Recently, STS reviewed John Dowgin’s desert thriller, Mile 42 (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 Mile 42. 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 Mile 42: John P. Dowgin is a playwright, screenwriter, director and actor, as well as a founding member of the production company The Porch Room (porchroom.com) for whom he directed the original work ‘Antony & Cleopatra: Infinite Lives” at the 2013 New York International Fringe Festival. Two of John’s plays have been published in the compilation “Accidents Happen” by Samuel French, and have been performed in New York, Los Angeles, Indianapolis, Toronto, Dublin, and Australia. A number of his screenplays are also in ‘development’, which he suspects to be a theoretical dimension like Oz. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and son.
NO BULLSCRIPT ANALYSIS
Title: Mile 42
Type of Material: Screenplay
Author: John P. Dowgin
Number of Pages: 96
Location: Arizona Desert/Border
Coverage Date: 6/20/15
Budget Range: Low
LOGLINE: When an extreme distance runner encounters a human trafficking ring during a desert ultramarathon, he must battle a corrupt group of Border Patrol Agents and his own mental and physical exhaustion to save innocent lives – and himself.
COMMENTS: John, thank you for submitting your script “Mile 42” 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 very well-written, easy to read script with some strong action scenes, memorable dialogue, and a likeable protagonist in Victor. The Latino market is growing considerably and there are a number of Latino actors that are becoming more bankable and if you can bridge the demographic gap through a commercial action/thriller concept, it could do well. It certainly feels like it’s something that could sell to an international audience if cast right.
I think the story is pretty straight forward for the most part, and while there is an ever-expanding conspiracy, we basically know who is involved and who isn’t pretty quickly and we know exactly what they’re doing other than the whole Russian angle. I do think that there could be more inklings of this larger mystery or operation so that the Russian coming in at the climax answers some questions instead of just feeling like another guy in the mix. And while I do think the backdrop of this race is very interesting, I don’t think it’s a race anyone has really heard of and so a bit more set up could help especially since we only see 2 other people running this race.
Structurally, the script is very strong. The opening scene is visual and tense, though I didn’t know why there would be a bridge in the middle of the desert. You have a solid inciting incident that pulls us into the story, a great exciting midpoint, and some really strong individual scenes and turning points with a number of deaths that get quite extreme and gory, starting with Jeter and his severed arm. The subject matter of the story is dark, but it’s really only in the kills (and Victor’s feet) that the tone gets gruesome and graphic. Decapitations, venom poisoning, gangrene, shootings, etc. It gets pretty hardcore for a thriller that doesn’t seem quite as hardcore as the murders within it. But it makes it visual and shocking and it works.
You hit all the right beats at the right moments, and your midpoint definitely stands out as you cut back and forth between the action with Victor as well as Borden and Carlos until they come together. The red ants were unexpected and it feels like a strong mini-climax that gives the story a nice boost and puts our characters back together. The only issue I have with the scene is I kept wondering where Somes is, as he seems to disappear.
The Shadow Wolves find the same group of immigrants that McCaffrey and Otilio are looking for, but how did they know the rest of the immigrants were hiding there? It’s not totally clear where THERE is in this scene other than in the desert. When the Shadow Wolves drop off the immigrants at mile marker 30 for catch and release, do they do anything or literally just drop them off? It’s not really clear since minutes later it seems, Somes, McCaffrey and Otilio find them there and tie them up again.
I think Victor’s mental state could become even more tenuous. The delusions he has and seeing Timson is great, and it puts us in Victor’s head, but we could get a bit more of that and see his downward spiral mentally as he’s trying to survive. It isn’t clear at first on page 71 if the bombs dropping on this mocked up town are real or if that is all in his head. We realize it in the next scene when Somes and McCaffrey are discussing it, but this bombing feels out of nowhere.
With the bombing, I’m not sure how Victor lived, but more than that, I don’t know who dropped the bomb or from where or how they knew to drop the bomb there. It feels like there’s a much bigger story going on here once the bombing occurs – perhaps with the Russians – than just some corrupt agents and minutemen or an immigrant trafficking scandal. But who is calling the Russians to drop the bomb (if it was them)?
One important scene that seems to be missing is when McCaffrey apparently shoots Carlos. We don’t get to see this – we only see him drag Carlos’s body to the SUV having already been shot. Yes, in the previous scene he seems to line up his shot, but it still feels like there’s a moment missing in between. The shot itself, Toraidio’s reaction, how they got down there and found them and tied him up, etc. If Carlos is shot, it’s a moment that could create a moment for Toraidio of if he runs or stays with his dad. Carlos still moving is a great moment, and his subsequent death is emotional and a strong scene.
The way Somes kills McCaffrey with the rattlesnake is definitely original and awful (in a cool way), but how did Somes grab the snake and put it down his shirt to begin with?
Victor is a likable and castable hero and it’s nice that he wants to save the immigrants he comes across, but I’d love to get a bit more about him to know why. We get backstory on him and why he’s doing these races, but is there anything in his personal history or family that makes him connect with Carlos and his son?
Victor’s backstory of being in the army and killing that young boy because he didn’t have a choice is certainly powerful and gives us some insight as to his deeper need and want and the redemption (or perhaps punishment) he’s seeking by doing all these crazy sports and races. And his dialogue in this scene is quite moving as well. But his list of extreme sports and activities/events he’s done is insane. What kind of person could do ALL that?
He’s virtuous and wants to do the right thing, but almost to a fault. I’m not sure why he confesses to the killing of Jeter, especially since he’s trying to run this race. Does he really think he can confess to murder and then just keep on running without having to go talk to cops or fill out reports, be interviewed, etc.? I don’t quite get this. And Somes’ response of “you’ll have to fill out a report” seems pretty flippant considering he just confesses to killing a Minuteman. Is that all you have to do when you kill someone? Fill out a report? This was an odd moment and reaction.
Perhaps one of the more surprising moments is when Victor gives Carlos and Toraidio over to the authorities even though it will save Toraidio’s life and he does it for good reasons. But his relationship with Toraidio becomes quite sweet and is a driving force in the story and in Victor’s motivations. And I think in the end, the fact he and Cynthia have seemingly adopted him is a great end.
Cynthia is a likable character, but I had no idea they were together until later in the script. She seems like a friend and a caring volunteer, but I didn’t feel any true LOVE between them in their first few scenes together. She blows him a kiss on page 19, but it felt more flirtatious than loving or like they were in a relationship already. There’s the “ove yo” message on pg 24 and that’s where I realized they might be in a relationship, but I think this could be a bit clearer, sooner.
You have created this quite large conspiracy and it’s interesting to watch it crumble not only from the outside, but also from the conflict that erupts from within the group and that it’s all over simple greed instead of the principle of the horrible things they’re doing. None of them really take issue with that.
Cutter makes for a solid secondary hero, though he’s mostly a desk jockey throughout the story until the climax. You do set up a suspicion around him so we’re not TOTALLY sure if he’s a good guy or not until the second half of the script, which is great. But if there’s one thing that could be set up a bit stronger, it’s Cutter’s relationship with Somes. Because while they seem like partners and they’re friendly, they are really only together in the very beginning of the script. I think their friendship could be seen a bit more, at least in the first act, so that when Cutter has to bust him in the end (and shoot him dead) he’s at least torn about it and the moment resonates not just as the good guy killing the bad guy, but a good man who had to kill his friend.
The Shadow Wolves sound like they could be a movie unto themselves (it’s a great title anyway), and could have their own agendas and motivations, storylines and rivalries, but right now they don’t bring anything DIFFERENT to the table than regular federal agents or border patrols. Even their names are pretty white-angle sounding. The fact they are Native American and working on the reservations is an original hook, but I’m not sure it actually pays off or makes a real difference in the plot. I’m also not totally sure you need THREE of them in a story where there are a large number of characters already, but it’s fine. I just think Terrence, Tom and Chris (and their personalities) get a bit lost in the story when really they should stand out more than anyone.
The climax is exciting and action-packed without it being huge budget and it really creates nice tension and builds well as everyone converges. Cutter finally takes a more active role while Victor still gets enough revenge on Somes and saves Toraidio. It’s a really tight and nicely written climax that tracks a large number of moving pieces, and that’s not easy to do in a visual and clear way.
Turning to the dialogue, I think this is where the script stands out nicely. There’s some very strong dialogue throughout and a nice voice. Some of the banter and the way you get across your themes in subtle ways in most scenes is quite strong. This type of story could have gotten very preachy or message-heavy, and it’s not. The “limits are there to be tested/limits are there to limit” conversation stood out, as well as a few other lines listed below. You even have a few nice moments of levity in a story that’s awfully dark and serious. You walked a really fine line very well, and it was an enjoyable read.
“Your feet only get you into the desert. Your mind gets you out.” Another great line.
A small note, but after 22 miles, how has Victor only burned 800 calories? Feels like it should be way more than that.
I do have a few additional page/line notes:
Pg 35 – Victor’s reply “Fuck would you know” is pretty rude in the moment. Not sure why he’s so harsh.
Pg 45 – You can cut the scene heading EXT. COTINUOUS and just say MINUTES LATER.
Pg 47 – Typo – THAT’S=THAT’D
“You’re just a citizen” is a weak line that caps off a really impressive and powerful 2 pgs of dialogue. It doesn’t quite feel like what Somes would say. Plus, while there is a nice callback to this line on page 92, Victor was out cold when Somes said it.
Pg 51 – I keep wondering where is Somes?
Pg 65 – I don’t know what the phrases “who cut sign on foot” and “cut so much sign” means. I’m not sure if it’s a typo or just a saying I’m not aware of but I didn’t get the context.
Pg 75 – “You could’ve lived a hero. Now you’ll die an alibi.” – That’s a great line.
Pg 79 – The line “He just wanted to pick cantaloupe” almost comes off as funny in this moment even though I know it’s not meant to. But it’s kind of a comical line.
Pg 81 – Good angle Victor brings to his dialogue here to Cynthia.
Overall, I think the concept and the action is commercial and exciting, and at is budget level I think this could be a successful project if cast correctly. It tackles an issue without becoming an issue movie, it could bridge the gap between Latino demographics and mainstream thrillers, and it’s an enjoyable and easy read. The story is a bit straightforward, but the structure is strong, it keeps moving nicely and tosses in some gory, gruesome deaths for flavor. I do think there’s a bit more you could do with the Shadow Wolves or with the larger operation involving the Russians, and I think Cutter could seem a bit move active and connected to Somes. But generally, the story is strong. There’s some great dialogue moments throughout, and a nice voice that knows how to write visual action, economically. And knows what level of levity is appropriate at what times. There are many companies out there looking for a good $1-$2M thriller and many companies looking to cater to the Latino demographic, and I think this could easily be optioned if it’s not already. So stick with it! Keep writing! And best of luck! Thanks again John for submitting your script “Mile 42” 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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