Tuesday, 12 January 2016

THE SHAVE - CRIME THRILLER

LONGLINE: A​ dirty cop, exonerated in the murder of a high school honor student, visits the boy’s father at his barbershop, and while receiving a straight razor shave listens to him recount the story of his son’s life.

WRITERS: Tom White & Miles Hubley

SCRIPT BIO: Finished in the middle of the 2015 blood list. 

INITIAL REACTION:

Look at that longline. "Listens to him recount the story of his son's life." There's no suggestion of a goal, no stakes, no urgency. 

This was a mixed read. For 15 pages I had no real idea what was going on. There was very little clarity. Then I realised that was what the writer's were going for. They're essentially writing a twist on the Usual Suspects. 

This was a messy read, but there is a decent story in there. It's not perfect by any standard, but there is definitely more going on that in your average script.

Once I'd finished the script I had a 70% grasp of what was going on. I felt it needed another read or two to fully understand the script. 

I think that's one of this screenplays major stumbling blocks. Sure, you want to create a layered, intelligent script, but you need that story to be easily conveyed, to be easily understood. 

As a writer you become so familiar with your work and you know your story so well you can often forget that others are coming to this without even the faintest idea of what to expect from the story. 

For example, I wasn't really sure who the Hero was until about 20 pages in. I'm sure the writers know from the get go who their main character is, but it takes too long for it to become apparent to the reader.

Let's get into it...

THE STORY:

We open on Virgil - a cop - killing Dougie - a young African-American honors student. Virgil is then pretty quickly exonerated, his killing was justified, in the line of duty. 

Virgil then goes to the barber shop where Dougie's father - George - works. Virgil plonks himself down in a chair and demands an old school wet shave as George recounts his son's life to him. 

We then go into the story-proper via flash back. Pretty much the entire film is told in flash back. As that story unfolds we come to learn that what we thought was a straight forward dirty cop killing an innocent black man, was in fact the antithesis thereof. 

This film relies on its twist, so I'll try not to give too much of it away here. 

Like I said, I think I'd need to go back and re-read this piece to fully understand it. 

It's confusing and convoluted. The back-bone of the story plays on your preconceptions. Prejudices that automatically spring to mind when we look at a scenario or situation. 

Ultimately it sets out to prove our preconceived convictions wrong, but it doesn't really work. 

Let's look at why... 

CONCEPT:

I'm not sure the concept here is very strong at all. To break this concept down properly, I'm going to have to get into spoilers. ***

The concept here is -- two war vet buddies conspire to fake the death of one of their sons who is deep into the drug trade. 

I now understand why the logline is so ambitious. If they told you what the story is really about, there'd be no surprise ending. You'd know the twist, you'd see it coming. 

The concept here relies on lying to the audience. The first time we see George and Virgil come together in the barber shop we're led to believe that this is the first time these two have ever met. But really they're closer than brothers. 

The concept here is a straight forward drama. A man's son gets in deep in the drug trade, relies on his war vet best friend who happens to be a cop to help his son fake his death. 

Looking at the concept like that this is not terribly interesting. It's a weak concept. The new angle the writer's have injected here is the framing of the story. The way they've chosen to release the facts to the audience. 

If this story were told in a more normal, linear fashion it would be dull as hell. Even if the writing was stellar - and the characters written perfectly, the concept here would only ever be - another drama. 

So while the concept is weak in its own right, the delivery method is what saves this script. I'm just not sure that delivery method is as well refined as it could be. 

CONCEPT RATING 6/10

CONCEPT TIP: If your base concept is nothing new, look at telling that old story in a new way. The Shave's dull concept is saved by a unique form of delivery.

FORM:

Writing here was dense. There was a hell of a lot of over writing. This led to my confusion. The writers could have done a fine edit here and removed 3 out of every 10 words. 

If they'd done that the script would have told the same story but with almost at third less words. I believe the story could've been conveyed far better that way. 

The first words written after the first slugline are "Pay close attention."

Screenplays should be so well written and formatted that the story is easily understood. it's not the readers' job to sift through dense prose and unnecessary descriptions searching for the story. 

It should be written cleanly, clearly. There shouldn't be any sifting for the reader to do. 

FORM RATING: 5/10

FORM TIP: Readers read a hell of a lot of screenplays. 3, 4, 5, I've heard of readers getting through 10 a day. When a reader is reading that many screenplays, they're not taking their time, dwelling on the subtext of every line. They're at best, speed reading, and always looking for an opportunity to check out of the script and skim read to the end.

To that end, keep your script lean and mean. Think of the end reader. Think of what they want to see on the page. It doesn't mean you have to change your story. It just means you have to change the way you format your story on the page, how many words you use to tell it.

STRUCTURE:

Structure here was all over the place. We were constantly jumping back and forth in time. I couldn't identify any sort of clearly defined flaw in the hero, so the Hero's Journey structure wasn't anywhere to be seen here.

The story was engaging, for the most part. The engine to this story was mystery. Also the question, will George slit Virgil's throat? Both those elements kept us engaged.

For a large part there was a lack of empathy for any of the characters other than George. We finally learn later on that what Virgil was doing was incredibly empathetic, but because of the 'lie to the audience' delivery method of the story, we weren't privy to how benevolent Virgil is until the end.

Consequently we're following Virgil and Dougie's story in flash back, but we don't like either of them. They're both assholes. 

There also seemed to be several scenes that the writer's simply thought would make for a cool scene, rather than something that moved the story forward. 

STRUCTURE RATING 5/10

STRUCTURE TIP: Keep your story focused. Even if you're delivery method is unorthodox , think about why you're writing each scene. Here's a great litmus test ... If you can take a scene out of your script and the story still makes sense without it, you don't need that scene.

Only write scenes that are pertinent and move the story forward.

CHARACTERS:

The three main characters here felt well created. They had three dimensionality to them, which bore out in their dialogue. 

The writer's had a good understanding of the characters back stories and consequently knew how each would react in any given circumstance. 

For all that, this script had an over use of bit players. I lost count at 75 billion smaller parts. Well, almost, but it felt like on almost every other page there was a new character introduced that never appeared again, or would disappear for vast swathes of the script. 

CHARACTERS RATING: Main characters - 7/10 - bit players 3/10 

CHARACTERS TIP: Keep your minor role character count down. Keep the story focused. When you have a plethora of smaller players it gets confusing quickly. 

Yesterday's script had a core cast of 6. While that seems like a lot of main characters, we met those 6 at the start and spent the whole script with them. 

You really should't be introducing characters on page 70. The Shave introduced new characters every other page.

DIALOGUE:

Dialogue here was way better than normal. The writers put a lot of effort into giving the characters unique voices, and giving them deeper than surface level things to say.

But for all that, it often felt like the dialogue here was written. 

How many people do you know that can quote a 20 line poem word for word, that just happens to be a perfect analogy for what you and a friend are going through in that particular moment in life. 

It didn't feel real. 

DIALOGUE RATING: 6/10

DIALOGUE TIP: There's a fine line between on the nose dialogue and over written deep brooding dialogue. You need to find that coveted grey area that lies safely between these two extremes. 

You want your characters to have profound things to say, but for it to feel like it was natural, that there was nothing else your character could have said in that moment.

VOICE:

The writers certainly have a voice here. Probably one of the strongest voices I've read this year so far. The problem for me is that that voice didn't gel with me. 

I'm sure there's plenty of others out there that will enjoy this writing style, but for me it was unnecessarily complicated. 

VOICE RATING: 5/10

VOICE TIP: It's good to have a strong voice, but clarity trumps complexity every time. See if you can trim back your script and make it leaner without compromising your voice. 

I'm sure these writer's could have told the same story in far less words, without losing their voice.

PRODUCTION:

Small main cast. And while the story is grounded in a barber shop - there are multiple locations. 

No VFX. Which is good. But with the nature of the action elements and the multitude of locations I'd say this script couldn't be shot on much less than 10 mill.

If you want decent talent attached you should add another 5 mill for that. 

So really, this would be a 15 mill piece. 

And because the genre doesn't sell well, this film would be hard pressed to see a return on that 15 mill. 

This script isn't a wise investment. No sir.

SUMMARY

Lack of clarity and the sheer amount of bullet holes in this script left me wanting more. There is a solid back bone of a concept, and the new delivery method is great, but I don't feel it's enough to save this script as it stands.

OVERALL RATING: 5.5/10