Had drinks last night with a buddy of mine that I worked with last year. We talked about my comic script, and his action movie short, and general catch-up. It was a good night to sit on a patio and drink beer, even in the chill pre-autumn.
We spent most of the evening talking about his script (or so it seemed to me), but that’s fine. My work – for True Ink – is in fairly solid shape for a second draft. I expect it will change a little before I’m through with it, but I’m set for
In terms of the Action Script, it was an interesting experience. I spent most of the evening critiquing it, I hope in constructive ways. Despite having worked as a professional editor for some years on numerous projects, I always worry that I’m a) coming across as an ass, b) not supportive enough, c) not critical / smart / clear enough, and d) coming across as an ass. But…*shrug*…I do the best I can. And I try, as the esteemed James Lowder once told me, to start and end with praise.
The piece was roughly 30 pages – an interesting length, though with the amount of action it contained (easily summer blockbuster in scope) I’m not quite sure what my friend intends to do with it. It’s too short for a real action movie, and far too expensive for a real short.
I’m afraid he thinks I didn’t like it — it was rough, and definitely needed work, but I think it has potential. He’s very passionate about it, and has finished something (despite my issues about length). And honestly, he has more chance of getting his work made than I do, so I’m trying to be supportive and encouraging. Because we all need to be pushing and trying to get out there. As I told him, working through the structural problems in his script is a very useful exercise for me because it’s something I need to be more aware of. People like Todd Alcott and John August appear to be able to break structure down in their sleep, and yet I’m constantly struggling to define what the protagonist wants.
I basically boiled my criticism of the piece down as follows.
* The protagonist was not compelling or engaging enough. He either had to have some “nice” qualities that endear him to us, or needs to be so charming and witty that we overlook his bastardy.
* Too much action, action, action, and our hero is so good, even though it’s all conflict there’s never any sense of risk or obstacle. Even if we know Superman or James Bond is going to win, we want to believe, if for a moment, that there’s a chance they might fail.
* You can’t have characters quoting philosophy at each other. It feels too art house, especially in the context of an action flick (even a short). Show, don’t tell, as they say.
* We need an inciting incident, even if the protagonist is reactive. The audience doesn’t need to have it spelled out explicitly, but the writer must know what sets things in motion.
* Although he’s evoking other works (Ender’s Game and Akira, and even Kurt Russell in Soldier on the “good” end of the spectrum, and well, The Cell on the bad end), there’s plenty of room to do something new. There’s definitely some good material here, it just needs a lot of rework and polish.
It also made me think of the Pogues doing Johnny Come Lately. So I’ll end with that, as I consider how to pitch my own stuff in two short weeks!