My script review for our September 2015 Amateur Winner, Black Swarm reviewed 09/28/15:
Winner of our September Amateur Monday Contest has been chosen, and for those of you who haven’t already checked it’s:
Black Swarm – In 1984 divided Berlin, a young but disillusioned escape planner, pursued by a dangerous drug trafficker, is hired by two mysterious art dealers to smuggle a girl out of the Eastern Sector.
On top of being the winner, Mr. Bernardini is also one of our international members, and writing ANYTHING in a second language deserves an extremely large “kudos”. (Hell, it’s argued yours truly can’t even write in my native English.)
Feel free to check out some (or all) of the script before jumping into the notes!
1.) Marketability of the Idea
Although all four loglines this month generated interest, one particular part of this one caught my eye.
“1984 divided Berlin…”
Maybe it’s my excitement over the upcoming Bridge of Spies film, I don’t know, but as I read the logline, I wondered why we don’t have more films and/or series set during this time frame.
On top of it being an escape/heist movie, the film also takes place during the end of the Cold War. This is particularly relevant because, as I type this, President Obama is sitting down with Vladimir Putin to discuss Russia’s involvement in places like Syria, so a second Cold War is at the back of people’s minds.
Admittedly, it’s not the smallest budget, but if the story inside this setting can be streamlined, there are potential producers out there that may request such material.
My one tip here, to authors who ARE NOT native English speakers, would be to approach UK and a handful of other European production companies first, since there might be leniency when writing in a second tongue.
(If you’re unsure of who these companies may be, feel free to check out and post in our Querying Resources section for members. With international readers/authors being members, you might be a simple post away from getting the contact info you need.)
2.) Plot Stability
Overall, the plot was good.
We’re introduced to Hans, who sneaks into communist East Berlin, and smuggles people across the border into capitalist (read “fascist”) West Berlin.
I won’t go into huge detail on the synopsis, but one thing I will mention here is the well thought out plot twists.
The very first scene shows Hans with two other men, Dieter and his “son” Kurt, where hints are dropped he’s very sick, even as they make their daring escape.
Once over the wall and safe, it turns out Dieter isn’t the father, and Kurt is simply a drug mule. Hans doesn’t react well, and the result is him pissing off Dieter and his partner (in more ways than one!) Bernard.
After that, we have page 30, where we’re introduced to Danika, the girl Hans is being paid handsomely to save. Only she tries to commit suicide? Uh-oh, “what’s wrong here” we’re wondering.
Next we get a bit of backstory on Dieter, as it turns out he was captured in East Berlin and rival dealers stole his turf. He takes it back though, and in a pretty gruesome scene.
Lastly, and I guess I should have mentioned this first, was I enjoyed the tension built into the earlier scenes, especially repelling over the Berlin Wall past the guards.
What to Fix
Right now there’s too much going on independently.
The first major change I would suggest is rewriting the ending, editing out the whole “sacrifice” scene.
It came out of left field, and aside from forcing the “black swarm” of butterflies into the story to make the title work, it felt really silly, especially how Dieter is suddenly emotionally attached to Hans and Danika, having never met her before by the way.
After that, your plot needs to focus on Hans, and the work he needs to do to get Danika out. It’s all too rushed when he finally goes after her, being that you waste time on random side plots.
Helmut and Alger’s business, and why they need Danika out, should directly conflict with what Dieter is back to do. Both parties should want her! (Remember, selling modern art can be a great cover for all sorts of illegal operations.)
Maybe the brothers, instead of the Turks, made a push to take over Dieter’s distribution from Bernard.
This presents all sorts of opportunities for conflict, including a “truce” of sorts at the end, where Helmut and Alger sacrifice Hans to Dieter as a good faith payment negotiated turf.
After that, I really enjoyed the idea that Overath helped people escape during the early years of the wall’s construction. This should be introduced earlier via conflict between he and Hans. If Overath truly feels he’s a “coward” by not helping, he wouldn’t play so nice with Hans early on, and makes his help later all the more meaningful in the end.
I’ll mention this later, but any scenes where characters are just sitting around in a club, bar, restaurant and talking, get rid of them.
Page 68 – Drop the pointless sex scene, since it really doesn’t add anything, and there are other, more clever ways to introduce Dieter’s sexual orientation. Hell, you can even start with Bernard in the shower and Dieter getting out of bed. Dieter’s reaction to Bernard’s death will show his true feelings towards him.
Page 72 – Pochath gives up all his information entirely too easy. Either really run Pochath through the ringer, or don’t give Dieter everything he needs in one shot about Hans and Danika.
Page 89 – And maybe not “small” but there should be the same tension of Hans breaking back into East Berlin as in the beginning, and then again when he breaks Danika out. Oh, and can someone please CHASE him? (For a patrolled wall, there was a lot of empty space.)
3.) Quality of Characters
Wayyyyyyyyy too many characters.
There was a post a long time ago in the discussion forum suggesting that the more characters are connected, the stronger your story becomes.
That still holds true, especially in this story, where we meet several characters who are just there to deliver a line or two, and said lines may not even move the plot forward.
Combine any and all characters wherever you can.
Can Rolf be blended into Overath? (Dropping Franziska.)
Can Helmut and Alger take the place of the Turkish drug dealers?
Do we need both the cops at the end, or can the role work with one?
And on, and on.
One other major point here is that if a character requires a specific name, just give it to us.
Don’t write “MAN” until the character is introduced. Say the character’s name initially.
(***The only time we use “man/woman” instead of the character’s name is in a mystery type story, where the true identity should remain secret until the end.)
Along those same lines, if a trait is essential to your plot, like being portly, mention it. Otherwise, a simple name and age does the trick. (Even then you might be able to get away with just the name.)
*SIDENOTE* Can Hans’s coke addiction get him into trouble in the past? Failed attempt, ongoing struggle with Overath, etc.
4.) Dialogue and Description
Okay, here we go.
We’ll talk more about this in the format section, but due to translating the script from Italian to English, some of the dialogue and description felt awkward.
In addition to that, characters had the tendency to ramble, so remember…
GET TO THE POINT!
No big deal, sometimes we got some
action. Three nights ago, Herbert
got a student who was climbing up
the wall. He almost made it…
And the result?
Well, in the end only one part of
the young man, the frontal lobe to
be more specific, reached the
Trim the fat:
Three nights ago, Herbert
got a student who was climbing up
And the result?
(taps his forehead)
His frontal lobe reached the
Page 11 – Bernard and Dieter go back and forth between painkillers, beers for Hans, and the great job Hans did. Send Bernard for the painkiller, and have Hans want to get paid and get out only to discover why Kurt’s sick.
You remember Hans, the guy who
brought me back to the right side
of the city?
(takes a sip from his
How could I forget him?
Please, don’t tell me he’s here.
Dieter nods just once, half-closing his eyes.
Bernard turns around, thrilled, and starts scanning the
A lot going on there, especially that Bernard says something that contradicts his actions.
Seems like we have more business
here than we intended.
Bernard turns, and Dieter points to—
Bernard’s eyes light up, as his hand shoots to the holster under his jacket.
Page 28 – A lost in translation moment with Dieter’s line “…in case I’ll give you a call.”
Page 36 – Another similar moment, when Alger is chewing out Karl.
***If translating from a native language, make sure the point of your dialogue still lands for the intended audience.
Are you going to leave well enough
alone or not?
I don’t know, thing is… Yesterday
I was offered another job.
Another example of trimming fat:
Are you going to leave well enough
Yesterday I was offered another job.
Good afternoon, Hans.
Hans’ smile vanshes.
POCHATH (O.S., CONTINUED)
This is Pochath.
I recognized you instantly.
So, what’s your decision?
We, like Hans, were expecting the call, and will recognize Pochath’s voice without the need to state it:
So, what’s your decision?
Hans’ smile vanishes.
Page 64 – Overath and Hans have a discussion about what to order, and then actually order. Unless this has some hidden meaning, or subtext, shit like this needs cut out.
Page 84 – Same thing here. Alger and Helmut run too long about some golf game with someone they’re doing business with. Unfortunately it doesn’t tie into the main plot. Cut it.
***Eliminate pointless banter whenever possible.
Moving on to description…
Break up important visuals.
The lights of the Western Sector are in clear contrast with
the Eastern Sector, much less illuminated. The Wall runs
through the city like a shining river. Its route is lit up
by a series of reflectors, while two parralel barricades of
concrete define the DEATH STRIP, the space between the
The lights and joy of the Western Sector in clear contrast with that of the drab Eastern Sector.
The Wall runs through the heart of Berlin like a concrete river.
Two parallel areas running along the wall, filled with—
Reflectors. Barbed wire. (Insert other death strip things here.)
Description to leave out
Layout of buildings, rooms, etc. (Unless of course it’s crucial to your plot.)
No one’s going to read your script and say, “Oh, this nightclub won’t work. The script clearly calls for a raised dance floor, even though the story works fine without one.”
Character outfits. If someone dresses rich/poor, fine, but be quick about it. Don’t go into extra detail telling us colors, name brands, etc.
Lastly, why do we constantly need to know how heavy/light the traffic is when characters simply walk beside streets?
Main tip here?
If English is a second language, but you’re still hoping to write a script that appeals to US audiences, READ SCRIPTS written by American authors.
This is the most economical way to pick up American dialect aside from attending an English course at a community college here in the States.
Page 5 – Don’t add unnecessary words, “some agility” should just be “agility”.
Page 6 – Similar, “finishes to coil” is just “coils the rope”.
Page 9 – Eliminate any and all instances of progressive tense, “are spending” is “spend”, “is awaiting” to “awaits” etc.
Page 53 – Unclear what an “American Shot” is. (This may be ignorance on my end, though.)
And finally all the SONG REFERENCES. Lose them. You may love those songs, but if the story works without them, they’re pointless.
6.) What I liked…
The setting. So much potential.
7.) What needs work…
Aside from the format issues, connect the characters to strengthen the plot.
Rating: A rewrite or two away from being ready…
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