An excerpt from Reals’ script review for I.S.S. which will be available 01/28/24:

What Worked

The First Page – I like they way this opens – with a bit of text reading:

Right now aboard the International Space Station, SIX astronauts are spending their hours working, living, eating, exercising, and sleeping in the close quarters of the vessel.

Half of the ISS was contributed by RUSSIA, the other half by the UNITED STATES.

The same can be said for its crew…

With just three sentences, the author has already established the setting of the story, the characters involved, and has foreshadowed the inevitable conflict(s) that will arise.

And this is before the real script has even started!

Do be careful with using this technique in your own work, as it can come off as pretentious, or feel unrelated to the actual story being told.

However, in this case, it was a great bit of establishing information, with a slightly sinister undertone that perfectly sets up the plot of the piece.

The Character Descriptions – I really loved the way many (though not all) of the characters are introduced.

For example, the way Christian is introduced is below:

CHRISTIAN (late 20s), a bookish, valedictorian type. If you’ve ever gone to a party when you were supposed to be studying for an exam, then you and Christian don’t have much in common.

That is a great way to describe this guy, because we know exactly what kind of person he is, and the writer didn’t need to bother with telling us that he was tall, or blonde, or handsome.

Because we’re not in charge of casting the picture, those physical attributes don’t matter in a spec script as much as quickly introducing us to a character’s personality and/or their wants and needs.

The Setting – Being trapped in a small space vessel for an extended period of time can be tough, and even tougher if you’re trapped in the small vessel with people who may be plotting to kill you.

The script did a good job of quickly establishing the claustrophobic setting early on, so that when things really kicked-off, the reader felt trapped with the characters.

For example, this description on Page 6 gives us a really strong sense of place:

Inside, the ISS is a blaring white mess of technology. Each available inch of wall space has been put to use. Experiments, life support, and vital utilities occupy every visible nook and cranny.

The Characters – Before things really go down the tubes, I like that everyone is working together. In fact, Christian (an American scientist) actually brings gifts for everyone, including the Russian researchers.

At one point, Weronika (a Russian scientist) even says to Kira (an American scientist): “The important thing is that we stick together.

That’s a nice line of dialogue, because that idea is challenged constantly throughout the script.

Of course, Kira and the audience want to believe that everyone is on the same side and only interested in returning home safely.

But that may not be the case, which makes every following interaction between the two groups charged with tension.

The Language Barrier – This was a nice touch – many of the Russians don’t speak fluent English, and vice-versa. This increases the sense of isolation, and the distrust between the two groups, because even normal communication is difficult.

This is a fun, and very believable, obstacle to introduce into this plot and the writer takes advantage of it in multiple situations.

I say believable, because they address the fact that Kira doesn’t understand Russian with a simple line of dialogue:

(to Gordon)
I feel bad, they let me fast track through the language requirements way back at the start of my training. I don’t understand him.

Page 20 – We are moving from the very beginning of this script right up until our catalyst, which happens on Page 20.

This is great, as it keeps the exposition to a minimum, and keeps the story racing along, which is what you want in a thriller.

Ticking Clock – This was a nice bonus as well, the ticking clock element. See, they had lowered the altitude of the station to allow for the new arrivals to dock, however, now that things on the station have been damaged by the nuclear explosions on Earth, the crew has less than a day before the drag of the Earth’s atmosphere pulls them to the ground.

Add to that the fact that the Russians and the Americans don’t trust each other, and you have a real race against time to save everyone on the vessel.

Going Out Into Space – The scene where Gordon has to go out and repair something outside of the station is great, because we don’t know if he’s going to come back. Maybe someone has tampered with his suit, maybe the Russians will make a move to take control of the station while he’s gone, maybe something else will happen on Earth that will change the group dynamic once again.

This is good, because when you have a character, or characters, trapped in a dangerous situation with others they can’t trust, even something routine can be an anxiety event because the audience doesn’t know what will happen.

I’m reminded of the scene in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood when Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth visits the Spahn Ranch and meets the Manson Family. Even though no shots are fired, and no one is killed, or even attacked, in the scene, the viewer is tense because we know the Manson family, and know that Cliff is in serious danger.

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