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SimplyScripts Screenwriting Discussion Board    Unproduced Screenplay Discussion    Thriller Scripts  ›  The Experiment Moderators: bert
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Don
Posted: November 9th, 2019, 2:33pm Report to Moderator
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So, what are you writing?

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The Experiment by Joseph Cahill - Thriller, Suspense - With rations and water running out, one of the few remaining survivors of an unnamed cataclysmic event must decide whether keeping another survivor around is worth the risk. When they realize that their world is much smaller than they believed their goals shift from survival to escape. 75 pages - pdf format

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eldave1
Posted: November 9th, 2019, 7:56pm Report to Moderator
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I'll give this a read during the week.


My Scripts can all be seen here:

http://dlambertson.wix.com/scripts
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medstudent
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Thanks, Dave. Look forward to it!

Joseph


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eldave1
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Hey, Joseph: Had a chance to read this.

The good news is that you kept interested for the entire script. A lot of mystery and tension and I did want to see what was going to happen. The bad news is that I was confused at the end.
Some of the issues that follow are nit issues – some macro level. Anyway…

OPENING MUSIC

I don’t think you need the music in the opening.  Doesn’t really add anything and many won’t even know what song it is (I had to Google it and the last thing you want a reader to do when opening is not understand a reference). By the time I got to the end of the script I realized you were using the music as a bookend (Music in the beginning and music at the end). But at the end you simply call it The SOMBER PIANO MUSIC.  So, if you going to keep it, just use SOMBER PIANO MUSIC in the opening. But better yet, bookend with something we can see rather than hear – e.g., lightning from gray skies, trees rustling from an upcoming storm, etc. etc.

Your opening setting is a bit overwritten – inefficient. And - If you put DAWN (or sunrise) in your title you can save some words. You have:


Quoted Text
EXT. FOREST, CLEARING - DAY

Just after sunrise. A cloudless morning allows the winter sun passage to the hard ground below. If it weren’t for the sunlight peeking through the trees, the temperature would be well below zero.

The cold wind whips through the canopy of leafless branches.

An old CAMERA PHONE - the kind that stays charged for days - hangs suspended from the tree. Its red light blinks indicating it’s recording.

Crisper as:

EXT. FOREST, CLEARING – DAWN

Cold and windy, the ground nearly frozen.

The light from a rising sun peeks through the leafless branches.

From one of those branches, an old CAMERA PHONE hangs on a thin cord. Its red light blinks indicating it’s recording.

Another nit: I was not aware that there was on old camera phone that stayed charged for days so the reference didn’t land for me.

Again – I know I am over analyzing the opening here – but it is important because it is your launching pad and to someone that is not committed to going to the end – it is a bit draggy. I did not find this issue with the rest of the script.


Quoted Text
A German Shepard, ROSIE sleeps comfortably on floor. She’s on her back with all fours in the air.


Not sure why it is important we know the sleeping position. Just go with - A German Shepard, ROSIE sleeps on the floor next to him.

Okay – now I’m deep enough in to know that you are not going to give you MAN and WOMAN characters names. I kind of get what you’re trying to accomplish here but I think it’s a mistake. Reading “THE MAN” or “THE WOMAN” (a) gets tedious after a few pages and (b) in my opinion makes them less relatable. Our brains are wired to know main characters by names – they seem more distant when they are just generic. Anyway – I’d name them.


Quoted Text
No good. She after something. Her instincts more than his voice commands. He hustles after her leaving the water containers.


Typos – She’s – not She.  The sentence starting with Her instincts doesn’t make sense – are there words missing?


Quoted Text
PG 37.
WOMAN
Should we leave.

Need a ?


Quoted Text
Up ahead, she lays in the leaves with a small, presumably dead, animal beneath her paw.


Presumably dead? And why not just say what it is – an animal could be a squirrel or a bear – there’s a big difference. E.g.,  Her paw rests on the carcass of squirrel.  – or something like that.


Quoted Text
The Woman, dressed in clean women’s clothes, tends to slices of Spam frying in a pan. She’s much more domesticated cleaned up

Where did she get the clothes??

There are a lot of old photos. After reading on, I understand what part they played – but as I was reading it struck me as odd in a digital age. I almost no one carries printed photos.


Quoted Text
WOMAN (CONT’D)
Fuck you. Want like that.


I didn’t understand the above dialogue. Is something missing?

General thought – since so much as made of the Bible in this story (the man reads, clings to it) I would have liked to see more discussion about it between the man and the woman EARLIER in the story – especially as it relates to his hesitation to help her – she should be challenging him more on how not helping is inconsistent with the bible and there are some real opportunities for them to talk about religious and spiritual matters – exploit that. You have the Bible in too many scenes not to.

Okay – I’m on page 63 and this is where I get lost.  The Woman hits the man with the rock causing his fall. Why??? She had been so protective up to that point. If it were her intent to kill him there were so many other opportunities earlier. It comes out of the blue and didn’t make sense to me.

And as he is laying near death on the ground (due to her) she’s asking him if he’s alright? Like she’s concerned for his well being – which is odd just after whacking him with the rock.  Then she spends a moment trying to get down to him and then – screw it – she’s off back to the cabin. I got truly got lost here. The thread of the story evaporated for me.

The INFECTIONS – i.e., the one that killed the dog and that the man was so afraid of - They ultimately played no part nor were ever really explained – unless I missed it. It’s kind of a promise of the premise thing – I thought that someone given their prominence early that the infections (e.g., the source of them, the struggle for a cure, etc.) would play a big part in the story. At the end – they just fizzle away as a plot point and the story really doesn’t change much whether they existed or not.

And - yes - I do know there are several scenes where we flash back to men with HAZ-MAT suits - but I could not quite connect their role to the general premise - some kind of infection has ravished the land and some folks are doing some kind of weird experiment (ala the Truman Show) with the man and the woman - I just got lost to the why and what - i.e., the infection is...? and the reason they are doing it is...? Hope that makes sense.

Anyway – a good read – but I just got lost near the end. Maybe some clarification will help. I hope you find the notes useful – I think there is something here – just need some clarification.
All the best -





My Scripts can all be seen here:

http://dlambertson.wix.com/scripts

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eldave1  -  November 10th, 2019, 1:01pm
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medstudent
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Quoted Text
I don’t think you need the music in the opening.  Doesn’t really add anything and many won’t even know what song it is (I had to Google it and the last thing you want a reader to do when opening is not understand a reference). By the time I got to the end of the script I realized you were using the music as a bookend (Music in the beginning and music at the end). But at the end you simply call it The SOMBER PIANO MUSIC.  So, if you going to keep it, just use SOMBER PIANO MUSIC in the opening. But better yet, bookend with something we can see rather than hear – e.g., lightning from gray skies, trees rustling from an upcoming storm, etc. etc.


The song was the inspiration for the overall feeling for the film. I mainly stuck it there as a place holder.


Quoted Text
Your opening setting is a bit overwritten


Story of my writing. I get too wound up in setting up the scene.


Quoted Text
Okay – now I’m deep enough in to know that you are not going to give you MAN and WOMAN characters names. I kind of get what you’re trying to accomplish here but I think it’s a mistake.

Reading “THE MAN” or “THE WOMAN” (a) gets tedious after a few pages and (b) in my opinion makes them less relatable. Our brains are wired to know main characters by names – they seem more distant when they are just generic. Anyway – I’d name them.


Noted. I like to think I was being purposeful but maybe, subconsciously I was being lazy



Quoted Text
Quoted Text
WOMAN (CONT’D)
Fuck you. Want like that.


I didn’t understand the above dialogue. Is something missing?


Slang for "Wasn't like that.


Quoted Text
Okay – I’m on page 63 and this is where I get lost.  The Woman hits the man with the rock causing his fall. Why??? She had been so protective up to that point. If it were her intent to kill him there were so many other opportunities earlier. It comes out of the blue and didn’t make sense to me.


Both the Man and the Woman are in survival mode. Their tolerance of one another is mostly convenience though for a moment they have a connection. When it comes down to it though, she would kill and he would the same.


Quoted Text
And as he is laying near death on the ground (due to her) she’s asking him if he’s alright? Like she’s concerned for his well being – which is odd just after whacking him with the rock.  Then she spends a moment trying to get down to him and then – screw it – she’s off back to the cabin. I got truly got lost here. The thread of the story evaporated for me.


Agree. This is a little inconsistent. I think it was because I was having trouble deciding what she would do in this situation. Would she climb down after him? Wait there until dusk?


Quoted Text
The INFECTIONS – i.e., the one that killed the dog and that the man was so afraid of - They ultimately played no part nor were ever really explained – unless I missed it. It’s kind of a promise of the premise thing – I thought that someone given their prominence early that the infections (e.g., the source of them, the struggle for a cure, etc.) would play a big part in the story. At the end – they just fizzle away as a plot point and the story really doesn’t change much whether they existed or not.


The "infection" was a plot device to place the characters in this constant threat of danger. Of something "lurking". Maybe I should bring this back? Maybe this is the reason for the woman's hasty choice?


Quoted Text
And - yes - I do know there are several scenes where we flash back to men with HAZ-MAT suits - but I could not quite connect their role to the general premise - some kind of infection has ravished the land and some folks are doing some kind of weird experiment (ala the Truman Show) with the man and the woman - I just got lost to the why and what - i.e., the infection is...? and the reason they are doing it is...? Hope that makes sense.


Again, from a pure writing perspective, it was used as a tool for suspense and to let the audience know that there was something else to this whole thing. The gist is, "the government" has resorted to using citizens for human experiments without their knowledge. Mainly to see how people would react when placed in stressful environments. Would they resort to killing? Other devious means to survive?

So back to the drawing board, if you will. I would like to tighten this up and plan to do so.

God, I hate writing draft after draft. I like the spontaneity of writing for the first time, first draft. It's the tedium of proofreading, editing, rewriting that sucks. That's the nature of writing though, I suppose?

Thanks, again, Dave. As always, I appreciate your input.

Joseph




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eldave1
Posted: November 14th, 2019, 10:48am Report to Moderator
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My pleasure, Joseph.

I do think your close - just a few scenes away. But the gist is this: Your title is the Experiment. What is clear in the script is the "What." What is not as clear as the Why and Who.

In your mind, you already know the answer: i.e.,  


Quoted Text
The gist is, "the government" has resorted to using citizens for human experiments without their knowledge. Mainly to see how people would react when placed in stressful environments. Would they resort to killing? Other devious means to survive?


So, just make that clearer and you're there. Conversely, I could be wrong. Hopefully you can get a couple of other reads and then will be able to provide thoughts as well.


My Scripts can all be seen here:

http://dlambertson.wix.com/scripts
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StevenClark
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Dave is a master at giving great notes. Me, on the other hand, I basically give a thumbs up or down. There wasn't much I disliked about this script. I thought the pace was  good, the writing was good, the suspense and the feeling of dread lurking through it. I was waiting for the big reveal, and it came, although with the asterisks that Dave provided.

I get that it was the government, but as pointed out, the WHY is a big question that should be answered in order to gain some closure with all of this. And it doesn't necessarily need to be a bad thing the government is doing. It could be a good thing with a good reason. It's up to you.

Steve


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eldave1
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Quoted from StevenClark
Dave is a master at giving great notes. Me, on the other hand, I basically give a thumbs up or down. There wasn't much I disliked about this script. I thought the pace was  good, the writing was good, the suspense and the feeling of dread lurking through it. I was waiting for the big reveal, and it came, although with the asterisks that Dave provided.

I get that it was the government, but as pointed out, the WHY is a big question that should be answered in order to gain some closure with all of this. And it doesn't necessarily need to be a bad thing the government is doing. It could be a good thing with a good reason. It's up to you.

Steve


Ooh - I like the good thing for a good reason twist.


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Quoted Text
I do think your close - just a few scenes away. But the gist is this: Your title is the Experiment. What is clear in the script is the "What." What is not as clear as the Why and Who.

In your mind, you already know the answer: i.e.,
  

You're right. This can be tied up nicely with some dialogue and one or two scenes.


Quoted Text
I thought the pace was  good, the writing was good, the suspense and the feeling of dread lurking through it. I was waiting for the big reveal, and it came, although with the asterisks that Dave provided.


Again, valid point. I'm gonna work on this.


Quoted Text
the WHY is a big question that should be answered in order to gain some closure with all of this. And it doesn't necessarily need to be a bad thing the government is doing. It could be a good thing with a good reason.



Quoted Text
Ooh - I like the good thing for a good reason twist.


ohhhhh. good idea. Maaaybee, they are running the girl through each scenario to try to get her to spill the beans about some doomsday plot? They know they can't get information through torture so they set her up and have another "survivor" get the information out of her? Except she keeps killing the other players. I would have to manipulate the dialogue to reflect this from the beginning somehow....


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stevemiles
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Hi Joseph,

I like a post-apocalyptic setting—and a low budget one to boot.  Done right you can generate a lot of tension from very little.  I read this through (reads pretty quick) but I’ll say up front that my thoughts echo Dave and Steven’s feedback.  

Overall the first half kept me invested though I didn’t feel it was paid off by the second.  I wonder if part of the issue is the underlying concept (the experiment) needs to be more developed?  In your reply you summarise it as ‘…mainly to see how people would react when placed in stressful environments’.  To me that feels vague and I wonder if not having a clear motive/goal as it were makes it harder to focus the plot?

I really like the idea of essentially hitting reset at the end and starting over. That should have been the big reveal that forced me to reassess preceding events through the lens of the experiment, but for some reason it just felt flat.

I like how you set-up the Man’s character and the ever-present danger via Rosie (why does the dog get a name yet no-one else?).  Throw in the Woman’s arrival and you have a dynamic between these two survivors as they try to figure one another out.  All the while there’s the question of what led to this cataclysmic event and a growing mystery behind what these characters want and how it affects the other.  The story builds and I want to know where it’s going.  That’s fundamentally all good stuff.

Plot wise, you started to lose me around the 50 page mark.  You create a good sense of mystery but your characters don’t seem engaged in finding answers.  But to what extent they can comes at the risk of revealing the experiment.  Does this tie your hands somewhat?  It forces you to load the plot with a series of misdirections and interactions that, although seemingly meaningful, are left hanging by the realisation that nothing was ever as it seemed.  It’s a bit like saying ‘it was all just a dream’.

A second issue is related to the first, in that I couldn’t be sure from one scene to the next what it was your characters wanted—or what was driving them—and as a result their actions began to feel inconsistent.

There’s a lot of talk about staying vs leaving with the Man determined to wait for his family—right until he isn’t.  Then he says he shot one of ‘them’ and she ‘knows exactly of whom he speaks’.  Though a few pages later it transpires that there was no ‘them’.  He made it up to make them leave.  But leave for where/escape from who/what is still unclear as the threat is variously suggested as infection, drought, other survivors (though as a consequence of the cataclysm or origin was uncertain to me).  I was never sure how/if these elements were connected.

Towards the end, Man says there’s no way out of here—so why try to leave?  On one hand he wants to wait for a family that he suspects will never come.  But he also wants to leave/escape though he feels there is no way out—of a place he doesn’t seem to know much about (he didn’t know about the wall).  To be fair, how does he not see the 15ft wall from the mountainous peak?  Isn’t this wall surrounding them?  Perhaps I didn’t get the sense of space and time you wanted to convey so that may well be on me.  Maybe he does and keeps it too himself - but then that would suggest he’s in on it.  But then why is he living out here alone?  The death of Rosie suggests he’s not a part of this experiment so..?

Were his family ever real?  The Woman too mentions a daughter but seems to accept there’s no chance to see her again.  That’s quite a heavy backstory for each but how does our emotional connection to these characters pay off with the suggestion that none of this was real anyway?

‘Something waiting for us to make a mistake’ - on first read I liked this line, but then I didn’t see how it connected to what had come before.  What has happened to her before now that makes her feel this way?  Is it true?  Would they (‘the government’) not be indifferent—just watching the experiment unfold?

Hope this helps in some way and apologies if I’ve misunderstood your intent with this.  As someone unfamiliar with the story this is how it appears to me—and I may well have missed key points.  There’s some good moments and a strong setup it just felt like it lost focus beyond the midpoint.  I like the concept—put me in mind of The Survivalist and The Village—but you’re trying to tie a lot of elements into one idea.  One thought - would this be better suited to a shorter format?

Good luck with it.

Steve  


My short scripts can be found here on my new & improved budget website:


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Overall the first half kept me invested though I didn�t feel it was paid off by the second.  I wonder if part of the issue is the underlying concept (the experiment) needs to be more developed?


Yes. The reason it doesn't read well is because just that... it wasn't quite fleshed out in my own mind. Honestly, I didn't know the ending until I was half way through with the script (I know, outlines would have helped. Though I am not sure I would have come up with the idea of them being surrounded by a wall).  


Quoted Text
To me that feels vague and I wonder if not having a clear motive/goal as it were makes it harder to focus the plot?
Yes. I'm trying to get them from point C to D and in my attempt, it led to the characters having some inconsistencies and poorly defined goals in the end.


Quoted Text
I really like the idea of essentially hitting reset at the end and starting over. That should have been the big reveal that forced me to reassess preceding events through the lens of the experiment, but for some reason it just felt flat.
Yes. Agree. I need to leave a crumb trail within the first and second act that can be re-evaluated later, after getting the reveal.


Quoted Text
I like how you set-up the Man�s character and the ever-present danger via Rosie (why does the dog get a name yet no-one else?).  Throw in the Woman�s arrival and you have a dynamic between these two survivors as they try to figure one another out.  All the while there�s the question of what led to this cataclysmic event and a growing mystery behind what these characters want and how it affects the other.  The story builds and I want to know where it�s going.  That�s fundamentally all good stuff.
I'm really good at the set up and have been average at the payoff in my scripts. Maybe I'm doomed to be a short writer the rest of my life? Maybe I'm living in script purgatory?


Quoted Text
your characters don�t seem engaged in finding answers.
  This is an excellent point. The characters never really move from "just surviving" "finding answers".


Quoted Text
There�s a lot of talk about staying vs leaving with the Man determined to wait for his family�right until he isn�t.
  The role reversals are very clunky. I wanted them to slowly change and take on the other's goal toward the end of the second act. Maybe they don't need to do this? I felt these were the character arcs I needed though they happen too abruptly and without clear explanation as to why the characters change.  

Towards the end, Man says there�s no way out of here�so why try to leave?  On one hand he wants to wait for a family that he suspects will never come.  But he also wants to leave/escape though he feels there is no way out�of a place he doesn�t seem to know much about (he didn�t know about the wall).
Quoted Text
To be fair, how does he not see the 15ft wall from the mountainous peak?  Isn�t this wall surrounding them?
Good point. I need to give early clues as to why neither have travelled far enough to see the fence. Thinking about how that could happen. I decided the Man's daily routine never led far enough for him to discover it. And squeezing (real) time into days (not months as they both believe) then it would be possible for them to come into contact with the fence towards then end. I need to make this clearer.


Quoted Text
Were his family ever real?  The Woman too mentions a daughter but seems to accept there�s no chance to see her again.  
Again, the honest answer is, I don't know if the families were real or not. I went back and forth with this. In the end I decided that they weren't (hence the fake photos). I think they could be real memories of trapped characters.


Quoted Text
That�s quite a heavy backstory for each but how does our emotional connection to these characters pay off with the suggestion that none of this was real anyway?
The only way to salvage that connection (I believe) is to make the families real.


Quoted Text
�Something waiting for us to make a mistake� - on first read I liked this line, but then I didn�t see how it connected to what had come before.  What has happened to her before now that makes her feel this way?  Is it true?  Would they (�the government�) not be indifferent�just watching the experiment unfold?
I think I'm going to explore the idea of the woman being a terrorist and the Man (and the Woman) have been placed together to try to get her to give up information. The other "players" keep dying so they need to keep adding players so the woman keeps reliving a similar existence (unbeknownst to her).


Quoted Text
Hope this helps in some way and apologies if I�ve misunderstood your intent with this.
. I try not to ever get offended at honest feedback no matter how negative. There is always something that can be farmed from any type of feedback, in my opinion.

There�s some good moments and a strong setup it just felt like it lost focus beyond the midpoint.  I like the concept�put me in mind of The Survivalist and The Village�
Quoted Text
but you�re trying to tie a lot of elements into one idea.
This may be one of the biggest issues, actually.  


Quoted Text
One thought - would this be better suited to a shorter format?
I'm tired of writing shorts!! I need a solid feature.

Steve, a serious 'thank you' for taking the time to read and give thoughtful feedback. I really appreciate it.

Joseph


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stevemiles
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Hi Joseph,

No worries.  I hear you on the getting tired of writing shorts.  Hope you can figure out where to take this in the rewrite.

Good luck,

Steve


My short scripts can be found here on my new & improved budget website:


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