Dark Matter

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© 2018 by Dark Matter Media LLC

 
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Logline: Black female ex-con Harrie fights with her ex-husband Big Dee over custody for their son P'nut. Harrie resorts to selling candy for employment.

Dark Matter Review

 

Overall Impression:

The Pursuit of Happyness meets American Gangster.  At first blush, you might not think they mesh, but in CandyCellers, this mishmash plays quite well.  While the writing is tinged with occasional bouts of laziness, the narrative voice is at once distinctive and crystal clear.  Late 70’s Portland is brought to life with conviction and a certain scoundrel’s panache.  Overall, we give CandyCellers very high marks, what held it back from a top score is that Harrie, the story’s tragic heroine, is ultimately one dimensional.  For a character driven drama, despite all the elements CandyCellers got right (and there are many of them) it was a shortcoming we couldn’t get completely past.

What We Found Most Effective:

 

The writing itself (leaving aside the story and characters for a moment) is excellent.  The cadence is flawless: scenes snap along, we’re never bogged down by chunky blocks of action or dialogue and the feel for what to say and what to leave unsaid is pitch perfect.  A number of beautiful scenes have stayed with us: Harrie and P’nut picking strawberries, Harrie and P’nut’s reuniting in the church van, the Harrie/Passa revival scene. Even if it’s not this script, writing of this caliber will eventually produce a winner that gets filmed.

What We Found Least Effective

 

It bugged us that Harrie didn’t do the little things necessary to put herself in a better position to get P’nut back.  When she gets a job, she immediately loses it.  When people trust her, she breaches their trust.  It can be hard to root for a character who consistently doesn’t do the right thing.  Perhaps if the poor decision making were better warranted by the circumstances, or obstacles Harrie faced, it would have been easier to understand her actions and motivations and easier to stay emotionally invested in her character.

Suggestions For Improvement:

Big Picture Suggestions

 

  • Ask yourself what moment in Act I is the big event (i.e., the catalyst that sends Harrie on her mission and starts Act II)?  Harrie’s mission is to reunite with P’nut, that’s clear.  Arguably, the big event is Harrie getting out of jail (the very first scene), but structurally we need Act I to set the stage, and it’s either missing or muddled.  What if the big event were Harrie seeing Big Dee mistreat P’nut?  Just a suggestion, not sure it fits, but we felt something was necessary to give the audience a sense of immediacy early on.

 

  • Ask yourself what obstacles Harrie faces.  The big obstacle is the system, and that’s a great one.  For a black, female, ex-con in the 70’s, the system is going to be a huge obstacle, of course.  But, after that, we need more.  While they’re perfectly acceptable characters, Harrie’s support network (Passa, Brenda, Sista Shay, Brotha Luke) is too helpful.  Harrie’s struggle would be much harder if she had no one.  Or if she alienated her support network to the point that they stopped helping (this sort of happens late in the script, but even then Brenda steps up).  Arguably Big Dee is an obstacle, but we don’t meet him till Pg. 23, and then after a brief appearance he largely disappears again until Pg. 57.  The way the script works, we want Harrie’s life to be pure misery, roadblocks at every turn, struggle after despair after humiliation – that way, the payoff of her tragic win at the end of the script is that much more heart wrenching.

Odds & Ends

 

  • General Note: We think a better logline will help you out with the script.  Draw us in, make us care!

  • Pg. 2. First impression of the writing style is that it’s different – which can certainly be good – but at times the action entries veer away from stage direction into prose we would expect in a novel. For example, introducing Sista Shay the action entry is: “That’s Sista Shay. Passa’s right hand--if you don’t count Brotha Luke. I guess that makes her the left. Sista Shay’s checking her watch for the thousandth times. She’s poppin’ LifeSavers and hittin’ them hard.”  Breaking this entry down, the first three sentences aren’t really stage direction (i.e., it isn’t describing an action that can be shown on screen).  On the other hand, not every word needs to be purely descriptive of action, and the first three sentences do inform the script. The style is unique and catchy, if colloquial. The last two sentences are wonderfully colorful action descriptions that paint a vivid picture.

  • Pg. 2. There is no description of Sista Shay.  We’re curious as to her age and general appearance.  Not every character needs a description, but she is pretty key.

  • Pg. 4-5. Love the vestibule scene with Harrie and Passa.  We are really impressed by the amount of history and character detail you packed into half a page.  You nailed this little sequence.

  • Pg. 13. Typo. “Harrie’s cools-down as she walks…”

  • Pg. 15.  To the good, at this juncture in the script we’re interested in Harrie’s story.  But, our internal clock is ticking – we’re getting anxious to get to the big event.  The script is just starting to feel like it lacks direction and immediacy.

  • Pg. 18. “Ted miniature with curls and Marshmallow shyness” – love this description.  One of many great turns of phrase.

  • Pg. 22. This first hearing isn’t imbued with as much emotional depth as we think is intended.  A few elements are missing: 1) we haven’t met P’nut yet, so we don’t know what’s special about him and why Harrie is fighting for him, 2) we haven’t seen Harrie and P’nut together, or really heard/seen Harrie reminisce about him, so we don’t know what it is that she’s lost (other than of course every mom wants to see her kid).

  • Pg. 28. Be careful with action entries like “Country bear was planning on chaperoning.” There have been a handful of these, and the issue is that they don’t really fit the screenplay format. The statement isn’t in the present tense, and it isn’t a playable action.  Adding a little exposition from time to time is okay, but generally action entries should stick to describing action - always try to find a way to convey the concept with action, since that's all the viewing audience can see.

  • Pg. 30. You describe P’nut laying in the parking lot. Was it the same parking lot Harrie parked in? Did she see him? This confused us a bit.

  • Pg. 35. We’re a little confused.  Does Harrie not recognize P’nut because she has been in jail for so long?  There is a restraining order in place, right?  You may want to provide a little more explanation on this to keep your reader on the right track.  We think we’re following, but don’t be afraid to give us a leg up on key points.

  • Pg. 35. This is a fascinating scene – estranged Mom interacting with her Kid, but not realizing his identity. Two moments here are just so tender: 1) Harrie explaining the jar of Dark and Lovely, and the ensuing discussion of race vis-à-vis P’nut’s Vietnamese friend Khanh and 2) Harrie’s line of “Kids get killed.”  Great stuff.

  • Pg. 37. “People don’t paint that much in the summer.” Got us to chuckle – but also, not really accurate.  At least in our experience, summer is when people usually do the most painting.  We like a cheeky kid response, but wish it were an accurate one.

  • Pg. 44. Typo.  Harie’s second dialogue entry “Is is hard?”

  • Pg. 48. Typo. “He’s subtil.”

  • Pg. 50. Typo. “Behind the jars, a small metal lock box is prevents alignment.”

  • Pg. 60. Typo. “He’s not bleeding, but it is getting on the backseat.”

  • Pg. 62. Two things: 1) we didn’t buy that Brenda would believe Harrie’s explanation as to why there was blood in the back of her car; 2) we are DYING to know why Brenda has helped Harrie as much as she has so far.  We really hope there is a better explanation than that Brenda is a romantic who likes to try to protect strays – that doesn’t feel like enough to justify the risks Brenda has taken.

  • Pg. 68. Typo. “His busyness allow Harrie to sneak…”

  • Pg. 69. Harrie makes a wonderful choice in this scene (to steal the money).  Wonderful in the sense that it is an emotionally fraught decision – we think it could have worked even better from a character development standpoint if up to this point Harrie had resisted at least some temptation.  As it is, Harrie hasn’t resisted almost any temptations, and Big Dee is basically correct in his assessment (as reported to Harrie by P’nut) that Harrie is a fuck up who is going to do something stupid and wind up back in jail.

  • Pg. 78. Typo. “Snatches up I white linen handkerchief…”

  • Pg. 75-80. The revival scene is intense, and very well done.

  • Pg. 83. Excellent twist!  Love the Bid Dee-Passa complicity.  Wish there had been one or two more clues scattered throughout (we know from Pg. 4 there is more to Passa’s story, and we learn on Pg. 75 that Big Dee is Passa’s nephew, but we didn’t spot any other hints).

  • Pg. 86. Typo. “He rolls rolls the bus…”

  • Pg. 92. Typo. “Clean Harrie lies Sierra’s bed…”

  • Pg. 94-102. Interesting choice by Harrie to bail on Brenda, and great pace to the beginning of the climactic scene.

  • Pg. 104. Okay, so we get that Big Dee is losing his mind, but if he thinks P’nut is on the bus would he really open fire on it with an M16?

  • Pg. 105. We don’t think the groundwork for Big Dee’s Vietnam flashbacks is sufficiently established earlier in the script.  What is causing all this?

  • Pg. 112. Wow, this is so messed up.  Poor P’nut!

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