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You know that scene where that Gladiator guy is finally free for a while and he travels across half a continent to get back to his family farm and it's all trashed and he walks up that road and sees his kid and wife hanging from those crosses and you only see their feet but they're all toasty and the guy cries and, maybe, so do you?....

SOMEBODY

WROTE

THAT!

 

SAMPLE CRITIQUES AND CLIENT REACTIONS

"Miss Barker: I took a screenwriting class at UCLA and paid a good deal of money for it. By reading your analysis of my work, I learned more about screenwriting in general and how to improve my project than I did in two months at UCLA and for half the price! Thank you!" - Robert Nunez

Lynn,

"You're a jewel. Thanks for your perspective on XXXX. I will definitely recommend your services."

"Just to let you know that after receiving your comments, I reread the script and felt it was sophomoric and too wordy. We redid it entirely and are happy with the results. More action, less words, fewer characters, LESS EXPLAINING, more visual moments. Thank you for your energy in helping that movement take place!" -Sara Millman

"I have major changes in mind, and have made a few already, thanks to your comments. Ruby will reveal her treatment by Adams much earlier now, and I have trimmed about 10 more pages of description, jury selection, etc. THANK YOU FOR A JOB WELL DONE!" - Art Ellis

"Your critique was better than anyone could expect. You have saved me lots of time and money to either get it right or don't bother fooling with it. I think you've done a grand job. I recommend you highly." - Frank Webb

NOTE: CRITIQUES ALL INCLUDED NOTES ON ACTUAL SCRIPT PAGES

SAMPLE CRITIQUE #1
by Lynn Barker


THE OVERALL "PROS"

"XXXX" is an interesting and involving story of a terrible miscarriage of justice. Unlike Ruben "Hurricane" Carter, lead character Ruby, although eventually freed, was, evidently, never able to tell her side of the story. Most characters, especially African-American roles, are well-drawn and dialogue true to life for the time and place of your story. Opening scenes are excellent and set the "tone" for the piece as they show the seemingly "kindly" Doctor Adams tending to a young Black patient then showing his true colors when he cruelly shoots the dog and lets us know, in a visual and shocking manner, where he really stands. With good casting and attention to some of the problems examined below this could certainly be a marketable project.

THE "CONS"

Description: Throughout, scene/set description is meticulous, perhaps too much so in some scenes. You can probably cut another 5 pages from the script by tightening all the detailed description, especially of locales. This is overwritten. It appears as if an interior decorator or set designer wrote all this. It isn't needed and just slows down the reading of the script, thus distracting the reader from your story. A sample of possible tightening of such scenes is done on Page 11 of the script and might be followed in similar scenes throughout.

Characters: Ruby is very sympathetic in the last half of the script but, in the beginning, when we see her as a tough, no-nonsense business woman in a skin-tight dress running her husband's illegal businesses, she doesn't come off as someone to root for.

Her situation is sympathetic of course, being hated by Blacks (who have no idea of the "real" doctor's feelings and dealings) and Whites (who know where their bread is buttered) and is ideal for drumming up sympathy. We don't see what she actually suffered, however, until Pgs. 87 and 88! Perhaps if we saw more of her suffering and unhappy moments at the hands of the Doc and townspeople in earlier scenes, we could "root" for her earlier in the story.

Ancillary Characters: There are so many Sheriffs and deputies and local cops, etc. that I found it hard to keep track of all of them. Can you combine some of these characters or eliminate some altogether? Also, all of these "bad guy" types seem interchangeable. None have any interesting quirks or special little annoying habits or unique ways with words that make them "live" and stand out for us. Perhaps by eliminating some of them and concentrating on others, you could make them more than just paper creations. Think of a definite actor you would like to see in the role and make the part "live" for that actor. Look at each character and ask yourself "What does this guy do to move the story forward or add sympathy and emotion to the story?" If the answer is "not much" then get rid of the character or combine him with another. Zora Hurston and Huie are very interesting characters, especially the Black, female reporter (I see Whoopie Goldberg) and both characters could be brought into the story earlier and used more as a threat to the town big wigs.

PACE AND DIALOGUE:
More serious problems lie in the slow pace of the story and in long, "talking head" dialogue scenes that make for tedious storytelling:

Any time you can show action and establish what is going on rather than just having characters talk about it, you need to do so. SHOW it, don't SAY it, is the cardinal rule of screenwriting. There are long sections of the script in which characters at different locales sit in living rooms, around tables, in offices etc. tediously sharing information. Dialogue in these scenes must be tightened down to the bare, necessary facts that are needed for plot. For example: Pgs. 53-54 You can lose Reid's long speech entirely and just show the men carrying the casket. An anonymous observer outside could say he or she has never seen so many bigtime politicians together in one place!

Also, if people must talk all this much, then do it visually; on the move, in a moving car, in a boat, during a chase, at a dance, while someone is being followed and there is a hint of jeopardy (you could work this in with reporters Huie and Hurston who are a definite threat to the local powerbrokers). Again, use the visual and action method whenever possible to help pacing and flow of the story and to put "pressure" on your plot. Punch things up by adding a scene in which Ruby might be threatened by the mob while in jail. Include more scenes of rough action (a beating?) between Ruby and the Doc.

Trial scenes appear to have been taken directly from an existing transcript without much editing. All the detailed objections and "legalese" are repetitive. Just establish that the defense isn't being allowed to let Ruby tell her story and you've got it.

DETAILS:

Pg. 11 - Where did Ruby get this bottle of medicine? We don't see her getting it in Adams' office.

Pg. 14 Ruby gave the Doc a hundred dollar bill? They don't know that the killer gave him the money and this is never mentioned again. Did she give it to him and, if so, why?

Pg. 22 - I'm not sure what the scam is here. These guys bring in money from gambling and Sam gives them a cut (the presents?). How, exactly is Doc involved? Is Doc's man picking up Doc's cut of gambling funds? Can you clarify this a bit visually rather than with more dialogue?

Pg. 24 - What is a bolita? I assume it's a sort of numbers game but people outside of Florida have never heard of it.

Pg. 37 - It would be cruel but dramatic if Sam refused to take Loretta here because she isn't his baby.

Pg. 68 - Evidently Ruby did a self-abortion? This is never clear and isn't spoken of again. The fact that she's pregnant with yet another Adams' baby should be played up more, especially if you do it AFTER we see some of the horrible ways he treats her earlier in the script.

Pgs. 78-81 - Everyone is pretty familiar with the jury selection process. This whole scene really isn't needed. Just have Black or someone say that they are going for the death penalty in the case.

Pgs. 85-86 - Just have two men talk as they walk city hall or the reporters say that Black may get Cannon kicked off the case on a technicality (this doesn't happen anyway and this dialogue isn't needed).

Finally, who was responsible for sending in pages from the secret ledger book to the press? Last I remember, Ruby's mom had it. Where does it actually end up? In whose hands?

WRAPPING UP:

Marketing: If these concerns are handled, this script could be a star vehicle for many of our underused, great, African-American actors like Halle Berry as a younger Ruby or Angela Bassett (of the Tina Turner movie and "How Stella Got Her Groove Back") as Ruby, Whoopie Goldberg as Ruby or as the Black, female reporter. There are tons of great Black actors for your male parts, Morgan Freeman, Denzel, on and on. Once you have the script ready, you might contact the agents of these actors and try to get them attached to the project (the best way to get it made). You might have to get an agent to get the script to them (get them to read it) but it's a shot. There is a definite spot for this sort of thing on Showtime or USA network as well as the feature film route. These actors are always saying that there isn't enough material for them… You can prove them wrong.

Good luck and feel free to e-mail with any questions about these comments.
Best Wishes,

Lynn

ADDITIONAL EXCHANGE WITH CLIENT

1. While all of your points are well taken, the one that concerns me most is the idea of Ruby as a sympathetic character. I didn't want this project to become another TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. I don't have a Greek tragedy here because Ruby, unlike Oedipus, was not a noble character. Even so, today's audience will necessarily feel sorry for Ruby as a victim of the system-today she would have gotten off with manslaughter, or would have been referred for psychiatric treatment.

What I really want to portray in this script is a "slice of life" from that period in time-a slice that shows what happened when the complex subterranean interrelationships between white and black communities was exposed when someone broke the rules.
----------------------
Lynn's Response: Perhaps what I could have said rather than lack of sympathy in the early part of the script there was a lack of visible motivation for Ruby. Of course you don't want her to be a one-dimensional character. Like Hurricane Carter, she was no angel and was a product of her time and locale. I think you will achieve your audience "hook" by interesting viewers in what the system of her day did to her. Some sort of "rooting interest" is important to a successful script. By showing at least a little of what Ruby went through at the hands of the Doc, a little earlier in the script, the audience can see why anyone would do what she did and thus root for justice in the matter if not for Ruby herself.

Contact me with any further questions.

SAMPLE CRITIQUE #2

Critique by Lynn Barker

OVERALL

The "PROS": This in a thoughtful, intelligently written script with a very worthy "crisis of conscience" central storyline. The Brian/Xavier relationship is handled with a very human touch that doesn't concentrate as much on their being gay as on the two being loving life partners facing a huge relationship crisis. Scenes between them are real without being what some mainstream producers and directors would consider "over-the-line" (whatever that means).

All characters are well-developed and your story focus doesn't wander away from Brian/Xavier and your central storyline. Believe me, this is quite an accomplishment. Considering theme, you manage to make your points without being too preachy. Again, a plus. I would suggest first marketing this to individual actors to play Brian and Xavier. There are tons who would do a great job. I'm sure you know of many. Gary Sinise, Billy Zane….on and on. Use the clout of good, name actors (who would jump at playing your leads) to take the project to producers who might otherwise be a bit wary of the subject matter. Not that it's your goal, but this would also make a great play (flying scenes would have to be altered of course). You might also consider t.v. Movies of the Week or HBO whose t.v. films are often marketed theatrically overseas.

The "CONS": Although it is refreshing to read dialogue that is grammatically correct, etc., your characters sometimes speak a bit too formally when in personal situations. For example, when Brian is in court, he would, of course, speak more formally. When arguing with Xavier, he should speak less perfectly. When we are angry or upset, our sentence structure is rarely perfect. Sentences are broken, more "slang-filled", more "relaxed".

Basic structure of your story, the dramatic rise and fall and the order of your scenes, works well. However, several of your scenes run too long. The usual screenplay rule is 3 pages per scene unless you are dealing with a chase or descriptive action that plays fast on screen. For your many "talking head" scenes, try to stick to the 3 page rule. Just tighten where you can. Ask yourself what, exactly, does the audience need to know about character and story from this scene and then trim the rest.

The actual story itself has several problem areas which I'll mention below in the "Details" section. On one front, I'm not sure that it's believable that everyone in the gay community would be for Laslo and against Brian. Wouldn't there be plenty of gays (and straights for that matter) who would reason that Laslo may have actually known he had A.I.D.S. and given it to this kid? Maybe he's not being set up by the Governor? Is this guy so God-like that no one would even doubt except Brian? I also have a problem with Brian's ending courtroom speech but I'll detail that below as well.

DETAILS

Pg. 1 - We could use a short description of Brian, age at least. Very minor point but I thought a man's name was spelled Clair and a woman's Claire? No biggie.

Pg. 3 - What does scrum mean? I'm college educated but I had to look it up. Maybe use a more common word for the "common" Hollywood reader and producer.

Pgs. 17-22 - This scene is far too long. If this is a talk show, a reporter might have this much "on screen" time. In a breaking news report, no. Tighten all of Gonzo's dialogue down to the bare news facts. If you need Laslo's backstory to come out, break it up in conversation among your characters. Use only what the audience needs to know.

Pg. 39 - If, at this point, all the blood evidence is supposedly in, why does Brian think the case is "nuts". Does he think the blood evidence is planted or tampered with at this early point?

Pg. 42 - If Laslo actually knew he was H.I.V. positive and knowingly had sex with this boy then doesn't this make Laslo a bad guy that Brian should want to prosecute at this point? At this early point in the story Brian's "principles" should make him want justice. If he does now know that Laslo is being set up, how? Shouldn't he be telling Peters he'd like to at least see if it's a set-up?

Pg. 46 - Just a typo or an omitted word? Bottom of page…the two people Xavier's been talking to…two friends, whatever.

Pgs. 48-53 - Again, too long. Tighten and trim here. Focus should be on the real core of the argument, (Brian's feeling that Laslo may be guilty and Xavier's feeling that Laslo is a victim, a gay target). Trim anything else. Also, for this kind of argument (with one's life partner) the guys speak a little too formally, especially Brian.

Pg. 74 - Brian isn't very likable when he tells his lover here that he'll never tell him the truth. He should have told him before they got serious. I realize that Brian is struggling with this but he's a little too cold here.
Also..Brian is being awfully conservative in being so sure the trial will be over in "two weeks". Shouldn't he say "no more than two weeks, I hope"? American justice doesn't usually run that smoothly.

Pg. 80 - Who is Marina Chan? Obviously a newswoman but, if she's been introduced before, I've forgotten and so may the audience have. Remind us in description here who she is. Also, the average reader won't know that an "abattoir" is a slaughterhouse. Better just use slaughterhouse… it's a stronger word anyway.

Pgs. 80 - 84 - Again, too wordy. Try to condense the information that your audience needs to know. Trim the rest. Also if "Meyers" is the name of the Judge in the case, you need to say so back in description on page 54. We never got her name.

Pg. 82 - Again, it's hard to like Brian and root for him when he won't tell his current partner that his last lover died of A.I.D.S. I realize that he pays a price at the end but soften this if you can.

Pgs. 90-95 - Too long. Tighten and leave what's necessary to move your story.

Pg. 95 - Brian is being very condescending when he tells Xavier that Xavier doesn't understand what this is about. It's obvious that, as a lawyer, Brian can't admit stolen evidence. Xavier knows this in theory but his emotional instincts say use it anyway. It's not that Xavier doesn't understand, he just doesn't agree.

Pg. 96 - Break this long paragraph into smaller ones. Readers and producers balk at seeing a chunk of text this big.

Pgs. 98-103 - Well-written but again, tighten. Also, doesn't Brian suspect that his plane was rigged to crash? He had the only copy of papers that could ruin the case with him in the plane. Shouldn't he tell Peters about nearly crashing? If this isn't your intention then the audience will think it is and be confused. If Brian's plane wasn't rigged, what was your reason for the near-crash? Just to wake Brian up or something?

Big story problems
Pg. 104 -: This makes no sense and it also makes us dislike Brian. After telling Peters he's got to disclose these records, he burns them? If Brian is going to confess all and blow his career in front of the world, why not free Laslo on the way out by turning the papers over to Wallace? This would redeem Brian.

Pgs. 107 -109 - Does Brian feel that he gave Andre A.I.D.S? He has been testing virus free. What does he mean then that he "took Andre down"? At this point, he thinks Laslo is being set up. Why wouldn't it be more heroic and in Andre's memory for him to turn the papers over to Wallace and free Laslo??? His confession here almost seems unrelated to the Laslo case, a nervous breakdown "out of the blue" if you will. Better if he confessed in court that he put his career above the truth and his current relationship. Perhaps the speech you put in the courtroom should be altered and told to Xavier (less formally). He is the person who deserves an explanation for Brian's withholding the truth about Andre's death. The jury should get a speech about the set-up, the papers and how Brian almost sold out a good man for his career. If Laslo were guilty of knowingly passing on A.I.D.S. then Brian comparing himself to Laslo would make sense. As written, it just doesn't.

Pg. 111 - Laslo would have a conscience by having these tests done to prove to himself that he didn't infect the boy (if he was really with the kid) but, why wouldn't he want the tests put in evidence if he's innocent? If this all goes back to Laslo's "no bail, no lawyer" martyrdom, then you should bring it up again here.

Pg. 113 - The jury finds Laslo not guilty even without the letter that proves he was set up? Without the proof that the blood tests were doctored and without Laslo's own separate blood tests that proved he didn't carry A.I.D.S. ? Why? Also, much is said about the Rice boy yet we never see any of his testimony. This would seem strange to an audience.

Pg. 118 - Did Xavier get the exact anniversary of Andre's death from the tabloid stories about Brian? It doesn't seem to be a detail these types of papers would include.

Pg. 122 -Small thing but I don't think the two guys should run toward each other here like "John" and "Martha" in a Clairol commercial. Better if they just walk quickly.

WRAPPING UP

You have a very moving and well-crafted piece here. I feel that, with attention to Brian's motivations and actions in the last part of the story, work on streamlining some of the longer scenes and attention to some of the mentioned details, you will have a project that should attract quality actors. Best of luck!!!

Lynn Barker

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