There's a germ of a very good story here: A couple in the throes of divorce, both of them rarin' to get it over with, both prepared to move on, the i's dotted and the t's crossed, the papers ready for signing, and then, wham! There's the dog going, "Uhhh, what about me?" The fact that the dog is a surrogate for the child they couldn't have gives both protagonists a potent need to possess the dog. They both claim dibs on the dog, so now they've got a mutual problem. But instead of figuring it out together, they allow their anger and frustration to cloud their judgments, and instead of thinking of the dog, they think of their own selfish needs, to the detriment of the dog. The dog's death at the end was an interesting, unexpected, and effective twist, and it really drives home the point of their folly.
That said, I think you have some work do to before this works as a screenplay.
First, I think you've got a major structural problem. Your synopsis reads, "A once happy couple on the verge of divorce find they can't split until it's decided who gets to keep the dog they both love; and they'll do anything to keep him." I think that's an accurate and pretty decent logline--EXCEPT that we don't get to this story until page 25. Most of the first 25 pages are spent on back story. I think this is a mistake. Much of the back story-- the proposal, the wedding, their inability to conceive, the decay of the marriage etc. etc.--is pretty pedestrian stuff and could be handled easily in one or two scenes, perhaps even as flashbacks or as reveals. Obviously, their inability to have a baby is critical to the story, but that doesn't mean you have to devote nearly a quarter of the screenplay to the subject and to the decline of the marriage. The screenplay is supposed to be about the divorce, not about everything leading up to it.
Also, the screenplay is supposed to be about the dog, and the dog is practically an afterthought through much of the first 25 pages.
And this is supposed to be a comedy, and there is precious little to laugh at as we watch your protagonists' marriage fall apart while they desperately try to conceive. Ha, ha, ha.
I'd strongly suggest that you consider trashing all of the back story and focusing on the present. Start with a brief scene (3 pages at most) of the happy newlyweds and their happy new puppy (maybe even make the puppy a wedding present) and all of their plans for a happy family and a happy life. Then jump to the present and the divorce, the acrimony, the recriminations, the guilt, etc. etc. Show them arguing over the dog, establish the importance of the dog to them (the one constant in a rocky marriage and the surrogate for the baby they couldn't have). Then make the inciting incident the realization that they haven't decided who gets the dog.
Also, you need to spend more time in the opening pages fleshing out your protagonists. They're not terribly interesting at the moment; I didn't really connect with them either separately or as a couple, and, frankly, didn't much care whether they divorced or got back together.
My second major issue is with the second act. What you've got here are a bunch of two-dimensional characters (with then notable exception of Figaro) who go through an endless series of boring schemes to steal the dog that are all essentially the same: Somebody distracts the person who has the dog while somebody else snatches the dog. This basic scenario gets played out over and over without much variation, and none of the schemes is particularly interesting or clever.
You need to come up with better, more interesting, more original schemes to gain possession of the dog.
Theses schemes have to become increasingly elaborate, building one upon the other, until your two protagonists are completely obsessed with out-maneuvering and outsmarting the other person.
The schemes should be conceived by the protagonists, not by their friends and lawyers. The protagonists are the ones who should be proactive and push the story forward.
The schemes MUST put the protagonists in continual, direct, head-to-head conflict and NOT be executed by proxy through friends and lawyers.
Dump all the scenes in which somebody describes in detail what the next plan is. They 1) are dull and 2) kill any sense of anticipation the audience might have about what's going to happen. (Also, the animation feels like a gimmick; it doesn't connect organically to the story or the characters.)
The rest of my comments are more or less in page order (I wrote them as I read, so there might be contradictions and redundancies.
"Will staggers..." Don't get this. Why is he staggering?
master's--masters, plural not possessive
Lots of errors like these throughout that should be cleaned up.
Which ball park?
"World Series baby"--I don't get this reference.
How do we know it's game 6?
I find it hard to believe that MLB or the clubs would allow this sort of stunt during a World Series game (this proposal-at-the-ballpark scenario isn't exactly original, anyway).
The dialog here is pretty pedestrian.
The dog handler isn't plausible for a real dog pound.
This is really a montage, not a series of shots.
A long barrage of jokes about killing dogs is not funny.
This pound scene is pretty long for the little we get out of it. There's nothing particularly interesting or revelatory that happens; they look at a bunch of dogs and pick one. Also, what does this have to do with the wedding proposal? The two should be connected in some way. This combined with the PETA scene isn't a very strong way to kick this off; it seems to me that you could find a more interesting and clever way for them to end up with a dog.
"The eternal bachelor who finally finished law school." This can't be filmed and doesn't belong in an action line. If it's important that he finally finished law school, then it needs to be shown or spoken.
Some of Figaro's lines are pretty funny--and, honestly, the first funny stuff in the script. You've got this script categorized as a comedy, but a comedy should have a strong laugh on every page, and this doesn't come close. At this stage, it's a drama with comedic elements.
I don't understand the mechanics of a dog carrying a pillow in such a way that two rings balance on top. Is the pillow taped to his head?
"Cindy knows what she wants and how to get it, not to mention she finished law school on time." Again, this stuff can't be filmed. It looks unprofessional.
"little but thinks he’s big" Again, unfilmable.
"on dog duty for what seems to be most of the night." How do you intend to show this?
I guess Figaro gets all the funny lines in this script. I wouldn't mind seeing a few laughs doled out elsewhere.
I still don't know what the story is about or what the protagonists' goals are. All I know is that they just got married, they have a dog, and eventually they'll break up. So what's here to keep me interested? Why should
I care about what happens between here and the scene were they fight over the dog?
I also don't get how the dog ties into this, other than to just run around being a cute prop. You might want to check out some movies in which the dog plays an important role and see how they're integrated into the story line. Your dog is little more than an accessory to this point.
OK, so I guess the conflict will be over the sex of the baby? Not sure how this will play out, as the sex will be whatever it is. Not like they have a choice.
"OBGYN looks and sounds like she’s fresh out of a Bond film." Meaning what? Don't make your reader have to work to figure out what someone's supposed to look or be like.
If Meredith is going to be a significant character, she probably should be introduced earlier.
"I never thought his gun was loaded. " Odd line. Why would she think this? Is she an ex-lover of his?
There's also an awful lot of redundancy here; we keep going over the same territory without anything new being added.
I have to say, too, that Brianna and Will are both pretty bland. They don't have much in the way of distinctive personalities. You gave all the character to Figaro.
"Considering she’s been on the pill all her life, she has to be off of
it for a while before we can tell if that’s the problem." Again, you keep repeating material that the audience already knows.
This idea of adoption should come from Will or Brianna, and it should be a source of conflict.
First, it's good that you're trying to integrate the dog into the story line, because, to this point, the dog hasn't been much more than decoration. However, the notion that getting rid of the dog will improve their chances of adopting is a real head-scratcher. Since when does owning a dog disqualify someone from adopting? And since when would an adoption agency say it was OK for two absent parents to adopt if they got rid of their pet? And what does "one parent
accustomed to life at home" mean? This whole speech by the adoption officer comes across as implausible.
Isn't the issue of work something they would have talked about years before this?
What cockpit? Is Will a pilot? Shouldn't we know this earlier?
Conflict is good, but only when it's focused. This is mishmash of issues this couple has that just arise out of nowhere a quarter of the way through the script without anything leading up to them.
Did we find out why she can't get pregnant?
Everything between the opening scene with the dog and this scene has been boring back story. They synopsis says, "A once happy couple on the verge of divorce find they can't split until it's decided who gets to keep the dog they both love; and they'll do anything to keep him." And yet most of the first 25 pages have been about the back story.
We already saw this scene at the beginning of the script; I don't understand why we're sitting through it a second time.
The lawyer doesn't get to decide when the final court hearing is.
To this point, you really haven't shown the dog to be important to either of them. You need to show the audience just how important the dog is, not simply have a character say on page 30, "I need Geppetto." Nothing Brianna has done to this point shows us that she "needs" Geppetto.
I don't get why this is animated. It might be cute in and of itself, but it doesn't connect to anything in the story.
Will doesn't do a whole lot of flying for someone who's supposedly a pilot.
Your secondary characters shouldn't be the ones coming up with all the ideas? This is supposed to be about your protagonists and the dog, not about the lawyers and friends.
This second attempt to take the dog is almost the same as the first. These should be unique, fresh, and they should built one upon another, and they should involve conflict between the protagonists.
But the larger problem here is that I really don't care enough about the protagonists to want to see them back together again. Together, not together, which one gets the dog...it's really all the same to me. And it shouldn't
be. The audience should be rooting for the dog to show these two that they belong together.
Again, Figaro is playing a more active role in this story than the protagonist.
And the plan is just too much like the previous plans, and it's not clever enough or fun enough.
The reasons behind their divorce are pretty muddy.
We shouldn't be hearing this through dialog halfway through the story. These moments should be shown.
Much better to show these than the cartoons showing Figaro's silly plans to kidnap the dog.
Geppetto protecting the apartment is a good visual moment. The script needs more of these.
I don't quite get why she hasn't reacted to the mess and Figaro's presence. Wouldn't she have put 2 and 2 together by now and gone ballistic?
Too much dialog for Brianna. Show us how she feels, don't have her tell us in a long, boring monolog.
We're past the halfway mark, and the only person trying to steal the dog is Will. But the synopsis says "They" will do anything to keep him. Brianna has been very passive.
I really expected a lot of fun and games between Will and Brianna as they try to pry the dog loose from the other person's clutches. "The Breakup" meets "War of the Roses." Instead, I get Figaro coming up with a lot of silly plans that Will goes along with like a sheep while Brianna just sits around doing nothing.
Why video chat? It's passive and boring. They should be together in person, doing something, even if it's just helping her clean up the apartment or consoling her over beers.
What's the italic for?
Cindy is not convincing. Brianna going along with Cindy here does nothing except make her look stupid. If Brianna is going to take the dog, then it should be something incited by some kind of interaction between Brianna and Will. Again, you've got secondary characters inciting action when that's the role of the protagonists.
These the-way-we-were flashbacks are clichéd sentimentality. They're a weak substitute for the dog forcing these two to face each other, work their problems out in the present, and see each other for who they are, not for who they were.
"hose gonna do it, though?" ??
This scene would work better if it actually was plausible that Figaro might let this woman into his apartment. She should have a good reason, like she's a present from a client.
This is pretty boring and inconsequential conversation. We've pretty much heard all this multiple times.
This restaurant conversation goes on and on and on. At 6+ pages, it's at least twice as long as is should be, especially considering that it's at a point in the screenplay where you're supposed to be ramping up the tension, not bringing it to a halt with static scenes of people sitting around a table talking. It should be cut by at least half and placed in a more dynamic setting (or settings).
I have to say that, at this point, I haven't seen a whole lot in the story that leads me to believe that there's a chemistry between these two. You try to establish this chemistry almost exclusively through flashbacks that show how happy they were in the past, but I want to see chemistry in the present that leads me to believe in a future, and I just don't.
She's right: It's separation anxiety. The story really hasn't given any reason why they should be together or why they're right for each other. Most of what we've seen are them with their friends and lawyers and their friends and lawyers in silly schemes to get the dog. And these schemes haven't led to anything that would make me believe that this is a couple that was meant to be together.
This is an interesting twist but having the dog die it's not really in keeping with a comedy.
"I should’ve been a better!" ??
And this also is a good twist, and necessary to take the string out of the death. However, it's a mistake to suggest that a puppy somehow will erase all of the hurt that came from their inability to have their own child. This hasn't gone away.
Review of: Oh Mister Geppetto! (OMG)
reviewed by Eric Maloney on 02/23/2011
Review ID: 3653131
Other Reviews by Eric Maloney 193
A review of Private Eyeby Eric Maloney on 02/29/2012I'm always up for noir, so I was glad to get this assignment. I think it hits many of the marks: The right atmosphere, the usual array of sleazy characters and settings, and solid (if somewhat uneven) dialog. It moves quickly, the pace is steady, and I didn't see any serious dull spots where I felt that the script was dragging or strayed from the spine of the story. All in... I'm always up for noir, so I was glad to get this assignment. I think it hits many of the marks: The right atmosphere, the usual array of sleazy characters and settings, and solid (if somewhat uneven) dialog. It moves quickly, the pace is steady, and I didn't see any serious dull spots where I felt that the script was dragging or strayed from the spine of the story. All in all, an enjoyable screenplay with lots of potential.
I do, however, have some serious concerns about the protagonist.
I don't necessarily have a problem with protagonists who do bad things. Nasty people can still be compelling characters. I just watched "The Scar," a very good noir film featuring a protagonist who is a murderer. If the protagonist is nuanced, if I'm given a reason why he is like he is, if he's interesting, if he's conflicted, if he shows a potential for redemption, then I'll stick with him. But I think Joe is way, way off the rails. The nearly continuous and compulsively violent behavior he exhibits through the first act is really off-putting. His murder of Willard is a deal-breaker: What we've got here is a remorseless psychotic killer. Even after this pointless act, I might have been willing to stick with him if there was something interesting and unique about him, but there isn't: He's your standard-issue hard-boiled PI who got kicked off the force, has a drinking problem, and is estranged from his family. How many times have we seen that guy?
His personality does change to something relatively softer and more likeable in the second and third acts, but I could never get taste of Willard's senseless murder out of my mind. Simply making Joe a hero at the end does not mitigate for me the fact that he brutally murdered a man for no acceptable reason, nor do I see by the end that he's a changed man. If he went out the next day and beat someone to death with a hammer or slashed his girlfriend's face with a box cutter, I wouldn't be surprised.
Beyond that, I'm also a bit uneasy with the protagonist's goal, which appears to be nothing more than finding the missing girl. Why would someone as dysfunctional and uncaring as Joe want to find her so badly? I suppose rescuing the girl might somehow symbolically rescue his daughter, because I don't buy that he really cares about his daughter, either. He's too much of a narcissist. After Willard dies and Joe has all the money, there's even less reason for Joe to pursue the case. Some detectives are motivated by a code, but I don't see much of a code at work here, either. What, then, motivates Joe?
By way of contrast, consider Sam Spade in "The Maltese Falcon." His goal is clear and personal: Avenge the death of his partner. Because Spade is a likeable, if flawed, character, we want to see him succeed. And when he faces difficult choices--between riches and his goal, between the girl and his goal--we empathize with him and feel the struggles he goes through.
My next issue with Joe is that the stakes are never high enough for him. What would happen to him if he never found Samantha? Would he lose anything? Would his life change for the worse? The story lacks an all-or-nothing moment where he pushes all the chips in the middle of the table and risks everything to achieve his goal.
The problems with Joe are exacerbated by the fact that there's really no one else in the story to like or care about. They're all pretty distasteful people. If the purpose of the story is to show how ugly the world is, then it succeeds, but I question how many people would want to spend 100 minutes with these dreary people in this dreary landscape.
I do think, however, that the Joe character is salvageable, and it can be done in such a way that you retain his brittle edge. First, get rid of the gratuitous murder of Willard. Second, cut back on some of the overt violence in the first act. The suggestion of violence--what Joe might do if pushed too far--would create far more tension than showing him commit one uncontrolled act of rage after another. Show us the conflict within him--the violent side versus the guy who wants to be something better--and you'll have a far more complex and interesting character.
As for the story itself, I think it works fairly well. It has an obvious "Chinatown" vibe to it, everyone with a dirty secret, layer after layer peeled back until we get to a rotten core, which I like.
For the most part, I think the dialog is pretty much on the money, except for a few early scenes where it's too on the nose. My only issue might be that some of the lines sound too generic, like they could have come from any noir film rather than from these particular characters. Also, the voices of the characters sometimes aren't distinctive enough from one another (particularly Red and Joe).
The rest of my comments are more or less in page order (I wrote them as I read, so there might be contradictions and redundancies).
So far, your protagonist comes across as a masochistic sexual predator with major anger management issues. Am I supposed to like him?
Much of this dialog is on the nose: Harry is delivering information to the audience, not engaging in a normal conversation.
It doesn't seem plausible that Joe wouldn't ask more questions about why the delay given the age of the girl.
Also, I think you need to address the question of why Joe himself wouldn't report it to the police.
And why doesn't he ask about the girl's mom? It would seem like one of the first questions a PI would ask when discussing a missing persons case.
The screenplay has lots of unnecessary parentheticals.
Why would he assume that Samantha is a runaway? In this day and age, I think most detectives would consider murder as an option that would have to be explored. Which brings me back to the earlier question of why Joe wouldn't go to the police with this. I think you need to set up the scenario so that the girl clearly is a runaway, and not perhaps a murder victim, and the father and Joe have clear reasons for not going to the police.
Very static, talky bar scene. Too much information at once. Some could be deferred, some isn't necessary.
Red and Joe sound a lot alike.
Your protagonist is a bundle of cliches.
"He stares into Willard's now furious eyes" belongs in an action line, not in a parenthetical.
OK, so now we see where this is going. An unlikeable, unredeemable protagonist. You're taking a big chance here. There has to be some reason why I should be interested in Joe's story. Making him a psychotic killer with no nuances to his character goes in the wrong direction.
You're making it hard to believe that a man as compulsively violent as Joe could still be walking the streets.
Oh, please. enough is enough. There's no way this guy would still be walking free with this kind of temper. And you haven't set up a scenario that justifies or explains it. He's just a violent, angry guy with nothing particularly complex or interesting about him.
So many violent episodes, one after another, without explanation, without humor, make your protagonist into a cartoon, and a boring, predictable one at that.
I don't get this. He has him beat up, then invites him to his table for drinks? Did I miss something here?
Why didn't Morgan ask these questions during the incident on the road?
Morgan's a strong character and has a distinct voice.
Some of this patter isn't bad--suitable for the genre--but it sounds a bit generic. The patter doesn't mean anything, it doesn't go anywhere. It's just patter that sounds good.
This is violence with a purpose, as compared to some of the gratuitous violence in the first act.
But it's followed by what's essentially a gutless act, and sets us against Joe again.
By now, I no longer buy the Joe-misses-his-daughter angle; I really don't believe that he's capable of honest, human emotion, and he's shown that his daughter is much better off without him.
Good twist with the photo; disturbing.
This dungeon scene feels a bit as if it was just randomly inserted for its shock effect.
What's the red dot? I don't get it.
I think you do a very good job of putting Joe into an apparently hopeless situation--as much as I don't like him, I keep turning the pages to see how he's going to extricate himself. The ending was therefore somewhat of a letdown. All he has to do is smash the glass, and everybody runs away? That's it? A bit anticlimactic. And I still can't figure out what the red dot is.
A review of FLOOD OF TEARSby Eric Maloney on 02/01/2012The centerpiece of this screenplay -- roughly the middle third -- is the tsunami, and you show off some excellent writing skills here. It's compelling stuff with good build-up and suspense, good description, interesting moments (e.g., the elephant), and touching stories about various minor characters who are affected by the disaster. Taken by itself, this section demonstrates... The centerpiece of this screenplay -- roughly the middle third -- is the tsunami, and you show off some excellent writing skills here. It's compelling stuff with good build-up and suspense, good description, interesting moments (e.g., the elephant), and touching stories about various minor characters who are affected by the disaster. Taken by itself, this section demonstrates that you have the skills to write an interesting screenplay.
I also like the idea of using the tsunami as a metaphor for a man's life, and, on the whole, I like the general tone of the screenplay.
Unfortunately, the rest of the screenplay doesn't do the middle third justice. It's not that it's poorly written; it's just that it's not very compelling.
My main problem is with the protagonist, Harry. He's a likeable enough fellow, but I think you've fallen into the trap of believing that overcoming grief/guilt constitutes a goal. It doesn't. His grief is the obstacle that keeps him from reaching his goal. It's arguable that his inner goal is to be capable of an intimate relationship, but what's his external goal? Unless I missed something, there is none.
Harry's lack of an external goal really cripples him as a compelling character. For starters, he's a passive protagonist. He rarely pushes the action. If I remember correctly, his vacation isn't even his idea; it's his kids'. He doesn't reach out to Sumalee; she reaches out for him. Then, of course, there's the tsunami, where, again, he's reacting to external forces. Even at the end, it's his ex-wife who determines the course of the story. The resolution comes not from anything Harry did. It's a complete accident that Kate finds the toy. Then she chases him down at the airport. Harry had nothing to do with any of it.
Because of his lack of a goal, and because of his passivity, his change at the end of the screenplay is not convincing or honestly earned.
I don't think you can make this story work with such a passive character. I think you need to find some kind of external goal, something that motivates him and pushes the story forward.
Second, I don't really see a viable antagonist. Who's keeping him from reaching his goal? An antagonist is essential if the script is going to have the drama and conflict that it needs.
My third major problem is with the dialog. I think you have an ear for the cadences and patterns of language. The dialog sounds authentic, and in that sense it's good. What I take issue with is what the characters say (or don't say). Most of the dialog either consists of pointless (and boring) chatter, tells us what we already know (or will know soon), or is used as a device to tell the audience about other characters or the back story (e.g., past events). I don't mind a dialog-driven screenplay if the dialog actually drives the story forward. In this case, I think the dialog does exactly the opposite: It holds the screenplay back.
I think you also might want to reconsider why some of the characters in this story exist. What's the purpose of Pete and Magda? They keep popping up at intervals with no apparent function, then mysteriously disappear after Magda hopes Harry calls on page 71. And do you really need all the family members? As far as I can tell, their main purpose is to talk about the family history, banter about nothing, and worry about Harry after the tsunami. I'm not saying to get rid of the family, but I would suggest that you consider some consolidation.
I also have some issues with the way you establish (or fail to establish) a foundation for the relationship between Harry and Sumalee. They bump into each other at the airport, and the next time they meet she's confiding highly personal feelings to him and he's giving her his hotel room. It seems highly unlikely to me that two total strangers would achieve this degree of intimacy so quickly. It also seems unlikely that an experienced traveler like Harry would take such a risk in a place you've established as a cesspool of whores and thieves. You actually spend more time developing the relationship between Harry and Steve than you do the relationship between Harry and Sumalee. Ultimately, this failure to lay a good foundation for Harry and Sumalee undermines the impact of their separation.
The rest of my comments are more or less in page order (I wrote them as I read, so there might be contradictions and redundancies).
On the nose dialog.
Dialog is a bit on the nose; it's obviously here for no other purpose than to inform the audience about Harry's marital status. This is an example of having characters tell the audience things they should be shown.
Your headings are a mess. I understand that there's some leeway in how people format their headings, but what on earth are we supposed make of something like:
INT. UK/TAYLOR'S HOUSE/HALLWAY,UK - NIGHT (LATER)
The conventional way to write this would be:
INT. HALLWAY IN TAYLOR'S HOUSE - NIGHT
A word on so-called unfilmables in action lines: I don't mind descriptions like "he hides his inner world well" because I think it can give an actor insight into the character and can be acted out. However, I don't think it's a good idea to introduce facts the audience has no way of knowing, such as that Will is a musician and Evie is his new girlfriend. These kinds of descriptions belong in novels, not screenplays.
Sorry, but I don't know what a significant look looks like.
The overloaded headings are real distractions. Try using mini-slugs when possible.
Curiosity aroused, she goes into
and looks around: Faded pilots' caps, framed and etc. etc. etc.
The first 10 pages spend a lot of time delving into the back story, and it's mostly unnecessary. I'm more interested in the now than I am in the then. Spend more time developing Harry and his wants and his flaws as they exist in the present.
"(realizing she is out of order and attempts to make a joke)": This belongs in an action line, not a parenthetical.
The screenplay's first 10 pages are loaded with a lot of exposition and back story. I want to know what the present story is about, and so far I've got precious few clues. I know the protagonist used to be a pilot and is now an electrician, but what's his goal? What's the story about?
I don't get this (WINTER) here in this heading. Was it not winter in the scene before? Are we changing seasons? In any case, it should be in the action line, not the heading.
Far, far too much information is being communicated via photos and dialog. These are static, boring scenes. So far, this reads more like a stage play than a movie.
This abrupt switch from England to Thailand is very confusing. Audiences can't see headings. A title card might be useful.
How am I supposed to know Magda is infertile and that they are about to adopt a child?
Again, more on-the-nose dialog. People talking about how other people feel is not compelling stuff.
"Hannah fills Evie's head with whispered family scandals." This is fiction writing, not screenplay writing. How is the audience supposed to know what they're whispering about?
And how are we supposed to know that John is Harry's work partner, is divorced and lonely, and "has yet to recognise his own unrequited love for Kate"?
Again, and I hate to keep repeating myself, but you're piling on scene after scene of people talking about trivia and other people, and it's dull. While there's some conflict, it's all of the petty variety, and it doesn't involve the protagonist.
Speaking of which, your protagonist is curiously disengaged from the story. We've spent more time listening to other people talk than we have with him.
And I still don't know what his goal is or what the story is about.
OK, so we know that Harry is living under the weight of this tragedy, but I think we know it too much through dialog and don't see it enough in his actions or behavior (moping on the beach doesn't count).
Cabbie conversation: Tells us what we already know, adds nothing to the story.
How do we know that memories stop him? Or that he's confronting ghosts? Nicely literary but not appropriate for a screenplay.
Again, more dialog in which people tell us what we already know. Isn't it pretty obvious by now that Harry is going to Thailand? Do we have to be told this again by a flight attendant? What is the purpose of having Harry tell the flight attendant why he's going when we already know it? This kind of dialog is dry and useless. And we've been told three times already that he's going to be a godparent. Is it even important? If it is, won't we learn soon enough when Harry sees his friends?
More dead dialog of people telling us what they're going to do. Get rid of every line of conversation where somebody tells somebody else what we know or what we're going to find out.
I'm not sure why this flashback is necessary. We already know that he and his wife lost a child.
Purpose of this telephone conversation?
I think you need to lay a bit more groundwork for this scene. Why would she confide in him so readily? We see his concern for her welfare when he tells Steve to look after her, but he never really shows the concern to her.
He gives up his room: This is all way to sudden. How could he be sure that he's not being conned? You need to establish the credibility of his behavior by showing the two of them making a connection earlier in the story.
Also, I really know nothing about Sumalee; she hasn't been well described.
Nor do we know why she would go to him. All they did was bump into each other at the airport. You have to better establish the credibility of her desperation.
I don't see a reason for these three beats. I think that in these cases, the cadence should be left to the interpretation the actors/director. All they really do is interfere with the flow.
Your American, Tommy, sounds distinctly British; phrases like "fancied myself" and "a bit of" and "...you know" are used by Americans when they're trying to imitate Brits.
Wow, so she rewards his kindness with sex. I'm not sure what to make of this. Are you suggesting that she's a prostitute? That's how it comes off to me. In any case, it really diminishes their relationship in my eyes.
"The plates move." ??? What am I supposed to imagine here?
Kate is really a pathetic, unlikeable person.
Jumping to the warning center on page 47 is very jarring, and I'm not sure what it adds to the story to have a bunch of people we've never met give us dry statistics about what's going to happen. It certainly doesn't serve to foreshadow, because you've already shown a tsunami that serves that purpose. And you're not introducing any people who are important to the plot. It seems to me that you'd be more consistent and better off if you used seismic events in other parts of the region to build tension. You've already got enough talking heads in this story without adding more when they're not even really necessary.
These warning center scenes would be appropriate in a disaster flick where the characters are essential to the plot, but they don't make much sense here; they just get in the way.
I love this scene with the elephant. This is so much more effective in building tension than some guys in a room talking about seismic events that might happen somewhere else.
"A monster tsunami has hit Sri Lanka": Do we care what happened in Sri Lanka? Isn't our story taking place in Thailand? Remember, you're writing a story about a specific character in a specific place, not a history of the 2004 tsunami.
I question whether fish can be as terrorized as humans. Maybe they can.
This is all pretty good stuff. It just lacks a compelling story to go with it.
This newscast is pointless and does nothing but take up space. There's nothing here that we need to know. It's only purpose should be to show us the reactions of the people who see it. For example:
An earthquake has triggered
a major tsunami that has hit
the shores of Sumatra, Sri
Lanka, India and Thailand...
They are transfixed.
What part of Thailand is
your Dad in?
Again, way to much dialog. Here's how this should go:
His Mobile rings.
Hello? Yes, I'm almost
there. ... What?
He skews to a halt at the side of the road.
This story isn't about the tsunami. We don't need these technical details. It's not important to the story. It does nothing except interrupt the flow of the narrative. The images we've seen are more than enough.
Don't dilute the power of the imagery with these deadly dull talking heads blathering about nothing of any consequence to the story.
Again, too much dialog. Your characters are telling us things we already know. We've seen the hotel; it's not necessary to now have one of the characters tell us what we've already seen. Focus on the concern of the characters for Harry, and do it expeditiously.
Get rid of all this newscaster jabber.
"The smell of rotting flesh, human and fish, is overpowering": It's a movie. The audience can't smell anything.
All right, we've had enough of the disaster; we need to return the focus to the story. Something has to happen soon.
Old school Englishman: You already did the addled old person thing.
I'm afraid that the story is stalling out here. There's no all-or-nothing moment for the protagonist, no buildup to a climax.
This is starting to wallow in the mundane and ordinary. People trying to get in touch with one another. Nothing interesting or different about it. Harry's story, such as it is, has vanished.
Your protagonist isn't pushing the action. He's just wandering around. Nothing's happening.
How are we supposed to know that Harry is in the bathroom?
Way too easy. Kate goes from being a catatonic bitch to having this earth-shattering revelation with no transition between the two. There's no arc. It feels contrived.
Harry's and Kate's reconciliation is sappy melodrama. It wasn't earned and has no honest emotion behind it. Plus I hate Harry for going back to her. She doesn't deserve him.
A review of Help Yourself, revisedby Eric Maloney on 01/27/2012There is an intelligent, observant mind behind this story. You have writing talent and a good sense of humor. However, the screenplay needs considerable work. I'll start off with a few major deficiencies that must be addressed: 1. Your protagonist has no external goal. What's the end game here? To land the big contract? Get a promotion? Write a book? Keep her family together?... There is an intelligent, observant mind behind this story. You have writing talent and a good sense of humor. However, the screenplay needs considerable work.
I'll start off with a few major deficiencies that must be addressed:
1. Your protagonist has no external goal. What's the end game here? To land the big contract? Get a promotion? Write a book? Keep her family together? Seeking inner peace is not good enough. Her lack of inner peace is the obstacle to her external goal. Finding inner peace is what will allow her to reach her external goal. You need to give Maggie a clearly articulated external goal and state it in the first 12 pages.
2. There are no stakes. What will happen if your protagonist fails? As far as I can tell, nothing. A few minutes crying over poor book sales is about it. Not exactly a major calamity. There are suggestions of a failing marriage, but there's no solid connection made between the marriage, her goals, and her obstacles. Nor is there much to suggest that losing her family would be that big a deal. Maggie starts out privileged and comfortable, remains privileged and comfortable through the entire script, and ends up privileged and comfortable. Audiences do not want to invest themselves emotionally in this kind of protagonist. If you want people to care about Maggie, then you have to give her something important to lose. And there has to be an all-or-nothing moment in the third act where she has to decide whether to risk losing it.
3. There is no antagonist. This is a major problem. If you can't develop an antagonist (that is, someone who actively seeks to stop Maggie from reaching her goal), then there might not be any point in developing this script any further.
4. Maggie's main flaw--what keeps her from succeeding--is poorly defined. Her boss tells her on page 12 that she needs to improve her communication skills, yet her supposed lack of communication skills doesn't play out in any significant way. The story suggests other flaws: She puts her work before her family, she's scattered, she doesn't live her own philosophy, she's self-absorbed. But none of these is developed or plays out from the beginning of the script to the end. You need to settle on the one significant flaw that keeps her from attaining her goal, have that flaw play out throughout the story, and get rid of all the extraneous noise.
5. Everything comes to easily for the protagonist. She doesn't overcome a single significant obstacle or make a single sacrifice. Audiences don't want a protagonist who whines to her therapist about how difficult her life is when there's nothing difficult about her life. It makes for an unattractive character. Which brings me to ...
6. Your protagonist is not very appealing. She is self-absorbed and boring, and her over-use of jargon is annoying. She has few (if any) likeable qualities. I think you need to soften the edges and give her some positive traits that will make the audience want to root for her.
7. The dialog needs a lot of work. You love dialog but you don't treasure it. By that I mean your writing is undisciplined. You allow your characters to spew reams of words that serve no purpose. Here are a few quick-and-dirty rules about dialog:
All dialog should move the story along. If it doesn't, it should be cut. The overwhelming majority of the dialog in this script does not move the story along. Many of the scenes seem to exist for the sole purpose of letting the characters hear themselves talk. This kind of dialog is boring and self-indulgent. The ultimate effect is to pretty much kill the effectiveness of the good, funny lines, of which there are quite a few.
Cut all the dialog in which people chit-chat about nothing: What they did, what they're going to do, how they're feeling, how things went at the office, snippets of phone conversations, etc. etc.
Don't have characters tell us what they've done or what they're going to do unless you can articulate a specific reason for doing so.
Don't have characters tell the audience what is better shown. I don't want to hear Maggie explain to her therapist how she doesn't understand why her boss says she can't communicate; I want to see a scene in which this plays out in a visual way. Film is a visual medium. If it's important to you to write this kind of dialog-heavy script, then you might want to consider re-writing it for the stage.
Don't chain together long scenes of people doing nothing but sitting and talking. It's boring, static, and non-visual. It leaves the audience unengaged.
Don't have characters repeat themselves.
While some of Maggie's use of jargon is funny, a little bit of this goes a long way. I was tired of it before I even got to the second act. Use it heavily in the first 10 pages to establish her character, then use it sparingly and strategically after that.
By the way, the best dialog in this screenplay is Mackenzie's, by a wide margin. Why? Because she's a sullen Goth pre-teen who hates to talk, so when she does say something, it's usually meaningful. Consequently, Mackenzie is a fun and interesting character (at least, until she changes at the end). You should approach all of your characters the same way: They should speak only when they have something important to say, and every word they speak should count for something.
A few other general comments:
1. The story lacks a spine. Right from the opening scene, it seems to meander from one scene to the next without any sense of connectedness or buildup. Each scene should have a specific purpose, should build from the previous scene, and should lead logically into the next scene. This screenplay sometimes reads less like a cohesive story and more like a collection of skits through which your two main characters wander.
Consider your opening scenes. Laura gets gas and finds out that there's no self-service in Oregon. Huh? What purpose does this scene serve? It has nothing to do with anything else in the story--and yet you're starting the screenplay with it. That's your opening scene! Why are you wasting it showing a secondary character being admonished by a gas station attendant for pumping her own gas?
Then we jump to her apartment, where you make sure to point out Laura's kitschy Indian toys. That's fine--nice touch. From there we jump to Maggie in a meeting about toys. OK, you are clearly associating Laura's kitschy toys with Maggie's job of developing toys. A writer doesn't juxtapose two scenes like this without a reason. I therefore assume that toys will be an integral part of the story, and that toys will somehow come into play in connecting Laura and Maggie. And yet none of this comes to fruition. There appears to be no reason for the toy-toy connection; it's a promise that goes unfulfilled.
2. I don't understand Laura's purpose in this script. Her and Maggie's stories are never integrated. The only connection the two characters have is that one is counseling the other. What you've got in essence are two separate screenplays whose scenes are interleaved. If you took out Laura's scenes before the two women meet, you'd never know the difference. The two stories either need to be intertwined in a meaningful way, Laura should be made the B story, or Laura should be dumped (Laura's story is pretty dull anyway: Basically, a woman looking for a boyfriend).
If Laura is useless, then Alex is even more useless. She serves no function and is just a distraction.
3. The story is weighed down by too many extraneous characters. It seems as if somebody new pops up every few pages. Characters are introduced early and then disappear. Other characters are introduced too late. Get rid of everybody who doesn't directly serve the story.
The rest of my comments are more or less in page order (I wrote them as I read, so there might be contradictions and redundancies).
"Attractive Native American": Tells me what? Attractive is subjective. How do I know she's Native American? Wearing feathers and beads? You can be a bit more descriptive.
The boardroom scene: There are some funny ideas here--the silliness of serious men discussing the nuances of winged pink ponies and such--but it gets buried in way too much dialog. Dialog like this needs to be sharp, crisp, and to the point, and this rambles. This kind of over-extended dialog is a problem throughout the script. Consider cutting it down to something like this:
You need to rethink the
winged pony. It's already
MARKETING MAN 2
So we make it a horse.
MARKETING MAN 1
Tim says the metrics are way
better with ponies.
Besides, we can't patent a
winged horse. It's public domain.
MARKETING MAN 3
Then we call them Ponykins
and say they're mythical creatures.
MARKETING MAN 2
But there is no myth about
Ponykins. Is there?
Another thing. No pastel colors.
MARKETING MAN 3
How about iridescent?
Surely the courts would
appreciate the difference
between pink and sparkly pink.
MARKETING MAN 4
The glitter is conceptually
It’s risky. Very risky. Glitter
might not be enough to protect
us from a lawsuit.
Also, give these people better names than MARKETING MAN 1, 2, 3, 4: Bald Guy, Athletic Guy, Thin Guy, whatever.
Scenes of people saying hello to one another are inherently boring. Avoid them unless there's a point. We already know that Laura is new here, so this just killing time.
On-the-nose dialog. If it's important to the story that Ben is writing a book, then figure out a better and more interesting way to introduce the idea.
Oh, Ron's waiting for us.
Why do we need to know this? Who's Ron? Why should I care if he's waiting? The screenplay is rife with this kind of meaningless chatter. Get rid of it all.
Ethnic Chinese: I don't know what this means or what I'm supposed to visualize.
You have an entire conversation with grandpa, which I assume means that he's part of the story and we're going to meet him. Right? No, I guess not. So if there's no grandpa, why this scene? It's a distracting and misleading conversation that doesn't seem to be connected to anything in the story.
"See you tomorrow. If there is a
Good line, but Summer's "Yeah, if" kills it. Never follow a strong line with a weak line; the weak line always weakens the strong line.
Again, too much dialog, too much redundancy. Good lines are weakened by throwaway lines. Also, you're beating the whole Maggie's-jargon thing to death. We get it. Some of it's amusing, some less so, but too much of it is boring. Pick out the best zingers and dump the rest. Pare the whole thing down, sharpen it, make it sing.
INT. MAGGIE'S CAR - DAY: Tell us where the car is first, then use a mini-slug to take us into the car, like so:
EXT. PARKING LOT - DAY
Maggie maneuvers the car into a parking space.
IN THE CAR
Mackenzie stares out the window...
Counseling, return investment, difficult age, etc. You seem determined to give Maggie a lot of pointless lines as an excuse to let her deliver more Maggie-jargon humor. It's wearing thin quickly and does nothing to move the story forward. Too much of it is counter-productive.
Maggie in front of the mirror: These little visual touches are much more effective than the paint-by-numbers dialog in showing us who Maggie is.
The dialog goes on and on and on. It's dull, boring, and redundant.
I'm confused. You started with Laura, so I assumed she was the protagonist, but then she disappeared, and now it's all about Maggie. So I guess Maggie is the protagonist. Then who's Laura, why did you start with her, and what's the connection between the two women?
Also, it's page 12, and I don't know what Maggie's goal is. Why am I rooting for her? What is she trying to accomplish?
As regards the communications problem, you need to do a better job of showing that this is an issue for her. On the contrary, there's nothing in the boardroom scene, for example, to indicate that communication is an issue.
Boring chit-chat about nothing. You could delete this whole scene and not miss anything.
As a general rule, avoid having characters tell us what they're going to do and then in the next scene show them doing it. Boring, redundant.
Again, more meaningless chatter. A good exchange will move the story along and reveal character. While some of this does tell us something about the relationship between Alex and Laura, it does nothing to move the story along other than to move us from the airport to her apartment.
It's page 17. By this time, we should have some inkling of what the connection is between Laura and Maggie. The script reads like it's bouncing back and forth between two unrelated stories.
(to WITHDRAWN CLERK): You don't introduce characters in parentheticals.
Store scene: Again, more seemingly pointless conversation. So far, Laura seems to have no function in this story; we just keep breaking from Maggie to Laura so Laura can do more boring ordinary things while having boring ordinary conversations. There's no drama, no conflict, no humor, no anticipation of any of this going anywhere.
Another dialog-heavy scene with nothing intrinsically interesting about it.
Don't have characters tell us what we already know.
So far, the script is dominated by meaningless banter and vaguely humorous throwaway lines. If you threw all this stuff out, I doubt if you'd have two pages of solid, interesting dialog.
What is the story, and where is it? If this is about Maggie and her career and her inability to communicate, then that's where our focus should be, not on trivial asides such as this one.
I don't care about Karina. I don't care about DeLorean, or Cass, or Emerson, or any of these other dullards. I don't know these people, they're irrelevant. I want you to make me care about Maggie and tell me her story, not the boring stories of everybody she knows.
Point of this telephone conversation? I think all of this is known information, isn't it?
Boring dialog. A very little bit of this goes a very long way. Read Client Two's long-winded speech out loud and imagine an audience having to sit through it with nothing to look at except her talking.
Page 28, and Laura and Maggie finally meet. I'm still confused about how their stories connect. After all the buildup and anticipation, there's nothing there.
All this Maggie dialog repeats things we already know or is pointless. The script has far too many scenes like this: Visually DOA, people just talking at one another.
Another pointless scene that does nothing to advance the story.
Some of this stuff about her dates is funny, but it goes on too long. One or two lines per date is more than enough. The genius's monolog is particularly long and dull. The whole montage shouldn't last more than a page at the most.
At the risk of beating a dead horse, here's another flat, static scene of two people sitting and talking. This will be the last such scene I'll comment on, but it's a problem throughout the script.
Don't use parentheticals to show action. This belongs in an action line.
Whatever happened to Maggie's problems at work? The opening scene suggested that this would be at the center of the story, and yet it's been abandoned. Did she get fired or quit? Did I miss something?
These scenes where people keep asking each other about their weekends or what they're going to do the next weekend are dull, dull, dull. All they do is throw obstacles in the way of the reader.
Why am I hearing these people talk about this workshop? If the workshop is so important, shouldn't I be seeing what happened rather than hearing about it second-hand after the fact?
And don't have characters tell us how passionate they are about something; have them show it.
Potentially funny Procrastinators Anonymous scene is dragged down by too much pointless dialog. You have some funny ideas like this one, but you tend to belabor the humor until it's all gone.
The African children line is funny, but it's dead in the water because of all the meaningless chatter that surrounds it.
So Maggie's Dark Night of the Soul is her weak book sales? Not very compelling.
The therapist/whore parallel is interesting but could be summed up in a handful of lines.
Just my personal opinion: I'm kind of disappointed that Mackenzie is no longer Goth. I would have liked to see her become comfortable with who she is rather than become something else.
Final comments: I honestly don't know if you have enough material for a full-length screenplay. I would like to think so because there really are some funny scenes and good lines sprinkled throughout. I think what you need to do is figure out first what your story is, what Maggie's goal is, what her big obstacle is in reaching that goal, who her antagonist is, and what's at stake. Then you need to map out a solid story line and develop a series of well-focused, interconnected scenes that show her progressively working toward that goal in the face of the antagonist and her own flaws. Then get rid of all the irrelevant tangential stuff, including Laura if necessary. read
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