OK, Layla, as requested, here we go…
First things first - IMO, your Logline is very poor, in that it's over written and most likely is a sign of what's to follow within the script itself. We'll see...
Right off the bat, when I open your PDF, it looks “odd”. What software are you using? Also, your title doesn’t appear to be centered properly. All these “little things” matter when someone opens your script for the first time.
Page 1 – You’ve incorrectly labeled page 1 as Page 2. Actually, you don’t even want to label Page 1, start with page 2, but start that on the actual Page 2.
Your upper margin looks to be way too big here. The spacing after your “FADE IN:” also looks to be too many lines.
4 of your first 5 passages are huge blocks of 6, 7, 6, and 7 lines. You shouldn’t go over 4…ever. And you don’t want to continually be at 4, either. There are numerous reasons why people have trouble with this – over writing and just not understanding how and when to break them up, are the 2 biggies. Let’s look at each one…
I can tell from the very first line here, that you are a new writer and your script is going to be a tough read. And I don’t mean anything harsh by saying that. I can just tell, and red flags are waving. Some of this will seem nitpicky, but it’s all meant to help and alert you to certain ways of thinking when you write.
We start out in an EXT scene, at “JESSE’S HOUSE. Your opening line, “In a neighborhood peppered with small houses on quarter acre lots, three police cars and an ambulance sit outside one of the residences.“, has some issues. The opening wording sounds very novelesque, and although we’re clearly at Jesse’s place, you describe the neighborhood and even the size of the lots, which very few would get (or care) in a filmed version. The end, “…outside one of the residences” seems odd, as we know which residence this is. Are they in the driveway? Parked on the street? - basically, you’ve used 3 lines to write what should/could take 1, or 2 at the very most, and although you’ve provided too much unnecessary description, the scene itself isn’t even clear.
2nd sentence - “Its yard is pristine, and Irises in full bloom line the perimeter of the entire house.“ - Does any of this matter? I don’t know, personally, but I’d make a bet that it doesn’t. Starting with “Its” also reads poorly. Are we really able to see the entire perimeter of the house? I don’t think so. Nitpicky things, yes, but hopefully it will clue you into the fact that many lines and descriptions are not necessary, or downright incorrect.
3rd sentence - “The ambulance lights are flashing in silence as a mid-eighties sedan sits in the small driveway.” – If you want to mention that the lights are flashing, you need to do that when you first intro the ambulance…and what about the police car’s lights? What are they doing? But the bigger issue in this sentence is the structure, and use of “as”. This “mid-eighties sedan” has been “sitting” here the whole time. Using “as” refers to action, or something happening. And again, where is the ambulance? Behind the sedan in the driveway? What does the sedan have to do with the ambulance lights flashing? You’ve also used passive verbiage for your main verb “are flashing”, which you want to try and avoid whenever possible.
Let’s go to the 2nd passage, which is a gut busting 7 lines.
First sentence is OK and we now know that the police cars are parked in the street (which should have been made clear immediately). 2nd sentence, “Through the closed door the bus driver can be seen speaking to a young boy, who shakes his head after the driver stops speaking.” - is far from OK. Very awkwardly phrased. Comma missing after “door”. “bus driver” and “young boy” both need to be CAPPED, since it’s the character’s first appearance onscreen. “can be seen” – NO! Don’t write this kind of stuff…ever. “…who shakes his head after the driver stops speaking.” – really awkward and repetitive (driver, speaking). Just not a good sentence in any way.
3rd & 4th sentence (since they are basically “connected”, I thought I’d refer to them together) – “The door opens to six-year old JESSE PETERSON. He is somewhat thin and he wears a plaid shirt with a pocket on the left side of his chest - he only wears shirts with pockets.” – Again, awkwardly worded. The description is both too detailed and unclear at the same time. “somewhat thin” – hmmm, I’d say he’s either thin or he’s not thin, but then again, at 6, I’m not sure this even matters – kids are either thin or fat, but mostly thin, in my experience. I’d say short, tall, small, big, even “cute” are much better descriptions for a child of this age. Although I’m usually against describing a character’s hair, for children, it actually helps develop a quick visual. Does anyone care that he’s wearing a plaid shirt? Will this plaid shirt come into play later in the story? I highly doubt it. “with a pocket on the left side of his chest” – Uhhh…hmmm…WTF? This is a sign of detail that should not even be considered in a script…unless I’m totally missing some reason why you offered this, and it will come into play later…we’ll see. “- he only wears shirts with pockets.” – Again, this is a crazy detail, but it’s also an unfilmable aside, and I detest asides!
Your 3rd passage is a 3 line sentence, which is awkwardly phrased again and over written.
4th passage – another awkwardly phrased 6 liner, consisting of only 2 sentences. Many, many issues within this passage.
5th passage – another awkwardly phrased 7 liner! Many, many issues here again.
Layla, look at these passages. Look how often you repeat words (mostly character names). It’s always a fine line, but hopefully you can see what I’m referring to. You tend to add words or a phrase at the end of your sentences that don’t need to be there.
In theory, 1 page of script equals 1 minute of film. This is a rule of thumb and there are many factors that can and will skew it, but let’s look at your opening page and think about how long this will play out in a filmed version. Do you think it’s anywhere near 1 minute? I don’t. I don’t think much of the detail you chose to describe makes a difference or is important. What is important isn’t really shown or described, IMO. But there’s a bigger issue going on here, and it’s not even the over writing. You’ve chosen to start out with an intro that won’t last more than 45 seconds, tops, and then jump forward 15 years. This is my personal opinion, so if you disagree (or if others think I’m being a prick), understand it’s simply my opinion.
We’re not going to get much of anything out of this quick intro, because…well, because it’s too quick. I’m going to guess that the level of detail you used is going to come into play after all, based on this intro. I expect to see a 21 year old Jesse wearing a plaid shirt with a pocket on the left side of his chest. I also expect to see his house in either the same condition, or more likely, completely the opposite, in total shambles. Will he be driving the same 80’s sedan? We’ll soon see.
But, my point about this intro is that IMO, it’s too short. It needs more. Some dialogue would help. “Show” us the info as it happens, as opposed to “telling” us later, as I assume will happen.
OK, from here, I can’t go into great detail in your writing, but let’s just say, it’s not good and needs lots of attention, IMO. Like every line, I’m talking about.
Using extensive V.O. is a tricky thing to be able to get away with. Most do not appreciate it. Many are irritated by it. It’s tough to pull off effectively.
Jumping back and forth in time is also a tricky thing to handle properly or effectively. You just had another less than 1 minute scene, in which you jumped 15 years forward, and had lots of V.O.
Then, you immediately jump back 5 years. This is problematic, but let’s see where it goes…
…and you start things off with a cliché series of shots of the dreaded wake-up scene, complete with alarm clock going off. Not good.
“Sarah is sleeping on her stomach.” – passive and completely unnecessary info. Is she covered or not? I ask this because your next line says that her arm creeps out from the covers, but I’m wondering if she’s covered up, how we can tell she’s on her stomach? See what I’m getting at? I mean, can we even see her face? Do we know this is Sarah at this point? If we do, you need to intro her “new” age immediately, and if we don’t, you shouldn’t describe her as Sarah – just, “an arm creeps out…” Know what I mean?
So, you say she’s 16 now, but 5 years later, she’s in her early 20’s. Be exact, especially if you’re dealing with time going back and forth.
She turns on the light, but as far as we know, she’s still in bed, yet she’s somehow able to rummage through her dresser, and “begins to get dressed” – in scripts, characters either do something, or they don’t. Don’t use phrases like “begins to”, “starts to”, etc. But more importantly, this is an extremely unclear scene, and most likely, an unimportant one. Describing what people are wearing is almost always a mistake, but in certain circumstances, it’s key. Like here. What is she wearing here? Is she nude? Does she have to take off her pajamas to get dressed? Are you really intending on showing her getting dressed, cause if you are, you’re going to be showing some nudity (and hey, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a little gratuitous nudity and sex, but there are right and wrong times to offer it up).
Also, keep in mind what I mentioned in my PM to you about taking feedback with a few shakers of salt – that applies to my feedback as well. Although everything I bring up is going to be technically sound and correct, it may not always apply though, based on what you’re going for, or based on how you’ve written something. In this example, I’m referring to what Sarah is wearing. Normally, we wouldn’t care and you wouldn’t want to tell us, but when you have someone getting out of bed and then getting dressed, it obviously comes into play, so maybe it’s far easier to rearrange this scene and not show us all this. See what I’m saying?
This Series of shots is much more than a series of shots, also. You need a Full Slug.
Since Sarah is 16 years old, it isn’t her hallway or kitchen. It’s her parent’s house. Probably best to give us her last name when she’s first intro’d and then use that last name for the house she resides in. Lots of tricky things going on here.
And there we go…as I predicted, the Irises return and the house is in disarray…and…and I add, here’s Jesse wearing that pocketed shirt, only I was off by 5 years, I guess…
Way too many wrylies being used. Use only when they make a big difference, and sparingly. Also, I’d stay away from writing “action” wrylies – throw that into your action/description prose.
OK, Layla, gotta stop around Page 9. Very slow, IMO, way too much detail provided, very slow, dull scenes. I’m pretty sure I see exactly where this is going and I’ve seen this movie a few times before. It’s not really my cup of tea.
Hopefully, the notes I provided will help and get you on the right track. If you have questions, just let me know. This is a good effort for a first script. As you rewrite this and learn various things, check back on this version along the way and you’ll be amazed how much you improve, and how many scenes you remove that aren’t remotely necessary.
Make sure you read and provide feedback to others. The more you give, the more you get back. Take care.