Hi all.

You get to start another exciting week with your pal, Hank. (Try to contain your excitement.)

Today we’re taking a look at Condesa by H.L. Wheeler

Precocious Lisa, at 7, can recite anything she reads and fly her Father’s plane. At 10, her parents die in a plane crash ruled pilot error. At 21, she returns home to set the record straight.

Script Pitch

Lisa is a young girl of seven, who can see things once and commit it to memory. The story starts with her doing senior level computer stuff on her first day of class.

We then see she has a wonderful family life, and a mother and father who both dote on her.

In addition to being a wiz on the computer, she’s also good at horseback riding, and flying small aircraft, which she often flies with her father to pick up supplies for their vineyard.

It’s on one of these trips that they pick up a secret stash of clippings, which they plan on splicing into their already established grape vines to improve the quality of the grapes.

Once home, we also find out that Lisa’s father, Carlos, has been disowned by his father, who’s a distant relative to Spanish royalty. This makes Lisa a princess.

Unfortunately, around a year later Lisa loses her folks to a plane crash that Lisa smells foul play on, but only being 11 (not sure where the other years went) she can’t do much about it.

It turns out her Spanish family DOES love her, so she goes to live with them until she turns 21, when she comes back to the States and attempts to solve her parents’ murder.

With that in mind, let’s begin.

1.) Can we visualize the description?

From my notes there’s three instances where the description is off. The first is right on page 1:

The opening credits play as the O S laughter, shouting and normal antics of the BUS full of per-adolescent school CHILDREN, at times, drown out the mechanical sounds of the BUS.

The breaks of sunlight lesson with the O S sounds of the
squealing brakes until only shadow remains and the squealing
sound is replaced by the O S sounds of doors opening, foot
steps of children moving to get off, the doors close and then the BUS engine. The shadow is broken by sunlight again and again as the BUS moves on down the country road to repeat the cycle. With each restart the O S sounds of children aboard the bus diminishes until the bus pulls out and there are no sounds of CHILDREN from the moving BUS.

The silent BUS stops again.

This is all too long and awkward. I’d argue you can just start with Lisa bounding off the bus and being fascinated by the caterpillar.

This part is good, as she’s young, and side steps the caterpillar so as not to kill it. We instantly like her.

Drop the earlier school bus part, as you have it all off screen, and it comes off as kind of pretentious. (Feel free to suggest it once the script sells and the director is asking for ideas on how to open.)

Don’t forget to keep action/description to four lines or less.

Page 43 – The plane talk was too technical. It’s good because you sound like you know what you’re talking about, but bad because the rest of us won’t. (This goes for most of the plane jargon throughout the script.)

Page 91 – The whole “John’s assistant” thing. I didn’t get it. That part needs to be cleaned up and tightened, or dropped completely because I’m not sure what was trying to be accomplished.

Overall though, not too bad.

7 out of 10 points.

2.) Does the author use an acceptable format?

Script is 120 pages long which isn’t horrible, but there is plenty to trim down.

Other than the action, the format isn’t horrible.

Unless you’re shooting this yourself, I’d drop scene numbers, camera angles, etc. The numbered headings especially were confusing, as a lot of them were near the page numbers, so when taking notes that was a bit of an issue for me.

The MAIN problem with it though? Grammar. (And why we’ve lost the points.)

The script was LOADED with errors.

Your instead of you’re.
Their instead of they’re.
To instead of too.
Witch instead of which.
Will see instead of we’ll see.

Page 28 was where I stopped taking notes on the mistakes, but the script was literally riddled with it. So much so that I was curious if the author was a native English speaker.

This needs a drastic clean up, as it’s an easy fix, and something that MUST be done before sending it to a professional reader.

We should never take grammar issues lightly thinking, “Oh the reader will see my awesome story through any little mistakes,” because you know the only thing that’s going to see your awesome story if you don’t take the time to proofread? The trash can.

5 out of 10 points.

3.) Is the dialogue free of exposition and rich in subtext? Does each character have a unique voice?

I’m just going to say it. The dialogue made me either yawn or roll my eyes.

It’s hollow, all except Carlos, which is where I roll my eyes with his “follow your heart” talk. If this is a script for a made-for-TV movie, like on the Disney Channel, that kind of stuff can slide through, but I got the feeling you were hoping for something more.

The biggest problem? Half the script has LINE after LINE of Carlos or Cathy telling Lisa something and then her repeating it back to see if she understands.

For example. Page 47:

CATHY (CONT’D)
This wine was bottled by your
grandfather who lives with your
grandmother and uncle in Spain, on
the De La Vargas family winery near
Bordeaux.

LISA
Hold up…

She jumps out of her chair and steps back from the table.

LISA (CONT’D)
Lets see if I’ve got this…

She regards one parent then the other again and again to get
their reactions.

LISA (CONT’D)
You mean I’m not Mexican
American…
And I have living grandparents and
an uncle in Spain bottling French
wine…
So is that all…
Seems to me, like there should be a
little more to it, like why you’ve
been keeping this from me.

CARLOS
It’s a little more convoluted.

LISA
I’m already in a flat spin, the
only thing left is to crash and
burn.

Why do we have to sit through this? And the beginning where she has her dictionary out to look up the words her father is talking about? It’s all too much.

The goal is to make Lisa a smart seven year old. Using one bit of dialogue like the above “flat spin” line accomplishes that, and is how you write good dialogue. We don’t need to have her translate it for US since we already know what her parents are talking about.

Lisa talks too much like an adult. I get she’s smart, but knowing facts doesn’t mean you understand them. (Like the whole sex talk which was creepy, but I’ll discuss in question 9.)

The problem with her dialogue is even after she actually IS an adult in the story, she still sounds the same. There needs to be a change to SHOW us she’s developed as a character.

More problem dialogue:

Page 17 – Love in your heart and strong roots? Too hokey.

Page 32 – The whole mistaken for a 21 year old. This dialogue is ludicrous. Even if a seven year old is going to say big words, they’re still going to sound seven and not be mistaken for a smokin hottie.

Page 33 – Cathy’s line at the top “On the radio…” Not sure what that meant.

Page 34 – More “in your heart” fluff.

Page 38 – We’ve had the birds and the bees talk with our parents, so we don’t need to have Carlos and Cathy to tell us through Lisa. If you’re going to have it in there it better advance the plot.

Page 38 – I realized there was too much talking and not enough doing in this script. (Thanks to the dinner table scenes.)

Page 56 – “Known your father’s heart…” Donna Vargas seems like a nice lady, but I hate when she talks.

Page 59 – Lisa’s “I’m grieving” line sounds odd, and is a perfect example of how Lisa needs to be turned into a clever child, not sound like a dumb adult.

Page 63 – The whole back and forth between Lisa and Donna Vargas felt like it had no feeling behind it. Almost as if they were going through the motions. And it’s all TOO LONG. Don’t say in 3 or 4 sentences what can be done in 1.

Page 91 – The awkward assistant dialogue that I mentioned with the description question.

Page 99 – Boring back and forth between Lisa and John about her flying.

Page 114 – The love talk between Lisa and Kyle seems unnatural.

I know I’m being considerably harsh here, but this needs fixed. DRASTICALLY. It’s like your entire story rests on this talking, which it shouldn’t. Dialogue drives the story, and if it doesn’t it has no reason to be in your script.

1 out of 10 points.

4.) Does the writer understand the challenges and rewards posed by the medium chosen in which to tell his/her story? Shorthand version of this is: Is it a movie and not a play?

Other than the bits in the plane, this script could easily have been presented as a play. More things need to happen to create a necessity for the big screen.

5 out of 10 points.

5.) Is there anything unique in what the writer presents? Are the writer’s ideas, based on this sample, likely to continue to be original?

Here I will give HL a few things. As I mentioned before the flight talk sounded like he knew what he was talking about.

There was extensive knowledge about wine and how the Spanish aristocracy works.

Even the overall idea of Lisa being able to absorb information as fast as she does, which then helps her solve her parents’ murder is very interesting.

10 out of 10 points.

6.) Does the script have a hook?

As I mentioned above, a smart 7 year old who solves her parents’ murder later in life. Different.

If the artsy bit with the blank screen and the school bus is dropped, then the first scene will be great. Lisa hopping down the steps, avoiding the caterpillar, etc. all makes her likable.

ONE PROBLEM (and I’m going to start taking off for this in all reviews) is HL cheats by showing us the plane crash right on page one. This doesn’t happen until way later in the script. It was confusing for me, as I though her parents died right at the beginning, but then there was Cathy, Lisa’s mother, right on page two.

For the rest of you, as I’ve been complaining about it a lot lately, if you need to cheat and use a later scene right at the beginning this is a HUGE PROBLEM! You’re essentially admitting, “There’s nothing interesting at the beginning of my script, so please, check out this cool scene from later.” This isn’t Citizen Kane so don’t “Rosebud” me.

Go back and make us love your character, and make us invested right from page 1. THAT’S how a reader will know you’re worth reading.

Don’t cheat.

8 out of 15 points.

7.) Is that hook effective?

We then go on to find out more about Lisa.

She’s smart. So smart hints are dropped she’s skipped a grade already and the school wants to advance her again.

Plus she’s a computer genius after one class, so mom and dad buy her a whole home office set up.

She has a great family life also, with weekend horseback rides around the winery.

Unfortunately, there’s so much time spent on establishing how much they all love each other, that focus is lost on advancing the story.

My suggestion? Pick a scene. Them racing on horseback, computer talk, or flying the stunt plane. (I’d actually vote for the latter, as it’s more unique and action packed.)

I got to page 22 and asked, “Where’s the inciting incident?” (The first part read like a reality TV series about a perfect family.)

7 out of 15 points.

8.) Is there enough to maintain the hook? Reveals, conflict, etc.?

Let me first ask this.

What’s your story about?

Is it about a smart girl with a loving a family?

Is it about a small, independent vineyard fighting the corporate vineyards?

Is it about a lost Spanish Princess being rediscovered?

Is it a murder mystery, where the girl solving the crime is essentially a child?

Or is it a love story about a smart girl finally finding and understanding love?

It can be two maybe three of those, but it can’t be all of them. At least not how it’s currently written.

What I THINK your story should be:

Lisa is a very clever girl who’s parents are murdered by the rival corporate vineyards after bringing in the clippings that will make her family’s vineyard superior.

That’s it. Anything else is either B story, briefly mentioned, or scrapped altogether.

Carlos receiving the clippings from his brother should be right at the beginning. That’s where the pressure should be coming from the other vineyards, but it’s something we need to see.

Establish early that Carlos, Cathy, and Lisa are the perfect family unit, then leave it alone and get to the story. They’ll continue to be until you tell us otherwise. (That’s how a script works.)

Maybe a building mysteriously burns down. Maybe a large portion of the workers don’t show up one day. Something to show they’re at odds with corporate wine.

THEN, when Cathy and Carlos have a plane crash, we know there’s something more involved, not just the word of a little girl. (This is realistically your inciting incident. Lisa loses her parents and goes to Spain.)

Lisa going to Spain should be forced on her. There should be some sort of outside force, social services maybe, that says she’s either got to go to Spain or be put somewhere. This will get her out.

Once out, if she’s truly interested in solving her parents’ murder she leaves at 18. She does what her grandparents expect of her, but she’s driven and focused towards the goal of retribution for her father and mother. (I’d argue her returning from Spain should be your midpoint, so her investigating her parents’ death can be the rest of the story.)

It all needs streamlined. Admit to yourself what your story actually is (if it differs from what I said above) and focus on that. Don’t try to do too much or your story will be watered down at best.

3 out of 10 points.

9.) Does the story play to a target audience, and have the elements demanded by that audience?

Going to focus on a few things here.

That creepy guy on the radio.

Lose these scenes ENTIRELY. There’s no rationalization in the WORLD that makes it realistic, let alone okay, that a group of adult men think a girl talking over the radio is sexy.

We get it, Lisa shouldn’t be smart enough to fly the plane as a child, but state that differently with the characters.

“Oh, you’re only a little girl. You knew all the terminology and what to say, so I just assumed there was something wrong with your radio.”

This entire bit is CREEPY, and frankly the fact that Carlos was okay with it in his dialogue had me worried as a father.

Lisa’s Age.

I know I mentioned this above, but she starts out as seven, and then somewhere when her parents die she’s eleven.

I missed the switch.

I love you, Kyle.

This part didn’t make sense. It was like you were dying for Lisa to live happily ever after so you gave her the first age appropriate, white guy you could find.

Introduce Kyle earlier, and make him someone different. Maybe he’s an old childhood friend that now does forensics, and as they investigate the buried fella, they grow closer.

The love story is currently written poorly.

The ending.

As I also mentioned above, you spent so much time establishing that Lisa is smart and has a great mother and father that you didn’t have enough time for the actual story.

The ending of “how they dunnit” was literally spoon fed to us, because that’s all you had time for. WE should get the clues, NOT the other characters who are getting them off screen and we’re stuck watching Lisa show us how smart she is.

4 out of 10 points.

Conclusion

The idea for the story is interesting, and I like it. Unfortunately the execution of it left me wanting more. I think stripping this script to it’s bare bones and focusing on the story is what’s needed. Is the writer up to such a rewrite? I hope so, as it’s an original idea, and I know we none of us want to see Hungry Hungry Hippos in theaters next summer.

Total 50 out of 100 points.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Hey Hank,

    I’m not sure you should automatically knock points off for starting a screenplay with a preview scene. Yeah, they’re becoming overused, but I think you should judge them case by case. Flashbacks are often abused as well, but I doubt you’d dock points automatically because a screenplay had one.

    Karl

    • I appreciate the comment, but I stick by this remark:

      You’re essentially admitting, “There’s nothing interesting at the beginning of my script, so please, check out this cool scene from later.”

      I’m not sure of how many stories NEED this to be effective. The only instance I can think of is for scripts that are nonlinear and focus on various characters’ perspectives based on one event.

      If a script has this type of structure then I won’t be taking points off, so I guess my earlier statement was incorrect and I will be judging case by case. (But if you cheat, I’m going to call you on it and take off points.)

      *EDIT*You folks are good writers, and I guess that’s what makes me mad because in MOST cases the next scenes are great and should be the first thing we read. Maybe it’s just a lack of faith in one’s writing.

      • Don’t get me wrong – I think they are often used as a cheat as well, and you should call people on it – I just don’t think you should have a hard and fast rule… You’d end up giving Memento a big fat zero 🙂

  2. Thank you for taking the time to review Condesa. I’m sorry it was such an effort to read. “So much so that I was curious if the author was a native English speaker”

    I speak my native English fluently. However, having Dyslexia long before it was studied as a learning disorder left my reading and writing skills wanting.

    They thought that because I could do complex engineering problems but lacked the skill to write a book report, I should be in an industrial occupation. After all, I wasn’t going to college anyway, I was poor.

    I don’t mention this to engender sympathy but in response to your query.

    Your review is another useful learning tool for me. I have so many pictures within my mind’s eye and need to learn when to (KISS) cut to the basics and tell just one story at a time, and perhaps even get the words right too.

    Best Regards, H L

    P. S. The crash scene was a last minute brain fart that isn’t in any previous draft and needs to be cut.

    • HL,

      My apolgies on my rage towards grammar. I get SO MAD when people tell me, “Oh no big deal on ‘your’ vs ‘you’re’, and the like. Readers will see how awesome my story is despite all the mistakes.” No. They won’t. If you’re an unknown entity with tons of mistakes in your writing, you’ll get tossed out.

      Now, you do have a legitimate excuse for your errors, but unless you’re going to include your Dyslexia in your query letter, or when sending a script, it means you have to be EXTRA CAREFUL as it’s one more additional hurdle you’ll have to overcome to get the reader from page one to the end.

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