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Don
Posted: February 17th, 2006, 6:16pm Report to Moderator
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So, what are you writing?

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House of God by James McClung - Horror - A trio of grad students touring the French wine country are taken in by a brotherhood of kind monks. However when it comes time to leave the monastery, the students discover that the monks are not all they seem. 95 pages - doc, format


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Don  -  June 10th, 2006, 4:37pm
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James McClung
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I scrapped my usual balls-to-the-wall approach to horror for something a little more gothic. My main goal in this was to develop strong characters and create a build to the final few scenes. The first two acts are a little slower in order to be more subtle and atmospheric. But, of course, this is a horror movie so there's some blood in this as well that should satisfy you gorehounds. There're some religious themes throughout the script but my intention was to write a horror movie and not some religious commentary or to deliver some sort of egotistical message.

If it sounds too weird, I guess you could think of this as a Misery-meets-The Wicker Man type thing with a little spoofing of Sideways and, for those who read it, some Abattoir as well.

Any feedback would be much appreciated. Thanks.


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Redeemer
Posted: February 18th, 2006, 12:45pm Report to Moderator
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Hey James,

You got the format down pat. It read very well, your descriptions were clear and it wasn't over-written. I understand you were taking a bit of a "slow burn" approach in terms of pacing, and it worked. At 93 pages it's a nice, breezy read. Nice, gothic atmosphere.

My one problem remains in the characters. They didn't feel developed enough to me. Francois was the exception - I really liked his arc. Otherwise I didn't feel connected with the characters, the three protagonists in particular. Sure, we learn about their jobs and why they're in France, and their basic personalities. But I wasn't interested in them. The main character felt too passive during the majority of the story, which made his sudden turn into violent hero at the end seem a bit false.

Also it seemed to end a little abruptly, but maybe that was the point?

All in all it's a nice little horror movie with some great torture scenes, but the characters weren't compelling enough for me.
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James McClung
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Thanks, Redeemer.

It seems I have the same problem I had with my last script in regard to the characters and I have to say, I still don't understand. I gave the main characters their own personalities, interests, hopes, dreams, views on life, and backstories and still, one of the characters I found to be lesser developed turns out to be the one that readers can relate to. I don't understand it. If it's a character arc, I can see the problem. I still haven't made enough of an effort in regards to that and honestly, didn't try in this one. I'm trying to master "static" character development before the "dynamic." But otherwise, I'm in the dark. What does it take to gain the sympathy of the audience?

Nevertheless, I'm glad you liked it and pleased to see I pulled off the gothic atmosphere and the "slow burn" pacing as you call it. Most of the films that inspired this one took a long time to build before a suckerpunch of a climax. And yes, I do agree the story ended abruptly. Most of my scripts do. I've always thought a film should end when it's over and not carry on with "hero walking into the sunset" type cliches. I may integrate an alternate ending into a rewrite depending on how it fits into the context of the rest of the story.

Thanks again.



Revision History (2 edits; 1 reasons shown)
James McClung  -  February 18th, 2006, 1:43pm
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sfpunk
Posted: February 18th, 2006, 3:58pm Report to Moderator
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pg4 -- nice pulp fiction reference

pg5 -- little formatting error, bottom of the page has two speakers smushed together without the line of white space between them

pg16 -- so far so good, you have some good natural dialogue flowing from the characters and it seems like I'm already learning a little bit about each one.

another minor formatting thing -- i dont know if this is neccessary but dialogue spills onto a new page and you don't have a CONT'D or anything. Maybe you don't need it but i always put them in my script. Maybe you should check up on that and if you need them add them in. If not, then yeah, leave as is.

pg 33 -- Marty says "i dont think there's wrong with that" i think you mean anything wrong with,
also this line is good, i was wondering why they didn't think his hospitality was a little over the top so its good that you are catering to the doubts the reader will have, it makes for a more compelling and realistic story

one little complaint i have is where the conversation about god comes in... it seems almsot too conveniant that they have that discussion right before they find the monks and the monastry.. i know it's ironic and it probably would work for most people but i think it would fit better after they meet the monks
EDIT: something that is really funny about that, i was just reading the line where Jimmy says that he needs to hear his mom's voice when at school and my mom just called me on my cell phone haha so i guess that changes my opinion that coincidences can happen like that, still if there's another spot for the conversation then maybe movie it (maybe the second wine tour to lione)

pg 48 -- come down.... do you mean calm down? that makes more sense to me

pg57 -- i think hes kind of angry with the smashing of the chair, to me it seems too soon to be breaking someones furniture when you're a guest...you haven't given him any real reason to act like that... for all he knows they could all be somewhere where they can't hear him, maybe he tries something else that is a little less destructive rather than jumping right to him smashing stuff to get out

secondly with the porridge, he eats it way too easily, have him try to open a window and think about pouring it out but the window but it's locked too or something. Basically make him seem more hesitant to eat it and try to find someway of getting out of it. He's locked in a room with a bowl of something, I know I would do all I could to not eat it as I'd be pretty sure there's something in it

pg61 -- good line with the "you must follow their example as i cant allow them to follow yours".. again it makes the story realistic as you've actually thought out a good motive for why the people are doing this

okay, sorry for the lack of comments towards the end, i am at work doing this so i wanted to read through the end somewhat faster before i had to leave... i will give you more detailed comments on the ending part some other time... i didnt notice much wrong with it though

anyway, i enjoyed this story. It was very well paced and i actually had no problems with the characters. Like you said, they all had their own back stories and I felt like it could have happened to anyone as they were just normal kids making mistakes anyone could make. The biggest problem with this story though is it's too much like Hostel. I know you were worried about it when you had the idea and you went your own way with it but I feel that the way to market this would be as some kind of torture horror movie and the hostel similarities would come out immediatly until people saw it and judged it as a seperate piece and not a rip off. It's a shame really as you did a much better job than Eli Roth did, you have better characters, a more realistic situation and I cared for your people. They weren't crazed sex maniacs, they were college kids trying to get an appreciation for what else is out there. So, very well written story. I don't know what to suggest to help you improve your characters as like I said I had no issue with them.
I hope my comments helped, like I said, I will add more detailed comments on the end some other time

-Matt


My Scripts
'Trail Of Ashes' - (Drama/Horror)

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Redeemer
Posted: February 18th, 2006, 4:20pm Report to Moderator
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About the characters... it's certainly subjective. How I feel about the characters certainly isn't going to be how everyone else feels.

I just don't really feel enough was done with them. They had a lot of conversations with each other but, to me, it never felt like anything was accomplished with that. Their conversation about God established their beliefs, yes, but to me it never felt like anything grew from it.

I would try to make Jimmy, our hero, more assertive. As supporting characters Marty and Dana weren't bad (and, let's face, they're in the story to die). Jimmy just seemed very blank. You know? He's an artist, but I didn't see a lot of dimension to him. Give him more to do, make him more assertive and decisive. Maybe add some more personality quirks. Something like how Marty was obsessed with grapes. It would give Marty and Dana more to react and respond to, and hence those characters would be beefed up in the process.

Like sfpunk said, he ate the porridge way too quickly. I thought he'd do something like pretend to eat it, pretend to pass out, and then when the monks came in, there'd be a scuffle and he'd try to escape, but then be overpowered. It felt too easy to me.

It's still very well written and mucho violento, I must reiterate.
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James McClung
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Thanks for the comments, Matt. I'm really glad you cared about the characters in the script. Character development was really important to me writing this so I feel like I did something right. I really appreciate it.

About the conversation about God, I can understand how it seems too convenient that they would be talking about God before arriving at the monastery but, as you said, it's also ironic and irony is very important to me. Similar instances have occurred in my previous scripts (in Abattoir, it's the content of the characters' documentary and in Kiss Of The Locust, it's one character's personal philosophy on nature) hence it's become a trademark of sorts that I'm kind of proud of and hope to continue with. Also, the conversation where it is now helps develop the characters more from the getgo and foreshadows coming events.

I agree about Jimmy breaking the chair. Now that I think of it, it's kind of out of Jimmy's character. The cut to's in that sequence indicated the passage of time (I never use them otherwise) so he's been in the room pretty much all day but I don't think that changes things. I'll be sure to fix that.

The Hostel similarities kind of bum me out, especially since I thought of the idea for this before I even heard about Hostel. But I think this script stands alone and I'm extremely proud of it, especially since Hostel had a lot of hype surrounding it that it didn't really live up to.

Reedemer,

I can understand about Jimmy coming off as passive. I'll think about making him more assertive and having a few more quirks. In a way, though, he is supposed to be like that. Jimmy's main concern at the beginning of the script is to make sure both of his friends have a good time. He doesn't like confrontations, constantly strives to make everyone happy, and always looks for the best in people. Hence, it makes sense that he'd be a little passive. At the same time, that's his fatal flaw and basically the reason why the characters spend so much time at the monastery and, ultimately, end up in the circumstances they do. I'm very proud with the way his character turned out. Nevertheless, I always take feedback into consideration and yours is no exception.

I agree with both of you guys about the porridge. That was kind of a hard situation for me as I wasn't really sure what I, myself, would do in a situation like that. It is a little too easy as is. I'll definitely be fixing that up in the rewrite.

Thanks again for the feedback, guys.


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bert
Posted: February 20th, 2006, 10:22am Report to Moderator
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Hey James.  I buzzed through this one pretty quick.  I didn't have a lot of time to spend on it, but my curiousity got the better of me.  And it reads pretty quick anyway, you know?

You are developing a nice touch for bloodshed haha.  And these characters are improved from those in KOTL -- at least the version I read.  I did come away with a handful of comments:

(SPOILERS)

*  Marty would definately not eat the type of grapes they make wine from.  The skins are very, very tough, and they are not at all palatable.  Nothing at all like the grapes you find in a grocery store.  Now I see this comes back a couple of times.  It is a credibility flaw that you definitely need to address.  Sorry, but you must go back and fix every scene where you have somebody enjoying these grapes.
*  I see where you are going with the God conversation, but it really does come out of nowhere, which makes it awkward.  Try to imagine a smoother transition.  At least have them driving by a quaint old church first, or something, to help this conversation evolve naturally.
*  I'll agree with the previous "porridge" comments, too.
*  Luc calls Jimmy a "whelp"?  Let's try to find something a bit stronger, eh?
*  The ending is a little abrupt.  One more scene, like, emerging from the monostary into the sunlight, might be enough.

At the end, I am really surprised that the blood was not incorporated into the wine somehow.  I was certain you would go there, and personally, I think it is a lost opportunity that you did not.  Consider that -- these monks putting blood in the wine -- and see if you don't like it.

Also, after all your agonizing over the title -- now that I have read this -- I think your title is just great and you should keep it.  Another nice addition to the small library you are creating, James.


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James McClung
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Thanks for the comments, Bert. Glad to see you thought the characters were improved as well. I think I'm getting the hang of developing them.

At first, I was worried I'd have to change the way the characters find themselves at the monastery after reading your first comment. But then I thought I could use those tough, nasty grapes to my advantage in the same scene.

I suppose I could throw in a car with a bumper sticker or a cross on the mirror to pass the characters' car in order to initiate the God conversation or something to that effect.

I was thinking about incorporating the whole blood-in-the-wine bit but I thought it might be too campy. With this and my last feature length, I tried to push the violence to extremes but still keep it disturbing and realistic as opposed to playing it for laughs. I think blood in the wine might push it over the edge into camp. Then again, there're a few instances that could've done that already. I hope not but if that's the case, so be it. I have no regrets.

I see the next episode of Starbuck Starr is "coming very soon." I'll be sure to read it when it arrives. I was wondering when the next episode would pop up.

And BTW, the two week wait was indeed worth it. At first, I wasn't sure if it was but there were several instances where I knew exactly how something should be phrased or spoken. I'll be taking this approach for the rest of the scripts I write.


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Shelton
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James,

This one flowed nicely, although I absolutely hate Bert right now, for beating me to the punch regarding wine grapes vs. produce grapes...

Some Spoilers

In the beginning, Jimmy is talking about, from what I gathered, not being able to get into a school, but a few pages later he's referring to the group as grad students.  Did I miss something there?

I think there could be a better term used for Renard than "leader".  I know that's what he is, but I think there could have been something more "monk-like".

I myself, didn't have much of a problem with the way you developed the characters.  I mean, this is a horror flick to a certain extent, right?  Most horror flicks, you're lucky if you even remember a characters name.

I too, found the ending to be a little abrupt, and I think there's somewhere you could go without giving off that "walk off into the sunset" feel to it.  Maybe just a phone call to Mike would do the trick.

My one beef with this, would be lack of a hook.  People have mentioned the pacing, and I think that it's fine considering the character development going on, but I think there needs to be something in those first few pages that REALLY grabs the reader.

Overall, a nice well rounded script.  Just grab the reader early on, and it'll be excellent.


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James McClung
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Thanks for the comments, Mike.

About Jimmy's scholarly status, he's a student in the English department of his college. He wants to transfer to the art department but can't because of his grades. Make sense?

I've got enough comments on the ending to convince me to wrap it up less abruptly. I think the abrupt ending worked in my last two scripts but not in this one as this is somewhat a departure in style.

I agree about the lack of a grabber earlier in the script. Opening scenes are somewhat problematic for me since I don't care for the kind of explosive Blade-esque openings that appear in most movies. I prefer to start off with something more subtle so as to better build up to the first major plot point. Sometimes I start off a little too subtle. In the first draft, the opening scene took place in a torture chamber with Francois being tortured offscreen but I felt it was a little too "on the nose" (I believe that's the phrase). I didn't want it to be too obvious that there was something wrong with the monks but I wanted the audience to be thinking about it. I'll try to think of a better opener.

Glad to see someone else thought the characters were well developed. I feel like I accomplished something. It'll be a challenge to do the same thing in my next script within the first 20 pages or so but that's a long ways away to be thinking about. I got three feature length scripts on this site already and I'd like to spend a good amount of time improving them before moving on to something new.

Thanks again for the comments.



Revision History (2 edits; 1 reasons shown)
James McClung  -  February 21st, 2006, 12:23am
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this was a pretty good script.  I loved the royalle with cheese line, plus the ren and stimpy references, and the rip on the oscar's and Golden globes(I'm guessing you're not a Brokeback mountain fan).  I think the characters were in depth enough for a horror script.  I liked Marty,  he had the best lines, and francois was ineresting, his story about his famly I thought added some real demention to him.  I think Jimmy and Dana were a bit flat.

I felt it started a little slow, but once things got moving it was pretty exciting.  The whole "Do you believe in God" convorsation felt kinda tact on, I think this would work even better with out it.

I liked the tourture scenes at the end(God I must be a sick bastard), There was some really good gore.

all in all it was a good read.  keep up the good work.


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George Willson
Posted: February 25th, 2006, 9:57pm Report to Moderator
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This was a pretty good read. I wanted to know what was going to happen and eagerly continued through it. As with all things, I can't pass up a few comments here and there. Don't want to just butter you up.

The Jacque character who provided the expositional backstory to Renard kind of came out of no where and disappeared into it as well. Might be a better thing if he had a purpose for letting this info out. Perhaps the kids could have been speaking to him about other things and just let slip about the monastery. This would help to improve him as a character rather than just a mouthpiece for someone else's backstory. I mean, it is pretty obvious we're talking about the same person despite the doubts the kids have. Maybe Jacque could be the frenchman filling the glasses and the kids talk to him briefly about something else, even how he came to be serving the wine and that leads into the backstory variously interspersed with the story about Francois. Francois' tale isn't important in this scene since we (the audience) know it already. Jimmy is just relating it to his friends. However, if Jacque is serving wine he knows to come from the monastery and has heard the monks speak of Renard and when the kids comment on their staying at that same monastery, that would be a more appropriate spark to the conversation of Renard than "Excuse me, but I'm a stranger who eavesdropped on your conversation and want to tell you a story that might or might relate to you." By making Jacque more useful, it takes away the "my, that's convenient" factor which is not so dramatic.

Another comment is Jimmy's unbelievable resilience at the end. He gets tortured horribly and yet after a few moments of recovery, he is ready to take on the big guys. We need his weakness to be used against him more. Sure, he'll still win in the end, but it has to be really, really difficult because he is in pain and bits of his flesh have been ripped out and he is likely leaving a blood trail all over the place.

Why is Marty killed? He gives in and says he'll join, but the torture continues. Why? Was he not sincere? Not believed? Luc hard of hearing?

When Renard comments to Francois about his wife dying in the torture chambers, this is a totally different story than Francois told "us" earlier. Perhaps some sort of reaction from him either indicating his regret of this allowance, or shock of perhaps he didn't know...I think the latter would be better. Maybe Renard told him his wife drove off without him, but Renard secretly killed her while he tortured Francois. Francois would want vengeace for a moment, but Renard would still kill him.

I feel like the story need a denouement of some sort. You end with Vincent carrying off Jimmy, but I want to know how this turns out. It's a personal preference, but I hate it when movies just end like this. I mostly enjoyed THX-1138 until the final shot, and I said "WTF?!?! Is that it?" Feel that way here too. I want to know if Jimmy is all right or not. We need to know if his character was improved through this adventure, and that question is never answered. What did he get out of this?

Some character things to think about. You have three main characters who get into their strange situation. Jimmy is your lead, and he should have a need of some sort. I get that perhaps he needs to feel appreciated somehow, since he seems to feel that way. When he goes into the monastery, he finds something there. Appreciation. This leads to his downfall, and that's where the story ends. He beats the monster, but what about his flaw? What did he learn?

Dana and Marty support Jimmy and for the most part do this well enough. They have a God discussion where the three of them reveal a sort of agnosticism of God. The question is how does this lead to their deaths? Obviously, their deaths were beyond their control once they returned to the monastery, but what about their characters made them come back? You've got to find the point where they still had a chance to save their hides and place the big decision moment among them and show why they are going to die, and how Jimmy brought about their deaths by his decisions. I think Jimmy should be designated driver the second day, and return to the monastery even though the others don't want to. They can't stop him because they aren't driving. Their lives are out of their control. Some things to consider when digging back into it. Figure out their characters really well and what they really need out of life. It will help them in the story.

Overall, excellent read, and I wish you the best on future improvements.


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James McClung
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Thanks for reading, Drexel and George.

George. For the most part, I agree with what you've said. I'll certainly try to expand upon Jacque's character and I think Jimmy's desire for appreciation is a good idea. I'll try to explore that more in the rewrite.

A few things...

I definitely thought about the effect the torture would have on Jimmy after he's let go. I tried to have him gradually recover over the course of the third act. In the torture chambers, he can just barely walk even with the support of the walls. When Francois comes back into the picture, he's able to regain himself some with Francois' help. He's able to recover some more in the fermenting room then once he reaches the first floor, he's just kind of stumbling everywhere. His confrontations were supposed to be clumsy as well. I somewhat based his actions off what I'd learned in high school about the 19th century New York riots where people were able to escape to safety even after they had been severely beaten because they were being fueled by their instinct to survive. Jimmy is a bit more coherent than those people since he's still able to think and express himself but instinct is definitely playing a part in his actions.

Marty dies because Luc does not hear him giving in. He does hears him say "wait" and hears him say something before trailing off in shock but interprets it as him continuing to resist. That's why he dies.

Renard killed Francois' wife when he was tortured into the sect. He knows this the whole story. Francois tells a different story to the protagonists because at that point, he's still very much under Renard's thumb and won't say anything that'll reveal his plans.

I'm adding an extra scene to the ending. I've heard enough from everyone to know that's what I need to do. In that scene, it's confirmed that Vincent's intentions are good. However, I don't want to have everything spelled out. Meaning I don't want to have some cheesy scene with Jimmy in a hospital and Mike coming to visit him or anything like that. Plus I'd have too many questions to answer at the end like what happens to Mike's car, does Vincent drive it, what's Vincent decide to do with his life, what's he do with the robes if he has nothing else to wear... trivial things that will just make the ending tedious. This new scene confirms that Vincent is leaving the monastery and that Jimmy's probably going to be okay. I think that's enough.

I don't know about Jimmy "learning" something at the end of the story. This is one, possibly the only, convention of "good" screenwriting that I disagree with. Character arcs are fine and something I want to learn how to do more effectively but I don't feel obligated to have a moral to the story. I'd prefer for people to draw their own interpretation from what I write. Just my two cents.

Otherwise, thanks again for the comments. I think the rewrite will be much improved.

P.S. I've been meaning to read The Fempiror Chronicles for some time now. Usually I haven't had the time especially since it's such a big series but my spring break starts at the end of this week so I'll finally have a chance to check it out.


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George Willson
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Quoted from James McClung
I don't know about Jimmy "learning" something at the end of the story. This is one, possibly the only, convention of "good" screenwriting that I disagree with. Character arcs are fine and something I want to learn how to do more effectively but I don't feel obligated to have a moral to the story. I'd prefer for people to draw their own interpretation from what I write. Just my two cents.


Now, what a character gets out of a story does not necessarily have to be "And the moral is..." The real key is that Jimmy gets something out of the experience. And if Jimmy gets nothing, the audience should. It's not a convention of screenwriting is so much as it's a staple of all writing. When a character begins a journey of any kind, there should be some kind of character development throughout the tale that leaves the character someone different...hence the term "character DEVELOPMENT." Without that development, what's the point of the story? No, it doesn't have to be a moral. Think back to every film you've seen and through the story, the characters tend to change somehow as it progresses. I'd give an example, but I don't know what a good film to use would be...


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