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Reviews Peter Has Written

The Temple, Alex's Original Draft

1 out of 1 people found the following review helpful:

Strong Concept weakened by underdeveloped characters

Overall Recommendation:
3 stars
5 stars
Story structure:
3 stars
1 stars
2 stars
2 stars
October 18, 2011
The Temple,

Note to Alex. In re-reading my comments I realize that my tone could easily be misinterpreted as being overly harsh or didactic. For that I apologize. It was not my intention to malign your screenplay. The Temple has huge potential as evidenced by its status here on Amazon.

Overall: The Temple is generally a fun read, written with a strong visual style and reminiscent of many post-modern action/thriller, sci-fi classics most notably Predator, Aliens and war/adventure flicks such as The Expendables and Three Kings (which notably strives for a moral center in an essentially amoral conflict). The concept alone – mercenaries operating in Afghanistan pursue an infamous terrorist into an ancient temple possessed by evil supernatural power – is pure fucking gold.

However, the high concept potential of The Temple is weakened by underdeveloped characters, which are (intentionally or not) reduced to caricatures. Underdeveloped characters in turn reveal an absence of dramatic conflict that hampers the entire execution – so much so – that this reader steadily lost interest as the script went on. There is, essentially, no core story.

There is a tone of post-modern humor revealed in the writing that gives the reader a clue (again intentional or not) that this entire endeavor is not to be taken seriously. The description of Commander Michael Burton, the logical protagonist, illustrates this tone well: … he looks like a comic book hero. A leader of men.

I read this and smiled and thought: Cool. I’m in the hands of a writer who understands willful irony and deftly reveals tone through writing that appears to be joyfully poking fun at genre.

The only problem is that we have a protagonist who may be described as a leader but certainly never really acts like one and that brings me to my next point.

As F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote:

Action is character.

Characters, especially in cinema, are defined by what they do. That is, it’s what characters do that reveal who they are and gives them resonant meaning. And for the most part, the main characters lack resonant meaning because they don’t do anything outside the cookie-cutter roles that they play.

The characters in the Temple don’t seem value their own lives or appear to care about anything. They lack an apparent backstory that would give them something to care about so consequently, it was difficult for this reader to care about them either.

There is no conflict between the principal players – no questioning of events – nothing that suitably humanizes them – nothing that therefore allows the reader (or audience) to connect to the story in any meaningful way. In that sense, the Temple reminded me of a script for a video game.

There is no easy fix for character issues in a screenplay other than to do the hard work of character development. I’d start by writing character biographies and put those details into motion. Focus at first on your three main characters, as they are the characters that drive the plot. Watch Aliens again and consider how memorable Ripley is. She is a character who makes choices that drive the plot.

Keep in mind that The Temple is the kind of high-concept script that, if purchased, will be re-written by Hollywood character pros who know exactly how to create memorable characters. Some writers write characters. Some write plot. Few do both well.

Commander Burton

Commander Michael Burton is your protagonist (clearly as written, the story would NOT occur without his desire to capture or kill the terrorist leader Hassan Bashathiti) and is the leader of this merc unit. His leadership role is lost in this draft. Characters are defined by the choices they make so give him some. Make him have to consider hard options that may very well put his life and the lives of his men in danger. Make him think. Make him sweat. Make him bleed.

Now, here is where the backstory comes into play. If this were my script, I’d deepen the connection between Bashathiti and Burton. Perhaps Bashathiti wiped out Burton’s men in a prior unit giving Burton a burning desire for revenge that clouds his judgment and risks his men. At the very least this would give Burton more motivation to pursue his target – vague promises of money is just not enough. Make Burton’s goals personal and you make him a more compelling character.

Hassan Bashathiti

As of now, he’s a completely underutilized villain. His character should ideally be the most complex and compelling. He could embody the complexities of a war that many Americans (including soldiers on the ground) find baffling like Kurtz in Apocalypse Now.

No matter what, give him a history and a belief system. Make him a fucking legend. Perhaps he’s a ruthless genius fighting for his homeland. I’d even consider opening the script with him doing what he does best – killing infidels – and like I mentioned above, it would help if he had a backstory that linked him dramatically to Burton.

Consider the idea that both Burton and Bashathiti are consumed by hatred and that hatred drives them toward each other (and oblivion) and thus drives the plot toward The Temple.

Megan Keener

Okay here we have another underutilized gem. Megan Keener needs to be stronger. Right now she just sort of ambles along with a group of mercs and really acts like nothing is happening despite the terror of the events going on around her. Maybe she’s a die-hard liberal that abhors war? Maybe she hates men? Maybe she loves the Afghan people? Whatever you decide, she needs to come into direct conflict with Burton and that conflict will help make the story shine. Currently she seems like a device to provide the men information. She needs to be more...

The Mercs

Okay, so we have a team of mercenaries, (I assume they are because that idea is alluded to but never fully explained) who are combat veterans and highly-skilled (why else would they be in the team?) perhaps on the level of Rangers or Delta Force, who are now functioning apparently out of self interest.

All of the secondary characters need to be individuated and defined. Bring them to life by forcing them to make choices that reveal who they are. If they’re mercenaries then make them act like mercs. Most mercs are in it for the MONEY. Why should they risk their lives going into some crazy temple when they don’t know clearly what the reward is?

They love their Commander but how long will that last when they realize they’re on a suicide mission. This dawning realization should give them plenty of choices to make…

I understand your concept that the Temple is drawing them in, but that seemed more like a device to execute the plot than anything else…

I could go on about all the other story elements in The Temple. But in this case the character issues are the most salient problem.

Good work and congrats on placing in Amazon! Don’t be afraid to take the script to the next level.

Pack Behavior, Michael Ezell's Original Draft

1 out of 3 people found the following review helpful:

Pack Behavior needs more pack behavior...

Overall Recommendation:
3 stars
4 stars
Story structure:
2 stars
2 stars
2 stars
1 stars
September 11, 2011
Pack Behavior
by Michael Ezell


Pack Behavior is an interesting cross-genre concept with a distinctive, flawed female protagonist with a potentially compelling arc. The forward progression of the story is hampered overall by a lack of conviction and depth. The post-modern, disaffected tone (as demonstrated by self-consciously ironic dialogue) and an underdeveloped milieu resulted in this reader disconnecting from the material. The main characters are generally so “relaxed” about their circumstances as to render the entire execution forgettable.


Pam: Interesting choice of protagonist – child protective services agent with the obligatory traumatic childhood/back story (step father beats her brother – while she stands by helpless) that apparently results in an intermittent heroin addiction.

The addiction as rendered feels false and incomplete and is the first real indicator of deeper flaws in the whole. If Pam is an addict, than she certainly is a high functioning one. And high-functioning addicts generally don’t forget where their drugs are stashed and they damn well know when they are going to run out. I’d consider cutting it completely as it doesn’t seem to serve any demonstrable need unless the entirety is brought to a deeper level.

As written, Pam does not demonstrate much expertise in her field. She seems disconnected from the children she is trying to help, or at the least, her attempts to connect seem inept. At a core level she must possess enough empathy to genuinely risk gaining the trust of the “pack”. Her process of becoming the den mother must begin early – otherwise her arc loses its narrative power.

Keep in mind that Pam only decides to become the den mother to her pack after she attempts to exterminate them. That is, she only attempts to save these children/wolves after she fails to kill them. Potential conflict is lost here, especially if her character can be defined by her defense of the wolves against Lancaster’s desire to eradicate them.

Remember, the protagonist is the surrogate for the audience. The audience needs to feel the protagonist’s connection to their world for the film experience to be successful. If the protagonist is overly dismissive of their participation in the world implied by the story then the audience doesn’t have much to care about either…
(See the section labeled Plot for more on Pam)

Lancaster: Not much to say here. Lancaster is an underdeveloped mentor character with huge potential: The burned-out veteran who has lost hope in the system and his inability to truly help anyone. He commits the obligatory sacrifice that falls flat simply because he knows (and we know) it’s coming. He doesn’t seem to care, so why should we? Question must be asked: Does Samuel L. Jackson really want (or need) to play a caricature of himself?

Tyrell and The Pack: The kids who become wolves are the stars. Do not trivialize their predicament because their predicament is the basis of the story! If you don’t care – we don’t care.

Tyrell, like all villains, should be one of the most (if not the most) compelling characters in the whole. He’s described as charismatic and powerful but we really don’t see that power or charisma in action. It’s merely implied. Wolves (and street kids) are, above all, survivors. Surviving in a harsh environment takes instinct, intelligence and guile. Tyrell’s actions as pack leader seem random and self-destructive. Completely counter to the very nature that wolves express. Tyrell must be the ultimate untamed expression (the archetype if you will) of wolf nature.

Let’s see the thrill of being a wolf embodied in a sociopath! This primal nature is what attracts and repulses Pam and it’s an aspect of her own personality that she must embrace in order to save the pack!

Overall, the primary characters lapse into tropes – or caricatures – avoid this. There is no real intimacy and therefore no real connection established.


What we have here can be described as King/Queen Replacement story. The world is dying. Tyrell (the king) is leading his pack toward destruction. The pack can only survive with a new leader. That leader is Pam (the Queen). Pam takes on Tyrell to become the new leader, and in the end, the pack survives. By confronting (and embracing) the darkness of her nature, Pam (and the world) is transformed, literally, in the process of completing her arc.


The dialogue is generally fun and well-suited to the main characters. The opening exchange is generally a tip-off that we are going to see annoying character types killed off in brutal fashion. Care must be taken that these exchanges do not devolve into schtick or comedic routines that lessen the impact of the well-crafted scenes.


There is good writing here but good writing often masks deeper story flaws. Many scenes suggest a writer in process rather than a compelling narrative – it’s like reading a writer at work rather than reading a complete narrative.

Kill the editorializing. Keep a consistent rhythm the reader should ideally forget that they are reading.


There are too many scenes not directly related to the forward motion of the plot. Care must be taken to tie loose narrative threads (Pam's addiction, etc). I think structural flaws reflect the weakness of the world rendered by the writer. People are being killed by wolves but no one in the larger universe seems to be aware of this. The lack of real police involvement begs credibility. Bodies torn to pieces in various urban parks do not go unnoticed. Perhaps this forensic reality can open the doors to fresh story options. Is someone investigating these attacks? Is there a conflict between the police and those who are trying to protect these children/wolves? Perhaps these attacks have been occurring for a long period and the police/media are suppressing the facts. Maybe Lancaster has a theory that he's been ridiculed for? Many possibilities exist to enrich and deepen the story. Perhaps the fact that the wolves are actually street kids is revealed too soon. Artful withholding of information gives Pam (and the reader) something to discover.


Pack Behavior needs, well, more pack behavior. By that I mean the writer needs to go deeper into the world he’s asking the reader to explore. The metaphor equating homeless children with the realm of the wolf is compelling but more work needs to be done in order to bring the world to life.

This particular flaw didn’t become completely apparent until I read a line of offhand dialogue uttered by the protagonist.

On page 92 Pam says, “I researched wolf pack behavior quite a bit since I met you. I think there’s another way.”

It occurred to me at that point that Pam doesn’t come across as much of an expert on anything. Actually showing her research on wolves and their behavior patterns would be a compelling way of moving the story forward while at the same time deepening the metaphors that increase the reader’s connection to the events unfolding on the page.

Pull the reader in rather than force them out by being overly dismissive of your story’s primary elements. For example: What is the wolf pack social hierarchy and how does that equate to gang hierarchy? Are the two seemingly disparate worlds functionally similar? Wolves, like homeless youth are certainly (pardon the pun) underdogs in our society – she ultimately reaches out to them by becoming one of them – this reader needs to know why.

Even if your intention is to willfully poke fun at the genre, you still must give the reader something to connect to. Tarantino’s work seems to be the pinnacle of American post-modern cinematic story telling. He utilizes pastiche and parody as tools to explore the world implied on film. While this can often result in narrative distance, the characters themselves rarely question the reality of the world they inhabit and certainly offer expressions of intimacy that compel the audience forward even as we smile at the joke.


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