‘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 127
A review of The Devil's Lullaby (PDF 2nd draft)by Rfordyce on 08/22/2014‘The Devil’s Lullaby’ is a very busy script. I mean busy, as in there’s lots of stuff happening. I’m not a horror fan myself, but I gamely worked my way through the first twenty pages, reinforcing my prejudices (which I freely admit) against slasher movies and wondering why anyone could be remotely interested in tongues being extracted without the owner’s consent, and severed... ‘The Devil’s Lullaby’ is a very busy script. I mean busy, as in there’s lots of stuff happening. I’m not a horror fan myself, but I gamely worked my way through the first twenty pages, reinforcing my prejudices (which I freely admit) against slasher movies and wondering why anyone could be remotely interested in tongues being extracted without the owner’s consent, and severed hearts dancing in glass jars.
However, as I got further into the story, it seems that you’ve got some nice themes going on here. The scenes with Father Murphy in particular give more depth to your story, and I do like the ambiguous ending. Your visual presentation is striking, and I like the twists and turns which keep us guessing right up to the end. I’m sure many will enjoy your script for the gore fest it promises and delivers. But I think there are a number of points you should consider for a re-write. It’s only my personal opinion, of course, so please feel free to ignore it, and apologies for anything I may have missed or misunderstood along the way.
Firstly, I think that you start at a sprint when you’re trying to run a mile. Michael’s actions on page 4, pulling out Bobby’s tongue, have a yuck factor – OK, I’m in a slasher movie here - (and why is Michael not immediately arrested and put behind bars?) - but to my mind they also raise the stakes too quickly. To trump that, you’ll have to produce too much gore in too short a time period. Much better to make the audience wait for it. You know they want it. They know they want it. But don’t be too free with your favours; build up the tension. Don’t show a scene with blood until page 20. Make them wait; they’ll enjoy it all the more.
Secondly, I think you’ve got too much storyline which you don’t really need. And that’s the opposite of most scripts I’ve read. Most of them have too little going on and they’re trying to string the story out. With yours there’s too much going on and I’m trying to figure out what the hell is happening to whom. There are too many characters and events which are an integral part of the story, but which we never see on screen. We only hear about them through dialogue, which is always a second-hand method. Rule of thumb is, if a character or event is important to the story, they / it should have some screen time, so that the viewer is invested in the process. Let’s just list some of the examples where that doesn’t happen:
• Helen, the daughter who is crucial to McBride’s motivation – and also to the whole story - is never seen on screen, apart from one perfunctory glimpse on a TV report.
• McBride’s parents, who refused to look after Helen. There’s a throwaway line which suggests they disowned her because she was born out of wedlock, but otherwise we know nothing about them.
• Victor, McBride’s brother, who apparently committed suicide. But we don’t see it. And that’s all we know.
• Michael’s father, who murdered Helen. Because McBride had killed one of his children. But none of this is shown on screen, although we’re told that both Michael’s parents have been murdered.
• McBride’s wife, who died in childbirth. We only know of her through dialogue.
• Brian’s father, who’s never really identified in the script, but must have been Jenn’s partner at one time.
• Jeffrey – inmate 1245 – who killed McBride, but didn’t know why. We never see him on screen.
Bottom line is, I spent so much time trying to figure out who these characters were, their relationships to each other, that I lost track of your core story. Which is a great pity, because I think your theme here, the father – daughter relationship, is a strong one. It’s the core of innumerable movies, and it could work here as well.
I don’t think all these characters are necessary to your story. The step-brother / step-sister relationships are particularly confusing, and I’m not sure why you need to have them. Get rid of characters like Victor – to me he serves no useful purpose, other than to be a false trail for detectives to follow – and concentrate more on building up the suspense involving a few key players.
OTHER READING NOTES:
1 EXT. WOODED AREA - SPELL SITE – NIGHT
Screenplays are all about giving the reader a cinematic experience (visuals, sound) by using prose (text, paper / computer screen). Rule Number One therefore is, ‘Describe only what is seen and heard on screen’. So I wouldn’t put ‘Spell Site’ in the slug. It’s anticipating something which hasn’t happened yet, therefore pulls the reader out of the story immediately. And in any case, what does a ‘spell site’ look like?
1 Some description of McBride’s appearance would be useful – how is he dressed? – what expression does his face convey? Etc.
1 ...a circle with a horrific design...
In what way is it horrific? Satanic? Or just really badly designed?
1 I’ve been told by numerous screenwriting gurus that your first scene shouldn’t be a dream sequence. I don’t believe them. Bur even allowing for that, the description is given in a very haphazard fashion. Is Janet in the middle of the circle? Or just nearby? What does ‘the hearts gain tempo’ mean, exactly? The children aren’t mentioned until Donald suddenly sees them – so have they been hidden from the viewer as well?
2 INT. DONALD’S HOME - DONALD’S BEDROOM – NIGHT
The slug’s rather clunky; you could just write
INT. DONALD’S BEDROOM – NIGHT
This applies throughout the script.
6 Jade hymns ...
A hymn is a song of praise to God. I’ve never seen it used as a verb before. Do you mean ‘hums?’
6 ... the Devil’s Lullaby.
At this point you haven’t yet introduced the idea of a devil’s lullaby. How would the reader know what you mean?
7 EXT. DONALD’S HOME – NIGHT
Brian walks away. Jade’s dad, Donald, calls for him.
You need to put more thought into your sluglines and description; don’t make life difficult for your reader. Firstly, you’d be better using CONTINUOUS rather than NIGHT; this would tell the reader that the scene follows directly from the previous one. Next, where is Donald? Standing in the doorway? Waiting to ambush Brian in the garden? Calling from an upstairs window?
12 It would be better to format the lullaby in rhyming lines. It would make it much easier to read. So:
Hey little kitty, please come and stay.
I need your help to take my pain away.
Don’t be shy, please come and play.
I just want you to have a fun day.
You’re my beauty, and my power.
I want you to blossom into a beautiful flower. Etc.
23 BEGIN FLASHBACK:
It’s not really a flashback, it’s the DVD playing. You could simply write ON SCREEN.
30 His heart isn’t missing. What about the hearts of the parents?
Not that I know of.
This is a strange reply - it would be very obvious if their hearts were missing!
Victor committed suicide years ago.
Seems unlikely that Owen (a policeman) wouldn’t already know that.
Yeah, how’s that P.I. stuff working out for you?
I presume that means Private Investigator.
51 Janet, now in her twenties, opens the door...
Janet is now five years older – also, she’s never been named in dialogue. Would the audience know who she is?
You got the tests back yet? What tests?
Typos, grammar, punctuation + boring stuff:
1 ... the hearts inside the jars.
8 ... get a few things straightened out...
30 The lullaby is possessed! Run!
31 The other officers look on, confused.
35 God’s Right Hand? (possibly use italics)
36 JADE Diamond Stud?
38 Alice looks at him, confused.
48 Donald’s eyes light with shock.
54 Why doesn’t he take over the world, or kill us, or
like you said, make us suffer?
54 I know you’re looking for redemption, Donald.
58 Brian chuckles and walks...
59 It’s so clean you can eat off it.
67 Jade looks on, afraid.
69 Their parents called it in.
82 He takes heavy breaths...
94 He gets off him and walks back to Jade.
I hope these notes are useful. Good luck with it. read
A review of HyperGraphiaby Rfordyce on 08/10/2014‘Hypergraphia’ is a very professional screenplay and I enjoyed it immensely. I don’t think the concept is entirely new, but this has a very surreal mood and a storyline which buzzes around your head like a swarm of bees. I love Martin’s fragile grasp of reality, his erudite speech patterns and his erratic thought processes. Just to savour his wordplay and autistic tendency... ‘Hypergraphia’ is a very professional screenplay and I enjoyed it immensely. I don’t think the concept is entirely new, but this has a very surreal mood and a storyline which buzzes around your head like a swarm of bees. I love Martin’s fragile grasp of reality, his erudite speech patterns and his erratic thought processes. Just to savour his wordplay and autistic tendency (surely he must be at least partly autistic?) would in itself be worth the trouble of reading this script. But it has so much more to offer than that. It’s a film noir, it’s a detective whodunnit, it’s a psychological thriller, but most of all it’s a script which has the potential to become a box-office success.
The characters are all distinctive and well-drawn. Each has their own recognisable voice. The story rattles forward at a fairly frenetic pace and grabs our attention throughout, but information is only revealed gradually to pile extra layer upon layer of mystery. Good job.
I think it would be presumptive to say that I completely understand the outcome of this convoluted storyline, but it might be in order to accept it for what it is – a product of Martin’s fragile mental state. I think I’m right in saying that we never actually see any on-screen killings, except in the final bust-up when Martin kills Richardson and is in turn shot by the Redheaded woman – so that scene is presumably a product of his own fevered imagination, since we then immediately see him talking to the Three Men in the final scene. An ending like that would normally give rise to loud howls of protest from the ‘It Was All Just A Dream’ huddle of critics who maintain that it’s the death-knell of any script. Whatever, schmatever – I think this script is entertaining enough to survive that criticism. It’s a statement that our life can’t be viewed through the single lens of our own consciousness – our life impinges on other people and we have to look through their lenses as well.
Anyway, enough of the psychobabble. I’m never comfortable with that (British, you see). There are elements in the script which could be improved. As much as I love Martin’s unique poetic dialogue, I think you rather over-egg the pudding with it sometimes. It feels like you enjoy writing the dialogue so much that you sometimes neglect other aspects of the script. At 118 pages some of it could be gently trimmed, and you could use the space gained to build up the film noir tone. I’m thinking of instances like the scene on page 69, although the same comments could apply to many other parts of the story:
“Martin aggressively shakes the desk in front of him, startling Dr. Maravich and causing her lamp to fall to the floor.”
This scene should be a big atmospheric moment, where you leave the audience wondering about the true state of Martin’s mind. Use the lamp to greater effect. Imagine shadows falling around their faces, their movements. Imagine creepy music playing on screen. Give it a bit more edge. So you could have something like:
INT. PSYCHIATRIST’S OFFICE - NIGHT
A single desk lamp illuminates the room. Dr Maravitch watches Martin pacing back and forth.
And what do you think is the most logical explanation for that?
Half of Martin’s face is in shadow. He hesitates, shrugs his shoulders.
Martin aggressively thumps the desk. The LAMP falls to the floor and goes out. Darkness.
A few seconds of SILENCE, and then:
Martin switches the lamp back on.
I don’t think that I should see you anymore.
Don’t just have the lamp falling; make it go out. Plunge the room into darkness; play around with it.
The continuous alliteration in your dialogue sometimes drifts into your description lines as well, e.g. –
A frumpy, flimsy British man…
Lee lazily greets…
There’s nothing wrong with this in principle but it may distract the reader’s attention from focusing on the actual content of the words. Unless you think it’s necessary, I’d remove it.
Other reading notes:
1 No title page!?
1 A little more description would be good, e.g. – is there a desk? What does Martin look like? And as regards the Three Men, I know you’re playing for mystery and tension, and I think your decision not to name them, to keep them faceless, is a good one. But a few more clues would be helpful. At the very least, describe what will be seen on screen. Does it suggest a police station? A psychiatric unit? A meeting hall?
3 INT. PSYCHIATRIST’S OFFICE - DAY Martin sits across from Dr. Maravich.
Might be better to use LATER to emphasise that it’s a different scene from the one before.
6 Show me the fucking baby.
Nice nod to ‘Jerry McGuire.’
7 MARTIN This is the last book in the series, Jerry.
On a slightly pedantic note, it seems unlikely that movie producers would be waiting to see the finished product if it’s a series of books. If they like the first books enough, the movie would get made anyway. Maybe make it that the producer has seen extracts from an uncompleted book, and is eagerly awaiting the finished product.
16 I assume that at this point, and other instances throughout the script, we go into freeze-frame or something of that ilk. It would be good to show this in your formatting, e.g. –
...and sees DETECTIVE RICH RICHARDSON, a hard-nosed, middle-aged man.
May I help you?
Yes, I’m –
DETECTIVE RICHARDSON IN FREEZE-FRAME:
This is Detective Rich Richardson................................................. Never mind that. I’m rambling.
BACK TO SCENE
...Detective Rich Richardson. I want…
21 It gives me an opportunity to say gazoontite. It’s my third favourite word in the English language.
‘Gesundheit’ is actually a German expression so I assumed you were playing ironic in some way here. Maybe you want to check it out.
44 You’ve really got me on the ropes, here. HA! HA!
47 Detective Richardson hands Martin an urn.
A bit unlikely – where was he hiding it?
53 Your visit the other day threw me for a loop.
It’s a lot longer than ‘the other day.’ Martin had time to grow a substantial beard!
66 It’s your handwriting. And it’s dated two years ago.
We need some clearer evidence of this – a written date on the manuscript, for instance.
83 Just a small stylistic point you should watch out for: you tend to repeat characters’ names too much in blocks of description, e.g. – “Martin dashes across the room ... Martin immediately goes to the fan fiction site... Martin begins to read it aloud...” Try to vary the style so that it doesn’t become repetitive.
I go see Gary.
Several new characters are introduced late in the script – a practice normally frowned on by screenwriter scribblers. I don’t have a problem with it here, because the story is strong enough to carry it, but just thought I’d mention it.
90 I like the scene with the biker and the monkey – very surreal.
The bribe accepted by the DMV worker seems a little unlikely – I assume it’s a highly regulated organisation. See if you can come up with a better idea.
103 Suddenly Martin hears cop SIRENS.
Would the police have sirens blaring if they were on a secretive mission? Might be more effective if they simply appear without warning.
115 Martin frees his hands, reaches for his gun, points it at Detective Richardson...
The suspension of disbelief is broken here. There’s been no mention of the gun. Richardson would surely have searched him. And yet it’s suddenly there in Martin’s hands at the critical moment. I’m sure you can come up with a better narrative.
Typos, grammar, etc:
18 Hypergraphia, a disorder...
18 ... picks up a book off Martin’s bookshelf.
20 Yes, Mary Pickett.
47 Detective Richardson hands Martin an urn.
58 ... and fumbles it on to the floor.
63 ... If you ever need anything taxidermied,..
81 Martin sits in a dark room...
115 Detective Richardson stops singing; he cocks the hammer...
Thanks for this enjoyable read. A few more polishes, and I think you could have a winner here. Best of luck with it!
by Rfordyce on 08/03/2014Let’s start with the good stuff. You’ve got a nice concept here: a kindergarten sleuth who inhabits his own world but pulls everyone around him into it. A tale of unrequited love involving a cynical femme fatale; a friendship which turns sour and is then reclaimed; a father-son relationship which starts off in hero-worship but runs into troubled waters; and a hoodlum who... Let’s start with the good stuff. You’ve got a nice concept here: a kindergarten sleuth who inhabits his own world but pulls everyone around him into it. A tale of unrequited love involving a cynical femme fatale; a friendship which turns sour and is then reclaimed; a father-son relationship which starts off in hero-worship but runs into troubled waters; and a hoodlum who turns out to be Mr Nice Guy after all. All of these ingredients are familiar enough to movie-goers, but set within the parameters of five-year-old make-believe games they provide a promising mixture.
That said, it’s by no means an easy task to write this sort of story. You have to get the tone right and it has to be funny. It’s a detective story but violence is pretty much out of the question if your characters are five - six years old and you’re aiming for the family film market. Sex is a no-no. Strong language isn’t appropriate. To add to all those obstacles, you’re playing for comedy. Comedy’s very difficult to write at the best of times because everyone’s taste is different. When you pile on a whole raft of other restrictions, it’s not going to be an easy ride. I suppose the watchword is that to get the laughs you have to play it deadpan. The characters have to look and sound exactly like detectives / femme fatales / hoodlums, etc and they have to take themselves very seriously. So a lot of the comedy is going to be visual - Rocky blowing bubbles instead of smoking cigarillos, a Hopscotch challenge instead of a knife-fight. But the only tools we have for showing visual comedy are the printed words we use in a screenplay. Not easy!
I suppose the obvious benchmark to use for this sort of thing is ‘Bugsy Malone’, which was very successful. But that film is a musical, which puts it in a different idiom. The basic premise is also significantly different, in that the children in ‘Bugsy’ are actually playing grown-up parts, whereas in your story it remains make-believe.
I think you’ve made a great attempt at this, but after the initial comical idea of the baby detective has been set up (and you do that skilfully), I didn’t really feel that the comedy was coming through. To be fair, I’m sure a lot of this would play better visually on screen. But my main concern is that ultimately the storyline is too thin to carry the weight. A lot of the script feels as if it’s been padded out to reach 90+ pages. Now I must confess that I’ve never actually seen Bugsy Malone, but I believe there’s a lot more going on in the story than a group of kids falling out over the theft of a necklace. And that’s possibly where you need to reconsider things. At the moment it seems like everything’s centred on what happens inside one little classroom, whereas there would be a lot more energy in the story if the kids were placed in other environments - the streets, a football game, a night club, a hairdressers, whatever.
I’m not convinced about the use of Rocky’s voice-over throughout the script. A lot of the time it doesn’t seem to be contributing anything we don’t already know, as for instance: ‘It's like my whole world is crumbling around me. First the news with my dad, then I find out my best friend has betrayed me and I have lost the girl of my dreams.’ We already know all this. Also, I assume that it remains as ‘a deep, grizzly, adult voice’ throughout the story, which hints that we’re actually listening to a grown-up version of Rocky in later life. Not sure if that works...
Please remember these are just my personal reactions. Like I say, comedy is very much a matter of taste, and your star rating looks quite good, so maybe it’s just me.
Other reading notes:
1 Set in Black and White with small amounts of color mixed in.
Does this apply to the whole film, or just the opening sequence? There’s no indication.
8 I don’t think the roll-call of names for the whole class serves a useful purpose. Maybe just pick out one or two who have speaking parts.
16 MITCH (V.O.)
I think the V.O. isn’t strictly correct - should be (filtered), or alternatively use INTERCUT and switch back and forth between Rocky and Mitch.
25 I wouldn’t think you’d want to show the whole Hopscotch challenge; it would take up too much screen time. You can just show highlights, building up the tension.
35 The last place left is by stinky Dave.
If Dave’s stinkiness is a plot requirement I think you need to set it up somehow; show or hint at it earlier.
Is a whole class of children allowed to take a communal nap as part of their school day? I’m sure it doesn’t happen in Britain but it may be different in Chicago. And the schoolteacher isn’t allowed to leave her class unattended - especially not to take a personal phone call!
36 It would be difficult to show enough visible detail for what you need here, through a ‘pebble-glass’ window. I’d think a more viable option would be to show close ups of a HAND rummaging around, pulling out the NECKLACE, etc. while we can see the rest of the class asleep.
52 Are the POVs necessary?
59-60 This section feels very much like padding.
61 This exchange doesn’t seem to make sense. ‘I guess if I were you I'd think the same thing’ is a straight statement, so why would Rocky reply, ‘What's that supposed to mean?’
65 Rocky and Mitch make up. Again, the story seems a bit thin here. Their fall-out should be a major obstacle - but after a short period they just decide to be friends again.
67-68 The montage of Rocky and Mitch having good times seems out of place here - there’s no obvious lead-in to it.
68 Why is Christopher still studying if he’s been turned down for promotion? Indeed this plotline feels unresolved - there should be some sort of happy ending for Christopher’s ambitions, but there isn’t.
81 Wow, you must have really wanted a moment alone with me.
This line appears three times. Maybe you need to look at the structure of the sequence with the radio mike - it doesn’t seem to flow smoothly.
Typos, punctuation, grammar, etc. Where you see MULT.(iple) it’s an issue that occurs several times:
1 The streets come to life.
1 . . . perfectly pressed blue police uniform, a burn scar on his neck, sits behind. . .
1 ... backup's on its way. MULT.
1 Christopher puts the radio down, gets a steely look. . .
2 . . .a near empty kid’s bottle of milk...
3 ...middle class, likable, . . . and ready for the day, pops in.
8 Kindergarten’s own supermodel.
8 ...a moment’s glance.
10 He coolly kicks his legs...
10 She melts, going gaga...
11 Wait, it is potatoes?
13 He hops on it and pedals...
13 Bobby's tire runs over the jump rope and he tumbles off...
14 That was very impressive, you two.
15 ... and unholsters his two squirt guns.
18 How was your day, sweetie? MULT.
19 ... on his way up the stairs.
20 Lance coolly struts away.
21 ... sticks his tongue out...
24 ... tosses his pebble on the #1 square.
31 But he couldn’t care less. MULT.
31 Right after my second birthday he came upon ...
36 ... creeps back to the mats...
37 I hope that's all they’re doing.
43 You guys are my heroes!
53 What are you talking about? I just got here.
53 ... two champagne glasses in hand.
60 ... like you've been through the wringer.
70 ...none too pleased...
72 VALLERY (angrily)
86 But, I gave this to you.
87 Vallery looks on, stomps her feet...
89 Don't ‘but mom’ me.
91 Lance stands in front...
That’s all from me. Hope some of these notes are useful, and good luck with it. read
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