The Four Star System

As a consultant, there are two things I always keep in mind:

The first is Roger Ebert’s Golden Rule, “Don’t judge a work by what it’s about, but how it goes about it.”

The second is my own belief, “The greatest reward for strong writing is strong criticism.”

I have been doing coverage for over ten years. I began as a development intern in college. After graduating, I joined a low level film crew where, among other things, I worked to provide notes to our inexperienced clients.

Soon enough, I discovered how rewarding it is to help writers improve their material. While my notes tend to focus on criticisms and potential points of concern with a work, that is only because I feel great writers deserve such feedback.

Development studios are unforgiving places. My notes are designed to provide as many opportunities to identify possible points where readers may pass as possible. At the same time, I work to never suggest changing your material on a fundamental level. I will never tell you what you should do. My goal is to understand your story and suggest how you might better realize that specific narrative.

In an effort to provide notes to as many writers as possible, especially to those who cannot afford the often exorbitant prices seen on other sites, I provide several tiers of service.

This file contains a sample of the THREE STAR NOTES. The final page is a sample of the FOUR STAR NOTE addendum.

SAMPLE: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B8gXeEiS_vtUZmlBdUg1cDdBQXc

THREE STAR NOTES ($100): This coverage comes in three parts. The first page is a summary, which is there to show you that I’ve read the script closely and how I broke down the major beats. The second page is a general, single-spaced review of the material. Finally, there is at least one single-spaced page that details the script’s biggest strengths, flaws, and development prospects. Often times, this final section can reach four pages, with no additional charge to you.

FOUR STAR NOTES ($300): This includes everything above, but I also provide line-by-line notes that are composed as I read the script. Generally speaking, these notes tend to be 15 pages long. They include typos, format errors, and general opinions that are expanded upon in the standard coverage. You can see how each scene is being reacted to in “real time.”

In addition to all of the above services, unlimited follow-up questions are provided. Also, if one purchases the THREE STAR NOTES package, they can upgrade to the FOUR STAR NOTES after the fact simply by paying the $200 difference.

Please see each section for samples of each package.

ACCELERATED NOTES (+ 50%, 100%): Is there a contest coming up? An agent just ask for your script? Don’t worry. You can get quick feedback instantly with Accelerated Notes. If you want to guarantee your notes come in within three days, you can pay 50% more to do so. A 24 hour turnaround is available for 100%. Please note that I bill you AFTER I send you your notes, so if I’m late, not only will you not have to pay the surcharge, but you’ll be given a 50% discount! Also be aware that my turnaround is sometimes naturally three days or less. I’m offering this due to high demand.

QUEUED NOTES: Maybe time is not a factor for you. What if what really matters is the best deal? For the long-term planner, I have QUEUED NOTES. Rather than take a guaranteed turnaround, you can enter a public queue. The turnaround time for these notes is longer (usually about one month).

However, you can enjoy a great discount. The prices are:

QUEUED THREE STAR NOTES ($30) / QUEUED FOUR STAR NOTES ($100)

My goal with this system is to offer my services to those who do not have as much money to spare.

To further compensate clients for a longer turnaround, I increase the transparency for these projects. All writers receive a NOTE CODE to follow their placement in the discounted queue. If you would like to see how many scripts are in the queue, an up-to-date list is below:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1pVJEYU7OZQ0MWhKzQytATbdRtimPDTt6zepnZJlE-Ow/edit?usp=sharing

Three Star Sample

Below is a sample of the Three Star Notes. This sample has been created using snippets of actual coverage. The length (5 pages total) is typical of most sets of notes.

For a .pdf of this work with more information, please see the post titled “The Four Star System.”


GENERAL COMMENTS:

The writer of this project has created an energetic premise that can appeal to multiple demographics. The military side of Jane’s story resembles TOP GUN for a modern age. There are several complex yet brief and easily understandable action sequences. The romantic elements are well realized thanks to strong dialogue and Jane’s consistent level of initiative throughout the plot. There is also an opportunity for military funding given the positive portrayal of the armed forces. The writer has also done their research, with many details related to aircraft functions inserted into the script.

In terms of execution, there are issues relating to both the writing style and the overall structure. Regarding the former, the script is heavily overwritten. The aforementioned aircraft details are inserted even when they are not relevant. At one point, an aircraft landing mechanism is detailed down to the exact measurements. This lack of focus also impacts the actions of the piece. In contrast to earlier sequences, later action sequences tend to drag. The climax, for instance, starts with the high-energy thrill of an engine failure. After that, the scene spends a considerable amount of time covering Jane gathering information through a series of clicks. By the time it gets to the final, climactic landing, the energy has been lost because the scene went on for too long.

That overwrought structure also extends to individual scenes. The script awkwardly includes both the introduction of John and the death of Jack in one scene. From then on, the script struggles to balance the two subplots. Characters will switch from talking about the mystery of John to the tragedy of Jack mid-dialogue. Just as a scene will seem to be wrapping up, the subject will suddenly switch to the next plot. Adding to concerns is the amount of exposition that occurs as a result of Jane not being present for so many key events of the narrative.

The script’s many disparate subplots never fully gel. There are so many different betrayals and reveals that the script becomes difficult to invest in at any given moment. For much of the second act, Jane’s primary goal is unclear. Her focus shifts from reconciling her feelings about John, to surviving the test flight of the prototype, to unraveling the mystery regarding Jack’s death. While all three of those could work in one draft, they are not synergized. There are few beats that advance more than one plot at a time. Jane’s limited personal interaction with the prototype’s development and the investigation into Jack’s death further impacts the sense that these plots are not fully integrated into her romance with John.

Moving forward, the next draft should focus on heavily editing the material to create a stronger act structure. The writer should also strongly consider addressing the scope of the narrative. At present, the plot cannot handle its various plotlines and themes. Finally, some consideration should be given to how to further integrate Jane into scenes where she is presently absent. These changes should provide a solid foundation for future drafts, though it is likely more than one will be necessary.


GREATEST STRENGTHS:

JANE AND JOAN RELATIONSHIP: The writer effectively structures the rise and fall of this relationship. It starts from an honest moment of heroism that then slowly decays due to Jane’s lust for power. The more the writer focuses on this particular relationship, the more successful the overall narrative becomes.

JACK: The writer doesn’t portray Jack as an outright good or bad person. It is implied that he forms a relationship with his future wife primarily to learn how to gain power. However, it is clear that he cares for her on some level. He is willing to reveal his secret technology to the military to see his son, though not as quickly as a more earnest character might. This leaves the audience free to interpret how good or bad he truly is.

JOAN FORGETTING JANE: This is one of the more emotionally impactful moments of the script. In terms of craft, Joan revealing that she has forgotten Jane is a moment where the writer uses a single line to tie together and advance multiple plot threads. It factors into Jane’s grief, Joan’s relationship with her father, and the overall military conflict surrounding the two.


GREATEST WEAKNESSES:

CAST SIZE AND STRUCTURE: In the current draft, nine characters inhabit the training facility: Jane, Joan, Jack, John, James, Jared, Jeannie, Jasmine, and Jodie. Of these, only the first four have a critical connection to the prototype’s development. The other five all essentially share the same narrative role of being an outsider to force the first four to tell the story of the experiments. That role could be served just as well by one character within a cast of five.

More importantly, the narrative does not have time to flesh out the personalities of each character. Several characters also suffer from overlapping roles. James and Jack both serve as aggressive members of the group who contrast with the more level-headed Jane. The two could be consolidated and the narrative would lose little.

Similarly, Jeannie and Jasmine are self-absorbed women that are consistently hostile towards Joan. While Jeannie is stated in the action to be a “snotty teacher’s pet type”, this does not factor into the narrative. On the subject of action, Jasmine is simply stated to be “gorgeous and she knows it.” These sparse details and similar narrative roles again make it difficult to see the benefit of having both characters.

PACING (LENGTH): It often feels as though this script has had various scenes trimmed to the point that it has lost its sense of flow. This often happens when a writer makes too many quick edits to a script. At the same time, this script does still need trimming. Given its current level of plot, it should be 100 pages long at most

PACING (REDUNDANCY): Many beats are repeated in the script. We have Jack constantly exclaiming that he’s a genius, Jane repeatedly asking for a chance to prove herself, and Joan locking eyes with Jack. There is a general sense that the script has not condensed its beats to an absolute minimum.

The writer should strongly consider starting from the beginning and reviewing this material while keeping track of how many beats relevant to certain subplots are present. For example, Jane rejects John after he nearly dies. She then rejects him again in a scene running from pages 79 to 81. However, a much more meaningful split occurs on page 81. That scene also has relevance to the clinic storyline. By cutting the first scene, not only will the pacing be improved, but the second scene will also have more impact by not suffering from any sense of redundancy.

PACING (SCENE EFFICIENCY): Informing the issue of length is the pacing of this draft. There is a tendency for scenes to linger. A basic dinner scene goes on for six pages. The actual critical lines of the scene amount to roughly two pages if everything else is cut away. All that really matters is that Jane offends Jack. The dinner scene, like several others, does include beats that set up the later twist. However, the script doesn’t need so many hints to begin with.

One other quirk of the writing that pads out scenes is the tendency to include unnecessary banter. Consider the exchange: “We should go.” “Will I see you tomorrow?” “How about this evening?” “Okay.” These lines could be removed. We can assume that they arranged a meeting when we see them together in the scene. This may seem minor, but there are numerous examples of this. Together, they take up a considerable amount of page space.

PADDED DESCRIPTORS: As mentioned in the general comments, the script can often use too many lines to describe basic elements. One example of this is the fueling sequence on page 35. Half a page is dedicated to what would likely be only a few seconds on the screen. It’s also a moment that’s not fundamental to Jane’s development.

THE OPENING: The first dozen pages are highly problematic. There is a great deal of jumping around, too many vague details, and it is difficult to emotionally connect to Joan losing a partner when their relationship is rapidly summarized over shifts in time.

DIALOGUE: Overall, the dialogue is above average. However, the narrative often indulges in restraining its exposition. The exposition frequently drags down otherwise good scenes. There are also several instances of characters providing information that both parties seemingly already know.

As mentioned above, the opening scenes become difficult to invest in emotionally due to Jack’s repeated exclaiming that he’s a genius. He spends a great deal of time detailing his accomplishments. There is also the instance of John taking far too long to explain what he wants. Finally, any dialogue involving Jeannie’s protocol is difficult to reconcile with her personality.

JODIE: This character is one of the most troubling elements of the script. Her introduction as a damsel in distress who can then instantly be asked out is fairly clichéd. Her mother and estranged son are similarly simplistic. Her scenes also tend to run long. Making matters worse is that when we’re watching her speak with James or Jared, we are essentially watching a side character talk to their side character. We are so far from the protagonist that it becomes difficult to remain invested.


MINOR ISSUES:

FIREARM SEQUENCE IMPLICATIONS: It is not clear if the script is meant to be political in nature, but its use of teenagers using firearms to empower themselves is a disturbing element that seems contradictory to the otherwise escapist tone.

TYPOS: Typos are rare, but noticeable. They also occur during several key moments in the script. Notable examples include: “There,” being used instead of “They’re,” on page 32,” dialogue headers referring to “Jane” as “Jackie” on page 91, and Jane’s line “Who aee you?” on page 102.


DEVELOPMENT PROSPECTS:

The development prospects for this piece are unfortunately low.

Due to the complexity of the dog fighting sequences, this would be a fairly expensive project. The strong romance, paired with the military appeal, could give this a broad demographic appeal were it not for the rather violent ending. If the TOP GUN sequel succeeds, then this would likely become a more appealing project.

In terms of critical potential, the action is innovative and the characters are strong for the genre. However, those assets take too long to present themselves and are underdeveloped in this draft. If the writer can improve those elements in future drafts, the prospects will improve. That said, it will still have to compete with an increasingly competitive action genre. This piece lacks the escapism of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY or the tragedy of LOGAN.

Finally, the script takes place in an exotic location that is not exploited by the plot itself. Generally speaking, this plot could have taken place in any remote area. The writer should consider either committing fully to the island setting and showcasing it more fully or shifting to a more standard military location.