LOGLINE: After an encounter with a striking aviator, a young man discovers that he needs her help to overcome the forces of evil that have been secretly governing his world.
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This week's review of Ivuoma Okoro's first ten pages is brought to you by Ruth Atkinson.
Let’s start with the log line for BETWEEN EARTH AND SKY: After an encounter with a striking aviator, a young man discovers that he needs her help to overcome the forces of evil that have been secretly governing his world.
Hmmm… my curiosity is piqued. Forces of evil. Striking aviator. Perhaps a romantic relationship. All somewhat interesting. But I’m also confused. One of the reasons for this is that the log line doesn’t clearly establish who the protagonist is. It would seem like it’s the young man but it’s the woman who gets a physical description and a job title. This kind of specific detail about the woman’s character, rather than the man’s, suggests the story is about her (but it’s clear from the pages he’s the protagonist). Furthermore the log line doesn’t tell us what the primary conflict is. “Forces of evil” is too vague for us to get a sense of what our hero is going to be up against. Is this something supernatural, militaristic or are we talking some kind of covert ops like espionage? The end result is the log line doesn’t tell us what the story is going to be about.
Another way to go with the log line would be something like this: An aviator, battling the forces of evil that secretly govern his world, enlists the help of an attractive fellow pilot to help him overcome them. Well, this isn’t really enough to hook a reader (we need more detail about the aviator and what these forces are doing to make his life so difficult among other things) but it’s structured in such a way that we get a better sense of the protagonist and clearly see that they are going to be waging some kind of battle.
But that aside I have a bigger issue with the log line which is that it suggests the story is going to be a thriller (supernatural or otherwise) but the first ten pages don’t hint at this at all. Instead they read like a straight drama. If the piece is about a good vs. evil battle involving some kind of powerful “force” then we need to know this in the opening pages.
So what IS the story about? After reading the first ten pages I’m still not sure.
The script opens with a scene involving a violent love triangle that has the vague feeling of being set in the past (maybe because all the men are wearing military uniforms and waving pistols) though no time period is given. Amelia, who’s just put her infant to bed, and her husband David reconnect after a day apart but are suddenly interrupted by Whitlock who barges in “looking like he’s seen a ghost” and covered in blood. As Amelia and David tend to him Chavez rushes in, Whitlock pulls a gun and within moments he’s the only man standing. With Amelia’s limp body cradled in his arms he sobs hysterically bemoaning her death and professing his love. As a baby wails in the background we notice that Chavez’s body is suddenly missing and we cut to present day.
Here the piece shifts to the cockpit of a grounded airplane and we meet Cassius who’s finishing up his training yet has never flown an aircraft let alone stood in the cockpit. It’s a beautiful day for flying and Cassius is banking on nabbing his first ever opportunity to fly that day. But his hopes are quickly dashed by Major Adams who arrives on the scene. He praises Cassius for his academic abilities but assigns him to a simulator instead of that day’s flight. Though this is a reward for his hard work it’s not the perk Cassius had hoped for.
We then go to Cassius in his quarters studying poetry. His roommate Travis tries to convince him to put the books aside and join him at the bar but Cassius declines. Travis leaves and Cassius’ father Victor, who is also a pilot, arrives. They have a brief exchange where Victor admonishes Cassius’ impatience around wanting to fly and reminds him that “patience is a virtue.” Victor tells Cassius to write his mother more often and with a quick goodbye he’s out the door and Cassius is back to his book. While outside a mysterious aircraft lands in a wooded area.
We can assume from these first ten pages that the incident in the past is somehow connected to the present. Given the log line hints at the “evil” to come we can imagine that Amelia or Chavez might return to haunt or wreak havoc in some way. Or maybe the orphaned baby is the “striking aviator” that Cassius comes to call on for help. Either way there is absolutely nothing in these first few pages that sets up these ideas or tell us how the opening incident relates to Cassius. While the deeper meaning behind an opening teaser (or prologue) is often delayed until later in the script at this point we should still have some sense of how they could conceivably connect. But there’s nothing here to suggest how they relate or even spark our curiosity.
Furthermore there doesn’t appear to be any “evil governing his world” (secret or otherwise) or any conflict to speak of. In addition we don’t meet the “striking aviator” or have a sense of how this character is going to be woven into the story particularly because Cassius prefers poetry to clubbing and doesn’t seem interested in meeting women. Ultimately other than clearly establishing Cassius impatience to fly a plane we know virtually nothing about our characters or the story to come.
On another note the piece has this oddly militaristic feel yet this is not explained. In the opening scene David and Whitlock wear “crisp, militaristic uniforms of blues and deep purples.” While Chavez wears one that is “significantly plainer.” There’s nothing to indicate what kind of uniforms these are and we’re left guessing as to what their significance might be. This is also true of Cassius and Travis who wear uniforms of “pale blue shirts and navy blue pants tucked into shin high brown flying boots.” This outfit evokes Nazi soldiers and suggests the piece is period yet this is not indicated. Both McAdams and Cassius’ father wear uniforms and McAdams is referred to by rank. All of this is so vaguely drawn that it’s impossible to get a good sense of what the uniforms represent and is a missed opportunity to tell us about our characters and the world they inhabit.
But perhaps more importantly there’s little here that draws us in or keeps us hooked. The opening incident comes off as melodrama, the action feels awkward and forced and it reads more like a stage play. This is also true of Cassius and Travis in the cockpit. There’s a lot of exposition and the dialogue feels very stilted. It’s not clear why Cassius isn’t able to fly given his studies are almost complete or why Adams puts him in charge of the simulator which Cassius doesn’t seem too happy about. None of this establishes a character we’re invested in or a goal we care about Cassius achieving. All we’ve got here is an aviator who craves his first flight which simply isn’t that compelling. Unfortunately by the end of the first ten pages I don’t have a clear idea of where the story is headed and I’ve already lost interest. Further work is needed to fine tune what the story is about and set it up more clearly from the get go.
Ruth Atkinson is a Los Angeles-based script consultant and story editor with over 20 years of experience in all aspects of the film and television business. Films Ruth has consulted on have won awards and been distributed around the world including My Awkward Sexual Adventure which is having it’s world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival this fall, The Perfect Family starring Kathleen Turner which was theatrically released May 2012 and was the Gala Closing Film at Outfest 2011, celebrated indie The People I’ve Slept With, Genie nominated Who Loves the Sun starring Molly Parker and Adam Scott, and the New Zealand hit Predicament. Ruth also reviews submissions to the Sundance Institute’s Feature Film Screenwriting Lab and was this year’s screenwriting instructor for Project:Involve, Film Independent’s (FIND) flagship diversity program, which produced six short films showcased at the Los Angeles Film Festival this June. Ruth recently gave a workshop on screenwriting at The Great American Pitchfest and will be teaching an upcoming webinar for The Writer’s Store. Ruth is available for script consulting and story editing and can be reached at www.ruthatkinson.com. You can also follow Ruth on twitter @ruth_atkinson and on LinkedIn.
What did you think of Ivuoma's 1st 10 pages?