A 'never was' pitcher and his pot-dealing, Mexican girlfriend go through hell over a missing lottery ticket.
HOW IT RATES
A northerner arrives at a rural Southern college town on scholarship. After joining the Fire Company on a whim he befriends an affable slacker and a lonely wife which puts him on a new path. However in a small town like Ashland, things just aren't that simple.
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Reviews of Ashland 39
by AlCielo on 02/17/2012"Ashland" is a carefully planned character study that doesn't oversell its premise. Still, I think there are two central problems. I should note that since the ratings are high and from a large sample, and since this has been a Featured Submission, I'm going to be in the minority, so please use whatever sized grain of salt you find helpful in considering these suggestions... "Ashland" is a carefully planned character study that doesn't oversell its premise.
Still, I think there are two central problems. I should note that since the ratings are high and from a large sample, and since this has been a Featured Submission, I'm going to be in the minority, so please use whatever sized grain of salt you find helpful in considering these suggestions.
What first struck me was the beautiful writing in the action descriptions: concise but evocative prose with individualized, active action verbs. A strong, clear writer's voice and a consistent tone. But then I noticed a major problem with the characterization, and I believe that these well-written paragraphs are one of the sources of the problem.
For me, all your characters lack the semblance of autonomy--they serve to move the story forward, but they have no inner life. Grace is an alcoholic mother, not Keith's mother. Keith himself has a mysterious backstory, but it's not at odds with anything. At the end of Act 1, when--according to convention--the protagonist chooses to commit to action, Keith does in fact decide to fill out the application, but while he's shown as procrastinating on that decision, there was never any real tension. Grace did oppose Keith becoming a fireman, but he wouldn't do what she says anyway. Later, when Madeline appears and is described as Paul's sister and married, the audience knows that soon she and Keith will hook up. And when Jason has to be removed quickly, he's providentially killed in a car accident.
I think that instead of investing power in your characters, you retain it for yourself in those action paragraphs. You may get some feedback that you frequently use unfilmables. For me, the problem isn't that you insert statements that can't be shown visually, it's that these authorial comments serve to communicate meaning ("to tell"), when the actions of the characters should do so ("to show"). There are often several "tells" per page. Here are a few for examples:
He tries the radio again -- nothing he wants to listen to, only country music. So, he punches the console. (p. 1)
The silence between them is tense and too familiar. (p.1)
Her glare promises a long ride back home. (p.3)
...his eyes widen at the amount of product needed to keep Grace’s hair in place (p.3)
Thomas just feels awkward. (p.4)
Technically, the glare and eye-widening are visual actions, but it's necessary to then tell the audience what they mean. These passages would be fine in a third-person novel, where the author presents the thoughts of the character. But film doesn't do so, except with voice-overs--and ideally few of those. If you forced yourself to avoid narrating the inner world of the characters, and instead conveyed the same information with dialog and action (preferably action), you'd give your characters the complexity and autonomy that they need to draw the audience into the story.
The second major problem for me is action-as-structure (in addition to the action-as-character problem described above). Specifically, you have a second act--half your story--without any driving goal on Keith's part. He joins the fire department, and lots of conflicts ensue, but these don't prevent him from serving. They're spats, not stumbling blocks.
Of course I'm describing the traditional Hollywood formula. A low-concept character study might SEEM different. But if you look at something like The Station Agent, you'll notice that while the protag's goal might seem insubstantial or weak, the subtlety results from an inactive character, in fact the character is deeply committed to a goal, but the goal is simply more personal (not more trivial) than what we expect in a Batman film. This would not be such a problem with a novel--it's not unusual for the drive of the narrator to do the job of the character. But in film, it's all on screen.
The intelligence and subtlety of your approach are great strengths. Focusing more explicitly on the goal / intention of the protagonist won'd dumb down the story. Instead, it will capitalize on the strengths of your presentation and offer the audience a story that's fresh as well as familiar. read
by Reeder Righter on 02/05/2012ASHLAND: I don’t see the point of summarizing the story, so I’ll move straight on to feedback… WRITING: Found the big print and writing in general very visual and it really let me rip through the pages. I began to ‘watch it’ as opposed to read it. Love it when that happens. DIALOGUE: So much to love. Fleshed out characters sounding like people. It was so refreshing to be... ASHLAND:
I don’t see the point of summarizing the story, so I’ll move straight on to feedback…
Found the big print and writing in general very visual and it really let me rip through the pages. I began to ‘watch it’ as opposed to read it. Love it when that happens.
So much to love. Fleshed out characters sounding like people. It was so refreshing to be thoroughly enjoying the dialogue, so thank you for that.
KEITH “What are most fights about?”
Most of the time it feels like people talking, which is great to read.
PAGE 11 – Typo – “She swats him awat.” (away)
PAGE 13 – Conflict between Toby and Keith. Reckon it just needs a little bit of setup to make me believe they would throw down like that. Love the scene though, and with just some tension prior this would be an awesome pay off as Keith pushes Toby over the edge. ‘The last straw’ as it were.
PAGE 32 – Typo? - “A car pulls in and parks a couple of sots away…” (Slots)?
It’s technically great and I really enjoyed it. But as I was reading, something wasn’t sitting right. And that feeling never went away for me.
As I write this, I am aware the following may come across a bit vague…
My main concern, that I couldn’t put my finger on until it dawned on me on page 80, is goals, motivation and stakes. The usual suspects…
Why Keith joins the fire brigade and what’s at stake for him.
It just feels like there is no goals for Keith. Even Madeline isn’t being pursued, it’s more coincidental that they bump into each other time and time again. So on this Keith is fairly inactive.
I also kept looking for Keith’s reason to want to be apart of the world of the volunteers. WHY was he doing it? Without this, he is lacking the third dimension. He kind of just, does it.
Another thing that stands out to me as a great thread is the whole, small volunteer fire team becoming redundant. “What the hell are we going to do with ourselves?”
I think this is really interesting, has a lot of heart as ultimately these people have found something special in the group, like a sports team, they LOVE what they do, and this is a massive opportunity for some social commentary.
Also the conflict between Paul and Keith is great. I loved it. So much in fact I wanted more and wished it went on for longer.
Much like most of the stuff that happens at the firehouse. As a guy, I was reading this wanting to experience it, and this script was giving me a taste of that.
I thought about this for a few days.
This story, at the moment is about a guy who goes to a town and joins a volunteer fire crew, for mostly some excitement? Throughout that, he makes some friends, meets Maddy and ultimately Mickey dies.
My concern is that he doesn’t really change. Or learn anything. Or undergo any journey meaningful to him. Even the death of Mickey doesn’t draw any kind of reaction from him other than the cliché. And I hate to use that word in relation to this script because ninety nine percent of it is not that.
Whereas the fire crew are affected by everything. Keith’s arrival, which causes conflict amongst the group, the threat of a paid crew taking them over, the town is changing around them and ultimately the death of (my favourite character) Mickey. To put it bluntly, that’s a lot of shit going on. These people start with very little, and that is being threatened.
I guess what I’m getting at is this.
What is the real story here?
You have created a VIVID world. With REAL people.
My concern boiled down to where the focus of the story is.
Keith is blowing in the wind. He has nothing to lose. Maybe his scholarship but this does not have enough of a focus, so much so he doesn’t even give it any weight. He never seems like he cares about it. It feels like Keith never has any real stakes. To me he is less interesting.
The fire crew on the other hand lose a massive part of their lives. They are also, unlike Keith, affected by a sub text you hinted at a few times. The town. By the sounds of things this town is growing and the people may not like it? (Wal-Mart) Their entire existence will change. That’s a massive undertone, or theme that isn’t explored in this very much and maybe it could be? Mickey to me reads as a guy that doesn’t like change.
The fire house characters are interesting, compelling and everything that happens focuses and amplifies the tension on THEM.
Their lives also change completely by the time the film comes to an end.
Maybe Keith should be forced to join the crew? Learn a thing or two about life along the way and ultimately undergo meaningful change.
One other small issue was the house fire at the end in which Mickey dies. I wish it wasn’t just a random house fire and a random person. Probably the only thing that felt like it was placed or constructed to serve the script. Mickey needs to die now – so let’s kill him. I could see it coming a mile off. Also as a suggestion why not have some of the other characters caught in a fire?
SOME SUGGESTIONS: (obviously these are just that, so just ignore what you don't like)
The volunteers need to prove themselves to the council otherwise they will be replaced. If they ARE going to be replaced no question about it, what is there to fight for? Where is the goals? Where is the tension? That gets taken away before I (the audience) get a chance to enjoy them trying to save it. They can fail in the end, but if there is no challenge there to be met, no over arching story that can ramp up and deliver a climax that isn’t randomly placed, then the tension doesn’t build.
What if Mickey has been lighting fires to keep them busy because this volunteer fire group is the last thing for him to hold on to as the town around him changes... Obviously we don’t learn this until the end (maybe they were all in on it) and then he eventually dies in one of his fires… When someone really wants something, they will go to extreme lengths to get it. This also makes Mickey more than just, the nice guy. Ultimately he too is flawed. Which is human.
What if the story starts on Mickey? It starts on the guy that is going to lose everything, and in the end he does. See what happens when Mickey has to train up a silver spoon frat boy that doesn’t even want to be there. And form that maybe Keith would learn that this could be something he could actually get right? Or, to motivate Keith even harder, if Keith was sent there (part of his scholarship or something) expected to fuck up, maybe he has a point to prove in making it a success.
The drama kicks off too late in the script, and then it ends before it can escalate beyond a couple of fistfights. What is there can sometimes feel ‘constructed by the hand of God’. You only get to tell this story once. Put the characters through the grinder, make some of the liars and cheats, make them multi-dimensional and if you can, have all the tension build up to one event that involves and pulls in everyone.
I would go through this script and ask the question of every scene, what is this story about? Does this scene need to be here and why? Why are Keith’s parents in this film? Etc…
I am excited to see where it could be pushed too.
I really hope some of my suggestions can help in some way. I could talk about the possibilities all day…
Thank you for the read. I like your writing style and I genuinely enjoyed ASHLAND.
Keep working it until it works.
by scolew on 02/04/2012Writing: Amazingly crisp, I applaud your ability to bring the story to life. The descriptions and action sequences are well crafted and expertly tuned. This by far is the best writing I've personally seen in a screenplay thus far. The grammar deep into the story drops off a bit, you might want to check it. Overall, very, very good! Dialog: I thought the dialog was well... Writing:
Amazingly crisp, I applaud your ability to bring the story to life. The descriptions and action sequences are well crafted and expertly tuned. This by far is the best writing I've personally seen in a screenplay thus far. The grammar deep into the story drops off a bit, you might want to check it. Overall, very, very good!
I thought the dialog was well done for the characters in this story. I hope you write other screenplays to use your brilliant writing technique for more complex characters. For this story, the writing fits into the backdrop, but unfortunately, you had to stifle your abilities with these characters. I hope you see that I'm complimenting your writing!
I liked the storyline. Lots of action, a love story, life choices. I liked at the end where Kieth and Madeline aren't driving off into the distance, happily ever after. You left that part to our imagination.
Your dialog was written well for this story and the characters had depth to them. I enjoyed Kieth and Madeline, and rooted for them to be together. read
by macaggiano on 02/03/2012This is one of the tougher reviews I've done here on TS. Your talent as a writer is undeniable. Your action and imagery are better than most professional sp's I read. Your dialogue was very good, making 117 pgs feel like a breeze. So I'm sitting here racking my brain trying to figure out why I wasn't moved by such an intimate story. If I'm forced to venture a guess, I'd... This is one of the tougher reviews I've done here on TS. Your talent as a writer is undeniable. Your action and imagery are better than most professional sp's I read. Your dialogue was very good, making 117 pgs feel like a breeze. So I'm sitting here racking my brain trying to figure out why I wasn't moved by such an intimate story.
If I'm forced to venture a guess, I'd have to say the script lacked a cohesive conflict that carried on throughout the story. Granted in a drama, this conflict will be more internal than external, but I didn't even get the sense that the story tried to dramatize one of Kieth's many flaws. Based on the opening, his age, over bearing mother... I thought it would be about living his own life and making his own choses as opposed to going to college because it's what his parents expect of him. With this type of story, I don't think you need the cause-affect sequences that are demanded in other genres, but I think you rely a bit too much on random events shaping the story as opposed to Keith actively shaping the story. For example, a major part of your story deals with Keith and his transition from college student to vol. firefighter. But it's not clear why he does this, or how this decision affects him as a person. Did the train accident, or the cruiser crash play a part in this decision? I think it's all a little too subtle for such an important part of the story. He just seems to walk in there on a whim.
Perhaps it was your intention to give this a more sublte feel. There's nothing worse than a heavy-handed theme preaching to you in a story. But it's also tough to connect to a character if you're not sure what his journey is about. My suggestion would be to re-work the theme, be a little more heavy-handed with it. Don't be afraid to let the audience know what you're trying to say. Best of luck with this.
by RaimisAsh on 02/02/2012Review - Ashland Okay, so you obviously know how to write. This story was easy to read from front to finish. Unique concept. Taking place in a small town. I've gone through the script and made my notes. Again, these are only my opinions. Take them or leave them, as I am not a professional by any standards. Opening scene. Main character is nervous. Slap stick comedy. Will... Review - Ashland
Okay, so you obviously know how to write. This story was easy to read from front to finish. Unique concept. Taking place in a small town. I've gone through the script and made my notes. Again, these are only my opinions. Take them or leave them, as I am not a professional by any standards.
Opening scene. Main character is nervous. Slap stick comedy. Will it fit?
Excellent descriptions! Superior writing style. A natural. Easy to read and follow.
Remember - don't tell us the way someone feels. They must express it in their actions and or the way tehy express themselves. Page 5 - Thomas just feels awkward.
Page 5 - laughing over the mother getting sent a case of Vodka. Not sure that would work well on screen. The joke is better, in my opinion, if you leave it as a wise crack and the dad doesn't approve (he's got to live with her!). Alcoholism isn't funny to anyone that lives with one (for the most part).
Shocking twist on Page 8. Loved it!
Page 9 - more of a high school setting than college. Most professors don't hand the work back out to students - and make mention to the one student with the A. I'm saying this - and I graduated college in 2002. Things may have changed : )
Page 10 - I know its writing - but cursing in a description is a turn off for some producers. Cursing in dialogue is just fine.
Page 11 - away (spelling error)
Page 14 - would he be so eager to tap the beat of a rock song after he just got the shit beat out of him?
Page 19 - excellent descriptions - you must have visited a fire station at some point!!!
Page 21 - is the flashback necessary? I remember it. maybe he can make mention of the arm instead of flashing back. Keith is pretty witty, he could say a sly statement like - "yeah, all I keep seeing is grizzly things in this messed up town" - Just an idea.
Page 24 - reminds me of Cop Land - I LIKE!
Page 27 - another flashback. I get what you're trying to do here... just know that flashbacks usually aren't looked at too kindly by professional script readers.
Page 34 - not sure why he would mumble "crazy bitch" - he's the nervous type, not good with the ladies. Seems out of character.
Page 35 - liked reading the training - interesting
Page 47 - Good dialogue between Mickey and Keith. Getting along well. Keith is letting down his guard a little. Good to see that.
Page 52-54 - I thought I was going to Keith use his smarts or his wit. His character is built up that way anyway - with the college stuff. Didn't see it though.
Page 63: Would Jason really say anything? Doesn't seem like the type to even mutter a word based on how you describe him.
Page 68: I laughed outloud at Jack's instructions.
Page 80: Madeline smiles - an awkward reaction after the comment Keith makes. I figured she'd me more lost in thought then immediately smiling at Keith making it sound so easy to change her life.
Page 80: I don't understand what Paul is saying: We're it college boy.
Page 83/84: You don't have to say that its odd since they work together - the reader should know their history. I'm not sure Keith would respond with "thanks" the way you've written him. Keith in my mind would say something like "sure"
Page 86: I didn't like that Toby and Keith shook hands. Seems unlikely. The compliment is enough.
Page 92: Love the Walmart coming soon sign. Foreshadowing a small city being engulfed by big city corporations.
The ending was solid. Mickey's death was kind of unexpected to me. I didn't think the movie would end in tragedy for some reason. You set that up nicely.
My overall review of the script at this point. Good concept. There are so many characters, it was hard to keep track. At one point, I couldn't remember if Paul was the antagonist or Jack. Then Toby would find his way back in the mix. All the common names made it a little difficult to follow who was who. My idea would be to have them call each other by their last names. It is a cop like thing to do, and it makes the names stand out more.
Dialogue was really good at times, but then a little on the nose at times as well. Sometimes I'd like Keith to just shut up. He doesn't have to respond to everything said to him. I kind of liked him being this mysterious guy - that comes out of his shell for Mickey and Maddy, but that's it. Average story. Didn't really use your character's greatest strength - His brain. He didn't use it much. He was quite clumsy for being a smart ass, and he never really did anything special until the pace maker thing. WHICH WAS AWESOME! I was really happy to see him use his skills.
Structure was good. I don't like flashbacks personally. I find them tedious. If someone really likes your story, they'll remember to the arm getting ripped off.
I believe if you really dig deep. Make some tweaks to the characters. Give Keith the ability to outsmart fires and people - this story would be at least an 8/10. But as of now, I'd give it a solid 6/10.
Again, I know you've heard this before, but these are only my opinions. I writer that hasn't sold anything - and I haven't won any contests. Don't be discouraged. Continue to improve this play. You already have something special... make it very special.
by wlawrence on 02/02/2012Overall -- this was a great, easy read. Structure, dialogue, action -- all well done. In fact, your action descriptions were exceptional -- made me think of the Hitchcock (I think) quote about writing all the action first and filling in the dialogue last, if at all. Not that the dialogue was bad (it was quite good), but it almost wasn't even necessary with the excellent action... Overall -- this was a great, easy read. Structure, dialogue, action -- all well done. In fact, your action descriptions were exceptional -- made me think of the Hitchcock (I think) quote about writing all the action first and filling in the dialogue last, if at all. Not that the dialogue was bad (it was quite good), but it almost wasn't even necessary with the excellent action descriptions. There isn't much feedback I can give in terms of technical analysis because it seems like you have it down. You are a gifted writer.
That said (and this is just my personal taste), I just didn't dig the concept. And I really didn't like Keith (I realize you created him as unlikeable, but it's just hard to spend 117 minutes with someone you don't like). I personally just think the whole smart rebel out-of-towner thing is played out.
This is a weird and disjointed review (and for that I apologize) because while I couldn't stop reading the script and while I marveled at some of your writing, it ultimately left me unsatisfied. I think it may have been because of the low-stakes concept and the entirely unlikeable Keith. But, hey, that's just my subjective opinion.
Like I said earlier, this was a quick, easy read and you have considerable talent. Would love to read something you have with a more compelling concept. read
by olufemi on 02/01/2012Okay, first off, hello! Customarily, I try to keep my reviews impersonal because I see it as more professional. However, on the advice of some of the Reviewers of the Month, I’m going to try addressing the writer a bit more here. Hopefully it will help my review come off as not so nasty/critical, which is never my intention. Developing screenwriters often confuse the teachings... Okay, first off, hello!
Customarily, I try to keep my reviews impersonal because I see it as more professional. However, on the advice of some of the Reviewers of the Month, I’m going to try addressing the writer a bit more here. Hopefully it will help my review come off as not so nasty/critical, which is never my intention.
Developing screenwriters often confuse the teachings of the likes of Robert McKee and William Akers as hard and fast rules rather than principles. These writers ape the form and structure taught by these men rigidly, without really grasping the underlying value of what is taught.
More experienced writers understand that the tenets of Archplot structure are not a one-size-fits-all recipe to making great stories, but rather a means of providing a context for telling a great story. These tenets can be bent, or sometimes ignored, so long as the writer has an understanding of the underlying principles.
“Ashland” succeeds on multiple levels; let that not be lost in this review, which will mostly concentrate on what doesn’t work. The script is written with talent and with care, which is a testament to your ability. But where it fails is in providing a proper *context* for the events it portrays, if that makes sense. So even though the events that occur and the characters involved are all interesting and well-written, the script fails to satisfactorily answer *why* those things are happening, and more than this, what the *point* is of these things happening.
Format is on point. Misspellings are few, but frequent enough that the author could stand to let another set of eyes go through the script to search them out specifically. A few occurrences:
p. 6 “Hey, while you’re Dad’s in…there.” Should be “your.”
p. 11 “She swats him awat.” Should be “away.”
p. 11 “I thought your were a douche.” Should be “you”
A frequently-repeated grammatical mistake is the omission of commas. Commas should precede a name when someone is addressing someone else. These examples should all have commas before the person being addressed:
p. 4 “Right Keith?” (“Right, Keith?”)
p. 37 “Fuck off hillbilly.” (“Fuck off, hillbilly.”)
p. 41 “Needed a drink Sonny and I’m poor.” (“Needed a drink, Sonny, and I’m poor.”)
Another frequent problem in the narration is unclear pronoun use. Pronouns are used (“he”, “she”) when it isn’t well established to whom the pronoun refers:
“Keith holds the arm by the wrist and carefully walks it over to the two firemen.
“SIRENS wail from the street and moments later PARAMEDICS are unpacking a gurney from the ambulance.
“He stands over Mickey as he ties off the tourniquet on the unconscious girl and sort of waves it to get his attention.”
On first read, “He” would appear to refer to the sirens or paramedics. While it’s clear this isn’t the case, the writer must consider, the subject to which “he” refers was two sentences ago; it is no longer the subject the reader has in mind. You have to remember: the written language of the script is like the transportation that gets the reader to the story. You want to remove every possible hitch and barrier, easing the reader without any reason for pause, so that he can be lost in your story.
p. 14 “INT./EXT KEITH’S TRUCK – CONTINUOUS
“He checks himself in the rear view mirror, not too much damage.”
This is at the very top of the page, and under a new slugline. Again, while it’s obvious to whom “he” refers *after thinking about it*, you really don’t want your reader to need to think about it; you want them thinking about your story.
In general, avoid beginning a new page, a new slugline, or a new paragraph with a pronoun.
I applaud you for writing with a distinct narrative style. This is something many screenwriters overlook in their desire to appear “professional”, and quite often it simply leads to boring prose.
However, while it’s often done quite well (“p. 10 “Keith resents the assessment”), there are times when it comes off as unnecessary, or even lazy (p. 84 “This is odd since they still have to get in the car together with this uneasy truce.”), or just plain unfilmable (p. 83 “Keith slams down the trunk hood, worried about his own future.”)
It’s also great that you try to express a great deal through action rather than dialogue. This allows the actors to shine with the material. Remember, though: if you’ve done a good job establishing mood through the story already, it shouldn’t be necessary to explicitly state things like “Toby just feels awkward.” The situation itself should make it apparent that Toby feels awkward.
Take care to express action verbs as strongly as possible (active tense), rather than using the passive voice (p. 8 “The gurney is wheeled to the girl…”)
Another quick note: there’s a couple of times where you tell us that Keith is in a truck, but you neglect to tell us that the truck is MOVING. Make sure you make this clear.
You’re probably aware of it, but the concept for the script is a bit lacking; this isn’t exactly the sort of idea that makes people excited to see the movie. The story has a “slice of life”/everyday feel to it, which is perfectly acceptable, but the script’s set-up neglects to sufficiently explain what makes today different from any other day…as an old teacher of mine used to tell me, “Drama is about the most important days in your characters’ lives.”
What is the script about? Keith, a college-bound Yankee, joins the volunteer Fire Department. The biggest question is obviously “why?”
The answer to this question is what can solidify the concept. At the moment, the answer is “on a whim”, which is pretty boring. Worse, it feels contrived: it feels like you wanted to write a script about a guy joining the fire department, so you just made him do it for no good character reason.
A good answer to the “why” will be one that is steeped in conflict and irony. He could join the FD because it’s a court-ordered punishment for his past crimes, because he’s lacking humanities credits at school and arranges a deal to earn them through public service, hell, it could be because he wants to impress a girl (not trying to write your story for you, just making suggestions to get you to consider possibilities). Imagine if part of Keith’s dark past is that he was a convicted arsonist. How much more interesting is it that he’s now saving people from the very sort of dangers he once created?
You want a concept such that when a person hears it, he/she can immediately imagine what conflict will arise from such a situation. SOMETHING needs to make the setup interesting. You can’t set out on his adventure “just ‘cause.”
The story shines during the second act (the meat of the “delicious hamburger” mentioned in the review title). The interaction between the well-created characters is believable and compelling. Keith’s efforts to overcome the pains of being “the new guy”, his learning (and experiencing) how to fight fires, his flirtation with Madelaine, it’s all great stuff.
The problem lies in the parts that sandwich all this great stuff…the “pop tarts” used for the bun. Don’t get me wrong; I love pop tarts. But when combined with hamburger, it forms something less than the sum of its parts.
The first act is filled with characters and situations that ultimately seem completely irrelevant. A good script should be like a house of cards; pull out any scene, and the entire script falls apart. Every scene is vitally important, constantly moving us to the story’s climax. So basically, when you look at the script’s climax, if there’s any scene that can be removed that will have no effect upon that climax, it can be pulled.
With that in mind, what do Keith’s parents have to do with his firefighting? What does a woman losing her arm to a train* contribute to the culmination of the story? Honestly, what does Keith’s being a student have to do with anything, especially when the plot thread all but disappears in the script?
*Just want to mention, this moment happens pretty early in the script; early enough that the tone/mood of the script is still being set. Something this surprising and outright gory seems incongruous with the rest of the script. The same with the sheriff’s cruiser PLOWING into Keith’s truck; I’ll speak more on this under “STRUCTURE.”
You could cut the first 25 or so pages and the story wouldn’t lose anything. Understand, this isn’t to say those pages isn’t well-written; they very much are. But it feels like a completely separate story. Considering the script as a whole, they simply don’t contribute.
Besides this, the setup done in the first act doesn’t always make sense. Keith has been granted a full-ride, out-of-town scholarship…to study philosophy? I’ve never heard of a philosophy scholarship. Doing a little online research, I’ve found a few that award upwards of $1,000; hardly a full-ride. I obviously could be wrong; such scholarships could exist. But even if they do, it seems even more unlikely that such a scholarship would be awarded to a student who has had (the script strongly suggests) a troubled past and run-ins with the law. It’s just a bit of a stretch.
It really seems like the scholarship and college was just an excuse to have a fish-out-of-water Yankee college boy in the same place with a bunch of rough-and-tumble good ol’ boys. That’s fine, but it can’t *feel* like it; it needs to feel natural and logical.
Keith’s interactions with his parents are interesting, but what do they really do for the story? How do they really contribute within the context of the script?
All of this stuff just misleads the reader, setting up a story about a young man coming of age and finding himself in college…which we never get. It’s like if 30 minutes into the movie, Will Hunting decided to join a softball league “on a whim.” To be honest, it’s confusing; Keith’s decision really comes out of nowhere.
Because the first act doesn’t really set up why Keith is doing what he’s doing, the story lacks direction. Again, everything happening in the second act is entertaining, but the reader/viewer has no idea where it’s going. What is Keith’s goal? What is preventing him from attaining it? I wrote down in my notes on page 109 “10 minutes left, and I have no idea how I’ll know the movie is over except that it fades out.” This is a problem.
Keith losing his scholarship around the second act break falls flat as an “all is lost” moment because his college career feels completely superfluous to the story. It never appears that a college degree is his true goal, so how can we care when he’s denied it?
The third act just doesn’t really do much to give meaning to the story. The climax of a film should be the culmination of everything that came before it; it’s what the whole thing was all about. Instead, in “Ashland”, it feels like I’m just watching stuff happen, rather than moving *towards* something; an inevitable, climactic confrontation between protagonist and the antagonistic forces keeping him from his heart’s desire. This doesn’t mean an explosive fight of epic proportions; it can be as bombastic as blowing up the death star, or as subtle as crying while coming to terms with your past.
I don’t want to just harp on this over and over again. Put simply, the script feels like just watching some people over an amount of time, rather than feeling like a story. It feels more like a reality TV show than it does a movie. Fixing this will take some reworking of the first and third acts.
Also, do they still make pagers anymore?
Oh, one last thing: Jason’s death seems completely out of left field. It’s just too easy a resolution to the conflict; Keith is basically handed a solution, rather than being forced to find it himself.
This is probably the strongest aspect of the screenplay. The characters are vivid and distinct, and their interaction is what makes the second act so interesting. While at first introduction, a few of the characters seem like they come off as lame stereotypes, the script does an excellent job of elevating them above this, giving them full personalities, but never making the mistake of making them feel outlandish or over-the-top.
It pains me to not give this a perfect 5 stars, but darn it, Keith is a complete mystery to me, and he’s the PROTAGONIST: the single most important character in the screenplay.
Again, he joins the fire department “on a whim”. This tells me nothing of his motivations. I don’t have a clear understanding of who he is, or what he wants; I don’t know what I should be rooting for him to achieve or overcome. So, obviously, a big portion of the problem here can be solved by determining (and revealing to the reader) what this character *wants*.
There’s a frustrating moment on page 56 where Amy asks Keith why he joined the fire company. I as a reader was just as eager to know the answer as she was (probably moreso). Keith’s answer? “I just want to know if I can handle that sort of…stuff.”
?! I honestly don’t even know what he means by this.
The other problem I had with Keith is that he seems so contradictory (no, not complex; contradictory). For example:
There’s a fantastic character moment starting on page 11 (I have to admit, this was possibly my favorite scene in the script): Keith’s roommate has brought home an exceedingly drunk young girl who he obviously intends to take advantage of. As she starts stripping in their room, the roommate ogles her like a perv, while Keith does his best to look away, shyly.
When the roommate leaves, and the girl is all over him, Keith grabs a towel and does his best to clothe her, even though he’s obviously attracted.
His roommate returns, sees and misinterprets what’s going on, and he and two buddies jump Keith; but before they can, he gets in the first hit and pummels them as best he can.
This is AMAZING character work. It tells us so much about Keith: he’s callow and inexperienced, but he’d rather defend a girl’s honor than take advantage. He’s shy and timid, but when pushed, he’s ready to defend himself ferociously. I don’t know if you intended this as a “Save the Cat” moment, but it is one, and it’s an incredibly effective one.
But then before too long, he’s slinging insults at men older (and bigger) than he is, starting fights, confidently hitting on a married woman. The Keith who flirts with Madeline on page 44 just doesn’t seem like the same character I met 30 pages ago.
Just FYI, I'm breaking my own rubric rules here, because usually if the protagonist doesn't have a clear goal, I rate no higher than 2 stars. The other character work here is just too strong for so low a score.
Proper Archplot structure isn’t so simple as making big stuff happen on a certain page. These moments must be earned, and they must be relevant to the narrative.
It seems like you took pains to make major events occur at the right times, but these weren’t always really effective.
After 10 or so pages that introduce us to the characters and the world they inhabit, the INCITING INCIDENT (or CATALYST) is an event that causes a disruption in the status quo for the protagonist. It imbalances his life such that he must do something to restore that balance around page 25. The inciting incident would appear to be Keith’s fight with his roommate, which makes sense; he won’t be able to stay in the room anymore, so he needs somewhere else to stay. It’s definitely a change to his life that he needs to do something about.
Yet, if this is the inciting incident, it’s overshadowed by the fact that A WOMAN GOT HER ARM CHOPPED OFF JUST TWO PAGES AGO! Remember, these story beats are meant to be the tensest moments, which send the story off in new directions. How can you expect the audience to care that Keith had a bloodless fight with his argument when moments ago, a woman’s severed arm was flopping around on the pavement?
Not two pages after Keith’s fight with his roommate, he’s driving down the road and a sheriff’s cruiser PLOWS into his truck!
Your audience needs a chance to breathe. This is a drama, not a thriller. And again, it’s not clear how these moments cause an imbalance to Keith’s life that joining the fire company helps to remedy.
I think I’ve already stated that joining the fire department on a whim is pretty flimsy as a FIRST ACT BREAK. Though I should mention: you must remember that the first act break is the moment where the protagonist makes a CHOICE and takes an ACTION that makes his world worse…it puts him directly at odds with the antagonistic forces lined up to resist him.
As the script is now, the first act break moment is kinda when Keith steps into the fire department. But it’s also kinda when Mickey gives a rousing speech, and convinces everyone to vote Keith in.
This second moment puts the impetus in Mickey’s hands more than in Keith’s, which is to be avoided. It’s a nice speech, but make sure your protagonist owns the moment, not a secondary character.
The script’s MIDPOINT and SECOND ACT BREAK are similar in that the moments don’t really have much to do with the rest of the story. At the midpoint, Keith finds out he’s on academic probation. At the second act break, he finds out he’s lost his college scholarship.
These would be perfect plot points if the script was about Keith trying to go to college; if that were the case, the CENTRAL CONFLICT of the story would be his efforts to get through college, and the forces that are preventing him from achieving that. But the script is NOT about Keith going to college; all the college stuff barely serves as a sub-plot, if that. While it’s expected for there to be overlap between the A and B stories (in fact, it’s necessary), the events from the latter cannot serve as plot points for the former.
Determine what, specifically this script is about (and if you already know, make it clear for the reader), then make the plot points serve as impediments to that thing, to Keith’s pursuit of his external and/or internal goals (preferably both).
Dialogue kicks ass.
Wait, okay. I was going to leave it at that, but I actually did find ONE note on dialogue: Keith and Madeline’s conversation/date on 76 or so is too long, and it ends up tedious.
That’s all I got.
This script is strong work. Reading it, I couldn’t stop thinking about “Good Will Hunting” and “Backdraft”, but it never felt like the script was trying to ape those films at all. The problem is that the first act feels like “Good Will Hunting” and the middle feels like “Backdraft”, but the entire script needs to be one cohesive story, not a patchwork.
I have no qualms in saying that this is the kind of script that gets attention and gets made (again, like “Good Will Hunting”). Learn from that script’s example, though: it famously went through over 100 rewrites to become the Academy-Award-winning piece of brilliance that it is. I wish the same for you and your script.
Hope I’ve given you some sound advice towards making that happen. Best of luck. read
by Robmor19 on 02/01/2012Concept - Very interesting concept. Characters - Most of the characters to me were nearly the same. May be due to the amount of "named" characters your SP produced. However the main characters were pretty spot on. Keith, was by far the most complex. It seemed that he was "lost" in this new world, understandably, he's in college now. But I must say, I did not see a lot of growth... Concept - Very interesting concept.
Characters - Most of the characters to me were nearly the same. May be due to the amount of "named" characters your SP produced. However the main characters were pretty spot on. Keith, was by far the most complex. It seemed that he was "lost" in this new world, understandably, he's in college now. But I must say, I did not see a lot of growth in his character. I seen the same person throught the SP until the very last page! That was a bit disappointing. I would have liked to see more challege for him. Even more than him losing his scholarship, his mother being a drunk, etc. My first thought after reading this SP was incorporating more of those challenges if anything. It would have really made him lose his mind! When it all came down to the end (his birthday) that night could have been the breaking point for him, thus making the last scenario a very dramatic/insightful moment. Because of this character alone, I'm sorry to say, I felt disconnected while reading.
Dialogue - I think you almost nailed the dialogue. There was nothing that distracted me from the read. However, there was only a few times when the dialouge really captivated me, I think you are almost there, not need a bit more.
Story - Here was was really confused me. It was almost like every situation within the SP was just a melo-dramatic scenario. Knowing that the concept was based around the fire department (your log-line) that was the only way "I" could tell what the actual focal point was. His schooling, this new girl, veterans of the fire department not liking him. All these things just seemed thrown in to "make" a story. Granted your writing style and ability is very good, I just personally couldn't grasp the need for all of these smaller almost pointless side pieces. Please do not take offense, maybe their is something I am completely missing.
Stucture - Your structure was decent. I found it a bit hard to determind in the beginning if the SP was going to be centered around the school, or the fire department. I would suggest interjecting more emphasis on his school work. That would really add to the scene where he loses his scholarship? Just a suggestion.
With all that's said, please, once again do not take what my observations were as being cruel. Your writing is great, this SP just did not do it entirely for me.
Best of luck! read
by **DELETED ACCOUNT** on 01/10/2012In Ashland we find a young man, Keith, starting college but in need of some excitement and purpose. He witnesses a horrific accident where a girl loses her arm and dies, which turns Keith into a life as a firefighter while juggling school and a new love, Madeleine. Overall the script showed good dialogue, sometimes subtle and infused with heart, and identifiable problems like... In Ashland we find a young man, Keith, starting college but in need of some excitement and purpose. He witnesses a horrific accident where a girl loses her arm and dies, which turns Keith into a life as a firefighter while juggling school and a new love, Madeleine. Overall the script showed good dialogue, sometimes subtle and infused with heart, and identifiable problems like balancing what is expected vs. what a man has to do & falling for someone who's in an abusive relationship. However, it seems that the excessive direction and line spacing masks what is not a fully fleshed out script. Actors will usually interpret what is not being said themselves, and if all the lines were formatted in one paragraph, we would find a script that adheres to structure well enough but that is only 3/4 of a script at best. This script is not 113 pages, it's much less with proper formatting. One major area that needs more attention is how Keith becomes a firefighter at the end of Act I. There is room for him to really earn his stripes - like why would he know about the pacemaker when the paramedics don't? - while juggling the scholarship issue. Some writers have an imaginary world to draw from and others use experience. Keith is a courageous and tough SOB but we want to see more than him fighting with his fists. The other major area that can be built upon is how Madeleine's crumbling relationship will impact Keith. When he writes the note at the end and disappears, it would be more interesting if there were more escalating circumstances for them to come together. The pool hall scenes don't have to be tossed out, but there is room for more sparks. The end will pop more in Keith is brought to rock bottom at the end of Act II. The strongest part of this screenplay is a protagonist that is an everyday hero - one with a lionheart that wants to do good and it makes us want to see him succeed. read
by Anthony J. on 08/06/2011I read the entire script non stop, which is unusual for me. I don't think it would be a blockbuster at the box office but there was something about it that held my interest. The only negative thing I could find; I couldn't find anything to root for. I expected Keith to hook up with Maddy and drive off together. There seemed to me to be too many fist fights, but the one I would... I read the entire script non stop, which is unusual for me.
I don't think it would be a blockbuster at the box office but there was something about it that held my interest.
The only negative thing I could find; I couldn't find anything to root for. I expected Keith to hook up with Maddy and drive off together.
There seemed to me to be too many fist fights, but the one I would have liked to see a grudge match between Keith and his roommate did not happen. After Toby and his friends ganged up on Keith I would have liked to see him go back and go one on one with Toby.
Typos were so minimal they are not worth mentioning.
Format is good. read
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