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SimplyScripts Screenwriting Discussion Board    Unproduced Screenplay Discussion    Drama Scripts  ›  Dogman Moderators: bert
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  Author    Dogman  (currently 2146 views)
Posted: January 21st, 2011, 8:12pm Report to Moderator

So, what are you writing?

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Dogman by Michael Harris (mbh66) - Drama - A man fights insanity after being held responsible for the death of his child.  125 pages - pdf, format

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Posted: January 24th, 2011, 9:51pm Report to Moderator

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Dogman Notes:

Title page is messed up.

Spelling:  Poppa is Papa, and Momma is Mama.

Dialogue feels a little on the nose on the first page.

Page 5.  “Addresses the group.”  I’m not sure what group this is.  The family or the group of officers.  Would he really talk to either group this way?

Page 5.  “What?!”  This is just a personal pet peeve, but every time I’m tempted to write this line I stop and tell myself that the character heard it correctly the first time, and just write the response.  It makes the dialog look a lot crispier.

Page 7.  States, should be “State’s”

Page 9, A little awkward to flip from one court scene to another a week later.  Isn’t there a way to compress both scenes into one?

Page 9, So let me get this straight.  The judge has gone so far as to say in open court that he doesn’t think the guy is guilty but he goes ahead and throws him in jail anyway.  I would think that the idea of overwhelming parental guilt in the case of a child’s death would be a situation everybody in the court would be well familiar with.

Page 20.  Starting to pick up a little steam here.  But I can state categorically that dog food comes in 40lb bags, not 50lb.  I know this because I used to be in the dog food business.  Salinas was part of my territory.  Ironic, isn’t it?

Page 27.  I’m not making a big deal out of the misspellings but I’m noticing more than a few.  They are pretty basic.  Dans instead of Dan’s.  Things like that.  Give the script a better once-over.  Whose instead of who’s.  You need to learn the difference, quickly.

Page 28.  Good place to mention this:

Seems like the entire store as stopped their business to gawk
at the scene. Knowing, judgmental stares. The kind you get
from those that swear they know your business better than
you, and condemn you for it. Christopher takes a long look
and each and every face. Exits.

I’ve never seen a problem like this before and it surprises me as a reader.  A lot of the scenes you write are pretty tight.  You use the more economical one-word slugs which is also more modern for scripts.  But sometimes you get to an action sequence like the one above and it all goes away.  This would be better:

Customers all freeze.

Staring at him.

He stares back.

Finally leaves.  (Or just, “exits”)

One of the ideas is to preserve the one-page, one-minute rule.  Give the action sequences more space on the page by using two and three word descriptions, and double-space them.  They’ll be clearer.  Your script will flow better.  You’ll have more white space on the page, which makes it easier to read.

This actual description of the “judgmental stares” is awful.  Let’s try an exercise.  If you picture a roomful of people staring at you and try to visualize each individual face, you’d probably see a wide range of different expressions.  From open-mouthed gaping, to narrow eyed recrimination, to casual glance, right?  I find it hard to believe they are all experiencing the same emotions and that it manifests itself on their faces the same way.  

From a screenwriting perspective, you can either describe each individual face, (please don’t) or simply state, “They stare at him.”  Or even, “They stare.”  Those two simple words, FREE me to fill in the blanks on my own.  As soon as I read them, I immediately picture a bunch of typical Walgreens shoppers staring at the guy.  And that seems to be the point of the scene.

Page 28: Nicholas pulls on his father's coat.

Is Nicholas wearing the coat?  Or did he “tug” on it?

Page 33.  Another pet peeve.  I really don’t like it when people spit at each other.  It grosses me out.  I didn’t even like it in Titanic.

Page 33: hang back and laugh as he falls on his move to get inside his home.


Page 37.  I could pretty much skip reading most of page 37 and 38 and still know exactly what is going on.  Rina on the couch is enough.  That’s all I need to see at that point.

Page 48.  Barbershop scene works just as well if there is only barber.  

I’m pretty bored on 48 and 49.

Page 56.  Best scene so far.

Page 62.  I’ve seen this a couple of times so far and thought I’d note it for you here.  God Damn It, is a pain in the ass phrase in a screenplay.  Can you believe I actually looked up how to spell this on a screenwriting website once.  Basically, the most professional advice I found, and I happen to agree with this, is to write it like this:  God damn it.  Or damn it, or God damn.  Because if you try to slang it up you get stuck on the “n”.  Dammit?  Or Damnit?  Stupid.  The actors can usually decide for themselves how closely they want to run the syllables together.  For now, we are producing a document that is designed primarily to be read only.  So make it easy to read.  

Page 70.  Sheila could easily say that since she works on tips at the restaurant that she is more accustomed to these kind of transactions.  She doesn’t want to embarrass Chris by tipping balloon guy.  Anything is better than her response which seems like a throwaway.  Plus, I get that Chris is a loner type and kind of quiet, but I’d like the date to be going better.  There must be something they can have a talk about that we can see them bonding over.  It would make the later passages more believable.  Plus, if this date happened on page 40 or 45 and maybe a little relationship was blossoming while Walt is trying to derail him, it would create a little more pathos.

Page 84.  Another typo.  You’re averaging about one every two pages.  This one was just funnier than the others. You better learn how to fight, cuz
I'm tired of being embarrassing by you...

Is that a ketchup sandwich?  

Lots of punctuation on Page 86.  ????!!!.  You are pretty good at leaving the “wrylies” out of your script so I have to assume you know what they are.  But punctuating like this is just another way of slipping in some wrylies without parentheses.  My advice, and remember, this is just to make the document easier to read, is to punctuate normally, and let the actors and director decide how much angst to deliver.  Be the wordman, not the emotion man.  

Page 88.  How about, “Never alone in here, cabron.”

Page 94.  Hey look!  All three homonyms in one piece of dialogue.
They're the goddam reason we need
them in there! If it wasn't for
their sloppy work...!

Couple of end notes:  I mostly liked this story.  You have some interesting elements that work well.  I like the evil cop as the antagonist.  Two areas you could really address on rewrite are:
a.   When does the audience know that the guy didn’t kill his son.
b.   When does the audience know that the kid is a ghost.

I think you could do some interesting dramatic stuff before this really becomes clear to the audience.

I’m also thinking you have too many characters.  The narrative would not suffer at all if there was just one kid who gets his community service hours at the kennel, and since it’s a small town it would make sense that the sheriff would be running that program.  (No Shelton)  This makes the antagonist’s threat that much more immediate, without of layer of bureaucracy between him and Morgan.  Plus, Sheila doesn’t exactly need a kid.  We’ve already got enough kids popping up without more.  

Couple of things I’m not clear on at the end.  Seems pretty obvious that Rina could easily claim self defense and get off.

Misc note:  Maybe I read it too fast but I didn’t realize that the guy’s hair was so long and scraggily that a haircut would make him unrecognizable to the townspeople.  

When you just say “pit” I think of a hole in the ground, not a dog.

This script is way too long.  Better if you shoot for the 106 to 109 range.  Lots of descriptive edits would cut a lot of pages.  
What is the deal with this Victor kid?  I had the impression that Walt hired him to…what?  Fuck with Chris at work.  Trick Chris into hitting him so Walt could arrest him?  Something like that?  Didn’t really get the whole, “we’re locked in the death chamber, and you’re helping me kill these dogs, and oh yeah, I have a gun here just in case.”  But at the end of the whole sequence nothing happens.  Everybody just walks out and gets on with their day somehow.

Was a crime being committed?  If yes there should be an arrest.  If not then why are the cops there?  So I’m awfully confused.  Plus, and I’d be surprised if I was the first to mention it, but the dog-killing visuals are awfully hard to take.  Not bad if it functions as a metaphor for something else, but if it’s symbolic, I don’t really get what it stands for.  I’m sort of dense though, so your call.  

And in one sequence Walt is following the van, but Chris manages to swoop in and pick him up before Walt intervenes.  Then Walt is following Victor and Chris but when Chris pulls over, Walt just drives by?  The line in the script is:

Christopher slows the truck. Pulls to the shoulder.
What the fuck you doing, man?!
Shuttup a minute!
A long, stressful beat for Victor.
The cruiser pulls back on the road.
What the fuck did you do that for?
Wanted to see if he's there yet.

Wanted to see if he’s where?  Wasn’t he right behind him, tailgating?  

Another funny thing about this script is that the punctuation and spelling errors got worse as the story wore on.  Usually, there are fewer.  It’s like you got excited about finishing and rushed it.  The ending usually requires more care, not less.    

Overall, I think the premise works conceptually.  I have kids too.  I know how you daydream about horrible things happening to them and how much it would hurt.  I like to think I have at least a passing familiarity with how guilt could make you do crazy things, like take responsibility for something that isn’t your fault.  A guy here in Illinois just did like 6 years when his daughter got killed, then it turned out he had nothing to do with it.  He just felt really guilty.  Felt like he should have “been there, done something.”  So that, and about 10 hours of interrogation, were enough to get him to confess.  So that part of your story is solid.

Anyway, decent effort.  I can only give you about 65%.  I had higher hopes.

Your comments welcome on:  GOD GETS FIRED.  Comedy, 89 pages.  Humans are such a failure that God loses his job.  Worse, his ex-wife is appointed to oversee Earth’s destruction.  Luckily, God has a plan…but it’s not about saving us.  It’s about winning her back.
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