Feedback on My “St. Peter” Screenplay

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.

The End Result of My Painting

Here, then, are three of the four paintings I’ve done, now hanging over my headboard. I know I’m no special talent, but I’m pleased with the end result of my work, given I have zero training in visual arts. The paintings are called (left to right): “A Study in Crimson,” “Jaune,” and “Broken.”

My fourth painting is “World’s End.” It’s different enough not to really fit in with these, and anyway, there was only space for three above the bed. Not sure what I’ll do with this one.

Don’t think there’s room for it in my office. Maybe one of the kids will want it in his or her room.

That’s all my painting for the moment. If I get the itch again, I might go buy more canvas. In the meantime, I really should think about my next writing project (or which of the ones I’ve started I most feel like finishing). And I also need to mentally prepare for AFF in a couple more weeks . . . Meanwhile, if you’re wondering what I’m thinking about stuff like Doctor Who and Revolution, you should certainly go over to spooklights; I try to put at least one new article up each day or two, so there’s always something worth checking out.

More From My Frankenstein/Zombie Story

The setup: James MacKinnon is a walking corpse, a kind of zombie except that he doesn’t have a taste for human flesh. He was killed after being hit by a car (he thinks) and someone brought him back to life. And not just him. There are others, and not all of them are as sweetly disposed as James, who is working with investigators to both find others like him and hopefully locate whoever is creating them. He’s been partnered with Summer Walsh, who doesn’t entirely trust or understand James’s altered state.

JAMES: I do have a working brain, however.

SUMMER: That’s a matter of opinion.

JAMES: You could try being a little more sensitive, you know. I’m dead and I have to live with that. (off her look) Okay, well, that didn’t come out quite right, but you get what I’m saying.

Painting Update

So I’m closing in on “World’s End,” which is very unlike the first two paintings. I realize it looks a bit childish, but when I started painting it, this is the image that came to me. I’ve still got some touching up to do with it, but it’s nearly done.

And I’ve started my final canvas (for this set). I call this one “Broken.”

“Broken” after a first pass.

Lots more to do on that one. I’m enjoying the process immensely. Today I wrote a bit on my new play, then when I began to feel stuck, I went and painted. It’s nice to be able to switch off.

My New Play

I’m writing a new play. It’s about Eleanor and Henry II, but it’s NOT The Lion in Winter (since that one’s already been written, and produced, and filmed). I sort of have this Chris Pine type character in my mind when I’m writing Henry. Hmm.

It’s beautiful today, and I have the house to myself, so I’m sitting outside while I write and enjoying my hummingbirds. They are very happy because I have refilled their feeder. I think a few of them are getting fat off my indulgence!

Also, another of my coral and pink roses is getting ready to bloom.

Reminder: I’ll be doing a guest post on fellow author Christine Rains’ blog on Monday. Be sure to go check it out!

One Down

“A Study in Crimson” is finished.

The point at which I ran out of crimson paint.

I had been planning to use some violet in some way, and running out of crimson decided for me just how.

The finished painting.

Next up is to finish “Jaune.” Then I have two more canvases to play with . . . I’m really enjoying it. I’d forgotten how much I like to paint. I like that the finished product may not be perfect—indeed, cannot be—and yet can still be beautiful. I never feel quite that way about writing. The difference between a profession and a hobby, I suppose.

Canvassing

I haven’t felt much like writing the past few days, so I decided to paint.

I’m not any big painter. My grandmother painted, my grandfather liked to draw, and my own father draws too, but I didn’t get whatever gene allows you to translate a picture in your head through your hand and onto paper or canvas. I’ve tried. I even took a drawing class at uni, but it didn’t take. So I never even bothered trying to paint until I was in grad school, and even then it was completely by accident. My then fiancé had a bit of canvas with a drawing inked on it that he wanted to get rid of, so I painted over it. And enjoyed doing it. Even if the final result was no great bit of art (though I’ll admit I’m fond of it).

Still, I haven’t painted anything in years. But I got the itch to do it again, so this weekend I went to the craft store and bought some canvas and paints and brushes. I use acrylics. I’ve tried watercolors, but I don’t like how they bleed; I prefer to have a bit more control over the art. I think this is one of the reasons I’m a writer—control issues. But that’s another discussion entirely.

Anyway, today I prepped two of the four canvases. I don’t have a roller, and I don’t think I’d use one even if I did have it. I like doing the brush work by hand.

“A Study in Crimson” after one application of color.
This one is currently untitled. This is after two colors have been applied to the canvas.
“A Study in Crimson” after the second coat.
After additional applications of color and some texturing. Thinking of calling it “Jaune.”

None of these are finished yet. This is just the start for them. And I’m not thinking I’m some great prodigy. I have no background in art, have taken no art history classes. I just paint for my own well-being, because it soothes me when I can’t write.

Judges, Gatekeepers & Independence

I entered one last screenwriting competition. I don’t even know why, what I hope to prove or accomplish. I just really feel like this script was a good one, and I can usually trust my instincts, but . . . Anyway, I e-mailed the competition to ask about the judges. The site says that key industry people (agents, producers) do the judging. But I’ve learned, after so many competitions, that this kind of statement can be misleading. So I asked whether the industry people read ALL the rounds or just pick the winners. And of course the answer is that the industry people only read the finalists. The competition’s “staff” does all the initial reading.

One has to wonder, then, who these staff members are and what qualifications they have. I don’t necessarily want to antagonize the competition’s organizers by e-mailing back and demanding to know. But to think whether I get my script in front of a major industry insider rests pretty much on whether one little underling likes what I wrote . . . But then again, it’s the same in any agency office: interns and assistants reading scripts and tossing aside the stuff they don’t like or don’t think (in what? their great experience and understanding of the market?) will sell. It’s all pretty stupid. And it’s one of the reasons a lot of bad movies, and a lot of the same kinds of movies, keep getting made.

I suppose gatekeeping is a problem in any creative industry where there is more material than money to publish or produce it all. Just as Hollywood producers and agencies haphazardly sort scripts, so do literary agents and publishers sort manuscripts. There’s this sort of arbitrariness to “worthy” versus “not worthy.” A crappy book by a bestselling author can get published, but a really great book by a no-name gets the boot. And so it goes.

I’m glad to have an outlet for my books. Indie publishing has certainly allowed me to find a kind of niche, an audience. If I had the money, I’d go make my little indie movie, too. But movies are still too expensive and labor intensive for me to do by myself. A writer can work alone, but a movie requires a crew. And even “cheap” ones cost tens of thousands of dollars to produce.

Still, it would be awesome to see my mental vision come to life. That’s why one writes plays and screenplays, after all. It’s like getting to play pretend with real people.

But I can’t say I hold out much hope for this competition. Given my past performance in such, the odds of finding a reader who likes and “gets” the stuff I write seems pretty small. And I could pay for “notes” but from whom? Some underling? It’s not worth the cost. I’m not above rewriting, learning, developing, but I’d like to know the teacher is someone who can honestly help me.

Meanwhile, I have two big projects facing me: a full-length play due at the beginning of October, plus I need to finish The K-Pro because I have a publisher waiting to read it. No promises in either case; I was “invited” to submit the play, but that doesn’t mean it will be selected for production, and just because someone wants to read my manuscript doesn’t mean they’ll want to publish it. I gotta stay realistic. But I also gotta keep moving.

Upcoming

Upcoming Publications

  • “Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of Ichabod Reed” (Amazon Kindle)
  • “Alice,” “Secret Admirer,” and “The Summons” in Daily Flash 2013: 365 Days of Flash Fiction (Pill Hill Press)
  • “Warm Bodies” in NorthNorthwest 7th Edition (Northwest Playwrights Alliance)

Upcoming Productions
There are no upcoming productions at this time.

Upcoming Appearances

  • Austin Film Festival, Austin, Texas (18-21 October 2012)
  • San Francisco Writers Conference, San Francisco, California (14-17 February 2013)