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TPG Week 53: Screenplay Writers Need To Add More Info

| December 30, 2011 | 5 Comments

Hello, one and all! I’d like to welcome you all once again to The Proving Grounds! This week, we have a new Brave One in Jeremy Melloul. Let’s see how he does in this unnamed piece, shall we?

 

PAGE ONE (5 Panels)

PANEL ONE: The transport moving through the desert. Sand is blowing in the wind, obscuring the view a little bit. (Already, we have problems. What kind of transport are we talking about? I have no idea. It could be a truck, it could be a Star Wars type sand crawler, it could be a dune buggy (which is still a type of transportation), or it could be a tank. So, that’s the first problem. The second problem is this: which direction is the “transport” moving in? Is it going left to right, or right to left? Is it going toward us or away from us? I have no idea. The third problem? What time of day is it? Again, no idea. No, I’m not going to bag on you about where in the desert they are, or which desert, or anything like that. No need. However, just to let you know, when most people think of “desert,” they think of the Sahara.)

KADEN (from inside the transport)

Don’t you understand what finding Nejem would mean to the archaeological community!?

PANEL TWO: Inside the transport. Kaden, eyes wide, enthralled by his own rant, is standing, facing out, in front of a workstation littered with ancient books and maps stand. Hessa is standing, bored, beside her chair. She’s leaning on it. (Okay, some disclosure: Jeremy is used to writing screenplays, because he wrote this in Final Draft, and then adapted it to a format that I take here in TPG. But here’s the difference between comic scripting and screenplays: the amount of info you put in. In a screenplay, lots of information is stripped out of the thing, because you don’t often know what’s going to happen during production. Your “transport” could be nothing more than a Chevy S-10. So, that’s why these panel descriptions are more sparse than they should be. I’m going to make a blanket statement, Jeremy: beef up ALL of your panel descriptions. Artists need to know what to draw, and here, you don’t give enough info. Where in the transport are they? Front, back, middle? They really have enough space to stand? They have electricity in the transport to at least power the lights, assuming it’s enclosed? No, I’m not going to ding you for not describing the characters. If the setting stays the same, then they should be dressed for the desert, and that’s something the artist will be taking care of in the designs. I’m okay with that. But you need to beef up the panel descriptions with more pertinent info.)

HESSA

I understand completely, it doesn’t mean that I care. (I’m not going to call this a comma-fail. I will, however, say that the comma should be a period, instead.)

KADEN

It’s the Atlantis of the Sands. Lost for longer than mankind remembers. Buried under the ancient sands of the Rub’ Al-Khali. How could you not care!? (Apropos of nothing, I have a movie called queen of Atlantis, that actually puts Atlantis in the desert. It’s an old, b/w movie with terrible acting. And I understand the hyperbole of it being lost for a long time, but if it’s been lost for longer than mankind remembers, then how is it even known? Not a ding on logic, because I get it. We say a lot of things like this, and it gives a bit of epic-ness to the tale.)

PANEL THREE: Amir, focused, plugging coordinates into the display in front of him which also shows depth readings (think sort of like a radar) of the ground around them. (Whoa, buddy! Kyle, what’s wrong here?)

AMIR

Give up Kaden. She doesn’t want to be here. (Comma-fail.)

PANEL FOUR: Amir looking over his shoulder. He’s grinning.

AMIR

Besides, it’ll be harder for her to keep saying it doesn’t exist when we’re standing at its gates.

PANEL FIVE: Kaden smiling, satisfied. Hessa is talking into the communicator at the comm station.

HESSA

I’m right here. You know that, right?

KADEN

Yeah, whatever.

HESSA (into comm)

Hessa Sultan of Hound 4 to Base. 900 KM in. (I like this! See what was done here? Let’s take it all of a piece, shall we? Jeremy put Hessa exactly where she needed to be, doing what she needed to be doing, BUT, he wanted her to get a word in before speaking to the communicator. Instead of having it appear like she’s saying the entire thing into the communicator, she speaks to the guys first, and then she’s interrupted, and THEN she speaks into the comm. VERY, VERY NICE! That break, that interruption, gives the mental space needed for the speaking into the comm. Nice work, Jeremy! Very nice! Now, what I don’t like, is the shoehorning in of her name right here. There’s a more organic way of doing it. It would work very well within the very first line spoken on this page. Because, get this: the use of radio names is so that you don’t have to use your real name. It kind of defeats the purpose of saying “Hound 4” or whatever if she’s also going to give her real name. And where is the response to the update?)

 

PAGE TWO (6 Panels) (Page break.)

PANEL ONE: Amir standing over his displays. The readings on the display show a repeating green line like that of a heartbeat monitor. (What display where? I’m in a white void inside this place. )

PANEL TWO: Same as Panel One except that the screen with the depth readings is all static.

AMIR (smaller bubble, to himself)

What the hell?

PANEL THREE: Hessa talking into the comm. The comm emits STATIC (SFX: BZZZ) as she tries to talk into. (The SXF goes on its own line. It’s its own element.)

HESSA

Hound 4 to-

PANEL FOUR: Sparks jumping out from the onboard electronics. (This is not a moving panel. This is not a jump in Border Time. This is just a poorly described panel. Where is the camera? Is it pushed in or pulled out? If pushed in, where was this panel of electronics before? If pulled out, where are the people? Poorly described.)

PANEL FIVE: Entirely dark panel.

KADEN

Ummm…

AMIR

Did a sandstorm do this? It shouldn’t have been able to right? (Comma-fail.)

HESSA

Right, just wait a second. (See what happened here, folks? Jeremy didn’t place any characters in the previous panel, so when we get to this panel, there’s nothing to place who the dialogue belongs to. The reader is going to need to know this. The artist is going to need to know how big to make the panel, because this panel has to match the previous one in order for the dialogue to be identified with the speaker.)

PANEL SIX: Hessa, fiddling with the lantern and Amir, hand to his forehead, and Kaden, sweating & worried, standing inside the transport. The source of light is the lantern Hessa has just lit. (The lantern? It could be magically delicious. It should have been mentioned as soon as possible, somewhere on P1. And if that lantern is oil powered, I’m going to cry foul, because you’re in a hi-tech sandrover. Yes, it’s possible that the lantern could have been away somewhere, but then there’s the problem of how it was found in the dark. Something that can easily be overcome, yes, but it would be pushing the bounds of credulity. Let’s not do that. Make it appear earlier, so that it doesn’t seem to just come out of nowhere here.)

 

PAGE THREE (6 Panels)

PANEL ONE: Kaden, Amir, and Hessa standing closer together around a table inside the transport. The lantern is between them. Kaden is looking down. Amir and Hessa are looking at each other, seriously. (Yannick? I know you’ve been waiting. Go ahead.)

KADEN

So, what do we do now?

HESSA

We wait. Once command realizes that we’re not checking in they’ll send a retrieval team our way.

AMIR

We wait?

PANEL TWO: Hessa and Amir are in the same positions while Kaden is now looking up at Hessa, eyebrows raised.

HESSA

Yes, is that a problem? (No comma. That should be a period, instead. You want a hard stop, not a soft pause.)

PANEL THREE: Amir staring back at Hessa, who is not visible in the frame. Kaden is, though. He’s still looking off toward Hessa. Amir is gesticulating, obviously pissed. His mouth is open and his eyebrows are furrowed.

AMIR

Damn right it’s a problem!

AMIR

I didn’t spend a fortune on the Expedition License just to tow you along for three days and then head back. (No, I’m not going to ding him for the capitals here. The letterer more than likely is going to use an all-caps font, so it won’t matter.)

PANEL FOUR: Hessa smiling a little, meanly & spitefully. She’s almost brought joy by the fact that Amir is annoyed. Amir is moving away from the table toward the equipment closet.

HESSA

You don’t have a choice in the matter. It’s protocol. It was all in the contract.

PANEL FIVE: Amir standing in front of the open equipment closet. He is putting on some gloves. (This place better be huge. I’m talking beds, bathrooms, kitchen and separate dining area, and a stable to hold the camels. There are camels, right? And if it’s just the three of them, just who was driving/navigating this thing? Anyway, what do we see? His front, back, or side?)

AMIR

Screw the contract!

PANEL SIX: Amir putting goggles on. (This panel is padding. It isn’t doing anything to that can’t be done in the previous panel. Just move the dialogue up, and cut this.)

AMIR

I’m going out there!

 

PAGE FOUR (6 Panels) (Page break.)

PANEL ONE: Amir, back facing us, moving toward the hatch. Hessa is standing in front of him, blocking his way. (Ah! Information that can be used! He’s back facing us! It’s about time. And now, what does Hessa’s body language say?)

HESSA

Mr. Howel, with a retrieval team on its way it would be best if we stay inside. (Okay, a dialogue preference: I would have preferred “stayed” instead of “stay.” This is my preference, and it is not wrong. “Stay” is a present tense, with “stayed” being past tense. I just think that “stayed” both reads and sounds better. And yes, comma-fail.)

AMIR

Not a chance.

PANEL TWO: Amir, frustrated, pushing past Hessa. (And she’s just letting herself be pushed?)

AMIR

Listen. (To what? He doesn’t say anything more until the next panel.)

PANEL THREE: Amir de-magnetizing the latch. (Um, how does he do that, exactly?)

AMIR

That retrieval team is going to take several days, at least. I say we use that time to find the city and find our way back using our emergency beacon. (Comma-fail, second sentence. And this just took a logic jump right out of the Tomb Raider movies. Cradle of Life, actually, which I just saw, not too long ago. But we’ll get to that in a little bit. Let’s just say, this isn’t good.)

PANEL FOUR: Amir pulling a cloth over his mouth and nose (think bandit) as the latch opens.

AMIR

If you don’t want to come with me, fine. Suit yourself.

PANEL FIVE: Amir stepping through the containment field keeping the sand from getting inside the vehicle through the open hatchway. (Where is the camera? Containment field? It’s your story, but this is a bit absurd.)

PANEL SIX: Kaden and Hessa looking at each other inside the transport. Kaden is frowning on one side of his mouth and Hessa is sighing, frustrated. (Where’s the dialogue of the sigh? I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and say it was cut off in this excerpt that you sent. See? I’m generous.)

And that’s all I was sent! Let’s run it down, shall we?

Format: Just a couple of small hiccups. Could have easily been a Flawless Victory, though.

Panel Descriptions: This, Jeremy, is your weakest link. I think it comes from the screenplay writing. Again, the artist needs to know what to draw. This is a good start, but you have to give them pertinent information. It takes some getting used to, but write a few more scripts (and have them edited or drawn), and you’ll get a feel for what is and is not important.

This script, if given to most artists, would have them asking you a lot of questions. A strong artist would have fewer questions, but most of them would have questions about placement of characters and such. This is not a screenplay. There is no production department. This is a comic script, and the production department is two people: you with your imagination, and the artist with theirs. See how that works?

Beef it up some, and this script could easily be drawn.

Pacing: Not bad at all. Only one instance of padding, and you tried working the names in there as organically and as soon as possible. Not bad at all.

Dialogue: I could see people speaking like this. I think the dialogue is the best part of this script, despite some minor tweaks I’d do. Part of that is personal preference, though. This dialogue did what it was supposed to do: give information and get the reader interested. I’d say this was done. Good job.

Content: As a reader, I’m interested! Believe me, this does not happen often. I’m intrigued and want to know more. Good job! That is, until we got to the end. That’s when it went off the rails.

Editorially, there are some problems. Problems that the editor would have to point out so you could fix them, otherwise, readers aren’t going to be happy.

Remember when I said I was getting a Cradle of Filth feeling? (Wait. Cradle of Life. Cradle of Filth is a band I like.) Well, that’s because of the situation: you have three people in some sort of transport, in the desert, looking for a lost city. Do you know how you hide something in a desert? You bury it. If the city is lost? That means the city is buried. Do you know how you find something that’s been buried in the desert? You dig it up. Generally, digging on the scale of a city takes a team of people. Unless the transport can also do massive sand displacement, this is a fail.

The second fail is having Amir go outside with only a set of gloves and some goggles. How is he supposed to find anything with that? WHERE IS THE WATER? He’s going to need some out in the desert. He didn’t take any supplies at all when he stepped out. So, you’re killing him. Either that, or you think readers are stupid.

Once the mystery of the transport is solved, the next is the lack of people on this expedition. One should lead to the other. If you say there are other transports, I’d be forced to call you a liar, because if there were others, you would have shown them in what you wanted for the establishing shot.

I’m all for hi-tech, but I’m not much for character stupidity, and that’s exactly what’s being shown here. Three people went into the desert to kill themselves. They just wanted to be ostentatiously mummified.

So, yeah, this needs a rethink, with someone asking you questions in order to keep the story honest. This caught my interest, but now you have to keep it, which can be difficult.

Okay, I’m almost done.

I want to thank every last one of you who has submitted scripts to The Proving Grounds this past year. It is all of you who make what gets done here possible. You are all my heroes. I’ve said it before, and you’re probably quite tired of hearing me say it, but it doesn’t make it any less true: I literally cannot do this without you.

My list is long, but I want to personally thank all of you:

John Lees

Jon Ottomo

James Hansard

Jamie Fairlie

Mike King

Matt Johnson

David Grodsky

Martin Brandt

Kyle Raios

Marcus Thompson

Tyler James (Our cofounder!)

David Herbert

Liam Hayes

Taj Gunn

Michael Holcombe

Andre Saunders

John Eboigbe

Jon Parrish

Connor MacDonald

Georg Syphers

Carlos Parra

Lance Boone

Adam Burbey (and co-writing partner)

John Vinson

LJ Wright

Evan Windsor

Yannick Morin

Talisha Harrison

Thaddeus Howze

Kirk McCosker

Christian Hinrichsen

Josue Monserrat

Jeremy Melloul

There are a lot of you, and some of you have gone through multiple times! (I think John Lees has gone through the most.)

So, with a year behind us, we have a year before us to contend with. Looking at the calendar shows that we have at least one new Brave One, and some returns. Thank you for stepping out of the shadows, and thank you for returning for more.

Now, the big question: what can be done better here in TPG? I can’t do it without you, and since I’m here to serve, how can I serve you better?

And that’s all I have for this week. Check the schedule to see who’s up next!

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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 (5)

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  1. Thank you for the review! I really appreciate it and will get to work on the things you mentioned. As I was re-reading it I caught a few other problems too (moving action, for example) and can’t wait to rectify them.

    Also, congratulations on having gone through a year! I think I’ve read most of the posts, having gone through the backlog, and they’ve really been helpful. Thank you!

  2. Evan Windsor says:

    Brace yourselves, folks. This comment is probably going to be Yannick-worthy in length.

    First off, some praise! Something you did that I think is a cut above most TPG Entries. Page 2, Panels 1-2:

    PANEL ONE: Amir standing over his displays. The readings on the display show a repeating green line like that of a heartbeat monitor.

    PANEL TWO: Same as Panel One except that the screen with the depth readings is all static.

    AMIR (smaller bubble, to himself): What the hell?

    See what he did there, everyone? He wanted to show something changing so he established the normal first to hammer in the change. Its something that all too often gets overlooked (I’m guilty of it in my own work), and here he bats it out of the park. Well done!

    Now just add in facial descriptions and it’ll be perfect. Is he startled or just confused? It makes a difference!

    Alright, lets break down your script at a fundamental level:

    Page 1: Introduce your characters and the fact that they are desert treasure hunters. An exciting premise – familiar enough to be instantly accessible yet there’s definitely an opportunity here to tell a new story. I’m excited.

    Page 2: Things go wrong. Great! You need to start conflict very quickly to keep interest and you did!

    Page 3: Amir defiantly decides to leave the ship and go out into the sandstorm. Cool! We have characterization and we’re moving the story forward.

    Page 4, though. Basically, through several steps of Sci-Fi tomfoolery, he opens a door and steps outside. We found out on page 3 that he was leaving, so this page really doesn’t do anything for the story other than show the readers how well-thought-out your space-buggy is. And after this page, the space-buggy is irrelevant.

    So I’m going to say it, and it might hurt, but I think you can cut page 4 entirely. With a little bit of retooling on page 3 you can just cut from them inside the ship to them outside the ship without losing anything. Here’s how I would do it:

    Page 3, Panel 5:
    Amir: Screw the contract! You can come with me or stay…

    Page 4, Panel 1
    Medium shot of Amir, Hessa, and Kaden, now wearing full desert survival gear, outside in the desert. Amir has a pleased smirk on his face. Kaden and Hessa look annoyed. behind them, three sets of footprints lead the way back to the transport.
    Caption: “…but I’m going out there!”
    Kaden: [complaining remark]
    Amir: [pithy comeback]

    See how that gets them outside faster without losing anything? It also beefs up the cliffhanger on the end of page 3, getting excitement built up for a page turn, and pays off that excitement.

    One last thing: Steve, you forgot one Brave One, a “Steven Forbes” put a script up one week. Lets be sure to spread the love to that guy, too!

    Seriously, thanks for all the hard work you put in this year, I’m excited to see what year two brings!

  3. Kyle Raios says:

    PANEL THREE: Amir, focused, plugging coordinates into the display in front of him which also shows depth readings (think sort of like a radar) of the ground around them. (Whoa, buddy! Kyle, what’s wrong here?)

    I think the first problem we have is a moving panel. Because of the static image, Amir is only going to be able to be in the process of plugging in one number. You could show that others have been plugged in via a list of sorts on the side of the display.

    My next question would be just how the depth readings would be shown. Would they be color coded? Mapped out on the display like that of a terrain map, where distance is shown by the closeness of lines? It could work if the display was shown as a 3D holographic popping up from the control panel. My other concern is how to make the display come off looking like radar, when measuring depth readings in a still image. I’m having a hard time picturing it.

    Btw, I like the concept. The sci-fi guy in me enjoys the idea, but the archaeologist in me wants to kick people who bring up Atlantis. I’m working on taming that side. It’s difficult.

    • I go back to this for other scripts that I’m writing too and it’s just as useful every time. Especially your comments Kyle / Evan. Thanks again for spending time to do this. I think my writing has improved a lot since this seeing as I’ve taken much of the advice to heart.

      I think this story is much better now with the new thought I’ve put into it though I haven’t finished it yet as I’m all caught up working on my other project.

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