Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Recent Script Reviews

Some of my recent script reviews. Photos courtesy of Banksy. felt like this story really wanted to be a quest-type of plot, that there would be a treasure or MacGuffin at the center of it all that Hawthorn (or Bren) wants because they heard about it and so the protag's search is also a statement of character. And they aren't wandering around so much as they are heading TO or trying to FIND something they dearly want. And it's in the protag's search that the character is affected in some way which creates an arc in the end. That sounds really formulaic, but in this case, I think it would help. Hey, we know our quest plots, right? Gilgamesh sets out to find immortality and what he discovers along the way changes him fundamentally; Don Quixote sets out as a madman knight errant to redress the wrongs of the world and also to find his lady Dulcinea; Dorothy's quest in "The Wizard of Oz" is, of course, the desire to find home; the Joads in "The Grapes of Wrath" are looking for a new life in California; the title character in "Lord Jim" seeks his lost honor; Conway searches for his Shangri-La in "Lost Horizon;" Jason wants the Golden Fleece, and in "Treasure of Sierra Madre," Fred Dobbs seeks gold in the remote hills of Mexico, but his quest changes his character because of his greed. Do you see what I mean? And if this story was about Bren (hint-hint) we'd be even more interested in seeing him get what he wants. Perhaps he, too, is searching for his home. Or a family treasure.

...unfortunately, you had too much commentary and backstory in the action lines. You have to get yourself in the habit of just telling us what we see on the screen. That's it. For example, when you first introduced Nate's father, Michael, you wrote, "Unhappy with the cards life has dealt him and has no interest in hiding it." That's a good take on a character, but that's really not something you explain in the action lines. You should be able to easily convey those ideas through his behavior in the story without EXPLAINING what his behavior is in the action lines. You have to be able to describe the visuals to the reader that the audience will see on the screen and allow just the visuals to convey the same information to the reader that it would also convey to the audience. Do you follow? That's what the fine art of screenwriting is all about, not explaining things, but providing the framework of visuals that tell the story so that the reader and the audience can put two and two together to understand what's really going on.

Okay, one of the biggest weaknesses here is its lack of subtlety and subtext. Take for example, the sequence that began on page 2. We see Mike in a club making out with a man AND a woman. In the next scene he wakes up in a bed with the man and woman next to him. He "acts as if he is shocked that they're in his apartment. He jumps out of bed quickly," and screams "Get out! Get out, you f*ggot! And take your cheap whore with you!" They're startled, grab their clothes, and leave. Then we see Mike in a shower vigorously scrubbing his skin and sobbing. Could you have been anymore obvious about Mike's feelings? This was just a little too straightforward and over-the-top for me, which has a certain shock value, but it doesn't take long for the shock to wear off and the sudden, intense, extreme shifts in emotion get tiresome. An attempt at subtlety and subtext would've pulled the audience into the story more, I think. Perhaps a scene where, the morning after, he is nice but overly anxious to earn their approval. Or he wants more sex but they reject him. Or perhaps he offers them breakfast and on the surface he's being polite, but his demeanor's icy cold to them to such an extent that we wonder what's really going on and what he's really feeling. He grabs a knife and we wonder what he's going to do with it. There has to be some kind of interesting behavior going on that would make us, as an audience, ask questions and get involved in the story. As it is, we're practically TOLD with great big red letters EXACTLY what he's feeling. You could've gone farther with less. I felt that way about most scenes.

Two things: 1) You established in the hospital room that Lucas quickly and supernaturally heals when he is hurt and he also has this special gift of healing others, so I think you robbed a lot of tension in the scene where Shane locked himself in the bathroom with Lucas and tried to kill him. I wasn't that worried because we already know that no matter what, Lucas will heal. 2) You brought attention to the fact that Lucas promised Darcy he would never tell Emily what Shane does to her, which never played out in the narrative. In stories, promises are like guns. If you introduce a gun in your script, at some point that gun has to go off, right? The only reason you establish a promise is for it to be broken. Or there's a misunderstanding that it was broken. Why do I bring up these two things? Because you might want to redesign this whole sequence at the hospital. This is just a suggestion, of course. Follow me here. First of all, you should establish exactly how the fire was started. And it was Shane's fault. Lucas saves Darcy. Emily sees Darcy's wrists, bloodied from the cords, and she demands to know what happened. Lucas breaks his promise and explains to Emily that not only did Shane start the fire but he also ties Darcy to the bed with these cords. Shane returns. He sees the apartment on fire and races inside to save Darcy. Of course, she's not there, because Lucas already saved her. Shane nearly dies in the fire. The firemen have to drag him out. Lucas wants to save Shane. Emily tells him no because he deserves to suffer. With this approach, Lucas is put into a position where he is forced to make a choice about how he's going to use his gift. Do you see what I mean? So, anyway, Lucas says that everyone deserves a second chance. And he saves him. And in the hospital, instead of Lucas tattling on Shane, EMILY tells Rhonda and the police about Shane starting the fire and tying up Darcy, because she still believes Shane should be punished for what he's done. And thus, the scene in the bathroom is not about Shane and Lucas, but it's about Shane and Emily. And it would be even more intense than the scene that currently exists because Emily has no gift and she could very easily die from this. And the audience would be worrying about, "Will Emily die?" "Will Lucas find her in time to heal whatever wounds Shane inflicts on her?" Do you see what I mean? And with Shane taken away, Darcy learns that Lucas broke his promise to her and she won't forgive him. Or something like that. Do you see what I mean? With this approach you would've gotten a scarier scene with Shane going after Emily and you would've earned the payoff of the broken promise.

The action was a little repetitive. We had, by my count, three very similar action scenes where the runaway slaves were put into a place of hiding and then the posse descended upon them and they battled their way out of that predicament. This first happened in the Mill starting on page 26, then the Cottage starting on page 43, and finally, the Old Spanish Mission in the third act climax. I would've preferred only ONE scene like this in the entire story. Because, by the time you see this in the third act, you feel like you've already seen this set up before. You should mix the plot up and the action. I say let Elijah get captured by the authorities, let him go on trial, let justice fail because he's black, let him be imprisoned, make parallels between imprisonment in jail and slavery, and then let Elijah escape from jail because he has nothing to lose. And he wants freedom, which he has heard is in Texas. Great. He's not running away from something as much as he has a goal and he's running TOWARD something he wants. THEN start the chase and give us only one scene where they're hiding in a quiet location and the posse descends upon them. It was hard to believe that his Texan friends would go to such great lengths to keep Elijah from going back to face his accusers, because they really don't know anything about him or that situation. That also made Bethany's change of heart difficult to swallow. (I agreed with Michelle when she wrote that "Bethany almost feels like a plot device rather than a person.") It's very American to believe that the accused should stand and face his accuser in the court of law amongst his peers and be judged. Of course, back then, a black man didn't stand a chance in court, but still, how do you really KNOW that a man is a truly good man and that he's being unjustly accused of murder? Murder is a scary thing. Not only that, do you really know that man well enough to get into a gun fight and risk your life over it? On the other hand, it's completely understandable if he had already faced his accusers, tells them that justice was corrupt, and they sympathize. In a case like that, they aren't just protecting someone they like, they're fighting FOR justice. Ya know? Keep the action local. Texas is a big damn state and I found it hard to believe that those two slaves could've been found even with hundreds of flyers. The smaller the area for the chase, the greater the tension. Elijah boarding a train to Texas and finding true freedom sounds to me more like a third act resolution than anything else. I mean, that's ultimately what he was searching for, wasn't it?


Mim said...

I hate to say it, but this review made me not want to read the script. I guess it's for the best, because it seems to need a lot of re-work.

I feel bad for the writers on TS who jump on there with stars in their eyes and then get their hopes dashed right out of the gate. But it does weed out the ones who really won't do well in HW.

Sometimes I read a script like this and know I have to write a review like this and I hate to start, but it must be done.

It must be done.

Mystery Man said...

Oh, come on, Mim, reading your new script will be great fun! You have nothing to worry about! Besides, there's nothing that can't be fixed in a rewrite.