Genre: Dark Comedy
Premise: After an internet date ends in the shocking death of a woman, a self-centered divorce attorney finds himself being pulled into her grieving family’s fucked up lives.
About: This script finished near the middle of last year’s Black List. Up to this point, Greg Scharpf’s claim to fame is that he’s been Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker’s assistant.
Writer: Greg Scharpf
Details: 108 pages

bill.hader_.fear_.inside.out_Rising star Bill Hader for Scott?

Borrrr-ing.

No.

BORED.

Bored to tears.

In my search to find something – ANYTHING – good to read, I went through the first ten pages of 10 Black List scripts tonight, and you know what I found?

That I was BORRRRR-ed.

I was like: HELLLL-LOOOOOO???? Is anyone home??? Can someone direct me to Non-Lame Slugline Street??

Actually, you know what bothered me the most? Is was that they all started out so…. Same-y. Every script started with a “Boots pummel the pavement” or “We’re looking at JOE, 30, a boy in a man’s body,” or “Red wine swishes around a glass.”

I can’t even tell you what’s wrong with these sentences other than that they bored me. For a reader to open up another script and be greeted by yet another plain listless same-y sentence is a recipe for bore-sctucer sauce.

It reminds me that every single word you put down as a screenwriter matters. And not just what you put down, but how you put it down.

Look at the way I started this review. Different, right? It evoked a different kind of reaction than had I written full paragraphs like I usually do.

As a reader, I want you to stand out from the pack. And in reading these 10 boring openings to these 10 screenplays, I realized that there’s two key ways to do this. The first is through story. Make something happen right away that grabs me. It could be exciting, titillating, unexpected, weird, funny. But it needs to grab. The second is through voice. In reading these 10 openings, I noticed that not one of the writers truly distinguished himself with his style. It was all straight-forward text-book writing.

“One Fell Swoop” came the closest with its quirky setup, which is why I went with it. But I just want to remind everyone that that old sage advice of “pull the reader in immediately” is more relevant now than ever.

I can go watch fucking original programming on my PLAYSTATION nowadays. We’re a few years away from our soda cans playing shows (“PEPSI MAN!”). Keeping people’s attention with words is becoming harder and harder. So use your words wisely!

Lauren didn’t want her last words on earth to be, “I want you to lick my pussy.” But life has a sick sense of humor sometimes. Poor Lauren had lured a hot divorce lawyer home – our protagonist, Scott – in the hopes that he might be the one. But alcohol and poor judgment led her onto her balcony, which just happened to be 15 stories up.

Lauren got this weird idea that she’d sit on the balcony, spread her legs, and have Scott orally take care of her nether-regions. But then the railing broke, and poor Lauren went tumbling down to the Manhattan’s nether-regions.

The thing with Scott was, he just wanted to score that night. He didn’t even like Lauren, who was boring and narcissistic and liked The Bachelor. Yet somehow he ended up with someone stupid enough to sit on a railing that was 15 stories high in the sky.

Which would be traumatic enough. Except that after he explains the ordeal to the cops, Lauren’s parents show up, led by her bumbling spineless father, Harry.

Attempting to be cordial, Scott agrees with everything Harry says, inadvertently agreeing to lunch with him the next day. It’s here that Harry pours his heart out about his daughter, and Scott is stuck making up things to appease him – such as it was the best date he had ever been on. And what were her last words, Harry wants to know? Oh, something about how beautiful New York was at night, Scott tells him.

Lauren’s clingy parents insist on Scott being a part of the funeral, and the next thing Scott knows, he’s being recruited to come up with a eulogy. As if to make things even more complicated, Lauren has a twin sister, Jane! After Scott gets over the creepiness of the girl he watched die being rebirthed in front of his eyes, he actually starts to like Jane.

Will Scott come clean to the family and let them know that all he wanted that night was a piece of ass? Will he be able to tell Harry that he’s secretly falling for his other daughter? And will Scott learn, through this experience, that his job of being a soulless marriage executioner isn’t the best way to go through life? All of these questions will hopefully be answered in One Fell Swoop.

This was a surprisingly funny screenplay and that’s mostly due to Schrapf’s sharp voice. Remember that Black Comedy is the easiest genre to show your voice in, since “quirky-weird-funny” goes hand in hand with most people’s definition of “voice.”

The fact that Lauren’s claim to fame was her unhealthy obsession with The Bachelor was great. Lauren’s sad sack father crying every ten minutes was hilarious. And Harry’s blood-thirsty friend out for revenge on the railing code people evoked memories of a certain John Goodman character in a certain Coen Brothers film (yes, I’m talking about The Big Lebowski).

In a way, One Fell Swoop is like a reverse Meet The Parents. The big difference is that now you meet the parents after the girl is dead. Which is really weird when you didn’t even like her.

Where the script runs into trouble is trying to come up with reasons to keep Scott around. It becomes pretty clear around the page 40 mark that there’s no reason for Scott to be here anymore. But then Schrapf would write in some reason why he needed to stay, like Harry’s “Oh, I need help with the eulogy” subplot.

This is a mistake a lot of writers make. They don’t create an overarching scenario that keeps the characters around each other, thereby forcing them to repeatedly come up with reasons to make them stay.

Contrast this with Meet the Parents. Greg, the main character, is STUCK AT THIS HOUSE for the weekend. They’ve traveled here. So there’s nowhere for him to go. Thus, we never question why he must stay. These are little things to keep in mind when you’re writing.

Schrapf admirably puts everything he can into keeping the story going, however, despite it running out of juice. After all of the “help us prepare for the funeral” stuff dies out, he shifts over to the love story between Scott and Jane the Twin Sister, which is pretty good. Jane’s edgy alternative San Francisco vibe keeps the banter lively, and the stuff where Jane confronts a bitchy Christian frenemy who always made fun of her sister in high school resulted in one of the funnier scenes in the screenplay.

But I think the big lesson here is to make sure you come up with an idea that has enough juice to last an entire movie. One Fell Swoop kind of limps to the finish line since it explored the bulk of its concept before it hit the midpoint. Schrapf’s a funny writer so he distracts you from that fact. But you always want to come up with ideas that ramp up as they head towards the climax, not die down. Again, look at Meet The Parents. The sister’s wedding ensured that we were leading towards something that builds.

One Fell Swoop, while not perfect, brings us a writer with potential, which is mostly what you’re hoping for when reading a script near the middle of The Black List. To that end, this was a nice find.

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

What I learned: Ideally, you want to work with big ideas that pack the pages. But if your script idea isn’t big enough to keep the story going on its own, you can use character subplots to keep the reader engaged. For example, if all Jane brought to the script was a love story, it wouldn’t have been enough. So Schrapf uses an old rivalry of Jane’s to build a subplot into the story, whereby Jane must go confront her rival. Character subplots can and should be used in any story, but in thin stories like this one, they’re absolutely essential.

  • Paul Clarke

    Wise words Carson. Thanks for reminding us how competitive screenwriting is. I went away and immediately rewrote the first line of my latest script.

    Also agreed on the overall story idea comment. As a writer you need to be able to asses whether an idea has the legs for a 100+ page story. Rather than waste the time and energy writing 50 pages and finding it doesn’t.

    • Brainiac138

      This is very true. It is important to know if your story is a 10 minute story or a 100 minute story. The great thing about a ten minute story is that you might actually be able to film that, and now you have a sample of your writing and how it was explored on camera, which isn’t bad at all.

  • mulesandmud

    ‘bore-sctucer sauce’ – That one took me a minute.

    Agreed, though – the standard rhythms and rigid formats of screenplays can get awfully tedious after a while. That’s why, for mental health reasons if nothing else, screenwriters need to make sure they’re reading more than just screenplays.

    Also, as a reminder that screenplays aren’t the only way to blueprint a movie, has anyone read up on the writing process of FURY ROAD?

    For those who don’t know: it’s a megabudget studio project, but the Australian director, George Miller, is the same guy who made the original MAD MAX films. He’s controlled the franchise since the 70s.

    For most of the film’s development, there was no script at all – instead, Miller and his co-writer created a sequence of 3500 storyboard images, several hundred pages of comic book style sequences designed to make the story understood with no dialogue whatsoever.

    And all this from a 70 year old man. A good remind; it’s never too late to keep things fresh.

    • klmn

      Didn’t Lucas do something like that with Star Wars? Editing clips from existing movies into a reel and then having storyboards drawn before starting the screenplay?

      • mulesandmud

        Far as I know, Lucas wrote traditional drafts.

        While editing the film though, he used footage from earlier films to stand in for FX shots he hadn’t completed yet, e.g. AIR FORCE for the Tie Fighter attack and DAM BUSTERS for the Death Star run. Often he crafted the FX shots to match the temp footage, and also cribbed some dialogue from those older movies along the way.

    • Poe_Serling

      Several years back, I read the script for Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior and I recall it was barely 50 pages long.

      But it still contained all the major action beats and dialogue of the finished film.

  • Bifferspice

    i’ve really enjoyed it so far (up to about p50), though i agree it’s beginning to become more obvious how hard he’s trying to keep it fresh.

    the writing’s very easy to read and it zips along. i love the concept.

    i also think it’s interesting that it’s yet another case of having an interesting script with an almost invisible protagonist. seems that having a really interesting protagonist is difficult if you want to keep them sympathetic. interesting traits often aren’t likeable. how interesting is ‘nice’? basically a lot of films seem to put a vanilla character as the title figure, and surround them with interesting stuff and interesting people. that way they’re a blank enough slate each of us can put ourselves in his situation.

    something like nightcrawler is the other side of this coin, where we’re just fascinated to see what he’ll do, but we can’t identify with him. you want the most people to identify with your character, you have to leave it pretty open.

    scott was a good character, but so utterly bland i couldn’t tell you a thing about him. it’s not even a criticism of the script, just a what i learned. it doesn’t hamper the script. he’s just a cipher.

    • Andrew Parker

      Totally agree on Scott being a cipher. At one point after the death, he quits his lawyer job to do something meaningful. By Page 50 though, that thread isn’t even touched again.

      Part of that is because some of the scenes go on too long. The funeral scene stretches on much longer than it probably should. But without a goal or urgency, it’s probably easier to just pack a scene with long conversations.

      I needed a little more of a theme or a central important relationship to care about. The writing flows nicely, the layout looks like a screenplay, and it does have an occasional memorable moment (the girl falling of the balcony’s final words, for instance). But even with a nice light humorous touch, this needed a little extra oomph for me.

      Still better than probably 80% of this year’s Black List, IMO.

    • aaronboolander

      Can you send me a copy? Would love to read!

      b(dash)rooks@hotmail.com

      thx:)

  • Frankie Hollywood

    Schrapf should totally pull a Meet the Parents and make the funeral back in some small town. Scott’s invited (guilt-tripped) into staying with the family for 3 days until the funeral’s over. Manufacturing problem solved. And, coincidentally, Scott’s ex/h.s. girlfriend (who he hates/is still in love with) lives in the same small town.

  • Randy Williams

    I like this concept. I’ll have to give it a read.
    I’ve thought of this concept before after something happened to me, but a bit in reverse.

    I was on a lonely stretch of beach one time and a middle-aged guy lugging a surfboard, gleefully ran into the water with it and started surfing. I watched him for a while. I could sense his joy from a distance. It was only the two of us on that beach that day. I actually felt inspired by his joy, uplifted from the doldrums. I left the beach then, left him alone there.

    A few days later, a group of people gathered on the beach for a memorial. I asked someone
    what it was about. They said their family member had drowned surfing a few days earlier. I connected the dots as I got more information. I approached the family. Told them I’d seen their family member surfing, how happy he looked that day. They said he had surfed when he was younger, gave it up for a life in business, and was just getting back to the things he loved.
    I thought they might like this reassurance that he died happy, but my sense was that they could care less for the man and were waiting for some pay out.

    I was left on the beach to grieve for this man. I’ve felt guilty about leaving him. Not that swimming out such a distance in high surf would have been easy. And after talking to the family, it was like the two of us were alone on that beach again.

  • Randy Williams

    If you can’t be “fresh” on the writing end, fighting stale on the directing end is a possibility.

    How about a SINGLE TAKE 1 1/2 hour action film?

    • brenkilco

      Why do I keep expecting Birdman to swoop in and rescue her?

  • klmn

    Good article. The importance of writing style was evident in the last iteration of Amateur Offerings.

  • drifting in space

    Couldn’t he just say… No, I am working on a case. Sorry! I mean he’s a lawyer, he should be able to get out of anything.

    His profession choice seems more convenient to a plot device than something that would directly affect his situation. Easy choices = boring reads.

  • brenkilco

    You generally hear about the first act break occurring around page 25 and the inciting incident around page 10. And that suggests, at least historically, that you had a few pages at the beginning for establishing the who, what and where without the need to come charging out of the gate. But now that I think of it I’m having trouble coming up with a great movie that doesn’t have a great opening scene. From Jaws to The Godfather. From Vertigo to Close Encounters. Chinatown, Goodfellas, Lawrence of Arabia. On and on. I know there are some. Die Hard has a pretty soft opening. So do some of Hitchcock’s movies: Rear Window, North by Northwest, The Birds, even Psycho. His rep was probably enough to guarantee patience. But I still think it’s more the exception than the rule. So what is the greatest film or script with a nothing much happening here opening? And why did it start that way?

    • Andrew Parker

      Maybe THE GRADUATE — Benjamin is simply standing on an airport’s moving walkway. That does reveal character though.

      UP IN THE AIR is also a pretty slow opening — Ryan Bingham is talking to a seminar about what would happen if you put all your meaningful stuff in a suitcase. That idea gets paid off later though.

      If something either exciting happens or perfectly captures a character or reflects a thematic element, I’m in.

      • brenkilco

        Haven’t seen The Graduate in a while. The conveyor is just a credits sequence. But aren’t we immediately into the party scene(“plastics”)
        And Up in the Air is really a glossy indie. Those operate by their own rules and I put them in a separate box. And personally, anyway, I consider it a good but far from great movie.

        • Andrew Parker

          That’s fair. I would say HER also ramps up slowly, but that too is a glossy indie. The opening should match the genre, so I guess it makes sense that all the examples I can think of are character pieces.

    • Linkthis83

      SILENCE OF THE LAMBS.

      And DIE HARD definitely doesn’t have a “great” opening scene. I think it all depends what you are building towards when you create. And as Andrew indicated, genre does play a big role in how movies open. Since genre greatly influences tone.

      Maybe the majority of movies you find to be “great” are a result of you thinking they have “great” openings.

      • brenkilco

        Maybe the majority of movies you find to be “great” are a result of you thinking they have “great” openings.

        Not at all. I consider Hitchcock the greatest director and as noted he often utilized a slow opening. And on reflection I’ve come up with several more favorites that start off deliberately: The Big Sleep, Rosemary’s Baby(most Polanski it seems with the exception of those photos in Chinatown) The Great Escape, Deliverance. Just realizing that a disproportionate number of great ones do announce themselves right away. And I’m using slow here for lack of a better word. An opening scene can be deliberate and still great. Once upon a Time In The West, for instance.

        • Linkthis83

          “Not at all.”

          Well, now I’m confused. My comment was in regard to you stating that you were having trouble coming up with a “great movie” that didn’t have a “great opening scene.”

          And in this post I think you just told me that you still think these “slow” openings are still “great” openings. :)

          I listed SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. I specifically watched the first 10 minutes of that movie before I posted.

          It’s also possible to extrapolate out – I don’t think I’ve seen a great movie that didn’t have a great story/scene/character – I’ve seen great openings to movies that didn’t turn out to be great.

          • brenkilco

            Let me haul out my Venn diagrams and address my logical errors. Most great movies have great opening scenes. Not all great movies have great opening scenes. Not all movies with great opening scenes are great movies. Not all great opening scenes are swiftly paced or contain physical action. The Silence of the Lambs does not have a great opening scene. Therefore all men are Socrates.

          • Buddy

            WE OWN THE NIGHT opening scene is one of the greatest for me, even if “nothing” really happens in there.

    • Poe_Serling

      The Thing From Another World

      The first five minutes are just a handful of the characters playing cards at the officers’ club at the air force base in Anchorage, Alaska.

      Why it works:

      >>The amazing credit sequence. Not only is the title burnt into the screen but also into the viewer’s mind. Plus, the music score and the desolate wintry landscape sets the tone of the film from the get-go.

      >>Even though the opening card playing scene seems like just causal chichit among the airmen, it does introduce the audience to the main character, what’s going on up at the Arctic base, and the whole gist of the story – newsman Scottie is bored and looking for a story to write about…

      And what’s a bigger story than a crashed alien aircraft?

      • brenkilco

        Yes, it’s pretty much all comradely yackety yak until they land at the station. Hawks could go both ways. Rio Bravo starts with a bang but El Dorado just sort of mosies.

        • Poe_Serling

          Regarding Red River… I was just reading where Hawks wanted Monty Clift for the role of Dude, but he turned it down because it didn’t want to work with John Wayne or Walter Brennan again.

          • brenkilco

            Think post accident clift might have been a little too convincing playing an alcoholic wreck.

          • davejc

            Lol! Do you mean Red River? Was that Monty Cliff. I can’t remember.

          • Poe_Serling

            Yes, Montgomery Clift starred in Red River (1948) with Wayne and Brennan.

            But Hawks also wanted him for the Dude role in Rio Bravo (1959).

          • davejc

            From what I remember of Red River I don’t blame Monty. the fights were a little too realistic.

    • filmklassik

      I’ve been pondering this for at least three hours now, and the only indubitably great movie with no indisputably great opening scene — at least that I can think of — is CHU CHU AND THE PHILLY FLASH.

      Okay, yes, I’m definitely being an idiot here (leading with my strengths), but all bullshitting aside, I do think bren might be on to something: With the possible exception of CASABLANCA, all of my favorite movies seem to have great, or at least startling (DIRTY HARRY), opening scenes.

      • brenkilco

        And even if not exactly great, the opening moments of Casablanca after the narration do effectively set everything up with a lot going on: murder report, screeching police vehicles, refugees being herded, a guy shot down in the street, Conrad Veidt arriving.

        Can’t say I’ve ever watched, or even had the urge to watch Chu Chu. In fact, though I know I’m not with the crowd on this, Carol Burnett would get my vote as the least funny human being ever to find success as a comedienne.

        • filmklassik

          Yeah, like you, I’ve never seen CHU CHU and if my luck holds I never will, because I’ve heard it’s an abomination, basically an affront to cinema (much as I love Alan Arkin; I can recite whole speeches from THE IN-LAWS).

          But I think I may dig Carol Burnett more than you do, although I admit she’s no Lucille Ball or the magnificent Eve Arden, who could make almost any line or moment funny.

          • brenkilco

            Serpentine. Serpentine. Yeah, Arden could flick a wisecrack like nobody else. There’s one scene, don’t remember the movie, some guy is looking her up and down and she snaps “Leave me with something on. I’ll catch cold.”

          • filmklassik

            That’s a good line, so props to the writer(s), but I’m sure it was expertly delivered.

            Arden was amazing. As a viewer, she never lets me down. She was reportedly Woody Allen’s favorite comedienne and he had planned to cast her in THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO, but her husband became gravely ill around this time and she couldn’t do it. (I think he died a short time later).

  • Eric

    I’ve got to say, I didn’t see anything in this first ten that didn’t feel incredibly rote. Swarmy divorce lawyer, check. Able to convince a woman to give up her house in a way that’s completely implausible, check. Disdain for his own client, check. Hot airhead date, but he’ll bang her anyway, check. The Bachelor? That’s a fruit that hangs so low you trip on it. The Bachelor has been confounding men and stupefying women since 2002. It’s got almost 30 seasons if you count its sister show. We’ve got Dance Moms, Real Housewives, Duggers to contend with. A joke about the Bachelor is about as first choice as it gets.

    What I learned?

    If the only way you can make your protagonist appear smart and capable is by making all the characters around him moronic, you haven’t done the work. Compare the negotiation scene here to the negotiations in Better Call Saul. It’s a wide chasm in quality. And the funny thing is, I think Scott’s actually supposed to be better than Saul.

    And the opening image is a plant in a “generic office”. ???

    • Zig

      This would have definitely been a better script had Scharpf referenced the Duggers instead of The Bachelor. Or, maybe even something more obscure?? For example, he could have gone to RealScreen to see which shows were greenlit for the summer of 2015, then mentioned one of those. After all, informed readers like their reality television references to have an Indie Rock, off-the-radar flare.

      Also, compare the negotiation scene here to the ones of Atticus Fitch from To Kill A Mockingbird. Or how about all that stuff Henry Fonda said in 12 Angry Men? I’m almost positive he played a lawyer in that movie, and the funny thing is, I think Scott’s actually supposed to be better than him.

      What I learned?

      This is an excellent script. Scharpf’s writing is witty, spry and engaging. I’m sure we’ll read more from him soon.

      • Eric

        “This would have definitely been a better script had Scharpf referenced the Duggers instead of The Bachelor.”

        My point is that it’s not an interesting detail and doesn’t really lend as much character as Carson seemed to think. If I said I like football would you think that was interesting? Or is it so common that the fact tells you next nothing about me? Would you think a joke about men liking football is trying too hard, or not hard enough?

        “Also, compare the negotiation scene here to the ones of Atticus Fitch from To Kill A Mockingbird.”

        I actually don’t think the writer would benefit from that. In fact he may want to steer this clear of all attorneys and anyone who’s ever been through a divorce. The idea that Scott’s speech, an appeal to her motherly instincts, could convince this woman to give up the house her children are living in, is just silly. Go read that speech again and tell me you or anyone you know would be swayed by it to give up a house. The only way this could happen is if she’s stupid and her consul is incompetent. But if they’re both idiots, the scene says nothing about Scott’s skill. He’s not smart, he’s lucky. Lucky everyone he meets is dumb.

        The scene would’ve been far more entertaining to me if the wife had called out his transparent, emotional ploy and promised to make things even worse for them for insulting her intelligence. Then Bill fires him and he goes to the bar to drown his sorrows because he’s not a good lawyer. The character would’ve been more relatable too. An underdog who can’t quite nail it rather than a creep who thinks he’s smarter than everyone when he really isn’t.

        • Zig

          Get some sleep Eric. It’s almost 1 am.

          • Eric

            Midnight is when I’m at my most productive. The rest of the world shuts off and I can finally concentrate. I sleep when I’m tired, I don’t when I’m not and I go to work when I have to. It’s actually really nice being able to self determine your sleeping schedule.

  • Linkthis83

    I couldn’t let go of the thought “wouldn’t everybody think it’s possible he killed her?”

    I assumed based on the premise that this would permeate through the script but it certainly doesn’t. In order for Greg’s story to end up where it did, Scott has be ruled out. At least he has Tommy grill Scott later in the script, but I just couldn’t shake it.

    To have it be a part of the story as you suggest, does change the story/tone quite a bit.

    The other thing that threw me off was it being listed as a Dark Comedy. Other than the circumstances of her death, it really felt like a drama after that. I’m not sure if this is Carson’s designation or the Black List’s.

    By page 50 it really does show that it’s hanging on by the “how will Scott handle this stuff.” But I truly felt in order for those scenes to matter, they need to be weighted by the question “what happen if the family finds out the truth about Lauren’s last moment.” However, that didn’t truly seem to be driving the story.

    So if it is supposed to be a dark comedy, then I think Greg skips over an interesting moment/opportunity – having to actually explain to the cops what happened. Or the 911 call recording. Or the actual police report that was filed.

    But it feels like this is more indie/drama-ish based on the choices made and how they were handled.

    Agree it was good writing, but I the character of Scott didn’t come off the page for me like he did you.

    • drifting in space

      I got to page 16 when I was stopped hard in my tracks.

      The dad is washing the floor of an active crime scene while the cops watch?

      WHAT?

      It is good writing though.

      • Linkthis83

        That was a specific choice I marinated on for a moment after I read it. Trying to make a case for this choice – Is it just one of those things you put in when you’re trying to show how grief can consume a parent at that time. Do the thing you can control in that moment while feeling like your child is being desecrated – I don’t know.

        It just felt off – but again, I come back to the genre being listed as Dark Comedy – then maybe it does work?

        If you are stating that is a key moment and a missed opportunity to enhance this story – I concur :)

        • drifting in space

          I think your case is valid: The parents TRYING to wash the floor shows grief. It should have ended there.

          I’m not even entirely sure they’d let them in the room to begin with.

          That being said, I can see this being made into a movie. Just not one I’d go see.

          • Linkthis83

            But that’s the thing…I don’t want my case to be valid. I think it weakens the scene. Lol. I mean, there’s mud and stuff on the floor. What kind of crime scene is this? Don’t you treat it like a crime scene no matter what – I mean, what officer looked at the circumstances and said “It’s cool, guys – There’s no way he killed her. Not based on what I’ve seen here. Carry on.”

            And then the parents bumrush the scene and then Daddy’s wiping the floor clean. Now I think the dad loosened the railing and is trying to get rid of the evidence he was even there. And Dad warned how many times? Sounds like Daddio is a suspect to me.

          • drifting in space

            You’re a better detective than the ones in the story. Damn, son.

      • Eric

        Wow. I guess the writer never once considered the possibility of Scott being a suspect or Lauren’s death being a crime scene. Kind of strange considering the parents would take one look at Scott and think, “Who are you?” I would ask whether the family expressed any suspicion, but I already know the answer.

        • drifting in space

          Instead of:

          “WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU? Did you fucking kill our daughter?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?”

          We get:

          “You just have to come to her funeral! After lunch, obviously!”

  • Eric

    “a work associate in her apartment would be less suspicious than some stranger off the internet in the eyes of law enforcement in terms of potential foul play.”

    This is not true. Most people are killed by someone they know. Detectives are aware of this and base their entire investigation around this premise (as well as physical evidence, of course). The only quick and easy solution I can think of is to have the cops find surveillance video of the fall. Though this would mean that Scott and Lauren have to stay separate at the moment she tumbles, so it can’t be misconstrued as him pushing her (and after double checking, I see they are separate).

  • Eddie Panta

    TWO WEEKS EARLIER
    or
    TWO YEARS LATER

    How many times have we seen that after a three page opening on an AOW script.

    In most cases, after this opening teaser, the structure of the script starts at the beginning of the character’s journey, but the writer has clipped a part from ACT II and stuck it on the opening. This is unfortunately the solution that many AOW writers choose in order to entice the READER , but this is more editing than actual story structure, a cut-and-paste solution.

    The AOW script the Battle of Mirbat starts with a big action sequence, very well written, but it backflashes to the beginning of the character’s journey leaving us with a cliffhanger opening. The script got a “wasn’t for me” rating. The opening was really a part of the final conflict. It didn’t have another event or incident to draw from.

    Another AOW script Willow Grove has a creepy opening, but later, after a time jump to the future, we had to go back and relearn what happened at this event via video replay.

    What ususally happens with a teaser opening is that you end up exposing something to the audience that the lead character doesn’t know. The main character plays catch-up for the rest of ACT 1.

    Many people like to point out that JAWS starts immediately with the threat, but they forget that it happens to an unknown character, who is not important to the story. It doesn’t mess with time-line of the leads character’s journey. The Sheriff quickly learns what we have.

    There are a ton scripts with intense and provocative openings that never made to the screen. Studios often opt for exposition openings as the did for RoboCop and Edge of Tomorrow or even L.A. Confidential.

    Let’s face it, there’s a screenplay for the reader and agent, and
    another to shoot the film. No one’s calling the reader when
    it’s time to make the script filmable.

    The Sixth Sense starts with a woman going downstairs to get a bottle of wine. She turns the lights on, chooses the wine, turns the lights off. Why is it so foreboding? Why is so necessary for the story? We’re expecting something to happen here, but nothing does, It keeps the reader on their toes, unsure where the threat will come from.

    One person’s boring sauce is another person’s hot sauce. You can make any mundane sequence exciting with tone and atmosphere, instead of giving away the entire event in the first three pages.

    • Bifferspice

      Love that you chose the sixth sense for how to do it right. It has a three years later or whatever it is straight after that first scene!

      • Eddie Panta

        It’s dissolve to TWO YEARS LATER. And the time jump is after the inciting incident and the events are still in sequence. My point was not have suspense hinge on the opening. The subsequent flashback in the film, only confirms what we suspect. He’s dead. even though it time jumps, the story commits to the main character’s point of view.

        If you want to put the most suspenseful part of the story in the opening, there’s a price to be paid. Anyway, it was an example of how a script can open on something mundane.

        There’s nothing wrong with a script that time jumps after a shocking opening, but when it’s done only for reasons of enticing a reader, you’re sacrificing story structure.

        • Bacon Statham

          You’ve got me thinking about this now. I’ve been struggling to think of a way to start my latest script. I was originally gonna start it in the present with the protagonist, but I eventually realised that the opening scene would work better if it happened later on in the story.
          Now I’ve come up with the idea of opening with a prologue that happens twenty years in the past and then I was gonna use a time jump to bring it forward into the present. I think that might be the best way to start it, but like you say there’s risk involved. I might be able to get away with it because the prologue is what sets the story in motion. You could say it’s the inciting incident.
          The story starts twenty years after the protagonist’s mother is falsely accused of murdering his father and the protagonist’s investigation into the murder is what kicks off the events of the story. The script revolves around chaos theory.
          So I’m just wondering if a time jump that big would be acceptable. If done right, I’m sure it will be, but then it’s just a case of getting it right.

          • Matthew Garry

            One way of handling that is to make sure that scene presents a mystery. Not necessarily a mystery-box, mind you, but a scene or sequence so compelling that an audience has to:
            -wonder what happens next, even if it’s happening in the future
            -want to know how it will eventually relate to the story if it’s not directly related to the next present-day scene

            So make sure it’s not just plain backstory. Handle it as if it was a flashback without a preceding present time scene.

          • Bacon Statham

            That’s what I hope the scene does. Presents a mystery and makes the reader want to continue. The scene is basically as follows:
            A house is burning to the ground. A young woman is being led away to a police cruiser in cuffs. She’s got blood on her hands and clothes. The noise from the police radio suggests that her husband is inside the house. Her five year old son runs over crying and begs her not to go away. The young boy’s godfather comes over and carries him away. The scene ends on the boy’s face as he watches the police car pull away with his mother inside and the blaze can be seen reflecting in his eyes.
            Time jump to twenty years later.

          • Matthew Garry

            It’s a tad melodramatic, which is normally what one would try to shy away from with a flashback.

            For a great example of a opening right before a time jump, see AF’s “Pet.” It’s a high voltage opening which results in finding a feral girl in a cage. There’s no way a reader would stop reading until they at least get an answer to the question what that was all about.

            In your case I’d say offer me, the reader, a challenge I can’t resist. Something like having the protag say in voice over:
            “I watched my mother kill my father. Watcher her as she stabbed him, over and over, while he was unconscious on the floor. I saw it with my own eyes. She’s always said she was innocent. And what’s more: I believe her.”

            There’s no way I could turn away from something like that. You gave me a contradiction that I have to see resolved, even if if I have to read on for it. As the writer it would be up to you to make sure I wouldn’t feel cheated by the resolution, which might very well be impossible by the example I just gave (although you mentioned chaos theory; that sounds promising :)

            As you describe it, it’s somewhat mysterious, but it doesn’t make me wonder what the hell just happened please tell me more! That first scene is your hook. Show me something that would drive me insane not knowing how it resolves, so that I absolutely positively have to read on to get the answer to it. And hinging on that promise, hand me over to the main plot.

            Also, the event 20 years in the past isn’t really the inciting incident. The status quo, the regular life of your protagonist for the past 20 years up to that point, includes that event, and he hasn’t done anything about it. The event that finally sets his investigation into motion after all this time would be the inciting incident.

          • Bacon Statham

            You’ve got a good point there actually. When I play it out in my head, it does come across as melodramatic.
            The way the story goes is that the protagonist’s mother commits suicide in prison and twenty years later he realises that his godfather has been lying to him. It turns out the night his father was ”murdered” was actually part of an elaborate plan to uncover a government conspiracy and everything that happened was just a way to keep the protagonist safe. Both his parents faked their deaths to get him off the chess board. If they’re dead, he can’t be used as leverage. But of course one thing leads to another and he ends up finding himself in danger anyway.
            That’s where the chaos theory angle comes into play. If his parents didn’t do what they did, the protagonist’s life would play out differently and the events of the story wouldn’t be happening the way they are. He wouldn’t get a phone call saying his godfather is dead and he wouldn’t ”accidentally” meet his father who pretends to be a random stranger in order to protect him.

          • Eddie Panta

            I think it only becomes melodramatic if the BOY is reacting obviously to the events. But if the BOY is detached, not allowing the EVENT to influence him. You could add another layer to it with narration. After the time jump I’d have a token that would connect the two scenes that are years apart.

            But I think you are setting up a LEGEND in the OPENING it should use a time-jump.

            I’d highly recommend these two movies in regards to a grown man who realizes the death of a parent was NOT at all what it seems.

            COBB – ty cobb bio pic
            has flashbacks to a murder scene where one parent kills another.

            BLUE RUIN
            A homeless man sets out to avenge his parents death but ends up finding out what really happened after it’s too late to stop the violence he’s set in motion.. No one is completely innocent or completely guilty.

          • Eddie Panta

            I think M. Garry’s advice is right about NOTheavy handed backstory,
            Keep the opening/prolouge visceral, visual, without specific intros. Just like a child’s memory would be. If you commit to the boy’s point of view to show the event, our unanswered questions become his in the future.
            Just like you described. A BOY, an INCIDENT involving a burning house the COPS, keep in loose.

  • S_P_1

    Is anyone else thrown when Carson denigrates a professional screenwriter only to give their script [x]worth the read or greater? It seems once you cross that paid screenwriter thresh hold concessions are given on the quality of your work. I know it has been discussed ad nauseum the difference between acceptance of an amateur submission and a professionals. It makes it difficult to accept Carson’s critiques whether he’s being non-biased or throwing a writer a bone. I haven’t read the volume of scripts he has, and the end result will always default to it’s his opinion and website. That carte blanche approach jeopardizes the veracity of the underlying basis of the website. Fair reviews of Hollywood scripts.

    • Andrew Parker

      Many, many people on the Black List have never sold a script. Don’t be fooled. Just because you are on a PDF sent out once a year does not make you a professional.

      Greg’s top IMDB credit is as Personal Assistant on I DON’T KNOW HOW SHE DOES IT. So I don’t really think the bar should be much different for him than you or I.

  • Citizen M

    How about a “Most Boring Logline” contest? Not a badly-written logline; a good logline but a guaranteed boring movie. My entry:

    When his wife dies in what appears to be a random shooting, a cop on the verge of retirement finds his relationship with his rebellious daughter threatened by the shocking truth he uncovers.

    • klmn

      Former Marine Joe Blow has to fight terrorists to save the world while dealing with his wife’s infidelity and his daughter’s cancer.

    • Kirk Diggler

      Wasn’t that the logline to AOW contender Extradition?

    • Midnight Luck

      I believe that was a logline from the INDUSTRY INSIDER CONTEST.

  • fatherdope

    Just to expand on grendl’s thoughts, would adding to the fact that somehow, some-wacky-way, our man Scott is (thru no machinations of his own) suddenly in line for some sort of inheritance from Miss Balcony Jump after the plunge be the ticket to keeping himself in the mix with her family? Going against his better logic to get the hell away from them?

  • aaronboolander

    Marshal of Revelation hands down!

  • Malibo Jackk

    Would be interesting to look at those scripts
    to see if the writers have some credentials that got them on the Black List.

    • klmn

      I wonder how many of those scripts got on the list because of what politicians call logrolling – “you vote for my bill and I’ll vote for yours.”

  • Linkthis83

    Definitely. And the fact that the story choice to have him barefoot is set up by the first scene. Very smooth.

  • Malibo Jackk

    Not sure that it’s important for a great movie to have a great opening.
    But it does seem important — that an amateur script have a good/great opening.

    (Would also suggest that many pros feel the importance of writing for the reader.
    One pro goes so far as writing what he calls a coyote script to get past the reader.
    His actual script is quite different.)

    • Buddy

      sorry mate, but i have to disagree on that one. If I think to my favorite movies, EVERYONE of them has an awesome opening.
      Ex ? jaws, pulp fiction (every tarantino’s movies), we own the night, the dark knight (every nolan’s movies), 2001 (kubrick’s movies), blade runner, vertigo, once upon a time in the west, snatch, the godfather 1&2, casino, indiana jones, trainspotting, matrix, the hurt locker, snake eyes, watchmen, saving private ryan, MI4, children of men, annie hall, 28weeks later, scream, star wars (a new hope), carrie, citizen kane, indiana jones, goldfinger, etc…

      you KNOW that you’re watching something SPECIAL. that doesn’t mean all the movie will be great, but that’s the best indication you can give.
      I never red a script with an awesome opening being really bad. But i NEVER read a script with an awful opening being good at the end.

      • Malibo Jackk

        Not a problem.
        Was not trying to suggest that great MOVIES don’t have great openings
        but rather that they may not need them.

        To paraphrase William Goldman — The most important scene in a movie is the ending. The most important scene of a SCRIPT is the beginning.

  • fragglewriter

    Great What I learned Tip. I’m sort of writing my script for the Nicholl, and my protagonist travels to the South from NY against her will, but to leave the town is not possible. So basically I have to keep her there for 3 to 5 days. Thinking of all the reasons why she cannot leave was very easy for the first 2-days, but after that, I was pulling straws, even with a subplot. I did set the ultimate goal, but hopefull, its sensible to a reader.

    • Eddie Panta

      Why do people stay in the haunted house?

      • fragglewriter

        I have no idea. But my goal is to try to write one in the future.

    • charliesb

      Finances is always a good one. Waiting for a cheque or loan to come through will definitely force you to stay in one place.

      • fragglewriter

        I decided to make my protagonist a little different in that she has wealth, so coming up with new ideas to not make it sound not ludacris.

  • Brainiac138

    It seems like Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker really are encouraging of their assistants’ writing. Wasn’t Michael Arndt their assistant before writing Little Miss Sunshine?

    • Buddy

      yeap ! I don’t know if they encouraging them or if they are so awful that their assistants prefer to work their ass off during nights & week-ends to escape from them ? :-)

      • Kirk Diggler

        I heard just the opposite from someone who worked on Election regarding how kind SJP was. (yeah, she wasn’t in the film but her husband was and she showed up on set in Nebraska).

        • Buddy

          yeah, I was just kidding ! i mean, ferris bueller can’t be married with a bitch right ? :-)

    • Eddie Panta

      cataloging and sorting shoes is really good screenplay experience.

  • RO

    After reading this review, this script seems a lot like this lousy movie: Mrs. Winterbourne. It seems like a familiar concept that is just out of reach from convincing an audience to buy in to it.

  • Bob Bradley

    Sorry, quit at p. 19 when he quit his job. This was not good. You just wished it was good. But it isn’t.

  • Poe_Serling

    OT: Just saw this over on the Variety website. Fox has just closed a deal for Neill Blomkmp to direct the next Alien film. Full article below:

    http://variety.com/2015/film/news/new-alien-movie-confirmed-at-fox-with-director-neill-blomkamp-1201436551/

    • charliesb

      An alien movie with actual Aliens* in it. What a novel idea. Plus Hicks?! I think I should buy a lottery ticket today.

      *Xenomorph Aliens

      • Poe_Serling

        Yeah, it would be fun to see Michael ‘Hicks’ Biehn back in action.

  • Jonathan Soens

    I like the idea of his knee-jerk reaction being to pretend that he knew the girl better, because he thinks a boyfriend is less shady than a hook-up. And he’d find out in a hurry that putting himself in a “relationship” with her actually makes the police like him even more for this crime, so he jumped from the frying pan into the fire (based on the understandable instinct to not want to admit the sordid nature of what he was really doing with the girl).

    I’m not sure a lawyer would make that mistake. Even if he’s not a criminal lawyer, I feel like this is knowledge a person would probably pick up in the years they spent absorbing useful lawyer knowledge in school.

    But it’s still a slick dramatic turn to have somebody think they’re improving their situation with a lie, only to realize they’ve just made the police look even harder at them.

  • Citizen M

    Deepwater Horizon
    Time & Temperature
    Ginger Snaps
    George
    Flower
    A Monster Calls
    Catherine The Great

    DH top, the rest tie. Haven’t read Marshal yet.

  • Alan Smithee

    So: mediocre script, but it’s got some Jesus-bashing in it, so it’s good!