Amateur screenwriter Nicole Avenia takes on one of my favorite genres. Does she have the screenwriting chops to pull it off?
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Premise: (from writer) When a reclusive teenager and her estranged parents embark on an ice fishing trip in northern Canada, things quickly turn perilous when they become stranded on the ice and realize someone — or something — is stalking them.
Writer: Nicole Avenia
Details: 91 pages
I’m not going to lie. I needed something short this week for Amateur Friday. As I get closer to finishing the Scriptshadow Book (yes, a book is coming! And I PROMISE you it will make you a better screenwriter. Your life will change after reading this book!), I can’t afford to spend 30 extra minutes reading a 125 page behemoth. So that was the good news for Nicole. Her script was only 92 pages!
The bad news was, the “stuck in the middle of freezing nowhere” thriller is responsible for two of my favorite screenplays, Sara Conradt’s “Dead of Winter,” and Joe Carnahan’s, “The Grey.” So Nicole was going up against some stiff competition. I hope she brought her scarf and snowshoes. This is about to get barometric!
16-year-old Maddy spends most of her days ignoring her mother’s new boyfriend and getting into fights with the town bully, Raymond. The nasty Raymond really likes to torture Maddy, but strangely enough, whenever this news reaches her mother (Ann), she sides with the bully instead of Maddy. Nice parenting mom! This (along with the whole ‘mom has a boyfriend’ thing) has left Maddy and her mother’s relationship at an impasse.
So Ann decides it would be a good idea to head up north and do some ice fishing – like they used to when Maddy was younger. Part of the deal is that the boyfriend stays home. It will only be them. Except, not so fast, says Maddy. In a sly little move that only a 16 year old could pull off, Maddy finagles her father, Kaneo, onto the trip. Ann isn’t happy. But there’s not much she can do about it.
The trio head up north to do their ice fishing thing, which goes about as well as you’d expect. But when it’s time to go home, their darn car won’t start. Kaneo just wants to stay in the car for the night but Ann’s not having that, so she approaches a nearby 40-something fisherman named Orli and asks him for a ride.
After a lot of discussion about where Maddy’s going to go, with mom or dad, Kaneo comes across a dead camper with a stick through his eye. Either this guy’s a really bad fire-maker or Orli isn’t as nice a guy as we thought he was! It doesn’t take long for us to realize it’s the latter and soon Orli has the whole family at gunpoint in his tent.
In a very uncomfortable scene, Orli makes Maddy strip for him in front of her parents. Kaneo gets angry about this so Orli shoots him. Somehow, Kaneo is able to crawl away.
Afterwards, we learn in a shocking twist, Orli actually knows Maddy! Apparently they met on a heart condition blog as they both have the same heart problem. Orli buddied up with her in the comments section, lying about his age, eventually convincing her to have sex with him. In other words, be careful who you talk to in those Scriptshadow comments! Is Karlosd really who he says he is???
Now if all our dysfunctional family had to do was deal with Orli, they might be able to get out of this. But it turns out they’re also being stalked by a POLAR BEAR. Apparently a lot of polar bears lost their jobs after Lost ended, probably due to a lack of unionizing. This has left them hungry and out of work, to the point where stalking characters from other scripts is their only way to survive.
Anyway, all of these things come together in an explosive finale where not everybody makes it off the pond alive.
Okay so Nicole is a longtime Scriptshadow reader who really wants to get better. That’s why she’s put her script up for public scrutiny. She wants to know what she needs work on. The Ice Pond is a nice little idea for a movie – and I love the wild card of the polar bear – but in its current form, it’s sort of all over the place. There are a lot of funky choices made here that create a weird choppy tale.
Remember that no matter how good you are with words or structure or dialogue or a number of other things, it won’t matter unless you make smart, interesting choices in your screenplay. If you’re not making smart choices, the audience is going to lose interest quickly.
One of the choices that had me scratching my head here was that Orli and Maddy knew each other from before. At first glance this might have seemed like a good twist. It’s definitely unexpected. But does it make sense?
Not to me. To me it felt forced and false. How does a 40 year old man with no inside access to Maddy’s family end up having sex with her? On a heart blog. That’s hard to buy. In addition, the twist wasn’t set up well/believably.
Early on, before they run into Orli, Maddy falls through the ice and is saved by Orli. So Maddy’s just been saved by the man who she secretly had sex with and has been talking to online for months. Yet she doesn’t have any reaction to him at all? She doesn’t even look at him funny? There’s no shock when she sees him? Actually, her reaction isn’t even highlighted. So to reveal later that they know each other…it didn’t make sense based on what we’d seen so far.
There were a lot of strange moments like this. For example, when Kaneo finds the dead man, he storms back over to his wife and daughter, who are talking to Orli, and starts yelling at Orli to stay away from them – that he knows he killed that man back there. Amidst the shuffle, he accidentally hits Ann. For reasons that are completely beyond my comprehension, instead of grabbing his family and RUNNING AWAY FROM THE SERIAL KILLER, he gets into a fight with Ann right there. With, you know, the killer 2 feet away.
Sometimes, as writers, we’re so busy telling the story that we’re not thinking about how things would really go down – how characters would REALLY react. I’m sorry, but if I accidentally hit my wife and she started yelling at me about it in front of a serial killer, I’m grabbing her by the arm and running. We’ll argue later.
I think the scene that really made me uncomfortable though was when Orli made Maddy strip in front of her parents. I don’t know to express this exactly, but I don’t think the tone of this thriller was dark enough to warrant this kind of scene. This is a light fluffy (literally – with polar bears!) thriller. You just can’t have a 40 year old making a 16 year old strip naked in front of her parents.
There’s a similar scene in the movie Funny Games, where the mother character is forced to strip. Not only did that work better because she was an adult, but the tone of that film was established early on as very dark.
As far as what to do with The Ice Pond moving forward, I do believe it has potential. I like the idea of being stranded out in the middle of nowhere with a killer. I like the idea of throwing the wildcard of the polar bear in there. But you need to work out a more consistent and believable story.
The first thing I would do is get rid of that twist. Don’t have it so Maddy and Orli know each other. Or if you do, set it up way better. Maddy has to actually react to the fact that the only man she’s had sex with is mysteriously up at the same lake spot in the middle of nowhere that she is. Even still, I would strongly urge axing this. Orli has to be random. It makes more sense and it makes him scarier.
From there, just keep working on cleaning up the story. Too many sequences feel sloppy. Things like the car dying, for example. What happened there?? Kaneo decides he’s going to sleep there the night. Ann walks over to a scary freaky guy out in the middle of nowhere and asks him for a ride??? Kaneo walks off into the forest looking for booze and discovers a Dead Camper?? And afterwards, their car works again? So it didn’t work. Now it magically does? That whole sequence was beyond confusing. And a lot of sequences felt that way – like they hadn’t been carefully constructed ahead of time but rather written on the fly.
After those things get figured out, we can tackle some of the bigger story problems. But right now, The Ice Pond feels like wet clay. Nothing here is solid enough to accurately dissect what’s wrong with it.
Script link: The Ice Pond
[ ] Wait for the rewrite
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: “Essence” Character Descriptions – A lot of times I’ll read character descriptions that have a lot of adjectives in them, yet I can’t visualize the character. For example, here’s the description of Orli in The Ice Pond: “ORLI is slight with rigid cheekbones sticking out of his winter hood, facial skin pulled tight as a leather drum. His huge, square teeth barely hide behind his thin lips.” I mean I kind of know what he looks like from that description but not really. Instead, try a description that encompasses the character’s essence. Something like: “ORLI – a shifty 40-something who looks like he’s spent the last 20 years of his life in the backwoods…” That’s not perfect. I might’ve added an extra detail or two with more time. But I get a much better sense of that character than I do from a literal description.