I was recently asked to give notes on a screenplay that is being produced by a group of earnest Christians. None of the folks controlling the creative decisions have ever been involved a feature film before. All are from outside of Los Angeles and the money (think, millions of dollars...) is coming from a rich Christian somewhere out there in fly-over country.
I generally avoid reading this kind of project - especially because no one ever wants to pay me for my trouble. But, in this case, I wanted to help because I have some personal relationships with folks involved in the project. So, I volunteered to read the project for free.
The sub-title of the piece should be "Or, Why We Need Act One". It is typical of hundreds of projects that I have seen from earnest Christians over the last decade. I am so tired of seeing good people's money wasted on efforts like this. Filmmaking is hard, and complicated, and not something that can possibly work on a whim and a prayer. I have written this letter too many times over the years.... For the purpose of my personal venting and in the hopes that somebody out there will actually take it to heart, here it is (minus any references particular to the project)...
I have had an opportunity to read the script that you had forwarded to me. I was very happy to take a look, to see if I can help in some way. I am always eager to support the efforts of creative people who want to see cinema used to bring light and good things to the world.
My opinion is that this script is very amateurish. It is deficient in story, character, dialogue, theme, structure -- pretty much every area from which I could evaluate it.
The most serious problem is in the area of story. There is probably only a short film's worth of story here, and even that involves very little movement. It's a movie in which the characters move from having conversations in cars, to conversations in restaurants, to street corners, to houses, etc. Talk, talk, talk, no choices - no actions, nothing to see. Where there are choices by the actors they are unmotivated and seem to come out of nowhere. It is sloppy dramatization in which the moments are not set-up, and so are unbelievable.
Another huge problem with the piece is the portrayal of the lead character. It is not engaging for the audience to have the lead character spend most of the movie loping around staring and grunting like a semi-dead person. This is the kind of script that actors tend to write - ie. angst ridden with lots of staring - which are pretty self-indulgent for the actors, but empty for the audience. (I have read many, many, many of this "moving from darkness to light" scripts from earnest Christians. They all fail in the area of character, because they spend the entire first hour or more with an angry, or wounded or lost or unappealing person who will get unangry and healed by story's end. The problem is, the audience won't wait. No one wants to pay money and spend time with someone who comes across as pathetic, downtrodden, embittered and dangerous. The audience will not connect with the lead character. They won't care, and so the movie will not work with them.)
The dialogue is flat - completely devoid of sub-text or style. It's overwritten and every scene meanders through long boring conversations, taking twice as long as they should.
The structural choices are confusing. My sense is that the filmmakers are trying to generate some story by moving scenes around. Audiences are too sophisticated for that. Intercutting two scenes through space and a third over time is not clever. It's annoying and feels sloppy.
And now, a personal pet peeve of mine (and I'm not even going to bring up the non-industry standard formatting in the piece which was typed in Word...).... The script shows lots of overly stylized, unmotivated camera stuff that I see very often in the work of film students and budding writer-directors: bizarre camera angles, and lots of handheld work and random zooming and fast pans. It's all for naught in terms of the narrative. The moments are just there "to please the players" using the words in which Aristotle damned bad plays. In all of these moments the audience will be taken out of the story and made to think of the filmmakers. It is sheer self-indulgence on the part of the writer-director. These moments also add unnecessary expense to the shoot.
Thematically, I really don't know what the point of this movie is. I can't come up with any kind of universal behind the story. This is damning because it makes it unclear what the story is about. It robs the audience of any sense of message and finality. Hence, the story doesn't seem to end so much as stop.
To sum up, my opinion is that this film will make for a boring, or worse, confusing viewing experience. I can not see it getting any kind of real distribution, and the critics will savage it's good intentions because of its sloppy craft. I think it's only lasting good will be that it will be a very expensive learning experience for the people involved, and if their friendships survive, it could mean their next project will be much better. I don't think a rewrite will help. I don't think there is enough story here to merit a rewrite. This is a classic example of a script that should never have been written, because there was never enough of an idea to warrant the process.
Forgive me if I am speaking too bluntly. It's just one idiot's opinion - but this particular idiot has read probably two hundred scripts like this....and this script falls at the lower end of that pile in terms of skill.
If you would like to call me, I can offer some cosmetic notes about fixing the main character's development and motivation, as that will probably be the only thing that can be done at this late moment. It will help somewhat.
I wish I had better news to tell. I so hate to see money wasted on projects like this. I will pray that something miraculous happens on the set to transform this into something better. Thanks again for inviting me to take a look. God bless -