A Son's Gift ★★★½
By Annie Knox
‘A Son’s Gift’ is a moving tribute to writer Michele Bell’s son, and a riveting tale of her real-life story. Told within several time periods which we flash back and forwards between (the past when Nicky was alive, and the present, wherein Michele cares for her mother and remembers Nicky’s life) the screenplay explores the relationship between Michele and Nicky, and Michele’s strength in the aftermath of Nicky’s tragic passing.
Although written by his mother, the majority of the film is from Nicky’s point of view, with a version of Nicky as he would be (at thirty three years old) watching over his mother and grandmother. Although we do not see this projection of Nicky speak, we hear his voiceover speaking to Michele, narrating the events transpiring during the script. Nicky’s constant existence in his mother’s thoughts and his physical appearance on screen will have both a practical and a very emotional effect. The practical is allowing an effective and sympathetic narration of events, providing us with more insight into the story being told and giving us a lovely exploration of how close Nicky was with his mother (and how close she still keeps him) as he shares in her darkest and lightest moments on screen.
On a more emotive level the projection of an older version of Nicky is incredibly effective as not only do we follow Michele’s grief over tragically losing her son, but we follow her grief over the future she should have had with him. Nicky’s continual presence in the script as a projection of what he would have looked and sounded like should he have lived shows us just how omnipresent he still is in Michele’s life; and is a beautiful way to show us how she continues to carry her son’s values and his strength with her everyday in the present. The fact that Nicky still exists in her life but at the age he would be rather than, for example, a younger version of himself, demonstrates clearly the message that Michele is looking forwards rather than backwards. The audience can see how she is bravely choosing to carry her grief with her as she strives to use her experience to help others, rather than allowing the grief and the loss to stop her from living.
It is incredibly clear to me that this screenplay has been written from both a place of loss and grief, and incredible strength and love. Although heartbreaking and certain to draw damp eyes, the story never falls into becoming overly depressing or morbid, with Nicky’s kind heart and his relationship with Michele keeping the story beautifully tragic rather than simply upsetting. Michele has written the script not to showcase her grief, but to celebrate and explore the lessons that she learnt from being Nicky’s mother, and in order to keep his spirit alive. Through the tragedy we see a character being shaped from the experience, and we see how Michele fights to keep Nicky close to her heart through her actions once he is gone.
There are of course (as there always are with any screenplay) technical issues that need to be resolved- in places I can see that the action directions have accidentally been written into the dialogue, or vice versa. At one point a character’s name changes during a scene, and there are several examples of text with incomplete sentences or places where it looks like a word has accidentally been removed and left odd spacing, or punctuation has been used incorrectly. Some of the sentences are not quite complete. However, these are all simple issues to solve with a couple of redrafts and perhaps an editor to give it a quick technical brush-up.
Storywise, there are no major issues to point out at all. The story is told from the heart, and that comes across clearly. The only minor improvements that I personally would have liked to see would be more on Nicky’s early life- his family and background are skated over quite quickly at the beginning, and the dynamic of the family would have been great to see a little more of, in order to help us appreciate greater the changes to each character. Bianca in particular, and her relationship with both Nicky and Michele would be fascinating to see a little more of, as what is already there is very moving.
In conclusion, ‘A Son’s Gift’ is exactly what it sounds like- a very touching story about the gift a mother received from her son’s life, and a beautiful tale of grief, loss, but ultimately love and strength. I would strongly advise that the writers iron out the technical and grammatical side of the screenplay, in order to elevate it to a level where it can start to gain more exposure and appreciation for it’s content.
Ad Praesenti ★★
By Annie Knox
Ad Praesenti tells the story of seventeen-turning-eighteen graduate Mila, who has just managed to get a two-million-dollar diamond engagement ring from an older man she met online and is on her way to Yale with a full scholarship. Pretty, cunning, and money-orientated, Mila has it all planned out. Unfortunately her plans don’t account for the possibility of her being the potential mother of the ‘second coming’, a baby that will somehow delay a human-AI evolutionary twist by fifty-five generations.
Artificial intelligence entwined with human evolution is a fascinating theme to run with, and we’ve seen it done incredibly well in the likes of sinister sci-fi Ex Machina, fun action-classic I, Robot, or television series Humans. Regrettably, Guilfoyle’s action-packed screenplay struggles to ground the story within the theme, which is why it becomes lost in what felt like countless kidnappings of poor Mila as she gets bounced from baddie to goodie to baddie.
The key aspects of the screenplay that need to be improved in order to pull it into something a little more solid are the characters and the background of the human vs AI setting.
World-building is incredibly important in any story to do with humans pushing into the future, and although we hear plenty about this AI-evolutionary plan from the likes of Lady Day in her bad-guy monologue as she threatens Mila, we don’t see anything within the story that hints at the characters being in a world with AI. Mila spends a lot of time on her phone, but the phone doesn’t do anything special to show us we are in that future. Sunny tells Barron that she is working for voices in her head that tell her what to do, hinting at some kind of higher-power or overarching supremacy that may be leading the AI evolution, but that has to be taken for ourselves; all she says are ‘voices’. So although I took it to perhaps be some kind of clue about the world the screenplay is set in, it could very well be something completely different. At no point does technology or AI make an appearance in the screenplay.
The science behind the evolution seems non-existent, with the characters throwing around loose terms and vague hints instead of saying anything that can be believable or properly understood. Why on earth Mila’s child will delay the evolution by fifty-five generations is not something we are made party to, despite it being the entire hinge upon which the story lies. I think I noticed the ‘second coming’ baby was only mentioned maybe three or four times. Why is this baby so special? What will it do during its lifetime that makes so many people so desperate to kill Mila and avoid its birth? Where is the explanation as to why the AI evolution is so important to the people who want Mila dead?
Most importantly perhaps, why doesn’t Mila ask any of these questions herself?
Mila is another key component of the screenplay that falls short. Despite being the key character in what appears to be a very far-spread, key-moment-in-human-history turning point for AI, she fails to develop during the screenplay. A naive, fun, flirty character at the beginning (that classic mix of ‘naive’ and sweet, but still smart enough to webcam and scam older men for money while under her loving mother’s watchful eye), she wanders throughout the story in a haze of confusion, beautiful and unaware of the danger she is in. She hops on and off of private jets, catches flights here and there, slides back and forth between smirking at the ‘bad guys’ when they threaten her and crying; and at one point magically is able to accurately shoot down a car behind herself and Barron during a high-speed chase without breaking a sweat. Constantly being led by hands, she is eventually given a ‘purpose’ (a phrase that is never fully explained to us) and then simply let go by everybody who had thus far been trying to kill her. Happy ending.
One other aspect that is important to mention is the gang members. They are only present for a few pages of the script, and those few pages instantly become flat because of the stereotype that these gang members have been portrayed as. Without having their reasons for working for the secret agents explained, they appear and use stereotypical (and thoughtlessly written) language, and then disappear.
Although Ad Praesenti presents a fun idea, there is simply too much packed into this screenplay that hasn’t been thought through or properly developed. If we take all the components back out; the wishy-washy President, the unclear secret agency, Mila, the baby plotline, the AI backstory, the dozens of vague companies working against each other,-and give them all some thought and background, then the screenplay could become a far more solid piece among those exploring the artificial intelligence theme.
Alta California ★★★★½
By Annie Knox
Lynn Elliott has selected the era of the Californian Missions to set his feature, a time period between roughly 1769 and 1833 during which twenty one religious missions were carried out in an effort to convert the Native Americans to Catholicism and expand the European territory. It’s an interesting backdrop and Elliott neatly uses the turbulent time to narrate the tale of a young man struggling with his sense of identity, as the territories around him are being torn apart religiously.
Alta California opens with impressive pace, sliding neatly from establishing the overbearing setting straight to our young protagonist (Palido), who observes a group of baptized natives being led through a religious chant by their Padre. The ‘Madonna and child’-esque statue on the altar pushes us to a flashback of Palido’s own mother being heartlessly murdered during one of the missions, with Elliott’s short and sharp writing style delivering scenes of great violence and brutality during the raid. During the flashback the reason for Palido’s identity struggle is revealed; although his mother was Native America, Palido is half-spanish (his father is unknown to us). Our antagonist, Private Codero, threatens to kill Palido for being mixed-race, claiming his spanish blood is tainted. Palido watches Codero kill his mother. When the flashback ends, it is now apparent that Palido has joined the Spanish as part of the California Missions, forced to work with Codero and his troops. Palido is reminiscent of ‘Esca’ from ‘The Eagle of the Ninth’, forced into a regime that suppressed his people and struggling to find a place to fit in.
What Elliott has created within his screenplay is a brilliant study of a young man who has lost his sense of identity. Bullied constantly by the xenophobic Codero, Palido struggles with what he has been taught of the Catholic God and the bible--forced upon him by the Spanish--and the memory of his murdered mother, and his roots as half Native American. His struggles manifest themselves both within his position working within the missions, and within his love interests. From early on in the narrative it is implied that he is to marry young Anna-Marie, but later Palido finds himself enraptured with the playful, fun Ifapi.
An interesting layer to the story sits within the members of the missions; we have those who are unwilling participants, like Palido and Carlos. We have those who abuse the missions and the Native Americans, preaching that the natives are ‘heathens’ and that they are all doomed to hell, using this to defend their brutality towards the natives, and particularly their abuse of the female natives. On the other hand, we have those who truly believe in their Catholic mission, such as Crepsi, who represents Palido’s ally among the Spanish. Praying for Palido’s soul and attempting to befriend him, Crespi often refers to Palido as ‘my son’, and tries to show kindness towards the Natives.
After Codero is involved in the rape of a native woman whilst he is out hunting for deer, Palido is torn between allowing the Natives to exert their form of punishment; a slow, painful poisoning, or whether to follow his orders as a soldier and report the rape, which would result in the guilty parties’ imprisonment. This moral dilemma perfectly encapsulates the overall conflict of the story, which is Palido’s sense of self and belonging.
The writing of the characters is brilliant, with Palido growing throughout the story and developing as the Missions start to draw to an inevitable close. Codero is also masterfully written, a traumatised xenophobic who taunts and bullies Palido with a sense of sinister, deep-seated hatred and evil that many screenwriters tend to overkill. Elliott has managed to master the character, making him hateable but still believable and fascinating to read.
Although Elliott’s writing style is short and sharp, and delivers scenes with punchiness; at times the lack of articles and complete sentences is off-putting to read and it can make getting through the scenes and transitions difficult. Although I am a keen, keen fan of minimalistic writing when it comes to screenplays, some of the sentences are simply too incomplete, and actually make some of the language in the action descriptions too poetic to fit with the harsh, grim tone of the screenplay. The screenplay could use a (very) quick run-over before being taken further.
Overall, the screenplay is a fascinating, if sometimes oppressive piece of work. Each character brings something interesting and important to the historical story. In similar vein to works such at ‘The Eagle’ or ‘The Pilgrimmage’, this screenplay could make a dark and gritty but incredibly interesting and valuable historical adventure/drama feature film.
Bad Love Strikes ★★★★
By Annie Knox
Bad Love Strikes is a wild ride with an equally wild array of characters to keep up with; based on a series of books (which appear to be doing rather well for themselves), the story wraps around a group of teenagers who end up travelling back in time to save a group of Holocaust victims in 1944.
Adapting a book into a screenplay is tricky for several reasons. I suspect that trying to encompass the entirety of the story from novel to script may be what has resulted in this screenplays’ few shortcomings - books generally have a lot more breathing space and time. When reading a book, one can explore characters and concepts with fewer limitations - a character introduction that has to be crammed into thirty seconds of screen time can instead unfold over several descriptive paragraphs.
Here, the screenplay introduces us to a whole slew of characters so quickly, and then zooms in on just a couple of them for so long, that by the time the rest of the crew reappear there is no memory of who they are or what makes them distinguishable. Several members of the Bad Love team are reduced to small background roles that could easily be interswapped, and their goofy nicknames aren’t quite enough to keep them clear in your mind.
The characters who do get a bit more attention shine. Kevin and Bomar’s many interactions prior to Kevin travelling back in time are rife with solid banter, witty one-liners, and a few surprising - and touching - heartfelt moments that feel authentic and real. The writer has the knack for being able to write kid’s jargon without alienating the audience, which is a very tricky tightrope to balance on. More often than not, trying to demonstrate a group’s closeness by giving them inside jokes and their own dialect simply leads to the audience or reader feeling left out and distanced, but in this case, a clear bond and familiarity is established both between the characters and between the screenplay and the reader.
The plot feels muddled at times - there doesn’t seem to be a solid reason for why the characters choose to rescue the people they do. Hannah and Meatball’s romance feels a little rushed, and Hannah’s character underdeveloped in the face of the need to get to the plot twist at the end, although one might hope that in the sequel, which has been very obviously set up, she might get more time spent on her. In general, the female members of the Bad Love Gang are neglected. Denise’s involvement is hinted at but not clarified - again, perhaps something for a sequel. The gang in its entirety leaps onto the time-travelling thing with too little qualms or disbelief, and Jimmy’s brief moment of insecurity is something it would have been nice to develop within his character more.
The use of the voiceover at the beginning to introduce the characters is a fun choice, paired with the idea of freeze-frames whilst Kevin quickly drills us through each member of the team and their nicknames. The voiceover, however, then vanishes (much like some of the characters) only to pop up way later in the screenplay with the explanation of Pumpkin’s nickname. And then the voiceover promptly vanishes again. Perhaps making a clear choice of either using Kevin as our narrator throughout, or removing his narration, would make this feel less like an unjustified and random interruption to the scene
With the odd typo to fix, this is an incredibly fun, if occasionally a little under-thought, screenplay with a lot of brilliant characters and very strong dialogue. It certainly lives up to it’s synopsis’s claim to be a mix of The Goonies (1985) and The Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Potentially it could be improved by implementing more development within the rest of the Bad Love gang, and exercising some more precision and care with its style and execution.
By Annie Knox
CoinRunners by Lisa N. Edwards is a screenplay absolutely bouncing with energy-almost as much energy as the protagonist, a sweet, ‘cute as a cupcake’ crypto trader also called Lisa. The story behind the screenplay is largely true, with many names being changed to protect identities. The truth factor behind the story of the screenplay and Lisa’s impressive trading background (I had to do a little research, seeing as I know nothing myself), means two things. One, the screenplay is very well written and developed, with plenty of emotion and a strong arc for our protagonist, as it is based on a compelling and meaningful truth from the writer’s life. Two, it is at times a little difficult to follow and understand, because it is set in a world of crypto-currency that many (myself included) know little about, but that the writer knows a genuinely incredible amount about.
Lisa’s structure of her story is very intelligent and grounded; several different strands of narration are built- we have the past, in which we explore Lisa’s rocky relationship with drug addict Martin (aka D4rkEnergYYY), and we have the present, which is set in a conference hall wherein Lisa delivers a presentation describing the emotional peaks and troughs of a market cycle. Not only that but a third strand is introduced in the form of Adam, who volunteers from Lisa’s conference to be put through an amusement park designed to explore the different stages of emotion that Lisa explains to the audience. All three of these storytelling strands are tied together by protagonist Lisa, who neatly weaves them into each other with well-timed voiceovers and friendly/insightful comments and jokes directly made to camera.
Lisa uses these techniques to pull together her three separate story strands extremely well, not only creating a strong and engaging voice for her protagonist and a good emotional connection for the audience to the film, but also helping keep herself omnipresent in the tale and never allowing for her strands to fall too far apart. It’s a good thing too, because without it I have a feeling the different routes taken would have all become far too separate and utterly confusing.
During the conference, Lisa explicitly explains each of the emotional stages, running through hope, euphoria, complacency, anger- amongst others- and then rounding back to the beginning again. As Lisa gives her speech, she declares that men get emotional about money, but women get emotional about love instead, which is why women are better traders. She then uses the metaphor of what appears to be an amazing romantic relationship becoming increasingly toxic to detail the point vividly, tying each emotion to its relative point on her wall street cycle market chart, and to its relative point in her relationship and break-up with Martin.
This is where Past-Lisa walks us through her relationship with Martin, and this is the strand of the screenplay I would most like to see some further work and development on. Although Edwards does a good job in developing our protagonist, Lisa, the relationship between Lisa and Martin is lacking, and the dialogue is often spotty and bizarrely disconnected. Martin isn’t exceptionally charming to begin with, and there is no scene of establishing deep connection or bonding between them before things go wrong (I did appreciate the prom reference, though). Although it’s clear and easy to see Lisa’s strong sense of infatuation and loyalty, there is no clear or easy understanding of why she feels this way towards him. This, in turn, means that when things go wrong, although we feel sympathy for Lisa there is no sense of loss for the relationship, and his betrayal is no surprise.
To help give more depth to their relationship and therefore greater strength to the despair/sympathy/dismay of it going horribly wrong, it would be advantageous to let us see a little more of their relationship, and how it grew to the point of Lisa being so trusting of Martin that she let him have control of the 2FA codes that she needed to complete a humongous trade deal later in the story. Was he especially charming? Or kind? What is it that they bonded over that created such an intense relationship for Lisa? Martin’s character is underwritten in a way that makes him difficult to follow; his drug addiction could do with a little more attention paid to it (not in terms of accuracy- I can see Edwards has plenty of understanding and knowledge from the writing already). The entire theme of this piece of writing is cycles- cycles in a relationship, in money, in cryptocurrency, in emotions- the cycles of a drug addiction fit right in, but for some reason it hasn’t quite settled into the script as it should. Perhaps simply a little more time allowed for it would help, and would also aid Martin’s character in becoming a little more solid.
An alternative is that Edwards could adjust the story to focus instead on helping us understand why Lisa would fall for somebody who is obviously taking advantage of her. Instead of turning Martin into a more charming character or looking to show a genuine bond between them. The relationship could be made more superficial on screen and instead we can be shown what drives Lisa to get into the relationship- although we see at the start that Lisa had ‘filled her life’ with things that ‘don’t matter’, it is such a small snippet and displayed to us as part of a sweet, fun monologue breaking the fourth wall. To give it further depth and to allow us to understand her drive to stay with Martin despite the lack of overall appeal, we could be shown a more serious and detailed look at her loneliness, perhaps exploring her previous divorce a little more. Although Lisa explains a lot in words, sometimes in film, less dialogue and more visual is the most effective method of communicating.
A closing point concerns the third strand of the story- Adam, who spends the screenplay exploring an amusement park that works as a physical and emotional demonstration of the market cycle we study. With each emotion described at the conference by Lisa, and explored in a scene from her past with Martin, we also have a scene of an appropriate ride at the park being experienced by Adam. It’s another very intelligent display of story-telling, and helps even up the screenplay and give a breath of fresh air between the other two strands. It works, with only one issue I could see- Adam is clearly an ex of Lisa’s. What’s the story there? We never have it explained to us, even though he steals a kiss at the end. He never appears in the scenes from the past, and I didn’t see a mention of him being made by any of the past characters either. It’s inferred that he may have broken up with Lisa at some point in time. It doesn’t matter if he is an ex or not, but if he is at the moment it is a loose end in the screenplay that needs tying, as it adds an extra layer that hasn’t properly been glued in place and ends up over-complicating things for the audience- it’s a distraction in an already quite complex piece.
Overall, Edwards’s screenplay is a fun, sometimes thrilling, sometimes slightly confusing story with real personality and heart displayed throughout. There is no denying the voice of the writer infiltrating the screenplay effectively and engagingly, with many amusing and well-thought out details (the Mayor of Crazytown was a favourite of mine). Lisa as a protagonist works fantastically well, and the structure is a clever way to drive the story forwards, with three strands all well-manipulated into place. It is a fast-paced, intelligent piece with just a few areas underdeveloped and a few sections (pay attention especially to dialogue) needing some grammatical work.
Face Painters ★★★½
By Annie Knox
Face Painters pulls in at two-hundred pages, an impressive epic revolving around a family-run funeral home torn between two brothers with opposing views of business. Written with occasionally jargonic language, the screenplay’s length is a little daunting, but the story within is a heart-felt and relevant piece.
Sanseviero opens Face Painters with descriptors of rolling landscapes and a voiceover from lead Buono, ‘gentle’ forty-one year old. Our first sight of Buono, however, is delivered through a smoothly-written transition to the past. Our establishing landscape draws down and into a cemetery before pausing on the setting, allowing a moment of rest for the reader before being taken back to 1928, when Buono was just six.
Sanseviero deftly hops back and forth between 1928 and 1963, wherein our protagonist Buono is a forty-one year old struggling to maintain the family business whilst caring for his sick father Luca. Roughened and worn by time, our protagonist has our empathy as he toils at casket-making late into the night and downs cold soup for a meal.
Our screenplay works within an interesting time in history, examining post-war industrialism. Buono, who is caring for Luca as he slowly falls to dementia, still has his father’s work ethic and values close to his heart. He values the individualism of the caskets he builds, and values the time and effort that goes into hand-making each one, understanding their sentimentality. He represents the pre-industrial values. Michael, his brother, on the other hand represents the industrial revolution and all that it brings with it; speed, quantity-over-quality, and most importantly, bigger buck for bang.
Using a funeral home to explore the industrial revolution and those who fought for and those who fought against it was a fascinating choice and one that resonates incredibly well. One struggles to find fault with Buono’s heartfelt, hard-working desire to create beautiful caskets so that each individual who passes away has something uniquely theirs to rest in. However, one can also understand that the pressure to find a way to make money would force somebody like Michael, who is able to be more objective about such matters, to find a way to make more money and use the rising industrialism to do so. The struggle between tradition and innovation is reminiscent of The Great Gatsby, and the opposition between old and new money.
The technique of using Buono’s voiceover to continue to pull the audience back to the overall narrative is used well by Sanseviero to ensure that we don’t get completely lost within either time period, keeping us moving towards the conclusion of the screenplay. Sanseviero neatly grounds his piece in our reality with ties to important landmarks--Presidents are seen on the television screens, the Korean war has claimed Abbey’s missing husband, racism stews among certain characters in 1963 America as black people are seen working menial jobs and trying to defend their rights.
Peppered with some moments of incredibly insightful dialogue from simple Buono, at times the screenplay was actually difficult to translate; but Sanseviero shows a remarkable dedication in his prepared production pack, which I was able to study alongside the screenplay. I would recommend gathering readers and commencing a table read of this epic, studying where exactly the lines are a little too jargonic, and simplifying some segments. Although the story is unquestionably a wonderful, powerful tale of Buono’s life, with incredible relevance to its settings and a wonderfully grounded narrative (the writer has very clearly put in the effort to study and understand the time periods he writes of), it would be a shame for the story and its power to get lost to excessive or overly confusing dialogue. I
commend Sanseviero’s attention to detail regarding his storytelling, and can see with a little revision a story in a similar vein to To Kill a Mockingbird.
Forever Young ★★★★½
By Annie Knox
Jason Lor’s Forever Young is an extremely gratifying read; Jason’s biggest merit is in throwing predictable story beats and vignettes at us, but somehow breathing new life into them. Forever Young tells the tale of an ancient man who in a pact to cheat death in order to buy himself some time to find his true love, accidentally ends up living a life of solitude and immortality. He remains forever young and an absolute hottie,-so why can’t he hit it off with the ladies and find true love? Because it takes him centuries to fully accept himself for the gay man that he is.
Such a high-concept should make for quite a predictable narrative structure, but Jason is clever to keep us guessing as to whether our main hero Jason is gay or not;-it seems that way at the beginning, but he stretches out this question quite a bit to the point that it’s not overly obvious. At one point I felt this screenplay was going to follow-on in Frozen’s (2013) footsteps, in telling a forward thinking story;-where just like the Princess doesn’t find her Prince at the end but restores her long-lost connection to her sister, here we find a man struggling to build relationships finally make the most important connection of all -that of friendship. It really felt like Forever Young was going in that direction to pay homage to friendship, and I think that’s what makes this script so powerful; overdo the rom in com, especially when dealing with a gay love story, and you can easily alienate general audiences.
Jason pens a heartwarming comedy, but not slapstick comedy. A standout moment is in Jason demonstrating his immortality in front of Sean by jumping off a rooftop; a moment that feels predictable, but he somehow manages to inject refreshing qualities to otherwise predictable vignettes. He keeps a lighthearted tone with some funny montages -but focuses more on character study and big philosophical questions. He romanticises this idea of immortality, what love really means, how multi-faceted love is, how love can take any shape or form (gay love). He makes a daring romantic drama; in that final moment where Jason is taken away by death finally, he truly leaves us gasping and shedding a tear for him and Sean’s awful fate now that they’re finally together.
I’m impressed by Jason’s skill in constructing witty convincing dialogue; he makes all his lead parts likeable, creates great empathy for them, even Death -who he makes out to be a grumpy smoker and by the end has a heart of gold.
The pacing is superb, Jason’s script ticks all the right boxes and pulls at the heart strings. It’s a film I would love to see realised for the big screen.
Jason needs to polish up the odd orthographic error and some dialogue mishaps; but apart from some technical tweaks, there is a high-concept here waiting to be snatched by a big studio to produce.
Forever Young is a forward-thinking modern love story; and although of an LGBTQI+ nature, it manages to never alienate the general public too much,-by making it a buddy film for the most part. Has huge potential to become an all-time classic.
By Annie Knox
This one is a little difficult to review due to the slightly odd format. Only a portion of the screenplay was submitted under the short screenplay category, but it is in fact a chunk of a feature film. Therefore I cannot pass much comment in the way of storyline, overall development of characters or plot points or pace, since I can only read the opening few scenes. The first few pages have been used for a pitch/synopsis and a contents page, both of which would be better off separate from the script itself; although breaking a script down into ‘chapters’ wherein each chapter title is shown to the audience during scene cuts can be a good stylistic choice in terms of story delivery, the synopsis/pitch belong somewhere else and a contents page isn’t necessary.
This self-proclaimed Zom/com soapcom opens with the misplaced and very confident pitch/synopsis/warning that although kids may enjoy it without the permission of their parents, this is a mature, satirical piece, proudly boasting how ‘lame’ it is and linking itself to a Walking Dead/Shaun of the Dead crossover. Big boots to fill! Once we get past these pages we open on our first actual scene; an unfortunate undead stuck in a noose near a playground. We then move to our first duo; best buds Steve and Clayton. Our introduction to them delves into a dialogue about Steve’s--also unfortunate--last name which lasts perhaps half a page/a page too long. It’s quickly established that poor Steve is a newly-made orphan feeling glum about the apocalypse, while Clayton is the optimist. We cut to thirty-somethings Tina and Hank, wandering through the woods near the hanging zombie, apparently taking Tina’s pet zombie (the eponymous and therefore I assume quite important in the missing part of the screenplay) Hansel. We meet and quickly say farewell to our first ‘baddie’; a slightly disappointing stereotype--although I assume him being a stereotype is the point of the scene. The portion of the script I have follows these core five characters, through several extremely long conversations and one grocery store trip; ending with Tina arguing with Hank over how people should learn to show respect to zombies.
There are some genuinely funny moments--the beef jerky falling out of Hank’s trousers is a favourite--and some of the dialogue really does work well. Clayton is a strong character with good humour and Steve is endearing enough to keep an interest in the duo. Tina and Hank also play well together. I like the decision to play with a post-apocalyptic world in which humans are settling themselves into a functioning, zombie-adjusted society (for another example of this done INCREDIBLY well try to find time to watch In the Flesh, a very underrated BBC Three drama).
However, as much as some of the dialogue really does work, some of it goes on far far too long without being quite engaging enough to justify the length of the scenes. Even though this chunk of script is thirty-one pages long, which already equates to roughly half an hour of screentime, I have no idea what the overarching plot is meant to be or how the writer is going to fit it into the next sixty or so pages that make a feature. The characters are engaging and interesting enough that I strongly advise the script is either taken apart into its separate chapters, put up against the overarching plot, and each chapter is worked and reworked into really strong thirty minute or so episodes for a miniseries--OR that the entire thing is reworked; dialogue is cut, and it is made into a more concise, quicker-moving feature. Examples of good homework to tidy the whole thing up would be rewatching the inspiring Shaun of the Dead or finding Daybreak (series) on Netflix and going through a few episodes to see how the dialogue/comedy works. I would also recommend getting a bunch of friends and doing an informal table read to test the scenes and hear it said out loud by new people. Overall an on-trend concept that takes tried-and-tested comedic techniques and situations and mixes them into something new but needs a bit of work before it will be a finished product.
By Annie Knox
The spirit of Henching is apparent reasonably quickly; our self-deprecating not-quite-hero, Will, breaks the fourth wall with a series of voice overs as he explains that he’s just an ordinary guy in the wrong place at the wrong time. Will appears to be a true everyday man, spending his time working kids’ birthday parties and routinely getting beaten up, but the character is injected with a spark of personality a little a-la Deadpool.
He’s saving money for an as-of-yet unspecified end goal, but the money is stolen by a mysterious masked thief who gives Will a bit of a beating before he leaves. Downtrodden by the experience, and his life of being hit by kids who like treating him like a human piñata, he finds solace in the local lemonade-stand man with whom he has developed a bond after stopping by for a one-dollar lemonade after each work day. This is when his luck is turned; Max, the lemonade-stand man, spills the beans on his secret side-hustle; he is a henchman. Proudly letting Will know that henchman work will be his saving grace, Max slips the trusting Will a drugged lemonade and the adventure begins. When Will awakens, he finds himself face-to-face with Super Villain Phantom, who convinces Will to become a henchman for him.
The main issue with this screenplay is that although the concept has legs, it has been let down by grammatical errors and the lack of a strict editor having corrected the run-on sentences and occasionally poorly-structured dialogue. The action scenes are jumbled and vague, confusing to read. Henching needs to be given a thorough comb-through in order to shake out the grammatical errors. It would benefit greatly from a table read-through to help fix the areas where the dialogue reads as forced/unnatural or fake. There are sections of dialogue missing a lot of punctuation. Often the dialogue falls into the trap of sounding cliche; many of Phantom’s lines have been seen in dozens of other hero vs super villain films and Will, while sometimes refreshing and funny, sometimes sounds a little too much like Deadpool/Spiderman. There were a few missed opportunities for some cracking jokes and we could have used less dialogue and more comedic beats in some places.
This all being said, the reason that these things let down the screenplay is because there is something worthy there that has been let down. The scenes where Will is attempting to entertain children at parties and constantly finds himself being brutally beaten by the kids have a lot of comedic value. A lot of the back and forth banter between the various characters works really well. When his lines don’t fall into cliche Will is a perfectly likeable protagonist; he works well against Max’s more-experienced, slightly cooler henchman personality. The interaction between Will and Captain Awesome during the diamond heist is funny and endearing, and the twist at the end, although fairly easy to predict, is still fun and enjoyable.
Overall although I can see the potential in this screenplay, I definitely think it needs to go through several more revisions before it will be ready for production. But not an impossible task at all.
By Annie Knox
Opening on a devastating oil-rig explosion in the present-day Artic, the story quickly leaps into the future to show us the long-term impact of the event. The year is 2273, and a series of malnourished characters attend a make-shift funeral for protagonist May’s son - the relation made clear in a voiceover (the screenplay’s only use of voiceover, and perhaps not necessary) letting us know that a key theme in this story will be hope against all odds. May is quick to let us know that she herself has no hope, and that she understands death is meant for them all. She’s then quick to change her mind, soon telling a cynical (and more completely hopeless character) Ev that hope is what will save them.
The fighting between a rebellious group pushing for more freedom (aptly called doomers) and the military trying to work on saving humans from the brink of extinction using advanced time-travel tech gets more and more violent, with another relation of May killed just moments after the funeral. People are starving to death. Images of mass extinction graves are projected over what remains of humanity to keep everyone in line. Execution is back on the table, clearly, as May tragically learns when Ev is killed for stealing food for their family (a complex, well-written relationship exists between the two). May is pulled away from her broken and largely deceased family to be sent on a time-travel mission; find pacifist Noah, prevent his death, and use him to stop the President from signing off on a bill that will allow the digging that triggers the fatal oil explosion.
An incredibly ambitious story, which struggles to find the balance between fleshing out the future world and letting May explore the present when she travels back in time. The result is that the writing, description, and characterisation is at times as sparse as the world May comes from. Everybody’s dialogue blends together and some of the jumps in relationships and situations are so swift they lack credibility - Noah, whose character is a little lost in everything going on, accepts that he has been magically transported to the year 2273 after two or three lines, and his blossoming affection for May - as does her increasing love for him in return - feels unearned and appears to have little basis in their few interactions before all the action kicks in. His reaction to her, a stranger coming into his cabin and breaking down over her deceased family, seemed a bit out of place, although the scene inside of his cabin (especially the bird) was a nice insight into his character that helped to flesh him out a little.
The use of the odd flashback or dream peppered into the narrative assists a little in terms of world-building, as we understand May’s background a little better, but perhaps one or two more would have been helpful - I wondered at one point what fate must have befallen her father, or how the identity of her daughter’s father came about.
The action is exciting, and the present-day fight to try and avoid the signing of the drilling bill is high-stake and filled with twists and turns. May seems to fluctuate between her hopeless, steel-faced, lonely soldier’s personality and her sweet, smiling, emotional side. Sometimes it seems that she also gets lost a little in the plot - as well as trying to balance a large scale of action in the present world and the strong creation of a future world, the script struggles to balance May alongside its racing narrative. It’s always exciting to get a female-driven sci-fi/thriller/action film, but these films are often made especially good by a firm grounding of the lead female character, and May could do with a bit more work. When the soldier in her comes out it’s satisfying - the fight scenes stand out, as does her confidence and drive in contrast to Noah’s unwillingness to get involved when things get scary.
The close of the story is both satisfying and not at the same time - realistic in it’s refusal to be a perfect fix-all, and tragic in many ways. The sacrifice of one for the better of many plays out very effectively, and May becomes a sad figurehead. With no true home, broken between two worlds, and entirely alone, there’s a truth to her final predicament. The twist that comes in the final few pages, however, is almost frustrating and again, feels unearned. Overall a screenplay with an incredible ambition that needs grounding in May’s character and could use a little refining.
I Will Be Fine ★★★★½
By Annie Knox
Muchnick’s true-life story is short but strong and succinctly written; describing in this solid, to-the-point screenplay the suffering of a diabetic man hospitalised away from home during the Covid pandemic.
Victor, our leading man, remains silent for much of the screenplay’s opening, taken out of action one page in by the virus whilst away for work in Russia. In the hospital under a breathing mask, he has the occasional muttered line, but is largely our eyes and ears into the hospital as the tireless staff try to manage the continual flow of affected patients in intensive care. When he does speak, he is an endearing, optimistic, well-mannered man.
Helen, his wife, suffering at home in England, is understandably distraught to learn of her husband’s critical condition after two days of no communication. Spending much of the screenplay in floods of tears, she alternates between despair and wild, obsessive research (of which the screenplay could potentially benefit from showing us a little more of, rather than relying on her character’s dialogue to tell us). The relationship between them, although they are separate for nearly the entire screenplay, is clearly robust and when they do eventually speak via facetime, the moment of communication is hard-earned and touching. A small note is that the use of the ellipsis is a little over-exuberant in their dialogues.
Evgeny feels like a lost character at the moment, although what is written of him is well-crafted. Assuming he is based on a real-life individual who supported the family during their difficult time, here he comes across as existing purely to act as a point of communication to both Helen and the audience, and isn’t given much sense of character beyond such. Clearly a loyal friend to Victor, kind to Helen, and giving up his time to remain the hospital’s point-of-contact, he’s a little too convenient and under-written. What do he and Victor do for work, why is he able to stay behind to take care of the infected man? Where does his strong sense of loyalty and kindness towards them come from? Is he himself high-risk, does he have a family worrying about him? There’s no need for an entire sequel for Evgeny, but a little more fleshing out in the small details would definitely help - when Victor texts him to tell him not to worry about returning to the hospital at the end of the film, it feels like the character has been brushed right out of the story, rather than coming across as a triumphant moment of independence for our lead to signify the end of the virus’s grip on him.
The hospital and the medical personnel are a major strength of Muchnick’s screenplay. Unseen, we learn from the hotel staff at the beginning that the ambulance workers tried to refuse to take Victor to the hospital, arguing that he would not survive the virus. These faceless, voiceless characters hit us with a scary impression of healthcare - how many people, you instantly wonder, might have not received potentially life-saving medical aid because they weren’t allowed access to the hospital? The intermediary role of the ambulance is a dark character in the screenplay, and one that doesn’t get resolved, which is a strong choice probably reflecting on the truth of the situation that inspired the screenplay.
Inside the hospital itself, the hospital staff are therefore a pleasant surprise - each seems to be friendly, smiley, optimistic about the virus and good-humoured towards their patients, referring to Victor as ‘buddy’ (although is this perhaps a hint that they are not using names because their incoming and outgoing patients are becoming a blur?). It feels as though Victor is in safe hands, and it’s a lovely portrayal of all our front-line workers as well as a good construct to the ambulance. The hospital is also well-described, and it’s clear the writer has done their research. A stand-out point is the toilet scene, which elevates the entire script.
The virus is an ever-present, lingering and ominous character in its own right. As Victor lies beneath a breathing mask, his tired eyes observe machines occasionally clamouring to signal trouble for other patients. Nurses and Doctors rush in and try to save faceless patients, whose lack of identity only strengthens the foreboding atmosphere of such scenes. The feeling is that the other nameless people in the room may be dying daily when we aren’t paying attention, just more tragic lives contributing to what appears to be, for people unaffected, arrogantly ignorant, or unafraid of the virus, a meaningless and constantly rising death count. When Victor opens his eyes at one point and realises that the person in the next bed over has died whilst he’s slept, it’s perfectly understated and scary in its simplicity. The fact that we don’t know how Victor contracted the virus in the first place only strengthens this sense of fear.
As Victor leaves hospital and gets into a taxi, we are left on the scene of the hospital’s front door, allowing us a reminder that although this story ends happily, the hospital staff are still inside the building, smiling away as new patients pile in. It’s an effective, unsentimental ending - which perfectly suits the situation.
It Laughs Like Us ★★★
By Annie Knox
It Laughs Like Us sets itself up with a strong atmosphere and successfully establishes its creepy, inhuman villain during the first tense few pages - but the screenplay struggles with the sometimes stilted dialogue.
Within the opening scenes of the script, a sense of unintentional awkwardness lingers in the lines written for the characters, and there are a few formatting/spelling/grammar issues (names in the wrong lines, dialogue formatted as action direction). Several lines are devoted to mourning the emptiness of Dana, our heroine’s, cup. A page or so later her cup appears to have magically refilled because she tips soda out of it onto the floor. Similar such issues pop up here and there in the screenplay, but these are issues a careful and thorough edit can iron out.
Although the dialogue reads awkwardly, the characters’ and their relationships are forced upon the film, with Dana and Henry’s sibling dynamic being an example. Relaxing the overwritten physical affection and creating some more natural, free-flowing dialogue with some teasing banter/fun inside jokes between these ‘best friends’ would go a long way in easing the audience both into and from the fun party scene to the ominous and creepy forest. The scene is however a good length, and there is plenty of build up to the eventual bloodbath that feels like a very strong start to a horror film. The choice to keep it a lengthy scene instead of chopping it into the rest of the script provides a satisfying amount of horror before we do the inevitable jump forwards in time; meaning that audiences will feel ready to move forwards with following grown-up Dana into the rest of the story.
As the screenplay develops the dynamics and dialogue seem to improve and flow more freely, although there are still some less convincing lines - Dana, who is a mother of two daughters, being impressed and admiring Logan’s parenting potential (“You seem to know a lot about kids”) after his singular, rather vague and unimpressive remark (“She’s a teenager. It’ll pass.”) reads as ingenuine.
A great reintroduction to the creature in the forest comes in the form of Vernon, Marcia’s grumpy and threatening neighbour, wandering into the forest after he hears his deceased son calling from amongst the trees. A suitably scary scene, made worse for the fact that the deceit is obvious to the reader/audience, feels both atmospheric and creepy. It also manages to derive sympathy towards the nasty old man, and creates a sense of sadness for him, giving an extra dimension to the character instead of having him just exist as the moody man next door.
A thing to watch out for is repetitiveness - lots of characters repeat themselves during their dialogues. When used for emphasis (e.g Marcia to Dana, “the point is” works well), repeating is fine. However there are several instances of clunky repetition (in the same dialogue, Marcia clumsily uses ‘that night’ twice unnecessarily - the one at the end is just an uncomfortable extension of the sentence). Also - on one page a variation of ‘the girls’ or ‘my girls’ was used three or four times and it popped up time and time again in other segments of the script. We know they are her kids - if you must have the lines instead of being able to work with the horror in other ways, try different phrasing.
The ending of the screenplay, although full of action, does fall slightly flat in the face of the monster reveal. Dana’s final fight is won far too easily - to just happen to find a stick of dynamite, and to have Natalie just happen to find a lighter in some jeans a few metres away, does not feel like an earned ending. The detail of the mines feel thrown in to allow for this overtly easy escape, rather than a valid part of the setting. To heighten the situation and match what we have seen of this creature so far, perhaps it would be better to have Dana beg her daughters to leave her to die, and have them almost be free of danger before they discover the dynamite? Or find a more inventive way to kill it down in the caves. The jacket Dana finds turning out to be Henry’s is a lovely twist - can the jacket be tied more into their escape and survival in order to give it some more sentiment?
By Annie Knox
Ramirez opens their screenplay on contemporary L.A, introducing us to protagonist Laura and then her heavy-drinking, messy mascara-wearing mother Sasha. Sasha is struggling with piles of bills and unemployment. Laura is a talented and passionate musician working on writing her own pieces. Sasha, believing that Laura won’t be able to get far in the industry without a famous name behind her, is paying for lessons with a well-known pianist by the name of Raul Ramos. Getting his approval is everything, Sasha pushes Laura into wearing make-up and figure-flattering clothes to his lessons. When Ramos makes an unwelcome sexual advance towards Laura during class, she takes the risk of changing teacher.
Ramirez has crafted some excellent scenes within this manuscript. The scene wherein the very slimy Ramos makes a move on Laura is incredibly well-developed and real; it reads as very unsettling and creates a believable villain in Ramos. His character remains well-written throughout the piece, remaining coolly unpleasant. The dialogue in the scene is sparse but that makes the moment more impactful; in these scenarios less is often more, which is something that many writers often miss a trick with but that Ramirez has used to their credit here.
The key relationship in the film lies between Laura and Sasha, which is something I would have liked to see a little more developed. From the offset Sasha is not particularly likeable and her redemption arc was less of an arc than a sudden spike that pushed us into an ending that felt slightly rushed. Her motivations for becoming loyal to her daughter again are unclear- is it because she has for some reason suddenly decided to believe Laura over Ramos, or because he has threatened her pay? Her appearance at Laura’s school closes our story, with her asking to see some of Laura’s work and the two embracing. We are left with a lot of loose ends--did Laura get her work back from Ramos? Does he ever get his just desserts? Although Sasha appears to want to make amends with her daughter, is it that simple to forgive one’s mother for not believing one’s claims of being sexually harassed?
Although this screenplay holds a lovely concept and the potential to be an incredibly strong and appealing drama, I can’t help but wish it was slightly more developed. The potential to explore the obviously complex relationship between Laura and Sasha’s relationship has not been fully used; and the character of Nina, who provides support for Laura whilst Sasha is absent, feels like she is so little there she perhaps isn’t necessary. The story could benefit from either being a less-complex (less supporting characters and less locations) ten-to-fifteen pager focused more on Laura and Sasha; or becoming a twenty-five pager that uses its extra space to expand on what is already there. What we have are the bones and muscles of a good story- but it needs those finishing touches to make it a full body.
La Piscina ★★★★
By Annie Knox
La Piscina is set in a crowded public swimming pool on a sweltering summer’s day in Italy. People from all walks of life are congregating to enjoy the day and get some relief from the heat; including our eleven-year-old protagonist: shy, reserved and very body-conscious Adele. She’s there with her older (and far more self-assured) sister Greta. Greta quickly catches the eye of one of the male swimmers, and confidently heads off to the showers with him, leaving Adele alone. Now alone and vulnerable, Adele is quickly pounced on by a group of kids led by our antagonist, Hilary. After being subjected to a very uncomfortable (and very well-written) scrutinization by Hilary, Adele is offered the chance to hang out with the cool kids- on the condition that she steals her sister’s cigarettes for them. While on her mission, Adele spots her sister in the showers with her swimming friend and can’t help but watch for a minute. A little stunned, Adele heads back to the pool and decides not to go along with Hilary’s demands, finally stripping herself of the baggy shirt she’s had hanging down to her knees and jumping into the pool, liberated.
Firstly, Peccoz and her team deserve absolute top marks for their effort and enthusiasm. Accompanying the screenplay is a beautiful and well-structured presentation pack brimming with vibrant imagery, visual references for filming, outlines of character inspirations and even a soundtrack to listen to while you read to help feel the spirit of the film. The detail that has gone into the presentation gives an insight into the heart of the screenplay and Peccoz’s own personal message behind the inspiration for the film makes for a compelling pitch. The determination to make the film a reality is obvious (and I’ll be very excited to see it once it’s done late next year)!
Moving onto the screenplay itself; the dialogue is minimal, but what is there is incredibly concise and well written- there isn’t a need for any more, because Peccoz cleverly falls on her narrative, her characters’ actions, and the very well-described setting to hold her piece together without the need for excessive words to push along the story.
The characters are strong and grounded; Adele quickly holds our sympathy, representing the younger and more naive of the characters, with little understanding of sex or sexuality and struggling to be herself while she suffers with her body image. I must say I think Hilary, the antagonist, is the stand out of the piece- her awareness of who she is and her knowledge of how to play with Adele’s insecurities read incredibly well. Her manipulative actions and her confidence in toying with Adele will remind so many readers/viewers of girls who did the same to them in high school. The power dynamic between the two is exceptional; especially in the afore-mentioned scene where Hilary spends several tense moments physically playing with Adele’s hair and caressing her face. It’s perfectly obvious to me that Peccoz has written something from the heart and put real emotion and experience into it because it is so easy to relate to.
Greta’s confident, assured sexuality then represents the other end of the scale to Adele. Greta is comfortable enough in her own skin that, unlike Hilary, she doesn’t seek to put others down, only to nourish herself. Unafraid of sex and not embarrassed of seeking her own pleasure, Greta represents a more modern approach to intimacy - and by that I mean the growing movement for women to reclaim sex as something they can enjoy for themselves and take active part in, rather than just seeking to please their partner. The decision to script the intimate scene to show Greta receiving rather than giving pleasure explores the idea of women having liberation not only during sex but also over their own bodies.
These trio of characters perfectly compliment each other and demonstrate several different stages in a girl’s exploration of herself and her body. I only wish I had seen a little more of the bond between Greta and Adele. Peccoz’s decision to split the characters at the beginning, before Adele removes her shirt (removing with it society’s hold on her and her allowance of society to disapproval of her weight) is intelligent as it allows the ending, when both sisters are together in the pool, to represent them being closer through this development in Adele’s character. It was also smart to include in the action that although Greta asks Adele to go in the pool, she is fully aware that Adele’s confidence will prevent her from doing so, as it make clear that although they are separated by their stages in life at the beginning, Greta has awareness of her sister’s situation. I’m sure that during actual filming plenty of footage can be acquired showing the sisters in the pool at the end enjoying each others’ company, which will help the audience appreciate the development in the relationship.
All in all, Peccoz has scripted a fun, bold short film perfectly suited to its setting and with strong, well-crafted and thought-out characters. The various reference points in the presentation are built into the screenplay with care and intelligence, allowing the various themes that each character represents to be seen without the story ever becoming an obvious lecture from the writer. The piece resonated strongly with me and I’m sure it will once it has been realised as a short film, which I will be very excited to see.
By Annie Knox
Mercy opens with protagonist Ellie as a young child, filing down a tooth on her father’s bear skin rug so that it matches her own missing canine. Her father - Nick- calls her to him and gives her a kaleidoscope on a chain which used to belong to her mother, and offers to teach her how to shoot. Her father teaches her to aim, and tells her that if she wants to learn to hunt she needs to learn to kill with one shot. Weatherhead then leads us through several key moments in the relationship between Ellie and Nick; we see Nick taking his daughter to volunteer at a hospice, where Ellie finds herself deeply unsettled by an elderly man who is close to death. Nick tries to comfort her, and Ellie asks him if he will ‘get like that’ when he ages. Nick tries to reassure her he will live to an old age, and jokes that if he ever does get like that they will just have a ‘little hunting accident’- an ominous bit of foreshadowing.
Our next key moment is a scene with Ellie as a teenager, coming home from a night of drinking. As she is vomiting and trying to reassure her father that she wasn’t drink-driving, she spots a wheelchair tucked away behind the sofa. Next, we see Ellie has progressed in her gun training to the point of hunting live animals. When she fails to kill with one shot, leaving a deer dying painfully on the ground, Nick shoots it in the head. In the conclusion to the script, present-day Ellie collects a now wheelchair-bound Nick from the hospice where he is now a resident, and takes him to the woods where he taught her to hunt. Here, she returns the kaleidoscope necklace to him, turns him to face her, and shoots him in the head. As she walks away, it is revealed there are dozens of wheelchairs and old, forgotten graves a little further into the woods- a secret she will never discover.
Mercy is written largely in flashbacks, with each key moment in Nick and Ellie’s relationship being broken up by clips of present-day Ellie riding a bus, on her way to pick up Nick. Weatherhead takes us on two journeys, a physical one- Ellie’s journey home to kill her father- and an emotional one, the journey through her memories of her relationship with Nick (most importantly, the memories that help us later understand her decision to shoot him). The writer has essentially created a jigsaw puzzle for the audience; with the end image of Ellie leaving her dead father among all the undiscovered graves in the woods. Unfortunately it feels like several pieces of the puzzle are missing, and it took several readings for me to feel like I had fully understood the story.
Although this piece is well-crafted and well written, with smoothly flowing scenes and very natural, strong segments of dialogue, ideally it would be helped by just a few more peeks into Nick and Ellie’s relationship. We have three key chapters presented to the audience. One is Ellie as a child, introduced to the idea of death. This is where we are given a clue as to how the piece will eventually end, with Nick’s ‘hunting accident’ joke. Then we move to the second stage, wherein Ellie is a teenager and is taught how to hunt live animals, shown by Nick how to kill with one shot. We also see the wheelchair Nick is hiding behind his couch; our second clue. The third chapter is Ellie as a grown up, returning to her home in order to mercy-kill her father. It’s strong, and it’s simple, but it’s also a little incomplete. Ellie’s decision to face her father while she kills him made sense to me after I thought about it for a little while, but it’s very easy to misinterpret- looking somebody in the face as you kill them is strongly associated with negative feelings of vengeance, anger, hate- wherein I eventually came to believe Ellie’s choice was borne from a sense of respect. Perhaps a few more insights would make this distinction clearer.
Confusion lies in the sparseness of the script- confident and well-done minimalism can be the secret to a brilliant screenplay, but this just slightly misses the mark. Although Weatherhead is careful to add in a final sentence, making clear that Ellie is unaware of the existence of the graves in the woods, there is no translation of this to the screen, which means a viewing audience will not know. Until I hit the final sentence, I was unsure how to take the wheelchairs hidden among the trees- my first thought was that Ellie had kidnapped and mercy-killed dozens of people from the hospice. It wasn’t until I read back through it and re-found the reference to the wheelchair hidden behind Nick’s sofa that I realised he was the one who must have taken and killed whoever was in those chairs- but then one must ask why there is a wheelchair hidden behind the sofa? It’s clear Nick buries his victims (or his mercy-killings, however one looks at it) in the woods and leaves their wheelchairs hidden there- so again, why is there one behind the sofa? If he used a single chair to pick up and transport all of his victims to the woods then there would be no wheelchairs in the woods. I briefly considered that it was his personal wheelchair, and that his unwell condition at the end of the script was due to some diagnosed terminal illness he kept a secret from his daughter, but that seemed to negate the rest of the story- and surely the illness would have been clear to us in that case.
It did cross my mind, as I was reaching the end of the screenplay and the inevitability of Ellie killing Nick was growing, that perhaps the two of them were operating their own mercy-killing operation together and all of the gun-training thus far had been Nick inducting Ellie. However, again, this does not explain Ellie’s ignorance of the wheelchairs hidden in the woods. There is also, of course, the fact that any hospice would surely notice all of their elderly patients being taken out one by one by the same person and never coming back.
Overall, Weatherhead had constructed a strong, simple, and psychological study of death and the mentality of killing. A bold, tough piece with lots of clever detail (the necklace being one) and plenty of consideration for it’s themes, the screenplay consists of good writing and well-crafted dialogue. A few issues may need to be reconsidered, and the adaptability of the screenplay onto a screen needs to be carefully thought through, but there is endless potential here.
My Name's Macbeth ★★
By Annie Knox
We all know that Shakespeare has been adapted inside out and upside down, both on stage and in film. To try to adapt Shakespeare to a contemporary setting is a big challenge; but it’s been done successfully in the past, and it is always incredibly exciting to see it done well. Laura Dorn and Jonathan Parr have made the decision to bring Macbeth to the modern day and use it to focus on the mental aftermath of a war on its soldiers, with a particular stress on PTSD.
The dilemma here is that the screenplay I have read does not sell this version of the story. As I went through the screenplay I was checking huge chunks of script against my Macbeth, wondering where the changes were, and could only find that certain areas had been cut or rearranged. The action has been written so minimally (only one or two short sentences of stage directions) that you have no way to imagine the version of Macbeth the writers are pitching, although when you take the time to watch the videos on their crowdfunding and to read the production pack it’s easier to try and wrap your head around their concept. It took a little while for me to understand that there was any change made; and this is because although the choice to keep the dialogue as Shakespeare’s original is not a problem; the action of the screenplay has not been adjusted to compensate.
The synopsis is only so useful; the concept and the setting of the modern adaptation needs to be present throughout the screenplay. I would ask that the writers imagine an actor who is new to the project reading through this script; all they would see is a cut/disjointed version of Shakespeare’s original. To understand the vision of the project and where their character fits into that vision, they would need the action segments of the screenplay to set each individual scene’s place within the adaptation. Each aspect of the screenplay and the narrative needs to be worked to fit within the new concept for Macbeth’s story.
You could think of it this way; by choosing to use the original Shakespearian text you are taking a battle between fighters that has already been watched a dozen times and you are putting it in a new arena. If you want to sell tickets to the same audience who have already watched this fight over and over, you have to sell them the new arena, not the battle. Every aspect of the screenplay and each character needs to be combed over and made relevant to the modern setting.
Again, using original Shakespeare is not a problem- in fact, it’s been done rather nicely before (e.g. Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet) but the concept for the adaptation needs to be strong enough for the language to drive through the contemporary landscape. In Luhrmann’s film, he used gang warfare to drive the plot of the Montagues and the Capulets conflict, and that grounded the film in the modern setting despite the language remaining Shakespearian. Every other aspect of the film was then thought through and made to fit; the weaponry, the drug use, the characters were redesigned to fit the time era (Mercutio being one of the best examples) the beautiful settings, the mediums of storytelling (the news reports worked very well) and the style of filming- the crash cuts, the loud, jarring explosions of action, the overwhelming, dazzling visuals of decadence and wealth, the occasional flow of slow motion and distorted music. You do not need to write a book of descriptors within each scene- but these aspects of the concept can all be involved within the action of the screenplay.
I do believe that Dorn and Parr have picked an incredibly relevant topic for their adaptation, and that the strand of PTSD is strong enough to connect the Shakespearian text to a modern setting. Should the screenplay push forwards and become a film, I would personally be fascinated to watch and see just how they work out the intricacies of the play within the film. I would ask though, that they put a lot more thought into their world-building and let that come into the screenplay. From what war has Macbeth returned? What uniform does he wear? Where does he stay? What is Lady Macbeth like? How does Macbeth kill himself? What are the characters doing in each scene? Does Macbeth experience horrible flashbacks that can be shown on screen- if so, write them in! The three ‘witches’/ civilians- how do they fit the modern setting? I’m sure that the writers do know, but as a reader I do not. Although separate to a review of the screenplay I would like to even suggest that the production pack be expanded and/or a separate presentation created full of bold visual representations to draw lines between points in the original play and their adaptation, and to express the world the writers wish to build around the language. Film is a visual medium- don’t be afraid to show us what this film will look like, what it will represent.
The concept trailer was a step in the right direction- but take it further. Invest in quality fake blood, show us the trauma Macbeth experiences. With little budget, don't try to angle war scenes when one does not have the resources for it- work with sound in editing, overlay battle noise and gunfire on a sleeping Macbeth, let us hear his PTSD. I urge the writers to put the changes they wish to make into their screenplay and then show them to us in the proof of concept in a way that avoids showing an initial lack of budget- show the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, explore the quiet moments of the screenplay that will best exhibit the potential to utilise the contemporary setting.
I do believe, from having looked at the extra materials provided, that Dorn and Parr do know themselves exactly what they want from their piece. However, it has not been translated within their screenplay or their production pack. Personally a fan of Shakespeare, I was excited to read into their project and explore their idea for the adaptation, however I have left it feeling a little underwhelmed. I am sure there is a lot of enthusiasm and creativity and imagination happening behind the scenes- let it come into the light! Let the ideas and excitement bleed into your materials. Help the person who wants to invest in yet another adaptation see why ‘My Name’s Macbeth’ is the one to go for. When the writers have done so and the project goes into production, I shall be very excited to watch it.
Our Home ★★★★
By Annie Knox
At first glance at the opening page of ‘Our Home’, you have no idea what you’re in for. The screenplay opens somewhat ambiguously on a LGBTQIA+ couple talking about creation and discussing myths, legends and Gods. The initial voiceover is poetic but somewhat uninspiring and a little oddly written, not seeming to fit in with the voices of the characters who are later revealed to us properly.
Although once we move past the opening visuals we break into a more engaging scene between the lead couple, Tammy and Erin, this scene begins to lose our engagement after a few lines. The characters spend simply too long discussing the legends for no apparent reason other than to tell the audience the background of the story. The segway into discussing Erin’s fear of coming out to her parents is clever; it might be an idea to cut out some of the exposition, tidy up the opening voiceover, and move the screenplay a little quicker into the discussion of Erin’s family relations. The backstory isn’t overly simple either; there are several twists to the story of the Gods and quite a few names flung about; it’s too much to follow in one dialogue. On paper you can read it twice to understand it; but on screen it will be gone in a haze of confusion and become meaningless to an audience. Exposition can always be cut up and interspersed throughout a screenplay via more creative means, which also helps to allow us to absorb each piece of information properly.
Moving forwards we jump into the story; a series of wonderfully created characters are thrown into the mix, each with their own carefully crafted backstory. ‘Our Home’ appears to be set in one of those towns where everybody knows each other, even if just by name. Roche hops deftly from one to the other, cleverly interweaving the character’s various journeys into each other using the closeness of small-town familiarity to keep everybody connected, even as they all experience very different trials. Key players that stood out: Ann, Mike, Erin’s parents and Tammy, as well as Travis - who I think could do with a little more behind him (perhaps something to bear in mind for a sequel).
Impressively, the mix is kept balanced, and despite juggling several different characters in her screenplay Roche manages to give each one the space to grow and times her cuts well, never allowing a strand of the story to go unseen for too long. Ann nearly falls into the pit of being so meek and mild that she becomes an accessory for Cathal’s character, but luckily Roche saved her by using a mix of both backstory and giving enough realistic and gritty substance to her timid nature that it holds back from being too frustrating. As the screenplay winds towards it’s heart-wrenching final act, Ann starts to gather enough strength that by the time the credits are rolling the audience will be able to see hope for her character to break out into independence and develop a lot further in the sequel. Maybe she teeters on annoyingly meek, but that just gives more scope for a well-built and satisfying growth as the series progresses. It’s a lot of pressure Roche has given herself though - Ann growing is going to be a big key to the future films.
On one technical note, there are too many parenthetical directions. Although useful to give hints as to how a character is meant to push a certain beat in a scene, you don’t want to tell the actors how they should deliver every line, this is for the actor and director to discover together. You might be trying to control something that needs to be a bit more liberated. Many of the parenthetical directions in the screenplay are unnecessary in terms of pushing a change in the scene, and don’t belong there.
The dialogue is sometimes overdone, with a couple of monologues standing out as being too long and wordy. In some places characters say with whole sentences/monologues what would be more effective with a look and a single, emphasized word (particularly insults). It can be good to try to cut back where things are over-explained or overly-pointed in their phrasing.
‘Our Home’, despite a rocky start, quickly snowballs into an emotional rollercoaster. With a fast but well-controlled pace, Roche hops from character to character, upping the stakes and drama as she goes. Building quickly to a suddenly shockingly (and very effective) violent attack, which had a certain reader in floods of tears, she neatly rolls the event across the ending of the screenplay, tying each character we’ve met so far into the carnage and closing the surprisingly tragic burst of energy with a quiet, horribly predictable (but all the more upsetting and heartbreaking for it) spiral for one of her leads. Discovering that the screenplay was only the first in a series had me shouting at my laptop, I wanted so badly to continue reading and find out what was to happen next. ‘Our Home’ is a story that continually changes its game, and plummets so well into tragedy, that at the end you’ll be surprised you didn’t see the inevitable fall coming.
By Annie Knox
Jade, a woman of considerable financial success, sobs alone in a public toilet as her pregnancy test reveals that she is expecting. A few texts reveal the father has left her and that she is withdrawing from the offer of help from an unknown called Emily.
Leaving the toilet, she begins to reapply her make-up before she is confronted by her mother emerging from the other cubicle. They engage in a verbal battle, interrupted by flashbacks to Jade’s youth, before Jade leaves to attend the funeral going on outside.
A few questions spring to mind that don’t get resolved by the time the screenplay ends - for instance, why has Jade chosen to take the pregnancy test in the public toilet of a funeral parlour instead of at home? Why is she being rude to Emily? (Unless the ‘K’ sent in text is actually genuinely a shortened version of ‘okay’ - in my experience, it’s the equivalent of a slap in the face and the best way to let someone know they’ve really wound you up). Her boyfriend seems to be a nasty piece of work and could have opened up some interesting avenues for the conversation with her mother to explore - Jade no doubt has a backbone and is sufficiently independent, so why is she begging such an unpleasant guy to come back? Why did they break up? Using the device of her mother’s attempts to bridge their relationship might have been assisted by her mother helping her with some advice, or some encouragement, rather than Margi focusing solely on trying to explain away her behaviour.
The dialogue in the piece, although it contains a lot of good drama, sometimes is a bit like an exchange of monologues rather than a conversation between the two characters. Jade rants, then Margi rants. Taking the conversation through more of a flow of ups and downs, arguments, points of agreement and disagreement would have helped develop a stronger sense of their previous interactions and their relationship. As it is, a lot of it feels like exposition, building to help us understand why they are arguing before throwing in the flashback as a way to effectively undo all that hard work creating drama, and have Jade change her mind in the blink of an eye.
The use of the two characters checking themselves in the mirror is a nice way to literally reflect on their relationship, and there are good small nuances that hint at a depth beyond the dialogue. The twist at the end is well-placed and clever. The style of the writing, as well as the dialogue, occasionally gets in the way of the flow of the screenplay, and there are perhaps too many broken points of punctuation (in particular, the ellipsis).
A sweet story with two strong opposing forces in the lead characters, the flow struggles to hold up under the language and style, and the dialogue is a block to exploring the relationship between mother and daughter. Perhaps it would also have benefitted from more focus on Jade’s current dilemma of the pregnancy as well, which the belly-touch at the end seems to suggest she has now accepted - but it doesn’t lead us to truly understand what she has learned from her conversation in the bathroom. If the conversation can be made a little more purposeful and pointed, and a little less about telling the audience what the history between the characters is, then the screenplay may be elevated to a really strong drama about forgiveness and the difficulty of familial relationships.
Reset Button ★★★½
By Annie Knox
‘Reset Button’ opens by introducing us to Peggy and her grandson Cameron, sitting in the diner where Peggy works. The narrative-driver of the screenplay: good-humoured, no-nonsense Peggy has broken the news that she has been given a terminal diagnosis of cancer. Overwhelmed, Cameron has sex with his on-and-off again girlfriend Michelle, steals her coke when they are walked in on by Michelle’s new boyfriend, and goes to get wasted in the bar he works in- outside of opening hours. Spiraling and continuing to make things worse for himself, the next night he gets high and wasted working, ends up in a violent fight with a rowdy customer and pukes all over himself. He is fired, assaults his boss, spends some time in a cell, and gets a good telling-off from Peggy. Fed up of watching her grandson waste his life, Peggy devises a to-do list which she gives him, along with a generous ten grand a month, and tells him that if he completes the list before her impending death he will inherit a mystery fortune. What follows is a globe-hopping adventure wherein Cameron learns some important lessons, reconnects with his dad, and finds love by falling for his feisty travel companion, Laura.
All of this is a remedy for success, and it will be a success, with some minor improvements to the characters and the dialogue. The story is undoubtedly heart-warming, and some parts of it are sincerely sweet. The screenplay sticks well to it’s genres, never dipping into morbidity over Peggy’s diagnosis and giving some laugh-out-loud moments with goofball Cameron’s constant disastrous behaviour. It is also a script that is fairly self-aware, with Laura pointedly calling out Cameron’s privileged behaviour and lifestyle when the two hit a breaking point on their journey.
The main thing that I believe would improve this screenplay is a tiny bit more work on character development. Although the entire story revolves around Cameron needing to grow as a person, I finished reading feeling quite underwhelmed by his journey. Several milestones occur- one of the biggest being the beginning of a relationship with his father- but it feels like these are simply things that happen in the script which Cameron floats through with his usual bouts of swearing and dry-humour. Although he is endearing enough, he never manages to shake off the persona we see at the beginning of the script.
At the beginning of the screenplay he is in a pretty bad state -sat in a cell, jobless, loveless- but his responses and actions don’t change enough to reflect ‘rock bottom’. I don’t think it needs to go die-hard depression (Cameron is at his best during the scene wherein he sweeps and mops the pub floor, and then defecates in the urinal by mistake), but we don’t get given the chance to see Cameron low enough for his resurfacing to feel earned, or indeed triumphant. In order to celebrate his successes with him, we need to see his failures impact him a little more.
Laura’s character is another that could use a little more work. Feisty, strong-willed and a lot of fun, she’s a great match for Cameron, and the two bounce off of each other well. However, it does all seem a little one-sided. Laura agrees to come along on Cameron’s travels- fine, these spur-of-the-moment decisions are believable enough, and the writer made sure to include the precautions she warns Cameron she will be taking to make sure she is tracked by her friends so that she is safe, which I appreciated a lot (so often you get cardboard female characters who jump aboard crazy-trains with no such measures simply to push on with the male protagonists story).
Laura enjoys the ride and helps Cameron along his travels, but I struggle to see how she develops. She does finally stop messaging her ex- but why? The change in Cameron isn’t big enough to explain why she decides to let go of dick-pic sending Sebastian, or indeed why she falls in love with Cameron. The two of them are definitely fun together- I have to say, one of my favourite moments is when she wets herself in a ferrari after boasting to the driver that she could handle the speed- and many of their adventures will bring a smile to people’s faces, but there isn’t enough that happens beneath the surface to give any depth to their relationship, or their love for one another. It’s a little too shallow to be rewarding. Although their constant reference games make for at times cute dialogue, I would personally remove a few of them (too many references/inside jokes that are beyond the audience risk making the audience feel disconnected from the characters in any case) and try and strive to find one or two more, chosen, key moments in the screenplay to add more depth to their bond. We came very close when they were smoking and discussing the deaths of Laura’s parents and Peggy’s diagnosis, but it is fled from too quickly. Such moments will serve to create a more meaningful and rewarding relationship, and may also bring Laura to life a little more and allow us to understand where her love for Cameron grows from.
On the back of Laura and Cameron’s relationship, I would mention something that bugged me as soon as I finished the screenplay- Cameron’s cheeky kiss with Peta, and his strange nightmare about Michelle and his exes. The nightmare with the exes is quite a funny idea, and I like that Michelle gets to make one more appearance- but the line of ex-girlfriends before her won’t make sense once the screenplay is on camera, because those are characters we have never seen before and who Cameron never brings up again. Maybe the dream could be adapted so that he is passing dozens of Michelles, or being stalked up the hill by Peta and then the Michelle ambush takes place? The nightmare could represent a few different things- a reality check from his psyche trying to tell him that he can’t escape his self-destructive behavior, or potentially a guilt-trip over having kissed another girl. Perhaps removing the unknown ex-girlfriends from the dream and inserting something as a slightly clearer demonstration of what Cameron is going through would make it a more solid beat in the screenplay.
The kiss with Peta also bothered me- one of the few personal insights we are given to Laura is that Sebastian’s constant, brazen cheating affected her terribly, to the point that she hates it when Cameron gets up to pee in the night for fear he might run out on her to have sex with someone else while she sleeps. Why then, does she completely breeze over his voicemail confession that he has kissed another girl? Forgiving him is fine- it would make for a great bit of dialogue and growth between them- but that she doesn’t even mention it I find a little hard to believe.
Another thing I may put forward as a thought is money. Money exists as such a strong theme here it is almost it’s own character. Unfortunately I think it’s used a little carelessly and not in quite the right places. Cameron is incredibly financially driven- it barely takes any convincing to get him to walk away from his dying nan in order to travel the world and inherit the mystery fortune (it might be sensible to make him fight it a little more, in order to be slightly more likeable and to show the closeness between them). A massive turning point in the screenplay is when he believes that the money doesn’t exist anymore, and becomes bitter and angry before finally realising that it isn’t about money, it’s about living a fulfilling life with what you have. It’s a little too soon after this realisation that he is handed a fortune. I believe Cameron needs to live without the money for a little longer in order to fully understand the lesson Peggy is trying to teach him. And the amount he gets is staggering, to the point that it’s annoying. It feels like the whole point of the journey he undertook is lost a little.
I also think- although this may just be me- that Peggy giving Cameron ten grand a month to travel the world is a little excessive, to the point that it’s going to turn a lot of people off. I wrinkled my nose. Although the screenplay is set post-covid (a nod to lockdown that I appreciated!) the financial blow of Covid is currently being felt, and will continue to be felt for some time- for a lot of people twenty grand is over their yearly salary. Seeing Cameron being given ten grand a month to travel the world just after losing his job- very reasonably being let go because of his own crazy behaviour, I might add- and then having to listen to his problems, feels a bit like having one’s nose rubbed in it. I would lower the ‘allowance’ to something a little less excessive, so that you don’t instantly have the majority of your hard-working, living-wage audience rolling their eyes and moving away.
All in all, this screenplay has so much potential, and it fits right at home in the drama-comedy genre. The support characters are the secret weapons of the script, with Peggy, Doug, Michelle, Matthew and Tyler as the best, all standing on their own two feet and helping drive the story and provide good laughs along the way. The two leads are both incredibly fun and their existing dialogue is well-written, but they need a little more growth to their individual characters and a little more depth to their relationship in order to make it meaningful enough for the audience to stay engaged. The story is a sweet, funny, sometimes sad tale about learning what is important and living life to the fullest- it just needs some tidying to make sure that the point of the story gets across.
By Annie Knox
SLEEP is a horror screenplay about your everyday man stuck in the nightmare cycle of his 9 to 5 job. Jason wakes up, drinks copious amounts of coffee, works, eats a depressing dinner and then returns to bed, where he struggles to get any shut eye. All the while consistently rejecting the advances of colleague Anika and starting to get suspicious of the weird, magically-teleporting figure dressed in a flasher coat and fedora hat following him around. As his insomnia starts to affect his work, he is forced to take a week off and starts to question his sanity.
The strength of this screenplay lies in the concept; insomnia is nothing new to the horror world, but the twist behind the identity of the fedora-wearing menace is clever and brings something new and unexpected to the story. The figure itself is creepy, popping in and out of Jason’s sight - sometimes in elevators, down corridors, and sometimes (less effectively) sitting on park benches. The use of reflections to show a break in Jason’s perception and reality is clever and creepy. The depressing cycle he is stuck in at work is a very truly relatable horror that most people will find a connection to. Larry constantly dumping fresh stacks of work on Jason just as he has nearly finished his last round of reports seems to represent more than just Jason’s job. His anxiety being directly tied into his neverending work creates a spiral most of us will recognise. The mantra of ‘if I can just get through today’ is brought to mind. The detail in building an image of poor Jason’s existence is impressive.
The figure is, however, a little aimless - the ability to hop from close to Jason to far away again, and his lurking about on park benches, suggests a casual/relaxed power and the ability to get close to Jason should he need to. So why does it take him so long to actually launch an attack? When he reaches creepily for Jason just as elevator doors close between them, you wonder why he is reaching for Jason as if to grab him, when a second before he had literally been in the elevator. Once you understand the nature of the stalker, it all almost makes sense, but still not quite. A little work on this creepy creature’s abilities and restrictions would go a long way. It would also help, once we know the connection between the creature and sleep, to see a slower, more creepy increase in the creature’s presence as insomnia takes a greater toll on Jason. That increase exists in the story as it is now, but in a senseless, jumpy and aimless way - once again, working out how this creature operates, it’s end goal, and it’s limits will help make the increasing presence more formidable.
Anika suffers from being a flat character - at the moment, her sole reason to exist is to demonstrate Jason’s remarkable lack of social life and to provide constant, unwavering support to a colleague who doesn’t seem to notice her much. It would be lovely to see her have more of a personality outside of Jason - clearly she has some interest in him, but it is difficult to see why, when he is such a mopey character. When he snaps and shouts at her (in a well-crafted show of paranoia, which the writer did well to include) she sits and meekly gets tearful, but still rushes to assist him regardless. Her constant imploring for him to take a break, get more sleep, have a vacation, come for a drink with her, never change in their pitch or purpose. A bit of frustration, anger, or any new emotion might help. Paranoia can often have a damaging impact on relationships, so it would be better to increase Jason’s lowest point in the screenplay by almost destroying this relationship, giving him more to fight for and increasing the stakes at play. Giving her any characterisation outside of being a ridiculously nice friend (to the point of maybe being a pushover) would really elevate the dynamics of the screenplay.
A last thought is that the Doctor’s presence, especially his dialogue, could be improved. Largely a prop for exposition, he replies with ‘interesting’ to things that really are not, and then spouts the wikipedia page on the Russian Sleep Experiment legend as if it were fact. For one, it’s hard to believe that a doctor would actually reference a commonly known creepypasta as a legitimate source of his concern for his patient. For another, it’s also hard to believe he would unnecessarily quote said creepypasta word for word (why he knows the exact wording is also a mystery). If it needs referencing, then better have him slip in a small, one line reference as a joke before becoming serious about Jason’s insomnia. Jason then going and researching the experiment himself would make more sense.
The doctor’s bizarre fascination over the size of the bruises left on Jason by his attacker is also not needed - it gives away the twist way too early (plus, if Jason were to be reporting that a male of such proportions had broken in and beaten him up, then the sizes of the hand-print bruising just really isn’t that crazy at all, not even worth being pointed out). Better have Jason comment on the height of the attacker as a throw away comment that audiences will remember of their own wit later on.
An original concept, SLEEP does well to pray on Jason’s anxiety and building insomnia, as well as work with his strongly-crafted background and lifestyle to build on why exactly he is suffering so. The portrayal of the lead character has been thought-out and the attention to detail regarding his life is impressive - however there are other key aspects to the screenplay that have been allowed to slip.
By Annie Knox
Starman is a sweet, authentic story about a small family trying to connect but struggling to find balance between the mother and fathers’ parental styles. Whilst trying to bring up their son (David) Jess finds herself feeling forced into the role of bad cop. Her husband Graham’s more carefree attitude allows him to be close to David, but alienates Jess.
Using David Bowie as a figure to both cause conflict within and unite the family, the writer quickly establishes the dynamics between the three with well-written action and solid dialogue. Jess and Graham have been written in a way that demonstrates their closeness, and explores the way that long-term couples develop their own unique way of communicating together whilst still managing to write genuine conflict. This is difficult - often it can fall into cliched and stomach-turning ‘romantic’ lines followed by over-the-top fury, but the writer here has nicely balanced a suitably (un-sickeningly) sweet relationship with a sense of history and reliability with a slow and reluctant resentment.
The writing style is good, simple and strong. At moments the use of exclamation marks is a little wild. Although the dialogue is natural and simple, at moments it could be cut down a little - sometimes on screen less is more, and allowing things to breathe and sit in the moment can work better than spelling out for the audience something that can be shown in a look or gesture. A table read may help to find those moments where beats and pauses come naturally, and the words can be minimised.
The ending feels a little Disney after how authentic the rest of the screenplay was, and it is also a little frustrating after being able to relate to both Jess and Graham as parents to have Jess appear to admit to being the one in the wrong (she isn’t wrong that someone has to have a firm hand). Although it’s nice to read her having fun during the conclusion, it isn’t an entirely new concept for the uptight/strict parent (often the mum out of the mum and dad pairing) to realise they have been too harsh, and to lighten up at the end of a story. Perhaps Graham learning to move in the other direction and meet her in the middle - or even swapping their roles around - might help make this already sweet story feel more original and new.
Somebody That I Used To Know ★★★★
By Annie Knox
Somebody That I Used to Know caught my attention immediately because of the striking first scene, which establishes our protagonist, Steve. Although Steve and Michael are living together and have been together for some time, Michael is treading the line of emotionally abusing Steve by managing to shame Steve for his job, his body, and his social skills within a few lines of dialogue after Steve tries to give him breakfast. The writer might not be very subtle in this establishing scene but the dialogue does its job. The reader holds an incredibly strong dislike for Michael from the get go; and firing up your audience against one of your villains quickly is a great way to ensure their engagement with your material.
Sam, an unpleasant fellow who works within the same law company as Michael, tries to weasel his way between Michael and Steve, getting some of his friends (Jeremy, Darren and Tyler) in on the plan. Sam is a great match to Michael’s brand of nasty--a more subtle, manipulative villain, playing with Michael’s drive to succeed in order to push him away from Steve. He convinces Michael that Steve’s own lacklustre career and image will dampen Michael’s reputation. Dragged to a social event by Michael, Steve is purposefully humiliated by Sam’s friends. Heading outside to breathe, he runs into the quietly confident Alex, who later becomes his love interest. After the party leads to a particularly rough break up for Steve and Michael, Steve’s career takes a huge leap and he gets closer to Alex. Meanwhile, Sam continues to manipulate his way to the top with Michael by his side, before his nasty ways catch up to him when a victim of his malice commits suicide and makes it clear exactly why they are taking their own life.
Overall the screenplay is impressive; the pace is brilliant and there isn’t a single chance for your attention to wander. Although the lead characters are all male, the female characters haven’t been neglected and are well-rounded, with their own unique and strong personalities. The constant threat of Sam, Tyler and Jeremy is effective and their harassment of Steve alongside his attempts to create a new life for himself creates an engaging and enjoyable storyline. As I read on I found myself celebrating with Steve as he took steps forwards in shaking off the toll of Michael’s emotional abuse, and to see him grow in confidence was an inspiring and satisfying journey.
The dialogue occasionally slips into the (easily done) mistake of overkill. At times Sam, Jeremy and Tyler read like teenage girls planning to throw food at the lonely kid in the school canteen. Although Sam’s manipulative streak is what makes him such a strong asset to the screenplay, I found his tactics not quite subtle enough during some of his dialogue to portray that particular kind of evil. There are segments of the script where there is simply too much dialogue, with sentences stretched out with unnecessary words that detract from the impact of the character’s point. The screenplay would benefit greatly from several read throughs and an objective, decisive person crossing out every needless word with a red pen.
The characters, although largely there, need some polishing. Steve--while likeable enough--is missing something and at times his dialogue struggles to keep the reader’s attention once the initial horrible break-up with Michael is over. When balanced between the (occasionally over-the-top) malice of Sam and his minions, and the playful, engaging presence of Alex, Steve becomes a little flat. He is missing some kind of spark that would help elevate him off of the page and make his character enough to carry the story. Although his constant self-blame is believable for a survivor of emotional abuse, and when he breaks down over losing Michael it is effectively sympathy-inducing, he just needs a little more personality in the less dramatic scenes, especially those where he is paired with Alex.
Sam’s final moments in the screenplay (his break-up with Michael) was a big let-down for the character for me. His manipulative, clever and almost psychopathically smug portrayal was dropped too quickly and not cleverly enough to pay off when he loses it and kicks Michael out.
Michael himself is, at the moment, flat. Although heavily involved in the story arc and the development of other characters, he himself has little development. The character appears to experience little, showing nothing but cold indifference and mild disgust towards Steve. He never appears madly in love with Sam, and is neither here or there with the attack on Darren. When he comes to ask Steve for another chance, he still does nothing that convinces me of any true feelings for Steve other than wanting to be with a successful film writer. There is no true comeuppance for his callous and abusive treatment of Steve at the beginning of the script. Michael needs to be given more layers; perhaps some likability so that the audience cares more about what happens to him, or to help up see the person that Steve once was in love with so we can understand why they were ever together. At the moment, although he is easy to hate at the beginning, he fades quickly into the background and stays there.
Darren’s character represents a nice change of pace- whilst Alex and Steve are our moral goodies, and Sam and his cronies the immoral baddies, Darren is a lovely character to place in the middle and his grey-area gives the script a boost of realism and grounds it. Despite this, there are some oddities that could be ironed out; although it is established that he owns the company Sam and co work for, and that he hired them, we have not seen enough of Sam manipulating Darren for it to be believable that such a successful and entrepreneurial character could be so meek and easily trodden on. A backstory to explain--perhaps his success is purely to having inherited the company from his father, and he has no real love for the job?--would go far to help with explaining his character. Either that or we need to see more of a subtle manipulation being worked towards him by Sam. His character is clearly loved--the company receptionist cries as he is forced out of his job--but he hasn’t shown enough for us to understand, believe, or overly care ourselves.
Alex, on the other hand, is perhaps the best and most well-rounded character in the script. Cool, calm, and -although self-deprecating--confident in who he is, he is shown to handle himself well around Sam and his feelings and actions towards Steve are sweet and well-written. His playful banter with his work colleagues is very endearing. Natural, and with just the right amount of presence in the screenplay, Alex is a strong positive in the script.
One of my favourite screenplays received so far in this run of the festival. Somebody That I Used to Know, although unpolished, is a promising drama/thriller with mostly relatable and engaging characters, a great momentum, and a fascinating storyline. I sincerely hope that the writer, Robert Cox, gives the screenplay and the dialogue some work and a few go-overs before going forwards and that he continues to push forwards with this piece, as I really would love to watch this film come to life on a screen.
By Annie Knox
You can see Dawn Garcia’s writing experience within the first few words of her screenplay. Mincing no words and not wasting any time with elaborate establishing descriptions of the protagonist’s town or long, drawn-out first acts, a single and effective quote sets the quiet and serious tone of the screenplay before we are immediately introduced to one of our lead characters. Marian, a grieving widow, cries alone as she tries and fails to find a connection to an unknown, unsympathetic voice on the other end of her phone. Music leads us into a flashback to explain the situation; before she was alone, she had a loving husband and a (surprisingly, for a teenage boy) sweet son. Lost in memories and contemplating suicide, she calls a hotline as she wanders through her home, wanting to speak to someone as she looks over the reminders of her once-happy life as she contemplates ending it.
On the other end of the phone is Ana, an unconfident, unstylish early-twenties volunteer clearly not quite steady on her adult feet. Garcia only takes the time to write a few short sentences on the characters of Ana and her boss, Dee, before keeping up the momentum she has built and jumping back into the dialogue--yet those few sentences are enough to craft endearing and individual characters, and the cleverly-crafted dialogue does the rest of the work. Unafraid to mix the serious with some humour at the endearing Ana’s expense, Garcia clearly knows how to toe the line between creating a character and creating a caricature for the sake of a joke.
Marian’s dialogue, when she first begins to converse with Ana, is a mix of poetic and philosophical and perhaps a little bit annoying. However, it is the perfect contrast to Ana’s casual, conversational voice. The pace and the cuts are excellent, interspersing Marian’s lonely stroll through her empty home with Ana’s shift in her busy office, and the risk of the two characters’ uninterrupted dialogue becoming a little too much of a she-said then she-said scenario is neatly avoided by using Dee, Ana’s manager, to throw in the odd pause or quick breather for the reader. The physical comparisons that pop up between the two women from time to time as they unknowingly imitate each other’s actions does a huge amount to highlight their differences as well as the connection they have throughout the phone call.
The piece takes a dark and humourless dive as Garcia builds up to the end of the screenplay, and just reading some segments towards the very end actually brought a tear to my eye. Ana’s youth and her almost naive, sweet attempts to talk Marian away from suicide and comfort the other woman are very touching, and as Marian loses composure as she opens up to the voice on the other end of the phone you really can’t help but feel incredibly sorry for her.
My single, and only critique of this screenplay is the ending. After building up our two leads and getting an incredible amount of investment in the story, the ending is almost rudely sudden and ambiguous, as well as a little confusing (Marian’s actions and her reasons for them are difficult to make sense of here). Although ambiguity can be a winner when it comes to allowing a story to naturally tail off instead of neatly wrapping it up, the ending here is just slightly off-kilter and could use a tiny polish. Nevertheless, this is a screenplay I truly wish to see adapted into film.
StarPeople: Our Evolution ★★½
By Annie Knox
StarPeople is an incredibly ambitious screenplay, spanning many years of it’s protagonist’s life, beginning from her as a four-year old and ending with her somewhere in her forties. During the opening we are walked very quickly through a couple of key points in Elle’s childhood, demonstrating her telepathic abilities and her innate connection with nature. She grows to be an adult and gives birth to her own child (a sweet son called Angel). After finding an odd lump in her arm, she goes to the doctor and has it removed, afraid (for some unknown reason) that it is a tracking device. Manny and Elle start to fall apart. Elle wakes up one night and has a dream that she is looking through a ‘metaphysical window’, before being telepathically yanked in by an oddly attractive-sounding woman with blue skin and evil intentions. The woman pulls Elle into her thighs, telepathically forces her to perform extremely quick oral sex on her, and then Elle wakes up in her bed, scared and shaken. After a new pregnancy (that appears to be brought about by a strange visitation from a spirit) Elle gets an abortion with Manny’s support, with the Doctor commenting on the oddness of the foetus. Manny gets a vasectomy to avoid future pregnancies, and they have uncomfortable and passionless sex before Elle finds herself paralysed and violated by an invisible spirit again. She has an experience where she witnesses three of what she comes to assume are aliens in her room.
After some struggles, Elle and Manny break apart. Elle finds a nice new home. They have to get rid of their dog, Puffy, and a little later both Elle and Angel experience dreams in which they say goodbye to the dog, when his energy visits them as he dies. Elle begins attending a UFO group, for people who have had contact, and later begins her own. Throughout various landmark events in her life she becomes more and more spiritual, with the story closing on her enjoying a peaceful breakfast with Angel.
In terms of content, there is certainly plenty to play with and keep an audience entertained. Elle’s- sometimes violating and really quite disturbing- encounters with the extraterrestrials are in turn scary and borderline bizarre/absurd. As she grows closer to spirituality, we see a change in her encounters. One in particular, wherein she bonds with a ‘baby chameleon’- esque creature, appears almost comforting and sweet. As she gets over her fear of the visitors and takes time to study them in depth, her curiosity helps her guide us through various theories around UFOs and our connection with our planet. She speeds through Gaia theory, practices around HU, pollution and man-made disaster, and discusses the importance of clean living, materialism and greed. Unfortunately, perhaps because of the scale of what the writer is trying to pack into the film, it is sometimes quite overwhelming and reads as a lecture, especially Elle’s dialogue in the closing scene. The topics being handled are so fascinating- perhaps removing a couple and choosing to examine the remaining subjects a little more creatively than through explanatory-voiceovers might help the screenplay to be more engaging.
The story is punctuated by Elle’s bouts of poetry (sometimes very pretty- my favourite was the vivid descriptions of love and lava- but sometimes unfitting or distracting from the story). The structure jumps back and forth quite a bit, but it never has a sense of being grounded enough to keep on track- I was never certain when the ‘present’ was meant to be, but the voiceover provided by Elle made me assume that there must be a present in the story. The story starts off linear, up until Elle jumps up from her twenties to her forties, and then the story hops back and forth in time. A stronger, more driven story may come from a shuffle around- for instance, hopping back and forth at the beginning as well as later, to avoid giving the audience a sense of stability and then taking it away with no good reason. Or either giving us a true ‘present’ or removing any sense of a present time from the script.
The screenplay sadly falls into a series of technical pitfalls. There are times when the dialogue has been written into segments of action directions. Quite a few times, action directions have been written into the dialogue. Sometimes parentheticals have been correctly used, often not. In some of the longer segments of action directions the writing suddenly changes to first person, which made me think perhaps the writer meant to switch back to Elle’s voiceover and forgot to change the formatting. Punctuation is massively overused in many areas of the screenplay- especially the dialogue, which is crammed with ellipsis and even more so with exclamation marks.
The dialogue in itself could do with some reworking in sections of the screenplay. So much of this story is told to us through exposition, especially in long and repetitive voiceover provided by protagonist Elle. Sometimes they are interesting and filled with useful information, but often they are needlessly lengthy and give us details that we don’t really need to know. The style of dialogue doesn’t change for the characters, which isn’t always an issue in writing- but in this case it becomes a block to the characters, as their voices merge into one due to the similarity of writing. Elle goes through phases of speaking like she is regurgitating a wikipedia page, and then switches to using phrases like ‘OMG’ without any middle ground.
This is a screenplay that is absolutely spilling over with ideas, stories, characters and interesting theories. A little funnelling to finetune the content, alongside a thorough edit for technical issues, and I believe this could be a fascinating and effective tale of spirituality with a strong guiding protagonist.
The Architects ★★★★
By Annie Knox
The Architects is a short sci-fi film that feels like it has the scope of a feature film crammed into it.
As with a lot of short films trying to squeeze a huge idea into a small amount of pages, there is an extremely large amount of dialogue and exposition. The entire short revolves around the two lead characters explaining to each other, and therefore the audience, the concept of the world the writer has built. As well-written as it may be, and as much as the writer breaks it up with flashbacks, it’s hard to escape the fact that the screenplay is telling a lot more than it is showing. Trying to minimise/focus the dialogue without losing the understanding of the storyline might help with elevating this script in particular.
The opening scene written at the beach, with Madeleine, is haunting in its simplicity and lack of dialogue. The setting is well-described and the style of writing easy and impactful to read. The use of a flashback to Madeleine on the beach during the dialogue between Aleksandra and Dade does help in grounding the story in Dade’s sad past, as well as helping break up the monotony and claustrophobia of the small room the conversation takes place in. If anything it might be worth experimenting with cutting in and out a few more times at meaningful moments.
A further interruption takes place in the form of stock footage displaying various images of planet Earth destroyed by man-made disaster, but this may turn out to be a jarring distraction rather than a well-timed grounding, especially as it is the only such instance of an interruption. Using the quietness to emphasise Alexandra’s words - or using other shock-breaks, might create a stronger style and structure to the screenplay.
There's a slight overuse of ellipses. A few small formatting errors (FEMALE VOICE swaps to ALEKSANDRA and back again on page 5 for example) which a proof-read would fix. Overall this feels like a very solid proof-of-concept that needs a little fine tuning. Even though if it is used as a proof-of-concept to pitch the feature version it may require a fair amount of exposition in there, the dialogue could still do with a little streamlining. The atmosphere and settings are strong, and it makes a good pitch for a larger story.
The Double ★★★½
By Annie Knox
The Double (Pilot) makes a brave choice to put many of its cards on the table in the opening scene - an intriguing back and forth between an emotionless Chris and his spooky double in a graveyard - before jumping back six months in time. Despite the risk, the episode manages to hold attention and keep the story engaging throughout the rest of the pilot episode, and introduces several interesting character dynamics.
The contrast between the blank Chris we see in the opening, and the charismatic Chris who bounds into Act 1 sets up a strong interest in this character’s approaching fall into danger. His relationship with his mother Alexis is well-established and develops nicely throughout the pilot, although some softer moments would help sharpen the building sense that she is lying to her son and give more emotional investment in the audience’s desire for her not to turn out to be one of the bad guys. Similarly a few more moments of fun/lighthearted banter between Chris and other characters might help give a greater sense of concern and loss as the character loses his sense of humour to the situation unravelling around him.
The screenplay excels in quickly introducing, establishing, and then maintaining character relationships, although for a pilot episode it feels like maybe a few too many reveals are shown. The dynamics between Bri and Chris are great, Katie provides some good ambiguity to keep audiences interested in her character (an example of something that might be shown a tad too soon - but who knows how Zinati develops this strand in later episodes). Chris’s other various friends blend into the background, and Sean could have used a little more attention - the dialogue between Chris and Sean in the aftermath of the crash is a little weak (Sean seems to go from not believing Chris to believing him without any prodding at all). However their friendship is well-portrayed and allows for a space where Chris can discuss the Double and thus keep the doppelganger relevant as well, seeing as he barely appears in this episode.
Keeping the double a more hidden figure and showing instead the characters around Chris to somehow be ominously involved in the Double’s plot is an interesting choice, but presents a small issue in that Chris’s dialogue doesn’t match the threat level. Lines like ‘I won’t let him ruin my life’ when the only sighting thus far has been a quick glance before a car crash and a vivid nightmare don’t land well and feel too dramatic/convinced of a danger that hasn’t been presented. The sense that his mother is lying to him is perhaps a more believable place for Chris to have cause for concern. Or perhaps popping a few more ominous glances of a figure stalking/watching him throughout the script to help build the sense of dread would help.
There are a couple of small instances of grammatical error/missing punctuation or over repetitive wording, but nothing major and all things that could be fixed with a quick edit. Despite there being a sense of spark missing within the characters, and the mismatch between the doppelganger and Chris’s knowledge of/reactions to the situation, The Double is a strong and engaging pilot that just needs a little polishing to make it a stronger lead into a series.
The Fourth Prince ★★★½
By Annie Knox
Spanning a great war for control of the four kingdoms of peace, ‘The Fourth Prince’ is built upon a series of increasingly intense battles dancing around the edges of the kingdoms, with one army - the good guys - fighting to protect the people inside, and the bad guys fighting for reasons that seem to be too irrelevant to devote time or consistency to during the screenplay. Well-paced and with a strong sense of movement, the story jumps from fight to fight with all the right ideas but some slightly messy moments of execution.
The ‘good guys’ - a force of four brothers, who control the four peaceful kingdoms - live happily in their lands, with the three eldest brothers brought up and trained as warriors. The youngest, Chi Meng, was brought up as a scholar - but he has trained in swordsmanship in secrecy with his mentor Kensei.
Very quickly established as a kind, calm, highly intelligent and very likeable protagonist, Chi Meng initially ticks all the boxes. He loses some of his charm as the screenplay evolves - when the great armies of Da Tei decide (somewhat on a whim, and with little sense of purpose) to attack the four peaceful kingdoms, the brothers split, with the three eldest going to help defend the areas under siege while Chi Meng stays at home. When it becomes apparent (through a bad bit of exposition that needs to be rewritten) that the warriors of the kingdom have been pulled away so that Da Tei can attack while defences are down, Chi Meng has to step up and use his sharp, studied intellect to defend the kingdom. Although his initial need to stop and double-check with his brothers that he does, in fact, know the name of the general who is apparently tearing apart kingdom after kingdom nearby makes him seem a little silly. It seems like the four brothers are slightly oblivious, as far as great leaders go.
Chi Meng’s loss of likeability comes from simply being way too good way too quickly. Swanning in from a series of chess games and reading a few books, he quickly bests the knowledge of every single battle-experienced pro in the land with an ease that feels smug. General Sun is incredibly quick to agree to hand over the fate of the kingdom to the scholar (Chi Meng’s attempt to goad the man into a sword fight should be made a lot more convincing), and everyone’s swift acceptance of his leadership isn’t earnt - later Chi Meng actually remarks on how nobody wanted to follow him, despite there having been very little, if no, show of resistance. When he finally gets a few pegs knocked off of his pride, it is too little too late. His consistent unrealistic knowledge of the enemy (when he declares, off the top of his head, that the enemy lost exactly three divisions to the desert, it makes one go back to try and find when a scout informed him of so) is unconvincing. His first battle goes so well that apparently he doesn’t lose a single soldier.
His momentary break in confidence is also not a low-enough point for the character - he dips into a half scene of sadness before coming back stronger. It might make more sense to slowly lower him into the pits of despair over a few mistakes, rather than one mistake that didn’t seem to actually cost that many lives. Perhaps combining his lowest point with the discovery of his brother’s death would make it a better arc for him.
Another area for improvement would be the enemy army. Da Tei, a punishing and oppressive force, charge through the land conquering kingdoms left right and centre. The leaders deliver hammy lines to each other expressing their bloodthirst and arrogance. Their reasons for fighting fluctuate - are they getting revenge for the General’s father, a plot-line thrown carelessly in and out again? Are they trying to control the entire land and build an empire? Are they simply incredibly aggressive and wish to kill everyone around them? Picking a motive and running with it would pull the enemy together in a way that would make them a far more formidable presence in the story. Giving them (and their leaders - Draco is quite flat and lost) proper stakes would help in the battle between good and evil, rather than it simply being that one is good and one is evil.
It would also help to sit down and pen out where they come from, what their numbers are, and where they are going. Numbers of men are thrown all over the place - 10,000 here, 500,000 there, 30,000 there. Their journey also seems nonsensical - Chi Meng and his men wander out of the palace and into the forest, win one battle, and then Da Tei for some reason takes a stroll through a desert before coming back for more. Chi Meng seems to hop to and from fights as if they are five minutes from his front door, whilst Da Tei is led on a quest through various terrains. Where are they going?
A final thought is that the character of Suki is almost completely irrelevant to the story. Chi Meng’s handmaiden pops in and out of the odd scene with a throw-away line directed at Chi Ming in a way that is unnecessary and builds no relationship between the two of them. There is a moment in the final page of the script that seems to be an attempt at backstory, but it doesn’t help round her out at all because it’s right at the ending and just creates more questions than it answers (what important lessons did she need to learn for her people? Are her people in trouble? Why did she leave home? Why did she become his handmaiden?). If Suki is going to be there, as the singular female presence in the story, then she needs to actually BE there. Taking all of the information presented in the final monologue about her and neatly dispersing it throughout the script might help, as well as thinking about what her purpose is in the entire story and writing it in with depth.
Overall, this screenplay has very strong legs - Chi Meng, despite flailing a bit at some points, is generally a strong character to work with. The battles are genuinely very exciting and cool, particularly the final fight. The relationship between Chi Meng and Kensei is lovely and rewarding. The creature-feature aspect is good, although it needs better grounding - sometimes it feels like the story can’t decide if it is about Chi Meng and a human fight, or if it is about the legendary beasts. The opening of the script is significantly strong in comparison to the middle, and the scene where Kensei and Chi Meng initially face down against tigers in the forest is a stand-out in the whole piece. Taking out the pieces that don’t quite fit, and putting in the time to rework them so that they are a proper part of the puzzle, will help tie the whole story together. Jason Lor has definitely started something with great potential here.
The Guard Station ★★★★½
By Annie Knox
The Guard Station is a horror screenplay revolving around a secretive lab where our PTSD-suffering protagonist, a solemnly good-humoured mobile security guard is stationed overnight when all hell breaks loose in the compound that he is supposed to be taking care of.
The story is perhaps a little slow to get into itself, taking more time than is necessary to get Michael to his station. The introduction of his ideal family life, the high-stakes for the character’s survival (his heavily pregnant, will-pop-very-soon girlfriend is waiting for him to come home from his night-shift - a bit cliche, but their interaction written well enough that it still works) all mean that it takes a while before we get to the compound where most of the action will take place. The introduction of Art (the classic loveable ladies-man best-buddy sick kick to Michael’s family-man) feels a little stilted, although the scene serves a purpose. A little refining of Art’s dialogue here could make a big difference - he makes his points, but they are clogged by too many words.
A few more characters slide in and out of rotation before things start ramping up to the horror part of the screenplay. Dr Chambers (the serious, scatty-brained scientist who seems to forget that her work is top secret on something of a regular basis and, naturally, also has a top-secret party life documented on her social media), a couple of joke-playing van drivers delivering the first of a few red-herring jump scares (as with Art’s introduction, Gordon’s dialogue could do with a trim). And we can’t forget the older, grumper guard finishing his shift and leaving after, of course, letting Michael know that lines of communication aren’t functioning.
Once Michael has worked his way through all these interactions the screenplay seems to really settle into itself - having planted the idea that the base is dangerous through Dr Chambers’ blabbermouth, given us an idea of Michael’s isolation (phone lines down, mobile charger left at home; a timely call with loving, smiling Lisa who - of course - gets cut-off halfway through wishing him a safe shift serves to remind us of Michael’s high stakes and nails home how alone he is on duty) and built up a nervousness through the discovery of a busted fence and several well-placed scares, we are even given a mysterious moody man in a black car, ominously telling Michael he would do well to mind his own business. The pace gets going, broken up with a well-written and timely bit of comedic relief by Art popping by to eat Michael’s lunch. It’s also a necessary break from Michael being on his own. Art’s goofiness is a good contrast and a bit of a breath of fresh air. The friendship between the two feels more natural here, perhaps because Art’s dialogue is neater.
Although it takes a while to get to the action/horror part of the story, the building atmosphere has been well-crafted enough that by the time we get there it feels earnt. Once things hit the fan, they really hit the fan, which was a relief. The decision to stay in the constraints of the guard station and contain the story away from the open space of the secret lab, or the world outside of the fencing, was a smart choice. It also saved any need for garish exposition - although you do wonder what on earth they were trying to do in the lab, you don’t need to know, and that’s okay.
Keeping everything contained makes the horror scarier, the creature more effective, and Michael’s peril much more high-stakes. The creature isn’t exceptionally new, but it is written well, and the imagery used incredibly creepy. The jarring dialogue (‘I see this is a bad time for you’ being my favourite line here) is written in a way that is both disturbing and actually quite funny, which is another strong choice.
There are a vast number of cliches in the story, some of which are maybe just a bit too on-the-nose, but the story seems to understand that it’s working in known land and does it’s best to hold up. Michael is well-written, and it’s great that despite the screenplay suddenly booting into action/horror territory, the character avoids dropping into action-hero caricature. We never forget that he is just a security guard, very much out of his depth. His PTSD is well written - a big hats off to the writer for managing to convey it so well without ever having any character actually ‘hey, this guy has PTSD’. However, it does seem to vanish into nowhere; Michael’s conquest of his fears during his fight for survival is underwhelming.
The ending of the screenplay comes out of nowhere and is also perhaps a little underwhelming, although the return of the dog is a lovely addition and well-included. Michael’s injuries also seem mildly unrealistic - maybe just one broken bone is enough, considering he is still outrunning the creature. Overall, a very strong screenplay, that could do with a bit of a tidy (and another eye cast over it for a grammar/punctuation check).
Unison Kismet: The Twin Samaritan ★★★
By Annie Knox
Unison Kismet: The Twin Samaritan is an incredibly imaginative sci-fi screenplay, with an outstanding sense of depth and thought-out world-building. With a memorable protagonist, strong support characters, a solid and grounded structure, plenty of emotional drama and lots of action, it should tick every box. Unfortunately, this screenplay has been let down by it’s unnecessarily complicated vocabulary, confusing descriptions, and often nonsensical dialogue.
It is clear to see that the connections and friendships between the key players are deliberate and strong, and it’s easy to understand that each unique character does have their own distinct place in the screenplay. Their relationships are well-penned, which can be seen even with the difficulty of the language used. Aulen is a strong, likeable protagonist- the moment when he takes Moises’s car, but hands the umbrella back through the window, is just one example of many small but important moments that make this screenplay and it’s characters stand out.
Some of the moments of humour hit very well, others are sabotaged by their wording. The banter between the characters, once I had wrapped my head around the wording, does a brilliant job of making them that much more engaging and welding their various friendships. In some places, the confusing language actually aided the comedy- the jokes being well-adapted for the humanoids and their advanced brains- but in some places the jokes just don’t read well or even make sense.
The structure is solid and grounds the piece well. The opening scenes showing the disaster of the skydiving incident for Fabian later being revisited during the final third of the screenplay is both very clever and an effective and satisfying way of building the story. The match cuts described work well and give a strong idea of how the film will work on screen. The mix of visual and audio cuts to connect different scenes shows a firm understanding of what the writer holds as a vision for the film.
The switches between the characters’ imaginations and the reality around them is an intelligent way to explore the psychology of the main protagonists. Fabian’s moment with the microwave after Yara’s passing is my favourite.
Unfortunately, the language is a huge block to this screenplay. Perhaps a consequence of a rushed translation, or perhaps because somebody on the team went crazy with a thesaurus, but at many points sentences are built up of words that make no sense next to each other. There are dozens of examples of dialogue where the phrasing is so confusing that even after looking up the definition of separate words and trying to work out what the writer was intending to say, I was still lost. At some points the tenses incorrectly switch.
In some areas the language is almost good and then there will be a random word that doesn’t belong at all, or that after looking up, I realised a much simpler term would have sufficed- and indeed been more correct with it’s direct meaning. Some of the language is so complex that it makes the screenplay totally alienating to read. Some sections, even with several rereads, I could not wrap my head around what was going on- in many cases with writing, simplest is best. A wide vocabulary is good, but not when it means anyone who tries to watch this film on screen is going to walk out scratching their head after a couple of minutes. Although this screenplay has some strong points, they are lost among the wording. The amount of metaphors and similes unnecessarily used in the action directions makes what should be quick and exciting a difficult chore to read through. Particularly when it comes to screenplays, which are the pinpoint for a production to work around, simply writing what you mean clearly can be incredibly important.
Especially when working in the sci-fi genre, which often uses complicated world-building, jargonic mechanical/technical terms and incredibly detailed and layered characters and structures in settings that are very different from what the audience know, it is so important to keep the audience engaged and able to follow what you are showing them on screen.
The imagination and the ideas are clearly there, as well as the heart. The amount of detail that has gone into the story tells me that Capussela has put a tremendous amount of effort into designing his world and that he cares a lot for the people he has inhabited it with. Once I had boiled down what was happening in each scene, I loved what I understood of the story and was invested in what was happening to the characters, especially Aulen. This screenplay needs a re-translation and for the language to be massively simplified/unravelled back to its original meaning. I’m fairly certain what will be found there is a very creative and meaningful sci-fi script. I genuinely would love to give the next version of the screenplay a read, because I really believe there is a lot of potential lurking beneath the misused vocabulary.
Vampire Games ★★
By Annie Knox
Vampire Games is a screenplay that contains tremendous ambition, an obvious sense of humour, and potentially a lot of fun, but loses itself in overly complicated writing, endless narrative interruptions and a lack of character.
At one point in the script, someone cries out: “But that doesn’t make any logical sense!” (As if anything that had happened to him at any point thus far had somehow made perfect sense). He is instructed “don’t think too hard on it” - a sentiment that may have been applied a little too liberally in the execution of this concept. The characters’ lack of reaction to their lives being taken over, turned upside down, and seemingly dragged to the edges of realism is just one strand of the story that fails to stand up to the overwhelming chaos of the story.
In terms of the storyline itself, it is often hard to unjumble exactly what is going on - the script leaps back and forth from character to character, from point in time to flashback, slow motion to normal, character’s imaginations and dreams and then back to reality in a way that is too confusingly done to be able to attempt to visualise playing out on a screen (although from the moments where there is clarity and the screenplay sufficiently communicates the writer’s ideas, it is easy to tell that they themselves have a very clear vision that has somehow gotten lost in the process of writing).
The story leaps from vampires, to arena fights, to exposition, to overpowered vampires suddenly revealing telekinetic and elemental powers (which, to my mind, immediately diminished the storyline concerning our four human heroes) to aliens, to big expositional flashbacks, a sneaky asteroid - and God and Lucifer actually make an appearance or two that got lost in the other various components of the script. The under-explained reveal that the humans are somehow superpowered through genetic modification vanishes amongst the million other things that are happening (and also feels completely underwhelming - how could they have gone through their lives without noticing they had super strength powerful enough to take out huge clusters of well-trained opponents?). With so much going on, at times it takes several attempts to fully read a page and comprehend what’s happening. Too many strands of the story are brought up and then disappear again without enough care being made to keep them looped throughout the entire screenplay.
Several times a strong style can be seen breaking through - within the trend of ending scenes on black screens with a single humourous voiceover (which works well), or within the use of slow motion in action scenes. Some of the jokes are written well, and some are a little overplayed (less can be more! You can let the joke land and then leave it).The crack about eyeliner at the start doesn’t fit, and Frank’s ‘No sh*t Sherlock’ in response to the natural phenomenon explanation doesn’t make sense.
The dialogue in general could do with a bit of work; all of the characters seem to talk similarly, and sometimes the attempt to make them funny/quirky detracts from their lines and characteristics or reads in a way that is quite unnatural. Where the dialogue has been written phonetically/using slang, it seems misused. Although they battle what feels like a million different forms of villain together, the key four heroes don’t really exchange much meaningful dialogue, and there is very little emotional attachment or investment in them or their relationships with each other.
One big thing standing in the way of this screenplay being easier to read is the style of writing. With so much action going on, the language itself needs to be simple and straightforward in order to convey the image that would play on the screen. Metaphorical language clutters many passages of Vampire Games, and there are several parts where it felt a bit like a thesaurus may have been used to try and spice up the vocabulary - which can be a brilliant idea, but here just makes things convoluted, especially when words are not used in quite the right context. With the story containing so much chaos - which isn’t necessarily a bad thing - the writing needs to explain to us that chaos, and using simpler words and just explaining things in the most concise and easy way would go a very long way in tidying this screenplay up and putting the story forwards in a stronger way.
White Hall Forever ★★★½
By Annie Knox
White Hall Forever is a screenplay that opens on a shocking crime, switches gears into a coming-of-age drama that distracts from the inciting incident of the film, slowly and (horribly) inevitably descends into another shocking and brutal act of violence, and then hops to a vengeful conclusion. Broken up into three time eras - the 30s, the 50s and the 70s - the film spans the long-term impact of the initial crime, whilst never giving enough attention to the victims.
An initial look over the pages can show that the screenplay is formatted reasonably well, but the use of italicisation, emboldening, and underlining is excessively. Whilst initial character appearances should be capitalised, and sometimes the presence of a specific sound might be indicated in order to help the production/audio team prepare, there is no need to italicise/underline/embolden every moment of importance within the screenplay. The writing already tells us what is going on, and the key moments are present as they are. If you emphasize everything, the effect of it vanishes - if you must italicise moments, use it sparsely and with proper reason to ensure the impact isn’t diluted. If someone should produce your screenplay, the company will be able to notice that a character is using binoculars, or walking quickly, without it being highlighted or underlined for them.
The dynamics between the three boys who *appear* to be our protagonists is well-executed. Each character’s individual struggle is relatable, interesting, and has been woven neatly in and out of the segment based in the 50s. A few moments of dialogue are perhaps overdone (Peter’s drunken verbal abuse towards Chris feels too quick/ugly - maybe pop in a few more lines in the build up to his vulgar words? Or dial it down and allow one insult to do the work?). The structure is good, although the third section, opening in the 70s, isn’t as polished as the 50s, and the impact of the assault on Jerome upon the people involved/impacted hasn’t been explored as much as it could have been. The use of voice overs to link scenes together is a nice touch.
The only time the writing style is an issue is when it is over complicated - at one point the writer detailed that a character looked ‘for lack of a better word, afraid’ - afraid is a fine word, if that is what the character feels, and sometimes the use of language in the script delays the writing from conveying the action. The phrasing sometimes reads as though it is a narrative book instead of a screenplay - remember this is a way to communicate a story that will be on a screen. It is fine - often wise - to be strong and simple in your style.
A small note - on page 42, there is a moment where a character’s name changes mid-scene to Janice - if this is an intentional flashback, it doesn’t come across, and should be noted clearly.
The story itself is potentially fascinating, very strong and an interesting take on how a single crime reverberates through several generations of several families - however, not nearly enough time is spent on the actual victims of the crimes. Yes, the three *protagonists* Chris, Jimmy (which - by the way - what happened to Jimmy? If you’re going for broke, include his comeuppance too) and Adam are interesting to read, as is their descent into violence under the various pressures of life, but to spend so long on the impact of the murder of a black girl on three white boys instead of her family feels like a loss, especially considering Yolonda’s development throughout the different time eras. Barry’s grief over his daughter, his love for his son, and the rift between himself and Yolonda, as well as Yolonda’s journey to taking action, should be given a lot more attention. Yolonda I was desperate to discover more about, and the ending felt unsatisfying instead of impactful given how much more time we spent getting to Adam than we did her. Avoiding properly showing her grief over losing either of her children - or Barry’s fate - removes important aspects from the story and her transformation into who she is by the end of the screenplay.
Overall, this story holds a lot of potential, and could be made into a really impactful, shockingly dark, and engaging film however the victims of the hate crimes should be allowed to take centre stage more during the development of the plot, instead of popping in and out from the sidelines.