Sunday, 5 August 2007

Blue Cat Feedback

Here’s my Blue Cat feedback from this year’s competition:

What did you like about this script?

Overall I thought the premise was relatively fresh, the characters were believable, and the pacing and tone were appropriate.

I found the general premise to be unusually interesting psychologically and unique for something of this genre. There were a few moments where I had a hard time suspending disbelief i.e. when the test patient's vein explodes violently, causing instant death. With just a little work I think "remote viewing" can become seamlessly believable, and I WANTED to hear more about the uses and effects. It is such an interesting concept to explore what it would be like to have this capability and to be exploited for it.

The two supporting characters served their purposes nicely. Emma was likeable, sympathetic character and functioned partially as a foil, which helped developed James. The most emotionally engaging portion of the story is when Emma dies. Forbes character is delightfully evil and predictable, which works for this piece. All the other characters are very one dimensional and function appropriately as catalysts and outlets for exposition.

I found the visual writing to be strong in many places. The writer has a strong command of action based language and moves us clearly and succinctly through his scenes. The mise en scene, including positioning of characters and body language is clearly communicated. Without being over bearing, they have framed some very nice composition and movement.

The pacing is appropriate and pleasantly surprising in its ability to create a feeling of paranoia. While one might be anticipating a typical action-adventure, what is instead delivered, through clever delays and sudden moments of silence and emptiness, is a Hitchcock-like anxiety laden thriller. The moment when John wakes up to Emma's dead body and just before he attacks Forbes are the two examples that come to mind immediately. By cutting between scenes the writer successfully builds the energy and anticipation.

What do you think needs work?

I would have liked to have seen James Marsh's character developed more. The nose bleeds were a nice technique to reveal moments of stress. It is also a disturbing concept that leaves the viewer feeling someone uncomfortable about how James' physical being is being exploited and damaged and therefore draws some empathy.

Otherwise, James character seemed relatively one dimensional and while, based on the premise of the story and his given condition, I wanted to feel bad for him, and side with him but it was difficult to summon the suffering and joy necessary to feel engaged. Because of the sterile environments James is placed in and the way his work treats him he naturally seems less human to viewers; it is very important the writer allow viewers to learn the opposite about James.

There is some attempt to unpeel the layers of James character as we learn about his past and spend intimate moments with him as he pieces together the events that shaped his life. However, for all these moments of intimacy that are poised to bring about epiphanies and character revelations, I never really felt that James character was delivered. I was not sure if we were supposed to view him as introverted, intellectual hero who is fighting a psychological warfare or if he was more a tough guy, gun toting secret agent.

We hear about his missing mother and his almost orphan status multiple times, but it's difficult to understand how this impacts him, except that he is searching. Because of this it is hard to find much meaning in the ending. There is much to be explored in the life and angst of James Marsh's life, but it is absolutely imperative that his character come through to be successful. Right now he seems like a ping pong ball more than anything. Let's learn more about him and grow to like him.

One other major point to be raised is that there are a few areas that are vague to the point of being distracting. Firstly, it was difficult to make the connection between Martin, Emma, and James. Therefore it was difficult to understand James' anger. Also, the script would benefit if the viewer had a better understanding of what exactly ConSec did and how James served them. It's completely unique and fictional so in this situation I would not rely on the viewers understanding of the concept by making brief references laden in jargon. It's okay to be a bit patronizing and expository here. Tell us about it.

I entered the competition earlier this year, and was the beneficiary of early advice (on 21st January). It came with the following email (extract):

Thank you very much for participating in this new program at BlueCat. We’ve heard from writers over the years how they wish they could receive their notes earlier, and this year we decided to give it a try.

Heather and I discussed the idea of letting you re-submit your screenplay in time for the March deadline, and while we love the idea, it wouldn’t be fair to change the rules midstream. But next year, we're considering ways for writers to intensely develop their screenplays over the four-month window of our submission period.

The reason I entered so early was to beat the increasing deluge of entries that Blue Cat was going to receive as the closing date loomed. That, and the fact that every entry had the benefit of written script analysis – I consider the coverage I received to be pretty good, especially considering Scott the Reader’s experience this year (my coverage weighed in at 745 words – Scott’s limped over the finish line with a mere 188).

I did not expect to do anything at all in this competition, so I wasn’t surprised when my entry did not trouble the top ten per cent. I entered it to receive the analysis which, all in all, I was pretty pleased about.

Blue Cat received over 2300 submissions this year – at $45 a pop, that’s $103,500 (that’s about £1.60 at today’s exchange rate)! Every year it attracts more entries than the year before, partially due to Gordy Hoffman’s spirited on-line marketing, and mostly due (I suspect) to the written analysis that every script receives. It might be interesting to see what impact such a huge amount of submissions has on entries for next year, especially if Scott’s experience is anything to go by.

And who’s to say that if the competition gets too popular they’ll simply stop the written analysis altogether? As Blue Cat grows in popularity, its reputation increases (well, that's the theory I guess). The more entries they receive, the more readers they’ll need to employ – if it gets much bigger, the logistics might mean that Blue Cat will go into some sort of reader shortage meltdown. Who knows?


Lucy said...

There will always be readers, even at just $10 a script.

Chip Smith said...

In that case, it will be more of a logistics/management meltdown rather than a reader shortage perhaps.

Thereagain, what sort of coverage would $10 a script buy you? If Scott the Reader's experience is anything to go by, then I guess we know the answer to that one.

That said, I'll probably enter again next year!