Today we’re heading to the coal lined mountains of Kentucky, where we’ll follow a female lead as she tries to save her neighbors from a boy with a crush AND the ability to abuse the mineral rights to their land and demolish the houses.
This is James Anderson’s Mountain Fist.
A few things before we start.
I was checking the link because the file is saved as Mountain Fist but once you open the PDF the title page reads April’s Flying Horse. I think the first title is better (and needs a better tie in), but it should probably be changed in the PDF so it isn’t confusing. At first I thought I had the wrong script.
Next comes the genre. As I was checking it out at Amazon Studios, I also noticed that it was listed as Comedy and Action/Adventure, of which it is neither. This is a drama. That might not be what he set out to write, and it may have even had a few funny one liners, but it wasn’t a comedy.
What screams LAUGHTER about, “A shy Appalachian girl challenges a suitor to a fight in order to keep her secluded mountain community from being strip-mined?”
Saying this next part is very cliché, but this script is Karate Kid meets Million Dollar Baby.
With that said, let’s begin.
1.) Can we visualize the description?
Roy and I generally pick from the beginning, and I got to thinking that made us look lazy. After careful consideration though (and why’s it has a whole question), page one is where you introduce us to your world. So in that case, it is really important.
James does a good job here.
EXT. MOUNTAIN VALLEY – DAY
Winding along a beautiful mountain road.
On the mountain side, a BILLBOARD showing a handsome father
and son team wearing hard hats. The billboard has the
legend: “TACKETT COAL — ENERGY TO BURN!”
We follow the road to–
EXT. BUS STOP – DAY
A bus idles as passengers board.
A young couple say goodbye: JOSH ATKINS (20) in an army
uniform; APRIL HALL (18), petite and shy, pretty, but
wearing glasses. She holds him tight.
They kiss, then look into each other’s eyes.
Can you guess what comes next? I could, and our story is set up, so I’d say James did what he set out to do.
Another good example from page 56:
As the customer pushes her cart toward the door, April drops to the floor and pumps out some pushups.
A couple of her co-workers see her, shake their heads.
INT. DAIRY COOLER – DAY
April finishes loading a crate of milk and does a fast set of deep knee bends.
INT. BREAK ROOM – DAY
April has changed into jogging shorts and a t-shirt. She
ties up the laces of running shoes.
INT. GROCERY STORE – DAY
She walks through the automatic doors to the parking lot, and starts to run.
Coworkers and customers shake their heads in dismay.
*Sung to Final Countdown* It’s a training MONTAGE! Seriously. I love training montages. They might not always be appropriate, but even Team America‘s montage making fun of montages was awesome. I’m a sucker for ’em.
Series of Shots
A) Mr. Trottier would be proud.
B) Because Mr. Anderson set them up nicely.
C) By using A, B, C, and —
A note on this though, and I don’t think James abused them other than in one spot, but you need to watch doing this. It borders the line of stepping on the director’s toes on one side while toiling with the idea that it’s wasting white space on the other. Use sparingly.
Where a series didn’t work, page 75:
FLASHBACK FANTASY OF HOW RANDALL REMEMBERS IT:
…The patio, everyone dancing.
…April crying, beautiful and sad. There’s a bit of a halo
around her head.
…April drinking a jello shot.
…April smiling at Randall like a mischievous angel.
…April dancing gracefully, seductively, just for him.
…April being pulled away by her sister, looking longingly
back at Randall.
…Randall visiting Lawson Branch with Charlie.
…The rusty, abandoned natural gas lines.
END FLASHBACK FANTASY
This was A LOT, and even setting aside the argument of proper setup, it’s not needed. We’ve already seen this earlier. It’s meant to show how infatuated Randall is with April, but instead it should be a quick line of dialogue, tops.
Speaking of things that should be dialogue, how do you show this bit from page 31?
Wendall smiles — under the impression that his son is finally taking an interest in the business.
Wendell beams at his son.
Glad to see you’re taking an interest.
Last bit, and we’ll touch on it later, since it’s not exactly a BAD bit of description, but the fight at the end needs to be “buffed up,” if you get my joke.
4 out of 10 points.
2.) Does the author use an acceptable format?
Yep, and not going to spend a lot of time here, as the next question needs a lot of work.
10 out of 10 points.
3.) Is the dialogue free of exposition and rich in subtext? Does each character have a unique voice?
Getting the bugs out early…because I had problems with…how exclamation points and periods were being abused! Seriously!…
Ellipses and Exclamation Points.
You should never use these more than three times in a script. Read that each, read that combined, but read it that there’s a finite limit.
This is an unspoken rule more or less, but it’s also a HUGE TELL you’re a nub writer.
Come on. Play your cards right and
I’ll take you by the library.
You just burned two of them on page 2. Needless to say there were littered throughout the script.
The same is said for SHOUTING throughout parts of it too.
I know! April Hall! Oh, man,
she’s really got you! She’s
turnin’ you into a stalker!
Charlie’s excited, we get it, but really? Four exclamation points in one piece of dialogue? Really?!
The problem with overuse of these (besides being labeled a newbie) is that you’re telling the actor how to act. We’re writers. We’re VERY low on the totem pole. We don’t get to tell actors how to do their job, especially in a spec script.
Go back and fix these. Characters don’t trail off or yell in every other thing they say.
Page 49 treats us to April telling Mary about Randall liking her. Only problem, they’re sitting around drinking tea.
Folks, the only place your characters should EVER be sitting is if they’re strapped to a rocket and it’s about to blow something up. Even then they should be chained to it and NOT able to get up.
No cafe scenes, no coffee shops, no front porches for spots of tea. This is a MOVIE so give them something to do.
April’s supposed to be learning tai chi, so why aren’t they practicing Roadhouse style while chatting about boys?
(There’s also a shorter scene later on page 54 where they talk over tea. Get rid of that too.)
Take the garbage out first. It
smells like rotten bananas and
sardines in here.
I’m torn whether this was supposed to be a joke, or show Wendell being harsh to Randall, but either way it felt off.
A similar sample from page 9:
I swear, everybody around here is
dirt poor or a millionaire.
Now if this is a character flaw April needs to tell Sharon they don’t fit in, but if it’s a joke, get rid of it.
Gonna, ‘er, well…yeah!
Don’t use these. I’ve been to Kentucky, I know how they talk, but like Wednesday’s review, let the actor add the accents.
More odd Dialogue
In no particular order:
Page 27 – April needs to sound less goofy when she asks for Mary’s help with Tai Chi.
Page 45 – Mary needs to be more adamant about April keeping Mr. Mustang busy.
Page 50 – BIG DISLIKE on how Mary explains the flying horse bit. Felt like when Jay and Silent Bob ask what the internet is, and Ben Affleck explains it to them. I’d argue against the whole “flying horse” bit altogether, but if you’re going to keep it, make it sound more natural.
Page 63 – Randall’s line feels too rushed. If he’s really upset about laying people off, he should be scouring over that report.
Page 90 – Easily my least favorite part, but I’ll talk more about this later, Sharon’s soup can line, and anytime she talks to the camera.
Final Note on Dialogue
James actually did a decent job setting up characters, and even a bit of subtext, especially between Sharon and Randall. The problem is all the rest I mentioned above.
1 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?
This is a yes. Good scenes in the script, which made good use of screenwriting.
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?
The author seemed to know a bit about the area. I wouldn’t cite it as a source in a paper but it felt authentic. Also with the MMA style fighting, it sounded as if he did his homework.
The underdog story we’ve seen before though.
6 out of 10 points.
6.) Does the script have a hook?
We’re set up with the obvious that April’s love interest is off to war. That’s enticing. We’re also set up with the idea that her sister is wild and fancy free, which clashes with April’s melancholy and wanting to remain faithful.
Conflict is on the horizon which is good, I just think some of the dialogue is too drawn out and doesn’t get us into the car and to the fight early enough.
10 out of 15 points.
7.) Is that hook effective?
Once we hit that fight though, page 4, things happen.
Page 6, Randall is introduced, then we get a fight on page 7.
Then we get to Randall’s house party on page 8, where he is smitten by a sans-glasses April.
Finally Sharon drags a drunk April home, who’s teased Randall into lust, and now he wants her, page 13.
(Sure Roy does this breakdown better, and I stole it from him, but I like how this shows examples of events leading up to the inciting incident.)
The scenes were good, but I’d caution on the extended dialogue. Especially with Sharon talking to the random girl, I know she’s explaining who Randall is, but don’t you think we could figure that out by him fighting and then his interactions with April at the party?
12 out of 15 points.
8.) Is there enough to maintain the hook? Reveals, conflict, etc.?
Mountain Fist had the plot points we needed, and everyone had an appropriate part to play, with one exception, Randall. He’s too nice, and it doesn’t fit the plot.
For this story to work (and be believable) he needs to be a complete ass that always gets what he wants. He’s a womanizer, but right now he’s an aloof one. An aloof one wouldn’t evict families from their homes just so a girl would go out on a date with him.
He can be nice to April at the pool party, but once he doesn’t get her, this should drive him crazy. He’s Randall Tackett, women don’t say no to him.
Every time he and April interact, there should be conflict, and him bragging he’s going to get her, one way or another. Not much more I can say here except go back and reread his lines and anytime he’s nice, reverse that. Deep down he can like her, but he should have a reputation to uphold.
(*Sidenote* When April gets dumped and drunk later she should still throw herself at him, and he should absolutely refuse, but this should confuse him and make him mad, thus making the fight better.)
Tackett Coal Company
They’re rich, but LEAVE them rich. They shouldn’t be struggling. Wendall should be very successful and want his son to take over, so when Randall suggests buying up the mineral rights in April’s area Wendall’s glad to do it.
As it’s currently written, it doesn’t work with the plot. You want to make Wendall this struggling character, but your story’s not about Wendall. If the company’s struggling how are they getting the money for this new venture?
They spent a lot of money for these rights, even worked a bit, and without it the company’s ruined, but when Randall tells his dad suddenly it’s, “Okay everyone will lose their job, but it’s cool, we can hold off for a year.”
That doesn’t make sense.
If they’re a successful corporation, they can afford to take the time off from it, and it’s Wendall just giving into his son’s fancy, which should happen often. Switch these few things and your story works better.
(Page 67, along the Wendall line, skip the scenes with just Wendall. He should find the original survey, and confront Randall on it, but then ultimately still give in as they can afford to hold off mining for a year.)
Breaking the Fourth Wall
We see through it, but characters don’t know we’re watching. That’s the rule, and we don’t get to break it until we write a script that goes on to be a multi million dollar movie.
Page 90, Sharon starts talking to the camera, and I really thought she was filming herself shooting the rifle. A few more times she talks to the camera, and I suddenly realized she was breaking the fourth wall.
Not only was this a no, no, but it’s like Mr. Anderson remembered at the end of the script that he was trying to write a comedy and this was his quick fix.
Take out the ENTIRE section, and not just her talking to camera, everything where Sharon tries to sabotage Randall.
Know when to get out.
The ending is too long. It’s not horrible, but it can definitely be better.
Here’s what you need to happen:
Josh comes back on leave BEFORE the fight. He patches things up, but April doesn’t want to marry him yet. She’s too focused on winning this fight and saving her home. (Also, Mary should really be pounding this into her each time she’s training, that she’s fighting for more than just herself.)
In a last ditch effort, Sharon should go to Randall the night before the fight and throw herself at him. It should be under the pretense that if she sleeps with him Randall will throw the fight. He’ll lead her on, and of course, won’t. You can even have her try to get him sick with the saline solution, but he should be smarter than her.
Now, the fight.
The ENTIRE outcome of the script is based on this match between April and Randall. She’s busted her ass over it, people have sold tickets to it, in the current version others have lost their jobs over it. Everyone has a stake in this.
DON’T COP OUT ON IT! Make it a fight, and Randall’s not nice, he wants to beat April’s ass. Now he’s also bragging that soon he’ll have had both sisters, and with Josh watching, and knowing Sharon was used, April’s fired up. But DON’T make it so easy for her.
How did Rocky end? What about Karate Kid? Cinderella Man? These movie ends at the main character winning the fight, right? This script should be no different.
2 out of 10 points
9.) Does the story play to a target audience, and have the elements demanded by that audience?
Yes, as long as you don’t bill it as a comedy.
In a few spots though you’ll be asking the audience to greatly suspend their disbelief.
One is on the whole mineral rights thing. This may be entirely true, but I tried googling “Kentucky mineral rights” to find out if those had priority of people living there. I have family who recently got optioned on their property for natural gas, and if a company starts drilling they have to pay a fee to use make use of the property to remove it.
I think it’s a good plot point, but it should be clearer so we’re not left wondering, “Can they really do that?”
Then the whole thing about a struggling company closing down shop for the owner’s son having a crush on a girl. I’ve already addressed that, but it needs stated here, as that’s a bit of a leap for us to take.
Then some small stuff:
Page 11 – April gets completely wasted after two shots? Can I have a little Jell-o with my alcohol please?
Page 38 – The girls guess it’s Randall too fast. They should be left wondering until he’s actually there demolishing the vacant house. Then it’s a better scene between he and April, and he can give her the ultimatum.
Page 75 – How does Wendall instantly know it’s Randall who changed the survey, other than you want it to happen that quick?
Page 84 – Scene heading says “Randall’s House” but at the pool party it says “Wendall’s House” so which is it? I thought Randall still lived with his folks, but he calls it “his house” when April throws herself at him.
5 out of 10 points.
There’s a good story in there, now James just needs to be honest with himself and admit it’s not a comedy. Dry wall and plaster that fourth wall back up, fix some dialogue, and make the evil corporation a thriving evil corporation and he’ll be on the right track.
Total 60 out of 100 points.