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Genre: TV Pilot – 1 hour Comedy
Premise: When the Devil gets bored with the goings-on of Hell, he decides to pack up, head to Los Angeles, and open a bar. What he never expected was to start caring about the people in the city.
About: Born in New York, Tom Kapinos moved to Los Angeles in the mid 1990s, got a job as a reader at CAA, and parlayed that into a script sale that got Jennifer Aniston attached. The movie was never made, but the spec was read by the Dawson’s Creek folks, where Kapinos soon became one of the writers. After the show was over, Kapinos fell into the Tinsletown Purgatory but five years later emerged with the hit show, Californication, on Showtime. Kapinos has now, smartly, jumped onto the comic book bandwagon, taking the DC character, Lucifer, and turning it into a TV show which will debut on Fox, probably as a companion to Gotham.
Writer: Tom Kapinos
Details: 55 pages

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Okay, so I’ve just started Season 3 of House of Cards, and I’m worried. For those planning on watching the show in the future, avert your eyes, I’m about to get into spoilers. Basically, when you have a particular goal driving a TV show, the show will encounter a crossroads when the protagonist achieves that goal. Frank Underwood’s (Kevin Spacey) goal has always been to become president. That’s why we watched for the first two seasons – to see if he could do it. Now that he’s done it, where does the story go?

Now there are a million new story challenges you can create for the president of the United States. But no matter what you do, it’s hard to recapture the excitement of the underdog trying to become the top dog. I’m worried that the show will start focusing on plot (We must improve our relations with Russia!) as opposed to character, which is what makes all TV shows, and this one in particular, so good. Whatever the case, I’m eager to see how they solve this problem. It could lead to either some really good or some really bad screenwriting. I’m sure those who have already seen Season 3 will offer up their thoughts in the comments.  I only ask that they do so without spoilers.

How does this tie into today’s pilot? Well, Frank Underwood is a morally corrupt individual. He will do whatever it takes to get what he wants. It’s become apparent to me that these types of characters are great for TV shows. Someone who’s a little bad is so much more entertaining than someone who’s pure good. And today, we have a character who’s probably about as bad as they get. The devil himself. Let’s take a look at Fox’s upcoming show… Lucifer.

When we meet Lucifer Morningstar, he’s been chilling in LA for a good year, running his hot nightclub, Lux, and basically doing whatever naughty thoughts come into his head. The reason Lucifer has so much fun is that he’s devoid of that part of the body that actually cares about things – what is it called again? – oh yeah, the heart.

That’s about to change, though. One of Lucifer’s pet projects has been Delilah, a talented musician who debuted at his club and who has since become one of the biggest musicians in the world. However, like a lot of musicians, she makes terrible dating mistakes, and on this particular night at Lux, one of those mistakes drives by the club and guns her down.

What starts as anger eventually becomes sadness in Lucifer – a feeling he’s totally unfamiliar with. It bothers him enough that he insists on joining local hot but uptight cop, Chloe, on her investigation into the murder. Chloe doesn’t like the candid and sexist Lucifer, but she’s amazed by his Jedi-like power to get anybody to tell him what he wants to know.

The two go from Record Company owners to rap stars to movie stars as they trace Delilah’s sordid relationship past, before finally discovering that the wife of one of Delilah’s lovers got her bodyguard to do the hit. It’s a satisfying conclusion for Lucifer, who can now go back to his debauchery-laden ways. Except there’s one problem. He actually finds himself caring for this Chloe woman. Humph. Why does the real world have to be so complicated??

Let’s start off today talking about Investigation Simplicity Syndrome. 50% of the TV shows out there revolve around some kind of procedural format. Characters go on an investigation, usually to find a murderer. It’s a tried and true format where the goal and stakes are built right there into the genre.

But Investigation Simplicity Syndrome can destroy a procedural. This occurs when the investigation is too simplistic. Here Lucifer and Chloe go to a record producer, who says he didn’t do it and offers, “It was probably that rapper.” They go to the rapper, who says, “It was probably that movie star.” They go the movie star and, after talking to his wife, realize she was the one who did it.

It was so basic as to seem purposefully boring. Now when you’re writing a comedy series, which Lucifer basically is, you get a little more leeway in this area. If people are laughing, they’re not demanding Fargo-like complexity in their plot. But you have to put a LITTLE effort into the investigation.

Another problem with Lucifer is Lucifer’s key power – his ability to get people to tell him the truth. It makes things too easy! Characters throw the answers at him without any effort on his part: “Oh yeah, you should go check out that guy. He’s suspicious.” With any movie or show, you want to make things DIFFICULT on your characters – not simple – because then your characters have to struggle, and characters who struggle are always more fun to watch than characters who are handed everything.

So the combination of Investigation Simplicity Syndrome and Lucifer being handed all the information without having to work for it made for an incredibly boring investigation.

Which means I probably hated Lucifer, right? Not exactly. What Lucifer lacks in plotting it makes up for in fun. Lucifer is a funny character, throwing out punchlines faster than Mayweather throws punches (when an Angel visits his club: “Amenadude! How’s it hanging, big guy? Didn’t you see the sign?” “No angels allowed?” No? Hmm, maybe we should be using a bigger font.”)

And let’s not forget the wish-fulfillment, one of the more underrated components of character creation. We all wish we could do bad things and not have to suffer the consequences for them. That’s what’s so fun about watching Lucifer. He’s bad and he doesn’t give a shit.

That alone wouldn’t have been enough though. Kapinos smartly realizes that every good TV character needs somewhere to go. If there’s nothing they’re struggling with, then they’re basically a robot. So what’s hinted at, here, is Lucifer’s growing introduction to feelings – something he never had to deal with down in Hell. Once a character must deal with consequences, their choices become a lot more difficult, and we sense that’s going to be Lucifer’s journey as a character.

The script also benefits from Protagonist Dramatic Irony. This is when we know something about the character that nobody in the story does. This typically works best with serial killer protagonist flicks (American Psycho), but here, it’s simply that Lucifer is the devil. Therefore, whenever someone challenges Lucifer, or gets in his face, or gives him trouble, our superior knowledge allows us to delight in what’s about to follow. This happens several times in the script, such as when Scrip9 (the rapper) tries to intimidate Lucifer, only to end up on the floor crying like a baby when the conversation is over.

So what Lucifer lacks in plot, it makes up for in character. And for this reason, I give the pilot a passing grade. This is television, and in television, character is king. So if you nail that, you get some slack on the plot front. Still, if Kapinos thinks this show is going to last with investigations like this, Lucifer’s going to be buying property back in Hell before sweeps week. I hope that doesn’t happen because this series has potential.

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

What I learned: An easy way to avoid Investigation Simplicity Syndrome is to add COMPLICATIONS to the investigation. Just look for places to make things more difficult for your investigators. They go to their next lead – but the lead turns out to be dead. They go to their top suspect, but a lawyer opens the door and says his client won’t be talking to them. The chief of police tells them to stop investigating – the case is closed. It can be anything, as long as it throws the investigation off its typical path.

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So, I hope all of you experienced lots of sexy time this Valentine’s Day weekend. Or at least ate a lot of chocolate that fell down and partially melted on your sad protruding shirtless belly while you watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy for the 30the time. Either way, I’m sure you’re confused about this weekend’s box office.

Yes, I’m talking about 50 Shades of What The Hell Just Happened and its 81 million dollar domestic haul. Now we all knew the movie was going to do well, but 81 million dollars is the yearly GNP of Cuba. And 50 Shades of Grey means something completely different over there.

Ever since this book became a phenomenon, I’ve been trying to figure it out. I mean, there are movies I cringe at but whose success I still understand. For example, I’ve never sported round black glasses, worn a cape, and rambled off the spell, “Gizzlestorm lazzle-trousers!” yet I know why Harry Potter is a phenomenon. It’s a deeply rich and imaginative world with a very well thought out story.

I tried to read 50 Shades, got halfway through the second chapter, and thought, “This has got to be the worst writing ever.” What is the appeal here? Women are smart. Aren’t they? Why are they buying this garbage? Sure, everyone’s fascinated by sex, but if all you had to do to make 80 million dollars was throw sex into your movie, I’m pretty sure every studio in town would be doing so.

Why, for instance, did that old movie Secretary, starring Maggie Gylenhaal, and covering basically the same subject matter, make 1/40th of this movie’s opening weekend haul? Where was the ravenous female audience then?

I’m tempted to toss this into the “Who the hell knows?” pile but as screenwriters, it’s essential to pay attention to and understand the box office. You want to know what genres are doing well. You want to know what subject matter is doing well. If something bombs, you want to know why. It something becomes a hit, you want to know why.

And that’s not to say you should follow trends. I think it’s fine to follow trends at the beginning of the trend (say as a movie that everyone knows is going to do well approaches its opening weekend). But if there’s been 7 fantasy movies over the last two years, writing another one probably isn’t going to go over well. Even if you’re a Level 20 Elfen.

But I’m still curious to hear your thoughts about 50 shake-and-bakes. Is it pure wish-fulfillment? Is that all it takes to write a hit book/film? Could we do the same for men? Write a movie about a bunch of guys who bang girls with no strings attached? If someone wrote that, would it really make money? Actually, Entourage is coming out soon so we’ll see.

Moving over to a similar topic, I finally finally finally saw Boyhood this weekend. I love Richard Linklater. I like the Before Sunset movies. Slacker was a game-changer. Dazed and Confused is still a classic. But this film had gimmick written on it since it was first announced 15 years ago. Now to its credit, it was probably the most beautiful earnest gimmick in the history of gimmick cinema. But it was still a gimmick.

One of the indisputable strengths of the Hollywood film is its ability to suspend your disbelief. If you start your movie following a six year old boy, and then cut to ten years later where he’s now 16, but played by a different actor, nobody in the audience is going to say, “Oh man, those weren’t the same actors! It was so fake! They were different people! Faaaaake!” Different actors playing the parts of the same character through time is one of easiest things for an audience to buy into.

So why in the world would you film a movie over 15 years to mask something that doesn’t need masking? That people already buy into? UNLESS. Unless you want the making of the movie to be a part of the movie itself. And if you’re doing that, you’re achieving the exact opposite of what you set out to do – which is to suspend people’s disbelief. Cause now all they’re thinking about is the real life person playing the part.

Another irony is that once you take away the unique process of making of this movie, there isn’t a whole lot going on. It’s a kid growing up. And, sure, there’s a naturalism to it that you can argue draws you closer to the experience. But to me, all my fears going in were realized. This was a once-in-a-lifetime Frankenstein-esque experiment and I admire Linklater for trying something different. I just honestly think you could’ve made this exact same movie in four weeks. You wouldn’t get the same publicity you’re getting now for filming over 15 years. But the film itself would be the exact same.

Finally, some of you have written in wanting me to discuss the Oscar screenwriting nominations. The Oscars have always been an interesting topic because I’m not sure the people voting for the winner always know what they’re talking about.

What I’ve found is that, in the case of Adapted Screenplay, the nod usually goes to the script dealing with the most intense social or political issue, regardless of it’s the best script or not. So last year, 12 Years a Slave won when Philomena was a far better screenplay. But one was about slavery and the other an old woman looking for her child. The year before Argo won when, I think, Silver Linings was the better script. In 2009, Precious won when I think Up in the Air was the better screenplay.

On the original screenplay end, the Academy tends to favor scripts that are the most different, regardless of the quality of the script itself. And I think that’s because people in this industry genuinely respect anyone who’s able create something unique inside a business model designed to churn out the exact opposite. So last year, the one-sided romance “Her” won, even though I think both American Hustle and Blue Jasmine were better screenplays. Django Unchained rightfully won the year before that, as it hit that sweet spot of being both different AND the best screenplay of the pack. The year before that, Woody Allen’s weird time-travel film, Midnight in Paris, won, which was likewise a deserving spot.

This year, Birdman is favored, mainly for that same reason. Now do I think Birdman deserves to win the Oscar this year? I think by this point you all know what my feelings are about the Birdman script. I thought it was awful. And I think the only screenplay it’s better than in the nominations is Boyhood. Foxcatcher, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Nightcrawler are all far better scripts that show real skill and understanding as far as how to write. Birdman is like a wonky fever dream and that doesn’t demonstrate skill in my eyes. But if the Academy votes the way it has been voting, it looks like Birdman will win.

With that in mind, here are the nominations for best original and adapted screenplays and my thoughts on each:

Best Original Screenplay Nominations

Birdman – Zaniness without form. Commendable for its chance-taking, but that’s the only thing it has going for it.

Boyhood – I’m not sure I’d even consider this a screenplay. It’s more like a documentary. Having said that, it’s easily the most unique writing experience of the five entries, as Linklater had to keep rewriting the script over many years to include what was going on in the world. Not sure how that will favor into voters’ minds, nor do I know if they’re even aware of this. In the end though, it’s too simple of a story to win any awards.

Foxcatcher – This has the second best character of all the entries, in Steve Carrel’s John Du Pont. It’s a very understated screenplay but a master class in below-the-surface tension. It’s not all “LOOK AT ME!” like Birdman, which is one of the reasons I liked it so much.

The Grand Budapest Hotel – It’s hard to judge Wes Anderson on his writing alone, since his directing is inexorably linked to everything he puts on the page. While I don’t think this is his best work, this is the best mythology he’s created yet.

Nightcrawler – This is the screenplay that deserves the Oscar hands down. It’s got the best character by far. It moves like lightning. The structure is perfect. The dialogue is top-notch. It doesn’t have the same buzz as Birdman because the directing is so much better in that film. But as a pure screenplay, this crushes Birdman.

Best Adapted Screenplay Nominations

American Sniper – The fact that this is even in the running for an Oscar is a joke. It’s a very boring screenplay highlighted by a fairly interesting character. I hope the Academy isn’t fooled by this film’s mega-success. As words on the page, this is very average screenwriting at best.

The Imitation Game – If the Academy knows what they’re doing, this is the script that should win. It not only has a great central character, but the way it jumped back and forth in time and made a subject matter interesting without the benefit of expanding into the larger picture of the war (at least in the script – we don’t see the war happening) – that’s real skill there.

Inherent Vice – I’ll be honest, I haven’t seen this. But I hear it’s a complete mess. We live in a world where Paul Thomas Anderson gets a screenwriting nomination whenever he makes a film so this is probably taking up the slot of a more deserving screenplay.

The Theory of Everything – I haven’t seen this either so I can’t comment on it. But let’s be honest. The only chance this had at winning is if Stephen Hawking had died before the voting started.

Whiplash – I’m happy that the Academy nominated such a small movie. I don’t love Damien Chazelle as a writer, but this script does have some good things going for it, particularly the character of drum instructor, Terence Fletcher. It goes to show that if you write one lights-out memorable character in your screenplay, your script is going to get some heat.

So which scripts weren’t included but should’ve been? I don’t think there’s any question that Gone Girl should’ve been in there. The Fault in Our Stars may have been teen fare, but it was a really good script. I don’t know about the movie, but St. Vincent was a great script. That’s one of the weird things that hamper this competition. A good script can be screwed up by a first-time director or a bad casting choice, which means a lot of the best scripts go unrecognized. And I think Chef should’ve been in there as well.

Then again, that’s what’s so fun about analyzing this stuff. Everybody has their own opinions. What do you guys think? Which scripts should win it all this year?

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I’ll start today’s Amateur Offerings out by offering a couple of tips.  It’s funny because the things I assume are common sense are mistakes I keep seeing over and over again.  First, when you’re submitting a script anywhere, don’t start your e-mail with “To Whom It May Concern.” Know where and who you’re sending your script to and address them personally. In a world where people are so busy that they’re looking for every excuse to say no, an informal greeting gurantees your query won’t be read. In addition to this, please know the difference between words like “it’s” and “its” and “who’s” and “whose.” I will, without hesitation, dismiss these queries as soon as I read the misused word. This may seem cruel. But my experiences have taught me that these are always the sloppiest scripts.  Okay, here are this week’s contenders!  Read and tell us what you think in the comments.

Title: New Coke
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Premise: In 1985 the Coca-Cola company made the epicallly boneheaded decision to discontinue its original flavor in favor of a newer, sweeter one. A national nightmare ensued, which forever changed the destinies of three southern families.
Why You Should Read: It’s a mostly true story about one of the most fascinating marketing cases of modern times. Yes, it could be considered a long commercial for Coca-Cola, but it worked out for “The Lego Movie”, didn’t it?

Title: Wars of Eternal Spring
Genre: Martial arts/Asian epic
Logline: A rebellious-minded woman in ancient China seeks the help of Shaolin to save her village from a love-obsessed General and his bloodthirsty Captain.
Why You Should Read:  I’m a 44 year-old soccer mom who secretly loves kung fu. There are a lot of us out there – sneaking into Man of Tai Chi after the lights go down; snagging a $5 copy of Ip Man at 2nd & Charles so the Netflix queue stays “clean.” Every day we chauffeur, tend, cook, coordinate and cajole while desperately longing to settle things with a swift scorpion kick.

“Wars of Eternal Spring” took shape after the perfect storm of a “fu-binge,” Robert Downey, Jr. interview and spur-of-the-moment Google on “Wing Chun style.” Not long afterwards I read that Keanu Reeves was looking for his “next story” to direct. Filling needs is practically my raison d’etre these days, so the off-hand words of a man I’m never likely to meet were more than enough to fuel a feeble flame and get writing.

I gave myself a year. I even told my therapist. In between writing bouts I read screenplays and books on creative processes, story structure and character development. I searched high and low for a critique group. All the while I worked, re-worked and started to get a sense of how much time, realistically, writing anything worthwhile takes.

I believe that the biggest room in the world is the room for improvement. Your professional, experienced review would go a long way toward helping me do that. Thanks in advance for your consideration.

Title: Lights On The Lake
Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller
Logline: When a young woman fails to convince a small town that a former Nazi scientist is responsible for the death of her husband, she decides to destroy the menace herself.
Why you should read: I’ve spent a few years researching MK-Ultra and other Cold War mind control experiments from the early-1950’s. What I found most fascinating was the shadowy personnel employed by the government agencies as well as the strong resistance of the local populations, even though many of them where being completely misled by authorities.

Title: West Carver High
Genre: Horror
Logline: After all the teachers of a small-town high school disappear out of thin air, the students find themselves trapped in the building with man-eating wendigos… and no one is coming to save them.
Why You Should Read: You know what I hate in horror films? Dumb teenagers. I’d like to think this script is mostly absent of that, at least as far as “hey guys let’s put ourselves in danger because reasons!” I also wanted to capture how a group of teenagers would react in the face of an extraordinary, otherworldly event with no adult oversight. In this case, much of the student body reacts in a horrifying way: by building and supporting a monstrous social hierarchy just as threatening as the “real” monsters hiding in the school. I pitch it as in the vein of THE SHINING and LORD OF THE FLIES. Oh, and one more thing: an older draft of this made the semi finals in the Creative World Awards — so I’d love your perspective to help bring this script to the next level. Thank you!

Title: Condemned
Genre: Horror
Premise: Controlled-demolition experts tasked with bringing down an eerie grand hotel awaken the deadly supernatural force inside, putting them into a fight for their lives to escape (It’s the Overlook Hotel from THE SHINING meets explosive experts).
Why you should read: Since our last Amateur Friday appearance, we’ve been working hard to hone our craft and learn from our shortcomings on THE HOSTAGE. Have we made forward progress? We’re hoping Scriptshadow fans would like to know! Our latest collaboration, CONDEMNED, works in the same low-budget horror realm as THE HOSTAGE, but (hopefully) has richer characters and more satisfying surprises. Is the second time the charm? (Although, to be clear, the first time was definitely a charm–Scriptshadow got that script optioned.

I was going to do my yearly post of the best movies of the year, but you know what? I don’t wanna. “Best Of” lists are boring to me right now. And if I’m bored, then my posts are definitely going to be boring. So instead, I’m going to share some screenwriting advice with you. Now that excites me. Helping all of you become better writers. For those who just have to know, however, here are my Top 10 films without explanation.

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10)Captain America: Winter Soldier
9) The Equalizer
8) Blue is the Warmest Color
7) Guardians of the Galaxy
6) In a World
5) John Wick
4) Gone Girl
3) The Skeleton Twins
2) Philomena
1) Jodorowsky’s Dune

Did not yet see: Nightcrawler, Boyhood, The Imitation Game, Foxcatcher, Lucy, Whiplash.

Now let’s talk about something that can actually help you. How bout a hefty dose of DIALOGUE ADVICE? Yeah! Nobody offered you that over the Christmas holiday, did they? You see, the other day, I was giving notes to a writer, and the dialogue in the script wasn’t up to par. Dialogue is always the hardest thing to help a writer with because it’s the subtleties that make it or break it. And most subtleties are intrinsic, making them hard to dissect and explain. This is what people mean when they say some writers have an “ear” for dialogue. What they really have is an ear for the subtleties of conversation.

So I had to take a few hours off, go through old sets of notes, pick out tips I’ve given before, look for new solutions specific to this writer’s problems, and package it all in a way that would help this writer dramatically improve his dialogue. The end result was more comprehensive than I expected, so I thought I’d share it with all of you. With that, here’s what I wrote…

The big weakness here is dialogue. There are too many on-the-nose, melodramatic and cliché lines. Here’s an example from Hunter and his son, Nicky (note to readers – part of the backstory here is that Hunter’s wife died).

Nicky: “Wish I could’a protected her that day…”
Hunter: “Me too, Nicky… me too.”

Let me ask you this. Is there any doubt that father or son wished they could’ve done more to save mom? Of course not. Therefore, to say it out loud is the definition of “on the nose.” This is followed by an extremely cliché echo-line. “Me too, Nicky… me too.” The echo-line has been used so many times throughout history that by this point, it’s only used as parody. I’ve personally seen the guys on South Park use it endlessly. Stay away from on-the-nose lines (characters saying exactly what they think/feel) and any line you’ve seen used more than a handful of times in other movies/shows.

Here’s another line (note to readers: our protagonist, Colin, accidentally killed a child while trying to save a group of people. Claire, our romantic interest, has just tried to convince Colin that it was an accident and there’s nothing else he could’ve done).

Colin: “He was just a little boy, Claire! His whole life ahead of him.”

Take note of how familiar and melodramatic this line is. It feels like something out of a soap opera. Also, once again, we know he was a little boy. We know he had his life ahead of him. Therefore, stating it out loud is on the nose and obvious. If you find your characters saying exactly what they’re thinking, exactly what they’re feeling, or anything that’s obvious, you’re probably writing bad dialogue. So how do you make this line better? In this instance, I wouldn’t have had Colin respond at all. As Claire tries to convince him it was an accident, I would’ve had him take it in. A look of frustration or disagreement, then, is all you need to convey his feelings on the matter. Often times, the absence of dialogue is the best dialogue option.

Overall, the dialogue here needs to be more unpredictable. It needs to be more natural and messy. Moving forward, I would suggest studying dialogue on a much deeper level. Start by writing down all your favorite dialogue-centric movies, then reading those scripts and noting where you liked the dialogue, then trying to figure out WHY you liked the dialogue. For example, a writer whose dialogue I’ve come to enjoy always inserts a unique phrase where a generic one would typically be. So instead of writing, “Joe went bar-hopping,” he might write, “Joe’s down at the strip of broken dreams.” Yet another writer reminded me how important specificity is when it comes to dialogue. A character shouldn’t say, “I need cereal.” He should say, “I need Tony the Tiger.” Paul Thomas Anderson, who many consider to be a dialogue master, says he rarely lets his characters finish sentences. He constantly has them interrupting before the other character finishes, as that’s more like real life.

I would go to coffee shops and eavesdrop and write down, verbatim, what people are saying to each other. Pay attention not just to what’s being said, but what’s being implied, aka, the subtext. “That’s a nice new purse,” doesn’t always mean, “That’s a nice new purse.” It might mean, “Looks like your sugar daddy’s treating you well.” Compare all this dialogue to your own dialogue. Figure out why yours doesn’t have the same naturalism.

I would spend every day writing a few practice dialogue scenes. Experiment. Take chances. Be creative. For example, write an entire scene with dialogue you’ve never heard before. Write an entire scene focused on subtext. Write an entire scene focused on suspense. Compare your scenes to scenes from professional scripts and note the differences. Pay specific attention to word choice.  What words are the professionals using that you’re not?

Try to create scenarios where there’s conflict or tension between characters, as both result in more interesting conversations. Create secrets for your characters, so there’s subtext to what they’re saying. For example, in your script, Claire tells Colin right off the bat that she’s dying. Instead, what if you only give this information to the audience, and now when she meets Colin, she DOESN’T tell him she’s dying. Now the dialogue will be a lot more interesting. We’ll fear for Colin as he falls for Claire, knowing he’ll be devastated when he finds out the truth. Dialogue is one of those things, unfortunately, that doesn’t have a quick fix. It’s the culmination of a lot of small discoveries. But it’s not an area you can hope readers will overlook. Bad dialogue is one of the easiest ways to identify an amateur screenplay, so you have to put a lot of effort into getting it right.

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I’m hearing a lot of complaining on the internets. The Black List is fixed. The Black List is a jack-off session with agents nominating each other’s clients (I don’t even think the agencies vote, do they?). I would like to remain above the cynicism if possible. It’s still a celebration of screenwriting and for that we should be excited, even though they did leave off the best script of the year in Hot Air. I mean I know for a fact that the first sentence of that screenplay is better than the entirety of the atrocity known as Moonfall. But no one’s bitter here. No one’s bitter.

I do have a bone to pick with you though – YES YOU! – Scriptshadow readers. You had the opportunity to discover one of the Black List scripts during Amateur Offerings but you passed it over! More on that later. But yeah, I may have to ground you at the end of this post. I’m adding something new to this year’s thoughts as well. The “Want-to-readabilty Factor.” I’ll grade, on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the highest) how interesting the script sounds to me based on the given information. It’s going to be all sorts of fun. Like a party in your margins. Are we ready? On to the list!

51 VOTES
CATHERINE THE GREAT 
Writer: Kristina Lauren Anderson
Genre: Period
Premise: Sophia Augusta takes control of her life, her marriage, and her kingdom becoming Russia’s most celebrated and beloved monarch: Catherine the Great.
Thoughts: A worthy number 1. The writing is not sludgy like most period pieces and the characters are fascinating. Anderson does an amazing job taking us through 10 years of Catherine’s life without it ever feeling laborious or too long. This thing read as fast as the screenplay for Buried. All this from a script that I expected to bore me to tears.
Want-to-readability Factor: Already read.

38 VOTES
ROCKINGHAM
Writer: Adam Morrison
Genre: ???
Premise: A look into the mania of the OJ Simpson trial, through the eyes of Simpson’s sports agent Mike Gilbert and Los Angeles Police Department Detective Mark Fuhrman.
Thoughts: I don’t know anything about Morrison and I haven’t heard about this script until today. He appears to have written something called “The Chateau Meroux” about a struggling winery. It did have the benefit of starring the super-hot Marla Sokoloff, but one look at the poster tells us it’s not exactly Netflix-queue worthy. The only way something like this works is it shows us a really unique angle of the OJ Simpson event that nobody’s ever covered before. Otherwise, this is going to feel very dated.
Want-to-readabilty Factor: 3

35 VOTES
THE SWIMSUIT ISSUE
Writer: Randall Green
Genre: Comedy
Premise: A nerdy high schooler, who fancies himself an amateur photographer, attempts to create a “Swimsuit Issue” featuring his high school classmates in hopes of raising enough money to go to summer camp.
Thoughts: From The Hit List – “Randall is a recent graduate of Columbia University’s MFA Screenwriting program, he’s currently writing the live-action reboot of “Scooby Doo” for Warner Brothers.” The Swimsuit Issue sounds okay but I expect something with higher stakes than “to go to Summer Camp.” But it’s the highest comedy on the list and therefore probably pretty good.  Or at least I’m hoping it is.  It’s been awhile since I’ve read a good comedy.
Want-to-readability Factor: 5

34 VOTES
THE BABYSITTER
Writer: Brian Duffield
Genre: Comedy-Thriller-Horror
Premise: A lonely twelve year old boy in love with his babysitter discovers some hard truths about life, love, and murder.
Thoughts: I like Gersh (Duffield’s agency). They always seem to snag the writers with the most unique voices. As you all know, I’m a huge Brian Duffield fan. He’s written two scripts on my Top 25, Your Bridesmaids is a Bitch and Monster Problems. He’s also got a movie coming out with Natalie Portman. But I’m a little surprised this landed so high on the list. It felt a little rushed. I think his scripts are so readable though that people in the industry just love them.
Want-to-readability Factor: Already read.

32 VOTES
ROTHCHILD
Writer: John Patton Ford
Genre: Black Comedy?
Premise: A young, well-educated loner kills the members of his mother’s estranged family one-by-one in hopes that he will inherit the family’s vast fortune.
Thoughts: Ford graduated from both USC AND AFI. So he’s got the best Hollywood education money can buy. This sounds like it could be good. The structure is right there in the premise. You can see the movie clearly. While dark comedies that finish on the Black List tend not to do well at the box office, they’re a great choice for writers looking to get noticed, since the Black List loves them.
Want-to-readability Factor: 6

30 VOTES
THE WALL
Writer: Dwain Worrell
Genre: Thriller
Premise: A sniper and his spotter must kill and avoid being killed, separated from an enemy sniper by only a 16x6ft prayer wall.
Thoughts: This is that script that Amazon Studios bought – their first full-out purchase of a spec. The writer was working in China barely getting by when the script sold. He also benefitted from selling this right before the Black List came out. These late-in-the-year specs tend to have an advantage on the Black List in a town of short memories.
Want-to-readability Factor: 7

25 VOTES
THE CASCADE
Writer: Kieran Fitzgerald
Genre: Real-life Thriller?
Premise: Based on the documentary style film “The Day Britain Stopped” directed by Gabriel Range, an oil tanker collides with an Iranian patrol boat in the Strait of Hormuz, triggering a chain of tragic disastrous events.
Thoughts: Fitzgerald is a writer to watch. He’s got a movie out right now, The Homesman, about a man tasked with bringing a group of women across the dangerous plains of the old west. And he’s working with Oliver Stone on the Edward Snowden movie. I’m not a really a fan of these politically charged films though, so I’m unfortunately not aching to read this one.
Want-to-readability Factor: 3

24 VOTES
AETHER
Writer: Krysty Wilson-Cairns
Genre: Thriller
Premise: In near future London, a revolutionary technology has been invented that can record sounds hours after they were made. Detective Harry Orwell, inventor of this technology, is part of a pilot program where investigators record and analyze past sound waves and finds himself the prime suspect while investigating a string of brutal murders.
Thoughts: lol. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the writer herself didn’t write this logline. This appears to be written by someone who doesn’t even know what a logline is. I mean, there are like 17 things going on here, most of which make no sense. At the same time, this whole “delayed sound” idea is so bizarre that I’m kinda interested. Wilson-Cairns is from Scotland and this script placed on the Brit List earlier this year. She’s also adapting “The Good Nurse” for Aronofsky.
Want-to-readability Factor: 6.5

24 VOTES
SITUATION COMEDY
Writer: Cat Vasko
Genre: Comedy
Premise: A young woman, feeling directionless, stumbles upon a mysterious courtyard where she is transported into a sitcom-like universe, becoming a major character on this “TV show.”
Thoughts: This sounds a little like that canceled FX Charlie Kaufman pilot, “How and Why.” Vasko is a journalist who sounds a little bit like the lead character from this script. Hard to tell if this will be any good or not based on the logline.
Want-to-readability Factor: 4

23 VOTES
TAU
Writer: Noga Landau
Genre: Horror-Sci-Fi
Premise: A woman held captive in the futuristic smart house of a serial kidnapper realizes that her only hope of escape lies in turning the house’s sentient computer against its creator.
Thoughts: This one might sound familiar as it placed on this year’s Blood List as well. According to The Tracking Board, Landau placed in both the Page and Zoetrope screenwriting contests before landing here on the Black List.
Want-to-readability Factor: 6

18 VOTES
ECHO
Writer: Chris MacBride
Genre: Drama-Thriller
Premise: A CIA drone coordinator battles his own psychological health while trying to decipher whether his wife has been replaced.
Thoughts: I watched MacBride’s previous film, “The Conspiracy,” which starts off as a documentary and turns into a found footage thriller. It was a good idea but it wasn’t quite convincing. This one, however, sounds a little deeper, even if the logline is terribly written (note to newbies: The writers rarely write their loglines for the Black List. Agents and managers are notified at the last second that their clients’ scripts are making the list and are asked for a logline. This is why a lot of these loglines are so badly written. Because they’re written by people who don’t know how to write them).
Want-to-readability Factor: 5

18 VOTES
MENA
Writer: Gary Spinelli
Premise: In the late 1970s to mid 1980s, Barry Seal, a TWA pilot recruited by the CIA to provide reconnaissance on the burgeoning communist threat in Central America finds himself in charge of one of the biggest covert CIA operations in the history of the United States, one that spawned the birth of the Medellin cartel and eventually almost brought down the Reagan White House with the Iran Contra scandal.
Thoughts: This was one of the year’s biggest sales. Ron Howard came aboard and packaged it to Universal, and they paid a hefty 7 figures for it. It sounds like a fascinating character. It’s just really hard for me to get behind anything Ron Howard does these days. Then again, it at least looks like he’s stretching himself here and trying something different.
Want-to-readability Factor: 4

17 VOTES
DODGE
Writer: Scott Wascha
Genre: Action-Comedy
Premise: A genre bending action comedy about a pill popping thug who begins to develop superpowers.
Thoughts: I was saying this the other day in my Amateur Friday review. We definitely need new angles on superheroes, and one of the only fertile areas left in that space is comedy. So I’m all for ideas like this. This one, however, seems to be moving away from the big screen and over to television, where it’s being re-packaged as a pilot. Interesting.
Want-to-readability Factor: 6

17 VOTES
NORTH OF RENO
Writers: Banipal Ablakhad, Benhur Ablakhad
Genre: Crime-Thriller
Premise: A down and out prison guard attempts to murder a recently released inmate and steal a half million dollars in hidden heist money.
Thoughts: This one sold not too long ago to New Line. The writers, and brothers, sold one other spec a couple of years ago called “Blacklisted.” “North of Reno” looks to have a better shot at getting made though. As you future successful screenwriters will learn, the first thing you sell rarely gets made. Everyone’s secretly afraid to produce a first-timer. Once you sell your second or third script, though, they start trusting you and give you a shot.
Want-to-readability Factor: 5

17 VOTES
ON THE BASIS OF SEX
Writers: Daniel Stiepleman
Genre: Biopic
Premise: The story of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, as she faced numerous obstacles to her fight for equal rights throughout her career.
Thoughts: The subject in the script is the writer’s aunt. He’s also a former screenwriting teacher. Hey! Those who can’t do, teach… and then it turns out do as well. As you all know I’m not the biggest biopic lover, so this isn’t high on my list. But I did unexpectedly like Catherine The Great, so who knows?
Want-to-readability Factor: 3

16 VOTES
MOONFALL
Writer: David Weil
Genre: Sci-fi
Premise: The investigation of a murder on a moon colony.
Thoughts: Oh no.  Just, oh no. I’m sorry but this script was awful. After being virtually ignored when agents first sent it out, they re-branded the script “Fargo on the moon” and somehow got Darren Aronofsky to quasi-commit to it (I’m pretty sure he’s no longer involved). The script sold and now 16 people have to explain why in the world they voted for this. It was so sloppy, so badly researched, so badly written, I have no idea how this script is getting any attention.
Want-to-readability Factor: Already read.

16 VOTES
THE MUNCHKIN
Writer: Will Widger
Logline: A little person private eye investigates the disappearance of a young actress in 1930s Hollywood, leading him to uncover conspiracies involving THE WIZARD OF OZ and Metro Goldwyn Mayer brass.
Thoughts: This is the most interesting sounding script on the list thus far – the first script to have some actual irony in the logline. True, it’s very reminiscent of the Michael Mann Leonardo DiCapro project that covered a similar premise, but making the private eye a little person is the ingredient that gives this the edge.
Want-to-readability Factor: 8

15 VOTES
MATRIARCH
Writer: Eric Koenig
Premise: A prison psychologist has 48 hours to convince a serial killer to tell her the location of her final victim before she is executed.
Thoughts: As I brought up in my newsletter, I’ve been reading Eric’s scripts for a couple of years now. I watched him get better and better. I even sent out one of his scripts to a couple of my contacts who said “no go.” They’re probably kicking themselves right now. I’ll republish Eric’s advice to other screenwriters I put in the newsletter: “My advice to writers trying to sell a spec, which we’ve all heard a thousand times but it’s the absolute truth, is just don’t give up. It takes an unwavering belief and optimistic attitude that it WILL happen one day. ‘When’ it happens varies from writer to writer. For some, the lucky ones, it’s the first draft of their first script only six months into the game. For others, the majority of us, it takes years. For me, my personal process of improving my craft to the point of selling Matriarch, was writing. And writing. Then a little more writing. And then, when I wanted to take some time off, I did some more writing. I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t read a lot of scripts, but I have gotten more than my money’s worth from my copy of Final Draft (I’m actually trying to break it). This entire time, with every polite rejection notice I received (yes, there were MANY), I just kept telling myself, “It will happen. It will happen. It will happen.” Don’t. Give. Up.”
Want-to-readability Factor: 9!

15 VOTES
THE DEFECTION
Writer: Ken Nolan
Premise: After the Edward Snowden affair, an intelligence contractor defects to North Korea, taking a mysterious bag with him, and the CIA hires an expert trained during the Cold War to help with the case.
Thoughts: This one sold to Fox after a bidding war. But Nolan’s not new to success. He wrote 2001’s Black Hawk Down. The question is, where has he been in the meantime? He wrote a TV mini-series called “The Company” in 2007. But between Black Hawk and now, he doesn’t have any other credits. Maybe, just maybe, he’s been spending all these years working on this spec!  Which…would…mean he’d have to had predicted the Edward Snowden thing but hey, I’m trying to give the guy the benefit of the doubt here.  Work with me.
Want-to-readability Factor: 5

15 VOTES
THE LONG HAUL
Writer: Dan Stoller
Genre: Drama
Premise: A self-destructive trucker estranged from his son travels cross country with a problematic nephew whom he barely knows.
Thoughts: Despite knowing these types of scripts are almost impossible to turn into movies in this box office climate, a part of me still loves a good 1 on 1 character piece. You have to get the right characters though. There has to be that perfect mix of conflict and tension between them. I thought Hot Air, which got left off this  list, was a great example of that. Hopefully, The Long Haul is too.
Want-to-readability Factor: 7

14 VOTES
BERLINER
Writer: F. Scott Frazier
Genre: Thriller
Premise: As the Berlin Wall is being constructed at the height of the Cold War, a veteran CIA agent searches for a Soviet mole who has already killed several fellow agents, including a young agent he’s mentored.
Thoughts: It’s great to see F. Scott Frazier still pumping out specs. He’s one of the fastest writers I’ve ever seen. And it’s gotten him ongoing projects at like 3 or 4 studios. It’s ridiculous. Despite the subject matter not being my thing, I’m always interested to see what he comes up with.
Want-to-readability Factor: 7

14 VOTES
ONE FELL SWOOP
Writer: Greg Scharpf
Premise: A self-centered divorce attorney’s life takes an unexpected turn when he is guilted into spending time with the family of a one night stand who dies in a freak accident.
Thoughts: I’m not a hundred percent sure what’s going on in this logline (how is the character being a divorce attorney relevant to the unique situation of someone dying in a freak accident? I feel like there’s a missing component here that the writer could help clear up). With that said, I enjoy scripts that take on the challenge of a unlikable protagonist so I’m intrigued by this one.
Want-to-readability Factor: 7

13 VOTES
BIRD BOX
Writer: Eric Heisserer
Genre: Horror
Premise: A woman tries to lead her children to safety after the world is invaded by monsters who turn you insane upon sight.
Thoughts: This is the script that finished number 1 on this year’s Blood List. Heisserer has been having a Heissonasance lately, moving up the Hollywood screenwriting ladder with solid drafts of just about everything he writes. And he’s been writing a ton. My favorite script of his is still “Story of Your Life.” I’m not thrilled about this concept (monsters that turn people insane upon sight?) but I’m thrilled about anything Heisserer writes.
Want-to-readability Factor: 7

13 VOTES
HUNTSVILLE
Writer: Anthony Ragnone II
Genre: Drama-Thriller
Premise: A girl tracks down the man responsible for her father’s death and avenges him.
Thoughts: Whoa whoa whoa whoa. Is this a cover logline? The Tracking Board has this written as: “In a sleepy southern town a man with a haunted past encounters an attractive young woman who moves in next door.” Neither incarnation makes this sound unique. But the guy did work for Alan Ball. That alone gets him a notch up on the “readability” factor.
Want-to-readability Factor: 4

13 VOTES
IN THE DEEP
Writer: Anthony Jaswinski
Genre: Thriller
Premise: A lone surfer attacked by a shark and stranded on a reef must find a way back to shore before succumbing to her injuries.
Thoughts: This one sold in that big bidding war recently. As you know, I’m not a big Jaswinski fan. With that said, this is a good premise and probably his best script. Sony better hope so at least. They need some good news these days.
Want-to-readability Factor: Already read.

13 VOTES
THE FOUNDER
Writer: Rob Siegel
Genre: Biopic
Premise: The origin story of McDonald’s and Raymond Albert “Ray” Kroc.
Thoughts: Really?  Now an origin story about the creator of In and Out.  Titled “Double Double?”  THAT I would go see.  This sounds as boring as a Mcdonald’s cheeseburger minus the pickles.
Want-to-readability Factor: 2

13 VOTES
THE SEARCH
Writer: Spencer Mondshein
Genre: Thriller
Premise: An expert tracker battles his demons while on a journey to rescue his estranged older brother who has vanished in the uncharted wilderness of the Northwest.
Thoughts: Mondshein’s success isn’t going to encourage anyone who believes Hollywood runs on nepotism. Both his parents have been nominated for Academy Awards and he was an assistant on Boardwalk Empire.  If the script’s great though, none of that matters.
Want-to-readability Factor: 4

13 VOTES
YELLOWSTONE FALLS
Writer: Daniel Kunka
Genre: Action
Premise: After an apocalyptic event, a mother wolf is separated from her mate and the rest of the pack, and has to protect her cubs from swarms of mutated humans.
Thoughts: I remember the rumors that ran rampant when this script sold for a bajillion bucks. There was no dialogue. It was only 50 pages long! Whatever the case, it’s easily one of the most interesting sounding loglines on the list. In an industry where not many people take chances, this is a chance-taking idea.
Want-to-readability Factor: 8

12 VOTES
SYNDROME (E)
Writer: Mark Heyman
Genre: Thriller
Premise: A detective solving the case of a disturbing film with subliminal images that is killing people who come in contact with it discovers a greater evil.
Thoughts: I remember when this was a big writer assignment. The producers wanted a great writer to take on the material. And they got one in Heyman, who wrote Black Swan and co-wrote one of my favorite movies of the year, “The Skeleton Twins.” I’ll be checking this one out for sure.
Want-to-readability Factor: 8

11 VOTES
BEEF
Writer: Jeff Lock
Genre: Comedy-Thriller
Premise: The manager of a fast food chain in Muncie, Indiana gets in over his head with some bookies.
Thoughts: Strangely enough, this writer ALSO worked as an assistant on Boardwalk Empire. For all we know, this might be a secret back-door way onto The Black List. This one is supposed to be like Fargo. So despite the bare-bones premise, I will check it out.
Want-to-readability Factor: 5

11 VOTES
BLACK WINTER
Writers: Jonathan Stewart, Jake Crane
Genre: Thriller
Premise: On the eve of a US-Soviet disarmament treaty, a British scientist and a NATO medical investigator discover a secret Soviet plot to unleash a terrifying biological weapon.
Thoughts: It’s hard to discern from this logline whether this is taking place during the Cold War or during the present day. Each version would result in a totally different story.
Want-to-readability Factor: 3

11 VOTES
CARTOON GIRL
Writer: Randall Green
Genre: Comedy
Premise: When a young boy finds out that the cartoon character he’s in love with is based on a real girl, he drags his single father on a road trip to track her down.
Thoughts: I like this premise. It’s one of the more clever ones on the list. I think what readers and producers are constantly looking for is that premise that’s a little off in left field, but still marketable, and this is that. I really hope I’m drawn into the story.
Want-to-readability Factor: 8

11 VOTES
ROAD TO OZ
Writer: Josh Golden
Genre: Biopic
Premise: The early days of brilliant, whimsical author L. Frank Baum, who gave the world The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
Thoughts: I’m going to wish the writer luck here, but these “early years of famous author” scripts aren’t my thing. They seem almost obligatory at this point. If someone tells me this is awesome, I’ll read it. Otherwise, I’m clicking my red shoes and wishing to go home.
Want-to-readability Factor: 2

10 VOTES
BIG TIME ADOLESCENCE
Writer: Jason Orley
Premise: A sixteen year old virgin with a growth deficiency slowly gets corrupted by his hero, an aimless college dropout.
Thoughts: A growth deficiency WHERE?? That’s an important detail.
Want-to-readability Factor: 3

10 VOTES
LBJ
Writer: Joey Hartstone
Genre: Biopic
Premise: Lyndon Johnson goes from powerful Senate Majority Leader, powerless Vice President to President of the United States following the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Thoughts: There’s no doubt LBJ’s story is an interesting one. It’s just not interesting to me.
Want-to-readability Factor: 2

10 VOTES
POSSESSION: A LOVE STORY
Writer: Jack Stanley
Premise: In a seemingly perfect marriage, a man discovers that he is actually wedded to a demon inhabiting another woman’s body.
Thoughts: A man discovers he’s wedded to a demon inhabiting another woman’s body? As in another woman besides his wife? In that case, wouldn’t the demon not be inhabiting his wife’s body? Sounds like another botched logline. Stanley landed on last year’s Black List with his female assassin spec, “Sweetheart.” That script got him the coveted high profile job of writing Chronicle 2. So let’s not rule this script out yet!
Want-to-readability Factor: 5

10 VOTES
THE SECRET INGREDIENTS OF ROCKET COLA
Writer: Mike Vukadinovich
Genre: Drama
Premise: Twin brothers with opposite personalities are separated at a young age and go on to live drastically different lives, eventually being reunited in the effort to save the company ‘Rocket Cola’ despite their love of the same woman.
Thoughts: Vukadinovich is a good writer. You may remember that I recently reviewed his script, The Three Misfortunes of Geppetto. That was a wacky script and this sounds sort of wacky too. I’ll definitely give it a go.
Want-to-readability Factor: 7

10 VOTES
THE SHOWER
Writer: Jac Schaeffer
Genre: Action-Comedy
Premise: At a baby shower for their longtime friend, the attendees suddenly find themselves in the middle of a different type of shower: meteors that release a vapor turning men into blood-hungry aliens.
Thoughts: Is this a true story? Men already are blood-hungry aliens. Schaeffer wrote and directed Timer, which became a sort of underground hit due to it being the only new comedy on Netflix for, like, an entire year. This sounds a little silly to me though.
Want-to-readability Factor: 3

9 VOTES
CELERITAS
Writer: Kimberly Barrante
Genre: Sci-Fi
Premise: When a missing astronaut crash lands forty years after he launched having not aged a day, his elderly twin brother helps him escape the NASA scientists hunting him. As the government closes in, neither brother is who they claim to be.
Thoughts: Okay, I’m always down for a good sci-fi flick. Let me just say though, there are a lot of writers out there who come up with these fun sci-fi premesis, but then they half-ass the execution. They don’t clean up all the holes in them, and they pass off the burden of understanding to the reader. Like, “You’re supposed to figure it out.” Give me a tightly wound sci-fi script and I’m in like an expensive bottle of Gin.
Want-to-readability Factor: 6

9 VOTES
I AM RYAN REYNOLDS
Writer: Billy Goulston
Premise: An inside look at the marriage, career, and mental state of 2010’s Sexiest Man Alive.
Thoughts: I LOVED this premise when it came to Amateur Offerings and left it up to YOU GUYS to make it an official review selection. And what did you do?? You PICKED SOMETHING ELSE! How could you?? Together, we could’ve been the discoverer of I Am Ryan Reynolds. Come on guys. This can never happen again.
Want-to-readability Factor: 8

9 VOTES
JACKPOT
Writer: Dave Callaham
Genre: Comedy
Premise: After a group of bumbling teachers win a large amount of money, their greed and incompetence put them on a hilarious path toward death and destruction.
Thoughts: I don’t know where Callaham found the time to write this as he’s been busy writing huge assignements like Godzilla and Zombieland 2 and all the Expendables movies. This one sounds like it could be good. Hopefully it will be a screenplay “jackpot” if you catch what I’m meaning (note that “Jackpot” is the title of the script if you didn’t get my joke).
Want-to-readability Factor: 8

9 VOTES
PLUS ONE
Writer: April Prosser
Genre: Comedy
Premise: Just out of a long-term relationship and realizing that all her friends have married, Rachel discovers that her only remaining wingwoman is Summer, a loud and oversharing wildcard.
Thoughts: This was one of those big end-of-the-year script sales. Prosser got her start as a TV writer’s assistant and now seems to be moving into the much more glamorous feature world. I’ll give this one a shot. An over-sharing wingwoman sounds hilarious.
Want-to-readability Factor: 7

9 VOTES
WONKA
Writer: Jason Micallef
Genre: ???
Premise: A dark, reimagining of the Willy Wonka story beginning in World War II and culminating with his takeover of the chocolate factory.
Thoughts: Now this one sounds f&^%$ng interesting. Probably the weirdest most intriguing idea on the list. I was not a fan of Micallef’s first Black List script, Butter, and the subsequent movie. But this one sounds totally different. This will be high on my to-read pile.
Want-to-readability Factor: 9

8 VOTES
BEAUTY PAGEANT
Writers: Evan Mirzi, Shea Mirzai
Genre: Comedy
Premise: After they unwittingly get their daughters disqualified from the child beauty circuit, two warring stagemothers are forced to go head to head in an adult beauty pageant.
Thoughts: This premise feels a little forced. Evan and Shea continue to beat out scripts that make the Black List though. For me, the jury’s still out on them. Here’s to hoping that changes with Beauty Pageant.
Want-to-readability Factor: 4

8 VOTES
BISMARCK
Writer: Jared Cowie
Premise: As Britain struggles through the darkest hours of World War II, a naval officer, raw from the loss of his ship during the evacuation of Dunkirk, is thrust into the thick of the hunt for the Nazi superbattleship, Bismarck. Based on a true story.
Thoughts: I’ll be honest. This logline didn’t do anything for me until “superbattleship.” Now I want to read it. I don’t know what the hell a superbattleship is. But I wanna know!
Want-to-readability Factor: 7

8 VOTES
MORGAN
Writer: Seth W. Owen
Genre: Comedy
Premise: A corporate risk management consultant is summoned to a remote research lab to determine whether or not to terminate an at-risk artificial being.
Thoughts: This logline isn’t quite coming together for me. Actually, I don’t understand it at all. Someone explain it to me and I’ll assign a readability rating then.
Want-to-readability Factor: ?

8 VOTES
SHADOW RUN
Writer: Joe Gazzam
Premise: A viral attack puts lives in danger, forcing a CIA agent to initiate a secret prisoner exchange of Russia’s most notorious spy for the American scientist who can create a cure.
Thoughts: Okay, this sounds like it could be pretty good. Gazzam sold this spec and another one, Replay, this year. So he’s doing all right.
Want-to-readability Factor: 5

8 VOTES
THE BRINGING
Writers: Brandon and Philip Murphy
Genre: Horror
Premise: A private investigator investigates a mysterious murder at a downtown Los Angeles hotel and uncovers its dark supernatural history. Based on true events.
Thoughts: The Murphys caught some heat after this sale, as some in the industry said they were exploiting a woman’s death. But the real exploiting here was in the messy script’s second half. Talk about a script falling apart.  It really is a freaky story though and would make a great movie. So I hope they figure it out.
Want-to-readability Factor: Already read.

8 VOTES
THE TAKEAWAY
Writer: Julia Cox
Genre: Romance-Thriller
Premise: A young, play-it-safe, art restorer is swept up in a whirlwind romance with her charming boss, who turns out to be a world class thief.
Thoughts: Another writer’s assistant (Parenthood) making waves. Got to aim for those assistant jobs people. This sounds very… not geared towards me.
Want-to-readability Factor: 3

7 VOTES
BLINK
Writer: Hernany Perla
Premise: Years after being fully paralyzed during an infamous bank robbery, a man is taken hostage for the secrets in his head. His only form of communicating with the outside world – and outsmarting his captors – is his ability to blink.
Thoughts: This just sounds impossible to build an entire script around. For that reason alone, I want to read it.
Want-to-readability Factor: 6

7 VOTES
BOSTON STRANGLER
Writer: Chuck MacLean
Genre: Drama
Premise: In the 1960s, a determined detective puts his life and career on the line to solve the case of the Boston Strangler.
Thoughts: Could work as a companion piece to Zodiac. Looks like MacLean broke out with this script. He’s got no former experience in the industry.
Want-to-readability Factor: 5

7 VOTES
ERIN’S VOICE
Writer: Greg Sullivan
Genre: Drama
Premise: A deaf computer genius’ world is thrown into turmoil when he meets a troubled coffee shop waitress whose voice turns out to be the only thing he can miraculously hear.
Thoughts: Do you hear that? That’s me being not so sure about this script. Sorry, that isn’t true. I just wanted to make that joke. Sullivan studied screenwriting at UCLA. At least that’s what I heard (I’ll be here all night).
Want-to-readability Factor: 4

7 VOTES
EVERYONE WANTS EVERYTHING
Writer: Abraham Higginbotham
Premise: As his life reaches its neurosis-inducing midpoint, a married man asks himself an eternal question with no real answer — “Am I living the life I want to be living, or do I need to start over before its too late?” Torn between two lives, he’s forced to do the one thing he doesn’t want to do — make a choice.
Thoughts: Abraham gets points for best last name on the list. I sense even Benedict Cumberbatch would feel jealous about this name.
Want-to-readability Factor: 4

7 VOTES
GIFTED
Writer: Tom Flynn
Premise: A thirty year old man attempts to continue raising his deceased sister’s seven year old daughter, a kid-genius, while battling his own mother for custody.
Thoughts: FINALLY, a logline that solidly coveys the major source of conflict in the screenplay. Other agencies take note! Maybe that’s why Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer, Amazing Spider-Man) has made this his next film.
Want-to-readability Factor: 8

7 VOTES
MANCHESTER-BY-THE-SEA
Writer: Kenneth Lonergan
Genre: Drama
Premise: An uncle is forced to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy’s father dies.
Thoughts: Not enough info but Longergan is known for, among other things, that 8 year debacle of his movie, Margaret, that became a giant clusterfuck for everyone involved. Will be interesting to see if he’s redeemed himself.
Want-to-readability Factor: 7

7 VOTES
MERC
Writers: Andrew Bozalis, Derek Mether
Genre: Thriller
Premise: When a disgraced former soldier finds success by working for a private security company, the illegal tactics the company employs challenges his worldview.
Thoughts: Some Edward Snowdenism going on here. Again, not a politically-charged type of guy so I’ll have to let it go… let it gooooooo.
Want-to-readability Factor: 3

7 VOTES
PROFESSOR PASGHETTI
Writer: Jeff Feuerstein
Genre: Comedy
Premise: A famous children’s author, with an affinity for drugs and hookers, finds himself on a journey of self-discovery with a dead stripper and her eight year old son.
Thoughts: This is the only logline that made me laugh. Well, I Am Ryan Reynolds made me laugh a long time ago when YOU GUYS SHOULD’VE PICKED IT FOR AMATEUR FRIDAY. But this is the only one that made me laugh today.
Want-to-readability Factor: 8

7 VOTES
THE EDEN PROJECT
Writer: Christina Hodson
Genre: Sci-Fi
Premise: When a race of genetically modified humans living secretly among us declare war on Man, the fate of the world is in the hands of a rogue “Synthetic” named Eve and a young girl who is about to discover she’s not all human.
Thoughts: This was that big sale that was built up as a potential trilogy for a female actress. It was a pretty decent script, although a little on the light side. Then again, the same can be said for Divergent, and that’s doing well.
Want-to-readability Factor: Already read.

7 VOTES
UNCLE SHELBY
Writers: Brian C Brown, Elliott DiGuiseppi
Genre: Biopic
Premise: The little-known personal, heartbreaking, and darker side of cartoonist/author Shel Silverstein.
Thoughts: This logline just sounds sad.
Want-to-readability Factor: 3

6 VOTES
A GARDEN AT THE END OF THE WORLD
Writer: Gary Graham
Premise: In a post-apocalyptic world, a recluse, trying to recreate trees to produce new life, takes in a young girl who is on the run from some bad men, including her father.
Thoughts: I’ll basically read anything post-apocalyptic, and actually, I’ve been meaning to read this one for awhile. A true “unknown writer-to-spec-sale” situation.
Want-to-readability Factor: 7

6 VOTES
COFFEE & KAREEM
Writer: Shane McCarthy
Genre: Comedy
Premise: An overweight, foul-mouthed nine year old reluctantly teams with the straight edge cop sleeping with his mom to take down Detroit’s most ruthless drug lord.
Thoughts: When I read this logline, I imagined them digitally pasting Kevin Hart’s head on a 9 year old’s body. Now THAT I would pay to see.
Want-to-readability Factor: 6

6 VOTES
FORGIVE ME
Writer: Max Hurwitz
Genre: Biopic
Premise: How Mike Wallace helped to create 60 Minutes and how years later, he confronted and dealt with his own depression.
Thoughts: Ugh, I hope I never see this and Uncle Shelby back to back.
Want-to-readability Factor: 1

6 VOTES
IN REAL TIME
Writer: Chai Hecht
Genre: Drama-Sci-Fi
Premise: A young man convinced that his mentally unstable sister needs to relive her high school prom from ten years prior to overcome her depression goes to great lengths to recreate that event.
Thoughts: Last year on the Black List, cancer was hot. Now it’s depression! This feels too much like a Gray’s Anatomy episode for me. But fear not. The Tracking Board has an almost completely different logline: “A man creates the illusion of time travel in an attempt to revisit one pivotal day in his life.” That sounds cooler. The writer graduated from USC’s screenwriting program. I’m seeing a lot of writers coming from these programs on the list.
Want-to-readability Factor: 5

6 VOTES
IN THIS, MY DARKEST HOUR
Writer: Bryan McMullin
Genre: Drama
Premise: A man rises to power during the California gold rush, tearing his family apart.
Thoughts: What’s strange here is that McMullin is an actor who appears in lot of schlocky reality television. Yet this premise sounds like something Paul Thomas Anderson would make. Looks like McMullin is hiding a dark side!
Want-to-readability Factor: 4

6 VOTES
MONEY MONSTER
Writers: Alan DiFiore, Jim Kouf, Jamie Linden
Genre: Comedy
Premise: After a man loses all his money in the stock market by following the advice of a Wall Street TV host, he takes the money adviser hostage on live television.
Thoughts: This sounds funny! I’m in!
Want-to-readability Factor: 8

6 VOTES
MY FRIEND DAHMER
Writer: Marc Meyers
Genre: Drama
Premise: Based on the acclaimed graphic novel by John Backderf, Jeffrey Dahmer struggles with a difficult family life as a young boy and during his teenage years he slowly transforms, edging closer to the serial killer he becomes.
Thoughts: They made a graphic novel… about Jeffrey Dahmer???? I don’t even know how to react to that. It’s definitely got the curiosity factor going for it though.
Want-to-readability Factor: 5

6 VOTES
SEDUCING INGRID BERGMAN
Writer: Arash Amel
Genre: Romance
Premise: Based on Chris Greenhalgh’s eponymous novel. Ingrid Bergman and war photographer Robert Capa engage in a passionate, life changing romance in post-World War II Paris.
Thoughts: This sounds like something geared towards my parents.
Want-to-readability Factor: 2

6 VOTES
THE BEAUTIFUL GAME
Writer: Zander Lehmann
Genre: Drama
Premise: A high school soccer star’s personal life becomes complicated leading up to his championship game as he develops a relationship with his soccer coach.
Thoughts: Is the coach a man? A woman? The answer vastly changes the landscape. Either way, I hope he scores.
Want-to-readability Factor: 5

6 VOTES
THE MAN IN THE ROCKEFELLER SUIT
Writer: David Bar Katz
Genre: Drama
Premise: The story of Clark Rockefeller, a con artist thought to be American royalty until he kidnapped his young daughter initiating a manhunt that revealed his true identity.
Thoughts: I’ve heard about this guy before. A crazy story. This might actually make a good movie. I can see a lot of actors wanting to play him.
Want-to-readability Factor: 7

6 VOTES
THE WILDE ONES
Writer: Tyler Shields
Premise: In a corrupt Southern town, a dangerous sociopath runs bareknuckle boxing fights that pit its youths against each other.
Thoughts: See this is what I was hoping for as opposed to a script like Southpaw, which takes too straight-forward of a look at boxing. You gotta approach subject matter in a unique way!
Want-to-readability Factor: 6