Genre: Horror
Premise: A man’s life starts to unravel when he undergoes an experimental form of hypnosis to recall what he saw during a near-death experience.
Why You Should Read: The concept of this script is very loosely based on a true story. I actually knew someone who survived a near-death experience and he hasn’t been the same since. When I asked him about it he told me he didn’t remember what he saw but I had the strange feeling he actually did and was holding back for reasons I don’t know. Since the incident he’s left his family, quit his job and went off the grid. I honestly don’t know where he is now. — I’m a huge fan of horror movies and I believe “dread” is key component is some of the best of them. Any writer can throw in some good scares here and there but building up real dread for the characters and the story on a whole seems to be overlooked in many scripts I read these days. I feel like I’ve been able encompass this with BLACK BOX without losing the pace of the story. It’s a fast entertaining read with some big scares wrapped inside an intriguing mystery. I hope you’ll take the time to check it out and look forward to your honest feedback.
Writer: Stephen Herman
Details: 100 pages

Lighted Halloween Pumpkins

I don’t know what’s the bigger horror film on the docket this weekend, Jigsaw or Suburbicon. Bada-BUM! No, but seriously. I don’t know what’s scarier. Pennywise or George Clooney thinking he can direct satire. BADA-BUM! I’ll be here all night. Try the veal.

No, but seriously. I’ve been looking forward to today all week! Black Box bowled down the competition in last week’s Amateur Offerings, so much so that it looked like we had another Amateur Offerings success story on our hands – an event that’s becoming more and more frequent, thanks in big part to you guys.

I was only worried about one thing going into the script – the dream aspect (the hypnosis). Putting dreams in the hands of an amateur writer is a bit like putting the recipe for a Gino’s East deep dish pizza in the hands of a line cook. It’s not like that cook won’t one day become a great chef. But it’s hard to bake the most luscious crust in the world when you’re still learning where the pans are located.

One of the biggest challenges for amateur writers is narrative structure – for their script to stay focused and purposeful all the way through. Dreams are anti-structure and therefore encourage the writer to move away from purpose. As a result, they’re the script’s undoing. The narrative becomes a loosely connected series of tripped-out scenes sewn around shaky logic. Let’s hope that didn’t happen with Black Box!

40 year-old Nolan Wright is recovering from a recent car crash that killed his wife. The crash, which left Nolan dead for six minutes, resulted in brain damage so severe that it’s gradually stripping away Nolan’s memories. Lucky for Nolan, he still has his beautiful young daughter, Ava, by his side. She’s the one thing keeping him going.

However, Nolan gets word that if he doesn’t do something soon about the brain damage, the world will start slipping away from him, including Ava herself. This forces Nolan to seek out Dr. Lillian Grey, an experimental doctor who’s on the cutting edge of memory recall. Lillian believes that if Nolan can remember everything that happened during those six minutes he was dead, he can permanently heal the brain and eliminate his amnesia.

This becomes increasingly important when Nolan loses his journalist job and the Department of Children and Family Services start sniffing around, trying to decide if Nolan is a fit enough parent to take care of Ava.

Lillian’s therapy involves a literal black box that you plug yourself up to. The box helps you go into the deepest levels of your subconscious, and this is where Nolan relives his crash. On that first trip, he finds footsteps near his crash, which he follows into the woods. It’s there that he sees a dead man hanging from a tree who quickly drops and starts walking towards Nolan backwards.

Nolan’s so freaked out that he pulls himself out of the hypnosis and says he’s never coming back. But in order to keep his daughter, he has to come back, and in a series of hypno-trips, Nolan will learn that this journey extends beyond him, and to a number of people who also cheated death.

Man, I can see why everyone voted for this.

The first act is AWESOME. There was an assuredness in the writing that I wasn’t prepared for. Assuredness is a key trait of professional writing because professionals are better at knowing where their story is going. When you know where your story is going, you write with confidence. I mean, listen to how clear, dominant, and assured the character of Lillian is when she brings Nolan in.

Screen Shot 2017-10-27 at 2.30.01 AM

With amateurs, there’s more of what I call the “shiny object” approach to writing. They’re often trying to figure things out on the page. Every once in awhile they’ll see something that’s interesting (a “shiny object”) and it’s like, “Ooh I’ll follow this for awhile.” Black Box didn’t have that.

Well, at least at first.

Once we got 15 pages into the second act, the tight narrative began to unravel. I could feel Stephen being tempted more and more by the shiny object, until it got to the point where it was the only thing left. The biggest problem was in explaining what was going on with Nolan.

I see this a lot. Whenever we come up with a high concept idea, there’s this pressure to construct a big flashy reason for what’s going on. So in Black Box, we find out that there are other people who also had near death experiences, and then there’s somebody who’s using these people to take their bodies and live in them… or something, because once you’ve gone through death, it’s easier to take your body?

To be honest, I barely understood it. And that’s the thing. When you try and get too big, you come up with a convoluted rule-set that’s hard to understand. And because we don’t understand it, we stop investing, we stop caring, and by the end, we don’t really know what’s happened. I know I didn’t.

Honestly, the issues in Black Box take us right back to yesterday. This shouldn’t have been about a flashy serial-body-stealing near-death-experience conspiracy. It should’ve been about characters. And this is my plea to amateur writers out there: stop trying to write the most-blowing mind-bending script ever. Just focus on the characters!

There are some good characters here. Nolan is great. The stuff with the car crash all felt honest and authentic. Ava is great. Lillian is great (minus her turn at the end). Gary is okay but could also work. The social worker who cares “a little too much” is great. Yet they get lost in this silly weird plot that doesn’t make any sense.

I mean at one point we have an ancient shaman killing a dog and becoming part of its soul. This isn’t what I signed up for.

I would strongly recommend dialing back all of the weird shit and focus more on the real-life character journeys. Keep the hypnosis scenes grounded. Have a simple and clear set of rules for what happens inside each hypnosis. Keep the mystery itself simple. Something that happened around the car crash. Don’t bring in people who died 50 years ago halfway across the world. We don’t care about them.

I know I sound like a broken record, guys. But simplify simplify simplify simplify simplify simplify simplify simplify blah blah blah a million more times.

Every time you overcomplicate things, you’re destroying your story.

Script link: Black Box

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: I love it when HUGE stakes can be conveyed simply and powerfully. Here, it takes just a single line to set up the stakes for the entire movie. It occurs when Lillian explains why this therapy is so crucial for Nolan: “In time, your condition will worsen. It’s a domino effect and unless you get to the root of it, your friends, your family, your daughter… they will be the next dominoes to fall.”

  • Lucid Walk

    First again. DOUBLE BOOM!

    • Citizen M

      Bugger it! Beaten by two minutes. Lucid wins again.

  • Citizen M
  • Scott Crawford

    In case people missed it, here are this years Blood List scripts (with Meat!):

    https://drive.google.com/drive/mobile/folders/0BybNvm-CX6dkUlZ5QUlSMFU4ZzQ

    • Lucid Walk

      Thanks, Scott. Any recommendations?

      • Marija ZombiGirl

        So far, I’ve read two: THE SWALLOW and RUIN. Both get a thumbs up from me. I bailed on p38 of HIS HOUSE because the more you turn the pages, the more typos/grammatical errors there are. And I bailed on p3 of THE LODGE because it’s a novel, not a screenplay.
        Enjoy :)

        • Lucid Walk

          Thanks. What are those two about? Premise-wise?

          • Marija ZombiGirl

            THE SWALLOW is a very straightforward horror movie about a group of friends out hiking in the woods who fall victim to flesheating muddy quicksands. Very Stephen King-like atmosphere and a very fast read.

            RUIN is set in Germany 6 months after WW2. It’s a quite gruesome story about a SS captain killing off his old squad for very personal reasons. Gritty and brutal.

          • Lucid Walk

            Ooh, I like the sound of Ruin.

          • klmn

            I doubt if most folks would care about anyone in the SS. If they start killing each other, who gives a shit?

        • RS

          I don’t know much about the Blood List, but why would scripts with typos/grammar errors and one that is a novel be on a “best of” screenplay list? I know the lists are marketing tools primarily, but does it seem like they are throwing up whatever onto some of these lists and seeing what sticks?

          • Marija ZombiGirl

            Oh, when I said “novel”, I should’ve added that it only FELT like a novel because of the huge chuncks of descriptive text :)

            As for the rest, beats me. Sloppy scripts make the Blacklist as well – colored revisions left in and all.

            The stories are good enough but some of these scripts would be booted off AOW for the same reasons.

          • RS

            Thanks for the clarification. Still, even it something doesn’t read like a script and others have the most basic problems of grammar and typos, I do wonder why we are told these are the “best” unproduced or unoptioned scripts in town. I’m sure there are some gems in there, but some of these lists only seem very self serving now and have little to do with shining a light on the best writing out there.

        • carsonreeves1

          Wow. 2 endorsements? I’m actually surprised. You’re hard to please, Marija!

        • NajlaAnn

          Later today, I’ll take a look-see of the first two scripts mentioned. Thanks for the heads up.

      • Scott Crawford

        People seem to like Meat.

        • Lucid Walk

          Hilarious.

        • Justin

          I feel like I’m the only one on SS who loved Meat. Of course there were more than noticeable issues (as mentioned on Carson’s review by SS’ers), but I really enjoyed it regardless.

          Or maybe it’s because I enjoyed the hell out of “Animal Farm” back in High School, and the ending gave me nostalgia flashback? I don’t know.

          • carsonreeves1

            Don’t feel bad. It’s a great script. :)

          • Erica

            I couldn’t get into the story. I felt it moved to slow for me and didn’t seem to go anywhere. The writing was good, just not enough there for me to stay.

        • klmn

          Especially when it’s covered with cheese and slapped on a bun.

          • Erica

            I was gonna say when it’s wrapped in bacon, but cheese is good too.

      • Randy Williams

        https://www.archives.gov/research/jfk/2017-release

        (the newly released JFK assassination files)

        Just as bloody.

    • ScreenWriter44

      Thanks, Scott.

    • Randy Williams

      One of them has watermarks! :)

      • Scott Crawford

        Clean them then!

    • ripleyy

      Any you recommend thus far?

    • NajlaAnn

      Thank you!

  • Randy Williams

    Congrats to the writer for making it on AF!

    I actually liked the “serial-body-stealing near-death-experience conspiracy” but I wanted more conspiracy and less “serial”. Yes, I thought, too, the shaman and the dog has to go. I felt many aspects of this story mirrored our society today with the barrage of information from every side or lack of it that jumpstarts conspiracy theories to try to explain things. I suggested last weekend that the character of Gary could punch up the story by being less one note with the other characters and be someone who warns Nolan of Lillians intentions but leads us down a blind path when the truth is something different, that it’s only a matter of one dead man wanting to reunite with the love of his life who still lives. Not everything is a gigantic conspiracy involving subterfuge and the silence of hundreds but is just one man loving or hating.

  • Lucid Walk

    I enjoyed the script. That being said, it reminded me too much of GET OUT.

    First, there were the therapy sessions. Don’t know why, but the subconscious scenes made me think of the sunken place. I brushed it off at first. Nothing wrong with a few similarities.

    But the real red flag came with the whole body-switching aspect. Villains using therapy to trade bodies with other people? A little too similar.

    I’m not accusing anyone of anything. I’m just saying another draft or two could make this exactly what everybody’s calling it: ETERNAL SUNSHINE as a horror movie.

    • carsonreeves1

      That’s such a good pitch, too. “Eternal Sunshine as a horror film.”

      • ScreenWriter44

        Hey Carson, thanks for reading the script and even more for your honest review. It was encouraging and really helpful. I appreciate your time. Cheers.

    • ScreenWriter44

      Thanks for read, Lucid and for Eternal Sunshine suggestion. I’ll give the script another go and try lean more that way with it. Great idea. Cheers.

  • Poe_Serling

    HALLOWEEN – AF

    Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to check out any of the scripts
    from the last AOW.

    But I was more than a little curious to see what screenplay that
    Carson had a good hunch about from the get-go (logline, WYSR.
    and first page).

    His roll of the dice: The Island.

    To be honest, it also was the one project that caught my eye on
    first glance.

    For me, it was the whole Barrie play/Hitchcock uproduced film
    angle.

    And as we found out, the eventual top vote-getter scored the
    review from an all different table in the ScriptShadow casino.

    I guess you just never know what readers/viewers will connect
    with until they zip through those first few pages or sit down to
    watch on the big/small screen.

  • Poe_Serling

    HALLOWEEN – Amateur Friday

    Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to check out any of the scripts
    from the last AOW.

    But I was more than a little curious to see what screenplay that
    Carson had a good hunch about from the get-go (logline, WYSR.
    and first page).

    His roll of the dice: The Island.

    To be honest, it also was the one project that caught my eye on
    first glance.

    For me, it was the whole Barrie play/Hitchcock uproduced film
    angle.

    And as we found out, the eventual top vote-getter scored the
    review from an all different table in the ScriptShadow casino.

    I guess you just never know what readers/viewers will connect
    with until they zip through those first few pages or sit down to
    watch on the big/small screen.

    • carsonreeves1

      Yeah, The Island had a good premise. Does anyone know what the main gripes with it were? I try not to read the comments in AO so I can go into the winning script fresh.

      • A Man is No one

        My main issue with it was readability, and some difficult formatting choices the writer made with regards to using different character names for when characters spent their time on stage. I spent a few hours with the writer on twitch, and I walked him through some solves for all of the issues, and we came up with a more elegant way of him dealing with the on stage / off stage dual personas of his characters. He’s a really nice guy, and a talented writer. He just lacked a little raw experience when it came to his confidence in being able to use the medium to tell his story, and that’s fine. It’s a skill and it takes time, and he knows what he has to work on.

      • jaehkim

        personally, I’m sick of adaptations and preexisting properties. Also, the logline and WYSR were too complicated. It’s a script based on a play based on a woman, and the actress is playing a woman in the script who’s starring in the play?

        • Erica

          That’s pretty much how I felt about it as well. I read the logline and went….What? pass.

          Had an easier time of decoding the Matrix.

  • Matt Bishop

    Is this script any less convoluted than DISCIPLE PROGRAM?

  • carsonreeves1

    No. I thought the J.M. Barrie script would win.

  • Erica

    “This isn’t what I signed up for”.

    Funny, was thinking the same thing when I watched the movie Colossal. It was totally not the movie I was thinking I was getting into and when that happens you feel betrayed and frustrated.

  • ScreenWriter44

    Hello All, Just want to say thanks to everyone who voted for Black Box and even more so to anyone who actually read the script. Can’t say it enough but I really appreciate your time and thank you for all the honest and thoughtful feedback. I plan on doing a new draft in the coming weeks and all of you have been so very helpful.

    Cheers everyone and Happy Halloween!

    • g r e n d l

      I’m kind of curious now.

      Who do you think didn’t read the script.