Sorry folks, you’re stuck with me for the first review of the week.
Just a quick housekeeping note before we get started, if you haven’t seen it already, we’ve now got a Read Page where you can upload your work for review. Roy and I are hoping to pull from this list eventually for our reviews, so throw up your script if you’re interested in notes.
Back to business, today we’re treated to a late 1800s western.
The Big Die-Up by Kenneth L. Kleemann
Logline: The Tewksbury brothers bring sheep into cattle country. When John is murdered, Ed goes to war. Inspired by true events. Quarterfinalist 2011 Blue Cat contest.
Ed and John Tewksbury arrive in Global, AZ where they stop in for a drink. Here John finds a job branding cattle for a local rancher as Ed continues north for a job in Wyoming.
John and his partner, Tom Graham, get the notion that one man doesn’t need so many heads of cattle. Tom convinces John to start using their own brand while Tom heads into town to register it for them, thus yielding a nice start for a herd of cattle.
Unfortunately, Tom only puts the brand in his name, and then rat’s John out with his new employer.
Flash forward, and Ed has come back working with John on a small ranch he’s established.
The two get roped into using this land in Pleasant Valley, the area the ranch is in, to bring in and raise sheep.
This makes them butt heads with a strong power known as the Hash Knife Gang, who are cattle men, and backed by big money from New York.
A battle between the two rages on, and as Tom loses a brother, he then goes and kills John, thinking he did it. Ed wants revenge and the battle continues until the governor gets involved, halting it.
Five years pass, when Ed finally gets his revenge on Tom and the other parties who stole his brother from him.
Let’s get to it.
1.) Can we visualize the description?
There’s a lot of things that let’s us know Ken is familiar with the topic of cowboys and more importantly riding. But do we need it all?
Ed and John Tewksbury, ride down the hard baked street. Ed rides a stallion- SOCKWAD- with white markings on his feet.
Both men employ the Mexican vaquero saddle with a single cinch and a tall horn. A seventy foot long reata made of braided rawhide is looped on the horn.
Their rawhide tapaderos flap with every step. (Tapaderos are stirrups covered in rawhide to protect the rider’s boots. They are usually decorated with rawhide streamers.)
NOTE: The two styles of saddle – vaquero and Texas- are a
visual way to distinguish the two sides in the coming range
Notice the note at the end, which I thought would be more important. Having read the whole script though, it’s not needed. With two groups shooting at each other, you can tell who’s after who.
In most parts you can further differentiate by one group attacking another group that’s herding sheep. (It’s safe to assume the men attacking sheep are cattle ranchers.)
I’d greatly streamline these details as they bog down the reader, and I know they may be historically accurate, but that’s stuff that’s added in later once you’ve sold your script and people stop asking your opinion, lol.
Another bit from Page 9:
The calf turns downhill. John spurs his horse to a gallop, whips his reata over his head and ropes the calf.
John dallies the reata around the saddle horn. He turns his
horse, pulling the calf toward Tom Graham.
Graham grabs the reata and follows it to the calf, his pigging string in his mouth. He throws and hog-ties the animal.
He walks to the fire, retrieves the branding iron, and burns
Jim Stinson’s brand into the calf.
He puts the iron back into the fire and removes the reata
from the calf’s neck.
This is a scene of them roping a calf. Problem with this is, the very next scene is practically the same thing, and it’s early in the story where we should be using the space to convince the reader our script doesn’t belong in the trash.
In short, too much cattle rustling.
Some small stuff to watch out for:
Page 1 – John Tewksbury (younger), just give him an age.
Page 6 – Stinson stares… There’s stuff in there that can’t be acted out. Change it to “Stinson considers John and Ed.”
Page 18 – Tom Graham thinks…He shouldn’t think, his plan all along should be to steal the cattle and frame John.
Page 42 – One of the characters “scans for tracks, perhaps”. How do you shoot this? He scans for tracks or just looks at the ground. Define what they’re doing or don’t tell us.
As we can see it in our heads though…
4 out of 10 points.
2.) Does the author use an acceptable format?
Yes, and thank you, Ken, as it made for an easy read. Perhaps beef up the page length to at least over 100 pages.
10 out of 10 points.
3.) Is the dialogue free of exposition and rich in subtext? Does each character have a unique voice?
Feel like I’m Oreo’ing the comments here. Bad…good…and now another part I have to be harsh on.
The dialogue was flat. Most of it.
I don’t know.
Come on. I just sold some cattle
for cash, and I’m in the mood to
Are you sure you don’t want to sell
me them horses?
Stinson. Call me Jim.
Glad to know you.
And like I said, it’s in a lot of places.
Page 8 – Tom being introduced to John is the same kind of boring back and forth.
Page 13 – Same thing when Anne’s introduced to John.
Page 42 – John’s “I don’t know about this.” Remove stuff like that.
After that I stopped keeping notes on dialogue.
Essentially go back through and make sure characters have their own personalities.
For instance, Tom and John joke with Stinson initially, so make John’s jovial nature carry through. He should be somewhat light hearted to Ed’s serious stern.
Also, avoid typical day to day talk. This is a movie. We live real life everyday and don’t need to pay $10.50 to watch it for an hour and a half.
A character should introduce themselves in a line tops, and the EASIER way is to have us come in late to the scene, presumably after introductions have been made.
Instead of having Tom introduce John to his wife, and making us sit through it, jump to the scene of them enjoying dinner, and John thanking her. They’ve probably already been introduced, right? This works for most of the “nice to meet ya” scenes.
Summing up this question, get more bang for your buck with dialogue, and find the characters personalities then let them come out.
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?
There’s a lot of talking. Whether sitting around a campfire, in a bar, scheming before killing sheepherders, etc. Sometimes the talking is done while doing things, sometimes it’s while the characters are just sitting there. (But always with Ed carrying his rifle, lol.)
I will say once the action picks up, this can only be a movie. The problem we’ll discuss here in a following question, is that it took to long to get there.
6 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?
Yes. As I mentioned above, Ken did his homework with the subject matter and it shows. It felt very historically accurate (I didn’t check Wikipedia though) which I believe added to the story.
Not sure anyone else would include the attention to detail that Ken did, the trick though is making it more subtle.
10 out of 10 points.
6.) Does the script have a hook?
The first scene, yes. The next page, not so much. (It’s actually the Stinson introduction bit from the dialogue question.)
Also Ken kind of cheated. The scene that hooked me at the beginning is *SPOILER* the fight at the end.
It was good in the fact that I wanted to know what happened, but I’d argue there needs to be enough in the following scene so we can start the story from the beginning.
Once we got to Stinson, Ed and John, I’ve got to be honest, I needed more to get me invested in the characters.
8 out of 15 points.
7.) Is that hook effective?
Again here. John gets a job, which is cool, and the main plot point is that he and Tom are going to steal cattle by using their new brand, but most of the first 15 pages are spent with branding cattle and sitting around a campfire.
More needs to happen.
If you want to set up that Tom screws John, then just show us. Don’t dance around it. Get us closer to them being sheep guys in a valley of cattle men.
7 out of 15 points.
8.) Is there enough to maintain the hook? Reveals, conflict, etc.?
Inspired by true events.
The beauty of this and using creative license is that you don’t have to write a documentary. You can base your story loosely on the facts, or you can stick to them exactly how they happened.
The importance is knowing when one case makes for a better story over the other. History’s good, and surprisingly certain parts of the history of the human race are more interesting than fiction.
To me, Ken has tried to cram a documentary into a Hollywood story, and it’s not fitting. The story’s scattered and so are the numerous characters.
Main problem? The story starts too soon.
We need to start with the Hash Knife Gang already established in Global, and having most of the support of the local ranchers like Tom Graham.
Those that are opposing it? The Tewksbury boys and Stinson, but they don’t exactly get along because Stinson thinks John tries to steal his cattle. This sets up conflict AND a potential ally down the road. (Remember Stewie Griffin’s little bit to Brian “enemies become friends?”)
The railroad coming should also be looming on the horizon. People generally hate change, and to most of the townsfolk this should be their slice of heaven. They don’t want to ruin that. It’d also be interesting to have the Hash Knife guys excited about it, because it’s going to greatly increase their business. Maybe they’ve even got a monopoly on it, denying Stinson and Tewks access.
John getting screwed by Tom would be tricky to handle, but this can easily be solved with witty dialogue by Big Mouth Bob in the bar, while the Tewksburys and the Hash Knife Gang are all inside the bar. Create as much tension as you can, and then let it boil over almost to a good old fashioned bar brawl.
Your HOOK? (And we need to remember it doesn’t have to always be a big action scene.) Make it the subtext of the dialogue that creates so much tension we’re reading as fast as we can to figure out why these characters are so bottled up, and are they going to explode at each other.
The cattle ranchers vs. sheepherders plot needs to escalate, right from page one. Ed and John should be looking for a way to make their own way while getting out from under the thumb of the New York backed ranchers. The sheep idea allows them to do that.
On the revenge bit, develop Ed and John’s relationship. He doesn’t have to go al QQ when John dies, but Ed we should see that Ed wants to do this because he loves him.
As I said above, the action stuff from the second half onward is good, but it’s going to take a major rewrite to catch the first part up.
Few small things:
Page 47 – Use an intercut with the gunfight from the cabin, since it’s both inside and out. Much easier than switching back and forth with headings.
Ending – Your script should end with Ed shooting Tom. I’m not a fan of this in the beginning, but if you’re going to do it, this balances it out. Either way you decide to go though, we should see Ed fire, Tom fall dead, then cut to your title card (which I liked) and “The end.”
The one part I really did like, and wish you had done more with is Ed riding all night and switching horses. It would have been interesting to see him setting this up without us really knowing what he’s doing. Especially since outwardly it looks like he’s come to terms with the ranch wars being over.
4 out of 10 points.
9.) Does the story play to a target audience, and have the elements demanded by that audience?
This is a western, no doubt about it. Even with the scattered plot, I still think there’s enough for the target audience. A lot of riding, a lot of branding, and a lot of gun fights.
A few things people might have a problem with:
Page 47 – Here I realized there’s A LOT of characters. They’re hard to keep track of. Consider consolidating some of them.
Page 6 – John leaves with Stinson and doesn’t say goodbye to Ed. Also when John dies, Ed certainly goes to avenge him, but it seems more because he “has to” than out of any affection he had for his brother. If he’s willing to go to the lengths he goes, we need to see more of their brotherly love.
Page 58 – John’s wife buries he and the other fella all in the middle of this gun fight. I liked that Tom and company didn’t shoot her, but seriously, even digging shallow graves and covering them with rocks would take most of the day. In the script it seems like 15 minutes tops. I’d argue taking this part out, and replacing it with more drama once Tom and Co. is run off. Both the wife and Ed should mourn where we see it.
Overall though, as I mentioned above, it was a western.
7 out of 10 points.
In a lot of ways, this felt like Tombstone to me. That’s not bad, I like the movie, but the whole thing felt like Wyatt’s last ride when he’s rounding up cowboys. Tombstone was more than that.
This movie can be more too, and as I mentioned the history of it, which I believe Ken did his homework, is interesting and now it’s his job to find the parts that better fit a screenplay.
Total 57 out of 100 points.
Hank, you must read very quickly. Evelyn Wood would be proud of you.
Just a few points, not going to critique your whole review. To begin with, it’s Globe, Arizona, not Global.
And according to you, “Page 58 – John’s wife buries he and the other fella all in the middle of this gun fight. I liked that Tom and company didn’t shoot her, but seriously, even digging shallow graves and covering them with rocks would take most of the day.”
Well then, those folks must not have been serious. That part happened as described. I’ll try to post a pic, but if I can’t, then paste in this link:
The headstone was added much later.
Thanks for letting us take a look at it.
My apologies on Globe, I should have written that down (and honestly I was more worried I’d get “Hash Knife”).
Not sure what you meant by “those folks must not have been serious,” but it’d be interesting to know how quick she buried them.
Oddly, because they are considered difficult to sell, this is the sixth Western spec I have read in the last few months. And in fact it was not my intention to read this one, just check it out, but there was enough going on that I read the whole thing.
Of those six Westerns I mentioned, this one has by far the most authentic detail, and Mr. Kleeman’s authoritative tone and brisk writing style are undoubtedly the strong points of the script. But these two characteristics are almost at odds with each other, and the story seems too big. It feels as though it was trimmed down from a much longer draft.
I think that in his review Roy identifies many of the local symptoms of this broader problem. There is an extraordinary amount of information for the audience to process and remember. The story is so sweeping that artful pauses and the sort of minute observations of which the writer is clearly capable feel out of place, and like lost opportunities.
At 95 pages, and with such serious subject matter, this script could be expanded slightly. But it might be more profitable for the writer to consider zooming in on a smaller portion of this story, to heighten the drama, and demand less of the audience.
Roy mentions Tombstone, and I was reminded of other grittily realistic Westerns such as Pat Garret and Billy the Kid, Heaven’s Gate, and the obscure gem China 9, Liberty 37.
Overall, a straight range war saga, entertaining and very well researched.
Sorry I misidentified the reviewer twice as Roy when in fact it was Hank.
I should have realized. Hank writes like Wittgenstein, Roy is more like Kierkegaard.
Sometimes I SWEAR you make these names up just to fool me.
BTW please note my restraint in avoiding Western puns.
The genre is a goldmine for repartee and offers a range of possibilities, so of course I was champing at the bit, but I hope that by reining in my impulse to be quick on the draw I have demonstrated that I am past that stage, and that my example will spur other wordsmiths to keep their powder dry, play their cards close to their chests, head for the hills, and hunker down.