Tag Archives: responses

Adonis made the top ten percent of the BlueCat Screenplay Competition!

They’ve finally begun the rounds of judging for the BlueCat Screenwriting Competition, and I am delighted to announce that Adonis, the screenplay I wrote with Bernie, has made the top ten percent of Features for 2015!


I am so happy about this. I had been feeling pretty good when we got our initial feedback from the contest, and I felt like it gave us a really good direction for the edit. The version produced for this one was the one that we would be judged on, and I felt it was very strong.

Though this was the last possible version to submit, BlueCat actually offers a second round of feedback on it, which I’d been meaning to write about here but hadn’t gotten around to. Bernie and I felt like our first reader grasped the script really well, giving us both astute positives and valid, useful critiques, so we asked to have them look at our next draft as well, but unfortunately they were not available. That made me nervous, as we had addressed their criticisms specifically. But our replacement seemed to get the piece as well! It’s such an encouragement to see that people with film industry training and perspective can get behind a piece as challenging as this one.

“This is both a period drama with a dynamic twist of fantasy and a powerful love story with considerable erotic frisson. It is set in the era of the Roman Empire – but a version where women are in charge. The screen direction on p.4 lays it out very clearly “Everywhere one looks is the grip of matriarchy; every slave master, every owner of property, every magistrate or enforcer of the law. Wherever there is position of power or authority, it is filled by a woman.” There is no question as to which is the second sex. This storytelling device allows the writers to take a fresh approach to somewhat tired material (a gladiatorial contest) and ask some pointed questions about a civilization that resorts to bread and circuses to keep dissatisfaction contained. It also paves the way for some deliciously bawdy inverted sexism (e.g. Orestea’s line on p.22 “he would make Vesta dampen her hearth” or Tamar’s reference to “Aphrodite’s saddle. The cradle of a horsewoman’s pleasure” on p.24). This inversion of the usual sexual hierarchy is very thought provoking. It causes the audience to rethink attitudes to both historical cultures and our representation of them. If a male general were to have a relationship with a female slave in the way Diana connects with Aidan, it would seem like a well-worn trope. However, switching their genders causes us to think more deeply about the power dynamics in such relationships, as opposed to taking the sexual chemistry for granted. The writing comes from a place of authority regarding such contests, and describes the protocol and the weapons used (e.g. Aquila’s gladii on p.19) with confidence, making it easy to believe in the world on the page. While Aidan/Adonis wins fans in the arena (and Diana’s heart), his sister Morna is sowing the seeds of rebellion. One of the most powerful elements of the screenplay is the slow, almost unnoticed rise of the crippled girl. By the time Aidan faces Aquila for the final battle, his sister has almost as much at stake as he does. Although it’s really no surprise that Aidan manages to strike the triumphal blow on p.95, the screenplay frames it as an unexpected win, triggering the revolution that Morna has so carefully put in place. However, the real victory comes with Diana and Aidan’s kiss on p.107, capping off their romance.”

I like a lot about this, but I think the best and most important line is “It causes the audience to rethink attitudes to both historical cultures and our representation of them.” This is the main theme of the story, drawing attention to gendered epic tropes by changing the customary gender roles, so I am delighted to see such understanding of it. He also liked the meat of the story (Aidan’s progress through the games, the romance between Aidan and Diana, and Morna’s sowing rebellion) as well as the trappings, such as our “deliciously bawdy inverted sexism.” I love those bits myself, so I’m glad they were noticed. I also love that he bought into the ship, considering “the real victory” to be Aidan and Diana’s kiss.

And now for the negatives:

“It seems you may be missing a major trick by making Morna and Aidan siblings rather than lovers. It would certainly add urgency to the entire story if Aidan was devoted to Morna, forced to fake fealty to Diana, and then torn between the two women, whom he loves for different reasons. Have you considered a painful (and therefore conflict generating) love triangle, with the slaves lying about the true nature of their relationship in order to stay together, similar to the one in DAYS OF HEAVEN? Although the writing is generally clear and eloquent, it may be a little long-winded and formal in places. Screenplays demand economy of language. Try to keep screen directions more concise. Describe visual beats in as simple a manner as possible, withholding comment or judgment, and describing only what can be seen within the scene. Try to avoid lengthy, dense blocks of description such as the one describing Morna’s ride around the city on p.45. Break it down into a series of specific beats, possibly a montage or sequence of shots. Aim for short, snappy paragraphs of screen directions less than three lines in length. When proofreading your screenplay, check for formatting errors such as character names becoming separated from dialogue over a page break, or scene headings separated from screen directions. Screenplay software should prevent this from happening. Also check for the occasional typo (such as “you sent me for” instead of “you sent for me” on p.60). When a screenplay has this level of overall polish, odd mistakes are all the more glaring.”

On one hand, most of this criticism is TRIVIAL. He doesn’t like how my screenwriting software (which yes, I did use, but it’s just a bad iPad port of a program called Celtx) sometimes separated the sluglines for names and scenes. A tiny thing I can fix manually in a minute. He thinks my scene descriptions were a bit too long and formal– yeah, they might be a little bit, it’s a problem I’ve had in the past, though I’m not exactly sure what “formal” means in this context. It’s actually a pretty good sign when you only get dinged on nitpicky technical things; it means there are minimal substantive things to criticize!

On the other hand, the only real thing he mentions made my eyes pop out of my head– he thinks we were “missing a major trick” by making Aidan and Morna brother and sister, as opposed to lovers. WHA-WHA-WHAT? I can’t even CONCEIVE of that. How would it even work? It kills SO MANY THINGS about the point of our story. In this schema, would he be with Diana and Morna at the same time? We’re supposed to like this guy– wouldn’t he come off as a major cad, boning the powerful person who can do things for him when he has someone looking out for him at home? A huge plot point is that up until he meets Diana, he’s never had the wherewithal to work on moving past his trauma– if he already has a lover, the power of him finally taking all that on so that he can be with Diana is destroyed. And also– a LOVE TRIANGLE? Ugh, that is SO played out.

Bernie was less bothered by it– he thinks the guy was just thinking out loud about what he might have done if he were writing it (in which case, I say “Why does it need to be mention in his response to OUR WORK?”). Bernie says that while it isn’t right for the story we’re actually telling, he could see it working if it were an urequited thing, like Morna loved Aidan from afar and never pursued him due to his trauma, adding an extra layer of tragedy to how she worked to protect and save him even though he loves another. But I am much more moved by the idea that Aidan and Morna are FAMILY, all the family they have, and that is a bond that can never be severed. I think there’s a lot of feeling that the only really powerful motivating force is romantic-sexual love, and I not only disagree with that notion, I want to depict how other kinds of love can be just as powerful.

Perhaps you’ll disagree with me, and I have no proof either way, but while I got the sense that the first reader was a woman, I would guess that this second was a man. If so, that’s actually possibly a good thing, as I think the hardest sell on a story like this is men. But the suggestion about making Morna Aidan’s lover rather than his sister is what clinched it for me. I think that represents a somewhat more typically masculine way to interpret a character like Aidan. I think the idea of having two women after him is sort of a way to “man him back up.” Bernie thinks I’m reading too deeply into it, but that’s what I think.

Regardless, this reader liked it enough that we made it into the top ten percent. Maybe Bernie’s right and it was just musing. I’m not sure what the process is, but I would guess that each reader has to care enough about the script to argue for its inclusions to all the other readers who didn’t see it, and if that’s the case, our guy pulled for us. And I’m really happy about it.

I don’t know if we’ll go any farther in this contest. I really hope so, though I probably shouldn’t get my hopes up. But I’m so proud of this piece, and I believe in it so much. Special thank you goes to, in no particular order, Jenn Giorno, Matt Kamm, Shannon Moore, Ben Federlin, Tegan Kehoe, Charlotte Oswald, Sam LeVangie, Caitlin Partridge, Frances Kimpel, Eboracum Richter-Dahl, and anyone else I’m sorry to be forgetting, who read the script and gave us such amazing and useful responses. You guys did so much to make it as good as it turned out to be.

Two fans, these opinions

In my rare free moments in the last few weeks, I’ve been checking out TV Tropes. It’s a really addictive website, easy to get lost on, but I always find myself most drawn to reading not the pages about in-story tropes, but rather the ones about the creative process. I’ve always been fascinated by process, the ways people go about making stories, so I’ve been reading the pages about how authors went about making their work, the influences that factored into the story design, even the way fans and critics reacted and what effect that had.

Fans are wonderful; I’d like to develop a following of them myself. But because of their plural nature, they often have many disparate opinions. I believe it’s important to consider outside assessments of your work, as new sets of eyes can see things you haven’t. But it can be confusing and frustrating when they’re telling you all sorts of conflicting things that you could not possibly reconcile with any quality. I have a tendency to imagine what I would do if I were experiencing a certain situation, so I have found myself preoccupied with how I would respond if I have a large fanbase that had multiple incompatible opinions of my work. It’s rather putting the cart before the horse in my case, as I’m still building my fanbase, but I hope to get there someday, and I’d like to deal with it well when I do.

On one hand, you have to stand up for the things in your work you believe in. A good writer has a certain expertise, and that usually includes good instincts on what makes the most dramatic action. Fans sometimes more out of emotional connection to a work– which is by no means a criticism, as their emotional connection is the most satifying thing a writer can achieve –but a lot of the time they like, want, or criticize things out of sentimentality, rather than what makes for the highest-stakes story.

At the same times, an author’s perspective is inherently limited by the fact that they are one person and they are humanly imperfect. Fans, by virtue of the fact that they are different people and they may be myriad, will have perspectives that are beyond the author. Therefore they may be able to point out problems the writer isn’t necessarily aware of. The ability to take criticism and incorporate other perspectives is how a serious writer improves their art, and you want to show respect to the people who have been good enough to invest their time and emotional resources in your work.

The key, I think, would be to not let yourself lose sight of the idea of that you cannot please everybody. I can see myself getting too wrapped up in the fact that some people weren’t happy. You can only do the best work you possibly can, which means listening to what people have to say in good faith, and using your own good judgment as to what to take to heart and what to let go. Of course the solution is, as always, balance. But God knows how hard balance can be to attain.

A moving and humbling message

So this weekend has been full of surprises for me. I will speak about each on them in turn soon, but I’ve been meaning to post about this since I got it the other day, so I’ll start with that.

I got a message in the inbox of my Tumblr. I was confused at first because it showed up in my messages but didn’t look like an Ask; in fact, it had my username banner on it even though it wasn’t a post made by me. A little research into how Tumblr works suggests that it was a Submission made anonymously. Apparently that’s how anonymous submissions show up in your box. When I actually read it, I was kind of blown away. I will not reproduce it in its entirety, but I will show you the first paragraph:

“Hey. So I don’t know how to say this any other way so I’m sending you this anonymously so I can just say it. I read your Adonis script. I read you were cool with other people reading your stuff so I did. First of all it’s really good. You probably already know that. But I wanted to tell you that it meant alot to me how you portrayed Aiden as a straight male rape victim who got assaulted by a woman. Cause I’m one too.”

I really want to talk about this, as I’m really feeling overwhelmed at the idea that somebody could have that response to something I wrote. I do want to respect this person’s feelings and privacy, as this person sent this to me anonymously in a private forum. It suggests they don’t want everyone to see it. I am not quoting any more than this– much as I’d like to share it with people, that’s probably not appropriate. But maybe it’s not too far to say in general terms that the writer described an experience of sexual assault, and how reading our screenplay was the first time he’d seen any situation even vaguely like his represented in storytelling, and that was meaningful to him.

I want to talk about it because I’m really moved. It’s a really important part of the script that we represent Aidan as a rape survivor in an emotionally honest way. Somebody who actually experienced something along the lines of what he experienced was touched by it in a significant way. It felt genuine and affecting to somebody who understood better than I do what it feels like to be in that situation. That’s amazing for me.

I also feel really sad for this person. As good as I feel that I reached him in this way, I feel bad that he has this wound such that he could be reached. I can’t begin to guess who this is– clearly he wants it that way –but I can’t help but be curious. Especially since I thought I knew all the straight guys who’d read the script, and I’m not sure how this person would have gotten a hold of it. It does seem to be somebody I know, given that they’re concerned about their anonymity and know that I have a Tumblr. I really should leave it at that and not press any further– again, clearly they want their privacy to be respected, and I don’t want to be an asshole even though I’m curious –but it makes me sad to think I have a friend or even an acquaintance that had such a terrible thing happen to them.

Anyway, this was pretty mind-blowing for me. And it makes me more certain than ever that we’re ON TO SOMETHING with this script.

BlueCat feedback on Tailor at Loring’s End screenplay!

As with the Adonis script, I submitted my Tailor at Loring’s End screenplay to the BlueCat Screenwriting Contest at well. I was nervous at first that the feedback on this one was taking so much longer to arrive, but I finally got it the other day. I am pleased to say that it was quite positive as well! Though this is the first screenplay I ever wrote, the story idea was a solid one, and I have revised it many times. It made it to the Quarter Finals of the Big Break contest last year, so I had some confidence in it.

“What did you like about this script?

The Tailor at Loring’s End is as lovingly crafted and detailed as the debutante dress that is a center piece throughout the film. It deftly takes the audience back into the luxe and mysterious past of a powerful family, giving a really rich and suspenseful tone to the story.

Sometimes flashbacks can be clumsy, but The Tailor at Loring’s End uses them well. Not only do the flashbacks carry the same rich tone as the present, but the two stories parallel each other while still allowing for each of the characters to show their own personalities and uniqueness.

The idea of a powerful family betraying their country during the war is a great one, filled with complications and opportunities for conflicting emotions for all the characters. Do you cherish your father for building an empire? Or you despise him for then betraying the country in order to continue his legacy? Do you reject the idea of classism or do you relish in its bounty? This is also seen in the setting; there’s a sense that Lorings End is both very airy and light while being repressive and cavernous.

The side characters of The Tailor At Loring’s End are really great additions to the story. Della, Kenneth, and Crier are all vivid and unique, putting all their separate know how in order to help what is good. There is a satisfaction in a team that helps out two young lovers and inquisitors, despite their aged wisdom knowing that the world is more complicated than it seems. Della fills in as an excellent maternal figure to Tom and Crier is charming due to both his bumbling nature and commitment to the job.”

The core of the story, the themes, and the supporting cast are what this reader responded to most strongly, which I’m very happy to hear. They picked up on the purpose of the team drawing together to fix things in the end, as well as how the flashbacks were designed to parallel and compare with the modern-day story. I knew all that, the plot, themes, and setting were the parts I was most confident in, but it pleases me to hear that a reader responded to them.

The negatives were not extremely negative, but they were a bit perplexing to me.

“What do you think needs work?

There could be a little more development on both Tom and Alice. They are the focal pieces of the script and the audience’s heroes, but it’s hard to truly describe them outside of their external journey. What makes them unique, the only people capable of figuring the Loring mystery out? While the backstory of Alice and her family is the main plot of the story, what about Tom? There are mentions of his past; learning from his talented mother, leaving a more commercially successful shop to make dresses. These things could be developed more. Where is his father? Did he go to school? Has he travelled at all? Who is Tom outside of a talented tailor?

As for Alice, does she go to school? Is she trapped inside the estate both physically and mentally? Does she have any hobbies, particularly any hobbies that she might share with Tom? Her bond with her family is the initial element of the mystery so unfolding her relationship, both emotionally and historically, with each member of the Lorings would make the story even more compelling.

Establishing their personalities more, their wants and desires outside of the family mystery, could really heighten the tension and further push the audience’s want for the two of them to somehow be together.

It was a little unclear if Kenneth knew of Reginald’s betrayal and wanted to expose him or if he just was still lovesick over Bethany. There are two very different motivations for both reasons. If Kenneth needed the papers to prove that Reginald was a traitor, it seems that he would have been trying to convince the public of this for years, and not just after Emma’s death. If he was searching for the papers in order to investigate Bethany’s mysterious death, this would be a bit simpler.”

I’m of several minds about this. On one hand, I’m a bit skeptical of the criticism that Tom and Alice are not strongly defined enough, as three of my professors saw this script and none of them found the leads to be too thin. In fact, rather hilariously, Barry Brodsky, the teacher I wrote it with initially, gave me the exact opposite feedback– he found Tom and Alice compelling, but thought my supporting cast like Della and Crier to be lacking in dimension. An unfortunate feature of making art is that there is no uniform standard by which to grade it, so it’s common to get educated opinions formed from two entirely different impressions. On the other hand, defining characters for people who are not in my head has been a problem in another thing I’ve been working on recently, enough that I’m inclined to worry it’s actually a problem.

Because I want to progress in the contest, it probably doesn’t make sense not to make the attempt to edit and resubmit to improve my standing, even though I’m not entirely sure I agree with the critique. And I’m not sure how to go about making it clearer. I don’t think just sticking in answers to a lot of those questions is the way. “Where’s Tom’s father?” He’s dead, he’s not important to this story. (Also I notice you don’t mind that Alice’s mother’s not dealt with, probably because I dealt with her father to your satisfaction. Moms being important is weird, dads being important is normal, amirite? :-P) “Does Alice go to school?” She just got out of school, I’m pretty sure that’s mentioned in a line and not that important anymore.

Bleh. I’m probably just being defensive. I am prone to that. I just wish I could more clearly envision way to fix that problem (if it really exists). I find “define this character more” to be particularly hard note to address, for whatever reason. Maybe it’s because they seem plenty clear to me, and I don’t know why others can’t see it. But it’s worth making the attempt. The other note, about Kenneth’s motivations/knowledge being made a little clear, is a fine one; concrete and easy to take, so no problem addressing that there.

As I said, I’m mostly happy with this feedback, and if it’s this positive it’s probably got as a good a shot as any in the contest.

God willing, Tom, Diana, Alice, and Aidan will take this contest by storm! 😉

Encouraging feedback on Adonis from BlueCat Screenwriting Contest!

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.