Premise: The members of a small Irish town housing a supposed Lochness-like monster in their lake find their world turned upside-down when an American documentary crew arrives to find out if the monster is real.
About: For those of you who don’t visit Scriptshadow regularly, there’s a commenter named Grendl who has basically spent the past year terrorizing every writer who’s ever had a script reviewed on the site. He angrily bashes everybody’s work. To his credit, though, despite blasting almost every screenplay written after 1979, he’s always been game to having his script reviewed on the site. In the past, I’ve declined because I didn’t want to reward the class bully (and because he used to send me rambling e-mails about how I was the world’s worst person). But Grendl’s exhibited some good behavior recently, so I finally said, why not? Let’s give him a shot.
Details: 126 pages
Many of you may think this is an opportunity to finally say to Grendl, “See, you don’t know everything after all! [x] part of your story is boring. [y] subplot doesn’t make any sense. The dialogue in scene [z] was on-the-nose.” Indeed, there will be a large contingent of readers who have been sharpening their knives for this moment, and they plan to use them. And I won’t begrudge them of that. He’s earned every attack he’s going to get.
But I’m not going to be one of those people. I haven’t even read the script yet (I’m going to after I write the intro). But I can promise I will try my best to put all the baggage aside and judge the screenplay on its merits alone. If it’s good, I’m going to say it’s good. If it’s bad, I’m going to say it’s bad. There is no agenda here. More than anything, there’s curiosity. What does the man who hates everything write about? What kind of story will he tell? It’s time for Scriptshadow Nation to find out!
[Carson reads script]
Real Monsters is about the town of Delphi, a tiny dot on Ireland’s map. The town folk here don’t do much other than drink beer and talk shit about each other, mainly because the town is dying. Liam McIntyre, the town’s lone pub owner and therefore, its unofficial spokesman, spends the majority of his days coming up with excuses for why he can’t pay the bills.
This angers his 26 year-old spitfire of a daughter, Katelyn, to no end. The woman’s been cleaning up his messes for long enough now and she’s just about fed up with him. One more mishap and she’s off to America, a place where someone can actually make something of themselves.
Her plan is interrupted by two visitors, however. A newly married couple and a documentary crew, both – ironically – from America. Heading up that crew is 38 year-old Michael Weiss. He’s got a bit of dashingness left in those 38 years and decides to use it to snag the unobtainable Katelyn. But she rebuffs him like a Scientology pamphlet, leaving him with little left to do in town other than drink Guinness at room temperature and work.
The reason the Americans are here is the only reason anybody still comes to Delphi – Haddy. Haddy is the local Lochness-like legend who lives underneath the huge lake adjacent to downtown. Michael’s documentary team is the first to come here and give the legend a serious scientific look. That’s making some of the locals nervous, especially Liam and his buddy Jerry, two men who know the truth about Haddy– that she ain’t real. Therefore, they sneak out to the lake late-night and throw in a homemade rubber “lake monster hump” in hopes of keeping the lie alive.
Except when someone’s got a boat with a dozen industrial-level lights on it, hoaxing becomes a lot tougher, and Team Liam gets caught. The jig is supposedly up. Until town-members stumble upon the real reason for the Americans’ visit, a shocking twist that will force them to make a choice about the town that just may cause its demise.
If you’re like me, you were half-expecting some sort of weird viral thing to happen mid-way through Real Monsters. 17% of me honestly believed that Grendl might be the monster living underneath the lake. And that the monster had written a script. And there was going to be some Youtube link at the end of the screenplay that led to a video of a sea-monster twerking to Miley Cyrus’s latest song telling me that unless I gave his script a “genius” he was going to road-trip it to the Pacific Ocean and eat me.
But that didn’t happen. What I was left with instead was a quiet character-driven script about a beautiful Irish town trying to stick together when they’re invaded by rich Americans. The $64,000 question then: WAS IT ANY GOOD!?
Well, yes and no. Grendl does a nice job establishing not only this town, but the relationships within the town. I never once questioned the authenticity of any of the town or characters (or their dialogue), and even believe that Grendl may now live in this town. That’s how specific and detailed it all felt.
I also liked what he did with the main character, Katelyn. We really feel this woman’s need to pull away from her deadbeat bar owner dad and spread her wings before it’s too late. And that push-pull relationship was the main reason I rooted for her. Once you have a reader rooting for your main character, you’re in pretty good shape.
Here’s my issue with the script though. There’s not enough story here. Outside of Katelyn and her father’s relationship, and Katelyn and Michael’s relationship (to a lesser degree), there weren’t a whole lot of things to keep you invested. I didn’t dislike any of the locals. Like I said, many of them exhibited genuine authenticity. But I didn’t really care about them. I got to about the 80 page mark and thought, “Man, I’m tired. I wanna go to sleep.” And that’s always the true test of a writer. When they’ve got you late in the second act – one of the most difficult places to keep a reader invested – that’s when you truly know you have a great script.
Now Grendl offered at the last second to send me a hastily revised 111 page version – presumably because the backlash that was sure to come from a 126 page script finally hit him – but hurriedly cutting 15 pages at the last second never resulted in anything good, so I advised against it. Still, I think that version would’ve played much better.
The opening voice-over with Liam floating Gaelic prose over shots of the lake may have seemed like a good idea when you had an entire day of writing ahead of you. But that kind of stuff plays differently when a reader is barreling through your script. I was bored by it. And then every dialogue scene felt like it went 15-20% too long. Characters always felt like they were repeating themselves instead of just getting to the point and moving on. “You gotta do this.” “No, I can’t, you do it.” “No, I don’t want to do it. Shouldn’t you do it?” “I did it last time.” “Maybe I should do it.” This isn’t literal dialogue from the script, but that’s how it felt a lot of the time – people just carrying on conversations that should’ve ended long ago.
I was just about to hit “skim” mode on page 85 (or 90?) when we have a big twist that launched us into a much bigger final act than I was expecting. That kind of jolted me awake and carried me to magical number 126. The twist (or double-twist) wasn’t bad but I’m not sure it totally worked. There was something a little safe about it. You know how those good twists get you all revved up and excited, eager to mentally go back through the story to see how it all plays with this new information? This twist never made it that far back. It was kinda like, “Ooh, cool, a twist,” and then you moved on.
If I were Grendl (and dammit, am I happy I’m not), I’d bring this down to 110 pages. Focus on the love story between Katelyn and Michael more. Get to that way earlier than page 50. Downgrade the involvement of some of the less important characters, like Paul, so you can spend more time on this relationship. And I’d say take a few more chances. This is that cute little script you read and say, “Not bad,” at the end, then put it down and forget about it. You never recommend it to anyone because there’s nothing big enough or exciting enough in it to recommend. It’s a well-told story, if a little long, but that’s it. In order to stand out from the pack, you need more than that.
In the end, I’m a little surprised by this effort. I guess I was expecting something… more Grendl? Darker? Riskier? Controversial? This is such a soft story. I never would’ve predicted that. But Grendl’s got some talent. It’s hard to argue against that. And that talent nudges Real Monsters up to a “worth the read.”
Script link: Real Monsters
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Soft, kind, gentle stories are tough to sell on the spec market. Even the best of them. Not many people are looking for that middle-of-the-emotional-ladder type screenplay. They want the kind of stuff with more extreme emotions, whether it be crying, fear, thrills, or anger. That’s generally what I’ve found.