‘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 126
A review of Ninth Streetby Rfordyce on 10/17/2014Robert - sorry it’s taken so long to finish this review. My work-life balance is up the creek without a paddle at the moment. But here goes… ‘Ninth Street’ has got a good concept. A rather off-the-wall drama / comedy / mobster / romance which looks at the Mafioso from a rather quirky viewpoint. You’ve got some well-drawn characters to hold our attention; Antonietta’s is... Robert - sorry it’s taken so long to finish this review. My work-life balance is up the creek without a paddle at the moment. But here goes…
‘Ninth Street’ has got a good concept. A rather off-the-wall drama / comedy / mobster / romance which looks at the Mafioso from a rather quirky viewpoint. You’ve got some well-drawn characters to hold our attention; Antonietta’s is a domineering yet sympathetic personality; her repressed daughter Connie and gay son Frankie, together with their paramours, flesh out the extended Forlano family. There is a nice blend of comedy and romance, and your writing skills are obvious for all to see. There is a workable plot involving the ‘Godfather’ Francesco who comes back from the dead to exact his own brand of retribution on the Mafia bosses, and there is a satisfying climax in which there are some twists and a final happy ending, in keeping with the comedic style.
Why then did I find ‘Ninth Street’ such a slog to get through? I can see you’ve put a lot of work into this but I’m sure you’d rather have honest feedback than false praise. Purely my own opinion, of course, so please feel free to ignore anything I say. But I’ll arrange my thoughts under two headings – Writing Style and Story Issues.
A. WRITING STYLE / FORMATTING
First of all, you say you’ve written for the theatre and you’ve had productions in the USA and London. That’s a wonderful achievement and I congratulate you. But writing a screenplay is a very different assignment from writing a theatre script. I’m sure others will point out very similar things, so I’ll try not to labour the point, but I think you should research some of the screenwriting guides on the internet, from published books (Syd Field, Robert McKee, Blake Snyder, Chris Vogler, to name just a few), or indeed some of the scripts on Trigger Street; take a look at some of the Spotlight Submissions. There’s loads of material out there. If you’ve already had work produced in the theatre, that gives you a massive head start both in terms of material (you’ve already got some stories) and networking (you already know people in the entertainment industry).
The fact that you’re a playwright shows, but unfortunately not in a good way. Your writing style is very oriented towards the stage; in fact it almost segues towards novel-writing. Your descriptions take up many pages of unnecessary paragraphs. We don’t need to know every facial expression a character displays (leave that to the actors); we don’t need to know what’s going on in their head (it should be obvious from the story); we don’t need micro-descriptions of the physical movements they’re making; we don’t need detailed descriptions of basements, restaurants, outdoor markets, zoos, kitchens, bedrooms. All that stuff just sucks the life out of your story. Your page count is 124. You could quite easily cut that down to 100.
You must remember that you’re writing for two audiences. Firstly, the script reader, whether that person be a studio reader or some other industry professional who may be interested in your work. But you’re also writing for a cinema audience who will, you hope and pray, get to see the finished article on screen. They will only be interested in what they can SEE and HEAR on screen. So the rule is: ONLY WRITE WHAT YOU CAN SEE AND HEAR ON SCREEN. Anything which strays beyond those parameters is irrelevant. Keep it short, keep it snappy, don’t stray into novelistic verbiage. And don’t write stuff which is ‘unfilmable’. To take a very early example on page 2:
EXT: The market an hour later.
‘An hour later’ is unfilmable. You can tell the reader, but the reader isn’t the audience you’re ultimately addressing. If it’s vitally important to impart this information (and here, it isn’t) then you need to convey it to the cinema audience through dialogue, action, visual or auditory clues (e.g. – the hands of a clock have moved forward, the sun is higher in the sky). So you should simply write:
EXT. THE MARKET – DAY
Activity has increased. Most of the bins are filled...
Another unfilmable example: ‘The entire structure was originally five buildings that have been adapted to the business.’ The cinema audience can’t perceive this (unless they’re told in dialogue, or the director spends precious screen time to show it visually). And it’s not important anyway.
There are no page numbers. You should display these so that readers can refer to specific points for your attention. My notes below refer to page numbers on the assumption that they show up at the top of your PDF file.
The continual referencing of musical works (most of which are unfamiliar) becomes tedious and pulls the reader out of the story. It also raises copyright and cost issues.
Sluglines aren’t properly formatted, SUPERs aren’t shown correctly, e.g. – a better start to your script would be:
EXT: THE ITALIAN MARKET, PHILADELPHIA – DAY
A balmy Spring morning along the six blocks known as the Italian Market, but referred to simply as Ninth Street by the locals.
Capitalise characters’ names the first time they’re introduced, e.g. -
EMMA SALPIZZIO, whose small store...
On page 19 'Guarda che culo che ha’. There are a lot of lines in Italian dotted throughout your script. I’d imagine only a minority of cinemagoers speak Italian so I’d consider dropping some of these if you don’t want it to become an issue. Either that, or supply subtitles.
Whenever there’s a switch from description to dialogue, you need to show as a title the character who’s talking – even if it’s the same person as before. So for instance:
She picks up two empty cartons and hands them to one of her employees.
In the back.
She picks up two empty cartons and hands them to one of her employees.
In the back.
An example of too much micro-description, especially the use of very specific music:
5 As she moves swiftly back to her booth, she notices that a few of the older Italian female customers are staring at her disapprovingly. Defiantly she presses the tape deck and the strains of Artie Shaw accompanying Tony Pastor singing 'Rosalie' back up her abrupt shift in tone.
It pulls the reader out of the story. You could cut it down to:
Some of the customers gawp at Antonietta. She zaps ‘Play’ on the tape deck and a breezy song blares out.
You have a tendency to reveal things indirectly rather than directly, which means you lose opportunities for drama. Film is a very visual medium, and in general you should always try to engage the audience directly in the story. One early example is the discovery of the first body. Frankie talks to Cal and announces that ‘someone cut out his heart’. Why not just show it on screen when the body is being moved? It would be much more effective. Another example on page 48: Francesco is revealed as the killer as he smooches in a dance with Antonietta. Surely you could find a more dramatic way to reveal it?
40 Dominick has just finished cleaning the glass in the door.
First time this character has been featured. Needs some introduction. Ditto for Joanne.
64-65 Should be written as a montage.
B. STORY ISSUES
I was never convinced by Francesco’s motivation for faking his own death and carrying out the assassinations. I know you provide a generalised background around pages 91-92 but it appears too late in the story and seems very abstract. Film needs conflict, and here there is no real conflict between Francesco and his victims – only a generalised feeling of hatred towards ‘the mob’. You need some big ugly villain(s) in this story - someone who has wronged the Forlano family and needs to be taught a lesson. Otherwise the drama dies.
60 But you just killed two men!
How does she know? They’ve kept it a secret from her.
63 OK, it’s a minor point, but the whole house fire / burnt body episode seems rather far-fetched. Surely a post-mortem would have been carried out which would have revealed a stranger’s body?
75 First afternoon I see a whole table full of the bastards, I drop the stuff in the soup.
So this was just an opportunistic killing? It doesn’t seem to fit into Francesco’s grand plan.
79 So the parents knew about the priest. The priest story is given to the audience second-hand and seems a bit irrelevant. If someone is an important character in the story then generally they should have some screen time.
102 She didn't find me. She found the address of another Forlano family in Wilmington.
I don’t quite understand this part of the plot. Antonietta and Francesco are going back to Italy to see her sister? If so, why do they end up in Switzerland?
C. OTHER READING NOTES
1 The Infant of Prague isn’t something most readers would know about.
7 Seems highly unlikely that the TV report wouldn’t mention the spot where the death occurred. They’re usually hungry for every scrap of news.
11 Again, some of the plot elements are contradictory. On page 4 ‘Connie is nearby, staring down incredulously at the man. There is a large birthmark on the upper part of his left cheek.’ But when Bill asks about a birthmark, she says, ‘Maybe. I don't know. It was only for a split second.’ And yet on the previous page she says she saw the body for about a couple of minutes.
15 The description of the murder is good, but it needs to be condensed into short, snappy paragraphs, with plenty of ‘white space’.
And now the news….. Police say -
Cal turns off the radio.
A character switching off the radio / TV is a very clichéd scenario. Try to find a different way to reveal it.
58 ... unaware of the effect his return might have on her.
That seems a bit unlikely!
61 'Come' shit. Who the hell's buried in our plot at the Holy Cross?
He showed up on page 35. It’s taken 26 pages to raise this question?
64 What am I going to wear to the zoo tomorrow?
Seems to be a rather clumsy link to the next scene.
65 He said you were on the chunky side.
Doesn’t tally with the description on page 3!
66 You talk about them as if they're alive.
A rather stilted expression, considering that Antonietta definitely is! This whole conversation seems disjointed; just a means of shoe-horning in topics you need to move the story forward.
66 If they are in the mob, and their killings aren't mob related, then the mob knows…
Shouldn’t it be ‘...are mob related’?
1 ... surrounded by dark green canvas awnings...
29 ...on the altar in her chapel.
29 She sits next to Bill.
34 She answers it at a table...
69 They're certainly not very imaginative…
89 The entire disguise is peeled away...
102 ...since our store was so well known, maybe...
That’s all from me, Robert. You have a lot of good elements here, and many of the points I’ve raised can be easily fixed, so I hope you don’t think it’s too negative. Best of luck with it. read
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!
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