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A Spec Scout Score indicates the quality of your screenplay. The higher your score, the better.

75.0 72.4 81.1 69.7 73.9 83.2 75.1 72.4 71.1 69.7 73.9 83.2
  • On the Cusp
  • by Brendan Braithwaite
  • 73.7

  C C C
3.3 | 3 3 4
4.0 | 4 4 4
3.3 | 3 4 3
3.3 | 3 3 3
3.3 | 3 4 3
2.7 | 3 2 3
3.0 | 3 3 3
3.3 | 3 3 4
3.0 | 3 3 3
3.3 | 4 3 3
Loglines
A man who carries the emotional burden of his failing family farm announces to his town that he plans to address their crippling draught by summoning a with a live rain dance perforamnce and sets out passionately to make the hoax a reality despite all odds and common sense.
When the heir to a once-profitable agricultural plot decides to perform a raindance onstage before the whole town, his identical twin brother gets in on the action. As the show begins to take a toll on both of them, the family’s issues begin to percolate to the surface.
In an attempt to make some cash for his family’s failing agricultural farm, a young man prepares for an act in which he attempts to summon rain, despite threats to his health and family's reputation.
A man with no training in the occult, issues a public statement to his rural town that he will summon a large storm, thereby resolving the 8-month-long draught that's crippled businesses. But when rumor spreads it's just a hoax, it's up to his family and the woman he loves to get to the bottom of his crazed agenda and halt the performance before it's too late.
Genres
Film, Fiction, Live Action, Independent, Action, Drama, Romance, Comedy
Pages
100
Rated
PG
Budget
Low Budget
Lead
M Ambiguous 31 Good Looking
Similar
Lars and the Real Girl, Napoleon Dynamite, Rubber, Rushmore, Holy Man, The Prestiege, Son-In-Law.
When
Present; A few months.
Where
All Present-Day rural town. Rural roads, various farmhouses and fields, convention center, locker room, orchestra shell, park, Indian burial site, luxurious pre-fab home.
Synopsis
A small boy, young KEVIN PAX (7), chases a LITTLE GIRL (6) through a field of Indian burial markings at the edge of a farm. Years later, Kevin, now in his thirties, fastens bells to his ankles and waives a feathered stick in dazzling motions before a skeptical audience of 6,000 townsfolk. The crowd grumbles in anticipation.

Flash back a few weeks earlier. At Crop Town, the family farm, Kevin's twin brother JOSH PAX (31) works diligently at the farm, uprooting weeds and trying to salvage a line of withering crops while he listens to an agricultural guru spell out the path to a healthy outcrop via podcast. Later, he and his sister JAMIE (32), the town's meteorologist and an employee of the family business, are called into an office by owner and patriarch JAKE PAX (57), where he informs them of Kevin's insane plan to charge townsfolk to watch a live performance wherein he solves the town's draught via rain dance onstage.

Kevin's act is set up at the Braithwaite Convention Center's Orchestra Shell, where shady owner MR. MENSCHE (53) has everything riding on the attraction. Beautiful MAGGIE (26) works at the convention center, and catches Kevin's eye.

Jake confronts Kevin about his crazy act, and begs him not to do it; tensions that the town are too high to withstand antics that poke fun at people's misfortune. He offers him ownership of the farm, which Kevin refuses. Maggie and Jamie also try to talk him out of it, but Kevin still refuses.

Mensche comes to Jake and pitches him an idea to sell merchandise during Kevin's act, which Jake accepts. As the first night of the act gets underway, Mensche takes the role of M.C., narrating Kevin's feat as he prepares to perform his first dance - a dress rehearsal- which will saturate the atmosphere in preparation for the storm.

Upon his first movement, Kevin experiences an intense flashback to his childhood, with his mother teaching him how to two-step. When a light drizzle falls onto the park, the audience is impressed, and the "Dry-Run" is declared a hit. Kevin admits to Maggie that rain dancing is a wonderful experience, and it lets him remember everything he’s forgotten.

After being pressured by Mensche, Jake promotes the show despite the dangers to Kevin's well being regarding skeptic members of the town who want to publicly shame him at the next performance. Having seen the revenue from the last performance, Jake would like to get Crop Town out of debt. As the months of preparation for the event drag on, Kevin develops pneumonia from having rehearsed so many cold nights in a row with such little clothing. He is warned by a DOCTOR PERSPY (72) to stop, but refuses. Word of mouth continues spreading about Kevin's upcoming main performance, in which he promises a complete storm.

Kevin experiences more flashbacks, remembering more of his mother, and a little girl he used to play with at Crop Town. Maggie worries, but Kevin insists there’s no other option for him; he's committed to the show, taken thousands of dollars in pre-sales.

Jamie finds out that Mensche is spending all of the money they’re making on the show, and Jake overhears. Jake is angry, blames Kevin, and beats Maggie while demanding that Kevin recoup the money.

As rehearsals wear on, Kevin remembers the Crop Town and that the little girl was his first love. He admits to Maggie that rain-dancing is taking him back to things he’d rather forget, and that it’s not the freedom he intended to experience.

On the night of the main event, thousands of townsfolk show up. In the convention center locker room, Kevin has flashbacks, remembering finding his mother’s corpse on burial site that day, and rushes prematurely on stage, proclaiming that he can’t do the act anymore. Mensche threatens him, but Jake stands up for Kevin, offering to take his place. Jake attempts the dance, but is very quickly booed off stage by people who've paid to see Kevin summon rain.

Leaving Mensche to deal with the audience, Kevin takes Maggie away and tells her he doesn’t care that she’s a prostitute, and admits that he’s a virgin. He takes her to the Indian burial site, where he confronts his most painful memories. He remembers his mother’s unhappiness, and her desire to leave. He realizes that his life has been stunted since her death, and as he symbolically crawls through the yard to the scene where he found her body, he realizes it’s time to move on with his life.

Back at the orchestra shell, the crowd has disbanded and Mensche picks up trash muttering to himself. Kevin apologizes to Josh for failing to understand his warnings, and thanks Jake for letting him be himself. Kevin admits to Maggie that he’s never danced with a girl before. Aas they step out onto the empty stage together, she teaches him as a proud Jake Pax looks on.
Reader 1 Comments
OVERALL (3)
“On the Cusp” initially captures attention with its somewhat original premise of a man attempting to perform a successful rain dance on stage to save his town and reputation, and retains interest with strong writing ability, and memorable dialogue. It is ultimately an uneven effort however, hampered by somewhat unclear character motivations, a loose structural path, and logical inconsistencies. While logical hiccups specifically related to summoning the rain could be suspended in order to appreciate the premise, other plot holes erode believability in execution. While tension over whether or not the main character can actually perform a real rain dance is capitalized on throughout, more could be done to produce conflict related to the dramatic question surrounding his ability. Through well-written, witty dialogue, many scenes pop and feel fresh. Another strength-- the tone of surrealistic dramedy remains mostly consistent throughout, with only subtle shifts that feel earned. With some attention to structure and character, "On the Cusp" could really shine.

PREMISE (3)
The premise, that a man with self-proclaimed powers of natural transcendence can execute a real-life rain dance, is somewhat thin in terms of its implied conflict. “On the Cusp” commits to the premise, however, and develops a surrealist, humorous drama, somewhat centered on thematic throughlines related to relationships, art and what it means to be American. That said, a position on these topics is not truly developed by the resolution and, as a result, the perspective is unclear. The core concept provides some fertile ground for interesting situations and a natural build, and the underlying core concept can be discerned and summarized quickly. The world in which this occurs never feels very specific. More might be done to explain how Kevin's actions fit into a largely, societal whole, thereby clarifying and advancing the themes and a perspective on them.

STRUCTURE (3)
While a beginning, middle, and end exist, more could be done to ensure proper cohesion throughout. It could be argued that a lack of clear and traditional structure is meant to mirror the fever-dream aspects of Kevin's existence, but enough structure beats are present that this seems counterintuitive. There isn’t an inciting incident in the traditional sense. In a typical structure, the inciting incident could be Kevin's mother’s death, or his decision to perform the surgery, but “On the Cusp” currently skips past this beat. One might say that Josh's conversation with Kevin could fulfill the inciting incident role, but this is much more of a reaction to Kevin's previous decision to perform the dance (13.3-15.6), and so it doesn’t quite fit. The first major turning point, Kevin rehearsing the dance for the first time, happens appropriately (35.3). The second major turning point, Kevin remembering his mother’s death and deciding not to perform the dance, occurs expectantly (74.3). The climax, Kevin returning to the site of his mother’s death, might be somewhat underwhelming, given that most of the other plotlines are resolved before this beat (96.7). Rearranging the scene order slightly so that Kevin reaches the site while Josh is undergoing surgery instead, for example, could raise the tension and keep the narrative focused. As of now, this moment feels like an afterthought. Further resolution could be added. Genevieve leaving feels like an important beat that should be shown instead of discussed after the fact (64.4). Expectations are created for the Maggie character to return at some point in the present, perhaps as an attendee to the show.

CHARACTER (3)
The characters feel somewhat developed, but “On the Cusp” could benefit from taking them a step further. The protagonist, Kevin, is an obviously damaged man, who decides to perform a rain dance in a large, public spectacle in order to gain the county's respect. His father, Josh, implores him to reconsider, thereby saving his life. Kevin's refusal to come home demonstrates how damaged he is as a person, and how twisted his mindset is in regards to his ability to command the weather (14.7). The reveal that Josh blames himself for his wife’s death adds a layer to his character, but he is largely absent from the script (97.4). Kevin seeing his mother when he performs the dance is an interesting wrinkle to his character, adding depth and explanation to the otherwise ludicrous act of a live rain dance (38.8). More might be done to develop Genevieve’s character however. She claims to be attracted to men who engage in “generous” acts, but this could be expounded upon and developed (38.5). Almost all of the characters’ backstories could be further explored. Mr. Mensche is mostly ineffectual as an antagonist, as his threats don’t seem logically consistent, and the stakes are never quite explained.

CONFLICT (3)
The concept of emotional conflict is introduced early through the visualization of a hometown devastated by draught (3.2). Given that the first few pages explain the themes via voiceover, the performance of the dance and, by extension, those themes, raises the first flag of trouble. Even if the source of conflict is clear, an antagonist or antagonistic force isn’t specifically introduced or named yet. The primary external conflict, the obstacles to Kevin's desire to perform the dance, feel a bit cartoony at times (7.4). Nevertheless, it provides an able rallying point for his family, Josh, Josh, and Jamie to bond over, and struggle against. Mr. Mensche presents as a clear antagonist, threatening Kevin directly (10.8), and then demonstrating how dangerous he is by beating another man (46.6). Despite this show of force, it’s never as clear as it could be exactly what his destructive means are. It might be prudent to demonstrate exactly how much Mr. Mensche is losing on his venture with Kevin, in order to better contextualize his anger and the lengths to which he could go for revenge (62.3).

DIALOGUE (4)
The dialogue is overwhelmingly well written, but not without a few areas for improvement. Voice over is used to varying degrees of success to frame the context of the narrative, especially at the beginning (1.2-2.8, 35.9). The Voodoo Guru’s advice is well articulated and interesting to read (3.7-3.9). Josh’s speeches in particular are well realized (41.8, 49.1). While Mr. Mensche’s speeches are also well written and snappy, his speech patterns and tone are at times similar to Josh’s, sometimes causing confusing (75.9). The dialogue can occasionally be expository when clear visuals, or even flashback, could suffice, such as when Jamie recalls several occasions Kevin convinced Josh to use the yard for various reasons (4.4, 67.4). The dialogue occasionally feels stilted and older than expected, such as when Kevin explains that his mother died many years prior (39.6). The dialogue might be too novelistic at times, such as Genevieve’s long-winded explanation during a moment of high tension (86.1, 92.9).


PACING (3)
Most scenes are appropriate for their length and purpose, but certain sequences might be too fast, while others are too slow. Whether or not Kevin can survive the angry crowd should rain not come provides a decent amount of tension. Six months might pass too quickly without enough of a bridge or transition to explain what Kevin and the rest of the characters have been up to during the interim (49.8). Jamie, for example, is in the same position six months later than she was prior to the time jump (57.8). Kevin and Genevieve’s relationship also feels rushed, especially when Mr. Mensche comes back and accuses Genevieve of making decisions based on her feelings for Kevin. More time might be spent allowing their relationship to develop in scenes, as opposed to skipping ahead to when it is already developed (61.7).

TONE (3)
The tone is largely consistent. Josh’s explanation about why he allowed two middle-school aged children into the back of a Buick at work is quite funny and poppy, and comes as a welcome humorous reprieve from the potentially melodramatic voiceover at the beginning (5.3). Kevin’s announced intention to perform the dance jarringly tips the tonal scales from realism into surrealist fantasy. The tone subtly shifts from surrealist, comic family drama to include a commentary on American sensationalism, and capitalism, as Josh adds another daily show to his brother’s performance, disregarding his safety or feelings to sell more tickets (43.8). A sequence in which Kevin defecates on stage might be too shocking for some (48.7-49.3).

ORIGINALITY (4)
The premise of a man performing a raindance on stage is highly original in that no recent comparisons come to mind. Movies about public, high-stakes performances aren’t particularly original, but “On the Cusp” freshly combines aspects of “The Prestige” with comedic supernatural mysteries like "Holy Man." Tonal comparisons could be drawn with “Napoleon Dynamite,” and even “Drive,” to a certain extent. “Rubber” is another surrealist film in this vein. “On the Cusp” defines its own unique sense of character, however, and not derivative of any of the previously mentioned films.

LOGIC (3)
Several logical issues exist. Immediately noticeable, Kevin’s plan to perform the dance seems so completely ridiculous that a real person couldn’t possibly imagine doing such a thing (8.9). It’s also not entirely clear over what timeframe “On the Cusp” takes place. The imagery feels aged, suggestive of a period piece set perhaps in the mid-twentieth to late century, making Josh’s mention of Pixar feel anachronistic (6.8). Kevin explaining a bit about his training to dance is appreciated, and could even be extended somewhat (29.7, 47.4). Kevin later refusal to dance would be a legal matter, and as such, Josh could threaten to call the police or involve lawyers instead of allowing himself to be intimidated by Mr. Mensche (79.7). It isn’t clear how Kevin knows where Genevieve is, especially after she pointedly refuses to tell him (81.6). Also strange - Genevieve admits to being a prostitute and Mr. Mensche her pimp in front of Corey, a police officer (87.3).

CRAFT (4)
The writing is almost entirely strong, but could still benefit from polishing in some areas. The description itself could be a bit overwritten, as it is occasionally difficult to follow due to an abundance of adjectives throughout. Camera angles and direction are sometimes given (7.7, 12.4, 34.9, 35.4, 35.9, 36.1, 36.4, 43.6, 47.1, 49.8, 50.1, 50.7, 66.4, 68.1, 71.3, 74.8, 90.4). Incorrect punctuation is used (21.6 “Can you say that?” not “Can you say that.”) There is a missing period (41.4). Unnecessary capitalization occurs (59.4 “Before a” not “Before A”). Typos exist (62.6 “intentional or” not “intentional of” / 96.6 “disbelief” not “disbelief”). A few sentences are awkwardly worded (77.9 “audience starts” not “audience starting” / 78.7 “flinches” not “flinching”). There is one missing space between a period and the next word (84.9).
Reader 2 Comments
OVERALL (3)
Highly original and thematically clear, “On the Cusp” paints a compelling portrait of an eccentric family and their attempts to stop a misguided sibling from doing something dumb. Some of the conflicts that arise feel a little forced, and the execution doesn’t quite establish a tone to go with its left-of-center premise. The characters are strong, though their relationships seem inconsistent at times. This tends to put pressure on the largely character-driven structure. The dialogue is brimming with fresh voices, unique to each character, despite occasionally feeling overwritten. There’s a visceral nature to the craft that heightens the material, bringing passion to it. But at times, formatting errors and fragmented sentences distract from the larger picture. This kind of issue seems to pervade throughout each element of “On the Cusp's” larger scheme. While the big parts run smoothly, it’s the little things that could help it shine brighter.

PREMISE (3)
When Kevin, an heir to a profitable agricultural plot, decides to perform a raindance onstage before the whole town, his identical twin brother Josh gets in on the action. As the show begins to take a toll on both of them, the family’s issues begin to percolate to the surface. While definitely an oddball premise, it’s one that’s fresh and original. It’s clear and Josh to pitch, providing a rich foundation for character and plot development. Currently, the expectation is set for Kevin to have a huge journey of self-discovery while doing something crazy. But the focus tends to shift as Kevin’s journey doesn’t quite get pinned down. To best capitalize on this premise, it might be a good idea to flesh out the relationships between Kevin, Josh, and their father just a bit more. Since the nature of the premise hinges upon this family, moreso than the spectacle of Kevin performing the dance, having clearer relationships to hold onto could heighten the experience.

STRUCTURE (3)
“On the Cusp” rests on a largely character-driven structure, following Kevin as he discovers new things about himself and his past. Yet, the main plot engine moves forward by utilizing Josh and his conflicts surrounding the show. This tends to remove Kevin’s agency as a protagonist at times. To better center Kevin in his own story, the main beats could be hinging more on him rather than on Josh. For example, the inciting incident occurs when Josh discovers Kevin is planning on performing the dance (7.5). Kevin has been set on resolving the draught since the plot’s inception, so he poses little resistance once the action gets going. The call to action once again rests on Josh, as he approaches Mr. Mensche to capitalize on Kevin’s stunt (25.1). The midpoint is Josh’s too, when he unexpectedly announces a second show, putting physical and mental pressure on Kevin to perform (43.2). Since the first half places Kevin in an inactive role, the build and climax feels a little flat, since the stakes are lower for Kevin than for Josh. (87.1) One other thing that could help strengthen the narrative is including more of Kevin and Josh’s father throughout, since he seems to be a source of the family’s conflict.

CHARACTER (4)
Kevin is odd, timid, and easily manipulated. Josh is an opportunist without a real direction in life. Together, these identical twins make a compelling pair that constitutes a two-hander with Kevin the spotlight, driving most of the action. While both characters have clear goals, Kevin could be more fleshed out at times. His backstory is a little shaky, not fully addressing his amnesia around the loss of his mother (73.4). Since this is a major component to Kevin performing the dance, it could be clarified a bit more. Kevin - despite being the driver of action - also tends to be passive, deferring to his stronger twin in his actions (44.5). At times this works to an advantage, providing contrast between the brothers and outlining an intriguing, albeit slightly manipulative, relationship. Regardless of the smaller flaws, both Kevin and Josh are strong characters with distinctive traits that set them apart. The one character that could use some work is Mr. Mensche, who comes off a little flat as an antagonist.

CONFLICT (3)
The main external conflict centers on complications to Kevin’s stunt and the differing opinions on how/if it should be done. Mr. Mensche, the mafia-esque owner of the hotel, provides the main source of conflict, keeping the show going despite the mental and physical toll it takes on both brothers (62.3). While it is a somewhat formidable external conflict, it doesn’t quite escalate gradually. Kevin rarely wavers in his commitment to perform the dance until he finds the memory of his mother (73.4). Once Josh steps in, Kevin doesn’t fight that either, knowing his brother is stubborn (87.2). Kevin’s internal conflict is a little shaky as well. At first performing the dance is all about the rush, or becoming the rain in some mystical way (36.2). It’s about freeing himself from his family and his destined path in life. Though throughout, the dance somehow triggers memories and the arc becomes about surmounting childhood trauma and discovering an identity (93.5). The climax focuses on the secondary arc. However, the first is slightly stronger. Overall, it feels as if two separate storylines fight for attention, and don’t quite come together in the end.

DIALOGUE (4)
There’s definitely a voice to the dialogue, a general kind of tone and twang that works with the setting. Characters have differentiating voices that help move the dialogue along. Josh is a fast talker with a memorable catchphrase (22.6), while Kevin is more reserved. This helps both build conflict and bolster the voice of the piece. Though Josh and Kevin’s voices aren’t necessarily novel, they are distinct. One issue that pops up, however, is that the dialogue sometimes feels overwritten. While this serves to advance character in places (23.4), other times it feels a little gratuitous (62.1). Beyond that, the dialogue works well and is a high point.

PACING (3)
In general, scenes tend to be too long for their purpose. Plot points and emotional beats sometimes get played to the point of repetitiveness as conversations drag on (24.6). While the first half feels better paced, the second half tends to lull a bit. In the first half, tension is established as the show tests Kevin and Josh’s limits. Once the second half rolls around, the tension disperses as the stakes die down. Some scenes feel a little more jumbled as the action tries to find its stride. For example, the pacing feels off during the sequence where Josh gets put in the hospital when he tries to perform the dance, only to have Kevin whisk Genevieve away on a date one scene later (88.3). In order to make the action flow a bit better, there could be a little more structure between these emotionally charged moments.

TONE (3)
At times, it feels like “On the Cusp” doesn’t quite find a balance between the inherent eccentricity of the premise and the serious family drama behind it. While some scenes work as comic relief, such as the scenes between Jamie and Joe, there are others that seem off. An example would be the scene with Josh in the hospital, where it’s life or death at the start and completely resolved by the end (88.3). Sometimes it seems like the material takes itself a bit too seriously, which hinders the funnier moments and makes things feel a little inconsistent.

ORIGINALITY (4)
Combining a Coen Brothers vibe with a left-of-center premise, “On the Cusp” has a fresh originality to it. The premise is unique, with inherently interesting characters and settings. “On the Cusp” presents a fresh take on the typical family business, infusing it with an unconventional feel. The themes and characters are reminiscent of films like “Raising Arizona” and “Rubber.” Little feels derivative, partially because the premise is so out there. The one element that stands out as more tired is Mr. Mensche and his overbearing crime-boss attitude. Other than that, the piece feels fresh.

LOGIC (2)
There are some plot holes and unanswered questions that prevent reasonable suspension of disbelief. Ironically, few of them have to do with Kevin summoning rain. The first major plot hole occurs when Mr. Mensche leaves to take care of some shady business. It makes sense that he’d go out to tie up a loose end himself, but there’s little need for him to be gone for six months (46.3). Mr. Mensche is also the deciding factor in keeping the show going. So why would Josh continue to perform the dance even after Jamie offers him an out that Mr. Mensche doesn’t contest (85.3)? Near the end, Kevin makes a decision that feels out of character for him as well, and it’s a major point in the climax. Why would he take Genevieve on a date to a site he knows caused him intense childhood trauma (94.9)? It makes the whole climax feel forced.

CRAFT (3)
The writing is often visceral and highly visual. Rain memory montages are clear standouts (35.3). However, there are a few elements that could potentially be distracting or disadvantageous to production. For example, phrases like “horses pits” (2.8). Are they horseshoes? Things like this make it difficult to visualize certain aspects. The use of fragments, while not forbidden, tend to muddle the action the way they're currently used (3.4, 59.8, etc). In these examples they behave more like distractions than contributions to the voice of the piece. A few other things pop up as distracting. Alternating uses between “goddamn” not “goddam” occur throughout (7.2, 54.6, etc.). There are a couple formatting errors as well. Parentheticals like “into mic” and “into phone” should go below character headings (30.2, 39.9, etc.). There shouldn’t be timestamps in sluglines, as there’s no way to show exact times of day without superimposing it onscreen (31.3).
Reader 3 Comments
OVERALL (3)
“On the Cusp” is an offbeat dramedy concerning a man who puts on an act of being able to summon rain before a 6,000 person audience of townsfolk suffering from a draught . A satisfying arc is somewhat damaged by a character who’s mysterious to the audience for a large part of the plot, and conflict lacks some of its intended relevance for the same reason. A solid structure and decent pacing is a bit weakened by the late character revelation and resulting rush towards resolution. The premise, dialogue, and original elements are the narrative’s definite strengths, with visual and skillful prose solidifying the decidedly incomparable tone. Overall, “On the Cusp” is deserving of any efforts taken in revision, as the idea, characters, and world are risky yet emotional, and have the potential to result in an especially novel narrative.

PREMISE (4)
In an attempt to make some cash for his family’s failing agricultural farm, a young man prepares for an act in which he attempts to summon rain, despite threats to his health and family's reputation. After he starts to experience intense flashbacks upon performing the dance, he’s forced to confront painful buried memories that have haunted him ever since her death. The premise includes a main character with a distinct goal, plenty of internal conflict, and a unique and compelling external conflict. The young man’s goal of summoning a storm is complicated by the inherent danger of aggravating a crowd who's paid to see him, and his family’s failing finances stand to put a good amount of pressure on him, and creating a situation that necessitates his risks. His past with his mother also complicates his act, as painful memories resurface and his presumably tenuous grip on mental stability is further endangered. Despite the strange circumstances of the character’s world, universal themes are apparent. They include the effects of tragedy on individuals and families, the various ways they deal with it, and necessity of facing them head on. The premise itself feels immediately fresh and poses engaging questions, and might easily fit into the offbeat, indie drama or comedy genres. The narrative’s execution is largely on par with the premise, especially in regards to tone. Various elements of character and structure might benefit from the focus on the main character that the premise outlines, but the nonetheless, the narrative delivers much of what makes the premise special.

STRUCTURE (3)
The plot is guided by classic three-part structure and utilizes significant plot points to good effect, but has a few notable weaknesses. A dreamy, surreal opening firmly establishes the world and tone (1), while a quick shot of Kevin doing the dance introduces the main character and his crazy act (2). His family and their attitudes are then shown (3-7), and Kevin enters into a contract with Mr. Mensche (8-10). Various scenes with family members and love interest Genevieve follow (11, 12, 16-18, 28-29), and they try to talk Kevin out of putting on the show (13-15, 19-20). Josh sets up a deal with Mensche (23-25), and the act finally starts (30-33). The first major turning point comes a little late, with Kevin rehearsing for the first time and experiencing his first memory of his mother (34-36). The middle deals with Kevin’s nightly act, and Josh’s increased involvement (43). At the midpoint, Kevin’s health takes a turn for the worse (50), and Kevin’s progressive flashbacks lead to him remembering finding his mother’s corpse (73-74). The second turning point is timely, as Kevin quits the act, only to be threatened by Mensche (75). The last third kicks off with Josh taking over (80.3), and Kevin dealing with his issues. He declares his love for Genevieve (82-83), and returns to the farm to finally face his mother’s death while crawling through the tunnel to the place he found her corpse (90-96). A satisfying resolution is seen as Kevin accepts his mother’s place in his past, and apologizes to his father, driving off with Genevieve, behind the todem pole for the first time (97-100). Aside from the late first turning point, much of the first third is spent dealing with characters other than Kevin, keeping him and his motivations somewhat mysterious. Josh, Jamie, and Josh’s perspectives on Kevin and his act are shown, leaving little time for Kevin. Once the middle commences, the focus switches a bit more to Kevin, but only enough to make him feel equal in importance to Josh. The last third is when Kevin takes center stage, and most is learned about his character. It’s also when he does the most work, makes the most definitive decisions, and faces the most intense conflict. This lends an imbalance to the structure that might be remedied if Kevin had a more in-depth set up in the first third. His climatic “battle” with his past in the tunnel sequence is well placed, but the revelations that come right before it could better serve the narrative if they were placed much earlier. Also, a few major threads are missing a resolution. Kevin and his internal struggles are resolved, but Josh’s fate, the fate of Crop Town, and Mr. Mensche’s boldly levied threats are left unaddressed. Dealing with Kevin earlier and more progressively might leave more room in the last third to resolve those questions, further evening out the structure.

CHARACTER (3)
“On the Cusp” contains a compelling and flawed main character who has a goal and undergoes a satisfying change, but his back-story and internal motivation is only vaguely explored for much of the plot, making it difficult to relate to his struggle and appreciate his change. Kevin is an eclectic young man from whose goal of summoning a rainstorm in front of an audience is clear from the opening scenes. His relationship with his father Josh, twin brother Josh, and sister Jamie sees strain due to Kevin’s crazy goal (13-15, 19-20, 28-29), and it’s Josh to see that Kevin wants to accomplish this insane feat. However, Kevin is kept at an arm’s distance from the audience. Why he’s so intent on performing the dance, what the deeper issues that determine his dynamic with his family are, and his internal conflict are all somewhat mysterious. A large focus is put on establishing Josh’s character (3-4), and stake in Kevin’s act (23-25, 27), and therefore, what drives him is easier to understand. Not until Kevins hakes his first anklet and experiences an intense flashback (34-36) is there any hint of a deeper reason for his act. He tells love interest Genevieve that dancing for rain is a wonderful experience, and that it allows him to see everything, including his deceased mother (38-39). It’s not clear whether these flashbacks are his motivation to dance in the first place, or they’re an unexpected result of it. As Kevin continues with the act, he experiences more flashbacks (50-51, 66-67, 72-73), eventually remembering finding his mother’s corpse, and admitting that he’s seeing things he’d rather forget (69.2), then publicly quitting the act (74). Kevin’s biggest internal flaw isn’t apparent until that juncture, when it’s clear that he’s been struggling with the loss of his mother, and that as a result, his life has been stunted. The late reveal that he’s still a virgin (82-83), has never danced (98.9), and fearful of life progressing (93) clarifies the kind of struggles that might complicate and inform his actions throughout, but they fail to since they’re vague up until that point. Objectively, his transformation is satisfying and emotional, but it’s difficult to perceive it as such since the audience has only truly gotten to know Kevin moments before it happens. Early on, he makes statements that suggest a definitive state of mind (37.5, 51.9), but what that is, and how it’s to be understood by the audience, is unclear due to the vague nature of his character at that point. With such rich characters full of interesting and intense struggles, simply highlighting those early on, and letting the audience have a more intimate perspective on them could maximize their potential, allowing the audience to experience their struggles along with them rather than from a distance.

CONFLICT (3)
Both internal and external conflict exist, but their relevance to the characters, as well as the stakes involved, are somewhat unclear. The issues with Kevin’s character, that his motivation, struggles, and flaws are vague, are also apparent in conflict. Kevin experiences intense flashbacks when he starts to dance, but they don’t start to challenge him or cause any dilemmas until the moment he remembers his mother’s corpse (73), and quits the act (74). A man who does something as risky as this is clearly struggling with something, but that something isn’t known until then, and even later, when the effects of his hidden memory become clear. His fears of women, dancing, and life are introduced well into the last third, as they’re stated by Kevin. These conflicts play out almost as mysteries being revealed, and the narrative suffers as a result. They’re interesting conflicts, and ones that Kevin has been dealing with for years, but the audience’s time with Kevin is limited to watching him dance, without the full knowledge of all the complications that come with it. Kevin’s relationship with his family is also vaguely drawn, with some tension coming from Kevin’s choice to put on the act, as well as his insistence that he doesn’t want to take over Auto Town (19-20). Josh’s sacrifice for his brother (79) seems to be a change from their status quo, as does Kevin’s forgiveness of his father (97-98), but those specific issues weren’t very clear throughout the narrative. Much like with character, outlining what characters’ internal struggles and relationship dynamics are might go a long way in bringing the maximum amount of conflict to events as they happen. Introducing Kevin’s lack of experience with, and fear of, women might heighten the obstacles he faces in his relationship with Genevieve, especially when Mr. Mensche disapproves.

DIALOGUE (3)
The narrative relies heavily on dialogue to establish character and highlight theme, but a variety of memorable and distinct voices help strengthen it. Dialogue heavy portions play out like monologues (5, 23-25, 60-62, 76), giving the scenes a bit of a start and stop feel despite the entertaining and varied nature of their content. Kevin expresses much needed character revelation in a late scene with Genevieve (92-93), but much of what he says might benefit the narrative by being shown or hinted at more clearly through earlier action. Kevin’s omniscient V.O. works well in the opening scene (1), but feels a bit random later (35-36), especially since doesn’t return during the narrative’s final scenes. However, specific voices are where dialogue shines. Josh (4.3, 5.2, 22-23, 30-31, 34.1, 76.2, 79.4), Mensche (10.1, 75.8), and Jamie (15-16, 28-29, 32.5) all speaks in contrasting, entertaining ways that round the dialogue and help give the narrative its offbeat tone. Kevin stands out as the earnest one (38, 52.8, 70.1, 97-98), which is consistent with the emotionally sensitive character he’s revealed to be. Characters are most effectively drawn through their dialogue, and while action could stand to be more of a presence in their characterization, it’s nonetheless one of the narrative’s strengths.

PACING (3)
Events are well paced and scenes never drag, but late insights on character make the last third feel rushed. Scenes flow well through the opening and character introductions, and are short and dynamic despite their reliance on dialogue. Montages (30-33), and surreal flashbacks (35-36, 50-51, 73-74) help break up the dialogue, and are spaced well enough to avoid feeling repetitive. However, the pace drags in regards to dealing with Kevin, who simply dances and experiences the flashes until late, when they yield the memory of his mother’s body (74). This ushers in a somewhat rushed series of events, when Kevin quits (75), takes bold action with Genevieve (82), and reveals significant things about himself (83, 93) that lead to his final trek through the tunnel (94-96), and his triumphant exodus from Auto Town (100). Meanwhile, Josh has taken over the act and bleeds onstage (84), suggesting that they find other people who look like Kevin to take over (91.3), but that plot line isn’t seen again, feeling abruptly cut off and begging for some sort of resolution. Spreading Kevin’s progression throughout the middle and last thirds is advisable, while providing a resolution for Josh and his vital subplot might also be beneficial.

TONE (4)
A wholly unique mix of somber, surreal, and inane elements help define a distinct tone that’s consistent throughout. The narrative opens with a surreal image of a boy emerging from the inside of an Indian burial, aided by a lyrical voice-over (1). This mix of visually abstract things happening in a literal world continues as Kevin is shown putting a ghungroo and jiggling it (2). An Mensche of absurdity continues throughout, as Kevin summons a small shower on stage (48), Josh digs a 400 foot hole looking for a well (55, 97), and the cup of water from Kevin's initial shower is used to start a new farm (49.9). Dialogue contains this somewhat maniacal tone as well, with Josh’s onstage rants (31-32, 50), and Kevin’s one-sided conversation with the anklets (7-8, 70.1) feel similarly crazed. However, more serious elements have their place as well. The various flashbacks that Kevin experiences (35-36, 50-51, 66-67) add a dreamlike quality that creates a good atmosphere for the exploration of his heartbreaking memories. The tone never feels threatened by these, and by the time Kevin crawls through the auto tunnel as an adult, the absurd and the sad have joined, and make sense. The theme of humans’ relationship with rain, and the important moments that happen in and around them, give the tone a bit of a retro feel, which is aided by Josh’s voice, Mensche’s appearance and hotel, and the distinctly old-time practice of death defying sideshow stunts performed in front of a live audience. This quality nicely augments the surreal stunts that happen on stage, and gives the emotional elements a heartfelt feel. Overall, all the unique parts of tone are well balanced throughout, creating something memorable.

ORIGINALITY (4)
Originality is the narrative’s strongest element. The premise itself, with a strange, emotionally crippled young man summoning rain, draws little comparison. An odd but relatable loner engaging in a wildly unconventional act recalls “Lars and the Real Girl,” while an emotionally crippled man living out his past traumas through a relationship with an inanimate object is much like “Her.” The comical surrealism can be compared in small part to various Wes Anderson films. However, very little of “On the Cusp” can be called derivative or more than vaguely similar to any of these films. The mix of eccentric characters, including Kevin’s coke snorting, business obsessed and reckless twin brother Josh, and animated tow trucking driving sister Jamie, creates a memorable dynamic. Villain hotel owner Mr. Mensche and prostitute love interest Genevieve are a bit more traditional, but their orbit around strange but emotional Kevin keeps them from feeling like stock characters. The tone, which strikes a balance between absurd, retro, and starkly sad, also adds to the uniqueness of the narrative. The various settings, with an ugly yet dreamy auto wreckage yard, and the raucous, circus-like hotel stage, also contain the diversity that makes the narrative unique.

LOGIC (3)
The surreal quality that’s established early on makes plenty of the otherwise illogical events feel sensible, but a few key questions cause some confusion. Kevin’s dance is made possible by the slight Mensche of the bizarre that opens and continues through the narrative. At several points, there are logical explanations as to how the rain will come, as various dances occur (33.7, 44). The doctor trains Kevin (27), issues warnings as Kevin gets sicker (56), and Josh bleeds upon his attempt to perform a risky dance move (84), creating realistic consequences for such a feat. The only significant issue with logic is the understanding of Kevin’s mother’s accident. Through his flashbacks (35-36, 88.9) it seems that Kevin was with his mother but whether these moments had anything to do with the accident remain unclear. He finds her body on the grounds of the farm (74, 92.3), but how her body ended up there rather than at the site of the accident is also confusing. This begs the question of what kind of “accident” she died in, whether it was on the road, or something else. Her unhappiness with her life is clarified late, when Kevin tells his father he knows why she left the family (97), suggesting that she perhaps was in a fragile state of mind. The general vagueness that the subject is approached creates mystery at the beginning, but without being completely clarified by the end, it’s difficult to understand exactly what happened. Clearing this up through a lengthier flashback, or the confrontation between Kevin and Josh, might be a simple way to add more meaning to Kevin’s transformation, showing the precise nature of the trauma he’s had to overcome.

CRAFT (3)
The narrative demonstrates a lyrical and visual prose that effectively sets the tone while keeping language economical. Action and descriptions are equally impressive (1.3, 2.3, 2.9, 4.7, 7.6, 35, 36.7, 49.9, 66.2, 73), and are especially memorable in flashback sequences. However, several formatting errors are repeated throughout, slowing reading flow. These include a missing introduction and age for Kevin (2.1), a missing “V.O.” for “on the radio” (10-11, 15), an unnecessary passage of time included in scene heading (12.1, 19.3, 89.6, 98.4), specific hours unnecessarily included (29.7, 31-33, 47.1, 51.2, 72.3, 90.9), and a “six months later” that might be better displayed via title card (49.8). Often times, “continuous” is unnecessarily used (25.8, 75.9, 78.1, 78.3, 79.1, 80.8, 99.5) when action jumps from one character and location to another. There’s an instance of an awkward sentence (13.8), and various partial sentences that also feel awkward (13.8, 14.6, 27.4, 39.8, 45.3, 59.6, 60.2, 73.7, 76.7, 77.3, 78.6, 79.1, 80.1). A montage that starts (31.2) doesn’t come to a definitive end, and many dialogue titles include direction (30-35, 39.8, 40.8, 41, 47.5, 47.9, 64, 68, 74, 81). For the most part, spelling and grammar are free of errors, with the exception of “your” instead of “you’re” (13.7), “bother” instead of “brother” (65.9), and “disbelieft” instead of “disbelief” (96.3).







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To come up with a Scouted Score, three Spec Scout Readers provide an overall rating on the familiar "Pass / Consider / Recommend" spectrum and assign numerical scores for ten individual attributes.

Scouted 75+

Our algorithm weights some categories more heavily than others. Originality, for example, matters less than Character, which in turn is subordinate to the Overall rating. Each reader's ratings are converted into a score on a scale of 1 to 100, and then combined to determine the Scouted Score.

All of our readers cover dozens of professional, market specs before they start to work on our paid clients' material. So you can be sure your coverage offers credible guidance for getting your script ready for market.

Our ten Categories

The following are the ten individual attributes we evaluate for each script. Click through to explore the questions our readers consider and the scoring guidelines we apply.

  • Character

    The protagonist's development is central to a script's success, and the main character(s) undergo the most analysis at Spec Scout. Readers need to understand the protagonist's emotional motivation and desires before they can invest in his/her journey, and nearly every scene should present information that's relevant in some way to the protagonist's arc.

    Questions We Consider in Character

    • Is the protagonist clearly identified? Or if it's a two-hander, are both? If it's an ensemble piece, consider each of the below questions for each primary character.

    • Does she/he have a clear back‐story?

    • Does she/he have a clear goal or "want"? Does she/he take an active approach to her/his goal?

    • Does she/he have a clear weakness, fear, vulnerability or internal need that is unique from his/her goal? Are there moments where the protagonist is particularly vulnerable or giving that allow us to empathize with or relate to her/him?

    • Does she/he ultimately undergo a change (learn a lesson, address a weakness) that ultimately completes her/his arc?

    • Does every supporting character play a valuable role in challenging, stimulating or aiding the protagonist along their journey and/or growth?

    • Do the supporting characters effectively fulfill traditional or archetypical roles (e.g., Attractor / Ally / Mentor / Messenger / Antagonist / etc.)? If there is an antagonist, does she/he provide an appropriate foil to our protagonist in terms of values, strengths, motivations or ideology?

    • Are supporting characters colorful and well‐differentiated from each other and from the protagonist?

    • Is the number of characters appropriate for the narrative or are there so many that the focal point becomes confusing?

    • Are characters developed in the following ways? Physically/Self: The character has an appearance, physical attributes, manner, etc. Mentally/Psychologically: The character has personality, drive, dreams, goals, etc. Socially/Sociologically: The character interacts with the world, with his or her home life or friends, with his or her job or co-workers, etc.

    GOOD

    • The screenplay establishes empathy, a connection between the Protagonist and the audience, during his or her initial introduction no more than 10 pages into the script.

    • Something is in jeopardy. Within the first 20 pages, the Protagonist has an easily established dramatic want or goal and the audience wants the Protagonist to succeed in accomplishing it.

    • The Protagonist takes direct action against internal and external conflict consistently throughout the script in order to reach his or her goal, thus driving the plot.

    • The Protagonist has a clear emotional need that is realized by the end of the script.

    • The Protagonist makes choices instead of just reacting to things that happen to him or her.

    • The Antagonist and supporting characters do not overshadow the Protagonist. While other characters may have their own moments to shine, the story consistently revolves around the Protagonist. The supporting characters’ actions always affect the Protagonist, even if only illuminating him/her by by contrast.

    • The supporting characters are developed and are not simply plot devices. They seem as real as the Protagonist and have their own goals and purposes, no matter how small.

    • Due to opposing forces in pursuing a goal, the principal characters transform and have easily discernible arcs. They learn lessons and grow as people. The arcs and characters are believable throughout.

    OKAY

    • Empathy is not established with the Protagonist or the attempt is contrived or heavy-handed.

    • The Protagonist's goal does not make sense or seems tacked on.

    • The audience is ambivalent toward the Protagonist. While the premise may be interesting, the audience does not care one way or the other about the Protagonist.

    • The Protagonist is occasionally passive or does not always drive the plot. Other characters often provide plot points without the Protagonist initiating the interaction.

    • Supporting characters overshadow the Protagonist, or the plot continues without the Protagonist for long stretches of time.

    • The principal characters do not have easily discernible arcs and do not learn believable lessons or the lessons feel tacked on.

    • Characters’ actions are, at times, randomly implausible. There is no reason for them to do what they do and their actions have little or no effect on the plot.

    BAD

    • The audience has no empathy for the Protagonist at any point in the plot.

    • The Protagonist has no discernible goal.

    • The audience dislikes the Protagonist and does not want them to succeed.

    • The Protagonist is almost always passive and does not affect the plot at all.

    • Supporting characters overshadow the Protagonist. You would rather the focus be on them.

    • The principal characters learn nothing over the course of the script and remain unchanged throughout.

    • Characters consistently act implausibly without precedent or explanation.

    • Characters could be described as "walking stereotypes."

  • Conflict

    We think of "conflict" as the engine that drives the story, and as such, the central conflict should be universal and permeate the entire narrative. There should also be minor conflicts, which further complicate the Protagonist's struggle. Even minor characters and antagonists generally have conflicts, goals, and dilemmas that often counteract or support the protagonist.

    Questions We Consider in Conflict

    • Is the main conflict sufficient to sustain the story and keep the protagonist challenged throughout?

    • Define the main conflict. Remind us what is at stake.

    • Does the conflict relate to the human condition? Can at least a group of people, if not large audiences, agree and relate because they often struggle with some of the same internal or external conflicts addressed?

    • Are the stakes clearly established early on? Are they believable to the conflict?

    • Does the conflict directly relate to what we know about the character?

    • Does the conflict escalate as we get closer to the climax?

    • Does the main source of conflict change at multiple points throughout the story or stay consistent?

    • Do the subplots also have conflict?

    • Is there both external conflict (events) and internal conflict (feelings)?

    • Does the conflict progress as the pages pile on, or are there times when the wheels seem to spin in place or stop spinning altogether?

    • In addition to the conflict that threatens the characters from the outside, does conflict arise among characters or do they always agree on everything?

    • Is everything addressed in the climax?

    GOOD

    • Universal conflict is built directly into the premise and can be related to by all viewers on a primal level, independent of time period or culture.

    • The obstacle the Protagonist must overcome provides him or her with a sufficient challenge.

    • There is sufficient internal and external conflict to keep the major characters under duress.

    • The conflict causes the reader to experience tension, anticipation, and suspense.

    • The reader experiences pleasure when the tension caused by the conflict is released.

    • The script features multiple levels of conflict.

    • The level of conflict builds over time.

    • The main conflict is experienced directly by the Protagonist.

    OKAY

    • The obstacle the Protagonist must overcome provides him or her with a moderate challenge.

    • The conflict experienced between the minor characters overshadows the conflict experienced by the Protagonist.

    BAD

    • The obstacle the Protagonist must overcome provides him or her with virtually no challenge at all.

    • The conflict feels contrived, cliché, or tacked on.

    • The script lacks any conflict.

  • Craft

    In this section, readers assess the writing itself, as a whole. In addition to general wordsmithery, this is where readers may examine the effectiveness of action description, character descriptions, any overuse of camera direction, "unfilmables," and any cases of grammatical errors, typos, or improper formatting.

    Questions We Consider in Craft

    The craft section answers two primary questions:

    1. Does the writer's use of the English language help or hurt the story being told? Does word choice and sentence structure create vivid pictures of the imaginary world?

    2. Is the script formatted according to industry standard conventions?

    We also consider the following:

    • Are there spelling and grammatical issues? Are sentences grammatically correct? Is there effective sentence structure and clear syntax? Are there typos and spelling errors? Are words misused? (Minor issues, like the omission of commas, may not be an issue.)

    • Is the writing clear, concise, and descriptive? Or is the writing confusing, long‐winded, and insufficient in its detail?

    • Is vivid description used to introduce principal characters, create memorable visuals, and clearly establish placement of characters geographically? Is descriptive language used to generate atmosphere, convey imagery, and detail interesting or exciting movements and actions? In general, is the quality of writing masterful, impressive, and elevated?

    • Is there unnecessary or inappropriate detail? Are camera angles used excessively? Is there actor direction or an excessive amount of line‐readings/parentheticals in dialogue? Are there musical cues or suggestions of song choice? (Minimal use of camera angles can be okay, so long as its not distracting or excessive.)

    • Is proper formatting being used? Are the characters capitalized when introduced with ages? Do the margins appear appropriate? Is the script written in screenwriting software or, if not, is Courier 12pt font being used? Are slug lines used accordingly? Are action/description paragraphs under seven lines?

    • Can everything written in description be shown on screen? Or does the action description contain too many "unfilmables" or omniscient information (e.g. thoughts, state of mind, etc.)? (Minimal use of omniscient information is used by professional writers and can be okay, so long as its not distracting, lazy, or unaware.)

    GOOD

    • The script is properly formatted as an industry standard screenplay.

    • The script falls into the 88–125 page length without feeling crammed or drawn-out. Scenes are not obviously cut or added to fit within this page length.

    • Action paragraphs are grammatically well written, composed of 3–4 lines, allowing the eyes to flow easily across the page. Sentence fragments are acceptable.

    • The action/description never tells the director how to film.

    • The script only contains visuals that can be shown on screen. The action paragraphs should not be written like a novel describing emotion and internal feeling.

    • Parentheticals are used sparingly, only in cases where tone would not be obvious (Ex: sarcasm or sotto) or to show a character's movement from one thought to the next (Ex: off his or her look or beat) within the dialogue.

    • There is a clear tone that is consistent throughout and never wavers or changes without precedent.

    • The story makes logical sense but is not predictable.

    • The script contains few or no typos. Any errors are minor and easy to fix.

    • The screenplay is easy to follow and does not require multiple reads to understand; yet it creates the desire for multiple reads in order to enjoy it again and study details.

    • Written in industry standard font (i.e., 12 Point Courier New).

    • Whenever a speaking character is introduced, the name of that character is written in all capital letters.

    • Character names for lines of dialogue are always written in all caps.

    • Appropriate abbreviations—such as INT. for Interior and EXT. for Exterior—are always properly used.

    • Slug lines (scene headings) are consistent—the same setting isn’t referred to by five different names. They are also as short as possible without losing content, and are never longer than one line. In many situations, it is okay to leave out the time of day or Int./Ext.

    OKAY

    • Improper formatting is occasionally used, or minor variations to standard format consistently throughout.

    • The script is slightly too short or long, and incidents obviously need to be added or cut.

    • Action paragraphs are written with proper grammar but do not grab the audience’s attention. Action paragraphs are often too long, and you find yourself scanning or skipping the action to get to the dialogue.

    • Action paragraphs are lacking in description.

    • The action/description often explains how the film is to be shot or tells the actors how to portray the character.

    • Parentheticals are used often and are not always necessary.

    • A few scenes have to be reread because important tidbits of information are unclear or missing.

    BAD

    • The script is improperly or inconsistently formatted throughout with numerous mistakes, such as action within the dialogue.

    • Action paragraphs contain descriptions of characters' emotions and not action.

    • The page length is significantly above or below established conventions.

    • The script is riddled with typos and grammatical errors.

    • The script reads as if it were a shooting script by always explaining camera angles and telling the actors how to deliver their lines. Scene numbers and other conventions of a shooting script are used throughout.

    • Parentheticals are used with almost every line of dialogue to the point that you wish they were removed entirely from the screenwriting software.

    • The description is either boring or painful to read.

    • The writing makes no logical sense.

    • The screenwriter has no understanding of the conventions of the chosen genre.

    • There are major formatting errors that would be hard to fix.

    • The formatting errors are so bad that at times intended meaning is unclear.

  • Dialogue

    Though film is a visual medium, dialogue provides crucial textural reality and plays an important role in connecting the audience to the on-screen characters.

    Dialogue Though film is a visual medium, dialogue provides crucial textural reality and plays an important role in connecting the audience to the on-screen characters.

    Questions We Consider in Dialogue

    • Is dialogue used to differentiate and strengthen each character's individuality? Do all the characters sound real and appropriate for their location, time period or background?

    • What are the unique personalities as expressed through their dialogue? Does each principal character have a distinct disposition, ethos, or point of view as expressed in dialogue? Are there twangs, brogues, jargon, sayings, manners of speech, or demeanors that are used to make characters uniquely memorable?

    • Is each character’s voice consistent throughout the story?

    • Is dialogue on‐the‐nose and platitudinal? Do characters state the obvious or openly state their feelings? Do they say everything they're thinking or describe things as they happen? Do they provide more information than is realistic for the situation? Do characters speak economically or is dialogue overwritten?

    • OR is dialogue nuanced? Does it contain subtext? Are there layers of meaning within the lines? Could characters be saying one thing and thinking, planning, or meaning something different? Are characters' speech patterns affected by circumstances in each scene?

    GOOD

    • Principal characters have distinct speech patterns and don't sound alike. If you were to take a line of dialogue and cover up the speaker's name, you would have a good chance of discerning the speaker’s identity.

    • Dialogue adds to the characters and story without explaining what's going on or telling what's happened or is about to happen. No on-the-nose dialogue.

    • The characters always use subtext, never overtly stating what they mean or feel. Such states should be obvious to the audience based on the strength of the plot.

    • The dialogue is believable, with character interactions occurring at appropriate moments.

    • The dialogue flows, with each interaction leading logically into the other. No lines seem out of place.

    • The dialogue consistently and accurately reflects the character's personality.

    • The dialogue reflects the time period and subculture in which the story takes place.

    • The dialogue is memorable. The audience will recall specific lines and tell their friends about them.

    • The dialogue has a certain beat and uses alliteration and assonance to make conversations sound great, even to a viewer who speaks a different language.

    • The action and dialogue balance each other out into a smooth, coherent read without stalling the screenplay.

    • The dialogue is not expository. In many scripts, especially ones with complex stories, it is easy to let the characters get lost in long, uninteresting explanations of major story points. This is neither interesting nor dramatic.

    • There is not unnecessary narration. Voice-overs are used only to “brighten the picture,” not to present plot points. If voice-overs are taken out, the audience would still be able to tell what’s going on. On occasion, voice-overs can be used to blend one scene to the next. These types of voice-overs save the audience from unnecessary scenes rather than repeating or announcing information.

    OKAY

    • Principal characters often sound alike or have only partially distinct speech patterns. An established character's dialogue does not sound consistent throughout.

    • The characters often do not use subtext and instead overtly state their feelings or explain their actions. The characters often summarize previous actions of which the audience is already aware.

    • The dialogue is often not believable, with character interactions occurring at acMore or inappropriate moments.

    • The dialogue often does not flow, with interactions abruptly transitioning or plot points being signaled via overt explanations.

    • Some lines of dialogue are anachronistic, that is, they do not fit into the genre or time period.

    • The dialogue is innocuous, with no particular lines standing out. They aren’t bad, but they're not good either.

    • Dialogue is often used when a visual image could easily be substituted with equal or greater effect.

    • The dialogue drags in scenes, making them longer than need be.

    BAD

    • The principal characters have no distinct speech patterns, and dialogue is cliché or completely superfluous.

    • The characters never use subtext, always overtly stating how they feel and always explaining their actions.

    • The dialogue is never believable and always occurs at inappropriate moments in the script.

    • The dialogue never flows and is always heavy-handed or serves the plot poorly.

    • The dialogue is painful to read.

    • There are large, long running blocks of action or dialogue that make the screenplay read like a novel.

    • The script completely relies on narration to make the plot discernable.

  • Logic

    A good story can be grounded in the principles that govern our reality or it can establish an entirely new set of rules to which the characters and events adhere. In this section, our readers assess how consistently the script applies its own rules and whether there are any gaping plot holes.

    It doesn’t matter if “the world” or “mythology” is fantastical or reality-based, so long as the screenplay follows its own logic. That means all questions posed are addressed, strange or fantastical phenomena are explained, and characters aren’t two places at once, nor do they act on information they don’t have. If anything is unclear or contradictory, it’s worth mentioning in the Logic section. Successful movies often have holes in logic or coincidences, but the movies that stand the test of time tend not to.

    Questions We Consider in Logic

    • Were there any plot holes?

    • Did points lack clarity?

    • Are there any unanswered questions?

    • Any inconsistencies or lack of continuity?

    • Any contradictions of information stated earlier?

    • Any false or made‐up logic?

    • For scripts with Fantasy, Science Fiction or Supernatural elements, does the "world logic" or scientific logic make sense? Are the established rules followed consistently or broken without reasoning? Do the rules of the world make sense together or contradict each other? Are there aspects of the plot that still seem impossible because of partial or incomplete explanation? Any completely unbelievable moments, conclusions, or events not supported within the world?

  • Originality

    No screenplay is completely original, obviously, but every script should feel fresh and contribute something original to its genre. "Formulaic" need not mean "clichéd." Even if a concept has been done 100 times before, it may be done again as long as the idea is richly presented and there's a reason for the perspective.

    Questions We Consider in Originality

    In addition to the premise, our readers also consider the individual scenes, characters and structure.

    • Is the premise original? Is the combination of characters and settings inherently novel or interesting? Does the script pose any interesting questions? Does the script contribute any new perspectives or share a unique world, situation, life, culture, or science?

    • Does the script make any fresh contributions to its genre? If not entirely original, does the script present a unique perspective or "take" on a commonly explored theme, plot, or character type? Is the premise a unique merging of ideas? Are there any events which are unique to the genre?

    • Are themes, plots, and characters reminiscent of previously made films? If so, which elements are derivative? From which films do they borrow? What original contributions are made? How does this script differentiate itself from similar films? Are events in the story predictable?

    GOOD

    • While the core concept may be thought of as a combination of two films (e.g., The Godfather meets Terminator), it has a unique hook—something we have not seen before.

    • The core concept is something that has been seen before (e.g., prison break or zombie invasion) but done better here.

    • Core concepts that generally don't go together are made to work in this instance, such as science fiction and western.

    • The script flips a genre in a fresh way, such as a female Superman or a male Mary Poppins.

    • Established conventions are followed yet something new is added, or a standard convention is twisted in a new way.

    • Both the premise as a whole and individual sequences offer something new.

    • New characters are brought into roles not thought of before.

    OKAY

    • While some new elements are added, the script as a whole feels overly familiar due to borrowing too many elements from other films.

    • While the story is enjoyable and well executed, it offers little new to the genre.

    BAD

    • Lacks almost any original material and is not only predictable but cliché.

    • The core concept verges on plagiarism or is incredibly bizarre.

    • The script is a blatant knock-off of previous material.

  • Pacing

    Like the logic category, our readers assess each script's pacing on its own terms. Regardless of whether a story moves quickly or slowly, a well-paced screenplay times its major events so that there is a fair balance of tension and release.

    Questions We Consider in Pacing

    • Do parts of the script drag, and if so, where and why?

    • Does every scene organically lead out of the previous one and into the following?

    • Are there scenes that do not drive the story, or extended periods where nothing happens? Are scenes simply too long?

    • Are scenes the appropriate length for their purpose? Is an appropriate amount of time spent on each conflict/storyline? Are some scenes too long or too short? Do characters spend too much with non‐critical storylines? Did certain moments feel rushed?

    • Is there a proper balance between action and dialogue?

    • Mystery vs. Discovery: Is there enough mystery maintained at all times ‐ either about what happened in the past or what is happening in the moment ‐ to keep the reader invested? Is information learned later that addresses elements that were previously unknown? Are there questions introduced that are later answered?

    • Tension vs. Release: Tension should exist story‐wide as well as on a scene‐by‐scene basis. In each scene, does the character want something that she/he is not getting? Is the tension balanced periodically with moments of release (e.g., comedic relief, change in circumstances, success)?

    • Causality: Does each scene depend on the scene that came before it? Is the connective logic that links scenes "this because this," or merely "this, then this?" Was each event properly supported by previous development such that it made sense when it happened?

    • Other Types of Tension: Is anticipation or worry created about what could happen in the future (suspense)? Are there moments where we know things the protagonist doesn't (ramatic irony)? Do events occur which were unexpected or shocking (surprise)? Were those surprises still supported by the reality of prior development, or were they un‐founded or forced?

    GOOD

    • Everything is timed perfectly, with events staggered so that just enough time passes for tension to build, but not so much time that the story drags while waiting for the next major event to occur.

    • The story is fascinating throughout, with the audience always wanting to know what happens next.

    • Every character is on screen for just the right amount of time, appearing with just the right amount of frequency and for just the right duration.

    • The most important events in the lives of the characters appear on screen.

    OKAY

    • Major events and appearances by the principal characters occur at appropriate times, but the timing of the minor events and appearances by minor characters seem random or misplaced.

    • While scenes may be necessary, they are not executed in an engaging or fulfilling manner.

    • A scene may look and/or sound cool, such as a car chase, but feels tacked on.

    BAD

    • The screenplay has some sections that are full of action, as well as sections completely devoid of both action and suspense, thus producing an unbalanced effect with periods that drag.

    • Characters seem to disappear and reappear at seemingly random intervals without justification or purpose.

    • Many events occur too close together or too far apart.

    • Scenes have no purpose to the story as a whole.

    • An abundance of dialogue and talking heads or an abundance of action without plot drags.

  • Premise

    In this section, our readers assess the major characters and events with a focus on evaluating the central concept of the screenplay itself, as opposed to the execution of the idea. In the coverage, the readers summarize the core concept and opine as to its potential for providing conflict and growth, not its commercial viability.

    Questions We Consider in Premise

    • Can the underlying core concept be discerned and summarized quickly?

    • Is the core concept an inherently interesting idea? Are tension and conflict built into the premise? Does it make a good pitch?

    • Is the premise explored to its full potential?

    •Does the core concept provide a rich foundation for interesting plot progression and character decisions?

    • Are there any themes that stem from the premise? Is there a message? Does the script establish any valuable themes or messages that provide additional layers of meaning? Does the script issue any kind of commentary, have a thesis, or present a "moral of the story?" Is there thematic cohesion (i.e., is the theme introduced and revisited through examples, whether textual or subtextual)? Are there deeper levels of meaning, symbolism, or overarching allegory? Does the script prove a point or highlight any underlying truths about the situation or condition?

    • Does the script deliver on the expectations the premise creates?

    • Is the “world” or mythology clear and consistent, and does it help to enrich situations and relationships throughout? Is there a good match between the core concept and the world or setting?

    GOOD

    • The core concept - the underlying theme, characters, conflict, goals and setting that sum up the premise - can be discerned and concisely summarized in an engaging logline.

    • Every scene revolves almost exclusively around the core concept. While there are additional subplots, they work to either counterpoint or reflect the central premise or characters.

    • Universal conflict is built directly into the premise and is relatable by all viewers on a primal level, independent of time period or culture.

    • It is an inherently compelling idea that builds a strong foundation for tense or interesting situations and decisions.

    • It is a unique and engaging idea for a movie.

    OKAY

    • While the core concept is discernible, it is not immediately apparent.

    • The script frequently strays from the core concept with unrelated sequences.

    • Incidents seem tacked-on just to fit within the premise.

    • While there is enjoyable conflict, it's not made universal and/or is unrelated to the premise.

    • While the script has an enjoyable premise, it fails to explore that premise to its full potential.

    BAD

    • The core concept of the story is poorly defined or nonexistent and is nearly impossible to express in a logline. It's tough to sum up what this script is about, even with more than 1 or 2 sentences to work with.

    • The script rarely touches upon its intended core concept or seems to be multiple movies in one.

    • The main conflict is resolved (or vanishes) in the middle of the script, and a new one emerges unexpectedly.

    • The theme is insulting, without merit, or does not pursue the exploration of any concept in earnest.

    • The premise is identical to another widely known movie.

  • Structure

    We think of good structure as a plot that presents one coherent and complete story. In other words, does the beginning lead into a middle that leads to a satisfying conclusion? In addition to the story's overall construction, our readers also assess the screenplay's deeper, internal structural elements.

    Questions We Consider in Structre

    •Is there a beginning, middle, and end that flow smoothly from one to the next? Does the narrative form one coherent whole?

    • Regardless of the framework the screenwriter has chosen, do the existing structural beats function effectively (Pre‐Existing Life, Call to Action, Act One Decision, Midpoint, Climax, Resolution, Test of Character Change etc.)? Do these beats appear at the proper times, in the order that is most effective? Or do certain beats seem to happen prematurely, without prior development, while others seem to happen too late?

    • Are there any other notable structural devices? Do they function effectively? (e.g. Flashbacks, Flashforwards, Cutaways, Non‐Linear Timeline, Plot Twists, Frame Story, Talking Heads, Montage, Dream Sequence, Voiceovers, Reversals, Contingencies, Vignette Structure, Ensemble Structure, Deus Ex Machina, "Ticking Clocks" etc)

    • Does every scene move the story forward in terms of the plot progression, character arc, or both? Or are there scenes that could be removed and go unnoticed? Are there scenes that could be removed and their absence would not affect the logic of the narrative?

    • Are there discernible sub‐plots? What are they? Are they intrinsically related and relevant to the "throughline" or do they advance an overarching theme?

    • Do story details that are "planted" in the beginning "pay off" later on by aiding a resolution, demonstrating a comparison, servicing a joke, or reminding us of an important truth?

    • In general, are the most important moments shown and not told? Are scenes with the highest tension showcased? Or do key moments happen off screen?

    • Is there an "engine" worth mentioning that drives the plot forward? (competition, task that needs to be completed, time constraint, performance, key event, test, battle etc). If so, does it function effectively to anchor the relevance of each event leading up to it?


    THREE ACT STRUCTURE

    There are many different approaches a writer may take to structuring a screenplay. Some work in acts, others prefer sequences or steps, and still others use more experimental frameworks like vignettes, multiple storylines, or non-linear progression. The most commonly used structural framework is the Three-Act Structure, but our readers are trained not to score alternative frameworks poorly just because they're unconventional.

    Regardless of the path a writer chooses, the most important thing in terms of the story's structure is that the Protagonist(s)' struggle is constant throughout and that the stakes are continually raised. It's important that the beginning engages the reader's interest and leads to a middle that feels related to what came before it, which in turn resolves in a conclusion that connects with what came before.

    SUBPLOTS

    A good script should also contain subplots, a series of integral parts that help maintain a story's structure. Good subplots are identifiable and interesting enough to hold up on their own. Every scene that is unrelated to the main plot should be part of a subplot.

    • Do these sequences have their own beginning, middle, and end?

    • Do the subplots have obstacles and reversals?

    • Do the subplots add or detract from the main plot?

    • How do the subplots relate to the main goal and are they intertwined with the main plot or characters?

    • Is there a point and ultimate payoff for the subplot? Are they resolved in a satisfactory manner?

    GOOD

    • The Screenplay easily fits into a classic structure as outlined by Christopher Vogler, Syd Field, Blake Snyder, Robert Mckee, Joseph Campbell and so on.

    Note: There are plenty of examples of movies that don't exactly conform to the above frameworks. Our rubric cites plenty of counter-examples, such as "Psycho," which broke conventions by switching the protagonist in the second act, and "Crash," which told a series of generally unconnected stories that were connected by theme. If a screenplay has a unique structure that does not conform to convention, it can still receive a high score in this category.

    OKAY

    • While there are many aspects of a three act structure, they do not easily fit together or do not always make logical sense. A few points may be missing, ineffective, or lacking appropriate drama.

    • The core concept is unidentifiable within the first quarter of the screenplay.

    • The inciting incident is not easily discernible or does not make obvious sense.

    • The second act occurs without decisive action on the part of the Protagonist related to the conflict presented in the inciting incident.

    • The Protagonist overcomes the inciting incident in an obviously predictable way.

    • The Protagonist does not directly face the villain/obstacle in the climax.

    BAD

    • There is no discernible three act structure.

    • The protagonist at the start seems to be forgotten as someone else takes over as the lead.

    • The inciting incident cannot be discerned and does not make any sense.

    • Events seem to occur randomly without any planning as a whole.

    • The conclusion seems unrelated to the story as a whole.

  • Tone

    Like logic and pacing, what our readers look for in the tone section is consistency within the world established by the script itself. The easy way to think of this topic might be, "If it's a comedy, is it funny? If it's horror, is it scary?" We also look for tonal elements that are obviously out of place with the rest of the piece, tempered by an assessment of the writer's intention.

    Questions We Consider in Tone

    • Is the tone effective within its genre? If it's a Comedy, is it funny? If it's a Drama, did you feel for the characters and does it tease out salient questions about relationships and our humanity? If it's a thriller, is it suspenseful and does it contain twists and turns?

    • Is the tone consistent throughout, or does it seem to change from one sequence to the next or shift from beginning to end? Are there scenes that felt jarring, unnatural, or dissonant? Does it start off as a comedy and end up a murder mystery, etc.?

    • Is the tone appropriate for the genre within the context of the writer's intention? For example, are there gratuitous sex scenes in a Family/Adventure, or there a series of gruesome murders in an otherwise a Broad Comedy?