I submitted my screenplay version of “St. Peter in Chains” for feedback. The script is only 40 pages long. It was originally 50 or so pages, but in order to qualify as a “short,” I had to cut it quite a bit.
I was worried the feedback would be painful, but was pleased to discover it was kind, courteous, and encouraging. Everything the reader wrote makes sense. If I could add all she suggests and still have the film count as a short, I’d certainly do it. Alas, adding more will make it too long to be a short and too short to be a feature. Hmm. I must think about this . . .
I’m going to share here the whole of my feedback, in part because it pleases me to hear my dialogue is good (at least I’m honest), and in part so other screenwriters can see what feedback looks like. Maybe then they won’t have to quell in fear like I did.
I have read a bunch of shorts recently and for the most part they have been very disappointing. It was a pleasure to read your script—not only was it well written but it was a mature, thoughtful story that grabbed my attention and kept it until the very end.
Your descriptions are vivid and detailed. You take the time to really set the stage and provide in depth information about the settings and the action in the scenes. Movement is laid out precisely so that the mind can very easily create a mental picture of what is being described on the page. Even the smallest of gestures and body language is included so that we can see and feel what the characters are doing and what they are going through—which becomes important at the end of the script.
I loved the flirtation between Peter and Charles first at the party and then at the bar. It was rather unexpected yet felt very natural in the context of the story. I also love the way you handle the relationship that develops between the two men. I like the way Gordon and even Gamby to an extent do not judge Peter because he is gay. If anything, they question his judgment in choosing a possible spy and security breach as a partner. The character of Charles could just as easily be a woman and you would not have had to alter much of the dialogue or plot to accommodate the change. Yet at the same time, the short would not have the same dramatic power or emotion that it does. I found your handling of the subject to be very mature in terms of attitude and very skilled in terms of craft.
The dialogue is excellent. It sparkles in every scene and stands out as crisp and natural. The lines flow with a realistic rhythm and the conversations have a good back and forth flow. The banter between Charles and Peter at the bar particularly stood out. The two are flirtatious without overdoing it but their words are also tinged with a bit of humor and sarcasm—while at the same time displaying that nervous energy of two people realizing they share an attraction.
That feeling continues to the next scene where Charles comes back to Peter’s apartment and they share wine. The dialogue continues to be spot on. The small talk masks their anxiety as they wonder what will happen next. These characters are very human and very real and one can pick up their emotions through their words even though they are fumbling and nervous. I like how the scene actually becomes romantic at the end as they realize they are sharing the same feelings and become comfortable with where their evening is going.
There is a great sense of humor to the short that is very witty. There aren’t really jokes or funny lines that elicit a laugh. Instead, there is a light touch—almost romantic—that displays the easy-going attitude of two people falling in love. Often, the dialogue is tinged with that sarcastic style that isn’t insulting but rather the sign of two people comfortable enough with each other to “pull their leg” so to speak.
I do wish you had included an extra scene or even a montage to bridge the end of the scene where Charles goes to Peter’s apartment and Peter being sent away. I think you need to better establish that time has passed, the relationship has intensified and Charles has moved in. I would include a scene that relates this information or even a montage that shows the two men on another date, making dinner together, Charles moving in—maybe even showing them making love (not an explicit scene just a short glimpse to show how the relationship has progressed). It just seems like we have missed something when Peter calls from abroad and we see Charles in Peter’s apartment. There needs to be that dramatic connection establishing how much time has passed and what has happened.
The espionage angle of the script works well and is also handled in a mature, realistic fashion. This isn’t the slam-bang world of James Bond although there is that feel of the genre (particularly the more recent films) in the threat of violence that does hang over the final scenes. You do a good job building suspense during the second half of the script as we wonder if Charles is who they think he is and what will happen to both he and Peter. The revelation that Elinor, who we see earlier as a scatter-brained flighty woman, is a foreign agent or traitor is a great surprise and the plot twist works great. I also like that there are questions that remain unanswered by the conclusion—yet we don’t seem to mind, since Peter and Charles remain together and in love and that is satisfaction enough.
The interrogation room scene between Peter and Charles is well written. Again, the dialogue is topnotch. This sequence really draws in the audience. The conversation, the mouse analogy, the secrets that are revealed and the Morse code—all of this combines for a climax that, while subdued and quiet, is still intense and thrilling.
There were two typos I noticed that you need to fix: on page 1, “nearby table to it down” should be “nearby table to put it down” and on page 25, “where to they live” should be “where do they live”.
I don’t have much more to offer you in terms of feedback or criticism. The script is polished and well written. The dialogue is topnotch and the reader gets absorbed into the story. It is just the right length—it was smart of you to make this a short, there would have been too much stretching and filler if this was to be a feature. The characters are interesting and the situations are intriguing. You should be proud of this.