For the month of May, Scriptshadow will be foregoing its traditional reviewing to instead review scripts from you, the readers of the site. To find out more about how the month lines up, go back and read the original post here. The first week, we allowed any writers to send in their script for review. Last week, we raised the bar and reviewed repped writers only. This week, we’re doing something different. I read a lot of amateur scripts. Some through my notes service, some through contests, and some through referrals. I wanted to spend a week (or maybe two) highlighting some of the best scripts I’ve come across. All these scripts are available. So if you’re a buyer and it sounds like something you may be interested in, then get a hold of these writers through the contact information on their script before someone else does. Monday, Roger reviewed a cool script from Michael Stark titled, “Treading On Angles.” Tuesday, I reviewed our first female writer of Amateur Month, Lindsey, and her script, “Blue.” Yesterday I reviewed the sci-fi’ish thriller/procedural, “Nine Gold Souls.” And today I’m reviewing…the next Blade Runner?
Premise: In the year 2054, a widowed cop’s job is to hunt down fugitive “translations,” organically created replacements of lost loved ones. After a mysterious murder, he finds himself on the run with a translation of his wife.
About: Aaron is managed by Mad Hatter Entertainment, but does not have agency representation yet. I read this script over a year ago as part of a small contest I held over on the Done Deal message boards. Aaron lives far away from the Los Angeles borders, in St. Louis, Missouri.
Writer: Aaron Coffman
Details: 113 pages
The Translation is another script I read over a year ago and I’ll be honest, when I started reading it, I wasn’t sure if it was going to be any good. As is the trouble with most sci-fi scripts, the writer is tasked with educating the audience about the rules (the “science”) of their world in a very short period of time. And there’s so much to learn here, I initially had trouble keeping up. But once the main story kicked in, I found myself drawn into this modern day Blade Runner tale and loving every minute of it.
It’s 2054. William Monroe is a cop, but a cop with a very specific job – to take down “twigs.” Twigs is the street name for “translations,” copies of people grown to replace lost loved ones – kinda like being able to clone your dog.
Unfortunately, during the time it takes to grow a translation (2 years), many families go through the grieving process and, to put it simply, change their mind. The problem is, society doesn’t know what to do with these discarded clones. And since they can’t be killed, they’re dumped into a sectioned-off ghetto, left to live with only a half the rights real citizens have.
Monroe has a hate-hate relationship with these human copies. He thinks they’re worthless, a mistake society’s made and is too afraid to clean up. So when they escape the ghetto, he’s the one who finds them and does whatever it takes to eliminate the problem.
Monroe takes his job seriously because it’s the only thing he has. His wife, Alyssa, was killed two years ago in a terrorist attack.
Against his wishes, Alyssa’s high-profile parents went ahead and had Alyssa translated, a process only days now from finishing. But when they’re abruptly and mysteriously murdered, the only person left to pick up Alyssa, or this copy of Alyssa, is Monroe. And he’s not happy about it.
It’s supposed to be simple. Monroe picks her up, takes her to the Translation Ghetto, and drops her off. But as soon as he gets her, the fully grown up but childlike curiosity of Alyssa begins spouting off other plans. She keeps remembering and wants to go to a place called “Beacon Point,” and while Monroe won’t show his cards, it’s clear the name means something to him.
But that ends up being the least of his worries. Within hours, there’s a shadowy group following them and trying to kill Alyssa. Could this have something to do with her parents being murdered? Monroe is forced into the role of protector, but much worse, into sharing time and space with this shell of a body that looks and acts so much like his wife. He knows it’s not her. He knows his duty is to bring translations in, not protect them. But he can’t help but fight for this woman, even if it’s not the woman he once loved.
Like I said above, The Translation is similar in a lot of respects to Blade Runner, most notably in tone. It’s a dark dreary future where most of the people are just trying to make it through the day.
But I think what separates The Translation from other movies is the intriguing love story at its core. Here’s a man who worked so hard to get over the surprise death of his wife, and now he’s forced to look her in the eye every second of this harrowing journey. We sense that a part of him wants to give in, wants to believe that she is, indeed, his wife. But he knows that logically that’s impossible. And it’s this central conflict that drives the story.
I also like the pace of the script. Every time you think Monroe and Alyssa are okay, they’re immediately back on the run again. It’s almost like The Bourne movies stumbled into a Blade Runner shoot – the best of both worlds.
But that world isn’t perfect. I loved Monroe but I thought Alyssa strayed from what made her so endearing at times. She’s best when she’s tender, curious, innocent, like a child. But after she starts learning the truth, she becomes angry, almost violent, and it was a little too out-of-character in my opinion.
The opening act is also an issue. And it’s not that I don’t recognize the challenge in writing it. Normally, your job in the first act is to set up 2 things: your plot and your characters. But when you write a sci-fi or fantasy film, you have to set up both those things *in addition to* your sci-fi world. In other words, you have to smoosh 33% more information into the opening 25 pages. As a result, your first act will feel jumbled or dense – not unlike you’re reading the Encyclopedia Britannica. That’s what it felt like here for me.
In addition, I thought some of the chase scenes could’ve been more imaginative. There’s a great car chase early on where Monroe is trying to elude the bad guys after Alyssa’s lost her breathing mask (worn until translations can breathe in the real world). The combination of being shot at from the outside and Alyssa dying on the inside made for an intense sequence. But after that, the chases become a little too “been there, done that.” And this is something I tell writers a lot. There’s a chase scene in almost every single movie ever made. So you can’t take short cuts when write your own. You have to try and be original.
In “Déjà vu,” (one of the biggest spec sales ever), they had a car chase where a character in the present is chasing a character in the past. The execution was shoddy on-screen but the point is, they were thinking outside the box. They were trying to do something different (I also have a feeling that that scene was a big part of why that script sold for so much – talk about delivering on the promise of the premise!)
Despite these problems, I really dug The Translation. I always go back and forth on which act is most important, but after reading this script, I’m reminded that the second act is probably the most important act in the script. It’s where you deal with your central conflict (in this case, the relationship between Monroe and Alyssa) and if that central conflict isn’t compelling, the reader gets bored and won’t give a shit what happens in the end. I thought the second act here was really strong and what separated The Translation from the rest of the competition.
Script link: The Translation (proper draft now up)
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Sci-fi pieces are tough, especially when they take place in a distant future or a far off land. Some writers try and weave the key details of their world into the opening act organically, like Aaron does here in The Translation. But this is really hard to do. A much cleaner method is to use a TEXT CRAWL or an OPENING VOICE OVER. What these do is they get the pertinent information about your world out of the way so you don’t have to spend precious story time dealing with it. The most obvious example is Star Wars, which explains its world to you in the opening crawl. Jake Sulley gets us up to speed in Avatar right away via voice over. Still another method, and probably the most viewer-friendly, is to open with a scene that acts as a setup to the world. In “The Fifth Element” for example, we have this entertaining opening sequence in the Egyptian pyramids that sets up the whole backstory for the “fifth element,” so we don’t need to wonder what the hell everyone is talking about later on. Whatever the case, consider using the first minute or three of your story to lay out your sci-fi world via text or voice over so you can use your opening act to do what it’s supposed to do – tell the story and entertain us!