WRITTEN BY: XXXXX
ANALYSIS BY: Ruth Atkinson
GENRE: Comedy, Romance
BUDGET: Medium – High
XXXXX has a great concept at its core. The conflict created by two very different people being forced together in an unfamiliar environment holds considerable potential and there is a lot of fun to be had watching Sarah and Booker’s relationship unfold. But the piece stops just short of being fully satisfying because once Sarah gets to the ranch the story loses its focus and the action stalls. As a result the full potential of the premise is not realized and the story is not as successful as it could be. For the next pass we need to exploit the premise more fully by clarifying Sarah’s goal, focusing the plot and expanding on the contrast between city and county. This would help mine the potential of the set up more fully.
XXXX gets off to a great start and the first couple of scenes set up Sarah very well. We immediately get a sense of her love and commitment to music and her frustration that her career has not taken off. This is a great starting point for a character but once Sarah gets taken out of her environment and thrown into life on the ranch her character loses the clarity she had at the outset. This is partly because after Booker agrees to let her stay she no longer has a clear goal other than cooking for the men. As a result the story loses its focus. In general we are drawn through a story to see if the protagonist will achieve their goals. A clear goal ensures that the audience will become invested in the piece and stay hooked through to the outcome. In light of this:
Let’s clarify Sarah’s goals.
When we meet Sarah she is playing music in a low rent bar. After she reams out her bassist for his lack of commitment we quickly see how important her band is to her (page 4) which is a great way to convey this information. In addition to this we need to learn what her overall musical goal is. Does she want to record a demo, get a record deal or simply play in better clubs? Is it fame that’s driving her or just being able to play music for a living? Establishing what Sarah’s musical goal is will help focus her actions more fully and give her something to strive for.
• Let’s consider establishing that Sarah wants to land a record deal and to that end has lined up some low level A&R guys to come to one of her upcoming shows. Maybe she has even decided that this is her last attempt before packing it all in and giving up. If she doesn’t get picked up – it’s over. This would help focus her musical goals.
In tandem with this:
Once Sarah arrives at the ranch she calls Owen and learns that she can’t return to the city because she is now wanted for Bobby’s murder (page 23). From here Booker agrees to let her stay and she starts cooking for the men at the ranch (page 31). This is a great turning point that spins the story in a whole new direction but it lacks tension because Sarah does not have a clear goal driving her actions. Instead of feeling like she is desperate to get back home to clear her name and get on with her career we get the sense that she is perfectly ok to hang out at the ranch indefinitely. This undermines the tension set up in the first act. In light of this:
• Let’s establish that Sarah wants to get back to the city to clear her name and meet with the A&R guys. She doesn’t want to blow her opportunity to get a deal and is determined to find a way to get back. This goal then runs into conflict from Owen who tells her it’s not safe, Hendrix who is lying in wait (page 43), the logistics of getting back without any transportation, her burgeoning relationship with Booker and her desire to help him save the ranch. This need to get back then becomes the spine of the movie and is the goal the audience becomes invested in her achieving.
In conjunction with this:
Let’s see more evidence of Sarah’s desire to be a musician.
Once Sarah gets to the ranch we see little of her musicality until page 45 where she sings with Ray and page 56 when she forms a band and jams with the inmates. As this is a piece about someone who is driven to be a professional musician we need to see more evidence of this.
• Perhaps we see her writing music in her down time, beating out riffs on the stove with wooden spoons, singing bits and pieces of her tunes, trying to find a decent radio station or borrowing an ipod from an inmate. Maybe we also see her try to track down the A&R guys to see if she can reschedule the show. All of this would help to keep her goals in focus and underscore the fact that music is her life.
Let’s clarify Sarah’s character arc.
Transformation is at the heart of all stories – even comedies. While we get the sense that Sarah grows over the course of the story it is not entirely clear what it is that changes.
One of the ways we can articulate how Sarah’s character arcs is to establish why she has not yet become a successful musician. This then becomes the central problem she has to overcome and we become invested in the movie to see if she will solve this problem and achieve her dream.
• In Sarah’s conversation with Owen (pages 7-10) we learn that she doesn’t want to grow up. This gives us some good background on her character but doesn’t quite clarify what has held her back from success. Ideally this scene would set up what has stopped her from being successful in order to establish the problem she needs to overcome. Perhaps we establish that she is so selfish and self-centered that she can’t keep a decent band together and because of this has not achieved the level of success she would like. Maybe Chet even quits on her which would highlight how this problem directly affects her. Then over the course of the story her experiences with Booker, the guys and even the horses should help her to learn how to be a team player and to put other people first. Then when the band plays at the rodeo we would get the sense that she has changed because she is putting Booker’s needs before her own.
All of this could work in tandem with Sarah being forced to cook for the inmates which works well. But perhaps rather than learning to take responsibility (page 50) she learns to put others first. This would help make her character arc feel more cohesive. Also let’s see more of her shedding her tough city girl image as she adjusts to ranch life. This will also help to underscore how much she is changing.
SARAH & BOOKER
Sarah and Booker are natural opposites and their mutual antagonism works very well. For the audience to become fully invested in them getting together we need to establish what draws them together more fully.
• One of the ways we can do this is to establish a common bond. Perhaps it is their mutual love for music, horses or old cars maybe it’s their inability to cook, or love of lemon meringue pie or whatever. Establishing something specific that unites them gives us the sense that these two people are kindred spirits – it is the spark that tells us these two are made for each other and MUST get together.
• Another way we can do this is to have a shared moment of emotional intimacy where they both temporarily let their guard down. This works well on page 33 when Booker agrees to let her stay but perhaps the moment could be expanded in order to bring out their connection a little more. Maybe he evens asks what she’s doing out in the desert and we see her almost begin to tell the truth but then make up something at the last moment. Expanding this beat would help the audience to become more emotionally invested in them getting together.
In tandem with this:
Let’s establish what’s keeping our couple apart.
Equally important in a romance is what is keeping our couple from getting together. In our piece this is primarily Sarah’s actions which keep creating problems for Booker (pages 20 & 67). This works very well and sets up good conflict between them. The piece would also benefit from clarifying that it is Sarah’s self-centeredness that stops them from getting involved.
• Perhaps Sarah initially refuses to help Booker solve his problem of saving the ranch. Maybe she doesn’t help round up the horses and refuses to be involved in the rodeo – which sets up conflict between them. Then as the story progresses and their relationship grows she becomes more interested in helping him slowly shedding her selfishness and deciding to help by entering the battle of the bands. Her change in character then leads to them getting together.
SARAH & LARUE
Next to Hendrix Larue is Sarah’s primary antagonist and focusing the conflict around one character works well. As this is also a story about city vs. country lets show how their different backgrounds might lead to their antagonism as well.
• On page 27 Sarah intervenes in a fight between Larue and Ray saying “If you gotta flap something, try those ears instead of your mouth, okay Dumbo?” This then sets up their troubled relationship but it doesn’t feel quite strong enough to warrant their antagonism. Perhaps we take this one step further so that Larue is also critical of her rock and roll look and city girl ways. Maybe Sarah’s solution to her bad cooking is to call for delivery which Larue scoffs at (this shows her naiveté about the country), maybe she complains about the nighttime silence or lack of coffee bars or alcohol. Maybe Larue complains about her inability to ride a horse or lack of knowledge about ranching in general. Anything along these lines would help expand on the conflict between them.
Overall dialogue is well written but the piece would benefit from expanding on the nuances of each character’s voice. For example Sarah, a rocking rolling city girl, would speak differently than Booker a cowboy. The inmates might have quirks in their dialogue unique to prison life as might Ray an old time ranch hand. Adding this kind of subtlety will help to make the characters feel more authentic.
The basic structure of the piece works well. It gets off to a great start and there are good twists and turns. That said the piece does not yet escalate cohesively towards the conclusion. This is partly because there are too many storylines fighting for attention. Streamlining the plot will help increase the tension and suspense so that the audience stays hooked through to the outcome. Page length is currently 118 – ideally this would be trimmed so that the final count is closer to 100.
The first act gets the story off to a great start. Sarah is set up very well, there is good tension and we are immediately invested the piece. But once Sarah arrives at the ranch the suspense drops and the action stalls. This is partly because of a weak first act turning point. Traditionally this turning point (around page 30) spins the story in a new direction and creates a problem for our protagonist to solve. As written this is where Sarah gets the job as cook while this works well it doesn’t create a significant problem for her to overcome. In light of this let’s consider re-working this somewhat so that it kick starts the second act more forcefully.
• One of the ways we can do this is to focus Sarah’s actions once she arrives to the ranch. Ideally she would be totally preoccupied with finding her way back home and not care that she has just let out all of Booker’s horses. Perhaps she asks for a lift or to see if she can borrow a horse or whatever. Regardless we should feel like her only goal is to get back home.
Her call to Owen (page 23) is a great beat that leaves her stranded in the desert but we never feel like her being stuck there is a real problem for her partly because she doesn’t respond to this new situation. Her lack of response causes the tension to drop when it needs to be escalating. Perhaps we re-work this so that Sarah doesn’t call Owen and instead is focused on getting a lift into town so that she can get back home but Booker demands that she stay and help him find the horses she let loose – and she has to cook too. This then sets the stage for greater conflict because it creates a bigger problem for Sarah to deal with. She wants to leave – but can’t until she has helped Booker solve his problem.
The second act is where the protagonist is forced to deal with a series of escalating complications en route to attaining his goal. In order for the story to feel more cohesive we need to streamline the plot keeping it focused on Sarah’s goals and the obstacles that get in her way.
One of the ways we can do this is to establish that Sarah is actively trying to get back to LA in order to meet with the A&R guys (or whatever goal you choose). But Booker holds her responsible for setting the horses free and refuses to help her go home until she helps him. This then becomes the second act through line.
The Second Act Turning Point.
Traditionally the second act turning point (around page 90) is the protagonist’s lowest point where we feel “all is lost.” In our story this turning point is Owen’s kidnapping but this feels like a confusing turn that takes away from all the good tension that has been built around Sarah, Booker and the men. As the real story is Sarah and the ranch let’s re-work this a little to help the piece feel more focused.
Perhaps as the band preps for the show Sarah learns that Hendrix is in town and has been looking for her. This then forces her to make a choice between saving herself or the ranch.
This then takes us to:
The set piece at the rodeo is a great action sequence that ties up the story nicely. This works well and could easily incorporate Sarah deciding to risk everything for Booker and the ranch instead of just protecting herself. This would help to underscore how much Sarah has changed over the course of the story and make for a more satisfying ending.
Overall the story is well written. A couple of areas warrant a mention.
Let’s expand on the contrast between city and country.
There is lots of potential in the fish out of water aspect of the piece that would benefit from exploiting more fully. Sarah is really out of her element here and we should see this. There’s no fast food, no coffee, no music, no cool clothes etc. Also as the only woman amidst all these men where is she showering, sleeping, dressing? Furthermore she’s surrounded by convicts – let’s see this. Are they gambling, hustling or thieving? Expanding on all of this will add humor and expand on the premise.
Let’s clarify the problem the ranch faces.
As this is a prison work camp it’s not clear how losing the horses affects the ranch (page 30). As much of the story is based on this problem we need to make sure it is easily understood. How do the mustangs support the ranch? Was Booker going to sell them? Doesn’t the government pay for the ranch? If so how can the bank foreclose? Clarifying this will help focus the problem Booker faces.
XXXXX is a great high concept piece with a strong marketable hook. Further development will ensure that the piece reaches its full potential.