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.


  1. god, this is so annoying...just wrote a page's worth of notes and blogger f'd me in the ass when i tried to publish...i'll try to recap the main points i had :)

    first off - agree with rob, great visual and cinematic style. can tell you're a director for sure. bad ass premise, lots of great questions.

    my main issues are still the same:

    1) dashes and overuse of capitals - especially the dashes. it makes it read almost like one long, 10 page sentence that never ends. very distracting and difficult to read for me, but others may disagree. use these things sparingly, for greater effect.

    2) dialogue - hunter should not be talking to himself. he's in shock. in fact, page 9: "HELLO?!" - THAT should be your first line of dialogue. look at "I am Legend" - i think i recall there not being any talking for the first 40 minutes. much more realistic. you don't need to spell things out for the audience by having hunter talk to them, you need to be genuine.

    3) too much going on in the first few pages. i think it would work much better if after that thrilling opener, hunter came out of the bathroom and ALL WAS WELL (for now). he comes out as it is, and he's immediately hit with more drones and an alien. i would save that stuff, don't want to spend it all at once and/or run the risk of being repetitive. let us get to know the character a little better, so that we actually care about him when he does get into mortal danger.

    great content though, and this definitely feels like it could be a movie someday - thanks for sharing!


  2. Fantastic writing! Very visual. This is what a professional script looks like.

    I agree with Dan about there being a little too much going on, there's a fine line in between a fast-paced and a rushed opener. You want to give your audience a character to care for before he's thrust into danger. By building suspense and withholding drones and aliens, our anticipation makes the inevitable showdown that much more rewarding.

    I love the use of the dashes and capitals. I'm a huge believer in controlling the eye of the reader through punctuation. Mike Le Han clearly knows how to make the reader read at the pace he wants them to, and that shines through.

    Overall, a great start and a compelling story! Quests of self-discovery are the most interesting to explore.

  3. I loved it, personally. Incredibly visual, thoroughly gripping from the first page. Exactly as it should be.

    I think you actually went overboard with the text, personally. I'd have liked to see this in a much less verbose, more vertical style, with line breaks instead of dashes and maybe about 1/3 of the descriptives cut. Saying more with less. I didn't mind the run-on stlye though, it made it flow much more rapidly. You clearly have a handle on the fact that punctuation is more fluid in screenwriting than prose, though. Bending the rules to serve the vision.

    I agree with Dan about the dialogue... To an extent. People DO talk to themselves (I have entire conversations with myself!) but the way it's used here feels... false. Like it's telling and not showing, just putting dialogue in for its own sake so that there isn't an extended period of silence- but extended periods of silence can be, as we saw with Wall-E, brilliantly concentrating for characterisation. No need for spoon-fed exposition to ease discomfort. In fact if it was me, I'd have this entire section of script not only dialogue-less, but also score-free and possibly even foley-free. He's a shell-shocked, hunted amnesiac stumbling around on his last legs... But curiously indestructible. Needs some dramatic use of audio, I think.

  4. This script just made The Black List data base


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