Welcome to the script that makes “The Wolf of Wall Street” look like “We Bought A Zoo.”
Genre: True Story
Premise: A look at one of the craziest rock bands ever to grace the stage – Motley Crue.
About: The adaptation of the Motley Crew biography, “The Dirt,” is a project that people have been trying to push through development for years. In fact, Rich Wilke’s script was on the inaugural Black List! It’s since seen many starts and stops. However, the bottomless money pit known as Netflix finally grabbed the rights and plans to convince Chris Hemsworth to play the lead. The debaucherous world of band pics hasn’t been tested in the current Hollywood climate, so if the movie hits, expect the floodgates to open for Guns and Roses, Def Leppard, and my personal favorite, Poison. Interesting tidbit here. “The Dirt” was written by geek-to-player legend and writer of “The Game,” Neil Strauss.
Writer: Rich Wilkes (based on the book by Tommy Lee, Mick Mars, Vince Neil, Nikki Sixx, and Neil STrauss)
Details: 123 pages
I’m just going to tell you right now. If you’re even the least bit prudish, don’t read this review. There is no way to summarize what happens in this story without getting XXX rated. If you’re okay with that, read on. If not, prepare for a script so scary, no one has the balls to make it.
There’s no easy way to summarize “The Dirt.” Its narrative – if you can all it that – consists of jumping back and forth between each member of the 1980s hair band, Motley Crue, before they were famous, after they were famous, and during their fame, in no particular order, as we watch them go through the highest of “highs,” and eventually the lowest of lows.
First there’s lead singer, Vince Neil. Vince was the ultimate ladies’ man. He was paying child support before he even got out of high school. Vince quickly figured out that the best way to get even more girls was to be in a band.
Next came Nikki Sixx, who played bass. Nikki was a troubled kid from the hood who routinely got beaten by his mother’s many boyfriends and husbands. He finally escaped that life to join Motley Crue, where he quickly became a hardcore heroin addict.
Next was Tommy Lee, the member of the band the average person is most likely familiar with. Tommy grew up a suburban kid and therefore wasn’t as susceptible to debauchery as the other members at the time. Well, unless you count his addiction to having sex with Hollywood celebrities.
Finally there was the most mysterious member of the group, guitarist Mick Mars. Mars was the old man of the group, having attempted to become rock-star famous for a decade before joining Motley Crue. A noted recluse, Mars would later find out he had a rare debilitating bone disorder that would slowly turn his entire skeleton into the equivalent of concrete.
The Dirt opens up on a Motley Crue party where Tommy Lee is performing oral sex on a girl in the middle of the room, which results in her squirting as she orgasms, where Nikki Sixx is waiting to catch the erupting fluid in his mouth. Hey, I told you to turn away from this review, didn’t I?
Oh, don’t worry. It gets worse. There’s a scene where the Crue runs into Ozzy Osbourne at a pool party, who’s desperately looking for a bump of cocaine. The band proclaims they’re out, which isn’t good enough for Ozzy, who grabs a straw, gets down on his knees where a line of ants are walking, and snorts up the line of ants instead.
The most difficult-to-read sections of the script are Vince Neil’s. Neil would go on to kill his best friend during a drunken beer run, while also causing permanent brain damage to the two teens he ran into. Vince somehow gets off with only 30 days in jail, and we later show him at an after-party, having sex with five different girls, lined up one next to the other, while cutting back to a hospital where one of the girls he gave brain damage to is learning how to walk again in physical therapy.
What’s amazing about this script/story is that it covers all the angles in excruciating detail. You get the good, the bad, the weird, and everything in between. There’s a midpoint multi-monologue from all the band members about what it’s really like being a rock star that has to be the most insightful dive into the lives of this profession I’ve ever read. I found it particularly interesting how quickly they got sick of it. That despite all of the perks – and the perks were great – that it was still a job that required you to be “on” every night to a new audience who had just paid a ton of money to see you and who had been looking forward to this all year. And you’re sick, and you’re tired, and you just sang these stupid songs the last 20 nights in a row, and your hearts racing out of your chest to the point where you think you’re going to die because you’ve done SO. MANY. DRUGS. and you still got to be on. You still have to give them the show of their life.
I also loved the visuals that the writers included. One of the main themes of the movie is the “machine,” which is a “rock star machine” that every band must sacrifice themselves to. But instead of only referring to the machine, we see it. It’s big and monstrous with hundreds of different levers and walkways, like a satanic version of something you’d see in a Dr. Seuss film. And we see how, each time a band makes it past a level, they’re placed on a higher, faster, more dangerous level. And the entire machine is dedicated to chewing you up and turning you into meat. It’s a tremendous image and a powerful metaphor.
I don’t know what else to say. This script is fearless. I mean where else are you going to read this line: “We ROCKET IN on Vince’s furiously pumping ass and suddenly… WE’RE INSIDE VINCE NEIL’S TESTICLES.”
I suppose if there’s something to learn from this script it’s: This is how you avoid writing characters who have the potential to be cliche. You write them by subverting the cliche and by adding detail that nobody else in the world would’ve thought of. The newbie writing four rock stars is going to give them very few flaws, if any. They’re going to focus on all the good stuff – the fame, the girls, the drugs. They’re not going to torture their characters like Strauss and Wilkes do. Seeing Vince try to retain his rock star edge after killing his best friend and ruining the lives of two innocent people is both disgusting and heartbreaking. Seeing someone learn they have one of the worst diseases in the world is a detail no newbie is going to think of.
And even the “cliche” stuff, like Nikki Sixx being a heroin-addict, is saved by the level of detail given to the addiction. Sixx goes on drug trips that rival, and in some cases even surpass, those we saw in Trainspotting. DETAIL and SPECIFICITY is the way to make a reader forget all about a cliche.
Rarely do I read an adaptation of a book and want to go back and read the book. What’s the point? I just read the streamlined version. But “The Dirt” is one of the few times where I have to now read the source material. You can tell they had to leave a ton out. And I can only imagine what else I’m going to find inside the Motley Crue time capsule. Hell, maybe I’ll even go listen to a few of their songs.
Okay, maybe I won’t go that far.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] genius
What I learned: This might be the first script I’ve ever read where there’s no narrative – almost the entire script is told in vignettes – and yet I never lost interest. Why? Because these characters were so damn fascinating. This goes to show the power of character creation and how you should always prioritize compelling characters FIRST and plot SECOND.
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.