Friday, April 19, 2013

Chernyy Pearl by Kathleen Wentworth

Chernyy Pearl
by Kathleen Wentworth
Reviewed by Cameron Cubbison

Logline: Based on a true story about the precociously gifted ballerina and Hollywood star of the 40’s, Tamara Toumanova who seeks family and finds secrets she must divulge.

If you would like to read the first ten pages of the script, click here.

Hi Crystal, thanks for sharing your work with us! It's really helpful for writers and readers alike to be able to examine new scripts and new voices and start a conversation.

First, let's start with your logline. Loglines are tremendously important...and tremendously hard to get right. What you need to communicate in one short sentence is your script's premise, the genre, the protagonist and the protagonist's key driving goal.

Your logline tells us that the script is based on a true story and features a famous figure, so we obviously know we'll be reading a biopic...but what kind? Is this a charming slice of life or a wrenching drama? You want to tell readers as specifically as possible what kind of narrative your script offers, so that they'll be in the right mindset when they start reading. If they're expecing a drama and you present a comedy...or vice versa...already they're going to be subconsciously prejudiced against the script, and you don't want that.

The logline tells us who the protagonist is but is very vague about what her quest is, stating only that she "seeks family and finds secrets she must divulge." That sentence doesn't provide any real idea of what the script will actually be about and doesn't convey any emotional urgency. You want to tantalize readers with something juicy and make it impossible for them to not want to read the script. If you can get specific about why Tamara is seeking family and what secrets she might have to divulge, you'll be on the right track.

As for the script, it's great that you open with Tamara doing ballet moves, because that image encapsulates the core of who she is as a character: she was born to dance. How old is she when we first see her though? Always be as specific as possible. Is she a child just starting out or is she well into her adult career? 

The nonlinear transition to Tamara's mother Eugenia fleeing the Bolsheviks in 1919 Russia (while pregnant with Tamara) feels jarring because there is no clear impetus for it, and it's not initially clear who Eugenia is and what her relationship is to Tamara. Because both characters appear right on top of each other and without context, an audience may be wondering who the protagonist actually will be. One idea to fix this would be to have Eugenia watching Tamara dance in the opening with maternal pride on her face, and then show her face erupt in pain as she remembers how traumatic giving birth to Tamara was. In other words, if you can provide a trigger for the flashback that works on a visual and narrative level, the transition will feel more seamless.

You do a great job of detailing Eugenia's escape in crisp, visual economy, but I would encourage you to tell that sequence via old-fashioned prose action paragraphs, rather than as a series of shots. Because it's your first page, you want to immerse the reader in organic story as opposed to visual shorthand.

Also, on the subject of format, you want to try to keep your action paragraphs to five lines or less; this is the unofficial standard that most studio readers want to see upheld. Having two short paragraphs is better than having one long one, because it makes the script appear leaner and more fluid.

Though I found your pages engaging, my overall impression was that they were a little busy and overambitious. You introduce more than six speaking parts and jump back and forth between 1919 Russia, 1923 Shanghai, 1928 Paris and 1932 Paris. We see Tamara at different ages before ever really getting to know her. It's all a little disorienting. When you're dealing with a famous figure and have so many storied biographical events to work from, it can be tempting to try to pack all of it in.

But remember, the fact that you're telling a true story is ultimately irrelevant. You have to tell a fictionalized story that feels unified and focused and emotionally engaging, regardless of the facts. Your priority number one in your first ten pages is to make us care about Tamara (and, presumably her mother) and to convey what her dramatic need is...the thing that she wants the most.

In your first ten pages, you have enough material for ten sets of first ten pages. Eugenia escaping the Bolsheviks and giving birth to Tamara is worthy of ten pages, and Tamara first being exposed to dance via Anna Pavlova is enough for ten pages. I would suggest focusing on either (or perhaps both) of those events and saving the other material (Tamara meeting Olga and being discovered by George Balanchine and Vlad dying) for later in the script. Give an audience more time to get to know Tamara at one age, in the here and now, rather than jumping back and forth so many times.

You have an engaging writing style, a clear passion for the material, and plenty of great narrative events to draw from. Now it's time to streamline your initial approach and set up the story with simplicity and focus.

Nice work!
Rating: Take Another Pass.    

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