Because of my doubts regarding my “Treasure Hunt” screenplay, even after getting positive feedback from one of my screenplay editors, I scheduled script coverage reports for “The Dominatrix Wore Red” from two professional script readers. I actually asked three, but only two got back to me and I decided, with the other feedback I already had, two would be enough. As it happened, one was a woman and the other a man. Since most of the feedback I’ve got so far has been from women, I felt getting a man’s POV would be valuable.
I didn’t want to ‘contaminate’ the readers, so contacted them with only the most basic information: title, genre and length. The first that got back to me, Amanda, the ScriptGal gave me very encouraging responses, particularly given that RedDom is the first screenplay I completed. Though she gave me a ‘pass’ (‘for now’) on my screenplay, she gave me, as a writer, a ‘consider.’
Based on everything I’ve read, the general results from coverage is around 95% of all scripts rate a ‘pass,’ which tells the producer (the conventional customer to the coverage report) that they don’t need to waste their time reading the script, it has too many issues to be considered. Around 4% of all scripts rate a ‘consider,’ which, obviously, tells the producer they may want to take a look at the script themselves and see if they feel it can be brought up to the necessary level with some additional work. The holy grail, the remaining 1%, is the ‘recommend,’ which I’ve read translates to the reader is so enthusiastic that they’d be willing to put their own money into making the movie.
Thus, getting a ‘consider’ as a first-time writer is very encouraging to me, it puts me in the top 5% of all scripts the reader has read. While my two editors have been quite encouraging, they’ve been ‘contaminated’ by helping me craft the story, so aren’t quite as objective as I’d like. I consider them both professionals that are capable of being critical, but believe any time someone takes part in the development of a story, they get some level of emotional attachment.
Amanda’s general conclusion, slightly edited:
“There is absolutely nothing wrong with this script. [see, I told you she was very encouraging] … But I think the writer is better than his story, in this instance. The problem is there’s nothing here that distinguishes this script – there’s really not enough conflict and not enough edge.”
She outlined four basic areas (I interpreted that) she felt could be strengthened:
- The mob is under developed and feels generic.
- Same with the political backstory.
- Need more to connect Sidwell with the mob, the politics and, most importantly, why he needed to die.
- Hap is “too safe;” a proper gentleman.
After some consideration, I had these thoughts (warning: contains spoilers):
1) I’m not sure how to do more development on the mob, unless I add to the ‘montage’ when Hap and DB research the dark web. I can certainly see strengthening those scenes; I may have assumed the reader/viewer will intuit too much. I don’t want the mob to be any sort of suspect until that montage, though.
2) I intended for more political intrigue, but it fell by the wayside. That’s a very organic way to up some of the tension, as I can put some of those actors on the screen interacting directly with Hap and DB. I can probably even have Elise involved someway and tangle the threads even more. My biggest concern is running long, as I’m at 100 pages and worry making that intrigue smooth will take up too many pages.
3) I totally agree that Sidwell’s motives can be elucidated much more clearly. My idea is he was always a druggie, but ‘managed’ it better when he had less money. With the mob’s money, he’s been living an obvious lifestyle that became a threat to them. I think that can be made much more clear without too many additional pages. The intelligence community watches people with clearances pretty closely, so it would be very legitimate that the mob would see his excesses as a personal threat. I can see there being potential for some political intrigue as well, though have no ideas at this time.
4) I think Hap has enough flaws. I intend for him to be a gentleman, but one so focused on his work that he can’t maintain any relationships outside of work.
I’ve discussed the above points with a couple of the people who have been so much help in crafting the story as it stands and they gave me feedback that help spark additional ideas, so I believe even more strongly in my script. Perhaps not enough to warrant a ‘recommend,’ but my intent has always to direct the thing myself and expect to put some of my own money, not to mention a lot of time, into production, so the barriers to acceptance might be just low enough that a ‘consider’ is good enough. Besides, Amanda had this to say about casting:
“There are also some castable roles here – the lead HAP will be appealing to any number of actors, as will the juicy role of ELISE – the dominatrix.”
I’ve read in quite a few places that there’s a substantial dearth for strong female roles once actresses ‘age out’ and hit their 30’s. Ideally, the role of Elise will be attractive enough to a ‘name’ actress that I can build on that to get a ‘name’ actor for the role of Hap and leverage that into enough interest from producers that the project can get the necessary investment to make it to the big screen. A man can dream, can’t he?
The second script coverage report was from Drew, the Screenplay Mechanic. Sadly, my fantasy of becoming a lauded first-time writer came to a halt with his feedback, as I only rated as ‘pass’ for my screenplay and as a writer:
“This scribe needs to elevate his story in a number of ways. If the concept is going to hang its proverbial hat in the culture of BDSM then truly do so. Send the protagonist down a rabbit hole of BDSM, perhaps to the point where he loses himself and becomes addicted to it. Additionally, make the murder-mystery “sexy” too and find ways to evoke more of emotional investment on our part. Finally, always remember that this is a visual medium so aim to create optics which demand the widescreen treatment and lure us into the theater. This needs to be a 2019 version of BASIC INSTINCT, something which combines the kinky nature of FIFTY SHADES with a cool, slick detective mystery. Right now, it’s a surprisingly tame affair and the mystery isn’t as thrilling as it needs to be.”
Had I received this as the first feedback I ever got on the script, it might very well have been discouraging enough to turn my back on this rather insane idea of writing and directing movies. However, coming on the heels of so much other, largely positive, feedback, coincidentally all from women, it crystalized in my mind the target demographic for the story: women ‘of a certain age.’ I think women who have left their teen years (e.g., late 20’s and on up) might find the talky story I originally envisioned as something they’d be interested in watching at enough numbers to justify the budget I have in mind (million-dollar or so).
This is not to say that Drew’s feedback didn’t provide lots of useful information. Honestly given and well considered negative feedback is probably more valuable in the long run than positive and encouraging. As I learned when working on my blurb for “Diary of a Contract Killer”, knowing what audience I shouldn’t be targeting (romantic thriller, in the case of DoaCK) is equally as important as knowing which audience I should be. Positive reviews engender more, so properly targeting an audience such that the majority who are incentivized to see it actually enjoy it is way more valuable than generically appealing to an audience and winding up with a lot of unhappy viewers leaving negative reviews.
Drew thinks, in order to have big-screen appeal (there being so many similar stories on TV) the screenplay needs more action, way more sexiness and sexual tension and really thinks I dropped the ball on making my murder victim sympathetic enough for anyone to care if the mystery gets solved. Yet, those are actually elements I was intending to avoid. This tells me that I was successful in getting my intent across. Just not the intent he feels is commercially viable. He did have slightly encouraging words, though:
“At the end of the day then, this writer’s style is somewhat enjoyable to read but this story is too unremarkable to become a theatrical feature film.”
Of course, ‘somewhat’ enjoyable isn’t a ringing endorsement, but it at least tells me that I have reasonable potential as a storyteller. That’s the question that’s always been in my mind: can I tell stories that other people want to read/watch?
So what’s my conclusion to the original point of asking for coverage? I think I’m going to make “Treasure Hunt” and learn if I really enjoy the challenges of making a movie, like I believe I will. And to get some indication if I can entertain viewers with my stories, which, with the feedback targeting the romantic comedy genre, I feel very positive about.
Assuming TreasHu gives me the results I hope for (e.g., I like making movies that other people like watching), what I’ve taken from the feedback I’ve received so far, particularly including Drew’s, is I should be targeting a female audience, and one ‘of a certain age.’ I don’t think RedDom will have much potential to appeal to a teenage audience (of any sex), but I’m getting the impression that more mature women (late 20’s on up), are likely to find appeal in RedDom’s talky plot and dearth of car chases or explosions. While the good guy may be too much of a gentleman, he isn’t squeekly clean, and while the suspect is clearly taken from the femme fatale rule book, I believe she isn’t so flawed that women won’t find her interesting and sympathetic. She’s a very strong character, though, I trust, with enough flaws that she isn’t a Mary Sue.
My goals for the story, which have been recognized by very few readers (which implies I may not be making my intent clear enough (though the coverage reports got the synopsis dead on)) are as follows, in their relative importance:
- Entertain people.
- Show cops often latch onto the easiest suspect and have trouble giving that up.
- Political pressure can make cops take shortcuts.
- Autopsy and DNA results can often take weeks, or longer.
- Educate about the dominatrix business.
One is pretty much a given; as if people are not entertained, why should they tell their friends? The second may not be resonating very well, though I feel the script manages my intent very well. The third needs some work, I think and I’m sure the fourth isn’t covered well enough to get my point across. The final one, which is why I started writing the story in the first place (and why I interviewed an actual dominatrix), I think is handled perhaps a little too much. I do believe I made the infodump visually compelling, and am rather pleased with myself when I rewrote it (initially the entire scene was static at the cafe table) and gave Hap a plausible reason to engage in flirting back, but do understand that I have probably oversold the whole dominatrix angle, since I have none shown (I do put a tiny bit in the sequel I’m writing now) and it factors so little in the climax. I’ve had complaints about my logline feeling too boring:
“The Dominatrix with a PhD, who may be a murderer, has erudite conversations with the investigating Detective, who may be falling for her.”
But it’s the exact vibe I want to go with. Thus, I feel anyone who reads the log line and has an interest in reading the blurb:
Hap has been a detective for over a decade, a police officer more than twice that. In all that time, he’s never dealt with the BDSM subculture, yet that’s exactly what he needs to know about for his latest case.
The nude victim, a Senator’s aide – who has Top Secret clearances – is tied to his bed. Strangled, it’s obvious he enjoyed his demise. The scene is almost entirely devoid of evidence. Just an imprint of a high-heeled shoe on his chest and three strands of long brunette hair. Hair that’s the exact color and length of Mistress Elise, whose contact info is among the victim’s possessions.
Mistress Elise, the Dominatrix with a PhD, provides BDSM services along with erudite conversation. She’s coy with Hap, proving her brilliance isn’t limited to her occupation and academic research.
Hap can’t figure if Elise is his prime suspect or an exceptionally capable subculture consultant. The more he learns, the less he understands.
And the bodies keep piling up.
Will find the story, with some minor tweaks, interesting enough to enjoy and recommend to friends.