13-Romeo was a fantastically enjoyable screenplay written with talent and skill. This may well be the least constructive review I’ve ever written. There’s really nothing much negative I can say.
I think therefore, I’ll talk a bit about a couple of things you may be criticised for by other people on this site, namely your use of unfilmmables in your action lines and your extensive use of flashbacks. I’m sure you will probably get feedback from others, probably new to screenwriting, who have read in some theory book that flashbacks are bad and that you should only write what you see and will therefore criticise you for these things without really knowing why. I’m not totally against screenwriting theory. Flashbacks and unfilmmables are used badly far more often then they are used well. However, in your case they are both used to great effect and so I would urge you not to be put off by the inevitable comments you’ll get telling you that you’re wrong to use them.
In the case of your use of unfilmmables in your action lines I felt they were used sparingly enough and to good effect and I very much liked them. They draw the reader into the story and serve to give some personality to your writing. These are some of the best action lines I’ve read.
As for your use of flashbacks I think they work well for two reasons. First, these are parallel plots with their own motivations, interest and story arcs. It’s use and structure reminded me of Blue Valentine and, though a very different film, I think this aspect works for the same reasons. Flashbacks are bad when they solely exist as an easy way to provide exposition. This is not the case here.
Second, these flashbacks help to break up the action and give the script a beating heart that is missing from most action screenplays. I find action on its own can get tiresome if it drags on for too long. These short sharp bursts of action work better at keeping our attention then if we saw the hostage situation uninterrupted for its duration. I was reminded of the huge battle sequence in LotR – TT where the action was intercut with quieter more personal moments that served an effective juxtaposition and created an investment in the characters that made their peril all the more engaging.
The only slight reservation I have is with the first flashback. As a set piece it’s well structured and gripping and it helps explain why Shep loves his job so much. However, this is an example of how showing a scene in flashback can have its drawbacks. It suffers from the fact that we know what the outcome is going to be, from the medal of life saving and the fact that Shep and Dane are still around in the present. We know that nobody dies right from the outset, which lessons any potential suspense. It also doesn’t have any relation to the relationship story of Shep and Amy and so is independent from the parallel plot of the other flashbacks.
Perhaps think about having this scene at the start of the Screenplay instead of the fake peril with the Bot water canon. This way the scene could be played out in the present and this would increase the urgency and tension of the scene. The opening scene with the Bot was well executed but this sort of trickery has been a bit over done in the past. The gimmick's somewhat tired and audiences may just end up feeling a little cheated.
A few notes;
Pg 18 – the short bit of dialogue at the end here felt a little forced. Is this really what Shep would say in this situation or is it what you’d like him to say because it ties into your theme?
Pg 20 – too much exposition from Ma.
Pg 38 – love the sex scene and the hilariously embarrassing situation it places Shep in.
Pg 62 – be good to have a brief description of these hostages along with their names and ages, something simple the reader can visualise.
Pg 73 – THE BEAR? – not sure what this is.
I needed more motivation to explain why Trent sides with Resnick.
I like how Edwards provides a link between the two timelines.
Very much liked the ending with Shep sacrificing himself. Like all the best endings it’s at once both sad and uplifting; sad because he was such a likeable character but at the same time you get the sense that, just like a Samurai warrior, this is exactly the way Shep would have wanted to go out, sacrificing his life in the heat of the battle for the greater good and dying an honourable death. Clearly old age and retirement wouldn’t have suited Shep and as much as I’m sure he loved Amy, and Amy loved him, she’s clearly better off with Edwards.
Hope this has been of some help and thanks for a gripping read. If this doesn’t get an SOM nomination it’ll be a travesty.
All the best,
Review of: 13-Romeo
reviewed by jackjohns on 06/20/2011
Review ID: 3831023
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 Voodoo Ladyby jackjohns on 09/15/2014Voodoo Lady was a screenplay which contained lots of interesting ideas and a clear message about homosexuality and homophobia which the writer wanted to get across. I enjoyed it in parts but also feel the Screenplay needs a lot of work in order to realise its potential. CHARACTERS This is the area where your script needs the most work. All the characters were pretty thin... Voodoo Lady was a screenplay which contained lots of interesting ideas and a clear message about homosexuality and homophobia which the writer wanted to get across. I enjoyed it in parts but also feel the Screenplay needs a lot of work in order to realise its potential.
This is the area where your script needs the most work. All the characters were pretty thin on characterisation. There’s wasn’t really much depth to any of them. I would suggest sitting down and writing a one page bio for each character. You won’t be able to do it with these characters but if you just keep on adding characteristics to each one until you reach a page then they will start to flesh out a bit and this will improve your story immensely when you come to do a second draft.
I would introduce the football players separately. By introducing us to all of them together, during the football match, they don’t get proper introductions and it’s therefore very hard to then keep track of who’s who when they appear later on. Alternatively, the football match could be the first time we see these characters but then make sure to introduce them again, individually with a proper character introduction that tell us something simple about their personality in a scene which demonstrates something important about their character through their actions and/or dialogue.
Man, Jack’s a real arsehole. I’m actually a big fan of flawed unsympathetic protagonists but is that really what your intention was here?
First off, he’s knows that Sally’s in love with him and he obviously knows that he’s gay. Yet, he leads poor Sally on throughout the entire script, using her, sleeping with her, playing with her emotions because…why? He thinks it might hurt his sporting chances if a couple homophobes on the football team think he’s gay. It’s unbelievably selfish and he shows no sense of remorse whatsoever.
Second, he never reported John’s beating up of the two gay guys. This means that he’s guilty of withholding key evidence and is indirectly responsible for the murder of Alex. He could and should do hard time for that shit.
Again, his reasons for withholding this evidence are entirely selfish (John’s a good football player and he thought his team would be more likely to win their games if he protected John). Jack’s actions here also don’t make much sense considering a) how much he hates John b) the moral imperative AND c) the $10,000 reward. Even without the reward I would have been shocked if Jack didn’t turn him in…but $10,000!? Does Jack really care that much about his soccer game/Is John really that good that Jack would turn down $10,000? I understand that the soccer is very important to Jack but John’s only 1 player out of 11…and $10,000 to do the right thing!? It’s a no brainer!
On the plus side, I did like Jack’s courage in standing up to John on other occasions.
Early on in the script Jules suggests that Jack take Sally to the masked ball and even sleep with her despite knowing that Sally loves Jack and Jack is gay.
pg 60 - I was pleased here that Jules finally says what seems to be obvious ‘Jack, don’t …she’ll be devastated.’ The problem is that this completely contradicts her position earlier.
pg 66 - Jules has now switched back to trying to make Sally fall deeper in love with Jack. This character is completely inconsistent.
John was very one note. He plays football and hates gays. That’s really all there is too him and his constant and predictable gay bashing became boring very quickly. Obviously he should be homophobic and unsympathetic but that doesn’t mean you can’t also add some deeper layers to the character.
I actually really like the idea of being able to control people’s dreams. It’s a bit like ‘Inception’ - planting an idea in someones head - though obviously used very differently here. Although I don’t understand why Jules did it; I like the idea of implanting a dream in a girl that will make her fall for you. There’s been a least a couple of girls I’ve known who, having previously shown little interest in me suddenly became attracted to me after a dream they’d had involving me. Also, I remember reading somewhere that if there’s a girl that you are attracted to it’s a good idea to text/call them just before they go to sleep because if they’re thinking about you when they fall asleep, then they will probably dream about you and that will create some sort of extra emotional bond. Not sure how much truth there is to that but it seems vaugely plausible and either way would be a good idea to explore, if you were to consider to go non-fantastical with this dream implanting idea.
And perhaps you should consider having Jules and Jack influencing John and Sally’s dreams in a way that is non-fantastical. A couple of reasons;
i. It would be more difficult (you should always make things as difficult as possible for your protagonists) and therefore more interesting. It would also force you to be more inventive as you figure out ingenious ways for the two to implant these ideas in John and Sally’s subconscious in such a way that they end up having those dreams.
ii. It would seem less out of place in a Drama which is otherwise completely non fantastical.
If you do decide to keep this fantasy element I would definitely set this up much earlier in the script. Certainly in the first act and preferably somewhere in the first 15 pages. There is an unwritten contract storytellers have with the audience which involves setting up the Storyworld at the beginning. You set up the rules of the Storyworld at the beginning and if that Storyworld involves fantastical elements then the audience will agree to suspend their disbelief for the duration of the story, as long as it the writer/storyworld sticks to the initial laws set out at the beginning (however fantastical those might be). By not setting up anything fantastical in the opening Act, the audience is likely to be less inclined to suspend their disbelief when a fantastical element gets dropped in later (as late as pg 58 in your script).
To use a soccer analogy - both teams at the start of a game know that they are playing soccer and they hopefully know the rules. However, imagine if in the 58th minute one of the players picks the ball up and throws it into the oppositions net. Now imagine that the referee awards a goal saying ‘oh yeah, no one mentioned it at the start but actually in this particular game from the 58th minute onwards you are allowed to use your hands.’ The opposition would be livid and rightly so. Any deviation from the standard rules needs to be agreed upon at the start.
Some further notes;
pg 3 - ‘If [I] can’t get through this opening.’
pg 3-6 - There’s huge amounts of clunky exposition in these pages. You need to find a more natural way of imparting this information.
pg 3 - ‘You’re really gonna…big city.’
pg 3 - ‘I’m doing my psychology…no magic powers.’
pg 4 - ‘the women in our family have been…mystics, matchmakers and fortune tellers.’
pg6 - ‘Give your twin a hug from me.’
pg 6 - You’ve called Jules Jill here.
pg 15 - ‘you don’t seem [too] happy.’
pg 16 - I’m not sure why Jules would suggest that Jack take Sally to the masked ball. Considering Sally is in love with him and he’s gay, it seems pretty cruel to lead Sally along like that.
pg 17 - ‘you know that guys have already [ ] come out while playing.’
pg 17 - Again, seems harsh to use Sally and play with her emotions by suggesting Jack sleep with her. I thought Jules was meant to be her friend.
pg 34 - ‘we’ll [see] what she says.’
pg 47 - Why does Jack head back?
pg 56 - 10 thousand dollars seems a hell of a lot for a GBH case like this one.
pg 95 - ‘I think I’m…nice big fire.’ This line sounds like a parody on par with ‘I think I’ll walk home tonight through that abandoned amusement park constructed atop that old indian burial ground.’
pg 98 - ‘John tries to stand [too] quickly.’
pg 99 - ‘Do you think you are going to [be] called for…’
pg 121 - Wait? They just killed someone and the police aren’t even going to bring them in to the station?
pg 122 - Why didn’t the boyfriend report the attack immediately?
pg 122 - I’d originally thought that Jack didn’t report John through cowardice (which didn’t seem to fit with his character at all. I think you need make this soccer related reason clearer earlier on (or preferably find a better reason that doesn’t make Jack come off as such a self-centred prick). At least Jack finally acknowledges he was in the wrong here. Not sure why everyone else dismisses it though. That was a terrible thing that Jack did - it shouldn’t just be brushed off like that.
pg 124 - I can’t believe Jack’s still with Sally at the end? Wouldn’t it be more interesting for Sally to discover that Jack is gay and that he’s been lying to her this whole time. Scripts thrive on conflict and that would be a great source of conflict between the two. It would also have been interesting to see Jack actually come out and witness the problems that would cause.
As I’ve said before, this Screenplay has lots of good ideas and deals with interesting and important subject matter. In your next draft the main things I would advise focusing on are your characters and your fantastical element. The dream idea is a good one and if you can find a way to implement it successfully in your script then great. Otherwise, another option would be to make this script a straight up drama and save the voodoo dream idea for another script which is more obviously set in a world of fantasy and a story that allows you to explore this idea more fully.
Hope some of that’s been helpful and good luck with all your writing endeavors,
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,
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