TITLE: Meltdown by John Carpenter (unproduced)
FORM/PAGES: Screenplay / 118
COVERAGE DATE: 10/23/13
DATE: READER: DB
The script is masterfully written in many ways and a complete joy to read. The dramatic premise is intriguing. The characters, though certainly on the thin side, are sympathetic and real, and the dialogue created to express their points of view is effective throughout. The visuals, the action, the topography of the space… all are exceptionally well crafted.
The script is also very much a product of its time. While the Fukushima partial meltdown of 2+ years ago is still creating a sort of rolling disaster, it can’t be said that there is actually a great deal of public American fear, suspicion, anger, or even upset at the issue of nuclear power itself. While this script does present an interesting plot in and of itself, it’s undeniably a political polemic against nuclear power and against technology in general. It’s difficult to fully gauge how this subject matter would land in the culture of today given all the other things that the general public is concerned about, and the vast shift toward mechanization that’s happened in the 33 years since this story was written.
In order to make this script work, it would either require a commitment to present this nearly as-is, in the context of 1980 with only a minor shift towards stronger logic and emotional substantiation… or require virtually a page one rewrite placed today. To commit to it as it is, placing it still in 1980, in effect the film would become itself a time capsule, shining a light perhaps on what we should still be gravely concerned about but have forgotten in our shifting focus towards other fears. There are shades of (future) terrorism, climate change, and remote military murders in here. The connection to the story being relevant today could be made from the view of darkly ironic hindsight. Our current culture espouses much different fears now, but it’s not impossible to track them as a sort of offspring of the fears capitalized upon in this script. It could work as a sort of objectified view of every crime we’ve committed against our environment since then, including the Fukushima disaster. It’s not clear how well that would in terms of marketing but considering the source, this film would certainly gain a lot of interest.
The aspect of fear of technology would also have to be something to be looked at, as debating the usefulness or ubiquity of technology is no longer a powerful, persuasive argument. While this is secondary in many ways to the larger threat of the meltdown, it is fear (and misunderstanding / misuse) of technology that fuels that primary fear. Viewed from 2013, that 1980 suspicion of technology seems almost naïve or quaint. Yes – as we hear more about government spying and drone warfare, technology can seem just as invasive and destructive as a nuclear meltdown, but that fear doesn’t come from a place of innocence anymore. We’re far more aware of the assets and liabilities of technology, but indisputably we’re far more comfortable with its existence in our daily lives. It’s not clear how effective a film could really be in this modern culture that’s based on suspicion of technology from such a theoretical point of view.
If, however, the story is meant to take place now, this would obviously require a major rewrite, not necessarily in terms of plot, or even much of the dialogue, plot, etc., but to make it feel current in the more emotional/cerebral content. There are several relatively superficial adjustments that would have to be made. Including modern technology is the most fundamental of these shifts, but the dreaded fear of radioactive material and nuclear power in general is simply not the same thing in our culture anymore. It doesn’t carry nearly the weight that it did in the 1980s regardless of what’s still happening in Japan and the Pacific Ocean. That fear exists, but to have full impact, it would have to be substantiated. How nuclear power is generated, the effects of radiation, and the risks of widespread contamination would probably have to be explained to a much further degree in the script than it is in this draft. The demographic for this film, today, probably doesn’t know who Karen Silkwood is or why anyone would want her dead. There are tours of Chernobyl. That reality has to be accounted for now.
Updating it would also mean updating it to some extent structurally. While it’s nearly perfect structure for 1980, the condensing that screenplays have gone through even in the past decade makes the script overly long, and the second act of this script feel slow and a bit soft. The major shift in the story, the first real murder, doesn’t happen until page 59. That’s terribly late for a modern film. While there’s a terrifically crafted sense of tension all through the second act, so little actually happens in terms of making progress towards the stated goal that there’s very little movement. The conflict of the rogue “figure” also takes rather too long to heighten, not just in terms of actual murders, but in terms of making it progressively and exponentially harder on the group of seven to accomplish anything that could be perceived as progress.
In terms of looking at the conflict, while obviously the big stakes are overall extremely high, there are not many personal stakes being explored or expressed here. While much of the character work is excellent, there is so little internal story happening for any of the characters that it’s hard to get a handle of what any of this means for them as people. There’s a great detail when Teresa sends in a message not to tell her mother what’s happening. It’s a terrific little moment. But it also stands out as being significantly more personal and specific than almost any other moment in the script. We know next to nothing about any of these people in terms of what skills, strengths and weaknesses any of them have. While the script is rather exciting and frightening in many ways, the lack of individual definition is undercutting the potential that the script could have to be equally valid as a character study in an intensely stressful crises situation.
There is only one real relationship in the story (between Kneale and Parks) and this is another place that the story could be strengthened, no matter when it takes place. These people are meant to have been working closely together for some time now. While the group of five co-workers is comprised of scientists, there is every reason to make them as human, relatable, and nuanced as possible. The best place to explore that is to dive more deeply in the relationships between them. To allow them to push each other’s buttons almost as much or more as the external forces working against them would be highly effective. There’s a great deal of room to play with here, and while it needn’t highjack the importance of the outside influences, the concept of “fighting the devil within” can be brought a little more close to home.
The last thing to really consider is the role of the “figure”. What he wants, why he wants it, what he’s hoping to actually accomplish, and how are all things that aren’t quite holding up at present, and would want to a look regardless of the time setting of the story. Some of how it’s being currently handled does seem in some ways to be a product of the time when the script was originally written. We still have single, insane “boogeymen” out there in the world and showing up as villains in our modern stories. And they’re just as driven by high ideals as they are in this story. But there’s a bit of a mixture of all different kinds of crazy in this story’s villain that don’t quite add up. Just as an example, the figure seems to kill people in many different ways. He sets some people on fire. Drops others in radioactive liquid. Attacks some with power tools. The killer has no consistent MO. The murders don’t say anything about him other than he’s a killer. There’s no signature.
Another element of the “figure” that’s not quite landing is all the messages and poetry he’s putting around the building. Since he’s planning on destroying the plant, who is he leaving this poetry for? It would only be communication if there were something left to show people, but his plan is to raze the whole power plant in a conflagration of total destruction. That poetry is going to disappear. That video will disappear. There’s really no reason even to go around and intentionally murder these seven people since they will die far more easily if simply locked inside the plant and left to their own devices. The group of seven walk into a situation when they enter the plant where the “figure” already completely has the upper hand, and there’s literally no way for them to do anything. They don’t know this at first, of course, but the whole course of the story is literally a lost cause from page 2.
Of course the plot is largely about seven to ten people getting picked off one by one, and that shouldn’t necessarily be removed because it’s illogical from an omniscient point of view. But it does mean that every effort should be made to make it logical. The poetry might be spooky and effective on some level, but it’s got to be distributed in a way that makes sense, and would reach the world in order to make a deliberate statement. The “figure” is trying to warn humanity of its hubris, but he’s simultaneously engaging in an act that will ensure that his message never reaches the world intact. The world would be left to interpret it however the owners of the plant deliver the narrative to the media. Again, none of these things are deal breakers in terms of the potential effectiveness of the story, but they need to be handled in a way so as not to raise more questions than answers in terms of motivation and follow-through.
A great read, a truly great script in many regards. The fact that it would want a great deal of work to move forward into production is not a criticism of the piece as much as it is a commentary on how much the film industry and the world has changed in 33 years. It’s just not the same world. It feels rather absurd in the light of Fukushima to say that nuclear power just isn’t a deeply vital issue anymore, but truthfully, it simply isn’t. It’s still a scientific and political issue, but it’s not a cultural one in modern America. To the ordinary person, the expected demographic for a film of this size…sadly, it’s going to be a bit of an uphill battle to really engage the hearts and minds of middle America who are far more afraid of being jobless than they are of being poisoned by toxic waste.
Coverage written by DB, Script-Fix reader.
TITLE: Gods and Monsters
AUTHOR: Bill Condon
COVERAGE DATE: 8/19/13
JAMES WHALE (67/M): A gay former movie director recovering from a stroke. A sensitive, kind soul who is depressed by his current condition.
CLAYTON BOONE (26/M): A handsome, troubled gardener who forms a bond with Whale, but is bothered by Whale’s homosexuality.
HANNA (late 50s/F): Whale’s long-time housekeeper. She cares deeply about him, but is a devout Christian and disapproves of his homosexuality.
DAVID LEWIS (55/M): Whale’s former lover. A semi-closeted Hollywood producer who seems uncomfortable around Whale.
EDMUND KAY (22/M): A sycophant desperate to get into the movie business. He interviews Whale and, later, gets a job with George Cukor, and invites Whale to a Hollywood party.
LOGLINE: Over a decade after his last movie, an elderly gay director suffering from post-stroke complications struggles to make sense of his life as he forms a deep bond with his young, straight gardener.
There is considerable merit in this period drama about an elderly stroke victim (and former Hollywood director) looking back on his life, and the unlikely friendship he develops with his gardener. While GODS AND MONSTERS is far from a “high concept” in the conventional sense, the main characters are expertly depicted and the profound effect Whale and Clay’s friendship has on both men is deeply moving. This story is so universally human and so thematically affecting that its emotional resonance seems likely to stay with many viewers long after they leave the theater.
Almost all successful movies feature a protagonist struggling to accomplish a clear goal. In overtly commercial films that goal may be something as straightforward as going the distance in a title fight (ROCKY) or killing a shark that has been terrorizing a beach community (JAWS); however, character-centered “indie” films are also generally driven by the protagonist’s goal, but often simply in a more subtle way. For example, in AMERICAN BEAUTY, it is the protagonist’s goal of seducing his daughter’s teenage friend that drives the narrative, serving as a framework that allows that film’s deeper themes to emerge and truly shine. Whale’s goal in GODS AND MONSTERS is to form a genuine bond with Clay, and in doing so, to come to terms with his past in some way.
Generally, that would be too vague and internal a goal to successfully drive a narrative, but GODS AND MONSTERS is so well-written that the pace rarely lags, and Whale’s struggle to befriend Clay actually does move the story forward and connect seamlessly to key plot points. For example, the inciting incident is when Whale first sees Clay (and learns Hanna hired Clay while Whale was hospitalized). When Whale announces his intent to sketch Clay, the sketching itself, (which we later learn was simply a series of meaningless doodles, as Whale couldn’t really sketch Clay at all), is actually Whale’s method of bonding with Clay. This is the “point of attack,” which comes at the end of the first act when the protagonist begins actively pursuing his goal.
All of this – (as it presented in GODS AND MONSTERS) – is rather subtle, but it is still undeniably there, and it is helped along quite a bit by the high level of execution. In a lesser writer’s hands the plot point at the end of the second act in which Whale and Clay return from the Hollywood party, both let down and acutely aware of how much they feel like they don’t fit in anywhere, would either be clumsily obvious and overwritten, or else barely there and essentially just anear-meaningless sequence bleeding into the third act without a true act break or change in the dramatic tension.
Yet the manner in which the hope accompanying the party (for both Whale and Clay) rises and then is crushed, is depicted in a manner that is simultaneously clear and subtle – as if the glimpse we are granted into Whale and Clay’s respective reactions to the party are enough for us to understand how crushed they are by that evening, but also, realistically, that much of this is bottled inside of them, and that we are only observing bits and pieces here and there – puzzle pieces that the writer deftly places for us (yet with an invisible, steady hand – as if the pieces are naturally fitting together), hinting at the full picture in subtle ways, but never revealing it, until suddenly the final pieces are in place and a beautiful but heartbreaking painting is displayed fully at the perfect time.
The expertly written dialogue provides each character with a distinct, memorable personality and voice, and often includes multiple layers of meaning. While a common complaint about screenplay dialogue from lesser writers is that it is too “on-the-nose” (i.e. characters just come right out and say how they feel or what they want in ways that people would never do in the real world), this screenplay is a near-perfect example of how to convey information through completely believable conversation, including the inferences and hints people tend to give in reality.
For example, Clay reveals a tremendous amount about himself when he talks to his friends and ex-girlfriend about Whale (and shows them one of his movies) at a local bar. When these “friends” try to dampen Clay’s mood by suggesting that Whale isn’t really famous, Clay replies, “If he were that famous, he probably wouldn’t give me the time of day. This way, he’s like my famous person” (laughs at himself) “Yeah, my own personal famous person. Who treats me like I’m somebody worth talking to.”
Clay never literally comes right out and says that he is lonely and feels like he needs a friend, or that he has low self-esteem and worries people don’t respect him or want to hear what he has to say, or how much he values having somebody think he’s smart enough or interesting enough to have a good conversation with, but we can intuitively tell all of that about him just from that brief speech (which almost certainly takes less than twenty seconds).
Clay’s desire to be respected and to have a real friend who wants to spend time with him and who values him as a person is part of a theme about the need we all have for genuine bonds that runs throughout GODS AND MONSTERS. The screenplay actually ends with a brief moving scene in which we see Clay, years later, as a family man, watching one of Whale’s movies. We understand that Whale’s advice to Clay and Whale’s regrets about his own life may have led (or at least helped lead) to Clay being able to open himself up enough to bond with his wife and start a family.
Another theme pertains to the way that Whale “created” monsters in his horror movies, and how he has been compelled to “create” people (by trying to force them to change for him) throughout his life. When Whale manages to truly bond with Clay (despite the fact that Whale kills himself afterwards – which has to do with his diminishing capacities from his stroke and his depression over the future he feels awaits him with his health problems and his advancing age), he has finally learned to accept somebody else for who that person truly is, and not to try to “create” or change Clay. In a sense, by bonding with Clay and passing along lessons that will allow Clay to have a better life than Clay otherwise would have had, Whale has established to potential viewers that his life (however it ends) – has not been in vain.
As moving and commendable as GODS AND MONSTERS is, there are still some concerns. Flashback sequences involving Whale’s misunderstood youth, his family, his time working in the mines as a teen, his experiences during The Great War, and some of his time on set as a movie director, occur rather frequently. Some of these flashbacks feel 100% organically connected to Whale’s delusions (as a result of his stroke) or seem to be triggered so strongly by a statement or event that they come across as absolutely organic. However, some other flashbacks occur at times when Whale does not seem to be at all delusional or “overtaken” by a moment, and these sorts of flashbacks disrupt the flow of the story a bit, reminding potential viewers that there is a “man behind the curtain” who is deciding what they see. Streamlining the script just slightly, so that all of the flashbacks that remain feel completely holistic would likely improve the overall flow, elevating the already smooth rhythm and crisp pace to an even higher level.
Another issue is that the concept itself is not inherently cinematic and lacks a commercial hook. In fact, this screenplay seems as if it would work just as well as a stageplay, losing almost nothing in the transition from screen to stage. GODS AND MONSTERS is a moving, extremely worthwhile project, but there is nothing about it that directly relates to film as a medium (as opposed to the stage). Movies that do not directly connect to the specifics of the movie-going experience in a clear way can be a hard sell. There is also no getting around the issue of some potential viewers being put off by a protagonist who is an elderly gay stroke victim who suffers from depression – the “date night” or “escapist” crowds – (and even some filmgoers who are a bit more discerning, but still just don’t want to see a movie that sounds quite so unusual and/or quite so sad) – will very likely look for other options, and, rightly or wrongly, that will probably effect the box office.
Yet, the worries in the above paragraphs feel either nitpicky, similar to complaining that a great novel would be improved by substituting the word “melancholy” for the word “somber” on pg. 239, or rather crude, similar to lamenting that “One Day In the Life of Ivan Denisovich” will probably lack strong commercial appeal because most American readers are not eager to read a realist Russian prison novel.
Ultimately, GODS AND MONSTERS features an extremely high level of artistic merit, but commercial prospects are nonetheless rather uncertain (and perhaps even doubtful). However, with the writing and the character depictions/dialogue at such a high level, this screenplay may be able to draw in A-list talent to the main roles, mitigating commercial concerns to at least some extent. Despite the commercial question marks in play here, GODS AND MONSTERS must be at least a STRONG CONSIDER.
Coverage written by GC, Script-Fix reader.
TITLE: $75 SAMPLE
FORM/PAGES: Screenplay, 116 pp.
COVERAGE DATE: 07/17/14
GENRE: Comedy/Romantic Comedy
There’s Something About Mary meets A Knight’s Tale. At heart it’s a fairly standard story about a man trying to win back his woman, but in the end he realizes she’s not the woman for him after all. A different setting might have added to the originality, but as it is the medieval setting is more or less familiar, and so we expect certain things to happen. What’s a medieval movie without a tournament, for instance? And of course there’s an evil prince and a beautiful princess for the hero to fall in love with. That said, the mixture of modern and medieval is an interesting concept, although, coming on the heels of A Knight’s Tale, it feels less innovative than it might have. It has potential, but the writer needs to delve deeper and find some fresh twists.
Marvin comes across as a passive character who rarely does anything on his own. Virtually everything he does is suggested by someone else. Even the plan to seduce the princess originates with his friend Ricardo. Things tend to happen to him; he never takes control of events. Throughout his time at the palace, he stumbles from one situation into another, reacting to the actions or initiatives of others. The need to make a toast drops on his head with no warning, Ricardo discovers a telescope which happens to point to the princess’ room, the king takes an instant liking to him, the princess pursues him. Whenever something goes wrong, he turns to Ricardo, the voice of reason. At one point Marvin considers revealing the truth about himself to the princess, but ultimately Abigail does it for him, leaving Marvin–again–to react instead of taking action on his own. Even at the very end, when he sort of takes the initiative to go and rescue the princess, she turns out to have rescued herself, and then she has to come back and rescue him.
Overall the princess is a much stronger character than Marvin, and it’s not entirely clear why she falls for him, since he seems to have very little personality. She’s a smart girl with a lot to offer, whereas Marvin seems to have few outstanding qualities other than the fact that he’s our protagonist. For some reason the princess likes him immediately. One has to wonder why she doesn’t recognize him, since she did stop at his house to use the washroom earlier. But she doesn’t, and she never quizzes him about his background or asks him to supply biographical details about himself, which could have been fertile ground for conflict between them. As it is, their only conflicts come from misunderstandings (Michele, Abigail) which are cleared up entirely too easily. She forgives him much too readily (although she never does discover that he was the one who got her tutor arrested). It’s unclear why she and Marvin want to be together.
Abigail is a negative, cheating character from the start, and it’s difficult to see the attraction she holds for Marvin. Yes, they were high school sweethearts, but it’s obvious as soon as we meet her that she’s more interested in other guys than she is in him. She does want to keep him, though. Basically she wants all the guys running after her. In a sense Marvin’s hopeless love for her is understandable; he wants her to be something she isn’t, as happens all too often in real life, and he doesn’t want to give up on her. His love for her seems reasonable to him.
Vidal seems to be a villain merely because that’s what he’s supposed to be. He detects Marvin’s liking for the princess and disapproves of it because, naturally, he wants her for himself. He offers no surprises. Ricardo is a fairly stock sidekick-type character, the guy with all the good ideas who gets the hero out of messes. He’s likeable, but essentially his characterization breaks no new ground. Frederick and especially Michele are successful as somewhat quirky secondary characters. Frederick the good reliable friend turns out to be unreliable and untrustworthy. We sympathize with Michele’s desire for attention while laughing at her. The Michele/Ricardo pairing seems appropriate.
It was difficult to get emotionally involved with any of the major characters. None of them seemed complex enough to care about. The characterization was too on-the-surface. The writer needs to give us more of a reason to care about these people. He needs to make them unique individuals instead of the fairly stock characters they are right now.
Marvin’s goal–to win Abigail back by making the princess fall in love with him–is believable. His arc is easily anticipated, though. He seems to fall in love with the princess merely because we expect him to. Maybe initially he should have found her repulsive. His arc would have been more effective if he had been a stronger, more opinionated character. The plot as a whole would have been more effective with stronger characters. A great deal of potential for conflict was ignored. Marvin surmounted obstacles with relative ease. None of the other characters seemed to have vital goals, with the possible exception of Vidal, whose goal was to get rid of Marvin. His reasons could have been clearer and more original. In general, character motivation was often less than believable. Why did the king like Marvin? Why did the princess fall in love with Marvin? Why did Abigail persistently cheat on him? In the end, why did Abigail choose to kidnap the princess? What did Abigail stand to gain by it? Her motive appears to be class envy, but it isn’t foreshadowed enough to be believable. It seemed to happen to add another unexpected twist to the plot and give Marvin a reason to confront Abigail–and possibly give the writer an excuse to put Abigail in jail. Abigail isn’t particularly likeable, but until then she isn’t a criminal. Her transition from unlikable to lawbreaker needs to be fleshed out more to make it believable.
The plot as a whole would have been stronger and the conflict higher if all the characters had been pursuing goals that were clearly opposed to one another. For instance, if Marvin had been trying to win the princess’ love while the princess was pursuing Vidal and Vidal was pursuing Michele and Abigail was pursuing Vidal and Michele was perhaps pursuing Ricardo. Meanwhile the king was searching for a proud young champion to defend him and his castle against all comers. Vidal wants the job, but the king picks Marvin, who is totally unsuited to it. A great deal of the script’s potential was left unexplored.
There are some interesting twists, such as the fact that the final swordfight is with Abigail, not Vidal. But it’s clear from the beginning that Marvin will probably prevail and end up in the king’s good graces with the princess as his lady. Therefore, tension is low throughout most of the script. Also, and unfortunately, too many of the beats echo A Knight’s Tale too closely: The protagonist passes himself off as a knight when he isn’t, the princess invites him to dance so he takes dancing lessons from his friends beforehand, he has to joust while a villain (in this case Vidal) plots to bring him down. Even Vidal’s desire to unmask him seemed to come straight from A Knight’s Tale.
The story exhibits some lapses in logic. For instance, when Marvin unseats the king during the tournament, no one arrests him for it, and later the king even thanks him for saving his life. Perhaps there’s something too subtle going on here, some reason for the king’s thanks. If so, it needs to be made clearer. The king’s attitude toward the princess’ studies is another question mark. Initially she tells Marvin that the king opposes her studies; in fact, he’s so opposed that her tutor has to creep in by night to tutor her. But later she holds an open Princess for a Day contest to raise money for chickenpox research. Presumably the king is aware of it? He expresses no opinion for or against. The only possible explanation would be that espousing causes is a princess-like thing to do but studying isn’t. Then, as mentioned above, the princess fails to recognize Marvin when she meets him at the palace, although she saw him earlier at his house. It’s possible that she might not recognize him, since he’s now dressed as a knight, but when she visits his house again later, she doesn’t appear to remember ever having been there before. Also, during the princess’ visit with Marvin’s parents, no one wonders where Marvin might be, although he’s obviously not there. No one even asks where he is. In fact, his parents don’t appear to have noticed his absence at all, although he’s been gone for days. Or if they have, they aren’t worried about it. They merely invite the princess, Marvin, and Abigail to sleep in Marvin’s bed.
The monastic pilgrimage was another puzzle. It seemed unlikely that ALL the monks would leave on pilgrimage at the same time. The monastery in general was a problem. What is a part-time monk? Monasticism is a vocation, not a job. This hurt believabilit y at the very beginning when it was especially crucial. Also, monks are portrayed as lascivious all too often; it didn’t feel particularly fresh.
The hook was gentle and showed us nothing really extraordinary, although we immediately understood what Marvin wanted (Abigail).
The plot resolution came too easily. Marvin was never required to make serious sacrifices in order to achieve his goal. The king and princess simply forgave him, and even Vidal apologized in the end. Although the fight with Abigail does finally involve some serious tension (broken by the interposition of Ricardo, Brad, and the rogues), Marvin isn’t the one who saves the day; Princess does.
Vidal is the primary subplot. His arrival at the party establishes him as a happy-go-lucky type who’d rather party than arrest people, but from there he goes on to become a fairly stock villain, leading to a fairly stock subplot. Other subplots could have been better developed and contributed more. For instance, we saw very little of Marvin’s parents. Jonny’s main purpose seemed to be to pull information out of Marvin in the beginning and provide some gratuitous sexual humor. Marvin’s connection to the monastery seemed tenuous, a ploy to get the main plot moving. Why a monastery? That story choice added little to his character or the plot.
The dialogue is 100% modern. This may have been the writer’s intention. However, the comedic potential might be higher if the dialogue had more of a medieval flavor. Then it, like the setting, would jar humorously with the very modern touches the writer includes.
The writing style was decent, clear, no distraction from the read. In places action verbs could have been used instead of -ing constructions. There were too many camera directions; most of the “CUT TO’s,” etc., could just be removed.
The humor was there throughout, but a great deal of it was sexual, which could turn off some potential viewers. There were some very funny little touches, such as the kids in the classroom, the guests climbing the wall, and Marvin’s encounter with the rogues. Also some very amusing bits of dialogue.
RECOMMENDATION: No real problems with style or structure. The protagonist is passive. The level of conflict is too low. Pass.
TITLE: Sample Notes
FORM/PAGES: Screenplay, 121 pp.
COVERAGE DATE: 11/03/2015
The underlying theme, the idea that true love conquers all, is not particularly new, but there is always room for a fresh take on this idea. So in terms of commercial potential, the idea could be a winner if the writer found a way to twist it and give it elements the audience hadn’t seen before. Unfortunately the writer failed to delve deep enough and discover what makes his story unique. Admittedly the basic concept, that a certain two people are meant for each other, has been done so many times that it is difficult to find anything truly new. The script does contain some elements that could be twisted or expanded upon. For instance, the fact that the two lovers are constantly being cheated on by their significant others could be magnified to impart some of the freshness this script needs. Or the writer could use the idea of the gay guys helping Dan regain the love of his life. The writer probably should not dwell too much on the constant near misses, when Dan and Betty see the back of each other’s heads or one happens to leave the room right before the other one enters, because they are too reminiscent of Serendipity.
Unfortunately the writer never picks one unique way to show us his theme. For instance, in Serendipity the near misses were an organic part of the plot, but here, on the contrary, they feel tacked on for comic effect. The gay guys are much the same. They show up, help Dan once or twice, then vanish, never to be seen again. At least the cheating boyfriends and girlfriends are a running theme throughout the script. Their motivation and believability never is particularly high, though. More about that later. As far as concept goes, basically the writer needs to give us his own fresh perspective on how true love conquers all.
The unoriginal take on the concept is the script’s first biggest flaw. Its second biggest flaw is the protagonist’s lack of a clear external goal. He never has a specific external objective to drive his actions throughout the script. Instead he wavers in what he wants, sometimes trying to move on, sometimes trying to win back Betty. He is consistently passive. His friends encourage or force him to do things. His girlfriends ask him out and even propose to him. At no point does he get up and say, “This is what I want, and this is how I’m going to get it.” As a result, there is never any real tension in the script. Tension occurs when we wonder if the protagonist is going to get what he wants. As the script progresses, his desires should recede further and further from his grasp, until it looks as if he could never attain them. If the character has been skillfully drawn and the audience is able to empathize with him, they will be on the edges of their seats as they root for him to prevail against the seemingly impossible odds. However, when there is no external goal, there is also no tension.
The lack of an external goal also means there can be no conflict. Conflict arises from other characters trying to keep the protagonist from getting what he wants. This script has repeated fights and break-ups, but it never has true conflict.
The constant near-misses with Dan and Betty seemed contrived and cut down on conflict also. There would have been much more potential for conflict if Dan had discovered in short order that she was the “dream girl” his roommate had just met.
There is also no real resolution because, again, there can’t be one unless there is a clear external goal for the protagonist to either achieve or fail to achieve. The resolution also completes the protagonist’s arc, so even if he fails to achieve his external goal, he must have satisfied his internal need. At the Act III climax he should finally “grow up,” so to speak, meaning he overcomes whatever internal flaw has been keeping him from achieving his external goal. In overcoming the flaw, he satisfies his internal need. The way should then be clear for the protagonist to get what he wants or decide that because he has grown, he no longer cares about achieving his external goal. In either case, the resolution is satisfying because the internal need has been met. But again, without an external goal there can be no specific internal need or flaw, because all these things must be intertwined and complement one another. Without them there is no story, merely a series of events. And without them there can never be any emotional involvement, because we never see the protagonist on a specific quest that we can empathize with, a quest to get the one thing he most wants.
Because of the lack of a clear external goal, the story events never seemed to lead into one another, and the script never built on itself. Everything we need to know or see in subsequent acts should be set up in Act I. However, elements are constantly coming into this script out of nowhere. The frat parties serve a purpose and are ditched as soon as the writer no longer needs them. The gay guys appear and vanish without ever becoming a successful subplot. Jane comes out of nowhere and does not fit organically into the script. Her father’s menacing nature is hinted at but never shown. Since the writer went to the trouble to set up the fact that her father will take physical vengeance on anyone who dates her and doesn’t stay with her forever, he should take advantage of this when she betrays Dan. The father could blame Dan instead of Jane and send a hitman after him, which would add a nice element of conflict as Dan tries to patch things up with Betty. But instead the father accepts Dan’s story at face value and writes him a check. Moreover, he doesn’t really object as Dan demands more and more money. He draws the line at three million, but he never makes Dan pay for his effrontery. In this case the writer fails to exploit an element he set up; there is no payoff. In other cases there is simply no set-up, which undermines the script’s overall believability.
For instance, Betty’s death at the end comes out of left field. At no point in the script do we see any hints that she is unwell. In movies such as Guarding Tess or A Walk to Remember, which also involve an illness being concealed by an important character, there are hints to the audience that all may not be well. But although the hints are there, they are never emphasized. The audience is always given something else to concentrate on. When the illness is revealed, however, the audience remembers that it was foreshadowed, so it feels believable. In Betty’s case, it never was foreshadowed, so it feels forced. If the script is supposed to show that Dan and Betty are meant to be together, then it should end with them together. If it is meant to show that life can part true lovers no matter how much they love each other, then that needs to be a recurring theme throughout the script, not something tacked on at the end.
The scene in the church is another scene that is never foreshadowed and does not feel organic. If Dan is supposed to find God or faith or some churchly peace at the end of the script, then we need to see him as a firm atheist or a lapsed Christian or something of the sort throughout most of the script. We need to see that he is consciously avoiding God, so that we can care when he turns to God in the end. Otherwise we merely think, “Oh, where did that come from?” If we are church-goers, we may think it’s a nice scene, but we are not emotionally invested. The writer never set up Dan’s deep internal need to go to a church to find peace.
The ending also alters the tone, which had been fairly light throughout most of the script. But a death, especially the death of Dan’s true love, darkens the whole picture. It confuses the genre, turning it from comedy to drama. All the comedic elements vanish at this point, and the story turns tragic. There is even a reference to Romeo and Juliet in the dream that Dan and Betty share. When the dream occurred, this reader assumed that one or both of them would commit suicide, but instead the dream is never referred to again. It is set up, but there is no payoff.
Either the entire tone of the script needs to be altered from page one, or the ending has to go. The writer also needs to determine his exact theme. Then he either needs a new ending or he needs to adjust the rest of the script to fit the ending he has.
In fact, the writer’s first decisions as he approaches a rewrite should be (1) how to twist the concept to freshen it and (2) what specific external goal his protagonist should pursue.
The pacing in this script was relatively consistent, but that fact means very little since there was no story. However, it may bode well for the writer’s ability to pull off the pacing successfully in future drafts.
The hook shows us Betty breaking up with Dan. In his initial pages the writer established Dan’s strong love for her. Naturally, when she draws him aside for a private chat, we expect her to break up with him. This sets the Pinky rolling. The two lovers are no longer together. The writer has also hinted that she and Tim may soon have something going, so her new relationship with him does not come out of the blue. The fact that Tim is Dan’s best friend is good; it raises the stakes.
However, although the hook accomplishes what it was supposed to do, it feels unfresh. We do not get an exciting opening scene where Dan demonstrates his boundless love for Betty (by performing a wild stunt for her, for instance, or in some other cinematic, visual way). Instead we have a talking-head scene. Dan explains to us in dialogue how much he loves her and that he expects to stay with her forever. So we now know this with our heads, but we don’t feel it with our hearts. We have been handed the information instead of shown it. Showing through action is always more effective than telling in dialogue. For one thing, it forces the audience to think and draw conclusions, which audiences find more emotionally satisfying. If we see Dan accept a dare for Betty’s sake and almost kill himself performing whatever stupid stunt it was, then we realize how deeply he cares about her, so deeply he would die for her. If he tells us he loves her deeply and wants to stay with her forever, it’s just talk. just talk.
The hook needs to be something we will remember afterward, something that sets the tone for the rest of the story and starts to establish the theme. It needs to be fresh, needs to sparkle, needs to really do its job and hook the reader so he or she will keep reading.
There were no true subplots. Boyfriends and girlfriends came and went, characters came and went. One contributing factor was that the time period was too long. We moved from high school to college to the job world, so we never got a real sense of the specific problems facing Dan and the others in each setting. The settings seemed to be there simply so that events could have somewhere to take place. They never served the story. Ideally each important character, especially the protagonist, should have a life outside of the main goal, and that life should mirror important elements of the main story. Everything in the script should be there for a reason. It should all contribute in some way to story, character, theme, etc. Nothing should be there simply as background.
As mentioned briefly above, the genre was unclear. Until the end it seemed to be comedy, but even before the end it never felt 100% comfortable with itself. In general it felt like a light comedy, but then there were elements of slapstick. However, not enough of them for the script to be a true slapstick comedy. The writer needs to define the exact tone he wants and make sure he sticks to it.
The writer also ignored some potential opportunities to make the script funnier. For instance, Jane’s family was a ripe target for humor, but the writer never explored all the possibilities here. The father’s desire for a son, his insistence on “playing” with Dan, the whole housekeeping scenario. All of these could have been kicked up a notch on the humor scale. They were alluded to, but the writer never used them fully, to the point of making us laugh out loud. Earlier in the script, the gay guys provided similar opportunities for humor, but again the writer stopped short of exploiting them to the fullest.
As a whole the script felt sort of cobbled together. This reader never got a sense that the writer had planned each scene and each bit of humor.
The dialogue suffered from ultra-realism. The characters in scripts do not say elaborate hellos or good-byes and do not explain where they are going or what they will be doing in the next scene. If they do, the script quickly becomes redundant. To give an example, the scene with Gary and Betty in the room and Dan and Diana in the bathroom gives us the information that Betty has made reservations for them for breakfast in ten minutes. She wonders if they will make it. So Gary says he will ask. At that point we assume he is going to talk to Dan and Diana. He then enters the bathroom to talk to Dan and Diana. He gives them the same information for the second time: breakfast reservations in ten minutes. Then he comes out and tells Betty they won’t make it. This whole sequence of scenes could have been reduced to two. In the first Betty tells Gary she has made the reservations and wonders if they’ll make it. Next we see her and Gary eating breakfast alone. We draw the conclusion that the other two didn’t make it, and we don’t have to hear the characters repeat things we already know. There are numerous similar instances in the script. In each case the writer needs to trim so that we get the bare bones, the essential information we need from that scene, no more and no less.
In the case I cited above, where Dan and Betty think each other’s voices sound familiar, Betty could say so to Gary at the restaurant, while Dan could say so to Diana in the tub. The important thing is to avoid repeating information, especially information that is essentially unimportant, such as the time of their breakfast reservation. It slows the story and can make the audience lose interest.
The poor dialogue led to poor transitions in some cases. We never need to see a character tell us what he is going to do before he does it, unless his attempt to do it goes awry in some fashion that advances the story.
The ratio of dialogue to action was acceptable. Although some scenes were longer and less elegant than they needed to be, this reader never stopped to wonder when any specific scene was ever going to end. Their lengths seemed appropriate.
There were no distinguishable act breaks. In part this is due to the lack of a clear external goal for the protagonist. In scripts where the protagonist has one, his decision to pursue it and his efforts to achieve it automatically provide the appropriate acts and reversals, at least if the story is plotted in a standard fashion.
Because he had no clear external goal, the protagonist also had no clear arc. His arc should spring from his goal. In order to achieve the goal, he should have to change. Without a goal, there is no catalyst for change.
Overall the characters seemed superficial. We never saw their deeper motivations for anything they did. They fell in love at the drop of a hat. Even in the case of the main characters, who had enduring feelings for one another, we were never shown why they loved each other, merely told that they did. We were never emotionally invested in their relationship. Ideally we should have been rooting for them to get together. We needed to care deeply about these two characters. They needed to be flawed people who made mistakes for realistic reasons. We needed to understand their motivations. We needed to empathize with these people. In them we needed to see something of ourselves so that we could care about them. In a way they needed to be an expression for us of our own love lives, so that in rooting for their love to triumph in the end, we would be rooting for our own loves to triumph.
Instead we merely saw them hopping from one relationship to another. It was difficult to believe in their pain and desire for one another. The writer tended to show Dan crying when he was in emotional distress. This device was effective in the very beginning, when the teenaged Dan lost the love of his life for the first time, but it quickly became anticipated. It seemed like a crutch that the writer used instead of devising a fresher way to show Dan’s hurt.
In fact we were never emotionally invested in any of the characters or their relationships. Tim, Gary, Diana, Pinky, Jane, Dad, Wendy. We never understand why they act the way they do, with the possible exception of Diana, who seems to be a complete bimbo. But take Gary, for instance. He meets the woman of his dreams: Betty. He can’t believe his good fortune. They enter a committed relationship. But then he cheats on her with her best friend. In order for this turn of events to be believable, the writer would have to show us the extremely powerful, almost irresistible sexual attraction between Gary and Wendy. Gary should struggle as hard as he can to stay true to Betty, even if in the end he fails. Instead he doesn’t seem bothered at all by the fact that he has a girlfriend.
The writer never seems to have explored the emotions of his characters. Unless we know what each character is feeling and why, we cannot empathize with them. Unless we see the connection between those feelings and the characters’ actions, we will never accept their actions as believable.
We were never shocked or hurt when the latest boyfriend or girlfriend was caught cheating, because we never sensed that Dan or Betty felt any real affection for the people they dated. Their supposed love always seemed to boil down to having sex. Only a few times was anything deeper ever hinted at. Even in those cases it tended to be something that was spoken by one of the characters rather than shown. As mentioned earlier, it is much more effective for characters to take action to demonstrate their feelings instead of talking about it. If they have to talk about it, they should almost never come right out and say how much they love each other. They should talk about something else and let the love message remain in the subtext.
Yet the writer consistently showed his characters either having sex or saying how much they loved each other. If the intention was to demonstrate their love, the writer should have brainstormed for other more expressive and visual ways to do it. The fact that the relationships always boiled down to sex and “I love yous” meant that they all melted into one. None was distinguishable from the others in any way. In fact each one should have been differentiated. Each one should have had its own specific tone. Each person Dan or Betty dated should have engaged their emotions in some special way or satisfied some particular need. In real life no two relationships are the same. In a script like this, where the characters move so quickly from one relationship to another, the need to differentiate them is even greater.
But if the relationships were going to be deeper and more meaningful, the characters also needed to be deeper. Each major character needed specific flaws and needs and an overriding external goal. The characters, like the relationships, tended to be flat and unbelievable. Only Pinky seemed memorable. This was because he had some distinguishing characteristics, even if they were based primarily on his sexuality. He seemed more roundly drawn than most of the others. Every other character should also have had distinguishing traits or quirks to make them memorable. The smaller their roles in the script, the more quirky they can be. In addition to these traits or quirks, they each needed a goal, even if it was something as simple as sleeping with the person they had the hots for. Then they needed to take logical steps to achieve these goals. We also needed to understand the reasons why they wanted what they did. We needed to be able to relate to them and understand them, even if we might not approve of them. For instance, love and sexual desire are things everyone can relate to. If we saw someone who deeply desired Betty pursuing her with all his might, we would understand why he was doing it. Even if he was a villain trying to persuade her to dump her boyfriend, we would still understand his desire for her, even if we didn’t approve of his actions. But these things needed to be shown to us through well-developed, easily distinguishable characters who came alive on the page.
The use of subtext would have contributed greatly to the characters’ overall believability. There was almost no subtext in the script. Every character said exactly what he or she was thinking. Sometimes this is appropriate. For instance, it’s difficult to ask someone to marry you without coming right out and saying it. But even in a situation like that there could be subtext in the question as a result of the context and the relationship between the characters. In general people tend to talk in subtext most of the time. They rarely come out and say exactly what they are feeling. Subtext is particularly important in a script, where what the characters choose to say or not say contributes to our perception of them.
For instance, they could be talking about the weather or the dinner, but through their comments and body language we realize that they are actually talking about their relationship. What they say and do during the scene mirrors what is going on in their relationship. Scenes tend to be richer when they never come out and state the message they are supposed to convey to the audience. This technique requires the audience to think and become more involved in what they are seeing. Since audience involvement is what the screenwriter wants, subtext can be a very powerful tool.
Dan’s children never seemed like an integral part of the story. It was never clear why they were there. They had no real purpose.
The writer’s voice didn’t come through in the writing, which was only so-so. He never gave us a sense that he was in control, leading us where he wanted to take us. Although his actions lines were nice and short, the language he used was too plain. It shouldn’t be poetic, but it should be polished and interesting to read. In addition, the grammar was extremely poor. It detracted significantly from the read. The writer might want to invest in an English grammar handbook to improve this.
At times the writer gave us information we couldn’t possibly have known based on what we were seeing. This is inappropriate except in character introductions, and even there the writer should be careful to be evocative in his descriptions, not merely pile on unnecessary details. The writer also failed to specify the characters’ ages in introductions and at other points where it would have been relevant.
In terms of formatting, the writer used too many camera directions. At times the sluglines failed to reflect the actual location as described in the action.
Overall believability was undermined by the flat characters, who rarely seemed to have reasons for their actions. This made it difficult to understand why they behaved the way they did.
This script is not ready to be marketed yet. Although the love theme is universal, the details of the premise lack freshness and the execution is poor.
RECOMMENDATION: Although the concept does have potential, the writer has failed to put a fresh spin on it. In addition, execution is poor. Pass.