Principles of Action
I remove a story a day with the hope that I might be assigned some of the requests I get. It never happens. Never, ever ever. But today, we can celebrate. This is the first time in ages that I've been assigned a story request! YEAH, BABY! I'm so excited about my ONE CREDIT! Oh my gosh... I'm just beside myself. I don't know what to do with it.
Okay, let's start with praise for Mr. Marko Ilich and his script, Gabriel. We can find many signs of the devoted student of the craft here - short action lines, short scenes, brief descriptions, and a well-paced story. I liked the way you had the government use terrorism as an excuse to clean up its own dirty little secrets, as well as the setup and payoff with Jenny learning how to defend herself, and the twist in the end with Adam. I first thought that you used poorly the supporting characters (in particular all the women), but now I think you might have been constructing a motif with the various men and their various relationships with various women. I may be overly simplifying things here, but I supsect that all of these men on both sides of the fence (good guy/bad guy) desire normal lives and normal happy loving relationships with normal women but because of how they live and who they are and what they do, they'll never find it. Reminds me of Heat. Let's see... We had on the one hand, Gabriel who, in his desperation to get laid, obviously has no clue about how to deal with women with the way he drunkenly tries to pick up Rachel at the bar. There's also his bad relationship with his dead brother's wife, but yet, Gabriel can find a way to get along with her young daughter, Jenny. Vince half lies to his wife about things being fine but then he confesses that he murdered a friend. Vaughn cries to his mother in a cemetery about being turned into a monster but then he murders his ex-girlfriend for leaving him three years ago. Interesting. And then you had Carter who was the only one who wasn't on the front line of these operations and he found a seemingly happy family, kinda like the Corleones who mainly gave the orders but never actually did the dirty work of killing people. I like your thinking here. I think poor reviewers might point these out as inconsistencies in the characters, but I think this is an attempt at depth and showing the different sides and natures of these men. Even if you didn't plan it out and just got lucky by having this motif with women, you should, in the next evolution of your story, carefully consider the construction of this motif, the different things you're saying about these men with these little interactions with women, and make sure there's a definite point and purpose to each scene and that each little motif (or interaction with a woman) is distinctly different than the other interactions so that we will, in the end, get a very rounded picture of all these good and bad guys. Or you can have variations of the same theme so that, basically, you could imply that all of these men (good and bad) suffer similar problems with love and women.
The format was exceptional, too. Good job. I have a few nitpicky little things. You need to make sure you're consistent about the spacing above the Master Scene Headings and Secondary Headings. Either one or two spaces is acceptable, just be consistent, otherwise your script will look sloppy. I'd recommend that you keep the two spaces above Master Scene Headings as you have it and have only one space above Secondary Headings. Sounds do not have to be in caps. To quote Trottier (author of the Screenwriter's Bible - 4th edition), "You are not required to place sounds in CAPS." If this sound is ultra, ultra important than okay. No need for "(cont'd)" when a character speaks twice in a row. You're breaking one of Trottier's ten commandments! Only use "(more)" or "(cont'd)" when a line of dialogue carries over to the next page. You should only have one dash in the Master Scene Headings, sometimes two if you're doing something like a flashback sequence or something. Really, really minor characters, like a CAB DRIVER, do not have to be in CAPS. Only put in caps the first appearance of important characters that warrant the reader's attention. You have "INTERCUT:" as a scene transition and that's not a transition. Just write, as an action line, "INTERCUT - TELEPHONE CONVERSATION" or you could write, also as an action line, "INTERCUT - VINCE'S OFFICE / GABRIEL'S HOUSE". In dialogue, usually the dashes indicate an interruption and an ellipsis is meant more for continuity and pauses. Numbers in dialogue should be WRITTEN OUT. You can only use real numbers anywhere else except dialogue. And finally, always always avoid "then" in the action lines.
Okay, the logline. While there are elements of horror and thriller, this just doesn't fit the bill of film noir in any way. You've got half-human / half-vampires, blood and bullets flying everywhere, and so this is very clearly action-horror. So let me ask the question. What is film noir? Film noir, to me, are movies like The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity, A Touch of Evil, The Third Man, etc. I'd suggest that you read "The Philosophy of Film Noir" by Mark T. Conard. Here's a taste:
"'Noir deals with criminal activity, from a variety of perspectives, in a general mood of dislocation and bleakness which earned the style its name. Unified by a dominant tone and sensibility, the noir canon constitutes a distinct style of film-making; but it also conforms to genre requirements since it operates within a set of narrative and visual conventions . . . Noir tells its stories in a particular way, and in a particular visual style. The repeated use of narrative and visual structures . . . certainly qualifies noir as a genre, one that is in fact as heavily coded as the western.'
You'll have to forgive me. Every time I read a script, I think of ten different things I've read that I feel compelled to share with the writer. Since this bad boy seems to be action-horror, I could not help but think of an older post on my blog in which I had referenced Kenji Fujishima, contributor to The House Next Door film blog, and how he wrote a great piece on the original Die Hard. Kenji observed that DH was actually three movies in one. And ya know, he may have unintentionally offered us screenwriters three very simple golden rules of great action movies:
Movie No. 1: Action spectacle
"…the film manages to wring many convincing sequences out of such a claustrophobic setting, from one-on-one fights to an explosive last-act rooftop setpiece… In fact, the entire film is less about escalating bouts of violence than about seeing who outthinks the other."
Movie No. 2: Character drama
"Screenwriters Jeb Stuart and Steven E. De Souza differentiate their hero from the other macho men of the era by making McClane fallible and vulnerable while being undeniably heroic."
Movie No. 3: Light Satire
"—the entire movie has a mild satirical undercurrent that criticizes the very genre conventions it satisfies. McClane's 'Yippee-kayyay, motherfucker!' is such a resonant, funny punchline because of its context: the conversation that leads up to McClane’s first utterance of that catchphrase, in which Gruber accuses McClane of being “another orphan of a bankrupt culture who thinks he’s John Wayne, Rambo, or Marshal Dillon.” McClane never directly engages this point—indeed, he seems to proudly affirm the truth of Gruber's taunts. But his response--that he was always partial to Roy Rogers--becomes a running gag throughout the film."
Now this is the prism through which I'm going to review your script.
Number one - Action Spectacle. I thought the action here was decent, but I think it could've been bigger, better, and more original. In all, I'd suggest that you design 3 big set pieces of really original and memorable action that will distinguish this script from genre conventions and stuff we've seen a billion times in other films. I also think you need to develop more the fine art of suspense. Take your time building tension in an escalating confrontation between these guys. Think of Hitchcock. Think of that scene in Munich where the little girl ran back into the building that they were about to blow-up.
Number two - Character Drama. This, I think, needs the most revision. I was cold to Gabriel as a character, and there was something about his arc and setup that needs retooling. His arc reminded me of another post on my blog about character arcs, because Gabriel seems to be a hero action version of Paul Newman in The Verdict. As I wrote, "We first see him as a well-dressed and an 'unfairly handsome' attorney. But the layers are peeled back to reveal a 'corrupt, bankrupt, self-destructive, irretrievable drunk' who hasn’t won a case in years. He eventually accepts a little medical malpractice suit that he knows will be his last chance for salvation even though he will have to take on the political establishment and other powerful entities. He chooses to fight for his own soul. 'With victory comes resurrection,' McKee writes, which was incidentally, this character's goal. 'The legal battle changes him into a sober, ethical, and excellent attorney – the kind of man he once was before he lost his will to live.' We’re given first a characterization of a man, then the revelation of his true nature, a conflict that is at odds with the 'outer countenance of his character,' and finally, he is forced to make a decision and change."
In this case, however, I think you revealed too much too soon when we first saw Gabriel. Perhaps in his first appearance, he's cleaned up, dressed up, and he's decent looking and he's holding flowers or something and shows up at Lyn's place. This argument between Lyn and Gabriel was too direct and on-the-nose. You could accomplish far more through subtlety and subtext. She's willing to allow him into her home, but it's incredibly awkward. They're just going through the motions and there's no connection. We get hints at her disapproval of his life and what he's become, not an out-and-out rejection as we saw on page 14. And then, after this scene, like Newman in The Verdict, you peel back the layers. THEN you start to show us the fact that he's drunk and other sides to him to illustrate where he is in life. Are you with me? The approach you took here is too direct, on-the-nose, easy and audiences are more engaged through subtext.
And while I'm on this topic, I have to say that the setup for the main plot could've been better. I think Adam should've been MIA, Gabriel spent years searching for him, and believes him to be dead and thus, he feels guilty because he couldn't find him. Will should've been introduced in Act One and should be someone he has been turning to for some time in his search for Adam. And it was just wrong to make Gabriel take this job just to get revenge on the guys who supposedly killed him. He dives into this whole killing spree so blindly. This should've been about his continuing search FOR Adam. He has to want something more than vengeance. These government guys dangle the Adam-carrot in front of him, tell him that they think they know where he is, they need his help, and Gabriel takes this job because, like Newman in The Verdict, he thinks this is his chance for redemption, justice, and resurrection. And the audience has a better reason to root for him. And let it be said that, in the end, Gabriel finds his redemption and then he dies and Adam lives.
And Number Three - Light Satire. I do believe this story needs some humor to make it more entertaining. I mean, we've got half-human / half-vampires running around everywhere, we can still take it seriously but also have some laughs while you tackle issues of genre and contemporary attitudes and news. And also note that the villains shouldn't be just one note villains, they should have style and flare and distinction from other villains we've seen. Consider what Kenji said of DH's Gruber: "Gruber makes an intriguing main antagonist, his villainy subtle yet unmistakable. A smooth, well-dressed intellectual, he’s crafty enough to try to fool law enforcement, the media and the hostages into thinking he has international concerns on his mind when he's really just after money. He’s coldblooded, but at times he’s oddly charismatic; the filmmakers don’t turn him into a blanket object of hatred." In the comments section, I loved what Matt Zoller Seitz said of Gruber: "while Renny Harlin's "Die Hard II" exterminated 200-some lives in a plane crash to show you that the bad guy was evil -- a basic character touch established far more economically and potently in "Die Hard 1," in the chilling moment that McClane spies Hans executing his wife's boss. (Notice that the movie even gives the boss/first victim a hint of depth; he's obviously a good leader and a warm, decent man. He's even given a backstory of assimilation and achievement, the better to contrast him against the pretentious thief who's about to take his life.)" Are you with me? On the flipside, Gabriel needs to have more depth and be more engaging with the audiences through the narrative. I never really warmed up to the guy, and I didn't like the way he spoke. He needs different sides to him to give him some depth, and I think he needs a sense of humor, perhaps a cynical, jaded, but somehow charmingly sarcastic view of the world. The lines should be quotable, rooted in character, and fun.
And finally, you need to find a better way to handle the exposition in the dialogue. Take, for example, the conversation on page 9 between Vince and Wilson about Gabriel in which Gabriel's backstory is given as they try to decide if they want to hire him. It's boring to just watch these guys talk to each other. I'd suggest you show us flashbacks of Gabriel's past while we hear them talk in voice over. I'm not crazy about that technique either, but it's more "show, don't tell," then what we have now. Also, this bit where they send thugs to Gabriel's house just to see if he still has what it takes was not only hard to believe but a waste of time, particularly the scene with Detective Benitez. This is a chance for a funny flashback that establishes character. Let's say, he's on a cruise vacation and he's on a shore excursion in Mexico with a bunch of old people when three young thugs show up with guns and try to rob them. Gabriel flips, kills them all, and then sees the stunned faces of the old people in his group. He shrugs, apologizes, and tells the guide to just continue. The news people want to interview him, but he refuses to give his name. (This really happened, by the way. It was a very funny news story.) Do you see what I mean? A setup like that would be funny, quick, establishes character, proves that he still has what it takes, warms him up to the audience, and we don't have to put off the main plot with this unnecessary sequence with thugs.
Other random thoughts:
- The opening scene, while sort of exciting, could've been bigger and better. I'm not sure if this shadowy figure was the first vampire that they captured and from whom the military did all of those experiments or if he was just a member of Adam's MIA guys. Alternate openings: death of Adam or perhaps the first time a vampire was captured (and then a montage of experiments).
- Pg 57 - Even after going through this twice, I'm still not buying this moment when Vince and Cheung broke into Gabriel's house and after seeing the photo of Bouv suddenly decide to take off. If anything, it would've been a bargaining chip or just another excuse to kill them.
- Pg 61 - What's the point of the sex scene between Gabriel and Rachel? You have to have a point to it and perhaps, make this a break from the motif with women. This is about Gabriel uncomfortably struggling with newfound happiness and suppressing or confronting his guilt about his brother? This is a self-imposed misery over guilt, isn't it?
- Pg 65 was WAY too late to introduce a vital character like Will. He should've been introduced somewhere in Act One.
- You should show Champ WITH the poodle in the end.
- Let me repeat what I said earlier. Gabriel should die and Adam lives.
I hope this review was worth the wait. You're a very talented writer. You'll have to excuse me. I have to figure out what to do with my ONE CREDIT! WOO HOO!
Mystery Man on TriggerStreet
Pg 1 - Just say, "A shadowy FIGURE runs down the street." In the action lines, just let the power of the verb carry the action. We're already imagining "full tilt" without needing it explained to us. Perhaps you should say that he "turns down an alley." You have a spacing issue above the Alley Master Scene Heading. Everywhere else, you have two spaces above the headings, which is fine, but you have to stay consistent about it. I wonder if you should have an exterior shot of the van first before showing us the interior. "SCREECHES" doesn't need to be in caps. To quote Trottier (author of the Screenwriter's Bible), "You are not required to place sounds in CAPS." Pg 2 - No need for "(cont'd)" when a character speaks twice in a row. You're breaking one of Trottier's ten commandments! Only use "(more)" or "(cont'd)" when a line of dialogue carries over to the next page. You could reference the movement of lights, which always signifies bad. This makes me think of E.T. actually. Okay, while this page is exciting, it still could've been bigger and better. Pg 3 - Was Vince with the SWAT team? Or did he just sort of show up? Didn't get that. Put quotations around "15 Months Later". Not crazy about Gabriel's last name. Can't he JUST be "Gabriel?" You really didn't mean "crapulous," did you? Definition: 1. Sickness caused by excessive eating or drinking. 2. Excessive indulgence; intemperance. Pg 4 - Is the string still visible? Is it hanging around his neck or something? Pg 5 - Secondary Headings! Yeah, baby! Good job. It's not enough that his eyes widen when the phone continues to ring. Just when a moment became interesting, you cut away. What if he picks up the phone? Shock with widening eyes is too ordinary of a reaction. In order to make the character interesting, he has to react in an interesting way. What if he was amused by it? He laughs? He's annoyed, as if "this always happens." You need to make it interesting, give the characters human characteristics. When did this dream sequence end? You need a BACK TO PRESENT as an action line preceding the Penthouse Apartment Heading. Pg 6 - Vince lies about the phone call but tells the truth about killing a man? Was that necessary? You should only have one dash in the Master Scene Headings, so just write: "INT. CARTER'S DINING ROOM - NIGHT". The fact that it's "opulent" is described in the first action lines. Pg 9 - I wonder if you should indicate the fact that Vaughn isn't dead? Not crazy about all the exposition between Vince and Wilson. To explain WHY Gabriel's so down is making it too easy for the audience. We can figure that out for ourselves. Also, this setup is strange because wouldn't Gabriel have wanted to bring his brother's body home for a proper burial? I guess the Navy could've lied to him. Pg 11 - No need for the extra space above LIVING ROOM. Pg 14 - This exchange between Lyn and Gabriel is a bit melodramatic, because they're saying things they already know for the sake of passing exposition along to the audience. CAB DRIVER did not need to be in CAPS. Only put in caps the first appearance of important characters that warrant the reader's attention. Pg 15 - No need for the extra space above the LIVING ROOM. I won't note these anymore. Pg 16 - Get rid of "(cont'd)". Not mentioning these anymore either. Bottom of page - Is it really necessary to have the two extra lines here? Why not just have Gabriel say, "Thanks for the backup, pal" and then gives him the biscuit and then end the scene? I think, too, we could cut from the action to see Champ hiding. Pg 18 - Should be "Gabriel's cell phone rings." You need the 's and rings does not need to be in caps. You have "INTERCUT:" as a scene transition and that's not a transition. Just write, as an action line, "INTERCUT - TELEPHONE CONVERSATION" or you could write, also as an action line, "INTERCUT - VINCE'S OFFICE / GABRIEL'S HOUSE". Bottom of page - I'm not referencing these again, but a Master Scene Heading should only have one dash. Thus the heading at the bottom would be "INT. DOWNTOWN RESTAURANT - DAY". You would only have two dashes if you were to have something like a flashback sequence or something like that. Pg 19 - The answer to "What're they up to" - "Plant bombs and destroy vital objects" was kinda lame. Obviously, since they're TERRORISTS. Just cut those two lines. Pg 22 - This exchange between Gabriel and Rachel was pretty lame. I find it hard to believe that a drunk could get so far with a girl with such a begging horny dog approach. You should read some good pick-up artist books, like "The Game" by Neil Strauss or "The Art of Seduction" by Robert Greene. Pg 24 - Should be "You want your cute little ass shot." Should've been "If Adam were --" and then the action line about Gabriel slapping her, which did not need to be in caps. Usually the dashes would indicate an interruption and the ellipsis is meant more for continuity and pauses. Pg 25 - You should do INSERTs for these photos of Adam. Pg 27 - "I see a lotta animals" was kinda lame. Cut the "They speak loudly" line. I mean, OBVIOUSLY, right? Pg 28 - Just write, "He shakes his head." That means "no." If he shakes his head "yes," THEN specify. Cut "Ya know..." Pg 29 - No need for the extra space above LATER. It's strange to cut in time during an action sequence to LATER. Why not let us watch Gabriel find Spooky? He sees Spooky who looks incredibly SPOOKY and then we says, "You must be Spooky," which would get a laugh. Pg 32 - Numbers in dialogue should be WRITTEN OUT. You can only use real numbers anywhere else except dialogue. Cut MOVING from that GABRIEL'S CAR Master Scene Heading. We know it's moving because the first action line of that scene says, "Gabriel drives slowly through a poor neighborhood." As I said, you only have one dash in the Master Scene Headings. Just write "INT. BUILDING CORRIDOR - CONTINUOUS". Pg 34 - You're inconsistent about spacing above the secondary headings. You have one space above BEDROOM and two above KITCHEN. Either is acceptable but be consistent, because it looks sloppy when it isn't. You don't have to start every sentence with "The Skinny Bald Man." Just write "He." We know that you're still talking about "The Skinny Bald Man." Pg 40 - top - I'd cut the beats in Vaughn's lines. LAUGHTER, GIGGLING, and A PHONE RINGS do not need to be in caps. Pg 41 - Bottom - fix the intercut. Pg 42 - No need for the comma in "Where're you now." By the way, "Where're" is really awkward to read. Pg 44 - Not crazy about this advice here. It really should be punch a guy in the neck where the Adam's Apple is or kick him in the balls. Pg 47 - Fix INTERCUT. Pg 56 - I'm just not feeling that they ever had a connection. Pg 57 - I'm not sure nor convinced that seeing Bouv's picture would've convinced the bad guys to leave. If anything, it would've been a bargaining chip or just another excuse to kill them. Pg 58 - You need to fix this Secondary Heading here. Make it look like this:
...Gabriel goes into the
and grabs a beer out of the fridge.
At this point, I don't see why Gabriel needs to smell the blood from the red bottle. It's pretty obvious to everyone already what it is. We don't need the extra confirmation of Gabriel smelling it. Pg 59 - The sniper bullet was a bit much. On this page you have "some nightclub" and "some movie." Avoid "some" and be more specific. A Gentleman's Nightclub? A Disco? What? An old movie? Romance? What? Pg 61 - Fix this Secondary Heading like to be more like the Kitchen example above. Should be "and notices what he's doing," not "aware of what he does." That's awkward. Pg 63 - "Why they drink blood?" is weird as a line of dialogue and Gabriel is always talking that way. He should be able to speak better grammar. Pg 64 - Not crazy about all the exposition on this page. You need to show, don't tell. I'd suggest that you show flashbacks with voice-overs. Pg 65 - This is a little late to be introducing NEW CHARACTERS. We should've seen and learned about Will ages ago. And was it necessary to sit through the phone call before they meet? Do we really need this two-line description of this cafe? Should be "DS-five". Why not say "Porphyria Nightclub" in the action line back on pg 59 when we first saw the card? Pg 67 - Should be "Just... talk to people?" Pg 73 - Put a period after "compared to this." Pg 72 - Gabriel should've had more of a purpose going into this club. It was all-in-all anti-climactic. This should've been a turning point in the story. Pg 75 - Cut "Too late, now." Pg 79 - Should be "screeches to A halt." Pg 83 - Why not intercut this phone conversation? Pg 85 - Shouldn't we see here Gabriel modify the stuff in the shells so that they are cased in silver? Pg 96 - Just write, as a heading, "JENNY'S KITCHEN". Pg 99 - I don't know. I think I would've prefered Gabriel dying and Adam living. Pg 100 - Avoid "then" in the action lines. Also, you have too many "outs" in one sentence. Just write "He pulls a dog tag out of his pocket..." Pg 101 - Cut "THE END" and "FADE OUT" should be flushed all the way to the right.