(this post was updated from the original – based on reader input)
Testing, testing is this thing on?
In the last month, I have done extensive Coverage on 42 features, 2 novels and line by line doctoring on 5 features. Hence the break in regular posts, so yes, this thing is on…
While the cushion in my bank account is more than welcome, I have sorely neglected my own pet projects and given that competition season has yet to break in full swing, I know it will get more crazy sooner than later. But I’ve adjusted by scheduling my own projects as if I were a client, so it’s all good.
This post is about 1 thing, what the differences are between a professional story and one submitted for a competition or one just reaching out for help before submitting to a competition.
Of the over 400 scripts and novels I’ve read in the last year, pro and non, one stood out as the best (not counting the Oscar winner as predicted here). The one that stood out also came along in the last month, but it was given to me by a casting director to see if my (6 year-old) son would come in for a reading for the LEAD role. So I had to read it, not only to explain it to him, but to see if it was something I was okay with. Oy. Boy was I. The film is going into production this summer (in Cabo, and yeah, I’d be real okay with that), so I’m not going to say too much about the title etc… but I am breaking down the 1st 10 pages and posting them afterward.
But first, I feel I have to point out some of the most common mistakes I see when reading stories for consulting or competition, hopefully you can all apply these to your babies before you send them out, because they drive me crazy… Please understand when you are an established writer, a lot of these nitty-gritty things fall by the wayside, but until then you want to give your material absolutely ZERO reason to be put down — by anyone — reader, consultant, PA, competition judge, prospective agent…
#1 Formatting, grammar, typos.
#2 Amazing opening scenes that the rest of the story cannot live up to. A good opening is crucial, but it still has to serve the story and the story has to support the opening.
#3 Overly descriptive clothing for every scene a character is in OR no description at all for characters, no age or nothing. Ben (10) may look awkward but it is industry standard, do it.
#4 A character looking annoyed, or looking angry, a character is either annoyed or not, no looking allowed.
#5 “quotation marks”… effing quotation marks. Quotation marks within dialogue, quotation marks on signage, song titles, you name it. It got to the point that I started judging a scripts by how badly they abused quotation marks….. don’t use ‘em! You can quote me on that.
#6 same goes for exclamation points… use sparingly please.
#7 Trying to pinpoint personality (or other points of interest) by running off a laundry list of the books in someone’s room. One title may be helpful if it’s on a coffee table but consider this, do you think the director will waste valuable screen time and shot set-ups by filming a shelf of books?
(I’ve gotten a lot of feedback on 6 and 7, and it goes to the fact that you want your script as clean as possible, when you read production scripts they may be loaded with errors and things that break the rules, but they are produced. When you enter a competition or query an agent or pay for coverage or consultation, you want your work to shine and extraneous punctuation or any other form of bad formatting makes it dull and dirty)
This last one goes to screenplays too but is more pronounced in novels: How many adjectives can you give a noun? Really, remember Terry Crabtree, of the WONDER BOYS and how he couldn’t make a choice so his novel was thousands of pages long? You’re a writer, choose the best single adjective for your noun and once in a great while add another for effect.
Now onto my new favorite of anything.
The 1st 10 pages, (linked here) are laden with examples that make this such a magnificent script: (Please note I did not work on this script in any way, the director wrote it and secured the funding, so it has some format issues that I described above – but they do not take away from the fact that it is a fine example of how to set up a good story without being formulaic).
The opening sequence (though it turns out to be imaginary play) is fast paced action that not only sucks you in, in just ONE PAGE, that one page is chock full of set-ups that repeatedly pay off in the actual plot. It’s as if the original TOY STORY opening sequence were on story steroids – yes, it’s story telling better than Pixar, in the first page.
Then we get down to basics, we’ve met our protagonist, his father who becomes the subject of the plot AND we clearly know how close they are by PG 2. His Mom steps in, another important character on page 2 and we know her right away.
The time period is set, as is the locale and the looming war which all again, play crucial roles by page 2.
On page 3 we learn the boy’s fascination with the AMAZING MANDRAKE and that the boy’s older brother is denied enlistment due to flat feet. 2 more crucial set-ups. The later of which is the catalyst on PG 4.
Secondary characters are set-up on pg 5. Other major plot points are introduced in the next 2 pages and by PG 8, comes the first tear-jerker, when his dad leaves, also the turning point of the main catalyst set up on PG 4.
And by the bottom of PG 10 we are given the titular theme of Little Boy.
The only possible bad part about this is that there is a slight possibility production may take a hit due to Japan’s current strife. I hope it succeeds and even if my son doesn’t get the part, I’d pay to see it, more than once.
In case you’re interested, my son recorded his part for the reading (not the live reading, just his practice)…