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TPG Week 46: Choices Between A Twist & What You Really Want

| November 11, 2011 | 6 Comments

 

 

 

 

Hello, one and all, and welcome back once again to The Proving Grounds! This week brings us Brave One John Lees once again. He’s got a five page horror short he calls

Open House

 

PAGE ONE (5 panels)

 

Panel 1. Establishing shot of a two-storey, fully-detached suburban house at night. It’s a rather normal house, with a modern design, complete with garden and picket fence. The moon is behind it, and despite its unremarkable design, the house should appear quite dark and ominous. There is a large sign placed in the front garden, reading: “OPEN HOUSE!”, and in a smaller font on the line below, “ALL DAY TODAY!” There is an alert light over the front door, acting as a light source to show Tom approaching. We can’t see Tom here, as we’re a good distance away and he has his back to us, but he’s a young, slender man in his late twenties, dressed in a smart black business suit with a white shirt and black tie. (Okay. First question: where is the camera? I take it that it is across the street, in order to get this view. Second, is Tom closer to the house or to the street?)

 

Title. OPEN HOUSE

 

WRITER: JOHN LEES

 

ARTIST: GUSTAV VON SPUNKUNBURGER

 

LETTERER: MOREMOREMORE GADDAFI (HOW DO YOU LIKE IT?)

 

 

Panel 2. Extreme close-up of Tom’s finger pressing the doorbell by the front door. (I’m thinking this panel is padding. I get the reasoning for it, though. You want to have two panels with the same camera angle, but you also need to have the doorbell rung. I’m still not liking it, though. Combine this panel with the next, angling the camera so that we can see the doorbell being rung, and then come around to the angle you want in the next panel. That saves you a panel, and builds the drama without the squandering of a panel.)

 

SFX: DING-DONG!

 

 

Panel 3. Medium shot from behind of Tom standing in the lit doorstep, looking over his shoulder at us nervously. Behind him, the door is closed.

 

 

Panel 4. Same medium shot from behind Tom, but now the door has opened, and Tom has turned to look at the middle-aged man standing in front of him. The man, Harry, is at least a head taller than Tom, and a good deal fatter. His wide build seems to fill the door frame. The hallway inside the house is darkened, casting Harry into shadow, making him look even more menacing. (Okay, if we can see some of Harry [and I’m kinda waiting for Dick to show up now], then what is he wearing? What does his facial expression say?)

 

SFX (door): EEEEE….

 

 

Panel 5. High-angle over-the-shoulder shot from behind Harry, looking down at Tom. Tom is looking up at Harry, smiling cautiously, looking a little intimidated.

 

TOM: HI, I’M HERE FOR THE OPEN HOUSE?

 

HARRY: HEH… OF COURSE YOU ARE.

 

HARRY: WELL, COME ON IN! (I’m thinking this line is unnecessary. It might play better if it were removed. It would be more ominous.)

 

 

PAGE TWO (4 panels)

 

Panel 1. Medium shot of Harry flicking on a light switch in the hall. No longer cast into shadow, Harry comes across as friendlier. But with his unsettlingly wide eyes and big grin, he perhaps comes across as a little too friendly. (Okay. Let’s see… Let’s see… Connor! What’s wrong here?)

 

HARRY: LET’S GET SOME LIGHTS ON IN HERE. WE DON’T WANT IT LOOKING LIKE A HAUNTED HORROR HOUSE, DO WE?

 

HARRY: AT LEAST, NOT UNTIL WE GET YOU INSIDE. BWAHAHAHAHA!

 

 

Panel 2. Medium shot in profile of Harry and Tom standing in the hallway, facing each other. Harry is shaking Tom’s hand, the other hand rested on his shoulder. Harry is still grinning manically, while Tom looks a bit uncomfortable. (This seems a bit unnatural, because of the dialogue. I’d like to see Harry’s other hand out in an open sort of gesture, indicating he’s going to show Tom around.)

 

HARRY: JUST KIDDING! I’M HARRY. NICE TO MEET YOU.

 

TOM: I’M TOM. YOU’VE GOT A LOVELY HOUSE HERE, HARRY. YOU MUST HAVE HAD QUITE A BIT OF INTEREST…

 

HARRY: OH, LOTS. LET ME SHOW YOU AROUND.

 

 

Panel 3. Establishing shot of the living room. Harry and Tom are standing by the room door. Harry is behind, nearest the doorway, gesturing out to the room with a proud smile on his face. Tom is standing a little in front, further into the room, looking nervous. The room is quite dingily furnished, with out-of-date ‘80s wallpaper and furniture, and a ratty-looking old couch at the centre. Lined along the far wall is a collection of stuffed birds and animals.

 

HARRY: HERE’S THE LIVING ROOM. THIS IS WHERE I KEEP MY TAXIDERMY COLLECTION. WHENEVER I’M FEELING LONELY, I COME INTO THIS ROOM, AND IT’S LIKE YOU’VE ALWAYS GOT COMPANY, HA, HA!

 

HARRY: WHAT DO YOU THINK?

 

TOM: IT’S… COSY.

 

(more)

 

PAGE TWO (continued)

 

Panel 4. Establishing shot of the plainly-furnished master bedroom. The main feature of the room is a double bed, with a single teddy bear lying on top of it. Harry and Tom are again standing at the room door, but now Harry has his arm around Tom’s shoulder, looking at him with a sly smirk while Tom stares back, agitated.

 

HARRY: THIS IS THE BEDROOM. WE’VE GOT ANOTHER TWO UPSTAIRS. I THINK YOU KNOW WHAT HAPPENS IN HERE… AM I RIGHT? YOU GOT A GIRLFRIEND, TOMMY?

 

TOM: TOM. NO, NOT RIGHT NOW.

 

HARRY: WAIT A MINUTE, YOU’RE NOT A GAY, ARE YOU?

 

TOM: NO. WHY, WOULD THAT BE A PROBLEM?

 

HARRY: NOPE. BETTER YOUR BUM THAN MINE, MATE.

 

These two pages are a little slow. You’ve only got five. Right now, I’m not overwhelmed with interest, and you’re already almost halfway through.

PAGE THREE (6 panels)

 

Panel 1. Medium shot in profile of Harry and Tom facing each other. Harry is stepping into the hall, closing a room door behind him (suggesting they’ve just exited the bedroom from the previous page), his expression changed to one of annoyance, while Tom stands with his arms folded, looking uneasy. In the background, in the space between them, we can see a black door at the end of the hallway.

 

HARRY: YOU’VE NOT SAID MUCH, TOMMY. IS THERE A PROBLEM? DON’T YOU LIKE MY HOUSE?

 

TOM: I LIKE IT FINE. I JUST WANT TO GET A LOOK AROUND BEFORE I SAY ANYTHING, THAT’S ALL.

 

 

Panel 2. Long shot of Tom and Harry, now standing in front of the black door at the end of the hallway. Tom is standing with his back to us, looking at the door, while Harry is standing next to it, pointing back at it with his thumb while grinning at Tom.

 

TOM: WHAT’S IN HERE?

 

HARRY: THAT’S THE BASEMENT. I’VE GOT SOMETHING REALLY COOL DOWN THERE. IT’S A BIG SURPRISE. (The last line here is out of place. If I were showing a house to sell it, I wouldn’t necessarily call something a big surprise. I’d frame it more like “This is one of the best features of the house.”)

 

 

Panel 3. Medium shot of Tom and Harry. Tom is flashing Harry an uneasy glance at Harry, who is now holding the door open for him and gesturing into the solid darkness beyond its threshold.

 

HARRY: THERE’S A LIGHT-SWITCH AT THE BOTTOM. GO ON, HEAD DOWN AND TAKE A LOOK. I’LL BE RIGHT BEHIND YOU. (Yeah, there’s always a light switch at the bottom. It’s never at the top, where it does the most good. Cliché much, John?)

 

HARRY: WHAT’S THE MATTER? SCARED OF THE DARK?

 

 

Panel 4. Low-angle shot from the bottom of the basement stairway, looking up at Tom as he tentatively walks down the stairs. It’s dark, so the only light source is coming from the hallway, through the doorway behind Tom. As a result, he may be cast into silhouette here. (He WILL be in silhouette, so there’s no real way of showing “tentative.” That would come through his face, mostly, but since we’re not going to see that, it is a useless, impossible descriptor.)

 

HARRY (O.P.): CAREFUL GOING DOWN THOSE STAIRS. WE DON’T WANT YOU HURTING YOURSELF, DO WE? (I’d cut the first sentence to either one or three words. The rest of the first sentence is unnecessary.)

 

HARRY (O.P.): HEH, HEH…

 

(more)

 

 

PAGE THREE (continued)

 

Panel 5. Extreme close-up of Tom’s finger flicking the light-switch on the wall at the bottom of the basement stairway.

 

SFX (switch): TIK.

 

 

Panel 6. Close-up of Tom’s face, open-mouthed with shock. (There could be a problem here. I’ll talk about it in Pacing.)

 

TOM: OH, MY…

 

 

PAGE FOUR (3 panels)

 

Panel 1. Establishing shot of the basement. It is the ultimate guys’ hideaway. On the far wall to left of the frame is a fully stocked mini-bar. Tom stands in the middle of the basement, looking around in amazement. In the background behind him, we can see a home cinema system, with a massive, wall-mounted flatscreen TV with a deluxe sound system around it, and a plush leather sofa facing the telly. In the foreground in front of Tom, we can see a pool table. To the right of the frame, we can see Harry walking down the basement stairway.

 

TOM: WOW!

 

HARRY: 52 INCH LCD TV, DELUXE DOLBY DIGITAL SOUND SYSTEM… THIS, MY FRIEND, IS THE BAWS. (Baws? Is that a term used in the UK? I have absolutely no idea what it means. Well, I can suss it out because of the context, but I’d rather have a more concrete definition.)

 

HARRY: AND I CAN ROCK OUT AS LOUDLY AS I WANT. I’VE GOT TRIPLE-GLAZED WINDOWS, SOUNDPROOFED WALLS. ONCE THAT FRONT DOOR’S SHUT, AND YOU’RE DOWN IN THE BASEMENT, NO ONE OUTSIDE CAN HEAR A THING.

 

 

Panel 2. Medium shot of Tom and Harry. Tom is in the foreground, smiling. In the background, Harry is walking towards him, a big grin still on his face.

 

HARRY: I REALLY WILL BE SAD TO LEAVE THIS HOUSE, AND I THINK IT’S THIS ROOM I’LL MISS MOST OF ALL. IT’S LIKE MY LITTLE SAFE HAVEN FROM THE WORLD.

 

HARRY: MAYBE IT COULD BE THE SAME FOR YOU. WE ALL NEED A LITTLE SAFE HAVEN FROM TIME TO TIME.

 

 

Panel 3. Over-the-shoulder shot from behind Harry, looking at Tom, who has his back turned to us.

 

TOM: ABSOLUTELY. IT’S A SCARY WORLD OUT THERE, AND THESE DAYS PEOPLE WANT TO LOCK THEIR DOORS AND TELL THEMSELVES THEY’RE PROTECTED.

 

TOM: YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW TRICKY IT IS IN A WORLD LIKE THIS, HARRY…

 

 

PAGE FIVE (4 panels)

 

Panel 1. Medium shot of Tom and Harry. Tom has turned round, revealing his true form: he is a vampire. And not a pretty Twilight vampire. His face has transformed into something monstrous. His eyes are now a solid black, like a shark’s. His jaw seems to have dislocated itself, allowing his mouth to open up to a massive size, revealing gigantic, viper-like fangs. He seems to have suddenly grown taller too, now standing taller than Harry. His arms are raised – revealing inhumanly long and thin hands and long, clawed Nosferatu fingers – and he appears ready to pounce on Harry. Harry, meanwhile, looks terrified, his mouth opened in a silent O of pure terror. A lettering note: could the font/bubble for Tom’s dialogue here look different, to suggest a new, monstrous voice to reflect his new, monstrous appearance?

 

TOM: …GETTING PEOPLE TO INVITE YOU IN.

 

TOM: HSSSSS!

 

 

Panel 2. A high-angle shot from the basement doorway, looking down at the stairs. We can’t see Tom or Harry here.

 

CAP: TRIPLE-GLAZED WINDOWS… (Why is this a caption? What does a caption do that other elements cannot? If this is a caption, who’s speaking? Is it the omniscient narrator, or are you trying to do a voice-over of Harry saying this? I’m confused, and this seems out of place.)

 

HARRY (O.P.): AAAAAAAAARGGH! AAAAAAARRGGH!

 

CAP: SOUNDPROOFED WALLS… (Same thing here.)

 

 

Panel 3. Long shot of the open basement door from the other end of the hallway. We’re creating a sense of a camera pulling away from the basement.

 

CAP: ONCE THAT FRONT DOOR’S SHUT, AND YOU’RE DOWN IN THE BASEMENT… (And the same thing, here.)

 

HARRY (O.P.): EEEEEUUAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRGGGH!!!

 

 

Panel 4. And we’re back to the establishing shot of the house, reflecting the image from the opening panel of the story. A man walks past the house with his dog, unaware of anything going on inside.

 

CAP: NO ONE OUTSIDE CAN HEAR A THING.

 

CAP: NO ONE AT ALL.

 

BOTTOM CAP: END.

 

Okay! We’re at the end!

First, some background on the piece before running it down. This is supposed to be a horror piece for an anthology to be produced by the Glasgow League of Writers. So, there’s that. Okay. Let’s run it down now.

Format: Flawless victory. I wouldn’t expect any thing less from John.

Panel Descriptions: Pretty good! There’s a flaw here, but Connor is going to go over that. John has gotten much better of describing what he “sees”, and thus, what can be drawn. To his credit, he was never terrible at it, but it was definitely a learning process for him. He’s come by it through hard work. Nice job.

Pacing: And here’s where we come to the first problem. This starts out a little slow, but you have to have a setup, yes? While I’m not happy with it, I understand the necessity. What would I do instead? I’d do something different. But that goes into Content, and I’ll come to that in a bit. Anyway, the wasted panel on P1 needs to go, but since it is a necessary action, it needs to be done. The only problem with it is that it doesn’t need its own panel. By combining the panel with the next one, you’re getting an action done that pushes the story needfully forward while still giving the necessary air of uncertainty. There is one more thing that has to do with Pacing, but still falls more firmly into the realm of Content. As it stands, the pacing right now is fine.

Dialogue: As a general rule, I have little problem with John’s dialogue. He has a very good ear for it. Sometimes there needs to be a little guidance, like I did here, but generally, his dialogue is extremely functional. I like what I see here, and there is little that I would change.

Content: Here is the second problem with this story.

It isn’t horror.

Adding a vampire at the end doesn’t make this a horror story. It’s more a short episode of The Twilight Zone because of the twist at the end, but I wouldn’t categorize this as horror.

Now, I did like the twist. Everyone was expecting Harry to be a killer due to his actions and dialogue. We were expecting something horrible in the basement, and when we didn’t get it, we were expecting Harry to come down the stairs wielding a machete or something. When we didn’t get THAT, we were STILL expecting Harry to deserve his fate before Tom chomped on him. It never happened, and that made it a good twist. This means that John did his job.

However, I still don’t think of this as horror. Maybe if there were a more oppressive air about the story, then I could see it that way. However, I’m seeing clean lines here, not the scratchings and grit of horror.

I also think that it took too long before something horrific happened, which is another reason why I’m having a problem seeing this as horror. Oppression should have started on P2, and grown more severe until the end. Definitely something of a thriller, but not my idea of horror.

If John had started the oppression on P2 by being more upfront with things, then it would be more of a horror story instead of a short with a twist. It would be more of William Shatner seeing something on the wing of the plane, than William Shatner asking questions of a devil-faced, coin operated oracle at a diner.

Editorially, I’d ask John what he wanted to do: go for the twist—which is good—or go for the horror. If he said “twist,” I’d have him clean up the couple of faux pas’ he has here and send it to the artist to get to work. If he said “horror,” I’d have him rework it from the ground up. It would have to be totally re-thought in the vein of horror, and not in the vein of a vampiric twist.

And that’s it for the script.

Time for another call for scripts, though. If you check the calendar, you can see that I’m running low again. It’s November, folks, which means that we’re in the home stretch for one year of doing this. Let’s push this over the top! Let’s get some more scripts in. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: this is a resource for you, and it literally lives and dies by your participation.

Thanks. Now, that’s all I have. Check the calendar to see who’s up next!


 

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Category: The Proving Grounds

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

Comments (6)

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  1. Conner MacDonald says:

    Panel 1. Medium shot of Harry flicking on a light switch in the hall. No longer cast into shadow, Harry comes across as friendlier. But with his unsettlingly wide eyes and big grin, he perhaps comes across as a little too friendly. (Okay. Let’s see… Let’s see… Connor! What’s wrong here?)

    Is it that, for him to have been shrouded in a shadow, there must have been some kind of light source immediately in the house?/Wouldn’t the light, shinning on Tom, also show Harry?

    Is that it? Also sorry it took me so long to reply. I was visiting my Girlfriend.

    • Girlfriend? GIRLFRIEND?!

      Okay. I’ll let it slide. This time.

      And it was something of a trick question. Look again at the passage. Dip into the dialogue.

      See? I’m all about second chances today.

      • Conner MacDonald says:

        Ok. Lets see if I got this now. Does it have something do with the laughter? “BWAHAHAHA!” Is very powerful, menacing laugh. But Harry’s expression, though creepy, is more subtle . So maybe instead of a “BWAHAHAHA!” it should be a, “Hehehe.”

        • It’s staring you right in the face.

          John does something here that he doesn’t usually do.

          His panel description doesn’t match the dialogue.

          Take a look and see.

          • Conner MacDonald says:

            Panel 1. Medium shot of Harry flicking on a light switch in the hall. No longer cast into shadow, Harry comes across as friendlier. But with his unsettlingly wide eyes and big grin, he perhaps comes across as a little too friendly. (Okay. Let’s see… Let’s see… Connor! What’s wrong here?)

            HARRY: LET’S GET SOME LIGHTS ON IN HERE. WE DON’T WANT IT LOOKING LIKE A HAUNTED HORROR HOUSE, DO WE?

            HARRY: AT LEAST, NOT UNTIL WE GET YOU INSIDE. BWAHAHAHAHA!

            (Is it the fact that Tom is already in the house? So Harry saying, “Don’t want it looking like a haunted Horror House do we? At least, not until we get you inside.” doesn’t make sense. Because he’s turning on the lights to make the house seem less like a haunted house, when Tom comes in. But he say’s he wants the house to seem more like a haunted house when he is inside… I dont think I got this, damn. Freaking bombing.)

  2. John Lees says:

    Sorry, I never got round to replying to this! Once again, thanks for the edit, Steve. It gives me a couple of things I can tighten up on to get the script that little bit stronger. As regards the line “Well, come on in!” on page 1 being unnecessary, I was aware of it potentially coming across as redundant, but hopefully the vampiric twist at the end made it clear it was necessary.

    In terms of horror VS twist, I’d admit I’d probably choose “twist”. It was the last page I came up with first, then built the rest of the story around that. That’s probably why it feels a little padded in the early pages. You mentioned The Twilight Zone, and that was definitely an inspiration. In particular, I was thinking of that “Hey, wanna see something REALLY scary?” skit from the movie. And with that, it was more about a sudden sting out of nowhere than a steady build in dread that created an effective scare.

    That sucks you’re running low on scripts, Steve. I can petition my fellow GLoWers to send stuff in. And I have another piece, also for the horror anthology, but it’s just a 1-pager, so I don’t know if it’s worthwhile sending in.

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