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If you’re new to the Scriptshadow Script Challenge, here are all the previous posts…
YOU FINISHED YOUR FIRST DRAFT!!!!
First thing I want you to do?
Get drunk. You’re going to need it, trust me. Because now it’s time for the…
In order to best attack a rewrite, you need to understand what rewriting is. And the way I define rewriting is simple: PROBLEM-SOLVING. That’s what you’ll be doing in your second draft, your third draft, and every draft from this point forward. Identify problems. Find solutions. I call this THE GAMEPLAN, and it has one final step:
1) Identify problems.
2) Come up with solutions.
3) Implement solutions into Second Draft outline.
That’s right. You won’t be doing any physical rewriting this week. And you won’t have time to. While before, you could get away with a minimum of two hours a day. You’ll now need at least three. That’s because you’ll be dealing with the most unpredictable step in the process: SOLUTIONS. Solutions can take seconds, hours, days, even weeks to figure out. But before we go there, let’s start with step 1: Identifying the problem.
The first thing I want you to do is put yourself in the mind of a reader. Take your ‘helpful’ hat off and replace it with a critical one. Your goal with this step is to be EXTREMELY HARD ON YOURSELF. Since you’re a writer, that shouldn’t be difficult. Get your mind in as critical a state as possible.
What you’re going to do is read your script from start to finish, and take notes in two areas.
1) Boring parts.
For the first area, you’re going to be monitoring your enjoyment level during the screenplay. Are you engaged? Or are you bored? When you get bored, backtrack to where the boredom started, then continue on until you become engaged again. Mark that section down in a separate document and write down why you were bored. Don’t overthink it. Go with the most honest answer. So if I were, say, George Lucas, and I were applying the Scriptshadow Rewrite Model to my first draft of The Phantom Menace, this is what I might write:
Pages 5-11: Something feels off about this Jedi scene. Jedis waiting around in a room? Is that exciting enough?
Pages 23-32: The underwater Gungan City is cool, but why does it feel so boring? A lot of standing around. No action. Jar Jar’s great though. People are going to love him.
Pages 40-47: Dinner scene in Anakin’s hut is long with a lot of talking. We need to get so many plot points across that there’s no time left to entertain the audience. Maybe they’ll be distracted by how funny Jar Jar is.
You’ll have more sections than that, and in some cases, you’ll go into more detail than I did. The more detail you add, the more information you’ll have to solve the problem. Don’t get too verbose though. You don’t want your future self to have to wade through 20 lines of random thoughts to try and find the point.
While you’re assessing your boredom frequency, you’ll also want to gauge how strong your characters are. For every character who has more than two scenes, rate how satisfying they are on a scale from 1-10. Then tell us what you liked or disliked about the character:
Qui-Gon Gin (6): Stoic. But is he too stoic? Not much personality.
Obi-Wan Kenobi (5): Trying to have fun with him but he can’t be too fun since he’s a Jedi. Having a tough time finding the balance and it’s showing.
Anakin Skywalker (2): Boring, whiney. If I ever write a second draft, I’ll fix that.
Jar-Jar Binks (10): Perfect all around. Funny, engaging, charming, sophisticated. People are going to love this character. No changes!!!
The reason you wrote all that stuff down is so that you can methodically go through it, point by point, and come up with solutions. Start with the boring sections. Some people like to re-order this list so that the biggest problems are on top. Some like to keep it in chronological order. It’s up to you. And now is where the fun begins. For every problem, figure out why it’s a problem and try to come up with a creative solution. Here’s an example:
Pages 5-11: Something feels off about this Jedi scene. Jedis waiting around in a room? Is that exciting enough?
Solution: Maybe move the scene to the hanger bay. When they first arrive, no one comes out to greet their ship. It’s eerie, odd, and more suspicious as each second ticks by. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon decide to go out and inspect. They see a couple of dead Mandelorians in the hallway. Someone got here first. But who? Are they in danger? Maybe include a flash-forward Jedi dream of Jar-Jar. Additional note: Remember to add Jar-Jar stepping in dookie scene. Forgot if I included that.
Remember that, in some cases, the issue may not be fixable. The solution, then, could be eliminating the sequence. Or replacing it with an expanded subplot, or a new subplot altogether. Or moving the section to a more desirable place in the story. Everything is in play. Just remember the ultimate mantra, which is that if it doesn’t push the story or the characters forward, you don’t need it. Could you include a scene in The Phantom Menace where Queen Amidala is practicing her blaster shooting skills? Sure. Does it get her closer to the story’s ultimate destination? It does not. So you don’t need it.
HOW TO RECOVER FROM A SCRIPT DISASTER
I should take a moment to acknowledge the possibility that NOTHING IS WORKING IN YOUR SCRIPT. This is why the outlining stage was so important. You got to see your script in macro form and tackle potential structural problems before they happened. But if you didn’t outline or you went way off the reservation during your first draft, there’s a chance that, structurally, the majority of your script is unsavable. If you deem that to be the case, figure out where you went off the rails, go back to your outline, and re-outline everything after that moment. Your “2nd draft” is going to be more like a “1.5 draft,” but thats okay and it happens a lot. The good news is that it’s better than starting from scratch.
Once you’ve found all your plotting solutions, it’s time to tackle your characters. Go through each one, figure out what’s wrong with them, and make decisions on whether to a) improve them or b) get rid of them. If a character is anywhere below a “4,” you either have to get rid of them or reimagine them. Let’s take a look at George Lucas’s Anakin note for the second draft of The Phantom Menace which he’ll be getting to any day now.
Anakin Skywalker: Boring, whiney.
Solution: The big problem here is that Anakin is one-dimensional. It’s resulted in him being boring. One way to add some spark to him is to make him more mischievous. Give him an edge. That’ll immediately add some personality to a character in desperate need of it. A goody-two-shoes who whines all the time is going to put people to sleep. Also, add a scene where Jar-Jar juggles Anakin.
Now you won’t be able to solve every problem right away. That’s okay. Some solutions will come faster than others. What I’ve found is that if something’s not coming to you, it’s best to move on to the next problem. Cause every problem you solve has the potential to give you ideas to solve other problems. So if you’re having trouble figuring out how to make Anakin more compelling, sitting there and staring at the wall won’t do much good. But if you’re working on solving that boring Anakin Dinner Hut Scene, your solution may lead you to realize that Anakin’s at his most interesting when he’s manipulating others for his own gain, which allows you to go back and integrate that into your character solution.
Once you’ve written all of your potential solutions down (plot and character), resist the temptation to jump in and start the rewrite. Instead, it’s time to integrate all of your solutions into a SECOND DRAFT OUTLINE. What a lot of writers will do is take their first draft outline, save it as a new document titled “Second Draft Outline,” then use it as a template, pasting their new ideas (their solutions) into the already numbered slots. The outline can be as general or as specific as you want. So for the opening Jedi ship scene I highlighted, you can paste in exactly what you wrote as your solution, or you can expand on it, explaining how you want the scene (and subsequent scenes) to go. My belief is that the more detail you add to your outline, the better, as it’ll make the actual script-writing part easier.
And that’s it for this week. You want to solve your plotting problems as extensively as you can. You want to solve your shitty character problems as extensively you can. And you want to add all of that stuff into your Second Draft Outline with as much detail as possible. This will become the blueprint for your second draft rewrite, which starts next week. It will also be your most time intensive week to date. So get started NOW!
You’re allowed to play around here on Amateur Offerings for a teensy bit, but you should really be working on your outlines and character bios, especially if the weekend is one of the only times you get to write. With that said, here are this week’s entries. Read and vote on your favorite (just add a comment with your vote). Whoever gets the most votes gets a review on the site next Friday! May the best script win…
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Logline: In order to fend off a home invasion, a troubled man descends into a fierce, animal-like state – from which he seems unable to emerge – and goes on the run in an increasingly violent, single-minded quest to return to his childhood home.
Why you should read:
– Received both a 5 and a 9 on the Blacklist website. What’s with that – or more importantly, which one is it really closest to?
– Vicarious wish fulfilment for anyone who’s been bullied;
– Some jaw-dropping ‘can’t believe that just happened’ moments;
– An amazing third act TWIST – which I bet you won’t see coming.
Title: Pandora’s Box (this week it works!)
Genre: Supernatural horror
Logline: After the tragic death of their five year old son Ryan, the Taylor family begin to experience
paranormal phenomena. In a desperate attempt to contact their son, the family turn to a Voodoo
witch, who is cursed with the gift, to see the dead.
Why you should read: Do you love rainbows? Cute and cuddly care bears? Unicorns? Rose smelling farts? If so, this is NOT a script for you. I repeat, this is NOT a script for you. I eat cute and cuddly bears and shit out unicorns for breakfast. This is a script that will make your legs quiver (like a dog taking a shit), this is a script that will make The Sixth Sense look like a romance movie (That’s just trash talk, The Sixth Sense is one of my all time favorite movies). If, like me, you love suspenseful horror, and you love to shit your pants (like a crying baby) then maybe… Just maybe, this is a script for you. A low budget horror, in the genre of The haunting (1991), Insidious, The Conjuring, and The Shining, “designed to jack you up”.
I hope you enjoy guys, and thank you for taking the time to read Pandora’s Box, co-written with my sister, (yes, we need MORE female writers)!
Title: The Other Princess
Genre: Comedy, Romance (live action)
Logline: When a broke kingdom gets a second chance with a sponsored contest to find the “next Cinderella,” a common girl who competes to help her family must decide if all the drama and a charmless prince are really worth it.
Why you should read: A while ago I was watching Shrek with my toddler niece, and thinking “I would’ve loved a whole movie on the funny fairy tale kingdom stuff.” That thought led to: “imagine if after the Cinderella story, Fairy Godmother became a washed up drunk”…and “imagine if another kingdom tried to find the next Cinderella through a “Bachelor” like competition”…those were just a couple of the “imagines” that resulted in this script, and if it’s something that might appeal to you, I hope you enjoy whatever you have time to read! (as for me: my background began in narrative fiction, and after publishing 3 novels, I started learning all I could about screenplays, as it seemed natural given my love of writing dialogue. A previous script was a top 20 finalist with Script Pipeline in 2014, and with this new one I’m just trying to see if readers find it interesting and fun!)
Title: Game. Set. Match.
Logline: On the day of the U.S. Open Championship, a washed up tennis-star, facing his last chance at winning a Major, is presented with a tempting offer to throw the match to his opponent: his younger brother.
Why you should read: I’ve been writing screenplays for about 5 years now, but in the last year I’ve gotten very serious about it and am moving out to LA next month. Over the past year, I’ve really pushed myself to write as many scripts as possible, and I think that Game Set Match might have some potential. I know that sports dramas aren’t exactly the sexiest drama and neither is tennis (despite Maria Sharapova’s efforts), but I think this story is told in an interesting way and will pull people in. Other than that, there’s some racket smashing and John McEnroe… what more could you ask for?
Title: Fiesta (The Sun Also Rises)
Logline: A eunuch suffering from PTSD makes a trip to Spain with the woman he loves, succumbing to the hedonism and despair consuming post-war America in the 1920s. Don’t worry. There’s also bull-fighting.
Why you should read: I can’t remember Script Shadow ever reviewing an amateur script that’s ALSO an adaptation. I understand there are a bunch of reasons for this
1. An unproven writer should not be adapting major material he doesn’t own the rights to.
2. See above dummy.
1. I really wanted to see this wonderfully poignant and romantic story as a movie. There is a version (50s), but it kind of blows. So I wrote it. Out of love, passion and with absolutely no notion it could ever be made. I’m very proud of it, and just wanted to have an advanced reader let me know what they think. After all, getting screenplays read is hard, but getting screenplays read that require literary rights is impossible.
2. Wouldn’t it be cool to examine an amateur adaptation? It’s certainly something that’ll probably prove unique from other reviews. I can definitely take the licks that might arise from such a scenario.
I’m probably really dumb. But I wanted to see this thing as a movie. This was the way to do it. It would be amazing to hear what you think.
We’re going to get away from loglines for a day. Well, not really, since you’ll choose to read the below scripts based on their loglines. I suppose it’s another reminder of how important they are. There continues to be a contingent of people who say loglines are dumb, yet those same people will read through today’s logs and know instantly whether they want to read the script or not. As frustrating as these little buggers are, they matter!
If you’re new to Amateur Offerings and want a shot at getting your script reviewed, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with your title, genre, logline, and why you think your script deserves a shot. Don’t forget to include a PDF of your script. As for your job today, read as much as you can from each script and cast your winning vote in the comments section (leave a comment with your pick). Good luck to all!
Title: Eternal Lies
Genre: Psychological Horror/Thriller
Premise: When ancient relics wash ashore in the south pacific, a team of scientists set sail to investigate. The closer they draw to their origin, the further they flail from reality. (A Modern day take on The Call of Cthulhu. The Shining on a boat).
Why You Should Read: H.P. Lovecraft is one of horrors most beloved writers. Unfortunately for screenwriters, his works have proven very difficult to adapt successfully. I believe the reasons are threefold. One, his works rely heavily on internal dialogue. Two, the entire story is set up for one terrifying punchline. Three, his stories are never updated! We see the same period piece over, and over again. What would happen if we set Cthulhu in the modern world? Modern technology? Modern characters? Eternal Lies is my pet project. One that I feel has a chance at cracking the code of Lovercraft. I yield to the SS communities infinite knowledge.
Title: Sickness and Health
Logline: A middle aged playboy hires a woman to marry him so his dying father can realize his dream of seeing him walk down the aisle. When the father then starts to show signs of a miracle recovery, the couple is forced to prolong the charade.
Why you should read: I was a Nicholl semi-finalist in 2014 (like Scriptshadow favorite “The Water Man” by Emma Needell from last year’s BL), and that script’s now being optioned, so hopefully I’m getting closer to figuring out what I’m doing here.
Title: Pandora’s Box
Genre: Supernatural horror
Logline: After the tragic death of their five year old son Ryan, the Taylor family begin to experience
paranormal phenomena. In a desperate attempt to contact their son, the family turn to a Voodoo
witch, who is cursed with the gift, to see the dead.
Why you should read: Do you love rainbows? Cute and cuddly care bears? Unicorns? Rose smelling farts? If so, this is NOT a script for you. I repeat, this is NOT a script for you. I eat cute and cuddly bears and shit out unicorns for breakfast. This is a script that will make your legs quiver (like a dog taking a shit), this is a script that will make The Sixth Sense look like a romance movie (That’s just trash talk, The Sixth Sense is one of my all time favorite movies). If, like me, you love suspenseful horror, and you love to shit your pants (like a crying baby) then maybe… Just maybe, this is a script for you. A low budget horror, in the genre of The haunting (1991), Insidious, The Conjuring, and The Shining, “designed to jack you up”. I hope you enjoy guys, and thank you for taking the time to read Pandora’s Box, co-written with my sister, (yes, we need MORE female writers)!
Title: North Of Fear – South Of Pain
Genre: Survival Thriller
Logline: A Tense survival thriller centered on a widowed mother whose confidence is tested when she and her children are stalked by an aggressive grizzly bear in the wilderness of Yellowstone.
Why you should read: When was the last time you bit your nails to stubs reading about a hopeless mother with two kids being trapped in a terrifying nature-gone-rogue situation?
Logline: In colonial Argentina the bastard son of a widowed peasant woman rallies a band of freewheeling gauchos against a ruthless invader queen.
Why you should read: I’d like to find out if inducing torture on myself for the last six months by trying to finish this story translates into anything worth reading. Or is effortless writing the tell tale sign of a great script? All I know is this was a story that wouldn’t let go of me as much as I wanted to give up on it at certain points. (Funny how that works) It is a culmination of all the personal betrayals, goals, angst, and general disposition towards life (to name a few) that I have experienced in my short 27 years so far. If that isn’t reason enough to find out what that’s about. What makes a man tick. Then I’m not sure what else I can give. I put everything I could into this script and it’s something I’m really proud of for doing. Of course that’s not to say that it’s without fault or immune to criticism. I just hope it’s not as painful for you to read as it was for me to finish. My mom hasn’t read it yet so the verdict is still out ;) Onto the next one. -Godspeed
Premise: After a murderer escapes prison, the sister of the man he was convicted of killing puts a 10 million dollar bounty on his head.
About: This script sold a couple of years ago after it got Will Smith attached. Writer Sascha Penn has been slowly moving up the ranks in Hollywood. He’s written a couple of TV shows, most notably, “The Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives,” and I’ve spotted a few feature specs by him before. But this is obviously his big breakthrough, getting Will Smith attached. Smith is looking for that starring vehicle that’s going to put him back on top. And taking a “Fugitive” type roll might be just the trick to do it.
Writer: Sascha Penn
Details: 110 pages – undated
We just talked about this yesterday. There are certain premises that sound great on paper, but once you start writing them, they’re a lot more complicated than you thought. It’s like ordering spaghetti. You know it’ll taste good. But then you get the plate and the next 45 minutes are a war between you, the noodles, the fork, and your dexterity level. It sucks because you’ve finally come up with that head-turning six-figure idea. Only to realize you’ve been dropped into a literary minefield.
Bounty is a near-perfect logline. However, its cracks start to show less than 20 pages in. Once the premise is established, the questions begin. Like if a woman offers 10 million dollars to whoever kills a man, how would that person ever actually receive that money? Publicly offering money for a murder is illegal. And indeed, when the sister character offers it, she immediately goes to jail.
So let’s say you still kill the guy. Where do you bring him to get the money? I’m pretty sure those “cash for paychecks” places don’t accept corpses. But let’s say you somehow avoid this issue. How does this money get transferred into your account without the police tracking it? I mean, you’re a public figure now, easy to keep tabs on. And receiving money for a murder is illegal right?
It’s too bad that Bounty faces all these questions, because it really is a fun concept.
We meet our hero, Abel Ford, in prison. He’s been here for 10 years for the murder of a big shot one-percenter. The thing is, Ford didn’t kill him. Well, according to Ford at least. He’s so determined to prove his innocence that he’s been planning a prison break for the last few years so he can find the real killer and live happily ever after with his girlfriend and (now) 10 year-old son.
Ford does escape, but it doesn’t go as planned. The man he was convicted of killing has a weirdo sister named Vivian Standish who announces on national television that she’ll give 10 million dollars to anyone who brings Ford in dead or alive.
Imagine if 10,000 Dog the Bounty Hunters all descended upon Massachusetts looking to claim the payday of a lifetime. That’s exactly what happens, making Ford’s plan to find the real killer a teeeeeensy bit tougher.
Ford finds the one man he can trust, his half brother, and the two start driving around the city, asking sketchy criminals what they know about that infamous murder Ford supposedly committed. Bit by bit, a different picture emerges and Ford is able to piece together the truth. But will he be able to sell it to the media before he gets a bullet in his head?
As I’ve made clear, “Bounty” is a brilliantly conceived idea. Not just because of the idea itself, but because it embodies everything a saleable spec is supposed to be. It’s got a nifty high-concept premise. It starts fast and never lets up. And it features a 30s-40s male protagonist, which, because of the large marketable talent pool that exists in that acting demographic, makes it the quickest way to get a movie made. This harkens back to the formula that made specs so big in the 90s.
Also, thrillers are the easiest screenplays to write. The structure is built into the premise (a main character with a strong goal that he must achieve quickly) which allows most of the movie to write itself. If I were an aspiring screenwriter just starting out, this is the genre I’d write in. It’s by far the easiest to pick up.
There are couple of other teachable moments here as well. Penn realizes that a man on the run without an emotional connection is boring. We won’t care. That’s one reason The Fugitive did so well. We felt the love Richard Kimble had for his dead wife. So Penn wisely writes in a scene after the prison break where Ford goes to his old girlfriend, who he has a 10 year old son with, to show us what he’s fighting for.
I call these EMOTIONAL STAKES. There has to be something emotional on the line for your hero.
Penn also makes this bigger than your run-of-the-mill thriller by exploring an issue – gun violence in America. This movie is about a country riddled with a gun problem that’s only getting worse. At one point late in the story, multiple misidentified Abel Fords are getting shot. Everyone has gone gun crazy! If you can come up with a great premise that ALSO hits on a controversial social issue? You’re gonna have a lot of people asking to read your screenplay.
The problem with Bounty is it never overcomes the suspension of disbelief required to buy into the story. I kept asking questions that the script couldn’t answer. Namely: How would anybody be able to collect this money? Everything Vivian was doing was illegal.
Penn tries his best to distract us from this reality. For example, he focuses on how the bounty doesn’t just cover death. They can also bring Abel in alive as well. However, the draw here is the kill. That’s why this premise is so exciting. If it was just, “Bring him in alive and you get 10 million,” the logline doesn’t work. So it’s kind of a cheat.
Also, Penn tries to convince us that anyone who kills Abel is going to get off scott-free because no jury in America will convict him. I’m not so sure about that. The bounty hunters wouldn’t be killing some evil menace to society serial killer. They’re killing a dude who shot a rich guy. I’m thinking there are plenty of juries who’d have no problem convicting a greedy bounty hunter over that.
Finally, I thought Penn missed some opportunities. The promise of the premise here is bounty hunters coming after Abel! So I wanted to see various weird bad-ass bounty hunter personalities. Imagine how much fun you could have with that? Real life versions of Boba Fett using unique skill-sets to hunt down Ford. But the treatment of the bounty hunters is more scattershot, told more through Ford’s perspective than their own. So we never get to establish any of these potential actor-bait roles (think about it – this could be the modern day Con Air, with all these big actors coming in to play weird cool bounty hunters).
I’m torn because I love this idea and I think the script sets up a great story. It doesn’t deliver though.
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Send your character into the belly of the beast, the place they least want to go. A great way to ENSURE a good scene is to ask yourself, “Where does my character least want to go?” And then send them there. Early in the script, Ford needs to get information from a criminal to further his investigation. Guess where that criminal is? Prison. THE PRISON HE JUST BROKE OUT OF. So Ford has to go right back to the prison he just broke out of (in disguise, of course), to chat with the man who can help him out. These scenes work almost every time.
What I learned 2: If you find yourself trying to distract your reader from large plot holes in your script, you know you’re in trouble. Instead of creating distractions, go back and fill in the hole.
I loved The Force Awakens.
YODA SAYS: “SPOILERS THERE ARE, BELOW.”
No, I’m kidding. To be honest, I expected to be critical of this latest installment of wars that happen in stars. The Hollywood moviemaking system can easily be described as the Hollywood capture-lightning-in-a-bottle system, as that’s essentially what you’re trying to do. Make 300-400 variables all come together and work in your favor over a 1-2 year period. So when Star Wars was not only able to achieve this once, but TWICE (with Empire), it was pretty much guaranteed that the franchise would never accomplish that feat again.
And it didn’t. Jedi was good. But it wasn’t great. And the prequels. Oh… the prequels. You could say that those movies were the universe’s way of balancing shit back out. “You made the best movies in history? Well, we can’t keep allowing THAT to happen. We must restore balance.” And so we got the three worst films in history.
This leads us to The Force Awakens. Am I saying JJ Abrams contacted the spirit of Ben Franklin and somehow managed to bottle lightning one more time? I’ve broken down so many movies and so many scripts at this point, I’m beyond the ability to judge a film purely on the kind of emotional impact required to answer that question. But you know what? The Force Awakens came squiddly-diddly close.
Before I get into the bantha meat of my review, let me reiterate that a screenplay is the sum of its parts. For those of you curmudgeons who will bring back a point I made in Scriptshadow Article #317.b about if there’s a thin character in your script, it means you need to fix it immediately, and that The Force Awakens’ Captain Phasma is a thin character and therefore I must denounce all that is Star Wars past, present, and future and count Force Awakens as one of the worst movies ever because “Youuuuu saaiiid Carson…” I’m not going to do that.
Screenplays are the sum of their parts. Therefore, if you like the majority of those parts, even if the rest of the parts are subpar, guess what? It’s okay to still like that movie. Cause the truth is, there is no perfect screenplay. You can take the original Star Wars to task if you want to. The hero is introduced too late! Oh no. I guess Star Wars sucks now.
Nope. Not how screenplays work.
I’ll tell you how they do work though, and a large majority of it comes back to your main character. If you can nail the main character, nearly every other mistake you make in your screenplay can be overlooked. Because if we love the main character, we’ll want to go anywhere with them. And I loved Rey. This is where JJ really brought the heavy metal. He knew that if he could give us the perfect hero, he could make other mistakes and we’d look past them. So how did he pull this love affair with Rey off? He went old school Scriptshadow, that’s how! Let’s take a look atneverything he did with Rey…
1) Underdog – Rey is an underdog character. She’s a nobody. She’s barely surviving. Everyone looks past her. Audiences FUCKING LOVE UNDERDOGS! When are you all going to learn??? It’s instant likability sauce drip drip dripping on your hero.
2) Deserted by parents – We will always sympathize with someone who’s been left by someone they loved. Rey was fucking ABANDONED BY HER OWN PARENTS. Jesus Christ do we want to see this girl find happiness now.
3) She pushes on despite her misfortunes – Ever meet someone where life has beat them down and they throw up their arms and say, “Well, fuck it. Might as well do drugs and play video games all day?” Not exactly the kind of person you want to root for, right? On the flipside, we LOVE characters who’ve been dealt a terrible hand and yet they KEEP. ON. FIGHTING. This is one of our favorite types of characters and the key to us loving Rey.
4) She’s active – We LOVE active characters. Characters who are out there doing things. Rey spends all day every day scrapping. How can you not admire this?
5) Puts others’ safety/happiness in front of her own. – A droid is about to get kidnapped for parts? Rey is right there to stop it! Girl is being selfless for the well-being of something that’s not even human!
6) Is taken advantage of – We LOVE characters who are taken advantage of because we don’t like it when people are unfairly wronged. We root for the person wronged to rise up and make it right. The scraps dealer Rey sells to every day JUST TO EAT is constantly giving her less and less money for the parts she spends all day scrapping. After every one of these scenes, we root for Rey even more.
Anybody who claims JJ Abrams is a bad screenwriter (and I’ve seen a few dare to do so) don’t realize that this is what he brings to the table. He makes sure his main character is great so that we will care what happens to them. And since in most cases, the main character IS the movie, he knows that if you like his main character you’ll like his movie. This guy doesn’t just depend on mystery boxes, as some internet trolls will have you believe. He’s a well-rounded screenwriter who’s been selling scripts since he was 23 years old. The boy has skills.
Once you have your hero, your ying, you have to create your villain, your yang. And holy shit did I love JJ’s yang. Err, I mean Kylo Ren. Was he as brilliantly conceived as Rey? No. But here’s what Kylo Ren was. HE WAS INTERSTING. As co-writer Lawrence Kasdan put it, there’s no other character like him in the Star Wars universe. And I agree. Villains are probably the hardest characters to write because if you go over the top, they come off as on-the-nose. But if you’re too subtle, they’re not scary enough. You have to strike that balance, and that’s never easy.
What I loved about Kylo most was how UNPREDICTABLE he was. This is an underrated trait of villains that screenwriters should take more advantage of. The guy could go ape-shit in a heartbeat, but he’s also involved in two of the quietest moments in the film. He practically whispers when he takes off his mask needing information from the captured Rey, and also when he’s out talking to Han on the bridge (which might be my favorite scene in the movie). To me, the scariest people are the people for whom you don’t know what’s coming next. Is it compassion, is it rage, is it introspection, anger, curiosity, fear. Kylo Ren displays all of these things, which is why I loved him so much. I mean compare that to say, Darth Maul, who conveyed what? Anger? I think that’s it, right? Actually, looking back on it, I don’t think he conveyed any emotion outside of snarling. Is snaring an emotion?
Next we have the plot itself. One of the complaints coming out of the reviews is that the story moved “too fast.” This actually made me laugh. A story that moves too fast? Oh no! How awful! Let’s see. How many times in history have you complained that a movie moved too fast? Once? Maybe twice? The notoriously common reaction to a movie is that it MOVES TOO SLOW. That’s because it’s really fucking hard to keep things moving in a movie. For Abrams to not have this problem? It’s kind of a miracle.
But it also goes back to the fact that this guy is a great screenwriter and a great storyteller. Keeping a plot moving, as you know from this site, is really hard. But you do it in a few ways. You make sure your lead characters always have goals. You make sure your SECONDARY CHARACTERS always have goals. So if your main characters hit a slower section, we’re still wondering, “Oh shit, well what is Han up to now? He still has to achieve [x]!” You make sure your VILLAIN is always driven by goals. This way, everybody we cut to HAS SOMETHING TO DO RIGHT NOW.
Bad screenwriters either don’t always include goals, or when their characters complete a goal, they don’t replace it with a new one. Certain goals don’t have high stakes, so we don’t care whether they’re completed or not. There may not be any urgency attached to the goal, so it’s not imperative that the goal get taken care of right away, which results in a slowing down of the plot. A good screenwriter is always checking in on all the characters at all times and making sure they have something to do. And that’s the reason this screenplay moves so fast, is because JJ and Kasdan made this a priority.
Would I have liked a little more time with Rey at the beginning? Of course. I think that would’ve made me like her even more (if that’s possible). You can even see in the trailers that a lot was cut from her planet. We get shots (her scrapping) and lines (“Who are you?” “I’m no one.”) that JJ decided to snip to keep the pace going. The thing is, this is every writer and director’s biggest fear – is their story moving too slow. So they’re always cutting, always only including what’s needed and nothing more. JJ might’ve been the first director in ten years who cut 10% more than he needed to. His movie was so good, it could’ve survived an added ten minutes.
Before my praise-lavishing comes to an end, I’m going to explain to you why JJ Abrams now understands Star Wars better than the man who created it. One of the only praises people had for The Phantom Menace was the lightsaber battles, particularly Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon vs. Darth Maul. But you know what those people were really saying? “This movie is so bad, that I need to hang my hat on something, anything, so that I can’t call this Star Wars movie a failure.” And boy were those lightsaber battles a doozy. Right? Right?
Indeed, they were fun to look at if you’re a fight choreography dork who melts at the mention of Iko Uwais and spends 364 days a year prepping for Choreo-Con. But if you were looking for emotion? For meaning in those fights? You found nothing. You found nothing because who the fuck was Darth Maul? As I pointed out above, he had no emotional component whatsoever. He was a snarl. And who was Qui-Gon? A nice Jedi? That’s the emotional complexity George Lucas had devolved to? Nice vs. Snarl? And don’t get me started on the borrible Obi-Wan. The point is that no matter how many flips they did or times they cut each other in half, it left us with no feeling whatsoever.
I’m going to say something pretty controversial here. The lightsaber battles in The Force Awakens… they kinda sucked. Kylo Ren just kept doing the same clumsy overhead strike again and again. Rey had some kinda cool moves. But overall, the lightsaber battles were weak. And you know what? It was still ONE FUCKING THOUSAND TIMES BETTER than that Qui-Gon Obi-Wan Darth Maul battle. Because Kylo was in one of his complex rages. And Rey was struggling with this newfound ability. But most importantly, I LIKED REY and I WAS FASCINATED BY KYLO. Each character was acdtually compelling. And interesting. And had something on the line other than hitting their marks. That meant I ACTUALLY CARED WHAT HAPPENED BETWEEN THEM. They could’ve thumb-wrestled and I still would’ve been riveted. And if there’s a lesson to lesson here, it would be that. Focus on the people, not the fights. You do that and the fights will take care of themselves.
Okay, now that I’m finished regurgitating the awesomeness I gorged on, it’s time to point out some of the film’s faults, although I’ll contend these issues were at least partly due to big bad Disney. To come up with something truly original, you need time and LOTS OF DRAFTS. You need to write through the obvious to get to the unobvious. And Disney didn’t give JJ any time. So yeah, I’m still defending JJ.
The first gripe is that, yes, the plot feels similar to the original Star Wars. Lone person on desert planet, droids with important plans, giant battle stations. Here’s the thing though. It didn’t feel SO similar that it ruined my enjoyment of the film. The things that anchored the story (a female protag, a storm trooper gone rogue, a search for Skywalker) were different enough that while I felt the parallels to A New Hope, I never felt like it was a beat for beat copy.
But here’s where I did have a problem. The one thing Lucas brings to the table that JJ doesn’t is imagination. JJ basically used pieces that were already there. Lucas CREATED ALL THOSE PIECES. I read an interview with Lucas a long time ago and in it he was asked how he came up with Jabba the Hut or some other weird character. And he said, “Honestly, some of this stuff is just whimsy. I like the thought of it.”
And JJ’s not like that. He’s a storyteller and when you tell a lot of stories, it gets drilled into your head that everything needs to make sense. Everything needs to be logical. The reason Star Wars is what it is is because it isn’t always logical. It doesn’t make logical sense to have a giant slug who couldn’t escape a determined alien amputee be the most feared gangster in the galaxy.
And the thing that made Lucas Lucas is that he didn’t care. He just liked the idea of a giant slug gangster. JJ doesn’t have that talent. He’s scared to go into the depths of his imagination and come up with something truly weird because those are the things that are the least easy to calculate. JJ knows that having someone take advantage of Rey early on will result in a calculable emotional reaction from the audience. But he doesn’t know what will happen if he makes Finn a no-headed Quaseldorf from the planet Yim-Yam. So he makes him a stormtrooper instead.
Speaking of Finn, he didn’t work AT ALL. And it didn’t help that John Boyega’s acting amounted to, “Holy shit, I’m in Star Wars! Holy shit, I’m in Star Wars!” But here’s why Finn doesn’t work. JJ and Kasdan had the right idea. You take a bad guy and you place him inside the gang of good guys. It’s good old fashioned dramatic irony. We know Finn is bad, but nobody else does. Oh no, what’s going to happen!?
Well what happens is that JJ and Kasdan never fully commit to the conceit. Yes, we have someone from the First Order inside the Resistance. BUT WHAT ARE THE STAKES???? If they find out Finn is a stormtrooper, what’s going to happen to him? I’ll tell you what. ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Not only is Finn fully committed to the Resistance now and therefore not a threat, JJ has so little confidence in the storyline that he actually starts letting everybody know Finn’s secret! BB-8 knows. Han Solo knows (“Sooner or later, women find out the truth.”). If this secret matters at all, how come it’s freely shared and no one seems bothered by it?
I think what happened was that they realized at a certain point, “Uh, this isn’t working. There are no stakes if he’s figured out. What next?” And so they kind of transferred the stakes over to Rey. If Rey found out Finn was part of the First Order, she wouldn’t like him anymore. So ruining a potential romance is now the consequence of Finn’s big secret. Except JJ and Kasdan never make it clear if there is a romance, so again, the stakes aren’t very high.
Yesterday, I highlighted a movie to watch for this specific purpose. In it, Lawrence Fishburne plays a cop who must go undercover into a gang of drug dealers in order to take them down. THAT’S how you do Finn’s storyline right. We knew that if at ANY MINUTE, they figured out Fishburne was a cop, HE WAS DEAD. So there was tension in every moment and the writers could play with that. They could build scenes around the fact that Fishburne’s identity was in jeopardy (make him have to kill someone to prove his loyalty). We never sensed anything close to that with Finn.
It’s a little upsetting that this was the one big deviation in plot from Star Wars and JJ got it wrong. It shows that without that blueprint, he was flying blind. I have no doubt he would’ve figured it out with more drafts but they just didn’t give him the time. Moving forward, Finn is my one big worry for the franchise. He doesn’t seem to fit. He doesn’t seem to have an intriguing arc, unless he’s secretly a jedi, which wouldn’t make sense. This half-realized idea would’ve been best left at the alter, replaced with the incredibly charismatic and underused Poe Dameron. Who knows? Maybe Rian Johnson will figure something out with him.
NERDY DISCUSSION POINTS 3000!
It’s time to throw screenwriting theory out the window and go full nerd. When you go full nerd, you do not need facts. Just a strong opinion and a lot of pent-up self-hatred, and to that end, I will address some nerdy discussion points of Force Awakens.
How can Rey use the force if she’s never trained?
I think it goes back to what I said earlier. If you can make us believe in a character, you can make us believe in anything they do. I liked Rey so much I believed she had a strong sense of the force. But here’s where it gets interesting. A part of me thinks that Luke was channeling the force THROUGH REY. That’s why she seemed half-confused whenever she was using it. The big clue to this is when she’s in the chair and knows to tell the stormtrooper to let her go. That’s a specific callback to Luke watching Obi-Wan say the same thing in the original Star Wars. I think Luke has gotten so powerful – more powerful than any jedi in the history of the galaxy – that he’s learned how to speak and control people throughout the galaxy, specifically those who also have the force and who, in this case, might be his daughter.
Then there’s Snoke. Who is Snoke? Why is he 80 feet tall and has a weird crevice in his head? Snoke is derided in the reviews as one of the weaker additions to the franchise and I’d agree with that. FOR NOW. Because I think there’s more going on here. The shots of him in the cave with the projection seem to be a specific reference to The Wizard of Oz. This might be Snoke’s projection, but it very well might not be anything like who the real Snoke is. The real Snoke could look completely different. I’m guessing even a tiny creature, a callback to Yoda. Might we finally get the true GOOD phantom menace story we were all hoping for? Either way, there’s more to Snoke than meets the eye.
You know what? I realize that if left to my own devices, this review could go on for ages and you know what? I want to go see The Force Awakens again. So I’ll stop here. And just say, yeah, this movie was freaking awesome. Big props to JJ and Kasdan for doing an amazing job, especially in the amount of time they had!
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] genius
What I learned: You should be able to go to any point in your screenplay, look at your relevant characters in that moment, and see that they’re trying to achieve something (a goal) RIGHT NOW. If they’re not trying to achieve anything, rewrite it so they are. Because if too many of your characters are inactive at the same time, your script will drag. That’s when you’ll hear readers say things like, “Nothing seemed to be happening.” The Force Awakens is one of the best examples this decade of a movie where everyone in the story has something to do whenever we cut to them. It’s a great study companion to see how to keep a plot moving.