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Sardis the Merciful

Logline: When a king wakes up to the sound of assassins creeping into his bedchamber, he knows his past has caught up with him. He must escape and make his way through mysterious caves, rowdy brothels, and savage battlefields... all for one last chance at redemption, and bloody revenge.

Dark Matter Review

 

Overall Impression:

Sardis the Merciful is a fast-paced blast through medieval politics, treachery, battle and lust.  At times lascivious, at times vengeful, Sardis the Merciful is equal parts Gladiator and Game of Thrones, with the occasional dash of Kingdom of Heaven.  While the writing is technically sound, the overarching story sags on one too many occasions, resulting in a collection of well-written vignettes that lack a cohesive emotional arch.

 

What We Found Most Effective:

 

A bunch of scenes were awesome:

 

  • The introduction of Volmana (pg 22-25) is loaded with keen innuendo and foreboding.  Our imagination is let free to run with all the terrible things Volmana may be capable of (and the script really delivers on his evil throughout).

  • The Sardis capture-and-torture sequence (pg 47-52).  We were squirming in our seat, reading between peeped fingers.  Just a lovely exploration of the evils of all that is Volmana.

 

  • Volmana kills Khans (pg 85) in retribution for Khans’ killing Magnus (pg 28).  Excellent payoff for the reader.

  • ​You might notice a theme, Volmana was fantastic.

  • You display a wonderful touch for humor throughout.  The brothel sequences kept us laughing.

 

What We Found Least Effective

We did not feel emotionally invested in Sardis.  We knew we were supposed to root for him, but – particularly early in the script – we felt indifferent toward him.

 

Suggestions For Improvement:

  • Sardis doesn’t appear in the script until the bottom of page 7, ideally, we should already be emotionally hooked to the main character at this juncture.  The first 7 pages align us with Valerius and Motho… who are promptly discarded.  While the glimpses of Valerius are helpful to show the conditions of the city and introduce us to Tyro (a character we really liked) and to the brothel, consider whether Valerius and Motho are integral to the story or whether to start the script with Sardis being attacked.

  • Try answering these questions: what is Sardis’s emotional need (perhaps to prove his worth as an outsider king?), what obstacles (hopefully a lot of really big ones) are going to stand in his way of achieving that emotional need, and how will he ultimately achieve it in a way that is integral to the story?  Make sure that emotional need is clear to the viewer at the outset (ideally, page 10 or earlier).  The threads are all there in your script, we just feel they need a bit more sewing on this point.

  • We really enjoyed the relationship between Volmana and Queen Hesret – there is a lot more to explore here, and we’d love to see you give it additional focus.  We wanted to know more of their backstory and kept waiting for it to shine through!

 

  • Overall, the Sardis/Ada relationship worked for us, but we were confused at times (there is a gap in Ada’s appearances from pg 14 – 49, we had to backtrack to remember who she was and what role she might play).  What brought them together?  Does she work at the brothel?  Is she just Sardis’s consort, or something more?  Packing in some of that info early on would have helped raise the stakes for the viewer to care more about their bond.

  • Just as we’re starting to get comfortable with Sardis, he disappears from pages 33-42 (the cave/cliff fight) – we’d consider whether this sequence is necessary, for us, it did not advance the story.

  • Side character overload is a bit of an issue.  Valerius, Motho, Plethon, General Varn, Commander Hafsa, Fausta, Captain Bossar, Cardo, Sergeant Tulus, Adir, Commander Alaric.  Perhaps they’re not all expendable, but there is definitely an opportunity to merge a number of these characters, each of which takes screen time from the stars: Sardis and Volmana.  To make the story work, at a minimum, we think you need: Sardis, Volmana, Ada, Khan, Queen Hesret.  There are a few others that were helpful supporting roles we would consider expanding: Fat Duke, Abbess, Tyro and Natee.  These 5-9 characters feel rich and textured, but you left something on the table anytime you strayed from them for too long.

  • The exposition provided by Tyro, Muddy Man, Gray Beard and Leather Cap on pg 70 would have been really useful much earlier in the script to help us connect with Sardis.  Relatedly, we thought this sequence (Sardis eaves dropping and the viewer watching his reaction) was one of the better emotional notes you struck.  We found ourselves wondering more than once whether the story you really wanted to tell started on about pg 50 with Sardis’s capture, and that bits of 1-49 might be better suited to the occasional flashback.

  • The climax depends on the palace staff backing Sardis over Volmana.  We certainly get that Volmana is terrible and didn’t earn their loyalty.  But why would they would back Sardis?  Sardis is an antihero, but he lacked any truly redeeming quality that would motivate the palace staff to stick their necks out to return him to power.  Consider whether imbuing Sardis throughout the script with some underlying goodness (loyalty? outsider populism?) would bind this key plot point more tightly together.

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