Genre: Western
Premise: A group of cave-dwelling cannibal Indians abduct a woman. The race is on to rescue her before she’s turned into lady-stew.
About: S. Craig Zahler wrote an amazing script five years ago called “The Brigands of Rattleborge” that is still unmade. Blimey! My understanding is, like a lot of projects, it’s stuck in some development snafu that, even though the company who has it isn’t able to do anything with it, they’re not going to allow anyone else to do anything with it either. And this is why some great movies never get made. While Zahler’s written a handful of scripts since, it looks like he’s tired of the waiting game. So he’s doing what more people in this town should do – he’s taking his career into his own hands and directing Bone Tomahawk himself. This is one of the sweetnesses of being a great writer. Sooner or later, you’ll have the opportunity to hold people hostage with your talent. You say to them, “You get my hot script, but only if you let me direct it.” The project has secured a nice looking cast that includes Patrick Wilson, Kurt Russell, Matthew Fox, and Richard Jenkins. It comes out next year.
Writer: S. Craig Zahler
Details: 125 pages

Kurt+Russell+Entertainment+Weekly+CapeTown+MbGb2i5devslKurt Russell is bringing his Western-perfect face to Bone Tomahawk

Despite my being far from the biggest Western fan, Westerns always seem to end up in my Top 10. It’s doubly surprising that a script like “Brigands” would find its way there because it commits one of the cardinal sins of screenwriting – the rule everyone agrees you don’t break. And that’s excessive description.

Excessive description is saved for novels (which Zahler writes as well). In the screenwriting world, the goal is to move the reader’s eyes down the page as fast as possible. The huge distinction that so many writers forget is that while novels are the end of the line for that writing process, screenplays still have one step to go. They’re the “proof of concept” for the end of the line. Because so many other scripts are ALSO vying to get to the last step, readers and producers need to get through screeplays quickly, so they can go on to the next one.

But here’s why Zahler seems to get away with breaking this rule. A) He’s a writer who excels at description and B) he writes in the genre ideal for description – Westerns. Westerns require the writer to set a mood, a tone, to pull them back into that time and into that world. You need a little extra description to do that.

With that said, I’ve watched a lot of writers try to pull off the same thing and they’re just bad at it. They don’t focus on the right words or the right phrases. They’re clunkier, less imaginative. Description is about finding those power words that provide a perfect conduit to the moment and if you don’t have that talent, you don’t want to play in that sandbox. Which is fine, because for almost every other genre, you want to keep the description short and sweet.

Bone Tomahawk begins with two pieces of shit named Buddy and Purvis, who have just murdered a group of people. When they believe they hear others coming, they retreat to a nearby mountain to hide. Weaving their way through the mountain crevices, they find a bone-laden graveyard. Spooked, they try to get away, but not before an arrow pierces Buddy’s neck, an arrow with a tip made from a bird’s beak.

Purvis, the dumber of the two, hightails it out of there to the nearby town of “Bright Hope.” He’s immediately tagged as a suspicious character and, in a confrontation with the sheriff, shot. Samantha O’Dwyer, the local nurse, is brought in to clean the wound, but when a group checks on the two, they find them gone. In their place is another one of those bird-tipped arrows.

Samantha’s husband, Arthur, is pissed and wants to go after the kidnappers, but due to a recent accident is on crutches. Still, he convinces the local sheriff, an Indian hunter, and an older gentleman, Chicory, to let him come along and get his wife back.

So that’s what the four do. Well, sort of. The next 60 pages take our heroes through the endless plains of the old West as they track these cannibals back to their home. Along the way, they lose their horses, which means Arthur must stay behind. But as the others continue on, Arthur never gives up, vowing to save his wife.

To give you an idea of what I was saying earlier, here’s the first paragraph of Bone Tomahawk.

Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 11.53.48 PM

That’s a sure way to send the average reader packing. But I’m going to tell you why it works, at least in this instance. Read the first sentence again. That’s not just a description. That’s a story. Three men are dead, the blood still draining from their throats. Now had this only been description for description’s sake (no deaths), the paragraph would’ve been a tougher sell. But this is far from a boring paragraph.

Alas, I wish I could say the same about the rest of Bone Tomahawk. The script truly does start out great, with the murder, the emergence of these mystery cannibals, and with Samantha abducted. You’ve got all the elements in place for a classic GSU tale.

But Zahler went ahead and forgot the “U.” Once our characters are on their way, very little happens for a long time. It’s a strangely pedestrian exploration of the West, with most scenes limited to characters yapping away about trivial topics. For example, one scene centers on Chicory’s confession that he’s lousy at reading books in the tub, as the books keep getting wet. Far from edge-of-your seat storytelling.

When you send a group of people off on a journey, the drama needs to come from one of two places. Outside or inside. As cool as our bone tomahawk cannibals are, we see them a few minutes in the beginning, twenty minutes at the end, and that’s it. Bone Tomahawk runs into the most classic pitfall in all of screenwriting – the boring second act. And that’s because there isn’t enough happening. Not to our characters from the outside (their horses are stolen but that’s it) and not from the inside either.

Every once in awhile, characters would have a minor disagreement about something (“Why did you shoot at the Mexicans?”) but other than that, everyone seemed to be on the same page. If you’re not going to throw a lot of plot twists and plot points at us (exterior stuff), you need to create problems between your characters (interior stuff), either unresolved things arising from their pasts or issues that develop as they go (challenge to authority, differences in philosophy, people having breakdowns, etc.).

That was one of the great things about Aliens. Nobody agreed on anything. These disagreements caused tension and conflict which resulted in drama. This amongst a story that already had one of the most intense EXTERIOR conflicts in history – those terrifying aliens. That’s the way I’d prefer writers do it. Create conflict in both places, interior AND exterior.

Then again, I understand that this is a Western, and Westerns move at a different pace. That’s something I’ve never been completely comfortable with. I know, technically, that you’re supposed to allow Westerns extra time to build. But you have to put a limit on it at some point, right? There has to be mark on the dial where you say, “We need to go faster here.” I’m sure Western purists are going to be more forgiving of the pacing here. But for me, not enough happened in the allotted time.

Another curious aspect of Bone Tomahawk is that we’re not sure who the hero is. That’s a very “studio-ish” note. That you have to have a single hero. But it truly did hurt the read for me.

I assumed that Arthur (Samantha’s wife) was going to be our hero. But then he barely speaks on the journey, to the point where we often forget he’s there. The character who spoke the most and acted the most was the sheriff. So you’d think he might have been the hero. But his is the least personal journey here. He seems to be acting only out of duty.

Arthur does make a late push to lead the charge, but he’d been so absent by that point, that I was no longer invested in him.

I’m super-curious what Zahler is going to do as a director. He seems like a deep intense guy, sort of the screenwriting equivalent of Cormac McCarthy. With that being the case, I know he’s going to bring something extra to his vision. As a screenplay, though, Bone Tomahawk moved too slow for me, and didn’t have exciting enough characters to keep those slow sections entertaining.

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

What I learned: Yesterday we talked about the value of adding uncertainty to your story. The more certain the audience is of what’s going to happen, the more bored they’ll get. To me, these plains gave the story such an opportunity to create an endless thread of uncertainties. But everything pretty much went according to plan. Even the surprises (their horses getting stolen) were predictable. It’s really hard to keep the audience entertained when you’re not giving them anything they don’t expect.

  • websters

    Great review from Carson. Being massive fans of Cormac McCarthy and westerns of this style is great to see one up on here.

    From the synopsis I was always worried to see how the cannibals would work in this setting and style, but I guess they are the set up for the journey. It seems to me that the journey was meant to be the real story here, these different people colliding and having to band together so I am disappointed to hear that it doesn’t quite work

    I think the interesting thing is that this seems to be a film that relies
    massively on the execution. So if the actors are watchable, the cinematography
    impressive then it can compensate for some slow moving tangents in dialogue.

  • Levres de Sang

    “But I’m going to tell you why it works, at least in this instance. Read the first sentence again. That’s not just a description. That’s a story.”

    Brilliant! And a great lesson for those of us more novelistically inclined.

  • Andrea Moss

    Carson, I agree with you. See, the beauty in Aliens script is that NOTHING goes according the plan since the moment our heroes land in the planet. First, the Colonial Marines can’t use their weapons because the colonists are supposed to be in the terraforming station, a giant nuclear reactor that is basically, a non bulletproof H-bomb. Second, the Aliens have their nest there and our protagonists have their asses royally kicked out of Dodge City by these perfect killing machines and they need to evacuate the planet. Right. Now. Third, the rescue ship crashes and now they have to find a safe place before the Aliens can follow their trail. Fourth, when they are in the colony, it’s a matter of time that the nuclear reactor goes ka-boom because the fight between Marines and Aliens have damaged the core… See? It’s GO GO GO! from the first scene until the end. That’s master storytelling and the reason James Cameron has such success.

  • brenkilco

    There are westerns chock full of GSU. Just about anything by Anthony Mann. But Rio Bravo, which a lot of people would choose as the best western, is something like this. A two and half hour meander. Sure there’s action but mostly its the characters hanging out in a jail or a hotel, and yacking to each other. The ultimate strength of the film is the appeal of the characters and the actors. The fact that the audience enjoys spending time with them. All I remember about Lonesome Dove- except for that queasily intimate hanging scene- was laconic Tommy Lee Jones and loquacious Robert Duvall bickering with each other. But I recall I enjoyed it. This sounds like it’s that kind of western. Surprising it could get made today. With Russel and Jenkins on board I’d give it the benefit of the doubt.

    • filmklassik

      Yeah, BRAVO is pokey but fun, and LONSESOME DOVE is every bit as wonderful as its source novel. And you’re right: The chief appeal of DOVE (both the novel and mini-series) is the ribbing banter and unspoken affection between Gus and Call. I miss those guys.

    • astranger2

      I still feel Rio’s remake, El Dorado, is infinitely better in so many ways.

      Although the film is virtually a carbon-copy do-over, Mitchum’s portrayal of the drunk sheriff is far superior to Martin’s.

      The bar scenes where Mitchum is humiliated in front of the town, and his subsequent redemption are classic…

      … or maybe it’s only Charlene Holt that makes me feel so.

      • brenkilco

        God, Holt was good looking. But apparently, or really not so apparently, she was already close to forty when Hawks started casting her. Which probably explains why she didn’t do much else. Alas.

        • astranger2

          Yeah, it’s a shame we didn’t see more of Holt. She had a lot of sass and brass too that made Maudie a great add to that classic.

          And it is a shame Wayne and Mitchum didn’t collaborate more… but I think their egos got in the way.

          Mitchum thought Wayne a tad pretentious. And the Duke was notorious about other actors “upstaging” him.

          Reportedly, Wayne wasn’t real happy about Walter Brennan either, feeling the Oscar-winnning actor “stole” too many of his big scenes…

          • brenkilco

            If Wayne was sensitive about co-stars upstaging him, how did he manage to work with the notoriously egotistical Kirk Douglas twice?

          • astranger2

            I’m not saying he never worked with big stars. But he could be difficult.

            Mitchum said he always played the part — and there’s nothing wrong with that. Mitchum was unassuming, even in his acting ability, which most felt powerful.

            He chided Wayne for wearing lifts, despite his height. For always wearing his ten-gallon hats. For riding small stallions to emphasize his size.

            I know the Duke worked with Douglas, but other than an ensemble-cast in War Wagon I can’t remember a memorable collaboration.

            I do remember after Douglas starred in Lust for Life, Kirk said Wayne sent him a missive saying he shouldn’t take roles portraying “weak” men, as that’s not the staunch heroic man America expected from the two.

            I love the Duke. But like Marilyn, he’s a creation and a cultural icon… more than an actor.

          • brenkilco

            Wayne wore lifts? What was he six three? Now that’s insecurity. Always did feel a little sorry for his horses when he got older.He and Douglas also had a number of scenes together in big cast war film In Harm’s way. Thought they were funny together in The War Wagon, but that the prickly nature of the relationship might have been more than acting.

            Douglas: Mine hit the ground first
            Wayne: Mine was taller

            And Mitchum was always underestimated. Tried watching Ryan’s Daughter recently. Didn’t make it to the end. Miitchum is utterly miscast and still very good.

          • astranger2

            That dialogue exchange is great. Classic Wayne.

            Douglas is notoriously short. There was a film he starred in with Burt Lancaster, where Burt hid his lifts. Kirk was enraged.

            Mitchum was a phenomenal talent. No need to list all the great films he appeared in, but Cape Fear is one.

            Chillling portrayal.

            There is a dialogue scene early in Cape Fear where Mitchum just TALKS about an incident. After his release from prison, he finds his cheating wife, beats her, makes her swig down an entire bottle of bourbon, then throws her in the cold, dark, rainy streets — naked.

            That was all talky exposition — but Mitchum made it terrifying nonetheless…

            He also understood his limitations towards the end, suggesting to the producers of Patton they choose George C. Scott in his stead. And we now how that turned out… a rejected Best Actor Oscar…

  • hickeyyy

    With this, Hateful Eight, and Jane Got a Gun coming out next year, I really wish I had the Western I am in the middle of Act 2 on done NOW.

  • Brainiac138

    I read those “slow” scenes differently, Carson. I felt with the dread, and almost certain death coming to them, this was a really realistic way for the characters to show they trying to think about anything else then what is coming to them. I loved this script, a great mixture of horror, mystery, and western.

    • Randy Williams

      I was never a fan of westerns but my dad loves reading them and pushed them on me when I was a kid. That “dread” was a common refrain. Always, great doubt eating away at the characters, if that wind whistling off the plains was to be the death of them.

      I’m trying to instill a bit of that “dread” into a thriller my writing partner and I are working on.

  • mulesandmud

    I think it’s worth elaborating on what Carson says when he calls that first sentence a story.

    Let’s revisit:

    “Twining wisps of blue smoke rise from a dying campfire in the center of a clearing where three men lie in their bedrolls, staring at the sky with unblinking eyes, blood draining from their sliced-open necks.”

    A splash of blood is a great way to pique a reader’s interest, sure, but that’s not what makes this a story. The sentence is constructed dramatically, with multiple reveals and reversals.

    First the smoke, then a reveal of the campfire. A ‘dying’ fire – that’s foreshadowing. Then three men in their bedrolls. Hmm, I guess they must be sleeping – no, they’re staring at the sky. So they’re awake then. But wait – ‘unblinking’? If someone’s eyes are open but not blinking, then maybe they’re…oh.

    There’s a beginning, middle, and end here, just like any good script or any good scene, complete with unexpected turns that propel us toward the next sentence. We’re hooked, asking all the right questions. What happened? What happens next?

    There’s also tremendous visual logic at work, guiding us through the scene, calling our attention to the right things at the right moments. It reads like a single take, the camera panning down from the smoke, past the embers, across the bedrolls, then pushing into one of the men in a way that sees the open eyes first, the slit throat second.

    Or maybe you see it differently, which is fine. The point is, you saw it, just like it were already a movie, and the writer never once called a shot or a cut. If you want to direct on the page, this is how you do it. Clear, confident intention in every single word.

    • walker

      While I certainly agree with your main point about the technique for unobtrusively directing on the page, I still found this particular example from today’s script to be surprisingly inelegant and clunky.

      • mulesandmud

        Your prerogative, of course. Sounds like brenkilco was similarly irked. What bothered you specifically?

        I could level a few nitpicks myself, but ultimately the notes I’d give would be more a matter of personal taste than actual problem-solving.

        • walker

          Well now, I don’t want to appear as if I am slavishly beholden to the unwritten rules. As far as I am concerned they can be unwritten by any writer who can pull it off. But one thing that does bother me a bit is a palpable double standard where unknown writers are involved. Could any of us get away with something like that paragraph? Two long compound sentences; the description doubles the slug; twining, dying, staring, unblinking, draining, standing, holding, dangling (and that is leaving out “clearing” which is a noun, but is the word that repeats the slug); two character introductions in one sentence, and yet they are asymmetrical as brenkilco noted; their ages spelled out; a few oddball constructions (“sliced-open necks”). I think we would be butchered, by long knives stained with gore.

          • brenkilco

            Think an amateur would get a lot of eye rolling, rejecting, don’t call us’ing, we’ll call you’ing

    • JakeMLB

      I’m not sure this is a great example of visual writing. For one, by having it all in one sentence it makes the visual navigation extremely difficult particularly since it’s navigating multiple cuts within a single sentence. Most writers would break this into difference sentences or paragraphs to better guide the reader.

      We start on wisps of a dying fire. Fine. Then we’re told we’re in the centre of a clearing? So did we start on a CU of a smoke and the fire and then move wide? And then we’re told there’s three men in their bedrolls. So we started CU, then moved wide, then somewhat short enough to see the men in their bedrolls, then CU on their eyes and then moved down to their slit necks? Not exactly an elegant visualization, particularly since we’re asked to visualize all that within the moment we read it.

      Don’t get me wrong, the prose is nice and I know I’m nitpicking but that’s the point of your post. Typically you’d want to break your different shots into new sentences unless its one fluid visual, which I don’t think this is.

      • Kirk Diggler

        I don’t see it that way. He’s not ‘directing on the page’ as you seem to suggest. He’s describing the elements of the scene. You are inserting CU and wide shots where none are implied. Look at your statement here.

        “We start on wisps of a dying fire. Fine. Then we’re told we’re in the centre of a clearing? So did we start on a CU of a smoke and fire and then move wide?”

        Visualize it in any way you want. Are you telling me you can’t see the clearing AND the dying fire in the same shot? Because I can. But it doesn’t matter, because he’s not using CU or any other camera designation. He’s giving us the visuals he feels is important to set the scene. If he broke it up into different sentences would you like it any better? It doesn’t seem so, since your main objection is the inelegant cutting back and forth between CU and wide shots that the writer never indicates.

        • JakeMLB

          I don’t mind directing on the page, in fact as a screenwriter it’s one of your greatest tools. This is a visual blueprint, not a novel.

          The point is that when you infer in your prose various shots, which is what is being done here, visualizing them becomes difficult when you cram it all within a single sentence or paragraph. My brain doesn’t know in what order to process the information. You can’t describe a clearing with a campfire and three bodies whose throats have been slit AND THEN tell us Buddy and Purvis are standing over them. That doesn’t make sense visually and will trip some readers up. It’s a minor point but the best writers almost never commit these little visual hiccups.

          • Kirk Diggler

            “You can’t describe a clearing with a campfire and three bodies whose throats have been slit AND THEN tell us Buddy and Purvis are standing over them. That doesn’t make sense visually and will trip some readers up.”

            It didn’t trip me up. Certainly didn’t trip Carson up. It’s a stylistic choice whether to break your action lines up into individual bits. Some people do, some don’t. Sometimes breaking it up will help simplify things, but this writer, in my opinion, included all his elements in one smooth paragraph.

            And no, it’s not a novel, but note how the writer changes the readers expectations of what he thinks he’s seeing in just a few short sentences. That’s good writing.

          • JakeMLB

            If it works for you that’s fine but the writer didn’t change any expectations of what I was seeing because visually, if this were to be filmed as written, that wouldn’t fly. You can’t show a clearing with three bodies and expect us to think they’re what, sleeping? and also in the same shot hide the two men standing above them. There are also three different bodies so how then do you visualize three different sets of eyes followed by three slit necks? Answer, you don’t, you either see it all at once in a single shot or you focus on ONE body and slowly move down from head to neck and then show that the others suffered the same fate. It sounds minor but again, the best writers are very much aware of their visuals as they write and the result is seamless for everyone.

          • Kirk Diggler

            The two killers can walk into frame. Maybe they were busy dealing with the horses of the dead men and came back to admire their handiwork one last time. It’s not impossible to do, in the wide shot have some rustling horse sounds and as the camera comes in for the close up of the three dead men, the sound of boots against against dirt and rocks as the two killers walk into frame and hover over them. Not that difficult to imagine, but also wise of the writer to leave that sort of camera direction off the page.

          • mulesandmud

            I don’t mean this in a throw-down sort of way, but I’d be curious to see your version of those two sentences, written in a way that respects the one-sentence-equals-one-shot idea and your perceived visual logic and blocking issues. Would make for an interesting comparison.

          • JakeMLB

            It depends on what the intention is (is he really trying to make us believe they’re just sleeping?). You can start with the bodies first and then move wide to include the two men hovering over them. Alternatively you could have the scene open somewhat as is and have the men be absent and walk into frame. It’s a difficult scene to write no doubt but I might take a crack at it soon.

          • JakeMLB

          • brenkilco

            I understand in the finished film Buddy and Purvis are both 35 and devilishly handsome.

          • JakeMLB

            Perfect teeth too. Don’t forget the teeth!

          • brenkilco

            Well, as a for instance:

            Ext. Campsite – Dawn

            In the distance a mountain ridge. Three figures lie in bed rolls at angles to a dying fire.

            Blood pools beside the blankets.

            Three blood drained faces. Three slit throats.

            Two men stand off to one side of the bodies holding knives stained with gore. ETC.

          • JakeMLB

            I like what brenkilco wrote but I’ll build on it for a little more CU.

            EXT. CAMPSITE – DAWN

            Wisps of blue smoke rise from a dying campfire. Three figures lie in bedrolls at angles to the fire. Motionless.


            A man in his thirties. His eyes stare unblinking to the heavens. Blood softly spills from his freshly slit neck.

            Three blood-drained faces. Three slit throats.

            And just beyond stand their killers, both brandishing long knives stained with gore. BUDDY (43) a dusty, potbellied brigand with oily hair wipes the blood from his blade on his pants while PURVIS (47), wild beard and long pockmarked face, spits through the gap in his teeth.

      • mulesandmud

        Sufficed to say, we disagree more or less across the board about the scene. Am with you on your comments to Carson, though.

        The style of Zahler’s sentence establishes a tone appropriate for the genre, the images set a scene, and the order of those images develops the scene in a narrative way. Can’t ask for much more than that.

    • Linkthis83

      I’m extremely glad this conversation is taking place. When I read scripts I personally don’t mind when a writer provides elements of the scene in the order they wish to provide for effect. But then others will chime in and state a critique of “what is the camera looking at” and then ding the writer for the progression of the elements delivered (micro, macro, medium type).

      I find either way fine, but should I? It sounds like the belief is that you should write with the MMM style in mind, but don’t highlight it with camera directions.

      To me, this comes down to the READER not the WRITER – If I’m a reader who can create the visual based on the elements provided, no matter the order, then that’s all i need. But if someone who is a reader who only creates visuals based on the order these elements are given, then I think that’s on the READER.

      If someone is going to tell you not to direct on the page then ding you for the order you delivered visual elements, then you’re asking them to direct on the page without directing.

      I’d really like to know if there is an expected standard for this. And not people shooting from the hip of their own personal beliefs. I can do that just fine on my own :) I mean, any of those who have any industry experience, are you getting the note that supports one of these styles over the other?

      In all my experience with reading/listening/watching professionals talk about the craft, this has NEVER come up.

      So my initial go to is: create the visual from the elements given. If you don’t read that way, well, then that’s on you.

      • Kirk Diggler

        “If someone is going to tell you not to direct on the page then ding you for the order you delivered visual elements, then you’re asking them to direct on the page without directing.”

        Thank you.

        • brenkilco

          “then you’re asking them to direct on the page without directing”

          Not to get Zen or anything but isn’t that sort of the ideal. To seem to narrate the events of your story in a clean, straightforward manner while subtly and invisibly ordering and orchestrating the visual elements for maximum effect. To make the reader see the scene as you see it without the clutter of camera directions, POV shots and obtrusive closeup details.

          • Kirk Diggler

            Paint a picture with clarity and let the director and DP figure out how to film it and the editor figure out how to sequence it. I mean, we’re talking spec scripts here for the most part, let’s not get more analytical than need be. Some people just love being contrarian for it’s own sake.

      • mulesandmud

        Fair amount of industry experience here. There’s no standard. It’s all situational, always. Execs in particular aren’t afraid of contradicting themselves from one day to the next, since they’re mostly shooting from the hip as well.

        That said, most execs would be turned off by that first passage of BONE TOMAHAWK because the prose style is denser than average and they wouldn’t love such a long block of text. They’d keep reading though, because the writing is clear and compelling. Ditto for readers.

        Some directors would reorder the images in their head or in the margins, as some posters here have done. Not because it’s logically flawed or because a camera couldn’t do it, though; just because they’d direct it differently. I doubt any director would take off points because of any choices made in those two sentences.

        Producers and actors would like it best of all, because who cares if that’s how they’d do it? It feels like a fucking movie.

        Writers are the only ones likely to shred it, because hey, this is our craft.

        A confused order of visuals can create distracting cognitive dissonance, and cause a reader to lose faith in the writing, but in my opinion today’s offering is a far, far cry from that, because there’s a clear purpose in every choice. That’s the only real standard you need to follow: make it confident and consistent within itself.

        • JakeMLB

          I think this is right on. My nitpicking of the opening scene was more as an exercise than any actual literary critique. It’s not about “shredding” another writer and I hope it’s not perceived as such.

          However, I stand very much by my words that the best of the best generally write in a style that is both tonally and stylistically appropriate to the story but also with crystal clear visual intent. And I base that on the majority of the cream of the crop of professional scripts.

          Now as you say, whether it explicitly matters at the executive level or not is up for debate but I believe that subconsciously such writing does cause the reader to lose some faith in the writing and particularly for your opening shot, that’s the last thing you want. Ultimately story will triumph but any amount of lost faith in an industry where everyone is shitting bricks could be the difference between Zahler making this on his own or with studio backing or between John Sphaits’ script becoming Prometheus over Lindelof’s (whose script was written with far more visual intent). I guess I’m just of the mind that give your reader nothing that slows the read so that focus is only on the story.

          I should also note that my comments apply mostly to screenwriters and not screenwriter/directors who have a lot more leeway when it comes to the script. If Zahler is going to make this himself he doesn’t care much if its’ perceived off by a few forum dwellers since he has the shot clear in his head.

  • Poe_Serling

    Thanks for the review, Carson. Whether the film turns out great, horrible, or just okay, Kurt Russell in a Western/Horror project = A must-see movie for me.

    • brenkilco

      Which raises the question. Did John Carpenter retire or die or what?

      • Poe_Serling

        He just did an hour-long interview over on the El Rey network with Robert Rodriguez.

        During the chitchat session, JC talked about recently pitching a film idea over at Blumhouse, but they turned him down.

        • filmklassik

          Jesus. That’s… demoralizing.

          • walker

            Actually Jesus got a pass from Blumhouse too.

          • LV426

            I heard Jesus has a supernatural western in development. Perhaps he should try to get John Carpenter involved?

            Holy Horses

            Logline: When a bolt of lightning strikes a fugitive gunfighter and his horse, they are imbued with the will of God and sent on a mission of vengeance against a devil-worshipping rancher and his minions who control a corrupt town that sells sin and sex in the middle of the frontier.

            Supposedly the horse talks, and is a sassy fellow.

          • klmn

            Starring Mr. Ed III.

          • LV426

            If you thought Gollum or that tiger in Life of Pi were cinematic treats, just wait until you see Jingles the talking horse.

          • klmn

            Jesus Franco?

            He’s back from the grave?

          • Poe_Serling

            Jess Franco’s spirit is alive and well… check out the recent AOW script Let Us Touch the Sun by commenter Levres de Sang.

          • klmn

            I did. Sent him my notes. If Carson reviews it, I’ll post ‘em in the comments section.

          • Levres de Sang

            And great notes, too…! (I’ve subsequently removed two rather flat scenes that weren’t helping the pace.)

          • Levres de Sang

            Thanks for the shout-out, Poe!

          • Matthew Garry

            Seems they got a bias against carpenters.

          • walker

            Hilarious MG.

        • LV426

          Meanwhile… Hollywood is happy to remake all of Carpenter’s classic films such as Halloween, Escape From New York, and his brilliant remake of The Thing.

          • Poe_Serling

            The one Carpenter film I always wanted to see hit the big screen – his version of Creature from the Black Lagoon.

            He got close to making it a couple of times… Now I’m pretty sure it’s a lost cause.

          • LV426

            Yeah, that would have been cool to see.

            I also wish he and Kurt had gotten around to making a third Escape From (somewhere) film. Even though I didn’t like EFLA nearly as much as the original.

    • ArabyChic

      This was one of my favorite scripts of last year. If you can get your hands on it, read it.

      • Poe_Serling

        For those interested, you can find Zahler’s script for Bone Tomahawk
        (his upcoming Western/Horror flick starring Kurt Russell) on this site:

        >>Just hit Line-up & Upcoming… then scroll down to bottom for the link to the script.

    • klmn

      I’ll be sure to see it.

  • ElectricDreamer

    The TEAM-UP is the surefire way to JUGGLE UNCERTAINTY in your scripts.
    You have two or more characters with the same goal, but conflicting ways to solve it.
    The nature of your characters’ personalities should always fuel your CONFLICT ENGINE.

    I set up the engine in my new spec to help prevent me from writing static scenes.
    The device keeps me honest on the page, while insuring stuff goes wrong in every scene.

    For Westerns, RED SUN is one of the best examples of the Conflict Engine.
    An honorable samurai and a thief want the same man dead, but the thief wants his gold first.
    For that to happen the samurai has to let the villain live long enough to talk! Conflict.

    Another example would be Tarantino’s flick. Django & Schultz are pretty much in sync.
    But Foxx’s MINI-QUEST of saving his wife lengthens and COMPLICATES the first goal.
    That’s also at least as compelling as the traditional conflict team-up for me.

    • astranger2

      Red Sun is a great Team-up film.

      Despite the samurai’s primary goal to recover the sword given by his emperor to the President of the United States, and avenge the murder of his best friend, the samurai hesitates after raising his sword to kill the villain… remembering the thief’s need to extract the information about the gold.

      The hesitation costs him his life as the villain takes this opportunity to riddle the samurai with bullets… As the thief raises his gun on the villain, he smiles, “if you kill me, you won’t find the gold.”

      Bronson’s thief shoots the villain. “You keep it,” he replies.

      … the samurai hesitates, even though he made no vow not to kill the villain. And Bronson kills the villain, though he never finds out the location of the gold.

      A great team-up film. Especially since Mifune couldn’t speak a word of English in real life. (Ursula Andress in her prime doesn’t hurt it either… )

      • brenkilco

        An American actor and a Japanese actor accompanied by a Swiss leading lady chase a French villain through the Spanish desert, encountering numerous Italian extras. And it’s all supposed to take place in the old west. They don’t make em like they used to. I think, though I’m not sure, that it was Mifune’s real voice in Red Sun. Normally he was dubbed by voiceover actor Paul Frees for his roles in international films. Frees sounded more like Mifune than Mifune. Plus you could understand him.

        • astranger2

          Think Lucas flew Mifune out to LA to audition for the role of Obi Wan, when he discovered he couldn’t speak a lick of English… and you’re right, Frees did sound more like Mifune… than Mifune.

      • filmklassik

        Been hearing about RED SUN all my life, but have never seen it. Now I want to.

        • brenkilco

          One of those rather slapdash european co-productions from the early seventies. Fun idea. Meh execution. Should have been better.

          • filmklassik

            Yeah, that’s what I figured. Still gonna check it out though. Always loved Bronson. He was a highly underrated actor (and by all accounts a very difficult man to love off-camera) who made the mistake of squandering whatever good will and cachet he had acquired in the 70s on a succession of unbelievably shitty exploitation films for Menacham Golan’s Canon films in the 1980s.

          • brenkilco

            As I recall he’s unusually cheerful and laid back in Red Sun.

          • ElectricDreamer

            My first screenwriting exercise was a re-imagining of Red Sun.
            Which is why I reference it so much when waxing philosophic here.
            It was purely academic, I don’t own the film rights or anything.
            The Indians and cave hideout/hostage deal never sat well with me.

          • brenkilco

            And I recall the climax with everybody running around in the burning grass as being pretty underwhelming.

          • astranger2

            I like the scene where Bronson has to shoot the taut leather band from Ursula’s neck, lest she choke to death…

        • astranger2

          It’s not a classic like El Dorado. But besides the leads, the film has some great character actors also.
          Lots of GSU, imo. The samurai has four or five days to recover the prized Emperor’s sword gift for the President, or commit seppuku.

          • filmklassik

            Okay, that settles it. I’m gonna write a thriller about a bomb disposal expert with terminal cancer whose name is Gordon Seymour Underwood. My title: GSU.

          • astranger2

            Filled seamlessly with tons of GSU. Very nice.

    • JakeMLB

      I love that setup for Red Sun, gonna try to watch that asap. Thanks for the heads up.

      • ElectricDreamer

        My pleasure, don’t settle for the Chinese knock-off: SHANGHAI NOON.

  • walker

    “…readers and producers need to get through screeplays quickly, so they can go on to the next one.” Good to know that laziness, marginal literacy, and truncated attention spans don’t play any part in that.

  • brenkilco

    I like description and whole sentences. So I’m not sure why I’m not crazy about this intro paragraph from the script. Maybe because it reads like a single master shot when it really should be four shots. Men in bedrolls arranged around a dying fire. Cut to blood pooling on ground. Cut to slit throats. Cut to killers. And the descriptions bother me. Why is it important to describe the clothing of one killer but not the other? And what possible difference could it make that one is 43 and one is 47? And does it really matter that one is fat and toothless and the other is lean and pockmarked. Assume that the lean one is the alpha but the dialogue would reveal that soon enough. Detail is good. But here it seems a little extraneous.

    • JakeMLB

      That was my comment as well (see above). There are at least 4 different shots inferred within a single sentence and the transition between shots is difficult to mentally navigate. You can’t describe a wide shot (a clearing with a campfire and bodies) and then later tell us that two men are standing over the bodies.

      • brenkilco

        Yes, after you’ve finished the paragraph you see what he’s trying to do but you have to put it together. And you’re right for this to work visually it would have to start with a fairly tight shot of the bodies lying innocently by the fire and only at the end go wide to show the killers.

        • JakeMLB

          Yeah, it’s difficult to articulate exactly why it’s tripping me up. But you’re right in the sense that you are forced to somewhat put it together in retrospect whereas good description always creates the visual clearly as you are reading.

        • davejc

          One long shot: aerial(clearing) – zoom in – pan (one, two, three victims) – tilt up (killers)

          • brenkilco

            But where are the killers hiding in the aerial shot? Maybe we’re giving this poor li’l paragraph too much grief. It’s clear the writer wants to fade in on a serene camping scene, everybody snug in their bedrolls, then hit us with the reality they’ve been murdered and then show us the killers. Just think the visual progression could be established a little more sharply.

          • davejc

            Beneath the pines, the edge of the clearing(I guess). I mean, it’s doable. But I agree with Walker: It is clunky.

          • JakeMLB

            Hah we’re definitely giving it too much grief but there’s value in it. I mean Carson did call it out specifically and it IS the opening scene of the script so it needs to be bulletproof. Obviously it has no impact on the value of the story or the script as a whole but it’s a fun exercise.

  • Bifferspice

    i’d love to know what carson makes of the opening of Once Upon a Time in the West. :) Fifteen minutes of three men waiting for a train, and not even talking to each other. It’s sublime.

    • brenkilco

      Plus that squeaking windmill. Don’t think it’s Carson’s thing.

      Looks like we’re shy one horse
      you brought two too many.

      Great stuff.

    • brittany

      Sorry, OT: Big congrats for winning a Script of the Month slot over on Talentville for Breaking the Chain! Well deserved, Dave! :)

      • walker

        Yes I second that Brittany, and I extend the congratulations to you too for achieving the same distinction.

        • Bifferspice

          Thanks Walker :)

      • Bifferspice

        Thanks Brittany :) and everyone for their upvotes :)

  • LV426

    You had me at Kurt Russell in a western.

    • Scott Strybos


      • LV426

        TOMBSTONE 2: Bone Tomahawk

        We need more Val Kilmer in movies these days!

        It’s also the perfect opportunity for some clever marketing synergy between this film and Tombstone frozen pizzas.

  • Scott Strybos


    Have many people here read the script? Because I read it a few months ago and did not like the script, but now I am watching the latest trailer and it looks really good. Maybe what I read was only a first draft because I am noticing a few minor differences? Did anyone read the script that was floating around and not like it?

    • LV426

      I really enjoyed the script, although I’ve heard Nolan changed things and added some of his own ideas in a rewrite. So far everything in the trailers seems to fit with stuff from the old script. I’m thinking the ending might be where they made the biggest changes. The script is long and has lots of big sci-fi concepts and ideas that build up later in the story. My guess is that a lot of that stuff got streamlined or removed for clarity and budgetary reasons. As the script went on it started to feel more like a dense sci-fi novel in parts (I had no problem with this personally). The Interstellar screenplay and the Avatar scriptment are the closest I’ve seen any type of movie script get to capturing the dense world-building and immersive quality that a good science fiction novel is able to achieve.

      • Scott Strybos

        Did the script you read have a wise-cracking A.I. robot? which he was joking around with right after he left his kids forever.

        Also in the script I read McConaughey didn’t have a previous association with the space agency. In the trailer it sounds like he was a pilot for them years ago but in the script I read he accidentally came across their bunker and made some random, off-handed technical comment and this was enough for them to draft him for a mission to save the human race.

        These were two elements that soured me early in the script…

        • Altius

          I read that script and was not impressed. Thought it was all a bit flat. A platform for jaw-dropping visuals, certainly, but it lacked meat. Their space journeys seemed anti-climactic. I sincerely hope the finished film is an improvement on it, especially given the running time…

  • klmn

    OT: A cool scene in the news.


    I wish I had a script that fit this so I could steal the scene.

    • Craig Mack

      If one of us wrote this scene we would hear: “NEVER WOULD HAPPEN! Needs to be more grounded”

  • Thunk24

    Descriptions worthy of Eli Cash.

  • Craig Mack

    I bet in a MILLION years you MIGHT shell out $10.. take inflation into account. That will be like .0000001 of a cent.

    • klmn

      He might be too old, not to mention dead.

  • carsonreeves1


  • klmn

    I told you not to mention that.