B2W was asked to be a judge for the Shore Scripts Screenwriting Competition this year.
Bang2writers talk highly of this competition, plus Shore Scripts wrote a great post on last year’s entries for this site, so I was happy to accept.
As a judge, I didn’t read ALL the submissions – just the final five, all winners. All five are good scripts, plucked from a pile of 1800 screenplays and scored for their concepts and craft.
My job as judge then was to read those winning scripts and decide which ORDER I feel they should come in, 1-5. First up though, in no particular order, is my feedback for each winning entry. If you’re into script reading, pay particular attention to my thoughts on:
- Concept, tone & genre
- Story and structure
- Character role function
Ready? Then let’s go …
Black Ice by Katie Cook
OFFICIAL LOGLINE: Told from two perspectives, “Black Ice” is a claustrophobic horror film set in the snowy Lake District and explores the darker side of familial obligation.
MY LOGLINE: When 3 students go off the road in bad weather on the mountainside, their lives are in danger from a deranged young loner and her father, who has been raising her to kill.
WHAT’S WORKING: BLACK ICE is an impressive, claustrophobic Horror film set in the wilderness. It’s refreshing to see the Slasher genre from the serial killer’s perspective as well; the action is well-structured, with the past and present day threads feeling well-balanced. In addition, the screenplay reverses traditional gender roles particularly well, with a female antagonist, a female “have-a-go hero” and a male damsel in distress. Dialogue is excellent, with characters earning the right to speak and poor Dylan’s death is absolutely excruciating. At just 94 pages, this script feels polished and lean, plus this is a writer who knows her genre inside-out (NOT pardoning the pun!!) and in this story I saw shades of HANNA, WOLF CREEK, A LONELY PLACE TO DIE and even classics such as THE SHINING and PSYCHO.
WHAT NEEDS WORK: The screenplay’s first half is not as strong as the second in my opinion, feeling a little familiar in the first instance until Dylan’s death. This is a shame, because BLACK ICE is not your “average” Slasher-Horror by any stretch of the imagination and I think we need to realise this from the get-go on page 1. In addition, there was some exposition I didn’t quite “get”: why is male blood superior to “feed” the mountain, over females’ (especially when Father kills women anyway, such as Harriet’s mother)? This is a key detail if the adult Harriet is to spare protagonist Charlotte and bring about her own downfall. Seems to me the answer is obvious: menstrual blood makes women “unclean”, which could then feed into Harriet trying so desperately to please Father with her own bloodlust, yet never *quite* measuring up (which would then link to “I tried …” at the end). But ultimately, again, placing this exposition upfront (rather than making a more veiled reference to it in the p70s) would help in my opinion.
VERDICT: Some “punching up” and tweaking needed, but minimal. Great development potential here, due to the small cast and limited locations (lots of blood and gore needed, plus a minor car wreck).
Dead Windows by Ben Steiner
OFFICIAL LOGLINE: A teenage boy, haunted by what he thinks is his doppelganger, discovers his father’s horrific parallel life in a secret bunker under their house.
MY LOGLINE: A boy believes he sees himself from various parallel dimensions, only to discover they are the ghosts of the boys his father is killing in their basement, because they look like his son.
WHAT’S WORKING: DEAD WINDOWS has an intriguing concept at its heart that brings forth comparisons in my mind to REAR WINDOW, DISTURBIA and ERASERHEAD. Jack’s father’s desire to kill his son is a taboo subject of parenting and a strong theme or idea to carry a story that many people can relate to, feeling trapped by their responsibilities. A lot of the dialogue is “Dawson’s Creek on crack” which is appealing, plus Sarah’s desire to provoke a reaction from Jack’s father Peter is one of the stronger character moments in the story. There is also good visual potential here with some stand-out moments, particularly towards the resolution: I loved the idea of the “doppelganger” coming out of the washing machine like “a birthing calf”!
WHAT NEEDS WORK: For me, narrative clarity is an issue in DEAD WINDOWS. Though I believe I understood (and enjoyed) the theme or message at the heart of this story, I was not always sure of the role functions of the characters or their motivations, which had a direct impact on my understanding of the plot as a result. Though meant as the protagonist, Jack “feels” like he shares similar screen-time to his parents, Peter and Sarah. Also, all of Peter’s actions are “back-ended” to the resolution, so his murderous actions feel as if it comes out of the left field. Tone is also an issue in my opinion, because the screenplay seems to waver from comedy to horror to drama in various chunks of the story, so I wasn’t always sure of the intention (ie. is this MEANT to be funny?). Exposition-wise, I also wasn’t sure why Jack would imagine doppelgangers before he thought of ghosts; plus I didn’t quite understand the ending: are they all in Hell, maybe?
VERDICT: An appealing concept with interesting ideas that still needs a fair bit of development. Relatively low budget, because it’s set in the one house more or less, plus if ALL the boy ghosts were Jack’s age (ie. teenagers, but played by adults over 18).
Jimmy The Freak by Mark Steensland
OFFICIAL LOGLINE: An ex-con and his mentally-handicapped (but supernaturally-blessed) friend are on the run from a ruthless mega church pastor out to exploit Jimmy’s abilities.
MY LOGLINE: Same.
WHAT’S WORKING: JIMMY THE FREAK is basically RAINMAN, re-imagined by the Coen Brothers as a Thriller – so it’s raw, gritty and occasionally whimsical or even funny, with acres of pathos. The characters are three-dimensional and interesting, with thoughts and problems all their own. I love how it’s a church, rather than gangsters, Mike and Jimmy are on the run from! Jimmy is psychic, a supernatural talent that is not unusual in the spec pile, but the way this writer uses it, IS! Too often psychic characters withhold information for no real story reason, leading readers like me to wonder WHY, which is dramatically unsatisfying. Here in JIMMY THE FREAK, the writer really shows how it’s done, using the character’s psychic ability to inform the plot like Agatha does in MINORITY REPORT. It’s a male-led, ultimately macho film, but that doesn’t mean the female characters are sidelined: Melinda arguably steals the scene in every single one she’s in, plus her heartbreaking decision regarding her daughter is a real standout moment. The dialogue is excellent and though it’s lengthy, the writer has a commanding voice on the page from the offset, proving that you can do just about ANYTHING if you do it well.
WHAT NEEDS WORK: I have no notes! (I know, right!!) Maybe if I were to quibble, I’d say cut back on the dialogue a bit as it seems a shame to pay off certain elements in dialogue (such as why Mike took Jimmy). That said, I’m nit-picking. I loved it. Best of all, it shouln’t be *too* expensive to make – some use of guns/bullet wounds; the street, motel rooms and the church are the main locations, though you would need snow.
Life Expectancy by Louis Ackerman
OFFICIAL LOGLINE: A former geneticist sets out to give he and his wife the child they never had, but defying the laws of nature have their consequences.
MY LOGLINE: A radical but brilliant doctor is offered the chance of a lifetime to work on human clones. When he is successful, he cannot bring himself to kill the test subject, who grows up, bringing chaos with him.
Download the ebook (link at the bottom of the post) to read the feedback
When The Devil’s Loose by Ben Watts
OFFICIAL LOGLINE: In the summer of 1988, four young friends set out to discover the truth behind mysterious happenings as an ever-spreading wildfire threatens to wipe out their small suburban community.
MY LOGLINE: Set against a backdrop of wildfires, when four friends discover a body in a sunken plane, they believe it’s connected to the break-ins that have been happening locally, so set out to investigate.
WHAT’S WORKING: A nostalgic look at teenage life, WHEN THE DEVIL’S LOOSE reminds me very much of cinema classic STAND BY ME. The characters of fourteen year old friends Tyler, Georgia and brothers Jeffrey and Aaron are appealing and authentic. Dialogue is good and refreshingly, is not like DAWSON’S CREEK or Joss Whedon’s (which teen speak most often is in the spec pile). It is also refreshing to see protagonist Tyler is not from an unhappy family, plus his friends might have problems at home but all are realistic, based on living through a time of austerity and job losses, meaning the eighties storyworld has intriguing reflections of current times we can relate to. In addition, Aaron’s deafness not only meant there was a disabled character in the story, it actually pays off in the story very well, when he’s in danger from the antagonist because he can’t hear the others’ warnings. When scene description was present (particularly towards the end of the screenplay), it was vital and interesting. I really liked the wildfires backdrop, which was ominous and threatening, though admittedly as a plan it does “seem freaking nuts” (p107) to burn a whole town just to cover up burglaries!
WHAT NEEDS WORK: At approximately 120 pages, WHEN THE DEVIL’S LOOSE is the longest of the five winning Shore Scripts – and in my opinion, unjustifiably so. There seems to be “too many” characters: I found it difficult to keep up with who-was-who, especially in terms of role function. Though the dialogue is good, there’s simply far too much of it, with characters re-treading old ground, telling us what we’ve already seen. Billy Wilder said that if a screenplay is “too long” there’s usually a problem with Act 1 and I would venture this is WHEN THE DEVIL’S LOOSE’s biggest issue: as I’ve noted in my logline, the plane and the discovery of the body is arguably the catalyst for what happens (currently page 22), whereas I would venture it’s actually Tyler’s father Dean’s death that “should” kickstart this story (currently page 89). If Dean were to die FIRST and then cause Tyler to go looking for his killer (discovering how it’s tied in with the break ins and fires), this would make Tyler less passive in terms of his character motivation and also inform the plot more, so we’re not waiting for things to be revealed, such as when Jeffrey discovers that EJ is responsible for setting the wildfires.
VERDICT: Overall, this script has excellent potential story-wise but currently needs some significant development in my opinion in order to be a viable production prospect. A reduction in the cast numbers and “focusing in” on the story and structure, investing in visuals over dialogue would be a good start on the next draft.
There were 21 judges for the 2015 Shore Scripts Competition (and I am just one of them!), but based on my thoughts above, I ranked the winners as below:
- JIMMY THE FREAK
- BLACK ICE
- LIFE EXPECTANCY
- WHEN THE DEVIL’S LOOSE
- DEAD WINDOWS
You see the official winning order of the above entries, HERE.
Congratulations to ALL the winners in this year’s contest!
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You can download my feedback above (plus HOW to write a script report!) as an ebook, HERE or click any of the pics above. Please share with your friends and followers!
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