Today I’m taking a look at Life Sucks and Then You Die by Brenton Lonkey.
Before we start, I have to say I really like the title. It’s catchy and reminds me of my Uncle’s similar version, “Life’s a bitch, and then you marry one.” No offense to my Aunt though, and OH, how I used to chuckle at that as a kid.
Anyway, away we go.
1.) Can we visualize the description?
Brenton does a good job here, and the I have a good mental image. The one thing I need to point out is this doozie from page 4:
JESSICA MALLS, 17, wears kind of 1988 clothes.
Okay, what exactly are 1988 kind of clothes? I get now why she’s in 1988 clothes, because she did in fact die in that year, but at this point it was a HUGE distraction and made me kind of angry that the rest of the script would be full of specific details like this. (If I’m a professional reader, this might make me stop reading early, remember there’s a TON of scripts on my desk.)
Taking a point off, because it should have been something to the effect of:
JESSICA MALLS, 17, dressed in clothes oddly out of place to those around her.
This sets up that Jessica doesn’t fit somehow, and doesn’t make the production people shout, “What the HELL were kids wearing in 1988?”
9 our of 10 points.
2.) Does the author use an acceptable format?
Yep, with two exceptions.
Page 66 has one, but it’s not marked. I got from the others that they were flashbacks, but the one here took me a few seconds. If you’re going to leave them in, then you should probably designate them.
If you’re submitting a script, I’m assuming you want the potential reader to be able to get back in touch with you. The font on the front page looks nice at first glance, but when I sat down to do this review I couldn’t for the life of me read the name clearly and had to access my email.
Now keep in mind Roy and I are doing a decent amount of reviews, but we in NO WAY have the amount of scripts to read that are on a typical desk in Hollywood. On top of that there’s probably at least a month or two in between when this reader talked to you and sitting down to read your script.
Keep it standard font of Courier, and ELIMINATE an easy reason for a reader to say, “PASS.”
7 out of 10 points.
3.) Is the dialogue free of exposition and rich in subtext? Does each character have a unique voice?
First off this script was a lot better dialogue wise compared to previous reviews.
One major problem I had though was the abused use of one liners that slowed down the pace.
There were a few examples, but the one that stood out most was from page 61:
Seeing if there was like a medical
reason for why he’s such an
At this point in the story, David and Jessica are trying to find out who killed her. We should be getting right to any related files. David stopping doesn’t really make sense other than to just get a quick zinger in on Josh.
The dialogue was decent, but there were a few areas that felt hokey or unnatural, so some changes are needed.
Kid? You older than me?
If you mean bigger asshole, then
yeah, you are.
Get off my damn car, lady.
My name isn’t lady. It’s-
I don’t care what your name is. I
just want to go to school and be
–Jessica. My name is Jessica.
You’ll still be dead tomorrow,
I should probably check my
schedule, but yeah.
Then we’ll pick this up tomorrow.
(This one they’re trying to see who’s killing David’s classmates, but he again pauses to make a joke and go home to take a nap.)
Did you die a virgin?
Unfortunately not. Gave it up to
Oh nothing. Just trying to find
something to help explain your
creepy toe licking fetish.
Well, what about you? Still
carrying around that V card?
This last one just felt awkward and forced.
Keep in mind most of it was good, but there are some spots (like those listed above) that could be cleaned up, to make sure it fits with the story and flows naturally.
6 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?
There is a lot of talking, or at least a lot of talking for a 95 page script. There were a few scenes that felt more movie than play, but most of it was David getting to know a ghost. I’m unclear at this point which story is the main story, getting to know Jessica or solving the murders, so points are hard here.
Since there is a lot of David and Jessica talking on bleachers, in cars, etc. some points are lost.
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?
David never says, “I see dead people,” but he does actually see dead people and can talk to them.
Very similar to Sixth Sense but we know that early on. Brenton did a nice job of teasing us by introducing that, but once that was established it felt like a Scream script that couldn’t decide between being a thriller or a romantic comedy.
5 out of 10 points.
6.) Does the script have a hook?
Yes. Starts out with a violent scene of our hero beating up his principal. (But we don’t know that yet.) I think this scene should be DROPPED completely and start right with Meg being abducted, ESPECIALLY since we see the beat down scene later on anyway.
This jumps us right into the action of girls being abducted and killed, but also introduces us to David faster. As it is now, it’s like Brenton felt the hook wasn’t strong enough so he pulled a better scene out of the back to make up for it.
12 out of 15 points.
7.) Is that hook effective?
As I mentioned above, we’re introduced to the “hero” who seems to be ignoring people. Something’s not right with him, and I guessed these folks were ghosts, but I wasn’t entirely sure. I DIG the uncertainty, cause I usually call stuff early.
One change I would make is at the gas station. The girl ghost shouldn’t be at the cash register. It’s a “dead” (get it?) giveaway and as an audience we’re not ready to know yet that David sees ghosts.
Brenton remember, you’ve got us, so why not string us along for a few more pages. I think the dead girl should be in the gas station but it should be subtle, like she’s just ignoring him. (She can even be stuck staring at the beer cooler or something, like she died drunk driving…)
13 out of 15 points.
8.) Is there enough to maintain the hook? Reveals, conflict, etc.?
Here’s where things start going crazy.
Main Story and Ending.
As I mentioned above, it’s unclear which is the main story. If it’s them solving the murders they need to do less talking and more solving. If it’s a romantic comedy, then there should be no murders save Jessica’s and they’re only trying to solve that.
Personally, I think the main story should be them trying to solve the murders and David knowing it’s somehow all connected. Focus more on this with them falling for each other being a side effect. Even as it is now they’re too busy joking around with each other that at the end when David gets stabbed, his love for Jess seems forced and suddenly out of nowhere.
I think he should definitely want to die and go with her at that point, but she should convince him to stay, using a more pressing way than she does currently. Instead of “go live your life” or similar, she should demand he go save the other girls. This gives you your dark moment, but also launches us into the ending.
*Sidenote* Dialogue between James and David in the hospital is too drawn out. Needs to be shorter.
Once David gets to Josh at the end, he should know where they killed the girls (from the diary), and it should be in the woods where Jody gets it.
NOW, and this is what I would do if it were my script, so take that how you will, but David should WANT to kill Josh, but it doesn’t happen. David has every intention of taking Josh to the woods and bashing his skull in, but let’s be realistic, David’s pretty beat up at this point, and in a decent scene Josh should get the best of him, and reopen that stomach wound.
As he’s bleeding out, and Josh is about to bash DAVID’S skull in, ghost Meg and Jody show up, learning to “push the penny” so to speak, and take care of Josh.
David saves the girls, smiles as he sees Jess walking up to him, and THE END.
Even if it’s not this specifically the end needs a lot of work. Feels rushed and convenient how it’s written now.
Ghosts moving on.
When David helps grandpa, it didn’t make enough sense. He just “poofed” out of the room more or less. I’d say ditch the whole Sixth Sense thing, and leave grandpa where he is. Let David save Jessica by finding her body, and move on. Trying to solve all the ghost problems clouds the story and detours us from the overall goal, finding the murderers.
He’s too much of a crazy himself. I get the Annihilator thing being good for zombies, but he’s too quick to use this on real people.
He can be the tough new kid, but going after James the way he does is too bloody, and killing Josh at the end didn’t fit his character.
Alright, he’s the killer, or at least one of them. He needs to be driven insane by the fact that Jessica doesn’t love him. He shouldn’t be married, and Jess should allude to the fact it’s because he loved her.
In actuality he’s a psycho that’s been honing his skills. It doesn’t fit that he didn’t mean to kill her, but now all of a sudden he has a lust for murder.
Other key issues need to be addressed, but like I said, first there needs to be a decision made on the dominant story.
3 out of 10 points.
9.) Does the story play to a target audience, and have the elements demanded by that audience?
Aside from the “Is it a thriller or a romcom?” question, there’s also some stuff audiences will not be happy with.
The example the put it over the top for me was page 35 with the Glee reference. Now I’m a bit of a Gleek (this season has been kind of lame and I actually loved the Community episode where they made fun of the glee club ALWAYS talking about regionals), but if Roy would have had this, he’d have been cruel with his point deducting and probably given you a zero for this one name drop. Especially with how loaded the first part of the script was other references.
Then we get to the whole Ghost joke-fest and it was all just too much. A movie should rarely reference another movie, unless you’re writing a comedy. Not to mention, who knows when this will be made. Pop culture references date the script, when it should be timeless in order to sell easier.
So please get rid of them.
“Too Convenient” Plot Points.
Unlocking doors by walking through them? Oh, that’s a ghost power, so we can get into the school.
Passing a hand through a drawer and it unlocks? Oh, that’s so we can find a pair of glasses and a picture of Jessica that James just happened to have in his desk at school for these past TWENTY YEARS.
David takes his cast off? How else can he open the boiler doors to find Jessica’s body? And don’t worry his arm insta-healed overnight in that cast.
Boiler door is magically open when Chris kills Jessica? Well he needs to get her in there somehow, and by the way, he’ll close it and no one will open it again for TWENTY YEARS, we promise.
*Side note* The fight between Jessica and Chris should be a bigger scene with her almost getting away, and then…not.
David just up and walks out of the hospital with a giant wound in his belly? How else can he catch and kill the final murderer.
Most of these happen with the ending which I’ll talk about in the conclusion, but the rule is:
One coincidence the audience can accept, any others and they’re walking out.
3 out of 10 points.
Brenton told me he wrote this script in 7 days, which is pretty impressive how far he developed the idea. Unfortunately that same fact also is it’s biggest drawback, because it feels rushed.
The beginning is fine, but there needs to be a few more scenes focusing on the plot, and less on David and Jessica getting to know each other. The ending is pretty much a disaster and felt like it was written in half a day after Brenton realized he wanted to be done.
It’s a good idea, and honestly very much worth exploring. He had me from the get-go which is exactly how you want to have a reader, now it’s just time to rewrite and follow through.
Total: 63 out of 100 points.