Saturday, November 24, 2012

Two ScriptShark reviews of the "25 To Life" screenplay

"25 To Life" is my take on an "8 Mile" sequel. 8 Mile, starring Eminem, focused on the origin story. Where he came from, how he got started. While that story is always interesting, I think the more dramatic and compelling story is what happens once you do make it. What happens when you've reached the pinnacle of success and now need to fight to stay there.

I wrote a draft in about four days. It's the quickest I've ever written anything and submitted it for review at ScriptShark.  Here was their original notes which came back with a "PASS WITH RESERVATIONS".


Excellent
Good
Fair
Poor

Budget
Idea

X





Story Line

X--



High

Characterization

X-



Medium

Dialogue
X




Low
X
Production Value

X







COMMENTS:  Stylistically almost flawless, and powerful in terms of its evocative depiction of the pressures of creative stardom and the dangers of prescription medication addiction, this script furnishes a compelling and quite engaging portrait of a man forced to the edge of ruin.  Crafting characters that feel not only realistic but also entertaining and sympathetic, it manages to render both accessible and compelling the life and times of a celebrity artist. A strong sense of visual imagery and cinematic storytelling mechanics allow this script to seem as though it would make a natural transition to the big screen.
                              
At the same time, it does feel as though one or two aspects of the precise orchestration of the plot and character arcs might simply benefit from just a little further tightening, polishing, and development in order to ensure that they truly live up to the fullest potential set forth by the existing positive components.  By exploring and examining one or two aspects of the positioning of the plot, as well as the ways in which it interacts with the cast of characters and their respective paths, it seems there may be opportunity to even more fully capitalize upon the considerable assets already woven into the underpinnings of this story.
                              
Structurally, the opening tour firmly establishes Jack in his celebrity status quo, following him and Evan through the intense and genuinely exhausting phenomenon of touring the country before, returning home, the pressure to produce new material resumes.  Evan’s death supplies a sharp kick off point into the second act, which follows Jack through a series of trials and tribulations before his own eventual overdose supplies a climax to his character story.  The conclusion rounds the script out on a rewardingly bright and optimistic note.
                              
Of its many quite successful elements, one of the more impressive aspects of this script’s execution is its overall written voice and sense of storytelling mechanics.  From start to finish, the script speaks in a smoothly professional fashion, flowing from one scene to the next naturally and organically, while crafting, all along, characters that seem deep, three-dimensional, authentic, and sympathetic.
                             
Indeed, the ways in which the script renders its cast also set it apart from the vast majority of other scripts on the market.  Whether it is the desperately pressured Jack, the well-intentioned Diane, the somewhat overbearing Dennis, or even more ancillary roles like Peyton, all of the characters in this script come across as utterly realistic and believable.  It also seems as if the facts and details underlying the central story have been well researched and firmly executed.  From the drugs Jack takes to the reaction of the doctors in the hospital, the behaviors of the record executives, and the repercussions of Jack’s behavior, all of the story developments come across as well-executed and almost transparent in their veracity.
                              
It is in part because of the strength of so many of these elements that it now seems possible to examine one or two other components of the precise execution of the script with an eye toward potentially examining and exploring aspects of its development just a little further.
                              
At a broad, global level, one area that feels as if it might simply be interesting to consider a little further relates to the sense of overall drive, direction, and journey in terms of both the central plot and of Jack’s development as a protagonist.  The script does an excellent job of furnishing an evocative portrait of the pressures and intense stress that Jack faces as a celebrity musician.  In a number of respects, it accomplishes this sense of sympathy and accessibility quite impressively, considering Jack’s position as a rich and famous member of the entertainment industry.
                              
At the same time, though, there is a certain point at which it comes to feel as if the second act may run the risk of seeming almost claustrophobic in its focus on this period in Jack’s life.  Granted, it seems one of the central themes explored throughout the story is this precise sense of imprisonment – the fact that Jack is trapped in his lavish mansion, and that no amount of money or privilege is going to make him happy.  By the same token, though, there is a certain extent to which it feels as if the strategies Jack pursues may render him slightly passive as a protagonist. 
                              
After all, while he does pour a good deal of energy and concentration into the creation of his new album, at some level, it seems as though Jack spends a substantial amount of the middle of the movie doing little apart from sitting around his house, on pills, with writer’s block. This make sense in terms of the emotional resonance of his character, but at a dramatic level, might there be some benefit to furnishing Jack with a fresh set of goals, objectives, strategies, or desires?
                              
The central problem for Jack’s character, it seems, is one of creative and psychological exhaustion.  The central solution Jack pursues is largely pharmaceutical.  When this does not immediately work, though, maybe Jack could try something else.  Perhaps, for example, following partially in the footsteps of movies like Garden State, Jack decides he needs to get back to his roots by going home. Alternatively, maybe Jack recalls something specific inspired him in the creation of his very first album that he tries, now, to recapture, only to find it is impossible to re-create what he once had; he is a different person now.
                              
These are, of course, merely potential routes the script could pursue, and not by any means the only ones available to it.  At the same time, though, if there could be some slightly greater sense of journey and variation in Jack’s story over the course of the second act, his direction as a character – and the direction of the plot itself – might simply seem a little more colorful, dynamic, and pronounced. 
                             
It seems, to a certain extent, as if, at present, it is never entirely clear what Jack wants as a character.  Granted, he seems interested in satisfying Dennis, as well as in not letting Peyton down, but if there could be some specific and concrete objective for Jack to pursue – maybe reconnecting with an old lover, retracing a road trip he and Evan once took, fulfilling a promise he made to Evan when they were younger, or some other such driving plot – he might simply seem all the more firmly motivated as a protagonist.
                              
As one other potential alternative, might it be interesting to explore precisely what happened to Evan a little more deeply?  There is some admitted value to leaving this unaddressed. Clearly, the specifics of Evan’s murder are not the point of this story. At the same time, though, it does feel perhaps slyly perplexing that there is not more of a resolution to this fairly pivotal plot point.  Was Evan’s death an attempted robbery? Gang violence?  Might Jack perhaps feel driven to find out what happened to Evan, who shot him, and, in so doing, perhaps stumble upon the inspiration he has been seeking?
                              
Again, these are merely potential story elements to consider, but it does feel as though furnishing Jack with a slightly more structured and driven journey, as well as addressing and exploring Evan’s death just a little more clearly might imbue the middle of this movie with an even stronger sense of structure and emotional character connection.
                              
On a related note, if Jack’s journey culminates in a near-death experience, but it comes about because of a slow, conflict-driven build, in which Jack’s character can be identified as changing, his eventual turnaround, in the third act, might make all the more sense, as well.  As it presently stands, at a strictly narrative level, it might be interesting to consider whether Jack truly deserves the happy ending he receives.  He seems to have more or less repaired his family and his career, yet all he has done to achieve these goals is use enough drugs to nearly kill himself.  If he could embark on a trip of self-discovery, though, in which he builds his way toward some sort of epiphany, revelation, or reversal, this eventual payoff might feel all the more satisfying.
                              
Ultimately, this script utilizes an impressively professional written style to render believable characters in a compelling situation.  By continuing to hone, refine, and develop certain aspects of the precise direction of the plot, it feels as though there may be the opportunity to even more fully capitalize upon the considerable potential already present in this story.
                             
SCRIPT:  PASS WITH RESERVATIONS

So I went back did anothee draft and submitted it for their consideration once more. This second time I got another CONSIDER. Here are the notes they provided:


Excellent
Good
Fair
Poor

Budget
Idea

X





Story Line

X



High

Characterization
X




Medium

Dialogue
X




Low
X
Production Value
X







COMMENTS:  Having revisited, revised, and restructured aspects of its narrative architecture, while at the same time concentrating on the focus and drive of its story, particularly over the course of its second act, this script feels as though it has, in this draft, executed a series of changes that come together in service of forging a substantially stronger finished product. A cleaner, clearer, more concise plotline has been improved with the shifting of certain elements and the bolstering of the sense of the central character’s drive and active agency, while never abandoning elements that already worked from the previous version. Thanks to a judicious developmental process, it now feels as though this script delivers a taut, compelling, and quite cinematic finished product.
                              
While it might be possible to potentially examine, explore, and embellish one or two more ancillary elements within the script’s execution, perhaps relating to aspects of Evan's death, as well as the Detective Poole subplot, it is worth noting that these are largely more trivial, polish-level notes. Predominantly, the elemental underpinnings of this script now feel quite effective, and, combined with its vivid and evocative execution, it seems it has rendered an impressive overall impact.
                              
A number of tweaks, changes, and adjustments have been instigated in this version of the story. Perhaps the most elemental shifts relate to some of the structuring of the second act. While, before, the crafting of Jason's new album became a labor of futility until the close of the second act, in this version, it seems as though the script acts upon strong impulses in shifting this rising action forward. Still powerful in its depiction of writer's block, the script delivers, in its choice to let Jason’s album drop earlier, what seems a more satisfying and well-orchestrated payoff to this plotline. Holding off, as it did before, for so long, the story had felt slightly stagnant, but in this version, thanks to this shift, Jason has more to do in the second act, and, therefore, comes across as slightly less claustrophobic.
                              
Another fresh element in this version of the story relates to the character of Detective Poole. Propelling its way past Evan's death, in the previous draft, the story focused more heavily on Jason's sense of ennui and stagnation. In this version, the haunting, disturbing, and increasingly bizarre appearances of Detective Poole throughout the second act keep his storyline alive, while at the same time even more evocatively portraying Jason’s deteriorating psychological state.
                              
In the rendering of Jason's nightmares and semi-hallucinations, the script presents what proves to be some genuinely chilling imagery. Reminiscent, in some respects, of movies like The Black Swan in its depiction of a fragmenting mind under stress, the script creates an even more textured, nuanced portrait of Jason and his psyche in this draft.
                              
After his near-death experience, the return to a seemingly happy life is poignantly and effectively undercut with the arrival of Detective Poole, the drop of the Greatest Hits album, and the revelation that none of this sequence has been real. In the wrong hands, such a twist could run the risk of coming across as slightly gimmicky or contrived, yet thanks to the way in which it is executed in this script, such never proves to be the case. Slightly reminiscent of movies like Vanilla Sky, the choice to return to the hospital with Jason's second revival supplies yet another escalation and turning point to vary up this plot device. The result proves rewardingly surprising and unique.
                              
Similarly, the script deserves credit for maintaining those elements that worked so well in its previous draft. Stylistically smooth, vivid, and evocative, the written prose speaks in a professional and quite compelling voice. Never stumbling once, it utilizes just enough detail and visual imagery to bring its world alive, without ever coming across as overly florid or unnecessarily dense. As it portrays Jason's sleeplessness and increasingly stir-crazy perspective, the script continues to impress with its sense of veracity, authenticity, and vivid style.
                              
By and large, thanks to the updates and restructuring efforts in this draft, it now feels as though the script presents a quite compelling and potentially quite successful finished product. In part because of the degree of polish in so many of these elemental components of the story, it does seem possible to perhaps examine just a little further one or two more ancillary elements within the script’s execution. It is worth noting, though, that these feel like fairly trivial areas to simply consider in the name of rounding out the delivery of the plot.
                              
One such area to perhaps explore relates to the truth behind what happened to Evan. Detective Poole suggests Evan might not have had an accident, and might, in fact, have been murdered. As the story unfolds, and Jason concentrates more concertedly on his new album, though, it feels as if this plot thread becomes somewhat diminished. When Detective Poole appears amidst Jason’s psychological collapse, and then, himself, during Jason’s near-death experience, declares he is not actually a detective, it comes to seem as though Detective Poole is, perhaps, more of a manifestation of Jason's paranoia, his drug habits, and his frenzied thoughts, or at least a means of amplifying these. The ambiguity of some of these story beats ramps up their haunting, chilling qualities. At the same time, though, it simply feels slightly odd that, even if it is more a manifestation of his paranoia than an actual, concrete investigation, Jason seems somewhat uninterested in learning the truth behind what happened to Evan.
                              
Relatedly, some of the most bizarre and creepy aspects of the second act relate to Jason's dreams, the haunting sounds he apparently hallucinates, and the suggestions of some greater danger or violence, on Detective Poole’s part. If, again, these are to be interpreted as components of Jason's deteriorating perspective, might it be interesting to embellish them even further? Perhaps small stylistic flairs and touches leave Jason increasingly convinced that he is becoming the target of some sort of conspiracy that does not, in fact, ever exist.
                              
These are, of course, merely potential directions to consider, and not by any means absolutely necessary mandates within the delivery of the story. Even as it presently stands, it feels as though this script has, in this draft, tightened, polished, and developed its orchestration and execution into a darkly compelling and quite professional finished product. As an extremely minor stylistic note, it might behoove the script to ensure that, particularly in its action lines, there is a consistency to the means by which it refers to Jason's character. Sometimes called Jason, sometimes Kasper, it feels as if this duality simply renders some of the prose slightly choppier than it could be. Clearly, though, this is a virtually trivial issue.
                              
Ultimately, a vivid written style, compelling subject, and well-crafted storyline come together, in this script, in service of a finished product that feels haunting, chilling, and quite impressive on a number of levels.
                             
SCRIPT:  CONSIDER


A ScriptShark review of the "Jack: In a Box" screenplay

I think just about any screenwriter who wanted to start writing movies because of watching too many Kevin Smith movies has written a script like this.

I think some might call it "mumble core" or "guys in a diner". I look at this script as Swingers meets Super Bad. It's about a greoup of twenty somethings trying to find their way - only it's quite crude and crass.

Here are some nice things ScriptShark had to say about it back when it was called "Good Times":


Excellent
Good
Fair
Poor

Budget
Idea

X





Story Line

X-



High

Characterization
X




Medium

Dialogue
X




Low
X
Production Value

X







COMMENTS:  Funnily-written, with a strong knack for excellent dialogue, this script possesses a solid sense of comedic timing, an amusing written voice, and an inspired cast of characters.  It speaks with a professional written style, while at the same time remaining contained and simple enough to render it feasibly low-budget.  Its tone is reminiscent of Suburbia or any Clerks-esque Kevin Smith movie, and while, in the spirit of such projects, it feels sometimes somewhat thin on actual plot development, it ultimately succeeds in providing a small, humble comedy with plenty of amusing flair.
                              
Structurally, the script effectively introduces each of its central characters in its first act.  While virtually all of them are in similar life situations, they never come across as too confusingly similar to warrant emotional investment – a definite point in the script’s favor.  As Jack endures fear over his status as a potential HIV victim, and Rey’s confession about his forthcoming reassignment triggers an examination of how things are going to be changing in each of their lives, the story eases into its second act.  While it does not catapult off of a particularly strong catalytic event, it manages to find its way forward from scene to scene at its own leisurely pace.  The second act reaches an emotional head as Jack and Nikki part ways, and Jack almost cheats on her, and Jack’s speech at the wedding reception provides a fittingly dramatic conclusion that also succeeds in rounding out his character arc.
                              
To look for a deeply complex plot in a movie like this would be missing the point.  Clearly, from the first page, intense story development is not to be the central feature of this script, but fortunately, this is not an inherently problematic decision.  Because the script features so many powerful characters with such an excellent sense of comedic dialogue and subtle conflict-driven interactions, it seldom feels as though it is in need of much additional story work.  In certain respects, it could perhaps benefit from a little more depth of exploration in terms of the drama between the various characters, but for the most part, even in its current state, the script proves fairly entertaining and effective.
                              
One thing the script masters almost completely from the first page is its evocative portrayal of post-adolescent ennui.  In the spirit of the Smith or Tarantino movies it so fondly references time and again, the script relies upon the frustration and suburban angst of its characters to drive a story that plays less on incident than the real-life lack thereof.  Indeed, one of the largest antagonistic forces over the course of the story is the frustration of the central characters with the fact that they are facing no particular antagonistic forces; their own resistance to change becomes their greatest enemy.
                              
In the wrong hands, such a strategy could prove problematic, since intangible obstacles such as these can be difficult to portray an interesting fashion.  Again, the script proves that it can handle such potential issues, perpetually peppering into its amusing back-and-forth character interplay just enough morsels of genuine conflict and drama to keep things significant and engaging under the surface of the seemingly vapid discourse.
                              
At the same time, the central characters in the script manage to distinguish themselves from one another to an impressive degree, given the vast number of traits and situational elements that they all share.  Each of them seems to be grappling with not particularly passionate relationships, each with unrewarding jobs and circumstances, and each with a growing sense that life is not turning out nearly as excitingly as they had always assumed it would.  Even while they face the same circumstances, though, they do so with subtly varying perspectives and strategies that manage to differentiate them to a fairly interesting extent.
                              
From the start, Jack is the closest thing the script possesses to a central protagonist, and as such, he takes on the most pivotal role in the development of the story and the respective ancillary relationships between the other characters.  He is the touchstone of the script, and, fortunately, he is also the most dynamic of the primary cast.  Beginning the story as an angst ridden lay-about still trying to find his way around actually caring about anyone, he slowly develops into someone who acknowledges his feelings, his weaknesses, and his power to overcome his deeply entrenched habits to make a change in his life, however difficult or scary it may be.
                              
It is in part because of this strength in his character, and because of the strong voice with which he is infused, that it might behoove the script to give him just a little more agency and depth.  After all, it is Nikki who calls Jack first, and Nikki who again makes arrangements to link up with him later.  Although Jack is the one slowly changing from these interactions, it might be slightly more reflective of his developing arc if he were able to begin taking the initiative in the later iterations of these circumstances.  To a certain degree, the script begins to embrace this impulse.  One of Jack’s strongest moments is his speech, railing against his friends, at the wedding reception in the third act.
                             
 It might be interesting to explore the ways in which Jack leads up to this explosion.  Perhaps he comes close to chewing out his friends a little earlier.  Perhaps he picks a fight with them or with Nikki – some signal that he is beginning to come out of his shell and actually make an effort toward changing his life, even if it is for the worse, at the beginning.  Similarly, one area that might be beneficial to explore for all of the characters is even the smallest glimpse of their various backgrounds and back stories.
                              
While the script is clearly not attempting to create life stories for each of its protagonists, it would be interesting to see them all together as children, even in a brief flashback sequence.  To show where they have come from – the perhaps-bright-eyed optimism they likely had as children – might provide just that much sharper of a contrast between where they came from and where they have now unfortunately found themselves.  If there were conflicts between them even as children – perhaps some of them were formerly enemies with one another – it could lend just a little more depth to their current interactions.  Rey’s departure is one of the more emotional touches to the evolution of the story, and if there were something for which he must be forgiven or for which he must forgive someone else, it could provide one or two scenes of raw pain to take the script to another level of intrigue and artistry.  Any other such violence or event in the past could also supply this deeper level of unexplored conflict between the central characters.
                              
Such additions are not necessarily crucial, though.  Indeed, even in its current state, the script provides a fairly fun and enjoyable examination of early-twentysomething ambivalence and apathy.  It boasts excellent dialogue, amusing characters, and a decent sense of conflict and relationships.  With a little polishing, it could perhaps reach to an even deeper emotional level, but in its current state, it still manages to prove fairly successful.
                             
SCRIPT:  CONSIDER