Friday, May 25, 2012

BINDS THAT TIE by Lizz-Ayn Shaarawi

Accused of theft after a break in at the local university museum, an Egyptian brother and sister that run a convenience store in the Pacific Northwest must find the real culprits before suspicious townsfolk discover their dark secret.

How It Works

Email Rob the first ten pages of your feature length screenplay (in pdf. format) along with a logline and title. Every Friday one of us (or a guest reviewer) posts 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 Dan read the first 10 pages of BINDS THAT TIE by Lizz-Ayn Shaarawi

We open this week's pages from Lizz-Ayn Shaarawi (a consistent, much appreciated commentator on this blog by the way) in a small convenience store, in the wee hours of the morning. Two Egyptian young adults (Zahra and Amir) are operating the store when a suspicious man in a baseball hat enters. Here is the very first line of dialogue:

I promise you, when that man walked in our store, we had no intention of eating his brain.

Wow. Exciting, right? I sat up in my seat when I read that. Does this intriguing set-up live up to its promise? Let's find out...

First, before I delve into the pages themselves, I will just say that if I have one quip with Lizz-Ayn's logline, it's with the phrase "dark secret" - this is vague, when I feel it should be revealing. I know that the intention is to hook the reader, but a logline needs to give me an idea of what the story is about. "Dark secret" tells me nothing.

Okay, so getting back to our opening scene: as you might have guessed, our early morning customer Mr. Baseball Hat is up to no good. He slams a six-pack of beer on the counter at the register, but then also pulls a gun on the attendant, our male hero Amir (who has a "dangerous feline grace" about him - love that description!). 

Amir is having none of this burglary. In fact, he's up to something himself, and we figure that out when he leaps over the counter, proceeds to snap Mr. Baseball Hat's neck, and then crack the man's skull open, feasting on dead would-be-robber's internal gray matter. Zahra, our female hero, joins in on the bloody man meal.

Say it with me, guys: ewwww......

However cool I think the gore at this point is, my first and probably one of my biggest issues with these pages also emerges in my mind: what kind of movie is this supposed to be? Is it a comedy? Horror? Is this scene supposed to be funny, or is it supposed to be shocking/intense? I don't get a good sense of the tone in the writer's voice. Personally, I really, really want it to be a silly comedy (because, well...brain-feeding reanimated mummies, right?), but I feel like maybe the writer is wanting us to take it more seriously. And I don't know if with this over-the-top concept that's possible. Others may disagree, but there you go.

So, yes - these two youngins are ancient mummies, walking amongst us: Zahra explains that her and Amir are "reanimated, and living with the, well, living". I thought that line was a nice way of satisfying our questions for now (specifically: "How are these mummies alive in present day?")...however, I think the writer makes a questionable choice at this point by introducing some quick flashbacks to try and give us a little more context on the world of the undead. To me they were unnecessary, confusing, and slowed down the story (when potentially, they could have at least provided with some humor). Others may disagree, but there you go.

After the quick historic detour, we are back in the convenience store where Zahra and Amir quickly clean up their bloody mess and dispose of robber man's body (another side point, not sure about anyone else but I assumed these two Egyptians were brother and sister - I'm not so positive that was clear). 

The scene then kind of extends and fizzles out as we get not one, but two more customers (neither of which provide as much drama as the first guy): one, a racist hick who eyes down Amir and then leaves without event, and also a friendly deputy who shows up, and invites Amir and Zahra to an Egyptian exhibit at the nearby college. Of course, Amir and Zahra - being the hungry, healthy mummies that they are - see the deputy as potential brain food (is that a pun? I don't know, apologies either way). 

So they accept.

At home that evening, as Amir and Zahra prepare for the exhibit, we get our first sense of who these people are at their core (well, one of them at least). Zahra makes a comment that she and Amir will never "rid themselves of the stench of death". So apparently, while Zahra enjoys how the man meal tastes going down, it maybe doesn't sit too well with her after the fact. I thought this was a nice internal conflict to show us, though I did feel it was a little forced and maybe didn't fit with the unbridled, ravenously feeding Zahra we had just seen at the convenience store.

Our last couple pages take place at the college museum exhibit, where we meet a couple professors who show off some Egyptian artifacts which have been recently unearthed - one particular artifact triggers another flashback, this one a memory of Zahra's - it details an attack on ancient Egypt, and we see Amir and Zahra (pre-mummification) fall victims to the mighty Roman sword. Sadly, I feel like this flashback was even more of a hindrance to the story than the last ones. We know Amir and Zahra were dead at one point, we don't need to reveal the circumstances now, or probably ever in the entire film. 

It's pretty uncanny that you see so many flashbacks in amateur scripts (and I am just as guilty as the next guy concerning them) - nine times out of ten, they're unnecessary, they add nothing, they're cliche, and most importantly - they slow the narrative down so much. And yet, we still go to them...why is that? I don't know. Probably because they're easy...don't do the easy thing, guys!!! Dig deeper.

So, to recap: I think I love this concept - mummies living amongst 21st century modern America, feasting on our brains in The mummy attack was a great way to open, and I felt like it was the start of something potentially really exciting - but alas, for me it devolved a into something a little more mundane and unsure of itself in comparison. My other big issues with the execution were the similar lack of sense of tone or genre, the writer's need to give us too much information up front (and to overstay her welcome in a scene), and our female hero - whose character is a little unclear and vague (and maybe even mopey) at this point.

I will give this baby a "Take Another Pass!" and look forward to seeing where Lizz-Ayn takes this cool idea to in future drafts.


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

Dan's notes on the 1st 10 pages of BINDS THAT TIE

What did you think of Lizz-Ayn's 1st 10 pages?

Next week Amy gives feedback on the 1st 10 pages of Karl Larsson's DEEP LEVEL SHELTER.

Please comment below on the 1st 10 pages of Lizz-Ayn's TIES THAT BIND.


  1. As Dan notes, there is a great idea under all this. I agree with him on the flashbacks - we don't need an explanation right off the bat, there's plenty of time to drop some exposition in later - but tone wise, I didn't have a problem. Reminded me of Re-Animator a little, with its mixture of gore and laughs.

    It seems Lizz-Ayn missed an opportunity to crank up the tension (and more gags) by having Officer Worth enter the store mid brain feast. If the spontaneous combustion is relevant to the story, she could also maybe throw that in the mix, rather than show it on the TV.

    That said, mummies AND spontaneous combustion may be too much!

    Also, being invited to the exhibit is kind of an easy choice. Depends on how it pans out, but I like the idea of Mummies breaking back into a museum.

    Anyway, I think there's a good, original idea here well worth pursuing.


  2. rob just helped me out with a similar issue in my own script with two big, different ideas (i.e. mummies coupled with spontaneous combustion). in save the cat it's called "double mumbo jumbo".

  3. Overall, an interesting premise with much promise! But the first ten pages need some restructuring.

    In the opening scene, consider getting rid of the news story. Spontaneous combustion and zombies? Two supernatural phenomenons at once? Double mumbo jumbo. The reader won't buy into the premise. The dialog concerning the news story is also too on the nose and is obvious exposition. Cut it. Just have the man walk into the store, try to rob them, and then have the mummies attack him.

    More on the nose dialog that should be changed:
    "It’s fine. I understand that veterans often have trouble adjusting after they return home."

    "We’ll never rid ourselves of the stench of death."

    As for the flashbacks, why not try integrating them with the exhibit in some way? So they're tied to action in the present?

    Also, how are zombies and mummies different? I thought zombies ate brains and... I'm not sure what mummies do. How are they mummies without the wrappings? I think I'm not up to speed enough on the undead philosophy to get this, but I was confused on what makes these two mummies other than the fact they were undead. Do they have ancient powers or something? Do they age?

    The genre was also ambiguous. The voiceover reminded me of Zombieland (a zombie roadtrip comedy) and it didn't add to the story.

    Sorry if this comes across as harsh! I think you have a great logline I want to see this story improve :) Best wishes!

  4. Thanks to Dan, Karl, and Amy for the great feedback. This is a work in progress and I had some doubts about the set up. My main fears were 1) Too much voice over 2) too many flashbacks and 3) too many characters introduced too quickly.

    So to give you an idea of what I was TRYING to accomplish with this I’ll give a brief overview of the rest of the story (or what I have so far.) I hope that’s allowed.

    A Story- Someone broke into the museum and Zahra and Amir have been set up to look like the guilty party. The sheriff, a racist redneck, thinks it’s a cut and dried case and is in a big hurry to arrest Zahra and Amir. They have to discover who the real thief is and fast (SPOILER: It’s Dave Jenkins, the Professor’s husband, who recently began teaching English at the local prison and was taught a few things by the inmates as well.)

    B Story- Deputy Worth and Zahra like each other but they have to put any romance on hold because he’s investigating her. Plus, she discovers that Baseball Cap is actually Merle, Worth’s cousin that just got out of prison so Worth is also trying to discover what happened to him which puts Zahra in an even trickier situation.

    C Story- Which isn’t helped by the arrival of Zahra’s ex-boyfriend (the bogman sacrifice in the first flashback and also a mummy) who claims that the spontaneous combustions are actually calculated attacks on mummies. He and another mummy (the female Russian warrior from one of the other flashbacks) have been following the trail of spontaneous combustion cases and it’s leading right to Amir and Zahra. (SPOILER: It’s the museum curator who was attacked by a mummy (that wasn’t adjusting well to his reanimation) during the Alexandria dig. He accidentally torched the mummy and discovered their tissue is extremely flammable, burns quickly and leaves little more than ash.

    Basically every mummy shown in flashback in the first ten shows up later in the story. It was an attempt to give both the viewer and the reader a quick intro to the other characters that pepper the rest of the story.

    To break it down even more, Zahra is the main character. She has to avoid being arrested and discover the true thief while trying to decide (romantically) between sweet Deputy Worth who can never know her true self and who she can only have a brief love with (as she won’t age but he will) or sexy bogman who she still has feelings for and knows what she is, though he has a bad habit of not being able to keep it in his pants. To top it off, someone has discovered that mummies walk among the living and is trying to kill them off and it looks like she and Amir are next on their list.

    Is that too convoluted? Haha.

    Anyway, that's what I was going for. I guess I should give it some more thought and try to rework it a bit.


  5. no problem lizzayn - so i think your story sounds pretty cluttered and maybe trying too hard to squeeze too many things in, but like i said my biggest issue is what kind of movie is it? is this aimed at the zombieland/dawn of the dead crowd, or is it something less silly? i think this is a premise you definitely want to try and have a lot of disgusting fun with, but the love triangle sounds kind of cheesy and young adult-ish.

    from what i can tell, this is basically a cut and dry detective film with supernatural players and some additional unnecessary subplots. i'd suggest trying to simplify things, go back to the logline and rework it. milk your premise, and come up with a singular, clear vision. what is going to provide the most fun? what's going to force these mummies to become desperate? those kinds of questions. maybe amir and zahra have been feeding on brains from a lab their whole modern life, but once the lab closes down they have to start feeding on humans, which is very risky.

    know the genre. give your characters a goal, give them stakes, and make it urgent. we carson snobs call that GSU over at scriptshadow :) don't give up, i still love the general premise!

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. I would give this a More Please. I thought the character introductions/descriptions were well done. I also liked the quick flashback montage showing "mummies" from around the world. I found it helpful in setting up the world and thought it went well with the voice over.

    I didn't have a problem with the tone. I got a sense of darkly comic, my personal favorite. As far as mummies not being wrapped up- an excellent choice and a welcome relief from the hordes of zombie scripts out there.

    I didn't see spontaneous combustion and mummies as double mumbo jumbo, especially since there's a sense that they're somehow tied together. It's not as if she's writing about mummies and aliens.

    Great job!

  8. Thanks for the kind words. I'll be sure to incorporate bits of everyone's feedback when I rework and rewrite the story. Thanks again, guys. :)

  9. Hi Lizz,

    My name is Louis Sallerson and I am a partner at It Is No Dream Entertainment, an emerging production company represented by Madhouse Entertainment (Safe House, Contraband, Prisoners). We're on the lookout for new horror and thriller screenplays.

    I've heard some great things about your screenplay, THE BONE ORCHARD and I was wondering if I could read it.

    Please reply at




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