Premise: A priest is brought in to be the puppet Bishop for the Emperor of Rome. But when he sees the suffering that the Roman people are going through, he dares to disrupt the status quo.
About: Leo Sardarian used to work in casting and broke onto the scene in 2013 with this script, which made the Black List. He just sold another script yesterday, that one about a rookie female marine who gets stranded on a hostile planet during earth’s attempt at colonization. Is it even possible to sell a script with a male lead anymore?? Inquiring minds want to know.
Writer: Leo Sardarian
Details: 112 pages
Yesterday’s kick-ass script got me all riled up for some period piece action, baby! This time, however, it’s back in the time machine 1600 years to Rome! Rome’s always good for some spicy conflict and sassy drama. They practically invented entertainment (killing people for sport? uhhh, geeee-nius). Also, it’s been a while since we’ve had a Roman swords and sandals pic. So you know one is coming soon. It’s either going to be Nicholas or it’s going to be something one of you guys write. Let’s check out your competition.
A note before I start. I’m probably going to get some things wrong here. This script attempts to cover so much ground that you spend the majority of your reading time trying to keep up.
We’re in Rome in the 3rd century. We’re quickly told, via voice over, that Rome is in a state of flux. Things aren’t going well. One of the biggest problems is religion, specifically Christianity. Diocletian, the Emperor of Rome, hates the religion, and routinely plucks Christians out to be sacrificed in the gladiator ring.
But Christianity is growing, and more and more people are standing up to Diocletian’s harassment. So Diocletian hires some nobody Christian named Nicholas and appoints him to be the Bishop of Rome. The plan is to make Nicholas a puppet, have him calm down the Christians whenever they get out of line.
But Nicholas isn’t as passive as Diocletian assumed. In one of the Gladiator matches where some Christian thieves are being slaughtered for sport, Nicholas leaps into the ring and reveals himself to be a seasoned warrior, killing all of the Gladiators easily. This surprise only makes Diocletian more wary of Nicholas.
So one night while Nicholas is out, Diocletian sends a group of orphans Nicholas has been taking care of to Crete, where they’ll be sold into slavery. Nicholas goes after them and Diocletian celebrates the victory of no longer having to deal with this disruption.
However, Rome continues to clash from within, and it feels like only a matter of time before the Christians rise up. An unexpected Nicholas team-up with one of the most famous figures in Roman history, Constantine, fortifies an army that actually has a shot against Diocletian. Rome. Get ready.
I’ll give Sardarian this. He’s done his homework. This is one of the best-researched scripts about Rome I’ve ever read. Every single page is dripping with detail about the famous city.
But it was far from an easy read. In fact, Nicholas was one of those reads where you looked up expecting to be on page 60, only to learn you were on page 15.
Not all stories need to be fast. But if you’re writing something this complex, something that requires tons of exposition and dudes in rooms talking, you need a plan counteract the pace.
Overwriting was a key problem. The script would often lose itself in its desire to write the perfect line. “He divests his breast plate and stakes his sword into the mud. His blue eyes gaze west — where the lands beyond the mountains are awash in golden sun-rays… The sublime beauty slightly breaching the darkness that’s clouded his eyes.” That was par for the course. Lines like “Moonlight BEAMS through the oculus of the coffered rotunda…” were common.
The reason this is a problem is because the writer is trying to impress rather than convey. As readers, all we want is to understand what we’re seeing, understand what’s happening. And if we have to read every fourth sentence twice because the writer was trying to win the Pulitzer with it, it’s very easy to lose patience. And loss of patience is the final step before boredom.
Overwriting is a common beginner mistake and should be avoided if possible. No, we don’t want our stories told in cave man vocabulary. But over-vocabularizing is just as odious…err… I mean bad.
This wasn’t the biggest problem with Nicholas, however. The main problem is that the script is trying to do too much. One of the first screenwriting tips that really resonated with me was: ZOOM IN.
Tell a SPECIFIC STORY. Don’t try to cover too much ground. For example, if you want to cover terrorism, write Die Hard. Don’t write about the five biggest terrorist countries in the world, jumping back and forth between each one, introducing us to dozens of characters and a similar amount of plotlines.
I know what you’re going to say. “Tell a serious story about terrorism with a movie like Die Hard? You crazy Carson??” I’m not talking about the tone. I’m saying it’s much easier to explore terrorism through the tight lens of a single terrorist than it is trying to cover five terrorists. You use specifics to make a bigger statement about the world.
Can that intricately woven five terrorist movie be written? It can. But only the best screenwriters in the world – those who have seen every kind of story and understand what they need to do to counteract and rein in that that narrative will be able to pull it off. And even then, it will be a writing nightmare. There will be a bigger chance that they fail than succeed.
And that’s because movies were meant for tight narratives. If your idea doesn’t fit into a tight narrative, go write a TV show or a novel. Those mediums are built for that stuff.
There was this moment in “Nicholas” where the title character sails into Rome and Sardarian details the elaborate harbor of this ancient city. Capable of docking 1200 ships. Half the ships are out of business because times are so tough. So there are criminals and barterers. It’s its own little crazy city.
And I thought: THIS IS A MOVIE! This here! I’ve never seen a film about Rome’s harbor before. That’s how you ZOOM IN. But therein lies the problem with “Nicholas” as a script. There are so many lovely details like this that get lost due to its novelesque narrative.
As much as I tried to stay invested in Nicholas, the story was too sprawling, too unfocused, and too overwritten, to keep me around. It’s a script that tests your patience. Which is unfortunate, because there are obviously many stories within this setting worth being told.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: “The endless montage.” Guys, don’t write long montages. What you’re trying to do with a screenplay is DRAMATIZE EVENTS. That’s why we tune in! To be entertained by your dramatization. A montage is a list. ANYBODY CAN MAKE A LIST. Lists are the OPPOSITE of dramatization. I advise never using them outside of comedies. But if you are going to use them, keep them short. There’s a montage in this script with, like, 20 events. That’s a huge no-no.