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Billy by Richard Russell - comedy, Dark Comedy - A wannabe screenwriter stumbles onto a blockbuster script and claims it as his own--only to ignite a chain reaction that leads to his doom. 98 pages - pdf, format
Overall, I enjoyed this screenplay. I'm typically a pretty harsh critic with extensive notes. I've read a great number of scripts, and I'll say that yours is one of the very, very few that is well crafted and was enjoyable to read.
I really rolled along from around page 12 (Billy finishes dad's script) to the mid point. That was the most enjoyable part. The mid point is very clear, and, of course, where the script turns particularly dark. I'm not a huge fan of dark stuff--so I recognize that "that's just me."
I did not clearly, initially get a specific "goal"--what is it Billy wants? Even now I'm not sure: is it: To actually be a great writer? To be perceived as a great writer? To make money selling scripts? To be famous? 'not sure.
I had to go back and re-read the opening to see what you were doing. Although you clearly use "Billy V.O" and say that Charley is in the scene, it kept occurring to me that it was Charley talking. And then I was really confused when the V.O. talked about hearing a bullet. I was not sure if Charley was shot or what. Then, it's "sort of" apparent that Billy was writing a scene, but what we actually "saw" was his father's last bit of sex before he died. It's a clever idea--the V.O. of the "bad" script writing overlaying the sort-of-similar action, but it ended up confusing rather than wowing me. Perhaps if you really counter-play the visuals with the V.O. --then it's clear that what the V.O is talking about (writing) is something clearly different. i.e. emphasize that it's sunny out in the scene, yet the V.O. speaks of rain. I know the V.O. says "played it cool" yet they "go at it like teenagers," but then the V.O. says that "she didn't" (play it cool)--so I again thought it was not counter to what I was seeing. Perhaps each and every beat should have the scene at odds with the V.O. It would ramp up the funny too.
The first ten pages are critical to hook and compel the reader. They did not hook me. Possibly because it just occurred as a weird love scene (with intentionally gross-meant-to-be-funny action). If I "got" what was going on and understood how ludicrous it was, I likely would have been intrigued. It's a somewhat tricky task…because you are showing what is actually, coincidentally (similar yet not) happening to someone related to the lead.
As far as plot and traditional structure go: I don't recall a call to action with "refusal of the call." There's a literal call that Charley is dead and Billy must go to wrap things up. Is there an opportunity that is ignored here?
----Here's the niggly notes that I made while reading: Page 3: Wendy is introduced as "Overheated from work and commute." An audience can see she's exhausted but they cannot SEE "from work and commute" on the screen. Yeah, it's sort of familiar/conversational with the reader, but that's typically frowned upon.
Page 12: I don't recall reading that the script was clearly written by his father before Billy is all excited about having it.
Page 30: Spelling: heady duty shocks = heavy duty shocks
Page 40ish: As a reader and "viewing audience," I was irritated and "cried foul" when Billy does not IMMEDIATELY head straight over to the one and only Eleanor that absolutely MUST be Eleanor Creel. Come on! Eleanor Joly makes big-time impact and drops some serious lines on Billy at the funeral home. Anyone's immediate thought would be that Creel was her maiden name (whether it is or is not.) You don't have to even know what "Occam's razor" is. It's simply the first thought to pop into our heads. If you want to "dodge" the obvious for some reason (and have Billy traipse through his sleuthing--not sure why) then have her use a total pseudonym for wuthor on the screenplay.
Page 41: Spelling: missing "t" on "the". Eleanor sips tea in HE rocking chair.
Page 48: cut "route guidance ended." I've never heard GPS say that. 'not needed regardless.
Page 50ish: Sadly, I'm incensed by the stupidity of Billy here, which occurs to me as too easy/convenient and perhaps even lazy for the writer. Billy goes STRAIGHT to ROBBING someone. Not only robbing, but breaking and entering. Not only B&E but doing it while the person is there, asleep. I'm just thinking WTF? It pulls me right out of the screenplay with a believability issue. Either we have to see that Billy is reckless, maybe stupid, desperate, criminally-disposed or something earlier, or this must be more slowly attacked. You spend a lot of time (seemingly unnecessarily) hunting down Creel, but then Billy instantly goes from fraudulent writer to robber. Perhaps he should try other steps first (to get scripts) and then "accidentally" break the window while trying to burglarize a house that he thought was empty. There's also more opportunity for comedy in that scenario too.
Page 66: Billy accidentally kills Eleanor, but then he goes quickly into being willing to poison Mabel. I know it's a dark comedy, but again, the acceleration from robber to murderer is another gigantic leap. Is he that maniacal? It would be difficult to set up a likable character with that propensity to start, but some groundwork seems needed to make this all believable for me.
Page 80: I think we'll understand the conflict in Billy's head about tossing Faith over the balcony without needing to hear him talking out loud to himself. I will say that it occurs as not believable and "cheap exposition." I've never personally spoken paragraphs of words out loud to myself. Maybe one line.
Page 80: Faith accidentally falls over the balcony…ok…I might go with that. If this is really getting more silly/slapstick in a "The Hangover" sort of way. And that would nicely follow through if Billy's earlier break into Eleanors had a series of accidents (accidentally breaking glass, accidentally Eleanor is home, accidentally she falls on screwdriver.)
----End of niggly notes.
My only other suggestion: Screenplays that end on a "low note" (unhappy ending) typically have a really high point around three quarters in (at the turning point.) Whereas "all is lost" happens in movies with happy endings, "all is great" happens in movies before everything goes to total and complete hell. So, my suggestion would be to stick in a major high point. i.e. The script sells for a million. Spielberg is going to direct. Billy's name is in all the trades. yadda. It should FULFILL whatever the (hopefully clearly) stated desire/goal/plot-win is for the lead.
I know these notes look extensive, but, compared to most screenplays, they're not. I usually can't even list out all of the "niggly" comments. So, I feel, by making a few things a bit more believable and clear, this would really move this screenplay to a higher level.
Thanks for the great notes. You put in a lot of work on this one, and I appreciate it.
Billy is a character that wants to be a real writer but simply hasn't the talent. When he discovers a wealth of scripts, well, he has to have them. But he can't kill anyone. People die, but he doesn't kill anyone. Accidents happen. Yet, he does the right thing in the end, taking the blame for what has happened.
I'm sorry the beginning didn't entrap you. I was not trying to confuse, simply to provide some comic relief for the voice over. Obviously, that didn't work too well.
In any case, your notes are welcome. I'll use them in the rewrite.