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Don
Posted: February 19th, 2019, 4:45pm Report to Moderator
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So, what are you writing?

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Zimbie by Surina Nel - Family, Animation, Adventure - An abused pony, with a dream of being a show jumper, learns about love, trust and friendship on the way to realizing his dreams.  96 pages - pdf format

Writer interested in feedback on this work



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FrankM
Posted: February 24th, 2019, 6:59pm Report to Moderator
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Hi Surina,

The title page is set up incorrectly, the margins are off a bit in places, and there are no page numbers... was this typeset in a word processor? It's okay if it was, but if so you should use a screenplay template and use styles only on the paragraphs (no ad-hoc formatting).

MS Word's screenplay template has subtle color-coding for the various elements... you should change everything to black before making your PDF, then you can undo the change if you prefer seeing the elements color-coded. A free alternative is to use CeltX screenwriting software. I don't use it, so I don't know its strengths and weaknesses compared to a general-purpose word processor.

One page 1, go with "chat indistinctly" rather than "chat incoherently". There are some grammar issues throughout that I won't go into one by one, just be sure to do a good proof-reading to make sure subjects and verbs agree.

I appreciate you using concise terminology rather than taking forever to explain what things are, just be sure to stick with things that can be looked up with a quick Internet search. This avoids boring readers who don't really care about the details, but conveys enough for the artists to get it right. What trips me up here is the use of "pony" to describe Zimbie. A lot of people mistakenly think that pony means "young" horse when it really means "small and relatively calm" horse. You seem to know your way around horses, so it's going to be incumbent upon you to explain the difference or avoid the word pony. Having his mother be a welsh cob confuses things a bit, since that is not a pony breed.

MARE must be capped as a character introduction. There are three situations where you need to cap things: character intros, sudden/unexpected sounds, and some writers like to cap important NOUNS. This is early enough in the script that the reader won't be sure if the mare is a character or an important thing.

The page 1-2 dialogue between Zimbie and his mom is on-the-nose. This is a very common problem in early drafts. You just need to polish your characters' words each time you revise. Ideally, each character will develop his or her own voice, and the reader/audience won't notice when you're using dialogue for exposition. One nitpick for now... I'd avoid having a talking animal say "oh man" or otherwise sound too human. In this case, "Wow" would suffice.

The show jumping round that starts on at the base of page 3 and continues onto page 4 would take a long time on screen, and isn't going to be engaging for general audiences (that is, people who don't know equestrian events inside-out). The first clue is that this action block is six lines long. Four is fine, five is long, six indicates a problem. This really needs to be broken up, if only by reaction shots and commentary by Zimbie.

Continuing on, the RIDER needs to be capped... or re-write the scene so that the dialogue is indistinct to the audience

The rider turns the mare around and pats her neck gently, reassuring her MOS.

In a live-action film, MOS indicates that there's no need to record the audio on location because it will be overwhelmed by something in post-production (such as a voice-over or howling wind). It's also used in the less extreme case of indistinct background conversation where it's not particularly important what the actors say (they're probably discussing what to have for lunch). A character with no real lines doesn't need to be capped, especially in animation.

Zimbie's imagination is actually its own little scene.

Zimbie, motionless, watches the classy riders and their horses.

INSERT: DAYDREAM

Zimbie sees himself as a show jumper, clearing his round. The crowd
CHEERS loudly.

The BELL for the next round brings him back to the present.

BACK TO SCENE

The next horse is a big bay gelding. CEASAR starts his round. He
jumps effortlessly over all the jumps. A faultless clear round.


The director might decide to set this up full-screen or in a thought bubble as Zimbie grins.

This still has the issue that you're describing fairly long sequences with just a sentence or two. Zimbie can do something unrealistically awesome during his imaginary run, like reassuring his rider before a jump over fire. I'm not sure what to do with Ceasar, but that run also needs to be broken up or happen mostly off-screen.

The bizarre margins in the screenplay format are supposed to ensure a page of script runs for about a minute of screen time, but this depends on the writer avoiding sentences like "Fred watches three sitcoms." Action-heavy scenes tend to be a bit more than a minute per page, dialogue-heavy scenes a bit less.

On page 4, MARE has changed to MOM. It's the same character and voice actor, so each line of dialogue should have the same tag. If you prefer Mom, you could rearrange the intro so that Zimbie appears first so it's natural to intro her as ZIMBIE'S MOM and just call her MOM in dialogue.

Transitions end in a colon, like CUT TO:, but CUT TO: is the default transition and therefore unnecessary.

The next slug includes 6 YEARS LATER, but this is never shown on screen.

EXT. RIDING SCHOOL - DAY
A couple riders circle INSTRUCTOR SHERRY, a shortish lady of
about forty, who stands in the middle of the rectangular arena.

SUPER: 6 YEARS LATER

She wears a white cap over her shoulder-length blond hair.
All seven riders sit perfectly upright, heels pushed down,
black boots, some in navy some in beige jodhpurs.

They eagerly await instructions, wanting to impress her.


This lets the audience know that time has elapsed (and to expect a grown-up Zimbie). I also switched the sentences to simple verbs, which usually takes less space and gives a more energetic feel to the read. Balancing simple active ("Horse throws his rider"), progressive active ("Horse is throwing his rider"), simple passive ("The rider is thrown"), and progressive passive ("The rider is being thrown") takes practice, but should definitely go in that order from most common to most rare.

Other scene headings with time passage will need similar fixing.

This whole scene needs to take a minute and show the audience what is happening without assuming prior knowledge of riding. We have no idea that Dougie's calves hurt unless she complains out loud (which in turn means she has to be capped as a speaking character). We also don't know that Zimbie is there until some unnamed little girl bangs his teeth with the bit. She later has lines as ROSELYN, so she should have a capped into by that name. Zimbie wears a confused expression, but the newness and hurtfulness of the experience will be lost on the audience unless he complains (in thought as a V.O., out loud to himself, or out loud to another horse).

In the following scene, there's a repeated typo of "mam" where it should be "ma'am". But the bigger issue is that there's a lot going on in Zimbie's head with no way for the audience to know it. Probably the easiest way to surface this for the audience is to use V.O. to listen in on Zimbie's thoughts. We already saw his imagination, so hearing thoughts isn't much of a leap.

There's no indication how old James is, but if he's lived on a farm long enough to spend "years" with the horse, this can't possibly be the first animal he's seen die. He can still be attached to the horse and broken up about the loss, but the dialogue needs to acknowledge that the horse was special to James, not that he's never seen death before.

The encounter with Zimbie's next rider Benny also has a lot going on that the audience can't see or hear. This kind of writing is good for a novel, but a film can only deliver sights and sounds. So this scene also needs to be rewritten, probably with V.O.'s and maybe a line or two from Benny.

I'm going to stop here on page 15 for now because it looks like similar writing/formatting issues will repeat throughout the draft. I'll continue reading to give feedback on the characters and story, but I think you have enough here to start re-arranging things into a more traditional screenplay format.

On the character and story front, Zimbie seems to be developing well. He's imperfect, has a dream, and I think he's about to get a major obstacle to that dream (he's going to the farm, isn't he?). Looking at the logline, I don't see "abused" yet, but that might happen at the farm. Depending on who appears later in the story, it might be worth giving Instructor Sherry or some of the kids little personality quirks.

I'll post again once I've gotten through the whole story. Best of luck with the project!


Family feature: Who Wants to Be a Princess? Latest draft (3/2019)
Horror anthology/feature: Glass House Latest draft (2/2019)
Sci-Fi short trilogy: Timmy
Comedy short: Feedback
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Surina
Posted: February 26th, 2019, 11:14pm Report to Moderator
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Thank you so much for the feedback. I have used word to write, I'll switch back to fade in which I was using prior.
Thank you for your constructive criticism. English is not my first language and though I asked a couple of friends to read and give advice, they all claimed its all good. I've been paying for someone with knowledge review this for me.
I'll start working on it making the changes.
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FrankM
Posted: February 27th, 2019, 11:14am Report to Moderator
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Quoted from Surina
Thank you so much for the feedback. I have used word to write, I'll switch back to fade in which I was using prior.
Thank you for your constructive criticism. English is not my first language and though I asked a couple of friends to read and give advice, they all claimed its all good. I've been paying for someone with knowledge review this for me.
I'll start working on it making the changes.


Your writing is much better than I could do in a second language

One advantage that MS Word has over "screenwriting software" is grammar check. Set the proofing language to English and you'll be able to scan for problems. There's also an online tool at grammarly.com if you prefer (be aware that part of Grammarly's business model is asking you to install a grammar checker in your web browser, which would let them track your web browsing).

Screenplay format isn't quite proper English. Action lines are filled-to-bursting with comma splices (using just a comma when you should use a semicolon or ", and"), and dialogue sounds unnatural if it's 100% technically correct 100% of the time, but they're close enough that grammar check is helpful.

Fixing grammar isn't fun, but at least it's straightforward. The more complicated issue is that your current writing style is somewhere between screenplay and novel. When my early drafts looked like this, they got called "literary."

One option is to go full novel, in which case the length of description need not correlate at all with the length of time involved. But assuming you want this to be on screen then you need to tell your story in sights and sounds only, while the occasional aside in an action line can give the actors and animators context.

Things that take longer on screen should take longer on the page. This will give you a feel for when you should cut away to something else and come back, or if the beginning/end of some long sequence really needs to be shown at all.

I hope to be back with feedback on the story soon. Just to be clear, when I said that Zimbie is imperfect, that's a good thing. Perfectly-behaved characters are boring


Family feature: Who Wants to Be a Princess? Latest draft (3/2019)
Horror anthology/feature: Glass House Latest draft (2/2019)
Sci-Fi short trilogy: Timmy
Comedy short: Feedback
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Surina
Posted: February 27th, 2019, 3:31pm Report to Moderator
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FrankM I really appreciate your help. I am an empty glass. I listen, I learn and I practice. Already started working on your suggestions and advice today. Where I live, people with experience and willing to help is very hard to find. Thus  I am very grateful for this review.
I did take it as a compliment when you said that Zimbie is beautifully imperfect. I believe my story is a good one. Technical errors there is and I admit that I need help on the dialogue,but it is a dream to conform it into a well polished script. Looking forward to hear more of your thoughts.
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FrankM
Posted: February 27th, 2019, 11:58pm Report to Moderator
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Hi Surina, I finished the script with more of an eye toward the characters and story structure. The formatting issues were basically the same throughout the script, so I won't belabor those points.

There are a couple of questions I have, mostly because I know next to nothing about horses:

1. Is one abusive episode enough to ruin a horse? If it only takes one, I'm curious if riding schools insure for that kind of thing, or if Abigail's mom would get a big bill. If it takes several, you'll need to establish that it was not Abigail's first offense when she was caught.

2. How did a snake reach the muzzle of a galloping horse? I would expect a snakebite to the head to be certain death. And the parents just leave this kid alone for days in a field known to have rattlesnakes?

Overall, this is a wonderful story with some nice emotional elements in it, the "villain" Abigail reacts realistically to her emotionally abusive home life, and there are plenty of feel-good vibes at the end. I love how Zimbie sees the dog as "the tongue." That will make an awesome visual in animation. I've got two concerns with how the story sits on the page right now.

1. For a movie with talking animals, the animals don't talk very much. Right now they only talk when there are no humans around. You can have the animals understand each other while humans just hear neighing/barking/meowing/whatever. So I'd recommend getting the animals talking a lot more (which will help with explaining all those unfilmables in the current draft), but establish in the first few pages that humans do not understand the animals.

2. I'm worried about the pacing. You take a lot of screen time to establish certain elements, and there are a lot of time jumps that will make it difficult to keep the audience informed of exactly how much time has passed.

For that second point I'm going to borrow the Three Act Structure as an example way to space the major events in your story. There are other structures as well, but they're mostly variations on Three Act.

The earliest part of Act I gives you full license to build your world in broad strokes. So long as we have talking animals within the first few pages, it's fine to introduce others later.

Act I needs to accomplish a lot of setup in a relatively short period of time, and much of the training school stuff will probably need to be cut or condensed considerably. It also needs to provide an exciting hook and the story's inciting incident. The hook would typically be an action scene, but for your film Ceasar's picture-perfect round might be able to serve. You don't want to scare the kids right off! The inciting incident would be Abigail's attack changing the course of Zimbie's life.  

This inciting incident happens on page 22, but a feature should usually get to that point around page 10. Some things will need to be condensed... a off-the-top-of-my-head suggestion would be to start with Zimbie already seven years old, and have the training horses talking to each other during the class.

Act I ends about one-quarter of the way through the script with something or someone completely changing the direction of the story. That is James giving Zimbie a chance by adopting him (which seemingly makes a show-jump career less obtainable). In your story this isn't so much a moment as it is a long getting-to-know-you scene, but you're probably fine if James gets to the school the by one-quarter mark. The whole pretending-not-to-pay-attention thing is fun.

Act II runs from the one-quarter mark to the three-quarters mark with rising stakes throughout. It's hard to keep an audience engaged that long on a single subject, so this is where most writers will throw in a subplot. In your case, some antics (or friction) involving the talking animals at the farm would do.

Since Zimbie regaining his confidence is not the final victory in this story, it logically fits in as the midpoint crisis. This could be either the snakebite or rescuing Jen. I actually think those could be combined... the snake bites Jen's horse which falls on her leg, so James and Zimbie ride off to get help. The precise midpoint crisis is when Zimbie is forced to jump. The actual rescue can take a good chunk of the remainder of Act II.

Act III starts around the three-quarter mark with a confrontation that eventually leads to the climax where the odds seem insurmountable (OMG... Abigail is riding Zimbie's idol, Ceasar!) but Zimbie bests Abigail due to a combination of his strengths and her faults. I like the way you arranged this confrontation, though I probably missed some nuance because I'm not familiar with show-jumping courses.

The denouement is a bit long, but it's a family film and I agree with your decision to explicitly wrap up every single plotline for the sake of kids in the audience. If you set subplots in motion in Act II, they need mentioning or wrapping up as well.

A couple minor points:

MOM is used for the dialogue of Zimbie's mom and James' mom.

One of Gina's lines on page 43 is marked JEN.

On page 86, it seems like James skipped jump five? Might explain his record time Having Ceasar talk would explain why he was confused.

On page 90, Mom and Dad should switch roles... Mom was there when James met Zimbie but Dad was not.


It will take some stretching and smooshing to fit your story into a Three Act framework, but it's what most professional readers will expect. I think it's worth the effort because this is a good story and I'd like to see it go somewhere.

Best of luck!


Family feature: Who Wants to Be a Princess? Latest draft (3/2019)
Horror anthology/feature: Glass House Latest draft (2/2019)
Sci-Fi short trilogy: Timmy
Comedy short: Feedback
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Surina
Posted: February 28th, 2019, 1:47am Report to Moderator
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Frank thank you so much. I'm taking everything you said into consideration and will work on and improve. I've been praying for someone like you to give some constructive criticism. I'll be back in some time with a revised script. Thank you for the time to read and the huge amount of time to write out the review and suggestions. To answer your questions about abuse. It depends on the personality of the horse. For some it can take one time for others it may take years. If a rider gets caught and its a first offense, they will get a warning. On a second offense they will be banned from competing for 2 years or more.  Zimbie is only standing about 1.1m high at his withers, meaning a bite to the muzzle is possible. Various Google searches said that a bite to the muzzle isn't necessarily fatal, as most horses suffocate cause of the swelling. The treatment of inserting the hose is the treatment for that. Also I assumed that him refusing to leave Zimbie's side will do something for the story. Maybe I can make dad sleep  over with him?
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FrankM
Posted: February 28th, 2019, 8:53am Report to Moderator
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I think the snakebite recovery and the riding-to-the-rescue are each great moments, I just had questions about the snakebite.

If you run out of s[ace after fixing the formatting, adding a subplot, and inserting enough dialogue to explain everything... then you might want to combine the two events. Keep them separate if you have the space because they are distinct milestones.


Family feature: Who Wants to Be a Princess? Latest draft (3/2019)
Horror anthology/feature: Glass House Latest draft (2/2019)
Sci-Fi short trilogy: Timmy
Comedy short: Feedback
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Surina
Posted: February 28th, 2019, 12:22pm Report to Moderator
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I been thinking. The riding school scenes that you said that needs to be compressed or cut. What do you think of changing it into a montage. Showing, combining the riding school clips and Zimbie's lessons. That should get me to that 10 page for the inciting incident.
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FrankM
Posted: February 28th, 2019, 5:11pm Report to Moderator
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Quoted from Surina
I been thinking. The riding school scenes that you said that needs to be compressed or cut. What do you think of changing it into a montage. Showing, combining the riding school clips and Zimbie's lessons. That should get me to that 10 page for the inciting incident.


It might be a bit early in the script for a montage, simply shortening the scenes might work, too, depending on how you want to hit your story points.

A montage would look something like this:

EXT. MONTAGE - RIDING SCHOOL - DAY

Zimbie and Benny make several attempts at the trotting poles.

- Zimbie steps on the second pole, nearly tumbles

- Zimbie gets half-way through, then missteps

- Zimbie makes it through, but with awkward skipping

- Zimbie trots through properly

Benny hugs Zimbie's neck at the end of his successful attempt.

END MONTAGE


Hoping someone else chimes in as well.


Family feature: Who Wants to Be a Princess? Latest draft (3/2019)
Horror anthology/feature: Glass House Latest draft (2/2019)
Sci-Fi short trilogy: Timmy
Comedy short: Feedback
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LC
Posted: February 28th, 2019, 5:50pm Report to Moderator
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You know that's technically a Sequence/Series of shots not Montage.

http://www.screenwriting.info/14.php
http://www.scriptgodsmustdie.com/2010/01/format-3-montage-vs-series-of-shots/
https://www.keepwriting.com/drformat/2012april.htm

The specific differences imh are the passage of time (usually to condense storyline over a longer period for Montage) and the Montage often used for RomCom type movies with music overlaid.

P.S. trelby.org as alt free screenwriting software and /or Writer Duet with some paid upgrades.

https://www.trelby.org
https://writerduet.com/free



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LC  -  February 28th, 2019, 6:01pm
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Surina
Posted: February 28th, 2019, 10:49pm Report to Moderator
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Thank you so much for the help. I really do appreciate. I am currently busy revising following FrankM advice. Thank for the links LC, be sure to take in every word.
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LC
Posted: March 1st, 2019, 12:41am Report to Moderator
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Do you like to eat pie after a good movie?

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Quoted from Surina
Thank you so much for the help. I really do appreciate. I am currently busy revising following FrankM advice. ...

You're most welcome. I only added a bit to Frank's already extensive notes.


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Surina
Posted: March 1st, 2019, 3:10am Report to Moderator
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I am so thankful for his very extensive notes. Would love even more people to chip in. Only way I can learn and improve is if I am made aware of my mistakes
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Matthew Taylor
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Quoted from Surina
I am so thankful for his very extensive notes. Would love even more people to chip in. Only way I can learn and improve is if I am made aware of my mistakes


Don't forget to read and review Franks script, this was a review exchange after all.

Regards

Matt


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