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Archive for April, 2012

Script Notes: THE USUAL SUSPECTS 2: BEAR TRAP (Part 2) Apr 17

Recap

In Part 1 of my review, I discussed this unofficial sequel script’s spurious providence and mysterious writer. I also started off with a critique of the cover page and page one.

To reiterate, these posts are meant to be educational for writers to see what goes on in the minds of script readers (or at least mine) while they’re plowing through your script. Most of the comments I post here are meant to convey what I’m thinking and wouldn’t necessarily be included in any official script notes that I provide.

So with that out of the way, let’s see where we stand at the end of page 1.

At this point we’ve seen some heavily armed pirates attack a container ship. Some decent action, but due to some formatting and stylistic choices, I already have a few indications that the writer is an amateur. Let’s see if that holds steady or changes on page 2…

Page 2

Page 2
(Click image to open/enlarge in a new window)

THE GOOD

  • A nice metaphor: “All the monitors are alive with data…”
  • I like the evil Unseen Woman. Why don’t we get to see her full face? It’s interesting and sets up a mystery that my brain wants to solve. We’re also seeing a glimpse of the antagonist or co-antagonist, I assume.
  • On the previous page, the action broke off abruptly. I like how we get to find out how the events play out, but from a different, unexpected vantage point.
  • I’m not particularly fond of this sentence: “The early dawn casts eerie shadows on a still dark sky.” However, it certainly gives me a sense of the tone that the writer is going for.
  • The page ends with me wanting to find out more about the two “out of place” individuals. [Note: At a recent gathering with my professional screenwriting friends, we all compared notes as to what our primary mandates were when writing a script. I said, “To make every scene entertaining or engaging in some way.” One of my friends said, “To end each page with a hook, so they want to see what happens on the next page.”]

THE QUESTIONABLE

  • There’s an odd extra line space above the line: “The woman’s lips.”
  • Jumping Jehosaphat! What’s up with the irregular dialogue formatting?! A big red flag just got raised. I mean, come on, this is version 10 of this script and there’s still such an obvious, basic formatting issue? In a 133 page script, where you should be desperate for places to trim your pages down, it’s simply unacceptable.
  • Speaking of this dialogue block, why do we have both a parenthetical and a line description telling us to focus on this woman’s lips. In a script, redundancy = bad.
  • While we’re on that parenthetical, why isn’t it offset from the dialogue margin?
  • Paragraph 4: “It’s” — An incorrect homonym error. Should be “Its.”
  • Second to last paragraph: “A hand, extended from the wheelchair.” I like the direction of the shot (to focus on the hand), but why can’t that be written in the active present tense? That is, “A hand extends from the wheelchair.”
  • Same goes for the sentence that follows. “An expensive gold watch on the wrist, holding a passport, outwards, towards the face of the waiting, indifferent, female IMMIGRATION OFFICER.” It’s also a bit clumsy because the way it’s written, it seems that the gold watch is holding the passport.

Amateur Suspicion Level 4.2

Whoa boy! We’ve shot past threat level 3 and have jumped to “Confirmed!” That dialogue formatting faux pas was huge. Remember, this isn’t the first draft of this script. This is version 10.3. (Have I mentioned before why it’s a terrible idea to put a version number on a spec script?)

There are also a bunch of “little” issues with this page, which I’m mentally combining with the “little” issues of the last pages. Collectively I can say with certainty that these “little” issues don’t happen with such frequency in professional scripts. Especially not in the first few pages which are vitally important for impressing your reader.

I know there are many people who don’t get all worked up about “little” formatting or stylistic problems in their writing. But if you don’t realize how important it is to avoid these issues, you have a steep uphill climb ahead of you if you want your work to be taken seriously, and get noticed (in the right way).

Remember, readers are looking for any reason to discount your script. Don’t hand them any! These types of issues are easy to fix. They just take some care, and learning.

Maybe things will turn around on the next few pages…

Page 3 – 11

While it’s easy to dismiss a script because of its many “amateur moves,” it’s also the job of the reader to determine whether the story has merit. Now that I’ve established a baseline technical skill level, I can relax about the “little” issues and focus more on the overall set up. So I’m going to critique pages 3 through 11 collectively.

Usual Suspects 2: Bear Trap - Pages 3-6     Usual Suspects 2: Bear Trap - Pages 7-11

Pages 3-6 and Pages 7-11
(Click images to open/enlarge in a new window)

THE GOOD

There were a lot of things done right in the first 10 or 11 pages, and the setup itself is good!
We were introduced to the key antagonists in interesting ways:
  • A mysterious female character (there was only one key female character in The Usual Suspects, so if I’m right, I’m not sure how mysterious she is — but still, a cool device).
  • An old man — is this Keyser Soze? His disguise at the airport (while it didn’t fool the person watching for him — if that was his intention) is an interesting scenario.

We were also introduced to the intriguing protagonist, who is whisked away in a helicopter to start his mission. He’s not the first choice for the mission, which gives him something to prove at the outset and makes us more likely to root for him.

The catalyst for the movie is quite clear — a nuclear bomb may have been loaded onto an airplane — whose pilot may be a Syrian terrorist! Meanwhile, there’s a mysterious ship that’s being pursued.

THE QUESTIONABLE

I don’t know any other way to say this — the writing was not of a professional caliber, and it’s hard to ignore. Everyone starts as an amateur, and this writer obviously has some good instincts, but a lot more care needs to be taken to elevate the material to the next level.

  • Learning when to start and end a scene is a critical skill for screenwriters to learn. If you can, always try to end your scene on a “button.” For example, here’s an excerpt from the top of page 3.

IMMIGRATION OFFICER

Good morning Mr. Walker. Welcome to the United Kingdom. May I ask the purpose of your visit.

OLD MAN (O.C.)

I’m here to set the world on fire.

IMMIGRATION OFFICER

(laughing)

And what’s the real reason for your visit to the UK sir?

The extra line at the end with the Immigration Officer weakens the power of the Old Man’s great line. And why on earth is the old man off camera during that terrific moment?!Note: The way the scene ends on page 11, is a great example of  ending the scene on a button (so it’s hit and miss in this script).

  • In a recent article I talked about the importance of sentence variety in your scripts. On page 4, take a look at the last scene. 6 out of the 8 sentences start with “The.” Also on this page, the phrase, “Misty forest” is used twice in close proximity. And the word “misty” is used a third time after that on this page.
Honestly, I could point to something different on every page of this script, so there’s no need to belabor the point here. The writer’s skills are still developing.

Summary

If you’re going to write a sequel (to a script you have no rights to),  as a spec writing sample — your writing better knock the reader’s socks off. You already have one strike against you by even writing an unauthorized sequel (because it’s a common amateur move). So you had better wow the reader with your writing abilities.

There are a ton of rules that you have to learn to write scripts proficiently. And there’s almost always a correlation between the lack of these core writing skills that you see right away, and the bigger structural and plot issues that will manifest themselves later in the story.

At this point, I’ve seen enough problems to make me not want to spend my time reading the remainder of the script. However, if you’d like to read the latest version of the script in its entirety (we’re now at version 11.1), please do and let me know what you think.

In the meantime, I wish Blink well. He’s a good sport, and like I said, he’s got some good instincts. He just needs to keep writing and shore up his writing skills a little. I look forward to hearing about his developing projects and will personally be cheering him on.

Do you find this kind of critique helpful?

Category: Script Notes, Writing  | 4 Comments
Script Notes: THE USUAL SUSPECTS 2: BEAR TRAP Apr 06

The Usual Suspects 2?An Official Sequel Script?

No.

A while ago, I posted an article discussing the protagonist of The Usual Suspects. In the comments section, a “couple of people” had written about a sequel script that was “leaked from CAA.” So I became curious.

As suspected, both comments were written by the same individual trying to promote his own unofficial script. Can’t blame a guy for trying, but it reminded me of all the times I’d heard from amateurs who’d written a script based on someone else’s material (without permission), who were actually hoping to sell it.

It’s not gonna happen.

Anyway, the author of The Usual Suspects 2: Bear Trap (who goes by the pseudonym: “Blink”) had a special kind of moxie, so I decided to contact him. He turned out to be a good sport, who fully admits that he never expected anything to come of his script, and that it was mostly written for fun.

However… Here’s where it gets interesting

He claims that his script, as a writing sample, landed him a six figure step deal to write another script!

BOOM! (That’s the sound of my head exploding!)

Yup, according to Blink, his unorthodox approach landed him a professional writing gig.

Now, of course, I can’t confirm there’s an actual deal in place. And the pseudonym doesn’t help. He claims the pseudonym is being used out of fear of being sued for using characters he doesn’t own. Personally I don’t think he needs to worry on that front. As long as he doesn’t try to sell the script, it’s just fan fiction. I think he’s probably more concerned about the spurious claims of his script being “leaked from CAA.”

But if it’s true, congratulations! It was a bold ploy (or a whimsical pursuit) that seems to have paid off big.

I don’t recommend anyone else follow his lead though, as you’re much better off focusing your efforts on an original feature film spec. If you knock it out of the park, chances are you’ll sell or option it — AND find yourself in contention for writing assignments.

Script Notes and Thoughts

Regardless, Blink seems pretty open about his script and marketing efforts. He even agreed to let me publicly critique the first few pages. I thought it could be a very worthwhile exercise to show screenwriters what runs through the twisted minds of script readers (or at least mine) while they’re reading your  script.

I’ve included images of each page, so you can play along…

Remember, these are all things that I’m thinking in my head, and wouldn’t necessarily cite in my official script notes.

Cover Page

Yes indeed — the mental critique starts on the Cover Page! First impressions can often be quite revealing.

The Usual Suspects 2: Bear Trap - Cover PageCover Page
(Click image to open/enlarge in a new window)

THE GOOD

  • I really like the subtitle of the script — “BEAR TRAP.” (Note: If this were an original spec script, it’s rarely a good idea to use a subtitle.)

THE QUESTIONABLE

  • “Screenplay by Blink” is not centered correctly. It looks like there’s an extra space or two in front of Blink which is throwing off the symmetry. [Sloppy? Intentional?]
  • The revision number. Unless you’re writing a shooting script, never put the revision number on your script. Producers, agents, managers, etc. know your script has gone through many iterations, but they still need to believe it’s a fresh script that’s hot off the presses. It’s a weird thing, but trust me on this one.

After the cover page, we’re already inside threat level 2. Let’s see how the first page goes…

Page 1

The Usual Suspects 2: Bear Trap - Page 1 Page 1
(Click image to open/enlarge in a new window)

THE GOOD

  • An exciting pirate attack to kick things off!
  • Decent use of verbs and evocative language (e.g. churns, scramble, scuttle)

THE QUESTIONABLE

  • Why doesn’t the quote have a period at the end of it?
  • “T-MINUS 976.54.02″ — What does that mean? 976 days? 976 hours? 976 minutes?
  • A monster sentence right out of the gate! — ”Three modern 15 meter open launches, bristling with deck mounted cannons and machine guns, and black men dressed in singlets, assault rifles, and ammunition belts, power through the water towards the container ship about 1000 meters away.” — Perhaps it can be broken up a bit, to give emphasis to the different shots that would no doubt be used. It also took me a second to know that we were now looking at separate boats, and not part of the container ship. Maybe if the phrase “15 meter open launch boats” was used instead of “15 meter open launches” then dummies like me could more readily visualize things.
  • A quick scan shows a 6 line paragraph. That’s probably a couple lines too long for an action sequence.
  • There’s duplication of action. In the 6 line paragraph, there’s this sentence: “Others stand observing in-board navigation and GPS screens, holding on tight as the vessels crash through the water.” But then in the next paragraph we repeat the information: “Onboard the lead launch, the men are intense, but calm, as they watch the screens on the dashboard, or tightly grasp their weapons as they brace themselves on the squabs.” We already know they’re watching screens and bracing themselves.
  • In the action lines there are a couple uses of single dashes (-) instead of double dashes (–). It’s something you commonly see in amateur scripts, and rarely in professional scripts.
  • The last sentence of the opening scene: “A few crew members scuttle for cover on the deck, as shells continue to spray the vessel.” — I thought the use of the word “spray” was an odd choice for cannon fire. How fast and frequently can these cannon’s fire? Perhaps there’s a better word. “Bombard”? Or perhaps changing the sentence to: “… as shells, bullets continue to spray the vessel” would work better.
  • The first sentence of the second scene: “The 60 meter luxury super yacht, the ‘ISIS’, lies moored, inconspicuous amidst the indulgent opulence all around it.” — I’m being told that there’s “indulgent opulence” all around the yacht. But what does that mean? Are there obese men in floating lounge chairs eating caviar in the water? Is it referring to the opulence of Monaco? The other boats? How is it opulent? What are we seeing? Be careful when using vague conceptual descriptions.

Okay, let’s see where we’re at after page one in my mental and completely subjective assessment:

Uh oh. It’s creepin’ up (and so is the length of this post)! I think that’s enough for today. I’ll look at a couple more pages in the next post.

In the meantime, if you’d like to take a peek at Blink’s unauthorized sequel script in its entirety, you can find it here: The Usual Suspects 2: Bear Trap (302 KB PDF)

Do you find this kind of critique helpful? Let me know.

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Category: Script Notes  | 5 Comments