Tuesday, 29 March 2016

THE BOY - HORROR - (Menear)

LOGLINE: (From IMDB) :  An american nanny is shocked that her new English family's boy is actually a life-sized doll. After she violates a list of strict rules, disturbing events make her believe the doll is really alive.

WRITER: Stacey Menear.

SRIPT BIO: Has just been made into the film The Boy (6.2 on IMDB).


GERTI EVANS (20s) has travelled to the remote English countryside to work as a nanny for the summer. She's to work here for 3 months being paid so much money she can 'start her life over' when she gets back to America.

She arrives at a HUGE estate miles away from everywhere. She conveniently has no cell coverage and there are no neighbors anywhere. 

The house itself is a fortress. The back of the house has windows that have been bricked up and the front windows are covered with bars. 

Gerti comes to meet the boy she will be looking after - and yes - he is a doll. A life sized doll. 

At first Gerti laughs at the absurdity of the situation - but when she sees that the parents of Brahms take this very seriously - she plays along. 

She's finally offered the job - (which is odd, as why would you travel all the way to England for a job that you hadn't secured in the first place?) and after a quick phone call home to her sister SANDY she decides that staying and earning money is the best thing to do. 

The parents of 'the boy' then leave and Gerti is left alone in this house with no one but Brahms the doll for company. 

Enter MALCOLM - a strapping young English lad who delivers food to the residence once a week. Malcolm is eccentric in his own weird way, but he's harmless and loveable. 

Gerti gets some inside information about the parents of the estate - supposedly there was a fire in the house some years earlier - and their son Brahms was killed - keeping the doll of Brahms is their way of dealing with their loss. 

Thing is - that fire happened over 20 years ago. The parents have been living like this for 20 years.

Left alone in the house - Gerti starts to experience strange happenings. Things of hers start going missing. The Brahms doll keeps moving. But Gerti never actually sees him move. 

These happenings continue to worsen until Gerti is convinced that the Brahms doll is real! 

I'll leave the story there as I don't want to get into spoilers. 


I can see why this film made money. 

It was shot on a $10m budget and made $58m. That's a solid return, even when you factor in P&A costs. 

It's a straight forward contained horror film with a slight twist. 

There's something very eerie about Brahms the doll - and how seriously the parents take looking after him. 

The script isn't perfect - there are some major bullet holes. 

Firstly - the no cell phone trope. Having lived in England for a decade myself, I know firsthand, there's almost nowhere in the UK that you can't get cell coverage. 

Secondly - why would a nanny travel from America to England for a job interview? Wouldn't you make sure that the job was secure before travelling all that way?

Gerti has no inner journey what so ever. There's nothing internally that Gerti is trying to overcome. She has no inner flaw. 

When a character has no inner flaw - the story becomes all external. And while external events can be interesting - it's emotions that we as an audience engage with. 


The concept here is pretty good. It's an idea we've all seen before, and thus can get our heads around - a young girl in a haunted house - but this time the haunting comes from a doll. 

All of that we've seen before. It's the nature of the setup behind the doll that is just unique enough to give this idea enough freshness to warrant the read/watch.

If the doll were just a regular child's doll that had a spirit attached to it - the concept would not have been original enough. 

But here, the doll is a substitute for a real child lost in a fire - and as crazy as that seems - I think there's a part in all of us that can empathize with this idea. 


CONCEPT TIP: Take a tried and tested trope and re-work it until you have just the right amount of freshness to the idea. 

When ideas are too grand and convoluted you alienate your audience. The Boy works because it's such a simple idea with a slightly fresh twist.


The form here was good. Not perfect. The script is well written. There are a lot of thick descriptive sentences which could use some breaking up. 

Also, the script comes in at 116 pages. This really should have been a 95 page script at the most. 


FORM TIP: Keep your sentences lean and clean. Don't overwrite. If your screenplay comes in over the 105 page mark it is overwritten. 

There's no real excuse to write over 105 pages. If you really try hard, all screenplays can be cut back to around 105 pages. 


As mentioned, Gerti doesn't have an inner flaw. With no inner flaw, the structure of the story becomes loosely guided by external events. 

It's the inner journey that gives your story structure. 

There's also no goal until late in the third act.

When a character is reacting to events that happen around her, that will only be interesting for a set period of time.

What focuses people's attention are goals, stakes and urgency. 

There was no goal here (until later on), no stakes, and no urgency. There was no ticking clock. 

If this story had managed to work in these three elements I believe it could have been one of the best horror films of the year. 

With all that said, Stacey does a good job of keeping the story moving. He uses the story driving element of mystery. 

Mystery will hold an audience's attention for quite some time. 

It's a shame, really, as had he used the mystery WITH the goal stakes and urgency, it would have really elevated the story. 


STRUCTURE TIP: Understand what it is that drives a story before you sit down to write. There are several ways that goal, stakes and urgency could have been worked into this story, but it's much easier to do so before you start writing.

Trying to go back over a script already written and inject goal, stakes and urgency is not such an easy task.


Gerti is an interesting character, she has a fascinating back story, but unfortunately she doesn't feel like she is developed enough. I LOVE that we find out that she has lost an unborn child herself. That makes her reaction to the situation all the more relatable. 

I wanted to know more about that. And I wanted to find out in ways that weren't just through an expositional phone call to her sister. 

It would have been great to SHOW Gerti mourning for the loss of her unborn child.

Dialogue was really just standard. You need to make sure that every aspect of your script zings.

When you have okay dialogue, it's not enough. You need to keep working on your dialogue until it's exceptional. 


CHARACTERS & DIALOGUE TIP: Don't settle for good. Always try to push the bar and write exceptional. 

Writing can get frustrating. You spend so long working on a project that you lose your objectivity. You can't see the forrest for the trees as the saying goes. 

When you get like this, step away from that particular script and start work on another script. Leave your first script for about 2 weeks - then come back to it. 

It can be tempting to send your script out for reads after you've finished the first draft. But that's not wise. Make sure you have truly worked on the script until you can no longer make it better without third party insight. THEN send it out for reads. 


Voice is okay here. Not as strong as it could be, but Stacey has a certain style that pulls you along. I only noticed one spelling mistake in the entire script.

Spelling mistakes detract from voice, just as much as overwriting and poor structure. 

If the characters and dialogue had been stronger, and Gerti had an inner flaw that would have helped with the structure and if the script had a goal, stakes and urgency, the voice of the script would have been much stronger. 

As it stands, the overall voice is good - but as we know - good isn't enough in the world of scripts.


This script has been made into a film.

As I said above, the budget was $10m and the box office was $58m. 

Without that knowledge I would have put money into this script.

The cast count if under 5 people. It's set entirely in one location, and it's genre so you don't need names to sell the movie.

If I were producing I would have addressed --

Lack of goal, stakes, urgency.
Poor character development.
Lacklustre dialogue.
Lack of inner flaw for Gerti.

I would have amped up Gerti's back story and got rid of the no cell phone coverage trope and the illogical notion that Gerti would travel to England for a job interview. 


Good concept executed in a fair manner. 

Could have been better - but the producers made money so what do they care!


Tuesday, 22 March 2016


LOGLINE: When parents reunite with their grown children for a road trip to hike the Grand Canyon, the family conflicts on the way prove far more gruelling than the twenty mile hike.

WRITER: Alex Koplow

SCRIPT BIO: 6 votes on the 2015 black list.


ERIC DAVIDSON is a 30 year old illustrator. He's a talented artist. Presently he works for the biggest children's wildlife animation on TV called Foxfield Forrest. 

Alas, Eric is not an illustrator on the show, in fact, 6 years ago he started with the TV program as an intern, and now he's just been made head of online media marketing - something he really doesn't want to do.

That afternoon - Eric has a meltdown - he starts tweeting malicious posts from the official Foxfield Forrest twitter account - and he's soon fired.

6 weeks later Eric is still unemployed, supposedly suffering from artists' block. He's drawing some fantastic illustrations, he's just not putting himself out there. Also he's a hypochondriac. He constantly searches the internet for the symptoms of rare diseases in the hope that he has one.

Eric lives with his long term girlfriend - Amy. She's also in her 30s - but Amy is the antithesis of Eric. She has her life together. She's a lawyer earning top-dollar. She's constantly urging Eric to put his art out there, but Eric just isn't ready for rejection. 

Eric and Amy are soon to be married. 

Eric purposefully ignores his parents - MARY and DONALD. Despite having a family trek planned together. They're going to do the Grand Canyon trek as a one day walk - something that park officials specifically advise against. The trek should be done in at least 2 days as it is a 20 mile round journey. 

Eric and Amy join Mary, Donald and Eric's sister - Tessa and her fiancĂ© Kevin - and set off on the road together heading toward the Grand Canyon.

A day into the trip, Mark discovers that her husband - Donald - has been having an affair. 

Any normal family would abort the trip and deal with this problem - but no - they decide to continue on and do the trip - which is just odd.

From here on there is a serious amount of tension between everyone on the trip. 

The 'family' go and stay with an Aunt - here they spend several pages just talking about life.

Then they go to the Grand Canyon and set off. Well, Donald, Tessa, Eric and Kevin do. Amy and Mary stay behind. 

During the hike, Donald sprains his ankle - and Eric has to rush off to get help for him. Which he does. 

Meanwhile - Amy and Mary have been engaged in deep philosophical chats about relationships which gets Amy thinking, shakes up her thoughts on marrying Eric.

Eric and Mary manage to get Donald out of the Grand Canyon and to a hospital where he's fine. 

And that's about it.


There is a lot of good in this script - but there is more bad than good.

This is in the vein of Little Miss Sunshine - but where LMS had exceptionally well drawn characters, this has mediocre characters. Where LMS had incredible dialogue, this has okay dialogue. Where LMS had a goal and some sort of stakes - there is no real goal here - not one that actually matters. 

This script is a straight forward family drama. Its main problem is that nothing really happens. Sure there's bickering between family members, but that's not enough to drive a story. 

If the main engine of your story is 'squabbling family' your story is in trouble from the start.


Mildly dysfunctional family goes on family trip to grand Canyon but it's discovered the father was cheating.

That's it. That's the concept right there. 

This is not something that screams out to be made into a film. This is not a concept that when people hear about it - will make them rush to the cinemas to see. 



Don't write a family drama. If you're starting out as a screen writer - this is the hardest genre to excel in. 

Family dramas haven't made money in a very long time. Look at the movies that are making money at the box office - how many family dramas have you seen in the last ten years? Less than 2? How many actually made money? 

I can't even recall a straight forward family drama that made money since American Beauty. But even in American Beauty there's a murder. There's something for us to hang our hats on. Here, in Canyon, we have a sprained ankle. In American Beauty - we learn in the opening scene that a murder will take place. Here in Canyon, we have to wait until page 80 for an unlikeable character to sprain his ankle.



Form isn't too bad here. The writing isn't as smooth as it could be. It took me about 10 pages to get into the writer's 'style'. 

It's also written more as TV than as a film. TV scripts are 90 dialogue. This script is about that. 

Otherwise this script is well formatted. Locations are easy to follow, there's no use of underlining, bold, or italics. 

It comes in at 109 pages - but could easily come in at 90 pages. 


FORM TIP: Keep your scenes lean. In this script there were a lot of scenes where information we'd learned in the previous scene was explained to a new character in the next scene. Never do this. Never have one character explain to another what the audience already knows. 


Structure here is waaaaay off. 

Eric's main flaw is that he doesn't want to put himself out there. How does going on a trip to the Grand Canyon test that flaw? The answer is - it doesn't. 

If he was really against the trip and really didn't want to go - then by being forced to go on the journey it awakens something within him - and when he gets back from the trip he is motivated and focused to put himself out there - then yes - it could have worked. But that's not what happens. In fact Eric doesn't change throughout the script. The person that changes is Amy. 

This is a major problem with this script - who's story is it? We start with Eric - we spend most of our time with Eric - but the three characters that experience change are Donald, Amy and Mary. 

There is no inciting incident. 

It is discovered on page 35 that Donald has been cheating on Mary.

This needed to happen on page 12 by the latest. But it's still not an inciting incident.

Inciting indents TEST THE HERO'S FLAW. This does not test Eric's flaw. If indeed this is Eric's film?

That's another major problem with this script. Ultimately, this story is either Mary's or Amy's not Eric's. 

They are the two people in this film that are affected by the events the most. 

I think, this could be a really interesting script if we'd spent our entire time with Mary, if the film has been told from her POV. She is the person that the inciting incident happens to. It is her world that is shaken up. Not Eric's. 

Also, Empathy is a problem in this script.

At no point do we like Eric. There's no real active empathy for him. We feel more for Mary than we do for Eric. 

There's a small amount of passive empathy for Eric at the start - in that - he doesn't get the promotion he wants - but Eric, I'm sorry buddy - that's just called life - and what you don't do is throw a hissy fit and start tweeting really inappropriate things to 100's of thousands of kids.

I think the writer thought this was going to be edgy - it's not - it's negative empathy. I don't like people who throw tantrums, I like people who are proactive about changing their lives. 


STRUCTURE TIP: This is often a problem with ensemble films - the writer doesn't know whose story it should be. If you have a multi-protagonist script under way - and you're having trouble with it - stop and ask yourself - honestly - who's story is it? 

Often when we start a script he have a main character in mind - but as we write, the story evolves in a different direction - and smaller characters become more prominent. Ask yourself - if your script would be better told from one of the other character's POV's. 

This script would be much better served if it were Mary's story. 


Characters and dialogue were okay here. But when you're writing a story that basically doesn't actually have a story - you need to make sure your characters and dialogue are 11/10's. 

Here, they are not. 

Ever character has exactly the same voice.


Mary seems to have the most distinct voice and personality - another reason to make this her film. 

And as far as other characters go - they're all tropes -- 

The father who wants the son to follow in his footsteps - never seen that character before.

The tension in the relationship because one is financially better off than the other - never seen that before.

The father who was cheating on the mom - never seen that before.

The other sibling who has the perfect relationship - never seen that before. 

The family vacation where something happens and the family is forced to examine itself - never seen that before.


Every choice here was the first choice. Every choice here was a trope we've seen countless times before. 

Even Eric's morbid fascination with hypochondria feels forced - like the writer was trying to add something quirky to his character. 

Eric's obsession with illnesses did not arise naturally from the storyline - it was hammed in by the writer to give him a sense of depth I guess - but it doesn't feel real.


CHARACTERS & DIALOGUE TIP: Don't go the obvious route. This is another reason why Little Miss Sunshine worked. It had characters we had never seen before. I had never seen a teenage mute before. I had never seen a 5 year old beauty queen. The grand father was unique - even the mother - the father - all the decisions were well thought through.  Here, they are all obvious and dull.


The writing is clean and the dialogue, while dull, seems to pull you along. 

The one thing this scripts has going for it, is that it forces you to examine yourself, forces you to ask the questions it raises about yourself, which is why I think it made it to the black list. 

The voice here is okay - it doesn't stand out as some do, but it's memorable to a certain degree.


VOICE TIP: For the first 50 pages there were no spelling or grammatical errors. This instilled a confidence in the writer for me. But then after page 50 there were about 10 mistakes. Which distracted from the way I thought about this writer. 

To this end, it is worthwhile getting a professional to proof read your script. The less errors you have the stronger your writing will come across.


The only way this script could get anywhere is if it has exceptional cast attached. We're talking a-grade  players - and not just the names - but the names that can really act. 

Short of that and you have a really dull family drama that goes nowhere.  

I would never put money into this.

There's no chance it will make any money back. 

The only up side to this script's production is that it is a pure drama through and through. There are no VFX - there are no stunts - there's no need for sets. It would be a very easy shoot. 

While I think about it, I must bring up the film and script BUTTER.

Butter was an exceptionally well written comedy/drama. It had exceptional cast. 

Google how much money that film made at boxofficemojo.com

That script was ten times as good as this script. 


A non-starter concept told from the wrong POV.


Tuesday, 15 March 2016


LOGLINE: An elderly woman who hacks out a rough existence on a remote island is forced to help her dimwitted neighbor rescue her daughter whose ex has kidnapped her and escaped into the woods.

WRITER: Maggie McGowan Cohn

SCRIPT BIO: 8 votes on the 2015 black list


We're told at the start of the script that Lou is 'elderly' - so I'm going to assume that she's over 70 years of age. 

Lou is not your typical old lady. She's a former trained assassin - used to work for the CIA. We don't know that up front but we soon figure it out.

The opening scene is Lou out in the woods - hunting deer. 

She's a keen marksman with a rifle and even better with a blade. 

After killing her breakfast - she stops off in town to buy provisions. There's a storm coming and being that Lou lives on an island off the coast of Washington - when a storm comes it usually means power outages and flooding and a whole assortment of storm associated damages... 

Oh, I almost forgot - this tale is set in the eighties.

We soon meet Hannah - a down on her luck single mum who lives in a 'trailer' on Lou's property. Hannah is living out here in the middle of nowhere on an island for two reasons - 1) The rent is so damn cheap. 2) She's in hiding from her ex-husband the father of her 5 year old child - Vee.

Her ex - Phillip - is described as a 'monster' of the worst kind. 

Life has gotten a little easier for Hannah of late as she learned recently that Phillip died in prison. 

Which is odd - when right in the middle of the storm that night - Phillip shows up at her trailer and kidnaps Vee.

At the same time - Lou is in her home fixing to shoot herself in the head. She's fed up with life and figures this is as good a time as any to end it. 

Right when she's about to pull the trigger - Hannah comes banging on her door, screaming that Phillip is alive and that he's kidnapped Vee.

Lou, being the ex CIA assassin that she is, decides that she'll do one last act of valour before ending her time on this earth, and decides to help Hannah track down her daughter. 

A quick investigation of Hannah's trailer reveals a brightly colored plastic egg, with a piece of paper within - upon which is written some longitude and latitude co-ordinates.

Either Phillip is the world's worst kidnapper - or he wants Hannah to come and find him?

Either way, Lou and Hannah tool up - (get guns and knives) from Lou's personal collection then set off into the woods to rescue Vee.

The local police soon get wind of what's happened, they report it to the mainland and the world's worst FBI agent is sent out to the island to investigate.  

The question becomes - Why did Phillip leave co-ordinates for Hannah to find him, and what's really going on out there in the wilderness - oh, yeah, and will Vee live through this safely?


This was a highly enjoyable script. 

It's not perfect by a long way - but it's better than a lot of scripts I've read recently.

I wasn't sure at first if it was a comedy or not. And I guess, that's the most important thing to talk about today. 

TONE -- be sure that you nail your script's tone from the very first scene. 

If you want to see how UNCERTAIN-TONE can RUIN your film - watch TOWER HEIST.

That film has no idea what it wants to be. It says it's a comedy, but really - it's a dark drama with elements of comedy thrown in at inopportune moments.

The opening scene of Lou - while entertaining - doesn't setup that this is a comedy. 

It's Lou out hunting. She shoots a deer and scares a couple of old people out for a nature walk.

I guess that could be funny - if executed in a different way, but the way it is doesn't firmly say to the audience, this film is a comedy. From that opening scene I thought it was a setup for a thriller. 

The second main problem with this script is the lack of POV consistency. 

We start with Lou. The film is called Lou. So you'd think this film would be all about Lou. Presently, it's about 1/3 about Lou. The other 2/3rds are about all the other characters. 

This script felt like Hannah was just as big a player as Lou. 

Phillip, the police and FBI had their characters developed to the point of being major players. 

So, to that end, the film became ENSEMBLE.

The one problem with writing ensemble feature films is - 99% of the time they don't make money. In fact, 99% of the time they're a critical failure also. 

Why? Because when a film is ensemble, and we don't spend at least 90% of our time with one main character, the vicarious element of the film experience is lost. 

Why is this lost? 

Because when you have multiple players in a feature film - odds are - only one (if your lucky) will have a flaw. The rest won't have a flaw.

That's not entirely the case here.

Lou and Hannah have flaws. Those flaws are developed throughout - but then you have at least half of the script with characters who don't have flaws - Phillip - the police - Hannah's best friend - her boy friend, the FBI. 

This film would play better if we spent more time with Lou than all the other players.

Let's get into it...


The concept here is pretty damn good. Retired CIA assassin is roped into one last final mission - that's something we've all seen before - but we haven't seen it as a dark comedy. 

If this film were a straight up thriller - I don't think it would have worked as well as it does.

This concept also has a very clear goal - Save Vee. 

Films without a clear objective tend to wander.

If you've seen the film Trumbo or read the script - you'll know what I mean. 


CONCEPT TIP: The same but different - is what Hollywood wants. Go through all your ideas you have - and do the genre-switch-game with them. 

Example - say you've written a story about a young person with cancer - but it didn't get any positive reads from anyone so you gave up on it. Get it out, dust it off, and change the genre. 

Think how that same film would play if it were a comedy? How would it play as a Horror? As Sci-Fi? Imagine it as a musical? - Does your idea suddenly seem like it's the 'same but different'? If so - re-write it in that new style. You'll be surprised what happens. 


Form was near perfect here. You know how I know that? As I'm writing this, I can't think of one beat where I thought, 'oh, that's poorly formatted.' 

Good execution is silent execution. 

It's when you notice something - that it hasn't been executed well. 


FORM TIP: Read this script - see how Maggie formats. How she writes. There's loads to be learned.


Structure was so-so here.

There's a clear ordinary world. Then there's a clear inciting incident which leads us to the end of act 1.

Most writers can nail act one.

It's act 2 where the stumbling begins. And it happened here.

In a well structured screenplay - act two won't feel drawn out or sluggish. Why? Because when certain beats are hit through those middle 50 pages - the story flies by.

But when you don't have a clear structure through this middle 50 pages - that's when the story starts to lag - as it does here. 


STRUCTURE TIP: Having a comprehensive understanding of the Hero's Journey is the best remedy for the act 2 lag. It's always very clear when a writer understands the hero's journey and when they don't.


Character's are well developed - to a certain degree. As I mentioned earlier - only Lou and Hannah seem to have flaws.

I have to commend Maggie on how well those flaws are written.

Going back to the - good execution is silent execution - principle - I had to stop and think for a beat deciding if Lou and Hannah had flaws. When I thought on it - yes - they do. But it was good that it wasn't OBVIOUS.

A lot of screenwriters starting out will learn the major principles of screenwriting, then execute them OVERTLY - anyone can do that. The real skill in screenwriting is being able to write subtly. 

To be able to write in a way where you execute all the key elements of a screenplay - but you do so in a fashion that it all seems neatly wound together in the story - we don't notice the individual elements. 

Dialogue here wasn't as good as it could be. All the characters had a very similar style of speaking. Which is a shame, as some stories lend themselves to a more diverse array of characters than other films.

This is one film where you have characters from all walks of life coming together - yet they all speak in the same way. 

In fact, this is the most common re-occuring problem with dialogue.

Almost every script I've reviewed this year has suffered from - same-voice-itis - where the writer has each character talking about different things - in the same style of voice. 


CHARACTERS & DIALOGUE TIP: If you're writing an ensemble film - please, please, please, make sure EVERY character has an arc. Or at least 4 out of 6 of the characters. 

And for Dialogue: Once you have your holding dialogue down - when you're happy with WHAT each character is saying - go through and create unique syntax for each of your characters. Create a unique way for them to speak. It's tough - but doable - and when you achieve it - your characters and your VOICE will stand out for it.


Voice was okay here. Didn't explode off the page - but the sum of all the elements that went into making this screenplay work together as a whole. 

The strongest element of this writer's voice is her understated humor. While I commend her on that - as with a lot of strengths - this strength is also a weakness of sorts.

This script wasn't over the top funny - it was subtle humor all the way through - which I enjoyed - but it took 30 pages to realise this was a dramedy - (drama-comedy) not a thriller with humorous elements. 

You need to be clear what your genre, and hence, your tone is from the start.


VOICE TIP: Nail your genre from page one. Don't allow any room for misinterpretation. The clearer your style and tone, the clearer your voice.


I can see this film making money. 

Well executed comedy's make money in America. They don't travel so well - meaning they don't make much money in other countries. 

I would put money into this if the POV and the TONE were sorted out. 

Depending on who carries this film - who the lead it - this film could be made for less than 5 million. If that were the case - it would almost certainly make money. 


Great concept - executed well. Could be better - but even as it stands, this is a strong script.