Historical Screenplay

0_ver_Bar-stoolsFor the review below, I was looking at a film manuscript for the second time. Manuscript details have been changed to protect the author.

To the writer:

It must be kept in mind while reading this that these are my opinions, that others’ opinions will vary. As a writer, only you know in your heart what this script is meant to be. I strongly advise all writers  “sit” on any advice after receiving it. The ideas that ping will stick, those that don’t won’t. But you need to give yourself time for that to happen. It is not something that can be forced.

Once you’ve implemented the suggestions that ‘ping,’ you need to put the manuscript in the drawer for at least one month. Preferably more. You need to forget it for a while so you can look at it with fresh eyes. Then read it once without a pen and then with a pen.

Why once without a pen and only then with a pen? Once you begin editing, you get “stuck in the weeds” and you aren’t looking at the bigger picture. You need to take advantage of your objectivity and feel the flow. If you start and stop, editing as you go, that flow will be jagged no matter how good your writing is.

General Introduction

Congratulations! I believe you’ve done a really good job. This draft has come a long way from the last one.  I can see a lot of work you have put in. I do believe this script has farther to go.

Previous comments:

  1.  Screenplay written more from the head than the heart > This has been addressed fairly well, although more progress could be made. Implementing some of my suggestions in terms of process (below) will help you to do this.
  2. Characters not fully realized > Quite a bit of progress made in this area, as well. Their passions are clearer. But they still do not jump off the page.
  3. The narration had no tension > This too has been greatly improved.
  4. Pierre’s reason for telling the story is clearer, but not clear enough > Without this set up properly, the rest of the story flounders. The story needs a frame or it is just a collection of facts.
  5. Pierre is not set as much on a pedestal in this version as he was in the last > There are a few places where you throw him back up there for a scene or so.


PROBLEM: Why this story is being told is still not entirely clear. Pierre launches into the story too easily with the reporter. It is not clear why he feels the need to tell the story; what he is getting out of it. Also, this story is still more Henri’s than Pierre’s. Pierre isn’t fighting for anything, he’s merely unravelling the series of events. Somehow his interaction with the reporter needs to frame the story more.

SUGGESTION:  Do some work on the reporter and Pierre’s relationship. That is, figure out a way for them to have a conflict. Is the reporter being sloppy in terms of information he picks for his book? What if he is not a reporter, but the son of one of Henri and Pierre’s enemies, who is writing “the true tale” from the Orangemen’s perspective (e.g. Scott’s son)? In such a scenario Pierre’s struggle will be to change his mind. Perhaps he even traps the reporter/writer and won’t let him go until the story is finished and he is convinced. 

 This may sound like it would require a lot of screen time, but it does not. It would require 4 conversations throughout the story. One at about page 30, another at about page 80, another at around 90 and then at the close. To do this, you would need to really work on their conflict, the writer’s character and how their relationship changes. By the end, the reporter/writer would be on Pierre/Henri’s side. 

The benefits of building this relationship a bit more include: creates urgency to telling the story (Pierre needs to convince him of the truth); Integrates Pierre more into the story; Allows him to show more passion; Provides a very clear reason for why Pierre is telling the story. 

As a model, look to “Interview with a Vampire.”
PROBLEM: Sections of the story are unclear. They are mysteries where I’m sitting here asking myself, “What the heck is going on? why are we here? What’s happening?”

SUGGESTION: I believe this has come out of the fact that you know the story so well, you forget what you didn’t know before. This means that you are reading into scenes stuff that isn’t there for us less learned in matters Henri and Pierre. In some scenes you need to give us more information. Tell us what is happening. I’ve tried to highlight these. Also, if you use Pierre’s VO more, he can frame what is happening quite quickly. Involving Pierre more as the narrator will integrate him more fully into the story. 

In doing this, you need to build in Pierre’s take on the story. Where he agreed with Henri, where he didn’t. What he thought turned Riel mad, and when Henri was faking it and when he wasn’t. Where Pierre made mistakes or when the two of them didn’t think things through.

PROBLEM: In the opening scene Pierre says “would you not become insane after all he went through?” This is a beautiful set up for that aspect of the story. And you do show us Henri insane, which is fairly well done. But you do not show us how events made Henri go insane.

SUGGESTION: Have Pierre point out the things he thought made Henri go mad in his V.O.s. Audiences love getting insight into how people go mad. We all fear it desperately, so this would add a great appeal to your story if you could frame this better.

PROBLEMS: Two issues are tied together, so I’m covering them in this one point:  Characters are still not as full as they could be. Many of the scenes do not read naturally. They read as if they are meant to be read, not said by an actor.


1) Look at each character independently and see how you can make them more human. Does Pierre have a bad habit of picking his teeth? Is Henri always pompous (I see hints of this in here, but not enough to see it as a writer’s choice). Find some humour, where characters tease each other, or play jokes with each other. Build whatever you find FOR EACH AND EVERY CHARACTER into the script.

2) Read each scene aloud, as if you are playing each part. Print out the scene and stand up and perform it for real. See what character you can find, how you can have character make the scene more interesting. Put in your changes based on what you’ve found then print the scene out again and perform it again. This will help you to make dialogue that sounds like real people, sings, and the characters will jump from the page. 

One thing to look for while doing this (and I’m sure will jump out) is you do not tend to use contractions. Contractions are for speech. People, even in history, only say “cannot” in full for effect.

PROBLEM: In some places you seem to be writing more for history (and historical accuracy) than for a modern audience. There is less of that in here, but it still does happen from time to time. Remember, you are writing something to be entertaining, that people from this era get something out of and WANT to watch. If it isn’t entertaining, why will anyone produce it?

PROBLEM: Have you ever heard that Chekhov quote, “if a gun appears in the first act, it must be fired by the curtain.” The point to the quote is that if something in a story is set up, it must come full circle by the end of the story. Details that indicate larger stories should not be included unless they can be covered adequately.  In this script you set up a lot of things that aren’t paid off in the end. The one that is currently in my thoughts is in the last page: “the heresy of starting a new religion.” This is something that you raise only briefly in a vague line. So, why raise it? Just to get the fact in? Unfortunately, if you cannot explain a point, if it isn’t crucial to the story, it should not be in here.

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