TITLE: CONFIDENTIAL REVIEW DATE: Classifications: Character Driven, Film, Non- Fiction, Live Action, Independent (avant- garde) Genres: Drama, Period Piece, Racially Based, Courtroom, Murder, Prison, Political Location: Southern small town in the deep south, Local courtroom, Jail, House(s), Supreme Court, Office(s) Time Period: 1946-1947, 18 Months Budget: 2,000,000-5,000,000 Rating: PG-13 Pages: 116
Logline: An attorney takes the case of a teenage convict that survives the electric chair, and fights it all the way to the Supreme Court on the basis of cruel and unusual punishment. Synopsis: True story of the appeal process after African- American 16 year old boy who survives the electrocution attempt by the State of Louisiana in 1946. The Governor signs another death warrant, sentencing Willie to be electrocuted again until he dies. Recently discharged from the Armed Forces, local attorney BERTRAND DEBLANC (30) reluctantly takes up the case. Willieâ€™s poor father cannot afford a lawyer so Bertrand offers his services without charging a single penny. Bertrandâ€™s wife supports him in his decision. He re- appeals in the local court in an effort to try to stop the second execution, citing it as cruel and unconstitutional punishment. As the appeal is denied by the local court, Bertrand takes the case to the Louisiana Supreme Court, which stops the execution of Willie temporarily and then later denies the appeal. Bertrand takes the case to the US Supreme Court in Washington with the help of a Washington Attorney. The court decides to hear the appeal, and ultimately rules to allow a second execution since there was no evidence that the state botched the first execution by 6-3 votes. While the opinions are being written out by each Justice, 4 of the Justices on the jury switch their vote from affirm to reverse the sentence, making the final vote 7-2 to reverse the sentence. Only Chief Justice and another Supreme Court Justice stay in favor of the second execution. So they both take up the task to persuade the other Jury members to switch their votes to affirm the death sentence. Their efforts result in final vote of 4-4 in favor of the second execution and one un- decided vote of the Supreme Court Justice FELIX FRANKFURTER. Justice FELIX FRANKFURTER, opposed to capital punishment, casts the deciding vote in favor of allowing the execution, based on his belief that the law is more important than his personal feelings, but later works behind the scenes to try to get the sentence reduced to life in prison. Bertrand is not able to support his family because representing a black man in a murder trial brings him a lot of negative publicity. But his wife supports him in his endeavor. Willieâ€™s family knows the hardships faced by Bertrand and they try to repay him by their own way. Two weeks before the second execution, Bertrand discovers the two original executioners were drunk. He appeals the Pardon Board to give relief in Willieâ€™s case. Due to the influence of one of the judges, that initially sentenced Willie, and is seeking a higher appointment, the relief is denied. Bertrand decides to present the new evidence to the US Supreme Court and appeal for a motion in Willieâ€™s case. He borrows money from his sister and flies to Washington. The nine Justices, who had earlier sat on the committee to decide the fate of second execution, are flabbergasted by the disclosure of new dimensions in the case which plainly portray that Willie was framed in the case. The Justices do not provide relief, but do issue an opinion that gives Bertrand reason to hope he can get the execution at least delayed at a lower court level. Bertrand, running short of time, is nearly convinced by Willie to simply stop his efforts. Willie feels he will die regardless of the outcome, due to vigilante justice, and is concerned with the toll the case is taking on his ill mother. At the last moment, he tries in vain to stop the execution, but time runs out before he can see the judge.
OVERALL (3) Bears consideration for the scope and intensity of its subject matter. Likely to draw viewers that take interest in history, law, and general drama involving the human spirit, the script presents actual events, carefully presented in standard three act form, and is bound to provoke thoughts of our personal growth, and our societal direction as human beings. The story is powerful, factual, and easy to understand. It takes an approach that aims squarely at the process of the legal system and the motivations of those within it, rather than the facts of the individual case. It is compelling, and offers a thoughtful and enlightening glimpse into an event that was a key to changing societal mores.
PREMISE (3) In 1946 a teenager, Willie Francis was electrocuted for the murder of a local pharmacist, and survived, due to bungling by the drunken In 1946 a teenager, Willie Francis was electrocuted for the murder of a local pharmacist, and survived, due to bungling by the drunken executioners. A new order was issued, and Willie was set to go back to the chair seven days later. A close friend of the murder victim, Bertrand, recently discharged from the armed forces and anxious to build his law practice, regretfully takes Willieâ€™s case, believing that the state is wrongfully subjecting Willie to double jeopardy, and cruel and unusual punishment. Bertrand finds little sympathy or support in the local and state system, and with the help of a friend in Washington, Skelly, takes his fight before the Supreme Court. Focusing heavily on the personal struggles and hardships of Willieâ€™s family, and Bertrandâ€™s own crumbling practice, the script carries us through the see- saw of hopes and disappointments in the year between the botched electrocution, and the second execution, the first in American history. A good job portraying the events, and establishing the major attitudes, good and bad, that represented the times. Stays focused on the legal process, how the thoughts and motivations of those directly involved ultimately carved the events, and the direct impact on the primary players. The story could benefit from more depth in regard to the original trial that is the fulcrum for the events that drive the story.
STRUCTURE (4) Based on real events, it carefully adheres to a presentation within the framework of the accepted three act structure, beginning with the failed execution attempt, Bertrandâ€™s reluctant decision to take on the case despite the potential harm to his personal career, and building an ever increasing tension to the final resolution. Some sluggishness in the opening of act 2 could be strengthened with more case background.
DIALOGUE (2) Dialog is sufficient to the task, but fails to rise above average due to its general verbosity, often expositional nature, and lack of sub text. Instead, action lines are used extensively to push â€˜feelingsâ€™ and give direction to what should occur naturally from the dialog and tone of the scenes and circumstances.
CHARACTER (3) Clearly defined and individual, characters are easily discernible, believable, and appropriate to the story and setting. It is difficult to gauge how strong characters are, or would be, without the excessive non visual descriptive. It â€˜tellsâ€™ a lot about the characters, but stripping away these non visual elements and relying solely on action and dialog does present a clear image. The characters actions, reactions, and dialog draw a three dimensional visage the audience can easily understand. The inner conflicts, especially with Bertrand and the justices of the high court, are well constructed. Personal arcs are evident for primary characters, and internal oppositions are fleshed out. Bertrand believes in the death penalty and yet fights on principles of law and fairness. Justice Frankfurter, ideologically opposed to the death penalty, is the deciding vote that sends Willie back to the chair. These represent strong and well defined internal conflicts that change these people dramatically.
CONFLICT (4) The overriding conflict is universal and obvious. A teenage boyâ€™s life hangs on the outcome. At a personal level, Bertrandâ€™s career is at stake, and the future direction of the entire countryâ€™s values, sense of fairness, and moral compass are challenged. This is set in a time quite unfamiliar and alien to most Americans, who take many of the premises here for granted, with little thought of their origin, and the deep divisions that existed at the time. These personal decisions, made by a few people, echoed for years after, and helped prime the evolutionary pump for our current views. At a more personal level, each of the primary characters face conflicts that help show us who they are, how they think, and what values they hold most dear.
PACING (2) Grabs attention quickly, opening with the attempted electrocution of Willie. The scene is vivid, detailed, and engaging. The third act is consistently strong, weaving through an array of political, legal, and personal roadblocks as the clock ticks away for Willie. The second act slows after the initial reprieve, occasionally focusing too heavily on personal challenges and losing sight of the primary focus, Willieâ€™s plight, and the mechanisms in play to try and change the outcome. This is not about Willie, but about the ideas of justice and fairness, and this is sometimes lost to the individual hardships and struggles of those involved.
ORIGINALITY (2) It is difficult to find original concepts and style in a story based on actual events, that, at itâ€™s time, was very well known and highly discussed. Moreover, the idea of this type story is not original, but being focused on a singular case that played such an important part of our legal evolution, originality is not a primary factor in its marketability or interest. This story has been told by the author before, as a documentary.
WRITING ABILITY (2) Follows the general format of a screenplay with regard to the margins, scene headings, and usage of elements. It runs longer than needed due primarily to excessive description in detail, a tendency to overemphasize the emotions and feelings (directing the actors), and an unconventional use of â€˜dialogâ€™ within descriptive passages, such as, â€˜He nods at Willie: â€�youâ€™re doing good, kidâ€�.â€™ It is obvious the author is so â€˜closeâ€™ to this script, and so determined to set the â€˜toneâ€™, that we are hammered with instruction, detail, and unwarranted directional feelings. There is no trust that a director or cast would be able to understand these things based on setting, concept, character, and dialog. Overall, this hurts, rather than enhances what the writer intends.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- THE ABOVE REPRESENTS A STANDARD INDUSTRY COVERAGE. THE WRITER'S ANALYSIS CONSISTS OF THE ABOVE, PLUS NOTES, AN EXAMPLE OF WHICH IS BELOW. NOTE THAT THE NOTES BELOW DO NOT PERTAIN TO THE SAME SCRIPT AS THE EXAMPLE ABOVE. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- NOTES:
This is a professional quality presentation in terms of format. Action and description is concise, while still being descriptive. Your style and voice is apparent. It demonstrates a confidence in your ability, and rightfully so.
The story opens with a females panties at half mast, so you hooked me in the first action line..
Your first line of dialogue. "SUNNY Hold still. You want this fucking duck up your quack?" A marvelous start that does much to set the tone.
Top of page 3: 'happens' = happen.
"defcon five fidget mode" Nice :) "INSOUCIANT" - Might want to consider 'carefree' or some other descriptor more commonly understood.
p.4 "Should I have texted?" - sigh. like a still shot of today's youth. Nicely done.
Love the easy dialogue between Katie and Kyle. Builds a solid picture of their relationship, establishes facts I'm certain will come into play, and is totally believable. Good job.
p.12 "Snuff juice trickles out of the corner of her mouth." A great visual.
p.15 Katie's 'bad feeling' seems too telling.. It practically screams that the trip is trouble, when the previous set up already was doing a good job foreshadowing. I think a simple look of concern after she says "Don't go" and Kyle laughs, would put a fine point on this without hammering it. Then drop the "No, I mean it..." line and the "Sis. Please stop." from Kyle's response. Then Kyle's response starts with "This job..." as a reaction to her look of concern. Trust your viewer.
p.20 "Her strain is visible to all but the Husband and Wife." I wasn't aware that anyone other than the 3 of them were in the office.
p.39 Katie giving Zeep a new hat, with straps!, was cool :)
p.40 Again, a minor suggestion, but when Zeep pats her hand, I'd get rid of the 'there, there...". Then when she cries in earnest and he holds her and pats her back, I would again get rid of the 'there, there' and just use "You're a brave girl". I think this would give it more visual import.
p.45 top. Kyles dialogue to, or sparked by, the sharks, didn't ring natural to me, and I think misses a chance to be more visually emotional. I would consider replacing 'Please, stop' with a worried groan, and the "Go away. Go away. Somebody, please, help" with a frantic scanning of the water, a desperate plea in his eyes to see someone, something, out there. The pounding on the board is good, and coupled with a worried search of the horizon would have a solid emotional impact. Again, just before the dolphin saves his ass, I would increase the tension and replace his dialogue with action, maybe THUMPING a shark on its snout as it passes, almost losing his balance and falling in, etc. I think raising the tension here adds impact to the joy the dolphin brings. "Thank you, thank you, thank you! You beautiful, magical, magnificent beings!" I like this, but less is more here. Consider something like "Thank you, you magnificent son of a fish!"
p.49-50 With the fire exchange, I think this is a place where dialogue, even a simple emphatic NO! would play better than simply shaking her head.
p.52 I'll have to remember that nipple trick the next time my wife is depressed... Wonder what that will get me :)
p.56 Bit confused as to why Katie has been wearing a brace she hasn't needed. Habit? Part of her plan?
p.61 "She's my final duck. Time to start a new life." Nicely done.
p.66 Katie has found Kyle now, and it would seem all is well, except that Zeep is gone and the focus here must obviously change to whatever mysterious plans he had from the start.. That's ok, and reminds the viewer that the rescue of Kyle is not the theme, or the goal, but only one of many obstacles that stand in the way of her true change, which is to overcome her false sense of what makes a person secure.
p.70 Just finished finding out Zeep's story, at least in part. The question that arises to me is the timing of all this. Zeep loses his leg and is rescued by Marcus's ship and they find some of this treasure Zeep had. Now Zeep, worried about them putting 2 and 2 together, a logical concern, is in somewhat of a race. What I don't get, is how Zeep wins this race. If he lost his leg and had to not only recover from that, but be fitted with an artificial leg, and train with it, etc.. then I don't get how the 'bad' guys hadn't already been back and snagged the treasure.
Not sure exactly what Kyle is recovering from, or how much time has passed here, and I think that's important, considering the treasure hunt. Was Kyle actually injured, or just exhaustion?
p.73 "Abandon ship!" funny.
p.79 "You're wrong. Time is not money. Time is life." Awesome line! It does much to reinforce the theme.
p.86 "stokes" = strokes... unless of course this crazy new Katie set the duck on fire...
p.92 Check Katies dialogue. There is an unneeded 'is'.
Alrighty then. How can I help you make this better... I dunno. Truthfully, I always hated challenges that forced you to work certain things in, but I can see the value in them. Hell, I set my own challenges. Your notes indicate the requirements were: " the story had to revolve around some sort of illusion, had to have a ticking clock element, the protag had to arc 180 degrees and the elements of: a herb, an unusual animal or sidekick, and an object you could fit in your palm had to be woven into the story in a significant way"
I don't think the inclusions hurt the story, so that's the most important thing. The 'elements' were certainly woven into the story in a significant way, but did they strengthen the story? That's harder to say, since we don't know what your own creativity and imagination might have incorporated in their stead. The whole duck thing actually fit in quite nicely I think, and you filled the bill with unusual sidekick both in Zeep, and to a lesser degree, with the zany chick Katie worked with in the start. After reading your 'requirements', I couldn't help but wonder if little miss zany was originally going to serve the purpose of being the unusual sidekick, given how detailed she was.
Structurally, I found this interesting. It followed the promise of the log line, but not without fooling the reader/viewer. It was easy to lose track of Katie's 'true' theme, goal, or challenge, which is summarized beautifully when Katie says 'time is not money. time is life'. There are other places where the theme, which to me was 'there is no promise of safety in life' was stated more directly, but emotionally, I think Katie's noted line was the most powerful in the script. In the telling of the story, the reader/viewer is taken to a false ending, mistakenly coming to believe that the rescue of her brother is the ultimate goal, and then discovering it's not, eventually understanding that it serves as the experience, or catalyst, that ultimately allows her to make that change, even after her relapse into false security.
One area I think can be tightened is the occasional heavy handedness of making sure we 'get the point'. This is a subtle problem, and one that is always difficult to balance. The importance of making sure your audience understands what you need/want them too, but allowing them the sense of 'discovering' it on their own, and feeling good about themselves for getting it. I have touched on this in a few specifics in the notes above. But this is a minor issue here, and one that can easily fall to the other side of the fence if attacked with too much gusto. That's a very real problem as well, since we, as writers, know our story so intimately and oft times can't understand when a reader doesn't get it.
I found the characters themselves to be well defined, personable, and unique. Job well done in that regard. Dialogue was crisp, realistic, and expressive of character, except in a few spots where I think opportunities to say less and show it instead, were missed.
I think the tone was consistent throughout. The only jarring changes were when Zeep sucked her breast, which was a surprising but effective action, and then in the end when she changes and trashes her apartment. I think maybe a slight toning down there might be helpful, as the point is certainly made before she wrecks the whole place.
I think too, in this reconciliation with Zeep scene, you can draw more emotion here. She loves him. We all know that at this point. She knows it. He knows it. She was hurt, and as women will do, she wants to make sure he gets how badly she was hurt, and pays for it to some extent, but I think you can draw deeper here and make this more emotional, rather than just a 'timed' event, if that makes any sense. It kind of comes across as a 'how many times does he have to apologize before she accepts' kind of feeling, and I think with your talent, you can 'live this out' better internally and get more emotion and depth here. This is a standoff, when it could be a real fight. What if Zeep points out to her that she suffers from her own 'kool-aid', that she went right back into her shell of false security, that she exhibited the same weaknesses he did, made the same mistakes, and like him, finally saw the light. You have it in you to make this a very powerful scene.
Lastly, regards writing ability, style, and mechanics, you hit on all cylinders. This is an easy read with only a couple small errors, and it is filled with your voice, one that is tuned well for this type of story. It was a pleasure to read. It would receive a PASS if submitted to a production agency, but serves as good representation of your skill in the craft, and as such, might well garner a 'Consider' for the writer, with or without condition. As you wrote this specifically for a challenge, and were therefore forced to include specific elements, it may be do quite well in that competition, with only the minor points mentioned addressed.