Can you go too far in Horror?

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  • #16
    Re: Can you go too far in Horror?

    Anthony, I'm not here to give you a get out clause. In terms of the quality of your script or your writing or anything else. You're going to have to take the feedback you get, try to correlate it and come to your own judgement about what you need to do/work on etc. Ultimately you can only get it to the point where you think it is as good as you can make it and then try sending it out. You either fail or succeed and you move on to the next thing and so on and so forth, and hopefully you improve a little each time out. With that long and complicated disclaimer out of the way...

    Taste is something that factors big time where evaluations are concerned. This is why the blacklist is both brilliant and paradoxically also useless. So you're a reader who's being paid barely above minimum wage, and you start reading something that you find 'distasteful' or something that you're just not in the mood for or find enjoyable or entertaining. The reality is that you're going to skim. You're going to speed read the dialog and look for the major beats. Because you've ready so many scripts that you feel like it's enough to get a handle on the broad strokes of the story. You've already decided that this is a crap script, probably by page 10.

    Now the script might have a lot of craft, quality and nuance. But usually you only get that from really reading the full script, and that's just not going to happen in this case.

    So you'll get an overall score at the end and you'll get low/lower scores for everything else etc. They only need to write a couple of paragraphs and really if they are at all intelligent about it, you have no way of proving that they did not really read the script. Some posters have earlier talked about cultural norms, and I think that's really the bottom line. Once you trigger a reader's ICK factor, that's it you're out. The blacklist is really NOT a place for scripts that are DARK or that are truthful about the DARKER sides of human nature. And in that sense the content of the review is useless.

    (This is before we start to even think about subjectivity, because scripts that score 8/9 from some readers have been known to score 4/5 from others)

    But there is one thing the blacklist is very good at, and that is as a barometer of the INDUSTRY reaction to your material. Because really, until you're somebody, NO ONE is going to give you a full considered read. Go out there and read blogs. You'll read articles from working, successful screenwriters who get notes back from producers and others in the business that they're working with and they will look at those notes and be dumbfounded as to how ANYONE who had actually READ the script could have come up with such mind numbingly idiotic feedback. This is a STAPLE of the industry that happens to PROS all the time. The bottom line is - if you're getting this kind of feedback in the BL it'll probably be the same in contests and with the industry in general.

    The black list is for genre and for mass appeal, or even 'general appeal.' It's not really the place for material that is in any way, shape or form truly challenging or innovative where structure and 'rules' are concerned. i.e. the Black list is very much part of the mainstream consciousness. There was an article on the Nate Silver site about black list statistics etc. And there was an interview (i believe) with Leanord and he pretty much said. 'Erotic stuff' doesn't do well. (According to him because most people do it badly). The reality is that certain tastes and attitudes are too deeply ingrained and there's just nothing you can do about it.

    This is why other readers such as Screenplay Mechanic, Script gal etc are also good and paradoxically bad. Because they depend on repeat business and there is a personal connection so they HAVE to read the entire script. Also as most of the time they will be writing a synopsis on it as part of the coverage which BL readers don't do. (This is why the 25$ hosting charge is a fatal flaw of the BL. Writers would be better served paying 75 or even 100$ for coverage with a synopsis included. Scores would be fairer then and I suspect much more homogenized than the wild variations you currently get - which I suggest are a result of readers skimming.)

    So the feedback from other sources are great for getting the best version of that script but in that respect aren't really a barometer of how the industry will respond, except for the consider/recommend/pass mark.

    My own personal experience with this is thus:

    My last script scored 8, 7, 6 on the black list with three readers. My latest script scored a 4 and a 5. (At least one of the readers said that my sex scenes were out there to deliberately shock people - which is absolute nonsense, because all I did was write the TRUTH) And similarly low scores on other the sub sections. I'd like to think that I've been working at my craft and that it has gotten better and not worse. And I put in just as much if not more effort into the script. The biggest difference though is that this script is very dark and on the other side of the ICK factor, since I tried to tell a story that was HONEST about sex addiction in women. Sex addiction and ESPECIALLY female sexuality are big taboo's culturally still. (This is a script that got strong positive reviews from Screenplay Mechanic and Script gal, as well as the UK based Industrial scripts who selected it for their 'talent connector' program.)

    In any case, I took the black list feedback into account and toned down the sex in the script. I shifted as much as possible of it too off screen and minimised descriptions. I toned down any scene that could be perceived as offensive. I tried to do this while remaining as HONEST as I could to the story and message of the script.

    A funny thing happened. I had sent this script out to a few people, producers etc. that I knew and had not received a SINGLE response from till this point. After I made the changes, the first producer I sent it to, a woman, got in touch the next day, interested in meeting up. I've had interest from another local producer since. Ironically, this producer wants me to be true to my vision and put the sex stuff back in and make it stronger. And I find myself in the ridiculous position of saying to him - 'I know the hard way how people are going to react and if we want to get through the gatekeepers to a good actress etc. through her agent, we will have to tone it down.'

    My personal feeling is that the script in its current form would get me more interest from local producers and if things don't work out with the producer I'm currently engaged with I might try my hand at US producers as well.

    So yeah, was it craft or taste or whatever? Ultimately the black list was worth it in a very bitter sort of way. It made it CLEAR to me how people were reacting to my material, people who did not need to sugar coat anything and who I could not be sure had even read the damn script - which is what will happen when you send it to anyone in the industry. You don't know whether they quit on page 1 or page 45, but once they quit, the script is rubbish as far as they're concerned.)

    Hope you find something useful in there. I suspect the human centipede would probably score quite low if it was put up on the blacklist before it became successful. (And would probably still score the same even now) Not that I think it's a good film or script. I wouldn't know since I haven't seen/read it.
    Last edited by Klazart; 07-22-2015, 12:00 PM.

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    • #17
      Re: Can you go too far in Horror?

      In accordance with some of the previous responses, I'll just reiterate that it doesn't take more than a cursory glance at your posts in this thread to realize you're a bright, passionate guy with vivid ideas that are reduced to depravity because they have little context or meaning in the absence of refined craft.

      The harshest advice in this thread is the kindest and most caring. Please take it.

      If you have to ask if you've gone too far, you have. Any writer who makes a choice that serves the story, rather than sensationalism, is free of the burden of wondering. Now, whether or not those choices make it to screen is a different discussion, of course.

      Four reviews I got for two pilots on the Black List each used part of the Strengths section to praise the inclusion of disturbing sex scenes involving a three-way oral rape at gunpoint, perceived rape, a character bleeding all over the carpet during sex, a gun falling into a baby's crib during a sex act, and two people kissing with bloody mouths. Each of these choices was made for the sake of character, and in the absence of self-indulgence. I learned how to get away with doing these things by making the mistake of being self-indulgent, getting called out for a lack of craft, and making the adjustments through learning and having the courage to toss bad scripts/choices in the trash where they belong.

      Now, here's the scary part. Let me try to put into context what you're up against in your effort to persist in marketing that script. A few months back, I slapped together the first draft of a horror script and put it on the Black List to see if the idea would even be remotely viable. Keep in mind, I'm not repped, and I haven't received a response to a query in about two years. For all intents and purposes, I suck. Now, compare the following comments to those in your review, and ask yourself if a minor rewrite is truly the right way to go:

      NOCTURNAL is a rich, subversive piece of horror that manages a strong perspective switch. The script humanizes archetypal monsters in a fascinating way, and like all great speculative fiction, the narrative utilizes its supernatural ideas to examine painful, human themes. The writer demonstrates a profound ability for crafting grotesque, vibrantly unnerving imagery (e.g. the suitcase), and there is a Gothic, classical sense to the horror that elevates NOCTURNAL above mere provocation. The titular setting is evocatively rendered, and while NOCTURNAL is not yet the strongest version of itself, there is no denying the dark power contained within its most effective scares.

      NOCTURNAL's bloodthirsty monsters are far more unique and promising than the archetypal "Vampire." One could imagine a dynamic, virtuoso drama being refined from these pages, and NOCTURNAL stands poised to become a truly inspired take on a well-worn genre. The script may also serve its author well as a striking writing sample pending continued revision, and even this current draft demonstrates their talent for dread and invention.

      That's what I throw in the trash. Now, consider that there are other writers posting in this thread whose ability far exceeds my own. It's rough out there. Believe it.

      The best course of action is to dedicate yourself to a constant learning process. What the aforementioned posters understand that's difficult for you to see right now is that you will be much happier once you dedicate yourself to the process instead of the end goal. The reason for this is that the process never ends. There isn't going to be a moment where you "arrive" somewhere. Writing is a never-ending learning curve, one where the real goal is to continually reveal your ignorance in search of the truth. That's where you'll find honesty and authenticity, and it's also the place you'll earn the right to be depraved, disgusting, and anything else you desire.

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      • #18
        Re: Can you go too far in Horror?

        I just want to point out, as I often want to point out during BL threads, that the audience for script coverage isn't really the writer. It's not supposed to be constructive criticism for you to use in rewriting your script. It's something someone interested in buying your script can look at to determine whether they want to find out more or not. I see a lot of writers here and on other forums expressing frustration that their reviews aren't more "helpful," and I think it just comes down to that fundamental misunderstanding.

        So if you look at it from that perspective, the question of content is more about how easy it is to sell. And I would say that has more to do with how it's told, and how the audience ends up feeling about it, than what it is. The worse it makes you feel, the more niche the film is likely to be. Which means that the average run-of-the-mill producer who's outside that niche is just not going to want to touch it. Unrelentingly dark, "icky" films don't tend to get wide releases or returns - note that Human Centipede is considered a success and has spawned some sequels, but people who aren't pretty into horror (or at least movies generally) mostly haven't heard of it. It's not advertised on TV much, it didn't get a wide release in mainstream theaters, etc. It's successful for a horrifyingly dark horror film, but if it were pretty much any other kind of movie, I wouldn't call it a great success.

        All this to say that if you really believe in your script and you really think you've told it the best way possible, it could just be that you need to target it to people you know will be interested in exactly the kind of thing you're writing. Let it be a big fish in a little pond, because it won't survive out in the ocean.

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        • #19
          Re: Can you go too far in Horror?

          Originally posted by Anthony94 View Post
          Im very open to constructive criticism but really what can I take from that reader except that it made him want to take a shower, I'd expect that vein of review on an imdbs user review not a paid professional, the reader claims things were shoved In there in a porno graphic fashion with no purpose, its entirely the opposite, a story that is taking place from the perspective of a mental asylum escapee is going to have lots of depravity, but all of it has a purpose, I just haven't pulled any punches.
          See, here's the thing.

          You've already received what I would estimate is the benefit of about five or six hours of other people's time on ten (10) pages from this script. Figure the unskilled (and at least one of those correspondents is not unskilled) minimum wage at $15/hour and that gives you $75-90 worth of free advice.

          And you're complaining about a $50 evaluation for 100+ pages not spelling out every problem in every detail.

          I hate to be the one to do this, but for heaven's sake, just look at this sentence of yours again:

          "Im very open to constructive criticism but really what can I take from that reader except that it made him want to take a shower, I'd expect that vein of review on an imdbs user review not a paid professional, the reader claims things were shoved In there in a porno graphic fashion with no purpose, its entirely the opposite, a story that is taking place from the perspective of a mental asylum escapee is going to have lots of depravity, but all of it has a purpose, I just haven't pulled any punches." (sic)

          If you can't list in your next reply -- without reference to the content, only the form -- at least two thirds of the errors in spelling, grammar, and style in the above, then you should strongly reevaluate the hypothesis that your control of the language and care for words are objectively not where they need to be yet.

          Because that's what writers get paid for. Control of the language, and care for their words.

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          • #20
            Re: Can you go too far in Horror?

            I have absolutely no interest in horror, nor is it a genre I know. But here is the Stephen King entry, verbatim, from Salon's Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors. I personally think this is a seminal work on literary criticism (this, of course, is before Salon.com fell from grace and turned into a ranting anti-everything soapbox). This book, though probably out of print, I consider a must for every writer--yes, it's about novelists, not screenwriters, but nonetheless.

            So, the SK entry, and I quote:

            "His greatest concern is with the survival, vindication, and ultimate triumph of the weak and vulnerable. The tangible results of evil in King's universe include bullying, racism, wife-beating, rape, and, above all else, the abuse and murder of children. Few authors in any genre have captured the fragility and terror of childhood with such precision, and King's instinctive empathy for the plight of the nerd, the fat kid, the scapegoat, the queer, is a great source of his appeal."

            So, I don't know, maybe take a look at that and think how your script compares. Again, I am SO NOT a horror fan. But when I read that quote, I get really emotional. Does your script get people emotional? Or is it just gore?

            (I have no idea, I'm jus' askin')

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            • #21
              Re: Can you go too far in Horror?

              Originally posted by Rantanplan View Post
              Does your script get people emotional? Or is it just gore?
              It's gotten the reader emotional enough. What I worry is that your horror is just a plain old horror, nothing else. And that's why the scores are so low. Oddly enough, the best genre scripts, at their core, have nothing to do with the genre. District 9 wasn't about aliens at its core. It was an allegory of the racial mistreatment under the apartheid. Now had District 9 been JUST ABOUT guys evolving into aliens, lasers, and nano-bots, then it would've sucked like crap (like most sci-fi's).

              Similarly, Alien had a ton of horror and gore, but at its root was the human instinct to survive under the most difficult / frightening conditions. These themes are very close to us, relatable, PRIMAL. That's why they work so well.

              Now what's the core idea behind your script? Don't let your psycho brother turn you into a psycho too?
              I'm never wrong. Reality is just stubborn.

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              • #22
                Re: Can you go too far in Horror?

                I'm not into horror, so when I checked in on this thread, it was a real pleasure to read a series of some of the best posts on notes, giving and taking, and the Blacklist, readers, and objectivity, that have been on this board in years. This is a little master class on screenwriting in general, Anthony, and you're in very good hands here. I hope others are getting the benefit as well.

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                • #23
                  Re: Can you go too far in Horror?

                  Without reading it, it's difficult to tell if the aversion is warranted or not. I can see where the issue would be if the sensational elements were more for shock value than for a genuinely compelling reason that was also executed well. Given the horror genre, often times it's done just for the sake of creating a visceral shock, but I'd have to read the script to know for sure .

                  Originally posted by Anthony94 View Post
                  (This isn't a Blacklist post, Blacklist just happen to popup here)

                  I've just received feedback from a Blacklist reader on my horror, now from what I can gather from this reading there wasn't an issue (or at least very little issues were being pressed) with this story or other issues aside from the content.

                  The reader has made it very clear that their primary aversion and problem was in the content (my personal opinion is horror is meant to be exactly that, horror)... This got a 3/10 and the sub-ratings were also low.

                  I'm not an egotist by any stretch infact i'm quite the harsh critic of myself but I'm well aware the content has in this readers mind clouded the narrative and themes and characters behind it, my question here is can a horror go too far? Should I tone it down? I don't want to but if it helps get it produced obviously we make sacrifices,I know certain films just go to be as offensive or repulsive as possible but even they have an audience (You wouldn't catch me dead deliberately writing something solely to be repulsive and get attention).

                  (You don't have to read the feedback there, I'm just using it as a point, the praises seem inviting but then the negatives all focus on content, mainly that the horrific content doesn't have an audience even as a horror).

                  Era:
                  current

                  Locations:
                  cemetery, woods, contained environs

                  Budgets:
                  Low

                  Genre:
                  Horror, Slashers & Psychos

                  Logline:
                  A desperate, mentally ill father suffering from blackouts turns to his depraved brother who promises him the path to a cure.

                  Strengths:
                  The writer deploys a novel storytelling device,his helps create a distortion in the audience's perception of the film that reinforces the paranoia, dread and mental depravity of the brothers and foreshadows the awful final reveal. The writer deserves praise for devising a unique form to fit the content of his story. The writing is stark and visual. Dialogue is used with economy and never as a crutch.

                  Weaknesses:
                  While the form and technical execution of this script are quite good, the content is so horrible it made the reader want to take a shower after finishing the script. The final reveal that Wayne is The Soldier and that Scarlet, his wife, is also his mother as a result of a rape she suffered by her father when she was eleven does nothing but make the reader hate an already intolerable story full of mentally depraved, damned and loathsome characters with little to live for and less for the audience to relate to. Incest, rape, and body horror are already unpleasant subjects that must be handled delicately in fiction. When they are shoved in the reader's face in pornographic fashion and with no purpose or relief to the squalid torment in sight, the final impression is one of total revulsion, violation, and indignation for having participated in the story in the first place.

                  Prospects:
                  JUST THE TWO OF US has some solid mechanics and original style, but a story that is sickening and repulsive. It will be very difficult to find an audience for this script and it will also be a challenge for anyone to look past the unpleasantness of the story and evaluate the script as a writing sample when this is the story the writer chose to tell.

                  Pages:
                  90

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