Posted by: steveonfilm | January 23, 2011

Over The Line

I read over a script this weekend from a fellow member of my “screenwriting group.” It was a thriller that involved a kidnapping and took part in a rural town in the middle of no where. Seemed like something right up my alley. And for the first 60 pages it was… and then it got weird.

I’m not talking weird as in it turned into a romantic comedy kind weird. I’m talking weird as in it was too much of a departure from what had been set up so far in the story. What was up until that point a pretty solid thriller turned into torture porn. And that turned me off, and tuned me out. I haven’t avoided the “SAW” movies because I’ve heard they’re shit. I’ve avoided them because seeing people mutilated isn’t my cup of tea.

On the one hand I felt a little betrayed. I went into the film expecting a specific type of genre. And was well on my way to enjoying things as they played out. But then it turned into something else… something I don’t particularly find much interest in. This wasn’t the screenplay I’d signed up to review. It was like a case of false advertising.

But on the other hand I felt like the story didn’t need to go in the direction it did. The tension had slowly been building. Things were getting a little crazier every page. There was a clear and dark direction as to how things were going to play out. But yet… the story went over a line that I thought hurt it, instead of helped it.

I’m all for not holding back as a writer. Do things as intense as you need to in order to get the point across. But there are times when things go from intense to gratuitous. And that will draw back on a story instead of help it.

Look at Jaws. That shark ate some people. Quite a few. But it wasn’t left and right. The deaths were paced out, and then stopped for a good long while so that the final death actually meant something. Much of the mayhem was left off screen… which in effect was more disturbing since you only heard the noises, not the sights, and your brain was left to fill in the blanks. With Jaws intense didn’t mean gratuitous.

But in this script things just came right out. There wasn’t any mystery. It was just gore. And it was sudden. When it showed up it didn’t stop. And it quickly lost and sort of impact. As I read I went from being interested in seeing how the protagonist was going to get through his ordeal, to a reader who suddenly went, “Oh, this is one of THOSE types of movies.” That wasn’t a good thing. It took me out of the moment. And when everything was said and done, I couldn’t finish the last 20 pages.

The thing is… I could have. Had the gore been spaced out, and saved, I probably would have made it. Like I said, the first half, even two thirds, was well structured. It wasn’t the best written thing I’d ever read, but what amateur script was. It wasn’t bad, or boring, and I was into it. But when things took that turn, it wasn’t the same story that I’d signed up to read. Some of me was disturbed, but some of me was angry.

When you start out writing an action movie you don’t turn it into a sappy love story about saving a puppy with cancer in the last thirty pages. For one, you’re going to piss off your audience because that’s not what they signed up to see. But two, those are two different stories. They’re not the same thing. You either have one, or the other. You don’t get both.

That’s what this script wanted. It wanted to be a thriller and torture porn. It wanted to be “Taken” and “SAW”. And it doesn’t work that way. “SAW” wouldn’t work if in the last 20 minutes someone breaks in, saves everyone, then hunts down the killer guns blazing. “Taken” wouldn’t work if in the last 30 minutes everyone gets caught and slowly cut to pieces with barb wire.

I don’t know, maybe it’s just me…




  1. From Dusk Till Dawn.

    I’m not saying what the guy wrote was good (or justified) — just that a sort of radical ‘reality/tone’ shift can be done and be successful.


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