Today we’re taking a look at Return Fire by Joe Dinicola and Anthony Davies.
Before I start, I want to give my two cents here. I’m confused why this is on the consider list for Amazon Studios. The screenplay was well written, followed standard three act structure, with only a few problems.
I’ve not read any of the other “in development” scripts other than Touching Blue and Zombies vs. Gladiators, and nothing against Lauri or Scott as they have good stories, but today’s script is further along and I’d argue ready to storyboard if not shoot.
That’s just one random internet blogger’s opinion, but I’m confused why you wouldn’t be developing the scripts that arguably don’t need rewrites. Logistically speaking it doesn’t make sense.
That being said, here we go.
1.) Can we visualize the description?
Yep, and almost all of it was good. There’s actually only ONE SINGLE CASE where I didn’t understand what was going on.
We’ll start with the good stuff first. Most of the fight scenes are well thought out, and easy to see without committing the problem I accused Leo of doing in his Storm Dragons, which was going overboard on the description.
A cool example from page 46:
The remaining GIs sprint across the clearing… AND THE BIG
GATLING GUN OPENS FIRE. BULLETS RIP THROUGH TWO OF THE GIs.
The last two, a FAT GI and SKINNY GI, make it to the other
side, massive bullets TEARING UP THE TREE TRUNK.
(more from same page)
Sergeant Brown FIRES HIS MACHINE GUN, the rest of them
joining in. All FIRE BLIND, some shots coming close to the–
MACHINE GUN NEST
— where a white-clad NAZI SOLDIER hides behind a sheet of
metal through which he BLASTS his gun, bullets feeding in,
shells spitting out. The GIs’ bullets just PING on the metal.
Another good spot that made me take a note was at page 73. It’s a big long action sequence which was easy to follow.
Now, the ONLY part I had a hard time following was the scene starting on page 84.
Not going to list the entire thing here, but my main problem was trying to figure out where everyone was. The action I got, but the Nazis had two more soldiers than I expected, and I thought Alpha Team were all in two rooms, with the docs working in another room. People seemed to be all over the place though.
During this, the “spike” is also set to happen, and I wasn’t sure entirely what that meant. It might have been set up earlier on, but I was in the middle of a gunfight and didn’t have time to scroll back to figure out what a spike was. Had to keep my head down.
Since everything else was good, BUT as this was a pretty important scene that was hard to follow:
8 out of 10 points.
2.) Does the author use an acceptable format?
Yes. It read nicely. Was a proper length of 111 pages (including title page). There wasn’t a single spot that made me stop and take notes. I mean there’s a few flashbacks, but they’re basically in there so we get the payoff of what happened in two spots of the story.
10 out of 10 points.
3.) Is the dialogue free of exposition and rich in subtext? Does each character have a unique voice?
I’ll mention this later, but there were A LOT of characters. Now each had their own voices which was good, but initially it was very hard to keep track of. I think that is more a matter for question 9, though.
Here there was minor problems.
This is merely the accumulation of
many wise investments. Microsoft
and Apple, Facebook instead of
MySpace, Amazon instead of various
junk stocks that have since sunk
without trace. You see here…
(the army veterans)
… my life in service of our
country, more valuable than any
share option. And by my side…
without whom I would not be here.
Michael, my son, Lily, my great
Santa, you’re… in charge now. Get
Jacobs relaxes. Dead. Santa bows his head, restraining tears.
Not saying to drag out his death, but can’t we get a bit more out of this moment?
No one should interfere with the
time-line. In the bunker the spikes
were created while we dined, so
anyone travelling to activate
Return Fire would not be seen.
I had NO CLUE what this bit meant.
That covers the specific instances of problems, and the other points I have are more suggestions. The dialogue isn’t bad the way it’s written now, but could be sharper.
Page 21 – Alpha Team arrives in the past, but NO ONE makes the suggestion they time traveled. They all seem to think it’s an elaborate trick by the enemy, but even if all evidence is pointing to something impossibly fantastic, someone’s HAS to suggest it, right? I thought Doc Lear or Dang might be the right fit to say something.
Page 48-ish – None of the soldiers suggest to Santa that his grandpa is down there and they should help him. If Alpha Team really wanted to save the GIs, they’d pull at Santa’s heartstrings viciously to save their 1945 brethren.
Page 59 – Santa knows what’s in the letter Anthony won’t open. He should withhold that information for longer while also defending Anthony more against Chase. This is a great spot for conflict, and a good back and forth draws it out. Right now, you give us the goods too early, about his fiancé dying.
Page 96-ish – When Urhmacher is apologizing, he should want to redeem himself because he lost sight of the importance of science, instead of just wanting to be famous.
One last problem I had, was how familiar the soldiers were with commanding officers. I had a hard time buying the dialogue when a Private First Class is calling a Corporal an asshole. Also, everyone was too short with Santa, and he was too short with Jacobs. Should be more “sir’s” in there, even if said with slight sarcasm.
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?
Yes. You can see everything from the trailer, to being on the edge of your seat during the combat scenes, and holding your breath wondering if they’re going to make it home or not.
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 would say yes. I’m trying to think of something OTHER than the zombie levels of Call of Duty where we went back in time to fight zombies. (Black Ops had that one random level where you teleported out of the White House basement or something.)
I can’t think of a movie specifically, and besides that, this script has a few unique twists. The characters are also unique and well written.
10 out of 10 points.
6.) Does the script have a hook?
Well, it has Nazis. That’ll pique most movie goers’ interest right there. Also it has time travel, which, thanks to Marty McFly, we’ve come to enjoy. On top of that it’s taking modern day special forces and putting them up against Hitler’s best.
I’d say positive on this one, not to mention the first page opens with an earthquake that unearths a strange door in the middle of nowhere.
15 out of 15 points.
7.) Is that hook effective?
I understood what the idea was behind the training scene, that we’re meant to think it’s a live mission until we see that it’s just practice dummies, but I think we should see some kind of real action here.
It should be something rewarding too, like a STC moment where we instantly like Alpha Team. The easiest example is a modern day mission, but maybe they have to rescue a fellow ranger squad or something. Maybe they’re rescuing civilians from a terrorist bombing. A scene that makes us root for them, but also has some current touches added in that make it unique.
I hate, hate, HATED the mansion scene. Not initially, but once I saw how fast paced the rest of the script was, I realized what a drag it was for the beginning. There’s the dad part in there too which never really pays off, especially when the main focus is on Santa’s relationship with Lily.
For the sake of this question though, things need to be presented either faster, or in a more exciting way.
Most points lost here, but if you fix this problem you’ve more or less perfected the script.
8 out of 15 points.
8.) Is there enough to maintain the hook? Reveals, conflict, etc.?
Okay, there are two places in the script where things slow down entirely too much, especially considering how fast the rest is.
I’ve already mentioned the first one above, but here’s the fix for it (or my suggestion):
Once Alpha Team returns from the initial mission, Grandpa’s in command. (Johnson is useless.) Grandpa’s the one who’s been telling Santa he’s not ready to be an officer, either directly, or pulling strings with some of his war buddies. This creates HUGE conflict initially, right? AND the payoff at the end is even better, since Santa couldn’t get promoted because then he wouldn’t have been part of Operation Return Fire.
Santa needs to have more of a desire to want to spend time with his daughter. It should actually be the reason behind him wanting a promotion. But as she’s also currently in Grandpa’s care, there’s no need for that either, because “in the future he’ll have all the time in the world to spend with her.” (Catch my meaning there?)
This also solves the problem of Santa not really growing enough as a character (which I don’t think he does). He should have a bit of a grudge due to constantly being passed over, and when Jacobs dies he has to step up and we see he’s actually pretty capable (despite a few setbacks) and now we’re wondering why he isn’t being promoted.
The explanation of what Return Fire is.
Pope in the Pool. Camel Humping (I believe Lauri called it over at Amazon Studios), and now throwing bodies on the fire.
All happening in the background while Uhrmacher is explaining what the plan is behind the time machine, BUT this is still boring, burning dead Nazis or no.
Chase, I believe, keeps talking about waterboarding with Mac. Now, I’m not making a plea for torture here, but let’s be honest, they did just meet this German doctor. What’s to say they can trust him?
Did anyone see 2004’s Punisher? In one scene, Frank Castle’s trying to get info from a guy, and he has him strung upside down. He also has a blow torch, and tells the guy about how when you get burnt it actually feels cold instead of hot. (Something about the nerve cells going numb.) Anyway, he also has a popsicle, so each time the guy gives him an answer he doesn’t like he JABS the popsicle into his back.
But the guy being interrogated thinks he’s being burned, so of course he screams and spills his guts.
Something like this would DEFINITELY liven up the script, and to me make more sense. You came up with Babs using her radiation pen as a bomb, so figure out a clever way for them to “torture” Uhrmacher. Present the background in a scene where we don’t even realize we’re getting the background.
Them tricking him also makes his later sell out to Eisenberg a better plot point. Is he truly part of the Reich or is it simply payback?
6 out of 10 points.
9.) Does the story play to a target audience, and have the elements demanded by that audience?
Okay, here we are. Last and final question.
Too Many Characters.
This is more a problem for readers than movie goers, but I had a hard time wrapping my head around all the characters.
They were mostly different races, with different personalities, but there were still a lot. I think after my All You Need is Kill review though, that this is most likely a problem for any Army themed movie.
Speaking of minimal characters, did you know one of the earlier version of Jurassic Park I read for a screenwriting class had no Ian Malcolm? He wasn’t in there. The script still read well, but having seen the movie I felt like we were missing an important part. Apparently he was added later in the book and then agreed upon to be in the new version of the script.
My point here is you should restrict the number of characters you have in the early script. Make it as easy as possible for the reader, and remove a main character or two. Then when it goes into production you can always add them in to balance it out, since seeing them is easier than reading them.
I’ve already suggested cutting Johnson, which I really hope you agree with as it strengthens the story, but I had a problem with Mac, Chase and Dang. Obviously Dang needs to stay, but can one of the others be absorbed into Dang or Thompson? That should really help out.
**Sidenote here** With Dang being hurt and back at the farm, maybe “Past Dang” shows up in the shadows, and helps out more than just at the end. That way “Past Dang” can help and replace Mac or Chase.
Lastly, team members that die early on should almost be generic soldiers. I know it ruins some of the suspense of the script, but it also doesn’t get us hung up on details.
Second problem a reader or audience is going to have a problem with is Eisenberg leaving Urhmacher behind. If he’s so important for the project to work, he needs to make more of a move to take him with him.
Last part is the ending. The helicopter should BARELY make it to safety. Or even better it gets hit right at the end by the EMP, and makes a crash landing. This is a movie after all, so let’s put these folks in danger right up to the end.
Another note on the ending, I didn’t like the end part either at the mansion. Was too long. If you go the route of Grandpa meeting them after this mission too (and him denying Santa’s earlier promotions) Dang can simply have a line like, “I see you finally got that promotion.” Then either roll credits, or do the last part setting up a potential sequel.
Overall, not too many problems.
7 out of 10 points.
Two main spots to fix, tops. Other than that, a quick rewrite on the smaller stuff and this one’s ready to go. Hopefully Amazon Studios is letting you know where you stand, because if they’re not interested, I think you two should definitely shop it around.
Total 82 out of 100 points.