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.

Friday, February 23, 2007


Mud-slinging. Tirades. Media frenzy. Ballot-counting controversies. Long-winded, self-congratulatory speeches.

It’s that time again…and obviously I’m not talking about the next presidential election.

Many people have been asking me about my thoughts on this year’s Oscars nominees. And however much the purist, creative part of me wants to frown on the bloated, glittery proceedings, I’ll just go ahead and admit how much I love watching it, warts and all.

Each year brings some notable exclusions from the nominations, but the 2006 Oscar race had some unforgivable sins. Everyone balked at the failure of DREAMGIRLS to get nominated for either best picture or director, but for me, the biggest oversight of all was clearly the relative absence of both UNITED 93 and CHILDREN OF MEN from the list; they were my two absolute favorite films of the year, and hardly anyone even bothered to see them. (Thanks, guys.)

There were some surprise nominations that did not sit well with me. Djimon Hounsou cried and screamed his way through BLOOD DIAMOND, a film that also squeezed an inexplicable acting nod out of Leonardo DiCaprio’s sneering/tough guy/bad accent/romantic lead…instead of his genuinely gripping, worthy supporting perf in THE DEPARTED.

Some other films I loved -- THE ILLUSIONIST, APOCALYPTO, and FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS -- took nominations in only minor categories, while others -- V FOR VENDETTA, FLUSHED AWAY, and the clever indie BRICK -- were completely, tragically shut out.

And please, somebody tell me which Academy dunskies decided to give nominations to crap like CLICK and MARIE ANTOINETTE…just so I can bombard them with spam porno emails.

Yet some happy surprises came too: The inclusion of LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE in the best picture race…Ryan Gosling, Marky Mark, and Abigail Breslin’s dark horse nominations…Paul Greengrass’ nod for UNITED 93…these restored a little bit of my faith in The Movie System.

My thoughts and predictions for the major nominees:

Best picture: Babel, The Departed, Letters From Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine, The Queen
What will win: The Departed
What should win: a tossup between Babel and Letters From Iwo Jima
In a perfect world: Children of Men would have been nominated and won

Best director: Clint Eastwood, Stephen Frears, Paul Greengrass, Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu, Martin Scorsese
Who will win: Martin Scorsese
Who should win: Martin Scorsese
In a perfect world: Scorsese would have already won years ago, and while The Departed is a good movie, let's be honest; it's not his best. I would have liked to have seen CHILDREN OF MEN's Alfonso Cuaron grab the gold this year based on that film's merits, rather than as compensation for obvious oversights in the past.

Best actor: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ryan Gosling, Peter O'Toole, Will Smith, Forest Whitaker
Who will win: Whitaker
Who should win: Whitaker
In a perfect world: There'd be a tie between Whitaker and O'Toole. Whitaker obviously deserves it, but O'Toole's perf is so jolly good, one wishes that they could share the damn statuette.

Best actress: Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep, Kate Winslet
Who will win/should win/in a perfect world: Mirren's royalty all the way.

Best supporting actress: Adriana Barraza, Cate Blanchett, Abigail Breslin, Jennifer Hudson, Rinko Kikuchi
Who will win: Jennifer Hudson (take that, Simon Cowell!)
Who should win: Jennifer Hudson
In a perfect world: This is a really tough one, as everyone -- yes, even the little miss sunshine -- is deserving of the gold. Of the group, though, I'm really torn between Hudson and Breslin.

Best supporting actor: Alan Arkin, Jackie Earle Haley, Djimon Hounsou, Eddie Murphy, Mark Wahlberg
Who will win: Eddie Murphy
Who should win: Alan Arkin, whose perf in LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE is the screen's most adorable grouch in years.
In a perfect world: Brad Pitt's heartbreaking turn in BABEL would have brought him to the podium.

Best foreign language film: Efter Brylluppet (aka After the Wedding), Indigenes (aka Days of Glory), El Laberinto del Fauno (aka Pan's Labyrinth), Das Leben der Anderen (aka The Lives of Others), Water
Will win/should win/in a perfect world: Pan's Labyrinth

Best animated feature film: Cars, Happy Feet, Monster House
Will win/should win/in a perfect world: Happy Feet

Best adapted screenplay: Borat, Children of Men, The Departed, Little Children, Notes on a Scandal
Will win: The Departed
Should win/in a perfect world: Little Children

Best original screenplay: Babel, Letters from Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine, The Queen, Pan's Labyrinth
Will win/should win/perfect world: Little Miss Sunshine

Anywho...those are my thoughts/feelings/guesses. I wouldn't put any money on it, but the gossip is half the fun. I'll see you after the ceremony! (Not that I'm going, of course. I just like to imagine it.)

Friday, February 02, 2007

Words of Wisdom...

Long before I created this blog to review screenplays, a fellow anonymous critic, “Girl on Demand,” created her own blog to review self-published books. Just as the Gods bestowed their divine powers to a young boy so that he could become the mighty Shazam, Girl’s POD-DY MOUTH gave me inspiration to become…THE UNSUNG CRITIC!

Okay. Lousy analogy. But be you a wannabe screenwriter or novellist, you owe it to yourself to check out her blog, where she shares a great deal of sage advice about not just publishing, but the craft—and process--of writing.

Check out this excerpt from a recent post:

Before you publish you need to get an objective audience to read your book. I cannot overemphasize this enough. If every POD author did this, it would reduce the number of terrible POD books and greatly improve the ones that are being self-published.

You'd think the most frustrating part of finding good books to review would be the suffering: the traversing of absolutely horrible writing. Not so. Those texts are easy to toss aside [delete]. The painful ones are the books that are almost there, the ones that not only would be great books, but would probably find their way to a commercial publisher.

So here's what I suggest you do: Join a writing group. Regardless of what you may think, your writing is not better than the other hacks there (I was part of one for years). And take a look at how many commercially published authors thank the folks in their writing groups in their acknowledgements sections. They work--if you can take criticism.

And if you can't? Man, you are in the wrong industry.

Your book, from the first time it is released (into the wild) is being critiqued. Agents, editors, book reviewers, amateur book reviews (read: Amazon), and so on.There are a lot of things you can do to improve your novel or memoir (like hiring an outside editor) but nothing does the trick (and costs nothing) like a writing group. If you hire an editor, she may tell you to change the way a character speaks or to delete a scene or whatever. But with a writing group you get to listen to other people discuss your book, where one person may want to see a change but another may totally disagree.

Or the entire group may be telling you the same thing--in which case, that thing needs to be fixed.

Having a finished manuscript on your hard drive is not enough. I know it seems exciting to imagine it could be in the marketplace in a few months (supposedly) but if you take the time to get involved in a writing group, it can make the difference between an Authorhouse logo and a William Morrow logo on the spine.

I couldn’t agree more.

When it comes to personal frustrations over reading work that almost works, Girl really hits the nail on the head. It’s something I’ve now experienced myself reading so many scripts over the past few months--where a handful have some things really, really going for them, and a potential for greatness, but fall short for some reason.

While I want to be more selective in what I finally review in the blog, I’m also trying to interact with writers more by offering a little feedback and advice through private emails. I can’t do this for everyone (I wish I could), but I’m at least trying to do it more often.

My point is this: even the best writers need a little outside guidance from time to time. Whatever your method—writing groups, writing partners, email exchanges, etc.—try to get as much feedback as you can before taking the plunge into the deep sea of agencies, producers, and talent scouts. You'll be glad you did.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Book Review: AGAINST A RAPID STREAM by Mark A. York

In this town virtually everyone and their aunt Martha is an aspiring screenwriter, but I wonder how many of them have ever taken time out to read, much less write, a book…and not just any book, but a nonfiction book. (Most people’s idea of nonfiction these days is The Da Vinci Code.)

In case you’ve forgotten, my blog also features reviews for unpublished books as well as undiscovered screenplays, and out of the 100+ queries I’ve received, only one was for a book manuscript…and not just any book, but a nonfiction book! Enter my first official review for 2007…

AGAINST A RAPID STREAM “With Arnold 1775”: Major Reuben Colburn, Benedict Arnold, George Washington and the March to Quebec

by Mark A. York
10799 Sherman Grove Ave., #39
Sunland, CA 91040Tel: 818-352-5433

Yes, that title’s quite a mouthful, and while the book is similarly crammed with historical references and impeccable research, it is also written in a relaxed narrative prose which flows quite nicely, clocking in at a relatively brief 56,000 words.

This is a family chronicle of sorts, focusing on Reuben Colburn, who served as a Major in the American Revolution and to whom the book’s author is descended.

Reuben Colburn is a Major in the militia, a patriot activist, and the chairman of the local Committee on Safety. From his house in Colburntown, he travels to Cambridge three times in the summer of 1775, meeting with George Washington and Benedict Arnold, trying to help organize the Revolution. They eventually hire him to build boats for a trip upriver to capture Quebec City, with the promise that he would be compensated in the future.

Colburn builds the Bateaux and with his brothers, and Abenaki Indians Sabatis and Natanis, guides Col. Arnold and his 1,000 man army on the tortuous, ill-fated journey.

Arnold goes on to infamy, while Colburn has a successful career in local politics and becomes one of the voters to ratify the U.S. Constitution. But, in the book’s most bittersweet passage, Colburn’s fate would be to die almost penniless, as Washington never honored his promise of compensation for Colburn's efforts. Colburn's children even continue the dispute after his death, but to no avail.

I’m a sucker for history books, and I’m also fascinated by the relatively unknown tales—the smaller family stories passed down, generation to generation, which remind us that these titans of American history were, in fact, human like the rest of us. But it’s hard for me to really review a book like AGAINST A RAPID STREAM because it’s a fairly straightforward work.

As a document of history, this is to its benefit. As an emotionally gripping read, it presents a problem. I liked it, I admired it...but it also left me a bit cold.

York rather fleetingly mentions the research he made into his family’s past, involving years of traveling and exploration. This subject matter is interesting in its own right, and I wanted to know more. Perhaps if York interspersed chapters from his own life—a writer’s journey into his family’s past—with the historical accounts of his ancestors, it would give the narrative a more personal and emotional touch. I guess it depends on the type of document York is looking to create, as well as the kind of readership he hopes to entice.

Regardless, AGAINST A RAPID STREAM is a worthy read, and I recommend it.

Now if only that title wasn’t so damn long.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Part 2 of my Q&A with Adam McDaniel, author of IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THADDEUS THACKERAY.

Here’s the second part of my Q & A with Adam McDaniel, whose script IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THADDEUS THACKERAY was my choice for the best of 2006. (You can read the first part of the Q&A here.)

TUC: Let’s talk a little about your writing background.

McDaniel: I don’t know if I really have one—I never considered myself a professional writer. It has nothing to do with selling or making a living, but a discipline I honestly haven’t developed yet. I write only when the inspiration hits me—I’m lucky if that happens once a year—and I think a real writer’s someone who can sit down and pound on a keyboard for x-hours a day, everyday, regardless of how tired or exhausted they are. My friend at Vassar, Jeff Davis, was always like this; he started out as an I.T. guy at Fox, working all day then coming home to write for four or five hours each night, even if he felt like shit. Jeff’s quite well known now, having gone on to create the tv series Criminal Minds. I’m not in the least bit surprised by his success. My only gripe against him is that he’s barely in his thirties and looks ten years younger, the fucker. (laughs)

TUC: You mentioned Vassar College. What was your experience there like?

McDaniel: Great, great teachers--Thaddeus Gesek, who I mentioned before, and especially Ken Robinson, who taught film production.
I studied film and drama, and at that time my focus was much more on directing, production design, and cinematography than writing. I did write and direct a play my senior year—an intense, dramatic, three-hour vanity opus that had the misfortune of opening the same night as an on campus Billy Joel concert—but again, my interest was much more geared towards making short films. One that I did went on to win a few awards, and I was very proud of that. I didn’t develop much interest in writing until much later.

TUC: Well, let’s hear about it.

McDaniel: I started out by writing short film screenplays. Actually, if you want to get used to writing scripts, my best advice is to start out small—and shorts are literally the best way to do it. They serve you best as an educational experience, a way to develop your writing skills.

My first full-length feature script was HEAVEN SPENT, a dark comedy/fantasy that was like a sadistic version of It’s a Wonderful Life meets City of Angels meets The Devil’s Advocate. I wrote it in 1999, and in 2000 it was actually featured in a nice writeup on Harry Knowles’ entertainment website Ain’t It Cool News, as one of the best “undiscovered” scripts of the year.

TUC: That’s a nice bookend to my writeup on Thaddeus Thackeray!

McDaniel: Yeah! They don’t do amateur script reviews on that site anymore, so I’m glad we have you to fall back on. (laughs) That review on Aint It Cool got me a lot of calls from agents and production companies, and while everyone liked the script and my writing style, they said that the genre I was working in was too risky, citing films like Bedazzled, Down to Earth, and Little Nicky, which had all come out around this time and flopped.

TUC: Have you tried entering screenwriting contests?

McDaniel: I did on Heaven Spent, but not with Thaddeus yet. Unless it’s something major like the Nichol Competition, I think scriptwriting contests aren’t really useful, and usually they require a hefty fee that defeats the purpose of submitting in the first place. There aren’t many free contests out there. I did find one, “Words From Here,” that I submitted Heaven Spent to, and it was awarded second place. But again, I don’t like contests that charge people an arm and a leg—like what, forty, fifty bucks?—to fund “their” prizes.

TUC: Amen.

McDaniel: Yeah, so be warned: if you ever start charging people fees for reading their stuff, I’ll have a major bone to pick with you. (laughs)

TUC: Don’t worry. (laughs)

McDaniel: Well, you can charge a little. Five bucks maybe.

TUC: Not my style, man.

McDaniel: Awesome.

TUC: Looking at your website I see that you’re not only a published author, but a stunningly talented artist! Of the two, which do you enjoy more—art or writing?

McDaniel: It depends, though I’ve always been a very visual person, and would have to consider illustration to be of greater personal interest and satisfaction.

TUC: Reading the Thaddeus Thackeray script, I noticed it’s very visually written. Has your art and film experience played a part in your writing?

McDaniel: Oh, absolutely. I’ve also worked as a cinematographer and set designer, and those have helped me, too. What I like about screenplays is that you can write visually without getting too bogged down in prose. I think I’m good when it comes to visual descriptions and dialogue, but coming up with the initial concept, the basic story, has always been the tough part.

TUC: You’ve also written two books.

McDaniel: One I’m still working on, the other came out in 2002—a “novelization” of Heaven Spent, retitled HOW TO SUCCEED IN HEAVEN WITHOUT REALLY DYING. (laughs) It’s available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and a bookstore near you. Hint, hint.

TUC: On your website you posted some big news…

McDaniel: Yeah, the book was recently optioned and is being developed as none other than a stage musical… (laughs) …the last thing on earth I ever expected! I think the workshops will begin in late 2007 or early 2008, but it depends on the composer’s schedule. He’s right in the middle of another project, so it'll be several months at least.

TUC: Will you be involved with the musical’s creation at all?

McDaniel: I’ll help only if asked. I pretty much handed over total creative control, which is fine by me as long as I get my percentage. I’m divorced enough from the material now that I think it’d be better for someone else to come in and give it a fresh makeover. I just want it to be fun more than anything else. I trust the guy in charge completely.

TUC: Tell us about the book you’re currently working on.

McDaniel: God, that’s a tough one—I need to shift gears. (sighs) It’s the biggest challenge I’ve ever had as a writer, and one of the biggest personal challenges I’ve ever come across. It’s called CHASING ECHOES THROUGH THE DARK, and I’ve been working on it with a kid named Danny Wessler for over three years.

TUC: What’s it about?

McDaniel: It’s based on Danny’s experiences back when he was 16. He’s been blind since birth, and for years he suffered from sexual abuse. It’s hard to write because not only is the subject matter very severe, but since I’m writing it from Danny’s point of view—the view of a blind man—I’ve had to abandon all the writing conventions I’m used to.

TUC: The visual descriptions?

McDaniel: Exactly. But Danny’s also a sculptor—he’s had stuff in exhibits all over the place, even in Japan—so he really has an extreme tactile sense that in many ways compensates for his blindness. But try to put yourself in his shoes. Do blind people have visual imagery in their dreams? How do they fantasize when they can’t picture someone? These are questions we explore in great depth in the book. It’s so much harder than I ever thought it’d be, and Danny and I’ve faced a number of setbacks over the last three years that seriously delayed the project. Personal things—not with each other, we get along great, but emotional things that happened in each of our lives which forced us to take a break every so often, for the sake of the book as well as our sanity. But the book is coming along, and we’re going to finish it this year. (laughs) But I said that last year, too!

TUC: We have to talk about these (Thaddeus Thackeray) concept designs you sent me! They’re fantastic. Did you do them?

McDaniel: I wish! (laughs) They’re actually the work of Jeff West, a visual effects and storyboard artist. Now I like to think of myself as a pretty decent artist, but Jeff has a drawing style that really captures what I envisioned Thaddeus to be, and I can’t draw the way he can. It’s funny…I initially came across Jeff’s work on several Indiana Jones related websites, and, never having met him at that time, thought about asking him to work on Thaddeus. But I was too shy, and didn’t...until, lo and behold, a year later I start a new job, and, on my second day, I pass the workroom of a young guy with a gigantic Indiana Jones poster plastered to his wall. We introduce ourselves…and it’s Jeff! The guy whose work I’d loved all along! We’ve become good pals now, and are now collaborating on turning Thaddeus into either an illustrated book or an all-out graphic novel.

TUC: That’s great! It would totally work as a comic book, too…though personally, I’d prefer the big screen treatment.

McDaniel: Ditto, my friend. Ditto.


You can see more of Adam’s artwork at To learn more about Chasing Echoes Through the Dark, go to