Script report by Nick Green
The premise of this script is ruthlessly original. The script’s surreal opening grabs and engages the reader with humour and imagery that promises much. Though the script gets perilously close to a seen it before, post LOCK STOCK and LAYER CAKE east end milieu in its middle third, things are more than rescued by a take-no-prisoners-plot that says: you’ve never seen this before and you’ll never see it again.
Played out in a reversed timeline against the backdrop of Tony Blair’s journey from new hope to old rope, the premise of this script is well set up and developed. It’s as satisfactory as it is surprising. Though the reader has to work to remain focussed in the face of slightly too many characters and too much dialogue throughout, and a second act that at times threatens the pace of the script, the reader is more than rewarded in the end.
Though some elements of this script feel clichéd, its originality more than makes up for these narrative minutiae. That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be helpful to omit the beating someone to death with a sex toy episode; it would because this script is good enough to reach for the superlative. Whilst many films have been produced in this genre (though it’s a brutal ‘Essex’ gangland paean to anomie, in fact this script defies genre labelling – it’s too surreal and too subtle) and many more will, TITLE is a strong enough concept to be produced without fear of being undermined by similar projects; few, if any, will have its ideological firepower or conceptual courage.
This script takes this genre to a new level by transcending it.
The structure of this script means that the redemptive/vengeful climax of the film happens at the end of the first act (page 36 of 110). The script effectively ends with the set up – that which explains the events of the first and second acts. Whilst this leads to some confusion early on, this has the effect of making and keeping the determined reader involved in order to find out more. Cleverly, the set up is as satisfying as, and vastly more interesting than, the climax, which is a traditionally violent cull. This MEMENTO like process of revelation is one of this script’s strengths. By and large, this risky process is handled skilfully by the writer.
The plot itself is fuck-you brand new. It’s outrageous, and outrageously original. It’s so sure of itself that it doesn’t give a damn if you think otherwise. If the emotional and narrative spine of a piece is in place, outrageous is always good, of course. So it is with this script. Bold, brash, and bad to its incinerated bones, TITLE makes use of innovative structure to reveal a Barking mad genius of a plot with great independence.
Improvements could be made to the script’s pace by reducing the amount of dialogue, and/or altering the rhythm of the script so that the dialogue is interspersed with action more often. At the moment action-free phases of the script (dialogue only) in the second act are too long; this means it feels as if there is too much dialogue. This issue is more or less relevant if this is a dev script or a shooting script. If the latter, dialogue can be trimmed on set and the rhythms altered in editing. If this is a dev script, less dialogue and more action would help to speed the read. In short: a little less conversation and a little more action would help keep the pages turning at times.
TITLE has a crackling plot that is revealed through clever use of innovative structure than would be rendered lighter on its feet by a streamlining edit.
A brittle empathy is engendered in the reader with the three (or three of the four) lead characters: SEYMOUR, FRANKIE and SIMON. This reader felt for them – but only as much and in a way governed by the spirit of this script, which is brutal and bloody, not touchy-feely, and which therefore creates a world as hard and shallow as the pool in which our rock star face plants amid a canopy of useless interior jungle.
Generating empathy is always the job the screenwriter – but different types of script require different levels of this priceless audience emotion. These lead characters are just about likeable, but they don’t survive because of that in a fairy story way: this script may be surreal, but it’s also realistic; it describes a godless world governed by chance. It’s a grown-up script for adults with imaginations. If you don’t like it: tough. Saints don’t survive any more than sinners in TITLE. Principal, secondary and tertiary characters are interesting enough to hold our attention until they check out. And if they check out it’s not because they do or don’t deserve to. This realistic, complex understanding of actuality underpins all the relationships in this script.
Our monsters are HARRIS and BLUE, the former psychologically monstrous and the latter more physically so. Harris is too isolated by his cynicism and nihilism to form relationships unless off his face; Blue is a barbarian who wants to rule at all costs and by any means – fear chief among them. Our monsters annihilate each other satisfyingly; or rather Blue kills Harris, but is killed by his trophy: Frankie. It all feels right. JUDE is set up like a lead character, but is soon revealed to be an archetype – or plot hinge. It would be good to know more about Jude, however; though he suffers to the point of suicide, he feels like a sketch. He is adequate, but could be enriched.
All the relationships in this script feel only as deep and certain as the world they inhabit. Again, it all feels right. What this script tells us is that human relationships are a product of their environment just as environments and events are shaped by human characters and their interactions. This script tells us that romance is a luxury, and love an evolutionary tool that enables mammals to breed and nurture to the extent their world lets them. There is no poetry in Seymour’s love for Frankie. His love for her is almost believable; but quite rightly it feels like an unattractive man grabbing a passing trophy – one he knows he isn’t quite worthy of. Perfect. Frankie’s declarations of love for Seymour seems more like sympathy, and like the desire of an ageing woman to expunge her seedy past and rid herself of the curse of Blue. Ideal. More emotional ‘softness’ than this wouldn’t work in the world of this script.
Seymour and Frankie’s relationship could be developed; but sketched as it is it feels like a functional component of a brutal world. Romance is out. Let it stay out.
Seymour and Simon’s relationship seems devoid of fraternal warmth and almost bloated with resentment and sibling rivalry. I wanted to feel some warmth between them, but in the end felt their relationship was entirely in keeping with their world.
Blue’s relationship with Frankie is adequately sketched as that of booty and the beast. It’s spot on. Vulnerability in Blue would seem wrong. What vulnerability there is in Frankie is alluded to . . . but this is Essex! It’s a fantasy Essex that’s all about Ford Escorts and lager and handbags and drugs and tabloids and dogshit. It isn’t real: it’s an off the shelf Essex we can buy into because it’s portable and, more importantly, it’s entertaining. These characters all have a relationship with Essex that is symbiotic: they couldn’t exist anywhere else; that means we have to travel to meet them in their world; that means we go on a journey, which is what good drama does to us.
Motivations are watertight, and actions are believable within the context of the piece. Do the characters panic when their world explodes in the climax (set up)? Most do, and to a believable extent that’s in keeping with their characters. OK, so Frankie resorting to a JCB is far fetched; but her actions are germane to her world, which is off its face, shallow, and naff. Though fantasy requires believability, this script is surreal (there’s a big difference); bizarre actions and reactions are expected.
At its core, this screenplay reveals a relationship between the realistic and the fantastic that is entertaining and in its own foul-mouthed way, profound.
Character arcs are good, though again, characters change externally. This world is all about appearance and sham; it therefore feels right that Seymour, Frankie, Simon and Harris don’t seem to undergo seismic shifts in their spiritual cores. Simon comes closest to doing this through his morbid guilt, the acceptance of his own homosexual desires and their fulfilment, and through his expression of bitter sibling rivalry with half brother Seymour. Seymour seems indifferent to Simon’s pain; but then Seymour is a stoic northerner. He wasn’t born to emote. Again that feels right.
Simon aside, more extended character arcs and development would not necessarily improve the script, which though surreal, is arguably realistic (and pleasantly unconventional) in its treatment of character development. In the hard, real world, many people have so much scar tissue that very little has an effect on them. Thus are Harris, Frankie, Blue and Seymour almost immutable for very different reasons.
The script draws secondary and tertiary characters with care and skill: Alun reveals her adulatory foibles and yearning through few words and actions. Alun’s relationship with Jude is suggested through little dialogue or action; it is therefore as voluminous and rich as most things dramatically tacit. Less is always more, and show, don’t tell: basics that so many screenwriter get wrong, yet which this one hasn’t.
Settings are used to good effect throughout the script. They are well enough described, and serve to frame and extend the characters in environments that have shaped them, and which reflect them. Again, whether this is a dev or shooting script is relevant to this; in either case settings are used and described well enough.
Generally the dialogue is good, organic, and believable. Overall there is slightly too much of it, however; in places this can slow the reader down. Consider:
I don’t fucking know. Buy a
dictionary, turn it to M, look up
missing and work it fucking out! It’s
gone. Vanished. Like alloy wheels in
I dunno. Buy a dictionary and
look up ‘missing’. It’s gone.
Vanished. Like alloys in Debden.
You’re always fucking expanding.
You’re like the Tescos of Sado-
You’re always fucking expanding.
You’re the Tescos of S and M.
These edits are small, but they can make the dialogue flow better and catch the audience’s ear. At the top of page 9 Harris’ line ‘Get fucked’ feel superfluous. An action feels right there – so better, perhaps, if Harris just hits the Businessman.
Whilst there are instances where individual speeches like these could be trimmed, overall, conversations go a bit long, sometimes, and could be more concise.
Trimming like this will reduce the script length to a more ‘portable’ 90 something pages – high 90’s would be good. The script currently feels slightly too long.
While the incessant swearing is realistic and funny there is too much of it. It feels contrived. Other scripts in similar genres have made this mistake. In reality (so not necessarily in this script, one might argue successfully) people tend to swear slightly less, or in ways that don’t sound as if they’re trying to make themselves sound hard or aggressive. SEXY BEAST used swearwords even more than this script does, and made for a hilarious, though brutal, read because of it; much was dropped for production, though, for obvious reasons. This is less than a criticism; it’s more of a suggestion as to how this script can be made more suitable for general consumption.
Each of the characters has his or her own voice, which makes them identifiable and unique. Seymour has vocal idiosyncrasies that make him sound believable, as do Alun and Bevan, who sound Welsh; as do Collins, Barrington et al. Collins would be improved by being a bit less relentless in his biblical obsessing with numbers; framing his numerology in a more ‘ordinary’ argot would make the character more believable.
Like the directive/action text, the dialogue imparts and withholds information well. Generally the reader is told enough but not too much.
The use of the word ‘guy’ seemed slightly out of place; everyone uses it these days, but (though itself a cliché) the word geezer might be used instead – maybe once?
The writer has used the tools of screenwriting to good effect to make the script ‘visual’: the reader can ‘see’ what’s going on rather than dwelling on the words.
Again, however, editing could improve the script: the descriptive text is usually good and at times brilliant (‘HARRIS (44) a razor-sharp mind wrapped in a cocoon of self centred evil’ – stunning), but trimming would help the reader. Consider:
EXT. LOUGHTON, JUDE'S MANSION, GATES (2007) – NIGHT
No sound save for the music. Saliva drips from a snapping, snarling maw. Canine eyes glint in the night. A Presa Canario, a fearsome beast of a dog, barks ferociously at some unseen intruder.
There are two dogs, barking through wrought iron gates.
Behind them, a gravel drive sweeps up to a porticoed, faux Georgian mansion. Security cameras sweep the approach to the gate - whoever lives here values his privacy.
EXT. LOUGHTON, JUDE'S MANSION, GATES (2007) – NIGHT
SILENCE, but for the music. Two killer guard dogs slaver and bark through the wrought iron gates of the faux Georgian mansion at some unseen intruder. Above and behind them, CCTV cameras see all. This is a fortress.
Again, this is a matter of taste, and arguably irrelevant. But working on the assumption that all readers are lazy or busy, there is room for improvement here.
There are a very few errata; here are those spotted:
On page 6 the word ‘discreet’ is misspelt ‘discrete’ (first line of EXT. LOUGHTON HIGH ROAD, C,D, C&W – DAY scene)
On page 14 second dialogue block from the bottom: ALUN should have O.S. beside it because she’s on TV.
On page 54, third block of dialogue down the word Maharishi is misspelt ‘Maharshi’
On page 93 last line of action: ‘Jude scream . . .’ should be Jude screams . . . (+ s)
In scene headings it would be helpful if the reader was told if scenes are consecutive or not. Having to work it out makes it harder work to read.
These are minute issues, of course, which can be ignored; some of the best scripts are riddled with grammatical and formatting mistakes. To go back to SEXY BEAST – that was almost illegible on paper. And look how that turned out . . .
Overall the script employs syntax well to give the reader a fairly easy, ‘visual’ experience. There is room for improvement in this area, however.
The relatively low production costs suggested by this script and a strong market for films in this genre mean that TITLE should stand up for itself in the search for finance or have a chance of success if produced and marketed well. The script is viable as it stands, and with further work would become even more so. There is clearly a very healthy and ongoing public appetite for similar films – and TITLE takes the violent ‘east end’ caper scenario to a whole new level by subverting the genre and raising the bar of originality. As it is, then, this script is good to go.
The screenwriter has obvious talent, imagination and technical skill. The script is written to industry standards using good syntax throughout. It exceeds normal industry standards in its imaginative courage and human/psychological insight.
TITLE is ahead of the curve. If well packaged and produced, it should sell well. Its raw (and welcome) non-PC approach means that an adult rating can be expected unless the script is sanitised in development and production. This script gets so much of its strength, however, from its no holds barred, fuck you approach. It’s a down and dirty story that parallels and comments on the Blair era without fear of reproach from do-gooders. From its out of the box structure through its utterly original story to its deliciously naff Essex name, this script is voracious, debauched, complex, shocking, intelligent, satisfying, and intriguing. It’s just what the UK film industry needs. If TITLE can be polished without being castrated, and refined without being tamed (which it can), this script has the potential to be a very rare gem; if not, then even as it stands, it could and should go on to break new cinematic ground if well produced.