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About

Fresh out of college, I supplemented my part time teaching position by working as a natural history interpreter at local parks, leading nature walks and describing the natural history of the animals, plants, etc to groups. I was telling stories constantly, fiction and non-fiction, in the traditional classroom to college-age students, and in the field to folks of all ages. I'm now a full time college professor with children of my own. For me, screenwriting is just another medium for me to tell stories.

While all of my scripts (so far) are works of fiction, I prefer themes and premises that are grounded in reality, stories that explore the extraordinary actions and events that real people create and must react to. I'll leave the the zombie and vampire yarns to the more youthful - to those yet unable to tap the rich experiences of a "well-seasoned" life.

 

Reviews Michael W. Has Written

The Mustache, Charter's Original Draft

1 out of 2 people found the following review helpful:

An Absurd Premise and Funny Script

Overall Recommendation:
4 stars
 
Premise:
4 stars
 
Story structure:
4 stars
 
Character:
4 stars
 
Dialogue:
3 stars
 
Emotion:
3 stars
 
January 09, 2012
Per your request, here’s my review of the first 15 pages of your script.

Overview

With your opening, a baby born with a full moustache, you’ve certainly satisfied one of the three Shakespearean facets of a comedy, the “Comic Situation.” While absurd, the opening sequence is funny and sets the tone (hopefully) for the rest of the story.

Some nice sardonic humor (with a smidgen of social commentary) when the doctor provides the couple a brochure to help grief-stricken parents deal with their child’s odd affliction.

I enjoyed your comedic writing style; just enough well-placed metaphors and visuals to spice up the character descriptions and action.

I definitely would continue reading beyond the first 15 pages. I’m curious to know how Joe turns his “affliction” into an asset, and what lessons he learns along the way. Having just finished a roadtrip comedy (interestingly involving some similar themes as yours), I’m interested in how you develop your theme and characters throughout Act 2.

For me, only two issues (as noted below) arose consistently in these first 15 pages:

1. The scenes (which are funny) tend to play out for too long. It’s like a comedian telling a good joke, but then trying to milk it one too many times. Get in and get out quick.
2. Some areas of OTN dialogue. This is related to #1, as much of the OTN dialogue comes near the end of gags or scenes that play for a beat or two too long.

When I have the time, I’m going to read and review your entire script. In the meantime, I hope you find these notes useful. Best of luck with it!

Specifics

You use the spelling “Mustache” in the title, but then use “moustache” throughout the script. I think the latter is the more common spelling, but either way, stay consistent.

Generally, I think your dialogue works very well, a good sense of comedic timing. Here’re some places, though, that I think could use a little tweaking:

p. 2:

She puts a finger over the offending facial hair and silently resolves to eradicate it permanently.
The eccentric DR. SCHWARTZ (50) consoles to Virginia, who is grief stricken by her son's unusual affliction.

DR. SCHWARTZ
It involves recklessly high doses of hormones and may have, well, side effects. Look Virginia, it's just a crumbcatcher. I'm thinking of growing one myself.

VIRGINIA
I've got to get rid of that moustache!

Virginia’s last line of dialogue feels OTN. I think this would work better if the doctor casually pulls out a medical journal and shows Virginia the potential side effects of the treatment. Virginia’s shocked look is all you need – no words needed and what bizarre or grotesque image she sees is left to our imagination.

Something like...

DR. SCHWARTZ
It involves recklessly high doses of hormones and…

Schwartz reaches for a dusty medical journal, opens it and holds it for Virginia to see.

DR. SCHWARTZ
… may have some undesirable side effects.

p.3: Virginia getting struck by a car right before the flash forward seems a bit jarring. Wouldn’t Joe carry around a fair amount of guilt the rest of his life, knowing that his actions led to his mother’s accident (death?)? I think you can end this sequence in a different way. It doesn’t necessarily have to be absurd, but keep with the tone you’ve established.

p.3: When 30 yr old Joe touches his lip upon waking, reassuring himself that his affliction is gone, it suggests that the opening sequence was a dream, but I’m not sure that’s what you intended.

Love Portia’s description: “She's the fierce chick every woman hates in their yoga class because she actually looks better when she sweats.”

Outrageous and funny sex scene between Joe and his dominatrix wife, though I think you let it play out a bit too long. It got a little porn-ish near the end.

p. 6:
JOE COOPER
Damn, I need a refill.

Simply having Joe say “Damn” after discovering the empty bottle is enough for us to know what he’s thinking. OTN for him to tell us what he’s thinking.

p. 7: Just a bit of punctuation/sentence structure clean up to make the dialogue clearer…

PORTIA (O.S.)
Joe, wake up Gregie. He's going to work with you.

p. 8: The Greg bedroom scene has its moments, and it seems like Greg’s going to be a key foil to Joe’s well being and future, but again, I think the scene goes on for too long and can be tightened. I’m also a bit confused as to Greg’s desires. First he wants Joe to finance his poker scheme, then he refers to a Nigerian finance minister (suggests a phishing scam), then he offers himself up as a gigolo. It’s a bit much. You have a lot to work with here, including the pad Thai gag, so I’d focus on one of Greg’s schemes and let that play out.

p.13 – 15: I think the scene between Joe and Jesus is funny, but, while Joe may be a patsy, I’m not sure it’s feasible that Jesus would risk losing a big account by ridiculing his client in such an outrageous way. And, similar to earlier scenes, this one plays out too long. I’d end it with Jesus’s line: “They never found Armando or that dolphin, you know?”

Maybe follow this with a quick cut away shot to the scene of the crime as Warren’s mind tries to conjure how a dolphin and a murder come together.
 

Hard Cold Truth, Patrick's Original Draft

0 out of 1 people found the following review helpful:

Interesting premise with lots of potential, but genre, theme and plot need major refocusing

Overall Recommendation:
3 stars
 
Premise:
4 stars
 
Story structure:
3 stars
 
Character:
2 stars
 
Dialogue:
2 stars
 
Emotion:
3 stars
 
December 31, 2011
General/Overview:
The opening series of shots and next page or two were clever and made me chuckle. After that, I was really looking forward to seeing the writer create a world where his “insular,” germaphobic protag was struggling against all odds to develop a cure for the common cold, while trying to develop and maintain social relationships. Unfortunately, that story did not emerge in the subsequent pages.

After the opening two pages, the next nine pages seemed superfluous to the story and do not feel very engaging - lots of talking heads, little action or interesting things to watch or “hear.”

At page 25, I had little sense of what was going on with respect to the contagion cure plot. I really didn’t understand what Chuck and his crew were doing or why they’re doing what they’re doing. There are a lot of obtuse references to Petri dishes, cultures and the like, but nothing specific as to why we should care about what they’re doing or why it’s important. IMO, you need to sharpen the focus, have your characters speak and do things that define their universe. I want to know what specifically they’re working on. Why it’s important? What dangers or risks that it poses, etc. You describe this as a “Drama”, but at this point it feels like an odd mash of sci-fi spoof comedy.

The extensive use of montages and series of shots throughout, make this draft read like an outline of the story rather than a script. The writer needs to reconsider what specific story he wants to tell and coalesce many of the disjointed montages, etc.

I sensed a trend about 15 pages in, that you spend quite a bit of time on describing, in great detail, setting – very prose-like. This is not necessarily all bad in and of itself, but in many places, it comes at the expense of moving the story forward, getting your characters up and doing the essential actions that are directly tied to the plot.

The writer, upon tackling the next draft of this story, should focus like a laser beam on the central theme, as well as the internal and external goal of his protag. Upon rereading the logline…

“An insular scientist’s life completely changes, along with the world he lives in, after years searching for a cure for the common cold and finding it; but like any medication the results may vary.”

… one gets a strong clue that the story lacks focus and a central theme. As it stands now, there’s a myriad of characters that come in and out of Chuck’s life, but other than their banter with Chuck, we get no sense of who they are or why they matter to this story.

At this stage, a detailed page edit of the script is not warranted. As stated previously, I’d like to see the writer first identify his central theme and plot. After that, I suggest a detailed outline of the story, that highlights (and recreates where necessary) interesting characters, situations and events that drive the story forward.

The other suggestion, related to above, is for the writer to decide on the genre. The project page lists this story as a drama, but it comes off as anything but, more a spoofy comedy. Actually, I think the latter is the way to go. I’d like to see our antisocial (and that aspect of him needs much more development) develop a love interest – which would push his internal limits and fears – after all, a loving, sexual relationship requires lots of touching, kissing and fluid exchanges – nightmarish stuff for a germaphobe!

To end on a positive note, the writer has come up with an interesting premise, or at least has scratched the surface to one. But there’s a lot more work to be done, in terms of establishing theme, developing an interesting plot that sticks to one genre and creating characters and dialogue that drives the story forward.

I look forward to the next draft. Best of luck with it!
 

HIT, Chazz's 2nd Draft

1 out of 1 people found the following review helpful:

Die Hard meets A Beautiful Mind

Overall Recommendation:
4 stars
 
Premise:
5 stars
 
Story structure:
3 stars
 
Character:
3 stars
 
Dialogue:
3 stars
 
Emotion:
3 stars
 
December 28, 2011
Overview:

NOTE: This review contains spoilers which reveal key plot twists in the story.

Die Hard meets A Beautiful Mind.

This crime-thriller story follows Rodney, a seasoned assassin and ex-Navy Seal, and his sidekick as they narrowly escape authorities after assassinating a high-profile Senator. The story continues with the assassin falling in love with one of his marks and then mounting a revolt against “The Company” as he tries to escape with his new love. However, we find out near the end that Rodney is suffering from a brain tumor, and that much of what we see through his POV has been a delusion.

The writer must be commended for creating a very interesting twist on the typical crime-thriller by incorporating the hallucinatory elements of A Beautiful Mind (ABM) to set up the main plot twist. But just as ABM was a drama-thriller that lived up to its genre, this script also has the task of living up to the crime-thriller tag, delivering a constant ramping up of the thrill and mystery with each passing scene. Unfortunately, the script in its present form doesn’t achieve this goal. The second act bogs down in idle banter and very little action.

This reviewer looks forward to leaner and meaner later drafts of the script, where the writer amps up the suspense (even if it’s imaginary) and delivers lots more action that takes us on a thrilling adventure. The unique hallucinatory plot element makes this story compelling and one I’d definitely liked to revisit upon revision.

Story/plot/pacing:

I'd kill the opening VO of Rodney. If there was ever a character that you could show and not tell, a hit man would be it. I've also read several scripts with the compassionate hitman/killer opening. I'm afraid helping the old lady cross the street version is crossing the cliché line. I'd find another way to reveal his softer side, AND do it after we see his lethal side. Does he have a love interest (besides the woman he meets later) or a loved one in his past or in the present that he cares about and wants to protect?
After the Senator’s assassination and car chase early on, the story bogs down through the first Act (page 25 or so), chugging through a series of “Part Two” Rodney-Jones scenes where they do a lot of quipping, following and watching. An action-thriller such as this needs each sequence/scene to be a microcosm of the whole – ministories that drive the action and story forward. There’s LOTS of room in the first 25-40 pages of this script to tighten and cut. IMO, too much idle banter for an action script.

Character:

Again, the major plot twist at the end turns the tables quite a bit, but as I stated before, we don’t know this and need to see the main characters struggling with whatever mystery and thrills you’ve created for them. I think you’ve done a decent job of defining Rodney, your main character-hitman, but I think there’s more work to be done to define his goals and develop his arc. John Nash had a complex set of goals and arcs; to overcome his nerdiness and get the girl; to gain notoriety by helping secret agents in defeating the Russians; and finally overcome his psychosis and save his marriage and career.

Although Rodney’s sidekick turns out to be a hallucination and a person from Rodney’s tragic past, we still need to know more about him so that we can relate to him and understand why he’s paired with Rodney. He needs to become much more integral to the story’s plot earlier on.

Dialogue:

The writer cleverly uses dialogue in places to reveal exposition and important plot elements. However, there is an abundance of OTN and repetitive dialogue that can be cut.

To close, I enjoyed and found entertaining the writer’s attempt at slowly revealing Rodney’s hallucinatory world, it definitely harkened to ABM, which I loved. With some tightening and cutting, this script can really shine and take us on a really suspenseful story with a surprising and satisfying ending.
 

Highclimber, Rocky's Original Draft

1 out of 1 people found the following review helpful:

A Good First Step in a High Climb to the Apex

Overall Recommendation:
4 stars
 
Premise:
4 stars
 
Story structure:
3 stars
 
Character:
3 stars
 
Dialogue:
3 stars
 
Emotion:
3 stars
 
September 01, 2011
Thanks again for the opportunity to read your script.

Two estranged brothers reconcile and head West to start a new life in the lucrative, but dangerous timber industry.

This is a good first draft that’s easy to read and absent of any glaring formatting or story structure problems.

Page-by-page:

P. 2 – Watch the dangling participles. For example: “On the ground, he twists the can, throws it back down, stomps it with his heel until it squawks open.”

At first, this reads as though Pete is on the ground. In the previous sentence /paragraph you stated that Pete throws the can to the ground. Therefore, I’m wondering if you meant that he somehow twists the yeast can while it lies on the ground. If so, how can he throw it back down. More on dangling participles later...

Probably a minor thing, but I’ve rarely seen slugline locations that include specific city/state names. In this case, “EXT. DUNNING, IOWA MAIN STREET – DAY,” might be better as

EXT. MAIN STREET

SUPER: DUNNING, IOWA

The punctuation in this sentence seems wrong:
“She appears, arms dropped still, holding a fan in each hand.” What does “arms dropped still” mean?

P. 7: “PETE
I told you to sell, and you wouldn’t do it!”

Pete’s dialogue here, to his brother, is OTN. I understand it helps us know where the conflict lies between these two, but I think you can reveal this another not so OTN way. Perhaps have Zurcher break up the fight and yell something like, “You two still fightin’ over your Pop’s farm?” Same goes for John’s retorts during the fight/argument.

I don’t understand this statement by John to Pete: “…You might want ‘your half.’ So long.”

I dunno, I found the cow bits a little distracting and not worth the payoff.

P. 9: Nice scene between the two brothers. It clearly establishes who’s the risk taker and who’s the reticent, careful one of the two.

P.11: “JOHN
We’d do this with all our lumberjackin’ experience[?]” Pretty sure John’s sarcastically asking a question of Pete

P. 12: ” Pete stops John, backing up.” You have quite a few of these misplaced participles, i.e. “-ings,” scattered throughout the script, many of them bordering on being dangling participles. Aside the grammatical consideration, the sentences feel awkward and slow the read. The above is better written as, “Pete stops John, then backs up.” Do a search for “ing” in your script and try to replace most of those participles with direct action, i.e. “holding” becomes “holds.”

P. 13: “EXT. MARTIN BACK YARD - NIGHT
JOHN
(hushed)
You gotta get outta here tomorrow. ‘Ol Betsy’ll squawk for sure.
PETE
Yeah. Come with me. Now’s the time. This place is witherin’ up.”

A bit unusual, and slightly confusing, to use dialogue directly after a slugline. Sometimes this is done with VO or OS, but in this case, we don’t know who John’s talking to at first and where Pete is in relation to John. Are they yelling to each other across the yard? Is Pete hiding behind a building? Are they strolling through the yard together?

P. 14: I like using minislugs, but this one…
“IN THE BEDROOM
Nora leans forward, Sarah watches.
NORA
Six months? What about Chicago?”
… comes right after an exterior scene in the backyard. When I first read it, I thought we were seeing the bedroom through Pete’s POV from the backyard. I think you need a full slugline to establish that the next scene is back inside, in the bedroom.

P. 17: I wasn’t going to bring this up, because I thought Pete’s character would eventually “gel’ soon, allowing me to get a good sense of who he is. But the scene here where he’s humming a tune, almost giddy, confuses me as to who Pete really is. He seems to go from a brooding, violent guy who smashes a guy’s face in without provocation, to a sorrowful, apologetic brother, to giddy, light-hearted free spirit. It’s almost schizophrenic. I think you need to stay consistent with Pete and let him change/arc as the story unfolds.

P. 21: “We hear Ed’s footsteps” Do you mean “Ted’s?”

P. 24: “He surveys the group. TWO FAT GUYS, a YOUNG BOY and A FEW
PIPSQUEEKS [await] their fates.”

P. 26: Your personal knowledge of the timber trade really shines through here. The dialogue and action lines feel authentic. I could really feel the imminent danger in the mill as these guys set to work.

P. 37: While the timbering action is compelling and well written, I’m not sure 10 pages/mins of it will work on screen or for the critical reader.

p. 50: Without being introduced or described, CARD SHARK has dialogue. Let us know a little about what he looks like, at least.

P. 60: Compelling dam/drowning scene. I do think it would’ve been a nice dramatic touch to show Donny being placed in a ready made coffin, just like Williams, to emphasize that these guys are merely cogs in the in a dangerous machine.

p. 68; “The women exchange words, incoherent.” Incoherent to whom? To each other or to Pete? Do you mean inaudible to Pete? Are they whispering?

P. 70: I’m going to reiterate some useful notes that I got for the first couple of drafts of my western script, which is that your main character, Pete, is getting overshadowed by the supporting characters, many of whom are very colorful and dynamic. Pete does outsmart his card opponents, but it seems to come out of the blue. I’d like to see more of this cunning in Pete’s encounters with others. Right now, he seems somewhat passive, even a loser in just about every other situation besides card playing. Butch Cassidy was a distinct and likeable character because even though he was a thief and con artist, he had a good heart, didn’t take himself or anyone else too seriously. Yes he was fleeing his pursuers, but he also was the one driving the action, albeit in a direction that led to more problems for him and Sundance. With Pete, I don’t get a sense that he’s in control, that he has the charisma to stand above his supporting cast.

P. 72: I apologize if I missed this, but who’s “Bapi?” I went back a few pages and couldn’t find an introduction or dialogue referring to this person.

P. 76: I’m not sure of the rather frequent use of the “re.” parenthetical throughout the script. It’s a bit unconventional based on the scripts I’ve read. I think most times we get what the character is referring to without the prompt.

… to the end

I think the third act works pretty well, with John and Pete (until he dies) struggling to reclaim their land from ruthless squatters and thugs. The action would make for very compelling visuals on screen. Oddly, though, and as indicated earlier, I thought Pete was the main character. Although Pete gets a bit lost in the shuffle in Act 2, John is even more reactive and sometimes fades into the background for large chunks in the story.

Dialogue:
A few OTN areas, but overall I thought the dialogue was authentic. I suppose it could be argued that many of the characters (and there were several) sounded the same, each having that slight western twang. It may be advisable to either cut some of the characters, or impart some unique dialect to help distinguish them.


Formatting, etc:
Other than the overuse of mini-sluglines, nothing really glaring stands out.

Story, premise, plot:
I like the story’s plot and I think the writer does a good job of adhering to the three act structure. It’s an especially brave act to leave one’s family and risk everything to begin a new life by pursuing a danger-ridden venture in an unknown land. The writer’s personal experience in the timber industry really shines through and makes the story pop, particularly during the action scenes involving gigantic pieces of timber and scary machines!

My main criticism is that the two protagonists, the two brothers, often get overshadowed by the supporting cast and seem too reactive and passive throughout. Yes, they fight to rescue themselves from several harrowing situations, but these situations are often the initiative of bad guys and have our heroes simply reacting to escape. I’d like to see the brothers be a bit more cunning and proactive (outside of Pete’s card playing). Even if their actions result in them getting deeper into trouble, at least we can cheer them as they ride the rollercoaster.

The writer may also wish to consider adding another twist or two to the story. The Juliet twist is a good one, but other than that, the storyline is arrow straight and somewhat predictable. Maybe John or Pete gets lured into double crossing each other for the promise of a big payoff. This harkens back to the original conflict and reignites their earlier mistrust of each other which then led to their estrangement. When the scam unravels, the two end up nearly killing each other, before coming together one last time.

I wish you all the best with this project!
 

Finding Hope, George's Original Draft

2 out of 2 people found the following review helpful:

Lots of Promise. A funny, sometimes touching road trip story with a likeable, albeit unlucky, protagonist.

Overall Recommendation:
4 stars
 
Premise:
3 stars
 
Story structure:
3 stars
 
Character:
4 stars
 
Dialogue:
4 stars
 
Emotion:
3 stars
 
August 09, 2011
I truly wasn’t looking to do a review, just checking out the new and notable competition when I stumbled upon Finding Hope and thought, a romantic comedy road trip, cool, a refreshing break from all the supernatural-evil-taking-over-the-world scripts.

I love the title, though “Hope Revisited” also came to mind.

My reviews usually start with a detailed copy edit of sorts, but I just have to say upfront that I loved the tone right off the bat. Yes, there are some typos, some OTN dialogue, a few set ups and cheats that don’t work and places where I wanted to see more tension and conflict, but stepping back, this story (so far) is funny. It feels real, even touching at times. I’ve connected with Warren and his dilemma.

P. 2 – “A number of students [are gathered around] a board. The [results are posted].” One example among several where you could use a more active voice to impart more action. “A crowd of students gather around the board, searching for their test results.”

“A joyful SCREAM is heard. Warren turns around. Hope jumps
in excitement.

YOUNG HOPE
Oh, my God, oh, my God, oh, my
God!”

Here again, I think it would be much more effective if you start with Hope’s “Oh my God…” dialogue O.S. and then have Warren whip around and see Hope jumping with excitement.

P. 5 – I love Hope’s “kidnapping” of Warren and the rollercoaster scene that follows, though (and I’m not proud of this) there was the thought that Hope was going to give Warren something extra special while riding the coaster!

P. 6 – Warren’s dialogue…

“YOUNG WARREN
Why are you bringing this up all
of a sudden?”

…is clumsy here. I think it would be more effective to strike it and cut right to Hope setting up the deal.

P. Not sure about the parenthetical “ironically” in Warren’s dialogue. What’s ironic about it? Do you mean “sarcastically?”
P. 8 – I wanted to know more about the funny face/gesture that Warren makes. Does it reveal something about Hope?

P. 10 – I thought you wrote the graduation/Hope goodbye seen wonderfully, nicely setting up the pendant motif for later.

“Warren wakes up with a jolt in his boxers, not a single part of his body covered by sheets.” At first read, I thought by “jolt” you were referring to morning “wood,” but then realized the predicate-clause was just mixed up – albeit in a funny kind of way.

I kinda like that he’s waking with “wood,” perhaps sexually frustrated.

If not, then: “Wearing only boxers, Warren wakes with a jolt, not a single part…”

Warren’s dialogue upon his fall out of bed, “That’s gotta hurt.” is kinda odd. Maybe, “That’s gonna hurt.”

P. 11 – Is there a reason why Warren wants the SUV? Preston’s response to his request is a bit OTN. Maybe just, “Are you nuts? That piece of shit? I wouldn’t be caught dead…” That said, I like this scene, though I could just smack that bitch!

P. 12 – “Warren
(under his breath)
My self-esteem is already in the
toilet.”

Too OTN for Warren. Give him something to say that’ll make us proud of him, but that he must conceal when Preston asks him what he said.

P. 13-14 – Love the dialogue between Derek and Warren here. A good example of how exposition and character can be subtly and effectively revealed through dialogue.

P. 15 – When Warren “looks up,” what does he see? It seems like Warren should be prompted to leave early. Maybe Warren (ever the optimist) sees a photo on his desk of him and Preston during a happier time and heads out determined to surprise her and rekindle what they once had, only to catch Preston and Mady at his home. Preston’s a bitch, but she’s not stupid.

Man, that Pomeranian in a diaper gag made me… LOL!

P. 16 – Trevor’s quip, “Did you ever notice how she stared at your mother? God rest her soul.”

Didn’t work for me. I just can’t see Preston ogling an old matriarch like Warren’s mom. Maybe his sister?
P. 17 – Please describe these paper mache figures in a bit more detail. I just gotta know! Are they sexy woman, parade clowns, etc? Should reveal something quirky about Trevor.

P. 19 – I felt like you missed an opportunity to really ramp up the tension between Preston and Warren with Preston’s last line of dialogue. She should say something that really cuts deep, severs any chance of them resolving things.

Oh man, I really wanted Warren to take the SUV, particularly given my note above. Let him (and us) have a momentary victory.

P. 23 – “…blow[s] the candle…”

P. 23-25 – What can I say. Great stuff, beautiful writing!

P. 25 – The set up right before the tow away gag doesn’t seem right. Perhaps the policemen simply glares at Warren after Warren pleads and promises to take care of everything.

P. 30 -34 – Wonderful job of throwing real, story-pertinent obstacles in Warren’s path. The sight of Warren’s motel bed moved into the middle of the room for him to escape the noisy sexcapades nextdoor??? Very funny!

P. 38 – “Warren is abstracted by his thoughts.” ???? Do you mean “distracted?”

P. 39 – Warren’s dialogue should be “Do you know how [I can] get in touch with her?”

p. 41 – “… gr[a]vel parking lot.”

P. 43- “I[‘m] going to need you to wait outside, please.”

P. 45 – I scanned a few pages back and forth and did not see an introduction for the Arthur character. If I missed him, I apologize. If not, then we need a proper intro, all caps. I get a sense he’s a resident in the nursing home, given his restricted diet. Beef jerky as payment. Funny!

P. 48 – I just have to say that you have mastered the technique of ending one scene and beginning the next and connecting the two with humor, sight gags. In this case, Arthur eating his beef jerky.

P. 49 – Maybe have the map really disappear over the edge of a mountain, given that he’s in… oops, I thought it was Chattanooga, TN. Texas?

You use the word “unsuccessfully” in a stand alone sentence in a couple of instances. I don’t think it works. The actions of your characters will tell us whether they’re successful or not.

At the half-way point, I have a hunch that pacing may be an issue. The up and down, serious-silly rollercoaster is fun at first, but perhaps it’s getting a bit predictable (though IMO, still funny) at this point. Perhaps the writer needs to throw in a few more interesting “loops,” a twist or two that throws the hills and valleys rhythm off a bit. Another thing, the movie is quite linear, everything happens in sequence. Mixing things up a bit, putting a few scenes out of sequence to keep the audience on its toes, may also work. Now that I think about it, why not show or at least partially reveal Warren’s goal, present day Hope. Maybe as Warren struggles on his journey to get closer, we see Hope moving farther away, perhaps literally as she contemplates a career change, etc. Perhaps she is also experiencing frustrating obstacles that keep her from getting to where she wants to be, obstacles that eventually lead to her reuniting with Warren.

This movie will likely never be Oscar material, but so what. If it’s ramped up a bit, perhaps even infused with a tad more raunchiness, this could be a helluva lot of fun!

P. 53 – “PHOENIX (CONT’D)
Here’s your key. If you need
anything, just ask for me.
Name’s Phoenix. I know what you
must be thinking. Phoenix in
Alabama! I get that all the time
--!
WARREN
Good for you. See you in the
morning.”

Compared to the rest of the dialogue, I found this exchange to be a bit stiff, particularly Warren’s reply. I’d like to see him react like he’s pretending to comprehend what this guy is saying. Maybe that’s what you were going for, but I think it could be better.

P. 60 – I’d let that cigarette gag with Bernie play for a few more beats, let the tension really amp up. It ends with a rather bland line from Bernie. Maybe he flicks it and something really does go boom or at least catch fire, forcing Bernie to nonchalantly put it out with a fire extinguisher. Good stuff, though – just needs to be dialed up a smidge, something that could be applied throughout the script.

P. 61 – I think Warren’s phone conversation is a bit wimpy. He needs to grow “a pair” let him go off on Charlie. The guy’s been all over hell, on Charlie’s suggestion, so he should be indignant – again here’s a chance to really amp up the tension, and oddly enough demonstrate how much these guys really care about each other. In fact, I think the anger should be reversed. Warren should be going off on Charlie, with Charlie defending himself.

P. 62 – It’s not clear whether W is calling from the phone in the booth or his cell phone.

P. 63 - I’d let the conversation between W and Hope #2 go on for a tad more, or at least set it up so the payoff, Hope #2’s anger, seems appropriate. As it stands, she spews anger and calls him a sick bastard simply for saying “Sorry, wrong number.” Doesn’t seem to fit.

“WARREN
This is going to be a long
search.”

Way too OTN, and not needed. W’s actions say it all.

Naw, I just don’t think Hope #3, a transvestite, would reply that way. Here’s a chance to describe him/her in some more raunchy detail. Maybe she comes onto him or at least replies in a deep, baritone voice. I dunno, but this relates to what I stated before about ramping up these vignettes.

P. 66 – I’m starting to think you may have overdone it with the “false” Hopes. Six feels like too many. It’s that predictable rollercoaster ride again. Maybe a simple fix is that one of them (probably #5) really is going to be the right Hope, we’re cheering for W to finally get there, but at the last moment, POOF, no dice!

P. 67 – “WARREN (CONT’D)
And I know it’s not really my
place, but you may want to see
someone, like a professional.
(thinks it over)
Not to murder your husband! A
professional therapist... for
you. To help you. Just a
suggestion.

HOPE #5
GET OUTTA HERE!”

Man, I sound like a broken record, but I think you just missed it here with W’s dialogue and Hope 5’s reply. After he suggests she see someone, she could blurt out, “Whatta you mean?” He then hesitates, suggests therapy/anger management. But for that to work, Hope #5 needs to show a gun, or do something outrageous to show her anger, like throw a plate through the picture window…

P. 69 – Well there ya’ go. Hope #6 is your money scene. Very funny stuff! I’d cut at least 1-2 of the other Hope’s, ramp up the remaining ones, and let this last one really take off. That’s the key, really. This is a road trip where Warren must overcome a bunch of obstacles, but each scene must be a microcosm of the whole. You need to make the audience sweat it out more in each of these vignettes. Don’t overindulge, though – it needs to be just right.

P. 70 – I’m not clear why Martha would suddenly invite Warren (a stranger?) into her home. Am I missing something? Did they meet previously? If not, this seems implausible. You need something that gives Martha a reason to let this stranger in her home.

P. 70 – “Seated at the table, Warren dreamily observes Mae, drawing a picture across from him.”

A dangling modifier – I suspect Mae should be drawing the picture, but as it reads, you have Warren drawing it. Better? “Leaning back in his chair, Warren gazes across the table, observes Mae drawing a picture.”

P. 73- I think you went one to many times to the well with the mechanical breakdown option.

P. 75 – “Hope grabs t[w]o cups from a cupboard and prepares the coffee.”

P. 76 – Warren should start to confess, THEN the kettle interrupts him.

Hope states “I just wanted to see you…” in two consecutive dialogue lines. Seems unnatural.

P. 77 – Sorry, but I can’t see Hope being clueless enough to not see the 600 lb gorilla in the room; a married woman with a child inviting her former college male friend to stay with her without her husband’s consent? This would work better if she gives him some hotels/motel leads, but let’s say they’re all booked due to some big convention in town. Now he has nowhere to stay, so she calls the husband and he reluctantly agrees to let Warren stay with them. Maybe Warren’s left his clothing, etc behind in his old car, so he has nothing?

Would she really go out to a restaurant for dinner with a man who was not her husband – especially after she admonishes W to “keep it down. This is Port Isabela.” One takes from that that the town is a bit prudish, gossipy. Why not have her cook him dinner at home. Maybe they’re dining outside, so that when he blurts out his wife’s affair, there’s a possibility that the neighbors could here him. Plus, having her cook a tasty meal increases her appeal.

P. 79 – Oh please let Hope do a spit gag/choke after W tells her about his fiancée! It’s so Hollywood, but man, if it’s not appropriate here, then I don’t know when it would be.

p. 81 – “… str[u]ggles to swallow.”

P. 84 – I think it may be worth it to have Hope indicate that Doyle hates flea markets – a way to suggest that she and her husband aren’t as close as one might think. This would up the dramatic tension for us and W.

P. 91 – “HOPE (CONT’D)
I want you to go. Tomorrow.” Not only is this line not necessary, but it ruins the dramatic tension for the pages to come. The scene should end with the awkward romantic interlude, Hope pulling back and warning, “I’m married, you’re engaged.” (she shouldn’t utter “You shouldn’t be here).

P. 99 – Ah, I’m sure you’ve gotten this one before, but I really think you needed the HW ending here. I know you may rile against it, but you owe your audience who’s been on this rollercoaster of a ride with Warren. It doesn’t necessarily have to be Hope standing on W’s doorstep. Perhaps the movie ends with Hope dropping of her kid, catching a plane and landing in Warren’s town. Now we’re left guessing what will happen next. It’d probably have to be a bit more subtle than that. I dunno, maybe the ticket agent asks her “Will that be roundtrip?

Overview

Obviously, having taken the time to do a six page review, I really connected with this story. It was a pleasure to read. Yes, it’s been done a lot, but your wit and voice really do come through and make it fresh. As I stated throughout, the pacing is too predictable and monotonous in parts, the story a bit too linear and the obstacles and tension need to be amped up in several scenes, but this story has heart and it’s funny. It’s about real people going through what many of us have experienced or at least can relate to; a love not fulfilled and the doubts and regrets associated with it.

Congratulations. I hope you continue to work on this script. All the best with it.
 

Brigands of Ismbard, Michal's Original Draft

0 out of 0 people found the following review helpful:

Lots of characters and action, but needs refocusing on hero and cutting exposition-heavy dialogue

Overall Recommendation:
3 stars
 
Premise:
3 stars
 
Story structure:
2 stars
 
Character:
2 stars
 
Dialogue:
2 stars
 
Emotion:
2 stars
 
August 01, 2011
Thanks again for the opportunity to read your script.

Page-by-page:

P. 1: A bit nitpicky, because I’ve read some great scripts that ignore this here and there, but I tend to prefer a more active, vibrant voice. Instead of:

“The city is mainly towering apartments, with all manner of bridges, …”

…which reads more like prose, Why not something more active, vibrant? Don’t shy away from well-placed adjectives when you’re trying to build your world. Maybe:

“A contorted maze of bridges, boardwalks and streets span the yawning gap between gray, monolithic apartments.”

“A polished-brass pocket [SNAPS] shut.” Instead of “… is SNAPPED shut.”

Edit: As is turns out, you use the less active, “(noun)… is (verb)ing,” clause extensively throughout the script.

P.2: “Through a pair of dirty binoculars we see a steam gondola
PUFFING quietly through the city, weaving a path in between
the skyscrapers. [paragraph break]

SALK, a bandit in his early-thirties, grim and grimy, quickly flashes a light, signaling to the rest of the crew.”

A scene description mixed with character action in this single paragraph. Better to break up the four lines – more white space, too.

I know we get to stretch grammatical rules as screenwriters to spice things up, but this (bracketed) detracts from the read…

“… who is hidden [up above] their heads in the crevices that dot the building’s façade, [gondola cables stretching below him.”]

This is another example of how you could use more active voice to enhance the feel of the scene. Perhaps:

“As soon as they spot Salk’s signal they relay it to

THE HIGHWAYMAN

The gang’s leader (some physical description would be nice here), hides above the crew in one of the crevices dotting the building’s façade. Below, a gondola cable stretching below him.”

Stepping back. I’ve reread this sequence (above) 3x, but it is still a bit disorienting and confusing. What is a “steam gondola?” I think you need to create a better visual of the gondolas early so that the reader can better appreciate the action surrounding them later. Must they be called “gondolas?” Every time I read that word, I think of one of those skinny boats manned by a Venetian dressed in pantaloons. Can you create a unique, name for these vessels?

I’m not sure where the Highwayman is hiding or where his position is. How is Salk weaving a path through the skyscrapers? Is he swinging, flying, jumping?

“The room bursts into a flurry of activity as the crew
busies themselves with levers and gauges, steam pouring
silently into the night.”

What room? The buggy? BTW, the same earlier comments about the nature of the gondolas can be applied to the buggies.

I think you need to revise the gondola heist sequence. It’s obviously a critical opening to the story, but it took nearly 10 pages to complete and lost steam about half way through. It needs to be shortened significantly, so that it leads the reader more clearly, easily and efficiently through the opening pages, builds to a dramatic crescendo.

P. 12: Leon’s described as “a fresh-faced young man,” and it’s stated later that Oliver “is close to Leon’s age…,” but this reveals little as to whether these guys are young adolescents or twenty-somethings. Moreover, we do not know the relationships between these two. Oliver is close in age to Leon, yet he speaks to Leon as an older superior.

P. 13: Oliver has a OS dialogue, but he isn’t introduced until the next action description, which leaves the reader wondering, “who is Oliver?”

P. 14: “OLIVER (CON’T)
He’s quite hopeless sometimes, your
father.

Leon laughs – he is not one to stay glum for long.

LEON
Yes, when he’s like this I think
mother is more impatient with him
than me.”

Leon’s dialogue feels somewhat stiff, OTN.

“ISAAC (CON’T)
Poor fellow was killed in his own
home. I don’t know what’s going on in
the Uppercity nowadays. I hear the
people in the lower districts are
taking to the streets, protesting
SteamTech.
(BEAT)
They just don’t understand the price
of power.”

It’s not clear who Isaac is claiming doesn’t understand the price of power? The people? Steamtech?

P. 14-16: The dinner time scene is quite static. More importantly, it’s two pages of OTN, dialogue heavy with exposition. You should find a better, more dynamic way of revealing this exposition. At the very least, the characters should be doing something other than sitting and chatting, i.e. playing tennis, painting, fleeing a pursuer, etc. while speaking to each other.

P. 19-22: Nice job of capturing the tension and heightened action of Swift et al breaking into Leon’s “Room” (bedroom? Office?).

I’m going to suggest something a bit radical here, but you may wish to consider beginning the script with the Swift break in (p. 19) and cutting everything beforehand. The city description, the Brunel dinner exposition, etc can come after we’re hooked with the heist. Doing so, also quickly establishes Leon and his talent as an important focal point to the story.

P. 26: Not a big deal here, but I thought I’d pass along an effective tip I got from a respected writer. End your scenes earlier. One way to do this is to avoid mundane character actions that can be implied with the next scene. For example:

“EXT. ARMORED PADDYWAGON – LATER
Watkin industries’ head of security, WELLS, throws open the
back doors to the armored paddywagon. Swift, handcuffed and
stunned - but still conscious - is thrown into the back by
his captors. They shut the doors and drive off.”

“They shut the doors and drive off” can be cut because in the next scene we see Swift and Leon in the back of the wagon. Same goes for when you characters “exit the room and close the doors, etc.” From an audience’s perspective, this is more intriguing. That said, if there was something about how the wagon escaped from the scene, i.e. crashed through a security wall, etc, then keeping the transition may be warranted.

P. 27-29: More characters sitting around (albeit in a buggy) throwing out exposition-heavy dialogue at each other. Again, try to imagine yourself as an audience member watching this (nearly three minutes worth). Moreover, we kind of already know Leon’s and Swift’s situation. They know each others position, and Wells is aware as well, so why do they need to tell each other what they already know, for our benefit?

P. 29: You refer to the “thugs,” but it’s difficult to discern who they are. If they’re Leon and Swift, then why not just identify them as such? No need for keeping this secret, it’s pretty obvious that paddy (I’m still getting used to all these British terms for vehicles) is the same one that carried our two prisoners.

P. 30-31: Seems like I was wrong about the thugs; Leon and Swift are now battling them. But this highlights the need to better identify earlier who the thugs are. Are they Wells’ security guards? At this point, it is not clear why Leon and Swift are taking such a risk to break into a heavily fortified compound.

I don’t know, maybe I’ve missed something, but Leon came off earlier as somewhat of a bookworm, proper speaking gentleman, but all of a sudden in this mansion battle, he becomes a hardened, mercenary. Later (p. 42) he explains to Swift how he became so adept, but it’s not convincing.

I’m going to pause here and revisit something that I’ve noted in the last three suspense, action-oriented scripts I’ve reviewed here. It seems as though our characters are racing from one action scene to the next, fighting thugs, escaping their captors. The writers’ talents really shine in such scenes, but because little has been done to develop the characters’ motivations, fears, their humanity, it is difficult to connect with the character’s plight.

P. 41: ??? “EXT. MIDDLECITY STREETS – NIGHT
Swift and Leon walk down a tight alleyway. They pass a
small, dingy bar: THE HIGHWAYMAN. Leon, surprised, slows
down to look, but Swift urges him forward.”

I’m not sure it’s advisable to have the bar and a character with the same name, unless the character owns the bar.

P. 46-49; 60-66: More sitting, talking, exposition interspersed with battles…

P. 63: Nila: “They won’t use it.” Or “They want to use it”?

P. 70: “Swift lifts his rifle over the banister and FIRES off two
shots at the agents carrying Leon.

One agent goes down, the other is hit, but manages to pull
Leon into the paddy and jump in. The doors SLAM and the
paddies start to pull away.”

Despite Swift’s expertise and bravado, this just seems very implausible (Swift taking the risk of shooting Leon’s captors while they’re carrying the boy).

P. 77: “Iris is very beautiful, intelligent,”
This seems an odd place to inject Iris’ physical description given that we were introduced to her some time ago.

P. 86-87:
“LEON
No need for the guard if I’m tied up.
Dorian takes off his hat and pours himself a drink.

DORIAN
Well, while that is true-
(turns to face Leon,
hardens)
-last we met I had you dragged from a
flat.”

I don’t get Dorian’s response to Leon’s query.

P. 99: “WATKIN
(leans in)
The bullets will either hit you or
they won’t.”

Well, you certainly can’t argue with that logic!

OVERVIEW

Dialogue:

As I indicated above, the story bogs down with many instances of static scenes where characters are delivering long, exposition dialogue to one another. The script pushes 124 pages and could be trimmed and tightened extensively by cutting much of this dialogue. The challenge, as always, is to reveal key plot points in an interesting, dynamic manner. Have faith in your audience’s ability put the puzzle pieces together without spoonfeeding them. Ironically, all the exposition destroys the suspense and thrill of the story.

Story, premise, plot:

The premise as stated in the logline sounded promising; a classic tale of the downtroddern, forgotten loner resurrecting himself by saving humanity.

Unfortunately, the story in its current form fails to identify and elevate our hero. We have Swift, Leon, Nila and Iris in an ongoing battle against Dorion on one side and Watkin on the other. In the end, not one of these characters stands out enough to give justice to the logline.

My suggestion would be to strip this story to its bare bones – a selfish corporation run by a ruthless dictatorial sociopath who must be brought down in order to save humanity. The villain needs to be clearly identified (Dorian, Watkin?) from the get go (get rid of all others) and his evil ramped up by 1000 percent. Likewise with the heroes. I found Leon and the two women to be a distraction. It’s okay for them to be present, but I think Swift is your man. We need to know a ton more about him (through action, not dialogue), what makes him tick. What are his weakness (for the villain to exploit)? He needs to start out way down in the gutter (literally!) so that he has an arc that we can emotionally connect to. What internal goal has Swift achieved in the end?

Related to this, is the aforementioned note on characters being moved around the story just to jump into action-heavy battle scenes. Added to that, some of these battles go on for 7 pages or more. Significant balancing is needed between character development, dialogue and action.

I found it interesting how you had a triumphant going after the protoype technology, but the same notes above apply to the third party (Watkin). In the end, however, it wasn’t clear to me why this prototype was so important. It was implied that it was important, but I’m not sure the payoff matched the build up.

Perhaps it would be interesting to establish the “prototype” as a McGuffin within the story? Yes, its recovery/delivery is important to the main plot and as a primary physical goal of Swift et al, but what larger interpersonal/societal outcomes are realized as a result of Swift’s actions. IMO, this would give the story much more depth and emotional impact. For this to develop, we would need to know more about Swift’s shortcomings, weaknesses, etc – per above.

I wish you all the best with this project!
 

Favorite Movies

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Life is Beautiful
The Godfather
JAWS
Thelma and Louise
Reservoir Dogs
Airplane
Unforgiven
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
No Country for Old Men
Toy Story
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