First off, to our new friends visiting us from Reddit.com, thanks for coming over, and know you can READ the scripts we pick on our Read Page or for a particular script click on the link in the review. (For mine it’s usually the title and with the author and logline.)
Anyway, we’re headed back to Amazon Studios today with what I think is only the fourth time reviewing a female author. So ladies reading this, we know you’re out there, and if you want a shot at a free review get those scripts up on our read page. (Plus chat with the fellas on the forum, as the writers there don’t get out much and Blink’s tired of pretending to be a girl.)
American Gangland by Anastasia Chavez
When a Mafia boss decides that his life never had meaning, his purpose is further tested after he’s implicated by both police and the Mob itself.
Thomas is an undercover cop who’s been planted with a Vegas mafia family for two years.
His boss is Bobby Di Antonio, a Las Vegas mob boss who wants out.
Two years is too long, and the LVPD is ready to move on Bobby’s organization and bring it down, the problem though is Thomas isn’t ready to move yet, because he’s become too attached.
Here comes Billy, a purse thief that heads to the wrong party. Here he unknowingly tries to shoot a mob guy apprehending him, but instead shoots Nino Scalese, the 80 year old mob boss from another family.
This begins a mob war, as Carmen, Nino’s daughter, has become head of the Scalese family, and assumes the Di Antonio’s are behind it.
Pair that with Thomas also trying to stay under the radar of a pesky police surveillance guy, and it’s a race to see who will end up on top, or alive.
Buckle your seatbelts. It’s about to get bumpy.
1.) Can we visualize the description?
Description. For the most part it was good. We were treated to phrases soaked in imagery.
Standing in the doorway is RONNIE CORELLI, 40s, MAFIA HITMAN. He enters, each step as deliberate as the last.
Gerald blushes. The charisma these two bring to the table ought to be illegal, they throw it back and forth like a tennis match.
These were just two of the examples, but there were a few more as we went.
Unfortunately, this also led Anastasia to a few unfilmables. And I know Saint Roy doesn’t take off for them, but I do, because as I said before, most readers will hold them against you.
Dim. Tranquil. A little slice of heaven. The smell of sweet lavender pollutes the air. A circle of MEN lying faced down on MASSAGE TABLES get rubbed down, chopped and elbowed by a series of MASSEURS.
Did Smell-O-Vision come back and no one told me? LOL. Just ditch this sentence entirely, since the rest is really good.
They laugh, shake hands. Their relationship is trying at times, rewarding at others.
Explaining their relationship this way is cheating.
You can DEFINITELY film a trying relationship, but it’s something that has to come out over time, through actions and more importantly good dialogue.
Isabella blushes, aroused by his piercing stare: eyes deep and penetrating, glowing from the CANDLES that garnish the table.
Wispy, Isabella loses her breath, fondles her auburn locks.
This I mention, only because there were instances of odd word choices.
It’s easy to have a character be aroused in a novel, but it’s hard to show in a movie (without being cheesy about it). Since the rest of the description suggests she’s aroused, or at least attracted to Thomas, leave words like this out.
(And also go back through and see if there are other areas where description can replace unfilmable words.)
Overall though, it was good, not drawn out, and described things in such a fancy way that Roy would be jealous.
7 out of 10 points.
2.) Does the author use an acceptable format?
Yes, BUT this is a nonlinear story.
The reason I mention that here, is I didn’t realize that until page 36.
What I will mention, and am still unsure if it’s the best way to do it, is the title cards. There are two of them later in the script, but what I REALLY think needs to happen (if you’re going to use them) is have one at the beginning. It HAS to suggest that we’ll be bouncing around.
Everything else was as it should be, but unfortunately without that initial title card, I was very confused around page 24, and later when things were “happening for the first time” but I knew I’d already seen them.
One thing that hurt this script, and I’ll talk about it later in questions 8 and 9, page length. 84 pages is too short, especially when the story wasn’t completely summed up.
5 out of 10 points.
3.) Is the dialogue free of exposition and rich in subtext? Does each character have a unique voice?
The dialogue was decent. There were some on the nose instances.
Well you see, that’s what I’m most
worried about. You telling me not
to worry means that now I have to.
Eliminate all but the last sentence.
Where the fuck were you guys! I
almost died! You almost killed me!
Just pick one of those three lines, or come up with something better.
The dialogue wasn’t too bad, so my BEST suggestion would be to go back and review where a group of characters are just sitting around talking.
These will be the spots with the highest probability of either creating filler dialogue, or where we run into “on the nose” type stuff.
Another odd problem I noted was using (re:
Teddy bolts an imaginary padlock on his lips, throws the imaginary key in the air with feminine verve.
Would ya look at that.
If dialogue and action are in harmony, this won’t be needed, since we’ll know what you’re talking about. That fact that you put this in, I’d ask the question, “Is this line needed?”
(Frank seems to have a lot of filler dialogue as he almost beats a dead horse when making fun of Lewis or Teddy.)
The last negative thing I’ll mention is writing dialogue in slang or accents. It’s generally left up to the actor how they’re going to say the lines.
Some of the mob characters were written as bad wiseguy stereotypes, and I think this was a problem, as in one particular case, the slang wasn’t even written properly.
Using ’em instead of ‘im.
This was confusing, as ‘im means him and ’em means them. Before I realized the repeated error, I really thought the characters were talking about more than one person. (They weren’t.)
So as a general rule, type out dialogue in plain English, and then when someone purchases your script, they’ll most likely decide for you and not ask your permission on how to say the dialogue. (But who cares at this point you’ve just opened the door on a sale?)
One good thing I wanted to mention was the brief bits of dialogue used on page 71-72. There was a decent amount of action going on (and I mentioned this in my review of Mythical) but Anastasia breaks it up with dialogue which is both good as it keeps us reading, but the dialogue actually fits too.
4 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?
I’m back and forth on this question. There was a decent amount of action, but most of it was punching or shooting. The drug house exploding and the car chase are the only things forcing me to lean towards movie.
Especially considering that characters stood around and chatted a lot.
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?
I probably should have mentioned this above, but all the characters sounded unique and were well drawn.
The story is a version of many things out there, but it is a unique experience to have these particular characters in it. (I just wished we’d have ended all of their storylines.)
6 out of 10 points.
6.) Does the script have a hook?
From the logline, a mob boss wants out. That’s always an exciting idea.
Open on a Las Vegas suite, with a call from a police chief to an undercover cop. Alright, especially since the cop doesn’t tell the naked lady in the bed who it was.
All of this was good, BUT, and I know this is a nonlinear story, it was a later scene in the beginning.
Now is it cheating? Not exactly, but it sure as hell was confusing.
Remember that title card I mentioned earlier, it should come right before the scene at the police station, and say something like, “How we got here.” This way we know that all that stuff we just saw is important, but that it happens later in our story.
8 out of 15 points.
7.) Is that hook effective?
Alright, so that phone call happens.
Then we see a fancy Vegas style dance number, a body being dragged into a back room, and a mysterious green bin being carried around.
All of it good.
Next comes the police station where we are presented with Paco, who thinks Thomas might be a bit dirty, and as the rookie, he’s looking to prove and make a name for himself.
Needless to say I kept reading.
15 out of 15 points.
8.) Is there enough to maintain the hook? Reveals, conflict, etc.?
This is a script that seems very much influenced by the style of Pulp Fiction and Resevoir Dogs, but with a touch of Crash in there also.
I know when I reviewed Eric’s Bad News First script, that he said I wasn’t a fan of nonlinear stories.
I am, but it has to be done right, which is challenging.
This script came close, with one HUGE exception, which unfortunately was it’s biggest downfall. Too many storylines were left open.
If you take those first two examples I gave above (and I double checked with Roy before I sat down to write this out) most if not ALL of the characters had their storylines completed.
Right now, characters are introduced, invested in, and then left hung out to dry. By not completing their stories you’re more or less wasting our time on them.
The whole Nancy/Gerald/Julius storyline was completely left hanging. It seemed like Gerald was fond (if not in love with) Nancy, but then he sells her out to Carmen? And Carmen dies but will the Scalese family honor the deal made with Gerald? Will Nancy even work anymore after winning $50 million? Their entire part of the story left me puzzled what you were trying to do with it.
What about Teddy? His warehouse was blown up, and all his great merchandise destroyed. Where’d that leave him?
And Billy was ordered to be killed by Carmen, but did it happen?
Right now, the two completed stories are Thomas and Bobby, but it almost feels like a linear story you are FORCING to be nonlinear, and giving us characters for the sake of giving us characters.
The green bin, and it representing the Don Corleone not wanting to sell heroin bit, was a good tie in, but if you’re going to use it, and make it a focus of your story, it has to be a vital symbol to each character’s story for this really to work. (That’s going to take a lot of rewrites and even more creativity to accomplish.)
Two BIG THINGS I think you missed the boat on is establishing why Bobby wants out and why Thomas DOESN’T want the police to move in. These are big “engines” (as Roy likes to say) for what moves your story forward, so they need to be flushed out better.
2 out of 10 points.
9.) Does the story play to a target audience, and have the elements demanded by that audience?
It was a mob movie that will appeal to a large audience. It had the elements there that the same audience would expect.
The problem is the structure as it’s currently presented. There’s a lot of bouncing around that almost felt more like an episode of True Blood (presenting characters stories I could really care less about) than it did a movie.
There were also some individual problems.
The card playing scene and the spa scene. It made me wonder if this was somehow supposed to be a comedy and I missed that fact.
Mob bosses being pampered at a day spa, and not some old school gym, seemed out of place. So did the idea that Thomas, Frank, and Lewis were sitting around playing Go Fish.
This should be cleared up in one way or another.
On page 36, it’s the first time Thomas meets Isabella, and I was like, “WTF? We saw Isabella on page 1.” This I’ve mentioned before and can be cleared up with the title card bit.
On page 39, Thomas is supposed to be showing Lewis how to pick up a girl, and Lewis said he saw, but how could he have when he was in the bathroom with Isabella’s date?
Page 62 – There was a typo, “conscious” when you meant “conscience.”
Page 77 – Thomas realizes Isabella is the only one he has left. Sure they’re attracted to each other, but not enough was shown between them for us to be emotionally invested in their relationship, let alone buy into this line.
Page 79 – Drop the bits of Bobby in the hospital as they don’t add anything.
Ending – I liked how Bobby got Thomas and Isabella, and how Paco got promoted, BUT it doesn’t make sense why Paco shows Bobby that Thomas is an undercover cop, and then the next scene Bobby sets out to kill Carmen. Shouldn’t he have gone for Thomas first?
Fix your logline.
This story is bigger than Bobby, and I’d argue is bigger than any one character. Make your logline reflect that, as it’s another chance to reference the fact that this won’t be a point A to point B story.
Thomas has been undercover for two years. He CAN’T go into a police station. I had to GREATLY suspend my disbelief for this to happen. Think of The Departed. Leonardo DiCaprio had a handler, and even then they contacted him rarely. He never would have risked going into the police station as his cover would have been easily blown.
3 out of 10 points.
All movies did what this script tried to do, only they did it better.
We shouldn’t take that as insulting or as a negative, as those authors have lots of experience on us. What we should take them as is a level to aspire to.
Anastasia took on a very difficult task by making this story nonlinear, and I’d argue she’s about 40% done with it. Now it’s time to take a step back and see how much work will go into it to bring it over the finish line for the other well crafted characters she left hanging out there.
Is it worth it? That’s for her to decide, but one thing I’ll mention is if done right and done well, this type of project puts you in a special category of authors.
Total 55 out of 100 points.
Hank, thanks for your review. It helps. A lot.
You’re very welcome, thanks for letting us take a look.
Also, I apologize if there was a mix up on when we’d get to it.
No worries. That was my mistake.
I am new to this site. I chose Anastasia’s script for my first to review. Nice comments Hank- I hope you (Anastasia) sit down and digest what Hank and I have said. There is a ton of potential to this script…
It just needs the work that I’m sure you can do…