‘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 120
A review of SQUIRREL IMPOSSIBLEby Rfordyce on 01/25/2014Hi Russell, thanks for putting up ‘Squirrel Impossible.’ It’s a good old-fashioned story for kids and it’s got all the ingredients to make it potentially attractive as an animated feature. You know your way around a screenplay, including visuals, economy of action and dialogue, subtext, formatting and all that stuff. You’ve done a creditable job on characterisation, and... Hi Russell, thanks for putting up ‘Squirrel Impossible.’ It’s a good old-fashioned story for kids and it’s got all the ingredients to make it potentially attractive as an animated feature. You know your way around a screenplay, including visuals, economy of action and dialogue, subtext, formatting and all that stuff. You’ve done a creditable job on characterisation, and the story, centred on squirrels, chipmunks and felines is quirky (although there isn’t any stand-out feature to mark it out from hundreds of similar Disney-type stories). You’ve got the skills required to construct a great screenplay, but unfortunately I think you’ve got a long way to go before this is industry-ready.
The main elements which need work (and obviously it’s only my opinion – take it or leave it as you see fit) are story and pacing.
The story’s basic premise is just too thin to carry things through. The idea of a squirrel who can’t climb is a good concept, but to my mind you need to do a lot more than just present it as a given. Why can’t he climb? Just to state that no one has taught him doesn’t cut the mustard, as they say this side of the pond. Climbing is hard-wired into a squirrel’s genes. It doesn’t need much tuition – if indeed any. Like humans learning to walk, they just copy the actions of adults. That’s not to say you can’t use the idea as a premise, but I think you need to provide a lot more meat. Perhaps Earl had an accident or mental trauma as a newborn baby? Perhaps he lost a sibling and was mentally scarred as a result? Or perhaps Old Man Farley – another character who needs a bit more presence in the story – rescued him from a hunter’s snare and has been trying to teach him to climb, without success? I’m sure you can come up with other possibilities but as it stands the idea just seems faintly ridiculous.
Once we get into the story, there are a couple of plot points which seem a bit improbable, and they’re both critical to the story. Earl challenges Chip to a race on the obstacle course, and Chip immediately sets a date in three days time. Why would Chip postpone it? He’s clearly going to win, given that Earl can’t climb properly, so why would he pass up the chance to do more showing-off? It’s just too obviously a plot convenience to set up a ticking deadline. Given that this happens on page 18 it constitutes your turning-point into Act 2, so it needs to be solid.
A similar occurrence happens on page 72 when Tubby Two Socks hatches out his plot to put Squirt out of the action – he postpones the search for the monkey nuts until the following day, with no real explanation for Squirt’s benefit. This plot point isn’t quite so shaky as the first but it still seems a bit unlikely.
As regards the pacing, the improvement in Earl’s climbing abilities seems to take forever. On page 39 he climbs a tree no problem when he needs to, and yet spends another twenty pages trying to grasp the basics. This is the common ‘drag’ problem in Act 2; we need more substance to keep the reader interested until we get to the showdown of Act 3.
The backstory of Red and Clarice also has possibilities but it feels almost as if you’ve shoe-horned it in as an obligatory subplot rather than being organic to the story. The reveal that the Hooded Figure is Red is a little too obvious, and indeed it’s not clear why he feels the need to wear a disguise. He has very little interaction with Jess or Clarice. There’s no explanation of why he walked out on Clarice, other than being ‘young and brash’, and there’s no emotionally satisfying moment of reconciliation.
Old Man Farley is an interesting character but I think you need to do more with him. It would be good to give him more connection to the main story. Why is he so interested in the squirrels? What’s his motivation to build the obstacle course? Does he have any special relationship with Earl?
Other reading Notes:
3 Squirt examines a sketch of a squirrel’s head with the names RED & CLARICE etched into the bark underneath it.
Slightly confusing. The way I read it, it’s Earl who’s looking at the sketch. And ‘sketch’ implies that he’s looking at a drawing on paper, rather than a carving on the tree trunk.
5 …at the base of an ACORN TREE.
There’s no such thing as an acorn tree, to the best of my knowledge. Acorns are the seed nut of the oak tree.
9 The rear doors of the van swing open to reveal caged animals.
What sort of animals? A brief description would help.
Who you calling a klutz, klutz?
Have a nut.
Double slugline for SQUIRT.
33 Screech’s eyes shift upward to the hole in the trunk of the tree.
I can’t believe I let you talk me into doing this.
Earl watches Squirt carry Screech up the tree trunk.
I think your layout here needs amending. And it should be O.S. (Off Screen) rather than V.O. So it should read:
Screech’s eyes shift upward to the hole in the trunk of the tree.
Earl stands alone, looking upwards.
I can’t believe I let you talk me into doing this.
Squirt carries Screech up the tree trunk.
44 Fear washes over Earl’s face…
You use the expression ‘washes over’ a great deal – it begins to get noticeable. Try to vary it a bit.
54 / 55 To make it a smoother read you could just use mini-slugs when the action jumps back and forth between two viewpoints, e.g. –
EXT. OLD MAN FARLEY’S BACK YARD - DAY
Chip balances on a spinning wheel. He eyes the bird table with the feeder.
Come to papa.
He readies himself to pounce.
His face turns from joy to disappointment.
FARLEY’S BACK YARD
Chip reaches for the ledge…. Etc.
56 EARL It’s not just about being able to climb.
I think this is supposed to be Red’s line.
75 The joke about the Two Socks is a bit superfluous - it’s visually obvious long beforehand.
83 I think you need to set up a more dramatic ‘high noon’ moment here. They’re just staring up at the sun, rather than waiting for an obvious cue – perhaps the sun casting a shadow across an object in the garden.
90 The ending feels a bit woolly. We need something with more ‘bite.’
Punctuation, spelling and boring stuff…….
1. Meet EARL. On a normal day, Earl would be…
15 …as he chases Chip…
22 You’re Red.
32 A startled Earl jumps back.
33 You couldn’t help us out?
35 That’s my cue.
42 Because if you had there wouldn’t be any point…
52 I climbed, didn’t I?
54 …if you really want to win this thing, you’re gonna have to…
69 The last thing I wanted was any…
That’s it from me, Russell, and I hope it’s not too downbeat for you. This has possibilities but I reckon you need to work on it. read
A review of TAKE TEA AND TALKby Rfordyce on 11/12/2013Hi Magi, you must have drawn the short straw – you’ve got me again! ‘Take Tea and Talk’ explores very similar territory to ‘Reza’s Studio’. So similar that it feels sometimes as if you’re simply putting together the same jigsaw in a slightly different order. You focus on the uncomfortable distinctions between two cultures and whether they can co-exist successfully. Again,... Hi Magi, you must have drawn the short straw – you’ve got me again!
‘Take Tea and Talk’ explores very similar territory to ‘Reza’s Studio’. So similar that it feels sometimes as if you’re simply putting together the same jigsaw in a slightly different order. You focus on the uncomfortable distinctions between two cultures and whether they can co-exist successfully. Again, the lead characters are an Asian male and an American female. Again, the engine which drives the story is the political situation in the male protagonist’s homeland. And again the female enters freely into a relationship which appears to offer very little except subjugation to her lover’s will. Even her name is the same – Elizabeth / Beth. Both are set in the 1980s. Both have an extremely abusive ex-husband. Both have a girl friend who plays supporting role to the main female.
However, while I feel that ‘Reza’s Studio’ is potentially a great concept, I’m afraid ‘Take Tea and Talk’ doesn’t really grab my attention. Although you don’t list it as a comedy, I think a lot of the material is aiming for a comedy angle (I may be completely wrong in that assumption). But comedy is a notoriously difficult genre to write, as it’s so subjective. The only guarantee is that different things appeal to different people. I think a lot of it could play successfully as comedy with good actors cast in the right roles – especially the scenes with Rahim and Omar. But overall I don’t feel that it works; the shifts in tone between comedy and intense drama are too sudden and erratic to let the story flow.
I think the main obstacles for me are (1) Beth’s personality and (2) the absence of a strong narrative. I know that in Beth you’re trying to portray a sensitive, multi-faceted character who has been through troubled times. But her subservience to Rahim’s whims, her erratic changes of mood (he’s a ‘nice man’ on page 30, he becomes ‘a bastard’ on page 31 – without any clear reason for the change) and her self-indulgent depressive episodes simply become irritating after a while. It’s difficult to see why she would persevere in the relationship with Rahim when it so obviously offers her no hope of fulfilment. (And I know that you offer up a vision of enduring contentment for them at the end, but I don’t find it convincing).
The narrative meanders around for the most part exploring Rahim’s zealous adherence to Sufi teachings, but without any strong storyline to hold it together. The flashpoint of Rahim’s escape from the Russians is belatedly presented near the end, but it’s too late to have much effect on the overall strength of the script. There are too many unexplained episodes which don’t seem to knit into the fabric of the main narrative. For instance, Beth’s brief flashback to her ex-husband Ram. He is portrayed as such a sadistic monster that he’s almost farcical – and then we never see him again! And what happened to the unborn baby? Likewise, Beth’s father is suddenly thrust into the story near the end, simply as a plot device to create tension between Beth and Rahim. But he never appears in the main story, therefore the audience have no emotional attachment to him and therefore can’t really empathise with Beth’s love for her father in the way you want them to.
Also, it’s perhaps rather an esoteric point to make, but I feel that in the culminating strife between Rahim and Beth – the argument over Christmas – you’re manipulating cause and effect in order to get where you want to be. You want to demonstrate that Rahim’s hatred of Christianity is rooted in the brutal events on a bygone Christmas day in his home country. But the Russians aren’t marching into the village under the flag of Christianity; in fact, they represent a Communist regime. The fact that it happens on December 25 is sheer coincidence. If they marched in singing ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ I could go along with it, but as it stands it seems a bit contrived.
Most of the criticisms I made in my review of ‘Reza’s Studio’ apply equally here, so I won’t repeat them all, but they include the points I made about internal structure, formatting, use of CONTINUOUS, dialogue and subtitles, spelling and punctuation.
Other reading notes:
6 Russian stand on my Sarod.
You probably need some explanation of what a sarod is.
6 Oh my god! I remember! … A magazine, the LOOK!
Confusing timeline. ‘Look’ magazine folded in 1971. This story is set in 1980.
8 Dari is spoken, with English subtitles.
If you’re using subtitles, then it doesn’t make sense to write the dialogue in the stilted English style which we’ve heard from Rahim so far. They would just be speaking naturally in their native Dari, and the dialogue should follow the same style. So instead of:
‘You will take no rifles. You are a simple man. Going to wedding when the Russian come.’
you might have something like:
‘Don’t take rifles. When the Russians come, they’ll think you’re just a simple wedding guest.’
11 The door slams open, RAM is home.
The name is too similar to RAHIM.
24 TEEN on a bike enters scene…
A very weak way to describe the incident. Try:
“Suddenly a teenage cyclist wobbles across their path…” or
“A SQUEAL of brakes as a boy on a bike appears from nowhere…”
31 Yes, bank Joe……. This here’s why I work so hard to keep those bank floors shiny.
This is a classic case of show, don’t tell. It would be much more effective if we’d already met Joe (this is his first appearance) and seen him sweeping floors in a bank.
39 I’m taping Carousal…
Do you mean "Carousel”? - June Is Bustin' Out All Over, - You'll Never Walk Alone and all that?
60 We talked about living together,
Did they? You can’t just make reference to previous dialogue which the audience hasn’t heard; you need to include it somewhere.
61 You have job…
Does she have a job? I don’t think it ever surfaces in the story – apologies if I missed it.
61 Well, my Iranian friend offered $3,000 to marry so he could get legal.
What friend? This is a completely new plot twist.
66 The sex scene – it can’t be called lovemaking – is startling in its tawdriness.
78 But I thought…we talked about buying land.
When did they talk about it? I missed it.
81 Cousin MIRIAM is tall,
Same name as Rahim’s mother. Confusing.
89 KHALID, 30, eats flat bread,
Presumably this is a different Khalid from the one we’ve already met? Again, confusing nomenclature. And because we have no emotional investment in Khalid (we’ve never met him before) his death doesn’t have the impact it should do.
99 Inside: an ornate gold pin with an emerald.
Again, a pay-off with no setup. The audience hasn’t seen this object.
Spelling, punctuation, etc (first 10 pages)…
1 …remain close to the gate so you can hear…
4 A STEWARD demonstrates the opening…
6 Russian stand on my sarod.
6 My beautiful instrument, dead.
6 American lady help me. MULT.
7 Frightened, they try to see… Lots of commas missing in the script. MULT.
7 …I still don’t understand!
8 KABUL, AFGHANISTAN
9 Wife, MIRIAM, 60s, attractive, sews something…
9 …a heavy wool-lined coat.
9 Miriam finishes, hands the heavy coat…
9 We die, doesn’t matter.
10 …all hover. ???
15 …take American lady for teacher. MULT.
22 I’m used to being… MULT.
Sorry if these notes seem overly negative, Magi, but I think possibly you should focus your efforts on ‘Reza’ rather than on this one which seems inferior by comparison. Whatever you decide, best of luck with it. read
A review of REZA'S STUDIOby Rfordyce on 10/05/2013This is a very inventive angle on what is becoming a rather tired sub-genre – the wars in the Middle East and their effect on USA society. To base your story in a single interior location is a bold choice. One that will certainly make it attractive to cost-conscious producers searching for suitable material. I like the idea, and in my humble opinion, you almost pull it off... This is a very inventive angle on what is becoming a rather tired sub-genre – the wars in the Middle East and their effect on USA society. To base your story in a single interior location is a bold choice. One that will certainly make it attractive to cost-conscious producers searching for suitable material. I like the idea, and in my humble opinion, you almost pull it off. Not quite, because I think there are one or two further drafts required before this is ready for the market. But the core concept is very good and there’s a lot of potential here.
Your story manages to explore the subject of Islamic-Western coexistence with intelligence and emotional depth. I like your choice to make both your lead characters, Reza and Elizabeth, deeply flawed by their prejudices and insecurities. Reza is arrogant, angry and controlling, while Elizabeth is scarred by physical and mental abuse and the pressures of a stressful job. Gradually, through attrition and mutual dependency, they manage to throw off most of the emotional baggage they carry on their shoulders. This process is woven round a plotline of guerrilla warfare and covert operations which would be perfectly at home in a blockbuster war movie, but the difference in the approach to the subject is huge.
To contain your story within the confines of a small Californian studio apartment is of course a massive restriction of your freedom to write. But like the challenge of writing poetry which conforms to the conventions of iambic pentameter, classical ode or villanelle, it can also be very liberating. It forces you to really focus on your themes and tell the story as succinctly as possible.
The atmosphere of suppressed tension in the opening scenes is expertly portrayed, and pulls us into the story. From then onwards, the relationship between Reza and Elizabeth flares up and down like a flickering candle, but is always absorbing.
However, there are several matters I think you need to address. The time-period of this story is confusing. On page 11 Mohammad says, “January 2, 2007. Already I’m in America two years.” But actually (unless I’ve got it wrong) it’s set in the 1980s. Khomenei, whom Reza mentions, died in 1989, and you also have references to Sadaam. There doesn’t seem to be any conscious effort on your part to signpost the fact that this is a period piece. I believe that could be a miscalculation, since the subject-matter of Reza’s mission – the use of drones and secret technology to conduct strikes against the ‘enemy’ - is almost commonplace now, but it was cutting-edge stuff in the 1980s, which I presume is the time-period this is set in. So it feels a bit dated unless you give the audience some clues that this is about 30 years ago. The simplest way to do that may be to have a SUPER (e.g. – SUPER: SANTA MONICA, 1980s or similar) but for authenticity you could also drop in a few references to people and events of the time.
I think some work needs to be done on Elizabeth’s backstory. At the moment you have two flashbacks: one showing her being beaten by her husband, and the other showing him trying to ‘hand her something’ (I don’t think the ‘something’ is ever revealed) while pleading with her. There are also various scenes in which she talks with Reza about her previous marriage. But a number of questions are left hanging in the air. Is the ‘Asian’ husband significant? Is Elizabeth somehow attracted to Asian or Middle Eastern men? What is the ‘something’? Was the husband unfaithful or not? And what about her father – some snippets about chemotherapy, about parental neglect. There are too many loose ends here. You might want to give some thought to either dispensing with the flashbacks altogether (they are, after all, the only scenes outwith Reza’s studio, so there’s an argument for shedding them) or expand them to give Elizabeth a more coherent backstory.
But the part of your story I find least satisfying is the ending. For me, it doesn’t provide resolution – on anything. Maybe that’s your intention, since the themes you deal in never really have tidy endings. But speaking personally, I like to come out of a cinema in a mood of fulfilment. That doesn’t necessarily mean happy – it could be melancholic, thoughtful, angry, or just entertained. But this ending seems to leave a tangle of loose ends. At the basic level, has Reza attained his goal or not? The computers are destroyed, but he still has the coordinates on his CD, doesn’t he? What happens to his mother and sister? What are we supposed to infer? Perhaps I missed some clues. If so, apologies.
More importantly, I don’t feel that Elizabeth’s motivation for turning against him has been fully explored. Certainly she’s become much more positive about herself. But why specifically does she set out to thwart his plans? If it’s because she feels sympathy for the intended victims, it doesn’t ring true, since very little has been said about them; and to the audience, they are nameless unknowns. If it’s out of resentment for Reza’s treatment of her, why does she leave shouting, ‘I love you!’? Is it simply out of a sense of moral duty? This feels more likely to me, but if so I think you need to do more to establish it. Their relationship has centred more on their personal interaction rather than on Elizabeth’s moral outlook. It wouldn’t take much to correct this – just a few more clues in the dialogue, perhaps – but at the moment her decision seems rather abrupt.
In a story like this, a lot of the drama is created by the atmospheric claustrophobia of the contained location, and you promote this really well. But you could also make better use of the fact that the protagonists look through the window blinds at a seascape outside. The ever-changing patterns and beauty of the sea offer a great opportunity to deal in contrasts of light, mood and pacing. I’m sure you could bring this into your script in a very creative way.
A few thoughts about your internal structure. I’m sure you know the rule of thumb which says that one page of script should equate roughly to one minute of screen time. There are numerous times when the action clearly overruns the time elapsed on the printed page, e.g. – from the point after lovemaking where Reza goes to the bathroom, showers, dries himself, comes back to bed, falls asleep and starts snoring would clearly take much longer than the seven short sentences you use to describe it. This is unavoidable in a script like this where you’re restricted to one location. However you can probably make it less obvious by simply using LATER as a stand-alone slug to make it flow more cinematically, e.g. –
He jumps up, goes to the bathroom.
He can be heard showering. Elizabeth sighs, moans, turns on her side. She scans the room with its wall to wall books and piles of newspapers.
He returns nude, turns off the light. It’s very dark as he gets in bed with her. He turns away from her.
He is snoring. They’re a tight fit in the twin bed. She wiggles around trying to get comfortable. Finally still, she cries softly.
Alternatively, you could write some sequences as montages or SERIES OF SHOTS, e.g. –
He jumps up, goes to the bathroom.
SERIES OF SHOTS:
- In the bathroom, he showers.
- Alone, Elizabeth sighs, moans, turns on her side. She scans the room with its wall to wall books and piles of newspapers.
- He returns nude, turns off the light. It’s very dark as he gets in bed with her. He turns away from her.
- He dozes. They’re a tight fit in the twin bed. She tries to get comfortable.
- He snores. She cries softly.
END SERIES OF SHOTS
Your formatting could do with a really thorough tidying up. There are lots of examples of missing line spaces, surplus line spaces, badly-formatted ‘wrylies’, premature line endings (especially in dialogue) and various other discrepancies. None of them major on their own, but together they give the reader the impression of a slapdash script. In addition there are too many spelling, punctuation and grammar hiccups – most of which should be picked up by any decent spell-check program.
Other reading notes: where you see MULT.(iple) it’s a point which occurs several times....
Page numbering starts at 2. It should be page 1.
2 EXT. SANTA MONICA, CA.
Apart from this slugline, there’s no other mention of Santa Monica in the script – so only the reader is given this information. If you want to specify the location, you need to provide visual or dialogue clues for the audience; or use a SUPER.
2 INT. DARK STUDIO – CONTINUOUS
No need for this slugline. It isn’t a new scene. See also note for p. 36.
2 A closed blind covers a window facing the sea.
The audience can’t see through a closed blind, so they have no means of knowing that this is a seaside location. You should postpone this information till page 4 when Reza opens the blinds (when it would also have more dramatic impact).
5 Work today, 3-11.
Numbers, especially in dialogue, should be written as text, since they make up part of the character’s speech. So write ‘three to eleven’. But having said that, why does she need to go if she doesn’t start work till 3pm? MULT.
5 ...slit your throat?
The word ‘Pause’ should be on the next line. But you don’t need it anyway, since it’s followed by a description line which does the job equally well.
5 Wrong formatting. Should be:
5 ELIZABETH (nods)
Your direction lines aren’t formatted properly. They should be indented.
7 High voice, pleased.
This is a direction line. It should be written in brackets, indented, underneath Reza’s name (see previous note). MULT.
9 INT. STUDIO – NEXT MORNING
Okay, you probably think this is pedantic, but you’re not just writing for the reader – you’re also writing a template for what the cinema audience will see on screen. And the cinema audience doesn’t know it’s the following morning unless you provide some cinematic clues. You can’t just tell the reader. If it’s important (and it probably isn’t), find a way of letting the audience know, e.g. – the date on a newspaper, TV report, digital clock, dialogue, action, whatever. Unless it’s vital to know, I’d simply write INT. STUDIO – DAY. MULT.
10 ... preppy MO.
10 Salam alaikum. (Peace be upon you)
The English translation needs to be shown as a subtitle (if you’re using subtitles, that is). Otherwise it just looks like part of the dialogue. So write:
(SUBTITLE: Peace be upon you.) MULT.
14 ...a god awful accident. REZA
Too many blank lines here. MULT.
22 Wow. Two hours already.
Her visit has only taken ten pages of script, but she’s been there two hours. Again, you need to find ways to get round this. See previous notes.
26 America military must go. Saudi needs a new foot hold in the oil region.
What does Saudi have to do with it?
28 Reza suddenly believes he’s under surveillance. What has caused this sudden obsession? There doesn’t seem to be any trigger for it. And who is Ahmed?
36 Slowly he closes the door.
INT. REZA’S STUDIO - CONTINUOUS
Reza sits at the computer working.
CONTINUOUS is wrong. It means that a scene follows immediately after the next, i.e. – no gap in time. Here, there’s a gap. MULT.
36 A hall fire alarm blares.
I don’t understand the significance of this. And who is the woman we hear calling to Reza? It seems to be just a random occurrence.
37 Reza wakens and reads the time, 5 am.
This scene seems awkward for several reasons.
It would seem much easier to show Reza planting the ‘Sparrow’ at the Fish Market rather than have him explain it second-hand to Mohammad in dialogue. However I realise that you probably want to preserve the dramatic unity of keeping everything in the studio. I can understand that, but you could probably get round it by simply showing Reza leaving the studio stealthily, carrying a mysterious package – this would also give a more dramatic edge.
Secondly, surely Reza would be keen to catch the news reports immediately, rather than having a leisurely shower?
Thirdly, the TV news item is presented in a rather desultory way. Is the Newswoman in the studio, or at the Fish Market? We’re told that the man ‘enters the scene’ – but the scene hasn’t been identified or described. Who is Joe – the man or the Newswoman?
Lastly, having just spoken to the fisherman, instead of pumping him for information like any news reporter would, she seems desperate to get him off camera. The whole episode seems to be shoehorned into the script rather sloppily.
46 ...shadows dance as he moves about.
Who is ‘he’?
53 Maureen tells me, be assertive.
Who is Maureen? You have a habit of mentioning characters who don’t appear in the story.
69 I’m going to the desert…
I don’t know what this means.
74 This is suddenly getting confusing. Who’s Mammud? Who’s Wilshire? Who’s Ali (another Ali??)?
80 I stationed Ahmad at the end of the hall.
Another unknown character...
82 (A BEAT)
82 I sat there in her office...
Which ‘her’ is she talking about?
Spelling, punctuation, etc...
2 ... an erudite handsome. Two adjectives, no noun?
2 ... a white nurse’s uniform...
2 ... bookcases fill the studio, with stacks of newspapers on floor. MULT.
5 “In case I disappear - trace this number.”
5 ELIZABETH (nods)
7 I should, huh?
7 ... takes a sugar cube and holds it...
8 Did you see how they moved out of the way?
8 Of course. I studied... MULT.
8 ELIZABETH (CONT’D)
9 She moves to the third row. Reads with...
11 “You know what this means?” The guy says...
13 The blinds are open, revealing...
19 I said I’m studying, not that I know...
19 ... proceeds to look up “wisdom”.
20 He laughs. Sure, I win. Always. ‘He laughs’ should be on a separate line.
21 He beats her. She doesn’t leave?
23 And who pays your rent? MULT.
24 REZA Your point?
32 Finished, he comes out... MULT.
36 Donning her shoes...
38 Divers canvass the area...
39 ...an ounce of explosive...
39 ...under its wing.
50 ... this foreign place?”
50 ... possession for me?”
53 Maureen tells me, be assertive.
55 She stops crying...
56 Yes. He used to kick...
59 You lie. MULT.
61 REZA Point? MULT.
63 Nobody’s gotten close...
64 I leave one day; it takes two...
78 ... bends the blinds...
87 What am I supposed to do?
Hope this is useful. Good luck with any re-writes. read
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