Shorts Week Continues: Today is the second day of Shorts Week, where I cover 5 short scripts from you guys, the readers. Shorts Week was a newsletter-only opportunity. To sign up and make sure you don’t miss out on future Scriptshadow opportunities, e-mail me at the contact page and opt in for the newsletter (if you’re not signed up already). No, this week’s newsletter still hasn’t gone out yet. Hopefully by tonight!
Premise: (from writers) A lone survivor in a world besieged by the undead struggles to protect her home: A big cat farm in the middle of Iowa.
About: These two won the very first Scriptshadow Screenplay Contest with their script, “Oh Never, Spectre Leaf!”
Writers: C. Ryan Kirkpatrick and Chad Musick
Details: 23 pages
I remember there was a time when shorts were pointless. The only way a short could actually help your career was if it somehow got picked as an Oscar nominee. And who the hell knows how that happens? Win a couple of major festivals? I mean talk about a system that didn’t give you a lot of bang for your buck.
Youtube has changed all that. Shorts are one of the most promising ways to start a career in filmmaking nowadays. I mean, Scriptshadow fave “Mama” started off as a short. Had Guillermo Del Toro not seen that thing and loved it, we would’ve never met that floaty-haired little freakshow in feature form.
And even without the super-success stories of visual-effects whizzes launching their careers via jaw-dropping short films (Neil Blomkamp), shorts on the internet are still a must for any young filmmaker. I mean, when someone tells me he’s a director these days, the first thing I do is look him up on Youtube so I can watch one of his shorts, see what he’s about. If he doesn’t have anything up, I don’t take him seriously. It’s practically a requirement.
So it’s an intriguing transition. Shorts have gone from completely insignificant to the number one calling card for young directors in all of 7 years. Oh, how fast the business changes. However, shorts are still being produced via the wrong approach. They’re typically generated by directors trying to show off their stuff. This is NOT the way you should approach a movie. First and foremost should be the script. The script has to be a story worth telling.
If we could develop a shorts system that marries writers with directors somehow, my guess is that shorts would be a lot better. But the importance of the system has grown faster than the system has been put in place. Of course, writers aren’t really prepared for this either. If the shorts I’ve been reading are any indication, screenwriters aren’t really sure how to tackle this new blossoming medium. There’s still too much boring subject matter and boring storytelling. A short film has to be both emotionally satisfying AND memorable/different in some way. It has to STAND OUT. Which is a perfect segue into today’s offering.
30 year-old Emma Gray hasn’t been having the best week. She’s had to kill her husband after he turned into a zombie, and upon doing so, upset her little boy so much that he ran away. The only thing left in her life is her son’s childhood stuffed animal, Hobbes, who she’s taken to talking to (a la Wilson from Castaway) in order to prevent insanity.
After dusting a few zombies of the 28 Days Later variety (frantic runners), Emma decides to go back to her childhood home, where her family (I believe) owned a veterinary clinic. But not just any veterinary clinic. This clinic took care of big cats – tigers, leopards, cheetahs, that sort of thing. When Emma goes to check on how the animals are doing, she learns they’re not so good. Apparently the zombie virus has crossed into the cat world. And that’s not good news for anybody planning to take a stroll into the cage room.
Once the zombie tigers spot Emma, they go nuts, bursting out of their cages. Emma has to put them down Old Yeller style (by the way, why did they make us read that shit when we were kids? Who wants to read a story where a dog is deliberately killed?). Pretty soon, a few bullets aren’t going to do the trick. There are zombie tigers everywhere, and she’s gotta exit the premises, pronto.
So she grabs Hobbes and away they go, following the directions of a radio transmission that promises safety for survivors. Unfortunately, her car isn’t going to make it on a dwindling tank of gas, so she has to stop at a gas station. After she grabs some supplies, she’s shocked to find the door to her jeep open and Hobbes gone! Hobbes being the only thing keeping her sane, she hops in the car and goes after the thief, a zombie trucking through the forest. She leaps out, shoots him dead, and walks over to grab her stuffed tiger. But when she sees who she’s killed, her entire world falls apart…
As Keanu Reeves would say – whoa. This was one hell of a trip. First thing I wanna mention, though, is the length. Despite the quality of this and Friday’s script (which is also 20+ pages), I don’t think these feel like traditional shorts. They feel like shorts-plus. 20+ pages is more than a casual commitment and therefore Shorts-Plus scripts are going to be harder sells for people. I’m guessing not as many of you are going to read this based on length alone. I don’t want to make some definitive statement or anything. But length clearly matters. It will affect your reads. Lots more people are going to read a 7 page short instead of a 20 pager, regardless of how good it is. You’ve been warned.
As for the story itself, it had some good things going for it and some not-so-good things. Zombie tigers. Wow. That’s a crazy choice. It’s unique, but I’m not sure how many people will suspend their disbelief to buy into a story about zombie-tigers. I suspect some readers are just going to say, “That’s too weird.”
However, it’s also what sets this apart from all the other shorts. I think one of the key things you have to ask yourself when writing a short is, “Is this the kind of thing that people would tell other people about?” Is it the kind of video where people will say, “You gotta see this?” Would they put it in their e-mail? Would they tweet about it? Otherwise, what’s the point? You’ve made a short for you and your buddies. Who cares? Zombie tigers and cheetahs trying to rip humans to pieces? If done well, that’s something I’d wanna see. So “Here There Be Tigers,” passes that crucial test.
Another key element that this short has going for it is the ending. That’s one thing I’ve noticed about shorts. The ones with surprise endings leave more of an impact and are therefore more likely to be shared. (Spoiler) Here, the person who stole Hobbes and is shot dead turns out to be (in case you hadn’t guessed), Emma’s son. Ouch. That’s a killer. It’s a nice twist if a little confusing. I understand it’s dark out, but if it’s bright enough to properly aim at someone’s head, wouldn’t you notice the difference between a 5 year old boy and a full grown adult? I wish that would’ve been more believably handled.
The Castaway effect was also a smart move. By providing this inanimate object (Hobbes), it allowed us to get inside our character’s head via her talking out loud to someone. Yesterday we talked about the power of a silent short (showing and not telling) which is basically what this is except for that little cheat – Hobbes. It was kind of the best of both worlds in that we still got to hear our hero, but only when we absolutely needed to. Overall, we still got that “silent film” feel.
There were a couple of things that threw me about “Tigers” though – the biggest of which was why the hell Emma would deliberately walk into a place with hundreds of wild tigers. Even if they weren’t zombified, that’d still be really dangerous. I got the feeling she went there (where home was) for some reason, but I couldn’t figure out what. Since the entire short is based on this premise, it can’t be an unknown. Her motivation has to be strong. So I’d like to see that strengthened in the next draft.
Also, there seemed to be some connection between her family and the cats, but that was also unclear. Were her family members all veterinarians? That would be my guess but it was still too vague. I wanted to know definitively why she knew the names of all the cats. And also, of course, why the hell she willingly walked into a veterinary clinic full of hungry animals.
In the end, there was definitely enough stuff to recommend Tigers. I just think some things needed to be cleared and tightened up. What did you guys think?
Script link: Here There Be Tigers
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: If you’re telling a story with a single character, consider creating an object that the character can talk to. Going completely silent for a film can be a real challenge. As we learned yesterday, there are certain things that are difficult to convey solely through images. Getting inside our hero’s head is one of them. If your protagonist has someone to talk to (like a stuffed animal), it’s a cheat that gives us that power.