1st 10 pages of ANYBODY'S SON
The first ten pages of a screenplay, as we've all heard many times before, are crucial. If your first ten pages (or even less, in most cases) are not amazing, the rest of your script will not be read. Your first ten pages need to not only be brilliant, but must set up and draw us into the story establishing the following:
* MAIN CHARACTER of your movie
* What the STORY is going to be about
* The CONCEIT of your movie
* The ARENA/WORLD where your movie takes place.
* The GENRE & TONE of your movie
* The THEME of your movie
* The CENTRAL CONFLICT of the movie
Accomplishing all of that in ten pages is a lot to ask. Doing it well is even more difficult. But then, that's why we're here, so let's see how ANYBODY'S SON meets the task.
ESTABLISH THE MAIN CHARACTER OF YOUR MOVIE:
In these first ten pages, it was impossible to tell who the main character was. If we don’t know who your main character is we don’t know who to invest in and root for. The audience experiences the story through a character’s p.o.v. Who is that person in your story? These pages jumped around and we met several characters. All of them were given fairly equal weight, which made it feel ensemble-y, so I never got a strong sense of who any of these characters were or what makes them distinct human beings. The details of what characters say and do throughout the script help us understand who they are, but the first impression is even more critically important. Don't forget to introduce your character with a little something that really makes them unique. Check out this article about character intros on my site.
ESTABLISH WHAT THE STORY IS GOING TO BE ABOUT:
The log line is simple but intriguing enough. The missing girl is the inciting incident and the investigation is the second act journey. My problem with the first ten pages is they do not deliver on the concept or the genre. First we'll talk concept and the first ten pages of story.
We open with the school psychologist, COURTNEY, as she talks to a teenager, JONI about her low P.S.A.T. scores. When Joni cries, Courtney assumes it is over the low score and reassures Joni that she can always get a full ride athletic scholarship. However, Joni informs Courtney that she quit the team. Courtney doesn't understand why she'd do that and wants to escort Joni to her next class so they can discuss it along the way. But Courtney is momentarily distracted by a fight that breaking out in the hall. She handles the situation, then turns back to find Joni's books on the floor but no Joni. For some reason, Courtney is compelled to go to the open window in her office and looks down to see Joni’s lifeless on the pavement. I guess we are to assume Joni jumped. But I digress… Joni can't be the "unexplained disappearance" -- so how does this connect to the overall story? Was it to set up that Courtney is the school psychologist? Was this particularly dramatic scene to establish the tone and genre?
I'm not only confused by this scene but by many of the scenes because if I just read the first ten pages without seeing the log line first, I wouldn't know what this story is about. Nor would I know who it was about.
We move onto Courtney talking to someone -- we don't know who because this scene does nothing but serve as an indicator that Courtney is on the phone before we cut to YOUNG MAX and YOUNG JAKE playing wizards outside. I'm not sure of the point of this scene as it only introduces two characters playing. Nothing HAPPENS in the scene. There is no conflict and the scene does not move the story forward in any way. Every scene must move the story forward. We then cut to BOBBY (20s), drinking whiskey as he watches the two boys from the living room window. All I know about Bobby is that he drinks whiskey, he is the father of one or both of the boys and he's described as charming - a quality we never see in any of the ten pages as he comes across as a jealous, alcoholic jerk. Then we cut to TESS. This is who Courtney is talking on the phone with about Joni's death. The writers are putting a lot of emphasis on Joni, so I'm thinking at this point that Joni's death might be the main storyline -- yet, again, I'm confused, because it's a disappearance that Courtney investigates, not an unexplained death. Besides, Courtney looks to have committed suicide over getting pregnant -- explanation. Why is Joni important? During the women's conversation, Bobby (Tess's husband) enters causing Tess to quickly get off the phone. Bobby's suspicious and wants to know whom Tess was talking to. He doesn't believe that it's just a friend as Tess claims. Things escalate when Tess turns the topic to Bobby's drinking. We cut back and forth between their fight and Young Max and Young Jake trying to avoid the line of fire, but they enter the house (unmotivated) and Bobby yanks Jake by the arm and threatens to leave with him, but backs off when he sees his kid is scared and takes off my himself.
Cut to Tess and Courtney in the living room talking. Courtney wants to know what Tess told Bobby about her to which Tess replies: "Nothing… yet. Because I'm not exactly sure how to put it." Tess then takes Courtney's hand into hers. I think this was meant to be a reveal… though I sensed the two were having an affair before this moment. And I'm not sure why it needs to be a moment with the weight of a reveal, as it doesn't really seem important to the story.
Jump to Ten Years Later…
I'm so not a fan of time jumps in 99% of the scripts that do this. Most the time I find it to be a technique writers used because they don't know how to get into their story. And almost always it's not necessary to the telling of the story. This script jumps to ten years later. Jake is now sixteen and he's in a pick up truck with his father (Bobby) who is asking him which gun he prefers: Rifle, shotgun, pistol? I'm not sure the point of this scene or the talk about guns except maybe this is the set up of a weapon and perhaps Bobby's line is foreshadowing a story point when he says: "Heh, heh. The nine mill. Not as good as the forty-four magnum but still able to put down some poor should who decides to trespass.” Moments later Bobby parks in front of a two-story house. Out front, in the house next door, is Max, now sixteen with SARAH CARPENTER, (16). The two are practicing cheerleading routines. Bobby notes that Jake likes Sarah, before reminding Jake that he needs him to be on his side when he talks to his mom about moving in with him. Jake gets out of the truck and heads for his house, ignores Max…
Okay, so… I’ve met a lot of people and I’m not sure which character I’m following. This is what went through my mind while reading these pages: Is this going to be about the girl who killed herself and why? Courtney’s upset. She’s calling Tess for comfort. Is this about Courtney dealing with the aftermath of one of her clients committing suicide? Wait, no… maybe it’s about this family falling apart (Tess, Jake and Bobby). Perhaps it’s about Bobby’s revenge after he finds out about the affair. But we’re spending a lot of time with Young Jake and Young Max. Is this movie going to be about their friendship? Maybe it has to do with this girl, Sarah, that Jake likes. I don’t know. A certain amount of guessing is good – no one wants to be spoon fed, but these pages were like being on a wild goose chase. I was confused. Every scene needs to build on the next and lead somewhere. I felt like I was spinning in circles.
ESTABLISH THE CONCEIT OF YOUR MOVIE:
Nothing happened that hooked me and, per the above, I don't get the story or the conceit from these ten pages. I guess you could argue that the suicide, executed well could grab my attention. But this is not the main concept of your story – at least not from what was told in the logline.
ESTABLISH THE ARENA/WORLD WHERE YOUR MOVIE TAKES PLACE:
While an action line established Putnam City High School (which exists in Oklahoma) I didn't get a sense of the world through the description of landscape, clothing, food or character dialect. I didn't get a strong sense of how small the town or school was through everybody knowing everybody and local gossip. Wouldn't it be a big deal for a kid to have his mom end up with the female school guidance counselor? Where will we be spending most of our time? LES DIABOLIQUE mostly takes place at the boarding school. A lot of SWIMFAN takes place in the high school. Much of THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE takes place in Claire’s house. Think about all the movies you love. What unique world are we being immersed in: California wine country, Hollywood in the 40’s, NFL Football, British society…? Great scenes and setpiece moments can evolve out of your arena.
ESTABLISH THE GENRE & TONE OF YOUR MOVIE:
From the log line I surmised that this might be a thriller or a drama/thriller, but I don't know for sure because I didn't get a strong sense of the genre from these ten pages. Genre is like the brand: Comedy, Drama, Thriller, Action… It felt like a family drama more than anything else, though I don't believe that's the intention. At times it felt light. This is due to lack of tension and stakes.
ESTABLISH THE THEME OF YOUR MOVIE:
Because so much is unclear, it’s not surprise that there wasn’t a hint of theme. Theme is often nebulous for screenwriters. I think it’s an advanced skill, so we won’t focus on that here.
ESTABLISH THE CENTRAL CONFLICT OF YOUR MOVIE:
Right now the biggest conflict in the film is between Tess and Bobby. They are a married couple with marital problems. Tess is in love with Courtney. She and Bobby split up. Bobby wants their son Jake to live with him. What does any of this have to do with the missing girl that Jake is the prime suspect for according to the logline? And where is Courtney in all of this? According to the logline, she's the person we are following in the story as she investigates the missing girl and gets closer to the truth -- it might be or is Jake.
I don't know the movie outside of the ten pages, but just from reading the log line, I'd expect to see something more along the lines of Jake begrudgingly moving to a new house with his mom and step mom. I don't think we need to see Tess and Bobby fight. I think we get it. Divorce sucks. Having your mom be cheating on your dad with another woman -- that might be a lot to swallow. I get why Jake is upset. Especially if he really loves and gets along with his dad and has been forced to live with the two moms. In that scenario, I understand why Jake would be having emotional problems and act out. Probably he doesn't get along with Courtney. Maybe that's the main conflict? Jake liked the girl who's gone missing. Perhaps something happens between them and now he seems like the obvious suspect. Maybe he isn't our bad guy in the end, after all. Maybe Courtney is? Or his Dad? I don't know exactly what the writers are going for, so I can only guess, but if I'm guessing, this is not a good thing. If a story is being told clearly and being told well then the reader will go along for the ride. If the story is disjointed or confusing then the reader becomes frustrated and is left fix or criticize.
SCENE WORK & DIALOGUE: One of the major problems with the storytelling in these ten pages is the scene work. There were several scenes where nothing happened. You'll see examples in the pages notes, but for instance, on the bottom of page 2 and top of page 3, there is a scene where Courtney crying on the phone. She has one line: Hello… hey you… What do we KNOW from this scene? I just told you. That's it. Well, that's not enough. Every scene needs to move the story forward. We must learn something new about the character or the story. Hopefully both. Scenes need to be entertaining, have a goal, have conflict, advance story, reveal character… A scene should have a beginning, middle and end. This particular scene accomplishes none of that. I already know she's upset over what happened from previous scenes. WHO is Courtney talking to? We don't even learn that for two more scenes. Why split those scenes up? Setting up a shot takes time. Time equals money. No one is going to shoot a scene that doesn't add value to the story.
Aside from story, structure and formatting problems, I found the dialogue to be very flat, often expositional and on the nose.
TO SUM IT UP
Screenwriting is hard work. It takes years to develop and hone the craft and write to a professional level. If that’s your goal be prepared to sacrifice a lot and work your butt off. You must write, read books on screenwriting, write, take classes, write, form a writers group, read scripts, and write some more. I’ve been as honest as I could be reviewing these pages because it doesn’t serve anyone for me not to be. The sooner you know what lies ahead of you, the sooner you can get to work and then ultimately succeed!
What did you think of Cheyne and Chris's first 10 pages?
Next week the Mystery Film Student gives feedback on the 1st 10 pages of Michael J. Regina's GIRLS RECOVERY LODGE.
Please share your thoughts on Cheyne and Chris's 1st 10 pages below.