I’m going to take a page from Scott the Reader and talk about the very same script he talked about without mentioning the title or the writer. Please do not give away the mystery. I’m sure you know the script to which I refer. It’s 165 pages, has five chapters, a handwritten title page, and made its rounds in Hollywood last week.
Let me first say that I agreed with every single word in Scott’s article. Here we have one of the most renowned, beloved, imitated, bad-boy screenwriters of our generation and he doesn’t even know the difference between “there” and “their.” Nor could he get “your” or “you’re” right even once. Or “to” vs. “too”. Of course, those are minor offenses, but this guy repeatedly misspelled “Boston” as “Bostin.” He doesn’t even know how to write “etc.” He kept typing “ect.” Instead of saying something like “an American,” he’d write, “a American.” Over and over and over. “Tiramisu” was, I believe, “Terri Mishu.” The one point where I actually wanted to put down the script and take a walk came when he kept writing in the action lines “germatic” this and “germatic” that. It’s GERMANIC. For God’s sake, you couldn’t run spellcheck? I won’t even talk about the format, as it was downright sloppy. Someone buy this man a copy of Trottier’s Screenwriter’s Bible. It was a chore to look past the mistakes.
What does this say about screenwriters today?
A writer ought to know how to write and a screenplay ought to look like a damn screenplay. PERIOD. If you have a problem, like you’re dyslexic or blind, fine. Get someone to help you polish your spec before sending it out. You must do whatever it takes to master the craft and turn in spotless specs forever and ever, amen. And don’t bother arguing with me about it, because I went to the mat on this issue in part one of my Hitman review. A spotless spec is one of many steps necessary to impressing people, to building confidence in your work, and in you as a screenwriter. This guy turned in one of the sloppiest specs I’ve seen in ages and he’s coasting on his reputation.
With that said, I loved it.
This could turn into his second or third best film of his career. If the script comes across your path someday (sorry, I no longer have a copy), just consider how much this man labored to build tension into his scenes and his sequences. This wasn’t really about action as it was about tension and suspense. Consider the opening scene. Excessive dialogue in his other works were quite often pointless, but here, it was used effectively to build tension. The antagonist keeps talking and talking to make the tension unbearable. Very simple – an antagonistic forces arrives, a man seems innocent, something’s revealed, we realize what’s at stake, and then he raises the tension to a breaking point. Tension in other scenes were setup really well, too. They’d complain about how dangerous a certain location is, which raises the tension when they go into this location and things start to go wrong. We don’t want things to go wrong, because we know they’d be in a world of hurt. Otherwise, we could care less if they blasted everyone in the room. And so, the tensions are raised yet again to an almost breaking point before all hell breaks loose, and then we know they’re in serious trouble. The Third Act, by the way, was downright Hitchcockian, reminiscent of The Man Who Knew Too Much but more complex. Of course, you don’t really need to read this script to learn about tension. You’d get a far better education by studying Hitchcock. In fact, you’d probably admire the work more if you studied Hitchcock first.
The moments in the script that were, to me, most powerful had nothing to do with the sometimes obscene amounts of dialogue but rather when he tried to tell his story cinematically, visually, wordlessly, through close-ups, angles, camera moves, and series of shots. There is a moment where the camera suddenly drops in the middle of a conversation beneath floor boards to reveal a very important detail and then rises back up into the scene, which was thrilling. While we can’t write camera angles, we can just as easily imply all those same techniques in our own specs, which I pointed out in my Write the Shots article. Close-ups were especially effective in the third act, which really delivered the goods. How do you write a close-up? Secondary Headings.
As you may know, there are two storylines, one of which goes on for WAY too long. We spend too much time away from the main characters (from which derives the film’s title). There was also an antagonist that turned sides toward the end of Act Two that I didn’t quite buy. He was setup to be this staunch crusader of this evil regime. He was their main obstacle to reaching their goals, and then he suddenly switches? Then why would he kill that certain woman before the show? Why not throw her in the truck, too? His betrayal was a dangerous decision, because this writer came close to Devil May Suck territory in the sense that because of this character’s switching of sides, the protagonists had their goals handed to them on silver platter without having to do any real work. Protags should work to reach their goals. Luckily, there were twists, which put them back to work.
The conclusion of the film doesn’t exactly reflect historical accuracy. While that’s not usually a problem, this one’s a biggie. If this had been made in the ‘70’s, no one would complain, but not today.
Finally, let it be said that this story isn’t worth getting chopped up into two-parts. This should be one film at no more than two hours. If this writer cares about advancing to a level of true mastery, like a Hitchcock, he should develop the discipline to get his many excessively long scenes down to manageable proportions.
Hitchcock did it, so can you.