A posting on my facebook wall re my script consultation

Got a great posting on my Facebook wall from Doug Winningham. “Thank you for your precise and professional notes on my screenplay “Among Thieves.” You’re right: it took a lot of work to get it right but I’m very proud of the results.” Thanks, Doug, for using my services.

Sample Coverage A

An sample of my written coverage. In addition to this, my coverage service also includes written notes on the script as well as a one hour in person consultation.

What works:

It’s important to have a hook when doing a reincarnation film and there is an interesting idea here of a person who has been killed in three past lives because of a murder he committed in one of his past lives against four people—that each person he killed was reincarnated and killed their murderer’s reincarnation.
The idea of * not wanting the baby born because it has no soul is arresting, especially when * says that * will die (pg. 7).
There is a good hook in that the baby in the coma comes out of the coma when * dies.
There is something infectious about * when he first appears. He has a certain tongue in cheek quality about him.
There are some good scary scenes, especially when * is being chased in the hospital (this is the strongest of the scenes).

What doesn’t work:

The central problem I have here is the focus of the plot. At this time it tends to sort of go all over the place without a central through line. It does sort of all come together at the end, but at this point, I really think the audience is going to be struggling to put it all together, spending more time trying to figure it out, rather than be into the drama.
There are several areas to look at. The first is how the theme of reincarnation and karma is used, especially for a film that is supposed to be commercial. The one general problem the audience may have is that they may feel that * is not deserving of the ending. She is a likeable person, an obstetrician, smart, together, nothing like * and she ends up committing suicide for something that she did in a past life, something she can’t even remember, something that is not reflected in her personality right now. The audience may be very unsatisfied with what happens to her. This doesn’t seem to be a fulfillment of *’s character or her character arc, but is rather a fulfillment of *. If this is a comment on karma, that’s fine, except that it’s such a negative idea (that someone, no matter how good their present life is, has to pay for sins in a past life), that to make it work for the audience, I believe it would have to be discussed and made more central to the story. Even so, for a commercial picture, this may still be problematical.
Also, the story seems to start out being about one thing, a really neat idea about a soul not ready to be born and how that affects *, but then becomes another. I believe the audience will so latch on to this first idea that they will think that the shadow following * has some immediate connection to the soul not being born and they will be waiting for that mystery to be answered (I never really understood what the shadow was that was trying to kill *). Then it suddenly seems to become about *’s past lives. It’s not until pg. 78 that the baby in the opening is brought back into things. I believe this is far too long to connect things up.
The character of * starts out being kind of interesting, but there’s something off about his motivations. He’s a lab technician that has taken up hypnosis—how did this come about? He looks up * in the hospital; does he just coincidentally happen to work at that hospital (is it the same hospital that * works at)? That may be problematical (of all the hospitals * ends up with she just happens to end up with one that just happens to have an old school mate that just happens to be into hypnosis and reincarnation even though he’s a lab technician). Then he seems to disappear for long periods of time. But since it’s his idea that * may be reincarnated, I would think that he would be with her every step of the way during the investigation. But he seems to be a character that’s there to do the bidding of the authors and disappears when the authors don’t need him. But he’s an important character and if he’s as interested in the truth as much, if not more, than *, then he’s going to be there all the way. Also, on pg. 106, * says they were brought together—but it may be unclear how they were brought together.
I believe there are some problems with the plot and that you might want to check with lawyers and psychiatrists and psychiatric hospitals. I believe that after * has made what may seem like a death threat (pg. 7), * would immediately report this to her superiors and the hospital’s lawyer (they would probably have an interview about what happened with the baby anyway).
I was unclear why the police searched the house for an intruder (* has attempted suicide, but hadn’t told anyone she thought there was an intruder).
After * attacks *, she’s immediately put in a special unit without a hearing (I believe, but the authors need to double check, that since a crime has been committed and * claims to have been attacked, they couldn’t just commit her, but would have to have a legal hearing).
One major scene is * doing experimental procedure. I don’t believe that * could use an experimental procedure on * without her signing off on it (if this is intentional, it needs to be dealt with). At this point it only seems a plot device to give * a reason to get her out of the hospital, which doesn’t work for me.
Once * escapes from the hospital, I didn’t understand why the police aren’t looking for her (she’s dangerous—she attacked an orderly).
I had problems with the transition on pg. 35. It still seems like a stretch that * thinks her problems may be due to a memory. Part of this is because there’s only been two scenes where he’s talked to Catherine. He doesn’t really have the information to come to this conclusion.
I didn’t understand why *’s parents were completely oblivious to her being put in the hospital (after all, * is not her next of kin and has no authority—they would need to call her nearest relative).


You need to develop * more.
I believe you first need to find an ending that will satisfy the audience when it comes to karma and reincarnation.
You need to link the baby in the coma with the events that follow it.
You need a more focused through line.
You need to justify the shadow following her or drop it.
You need to fully develop *’s character and make him more integral to the plot and make his appearance on the scene more satisfying.
You need to build up * and *’s relationship.

When it comes to *, don’t think of this as a movie about reincarnation, but about a woman who discovers that something is happening to her that leads her to believe she has been reincarnated and that that’s affecting her life. It’s about a woman who…, not a concept. I suggest you write 3-4 pages, whether you use all of them or not, that explores her before she goes into delivering the baby. I suggest these scenes be her getting ready for work, which will have her interact with * (thus developing their relationship more); her arrival at work and what she does when she first gets there; her first rounds; you might consider having her go to therapy that day; perhaps in therapy she gets the call for *; she calls * on her way to the hospital and tells him that she’ll be late for whatever they’re planning that night (which explores their relationship more).

When it comes to the shadows, I think you push it too fast. I like a slower build. I think the structure starts going off a little starting on pg. 8. The authors might consider a different build. Have the scene where * talks to the lawyer and her boss. She goes to get her car and she sees a shadow briefly. She calls * on the way home and he agrees to come over. She takes a shower. When she turns off the shower, she hears the breaking glass. She thinks it’s *, but then she sees the shadow coming to her.

I believe you need to write *’s story whether they use it or not. You need to dramatize (or at least summarize) what * is doing when he’s not on screen.

In addition, it is suggested that * say that if the soul doesn’t enter the baby by the 21st, the baby will die.

Though the location of * is good and works (I assume it’s based on a real place), you might consider placing it in a place closer to where * and * are (they are both drawn to the area), or have it take place in Alaska.

Movies to study are women in danger films, especially those with a supernatural element.

Coverage Sample B


What works: There is a potential here for an Alfred Hitchcock type thriller in which an innocent man gets involved in something way over his head and has to use his wits to get out of the mess he’s found himself in. One of the best scenes that demonstrates this is on pg. 49, where * pretends to be a customer in order to get away from *.
I liked * as a prophetess and thought she was an intriguing little personality. She’s mysterious, yet fun, and is effective in her little scene with *. Also, the idea that she purposely died to save * is intriguing. The use of * is also interesting and the ending of *’s death and the parallel to the story of Appointment in Samara holds potential and does contain a certain poignancy.
There were certain individual scenes that worked. The */* scene when the conversation turned and it became clear that * was giving * a personality test (pg. 19).
There were times when the contrast between the *’s philosophy and modern technology were effective, such as bikes able to get farther faster because they’re not hampered by traffic; * frustrated with the computer in the hospital (pg. 25—a good parallel to frustrations with calling customer service and only getting a recording).
The use of *’s Catholicism is a good idea.
The characters, though I had some reservations, do generally talk like people and have a basic personality.
Good scenes and lines:
Pg. 1
D-Clone Labs: We Bring Good Seeds to Life is very clever
Pg. 2
Appointment in Samara movie, a nice touch
Pg. 7
The Robot
Pg. 69
Don’t get Mad, Get Even

What doesn’t work:

The author should consider changing the date from 2020. 2020 is very close to now (or at least close to the year when the movie will get made, assuming it takes five years to get made and released from now). The author might consider making it 2050 (as a variation of 2005—re, 1984 was written in 1948) or something similar like 2500.
The first issue the author might consider is that he may not have found his story or conflict yet because there seems to be a lot of stories and conflicts and I’m not sure the author has found the way to tie it all together. There is the conflict between *s and * over technology. There is the serotonin deaths. There is the * preaching that there is a second coming. There is * being the chosen one. There is *’s story, giving birth to another chosen one, which may be slowing down the plot because it doesn’t interact with *s enough. There is * wanting * out in order to tear down the building his office is in. There is the parallel to the story of Appointment in Samara. I had a hard time pulling all these different strands together. And the author might consider that he may be over complicating the plot unnecessarily.
One of the problems here may be that the story right now is not really about people, but about an idea (or ideas, which may be an additional problem). The main difference between this and a Hitchcock film is that for Hitchcock the character came first and the idea (or maguffin) came second. Another difference is that here the maguffin is very important whereas for Hitchcock it was very unimportant and it could be anything. It’s fine for the maguffin to be as important as the characters, but the characters still need to come first.
I’m not really sure I got to know * all that well. There were moments (such as when he and * talk about the eviction; he and * have their scene; some of the * and * scene in the elevator), but the rest of the time, he seemed a bit nebulous and it also took a long time for me to get to know what I did about him. Even in some of these scenes, at times * seems to say things (like his comments against technology and comments against “Christian Punk”) that the author wanted him to say, not that he would say. This was also true for some of the other characters. In the end, I never knew why he was so opposed to technology, why he repaired watches (which is technology), why he was so isolated and kept to himself so much, why he didn’t want to take up the *’s generous offer and move. I also didn’t feel like I got to know * much better. I also didn’t know why she was so against technology. It may also be unclear why * works for the * if he believes in a different religion.
The author talks a lot about religion, especially Christian religion, but I had two difficulties with this. One, here religion permeates this society in such a way that it doesn’t now. Everything revolves around religion, from street preachers, to stores, to TV shows, etc. It may be unclear why the U.S. has undergone such an extreme religious “conversion”.
Second, like the plot, there seemed to be a lot of different strands of religion and this sometimes confused me. For example, there seemed to be three or four different beliefs in a second coming of a Messiah. There was a street preacher in the beginning (but I wasn’t totally sure what his Messiah was about). There was * trying to protect * because he’s the chosen one. There was the * belief in a second coming (I never really understood how a second coming worked into * or how it benefited them). There was * giving birth to a Messiah, but I wasn’t sure how he was going to be the Messiah.
People are going to assume that * is Scientology and that * is someone like Tom Cruise. But there seem to be important differences, as well, and the author may need to address this.
Also, when it came to *, by pg. 30 I didn’t really understand what was so awful about their beliefs. One: I was never quite sure what their beliefs were. The only mention of them is * who said their goal was to avoid suffering (as opposed to Catholicism, but it may be unclear what is so bad about this) and that * is trying to avoid paying taxes. But since the author hasn’t demonstrated that it isn’t really a religion, it may be unclear why they should have to pay taxes. The author seems to also want to draw a parallel to * and modern technology, i.e., * is bad because modern technology is bad, and I didn’t really see the parallel, why * supporting modern technology is bad (or that they particularly support modern technology any more than any other organization). At this point, the author may be depending too much on the audience drawing parallels to * and Scientology, but just drawing the parallel isn’t enough. The author really has to demonstrate there’s something wrong with *.
Also, the author might consider that at this point, the followers of * seem to be very happy, together people, while * and even * seem rather sad, isolated people. Is this a conscious choice?
* is a good character, but at this point she may come too much out of nowhere, and the author may want to do more with her introduction (pg. 13). She may work fine, but it’s something to consider. And it is suggested that the author dramatize her purposely walking in front of the *and *’s car. I was never quite sure how the watch fit in.
From a plot standpoint, for me the story doesn’t really start until pg. 47, when * has to flee for his life. Up til then, * didn’t seem to have a goal or do anything.
I was also unsure about the scene on pg. 53, that it quite works yet.
On pg. 95, * comments about the heifer being genetically engineered as if that would mean it doesn’t count as part of the prophecy of the second coming, but I’m not so sure.
The ending with *, though it has a poignancy, puzzled me. It may be unclear why * was surprised to see her in the hospital. The hospital is not so far away from where he was to meet her that he should be surprised. In Appointment in Samara, death saw the hero in a totally different city.

Other things to consider:
Pg. 1
Surveillance cameras: consider leaving off the ostensibly to enforce traffic regulations—there are cameras around and they are very clearly for surveillance
Pg. 3
It may be unclear why the billboard says The Messiah is Coming (who would pay for that ad) or what the payoff is
Pg. 3
Are we suppose to know this is * (on the earlier billboard, it doesn’t mention a picture of *)
Pg. 4
It may be unclear why the Talk Show Host only compares * to Catholicism; that would apply to most Christian religions and would also be in opposition to most Eastern religions, if not Islam
Pg. 4
I wasn’t sure what the robot meant by “One of you gentlemen not eating?”
Pg. 17
It is suggested that * call the police for *
Pg. 18
It may be unclear that * is being disingenuous when she seems to be against messing around with nature
Pg. 26
It may be unclear why *’s going to the hospital, or why would she go to a * hospital
Pg. 30
How did the doctor and nurse not see *
Pg. 31
Small detail—Immaculate conception refers to the birth of Mary, not Jesus
Pg. 32
I was unsure why the author continued to list specific ads in the elevator
Pg. 33
This reader didn’t understand the relationship between the experiment on the cats and *’s belief that SS is purposely given to people so that pills will be sold to combat it
Pg. 46/47
It may be unclear that the audience will recognize * as *; it may be unclear why * doesn’t ask why * brought up the accident
Pg. 63
Christ rose on the eighth day?
Pg. 68
The purpose of this scene may be unclear
Pg. 72
Why would it be hard to get a picture of *
Pg. 95
Why did the transmission go black
Pg. 98
It may be unclear why * couldn’t miss her just because she’s pregnant

Why is the baby black.

I can make certain suggestions, but first I need to understand what you are trying to do with the Second Coming.
The most important elements for me that you might consider focusing on:
The central maguffin here seems to be this Serotonin Syndrome and it is suggested that the plot revolve around that.
The watch having something important that the * needs.
The need to tear down the building.

This would mean consider dropping the conflict over technology between the *s and the *. The conflict might instead be over medication. It may also mean dropping the Appointment in Samara parallel and the focus on the Second Coming. Or finding ways to bring them into the picture.

Focus the plot by focusing on the character of *. I would first suggest he not be the Chosen One and never be referred to as that. *’s baby should be the chosen one. Then he’s a relaxed, rather happy go lucky guy who hates the rat race and has simplified his life. Maybe his father committed suicide because of pressure from modern times. Maybe he just got fed up. But he likes to ride his bike, read, visit art museums, walk along the beach.

It is suggested that that * not be a watch repairer, but he goes to a man who is a watch repairer. It’s this guy who doesn’t want to sell to *. Maybe he finds the man dying and the man gives him something before he dies that the * needs, or can implicate the * in something. Or the man dies, but leaves the building to *, asking him not to sell it to the *. * gives him the watch, which may have something important in it that the * wants. When * won’t sell, they set * up as the murderer of the old man and he must flee for his life.

It is suggested that * be *’s aunt, that that’s why * goes to the hospital and that * and * become more involved after *’s death (such as * takes * to the doctor’s office).

Have the Appointment in Samara refers to * not to *, but * will have to be a bigger character.

Think Alfred Hitchcock

Screenplay Consultation Philosophy and Fees

When providing coverage or script consultation, I am a firm believer in not providing feedback based on a set of rules one gets from a popular book on screenwriting. All coverage should be based on the idea of trying to make a script work on its own terms. I don’t care if a character is active, passive, or reactive, but only if the story works. I don’t care if there is a three act structure and the first act ends on page 30, but only if the story works. I don’t care if the central character has a character arc, but only if the story works. I am a great advocate of writers trying to break the rules and find new ways of communicating their visions.

My charge for script consultation is $150.00 and consists of doing three to four pages of detailed notes, making notes on the script (if a hard copy is provided) and a one hour in person consultation. Turn around time is one week or less.

I also provide four to five pages of notes alone (no notes on script, no in person consultation) for $50.00.

I began doing script consultation in 2003 for the Slamdance Screenplay Competition. That year and for the next three years I discovered the first place winner. I quickly became one of their top readers and my coverage is used as the sample on their web site. In addition, I have read for the Slamdance Teleplay Competition (where I discovered the first place winner the first year) and the Horror Screenplay Competition. Also through Slamdance, I originated and co-produced the Slamdance on Stage reading series in which the winners of the competitions were provided staged readings of their scripts at different legitimate theaters around town.

At the present time, I provide coverage and am a reader for the Slamdance Screenplay Competition and the Big Break Final Draft Screenplay Competition. I have also read for Here! Networks/Regent Entertainment, Creative World Awards, the African Film Commission Screenplay Competition and been a judge for the Great Gay Screenplay Contest.