Monday, June 16, 2008

Why I've been away...

Where have I been? Why haven't I posted? What's happening with the blog? When will I write new reviews?

I'm really, really, really, really sorry for disappearing, guys. These past few months have been filled with back-to-back commitments and other priorities.

First was dealing with my late father's estate. It's still going on, and it's exhausting.

Second was dealing with my moving into a new house. It's a nice place, though the mortgage payments often feel larger than the available square footage of the property.

Third, I've been working on a TELEVISION SERIES, and with the looming ACTOR'S STRIKE (!!!!) I've been working 'round the clock. Or at least I feel like I have been.

I'M GOING TO BE A DAD THIS YEAR! What wonderful news to share with everybody this Father's Day!

So I hope you can understand that the plates of my personal and professional lives have been quite full lately. I'll be back, though, and sometime soon. Promise.

Monday, March 24, 2008


Tonight was the first chance I've had to check my emails, it's been too long to remember. If you're looking to punish me for my tardiness, rest assured, 1327 unread emails have already done it for you.

I'm not kidding. For while I'm pretty sure that at least 99% of those 1327 messages were spam, ads, or newsgroup posts, it's likely that a query or two could have been lost in the TRASH box.

So, for those of you who have sent me a query and not received a reply, please don't hesitate to resend your messages. I know it's an inconvenience, but with the move I've had to prioritize a lot of things, and this blog, as much as I love it, falls pretty low on my list.

Sorry about this.

Movin' right along...

No, I'm not dead...though lately I've been feeling close to it.

My wife and I have been moving, you see. And moving sucks. It has cost us far more energy, time, and MONEY than either of us had anticipated, and my wife is pretty conservative when it comes to all our financial planning. (So much for the sexist stereotype of women being the heavy spenders in the family.)

I've moved several times in my life, but they all were either A.) When I was a kid, thus my parents handled everything, B.) When I was single and apartment-bound, and C.) When I had significantly fewer possessions (and pets) than I do now.

Here's the funny part: This is the hardest move I've ever been through, yet our new home is less than 20 miles away from our old one!

I'll post new reviews when the boxes have been unpacked and I revive from the coma I'm about to fall into.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The strike is dead....LONG LIVE THE STRIKE!!!!!!

Well, it's finally over.

What a big, bloated, bloody mess. I'm very happy that the strike has ended, but...

Oh fuck it, time for a little honesty here: the damn strike wasn't worth it.

"So who won the strike?" you might wonder. It's a fair enough question, but the truthful answer is that nobody won. Sure, compromises were made, a middle ground was reached. But at what cost? The $2 BILLION in lost revenue? The thousands of people who've lost work?

And don't think that all will go back to normal now that the battle's ended. Television production is screwed up for the next year, and it will take months for any kind of normalcy to return to the industry.

Writer Harlan Ellison, a committed WGA member who picketed and protested with the best of them, has written this scathing piece about his feelings toward the strike and the compromises that were made. As sad as reading it makes me, it has a lot of harsh truth.

Yes, I'm glad it's over...just like I'll be glad when the goddamn war in Iraq is over. But don't expect me to clap my hands, to have my heart surge with warm patriotism, and to think that, in the end, the whole thing was worth it.

It wasn't.

Monday, February 04, 2008

An explanation...and regarding the WGA strike.

I'm sorry I've been so infrequent with my posts these last few weeks. One would think that because of the strike I'd have nothing but time on my hands, but that couldn't be further from the truth.

The truth is that my dad died last year, and handling his estate has required my traveling back and forth across the country for weeks at a time. This is happening while my wife, bless her patient heart, is preparing our move to a new house -- our first.

So please, I humbly ask for your patience. You're still welcome to submit your queries, and I will read them. But new reviews are going to take me more time than I thought...and I have to prioritize things.

Speaking of the strike, rumblings are about that the end is finally in sight. Wonderful news...and how proud I am that so many stood in solidarity, shutting down the industry for months and putting so many people out of work, so that we all can get a few more pennies in our paychecks.

(If my humor offends, suck it up and deal. I did my part at the picket lines, even if it annoyed the shit out of me.)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Writers BEWARE!!! (Or, How the WL Writer's Literary Agency is a sham!)

New reviews should be posted around the end of the month, but in the meantime I wanted to warn readers about some shady business dealings a so-called "agency" has been up to.

I've heard about this by two different aspiring screenwriters, both of whom asked to remain anonymous. However, in doing a bit of research on their stories I found that their suspicions were very, very justified.

Here's part of one of the emails I received. I'll let the screenwriter explain it himself:

Greetings Unsung,

I wanted to ask your advice on something. Recently I responded to an online ad by Writers' Literary Agency & Marketing Company (aka WL Writers' Literary Agency). The ad was very prominently displayed on, saying that they were a new agency seeking new screenplays to represent. Worth a look, I figured, so I followed their instructions, sent a query, and when they agreed to give the script a look I sent it over.

A few days later I got a very lengthy, form-letter email response from Sherry Fine, the company's VP of Acquisitions. Here's the first part of it:
Thank you for everything that we have received from you thus far. Our review team believes that your work has commercial potential and we would like to proceed further with you. We believe we would like to represent you. Basically, we feel that your concept and writing thus far has potential and that if polished and presented properly, we can sell it. To take the next step, please let us take a minute to tell you a little bit about how we think and the way we do business.

If you agree with our business process, instruction for the 'next step' is at the very end of the email.


I think you would agree that your work can use some level of polishing. However, we don't think you should take just our word for it, we would like to have an independent review of your work that shows you where the improvements can be made. Also, if your work is 'great and ready to go' it is helpful that we hear it from an independent source as well.

In short, we like it, and we think we can sell it, but we would like it to be as polished as possible before we take it to our buyers. From a trust factor, it's like an investor trusting a certified public accountant ... if there is an independent review on the table, we can each relax and trust each other, and spend our time strategizing marketing, not arguing over whether the work is ready to present or not. (And believe me, we've had quite a few arguments with authors about whether the work is ready-to-go, or not! It's not a good situation, and life's too short, if you know what I mean.)

What we have learned over the years is that nothing is more invaluable than having a unbiased, critical review of an author's work as a roadmap for bringing the work to market. In screenplay writing circles this is called critique/coverage. We want you to have a critique of your work. You might already have a critique of your screenplay, or you may need to get one.
The long-winded email continued, essentially saying that I had to get the script "polished" before they would be willing to do anything with it. But the strange thing was that they were trying to refer me to an "independent" editing service, and that I would have to pay for it out of my own pocket.

Is this normal? I've already had the script edited, tweaked, revised, and reviewed by many, many professionals over the years, and though I can understand if someone else wanted more changes made, wouldn't it make sense to simply state what those desired changes were, instead of merely passing me along to a third party, without giving me any input or feedback whatsoever and explaining why I was being passed along?

But here is where I got really suspicious. I sent an email reply to Ms. Fine telling her that before I could make any kind of decision, I wanted to talk to her -- or anyone else at her company, if it was more convenient -- and ask a few questions, either in person or over the phone. I figured that if the agency's interest in my work was truly sincere, this was not an unusual request.

I never got a reply.

So...what am I to do? Should I go ahead with the referral service and send Fine the script, or should I go elsewhere? (If you want to know, her email is, and the company's website is

Before I go on, let me say that the other screenwriter's story was nearly identical to this one, but she decided to go through with the editing service and submit her script. Alas, she did so before asking my advice...and she hasn't heard from them since. the WL Screenplay Agency a sham? Well, take a look at this message board. Or this one. Heck, even this one. See for yourself. These guys should be ashamed of themselves.

It is common practice for an agency rep to ask for changes or corrections for your material; for a spec script to be accepted "as is" and ready to go is virtually unheard of. Also, using a professional editing service to help polish and refine your writing can be a good idea, especially for writers starting out in their careers.

But for an agency (and I use the word "agency" loosely) to demand a writer pay out-of-pocket for such editing services as a condition of establishing a business relationship? That's shady! Shady indeed!

This isn't a real agency, guys. Real agents make their money through script sales, not editing services.

So, if someone claiming to be an agent ever asks you for an editing fee, a reading fee, a consulting fee, etc., take my advice: run for cover and stay far, far away. (That includes your $10,000 class, Michael Wilde.)

And before you send off your script with your hopes held high, do a little research first. WRITER BEWARE'S "THUMBS DOWN AGENCY LIST" is a good start.

If any of you have similar bad experiences with this or other companies, let me know and I'll be all too happy to bitch about them here.

Good luck...and stay cautious.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Casualties of war

Looks like this year's Golden Globes ceremony is kaput, and that's a hell of a shame.

I'm sure to be in the minority on this, especially among fellow WGA members, but come on, guys...this is a freaking awards show, a venue where people in front of and behind the camera can get a little recognition and respect for their achievements. It's not all about starlets flaunting designer gowns and dresses, no matter how much attention the press gives them. In case you haven't noticed, screenwriters get awards there, too...

If this was about some Hollywood would-be blockbuster, with the studios and producers shafting writers from getting their fair share, I wouldn't feel so bad. (And don't.) But the Golden Globes, slight though they might seem in the company of Oscars and Baftas, were designed to celebrate movies, television, and the talents that went into them.

Think of it like the Olympics. Even during times or war, opposing nations would come together and put their politics behind them in celebration of sport. (Oh wait, there was that nasty business in Munich back in 1972... Glad to see we're all following that lovely example, even if it is just in spirit.)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Happy Holidays!

Please accept my very best wishes toward a joyous and wonderful holiday season.

I'm in the process of reading a new batch of scripts, and promise to add more posts after the new year.

Friday, December 07, 2007

"Someday this war's gonna end..."

...but it won't be anytime soon. The talks have collapsed.

Crap, crap, crap, crap. This looks like it's going to continue well into the new year, and everyone is going to suffer because of it.

Of course I'm with the writers on this...but at the same time, I hope those in charge of representing our cause will do so with open minds. It's great to have determination if stubbornness doesn't come into play. The livelihood of too many people is at stake -- and not just the writers.

On behalf of all of them this holiday season, please keep your fingers crossed.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Back in L.A.

My wife and I spent the last few weeks in New York for the Thanksgiving break, and I hope each of you enjoyed the holiday as much as we did.

To be honest, I wasn't looking forward to my return to Los Angeles. The strike is still on, and despite a few meetings here and there, it looks as though it won't come to an end anytime soon.

The Broadway strike, on the other hand, came and went quickly. Perhaps because ticket sales are most crucial during the holiday season, the theatrical business people were more willing to set aside their differences and let wisdom prevail. Thank God, and them, for it, as the strike's end gave my family an 11th hour chance to catch a few shows.

But the corporate heads in Hollywood don't have such wisdom, and certainly not much empathy. Unlike the Broadway strike, which isn't just about a few shows running in a few theaters, but an age-old tradition so much a part of the identity and creative spirit of New York City itself, the WGA strike doesn't have roots in a community as much as it does in a business. And with that, it's going to be a long, hard fight -- one that I think everyone who works in this industry will suffer from, if not lose.

Now that I'm back, though, and with a lot more time on my hands, this is an ideal time for me to read and review your scripts. So, without further ado, let me at 'em!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

On screenwriting format and queries

Every time I say, "This will probably be my last post for a while," I end up writing a few more posts before finally breaking away from my computer. But with the strike, it's a strange, uncertain time, and writing here gives me a little comfort through the chaos. I've spent so much energy on reading and reviewing scripts these last few months, I haven't really talked about writing itself. So here I go...

There are scores of books out right now on how to write a great screenplay. Each one of them dishes out advice on structure, character, dialogue, blah blah blah. Some are more useful than others, true, but before you whip out your Borders or Barnes & Noble club cards, ask yourself: Have any of these self-proclaimed "experts" ever had one of their scripts actually produced?

(I throw that question out there with a bit of sarcasm. For here I, "The Unsung Critic," who may write somewhat condescendingly about other people's work, have yet to have any of my own work produced!)

I happen to believe that there is no gauranteed path to screenwriting success. No book or teacher can make you a great writer. Sure, they may impart wisdom and sage advice, but if you want to improve as a writer, sit down and write, write, write. Write until your mind hurts. Until your fingers are numb. And most importantly, get feedback on your writing. An objective, sincere opinion can do more wonders for improving your work than any class. (Even if it is that
$10,000 class offered by Michael Wilde.)

Only you can make yourelf a great writer. But there are things -- easy and inexpensive to get -- that can make you a better writer.

First, if you're looking to learn more about proper screenplay format, let me recommend THE SCREENWRITER'S BIBLE by David Trottier. (I've never met Trottier, so don't think that he's paying me to say this.) It's a really great resource in the technical part of screenwriting, from how to break down a scene to the nitty-gritty of writing descriptions and action -- most valuable to novice and spec script writers, though I still refer to it myself from time to time. It also has a very useful section on how to write a good query...

Speaking of good queries, let me share with you Adam McDaniel's query for his script,
HEAVEN SPENT. It's pretty well written, so much so that when it came time to publish the novel, the text was basically recycled for the book's back cover.

When Micah Cohen was five years old, he lost his parents to a horrible accident. He was convinced he would have died himself, had it not been for his guardian angel -- in the form of a little girl he never saw again.

Now, over twenty years later, Micah is living in the frenzy of Manhattan. With Christmas right around the corner and no one to share it with -- add a thankless job, no close family or friends, Micah believes that his life has become too hard, his existence too inconsequential. Sadly, he decides to end it all...but the attempt fails ridiculously.

That's just when Coltan pops up in the middle of Micah's living room. Possessing supernatural powers and a sadistic sense of humor, this bumbling "agent for
the afterlife" has come to collect Micah's soul. But there are two slight problems: Micah is still alive, and now has second thoughts about committing suicide. Reluctantly, Coltan must admit defeat.

Rejuvenated by his new lease on life, Micah's determined to set things right. One good thing comes in the form of Christine, a young homeless woman he befriends. But soon Micah learns that she is more than she appears to be: his childhood guardian angel, now grown up. (Naturally, they can't help but risk upsetting the cosmic order of the universe by falling in love.)

Yet this happiness may be fleeting. Just as Micah realizes how wonderful his life has become, Coltan reappears to inform him that his days are now numbered -- for Death Itself is hunting Micah down. And so Christine, ever the dutiful protector, must prepare to do battle over Micah's soul.

Can she save him? What does Death have in store? And who -- or what -- is Coltan? Is he really working for Death as he claims, or a force far, far more terrifying?

HEAVEN SPENT is a darkly satirical, modern-day urban fairy tale concerning the adventures of a young man coming to terms with life, death, and all their crummy consequences.

I liked this query because it's clear, concise, has a bit of a dramatic buildup, and ends with a light touch of whimsy. It's not a summary of the story so much as a sly sales pitch, enticing people to actually want to read it. Best of all, it doesn't get too bogged down in describing all of the story's subplots, and it doesn't give everything away.

On that note, keep your own queries coming! After I get back from NYC I'll have a bit of time on my hands.

Small wonder.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

HEAVEN SPENT by Adam McDaniel

I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to write about this, the 2nd place winner of our 2007 screenwriting contest.

The last week has been a nightmare. I’m sure many of you can understand. Yesterday was spent at one of the WGA picket lines (I dare not say which), and I have to put in a few more hours this week. I’ll be off to New York next week visiting some long unseen relatives, so this may be my last post for awhile.

Had I not known HEAVEN SPENT was written almost ten years ago (
and already featured in another script review), I might have been suspicious of the similarities it shares with both Angela’s and Ian’s scripts. Like HELL FOR LOVERS, it is a twisted comedy about the afterlife, with some broad, silly laughs about heaven vs. hell…and like Ian’s BORN IN THE RAIN, it has parts that are tragicomic, bittersweet and surprisingly touching.

I’ll make no secret that I’m a fan of Adam McDaniel’s writing. Though I don’t think HEAVEN SPENT is as strong a script as IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THADDEUS THACKERAY, it’s still very, very well written, and that it was his first attempt at a feature length screenplay makes it all the more impressive. Even if some of his scenes run a bit too long, or seem too forced in a few places, he clearly has a flair for describing things in a visual, cinematic sense, as well as a strong ability to combine sentiment and humor without being too mushy or contrived. I liked it, and I liked it a lot.

Best of all, now that Halloween’s out of the way and Christmas is taking center stage in every Wallgreens and ShopRite in America, I can’t think of a better way to kick off the season than reviewing this…

Screenplay by Adam McDaniel

Tel: 818-240-1756

Where to begin?

It starts with a prelude, featuring a little boy who survived a car/train collision in which his parents were killed. Barely clinging to life, he is saved when (from his point of view) a little girl walks toward him, kisses him on the head, and then flies away on a pair of shining wings. Was she an angel? A dream? Both?

Fast-forward twenty years. The boy, Micah Cohen, is all grown up, but now works as a thankless assistant within a large food corporation in New York City. Reduced to a virtual corporate punching bag, his life is lonely and miserable.

McDaniel’s script opens this up as an elaborate montage, with episode after episode of biting satire reminiscent of moments from OFFICE SPACE and BRAZIL to the opening of JOE VS. THE VOLCANO. Though I felt like I’d seen it all before, it was nevertheless genuinely funny and executed with a lot of panache.

But the humor takes a considerably darker turn when Micah, overcome with grief – it’s almost Christmas and, even though he’s Jewish, he hates the thought of spending another holiday alone – attempts suicide and fails.

From there, things get really, really complicated. Micah is unexpectedly visited by Coltan, an “agent for the afterlife” come ‘round to collect his soul. But as Micah isn’t technically dead yet, Coltan, still hoping to meet his monthly quota, tries to convince him into trying again…only now, Micah’s developing second thoughts.

This scene starts only about twelve pages in, so you can imagine what I was trying to make of it all. Unlike the demons in HELL FOR LOVERS, who really got on my nerves, Coltan is a genuine scene stealer. He’s the antithesis of Clarence in Frank Capra’s IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE: instead of trying to save lives, Coltan’s determined to END them. He’s absolutely psychotic, loves and hates his work just a little too much, and gets all the script’s best lines.

Apparently resigned to his fate, Micah strikes a deal with Coltan for another day of life. He then sets out to redeem himself by making amends with the curmudgeonly uncle who raised him, and exact his revenge on his evil bosses at work. This day alone has the makings of a movie in its own right, but again, nothing in this script turns out the way I expected, for just as Micah tries to set everything in his life right, he screws everything up and…well, let’s just say it all gets worse and worse.

But the central story involves Micah’s relationship with Christine, a young homeless woman he befriends, then romances, after a seemingly chance encounter. Given her name, it’s easy to see who (and what) Christine’s character actually is…so just as Coltan fights to depress Micah to the point of suicide, Christine’s determined to make Micah see the joys of the world.

(On a personal note, I have a major gripe with stories that deem suicide as a crime punishable by immediate damnation. It’s a rather harsh, immobile stance for a complex situation. To those of you who have ever experienced a loss, grief and suffering beyond words, I’m sure you can understand. Just my two cents.)

These are a lot of different subplots to juggle, and perhaps each of them feel more than a bit familiar – stuff borrowed, if not inspired from, other movies and stories here and there. But like McDaniel’s IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THADDEUS THACKERAY, which spoofed and honored animated serial adventures and buddy films, HEAVEN SPENT starts out with basic, seemingly predictable elements, but then spins them into something new, surprising, and pretty wonderful.

You see, during the script’s first half, I absolutely hated Micah. He was everything a central character shouldn’t be: passive, depressing, inert, and pretty much uncaring to all these supernatural things around him. But that’s exactly the script’s best trick: we’re supposed to hate Micah at first, so that when he finally takes the initiative to make his life (and himself) better, we get a kick out of seeing him go so far.

It’s the screenplay’s second half where everything changes. Micah soon realizes that he’s not just a literal pawn in a game between life and death, but that a third potential consequence exists: he might not even have a soul to lose, and when death comes, he could literally meet his physical and spiritual end. To add to his troubles, Micah learns that his estranged uncle is dying, and Christine, whose divine powers are limited due to certain rules and regulations, is not allowed to save him.

Micah also meets a little deaf boy named Toby, with whom he establishes an immediate friendship. Toby, you see, also survived an accident, and was convinced an angel saved him. Micah quickly puts two and two together, and (finally) uncovers the truth about Christine’s identity, while developing a paternal friendship with Toby and finding some purpose in life. And just as Micah realizes how wonderful his life has become, Coltan reappears to inform him that his days are now numbered -- for Death Itself is hunting Micah down. And so Christine, ever the dutiful protector, must prepare to do battle over Micah's soul.

As funny as the first half was, this second half works better, for not only does Micah become a stronger character, but the tone of the writing changes from cynical and overly “showy” to more honest and sincere. If Toby is a plot device all too similar to Dickens’ Tiny Tim, it still gives the material a poignancy most writers would be too insecure to include. And Micah’s romance with Christine, as well as his attempts at mending his relationship with his uncle, are genuinely touching.

The finale, especially, is dynamite, jumping from Christine’s encounter with Coltan, to Tobey being trapped in a burning building, to Micah’s attempts to evade death. (The latter struck me as something out of FINAL DESTINATION, but McDaniel insisted to me that he wrote it before that film came out.)

In McDaniel’s tale, those in the afterlife, from angels and demons to even death incarnate, are simply members of a blue-collar working class, each assigned to specific shifts, people, and places. It also throws around a lot of dark humor about religion, skewering not only Christianity but all sorts of different faiths. (That the central protagonist is Jewish also adds a little kick to a mainly Christmas-themed story.) And while heaven and hell are openly discussed (and regularly debated) by the characters, they remain more ambiguous concepts only hinted at from time to time. The script teases organized religion a lot, but McDaniel’s “world” of the afterlife is quite an original one, beset by annoying rules and regulations, red tape, and a hell of a lot of paperwork.

My only real complaint with HEAVEN SPENT is that it seems to be trying just a little too hard; McDaniel crams so much in, he writes like an overzealous party host obsessed with making all of his guests happy. The script has a little bit of everything, with a lot of funny scenes ranging from all-out farce to extremely dark and malevolent satire in the first half, to dramatic, bittersweet, even sad scenes in the second half.

On the printed page, the script succeeds in holding things together and, by and large, it all works out very nicely. But as a film, HEAVEN SPENT would require an extremely skilled director to pull it all off with a consistent tone. Think a (restrained) Terry Gilliam, Peter Jackson, or especially Peter Weir.

With so many lazy writers – and lazy screenplays – out there, perhaps I shouldn’t be so quick to nitpick an overachievement. This is a fine script, so much so that I was tempted to award it first place in the contest.

But while HEAVEN SPENT, the screenplay, was good, HOW TO SUCCEED IN HEAVEN WITHOUT REALLY DYING, the book, is even better…

...and THAT review is coming soon!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Spreading some internet love.

In lieu of ads, I figured it was about time I posted a few links that I feel are particularly useful to writers and screenwriters. Some of them pertain exclusively to writing, others shed light on the industry as a whole, and some are just really good fun.

If you have a site or blog that you'd like me to consider adding, drop me an email and I'll take a look. After all, this blog can't be all about ME, no matter how wonderful I think I am...

Friday, November 02, 2007


I hate this.

I hate, hate, hate, hate this.


The worst fears will soon be a reality, and, while I understand the hows and whys, it's a situation where everyone in the industry stands to lose. Not just the writers, but all the artisans, technicians, businessmen...anyone and everyone whose lives and careers involve movies and television.

The nature of this blog has always been to promote good writing. Whether the work is from a multi-million dollar, Oscar winning screenwriter, or a pimple-faced high school student who has yet to make their first buck, makes absolutely no difference to me.

I say this because I'm concerned that promoting the work of writers (who may heretofore be unknown and unrepresented) might be mistaken by some as a flaunting of potential "scab" writers during the WGA strike. This is not so. While I might talk a little about the industry as a whole, or at least from my own personal perspective (limited as it may be compared to more established writers), my blog is and has always been focussed on just one thing: GOOD WRITING.

If any of the writers mentioned here should be contacted by a studio, production company, or producer during the strike, I have absolutely no say or position on the matter.

OK. End of speech. I just needed to clarify things, in light of what could be a really tense situation.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Happy Halloween...?

To all who enjoy treat-or-treating, bags filled with candy, spooky happenings, horror movies, parties with friends and all that good cheer, I wish you a very, very happy Halloween.

For a lot of writers out there, it's a scary, frightening time...and not just because of the holiday. In what could be a matter of hours, a looming strike could shake things up in the entertainment industry.

There's a gross misconception that once a writer's lucky enough to make that first sale, they're either set for life, or able to live at least a little comfortably for if a six or seven figure paycheck is the industry norm, and residual checks flow into mailboxes in continuous, bountiful waves.

You can probably guess by now what my one-word reaction is to this notion. It begins with a "B" and ends with a "T".

Yes, there's a lot of rediculous money to be made in this industry. If and when the money comes, it can be good, but you have to learn to spread the wealth and make the most of it; it may be years before you get paid like that again. Most guild members are lucky if their work brings in over $5,000 a year -- and merely becoming a member of the guild is a challenge. (It took me several years, and when it happened, it was mainly because a friend of a friend chanced upon some of my work and liked it enough to support it.)

Most "professional" writers -- and by professional I mean actively working, and luckily getting paid for it -- really aren't all that different from you. In fact, many of them probably make a lot less in their jobs, have smaller bank accounts, drive used cars, or live in rented apartments instead of luxury homes.

I know. I'm one of them.

I'm not complaining, now. I love what I do, though it can be the most rewarding and frustrating job in the world. When I sold my first script, the money wasn't much compared to VARIETY headline deals (it was in the mid five-digit range) but to me, it was all the money in the world. I quit my job, bought a (used) car, and was determined to write full time and take on the world.

Less than two years later, I was flat broke. And I absolutely deserved it.

Another friend of mine wrote a spec television pilot that was bought by Sony six years ago. Miraculously, he did it without an agent. (How, you ask? Answer: his script was brilliant.) But today, he's still sharing his Los Felis apartment with a roommate, and relies on L.A.'s inadequate public transportation system to get around. He's yet to save up the cash for a new car; his credit's in the toilet.

Sure, there's something romantic about the idea of writing full time, but how do you afford to live? Eat? Get health insurance? Smart writers have a backup plan -- they work at another job, another occupation, and make the most of their prescious free time to write.

That's not selling out. That's survival.

So when you hear all this talk about a writers' strike, give pause. It's not all about overgrown children living off of trust funds, fancy houses and stylish sportscars... It's mainly about working folks, most earning significantly less each year than school teachers and mailmen, just trying to carve out a living one day at a time.

Talk about "unsung".

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Comments on the contest

My review of this year’s 2nd place winner, Adam McDaniel’s HEAVEN SPENT, has been a long time coming. There were two reasons.

The first wasn't my fault. I had my computer crash on Friday, and I lost everything just as I was polishing my writeup. My second attempt yesterday morning was lost a third of the way through when I accidentally saved something else under the same document that I'll take a wee bit of blame for.

It’s not that I find writing reviews to be troublesome, but doing coverage on McDaniel’s script has left me a bit exhausted. I can’t review it properly without making comparisons to this year’s other winners, Angela Schultz’s HELL FOR LOVERS and Ian Goh’s BORN IN THE RAIN…as well as comparing it to HOW TO SUCEED IN HEAVEN WITHOUT REALLY DYING, the “novelization” McDaniel made of his HEAVEN SPENT script.

OK, so there's a script review, a book review, and comparisons to two other scripts. This is a pretty outlandish situation I’m in. And it'll be round three, to
boot. All this writing’s giving my fingertips scars. (I beg your patience, Adam. My review will be coming up shortly. Promise!)

I've received some emails questioning my selections for the contest, with messages like, "Were all the scripts that bad?", "Don't you like anything?", "Why are you so tough?", and "How f*cking arrogant and evil are you?"

My answers are: Of course not! / Sure I like things -- just not everything. / I'm getting more selective. / A little arrogant, but isn't calling me "evil" pushing it?

One question that might deserve a more detailed answer is why I chose BORN IN THE RAIN as my #1 pick, after going on and on in my review about its flaws and my frustrations with it. Though I don't think it's sporting to have to justify my feelings, I'll try to shed a little light on them.

First place was a close close that had it not been for the limited gift prizes, I might have called it a tie. McDaniel’s script, to be frank, clearly was the more polished and tightly written of the two. (Again, I'll post the review soon.) And whereas Ian Goh’s story sort of meanders at a leisurely pace, McDaniel’s moves constantly forward, has the stronger structure, dramatic buildup, and a much (MUCH) better ending.

But I guess I just couldn’t escape the feelings deep, deep down in my gut – or under my skin? I’m not sure just where they were... but I do know that Ian Goh’s story haunted me like no other. It is obviously created
with so much love and care, such deep feeling, longing and soulfulness, you can't help but embrace it in a big, tight hug. Heck, after reading it you might even feel like taking the screenwriter out for a beer.

And for that, BORN IN THE RAIN remained my choice for the best script of 2007.

Since I'm on the subject on contests, I'm trying to come up with a similar venue for book manuscripts and POD titles. This blog isn't all about least I'm not intending it to be.

If any of you have any ideas, suggestions, comments, etc., that you feel would improve this site (or make it more interesting), go ahead and fire me an email.

Monday, October 22, 2007

HELL FOR LOVERS by Angela Schultz

I want to thank everyone who participated in our first annual screenwriting contest! A lot of the material I received was truly wonderful and exciting, so even if your script wasn’t selected, I sincerely appreciate your willingness to share your writing with me.

When the contest was first announced, my inbox was flooded with submissions, but then there was a long dry spell with only a handful of scripts coming in at any given time. Fortunately another wave came crashing down in the days leading up to the deadline…including not one, but two new favorites for 2007.

Here’s the funny thing – rather, funny things. Not only were these two scripts written by guys whose work I’ve previously reviewed… Not only did I receive them around the same time…

These two scripts, written by two different authors (whom, I later learned, also started writing their respective scripts in 1999), are both romantic comedies about the supernatural, featuring twisted notions of heaven and hell…and paperwork. Heck, they’re even both set in New York City, with situations involving the Statue of Liberty and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and share some identical gags and jokes about the afterlife!

Coincidence? Fate? Plaigerism? Good/bad luck? Great minds thinking alike? No idea. But, as it should be with any reasonable critic, all that matters at the end of the day is that these two scripts are both really well written. Not to mention funny as hell. Literally.

Today I’ll start by reviewing this year’s third place winner, written by Angela Schultz. Angela, whose script PROGGER tied for 2nd place last year, was kind enough upon learning about my laptop troubles to email me the little cartoon you see here. It’s a fitting joke for both of us, as my computer – and her script – have hellish elements within them.

written by Angela Schultz

Contact information:
PO Box 101
Valley Stream, NY 11582
Telephone: (516) 568-9710

This supernatural comedy digs deep into the old adage, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” exploring the argument between consequences vs. good intensions with a lot of comic effect.

It follows a young man by the name of Clyde Dantes (cute name), who, while casually visiting the local dining pit (“Hamburger Heaven” – again, cute name, if not all that subtle), finds himself an unfortunate pawn in the mother of bad circumstances: a violent hold up by a charming biker fellow (with the charming, and appropriate, name of Blood and Guts) and his also-charming-ladyfriend-accomplice, Wilted Flower. (You gotta love Angela’s use of names.)

Out of desperation, Clyde, looking to control the situation through the best of intentions, manages to overpower Wilted Flower and points her gun at her head, hoping that her malevolent partner won’t call Clyde’s bluff. He’s rewarded for his bravery when, stumbling onto the scene, the police shoot Clyde dead, mistaking him for the perpetrator.

This opening scene is hilarious, so much so that the larger storyline that follows – while also funny and worthwhile – doesn’t quite measure up. But strong beginnings go a long way, and this is one of the strongest I’ve read.

What follows, of course, is Clyde’s adventures in the afterlife…and alas, it’s not all billowy clouds and pearly gates. Seemingly sent to hell through an extremely unfortunate technicality, Clyde finds the burning netherworld to be not only filled with the usual fire and brimstone, but a hell of a lot of paperwork. (No pun intended. And just you wait until I get to reviewing Adam McDaniel’s HEAVEN SPENT.) There he is forced into hard labor, where he and his fellow Damned mindlessly shovel Satan-knows-what into Satan-knows-where – slaves who, with each passing day, risk losing more and more of their former identities until they can’t remember who they were, or how or why they got there. This is the ultimate prison camp.

It’s also an unlikely place for a love story, but hey, if divorce can be hell, why couldn’t a courtship? While on duty Clyde falls for Mac, a young woman in the middle stages of dehumanization, still with the vague notion of who she is, but little memory of her former life.

Much of HELL FOR LOVERS is literally set in the depths of hell, and to say that Schultz’s depiction has scope is a serious understatement. Hell is big – huge! – and, understandably, Schultz relies on the common vision sprung from Western Pop Culture, with cloven-tailed red demons, walls and oceans of fire, writhing bodies piled high, etc. etc…

But while these scenes in hell, and there are many, are treated with suitable tongue-and-cheek humor, they also present an unavoidable problem. Hell becomes really, really tiresome.

Schultz, for her part, does her best to keep things light. It’s a comedy, after all, and a playful, broad comedy at that. But setting most of your script in such a world is a pretty daunting, exhausting challenge to ask of a moviegoer.

(Not to mention the production! What a challenge this would be to a production designer or, worse, a location scout! How the heck could you actually film this? CGI or no, you’d be looking at a budget well north of $100 million… And who would do the catering?)

The only other film I can think of that is almost completely set in a fantastic afterlife is WHAT DREAMS MAY COME…a movie that, while thoughtful and gorgeous, was also so overwhelming and bogged down with its own self-importance that its grandiose special effects became more of a burden than a blessing. And that movie was primarily set in heaven.

If HELL FOR LOVERS was a children’s cartoon, hell would be painted exactly the way we’d expect it to be. That’s precisely the problem. It doesn’t offer anything new, and while it’s big and grand and epic, it’s lacking in imagination and originality. (Think of how hell appeared in, say, JACOB'S LADDER. If you've seen it, you almost assuredly remember the scene I'm talking about.)

It’s not until Clyde and Mac escape from hell that the script really picks things up again, and Schultz’s writing returns to form. Leaping their spirits into strangers’ bodies (like Patrick Swayze did so well in GHOST), the two fight to unravel a conspiracy (Satan and his minions are fudging their paperwork to enslave innocent souls) and learn the truth about why they were damned in the first place (Heavenly angels aren’t that much help), all the while being pursued by demons through the streets of New York.

This script is…pretty out there, and Schultz dedicates far too much time on demons bantering and bickering at each other, instead of her (much) more engaging lead characters. But it’s all in the name of big, goofy, silly schtick, and HELL FOR LOVERS, though not perfect, is still rousing, engaging fun.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

THE BEST OF 2007!!!!!!!!!!

Yeah. I'm a day late. I know.

Last night I was right in the middle of writing up proper reviews to go with my announcement of the winners when, I kid you not, my laptop crashed. Perhaps the computer gods are not in agreement with my selections, but I couldn't blame them.

First place was down to two scripts. I was juggling them back and forth, over and over, but in the end, I decided to make a compromise of sorts. You see, the situation was a bit complicated.

Does this confuse you? Fear not, my fellow writers, for all shall be explained in good time. I will have the full reviews, the descriptions, the reactions, everything for you to read shortly.

But for now, allow me to present my favorites for 2007!

HELL FOR LOVERS by Angela Schultz

HEAVEN SPENT by Adam McDaniel


All winners shall receive a subscription to SCRIPT MAGAZINE, while Ian shall also receive the latest FINAL DRAFT software, thanks to the company's very generous donation.

My hearty thanks to everyone who submitted.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Winners will be announced Friday, Oct. 19th

The winners of our 1st annual screenwriting contest will be announced in exactly one week!

THE FINAL DRAFT SCREENWRITING AWARD (cue drums, epic bombastic score) will go to our first place winner. It's not a trophy, but something better: a copy of the latest FINAL DRAFT software, courtesy of a generous contribution from...that's right...the FINAL DRAFT company!

The first, second, and third place winners will also receive a subscription to SCRIPT MAGAZINE.

Monday, October 01, 2007


The contest, hopefully the first of many, has now come to an end!

I've responded to every entry I've received, so if you sent me a query but have yet get a confirmation email, please contact me at once.

If all goes well, new script reviews -- and the names of the winners -- should be posted by the end of the month!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Some kind words! Contest Deadline Approaches! Adam McDaniels follow up!

Though it might not have the same kind of pull as a thumbs-up from Roger Ebert, a website called Preditors and Editors ™A guide to publishers and publishing services for serious writers has deemed this blog "Worth Visiting and Reading"!

Thanks be upon you, oh wise Preditors and Editors! (Get it? Preditors instead of predators? Heh heh...)

I've ranted this before, but just in case you need another reminder: our screenwriting contest ends on Sunday night. That's three (count 'em, three) days left to email me your queries!

Finally, I've been putting off my updates from Adam McDaniels because, as he told me, one of his scripts has recently been under review by a certain, shall we say, animated TV station... and Adam wisely doesn't want to jinx anything. But he does have some news that I'm able to share here and now, so with no further ado, Adam writes:

At long, long, long last, some friends and I finally got together and launched AISLING EYE BOOKS, a new indie publishing company geared towards quality fiction and non-fiction. I'll try to spare you from the usual pretty-sounding sales pitch, but if you help us get the word out, we'd be forever grateful. By the way, we're currently looking for humorous SHORT STORY submissions for an upcoming hardcover anthology, planned for release next winter. Maybe some of your readers might be interested???

An opportunity to get published? I think so, Adam...and the site looks great! Good luck with it and with THADDEUS THACKERAY, too!

Monday, September 24, 2007


The subject heading says it all. You have until midnight September 30th to submit your screenplays for our first annual contest.

More reviews will be coming soon, probably this week.

Good luck!

Friday, August 31, 2007


They say it's your birthday-ay-ay!!!! It's MY BIRTHDAY TOO!!!!

That's right! This site has now lived for a whole year, and during that time there have been:
  • 379: Queries emailed to me.
  • 207: Scripts I accepted to read.
  • 36: Scripts I read from beginning to end.
  • 6: Scripts I reviewed.
  • 5: Scripts I felt deserved a smaller mention.
  • 1: Book review.
  • 1: Contest.
  • 0: Cease and desist orders received. (Take that, Michael Wilde!)

We now have just ONE MONTH to go before our first annual contest ends! Queries must be submitted no later than by midnight on September 30th to qualify for the contest!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Following up with Angela Schultz

One of the bigger stories involving this blog concerned writer Angela Schultz, whose screenplay PROGGER was one of the top selections of last year.

Since the review was posted, a lot has and has not happened with Angela's project. PROGGER came very close to production earlier this spring, with Angela also sitting in the director's chair, no less! But alas, the project was placed on hold due to circustances beyond her control...

"To make a long story short," Angela writes, "the documentary film producer, who originally expressed interest in making the movie, has been very busy working on several docs, so I took the opportunity to pitch the project to an Academy Award winning producer who is looking for films to produce for his new company. He and his partner seemed to like the music aspect of the story and asked lots of questions with regards to the Prog Rock music market. It looks like they may be interested in developing the project, but it's really too soon to tell yet.

"Currently, they are evaluating the script and its potential, so I'm patiently waiting to hear back from them. It may be a while before they get back to me."

Angela, I have and shall always keep my fingers crossed for you. And I can relate. More than once, a project of mine has come very close to actually happening, only to fall apart at the 11th hour...and linger for months or years on end. For anyone who has achieved their big break, rarely does it come overnight; it's usually after years of toiling, waiting, broken deals and broken promises.

But that doesn't mean one should give up.

"In the meantime," Angela adds, "I am busy writing and pitching and enjoying the sun while it lasts..."

Amen, girl. While you're at it, let me take a look at that new script you're working on!

Next week I'll be checking in with Adam McDaniel, the author of IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THADDEUS THACKERAY. Adam's faced his share of highs and lows this past year, some of them extraordinary, some of them heartbreaking, all of them fascinating.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Countdown to our first birthday!

This blog hits the big "01" at the end of August, so to celebrate this profoundly astonishing achievement (for those easily astonished) I asked the writers featured in my reviews to update me about their experiences, writing, struggles, etc...

Ian Goh, whose BORN IN THE RAIN was reviewed just last May (and remains the my only bona fide selection for 2007 so far), told me that soon after the review was published, an independent producer from L.A. contacted him. "It was the whole shabam with release forms and e.t.c." Ian wrote. "Now you may say that, hey, it happens all the time, but to this aspiring screenwriter this was the first!"

Ian is currently working on two new screenplays. Based on the quality of his first, I'm looking forward to what he has in store.

Dave Shailer got several queries for his script THE JEWELER'S WIFE as a result of the review. He has since rewritten it, completed a new Japanese-style horror script called DOKURO, and has been busy developing other script ideas dancing inside his head.

Shailer is also "working on a book for the UK scene," and while that sounds a bit cryptic to me, I'm all the more curious to read it.

Chris Woods writes, "I am currently writing that long awaited sequel to Hamlet... FORTINBRAS: SOUNDTRACK TO A NIGHTMARE. It is a medieval morality play which explores the dangers of absolute patriarchal power. Just as Shakespeare is considerably more complex than the Brothers Grimm (Hansel and Gretel), this is more complex than THE WITCH AND THE GARDEN and quite daunting to write because of the language. The two leads from that work, Luna & Terra, reappear as Princess Miranda and the witch, Clacinda. If this is successful as a drama, I will adapt it to screenplay form although I realize it would be an incredibly difficult script to market."

Mark York, whose AGAINST A RAPID STREAM gave the blog its first book review, has received some interest in the manuscript from book publishers. He's considering reworking it, a la a "novelization," in the future. Currently, York is writing a follow up novel about global warming, in collaboration with an editorial partner.

Be you a history buff or someone who appreciates nature, you owe it to yourself to check out
Mark's website and blog. He's a man who has travelled extensively all over the country, a jack-of-all-trades who is part adventurist, part scholar and Renaissance man. Many writers (aspiring or otherwise) would do well to get off their collective asses once in a while and step out into the open world; Mark's got the right idea, and is already well ahead of us.

Next week I'll be checking in with two other writers, both with some pretty fascinating and exciting, heartbreaking but hopeful stories to share. Until then, keep those submissions coming! The screenwriting contest ends on SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 30th!


Monday, July 23, 2007

Major announcement! Eighth HARRY POTTER book!

Actually, I'm just kidding about good old 'Arry. Sorry about that. (I'm sooooo evil, aren't I?)

But now that I have your (not so well earned) attention, I would like to make a little announcement on the topic of books.

Ever since Girl on Demand took down her PODDY MOUTH blog (an honest shame) I've received several requests to review POD (print on demand) books. I usually turn down such requests, preferring to read either screenplays or unpublished book manuscripts.

Well... I've changed my mind!

So, for all you self-published writers out there looking to get the word out and share your writing with the world, the Unsung Critic has finally heard your plight.

If you wish to submit a POD title for possible review, email me with a query or synopsis. If I agree to read it, you must send it to me in the form of a PDF or ebook. (In order to remain anonymous, I can not have things mailed to me.)

Should enough interest come from POD authors, I'll see if I might feature some book writing contests in addition to screenwriting.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Keep 'em coming!

Keeping up with the number of submissions is a little harder than I thought it'd be, so after lagging behind these last few months I'm happy to say I'm now finally caught up. I've read every script sent to me so far.

Some of you I've emailed privately, sharing some suggestions and advice. If you haven't heard from me and want to confirm that I've read your script, shoot me an email and I'll get back to you ... though I probably won't have time to give you specific feedback, or explain why your script may not have been chosen.

For those of you who sent me more than three queries or scripts, I've only reviewed your first three. I did this in the interests of the contest and to save time. Once the contest is over I'll take a look at the rest of what you've sent me. Same thing goes for book manuscripts.

We're already into the latter half of 2007, and so far I've only selected one script for review and cited five others for "honorable mentions". Why, you ask? Because I'm trying to be more selective in what I do and do not review.

On this note, I can not stress enough how important a script's opening pages must be! Remember, most script readers will toss a screenplay aside if they're not hooked into it by the first three to five if your script's brilliance doesn't reveal itself until the second or third act, it's more than likely they'll remain unread.

By contrast, if I read a script that starts out strong but bores me in the middle, chances are I'll still read it to its end. Again, first impressions are everything. yourself (and your scripts) a favor and make your openings clear, concise, and to the point. Don't waste your first two or three pages showing your main character as he or she wakes up in the morning, or looks at their reflection in a mirror, or drinks their tenth shot of whisky in a tiny, dingy bar. Those kinds of openings are not very original, and damn near sleep-inducing to a reader.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

More honorable mentions

I’m still sorting through submissions. Every time I think I’m almost caught up, more and more queries pop up in my inbox. So I’ll just level with you on two things.

First, I won’t say I’m down to less than ten scripts to read. Though I am. At this moment. But I will say that I’m almost completely worn out. You’re gonna hate me for saying that, I’m sure.

Second -- and you’re all gonna hate me for saying this, too -- no script since BORN IN THE RAIN has really knocked my socks off. (That’s tough to do. I’m a guy who is very attached to his socks.)

But some of what I read I really enjoyed … so it’s only proper of me to make note of them.

by David Shailer

THE JEWELLER’S WIFE was one of my favorite scripts of last year, so when David Shailer offered to send this follow up to me, I eagerly accepted. His second script was also very well written, but there the similarities end.

THE WINTERTIDE SPIRIT is a 19th century ghost story as seen through the eyes of a child. This is no horror frightfest, but a charming tale about friendship mixed with a little supernatural happenings here and there. I would have liked more emphasis on the ghost story, but on its own terms I enjoyed the script quite a bit; it's atmospheric and well fleshed out.

by Kathryn A. Graham

In the spirit of the best of Jerry Bruckheimer (c’mon, his stuff’s not all bad…BLACK HAWK DOWN, CRIMSON TIDE and ENEMY OF THE STATE were pretty kick ass, don’t ya think?), BILLION DOLLAR RANSOM is a contemporary military action/thriller involving a botched rescue attempt of oil workers kidnapped by terrorists in the Middle East.

With everything going on in the real world, this, er, Hollywood kind of story treatment feels a bit too G.I. Joe for my liking. But even if it isn’t my cup of tea, Graham tells a compelling story, crammed with oodles of military technical details and written with a strong understanding of structure and style.

Monday, July 09, 2007


For those of you interested in submitting to the screenwriting contest, two important updates:

First, I've now decided to extend the deadline to SEPTEMBER 30th, 11:59pm PST. This gives me more time to play catch up, and hopefully will allow more writers to send their work!

Second, I must regrettably limit the number of entries to NO MORE THAN 3 SCRIPTS PER WRITER. Some of you have sent me literally eveything you have, and while I appreciate your enthusiasm, I simply can't get through it all. So if you have several scripts under your belt, send me what you feel are your three best!

Thursday, May 31, 2007


Where have the months gone? Summer’s right around the corner and I have yet to post a bona fide script review for 2007. I can’t say that I never procrastinate, but I do try to meet my obligations. I pay taxes. I work. I shower and shave on a daily basis. Well, maybe not every day, but often enough. I still have a few more scripts to go, and expect to be done soon.

I don’t do it very often, but once in a while I invite a writer to resubmit his or her work if I think their first submission had promise. Such was the case a few months back with Ian Goh’s BORN IN THE RAIN, a lovely little screenplay that, at the time, I chose not to feature in a full review. (Though it did earn a small writeup in my previous post.) Yet when Ian recently contacted me again offering a revised version of the script, I couldn’t pass it up. Though I think it still fails to correct the significant flaws I saw in the material the first time around (more on that later), there’s so much that the script gets so wonderfully, perfectly right that I can now give it a hearty endorsement.

It’s always important for critics to keep an open mind (or is that “open minds”?), and The Unsung Critic is no exception.

Written by Ian Goh
35 Dairy Farm Rd,
#01-01 Dairy Farm Estate, Singapore 679052
Phone: +65 98715383

What a little thing of beauty this is – an offbeat, humorous, witty and bittersweet tragicomedy that balances a fine line between both cynicism and sentimentality. I could say that at times this story almost drowns in cute, gooey schmaltz, and is most certainly not a tale for cynics…but then I could also say at times it is so sharp witted, so clever and engaging, that even the most cynical minds will find much to enjoy and admire. It’s the sort of thing where you feel all sorts of emotions, leaving you both happy and sad, frustrated yet riveted, fulfilled yet wanting more.

Above all, though, I could say that BORN IN THE RAIN is a story crafted with a lot of love by a writer who actually gives a damn. How refreshing it is to read the work of someone who pours his heart and soul into his characters, rather than merely hammering out another script he thinks will easily sell.

You see, that’s the big problem I’ve had with most of the submissions I’ve received. They’re not stories, but soulless products…the aspiring screenwriter’s means to an end. (The end being that six or seven figure script sale, or a three-picture deal at Columbia.)

In the last nine months I’ve read scripts about science-fiction heroes, mafia antiheroes, superspy agents, serial killers, monsters, and even murderous shopping malls…but never have I read anything like BORN IN THE RAIN. Even with its faults, it always feels fresh and original.

The script follows the life and loves of a Brishen, a young man of oddity not unlike Holden Caulfield, Max Fischer, or Harold Chasen before him. (And if you don’t know who those guys are, shame on you.) When Brishen was seven, his father left him for another woman, so he grows up under his mother Roseline’s care -- a loving, if senile, woman.

The main story begins as Brishen is in high school, but he is not your common teenaged virgin misfit. He has a sharp, determined wit, revels in his status as a social outcast, and is surprisingly experienced in the ways of women. (The latter point deserves a significant carp, however, as Brishen’s lack of charm makes any girl who so easily falls for him a real stretch of the imagination.)

Brishen keeps his emotional distance from everyone as he tends to his mother, who is dying of liver cancer in a hospital. Her nurse is Rachel, whom Brishen was once involved, and who dutifully endures Roseline’s ruthless lunatic rantings and ravings on a daily basis. (More on Rachel later...)

Enter Amanda, a fellow student at Brishen’s high school, whom Brishen is paired up for class. Their relationship is thorny at first – Goh deserves significant credit for writing their razor-sharp exchanges – but when Roseline dies, the two teenagers form a real bond…that, naturally, soon blossoms into love.

This is not your ordinary, clichéd teenage romance, but a quirky, bittersweet and tender character study of two souls so wounded, they’re almost too frightened to love again. Knowing too well that love can be short lived, they still can’t help themselves from sharing it.

The middle act is a road trip, where Brishen, Amanda in tow, decides to visit his long-lost father. Not wanting to give it all away, I’ll just say that Brishen finds out much, much more than he ever bargained for.

The script’s first 3/4ths are often wonderful, showing not only a strong sensitivity to character, but written with a genuine cinematic style. Different moments and scenes are comically juxtaposed with dialogue and voiceovers, proving that there’s a real writing flair to go along with all that heart.

Up to this point, I only had a few reservations here and there. Unlike Amanda, Brishen’s previous love interests are neither adequately explained nor explored. Rachel, in particular, is a poorly defined character, and when she resurfaces in the script’s final act, it…

Well, I’m jumping ahead of myself now. Let’s backtrack a bit.

Another problem I had was with Goh’s use of a flashback device interspersed throughout the story. An unnamed old man narrates Brishen’s tale -- whether it’s Brishen himself isn’t clear until the end -– and while this keeps with the tone of Goh’s narrative, it adds little to the story. To use a voiceover is one thing, but to jump back and forth to redundant scenes featuring the old man seems not only excessive, but takes away from the flow of the central story.

The timeframe of the juxtaposing stories isn’t very clear, either. When the old man’s identity is revealed, it’s a bit confusing because both his story and Brishen’s story seem to be contemporary. (If Brishen’s teenage years were set in the 1950’s, it’d make more sense.)

Then comes the final act.

I’m sure it would work for some; I can appreciate what it means, and what Goh was trying to do. But how else can I say it? It annoyed the hell out of me.

Rachel makes a surprise return, and with her actions she pushes the story in a completely different direction. For me, it was the wrong one. Yes, I know life does that, but in the film it left me feeling both irritated and angry instead of moved or emotionally stirred.

This is why I was so conflicted over BORN IN THE RAIN. To use a bad sports pun, so much had worked up until this point, that when Goh threw a fast ball, I didn’t just duck. I fell onto the ground, got dirty, and had a bloody nose.

To Goh’s credit, his rewrite streamlined many of the first draft’s problems, and most of the script moves at a brisk pace. But it feels strangely incomplete. Plot doors are opened, but never fully explored, much less closed.

As it is, the final act might still work if Goh goes back and explores Rachel’s character a little more fully. Why is she this way? What causes her to do what she does? There isn’t so much as a single hint or foreshadowing about any of what is to come, and it feels jarring and maddening when it happens.

Those might seem like some really ugly warts, but the rest of BORN IN THE RAIN is truly, utterly beautiful. As frustrated as I am with it, I also love it. Like the magnificent film version of THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP – and even that movie had its critics – this is a quirky, unusual, and highly original love story that goes in all sorts of directions.

Is it commercial? Would it make money? Frankly, I couldn’t give a shit. All I know is that I will never forget it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Worthy runners in the race

Sorry I haven’t posted in so long. No, I have not fallen off the face of the earth, and no, contrary to the old claims of that Michael Wilde guy, I have not been involved with any kind of sting operation. (?!?!??!)

What I have been doing is reading your scripts, lots and lots and lots of them. I have still a few more to go, but I will get to each and every one. Promise.

So…what can I say about the stuff I’ve read so far? I can’t say I’ve come across a script that I’m enthusiastic about to the degree of IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THADDEUS THACKERAY, THE JEWELER’S WIFE, or PROGGER…but there were a handful of scripts I truly, sincerely liked, and liked a lot.

It’s given me an interesting, frustrating dilemma. If I were to review them in detail, I’d have to go into the fine points of (what I feel were) their faults...and you know how picky my reviews can be to start with.

Think of it like casually dating a really nice, sweet, intelligent person who, for whatever reason, you just know it’s not gonna work out with. They’re wonderful and you like them, but the sparks just aren’t there.

Now I’m not saying these scripts don’t have sparks…I’m just saying that these would stand as “Honorable Mentions” -- they may not be prizewinners, but they certainly deserve something. And with that in mind, I’d like to take some time to share them with you.

by Joanne Groshardt

Telephone: 972-644-4863

This is a charming, quirky romantic comedy of love and friendship, a sort of THELMA & LOUSIE meets AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER meets BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, about the middle-aged title character who, 30 years ago, had a night of passion with another woman and has never been able to forget it. She sets off to find her long-lost love, while keeping her friends and grownup son in the dark about the true nature of her gay experience.

by Michael Landers Langdon Bosarge

Telephone: 917-405-8275

A surprisingly effective teen/horror entry about five young friends who encounter a supernatural presence while on a weekend retreat in the woods. This is not your usual Hollywood slasher film, but a genuinely creepy tale of paranoia, hysteria, and phobia – and any description using three or more words ending in “ia” has gotta be good.

by Dwhyte Star
Telephone: 845-496-5203

Fresh off his previous entry that I selected, THE LIST, Dwhyte’s back in razzle-dazzle action with another screenplay that manages to up the ante on thrills, violence, and intensity. When a father striving to save his kidnapped son is forced into robbing his employers – and his employers could possibly be more dangerous than the kidnappers – it brings out both the bloody best and the bloody worst in dad.

And bloody it is. Dwhyte’s one hell of an action writer, though I can only hope (pray) that it's the product of a wild imagination and not a reflection of the guy’s actual life experiences.

And finally…

by Ian Goh

My favorite script so far this year is a beautifully, lovingly written bittersweet comedy/drama that can only be compared to THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP in its scope, whimsy, and (very) offbeat nature. It’s the story of a rather neurotic young man’s search for love, as well as the complete cluelessness and emotional vulnerability he experiences upon finding it.

I could go on and on about this one, but doing so would risk my giving too much away. Like with all the scripts I’ve mentioned in this post here, I am abstaining from detailed reviews so that these authors may submit revised versions of their work for possible consideration in the future.

Until then, The Unsung Critic's catching up on his reading... reading... reading...

Monday, March 19, 2007

Changes in the submission process

I've been receiving more and more submissions these last few weeks. I've also been getting a lot of junk mail...

To make sure everyone gets a chance to have their queries read, I'm modifying the submission process a bit. From now on, I will personally respond to each and every query I receive, whether your script is accepted or rejected.

If I do not reply after two weeks, please send me your query again. It's possible I may not have received it...or it was accidentally thrown out with the junk mail. :-O

Thursday, March 15, 2007

It's here! The Unsung Critic's first SCREENWRITING CONTEST!

You're probably wondering what's with the (now censored*) photo of the cute girl in a thong. A shameless ploy to grab your attention? Not exactly. I posted it because if you type in the word "contest" under Google's image search, this is the very first pic you'll get. Seriously.

Now that I have your attention, allow me to announce...OUR FIRST ANNUAL SCREENWRITING CONTEST!

Thanks to generous support from the folks at Final Draft, Inc. and Script Magazine, we'll be sponsoring a contest...with prizes!!!

The specifics about the prizes will be announced shortly, but here's a rundown of what you'll need to know:

  • The deadline is SEPTEMBER 30th, 2007.
  • To enter the contest, you simply need to submit your stuff as usual. That means emailing me a good query first, not just blindly sending me the script itself! Any scripts submitted without prior approval will not be read. I know it's a hassle, but give me some slack...I'm a one-man operation, and profiling someone's ability to write is much easier and faster through a quick query, rather than pages and pages of screenplays.
  • All scripts submitted to me since 1/1/2007 are already qualified for the contest. There is no need to resubmit your work. However, all scripts submitted to me prior to 2007 are not eligible. Sorry
  • No more than 3 entries per writer.
  • Please review my submission guidelines before asking any questions. If there's an issue I haven't covered that you're wondering about, you can email me.

Good luck to you all, and happy writing!

*Sorry if my censoring the photo offends you. That thong was just a little too small for comfort.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The end of an era...

I'm saddened and surprized to learn this morning that POD-DY MOUTH, a blog dedicated to reviewing the work of self-published books, is no more. :(

Girl On Demand's efforts were my main inspiration for starting this blog in the first place. I shall miss her blog's humor, wit, and wisdom, but I hope she finds happiness and success in her new ventures, whatever they may be.