A sample script report
I'm often asked for sample script reports by potential script consultation clients. Script consultation clients need to know what they can expect before they commission me to write them a script report. So here is a sample feature film script report from a while back.
Written by Name
Script report by Nick Green
Q: Does the world need another wide boy heist film?
A: Yes, if it’s well done.
This screenplay combines elements from various, familiar Costa del Cockney films and a rich heritage of British heist movies to present a cinematic hybrid that has a core market. A familiar concept, however, means that the film must comprise a fresh structure and well-rounded motivations, arcs and conclusions – even open-ended ones. In short, we’re on familiar ground, so we need to find a new way of seeing it.
Whilst this idea is fairly well developed, a more satisfying, focussed and original narrative is required to hold the attention. The plot could be improved by shedding extraneous characters, and by utilising the warp and weft of vengeance and redress.
Do we need a Brandon and a Casper? If they were one character, against whom our lead Frazer took revenge, the plot would be more streamlined and logical, and the concept better served and explored. And why does Zoë take Frazer back so readily? Though clichéd, why is the potential drama of her making him promise to go straight in order to have a second chance with her and Frazer’s daughter Lilly ignored? She would be motivated to do this by having lost Lilly’s dad to the slammer for 8 years. Her insistence that he go straight would work in opposition to Frazer’s desire and need to do the heist. This would lead to conflict, which in turn could lend itself to a more complex and satisfying resolution. As it is, she’s a pushover; this weakens the plot, which damages the premise. And why might Frazer need to do the heist? Because perhaps he’s flat broke when he gets out of gaol. And why might he want to do the heist? To get back at Brandon/Casper, who dicked him over and got him banged up, and who therefore invites Frazer to lead the heist in ‘apology’ for this.
The concept of this script is adequate and the genre a cert; but they are served poorly by a weak narrative that doesn’t make the most of the story’s dramatic potential. Opposing agendas should be employed to send the reader on a longer and more satisfying journey with fewer, better developed characters.
The script avoids the usual problems of a sagging middle act and maintains a similar level of tension throughout. The problem is that the tension is too weak because of narrative shortcomings and problems in other areas of the script, mentioned below.
Whilst there have been many, similar films made globally, this one combines them in a heist story that has great potential; it therefore offers possible financiers a bouillabaisse of all things Mockney and mainly on the plain in a pleasing package. Much more can be done structurally and technically to enable it to find that finance and an eventual audience though. It would be a waste of a good idea not to develop it.
The lead character is the outstanding element of the plot: the writer seems familiar with Frazer, and writes him from the inside out as a consequence; Frazer’s character is therefore well rounded, sure footed and believable. As a plot point, Frazer works.
Other story elements don’t live up to these high standards; or if they do, they are hidden behind grammatical and technical problems. The script would benefit from a more original structure. Film structure is constantly evolving; new films play with structure and if successful, they re-write the rules (ref MEMENTO). This script needs to be more structurally innovative; at the moment it goes from A to Z in a straight line. Linearity isn’t always a bad thing, of course; but braver, more cutting-edge scripts in this genre particularly can make a mark more easily by being less conformist. At the very least, it would be interesting to start with the group of elderly ramblers finding the gold. Everything else would be a flashback. This would lodge a sense of enquiry in the reader’s mind, and doubt as to the heist’s success.
There are many story elements in this script that could and should work well; but they’re often obscured and entangled by confusing screenwriting. Grammar aside, the reader must work hard to remember who’s who, and why they’re doing what they’re doing. What they are doing is often hard to perceive; the reader therefore has to work hard to stay with the plot, and stay interested.
There seems to be too many characters; if it can be agreed that there need to be this many characters, more care should be given naming them. We have Tiny and Tony and Tommy and Terry. We have Frazer, Frank and Freddie. Giving characters names that start with different letters may seem irrelevant, but it’s a good practice that helps the reader decipher who’s who, and to know what’s going on. Character names, then, require attention. On which note: the name ‘Tiny’ for a big man feels clichéd. How about Zeus, or Ozymandias, or Toby, or Dorian, or Brick: anything unexpected or left field?
Do we really need Mr Fox, or would it be neater for Frazer to walk into the Regency Office and meet Brandon straight away?
Same scene, page 21: I would be wary of the Jews reference. How about just ‘Could hide money in a wallet’.
Frank disappears completely once scared off by Frazer and the lads. Could he be used later in the story to put a spanner in the works? Could he grass to Harris?
The go-kart race deserves its place in cinematic history: it’s the most functionally redundant and cinematically essential event in the script; it also characterises the people who populate the world of the story without a word being said. Perfect.
There isn’t quite enough action to support the dialogue led scenes. The rhythm of action /discussion /action/discussion is too slow. This slows things down. This genre is action orientated – we expect lots of knocks. Here, they don’t come often enough.
It seems absurd that Charlie would have such easy access to the disused underground trains, or that they could be made to work without problems. Surely someone would be aware that these trains were being used again without authorisation? OK, so this is a caper; but fantasy often needs to be more realistic than reality. Why not take opportunities to create problems for our heroes that put the end result in doubt?
Charlie disappears when he’s done his work; but why not involve him in the heist and have him die doing it? This would add dramatic punch and pathos currently lacking.
What narrative purpose do Frazer’s parents serve? Are they essential to the plot? All characters need to do something without which the plot would be diminished. They can do this passively, of course: they can just add emotional momentum and enrich the reader’s journey. But the requirement of passive characters varies from genre to genre; whilst emotional believability must be common to all genres and the reader can never be made to care too much, this script would benefit from a more stringent approach to character functionality. Could we do without Frazer’s parents? Yes.
Numerous scenes don’t work because they are too long, extraneous, not set up properly, or don’t flow from one to another. On page 4 we enter into a long period of dialogue which might put the lazy or busy reader off. A more powerful rendition of this whole scene would be for Frazer to call in on Zoë and be met with a shotgun (Frazer’s) barrel full of resentment. As for breaking in with a rubber plant stem – I’m no expert; but then neither will most of the audience be, and there’s the rub. This aside, it feels like an amazing coincidence that Zoë arrives home just after Frazer has broken in. Whilst fate and chance are tools that are at the screenwriter’s disposal, they must never feel deus-ex-machina. Coincidences must seem natural to be persuasive.
The story is neither too complex nor too simple; it’s spot on. Developing it won’t need to mean making it more complex – it can become more complicated and seem simpler if the screenwriter applies the tools of the trade to achieve clarity.
Christmas, OK, but a white Christmas at the beginning felt clichéd and unlikely. Though a nice contrast to the lad-mag profanity, violence and anomie that form the bulk of this story, another Christmas at the end felt similarly predictable: symmetrical, yes; necessary, perhaps no. Sometimes it’s essential to do unnecessary things to tell a story well, however; that’s called playing with the genre to create something new.
The pace is acceptable, but it would benefit from being brisker. As it stands, the plot would skip along better if the reader had an easier time reading it; but the script is heavy weather at times because of basic grammatical and technical problems. For these reasons this reader wasn’t pulled along, but had to push to get through.
Whilst often implausible, the plot is well set up and satisfactorily executed. It required a second reading to understand, however, and this needs to be addressed. Among the implausible elements that require attention are the ease with which Denny talks his way into the hot seat in the Bank, which would have ferociously high levels of security that could be used to stimulate our heroes’ ingenuity. Denny learns something about Brandon that motivates him to take action; but he then finds out something equally revelatory and shocking about Tony immediately. (He then seems hell bent on killing Tony one minute, and his best mate the next. Whilst such an emotional sea change is set up and understandable, it needs to be better explained through more action and less words: the ‘show, don’t tell’ maxim should be applied to this script throughout; it would thus benefit.) Space between these revelations would make things a lot less confusing at a point where the script is reaching critical mass: the two events seem to blur into one which makes them more confusing.
As stated, Frazer is well drawn: he’s strong and intelligent, and wonderfully vulnerable in his innermost being: the ace up this script’s sleeve is the time spent on Frazer’s emotions when he wins his wife and daughter back at the end.
Other characters are sufficiently well sketched to engage; yet more foibles would add colour. Brandon is a cigar chomping stateside villain – but where’s he been, what’s he done, and what makes him tick? The genius of CHINATOWN is the fact that the title of the film described the lead character’s Achilles heel; yet we never know anything more about it than that. In this respect, that script is pure psychology. This script would benefit from a similar approach. Good scripts conceal or barely suggest volumes of information and thereby invite audience curiosity. Though this genre may not lend itself to subtle character nuance and psychobabble of any kind, a bit more detail in the lead characters would be helpful. Tony is no more than a silhouette of a man, as is his relationship with Frazer. Denny is all mouth and no trousers, and he doesn’t sound like an American. Indeed better verbal and behavioural characterisation overall would help differentiate the characters more, and create more colour and tone.
Frazer aside, and then only when he was thinking or talking about his family, this reader felt little empathy with any of the characters. Again, this is no rom-com or drama per se, so empathy can be served on ration; yet it must exist in any script. Did we care about Danny Ocean because he was portrayed by George Clooney? Perhaps; but you can bet there are clues to Danny’s inner world that create care in the script.
More work could be done to make the lead character’s actions feel better motivated and more believable. To start at the top, Frazer comes straight out of prison and into another heist. Sure it’s in his blood and maybe it’s all he knows (that’s a guess: Casper aside, Frazer’s past isn’t alluded to). But it seems like eight years in gaol have been in no way salutary. If we choose not to dwell on this because of the genre (again, ref OCEAN’S 11) it would be beneficial to motivate Frazer not to do this job - as well as understand his reasons for going ahead with it. Drama is a conflict of interests, and there doesn’t feel like enough conflict to keep our interest in the first act.
Generally, character arcs are sufficient, but more extended through-lines would help.
Supporting characters are used well; but it would make things easier if they didn’t have names unless there were primary or secondary. Lots of names are confusing.
The only relationship in which this reader felt engaged or hoped for consistently was that between Frazer and Zoë and Lilly. Frazer’s relationship with his father Kenny and mum is skilfully and realistically drawn, but comes to nothing. Frazer’s relationship with Tony is very well drawn initially, but is then diluted or lost in and by the action. Frazer and Tony should seem like blood brothers throughout. Frazer should react very strongly when Tony is threatened by Denny near the end.
Frazer’s relationship with Zoë feels like it should be used more or lost. Clearly it can’t be lost; so it needs to be made more of. Even if Zoë isn’t used as a plot lever, we should be made more aware of how she feels about Frazer. What’s she doing for the greater part of the script? Might Harris call on her to investigate Frazer? This would make more of the Harris character; a police investigation would also add tension by the sense of jeopardy it would add to the plot by putting Frazer’s triumph in doubt.
Frazer tells Brandon that if he (Brandon) puts his Zoë and Lilly in danger he can expect the worst; but it would be so much more powerful to SEE this. Think of Big Chris slamming the car door on the head of the thug who threatened Little Chris incidentally in LOCK STOCK. Visceral, memorable and affecting. Show, don’t tell. So should Brandon use Zoë and Lilly to manipulate Frazer and pay the ultimate price?
Location is an integral part of this story. Spain is contrasted with London, sun with grime, dream with reality. But London could be a lot more inclement, and prompt more wise cracking gloom from the lads. More could be done to describe the environments that characters find themselves in, and its effects on them (and their consequent actions). Whilst it feels right for these people to be in Spain, however, why do they need to be there? What do they achieve there that they couldn’t achieve in the UK? Of course Spain functions as a motivation: this is the lifestyle you can have as opposed to the one you’ve got. In that respect, Spain works hard in this script.
The characters fit in fairly well with their locations, and are pleasingly out of step with them. The ex pat community in Spain is well described and all too familiar.
Whilst a chase through central London locations would make for a memorable scene with Britain stamped all over it (for export), production costs will be pushed up massively by their use. Best left in for dev, and changed later if budget requires then.
The Bank of England scenes need to be described by better use of scene headings and segues from one scene to another by way of CUTS and DISSOLVES. This is true of the script in general, where better technique could give the reader a heads up as to where things are going on and when in relation to other events. Though the dialogue would benefit from a rigorous pencil, it is generally good and at times excellent. Lots of memorable gags have been written in, which are a plus. At times it’s obvious that dialogue has been contrived to provide a vehicle for these gags; it would better if they could grow more organically out of the situation. Overall though, this script has got more one liners than the White Star Line ended up with.
Each character lacks an individual voice. Only Frazer is recognisable and distinct. If each can find their own voice, the reader will have an easier time, and more fun.
The writer uses dialogue as a vehicle for exposition and it suffers accordingly. Characters mustn’t serve as tools for exposition, but must expose indirectly through action – and if all else fails, dialogue. The saying ‘If the scene’s about what the scene’s about you’re in deep shit’ is generally applicable: having characters vocalise their thoughts and feeling can feel boring and trite; having them say one thing and mean another feels realistic – as does having them suggest their thoughts and feeling tacitly, and through action and body language.
The script would be improved, then, through an overhaul of the dialogue that reduces its volume and makes it less expositional whilst retaining its wise cracking gems.
Grammar is the DNA of any writing, and whilst there’s no need to be obsessive about it in a screenplay, getting the basics right can only help. Grammar needs attention throughout this script. It works against the reader rather than helping them on. Excessive use of commas in lieu of correct punctuation makes things difficult. This is a basic problem that can be fixed easily – even if just with a Word grammar checker.
Whilst there’s no need to be conventional and a kick arse attitude is always welcome, more standard use of screenwriting technique in this script would also help the reader. At the beginning of the script we don’t FADE IN ON anything. We begin with the word ‘Eight years previously . . .’ but previously to what? This paragraph then continues in a way that is discouraging because of grammar and technique.
What we have is:
INT. PRIMARY SCHOOL – NIGHT
Eight years previously a Christmas play (A Christmas Carol) is being performed by a cross section of school age groups, a small three-year-old girl(Lily) comes on stage she looks into the front row, her Mum (Zoe) sits with Lily’s proud Grandparents, she looks at the empty chair where her Dad (Frazer) should be, her Mum encourages her to carry on, an impressive song and dance routine finishes and Lily delivers her line.
What might be better is:
FADE IN ON
INT. PRIMARY SCHOOL, LONDON – NIGHT
‘A Christmas Carol’ is performed to parents by schoolchildren.
To warm applause and camera flashes, LILY (3) walks onto the stage. She looks for her mum in the audience immediately. She sees her front and centre: ZOE (30’s) wipes tears of pride from her weary but still attractive eyes as she looks encouragingly at her beloved daughter.
Next to ZOE is a very EMPTY CHAIR
Next to that sit LILY’S proud, adoring grandparents.
LILY hesitates. ZOE encourages her.
As LILY begins to sing her solo with a voice that would melt a tyrant’s heart we
Half way down the same page we have:
Frazer slowly lays down in the snow, Police officers rush past Harris and hand cuff Frazer, Parents and the cast from the production are now spilling into the playground, watching the drama unfold, Lily attempts to run to her Dad, Zoe stops her.
What might be better is:
With nowhere to run, FRAZER lies face down in the snow.
Police officers rush and handcuff him.
A big Detective with a limp and bad SUNBURN called HARRIS (40) approaches FRAZER like a hunter that has finally got its prey.
Parents and the cast of the play spill out of the school to watch the drama unfold. Among them is Lily, who attempts to run to her dad – her fallen hero: FRAZER.
As LILY runs forward
ZOE stops her.
Whilst there are no hard and fast rules about these things, any use of the screenwriters’ tools that make a script easier to read and more informative is helpful. These tools can enable a reader not to see the words, but the actions they describe and better still, the histories, thoughts and emotions of the characters involved.
Capitalizing the names of characters - when they are introduced and even throughout the script - can be helpful: it flags-up names and sets them apart. The reader thereby has to do less work.
Underlining scene headings makes it obvious when a scene starts. Whilst one might argue that it’s obvious where scenes start, the (busy or lazy) reader can’t be given too much help or encouragement to read on.
On page 28 ‘cut to’ is written on bold in the middle of a para of descriptive text. If we cut to, we should CUT TO, and double space that with a new scene heading below.
On page 29 Casper begins his 2nd speech with ‘Knowing him,’ in response to what MALE 2 has said above. But it takes several second to work this out. Casper should call the waiter over after he has said this to MALE 2 so we know he’s responding to him; he can then ask the waiter to send the bottle of bubbly to Mr King.
Tiny is re-introduced at the top of page 31. We already met him on page 20.
Where descriptive text is used en mass, it should be broken down into double spaced lines where relevant to suggest different events and separate camera angles. Use of CAPITALS can help to draw the reader’s attention to significant events or things. On page 8 the scenes begin with no descriptive text. This leaves the reader wondering who’s involved and what they’re doing - work the reader shouldn’t have to do. This happens on numerous occasions throughout the script. It requires attention.
Better use could be made of basic screenwriting techniques to make this a better - and easier - read. Correct use of grammar will also help to achieve this goal. At present the script cannot be called visual (SPEED does this brilliantly – all the reader sees is images, not words) because the reader is blocked rather than assisted by the verbiage.
The script needs re-writing to bring it up to the standards required to get past the desks of useful agents and executives. It thoroughly deserves this development.
The thread of ‘old school’ London villainy that harks back to the original ITALIAN JOB and beyond, its anti-establishment undercurrent, and many cracking one-liners mean that this is a very marketable script. There is a perennial audience for this genre. High production standards and feasible production costs coupled with a bankable package means this project should pick up momentum of handled and developed well.
The writer certainly knows a good story when he tells it. He has an excellent ear for dialogue and clearly knows the milieu of which he writes. He may choose to develop his screenwriting skills in order to manifest his obvious vision and enthusiasm.
This screenplay is built on solid cinematic ground. It has huge potential because whilst it should be developed, the story is broadly sound as a pound. A more innovative approach to structure and better use of screenwriting technique will make it a more attractive read, which will give it the chance of production it deserves.
Consolidating characters and streamlining dialogue and descriptive text to emphasise the fuck-you poetry within will help to create a rough diamond that will put enough bums on seats to make a profit if a talent package can be found to do justice to it.