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Hey Gary! Feedback, as promised. Sorry for the delay - hope to finish and comment on these scripts by the end of next week.
My overall feeling is that I liked this. I wouldn't go as far as Jeff (who you seem to have completely won over) and say it blew me away, but I definitely enjoyed it and can see a lot of really good things here. The main ones, obviously are the characters - which are brilliantly imagined and vibrantly brought to life - and the story itself. However, I think at the moment, the way you are telling the story is holding it back. I'll explain what I mean in a sec.
There are two things I want to talk about - the writing, and the structure of your story.
The worst writing comes at the start of this, which is unfortunate because it makes it harder to get into the story than it should be. From the moment the story reaches the present day, the writing is a good deal better, and the script becomes an easy read. But there are problems at the start which I think you need to be aware of.
Your main mistake is to not give us a full picture of what is going on in a scene through your action lines, meaning there were instances in which someone spoke and I was jolted out of the read by a head-scratching moment where I went "Huh? Since when were they here/there?" For example, on page 1 you have: "Santa laughs. The ELVES join in." This was confusing, because they had no mention up 'til then, and yet your use of the definite article made me think I'd missed them. Same thing happened a few pages later when Serena jumped from being in the lounge to in her bed. In both these instances I had to go back and re-read the action lines to see if I'd missed something; stuff like that takes you right out of a read. Like I said, later on the writing got easier to follow, but it still wasn't entirely clean - there's a moment on page 67 where Serena suddenly speaks, but there's been no mention of her in the scene up 'til now.
The other writing thing I wanted to mention concerns your use of SUPERs. I just didn't really like the way you handled them, from the exclamation mark in "This year!" to the confusing "Two days"..."One day" business. Even the first one, the very opening to your script - "Last Christmas Eve" - is slightly awkward to me. I think you need to look at them again; someone else commented on them, I think, so it's worth considering.
It's not often I'd say that a script was missing a voiceover, but here I think a little intro and 'ex-tro' (or something) from Gnarles might work well. Have you seen Elf? Then you know the kind of thing I mean. This is a festive family animation, after all, so I think you could get away with Gnarles leading us into the story, ending by saying the title ("...and he was called, The Prince of Coal" - the words fade onto the screen). That's not the main point I wanted to make, just something to bear in mind.
Your main problem structurally is the way you reveal vital plot information. At the moment, much of it comes as a confusing surprise, rather than a welcome answer to a question that's been bugging us up till now. Let me be more specific:
- Thomas is, I think, introduced too late. He's the main antagonist (at least, for most of the story) and one of the most important characters. I think the flashback sequence where he meets Lump should come much earlier - at the beginning, if possible, although I understand that would need some shuffling around to make that happen. Thomas' secret plan - to deliver coal to every child in the world, thereby getting his own back on Santa - is a really good idea, but it is revealed almost in a throwaway line, when I think you should make much more of that moment.
- Likewise, I really liked the twist that Lump was the main villain, but you didn't make enough of it. I think a scene earlier in the script where we are given a brief hint that Lump might be pursuing his own goals might be a good idea. Lump is a great character, and would look really good onscreen, but I think the sudden revelation of his secret agenda is too out-of-the-blue and underplayed, ATM.
That's it, really. Your story is great, but I think if you make more of those big 'reveal' moments, and have a look again at parts of the writing, you'll improve the script by quite some way. You've had some good feedback on this, and I'd like echo the positive comments by congratulating you on putting together such an enjoyable, imaginative story in 7 weeks. There's re-writing to be done obviously, but the great thing is that you've got a script that's WORTH re-writing, and a story that demands that you do it justice. Congratulations, and good luck!
Great comments. I was esp. pleased that you liked the characters. The story telling can be improved in this as you and several others pointed out. I appreciate the specific examples you pointed out. I am amazed at how much my fellow SS members see in these things that I don't see. Good stuff.
This was my first feature script since starting here in March so it's nice to hear it has potential. I'll let it stew for about a month before I tackle it again.
For me, telling a story that can be followed - with a few hiccups - was key.
This one was just okay for me. I think your story and concept is gold, but execution is where this one fell a little short for me.
First of all, this script was very imaginative. You took all of the main players of Christmas and then some and meshed them pretty well into their own world up there in the North Pole. You got Santa and Mrs. Claus(who you refer to in action as Mrs. Claus, Mrs. C, and Jessica. Pick one and stick to it. I'd simply stay with Mrs. Claus), the gnome who I felt served as a "third in command" and then you have all the other guy who help out with the whole Christmas process. I liked that you involved everyone; trolls, elves, dwarfs, but the problem for me was that there was way too much focus on those guys and not enough on Thomas and Lump.
Bruce Li and Chuck Nervous(lolz) was funny the first time, but even some of their time can be cut, as can the time with the others where they're just playing around. When Thomas is finally introduced and revealed as the bad guy, I didn't feel that enough backstory or relevance was given to him. Why is he such a bad guy? Why has he ALWAYS been such a bad guy? What did he do as a child to earn the five pieces of coal? I would have liked to see much more of his motivation. And also, maybe I missed this, but why was he selected by Gnarles? I mean, selecting a replacement for Santa is kind of a big deal, so what was the process? Maybe show Gnarles interviewing applicants or something. You could draw a lot of humor from that. Also, maybe show Santa's fall into his brutal depression. Maybe show him losing it during the summer months and just how the fire was eating up at him.
The second half kind of dragged for me. The battle is a cool idea but it was just a bunch of creatures bashing each other basically. It didn't really engage me that much. Dialogue was okay in some parts but I think could use some more wit in others. You got off Santa's depression well, but even when he chose to fight back I didn't get enough of a hero's feel out of him. It was just eh. Gnarles and Lump were enjoyable all around and the supporting cast also were pretty fun from the trolls to the elves to the dwarfs. I would have liked to see a tad more of Serena toward the end. Her and Santa wrap things up at the VERY end, but maybe before leaving just involve Serena a little bit more.
Some typos here and there too.
So overall I didn't dislike it but didn't like it as much I could have. I think it's a good, fun story and pretty imaginative and I think rearranging certain things and flipping a few others around will greatly benefit this one. I have no doubt that a future revision of this will be rockets. Plus all this in 7 weeks? I tip my hat to you. Please let me know if you have any questions or if anything was unclear.
Thanks for your read and your thoughtful comments. I am pleased with the feedback I've received on my first script so far. Your comments re: focus are spot on. There is room for improvement.
The bit with the different names for Mrs. Claus started out as a reveal that Mrs. Claus first name was Jessica but that didn't work out. Mrs. C. was used after she got back from Vail to indicate a tougher person like Mr. T. Your point was welll placed except for when Santa is talking directly to her. I don't call my wife Mrs. Grademan when talking with her.
Also, the selection of Thomas was lacking in clarity. What I meant to portray, was that Thomas called at the right time per the plan and only days before Xmas when Gnarles and Santa was desperate so no formal interviewing was done. Good suggestion to have interviewing though.
I willl take all your comments into consideration when doing my "rockets" rewrite.
Not too shabby a job at all. I liked it. That prince of coal with a coal mite thing was a pretty clever idea. And Gnarley was a clever character.
The story moved along at a quick enough pace (most of the time) to keep the attention of the children (for whom it was obviously written).
My first criticism of it is going to be about several heavy-handed references, it's ok to have them there but they kind of made me wince. The first was the mention of ground zero and the second was the bit about Santa's magic being in honor of Jesus. Again, I think I can understand why you put them there but I would have preferred it if they weren't there.
Second criticism...this involves characters - while some of your characters were very good - Gnarley, Mrs. Claus, The Trolls, and Thomas w/coal mite wasn't bad. I thought Santa himself, The Dwarfs, the Elves and Serena needed a little more spark to make their characters come alive. Sorry, but I can't really explain exactly what that spark would be, but to me it was missing.
Third crit...Many scenes had a bit of excess wiggle room - I would do a general tightening to make sure things move at a fast (and therefore short attention span) pace.
Last one...The story was exceedingly clever but I think you need to define it a bit more up front. I would want to see that coal mite foreshadowed before the fire. If you did do that then I must have missed it.
Also I would like to know more about Thomas up front. Especially since he is going to redeem himself we need to know a bit more about him. If he is going to be a puppet villian then his dependence on the mite should be more pronounced. We should know his plan possibly even before Gnarley hires him. Since he is sort of the title character the script needs to be more about him.
Anyway, that's all I have tho say about it right now. Very good work though, you are fast becoming an excellent screenwriter.
Thanks MC for the wise words of advice. Different bits from different folks will make for a better script. I must admit, I fell in love with my script and am loathe to make any real changes to it. Hopefully, after a month away from it, I'll be able to do the deed. But this is my draft so I guess now comes the hard part: the rewrite. I digress...
I esp. appreciate the comments about heavy-handed comments. I never thought fo them that way but have to agree with you. I'll add some sparkle (I have some in my desk drawer ) to the characters, And, yes, the Thomas and Lump backstory needs to be better told. Tightening will be done.
I used the outlining technique we learned in Thief to put this one together. It took me five days of messing around to satisfy myself I had a story.
I think you did a really good job with this one. Especially for such a short time. Is it draft 12? Wow, you spent a lot of time on it.
As good as this was, I believe it still needs some work. The basic story is there, but it could do with some more meat to it. You have lots of white space on the pages, which is good. However, a lot of your action paragraphs are broken up a little too much. What I mean is things like this.
Monger laughs as he picks up the irate gnome.
Monger sticks out his tongue and takes a lick from the snow cone.
Gnarles grabs his hat and wipes the troll drool off.
Although nothing technically wrong with that, I do believe it made this script appear longer than it really is, story wise. I bet this script would be at least 5 pages shorter if not so liberally spaced between the lines.
The story itself was good and I think you had some colorful characters with great names. One problem here though, to me at least. was their dialogue which is pretty much the same for most of the characters except for the trolls.
My biggest problem with this script was the tone. By that, I mean what audience is this intended for? Although it's not bad at all, it needs to be kicked up a notch or two IMHO. I know it says family movie, animated, but to me it needs to be more. As someone who's raised 3 kids, I have sat through more animated movies than I care to remember. Maybe that's why I don't like them at all anymore? With your script, again IMHO, this script is not cute or cool enough for kids nor funny/ witty enough for the adults. Please don't take that the wrong way, your script is good, but you need to appeal to the kids more so the movie can keep their attention and at the same time keep the parents from falling asleep. Think about all the animated stuff you've seen. Cute animals or people as main characters that are very nice characters with hearts of gold. Often does something brave and saves the day. Characters that kids can identify with. Characters they wish they could be. I'm not sure who kids would identify with in your script. I'm guessing Serena which would mean she's not on screen enough to be the "hero". For the parents, it's okay to write over the kids heads. Often, even in Disney films there's a lot of darker, current events or racy jokes even. Never any bad words of course, but there needs to be something that keeps the parents entertained.
I loved the title except for that's not really what the script is about...
All in all, I think you did a good job, but you need to kick it up. Hope any of his might help.
PS. I'm not a spellmaster, but I didn't see one single typo!!!
I know I'm way late to the party on this, but since you read one of my shorts I wanted to re-pay the read...
First, let me say that this is amazing work for 7 weeks. I think you said somewhere that you did four re-writes? That's four in 49 days. It took me almost 4 times as long to re-write my feature that many times.
So, having said that, we of course must critique what we have. I think you did an excellent job in creating a Christmas "world" of your own. I love the distinction, and the interaction, between the dwarfs, elves and the gnomes. Heck, someone may put up money for this just for the back-end merchandising!
As for the story, I think it suffers from two things, one of which was already mentioned: first, not setting up Thomas properly (mentioned earlier), and second, not having enough jeopardy in your third act.
As for the former, I was confused when Thomas suddenly popped up. We need to see him ingratiate himself into Santa's and Gnarles' world a bit more, otherwise it's too fantastic a coincidence that the person responsible for Serena's accident actually becomes Santa's replacement.
As to the latter, as I was reading this, it reminded me of a full-length version of one of my favorite Christmas specials "The Year Without a Santa Claus" (yes, the one with Heat Miser and Cold Miser). If you haven't seen it then do yourself a big favor and watch it before you re-write this.
In it, Santa also loses his Christmas spirit, and it's up to two elves and a boy to save Christmas. The differences are that (a) it's only an hour show and (b) that once Santa is convinced of the "magic of Christmas", the problem is solved. I think that in your third act, that's where it ends for me - I'm not sure that once Santa is "cured of his blues", so to speak, that you have enough jeopardy left.
Is there a good enough reason he decides to go through with giving the magic to Thomas? Once Santa is re-invigorated, can't he just take Christmas back? In other words, Thomas does not have any authority to usurp at that point.
Also, as someone mentioned earlier, I agree that the tone of this needs to be monitored closely. You have a bi-polar Santa and a little girl who calls Santa a "sad sap", so I think you stray a bit from the family-themed Christmas special arena (which is okay with me; I think "Bad Santa" is one of the funniest movies ever made).
Maybe explore putting Santa in a jeopardy that's less of his own choosing? This way he's forced to give the magic up, and thus Thomas becomes more of a threat in the end, and when Gnarles finally discovers his secret, they'll be a bigger payoff?
Overall though, as I said, I really enjoyed the way you created your own world and invited the audience into it. I think the premise is solid and the execution could be re-worked into a story that hits on all levels.
The read is considered paid in full and then some. Excellent comments. I agree with both of your major concerns: Thomas needs to be introduced earlier (like scene one!) and Santa may be a little short of motivation in Act 3. I'll watch the TV movie you recommended. I vaguely remember it.
I never thought of a marketing angle on this so that was cool to hear. Just goes to show you, we can't anticipate how our script will be taken. Thanks for noting that!
Actually, I knew I was taking a risk posting this G rated script. Then I got such helpful suggestions from the readers at SS.
My pleasure. Also I forgot to compliment you about the good message you send at the end of the script, where Serena starts the fund against the coal in the stocking. Nice touch.
I was thinking that, depending on what the tone is and how political you want to get in the re-write, that Santa and Serena could meet with President Obama - underneath a sign that says "the cleanest coal comes from the North Pole"... (-:
And if you do something like that, just make sure that you walk the line with Serena so that she doesn't go from precocious to bratty!
I just finished watching the DVD "The Year Without Santa Claus." One good thing about Netflix is you can obtain vintatge recordings you can't find elsewhere. The song "I'm Mr. White Christmas" is still on endless replay in my brain.
Thanks for the suggestion to watch this. You're right, once Santa is over his depression/sickness, he's back in the game - no questions asked. I'll have to think about that one for my third act. I do need to have real jeopardy in the third act.