Friday, April 6, 2012

THIS TOM'S SON by Vanessa Pope

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

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?)
Somebody Shoot This! 

Readers then vote and comment on your work.

This week I read the first 10 pages of Vanessa Pope's THIS TOM'S SON.

*** Vanessa Pope is represented by Peter Macfarlane of Macfarlane Chard. ***

The story begins in Belfast. It's an idyllic, early summer scene when a voice over comes in. A woman, Martina McCoy, writes to her absent husband. We quickly realize that her words are out of sync with the serene images on the screen.

Next, we meet their children. Martina's description (of what is going on with each one) compliments what we see. Screenwriters are often warned against using voice over in the beginning of a screenplay. Good thing Vanessa didn't heed those warnings because it works beautifully here. In just a little over a page, we learn both the players and the situation they find themselves in. Not only that, it's presented in an active and humorous way.

Then, we meet the neighbors- lead by the aptly named David Furey who, "carries himself with the air of a man who has won his family as trophies." He's also a real jerk. So it comes as no surprise that Chris is determined to make him the target of their little prank later on. I won't go into detail here, in case you haven't read it yet, but things get pretty sticky. You sense that there's some history here and that Furey had it coming.

Is this the inciting incident? It's hard to say having only read 10 pages. It could be that something happens within the next few pages to really get the story rolling. But something stronger needs to happen sooner. That's my only criticism (I go into more detail about formatting and such in my notes) in terms of the story itself.

Hollywood readers are looking for something gripping in those first few pages. Her crippled husband returns home unannounced, news arrives that he's been killed in action or gone missing, the boy's prank goes horribly wrong and someone is killed or maimed- you get the picture.

Regarding Vanessa's writing ability? She clearly has the chops to become a professional writer. The characters are vividly drawn and her pacing is excellent. Anyone can learn to craft a decent screenplay, but there's a certain element of artistry needed to write a good one and that can't be taught. I suspect we'll be seeing a lot more of Vanessa Pope in the future. So, when it comes to Vanessa Pope and her story- I'd like some more please, but regarding these 10 pages:

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

What did you think of Vanessa Pope's first 10 pages?


Vote below for which 10 pages you'd like me to review on 4/27/12. (I'll be reviewing Amy Suto's 1st 10 pages on 4/20/12.)

ROCK NOT DEAD by Martin Dolan
In less than 24 hours zombies rise all over town. A teen rock band struggles not only to survive, but to play the show of their lives.

£80 PER WEEK by Alex Durham
Rooms for let.

THE GIFT OF FIRE by Reginald Beltran
Forbidden from continuing her life's work in the U.S., a linguistics professor accepts an invitation from a Nigerian dictator to continue her research with apes.

HUNA MAGIC by Dawn Star
After two beautiful sorcery students are sentenced to death, they escape seeking a pardon and face a fantastical odyssey across rainbows, through the Underworld and against lizard demons, with aid from the Goddesses and Gods of ancient Hawaii.

WOODED DARKNESS by Freddie Lee Cross II
An emotionally haunted girl, Ara Mashal, prepares for her 18th birthday when her serial killer ex-boyfriend, 29 year old Eddie Tateon, shows up with his own murderous plans to unravel her life.

BERNARD'S WATCH by Chip Thompson
Bernard has had his magical stopping watch since he was a young boy. Now the power of time is beginning to corrupt.

In the future, death is the new drug. So perfect are these "Actual Death Experiences", they are made illegal. Now one scientist must risk her life trying to figure out how an impossible death experience even exists, and stop the slaughter of millions of innocent lives.

Next week Amy Suto will review the first 10 pages of Louis Sangalli's 1601.

A shut-in, losing his grip on reality, struggles to evict his twisted roommate and conquer his fear of the outside world, in order to win back the woman he loves.

Comment on Vanessa Pope's 1st 10 pages below.


  1. haven't read it, but just taking a look someone definitely cheated with margins there :)

  2. It's very clear that Vanessa has a knack for crafting memorable characters. She's got an interesting style, and the opening scene feels almost dreamlike with the voiceover and the intercutting scenes. It's whimsical with a mysterious edge, which is my tonal cup of tea.

    However, as far as scripts are concerned, I think this shoots itself in the foot with the action paragraphs. When readers see paragraphs with seven lines on the first page, we want to shoot ourselves, no matter how well written they are because larger paragraphs = longer time must be spent reading. And people in the film industry are notoriously busy people. So when we see these chunks, something clicks in our brain and we begin to skim. Then you've lost us.

    I'd be curious to find out if Vanessa has written a novel, because her script reads more like she's writing a book.

    Another major problem is the sheer number of characters introduced so quickly. They're all unique and distinctive, but there are so many to keep track of! Readers don't like to keep flipping back to find out "who is Chris again?!"

    I think Rob wrote this in his notes, but don't capitalize people's names after they've been introduced. It's much harder for me to figure out who the new players are on each page, thus reinforcing my confusion.

    These pages also feel fragmented. I don't have anything to latch onto. I'm meeting all these people, but none of their scenes have enough focus and meaning for me to get sucked in.

    Basically, make your script easy on the eyes! Show us a story unfold, don't unload all your chess pieces on us right away. I want to be immersed in this vivid world you've created, not flipping back every few pages to remember who's who.

    Overall, I think Vanessa has talent! I hopes she sticks with it and continues to write and rewrite her work. Or, maybe turn this into a novel?

  3. Interesting first 10 pages, thanks for posting them!

    My biggest note is that not a lot seems to happen. A mother writes a letter to her absent husband; two boys play a prank; a girl plays with her toys. All well-executed & interesting, but it's all bait - no hook. You've only got about 10 pages nowadays to get your story rolling, and so far I don't see a story shaping up beyond the feud with the overbearing neighbor, which feels more like a 'b' plot.

    Normally, in spec scripts you don't number scenes, but this could be a US convention.

    Very chunky blocks of action text. I'd try to break them down to blocks of 3-4 lines each. In my writing, I try to make each block a different "shot," as it were.

    Some of the character intros are very good, while others are mere physical descriptions.

    Generally don't cap names after they are first introduced, though I have seen some pro scripts that do this.

    We already met Martina McCoy in the opening so I'm not sure why she gets a second full introduction on p.5.

    Semen, not seamen.

    Keep working with it!


Please make constructive comments. Anything mean spirited or malicious will be removed.