One week ago, we reviewed Marnie Mitchell Lister’s Memories – our fourth (but far from final) feature showcase. 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 Memories. 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.
NO BULLSCRIPT ANALYSIS
Type of Material: Screenplay
Author: Marnie Mitchell-Lister
Number of Pages: 98
Submitted To: Simply Scripts
Location: NJ/TX/Memphis/Grand Canyon
Genre: Dramedy/Road Trip
Coverage Date: 10/1/14
Budget Range: Low
COMMENTS: Marnie, thank you for submitting your script, “Memories” to Simply Scripts. The following notes and comments will go through what I think works well and what still needs to be worked on or changed in order to make this a more viable and commercial script.
The family road trip movie has been a tried and true successful genre in film for years. From National Lampoons Vacation to Little Miss Sunshine, The Guilt Trip to Road Trip, RV to We’re the Millers. And I think overall, your script follows in their quirky tradition but with an interesting twist. There is nothing worse than being trapped in a Winnebago with your parents – except perhaps being trapped in a Winnebago with your divorced parents, your dad’s new yoga-loving girlfriend, her spiritualistic protective father, your eccentric grandfather, and his white trash crooning love toy…all while suffering from amnesia. It’s certainly a strong recipe for comedy and conflict, and I think you deliver both. It’s kind of Little Miss Sunshine meets The Ref but with amnesia and yoga.
It’s a nicely written, quirky, low budget, character-driven dramedy/road movie that tackles a few important themes including the importance of family, the timely message of living in the moment instead of trying to capture it in a photo, and the importance of self-discovery and moving on. And while I think you do a nice job of bringing these themes out through your character arcs and plot, I do think it becomes a bit heavy-handed in the third act. For me, the symbolism is laid on a bit too thick and a bit too often.
Road trip movies are often comprised of a series of set piece scenes in interesting locations where at each stop, an action occurs that helps advance the character arcs and builds towards a reveal, a lesson, or a major payoff. And I think Memories fits that mold quite well while still having its own original hooks to it.
Since this is a character-driven dramedy, the success of the script really comes down to your characters, their dynamics and dialogue. I think you do a nice job of giving most of them their own distinct personalities and voice and originality, which is great, however I’m not sure that most of your characters (other than the surprisingly grounded Sierra and the very ungrounded Jake) are that likable. And I think that while some of their dynamics are strong, we don’t really find out the reason behind those dynamics.
Abby is our protagonist, though she’s actually also the antagonist to the rest of this family. She falls more under the basket case archetype, like the ladies in First Wives Club or Cate Blanchette in Blue Jasmine. She kind of vacillates between being pity-able and being delusional, but neither of these really make her likable. I will say that I grew to like your characters by the middle of the second act, but it took me a while to invest in Abby or care because she seems pretty obnoxious, overbearing, in denial, and sometimes delusional. It’s not completely clear she and Mack are actually divorced (as opposed to separated), and we don’t know for how long they’ve been separated or what actually caused his heart attack and if that was the catalyst for him leaving her, if she caused it, or if it happened after the divorce? Also, it’s not so much Abby’s goal to get Mack back as it is her belief he’s already COMING back. The steps she finds and takes to win back her ex are OK, but it doesn’t really come into play until the end of your second act.
A small note, but I don’t really understand why Mack calls Abby “the strongest woman I have ever known” on page 12 – this doesn’t seem to be true, but it also doesn’t seem to be something he’d say. Certainly not to her.
While I do like that the story is about Abby’s road to self-discovery and realizing how she needs to change and move on in order to move forward and forge the relationship she wants with her daughter, and that makes for a very strong character arc, I think there’s also a version of this story where Julianna is actually the protagonist and she has to try to remember her life while forced on a road trip with her whole family that she doesn’t even remember.
Mack is certainly introduced as the more likable parent and character, and we do see a couple flashbacks through his POV even though he is not the protagonist. However, unlike Abby who becomes more relatable and likable as we go on, Mack has a period in the second act where he becomes very spiteful and unlikable and shows some of his true colors wanting to exact revenge on Abby for ruining his relationship with their daughter, Julianne. However, it’s never really explained HOW she ruined their relationship or how she kept Julianne away from him, especially since HE seems to be the one that left HER. This seems to be a very important piece of the puzzle and motivation for Mack, so to help us connect with him, maybe we could get just a line or two of more specifics of HOW Abby accomplished that (at least in his mind), and maybe Sierra can once again be the voice of reason and explain that Mack was just as culpable.
The other major issue with Mack’s feelings and motivation is that Abby never learns of it. They never actually talk about what happened between them or why he’s so angry, or why she is how she is or what happened between them. It’s really never explored what bits of backstory or issues made her so horribly neurotic, overbearing or obsessed with the perfect photo. And so for me, I think you could use a couple more of those moments.
As Abby tries to reconnect with Mack and win him back, she seems to do all the things that almost killed him the first time – donuts, bread, coffee, peppers, etc. So it actually underlines the fact that these two are not right for each other – she’ll just kill him again.
Julianne, for me, was the most unlikable character of them all. Yes, she has amnesia, but she seems to be purposefully hurting her parents and being a pretty obnoxious bitch throughout most of the movie (at least to them). Why is she SO cold to Abby and why can’t she stay in her bedroom? Why can she stay with Mack but not Abby? It feels awfully cold. Also, I think the moment that Julianne wakes up on page 16 needs to be a bit bigger of a moment.
I think you could set up Julianne’s love connection with Duncan a bit more as right now, they feel more like f-buddies than boyfriend/girlfriend. It’s also unclear if Abby or Mack even know about Duncan, though Abby does say “I knew you’d get her into trouble” on pg 11. But I assumed Julianne was keeping Duncan a secret.
I am unsure why Duncan and his existence is never mentioned to Julianne after she recovers, especially since he’s the thing that seems to bring her memory back. No one ever mentions him, he never calls or checks in and they never seem to let him know how she’s doing. It makes us feel like he wasn’t REALLY in love with her, or that the parents didn’t care. On page 83 when she does start to remember and Marshall suggests Jake, Bea and Sierra tell her about Duncan, those are the three people who probably know nothing about him. And when Duncan does finally show up again, I’m a bit surprised that Julianne isn’t mad that he totally left her or that her family never mentioned to her that she even HAD a boyfriend, etc.
On page 62, I’m not sure why Julianne’s answers to the cop seem so clueless. She may have amnesia, but she knows what a police officer is. And she knows who her mother is even if she doesn’t remember. She knows what they are all doing there, but she seems to answer like she has no clue. I like the thought of them all getting into some legal trouble here, but there’s not a great deal of comedy that comes from it – just the reveal that Abby actually bought the RV instead of rented it.
I think your supporting characters of Marshall, Trina, Jake and Bea all play their parts well and bring quirk and comedy to the story. However, I didn’t quite understand why Abby just walks into her father’s house in the middle of the night and then just leaves and waits for breakfast. It’s a bit of an odd scene and Marshall doesn’t really react much. He doesn’t even ask to see his ailing granddaughter who almost died and has amnesia.
I like the mini-climax of Mack being rushed to the hospital at the same time Julianna passes out and is taken to the hospital, but Abby doesn’t seem to spend time with her – she never even goes into her hospital room. She’s too busy worrying about Mack. Though I do like her turn at the end of this scene where she realizes he is Sierra’s responsibility now and she has to let go. It’s a strong moment for her arc.
I have read a number of scripts lately promoting the virtues of Yoga. It’s the weirdest trend I’ve come across in scripts, but this is the 5th script I’ve read this year that had a heavy yoga influence or plot point. For me, I think yoga can be a great setup to a very funny scene (like in Couples Retreat), but it’s not something that can drive a story.
It’s not exactly a cinematic hobby.
I think the dialogue has some great, hilarious moments, mostly from Jake who provides some great comic relief especially in his “cock” conversations. There is definitely a voice that comes through the pages, and you have some nice quirky subversive moments.
But while there were some laugh out loud lines, I think the project could still use a bit more comedy. A family road trip drama is a hard sell, but comedies and dramedies usually do better in this genre. There were numerous dramatic moments in Little Miss Sunshine, but the outrageously funny climax is what everyone remembers. There was a huge payoff in comedy in the climax. In this story, that doesn’t really happen. The climax and ending is much more of a drama, and I’m not sure it should be.
Abby actually falling off the cliff is funny, but it’s hard to tell exactly how trapped she is after that or what kind of cavern it is that takes a rescue team to get into. For me, the last 10 pages of the script take too long and are lacking in comedy. The dragonfly being dead, the bats signifying change, is really nailing the symbolism home a bit too much – we get it, she’s not “stuck” anymore. And then Doug’s line “You’re stuck in a dark place. I know it’s scary but we’re going to get you out” is really on the nose especially when paired with all the other symbolism. Then the rebirthing ceremony with Mildred Eagle Feather drawing the comparisons between the cavern and a womb, and then once again with Jake on pg 97 screaming about the dragonfly and transforming – it’s just all very heavy handed and not really necessary.
I think you could actually cut all of it and just let the actions and Abby’s change in personality and disposition speak for themselves. She falls, we see the dead dragonfly, her emerging from the cavern, her apology to Julianne – that’s enough. Though what’s really missing while she’s in the cavern is a conversation with Mack and/or Sierra. Something that explains the feud between her and Mack and will allow them to be better parents and lead healthier lives…apart.
I like Doug, but I think perhaps you could show him on page 10, in the background, fixing something perhaps so we at least make some visual recognition to him later on. Abby’s reaction to Doug rescuing her could be a bit funnier as well.
Overall, I think this last sequence with Abby being trapped needs to be much funnier, and it’s odd that all of a sudden Julianna remembers everything, even her class parties as a child. When did that all happen? When Abby went into the cavern, she didn’t have all those memories. And now that she does remember, does she also remember how much she hated her mom? Julianne never really becomes that likable in the end, and since Julianne’s amnesia is really the catalyst and hook for this trip (and the story), I think it may need to play a bit more into the resolution of the script and be a bigger moment when she gets her memories back. Some realization moment of her own so that SHE can grow a bit like her mother and father have by the end of this trip.
I have just a couple specific page notes or questions –
Pg 43 – Is Mack fat in this flashback? Or regular size?
Pg 80 – It’s a funny beat, but I didn’t understand why Melvis and Trina got together if Melvis was with Bea, and she doesn’t seem to react to the news at all.
Overall, I think you have an interesting and potentially very funny twist on the family road trip genre. A road trip to make one of them remember who the rest of them are, but everyone has their own agenda which causes conflict, comedy, and almost kills them. I think that can definitely work, and you have some nice quirk and comedy, but if you can increase the comedy quota throughout and make your main characters just a little bit more likable, maybe shed a bit more light on the backstory, etc., I think it would be much stronger. And I think if you examine the last 10 pages with Abby being stuck in the cavern and make them a bit funnier and have a bit more resolution between she and Mack, and tone down the on the nose symbolism, that could also help. It has potential though. Stick with it! Keep writing! And best of luck! Thanks again Marnie for submitting your script “Memories” 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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