The Before I Wake script coverage contest ended a while ago and our winners have all been announced, lauded and paid, but as you might recall the purpose of the contest was not just to see ‘who could do it best’, but rather to see ‘how you would do it’ – our hope being that reading different takes on the same script would provide us all with a little more insight into what makes a script coverage good.
You may have already read the three winning submissions. We wanted to also share these three honorable mentions, let you do your own comparisons and – perhaps – be all the better a reader/writer for it.
SCRIPT READER: GERMAINE SIMS
OVERALL: Before I Wake is a fantasy action adventure feature that centers on the exploits of a feisty twelve year old computer hacker named Hanna. The project has elements reminiscent of role-player video games: science-fiction based universe, party of characters embarking on a quest, the solving of a riddle central to the conclusion of the storyline, protagonist with special powers/abilities, combat sequences, and thematic elements which explore the possible destruction of the universe. Thematically the project also explores the concepts of alienation and loss, coming of age, rebellion, and strained family relationships.
Visually, Before I Wake, could be realized utilizing a variety of methods (i.e Live Action, Animation, CGI, Anime). While the premise presents the possibility of franchise and ancillary marketing options, the story/character development needs reworking to fully capitalize on any of these possible opportunities.
PREMISE: Before I Wake has promising aspects; however, the narrative veers into a number of directions causing the storyline to feel unfocused. The project may best be served by reducing the premise to its fundamental elements, rather than combining so many competing variables into one storyline.
The strength of the project lies in the crux of the premise: A crafty adolescent girl hacks a virtual network operating system in order to save society from being obliterated by a virus rigged to destroy humanity. Hone in on this aspect of the concept.
Despite the science-fiction element, there is an aspect of this concept that feels dated. Some sequences read like early internet circa AOL era. Any attempts to delve into the techie world requires a tremendous amount of research and foresight. It may be helpful to conduct research in publications like (MIT Review), or online educational databases like (iSeekEduction, RefSeek, Virtual LRC). The teenage hacker premise is edgy and entertaining, just be careful to convey Hanna’s world in a manner that will be novel for the audience.
STRUCTURE: The project delivers a story with a discernable beginning, middle, and end ultimately driving to a conclusion; however, the narrative is overladen with far too many components. As the script stands now, the complicated and top-heavy narrative circumvents the opportunity for future franchises.
Fundamentally, there are two different stories in this project: Hanna’s search for the truth about how her mom died, and Nanako’s journey to learn the truth about her origin. An argument can be made for why these two storylines thematically support one another. Yet, this project may benefit from breaking these two storylines into two separate scripts.
Allowing Hanna’s story to be the sole premise driving events, could strengthen the overall potential of Before I Wake, as well as provide an opportunity for future installments. Hanna is an intriguing protagonist, but there are a number of facets in her experiences that are left unexplored, simply because the current draft tries to go in so many different directions. There is enough potential for conflict in both Hanna and Nanako’s experiences to carry two separate screenplays.
The overladen narrative also causes problems with believability. Science-fiction and fantasy based features are dependent on the ability to effectively establish the logic of the world that is being created. There is so much going on in Before I Wake that many questions are left unanswered. For example, information is revealed about how Baptiste created Raven (109). However, by the end of the project we still have no idea why Baptiste created Raven in the first place? What purpose did Raven serve in Baptiste’s life? How does Raven’s creation relate to Baptiste and Maya’s relationship? Is Maya a form of Artificial Intelligence? If so, where did she come from? Furthermore, we are told Baptiste has been luring girls for an experiment (59.6), but we never learn the purpose the experiment serves. How are the girl’s disappearances connected to Maya and Baptiste? Why were the AI children created?
Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, viruses, the end of humanity as we know it, Smoke Raven, ghosts, gaming, family dysfunction, maniacal scientist: these are just a few of the topics touched on in the script. Focus on simplifying the story and develop the logic for chosen science- fiction elements. For example, the film Her (2013), centers on a man (Theodore) falling in love with his computer operating system. A far-fetched concept is conveyed believably because so much time is spent developing the rules of Theodore’s world, and the sci-fi elements are not entirely reliant on action sequences.
CHARACTERS: Hanna is a strong protagonist. She has a back-story and wants/needs that give her a compelling reason to work towards an identifiable goal. The project contains an ensemble cast offering roles that may be attractive to a variety of actors. Although this project has role-player video game conventions (i.e. party working toward a common goal), there are far too many supporting characters. A number of the supporting characters are interesting, but they distract from the through-line of the story and distort Hanna’s character arc. Characters typically need to experience growth or change by the end of the story. Although Hanna discovers the truth about her mother’s death (124), she does not experience any significant internal or external shift as a result of her discovery. In the beginning of the project she is headstrong and at the end of the project she still has the same “bad-ass” quality.
Spend more time developing the relationship between Hanna and Conrad. The narrative alludes to Conrad’s absentee status (43.8) and Hanna’s disappointment about being neglected by her dad (54.9). This is a wise choice by the writer because emotional subtext gives fantasy based stories a sense of “realness.” For example, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) is a compelling feature because the character relationships are well developed. The drama is derived from the character’s emotional conflicts, not just sci-fi action sequences. Further exploration of Hanna and Conrad’s relationship will build more conflict.
Before I Wake alludes to a possible love interest developing between Hanna and Max (26.9), but never follows through with exploring this relationship. Action projects typically have a romance sub-plot. Although, there is a love interest storyline between Oku and Jimmy, the project may best be served by focusing on Hanna and Max’s budding relationship.
The project also needs a stronger antagonist. Antagonists typically serve the role of blocking the protagonist from reaching their goal. There are no direct competing interests between Baptiste and Hanna. Because the storyline is so convoluted, Hanna is inadvertently going up against Baptiste and the Smoke Raven simply because a supporting character convinces her to do so. The protagonist and antagonist should go toe-to-toe based on directly competing interests.
FURTHER SUGGESTIONS: Edit for typos (i.e. there are some spelling/grammar issues in the opening sequence). Before I Wake has promising elements. Developing a stronger antagonist and paring down the story may strengthen the project. Spend subsequent rewrites focusing on emotion, clarity, and simplification.
ABOUT GERMAINE SIMS: Germaine Sims is a Script Reader/Story Analyst who has provided script coverage and development services for a variety of entertainment professionals. Contact her for script consultant services at her website or email.
SCRIPT READER: DEREK USTRUCK
LOGLINE: A young girl fights to save all of humanity when a virtual reality simulation goes wrong.
SYNOPSIS: In 19th Century Europe, sisters, SARAH (13) and NANAKO (8), are on the run from a smoke raven- a supernatural beast. Sarah uses her powers to transport them to a far off jungle, but it doesn’t work. The beast is still on their trail. Nanako gives it a shot- she has the powers, too. They shift, once more, onto a boat. Something goes wrong; Sarah’s powers make her ill. The Smoke Raven appears, they were only playing tag.
Sarah is called in front of her father, BAPTISTE, on a floating platform. He rather, callously, sentences her to death by disintegration.
We flash to HANNA (12), as she follows her father, CONRAD and his friends OKU and JIMMY into a competition arena, where they are competing in a high-stakes version of laser tag. She gets them banned from the tournament for two weeks- that is until the opponent’s team leader, SAM, forgives the error. The game is on. Hanna wins the match with an incredible whirlwind power.
Outside of the game, life is a bit more humdrum. Conrad orders her to visit her GRANDFATHER, but not before her sentient robot dog RAGS makes her a sandwich.
We learn about the CRASH: a VR event that killed 3 million people, through the eyes of Oku, Jimmy, and Sam.
RANSOM wasn’t expecting Hanna, but he needs help with the turbines, she obliges. There are drawbacks to entering the VR world, Hanna’s mother was killed there (doesn’t say it here, but it might as well).
Back on the ship with Baptiste, Nanako is adjusted with some sort of upload… the same one that caused her sister to be terminated.
At the house, Hanna goes back into the VR with Rags. She is limited to the kid’s server- run by the Baptiste Corporation (though there is no way to know that Baptiste is Baptiste).
Meanwhile, Nanako is sent back to the same European town. Her task is to break through a door. When she asks about her sister’s fate, Baptiste offers only vague responses. Baptiste is revealed to be an Avatar. His true form is sickly and on the verge of death.
Deep inside the castle, Hanna encounters a ghost, MELIES, who wants to hire her for a job. She wants to take a beat to think about it. At her home, she finds her father has escaped into cyberspace, where he can interact with memories of her dead mother- who turns out to have been a hacker.
Back in the real world, Baptiste announces a grand party, while assuring people that the CRASH that killed so many will never happen again. (what is the plot of this film)? Hanna decides to enter Baptiste’s secure tower (when/why?) It says that Melies told her to, but that is not in the text. At the tower, Hanna is subjected to the same process that Nanako experienced. Conrad wakes to find his daughter is gone. In the tower, the Smoke Raven guides Hanna to Baptiste while Rags guides Conrad through a replay of the Castle. Here we discover Melies offer: he has opened the door for her to enter the tower. Conrad assembles his team: they are going after his daughter.
Nanako is introduced to Hanna who gives her some vague and unsettling answers to her questions. Hanna promises to take Nanako with her when she escapes.
Conrad and his team are with Melies, we find that he was the child of Maya Baptiste (though there is no way to know who she is)- and he is AI and haunted by the ghosts of the crash victims. Melies informs Conrad of Baptiste’s diabolical plan to create AI from orphan girls and its origins with his wife, Maya’s illness.
Hanna and Nanako create a diversion and occupy the Smoke Raven so that they can infiltrate Baptiste’s office. Nanako’s real body dies, she is only real on the server now. They discover that the Smoke Raven is the virus that caused so many deaths.
The girls continue to press forward; they find the back door into the office and enter.
The next night, Conrad and his team enter the party with false credentials. With fifteen minutes between visits from the Smoke Raven, the girls fan out again. Finding themselves at a locked door, Hanna starts to hack it. They use a rocket that Hanna constructs to infiltrate the spaceship where Baptiste’s office is hidden.
During the party, Baptiste’s real body dies and freezes his avatar. Once again, CPR brings him back to life. The Smoke Raven removes him from the party, and Conrad, et al follow.
In the mainframe control room, the virus that claimed her sister overtakes Nanako, but Hanna stops it before it can overwhelm her. Meanwhile, Conrad and the team search through the labyrinthine palace for the server. He stumbles upon Baptiste uploading himself to the server. The Smoke Raven takes Jimmy. Hanna and Nanako manage to connect the private server to the real world- they have a chance.
Baptiste reveals to Conrad that this server is private so that they can contain the Smoke Raven, before he can upload himself the process fails. He evaporates- it’s too late. The girls realize what they have done. Now, they have to stop the Smoke Raven. Rags joins with the girls, and transforms into a winged beast.
Melies joins Conrad and Oku. They watch as the Smoke Raven wreaks havoc on the server. Another Crash is imminent.
Hanna attacks, but the Smoke Raven knocks her out. Oku heals her while Rags distracts the beast. Rags is defeated, but the battle rages on. Nanako and Melies join forces, they invade the Smoke Raven and defeat it. (somehow Jimmy is back). Hanna is briefly reunited with the ghost of her mother, who heaps adulation upon her daughter.
A few months down the road, the players are back in the battle game. Everybody is happy, and Hanna is a star player and Max (mentioned once a hundred pages ago, is her boyfriend).
COMMENTS: Before I Wake is an imaginative romp in speculative fiction. The writers have constructed an elaborate and complex world, replete with its own rules and version of the AI playground that we have seen in such novels as Neuromancer and Ready Player One. It uses familiar shortcuts that we have seen in films like The Matrix and Strange Days to lighten the expositional load on the reader/viewer.
The characters, while not the most original, are fairly well-drawn, though there is some trouble disambiguating Hanna, Anna, and Nanako as their overall motivations seem to be fairly similar. That being said, relying on archetypical characters in this venue limits the depth that can be added. The screenplay focuses on the experiences of Hanna, a young girl blessed with preternatural skills to traverse the VR landscape that millions of people inhabit. Thankfully, the script does not explore at great length the platitude of “the real world is more exciting than the virtual” as so many in this genre do.
The authors succeed in creating a work that follows the principals of rising action- the script and its stakes do increase as the story progresses, and the energy level maintains a fairly frenetic pace through out.
Despite its achievements, I cannot recommend this script for development. While none of the reasons, individually, warrant a pass. Cumulatively, they detract enough from the value of the property to prevent engagement.
VIABILITY: Before I Wake is a prohibitively expensive film to make with any reasonable production value. Even if it were to be considered as an animation project (though serialized TV might be an option: see later notes), the costs of building such a stand-alone without pre-existing IP are too great. Furthermore, the target demographic is hard to discern. I am confident that the script would generate a PG-13 rating, however, the market for PG-13 Animation and/or Sci-Fi films of this scope is rather small.
PLOT: A general note, would be to simplify the story. At page 58, there was finally a clear direction- a mission. This is way too late for the audience to be told what the protagonist is trying to accomplish, and way too late for the journey to begin. Trimming elements of the film, and truly understanding what the story is meant to be will dramatically affect that sense of meandering malaise that overwhelms the first third of the script. What is the film about? Why is Hanna chosen? These questions need to be answered far earlier. Without that, the script seems to be exceedingly episodic as the reader struggles for the teleological principle that underpins and guides the film.
The structure of the film is fairly linear, but the writers’ frequent use of cutaways and flashbacks bogs the film down at times. This is particularly noticeable once the protagonists have entered the server- as there is no real visual differentiation in the spaces, and, outside of the slugs, there is no way to ground the reader and, by extension, the viewer. The screenwriters also overuse a melodramatic story-telling device by withholding information from the reader that the protagonist uses to inform their decision making process. They then dole that information back out using flashbacks, effectively derailing the momentum of the film. This is also, quite literally, the opposite of dramatic irony. However, since most of these flashbacks fill in beats that the savvy audience member would have divined via gestalt, even the “Oceans 11 plan” trope doesn’t function at the level that justifies its inclusion. At 128 pages, the script is too long. Removing the copious amounts of flashbacks and cross-cutting of the A and B stories would dramatically trim page count, and provide space for elements that need to be expanded, such as…
CHARACTER: The characters make sense, but that’s because we have seen them all: the Father struggling with the loss of the mother, the wunderkind bucking against authority as a way of dealing with loss, and the scientist who has lost his way on account of a great loss. These are off-the-shelf genre tropes, and ostensibly a great shortcut to telling films that have a certain dialectical quality. It is, though, the duty of the screenwriter to conceive unique plot beats that differentiate these characters from those that we have seen so many times. What is unique about their vocabulary? How does their world-view shape their decision-making? What are the universals made specific that makes me love this protagonist. How is this protagonist different from the other characters? (They should either be perfect for the task, or the least qualified). The complicated plot gets in the way of character development. There are only so many pages in a screenplay, and using them economically is what good writers do best. Integrating plot and character beats is the best way to handle exposition. The previously mentioned abundance of flashbacks is generally one of the weakest (except when they are not). There could be something to limiting the number of characters in the script. As it stands now, there are too many poorly drawn actors in the story. It would be more effective to see fewer well-drawn characters.
VOICE: It’s always hard for teams to develop a truly unique voice on the page, but that’s not in the scope of this assessment. There are some fundamental issues with the style and flair of the authors. Firstly, there are some formatting errors. This is not a deal breaker, but the lack of use of CAPS for sound effects, etc. is a lost opportunity to infuse some excitement into the script. At even more fundamental level, the syntax of the writers needs to be more dynamic. I am being sold a visual story, not an intellectual one. Finding ways to construct sentences that aren’t SUBJECT, VERB, OBJECT are of paramount importance, but one of the key skillsets missing is the capability to turn vague ideas into visual beats. Each line of action should be a shot in the readers mind. “Nanako takes his hand in hers: is an example. How would this be shot? “Fingers loop together. Nanako and Melies join hands.” The descriptive acumen of the writers needs to be significantly improved. The visual elements of the fantasy world could be more dynamically drawn and rendered for the reader’s mind’s eye. Ultimately, the area, which needs the most substantial improvement, is the emotional engagement of the characters to the viewers. That is the lynchpin of successful storytelling- finding characters that the audience will follow anywhere.
CONCLUSION: The authors clearly have an imagination. The prospects of this film being produced are very small, though there might be more opportunity if it were to be reworked into a 30 minute YA animated series. It will, after more revisions, be a workable sample that they might use to find representation and/or use as a calling card in search of assignment work. I would highly suggest spending the next couple months deconstructing the script to its essential elements, making a more diligent effort to track the emotional storyline, and stream-line the plot so that space can be used in service of the previous goals, before submitting Before I Wake to either contests or agents/managers.
SCRIPT READER: JESSICA ROSE
Before I start the review, I want to say that the hope is you are able to have this script finalized for marketing as soon as possible, because it is a great concept and is an amazing, creative story that is very detailed with absolute perfect imagination that comes to life on the pages.
With that being said, although we can compare this story to The Hunger Games as far as the futurist part, your script is another layer of actions that are not too farfetched for the future and very believable. The characters have great descriptions and build.
One thing I could not find was a typo. None whatsoever, which makes a great compliment in itself, however, in the need to be able to follow the story, I feel the below suggestions will make it an easier read for a producer without taking away from the imagination of the reader’s mind.
The below bullet points are not in any order, but I feel will make the script an easier read:
- Except for the narrative “set up” scenes at the beginning of the script and some throughout, there was too much narrative in the pages. Rework the narratives and show the story you are telling through your characters’ dialogues.
- Cut the script to 120 pages. Although there are exceptions, fitting it to 90-120 pages is one of the first things some producers look at, no matter how OCD and/or procedural that may seem.
- Combine some of the scenes. There are two dimensions going on and I feel they jump around too much. Although I see why they jump from one to the other and can understand, there are several scenes you can combine together in one of the dimensions before jumping to the other. This will also make it more understandable for those “not out there” minds. There are also some scene headings that can be a continuation from the prior scene where the narrative describes the location, however, from a crew member’s benefit for set build, may or may not be required.
- The combining of the scenes from each dimension will also help the characters’ introduction. When the characters are introduced back and forth from each part of the story, it may be overwhelming for the producer reading the script. If the scenes are more combined in the beginning and more of each side is told at once, it will give the reader time to absorb the different characters and their place in the story.
- Give more clarification through the characters’ dialogue as to what is going on with each dimension. Is it the planet earth participating in virtual reality games that is controlled by one server which is a space ship or is it a dream land that one can place himself in and that is their virtual reality? Of course, you may want to make it to where the reader can set up an imagination of their own.
- I took it as Nanako and Melies as being some type of computer function being created by Baptiste, however, that may not be the case. If not, try to clarify them more, even though their presence is basically understandable as is…or is it?
- I am also assuming that the Smoke Raven was a creation-gone-wrong that Baptiste created or the major virus that crashed the server and killed many of the virtual reality participants and Baptiste is keeping it quarantined. Maya and Baptiste were somewhat confusing. If I had the chance to reread the script, it may all come to light, but even with these questionable aspects, the story is amazing. Think in the producer’s mind how he/she will be very busy and will need to grasp the concept pretty easily and define more without defining…if you know what I mean.
Below are specific questions I had when reading certain areas of the story. If the below questions are all I had for a script of this depth and imagination, that tells you how great the script was written. Hope the suggestions help and please keep me informed as to when it will be on the big screen! Congratulations on a job well done!
- Page 4 – This page with Sarah and Baptiste is confusing even after reading the entire script.
- First several pages up through 6 simply introduced too many characters in different realms. Combine the scenes as previously noted and let each group of characters stay a little longer in their part of the story from the start and throughout the finish. Especially at the start, drawing out their scene to include their next scene will give the character build a better understanding as to who everyone is.
- Page 7 – How does Hannah’s father know it is her if she entered on his password? Do the characters look like themselves?
- Too much happening on page 8. Clarify the position of Sam also.
- Page 10 – The sprouting of the legs and eyes seems too much like other sci-fi movies. Leave it as a bomb.
- Page 11 – Unclear where Kalyn goes. Does everyone have power to open portals?
- Page 12 – Scene = INT, however, Sam is in courtyard. How did he shoot them so easily if they were inside?
- Page 12 – All narrative
- Page 120 – Very confusing and I started losing understanding.
ABOUT JESSICA ROSE: Jessica is currently making her way to a full time screenwriting career. She completed a comedy/western feature film in January as a hired write and is excited about it’s production. Although new in the industry, she has several different screenwriting classes under her belt with some of the industry’s leading producers and managers. Her current projects include comedy, drama, and horror genres. Jessica is available for hire to help critique your scripts. You may contact Jessica by joining her network on Stage32.com.