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: “Groundhog Day” written by Danny Rubin
It’s a movie that’s in my top 5 movies of all time. So I was excited to finally get around to reading the script (much thanks goes to #scriptchat on twitter for having a discussion about the script; if you don’t know what #scriptchat is, go check it out).
But my excitement faded quickly. As quick as the first page.
The Link - http://www.mypdfscripts.com/screenplays/groundhog-day-1990-04-15-draft
[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.]
* “CU CLOCK”
This is not the best way to start a screenplay. First, it’s a camera direction. Second, what clock? When I read “clock”, I think of a clock on the wall. And that’s not what this clock is.
For the sake of clarity, always introduce something first before giving it a “CU” (and don’t use “CU”).
* “PHIL” doesn’t have to be in all caps every time it’s used in description. Just the first time. The same goes with every name in the script.
Doing something like this will mark you as a complete amature.
* “The D.J. an his SIDEKICK come on.” - and.
NEVER have a typo on the first page.
* By page 4, we get it. We may not understand what exactly is going on, but we know that Phil is supernatural is some way.
* Phil’s voice over. This is possibly the biggest problem with the script and you can feel it in the first ten pages as well.
This is the exact reason why voice over is hated so much. All the voice over does in this script is give us exposition that should be shown visually, or fill us in on information that we should get through the narrative.
If you read this script and then watch the movie, you’ll notice that the voice over here just gets in the way. It’s not needed.
* A story like this requires rhyming scenes. Scenes where you see something play out one way, and in a scene eerily familiar later on in the script, it plays out another(just like in the movie Groundhog Day).
On page 5, we find a scene that should have been the set up for a rhyming scene. Phil side-steping the puddle in the street. A gag like this works best when we see it affect the hero first, and then see how he overcomes it in the pay off scene.
* Page 6 is where the structure of the screenplay falls apart. Starting with this one line:
“I’m playing by an entirely different set of rules. Suffice to say, it’s a handy skill for a weatherman.”
This is a MAJOR “show don’t tell” problem.
Phil being a weatherman is an important fact in the characters life. You can’t just have the character say: “Oh by the way, I’m a weatherman.” You have to show it.
Watch the movie to see how they fix this problem.
* Phil punching Ned should be another rhyming scene. Not knowing why Phil is punching him works for mystery, but it loses the impact that a rhyming scene would give it.
When this scene is polished for the movie, it’s one of the best rhyming scenes in the film. And one of the funniest ever!
* The pumping Nancy for info scene is devilishly brilliant.
The exposition found here is actually not that bad. But all of it could have been done visually.
The Verdict: Would the reader continue to read past page ten?
The mystery might drag the reader in, but ultimately, there’s a few things holding this back.
1) This isn’t a setup.
What the writer did here was took a great concept and threw you right into that world. On paper, that sounds fine, but in practice, it loses its punch.
Phil shouldn’t go into the constant loop until act 2. That’s his upsidedown crazy world. We can’t really take a journey with this character if he’s already in his new world.
The first ten pages is supposed to be all about set up. And that’s exactly what happens in the rewrite.
2) Phil himself.
There’s just something about the character of Phil. In the first 10 pages, he does nothing to make us like him, which is fine because this is a comeuppance tale. We’re suppose to not like him in the beginning and then fall in love with him in the end.
However, he does very little for us to hate him as well. Sure he hits on the women and sets up Nancy, but it’s not enough.
For a story like this, we need Phil to do at least three bad things and one good (so we don’t hate him completely). It might sound formulaic, but it works. Just look at how they did it in the film.
3) It’s confusing.
Sure, it may not be confusing to us now. Now that we know what exactly is going on with the time loop. But think about if you never saw the movie. These first ten pages can be pretty confusing.
For a spec script, it’s best to keep things as clear as you can. Save your Groundhog Day’s, Matrix’s and Inception’s for when you hit it big. For now, keep it simple.
I see many readers start to skim around page 6.
The first page of this script really took me aback. When I realized that the first draft of one of my all time favorite movies started out with Phil “in the loop”, I instantly hated it. But I knew that I only hated it because it was new to me, so I decided to give the idea a shot.
But it didn’t take long for me to hate it even more.
The structure for this draft is way off. The voiceover never stopped being annoying. And worst of all, the story tries to explain why Phil is going through the time loop.
Everything felt like an exploration of the story’s concept instead of a journey we can follow with the main character.
This is the perfect example of writing a story, not a movie.
If you’d like to get the first ten pages of your script Reader Proofed, email your script to email@example.com or visit www.readerproof.net