I read your screenplay Matadora and really enjoyed it so was pleased to see this one pop into my assignment box. I usually take a very subjective approach to reviews. However, I may have to go a slightly different tack with this one as this is a film that is clearly not written with me in mind. The audience for this I think would be quite young. This is not in any way meant as an insult but it’s the type of daytime Disney channel film my 12 year old sister would watch (and enjoy!).
I liked the concept. This is my kind of fantasy. Not full-out goblins and wizards but a small change to the real world, which acts a metaphor and allows for something meaningful to be said about the world we live in. This was also one of the few screenplays I’ve read with a strong theme to it. GOOD.
The dialogue is good without being great. On occasions I felt it was a bit overwritten, you have a tendency of explaining things through dialogue that don’t need to spelt out for the audience. An early example is Pg 5 - I don’t think anything is gained from going into so much detail.
The dialogue doesn’t feel particularly authentic but it is very reminiscent of the sort of dialogue you would find in Hannah Montana, High School Musical type programmes/films and I actually think it holds up quite well when placed side to side with these types of children’s fare. I’ve been wavering between average and good for dialogue but it made me smile on occasions and though not particularly authentic it was enjoyable to read so I’m going to be kind and say GOOD.
Solid structure, which follows all the rules (perhaps a bit too rigidly). Nothing particularly unique or exciting about it but I don’t see originality in this area as a necessity so GOOD.
I thought the story, though engaging, played out a little too predictably for me. This was the same for Matadora, though that story had a few unexpected twists and flourishes which helped it rise above it’s well-trodden path. This on the other hand played out more or less how I was expecting after reading the logline and was pretty cliched so I’m going to rate the story AVERAGE.
I thought Brock and Kelly were very clichéd and one dimensional.
I thought Tad was likeable but bland. I understand he’s meant to be an average sort of kid and you want the audience to be able to relate him but I think you need to give him some sort of character. At the moment he’s averagely popular, averagely intelligent, average at just about everything. He doesn’t have any big flaws and he doesn’t have any standout qualities either. I think if you’re expecting people to want to spend and hour and a half with a character you need to make them more interesting. You can still make a character likeable and relatable while at the same time making them an individual in their own right.
Tommy is the one character that I really liked. Without Tommy the screenplay would fall flat, though thankfully she’s in almost every scene. This is an example of what I was talking about with Tad. Tommy is likable and relatable while also being very much a living, breathing individual.
Apart from Tommy I thought your characters were below average but with her I think it bumps your rating here up to AVERAGE.
It’s got its faults but it was an easy and enjoyable read. It’s unoriginal but I don’t think that’s as much of a criticism when it comes to children’s films (though it’s still a criticism). I'm pretty sure my sister would enjoy it. Overall I’d rate it GOOD.
Here are a few notes I made as I went along.
Pg 27-8 –Tommy immediately believes Tad has a tail, before even seeing!? I realise this isn’t meant to be a realist drama or anything but…
Pg 29 – Dad ‘there’s nothing wrong…inside that’s important.’ You’ve just summed up the whole theme of the film in a line of dialogue! I know this is meant for kids but you don’t have to treat them like idiots. Even a six year old will have worked out by now that this is what the film is about. Same rules apply – show don’t tell.
Pg 50 – ‘the idea of creationism is questionable at best.’ This is a politicians response, it doesn’t sound like Tommy at all. Have you toned down her response for fear of trashing creationism? Having your characters make controversial statements doesn’t in turn make your screenplay controversial.
Pg 53 – you could probably get away with just having a quick shot of these two chatting secretly MOS. It’s obvious what they’d be chatting about.
Pg 58 – ‘I think all that attitude is a defence mechanism…’ – again you don’t have to spell it all out for the audience.
Pg 72 – ‘my heart…a minute.’ – this line jarred with me. Is this the sort of thing Tad would say? If he’s so shy about dancing with Tommy would he really admit to this? It’s also very corny and there’s no need for it. The actions speak for themselves.
Pg 79 – ‘he tried to compromise my daughters virtue.’ – great line.
Pg 85 – okay here’s what I’m thinking, and do what you want with this advice it’s your script…all the usual caveats. For me, this is where the script should end. After END MONTAGE I would personally like to see FADE OUT. Tad’s character arc has come to an end, Tad and Tommy have become friends again and Tommy has admitted her feelings for Tad. The montage scene after is great. It’s actually got quite a transcendent feel to it. In fact it would be pretty much the perfect ending. You would end on a happy note with Tad and Tommy enjoying each others company and the suggestion that a relationship might blossom in the future and yet the fact that Tad looks like he’s going to have to move away gives it a tinge of sadness. I find the best endings are like this both happy and sad at the same time. These endings are great because you get a double whammy of conflicting emotions. On the contrary a contrived happy ending may make you smile but it doesn’t resonate in the same way and if it’s too contrived (as I think yours is) it can end up making you feel a bit hollow. I found that I didn’t really care about anything else that came afterwards. The rest just seems to be trying up loose ends and it seems contrived in the way you manipulate events so that everything turns out perfectly for Tad. Stu just felt like a deus ex machina. It all seems very convenient and it’s unengaging because
i. the story is about Tad accepting himself for who he his, not whether or not he can remain at his school nor whether Brock and Kelly get their comeuppance
ii. Tad wins, not through any actions he himself takes, but through a Deus ex machina.
Pg 90 – ‘ I for one knew he was innocent…’ - No way would the Principal ever say this. It wouldn’t make him look better, it would make him look weak and incompetent expelling a boy he knew to be innocent.
This is a good script. You’re a talented writer and your scripts will do well on this site, and deservedly so. My main advice for future projects would be to try writing something a bit more unique. You’ve got the talent; why not give it a go? There are literally hundreds of writers out there who can write a high school comedy of this quality as the rules of the genre are so clearly defined and therefore so easily learned. If you want to get yourself noticed I feel you need to find your own voice somewhat. I want to see how YOU view the world not how other film’s of the same genre view it. Try to take inspiration from sources other than just films and write something that only you could write because if you can do that and it’s good (which on the basis of the two scripts of yours I’ve read I’ve no doubt it will be) then people will sit up and take notice. Scarcity adds value. Scripts like A Boy’s Tale and Matadora aren’t scarce and, though enjoyable and technically well done, will never stand you out from the crowded pack.
Thanks for read though. I did enjoy it despite my criticisms.
Review of: A Boy's Tail
reviewed by jackjohns on 02/04/2009
Review ID: 2199553
Other Reviews by jackjohns 43
A review of Peopleby jackjohns on 09/27/2014This was a very unusual Screenplay which had lots of good ideas and originality but which never really coalesced into a story that fully engaged with this reader. First, the good; This had a very distinctive, off-kilter almost dreamlike tone which I liked very much. I also liked the evocative setting, with the long stretches of desert and oppressive heat - the storyworld... This was a very unusual Screenplay which had lots of good ideas and originality but which never really coalesced into a story that fully engaged with this reader.
First, the good;
This had a very distinctive, off-kilter almost dreamlike tone which I liked very much. I also liked the evocative setting, with the long stretches of desert and oppressive heat - the storyworld felt like a character in it’s own right and would be very evocative when put to film.
The biggest problem with this script is the main characters. While I enjoyed some of the side characters such as the attendant in the gas station, the hobo and The People; your main characters, Shannon, Price, Cecil, Buster and the Mime had very little personality to them at all and they simply felt like mouthpieces to express whatever scientific or philosophical idea the writers wanted to get across.
Obviously this Screenplay doesn’t fit with the heroes journey, classical structure mould of screenwriting theory but clearly it doesn’t aspire to that template so I think it would be unfair to hold it up to that standard. The question I kept asking myself when reading the script is, what then exactly is it aspiring to be?
The script reminds me a little of ‘El Topo’ with the desert setting, strange, dreamlike tone, big religious allusions and quirky characters and situations. However, that’s not a perfect fit because although there are moments of slight surrealism in ‘People’ it’s clearly not going for the completely off the wall, lack of any concrete meaning outside of itself that ‘El Topo’ is.
The most similar thing, in terms of style, structure and purpose, that I can think of is the book ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ by Robert M. Pirsig. In fact the similarities are large enough that I suspect that at least one the writers has read it. If not, I would highly recommend doing so as it is a perfect example of what I believe you are trying to achieve here.
Lots of reviewers, I’m sure, will point you in the direction of some Screenwriting guru but as the objectives for this Screenplay are clearly at odds to the objectives of those books I’m not sure that’s going to be very helpful. I believe that Robert M. Pirsig had aims in his famous book that were much more closely aligned to your aims with this Screenplay. Therefore, it seems more instructive to compare your script to ‘Zen…’ than it does to any of the Screenwriting theory books.
‘Zen…’ is similar to your script, in that it is a simple road trip story with long interjections of philosophising. It also contains flashbacks to the protagonist’s past where we gradually learn more and more about who this character was and how he became the person he is today.
A few reasons that I think that that book works whereas this script comes up short;
i. The road trip part of the story in ‘Zen…’ contains fully formed characters with real emotions that we can identify with. In ‘People’ the characters mostly just feel like mouthpieces for the’ writers. They aren’t believable as human beings and it’s hard to care what happens to them.
ii. The Philosophy interludes in ‘Zen…’ are very deep and meaningful. Your sections (which are a mixture of science, philosophy, religion and self-help) are certainly meaningful and they are interesting (I’ve read a couple scripts similar to this one but with monologues that are full of pseudo-scientific, wishy washy claptrap, so thank God that’s not the case here). However, the problem is that they don’t delve particularly deep into the topics and there’s nothing really original to them. Pretty much all this stuff; supernovas, Schrodinger’s cat etc..is stuff that’s taught in schools. Certainly interesting but concepts that most 16 year olds would be familiar with.
Contrast that with ‘Zen…’ which is written by one of the foremost philosophers of the time and delves into deeper, much more complex and less well understood theorys as well as presenting completely new ideas, such as the definition of quality, which at the time you wouldn’t have found anywhere else.
iii. Finally, the flashbacks in ‘Zen…’ serve to keep interest in the reader because the protagonist is so clearly a very different person in the flashbacks to the person he is today and as a reader you are eager to find out what happened that caused the change. Cecil’s circumstances are very different in the past, I enjoyed his flashbacks with ‘The People’ and they linked well with the few childhood flashbacks. But as there is so little to his character there can be no obvious change to him as a person. Maybe it was explained and I missed it but I finished the script non the wiser as to;
a. Why he joined ‘The People?’
b. Why he left?
c. How that experience in any way formed the character of the older Cecil?
pg 2-4 - It would be cool if we saw the things that Cecil is describing onscreen.
You need to give more than just the characters name and age when you introduce them. This is the one area where it is acceptable (and indeed encouraged) to write unfilmmable personality traits in the action lines. Take advantage of that.
Cut the Cut To’s - They’re unnecessary, take us out of the story and are more suited to a shooting script. Leave them out of Specs.
pg 6 - So this is set in the future?
You should make it clear that this is a flashback to Cecil’s childhood. It was confusing on first read.
pg 8 - In England you fill your tank up first and then pay. I guess it must be different in the U.S.
pg 10 - I’m enjoying this scene at the gas station.
pg 12 - Has there been any indication so far, apart from the news report, that this is set in the future?
pg 13 - ‘But which is the worse fate? …the peasants.’ Cecil seems to be suggesting that the peasants had a better fate but doesn’t explain why very clearly.
pg 30 - It’s starting to get a bit meandering.
pg 72 - Why have they moved to Las Vegas if they think it will become a ghost town?
pg 89 - I don’t get this. Was Shannon pregnant with twins without realising? I didn’t think it was possible to have such a big time lag with giving birth to twins but I may be wrong. Or perhaps it’s just a miracle…in which case *yawn.*
This Screenplay needs a lot more focus. On pg 15 I made a note that I liked the fact that I had no idea where the story was going. Unfortunately, the only conclusion I can make, after finishing the script, is that neither did the writers. I liked the strange scene with the Gasman only allowing $3 purchases but what did that have to do with anything else in the story? Same thing with the hobos. I liked the weirdness and the idea that they’ve set up this hobo community in an abandoned waterpark…but how did that relate to anything that came after? Cecil’s past life with ‘The People’ has some interesting moments, my particular favourite being the Chinese whispers scene. That scene did at least link back to the scene in Cecil’s childhood but other than that the stuff with ‘The People’ seemed completely disconnected with the parts involving Older Cecil.
As for the monologues/dialogues exploring various theories on different subjects, I didn’t really see a huge amount that unified them or tied them to the story. You tried, with Schrodinger’s cat, to tie that in with the stillborn baby but the analogy doesn’t work. Mostly it just seemed that these were disparate musings that interested you and therefore you shoehorned them into the script without really much thought as to what greater purpose they served to the story or theme.
I think perhaps you’ve spread your net too wide thematically (something I was certainly guilty of in my early writings). You seem to have ambitions about tackling all the big questions of life, death, religion, purpose, self control, the universe (at both a macro and micro level), individuality, humanity etc etc…and you inevitably spread yourself too thinly in a 95 page screenplay. By trying to tackle everything you end up achieving very little because you’re only able scratch the surface and there’s no room for any depth on any of these interesting subjects.
I think you have a unique voice and plenty of interesting ideas. You also write clearly and concisely and despite plenty of weirdness I rarely had any trouble following what was going on. I think you just need to think clearly about what exactly you are trying to achieve with the Screenplay and make sure that every scene is relevant to that aim.
Good luck with it and all your future endeavours,
A review of The Tale of Lefty and Fortunaby jackjohns on 09/11/2014The Tale of Lefty and Fortuna is a very accomplished screenplay with a great concept, excellent pacing with lots of turning point, distinct and engaging characters and dialogue that flows off the page. There really isn’t a lot wrong with this screenplay so my criticisms are all relatively minor when put against the things that this script got right. Here are my notes; The... The Tale of Lefty and Fortuna is a very accomplished screenplay with a great concept, excellent pacing with lots of turning point, distinct and engaging characters and dialogue that flows off the page. There really isn’t a lot wrong with this screenplay so my criticisms are all relatively minor when put against the things that this script got right.
Here are my notes;
The title’s not great. Even just calling it ‘Lefty’ would be an improvement…or perhaps ‘Lucky Lefty’ or even ‘Fortuna.’ Luck seems to play a big part thematically in this script and so alluding to that in the title would work well.
For some reason I bought Joe’s first murder, whereas the second felt forced. It also felt less of a shock second time around purely because it was less unexpected.
A bit of variety in the two murders might help. Maybe Joe hasn’t got his gun on him one of the times so has to bludgeon with a blunt object instead. Joe’s first murder scene is clearly meant to set up his character but perhaps it would be better if Joe’s hot-headed nature is shown in a different, less extreme way initially so that Rusty’s murder feels more like escalation (dramatically speaking) rather than repetition.
Also, I know that Joe’s not the brightest spark in the box but having just finished tidying up and mulling over the possible consequences of one killing is he really going to be immediately so keen to give himself and Peter another huge headache? In the first killing I assume that Joe killed the guy impulsively without really considering the consequences of his actions. With those consequences still so fresh in his mind (particularly given how much Peter drills the possible ramifications that could occur) it’s harder to believe that he would murder again so quickly and with so little provocation.
I also think that in this scene you should build the tension and antipathy between Joe and Rusty more before either Rusty or Joe snaps. At the moment it seems to simmer around the mild irritation mark for most of the scene only to very suddenly jumping to extremes on both sides. I felt this jump to extremes needed more justification. Joe making a racist remark, for example, would go some way to explaining why Rusty suddenly gets so angry and why Joe has taken such an instant dislike to Rusty.
Joe killing Rusty is obviously a key scene and has the potential to be a great scene along the lines of the Coin Toss Scene in ‘No Country For Old Men’ or the Spider Scene in ‘Goodfellas’ but at the moment it lacks the tension of the first and the shock value of the second.
Another minor issue is how similar Joe’s character seems to the Joe Pesci character in Goodfellas. Maybe fleshing Joe’s character out with characteristics that distinguish him from that character would help this.
pg 26 - We’ll get our story straight.
pg 30 - In the opening scene Lefty listens to tapes. At the time I assumed this was simply meant to demonstrate how old his truck was but now we have the Police Officer using VCR. I'm guessing this story is therefore set in the early nineties?
Ah, okay… Johnson just pulled out a smartphone so clearly it is set in the present day. Perhaps the VCR is meant to demonstrate underfunding in the Police Department?
pg 53 - the police never speculate on why Lefty would shoot Rusty when he’s just won the lottery. Maybe they do but conclude that Rusty probably tried to take the ticket from Lefty. I think a conversation along those lines would be helpful.
pg 82 - nice to see Lefty’s pitching skills finally coming into play.
pg 88 - so Lefty did remember!
pg 91 - I'm not clear on what their plan is here. How are they going to cash that without getting arrested.
Okay, it’s clear they didn’t have a plan. I think it would be better if they did have a plan, though, (even a shit one) as their motives are a bit wishy washy at the moment.
Some final thoughts;
Your action lines are excellent
You have a large cast of characters but you handled this very well with good introductions of each and distinctive characteristics. Perhaps you could flesh out the character of Fortuna though as she's such an important character but didn't have the depth of someone like Lefty.
I'm not sure about the character of Javier. He didn’t seem to add much to the Screenplay and seemed the only character who was superfluous to requirements.
I also thought the character of Melinda could have done with being introduced earlier as she just seems to appear out of nowhere in service of the plot. Maybe give her a scene that fleshes out her character a little more so that her death is more powerful.
Other than that, an excellent job. Good luck with it,
A review of Abraca-Bastardby jackjohns on 09/18/2013'Abraca-Bastard' was a fantastically enjoyable and very funny Screenplay. It's easily the best comedy script I've read on this site. It's very rare that I read a spec comedy that makes me laugh even once but this had me laughing consistently throughout, not least with your title which is hilarious. I still think it could do with another draft just to tighten things up a bit... 'Abraca-Bastard' was a fantastically enjoyable and very funny Screenplay. It's easily the best comedy script I've read on this site. It's very rare that I read a spec comedy that makes me laugh even once but this had me laughing consistently throughout, not least with your title which is hilarious. I still think it could do with another draft just to tighten things up a bit but the issues I'll mention are relatively minor compared to the all stuff that this script got right.
Dane was by far your best character. His introduction was perfect. The guerrilla magic at the wedding was very funny and we understand exactly what this character is about without any need for forced exposition. Every time he's on screen the laughs just flow. I sort of wondered whether he should have been your protagonist. Maybe that's partly because I'm British and we love to root for a bastard but he is also the most interesting, and for most of the script the most active, character given that Annie likes Chuck from the start and it's Dane that has to be active and creative in getting her back.
Which brings me to Chuck. In your logline you describe Chuck as simply 'an average Joe.' This was a big red flag to me and were it not for your fantastic title and more promising synopsis I may very well have ditched this assignment based on that description alone. I'd definitely recommend changing it. Describe him as an introvert perhaps. Anything but 'average joe.' It's the most common flaw I see in spec scripts, having a bland, 'average' protagonist. Actually Chuck wasn't quite a vanilla as I was expecting but I still think you could work on giving him some more interesting characteristics and some flaws as well. One of the other reasons I thought it might be good to at least experiment with switching protag and antag was that it might free you up from worrying about making Chuck unlikeable in any way and give you free rein to create in Chuck a character as fully developed and hilarious as Dane.
I think perhaps you could flesh out the character of Annie a bit as well, although in this case the character does need to be a beacon of desire so it's not necessary to create any obvious flaws and wasn't such a big issue.
Your dialogue is flawless and was not only the main reason why this script is as funny as it is but also helped paper over the slight blandness of Chuck and Annie's personalities. The dialogue made them both more quirky and engaging than you would think possible, were you to simply write out their personality traits on a sheet of paper. I'm awarding you my first ever excellent rating in the dialogue category. Well done, sir.
The supporting characters of Dr Timothy and Chuck's grandfather were both very funny and colourful and added a lot of humorous moments. Perhaps, though, you could try to work Chuck's grandfather into the plot a bit more. There was one scene at the funeral where Frank and Dane appear together but otherwise Chuck's visits to Frank felt a bit detached from the rest of the story.
The other slight criticism I have is to do with the hypnosis tapes. I was surprised, given your synopsis, how small a role they actually played in the story. I also felt that the reveal that the tapes were bogus and Chuck's conclusion that it was Annie who gave him the confidence was unsatisfying. It didn't ring true. What's the difference between Chuck's first attempt to ask her out and his second? Not Annie - she's present both times. The only difference is that he listened to the tapes the night before so at the very least they must have had a placebo effect. But then how much was due to the placebo affect and how much was down to Annie. It all starts to get a bit murky and, as I say, unsatisfying.
Just a thought but what if Chuck's arc is that, after initial success with the tapes he starts acting more and more confident which gradually turns into arrogance to the point where he's just as bad as Dane. You then have two complete douchebags out douchebagging each other in competition for Annie's affections only for their douchebaggery to eventually turn Annie against the both of them. Chuck could then go full circle realising that the reason Annie liked him in the first place was his self-deprecation, kindness and humility, throw his tapes in the bin and win her back (perhaps keeping just a little bit of the self confidence he's acquired).
I'm aware that readers are generally good a identifying problems in a script but bad at suggesting solutions so obviously feel free to discard that above idea if it doesn't fit with your vision. It's your script and I'm just spitballing an idea rather than trying to write your screenplay for you. I just think that the above example (or a variation on it) would help address the problems of; i) Chuck being too bland, passive and whiter than white and ii) the whole confidence/hypnosis tape plot-line petering out into insignificance.
I also think the scene near the end in which Chuck finally gets the best of Dane could do with being a little more inventive. The whole masked magician ruse seemed to come out of nowhere and felt a bit like it was you the screenwriter adding this extra detail into Dane's career in order to help Chuck out rather than Chuck solving the problem with his own ingenuity based on a flaw in Dane that's been integral throughout. Compare that to Dane's victory over Chuck in Annie's cookery showcase which I thought worked much better. Here Dane uses something that is integral to Chuck's character, his suggestibility, to make him look foolish in a way that's far more amusing.
Some extra notes;
pg 26 - I'm not sure adding 'would that be okay with you' fits with Chuck's new confident persona (unless of course you're trying to show that he does still hold some insecurities). Another thought I had was what if, once again, there's an cold mug of coffee beside him so…
…what matters is…
Chuck hesitates, notices a cold cup of coffee on the table, reaches for it…
…but resists the urge, shakes off his fears and turns back to Annie.
I'd like to take you out sometime.
I think it would be better if we see that the hypnosis (or Annie) gives him the strength to overcome his insecurities rather than simply changing him into a different person, with no insecurities whatsoever.
pg 32 - Larry King's a bit dated. You don't want a Producer reading this and assuming it's been lying around for a few years. Producer's like hot, new scripts.
'…but I think…I am.' Cut this. It milks the (otherwise very good) joke too far.
pg 56 - can't help feeling it would be better if Annie did kiss Dane here. She needs to be attracted to Dane, even if she also thinks he's a bit of a dick, for us to feel that Dane is really a threat to Chuck. She's only been on one date with Chuck at this point and so has no commitment or moral obligation to be faithful to him.
pg 57 - Or perhaps she only kisses him when H.C. jr appears - that was a pretty smooth move from Dane.
pg 61 - very funny with Dane opening the door again just to add 'because you're a loser.'
The needle scratch silence is a bit hackneyed though.
pg 82 - This is very funny. I love that Dr Timothy is convicted of 'pet-regicide' but don't spoil the joke by explaining what that is. Also, not sure about 'second degree jaywalking.' Pet-regicide works because it's both ridiculous and yet sort of believable. Second degree jaywalking is just nonsense. How about 'fishing without a licence' instead - though actually I'd keep just plain 'jaywalking' as well
Before I finish I must just comment on your action lines. They're top notch - concise and yet packed with personality and humour. Along with the cracking dialogue your action lines made reading this script a complete pleasure. Despite a few minor issues you've managed that rarest of things; a very funny comedy script.
Good luck with it,
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