Please excuse the delay in this project start. But, you know, the world was burning.
The first screenplay of the 2021 Screenwriting Adventure will be:
With this being the pilot script of this year's journey, I spent some time thinking about how I wanted to approach this process… and I came up with nothing. I popped around on some other screenwriting blogs and noticed that I couldn't find live-stream thoughts that get into the head of a producer as we read your work. Some of this will be about screenwriting-specific. Some will be about the logistics of how we view certain parts of a script. For instance, how we'd eliminate characters or locations due to budgetary constraints. So I figure, for this one, I'll post some specific thoughts as I read through the first act or so and then some general thoughts later if I have them.
As I likely always will, the views in this blog are my own. I do not claim to be, want to be, nor try to be any kind of expert or guru. I just want to talk about screenwriting, my favorite thing in the world, and hopefully help out some writers with my only superpower: typing speed. If I typed less than 100 wpm (flexes fingers), I would't be doing this.
Either way, at least for this entry, that's the plan! Come along, won't you?
Our first experiment is Joel Murphy's feature PARENTAL DISCRETION ADVISED. Joel is a writer, improviser, and podcaster living in Los Angeles. He says he's been writing since elementary school and formerly worked as a writer for a newspaper/magazine, but has yet to sell his first screenplay. Find more of his work at HoboTrashcan.com or contact him on Twitter @freemisterclark.
The opening of our first script of the adventure and it's a hell of an opening image. I love a good ritual sacrifice. One thing to note about the start: I always suggest giving us a strong impression of the scene itself . We know what the characters look like, but the only real scene-setting we have is the slugline's WOOD PANEL BASEMENT. This is a moody scene. Is it dark? Candlelit? This isn't necessary for every setting, but this is page one. Build that tone from moment one.
That being said, I love suburban horror/horror-adjacent projects. The juxtaposition of these phony nice people alongside these horrific terrors always makes me happy. Growing up in the suburbs made me realize how much scarier they are than any city I've lived in.
First of all, HOLY TONE SHIFT. This isn't a complaint. I love that. This would keep me watching.
Now... I would be tugging on my suspenders like an old Southern lawyer while saying the next part... Now, I ain't one of them "screenwriting gurus" or professors who think you should ascribe to very specific rules. However, there are some that I think just make a script better.
Notice on this page how many non-passive verbs we have including is playing, prepared to, who is wearing, who is sporting, is seated. The list goes on. I'm not a screenwriting professor, so I don't think you need to completely abandon passive verbs. Sometimes they work. However, for the most part, stick to active verbs. It just makes it read better. Also, keep in mind two of the people you're trying to impress with your scripts: some newbie intern fresh out of NYFA or some old-timer exec/agent reading your script for the first time. BOTH of them hate the passive tense.
Let me speak on the importance of that opening scene once more now that I've read through a few pages. If Joel didn't include that scene, I might not watch this movie. The opening scene Joel chose to start with rather than the next scene in Doug's House is the difference in me watching this movie or, if I'm a reader at a studio, reading this script. Pay attention to those opening pages. Most of what I say during these blogs will be heavy on the opening, light on the middle, and heavy on the end. The bookends of your script are, always, the most important parts. That's probably why the second act is so damn hard sometimes.
To some, the line above might be pretty innocuous. And some people might even dislike the use of that parenthetical, but I don't. Is it fine to leave it without the parenthetical? Yes. Could you specifically say the "music switches to Godsmack" (please, take Kid Rock out)? Of course. But, I like that Joel lumped them all together because, honestly, I'd have a hard time telling them apart. Now Disturbed? I've been known to get down with the sickness.
I don't like to harp on things (lie detector says that's a lie.gif), but take a look at this passage here. The use of passive verbs severely slows down the pace of this. Instead of "Doug is in front of the table trading fake punches with Jay" how about: "Doug & Jay trade fake punches in front of the table." Not only does this have more, pun fully intended, punch, but it also saves you about half a line of page space. Active verbs!
On page 9, I read and wonder... do these characters sound fanlike teenage wrestling fanatics who backyard brawl every weekend? I'm not one to generalize, but I grew up in rural PA and in Maryland (where the script takes place). The WWF/WWE kids that I knew didn't speak like polite adults.
That being said, if this is a choice, I kinda dig it. It reminds me a bit of Detroit Rock City or, not to overinflate the writer's ego, Stand By Me in the way where these characters you wouldn't expect much intellect and emotion from are able to speak at lengths about their feelings & emotions. If it's not meant to be like this, I think the boys need to be unpolished (depolished?) a bit.
This is a fantastic sequence here. Like a somehow more disturbing version of The Goonies freezer. Hiding in a suburban basement with a dead body in the closet while your wife is yelling down at you. The execution of this scene will make it so funny and I hope to see it done right. The way it's twisted into a bigger horror jump with the wife after this is equally wonderful.
This storyline is undoubtedly the best part of the script so far. In fact, I would even suggest raising the Joanie/cult-centric storyline even more in the first act.
Joel does a great job of weaving this horror-based comedy into the wrestling storyline in a way that's fun and weird. It really makes me look forward to what's coming up.
Now, as I read through the rest of the script, I'll say this much. I'm having a lot of fun. I think Joel could really use another run through either by himself or someone he trusts to tighten up the action-description sections. But, I love the character work and the story is fun & engaging. Joel has a wicked strong grasp on crafting these phony action/fight scenes. I can see every move and it works great.
Most importantly, it has conflict. There are challenges to the characters, from demon-possessed suburban women to angry parents trying to cancel a wrestling match. Even the doting mother trying to protect her son is effectively set up and heightened throughout the script. It's like two very fun movies that are intertwined together and eventually merge.
If you'd like to read Parent Discretion Advised for yourself, contact Joel on Twitter @freemisterclark!
My recommended song for Parental Discretion Advised is:
I'm not one to blog. Never have been much the journaling type. When I have emotions I want to put on paper, I'll do it in script format. However, with 2021 approaching, I decided it was time to start helping the writers that let me read their screenplays on a regular basis.
These aspiring writers inspire me to continue on in this business. I have been working in & out of the film industry since I was 20 years old. I spent a bit of time riding a desk at Sony Pictures in my college years. By the time I was making enough money playing poker professionally, I decided to start spending that money on my love of movies. I produced on a few features, but I found myself neglecting my own writing during this time.
In addition to all this, in order to fulfill a promise I made to my mother (who passed when I was a child), I was more or less forced to join the military. I had initially signed up to enlist right out of high school, but I was seriously injured in a car accident and my contract was suspended. I ended up serving a few years in the United States Navy working as a Chinese translator and intelligence analyst at the National Security Agency (NSA).
At the end of my enlistment (cut short by a medical retirement), I went on to work at the NSA and acted as a technical advisor/consultant on films such as Snowden and Megan Leavey. I have also worked as a judge for multiple screenwriting contests as well as freelance work as a script consultant (don't worry, I'm not selling anything but an old road bike).
Most importantly, the reason for this blog. I made the New Year's Resolution to read at least one (likely more) screenplay submitted to me through Twitter every week. For each script I read (if given permission), I will post my thoughts about not only that script, but also anything else that happens to come to my (often erratic) mind.
So, join me, won't you? Follow me on Twitter @PittoreFilm for all my updates!
Oh, and I'll also include a Song of the Day whenever I post. Enjoy!
About the Author
Anthony Pittore is a father, son, brother, producer, writer, and Navy veteran known for his work as producer on multiple features. He has also acted as a technical consultant specializing in gov't intel & military on movies such as Oliver Stone's Snowden.