Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Burnside pages

Nicholl's Facebook page is posting quotes from reader notes each day. So far they've both been positive. As averse to Scriptshadow's recent foray into reviewing amateur scripts. It's not really surprising that he's gotten some less than stellar work, and it must be a crushing blow to the writers, but it's all part of the learning process. Either they'll pick up and carry on or they'll disappear.

A year ago I would have given him my script as well because fuck it. If it's not ready, hey, free notes and people who will know your name for better or worse. I doubt a negative review at this stage would impact your career long term. And if it's good, hey, free exposure at just the right time. The downside is if Carson is totally off base in his review, which is possible. I disagree with him completely on at least one of my favorite specs over the years. But in the end if we remember that it's just one man's opinion and they all volunteered, we should get through this okay.

I did not submit my script because at this point there's no benefit. I have representation and I'm not too sure how much that rep would like me putting my script up to review for the public.

In the meantime, though, I thought I'd post the opening sequence to my current script just for shits and giggles. Posting the whole thing is not a good idea, but a bit can't hurt. I skipped over the first scene heading because although I'm giving a lot away, I'm not giving EVERYTHING away. Just know it's a town.


The room is filled with boxes marked with the Union insignia and the word "Ammunition" along with warnings not to get near fire. The HOODED FIGURE kneels in front of a set of those boxes and pulls out and turns over a flask. Powder falls from it onto the boxes. The Hooded Figure pours it into a trail that leads to the center of the room.

A lit match. A spark. Fire.


The Hooded Figure slips down the wall at the moment Union Soldier rounds the corner. The soldier hesitates.

The hooded figure doesn't. One kick.

The gun flies up.

The Hooded Figure rushes forward and darts a finger one, two, three different spots on his body. Soldier paralyzed.


Figure pokes him one more time, then pushes him over, helpless and silent on the ground.

Smoke starts to rise from the warehouse. The Hooded Figure starts to jog away, then turns back. The Soldier lies prone on the ground next to the smoky building.

The Hooded Figure trots back, then grabs the Soldier and drags him toward the waterfront, out of harm's way.

The Hooded Figure runs back toward town, but on rounding the warehouse comes face to face with THREE UNION SOLDIERS responding to their comrade's cry.

A few black heads poke out of tents to see the uproar.

The Hooded Figure blurs in action:

Running up the wall of a house-

Spinning off the aged brick-

Landing a hard kick on a soldier's head, which rocks his brain and knocks him right out.

Oh God, it's a Chinese!

Indeed, a Chinese style, black slipper-clad foot connects with his face.

Shaken, he tries to aim his gun at the blurry black Figure, as does his companion, but they don't stand a chance.


Union Soldier shakes himself loose of his paralysis and looks at the warehouse, now slightly on fire. He rushes to the harbor and grabs a bucket sitting on a dock. He fills it with water, then runs to the building.

He throws the bucket up and


The building explodes, blowing his charred body back a few feet.


The soldiers still attempting to fight The Hooded Figure turn with surprise and dodge a piece of shrapnel or two. The Hooded Figure uses this opportunity to slip away, bounding between buildings. Gone, like a Ninja.

The soldiers run to the burning building, but must jump back when another box of ammo explodes. The flames lick up into the night sky over what was a sleepy little town.

Black folks in nightgowns poke their heads out of doors all down the street.


The Hooded Figure creeps up to a largeish house that is well kept and expensive. The Figure Jackie Chans up the wall to a window on the second floor.


  1. I generally agree with Carson/Scriptshadow and really like the idea of amateur scripts getting read. I sent him one of mine, mostly because it's my fifth screenplay. It's a comedy, and I was thrilled to hear that it is in any way funny. Trying to do comedy scared the crap out of me for some reason.

  2. Oh you're braver than I. I still haven't attempted a real comedy. It's much more difficult than action.

  3. "ammunition" is one word.

  4. I only see it as one word. Where do you see the error?

  5. "Union insignia and the words "Ammunition" along with warnings not to get near fire."

  6. Or you could just refer to them as "boxes of ammunition" and leave it at that. You don't have to tell what boxes of ammunition look like.

  7. Oh you mean the word "words" is plural. Cool. I'll fix it. Thanks for such careful vigilance.

  8. I found my way over from Carson's blog. I'm not sure exactly how but "Hello".

    I read your posted sequence and thought I'd offer my two cents on the opening scene. I think your scene is a little too static. Our entry into your world is a passive verb description of a bunch of labeled boxes. I get that in your head the scene is one fluid movement but it doesn't read that way.

    I'm rewriting you which is rude but I can't figure out how to do it otherwise without writing a dissertation. "A match from darkness as a HOODED FIGURE flings gunpowder from a flask. The powder ignites raining down across crates marked AMMUNITION - UNION ARMY. The wood chars and flames rise."

    First scenes in action are all about visual hijinks and motion and making a reader want to keep going. You just need to relax with the detail work about warning labels and opening things and let the camera be your best friend.

  9. That's fair. I often get a little wordy in my descriptions. You're not the first to say it. I appreciate the input.

  10. oh man, archie. hats off to you. "relax with the detail work" perfect advice efficiently and respectfully stated.

    "relax with the detail work." i have been looking for those words for years. the more concise your descriptions, the more loaded they will be. the writing will be stronger for it. it'll pop.

    a decade ago, i read a will and grace script where two strong-willed characters met for the first time. the description was "they square off like samurai in the rain." no detail at all. but everything the reader needs to know is there. oh, such great writing in that one line.

    "relax with the detail work." love it.

    and emily, hats off to you too. way to take a note. from a stranger, no less. gracious. that's you.

  11. Thanks. It's something I'm working on. I decided I'm allowed two reactions when I receive criticism no matter who it's from. I can thank the person and not take the note, or I can thank the person and take the note. Under no circumstances am I allowed to get upset or argue. There's no point, and often when you do that you miss some good advice.

  12. did you feel upset and want to argue but instead tow the company line?

    the "word" in the word verification below is "bleme." that's not a word. they should call the verification something else. also, i wish "bleme" were a word. i wish it hard.

  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

  14. Not sure what company line I'd be towing. It's just me here.

  15. your own policy is all i meant.

  16. My policy is to always appreciate the notes, whether I intend to take them or not.

  17. kudos for posting a sample of your work.

    I know you've posted this a while ago, but I just ran across your blog via the post you did on "how to piss off a woman reader."

    A couple of random observations. Nice to see you had your "save the cat" moment, where The Hooded Figure trots back to pull the hapless soldier out of harms way. It could be argued that since the THF could have easily killed him, by not killing him, that was in fact "saving the cat". But then it turns out to be irrelevant that THF pulled the Union dude to safety, since the soldier comes to, runs down to get a bucket of water and back to the burning building, at which time the building explodes. And I'm wondering, if THF is so good as to paralyze the dude and set fire to the building, wouldn't he know that the paralysis would wear off before the building were to explode?

    In the category of superfluous dialogue: Oh God, it's a Chinese!

    Huh? The reader already knows the guy is "a Chinese" or somehow knows martial arts (since we've seen this stuff for 40 plus years in movies, and later you use "Jackie Chan" as a verb). The question then is, how would a freckled Union soldier from 1865 know? Unless he grew up watching Kung Fu or something, which I don't imagine he did. I'd bet your average Union soldier had never seen a Chinese in his life, let alone be able to spot one that is running up the wall of a house. Even today, I don't think most people would vocalize such exposition if they saw someone running on a wall coming at them. Oh God, maybe. Or "shit", but not an interjection followed by a grammatically correct subject verb object sentence.

    Then there's the use of "black" in reference to people. The first is "a few black heads poke out..." Is this because they are in shadows or because they are black? And if it's because they are in shadows, is there something added to the story because they are in shadows? If not, and if that b-roll is ever shot, it'll be up to the director/dp how that scene will look.

    The other use of black that seems awkward is "Black folks in nightgowns ..." Are these slaves, recently released slaves, free blacks, white people in shadows? If it does refer to black people, it's oddly phrased.

    Hopefully I'm not coming across as too nit-picky, but the save the cat moment and the dialogue bit really slows down the read, especially if you're going for action.

    Overall, I've really enjoyed reading your blog (the little bit that I've seen).

  18. I've never read Save the Cat.

    That moment when THF saves the soldier is for character development, to show that this person is not a killer. The fact that the soldier goes back into the fire is his own business.

    The black people are black people. Why they are there or where they come from is not the top priority in that scene, and will become clear as the story unfolds.

    Yes, I agree. "Oh shit" would be the most obvious thing for a character to say.

    And yes, there is a reason the soldier calls this character Chinese. That, too, will become obvious in the pages that follow.

    What is important in the first few pages is to set a tone, a sense of place, and an idea of who your character is. If you answered every question in the first five pages, you have written a short film.

  19. I've never read Save the Cat, either -- glanced through it at the bookstore once, didn't get much out of it.

    And I agree, you can't answer ever question right away or you'd have no story.

    I'm not sure what tone your script really has. It's not clear from what little you posted. It does feel a little tv-ish. You seem to give quite a bit of time to what basically amounts to coverage, and it's not coverage that adds to tone, texture, style or story. It's one thing to write terse description, ala "A lit match. A spark. Fire." but to make that really work, you should do the same thing with what action you show.

    For instance, you have THF attack the two soldiers "who don't stand a chance." Then you cut to a scene where the first soldier shakes off his paralysis, runs to the harbor, finds a bucket sitting on the dock, fills it with water, runs to the warehouse, gets blasted, then you come back to the two soldiers who don't have a chance still attempting to fight THF. I understand about parallel action and building complications, even within a scene, but there's also diffusing action, and contradicting what you've set up -- in this case, that the THF is a some kind of Kung Fu master. (basically, cutting to the first soldier is a form of timelapse, so when we come back to THF, we expect him to be somewhere else, that would correspond to the time we spent away from him. But we come back to him in the same place doing the same thing with the same people and shouldn't they already be disabled on the ground with THF long gone?)

    Anyways, as I said, kudos for putting up your writing, which opens it to critique. I'm not harping on it just to harp, but wanted to provide constructive feedback with specific examples and reasons. You're generous with your blog and I wanted to reply in kind. You also strike me as someone who'd take what works for you and ignore the rest.

  20. I do take what works for me. I shall do so in this case as well.


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