Review of: Project Jingle Bell 

reviewed by Rfordyce on 03/20/2012
Credited Review
Rfordyce
Characters a-plenty Credited Review
‘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
money--
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.

73 MORRIS
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--
NEIL Montana.
Her face drops. Why is Montana significant?

91 NEIL
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!

97 LUCIFER
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??

JESSICA
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.

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