The Last Jedi is losing this weekend’s box office battle to Insidious 4! When your movie is being taken down by a film that occasionally uses one of those cheesy sequel nicknames (4Sidious!), you know you’re in trouble. Guys, I realize my obsession with The Last Jedi has gone too far. But I still can’t believe Disney allowed a director who doesn’t even like Star Wars to come in and not only undo every single significant story thread from the previous movie, but leave the story nowhere to go for its finale!!!!! Smart people actually ALLOWED THIS TO HAPPEN! And they turned Luke Skywalker into a lame weirdo coward then killed him! lol. People actually sat in an office, nodded, and said, “Yeah, this sounds like a good idea. Let’s go with it.” Even a friend of mine who liked the movie (don’t worry, I’m working on him), admitted, “Oh, yeah, they burned the trilogy to the ground. There’s nowhere to go from here.”
Anyway, enough about Star Wars. Well, until the Solo trailer debuts at least. For now, it’s time to get our hands dirty with some new Amateur Offerings. This is where you, the dedicated readers of this site, read and vote for your favorite script of the weekend. That script will get a site review next Friday. And hopefully we’ll find ourselves the next “Meat.” I know Logan (writer of Meat) signed with Charlie Ferraro at UTA, one of the biggest agents in the business. That could be you by the end of the month! Let’s do it baby. Here are this week’s scripts!
Oh, by the way. If you want to submit for a future Amateur Offerings: Send me a PDF of your script, along with the title, genre, logline, and why you think people should read it (your chance to really pitch your story). All submissions should be sent to Carsonreeves3@gmail.com.
Title: FROM THE CONVALESCENCE OF CHRISTIANNE ZELMAN
Genre: Gothic drama
Logline: A psychiatrist becomes involved with a disturbed young woman, but falls foul of those responsible for her condition — a former Nazi doctor and mysterious Reverend Sister.
Why You Should Read: Played against the rainy altitude of the Austrian Tyrol in 1975, FROM THE CONVALESCENCE OF CHRISTIANNE ZELMAN is both love story and Nazi fairy-tale. The role of Christianne is tailor-made for an Oscar-bound actress while the script itself resurrects an all but forgotten genre — one that allowed me to showcase character and dialogue inside a heightened storyworld. Indeed, I tried to write something that owes as much to golden-age melodrama as it does to the likes of Tennessee Williams and Rainer Fassbinder. In short, I’m convinced this script is like nothing else around at the moment!
Title: BIGFOOT LIVES!
Logline: After coasting off his fortune from the Patterson-Gimlin film, Bigfoot has gone bankrupt. With the help of his new agent, he needs to make another splashy appearance or risk losing everything he has.
Why You Should Read: BIGFOOT LIVES! is funny as hell, unpredictable, and an all-around enjoyable read with a happy ending. Well, that’s my opinion, of course. My goal was to write a movie that makes me laugh, and I’ve succeeded. The question is will everyone else laugh along with me? — I’ve always gotten incredible help from Team ScriptShadow, and it is important for me to continue my development. One of the best ways I’ve found is by receiving the community’s constructive criticism. I’ve proven in my previous appearances on AOW my willingness to put in work to get better and take feedback to heart, and I’m ready to go to war again.
Title: The Promoters
Logline: A nightclub bouncer with big dreams and a failing marriage to his paraplegic brother’s ex-girlfriend convinces a successful concert promoter, whose own life is falling apart in the aftermath of a family tragedy, to take him under her wing.
Why You should Read: I’m Antonio Cannady but I go by the pen name Sinsation. I’ve been nominated for best director and best screenplay for my previous works. I currently reside in Orlando, Florida.
Title: Whispers from the Watchtower
Logline: The host of a popular skeptic/debunking radio show works alongside a reluctant psychic in a last ditch attempt to find his missing daughter.
Why You Should Read: I was ecstatic when I found out an earlier draft of this script placed top 10 in the 2017 Launch Pad Feature Competition. From there, the contest organizer sent the script to a producer looking for material and after the producer read it, he sent it to a manager he knew. The manager got back to him within 24 hours to say he loved the story as well and wanted to meet me. Momentum, momentum, momentum! I owe that manager and producer a ton of credit, because together we shaped the story into a project we felt the industry would consider. — My manager had a plan to keep the reads exclusive, targeting select production companies, so why am I making the script public, submitting to AOW in hopes of getting a review? After the screenplay was sent up to the owner of a fairly well known production company and interest expressed, my manager vanished. This was in late July and to this day I have no idea what happened, I hope it wasn’t something catastrophic. In the meantime, it’s back to square one for me and I’m proceeding as though I’m unrepresented. I’d love to know what the Scriptshadow community thinks of the story – and more importantly – if they’d pay to see the actual film. Also, I can’t lie… having struck out in two previous AF attempts, the competitor in me seeks to earn that elusive “worth a read” my first ever submission – The Telemarketer – failed to produce.
Title: Mad For It
Logline: Battling 90s Britpop bands develop a rivalry that makes them famous then ruins their lives in a spiral of one-upmanship and revenge
Why You Should Read: Dear Carson, I am Jack the Stripper, burlesque performer and writer of comedy burlesque routines for ladies in London, UK. I’ve decided to hang up my thong and use my comic talents to write for the screen, drawing on my experiences as a touring musician and music promoter. I’ve also just landed a publishing deal with Three Blend Comics as editor and writer of Tales of Astoundment, a quarterly comedy comic book anthology. You should review my script because my whole life for fifteen years has been a parade of sex and live music and comedy, while listening to the stories of musicians going up and down the industry ladder. The best of all of these experiences is here in a screenplay, waiting to be broadcast into your head, and if a little of your time is the only price to see it, then you, sir, have got a bargain.
This post is for those writers who want to hold themselves more accountable in 2018. List the number of hours and/or pages you wrote this week. The idea here is to be truthful about the amount of work you’re putting in. Plus, by seeing how much other writers are writing, I’m hoping you’ll be inspired to write more yourself. Somewhere between 15-30 hours a week, depending on how busy your life is, is ideal. Also, be supportive and encouraging to others. Writing is a lonely endeavor and it’s nice to know people are rooting for you. Basically, this post is meant as one big bucket of motivation. If you guys find it helpful, I’ll post these regularly. I’m thinking every other week? We’ll see how this one goes. :)
Premise: After the arrival of a mysterious Christmas present, a troubled young woman finds herself trapped inside her apartment building with three ghastly spirits hell-bent on forcing her to confront the horrors of her past, present and future.
Why You Should Read: Believe it or not, horror fans really love Christmas! Sure, Halloween is our big day, but there’s just something liberating about the holiday season that nicely offsets our darker sensibilities. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many movies out there that successfully bring those disparate aspects of our personalities together. GREMLINS and THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS are kind of the gold standard in this arena, but both of those are family films and don’t exactly qualify as horror. We need more good Christmas horror flicks that we can revisit each year, damn it! — ‘DO NOT OPEN’ started out as a short script. But, thanks to the November writing challenge that a few of us took part in, I’ve expanded that set-up into a modern day, horror re-imagining of a certain Dickens holiday classic. The result is basically ‘A CHRISTMAS CAROL’ meets ‘IT’. — Thanks for taking a look. I can only hope that it’s as much fun to read as it was to write!
Writer: Nick Morris
Details: 84 pages (micro-script! – Nick’s pressing all the buttons today)
Christmas 2017 may be over. But I’m already on to Christmas 2018. Which is why I’m reviewing the WINNER of December 15’s Amateur Offerings, “Do Not Open,” a Christmas-themed el special from perennial Amateur Friday threat, Nick Morris. Gotta get this in shape for the end of the year!
I have to say, before I start, that I admire the layered approach Nick took to titling the screenplay. What’s the first thing anyone does when they see the words, “Do not open?” Yeah, duh. I opened. Here’s what was inside…
24 year-old Holly, who lives in a small one-bedroom apartment, is a heavy proponent of the no-pants rule. That means, once you’re in your apartment, no pants allowed. This made me an immediate fan of Holly.
Unfortunately, Holly’s got issues that go well beyond her pant-dislike, starting with a severe case of agoraphobia. Even simple errands can become a battle. Luckily, Holly finds something outside her door this morning to distract her. A box that has a simple message on it: “Do Not Open.”
Holly kicks the box inside and places it under her Charlie Brown Christmas tree, choosing to abide by the box’s rule. After her girlfriend, Marlene, stops by and forces Holly to open the box, they’re disappointed to find out there’s nothing’s inside.
After Marlene leaves and midnight hits, everything goes to hell, as the building becomes eerily still. Holly checks out the hallway, which is also too quiet. It’s like the world has… turned off. She tries the elevator. Nothing happens. Tries to take the stairs. The door won’t budge.
Eventually, Holly finds her way down to the second floor where she sees her dead sister who perished in a fire as a child standing in the hallway. Seeing dead sister. Always a good sign. We then transport back to that fateful fire, after which Holly’s parents join a cult to deal with the pain.
Holly reemerges from the “dream” on the second floor, where she’s able to find her way down to Floor 1. It’s here where Holly sees herself in the present. A lonely scared girl who stays in her apartment all day. Oh, and every tenant on the floor turns into a demon and she has to blast them into black goo with a bat.
Finally, Holly makes it down to the ground floor – what we now know as Christmas Future – and it’s here where we learn that Future Holly is a drug addict at the end of her rope. And that she’s got to kill more demons, of course. After Holly emerges from her demon-slaying Christmas nightmare, she’s able to acknowledge her metaphorical demons, and finally commit to a life of growth instead of one of stagnation.
It’s been awhile since I read Nick’s last script so I don’t remember it well. But I know I like this one better. It takes a while to get going as its 25 page first act could arguably be condensed into 10 pages. The word “filler” kept flashing through my mind as I was reading it.
For example, there’s a whole 10 page section where we’ve got this box sitting there that says “Do Not Open” and Holly’s not opening it. Technically, this is suspenseful. But there’s a difference between technical suspense and real suspense. I didn’t feel real suspense because the only reason Holly wasn’t opening the box was because the writer didn’t want her to. Any person in their right mind is going to open that box. Or, if they’re not, we have to be convinced why.
Suspense only works when it’s invisible. Not when the writer is clearly pulling the strings.
There also seemed to be too much sitting around. Too many pages going by that were either repeating information or not giving any information at all. Holly lives alone in this apartment that she hates leaving. I understood that by page 5. Why am I still being told that 20 pages later with the only additional information being that she has a girlfriend?
However, once we hit the second act, where our concept emerged, the script became considerably better. I loved the scene where Holly tries to work her way down the trash chute to escape the building and then some freaky ass monster’s arms appears below her. Haven’t seen that scene in a horror movie before!
I also liked the ghost of Christmas Past scene in the church. I was surprisingly affected by how intense the family confrontation was and 100% believed that they’d really lost their daughter. That was the hook moment for me. Before that scene I was like, “Eh, I could go either way here.” Which goes to show, it isn’t the flash (the scares) that pulls the audience in. It’s those human moments. The ones that help us connect with the characters.
The Christmas Present stuff was okay but could’ve been better. It relied too much on gore (this is the section where Holly must beat everyone to a pulp with a bat) as opposed to character development. There was a moment in this section where Holly walks into her apartment and is able to see herself in the 3rd person and it freaked me out. How would you react if you watched yourself all day? What would you think of that person? It got kinda trippy. I wanted more of that. But instead we got more gore and scares.
The Future Stuff needs more development as well. The idea is good. If Holly continues on this path, she’ll die. But that wasn’t set up very well in the first act. And as I pointed out, it’s not like you don’t have plenty of time to explore it. If we could see a hint of her turning to drugs due to not being able to overcome her past or her condition, then the Christmas Future stuff plays out much better.
I also have a suggestion for Nick. Stop using scares from other horror movies. ESPECIALLY generic horror movies. The people with the dark faces and the beaming bright eyes – I’ve seen that a ton. And people turning to our protagonist and screeching with a high-pitched noise. Come on. I can find ten IFC Midnight films right now that do the same thing.
I say this kindly but I’m a little upset about it. Nick reads this site all the time and one of the big things I hit on is that you got to do the hard work and go beyond the obvious choice. If you’ve seen a particular scare in two movies, don’t use it. Or only use it if you’ve honest-to-God spent five hours trying to come up with a new fresh option and you couldn’t think of anything. Because every obvious choice like that makes the reader think “generic.” And it takes fewer generic choices than you think it does before a reader labels your entire script “generic.”
So anyway, I thought this was fun. But due to its repetitive first act and the work it still needs on the Christmas Present and Christmas Future sections, I can’t give it that ‘worth the read’ label. But it was close!
Script link: Do Not Open
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Your first act is going to have the most information in it of all the acts. This is where you’re laying out your characters, your world, your plot, and providing setups that you’ll later pay off (such as the potential addiction to drugs I wanted a better setup of). If your first act is thin and breezy, you probably aren’t utilizing it in the correct way.
These days, you can’t release a movie without everyone with a keyboard mentioning its Rotten Tomatoes score. This tomato-obsession reached new vine-length on the produce-inspired site with The Last Jedi. You would think Donald J. Trump himself was writing all of these audience reviews if he weren’t such a Big Mac addict.
Oh, don’t worry. I’m not going to write another Last Jedi review (even though I really really want to). I bring this up because I’ve noticed if you read through enough negative Rotten Tomato reviews, certain words keep popping up. These words, I realized, are the definition of movie badness.
And I thought, wow, we have a verifiable blueprint for what people DON’T want to see in a movie. Why not highlight these negative characteristics and figure out what they mean so we can avoid making the same mistakes ourselves. And hence I give you, my esteemed readers, the ten most common words in negative film reviews and how to avoid then in your own work. Let us begin!
Mindless: Mindless is a trap that’s been laid out in front of you whenever you write a big action or adventure movie. To be frank, parts of these movies should be “mindless.” That’s what’s fun about them. Going on those big juicy wild action scene rides like the airport scene in Captain America: Civil War is the very definition of turning your mind off and having fun. But the reason “mindless” is used in a negative connotation is that, when those scenes are over, the “regular scenes” aren’t engaging. And this usually boils down to a lack of depth in the main characters. The solution is to treat your characters in these big genre films like indie characters. Figure out what makes them tick. Give them full-on backstories and conflicts that they’re battling within themselves and between one another. If you do that well, nobody will accuse your script of being mindless.
Formulaic: No one wants to be formulaic. And yet screenwriting is the most formulaic of all the writing mediums. You have to include acts. You have to adhere to a certain page count. Your main characters all have to arc. It’s painfully mathematical. The best way to prevent formulaic writing is to come up with a premise that doesn’t move along traditional formulaic lines. Dunkirk, with its out of order narrative, is a good example. But in most cases, you’ll be working with a traditional story setup. So for that I suggest tackling formula in a couple of ways: Diversion and Surprise. A nice way to divert attention from your formulaic plot is to give us strong or unique characters (or both!). If we’re looking at your characters, we’re not noticing the by-the-numbers plot. A quick way to achieve this is to give a character a REAL FLAW. Not a Hollywood flaw where it’s hedged, but an honest-to-goodness humanizing flaw. I was just watching Battle of the Sexes and was shocked to see them show Billy Jean King cheating on her husband. Her husband wasn’t abusive or absent. No. King cheated on him because she was weak. That’s a real flaw and it makes the character real. The other tactic is surprise. Give us 2-3 big moments in the script where, when something’s about to happen that usually happens in these types of movies, you give us something else. The obvious recent example of this would be in The Last Jedi (spoilers) when Kylo Ren kills Snoke. I may not have liked that movie. But the last thing I would call it is formulaic. And that was because of choices like these.
Forgettable: I don’t know if there’s a more damning adjective to hear about your work than “forgettable.” It’s worse than “bad.” People remember “bad.” People don’t remember “forgettable.” In my experience, forgettable is what happens when you combine a standard genre, a recent trend, and a formulaic execution. So if you’re writing a “girl with a gun” movie when three other “girl with a gun” movies have been released this year, and you’ve also given it a formulaic execution, there’s a good chance it will be forgettable. However, change just one of those elements and you might be okay. Pull a Dunkirk, creating an out-of-order “girl-with-a-gun” narrative, and you’ve got something memorable.
Preachy: Here’s the thing with “preachy.” Movies are inherently preachy. Every writer sees the world their own way and stories are their vessel to convey that worldview. And that’s good. You want to throw ideas out there, challenge people, make them think. However, there’s a reason why political movies always do terribly at the box office. People don’t want to overtly be told what to think. And there in lies the secret sauce to avoiding preachiness. You can make your point. But you do it by implying, not telling. If you want to point out that the health care system sucks, you don’t have a character monologue an indictment on the health care system. You show a hospital with more patients than rooms. As underhanded as it sounds, you have to be sly when getting your point across. Or else you risk being called preachy.
Unfunny: Look, comedy is subjective. We all find different stuff funny. With that said, everybody knows “unfunny.” “Rough Night” was a “comedy,” but I’m yet to find someone who thought it was funny. Here’s what I’ve learned when it comes to writing comedies. If the laughs aren’t hitting, it’s usually because the characters aren’t funny. Not because you need to come up with more “funny scenarios.” If a character is funny, every scene he’s in will be funny, regardless of whether you come up with a funny situation or not. Look at the socially unaware characters of Alan (The Hangover) and Megan (Bridesmaids). You didn’t need to do anything to get laughs in their scenes other than have them speak. So if no one’s laughing at your script, stop trying to make each individual scene funnier. Go to the source – the characters – and rethink them until you’ve come up with a truly funny character.
Cliche: Oh yeah. The grandaddy of all insults, right? The word “cliche” has been used so often in movie criticism that it’s become a cliche in itself. Here’s the Webster’s definition of cliche: “A phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought.” Using that as a reference, a cliche script is one where the number of key story choices that “betray a lack of original thought” is larger than the number of choices that are original thoughts. By “key story choices,” I mean the main characters and plot beats. So if all of your main characters (the four biggest characters in the movie) are garden-variety archetypes and all of your big plot beats (i.e., when the boy meets the girl, the mid-movie car chase, when the hero takes on the bad guy at the end) are replicas of stuff we’ve seen before, your script will be cliche. It’s simple math, guys. More original choices than unoriginal choices.
Drags: This is an interesting one because it’s my belief that 75% of WORKING screenwriters don’t know why a movie drags. Rian Johnson has been working in this business for almost 20 years and he didn’t know that his entire Canto Bight sequence dragged. That’s a good place to start. Time is relative in script reading and movie watching. If the characters are good and the story is compelling, time will whiz by. If the characters are lame and the story sucks, 5 minutes will feel like 50. So the main reason stories drag is because they aren’t any good. However, if your story and characters are sound and there are only PARTS of your script that are dragging, the simple solution is to dangle more carrots. The more things you’re putting out of the reach of your heroes, the less we’re focusing on time, and the more we’re focusing on whether they’re going to get those carrots. A couple of common carrots to use are suspense and mystery. With suspense, it could be as simple as, “Will he get the girl,” like they did in Spider-Man Homecoming. As far as mystery, why are dudes sprinting around in the middle of the night doing 90 degree turns, as was the case in Get Out. There are other ways to prevent dragging (adding ticking clocks is helpful) but dangling carrots is a good starting point.
Repetitive: I want everybody to say this word with me – VARIETY. Stories should have variety. Are your characters always sitting down when they talk? Are they usually arguing in the same manner (a critique of the recent Hitman’s Bodyguard)? Are all your action scenes car chases or shootouts? Are you bringing us to the highest of highs and lowest of lows? A good story needs variety and it’s up to the writer to mix things up. A great example of this is Good Will Hunting. The entire movie is a talky movie. It could’ve, and probably should’ve, felt repetitive. But what they did was they gave Will Hunting four totally different characters to interact with – the shrink, the mathematician, his best friend(s), and his girlfriend. And they kept bouncing around between all those characters so that no scene felt similar to the previous one. In order to avoid repetition, add VARIETY to your screenplay.
Incoherent – You don’t have to look far to find incoherent movies in Hollywood. The Pirates and Transformers sequels have that covered. Sadly, coherence is a major problem in the amateur screenwriting arena. I read a lot of scripts where I’m confused about what’s going on, what people want, where the plot is, where we’re going, what the hell just happened in that scene. There are two main things that lead to incoherence. The first is adding TOO MUCH to your script. Too many characters, too many subplots, too much jumping around. The more there is going on, the harder it is to keep up. The second main reason a story is incoherent is because the writing is rushed. Coherence comes from the smoothing out of the rough patches that are present in the early stages of story-construction. If you never do that smoothing out process (rewriting) you risk having the “incoherent” label thrown at you.
Uninspired: We all know when we’ve seen an uninspired movie. You get this overall feeling that the people who made the film didn’t care. Preventing this is actually easy. Before you write something, ask yourself, “Does this excite me?” If it does, there’s a good chance your work will feel inspired. And actually, the more it excites you, the more inspired it will feel. But if you’re only writing something because you hope it’ll make the Black List or sell, there’s an equally good chance it will feel uninspired. A great comparison here is the difference between “It” and “The Dark Tower.” In one case, the creators loved and cared about telling that story. In the other, it was less about love and more about creating a franchise.
Genre: Dark Comedy/Thriller
Premise: (from Black List) After catching her husband in bed with a hooker, which causes him to die of a heart attack, Sue Bottom buries the body and takes advantage of the local celebrity status that comes from having a missing husband.
About: Today’s script finished on the 2017 Black List just under yesterday’s script, When Lightning Strikes, with 19 votes. This one came out of nowhere. It was absent from The Hit List, which charts the best spec scripts of the year, making its Top 10 ranking on the Black List a mystery in itself. Whatever the case, it’s safe to say this is Amanda Idoko’s breakthrough screenplay.
Writer: Amanda Idoko
Details: 118 pages
I like when writers do this.
Take a popular premise from recent years (Gone Girl) and spin it in a slightly different way. It’s like a cheat code to compete with established IP. The letters “IP” basically stand for “Green Light” in Hollywood and that’s because audiences are familiar with the material, guaranteeing that at least someone shows up to the theater. So when you spin a new idea out of a recent film, you’re hacking the IP DNA, giving yourself an attachment to a successful experience that isn’t yours. Genius!
But how bout the script itself? Was it as good as Gone Girl? Actually, Idoko takes her cues from two other famous directors, the Coens, turning a traditionally male-led genre into a female one. Let’s see how it fares.
Sue Bottom is hopelessly hanging onto the belief that her marriage is okay. The 40-something office worker who’s so invisible that people literally run into her during the day, walks around listening to affirmation-based recordings, reminding herself that she has high self-worth and lots to offer the world.
When Sue shows up to her husband Bill’s work in hopes of a birthday date, she’s shocked to see him buy some flowers and drive to a local motel. Once she’s able to locate his room, she walks in to see Bill banging an extremely large woman named Leah. As soon as the putz sees his wife, he has a heart attack and dies.
An angry Sue tells Leah to scram and then concocts a wild plan. She’ll bury her husband, trash their home, tell the world he was abducted, and have the entire nation feeling sorry for her. Darn it if Sue won’t finally be visible.
What Sue doesn’t know is that her husband was laundering money for a local Indian crime boss, whose hit man & woman found him through Bill’s waste of a brother, Petey. When Petey learns that his brother is missing, he assumes that the Indian duo have kidnapped him for not paying them back. So Petey comes to Sue, assuring her that he knows where Bill is and will get him back.
Meanwhile, Sue finds out the hard way that nobody cares about a middle aged man gone missing. So she doubles-down on her idea, telling the local news that Bill had information on the whereabouts of a famous missing girl.
This gets the nation’s attention, and soon Sue is being doted on by everyone who used to ignore her. However, as the police start connecting the dots of Bill’s “abduction,” they find that literally none of what Sue is saying makes sense. Which means it’s only a matter of minutes before Sue’s fifteen are up.
Breaking News in Yuba County was like a satisfying two eggs, two pieces of toast, breakfast. You nailed the toasting process. It was toasted just enough that it wasn’t limpy but not so much that it could double as a fossilized rock. You didn’t overcook the eggs for once. A little extra butter gave it that naughty kick. It’s the kind of breakfast that starts a day off right. However, it’s not a meal you’re going to list as one of your favorites.
That’s what’s frustrating about Yuba County. It’s the type of wacky idea that needs to be great to work. Whenever you’re following a group of crazy characters, linking all of their plotlines together and setting things up and paying them off every few pages – when all of that comes together, it’s the closest thing in screenwriting to a symphony. And while Yuba County’s arrangement was definitely pleasing to listen to, something was missing.
There was this screenwriting book that came out 20 years ago. I forget the exact title, but I think it was called, “Liked it Didn’t Love It.” This is a critical phrase in the Hollywood ecosystem because it encompasses the large majority of scripts being passed around.
There’s so much competency in the screenwriting trade that you read a lot of stuff that you “like.” But there are very few times that you “love” something. And those are the scripts that matter. Because it’s the “love” script that gets you to the mountaintop, that gets you bought, that gets you produced, that gets people to pay $15 to see your movie. So understanding the difference between a “like” and “love” script is critical to your own success as a screenwriter.
Unfortunately, it isn’t always clear why we “like” something but don’t “love” it. It’s just a feeling we get. How does one quantify that and turn it into a series of actionable steps to make the script better? The first thing you need to do is to strip away all the screenwriting gobbledygook and ask yourself purely as an audience member: “Why didn’t I love this?” Once you identify that, you can start to inspect WHY that’s the case.
When I look back at Yuba County, I keep going back to the main character, Sue. There was something about her that I didn’t like. As all Scriptshadow readers know, if the reader doesn’t love the main character, they’re going to have a hard time loving the story. Now that I’ve identified the problem, I can get into the screenwriting gobbledygook. WHY didn’t I like Sue Bottom?
Sue was overcooked. She wasn’t just ignored. She was CHRONICALLY IGNORED. She came home and her husband, sitting right there, didn’t notice her. She sits at a table with two other people at work. They don’t know she’s there. She’s in line at the store. Someone rams into her because they don’t see her. Everyone forgets her birthday. Her sister uses her. Everywhere we turn, Sue is being aggressively ignored.
I understand that this is to set up Sue’s need for attention. But the problem with going overboard on ANYTHING is that you start to bring attention to it. And once that happens, the reader becomes aware that the writer is trying to manipulate them. Which means the suspension of disbelief is broken.
Remember guys and gals, one of the most important components of writing is being INVISIBLE. You don’t want to announce “HERE I AM! THE WRITER, PULLING THE STRINGS! MANIPULATING YO ASS.” So when it comes to setting up a character like Sue, you don’t have to go 5th gear in every scene driving the point home. Drive it home hard in her introductory scene, then do so subtly in a few subsequent scenes. Because, again, the last thing you want is your reader not believing that your main character is a real person. That’s the character we have to believe in the most.
I’m being hyper-critical to make my point. But I don’t want you to think this script was bad. I actually kept marveling at how much work must’ve gone into connecting all these storylines. And the decision to place a female character in the middle of a Coen Brothers’ish script is something I don’t think they’ve done before, unless you count Francis McDormand as the main character in Fargo. And, again, it was a fun ride. I just left the ride feeling like there could’ve some bigger drops and extra loops. I wanted my Coen Brothers cake and to eat it too.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: The Rule of Threes is a good starting point if you’re trying to figure out how hard to drive something home. So, if you’re trying to drive home that Sue is always ignored, you’d give us three moments of her getting ignored. Of course, there should be variation in the execution of these moments. They shouldn’t all be “screaming from the rooftops” moments of her being ignored. One of those moments could be big, one medium, and one subtle. — Also, The Rule of Threes is a STARTING POINT. Like anything in writing, its use will vary depending on the script.