‘Project Jingle Bell’ is a tongue-in-cheek fantastical tale in which the fate of mankind appears to hang in the balance on the result of a wager made between Christ and Lucifer at the poker table. It depends on the outcome of a match made in Heaven and Hell – namely a priest with a murky conscience and a prostitute with a heart of gold. Are these Hollywood stereotypes? Well I suppose you’d have to say yes, but then it all depends on what you do with the idea.
Probably your best strength is characterisation. I like Andrew as the main protagonist. He’s nicely drawn as the compassionate but stressed-out man of the cloth, and we get the impression that he has a secret history before we actually learn about it.
Kate too is a very three-dimensional figure. She is quite believable in that you avoid the usual stereotypes of gangster’s moll or passive victim. Other characters such as Shane, Chang, Jessica and Jesus are all nicely differentiated and have their individual voices.
The concept is an interesting one. The gods of creation watch over the amusing or tragic antics of mankind. It’s not exactly a fresh idea (‘The Seventh Seal’, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and ‘Bruce Almighty’ spring variously to mind) but there are all sorts of directions in which you could take it. Also, your cinematic description is on the whole clear and effective, although I’ve got some reservations about your style. You move crisply between scenes and the imagery is strong and imaginative. Your dialogue too is crisp, natural-sounding and true to character.
But I have to be honest, Ralph. This was a helluva tough read. After about 20 pages you’d introduced so many characters and set up so many strands of plot that I began to lose track of what was going on. I ploughed through the rest of the script because I thought your writing is strong enough to warrant constructive feedback, but honestly I couldn’t fathom what the hell was going on most of the time. Towards the end your themes began to take more obvious shape and the story came together in a more focused way.
On a second reading when I was making my detailed notes, things became clearer, but even then I found myself struggling to follow what was going on. I have no doubt that this would play more smoothly on screen; however for a spec script, which I’m assuming this is, it’s the studio reader you have to get past.
These are the things which, for me at least, are the main issues:
Firstly, the sheer number of characters and their individual traits. I find it overwhelming. Not only do you have a great swatch of names for the reader to remember, but some of them have more than one. Buddha and Confucius become Sid and Carl. Christ becomes Neil. (As an aside, no-one in the script addresses Buddha, Confucius or John Doe by name, so how would the viewer know who they are anyway?) On top of that, just to confuse things further you throw in a completely separate guy who happens to be called Jesus! Then as added icing on the cake, you also have flashbacks where we see some of the characters in youth or childhood. It’s a tough call.
Secondly, the story itself seems convoluted and disjointed to me. Just as I felt I was getting to grips with one plot element, you dive off at another tangent and we need to start figuring out what’s happening again. There are so many different strands: the gods and prophets with their wager, the scrapes which Shane gets into, the relationship between Andrew and Kate, the paedophilia story, the Russo angle, the Arab terrorists, the Jingle Bell website, the Alma Project, etc etc.
I realise that a lot of these converge towards the end. But that in itself seems to be a problem since we then have a plethora of scenes which give us backstory exposition through a character’s dialogue. Andrew, Kate, Jessica and Alma all deliver ‘this is what happened to me’ dialogue at some point in the script. I have to admit that I’m still rather lost on some of the storylines.
I think you need to pare down the story to its essential elements, which I’m assuming are the Andrew-Kate relationship and the Andrew-Shane story.
Lastly, the overall tone of the script. You don’t list comedy among the genres for your script but there are quite a few comedic elements in it. However there are also many dark passages and the main themes are about love, loss, rejection and betrayal. To my mind (and again it’s purely personal) the comedy doesn’t fit neatly with those main themes. One minute you’ve got a priest being accused on live TV of paedophilia. Then an absurdly surreal terrorist attack by Arabs using rockets and paint guns.
These are the other notes I made as I read through:
1. The song title is ‘Jingle Bells’, plural – unless you have a specific reason for using the singular.
1 Just a point on your writing style: you’ve clearly put effort into it, but sometimes it can be somewhat more hip and streetwise than is comfortable to read. Hip and streetwise is no problem in the right context, but if your reader has to spend time teasing out the basic information he needs to follow the story, it’s going to be a hard slog. Your reader isn’t nearly so immersed in the story as you are. So tiny points of detail which are obvious to you have to be made obvious to the reader.
As an example (there are many in the script)…
Andrew scans the room, sweating. COUGH. COUGH.
At the far end four people sit at a poker table playing a
game of Texas Hold’em. One of them, SHANE CANTON (17),
reacts to the cough. Shit.
I’m having to assume here that a. it was Andrew who coughed; b. Texas Hold’em is a variety of poker; c. ‘Shit’ describes Shane’s reaction of alarm to the cough; but it could equally mean ‘what the hell, I’m game for this’.
You could avoid all these little pitfalls by re-writing the passage as:
At the far end four people sit at a table playing a
game of Texas Hold’em poker.
Andrew scans the room, sweating. He COUGHS loudly.
One of the players, SHANE CANTON (17), flinches at the sound.
3 What’s the significance of the Mercedes? It makes several appearances. Is it just a symbol of urban decay or lawlessness?
4 Snow covered trees, heavy with ripe, delicious fruit… In winter? Or is this part of the surreal imagery?
To 6 Is the gambling scene with Christ and Lucifer deliberately esoteric and ambiguous? It’s hard to know what’s going on. It seems that Christ is betting that humanity will give up religion… doesn’t really make sense to be, and since it’s a central plank of your story, it needs to be more explicit.
I’m not quite sure whether Morris is supposed to be symbolic of some religion, or whether he’s just an invention. Why is it important that we never see his face?
7 INT. FERRARI – DAY A bit more needed. Whose Ferrari? Jessica’s?
17 Who’s Edward? Who’s Sister Ruth? No-one addresses Grime as Edward in any of your scenes so the viewer can’t make the connection. Similarly with Sister Ruth.
18 The bet has been made. Armageddon is to be ‘rescheduled’. Christ plans to ‘raise hell and let heaven sort it out’. But I still don’t know what it means.
18 Imagery of four snowballs falling. Horsemen of the Apocalypse? Something else? Or just a pretty scene?
19 This recurring theme of the moment before we enter our lives and the moment we leave it. It’s a nice image but I can’t really see how it’s relevant to your story. And I’m not convinced that the voice-over adds anything useful to the mix.
19 Remember? We used to talk. Who is ‘we’?
21 ‘…but it’s hardly one that doesn’t deserve your attention’.
You sometimes stray into double negatives and convoluted phrasing. Much simpler and easier on the tongue would be:
‘but it still deserves your attention’.
24 RUTH The shop called. Shall they bring the car or will we pick it up? What’s she talking about?
25 Dave eyes Kate. I assume ‘Dave’ is the driver. Since he never appears again, there’s no need to name him. But if you do, the name needs to appear in his slug lines.
30 Hammit’s house (who’s Hammit, anyway?) seems to belong to Suzy (who’s Suzy?) … or does it belong to the church? Or maybe Alma? This is getting really difficult to follow.
34 To her surprise, ANTONIO … stands in the office door. Why would she be surprised? They live together, don’t they?
35 VOICE (V.O.) I call about the Bentley. When could I take a look at the car? JESSICA The Bentley?
I don’t understand this exchange – seems random.
41 Apparently Morris prevented a disaster. But it’s not clear how, since an explosion had occurred.
43 Kate sees something in a newspaper which enrages her. What?
49 Why don’t the police just arrest everyone in the house, if they’ve been authorised to do so, instead of standing around chatting?
54 Sterling states that Darkmore twisted some arms to do an eviction. Seems very unlikely, because (a) he wouldn’t have been privy to this information and (b) even if he was, he wouldn’t be telling it to the occupants of the house.
54 I used to live here for two years. With Edsel Hammit. He became so strange in the end. Put all his
Edsel never features in the story, so why the need to mention him? And Alma begins to say something about his money, but doesn’t finish the speech. ??
67 Your background is business. How so? He’s a priest.
69 SUZANNE CANTON, Latino, late 30s,
(a) No point in calling her Suzanne – it only throws the reader. Just call her Suzy if that’s who she is.
(b) Is she Shane’s mother? Sister? Can’t be his mother since Shane says she’s in hospital (p62). I’m really confused now.
I bet old Luke is involved here. Who’s Luke??
81 All hell breaks loose as the Arabs, who’ve seen Morris on TV, come storming in with assault weapons. Incredibly, no-one is killed; incredibly, Morris wastes them single-handedly; and incredibly, the house is still standing.
89 KATE I haven’t seen snow like this since--
Her face drops. Why is Montana significant?
I had to wait for your decision.
Her face drops. What decision?
92 More storm clouds. We’re a bit heavy on the storm imagery!
I see you on Christmas.
I assume Lucifer exits the scene at this point?
103 Grime is packing to go. Why does he need money?
106 Consecutive chunks of dialogue for Kate??
I know dad raped you. After you left I knew. It all came to me.
So Jessica thinks that her father is also Miriam’s father? But actually it’s Antonio? Or have I got it wrong?
113 She stares at Lucifer, sits up straight.
Who is ‘she’? Kate? Jessica?
Typos, punctuation, etc…
4 One of his cards lies uncovered…
6 He collects the cards…
7 …toward the exit.
7 Could we have a talk?
7 I can drive you.
7 …as she takes her seat.
11 Why don’t you come closer?
11 Where are we going? Don’t you like question marks?
12 The car stops…
12 Help! Help!
13 Kate’s strength grows…
13 A silver handgun sticks out…
17 ALMA (into phone)
20 Not too long ago to forget your vow…
21 …what does all that have to do with St. John?
21 Life has its own way…
22 …do you really believe that I molest children?
26 PHHHT - flat tire.
27 The sun takes a timid peek…
27 Voices are heard…
27 Across the lot lies the entrance…
31 How do we know you’re kosher?
34 I’ll call again.
37 How did the priest end up in all this?
43 … a T-shirt and jeans.
52 …no matter what I think.” (If you open with double quotes, you need to close with them too.)
52 Why don’t you just sell?
58 More of a path actually...
69 …takes a peek into the car.
70 Why don’t you do it?
74 The place is spick and span.
75 Look what’s going on out front.
76 Jessica takes a seat…
78 problems of drugs and homelessness…
78 …lots of ideas.
81 What do you say…
81 …tearing a hole…
89 …I’d have a few questions.
92 Building materials are attacked… ???
92 It’s an animated image of the cottage; trees move…
93 The sky behind the cottage…
93 Lucifer’s smirk freezes.
93 He experienced a moment of truth.
94 ...and claim the price. Do you mean prize?
95 …messed up big time.
96 It makes him angry.
103 The Jack of Spades lying…
104 You may be looking at a decade of desk jobs…
106 How about your legs?
109 …have actually experienced it…
110 it’s too much to ask…
113 EXT. HAMMIT’S MANSION
113 …from the broken pipe…
That’s all from me, Ralph. Hope these notes are useful to you. Good luck with it.
Review of: Project Jingle Bell
reviewed by Rfordyce on 03/20/2012
Review ID: 4160057
Other Reviews by Rfordyce 106
A review of The Uglyby Rfordyce on 05/08/2013Philip, this script is certainly worthy of attention. It fits much more into an ‘art house’ style rather than being anywhere near a mainstream audience. It seems to have its roots more in stage theatre than on the big screen, and your comment about it coming from ‘a much longer work’ is intriguing – is it derived from a theatrical work, or did you envisage it as a longer... Philip, this script is certainly worthy of attention. It fits much more into an ‘art house’ style rather than being anywhere near a mainstream audience. It seems to have its roots more in stage theatre than on the big screen, and your comment about it coming from ‘a much longer work’ is intriguing – is it derived from a theatrical work, or did you envisage it as a longer film, or possibly a series of films?
I enjoyed it. I find the development of Frank and Agnes to be one of the strongest elements. Your comments show that you’re aware some reviewers will complain about the lack of dramatic action and the meandering of the storyline, so I wouldn’t worry too much about that. However I’m sure you’re also aware that this script is never going to figure highly in terms of box office success. It is in a different place, which is what I assume you’re aiming for.
The story is full of symbolism and imagery, and to me Frank and Agnes represent the original Innocents. Roots and vines claim Agnes as their own, a child of Nature. But Frank and Agnes don’t fit into the world of men and women. Even their carved effigies don’t fit into the model carved village. They have to stumble and stutter their way through a world where materialism and power are the watchwords of society. It is very touching and at times very brutal.
The characters in the story are portrayed not so much as individuals but as metaphors for human states of being. Smalls is the ever-‘improving’, ever-colonising mindset of Western society; Cybil an idealisation of motherhood; George the gifted dreamer whose creations are sullied through contact with the marketplace. The storyline takes liberties with authenticity; finding Agnes half-dead in a ditch is a bizarre means of kicking things off; the convergence of hundreds of wagoners in the desert to build a town out of nothing is a tall tale. There again, maybe you were thinking of Las Vegas? But in the metaphorical world you create, you can pull off stunts like that.
The way you handle both Frank and Agnes’s speech is very skilful. You put enough country bumpkin talk into Frank’s mouth to make him realistic, while it never gets in the way of the reader. Agnes’s gradual growth into articulate speech is masterly. George’s self-delusion is totally believable.
I don’t have much to criticise. Some elements could be developed more fully. The incipient sexual attraction between Agnes and the two men could be more pointedly dramatised. Both Frank and Agnes’s backstories could benefit from a little more meat on the bones – but that’s just my opinion, and I did find the scenes with Frank’s dead mother very moving, particularly because of Frank’s matter-of-fact demeanour.
Although the setting is 19th century, you don’t offer much in the way of visual or linguistic clues to point our way. Perhaps a few extra polishing touches would make a big payoff.
There are one or two formatting points. You don’t need to provide scene numbers. That would be for a shooting script and it would be done by a scene director anyway. Your sluglines tend to be over-detailed. There are some typos which I’ve listed at the end.
1 THE LATE 19TH CENTURY TOWN OF NEELY.
To be deliciously pedantic for a moment:
(a) The tag of ‘19th century’ should be inferred from your description, dialogue, or a SUPER. Not from the slugline.
(b) Although it’s a town, you refer to the inhabitants as ‘villagers’. You need to clarify.
6 Why is Frank leading her by the neck with the rope?
11 Agnes is filling out.
Have they been there for some time now? It doesn’t feel like very long.
12 EXT. RIVERSIDE AT NEELY. MORNING.
The previous scene is DAY but we’re now back at MORNING, although the two scenes appear to be more or less sequential. In general you’re better to stick to DAY and NIGHT to avoid confusion.
15 Only the teenage girls remain.
And Agnes! – needs more clarity.
17 The teenage girls intervene on Agnes’ behalf, and then jeer at her? The tone doesn’t seem right.
19 When he speaks again, it’s the voice of a ten year old.
Is this purely metaphor, or do you mean it literally? If so, how long does it last??
27 Autumn has turned the leaves brown. Frank’s hair has grown.
We’ve moved on again. Presumably Frank has been living rough all this time?
28 ...the little chicken from the other day...
This doesn’t fit. Several months must have passed.
36 Heavy pots fall on her. She lies still.
Has she been killed?
42 God, th’ place stinks o’ bein’ lonely....seems like nobody ever come ’ere...
I really like that line.
44 They meet an old couple, who I think are supposed to be Agnes’s parents, but it’s pretty ambiguous.
55 SLOW FADE
These are effective.
70 Some physical description of Robert Smalls would be good.
77 You could use a mini-slugline here, e.g. –
Agnes can just make out a large table covered with a cloth.
She is led to stand alongside.
81 Excuse me, but you called your dog...
‘Excuse me’ is a modern term for astonishment – it just doesn’t fit with 19th century dialogue. In general, I feel Claire’s dialogue is just a little too modern in idiom.
88 ...and all those other people who say one thing and mean another.
Maybe you could make more of this theme. I’m thinking of the dramatic irony in Agnes’s learning to communicate through speech, while simultaneously realising that it’s often used to deceive.
88 But Frank, I can’t tell the foxes from the rabbits!
106 This should be written as dialogue.
Typos, punctuation, etc...
11 ... a mind of its own!
11 ...that sets you off real nice.
16 ...better lay off the sauce...
25 CYBIL MORGAN’S HOUSE.
36 She smiles up at him...
46 Frank is excited that the letters match.
50 Frank sleeps, his mouth open.
55 A woman sits ... at the front of the first wagon; her husband... talks with George.
63 ...to see if George’s eyes are closed.
63 ... opens the drawer...
71 ... believe we’ve found it!”
74 She’s joined by...
79 The light spreads out...
80 By the way,..
85 ... several new buildings to the east...
94 You’re scared, aren’t you?
That’s all from me. I really enjoyed the read, Philip. I hope you can take this to the next level. read
A review of Goblin Marketby Rfordyce on 01/16/2013This is the first screenplay I’ve reviewed which has been inspired by a poem, so full marks for notching up that one! There’s a lot to commend in this script. I enjoyed the constant visual flow of your descriptive passages. You are adept at painting striking images in the mind of the reader, and the story keeps up an increasing pace in suspense and gruesome action as you... This is the first screenplay I’ve reviewed which has been inspired by a poem, so full marks for notching up that one!
There’s a lot to commend in this script. I enjoyed the constant visual flow of your descriptive passages. You are adept at painting striking images in the mind of the reader, and the story keeps up an increasing pace in suspense and gruesome action as you build towards its climax.
The dialogue is pretty sharp and observant, and there’s a good sense of character description and development throughout. I like how you’ve given all the main characters some very recognisable traits. Eliza is the mother hen to Laura’s headstrong wilful child. Although Laura almost becomes a caricature of standard horror fodder as she appears hell-bent on thrusting herself into every conceivable situation of danger and thrill-seeking that she can find. Sam is a cynical opportunist; Claire a slut; Beth a victim; Jimmy an introverted loner, and so on.
The story itself is of course loosely based on Rossetti’s poem, but you’ve brought it into the modern world (well, Cornwall anyway!) and made it your own. And some of the scenes are genuinely creepy and suspenseful – I can easily envisage them in glorious ghoulish colour on the big screen.
I have to say that horror is not my genre of choice, but I hope I can give you some useful feedback. But please bear that in mind if some of the comments seem a bit wayward. As I say, there’s a lot to enjoy here but I definitely think you need to make some improvements.
Firstly, the Goblins. You just introduce them with hardly a word of description or justification. They just appear and we’re expected to buy into the premise. Perhaps you’re seduced by the opening of the poem: “Morning and evening / maids heard the goblins cry...” and think if it’s good enough for Rossetti it’s OK for you. But she’s aiming at a 19th century audience, many of whom probably believed in goblins anyway. And of course she’s writing poetry, not a film script. You can get away with stuff like that in poetry. To my mind you can’t get away with it in a script, not even a horror one. Today’s audience needs to know who these creatures are. How did they come into existence? What’s their relationship with humans? Tell us more about the fruit thing! And last but not least, what do they actually look like? Your description is really good and yet you say hardly anything about these little beasties except to give them names.
While we’re talking about Goblins, I’ll jump to the end of the story just now. They are the main antagonists. But at the end, they’re neither defeated nor victorious. They sort of slink off into the sunset, but they’re muttering threats at Eliza as they go. I think you need a sharper resolution. Oh, and the bit about her suddenly finding she could kill one just by throwing a burning brand at it – that sort of comes out of nowhere. You could set it up better. Maybe she could somehow kill them all off by driving them into the bonfire. Unless of course you’re planning a sequel. Son of Goblin. The Phoenix Goblins Arise. That sort of thing.
Perhaps more importantly, it feels to me like your story is more a collection of disconnected sequences rather than an organic whole. A plane drops dust... a baby gets baked alive... a herd of cattle swarm over a car... a collection of stitched-up corpses. And I couldn’t really figure out what the Weatherfields’ motivation was for their ghoulish taxidermy. What were they trying to achieve? Maybe I’m being over-critical, but I think you need to look closely at your main themes and try to make the story more of a whole. The main battle is between the Goblins and the two girls. You need to make that the backbone of the script, and weave the other themes around it: repressed sexuality, lesbianism, self-control v. laissez-faire, and all that stuff.
The other thing is, you need to give this baby a really good proofread. There are an awful lot of spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors, most of which should be picked up by any decent spellcheck program. I’ve listed the ones I found below, but I stopped after 20 pages (it tends to get worse as the script proceeds).
At 122 pages, the script could also do with a fair bit of trimming.
My other reading notes are shown below:
0 Your title page is a little confusing. It looks as if the script has been partly-written by Christina Rossetti. Maybe something like ‘Inspired by Christina Rossetti’ would fit the bill.
1 No need for the CONTINUED at the top and bottom of each page – you only use it if there’s a dialogue chunk running over from one page to the next.
24 Seems rather strange that Eliza accepts Laura’s fruit-fuelled binge without question. Especially as she reveals later that she had a visit from Mister Greenway, who had dragged Laura out of a lake.
36 You’ve heard the story of the girl...
This is mentioned a couple of times but not really developed. I think you need to expand on it a little.
68 The scene with the doctor doesn’t sit well. The notion that any qualified medical practitioner would even debate the wisdom of feeding more of the same poison – which he admits he doesn’t ‘know anything about’ – to someone who’s at death’s door, just doesn’t make sense. I think you need to find a way round that one.
103 A really good horror scene as Eliza kills Margaret, scalds Richard and gets a finger chopped off. What happens to Grace? I don’t think we find out.
122 The girls drive away. But there’s a hint of ambiguity.
Typos / spelling / grammar (first 20 pages)
1 …stretches its red tentacles…
3 Its talons crease the … shirt.
3 Eliza breaks off.
4 …into the sea, miles below. They’re several miles above sea level?!
4 To the girls’ right…
5 The girls move away…
6 Jimmy nods appreciatively.
7 …notices a woman sitting in the corner…
8 Damn you, hideous tyke!
8 Beth pushes her pint over to Sam.
10 It’s seen more than most, that’s for sure.
12 Ah, you know me.
13 ... aren’t you?
13 She said no, alright?
13 Sam glares, indignant.
13 Eliza backs off, mortified.
15 Nobody’s seen them for years...
16 She emerges; sees Laura lying...
16 sees Laura lying amongst brookside rushes, eyes wide. Laura stares out...
16 ... large cedar tree...
16 Lizzie, look!
16 Eliza presses her back fearfully...
16 The Goblins dance maniacally...
16 ...from the glen...
18 The Goblins dance and CHANT...
19 She shakes her head, fearful, and withdraws.
20 His pincers chop.
20 Laura cups the fruit in her hands; her eyes stare...
20 ...her eyes stare, thick with desire.
20 ... down her wrist and neck.
I hope some of this is useful to you, Jack. Thanks for the read. read
A review of Amawei - The Little Elephantby Rfordyce on 01/11/2013This is a charming tale featuring a young elephant as its lead character. Ostensibly about little Amawei’s fight for survival against the threat of human poachers, it’s also about the journey from childhood to adulthood, the relationships which we build for ourselves, and of course the stunning but damaged beauty of Africa – a metaphor for modern society. It’s written with... This is a charming tale featuring a young elephant as its lead character. Ostensibly about little Amawei’s fight for survival against the threat of human poachers, it’s also about the journey from childhood to adulthood, the relationships which we build for ourselves, and of course the stunning but damaged beauty of Africa – a metaphor for modern society.
It’s written with heart and humour, and fits squarely into the family-friendly genre which has wide appeal across every generation. I certainly enjoyed it. You have a talent for putting strong visual images on paper which drew me into the story. It also highlights the ongoing nightmare of illegal killing of majestic animals purely to supply ivory to ignorant consumers, mainly in China and the Far East. As I write, the TV news has headlines about a whole family of a dozen elephants butchered in Kenya for the sake of this nauseous commerce.
Nevertheless there are serious obstacles to overcome before this script could become an attractive proposition for any potential producer. Firstly, is it written as an animation feature, or do you envisage it being filmed with real wildlife in an African location? Certainly it begins as an animation, with the traditional opening of the classic ‘once upon a time’ children’s book as we turn the pages. But it then quickly becomes a ‘real’ story and there’s no indication that the animation would continue. I assume therefore that it would be extremely costly to make, as it would require the sourcing, training and management of a complete herd of elephants, not to mention lionesses and various other forms of wildlife. On the other hand, a full animation feature would also I guess be very expensive to produce. Or maybe you’ve written it as a labour of love and you’re not too bothered about its commercial appeal. Just saying...
Quite apart from that, you need to do some serious polishing and editing of the script before it could go anywhere near a professional reader. Frankly, it’s a bit of a mess at the moment: it’s chock full of formatting issues, grammar, spelling and punctuation problems which are a guaranteed
turn-off for a professional reader. I assume you’re using Celtx software, since there’s an unnecessary header
which appears at the top right of each page. There are numerous page break errors, i.e. – dialogue or action being run over from one page to the next. Also unwanted gaps and spacing in the text, and gaps between a character slugline and the dialogue, e.g. –
The wind left to huff and puff on...
Important SOUNDS should be CAPITALISED. P.O.V. should be CAPITALISED. Avoid “We see”s and “We hear”s. They pull the reader out of the story. Your script is full of them.
The font you are using seems to be smaller than the standard 12-point Courier. This, together with your margin settings, means that the 95-page script is I reckon more like 120-130 pages in ‘normal’ settings.
A sentence begins with a capital letter and ends with a full stop, question or exclamation mark. That’s a rock-solid punctuation rule but you break it on almost every page. That won’t endear you to any reader. There are lots of spelling mistakes which should be picked up by any standard spellcheck program (I assume Celtx has one) e.g. – ‘it nestels close’ on p.4 should be ‘it nestles close’. Misplaced apostrophes, missing commas, etc etc. I’ve listed at the foot of this review the things I picked up in the first 20 pages, and then I stopped.
You probably think I’m nitpicking, but the thing is, most of this stuff is very easy to fix. Get yourself a decent screenwriting handbook and use a decent spellcheck/grammar program. If you don’t fix it, the script is unlikely to be read by anyone who matters. Which would be a great shame.
Your actual writing style, once we get beyond all the punctuation and formatting issues, is very descriptive and you provide some great touches of subtext in the gestures and movements of the characters. But overall it sometimes becomes rather flowery and more suited to a novel than a screenplay. I’m thinking of passages like:
Anne looks up as a beautiful fizz of lightning lights the clouds, making shapes of Spanish galleons sailing a night zephyr...
Great imagery, but just needs to be reined in sometimes!
Now to discuss what really matters: the story. The essential elements are good: Amawei is introduced as a boisterous young child-elephant; he has a close escape from deadly poachers and gets thrown together with Peter, a human orphan child, and through some mystical native magic they can talk to each other. We then follow their adventures as they try to re-unite with the herd. In the meantime, the human characters engage in a cat-and-mouse game of poachers and gamekeepers, with a little nod to romance thrown in for good measure. All this is very skilfully done, but there are some elements I’m not sure about.
I don’t know whether the opening sequence fits with the story. It’s cutesy and sets the tone of family viewing, but it seems a bit disconnected. It’s not as if we re-visit the theme of a children’s storybook later in the script. Moreover I just don’t get the cardboard cut-outs, biscuits, currants and tissue paper. What are you trying to achieve here? To my mind you’d be better using the opening sequence to set the scene for Amawei and Peter’s magical communication skills – which I kinda think is your intention, but personally I think you could just use Amawei’s opening voice-over against a visual backdrop of clouds (clouds acquire magical shapes later in the story), swirling leaves, jungle sounds, etc. Just my opinion.
Michael, Anne and Kojo are nicely-drawn characters but I think you need to give Deiter more depth. He’s your chief antagonist and yet we know nothing about him. He hardly says a word. And it’s a shame that with such a great opportunity to examine the world of big-game poaching, you make him such a stereotype. You could benefit from giving him some backstory. After all, I’m sure you know that there are umpteen shades of grey in between the black and white opposite ends of the poaching trade, and it would give your story more resonance just to allow him a little dark grey here and there.
On the other hand, I think you maybe try to do a little bit too much with the other characters. The backstory about Michael and Kojo being previous comrades in arms is a nice one, and you could maybe develop it a little bit more. But the details about Michael’s ex-wife getting killed and the internet business seem to be just tossed into the mix for no good reason.
At the end, I think you need a sharper resolution for Deiter. He gets hurt; the good guys patch him up. It seems a little lame. Or did Kojo kill him? Or cut off the tusks? That doesn’t make sense. Maybe I missed something.
Other reading notes:
0 No title page?
Debs Ley = Murray Rose?? Are you one person or two?
I’m assuming all the human characters are African, except possibly Michael and Anne. But you don’t really make this explicit. I think you need to give this information.
1 AMAWEI (OS) Should be (V.O.) rather than (O.S.)
6 The (OS) directions are largely unnecessary.
9 and watches as.
Akku, Amawei & Bhoona trot past the hut.
Weird placing of a full stop, followed by a blank line...?
10 EXT. VILLAGE HUT DAY
This slug should appear about five lines previously.
12 The dialogue about the herd migrating and the birth of the baby is a bit on the nose. And the birth happening at that precise moment is just way too convenient! Try to find a more subtle way of getting this across.
15 AKKU'S POV. (Capitalise).
15 VILLAGERS’ POV. (Capitalise).
15 EXT. GAME RESERVE UNKNOWN LOCATION – DAY
This could be better presented. It’s only the mention of ‘windscreen’ that tells us we’re in a vehicle. Perhaps something like:
INT. 4 X 4 – DAY
Two men, seen from behind. They wear ranger uniforms and leather hats. In front of them, through the windscreen, a shimmering savannah.
17 ... a pair of shoes which lead to Michael... ??
17 Anne draws her gaze away...
She was Anna to begin with; now she’s Anne?
17 We hear a phone ring, in the background we see Kojo pick up a receiver on a nearby desk.
The ‘we hear’s and ‘we see’s become really obtrusive. Also far too much unnecessary detail. Just write:
A phone RINGS. Kojo picks up the receiver.
18 She continues…. Unnecessary.
I had no idea.
It seems very unlikely that anyone involved with African wildlife would be unaware of poaching!
26 Michael gets into the driving seat. The 4x4 moves away.
You need a new scene slugline here, e.g. –
EXT. 4 X 4 (MOVING) – DAY
You have been here less than 24 hours.
So where has she come from? I don’t think we've been told.
The pace has slowed right down with this quasi-romantic interlude between Anne and Michael. Nicely done.
63 Good atmospheric description of the abandoned village.
71 I like the quiet tension you build in this scene – well done.
74 But this is where my disbelief kicks in. I’m no expert on African wildlife, but somehow I cannot imagine lionesses attacking a whole group of humans who have guns and vehicles, and an elephant to boot.
76 What, so Kojo suddenly transforms into Native Superman?? I’m not sure I buy this part.
79 Sorry, the fight scenes with lions, guns, vehicles, humans and a junior elephant seem just too far-fetched to me. I could be wrong...
80 Poaching has been bad this year. How do they know the herds are moving? We are watching the usual suspects.
Too much on the nose.
92 Kojo hacks off the tusks with a machete? Or did he just kill Deiter? I really don’t know.
95 Sweet ending, but it’s dragged out rather too long.
Punctuation, grammar, typos (first 20 pages):
1 ... villages dotted around. On closer inspection...
2 ...clumps of large Muru trees...
2 The bright light gleams on...
3 ... on parched ochre earth...
3 ... WATERHOLE BY MURU TREES
4 It nestles close...
4 A hand reaches out. Bembe strokes...
4 ...the elephant’s forehead.
4 ... turns away, pressing its face into its mothers flesh.
4 Jo-Jo bathes her new baby...
4 Jo-Jo does not...
4 ...does not look up. Her ears flap.
4 ... shoots past Bella’s head, narrowly missing her.
9 He practises a few skills...
(slowing down the pace)
um I'm not sure...
9 Who's scared now?
9 ... and wants to follow. He gets up...
9 He looks at the elephants, now distant, but his head...
9 AMAWEI POV (Capitalise)
9 ...with small huts lining the side of the road.
9 Some have verandahs...
10 The elephants dance about.
11 Peter’s eyes widen. He jerks his head back.
11 What’s that?
11 ... flapping his ears, laughing.
13 ... and stands still, turning his head towards...
13 Sure. Maybe see you later?
13 Leather hats pulled down, shading their eyes.
13 Kojo stands before a ... screen; he touches...
14 ...and leans over .., looking at the numbers. He continues...
14 Jo-Jo pushes ... through the throng; Bella hovers...
14 ...close to her mother, avoiding...
15 ... Michael’s voice.
16 Her briefcase and case on casters are deposited by the driver, who turns the car around and drives away, saluting Kojo as he goes.
16 From a birds’ eye view...
17 Mr Staggers, is it? How do you do? I am Anne...
17 If you want to take one of those, Kojo here is the key holder.
17 ... looks in Anne’s direction.
17 ... we are guardians, not scientists.
17 ... over Michael’s head...
18 ... ANNE’S BEDROOM
19 Others are put into...
19 ...behind the driver’s seat.
55 In his peripheral vision...
55 Chain lightning dances...
That’s all from me. There’s some real potential here. Good luck with it. read
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