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.
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 Adrian Perez 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 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.
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.