Script Note: A biopic strong on reverence, but lacking conflict

B. O'Malley

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logo for Free Script Notes on your first 10 pagesSong of Myself by R. Reed

Read the first 10 pages here.

Cut down on that descriptive text and action text.

WALT WHITMAN darts through the dense crowd.  Twenty-three years old with a Dutch-style beard, he is dressed in a tattered brown suit.  He holds a cane and wears a wide-brimmed hat at an angle, which is near to falling off from his hustling.  Small notebooks and scraps of paper stick out of every pocket.

WALT WHITMAN (23) – goatee, brown suit, tipped hat – darts through the crowd with his cane and notebooks.

“…shall I, in time to come, be great and famed?”

Yes. We all know he becomes famous, so this shouldn’t be a question posed, even if just for a flourish or insight.

A question posed like this, so soon, is at risk of making the reader think that this is the dramatic question of the film.

Unless “Will I become great and famed?” is your dramatic question and/or the one your entire story pivots upon, don’t ask this question, even rhetorically, in such a stand-out fashion as the opening voiceover on page one.

Another note about that opening scene with Whitman walking:

Don’t have him just walk.

Reveal something about him.  Tell us something about him from what he’s doing.  Walking through the street, self-reflecting, is telegraphing to the audience: this character doesn’t really do much, so you can expect more of the same throughout.

Put him into a conflict – any conflict.  What’s at the core of Whitman?  If it’s his gentle nature, put him in a fistfight or have him robbed so we can see how he responds.

Whatever you do, don’t waste 1/4 page or 1/2 page of the character walking through 19th century city streets, reflecting.

Sure, he can be reflecting, but have it while showing us something else.  Show us, show us, show us Walt Whitman and why we should care!  I’d say the same if you had written a script about Elvis.

It doesn’t matter if everybody knows, or should know, Elvis or Walt Whitman… Treat this guy as his own brand new person, new to everybody, and you’ll make an interesting film.

Rely on the audience to bring in their knowledge about Walt Whitman, and you’ll make a flabby biopic.

Again, way too much descriptive text. You’re going to kill your reader before page 10.  Cut down every bit of description you can.  Give the audience the essentials and let us put together the image.  You don’t need to spoon feed us description.

Good start, well written, good concept… Time to put down the reverence and kick in the cinema.  Be true to Whitman, but be truer to your audience.  Shakespeare surely took liberties with historical figures in the name of entertainment.  That means it’s okay for you to do so as well.


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