Premise: Inspired by a true story, after a young couple finds a strange orb in the forest, they learn that it may have come from another world.
About: It’s Halloween folks! So what better way to celebrate than reviewing the number one script on Kailey Marsh’s Blood List! Oooh-oh-ah-ah-ah-ahhhhh (those new to the site, this is my go-to Dracula impression). Writing team Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman are quite new on the scene and have, thus far, written and directed a few short films.
Writer: Steve Desmond & Michael Sherman
Details: 98 pages
I’ve had a weird week.
I’ve been on my death bed with some rogue illness that I’m convinced will eventually turn me into a Walker. I’ve noticed that when you’re sick, everything in your life falls part. Your place goes from sparkling clean to a pig sty within a matter of hours. Your friendships come next, dissipating by the end of the day. And work becomes nearly impossible. I’d read a script for an hour earlier only to look up and see that I was on page 4.
It hasn’t helped that my Chicago Cubs have sucked worse than a Ron Howard movie. However, they somehow won last night’s game to keep their hopes alive. How is this relevant to today? Well duh. The Cubs are in the midst of a 108 year curse. And it’s Halloween. So, like, curses are what today’s all about.
The good news is, this idea is right up my alley. So if there’s anything that’s going to knock my flannel Cubbie socks off today, it’s going to be Orb. Let’s see if it succeeds!
“Orb” follows David and Claire Morgan, a young couple who are trying to put their lives back together after tragically losing their child.
Claire used to play piano professionally and David is a professor at the local University. Despite the loss, he’s moving up the ladder quickly. And he’s excited by the prospect of Claire finally moving on from the loss, possibly even looking to have another baby.
After a meteor shower, Claire goes for a stroll in the woods, and that’s when she finds a bowling ball-sized orb. She takes it home, only to realize that when she plays piano, it can mimic her.
She excitedly shows David, who’s also intrigued by the prospects of this thing, and the two discuss bringing it to the local scientific community. However, the orb starts communicating with Claire, telling her it doesn’t want to go anywhere.
To sweeten the pot on that request, it promises Claire that it can bring her baby back to life. That’s when David realizes this thing is dangerous, and begins concocting a plan to destroy it. But the orb is one step ahead of him, and will do anything… TO STAY ALIVE.
This was an interesting one. Orb starts off too breezy. A couple finds an orb and it starts acting weird. It’s like the adult version of E.T. without the benefit of a cute alien to fall in love with. It all seemed rather simplistic.
But once Claire started getting attached to the orb and became convinced it was going to bring her baby to life, it brought back shades of Rosemary’s Baby, that sort of dark “am-i-losing-it” tone centered around the love for a child that made that 70s film and others like it such classics. I was back in.
With that said, I want to use this review to talk about scene-writing, since good scene-writing is an essential skill for all screenwriters. And I’m going to highlight a scene early on in the script to make my point.
Now I don’t want you to think that all the scenes in the script were like this. Actually, the scene-writing gets really good as the script goes on. But I’m highlighting this problem because I see a lot of writers make the same mistake in their scripts and IT’S GOT TO STOP.
It’s got to stop people.
The scene takes place on page 12, following our introduction to Claire and David. It’s the next day and David is at work at the University. While he sits in his office, his friend Josh peeks in. Josh makes a comment about David being newly promoted, then indicates that the two have been friends for awhile, then David updates Josh on Claire’s well-being, filling us in on a little more of the backstory between David and Claire. And then the scene ends.
So what’s the problem here?
This isn’t a scene. Newish writers believe this is a scene because characters are talking to each other and a few jokes are being made. But nothing ACTUALLY HAPPENS during the scene. There’s no drama. There’s no conflict. No problem. Nobody’s trying to accomplish anything. It’s purely a collection of expositional snippets designed to fill us in on relevant story and character information.
So how would we make this a scene? Well, for starters, I don’t think we have to. Since all this is is information, we can simply get rid of the scene and insert those pieces of information in other already-established scenes in the script. For example, in the scene we learn that Claire used to play for a symphony but doesn’t anymore. However, in the very next scene, we see a montage of Claire, at home, teaching a series of students how to play piano. With a little extra info, we could easily convey Claire’s history with the symphony here.
That should always be present in your mind. Sometimes when you’re trying to make a scene work, the answer might be to get rid of the scene completely.
But we do have to introduce Josh, the friend, somewhere, so let’s say we needed a scene, at the very least, to accomplish that. One thing to keep in mind is that the exposition-driven conversation between characters should almost never be the primary engine driving the scene. Some form of drama should be driving the scene and the conversation should be sitting shotgun.
One of the easiest ways to turn a non-scene into a scene is to add a problem.
I’m reminded of the way the two main characters meet in my favorite film of the year, Swiss Army Man. The boring way to write their introduction would’ve been for Hank to be walking on the beach, find Manny’s dead body, and merely drag it up onto the sand and start their friendship.
Instead, the writers create a problem. Hank is trying to hang himself. And he spots Manny’s dead body just as he’s about to do so. He slips, accidentally choking himself, all while the first person he’s seen since he got stranded on this island is merely 100 feet away. But he can’t get to him because he’s choking to death!
Now whether you like that moment or not, you have to admit that you’ve gone from NO SCENE to SCENE. Something is HAPPENING. There’s a PROBLEM that needs to be OVERCOME.
Take another film that had the job of introducing two characters who were long-time friends, just like David and Josh: Ferris and Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Imagine if that movie would’ve introduced those two with Ferris and Cameron recounting old times together while setting up relevant exposition regarding the school and the other characters they’d be hanging out with. Boring, right?
Instead, the introduction to their relationship plays out in a series of scenes where Ferris is trying to get a sick Cameron to come over and ditch school with him (by the way, one of the best uses of irony in a movie ever – the guy ditching school is perfectly healthy, while the friend he forces to ditch with him is legitimately sick). That’s the problem that needs to be solved. That Cameron doesn’t want to come.
But honestly, it doesn’t even need to be that involved. Getting back to Orb, maybe someone Josh gave a failing grade to is causing a shit-storm and David and Josh are trying to figure out how to resolve the issue. While they’re talking about that, they’re dropping bits of relevant exposition. By creating this simple problem, the exposition will be more invisible than before, when it was the primary focus of the scene.
Outside of that issue, Orb was a fun script. It was a late-bloomer. I wish it’d been less predictable throughout its first half. But once it hits that midpoint, it turns into an entirely different screenplay that takes way more chances. It’s worth reading for that second half alone.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: To figure out if you have a scene or you’re just using a scene to convey information, imagine that scene playing as a short film, with none of the movie playing before it or after it. Would it be entertaining to an audience? I know that most scenes in a film rely on context that’s been set up beforehand. But ignore that for a second. Does the scene play out in a dramatic interesting way that would work on its own? If so, you’ve got a scene. If not, it probably means you need to add something extra (a problem, conflict, a goal, drama).