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!


  1. least I only took a light slap. Apparently no one told the reviewer that I'm a Lex-Luthorian

  2. Jesus. Now THAT was coverage. What's the url for this site? I know now it's definetely the place to go for a super in-depth look at your screenplay. I would have to agree with him on the third act. It's like I said on the post, it gets way way too jokey. So it sounds like the issue alot of screen writers have. THe team made a great first and second act but needs work on the third.

  3. That has to be the most extensive coverage I've ever seen.

  4. Nice. I can appreciate this person's honest feedback. I can see where some writer's might become a bit defensive at some points, but he/she draws out a great many points to focus on in order to improve. I like the fact that it's extensive and that he/she took that time to go over everything. That's not simply just one read. In the end, it's constructive to boot.

  5. I want to know who this reviewer is and buy them dinner. This has to be the most extensive notes I've ever seen, and I've seen a lot.

    Maybe peer review sites aren't all that bad...

  6. Gosh! That was fantastic. I've actually been laughing out-loud & my husband was looking at me funny :) Because all that he wrote is a 100% right. But keeping in mind, that he'd thought this was just one person writing... :)) strange he didn't think it was some nutter, with multiple personalities disorder :)

    Anyway, it was very insightful. I'm sort of blurry-eyed & everyone is, I guess, because of the reading, the writing (including TBSR). We can see the the weak spots & the mistakes, I guess, but that would be strange if we started criticising one another within the teams. So a view from outside is great!

    I just can't believe he spent so much time on this, but I'd love to thank that person. I mean, he spent God knows how much time writing feedback for someone, he doesn't actually know. That's pretty impressive. And I've actually learned quite a lot, from what he said :) So thank you, dear anonymous reviewer.


    And by the way,

    "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?"

    Yes, I was being a little (too) creative with the writing :))))))

  7. Eric, I rekon we should all get him a dinner :)

  8. And one for TBSR, for coming up with this great idea & letting us all participate :) Thanx again. It was fun!

  9. I agree that whoever wrote this coverage went above and beyond anything I've ever seen anyone do. I myself probably wouldn't have invested the same effort in a review of this script and I'm quite impressed that an outsider would not only do so, but that they give some pretty good insight as well.

    And I agree that perhaps this is the best way to critque the cohesion of the final script. It's hard to discuss certain faults without making it sound like we're assigning blame to a particular writer. Everyone here could only play the cards they were dealt, so I'd hate for anyone to take the criticisms of their pages as seriously as if we were going after a complete script.

    I've decided that over the next few weeks I'll sprinkle in some posts about the broad lessons we can take from these collaborations, but I'll do my best not to step on any toes as I do. This was meant to be a fun exercise, not an excuse to berate or ridicule. It sounds like most people had fun and if nothing else, it's given a few of us a chance to get to know each other better.