I received notification from a second festival this week that my screenplay had placed. While it was a wonderful honor, it wasn’t the big win. However, I was able to review the judge’s notes to learn how to better improve my story. And yes, in the meantime, I’m still waiting to hear results from several other festivals.
Reviewing the judge’s notes was an eye-opening experience. First, let me share a few of the positives.
STEELE BLUE: The Forgotten Crime is a strong, interesting script with a compelling premise. It’s a classic cop story with a psychological twist. The mystery aspect makes the story intriguing and keeps the audience engaged. The story moves at a consistent pace and maintains consistent tone, and the stakes are raised appropriately along the way.
The script does a good job of making each character feel distinct and individual. Cassie is a great protagonist for the script, a “maverick” whose world is rocked by her slowly recovered memories. Her relationships on the force are varied in dynamic, but her begrudging bond with Samantha is a highlight. Her relationship with Kevin is also a major part of the script, and his… (okay, I’ll avoid the spoiler alert) …is one of the script’s best twists.
I was really happy with the positive comments. Each one reflected key elements that every great story requires. I feel like I really nailed the execution of the screenplay and made it visual enough that the judges were happy overall.
However, since the screenplay only placed, it meant that either there were several better stories in the competition or my story had a major flaw that overshadowed all the good points.
Instead of writing out the judge’s negative comments filled with lots of spoiler notations, making it hard to read, I thought that I’d share the concepts of each issue.
The judge made it clear that he or she thought there were two issues that held the story back. One was that the judge thought the PTSD information the doctor presents in the beginning of the film “seems a little unbelievable.”
When I was interviewed on a radio show during the release of the book version of the story, I explained the exact case information that the story was based on. The radio host suggested that sometimes life is stranger than fiction.
In fact, several interviews raised the same issue and each time I shared that the things I made up in the story everyone accepted without consideration, but the true PTSD case the story was drawn from seemed unbelievable to just about everyone. I was tempted to scrap the true events from the story and replace it with acceptable fiction. But I didn’t.
Okay, I’m going to interrupt the negative comments and share one more positive comment.
This is a well written script that feels polished and professional. The script makes good use of flashback to provide context and delivers exposition naturally. I enjoyed Steele Blue and could definitely see it coming to life on screen.
Now that I feel a little better, I’ll share the second negative issue.
The judge suggested that I might have been trying to set up one particular twist in the film that he or she figured out before the ending. This led the judge to determine, “that the twist didn’t land.”
If the judge was paying attention to the very first few pages of the screenplay, he or she would have learned the answer to the alleged “attempted” twist. There wasn’t a twist.
From the first pages of the script, I let the audience in on a secret so they could watch and see how the main character responds to circumstances, as she is blinded from certain knowledge—all while the audience knows from the very beginning what is happening.
Of course, it is possible that the story pulled the judge so far into the character that he or she bonded, living in the moment as the main character experienced life’s moments.
While I suppose that is a good thing, it is also a bad thing.
The fact that the judge couldn’t totally follow the journey of exploration of the characters life and instead wanted a huge twist at the end of the film, suggests that maybe I should have approached the story from a very different perspective—keeping the audience in the dark throughout the film.
But I wrote this film as a female buddy cop story, not as a thriller. Yes, it is very much an action film, but again, I didn’t write it as a thriller. So maybe I need to ask myself how I might improve the story so future judges don’t decide it should be a thriller and mark the story down because it isn’t one.
Or, maybe I should just keep writing action/adventure stories laced with profound relationships and see if I can build an audience that like the types of stories I write.
As for the true-life PTSD information that seems unbelievable, maybe I stop worrying about educating the audience about real issues that victims face and instead just entertain them with made-up moments, which are more believable, but have no basis in the strange societal elements we all face.
In all reality, I’ll reread and rethink the judge’s comments another two dozen times before I settle on how to improve the story. In the meantime, there’s still hope that the other festivals where I’ve been accepted might have good news come announcement day. I’ll let you know once I get notified.
As for tomorrow, I’ll just be thankful that I’m able to tell stories for the screen. And who knows, maybe a few of them will get produced.
© 2020 by CJ Powers