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John Lennon's Heaven by Anthony Russo (ajrscreenworks) - Drama - A devout yet corrupt minister finds Heaven the stuff of his worst nightmares, while his absence causes his family to spiral out of control. 110 pages - pdf, format
The logline doesn't qualify because I don't understand it :-), which I think is a valid argument when judging a logline.
"finds Heaven the stuff of his worst nightmares, while his absence"
especially this part
IMO this logline costs you reads.
I just can hardly suggest you putting a lot of work in there to explain as precisely as possible what happens in your script.
That said I'm not a Beatles fan nor do I have much knowledge of the band. But I'm open to new and I can also understand a story about an artist as big as John Lennon could be able to awaken a lot of public interest.
Okay as I go:
Page one originally shouldn't have a number.
Page 2 problems with the sluglines, could be clearer and easier to distinguish
P22 why I should I have to
P30 we can't we come
97 Interchanged Gerald and Bianca
I read the script in one sitting. And it's a very, very specific story in all areas.
Three things do not work (at all imo): title, logline, the story's very ending.
Otherwise this screenplay is crazy. It's that kind of stuff I imagine everybody has his or her own opinion on, what by the way beautifully mirrors the story.
In first act I feared you walk too much along a conservative, reactionary one-sided sight, making Christian belief the central point without calling it into question or sth., as you fortunately later successfully do, actually calling a lot into question. You might be too repetitive here with Albert hammering his lines over and over. In this case, I just hope you can hold the interest of some industry readers who, by nature, are more liberal, agnostic personalities I think. It's risky to push that far when you know the characteristics of the people of your movie market. You know, the only religious, spiritual things they do is show Morgan Freeman as god in a white suit or otherwise a bloody epos with sfx. So perhaps you come across too spiritual-aiming in first act.
In the mid I could perfectly imagine it for the stage.
Thanks for the read PM, let me know if you have anything posted, I'd be happy to take a look. And thanks for catching those little bobbles, will get them fixed right away...
I'll look into test-driving the logline on the 'review my logline' thread. As for the title, yeah, it's really not about John Lennon at all, and that sometimes confuses people. The inspiration for this was his song IMAGINE, so I tried to flesh out an other-world that conformed to Lennon's beliefs. I bookended the script with a quote from Einstein and a quote from Lennon, on matter and religion respectively, and with the words in between I try to synthesize their views.
And yes, Albert comes off very dogmatic, as his world, or after-world, has been rocked to his very core, and he repeats it like a mantra in order to stay in control.
As for the ending, not sure which part you're referring to, however I thought that Albert, Anna, AJ and Mary got the ending they deserved. Certainly Bianca and Gerard did not, as they were victimized by the sins of the father, however I see them as living a less restricted, more carefree life now that they are free from their chains.
In the end I wanted to deliver Lennon's message, which was love, respect and tolerance. I'll leave it to others as to whether I succeeded. I'm very open to suggestions on this one. Again, thanks very much for checking it out.
(So funny that you mentioned Morgan Freeman - I thought his company would be perfect for this, however they won't accept submissions from unrepresented writers. And when it was a short script I did have a stage version of it; so glad you see it that way too, perhaps I should work on adapting the feature version as well.) AJR
"And thanks for catching those little bobbles, will get them fixed right away..."
It's really tidy. Probably a few typos slipped through because I just wanted to read on. However, the script is really very tidy. I also liked the style throughout.
Your general ending makes perfect sense, only the last impression/shot felt a bit off because the ironic, super-clever undertone there didn't do justice to the depth of the story and our personal experience. There need to be true feelings, not a pointed conceptual decision. << just my personal view when reading. You know I liked the script.
At this place there, you shouldn't forget that your script still deals with one of the, probably even the most important, question we people face during our lifetime from childhood to the deathbed.
And exactly this conceptual decision there is what I equally dislike about the title. You just sell it short there. Sure, the Lennon part has a fine impact, as all the other theories and historical happenings that you use like science, cultural leaders, quotations, religion, philosophy, history and all that massive fine presented knowledge…
The overall experience is still much more personal to your reader than simply taking an eloquent designed title and putting it over it.
The feelings the audience lives through are real, and while following the story, we same time reflect who we are ourselves and how we see those questions about where we once are going to. It's a natural process of identification in a movie. Every one of us thinks about it anyway and they will while watching. Even all those who think there's a definite non-existence coming in the end, from time to time turn into an agnostic of their own specific theory here -- for f*** sure they do. Just compare it to the liar truth theory you perfectly laid out... there's no way out when it comes to those questions.
And this was actually the beauty of your script in my eyes. To experience a good story around the very big fat monster that's behind all of our today's imagination.
I really want to help you actually. Whatever I said might be right or wrong, so just use what is useful there. However I have one definite tip that you may or may not consider later, just think about at some point-> Here YOUR statement about YOUR title: "it's really not about John Lennon at all, and that sometimes confuses people"
I mean, I read it, and all characters are constantly crying in the last fifteen, twenty pages. Is it about John Lennon or about something that connects to our personal, deep feelings?
Just reread your exact statement about the title at some point.
Thanks PM, I really appreciate the kind words and the opinions.
Re; the last shot. Yeah, I agree, that's the writer definitely removing all doubt. I could make it ambiguous I suppose and leave room for other interpretations. I thought it best while I was writing to twist the knife a bit more. In one sense, I didn't want this piece to be magical. I wanted a scientific examination which could then be debated. So the choice felt right. I'll think about it though...
Re; the title. On one hand, it's meant to be provocative. I like the way the words flow. In fact if you google it, a lot of articles have been written on his view on the subject. When I said it confuses people, I meant that, for example, there was this one producer who said 'oh great, I'll read it, I love John Lennon', at which point I have to explain that it's not story ABOUT Lennon, it's about his view on things as put forth in IMAGINE. I do make Mary reference him late in the piece to try to tie it all together. But hey, the fact that we're debating it must mean that it bears further examination.
Again, glad you took something out of this, and please PM me if I can ever return the favor.
That was quite some story. Overall it works very well for me. I read it with interest and I wouldn’t pull away if not for the current OWC.
Now, you know it’s dialog heavy and it’s repetition heavy. The repetitions of Mary and Alberts to and fro worked very well for me. But I think it works on paper but it wouldn’t leave the same impression on me if this was screened. Logically I think that if you submit it to comps – the judges might think it’s too artsy and not visual enough to be in the finals – although I can’t know. If you start submitting it to directors – they’ll be needing a pretty strong actor for that and they’ll be apprehensive to film something that’s lacking visuals. And you know how it is today – people react mostly to action, color and sounds, but not actual words.
So this story is comprised out of two stories.
Albert and Mary and their talk of afterlife is one.
The second one is about his family.
I’ll treat these two parts separately. But at the same time I’ll say this: Albert and Mary’s interaction is merely dialog. It would be good if the other part of the story was heavily packed with action. I don’t mean with action action but you get the point. The stuff that starts later after the funeral part was for way too long. What page does it end? It ends very late. And after that there are series of talks and glances between Gerard and A.J. and Jason and Becca. I don’t mean the part when she tells Jason to keep off (and I’ll get to that later) – this part is in fact packed with action. Before that it was a lot of blank scenes that need to be amped both with conflict and something more, so that when you move from it to Albert with Mary we were relieved and ready to listen some more to their interesting discussion.
Albert and Mary: So, there are several turning points here for me. The first one when I learn she’s from another planet. I know she hinted on it (kind of) before but she hits it squarely on p41. That kills the excitement for me – although I suspected, I didn’t know. Maybe she has to hint on it some more? I’d like to get prepared to this kind of news. – otherwise it turns to a heavy handed fantasy flick for me all. Later when she talks more about their world and their God – it all sounds normal, I think because I’m prepared and already used to the idea. So I think she has to deliver it earlier. It also would be good to introduce this turning point earlier. Because already on p25 I wrote “the go around in circles and I’m afraid I lost understanding of what they are saying”. Up to p41 they she was mostly asking him to forget his belief system and start listening to her and he was asking why he has to do that. And it went for very long. Although the flow of it is terrific and all of what they said did make perfect sense to me and I didn’t want to pull off for a little bit. But still… I think you have to introduce the turning point earlier.
(by the way sometimes you introduce cultural pieces of info like Star Trek and it sounds like I had to watch it prior to watching your movie otherwise I loose a clue of what they are talking about. “move among the others, who look frozen” – I don’t understand that about her and that’s the way she wants to convey to him a piece of information about herself. So I’m curious to know what she’s saying there and I don’t know)
The second turning point is on p54. There’s new info – what she thinks of the Bible and Christianity. So, I wrote “scratch everything I said before, this is excellent”. But later I sat down to think and decided that it was a turning point in their dialog that made me excited. I think that it came timely, but if you push the first turning point to an earlier page, you’ll have this one come early as well.
The third turning point is her own belief system. She talks about it. And she tells us how Albert is there – he is a doubter. He read a book that contradicts his faith and it made him doubt.
The fourth turning point for me is when she starts talking about Albert and we are sure now that he’s not a good man and it’s not just what his wife or kids think, it’s proven by the universe.
And the last turning point is when Peter comes, I guess. And she tells him she’s leaving.
So, I think you could start hitting all these much earlier and at regular intervals, to keep us interested. I was interested in what I was reading but I don’t know how it would translate to the screen (I said it at the beginning)
By the way, IMO you also need to pace the whole to and fro thing. To and fro between “Albert and Mary” and “his family” – at first it’s large pieced of dialog and a few pages on his family. The scenes shorten towards the end but unevenly. Sometimes it’s very short scenes on Albert and Mary like on p108 (this one definitely doesn’t work for me) or the scene in Martignetti home on p82.
A few notes:
Albert’s piece of dialog doesn’t flow for some reason on the very bottom of page 90. (starting with “you’re wrong”) Kind of hard to hear him in my head. Maybe shorten it or something. Peter – St. Peter? Isn’t that too much? Not sure about it. P99 “we can’t communicate in our language” – for me this is OTN P101,102 – the interaction between Mary and Peter is not very natural I’d say. Too many “Oh my darling” – make them sound like the Casablanca characters.
Now switching to his family and kids.
This part is easier for me to understand, relate and discuss, so I have quite a few notes on them for you. Let me continue with it in the next post.
Khamanna, thank you so much for the detailed notes!
As I said to Sean earlier, this started as a short on SS, where the main action was between the two characters in the room, and the family was window-dressing exposition. I decided to give the family a back story and see if I could illuminate my themes further through their behavior. (And originally the role of MARY was a male, known only as THE CREATOR. I decided it would be fun to switch the genders - one more thing to rankle Albert with.)
Yes, in general, I gave myself a challenge in writing this. Which was to stay in a room with the two main characters, and have their interaction be enough without having it come off like a stage play. You're probably correct, at 110 pages it may be too long, and a haircut would allow me to get to some of the points that you mentioned sooner. And some of the people who have read this feature version have remarked about its potential non-theatricality. Though now that I see movies like FENCES getting a big screen treatment, I'm more encouraged.
Looking forward to the rest of your comments. One thing I can say though is that Mary is definitely not from another planet. If I conveyed that, I'll have to look into it and write it more clearly.
And yes, MARY and PETER are probably heavy-handed. I chose those names as yet another jab, to turn the iconography on its ear a bit. And yes their dialogue in hindsight is probably a bit stilted. Trying to write for a culture that is not of modern day Earth is another challenge.
Here's the rest of it. I must say I enjoyed the script. Good luck in the rewrite - in case if you do any.
Regarding Mary not being from another planet – here’s what tripped me “My planet was very Earth-like. There were many similarities” etc etc. If you amend that piece I think it’s going to be fine because she talks about coexisting interdimensionally. That’s a different thing and makes much better sense.
About the family I didn’t like the funeral – there were no new events for very long for me, it looked like a constant mourning without any additional info for quite a few pages. On p31 I started complaining, made a note of the scenes being stagnant.
Then on p33 I see A.J. and Gerard are talking and it sounds like they are in conflict with each other. I like that, but the talk is vague, I don’t get them and they are not proactive in any way. I suggest they were discussing something. Something concret related to family affairs – not Bianca and her boyfriend, but maybe financial situation. Maybe both want to take care of finances because both consider himself a man of the family. Maybe they argue about paying for the service or the kind of service they should have had. A.J. may not want to accept Gerard’s money.
I want to see more resistance from Gerard. Let him talk about God, he did some, even provided his father with the book. I wish the book came up earlier on the pages though.
I wish there were more conflict overall. Don’t know what to suggest here in particular, maybe Gerard suspects A.J. A.J. has a different orientation, he’s seeing someone and it’s very strange that no one in the family doesn’t know. Just a silly suggestion – maybe it’ll spring up other ideas. P45 “middle child” line was kind of on the nose for me.
Actually no one in this family knows about each other except Anna about Albert. They don’t know about A.J. I don’t know how much they know about Bianca. Gerard deals pot – I got it that they know about that. Anna has a lover – they don’t know about this. And the fact that Albert had several mistresses – I don’t know how that’s possible for them not have a clue.
P49 – Bianca’s dialog, her not wanting her dad “to know” because he can see them now – that doesn’t ring true. And her lines are not the best, I doubted her all the time. And then she suddenly changes her mind when Jason didn’t even ask her to, takes Xantax – all kind of hard to buy into for me. Maybe I’m not a Christian and I have no idea what it’s to be raised in a family of a minister. But since it’s happening today – I don’t know.
And Jason didn’t even kiss her when she started all that on her own, it’s as if she waited for her father’s death to have sex. Maybe he should kiss her. That would make it more visual as well.
On p62 I have “an Amish to talk like that, not her, even if she’s a minister’s daughter” P73 – Larry the villain – he’s one dimensional for me. Curt too. Maybe she should start seeing Jason from the very beginning. And if she didn’t share the fact she was a virgin, and it’s their night with Jason – it would have made it better I think. IMO those one-dimensional bad people – they are hard to believe in. P78 “Gerard makes two fists. Shakes them violently” this and what he says later – doesn’t flow for me for some reason. P94 bottom – “You keep opening Daddy’s checkbook” – even a villain can’t be this stupid to say something like that to a suicidal person at a moment like this.
A.J. is doing this because Dad can see him – again I don’t know about this. This argument don’t work for me in both cases. See what the other got to say, but for me it’s a firm no. I don’t know what to suggest here either, don’t think you can omit that either.
Overall, I see a lot of good conflict and a lot of action later on the pages – and I like that. I liked later scenes a lot – Bianca being violated, Gerard and Anna, A.J.’s affairs (especially A.J.). I think you better move all that to earlier scenes. I’d also want to see the conflict as soon as you introduce them.
Albert and Mary’s exchange intervened with conflicting situation in his house, with something happening in his house. And something that happens in his house has to do with God – and you do have that throughout.
Thanks Khamanna, that's a good catch with Mary. I think I should change the world 'planet' to 'world'...
Definitely going to do a rewrite, I view each of the character's stories as fluid and they need to serve the overall narrative and theme. Bianca's big for me as you noted - I want to show that she's big-time messed up not only by being daddy's little girl and wanting for nothing, but by all the dogma she's been fed. I have met literal interpreters of the Bible before, and they are an interesting group. Not sure they are as far out there as Bianca, but... something I will definitely look into.
A.J.'s not motivated by the same things that Bianca is - he's being crushed by the weight of taking over, and he feels it's not long before he's discovered, because he can't hide in the background any longer. He also feels guilt over participating in Albert's schemes.
Yes, I agree, this is a family that doesn't talk to each other much... (0: Their lives (except for Gerard) center around the Church because it's given them everything.
Thanks once again, lot of food for thought, and please let me know when the rewrite of SUPERS is up! AJR
Read first 30. Here are my page by page notes. You've raised interesting questions but I'm not sure they're being answered fast enough for my liking (different strokes I suppose). Also there are some formatting choices that make the story harder to follow IMHO.
Pg 1. What is that font? Haven't even read a word and I'm a bit concerned. It's jarring and some might see it as unprofessional. Don't know if it's the program you're using but the fix seems simple enough. The slugs are in the correct font which makes it that much more strange to me.
1. There are so many detailed descriptions are they all necessary? I don't know but I'm slightly concerned that nothing has happened in the first page.
3. Mary asks with her eyes if it's okay to begin.
The nits may take you to the woodshed over this line.
5. Albert takes a cleansing breath.
What is a cleansing breath? How is it different than a regular breath?
6. Albert oesn't sound very minister-ry. Maybe this is intentional but I'd expect a hail Mary or forgive me for my sins early.
7. Albert musters a heretofore unseen defiance...
You have an action line between practically every single line of dialogue. Some are unnecessary at best and intrusive at worst. I think you need to give actors some room to bring the characters to life. It's also intrusive for the reader (at least me) as it shows everything down.
8. Now Mary's smile is as familiar as an old friend.
What does that even mean? How does one shoot that.
8. So you have an interesting scenario going for you. You have me curious. Who is she, where are they, what the heck is going on.
11. Daddy's happy now... right?
I like this line but it seems a little strange coming from a 21 year old.
14. Mary recognizes the accusatory look.
I'm not going to keep pointing this stuff out. That's an unfilmable. This script is loaded with them.
I have to say that these action lines are holding everything down like an anchor. Just reducing them by half would tighten everything up and give you more storytelling space to play with.
I'm on 14 and have questions but no real sense of where the story is going.
17. I hope it's hot where you are, you son of a bitch.
The most interesting line yet, on several levels.
19. You're making jokes. And I'm dead. I'm dead! So where am I? And who are you? Tell me! Now! MARY You're not ready. You won't believe me.
As a reader I feel like Albert. I want to know. I'm ready to know.
The story hasn't moved aside from Albert beginning to accept his own death. I'd like to see now actual progression.
19. Please, don't say you're walking through the valley of shadow of death. I'll gouge my eyes out.
That's a good line.
20. A.J.'s resolute stare returns.
I think you need to let actors act.
22. Right. I'm not your supreme being. Therefore I'm not omniscient. Everything I know about you must come from you. Now you can cooperate and share some information? Or we can sit in silence until the time comes
Maybe my memory is off but didn't she know Albert's name or at least say she did, in the beginning.
22. So I'm curious where the story goes but not necessarily an excited curious.
29. Scientist? That's an interesting wrinkle. Is this still act 1? Feels like it has (or should have) moved into act 2 but that would mean the point of the story is figuring out why Albert is in the room. I could be wrong but it feels like part of a story, not the whole thing.
Just my personal thoughts. Also does the title get explained at any point? Doesn't connect at all to the first 30 for he vand doesn't necessarily make me want to read.
Act I ends at the end of page 30 on Mary's reveal and Act II begins with the funeral.
Yeah, this was tough to write, action-wise, because of the ambition of the piece. I want a slow pace, because there is a lot for Albert to process. Tough to write eternity, you know? (0: So yeah, I insert a narrative line after almost every spoken word because I don't want rapid fire dialogue, which would come off more like a stage play. Maybe it's too much though, I'll have to take a look at it...
Re; Mary's smile and recognizing the accusatory look - I would argue that you can film these. For me an unfilmable is 'the wind blows', because you obviously can't film the breeze, you can only film the effects (trees swaying, etc.). Or, 'she's a wife and mother', which spoon feeds exposition that the audience will never see. I'm trying to paint pictures with words in the narrative.
You can certainly film a look of accusation, and a look of recognition. Sure, I'm directing here, however I didn't want to keep writing Mary smiles, because it's monotonous and robotic. So she needs to have an arsenal of smiles. Some are filled with pretense, some burst out genuinely, but others, like the one she exhibits when recognizing 'an old friend', is familiar, unguarded, knowing. Make sense?