Recently, STS reviewed Mark Lyons’ very raw, and very real dramatic script, Thistles. (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 Thistles. 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 Thistles: Mark Lyons is a screenwriter from Youngstown, Ohio. He’s written several scripts, most notably ‘Best Film’ award winner “God’s Empty Acre”, which was filmed as ‘Girl(s)’, at the 2013 Winter Shorts Film Festival and Best Drama at the 2013 World Independent Film Expo. He has also written the feature “Thistles” which was a Quarter-Finalist in the 2013 Bluecat Screenwriting Competition and the short “Ginger” which was a Finalist at the 2013 Shriekfest Film Festival. He can be reached at markielyons “AT” yahoo
NO BULLSCRIPT ANALYSIS
Type of Material: Screenplay
Author: Mark Lyons
Number of Pages: 92
Location: Ohio/Urban City
Coverage Date: 8/12/15
Budget Range: Low
LOGLINE: A junior high school student’s crush on her teacher leads to seduction, murder and brutal and shocking consequences that neither of them could have anticipated.
COMMENTS: Mark, thank you for submitting your script “Thistles” 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.
I’m going to be as blunt in the notes as you are in the writing of this script. I’ve read many thousands of scripts and this is easily one of the most disturbing, twisted, upsetting, and brutal scripts I’ve ever read. And I love films like Hard Candy, Kids, Bully, Precious, etc. that tackle disturbing topics in interestingly dramatic or artistic ways. But if Precious met A Serbian Film, this script might be the result. And while a disturbing and unsettling tone is set up early on, with the young girls talking about what they’d do to grown men on pg 9, it really goes so far over the edge in the third act that there’s no going back. I could list maybe 3 scripts I’ve ever read that viscerally made me want to gag, and this is one of them. It’s nicely written overall, but very simply, there are just some things no producer would touch or want to film. And your third act fits that bill.
The story of a disillusioned urban teen’s seduction of her alcoholic yet very caring and supportive (white) teacher is already pushing the envelope, but in a good way. That concept can work if done well. An African American Lolita meets Precious. And you have a few very intriguing plot points and shocking twists pushing the story forward, including the death of Sazha’s brother at the hands of her teacher because of the assumed affair going on. When Sazha finally seduces him in his inebriated state and gets what she wants, I actually assumed she was going to turn on him and use that to destroy him to get vengeance for her brother…but this story takes a very different direction.
It’s a morally complex story, and I do appreciate that. It gives us enough twists and turns that the reader and audience is constantly being challenged to be at odds with our own thoughts and expectations. That can be very powerful. But for me, it just. Goes. Too. Far.
Structurally, you have a very interestingly told story. Each major plot twist really pushes the story in a new direction. An unexpected direction. You have major moments that really stand out (some for good reasons, some not), and you have a solid inciting incident, end of your first act, turning points, a hell of a midpoint, and then a build in your third act (which I’ll discuss in a moment). The opening of the script made me wonder what year this movie takes place in because the use of VHS makes it seem pretty dated, and even the school and the English lesson and the pop-it’s the kids throw at him feel a bit dated.
Crandall is set up as this pitiful character with a sad backstory who clearly has his demons but wants to do the right thing. And his story is really a tragedy, with his suicide at the midpoint being another shocking and pretty unexpected moment that jars the reader and makes us continually wonder – where could this story be going next? Crandall is somewhat of the protagonist of the story despite his actions or interactions with Sazha. We do pity him and feel for him, and even forgive his illegal transgressions, which makes us question ourselves. But once he’s gone, the script becomes something else.
Crandall is an interesting character in that he invites his 12 year old student to his home for tutoring, but then rebuffs her. But then gives in, but then feels guilty. And then with Crandall’s letters/notebook that Sazha finds, I at first thought that he had written letters to ALL the students he had molested and that he really was a bad guy and she was discovering this while reading the letters and realizing that she’s not as special as she thought she was. But in the end, they turn out to be really sweet, kind, redeeming letters to his students that show how good of a guy he was.
A small note with Crandall, but you introduce him twice on page 4. His physical description at the bottom of the page should come at the top when you tell us about his receding hairline.
Turrell sees what he assumes is Crandall taking advantage of Sazha through the window, but he doesn’t go right over there and kick his ass or do anything. He waits until a couple days later to actually kill him. Why?
With Clyde, he seems like a very supportive friend but we don’t meet him until the AA meeting and suddenly he and Crandall are talking about school and the kids and curriculum. We need to see him at the school first to set up that he even works there. And it’s not clear that he’s the Principal until later.
One of my favorite and most emotionally tense scenes in the whole script is when Crandall gets on the bus that Cora is driving after Turrell’s murder, and she realizes who he is and confronts him. It’s a very cool way for them to cross paths, and it’s a powerful moment and a strong scene. However, I don’t believe that a woman who could do what she does in the third act to a baby and her own pregnant mother, wouldn’t at least PUNCH Crandall and go crazy on him in this scene. It’s also a little odd that Cora doesn’t know who he is as soon as she sees him. Doesn’t she know what the killer looks like and who he is? Doesn’t she know that Sazha’s teacher IS the killer? Doesn’t Crandall know that Cora is the mother? Wouldn’t this have all been on the news or at least around the neighborhood? They live directly across the street from each other!
Similarly, it’s unclear if Cora knows that Crandall is dead or killed himself in the third act because she seems to not address this on page 76 when Sazha tells him who the father is. She connects the dots to him being Turrell’s killer, but she seems to care more about the fact that her daughter is sleeping with a grown white man than her son’s killer.
It’s almost always a good thing when a script and a story can get a visceral and emotional reaction from readers…but if you take it too far, you will lose them and then the connection is over. The sex on page 52 you could probably shoot around and if the actress is over 16 and just looks younger, it could be okay. But not what happens on page 74 and continues thru to the end. For me, the fine line between cinematically disturbing and edgy and unfilmable is crossed and then goes even further, and I could no longer tell who would watch this movie.
And it’s not just the action that Cora takes at the start of this sequence, which would be enough to turn a viewer off. It’s really the quadruple-beat of; the hardcore beating of a pregnant 13 year old, the incest reveal of her brother raping her, the stabbing of a premature baby as it’s coming out of her vagina by her own grandmother, and then seeing the actual aborted birth and taking PIECES of the chopped up baby and putting it in a box and carrying it around? There is very little that truly disturbs me while I’m reading – but these 13 pages were almost unreadable because of its truly graphic nature.
There are a number of strong themes and societal issues that this story tackles in truly disturbing albeit original ways. Obviously abortion, teen pregnancy, teachers sleeping with students, the lack of education and the growing amount of violence and sexuality in urban cities, parenting, etc. But thematic films or message movies that are too on the nose or too graphic will not find an audience (at least not a large enough one) because people go to the movies to be entertained first and foremost. The abortion protests are very in your face and I’m not sure why Cora is SO hardcore against it. Clearly she does a 180 in her feelings, but it’s so out of character for her and SO extreme, that it doesn’t feel very believable. She was vehemently against safe, medically-induced Planned Parenthood abortions in the first trimester, but has no problem stabbing an 8 month old premature baby in the head as its being born with a wooden stake and mutilating her daughter on the kitchen floor? I just don’t buy it no matter how mad she gets.
The urban market is growing and there are a number of producers, directors and actors looking for projects that connect with many of the messages and themes confronted within this story. And actresses love to play dirty, ugly and mean. But I honestly don’t know an actress who would want to play the role of Cora. There are some things actresses just won’t do and I worry this is one of them.
Turning to the dialogue, I think it feels genuine to the characters and the world, and there are a number of well-written lines throughout. The writing is strong, and it’s obviously very visceral and impactful on the page. Taking that ability and bringing it to a more commercial concept I think would really make your voice stand out.
I do have a few additional page/line notes:
Pg 20 – Crandall’s dialogue at the bottom is awkwardly worded and doesn’t quite make sense.
Pg 34 – Maybe you don’t have to tell us that it’s Turrell on page 33 that jumps out and that Crandall kills until the next page when Sazha comes in and sees the body and runs towards it and THAT is the moment we realize it’s Turrell’s and that’s why he’s there. I think that might create a stronger moment and reveal.
Pg 66 – Why doesn’t the OB Nurse advise her to abort?
Pg 67 – The egg, making sure not to break the yolk is nice symbolism. It does not go unnoticed.
Pg 69 – It’s unclear how far long Sazha is by now. You have to track that. And she’s not set up as being big boned, so I didn’t know how it wasn’t obvious and showing.
Pg 87 – Patton’s dialogue is pretty racist at the bottom.
Pg 91 – Smithers has some serious self-control. I would have looked.
Overall, the script is well-written and visually written, and the first half of the script is disturbing in an intriguing and dramatic way with nice unexpected twists. It presents timely themes and issues and in morally complex ways. But the last 20 pages just go so far over the edge that I’m not sure who could or would want to watch that on film. It’s so brutally and disgustingly graphic that even if this script were perfectly written, I couldn’t send this to executives because I don’t think they will enjoy the read. And I could only imagine the phone calls I’d get. As a writing sample, I worry that you will turn more execs off than impress them. Plus, you have a slutty black 12 year old, a creepy white adult, and some truly dark and depressing storylines, so I’m not sure what the demographic is for the movie. There are some really strong moments in this script and I can appreciate your writing style, but it’s not a commercial concept the way it plays out and I don’t know any producers who would make this. I’d give a CONSIDER to the writing, but the last 20 pages would make it a PASS for me. But keep writing! And best of luck! Thanks again Mark for submitting your script “Thistles” to Simply Scripts, and congratulations on being the featured script of the month!
NO BULLSCRIPT 20 POINT GRADING SHEET AND RECOMMENDATION:
PROJECT: CONSIDER W/RESERVATIONS
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