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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.


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.


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!

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.

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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: ?

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

benedict-cumberbenedict-the-imitation-game-movie-posterIs The Imitation Game a movie? The answer might surprise you.

There I was, skimming through the comments last week, when I spotted one that caught my cornea. The comment was from a writer who had asked his director friend what he thought of the Black List. There were some good scripts on there, the director friend conceded, but not a lot of MOVIES.

Not a lot of “movies?” What was that supposed to mean? Aren’t all scripts written to be movies? What was this strange director friend of a friend of a commenter talking about?

What he was talking about is that not every good script makes a good movie. That’s because good movies aren’t only about stories. Movies are about imagery and ideas and action and adventure and sound. There was a time long ago when people went to the movies because they could take them places they’d never be able to visit otherwise.

It’s a lot easier to see the world these days with the internet and a thousand outbound flights to Europe every day. But the spirit of this statement is still true. A movie has to give people something they can’t have in real life, something outside of the norm.

Look at the Star Wars trailer, which, no, I have not watched 117 and a third times since Friday. Who gave you that information? There’s a sense of “action” in each of the shots presented. The characters need to get somewhere. We’re on other planets seeing things we’ve never seen before. We can’t get this kind of action or these kinds of worlds anywhere else but in the movie theater.

On the flip side, you have films like Garden State and The Skeleton Twins. These aren’t movies. They’re glorified 90 minute TV shows – talking heads going through issues. With the line between TV and film blurring more every day, it’s become even harder to justify these “movies.” They’re not giving us anything we can’t see on our television sets.

I’ll never forget what an agent told me when I first got here, which is that people are going to pay MILLIONS OF DOLLARS to produce your screenplay. So what are you going to show the world that’s worthy of those millions? If it’s just two people chatting about how life is difficult, your financers are going to wonder why you need 2 million bucks. Why not just shoot it on a Best Buy camera for nothing?

Let’s get more specific. What is it that makes a script a “movie script” and not simply a “good screenplay?” Here are seven things that will help you determine just that. Your script doesn’t have to hit all of these points. But it should hit most of them.

1) A large scope – Movies are supposed to feel larger than life. So the scope should feel bigger than normal.

2) The script falls within one of these movie-friendly genres: horror, sci-fi, action, adventure, thriller, period.

3) The script doesn’t fall within one of these non-movie-friendly genres: Straight drama, coming-of-age, political, romance (unless you’re Nicholas Sparks), and satire.

4) Your script is something we can’t get anywhere else but in the movies (dinosaur parks, for example).

5) Can you easily imagine the trailer?

6) Is the script something a director would be eager to direct? (I bet there wasn’t a line of directors out the door wanting to helm “Obvious Child.”)

7) There’s a lot more action (and by action I mean characters doing things, not just stunt action) than there is talking.

With this newfound knowledge, let’s look at five Black List loglines and determine if they’re “movie” ideas or just well-written screenplays. I want to make something clear. I am in no way passing judgment on the scripts themselves. In fact, I haven’t even read any of them. We’re just trying to determine the script’s viability as a movie.

Hot Summer Nights
Logline: A teenager’s life spirals out of control when he befriends the town’s rebel, falls in love, and gets entangled in selling drugs over one summer in Cape Cod.

It sounds like the main character is quite active in this, which is good. The drug trouble stuff implies some moving around (movement is good – it’s not called a “move” “ie” for nothing). But the scope here feels too small. I don’t see any directors getting excited over this. They made the similar “Toy’s House,” last year, a script that I liked. And the film was pretty good too. But nobody saw it because it was, you guessed it, not really a movie. If you turned this into a straight comedy, a la Superbad, that’s a different story. Mainstream comedies are always movies. But this doesn’t sound like that.

I’m Proud of You
Logline: A journalist looking for a story about television’s role in the Columbine tragedy interviews TV’s Mr Rogers and, as a friendship develops between the two, he finds himself confronting his own issues at home.

I mean put yourself in a director’s shoes. Is there anything at all in this logline that would make you want to direct this film? Any powerful imagery? Any action? Anything unique to do on the filmmaking end? My guess is no. This sounds like a very slow-moving sad character piece, which are anti-movies.

The Line
A corrupt border crossing agent must decide what is more important — saving his soul or inflating his bank account — when he discovers a young illegal boy who escaped a cartel hit on the border between the U.S. and Mexico.

I’m seeing the word “slow” in my head every time I read this logline. “Slow” and “movie” don’t go together. Movies must have a sense of urgency, of people needing to do things. Here, it sounds like a lot of sitting around, a lot of characters discussing their pasts, their feelings, their shitty situations. Since “slow” is usually synonymous with “boring,” this doesn’t feel like a movie to me.

Logline: After his girlfriend dies in a car accident, a man finds his true soul mate, only to wake from a coma to learn his perfect life was just a dream — one he is determined to make real.

My first thoughts are that this isn’t a movie. Seems more like indie actor bait. With that said, the premise is cleverer than the others, and it leaves the viewer with a compelling question (Does he find his soul mate?) that may entice them to see the film. But getting people to the theater doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve created a movie. If the shots are still static. If the style is still basic. If there’s not a lot of movement or urgency, then fancy premise or not, you still don’t have a movie.

Diablo Run
Logline: While on a road trip to Mexico, two best friends are forced to enter a thousand-mile death race with no rules.

Boom! Finally, we have a movie! Look at the elements involved.  A dangerous country.  Good!  “Forced.”  That means characters must do things against their will (conflict!). “Race.” That means cars and lots of action. “Death.” That means the stakes will be high, with competitors wanting to kill one another. Go ahead, imagine the trailer. It’s way clearer than any of the above ideas, right? That’s a good sign that you’ve written a movie.

john_boyega_official_star_wars_verge_super_wideThe Force Awakens: Definitely a movie!

Now this isn’t always a clear cut thing. Some scripts are stuck between these two extremes. We don’t know if they’re movies until we see them on the big screen. After the studios grab all the best material (the material that results in the best movies), this “unclear” material is out there for the pickins and second-tier producers have to gamble on each horse, hoping they’re a movie.

The Imitation Game script is a perfect example. It was about World War 2, but the majority of the scenes took place in small rooms with characters talking to each other (dreaded “talking heads”). Again, people talking in rooms is about as exciting as watching fish bake. Any schmoe can buy a camera and record people in rooms. There’s no action. There’s no vision. It’s static. Audiences don’t like to pay for these films because they don’t see anything movie-like about them.

Now I still haven’t seen The Imitation Game, but I’m guessing one of the first things they did when they rewrote it was to look for ways to make it more of a MOVIE. Can we show some of these WW2 ships attacking each other instead of hearing our characters talk about them? Can we put our characters ON these ships?  Can we put them closer to the war so we can see more of the war?  Can we put them in a bombed city? Can we add a scene where the bombing comes close and they must run for their lives? This is how you turn an “almost movie” script into a movie.

And look, I’m not saying that non-movie scripts can’t be good films. I loved The Skeleton Twins. I loved Philomena. I love Good Will Hunting. What I’m saying is that they’re infinitely tougher to sell because they’re not movies. They don’t have movie-like qualities. Take one of the greatest films ever – The Shawshank Redemption. That wasn’t a movie. It had some cinematic aspects to it. But it was guys talking in a prison.  Now you might say, “Carson, now you’re just straight up trippin.  Shawshank not a movie?? You’re off your rocker!”  Okay, well then let me ask you this.  Where were all of you when the movie came out?  Cause you didn’t show up at the theater.  The Shawshank Redemption bombed gloriously at the box office because people saw that trailer and went, “That’s not a movie.  That’s a lot of sad people chatting in jail.”

The reality is, in this day and age, with TV getting bigger and theatrical releases favoring flashy more extravagant movies, there’s less and less room for these non-movie screenplays. So you have to think long and hard about what you want to spend the next six months on. You can write a “movie” and get a lot of interested parties when you’re finished. Or you can write a “script” and make things really hard on yourself.

If you think this advice is bullshit (I’m sure some of you do) and still prefer writing “scripts,” I’d strongly suggest making your script yourself. The one advantage with non-movie scripts is that they’re cheaper to shoot. It’s typically just a camera and actors. It’s actually a good thing no one will give you money because it’ll force you to go out and make it on your own.  And who knows?  If the characters are fascinating and the plotting’s great, it might end up being one of the few “non-movies” (i.e. American Beauty) that make some noise. But if I were you, I’d stick with movies.  It’s so much easier to get your script noticed when you’ve written a movie.  ☺

Get Your Script Reviewed On Scriptshadow!: To submit your script for an Amateur Review, send in a PDF of your script, along with the title, genre, logline, and finally, something interesting about yourself and/or your script that you’d like us to post along with the script if reviewed. Use my submission address please: Remember that your script will be posted. If you’re nervous about the effects of a bad review, feel free to use an alias name and/or title. It’s a good idea to resubmit every couple of weeks so your submission stays near the top.

Genre: Biopic
Premise (from writer): After the entire Kringle clan is murdered, Santa’s illegitimate son is forced to save his least favorite holiday from a menagerie of supernatural fuckwits.
Why You Should Read (from writer): My name’s Otis J. Kringle and I’m not a screenwriter — I’m fucking Santa Claus. Hang on, that came out wrong, as I am not actually “fucking” Santa — that would be weird and (as you’ll see) necrophilia. More like, I AM Santa Claus. I didn’t used to be, mind you. Truth be told, I’ve always considered Christmas to rank somewhere between getting a colonoscopy from Edward Scissorhands and watching FAILURE TO LAUNCH on a neverending loop. But alas, events unfolded that led me to pick up the jolly red mantle, events like stealing a UPS truck, getting thrown in jail, stepping in reindeer shit, throwing down in fisticuffs with Frigid Bitch and Jack Frost, riding flying lions, massive mall sing-a-longs, things of this nature. I know, right? I was pretty amazed, too. So amazed, I felt the need to share and find an outlet for my story (and movie, because who doesn’t love a new Christmas flick?), namely ScriptShadow. What can I say — I read your site, love the shit out of your site, and as far as I’m concerned, this makes it to a Friday review, everybody who reads your site will be put on the Nice List this year. Even Grendl. I know when you’re sleeping and when you’re awake, — Otis J. Kringle
Writer: Otis Kringle
Details: 97 pages


It’s rare that we get a screenwriter who writes a story based on his own life, which means we should consider today a treat. What makes this even specialer is that our writer appears to be related to Santa Claus.  I’m still working on verifying this but I’m 2-4% sure that it’s true.  And with the Christmas shopping season starting up next week, what better time to celebrate a Santa-inspired screenplay?  Or a Santa-gets-slaughtered-inspired screenplay?

Now I must say that all this murder and mayhem hinted at in the logline has me worried. I’m a Christmas purist. I watch It’s A Wonderful Life every year on Christmas Eve. I download that Band-Aid song and listen to it on repeat. I even purchase egg nog despite the fact that I hate it, just so I can look at it in my fridge and feel festive. Is Otis Kringle about to ruin all that?

In a word, yes.

In another word: “fisting.” As in we’re told on page 1 to go fist ourselves.

Now I’m no doctor, nor do I play one on the internet. But I’m pretty sure that’s physically and biologically impossible.  Gonna do a WebMD search on this later to make sure.

Our loser hero, Otis Kringle, the man responsible for telling us to fist ourselves, happens to be the illegitimate son of Santa Clause, who apparently slipped down Otis’s mother’s chimney many years ago, injecting her with many presents.

This will become important later after a dingbat elf in the North Pole named Dunbar Capp sings a song from a cursed book called the Santanomicon. He thinks he’s being jolly. But all he does is release Jolly Klaus, Santa Claus’s long lost half-uncle.

The axe-wielding Jolly slices up Santa along with the rest of his family, then demonizes Rudolph so that Rudolph can slaughter all of Santa’s reindeer.

Lucky for the planet, Dunbar and Blitzen get away and fly to America, where they approach Otis, the bastard child of Santa, to inform him that he’s the only one who can save Christmas. And the planet.

All he has to do is sing a song from the Santanomicon and Jolly will be sent back to the Badlands for another 1500 years. The problem is, all the songs are in another language, which poor Otis can’t read.

Complicating measures are Jack Frost and the Frigid Bitch, an oversexed couple who have likewise been stuck in purgatory for hundreds of years. Being freed allows them to have sex again and boy do they take advantage of it, even singing a song about all the sexual positions they’re going to enjoy together, which number at least a hundred.

Will Otis Kringle, who tells his story in first person, except when we’re around other characters, be able to save the day? Will you be able to save yourself after venturing into a story that introduces the world to the term “cunt brisket?” There’s no way to know for sure unless you read Otis Kringle Hates Christmas. And then fist yourself.

I hear that this Christmas, NBC will be debuting a live Peter Pan musical inspired by wholesome family values and the power of song.  If, for whatever reason, this show gets cancelled, I’m sure “Otis Kringle Hates Christmas” can take its place.  They’re practically the same movie.  I mean, Peter Pan has a song about taking a literal exposition dump, doesn’t it?

Look, I think Otis has problems. He seems a tad angry. And that anger has manifested itself in a script more focused on shock value than story. Shock is a funny thing. It can work in small doses. One need look no further than South Park to see that.  But it’s hard to make work if that’s the only thing you’re giving the audience for two hours.

South Park is actually a good gauge for how to make shock work. Underneath all its shocking humor, there’s an undeniable love South Park has for its characters. That love translates over to you loving the characters, and going along with whatever shenanigans, no matter how crass or dirty, the characters find themselves in.

I’m not sure Otis Kringle the writer has that same love for his characters (which is ironic, considering he is one of the characters), which prevents us from ever really connecting to Otis, Dunbar, and Blitzen. We get crass instead of heart.  Swears instead of cares.  And that creates a wall between reader and character that extends not just to the story, but to the comedy.

And this is why comedy’s the most subjective of all the genres. Everybody needs something different to laugh.

I need to care about the characters to laugh. I believe laughs come from stakes, come from us caring what’s on the line for the characters. And we can’t care about what’s on the line if we don’t connect to the characters in the first place. For example, in Neighbors, I really FELT the importance of our hero’s need to raise a family. So I cared that this frat next door was disrupting their world. And that’s what allowed me to laugh when they kept failing at their goal.

But I concede that not everybody feels this way. For a lot of people, a funny joke is a funny joke, regardless of whether you give a shit about the people involved in the joke. Otis Kringle graduated from the Kevin Smith school of comedy, where the jokes are based on nasty, on disgusting, on shocking and awing your reader.  I’m not going to put that comedy down.  All I can say is it’s not for me.

With that said, this script has a mission. And that’s to get your attention. And the easiest way to get people’s attention is to be loud and bold, and Otis Kringle is the loudest script I’ve read in years. Throw in some rule-bending (first person writing!), a bizarre mythology,  and some snowflake-infused writing talent, and this script will find some fans.

It’s just that for me to become a fan, I have to see that love between writer and character.  I need to feel at least some depth in our hero.  Sometimes as writers we get so carried away with trying to do that one thing we set out to do when we conceived of the script, that we overlook other basic storytelling components required to make a script work.  Otis may have had tunnel-vision in trying to make this that big attention-grabbing script, preventing him from remember that you still have to move people, you still have to make the audience feel something at the end.

The part of me that loves writers who take chances gives this a Millineum Falcon Lego Set present. But the script purist in me gives this a 25 dollar gift certificate to Best Buy.  Hey, at least it’s not coal, right??

Script link: Otis Kringle Hates Christmas

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

What I learned: It’s really hard to keep a reader invested for 100 pages on shock alone. I’m sure it can be done, but that means continually one-upping yourself with something even MORE shocking every 10 pages. I wouldn’t want that assignment.


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TITLE: Partners In Crime
GENRE: Action, Comedy, Crime
LOGLINE: Busted for smuggling drugs to bankroll their flight home, two spring breakers escape jail time by becoming a snitch for a DEA agent to take down a Mexican drug lord.
WHY YOU SHOULD READ: I wanted to write a fun, commercial movie and I believe that I succeeded. I would compare this farcical comedy to such past hits as 21 Jump Street and Pineapple Express. I hope you enjoy!

TITLE: Escaping Freedom
GENRE: Drama
LOGLINE: A Gestapo agent is mistaken for a Jew and sent to Auschwitz to fight for his life.
WHY YOU SHOULD READ: I’m the only one that finds myself amusing. I like no walks on the beach. I’m an ex-gangleader for a Chicago black gang, even though I’m white – and that’s not a joke – this has equipped me to write about some strange characters in life and writing probably saved my life. And I’ll retire before I start a career in screenwriting if you don’t read this script. That was a joke. Had to try. — Why should this script get read? If nothing more than the Auschwitz victims are dying yearly and they have less a film of remembrance than ever before. They had five minutes in “Schindler’s List,” why not give them a full movie to warn future generations of what man’s capable of doing? It’s a script the size of War & Peace, but a little shorter than an Aaron Sorkin film. While the characters are fictional, the crimes and timeline of events are historically accurate…

GENRE: Sci-Fi Thriller
LOGLINE: An agent with a CIA-like agency of the future struggles with his tragic past while on a mission to prevent the emergence of a perilous new technology.
WHY YOU SHOULD READ: THE MATRIX meets THE AVENGERS meets SIN CITY is how I would pitch ACCELERATOR. I think a lot of what ultimately motivates writers is that we find ourselves getting bored with our favorite genres and decide we can do a better job. That was certainly the case with this script. ACCELERATOR’s the kind of sci-fi thriller that would get me to the multiplex.

TITLE: Rocket Surgery
GENRE: Coming of age
LOGLINE: A lovesick twelve-year-old boy must use his dad’s inventions to stop a monster he accidentally unleashed on his town while deciding between the girl of his dreams and the girl who loves him.
WHY YOU SHOULD READ: Reading Carson’s pleas for someone to write an original script loaded with GSU, unique characters, a solid plot and at least one wacky character, I set out to tackle this challenge. If I had to describe this script, which I am, I’d say it is a little like Gremlins with the tone of Back to the Future. I wanted it to be a fun ride for those of us who love getting lost in movies.

GENRE: Biopic
LOGLINE: After the entire Kringle clan is murdered, Santa’s illegitimate son is forced to save his least favorite holiday from a menagerie of supernatural fuckwits.
WHY YOU SHOULD READ: My name’s Otis J. Kringle and I’m not a screenwriter — I’m fucking Santa Claus. Hang on, that came out wrong, as I am not actually “fucking” Santa — that would be weird and (as you’ll see) necrophilia. More like, I AM Santa Claus. I didn’t used to be, mind you. Truth be told, I’ve always considered Christmas to rank somewhere between getting a colonoscopy from Edward Scissorhands and watching FAILURE TO LAUNCH on a neverending loop. But alas, events unfolded that led me to pick up the jolly red mantle, events like stealing a UPS truck, getting thrown in jail, stepping in reindeer shit, throwing down in fisticuffs with Frigid Bitch and Jack Frost, riding flying lions, massive mall sing-a-longs, things of this nature. I know, right? I was pretty amazed, too. So amazed, I felt the need to share and find an outlet for my story (and movie, because who doesn’t love a new Christmas flick?), namely ScriptShadow. What can I say — I read your site, love the shit out of your site, and as far as I’m concerned, this makes it to a Friday review, everybody who reads your site will be put on the Nice List this year. Even Grendl. I know when you’re sleeping and when you’re awake, — Otis J. Kringle