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.


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

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


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.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Today's Review

Let us now speak firmly about erections

The first time I laughed out loud reading this very charming piece of screenwriting was in an airport waiting for my flight while reading about Bob being in custody at his airport because of his prescription-less viagra bottle and the TSA Official who (in order to verify if these pills were, indeed, viagra) took Bob into a room, made him take a pill, popped in a porno, and told him, "Sir, at this time, I'm going to ask you to direct your attention to the TV monitor." I don't know why but that joke really hit me and made me laugh out loud. I got some looks. (I always get looks, but this time, it was more so than usual.)

Then I thought, "wait a minute," and that joke hasn't stopped bothering me ever since. I have a number of thoughts about this sequence, so just bear with me. First, I think the viagra could've been setup better. The idea really came prematurely (no pun intended). I may have missed something, but there didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason for his friends to give him viagra before his trip. You could set that up with an earlier scene where (perhaps with "Bob's Date"), we had the beginnings of passion but he couldn't perform simply because he wasn't attracted to her or he's turned off because it's obvious that she's attracted to his money. Or something. He tells the guys, and they "poke" fun at his inability to perform. Thus, we have the viagra bottle given to Bob as a gift at the airport. That makes more sense to me. On the other hand, it didn't make ANY sense that the TSA Official would make Bob watch a porno. A porno would naturally give a man an erection, would it not? So how would watching a porno prove that the pills in the bottle really were viagra? This scene would be WAY funnier if they just sat in this room and... did nothing. And these officials just stared at his crotch. And took notes. And there's all this tension in the room. Bob tries to cross his legs to get more comfortable and they yell, "Keep your legs spread!" Sweat forms on his forehead. He sees confiscated "Why We Fight" videotapes lying around and he asks to watch a porno. An officials shakes his head. He starts mumbling to himself names of porno stars to help things along. An official tells him that he can't visualize sex or women and then rambles on about dead dogs and gory murder scenes. Perhaps Bowie's "Under Pressure" is playing in the background. Suddenly, there's A SLIGHT movement in his nether regions and everybody JUMPS. A look of relief on Bob. And then, slowly but surely, an erection rises up in his pants, which clears him of everything, and he's allowed to leave. And then they think he's crazy because he actually got it up under those circumstances. Bob tries to retain his dignity and walks out.

I'm also a believer in the idea that it's better to incorporate motifs with props like the viagra bottle so that it feels essential to the story and not simply thrown in one scene just to get laughs. So that, say, for whatever crazy reason, one of Bob's friends agrees to sleep with a really scary girl in order to accomplish something important to the story, and thus, he actually NEEDS the viagra. Or perhaps Marty finds the bottle and that is why the RV was rockin'. And thus, the viagra saves their marriage (because those classes sucked the sex drive right out of him). And while I appreciated the fact that the Old Man sang about viagra, it might have been better if, say, Bob (or Marty) sees him and throws the bottle at him as a gift and the Old Man sings "Halleluiah." Or something like that.

Click here for the full review.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Change of Blog Format

Hey guys,

Sorry for all of the clips I posted today. (Well, not really. I love them. They're full of superb analysis, and I selfishly wanted all of them on my blog.)

I’m cleaning up my dashboard and changing my blog format. I’m going to post fewer articles with more substance, which will provide us more time for discussion in the comments sections and give me a chance to visit other blogs.

Thanks so much. Enjoy the vids.


Rog Ager's Analysis of Films

Okay, I love Rob Ager.

He studies films intensely. He posts his analysis of films under
Chumfun at YouTube. He runs the Collative Learning website where his basic aim is “to promote public interest in, and awareness of, advanced psychology and independent film making techniques.” He’s not afraid to face the hard truths about what any film may be telling us. He especially loves Kubrick films and studies them with the same zeal that I studied Kubrick’s Napoleon. How can you not love that?

He is, like us, one who participates in the free exchange of ideas about films for the next generation of filmmakers, which is exactly what I was alluding to eons ago in my
revolution post. He is, like us, combating “a society that is sadly turning away from the world of literature in preference of unbelievably mind-numbing forms of quick-fix entertainment.” He also writes, “I'm keen to attract a lot of people away from the brain-numbing stuff and toward active self-education, though this seems a monumental task at times.”

Listed below is the complete list of Ager’s analysis of films.

I’m going to keep adding his vids and updating this list.

Good job, Rob.




A Clockwork Orange – (updated with new vids!)


Scorsese’s Cape Fear

The Exorcist


The Shining

Ager's Analysis of "The Exorcist"

Ager's Analysis of Scorsese's "Cape Fear"

Ager's Analysis of "Alien"

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Sopranos Endings You Can Live With

Okay, I was pissed about the ending. I believe I used the words "cowardly" and "chicken-shit." Well, that hasn't stopped me from reading everything I can on the subject. Of all the many articles I've seen, my favorite is the superb shot-by-shot analysis found here at A Lesson A Day, which is as good as any film study we've done.

And now, inspired by Timothy Noah's recent article in Slate Magazine, here are 6 alternate endings that will hopefully bring just a little more closure into your life.



1) Slightly better but not much:

2) Hehehe... Not bad. Not bad at all.

3) I love it! The blackout was a bit flawed, though.

4) Funnier than it should be:

5) A Chase-Scorsese mash-up. Great!

6) The final shot steals the show:

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Music of Indiana Jones

Hey guys,

I was excited to read today that they've added Jim Broadbent to the cast of Indy IV. He said, "I’m doing a good cameo in the next Indiana Jones, so working with Mr. Spielberg should be an experience. I’m going to Yale. I’m a professor.” When it was suggested that he could be the new Marcus Brody, Jim replied, “That would do for me (laughs).” I love that guy.

Shia did a video for the official Indy website, which was nice.

And finally, I've been saving the clips below for a rainy day, so why not share them now? I loved the moment when John Williams talked about how he spends so much time working on the simplest bits of musical grammar to get them just right so that they seem "inevitable" and so natural as if "they've always been there."

In one example, he said, "I can't tell you how many permutations I would go through for a six-note motif like that." Then he mentioned how he "spends a lot of time on these little simplicities, which are often the hardest things to capture."

Same is true for writing, isn't it?

Like my other John Williams post, this really inspires me.



Monday, June 18, 2007

Satire & the Protag Serial Killer

Hey guys,

Many of you know our great friend,
Mickey Lee, an extremely talented writer who uploaded not long ago his revised draft of The Other Side. It’s a satire about Darwin Cristobal, a phony TV psychic who murders his rivals and "discovers" their bodies for the police in order to save his show from cancellation. It’s just sensational, and I thought I’d share the review I posted over the weekend.



This is my second romp through this second version. Let it be said, my friends, Mickey Lee's "The Other Side" absolutely deserves a sale and a production. This is the kind of story one could happily revisit again and again because on the one hand, it never fails to entertain, and on the other, the satire is wickedly effective. It's written with the inky blackness of a chilled & well-bred worldly cynicism, which we know runs deep in the veins of almost everyone on the planet. If this production was executed well with a name actor playing Darwin, I do believe the public would embrace this story.

There are two things I'd like to talk about:

- The Protag Serial Killer
- Satire


How should a writer handle a story in which the protagonist is a serial killer? It's an interesting dilemma, isn't it? Because every book tells you that your protagonist should be "empathetic" and/or "sympathetic," right? The audience has to "connect" with him/her on some level, "feel" for the character, and hopefully "root" for that person to achiever a goal. But how can you connect with or feel for or root for a protag who's killing people for all the wrong reasons?

Consider this. I saw "Mr. Brooks" not long ago. It failed as a story. Mr. Brooks (played by Kevin Costner) is a serial killer. In order to make the audience "sympathize" with Mr. Brooks, they created this cheap gimmick of showing us Mr. Brooks' alter bad boy nature in the form of Mr. William Hurt who Mr. Brooks calls "Marshall." And thus, we see Brooks whine and argue with Marshall about quitting and not wanting to do this anymore, thereby giving the writers an easy venue to externalize Mr. Brooks' inner conflict through verbal arguments. This was also a way for them to squeeze some sympathy out of the audience. But it puts the audience into an awkward position - ("Oh, poor Mr. Brooks. I hope he achieves his inner goals of not killing people. Oh, look, he slipped up and shot a couple. Oh well. In the end I hope he finds a way to stop."). Please. They also gave him an inner arc by leading us to believe he met his goals in the end and hopefully, quit. But then the ending left it wide open for sequels. Come on. It would've been far more entertaining had they just presented us with a fascinating individual who inevitably gets his comeuppance in the end. The point is, you cannot stuff this convention of "empathetic/sympathetic protag" into every type of film. Sometimes you have to go with "entertaining" and/or "fascinating."

Darwin is most certainly both.

I did a study a while ago, which I can't find anymore, on how to handle serial killers as protagonists in scripts. I concluded that there are only two successful approaches:

- a vivid, honest portrayal (Monster)
- wicked satire (American Psycho)

In both of those cases, you absolutely must avoid cheap gimmicks or subplots designed to squeeze out of the audience more sympathy for the protag, because that undermines the credibility of what you're trying to accomplish. Thus, ScriptShark completely missed the boat when they rated Mickey's story poorly in the category of "protagonist is sympathetic and/or engages our emotional investment." It's just absurd that they would judge every protag by those requirements. Those are the kind of narrow-minded, tunnel-vision ideas that have created endless bad movies. And ideas from other reviewers that push Darwin into being more sympathetic, like (so sorry, Ted) "everything Darwin does, he does for the daughter he loves" would ruin the integrity of the story.

Take for example, Monster. Just in the act of seeing this beaten down women's inner conflict of wanting to have a normal life with her lover but yet, new murders seemed necessary to cover the tracks of previous murders, she'll get SOME sympathy from the audience, but you can't force it. The most you can hope for is just an illumination of the human condition, a sense of understanding to this tragedy that we may not have had before. And that's what we got.

It would be absurd to ask audiences to sympathize with Patrick Bateman, and that would have muddled the point of the satire. Make no mistake, the filmmakers would've lost all credibility (and careers) had they stooped to a sympathetic portrayal. But, you see, that's the essence of satire, which is to ridicule the protagonist and/or the protag's environment. As Ebert wrote, "Mary Harron (director) sees him as a guy who's prey to the usual male drives and compulsions. He just acts out a little more... The film regards the male executive lifestyle with the devotion of a fetishist. There is a scene where a group of businessmen compare their business cards, discussing the wording, paper thickness, finish, embossing, engraving and typefaces, and they might as well be discussing their phalli. Their sexual insecurity is manifested as card envy... The function of the murders is to make visible the frenzy of the territorial male when his will is frustrated. The movie gives shape and form to road rage, golf course rage, family abuse and some of the scarier behavior patterns of sports fans."


What is satire? Ebert will put it down by saying, "satire is what closes Saturday night." But I read a big book once, John Gassner's Master of the Drama (800 pages of really small print). It took quite a bit of time and quite a few headaches to get through it. But I couldn't put it down. Gassner believed, and I have to agree with him, that satire is the highest form of comedy because there's a point to the humor. Satire serves a function in society by influencing people through laughter where rage and tears, not to mention common sense, have failed. And this makes me think of Aristophanes who is one of my favorite writers. Lysistrata could still relevant today, could it not? Moliere’s life-long career in the theatre was built on lampooning the ridiculous fixations of the social elite. And by lampooning all the different groups of society, a good service has been done for the public by bursting big egos and reminding everyone that we are all equally human. I believe in the power of comedy, which is so wasted right now with mindless fluff. And just because satire may not be "en vogue" right now, that does not mean it's not an acceptable or pleasing form of storytelling. (Here's the history of satire.)

To my bigger point, though, you have to judge a story for what it is and what it is trying to be in the context of that genre and not condemn it for all the things it isn't. You can't squeeze a square peg into a round hole. And this is where ScriptShark really failed in its coverage with the way that it pointed out illogic in the story (i.e., the public and police not being more suspicious of Darwin). The illogic IS the point because Mickey is ridiculing the fact that these people and society and even justice is blinded in part by Darwin's fame. Or blinded by their own beliefs in mediums, God, demons, the media, greed, the public's appetite for fame being greater than justice and morality, or in Nora's case, her faith in good coming from sharing "important news" to the masses. If everything was perfectly logical in this story, then there would be no need for satire, right?

Okay, I'd like to end this on a quick note of praise for Mickey.

There's a lot of crafty screenwriting going on here. Notice how Mickey connected the opening and closing shots of his story. I loved the inclusion of real and fake stars. I loved the scene on 21 where, after a hard night of murdering Vincent Vitale, Darwin wakes in his apartment to find his door wide open, implying just how open he leaves himself to being caught. I loved the little hints of what really drives him with the use of the framed photo of him and his father, a NY police officer, who we get the impression probably died in the line of duty. And unlike "Mr. Brooks," Darwin talking to the evil voice was not meant to be a cheap gimmick to drum up sympathy. Here, this was meant to show, I think, that Darwin has started to believe his own lies about being a medium, when in fact, he was hearing his own ID talking. Hehehe... And also, unlike Mr. Brooks, Mickey didn't sell out in the end. I love this ending. We are continually appalled and engrossed by the way he's getting away with murder because of who he is and how he's managed to fool everyone and in the end, he's given his just due in a way that we weren't expecting. It's satisfying because Nora was probably the only respectable person in this story (because she actually wants to feed the public "important" news), and she lost this battle with the media and the world to do good, and inevitably "sells out" like every one else by trying to capitalize (in her own way) on Darwin Cristobal's fame.

"Mr. Brooks" sold out by trying to lead us to believe he quit, but also left it open for endless sequels. Here, in the final scenes, we get talk about "selling out." However, Mickey was also, in essence, saying "I'm not selling out my story to leave it open for endless sequels" and kills Darwin. By killing Darwin, we see what we've been waiting for - his self-destruction. And the final scene is especially good, a twist of the knife of cynicism by showing how deeply entrenched this ridiculous fascination with fame has become around the world, when Darwin's death brings a moment of peace in Darfur as the Militia Leaders celebrate the news.

Perfect. Good job.



Mickey Lee on TriggerStreet

The Other Side script

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Movies I Can't Wait to See

PARIS, JE T'AIME: "Eighteen of the most acclaimed international directors and a star studded cast come together to pay a cinematic homage to Paris, the city of love."

PIERREPOINT - THE LAST HANGMAN: "A large, somewhat awkward man of simple manners, Albert Pierrepoint is like just any other decent, working-class fellow when we first encounter him. Then he goes for an interview at the local prison to become a hangman where he rises quickly through the ranks of executioners and becomes famous for the speed of his work."

ONCE: "A modern day musical set on the streets of Dublin. It tells the story of a busker and an immigrant during an eventful week as they write, rehearse and record songs that reveal their unique love story." (Read Billy's thoughts here.)

Good Luck, Indy.

Tomorrow marks the first official day of filming, although reports have indicated that they’ve already started. In any case…

Good luck, Indy.

Above is a video of the New Haven casting call, which was fun. You can read accounts of it here.

Thanks to everyone who has sent me links over the last few months. Spoilers don’t bother me, so please keep them coming. (And if you could find a way to send me Darabont’s script, I’d greatly appreciate it.) I’ve avoided blogging about Indy IV news because the point of the blog has always been to talk about the craft of screenwriting. Besides, you can get all the Indy IV news
here, and these guys are pretty thorough.

And yet, my most popular article is the
Indy 4 post. That little gem gets about 30-50 hits a day. (I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever write a post more popular than that one.) In the comments section of that article, I had a discussion recently with an anonymous person about Drew Babcock, and I’ve come to the conclusion that Drew Babcock never existed and he never interviewed Spielberg and all those rumors about the storyline involving the “Garden of Eden” was absolute bunk.

With respect to my
City of Gods post, there is an idea that I seem to have missed. There have been rumors about a storyline involving the Crystal Skull (yawn), which pulls its ideas from Chariots of the Gods? book written in 1968 by Erich von Däniken. He theorized that technology and religion were given to ancient civilizations by aliens, whom the people worshipped as Gods. That might explain why Lucas was quoted as saying, 'We’ll have to go back to that original MacGuffin and take out the offending parts and still use that area of the supernatural to deal with it.'”

A lot has been said lately about aliens and how the opening scene involves Area 51, and how bits of various drafts will be used in the new film, including Darabont’s draft. I’ve come to the conclusion that David Koepp slapped together a script that uses what he thought was the best of all the previous drafts. And he did this rather seamlessly because most of the drafts basically had to do aliens just as we saw in
Jeb Stuart’s script. But the idea involving aliens didn’t start with Stuart. It started with Jeffrey Boam way back in 1995. You may recall how Empire reported that Boam’s story concerned “an attempt to foil a Soviet plot to establish a missile base on the moon, or had something to do with the UFO crash at Roswell, New Mexico, or both.” I think the idea involving aliens came directly from Lucas, which Spielberg and Ford didn’t want to do, but Lucas stubbornly held firm to this concept FOR YEARS until Spielberg and Ford eventually agreed.

Yeah, good luck, Indy.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Character Arcs

Hey guys,

This is a continuation of our series on
Character Development Sheets.

A Character Arc is, of course, one of the first fundamental lessons all aspiring writers learn. As
Robert McKee told us, “The finest writing not only reveals true character, but arcs or changes to that inner nature, for better or worse, over the course of the telling.”

I have been struggling with this post for so long, because really, what more can be said on the subject that hasn’t already been exhaustively explored in the Unknown Screenwriter’s now complete 14-part series on
Transformational Character Arcs? If there are any awards to be given for superlative blogging, Unk rightfully deserves them. Congratulations, my friend, on a job very well done.

With respect to my own development sheet, though, this is the section where I just explore, try to get a handle on, brainstorm, mold, and in the end, clearly define exactly what I intend to accomplish in terms of arcs in my protagonists. Arcs can be simple or complicated depending upon the amount of
layers and depth you create in your character. But looking back at the top of the sheet at the goal and inner conflict, how does this character change? Is it for the better or for the worse? Will there be more than one change in my character? How do I put that character into situations that exploit the inner conflict and pressures that character to change at the risk of his/her goal?

I love McKee’s example with Paul Newman in The Verdict. 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.

There are so many other examples too numerous to list. Miriam has reminded me in the past of the distinction between internal and external arcs, which is great. I also think that internal arcs are not essential in every story, particularly franchises. Sherlock Holmes never changed, James Bond rarely, Sam Spade never, Inspector Clouseau never, and recently, I questioned whether
The Queen had an arc. I don’t think she did. We were shown simply that when push comes to shove, she’ll fight to survive, which was always part of her character. In the end, she gave lip-service to “change,” but please, who’s she trying to kid? Hehehe… See some of the discussion about non-character arcs here and also in weak characters in comedies.


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Ager's Analysis of "Psycho"

Considering that we just had a post on the Psycho Shower Scene and Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train, why not a full analysis of Psycho?

I love the visual statement made by the double mirrors.

This may be my favorite study he's done. Good job.


Monday, June 11, 2007

Cinematic Storytelling

Not long ago, I read Cinematic Storytelling, which was written by the great Jennifer Van Sijll, and I just LOVED IT. This should be in the library of every aspiring screenwriter on the planet and every single technique should be memorized backwards and forwards. Period. This book is exactly what the screenwriting community needs right now.

If you’ve read every book under the sun about storytelling and how to write a screenplay, then Jennifer's your girl. She will take you to the next level, because her book is about how to render your story cinematically. Jennifer offers you 100 non-dialogue techniques to convey ideas in film. It's great. On the left page, she’ll give the technique, and on the right page, she’ll give screencaps and show you how it was written in the script. Writers are filmmakers, too, ya know, and this is quite literally an encyclopedia of “show, don’t tell.”

And yes, Jennifer’s qualified to write this book. She teaches screenwriting at San Francisco State. She has an MFA from USC's Department of Cinema-Television. She’s worked as a script analyst for Universal Pictures (Hey,
Billy, Jenn’s a cutie. Can you hook me up? Hehehe…). She’s also been an analyst for independent producers and pay television. In 1994, she won the Panavision New Filmmaker Award. In 1995, she was named honorary Gilliland Chair at San Jose State for teaching excellence. She’s taught intensive weekend scriptwriting courses for UC Berkeley for six years.

Get this - Section 1 (the first 16 pages of her book) are available for free in .pdf form
right here. (There are about 250 pages in all.)

Have you downloaded her sample chapter yet?


Turn to page 4 (page 7 of the .pdf document).

You will notice that this first free section talks about SPACE: 2-D & 3-D SCREEN DIRECTION. She explains things that should be common knowledge for every screenwriter - 2-D Space: the X-Axis (horizontal line), the Y-Axis (vertical line), and 3-D space: the Z-Axis (foreground to background).

Now consider this video:

From page 4 to page 7, she covers this opening sequence in Hitchcock’s classic Strangers on a Train. First, this sequence is just plain fun. I love it. Consider how much information we learn about these two characters just by looking at their shoes and pants. One is a bit of a dandy with his two-tone shoes and fancy pants and the other has an every-man quality to him with his conservative lace-ups. Also, notice how the protagonist walks from left-to-right on the screen and the antagonist walks from right-to-left. To quote Jennifer:

As Westerners we read left-to-right. If you rented fifty studio-made movies, there’s a good chance that the “good guy” will enter screen left every time. When the “good guy” moves left-to-right our eyes moves comfortably. Subconsciously, we begin to make positive inferences.

Conversely, the antagonist usually enters from the right. Since our eyes aren’t used to moving from right-to-left, the antagonist’s entrance makes us uncomfortable. The screenwriter exploits this by transferring our learned discomfort to the character. The subtle irritant directs the audiences to see the character negatively. In the same way, we code a black hat as a negative symbol, we can also code screen direction negatively.

Now watching these two characters walk toward each other on the screen along the X-Axis like this implies an impending collision, and indeed, when they finally sit down, one shoe knocks the other one. As Jennifer says, “Visually, their meeting has already implied collision. This makes us lean in all the more as we suspect it is all going to be bad – very bad.

So what’s been accomplished here? What’s the “Dramatic Value?” “
By using screen direction to graphically suggest a pending collision, the film has set up conflict and character, and peaked our fears – all in under sixty seconds.

There’s another shot in this clip I’d like to point out. At :58 seconds we are shown a variety of train tracks along the Y-Axis, which is covered on page 6 of her book. To quote Jennifer:

“After already graphically suggesting that the meeting of the men will result in collision, Hitchcock cuts to an exterior shot. Hitchcock takes us to the train tracks upon which their train is traveling. At first, we see only clean linear lines of the track. The train is “on course.” It moves smoothly with a fixed speed and an unobstructed route ahead. Now we come upon an exchange of tracks. The lines are a mess of competing directions. Then – suddenly the train veers off. It heads toward the right side of the frame. This is the same side previously occupied by the antagonist. The graphics suggest that the protagonist has abandoned his true course and moved to the world of the antagonist.”

What’s the “Dramatic Value” of this shot? “By using the Y-Axis to set up a linear established route, one that represents safety and normalcy, Hitchcock could also establish its opposite – the dangerous detour. The metaphor is also a succinct synopsis of the plot: What happens to a good man when his path is suddenly diverted?”

I love it.

This really helps aspiring screenwriters to think more visually and consider what information certain visuals conveys to the audience and empowers them to exploit that effectively. Every writer should have these techniques in the back of his/her mind when he/she writes in order to avoid excessive dialogue and verbal exposition.

My only complaint about this book (beyond the few minor grammatical errors I noticed) would be the screenplay insertions, because so many examples are very dated format techniques. We know from Dave Trottier, author of the Screenwriter's Bible, that contemporary specs cannot have camera angles or big, overwritten blocks of action lines as we see in so many of those examples. (This book was, in part, what inspired the
Psycho Shower Scene post.) But I look at those techniques and feel inspired and wonder how we would write those techniques today and how I can incorporate those examples into my own stories and well, that should make Jennifer very happy.

Her book also reminded me again how Citizen Kane is so masterful in terms of cinematic techniques. You should turn to page 10 (page 13 of the .pdf document) where Kane paces along the Z-Axis and walks from the foreground to the background and back to the foreground again. Without a word of dialogue, Orson Welles communicates to the audience that Kane has returned to a state of boyhood.



The Sopranos Finale

Dear Mr. David Chase:

I saw the very first episode of The Sopranos the night it aired, and I've since been one of your biggest fans. Thus, I hope you will accept my heartfelt apology for not having written
The Great Ones That Failed years ago, because it would have done you a world of good.

What is it about mobster franchises that they always screw up the ending? This may have been the most indecisive, cowardly, chicken-shit ending to a television show I have ever had to witness. I would’ve respected you more had you actually made a decision about Tony’s demise and stuck by it.

Makes me want to write mobster franchise just to show you how it’s done.


Sunday, June 10, 2007

Script Club – "The Senator’s Wife"

Hey guys,

I just thought I'd repost this article in order to give the world the complete roundtable discussion of The Senator’s Wife, which was written by the very talented Katherine Fugate.

I’d like to thank our good friend
Christina Ferguson for not only her contribution and partnership in keeping the Script Club alive but also her suggestion of The Senator’s Wife. Mine was Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, NY, and yeah, that would’ve been a disaster.

Second, I want to define to the world exactly what we’re doing here. This is like a Book Club. It’s not meant to be anything. It’s not meant to influence anything. It’s not meant to be an early review of an unfinished work or any kind of indicator about how good or bad a movie may be before it’s even released. This is just a discussion by screenwriters (for the consumption of other screenwriters) about one version of one draft, which just gives us the chance to talk about the craft. That’s it. And while the script is not available for download, I think we can all still get something out of this discussion.

So without further adieu, on with the reviews, which were so insightful.

Hope you enjoy them.



David Mulhfelder’s Review

Michelle Carver’s Review

Pat's Review

Miriam Paschal's Review

Antag Question

Laura Deerfield's Review

Bob Thielke's Review

James McCormick's Review

Mia's Review

Christina's Review (and here's Christina's mother!)

And Finally, MM's Review

Friday, June 08, 2007

And Finally, MM Reviews “The Senator’s Wife”

I first want to thank our great friend Christina Ferguson for suggesting this spec. She also posted her own thoughts about it here.


As Christina points out, this script was considered to be (by development people) one of the hot specs of 2005. Fugate was a writer to watch and for good reason. She has a lot of wonderful strengths going for her as a writer, and she most certainly has that potential to become a member of that elite group of
reliable closers.

With respect to the story, I loved the concept, as well as the distinct voices of the different characters, the short scenes, and yes, even the fragmented sentences in the action lines. For those of you who have not read her scripts, here’s an example of her action lines:


In the black seat, alone, ROSALIND HARRISNO (30s), sits perfectly erect, looking out the window at the thrashing sea.

Red lips. Pearl earrings. Black Chanel suit. Stunning.

pointed out some format concerns, and yeah, this was not perfect format-wise, but this felt much more “cleaned up” than a lot of specs I’ve encountered on TriggerStreet, and I was happy about that. Reading the scene above, I thought of our good friend Dave Trottier who instructs writers to have only one dash in the Master Scene Headings (“Palm Beach” need only be mentioned in the action lines). Also, the word “Stunning” is an unnecessary unfilmmable opinion of the writer (symptomatic of a lot of unfilmmables she wrote in her action lines), because it’s fairly obvious with the red lips and pearl earrings, etc, that she looks quite beautiful. But I do like these paragraphs. Complete sentences are not required. As David pointed out in the comments section of Miriam’s review, “The less you write, the more they’ll read.” (Miriam's review was, as always, really superb.)

But to my bigger point, I liked what Fugate was trying to do in terms of style and technique. She gives us in our first look at Rosalind, a woman who’s perfectly poised and beautiful while looking out the window at a “thrashing sea,” which was meant to symbolize her inner turmoil through a nice, clean, visual style of
cinematic storytelling. It brought to mind the close-ups of Holly Hunter in The Piano. At one point, there was the close-up of Holly’s face while dark clouds rolled behind her. Or there was the shot where we would be outside looking at her through a window while she stared out at the world and a storm began and rain pelted the window panes. Holly’s character was mute and had cold expressions, but the clouds and rain helped express to the audience visually her inner feelings and turmoil.

Additionally, Fugate gave the implication in the scene above with the black sedan and Rosalind’s black Chanel suit that she was headed for something like a funeral or some place that she does not want to go, which turned out to be a fundraiser. It makes me happy to see writers endeavor to tell their stories cinematically like this. (Another example – the moment when sandbags were getting thrown from the back of pick-up trucks on a beach to surf shops and sno-cone stands that were being boarded up due to an impending storm and “over-lording” this moment was the billboard of her husband running for the Senate and promising to “Keep Florida Safe.”)

I liked many of her transitions, too, such as the one on page two - the manicured hands of the wealthy women writing checks for Arthur Harrison’s campaign and then we cut to the calloused hands with “old cuts that never quite heal,” which were the hands of Donny Flynn.

With respect to any criticisms, everyone did such an outstanding job, and I am so very grateful for
every review. After reading the script, I could feel a 5,000 word review brewing inside of me, but so much of my own thoughts were covered in everyone else’s reviews. There’s very little with which I disagreed and I made my thoughts known in the various comments sections. I’ve said before, give enough time and enough good reviewers to look at your script, all of the weaknesses will get dutifully pointed out to you.

In Christina’s
post, she pondered, “I wonder if this is not one of those stories for the 80% of viewers out there that don't see things coming and suspend belief at a high level if the kid is cute enough.” Anything’s possible, but I wouldn’t risk my own money it.


Thursday, June 07, 2007

James McCormick Reviews “The Senator’s Wife”

Hey guys,

Many of you have interacted with the very smart James McCormick who runs a blog called
On the Scene. He’s been a writer's intern on The Riches, attended USC, graduated from Chapman Film School, and read / covered scripts for various companies.

Great job, James. I really appreciate your time and thoughts.



The Senator’s Wife
By Katherine Fugate.
117 pgs.

LOGLINE: A boy blackmails an ex-con, forcing him to kidnap his best friend’s mother (The Senator’s Wife) in an attempt to reunite them.


JOEL, a boy of 10, steals DONNY FLYNN’s little black book and mails it to Florida. Donny, a bookie, needs it to do business. Joel convinces Donny that the only way to get his book back is to take him to Florida in search of ROSALIND HARRISON, whom he mailed it to.

Joel’s best friend, Ian is dying of cancer. Joel is trying to reunite Ian with his mother Rosalind.


I’m not sure where to begin. This is a Lifetime movie. If that’s what the writer wanted, then mission accomplished. I hold my standards a little higher than that. As such, the comments are going to be based on why this is not a theatrical film.

The MAJOR problem with the script is that the instant Rosalind agrees to willingly participate (no longer be a victim) there is no more conflict. She agrees before page 40. This means the SECOND ACT is not addressing the central premise. As an audience member, we are dragged painfully around by the plot, which is paper thin, full of holes, uninteresting, and worse… contrived.

For example:

1) Donny could simply ask Rosalind to sign for the FedEx package and send it back to him. But he never does. That’s what I would have done.

2) Rosalind decides to leave, conveniently about the end of Act Two, for no apparent reason, when she has shown no signs of resisting prior. It makes absolutely no sense.

3) A tornado, coming out of left field. What did that accomplish? Besides stretching believability beyond belief.

It seems as if the whole script is based on the reuniting scene between mother and son, at the end of the movie, rather than the journey and what that means. No alternatives are presented.

As a result, the script feels like it has made its conclusion from the very beginning instead of finding it along the journey of the story.


The title is The Senator’s Wife. With that comes an expectation that the story will somehow be tied to politics. But this story is not.

A big part of the misconception is that the opening scenes are dark and brooding, establishing the calm before the storm that is typical of thriller movies. When we first meet Donny he is beating up a judge (in a very cliché scenario) which reinforces the “political” content of the title.

However, ten pages in or so we meet Joel for the first time. Joel brings a new light to the script and someone for the reader to identify with, as Rosalind has had very little character development and Donny is just a thug.

For the next 50 pages or so, the tone borders on comedy, although I do not think this was intentional.


Like most Lifetime movies, the woman is the protagonist, even when they aren’t.

The story really revolves around Joel’s mission to reunite Ian with his mother. But the writer keeps trying to force the viewer into Rosalind’s POV. This would actually work, if there was anything that felt like it needed solving on the part of Rosalind. However, there is nothing. She is perfectly fine without child. And likes it that way.

Again the title is misleading, describing Rosalind and not Joel.


If there was any doubt in your mind that this was a Lifetime movie, the ending should clinch it.

The movie uses cancer as an emotional dramatic tool. It manipulates the audience into feeling by providing a scene that would make anyone cry at any point in the movie. Put a random mother in a hospital, searching for her son, and he is “gone” and you’d be sad too. You could open a movie on that.

However, Rosalind has shown absolutely no signs of wanting to be reunited with her child prior to this. She has been passive this whole time and when she gets there and he is gone, she breaks down. Way to go Lifetime.

This stems off the fact, that the Second Act is not addressing the premise. Instead it is just prolonging the movie, that by the point we get to this scene, I frankly just don’t care. It’s like, “Mm-hmm.” He’s gone. She missed him. Insert tears here.
Then there is the twist.

She finds out Joel is actually her son. I was a little bit insulted by this. In my mind, that is playing dirty with the audience. See that logline up there?

Watch how convoluted the premise gets if you try and add that bit of information into the logline…

A boy pretends to be helping his cancer-ridden friend, by blackmailing a bookie to kidnap the friend’s mother, to reunite the two, only for her to discover that the boy doing the blackmailing is actually her child.

See how everything is unrelated?
It also changes the premise of the movie.

Followed by another twist.

And HE has cancer.

I laughed out loud, when you find out he has cancer. Not that I think cancer is funny, mind you. It’s not. It had more to do with the fact that this was the second child in 3 pages that Rosalind thinks is her child, that is also dying of cancer. Ridiculous.

Name four or five of the most cliché, cheesy ways, to wrap up a movie. Now put them together.

FLASH FORWARD: Six months later.

The child is dead. Rosalind is at the grave.
She runs in to Donny. Who turns out to be a new love interest because…
Rosalind is divorced.
But, oh, they can talk about how happy the times in those six months we flash forwarded through were.