Wednesday, 3 February 2016


LOGLINE: A young boy tries to save his mother from terminal cancer by seeking out the town’s bogeyman, The Water Man, who is fabled to have conquered death.

WRITER: Emma Needell

SCRIPT BIO: 18 votes on the 2015 black list.


GUNNER is a ten year old boy. He lives in a small town in Montana. His mother, Mary, who is his world, is dying of cancer. She's not far from death. Gunner doesn't get along with his father Amos. In fact the only thing that unites father and son is Mary.

When she dies, who knows what will become of the two males of the family.

Mary has kept her cancer secret from Gunner. He knew she was ill in some way, but he didn't know she was on the verge of death. So when he inadvertently finds out that she is dying, he's justifiably scared, for Mary and himself. 

Gunner can't accept that his mother will die. He has to do something to help her. But what can he do more than the doctors?

Enter The Waterman. A folklore fable about a man that drowned in a flash flood, only to rise from the dead.

That sounds just like what Gunner needs. But how to find this Waterman?

Enter Joseph, a fifteen year old kid with  a cut on his face, allegedly put there by the infamous Waterman. 

Gunner steals his dad's rifle and about 80 dollars, and hires Joseph to take him into the woods to find this Waterman.

Right off the bat we're sure that this Joseph is lying to Gunner in order to swindle him out of his money. But Gunner is too desperate and naive to see through Joseph's deception.

Together they venture out into the wilderness in search of the Waterman, unaware that a huge forrest fire rages out there in the very same woods. 

Amos learns that Gunner has run off into the woods, and mounts his own search and rescue mission.

The question becomes, will Gunner find the Waterman, will Amos save Gunner from the fire and the wilderness, and how will this journey change them?


I ended up enjoying this far more than I thought I would from the logline. I'm always wary of a story where one of the main characters are dying of cancer. 

I don't think I've ever seen a good cancer based story. Maybe I have, it's just that nothing springs to mind. 50/50 was a pretty bad film.

There's something too obvious about forcing cancer on a character in a film. It kind of feels like the writer is cheating. Like they're going straight for your heart strings and pulling hard. 

But with that element aside, the rest of this script executes pretty well. 

I don't know if I'd want to see this film. I think its story is more execution dependant than other storylines. This is usually the case with dramas. The story is not something that really explodes off the page, so for it to do well it needs good direction and great actors. 

For example, take the film SAW. The acting was terrible. The direction was so-so - but it didn't matter. The CONCEPT was incredible and brilliantly executed and the numbers at the box office reflect that.

Some aspects of this script really didn't work for me. The convenience of the raging bush fire right when these two boys are going out into the wilderness. It felt a little bit added for the sake of story. 

A fix would be to insert the fire earlier. Start the story with the fire. Perhaps even set the story around a REAL bush fire that really happened. And even set it back a few years - in the eighties.

Also, Joseph is selling his story about the Waterman for $1 a hit in a tent. 

Have you ever heard of anything like that happening in present day society? I'm assuming this script is set in present day. It doesn't say otherwise. 

Can you imagine ten year old kids parting with $1 in a tent with a guy with a cut in his face to tell them a story?

I just don't see kids of today doing this. I imagine this scene would play out weakly on screen - it'd be one of those film moments that only happen on screen, never in real life. 

Another problem here is the predictability of the story. Right from the start we se conflict between Amos and Gunner - but there's no real reason for the conflict. 

You can immediately see this is going to be the arc of the story. 

Amos's arc will be to learn to accept his son for who he is. Gunner's arc is to accept his mother's death as inevitable, unstoppable, and to get over that.

I don't know - you can just see these arcs as soon as you get the story setup. I was never at any stage unsure where the story was going to go, and I was right, it went exactly where I thought it would. 

When the reader is one step ahead of your story it makes for slow reading.

All that said, I did still walk away from this story having enjoyed it somewhat. It didn't blow my hat off, but it's worth the read. 


A child must come to terms with his mother's inevitable death from cancer. That's a pretty dull concept. Inserting the angle of The Waterman here was a wise move. It added a Stand By Me supernatural angle which freshened things up.


CONCEPT TIP: If the basis of your concept has already been told a hundred times, be sure to find that fresh angle that will pump some life blood into your story. 


This script was well written. The formatting was great. No obvious errors at all.


FORM TIP: Take a read of this script if you want to see good form. It's very cleanly written.


Structure was pretty good here. It nailed beats well. The second act didn't drag, as can happen when you have an unstructured screenplay, like yesterday's piece the PALE BLUE DOT.

One thing I would note here is that Gunner doesn't seem to have a flaw. He has a problem, in that he can't accept his mother's death, but I wouldn't say that's necessarily a flaw. Given the circumstances, I think Gunner's reaction to learning his mother is dying of cancer is very real and natural. 

Everyone goes through denial as the first stage of grief. To that end, I don't think it's really a flaw. It's great to give Gunner this problem, but it would be better if he had a deeper inner flaw as well. 

One of the major problems with the structure here is the predicability of the story. I was always one step ahead of the storyline. 


STRUCTURE TIP: Be careful of following the Hero's Journey structure beat for beat. When you do this the story can become to easily predictable. Throw yourself and the reader a curveball every now and then. It will remove that predictability factor and spice up your script.


Characters were well drawn here. One negative is that they were a little too well drawn. They all felt like they were verging on stereotypes. 

Loving mother dying of cancer. Father that just can't connect with his kid.

Kid that's artistic and sensitive has trouble fitting in.

All verging on cliche.


CHARACTER TIP: Cliched and stereotyped characters are a great place to start. But use these tropes as starting blocks of clay and rework them into unique personalities.  Add elements to your characters that you wouldn't expect and it will add flavor to their personalities.


Dialogue worked fine here, but at no point did it pop off the page. Sometimes that's a good thing, sometimes it's bad. I feel the dialogue is one area of this screenplay that could use some amping up. 

Too often we finish watching a film and think, well that was okay, nothing special, but at least it wasn't bad.

That's not what you want to be aiming for as a writer. You want to aim for sensational. One way to get people to sit up and pay attention to your work is when your character's dialogue really zings. 


DIALOGUE TIP: When you've nailed your structure, do a dialogue pass. Focus on the way your characters speak. Identify blocks of dialogue that you feel are only so-so, and re write them until they pop.


The voice was nice here, but again, not something that sprang off the page. The story is well told, but it's something that I'm sure I will forget about in the next few weeks. 


VOICE TIP: Just like the dialogue pass, do a voice pass. When you have your screenplay as close to finished as you want. Do a pass focusing on the sprite in your writing. See if you can tell the same story but in a more vibrant way. 


This would be quite expensive for a drama. 

Multiple locations.

Require good actors and director. 

I'd say this would come in at around the 20 mill mark.

Which would make it difficult to turn a profit on. 

I wouldn't put money down on this. 

It'd be a hard sell. 

Just thinking about how to market this. Is is horror? Not really. Is it a drama, yes, but with a slight horror angle. 

I feel this script would actually do better if it was a straight horror. It's got all the right elements. If the writer and the producers were to lean closer to the horror end of the spectrum, this script could be really powerful. 


Well written, good story. It does well across the board, but it doesn't excel anywhere that counts. To that end, it's a good script, but just not exceptional. And that's what you need to be if you want to make a dent in the world of film.