Friday, October 19, 2012

OCCAM'S RAZOR by Jason Russo

2348 A.D. A soldier awakens from a seven-year coma only to discover that his identity has been completely erased.

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Review of “OCCAM’S RAZOR”
Reviewed by Jim Newman
(posted Oct 19th, 2012)
(Screenplay | Sci-Fi Adventure, First 10 Pages)

“Narrative is very descriptive, nice imagery, and writing is solid. But we need to slice and dice some parts to dial back the hook from page fifteen to page ten.”
Let’s kickoff with the logline:
Original Logline: 2348 A.D. A soldier awakens from a seven-year coma only to discover that his identity has been completely erased.”
Let’s take a few moments to dissect this:
  • The logline hits these chords:
    • Protagonist – Soldier,
    • Goal/Mission – presumably to establish his identity again
        • IMPORTANT: What happens if he doesn’t accomplish the mission? Does he die? What does he lose?
  • The logline lacks the following essential elements:
    • Antagonist – who’s trying to stop the protagonist? An enemy military? Internal leadership? Specify.
    • Irony – there’s no irony here. For instance, a military warrior who fails to protect this squad or family. Or a battle-hardened army officer who is crippled with fear.
    • Time – is there a time clock for the protagonist to achieve his goal? For instance, will his identity be lost forever if the “deadline” is reached? Let’s say he has seven years before a “statute of limitations” kicks in and he loses his records forever, purged from the public system. And let’s say he wakes up three days before the seventh year rolls over.
Now, let’s take a short step back. I understand that there are a number of movies out there that don’t have loglines that hit all the “recommended” elements. I consider those to be the exceptions to the rule. Whenever you can capture these in your LL (aka, pitch), then you’ll have covered all the bases.

This logline reminds me of a Total Recall-esque type of movie; that is, the search for a stolen identity. I
like the logline, but it just needs a bit of tweaking. As I usually say, without knowing the full storyline, I suggest the following – hopefully it falls into place. If not, then it should serve as a guideline to follow. Please note (I’m coming clean) – I did read up to page 15. I considered wrapping the death of the family into the LL, but it reads better without it … you can make that your B-story or C-story, if needed. Read with the red font, which can be cut for a tighter presentation:
Tweaked Logline: “2348 A.D. A highly decorated soldier awakens from a seven-year coma to discover his identity has been erased and his family killed. Can he be reborn before the public system is purged and avenge his family?”
Again, I like the original logline because it makes me say, “Hhhmmm, he’s coming out of seven year coma – lots must have changed. And now his identity is gone?!? How will he live? Is he starting over? Will he live a different life? Will his friends and family remember him? Was the life that he knew be revealed that it was just a dream?” IT DOES HAVE A HOOK … but I’m caught up on not including a sense of irony.

Suggestions for irony (some may change the direction of your storyline, so only digest them as examples):
  1. A physically hulk of a solder is crippled by fears residing deep inside his psyche
  2. A highly decorated solider awakens to find that he’s a prison inmate, convicted of treason
  3. A solider awakens 15 years later and discovers that his only son is now the enemy’s leader
  4. A soldier who designed and protected a nationwide database that holds the fabric of society together has now fallen victim to hackers who have purged the data. When the data is purged, the person ceases to exist days later unless they can recover the e-records.
    1. Hey wait – maybe I’ll run with these stories – haha just kidding
The story begins with setting the place/world we live in – a battle in progress during the year 2348 AD. The protagonist, Jarfon Trunt, is leading a group of soldiers retreating from their mission objective.

Pages two through four continue the retreat and inevitable ambush by the alien horde. Jarfon’s small platoon fights back in a hand-to-hand combat sequence. Jarfon calls ahead to senior leadership and refuses assistance, but the next moment he’s knocked out cold by an alien commando.

Pages five through seven show Jarfon in the hospital under the care of by a heavenly beauty named Keira Reese. There’s a flashback (although it’s not coined a flashback – a bit of a cheat) that shows Jarfon enjoying a game of soccer with his children when suddenly his wife alerts them to an alien fighter spacecraft attack. Return back to the hospital scene where Keira sees the alien police marching into the hospital. The red light on Jarfon’s wheelchair indicates they’re coming for him. Keira presumably has the hots for Jarfon because she risks life and limb taking him to safety.

Pages eight through ten is a dramatic escape where Keira gets Jarfon to a spacecraft. They’re detected by alien patrol ships who are ordered to track them down, but do not engage. They are to be taken alive.

Fast forward to page fifteen, Keira asks Jarfon if he can remember his name. He cannot. There’s an uncertainty to his military past. And she reveals that no one has visited him in the last five years (the coma).

I like the story. It’s well-written and gave me a good spread in my mind’s eye. Character descriptions were, well, descriptive! I especially liked Keira’s depiction – well done. The logline (concept) is consistent with the storyline, albeit up to page 15. With that said, we need to pare back some scenes in order to get the end line on 15 to 10. Also, by “killing some babies” we’ll quicken the pace since it does get a bit slow and reads more like a book (something readers cannot endure).

Firstly, the format meets industry standard rules. Just a few tweaks to tighten it up:
  1. Title needs to be in the same font and size as all other print.
    1. Some writers can get away with this, but that’s typically reserved for the established sort. Best to play it safe and use the Courier font.
  2. Include page numbers starting with page two.
  3. Ellipses on page three that serve like beats need to be omitted.
  4. Camera angles – although acceptable – must be used infrequently. Maybe once, no more than twice. There are several instances. Please refer to my notes on the PDF.
The opening image is descriptive and action packed right from the get go. I was drawn in – sort of like the beginning of Star Wars where the undersized rebel ship is pursued by an Imperial starcruiser (can’t remember what they were called) under fire. Also can be like Saving Private Ryan when the troops are storming the Normandy beach with the blasts and explosions, panicked and stressed calls for retreat. We meet the protagonist, a battled-scarred elite solider, named Jarfon Trent. His character introduction is brief and presumptive. I find the description of his fellow soldiers to be better suited for him. Perhaps revise to say something like, “Courage seeps from his squinted eyes” instead of it “running deep” because we can’t see that. But a hard stare speaks volumes.

The opening scene continues on for another three pages, so four pages in total. This is a good opportunity to truncate. Yes, it’s
solid writing again and simply “cool”. But from a reader’s perspective it reads more like a novel and slows the pace. You hit us from the get go with an action packed sequence, but this is where it slows down. To say it bluntly – “enough’s enough”. Cut to the chase and move the story forward. You can probably cut a full page here.

The hospital scene is good. Reveals Jarfon’s recovery after getting his @$$ handed to him by the aliens. But this is where you need to hit the theme of your story, one character saying it to another (either protag to story-B character or vice versa). What’s the message you can to get across to the audience? What’s the lesson to be taught? And will your protagonist prove or disprove it in the end? I didn’t see one here. Possibly it’s “true love knows no boundary” or “fight to the bitter end”. Keep it simple, but send the message so the audience can subconsciously know what we’re in for the next 100 minutes.

The flashback or dream on page six is a cheat because you don’t call it out as one. Presumably this is the start of the attack from the aliens since Jarfon is vulnerable, playing with his children. Could this be pulled up to the opening scene, a blast from a ship cuts to white screen, followed by the Armageddon world we’re now in? When possible, avoid flashbacks and dreams at all cost, unless it’s absolutely necessary and cannot be shifted to another point in the timeline.

The following four pages have a dramatic sequence where Keira helps Jarfon escape from the alien police. VERY descriptive, but again the pace slowed down a bit. Page ten (cutoff) ends with the aliens in hot pursuit of their getaway craft. There’s no hook yet … sort of just dies here. Page fifteen has the hook – Jarfon awakens from his five year coma to discover that his identity has been and apparently his family has been killed (at least that was my impression). THIS worked for me. I’m assuming the rest of Act 1 will be his game planning and perhaps indecision with his next steps. Does he
save himself and establish his identity again … or does he search for his family despite being told that they’re gone? Maybe his family wasn’t killed, but now work on a slave farm for the aliens (I’m just brainstorming here).
My recommendation: lay out Jarfon’s world as he knows it – perhaps a solider on leave, enjoying time with family, in a far future time. Let us feel something for him – why should we root for him? Perhaps his wife could reveal the theme in conversation with Jarfon. Then this could be followed by the battle scene, hospital, then the big reveal. Are there any other characters that will be part of the A-story? If so, then introduce them in the first ten.

Please refer to PDF with my notes and recommended corrections. I invite you to reach out to me with any follow-up questions or comments.

And if you can’t read my chicken scratch handwriting, then please let me know. I apologize in advance for my sloppy writing.

Rating: I’m torn here … on the fence between:

Take Another Pass (because it needs some rework) and More Please! (because I’m hooked).

Thank you for sharing your work with us! Feel free to send your rewrite for additional feedback and a review of your outline, if available.


  1. Jim, thanks so much for your awesome review! You cover some great points, and offer some excellent food for thought. I'm getting ready for work, so don't have much time to comment or post immediate reflections, but I wanted to get a massive Thank You in the comment thread early. Your time and energy put into this review is super appreciated. I'm excited about the final rating, and I'm happy that the story is pulling you in to some degree. I'll be mulling over your points throughout the next couple days, and it's given me some great ammunition for the next rewrite. I'll shoot you a direct message once I have time to go through all your page notes.

    Thanks again Jim and Robert!! Looking forward to other comments as well..



    P.S. I can't believe you mentioned the Star Wars opening in the same review of my script! Cool!!!

  2. Hi Jason,

    Well done for getting on Feedback Friday. Here are my notes:

    p.1 Your first description of the city of Vangelis is as follows, "Through the haze of dust and smoke - carnage. Absolute and total carnage. A nightmarish vision of war is here and now." But this doesn't really tell the reader what the city looks like. It's forgiveable because there is a proper description on p.2 but it would still be better to change the description to something like, "Through the haze of dust and smoke, the battered ruins of what was once a prosperous city" for greater clarity early on.
    p.1 Jarfon Trunt is an interesting name but a little too odd for a protagonist. It makes him sound like an alien. Also, the description of him as, "a man in whom courage runs deep" is overly poetic. Just call him "courageous".
    p.1 The swearing feels unnecessary, especially as there isn't any bloody violence or nudity in the rest of these ten pages. Much better to take, "Get the f**k outta' there" and "You gotta' be sh**in' me..." and replace the offending words with "hell" and "kidding" respectively. You'd get a lower certificate that way.
    One personal problem I have with the descriptions of the city, weapons and vehicles is that they all feel a bit generic. In my head I was picturing the world of the Halo video-games. I think you ought to think about how your world is unique, in the way that the worlds of "District 9" or "Blade Runner" are. Part of the fun in science fiction is seeing how the future is different.
    p.2 What is the "rear flank"? Is it the left flank? Or the right flank? Or is it the rear?
    p.2 "Like predator cats" - "Like predatory cats" would be better.
    p.2 "As they turn the bend, only vehicles engulfed in flames, like Kabul gone insane." - What does this mean? I presume that the street is littered with burning vehicles but the writing is unclear.
    p.3 "Smells of burning flesh." - The audience can't smell.
    p.3 "Turning, Jarfon sees an enemy gunship, like a flying scorpion. A truly horrifying sight. A lethal enemy agent." - This is over-written and only really needs to be one sentence. Also, the reference to an "agent" is a bit confusing as I personally associate the word most with spies.
    p.4 The first descriptions of alien enemy are of them being, "freakish looking", "demon banshees" and having "lizard-like faces" . I'd prefer a clearer, more detailed description. Are they bipeds? Tall or short? Do they have four limbs or more? Do they have skin or scales?
    p.5 "We see only her from the waist up, no eyes on the patient" - Writing, "We don't see the patient", would be shorter and clearer.
    p.6 You need to label the flashback as a flashback.
    It took a few pages for me to get into this but at the end of the ten pages I did want to see what happened next and whether Jarfon and Keira would escape Captain Volovolo. I think the writing is generally very good, although some sections require greater clarity and a few unnecessarily obscure words are used ("serendipitously" - p.6). I also think you could do with detailing your world a bit more as the use of "Jin Do" instead of "John Doe" was the only unique thing I noticed. That said, I enjoyed this and I think that Captain Volovolo is a great name. Good luck!

  3. What I liked:

    The futuristic setting

    The way the story is progressing (starts on the battlefield, to the hospital, which leads to an escape from the hospital)

    Other Comments:

    Your description could use some trimming. The thick description in the opening battlefield scene slowed down the read and pace.

    My Rating:

    Take Another Pass on the description.
    I want to know what happens next in the story.

  4. Hi, new to the site. Just checking it out. So, first time visiter. First time commenter. I got distressed when I saw the note regarding the scene heading "MAGIC HOUR". The note reads that it's too vague and needs to be specific -- MAGIC HOUR is a very standard film term used to describe the time between sunset and dark -- it is a time when colors get super saturated -- it is a specific time that anyone in film production should know. It makes me lose confidence in the note giver.

  5. I think that may be a term filmmakers use, but it's not one I'd suggest putting in a scene heading for a spec script. I've read a lot of specs and have never seen it used.


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