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Genre: Thriller
Premise: (from Blood List) When a couple living in a Brooklyn high-rise think that a man in the building across the street is looking through their window, their paranoia grows until they begin to suspect he might actually be a killer at large who the news refers to as The Headhunter.
About: This script finished number four on The Blood List, the annual list of the best horror, thriller, and sci-fi scripts. I reviewed the number one script on Monday and the number two script earlier in the year (my favorite so far).
Writer: Zack Ford
Details: 90 pages

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I’m a nervous wreck. Two days ago, I’d accepted the Cubs’ fate. They were down 3 games to 1 in the World Series, no hope of coming back. It’d been a fun season. But mentally, I’d resigned myself and moved on. They weren’t going to win.

And then they had to go and win 2 games in a row. And now it’s tied. And the 7th game of the World Series is today. And I don’t know what to do with myself. I can’t concentrate on anything. I keep thinking: What if this is actually the year?

Do you know how big of a joke the Cubs losing has become in Chicago? We have this saying, “Wait until next year.” We usually start using it around mid-season, as that’s when it becomes clear that the Cubs are, once again, not going to make the playoffs.

Well, it got so bad that we started using that saying on the opening day of the season. “Wait until next year.” It was an ongoing joke. WE were an ongoing joke. We knew the Cubs weren’t going anywhere. And we were okay with that.

Yet now, after 108 years, they actually have a chance to win the World Series. You don’t realize how bizarre this is for somebody who’s lived his entire life accepting that this would never happen. It doesn’t seem real. So, to be honest, I don’t know what to do with it. I don’t know how to mentally compartmentalize it so I can do other things.

I’ve just been staring at the wall most of the day with this weird “Huh?” look on my face.

Amongst these endless huhs, I will attempt to write a script review. Hope it’s more of a Kris Bryant Home Run than a Steve Bartman Interference.

Julia and Francis have just moved into a new apartment in Brooklyn, where Francis has secured a prime-time advertising job. But immediately – and when I say immediately, I mean within seconds – things start going wrong.

Julia’s convinced that there’s a man in the high-rise across the street who’s staring at her. When she tells Francis about him, he’s not so sure. But since there’s a killer on the loose, a man who slices people’s heads off, he can’t be too careful.

So the two monitor the man, first in his window, and eventually around the neighborhood. This dude is a big fucker, and he’s always wearing this raincoat and rain boots. But, of course, they can’t be 100% that he’s the headhunting serial killer who’s been turning people into real-life Halloween costumes.

Things get interesting, however, when Julia goes to the local supermarket and Raincoat Dude follows her there. Francis’s checking of the subsequent security footage proves that this man’s definitely following his wife around.

But that begs the question: What do they do about it? It’s not like you can go to the police and say, “This man stares at us from across the street so he’s probably the serial killer you’re looking for.” But Francis has got to do something. Julia wants out of this apartment pronto. And she’s counting on Francis to take care of it.

However, just when Francis secures a solution to the problem, he finds himself stalked by our rain loving face-collector. Is it too late for Francis? I’d tell you, but I don’t want you to get a-HEAD of yourselves. Heh heh heh.

Here’s what I liked about this script. It was a super fast read, and it had a lot of fun with its set pieces. I thought moving away from the traditional horror locations (attics, basements, old houses) really benefited the screenplay, with my two favorite scenes being the supermarket stalking and the late-night subway car confrontation.

The problem with The Watcher, unfortunately, is that it’s too thin.

Early on in our screenwriting education, we’re told to strip everything away and only focus on the areas of the story that push it forward. This is good advice unless you take it too literally. If you give us only the barest of bones, there’s no meat to grab onto.

It’s like if someone told you not to eat too much cause you want to stay skinny, and you took that to mean you should only eat exactly how many calories you needed to stay alive. You’d be a skeleton.

And that’s what this script felt like, a skeleton.

I mean we knew these characters for literally three seconds before Julia sees the man in the window across the street. It was like, whoa man, slow your roll. Let’s get to at least know you first!

The counter-argument to this is, “Well don’t you tell us to jump right into the story, Carson? Isn’t that what good screenplays do? Start quickly?”

Yes. But there’s a difference between jumping right into your story and jumping right into your concept. You want to build up to your concept (a man living across the street who watches you). Whereas with your story, you can jump into that in numerous ways without breaching your concept yet.

For example, in Rosemary’s Baby, the opening scene is our characters being shown an apartment. We’re pulled in by their excitement, as well as a mid-scene mystery — a secret closet our character spots that’s been hidden for some reason.

That’s important to remember. You don’t have to tear our eyes out with some balls-to-the-wall super-opening for your first scene to be a success. It only has to feel like something’s happening and we’re moving towards something that matters (in this case, towards the purchase of an apartment). If you can spike the scene to add curiosity (with a hidden closet), all the better.

But yeah, we’re not starting Rosemary’s Baby with Rosemary having her baby.

I was also hoping for more unexpected things to happen in The Watcher. Outside of a couple of scenes, when we were told something was going to happen, it usually happened. Scripts need to utilize the opposite approach. You tell the audience it’s going to happen one way, and then it happens a completely different way.

For example, after we see Julia stalked by the killer at the supermarket early in the story, Francis goes back to the supermarket and asks an employee if he can look at the security tape. When he watches the tape… everything happens exactly like we saw it happen with Julia. “He’s really stalking her,” Francis says.

How much more interesting would this have been if the tape showed that he didn’t stalk Julia at all? This would’ve made things so much more complicated. Now Francis is wondering if his wife is losing it. Yet she’s in such a fucked-up state, he can’t tell her that’s what he’s thinking. And everything, from how he talks to his wife to how he approaches the situation, becomes a lot more complicated.

That’s the world you want your characters dealing with in the second act. There shouldn’t be any easy choices. If the problem is: Killer is over here and the solution is: therefore we must go over there — that’s not very interesting.

But if the problem is: I’m not sure if that’s the killer. My wife might be crazy. But my wife is telling me she’s leaving me unless we get out of this apartment. But I emptied out my savings to get this place and we’re not getting our money back if we leave and I don’t have enough money to get us a new place… now you’ve got a movie.

I wanted more of that complexity here but unfortunately I didn’t get it. Then again, screenwriting is all about rewriting. And I’m sure there are some already well-versed managers and agents telling Zack this stuff.

So with that I say: Go Cubbies.

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

What I learned: Things should rarely go according to plan in storytelling. Your characters should have a good idea of how things are going to go… AND THEN YOU MAKE SURE THEY DON’T GO THAT WAY. Try it out and watch your scenes improve. If your character is going to pick up his daughter after school, have the teacher tell him she needs to talk to him about something bad his daughter did that day. If your character plans to break up with his girlfriend, have her tell him she’s pregnant right before he breaks the news. If your character has been meticulously planning a bank robbery for six months, have him show up only to see that there’s a Police Appreciation Parade running down Main Street that day and the entire police force is out in tow. Things should never go according to plan!

  • Poe_Serling

    “I thought moving away from the traditional horror locations (attics, basements,
    old houses) really benefited the screenplay… ”

    So true. Not only can a somewhat different location keep the audience a bit
    more engaged than usual, it can also offer up a wellspring of new ideas to
    explore your story.