Today we’re taking a look at Behind the Cellar Wall by Lana Newlin.
We follow the story of Maggie, who’s a tough young woman, as she loses her parents, is left a stake to a French mansion from an unknown uncle, and falls for a wealthy Frenchman.
A lot of stuff to consider and discuss, so away we go.
1.) Can we visualize the description?
For the most part yes. There were two examples that Roy would have liked, so I picked one out for him here from page 6:
Maggie hugs the apron, and pops a butterscotch in her mouth. A tear splashes on the empty wrapper making a CRACKLING sound.
I could actually see that last bit happening in my mind, and the other was when Sophia drops the engagement ring on the plate.
Now to the “most” part. Using that same example, there’s improvements that could be made throughout the script if we just rework the order:
Maggie pops a butterscotch in her mouth, and hugs Mrs. McKinney’s apron. Maggie’s tear SPLASHES on the empty wrapper making a CRACKING sound.
I saw the whole tear part, but parts in the script, like this one, made me wonder how she was doing things while she was doing something else. It’s an intimate moment, her hugging the apron as it was her mother’s, and she’s going to pause doing that to eat a candy (which arguably she does a lot so maybe).
Also events need to be streamlined in an effort to create more white space.
We watch from above as two older model farm trucks race down a country road. Each driver wears farm clothes and a helmet that covers the face. As the bridge comes into sight, they inch closer together heading for the finish line. Finally one driver lets up and backs off as the winner skirts across the bridge and comes to an abrupt halt.
Should be more of a:
Two beat up farm trucks race down a country road. The vehicles are neck and neck as they near a wooden bridge. One driver loses his edge and falls back, as the winner SQUEALS to a stop on the rickety bridge, victorious.
Do we need to know what they’re wearing? If they’re in beat up farm trucks on a country road, chances are they’ll be dressed in jeans, overalls, etc. And helmets? It’s a movie, we won’t go, “Awww, they’re not being saaaaaafe!” Cause honestly, they’re already drag racing farm style.
Numerous examples like this need to be trimmed down during a reread, but as I could still visualize things.
6 our of 10 points.
2.) Does the author use an acceptable format?
Yes, with two minor exceptions. Several action/description bits were over five lines, which needs to be reworked, and there was too much direction telling me what I was supposed to be seeing. If it’s in black, I’ll see it. Let the director tell me HOW I’ll see it when he makes it a movie.
8 out of 10 points.
3.) Is the dialogue free of exposition and rich in subtext? Does each character have a unique voice?
Most characters are formed well through the dialogue, and nothing was really “on the nose.”
One MAJOR problem I had though was when Maggie would interact with Jean Claude.
An example is on page 36. He’s just disrespected her in front of an entire restaurant of people, and is another example of Jean Claude telling her how wrong she is, but on the car ride home a simple promise of a wine tour perks her up.
Maggie to me, is head strong, and knows what she wants, but goes almost submissive when she deals with Jean Claude though.
Another late example is page 85. She’s just saved the entire ship:
Jean Claude stands to face Maggie. He embraces her.
I’m sorry about the kitchen remark. I was not myself.
Yes, you were.
Why is she smiling? This should be a HUGE problem for her. She’s just saved all their lives and he almost didn’t let it happen because he thought she should be in the kitchen. She CAN’T let this go at this point, and it should work more into the ending of why she leaves.
That whole scene needs reworked too, especially since there’s a chance they’ll die. I don’t think Maggie would allow herself to be excused out of the room, especially if she really cares for Peter and his dad.
The other small problem I had was Jean Claude and other Frenchman knowing everything, or more importantly knowing how wrong we are as Americans. Whether you agree or disagree, Americans hate being told where they’re wrong, especially repeatedly throughout a movie.
I know we’re never 100% right, but it’s like you making fun of your mom, but then someone else making fun of her. It’s okay because it’s your mom, but not okay for someone else since she’s your mom. He either needs to drop some of his lines about women or have Maggie stand up to him more.
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?
Romantic French settings in towns, vineyards, and restaurants? Check.
Jet setting between a rural country town and there? Check.
Would our wives or girlfriends drag us to see it? BOOOOOOO…but check.
10 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?
This one I’m not entirely sure of.
Wasn’t there a romcom with Meg Ryan where she toured France with some conniving Frenchman who wanted to start a winery? Didn’t he point out how wrong we are as Americans as they fell for each other?
That combined with a few other plots below makes me think, not so much, on the originality.
Page 62 is where we turn into a Sound of Music type plot, where Jean Claude doesn’t want Peter to learn about cars and be a boy. He, as the father, knows best.
Then on page 100 we’re all of a sudden transported into My Best Friend’s Wedding when we find out Sophia is the bride to be for a quick twist, and Maggie has to be supportive of it.
These problems will also be referenced later on, but what I did like was the situation with Hillary and the lost gold. Unfortunately it was dropped into the background.
3 out of 10 points.
6.) Does the script have a hook?
Yep, from the opening scene to the quick demise of her parents, I was interested in where things were going with Maggie.
15 out of 15 points.
7.) Is that hook effective?
Unfortunately, too much just kept happening and Maggie puts it all on pause to find a job.
The letter coming from her uncle was almost too much with her losing her parents so fast. As it’s the main driving force behind the story though, I think her parents should already be dead, and she’s trying to find a job while also managing the farm.
The thought of a vacation and owning part of a French estate should be a ticket out.
10 out of 15 points.
8.) Is there enough to maintain the hook? Reveals, conflict, etc.?
As I mentioned above there were a lot of scenes that suddenly felt like a plot change to another movie.
My best answer to this question is on page 43 I found myself asking, “Why is Maggie going through all this instead of just going home?”
That’s THE MOST important question you can ask yourself.
She’s short on money, doesn’t really agree with French culture, and wants to get a job back home.
Is she doing it because of her feelings for Jean Claude? Is she too stubborn to let Hillary win? Is she just not ready to face home again?
Pick one, or make up your own, and then give us a scene describing that. Right now the script is a mix of all three, but none of it definite. Maggie just seems to be doing it because you’re telling her to.
There are also a lot of good scenes, but all of us as writers need to look at a scene and ask, “Is this advancing the plot?”
An example is on page 66, where Jean Claude breaks his ankle. What does this do for character development? Maggie’s already doing things with Peter that his dad doesn’t necessarily approve of, and she’s really not taking any extra care of JC to help them get closer. Find other scenes and make sure they’re answering the question, “Is this advancing the plot and/or character development?” (Even “feel good” scenes need a point.)
Lastly, on the Sophia point. She’s there at the beginning, has a line or two in the middle, and then SUDDENLY she’s engaged to be married to Jean Claude at the end. If you’re going go this route on the ending, she needs to be more involved, but KNOW that her role will directly conflict with that of Mario.
I almost thought it would be better to have JC settle for Hillary somehow. It would require more of a rewrite, but would be a GREATER payoff when Maggie wins at the end.
1 out of 10 points.
9.) Does the story play to a target audience, and have the elements demanded by that audience?
Initially I thought it was a horror/thriller. Like, “What’s behind the cellar door?!” It wasn’t.
Now that alone wouldn’t be enough to warrant a change, but there’s nothing in the script that refers to BEHIND the cellar wall. Now I assume this has to do with the treasure at the end, but that’s behind the wall IN the cellar. Plus this didn’t show up until the very END of the script, and had nothing to do with the main storyline.
If you’re going to keep it, you need to work the title into the story more, making it almost pivotal to the plot, or scrap it entirely and call it, When in France…
It didn’t make sense (even if you claim it’s where Hillary found the room for hiding Jewish refugees).
Other stuff were just small things an audience will get angry at.
Page 6-ish – Hillary and Will were never adopted, but why did they get equal parts in the estate?
Page 28 – Absolutely no one in France knows what a pie is?
Page 73 – (And this is reader specific) Jean Claude is Jean Clause in the action and John Claude has a line of dialogue on the same page. (LOL, John Claude actually made me think of the Duke playing a tough French fella.)
Page 78 – Marion says, “I’ve never had a daughter to give it to…” Um, how was Peter born? Immaculate conception on Jean Claude’s part? That’s a pretty neat trick with just a father. I’m not saying he had to be married to Peter’s mother, but SOMETHING needs to be referenced there or earlier so we know what happened.
Page 100 – Sophia the new bride-to-be, but I mentioned fixing this earlier.
1 out of 10 points
Maggie was a fun character, and I liked her touring the wine regions of France, but we need her to have more purpose there. She’s not a recent grad backpacking Europe in an effort to skirt responsibilities. She’s a smart and driven young woman who’s suddenly found someone she loves, and it’s time the scenes of the script reflect that.
Total 58 out of 100 points.