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Usually around 45 pages with the action paragraphs written in ALL CAPS and everything double spaced, the sitcom could be likened to a filmed stage play and often has a live studio audience. Because it is filmed on a sound-stage, there are usually a couple main sets that are used as the central locations for the characters (examples include the diner in Seinfeld, the coffee shop in Friends, the apartments in Big Bang Theory). So a pilot that considers itself a Multi-cam should be written with relatively few locations to make itself feasible for that format. These pilots are always episodic and seek to establish Status Quo by the episode’s end.
Examples include: Friends, Seinfeld, Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men, Young and Hungry, The Ranch, How I Met Your Mother, Girl Meets World, Cheers, Frasier, and Mike and Molly.
Half-Hour Single-Cam Comedy
Usually around 30-40 pages, this comedic format looks more like a movie than a filmed stage play and has no studio audience. It can be either Serialized or Episodic, and often contains aspects of both. As such, this type of pilot can either attempt to establish Status Quo or a Series Goal, depending on where the creator intends this show to reside on the spectrum.
Examples include: 30 Rock, New Girl, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Scrubs, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Parks and Recreation, Silicon Valley, The Office, Modern Family, Gracie and Frankie, Girls, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Blackish.
Hour-long Serialized Dramas
Usually around 52-65 pages, a serialized drama advances the central plot over the course of the season, one episode at a time. This type of show will attempt to establish the Series Goal in terms of the main characters’ journey. There are often multiple journeys owned by different characters over the course of the season, which can manifest themselves in several ways.
Sometimes the serialization of the plot is very focused on one specific goal. For example, in Jessica Jones, the pilot establishes the eponymous character’s Season Goal of capturing her arch-nemesis, Kilgrave. Although this Season Goal is established in the pilot, it may not be featured in each and every episode, which in turn may deal with other specific subplots rather than the general direction of the season as a whole. Other times, the serialization can be looser and broader like in Parenthood, in which several characters pursue goals over the course of the season that intersect while the show itself stays focused on the theme of what it means to be a family. Generally, the protagonist’s character arc for the season is implied by pilot’s end.
Examples include: Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder, Empire, Mr. Robot, True Detective, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Walking Dead, Jessica Jones, Homeland, Lost, Deadwood, Game of Thrones, Peaky Blinders, Transparent, and Orange is the New Black.
One Hour Episodic Dramas / Procedurals
Usually around 52-65 pages, episodic dramas are your typical procedural in which each episode features the same characters but totally contained plotlines that start a new set of conflicts and resolve those same conflicts over the course of the episode.
As this type of show is episodic, it will attempt to establish Status Quo. Each episode will be based around a new “conflict-of-the-week” upsetting the regular lives of the main characters, the point of each episode focusing on returning everyone’s life to homeostasis by episode’s end. In a typical procedural, it’s often a new case brought to the attorney, cop, politician, investigator, etc. that the protagonist must resolve over the course of that episode.
Examples include: CSI, NCIS, Law & Order, Bones, Criminal Minds, Elementary, ER, Fringe, The Black List, Supernatural, Glee, House, M.D., Boston Legal, and Chicago PD.
A Serialized Show is one in which the central plot spans the entire season and each episode advances that plot, one chapter at a time. In a serialized show, the main characters’ journey is the focus and there is usually a Season Goal for the main character, and a Protagonist Arc that spans the full season. Examples of shows with serialized elements include The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, House of Cards, Halt and Catch Fire, Game of Thrones, 30 Rock, Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder, Parks and Recreation, Mr. Robot, You’re the Worst, Girls, Jessica Jones, Madmen, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, The Sopranos, The Wire, Transparent, and Orange is the New Black.
A pilot of a serialized show will often start ‘in crisis’ and try to establish the Series Goal, which is the overarching goal for the main characters that will span numerous episodes. Examples include Kimmy Schmidt deciding to assimilate into modern society, Hannah in Girls wanting to grow up, or Rick wanting to survive and find his family in The Walking Dead. And while this goal is established in the pilot for the entire series, it should also be noted that the pilot should contain its own, stand-alone plot with proper turning points.
An Episodic Show is one the main plot of each episode is often closed-ended, or contained to each individual episode. Some episodic shows have a format that offers “a day in the life” type presentations for the episodes, generally seen in the half-hour comedy, or sitcom. For the hour-long episodic drama, otherwise known as a Procedural, each episode is often described as a “case of the week.” In episodic shows, the engine of conflict is often integral to the main characters’ mode of being, consistent across the entire show, and produces a different challenge each episode. Because the core cast generally remains unchanged from episode to episode, the focus is less on an individual character journey and more on the dynamic between characters, their clashing perspectives, and how they will work together or bicker in the midst of the unique challenge each week brings.
Episodic pilots seek to establish Status Quo, rather than a series goal, and each episode will be based around a new “conflict-of-the-week” upsetting the regular lives of the main characters, the point of each episode focusing on returning everyone’s life to homeostasis by episode’s end. The traditional family sitcom falls into this category as the focus is more on the conflict specific to each episode rather than overarching, long-ranging plotlines. Examples of shows with strong episodic elements include: The Cosby Show, Cheers, Modern Family, SVU, Boston Legal, Law & Order, CSI, House, M.D., Elementary, How I Met Your Mother, Bones, Big Bang Theory, Friends, Young and Hungry, and Two and a Half Men.
It should be noted that while Serialized and Episodic comprise the two ends of the spectrum, most shows exist somewhere in between, with serialized shows having the occasional, standalone episode of the week, and episodic shows such as CSI dealing with events from previous episodes, such as the death of a major character.
Half-Hour vs Hour-Long
As the names should make clear, the length of the show dictates these two distinctions. That said, there still is some variance within each type, the Half-hour show ranging from the traditional 22 minutes for network shows to 30 minutes for paid cable and streaming services, while Hour-long can range from 44 minutes to the full hour for the same reason.
Our ten Categories for pilots
The following are the ten individual attributes we evaluate for each pilot script.
Please note: Pilots needn't satisfy every criteria in each section.
When assessing an effective pilot, one of the most important elements is the unique World the characters inhabit and how it demonstrates a hook that will draw the audience in. As such, setting plays a major role in defining the show’s world, focusing on what makes it distinctive as well as in direct conflict with the main characters.
It should be noted that not all shows need a high concept premise, with the traditional sitcom focusing more on interpersonal interactions of its main characters rather than a unique hook. If the pilot’s format does not require a high concept hook, we examine the Show’s Voice, or whether or not the Show’s Perspective offers a unique or compelling viewpoint on its focal subject. Hour-long serials and Hour-long episodic/ procedurals, almost always require a high concept hook.
In addition to these criteria, the premise should be able to be summed up succinctly as well as having its own voice in examining its world.
What we consider for premise
• The show’s world encapsulates a period in human development (ex. 20/30-somethings) or type of relationship (family, coworkers)
• The show uses a specific time period (post Civil War), specific location (NYC, a paper company), or unique profession or hobby (advertising execs/ deep sea divers)
• There is inherent conflict between the setting (a hospital) and the situation (protagonist is a recovering pill popper)
• The show’s core concept can be discerned and summarized quickly
• The setting/ situation dynamic is open-ended
• The pilot employs a unique perspective as it explores its core concept.
• The premise is particularly inviting, intriguing or interesting.
Unlike feature films, which usually employ a three-act structure, pilot structure varies widely across different TV show formats. Most pilots begin with either a cold open or a teaser, but there is no set number of acts a pilot must have. A pilot can have as few as 2 acts or as many as 6.
Act breaks were originally designed to coincide with commercial breaks in network television. For this reason, act breaks often occur after a cliffhanger to ensure the viewer stays tuned. But with the introduction of cable and streaming services, these overt act breaks are no longer uniform for all shows. Typically, cable and network pilots still have distinct act breaks written into the script, while premium cable and steaming pilots do not. When act breaks are demarcated in the script (e.g. END OF ACT ONE), the rest of the page is usually left blank so that the start of the next act occurs at the top of a fresh page.
Taking such variance into consideration, we are focusing more on the storylines themselves, assessing how well they escalate over the course of the episode and weave logically back together to end the show. Here are some terms to keep in mind when assessing the pilot’s structure:
What we consider for Structure
Storylines: The A-Story is the main plot of the episode; what we would refer to as the “throughline” in a feature. The main character almost always owns the A-Story. In the case of an ensemble show, there may be several A-stories. The B-Story is a secondary plotline that may involve the protagonist or a main character and a supporting character. A C-Story, sometimes referred to as a “Runner” in comedy, is usually a tertiary plotline that’s often abbreviated, meaning it may only be advanced 3-4 times, and scenes that explore it are often more brief. A C-Story is not necessary for a successful pilot and should only be mentioned if woven particularly well into the pilot or when it notably disrupts the story.
Cold Open: In a comedy, this is the sequence that comes before the title sequence and usually relates to the A-Story. If it exists, it will typically introduce the external conflict or primary goal for the episode.
Teaser: In a drama, this is the sequence that comes before the title sequence and usually relates to the A-Story.
Tag: Usually in comedy, this is a short scene after the last act ends, and is usually in service to one final joke that calls back an earlier joke or wraps up the loose end of a runner or subplot.
Open-Ended Plotline: Use this phrase to describe any plotline that does not resolve its conflict by the end of the episode and is intended to span multiple episodes over the course of a season or series. These long-ranging conflicts are often, but not always, attached to the season goal.
Close-Ended Plotline: This is a plotline that begins and resolves within the same episode. Although not all pilots require an open-ended plotline, every pilot should demonstrate a close-ended plotline over the course of the episode.
Bullet points for Structure
• The A-Story is introduced by an external conflict in the first few pages.
• The main characters recognize this conflict and decide to overcome the challenge in the first few pages
• The external conflict escalates ONCE over the course of the episode, sending the story in a new direction
• The external conflict escalates a SECOND TIME, setting the story in another new direction (NOTE: any additional escalations DO NOT increase the score)
• The main characters use a lesson learned over the course of the story to overcome the conflict established in the early pages
• There is a B-Story (additional storylines are not necessary and DO NOT increase the score)
• The B-Story intersects with the A-story by the ending
• Scenes flow logically from one to the next
• The story feels natural and not by-the-numbers.
Characters are the beating heart of the TV show, and comprise the individuals the audience will be asked to invite into their home week after week. While the feature film seeks to complete a character arc for the protagonist(s), the TV show’s character arcs usually take place very gradually over many episodes or seasons, so as not to disrupt the core concept established by the show’s pilot.
As such, we measure effectiveness in this section by how well the major characters can be distinguished from each other by their roles and traits, as well whether or not their goals based upon their distinct wants and weaknesses.
Empathizing with the major characters comes to the forefront when assessing TV characters, and while it’s NOT a requirement that the major characters are likable, their perspectives should be understandable, and should be consistent throughout the pilot.
Questions We Consider in Character
• Each main character has a defining trait or role
• Each main character role/ trait is DIFFERENT than the other main characters
• Each main character has a clear weakness/ need
• Each main character has an identifiable want/ desire
• Each main character has a goal to mollify his/her want/ desire (the goal can be minor)
• The main characters are consistent throughout
• The main characters’ behaviors are understandable (not necessarily likable)
• The main characters are interesting/ intriguing. You want to invite them into your home to see what they’ll do next
While external and internal conflict are the yardsticks traditionally used to measure characters in film, Interpersonal Conflict – that is, the conflict between one character and another - supplants internal conflict to become far more prominent for television. Since the characters and their perspectives are so important to TV, pitting these characters against each other is the central component for effective conflict in pilots.
That said, External Conflict - that is, physical obstacles that oppose the character’s main goal - still plays a major role in television, each episode centering on an issue that the characters must overcome by the episode’s end. The series engine, established by the pilot and discussed below, plays a large role in this by demonstrating the types of external and interpersonal conflicts the audience can expect from its characters in the future.
Internal conflict cannot be entirely ignored though, and does come back into play, most often for the Hour-long serialized drama.
Questions We Consider in Conflict
• The external conflict for the pilot has stakes if not achieved
• The external conflict specific to this episode is resolved by the end of the episode
• The main characters disagree over how to reach their goal
• The main characters’ defining traits clearly put them at odds
• The series engine is easily apparent in the external conflict of the pilot
• A key long-ranging conflict is still open ended at the end of the pilot (Serialized)
• The Protagonist(s) have clear internal conflict, which escalates (Serialized)
• The protagonist(s) finds ways to TEMPORARILY overcome internal conflict to deal with the external conflit of the pilot.
• While the A-Story conflict of the episode resolves by the end, the series engine for future conflict is apparent (Episodic)
• The conflicts are particularly interesting, intriguing, nuanced, or utilized well in the pilot
As the traditional Multi-cam sitcom was an outgrowth of stage and radio plays, characters’ conflicts are often verbally expressed, and witty lines are often the litmus test for successful dialogue in sitcoms. And while the rise of Single-cam serialized shows has reduced the dependence on witty banter in favor of teasing out character intention through action and plot development, the importance of dialogue is still significant.
What makes for strong dialogue is entirely in the eye of the beholder. So in this section, we’ll focus more on how the dialogue differentiates the main characters’ personalities, as well as how appropriate the dialogue is for the characters’ ages, time period, and intended audience. In addition to this, we will examine the use of Subtext, or how well the characters get their points across without flat-out, overtly stating the obvious.
Additionally, strong dialogue sometimes features characters speaking at Cross-Purposes, misunderstanding each other’s points due to clashing intentions. This is considered a technique for imbuing dialogue with tension and demonstrating constrasting perspectives.
Questions We Consider in Dialogue
• The dialogue differentiates the main characters’ personalities
• The main characters sound time-period appropriate
• The main characters sound age appropriate
• The dialogue is clearly appropriate for either a cable or network channel
• The main characters’ voices are consistent throughout
• The dialogue is natural (exposition okay IF makes sense for the characters)
• The dialogue consistently contains subtext
• The dialogue showcases tension, disagreement, and interpersonal conflict.
• The dialogue is particularly witty, nuanced, authentic, clever or humorous
While the Premise section assesses the effectiveness of the core concept of the show, Series Potential seeks to see if all the seeds planted in the pilot will bloom over the course of the series. As such, Series Potential wants to ensure the core concept, goals, and interpersonal conflicts between characters remain open-ended and sufficient to carry the show further into the future. In effect, we want to see that the core concept is realized enough in the pilot to support a series for multiple seasons.
To do this, we examine the show’s Series Engine, the device that drives episode after episode and can be compared to the core concept in features. For Friday Night Lights, a serialized drama, the engine is how football affects the folks in a small Texas town. The Series Engine in Six Feet Under is the family mortuary business, while the engine’s job in Modern Family is to consistently generate non-traditional interactions of an extended family across several generations.
And while many sitcoms may revolve around the “day-in-the-life” shenanigans of the main characters, most successful modern shows introduce a new crisis in the pilot, one that upends the lives of the main characters and is crucial for establishing the core concept of the series. This creates the “new-normal” for the main characters, which can be exhibited by either the emerging series goal or new status quo that will define the series.
Questions We Consider in Series Potential
• The main characters’ lives are upended by this pilot; meaning today is unlike any other day that has come before (ex. new job, first day of school, moved to new town/ apartment, new partner, etc.)
• The status quo (episodic) or overarching goal (serialized) of the series is clearly established by the end of the pilot
• You have a good idea where the show is headed, just not how it plans on getting there
• The major characters (not necessarily the main characters) are defined enough to support their own future subplots
• Key interpersonal conflicts remain unresolved
• The pilot clearly has a point of view and something to say
• You can readily think of at least one future episode you would like to see/ write
Unlike feature films, which measure the effectiveness of the tone by how well they succeed within the expectations of their chosen genre, assessing pilot effectiveness is more dependent on the show type, be it Single-cam comedy, Multi-cam comedy, Hour-long serial, or Hour-long episodic/ Procedural. This is accomplished by assessing how often jokes appear for the comedies, turning points and clues for the Procedurals, and incidents of interpersonal conflict for serialized dramas.
Also taken into consideration is how well the tone of the show matches the intended audience depending on whether the show is meant for network or cable channels. Network shows must generally aim to appeal to as broad a demographic as possible, and seek to aggregate a large audience to satisfactorily demonstrate to advertisers that their money would be well spent on commercials. Cable shows, on the other hand, can cater directly to the paying customer, which means the shows can target smaller demographics, and be more niche, experimental or risqué. Cable shows can often be identified as having more overt adult situations, including sexual material, nudity, violence, drugs, or cursing.
Questions We Consider in Tone
• The style of drama is readily apparent in the first few pages/ cold open
• The tone established in the first few pages remains consistent throughout
• The drama or comedy is appropriate for the type of show (cable/ network)
• The A Story conflict is an appropriate outgrowth of the series engine
• The pilot clearly demonstrates knowledge of the conventions for its chosen genre
• Clues used to solve the case appear frequently (Procedural)
• You found the case to be compelling and cleverly solved (Procedural)
• Interpersonal drama between the characters appears frequently (Serialized)
• Internal conflict occurs regularly (Serialized)
• (Comedy) Jokes appear frequently at least once per page (single-cam) or twice per page (multi-cam)
• The jokes often made you laugh.
Somewhat counter-intuitively, Originality is assessed in terms of the shows that have come before. Each reader should provide at least two similar shows and then assess how well the pilot differentiates itself from them by adding new conceptual components. Overall, the focus of Originality should be on the core concept or series engine of the show rather than on specific plotlines, as well as the unpredictable choices the author made in the plot.
How We Consider in Originalty
4 = The two comps seem exceedingly disparate but actually fit the material well. Ex: “It’s Jessica Jones meets Walking Dead!” or “It’s Lethal Weapon meets Friday Night Lights set in space!”
3 = The two comps are very similar, yet there is one specific element to the core concept that differentiates it. Ex: “It’s Sherlock Holmes updated to a MODERN setting.” Or “It’s your basic workplace comedy like The Office or Superstore but now set in an I.C.E. DETENTION CENTER.”
2 = The two comps are very similar and adhere to genre expectations WITHOUT a specific element to the core concept to differentiate it. OR an adaptation of a preexisting property. Ex: “It’s a comedy focusing on a suburban family ala King of Queens and Home Improvement.” Or “It’s a serialized comedy based upon the characters from the movie Fight Club.”
1 = The pilot bares significant similarities to popular preexisting properties, either by blatantly ripping off main characters, core concepts, or plot points WITHOUT being an official adaptation. Please note these similarities must not be slight, but so obvious that they cannot be ignored.
Bump: The author made choices in the story that took the reader by surprise/ deviated from expectations
The section on logic focuses mostly on the World-Logic, the rules established early in the pilot, and how consistently they are adhered to throughout. Deviation from established world-logic, as well as incongruent character behaviors and apparent plot holes, are also taken into account.
How We Consider in Logic
• The world logic/ setting/ hook is established within the first few pages
• The world logic remains consistent throughout
• There are no plot holes/ deviations to the world logic
• The main characters’ actions/ reactions are appropriate for the world/ time period
• Information transitions consistently from scene to scene (no jarring jumps in logic)
• All questions are answered with the exception of the overarching series engine / hook
• There is an authenticity to the world, and/or a twist that was set up but not noticeable until it was revealed
The section on craft assesses how well the writer actualizes his or her intent through the words on the page. Adherence to proper formatting and grammar is taken into account, as well as the vividness of character introductions, flow of information, and writing style.
What we consider in craft
• The action sentences are clear, concise, and descriptive
• Characters are vividly and economically introduced
• Action paragraphs flow well and are not blocky
• Spelling and grammar issues are infrequent and do not disturb the flow of the read
• Proper formatting is used consistently throughout
• Everything written can be shown on the screen
• The writing is particularly bold, evocative and well done.
Script SubmissionFind out how your screenplay compares to the pros'.
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.
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.
Film, Fiction, Live Action, Independent, Action, Drama, Romance, Comedy
Lars and the Real Girl, Napoleon Dynamite, Rubber, Rushmore, Holy Man, The Prestiege, Son-In-Law.
Present; A few months.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
“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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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).