critique Should I start over? Any feedback is welcomed.

Start over?

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Hello everyone. Hope you are doing great. I would like to ask any of you if you could give some feedback and pointers on my script. I am shooting my last year film school thesis film and after a few tutoring sessions with my professors about my script I am questioning my ability to tell a story. I have a limit of only 9min and the script is three pages too long. What should I get rid of, swap or rewrite to better tell the story?

Synopsis: After his passing, Thomas will come back as a grayscale ghost to fulfill a promise before it's too late to save his mother.

Genre: Drama and fantasy (very slightly)

Thank you all very much.
 

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I think you could easily cut several pages from this to get it under your limit by just condensing your descriptions and actions. There's a lot of redundant words used.

Take this scene: -

INT. ROSE'S BEDROOM - CONTINUOUS
Meanwhile Thomas runs to her bedroom and tries to grab all the pills from the floor and the box. As he hears his mother coming back he quickly hides some leftover pills under the rug and runs out of the bedroom to the kitchen throwing everything in the trash.

Rose in shock discovers that the pills and the box has gone.Visibly confused and lost she searches her bedroom. She looksaround and under the bed. Not finding anything she sits onher bed. Her head in her hands shaking it from left to right. She stops herself from crying and sighs deeply. With a shaky
hand she grabs the glass of water nearly spilling it and drinks. Thomas comes back from the kitchen exhausted and falls to the ground, leaning on the wall in the door opening between the bedroom and the corridor. Relieved, he is breathing heavily from the rush. Tears forming in his eyes.


The first problem, is you have said the scene is in the bedroom, but then you have Thomas running TO the bedroom, so that isn't correct as you're describing something that's not taking place there. Then at the end of that passage, you say he is in the kitchen, again this would have to be a new slugline (but, is it even necessary to know that he puts the pills in the bin here?). You do this a few times in the script (at the end you say it's in Sam's shop then describe them in the street) so you need to look at that. Anyway, back to the actual text, I'm no expert writer like some guys here, but I think you could write the exact same scene above in about half the lines:-

Thomas bursts in and frantically gathers up the pills. Off-screen, FOOTSTEPS approach. Thomas kicks some stray pills under the rug and scarpers.

Rose enters, surveying the bare floor, confused. She searches on her hands and knees, nothing. Rose sits on the bed, head in hands, sobbing with grief. She composes herself and takes a sip of water, hand trembling.

Thomas re-enters and slumps against the doorframe, out of breath. His eyes well up.



I think you could also cut a fair bit of dialogue. It's a little on the nose and repeats the same points at times. Try to make it sound like a more natural conversation, you don't need to explain every detail. If there are things that the two parties talking both already know, and you want US to also know, be a bit more subtle with the exposition. So, for example, instead of the ex-husband saying "do you think being gay was easy?", perhaps have Rose make a snarky comment like "Surprised you didn't bring your boyfriend with you to really rub my nose in it!". We will understand that he is now gay AND how Rose feels about him, meaning some of the other dialogue where she puts across her feelings can perhaps be cut.

For me, I wasn't too sure about the ending. I think you could have perhaps finished the story on scene 15. But overall, it's a decent short drama and with some re-writing I think you could get it to work. Good luck with it!
 
Wow thank you so much. You're right I keep repeating myself and the short could end up way earlier. The final cemetery scene could be removed as some people have told me. I just wanted to end with this final scene on the couch with flowers around them in the living room. Dialogue needs indeed to be shorter, and you gave great ideas on how to reduce some actions. I'll think about it, but you got great points. Thank you. I will come back here soon with an update.
 

mlesemann

Staff Member
Moderator
I think it's good - very sweet and visual.

A few suggestions:

1. Avoid actions that an actor can't portray. For example on the top of page 5, "Thomas, disoriented by her fury, forgets to follow her." An actor can't portray forgetting. Maybe try that he watches her leave, then runs to catch up.

2. There are a lot of spot that can be tightened up, both dialogue and actions/descriptions. Trim anything that isn't essential. For example, Rose's speech on the bottom of page 1 and into the top of page 2 can be cut by half or more.

3. Breaking up the descriptions & action sequences into shorter paragraphs will make them easier to read. Combine this with trimming them. For example, Scene 4 should be 2 or 3 sections but can also be shorter. You don't need "as she closes the doors," ad "she tries to bring the fork to her mouth but her emotions take over. She sniffs and forces herself not to cry even more."

Good luck!
 
Thanks those are actually really valuable insight. I have a question about the ghost tho. Is it too cliché? All my film school teachers keep telling me it's not creative enough. The ghost is grayscale B&W while everything around him is in color. What else can I do to show he is a ghost in a short amount of time, so the viewers understand immediately?
 

mlesemann

Staff Member
Moderator
Thanks those are actually really valuable insight.
Glad to be helpful.

Re ghost being too cliché - it doesn't bother me but if your film school teachers will mark you down for that, it might be worth trying to change it.

I think we're all haunted by those we've lost, in one way or another. In my case, 2 close family members died 6 months apart. I've had to take over some things that they would otherwise have handled, and so I'm acutely aware of both their absence(s) and how they would have approached certain issues - or at least how I THINK they would have approached them :)

I wouldn't say I'm haunted by them but their memories are very much with me all the time.

So maybe you can play with that idea in a slightly less literal way?

One option might be the Sixth Sense-ish approach: have the ghost look and talk like a living person, except that no one else sees or hears him. The reader/viewer doesn't know that this is a ghost until the end at the cemetery, at which point he fades away.

Another approach is to have no one be there. The woman is talking to herself - carrying on a conversation as if there were someone there but there's no response. The reader/viewer starts to think she's nuts, but at the end you see the cemetery. There might be a way of showing the date earlier (on a calendar, cell phone, or newspaper), then on the tombstone, to make it clear that this person died very recently - maybe within the past few days. So then we see her as not crazy, but simply mourning a deeply felt and very recent loss.

Good luck!
 
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Your story is mainly about a ghost so I'm not too sure what you are asking with regards to it being too cliche? Do you mean your ghost is too cliche or that it's too cliche to have story about a ghost?

I think @mlesemann has given you some great advice there, straight from the heart. Just to add my thoughts, I don't think you need to worry about being able "to show he is a ghost". I think that comes across pretty clearly anyway.

If you decide you need an exposition scene to illustrate this straight away, maybe have him try to speak to his mother at the funeral but she sees and hears nothing.

Personally, I wouldn't bother with the grayscale thing either. It just seems like extra work, and I don't really see what it achieves once we already know he's not alive.

If your teachers are telling you it's not creative enough though, perhaps you might be better off re-thinking a concept for your story since they are the ones marking you. I'm not saying this story isn't any good but without knowing exactly what they're expecting of this film, it's hard to advise what to change or whether to start over. Have they given you any set marking criteria or a scope of what they're looking for?
 
You're trying too hard to tell the story when you need to be describing the scene that tells the story.
Let the scene speak for itself-- NO subtext in description. For example, "Visibly confused and lost she searches her bedroom."
"Visibly confused" is subtext. How is she visibly confused? Plus, it's too vague, and lacks tension. Try something like,
She looks around the room, frowns, looks around again, hesitates, sighs, begins searching the room haphazardly.
Show the confusion, don't tell about it.
 
Whether a film or TV show or book or musical style or anything else is cliché is a matter of people, perspective, era and style.

As an example, "Saving Private Ryan" could have been just another WWII film like so many others. What kept "Saving Private Ryan" from being another stale rehash of "we hit the beach and won the war" was Spielberg. This may seem a trite observation but is, at least in my opinion, true. His style/approach was completely unique at the time the film was made. He somehow managed to combine clichés from other film genres, such as graphic gore from horror films and emerging shooting styles such as "shaky cam" with a dash of 80's "let's tell the truth about Viet Nam" added into something that was unique when the film was released. There is no question that much of its success was due to his talent and reputation, which allowed for a budget to work with an impressive array of researchers, consultants and writers to put together a story and script with real meaning, attracted lots of very talented people on both sides of the camera and Big Studio marketing and distribution. But his drive and passion inspired all those around him to make a film that actual WWII veterans claimed was as close to being in battle as you could get without actually having to fight one yourself.

There have been many war films since that have been inspired by "Ryan," some very good, some very bad and quite a few occupying positions in-between. Twenty years from now it will take its place as another millennium straddling cliché war film, while cinema buffs will recognize it as the ground-breaking film it is.

Much more subtly, the RomCom "The Holiday" was written and directed by a woman making it at least a fresh look at a genre. But "Holidays" ultimate roots are in Frank Capras 1934 classic "It Happened One Night" on which almost all subsequent RomComs are based. Yet with "It Happened One Night" Capra "merely" codified a genre in the emerging film era of Talkies. (As a Capra fan I am biased, but I feel that he did the same with a few of his later films. Example - In "Meet John Doe" all of the characters are seriously flawed and at the beginning of the film only out for themselves, something that has repeated numerous times culminating in "Breaking Bad," which itself has spawned innumerable copy-cat projects that are now becoming cliché.)

So don't worry about being cliché. Look for those nuggets that come from your passion and present your story in your own way.
 
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