Sunday, 24 January 2016

DREAMLAND - DRAMA

LOGLINE: With his family farm on the precipice of foreclosure, fifteen year old Eugene Evans is determined to capture a fugitive bank robber and collect the bounty on her head. Against all odds, he beats out the FBI and the local police to capture her, only to discover that all may not be what it seems.

WRITER: Nicolas Zwart

SCRIPT BIO: 18 votes on the 2015 black list.

INITIAL REACTION:

Five things that were done wrong sprang to mind as I read this. Two or three things sprang to mind that were executed exceptionally well.

A lot can be understood about a screenplay from it's logline. A lot can be understood about the writer from the logline. 

The logline here is over written, this script is waaaay over written.

I enjoyed this script a lot more than I thought I would going in. Before I read this script I opened two more black list scripts and stopped reading after the first page. One thing that I'm noticing is the page count for black list scripts is almost always 120 pages or more.

As soon as I see that page count I KNOW that the writer has over written the story. 

While there is a beautiful story here, there's far too much padding to wade through. I wish writers would learn to edit. Learn to trim back their scripts. That's one of the beauties of screenwriting - an entire story told in less than 20 000 words. 

Aim for 200 words a page and a 100 page count. So many writers cram 250+ words into 120 pages. 

My first tip for the day - take a sentence, any sentence in your script - count the words. Then rewrite that sentence to have 10-15% less words. You can do it. And odds are the sentence will get EXACTLY the same idea across, and it will be far less clunky than the previous, fatter, sentence.

STORY:

This is the coming of age story of one EUGENE. He narrates his story from the get go, giving us a detailed account of his early childhood up until he is 15 years old. 

His father was once a loving, caring man, but he found 'alcohol' as many find 'God', and was soon beating his wife and running out on her. 

A local policeman, GEORGE came to the rescue, married Eugene's mother and together they had a daughter called PHEOBE. 

Everything was going gangbusters, until the great depression hit. George's wages were cut in half and Eugene's mother took shifts waitressing, but even that wasn't enough to feed the family and make mortgage payments. 

They were on the verge of losing the family home to the bank when a notorious killer called ALLISON, who is wanted by the FBI turns up in their barn with a bullet would to the leg.

Eugene discovers her and Allison quickly turns on the charm, sweet talking Eugene into helping her. 

While dubious at first, Eugene quickly comes around, and agrees to help nurse her back to health, then get her to Mexico.

Eugene steals his best friend's family truck and they high tail it out of dodge, next destination Mexico. 

But George gets wind and sets out with a posse of policeman hell bent on collecting the $10,000 reward on Alison's head.

The question becomes, will Eugene come to his senses and realise he's being used by Allison before it's too late. 

CONCEPT:

The concept here is pretty simple. It's a coming of age story. An innocent youth falls in love with and helps a fugitive to evade the law. 

There's nothing terribly high concept about that idea. There's no unique hook. It's fine to have a plain, run of the mill idea as your concept, so long as you deliver it in a fresh and new way. Alas the delivery of his story is as straight forward and predictable as they come. 

There's not one moment in the execution of the story where I was surprised by a turn of events. Every beat was telegraphed, everything that happened I saw coming a mile off.

The concept here is purely execution dependant, without stellar cast and director/producers attached, this film would fail.

CONCEPT RATING: 5/10

CONCEPT TIP: If you're hell bent on writing a character driven, coming of age story, try to find a unique way to tell it. If your delivery is as standard as the idea then odds are it's not going to get many reads. 

The reason this script did so well on the black list is the writing itself. 

FORM:

While this piece was over written, the writing here is exceptionally good. This read clean and fast. There is a confidence to the prose. I believe this is why it's garnered such a great response from those who voted for it.

It has the Stand By Me pedigree. 

There is no use of BOLD. No underlining in dialogue. CAPS are used correctly and the underlining in the descriptions are kept to a minimum. 

If this script were 20 pages shorter - and it could have been - it would have had almost perfect form. 

One major mistake here was the writing of things that we can't see on the screen. Many times the writer wrote something that the character was feeling, or thinking. 

Unless you can see it on the screen, don't write it on the page.

FORM RATING 8/10

FORM TIP: If your character is feeling an emotion, don't write, 'Jake feels sad.' SHOW us how Jake feels sad. Manifest the characters emotions in actions.

CHARACTER:

Characters were well formed here. They felt real. They didn't feel plastic or manufactured. What is it that makes a character feel real or not? The choices they make. Also the reactions of other characters to those choices. 

When a choice/action a character makes is something you could imagine that character doing in REAL LIFE, then they will feel real. When the characters that are affected by that choice/action react in a REALISTIC way, then the characters feel real.

It's when you, as the writer manufacture or force a decision/action upon the character for the sake of hitting a story beat that the character will come across as phoney. Likewise, when the character/s that are directly affected by that choice/action react in an unrealistic manner the characters feel fake. 

Example: I read a script recently that had an ugly fat billionaire flying in first class on a plane. After being about as obnoxious as you can imagine, he stated to an air hostess that he was going to fuck her in the toilet. To which she replied with a smile and a wink.

Think about that scenario in real life. What do you think would really happen? I sincerely doubt the stewardess would be flattered. She's be pissed and possibly claim sexual harassment. 

Because the reaction to the action wasn't real, the characters started to feel drawn, rather than real.

CHARACTER RATING 8/10

CHARACTER TIP: There's movie logic, then there's real world logic. Try not to write with movie logic in mind. Audiences aren't as easily fooled as they were even just 5 years ago. Apply real life standards to your character's decision making process and your characters will feel far more real.

DIALOGUE:

Dialogue here was fine. It didn't pop in any great way, but it was good. Okay, better than good. But not one character here really stood out from the rest. 

They all spoke as one. If you removed the character name from each piece of dialogue, you could maybe tell who was talking from what they were saying, but you couldn't tell who was talking by HOW they were talking. 

It's important to have a clear distinction in the way your characters talk. 

DIALOGUE RATING: 6.5/10

DIALOGUE TIP: Think about your friends and family. Everyone has their own way of speaking. Some are quiet and only say the really important things that come to mind. Others are verbose and say everything that comes to mind. Some have unique words that only they use. Decide on at least two unique speaking traits for everyone of your characters before you write their dialogue. 

VOICE:

There is a distinct voice here. While it is over written to hell, this script creates a 'feeling'. That's a rare thing for a script to do. Many screenplays you forget the minute you finish reading. 

The Stand By Me voice shines through here. 

VOICE RATING 9/10

VOICE TIP: Voice is the hardest thing to learn. Some think voice is a synonym for x-factor. Voice is part of x-factor, but not all of it. 

To learn how to develop a voice that is memorable, you have to be willing to take chances. The best way to do that is to surprise yourself. If you don't see a twist or turn coming in a screenplay, odds are neither will your reader. 

Remember, readers read hundreds of screenplays a year. They see all story types, all character types, all scenarios. If you can give them something they've read before, but then twist it in a way they haven't read - odds are they'll sit up and pay attention.

PRODUCTION:

Straight forward drama - positive.

Period piece - negative.

Core cast isn't too big - positive - ish.

Not too many ancillary players - positive.

Loads of locations - negative.

No VFX - positive.

Will need major talent to get it off the ground. Negative - in some ways.

Concept is low. A character driven story - negative. 

I wouldn't put money down on this.

It'll be a 20-30 mill film mainly due to the need for an A list cast and director. 

SUMMARY:

I want to touch on a couple of no-no's that this script does.

1) Don't have a character narrate what we're seeing on screen. You don't need for your narrator to say, 'Then johnny kissed her on the cheek' then we see Johnny kiss 'her' on the cheek. Use your narrator in a clever way. 

2) Don't have one character tell another character something that the audience already knows. Start the scene right after the first character has brought the second character up to speed on recent events. Start the scene on the second character's reaction to the news. 

3) Don't write what's not on screen. I know I mentioned this earlier, but I want to re-iterate. If it's not on the screen, don't put it on the page. 

4) Don't let your scenes run on too long. There were several scenes that could have been cut in half. Know WHY you're writing that scene. Once you've hit that beat - end the scene.

While this piece is over written and breaks quite a few rules, the prose is incredibly well written and elicits a powerful emotion. 

While I wouldn't recommend writing a character driven coming of age tale - Dreamland works in its own unique way. 

OVERALL RATING 7/10