Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Vanquish starring Morgan Freeman and Ruby Rose.

I wrote a screenplay that won gold medal at the Page Awards, that script was picked up by producer Nate Adams. It went through many re-writes until it finally attracted the attention of Morgan Freeman and Ruby Rose. At the time of writing it is currently filming.

It's been an interesting time getting this film made. The original story was set to be filmed in February of this year, but then Covid hit and the entire film was pushed back.
A lengthy re-write took place to allow for Covid safe filming and finally the powers that be green-lit the project. 

Click here for the deadline article

I offer a full screenplay coverage service where I do a deep analysis of your script. It usually works out to about 10 pages of notes.

I cover every aspect of what makes a screenplay successful.

Concept. Structure. Flaw. Hero's Journey. Empathy. PoV. Form. Dialogue. Characters. Goal. Stakes. Urgency. Mystery.

These are just some of the storytelling craft that I analyse in my coverage service. 

If you're looking to get coverage done for your screenplay PM me.

Deconscript@gmail.com

Wednesday, 5 February 2020

HOW TO WRITE A SYNOPSIS

A short one today and not a screenplay review. 

I just finished writing a synopsis of a feature film of mine for a producer.

Synopsises aren't easy to write. It's hard enough to write a feature film in long form, to then ask a writer to re-write that same story in summary form can be daunting. 

Here I want to share a quick guide to writing a good synopsis quickly and easily. 

WHY DO I NEED A SYNOPSIS?

Because people are time-poor and nobody wants to waste their time reading a script that sucks. 

A synopsis is a short form version of your story that allows the prospective producer/investor/talent to decide if they want to spend the time reading the entire full length script.

HOW LONG SHOULD A SYNOPSIS BE?

I suggest writing three synopsises of different lengths. They are....

1) Logline - this is one sentence that sums up your entire film. See my previous post on loglines here. 

https://deconstructthescript.blogspot.com/2016/04/loglines-article.html

2) A half to full page synopsis. In this version only touch on the major elements of your story. The hero, their goal, obstacles, the hero's flaw, the antagonist, stakes, urgency and the basic plot points of your storyline.  

3) Long form - 3 - 6 pages. The tighter the better. Aim for closer to the three pages end of that spectrum than the six pages end. 

Remember, the goal of synopsises are to get people interested in reading the full script. 

Your synopsis needs to read fun and fast.  


SHOULD I GIVE AWAY THE TWIST IN THE SYNOPSIS?

Not in the logline. 

But yes, definitely in the medium or long form version of your synopsis. 

I have never met a producer who doesn't want to know what the hook or twist is. 

The hook or twist is often the very reason producers get onboard with a project. To not let them know for fear of it ruining the surprise is shooting yourself in the foot. 

SO, HOW DO I WRITE A SYNOPSIS?

There's a saying that goes something like, "If you want me to speak for an hour give me the day to prepare. If you want me to talk for five minutes give me the week."

Meaning, it is harder and requires more preparation time to condense what you want to say into a shorter form. 

The same holds true for writing a synopsis. You'll find the 10 page version easier to write than the 1 page version.

And it is with this 10 page version that I suggest you start. 

Open two documents side by side. In the first document you have your completed screenplay. The second is to become your long form synopsis. 

The average screenplay length is 100 pages. (roughly) So to get this number down to 10 pages you're essentially looking to compress 10 screenplay pages into one synopsis page.

Very often a screenplay will start with a hook that if often 3-5 pages long. Try to condense this hook into half a page. Remember, if 10 screenplays pages equals one synopsis page, then 5 screenplay pages equals half a synopsis page. 

Go through your entire script working like this. Read a section of pages until you find a natural break in the storyline then summarise that section into synopsis form, keeping in mind the ratio of 10:1.

It will take you while, but there's no great technical skill required here. All you do is read your script then summarise. Do it section by section and after a time you will have your 10 page synopsis of your script. 

Ok, that's a great start, but ideally, you want a 5 page version. 10 pages is still a little too long.

How to get there?

Close the original screenplay document. Save, then duplicate the 10 page synopsis. 

On this duplicate start to edit out the beats that aren't really important. 

In a screenplay you have a lot of small beats that are necessary for the story to have texture and feel real. What you do now is remove the smaller story beats that aren't critical to understanding the main storyline. 

A great test to know if a beat is important or not, try removing it, then re-read your new synopsis. Does your synopsis still make sense without that beat? If so, good, you've removed a smaller beat that's not important. If not, then you have identified a beat that is critical for your audience understand the story. 

Repeat this process over and over until you have halved your synopsis from 10 pages to roughly 5 pages. 

You now have two synopsises, your 10 page version and this 5 page version. 

Next, you need a 1 page synopsis. 

Save and duplicate the 5 page version of your synopsis. 

Now, on your new copy of the 5 page version, you're going to start fusing beats together. 

Read two beats side by side and rewrite them as one fused beat. This will involve really stripping back your story to its essence, but it's a relatively easy process. 

The more you go over your beats, the more you will come to realise how many beats you can remove and the general plot of your story will remain comprehensible  

Simply repeat this process until you have whittled 5 pages down to 2. 

Then take those two pages and look harder. Repeat the process of removing beats and seeing if the plot still makes sense without them. 

You'll find that in the one page form you will focus on the hero and their main storyline. Almost all ancillary characters will fall away, except for key supports and the antagonist.

It's ok to cut the B storyline. In a one page synopsis no one expects to get all the detailed nuance of each character and how they relate to the others. All they really want are the broader strokes that paint a general picture. 

SUMMARY

Start with a ten page synopsis then work your way down from there. 

You'll want three lengths at the ready for when a producer/agent/talent requests a synopsis. 

1) Logline 
2) 1 page synopsis.
3) Long form 3 - 6 page synopsis.

FINAL TIP

Get your synopsises done before sending out your script. It's better to have a great synopsis at the ready than to have to tell someone who is interested in your story that you'll get back to them in a few days when you've had a chance to write a synopsis. 

You look professional when you have your synopsis at the ready. 

Sunday, 2 February 2020

2019 BLACKLIST - #3 - DON'T WORRY DARLING

A psychological thriller about a 1950s housewife whose reality begins to crack, revealing a disturbing truth underneath.

This script landed at #3 on the 2019 blacklist with 19 votes. 

It's written by the Van Dyke brothers. 

This was an interesting script. 

Its central premise is - "is the main character crazy?" Which is a very done subject. I'd go so far as to say cliche. However, in this script, they manage to wrap this trope in a very contemporary subject matter - sexism. 

Let's look at the story and see what they've done right and where they could improve. 

We start in 1950's cliche, white, perfect America. The town is nondescript, it's one of those perfect places right out of a magazine. Here, we meet Evelyn, the hero of our story. She's a housewife in an era where the majority of women were led to believe that it's a Man's world, and all women exist to please their husbands. 

We first meet Evelyn making love to her husband, Clifford. The sex itself is pretty good, and Evelyn even seems into it, but directly after she hurries away to the bathroom where she uses a female contraceptive. 

Clifford really wants to start a family but Evelyn is terrified by the notion of being weighed down with the permanency of kids. 

Evelyn longs to have a career of her own. She even has intense dreams of being a surgeon. But these dreams are so vivid and real, they feel like memories. 

This is where the story starts to twist. The first question is, are Evelyn's dreams just dreams, or are they deeply buried memories?

We soon meet Betsy and Joe, their neighbors. Betsy and Joe have the picture-perfect family. Two kids, Joe working hard, Betsy really good at all things homely. While Clifford aspires to their family paradigm, Evelyn is horrified by the notion. 

It seems that Evelyn is a modern woman stuck in a 1950s culture. 

When Clifford discovers that Evelyn is using a contraceptive they have an argument that involves a lot of yelling, a broken mirror and a temporary loss of patience and civility between them. But the next day, they both pretend that everything is fine, that nothing happened. They go back to their usual routine. 

While on her way back from shopping, Evelyn sees her husband's car parked at a seedy motel. She investigates and sees Clifford enter room 1.

Evelyn has to know what's happening in that room, even if he is having an affair, she has to know. Something very strange happens when she opens the door to room 1. 

There's a blinding flash of white light and Evelyn wakes up in a machine that looks like an MRI machine. She's hooked up to this futuristic device with a myriad of tubes and wires. Her legs are atrophied from lack of use. 

She freaks out, and manages to get out of the machine, she tries to crawl out of the small dimly lit room she finds herself in, when she suddenly sees Clifford, he rushes her and injects her with a syringe. 

When she wakes, Evelyn finds herself in her bed back in 1950. 

It was all just a dream. 

Or was it?

From here, things only get worse. These visions become more frequent, and as Evelyn investigates she comes to believe that she is from the future, 2050, to be precise, and that her 1950s reality is really just a simulation, her real body is back in 2050 hooked up to that futuristic MRI machine.  

The premise and the question of the story becomes, is Evelyn living in a simulated reality or is she going mad?

The problem with the 'Is the hero mad or not?' question is that you have to answer it at some stage. There are only ever three answers to this question.

Yes, they're mad, and they're imagining all this craziness.
No, they're not mad, this craziness is really happening.

OR

You leave it unanswered. You let the audience decide if she's crazy or not. 

It's hard to get any of these endings to work well. 

I won't ruin it by saying how this script ends, but it's an interesting screenwriting point to look at. 

The SETUP and the PAYOFF.

For your film to feel rewarding, your payoff needs to be bigger and more unexpected than your setup. 

I talk about the importance of unpredictability in screenplays a lot. If the audience can see where the story is going they'll tune out and become bored quickly. 

The same goes for your central story premise - if you set up your story to look like it's going to go a certain way, and then it does, there's no sense of reward to the viewer. Essentially, what they expected to happen, did. 

This is an example of your payoff not exceeding your setup. 

If you can twist your story at various places and constantly keep your audience guessing right up until the very end, then you will have succeeded. Your payoff will be greater than your setup.

Think about your own film-watching experiences. Think how many times you have watched a film and felt like it was a waste of time, you came away thinking, 'was that it?' You don't want that to happen to the audience of your movie. 

MAKE SURE YOUR PAYOFF IS GREATER THAN YOUR SETUP.

I liked Evelyn a lot in this story. It's funny, as there weren't many instances of ACTIVE POSITIVE EMPATHY - that is where the hero actively goes out of their way to do something good for someone other than themselves. This being the strongest form of empathy and the best way to get us to love your hero. 

While there wasn't much ACTIVE POSITIVE EMPATHY, there were bucket loads of PASSIVE POSITIVE EMPATHY. 

That's where we feel sorry for someone because of the bad things that happen to them. 

Evelyn's life is loaded with sexism. She isn't allowed to pursue a career, her place is in the home, she is supposed to cook clean and make babies. 

The reason we like Evelyn is that she stands up for herself. She's not just letting herself get pregnant, she is ACTIVELY taking a contraceptive. When she finds her husband go into the motel, she ACTIVELY investigates and discovers this crazy futuristic world. 

The keyword here, you may have noticed, is ACTIVE. 

We love heroes who stick up for themselves. We love heroes who actively go about trying to better their life. 

Now, if the writers had taken the passive approach, if they had written Evelyn not taking contraception, and that she didn't stand up for herself when Clifford confronted her about it, or that she didn't investigate further when she saw Clifford at the motel - there's no way we would have loved her quite so much. 

Her life would still be awash with sexism, there would still be all the passive positive empathy beats, but we wouldn't really care about her. 

AUDIENCES CARE FOR HEROES WHO CARE FOR THEMSELVES. 

I'm not saying self-love in a narcissistic way, I'm saying heroes who have enough self-respect to stand up for themselves, despite the consequences of doing so. 

AUDIENCES RESPECT HEROES WHO RESPECT THEMSELVES.

This brings me to a very broad point about screenwriting in general.

FILMS REFLECT LIFE. 

The more I analyze films, the more I come to realize that what works in life, works in film. Think about who we LIKE in real life and why we like them. All those reasons transpose perfectly to the world of film. 

The more nuanced and detailed and layered your characters are the more real they feel. 

The more life-like you can write your screenplay, the more it will resonate with readers, producers and finally, your audience. 

One last thing I want to look at in this screenplay was the OPEN-ENDED GOAL. 

Films with a closed-ended goal tend to do better than scripts with an open-ended goal. 

A closed-ended goal is - X must do Y to prevent Z. 

An opened-ended goal is more ambiguous. 

In this story, Evelyn's goal is to discover if she is crazy or not. 

How does she achieve that? Even Evelyn doesn't know how to do that. 

Take the film Saving Private Ryan, for a great example of a closed-ended goal. 

The title of the film tells you what the GOAL is. 

Save private Ryan. 

It doesn't get much more closed-ended than that. When your goal is tangible, your audience feels oriented. At any given time in the film, they know what is happening and why. 

When your audience doesn't know what the hero needs to do next they start to feel disconnected from the story.

Where possible, try to write your story with a CLOSED ENDED GOAL. 

In summary, I enjoyed this script. It has Olivia Wilde attached to direct, which is a good start. IMDBPRO has a new writer listed in the writing credits, so I'm going to imagine that the final shooting script will differ from this current draft. How significantly is yet to be seen.

If I was a producer I would consider this script depending on the talent you could get attached to it, and I wouldn't let it run anywhere over a $3m budget. 

This script is more sci-fi than horror, but it could very well find a huge audience because of the central premise subject matter being - sexism. 

I'll track this project and look forward to seeing how the creatives bring it to life - if they do. 
   








Thursday, 23 January 2020

2019 BLACKLIST - MOVE ON

This screenplay came in at number 1 on the 2019 blacklist. 

It's written by Ken Kobayashi.

It looks like Sony is producing.

Logline: Teddy thinks he’s the only living person left in a world where humanity is frozen in time… until his ex-girlfriend, Leyna shows up at his doorstep. Together, they must go on a journey to find the cause behind the freeze and in the process, confront the issues that plagued their relationship before it’s too late.


This was an interesting script. It does a lot of things right and yet there are a few things it could improve upon. 

THE STORY.... 

This story is largely non-linear. It's not a mash-up like Pulp Fiction, but there is jumping back and forth between timelines. 

The script starts with Teddy proposing to his girlfriend Leyna. She denies him and storms out of the restaurant where Teddy chose to propose. 

Teddy is desperate, on the drive home he tries phoning and messaging Leyna but she refuses to answer or speak with him.

Texting. Driving. 

You guessed it. Teddy crashes. It's not too bad. The tail of his car gets clipped by a van. Neither he nor the other driver is hurt very badly. 

Teddy goes home, hangs out with his buddy Squid who does a great job of consoling him, then not long after at a bar the world around Teddy freezes. 

Everyone is frozen mid-action. A man pouring a beer. The beer is frozen in mid-air, but the beer is still a liquid.

So far so good. We have a lot of passive empathy for Teddy so we care about his story. Being rejected at proposal is a strong passive empathy beat. 

My only note here would be that we could use more ACTIVE empathy for Teddy. In this opening section before the inciting incident (time freezing) we only come to like Teddy because of the bad things that happen to him. Passive empathy only goes so far.

The trick to getting your audience to really love your hero is to inject ACTIVE EMPATHY beats - which are moments where your hero actively goes out of their way to do something good for another character. 

The time-freeze gimmick is a great hook. The only problem with out-there gimmicks is that at some stage you have to explain WHY and HOW the gimmick came to be. If you don't have a good explanation for it, you run the risk of alienating your audience. Throwing them out of the film. 

Does the explanation work here? I'll get to that. For now, all you need to know is that the time-freeze gimmick works. It works for a multiple of reasons. 

UNEXPECTED. 

I did not see this coming. I thought this was going to be a regular relationship drama. I had no idea that there was going to be this sci-fi element injected into the story. 

Being able to surprise your audience is paramount to writing a successful screenplay. If your audience can guess what's going to happen and they're right most of the time, they'll grow bored and tune out quickly. 

Adding this element elevated the story from the murky depths of low concept - to high concept. 

The difference is very important. 

Low concept is where the characters are more important than the concept. 

Most dramas are low concept. When it's just humans interacting with humans with nothing more than their relationships occurring, that's low-concept. 

When you have a gimmick, when you have an element to the story that is unique and unusual, that's when your story becomes HIGH CONCEPT. 

Another way to look at high concept is - it's the hook you use when explaining your story. If you don't have a unique hook, you don't have a high concept story. 

So far so good... 

Directly after freezing the time freeze there is a jump cut to three months later. Teddy has grown a beard and he's settling into living a relatively normal life in this new frozen world. 

This was a good move. A lot of writers would have written Teddy bumbling through ubiquitous WTF? scenes, where he climates to this new weird, frozen world.

These would have been scenes that were highly predictable. And remember, predictability is death to a screenplay. Instead, we find him three months later, everything is still frozen, and finally, Leyna turns up on his doorstep. She is also not frozen. 

Leyna and Teddy set off to discover why this world is frozen. They decide that a trip from Chicago to LA is the best way to do it. 

Along the way, they have plenty of time to discuss their relationship and what happened on the night he proposed. 

Okay, that's the setup. At this stage of the script, my only other major note would be that there is no tangible goal. 

They discovered a giant black wall on the east coast, and on Teddy's google maps there is another black line on the west coast, so their goal becomes, go to the west coast to see if there is also a huge black wall just beyond the coast. 

This is a perfect example of an open-ended goal. Open-ended goals don't work well in films. Audiences are much more engaged when they know WHY and WHAT the hero is trying to achieve. 

Here, also there is a lack of URGENCY or STAKES. 

Firstly the goal is really weak. Go and see if there's a wall. That's not a very engaging goal. And what happens when they get to the wall? It's not established. So we don't know what they're really trying to achieve. A really simple fix could be to put Teddy's parents in LA. Odds are they're frozen. but he has to go and find them to make sure they're okay. This would be a tangible closed-ended goal. It's also a goal that had emotion attached to it. Remember, audiences respond to emotionally motived goals much more than any other kind of goal motivation. 

STAKES

What happens if they don't reach the wall? Well, nothing. They're stuck in this frozen world, which neither of them seem terribly worried about. When there is no threat to your hero's safety, there is no sense of stakes. 

The problem with stories that have no stakes is the audience fails to care about your hero's goal. If it doesn't really matter if your hero achieves their goal your audience won't care, and consequently, they'll tune out. 


URGENCY

There is no ticking clock on their journey. They can take a week to get to LA or they can take 5 years. There is nothing threatening their existence, and there's no need to accomplish their goals in any given time frame.

When there is no clock, when there is no time frame in which your hero has to achieve their goal, it slows the story down immensely. 

When there is a sense of urgency to your hero's journey, your audience becomes much more engaged. 


POINT OF VIEW 

At the midpoint in this story, there is a 180-degree change of Point Of View. 

For the first 50 pages, the entire story is told from Teddy's POV. Then the rest of the story is told from Leyna's POV. 

This was a big throw for me. I had come into the story from Teddy's POV. I had identified with Teddy. I had made a vicarious connection with Teddy, then suddenly I'm asked to make the same connection to Leyna. 

Typically in feature films, it is a kiss of death to switch your POV so hard halfway through the film. 

It is okay to show a few scenes from another character's POV if its necessary for the story to develop. 

Sometimes you need to see what the 'Bad Guy' is up to and there's no way you can do that without leaving your hero for a scene or two. 

But typically 95% of scenes in a feature film should be told from your Hero's POV.

Long-form TV is different. In the longer format, we have more time to come to relate to all the characters and learn to love and hate them for who they are. 

In a feature film you only have 90 minutes to tell your story. When you have multiple POV's you divide your audience's attention, and consequently they don't connect to the story as well. 

Now, in this story, there had to be a POV switch, for reasons I won't discuss as I'd move into spoiler territory. But I will say that it could have been handled better. 

My fix for this would be to not tell the opening half of the film ENTIRELY from Teddy's POV. 

I would have set up Leyna from page one with her own POV. 

In the current draft, the only time we meet Leyna in the first section of the film is through Teddy. If we had opened on a POV neutral scene, say both Teddy and Leyna having dinner together, then jumped over to Teddy's POV with him in the toilet psyching himself up to ask her to propose, then coming back to Leyna's POV and seeing her sitting at the dinner table alone, waiting for Teddy, then we watch from HER POV as Teddy comes back from the toilet and proposes. Then as a POV neutral scene, we have Leyna say she can't do it and leave in tears. 

Then in the following scenes, we jump between Teddy and Leyna - Teddy phoning Leyna, then over with Leyna, she sees Teddy's calls and messages, but she just can't bring herself to answer or talk to him. 

Executing the opening section with a very clearly defined DUAL POV (Teddy and Leyna's) means the switch from Teddy's POV to Leyna's POV will happen more organically at the midpoint. It won't feel like such a shock to the system. 


EXPLAIN THE GIMMICK

The importance of having a good explanation for your gimmick, or hook, or your high concept element is paramount. 

Anyone can create a crazy set of circumstances that will get people's attention. It's really easy to think up something weird and out-there that will get pique people's interest in your story. The real skill, and what separates moderate writers from the best, is having a realistic and plausible explanation for your gimmick/hook.

I won't ruin this story by revealing HOW the world became frozen, but I will say that I wasn't on board with the writer's explanation for it. The reason given felt too perfect. It felt like it was a little bit contrived. It felt like the writer came up with the HOOK and then created the EXPLANATION. 

It is very often better to reverse engineer. Start with a powerful plausible explanation to a gimmick/hook, then work your story around that. 

When you force an explanation of a gimmick/hook to fit your story it will run the risk of coming across as contrived. 


SUMMARY

This script is good. I wouldn't say it's great. Would I put money into this? That would depend on the talent you could get to attach and at what price point. 

This script has ACTOR BAIT written all over it. Its central theme is universal - moving on from a relationship and letting go of a loved one. This will appeal to a very wide audience.

But in its current form, it has too many elements that need addressing. 

If the story were to fix the POV, inject positive empathy, add stakes, urgency and add a closed-ended goal, I could see this script finding an audience. I wouldn't want to see this script made on anything more than $5m. 



Wednesday, 22 January 2020

2018 HITLIST - THE TOE

THE TOE by Mallory Westfall

On the night of her 30th birthday, Elizabeth accidentally comes into possession of a very special item…a severed toe. She soon finds herself obsessing over the toe’s owner and, desperate to shake up her own mundane life, must decide whether or not to give in to the darker impulses the toe has stirred within her.

GENRE
Comedy | Thriller

REPRESENTATION
UTA | Anna Berthold, Alyssa Lanz, Charles Ferraro, Grace Royer, Jed Baker Aaron Kogan Management | Aaron Kogan

STATUS
Aaron Kogan producing.

I've read this screenplay twice. There is a lot to be learned from this script. It does so much right, and yet at the same time, it could do so much better. Let's take a look and see what it does right and how it could improve. 

First... the story... 

The Toe centers around 29-year-old Elizabeth. She lives in a town that isn't specifically mentioned. It's big enough for her to live an anonymous life in, but not so big it's actually an interesting place to live. 

Elizabeth lives a hum-drum existence. She works the 9-5 in an office where nothing much happens. It's boring as hell. It's so dull that she lies about her life to her colleagues to try and seem like she leads a much more interesting life than she really does. 

The monotony of her existence is broken one evening when she drives behind a truck down a bumpy road. The back door of that truck opens and inside Elizabeth sees a dozen people, men and women, all trussed up with bags over their heads, watched over by a menacing man. They look to have been kidnapped. One of the trussed women gets her foot caught in the truck door as it slams closed on the bumpy road and it severs a toe with purple nail polish on it. This toe lands on Elizabeth's windscreen. 

Elizabeth is shocked by this and in no hurry to chase down a truck of kidnapped people, presumably looked over by mean men with guns, she stops and collects the toe. 
Great setup. So far there is mystery and intrigue. I talk a lot about story engines. There are four key story engines, things that drive the story forward and keep your audience engaged. They are...

GOALS.

STAKES.

URGENCY.

and...

MYSTERY

Of all these four, the most powerful story engine is mystery. For some reason, humans are incredibly inquisitive creatures. We HATE not knowing WHY something is. We hate not knowing how something ends. Think about how many times you've started watching something, thought it was terrible, but kept watching just to find out how it finished. Never underestimate the power of mystery. 

So far this story has a great mystery element to it. After finding said toe, Elizabeth does her civic duty and reports what she saw (kidnapped people) to the police. She does, however, forget to mention the toe she found. 

Why? At first, I asked this, and the writer explains in the descriptive text that this toe means something to Elizabeth. It is something that gives her life a sense of mystery and excitement. 

Now, this is probably the first mistake, or rather should I say, this is the first instance in this script where it could improve. 

Don't rely on explaining character decisions in the descriptive text. Descriptive text should really be limited to describing what can be seen on screen. I must mention here that it is okay to write some small asides and also to describe the mental state of characters for actors to help build their performances from. But in general, what you need to do is to make sure that everything in your script can be understood by what the characters do.

The audience learns the story by watching the characters' actions. If an action doesn't seem logical and you need to explain it in the descriptive text so the reader understands, this can backfire on you. Sure, your reader understands, but will your audience?

There were several instances in this screenplay where the descriptive text overstepped its bounds. Some script doctors advise against writing anything in the descriptive text that can't be seen on the screen, and for a long time, I advocated this. But the more and more scripts I read, the more I feel that asides in the descriptive text are fine, so long as they add to the reading experience and don't detract from the viewing experience.

Back to the story...

Elizabeth feels empowered with this newfound severed toe in her life. It is her very own special secret. It is something that makes her life interesting. It separates her hum-drum existence from all the other hum-drum lives around her. She no longer feels unimportant. In a very weird kind of way, this toe gives her life meaning.

Emboldened, Elizabeth's personality starts to change. She stops caring about what her fellow office workers think about her, she stops sucking up to her boss, she gets a tattoo.

Yes, a tattoo. And not just any tattoo, this tattoo yields her first clue to the owner of the toe.

It's at this point in the story that this script could use a little improvement.

Great intriguing hook - kidnapped people, a severed toe, but now what? Mystery alone is enough to drive a story, but for a mystery to work your hero needs to ACTIVELY try to SOLVE the mystery.

A passive hero is really boring, and unfortunately, that is what Elizabeth becomes after finding this toe. I really hoped that she would dedicate all her time to finding out who this toe belonged to, but alas she doesn't try very hard at all. She does look over the local internet page of missing people, but other than this web search, she doesn't actively search for where the toe came from. She goes back to her work and we have a series of scenes that don't involve Elizabeth trying to solve the mystery of the severed toe.

Instead, we have a bunch of boring scenes that don't really have any goals.

When your hero doesn't have a goal they are actively pursuing then your story grows boring really quickly. Audiences need to know WHY they're watching. They need to know WHAT the hero is doing and WHY they're doing it.

There are two types of goals. Open-ended goals and closed-ended goals.

Closed-ended goals work best because they have a concrete objective. Your hero must do X to achieve their goal.

Here, in this part of the story, there is no real goal. Sure, Elizabeth is curious as to where the toe came from, but she's not doing anything about finding out whose toe it is.

I was hoping that perhaps she would go to a hospital and try to see if anyone presented with a severed toe. She could break into a doctor's office late at night to try and look through their records to find out about the person with the missing toe. She could get a job as a receptionist at the hospital to search their records, she could take up hacking to try and access their databases. All of these ideas give Elizabeth an ACTIVE closed-ended goal.

But instead, we just have Elizabeth go about her life with this new secret - her severed toe in a ring-box.

The story does start moving again, but it starts moving by CHANCE.

You see, the woman who lost the served toe had a tattoo of a moose on her leg. Elizabeth decides to go and get a tattoo and discovers by chance a picture of that very same moose in the tattoo shop.

This is a good moment to talk about coincidences in film. Coincidences happen in real life ALLLLLL the time. The web is filled with crazy real-life coincidences. We all have coincidences happen in our day to day lives. Coincidences are fine in real life, BUT they come across as weak writing in film. (unless you're using them as a comedic device).

Avoid coincidences in your script at all costs. It's a shame, as there is an easy fix for this coincidence in this script. The tattoo of the moose is Elizabeth's only tangible connection to the woman who lost the toe. So it would seem a logical jumping-off point for her to start her investigation. Have Elizabeth visit a dozen tattoo parlors searching for the toe. Have her search through every tattoo parlor in town, but she comes up empty-handed. Then just when she's about to give up she sees someone with a tattoo that is different from the moose but inked in the same distinct style. She asks the person where they got the tattoo done then ... fill in the blank from here.

This is a good moment to talk about two writing tips...

NEVER MAKE IT EASY FOR YOUR HERO.

This should be obvious, but I see a lot of amateur screenplays that don't put any real obstacles in the way of the hero. Take the scenario I suggested about Elizabeth searching the tattoo parlors in search of the artist who inked the image of the Moose. It would be too easy for Elizabeth to go to a bunch of stores and just happen upon the very same image and consequently the artist who can point her towards the woman with the severed toe. Always make your hero's quest difficult. The harder it is for them, the more engaged your audience will be.


DON'T WRITE THE EXPECTED.

If Elizabeth sets out to search tattoo parlors in the hope of finding the artist who inked the lady with the severed toe - and that's what happens, then your audience is going to fall to sleep. There's nothing more boring than watching a film in which the hero sets out to do something and aside from a couple of small hiccups along the way they do exactly what they set out to do.

WRITE THE UNEXPECTED.

Blindside your audience with twists that even you didn't see coming. If you can surprise yourself, your audience is guaranteed to be caught off guard. When your audience can't guess what's going to happen, that's when they really get invested in the story.

Now, it's relevant that I write these screenwriting tips at this point in this screenplay's story - as this is exactly what The Toe does.

It goes where you don't expect it too.

At first, I thought it was going to be a simple mystery about Elizabeth searching for the owner of the toe, and perhaps discovering an underground ring of human smugglers or something else equally nefarious - instead what Elizabeth discovers I did not see coming.

Now I won't ruin this story by telling any more about its plot out of respect to the writer and producers. But I will say that this story goes somewhere the majority of people wouldn't expect it to. It becomes a very insightful, intelligent and well-crafted story that explores life's grandest question - what is the meaning of life? And, how do we create meaning from our existence?

Before I finish this review let me leave you with another couple of screenwriting tips.

Before this story took its first MAJOR twist - which happens around page 40 - (I'm not counting the inciting incident which is finding the toe) this screenplay could do a few things much better.

EMPATHY

We only really like Elizabeth because we feel sorry for her. This is a form of passive empathy. Now, this kind of empathy works much better than NO empathy, but it's a distant weaker cousin to the form of ACTIVE POSITIVE empathy.

Seeing scene after scene of Elizabeth's sad and lonely life made me feel sorry for her, but it didn't really make me love her. Not enough to commit to going on a journey with her 90+ minutes.

If I were producing this screenplay, my first note to the writer would be to inject ample doses of ACTIVE POSITIVE empathy in the first 15 pages of the script. But don't leave your empathy beats to the first 15 pages. You need to have active positive empathy beats throughout your screenplay to keep your audience in love with your hero.

GOALESS SCENES

Avoid writing these at all costs. In the first 30 pages of this screenplay, several scenes don't have a scene objective.

A scene objective is a goal your hero is trying to achieve in that scene. It's essentially the reason WHY you're writing that scene. When you have a scene with no clear goal your audience will grow bored of the scene and soon start to check out.

SUMMARY

I read this script twice. The first time I wasn't engaged in the script until the first major twist on page 40, but from then on it really had me and kept me engaged until the end. 

The second time I read it I was still bored in this first 30 or so pages but I knew it was going to get much better so I was okay with sitting through the boring first act. This became an obvious piece of advice to share with you. Don't give your first-time readers any reason to check out from the story early. Keep them engaged by keeping your hero active with clearly defined goals and make sure we love them by injecting active positive empathy beats - these are situations where the hero ACTIVELY does something GOOD for another person/entity, other than themselves. We love altruistic, compassionate characters and will stick with them until the end of their journey. 

If you'd like to read The Toe for educational purposes, send me a private email.