This time we’re headed down to sunny Florida (I sounded that out as Flor-REE-duh as I typed it) and to the beaches of Miami. A group of reporters chase all over town in hopes of catching stories before the legit papers do.
Without further ado, here’s the review of The Bad News First by Eric Dickson and Simon Colligan.
Before we get started…
PICK…ONE…STORY… More on this later, but I needed to get that off my chest.
1.) Can we visualize the description?
I’m going to target my comments toward Eric, as he was the one that contacted us.
It’s apparent that Eric is very familiar with Miami, and either loves it there, lives there, or both. Very detail oriented in that he names specific locations around the city.
Now I’ve been to Key Biscayne (one of my best friends actually got married near the beach there), have had drinks at a restaurant overlooking the bay, etc. and I knew exactly what he was talking about. The only problem is, would a reader who’s NOT been to South Beach or other Miami hot spots be able to conjure up a mental picture?
Another problem with specific locations (and I’ll even lump in using specifics when describing characters) is that, as writers, we limit ourselves to a reader.
It’s much easier to use loose language that can be shot in trendy spots around Miami just as easily as around LA. So we’re back to that age old noob writer question, can we afford to give professional readers reasons to say “no” to our script?
Avoid actual bar names, songs, named locations, specific character features (unless it’s part of a payoff later), etc. Keep it as generic as possible without making it generic.
7 out of 10 points.
2.) Does the author use an acceptable format?
Format was right on the money. There wasn’t a problem there, and it’s actually another great example of how to set up your script…format wise that is.
Quick note though, and nothing horrible, but I’d give it another proofread, as there were two spots where characters’ names were switched with the person supposed to be doing the action, and enough typos to warrant a closer read.
10 out of 10 points.
3.) Is the dialogue free of exposition and rich in subtext? Does each character have a unique voice?
Alright, and I always feel I’m super critical of dialogue, but there were times in this script that felt a lot like the problems we’ve all seen before.
Kurt specifically goes on too long in some places, and doesn’t add much to the plot other than space filling dialogue.
An example from page 50:
Let me tell you a story, Daryl.
Daryl turns to give Kurt his full attention.
Friend of mine calls me up. Asks if I wanna go catch a drink. I say sure. He tells me he’s gonna take me to this new place. It’s crawling with women.
Daryl squints in confusion.
His buddy leaves with a different chick every time out. So we go to this place. Top floor bar. Baby grand, and everyone’s smoking a cigar and all the women are dressed to kill.
Daryl rubs his temples, closes his eyes a second.
We’re there twenty minutes and there’s three women sitting at the bar, dressed in thousand dollar gowns. They’re not interested in me. They’re checking out my buddy. And all night I tease him. So why don’t you go talk to them? He says I’m pacing myself. All good things come to those who wait. And I say, I don’t know. I think you should go talk to them before they give up and lose interest.
Is there a point anytime soon?
This goes on for three hours. The joint’s five minutes from closing. He’s spent over sixty bucks on drinks before he finally goes over and talks to them. Turns out all three are dudes.
Daryl sighs and slumps forward in his chair.
I’m sitting there trying not to laugh. He finally walks back. I ask him what happened. You know what he says?
Daryl thinks it over.
I give up.
He says ’I don’t wanna talk about it’. You get what I’m saying to you?
DARYL I have no idea.
Kurt picks up Daryl’s phone, hands it to him.
You can either sit and think about what you did wrong or you can pick up the phone and get Curtis to do this interview. You understand now?
Other times characters’ dialogue seems flat, especially the back and forth between Kurt and Darby.
Seen here on page 15:
Darby folds her arms like a pouting child. Kurt tries his hardest to hold back a smile.
What do you think? Good?
I especially like the ’fricking’ part.
I’ve been working all morning on it.
Kurt takes a seat at his desk, kicks back and sips at his coffee.
It’s still missing a few touches.
Darby hovers over his desk and throws him a disgusted look.
Like Lisa McKay’s teethmarks all over Lawson’s right arm.
Or the crack rock she refused to spit out.
Or the cops finding traces of anadrol in Curtis’s bloodstream.
Just little stuff like that.
You’re an ass.
Other than that, it’s a solid story.
Another example is on page 66, but I won’t include it here in an effort to save time.
Basically we all should be going through our scripts and if two characters are EVER just sitting/standing there talking, we need to ask ourselves, “Do we really need this scene? If yes, how can we make them DO something while talking?”
Another thing is the one liners. Everyone’s got a witty comment for everyone else, and it’s a problem. It blurs the characters. Are they all trying to be funny? See my notes from my Blood and Fire review for more on that.
3 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 wasn’t exactly a play, with the extravagant locations, but I had trouble seeing it as a movie. Even with the opening helicopter scene I felt like I was reading a script for a television series that was a montage of episodes.
5 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?
As I mentioned earlier, Eric does seem to know a bit about the location, and that helped me out. He also included some of the perks that goes along with that sort of lifestyle down in Miami.
The story, as I mentioned above, was a mash up of scenes from crime dramas, and although it had moments it wasn’t terribly original.
5 out of 10 points.
6.) Does the script have a hook?
Although in the drama category, I still thought the script would be funny too, with the inclusion of “quirky staff”. Them chasing three stories also caught my interest for reasons I’ll explain later. All in all though, I wasn’t dreading reading it, but the logline was a bit generic for what the script presented.
10 out of 15 points.
7.) Is that hook effective?
The opening scenes with Friendly were a great set up. I wasn’t sure what exactly was going on, but I wanted to keep reading to find out.
This feeling was INSTANTLY brought to a halt though once we’re presented with the other characters at the office of Grapevine Studios. Marty started talking about what Friendly did, and how the cops were looking at him, and I was left baffled. (Last I knew Friendly was in a bar checking out who he thought was a couple who robbed a Brinks truck.)
Now all of a sudden he was in trouble for some video? I thought a time lapse had happened.
Kurt wakes up in his car, drunk and disheveled which I thought would pay off later, but other than that first scene he never really loses himself.
On top of all that, the main storyline is presented with Lawson being talked about as a shady character, but was muddled by everything else going on.
Too much being thrown at me at once.
5 out of 15 points.
8.) Is there enough to maintain the hook? Reveals, conflict, etc.?
Too much and not enough, but let me clarify.
PICK ONE STORY!
This was THE BIGGEST problem of the script. The whole three story angle, I really expected all the stories to be tied together somehow. They weren’t. As I can’t see a possible way to do so, I’d say drop the Alexis story and drop the Curtis story.
What little momentum there was with the Friendly vs. Lawson story was lost when we had to switch to the others. Daryl working the Curtis story just felt like an afterthought, and honestly had no reason being in this script, since it really didn’t tie into Lawson’s set up other than him grilling Daryl and Kurt in the station.
I’d even drop some of the characters. Rudy can easily absorb into Darby, Daryl and Steve (I honestly couldn’t remember who Steve was when he was trying to meet his girlfriend’s parents) can be dropped, and focus more on developing everyone else with generic support staff, save maybe naming the one camera guy, (Scottie?).
Other Random Thoughts
Were they just an internet tabloid? The way they shot stories made it seem like an Access Hollywood type show.
The video that got Friendly into so much trouble I didn’t get. I don’t understand how it was an alibi, and I don’t know what the blow up doll was for. I kind of got the second video where they made fun of Lawson with the newspapers, but even then I felt like I was missing something (which didn’t pay off in the end and left me mad).
Why do half the characters have nicknames that aren’t even close to their names? Do we need their real names at all then?
I really can’t give any exact pointers other than flushing out the true story, which I think is the staff trying to give Lawson what’s coming for him.
1 out of 10 points.
9.) Does the story play to a target audience, and have the elements demanded by that audience?
As this script was all over the place, I’m not even sure who the target audience is. We have some parts that play like Nip/Tuck, while others feel like CSI: Miami, and the last bit with Curtis and Chris felt like Can’t Hardly Wait.
Another problem was new characters kept showing up. The cast was huge, and I wasn’t sure what demographic they were all meant to appeal to.
1 out of 10 points.
Eric, you can format one hell of a script, but after that, the project needs work.
Please don’t take this the wrong way, but what are you writing about? I think that’s a major question that needs to be answered before you start another rewrite.
What are you hoping to see on the big screen? Who is the main character in it? How will he/she overcome the bad guy?
As I mentioned before, this would be a cool TV show if you broke the three separate stories into episodes. This way you could keep the whole staff, make it either a comedy or a drama, and still flush decent stories out in 30 minutes.
Overall note before we part, if you leave us in the dark early on, you better make sure we get a payoff before the end, or you’ll have wished someone shouted, “FIRE,” in the theater.
Total 47 out of 100 points.
Hey guys this is a great new site. You have already reviewed several scripts with which I am familiar, and your notes and evaluations are solid.
I have to come to the defense of The Bad News First. I realize the attempted tripartite structure is unusual and really won’t work for a spec script. But I liked the paradigm in which the script was like an “edition” of a tabloid. And I enjoyed the Miambience.
Perhaps tying the three strands together in the third act, as you suggest, would make this feel a little more like a feature, and less like a sprawling TV pilot.
Anyway, Mr. Dickson is certainly capable of writing a tighter, more focused script, as he has demonstrated with both Niner and The Utah Murder Project.
Thanks for the comment.
I’m honestly trying to think of another movie though which pulled off the idea of an “edition of a tabloid.”
Nothing comes to mind, but maybe there’s some independent stuff that’s had success. (Independent stuff is usually Roy’s area fo expertise.)
I guess I got the idea from “The Paper” which showed the day by day craziness that comes with working for a tabloid newspaper. I wanted there to be some competing stories in Bad News for each of the characters to focus their unique styles. And I wanted the stories to be as different from each other as possible. I purposely created different atmospheres for each of these stories to grow. This probably accounts for the schizophrenic mood of the script.
I didn’t want there to be any obvious, contrived connections between the Lawson case, Alex’s mother or Curtis’s arrest. I wanted the payoff to be how the staff of Grapevine are able to spin three completely different stories to trap a corrupt policeman. I wanted it to be a surprise.
The Kurt character was meant to be the main protagonist. Or the “Andy Travis”, head of programming character that is the glue that holds Grapevine together. His main purpose was to point the other staff in the right direction and carefully balance the outcome of three controversial stories. That was the idea anyways.
Friendly represents the rebel of the group: the guy that breaks all the rules and works by his own code of journalistic ethics. He will stop at nothing to bring down Lawson. Lawson represents the object of corruption. The ones in power who get away with it.
Darby is the ideolistic crusader who wants to expose the corrupt and Rudy is the naive young newbie who wants nothing more than to simply help the subject of her story.
Daryl represents what it’s like to be facing a deadline and your source takes a dump at the last minute. And facing this dilemma, he involves his innocent younger brother, who in turn becomes inadvertenly involved in a major cover-up. Basically, how one thing can lead to another.
So how will these writers get out of their unintended messes? I really relied on the major plot twists for shock value here and couldn’t quite fit the story I wanted to tell in less than 150 pages.
I wanted more back and forth between stories, but the page length would’ve been out of control. I wanted more of Rudy and Alex, more Daryl and Curtis, but had to trim this script to keep it under 130.
Trying to tie in the Alex Ray sub plot with Dennis Lawson was a bit of a stretch. Almost too contrived and too convenient.
In all honesty, there needs to be a couple more key scenes with Rudy, Alex and Darby to really spin a more interesting story behind Alex’s birth father and his connection to the Rock Star bank robberies.
Maybe Lawson has something to do with covering up the Rock Star Robberies? Hmmm. Interesting idea for the rewrite.
Your comment convinces me that you’re aiming for a script in the vein of Magnolia. I like movies like that. They take their time and simmer. That try and use the medium itself as a premise in the argument for the theme. Very subtle and effective when it comes out right. Hard to know how you break in with a script of that type, though, for sure.
It does seem like you’re on the right track with your thoughts about the rewrite.
Magnolia, Crash (Haggis), Short Cuts, these films have multiple plot strands, episodic structures, and rely on theme to hold everything together.
But they are impossible subjects for specs. Note that all three of these examples are by writer-directors that had track records. And even then each of these faced funding difficulties.
It sucks that a whole range of inventive structures and quirky subject matter is essentially off limits to unknown writers. But what are we going to do? Write a screenplay about it? Good luck Charlie Kaufman.
I honestly think if it’s entertaining and the events of a script draws you in and keeps you on your toes, then a story can work. I don’t think that these types of stories should be off limits to non-directors and reserved only for established writers.
I’m sure I could keep all of these characters, large cast and all, and make this story work if I tied all three Grapevine stories back to the Dennis Lawson investigation.
Daryl, Darby, Rudy and Alexis need a few more key scenes to flesh out their characters and become just as important to the story as Friendly, Kurt and Dawson. This would make it feel more ensemble cast than it feels now.
Eric, I think trying to tie them all in together, Crash-style, would be a daunting task. As you mentioned you’re already close to 130 pages and two of the stories had to be minimalized to bare bones plot points.
I know Walker’s a fan of your’s and I think you need to take his advice, don’t make this your spec script. Don’t forget it either, but maybe put it on the back burner and come back to it later.
Walker mentions a few more good examples of movies that aim at your target. He also mentions the difficulty these scripts had in making it to theatres.
It’s also clear you know you’re trying to scale the Everest of scripts. The movie that is inevitably referred to as “critically acclaimed”. Hard to get to that point, but, man, what a view.
I often wonder why more people won’t go see these kinds of movies. If studios weren’t so scared of losing their shirts, we’d probably have a much better selection of movies to pick from.
At any rate, it seems like you’re onto a way to tie your threads more tightly together, which is great. We’ll be rooting for you.