They say that a studio reader only gives a spec script TEN PAGES before they know if it’s worthy enough to be shown to their boss.
I don’t find this fair.
But life’s not fair and neither is screenwriting.
So I decided to turn the tables a bit. Instead of judging the first ten pages of a spec, let’s judge the first ten pages of a script that has already been sold.
This week: The Hurt Locker by Mark Boal
Sure it may have won the Oscar for best screenplay this year, but few people realize how independent it was. Although it was the shooting script that won the Oscar, it’s the spec script that will be studied by other writers. A script that never had to face the wrath of a studio reader.
Let’s see how it does...
The Link - http://www.mypdfscripts.com/screenplays/the-hurt-locker
[If you wish, you may read the first ten pages of the script before reading this blog. There maybe many versions of this script floating around the internet. I chose this one.]
* I’m not going to include the page of quotes as page 1. But I want to quickly say: Don’t do this. It comes off as pretentious. There’s a reason why only the pros get to do this.
Anything flashy will hurt you in the long run.
* The first thing you will notice about page 1 is the white space. And how little there is of it. It’s a little daunting.
* The details present on this first page, really kill the read:
“From this angle close to the ground we FLY down a road strewn
with war garbage: munitions, trash, rubber, animal shit --
all of which, from this odd, jarring perspective, looks
Just “war garbage” would be enough. This is a well written paragraph, but it just adds to the already word heavy page.
“We zoom towards a crumpled COKE CAN, the white ‘C’ growing
enormous on the screen, filling the screen like a skyscraper.
We SMASH into the can and barrel ahead.”
This is my least favorite detail. What was the point of this? Unless there is a bomb in the coke can, this can be cut.
It doesn’t move the story.
* Sluglines: “EXT STREET/DAWN” & “EXT MIDDLE EASTERN STREET/DAWN”
A few things:
1. No period after EXT.
2. A slash is used instead of a double dash.
3. The use of “DAWN” instead of “DAY” OR “NIGHT”
The first two may seem optional, but I don’t believe it is. Since the majority of scripts use periods and double dashes, not using them may come off as not knowing the industry standard.
As for the use of “DAWN”, you want to keep sluglines as simple as possible. As the writer, you just say if it’s day or night and the DP will figure out the rest.
* There is some bolding on this page. Never bold anything in a screenplay. It just looks tacky.
* Despite the issues, this page is very cinematic. It just needs to be cleaned up a bit.
* Speaking of bolding, this is the most bolding I think I’ve ever seen in a screenplay. And I’m not sure why any of it is bold.
Are these title cards? Will the audience be reading this? If not, this is all unfilmable. The reader might get this information, but the audience will not. There should be a “SUPER” used to show that this will be read by the audience.
* Check out the lack of white space on this page. There is less white then on page one. That’s not good.
The more words on a page, the faster the reader will skim.
* “Next to a parked Humvee, THREE EOD (Explosive Ordinance
Disposal, aka Bomb Squad) SOLDIERS are crouched over a laptop
Here is a definite unfilmable. Sure, the person reading the script will know what an EOD is, but will the audience?
My suggestion for Mr. Bowl would be:
“Next to a parked Humvee, THREE SOLDIERS crouch over a laptop computer. The back of their jackets read: “EOD: EXPLOSIVE ORDINANCE DISPOSAL.”
This way “EOD” is explained to the reader as well as the audience with very little exposition.
* “This is summer in the desert and the median temperature on
this bright clear morning is 110 degrees.”
Another unfilmable and kind of stale. How about:
“By the looks of it, it must be 110 degrees out.”
* There is a paragraph that is seven lines long.
Make sure to keep all paragraphs under four lines. It will do wonders for your pacing.
* “Before joining EOD, Sanborn was in Military Intelligence. He quit. Military Intel was too easy.”
This is background information that should be told through dialogue.
* “Eldridge laughs. He clearly likes the two men he’s with.”
This is a show, don’t tell problem. “Eldridge laughs” shows us that he likes these two men. Saying that he “clearly likes them” is telling. And in this situation, it’s repeating what has already been alluded to.
* “Eldridge is already on it, approaching with the four blocks
of C4. He’s done this enough to know what they need.”
Another unfilmable. That last bit is background information that can’t be relayed on screen.
The blast is going to roll out
there (pointing) the shell will
probably kick out there (pointing),
and most of the shrapnel is going
to rain up in an umbrella pattern.”
Make sure your parentheticals are their own lines.
What, you don’t like it here?”
If you’re going to use a parenthetical, for the love of god don’t use the word “wryly”. At this point, using “wryly” is a joke.
* In describing “The Suit”:
“Because of its weight and complexity it takes two men to
put it on - or one Sanborn.”
This is a good example of a working unfilmable. You’re allowed one or two unfilmables as long as it isn’t background information or a chatty aside.
* Thompson's speech is a little long.
* There really is some excellent dialogue in these first ten pages.
* “Breathing. Heat. Sun. Sweat. Flies.
Suddenly a DOG out of nowhere charges, BARKING ferociously.
Thompson is momentarily startled. Then resumes his walking.
The dog runs off.”
- Excellent suspense!
* The (over walkie) and (headset) usage is repetitive. Use it once and we’ll fill in the blanks for the rest.
The “UPRANGE”, “DOWNRANGE” works well as secondary scene headings.
The Verdict: Would the Reader Continue Reading?:
This is a tough call. On the one hand, there are enough amateur mistakes here to stop a reader by page 5 (this was Mark’s first screenplay).
But the suspense and tension found in most of the scenes will make up for it.
It’s a bumpy ride, but getting past page ten for this script is possible. It’s the next thirty or so pages that may do the script in.
It was Kathryn Bigelow’s directing that made the movie what it was. She brought out magnificent performances from her actors and created shots that can easily be deemed as classic.
The script itself is not bad. For an independent movie it’s fine, but for a studio, it needs work. The structure alone is enough to say no. There is no three act structure.
The story feels like a procedural. There’s a bomb... bomb gets diffused. There’s a bomb... bomb gets diffused. There’s a bomb... bomb gets diffused.
It’s not that I didn’t like it, it’s just not the kind of structure that works for a studio movie.
So if you’re looking to get a studio to buy your script, and most likely you are (unless you’re a friend of Kathryn Bigelow), The Hurt Locker isn’t the best script to study.
But if you’re looking to write a suspense movie, this is a good one to check out.
Next on the First Ten: A movie that took over the world... with a story we’ve already seen.
If you’d like to get the first ten pages of your script Reader Proofed for free, head on over to www.readerproof.com.
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