Monday, December 10, 2012

(Rookie) Screenplay Review: Scion

Premise: (from writer) A naive young man's dreams of a normal life is hijacked by a charismatic "faith healer" and a powerful media tycoon when both become hell bent on exploiting the young man's amazing gift...the power to raise the dead.

Writer: Scotty Davis

Technical: 129 pages.

Page 2:

DOC JORDAN, and old man with a kind face, preps the exam table.

Way too boring and generic. Every character in your screenplay, even if they say two words, needs to have a sensational description. The most common problems writers make with character descriptions: the writer either goes for a sensationalized character description, or they try too hard to have a quieter, more intelligent description. In general, in all screenplays, some characters may have more of an impact if they have no description past physical characteristics (or maybe no description at all, not even physical). So few writers consider this option. But if one does not give their character a description, the character's actions and words will speak for them. A screenwriter may be scared that if they don't put a description for their character, the reader won't "understand the character", or something like that. But for those who think that character introductions (in the action line) is key, think about this: is a character who can be summarized in one line very complex? I don't know any people who could be summarized in one line.

Another line from page 2:

Charlie and Doc steal a "what the fuck" glance.

I'm getting pretty tired of casual profanity in general. Maybe other people are too. Maybe it's dying down. In screenplays, loosely used profanity (just like loosely used sex, and violence) comes off, more than anything, as lazy and unoriginal. If one must fall back on profanities, whether consciously or unconsciously, they must not be too creative/must not have a lot of interesting things to say.

Throughout "Scion" there is a lot of writing that is unclear: locations, where we are situated; the ageing of the characters; scenes cutting off abruptly. Some things are also overwritten. But the biggest problem is the typos: spelling mistakes, incorrect grammar, run-on sentences. These are all ubiquitous throughout the screenplay. I am not talking about, like, four typos. There are way, way, way too many spelling mistakes. So many that it is unacceptable.

The biggest contributor to the lack of clarity in this screenplay is that the writer does not understand how to construct a proper (readable) sentence. The following is a prime example (from page 17):

Charlie's asleep on the couch. A hair cut and shave - it's been a while.

For those who just read that and don't understand what it means, the writer is trying to convey that the character of Charlie has aged, therefore showing a time lapse into the future.

Here is another example of the unclear writing, from a character description:

Fifty pounds soaking wet, Kenny's biggest threat - if his giant ears teamed up with a big gust of wind.
Again, for anyone who read that and did not understand: the writer is saying that Kenny weighs very little (fifty pounds soaking wet) and he has large ears. I understood that after re-reading the sentence three or four times. Confusing sentences like these slow down the reader and frustrate them; "breaking the spell" and making the reader aware that they are reading a screenplay. A good screenplay should play like a film in the reader's mind, clearly visualized and uninterrupted. The fact that the writer of "Scion" does not know or use proper spelling/grammar (for example: they don't understand the difference between to, too, and two) shows how much they care about their writing.

There were small flashes of hope throughout the screenplay. Caleb's ability to bring back the dead was interesting. The introduction of George, Levi, and Sammy was compelling (Levi started off as a very promising character). But nothing brilliant was done with the initial concepts (making the concepts themselves almost useless). An exception is Levi's breakdown, which was emotionally engaging. The thing I enjoyed the most about "Scion" was the changes in the character's ages, the changes in times, and the changes in settings.

The writing itself, in every way, was very, very bad. The surface layer, action descriptions, were quite terrible... but the dialogue was also painful. "Scion" is sprinkled with cliches, too. Like the how-many-times-have-we-seen-that birthmark, which has major significance, and is in the shape of something. Or the nefarious, stalking black sedan. The final problem I will comment on is the characters: they were inconsistent at times, to the point of it being noticeable. Their reactions were not very realistic, but instead mostly served the story. The romance between Rebecca and Caleb made me queasy (if you have read the screenplay, you'll know what I mean).

This writer of "Scion" holds his readers by the shirt and drags them around, raising his voice, telling the reader what's what, disorienting them. But a writer should have very little to do with the reader. Perhaps a writer's main focus should be recording the story in the clearest, simplest way possible (because that is the best gift that they could give to their reader).

Lesson: The technical aspects of writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence structure), as well as clarity, are basic. These things shouldn't even be thought about as one is writing (just like you don't think about taking every breath as you breathe). Clear and simple writing will never confuse or frustrate a reader.

The screenplay "Scion" doesn't feel like it has a soul. Here are some simplified, general terms in which I personally think about a script's soul: The main character, or characters, in a screenplay should become the writer's best friends. With the writer of "Scion", it feels as if the screenplay were his best friend. If a writer wants to get to the level of a master, the situations in their screenplay must be as real as their everyday, waking reality. As with everything, this will look and feel different to different people. But if you can create characters that you love like they are your children, create places that you would give anything to visit, other people will probably feel the same way. If you create characters that you don't love, or places that you couldn't care less about, why would a reader feel any differently?

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