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.



Christina said...

Great review. I love what you focus on - I think you're pointing out (and what I think is her biggest strength) is she has a great voice. I enjoyed her language choices the way I do a short story writer like Raymond Carver, and would place Ms. Fugate in the company of Kaufman and Noah Baumbach in that regard. The story problems can be fixed, but the kind of voice she's developed can't be faked.

I'll let you know in a comment or a short post what my mom thought. I'm curious what mom will think about this one. She gave my friend who teaches screenwriting great notes on a violent drug-running script two weekends ago, much to my friend's surprise...

Mystery Man said...

Hey Christina, thanks so much.

I liked the most the various ways she tried to convey ideas visually in addition to all the other elements, lean and mean writing, short scenes, distinct voices, etc. Those are the signs of a devoted student of the craft.

And please do share with me what your mother thought. After reading your post, I'm quite curious now.


Mim said...

MM, you have a wonderful ability to grasp the visual symbolism of a film. I'm hit or miss with picking it up.

There is a lot of wonderful visualization in this script, whether or not I grasped the symbolism. And I'm sure it will succeed as much as the producers expect it to.

It could just be so much better.

Nicklaus Louis said...

Thanks for the great reviews from everyone. I enjoyed reading them, even though I've not read the script.

How does one become a part of this club?

Anonymous said...

In an e-mail to MM on Friday I wrote, "I did actually enjoy it. It's the kind of movie I probably wouldn't go see in a movie theater, but I'd watch on TV some afternoon. Would I instantly forget about it after it's over? Probably. But at the same time, I wouldn't feel as if my time was wasted, because it basically delivers exactly what it promises to deliver, which is a fairly effortless, relatively pleasant way to spend two hours. Nothing about it annoyed me."

And to Miriam's comment that it could be so much better, I also noted, "And this may sound odd, but I suspect I'd actually enjoy it LESS if it was better and/or tighter written. Heh."

Laura Deerfield said...

I did love the tightness of the language, which is why I think that some of the more florid phrases stood out and distracted me.

"Red lips. Pearl earrings. Black Chanel suit. Stunning." is an excellent character introduction, and the scene, including her interactions, tells us a great deal about Rosalind.

I'm confident that this script will improve greatly with a couple of re-writes, which I'm sure it will go through. Some things might come out during casting or filming - like the fact that a 10-year old will have difficulty pulling off those lines.

I've enjoyed this exercise.

Mystery Man said...

Mim - I suspect you picked up on those visuals without really thinking about it. On my sidebar is a recommendation for a book called Cinematic Storytelling, which I'm going to blog about soon. I LOVED IT! In it, she offers 100 examples of non-verbal, visual, techniques to convey ideas about characters. This really should be in every screenwriter's library and completely memorized backwards and forwards.

Hey Nick! Thanks so much and welcome! I added you to my sidebar. Not sure when we'll do another one. The next thing on my list is an interactive study on the best ways to write exposition. I'm still trying to decide how we'll do that. In any case, with respect to the script club, I'll just make an announcement and then you just email me and tell me you're interested.

I was surprised Matt liked the script as much as he did. That's pretty cool.

Thanks, Laura. You had a great review. I suspect that by now most people are kind of "talked out" about this script. But it was nice to go last, because I could touch upon little things no one else talked about and end the whole thing on a nice note, you know? If she was a TriggerStreet member, I suspect she'd be respected and encouraged to keep at it.


Laura Deerfield said...

MM, for the study on exposition, we could discuss some of our favorite expository scenes in various films, why the scenes worked as story and why they worked as exposition.

Mystery Man said...

Oh yes, asking people to submit their favorite examples is the main idea, but I've been thinking about asking people to submit two examples - verbal and non-verbal.

What do you think about that?


Laura Deerfield said...

Oh, that's interesting. I like that idea - the non-verbal will really get people thinking, as it's a less common expositional choice.

(PS - I love the picture you chose for this one. Shades of the Toy-Maker?)

Mystery Man said...

Hehehe... Indeed!

Anonymous said...

I noticed you saved the sexiest picture of Jen for your review. One of the beneits of being blogmaster. ;)

Mystery Man said...

Au contraire, my friend! My favorite photo is the one I gave to you. She is so darn cute in that nighty. Those are some great photos. So great, in fact, that I expect to receive a "cease and desist" notice from Esquire any day now. Hehehe...

I like Jennifer and would watch any movie she's in, but I was never a really huge fan or anything. But I gotta say, it was nice having her around for this.