Genre: Mystery & Suspense/Fantasy/Horror
Premise:“A Christmas Carol” reimagined, told from the point of view of Bob Cratchit as he and Ebenezer Scrooge race to track down Jacob Marley’s killer — the same killer who now targets Scrooge as well as Cratchit’s son, Tiny Tim.
About: A semifinalist script (top 4) from our very own Scriptshadow Screenplay Tournament written by one of the most talented writers on Scriptshadow’s boards, who’s already once received a [xx] worth the read for her horror script, “The Devil’s Workshop,” about an abused makeup effects artist who experiences sinister forces after she accepts a job to craft a demon mask for a film.
Writer: Katherine Botts (based on the novella, “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens)
Details: 114 pages
Today starts an interesting journey. I’m going to review all four of the Scriptshadow Tournament semifinalist scripts. The unique part of this is that I deliberately stayed out of the discussion so that I wouldn’t have any preconceived notions going into the reviews. I’m curious to see if the things I like are things that were added through the suggestions of the readers, and vice versa, if anything I didn’t like was suggested.
I’ve always thought this idea had potential. These types of mash-ups do well around town and the best of them end up on the Black List. My only question is, is this concept too complex? You’re mixing genres and stories that don’t traditionally come together, which is kind of the point. But that kind of chemistry always has an unexpected outcome.
Bob Cratchit ain’t your grandfather’s Bob Cratchit. The guy boxes on the side to supplement his lousy income from Ebenezer Scrooge. Cratchit only cares about one thing – keeping his family fed. And he’ll do anything he needs to to make that happen. Except use contraception.
So one day Cratchit is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Future, who uses his power to take him one day into the future, where Scrooge and Cratchit’s youngest son, Tiny Tim, have been murdered! When he gets back to the present he finds out Scrooge was shown the same vision, and that Scrooge’s old partner, Jacob Marley, was murdered as well.
So the group (Scrooge, Cratchit, and the ghost of Jacob Marley) head into the past to find out how Marley’s murder connects with theirs in hopes of keeping the future murder-free. These Back to the Future moments amount to seeing how each man grew up and became the person they are today.
For Scrooge, he used to be a fun-loving guy who Jacob Marley turned into a money-obsessed monster. And Cratchit, in trying to impress his boss, Scrooge, ended up beating a man to death, only to later marry that man’s widow. It’s all rather shocking. But how does it add up to these murders? And can the trio figure out who the murderer is before Christmas Day?
The first thing I noticed about Cratchit is that this is a very “high degree of difficulty” script. As we’ve talked about before, every script comes with a degree of difficulty. The higher the degree of difficulty (incorporating a couple of triple-axels into your routine), the higher the payoff. Unfortunately, there’s a flip side to that. The higher the chance of falling on your butt as well.
Cratchit is so ambitious that it feels like, somewhere along the way, Katherine lost track of the story. About 45 pages in, I was asking myself two questions I didn’t have great answers for: “Why are we with three people instead of one?” and “What exactly is their purpose in these Past scenes?”
The All-Star team-up approach was, in my opinion, a mistake. You already have a tricky narrative. You already have a unique setup. To distribute the story’s engine onto three characters instead of one distributes the focus as well, and that’s where I got lost. When we were watching Young Scrooge’s first girlfriend, I kept wondering, what does this have to do with a murder?
And that’s how the entire Past section played out for me. One giant backstory party that wasn’t connected to the murder storyline aggressively enough. So by page 60, I was numb to what was going on. I couldn’t figure out what their plan was to solve the murder mystery. And I was getting tired of all the character exposition.
Part of the problem is that the past had to satisfy three separate characters, where Dickens’ original story only had to satisfy one. And that simplicity made the original story much easier to tell and enjoyable to watch. The irony alone of learning how good of a person Young Scrooge was jarred us enough that we didn’t care about exposition.
If I were producing this, I would give the same advice I give to the majority of scripts that have lost their way – SIMPLIFY! A simpler story could solve so many problems here.
For example (and this is off the top of my head, so bear with me), let’s say Cratchit is shown the future, where Scrooge is murdered in his office, and Cratchit is being taken away by the police. Cratchit knows he’s been framed and so if he doesn’t find out who really killed Scrooge, he’s going to prison for the rest of his life. He’s got access to the three ghosts (past, present, and future) until tomorrow morning, and you’ve got a basic murder-mystery with a twist.
I’m wondering – and you guys or Katherine can answer this for me – if this script got overdeveloped. Cause that happens sometimes. Where you start off simple, and then the rereads become boring since you already know what’s going to happen, so you keep adding more and more plot, not because it’s making the story better, but because it’s making the rereads easier to stomach. Cause that’s kind of what it feels like to me.
Another inherent weakness with this format is how passive all the characters are whenever they go on these time jumps. We’re basically watching people watch people. And that’s as interesting as it sounds. It’s been awhile since I watched A Christmas Carol so I don’t know how they solved this. But I seem to remember they kept each sequence short, so the passiveness didn’t stick out as much.
But props to Katherine for going after this tricky concept. Even if I wasn’t as engaged as I wanted to be, I could feel the amount of sweat and tears that went into the characters, the backstory and the writing.
That’s one of the toughest things about screenwriting, is how hard it is to get all that stuff right, and then even when you do, you still have to nail the story. It’s like when I used to teach tennis. I could teach the student perfect form. But they still had to go out there and win the match.
I’ll finish by saying this. If you’ve come up with a complex concept like Cratchit, make sure you have a strong idea of how you’re going to execute it. These complex concepts aren’t the kinds of things you want to jump into and hope the answers will come to you later on. Have a plan, write up an outline, and get a good feel for the story before you write FADE IN.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Story Reminders. If readers forget why your characters are doing what they’re doing, that’s usually a bad thing you can’t recover from. But sometimes a story is just complex enough where simple reminders of why the characters are doing what they’re doing can be helpful. I needed a character to remind me a few times throughout that giant Past Section what we were doing here and why. Because the longer I went without knowing, the more my mind started drifting, and once a mind starts drifting, it’s only a matter of time before it drifts away, like a balloon on windy Sunday afternoon.