Hello, and welcome to another installment of The Proving Grounds! This is week 3 of 3 of edited scripts for the Journeymen anthology, put on by our own Noel Burns. This week we have a returning Brave One (finally!) in Yannick Morin. Yannick had something of a head start on the other writers. He’s been following the advice I’ve been giving here, incorporating it into his scripts, and producing what you’re about to see. It’s pretty clean. I just had to step back out of the way, for the most part. This is why you don’t see as much red.
So, let’s take a look at what he’s brought us. A tale entitled
Page 1 (5 panels)
Tight shot of a Zanni mask, sitting on a wooden table, facing away from us. The two cloth strips used to tie it behind the head are lying next to it. ZANNI’s ungloved hand is reaching for it, coming from the top of the panel. The appearance of the room is unimportant: you can fill the rest of the panel with pitch black nothingness if you want. Since the room is dark, everything is in muted tones of gray for now.
CAPTION (ZANNI): TO BECOME MYSELF, I PUT ON THE MASK.
Medium shot of ZANNI from the back, seated at a simple dressing table – albeit one with no mirror – wearing only his shirt and pants. He’s tying the mask’s cloth strips behind his head.
CAPTION (ZANNI): IN TWENTY-FIVE YEARS, I HAVE NEVER SEEN MY OWN FACE.
CAPTION (ZANNI): I NEITHER NEED NOR DESIRE TO DO SO.
Medium shot of ZANNI from the back, standing in front of a pair of closed curtains made of rough fabric with numerous patches. He’s grabbing the curtains in front of his face, as if about to open them.
CAPTION (ZANNI): THE FACE IS FALSE. IT MISLEADS BOTH HE WHO GAZES UPON IT AND HE WHO SHOWS IT.
Page 1 (continued)
Tight shot of ZANNI from his left side. We can now see his face covered with the Zanni mask. He’s lowered his head, as if he was silently praying. Because of the poor lighting conditions, we can’t see his eyes, only two pools of darkness where they should be.
CAPTION (ZANNI): BUT THE MASK IS TRUE. IT IS UNCHANGING. IT IS UNWAVERING.
CAPTION (ZANNI): A WELCOMED CONSTANT OUT THERE, ON THE CHAOTIC STAGE.
Same shot as panel 4, except now ZANNI has pulled the curtains wide open to reveal the harsh bright glow of the morning sun. He is now nothing more than a silhouette against the light. The effect we’re looking for is that of an actor in the limelight.
CAPTION (ZANNI): IT IS OUR SHIELD AGAINST THE CRUEL AUDIENCE WE ARE TO EACH OTHER.
CAPTION (ZANNI): SO THAT NONE MAY BE OTHER THAN WHAT THEY SEEM.
Page 2 (3 panels)
Wide shot of the plaza under ZANNI’s window, as seen from someone standing there and looking up at the buildings. OK, now you’re either going to love me or hate me for this, but I’m giving you free reign over what you want to show as long as you follow these simple(?) guidelines:
- ZANNI appears in a window overlooking the scene in the background (full-height window with guard rail).
- The architecture is reminiscent of Renaissance Italy mixed with Ancient Rome. It’s all arches, columns, brick, marble bas-reliefs and cobblestones. Go wild with the mash-up!
- Everyone wears masks. There are brown-cloaked ZANNI, black-cloaked BAUTA and a few specific Commedia masks here and there: maybe a PULCINELLA lurking in the shadows, a PANTALONE surrounded by ZANNI clerks, a couple of drunk SCARAMUCCIA soldiers on leave. You can also put in a group of white-masked children. (See examples in the Character Descriptions document.)
- The plaza is wide and crossing it is a sort of elevated two-way canal in which float large gondola-like barges (think “gondola-buses”). Higher up, in something akin to a Roman aqueduct, another canal of the same kind.
- Shops, bustling people, entertainers: make it busy and crowded.
- Lots of curtains, veils, arcades and alcoves. It’s bright morning but there are a lot of shadows everywhere. What we want to show is a cold secretive world made up of nothing but seeming and pretense: the setting has to literally BREATHE this notion. Have fun with that! (Wow! Nice imagery. The artist is going to hate you. I’m loving what I’m seeing in my head, though!)
CAPTION (ZANNI): SUCH IS THE WAY OF
Page 2 (continued)
Tight shot of ZANNI’s hand grabbing his brown patched cloak off a battered coat rack.
CAPTION (ZANNI): BUT TODAY IS A SPECIAL DAY. TODAY IS THE LAST DAY I PUT ON THIS MASK.
Wide shot of a now cloaked ZANNI walking towards us through the crowd of masked people. He’s now also wearing a large floppy wide-brimmed hat and brown leather gloves.
CAPTION (ZANNI): TODAY I CEASE TO BE ZANNI.
CAPTION (ZANNI): PLAIN, ORDINARY, ONE-OF-A-MILLION ZANNI. TODAY I BECOME…
Page 3 (6 panels)
Wide shot of an ARLECCHINO surrounded by a crowd of clapping masked people. He’s standing in a wide stance, head thrown back, spewing forth a great gout of flame. He’s also holding flaming torches in both hands. We can see ZANNI in the background, on an elevated walkway. He’s walking towards the left but looking towards the scene in the foreground.
CAPTION (ZANNI): …ARLECCHINO!
CAPTION (ZANNI): NO LONGER WILL I BE TOILING IN THE SHADOWS OF MORE COLORFUL MASKS. NO MORE–
Behind-the-shoulder shot of ZANNI looking at his pocket watch. It’s ten minutes to nine.
CAPTION (ZANNI): BUT WAIT!
CAPTION (ZANNI): MAYBE I STILL HAVE TIME BEFORE MEETING THE COUNCIL. MAYBE I CAN SEE HER ONE LAST TIME.
Medium shot of ZANNI from the back as he’s about to enter a dark alleyway that stretches away from us. In the foreground, masked people are still milling about.
CAPTION (ZANNI): BUT FOR THIS, I HAVE TO SLIP INTO ANOTHER WORLD.
Page 3 (continued)
Medium shot of ZANNI walking towards us in the dark alleyway. Even though the alley is dark, we can still see the very bright street he’s just left in the background, its brightness in very sharp contrast with where he’s now. The alley is clear from any trash and there are no windows on either side.
CAPTION (ZANNI): THE WORLD OF THE SMASCHERATI.
CAPTION (ZANNI): WITHOUT RULES, WITHOUT SHAME, WITHOUT MASKS, THESE OUTCASTS HAVE MADE THEIR HOME IN THE HEART OF OUR CITY.
Wide shot of ZANNI walking from left to right in the alley. He’s in the middle of the panel. On the left – the “civilized” masked side – the alley is still pretty clean. On the right side, trash is starting to appear, as well as old crates and oil drums. Make this a smooth transition from cleanliness to apparent squalor. On the right is also a graffiti, in blocky letters apparently applied with a very old paintbrush.
CAPTION (ZANNI): THEIRS IS A SAVAGE, UNCIVILIZED WORLD WHERE THE BASEST OF EMOTIONS HAVE GAINED FREE REIGN.
GRAFFITI: GO HOME FACELESS FREAKS
CAPTION (ZANNI): MANY OF US HAVE TAKEN TO BRAVING THIS INNER WASTELAND, HARVESTING ITS NUMEROUS DELIGHTS.
Page 3 (continued)
Tight shot of ZANNI’s face, now bathed in sunlight. Even behind his mask, we can see his eyes wide with wonder and his smile.
CAPTION (ZANNI): BUT MY HEART IS SET ON ONE SINGLE DELIGHT.
Page 4 (4 panels)
Wide shot of a Smascherati plaza from ZANNI’s POV. I’m going to give you the same creative license you “enjoyed” when you drew the plaza on page 2, again with a few guidelines:
- For a start, the aesthetics here are the complete opposite. Now everything breathes openness, simplicity and transparency: store fronts are completely open, windows and balconies are at full height, no curtains, no alcoves nor shadows, and no building higher than three stories. As for the general look, think of a quaint little fairytale-like German village.
- Also, all the inhabitants of this part of the city wear no mask, nor hats. Men wear loose shirts, often open, with rolled sleeves. Women show a lot of cleavage and wear slit flowing skirts showing their legs. Their hair is loose. Children run naked in the muddy street. A lot of people are barefoot. If the followers of Mascherata dress like 18th century Venetian carnival-goers, the Smascherati look more like Gypsies.
- All around this plaza, we can see the back of the high Mascherati buildings surrounding the little Smascherati “island”, all ugly brick with absolutely no windows. In a way, it looks as if those buildings are forming a wall around the little compound.
- In the middle of this scene, COLUMBINA is sweeping in front of her house. She’s looking at us with a look of surprised delight on her face. The house has a balcony on the second floor with flower boxes overflowing with pink rose-like buds.
- COLUMBINA is 2-months pregnant, but be careful not to show it until the script tells you to.
CAPTION (ZANNI): THE BEAUTIFUL COLUMBINA.
Page 4 (continued)
Wide shot of ZANNI who has started to bow, his back to us. COLUMBINA is running towards him, arms wide and a smile on her face.
ZANNI: FAIREST COLUMBINA, I–
Tight shot of COLUMBINA with her arms now around ZANNI, kissing him passionately, eyes closed. He’s been taken by surprise, trying to hold his mask to his face with one hand.
Medium shot of COLUMBINA and ZANNI walking away from us. She has her right arm around his shoulders. He’s looking nervously over his right shoulder.
ZANNI: I NEED TO–
COLUMBINA: I KNOW, I KNOW! I’VE ALREADY EMBARRASSED YOU HALFWAY TO DEATH!
COLUMBINA: COME INSIDE!
(Four pages. Four pages for someone to speak, Yannick. Too slow. Too long. Captions make people sit back, because the story is being told to them. Have someone speak by P2 if possible. Make them sit forward. Get them engaged. You have the space. You just may need to change some of the actions as Zanni goes on his way. Have him meet someone while on his way, and they have a short conversation. Get someone talking before now. Don’t bore your audience.)
Page 5 (5 panels)
Wide shot of COLUMBINA’s bedroom on the second floor of her house. The room is furnished simply but elegantly: a heavy looking sled bed, a vanity with various brushes, perfume bottles and pots of creams, a large wardrobe and lots of flowers everywhere, the same kind we saw on her balcony earlier. In fact, we can see that balcony in the background. COLUMBINA is coming in dragging ZANNI by the hand behind her. He’s taken off his hat, holding it in his other hand, and looks absolutely lost. She’s practically beaming with joy.
COLUMBINA: FOR THE NEXT COUPLE OF HOURS, I WANT TO HEAR NOTHING BUT GROANS AND “I LOVE YOU”.
ZANNI: COLUMBINA, PLEASE. I HAVE TO TELL YOU SOMETHING IMPORTANT.
Medium shot of COLUMBINA who has turned around and is now facing ZANNI, holding both of his hands. She’s turned towards us us with a big smile while his back is to us.
COLUMBINA: IN THAT CASE THEN, I HAVE SOMETHING IMPORTANT TO TELL YOU TOO.
ZANNI: CAN’T IT WAIT?
Tight shot of COLUMBINA’s face very close to ZANNI’s. She’s whispering in his ear with a sly look on her face.
COLUMBINA: WELL IT COULD WAIT SEVEN MONTHS OR SO…
Page 5 (continued)
Medium side shot of COLUMBINA and ZANNI face to face. COLUMBIA’s still looking at ZANNI with the same sly smile. He’s just looking at her dumbfounded.
Same shot. COLUMBINA has lowered her head a bit, eyes closed and blushing. ZANNI is looking down at her abdomen, wide-eyed.
ZANNI: YOU MEAN–
Page 6 (6 panels)
Shot from behind ZANNI’s shoulder of a smiling COLUMBINA who has placed his hands on her belly. We can now detect a slight bulge.
COLUMBINA: YOU’RE GOING TO BE A FATHER, CARL.
COLUMBINA POV shot of ZANNI. He’s looking confused. She’s placed her hands on his cheeks.
ZANNI: I… I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO SAY.
COLUMBINA: JUST SAY YOU’LL STAY WITH US FOREVER…
Inverted shot, from behind ZANNI’s back. We see COLUMBINA’s hands untying the ribbons holding ZANNI’s mask.
COLUMBINA: …AND EVER…
Tight shot of COLUMBINA’s smiling face from over ZANNI’s left shoulder. She’s holding his mask in her hands.
COLUMBINA: …AND EVER.
ZANNI: COLUMBINA, I…
Medium shot of ZANNI facing us. Without his mask, he looks sheepish and embarrassed: evasive eyes looking aside.
ZANNI: …I CAN’T.
Page 6 (continued)
Medium shot of COLUMBINA and ZANNI. In the foreground, he’s facing us with his shoulders slumped, looking at the floor and fidgeting with his hat. She’s standing in the background, her arms at her side, still holding the mask, a look of shock on her face.
COLUMBINA: WHAT DO YOU MEAN, YOU CAN’T?
ZANNI: THAT’S WHAT I WAS COMING TO TELL YOU.
ZANNI: I MADE IT. I FINALLY MADE IT: I’M BECOMING AN ARLECCHINO TODAY.
Page 7 (7 panels)
Inverted shot. In the foreground, COLUMBINA is pleadingly gesturing towards ZANNI who is still back to her (and us). He’s not even looking at her.
COLUMBINA: BUT WHAT ABOUT OUR CHILD?
ZANNI: HE’LL WANT FOR NOTING, I ASSURE YOU. I’LL MAKE MORE THAN ENOUGH MONEY TO SUPPORT YOU BOTH.
ZANNI is now facing us again. This time however, COLUMBINA is leaning against him, her hands on his shoulders and her face over his right shoulder. She’s agitated, worried, but he looks slightly annoyed.
COLUMBINA: CARL, HE’LL NEED HIS FATHER. I’LL NEED YOU.
ZANNI: IT’S NOT THAT SIMPLE! DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH WORK THIS NEW MASK REPRESENTS?
ZANNI: ANYWAY, YOU DON’T NEED TO WORRY… I’LL SEND SOME MONEY.
Medium shot of COLUMBINA who has grabbed ZANNI by his cloak and spun him around to face her. She’s crying now, visibly very angry and hurt. He’s still not looking her in the eye, averting his gaze.
COLUMBINA: I DON’T WANT YOUR DAMN MONEY! I WANT YOU! I WANT OUR CHILD TO GROW UP AND SEE HIS FATHER’S FACE – HIS REAL FACE!
ZANNI: YOU HAVE TO UNDERSTAND–
Page 7 (continued)
Medium shot of COLUMBINA. She’s stepped back away from ZANNI. She’s holding his mask in front of her. She’s crying bitter tears of rage. Behind her, we can see the balcony.
COLUMBINA: OH I UNDERSTAND PERFECTLY!
COLUMBINA: I DON’T KNOW WHY IT TOOK ME SO LONG TO SEE IT, BUT NOW I UNDERSTAND THAT THIS IS MORE IMPORTANT TO YOU THAN ANYTHING ELSE.
Medium shot of COLUMBINA as seen from the balcony. She’s starting the motion of throwing the mask into the street, having drawn her arm back for the throw. Although tears are still streaking her face, her eyes and mouth are now hard, determined. In the background, ZANNI has jumped forward towards her. He’s alarmed – panicking in fact.
COLUMBINA: IF THIS IS ALL YOU WANT…
Wide shot of the mask sailing though the air, its ribbons floating behind it as it’s falling gracefully. (Where is it? Is it still in the house, or is it out and floating down into the street?)
COLUMBINA (OP): …IF THIS IS ALL YOU ARE…
Page 7 (continued)
Medium ground-level shot of the mask lying in the street. It has landed in a puddle of mud so it’s now half-covered/buried in the stuff. A small mangy dog is approaching it with curiosity, stretching forward to sniff it from afar.
CAPTION (COLUMBINA): “…THEN I WANT NOTHING OF IT.”
Page 8 (5 panels)
Wide elevated shot of a large ballroom surrounded by higher balconies with stairs leading up to those. The room is jam-packed with GUESTS, all wearing fine ball gowns and suits as well as bauta masks – think of a cross between a Vienna ballroom and a Venetian carnival (yup, that’s the trailer for Assassin’s Creed 2!). There are people everywhere, applauding, on the ground floor, in the stairs and on the balconies (we can see a few people in the foreground, giving the impression we’re one of the spectators). A circle has formed in the middle of the room in which ZANNI, now dressed in the gaudy fineries of an Arlecchino is taking a bow. We can’t see his face.
CAPTION (ZANNI): I WAS ON THE ROAD IN THE NORTH WHEN OUR DAUGHTER WAS BORN. I WISH I COULD SAY I WAS SADDENED NOT TO BE THERE TO WITNESS THIS EVENT, BUT I WASN’T IN THE LEAST.
CAPTION (ZANNI): ARLECCHINO IS A HAPPY MASK.
Tight shot of ZANNI who is now standing straight, saluting the crowd. He’s wearing the standard Arlecchino mask but also a second one in porcelain underneath. That mask is designed to imitate a human face and shows a full happy – albeit a little creepy – smile. In the background, we can still see the audience clapping. We can’t see his eyes, the mask’s eye holes are completely dark.
CAPTION (ZANNI): AND I AM ARCLECCHINO NOW.
Page 8 (continued)
Wide shot of COLUMBINA in her room with her 18-month DAUGHTER in her arms. She’s holding her with one arm and playfully tickling her with her free hand. She seems serene and content. The child is clearly happy.
CAPTION (ZANNI): COLUMBINA WAS TRUE TO HER WORD: ALL THE TOYS, CLOTHES AND MONEY WERE SENT BACK TO ME, THE PACKAGES UNOPENED.
COLUMBINA: YOU WANNA SEE DADDY?
CAPTION (ZANNI): ALL EXCEPT ONE…
Medium shot of COLUMBINA and her DAUGHTER looking at us. COLUMBINA is smiling serenely while her DAUGHTER is reaching out to us with the biggest most beautiful smile.
COLUMBINA: THAT’S RIGHT, THAT’S YOUR FATHER…
DAUGHTER’s POV shot of a mask hanging on the wall. It’s clearly been fabricated by removing and lacquering the skin from ZANNI’s face as he’s very easily recognizable. The skin has been well treated and preserved: there are no traces of rot or discoloration. The only things showing us it’s nothing but a mask are the two empty holes instead of eyes and the twin ribbons that hang from the sides.
COLUMBINA (OP): …THE MASK.
So, before we run it down, a few words first.
Yannick didn’t get this back. He got a few notes from me in an email, concentrating on the big things: the lack of spoken dialogue until so late in the game; the running into someone on Mascherata’s way to see his goyl, Olive Oyl; the ambiguity with the mask’s position. I told him to fix those things and to send me a new draft (which he did). Everything else can be considered a nitpick in an effort to be pristine. (Once you sell a story, or you show your editor that you know how to tell a story in the format, you can get away with a LOT more. But you have to get there first.)
So, he’s seeing this for the first time, just like all of you.
And with that said, let’s run it down.
Format: Flawless victory. (And it better had been, or else he would have been fired.)
Panel Descriptions: WOW! Did you read that? The imagery he wanted? It also helps that he embedded links for the artist to reference. While Graeme McFreelancer may hate him for the imagery, he’ll also love him for the links. Aside from a few nitpicks, there was only one real ambiguity, and that was the location of the mask as it sailed through the air. Other than that, this is an eminently drawable script.
Pacing: Fantastic! It did what it needed to do, when it needed to do it. The revelations and the final image were all coupled with a story that didn’t really drag. Bravo.
Dialogue: I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: getting people to speak while in panel is the best way to engage the reader. This is an 8-page story, and Yannick didn’t have anyone really speak a word until P4. That’s halfway through the story. That is a no-no. Get your readers mentally sitting up, instead of mentally leaning back. Aside from that, this was also very readable. Not once did he try to turn my brain into tapioca. This is good work.
Content: As a reader, I found this story to be bittersweet, with a dash of creepiness thrown in. This is my idea of a good time.
Editorially, this was the easiest of the three scripts for me to edit. Like I said, Yannick has been doing his homework and writing according to what I’m looking for in a script. The others didn’t have that luxury. This is a fairly clean script, leaving me with little to do except make sure I stay out of the way.
As for the anthology itself, I’d make a sandwich out of Little Sister. I wouldn’t lead off with it because it’s very light and airy, and would give a different expectation of the book. I’d probably lead with Steadfast In Peril, because of the tone it sets and the story it tells, then have Little Sister, and then end on a somewhat somber-yet-upbeat note with Mascherata. (It’s more upbeat than SiP.)
And that’s all I have. Check the calendar to see who’s up next!
Category: The Proving Grounds