other and looking out for number 1? Is it idealistic, like Spielberg? Or is it fatalistic, like Kubrick? One of the key reasons for a writer lacking voice is that they don’t explore underlying themes in their work. Without a point-of-view, a lot of what we write is empty.
2) Write stories that exploit that world view – A big mistake writers make is not writing the scripts that explore the world view they’re so passionate about! For example, if you have a Kubrickian world view, but you’re writing Das Chimp, you’re not taking advantage of your voice. Every script you write where you’re not exploring your world view is going to feel lacking in some way.
3) Break rules – Following the rules allows you to write something good. But breaking the rules is how you write something great. Writers with voice don’t make sure their inciting incident happens on page 12. They’re too busy telling a unique and unexpected story. There’s a balancing act here. You can’t ignore rules completely. They’re what keep your story focused. But if you come across a rule in regards to your script that, by breaking, makes the story come alive in some way? That’s a sign that the rule is worth breaking. In “Room,” the Screenwriting Rule Nazi would’ve encouraged the writer to either get them out of the room at the end of the first act, giving them enough time to build a storyline post-Room, or in the third act, crafting the escape as the climax (like you’d see in a traditional thriller). Instead they placed the escape at the midpoint, allowing them to explore a devastating question: Where was life better? In the room? Or out?
4) Be raw and honest – To have a voice, you have to let us into your soul. It’s the only way we’re going to get to know the true you. And the deeper down you take us, the more ‘you’ we’re getting. The majority of writers write as fanboys. They re-write their favorite horror movies, reshape their favorite action set-pieces, mimic their favorite dialogue writers. They think that’s writing. That’s not writing. Writing is baring your soul through your characters. Be truthful. Be honest. Get into the nitty gritty of how you endure the human experience. This is why everybody 30 years later is STILL trying to write John Hughes movies and failing. They don’t realize that those movies don’t work because of the fun parts. They work because of the darkness, because of the way Hughes explored human psychology during one of the most confusing times in a person’s life – adolescence.
5) Be brave – Tarantino, one of the most voice-y writers ever, once said (paraphrasing) “You should always be a little nervous to let someone read your stuff because of how fucked up some of it is.” That’s not to say everyone should include a Gimp-Rape scene in their script, especially if you’ve been hired to write The Nut-Job 3 (on second thought…..). But a good writer explores those messy areas in life and in human interaction that aren’t usually talked about openly. Embracing those awkward moments brings truth and originality to your work.
6) Evolve The Genre – We all have our favorite genres to write in. So I’m going to give you advice that’ll place you ahead of 90% of aspiring screenwriters out there. Before you write your script, ask yourself, “How do I plan to update this genre?” If you’re writing a horror film, maybe you’re infusing race into it (Get Out). If you’re writing a heist film, maybe you’re infusing time manipulation into it (Inception). If you’re writing a Western, maybe you’re bringing a level of violence to the proceedings that has never been seen before (Bone Tomahawk). I consider this tip, more than any other, a ‘cheat code’ in the game of voice, because without much work up front, you can make a script feel totally unique.
7) Make sure there’s at least one character in your script who’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen before – Audiences rarely remember the plot to a movie years later. But they always remember the characters. I’ve found that voice-y scripts always have at least one character who’s totally and completely different. Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. Miles in Sideways. Wade in Deadpool. Juno in Juno. Unique characters go hand in hand with voice. So don’t write your script without one.
8) BONUS! – A non-traditional narrative – I went back and forth on whether to include this tip because there’s nothing more that I hate than a rambling narrative, a vague plot, or unclean structure. But the proof is in the pudding. The artists with the strongest voices tend to sacrifice plot and structure for character and situation. Woody Allen, Quentin Tarantino, Sophia Coppola, Aaron Sorkin, Christopher Nolan. I’m not a fan of this tip. But I can’t deny its presence when it comes to writers with voice.
Carson does feature screenplay consultations, TV Pilot Consultations, and logline consultations. Logline consultations go for $25 a piece or 5 for $75. You get a 1-10 rating, a 200-word evaluation, and a rewrite of the logline. All logline consultations come with an 8 hour turnaround. If you’re interested in any sort of consultation package, e-mail Carsonreeves1@gmail.com with the subject line: CONSULTATION. Don’t start writing a script or sending a script out blind. Let Scriptshadow help you get it in shape first!