This past month I submitted Adonis to BlueCat, one of the more significant screenwriting competitions, which before they judge gives you feedback on your script. I nervously opened what they sent me about Adonis, and I was pleased to find it encouraging!
"What did you like about this script?
The opening of the script is incredibly effective. Without ever going into any unnecessary explanation, we see from the very opening that this is an interesting subversion of the usual gladiatorial epic. There are so many stories of the hardened soldier who is made to see how the other half lives when he falls in love—and then to go native as a result (“Avatar” also immediately springs to mind); that this gender flip seems so obvious and clever, it’s almost hard to believe no one else has done it before.
The scene in which Aidan is forcibly held down and raped by a group of Roman soldiers is quite chilling; it also really effectively demonstrates what many men are unable to grasp about sexual assault. By envisioning a world in which women had dominance over men, the film acts as a sort of subtle feminist corrective to ancient history, and perhaps it will force men to see the historical patterns of subjugation have existed since the days of Rome.
The script hinges on the basis of its characters, and it succeeds based on the fact that they are each given their own legitimate grievances and motivations. Diana's need to maintain the status quo makes perfect sense within the context of her character’s position as a general, as does Aidan's need to see the system changed, because he is a slave.
The script never tries to make its characters “right” or “wrong” however; Aiden’s arguments with his sister Morna over which is preferable: to live as a slave, or to die seeking freedom, have a real emotional complexity and weight, precisely because neither is wrong; it depends solely on one’s vantage point.
The most emotionally affecting parts of the script then, are watching Aiden's confusion at Diana's behavior. He cannot understand that she wants him to love her, as he has only ever lived in a world where he has been someone's property. This is the kind of story line that we are so often used to seeing in many gladiatorial films, but the gender reversal brings it into sharp relief; again it's the sort of thing, where it is strange to watch men being stripped of their agency–and it is only then we realize that the script is making a very salient point about the treatment of women throughout history."
This makes me feel good about it because this person GOT it. They got the point of the script, the flipping of the gender conventions to make a feminist point about behavior– and of storytelling –down through history. They even seemed to think it was something new and never before been done! The point of Aidan's assault came across, and had the desired creeping effect. They bought the characters and found their relationships and interactions compelling, which are the heart of the movie.
I can't tell you how glad I am of this. It's proof of concept that our ideas READ, and that there exist people outside our little sphere who are able to read them. An actual reader, trained in the studio process of evaluating scripts, got the point of our transgressive film! That is huge!
"What do you think needs work?
While there is something to be said for the element of surprise, the fact that we never see more of Morna's plan coming together, almost makes the uprising feel less impactful than it could be. If we could see her passing the messages back-and-forth, or even more moments of Brigin helping her discuss the plans, I feel that the beat would land better.
And given the importance of Morna's belief in rallying the slaves to seek their own freedom, it seems a little strange that we never see her recruiting the other slaves, nor do we ever see them discussing their options. It would be intriguing, and the theme of freedom versus slavery could be taken further, if there was dissension among the ranks, and some did not want to fight. Aiden may be a symbol among the slaves, but this does not make him the stand in for all slaves, or all the plebians of Roman society.
And all though the successful uprising certainly does not mean they have won, something feels incomplete in the ending. Yes, we know that the greatest fight is to come, but it would be nice, if we could focus on their successes just a bit more, before we fade to black."
This is good criticism, though. It's useful, doable, and on-point with the rest of the film. That's the best kind. Basically the reader wanted to see more of the mechanics of Morna building the revolution so they could believe in its existence more. That was something that was challening for us the first time around, so I can understand it still needing more to come across. We can definitely add more with a little effort. And the last part, wanting a little more character presence in their victory at the end, is a very easy fix.
It's possible to edit and resubmit before the final judging. Bernie and I definitely think we will do that. The fact that an actual respectable screenwriting organization responded so positively gives us hope that this script has a prayer of getting somewhere in the real world.