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Read your story. I wasn't sure to expect. I liked it.
The opening scene was not a grabber. Although it makes sense in the end, it could still use more of a hook.
The main character's name, Sazha, is hard to pronounce with the Z. Perhaps Sasha will be easier. Also, your description of Sazha did not say she was a girl. It took me a couple paragraphs to figure that out.
You know I will call you on this. Bolding and transitions. Don't like them. Especially the cuts.
The teacher's instruction on English was way too complex for sixth grade. I doubt I could understand that in English at college.
Interesting use of words: not handsome. Not unhandsome.
I understand the title. If the saying is yours congratulations. If it's somebody else's, please give them credit. Nice artwork. Wink.
The advice given by Sazha to the teacher was years beyond her experience.
When she threatens her brother to be quiet, she threatens him with revealing his pot smoking. That seems insignificant if he was sleeping with her. She should have threatened him with that.
The teacher returned to the classroom with backbone, he makes a comment regarding girls hair. I thought that was a bit too much.
I haven't seen MOS used so much in a script.
I thought it was neat how you revealed that Turrel was possibly the father.
You lose your PG-13 rating. That scene was nasty but I couldn't stop reading. Signature scene.
I could smell trouble as soon as 12-year-old girl invited herself to the teacher's house.
On page 24 when I saw the word plumeria I figured out the gist of the story.
When the teacher committed suicide I believed it.
I felt the girl should do something nasty to Cora to humiliate her.
I also felt that Cora should have a crisis over her antiabortion views.
Was there symbol for the white rose or the thistles? If so, I missed it.
There were a number spelling errors.
Overall, I liked the story. When I read the log line, the story did not grab me and wondered how you're going to make an interesting story out of it. Well you did!
I liked the girl, the teacher and Mr. Smithers. Who would star as a 12-year-old girl for this?
Thank you very much for taking a look at this one, and thanks for the detailed notes in PDF you e-mailed me with all the mistakes. That's a really cool way to review somebody's script for them and helps a lot. Now if only I could figure out how you did that, I may be of more help with the scripts I read for people. (I'm not very technologically advanced) I'm sure I'll figure it out sooner or later, though.
I'm glad that you liked it. I know it more than most likely won't garnish any 'Feel Good Script of the Year' awards, but I'm glad you enjoyed it enough to stick it through the end. I know it might push limits for some people and they might not want to finish.
As for Sazha's name... well, I just needed a black name and that one just kind of rolled off the tongue for me. And it's really not that rare, either. I see what you mean about not knowing she was a girl at first. I just took for granted that people would know it's a common black girl's name. I'll make sure I identify her a little better.
Crandall is teaching Sazha some advanced English, yes, but really, what he's teaching the class is simply just past tense verbs, (words that end in -ed), which I know I learned in at least fourth grade, and I know my girlfriend's son already has a great grasp on it already at age 11. The reason why it does sound so difficult is because I wanted it to be obvious that Crandall was not teaching by his own method, that he was a man who has pretty much given up on everything and was reading just directly from the text book. In the scene where he gets the class interested in the new book, I wanted to show more that Crandall was dumbing down the English for them, doing it his own way, but I didn't want to go on with what could be a rather boring scene.
I mentioned originally that Crandall picks up a book off his shelf written by Jose Martin, but I guess I sliced it off when I was trying to trim the descriptions down in a redraft. I will have to put that back in because I do love that saying, and I do want to give him the credit for it.
I came across the saying years ago, and I forget where. It wasn't in any of Jose Martin's books. I don't remember the saying exactly because it was in Spanish when I read it, but I translated and reworded it a little myself, just from memory, so I don't know exactly how close it is, but I know the theme is there. I might have to look for it online and compare and contrast it.
I also see what you mean about Sazha threatening with the pot-smoking. I never thought about that. I'll have to go back to that part and imply that he's doing something really bad, but I don't want it to be revealed just yet.
That reveal, though it was always was in my head, I didn't add it in until one of the last drafts. I added it just to see if I liked it, planning on taking it back out if it cluttered everything up. But, after a lot of deliberation, I think it adds another element to the story. Another element for why Sazha's psyche is the way it is. I'm glad to see it worked for you.
I felt the girl should do something nasty to Cora to humiliate her.
I thought about that, and initially wanted Sazha to have some sort of revenge, but I also wanted Sazha to follow the metaphoric theme of the saying, about growing white roses for people instead of thistles. Even the cruel ones.
As far as who would star as Sazha, I have no idea. I had absolutely nobody in mind when I wrote this. I just wrote the characters and hope the actress can pull Sazha's feelings and characteristics off.
In fact, the only character I did sort of cast in my mind was Smithers. I pictured Tom Waits, (who has been known to flex an acting muscle every now and then), as Smithers.
Thank you again very much, Gary, for taking a look-see at this. Your notes are very much appreciated. I'll e-mail you either when I get off work late late tonight, or in the morning with replies to the more detailed notes you sent me PDF.
Glad to help, the PDF thing requires Adobe Reader X (free)
Here's a thought: If Sazha is NOT going to take revenge, then you might show her about to do something to Cora than stopping so the audience knows it was an active decision. The way of the white rose in action,
Just finished the first half. I had promised myself to read 25, but the script is such a breeze I kept going. Your work is very easy to read. No stumbling blocks in the descriptions, sensible dialogue, appropriate number of characters. No need to reread sections, which I very much appreciate.
I messaged you explaining I would try to analyze from these categories: protag development, antag, inciting incident, break into two, goals, stakes, urgency, intrigue. And also whether the opening page and the opening 10 pages is effective at grabbing the reader. So I'll begin there.
protag: I'm not sure if it's Sazha or Mr Crandell. I guess it's both, though we start with Sazha. I think we get a good picture of both characters. It is often suggested that a protag should have a strong goal and be active about pursuing that goal. I think both characters do that to a sold degree. Sasha wants an education, so she aggressively pursues private studies with her teacher. Mr Crandel is passive at first, but with Sasha's encouragement tries to take control of his classroom.
antag: none to speak of, unless you want to say the neighborhood.
inciting incident: Sazha getting naked p 17
break into 2: Turrell's death p 37
stakes: the stakes are low in the first half, though they are building with Turrell's death and Mr Crandel's getting fired.(no unions in this school?)
urgency, intrigue: none by the half way point.
general discussion: I have some problems with the marketability of the script with this inciting incident. A 12 year old girl asks for private lessons at a teacher's apartment(odd), he agrees(odder still), and she gets naked and throws herself at him(I can't see a producer wanting to touch that). In today's age, people are very conscious about potential sexual situations with minors. Mr Crandel would never allow a student to come into his apartment for a lesson. Even if everything was innocent, it looks really, really, really, really bad. But let's assume this man is the most naive man in the world and allows this. Will a director want to film it? A 12 year old getting naked and throwing herself at an adult, trying to grab his junk?
For that matter, the conversation of the teens before this scene strikes me as something a director would avoid. Look, I'm not naive, I know that stuff happens nowadays, but 12 and 13 year old kids talking about blow jobs and hand jobs is not the kind of thing for film, IMO.
So for me, the question is can you get rid of these elements and still have your story? And I think the answer is yes. Sazha does not need to get naked for her brother to see something he misinterprets. She could even take her shirt off for some reason while in the bed room, maybe to remove a stain, I don't know, and Mr Crandel never knows, but Turrel sees it.
I guess that changes a lot of your premise, but I just think this 12 or 13 year old naked black girl throwing herself at an older white male is a nonstarter.
The story does succeed in building dramatic tension and is well written, so you have a strong foundation to work with here.
One other suggestion: I would like to see a little more on Crandel's project to take over his class. I didn't really understand that part as it currently stands. I think you need more than some book to excite their interest. And that part of a story like this, the winning of the class's attention, is always critical in these stories.
Ok, Mark, I will finish tomorrow. I took PDF notes too, though the writing is pretty tight, so not much needed there.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I won't go into too many things about the story or characters right now since you're not finished with it. I don't want to accidently ruin the vampire ending or anything.
But I will say that I did try some different things, especially with the characters, in this one. I'll get more into that after you're finished. And I will also admit that you are right about the marketability factor. This is definately not a Hollywood script. And I didn't write it for it to be sold or even produced. (Don't get me wrong, I'll still whore the script out to every director that's written to me these past couple months, but I have no qualms about just letting this one languish on the shelf after I finish the final draft.) It's just a story that popped into my head that I wanted to tell. That's why I wanted to slap an Independent label on this one. And because of that, I did take some liberties with the characterizations of antags and protags.
But I'll get into it more whenever you have time to finish it all.
And I do want to clear up a typo that I didn't mean. Sazha is 13. Not 12. Not that it makes much of a difference, but I do label her as 12 in the beginning, then she says she's 13 later in the story. (Or earlier in the story, however you want to look at it.) That 12 was supposed to be a 13.
Anyway, thanks again for taking a look, Kevin. I look forward to hearing from you again and I'll let you know what I was trying to do while writing this.
Mark, sorry I didn't finish the script yet. For some reason this OWC has been a struggle, so I got stuck on that. I just finished a draft, and it's about the worst thing I've ever written, and that's a bold statement since I no doubt have plenty of clunkers. Hopefully I can fix it up somewhat, but I'm going to take a break from it and finish your script tonight. your stuff is easy to read, so it's definitely a break from work.
Finished the script. I hope some other regulars will look at it for you. Emailed my notes and thoughts.
As you will see from that, this was just way too much for me. It made Jeff's recent OWC look like The Sound of Music. There's just way too much brutality and things go so far over the boundary of what's acceptable in film in terms of sexual portrayal that this script is untouchable, IMO. To be honest, I think in the US it would be a violation of child pornography laws, though I know that is not at all your intention.
I realize this is meant as serious, heart ripping drama. And it is, too. And you are a veteran writer who executes the pages very well. Drama is your talent, too, you portray it well. It's just too much, I think.
I know this one was going to be a really hard one to get through. Sorry for putting you through that. Trust me, as hard as it was to read, it was just as uncomfortable to write. Even for me. I don't know if you've ever read some of my other really really gritty stuff, but in case you hadn't, I don't like to hide the violence. The violence isn't hidden in real life, so why hide the violence in a story that I'm trying to make as real life as possible? Maybe there's someone who has a temperment a lot like Cora's, and the next time she's about to lose it, she'll remember that movie that didn't hide the disgusting results of violence, and it might make her stop and think for a moment. Fat chance, I know, but I still wanna try.
And although this wasn't based on anybody explicit, I did get the idea for this when I heard about a mother here in Youngstown who beat the bejesus out of her pregnant daughter with some sort of stick. I don't know the details as I just heard about it through word of mouth, but I just wanted to be clear that this story wasn't just done for shock. I wanted to convey a message and wanted to shine a light on things that sometimes get swept up underneath the carpet and forgot about, only to be repeated again later on.
Lol. In regards to Jeff's 'What a Wonderful World', I read people's comments on it and saw they didn't care for the depressing nature of it. (Although I liked it.) When I read that, I knew this one wasn't going to go over so well.
But this story is what it is. I am proud of it. I love the characters. I felt for them. They had good traits, all of them, and they had bad traits. Just like regular people. Not everybody acts like heroes. In fact, in this town I live in, I think there's very few. I hate it here. I want to move so bad. But while I'm here, I'm going to shine the flashlight on every gritty story I come across in this place, and I'm not going to hide anything that I see.
Well, except maybe for this, which just happened here a week or two ago:
I'm not touching that one. Raping their own 13-month old daughter in a visit AT CHILDREN'S SERVICES! And recording it on a cell phone! And you thought 13 years old was bad? I've been writing a story about the Children Services Bureau here for the past couple months, but not even I am going to think about tackling that story.
In regards to filming this, of course I don't expect the director, or the production company, to shoot this frame by frame. I fully expect them to (like I was talking about before, about hiding violence) pan up when things get too rough down there. But I wrote what happens in the story. I did my job. It's up to the director now to take it as far as he wants to go.
And I don't see it as too much of a task to avoid child pornography laws. Especially because Sazha's a bigger boned girl, there's probably quite a few 18 year-olds out there who can pass themselves off as several years younger. Just like there's enough 13 year-old girls who could pass themselves off as 18. Plus, Sazha's very advanced for her age, remember, so I think the audience'll buy a young-looking 18 year-old as Sazha.
If no director or company wants to touch it, that's okay. I understand. I'm happy enough with it as a story just in my documents folder.
And I understand also, how the story didn't appeal to you. And trust me, I don't blame you one bit for how you feel about it. :-) I just snuck off and read the e-mail you sent me. I'll address it to you more in private.
Thank you for the kind words, though, and trying to slosh through the end as best as you could. I really do appreciate it and I'll be talking to you in a bit. (Although I don't know if I'll be able to send you an e-mail, tonight. I got off pretty late and I'm ready for bed.) But I really appreciate you taking a look and telling me your thoughts.
Picture this Mark. Let's try a reverse example, sunshine instead of gloom.
Let's say our story is about an overweight, pimply, shy and clumsy girl named Clara. She works in a nowhere job, lives in a tiny apartment, has no friends. Then an amazing thing happens one day, and she gets a letter saying she has been selected to be on her favorite show, Dancing with the Stars in a new feature where a member of the public is brought on. She's excited, but then later in the day, she gets in a fender bender with Brad Pitt, who is struck like a bolt of lightning and falls in love with her. At lunch, she gets a huge job promotion to VP, but it doesn't matter long because later in the day she finds out she won the lottery of 99 million dollars! And if all this isn't good enough, she gets a visit that night and finds out that Royal Genealogists have discovered she is long lost royalty and is in the Princess who stands in line to inherit the throne. So Clara's life has turned around.
This, for me, was the main problem with both Thistle and It's a Wonderful World. It's too much. In Thistle, first shock is the 13 year old girls talking about blow jobs and hand jobs. Not too much of a shock as no doubt it happens, but not something you see in film. Then the 13 yr old gets the teacher to agree to tutor her at home, a very unlikely possibility that any sensible teacher would avoid. While there, she simply gets naked and throws herself at him. And it just so happens her brother can see this from his apartment. A lot of unlikely things are adding up. But this story is just getting started.
After the brother gets killed, and the teacher gets fired(unions would not allow this), and the teacher, who is already a recovering alcoholic who has lost his wife and kid to tragic death, returns to drinking and ends up drinking mouthwash when he runs out of cash, the girl once again throws herself at him, and this time he allows it. After the sex, she calls him from her cell and brags about pushing his juices inside her...a 13 yr old girl. But we're not done.
The mother, who's job seems to be protesting abortions, beats the infant in the womb to death when she finds out, and to top it off, the mother finds out the brother had been banging the sister anyway.
You see what I'm saying? The problem isn't just that this is too shocking or too gritty. The problem is this is too much. Any one event by itself might be extremely unlikely, but movies are about unlikely things, and the unlikely does happen in life. But when so much unlikely happens, as with my Clara example, you lose the audience. It becomes way too far beyond belief.
Actually, I think this problem is fairly common with non professional writers, and I'm sure I am guilty of it too. We want to make a point, and we POUR it on. But what happens is not what you expect. What you a re trying to drive home does not become more shocking, but less. Think of a horror movie where everyone dies. At some point you become immune to it, and you don't care. It's too much.
I think that's where you should consider taking this. You are looking for shock and grit. The grit can be a little more subtle, and then hammer things home with one really shocking thing. You want that event to stand out, so you want to isolate it, put a spotlight on it.
For example, what if the first time Sazha throws herself at the teacher is changed. What if everything is completely innocent there, but somehow looks bad to her brother. The tension would result from the fact that while they are acting innocently, they are acting unwisely in being alone in his apartment, and from our vantage point, we will be uncomfortable. We'll be happy when nothing happens, and we'll appreciate the sweetness of their innocent relationship.
And then the fight happens where the brother dies because of what he had misunderstood. He thinks he is protecting his sister. True tragedy, and we'll feel it powerfully.
Then, in a shocking twist, Sazha has sex with the teacher. They are both lonely, vulnerable in a bleak and gritty world, and it happens. It's wrong, but it's not so much an animalistic act as the actions of two isolated people who connect.
No raunchy cell call when it's done, either. That ruins any effect you were looking for. That just makes her a 13 yr old ho.
And no revelation about sex with her brother. That also ruins any of the ironic drama you have succeeded in building up, especially with Turrel's hiding place where he stores photos of happier times. Come on, why the F is that in there? That needs to change.
And then finally, when Cora attacks Sazha, it has to be less of a conscious act, and more of a reaction, like it was earlier with the woman at the abortion clinic. That's where, again, the irony is effective. You have a woman who spends her life protesting abortion, and in a fit of rage she accidentally kills her daughter's baby. But it has to be unintentional for this to be effective and ironic.
Does this make sense? I think a lot of people will react to this the same way I have, but maybe I'm wrong. Unfortunately, most will probably just stay quiet. You write drama well, and I think if you tone this back, it will actually be more shocking and more powerful.
With my reviews, I'm terribly blunt, regardless of whether it's a script, novel, movie, so I'm going to tell you up front -- I didn't like this. If you don't have a thick skin, don't read on. I curse a lot and I try to be as honest as I possibly can.
What's the basic premise of your story? Black people screw up and have incestuous sex? Maybe there's some "deep" message about human nature hidden behind it. If there is, I don't see it. This is Precious. This is For Colored Girls. This is The Color Purple. There's nothing new here, and the fact that there isn't infuriates me.
But, I'll address the problems I had with the script structure first, rather than the actual story.
This is an indie drama, which, I guess, could kind of excuse the thin plot. Maybe. No, not really.
This is your logline: An introverted white teacher tutors a gifted black student in an increasingly violent urban neighborhood.
When I read it, I instantly thought of Finding Forrester or Akeelah and the Bee. Both of them won the Nicholl. Why? Because they were feel good, magical negro stories.
You've got the anti-thesis of that. It's what I like to call misery porn. Truth is stranger than fiction. While you can use real life examples to back up your work, you still have to adhere to the believability quotient of film. I don't care if Billy of Nebraska got struck with lightning seventeen times and hit with an truck forty times by his dad in real life. For a script, I'm not going to believe it unless it's presented in an accurate way. Here, it's not.
It reads like you're trying too hard to be Spike Lee. The difference between this and Clockers? There was a story to offset the misery. Every character had a goal. What's Sasha's goal?
Fuck her white teacher.
Once she fucks him, that's it. When she gets pregnant, it feels like a different script. By the way, I saw the incest coming from a mile away. I'm wondering if all scripts about black people have to have them fucking their relatives or working as maids or dealing drugs in the hood. Seriously.
Anyway, if Sasha (I refuse to spell Sazha) isn't the protagonist -- as she doesn't really drive the script other than trying to seduce the teacher -- it must be the teacher. Unfortunately, he dies before the second act ends. It's not him. This isn't No Country For Old Men.
So, if I don't have a protagonist to identify with, what's the point? I don't like large sprawling dramas with unlikable/uninteresting stereotypes and a bunch of reverse moralizing.
Which brings me to my next point: where's the structure? What's your inciting incident? Is it Sasha trying to seduce the teacher or the teacher killing her brother? And what do these have to do with pushing the story forward?
What is this story about? It's not about a teacher helping a gifted student. He doesn't help her and she's not particularly gifted.
It's basically another ghetto urban drama.
If I'm not supposed to like a character, that's fine. But they have to be interesting. Sasha isn't interesting. The teacher is a cliche pulled out of the Karate Kid, Akeelah, and Finding Forrester.
You repeatedly hit the audience over the head with your pro-life message, so much that you've alienated me. So I'm not supposed to like the mother, and I sure as hell don't find her interesting.
Now, I do think there's a good script in here somewhere. But first, you have to pick a main character. Give them a goal. This experimental indie shit isn't working for me.
Follow Sasha through every single scene. Make every scene relevant to her progression as a character because she stays pretty static from beginning to end. Stop trying to shock the audience or portray the realities of living in the ghetto. Tell a story.
Don't have the white dude as the only normal person (well, not really, as he fucked a twelve-year-old) in your story. I'm sorry to say this, but only American Beauty, and possibly Better Living Through Chemistry and Young Adult can get away with the extremely unlikable character gets redeemed in the end arc.
Also, I found your formatting kind of wacky. Why are the scene headings bolded? And why are there so many cuts? Unless you plan to direct this yourself, get rid of them. It feels like the story is really 90 pages, not 99.
And please, for the ever loving fuck of god, get rid of the -- mother thinks TWELVE YEAR OLD GIRL SEDUCED HER OLDER BROTHER. That's the stupidest shit ever and it pisses me off every time I read it.
I don't care if she's sad over her son. It makes me think she's an idiot. And you're either a) adding it here to make me feel sorry for Sasha, or b) trying to pull out more tears from the "grittiness" of reality. Stop. Scripts are meant to entertain. Once they pass the entertainment point, then they can moralize on the state of the world. You haven't entertained me yet.
And the ending? Where suddenly Cora is a good guy after ripping a child out of her daughter? Yeah, no. And then you have the wise old man who imparts wisdom for no particular reason? That's almost as bad as the pretentious child in (500) Days of Summer.
Finally, what was the theme of the script? What was the point? Every script should have a point. I'm not seeing yours.
(500) Days of Summer: Keep looking and you'll find your true love.
The Godfather: Do anything to keep your family together and avenge their deaths. Respect above all else.
Aliens: Listen to the redheaded chick cause she usually knows what she's talking about.
You don't really have a theme, therefore, I can't really justify the plot-less indie melodrama you've got going on here. Even Blue Valentine, a script I abhorred, had a theme. Study Toni Morrison, specifically The Bluest Eye, if you must use incest without a solid plot. Otherwise, it comes off as an insensitive portrayal of African Americans in the ghetto with their savior white dude who didn't really want to be a hebephile, but the girl forced him to do it. Right.
Good luck with whatever you decide to do with this script.
"In our world," said Eustace, "a star is a huge ball of flaming gas." "Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is, but only what it is made of."
We don't know very much, but we know that something went wrong somewhere, somehow. So we can't believe that what you call the truth is true.
I'm gonna take a quick moment to discuss Cory's remarks. Regarding the inciting incident, I believe it is the first encounter in the teacher's apartment. All of their lives are changed by this eventually. The teacher at first becomes determined to take control of his classroom and his life. Sasha is more determined to accelerate her learning. Turrel, having seen his naked sister in the apartment, is set on killing the teacher.
It is slightly late for an inciting incident, but not as late as it seems because of the cut to's in the opening pages.
The end of act one would be the death of Turrel. Again, a little late for this transition, but a clear turning point.
I tried to avoid discussing some of the racial aspects to this, but the points Cory raised have validity. Handling the topic of race is always hard, though, and no matter how you do it, some one will say you are wrong. I think the best thing to do when it comes to that topic is to show as much diversity of character as possible. For example, of we're doing a story about white Irish drinkers(yes, I've seen that movie), it's ok to have the stereotypical characters, especially to the extent that the stereotype is true, as long as we try to have some different characters to show that not all white Irish are fighting drinkers.
Sasha wants to do her homework and learn, but is afraid of being taunted by other kids. That stuff happens everyday in every classroom, so it's effective. But in other ways she really takes on the negative stereotypes, and I'm not even sure how accurate those stereotypes are. Most of the black girls I have known are fairly conservative in a lot of ways. Maybe things have changed, but I don't see them talking the way Sasha and her friends do. Guys talk like that, for sure. Or for Shizzle!
Mark, I hope you consider some of the changes I suggested. You're not afraid to break taboos, that's good. Maybe break a few less at one time!