Today’s amateur screenplay teaches us that Grandma may not be as cute and cuddly as you think she is.
Amateur Friday Submission Process: To submit your script for an Amateur Review, send it in PDF form, along with your title, genre, logline, and why I should read your script to Carsonreeves3@gmail.com. Keep in mind your script will be posted in the review (feel free to keep your identity and script title private by providing an alias name and/or title). Also, it’s a good idea to resubmit every couple of weeks so that your submission stays near the top of the pile.
Premise: Before he can break up a well-connected ring of terminally ill senior citizen suicide bomber killers for hire, an FBI agent must confront the sweet little old lady sent to kill him.
Writer: Patrick J. Power
Details: 100 pages
I have a soft spot for people who’ve been trying to get their scripts read on the site forever. Especially people who have been so supportive of Scriptshadow. I feel like they deserve to be rewarded. Which is why I chose today’s script. Patrick has been very persistent (yet polite) in his attempts to get his script read so I felt like he deserved a shot.
But before we get to that, I want to point out why I never would’ve read it otherwise. The premise feels goofy to me – one of those premises where you’re not sure if it’s a thriller or a comedy. And while that’s fine if it turns out to be a comedy, it’s not fine if it turns out to be a thriller. Old people suicide bombers? I don’t know. It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke. Am I off base with that?
But hey, once I pop open a script, I’m MORE than ready to be proven wrong. Every script deserves a fair shot and believe me, I wanted nothing more than to love this.
Paul Lucas is a San Diego FBI agent hanging out at the federal building, preparing to watch a Colombian drug lord walk free. Then, while the lawyer makes an official statement for his client, a large blast blows both of them to pieces. When the FBI takes a later look at the security footage, they see a little old lady named Juliet Ivy standing next to the duo. Hmmmm. I knew old people were gassy but this is too much.
After 15 more characters are introduced inside roughly 7 pages, Paul decides to take a closer look at the little old lady. He heads over to her son’s home and learns that Juliet had cancer and belonged to an upscale hospice known as “The Healthful Healing Medical Center.” Paul speeds over there and meets the suspicious manager, who confirms that Juliet had a one million dollar life insurance policy. Paul rightly wonders how an 85-year-old woman secures a one million dollar life insurance policy.
Off in another part of the city, someone on a gondola blows up another few people and when they look into it, they find that that too was done by a senior citizen. As if allowing these people behind the wheel wasn’t enough! So now Paul realizes they’re dealing with organized attacks. But where are these attacks being ordered from and why??
Eventually, Paul finds out that it all goes back to that Healthful Healing place. So he finds an old retired FBI agent, Norman, who has cancer (I think – he might’ve been faking – I’m still not sure) and sends him in undercover to find out exactly what’s going on.
The focus of the story then shifts over to Norman, who realizes that one of the women at the center, Mary Margaret, has been there for a long time. In a place where people go to die, this stands out as a red flag. Indeed, Mary Margaret turns out to be the leader of this crime syndicate, sending old people out there to blow pre-determined targets up. I have to admit that I never figured out what her scheme was, but it seemed very important to Mary Margaret. And I suppose that’s all that matters.
Patrick and I have an interesting relationship. He used to write me all the time with these nice e-mails pointing out plot synopsis mistakes I’d made in my reviews. If I said that the aunt slept with Larry, he would send me an e-mail explaining that, no, it was actually the ex-wife that slept with Larry. Over time, however, he became less cordial, and just started sending messages like: “Not Don. Joe!”
I bring this up because I’m sure I screwed up at least some of the synopsis here. But in my defense, there were like 35 characters in this script. Which is actually a great place to start. I’m kind of shocked. For someone I know reads the site all the time, why would they make the one mistake I rail against the most – insane character counts. ESPECIALLY on Amateur Friday! Instead of going on a thousand word rant about this issue like I usually do, I’ll just say that the insane character count made it impossible for me to keep track of everyone and everything that was going on.
But that issue pales in comparison to my main critique of the screenplay. And this is the part of my job I hate the most because it’s the most painful critique you can give a writer: The concept here simply doesn’t work.
It’s too goofy. You’re talking about old people suicide bombers. There isn’t a story you can wrap around that idea that doesn’t feel silly. I could never get past that while reading the script.
But even if the concept were squared away, there were still too many wonky choices in this screenplay. For example, you have Norman, who jumps into the script at the midpoint. We’ve barely met the guy, yet all of a sudden he’s thrust into, basically, the protagonist role of the story. That’s just a strange thing to ask the reader to roll with. You’re following one hero. Then midway through the story, you say, “Let’s go follow this other guy instead.”
And then you have the strange choice of giving Paul terminal cancer. That was the official point where I realized the train had gone off the tracks. You have a story based on a bunch of old people who have terminal cancer, then you also give your main younger character terminal cancer as well?? It’s just such a bizarre coincidental choice that calls into question the entire story.
Finally, I’m not sure what that climax had to do with anything. There were a few mentions of this boat called “Code Blue” over the course of the script. Since that was also the title of the movie, I tabbed it as important. But it didn’t play into the story until this final scene when, for some reason, everybody went out on the Code Blue for a big showdown. I just didn’t understand what was going on. And I’m still not sure what Mary and her group were ultimately trying to achieve.
I know how obsessed Patrick is with attention to detail so I’m sure he could lay out for me, in a specific line by line breakdown, all of the places in the script where this stuff was explained. But when you’re reading a script, it doesn’t work like that. Once you start losing confidence in the story, it becomes harder and harder to stay invested in it. I didn’t believe in the concept. The never-ending character count had me forgetting who was who. And the switch to a different story and different main character halfway in had me scrambling to muster up the energy just to finish the script, much less make sense of it.
I know how long Patrick’s been trying to get me to read this, so it sucks I didn’t fall in love with it. But I do think a good lesson can come of it. This script needs to be retired and Patrick needs to move on to a snazzier concept, something more believable, less silly, and that readers can really sink their teeth into. All of the problems in this screenplay come back to a writer trying to make a concept work that can’t work. I would love to see Patrick tackle something that has a chance from the beginning. And I’d also love to hear your thoughts about this premise. Am I right? Does it feel like a bad joke? Or am I way off base and this concept actually has potential? Believe me, I’d be more than happy to be proven wrong because I HATE telling writers to scrap an idea they’ve labored months over and start something else.
Script link: Code Blue
[ ] Wait for the rewrite
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again. The number one way to kill your chances of getting a script read is a bad premise. I hear writers say it all the time: “Nobody will read my script.” Trust me, if you have a great premise, PEOPLE WILL WANT TO READ YOUR SCRIPT!!! I GUARANTEE IT! I WILL BE ONE OF THEM! If you’re not getting that excited response when you send your idea out, take a second look at the idea itself. It’s probably the reason.