I love it when a screenplay comes out of nowhere. Totally picked this one up out of a pile, and boy did it deliver!

Genre: Thriller/Mystery/Procedural
Premise: The true story behind the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.?
About: This script was written, I believe, in 2004, where it was hot enough to get Leonardo DiCaprio attached. But DiCaprio moved on to other projects and it never got made. Now was this just because DiCpario wanted to do something else? Or did a certain government body encourage the project to disappear?
Writers: Mark Lane and Donald Freed
Details: 127 pages (undated)


Wow, this one sure came out of nowhere. I’ll admit I wasn’t exactly excited to break it open. I figured another “Lincoln-like” history lesson was coming my way. And since that experience killed a thousand smiles inside of me, I’d have fought in the Civil War to make sure the same experience didn’t happen again.

That’s the thing with documenting these big important historical figures. Writers feel like the writing must, likewise, be “big” and “important.” And when you write that way, you forget the most essential component to telling a story – to entertain. Some of you might disagree with that. You might say the most important component is to teach, or to force the audience to ask questions. There’s some legitimacy to that. But if you can’t keep your audience interested, it doesn’t matter what you’re saying to them. They’re not paying attention anymore.

To add fuel to the fire, this script has long since been forgotten. Forgotten scripts are typically forgotten for a reason. So I expected that reason to surface pretty quickly. But something funny happened when I opened “Slay The Dreamer.” I wasn’t reading a stodgy too-proud-of-its-importance period piece. I was reading an actual story. What do I mean by that? Well read on…

It’s Memphis, Tennessee, 1976. Reverend Jim Lawson, a prominent Memphis pastor who used to march with Martin Luther King, is going about his daily church activities when he gets word that “Grace Walden” has been found. She’s in a nearby state asylum. We don’t know who Grace is, but from the way Lawson reacts to the news, we get the feeling she’s very important.

Lawson’s friends with some local big-timers, so heads over to the courthouse to start looking for a lawyer. He wants someone to help him get Grace out. But no one wants anything to do with him. Apparently the name “Grace Walden” is well-known around here. And she’s a story you don’t get involved with. But Lawson’s insistent. Why? Because Grace Walden seems to know something big. Something about Martin Luther King’s murder.

After being turned down by all the big shots, Lawson meets an awkward up-and-coming white lawyer named Jeff Jenkins. When Jeff finds out that Grace Walden was put in this asylum without any due process, he wants to do something about it. So he goes to visit Grace at the asylum, where he quickly learns that her room is heavily guarded. It’s clear that somebody somewhere doesn’t want anyone talking to this woman.

But Jeff cleverly finds a way to see her, and is surprised to find out she’s white. She’s also heavily sedated, making her act as crazy as they say she is. Still, she’s able to mumble out some names that give Jeff a starting point for an investigation. One of those names is a local drunk who used to live with Grace. He tells Jeff that Grace saw the man who shot Martin Luther King, and it was not James Earl Ray, the man convicted of the murder. Despite that, the FBI came to make her sign a statement saying that Earl Ray is the man she saw, but she refused. That night, agents came to her apartment, took her, and whisked her away to the nuthouse.

Upon realizing that this is much bigger than he originally thought, Jeff goes to his well-established hotshot lawyer father, who surprisingly tells him to ditch the case. It’s not worth it. But something about his father’s warning doesn’t ring true. It’s almost as if he’s hiding something. So Jeff continues to dig, eventually helping Grace escape from the institution, and snagging one of the biggest lawyers in town.

But that’s when shit really goes south. The Reverend realizes that the FBI is monitoring his church. Loads of old files about the King murder are burned. The police and agents start threatening our heroes. If what Grace saw that day really was just the imagination of a mad woman, the authorities sure aren’t acting like it. Could it really be true? Did someone besides James Earl Ray really kill Martin Luther King? And if so, who was it?

Clearly, a script like this is bolstered by the fact that it’s a true story. The producers even say that they’ll provide documented proof of everything written if asked. So you’re not just reading another thriller here. You’re reading a hidden part of history. But then why would this script die? It’s a GOOD script. If there was a 2004 Black List, this would surely make the top 10. My guess is that it’s a hard sell. King was such a huge important figure in our history – to imply a Hollywood-like conspiracy did him in cheapens his legacy in a way. Unless every single fact here was meticulously checked, it could easily come off as sensationalistic and cheesy.

Imagine you’re Leo. You’re getting closer to making this movie. And people start whispering in your ear: “You’re doing a disservice to King’s legacy if this research isn’t extremely well-founded.” Imagine the questions you’d have to face during the press junket. “How real is this?” “How much of this is fact? How much fiction?” That would be my guess on why Leo left. Not because of a lack of quality in the script, but that he would have to stand behind its claims. And that would be hard to do.

But man, if all this stuff is true? What a story! I had a good feeling about it right from the opening tip. When your script is driven mainly by men talking in rooms, your first scene tells a lot. It shows whether you can keep men talking in rooms interesting. The opening scene of Slay The Dreamer introduces the mystery of Grace. Who is this woman? Why is the Reverend so excited about locating her? Why had she disappeared for so long? Why is she in an insane asylum? All of these questions were rushing through my brain after the first scene alone, which meant I was in.

I also loved the choice to make our hero, Jeff Jenkins, an underdog. Always a good idea to wrap your story around an underdog. They’re almost impossible to root against. But what was really cool here were the relationships. They were so intricately woven and unexpected. I loved that Jeff needed his father’s help to bring the truth to light, yet we find out his father was actually working for the side that covered the Grace situation up in the first place! Talk about keeping it complicated.

This is a good script to study for the *changing goal* as well. Remember, scripts usually work best when your main character is pursuing a goal. And if you don’t have one giant goal, you should have a series of goals. Here, Jeff must first find out what Grace Walden’s deal is. After that goal is met, he must now get Grace Walden OUT of the institution. When that goal is met, he must prove the truth, that Grace Walden did not see James Earl Ray run past her that day, and that therefore somebody else killed Martin Luther King. The continuous goals are what kept this story driving forward.

If there’s a fault in the script, it’s probably in the third act. What was a mystery/thriller turns into 30 pages of courtroom prep. And no matter how interesting they tried to make it, it just wasn’t as fun as those first two-thirds of the script. Also (spoiler), and I’m assuming this is obvious since Ray is still listed as King’s murderer, the script ends on an anti-climactic note, with all Jeff’s witnesses and evidence thrown out before the trial begins (a trial we never see by the way). Definitely a bummer to watch all that training and not get to see the heavyweight bout. But that’s the noose you tie around your neck when you tell a true story. You can’t just make something up that didn’t happen.

But “Slay” does get you thinking. I didn’t know much about the details of King’s assassination before this. And now I want to know more. Whatever the case, this was a totally unexpected read. Really fun and entertaining – A Few Good Men meets JFK. If it’s true, then wow, this would make one hell of a movie.

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

What I learned: There are three things every screenwriter should study the hell out of: police procedure, the legal world, and the FBI. It’s impossible to avoid these elements for too long in the movie world. One of them usually pops up in every 2 to 3 screenplays you write. To not intimately know the legal world when you’re writing a script like “Slay The Dreamer” will result in a lack of credibility. Which almost always results in a lame unrealistic screenplay (not the case here – I always believed what the writers were saying). So, where can we find material to help us learn about these things? Great question! I was hoping you commenters could recommend some material…

  • carsonreeves1

    The fiasco known as Slaughter has been put to bed. Did it ever really exist in the first place?

    • James Inez

      Just when I was about to comment on it. Oh well. I am now excited to start reading this one.

    • TGivens

      Slaughter must’ve really disappointed you if you even decided to erase it from the Scriptshadow history for good.

    • AS

      I really wish it didn’t. Oh how I wish it didn’t. And now for a chemical scrub…

    • diet_green_tea

      It has not been put to bed. And yes, it did exist in the first place. Because you’re an asshole who does not respect writers and proved it with that. See how that works?

      • carsonreeves1

        I’m pretty sure I killed this man’s puppy.

        • diet_green_tea

          (1) I only have 2 cats. And they’d rip your face off before you could blink. They’re friendly to strangers like that.
          (2) The more you bury your head in the metaphorical sand, act like nothing is going on and ignore criticism, you dig your hole within the industry even deeper. The more you do not own up to your own actions, however you may feel about them, and acknowledge the legitimate concerns that have been addressed to you for well over half a year now, for an ever-escalating series of issues, the more you guarantee that no one will ever take you seriously. Your choice, dude. But swallowing the consequences of a decision is part of the job. And you clearly cannot handle even that one aspect of it.

          A writer/producer who actually works as a producer and has a PGA card to show for it

          • carsonreeves1

            Don’t give up on me yet Brian! I think you’re going to like Wednesday’s post. :)

          • diet_green_tea

            Is it a post of you acknowledging and responding to the laundry list of concerns and criticisms of your many recent practices and choices instead of trying to “deflect” callously and poorly with emoticons and irrelevant bullshit?

            (Based on the newsletter that was forwarded to me in which you list your lineup for the week, the answer is already no.)

          • carsonreeves1

            While I don’t think you’ll ever be a Scriptshadow fan, I have a feeling you’ll be a little less not-a-fan. And hey, PG-13 language. You can be angry but please be polite!

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1462007233 Avishai Weinberger

            I think that if this site was just about reviewing scripts for the sake of gossip or simply flaunting having these scripts, I’d take issue with it. But since it has an educational bent, is very insightful (moreso than most classes I’ve taken or books I’ve read), and is as thorough as it is when it comes to dissecting what makes scripts tick, I’m okay with it. Does it have problems? Yes, and some of those might be ethical issues. But the good overwhelmingly outweighs the bad, at least for learning writers.
            That’s my take; cue hateful responses.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1462007233 Avishai Weinberger

            Oh, hey, no hateful responses. I consider this a victory.

          • The Mulberry Tree

            Are these rants coming from some other interaction between you two? You seem to be pretty upset over a review of a script that was given a thumbs up. Since when has Carson not been respectful to writers? Since the comments section is for us to voice our opinions, I will do as such: Thank you for the review Carson, I was hesitant to read his script but now I feel confident that it will definitely be worth my time. Thanks for the continuous dedication you give to SS. I have learned more about screenwriting from you than I could possibly hope to pay back. Cheers.

          • Jamie

            Since when has Carson not been respectful to writers? That depends on your definition of ‘respect’. I don’t think it’s respectful to slam an outdated draft of a writers script when the writer specifically asked for the review to be taken down and the script not distributed.

            If you don’t realize by now, Carson hurts working writers. I know of a financier who wanted to make an offer on a script Carson is attached to ‘produce’. As soon as they grew aware of Carson’s involvement, the idea of an offer was thrown out the window. Writer never got paid…for one reason.

          • carsonreeves1

            Really? What project was this?

          • carsonreeves1

            still waiting.

          • Guest

            Great, throw out a story that have not been substantiated in any way. That’s productive. Ugh!

          • Andrew Mullen

            I like how you hate Carson and never miss an opportunity to rage out at him and how evil and unscrupulous he is…but you’re still on the mailing list.

          • Guest

            Please, he doesn’t owe his critics an explanation! That is a group he will never win with, so why waste his time? And get your facts straight before you come over spilling bile on someone else’s website.

          • Kay Bryen

            I hate to be the unofficial fact checker, but your assertion that “no one will ever take [Carson] seriously” is comprehensively contradicted by the very site on which that claim is made. Lastly, real “writer/producers” are out there *writing* and *producing*.

          • http://www.facebook.com/john.bradley.71066 John Bradley

            After watching Kevin Spacey’s character on Swimming with Sharks…I can see a legit producer being this mean, as well as owning rabid cats 8D

          • Andy

            I didn’t think the PGA allowed this sort of vitriol on the golf course.

      • acarl

        Lighten up, Francis….

    • Rob B.

      Hey Carson, did the newsletter go out this week? I didn’t get an email

      • TGivens

        Me too!

        • Cactus

          Me three! Ha ha.

          • Age_C

            Me four :(

          • Bella_Lugossi

            My other self five. Did anyone get it? Did Carson even send one out?

            Help. Please..

          • Ella-een

            Me six.

          • dkFrizzell

            Ten ah ah ah.

      • http://www.facebook.com/john.bradley.71066 John Bradley

        I haven’t got the newsletter either?

      • SeekingSolace

        I had the same problem before. Sometimes they end up as SPAM, it’s a rarity, but it happens.

      • Rob B.

        Carson said there’s an issue with the newsletter. Hopefully it will be back next week.

    • http://www.facebook.com/john.bradley.71066 John Bradley

      So remember your lesson, Carson. You’re only allowed to do positive reviews where you tell the world that the writer and material is the most genious thing you have ever come across. Apparently the script review world needs to be treated like 8 year olds playing soccer, where everyone gets a trophy just for showing up and not laying in the fetal position.

    • ElliotMaguire

      It’s for the best.

  • Poe_Serling

    Hmm, it seems that some ‘unseen’ forces slayed the my opportunity to read this particular script… if I were a conspiracy theorist, I’d squarely place the blame on —

    Sorry. There’s someone at my door. I’ll be back in a minute.

    • klmn

      Must be the Raven.

      • Poe_Serling

        lol. How I wish. ;-)

  • TGivens

    Great question indeed! I really need material on this subject now.

    • DDNYC

      I haven’t read this script yet, but to the learning about the FBI. I actually went down to their office here in NYC and was treated nicely. I told them I was a writer and wanted to get the facts straight. The security people put me in touch with some kind of public liaison person, who surprisingly helped me on the spot. Showed me to this library of sorts and made a field agent (who trains other agents now) available to me to answer questions.

      Now, they do ask for ID. Log you down etc. I almost thought I wouldn’t get to go home after all the “weird” (I thought they were weird) questions I asked. It was mostly about serial killers, forensic stuff, and crazy “have you ever seen a person murdered like this” stuff. I email the field training agent at least 2x a year whenever I’m stuck and google has no answer.

      • TGivens

        Maybe I should do the same. People are usually very cooperative when it comes to research. I was writing a script a couple years back and I needed information about motorcycle racing. I found many people willing to help me. They told me all about the technical stuff, about rituals some racers perform before races, about the most common mistakes in movies about motorcycles. It was really interesting.

      • Palangi

        Sounds like you might be in a file now…. oops.

  • Poe_Serling

    The writers Mark Lane and Donald Freed have been banging out conspiracy books forever. If these kind of stories and films tickle your fancy, I recommend checking out:

    Executive Action – a ‘stark, low budget docudrama about the assasination of JFK.’ The ’73 film
    is ‘loosely’ based on the Lane and Freed book entitled Rush to Judgment.

    Directed by veteran filmmaker David “Sudden Fear’ Miller … Staring Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan, and Will ‘Grandpa Walton’ Geer.

    • DDNYC

      Thanks for this info. Who can resist a good conspiracy theory.

      • Poe_Serling

        No problem.

        Executive Action kinda makes for a low-key bookend to Stone’s feverish JFK epic…. even though both films travel down a lot of the same conspiracy roads.

    • ElliotMaguire

      As always, great recommendations dude.

      • Poe_Serling

        Thanx, man.

    • Crazdwritr

      Poe, you are just a treasure trove of info. Glad you’re here!

      • Guest

        You would kill on Jeapordy. You know something about everything!

        • garrett_h

          Especially the category “Films That Start With The Letter Q”

          • Poe_Serling

            And you know that the Double Jeopardy ? would be hidden somewhere in that category.

    • GYAD

      “Executive Action” is a terrific film. Complete rubbish of course – the idea that the conspirators couldn’t smear the serial adulterer, drug addicted and Mafia-linked JFK is hilarious – but very well done in that realistic 1970s style.

      • Poe_Serling

        yeah, I believe you have to take most of these conspiracy films with a grain of salt.

  • jeaux

    I’ve started grooming my newborn son for CIA employment so i can have the ‘inside track’ on spy-speak! In 20-25 years, lookout SS, i’m gonna have a killer CIA script. Carson mark me down for an amateur friday around that time. Might as well go ahead and put in my 20 year notice at work too since this will be a sure thing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.bradley.71066 John Bradley

    Is there a resource or technique that is particularly usefull in understanding the legal world? The totallity of my understanding of the legal world comes from the movie Body Heat. Should my understanding go deeper than this?=D

    • http://twitter.com/cjGiltner C.J. Giltner

      Law school works well. Though I suppose if you don’t have thousands upon thousands of dollars and three years to kill then my advice is pointless.

  • carsonreeves1

    He’s a scary dude. Used to scream and rant at me on Twitter as well. He’s entitled to his opinion but boy, definitely needs to focus more on his own life and not obsess over some blogger.

    • JakeBarnes12

      He’s entitled to his opinion, but not entitled to post it on your website, man. I wouldn’t give the nutjobs a platform, they’ll never to satisfied.

    • 21BelowZero

      How about to make “amends” you review the original they sent you? Then you could also add a breakdown on the original vs the rewritten-to-hell-and-back script — an article on what we can expect Hollywood to do to us/our screenplay.

      • crazdwritr

        Please — NO comparing the two script, enough energy has been wasted on this — let’s just let it rest.

      • garrett_h

        I second this. That would be very interesting to read.

      • lest78

        That’s actually a really good idea. And would definitely add weight to the education aspect of the reviews.

        • carsonreeves1

          I don’t think Bobby wants to do that.

  • Malibo Jackk

    Have heard that the King widow wants to own the King legacy.
    Every time a King quote appears in the media without her permission, she’s ready
    to bring legal action. (So I’ve heard reported.)
    I’m not sure a movie could be made without writing her a check. (Can’t say for sure.)

    Have also heard that she may think that Earl Ray was not the shooter.

    • Poe_Serling

      Once read an interesting article on the Zapruder Film and the whole JFK assasination conspiracy.. if you watch the film you can see that there’s just a handful of spectators across from the grassy knoll when JFK’s limo drives by and right when he is struck by the rifle fire.

      But, over the last 50 years, more than 800+ witnesses have come forward and said that they were on that lawn across from the knoll and witnessed the shooting, saw multiple gunmen, etc.

      The article concluded that based on the size of the lawn area that there should be a crowd of at least 8 rows deep standing there in the Zapruder film.

      What does it all mean… you be the judge.

      • Malibo Jackk

        The witnesses may be confusing that day
        with the day they watched the Watchmen movie.

        • Poe_Serling

          lol. Did that many people even see Watchmen?

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1462007233 Avishai Weinberger

            I liked it.

          • Poe_Serling

            I really got into Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead, and I thought he hit a home run with his take on Frank Miller’s 300.

            But, after those two hits, Watchmen and Sucker Punch left me kinda cold and bored … even with all of their visual panache.

            Being a cinematic optimist, I do have high hopes for Man of Steel.

          • Andrew Mullen

            Did you see the director’s cut? It’s much better than the theatrical.

            I still have issues with it, Watchmen, but I do think it’s about as close as we’re going to get to a decent adaptation. That Sam Hamm version of the script was just head shakingly bad. A fight on the Statue of Liberty? Time Travel? The f—?

            As for Sucker Punch. I started watching it…then immediately shut it off. I bought it for myself on blu ray this past Christmas so I can watch it with the girlfriend (who is a feminist) so I can giggle while she goes into a small fit at its “thinks it’s feminist but is so mysognistic it hurts” message.

          • Poe_Serling

            A fight on the Statue of Liberty? Time Travel?… that Hamm script might just garner an impressive from Carson. ;-)

            And yeah, I’ve heard others say the director’s cut of Watchmen is the one to watch. For me, it’s the classic case of something else always comes along that I’d rather toss into the DVD player than take the time to revist the Watchmen world.

            Just last night I did rewatch the 5-star classic The Spiral Staircase from ’46 for about the 5th time or so.

            Here a serial killer stalks a mute servant girl in a remote mansion.

            It’s superb Hitchcock-like thriller. Great cast, especially Dorothy McGuire as the lead. Topnotch cinematography. It’s a house of shadowy hallways, dark corners, and that twisty staircase.

            Though it’s a bit creaky by today’s standards, it still amazes me how much it was a forerunner for the unknown intruder in the house genre, even down to creative POV shots of the faceless killer.

          • Andrew Mullen

            Under the Hood, the side documentary they made, is the best thing they did. I kind of wish they’d spliced that into the movie the way they spliced Tales of the Black Freighter in….it gives a lot more back story and grounding to the story.

            And that’s how I felt the first time I watched “M” and they did that thing where you see the guy, then a bus passes, and he’s VANISHED.

            I was in awe that not only was this the first time that was probably done, but that that staple cliche of thrillers was actually THAT old.

          • carsonreeves1

            Wait what? I’m checking this comment from my e-mail so I can’t see the whole thread. What Hamm script? I love time-travel. What script are we talking about?

          • Andrew Mullen

            The Sam Hamm draft of Watchmen from when Terry Gilliam was attached to it.

            Here’s a link if you don’t already have it.


          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1462007233 Avishai Weinberger

            Back in the ’80s, a Watchmen adaptation was in the works. But I mean adaptation loosely- other than character names, it was so far removed from the source as to essentially be something entirely different.

            Oddly, this was before Alan Moore became so opposed to adaptations of his works.

          • Poe_Serling

            Oh yeah, you don’t have to sell me on the genius of Fritz ‘M’ Lang… I actively search out his films.

            A few years back, I had the rare opportunity to go to a screening of his silent fantasy classics: Die Nibelungen: Siegfried and Die Nibelungen: Kriemhild’s Revenge. Both were filmed in ’24.

            The narrator of the film series stated: At this particular time in history, German cinema was in full swing and these Lang films were big budget productions that would rival today’s tent-pole films.
            As one recent movie critic wrote about the films,”…most closely resembles Star Wars, as pre-imagined by Tolkien.’

            What I remember most about the the two films: the sets. They were massive in size and almost mind-boggling to think that most were built from the ground up.

          • garrett_h

            I agree, it’s probably as close as we’re gonna get.

            IMO, a faithful adaptation would be impossible. Or better off as a miniseries.

            There are just so many themes and storylines in the book that get lost in translation, and some things that wouldn’t play the same on the big screen to a wide audience. Like that dead giant alien monster lol.

          • garrett_h

            As did I.

      • ChadStuart

        That as any law enforcement official will tell you, that “eyewitness testimony” is the least reliable there is.

        • Poe_Serling

          You’re right… it seems to prove the article’s point.

  • JakeBarnes12

    Carson, dude, up to you, man, but I’d suggest moderating any post that uses abusive language.

    You don’t owe any commenter a platform for their vitriol.

    • carsonreeves1

      I told him to nix the language. We’ll see if he listens. Knowing the temper on this guy though, I don’t see it happening. So yeah, moderation.

      • JakeBarnes12

        Yeah, we’re here to discuss screenwriting.

        Losers like this are just messing things up for all of us.

      • Andrew Mullen

        It might be a good idea to require some sort of extra registration to post as well. Cut down on sock puppets and yes (no) men.

    • ripleyy

      Trolls will be trolls, unfortunately :/ you feed one, you feed ‘em all.

  • http://twitter.com/Dragonsclawson XanderDragonsclawson

    Regarding real topics at hand:
    Most large organizations for the government, city, county, etc, have departments, or individuals that act as liason to creative media. They want you to portray them correctly, as well as in a good light, so yes, even the military has people for that.
    Legal? Many cases are heard in open court. For outside the courtroom? They have their own bar spots too, same way you came up with that hilarious line you heard that McDonald’s clerk say to another customer, only, you were looking for it this time.

    • garrett_h

      If I’m not mistaken, the WGA has a list of resources on their website with contact info for various organizations and their liasons. At least there used to be. Haven’t checked for it in a while.

  • KennyNOL

    What happened with “Slaughter”? Did the writers or producer complain about the review?

    • carsonreeves1

      Slaughter was a mess from the get-go. It was bound to disappear. The writers wanted the review down so I took it down.

    • Berringer

      Wow — the pro-Casron group is even fiercer than the anti-Carson group.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=860280323 David Markland

    I don’t think you can make a film like this until a more definitive film, with more widely accepted facts is made. Unlike, say, JFK, most people don’t know all the intricacies around this case, so a conspiracy film just won’t work. Or at least studios will be afraid it will be hard to sell to audiences.
    That said, “Hellhound On His Trail” is an amazing book about the MLK assassination that is amazingly suited for a feature film adaptation. I dare anyone with a Kindle to read the first chapter for free and not want to read the rest.
    (for LA readers, what makes it even more compelling is that James Earl Jones spent much of his time before the assassination in Los Angeles, living at a building on Hollywood near Western and thereabouts)

    • Kay Bryen

      Aha! I always suspected James Earl Jones had the creepy voice of a dastardly assassin :-)

      • Malibo Jackk

        Is it possible that a small error
        lead to the conviction of James Earl Ray???

    • Poe_Serling
    • Malibo Jackk

      Has anyone else noticed the physical resemblance
      between James Earl Jones… and James Earl Ray??

      • Poe_Serling

        I think they share the same family tree branch as Melissa George and Susan George.

    • http://www.facebook.com/andrew.orillion Andrew Orillion

      This, This right here is one of my problems with this script. The real story of how James Earl Ray was caught is gripping, awesome and begging to be made into a film. You don’t need to add all this conspiracy theory BS to make the story interesting.

  • carsonreeves1

    Oh gawd. Save the theatrics. E-mail me and I’ll send you the e-mail chain between Bobby and I. Not that it matters. The review is gone.

    • DeepCoverage

      Apart from the capitalization of Dangerously, there were no theatrics. But you still haven’t explained why the writer in question said themselves that they didn’t want this draft reviewed. Or whether you checked with BOTH writers before going ahead with it. In any case, I’ll read the email Chain.

      Send it to Harbinger@hotmail.com

      • JakeBarnes12

        How about you do something positive with your day instead?

        Like writing, perhaps?

      • Guest

        OMG — who are you? He doesn’t have to prove anything to you. It’s clear from the email chain that the two writers weren’t even on the same page. It’s their job to make sure they are on the same page, not Carson’s It’s easy to see how there was miscommunication.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1447159138 Tim Miller

    Umm, so, is it ok if I actually say something about “Slay The Dreamer” here? Am I in the right thread? Yes? Ok, good.

    I was with Carson when I opened this one, thinking, “Oh boy, this will be a doozy, I’ll just try and slog through it…” and I didn’t even look up until page 88. The script does a stellar job of hooking you in with the mystery and intrigue, and also does a near-perfect job of hinging together the first and second acts. The characters are well-drawn and believable, and the writers do a great job of peppering in the right amount of archival stuff to keep the story grounded.

    The only trouble, as Carson correctly points out, is the third act, and I think it illustrates one of the challenges of writing historical scripts. The problem here is that there isn’t any great resolution to Jeff’s journey, and that makes things seem a bit unsettled. While these kinds of stories from history often have great hooks, (that is, great beginnings), they don’t always have great endings. The reason that movies like “Argo” or “All The Presidents Men” work so well is that there is a denouement, a clear historical moment that wraps up the tale. Without that, you end up with a lot of conspiratorial conjecture, but not a very satisfying finish, as in Stone’s “JFK.”

    When writing historical stories, I think it’s best to look for moments that seem like endings, and then do the research and writing to find a beginning, rather than the other way around.

    • carsonreeves1


    • tom8883

      Or just do an Inglorious Basterds version of it. (Although there’s at least several reasons why that wouldn’t work with this one.)

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1462007233 Avishai Weinberger

        Just end with zombie MLK taking revenge on everyone.

  • ElliotMaguire

    This sounds fascinating, since when can a movie not be made because of some controversy??

    I say point this Oliver Stones way, he needs something like this.

  • carsonreeves1

    oh my god, Give me a break.

  • klmn

    This is a very well written screenplay. But yeah, it bogs down in the third act. Some years ago Sixty Minutes did a segment on James Earl Ray and the conspiracy theory. MLK’s son was interviewed and supported a new trial for Ray.

  • Writer451

    “To not intimately know the legal world when you’re writing a script like “Slay The Dreamer” will result in a lack of credibility. Which almost always results in a lame unrealistic screenplay.”

    But aren’t all procedurals lame and unrealistic anyway? If they were more credible, they wouldn’t get made b/c they’d be too boring. How often do crime scene investigators interrogate suspects in real life? Never. Most of the evidence in tv/movies would be inadmissible in a real court anyway, assuming real life police could afford a decent crime lab that isn’t overworked and underfunded. And my favorite is when the bad guy gets convicted with just one witness and no evidence. Ever hear of “he say, she say?”

    • Hem

      So, like, why bother, dude?

  • Davidcwalker

    I agree about needing to know about police, criminal justice, the FBI and various other law enforcement related EVEN IF you know about one or more of those areas (I personally have legal and military backgrounds and my brother, who was a patrol cop for more than 10 years, is always available to clarify what I didn’t know/see first hand). But that doesn’t make one an expert across the board. For example, I wrote a first draft for a producer about the Border Patrol, but made a lot of assumptions about their procedures based on my military experience. After I was able to get significant access to the border station in Nogales, AZ, as well as a day/night ridealong thanks to an ICE officer as well as local and DC liaisons (who were all very helpful and accessable), I ended up changing many scenes afterwards to reflect what I saw/heard. And was later told by the ICE officer after reading a revised draft that I had captured a sense of how things actually were versus the first draft that had a number of assumptions that just weren’t right.
    But I wouldn’t just stop there. Carson left out a very important world! So to paraphrase him: “To not intimately know the ‘military’ world when you’re writing/directing a script will result in a lack of credibility. Which almost always results in a lame unrealistic screenplay and/or film like “Zero Dark Thirty” or “The Hurt Locker” etc.”
    : )

  • FD

    I never understood the torture-porn genre anyway. I know a lot of people disagree with me, but I can derive no entertainment value whatsoever from the thought of watching someone take an acid shower – no matter how good or bad the script may be.
    Pleased it’s gone. May the film take the same path.

  • ripleyy

    Wow, what a great start of 2013! Our first script definitely lends the way for the rest of the year. Was “Slay the Dreamer” good? I never read it but I hope to later on, but it’s exciting to see that it’s a whole different type of “true story” – a true story that happened but no one knew!

    • Palangi

      It was well written, IMHO. Slowed down way too much for me at the end. Not sure how I like “true” stories. Gotta be tough to write without some inside knowledge/info. Anyway, was good overall, though not sure I’d see it in a movie house.

  • Kay Bryen

    Comment removed for national security reasons by the FBI, DHS, DEA, NRA, KKK and TGIF.

  • K__David

    I agree that you need to know the legal system if you’re writing about it, but to read procedural books that aren’t themselves fiction is so friggin’ boring and time consuming (to me at least.) I just want to write. So…

    I had a scene in a script a while back where someone got pulled over by a cop. Definitely wasn’t authentic. Watched a couple of episodes of Cops (Fox), paid attention to the first things the cops said, how they acted, procedural stuff (steps) and it not only changed my scene but definitely (in my opinion) made it feel more authentic. Same with a crime scene I was writing. I got my research from a couple episodes of the show First 48 (A&E).

    There are so many reality shows out there. Get in, Get out. Write.

    • Age_C

      The First 48, one of the best, grittiest reality TV shows ever. Amazing television.

    • garrett_h

      I had an idea for a found footage police spec. Went on a weekend First 48 binge doing research. Then I heard about End of Watch…

      • K__David

        Uh, the dreaded working on something, as something similar hits the screens. If your idea is good, I think you should roll with it. Watch the End of Watch, add a new take on it, and make sure not one scene matches what’s in that movie.

        • Crazdwrtr

          Agreed. It’s all in the execution. Do End of Watch better than End of Watch.

  • yovita

    Carson you are on the money. One of the reasons why I haven’t begin my new script is because I need to study the HELL out of police procedure and the legal world. I will read up on all the comments praying for info in the matter.

  • Palangi

    I just read the screenplay “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, And Vile” by Michael Werwie (on the 2012 Blacklist). Page 1 introduced Ted – and I knew immediately who/what it was about. Still, read it anyway. Was written well and told the story in a believeable way. Courtroom scenes were done well, not overdone, as here, I think.

    • Jake Gott

      Ya know, when I read the logline for that one, I had a feeling it was about Ted.

  • Andrew Mullen

    An anonymous person on the internet makes an assertion that’s completely without facts or sources and is completely unverifiable and refuses to provide any specifics?


    • Guest

      And don’t forget your torch. I have an extra if you need one!

  • RayFinkleLacesOut

    If I recall correctly, one of the writers commented on the review saying something to the effect of lol we won a competition and got to party our brains out because our script was so good so who cares what you think Carson. I guess once everyone else said their script sucked they took it a little more personally.

  • SeekingSolace

    “Slay the Dreamer” reads like a never ending who-done-it. The pace is sluggish, nothing overwhelmingly exciting ever occurs, and it never manages to convince this reader that such a cover-up had ever been carried out, which I’m sure is the intended point. However, the same could be said about “The Da Vinci Code,” and that movie did OK in theaters so there’s hope for this project. I would like to know what conspiracy theorists think about this script, I’m sure they are the target audience.

  • Citizen M

    Unlike most people here, I thought the second half was better than the first. At least the pace picked up a bit. In the first half there was a string of characters to get to know, and there was no clear direction to the story. None of the fictional characters ever grabbed me. They had no distinctive personalities.

    Regarding the conspiracy theory, I don’t think it flies. I watched the documentary “MLK: The Assassination Tapes” and checked out the crime scene on Google Earth. King was shot near the right corner of his mouth. The bullet travelled down, hitting his neck vertebrae and coming to rest in his shoulder. That means he was shot from above, even if he was leaning over the balcony. The boarding house window is the only place high enough. The bushes the alleged real gunman shot from are too low. The distance is only 65 m from the boarding house across Mulberry Street to the motel. Even I, one of the worst marksmen during my army training, could hit someone in the head at that distance with a rifle and a dead rest.

    Grace Walden was an alcoholic in an abusive relationship with Charlie Q. I don’t think her testimony is reliable enough in the face of all the other evidence. As to all the coincidences pointing to a conspiracy, if you’ve ever had something bad happen to you like a car crash or a mugging, you’re always thinking, “If only I had of done this, or if only someone else had done something else…” There are always a thousand little coincidences leading to the moment of impact, and if you’re paranoid enough you can start believing there was some organization behind events rather than random chance.

    Will the movie ever get made? I doubt it. Set eight years after the assaniation in 1976 it would be expensive to make. Who is interested? The civil rights battle is won, Hoover is exposed as a paranoid cross-dresser, and there’s no villain, only the “system”. So our crusading hero accomplishes… nothing. No big-name actor will go for the role, the case is weak, and there are no new revelations for the conspiracy theorists.

    [x] worth the read, for historical interest only.

    • RayFinkleLacesOut

      ^government agent

      • garrett_h

        Yep. His post was basically, “Move along now, folks. Nothing to see here…” LOL.

        • Citizen M

          LOL. I’m not an American government agent. I’m not even American, I’m South African, and we have our own conspiracies about who killed local black leaders. In fact, I knew nothing of the debate surrounding the shooting until I read the script, so I did a bit of reading on the internet and watched the documentary. Anything other than a lone shooting by James Earl Ray is a tough sell.

  • carsonreeves1

    Oh wow, really? Did he ever talk about King or no?

    • gonzorama

      He did talk about King. Unfortunately he was the one who invited Dr. King to Memphis to try and end the garbage strike. That’s when and where King was killed. I think that still haunts him. Also, Rev. Lawson studied under Gandhi’s disciples in India and was the driving force in the non-violence movement during the Civil Rights movement. There’s a great book called “The Children” that tells many of these stories.

  • Poe_Serling

    I knew you would appreciate that one!

  • Crazdwrtr

    That’s so fascinating

  • http://www.kevin-sharp.com/ K_Sharp

    Carson, I had the same trepidation as you about opening/reading this script — I could just smell “big” and “important” coming at me like a colossus… and I say that as someone who *loves* the movie JFK. Scanning the first few paragraphs of your review (I never read the whole thing until I’m done with the script) has changed my mind. Can’t wait to dive in!

  • garrett_h

    Wow… What an amazing script. Best thing I’ve read this year (albeit only a week into it lol).

    I went into this predisposed to the subject matter, so maybe I’m a bit biased. But I really enjoyed it. And Carson brings up great points. The “changing goals” of having to find this person, then this witness, then these files, etc., really kept this puppy moving.

    And the whole time I knew nothing would come of it. Anyone who has heard bits and pieces of this conspiracy theory know that there was no grand uncovering of the whole operation. It was all done away with. So that filled me with some “dramatic irony” as Carson puts it often. I KNEW they were going to fail, but I still wanted to see them succeed. And if they were going to fail, I wanted to know HOW and WHY. That kept me reading.

    The dialogue was terrific. All the characters popped off the page for me, and I never once lost track of who was who. Even minor characters like church members and the lawyers at Jeff’s firm had their own personality. Actors would be lining up to play even the smallest roles in this. Which is a good lesson to keep in mind. SOMEONE has to play the roles you write, so write them better than “LAWYER #1″.

    I have nothing bad to say about this one. Sadly, this will NEVER be made. :(

    And I’ll tell Carson to watch out, too. There are already plenty of people calling for the end of Scriptshadow. You don’t need the FBI and the ghost of J. Edgar Hoover on your back as well!

    Hopefully this review won’t go the way of Slaughter…

    [x] Genius

    • carsonreeves1

      wow! A genius!

      • garrett_h

        On second thought, let me make that an [xx] Impressive, simply because it’s a “true” story and some of the facts/events/info were already out there, just waiting to become an aweseome story. Still, the writers did a terrific job putting it all together.

        And I agree, Carson. If there were a Blacklist 2004, this would be top 10. I’d even go as far to say Top 3!

        Now I’m struggling to remember specs I read back in 2004. Boy, scripts were so much more difficult to come by back then lol.

  • Citizen M

    He came across as quite a funky guy on the documentary. I thought he looked like a black Buddy Holly with the black-rimmed specs he wore back then.

  • peisley

    There are books for writers about criminal investigations, police procedures, legal terminology, etc. I’ve used websites where experts will give you info for free. Often, you’ll get retired police who are very informative. As some have stated here, just calling or visiting will usually put you in touch with somebody who can answer your basic questions. It’s best, though, to do some preliminary study on your own so you don’t sound like a total doofus. This script may have died because, sadly, it’s about an African American and a period piece. Just read about Lucas and Red Tails, although it took him an awful long time to cough up some of his many millions, too.

  • John Torma

    There are actually crime procedural text books for college students in law enforcement field. You can find them in used book stores or university bookstores. Also there is a series of writer’s guides to crime procedure and probably law on Amazon.

  • yeebarr

    Year of the amateur scripts?

    Fridays zombie script is pretty decent (although will not be everyone’s cup o’ tea) and I’ve started reading “Crash Course” and “Follow the Leader” and, even though just 10 pages into each, I’ve been impressed by the skills of the writers so far.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1462007233 Avishai Weinberger

      Thank you!

      • yeebarr

        No worries – can’t wait for the review; I’m sure Carson will have plenty of notes and advice but I really enjoyed your take on the virus

  • scartacus

    Well worth the read. I agree with another poster that the second half reads much better than the first. I was tired when I read it and almost checked out at the 60 page mark, despite being a huge fan of these type of movies.

    There are some very basic technical things that need to be done to make the first act an easier read. The naming logic is all over the place. On the first page we introduce “the Minister”. On the next page he has morphed into “Reverend Lawson, but without caps. Is this the same guy? Obviously yes, but I had to doublecheck. The bigger problem was that the writers alternated between calling the Reverend “Lawson” or “Jim” — when our lead character also begins with a J and is called Jeff. Additionally, it didn’t help that our hero’s father was called Lucas, who gets to share two hander dialogue scenes with another L man — yep, Lawson! Clearly they have to use real names, but why not call him Reverend Lawson in the dialogue and lose the Jim first name to avoid confusion. I’d be tempted to use Lucas Jenkins as a full name in the dialogue.

    I’m also surprised that Carson didn’t call out the writers on the” let’s meet a new character in every other scene in Act One” structure. Some of the lawyer characters felt redundant, in particular the Morgan character. It took me too long to figure out that Jeff is the hero. His intro reads like the character intro for a cool nerdy sidekick, not the hero. But all of this can be fixed by trimming the cast list and setting up the story via Jeff’s eyes from the get-go. Slay the Dreamer is a good script and deserves its day in the court of public opinion. Best use of Biblical quote ever? (Joseph being slain)

    • Citizen M

      I also got confused between the names. Jeff and Lucas Jenkins were fictional so he could have given them more distinctive names.

  • jared111

    I really don’t like the idea of making a movie that raises these questions about Martin Luther King’s assassination. I’d have to see their evidence. Like Carson said, it’s a huge risk when you say this kind of stuff is true material. You might be able to change it if you took like Inglorious Basterds as a model and just said, screw it, we’re going to make some stuff up here. That would probably make for a more interesting third act.

    Yeah, I hate the idea of making this kind of movie, which would birth a new conspiracy theory. JFK energized that kind of conspiracy spirit, and it’s a huge waste of time.

  • http://www.facebook.com/andrew.orillion Andrew Orillion

    My thoughts on Slay the Dreamer are very mixed. It starts out a little slow, but found its footing pretty quickly. The second act flow by, couldn’t put it down. These writers have a great, lean style that is really good for the thriller genre, shades of David Guggenheim’s excellent “Black Box”. Unfortunately, it can’t sustain that momentum. The script grinds to a halt when it hits its third act and does an info dump in regard to its conspiracy theory claims.

    The closest comparison would be Oliver Stones masterpiece, “JFK”. The main difference is that “JFK” parceled out its theory instead of giving it to you all at once. I also imagine “JFK” played better than it read.

    The main take away here is better structure. Tease us with the theory. Give us a little bit here, a little bit there. Don’t smack us in the face with it and go off on five plus page tangent.

  • Josh

    Loving the site. Where can I find .pdfs for the scripts you’re reviewing?

  • James Inez

    Are there powerful people in this world with a vested interest in keeping people dumb? Yup. Keeping people in line? Yup. Controlling people? Yup. Making themselves rich and everyone else poor? Yup. Slaying the Dream. [xx] Yup. [xx] Impressive

  • Malibo Jackk

    Hey, welcome back.
    (Congrats, by the way, on placing highl with PAGE.)
    Any good news to report? Scripts circulating?

    • The_Haze

      Thanks you. The Kill House is in another rewrite. I wish i could say that being a finalist did something great for us, but it didn’t. We still have the people championing the script helping us with the rewrite, but our problem is, and i’d like to give a shout out to the FRENCH GUY, for some great notes, the scripts budget is just to high for a low budget movie.

      we’ve been told that several times, now we are going back and trying to make it better. To this community, and Carson,

      I’d like to say one thing, it is not the lion that roars that upsets the africa plains; but it is the hyena that roars, thinking it’s a lion, that causes such fierce positions because when you travel great distances to be with the LION, you sure as hell don’t want it ending up being a hyena. Salud.


      • Crazdwrtr

        Love the weird metaphor. The last sentence is so true. Welcome back Rustin, missed your wit. I once told you I write 10 times better than you. (We agreed, at most, it was maybe only 9 times better :-) To see if that is true, check out RISE from Carson’s email. Salud squared.

  • klmn
  • Guess Who

    When it comes to basing a screenplay on a real life historical story, how true to the facts do you have to come? Can you invent stuff into it? Inglorious Bastards really took liberties… and some of the movies you see based on a real life event when you look at the real story, a lot has been invented from whole cloth.

  • JWF

    did anyone post where online we can find information on the legal world/fbi etc. ?
    Also, it sounds as though Paul Greengrass’ biopic about King is nearing production, so perhaps that coming out will renew interest in this? That’s if that turns out successfully of course.

  • Brainiac138

    What I have been told, and this is from some agents and entertainment lawyers, is that if a story is basically in the public domain, meaning it is so big that everyone has had equal access to the facts and details of the story, then there are no rights that need to be acquired. However, it gets murky when you want to take a particular angle or take on it, that may have come from a specific investigation that was published in the media. Also, if the players in the story are living, it may not be legally pressing to get their permission, but it is easier for them to sue you if you get anything wrong.

  • Ambrose*

    Regarding your comment that “it is mostly universally accepted that Ray killed King”, many would argue that contention, and even the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations, which investigated the killings of JFK, MLK and the shooting of Governor George Wallace in the ’70s, concluded that while Ray did shoot King “there is a likeliehood”, in their words, that it was the result of a conspiracy.
    We’ll probably never know the true facts.

    • http://www.facebook.com/charles.ryan.509 Charles Ryan

      This is true. There is always the conspiracy that MLK was killing by the gov’t. I just meant that I think a majority of America agrees Ray killed King whereas we have the entire “grassy knoll” deal.

  • JakeBarnes12

    The anonymous internet guy hating on Carson is a pro, huh, Rustin?

    Guess you just redefined “gullible.”

  • Greg Klein

    I thought the Genesis quote that Lawson recites near the end of the film was brilliant. Quotes like that can easily sound cheesy or forced, but that quote summed up the entire film’s theme with a few words.

    • LisaMcDowell

      You’re so right about that quote. I loved it. It was perfect!

  • Steve

    I thought this was too simple and, at times, felt amateurish. Like it was written 30 years ago or something. Cliched, on the nose, and too boring to finish. It would have been a guaranteed flop if made. Of course Carson would love it. He’s only picked one money maker out of 19 of his recommends.

  • klmn

    If you want to see a good conspiracy film, check this one out:

  • Bron1Bron1

    Read fast and blended exposition throughout the storytelling really well, which can be challenging for a procedural piece

  • PaknSave

    Love these stories about how dodgy American was/is… Good script. Needed some work. It all seemed a little too easy for Jeff…

  • seanfast
  • blue439

    I had difficulty starting this as conspiracy theorist/lawyer Mark Lane pretty much confines himself to those two points for a long time, bypassing character and plot. It wasn’t even clear that Jenkins was the protagonist for the longest time and never really has an inner motive to continue with his quest to get at the truth, but when the King assassination (as interpreted by Lane) consipracy plot starts to cohere, then it’s a fascinating read– believe it or not. It really doesn’t matter than Jenkins has no arc and that Grace Walden, who is basically the plot point that kicks the story into gear, gets lost. It’s still a real page-turner, but of course since the government investigation deadends, the ending of the script isn’t terribly satisfying. The writing is strongest when it sticks to the “facts.” When Lane has to invent as in the Silhouetted Man, it comes off like a bad X-Files episode with the Cigarette Smoking Man. There’s strengths and weaknesses to the just the facts approach. Following what appears to be a government conspiracy to kill King, although Lane doesn’t really declare it outright, is undoubtedly riveting. But everything around the core mystery, from the slow beginning to the ending that’s more of a stopping point to the lack of any real personal motive to the lack of any point of view except that big government is bad — an idea that’s hardly fresh — makes everything else in the script pretty un-riveting. I can see why Leo was attracted and also why the project went nowhere. Interesting that he also was looking at The Imitation Game, another true life story, but let that go as well.