I picked "Diamond in the Rough" for my review this week because it sounds like it could could be a fun action romp.
The logline is a bit clunky and vague. Becoming the "target of deadly jealousy" doesn't clue me in to what the main character will be doing in this movie. What is your character trying to actively achieve?
And the part about a ruthless diamond smuggler failing to steal the heart of a woman who loves him? Why do you have to steal the heart of somebody who already loves you?
Here's a possible way to rewrite it to make clearer: "A former race car driver steals the heart of of a ruthless diamond smuggler's woman, only to face the consequences."
It's still convoluted and needs work, but at least there's some clarity here.
Now onto the first ten pages. The beginning is interesting. We see the diamonds being smuggled, and then we cut to the Los Angeles international airport, where Hakim, a limousine driver, is driving Charlie, his passenger, to his terminal. Cut to: an FBI field office where Hakim's criminal files are open on a computer. Back at the airport, Charlie is in the security checkpoint line when he's pulled aside, and kidnapped! Now we cut to Joe, the race car driver, who arrives at his home and dreams of his accident.
And then, we're hit with "TWO WEEKS EARLIER" where some people are hanging out on a yacht.
There are several problems with this script. The formatting is incorrect, there are several typos, the dialog is cliched and flat, the situation is unbelievable, and the characters are cardboard.
At the airport, when asked his name, Charlie responds with "Charlie Springfield. Charles L. actually." Incorrect punctuation aside, this line feels wooden. Who informs people of their middle initial?
Another strange exchange is on page three. "Is it always like this?" Charlie inquires about the traffic. "That depends," responds Hakim, "what made you decide to go on short notice?" Since when does traffic depend on how you far in advance you plan your flight?
Also, writers should make themselves aware of cliches so they can avoid them. "She's one in a million" is a groan worthy line because the cliche doesn't expound on Charlie's sister.
Another strange line of dialog occurs at the security check in, where a musician inquires if this is Charlie's first trip to Rastaland. Oh my god! He's a mindreader!! So the interesting thing about security checkpoints is that there are dozens of flights leaving past each checkpoint. And since there is nothing in the scene to indicate that the musician saw Charlie's ticket, he must be psychic!
Another questionable line is when the TSA agent informs the musician that Charlie has been pulled aside because of "Illegal Contraband." I may not be a TSA expert, but I'm pretty sure gossiping with random passengers about who may or may not be a smuggler is a big no-no. And with the kind of strict, no-tolerance airport security nowadays, it's somewhat unbelievable that a kidnapping scheme could take place. You do know that even the bottled water that's to be sold inside the checkpoint has to be vetted by security teams? And some random smuggler just happens to be able to miraculously pull off a kidnapping? In order to get us to suspend our disbelief, you have to show us how such a kidnapping is pulled off. Show us all of the mechanics. This requires research into the details of airport security.
If you're going to use the "Two Weeks Earlier" gimmick, you've got to at least start out with some kind of puzzling mystery that's so strange or action packed that we spend the whole movie trying to figure out how it got to that point. Remember how The Usual Suspects began? With the murders and the boat being set alight prior to the flashback? It takes that kind of explosive beginning to reel people in. We don't have this in this script. Instead, we see some people we don't know being suspicious and then a guy gets kidnapped. So what? Why is this flash-forward worthy? Why do we care?
Here's a quick list of what you can do to wrangle this story back on track and improve the quality of the writing:
- Use a script formatting program. If you don't want to shell out the big bucks for Final Draft, that's fine. There are two great free alternatives, notably Celtx and Scripped. I would suggest Scripped, because Celtx can do some funky formatting unless you toy with the settings. But both will be a step up from a word processor.
- Zero in on your concept. Is this a heist movie? A love story? A crime thriller? Figure out exactly what story you want to tell. Then, test your loglines out. What I like to do is to send my friends a list of loglines-- some from obscure movies on IMDB, some of my own. I ask them to rate the loglines in order of which they like best, without telling them some of the loglines are mine. This way, you get honest feedback about which loglines work, and which don't.
- Study the art of writing dialog. Read lots of scripts. Listen to conversations and take notes. And give your characters distinctive voices!
- "Could this happen in real life?" Keep asking yourself this question. Do not cave into "movie logic." Just because you need someone to be kidnapped doesn't mean you can't do it in a way that makes sense. Look up news stories about kidnappings. Try and figure out the logistics of airport security. Research.
Good luck and happy screenwriting!
What did you think of William's 1st 10 pages?
Next week Script Anatomy's Tawnya Bhattacharya gives feedback on the first 10 pages of Cheyne Curry and Chris Westfield's ANYBODY'S SON.
Please share your thoughts below on William's 1st 10 pages.