It’s two weeks in a row that I’ve been lucky enough to start Wednesday with fast moving scripts.
This week it’s:
The Days Never Know by Taylor McCleve
Logline – With their ten-year high school reunion only days away, a small group of friends remeet in their hometown, and attempt to let go of the fatal events surrounding the night they graduated.
I don’t want to give too much of what I thought away here, so let’s get started.
1.) Can we visualize the description?
Maybe it’s the fact that I revisited an old script of mine over the weekend, which was the typical over explanatory amateur description, but Taylor’s stuff worked.
The one thing I’ll say is it wasn’t overly fancy, like Roy’s always telling me we need in spec scripts, but it told me exactly what I needed to know in the right amount of words.
Let’s look at the opening bit. (AH! Can’t copy/paste, so read along with me.)
One page 1 we have four sentences that set up the rest of the movie. A normal looking school, a janitor holding a hose that is probably used for countless menial jobs throughout the day, but NO, he’s trying to get rid of a bloodstain in the parking lot.
The faculty parking lot is also important, as it will introduce the teacher who acts as the narrator to the new students, but also plays a pivotal roll throughout the story’s timelines.
Another good thing I noticed, and Chris mentioned in his screenwriting techniques forum post, is quick transitions for multiple scenes.
Taylor used this throughout, but a good example of what I mean comes from page 2. It shows Everett, the teacher, going from the parking lot to the Courtyard without a new slugline, which I think is a great transition.
Like I said, it wasn’t super flowery, but then again, you know I like when things are kept simple and easy for my challenged brain.
10 out of 10 points.
2.) Does the author use an acceptable format?
Yes, the format’s good. I do need to take a few points off for the various sluglines.
We jump between the characters’ recent past (4 days ago or less) and what happened around their graduation which was 10 years ago.
The sluglines start out fine, swapping between INT./EXT. SETTING – 3 DAYS AGO/10 YEARS AGO, but then later on in the script “10 years ago” gets dropped for “FLASHBACK.” This was a bit confusing, and as even 1 day ago is technically a flashback, I think it should just be kept 10 years ago or however many days ago.
Minor problem, but it should be addressed.
Also, there were some typos, misused words, and missing words that should be found by a good proofread.
7 out of 10 points.
3.) Is the dialogue free of exposition and rich in subtext? Does each character have a unique voice?
The dialogue was good, especially considering that there were essentially seven main characters. Each seemed to have their own voice, but what really helped was them being friends, but staying separated in pairs for most of the story.
Who they were paired with definitely helped out, which I think was a clever trick for differentiating.
The one thing I didn’t like, but am unsure of how to fix, is the number of supporting characters that serve as current friends during introductions for us as the audience. We’re seeing the “where are they now” for the characters, which is important, but it’s adding to an already large cast.
Two examples in particular need to be streamlined as much as possible.
Seth and Stuart inside/outside the bar, and Jake consoling Ryan after him not getting another job. (This latter seemed to drag on just a tad. Maybe make Jake a blunt character who says, “Get over it,” which will also influence Ryan’s midpoint.)
Truly though, none of it was bad, and it went along nicely. Was there a lot of subtext, I don’t think so, but nothing struck me as “on the nose” either. It kept moving, which is what I think it should be doing.
One last suggestion I’d make is to be more economical with some of the characters lines. There are spots where the old tip “Don’t say in three lines what can be said in one” would apply.
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?
This is a great drama.
Would it make a decent play, probably, but with the bouncing around in time, and the main car crash, we’d want to see it on the big screen for full emotional impact.
I almost wish someone would pick it up as an independent film which if done right could easily make the jump to screens nationwide. (We’re overdue for a good independent film to do that.)
There’s also lots of twists and turns I’ll go into later, which should make for a trailer that would draw us in.
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?
This is one of those scripts that I wish I could write.
As I mentioned, Taylor had me from page one, but it wasn’t just the main problem that served as the engine. Each character’s story revolved around that one night and something they did or didn’t do.
As we went along, more problems were introduced, and everyone’s story wove together naturally.
10 out of 10 points.
6.) Does the script have a hook?
I noticed Javon remarked on the comments thread that the logline needs work. Perhaps, but I think it encapsulates the story perfectly. It might just be a case of picking the right words to draw us in.
As I mentioned though, the first page had me by presenting what we’ve seen before, a normal school, with what we don’t usually see, a janitor struggling to remove the blood stain.
Then we’re treated to Mr. Everett who knows not only what happened that night, but understands the problems that led to it.
Page 2 gets him started on the story and back story, which I couldn’t wait for.
15 out of 15 points.
7.) Is that hook effective?
The script continues with Mr. Everett trying to explain to his current students that the person who pulled the trigger wasn’t crazy.
Then we meet Nicole, who is 28 but has a 9 year old son (doing the quick math she was 18 when he was born) and she’s hoping to meet the boy’s father, Seth, for the first time since he was born, at the reunion.
Then we meet Seth who’s working in LA, making a living, but can’t commit to a relationship because he’s still in love with Nicole. (By the way you can probably AX the Lisa vs. Seth scene, since it doesn’t add anything Stuart didn’t already tell Seth in the bar.)
Next comes Danny, who was supposed to make it big in LA but never did (resentment towards Seth?). He’s very unhappy with his life, but looking forward to the reunion.
With him is Charlie, who hated high school (we see why later) and who doesn’t want to go anywhere near the reunion.
Kyle, who’s the bully/stoner/bad upbringing character that isn’t one of the friends, but a strong influence on their lives.
Lastly, Ryan and Sara, high school sweethearts, but Ryan is currently looking for work in a down economy. (Let that be a lesson to you business majors, of which I am one.)
I kept reading, especially as I got to see where they are as opposed to where they were.
The one problem I had here, and was a decent speed bump for this script, was the Seth and Stuart scene. I think too much was explained about pitching a script. Most of us know how it’s done, and although it may be very important for us, the audience won’t care.
They won’t care that most specs are crap, or that unknown writers are dangerous to sell to a studio. It’s a good plot point, but I think it could be as simple as Stuart saying, “Jeff liked that script.” “Jeff, as in producer Jeff?” “Yeah, think you can get Danny to sell it?” “Danny and I aren’t on the best of terms…” “Well you better, because Jeff will let you direct it if you make Danny happen.”
Simple, but you know, make it good dialogue as opposed to what I wrote above, lol.
12 out of 15 points.
8.) Is there enough to maintain the hook? Reveals, conflict, etc.?
Everyone’s back into town like they should be.
We also get more information on the character’s graduation.
Kyle bullied Charlie.
Danny thought he was going to be the king of the world until he got rejected by UCLA shattering his dreams.
Ryan and Sara were completely in love, with Ryan having a full paid scholarship to ASU for baseball and Sara moving in with him once there.
Nicole found out she got into the school of her dreams but has to tell Seth they’ll be at opposite ends of the country.
And to top it all off, Kyle’s the one who caused the car crash, so in the present he’s trying to deal with that and wants to finally tell the other characters he’s sorry.
The midpoint comes when Ryan, who we find out lost Sara in the accident, decides he’s going to meet Kyle to talk with him and finally put the past behind him.
It never happens.
They all finally make it to the reunion though, Seth meeting his son and Nicole, and we finally see the car crash. We find out why there’s tension between Seth and Danny (Seth got into UCLA and Danny didn’t and Seth’s going without him, leaving his best friend).
Everything gets summed up nicely.
OH, and we figure out who gets shot in the parking lot. (Remember, that’s what initially got us in the first place.)
I won’t spoil the ending, but it worked. I knew it could go one of two ways, but it still surprised me.
The one thing I’ll mention is Charlie’s guilt. This is a great plot point that MORE needs to be done with.
Charlie told Kyle to leave the party which essentially put him on the road where he crashed into Ryan and Sara.
Charlie blames himself for it, but has also kept it a secret except from Mr. Everett.
This was a GREAT chance for a “dark moment of the soul.”
We know he’s not guilty, and so do most of the characters, but as Ryan’s still beating himself up with “what if’s” he’ll also blame Charlie initially, especially since he’s the one who defended Charlie against Kyle.
This should be a problem between the two of them, and cement the path that Charlie ultimately takes when he shows up at the reunion. (Any questions on this Taylor, message me on the forum.)
6 out of 10 points.
9.) Does the story play to a target audience, and have the elements demanded by that audience?
I have to admit, the whole “high school reunion” thing didn’t get me excited initially.
Having said that, I couldn’t put the script down. Each character was so entwined that the whole thing just kept moving.
Taylor did an awesome job of introducing one problem, and kept introducing them, so we almost forget what we initially started reading for.
This was the FIRST script I’ve ever skipped the description to get to the dialogue so I could know what was going to come next. I called Roy after I finished and he laughed saying that’s exactly what we want as writers.
10 out of 10 points.
Read this script.
The plot structure and story driving us to that tragic night is very well done.
(I’d also argue, for those of you who say I’m too easy in some reviews, to check this out and let me know where I was right and wrong. Especially as I said, reading my own poor writing over the weekend may have made Taylor’s seem all the better, lol.)
Someone argued before that I wasn’t a fan of nonlinear stories, but in that review, the script struggled to pull it off. This script didn’t.
There are a few format issues to fix to keep the timelines straight, but overall the entire story just works. I don’t know how else to say it.
Total 88 out of 100 points.
Wow! Hank, thank you for this. This is exactly the kind of in-depth look I’ve needed for quite a while. Apart from one other reader back in December, I haven’t been able to get a lot of solid notes one way or the other, so this is extremely valuable to me.
I had to chuckle a bit when you mentioned:
Well, that “blockquote” tag didn’t work quite how I had meant it to.
Haha, no problem. It looks fancier on the forum, and I understood what you meant.
Like I mentioned in a PM, funny that people suggested just using “flashback” when there are two different timelines that are both flashbacks.