Truly Somewhat AWESOME Original Screenplay
THE ROBOTARD 8000
THE ROBOTARD 8000
I can’t tell you how many e-mails I’ve received about this script. Over a hundred, I’ll bet, all asking (sometimes begging) me to do a script review. I added this to my to-do list. And God help me, the moment has arrived. So I took time out last weekend (from writing, tweeting, watching the masterpieces of Kurosawa, and studying Shakespeare) to consider a script called Balls Out by The Robotard 8000.
First, the script is available here via The Robotard 8000 who also twitters. In fact, he has a (tasteless/insulting?) photo of an obese mentally-handicapped male with an award. You can also read his random bursts of comedy-writing:
My balls, y'all.
Though I can't taste them, I know they're salty, crunchy and delicious.
My motherfuckin' balls.
Second, a variety of individuals have sung the praises of Balls Out, most notably William Goss at Cinematical and Craig Mazin at The Artful Writer who wrote, “Balls Out isn't safe, it isn't family friendly and it might be illegal. But it made me laugh. Out loud. A LOT.”
On the flip-side, Jeff Lowell is quoted as saying, “Balls Out is a stain on the craft of screenwriting. I'm sure that I'm worse as a person for having read it. I could feel precious things slowly slipping away from me with every page I turned - my skill as a writer, my decency, my hope for humanity. Is this the kind of quote you were looking for, Robotard? Good. Now release my children, you monster!”
And Scott Frank reportedly said, “if you love jamming shards of broken glass into your eyeballs, then by all means tuck into Balls Out.”
I will start with praise of the writer. Balls Out is a great title for a comedy. The grammar was surprisingly decent. I believe this writer actually has potential to create superb comedy. This is important enough to be repeated: I genuinely believe this writer has potential to create great, gut-busting comedy.
Having said that, I found this script to be a vile, degenerate, 107-page piece of shit, about as witty as a maggot-infested corpse but only half as intelligent. At this stage of his writing career, Mr. Robotard has merely ascended to the level of comedy butcherer, and that’s it. The only way he could make any (good) money for these types of scripts is if the WGA paid him to stop writing, which isn’t an altogether bad idea. It’s a tragedy how this writer revels in the most base instincts in mankind, as well as the most brutal behavior between human beings, and calls it “comedy.” Every unbearably boring, ultra-shocking, execrable idea he can dream up is paraded across this flimsy story with such repetition that the script should be guilty of murder by monotony. A poor reader would have to swim through a football-field-sized septic tank of shit to find microcosmic evidence of wit. It’s like peering into some quaggy latrine into which every imaginable iniquity had already flowed twice-over. This is the running sore of comedy, the putrid puss of screenwriting, the rancid gangrene of storytelling. Abandon hope all ye who enter! Struggling in vain to lift yourself out of the muck, this script just sucks you in deeper.
I know what you’re thinking: “That was so brutal, MM.” I’m being as brutally honest as Mr. Robotard was as brutal with his assault on humanity and exploitation of all things degenerate. How I wish I had stopped after reading the Title Page, which is a good starting point:
Truly Somewhat AWESOME Original Screenplay
THE ROBOTARD 8000
THE ROBOTARD 8000
As I said before, Balls Out is a great title for a comedy. Within those two words you know it’s a comedy of the outrageous gross-out variety, which is perfectly acceptable, and you also know its theme.
But then the writer felt compelled to tell us that he’s written a TRULY SOMEWHAT AWESOME screenplay, and herein lies the first red flag - no confidence in the reader. He’s telling you what to think before you’ve even been given a chance to read the script. More than that, I’d say he has a disdain for his readers, because he doesn’t think you have the intelligence to figure out its greatness for yourself. If someone has to tell you they’re funny, they’re usually not funny. Likewise, if they have to go out of their way to tell you that what they’ve done is truly somewhat awesome, more than likely it’s shit. Overselling is a sign of no confidence in the reader.
And then you see that the script’s written by “THE ROBOTARD 8000,” which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. In fact, the name has the unmistakable stench of arrested development.
If the Title Page wasn’t enough to warrant outright dismissal, this first scene will surely get the job done:
FADE THE FUCK IN:
A brief, painful MONTAGE establishing THE COD:
CAPE motherfucking COD.
What a disaster we have with just this opening scene alone. “FADE THE FUCK IN” screams immature amateur screenwriter. He incorrectly has the transitions and Master Scene Headings in bold. This is also not the proper format for a MONTAGE. Since Robotard tossed format to the wind, he has undermined confidence because he isn’t proving that he understands how a screenplay actually FUNCTIONS.
Exactly how would this montage be “painful?” There are no specifics. While “CAPE motherfucking COD” may sound slightly funny, this does nothing to help sell the film because the visuals presented in the script are not funny. All we’re seeing is Cape Cod. Okay, so?
So far, what has actually happened in the film? We faded in and we’re given an unspecific montage about Cape Cod. That’s it. Thus, we already have a misfire in terms of the writer trying to be funny in his action lines about something that may not translate into funny visuals. From this point forward, the reader will have to knowingly endure a mental war with the script to determine what would actually be funny in a scene despite how the writer has written the action lines.
What’s the most important aspect about an action line? It’s not how funny it’s written. It’s THE FINAL RESULT – what winds up on the screen. You must convey with absolute clarity what we’re seeing ON THE SCREEN. Thus, Robotard communicates in his first scene that his action lines are not to be trusted. What may sound funny in his action lines may not translate into funny visuals, a poisonous thought to start with for anyone who is reading and reviewing your work. And, of course, you will find that the rest of the script is filled with a litany of unfilmmables in the action lines - incidentals, asides, backstories, inner thoughts, author’s intrusions, ad nauseum.
That is, if you continue reading after that awful Title Page.
“Okay, MM,” you’re thinking, “Enough of this nit-picky junk. Didn’t you find the script funny?”
I never laughed once, but I frequently wanted to cry.
WE ZOOM INTO ROB’S MIND
A COMPUTER ANIMATED world of snow. The Canadian arctic. Just like in those classic Coke® commercials, we see a MOMMA POLAR BEAR and her BABY BEAR playing with a ball.
LIVE ACTION ROB is a short distance away, watching from astride his snowmobile.
Baby Bear paws at the ball, accidentally knocking it into a hole in the ice. Baby Bear tries to reach the floating ball but has no luck. Momma Bear just smiles...“Isn’t he precious?”
Just then, a BABY HARP SEAL pops up in the water. Locks eyes with Baby Bear. They smile, not as lovers but as friends. The tableaux is so cute it hurts.
The fluffy white baby harp seal nudges the ball so that his new friend can retrieve it. The Baby Bear leans over the hole and...
Without warning, the Baby Harp Seal latches onto the Baby Bear’s throat! Blood gushes from the “bahhing” Baby Bear’s mangled throat as...
FIVE MORE BABY HARP SEALS erupt from beneath the water and pounce on the Baby Bear.
Like piranha, the Baby Harp Seals ravage the Baby Bear, taking him down, consuming him even as he fights for his life. Soon there is nothing left but bone and red snow.
Momma Bear’s eyes are wide with shock. Even MORE BABY HARP SEALS emerge from the water and swarm toward the Momma Bear. She finally comes to her senses and takes off running.
They flop after her shockingly fast. Within seconds, they’re on her, devouring her hind quarters before she even realizes it. Momma Bear roars in agony as the reality of her pain reaches her brain...
Rob winces as the bloodthirsty Seals finish her off, leaving nothing but a nasty swath of guts and bones. Time to leave. Rob tries to fire up his snowmobile but it won’t turn over!
THE BABY HARP SEALS HEAR HIM!!!
They flop towards him, a seething mass of crimson fur and teeth. Rob yanks the starter cord furiously.
I’d suggest to you that this sequence is analogous of the entire screenplay. The Baby Seal is Robotard. The Baby Bear is comedy. And Momma Bear is the audience. Rob is Hollywood.
I’ll go out on a limb to say that I think Robotard is at war with himself. He has that potential to achieve the heights of great comedy, but he’s sidelining himself with an obsession about ultra-shock humor, which in the context of his stories does nothing more than create abominable characters for which we feel no emotional connection. Characters come first. The hints of wit and potential, for me at least, came out in isolated moments between characters like between Jim and Jill early in the story. There’s so much more to comedy than this ultra-shock schlock, and Mr. Robotard 8000 can be so much more than this.
Recommend: Trottier’s Screenwriter’s Bible, Helitzer’s Comedy Writing Secrets, and you can download (for free) Screenwriting for Dummies.
You did NOT just say that.
“Fuck YEAH, I did!”
I'm sure you're thinking “What was the story about?” My point exactly.
FADE THE FUCK OUT.
NOTES (up to page 17):
On the title page, get rid of “A
In the distance, we HEAR the persistent sound of a STUCK CAR HORN getting louder.
“Stuck car horn” does not need to be in caps nor “hear.” Sounds do not need to be in caps. And there’s no point in “we hear” or “we see” in a spec EVER. Rewrite as:
In the distance is the persistent sound of a stuck car horn.
Let’s talk about this paragraph:
It’s a scene, man. He’s folded in half, ass submerged in the trash can, knees dangling over the side. Jim flips to the sports page, seemingly unaware of the slack-jawed GAWKERS crowded around.
Cut “It’s a scene, man.” Obviously it’s a scene, right? This is a screenplay. Second, how would we know he's reading a sports page? Is this a shot over his shoulder to show us a sports page? How does this matter to the scene? Third, I’m not even sure this moment would be funny unless it’s a moment filmed in real life a la Jackass or Bruno. Even then, we may not laugh because we’ve seen this very prank in many different forms in the Jackass films and TV show.
Bottom of page - you don’t even have the correct transition. This is a MATCH CUT not a CUT TO. Plus, to do a match cut transition to boiling water “for no good reason,” “no good reason whatsoever,” is unimpressive, uncreative, and will likely not get a laugh. (Granted, you returned to the boiling water on pg 92 with the hot dogs, and there might be some meaning there with hot dogs boiling in water, but you keep saying that it's there for no good reason, which is annoying. Mostly, I'm guessing you wrote that merely to setup the introduction of Tom Cruise, all of which was necessary. You avoided the story by bringing in Tom Cruise. His appearance in your script was an act of screenwriting insecurity, as if you needed to include Tom Cruise to validate the telling of this story and that's a mark of weakness on your part as a writer. Your story should be able to stand on its own two feet without any star-studded cameos. Stick to the story! Back to my notes...) “TWO WEEKS EARLIER” should be in quotes. Pg 2 – Get rid of “MORNING” in the Master Scene Headings. Scenes are shot for “DAY” or for “NIGHT.” I’m not mentioning these again. Consider this line:
The barking dog next door wakes Jim up two hours too early, just like always.
How would we know that? A detail like that has to come out through the story. All the audience is going to see is that a barking dog woke Jim. And that’s all we, the readers, should know, too. The BATHROOM need only be a Secondary Heading. Consider all of the other places that need only be Secondary Headings. Cut “The proper place to shit.” That’s obvious, since this is a bathroom, right? This is what we call an author’s intrusion and should be avoided always. “But he’s not.” is another author’s intrusion. You should focus on Jim’s REACTION to what he said in front of the mirror. That’s what we’ll be seeing in the film and that’s what the audience will be caring about. Consider this line:
But the second he steps onto the sidewalk, A BIG ASSHOLE DOG - the same one whose barking woke him earlier - menaces him.
What does this mean “menaces him?” What exactly are we seeing here? Clarity is the key about what we see in the film. Pg 3 – Finally something funny! The string dangling from the dog’s ass would be funny. I actually smiled. Unfortunately, 3 pages is too late to get your first laugh. What would happen if he tried to pull the string out? You cannot reference specific songs in a screenplay unless the song’s in the public domain or you have the express written permission from the artist. Besides, someone might think of a better song to use. Write about an 80’s pop tune. Pg 4 – You should use DUAL DIALOGUE for the moment with Jim and the Hot Young Clerk. Pg 5 – You don’t need “(CONT’D)” when a characters speaks twice in a row. You’re breaking one of Trottier’s Ten Commandments. Pg 6 – “(O.S.)” is not correct when we’re hearing a voice from a speaker phone. I’m not even going to give the answer. Pg 7 – Consider this line:
Her response is another forty-five second burst of insane chattering.
This action line is wrong on so many levels. You talk about another forty-five second burst when you never mentioned the first forty-five second burst. Forty-five seconds is a lifetime in film. A minute and a half of nothing is intolerable. So we have a minute and a half of indecipherable screaming from a woman on a phone. A) it’s too long to be funny and after some point, the audience will be irritated. I’d workshop this first to see for how long this will be funny, and B) something that takes up forty-five seconds of screen time should fill up ¾ of a page in a script because one page equals one minute of screen time. This is supposed to be a comedy. Now, granted, many laughs are had by dragging something out longer than usual, but one page equals one minute of screen time. Thus, you should write out what’s going on for the full length of this routine. In this case, I’d suggest a MONTAGE for, perhaps, half a page. What should you write? Well, all YOU tell us about is this woman screaming. But what would be seeing? JIM’S REACTION. So write about funny things he does as he endures this woman chewing him out. He takes a nap, he cooks breakfast, he clips his toe nails, he reads a big book, whatever. THAT is comedy. And that is the difference between thoughtless action lines thrown into a script by an amateur and quality craftsmanship.
Okay, the next Master Scene Heading: “INT. COPY ROOM - FIFTEEN MINUTES LATER”. And then you have “INT. FILE ROOM - FIFTEEN MINUTES LATER” How would we know that it’s fifteen minutes later? Are you going to SUPER the words? Maybe we’ll see a clock? Does it even matter? Just write “MOMENTS LATER”. Pg 9 – This is SO wrong: “VOICE OVER LOUD SPEAKER (O.S)” Pg 14 – No point in the CUT TO. Readers always assume it’s a cut unless they’re told otherwise. Pg 15 – Avoid “then” in the action lines. Let’s consider these action lines:
Jim and Rob turn to see LARRY WILLS, 40’s, decked out in a tank-top, flip flops and lifeguard shorts. He’s a beach parking lot attendant by day and thieving playboy by day, too.
This second sentence concerns me greatly and also gives the impression the size of a tidal wave that you have yet to learn how a screenplay FUNCTIONS. How are we, the movie-going audience, to know that Larry Wills is a “beach parking lot attendant by day and thieving playboy by day?” This is the kind of information that should come out THROUGH THE STORY. “So what,” you might say. This matters. You wasted two very precious lines in your script when you only have (for a comedy) about 100-110 pages to work with. If you didn’t have these wasted two lines, you would’ve had room for MORE COMEDY. Question: what’s more important - pointless information in the action lines or comedy? I’d say comedy. You’re shooting yourself in the foot by neglecting format and wasting space in your screenplay. Writer, edit thyself. Pg 17 – If you’re still in the same location and it’s later, you don’t need a new Master Scene Heading. Just write, as an action line, “LATER”. And I don’t for a minute believe that “an hour later” is relevant to the story in any way. I’m going to stop with the notes because if I write down every complaint, my notes will grow to 10,000 words before I finish reading the script. So very sorry. Wait, Pg 55 – “SHKA-BANG!!!” was obnoxious to the point of immaturity. Don’t ever do that.