Jan, I finally got round to your script; my apologies for the lengthy wait. I hope I can give you some useful notes.
‘The Perfect Gentleman’ is a variation on an extremely well-known theme, as exemplified in the Oscar-laden ‘My Fair Lady’ which you give several nods to in the script. So you’re up against some pretty stiff competition, including George Bernard Shaw! To pull off a challenge like that you need some outstanding ideas and the execution to go with them.
You’ve certainly put a lot of time and effort into this and there are several good things going for it. First off, changing the Audrey Hepburn character into a vagrant from the Bronx is a pretty cool move. There’s a lot of mileage to be had from that. And secondly, moving the upper-class action to Europe rather than England preserves the theme but gives the setting a bit more flavour. So the concept itself is a bit of a challenge but you’ve made a good start.
Let’s talk about Guy. Your whole story revolves around Guy’s transformation, so it needs to be good. Really good. At the moment I think you’ve got a long way to go. He should be a totally changed person when we see him at Cannes. Certainly his appearance has changed – but not much else. His opening lines are:
‘All but the last part. I'm not going to kill anyone for you.’
Poppy cringes at his thick Bronx accent. Really? I’m no expert on USA dialects, but this doesn’t sound much like a Bronx accent to me – either in delivery or phrasing. You need something more like:
‘What kinda dumb broad you? I ain’t gonna kill no fancy wardrobe for no-one.’
I know it’s difficult to convey an accent in a script – if you try to vary the spelling it can become a turn-off for the reader. But if you’re going to make a big deal out of his Bronx roots you need to make some kind of attempt to capture the sound in the rhythm of your dialogue. At the moment he talks exactly the way Poppy and Mia do. You could get a lot of comedy out of the Bronx speech but you need to work for it. At the beginning, his Bronx psyche should be oozing out of him. And that means peppering his speech with the sort of phrases you’d expect to hear from a Bronx boy – including a few sonsabitches, dickheads and motherfuckers. Then throw some nasty personal habits into the mix. He picks his nose and eats it. He doesn’t flush the toilet. He smokes roll-ups and slurps Budweiser. The audience should be saying to themselves, ‘There’s no way this Guy can be a gentleman.’
I don’t really think the Rumi angle works very well. Yes, it’s nice that he’s already got an appreciation of literature and an ear for Beethoven when we first meet him, but I think that works against the comedy. It just seems at odds with his background. I think it would be OK to introduce it at a later stage; maybe Rupert encourages him to read poetry and appreciate the music as well as teaching him to dance.
Likewise his extended grieving for his mother seems to me to be mawkishly sentimental when you should be primarily playing it for laughs. The scene where he tells the whole story to Poppy doesn’t ring true to me. It seems too facile that a hard-bitten, streetwise person like Guy would just blurt all this out in one go. Again, I think you could introduce it in the scenes at Cannes, where you could have him revealing this at the height of an argument with Mia, then storming off to catch a plane. That would provide a much more dramatic route.
Poppy and Mia are competently drawn but I think you could do more to differentiate them. With Poppy almost 20 years the elder, you could make her much more matriarchal so that Mia could be more wayward and impulsive. That could work quite well within the story. At the moment they seem to act and talk in a very similar way.
In terms of the storyline, there are several things that don’t seem to stack up. First of all, the wager that Guy can be turned into the perfect gentleman is one that seems to sprout tendrils all over the place. It should be straightforward enough; by the end of the first Act you want to have the wager firmly established. The girls think they can turn Guy from a Bronx tramp into the perfect gentleman; Harry thinks it can’t be done. A deadline is agreed upon, stakes are established, and the rules are plain for all to see.
But this is very far from being the case. On page 9, the bet is made, but it all seems a bit vague. How is Guy’s transformation into a gentleman going to be measured and judged? We don’t really know. A bet should entail winners and losers. What does Harry stand to win? What do Poppy and Mia stand to lose? Very little, seems to be the answer in both cases. But having set up the bet, you keep moving the goalposts...
On page 16 Harry decides he wants his money back with interest if he wins. Then on page 24 we suddenly find out that the wager is to be decided at Cannes. There’s been no mention of Cannes before then. On page 69, after Guy’s faux pas at the Wall Street club, Harry announces that ‘the bet is finished’. But a few pages later it seems to be back on the agenda. Then on page 81, Harry demands that a woman must fall in love with Guy, followed closely by Poppy’s announcement that ‘the shelter’ for the homeless (which hasn’t been mentioned before!) is not only going to be provided by Harry if he loses... he has to run it as well!
So the initial bet just seems to grow more branches all the time, leaving the reader very confused. I’m not saying the rules of the bet can’t be changed during the story – but it would have to be as a result of some plot development, a raising of the stakes. In any case the whole project seems heavily stacked against Harry – he doesn’t actually stand to win anything.
I think also you need to make it clearer where Harry earns all this money he’s squandering. The reader knows he’s an investment banker, but only because you’ve mentioned it in a descriptive passage (page 4). You need to demonstrate it to the viewer as well.
Another aspect which could do with some reinforcement is the girls’ motivation. It needs a stronger focus. The girls have been jilted, so they’re both pissed off. But that’s not quite the same thing as a desire to have a true gentleman around. We need to understand why they don’t just want a new lover – they want someone who’s stylish and considerate. So you need to show Poppy and Mia on the receiving end of some pretty boorish conduct. You have a montage doing exactly this on page 8, but it seems to sit rather awkwardly at this point in the script, as a series of flashbacks taking place while the girls are in the taxi. An alternative might be to move this to the beginning and use it to introduce the characters during the opening credits. But lay it on thick with a trowel. Show the ex-boyfriends behaving really badly – farting on the sofa, puking up after a boozy night, getting caught watching porn videos – all that stuff. That would then establish the girls’ need for someone a bit more cultured.
Structure-wise, the story falls into three parts which would normally correspond to a typical 3-Act structure:
1. The set-up of the bet and the search for a candidate, i.e. – Guy;
2. The education of Guy as a gentleman, and the various escapades he has to go through;
3. The events at Cannes and the final resolution.
So on a 125-page script (which is much too long, by the way, but more of that later) your first Act ends on page 24, about one-fifth into the story. That’s a little early. Your second Act ends around page 82, or two-thirds in. That’s seriously early! So I’d say the divisions within the story are OK but the dramatic structure needs a fair bit of work. Your final Act needs to be shorter, punchier and really racking up the action.
Last but not least, your script is riddled with spelling and punctuation errors - just look at the list below – and there are others I could have added. When you’re trying to get your script past a studio reader, it’ll kill your chances stone dead. The great bulk of these should be picked up by a good quality spell-check program, and the rest by a thorough proof-read.
Other reading notes:
1 Underlining I believe is still frowned upon by most script editors.
1 Try to avoid ‘we see’s.
6 INT. REAR OF CONCERT HALL- CONTINUOUS
You use the CONTINUOUS slugline a lot when it’s not suitable. LATER would be better in most cases. CONTINUOUS means what it says: i.e. the action unfolds in ‘real time’. It can’t be CONTINUOUS here because there has to be a time lag between Mia resting her head on Harry’s shoulder in the centre seats, and asking Guy for directions near the back of the hall.
10 ...her free-lance job at Nissan.
How are you going to convey this information to the viewer? It’s not enough just to tell the reader.
10 her manuscript for an anthropology book...
39 GUY And anthropology is... POPPY The study of man.
Guy’s already answered his own question on this (page 25). Doesn’t make sense for him to be asking it again.
40 Slow down... We should get going. A little contradictory!
45 You tend to over-write. There are scores of little passages throughout the script which could be pared down or omitted entirely. You need a more rhythmic, punchier tone to keep the reader engaged. If you go through the script and weed out all the places where you drift into novelistic prose, it would reduce your page count quite a bit. Just one example
They shake their heads, yes, maybe. Guy hears, smiles, waves.
INT. MIA AND POPPY'S PENTHOUSE VESTIBULE - DAY
Poppy and Mia wait for DICTION EXPERT #1 (70) to arrive.
Guy sits in living room reading Poppy's anthropology book.
He looks debonair in his tweed coat. Finally doorbell rings.
DICTION EXPERT #1
You could pare this down to:
Guy hears, smiles, waves.
INT. MIA AND POPPY'S PENTHOUSE VESTIBULE – DAY
Poppy opens the front door, revealing:
DICTION EXPERT #1
55 A lot of viewers won’t recognise the bridge in Central Park, or even connect it with his mother’s death. You need to find a more cinematic method of showing this.
65-66 Good scene in Wall Street club.
74 GUY So you're an anthropologist? This has already been discussed. You need to vary the dialogue.
93 I'd say he is a Yorkshire Man. Traces of Scottish Highlands. ??? They’re a long distance apart!
99 It's been in her family for 1000 years. Seems a little unlikely!
Countesses don’t fling themselves at strangers in the full glare of the public, no matter how macho and handsome the man is. They’re much too careful of their reputations to act like that. And presumably there’s a Count somewhere in the mix? Doesn’t he object to being a cuckold?
123 I don’t really understand the ending. Mia and Guy were re-united in the previous scene, but now it’s a year later and they’re apart again?
So the bad news is I think you’ve still got quite some way to go. But hey, it’s only my opinion and I’m sure you’ll get some very positive reviews. The good news is, the basics are there and everything can be fixed. I know how hard it is to put together a good script, so good luck with it. See you round the Message Boards!
Spelling, punctuation, typos, etc:
1 ... chooses an emerald chiffon dress to don.
3 ... throws her cell, and its housing separates.
4 ... checking his Rolex.
4 Neither of them is a gentleman...
6 Poppy worries a locket open... Worries??
7 He points to a well-dressed concert goer...
8 What if we hire professionals to help us?
9 He pats both their knees, happy he has cheered them up.
11 What have we got to lose?
11 ... our specimen?
12 Is that..?
12 They back-up, startled.
13 ... his brown pointy... pointy??
16 ...it'll only make me work harder.
17 Here, put your clothes in this.
20 ...brushes past them... (several instances of ‘passed’ for ‘past’ in script)
21 ...and he stumbles over...
21 ... take an axe...
25 Guy plays with shaving cream, not liking the smell. You omit commas quite frequently. Won’t highlight it again.
29 Resigned, Guy calms himself...
30 ...Guy chases down a cab heading downtown. His new clothes and hair are drenched.
30 You can't just think you’re a gentlemen, you...
32 ...we know you've seen one musical.
33 ...but let’s start...
36 ... gripped with sadness
37 ...takrd a bone to stir coffee. takrd??
38 ... pushes Mia's drawings aside to make room...
40 ... can you do all that...
43 Hey, take it easy...
45 Colin Firth?
46 The final expert is waiting...
47 Why put it off another minute?
48 Ready to get to work...
48 So, my young fellow...
53 Je ne sais quoi, if I do say so myself.
55 ... tilts his head quizzically.
57 Where are your shoes?
59 Where are your index cards? (Rupert would speak ‘correctly’.)
61 ... cease their repartee...
69 Does this mean we're not going to Cannes?
74 Guy jumps to the boy's aid...
74 Other mothers... grab their children and run.
75 It's just that mothers are responsible...
75 They walk through the park to practise...
75 Guy lets a woman know...
78 He takes her hand and they stroll...
80 and lets it slide through...
82 ...we'll up the ante too.
82 ...on the first night...
82 Whatever we can do to help you...
83 ...except Mia, who peeks over partitions...
83 ...the Palme d'Or.
83 You speak French?
83 Un petit peu.
83 Ma Cherie.
87 He admires the watch, glinting and sparkling.
92 When you label something...
92 ...you put it in a box and you’re prevented from...
97 ... bundles of newspapers...
97 ... bundles of newspapers...
98 Guy ends it...
98 ...she gets no attention.
102 ...right now I’m delighted...
103 if she falls in love with him in spite of it, we
116 ...greets foursome in vestibule...
117 Suddenly, Poppy gets an idea.
Review ID: 4011322
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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