A closet porn starlet, who sides as a contract marriage terminator, is sued for alienation of affection. Sentenced to community service at the ex-wife's church, she rouses the rookie Reverend and all hell breaks loose.
This week guest reviewer Jeremy Sheldon takes a look at the 1st 10 pages of S. de Waard's
I guess we all know that the first ten pages are crucial: they need to gain the confidence of the script-reader in a script-development situation; they need to hook the audience should the piece eventually be filmed and distributed. For these obvious reasons is it essential that they “go” like the proverbial “clockwork” when it comes to establishing plot, character, theme and tone.
This having been said, I think it’s unfair to “pronounce” on anyone’s script if only the first ten pages are available, so I’ll simply record my thoughts, trying to balance out (a) what I think works or has potential against (b) what I think doesn’t work or what I think diminishes that potential as far as anyone can guess at this stage. I’ve added some annotations on the script itself, responding to dialogue, scene action and so forth. So I think I’m going to use this comment section to discuss the concept more generally (though this may mean I have to refer back to annotations from time to time).
To begin with the logline: I think this works potentially and seems to offer the necessary constituent comic elements (e.g. intelligent irreverence in the face of dumb, lumpen indignation). But success obviously lies in the execution.
For instance, how you handle the “legal mechanics” of the sentencing to community service is important; goof your way through this clumsily and you probably consign what follows to feeling more superficial than you plan. The resultant piece might still be funny, and even successful, but it might also lead to a different kind of comedy film to the one you’re envisaging.
Similarly, control of Reymee’s characterization and process of character development is going to be pivotal if this isn’t going to feel like just another lazily lewd comedy. Hopefully, you know where you’re going in relation to character development and which unconscious flaws Reymee is wrestling with as she prosecutes her plot-line with the rookie priest.
On the subject of character, I think your protagonist is immediately “likable”, by which I simply mean that I think the audience could empathize with her and be prepared to follow her on her narrative journey. She’s “damaged”, sure (and I say this not as a result of an automatic assumption about all adult entertainment starlets, but in recognition of that fact that your storyline doesn’t present her circumstances as positive, plus she implies she was abused). But she needs to be, or there’s no story, and this damage sits in engaging counterpoint to her positive qualities: her intelligence, her self-awareness and her winning dark irony.
In this sense, she reminds me a little of the protagonist of Young Adult played by Charlize Theron. Okay, that character’s damage was manifest within much more conventional life situations than the porn industry, but there’s the potential here to portray a similarly punchy, unrepentant and dysfunctionally layered female lead "acting out" in the company of more suburban and straight-laced folk. I guess we also can’t forget thatYoung Adult was written by Diablo Cody whose precision of dialogue and characterization earned her one of those little golden statuettes for Juno.
So, for me, notes on this section of the script need to help you see where possibly you’re not operating with a sufficient level of precision. I’ve pointed out a few moments that I think are worth more of your attention in my annotations: slightly fluffy (excuse the pun) lines of dialogue such as Jimmy Paged’s, and moments where the logic of the situation feels opaque, even if we acknowledge the wisdom of “Show, don’t tell”. For instance,why is her money stored at her father’s? If the script satisfactorily explains this later (will it?), then this could be all to the good. But it still might not explain why she isn’t more angry with her father (a wonderfully gruff character, by the way) or, at least, why she allows him to mollify her so easily (and he might have to work harder on this act of mollification in my opinion, as I’ve mentioned in my annotations).
To continue in this direction, I like the scene in the doctor’s office. Her glance at the diagram of fallopian tubes on the wall was a perfectly pitched moment of deadpan irony (Reymee’s most affecting dramatic gear?), as was her line about counseling women to “embrace their vaginas” and other nuances. But, again, consistent precision is key here when it comes controlling the comic tone of the piece, and I think you need to be careful you don’t fumble certain moments. For instance, I’m not sure the moment the doctor drops the “PAP apparatus” isn’t a little too obvious in a piece that already seems capable of a sharper kind of comedy.
As I’ve mentioned in the annotations, I also think the title is another example of a comic element that’s pulling in the wrong direction. It’s confrontational, which is great, but the punning element on “Beaver” just feels like it can’t escape echoes of a more crudely sluttier kind of comedy (American Pie, Porky’s, Animal House). In the end, I can’t get images out of my head of Priscilla Presley handing Leslie Nielsen a stuffed beaverThe Naked Gun.
So...watch out that more obvious jokes don’t take over, nor that the raw “attitude” of your character supplants tightly controlled character development. Attitude is desperately important, of course, but if the logic of the story doesn’t hang together, attitude probably won’t carry the piece. As Alexander Mackendrick (another comic writer with a little golden statuette) writes: “Comic structure is simply dramatic structure but MORE SO: neater, shorter, faster.” - JS
Rating: Take Another Pass (You're onto something, but it needs more work.)
Jeremy Sheldon (@JeremyRSheldon) has worked for over a decade in film development. He has read scripts for several major production companies and currently works as a writer and script-editor for a number of producers.