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From pitch blackness, a reading lamp is switched on to reveal
an odd sitting room. The UNDERTAKER is already sat in a
comfortable arm chair, beside a small table carrying the
lamp, a book and a steaming cup of tea.
Here, I believe you should split the action up. It also isn't written as actively as it can be.
From pitch blackness, a reading lamp is switched on to reveal
an odd sitting room.
The UNDERTAKER is already sat in a comfortable arm chair,
beside a small table carrying the lamp, a book and a steaming cup
You should split the actions lines as I have above. The second action line is where the issues are. You should rewrite like this:
The UNDERTAKER sits in a comfortable armchair beside a small table that holds the lamp, a book, and a steaming cup of tea.
'is already sat' versus 'sits'. I also don't like 'carrying' as it implies movement.
In thunderous rain at midnight, the UNDERTAKER is digging up
his vegetable patch maniacally.
We can't know it's midnight unless you give us a visual representation. Maybe he looks at his watch? maybe there's a church nearby. Be great to open the visual with lightning flashing across a church clock revealing it to be midnight.
The above could be written more actively. If we assume the visual with the church then we already know there's a storm, so you could rewrite the above like so:
The UNDERTAKER manically digs up a vegetable patch.
I've just noticed that you keep capping the characters. You only need to cap them once on introduction. After that, they are written in the normal way.
Thanks - I appreciate the comments, and the time you've taken to read the script.
All fair points. I'm aware that there's a lot of action and (almost) no dialogue, so the descriptive action is dense - unnecessarily so in some cases. Thanks for confirming, and suggesting ways to cut it back and make characters more active.
I guess what everyone wants to know about their script is - is it vivid? and is the story good? That is, does it help the reader to see the story as clearly as possible, and is it a good story to see.
The fact that it makes sense in my head is really not the goal I'm after.
I was initially interested in the story... but the time it took to comment put me off reading further. I initially looked past the passive writing in the first couple of pages because I could see that you have talent. So, as it continued, I decided it best that I use my time to give you a few pointers.
I'm sure now that others see you're an active member here that you will get more reads.
I think you can improve the efficiency of the opening.
EXT. MARKET SQUARE - DAY
In an English country town market square, an enormous parsnip dominates a display table - filling the screen.
I try never to repeat the location (in this case "market square") in my description if I already have it in my slug (it's redundant). Instead, I'd go with
INT, ENGLISH COUNTRY TOWN/MARKET SQUARE - DAY
And then open with describing the Square. e.g., the exhibitions, the folks milling about, etc. Then end with the vegetable and the Undertaker staring down on it.
Our scene is set in a market square. Villagers bustle around - especially at the trestle tables marked “Vegetable Show”.
Now this is the third time you've told us it's a market square. Just describe it in the scene opening.
INT. PUB - EVENING
The UNDERTAKER is drinking alone.
Much like with the opening scene. I would describe the Pub and it's patrons first and then get to the Undertaker. It allows us to see the scene,
NARRATOR No-one chooses to be an Undertaker. There is invariably another factor. Whether it’s the family traditionor the only vacancy, it is a role that other people choose for you
Think it should be NARRATOR (V.0). You have this in several places.
EXT. VILLAGE STREET - NIGHT
We follow the UNDERTAKER down dark Autumnal streets. Back to his bleak-looking shop: “Frederick Paine, Funeral Directors”.
Don't think you need the we follow. Just start with something like the Undertaker stumbles down dark....etc.
Also - no need to CAP UNDERTAKER
INT. UNDERTAKERS WORKSHOP - CONTINUOUS
From pitch blackness, a reading lamp is switched on to reveal an odd sitting room. The UNDERTAKER is already sat in a comfortable arm chair, beside a small table carrying the lamp, a book and a steaming cup of tea.
Don't think you need CONTINOUS
The camera explores.
Not needed, especially since you don't tell us what the camera sees. I would just describe the room.
The Undertaker is reading a book called “Vegetables: Bigger, Better, Bolder. Your way to a winning crop.” He is increasingly fascinated by his book, devouring each word as his eyes race backwards and forwards across the page.
I really think we should see this when we first see the Undertaker in the scene.
In thunderous rain at midnight, the UNDERTAKER is digging up his vegetable patch maniacally. Lightning flashes.
At midnight is unfilmable. You already have night in your header. Just start with Thunderous rain.
The UNDERTAKER is angry and frustrated. He is working.
Again - no CAPS required and you are cheating a bit here. You need to show us that he is angry and frustrated - not tell us as well as to describe what "he is working" means. e.g., on what?
Also - need to show him hoisting himself up on the coffin I think. We go from him standing with hammer and nails and the next thing - without any transition - as he's atop the coffin.
MOURNERS, including a bereaved WIDOW, are filing respectfully in to the crematorium. A coffin is passed in - it’s lid is not properly nailed down.
The UNDERTAKER is ushering them in, looking distracted
Again - no CAPS for Undertaker.
I would also lose the ing words. e.g.,
MOURNERS, including a bereaved WIDOW, file respectfully in to the crematorium. A coffin is passed in - it’s lid is not properly nailed down.
The UNDERTAKER ushers them in, looking distracted
EXT. CREMATORIUM - DAY
The leggy UNDERTAKER is crammed into his compact car, waiting for the ceremony to complete. Nearby, the crematorium with its high smoking chimney.
Okay, last time I'll mention it - you already need to CAP your character when intro'd.
The scene heading is wrong I think. I believe it should be:
INT/EXT. UNDERTAKER'S CAR/OUTSIDE CREMATORIUM - DAY
He is reading his Vegetables book. He is fascinated by a chapter about “Fertiliser”.
Again - I would go with his reads.
He is fascinated by a...
An unfilmable IMO.
waiting for the ceremony to complete.
Also an unfilmable IMO.
Something I am noticing as a pattern with your scenes - you open at a place, show us something else, go back to the place to finish the opening. It's kind of non-sequential. The above is an example. i.e., when we first see the dude in the car, shouldn't;t we see him reading then? Something like:
INT/EXT. UNDERTAKER'S CAR/OUTSIDE CREMATORIUM - DAY
The UNDERTAKER crammed into his compact car, intently focused on a book entitled: Vegetables"
Smoke billows out of the nearby crematorium's high chimney.
NARRATOR When you dream small, life will treat you small...
The Undertaker's eyes widen as he turns the page. The Chapter Title: “Fertiliser”.
EXT. UNDERTAKERS WORKSHOP - DAY
Through a window, we watch the WIDOW conferring with the UNDERTAKER in his workshop.
Don't think you need the we watch.
The door closes behind her, and we see the sign now reads “Welcome the living - We are Open”.
Don't think you need the we see.
EXT. UNDERTAKERS GARDEN - EVENING
The UNDERTAKER is spreading a large amount of fine grey ash on his vegetable plot.
I would go with ...The Undertaker spreads....
The Undertaker is above such things - he is in an excellent mood today,
An unfilmable IMO.
We see an A-frame sign, proclaiming “This year’s theme: Bulgy
No need for the We see. Just An A-frame sigh proclaims...
From the point of view of the barrow still zooming along, weaving between VILLAGERS, we head towards the trestle tables of the show.
Again with the we. I don't get it. To me reads better as something like ...At a rapid pace, The Undertaker pushes the wheelbarrow towards....
EXT. OLD PEOPLES HOME - DAY
NARRATOR ... Or failure can drag a person down to strange depths and unimaginable deeds.
A brief description of the home/occupants is warranted here.
Okay - my suggestions are just repeating themselves now. I see issues that highlighted above throughout. So, will stop mentioning them. As I continue on there are more unfilmables, a lot of passive writing (e.g., the Undertaker is doing something rather than the Undertaker does, etc.
So you definitely have talent. I'm going to guess that you'll get a lot of comments about structure here, and at times you are definitely talking AT the audience instead of describing what happens on screen. Didn't bother me too much though because you write well, and you set the mood, and for a short film, it's not really a big deal to structure it the way you have. The one thing you did do that was distracting was that you capped UNDERTAKER every time you spoke of him, which meant you were re-introducing him. Just once is fine.
I also like that you wrote this with no dialogue. When the farmer and the undertaker 'talk' in action line, I believe the correct way to describe it is MOS (which some believe originated with a German film director who used to say "Mit out sound".)
Tonally, you set a good mood for most of the story. I liked the fact that the undertaker was continually thwarted, and (SPOILERS) that it appeared that the use of his strange 'fertiliser' came back to bite him.
So I'm looking for a theme here, other than that the film would be visually stunning. Is it 'all undertakers are depressed maniacs?' Or is it 'Your bad deeds come back to bite you in the end?' Neither is overwhelming, and the tonal shift to horror at the end of the piece is a bit muted. Meaning, that you've set us up with a very proper and plodding English satire in a Dickensian setting for 9 pages, and then shifted to Poe for the last minute. Make sense?
If the purpose of the piece is to scare people, then amp that up somehow. If it's satire, I think you've done a good job for the most part.
Pragmatically speaking, this is probably unfilmable. At 10 pages, with the settings and characters you'll need, it would be very costly to bring this to light. Which is why I mention theme so much. If a director wants to make a statement with this film, she / he might want the horror angle played up more prominently.
This was a weird one for me - it drew me in, but then left me a bit empty at the end. No doubt you have a gift for writing and for storytelling. This one just might not be my bag, but good for you for crafting a very weirdly different story.
EXT. CREMATORIUM - DAY
The leggy UNDERTAKER is crammed into his compact car,
You're giving a description of the Undertaker too late here. This is page 3, yet the undertaker was intro'd on page 1. This is the first time I'm seeing a visual representation of a leggy Undertaker. Do you see my point?
Don't be afraid of describing characters right from the outset. Forget casting. Yes, that will be done later and it may well transpire that they use a different actor altogether, but for the purposes of an entertaining read, don't be afraid to describe your characters. A lot of the time the actors will be made to look more like the character anyway.
I'll try to stick to story from now. I just considered that this was something that hadn't been hereto mentioned.
OK, i get the story... he's using his special fertiliser. I think this needs cutting down whilst adding more to hammer this point home. I'll read on.
I did skim through to the end. The read is difficult to get through due to the passive writing. However, I do like the story. It needs to be reworked and it's been told a million times before but so have all other stories.
It's the old human fertiliser story. The first thing is that everything takes too long to get going and the premise is too subtly integrated. IMO, you should ramp up the horror, have him initially discover the amazing powers of human fertiliser to later then stoop to causing deaths himself to make more.
He should win the second competition. The Farmer could perhaps be suspicious of Undertaker's means of growing and investigate... etc, etc.
Anyway, I like the idea if not this particular execution of it.
Thank you all for the critique! First script published here, and not feeling deeply deeply ashamed.
All extremely useful. I mean, obviously I want more people to read it... and I want to know what to do next... but little steps, little steps.
The script link is now updated with a rewrite that addresses many of the technical points that have been raised. Should I flag that to Almighty Don, as I've noticed he marks revised versions??
@eldave1 The detailed examples are great... and I think I've now actioned every single one of 'em. Learned a lot going through them.
@Dustin Thanks for sticking with it and coming back for more. I've fixed many of the weak surface effects you've mentioned. And I agree that a deeper re-write is called for, really.
@ajr Thanks for the appraisal. You're right about the tonal shift from Dickensian satire to the darkness of Poe (yeah in my dreams!). Not sure it's unfilmable, as I wrote it as an experiment in what I could film myself for a modest budget. I have locations in mind... but am also aware of the logistical nightmare of being in a large public space for several scenes. At least there's no explosions or aliens.
Technical points I've learned from this:
WRITE ACTIVE CHARACTERS Passive language is not only weaker, it's also usually longer, doubly boring the reader. Avoid "he is reading". Say "he reads".
AVOID WRITING CAMERA CUES It's so tempting... especially if you're a photographer, a DP or a Director... but a first script is not the place to pre-empt visual treatment. Saying "we see" seems to be a classic sign of amateur hour. And "camera pans up" is a close cousin of this.
AVOID UNFILMABLES A character's intentions, or the deeper meaning of a situation, is only relevant in a script if it's clear how it will translate to the screen. Having said that, motivation is very useful to actors, so it's good to let them know where they stand (beyond, uh, telling them, well, where to stand).
INTRODUCE CHARACTERS WITH CAPS Use caps to introduce characters. Once. And then stop it.
AVOID DENSE PROSE Efficiency is everything, as the script is a vehicle through which to imagine a film. Be as light and easy to read as possible. Fancy language is a stumbling block.
REWRITE Once you have a story, that's great. Now rewrite it. Several times. Boil it down to the good bits, and get to the point more directly.
I got a few kicks out of this, the writing is fairly solid for the most part. It could probably be tightened and compacted to, at least, take a page of the overall length.
I took some notes as I read:
“First competition (Plump and Tasty)”
- Is this supposed to be superimposed text or a note solely for the reader? It should be specified either way. Reading on, I see it’s mentioned on screen, that should do. You could omit the above line altogether, best to do it visually within the fabric of the scene. Plus, you’ll save page space.
Love the Undertaker’s opening line, sets up his character well.
“aggressively long nails”
- Ha, I enjoyed the description.
“Eyes widen with interest and revelation at a chapter about: “Fertiliser”.
- Really, fertilizer is a revelation to him? What rock has he been under? Then again, it seems he leads a rather isolated life.
“His barrow purrs across Autumn leaf mulch, and then rattles along cobbled stones on the market square. The difference in sound is emphasised, a la “The Shining”. This is an intent and purposeful journey.”
- Some will accuse this of directing rather than writing but I like it, evocative. “Scream mask into the waistband of his trousers.”
- Really, a scream mask of all things? Doesn’t seem like the Undertaker’s style.
NARRATOR It is not always a good thing to stop at nothing.
- Whoever said it was?
- Ha, great word!
“The Undertaker has killed the Farmer.”
- Yeah, we gathered that without this line.
“a deep judgmental knock.”
- How does one convey judgement through a knock?
“The Undertaker climbs into a coffin to hide.”
- Talk about the worst possible place to hide, akin to the big breasted dumb blond in a slasher movie running upstairs to evade a killer.
I enjoyed the Undertaker character and his rather grand, theatrical voiceover. It suited the character and the mood of the piece overall. You charted his descent into madness and obsession well over the few pages as we gradually learn his macabre intentions.
I liked the repeated visual marker of the yearly competition and how it diminishes in proportion to the Undertaker’s culling of the town’s population, effective, visual and creepy. It also behooves his business to have a high death toll so its win-win for this guy!
I questioned why an Undertaker would get so involved in a vegetable competition of all things but I guess we just have to accept that it becomes the focus of his monomania. It’s obviously a big deal in this provincial town.
I wonder though could you set up some incentive to drive the Undertaker, to give him reason why he gets so invested in it.
Also, why didn’t he just take out the farmer from day one? He seems to be his only real competition. Perhaps introduce some other contenders that the Undertaker has to dispatch first.
The ending gets very shlocky horror at the end with people coming back to life and exacting revenge. Not very original, thus not very scary, in my opinion. Is there another way you can punish the Undertaker? Maybe he becomes genuinely lonely with the town so desolate and that’s his penance, or now that there is no one left his business suffers so he must go to even more extreme methods, although this is probably taking the script in an unwanted direction.
I liked how you acknowledged the emptiness of his much sought out triumph when he arrives home, is there something you could do with that in order to serve his comeuppance? Haunting him with his former victims just feels like the most predictable and obvious way to go which lessens the impact.
Overall, some nice moments in here, an odd premise as evinced by the script’s title. Unfortunately, it’s let down by some unimaginative plotting and conclusion.