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PROMISES – TeaDance Film Festival Finalist Aug 01

The Finals!

So, this is cool. My script PROMISES just made the finals of the 2016 TeaDance Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.2016SCREENPLAYFINALIST

I’m blessed to have many female friends in the LGBTQ community. As such, we often talk about lesbian movies. Most conversations are variations on: “Really, another tragic ending?”

PROMISES was written as a love letter of sorts to my friends but also as a movie with mainstream appeal in mind. Something perhaps a little different for the genre — a dramatic thriller with complex characters and a powerful love story at its core.

Logline:

A woman’s marriage and life are jeopardized when a female classmate she was secretly in love with is found alive – eight years after being abducted by a serial killer.

A previous version made the quarterfinals of the Nicholl Fellowship last year. I sure would like to direct it or see it produced one day. Maybe this will get more eyeballs on the script and take me one step closer…

Seen any good lesbian movies lately?

Category: Contests  | Leave a Comment
Script vs. Movie: THE SHALLOWS Jul 07

Script vs. MovieHere’s another edition of Script vs. Movie, where I take a look at an early version of a script and compare it to the resulting movie.

Today’s Battle: THE SHALLOWS

SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!

This article only discusses the differences between the script and the movie. But even so, that means everything from plot twists to the climax is fair game. You have been warned!

In the blue corner, the SCRIPT: Written by
Anthony Jaswinski (May 29, 2015 revision, titled IN THE DEEP)

In the red corner, the MOVIE: Directed by
Jaume Collet-Serra (Released 2016)

Quick Synopsis (courtesy of IMDB)

A mere 200 yards from shore, surfer Nancy is attacked by a great white shark, with her short journey to safety becoming the ultimate contest of wills.

The Setup

Movie Poster: The ShallowsScript

  • In the opening scene, a young boy finds two dead bodies of men washed up on the beach. He also sees a young woman with a star tattoo lying on the shore. We don’t know if it’s a flashback or if it’s happening in the present, perhaps even at another beach.
  • In the next scene, the protagonist, Nancy, is visiting a remote tropical beach alone because her best friend went back to medical school a few days earlier and Nancy decided to stay. She’s being driven there by a stranger.
  • On the beach, Nancy has a conversation with her older brother back home. Their mom has been trying to get in touch with Nancy and shes’ been avoiding her. Nancy sends her brother a few pictures from the desolate beach, on which there are a couple of male surfers in the water.
  • There’s no real motivation for Nancy being at this particular beach, other than she’s not ready to go back to medical school.

Movie

  • In the opening scene, the young boy doesn’t see any bodies — but he does find a helmet with a GoPro camera that’s washed ashore. There’s also a surfboard with a winking smiley face painted on it. The boy watches the film on the GoPro, which depicts a shark attacking and killing two surfers. Is it a flashback? Something from later in the movie? Similarly, we’re unsure. And that’s okay.
  • In the next scene, Nancy is visiting a remote beach alone — but has a much stronger justification for that. It doesn’t make her look like she was being foolishly reckless (i.e. her friend was supposed to go with her/meet her there, but cancelled on her).
  • On the beach, Nancy has a conversation with her younger sister instead of an older brother. The younger sister refers to her as “Momma-sister” or something similar, indicating that their mother is deceased and Nancy is looking after her. The phone is passed to Nancy’s father, who gives her a pep talk about going back to medical school. “Your mom was a fighter.”
  • There’s some really nice motivation for Nancy to be at this beach. It was her mom’s beach that she used to surf at. We get the sense that Nancy is using this vacation to help deal with the loss of her mother from cancer — a loss that Nancy couldn’t prevent, so why bother with medical school.

Analysis

Changing the opening so that we don’t see a young woman washed up on the beach adds much more mystery. In the script, when we see the girl with the tattoo, our minds fill in the blanks. But in the movie, we don’t see a girl, so we’re not sure what happened, or when it happened.

There’s no strong motivation for Nancy being at the beach, let alone being there by herself, in the script. The movie does a much nicer job of  showing us why Nancy has to be in this particular place at this particular time.

Having Nancy communicate with her younger sister, instead of her older brother works better as well. Now the stakes are higher. If Nancy dies, she’s not leaving behind an older self-sufficient brother with his own family, she’s leaving behind a younger sister who she still looks after and depends on her. She’s someone Nancy needs to stay alive for.

Round Winner: MOVIE

Sid... Or is it Steven?Characters

Script

  • Nancy, the protagonist
  • Older brother back home (with an extended family and an alive-and-well mother that are referenced but never seen)
  • Local surfer dudes
  • Rando, who shows up on beach
  • Seagull, who is trapped on the rock with Nancy (called “Sid” throughout the script)
  • Big ass shark

Movie

  • Nancy, the protagonist (same as script)
  • Younger sister and father (mother is dead here; no older brother)
  • Local surfer dudes (same as script)
  • Rando, who wakes up on beach intoxicated (mostly the same as the script)
  • Seagull, who is trapped on the rock with Nancy (seagull’s name changed to “Steven Seagull” and only referenced late in the movie)
  • Big ass shark (same as script)

Analysis

While changing the older brother to a younger sister and father in the movie works better, at times it felt a little heavy-handed. I went to see the movie with another professional screenwriter who just rolled his eyes during these (at times overly sentimental) moments.

Other than the shark, the character with the most screen time was the seagull. Nancy’s relationship with the seagull really forms the heart of the script, and it worked very successfully. The seagull gets much more interaction time and because of that you become more invested in both characters. In the movie, Nancy’s emotions are split between the seagull (barely) and memories of her mother. Having said that, Nancy’s memory of her mother, and her father’s words about how her mother never stopped fighting, serve to give much more emotional resonance and meaning to the movie, and especially in the last act.

In the script, we get more insight into the Shark’s mindset. It’s not just a mindless killer. This is a battle-scarred warrior who has survived its own life and death battles. The script also does a far superior job of presenting things from the shark’s point of view. For whatever reason, in the movie, we don’t get a ton of those freaky shark POV shots that ramp up the tension. Instead we get a lot of shots from the protagonist’s POV and a few close-up underwater shots suggestive of the shark’s vantage point, but not believably coming from the shark.

However, the main character, Nancy, does come across as much smarter in the movie. There’s a brilliant device they’ve used to allow Nancy to talk to herself. She pretends that she’s talking to a patient. So this one’s a tough call. But by a hair…

Round Winner: SCRIPT

Action and Plot

Script

  • We learn that Nancy has the same tattoo as the woman we see wash ashore at the start of the movie. From that, we know it was a flash forward we were seeing in the opening scene.
  • Nancy’s a bit of a bumbler in the script. She falls off her surfboard on a run that might have taken her to shore.
  • “Sid” the Seagull, who shares the small rock island with Nancy, was very clearly attacked by the same shark who attacked her. All of his flock were eaten, and he’s the sole survivor. His wing is obviously broken.
  • Nancy doesn’t spend a whole lot of time attending to her own wounds. She simply puts her wetsuit top around her leg and that’s the end of it.
  • She does, however, use her belly ring to help mend Sid’s wing, along with a seaweed wrap.
  • There’s no real sense of time or urgency. Nancy doesn’t really have a plan, until she needs to do something about the tide rising.
  • When an opportunity comes along where a random dude on the beach decides to go into the water to steal Nancy’s surfboard, she uses the well know Spanish word for shark: “Tiburon!” to warn him. But he can’t hear her.
  • The final battle with the shark is comprehensible albeit unbelievable (more on that in the next section).

Movie

  • We learn that Nancy has the same surfboard as the one we saw in the sand at the start of the movie. From that, we know it was a flash forward we were seeing in the opening scene. It’s a better call than the script because it’s easier to identify a unique surfboard than a tattoo.
  • The shark actually knocks Nancy off of the surfboard as she’s heading to shore.
  • “Steven” Seagull, who shares the small rock island with Nancy, has some really fake looking red blood on one of its wings and chest. We’re never really sure what the hell happened. There’s a frenetic scene with the seagull in the water shrieking and flying away, but it happens too fast to make sense of it. The seagull’s wing doesn’t look broken (probably for the safety of the animal and the lack of budget for CGI). It just has some really bright blood on itself (that stays bright red for the entire duration of the movie). Because of the way the scene played out, I thought it was Nancy’s blood on the seagull and the bird simply decided to hang out with Nancy… for whatever reason.
  • Nancy spends a lot of time attending to her own wounds. It’s much more believable and innovative in the manner that she uses to fix herself while stranded on this rock, using only the tools she has at hand — like a necklace, earrings and eventually a shark tooth that she fishes out of an ill-fated surfer’s GoPro helmet (a helmet that still had the surfer’s head in it in the script).
  • Nancy also helps mend the seagull’s wing that is simply dislocated — not broken — in the movie.
  • There’s a great scene in the movie, that doesn’t exist in the script, where Nancy ventures out into the water, thinking that the shark is gone — only to find that it most certainly is not.
  • Nancy uses her watch to time the shark’s patterns, and spends time calculating distances, etc. She’s a much more active protagonist, always strategizing for ways to survive.
  • When an opportunity comes along where a random drunk dude spots her on the beach and decides to go into the water to steal her sufboard, Nancy inexplicable doesn’t communicate the word for shark to him — even though we’ve seen her proficiency with Spanish earlier in the opening scenes of the movie.
  • The final battle with the shark is incomprehensible and unbelievable (more on that in the next section).

Analysis

While some elements like the execution of the seagull’s injury and the ludicrous ending of the movie work against it, I feel that the movie had more strengths overall in the action and plot department, giving it the edge.

Round Winner: MOVIE

The Ending

Script

  • In Nancy’s final battle with the shark from a large metal buoy (that was 30 yards from the rock she was stranded on), she decides to catch a ride to the ocean depths on a chain — that she calculates the shark will rip off of the buoy. Nancy holds on tight as the chain carries her to the bottom of the bay (maybe 50 to 100 feet below), with the shark racing after her. At the last moment, before the end of the chain reaches the bottom of the bay, she lurches to one side, narrowly missing a sharp anchor point that the chain was attached to. The shark, who apparently has the underwater maneuverability of a tank, and the eyesight of a potato, flies straight into the anchor point, impaling himself on it. A flashback makes it clear to the audience that Nancy saw this sharp anchor point during her swim to the buoy.
  • After Nancy makes it to shore and is rescued by the boy (from the opening scene) and his father — the man who drove Nancy to the remote beach, we discover that the shark has in fact survived! One of the final shots is of the shark swimming out to sea, with another battle scar to add to its collection.
  • Nancy is also reunited with her seagull, who she clutches in her arms as they’re driven away to safety.
  • There’s a really cool twist in that we see a flashback of Nancy’s brother thumbing through the photos that his sister sent him from the beach. He spots the large dorsal fin of a shark in the background and rushes to call Nancy back… But Nancy is already heading to the water and decides to ignore the call.

MovieThat ending though...

  • The same setup of the buoy is in place, except this time the shark runs into an assemblage of some type of gnarly wreckage at the chain’s base. She shark manages to swallow the rebar and metal scrap abomination in such a way that it amazingly fits inside its mouth but makes his body look like a snake who’s swallowed a large porcupine. To make matters worse, no flashback is given to explain how Nancy knew this water hazard was there. It’s honestly ludicrous, absent the flashback. Why would any person hold onto a chain that’s sinking to the bottom of the ocean, while being pursued by a shark. And how would that person reasonably expect to see better and maneuver better than a shark at those dark depths?
  • The shark does not survive… that we know of.
  • Nancy spots her seagull friend on the beach, recovering nicely from her having fixed its wing.
  • Nancy has a great line at the end of the movie: “I’m okay.” It sums up her entire struggle with coming to terms with the death of her mother, her desire to run away from her responsibilities and her incredible (albeit preposterous) survival from the shark. That beat isn’t present in the script.
  • What also isn’t present in the script is a completely unnecessary scene at the end of the movie. We see Nancy back with her sister and father in Texas. The two girls run into the water for some surfing. I get why it’s there, but to make a whole separate scene of it feels like overkill, especially when you already have the great ending of Nancy on the beach being rescued and saying, “I’m okay.” That’s the point where she won, not several weeks later when she’s back home. Something like that may have worked well simply for some visuals to play over the end credits, but in its current form, it feels tacked on and unnecessary.

Analysis

A movie sinks or swims based on its ending. The shark may have inexplicably survived in the script, but the movie’s version is simply too preposterous for words. To not even explain how the protagonist knew about the dive hazard at the bottom of the bay, especially without a diving mask, is simply unforgivable.

Round Winner: SCRIPT

So far it’s a tie, so for the final round, we have to look at the…

Intangibles

Script

  • At only 85 pages, the script is simpler, slightly less thought-out than the movie.

Movie

  • The visuals in the movie are sumptuous: An island that shields the bay (that Nancy sees as the silhouette of a pregnant woman reminiscent of her mom); the glorious blue water and underwater shots of surf rolling over the surfer; Blake Lively herself, managing to look stunning in her bikini, despite her shark bite; the clever visual effects that show the time remaining until high tide or the superimposed Skype calls with her family back home. A script of this nature can’t compete with those visuals.

So the Winner is:

The MOVIE!!!

It was a very close call. Five rounds were needed to determine the outcome of this contest and the movie won by a very small margin, possibly a split decision. The combination of the visuals, the more fleshed out action set pieces and the emotional underpinnings of the deceased mom and family stakes allowed the movie to come out on top… despite the ending.

Have you seen THE SHALLOWS? What did you think?

July 4th Sale – All Services 10% Off! Jul 04

Happy 4th of July!

10% off all script proofreading and script notes servicesTime to celebrate Independence Day with a sale. All of my services are now 10% off through July 11th.

That means:

Proofreading is only $134.99!
Script Notes start at just $89.99!

Don’t quite have your script ready? No problem. Place an order for proofreading or script notes now to take advantage of the sale price, then send me your script when it’s ready — any time in the next 6 months!

Are You Overusing LATER? May 23

LATER Hater

- LATERAfter reading a few client scripts recently where LATER is actually used more often than DAY or NIGHT in scene headings, I figured it was time to address this issue.

If you’re fond of using LATER in your scene headings, then what I’m about to tell you might blow your mind…

Unless you’re dealing with a flashback, it’s already understood that EVERY subsequent scene in your script takes place later than the one that preceded it.

So expressly telling the reader that your scene takes place LATER is unnecessary… most of the time.

When should you use LATER?

As far as I’m concerned, there’s really only one legitimate use of LATER:

When you’re indicating that we’ve jumped ahead in time, in the SAME scene location.

Let’s take a look at the standard, recommended usage. Say you’ve established a scene heading with some description. For example:

INT. PRISON CELL – DAY

The Brooksville Killer paces back and forth, eyeing the steel bars. A rabid animal in a cage.

Now, suppose you want to jump to a moment that comes later in that same location. There are two methods you could use. 1) Write a new master scene heading:

INT. PRISON CELL – LATER

Or 2) Simply write a secondary scene heading (preferred)…

LATER

… and then write some action lines.

What you do NOT want to do is use LATER if your following scene takes place in a new location. Example:

EXT. PRISON YARD – LATER

There’s no reason to write LATER for the scene heading above. It’s not like the reader is going to get confused and think your character is somehow simultaneously in his cell and in the prison yard. Obviously, he’s moved from one location to the next over some unspecified time.

So you would simply use DAY (or NIGHT as the case may be) for the new location scene heading and then add your action lines:

EXT. PRISON YARD – DAY

The maniac hammers his fists against the concrete wall, over and over again.

Bits of the aged wall crumble in his hands... and an idea sparks in his eyes.

Who So Serious?Why so serious? What’s the big deal?

There’s technically nothing wrong with writing LATER in subsequent scene headings. The problem is if it goes on for too long, it can confuse your reader.

If you keep writing LATER in your scene headings, eventually I’m going to forget whether it was day or night, or wonder if it has since transitioned from one time to the other. You’ve now made it more difficult for me to visualize the scenes.

When you make your reader struggle, that’s a bad thing.

Take this example:

EXT. PARK – DAY

Josephine and Tommy share a hot dog, each nibbling from opposite sides of the bun.

EXT. BAR PATIO – LATER

The lovers share a tropical drink... sipping from straws... gazing into each other’s eyes. If they weren’t so adorable, it would be cringeworthy.

The description is fine, but am I supposed to picture a brightly lit daytime patio or an atmospheric nighttime patio? The LATER throws me off.

One of the key jobs of a screenwriter is to set the scene for the reader. Do yourself a favor and use DAY or NIGHT in your subsequent scene headings to help you with that task.

What about  MOMENTS LATER?

Typically, MOMENTS LATER is used like LATER — when you want to indicate a jump in time within the same scene location. However, in cases where the location has changed, and the context of the scene is such that the reader might incorrectly think the scene takes place long after the previous one (when it really takes place shortly after), it’s just fine to use MOMENTS LATER for clarity.

Here’s an example of it NOT being necessary:

INT. CLUB CRAVEN – NIGHT

Brandon flexes his muscles in a mirror as Lisa sidles up to him.

LISA

My uncle’s on his way. I told him how you cheated on me, and he said he wanted to... uh, talk to you.

BRANDON

(scoffs)

Whatever. It’s not like he’s--

LISA

He’s the UFC heavyweight champion.

EXT. CLUB CRAVEN – NIGHT

Brandon bursts out the front entrance in a full sprint. Races to his car as fast as his cowardly legs will carry him.

It’s not necessary to use MOMENTS LATER in the above example, because the context of the scene already tells us that it takes place moments after the previous scene.

But if you come across a situation that isn’t so clear cut, and it’s important to know that the scene takes place shortly after the previous one, using MOMENTS LATER instead of DAY/NIGHT will help to avoid any confusion. Take the following example:

INT. JIMMY’S BEDROOM – NIGHT

Little Jimmy sits alone in his room, sulking. He stares at the Einstein poster on his closed door.

JIMMY

I loathe all of you imbeciles. I shall never leave this room! Ever!

A warm voice calls from downstairs:

MOM (V.O.)

Jimmy, the cupcakes are ready.

INT. UPSTAIRS HALLWAY – MOMENTS LATER

Jimmy cracks open his door. Peeks into the hallway. Breathes in the intoxicating aroma of chocolate and frosting. Sighs.

JIMMY

The flesh is weak.

He hustles downstairs.

Using MOMENTS LATER in the above example helps to reinforce the timeline. If NIGHT were used instead, the joke of how quickly Jimmy caves may not be as clear.

Are you a LATER overuser?

Interruptions Revisited May 17

The Problem

In a previous post, I discussed the difference between using dashes (hyphens) and dots (ellipses) at the end of a sentence — a common source of confusion. Recently, I’ve discovered a new and erroneous trend with hyphens.

With increasing frequency, I’ll see a writer use hyphens to both indicate an interruption (at the end of a sentence) and also to start off the next speaker’s dialogue (at the beginning of the following sentence).

Let me show you what I’m talking about.

PETER

You never let me finish a single sent--

JANICE

--That’s because you never have anything good to say!

Those two hyphens in front of “That’s” in the sentence above? Completely unnecessary. The two hyphens at the end of Peter’s sentence are all we need to indicate interrupted speech.

The Exception

The only time you’d use two hyphens to begin a character’s dialogue is when the second speaker is attempting to complete the first speaker’s sentence.

For example:

PETER

You never let me finish a single sent--

JANICE

-- Sentence? Yeah, because I always know what you’re going to say.

In the above exchange, Peter’s dialogue could also have been written with the double hyphens coming after the word “single,” without the partial word “sent.”

Do you have any other hyphen-related questions or need me to proofread your script? Let me know!

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