Here’s the script review for our FIRST Amateur Monday winner, Down Range:
Our first ever Amateur Monday Contest ended Friday. Votes were tallied. And the winner is…
Down Range by our own Pooh Bear.
Logline: Despised by those charged to protect him, an Air Force attorney green to combat arrives in Afghanistan to prosecute a soldier accused of a war crime, but when his armored convoy is ambushed, he’s forced into a blistering fight for survival.
Let’s see how our first Amateur Monday winner did.
(And be sure to check out the Down Range Script.)
1.) Marketability of the Idea
One of the nice things about this contest is that all four loglines selected had commercial appeal. Some more than others to be sure, but it shows everyone was on the right track of writing stories that can be sold.
Down Range is no exception, fitting into a category of American Sniper meets Black Hawk Down.
With the success of both of those, Pooh Bear has a sellable idea on his hands, and I look forward to reading Captain Peachfuzz’s review of the movie once it’s out.
2.) Plot Stability
Overall, the framework is there.
Two Big Suggestions
These have the potential to strengthen the story.
A) Get to the action earlier.
Out of 114 pages of script, shit doesn’t hit the fan for our characters until around page 50, when they’re finally pinned down by the Taliban. This needs to be bumped up to page 30.
The script should open with Fellows already landed and being introduced to his M-RAP team, with all four vehicles ready to pull out the gate.
(Side note here, the MPs should also have a bigger mission than just escorting Fellows to his interrogation. Arguably, a quick helicopter ride to the German base could have been arranged eliminating these characters being in danger.)
B) Make Cruz’s character the accused.
Back when we were all helping with this particular logline, I thought the person Fellows was there to prosecute was in the convoy with them.
This works MUCH better, instead of Cruz being the “friend” of said faceless accused.
When writing, we want STRONG character connections, and what better connection to have then sticking Fellows and the man accused of murdering an afghan citizen in the same vehicle and then putting that vehicle in the middle of a surprise attack?
Think of the possibilities.
Cruz is a respected member of the team, and he’s asked to unofficially keep watch over the third MRAP as he’s being transported back to base for trial. Everyone’s going to side with Cruz and REALLY hate Fellows now.
Fellows should argue at every turn that Cruz be treated like a prisoner, not assuming his normal role as Staff Sergeant, but with the need for all eyes and ears, L.T. makes an exception.
On top of that, their whole “That’s what I’d have done” bonding moment at the end will work better, given the friction that goes on between them earlier.
Combining both suggestions, have Fellows arrive by helicopter, or whatever, just as our cast is ready to transport Cruz back to the main base. If you need a reason, there’s always the need for a speedy trial due to politics, and the Afghani government wants justice served quickly, so Fellows needs to interrogate in route.
Build the Tension
When writing, we need to make every moment count.
A large part of that is building tension into our plots.
Two scenes in particular come to mind that should have had us on the edge of our seats, but didn’t, because the characters didn’t seem too worried about them.
Page 26. Cruz just gets done telling Fellows to look for anything out of the ordinary, when the entire convoy is stopped due to a goat herder and his son crossing the road.
Even if this is a normal occurrence, each vehicle is a sitting duck, and Cruz should treat it as such. Instead of sending just one or two people out, Johnson should be busy scanning in the turret, and possibly even see a thing or two out of the ordinary.
Make your characters nervous and we will be too.
Page 38. Another similar scene is when an upset mother keeps walking towards Fellows even after he tells her to stop.
She’s carrying a bottle of urine Johnson threw at her kids, but Fellows doesn’t know that.
There’s a bit of tension already written here, but take it to the next level.
Wu should be busy watching his own area, so Fellows is more or less left on his own. Then pair each step of getting the MP4 ready to fire with Fellows telling her to stop multiple times. Lastly, have her keep adjusting something in her clothing so Fellows thinks it’s a suicide vest, and so do we, because there’s decent evidence.
Page 18 – Would Fellows really need to explain himself to the ranks below him?
Page 38 – Calling in an air evac for a guy with a busted eye seems like overkill.
Page 70 – Everyone is talking about “back home” and it’s great Fellows wants them to stay positive but SOMEONE needs to be Negative Nellie. Realistically, they’re not going to make it out, and someone needs to say that.
Page 73 – Felt too convenient that the gun got stuck in the EXACT direction the bad guys were coming from. Also, would Johnson really die from the shot to the shoulder? Bleeding out that quickly?
Page 94 – Cruz wakes up and suggests the grenade to blow them all up, leading Fellows to get the idea to blow a hole outside. Why didn’t Fellows come up with this earlier when Wu mentions the grenades?
Ending – Fellows fires the rocket launcher at the blue pickup. This makes him VERY unlikeable, especially since he didn’t have his glasses on and couldn’t see what was going on inside. A simple fix is to have Nadeem just say “fuck it” as he punches the pickup at them full throttle, giving Fellows no choice but to be the hero.
3.) Quality of Characters
Mentioned this in the plot, but want to expand upon it here. Fellows being out of his element is a good start, but we need better definitions of the main characters.
First, both Fellows and Cruz need flaws, and make them polar opposites.
For as inexperienced as Fellows is, Cruz is the hardened veteran. Remember, Lieutenants are generally paired with Sergeants because LTs are the officers fresh from the academy. Fellows and Cruz would be a similar pairing, and although he outranks Cruz, each action should be him trying to somehow prove himself an equal.
Couple this with the fact Fellows is there trying to prove Cruz DID NOT act in self defense, and the drama increases.
Nadeem and Hoddy.
They should have had a brief fling. Mainly to up the stakes during the ending, but also Wu being buddy buddy with Nadeem can lead to better banter between he and Hoddy in the M-RAP.
Johnson and Wu
They have a fight on page 58 that seems entirely out of place. Up to that point they’ve acted like brothers, but out of nowhere Wu accuses Johnson of lying about the turret being blocked.
Keeping in mind that stories are drama, give an edge to their relationship throughout the entire script. (Johnson’s from the South, so perhaps a “racist” option might work, but if you want to be more original, by all means brainstorm it.) This will make Johnson’s sacrifice even better when it plays out.
Just a minor tip here, but around page 23 there were a lot of afghan names being thrown at us.
Remember to ONLY name those characters that play a crucial role in the plot, and even then ask, “Can this role be filled by any existing cast members and work better?”
(i.e. DICKHEAD SOLDIER can just be introduced as RUTTLEDGE initially, since he does in fact get shot and cause the convoy to halt later in the story.)
4.) Dialogue and Description
Dialogue had some minor issues.
“Too technical” jargon.
Line one, coordinates nine-dot-zeroone-
zero-one by seven-dot-one-onetree-
fife. Line two, War Horse onefife.
Line tree, one, priority. Line
four none. Line fife, one, walking.
Line six, area secure. Line seven,
violet smoke. Line eight, U.S.,
injured. Line nine, none. How copy,
That’s more than a mouthful, and may be accurate, but for a movie:
Area Secure. We’re go for pick
“What is this?” Dialogue.
What is that?
This? This is called the blue force
tracker. It’s basically a fancy GPS enabled
system that shows us where
all the friendly and hostiles are.
If objects are important to the plot, present them in a way that reads less like an instruction manual.
Character’s repeating themselves.
In real life sure we repeat ourselves a lot, but scripts/movies are anything but real life. Having characters take the time to ask “what” or “huh” slows the pace of a story.
Hey, antenna’s fucked. You won’t be
able to pick up anything.
The antenna, it’s gone.
What do you mean the turret’s fucked?
I mean, we’re not getting out that
That makes no sense. Quit screwing
around and egress.
I am telling you, the turret is
Reread how many times the same EXACT info was presented in these lines. You want Wu and Johnson to fight? Wu needs to accuse Johnson of messing something up and screwing them all over. Don’t do it in a way that repeats the same information over and over.
The turret’s fucked, and the characters should easily be able to see that in the close quarters of the vehicle.
Can, coming at you!
What? I can’t fucking hear anymore.
Oh! Why didn’t you say so!
Sure Wu’s ears might still be ringing, but Hoddy showing him the ammo can is a better way to get her point across than him going, “Huh?”
Before we get started, I liked the back and forth banter between Ball Cap and Sunglasses. It was fun, playful, and carrying that style throughout will improve the story.
Page 10 – Johnson has 3 “hey’s” almost in a row. Eliminate any hey/well/um etc.
Page 20 – Fellows’s “Where do I start” line. Have him ask a relevant question in line with his character.
Page 43 – Was one of many “hoo-ah’s” used as confirmations. Is this correct, or is the phrase used for special occasions to symbolize pride?
Page 62 – Wu makes a lame joke when he’s supposed to be curled up scared in the fetal position. He’s a joker, but he’s also scared. You need to pick one or the other. Remember though, if a character doesn’t take a situation seriously, we might not either.
Page 115 – Cheesy “It saved me” line referring to Hoddy’s daughter’s photo. It really didn’t save him, so either get rid of this line, or reinforce it via the plot, showing it gives Fellows the strength to carry on.
Now, the description…
It was good.
I know the Captain HATES my novelization style of action/description, but I think he’d like this script’s style.
There were just enough “cool” lines for me, while not overdoing the fancy for him. A nice place to be.
Among the two men… cargo net seating only. Crammed in like sardines, DEPLOYED MILITARY huddle nuts-to-butts…
Civilization in a 3rd world country with one foot caught in the stone age.
Looks at the rear view mirror: the red Battlewagon races onto the road like a scene from Mad Max.
Just a few good examples.
My one concern is that there’s a few spots of OVER detail. Mainly when it seems military gear/equipment is being explained.
The M-RAP’s cab is all function, no comfort. Between the
driver and passenger seat is a reinforced computer monitor
and radio bay stations. In the rear are two seats, turret
access, several bags, ammo cans and pelican cases.
Do we need to know what all is inside right now? Can we just state “all function, no comfort” and leave it there?
Wu hands the rifle down and grabs the ammo can.
Tosses the empty can down.
Drops the new can in the holder. Opens the receiver.
Feeds the belt in. Slams it shut.
That’s using four separate lines (all double spaced mind you) to say “Wu reloads the .50 Cal.”
During rewrites/polishes, we should be going back and cutting anything we don’t need. Does some of this stuff make for cool shots/visuals? Maybe, but let the director expand on the foundation you’ve laid.
115 pages wasn’t bad, and if starting right when the convoy leaves, that number will drop making the total even better.
Minimal typos too, so that worked.
6.) What I liked…
The main idea for the story. This is something a lot of people will be interested in if the kinks in the plot get worked out.
7.) What needs work…
Increasing the stakes for the characters by putting them at odds with one another via more complex relationships between them AND by starting the story closer to the action.
Rating: A rewrite or two away from being ready.
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