Thursday, November 30, 2006

Bob's Review of "A Crowded Room"

(This review comes to us from good friend and writer, Bob Thielke. The photo above is another shot of the Athens hospital. -MM)

Okay, here are my thoughts on this story. I felt there were three specific stories in this script:

1) a 40-page story to show that Billy Milligan (or one of his personalities) is a serial rapist and gets sentenced to a mental hospital;

2) a story showing how his condition progressed from an abusive childhood;

3) a trial and his subsequent hospitalization into a maximum security facility.

These three stories essentially served as the three acts. However, I thought this was problematic because I never felt that the three separate stories fed off each other properly. I was interested in the first act. Hmm, was Billy really ill or was he faking it? Was he going to gain his freedom?

Then, to me, the second act took me out of the first story completely. I guess I wasn’t concerned about HOW he became mentally ill, but I wanted to see if justice would be served. This story about how Billy got to the point where he raped the three women went to page 124 or so. We finally get to the story you were telling in the first act, in which he was now going to have to go on trial.

Now, if you told the story in terms of Act I- he is committed to the hospital. Act II- Use flashback interspersed with current time to reveal the different personalities and how each one contributes to his crimes. For example, when it’s time to reveal why Billy forced the women to disrobe, reveal the anarchist Kevin. When he raped them show them that it was the sensitive Aldana that was only looking for love. This way, you show twists and turns in the story, showing us which personality was responsible for each twist and turn. Then at the end of Act II, Billy makes the decision that he wants to stand trial for his sanity and pressures Gary or whomever to force the issue on that. This makes Billy a proactive person as well. Then Act III can consist of the trial.

Character- You give us little reason to like Billy at page 40, then you spend 80 pages telling us why we should give the poor guy a break. However, these multiple personalities also cause a problem because only the bad ones are proactive in any way. Arthur and Ragen talk many times about banishing Kevin, but never do it. Billy is completely subrogated to oblivion. And then when he finally comes back at the end, he’s completely passive because he relies on the whims of the doctors and the prosecutors to decide his fate. My understanding is that you want us to have sympathy for Billy and his plight. Then you must show the dominant personalities taking hold in Billy, show how Arthur forced the destructive personalities to go away, show Billy re-emerging and taking control of his own sanity. I like how you used the “Spot” to delineate personalities and to show internal discussion amongst the various sides of Billy. Another issue at play here is defining who or what the antagonistic force is in this script. In the first 40 pages, Billy is the antagonist(or Kevin I guess). Chalmer is an antagonist, but it’s always like we see him through a filter, and in the third act the prosecuters are the antagonist. I’d like to see a more consistent antagonism and I think the most logical choice is to make this a battle between Billy’s good personalities and his bad personalities. He fights from the depths to over come Kevin, and then has the courage to ask Arthur and Ragen to leave, because he’s now strong enough to stand on his own. Then use the trial to seek vindication for his efforts. Have him show some compassion and reconciliation with his victims.

Dialogue- I noticed nothing out of line with the dialogue, although I occasionally felt that things said in the “spot” were said for my benefit and not necessarily organic to the situation at hand.

Structure- I think the three separate stories that essentially serve as the acts do not help this script. I’d personally like to see more continuity. I think his arrest and commitment to Athens should happen fairly quickly together, so that his being committed is the end of act I, then Act II can be his battle to become whole again, then Act III is where Billy redeems himself through the trial. Also I noted a couple places where the scenes went on a long time 5 or 6 minutes.

Thanks for letting me participate in this little exercise.

Notes below as I was reading:

Scene 1- Adequate to create curiosity, the voice over transition to scene 2 is effective.

Scene 2- as Donna is describing her capture, how did he handcuff her to the car? And how was she able to “study” her book if her hands were cuffed? Minor details, but most car doors wouldn’t be amenable to attaching a handcuff. I’m torn on Billy’s statement that the brotherhood will get her if she calls the police. On one hand it seems expositional, on the other hand, if he’s delusional maybe it’s okay.

Scene 2 is six pages long in courier 10 point font. That ‘s 7 ½ pages in 12 point. My concern is that we have this long scene that establishes the fact that 3 women have been raped, and they know his name is William Mulligan. I still don’t know much else after essentially 8 or 9 minutes of the film. I thought the cutting back and forth of victims was well done, but I’m wondering how critical it is to reveal all three victims right now?

Scene 3- Would a policeman really use him as a human shield, not standard police procedures. Also with this scene, the police never confirm that there’s no one else in the apartment. I think that has to happen in this scene to establish the fact that either he’s crazy or his accomplices/friends got away.

Scene 4- Unless he has some kind of supernatural power, I’m finding it difficult to believe that he has the strength to tear a toilet off it’s anchor and heave it at the guards. I do like the reveal about how angry he gets when his art is messed with.

Pg 17- I’m wondering if it is worthwhile to reveal his split personalities so early in the story. I’m at page 17 and now I feel confident that Billy could have done this. Unless there is a big reveal or reversal later on I feel like this is going to be predictable. Also at page 17, I’m not real confident about what the inciting event for this story is.

Pg 23 – Gary’s question about where Billy learned to dislocate his shoulder is a big hint that we’re going to find abuse in Billy’s past?

Pg 27- of course there’s kids in there, Judy. They just told you about the little boy a minute ago.

Pg 29- Once again, unless there is some supernatural things going on, how can a brain that’s never been exposed to serbo-croatian or Swahili become fluent at those languages? I remember that story John Travolta was in which he had that tumor that allowed him to instantly retain anything he was exposed to, but he didn’t know it before he read it or heard it, correct.

Pg 31- It’s dramatically convenient that his parole statute of limitations runs out today! Why should it matter, the key is whether he goes to the hospital or not. This time constraint seems contrived.

Pg 33. I’m sorry, but the zucchini logic just couldn’t work in a court. Of course it’s a gun. A more viable argument would be to argue that they are non-working models.
Pg 35- Would they let him in a day room. I mean he has shown tremendous and unexpected violent urges.

Pg 52- Thinking of the busboy is an unfilmable unless you flash to him quickly.

Pg 72- How does the viewer know Allen has occupied billy if he doesn’t do anything allen-like.

Pg 92- This is the 3rd or 4th time Arthur says they have to reorder yet they do nothing about it.

Pg 96- I’m curious what this England sequence is for.

Pg. 98- You’d have to be careful to identify what age billy is in each scene because you switch freely from the nine year old to the 20 something Billy.

Pg 105- How will the viewer know which personality is in charge? Only the reader knows this.

Pg 131- A long speech from Billy.

Pg 138- hot water would not make his flesh boil away. Skin blistering? Maybe.

Back to James Cameron's A Crowded Room.


GameArs said...

Based on this substantive review by Bob, and the other reviews, this script has some structural issues.

Excellent work, Bob!

Mystery Man said...

I thought this was an excellent review. Two things stood out to me that I very much agreed with:

1)the three competing storylines and

2)the passive Billy Milligan in the third act.

"A Crowed Room" is an internet legend. Many aspiring writers and screenplay websites have posted reviews (always full of praise and yeah, it is quite brilliantly written) but this is the first time anywhere that you're getting really substantive, constructive thoughts about the story. I'm just LOVING it! I'm quite excited about these reviews.

The script is, to me, an easy read because it is so fascinating. Adapting Billy's story is an incredibly tough nut to crack, and Cameron really does a great job showing all the different sides o Billy's story. Yet, in the end after you've had time to think about it, you just sort of feel like something's off about it. And I suspect it has more to do with Billy's STORY not being adaptable for the big screen than it does Cameron's writing abilities.


Mim said...

Billy's continued pattern of lawlessness is a huge factor in the problems this story has, but I stand by my statement. Sybil broke ground by showing how MPD is created.

Any subsequent story about MPD has to break new ground.

I agree that Billy is too passive in the third act.

Good review, Bob!

bob said...

I'd like to thank MM for the chance to do this, it was very interesting and gave me some insights into how I can improve my work as well. Count me in the next time you do something like this.

MaryAn Batchellor said...

Am in agreement with most of this. I can't say "all" because to tell the truth, I got bored and quit reading about page 89 and skipped to the end. My own notes say "page 49. When am I going to care about Billy?".

However, I think the story could work if it took the "Beautiful Mind" or "Sixth Sense" approach. I have one other idea, too, but won't spill it because I think I'll use it!

Mystery Man said...


nena eskridge said...

I don't think Crowded Room is as brilliant as you do Mr. Man. Not yet. I agree with MaryAn -- got a little bored around the same page. But then I don't believe the writer ever intended for this draft to be read by anybody. Clearly it's a first rough draft. This was the step where the writer (actually I think there's at least two) threw everything into the pot with the intention of coming back to it later to see if there's a SP buried in there somewhere -- but life got in the way, and the SP went into a drawer. I feel kind of guilty critiquing it at this stage. But aren't you just dying to take a stab at the next draft? What a blast that would be, if not a tad bit illegal.

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