Tuesday, 19 January 2016

MS SLOANE - POLITICAL BIOPIC

LOGLINE: A powerful lobbyist sacrifices her career on Capitol Hill so she can push through an amendment enforcing stricter federal laws regulating guns.

WRITER: Jonathan Perera

SCRIPT BIO:  Finished at number 5 on the 2015 black list with 31 votes.

INITIAL REACTION:

Overload. That's the word that springs to mind. This script was so dense it was the reading equivalent of blazing a path through a vietnamese jungle. 

That doesn't mean it wasn't well written. That doesn't mean the story isn't engaging, the dialogue great and the characters well rounded.

It just means it was like reading through marshmallows. If that makes any kind of sense?

This was a great script, it just felt like there was 40% too much writing here.

Let's get into it...

THE STORY:

ELIZABETH STONE is 48 and one of the most feared lobbyists on capitol hill. If you want anything lobbied for, Elizabeth can make it happen successfully. She is also a unique gem in the political world as she only ever gets behind bills that she believes wholeheartedly in. She can not be bought. 

We join Ms Sloane in the present day where she is in front of congress, being grilled on her lobbying techniques. She has been advised by her lawyer that she should only plead the fifth. If she says anything else she will waive her right to plead the fifth and must answer all questions.

Hiding behind the fifth is not Elizabeth's way. She is a strong proud woman who never takes the passive approach. 

As congress interrogate her, we jump back to 7 months earlier, where Elizabeth begins her journey. 

A new bill is being brought to the table that - if passed - would enforce stricter background checks on firearm sales. 

The pro-gun lobbyists set out to crush the bill. They have the unlimited check book and seemingly all the power they need. 

The gun-lobbiests hire Elizabeth's firm to engage Elizabeth on their behalf, but Elizabeth resigns and takes up the good fight with a very small team and little money fighting against these behemoths. 

The question becomes, how will Elizabeth defeat the most powerful players on capitol hill? And will she herself survive the battle?

CONCEPT:

I don't know if the idea here is big enough to warrant becoming a film. The subject is certainly topical. It's no secret that the American gun laws are archaic at best. America leads the developed world in gun violence by a huge margin.

But there's two problems with this concept. 1) There are no direct stakes if she fails. If the amendment isn't passed there is no one that we meet in the film that will be directly affected by it. 2) If it is passed, not much will really change. Instead of being able to buy a gun on the spot, people will have to wait 2 weeks to get their gun.

While that is a step forward, it's not such a HUGE win for anti gun laws that it's a cause that can drive an entire film. 

Now here's another problem with this concept - it's not real. This is not a true story. This is pure fiction through and through. 

I watched The Help recently - a brilliant film and story. But all the air was let out of that film when I realised it wasn't real. Not even remotely based on a true story. 

Human rights stories float much better if they're at least in part based on an actual event. 

CONCEPT RATING: 6/10

CONCEPT TIP: If you're writing a biopic styled film - make sure it's at worst loosely based on a real person, otherwise people won't care as much about your story.

FORM:

This script is incredibly well written, especially for a first-sale writer. But the fact that it had about 40% too much writing really made this a hard read. 

It also uses bold. A screen writing no-no. And he directs the actor by underlining dialogue, another no-no. 

FORM RATING: 6/10

FORM TIP: Beware too much of a good thing. We've all eaten too much chocolate in our lives at some stage. It made us sick, right? Or if not chocolate, something, alcohol perhaps or even your favourite health food. The premise here is universal. Too much of anything is bad. Here the writing is great, but it could really use a diet.

STRUCTURE:

The structure here was great. Despite every scene going on 30% too long, every scene was engaging. The story really moved at a great pace, and the best thing here was that you weren't ahed of the script. 

When a script is written precisely to the Hero's Journey it becomes easy to guess where the story is going to go next. That wasn't the case here. 

At no stage was I SURE that I knew what was going to happen next. There was a fantastic twist at the very end that I won't spoil, but there were quite a few mini twists along the way that keep you on your toes and wanting to read on.

STRUCTURE RATING: 8/10

STRUCTURE TIP: Throw us curveballs. The more you can surprise your audience the better. One great way to do that as a writer is to surprise yourself. When you find yourself at a pivotal junction in your script, think, 'what would surprise me?' If you as the writer didn't see it coming, then the audience sure as hell didn't either.

CHARACTERS:

Characters were really well rounded here. There was a great disparity between the personalities of the main players, and even the minor players stood out really well. 

There were, however, far too many ancillary players. 

I understand that this genre necessitates a huge cast, it is politics after all, it's hardly a one person show, but even still it felt like some of the smaller players could have been merged together. 

CHARACTER RATING 8/10

CHARACTER TIP: Understand all your character's personalities before you start writing them. The character work was great here, and consequently each character stood out in their own way. 

DIALOGUE:

Dialogue was also well executed here. Elizabeth is sharp and witty, but not to the point of being over written. Her dialogue, while full of zingers, feels real. it feels like this is a real person really speaking. 

DIALOGUE RATING: 8/10

DIALOGUE TIP: Beware the over written dialogue. Once you start to get a handle on writing dialogue, the temptation can be to make every line a zinger. House of Cards is guilty of this. While the writing in HOC is exceptional, it's often too exceptional, meaning that the dialogue doesn't feel real. Take the dialogue from Zero Dark Thirty. There's very few moments in that film where any spoken word felt written. 

VOICE:

What voice the writer has in this script I feel is drowned out by the over-writing. A leaner version would allow the voice to shine through. It is well written, but I didn't come away from the script with a sense of a clear and distinct writing style. 

It felt like a script that was written by a proficient writer. Nothing more, nothing less.

VOICE RATING 6.5/10

VOICE TIP: Allow the topic and tone of your film to dictate the voice of your script. 

PRODUCTION:

This will need an A list to get it made. 

Cast of hundreds = negative.

Mostly set in a handful of interior locations = positive.

Zero VFX = positive.

Subject matter is topical = positive.

The story just isn't hard hitting enough = negative.

This will be a 15 mill production at least. 

It is a low calibre political drama. That never equates into bums on seats. 

I wouldn't put money into this production.

SUMMARY:

A well written political drama. While it is over written, the twist ending makes up for that. Unfortunately I feel the concept lets this one down. If you really want this script to sell as a movie, I'd suggest basing it on a real anti-gun lobbyist. That way the picture will resonate more with viewers.

OVERALL RATING 6.5/10