reviewed by AlCielo on 03/28/2012
A Freewill Review of Courier Twelve
Courier Twelve is an ambitious attempt to put a contemporary spin on a classic story and still keep it universal. "Ambitious" is a good thing, in my opinion. A derivative story that plays it safe can never succeed, no matter how well written it is. But my goal here is to provide some suggestions that can make your story more salable. At any point if I seem to be telling you what your theme should be or what specific direction you should take, I'm only doing so as an example of the possibilities before you.

This is the least creative, least global suggestion, but I'm making it first so that as you consider revising certain scenes, you can take this potential modification into account as well. Since your audience is likely to consist mainly of indie fans, you'll probably not be able to justify the expense of some of the scenes (particularly the action thread). Anything you can do to minimize locations and costly sfx will increase the odds of selling your script.

The remaining suggestions involve increasing audience involvement. I'm separating reader from viewer here, because I believe the script as written is not to easy to follow on the page as it would on the screen (costumes, photography, etc. would help distinguish the separate film stories--an aside: I believe the method you chose for sluglines turned out well).

(a) The first few pages are critical, but nothing much happens to bond the reader to the protagonist / theme. I don't mean you need explosions or car chases (those are more for viewers anyway), but you should ASAP create emotional resonance between the protagonist and reader (the reader is like a baby duck emerging from an egg, seeking to imprint on someone to guide it through the next stage of life). It's clear you want the reader to bond with Theo, but why? In fact, the first action I connected with was Babe's returning Theo's recorder on p. 8--not because it was a Save the Cat moment of kindness (though that helped), but because it was out of character with what I had seen before--a development of Babe's personality. Until that point, people are mostly talking about action rather than acting. I'll talk about dialog later, but I believe you're relying on it too heavily to convey information. So the first thing I'd recommend doing is to give Theo an action that connects him to the reader (if he's to be Dorothy, it should be at least as powerful as rescuing Toto).
(b) I'd also give each of the supporting case a significant (but not necessarily powerful) action that defines them, before the separate stories start. Actually I think you've done this, e.g. Zeke slamming the toner door on Babe's hand, but for me, these actions should be more relevant to what the characters want or need. Rather than having them talk about the movie / script business, give them something to do that shows their dedication.
(c) So after you've bonded the reader and major characters, you can start the separate sub-plots. I'm very impressed at how well you coordinated transitions between fantasy stories and reality, but I'm afraid the rapid "editing" is a bit disorienting. Emotionally, you're not giving your reader time to develop a strong reaction (longing, fear, pity, etc.). This would require a major restructuring, but using fewer but longer passages for the genre stories would draw the reader in and actually create suspense (in my opinion, the reader is spending too much energy wondering what is happening rather than what will happen). I'd recommend not many more than 3-4 blocks for each of the genre stories and the intervening reality, and not fewer than 2.

The above suggestions should make the script an easier read, but you also have to take into account the viewing experience (many scripts that read well would--and sometimes do--make bad movies; reading well isn't enough).

(a) There are some clever parallels between the separate genre stories (and the underlying Oz characters help unify things). However, I believe (as one of your reviewers pointed out) that these stories should stand on their own. You could have the genre stories function as parodies or as straight (though sometimes tongue-in-cheek) stories. I'd recommend the straight (with some irony) approach because I don't think that the heart of your story is a criticism of the film industry but an attempt to show what it could/should do. Each of the genre stories has its own protagonist. It's just as critical that the sub-protagonists have as strong a controlling desire as Theo and friends to. On the surface, everything's fine (the goal of a horror protagonist is to avoid being killed by the monster, usually), but if you can bump up the reasons for each protag's choices (motivation, background, irony, et al.) the entire journey will consist of desire and fulfillment (or frustration). And certainly Theo's quest should be a uniting force (doesn't have to be Campbellian).
(b) The risk of having five different stories / protagonists / desires is that the impact of the movie will be fragmentary. Successful multiple-part films like Babel or Traffic or Crash connect diverse storylines with parallel themes. I think there are some similar themes congealing here, but for me they're not quite definite enough (I don't mean they should be stated in the dialog, but they should at the least create a similar mood, even if the viewer never becomes conscious of theme. And of course, there should be a way to link the master theme with the goal / desire of the framing character (the screenwriter). Screenwriting itself is not a particularly good topic for a theme, but there are plenty of enthralling movies with screenwriters as characters (e.g. Sunset Boulevard--William Holden's thematic goal is not to write a script but to maintain his integrity, a struggle anyone can relate to).

Expository dialogue almost always creates distance between audience and story, and a large percentage of your script involves people talking about action rather than action--even in the genre threads. Here's an example of expository dialogue that doesn't carry the story forward:

What’s the problem, Stone?
Not fun anymore. I want out.
Don’t throw away all you’ve worked
for. They’ll make you director some
day. The country needs you, Frank.
I don’t know, Clark. My heart’s
just not in it anymore.
Then you’re not gonna like that I
have orders to bring you to the
Of course you do.

I'm not presuming to write your dialogue for you, but here's a sample reworking (pretty much the same story but with less info):
Something's bothering you, and it's not acronyms.

Boring--the job, not the names.

This is no time to turn film critic.

Agent Black yawns.

Stifle it, Frank. I've got orders to take you to the President.

Agent Black turns both of his thumbs down.
Even if the original dialogue was SUPPOSED TO sound expository, as a kind of parody, it slows the story down. If you wanted to keep the expo-as-parody, the trick would be to have Black and Free dodge bullets or speeding cars as they talked about boredom.

At the beginning of many heist films, the protagonist sets out an elaborate and probably foolhardy scheme, and the person he's trying to convince to join him replies with something like "That's crazy.... But it just might work."
You've broken a number of unstated rules (e.g. "Don't write a spec script about a screenwriter"), but you've done so in such a bold and innovative way that this script can make a fine movie. Just involve the audiences more, and the remaining problems will solve themselves.
NOTE: This review does not factor into the site rankings.

Other Reviews by AlCielo 299

  • A review of Chase the Night
    by AlCielo on 07/25/2013
    "Chase the Night" is a taut character-driven action story with an important theme. My major reservations about this draft are at the deepest level of structure (how everything fits together and why). The only essential task a writer has is to maintain the audience's attention for the duration of the viewing (or reading). If the audience isn't immersed in the story, no amount... read
  • by AlCielo on 06/27/2012
    Combining Dante and Leone is a gutsy choice, but not necessarily a futile one (filming the Inferno would be another matter). The Inferno is first and foremost a quest / journey (un cammin) and the spaghetti western protagonists normally undertake a quest. Both Dante and Leone present a larger-than-life world (but one that depicts our own with accuracy and restraint). In this... read
  • A review of Rebel Interrogator
    by AlCielo on 06/26/2012
    "Rebel Interrogator" takes on a difficult genre mix: comedy-drama. An imbalance in either direction can cause problems--too serious to be a comedy or too flippant to be a drama. But getting the mix to work can provide audiences with a fresh and memorable story that stands out from the remakes and imitations. For me, the two genres aren't blended but kept apart. Act 1 is a... read
+ more reviews