Saturday, June 30, 2007

Today's Review, Part II


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.

Hehehe...

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!

-MM

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Mystery Man on TriggerStreet

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Running notes:

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

KITCHEN

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.

11 comments:

TJ (Joshua) said...

I'm curious, can you clarify what you mean with "I remove a story a day in the hopes I'll get assigned some of the requests I get?"

Is that a trigger street thing?

Mystery Man said...

Yes, it is! I'm terribly sorry about that. You can request a screenplay assignment and when you post a review, you get a credit, which you can apply to one of your scripts. The system will, in turn, assign your story to other reviewers. You can also remove one story a day if you don't want to read it. But I get so many requests for free-will reviews, I haven't had the chance to read actual assignments to earn credits. So I remove a story a day hoping that a story I've been asked to review will coincidentally get assigned to me.

Never happens.

Sorry about that.

-MM

Joshua James said...

Oh, okay . . . it's still a bit fuzzy but that's simply because I know absolutely nothing about how Trigger Street works . . . I keep meaning to email and get the low-down on Trigger, etc, but I'm swamped with a writing deadline (a couple, actually) and haven't gotten around to it . . .

I will, soon, I promise ;) . . . you piqued my interest with your analysis . . .

Mystery Man said...

Joshua - you certainly don't have to join. If you want any feedback, just e-mail me. I actually love your work, which I will blog about in short order as I promised, but in any case, I'll always be happy to give you feedback on anything you do.

I can objectively review any script except my own. A writer needs friends who can give you good feedback.

-MM

crossword said...

"Every time I read a script, I think of ten different things I've read that I feel compelled to share with the writer."

And I for one am very grateful that you do. Always an education, Mr. M :)

Joshua James said...

Oh hey, I'm totally down - it's on me, I've not had time to really look into trigger street and from your site and everything you've shared about it I've been really curious . . . It's not that I'm reluctant or anything, just mad-busy . . . I hope to have some news to share in that regard soon . . . heh . . . you know how it is . . .

And I totally agree about a writer needing friends they can trust for feedback, it's absolutely essential . . .

I keep saying I'm going to email you more as a reminder for myself . . . the info you've posted has been invigorating and damn insightful and so I want to know more about this thing you're a part of . . .

I'll email you after the holiday crush is done . . . I don't know about you, but I get a LOT of writing done every time there's a holiday - LOL!

And I appreciate the offer to look at my work - I'm gonna take you up on it!

Matthew Spira said...

WARNING: LONG FRICKIN' POST (Sorry)

MM,

Some time ago we used to run across each other as we reviewed scripts, and then compare notes.

To answer your comment on TS to my (new) account... no. Everything is not good with me. My marriage remains in shambles.

But for what it's worth, I am reviewing scripts again. And this was my review of this one:

OVERALL COMMENTS

The author clearly knows how to present screenplays. The construction and presentation of individual scenes are really solid.

That being said, the story has a lot of viable elements, but is a couple drafts from really coming together in a coherent fashion.

Even after coming into this story with an open mind (and somewhat lowered expectations) this story, quite frankly, is a bit of a hard-sell.

There are simply too many "B-grade" elements piled one onto another in the story. It gets to be too much... I went from "hmmm" to "umm... okay" to "huh?" to "no way" to "no fucking way."

Excuse the French.

I suspect you, the author, are a little too close to your main character, and as a result can't quite bring yourself to truly give him the necessary dimensionality. His motivations just don't add up, and the actions of the story, especially taken one after another in sequence, just don't really give the plot any real sense of momentum. Your reasons why Gabriel is on the warpath against the bad guys just aren't completely coherent. And perhaps most importantly, and for reasons outlined in my comments below, Gabriel just isn't an inherently sympathetic protagonist.

I think you need to decide what IS the core of your story, then really think about the details that actually support that core.

Then, you need to think about Gabriel. The key question is this: Why should we be rooting for him?

And, you really need to tighten up the logic. The whole just doesn't feel organically connected. It's more, "Oh, AND then..." again and again.

All that being said, I really think the elements for a solid script are here. You're just not far enough along in the rewrite process.

Just keep in mind what you will need: 1) A sympathetic protagonist we want to root for, 2) a clear antagonist, 3) a clear path of how the protagonist gets from A-Z, and 4) a satisfying resolution that actually build on everything that's come before (and ideally resonates with elements embedded right from the beginning.)

COMMENTS AS I READ

Note:

I'm writing the comments in this section as I'm reading. (Blame it on the Sports Guy's running diaries.) But, it seems to me there's some value in getting a running sense of the reaction AS the story unfolds, since that's how a film will actually be presented.

The opening couple pages are cleanly presented, move at a fast pace, and for the most part do an effective job at SHOWING what I assume this story will be about. Before I read any further, I want to note it is immediately obvious that this writer knows how screenplays are supposed to be constructed. That being said, it also makes me suspect that GABRIEL going to be a competently put together direct-to-video action-thriller kind of story.

I say this for a couple reasons:

1) The "fugitive" of the first three pages... if mere mortal weapons can't hurt him, why's he running? Why is he frightened and gasping at being chased? (This kind of scene always bothers me for the lack of logical consistency.) The opening scene where SWAT tries to take him down, then Vince does the deed, has been done many times before.

2) The introduction of the protagonist, Gabriel, in the bar, is also a scene that has been done any time of time as well.

3) Vince's phone call to Carter is a scene that has... well you get the idea.

All this being said, these are not fatal flaws of storytelling, not by a long stretch, but they do serve to fairly effectively bracket what kind of story it is, and what kind of production interest it'll realistically attract.

The visual presentation I was just praising above starts to break down on page 9...

The scene in the limousine with Vince and Wilson is a bit of a mistake. It's just not necessary. Besides that, it's too expository, and has too many cliche elements-- Of COURSE Gabriel's a Navy SEAL! (That's par for the course in this kind of story.) But... a Medal of Honor winner as well? (It is a minor technical detail that there were NO Medal's of Honor awarded during Desert Storm, but that aside, it feels like overkill.)

Moving on... we learned on page 10 that Gabriel's brother was killed in Afghanistan. On page 13 we learn (again through exposition) that terrorists killed said brother. In terms of mechanics, this is all serving the function of articulating the protagonist's motivation, which is all well and good, but unless this brother was kidnapped and taken to Afghanistan, he was there voluntarily as an active combatant, and... well... getting killed is an occupational hazard of people who put themselves into harm's way. It just doesn't strike the right chord that Gabriel is an ex-SEAL (top of his class), Medal of Honor winner, and we are asked to connect to him clearly falling to seed over the death of his brother in this fashion. We'll see, but if the intended function of this character backstory is supposed to make me feel sympathy for Gabriel... doesn't quite work.

Moving on yet again... With the introduction of Jenny and Lyn on page 13, I'm starting to feel there are perhaps too many characters being introduced too quickly. Named characters so far are: Vince, Gabriel, Mac, Vaughn, Ruth, Cheung, Ruddock, Madllen, Carter, Luke, Wilson, Jenny and Lyn...

Besides that, the scene just rings false. Lyn's anger would feel appropriate as an immediate response to a recent death, but that doesn't add up with the information we've been presented about Gabriel. (However, in a direct-to-video action-thriller? Sure, I'd accept it and move on.)

Okay, so thugs attack Gabriel as a test. Sure.

Page 18, again, we're presented with taking revenge for his brother...

The introduction of Rachel, page 20, feels a little paint-by-numbers movie logic: "We need the chick..."

I gotta tell you, in my experience attractive young women drinking alone in bars (and receptive to the advances of the protagonist to boot) is something that ONLY happens in movies. Only.

Page 23... okay, you're aware of this, which is why Rachel is a plant. (I told you I was reacting as I go.)

Page 24, 25... Still doesn't add up that Gabriel has gone to pieces over Adam's death.

Page 26-30... Gabriel has gone to work for Wilson, being his muscle, to avenge Adam (his brother who died in Afghanistan at the hands of terrorists) beating up (killing?) generic urban American scum? And why? Because Wilson told him the two were connected.

The only word that comes to mind is... proof?

By page 30, Gabriel has whacked Max... initiating the attack (I suppose) based on the premise that these are the same people behind who killed Adam. And he, we haven't forgotten, was killed in Afghanistan by terrorists.

But, on page 31, it's all good because Max had a human head and jugs of blood in his refrigerator... yeah.

There are some serious logical issues developing rapidly here.

Case in point... end of page 31, Gabriel says...

GABRIEL
Dude's got a human head and jugs of blood in the fridge.

Rachel doesn't look surprised.

RACHEL
I wouldn't worry about that. (***Inserting here, why the hell WOULDN'T he worry about that?***) We have another one. Helen. Call Hersey Tracy now. 1037/534 Morris Park Avenue. If she hears Max's dead, she'll relocate.

Gabriel turns to go, then stops.

GABRIEL
Sorry 'bout the punch.

... Ummm, what?

Even in, perhaps ESPECIALLY in, a direct-to-video action-thriller your protagonist HAS to be sympathetic in a fairly uncomplicated fashion.

Think about this sequence for a moment... he's just whacked a guy because Wilson SAID he was part of an organization that was behind his brother Adam being killed in Afghanistan. He found a head and blood in the dude's refrigerator. He tells this to Rachel, and then accepts her telling him, "Don't worry about it." Is then told to move on to the next hit... and the only thing that's bothering him at this moment is he punched Rachel before and feels the need to apologize?

Page 34-36, the Skinny Bald Guy is giving up way to easily.

Page 38, only NOW Gabriel's realizing something doesn't quite add up?

Page 39-40, Vaughn in the cemetary doesn't work. Convenient exposition.

Pages 40-50, more named characters introduced. Paul, Danny, Bouv, Ayana, Ray.

Page 55.. Frank. Tells Gabriel he "doesn't know what he's getting into."

Okay, it's getting a piled on a little thick...

Page 57... Rachel and Gabriel interrupted as they're about to have sex by bad guys crashing through their windows.

But no worries, page 58, Gabriel is meeting Frank in a hotel suite...

Oops... page 59 Frank gets a sniper's bullet in the head. Game over for him.

Page 60, Gabriel basically attacks Rachel, accusing her of being a bloodrinker, and...

Page 61, they have violent sex. Then, later, they gently make love.

(Let's pause here for a moment... just think about what all's happened within the last four pages. It's fast-paced, but that's about the only thing that can be said. I honestly think by this point, even the most hard-core "B" action-thriller fan would be turning this movie into a drinking game by trying to predict the most incongruous event that could possibly happen next.)

Page 63...

VINCE
Some unknown substance destroyed their will and created a desire for human blood. They act as sleepers".

WILSON
They won't know they act for terrorists until the moment they're activated.

And if they DO know they act for terrorists, that'll make it all right?

Not to mention, Gabriel seems to be voicing some moral objections on page 64, but this scene is after he's wasted how many already?

Page 65, we're introduced to Will. Awfully late to be introducing another name character.

(Will, by the way, is another convenient character archetype. The hacker that can, without too much fuss, break into ANY computer system on the planet.)

Page 67....

GABRIEL
No guns this time.

...

WILL
I'll just do the talking. Thank God we're not messing with the CIA again.

Umm...

When, and perhaps more importantly, why were Gabriel (an ex-SEAL Navy officer drinking himself into a perpetual stupor over the death of his brother) and Will previously involved with the CIA?

Honestly? It's getting a little thick. We got it... Gabriel's a tough guy. Is this really a necessary detail?

Page 74...

A detail that's been bothering me just hit me, NAJAF is in IRAQ, not Afghanistan.

Page 75...

Now we get a military-industrial complex connection, Trycom? I got it... to go with the CIA connection. Both working with the pentagon on a project that doesn't exist?

Page 77...

A mysterious man in a wheelchair? The true power behind all the evil?

Page 78...

Why should we be caring at this point, some 75% of the way into the story, about Vaughn's motivations?

And how does this connect, at this stage, with Gabriel whacking him?

Page 79...

Amazing how Rachel knows exactly where Gabriel is, and just happens to peel up in a car just as he needs to get away. How convenient. (This has never been done before.)

AND, we have a newspaper headline about Trycom possibly being a monopoly?

If Trycom as a big corporation is going to be a key issue, it needs to be introduced, at least hinted at A LOT sooner than page 75.

Page 83...

What is a "wife-beater"?

Page 85...

GABRIEL
Calle me nuts, but they're human/vampire hybrids.

Gabriel is talking to Mac, his local bartender (and apparent armorer and battle buddy for the climax.)

Page 86...

Thus starts the climax, Gabriel assaulting the Porphyria Club, but it just doesn't feel set-up. Supposedly, this is the pay-off and in revenge for his brother Adam (who, if we remember, was a soldier who was killed by terrorists in Afghanistan.)

Page 87...

Oooh, there's Adam. "Alive."

Page 88...

Aghanistan was a cypher... it's yet another sinister CIA plot.

Page 89...

I don't understand why this confrontation between Rachel and Vince is climatic. At this point, I'm not exactly sure who the antagonist is? Carter, Wilson, Vince, the mysterious man in the wheelchair?

Page 92-93...

This scene with Vince and Rachel just doesn't work. It's tiple cross sort of situation. Again, like so many things, it feels convenient.

Gabriel and Adam confronting Wilson... honestly, by this point, we (the audience) are suppposed to be solidly in Gabriel's camp, but I'm just not. I know I'm supposed to be cheering what he's doing, but the math continues to not add up.

Page 96...

A cardinal rule of action movies is broken here. Good guys don't commit murder. Adam just shoots Carter, and the editorial "eye" of the movie seems to perceive it as "okay."

Actually, thinking about it, this may be a problem I didn't quite identify earlier... Gabriel arguably commits murder as well, and is saved after the fact by details.

This is a serious problem.

Page 98...

Vaughn shoots Adam.

Page 99...

Gabriel kills Vaughn. There's Jenny and Lyn in the picture. Adam dies.

End...

BOTTOMLINE

Needs work.

Mickey Lee said...

Well as long as we're posting reviews, here's mine. I think I'm somewhere between MM and Matt. I like dumb action movies, but I just felt this one needed something to unify it into a cohesive whole:
----------------------------------

CONCEPT - As usual, you've taken an old Hollywood staple, vampires, and put a unique twist on it by making them into supersoldier terrorists created by an evil corporation. The last script I read by you had a nice little twist on the zombie pic, so nice work with the concept.

STORY - I thought the setup in Act I was pretty good, but there wasn't much rising tension in Act II. It was just a lot of Gabriel going to a night club, following a Vampire home, killing him/her, reporting to Rachel and then doing it all over again. The bad guys didn't seem to have a plan, so there was nothing that Gabriel was trying to prevent. On p. 19, Wilson says they vampires want to "Plant bombs and destroy vital objects." That's a pretty cool idea, vampire terrorists attacking America, but other than breaking into a blood bank at the beginning, this never comes to fruition.

So basically, Gabriel is a hitman who hunts these vampires down and takes them out with very little trouble. Not once was he ever in any serious danger and he was always able to dispatch his foes in short order. I didn't really get the significance of the people he was looking for, such as Max, Helen, Skinny Bald Guy, etc., because none of them led him to the next stage. Gabriel got his info from Rachel or Will. Things didn't really get moving until the Bouv mission. Make it a little more mysterious in these opening scenes of Act II.

Like how about Vaughn and company have some sort of plan, some goal they are trying to achieve, and Gabriel needs to 1) find out what the plan is and then 2) thwart it. Maybe they want to kill the President -- I don't know -- but Vaughn and his cronies should have some sort of evil plot so that we're not just seeing Gabriel go from nightclub to nightclub killing vampires.

CHARACTER - I thought Gabriel was a pretty cool character. I was rooting for him. Tough as nails, no-nonsense ass kicker. I also liked the way Rachel kind of strung him along -- at first I thought their sex scene was a little unmotivated, but it made more sense by the end. She's a master manipulator.

Carter I wasn't quite sure about. What's his grand plan, what motivates him? It might be a nice twist for him to be the one controlling the vampires to fulfill some evil plan of his own.

You might want to revisit some of your character's names. You 've got a Vince, a Vaughn and a Wilson. As well as a Rachel. Is this a secret homage to "Wedding Crashers"?

STRUCTURE - Act I was structured pretty well. Act II -- Like I said above, there was a repetitiveness to the scenes that kind of hurt rising tension. I also thought some of the scenes with Jenny were superfluous. It's good to show a different side of Gabriel, but if these scenes aren't going to convey any new information then they should be dropped.

I didn't get the sense of a Point of No Return, nor a All Hope is Lost. You might want to give Gabriel some "spectacular failures" so that his triumph in the end feels climactic. As it is, he just takes out the bad guys until there's no more left.

DIALOGUE - I mentioned this when I reviewed your last script, but there's some odd syntax in the lines that make it obvious you aren't a native English speaker. You might want to get some help cleaning them up. There was some good tough guy banter, to be sure.

OVERALL - I like violent action movies, so you certainly delivered in that regard. And I always enjoy the way you insert a large variety of weapons into your stories. I liked your unique twist on the vampire film. I just think I'd prefer if the villains had an evil scheme that Gabriel had to stop before it was too late.

Good luck on the next draft. I look forward to reading it.

Mystery Man said...

BRILLIANT!

Dare I say that writers really don't need me to give them feedback, because guys like Matt and Mickey will dutifully tell you what's wrong with your spec. I felt that way about our study of "The Senator's Wife." Mulhfelder, Michelle, Pat, Miriam, etc, all zeroed in on the very obvious problems.

Matt, I completely agreed with your 4 points: "1) A sympathetic protagonist we want to root for, 2) a clear antagonist, 3) a clear path of how the protagonist gets from A-Z, and 4) a satisfying resolution that actually build on everything that's come before (and ideally resonates with elements embedded right from the beginning.)"

And Mickey, I loved these points: "Not once was he ever in any serious danger and he was always able to dispatch his foes in short order. I didn't really get the significance of the people he was looking for, such as Max, Helen, Skinny Bald Guy, etc., because none of them led him to the next stage." I completely agree!

And let it be said that we're not trying to publicly pick on this writer. He's a great writer. But these reviews are a learning experience for not only the writer and the reviewer but anyone else who reads it. Reviews from insightful writers like Mickey and Matt are always beneficial.

Personally, I was just looking for an excuse to incorporate those 3 great rules of action into a TS review. Hehehe...

Thanks, guys. And Matt, one of these days when all of this is over, I'll fly out there, and we'll have a beer and a big night on the town.

-MM

Mickey Lee said...

Oh, and Matt, a "wifebeater" is that shirt that Bruce Willis is wearing in the photo atop of this blog. Used to be known as the "tank top" or "A-shirt"

Funny thing is, MM, Marko asked me to review "Gabriel" and I just happened to get it assigned as well. One of the things I like about Marko's stories are the large array of weapons he uses. His characters never just shoot guns. They shoot Heckler & Koch HK416 D145RS's at each other. lol.

Mystery Man said...

Yes! I did love those weapons! I love a writer who knows what cool weapons to put into a story.

-MM