Friday, March 30, 2012


A man wakes in the aftermath of an Alien invasion to find he’s not entirely human and could be the cause of the apocalypse.

Surprise! Yes, I’ve pulled a Carson Reeves (whose Scriptshadow was the inspiration for this little blog) switcheroo and postponed my review of Vanessa Pope’s pages until next week. It was very gracious of Vanessa to agree to wait. But if you found her logline enticing,

While his father is deployed in Afghanistan, sixteen year old Chris ignores the problems in his family by waging a war of his own.

and can’t, she’s represented by Peter Macfarlane of Macfarlane Chard.

Damn, that’s a lot of links to start off a post. So why the switch? (Get ready for a few more) Because it’s not everyday that an award winning filmmaker gives me a peek at his latest spec.

When Mike Le Han offered to let me read the first 10 pages of City of Shadows, he was clear that it was a finished script already headed out on the town. I was just glad to have a look and understood that it was well beyond the realm of this forum.

Then I watched Mrs. Peppercorn’s Magical Reading Room with my kids. Now they’ll watch pretty much anything you put in front of them, anything animated that is. But they were glued to the screen and there wasn’t a talking sponge nor a mystery solving Great Dane in sight.

“Who is this guy?” I thought. So I read his logline: A man wakes in the aftermath of an Alien invasion to find he’s not entirely human and could be the cause of the apocalypse.

Next, I read his first 10 pages and knew I had to get him to agree to a review before somebody snatched this up. So, risking a cyber restraining order, I did what any self respecting screenwriting blogger would do and decided to stalk him. It wasn’t easy, but eventually Mike relented. I look at the writing a little bit in my gushings, I mean notes. But first, I want to talk story.

It starts with a biblical quotation, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22.14) And things get biblical real quick, in terms of the devastation that is. A soldier comes to amidst the rubble resulting from an all out alien invasion. He takes off running for his life, blasting away with his M-4 at the “scuttling movement in the shadows.”

We are along for the ride right from the start. With a brilliant opening image Mike establishes a visually virulent world. We get a taste of the dire fate that has befallen humanity but, being the great storyteller that he is, Mike waits to reveal the full extent of the carnage.

Badly outnumbered, our hero takes refuge in a diner- out of ammo with nowhere to run. I felt a visceral reaction here, created by the tension and suspense of THE GLOW. It “tracks his movement -- scanning up and down -- then stops.” Why does it let him go? I want to know and so I’ve got to keep reading.

This (bottom of page 3/top of page 4) is where we learn his name is Mason Hunter. It’s also where I place the inciting incident, catalyst etc. Why? Because Hunter is confused, both by his own appearance and a photograph that seems to indicate that he was a married doctor pre-apocalypse. This moment is what lifts this script from the hordes of dystopian sci-fi specs out there. It makes it a quest for identity. So now you have this compelling character arc setup rolled into a franchise screaming high concept. How is it that I’m the one reviewing this again?

There’s some excellent exposition in the next scene, via some found phone footage. It’s just enough to give us a taste of what the invasion was like without overdoing it. A Save The Cat moment follows where Hunter feeds a field mouse, saving it from obliteration at the same time.

Then the device hovers round the work surface searching
for the mouse -- Hunter holds it to his chest and turns
his back to the craft.  Again scans him.  Hunter grits
his teeth waiting to be obliterated.

Then as it appeared the ship now gone.

Looks like these alien bastards are looking to wipe out all life on Earth! Why is Hunter spared? I don’t know, but I’m sure the writer has a damn good reason and I want to know what it is. Have to keep reading.

Hunter then emerges from the diner and walks through what little is left of the city.

As he walks we take in for the first time the full
DEVASTATION that has befell the earth.

This is the difference between writing a screenplay and writing a movie. It’s a clearly cinematic moment that wouldn’t have been nearly as effective had Mike chosen to describe the full extent of the devastation earlier. You hear the score come in without a single reference to music. Perfect.

There’s something serendipitous about City of Shadows arriving on my screen at the same time I’d been considering another rating category. So here it is...

(  ) Trash It
(  ) Take Another Pass
(  ) More Please!
( *) Somebody Shoot This!

My Notes

What did you think about Mike Le Han’s City of Shadows?

Are you a self published novelist seeking a screenwriter to help adapt your novel, or a screenwriter looking for a story to adapt? If so, you might be interested in  Write For Each Other.

Get your pages in to me by 4/6 if you'd like them to be considered for the Amy Suto guest  review on 4/13.

Friday, March 16, 2012


A young man with supernatural abilities roams the country on a mysterious mission, pursued by a feisty reporter and agents of a billionaire televangelist determined to manipulate his Christ-like power to devastating effect.  

How It Works

You email me the first ten pages of your feature length screenplay (in pdf. format) along with a logline and title. Every Friday, I post one writer's work along with notes and a:


Trash It (Start over.)
Take Another Pass (You're onto something, but it needs more work.)
More Please (I'm hooked. What happens next?)

Readers will also be able to vote and leave comments on your work.

This week I read the first ten pages of Paul Salvi's SNARE OF THE FOWLER.

That's a solid logline. I can see the movie. Could it be tightened up? Maybe:

A young man on a mysterious mission is pursued by a determined reporter and agents of a wealthy televangelist, determined to manipulate his Christ-like power to devastating effect.

Not much different, but this way you're only describing his powers once. Also, it seems odd to have a billionaire televangelist. I think most folks who attain that degree of wealth have a better scam going than simply bilking believers out of their hard earned cash. Anyways...

we start off outside a church with a voice over of children singing. Inside, we meet 7th grader Tate Simonson who has clearly got the hots for an older woman, 8th grader Sophia Moessinger. Then we cut to the present day (10 years later) where we find Tate in a shitty motel with a woman named Ellie. He's got a photograph of Sophia with him that has, "survived years of hell and abuse."

I'd suggest one of two things here. Spend a little more time on the church scene. Let us see the kids in action. Does she return a glance? Or does she barely register his existence? Give us a sense of what he was like as a child. Or, cut the church scene entirely. Let us wonder about the girl in the photograph. Who is she? Why is she important to him? Sometimes you can show your audience more about a character by not revealing something, giving them just enough so that they want to know more.

The scene in the hotel does this successfully. I'm left wondering who is Ellie? What is her relationship to Tate? What happened to his hands and why all the pills? Though again, a little more time could have been spent here before moving to the next scene.

This is where you lost me. I couldn't get passed the fact that he gets taken into the prison and that he is able to smuggle the blade in beneath his bandages. I go into this is in more detail in my notes, but it seems that things happen here because you need them to happen for the story. That never works. Events need to happen because the characters dictate they happen. Also, there were too many similarities to Tyler Marceca's THE DISCIPLE PROGRAM (the desert prison, the captive serial killer and the slashing of the doctor).

I did like how Tate whispers something to Bankard, to which we are not privy. This creates suspense. But the whole means by which he enters and exits the prison took me out of the story. When writing your next draft I'd ask, does this scene have to take place in a prison? If the answer is yes, then come up with another way of getting Tate in and out. You've got an interesting premise. There's a story here. But in regards to these 10 pages:

(*) Trash It
( ) Take Another Pass
( ) More Please

What did you think?

Next weeks pages from Patrick Sweeney's DEVIL'S DUE.

Friday, March 9, 2012


A lonely old man finds a body in a casket while river fishing and takes it home with him.

How It Works

You email me the first ten pages of your feature length screenplay (in pdf. format) along with a logline and title. Every Friday, I post one writer's work along with notes and a:


Trash It (Start over.)
Take Another Pass (You're onto something, but it needs more work.)
More Please (I'm hooked. What happens next?)

Readers will also be able to vote and leave comments on your work.

This week I read the first 10 pages of THE BOY IN THE CASKET by Dan Dollar

Dan didn't send me a logline, but I'm going to let that slide in light of the fact that I solicited him for his submission. (Thanks Dan, that was very cool of you). I'd also like to thank everyone who has taken the time to read, comment on and submit pages. This doesn't work without you - so keep those pages coming folks. This review is also unique in that I'd already read a draft in it's entirety. However, I'm going to ignore what I know about the rest of the script and address the first 10 pages.

It starts off strong with a powerful opening image, “A hearse meanders down a windy road on the edge of a cliff.” We get right into the action when a collision ejects the coffin at the top of page 2 and sends it crashing down into the river. In the next scene we meet Thomas Whitmore, (70s) “small, sweet and drooping - - a human Eeyore.” He's further fleshed out by a few lines of dialogue in which he reads to his dog from a cereal box. We immediately get a sense of who Thomas is and what he's all about. Lonely and bored as all hell.

In the next sequence, Thomas takes a trip into town in order to pick up supplies for the shed he's building, as well as some bait for his next fishing trip. He then gets his mail from the post office, which is where we meet Rose Dalton, (60s). She's got a mouthful of cookies, but doesn't let that stop her from greeting Thomas. Dan does a great job here in getting across a sense that Thomas is sweet on her.

However, this sequence could use some work. We get a good sense of the characters, but there is little conflict. I think it would be more compelling if we met Rose in the midst of an argument perhaps, maybe with a co-worker, supervisor or crotchety patron. This way we could see how Thomas and Rose react to the situation. As it is, it reads pretty flat. But, we are introduced to the ENVELOPE.

We don't realize it's importance at this point (perhaps that's best?) as he casually "stuffs it in his pocket," but we soon learn that Thomas is torn as to whether or not he wants to open it. There's some suspense here. We start to wonder. It also helps to give us a sense of the world before the story, which is necessary so your characters don't seem to exist in a vacuum.

On page 8 Thomas goes fishing. And on page 9 we have the moment where the story takes a turn. Call it what you like (inciting incident, call to adventure, catalyst) it's a moment of decision. In this case Thomas discovers the casket, along with the young man's body inside, and has to make a choice. Does he call the police, or take it home and prop it up in his kitchen? Obviously, if he goes with the former we don't have much of a movie. Is it believable that he brings it home?

I think so. There's clearly something off about Thomas and I'm willing to believe that he would make such a bizarre decision. I'm hooked to a point. I'm curious about the letter and I'm thinking what is this guy's deal? However, it could also use some tweaking. The trip to town sequence needs more oomph to really leave a reader no choice but to continue.  I  give this one a

( ) Trash It 
(*) Take Another Pass 
( ) More Please 

What do you think?

Addendum (3/10/12 3:20 EST)

Dan has some questions for you guys. What do you think of (and how might he solve)

1. the fact that Thomas decides to haul back the body instead of notifying authorities
2. the fact that he probably could not get a large man in a wooden casket into his truck bed, especially in the rain
3. the fact that he brings the casket into his house of his own free will.

Read my notes on the page for more thoughts on Dan's script and please submit comments below.

Next week's pages from Paul Salvi's Snare of the Fowler.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Looking for feedback?

Four lifeguards flee a health conscious gang leader and a cross-dressing detective, when they cover up the slaying of a drug dealer and keep his drugs and attache case.

Why should I read another screenwriting blog? You shouldn't; you should be writing. But, since you are here's:

How It Works

You email me the first ten pages of your feature length screenplay (in pdf. format) along with a logline and title. Every Friday, I post one writer's work along with notes and a:


Trash It (Start over.)
Take Another Pass (You're onto something, but it needs more work.)
More Please (I'm hooked. What happens next?)

Readers will also be able to vote and leave comments on your work. I've posted the first ten pages of BLACK WATER to get things started.

What do you think?

Next week's pages from:
The Boy In The Casket by Dan Dollar