Friday, September 27, 2013

(Unproduced) Screenplay Review: Mixtape

(Post is meant for those who have read the screenplay in its entirety...)

Premise: A thirteen year old girl finds a mixtape belonging to her deceased parents. The tape gets destroyed, but the girl uses the song list to rediscover the music.

Writer: Stacey Menear

Technical: 119 pages. First Draft (Aug. 14, 2009)

Beverly, at least in the beginning of the screenplay, is annoying, immature, and stupid. Her personality, if she has one, is faint. And even what we do see of it, we have seen a thousand times before, in screenplays featuring pubescent girls; an outcast, who is not very pretty or popular, lives with strict/mean parents, and is alone...

Like her granddaughter, Gail is one dimensional, contrived, unoriginal, and boring. Her introduction, on page 2, is especially confusing:

Gail, while still pretty, has the look of a woman whose 
age is just beginning to catch up with her; not so much 
in wrinkles and gray hairs, but in mannerisms and style 
(or lack thereof). None of which is helped by her illfitting postal workers uniform.

What does that all even mean? Instead of this... the writer could just give Gail a quick description, and reveal her (obviously complex) personality to us throughout the screenplay instead. 

Page 5:


That odd mix of kids that only exists in the Northwest: 
REDNECKS with confederate flag shirts, PUNKS with combat 
boots, PREPPIES with messenger bags and HIPPIES with 
flower dresses.

It's all stereotypes. "Rednecks", "punks", "preppies"... these read like sitcom stereotypes, or something. No one is just "preppy" in real life... humans are complex individuals, you can't just categorize them. Er, you can, but it's the ultimate example of a writer being lazy. In this case, the writer recycles the most generic stereotypes ever created.  These descriptions are not interesting or clever.

So how does this relate to Beverly? Does the blandness of these cardboard cutouts serve to make her stand out more? To give her more depth, more personality, more compassion, more whatever? Does it show how she is an individual around conformists, an outcast amongst the unoriginals, the followers, the copycats? I believe no, and think that perhaps the stereotypes weaken the foundation of the screenplay, making everything less realistic. It reminds me that I am reading a screenplay. 

These points make me think: if you don't have anything spectacular to write... don't write anything at all. Never underestimate readers; in fact, always overestimate them. They fill in the blanks if you write articulately, and also... their imaginations can create more fantastic things than anyone could ever write, or put on the screen. Silence is infinitely more powerful than any words...

Page 5:

STEVEN, a-hole of the Junior High, rolls up in his 
wheelchair. At his side is the vice-president of aholery DONNY, a kid that got an early start on acne. 

One of the goals of a writer is to transfer to the reader that extreme sense of emotion, feeling. But here, the writer is trying to control how the reader thinks, making up opinions for us, and this is not a good thing.

There's the adage that says: show, don't tell. And it's kind of true. If Steven is an a-hole, we'll see it. Writing that Steven is an a-hole is sloppy, and poor writing. Furthermore, the writer is also insinuating that the reader is too dim to form opinions, or come to reasonable conclusions. 

The writer is also trying to tell the reader who is bad guy is (Steven and Donny) and who is "good" and likable girl is (Beverley). Unfortunately, the very premise is flawed; the idea that there is "good" or "bad". No one is good or bad. Hitler thought he was doing his country, his people, good. I myself know people that are despised by some, revered by others. Can you not say this about most people? People are contradictions. Usually the most despicable "a-holes" think they are enlightened saints. They can torture you... humiliate you... ruin your life... and still think of you as the "evil" one. My point is... everyone has a unique opinion of different people and characters. Great characters should ignite debate, and controversy, and should polarize. In summary, writers need to let readers come to their own conclusions. 

Page 5 (referring to Beverly):

She has an owl button.

It’s not surprising. The owl button is a 
magnet for losers. They can’t resist its 

The writer obviously... has no idea what she is talking about. 

13 year olds are not this immature--nor this tame. I have never met a human being that speaks like Donny. That's because there is none. The painful dialogue continues onto page 6. This is not how children speak; it is merely how ignorant adults imagine children speak. Children are extremely, extremely intelligent, and to imply that anyone speaks this way is insulting. It's the equivalent of writing a "black" character's dialogue like this:

What up dog?

The poor dialogue continues throughout the screenplay, between a myriad of different characters. This was just an early example.

The first time that Beverley listened to the first song was, I found, a nice moment. Also, after the three girls smoke the oregano, we see them playing around, and laughing, and having a good time. We finally see a glimpse of real, actual human beings. 

After page 72, things got a LITTLE bit interesting. But the script slowed back down as quickly as it had sped up. For example, here is a note I wrote about page 85:

Here's hoping Anti will feed them some magic mushrooms... or do or say anything interesting. 
At one point, Ellen, Nicky, and Beverley go to an underground concert, at a bar, far away from home, alone. They go behind the bar after the concert, into an empty parking lot, at night. They find the band members loading their gear into the van. The girls are looking for one particular band member (who happens to be the meanest and scariest of them all). He lures them into his van, alone. And what do you think happens?

The guy tells Beverley that her mom wasn't cool like Beverley thought. Turns out the mom was a loser... or more specifically, a whore.

After that, the three girls return to the car, crying. Anti, the middle aged loner who drove the girls to the grungy bar concert in the first place (then abandoned them) is mad. He beats up the band, and makes the mean guy apologize:

Standing before her, in a headlock, is Wes. Anti 
tightens his hold.

(in pain)
I just wanted to say I’m sorry for what I 

A beat.

Anti squeezes again--

I have issues with my own mother. Who 
was a whore and also fat and ugly. And I 
also hate myself and I’m bitter and it 
was wrong for me to take it out on you 
and I apologize for that. I’m sorry.

He looks up at Anti like, “Good enough?” Anti drops him 
to the ground.

The setting of this screenplay is, apparently, not planet earth. And it only gets more ridiculous as it goes on. The thirteen year olds do all this shady stuff, involving drugs, older men, horny teen boys, bars, concerts, etc. and they escape it all without a scratch on them. In fact, everyone  looks out for the girls, helping them in any way possible. Beverley, Ellen, and Nikki only end up happier, more mature, more popular, and wiser. And it all ends very, very happily. 

If this actually happened, or real girls went out and did these things, any number of horrific scenarios could have played out. The girls could have vanished. They could have been drugged. They could have been assaulted, or raped, or any number of things. My point is in this particular screenplay... I didn't buy it. Everyone was too friendly, and everything was too rosy and safe. I know there are countless kids who have gone out, done things a hundred times more dangerous, and been perfectly fine. But in this particular instance... it just wasn't real at all.

Also a little drama wouldn't have hurt. At least if one of them was raped, or went missing, or overdosed, there would have been struggle. Resilience. Growth. Real messages, themes, could be incorporated into the movie. Making people more aware of a particular issue... whatever. And even thinking of pure entertainment value... nothing happened in this screenplay.

The ending of Mixtape is the sloppiest part of the entire writing. It is lazy, and so predictable; we've seen it happen before in every Hollywood movie ever made. They live happily ever after. Oh, but it's not all tulips and dandelions. Because make no mistake, the girls do struggle along the way. Beverley's grandmother won't buy her some shampoo. Beverly is traumatically bullied by a kid in a wheelchair, who tells her she smells, and makes fart noises. And some jerk tricks the girls -- they think they're buying marijuana, but they end up smoking oregano. They, like, totally deserve to be mad.

The characters were all pawns, in that they didn't have a reason for their actions, and almost everything they did was to serve the plot. The writer constructed the characters around the plot, instead of the plot around the characters. The actions and reactions of the characters are forced and artificial. 

For example, on page 107: When Bev wants to go into the house, all of a sudden, why is Gail so understanding?  And when Bev does not have success inside, why is Gail so sad? And why did the (up to this point) strict Gail let Beverly go into the house by herself, without having five seconds to think about it, without saying a word??

The only moment in the screenplay that really evoked any emotion from me was when Beverley punched Steven in the face. It was a real moment. She was right, when she said he gets away with anything and everything because he is in a wheelchair. It's true. It happens all the time, and not just with people in a wheelchair. Many people abuse their disability. That's something quite universal.

P112 - When Beverly blows up, and Gail holds her understandingly, that was another true moment. I believed it; I could see it, feel it. For a second, the words turned into real skin and blood people. The motivations behind the actions made perfect sense, too.

The end of the screenplay didn't really make sense, as suddenly Gail changed her ways, and everyone was happy, and suddenly had no problems or worries. Like 99.9% of endings, it was the weakest part of the already disastrous screenplay.

Nearly all the characters in Mixtape are one dimensional (the most personality came from the music, which I would argue is a character). Why couldn't something interesting have happened? Why couldn't Beverley have tried to get into the rock scene, and developed a cocaine addiction? Why couldn't she have started experimenting sexually with Nicky and her brother? Why didn't Beverly completely transform? Why wasn't the grandmother a raging alcoholic? Throw me a freaking bone, I would have taken anything.

The individual that shitted the words of Mixtape onto the page really has nothing interesting or intelligent to say. They clearly don't understand people, or emotions. Seems almost like a "I'm a barista who's gonna write a screenplay and enter competitions!" type of effort. They sure didn't write this piece of shit expecting to change lives, or to challenge people's thinking. 

But then again... that's just the way Hollywood likes it.

You dig, dog?

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