Today the luck of the draw yields a review of another non-linear script…sort of.
LYSISTRATA CELL by OhLisa
LOGLINE: When the male population of an oppressive society forces young virgins to breed through artificial insemination, six disparate young women find their lives becoming entwined as each plays a crucial role in a daring coup d’etat.
In a future time when the US has abandoned Afghanistan, the oppressive Taliban leadership has taken a stronghold on the country. The male population has diminished to the point that young women and girls are forced to breed and increase the male population.
In a poppy field ready for harvest, fifteen year old SAMIRI harvests a ball of black tar from some bulbs… which she plans to use as currency to buy an expensive ingredient for her birthday cake. Her mother insists that she cannot go to the store. However, it doesn’t take too much for Samiri to convince her uncle to take her. Unfortunately, he has no intention of taking her to the store. He takes that black tar in exchange for a heroin fix from a drug pusher.
Samiri is left vulnerable in the streets and the drug pusher takes advantage. He sells her to a breeding farm.
An American widow and mother of two, KENTUCKY is anxious to get out of this country. She buys illegal visa’s and airline tickets and takes off with her children. But in the layover in London she’s told that she’s on the US No-Fly List and must return to Afghanistan. She sends her children to stay with her parents in the States and reluctantly goes back.
On the return flight she remembers the time when she had to claim her dead husband’s body in a community morgue. There she meets another widow, ADILAH.
Adilah’s husband was a bomb maker and killed during a raid. And not too long after her teenaged son was killed while messing with the bomb paraphernalia that her husband left behind. Kentucky helps Adilah bury her husband.
Meanwhile a pregnant girl, TAMRA gives birth to a baby girl. The Taliban only wants boys and her baby is immediately taken away, and she is told to go back to the breeding compound and try again. But Tamra is so effected by these events that she kills herself.
Before Tamra killed herself, she told her friend, SAFIYA that their male escort and guard, AASIF can help her. And pleads with her to let him take her to a woman that can determine the sex of her baby. This woman is the American widow, Kentucky.
Kentucky cannot determine the sex of Tamra’s under-developed fetus. But she can determine that Tamra is such a strong-willed girl who is ready to take on a serious challenge — bomb the breeding clinic in a terrorist act.
Safiya takes Tamra’s younger sister along for the deed with the plan that they will escape the compound during the commotion. They bomb the clinic and escape to find Kentucky.
Kentucky and Aasif have been planning their next attack. Aasif has selected a girl who will be auctioned off to a Taliban leader, HEKMATYAR in search for his 7th wife. That child bride will be Samiri who has been living and held as a virgin in the breeding compound for a year.
A woman’s dressmaker named NAZHA and Adilah’s bomb paraphernalia the three women design a wedding dress fitted with a bomb and detonator. It doesn’t take much to convince Samiri that her life is over if she marries the most heinous dictator in the world, and that if she takes Hekmatyar out, she will be a hero to all women and girls in Afghanistan. It’s a great honor to be selected as a suicide bomber, the greatest sacrifice ever.
From a hidden location on a rooftop, Kentucky records the events and posts them on Youtube. The video goes viral and much of the world applauds the terrorist assassinations of this great Taliban dictator.
Later, Kentucky is left to decide whether she will stay and continue the fight for women’s rights or find a way to go back home to her family.
Let’s do it.
1.) Can we visualize the description?
The description was okay. Nothing too flashy.
Unfortunately, we’ve all learned by now that having good description is where you’re first going to make a good first impression, but also let a reader know if they should be excited to read the rest of your script.
Lisa starts out by giving us a unique picture, but it doesn’t really relate to our story.
EXT. POPPY FIELD – DAY
High in the sky, a BOY untangles the tendrils of a paper kite from a sparse tree branch. The kite flutters free.
Below — a vast field of wildflowers… not just any
wildflowers: PINK BLOSSOMS ON POPPY BULBS. A slow, steady
stream of MEN make their way through the field – harvesting.
The poppy field is where we’re introduced to one of the many main characters, but the information we get there and the item taken could easily be left out.
Overall the description could be dressed up a bit, with minor details being cut.
Kentucky looks at him with sadness in her eyes. He gets out, walks around, and opens the passenger door for her.
He heads into the building. Kentucky follows.
His words cut like a knife, and her eyes suggest he’s toppled the last few remnants of her life.
Like always though, take time and make it better. The main point here is we don’t need to see them get out of the car and enter a building.
Leave early, enter late.
If they’re in the car in one scene, then in the building the next, we’re smart enough to assume they didn’t teleport in there. (Unless your script actually deals with the subject of teleportation.)
I will give the script credit that it does keep moving.
With that in mind, there were a few problem spots where things happened too fast and I wasn’t sure of what was going on.
Page 29 – The transition from Adilah to Tamra needs to be clearer. I didn’t understand we had switched focus from one character to another. This took me out of the story as I tried to figure out what was going on. Switching character focus mid-scene is a cool technique just make sure you SIGNAL it with clever description so we know why we’re not following Adilah out the door.
Page 52ish – Where Amene gets her period, let US know clearer. I thought she was a boy, and she’s bleeding, but it was confusing how you tried to be tricky about it. (I actually thought it was another area you had made a typo.)
Page 62 – First off Safiya turns to Sofiya which was frustrating (then changes back later). Plus the whole bomb scene was confusing. In addition to the quick name change, Safiya seemed to be planting the bomb behind the doctor’s back, while Safiya was holding onto to Too’s hand.
I thought they were two separate people for a bit. That really needs to be streamlined. Since it’s a pretty big moment in the script.
Page 76 – The tailor, Nazha,… Is Nazha tailor? This is another point where I thought there was an additional character in the scene with them.
This country has a big shortage of young men… becoming an endangered species. Young boys are a very high commodity.
Why was this in the description? Was it supposed to be dialogue?
If not, and the info is vital to a reader you can’t just say that in the script. It needs to be in the story so it can be translated to the screen.
This was a mistake where Lisa knows better.
4 out of 10 points.
2.) Does the author use an acceptable format?
It’s a non-linear script.
The format was good, especially the mini transitions, but one problem I had was that a flashback happened.
If you’re going to be bouncing around your story, YOU MUST designate a flashback, if only for the reason that we need to know when it ends.
This story jumped back in time, but I wasn’t sure when it returned to the present.
The same thing with saying “a year has passed.” Put that in a slugline so we know.
8 out of 10 points.
3.) Is the dialogue free of exposition and rich in subtext? Does each character have a unique voice?
Dialogue was, meh.
Other than the large bits of exposition, there weren’t any specific problems, but the one thing Lisa needs to remember is that she’s SHOWING us how crappy these women’s lives are, so we don’t need a lot of talking about it.
Exposition That Needs to GO!
Page 5 – Background with dad on the phone.
Page 40 – Since we’ve seen Kentucky lose her kids we don’t need to hear about it again.
Page 85 – Internet cafe and women’s voting/education. It was very preachy, and felt liked a forced “The More You Know” moment at the end of the movie. I think it’s an important topic, but if you want to cover it, you need to weave it into the story, not preach about it at the end when people are hoping to see the women overcome the terrorist leader.
Lastly, and I’m POSITIVE you’ve got this before, TOO MANY CHARACTERS.
Do they have unique voices? Kentucky starts to, but then seems to blend into the rest of the women.
A GREAT way to prove this, have a friend or family member pick out random lines from your script and read it out loud to you. If you can’t instantly name who said that, you’ve got problems.
Remember that dialogue should be kept to minimal reactions in this script, since the power of the situations will be what moves us.
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?
It was definitely a movie. We’re getting lucky that this question seems to be becoming almost a free 10 points even with our amateur reviews.
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?
Non linear stories.
They’re hard to pull off, and you know I’m critical of that.
I think Lisa chose a very relevant subject matter, and by setting it in the near future, she was able to up the ante, making it more exciting.
Unfortunately, she gets lost in her own story, so it’s power feels underwhelming at the end.
6 out of 10 points.
6.) Does the script have a hook?
The logline was intriguing.
The script itself starts in a poppy field, where one of the main characters steals a ball of drugs (heroine?) from the field.
She uses it to convince her uncle to buy her marmalade for her birthday cake.
We see the busy, shady streets of Afghanistan, but it wasn’t enough.
The death of Adilah’s son should be the first story.
Her husband storming into the house, arguing with her, and tossing her aside, hiding the bomb materials, and then fleeing with his friends out the back?
ALL very powerful images.
You’ve set up it’s dangerous. You’ve set up that women being treated inferior is a HUGE driver for your script. AND you get right to the action.
What you have now isn’t enough, other than it introduces a character that leads to your ending, something you can easily do elsewhere.
7 out of 15 points.
7.) Is that hook effective?
The way it’s written currently isn’t bad.
We see our “main” character having trouble getting home.
She also has to take one for the team to get her son’s ticket home.
All challenging for the story, but too much time is spent on it.
If you’re going to keep all the characters, we need BRIEF glimpses into what brought them there, not full blown explanations.
The MAIN focus needs to be on how they meet and work together.
My suggestion here
Lose Kentucky’s ENTIRE back-story. The airport is a waste of time, especially since there’s no suspense in it. She gets there, is on a no fly list, then says goodbye to her kids.
Introduce her later when Safiya comes to her for the ultrasound. A picture of the kids in her apartment, Safiya walking in on the end of a conversation where Kentucky is telling her kids she’ll be home soon while crying. Her avoiding talking about it with main characters, ALL accomplishes the same thing.
Following my previous example, Adilah’s son dies in a horrific way, and taking him to the hospital we also meet Tamra.
THIS will be good because you’ll also establish VERY early on that this is a non-linear script where we’ll be transitioning between various characters.
It’ll also show us that boys are desired, and what happens to girls.
Tamra’s short storyline is VERY POWERFUL and bringing her back to the compound establishes EXACTLY the problem these women are trying to overcome.
10 out of 15 points.
8.) Is there enough to maintain the hook? Reveals, conflict, etc.?
Kentucky meeting Adilah is another detail heavy plot point that doesn’t matter in the end.
To convince us this world is shitty, show us actual events, not the aftermath.
Seeing bodies is tragic, but watching a character we’ve learned a bit about die makes us more invested.
The script is FILLED with these “Yaya Sisterhood” scenes.
We need to see these women’s lives entangle in the tragic events of the story, not meet up for tea after to discuss them.
Anytime they’re sitting around and baking and talking, watching TV and talking, etc. GET RID OF IT.
In addition to that, a lot of the plot points are too convenient. Characters are in exactly the right places for no other reason than you need them to be. Where’s the drama and suspense?
Have them out DOING things to slightly change the environment in which they live.
The ending needs a DRASTIC reformat. Lose the preaching, and get to the bombing.
For a non-linear script, you need a main event to tie EVERYTHING together.
That’s the bombing, and you can’t show us a Youtube video while preaching women’s rights.
Hit the climax.
This is the ENTIRE POINT that your story has been building to. Show us them taking the bad guy down, and give us twists and turns that make us think it might not happen.
Don’t CRAP out.
The ending is also where things seem to go from non-linear to a traditional linear story.
If you’re going to pick the first format, stick with it, don’t change at the end. It makes you look like you’re giving up.
5 out of 10 points.
9.) Does the story play to a target audience, and have the elements demanded by that audience?
A lot of problems here.
Too many characters
I hit page 51, and new characters were still being introduced. It was hard to understand the overall story I was supposed to be paying attention to when I kept being assaulted by new names.
There’s a lot of interesting sub characters, some of which can go, but others that can stay.
A GREAT way to keep them, would be picking THREE main characters and having all other characters interact with them in some way.
For instance, there’s a tailor character Amene works for. Her story of pretending to be a boy is good, but minor.
Since Nazha is a tailor anyway, and that point’s pretty crucial to the ending, she could be introduced earlier as such and be hiding Amene.
It also greatly reduces the “convenience” of Samiri coming to Nazha to making her wedding dress bomb. (Which was ANOTHER huge problem I’ll mention here instead of in it’s own point.)
Connecting characters like this is a HUGE help in navigating a complex story.
Jesus Men Army
I get that a lot of these girls are technically virgins since they’re being artificially inseminated, but I had ZERO CLUE why the Jesus thing was important.
It wasn’t immaculate conception, and the men would know that, so I didn’t get why there was so much focus on it.
Amene “knew how to fight” but the only lessons she seemed to get was watching a Chuck Norris movie.
Having her fight is kind of pointless anyway, since her main point in the story is how she’s hiding her identity.
Pushing her into confrontations would only raise the chances of revealing who she really is.
Play with her deception in other ways.
I had a HUGE problem in that I didn’t think Samiri knew she was going to be turned into a bomb.
There’s a few hints, but they were given so I didn’t know if she was actually hearing them.
I didn’t like Nazha and Kentucky much after that.
This needs to be greatly cleared up.
4 out of 10 points.
Lisa picked a very interesting, but also educational topic. This script has a lot of potential.
The work required to pull it off still isn’t there though, and since she’s chosen a non linear structure (which I think can work and be very powerful) it won’t be easy.
Hopefully she’ll take the time to read and absorb the comments I’ve made here along with other readers on our site, and invest the time required to make this script a success.
Once she does, and does it right, she’ll have one hell of a writing sample to send out.
58 out of 100 points.
don’t really have time to absorb your notes and work on this at the moment, but i’ll definitely keep it for later. i’m collecting notes from several different sources so i can do a stellar rewrite.
the non-linear structure is was going for was like THE DEAD GIRL. i doubt you’ve seen it, but it was excellent. however, it was separate vignettes; one for each of the 6 women connected by a single thread — the dead girl. and then my structure evolved b/c i wanted more interaction. i chose Kentucky to be the hub on a wheel and each of the other characters were connected ONLY through her — like a terrorist cell. so anyway, i need to fix this. i know.
i rushed over the notes only b/c i don’t have time at the moment, but a couple of things really stuck out to me:
don’t understand why you didn’t get that Sofiya was just a typo for Safiya, and NOT a 2nd character. it actually bothers me that you didn’t get that. if the name was Brian and later Bryan would you have realized it was a typo?
your suggestion that i cut the airport scene — so many people still ask, “why can’t she just go to another country? why can’t she go to an embassy? why this and why that?” americans are so comfortable in their ability to freely go where and when they want that they don’t get how any american can be trapped. and her being on the “no-fly list” is significant. in that airport scene, she goes on and on about her NOT being a terrorist. we don’t know why she’s on that list. is it b/c of her husband that we don’t know anything about? but later we realize, she IS a terrorist… a domestic terrorist. and the non-linear makes it unclear as to whether she was one before (which may have got her on the list) or after b/c well, they think i’m a terrorist. i’m gonna be a terrorist.
hope that makes sense.
also, to cut that scene — too many women and parents need to see that she’s didn’t have a choice, but to send her children away. we need to see that she’s a total wreck for doing so. did you not see NOT WITHOUT MY DAUGHTER? that mother was so trapped and desperate to get away WITH her daughter… she would never leave her there alone. i know you’re not a mother, but i’m convinced that you’re not even a parent.
anyhoo — a lot of what you say is really good stuff. you guys are great and i will definitely absorb your notes when i get back to rewriting this script.
i know you want this to be all hollywood and just get to the bombing and excitement. i was going more of a BABEL feel: quiet low-key desperation from each character — anti hollywood, i suppose.
“don’t understand why you didn’t get that Sofiya was just a typo for Safiya, and NOT a 2nd character. it actually bothers me that you didn’t get that. if the name was Brian and later Bryan would you have realized it was a typo?”
First, Roy and I always appreciate being talked down to. Really makes this whole venture worthwhile. So our thanks to you on that.
Second, if you go back and notice, I assumed it was a typo initially, but what threw me off is that the character seemed to be in two places at once due to the description, so I wasn’t sure if a third girl was there and I missed it.
THERE’S your problem. Unclear description COMBINED with a typo.
“also, to cut that scene — too many women and parents need to see that she’s didn’t have a choice, but to send her children away. we need to see that she’s a total wreck for doing so. did you not see NOT WITHOUT MY DAUGHTER? that mother was so trapped and desperate to get away WITH her daughter… she would never leave her there alone. i know you’re not a mother, but i’m convinced that you’re not even a parent.”
I’m a father of three actually. One boy, and two lil girls.
I know what it is to be a parent.
I know it’d be quite dramatic to send them off without me.
(When moving from Canada, I actually had to leave they and my wife behind for three weeks because the wife’s visa wasn’t ready. That was a long 3 weeks for me, especially since the littlest didn’t remember me right away when I got back.)
I’m not saying that the airport scene doesn’t have emotional impact, just that it takes too long to establish AND doesn’t deal with the main story. It’s backstory.
I get the “I wasn’t a terorist but I will be from now on” point, and that’s not bad, but again I think it takes too long to set up, and the payoff isn’t as great when compared to some of the other women’s stories.
It’d be much more effective to show Kentucky’s inner struggle via her interaction with other characters and dialogue said behind her back revealing these small bits o’ backstory.
Anyway, at the end of the day, it’s just my opinion so do with it what you will.
Glad these notes were worth the skim. Really makes the work I put into it special.
THERE’S your problem. Unclear description COMBINED with a typo.
yep – gotta fix that. i’m sure it was clear in my head when i wrote it. didn’t mean to “talk down to you”. but it did bug me. i honestly wasn’t sure if you were just being jerk about the typo.
i mean, why would someone give a character name Brian and another character the name Bryan and put them in the same room? and if you thought i did that then you must think i’m an idiot.
so that’s what irked me. i’m over it now.
I know you’ve long moved on, but I wanted to thank Hank for reading and reviewing my script. The notes are pretty spot on and i’m feeling that this concept has more weight than ever before… when just a couple of days ago a 14 yr old girl in Pakistan got shot by Taliban for speaking out about girls’ education and wanting to go to school. It has worldwide attention.
Haha, we’re still here, and you’re still very welcome. You’re abosultely right that this script has a truer premise will all the violence going on around the world. Best of luck cleaning it up!