Free Script Feedback: Taking license with biopic screenplays

Today’s free script feedback is for the script Will To Power, submitted by G. Mangelsdorf

Read the pages here.

As soon as I read the word Nietzsche in these pages, I got a sinking feeling, remembering the stiff and terrible David Cronenberg film, A Dangerous Method (2011), about Jung and Freud.

But from what I know about Nietzsche, the potential for cinematic conflict and a truly interesting main character completely dwarfs that of Jung and Freud combined. So these pages intrigued me.

What these pages do right: the format, the presentation, the pacing – all is well in cinemaland.

I only have two minor notes and one major note.

The minor note: the calling card on page one needs context.

That is, let’s see whose name is on the card, and juxtapose it with Nietzsche looking at a poster for Wagner on the train station wall.  Otherwise, I hit a speedbump by thinking Nietzsche was meeting with Overton.  I know it’s strange, but because of the FIRST AND LAST NAME you gave to Overton, and the fact that he’s the first person introduced to us once Nietzsche steps off the train, it took a few seconds to set my head straight.

If this story is going to focus on Nietzsche’s relationship with Wagner, I suspect that Wagner’s fame (e.g. the poster suggestion) should be more saturated into the screenplay from page one.

The next minor note: A hint of trouble from Nietzsche’s sister, indicating some sort of conflict at home would add more dynamism to the rather pat goodbye scene at the train platform.  And if Nietzsche is as famous or controversial as evidenced by the characters’ reactions in Switzerland, perhaps a hint of that should come out there on the platform in his home(?) town.  An awkward look from a passerby, the sister saying “You’re leaving all that behind now” or something.  His controversy/fame seems to just need to be established on page one, as it seems a bit out of the blue once the audience is asked to believe in it once he’s in Switzerland.

And my major note is more of a meta-note:

This fascinating character, with tons of cinematic potential (his hellish life, his relationship with Wagner, being inextricably weaved in with the foundations of Nazi Germany (either willingly or unwillingly, as I don’t know personally)) – all of this about him could make a really awesome, high-caliber dramatic film.  Or you can do a standard, run-of-the-mill biopic.

My advice is to take license. Nietzsche deserves the opportunity to rattle our cages, here, a century later.  Harness the spirit of his life and intentions and his words to tell a good story; don’t get bogged down in the historical accuracy of his life.  Rattle our cages first, with his own words, and tell his life’s story second, and you’ll say more about Nietzsche’s life and work than just telling his story.

3 thoughts on “Free Script Feedback: Taking license with biopic screenplays”

  1. Thanks for the comments. I wanted to leave the calling card anonymous for now, but the suggestion about a poster of Wagner on the train station wall is excellent, except that N is in Prussia where Wagner has been exiled. But I could have it in Switzerland when he arrives and he looks again at the card? Perfect! I have since taken all dialogue out of the first scene, just some hugs goodbye. That way, the first words we hear are: “If you stare long enough…” More impactful that way. As for the rest of the script, it does exactly what you suggest. I really blow people up with his words, and then the betrayal by Wagner and his sister and the false association with the Nazis (through his sister who steals his private notes and twists them aroundto sound eugenic, etc. , as does Wagner). So, thank you for the advice. The script is in several contests as we speak.

    P.S. I thought the Jung/Freud movie was so bad I had to turn it off after 15 minutes. No real story going on, is there? Everyone else watching (5 younger 20-somethings) made it for only 5 more minutes and then they turned it off. My script is nothing like that, at all! (Hopefully). Thanks again. Gary

    One last P.P.S. You guys shouldn’t speak of 5 – 10 day turnarounds: I kept looking for about a month, until I finally gave up altogether. I only took another look today just for kicks, and there it was! Again, thanks!

  2. Right on Gary! Yeah, that Freud movie was absolutely terrible. So glad you’re doing it differently with your script. Sounds like those changes you’re suggesting will really help. I like the “If you stare long enough…” – definitely more impactful.

    Re: your PPS – What do you mean about the 5-10 day turnarounds of other companies? Do you mean you looked for a long time to find a script company that would turn around the notes in less than the 5-10 days that most places offer?


    • No, I meant it took longer than 5-10 days to get this free feedback from you guys. But, in your defense, you also said that you are not obligated to give any feedback at all, and, since I was lucky enough to get some, I am, again, most appreciative. I may just, ugh… send in the whole thing and get the full coverage.


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