Today we’re taking a look at My Father’s House by Alex Greenfield and Ben Powell.
Before we get started, I want to mention that I am impressed by the fact that they both had the guts to take on such a story. It is complex, has some major twists, and is something other writers are either afraid to tackle themselves or lack the talent to do. I for one, was left wondering if I could write such a script, and knowing I am the “less sophisticated” of the review duo worry that I am unworthy to judge this work.
That said however, it must be done, and as it’d be the fourth religious script in a row for Roy, the task falls to me.
So here we go.
1.) Can we visualize the description?
Thomas squeezes into the tight space between the walls. He
inches along. It gets so narrow he can’t even turn his head.
CREAK. CREAK-CREAK. Thomas grimaces at the sound.
Painfully adjusts himself, cheek pressing into the wood.
There’s faint light on the other side of the wall. A crack
in the wood paneling. Thomas peers through it.
On the other side of the wall… A SHAPE MOVES PAST.
The bright flashlight casts shadows everywhere. Thomas tries
to peer through gaps between the backing timbers. Nothing.
A CHILD’S LAUGHTER from the other side of the wall. A boy’s.
Thomas scratches his cheek against the unfinished wood.
Okay, I know that was long, but not only could I see it in my mind, I felt like I was there. And the script was FILLED with this description that was both rich in context, but conscious of white space.
However, and I truly feel bad I need a “however”, there are some descriptions that I can absolutely see in my mind, but have no clue what they’re doing in the story.
INT. DARK PASSAGE – CONTINUOUS
Thomas and Skrelling poke their heads through the hole and
look at the hammer strikes on the other side. Sure enough,
each one is huge and at least six feet apart.
INT. SUNLIT STUDY – CONTINUOUS
This side of the wall: tiny holes inches apart.
INT. DARK PASSAGE – CONTINUOUS
That side: massive gashes separated by yards.
Skrelling hit small hammer holes on one wall, and on the opposite wall (which Thomas was in between the two) had HUGE sledgehammer type holes. It woke him up actually from a drunken stupor, and he thought he was going to die.
Why did this happen? We don’t find out, and instead they go back to the room, after a quick flask break, and frame in an arched doorway.
Another example from page 29:
Thomas types away. He flips to the last page of the notebook and taps in a trio of numbers. Enter.
Beat. The screen goes blue. Thomas stares in shock when…
GROANS from all around the office.
He stands up. People are rising out of their cubicles and
pouring out of offices. Every computer screen in the entire
office is empty and blue.
Thomas looks over at Stern’s office. The old man stands in
his doorway looking right back.
This is a fancy way of telling us there’s been a computer failure, or more importantly one caused by the numbers Thomas tapped into his.
But why not just say this? We have to wait several scenes to find it out and even then there’s no better explanation then the house is odd.” Just telling us there was a computer failure seems odd, but doesn’t really give anything away. At the end I thought Stern somehow shut down the computers because he didn’t want Thomas working on the project, the way he was looking at Thomas.
Similar to this train of thought (and I’ll exclude pasting it here) is on page 80. Thomas is reaching for something under a bed, and needs a mirror, but gets the mirror, then leaves. I never got what exactly he was doing, but figured it tied into his whole deal with rescuing the children.
The last example is something that is “too much” considering we don’t know the true nature of the house just yet.
As his head comes even with the windows… the ghostly image of a WOMAN’S FACE appears behind the glass.
Thomas doesn’t notice. He looks out across the expanse of
house with that ghoulish face only inches from his own.
In turning, Thomas comes eye to eye with the visage. He
SHOUTS! Staggers back! Tumbles off the wall!
CRASH! Thomas lands flat on his back. As he stares up, the window slowly rises… up… up…
The whole first part happened. Cool, we see a ghostly image of a woman but Thomas doesn’t, and inside we’re calling out, “THOMAS LOOK OUT BEHIND YOU!!!” That’s exactly what we should be doing.
Then we get the payoff of him seeing it and falling! OH CRAP HE’S IN TROUBLE!
Buuuuuuuut, we’re left with a window that’s moving up the wall, and instead of being reminded of the awesome visual we’ve just seen, we’re left wondering what’s the deal with that window.
My point here is, doors should disappear, like when Thomas is in the bedroom during the lightning storm. Windows can APPEAR higher than initially thought, halls can lead to different locations each time, we just can’t SEE them changing. It should all switch off camera, so we’re left wondering if this is actually happening to Thomas or is he drunk.
As I mentioned, there’s a lot of good descriptions here, but at times it’s complicated and confusing.
In some spots I was left wondering, “Are the authors trying to be clever, or just don’t want to give too much away?”
I hope it’s the latter, as there’s an old saying, “The smartest man in the room is the one who admits he knows nothing.” Being the opposite of that man (or woman) could leave you feeling foolish.
As there were numerous parts I had to go back to reread to make sure I wasn’t missing something, and then it turned out I didn’t:
5 our of 10 points.
2.) Does the author use an acceptable format?
Yes. I will mention here that they use “Series of shots” a bit too much for my liking, but as this is almost a borderline shooting script, I’ll yield they know what they’re doing, and are expressing they aren’t amateur screenwriters.
10 out of 10 points.
3.) Is the dialogue free of exposition and rich in subtext? Does each character have a unique voice?
Another good example of rich dialogue that adds depth to the story, and isn’t just characters standing around talking, or at least not for long.
I am taking off two points for two reasons.
One for this bit on page 24:
Arrogant showboating? What does
this have to do with our project?
Our client? This is a room for…
There’s no space for a human being
I wasn’t sure what this last part was meant to mean. No space for a human being? Almost felt like tip toeing around who’s going to be staying there, and by trying to avoid it we can’t help but notice it.
I’d avoid dropping hints like this so early on, and maybe reference it in another way that still comes off as odd, but doesn’t make us think they’re building luxury condos for ghosts.
And the other point I’m taking off is because Thomas doesn’t seem to argue enough about the stuff that’s going on in the house. For instance why a hammer hole on one wall creates huge holes on an opposite wall, or why ball bearings role in a certain direction on a level floor, ghosts in reflective surfaces, etc.
He should be asking the other three people working on the house if they’ve noticed anything strange, but he just accepts it and moves on.
8 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?
Yep, it was spooky in the front, and full of suspense at the end. Was easy to see a stinger type trailer too, where that one note rings out as a face suddenly appears behind Thomas in a mirror and we’re left with the release date, white knuckles clutching the armrest.
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?
I’m not sure who it was, but the style of description (although frustrating at times) was unique. I already talked about it up there so I’ll spare you here.
Also the plot itself was very intense with something new around every corner (sometimes literally). Although it wasn’t pulled off perfectly, it’d be hard to have someone else come in and rewrite parts without ruining the overall approach.
10 out of 10 points.
6.) Does the script have a hook?
Here I’ve got to take points off.
Why is TJ at the party? (Other than the fact that you need him to be for the story to work.)
Do either of you have kids? It’s late at night, and a 3 year old is at a formal cocktail party?
I know it’s a movie, but you’ve just burned your “one exception from the audience” on the first page.
Even good kids get cranky at night, especially when they’re somewhere they don’t want to be. (And a three year old doesn’t want to be at a fancy dinner with grown ups.)
It was at a nice house. There was a formal dinner party where Thomas caught the eye of an attractive woman who wasn’t his wife, but nothing jumped out at me past the shadow that turned out to be the stuffed dinosaur on page one.
I’m not sure what else can be done, as it does establish certain character relationships, but something more exciting should be happening. And since TJ has to be there, maybe a nanny is watching him in another room of the house.
Think about it, then spice it up.
5 out of 15 points.
7.) Is that hook effective?
Luckily, once Thomas gets behind the wheel, stuff starts to happen.
The car wreck’s beautiful, but I think there should be more of an emphasis on Thomas drinking. His wife should reference a past brush with disaster, that he then scoffs at as he leads them to their doom.
Also, I’m not entirely sold on his working with migrant workers on the crappy buildings. It slows down the pace, when you should be getting us to the house.
Fastman can just as easily meet him outside the bar, instead of on the job site, then again as he looks up at Bluff House.
12 out of 15 points.
8.) Is there enough to maintain the hook? Reveals, conflict, etc.?
Alright, here we go.
On page 49 I guessed he was dead. (SPOILER, he isn’t.)
I found out a few pages later that he wasn’t. That was good. Kept me guessing, and there was a lot of mystery floating through the writing.
Once Rachel tells him what they’re doing, she breaks it very gently. This attitude should carry throughout the entire script. Even when Thomas is destroying Stern’s room, she should be calm and understanding, but let him know that everyone has their time.
This will starkly contrast to Fastman’s brutal way of letting Thomas know what he did. This creates the ying vs. yang effect, and balances the characters out in a unique way.
The only tricky part with this is at the end once Lucy shows up, but maybe Fastman meets her for a duel.
To me it felt it happened too early.
Or at least the way it happened, he didn’t have a good enough reason to NOT do his job when working on the kids’ room.
I think part of him should want to explore the house, and if he is indeed going to go along with what Rachel and crew are doing, part of that exploring should have him come across Urqhart and Stern, where they let him know that in fact what looks like paradise is actually a personal Hell, as it never changes.
But it has to REALLY be stated (Urqhart mentions it briefly) so he knows what the kids are in for, and no matter what he has to save them.
I’ve already stated before I wish he’d question more of what was going on too.
Cables and String
I had NO CLUE (and maybe this is where Roy would have done a better job) what the hell the cables were. (I was reminded of the Beams in the Dark Tower series, that hold all existence together, but couldn’t be sure.)
Nor did I have a clue why the second cable showed up when the doors were switched.
Also, how did the string magically show up on the blueprint when strung through the house, or vice versa?
Dump the whole scene of him getting his job back. If he’s still working at the house, he can still get his act together and freelance. It was unnecessary, and only bumped up the number of pages.
I know I’m focusing on the bad, but as there was more good:
7 out of 10 points.
9.) Does the story play to a target audience, and have the elements demanded by that audience?
Some of this part will be reflected in the last question, but I think there’s too much we’re left wondering about.
A lot of these questions also depend on how the authors want to take it. If it’s an independent film, they can get away with more, as deep thinking plots, or even slightly open ended ones are welcomed.
Unfortunately, I think it would be a very expensive independent film, which pushes it main stream, and average movie goers are going to need more of a payoff.
First, I like Thomas saving the kids. Shows us nothing’s set in stone.
What I’m talking about, is the whole theological ending.
The Father puts the souls in the house, and Thomas is hired to help with it. It’s hinted that the Father is God, but never explicitly explained.
Also, Lucy gets back into the house, and once it’s destroyed is left wandering on a primordial path, akin to Lucifer getting back into Heaven. Also, how exactly did Thomas open the door for her?
At the very end, Thomas builds a house, under an apple tree, which yields to a mass exodus of spirits going from the house to the garden…of Eden.
Now I emailed Alex, wondering if I got it right, and he said they intentionally left it open ended, but he leaned toward my conclusion. (Perhaps he was only humoring me though as I’m the one writing the review.)
I don’t think that’s a good idea, and I think an excellent spot to give more background is when Lucy and Rachel fight.
Nothing needs to be completely spelt out. But I am reminded of two things:
The ending of Lost. Many people guessed purgatory during season one, and the writers were all, “No, no. They’re not in purgatory.” But where did they end up? Purgatory, or at least a version of it.
Inception which I came out of very impressed, but there was a decent amount of people (including my lovely wife) who were scratching their heads asking, “What the hell just happened?”
Now, where this script differs from Lost is even the unpopular ending people got was still an ending, but this script feels like a bit of a cop out. The good deal with Inception is there was enough Matrix style action to appeal to the masses, but this script is more a suspense/thriller.
As it’s written now, there might be leftover popcorn tossed at the screen once the credits role.
5 out of 10 points.
This was a very interesting script, and I’m not sure I’ve stated that enough. The idea behind it is unique and as I mentioned above, writing in the twists and turns that this script takes isn’t easy.
That being said, I think it has a bit of a ways to go to make it great.
The best advice I can give, is early on we have to be completely sure we’re headed one way, Thomas being dead for example or just drunk, and then we’re completely thrown the curveball the plot provides at the midpoint.
Currently, the early confusion leads to frustration instead of interest, and with the plot twist I’m not sure the payoff is enough to excuse what made us mad in the first place.
72 out of 100 points.
PS – I know we ask for suggestions all the time from our readers, but I’d very much like to hear what folks have to say about this script. As with the ending, the script as a whole might lead to polarized reviews, and I think only having my input is a disservice to both Alex and Ben.