Friday, 15 January 2016

DAY 2 - Thriller - Horror

Logline:​ The story of a Halloween Party that goes very, very wrong for one of its Cinderella-like attendees.

WRITERS: John Rocco & Jenna Wright

SCRIPT BIO: Placed number 11 on the 2015 blood list. 

INITIAL REACTION:

This was an interesting one. As I read, it was very easy to visualise the scenes, to see this as a MOVIE, not just a screenplay. 

Some writers are able to paint pictures with words effectively, these two are part of that small group. Many writers are very capable of putting many words down on the page, but those words very rarely conjure any sort of clear image. Often these hundreds of words amount only to a vaguely opaque understanding of what it is the writer wants to convey.

So we're off to a good start with this script. There was something about it that felt like a MOVIE not a film. Immediately you could imagine the poster, the trailer, what the characters would look like. Even the production style. 

But where this script falls down is the story. It starts well, and proceeds with strength, but there comes a time when you find yourself guessing the ending. There seemed to be only one of two, maybe three possible outcomes. 

When you're halfway through a script and you're pretty sure you know precisely how it's going to end - then it more or less does end that way, all the air is let out of the story. 

Predictability is a huge problem these days. Audiences are becoming more and more film savvy, even when you throw a twist ending at them, often audiences will have seen it coming. 

I recall going into Shutter Island with a friend and he said (spoiler***), 'I hope he's not searching for himself.' That was the logical twist to that film - and lo-and-behold that was the twist. 

That storyline was 10 years too late. It worked really well in Fight Club, which came out 10 years earlier, but to a 2009 audience, it was old hat. 

Let's get into it... 

STORY:

(Spoilers***)

Lizzy is 21 and studying her ass off to get into her dream job of working at John Hopkins hospital - the most prestigious hospital there is. 

She tutors Thomas, whose father just happens to be the son to Phillip Allen, an uber billionaire with thumbs in many tasty pies. 

The opening hook scene is great. Lizzy tutors Thomas in the library, (that his father gifted the university). As they study, the entire room is attacked by ghoulish lepers. People are heinously slaughtered left right and centre. 

Just when Lizzy thinks her number is up - Thomas breaks out laughing - and everyone that had been killed comes back to life, smiling and laughing.

The entire thing had been a real life prank. Thomas calls it an 'interactive experience.'

Thomas then invites Lizzy to his 'closed gate' halloween party. She declines, but when Thomas bribes her, saying he can get her guaranteed entry to John Hopkins by pulling some strings, she's in. 

Only problem, is, Lizzy was supposed to work at the lab analysing blood samples with her sister Erin that night. She was also supposed to work at the haunted house somewhere with her sister and her mother (who we never meet for some reason).

Ultimately it proves too much of a career advancing opportunity for Lizzy to pass up. So she calls someone in to cover her lab shift, and tells Erin she won't be at the haunted house that night, she has some high fliers to rub shoulders with. 

Lizzy takes her two best friends along to Thomas' huge mansion. As soon as they arrive the carnage begins. 

For a good while there are some seriously effective halloween treats and spectacles. These events so well executed we're not sure if they're real or not. 

During the festivities, we learn from Lizzy that her father died unnecessarily. He cut his hand, went to hospital, but then the infection over took him and he died two days later. Sepsis, I'm guessing. 

The festivities soon get out of hand. Everything goes to shit at the mansion. A whole pile of uninvited 'infected' people  storm the mansion slaying people.

Only this time it's for real. 

There's a news broadcast, saying that the entire town has been shut down, quarantined. There really is a zombie break out. 

Then after a good while of this harrowing terror, it turns out that it was all faked. 

Thomas had taken things too far. Everyone seems to think this was really cool, but not Lizzy. She's pissed. Like super pissed.

She storms off, angry with herself that she let this guy sway her from her studies and normal life with the chance of an easy entry into John Hopkins hospital.

ONLY TO FIND.... that when she gets out, there is a REAL zombie pandemic going on.

Duh, duh, duuuuuuh!

In a really weak explanation, her sister says that she accidentally created this killer virus. 

ERIN:"I reanimated the virus Phillip Allen was testing for a vaccine. He needed to pay for dad. Lose everything. It must have mutated... I didn’t want to hurt anyone ."

And there it is. The bullet hole that killed the script. This explanation could not have been weaker if they'd gotten 3 year old to write it. 

"It must have mutated, I didn't want to hurt anyone." - What a zinger.

Sigh.

Let's break this down...

CONCEPT:

Damn cool concept. A billionaire that takes halloween pranks too far. Love it, it's an idea you can easily visualise. Lends itself to great characters, great conflict, great everything... 

Execution... not so great. 

This script is a series of awesome scenes strung together, that could add up to make an incredible film but it felt like the writers didn't know where they were going.

It's like they got to the end of the film and said, 'shit, now we have to make this all make sense.' So they went with the easiest, cheapest option. 

CONCEPT RATING 7/10

CONCEPT TIP: Good concepts are film gold. When you've got a great idea, don't run with the first execution of that idea you come up with. Make sure you really think through the best way to realise the idea, to bring it to life. 

Some more time spent outlining could have made this script a winner.

FORM

Form was so-so here. The writing was confident, fast and fun.  But there was an overuse of explanations marks! And interrobangs?! Spelling was pretty good as was syntax. But they also over used ellipsis... They also over used bold. 

FORM RATING: 6/10

FORM TIP: Never use bold. Ever. Keep exclamations and interrobangs down to a minimum. And try not to use ellipsis in dialogue. They're fine in the description if serving a purpose. 

STRUCTURE:

I'm going to lean on Lizzy's flaw for structure in this script. What was her flaw? Too be honest, I couldn't really see one. I think the writers thought that having Lizzy shirk her obligations at the Lab and the haunted house was a flaw - i.e lack of responsibility. But Lizzy has a great reason to shirk her 'obligations' - being the chance to get a guaranteed admission to her dream job. 

Her sister and her mother should encourage her to go and do the networking that would pay huge dividends for her career.

So there's no real flaw here. 

That means that structure is going to be out. 

And it was. This film had a clear opening and ordinary world. A pretty clear second act turn. 

Most people can get that right in a screenplay. Even if it's their first time writing. 

It's the second act that's the problem for most writers. And that was the case here. The second act felt like a bunch of (admittedly really cool) scenes strung together with no real sense of structure. 

I don't think there is a third act. There is no shadow or antagonist in this film.

Typically the third act is where the hero overcomes the shadow or the villain or the antagonist (what ever you want to call them). 

But with no villain to fight against - there's no third act. 

We do meet a real life villain - finally - in the closing few pages. These REALLY REAL 'infected zombie killers' that her sister 'accidentally' created - but then we finish the film abruptly with one of the zombie attacking Lizzy. 

So, yeah, structure was not on point in this one. 

STRUCTURE RATING 4/10

STRUCTURE TIP: Learn the rules before you break them. I'm all for breaking screen writing rules. Breaking the rules gives us memorable, unexpected moments. But always know WHY you're breaking them. 

CHARACTERS: 

Characters here were so-so. Lizzy was fun and easy to spend time with. There were enough empathy beats thrown in for us to like her. Thomas was nice enough as well. He genuinely felt like a gentleman all the way through. Even after we learned he'd been 'pranking' his guests in a horrific way, we kind of like him. And the fact that EVERYONE at the party thought his prank was awesome (except for Lizzy) means we like him even more. 

I think that was the major problem for this script. All these characters were too vanilla. They were all really 'nice'. There was no real agitator. 

Also, there was no villain. 

That's a major screenwriting mistake. With no villain, there's no one for the hero to overcome.  Without that you don't really have conflict.

Sure there was the 'prank' - there was conflict there - but in the back of your mind you're sure that this was a prank - and then it is.

CHARACTER RATING 5/10

CHARACTER TIP: Drama is conflict. To that end when you have characters that like each other hanging out in a scene there's no conflict. No conflict = boring.

Make sure ALL your characters are in conflict. 

DIALOGUE:

Dialogue was okay here. A few on the nose moments,. Definitely no dialogue that had subtext either.

DIAOGUE RATING: 5/10

DIALOGUE TIP: Try not to write on the nose dialogue. It's fine to put on the nose holding dialogue down in your first draft. But later on, when you have your structure in place, go through and do a dialogue pass. Change all that on the nose dialogue to nuanced, suggestive dialogue. Remember, people don't say, they infer. 

VOICE:

Great voice here. The writers'  ability to paint pictures with words was wonderful. A lot of really cool moments that stood out after the script was over.

VOICE RATING: 7/10

VOICE TIP: Write in picture-words. Rather than describing someone as short and rotund, describe them as a fire-plug. We all know what a fire-plug looks like. It brings to mind a picture. 

PRODUCTION:

Limited location. Good.

Special effects galore: Not so good. 

Small main cast, but an ancillary cast of hundreds. Not so good.

If you had a really savvy producer you could get this in a can for 5 mill.

But most I imagine would go over budget and this would end up being a 10 mill piece. 

SUMMARY

Really fun ride, that unfortunately paints itself into a corner that it doesn't get out of. 

Worth the read just for the thrill of the ride though. Just don't expect too much from the ending. 

OVERALL RATING 6/10