Very impressive effort here. There are points in this screenplay where the dialogue and plotting shine and you seem to have a very good understanding and feel for the genre. This last point is of monumental importance for an aspiring screenwriter. Romantic Comedy is not an easy genre to write. The REVENGE ARTIST reads like a real rom com that could actually get made into a movie. If you can pull this off, you will probably end up selling screenplays, because you seem to have a feel for what the marketplace is looking for.
The dialogue is very good. It is rarely on the nose or expository and is much more frequently clever, funny, and revealing of character. You have a talent for using dialogue to make your romantic leads likable and the antagonist appropriately dislikable. Where you screenplay suffers is in the depth of characterization. I don’t always look for character arcs in screenplays, but found myself wanting more of one in yours.
At the end of the screenplay, Eric calls Brook the real “revenge artist.” This is not a good thing, in my opinion. A talent for revenge is generally not a quality we admire in romantic heroes and heroines. It might work for a comedy like REVENGE OF THE NERDS. But not so well for romantic comedy, where we want to have our faith in the redeeming power of love and other positive human qualities reaffirmed. You try to soften this at the end by having Brook say she was out of the loop and Eric say that he had nothing personal against Mark (cop out!). But this is actually one of the few instances of on the nose dialogue in the screenplay and I wasn’t buying it.
The desire for revenge is to my way of thinking a character flaw. Earlier in the screenplay we see how this desire leads Brook into even deeper trouble. This sets up an expectation that story will be about Brook’s coming to terms with the flaw. If she overcomes it, we have comedy. If not, tragedy. Somewhere in between is dark comedy. This is the one point where you seem to stray from the conventions of the genre.
Eric blackmails Mark into engaging in a bidding war with his boss, which results in him being fired and his career in ruins. While Brook does not directly profit from this act of blackmail, she seems to endorse it by falling for the guy who perpetrates it on her behalf. And the whole charity event adventure seemed to be motivated more by revenge, than a desire to launch a new career or help out a struggling non-profit. At the end of the screenplay, I was left with the feeling that I liked the lead characters, but was disappointed that they seemed to learn nothing from the experience. They were still flawed.
What can you do about this? If you’re happy with the outcome, leave it alone. But if any of this makes sense to you, consider trying this… Make Mark the real “Revenge Artist” and have him be the instrument of his own undoing. How to accomplish this, I’m not sure, but I think it entails a rethinking of the third act (a lot of work I know, but I think it’s worth it, because this script is so close to being the real thing). What you should be aiming for, I believe, is a third act where Mark initiates a plan for ultimate revenge, which looks like it will succeed until the last minute when Brook and Eric give up and withdraw from the revenge war (perhaps recognizing some more fundamental truth, like their feelings for one another). This is the point at which Mark’s plan should unravel and all the lies catch up with him. Even if you decide to keep the ending the way it is, you might want to spend more time on it. There is a rushed feeling to the last thirty pages. Maybe you could spend more time on the set-up of the auction, coming together of Brook and Eric and dialogue in general.
One other thing that bothered me… I see this a lot in romantic comedies. How does a smart, likable, attractive woman like Brook get involved with a creep like Mark to begin with? It doesn’t make sense, unless she has a blind spot, the result of her “fatal flaw.” Again, I’m back to the character arc. It’s not enough to say he lied to her, because that just makes her a really bad judge of character. If she isn’t changed by the experience, she’s still a really bad judge of character and Eric might turn out to be just as bad.
So why is she with Mark? Maybe at the beginning she shares his values—it’s ok to cheat in business and at home, because the most important thing in life is to pursue your personal self interest and get ahead. Over the course of the story, she learns her lesson, but he doesn’t learn his. Maybe you could play up the charity auction angle and show her getting involved in the cause and becoming a better person as a result. Her work with the charity could open up her eyes to a need for connection to others, including Eric, and help her get past the need to escalate the stakes in a never-ending war of revenge. Maybe you would come up with a different arc for Brook. The important thing is to put her through some changes. Dara Marks’ book Inside Story might be of help here if you have not already read it.
What I’m proposing in the way of revision is pretty extensive, I know. But don’t get the impression I didn’t like your screenplay. It is one of the best scripts I have read at TriggerStreet and I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets a SOM nomination. I’m just throwing out ideas in case you are looking for ways to deepen the story.
p. 1-4 – Dramatic opening, jumps right into the story, leaving the reader with a good sense of what this screenplay is going to be about.
p. 5 – And on page 5 we get a goal – get even. You’ve neatly and succinctly laid out
the story for the reader, which is good. My only hesitation is that the stakes aren’t very high. Lots of women have been treated badly by their boyfriends. Why should we care about Brook’s situation in particular? The scene in Mark’s apartment was especially humiliating, which is good for creating sympathy. Even so, my advice to Brook would be to forget the jerk and get on with life. I feel that Mark must do something exceptionally bad to drive a feature-length revenge plot and so far this isn’t it.
p. 6 – The dialogue on this page reads like exposition. Listening to Stacey explain what the revenge artist does is static and boring. Maybe you could show it instead. Stacey starts her explanation and… Cut to the revenge artist in action with Stacey voice over.
p. 9 – You up the stakes here a bit with the “less attractive” remark. But still not enough.
p. 15 – Now the conflict is shaping up and the stakes are rising. I’m guessing we’re going to see Mark and Brook in direct competition for the account manager position. Re. my comment about page 5, I think the problem is that you plant the seed of the revenge artist ten pages too early. Now’s the time to plant it, for it to germinate into a full-fledged plan by page 20.
p. 17 – Re. comments on page 5 & 15… What if Stacey introduces the topic of revenge on page 5, but Brook doesn’t want to hear about it. Then Brook says to her on page 17… “Remember what you were saying about revenge the other day? Did you have anything special in mind?” and Stacey says, “There’s this guy I know… A private investigator.” Cut to the revenge artist in action with voice over from Stacey. I don’t mean to intrude on your story, but thought I’d mention it just in case.
p. 19 – The football fan rivalry is almost funny, but not quite. It’s also long (2 pages) for a gag that has nothing to do with the story.
p. 20 – The false start between Brook and Eric feels like a “meet cute”. The interview misunderstanding is a good conceit, but the comedy falls flat. Work this scene to get more humor out of it. The meet cute is a good place to introduce the opposing flaws of the romantic leads, so you might want to find a way to work that into the scene as well.
p. 28-32 – Cute scene. The chemistry between Brook and Eric is good.
p. 36-38 – Funny scene with Eric and Danny as strippers.
p. 41-44 – This first round of pranks does not amount to much in the way of revenge. Little more than pranks destined to provoke a retaliation from Mark. I was expecting more from Eric.
p. 43 – “Last night’s dinner” wouldn’t spoil overnight. You don’t have to mention how old it is, since a viewing audience won’t know anyway.
p. 44 – “Think he suspects?” – Of course he suspects. They would have to be pretty naïve to think he wouldn’t know it’s them.
p. 54-56 – Great idea to have them go out on a stake-out date. Don’t think I’ve ever seen that before.
p. 63 – “You warned me this was gonna happen. I wish I’d listened.” – This calls into question Eric’s suitability as a match for Brook. If he really cared about her, he wouldn’t have led her into a revenge scenario that was bound to escalate out of control. Of course at the start, he doesn’t care about her; she’s just another client. Both of them have their separate character flaws which lead them into the revenge scenario. It will be interesting to see how you resolve this dilemma, because what they are doing is essentially immoral, even if justifiable (at least in Brook’s case). An audience will not be able to fully embrace these characters unless they come to terms with this.
p. 67 – The transition to Brook’s new career is very hasty. It’s important to know if she is really interested in doing good by helping out a charity in need. Or is she just using them to get back at Mark? What does Renew the Blue do and why does she pick them? Does her career change reflect a lifelong desire to do good works or is it the result of a lesson suddenly learned from recent experiences? This is one of the most important developments to occur in the screenplay. It seems to have huge implications for Brook’s character and I feel cheated, because I don’t know anything about the internal emotional process that leads to this seemingly major life decision. By the time we get to the meeting with Seth and Mark it’s a little unclear what it’s about. I want to see how she arrives at this decision, plan or whatever it is.
p. 76 – Eric’s file on Brook feels forced, like the author threw it in for the sake of creating some last-minute conflict in their relationship. If you’re going to do something like this, I suggest you take more care to set it up properly. The reader should understand why Eric is keeping the file and sympathize with his motives before she discovers it.
Review of: The Revenge Artist (4th Draft)
reviewed by jayb on 05/14/2010
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