Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tuesday Talkback - One month left

Tomorrow is the start of December. That means there's just one month left in 2010.

So how many of you haven't met your writing goals this year?

I'd write more, but I have a month to finish a TV pilot.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Reader question: Should I write Fan-Fiction under a fake name?

Jordan's got a fairly unique question:

In my spare time when I'm not doing original work, I like to work on fan-fiction. While I'll drop this when I receive my first professional gig, one major plus is I am doing it in script format to hone my craft. It's mainly for fun during down-time, plus I don't have the pressure of original specs. The style isn't anything I can really submit for writing samples, although I am working on a number of specs in various genres to show my writing capabilities.

I would like to post these online to entertain fellow fans, but considering I want to be a screenwriter, would it be wise to write under an alias? I would like to go for a job on a currently running show, but would I be less likely to get an assignment if the Producers see I write fan-fiction based on the show? Would a future employer frown on me if they found out that I previously wrote fan-fiction? Can any good come of posting it under my real name? I mean, I take pride in my work and I want people to know I created these scripts. By the same token, however, I can understand the other side of the argument.

I know it sounds like a stupid question, but I'm genuinely curious on protocol.

I think the most relevant question you ask is "Can any good come from posting it under my real name?" My gut answer is, "Not really." There's an excellent chance that this won't do you any harm either. My hunch is that most employers won't really care, but then I recall hearing stories of Star Trek fans who were lucky enough to get pitch meetings on the various TV-series feeling that it was best to not advertise their fan-fiction pasts when meeting with producers.

Most of the time, the people creating your favorite shows are simply too busy to pay much attention to things like fan fiction and those online sites. Plenty of writers might lurk on fan boards to see the reaction to a particular episode or to gauge what show elements are connection with viewers and which ones aren't, but if anything, they'll avoid fan fiction like the plague in order to avoid any chance of being sued for stealing ideas.

That said, suppose you write it under your real name. Then somehow you manage to get a meeting with one of the story editors and his Google search of your name sends him to several fan fiction postings. First, he's probably not going to read it (again, legal reasons), but he might make some assumptions based on that.

So it might be a big deal, it might not be. But why take that chance? If it was me, I'd just choose a nom de plume and post under that.

Anyone else have a different perspective?

And keep the questions coming, folks. I like that I'm getting some that are "off the beaten path" this time.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Friday Free-for-All: The Teleporter

My friends Chad, Matt & Rob have released their latest interactive adventure - "The Teleporter." Check it out, won't you?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thursday Throwback - “She bends over, exposing her ample cleavage.”

This post first appeared on Monday, March 16, 2009

“She bends over, exposing her ample cleavage.”

I see that line, or some variation thereof, FAR too often in the first fifteen pages of scripts I read – a completely gratuitous cleavage shot. There are a lot of aspiring screenwriters out there in need of cold showers. Sex and sexy girls aren’t bad – just make sure there’s a reason you’re getting your hot-bodied police detective to parade around in her Victoria’s Secrets.

Ironically, I get the sense that a lot of writers put scenes like this in as a way of claiming they’re writing strong female characters. If a woman uses her assets cunningly to distract and manipulate a man, she’s got to be smart, right?

Wrong. We see right through that, and usually the actress will too. In fact, it might even appear degrading to the characters – both the one doing the flashing and the one being flashed. Sometimes that’s exactly what the scene needs and if it serves a function, go for it.

But if your only thought here is “BOOBIES!” your reader is just going to roll his eyes and call that a clean strike.

And in case you’re putting this in there to make sure that your lead actress is stunning, ask yourself this: when was the last time Hollywood ever cast an ugly girl in the lead?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Bang for the buck

I just read in Entertainment Weekly that movie attendance this year is down 2.1 percent from 2009. In the article they quote a moviegoer as saying that he's watched lots of Netflix, but nothing in the theatre has been worth the ridiculous prices.

Yet interestingly, the article also claims that movie ticket prices have increased less than many other prices. When one accounts for inflation, the national average ticket price of $7.85 is actually cheaper than the 1967 average, which would be $7.99 in today's dollars. Thus, the article suggests that the real reason viewers are being pickier is because they're feeling the economic pinch more of late.

That's of concern to studios that need to get people buying tickets and not waiting four or five months for the DVD. Every now and then an Inception comes along that convinces everyone they MUST see it in the theatre, but those are becoming few and far between.

However, this also means that there's a premium on scripts that will put asses in the seats at the multiplex. So the challenge falls to you, the writer, to do that. Get an idea that's multiplex-bait and the studios will fall all over themselves to win a bidding war for your spec.

So how do you do that? Pure spectacle isn't the answer. It works sometimes, but if stunning visuals did the trick alone, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World would have been tops at the box office. But then if just having sharp writing was the answer, you'd think that Easy A might have been a bigger hit than $57 million.

So what's the X-Factor. Better yet, what's your X-Factor? What do you do with your scripts that make you feel you're giving bang for the buck

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Reader question - Amazon Studios

Clint asks:

What is your take on the Amazon Studio project?

This is pretty much old news by this point, as seemingly every other blogger has had a chance to tackle this question. However, I recognize that some readers might not have seen those other bloggers or were just curious about my take on it.

And my take is: Skeptical. And suspicious. John August had a blog last week that nailed the factor that on its own would be a deal-breaker for me. Amazon's announcement said:

Amazon Studios invites filmmakers and screenwriters from all over the world to submit full-length movies and scripts, which will then get feedback from Amazon readers, who will be free to rewrite and amend. Based on reaction (“rate and review”) to stories, scripts and rough “test” films, a panel of judges will award monthly prizes.

And John asked this very, very significant question:

Do you really want random people rewriting your script?

Seriously, is anyone so desperate to "make it" as a writer that they'd bend over and take this affront? We're not talking about users giving the writer feedback which they are free to use or ignore as they see fit; we're talking about someone going in there and changing your words without consulting you.

Honestly, it would be like Project Wilson Phillips, but with a script that the original writer presumably put a lot of time and care into. Think about your most precious spec script. Think of the hours they spent laboring over every decision...

Now picture some jackass who reads it and decides that what this heartfelt tale of romance needs is more gore. Or a graphic anal sex scene. Or hell, what if the couple met at a neo-Nazi rally instead of a Starbucks? I'm sure that within a week, there'll be at least one script where the dialogue consists entirely of "Baba Booey!"

Do you really want your script treated with all the respect of the Wikipedia entry on "Joey Buttafuoco?"

Crowd-sourcing for creative ideas is an intensely dumb thing to initiate and it's even more useless to participate in. I've read scripts by the sorts of aspirings likely to participate in this. They suck. They have no original ideas, their dialogue is often hackneyed and atrocious and their plots make no sense.

I'm not attacking all aspirings, mind you. I'm just assuming that the better ones will have enough common sense to stay away from this.

I don't want to parse the legalese too much because I am not a lawyer. But it does give me pause to hand over a free option to a project for 18 months., and that can be pushed to a full three years for a mere $10,000. But look at how they word that:

Amazon Studios gets... with respect to your work:

•The exclusive right to buy it (and its associated rights) during the 18 month term of the option, for $200,000 plus other possible bonuses. We can extend this option another 18 months by paying you $10,000.

If you read that too fast, it looks like they're saying the option is $200,000. I'd like to think that wording isn't deliberately designed to confuse, but it does make one wonder.

If that's not enough of a deal breaker, their FAQ has another detail that might make some writers think twice:

So for 18 months after you create a project at Amazon Studios, you cannot display, sell or license your script or test movie elsewhere, or withdraw it for any reason. However, when the option term ends, if we haven't exercised our option and purchased your work, you will get back non-exclusive rights to your original material.

I also find this question and answer notable:

If I direct a winning test movie, and Amazon Studios makes a full budget theatrical film based on that project, do I get to direct that full-budget theatrical film?

Not necessarily. We hope to hire talent from Amazon Studios for any professional movies we make when we can but we want to be upfront that we can't guarantee this. Our priority will be to release the biggest and best movies possible with the cast and crew that promise the most commercial success.

So don't think this is the solution to all your Hollywood hopes and dreams.

And if that's not enough for you, check out Craig Mazan's take on the whole situation here.

Thanks for the question. Everyone else, feel free to keep 'em coming!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Buffy The Vampire Slayer's "Pangs" - PC or not PC? Writing good character conflict

With Thanksgiving upon us, I decided it was an appropriate time to revisit one of my favorite episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a fourth-season episode called "Pangs." Written by Jane Espenson (whose blog you can find here), it not only boasts a host of great lines, but it's a fine example in character interaction and in tweaking the nose of political correctness.

The action kicks off soon before Thanksgiving, as U.C. Sunnydale hosts a groudbreaking ceremony for a Cultural Partnership Center. The Curator says the timing is appropriate because "that's what the Melting Pot is about, contributions from all cultures making our culture stronger."

In the audience, Buffy's best friend Willow scoffs.

Thanksgiving isn't about blending cultures, it's about one culture wiping out another. Then they make animated specials about the parts with the maize and the big big belt buckles. They don't show you the next scene where all the bison die and Squanto takes a musket ball in the stomach.

Thus, Willow's role as the spokesperson for political sensitivity (or over-sensitivity) is kicked off. I'm always impressed that Willow's attitude is played a much for laughs as it is treated like a legitimate point of view. She sounds preachy if you take her speeches totally at face value and assume she's the writer's mouthpiece, but there are plenty of points in the episode where her hypersensitivity is the butt of the joke.

I think this actually gives the episode more complexity. Having Willow voice disgust at what she calls revisionist history is effective at making the audience examine their own views on the subject, but Espenson makes it clear that her perspective is just one among many. To wit, when Buffy and Willow suggest not having a Thanksgiving dinner, reformed vengeance demon Anya has an interesting reaction.

Well I think that's a shame. I love a ritual sacrifice.

It's not really a one of those.

To commemorate a past event you kill and eat an animal. It's a ritual sacrifice. With pie.

It wouldn't be a Buffy episode without a mystical opponent, and as luck would have it, the groundbreaking ceremony has freed a vengeance spirit representing the Chumash tribe native to the area. Buffy runs across the spirit just after he's killed an innocent, and when she has the upper hand, the spirit shakes her faith, saying, "You slaughtered my people. Now you kill their spirit. This is a great day for you."

Her hesitation allows the demon to escape, and it almost seems that she too is on Willow's side. But even though the hero of the story has some moral problems with what she's tasked with doing doesn't mean that it's necessary the RIGHT thing to do. She reports back to her Watcher Giles, who asks her to recount the attack with the Indian. Striking a blow for PC sensitivity, Buffy dresses him down for his choice of words.

We don't say Indian.

Yes! Right. Always behind on the terms. Still trying not to refer to you lot as 'bloody colonials'.

As Giles' line comes with a dose of sarcasm, it's likely that we're meant to side with him over Buffy, thinking Buffy's being too PC. However, that's not even the point - both characters are taking viewpoints perfectly in line with their personalities. That's why this dilemma works - because no one is wrenched out of character just so the writer can make a political point. It makes sense that a college girl like Buffy would take a more touchy-feely view of the situation than the British Giles.

The thing is, I like my evil like my men: evil. You know, straight up, black hat, tie you to the railroad tracks, soon my electro ray will destroy Metropolis BAD. Not all mixed up with guilt and the destruction of an indigenous culture.

This spirit warrior -- Hus, you called him? -- has killed innocent people.

Normally, Buffy wouldn't bat an eye at killing a vengeance demon no matter the cause. That's her job - she kills vampires and demons and it's always been black-and-white for her. The particulars of these circumstances open her up to shades of grey. Notably, Giles doesn't see it the same way and he takes a similar position in an argument with Willow.

The Chumash were peaceful.

Oh, they were peaceful, all right. They were fluffy indigenous kittens! 'Til we came along... How about imprisonment? Forced labor? Herded like animals into a mission full of bad European diseases?... You sure we shouldn't be helping him?

No, I think perhaps we WON'T be helping the angry spirit with his rape and pillage and murder.

Well, okay, no, but we should be helping him redress his wrongs. Bringing the atrocities to light!

Well, if the history books are filled with them, I'd say they already are --

Giving his land back!

Preachy? I've heard some Buffy viewers over the years complain that it is. I've never taken that view. As I said earlier, everyone is pretty firmly in character. Also, I don't think Giles point is undercut in order to make Willow's. If anything Giles is the voice of reason in this scene, and the PC viewpoint is the one being undercut.

A similar argument later would seem to support that thing. A round of bickering among Buffy's gang prompts an outburst from captured vampire Spike (who's currently tied to a chair in Giles' living room.)

Oh, someone put a stake in me!

You got a lot of volunteers in here...

I just can't take this mamby-pamby boo-hooing over the bloody Indians!

The preferred term is --

You won! All right? You came in and you killed them and you took their land. That's what conquering nations do! That's what Caesar did, he's not going around saying "I came, I conquered, I felt really bad about it"! The history of the world is not people making friends. You had better weapons, you massacred them, end of story!

Well, I think the Spaniards actually did a lot of... not that I don't like Spaniards...

Listen to you! How are you gonna fight anybody with that attitude?

We don't want to fight anybody.

I just want to have Thanksgiving.

Yeah, good luck.

If we could talk to him --

You exterminated his race. What could you possibly say that would make him feel better? It's kill or be killed here. Take your bloody pick.

Maybe it's the syphilis talking, [Xander is infected with "magic syphilis" at this point] but some of that made sense.

(under his breath)
I made several of those points earlier, but that's fine, no one listens...

You might say that Spike is the villain and that his endorsement of a particular viewpoint is intended as an indictment of said viewpoint. However, Spike was also quite frequently used as a "truth-teller," the guy who said things that weren't sugar-coated, but were true.

So is "Pangs" just an hour of PC-preachiness, as some fans claim? I don't think so. I think it uses a divisive issue to promote conflict among the main characters and present Buffy with an interesting moral dilemma.

Is every viewer going to come away from this episode with the same reaction? Hopefully not. Even if Jane Espenson had a point she wanted to make, she seems to be smart enough to know that simply preaching an idea that goes unchallenged isn't the way to win converts to your side. Instead, she presents several sides in a way that doesn't significantly undercut one belief in order to make the other belief look good.

In the end, Buffy does end up slaying the Indian warrior, though it's pretty much in a self-defense situation where if she doesn't kill him, she and her friends will be killed to. Would she have killed him had she not been directly threatened? There's no way to know. Maybe she would have tried to reason with him, or tried to pay him back for the atrocities committed on his people.

Though Buffy does her job out of self-preservation, does that mean she's embraced Giles and Spike's point-of-view, or does it just mean she had no choice? It's something to ponder, along with all the other issues the episode dredges up.

I've always admired Espenson for this episode. It's not easy to take such a divisive topic and make it work as fuel for a strong episode. It's got to be even hard to do that while keeping everyone in character and not only using that conflict for drama, but also finely honed comedy.

So if you find yourself writing something in large part because you want to make a political or social point, make sure the message isn't overpowering the story. For my money "Pangs" is successful because it works as an episode of Buffy first, and an exploration of the Native American plight second.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday Free-for-All: Biff Tannen

The Back to the Future Blu-Ray set has re-ignited interest in the trilogy and one of the more interesting things to pop up on the web as a result is the entire video biography of Biff Tannen from the alternate 1985. You might recognize this from the scene in Back to the Future part II when Marty finds himself out in front of the Biff Tannen Museum.

And as a bonus, here's a video from a stand-up routine performed by Biff's portrayer, Thomas F. Wilson. It's a short song that answers all the questions he regularly gets about Back to the Future.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Call for Questions

It's been a while since the last round of reader questions so I figured I'd open the floor up to all of you. I know I've been a little lax in responding to e-mail questions of late, so if I've missed a question you sent via email, please send it again and I'll do my best to get to it.

A lot of you guys are writers so I hope you'll challenge me with a lot of creative questions.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Have a plan - Know your theme and plot

As we've seen over the last few weeks, interesting problems result when you set out on your story without a clear plan. Before long, narrative threads are lost, character arcs loose cohesion, and the plot falls apart. Old characters are forgotten, or drastically changed mid-stream to fit the developing story, while new characters might be introduced to explain plot holes.

With Project Wilson Phillips, we had three groups all start with the same ten pages, the same main characters - and yet three COMPLETELY different stories of varying quality emerged. There were high points in each of them, and also there seemed to be details that got lost along the way in each of them. Without any direction, a lot of writers got stuck making the characters explain the story, just so there was some sense of everything fitting together. And if you go in each of the script, you'll find some small dropped threads that went nowhere. In a script with a plan, those all would have been pruned out.

And that's the danger of working without a plan. It's a little like tracing a maze with a pencil. Every now and then you'll take a wrong turn which leads to a dead end. You can back up and find your way out and to the right path, but that little detour is still going to be there, so that anyone who follows your path will see that run up to the wrong turn.

If you preplan, those mistakes don't exist.

One thing I could have done with Project Wilson Phillips to force greater cohesion would have been to assign a theme, or possibly give all the writers a logline that they had to adhere to. Such a rule would have kept the script more focused and on course, but at the expense of the freedom of the individual writers.

When you're working on a "real" script, it's essential that you know the themes and the story trajectory from the start. Let's take Back to the Future for example. If I wrote ten or fifteen pages that only got as far as putting Marty in the time machine and sending him back to the fifties, any writer that takes up after me could have taken that story in any direction. Maybe he'd get involved in the civil rights movement, or perhaps he decides to buy vintage comics and baseball cards that he knows he can sell for big bucks when he gets back. Maybe he uses his knowledge of the future to come up with inventions.

But let's say I give you those fifteen pages and also the logline: "A teenager travels back in time to encounter his parents as teenagers and after inadvertently messing up their first meeting, must get them to fall in love before he ceases to exist." Suddenly there's a much stronger spine to the story than just the novelty of sending an 80s teen back to the fifties, no?

Better still, what if I told you how the theme would be that a person's past - even small incidents in it - can have a profound role in shaping the adult he becomes. Then the subsequent writers might get that as Marty changes his parent's past, he affects who they grow up to be.

And I bet if I gave the groups those fifteen pages and those two pieces of information, the resulting scripts might have been a lot more cohesive, focused and similar to each other. There still probably would be the issue of the plot being made up as it went along, but there would be a stronger direction here than before.

So keep that in mind when working on your own screenplays. The best writers work from plans.

If we do another Collaborative Writing Project, I'm toying with the idea of soliciting loglines and themes from the participants, and then setting the teams to work with that information, just to see if it leads to a higher-quality result than the first iteration.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

An open letter to the CW network and Life Unexpected's Liz Tigelaar

To the CW Network and Life Unexpected show-runner Liz Tigelaar:

Hi guys. It's me, just another opinionated writing blogger who's watched your show Life Unexpected since its premiere last winter. I wrote a long piece last spring about my appreciation for the show. What attracted me to the show was that it had a really compelling character-based premise. A 16 year-old girl tracks down the parents who gave her up for adoption following the unwanted teen pregnancy that resulted from a one-night stand their junior year of high school. Despite their very different lives, and the fact that the mother is involved in a serious relationship with another man, the trio gradually forms something resembling a family unit.

That was the core of the show - family. You had Cate, a 34 year-old woman who still had a lot of growing up to do and suddenly was parent to a teenager. You had Baze, the screw-up father who himself hadn't grown much out of the high school mentality, and you had Lux, the girl between them, still struggling with a LOT of issues that came from being given up and shuffled from foster home to foster home. And for good measure, there was Ryan, Cate's fiancee and a guy who grew into being a father figure to Cate's daughter, even while fighting jealousy over Baze's integration into their lives.

There were no smoke monsters, no vampires, no ridiculous plots about one character murdering another, or snooty upper East-side teens playing power games with each other. It was just about the characters. Even when the plots seemed repetitive (there are only so many times you can play the "Baze crashes an event and makes Ryan jealous" card), the heart of the show was the character relationships. They were so vivid that they transcended the weaker plots as the show found its legs, and eventually drove the most compelling stories.

If I may be so blunt, what the hell happened?

This season can be most generously described as a "disappointment." The quality of the recent product has left me even more disgruntled because the last stretch of season one showed what this show is truly capable of. And for this, I can't really blame Liz Tigelaar. It's been somewhat documented that the CW ordered several changes to the series in an effort to broaden the show's appeal, and in doing so you murdered everything that made this show worth saving.

Unfortunately, with the final moments of last season being Cate marrying Ryan, I could already see the brewing problem, as the show had committed to a love triangle between Ryan, Cate and Baze. The triangle was still going to be a major factor, except now the writers would have the task of breaking up a marriage rather than a relationship. Worse, the only disposable character in that triangle was Ryan, the unimpeachably good guy who's never done anything but the right thing. Cate can't dump him without looking worse than she already did.

I remember turning to my wife at the end of the season one finale and saying, "I'm pretty sure they can't get out of this without assassinating Ryan's character, and it's going to be ugly."

I was right. This season we've found out that Ryan had a serious ex-girlfriend he never told Cate about, that he slept with her when he and Cate were "on a break" last season, AND that as their wedding approached, he found out that this ex might be pregnant. He only discovered she wasn't just before walking down the aisle.

This is terrible drama, guys. It reeks of needing to balance the scales between Cate and Ryan's sins and all it has done over the last four episodes or so is turn the Cate/Ryan scenes into unpleasant shouting matches while they argue over who's wronged the other more. No character has come out of this looking good and at this point, the only thing they should be doing is walking away from each other. My wife and I used to enjoy watching this show together and now week after week we keep interrupting our viewing to vent just how BAD this plotline is.

Those rants are only broken by our dislike of one of the show's other running plots - Lux's affair with her teacher. I watch a lot of trash TV, but this plot is at the bottom of the heap. I hate, hate, HATE "students sleeping with their teachers" plots. First, it's utterly disgusting. Second, it's been done. A lot. This is another case where no character can come out of the story clean. The teacher is old enough that he should know better, and Lux has become a selfish, entitled, immature brat through this relationship. The Lux of season one would have known better.

I get that it might be interesting to explore Lux in a relationship with an older person, but making that person her teacher - a person in direct authority over her - gives the whole story an ick factor it doesn't need. Everwood handled a similar storyline better when the 16 year-old Ephram fell for the 20 year-old college student who was hired to look after his younger sister. The difference in maturity, and Ephram's growing maturity were explored without all the moral complications that come with Lux sleeping with a teacher.

Look CW execs, I'm tempted to call you a word that would bring down the wrath of Sarah Palin upon me because there is no other way to describe how great a mistake you made this year with your directives. Between those plots and a few other instances of arbitrary drama that have "network retooling" written all over them, you have destroyed this series with something I call the Zombie Bite.

Last season LUX was a vibrant living being. Then over the summer, you bit it. The show we all love died then, but not through cancellation - that would have had some dignity. Instead, you infected it with the same venom that courses through the veins of 90210 and One Tree Hill, and in it's place emerged a new show. Like a zombie, it looked like the series we once loved. It even wears that shows skin - but it's an empty lumbering shell, animated only by the instincts that drive less innovative CW programming.

"More sex! More love triangles! Bigger drama! Pregnancies! Illicit affairs! More conflict! RAWR!"

And yet, without that zombie bite, the corpse wouldn't even be lumbering. Look, I get that you've got a business to run, and that you CW execs were just trying to reach a wider audience. You tried to figure out what it is that draws people to your more successful shows and forced those elements into a concept that didn't need them. But you have several hours of programming with all of those elements. If I'm a fan of those shows, and I'm already being more than satisfied by those programs, what is LUX going to offer me that I can't find elsewhere?

The family element that drove season one is all but gone. Ryan and Cate spend most of their screentime bickering over marital issues, and Lux's plots all have to do with the teacher. Baze is involved in his own affair. There's no core to the show. Most weeks it seems to have nothing to do with a teenager who's getting to know her parents. Everyone is off in their own pods. The heart of the show is non-existent. Instead, Life Unexpected is spending its time telling stories that could be found on many other series, while ignoring that which makes it unique.

Can a network really survive by giving us more of the same? That doesn't seem smart, and it doesn't escape my notice that several of your highest rated shows actually were cultivated by another network: Smallville, One Tree Hill and Supernatural all are hits in the WB's column, outliving their network by nearly five seasons. Gossip Girl and 90210 have never been as big as those three shows. The Vampire Diaries is the first series that the CW can legitimately call a hit of its own.

So do you guys really know what you're doing? You've gotten diminishing returns every time you've applied the same formula, and yet still your solution for Life Unexpected was to turn it into some kind of 90210/One Tree Hill knock-off? You guys don't seem to be good at reading your own ratings. If you were, you execs should have ordered a new vampire character. That at least would have made sense within your track record. The Vampire Diaries is the only show you can claim credit for growing a following. The heavy lifting on your other big hits was done long ago.

Last week it was announced that Life Unexpected was not going to be picked up for the back nine. Liz Tigelaar has said it was stressed to her that this was not the same as being canceled. Perhaps there's a glimmer of hope that this show can be saved. I hope that the CW interference is lessened in the final episodes, and that the writers will get to go out on a note more befitting the first season.

To the CW - I implore you to consider what I've written. Give Life Unexpected a chance to follow its voice. Liz Tigelaar has got the goods to deliver a compelling series if you would just take the chains off and allowed her to cut loose. There's still a great show in there somewhere. This season you tried one approach to fix it, now it's time for you to back up and trust creators to deliver compelling stories. The great Brandon Tartikoff knew when to support great shows and trust those creators instincts even when all ratings logic suggested cancellation or interference. Surely someone at the CW can fight for the same quality.

To Liz Tigelaar and her writing staff - You developed a truly original premise and created some wonderful characters. I know you did the best with the dictates, but I sense this season isn't what you'd have done if left to your own devices. If LUX passes on, I'll certainly be watching for future projects, both from you and the very talented cast. I certainly hope we'll be hearing from you and I know I have plenty of readers who are very supportive of female showrunners.

The Bitter Script Reader
dictated but not read

Monday, November 15, 2010

Making your first ten pages work for you

Rather than do one long post about what we learned from Project Wilson Phillips, I decided it would be best to dedicate this week's posts to some small lessons I think we can get from it.

I've talked a lot about the importance of the first ten pages when writing a script. A while back, I spoke about the specific challenges of writing the first ten pages of a story that I didn't know the ending to. How did I overcome the problem of not having a specific plan? Easy - I made sure each scene not only contained exposition and introduction, they also posed specific questions that an audience would notice and become invested in.

For example, the first scene I wrote reveals nothing. It's a women threatening a man for information, then killing him. Obvious questions the reader asks: "Who are these people and why are they here?" They also might ask "Who is Viper's boss?"

Then after a brief interlude to set up the car chase (which like has the audience asking, "What's the motivation for the car chase?") there's a scene at the newspaper. In introducing the reporters and the editor, we learn that one reporter has gone missing while on a story. Reader questions: "What's the story they're chasing?" and most importantly, "Is this related to the opening scene?"

Aside, I think that's the key to getting away with some of this cryptic bullshit - give the audience just enough information so they can start forming their own theories rather than passively waiting for you the writer to spoonfeed them answers.

From there we go to the brothel and meet some Russian badguys working with oddball tycoon A.J. Trenton. Key things here: there's a little sex appeal with the fantasy girls, there's some oddball humor from that and A.J.'s general demeanor, and there's a fun quirky character in A.J., who verges on being larger than life. He's working with bad guys, but is he a bad guy himself? Is he Viper's boss? Is she working for the Russians?

And then of course there's the action when the car chase bursts into the mansion and leads into the shootout.

Protagonist: Doug Taylor, Jackson Mack
Antagonist: Russians, possibly A.J., and Viper (who is possibly connected to both.)
Action: car chase, shootout, torture scene.
Humor: homeless man, A.J. Trenton
Sex appeal: Prostitutes in sci-fi outfits

Now, some of the cast expanded, and the plot got a lot larger in some versions of the script, but I bet you can see how many of these elments remained consistent in later script. The main characters I introduced mostly stayed the main characters. Also, action and humor were large parts of the later scripts, taking their cues from the early scens.

That's a lot of informaiton in ten pages. Now, obviously if I was working from a master plan perhaps some of this would have been streamlined. The biggest issue is that there might be a dual protagonist issue with Jackson Mack and reporter Doug Taylor, but even that can be tied together properly if the script handles their next meeting deftly.

The big question is: have I made these ten pages interesting enough that you'd at least be motivated to keep reading? I'd like to think so. The scenes directly pose several questions that the screenplay seems obligated to solve. Even if a reader doesn't know where the script is going, there's at least a sense of it moving toward a destination rather than driving aimlessly.

I didn't write ten pages of exposition to set up the story. If anything, I avoided exposition and got the audience interested in the quesitons first. That's the best way to set up your world. Give them just enough to get comfortable, but have them actively engaging with that world and your story. When we talk about hooking a reader, that's generally what we mean.

I've read too many scripts that open with long dialogue scenes: barroom talks or parent-teacher conferences of exposition, characters sleepwalking through a boring daily routine of monotony, an endless parade of characters who seem unrelated to each other and have no apparent connection to anything in the story. Those are all things to avoid. You don't need to show your hand, but you need at least the illusion of cohesion.

And an interesting ten pages is not guarantee that the rest of the script will be any good. At that point, the script is all potential. A brilliant writer might be able to make Chinatown out of that set-up. A lesser writer might produce Troll 2 with it. But you don't know that until you keep reading. As we've seen via the three scripts - there are many different directions a story can take from that set-up, some good, some bad.

But when you read the first ten pages, are you at least intrigued to see where it's gonna go?

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Thousand Friends

My father tells this story about a friend of his - we'll call him "Rick" - who opened a restaurant many, many years ago. I'll probably mangle some of the details, but the gist of it is that, being a supportive friend, my Dad and another acquaintance dropped by for lunch on either opening day or within the first week there.

Rick was happy to have them stop by, but at the conclusion of the meal he broke it to them that he wasn't comping the bill. "I wish I could," he said, "But you know, a thousand friends, a thousand free lunches."

After my Dad and his other friend left the establishment they scoffed at the lame excuse for not picking up the bill (not that they EXPECTED free food - just that the excuse was especially weak).

"Who the hell has a thousand friends?!" my father asked.

Well Dad, as of this week, I do - at least on Twitter. It might have taken over a year, but I hit the four-digit milestone. It's no Ashton, but pretty decent.

It was a pretty cool milestone for me this week... at least until one of my crushes Mary Elizabeth Winstead joined three days ago, and had three and a half times that number by midday Thursday.

It keeps me from getting a big head. Instead, I'm just grateful to all of you who read the blog daily and who care enough to follow on Twitter. It means a lot, particularly those few of you who have inspired me professionally. I'm always floored when I see a familiar name attached to a new follower.

I've also had the pleasure of chatting with several of my readers via Twitter. And it's been fun getting to know you and debating the merits of certain films or TV shows. I never was the sort of person who went in to chatrooms to meet strangers, but I do enjoy the occasional Tweets back and forth from followers reacting to something I've said or posted.

So thanks again and I'm glad everyone still apparently enjoys coming here on a daily basis.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

An outside review of Project Wilson Phillips, Team Carnie

There was one aspect to Project Wilson Phillips that I regret not being able to execute better. Early on, it was suggested that we put at least one of the scripts onto a peer review site and see what outsiders who had no knowledge of the script's genesis would make of it? Could they detect the shifting writing styles? Would they notice character inconsistencies and plot holes? Or would they praise it to the high heavens?

Triggerstreet was suggested, but in order to upload a script, we would have had to have read and reviewed two scripts. Honestly, I read enough bad scripts for work, I didn't want to read two scripts that were likely much, much worse. (Triggerstreet defenders, you know where to send the hate-mail.)

Fortunately, one of the participants (I'm not sure if he'd want me to name him here) had an account over at Zoetrope and posted the script there. At present, we've only gotten two reviews and only secured permission from one of those reviewers to run his thoughts here. They're rather lengthy, but I think it's extremely interesting to get an unbiased view of the script and make note of what he picks up on.

Frankly, I feel better about having an outsider criticize the project than either me or any of the participants taking shots at what we see as mistakes or missteps. It just seems less personal that way.

I hope you all enjoy it!

LOGLINE: A police detective is targeted for death when he and his reporter/sister stumble onto a nefarious deal between industrialists, Russians, and corrupt city officials.

PERSONAL IMPRESSION: Your logline caught my interest, and while the setup and story base is an interesting one, I feel there is still a good bit of work needed. I couldn’t tell if you were trying for an action/comedy or slapstick comedy with action. Either way, the script doesn’t hold tension that an action movie should, regardless if it’s a comedy. Some of the situations and dialogue were almost spoof-like, yet the script didn’t seem to be an action spoof overall. Lastly, the ending was a bit of a let down considering all the build up: the group of mercenaries, the private navy, the chaos all across America (or at least in Los Angeles). There are also some plausibility issues.

PLOT/STRUCTURE: You’ve got an interesting basis for the story. Mind control via supposedly harmless tracking chips. I was trying to place the timeframe, but couldn’t narrow it down. In the script they comment that it was in 2010 that he started the chip implants in children. Considering that most people with the chips appear to be adults, I’d have to say it’s a good 20 years into the future. But nothing else in the script appears to be futuristic at all, aside from A.J.’s techno lair.

Overall I think plot is lacking is a mounting tension, that push to the climactic ending. While the opening and middle sections have a fair amount of tension, the last third, that final act, really seems quiet and, for the most part, lacking in comparison to the rest of the story and the apparent chaos it’s supposed to be creating. Part of the reason I think it’s lacking that tension is because your characters simply don’t seem to feel it either. If the characters don’t feel the pressure, your audience won’t feel it either. More on that later.

*Quick editorial note: When translated to pdf, the title page is counted as page one. Any references to page numbers in the review are for the pdf page numbers.

You open up with nice, tense scene. The kid held hostage in the dark room, Viper and her intimidating henchman. It’s a very short scene, but sets up things well. But why don’t you identify the Young Man by name? What is the purpose of hiding it? Even though it’s revealed later in the script, I don’t see any purpose for keeping it secret. Hiding the name like this only adds a name to your character list, double crediting an actor.

The car chase is nice, though I would have like to have followed it a little more than just the news footage. But, that’s not really detrimental, just a personal note as I do enjoy car chases. Now as we move into the newspaper city room, you again decide to double credit characters, calling Jurgens - FAT REPORTER and Wesley – INTERN. I have to again ask why? What is the point of not naming them right away? You don’t necessarily have to call Wesley by his full name (Wesley Phillips), but at least keep him to one name. You’re going to give some poor AD or production office fits trying to keep track of all the multiple name characters in the script (and on the tape board too). I like the interplay between Keller and Doug. Nicely done and establishes an interesting character history (and possible tension between them). Quick question: is there a reason you call her EDITOR KELLER instead of ANDI KELLER? I mean, yes she’s an editor but that’s not her actual name. And since she is present in the script a good bit I find it odd to read Editor Keller in the midst of the big showdown in the third act. Also, is there a reason why you use full names for character dialogue (DOUG TAYLOR, EDITOR KELLER, ect)? Also, I realized you’re inconsistent with that as throughout the script there are times when it’s just the first name and times when it’s the full name. Pick which style you like (full or first name) and use it consistently throughout.

The meeting at the mansion is interesting. It’s a good way to establish the antagonists, but I thought it could use a little darker tone. I don’t mind A.J.’s playful attitude, but I thought Vitaly could be better, his dark serious demeanor a contrast to A.J.’s lighter persona. On page 9, I have two small issues with the “geek dream girls” section. First, I’d be careful in using trademarked characters (honestly, I’m not sure of copyrights when using recognizable characters or costumes in films, but it could cause issues with legal rights), not just because of the legal rights issues, but also because you’re assuming the reader is familiar with all of them. Personally I know most of them, with exception of the Orion slave girl (although I think I remember that one… just never watched much Star Trek). Small issue, I know, and perhaps not worth changing. Secondly, I am against “giving directions” in scripts. Telling the reader/director what is supposedly being seen on screen. It’s the “we see…” type directing. It tends to be frowned upon, especially from unknown writers, and seems as though you’re telling the director how to shoot/edit the scene. It’s not as blatant as I’ve seen others do, but I always warn people of it. And the fact that it reminds the reader that this is a blueprint for a movie, taking them for a brief moment away from just enjoying the story.

The car smashing through the house is a nice shock. Gives a great push to the tension. My only complaint is that it seems rather short. I would’ve liked to have seen the standoff just a slight bit longer, or maybe a little more description as to Nickolia’s zombie state, just to add that little twist to things. Let your audience sense that there wasn’t something right to Nickolia. Giving the audience little bits of the puzzle, just enough to pique the curiosity without giving much away, will draw them deeper into the story.

Jackson goes to speak with Not-Hooker - Nina’s third named persona in the script. While keeping her identity a secret in the descriptions, on page 12 when she finally speaks, instead of using NOT-HOOKER as her character dialogue (giving her a third named character for just one line of dialogue), why not have her give the wink just before she speaks, or at the same time, so that the audience joins Jackson in recognizing her. I like the interplay here. It’s a nice set-up, to have the two kinda square off before revealing their connection and care for each other.

I’m a bit undecided on the scene with A.J. and Stearns. I think it’s that you give too much away. I’d love to see it a bit more subdue, where the audience isn’t 100% sure on Stearns. Perhaps he tends to cower a bit to A.J., as if the man held him under his financial thumb. Maybe if they weren’t so clear cut on the plan to bring down Jackson. Something like that, where we aren’t fully aware of Stearns’ true intentions.

When Jackson gets to the station, he’s immediately summoned to the chief’s office. I’m a bit bothered by the sequence here. Stearns tells Jackson that he’s on leave (which is not under arrest), so why did they confiscate his gun/wallet/phone? Usually an officer is asked to turn in the badge and gun when placed on leave, not forcefully taken before any explanation is given. And what mandatory rehab? Alcoholics? Drugs? Anger management? It’s unclear and none of these issues (rehab, leave) mandate any sort of arrest (the handcuffs) and police escort. Also, on the plausibility side, the car chase being a Hollywood production. There is no way, no possible way, they could say the chase was a film set. The crash at the mansion, perhaps, but for the chase through city streets there are so many things against it being a film set it’s just implausible:
1. the news covered the chase. Broadcast live. So you have aerial footage of the incident right there proving Nickolia was running.
2. All of the innocent civilians in the streets. You’d have to get signed waivers by all of them to support it being a film set (and with the live news footage they could track down people via license plates to verify that they were, in fact, playing in a movie.
3. Any time a film production has to use city streets, there is always police on site to block streets, not to mention the notifications to the authorities of filming. Streets are blocked off by police and film staff. It’s illegal to film on open roads without authorization, police notification and presence, and more.
I know this is a movie and not real life, but it’s very hard for me to suspend belief that much to really take a film-set cover up. And even if the mansion itself was just the set, Jackson had authority to pursue Nickolia due to his reckless driving to get to the mansion. With nearly hitting a pedestrian, that’s grounds for use of dangerous force to stop him (or invoke the back-off clause, but no such call was made). Perhaps it’s just me.

I like the escape with the assistance from Murphy. I would even stretch the scene out just a little more, let them argue a little to flesh their relationship out some. It’s so short of a scene, and being their first interaction as partners on screen (aside from the escort to the chief’s office), I think you should take advantage to show their relationship and create some depth to their partnership.

We reach A.J.’s island. Now this is another plausibility bone I have to chew: the armada of battleships. I don’t know where this island is located in reference to the USA, but if it was anywhere even remotely close there is no way the US military would allow a fleet of heavily armed Russian ships to park. And if this isn’t Russian military but a private mercenary-esque group, they wouldn’t be allowed to have military grade weapondry. And if it wasn’t legally sanctioned weapons, just ones they stole or got on the black market, a fleet of them would certainly garner radar and satellite attention by the US, as well as possible intervention. Even if A.J. is the richest man in the world.

Doug’s strategy at the bar is nice (pretending to be drunk). Reminds me a bit of Brad Pitt in “Mr. & Mrs. Smith”, but not so much as to be a bad thing. I would like some sort of characterization as far as the other poker players go, since they are featured in the scene and not just background. Are they heavy, muscular bikers or douchy Eurotrash or burly Italian mafia types? Just some sort of minor description to get a feel for them.

As we move to the launch of A.J.s phone attack, you handle this nicely with the intercutting scenes. Still bothered some by the double names of characters (Tough Guy/Shadowed Man, Kenny/Sleazy Man, ect.), but that’s a small point here. I like the pacing and setups, the way they cut together in the scene sequence here all leading to the cell phone calls. Nice job. One point I’d like to touch on though, is that I think before you show Nina/Viper I’d show a few more phone reactions before A.J. focuses on her. Just a few random citizens to really show how spread this is going. It’ll increase the sudden tension of the oncoming chaos he’s (A.J.) is launching. At the moment, it’s just the homeless man and Nina in the peak of the moment. Nina’s action scene is great, but when Jackson catches up to her (pg 31) it leaves me to ask how did he know about the chip? How did he know it was there and that it was the reason for her actions? What clued him in or when did he discover the truth about the chips?

In the newsroom on pg 33 is where I get confused about timeframe. I think I mentioned this above that I didn’t know what the specific time was as it’s here the intern says it was 2010 births that were chipped. Nina is in her early 30s, so that would make it at least 2040, yet there are really no other futuristic aspects (except A.J.s computer).

On page 34, we’re riding along with Doug and Jackson. What bothers me is the banter here, the playful chatter. Considering all they’ve seen, the chaos and Nina’s insane stunt, plus their apparent dislike for each other, it seems out of place to be so lighthearted. They can be gruff with each other, and feed into the intensity of the situation, but the way it’s written right now it just doesn’t have that tense feeling. I’d give their attitudes and dialogue a bit more edge, and with their dislike for one another I’d also stretch the scene out a little more and give the audience some time to see them and how rough things really are between them.

Back at A.J.’s mansion (pg. 35), we are given a very brief scene of his “tribute” to his father. This is another scene that I feel needs to be a little longer. This is where A.J. gives his reason behind the project, the driving force (his father’s neglect, ect.). Again, bring your audience into the character’s emotion or backstory some, give A.J. some depth. You want the audience to connect to him, or understand why he’s doing what he’s doing. It gives power to the emotional tension as well as depth to your antagonist (which propels the story and creates a bigger payoff upon his defeat).

Another thing in this area that’s a little off, for me, is the breaking up of the newsroom scenes where the intern is researching the whole chip conspiracy. I know you’re trying to keep from having a single, long expositional scene (or that’s what it seems), but it gives it this choppy feel. If you’re worried about it being a long exposition, then try and create a more interesting way for the characters to discover all the details besides him sitting at the computer (plus, the next scene of the trio chatting for exposition as well). Maybe the kid goes through old papers in storage, or someone stumbles upon a key fact/clue outside the office.

The next scene, Vitaly going to Neptune’s, doesn’t seem to really have a purpose here in the script. I mean, this scene (pg. 36) is just them getting there. Short scene. Then we have another short scene in the newsroom, then a “chit-chat” scene with Jackson, Doug, and Nina. That scene seems to be mostly innocuous chatter, nothing really propelling the story: Nina’s blood loss/blood donations, walking in L.A., and the two guys acting like teenagers. Then we go back to the newsroom for a short, two line scene of exposition, before the trio arrive at the office. And once they are all together in the office, the overall attitude or atmosphere seems too light, as if there's no chaos at all going on outside. They don't even mention it, which is really odd considering they're mostly reporters and a cop.

Back to Vitaly and the biker bar, this still seems like a scene just thrown in there. Vitaly eats and rambles on some off-topic subject while the two lawyers continue to look to leave. Nothing really to propel the story aside from them wanting to leave, but it's still very dampened due to Vitaly's lack of concern, as well as the atmosphere of the bar not reflecting current events. Again we jump back to the office after this short scene, keeping the jumpy feel.

Page 42-46. Lots of exposition here. Talking heads giving all the facts and details of the story, which cramming so much information in one scene can overwhelm your audience. Also, I would let the audience see them discover the details, at least some of them, and interlace that with some of the talking/piecing it together. At the moment, it seems they pretty much have all the answers (except for Phi) right here through this scene. All exposition. Also, considering this chip that A.J. implanted into people was supposed to be a GPS tracker of sorts, wouldn't it then be an easy assumption that all there would be a file list of all implanted people, plus tracking each individual (the chip's original purpose, right?)? So why can't they hack in or log in to the tracking service, search the database for possible "Phi" matches and then have the GPS system locate each possibility? From there they could narrow their search.

You give a quick break for A.J.'s arriving "package", which he still doesn't have that antagonistic feel to him, that evilness or dark side that gives the audience a strong emotional stance to cheer against him and for your heros. After that, it's Vitaly at the bar for his helicopter pick-up and, for some reason I can't figure out, a quick fight with a biker who is pissed off at him for I have no idea what. Vitaly paid for his food, walked out without any noted interaction with anyone, yet this biker comes out screaming and trying to pick a fight. Very strange (not to mention the oddity of a biker screaming that he'll sue... sue for what?).

Back at the office, it's another expositional scene (the television report giving the details of Nina's "boyfriend" instead of them finding out this fact on their own). And again, Jackson and Doug are acting like teenagers. There's chaos all around (supposedly), they've killed several people between them, and yet they don't have any emotional stress or indication that they're troubled much by it all, instead squabbling like kids and cracking jokes. They discuss going to the island, which I'm wondering how they all know about it and what makes them strongly feel it's at the center of this conspiracy. For all they know the computers controlling the people/chips could be based in Frisco, or London, or India. Where is the evidence or clues aside from it being A.J.'s private island. If he's running some big company with all these chip implants, they'd have offices and buildings all across the US. Not to mention no one thinks of going to the CIA or FBI for assistance or to turn over their information for a stronger support/attack team.

I like that A.J. gives Murphy the command to go after the group. But where my problem lies with the scene is two parts: First, during all this time NO ONE helped Murphy? Not a good samaritan, not a fellow officer, not anyone? No one called to report the wrecked car, the man in the driver's seat bleeding and unconscious? And how long has he been sitting there on the sidewalk in Los Angeles? Second, how the hell does Murphy find them so fast? Is he synced in to some GPS tracking/locating program? It's just very hard to believe that in such a huge sprawl of a city that Los Angeles is, with all the chaos going on, Murphy would be able to find them in his zombie state so quickly, if at all.

Now the confrontation with Murphy and Jackson, I think, needs to be longer. This is his partner. Why doesn't he try to talk him down, talk some sense into him? Try to figure out what's wrong with his friend? And after Murphy gets shot, Jackson doesn't really react much to the fact that his friend was a zombie trying to kill them.

The group heads to the police headquarters, which turns up abandoned. This wouldn't be surprising if it weren't for the fact that you really haven't established the scale and true chaos to support this. I mean, this group (Jackson, Nina, ect.) have been traveling around apparently without much trouble except for Murphy's attack. You're missing the scenes to support this abandoned headquarters and for the tension it should instill. Secondly, I've never known of a police station that has a fully operational infirmary with a bed and such. Maybe I'm wrong, but being the police station I would assume any major injuries would be sent right to the hospital. Third, Cheif Stears surprises them (though not us since we knew he was crooked already, a point you gave away earlier in the script). This would be a much better twist if you hadn't cemented his crooked side earlier. You could really make this scene much more exciting and impactful if we the audience didn't expect or know about Stearns being crooked (and you could also expand the scene so that the group at first doesn't realize it either). Fourthly, this is a HUGE gamble on their part, guessing that the police chopper will be there, or come back to the station in such short order. I mean, it's cliche to the point of being implausible that the chopper would show up right as they get on the roof, no waiting required. In all the chaos and all that's going on, the helicopter just so happens right at this moment to be returning to the police station (and instead of anywhere else in the chaos) is just hard to swallow on the believability. I'd rather have had the helicopter already there and the idea comes to them after taking care of Murphy and Stearns (maybe someone sees the pilot or something). Maybe I'm just not suspending disbelief enough.

Now they fly out to the island. With all this high-tech gear, the personal navy, mercenaries, and so forth, this rag tag group is able to make it to the island? Do none of these ships have radar? I don't know. Kinda a stretch. And why does Normandie not notify A.J. of an intruder? I mean, his life could be on the line (both his and A.J.s) considering what they're doing, yet he shrugs it off. I know he goes rogue in the end, but this makes him more apathetic than angry enough to go rogue on his boss. If you want to have him turn, give something beforehand that makes the connection to support it. His frustrations, maybe rooting anger building behind that "Jeeves" demeanor.

The trio's time on the island is kinda iffy for me. They're still acting somewhat like kids, joking and fumbling about instead of acting like seasoned professionals (one is a cop and the other two are reporters who would be somewhat accustomed to being stealthy). One dog attack and they're ready to flee the island. Then, the heavy artillery. Again, I have to wonder where this island is and why it's not garnering US military attention with the weapons they have and are using (attacking US citizens at that). Our heroes are trying to flee, tails between their legs, instead of pressing on or trying to figure out how to win this battle. It defeats their character, in my opinion.

I don't quite understand the scene with Stearns and Keller. I mean, Stearns was ready to kill four people, yet here Keller is pressing a few questions and he runs off like a scared little boy. If he were at the end of his rope, which after failing to kill four people I would think he would be, he wouldn't take no for an answer from anyone standing in his way. He's facing jail and so on already, so desperation would be sinking in.

Now part of the problem with the tension is due to the time passing. You've been trying to build tension and panic with all the chaos back in America, but it's hard to sustain that tension if the situation is stretching over an extended period of time. On page 66, the trio wakes up in a cave the next day. So all the chaos of the day before - the crazy people running rampant in the city, the destruction of their chopper, the bombardment, the dog attack - is all pretty much lost to the nap and next day. It slows down your tempo. And, of course, the characters don't reflect much tension either, Jackson joking about ordering pizza and such. They just survived a shelling from battleships, had the police chief try to kill them, the chaos of the mind control stuff, the dog attack, they're stranded on a hostile island, and the first thought is to go search for food. Not a plan to escape, a way to stop the mind control stuff, but rather breakfast. See what I mean? If they aren't showing tension and worry about the situation, why should your audience?

We're into the final act, the big climax of the story. Phillips (who predictably was the Phi character) snuck onto the island and was captured. Keller calls A.J. and tells him she's figured out where the special chip is, which for some reason scares him. A.J. has the master control computer, linked to all the chips, there in his house. So why is he worried so badly? He could send a kill command to deactivate all the chips if he wanted. Shut them down and find the special chip himself. Knowing Keller knows, he could send one of his contract mercenaries to grab her and get the info from her. I mean, he's willing to send people to kill (Nina), so what's stopping him here? Additionally, somehow the commandos know about the trespassers, who they are, yet this misfit group of intruders has avoided capture by trained military men (and how does the Major know it's them for that matter?)? Instead, they're caught by a slave girl who sees them and screams. This wouldn't be so bad if you had established Jackson, Nina, and Doug as being stealthy, elusive, competent foes to the military instead of being a jokey clan bumbling about on the island.

With all of them gathered, you give the cliched bad-guy-spills-his-plans-in-a-long-speech, a 7 page expositional scene explaining all. That's a lot of talk for what's supposed to be your climactic moment, the big showdown that you've been leading up to. And why on Earth is he going to destroy the house? He's bringing down the US through his zombie chaos, no one believes the group (A.J. says so himself), and he's got massive wealth to bribe/buy his way out of any perceived trouble if needed. It just doesn't make much sense that he's destroying his private island and seemingly giving up on this zombie chaos plan for no real reason that i can see. And then how did Keller get on the island without trouble as well? I mean, it seems that entire private navy and commando unit is worthless.

So in another cliche moment, A.J. has left the group alive, and in doing so they escape their binding (with Keller's help) and stop his island destruction sequence. Then, they get Phillips into the computer for his override run with some sequence of complex Golden Ratio progression (or something like that. It kinda flew over my head, the golden ratio stuff. Not a good math person here). But the root of the problem here is it's all very anti-climactic. There's no real feeling of that last second this-is-it moment, that part where it seems all hope is lost. We're given another section of exposition explaining how it's all through the golden ratio mathematics (not really keeping your audience on the edge of their seats with that), and additionally we're not really told or shown how Keller came to understand that this was the key to it all. I mean, how did she come up with it as the absolute answer? and is it a specific sequence that needed to be keyed in (Parthenon, Dali, ect) or could it have been any golden ratio sequence? So everyone kinda chills while Phillips runs through his zombie override state, playing piano.

But in an even more anticlimactic approach, our heroes debate how to buy the mercenaries loyalty... Okay, a few notes here. One of the world's wealthiest men hired these guys, so he's going to have a lot deeper pockets than a cop and reporters. Two, do they really think they're going to just write these guys a check and that'll be the end of it? Mercenaries don't work like Walmart, taking a personal check and saying thanks for your business. It's a laughable concept and completely kills any tension you had built. They're running around in your final, climactic scenes trying to pool money and ask for raises?

And finally, the big showdown. A.J. returns to confront the group. Instead of an action scene here, it's a quick sibling bickering between A.J. and Keller before Normandie turns traitor. And then, for some reason A.J. has a massive turn around because Keller takes up for him... well, sort of. She says it wasn't all for him. Anyway, he is a changed man. Just like that, without any sort of emotional breaking-down-the-walls moment. I mean, he's harbored this anger for all these years, constructed this elaborate, expensive, evil scheme that's put thousands, if not millions, of innocent people into violent chaos, and he flips over in a nearly emotionless "Wow. I think my life has been misspent.". Where is the emotional tension? The big climax? The highlight or pinnacle of the story where your audience is hanging onto every word, every action? I hate to bear such bad news, but you really need to rework the entire ending. You need to build tension, build the chaos and fear, increase the stakes (both emotionally and physically) with your characters, lead them to the edge where all seems lost before conquering it all.

It ends on a lighthearted group on the beach, casually chatting, still no police or American military involved. A.J. just caused millions to billions of dollars in damages through his programmed rioting, had numerous people killed off through programming an innocent person to kill, and is guilty of mind controlling thousands of people through his implanted chips, and no one seems to think anything more than a story and instructions on how to remove the chips will solve all that? Again, I just cannot suspend belief enough to buy that. Lastly, we're treated to this odd scene with Murphy and Christine discussing the story (a story Murphy only had the smallest part in overall) which is for the most part keeping a joking tone through the end when he gets caught with Amy on the phone. I don't know how that's supposed to relate and wrap up the story as far as the rest goes. It just seems completely out of place with the story. Had you established Murphy's relationship with Christine, or that he was a womanizer, or anything to this characteristic and how it tied into the central story, this might work. But as it is, it's an awkward ending to your script.

I hate to be so negative there in the final 30 pages, but after you'd established an interesting base for a good thriller/action script, the final half began to stumble and fall apart as far as a building tension and plausibility.

CHARACTERS: You have a nice, diverse set of characters, though they do need some fleshing out. Jackson is good as a hard-nosed, action cop. But what's missing is that very background that everyone alludes to. Why is he so famous? What has he done to earn his Action Jackson moniker? You need this depth to really establish his character since he is one of the leading characters of the story. Also, I would loose the teenager-esque bickering he does with Doug. It seems so contrary to his persona. Maybe that's what you were trying for, but without establishing his stronger side (the action Jackson, bad-ass cop), the play of him bickering with Doug seems childish rather than him being frustrated by Doug.

Nina is more well rounded as a character and plays both sides (Nina and Viper) well. She's one of the more stronger characters you've got in the script at the moment. Doug is a little undefined to me. Is he a cunning, sleuth of a reporter or a bumbling tag-a-long. In the first half he's very well written, using his smarts and cunning to get through situations or get his information. But when he teams up with Nina and Jackson, he becomes the other persona, the unsure, bumbling along jokester who seems like he doesn't know what to do next.

For your antagonists, Vitaly is the stronger of the three. He's got a nice, dark persona to him, though it still needs to be established more. Give him that really mean, all-business side that you seem to be leaning towards with him. He seems to want to be very gangster, so give him more of that edge. A.J. is your weakest of the three. His motivations are very unclear, up until the end, and while he could be a good cold yet aloof antagonist, he's not at this point. He's got that light, playful, almost crazy side to him, but it's not clear. He's missing that darker aspect to his attitude, that driving force behind the smile as to why he's doing this elaborate plan and the anger that drove him to it. Finally, Stearns. He's pretty much your standard tough guy chief. I like that he's in league with A.J., but it's a fact that you could exploit so much more. As noted above, keep his allegiance with A.J. a secret until the right moment. Emphasize that for his tough guy image at the station, he's a timid cat when facing A.J. (which will also help establish A.J.'s character more in the process).

The remaining characters are written okay and fill out their respective roles. Phillips is one I would focus on a little as far as developing more since he does turn out to be the key to the override. Just touch a little more on his story, his backstory, and maybe drop a small clue or two as to how he might fit into the grand scheme instead of just revealing it in the end through expositional dialogue.

DIALOGUE: While you have some really good interchanges in the script, I think the dialogue overall, especially in the second half, could use some work. In the first sections, you handle the dialogue well, the interplay done nicely. But, as noted above, there are parts where your characters are taking things lightly, contrary to the action around them. They joke and bicker rather than express any emotion or real concern for what's going on. It's through your dialogue that you can really strengthen your characters, as well as give the script that much needed tension. You want the audience to connect with your characters, to care about them, and it's through their actions and their dialogue that you accomplish that. Give what they say meaning, or effect, based on what's going on. Let the audience see their reactions to the chaos, to feel the fear and the increasing desperation to stop A.J.s plot. Tighten up Vitaly to give him that dark edge, give A.J. that playful sinister aspect to punch up his antagonist persona.

pg. 2 - ... opens the door, as a real VIPER... - remove the comma.

pg. 5 - Keller should be (V.O.). (O.S.) is for a character who is present in the area or room, but off screen (such as in a nearby room out of sight). Telephone conversations are (V.O.) voice over as the character isn't present in the scene physically and the lines are recorded as a voice over.

pg. 10 - Who is Richard Grieco? I don't know if this is a pop culture reference or someone famous I should know, but I'd be wary making any sort of references such as this in case, like me, the reader doesn't know who it is.

pg. 10 - Jackson fires his gun in the air. I know this harkens of the old west, but nowadays police do not shoot their guns into the air, especially in a city area. Bullets go up, then come down, and there have been numerous cases of an innocent person getting struck and/or killed by bullets fired into the air like this. It's a small technicality, but thought I'd bring it up.

pg. 11 - continuity - The slug line here says Mansion, but the all the others say Beverly Hills Mansion.

pg. 17 - "I recommend their firm but would..." - was this mistake intentional as a nod to Vitaly's accent and/or broken English? Or is it supposed to be "I'd recommend their firm but it would be..."?

pg. 18 - "... fully cooperate with the our internal investigation..." - remove the or our.

pg. 29 - ... holding his cell plane to his ear. - should be phone.

pg. 36-37 - The scene at the restaurant with Vitaly ends oddly to me. His last line talking about squeezing something I'm thinking you were trying to make him sound tough and intimidating, but at the moment it feels odd. Maybe add something to the end here, where the lawyers look to each other, hesitant to say anything else.

pg. 39 - Need a slug line for when they go inside the Newspaper Office as that would now constitute an interior setting.

pg. 40 - I'd be very careful singling out specific real companies in a negative light. If they're partnered with your studio, or a possible sponsor, you don't want to be bad mouthing them.

pg. 41 - Keller's office scene - why do you list everyone with both first and last names? It's unnecessary.

pg. 42 - "... he just jumps it his car and bolts." - should be into.

pg. 51 - Street in front of the Newspaper Building. Again you unnecessarily write out first and last names.

pg. 51 - Two journalists and a cop... - I don't quite understand why you describe the trio in this fashion. I guess just being a little creative with the writing?

pg. 56 - INT POLICE HEADQURTERS - spelling.

pg. 56 - Some apart of the mayhem. - should be a part.

pg. 62 - "The house should is in that direction." - should be be.

pg. 62 - A small WAR BOATS head toward shore. - is that one single boat or a small group of boats?

pg. 77 - "... you recognise your informer...." - spelling. Should be recognize.

pg. 85 - Formatting error. Nina's dialogue "No. He called me Viper" is formatted as an action line.

pg. 91 - Continuity error. A.J. complains that the explosion is five seconds late, yet Keller and the group have had time to deactivate the countdown, which was down to less than thirty seconds, talk for a bit, enter the whole golden ratio programming, get Phillips into zombie mode, chat some more, and make their decision to go after A.J. That's 5 pages (at a minute a page, five minutes time). Much more than 35 seconds (30 second countdown and 5 seconds late).

pg. 92-93 - why doesn't A.J. send his mercenaries after them? I mean he's paying for a small army, so why does he have to go back personally?

OVERALL: You have an interesting base for a really good action thriller, but it needs some work. Give your characters some depth, draw the audience into the story through your character's emotions and actions. I'd strongly recommend reworking the ending act to increase the action and build some tension. You need a strong, climactic scene as this is the pinnacle of the film. Push the story forward through building the tension, make the audience really feel the chaos and hopelessness of the situation. With a little work, you can have a really good and tense story.

As always this is simply my humble opinion that I hope helps in some way. Should you have any questions, feel free to zmail me any time. Good luck and keep writing!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Project Wilson Phillips - Team Wendy: Day 2

Download the Team Wendy version of the script HERE.

Bob Holt (p. 49-58) - This is my part of an email exchange I had with the person immediately following me. He found me via Twitter, seemed terribly confused by the script, and asked me several questions, including what the hell was going on, and what I tried to accomplish with my pages. I had gone so far as to outline every scene and make a character list trying to nail down who they were at any given point in the pages, so I was happy to share that work with him and give him a little push.


Hey Anthony,

Doug and Leliah: It seems like each writer wrote them differently. Sometimes good, sometimes not. Sometimes working together, sometimes working against each other. (For example, it seems they're working together, but then one writer wrote that Doug was protecting Trenton, so...)

Motive of the Vegan machine: Unknown. There was a mention of it becoming self-aware. There was really nothing else in there to suggest what its end goal might be.

So what I did (or tried to do):

1) Vegan needed a goal. I briefly mentioned world domination, robot overlords or what have you. It's general enough to build on, or just to leave abstract if you don't want to deal with it.

2) I didn't like the whole Vegan concept, so I decided to shut Vegan down. Also, I figured it would be a good Act II climax to shut it down for good. Maybe. Whether or not shutting it down succeeded or only made it angry is up to you. Basically, I wanted to give my push to the story without ruining everybody's fun if they wanted to keep it in.

3) Doug and Leliah. This was actually the craziest part - they were completely unmotivated, or maybe more to the point, randomly motivated. So I built in that part of Vegan's master plan were all of these doppelgangers to go around and do its bidding. Also, it made mistakes in replicating them - really just a way of explaining away
the character inconsistencies that plague the whole script. Do with it what you will.

4) Jackson. He was in desperate need of motivation and making his own destiny. I even have him say at one point that he needs to take action because stuff keeps happening TO him. Of course, then I make Cohen the main actor at the climax, so... Oops.

[Bitter Note: I didn't discover Bob and Anthony's collaboration until last week when they sent me their testimonials. To be honest, I would have discouraged this communication had I known about it at the time. I had taken some pains to ensure that no one had anyone else's email address, but didn't think anyone would use the names on the title page to track down the previous writers. I'll make the rules more explicit next time if you guys think this skirts the spirit of the experiment.]

Anthony Filangri (p. 58-69): Well when I first read the script, I was at a total loss. I had so much stuff going on with school, I really wanted to drop out. But karma is a bitch and I didn't want that on my conscience. So what I did instead was contact the writer who did his pages before me to see what the hell he made of the story. He wasn't really sure himself, but he explained it to me the best he could and what he planned to do with 10 pages which was -- try to get things into gear and shut the Vegan down.

So the vegan was shut down... but the third act was just starting. In the 10 pages before mine, it is said that the vegan had developed a brain of his own basically. Why not take it literal, and have a real life vegan -- a robot spawned out from the vegan before it was shut down. There were still secrets afloat, so the robot started killing people to get to them. By the end of my 10 pages, I set up a huge action sequence that hopefully the writer after me took advantage of. It was also up to the writer/s after me to come up with a twist in which I had no idea what it could be. Good luck to them!

All in all, it was a cheesy mess but I still had fun with it.

Delta Kirby (p. 69-79) Being the second-to-last writer for Team Wendy I knew I had to do three things: resolve certain aspects of the plot; begin a sequence of climactic events for the last writer to finish, while also giving him/her enough space to tie up the script and give it an acceptable ending; and reveal the identity of the shadowy figure.

I decided to make Jackson the Shadowy Figure because pretty much all of the living characters (six, not counting Jackson) were accounted for, except for an ancient journalist, and I didn't think an old man fighting the foul mouthed hero would be that exciting to watch. Funny, yes, but not exciting. It would also reveal that Jackson himself was a clone, and I believed that threw up a lot of opportunities for the person after me to use. Maybe Jackson joins AJ, maybe he's already lost and the whole world is clones, maybe he has to sacrifice himself to reset the world, I don't know.

I then wrote ten pages in which all but a couple of characters die, several things explode for no reason, and a group of evil clone office workers are destroyed by the corpse of an intern. Why? Because it felt appropriate for what I read as a self-aware sci-fi action thriller. Why set the last scene on Neptune? Again, because it felt like a direction the script would take.

Ben Ritter (p. 80-90): When I inherited the script, I had to read it three times. The second time through, I took notes to help me keep the different characters straight (with the cloning and the robots, I was pretty confused). I eventually ended up with the characters’ names in one column, their descriptions in a second column, and the word “dead” in a third column for all but two characters. It was inevitable, therefore, that my pages would constitute a showdown between the two living characters, Jackson and AJ.

Since it had been established that any character could be cloned and resurrected at will, the stakes seemed too low for a physical fight, so I thought that a battle of the wits (and some sort of moral decision) would be potentially more interesting. I also decided to flesh out the character of AJ a little more. We already knew that he was the richest man in America, a sci-fi fan, and considered himself to be something of a comedian. To this I added (I hope) a degree of vanity and loneliness (the previous author had decided that AJ lived in a palace on Neptune, so I thought these were attributes he would likely have). Throwing a costume party pretty much for his own benefit seemed nicely in-character, and I thought of the idea of him dressing as Emperor Palpatine pretty early (based on the electricity-throwing scene the previous author had written).
I had never gotten a really good feel for Jackson’s character throughout the script, and I feel that my characterization of him fell flat as a result. I tried to get some leverage out of his relationship with Candy, which previous authors had alternately developed and dismissed, but to be honest, in my pages, he’s mostly a straight man for AJ’s antics. Subsequent rewrites would hopefully amp up the relationship between Jackson and Candy a little in earlier scenes and make Jackson’s choice seem more natural.

I also regret that I couldn’t think of a way to tie in the very first scene with the woman identified as “Viper” (who may or may not be the same person as Leliah) torturing a young man in a dark room. (The “Vegans” teleportation system is also, confusingly, sometimes called “Viper,” but I think this was a typo by one of the earlier authors.)

I thought this project was an interesting experiment, and I’m glad to have been a part of it, but I don’t think the resulting script is very good. The biggest problem, I think, is that all of the authors (including myself) wanted to add something substantive to the script, so about every 10 pages, a character was killed, a character was revealed to have not been killed, a character was revealed to be a clone or a robot, a character traveled to Neptune, a character traveled through time, etc. At best, I think there is a certain campy charm to a script spiraling so wildly out of control, but this came at the expense of things like character development and coherence.

I think one key difference between this script experiment and improv (especially long-form) is that very few improv games would have someone exit the scene completely and hand the creative reins over to the next player, so (even with the “yes, and” principle in place) crazier impulses could, to some extent, be kept in check by the other players onstage. It’s also unlikely that anyone but a beginner would do something as drastic as pulling out a gun and shooting another character for shock value unless this action arose naturally from the scene. If you were to repeat this experiment, it might be interesting to have each writer write one character throughout or do something else that would allow earlier writers to have continued input through the later pages (maybe submit notes every 10 pages that the next author could read but wouldn’t be required to follow).

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Project Wilson Phillips - Team Wendy: Day 1

We're on the home stretch of the Collaborative Writing Project scripts as we hit Day One of the final team.

Download the Team Wendy version of the script HERE.

Joe Kavanagh (p. 11-20): As was said in the introduction email to us "this thing is laced with traps." I wanted to see if I could knock away as many of them as possible so team members following behind could take the story to more interesting places. The chance to take the story to a place where none of the other stories would go also made it more interesting for me (and, I hope, my team members following behind). It's also quite hard writing the second ten pages of a story with no outline and hoping for it to make sense later. I thought about where I would take the story to its end before writing but I only control my ten pages. It was a great writing exercise that I would happily take part in

Dustin Rush (p. 21-30): The main thing that drew me to this challenge was the idea of limitations. I wanted to see what would happen to my writing when I was given a few pieces of the story. The toughest part for me was figuring out what to do with all the characters and information that had been created. Some I just flat out ignored, others I had to decide their significance.

I needed to know who the protagonist was and what he was going after. So I tried to establish that. I thought the story had a lot of fun foundational work already built in. It felt like my job was to shape the thrust of the story and round out some of the main characters.

In some ways I think it was more difficult than writing your own story, because I couldn't go back and erase anything. But I never would have come up with V.E.G.A.N.S. so it was definitely fun to work off of someone else's ideas.

Amy Baack (p. 31-41): I was in charge of writing fourth, which meant I got the script after 30 pages had been written. At this point in a script, the story should be fairly well established: the protagonist, his goals, and his obstacles should be fairly clear. My goal was thus to focus on moving the plot along. I found that the script wasn't exactly clear yet, so I did my best to try to clarify the protagonist and antagonist and their competing objectives. I then tried to pick up the pace and have some fun with the story.

Patrick O’Riley (p. 41-49) When I first received the 42 page pdf, I found myself quite overwhelmed. There were around 5 main characters that seemed to demand equal attention within an ever-expanding conspiracy. My first decision was that at least one of these people would complete an arc and die. According to the page count, it seemed my pages would include the stories midpoint, meaning it was my duty to stop adding dots and start connecting them.

Firstly, I wanted to draw up clear allegiances. With his introduction, Doug had mentioned making the reporter gaff of "telling the truth about people in power" so it was clear his character was meant for a high moral standing. It then became my job to explain why Doug would claim to be defending AJ Trenton and shoot Murphy near where my pages began. Since the shooting happened off-camera, I decided that it would be Murphy, not Doug who survived the shootout. Doug's story began with protecting his partner, and having essentially broken it off with Editor Keller, he was able to commit fully to Leliah. To protect her from the police he believed to be crooked, Doug was claiming to be on their side to keep them at bay. Dying on her behalf provided closure to Doug's arc.

My intention was to break the major cast into three teams: The Good Cops (Murphy, Mack, and Cohen), The Reporters Who Bend the Rules to Bring Evil To Light (Leliah, Joshua, Doug, And Keller), and The Bad Guys (Candy, Trenton, The Chief, and Leliah's Father). I tried to make these teams clear by putting each team all in a room together of the course of my pages. Whether or not these teams remained in tact beyond my pages remains to be seen but all-in-all I found this to be a fun worthwhile experiment and I look forward to similar exercises in the future!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Project Wilson Phillips - Team Chynna: Day 2

Download the Team Chynna version of the script here

Max Bowen (p. 62-71): My assignment was pages 61-70. As I read the first 60 I noticed a couple of things bumped me logically, and I had some story concerns given that we were heading into the homestretch.

1) There was a passage where a couple of journos were suddenly pulling "service revolvers." It seemed like the writer got confused about which characters he/she was working with, and nobody carries a revolver anymore.

2) There were a shitload of characters and it was difficult to keep them straight, especially when there were shifting loyalties and undercover types. There were also FBI and LAPD, which was muddying the water for me.

3) When the police station blew Trenton and the Russian were allegedly in there and Jackson was walking in to interrogate them when the building blew. This seemed like a bit of logic that the previous writer missed.

4) There were allusions to a bombing plan, but no one had spelled it out, and we were about to be 70 pages in.

5) The homeless guy had been dropped.

The first thing I did was copy the entire script and paste it into a text file. Then I trimmed out all the dialogue and synopsized each scene to give me an outline of the story to date. Because there were so many characters, I listed the major players to help me keep them straight.

[Note: he included these, but I’m not reprinting them due to space constraints – Bitter]

As I thought about the issues the main goal I set for myself in outlining my 10 pages was to set Trenton's plan in stone. So I decided that he was going really big with this and was going to blackmail the entire world. Big stakes. Big box office. right?

I also wanted to prune back the dramatis personae and make sure that the three different teams were now clearly defined (FBI/cops, Trenton/badguys, and journos). Since this was going to be a world wide plot I figured that the FBI would be a better counterpoint to an international terrorist, so I decided on a reveal that the intern and Agent Jude were actually working for the feds, sort of, since Jude was actually with Trenton and I decided to trim Viper. I also wanted to get out some pipe that explained how Trenton wasn't killed in the police station blast in case anyone else was wondering besides me. There was also the Russian to consider. His character had been dropped, so he had the pleasure of dying in the explosion. I also wanted to use the ringing cell phone as the reveal, because that seemed to be what the previous writer was aiming for, and it's always a fun device (possibly overused, but fun). I realized that my best shot at getting the homeless guy back in was after Jude whacked Jackson, and I wanted something dramatic for her so why not call in a chopper to pick her up after she'd gotten far enough away from Jackson.

I added the following four scene outline to the previous outline:

[Note: not reprinting this either – Bitter again]

Then I scripted it, did a quick polish and emailed it back to Bitter.

Nicole Hill (p. 72-87): When I first read the script, I saw a lot of intrigue, and action. I usually write more character-based relationship heavy scripts, so, I wanted to use my pages, not only to sort of tie up some loose ends, but to bring the motivations of the characters to light.

I wanted to bring reason behind the madness and slow it down a tad bit to enter some back story. Yes, there's a lot of killing and explosions, and double-crossing, but why? I also wanted to bring some closure to some of the early beats, like the dead guy in the trunk. I also wanted to show that Agent Jude had a method behind her madness. Yes, she screwed around, but, all the sex was really just to get to her end goal of paying homage to her father's legacy. I also wanted to create a situation where you had some sympathy for Agent Jude. She did lose her father, and her brother is crazy. I wanted Rogers to feel this sympathy also, and ultimately, that's why he allows himself to land in bed with her. Since we were heading towards the finish line, also wanted the reporter, Doug to start to be suspicious of Jude. She's always around when there's trouble, so, there must be a reason.

[Note: I gave the final writers some leeway in the length of their final pages. I let them know if they needed more than ten pages to wrap things up that was fine. I didn't expect that Philip would go above and beyond and produce 24 pages of writing!]

Philip Prince (p. 88-112): Being as I was the last 10 pages of the screenplay, one of my key issues to combat would be somehow putting my personal twist in, how others had done it before me. And believe me, I tried. I wrote the way I wanted the story to go, while still taking into account a beat sheet mentality.

Basically speaking, I had to wrap the story up, and couldn't go wasting pages forever. Unfortunately, while I did successfully add in the kind of story I wanted to tell, I actually did a disservice to the work that was done before me. It wasn't that I refuted the plot points that were brought up before me. But in some cases I out and out ignored them to do the ending I wanted to do. And not only was that a disservice to the writers, but it was a disservice to the characters. They had been grown into three dimensional people over the course of 87 pages, who was I to make decisions for them because I had wanted them to be somewhat different than what others interpreted them as.

So, I went back to page 1. Not page 1 of my part but page 1 of the entire script. I sat with a pad in hand and marked every character tick I saw in each character to reveal more about their inner thoughts, actions, desires and emotions. I also had to look for themes that resonate with every character and what happened to them over the course of the story. Whether it was from their action, their inaction, or the actions of other, and what did that mean when it came to the theme for the story.

The last thing that I wanted to make sure to include, as I believe it is in all proper endings, were callbacks. One of my favorite screenplays ever written is "Back to the Future". It is a callback bible for how to include them in your screenplay. It also also makes the movie more watchable as you notice the tiny things about the plot that later come back in funny or dramatic ways(see: Twin Pines Mall changed to One Pine Mall). So I sat back, read, and found what callbacks I could use to wrap up the story in a neat bow. Or as neat a bow as I could wrap it.

With all that together, I wrote down a scene-by-scene breakdown of where the groups are when I received my portion, who was with each group of characters, why where they there, and what were they ultimately hoping to accomplish in terms of plot and inner resolution. And what you will read is the culmination of that. There are some things that I might have missed to hit on, and some of you may not like the theme I ended the story on. But these are the things that stuck with me as the essence of the characters and story every subsequent read I had, and I did read over it alot.

So enjoy, and I think this was a great experiment and hopefully can get annually done. Although, next time someone else can deal with the stress of not making a sucky ending with such great writing before you. LOL. Enjoy!