Wednesday, December 20, 2006
And if that isn't enough to impress ya, it looks like Ms. Schultz will also be stretching her legs in the director's chair!!!
And most deservedly so, I must say. PROGGER is really a wonderful, charming script, and I'm happy that there are a few bigwigs out there who share in that opinion.
So there you have it: in the four months that this blog has been up, we already have a great success story...and some proof that The Unsung Critic is a good judge of material!
Here's to you, Angela...and to all other struggling writers out there. Put your passion to paper. Work hard. Never give up. Dare to dream.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Season's Greetings, and all-around good luck to each and every one of you.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
I'm quite surprized by the quality of these recent submissions! When I started this blog back in August, I got a lot of crap. Though going through it wasn't particularly entralling, it sure was easier on my free time; I'd need only to read a few pages (usually no more than five) before confidently tossing them into my office wastebasket. Now that the general quality of the submissions has improved dramatically, I'm reading them from start to finish much more frequently.
At least TWO new reviews are on the way. The first is for a script that is very, very good. The other script is...
Well, it did the unthinkable. It actually made me glad to be alive.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
These last few weeks have been extraordinary. I don't know how many inquiries I've received, but from all of them, I'd say I've ended up accepting roughly 1/3 to 1/2. (By "accepting," I mean that I actually agree to read the person's script, based on the quality of their query.) That's not a bad number, I must say. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt.
When it comes to actually reading a script, well...that's another matter entirely. It is rare that I read a script from beginning to end; I can usually tell by page 2 or 3 whether or not an author knows how to write. If a script hasn't caught my attention by page 5, I usually throw the towel in and move on to something else. (This is why a screenplay's opening scenes are so crucial!)
It might interest you to know that of all the scripts I've looked through so far, the total number of scripts I've managed to completely read from top to bottom are...less than ten.
Yup. Sorry to break it to ya.
I say this because if my "reviews" here seem a bit harsh, it's only because I have a pretty high standard. Don't lose heart over my ramblings. The Unsung Critic only likes to nitpick stuff he finds interesting in the first place. So to those screenwriters, please take that twisted logic and somehow try to work it into a compliment.
I'm going to change my policies a little bit due to the increase in queries I've received. First, I'm going to be more selective in which scripts I choose to read; this means your queries better be good. Second, I'm going to try to be a little more generous with my time in reading those scripts I accept. Finally -- and this is upon my request only -- I may offer to re-read a revised or rewritten script if I feel that the original draft had promise.
I appreciate the attention this blog has received, and hope that it's beneficial to you guys in the long run!
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Here's what she had to say -- I think it's a riot:
"And if you think I am insane for trying to wade through the sea of POD / Self-published titles, here's a guy with an even greater mental defect than I: The Unsung Critic. Instead of self-pubbed novels, he wades through screenplays. He's going to need a life-preserver for sure."
Thanks again, Girl ...and here's hoping I can hold my breath while waiting for that life-preserver. The Unsung Critic was never a good swimmer.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
Not so with drama. If a film aspires to have a high emotional impact, it’s a big, BIG challenge to pull off successfully, because so many more things are required to make it work. We’re usually so much more critical of whatever flaws the film may have, that, unlike comedies, we’re all too ready to scrutinize, dissect, and critique. Look at the recent example of the ALL THE KING’S MEN remake; here is a film with lofty ambitions, that aspires to be important…and fails. Critics are so much more willing to tear it apart, and audiences stay away in droves.
I write this because my next script selection is VERY much a high drama. In fact, of all the scripts I’ve read thus far, it has to be the most daring, intelligent, and ambitious. It is also one hell of a story. That the rest of the script falls short, in my mind, to the promise of this extraordinary tale might make my review sound overly harsh, or focusing too much on the negative…but this is only because I feel that the material has so much potential, that it has the makings of a truly magnificent movie, that it’s shortcomings seem so much more glaring.
THE JEWELER'S WIFE
by David Shailer
14 Welland Lodge Road
Tel: ++ 44 (0) 1242 237023
The time is 1943. The place is a Jewish workcamp within occupied Netherlands.
Ruben is gifted jeweler who, along with a small group of other Jewish prisoners, sorts through gold and silver fillings, watches, and jewlry for the Third Reich.
The film is set entirely within the realm of the workcamp. This claustrophobic use of setting creates an extremely tense atmosphere, and highlights an even more intense plot point: that none of the workers know exactly what is happening in the outside world (or so we think). The death camps are not even whispered rumors, as the prisoners cling to the hope that their work – as the Reich dutifully tells them – contributes to the building of Jewish resettlement camps in the East.
Ruben longs for his wife, Mara, who is being held at a “transition camp” far away. When the camp Kommandant asks Ruben to personally oversee the design and manufacture of a jewel-encrusted medal for a member of the Nazi high command, Ruben is now in a position to demand that his wife be brought to the work camp in exchange for his cooperation.
The good news: the Nazis reluctantly oblige. The bad news: they deliver the wrong woman.
This extraordinary premise is just the beginning of the story, and my God, it’s a doozy. Ruben now finds himself torn between admitting the truth to the Nazis, or “playing along” and giving this woman -- whose only fault was having the same name as his wife -- a chance to escape the death camps.
Shailer explores Ruben’s dilemma from every possible angle, and he succeeds every step of the way. That Ruben can not bring himself to send this “Mara” back is made convincingly clear; not only would it endanger her life, but possibly his own, as the Nazis would obviously be insulted by any more of Ruben’s demands. Add to that, Ruben is consumed by guilt over having to pass Mara off as his bride by sharing the same bed.
And so, Ruben must do what he can to bide his time over the next three months in making the custom medal, while trying to play the role of husband to a woman who is a complete stranger…and pray that somehow, somewhere, his true wife is still alive and can be found.
Before I go on with my criticisms, let me say this: Plotwise, the pacing and narrative devices the screenwriter has used are near perfect. Not once could I put this script down. There are scenes filled with such mounting tension…with one surprise after another…I was always on the edge of my seat…and, best of all, nothing about this script was predictable.
And now come my reservations…I almost hate having to write them. They may be minor quibbles considering the overall scope of the work, but again, there’s that pesky double-standard where writing dramas is concerned.
First is the dialogue. Too often Shailer’s characters talk with such flowery exposition it renders some scenes artificial. This is an easy trap writers – myself included – fall into, particularly in writing villains. The Kommandant is an interesting character – Shailer has given him more depth than one would naturally find in a Nazi – but at times his dialogue reduces him to scenery-chewing.
Another gripe is how characters often talk about their emotions, when there have been too few scenes to really illustrate why they should feel that way. I guess it’s the common “show, don’t tell” from Screenwriting 101.
The script moves fast, and it’s only 101 pages, so I think it would be a good idea perhaps for Shailer to include a prelude where we can see a bit of the relationship between Ruben and his wife before they were taken prisoners. It’s his love for her that fuels the entire story, and without seeing it, we can’t fully experience how agonizing his plight truly is. Also, when the “real” Mara does appear near the end, Shailer gives her little to do, leaving her ill-defined -- she's a two-dimensional figure rather than a fleshed out character worthy of Ruben’s love.
Without giving anything away, the script also ends abruptly…annoyingly so. I think adding an epilogue would help give the script much more dramatic closure.
So…as it is, THE JEWELER’S WIFE is not a great script…but with a little work, it damn well could be. The story is extraordinary, and so is this script’s potential.
Saturday, September 23, 2006
I should probably point out what kind of stuff I’m looking for in selecting a script to endorse. (As much as I hate using the word endorse, it is an accurate one.) I’ll start off by saying that I’m not necessarily looking for the next “best picture” winner, bajillion-dollar blockbuster, or something that has the makings of some groundbreaking cinematic and cultural event. Reading that caliber of material would be mighty swell, of course, but I don’t expect you to be on par with the likes of William Goldman, Dave Mamet, Charlie Kaufman, etc… etc…
And if you were, you probably wouldn’t need my help in getting your work noticed.
Some movies have the power to change the world. Some change our lives and the way we see things. Such films are few and far between; they come every few years, maybe a handful each decade, and their effects are profound.
But c’mon…let’s get real for a moment. Not every movie has to be The Godfather, Gandhi, Schindler’s List or The Right Stuff. Most of the time we go to the multiplexes for just a smidgeon of entertainment – a good laugh, a smile, a reason to feel an inch happier than the way we were before. It may not be braincandy…it can even be pure fluff…but if we enjoy ourselves, at least enough to not regret investing 2 hours and $10 bucks (or a good $15-$16 if you go to The Grove or The Arclight)…then it’s worth it.
It’s on this note that I’d like to introduce my next selection. It’s lighthearted, good-natured, relatively brain-free material…and it put a smile on my face.
written by Angela Schultz
PO Box 101
Valley Stream, NY 11582
Telephone: (516) 568-9710
PROGGER is a romantic comedy for the Jack Black/Ryan Reynolds generation. It has music, humor, cheesiness, and a lot of cuteness and charm. Though I had some reservations here and here while reading the script, its overall structure and style of writing are pretty good and definitely easy to follow.
Todd “Progger” Fitzgerald is pushing 30. His mother Rhonda – a rich, materialistic, controlling woman, who nevertheless genuinely cares for her son and wants him to be happy – constantly pressures him to renounce his bohemian lifestyle and get married already. Easier said than done, of course; Todd is just a little too set in his ways, and a little too lazy, to want to take his life in another direction.
And what a bohemian lifestyle it is. Todd’s obsessed with rock music -- his very nickname is an abbreviation of progressive rock – and shares his NYC apartment with the three other members of his band, all of questionable talents. He’s also obsessed with an obscure Swedish rock band, and plans to fly to their native country to catch their next big gig, even though the show conflicts with his obligations at work (an accounting office approaching the tax season crunch).
When a chance encounter brings a pretty girl named Alicia into Todd’s life, Rhonda’s expectations for the budding romance soar just a bit too high. Though Alicia’s a nice girl on the surface, she’s cut from a cloth all too similar to Rhonda’s, and, despite her best efforts, she’s nowhere close to understanding Todd’s musical passions, much less his ambitions for a music career.
To overcome his fear of driving, and to prepare for a potential new life with Alicia in the suburbs, Todd takes lessons from Kris, a local driving instructor. She’s down to earth and beautiful in her own right. Naturally, the two develop a friendship that deepens through the course of the story, ultimately evolving into an all-out love triangle between Todd, Kris, and Alicia.
Like virtually all romantic comedies, PROGGER is predictable. But criticizing the script for this isn’t exactly fair. It doesn’t take a sharp mind to guess what happened at the end of Sleepless in Seattle or When Harry Met Sally, even when you haven’t seen the films. Does that make them unenjoyable or unworthy? I think not.
What makes PROGGER work are the characters. Schultz injects them with such a degree of cuteness, only a real grouch wouldn’t find something to like. Todd is a bit of a slacker, and his actions often the result of a rather slow brain…but he’s so charming and earnest in his love of music, he’s a character we can all identify with.
The script has its problems. It’s made too clear, too early, that Alicia’s a girl so obviously wrong for Todd, one wonders why he bothered being with her in the first place. I would liked to have seen more scenes with Kris, or somehow have her injected into other “side” moments in the story, so there’s a bit more of a give-and-take dichotomy between the two women. Adding a surprise or two -- through either a plot element or an unexpected character quirk -- might also help give the familiar material a little extra oomph.
At 119 pages, the script is on the long side. Its middle section lags and the final epilogue seems a bit too contrived. Yet PROGGER is an all-around likeable, smile-inducing story. It may be lightweight...but it's also lighthearted.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
written by Dwhyte Star
This action/thriller rehashes virtually every cliché in the book: The world-weary reluctant hit man who sets out to finish one final job before quitting the business once and for all, only to find that (shock!) it's more than he bargained for.
Sound familiar? Absolutely.
Did I enjoy it? Hell yeah.
THE LIST doesn’t really offer anything new script wise, and, tragically, it feels a bit…well...incomplete. Characters that could have been explored and developed with more detail are left rather sketchily drawn, and there’s little to the plot beyond the familiar vengeance storyline. In style and tone, the script reminded me of the dark, gritty Mel Gibson thriller PAYBACK -- a film which, oddly enough, I genuinely hated.
So why have I chosen THE LIST as my first script endorsement? Because, truth be told, it demonstrates a definite writing talent. Star has three big strengths here, which managed to help me overlook the shortcomings of the plot.
First is the way in which the story unfolds. Rather than an over reliance on expository dialogue (so common to fresh screenwriters), Star tells his story with great efficiency of dialogue and prose, while slowly unraveling his characters’ backstories just a little bit at a time. This latter point, in particular, is quite refreshing. (For example, it’s not until nearly halfway through the script that we learn the main character’s relationship to the “boss” he’s working for – a genuine surprise that I knew I should have seen coming.)
Second strength: the action scenes. THE LIST clocks in at a fairly compact 97 pages, and many, if not most, of them are dedicated to fights, chases, brawls, fights, and more fights. There is one obligatory explosion, but (mercifully) most of what’s here is down-and-dirty, hand-to-hand combat rather than an indulgence in stupid pyrotechnics. I’m not sure how Star would envision the direction of these scenes, but I read them as more akin to those tough, gritty thrillers of the 1970’s, instead of the overblown stuff of the 80’s and 90’s -- and that’s a good thing. (What Peckinpah or Friedkin could have done with this material back then!)
The third -- and greatest – strength is Star’s knack for writing extremely sharp, dry dialogue, which alone made reading the script worthwhile. There are wisecracks and jokes aplenty, but rather than coming off as forced or cheap, they feel natural and very much in the spirit of the characters speaking them. (In writing this review I was tempted to include some excerpts here, but rather than risk giving too much away, you’ll just have to take my word for it – there are some real gems!)
So there you have it…the first official selection of The Unsung Critic’s blog. With a little bit of work -- and a good rewrite or two -- THE LIST has the potential to be a pretty decent flick…and Dwhyte Star has the makings of a pretty decent screenwriter.
Thursday, August 31, 2006
INT. APARTMENT LOBBY -- EVENING
AN ASPIRING SCREENWRITER opens his overstuffed mailbox. Ignoring the pages of crumpled junk mail spilling all over the floor, he quickly sorts through the various letters in his hands until he sees a SMALL ENVELOPE, with "Hollywood Agency" prominently marked on the return address. The screenwriter rips it open and pulls out its contents:
C.U.: A single sheet of paper with a typed generic message. Beneath the text is an obviously faux-stamped "signature."
INSERT: Quick glimpses of the letter -- "Thank you for your interest...", "...while your script has many virtues and is clearly well written...", "...just not commercially viable at this time."
The screenwriter unceremoniously rips the letter apart and throws it into a nearby garbage pail.
Yeah, I thought so. That’s why I started this blog: to help spread the word about quality writing.
So…how does it work?
In simplest terms, here’s what happens:
- You submit an initial query. (More on that later.)
- I'll email you whether I'm interested or not.
- If I am, only then should you submit your manuscript or screenplay.
- If I like it, I’ll give it a positive mention on this blog. If I don’t, well…try, try, try again!
Do I have to pay anything? What do you get out of this?
YOU PAY NOTHING! My only aim is to help promote the work of writers who deserve it. There's no other catch or agenda to it!
What kind of work do you accept?
For book manuscripts, I’ll tend to read only fiction or memoirs, though I’m relatively open to other genres. I might read some short stories and non-fiction works, but I’m rather selective in that arena. I will not, however, read porn/erotica, cookbooks/instruction guides, religious/motivational doctrines, or poetry.
For screenplays, I’ll read any genre, provided that it is for a feature-length film. That means no short film scripts, no spec television pilot scripts, no unfinished “treatments”, etc…
I’m a writer and want to submit something for your review. What do I need to do?
For ALL submissions, you must follow these guidelines:
- Email me (email@example.com) a one-page query, with a basic synopsis of your book or screenplay. Keep in mind that your query letter gives me the first impression of your writing talents, so if it’s less than stellar, chances are I won’t be too keen on reading anything more from you.
- I will email you a reply and let you know if I am interested in reading your work.
- It's at this point you should send me your manuscript. If I like it, my review will be posted to the blog.
Why do I have to submit a query? Can't I just send you the script instead?
Please understand that I am a one-man operation, and have only so much time. Reviewing a query is a much, much easier and more efficient way for me to gauge your writing ability. If your query is well written, chances are I'll be excited to read your script, too.
What are you looking for in a query? What makes you choose one over another?
I read queries mainly to judge the quality of your writing, rather than the premise of your story. I try to be open to any and all genres, so the query review is more about whether or not you can write clearly and in complete sentences. It may sound like a hassle, but it saves me a lot of time.
How should I submit my query?
A simple email to firstname.lastname@example.org will do. The query should be in one of three formats:
- Within the body of the email,
- An attached WORD document, or
- An attached PDF file.
How long will it take to get a response?
About a week or two.
What if I don't hear from you?
If you don't hear from me after two weeks, email me the query again. I get so much junk mail that maybe I accidentally deleted it.
I will reply to every query, and will let you know if I will accept the script or not.
Why did you reject my query?
Maybe your query didn't thrill me. Don't take it personally, and don't give up on your writing! Remember, practice makes perfect, so chin up and write, write, write!
Can I send you more than one query? I have a lot of scripts under my belt.
Please submit no more than 1 query every six months. I can only read so much material, and other people deserve a shot to have their work reviewed.
My script/query was not selected. Can I resubmit it if I do an extensive rewrite?
Only if I ask. I don't do it very often, but sometimes I'll give feedback to a writer and encourage them to resubmit their work after they've made some changes. I do this for those scripts that I feel have promise, but didn't make the cut for whatever reason.
If you agree to read my manuscript/screenplay, how should I send it to you?
Email it to me as an attached MS WORD or PDF file.
Can I mail you a hardcopy?
No, sorry. My mailbox is too full of coupon booklets and porn to accomodate big manuscripts.
How should I format my manuscript/screenplay?
- Screenplays should adhere to the standard American format (12 pt. courier font, appropriate tabs, etc.), and clock in anywhere from 90-120 pages. (A little over or under is OK...) If you don't know what the standard format is, look it up. I won't read it if it's not properly formatted.
- For manuscripts I'm a little more flexible. The standard manuscript is usually 12 pt. courier font and double-spaced, but I'd actually prefer a single-spaced document, with wide left and right margins -- similar to a galley copy. It's easier on the eyes and faster to read.
If you end up liking my work, how long would it take for you to write up a review on your site?
Give me about three months. I know it's a long time, but I'm a busy guy! And PLEASE DO NOT email me for updates in the meantime. Again, I have this heart condition, and...oh, you get the point.
Will you let me know in advance if you've selected my work for review?
Sorry, but no. You'll just have to come back regularly and see for yourself. I get lonely, so I need frequent visitors.
When you post your review, how much of my plot are you going to give away? I'm afraid someone might steal it.
My reviews are usually very basic, with a general description of the major plot and characters. Rest assured, I am often cautious about giving too much away, as I want readers to discover the work for themselves.
Any other important things I need to know?
- REGISTER YOUR WORK BEFORE YOU SUBMIT IT! This is the golden rule for all creative writing, and it's for your own good. Contact the Writers Guild of America or Library of Congress for more information.
- Include your contact information with your submission, so that I can place it within my review. A great writeup is no good to you if people don't know where to reach you.
Do you review POD (print on demand) or self-published books?
YES! Just submit a query and I'll get back to you; the guidelines are pretty much the same as for screenplays. If I agree to read your book, please send it to me as a PDF or eBook.
So...just WHO ARE YOU? I have to know!
For his own safety and well being, The Unsung Critic prefers to remain anonymous. He will, however, indulge you with these four facts:
- He lives in Los Angeles, and has been working within the entertainment industry for over twelve years.
- He worked for over three years as a professional script reader (at two film studios and one talent agency).
- He is the author of three published novels and seven screenplays, three of which have been sold, and another two currently under option. (Sadly, he has yet to see any of his scripts actually produced.)