Recently, STS reviewed Gary Rowland’s ultra limited location horror, Offline. (Script available here.) As readers of Shootin’ the Shorts are aware, our goal at STS is to find new and promising writers, and provide them with the platform they need to get their work seen (then hopefully optioned, and produced!)
One of our not-so-secret weapons in this quest is Danny Manus of No BullScript Consulting. Having worked as a development executive in Hollywood, Danny is an in-demand script consultant, named by Creative Screenwriting Magazine at one of the “Top 15” consultants in their “Cream of the Crop” list. Partnered with STS, Danny provides wonderfully detailed and helpful notes for the monthly STS feature script. This coverage is provided free to the writer, and can be posted our site or kept confidential – at the writer’s discretion. But wait – there’s more! Any script that gets a coveted “recommend” from tough but eminently fair Danny will be featured in his monthly newsletter and may also receive further exposure to his production contacts…
Below, please find Danny’s notes/coverage for Offline. Read, learn, comment…. and don’t forget to submit your best work for possible review!
**To submit a script, please visit STS at the page listed HERE. Danny can also be contacted directly via the No BullScript Consulting website at http://www.nobullscript.net/contact/. Or on Twitter @DannyManus.
About the writer of Offline: Gary Rowlands cut his teeth writing sketch comedy and was a commissioned writer on the hugely popular Spitting Image broadcast on national television in the UK. He has since branched out into writing features and is actively seeking representation. He can be contacted at gazrow at hotmail dot com.
NO BULLSCRIPT ANALYSIS
Type of Material: Screenplay
Author: Gary Rowlands
Number of Pages: 89
Genre: Supernatural Horror/Thriller
Coverage Date: 4/14/15
Budget Range: Low
LOGLINE: When a young, bed-ridden hacker with a tormented past meets a girl online who turns out to be dead, he realizes nothing is as it seems and the girl’s murderer may lie closer to home – and she may not be the only victim.
Warning: Spoiler Alerts!
COMMENTS: Gary, thank you for submitting your script “Offline” to Simply Scripts. In the subsequent pages, I will go through the things that work well and what still needs to be worked on, developed, or changed to make this a more viable and commercial script and series.
Overall, I think this is a nicely written, easy to read, and potentially commercial script. It’s Rear Window-esque with a Psycho and supernatural Sixth Sense twist. It can certainly be produced for a very low budget with basically 1 location and a handful of characters, and you set up a nice creepy tone immediately and it remains consistent throughout. You’ve got a couple nice twists in the story and there are some strong visuals and moments, though I do think there are a few issues that need to be addressed still.
There is a strong supernatural feel to the whole story, from page one, and that continues throughout. However, I’m still not quite sure what supernatural entity is possessing his computer which types out messages to him and makes it go on and off randomly, etc. Or what entity makes the vase and nightstand levitates. His phone is possessed, his computer is possessed – but this story isn’t about the devil possessing technology. I think it COULD be – especially with the title being Offline – but it’s not really about a Hacker who caused deaths, and now possessed technology is taking revenge. If the supernatural elements were more directly tied to technology (especially since he’s a hacker), that might make it stand out even more. But I’m not totally sure what Dave killing all those women has to do with his hacking or technology or Satan.
The biggest issue for me, is that I knew pretty quickly that Dave was probably dead and that this was some Sixth Sense situation. I suspected it by page 20 and was pretty sure on page 24 as soon as he starts talking to Nichola. There are just too many obvious clues and hints along the way, and there are too many other logistic issues for it to be anything else. So while the MOM being dead already is a nice twist, and the hero turning out to actually have been the killer is interesting, I knew he was dead almost the whole time. I also knew there was a dead body in the closet, which I think is pretty obvious as soon as the fly comes out of there on page 27. And because of that, I think the story gets a bit predictable and repetitive and we’re just waiting for the reveal I knew was coming.
Lucy and Nichola’s characters are obviously evil and not really human because logistically, what they are doing and saying just don’t quite ring true. I knew Lucy was likely Lucifer from the start. What they are asking David to do doesn’t make sense unless they are something much different than they appear, and the random and awkward way they just appear doesn’t feel real or plausible. How would Lucy get in? His mother doesn’t notice? And if she is the cop on the case, wouldn’t she be on TV or seem more professional? If Lucy is a cop and Nichola is a psychic, would Dave really need to tell her that some serial killers take trophies? Wouldn’t they know that? I know that, and I’m not a cop or psychic.
With Nichola, I don’t get how Dave just picks up the phone and she’s already on the line (seemingly). She never gave him a number to call. I think Nichola feels so over the top and desperate and clearly out for her own reasons – and without any proof she is who she says she is – that I don’t know why Dave believes her. I didn’t believe her from the get go. I think that much like Ruth, they have to feel more convincing at the start. Nichola starts feeling childish and too obvious, especially on pg 44, and it made me wonder why Dave keeps believing her or talking to her. Then Nichola tells him “We’ll take you with us” on pg 44 and that makes it very clear to me that Nichola and Lucy are going back to hell and are going to take him with them because he was already dead.
The second thing that made me very quickly think Dave was already dead (or dying) is how he simply turns on the computer or just picks up the phone – and Clare and Nichola are instantly there. He doesn’t go to a website or any specific place or program where a girl would even BE on camera to talk to him. She’s just magically there. And I’m not sure how/why the computer dies and then suddenly comes back to life. It all feels very suspect. You tell us on pg 14 that “Clare’s offline” – but what program is he looking for her on? Skype? Instant Messenger? Gmail chat? A website? Women don’t just appear when you turn on your computer. And if she’s offline, then she must be from a specific program he’s looking at. The lack of specifics makes us not believe.
With David, I like the way you set him up and describe his room with the Star Wars figures as it helps him seem the young innocent, though with the big rat he sees in the room it paints a picture of David and his mother living in a dilapidated shithole. It’s a great visual and it does make us wonder if he’s having delusions or not, but it makes us think he lives in a hovel.
David’s backstory with his father’s suicide could be sad and impactful, but I am not sure what a child could steal from a Church that would lead to their father killing themselves over it. I mean, he could kill a Priest and I don’t think it would make a child’s father kill himself over it unless it’s set up that the father was incredibly religious. David’s crime didn’t feel important enough to force his father to do that. Yes, he stole money from the Church that was set for a mission, but it’s really his mother who is the bad guy. If there is a strong religious connection in this family, I think that needs to be set up and clear.
One of my biggest issues with Dave is that I have a hard time believing he’s a good hacker. His Google searches are incredibly vague and simple (“shyness” “psychics” etc.), and he’s not doing much on the computer before this whole thing happens and I would think he’d be all over it trying to hack something, find something, do something, etc. The Star Wars figures might make him seem a little nerdy but it doesn’t make him feel like a hacker. He doesn’t show off he has those skills until he suddenly needs them, and I would suggest you set that up earlier by showing him trying to do some serious hacking online – maybe even trying to find out who hit him or something that can connect later. Also, I’m not sure why he needs to look up “haunted house” on Wikipedia – does he really not know what one is? I’m pretty sure it’s self-explanatory.
My other major issue with David and his connection with Clare is that they never speak for more than 30 seconds, and every single conversation they have ends abruptly with David slamming his computer shut and just ending the conversation. It seems very rude and immature, and I’m pretty sure that you only get to do that to a woman once – maybe twice – until they never speak to you again. Yet she never seems to care. But the even bigger issue with him doing this, is that it stops them from ever REALLY creating a connection or chemistry that’s more than just instant physical attraction. And for US to connect with them and feel a connection, I think we need to see them talk a bit more and a bit deeper. Then you wouldn’t have to tell us that the chemistry between them is palpable because we’ll see it on screen.
While Dave’s willingness to sacrifice himself for Clare is sweet, and perhaps that’s part of him subconsciously seeking redemption for his crimes, it feels forced. They don’t seem to have a deep enough connection for him to do this, plus – he KNOWS she’s already dead! Why would he sacrifice his life so that a dead girl doesn’t find out she’s dead? It just doesn’t quite make sense. It would be one thing if he was sacrificing his own life to save her from dying, but just finding out she’s dead? I’m not sure those are big enough stakes.
A small note, but the way David tries to find out who Clare is seems to be a bit silly. He doesn’t know anything about her or where she lives, but he’s going to search through online yearbooks of every high school in the state? He doesn’t even know what state she’s in. If he was a real hacker, wouldn’t he be able to take a screen capture of her face and run it through some face recognition software or google images software to find a match? If she WAS killed or kidnapped, her face would have been all over the news and pretty easy to find on Google, wouldn’t it? It just feels like there’s a SMARTER way to find her and who she is online than looking at ever yearbook in the unnamed state.
Clare’s a nice girl but we know she’s dead by page 15. It’s a solid moment, but again he reacts to seeing her scars by just slamming his computer shut. The fact she’s a ghost is fine, and it makes sense with the witching hour being when she comes online (though you don’t have to keep telling us it’s the witching hour – we know!).
Ruth is an interesting character because her introduction is as the doting, caring mother who seems to genuinely love and care about her son. But it very quickly becomes unclear what type of relationship they have – even by the second time we see her – and then with each subsequent time she comes in, she seems more and more cold and insane. I appreciate that she’s bipolar and she makes a great red herring for the killer, though perhaps too obvious to actually BE the killer. I think perhaps she changes a bit too quickly – by page 10 she’s already psychotic. I would suggest stretching out a bit longer her downward spiral into psychotic behavior and her mental illness so that it takes a little longer for her to reach that point.
The ending is exciting and visual and I like how Dave’s story ends, however, it’s not clear who hit him in the first place and killed him. Was it Clare’s mother? Was it someone involved in the story or just some random person at the wrong place at the right time? I think you need to find a way to tie everything together and perhaps the way to do that is to reveal who killed him. I keep wondering why Nichola and Lucy need to put him through all of this stuff with Ruth and Clare and everything else instead of just taking his soul and sending him to hell from the start.
Turning to the dialogue, I think it’s nicely written but it’s not very subtle, and with supernatural/paranormal mysteries and thrillers like this, subtlety is important so that the audience doesn’t suspect what’s going on by page 10. I think that even though David is 18, his actions and words feel a bit young, as does Lucy and Nichola’s and that’s part of the reason I knew exactly what they were from the start. So, I think that while it’s great to place those little breadcrumbs in the dialogue so that when we look back, we recognize all the little nuances and hints that make us realize the truth, if they’re giving it away then they ruin the mystery.
Pg 61 – You can cut the INT. BEDROOM scene heading because we’re already there.
Pg 68 – Why are the clocks in military time and not regular time? Shouldn’t it be 11:45?
Pg 70 – Can cut the Scene heading at bottom – we’re still in the same location.
Pg 71 – For me, the maggot scene is really gross. Not just the maggots, but the puking all over himself, etc. It’s visual for sure, but it’s a visual that would make me gag.
Pg 72 – I thought Ruth smashed the computer. It’s ok again? I’m also not sure why he thinks he can amputate a leg with basic scissors? I’m not quite sure what that would do anyway, but it’s a dumb idea to try and cut your leg off with scissors.
Pg 82 – Why is Clare calling out MOM?
Pg 87 – I get the visual, but I’m not sure why the disgusting bugs are needed in this supernatural thriller.
Overall, I think the concept and premise is commercial and visual and works for a low budget horror/thriller with a recognizable Rear Window/Sixth Sense hook, but for me I think some of the major elements of the mystery are too obvious. It has to be much less obvious that Dave is dead, it has to be less obvious that Nichola and Lucy are evil and not who they say, and it has to be less obvious there’s a dead body in the closet. There are logistic issues and some character issues that I think need to be addressed with Dave and Ruth. It needs to come together a bit better and use the supernatural elements to stand out more and make it LESS obvious that Dave is dead instead of more obvious. It’s got potential and these types of projects are always getting made, especially since this could probably be produced for $100-250K. So stick with it! Keep writing! And best of luck! Thanks again Gary for submitting your script “Offline” to Simply Scripts, and congratulations on being the featured script of the month!
NO BULLSCRIPT 20 POINT GRADING SHEET AND RECOMMENDATION:
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