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.


  1. thanks for the review! sorry, should have included logline:

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

    that is good stuff about making the first few pages more interesting - i've gotten a similar response once before from someone else.

    now the fun part of figuring out how to make an old man's daily errands exciting...

  2. While I wasn't bored by the slow starting pace, there were a few things that seemed slightly odd to me.

    How does a greasy, inattentive slob get to be a hearse driver? How do they pass the interview to get the job in the first place, and then avoid being fired for turning up like that to work every day?

    A 70 year old man is JUST now buying something basic like a hammer? I'm 22 and have 3 to my name already, haha. Plus, if he's been building the shed long enough for the hardware store guy to notice and comment, should he not have a little more done than just the concrete base done? And if he did somehow need to buy a hammer, would he not have done so previously when buying the concrete and wood to build the foundation? I dunno, it's probably just me and no one else would notice, but just something that kicked me out of the story a little.

    Nicely done with the subtle indication that he likes Rose, although it felt a little self-contradictory that he would have the nerve to talk to a woman he doesn't seem to know except in passing about her eating habits, but then crumples a little on the rest of the conversation. Perhaps that was a deliberate choice though, and it could be meaningful.

    Lastly, as it's written, he finds the casket, is confused by the fact that it's floating down a river with no owner in sight, and then IMMEDIATELY decides to take it home- no deliberation involved. Again, this could have been a purposeful action to tell us about the character, although he doesn't seem overly decisive thus far. And, sad old man as he is, he must have some serious strength to haul an athletic man in a heavy wooden box out of a river, up a (likely slippery) bankside and onto a truck bed!

    These were the questions I was left with, anyway. Despite that, it still seems like an interesting story, and I could feel that I was hooked- I'd definitely have continued reading from there. Good stuff.

  3. thanks rob! this is great, holes in logic are exactly the kind of things i am looking for.

    - all that shed stuff is perfect - while i was writing, in the back of my head i was thinking that maybe he broke his hammer and has to replace it, but honestly i was probably just being lazy and hammer was the first thing that came to me. and of course the store manager would never have had an ongoing conversation about the shed if he only just started. that was a huge oversight by me.

    - at the post office, i kind of saw thomas making an effort to impress rose with his fun fact, and once it "failed", he went back into "i'm a loser" mode - but i'm rewriting that scene anyways

    - rob already brought up the good point about thomas promptly deciding to keep the body (which i'm also changing), but i hadn't thought about thomas immediately taking the body home being an issue - that's a very good point, he could have just left it and got authorities. him pushing the casket into the truck is just another example of me being lazy - as small as he is, it would be quite a feat for him to be able to do that...i may have to find another way for him to get it into the truck.

    thanks again! would love to see your own work here eventually


    1. I figured as much- Rob can clearly handle the story stuff, so I decided to keep an eye more on the realism that your chosen guinea pigs/test readers might pick up on.

      - Cool, I'm glad that I'm not just a weirdo about tools, then, hahah!

      -I was specifically referring to his "You don't have to eat it" comment. I thought that was relatively aggressive for the character as we know him so far since Rose doesn't seem to be a family member or close friend, but then the rest of that scene played out very well.

      -Yeah, I saw that Rob had brought up the realism of bringing the casket home with him, but I was talking about the time frame here. Unless you indicate that some time has passed during the cut, he seems to have made a snap decision to take an occupied coffin home with him. "Oooh, look, a casket, I'll be having that then." Fast decisions tend to be a product of experience or premeditation, so you're implying here that not only is he the type of person to consider the option of taking the casket home with him (as Rob brought up) but also that he's had a prior experience that makes taking it with him an obvious and immediate choice.

      Not a problem! Glad you found it helpful, and I hope you will at some point. Still in planning at the minute.

    2. rob d. and have brainstormed about that last problem, it's really tricky. rob brought up this idea that maybe the casket he finds is empty, and he meets the dead body along the river (who is now alive again - in the next 10 pages if you had read them, the body wakes up), but doesn't know he's dead. that changes things quite a bit, but at least it would make more sense.

  4. Some good comments about the sort of meandering middle section of these 1st 10 pages -- definitely could use some tightening & punching up there.

    But I so liked the character of Thomas and his lonely plight (which I admit could be dramatized with a bit more flair & ingenuity) and his obvious upcoming "collision" with the casket, that I'm willing to look at those as early draft issues that can be easily dealt with. The important thing for me was that here were 10 pages introducing an empathetic character stumbling into a unique situation that grabbed my interest. These pages, while not perfect, did their job and made me want to find out what happens next.

  5. Page one:

    @Dan – Good formatting. Much better than what I have been reading on Amazon Studios.

    Opening Action: “A hearse meanders down a windy road on the edge of a cliff”:

    After gaining a grasp on the entire 10 pages, I see that your intent was to be a little humorous – so the opening line is good to set that tone.

    Page two:

    The transition FADE TO BLACK could be a DISSOLVE TO but it isn’t a matter of being wrong; it is just a matter of opinion and personal taste in transitions. I’d FADE TO BLACK in order to create a great jump from some kind of revelation that has an impact on story development.

    The double dash usage is a little much throughout the script. I’d suggest toning it down a notch. Again, not a matter of right or wrong but is having a pause effect I don’t think you are intending.

    “There may be something darker hidden behind those sad eyes”:

    Is there or isn’t there? We are dealing with a camera. Either there is something there or there is not. People in power tend to disdain this type of thing. Never say: 12 or so people or around a dozen dogs. It needs clarity.

    CLARITY: There is a deep-seated hate (could be compassion or any other ‘thing’) but the subterfuge of sadness is painted upon the surface of his eyes. (specific)


    Inconsequential. I’d strike it. I’d strike anything about bathrooms unless it serves a purpose.

    Love the dialogue to his dog. Enlightening. I think this is his central issue. Loneliness? Spending too much time alone? I can envision where the body will end up which is good foreshadowing.

    Page three - six:

    It is excruciatingly bland and a lot of formatting errors have caused a hiccup in flow. It is hard to gauge the point of these characters without more than 10 pages.

    Use montage instead of numbering individual tasks.


    The very large AUDITORIUM is filled to maximum capacity.

    A BOY (13) ROCKS OUT in a blues style reminiscent of STEVIE RAY with his hair hanging over his eyes and his lips mouthing the soul that his fingers achieve over the frets. With his last SCREAMING note the audience stands and CHEERS.
    Jerrica smiles.

    A cutesy GIRL (10) stands a center stage and sings a ballad with a ribbon tying her hair back and a lacy dress. She appears shy and her high notes are unsteady. Tears are beginning to glisten as her performance is obviously falling flat.
    Jerrica looks to Jacqui and blushes.

    An adorable GIRL performs DRUM ROLLS and a DOUBLE BASS TAP as she flips drum-sticks like tiny batons and bounces her head-- hair everywhere-- to the beat of a perfect rhythm.

    CUT TO:

    Page seven:

    I understand the point of the Anchorwoman but we know that secret. The point is to do the same thing to the audience and not the character. That technique is used often but in the direction of an audience. If it was to remind us that there is a dead body floating in the river, we didn’t need that reminder being that it was within a reasonable distance of the opening scene.

    All in all it is based upon a very good idea, an interesting character and a great premise. It needs some work to make it more pointed and easier to read but I can see that happening with some editing and rewriting.

    Just some pointers and hope to see it in complete form.

    1. thanks a bunch! i did notice the overuse of dashes going back over it. i've also received the same notes about the blandness of the middle section, i'll have to work on that.

      i did finish a full draft, and have tried a few rewrites, but am going to shelve it for a bit i think. i like the concept, there are just some logic issues (rob appended them to the end of his article) that are nagging at me.

  6. Have not read the pages yet but wanted to immediately respond to Dan's follow-up questions.

    1. the fact that Thomas decides to haul back the body instead of notifying authorities

    - because he has a more compelling reason to NOT notify the authorities, d'uh! :-) The potential 'pain' (cost, inconvenience, threat, punishment, consequences, or literal pain) from calling the cops has to outweigh the alternative, i.e. the potential 'pain' from hauling it home. OR, the potential pleasure/reward from calling the cops is far less than the possible pleasure/reward of taking it home. Humans go to great lengths to minimize pain and maximize pleasure. Well, in western society. Decide which it is -- protag seeks to gain an expected reward or seeks to avoid potential pain/punishment -- and build a set of scales which tip in the direction you need them to.

    2. the fact that he probably could not get a large man in a wooden casket into his truck bed, especially in the rain

    - then make the rain WORK FOR YOU. Classic lemons to lemonade plot device: the terrible thing turns out to have an unexpected upside. How does the rain/water (or something affected by it) assist shifting the casket to the truck bed? (I'm thinking of slipperiness, floating, etc.)

    3. the fact that he brings the casket into his house of his own free will.

    Choices are rarely truly random. Give us a hint that he didn't flip a mental coin, that his unique life experience led to this moment and this choice.

  7. thanks belzecue! or is it belz for short :)

    pain/pleasure is a perfect, simple way to articulate how to dictate a character decision - great stuff. also making the rain work in his favor may turn up something interesting as well, though i'm not sure how to yet.

    i like your style - although i'm shelving this one for a bit, i'd love to hear your thoughts on the pages. good feedback only makes me better.


  8. Dan, I read it.

    Three words.

    Kill. The. Dog.

    You know you want to. (I know I want to.) Because then you've pushed your protag BEYOND the limits of his loneliness-coping mechanisms. You've brutally severed him from the one love left in his life...

    (Um, audience, this is where you holler YOU BASTARD! at Dan. I'll wait... Aw yeah, there we go.)

    So I'd play around with setting the discovery of the casket at the Act One turning point, say, page 20 - 25. (A little earlier, as Thomas crosses the story threshold into his 'new world' when he brings the body into his home.)

    The hook is your casket mishap, and the inciting incident is, say, Homer having a nasty accident after you've established their relationship. Not snuffed out immediately. His life must hang in the balance a while so we can put Thomas through the emotional wringer. Really get some audience empathy. Lift Thomas's hopes then cruelly dash them. His lifelong furry pal, the last love of his life... DEAD.

    Yeah. THAT's how you get a lonely old dude to haul home a casket and befriend the occupant.

  9. dude. i like it. i actually did have the dog being killed, but he was murdered in the second act by the villainous sheriff who breaks into thomas' house looking for the illegally procured corpse...

    but this is great - of course my initial thought is whether or not you could sustain the audience's interest for a half hour before getting to the meat of the story, but it may just be possible...

    cheers, and thx again!

  10. Interesting setup. Looks like a quirky indie dramedy like "Lars and the Real Girl."

    The story seems to drift along once we follow Thomas on his daily routine, and it's not until he finds the coffin on p9 that things start to pick up. I'm afraid that might be a little too late.

    I think there's probably a sharper, faster way to illustrate his lonely life and get us ready to believe he might bring a coffin home for company. It would help if Thomas were pursuing a specific goal here, too. An aimless protagonist leads to aimless scenes, which is not what you want when you are trying to hook a reader.

    Hope that helps!

  11. thanks, great notes patrick. by far the thing i'm most hearing is how the middle section is dragging, so that's something i definitely have to work on.


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