Tuesday, 19 April 2016

IT HAS US - HORROR

LOGLINE:  When they move into a new neighborhood, a grieving family who recently lost a daughter are subjected to an experiment that plays off of their fears and paranoia.

WRITERS: Michael Ryan Assip & Peter Lancucki

SCRIPT BIO: Spec script went out in Jan repped by Truth Magician Co. | Mary Cybriwsky

STORY:

We start on the day that CASSIE (7) drowns in the swimming pool of the Pope residence. MELINDA (30s) is at home when it happens, but a faulty pool alarm fails to alert her when her daughter has gotten into the pool and drowned.

Addie is also 7 years old and is Cassie's identical twin sister. 

We cut to a year later. 

The Pope family  consists of Addie (7), Melinda (Mom), Duncan (30s - Dad) and Hunter (15 Addie's sister).

We join them as they drive toward their new home. They're relocating for a chance to start fresh after dealing with Cassie's death. 

They arrive at their new home in a small estate in a small town called Colchester in Pennsylvania. 

On the drive there we get to meet the family. Everyone has their own weird quirk, but there's nothing out of the ordinary with them - they seem like a regular dysfunctional family.

When they get to their estate, they notice that the majority of the other houses are boarded up, they don't have many neighbours. 

Not long after they move into the new house, weird things start happening. They experience chills in the house, and Melinda discovers warnings around the house telling them to get out. 

We soon learn that Melinda suffers from anxiety and is supposed to take medication to keep her condition under control. 

While Duncan goes off to work at his job every day Melinda is left at home to look after the home affairs. One day a spirit hand reaches up out of an iPad and injected a veritable syringe into Addie's eye. After this strange experience, Addie's nature and demeanour drastically change. 

In fact, she is no longer herself, she is now behaving more like Cassie - her twin sister - used to.

Things get weirder and weirded at the home, moving progressively into an insanity of sorts. Every delusional experience that Melinda has is explained away by Duncan as a result of her not taking her medication. 

There's something nefarious taking over the family, the question becomes, will the Pope family survive?

INITIAL REACTION:

This was an interesting script. At first, when I finished reading it I thought I really enjoyed it. But then I started to reflect on the bullet holes in the script and have since decided there is a lot of work that needs to be done on this one... 

My first complaint is the lack of POV. It is very important when writing a FEATURE FILM to make sure the audience knows who the MAIN CHARACTER IS. 

There are three aspects of a MAIN CHARACTER --

POV - the character whose eyes we see the film through.
ARC - the character who experiences change. 
PROTAGONIST - the character who takes action and drives the story forward. 

In most films that are successful, ALL of these three traits will be embodied in ONE character. 

Films where these three KEY personality traits are separated into different characters don't do so well.

Now, in this script - it took until about page 20 to figure out that this was Melinda's story. 

Most of the action is centred around her.

But here's the problem - for the first 20 or so pages the POV (point of view) shifts around between Melinda, Hunter, Duncan and Addie. 

When you don't have a clearly defined POV character then the vicarious connection between the audience and the film is broken. 

The POV character is essentially WHO the audience becomes. So when that POV character gets hurt, the audience FEELS the character's pain. 

Remember, film is all about eliciting emotion in the viewer. 

When your POV is shifting between characters then we don't focus in on one character and our connection to the film is not as strong. 

There's also another major problem with this film -- PASSIVE vs ACTIVE HERO.

Melinda is passive throughout the film. Not always, but the majority of the time. 

Someone might argue that lots of things are happening to Melinda so she's not passive. The problem is that the things she's doing are all REACTIONS to other things happening to her. That makes her passive. 

In stories that really resonate with audiences there is ONE MAJOR occurrence that sends the HERO on their journey. There is one event that sends the HERO off to TAKE ACTION. 

A hero can only take action when there is a goal. 

This is another area of this script that didn't really work.

There was no clearly defined goal. 

The Pope family was being 'haunted' for choice of a better word.

There isn't any one particular thing that Melinda is fighting to achieve. You could say she's trying to figure out what's happening, then trying to leave the home, but the second part of that doesn't happen until the third act of the film. 

For two acts there isn't any time dependant goal. 

When a story lacks GOAL and URGENCY, it's going to flounder.

CONCEPT:

"When they move into a new neighborhood, a grieving family who recently lost a daughter are subjected to an experiment that plays off of their fears and paranoia."

Let's break that down -- 

Family is subjected to an experiment that plays on their fears. 

Hmmm.

The main problem with this concept is that it's very broad and open ended. You can't see any kind of goal. 

There's also no irony. You don't HAVE to have irony in your script - but it certainly helps in a LOGLINE. 

In this logline there is no clearly defined hero either. It's 'The Family.' So that's another error. Straight off the bat this logline says that the writers aren't aware that 95% of ensemble films DO NOT MAKE MONEY. 

I'm sure there's someone out there reading this that's thinking, 'What about Crash?, that was ensemble and was an awesome film?'

That's the exception to the rule, that's not the rule. 

Crash is the ONE ensemble film that made money. List 10 ensemble films and go and google their box office take. 9 out of 10 will not have made three times their budget at the box office - which is what's required to break even. 

CONCEPT RATING: 5/10

CONCEPT TIP: Keep your story concept focused. When you have a BROAD concept without goals and tangible elements your idea won't resonate as well.

FORM:

Form was great here. 

The writers have a beautiful writing style. There is no bold. They rarely use italics, and descriptions are kept pertinent. 

It's well worth the read just to look at their layout of words on the page.

FORM RATING: 8/10

FORM TIP: Keep descriptions lean and only describe what we can SEE on the screen. Never write what a character is THINKING.

STRUCTURE:

This is a HUGE bullet hole in this script. 

Without a clearly defined HERO - it's hard to know which character's flaw will guide the structure of the script.

Remember, story structure is closely related to the hero's inner journey, and their inner journey stems from their flaw. 

This was Melinda's story, but unfortunately she didn't really have a flaw. 

Her husband Duncan was constantly asking her if she was 'taking her meds' -- but she always said she was. 

Now I'm sure the writers would argue that Melinda's flaw is that she suffers from paranoia. 

That's okay - so long as there is something that Melinda is DOING or NOT DOING that causes her paranoia. 

It's the ACT of DOING or NOT DOING that is the flaw. 

A FLAW is almost always a DECISION. 

No one DECIDES if they have a medical condition. You don't just wake up one morning and say, hey, I think I'm gonna be paranoid today. 

It's the DECISION to NOT take your meds that leads to the paranoia becoming unmanageable. 

Anyhoooooo

My point is, that Melinda doesn't really have a clearly defined flaw. And just saying that she's paranoid is not a good execution or understanding of what a flaw really is. 

Duncan actually has more of a flaw that Melinda does. He won't mention Cassie's name. He won't think about her. He refuses to discuss anything about her. 

This is a great flaw. Why? Because he is making a DECISION not to confront his inner demons. 

Unfortunately Duncan's flaw isn't what's driving the structure of the film.

For this reason structure is waaaaay off. 

STRUCTRUE RATING: 5/10

STRUCTURE TIP: Be sure to understand what a FLAW is and how to use the flaw of your hero to guide the structure of your screenplay. For a really simple version of structure read Save The Cat. 

CHARACTERS & DIALOGUE:

The writers executed fairly decent characters and mostly enjoyable dialogue. One thing that really popped for me was that the characters were constantly turning a scene on its head with quirky dialogue. 

Just when you think you know what a character will say in response to a question - that character suddenly says the opposite. I was constantly surprised by the characters and dialogue. 

On the negative front as I just discussed, Melinda needs a decent flaw. And while Duncan has a great flaw, nothing is done with it. He just has a flaw.

CHARACTERS & DIALOGUE RATING: 7/10

CHARACTERS & DIALOGUE TIP: Give each character a flaw, then make each character have their own journey. If you do this, your script will sing!

VOICE:

Voice was okay here. I was often confused with what was happening. Clarity of the story comes from the writer's voice. 

Some writers are really good at making sure you know where you are and what's happening at all times. Others write with less focus. 

This script was one of the lesser focused pieces. 

VOICE RATING: 6/10

VOICE TIP: Clarity. Clarity. Clarity. You, as the writer become SOOOOO involved and entrenched with your story you forget that it's your job to convey the story in the cleanest clearest way possible. 

Here's a rule of thumb.

An 11 year old should be able to read your script and COMPLETELY understand it. 

PRODUCTION:

Now this is an interesting one. 

When I finished reading this I asked myself, would I put money into this?

My first reaction was, yeah, sure, I can see this making money.

BUT THEN...

I analysed the script. And after writing this analysis, I've come to realise just how many major problems there are with the script. 

I now no longer would invest money. That's not to say this script isn't salvageable, but even when you look at the core idea -- it's still not a Holy Shit! idea. 

This shift of opinion stems from something that I've noticed since I've been reading tons of scripts. 

It's easy for a screenplay to be a GOOD READ, but when that same story is put to film, all the bullet holes and mistakes I've talked about are ACCENTUATED. 

This script is good that it's contained - almost entirely set at the house - that's a huge asset for the script. And that the cast count is low. Less than 8. 

There is some special effects, but nothing too much. 

I could see a decent producer bringing this in under $5 million. Anything over that would be a risky investment.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10

Weak concept executed in a so-so fashion.