Premise: George Washington puts together a band of renegade historical figures to take down Benedict Arnold the Werewolf and form the country he promised a dying Abraham Lincoln he would build, America.
About: This 2016 Black List script, which looked like it’d never rise above a fun curiosity, shocked the world last week when Netflix purchased it and decided to turn it into an animated film. Channing Tatum will voice George Washington and the film will be directed by Matt Thompson, one half of the beloved “Archer” team. The writer, Dave Callaham, is best known for writing The Expendables films. More recently, Callaham penned the upcoming Zombieland 2.
Writer: Dave Callaham
Details: 101 pages
First of all, I think Netflix is great. It’s one more outlet for creators to bring material to, and not only that, but unique material, the kind of material that takes chances. Now, after procuring America The Motion Picture, they’ve announced themselves as a new destination for animation. Just 15 years ago, there were three places that made animated movies. Now there’s triple that. Think about that. Spec screenwriters can actually write animation now!
However, Netflix is also learning that luring talent into their fold by offering them creative freedom has its drawbacks. Some of these movies and shows premiering on Netflix are so bad, it’s getting uncomfortable. Have you seen that new Brad Pitt War Machine trailer? It looks like everyone in it is acting in a high school play (by the way, when is Hollywood going to learn that war comedies stopped working in the 70s).
But here’s the scariest part. When a movie used to bomb in the theatrical world, there still came with it some notoriety. The promotion, the build-up, the press the movie got for bombing. People at least KNEW OF THE MOVIE. When a movie bombs on Netflix? It just… disappears, into a Netflix black hole, as if it never existed at all.
The point being, now that the sheen has worn off, the reality sets in. Netflix buying you doesn’t mean jack shit unless your movie connects with viewers. Will “America The Motion Picture” connect with people? Joint me for a little history lesson to find out.
While George Washington is enjoying a show with his best friend, Abraham Lincoln, his evil nemesis Benedict Arnold pops out of nowhere and kills Lincoln right in front of his face! Lincoln, with his dying breaths, makes Washington promise that he’ll create an independent country called America!
Knowing he can’t do this on his own, Washington puts together a super-team that includes demolitions expert Thomas Jefferson, transportation expert, Paul Revere, science expert Thomas Edison, and an Indian, Geronimo.
This all star team quickly corners Arnold, only to watch him BITE GERONIMO’S ARM OFF! That’s when the true nature of what they’re dealing with is revealed. Arnold is a werewolf! Which means the only way they can kill him is with a silver bullet. Now this was the 1700s, when silver bullets weren’t easy to come by. So off to the best blacksmith in the land!
The next place they know Arnold will be is at the Gettysburg Address. The problem is, they don’t know the address. So they spend countless days trying to figure out what the address of the Gettysburg Address is, until Washington uses some next level Davinci Code shit and figures out that the “A” in America is actually a code for “1” and therefore the address is 1 Merica Dr. And then the five blow up the Titanic.
Finally, after recruiting another well-known Washingten who spells his name with an ‘e,’ not an ‘o,’ and who is a dinosaur rancher who owns his own Tyrannosaurus Rex, the group attacks King James’ army. But will a T-Rex be enough to rid America of the redcoats for good? Spoiler Alert. Merica is on the map, isn’t it?
I refer to this kind of comedy as non sequitur comedy. Nothing really needs to make sense. Non sequitur comedy requires a writer with a huge imagination who’s naturally funny, the written equivalent of Robin Williams. Throw it all out there knowing not everything’s going to hit. But when it does, it will be HI-larious. And there are definitely hilarious moments in America The Motion Picture.
My favorite character was easily Edison, who would just scream out “SCIENCE!” and randomly be able to send a laser beam at people, vaporizing them instantly. Or you’d have all five heroes chasing someone on Paul Revere’s horse, and that someone would get on a boat and speed off, and Washington would ask, “Do you think your horse can leap across that water?” Paul Revere would reply, “That lake is 200 feet long.” “Well, do you?” Beat. “Yes. Yes I think he can.”
And so Revere would trot the horse back, make a run at it with all five people on, and the horse leapt… and make it all of four feet before falling in the water.
However, when the jokes weren’t hitting, you were stuck with a plot that wasn’t exactly Chinatown. I mean, it did have GSU! We had a goal (defeat King James), stakes (America’s independence) and urgency (they needed to defeat them before the Gettysberg Address).
But the comedy was so goofy that there wasn’t a lick of depth to anyone. Nobody was trying to overcome any sort of internal issue. With that said, I don’t know if you want that in non sequitur comedy. I think if you try to force character arcs into movies like this, they don’t work.
I’ve been reading the science fiction book, Rendezvous with Rama, recently. It’s a book that’s light on character, and heavy on the mystery behind a giant abandoned ship in our solar system. I later found out that a different author wrote a sequel that was universally panned. Everybody seemed to have the same reaction to the sequel: “What was so great about the first Rama was that it focused exclusively on the mystery,” they said. “Rama 2 sucked because it was all about characters and drama.”
Point being, sometimes you have to lay off the rules of the craft. If Screenwriting 101 books tell you you have to insert “A” whenever you do “B” but as you’re writing “B” you’re thinking, “I don’t think it would work if I added A.” Well, then maybe you shouldn’t add “A.”
For example, if you’re writing The Martian and you’re thinking, “I know screenwriting sites like Scriptshadow say I should give the story a contained time frame. But geez, I don’t think that’s going to work for a movie like this. I think this movie only works if you let it breathe and extend it out over a long period of time.” Then go against the rule.
Everything is a case by case basis, guys. So if you’re writing a goofy comedy like this one and adding character arcs feels wrong, don’t add them! Go by what you feel.
As long as you’re good at delivering what the audience wants, nothing else matters. And America The Motion Picture delivers exactly what its audience wants.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Extremely goofy comedies like this do not need character development (inner conflict, vices, character arcs). But they do require some sort of structure. America The Motion Picture has one giant goal (defeat King James and gain independence) and a series of smaller goals (create a silver bullet, find the Gettysburg Address, etc.) that always keep the plot moving (whenever there’s a nearby goal, the plot is moving towards that goal). If you try and write non sequitur comedy without structure for 110 pages, the reader will probably want to murder you.
The hottest TV spec of the season. Is it any good??
Genre: TV Pilot – Drama
Premise: When the world’s biggest magician’s biggest trick is exposed, he gives up magic. That is until the FBI offers him a job.
About: Deception was THE hot pilot spec of the season. Which is probably why super-producer Greg Berlanti (Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, Riverdale) jumped on board. The show comes from the mind of Chris Fedak, co-creator of “Chuck.” ABC is going all-in on this one, making it their number one new show priority going into next season. So expect to see a lot of Deception promos on your local buses.
Writer: Chris Fedak
Details: 62 pages
The nice thing about teleplays is that they’re only half as long as screenplays. And when a reader knows they only have to invest 45 minutes into a read, it allows the writer to do some things he wouldn’t be able to get away with in a feature. He can be… how do I say this? More “surface-level.” Especially if you’re writing a pilot for one of the major networks. And that is how we come across Deception, a pilot so light and fluffy, you might mistake it for a toaster strudel. And yet, I haven’t met too many people who can eat a toaster strudel and not want another one.
Cameron Black is the coolest most cutting edge magician in the world. Even worse? He knows it. And in case you think we’re going to get a lot of cleverly edited magic trick bullshit here, the writer assures us that everything we see on-screen is a REAL magic trick. Which is why the show is co-produced by real-life magician, David Kwong.
We meet Black during one of his shows, a slick multi-coastal endeavor where he starts his show in Vegas but teleports to New York, actually walking out of a TV screen in Times Square. How is that even possible????? I’ll tell you how. MAGIC!
Oh, and also, Cameron has a twin. Spoiler alert! But we’re not there yet. Later that night, Cameron picks up a hot babe, drives her around town, then gets into a huge crash and she dies. This is when it’s revealed that the man in the car is actually Jonathan Black, Cameron’s twin brother, and that they’ve been pretending to be the same person for 30 years.
Jonathan goes to prison for manslaughtering the woman, but Jonathan swears to Cameron he’s been set up. That the dead body was a plant. Someone’s been using magic on them! Whaaaat!!!??? Cameron now makes it his life goal to expose this trickery and free his brother from prison.
Meanwhile, FBI Agent, Kay Alvarez, is escorting cartel leader Felix Ruiz (I swear it’s like these names are coming out of a screenwriting character name generator) in a plane where, once they land, he’ll be put away forever. Except when they pull into the hanger and everybody’s getting off the plane, it blows up!!!
Ruiz is killed. But luckily, Kay and the rest of the FBI survive. It sucks at first until they realize, hey, we just got rid of one of the biggest drug czars on the planet. Hooray! That is until Cameron Black shows up and says, “You guys have been fooled!” He walks over to the wall of the airplane hanger, busts it open, to show that the plane explosion was a ruse!
The plane was swapped out with an exploded one to trick the FBI. And that means… Ruiz is still out there. Kay is pissed. Not so much that her drug lord got away. But that a freaking magician made her look like a fool. So she tells Cameron to get lost. “Not so fast,” Cameron says. “What are you talking about?” “I’m going to help you find Ruiz.” And hence, Deception is born!!!
I don’t know how to react to this pilot.
It’s like it came out of some pilot version of a cotton candy machine. I think I enjoyed myself? But holy banana cream sundae, can I get a little depth please? Somewhere?
The cliches. The number of cliches.
And the leaps of logic one must make to buy into this show. A plane was swapped out for a damaged one during a fake explosion and nobody noticed? In the age of the internet, twins have been able to keep their duality a secret for 30 years. Doesn’t this take one bored TMZ journalist a quick internet search to find that Cameron was born with a twin?
I’ve got a bigger beef with Deception though. Everything in this damn plot was too easy!!! For drama to be good, the journey must be difficult. The characters must run into real obstacles. If the audience isn’t in constant doubt that the characters are gong to solve the crime, the story isn’t working.
For example, there’s a scene in the middle of the script, after the plane explosion, where Cameron and Kay go to a diner near the airport where they’re convinced someone must have seen the swapped plane driven away.
Cameron does some silly magic trick to captivate the diners while Kay watches everyone’s reaction. When a single busboy isn’t captivated by the trick, Kay determines he must know something. What???? Anyway, she approaches him. He runs. She tackles him 2 seconds later and asks, “You saw something didn’t you?” He immediately blurts out: “A truck, with a plane on it.”
That’s every plot point in this pilot. They’re handed over to our heroes like breadsticks at The Olive Garden. They don’t have to work for anything.
So a lot of you are probably asking then… “Why is this getting made while my pilot is collecting dust?”
Well, I’ll say this about Deception. It utilizes the setup that television likes the most. Cocky charming rogueish main character who doesn’t follow the rules teamed up with a straight-arrow female co-lead who doesn’t like him. That formula right there is gangbusters. And all you need to make it work is a new take on the charming rogue character. It just so happened that the writer struck gold with the magic thing because there’s nothing else like it on television.
And sometimes that’s all success is. It’s not writing the best piece of material. It’s finding that fresh “pot of gold” twist on a trusted formula. And the irony of it? Oftentimes, that pot of gold is sitting right there where everybody can see it.
Fifty Shades of Grey. Sex. How much more front and center can a subject be? And yet E.L. James turned it into a money-making machine.
Even so, I wish Fedak would’ve slowed down and let his scenes breathe every once in awhile. This pilot reads like it was written on coke. One of the pilot’s most important sequences, where “Cameron” meets a mysterious girl, goes on a drive with her, and crashes the car, killing her, takes place over half a page. HALF A PAGE!
Keep in mind that this woman is the driving force behind the enteire show. She’s our “secret magician” who’s trying to screw Cameron and his brother over (by the way, I’m 99.99999% sure she’ll be the sister they never knew they had, since that’s the most obvious choice and this pilot is built on obvious choices). Cameron will be going after her for multiple seasons. And she’s introduced and killed all within half a page.
I don’t get it. I feel that a script that’s getting this much heat requires a little more attention to detail. I understand the sale but not the laziness. It’s frustrating and sends the wrong message to aspiring writers that this screenwriting thing is easy. Humph.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: I hate writing this. But it’s the truth. If you want to sell a Big 4 network show, it’s a good idea to make your lead character 35 years old, roguish, charming, cocky, and full of one-liners.
What I learned 2: If you’re not good at writing that kind of character? Don’t try. As a screenwriter, one of your jobs is to understand what you’re good at and what you’re bad at and avoid what you’re bad at. I’ll read a lot of writers trying to write shows like Deception who aren’t funny. Who don’t know how to write funny one-liners or quippy back-and-forth dialogue. If you don’t know how to do that, move over to something else that plays to your strengths.
I woke up this morning feeling like a bacterial army had stormed the shores of my brain. This is usually the result of a downtick in In N Out visits. I’ll have to remedy that. In the meantime, I need some TLC. So if anyone is in the Hollywood area and wants to come over, heat me up some chicken noodle soup, add bubbles to my bathwater, and give me a footrub, text me.
Speaking of TLC, I’ve been dong a lot of reading lately, paying particular attention to scene-writing, and noticed that a lot of writers are leaving good scenes on the table. Especially you TV writers. Remember that with television, you don’t have the benefit of spectacle or action. You need to keep our interest through good old fashioned drama. Which is why I’m leaving you today’s tip.
TSC stands for tension, suspense, conflict. Every scene you write should contain at least one of these three devices. Where a lot of writers get thrown is they believe that as long as they’re moving the story forward, the scene is okay. Oh contrere mon frere. You must not only move the story forward, you must do so IN AN ENTERTAINING WAY. And that’s where TSC comes in. It ensures that what the characters are doing is entertaining.
Tension is the easiest of the three to add. Teenage Sister talking to Teenage Brother about a ride to school is boring. However, what if Brother is dating Sister’s best friend? Now a discussion about a ride to school is laced with tension. This is exactly what they did in The Edge of Seventeen.
Suspense is a little trickier, but the most effective of the three options when used well. Staying with our high school theme, a test scene can be boring. However, what if, during the test, our student is waiting for his buddy to text him the answers? There’s only 10 minutes left. He keeps checking his phone. His friend still hasn’t texted. Will he get the answers in time?? SUSPENSE!
Conflict is the broadest of the three options and covers a lot of ground. Remember, conflict is not just characters yelling at each other. The trick to adding conflict is adding an element THAT MAKES THE SCENE DIFFICULT FOR AT LEAST ONE OF THE CHARACTERS. If the scene is easy for everyone, there’s no conflict. For example, let’s say Jimmy’s at a party and he’s about to approach his crush, Jenny. If these two get to talk freely, the scene will lack conflict. So what about bringing in Football Player Hank. Hank strolls in and starts talking to Jenny as well. This makes Jimmy’s plan to talk to Jenny MORE DIFFICULT, which adds conflict to the scene.
Conflict can be found everywhere as long as you’re looking for it. If I woke up and was feeling fine this morning, BORING. I woke up and was sick. All of a sudden my day is MORE DIFFICULT. Conflict!
There you go. Now get back into your scripts and start adding some TSC.
And somebody make me some soup.
No, this is not an April Fools joke. Another Amateur Offerings is here! Which means another opportunity for us to find an excellent script and propel a writer into the Hollywood stratosphere where they will surely forget about us the second they get a job in the Voltron universe writing room.
To submit your script for a future Amateur Offerings, send a PDF of your script, along with the title, genre, logline, and finally, why your script deserves a shot, to: Carsonreeves3@gmail.com. Remember that your script will be posted. If you’re nervous about the ramifications of a bad review, feel free to use an alias name and/or script title. It’s a good idea to resubmit every few weeks so your submission stays near the top.
The rules of Amateur Offerings are as such: Read as much of each entry as you can, then, in the comments section, vote for your favorite script. The script with the most votes gets reviewed next Friday. If that script is really good, there’s a chance the review will kick-start the writer’s career.
And with that, here are this weekend’s entries!
Title: The Inept
Genre: Dark Humor
Logline: Chaos ensues in quiet suburbia after Eddy finds a lost wallet and obsesses over how to return it and then win over its owner, the beautiful Lindsy Rocker.
Why You Should Read: Enter a world where dueling dildo fights, threats by midget bookies, baristas posing as psychiatrists, and mistaken identity over strippers with stomas simply represents a “bad week” for Eddy, a socially inept virgin obsessed with a photo found in a woman’s lost wallet.
Title: Surviving Maine
Logline: A group of teenagers become lost on a road trip and find themselves trapped in a terrifying real life version of Stephen King’s Maine, where all his horror novels have mysteriously come to life.
Why You Should Read: I wrote this script for fun last year. At the start of this year a TV show called Castle Rock (J.J. Abrams/Hulu) was announced with a similar premise – bringing together lots of cool Stephen King stories. I guess I just wanted to get my script out there for a few people to read before it becomes completely irrelevant. That being said, the platforms I have uploaded the script to/the people who have read it, have all been quite positive with their feedback. I’m off to slap J.J. Abrams in the face. :)
Title: The Onus of Inspiration
Logline: When two roommates both decide to start making their own movies, one being a documentary about the making of the other, turmoil arises as they struggle to come up with an idea. These two often stoned minds tackle inspiration and the difference between Hollywood and independent filmmaking as friendship turns to rivalry and back again.
Why You Should Read: I’m Liam McNeal, a twenty-year old film fanatic from Washington. I fell in love with the movies in 2010 when I saw Inception, and have been studying film history ever since. I’ve written three screenplays, but this is the only one I feel is worth anything. It’s very meta, being about a documentary about the making of a movie, but I used this script to express self-doubts about my own talent as well mock the fear of Hollywood filmmaking a little bit. It’s a mix of ideas that touches on a whole lot of topics related to film, and it is without a doubt worth your time. The main characters of Todd and Lewis have two different ways of thinking, but are both in love with film. I’ve drawn great inspiration from a wide variety of movies, and that’s evident in the screenplay. It’s admittedly quite long, but I believe that the movie won’t end up being three hours long, due to direction and editing. This is a screenplay I’m incredibly passionate about, and I hope that you can look at it and perhaps give some valuable critique, beyond ‘Make it shorter’.
Title: The Young Hollywood Party Massacre
Logline: A young, hip Hollywood couple on the verge of becoming first-time parents begin to fear their unborn baby is a murderous demon.
Why You Should Read: I used to work at a major talent agency. During my stint there, my wife was pregnant with our first child. This script was written over that period of time. Horror comedies are hard to pull off. That, coupled with a story that lampoons, among other things, big talent agencies seems like a recipe for disaster for an amateur writer. Which is pretty much why I wanted to write it. Or “needed to” is probably more accurate: I had to find a way to channel some of the negativity I was feeling about the biz, living in LA and bringing a baby into that world.
Genre: Dark Fantasy / Noir
Logline: In the warped underworld of Wonderland, a disgraced detective grapples with enemies and his sanity, on a destructive journey to discover what happened to the beautiful missing Dreamer he once loved.
Why You Should Read: It’s hard to climb up the never ending greasy pole that is the films industry, but I don’t need to tell you that… I’ve been trying it for a while and now, and attempting to ignore my slippery hands I have had a go at writing my latest feature film script: ‘Alice’. This is the one that I’m hanging my hat on and I’d love for it to be chosen as this week’s Amateur Offering. It may seem impossible, but I know a girl who thought of six impossible things before breakfast.
SPECIAL SCRIPT CONSULTING DEAL! – It’s the SPRING SCRIPTSHADOW CONSULTING DEAL. I’ll give the 1st, 20th, and 40th writer who e-mail me $150 off a screenplay consultation. E-mail me at email@example.com with the subject line “SPRING DEAL.” Your script doesn’t have to be ready yet but you do need to pay to secure the deal. Hope to be reading your script soon!
One of the most heated debates in screenwriting circles is, should you or shouldn’t you outline? Bust that one out in a Los Angeles coffee shop and within half an hour, you’ll have 17 police cars surrounding the place and at least one screenwriter being dragged out of the venue without a shirt on screaming, “He didn’t even understand what an inciting incident was!!” Happens at least once a week in my neighborhood.
I’m a strong believer in outlining, as are most professional writers. I’d say about 90% of working professionals outline their scripts ahead of time. With that said, we are still talking about art here. And there’s no single way to create a work of art. For that reason, if you are anti-outline, I want to share with you the best way to write a script without one.
But before we do that, I want to talk about why professionals prefer outlining. You see, almost every screenwriter starts off thinking outlining is pointless. They write four or five scripts without one before realizing that, wait a minute, you actually spend more time rewriting a screenplay than writing one.
Once you understand that, you ask yourself, “What preventative measures can I take to lessen the amount of rewriting I have on the back end?” They figure out that if they can do more work on the front end, before they write the script, it can actually save them a lot of time when the rewrites start. And hence a belief in outlining is born.
One of the reasons it’s so difficult to write a script without an outline is that while you’ll have a general sense of your story ahead of time (where you want that character death to happen and how that plot twist is going to play out), it’s all very nebulous. And because it’s nebulous, once you start writing, you realize you don’t have nearly as much story as you thought you did. So you add that character death on page 20 and that plot twist on page 30. The next thing you know, you’re on page 45 and you’ve already written down all of your ideas. You’re now staring off a cliff of uncertainty, wondering where to take the story next.
Had you planned for that moment ahead of time, you probably would’ve been able to prevent it. And that’s why outlining is so helpful.
It’s so helpful, in fact, that I’m fascinated with why most beginners are so against it. So I started asking them. At first I got a lot of answers like, “It restricts creativity,” and, “It’s not real writing.” But when I pushed, I realized the answer was simpler. Most beginners don’t outline because they don’t understand the 3-Act structure. How can you outline if you don’t know the structure the outline will be based on??
That, then, becomes our first rule for writing a non-outlined script.
Rule #1: You need to learn as much about the 3-Act structure as possible.
I don’t care if you outline or don’t outline. A script needs structure. You need to be writing towards certain pillars in the story that are only there if you understand how storytelling works. The issue with most beginners is they only see one checkpoint in a screenplay, the end. Understanding the 3-act structure allows you to have multiple checkpoints, breaking the script down into more manageable chunks. The first act is the SETUP and takes up ~25 pages. The second act is the CONFLICT and takes ~50 pages, and the third act is the RESOLUTION and takes ~25 pages. The better you understand structure, the easier it will be to write your script in a non-outlined format.
Now, one of the big advantages to not outlining is that you’ll come up with more creative ideas. When one outlines, they’re looking at the script from a bird’s eye point of view. It’s hard to be creative from that perspective. You come up with your best stuff when you’re in the trenches, seeing the story through the character’s eyes. That’s where those ideas really pop. Which leads us to our second rule.
Rule #2: You must have an active imagination.
If you don’t have an active imagination and aren’t the super-creative type, don’t write a script without an outline. This type of of writing requires that you have a LOT of ideas. Remember, you haven’t mapped out your story ahead of time. You’ll inevitably be hitting a lot of dead ends. So you’ll need a steady stream of creative ideas to keep the story moving.
This leads us to our third rule, which is similar to the second, yet no less important.
Rule #3: Release all judgment.
This is ESSENTIAL to writing a non-outlined script (and when you think about it, it’s essential to writing any script). If you judge your writing when you’re working without an outline, you will bog yourself down and eventually give up. You must release any thoughts of “this isn’t good enough,” as “flow” will be your best friend when you haven’t outlined. Once the flow dies, the script stops. So you don’t want any judgement rearing its head, making your life miserable. Weird idea? Follow it. Bad idea. Take a chance on it. Release all judgement and keep those fingers typing!
Rule #4: Your first draft becomes your outline.
When you get to the end of your non-outlined script, guess what you have? You have your outline! That’s right. When you write without an outline, your first draft becomes your outline. Your job, now, will be to assess what you like and don’t like about your draft, write down the changes you want to make, go write your next draft, and THAT DRAFT will actually be your “first draft.”
As much as I believe outlining is important to writing a professional level script, I understand it has its drawbacks. Outlining can become a reason not to write, as you get bogged down in outline details instead of going in there and doing the actual writing. We’re all different. We all approach our creative process differently. As long as you understand the pros and cons of a method, you can make an educated decision on which option is right for you. If writing without an outline feels like your jam, I’m not going to discourage you from adding it to your sandwich. Just don’t punch the guy sipping the caramel macchiato next to you because he thinks theme is more important than character.