Dear Mr Wells

As well as books, articles and (most impressively) blog entries, I've written numerous screenplays and TV scripts. All of them have something in common: they were never actually produced. In many cases, there was good reason for that: they were not any good! The script readers, faced with hundreds of scripts from aspiring screenwriters, have to be ruthless.

But when viewing some of the things that do get made, you wonder whether there's a flaw in the process. Indeed, you wonder how some of the great films would have gone – or if they would even have been made – if their scripts were first submitted to one of the new style of script assessors – the type which, having ruled Hollywood for years (under the guise of "script doctors"), have now become a fact of life for the Australian industry.

I thought of one famous, Oscar-winning screenplay in particularly. If it had first been sent for "script assessment", the following letter might have been returned …

Dear Mr Welles and Mr Mankiewicz,

Thanks for letting me read your script, tentatively titled Citizen Kane. (Perhaps a new title? That one just does not have the drama and intrigue of, say, Gone with the Wind or Love Finds Andy Hardy.)

Firstly, I think that your script has a few good one-liners, and I could imagine that – if you lightened the tone and the storyline – it could make a good comedy. (I notice that Mr Mankiewicz has a few comedy scripts to his credit, and his gift for comedy is obvious.)

Unfortunately, as a dramatic piece, it's a hard sell. What kind of film is this? A detective thriller? An epic tragedy? Sorry, but it does not fit neatly anywhere. (Sometimes if you added a few songs, it could be a musical, but you've got to make it upbeat.) I tried describing it as "I Cover the Waterfront meets the Power and the Glory", but that doesnt really work.

Perhaps the problem lies in Mr Welles' lack of experience. His radio and theater credits are impressive, but movies are written differently, and there are certain expectations you must fulfill. With movie scripts, it is not a good idea to break the rules too much.

Mr Welles obviously has talent. May I suggest that he attend a screenwriting course, to help to sharpen his skills?

Opening Scene
The opening scene does not work. If Kane is alone in his room, and groans out his last word with his dying breath, how on Earth is anyone supposed to hear him? True, movies often have holes in the plot, but when the whole movie is meant to revolve around the meaning of this dying utterance, audiences would not forgive you if it did not make sense.

As the film is so full of flashbacks, some of them out of order, your script does not fit into the three-act structure. I would suggest you re-format your script so that it has three acts. For example:

Act 1: Thompson starts his investigation into the meaning of "Rosebud".

Act 2: Thompson is pursued by people who do not want him to know what "Rosebud" means, and is kidnapped when he goes to interview someone else.

Act 3: He escapes, and finds out that "Rosebud" was a secret that Kane did not want anyone to know.

That's just a suggestion, of course. Your script does not have to be changed in such a way, though it would certainly make it more exciting.

Major characters

Thompson: I'm glad he's in the script (the "roving reporter" always works well, and you could probably approach Clark Gable), but you have not really fleshed out his character. Of course, he would work better on the screen, as played by an actor, but he should still be more interesting in the script. What is his past? Does he have a wife? He should at least have a romantic interest. (Maybe he could get to know Susan?) After all, as he is the one investigating Kane's death, he should be the focal point of the film.

Kane: As you have chosen to devote so much time to Kane, at least make him more likeable. He is so rude and selfish that we can barely care for him. Why should we be worried when he dies – especially if it happens in the first scene – and just as importantly, why should we care what "Rosebud" means? Why not reveal that, deep down, he's a big softie? Perhaps he could make up with Susan before he dies, apologise for the way he has treated her.

Susan: It's good to have an attractive leading lady, but she's too bitter and miserable. How are audiences supported to like her? You should make her sweeter, allow her to give some hope and happiness to Kane, and help him to go on living after the tragic death of his first wife and his son. Beside, the script does not have enough romance.

Other Weaknesses

It is essential that all movies follow a "hero's journey". Unfortunately, the hero of your film is not clear. Kane is not likeable, and he sees to be unchanged by his experiences. If he is the hero, allow him to grow and develop.

If the hero is Thompson, he should be allowed to know what "Rosebud" means. Having investigated it through the whole movie, he should be rewarded. He too does not seem to change, though he is such a bland character that I do not know what changes to expect.

You should also introduce some villains. This would add extra tension, as well as help us to sympathize with Kane. A few of your characters do not seem very nice, but you really need someone who is completely reprehensible.

Closing Scenes

As neither Kane nor Thompson get anything out of this whole sordid affair, it is a little too melancholy. You do not need a happy ending, of course, but the movie must have a proper resolution.

As for the final scene, where we discover the true identity of "Rosebud": I'm sorry, but I do not get it. What are you saying here?

I'm sorry I can not be more encouraging, but the script as it stands would struggle to find funding assistance. Still, you show promise as writers. I suggest you try your luck with a thriller or a historical drama. Good luck with future writing.

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