Earlier this month, STS reviewed Tim Westland and John Robbin’s TV Pilot Loose Screws. (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 Loose Screws. Read, learn, comment…. and don’t forget to submit your best work for possible review!
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About the writers of Loose Screws:
Tim Westland – an award winning screenwriter, 2014 Page International Quarter Finalist and co-author of the acclaimed comic book series/graphic novel “Chasing The Dead”. Tim is currently writing the adaptation of the novel, “Quantum Lens“, by New York Times Best Selling author Douglas E. Richards.
John Robbins – a 2014 Page Quarter Finalist, John resides in San Diego and can be reached at jpjrb1 “AT” gmail, or via website: http://www.johnnyrobbins.com.
NO BULLSCRIPT ANALYSIS
Title: Loose Screws
Type of Material: 60 Min TV Pilot
Authors: Tim Westland & John Robbins
Number of Pages: 55
Coverage Date: 1/10/14
Budget Range: Low
LOGLINE: When a successful psychiatrist finds himself losing his grip on reality and hunted by a clandestine group in search of his numerically coded journal, he must turn to an old patient – a girl with a mysterious mathematical talent – that he betrayed years ago.
COMMENTS: Tim and John, thank you for submitting your TV Pilot “Loose Screws” 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.
A great TV series pilot has to do a number of specific things; it needs to create an interesting world and pull us into that world, it has to set up characters that are not only special, original, have great chemistry and have a specific goal and dilemma, but that we are going to want to follow week after week and care about; it has to set up an overarching plot and theme to the show and to the specific pilot; and it has to set up the conflict and types of conflict that are going to drive the show. Plus, it has to be original and visual and have a strong hook that audiences will be able to understand. And most of all – it has to make it clear what audiences would expect from the series going forward. We have to know that there is somewhere for the series to go that isn’t the same episode week after week so it doesn’t feel like it will get stale quickly.
I think your script does a few of these quite well, but is lacking a bit in others. It certainly feels pretty original and I really like the concept of a psychologist who is himself going crazy. And you definitely raise a ton of questions and mysteries as to what’s really going on and what everyone wants and what this story is really about. But there aren’t too many answers. I’m not totally sure where the story is going – not that we should know everything from the pilot. But I would love to know a bit more about the scope of the story and the world you’re setting up.
The mysteries and questions seem to increase as the pilot progresses. First, it’s what is wrong with William? Then it’s who/what is this clandestine group of “psychologists” who are searching for this journal, then it’s what the code means and why they want it, etc. It’s great to create questions that we will figure out over the course of the series, but we also need at least ONE important answer in the pilot for us to be enticed enough to seek out more answers.
The concept of these numbers seemingly affecting people (at least William and Miriam) in such drastic ways, and the fact that some clandestine group with a dry cleaners torture room is going to great lengths to recover this number-coded journal, sets up that it’s important. But I don’t know anything about the larger over-arching story yet.
We never get to see what William has written on the postcard – we just know it’s some numbers. But are the specific numbers important? They seemed to be a clear code that Miriam was able to decipher and it made something clear to her. So, it feels like WE should see or know the numbers as well even if we don’t know what they mean yet.
Structurally, the script works and you have nice act end points, though the opening seems a bit short for a drama. These days, cold opens seem to be quite long and give us a bit more set up to the show or the episode. I think the cold open could give us a bit more insight, foreshadowing or something a bit more compelling that clues us into the world and what this show is about. And in a pilot especially, the cold open needs to give us more – either more on the overarching series or more about the story contained in the pilot. I’m not sure the WHOLE open needs to be set in the past. Perhaps you could set some of it in the past and then cut to the present so that we know that the story/series actually takes place in 2012 and not 1999, and that it’s not about Miriam and William when they are younger. That might help set up a bit more of the world and story if we saw some of the present day in the cold open.
I will throw another structural suggestion out there that I like even more. What if you actually opened the show in 2012 with the Parkinson scene on pg 5 and had your First Act actually be the Cold Open. And then start the new first act with the flashback in 1999 and introduce Charlie, Miriam and that whole scene then. We will have already heard Miriam’s name in his delusion, so we will make a connection. And this way, we will already have the world set up, it would set up the major series dilemma of William’s mental illness right from the start as well as what’s interesting about William’s character, and I think it would be more interesting to then go back and see a bit of how he got there or who he used to be and a bit more of the hook once we have a better grasp of the show. Plus, as a viewer, I think the scene of William’s delusion and freak out is a much stronger scene that will grab people and keep them watching. So having it happen in minute 7 instead of minute 15, means viewers stick around.
The Parkinson storyline with his lie about being molested is fun, though I’m not sure if he’s important to the series or just being used as an interesting scene to set up William in the present day and his high-powered clientele. I didn’t quite get his reference about his father on pg 7 – “He was one of a handful of short straws on the 89th.” I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean.
The concept of a psychologist to the rich and powerful who holds all these important secrets to some of the country’s most powerful people who is slowly losing his own mind is interesting because he becomes a total liability for a great many people who could probably have him killed or would have reason to shut him up. But that doesn’t seem to be the issue here. The issue is that he’s broken some numeric code that means something important to a group of people. But why now? He seemingly discovered or broke this code with Miriam over 10 years ago – so why are people after it now?
What I think is missing in the pilot is some dynamic or relationship that we care about and can really invest in that we can see developing over the course of the series. Look at Bates Motel, Breaking Bad, House of Cards, Touch, Fargo – they were all based around a specific relationship and dynamic and how it changes with each obstacle, goal, action, reaction, etc. And I feel like that is what could make us invest a bit more in the characters and story. Is this show about William and Miriam? William and Kendorski? Is there a core relationship/dynamic that is driving the series?
William is a complex character and seems to fall under the incredibly popular tag of “anti-hero.” It seems a dramatic series can’t succeed these days without one. He is an adulterer, he unethically slept with a much younger patient (though it’s not clear if he waited until after she was legal) and his secretary, and he did something seemingly controversial years ago and is now paying for it with a debilitating mental disease. He has a clear dilemma, he has obstacles, and his visions are very intriguing and compelling, but I am not sure what William’s goal is for the episode or the series. I’m not sure what he actually needs to do in the series.
I think there are some compelling supporting characters, especially Miriam. But it’s not clear how long it has been before page 34 since she has seen William. It’s pretty easy for him to find her and he’s pretty mean to her right off the bat regarding her talent. And she seems pretty paranoid, which made me wonder if she’s been followed all her life or what she is so scared of. And when she and William end up sleeping together again, I’m not sure why he would bring her back to his house when he knows his wife could either be there or come home at any time, not to mention Sean. Feels odd that he would do this.
There are a couple characters I didn’t quite “get,” and I think Kendorski is the biggest one. His personality is a bit all over the place. One second, he’s an esteemed elder-seeming doctor and the next he’s ordering his wife to stop acting like a damn bitch, roll over and take care of daddy. One second he’s William’s best friend for 20 years, and the next he’s throwing him out and threatening him and seemingly cold and uncaring. I don’t know why he seems so heartless on page 32 when he throws William out. I think it makes it too obvious in this scene that he really wants the journals, when there seem to be other options or more subtle ways to get them. He turns on his best friend in an instant for seemingly no reason. I just couldn’t quite wrap my head around who this character is. Cyrus is a fun character and a bit of comic relief like Mike in Breaking Bad, but the scenes with him and Cyrus are so secretive, that I often had no idea what they were talking about.
William’s son Sean is an interesting supporting character. His storyline certainly seems a bit twisted and sexual, in a good way, and I like that he’s in conflict with his parents, but it’s not clear why he seems to hate his father (and mother). There certainly seems to be some depth there more than just teenage angst, but I’m not sure what the dynamic is or why he’s SO viciously angry at them, especially William. The reveal that he enjoyed being whipped by the S&M lady/prostitute is intriguing, and it’s a strong end to the third act, though I’m not sure I get how it’s related to the story. The one thing I’m not sure I believed was that 19 year-old sexpot Monique would be with 16 year-old Sean.
The Homeless Family that William sees in his delusions are handled well in the visions and they are interesting, but when he tells the backstory of his mother giving the money to a homeless family, I wondered if that was the family. And if so, why they would haunt his thoughts so often. I was expecting a bit more connection there.
Turning to the dialogue, I think it’s purposefully and intriguingly vague at times, and there are some really strong lines throughout. However, there could be a couple more moments of clarity for the audience.
One of the biggest dialogue notes I have while reading this is that everyone treats each other with such utter contempt. Everyone is just straight-up mean to everyone else, and I am not sure why. William to Miriam – mean. Kendorski to William – mean. Miriam to Kendorski – mean. Janet to William – mean. Sean to William – mean. Cyrus to Kendorski – mean. Monique and Sean – mean. Everyone in the script seems to dislike and distrust everyone else in the script and I’m not sure why, but it doesn’t help when you’re trying to create a dynamic between your characters. Creating anti-heroes is fine, but SOMEONE has to be likeable and like someone else.
There are a few random lines and moments that seem to come out of nowhere and they create a few too many “huh?” moments. For example, on page 21, William says “I doubt any amount of financial aid would help her.” But no one has mentioned anything about financial aid, money, or helping Miriam. And it’s odd that he brings up how his wife’s laugh reminds him of his patient. Is this the first time she’s ever laughed? Why does it remind him of the laugh now? The whole conversation here feels random.
On page 41, Kendorski is arguing with his wife and listening to the dog barking and suddenly says “Wait a minute. What if Bill was MY therapist?” This comes out of nowhere and has no connection to anything being discussed. There needs to be a stronger context or set up here.
A couple additional specific scene/page notes –
Pg 11 – I’m not sure who William is referring to when he says “You sound like them.” Who is them – patients?
Pg 24 – I think you can cut this Convenient Store scene. I’m not sure what its purpose is. Can cut right to Chinatown.
Pg 28 – I’m not sure why they beat Kendorski up when he’s agreed to their demands.
Pg 43 – Would tweak line to “One that I’VE put together over and over…”
Pg 52 – Kendorski sounds even more evil here with “Don’t make me do this.” But I’m not sure to what he’s referring because right after that he just walks out and leaves without a word. It’s a bit of an awkward moment here.
Pg 54 – Kendorski peeing his pants feels like it’s supposed to be funny, but I’m not sure that it is. He’s more enamored about the fact that he did it than he is mad or scared.
I think overall you have an intriguing set up but the concept feels more geared to a limited series, kind of like Twin Peaks or Fargo or Under the Dome, where it’s a more limited 10-episode run that tells a whole story, but there could be more to it if it does well and could be extended. I’m not sure it totally feels like a 22 or even 13-episode series to me because I can’t really picture what the week to week of this show would be, at least not past about 10 episodes or where it could go from the pilot. Being totally honest, I would certainly watch a second episode to see how it develops and get a bit more information, but I’m not all in yet from the pilot.
It has some traces of other series like the Keifer Sutherland show Touch (where a mute kid held the code to the world basically), Bates Motel, and Black Box. Maybe a bit of Boss as well, where the lead suffers from a debilitating disease that affects his cognitive ability, but with a more esoteric and mysterious antagonistic force.
A small but important note – the title Loose Screws I think needs to change as it connotes a pretty comedic story and series, and this is not a comedy at all. Or even a lighthearted dramedy. I think it sets up a context that the story doesn’t support. Also, the title of the episode is “Miriam,” which makes me think she’s just one of the many patients we’re going to meet that play into this story, but this isn’t a patient of the week type story and the only 2 patients who seem to matter are her and Charlie. So, while it’s a very easily fixable and small note, I’m not sure Miriam is really what this pilot episode is about.
Overall, I think you have an intriguing and original concept and there are some cool mysteries and questions you’ve set up. There’s some nice voice in the writing and a solid anti-hero, and I think there is some potential here but I think there are some issues that still need to be addressed. I think it needs to be a little clearer what the story is about, what the scope of the world is, where the series could go week to week, and why we should care about these characters when they don’t even seem to care about each other. Stick with it! Keep writing! And best of luck! Thanks again Tim and John for submitting your script “Loose Screws” to Simply Scripts, and congratulations on being the featured script of the month and our first TV series.
NO BULLSCRIPT 20 POINT GRADING SHEET AND RECOMMENDATION:
PROJECT: CONSIDER W/RESERVATIONS
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