Review of: The Binding of Bombingham 

reviewed by Rfordyce on 08/18/2011
Credited Review
Great jigsaw! Credited Review
This is a very comprehensive attempt to document a period of history in which racial issues were at the forefront of the news, both in America and across the planet, as the concept of the ‘global village’ was emerging about the same time. Your title page says it’s based on historical events, and as I dug around doing a little research while looking at your script, it’s obvious that it does in fact follow the main events of the period quite closely.

I found the story very engaging, as we follow the Campbell family through the events of 1963, providing an eye-witness view of what it must have been like for a typical black family. The characters of Abe, Patty and Debbie are skilfully drawn, with each of them having a distinct voice, and the minor characters such as Billy, Bull Connor and Paul Witt are also fairly memorable. I must say that you illustrate clearly how stifling and restrictive were the petty laws and indignities which non-whites were subjected to, and the atmosphere of tension which permeated the whole population.

Your writing style, both action and descriptive passages, is very effective and uses a good range of vocabulary. The dialogue on the whole is very natural and easy to read, although you’ve got some large blocks of text which could be trimmed a bit in the interests of keeping the flow.

There are some aspects of the script which I think you might want to consider, and these are based on my gut reactions as I read the story.

Firstly, I think you could usefully look at the sequencing of events. I know it’s based on actual history, and I also know from my own experience that most writers, especially those with an interest in history, want to stay ‘true to the facts’. But the facts can often get in the way of telling a good story. Anyway, it strikes me that the kidnapping of Abe and his attempted lynching is a great passage in your script. But I think it happens too early. The protests and demonstrations which happen later in the story are almost an anti-climax to what we’ve already seen. Which means that the viewer feels almost let down when those intense personal moments as Abe stares death in the face are not revisited in some way. I’m sure it wouldn’t be too difficult to rearrange the story elements so that you have a more gradual build-up of action.

In a similar vein, the bombing of the church somehow doesn’t sit well at the end. It’s almost an afterthought. By the time the bombing happens, all the major elements of the story have already been tied up. The children’s protest has been flashed round the nation on TV screens, leading to eventual desegregation; and Abe’s family issues have been dealt with. If you brought the bombing into the story earlier you could in fact use it as a catalyst which convinces Patty that it’s impossible to keep Debbie wrapped up in cotton wool. That would then make Debbie’s participation in the children’s protest more meaningful.

Which leads me to the other major doubt I have (I know, you’re beginning to hate my guts, yes?) – which is the dynamic between Abe, Debbie and Patty. It just feels as if Abe spends too much of his time trying to placate Patty’s obsession with keeping her daughter safe. It’s always Abe who has to back down or give way. And that damages him as the main protagonist. I can envision the audience sitting there, willing him to be more forceful, and being let down each time. Until eventually they stop rooting for him. Again, I think the solution may lie in re-aligning the backstory of Papa’s lynching – which is the root cause of Patty’s fear. You could move it to a much later point in the script. Perhaps have one or two flashbacks which set up the situation, then reveal the lynching as the cause behind Patty’s paranoia.

I think what you’ve got here is a good basis for something really powerful. But at the moment it feels like a jigsaw which hasn’t quite been put together properly. All the pieces are there. But you’ve got to get them in the right order and working for each other.

Reading notes:

1 No SUPER for 1963?

2 We see George Wallace – for the only time in the story. Seems odd that he doesn’t show up again.

2 Montage nicely sets out the state of segregation in Birmingham.

3 Title card. At first I thought that ‘The Binding of Bombingham’ seems a rather flippant wordplay for the title of such a serious piece. Then I found that ‘Bombingham’ was in fact used by the media as a description. So I understand why you use it, but maybe think of other possible titles.

6 Nice scene dancing: sets the family dynamic.

10 The lynching flashback. Patty’s voice-over is too expositional. It doesn’t sound natural.

28 EXT. THE STEEL DOG BAR Day or Night?

33 The character of James is an interesting one but could be developed more. Why does he come to Abe’s rescue?
You also need to be aware that these scenes could be difficult to pull off. How does he manage to conceal the watch in such a confined space? How does he manage to loosen Abe’s bindings?

37 ‘It's the same tree where Patty's father was hanged.’ Unlikely that the audience would be able to make that connection.

56 Good ‘fake’ scene of aggression.

90 Debbie finds the note. This doesn’t feel true. It’s just not conceivable that Abe would have forgotten to remove it.

Typos, punctuation and stuff:
1 We ain't gonna allow niggers and whites to congregate/mix/mingle together... (segregate means the exact opposite).
5 above the Confederate battle flag... Confederate should have a capital C throughout.
9 ... he frantically sorts through...
9 All signed "Debbie".
10 ... the rope tautly angles away...
14 She sees Debbie climb on to the stool...
15 Evelyn's father...
16 ... our customers’ children.
22 He discreetly unlocks the blade...
23 You know where this leads, don't you?
25 ... America's Gandhi...
35 ... put the pill in, nigger.
35 ... and we'll put it at your house.
54 So let this brave young girl...
66 He helps her up on to the empty stool.
69 He leans close to Debbie's ear.
85 Abe peeks through a window... (various other instances of peek/peak)
88 Her class looks as if it's missing some students.
90 Do you understand?
99 Another group of (forty?) march down the steps.
105 ... German Shepherd...
106 ... a soaked TEENAGE BOY...
107 A family watches, stunned.
108 Has a Debbie Campbell been released from jail?
109 The FBI will be watching y'all.

That’s it from me, Fred. Great story. Good luck with it!

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