Celeritas

75-apollo-16-lunar-moduleThis is the seventh script I’ve read from this year’s Black List. Before I begin to critique it, I wanted to point out that there have been several scripts from previous Lists that I really enjoyed. [The Imitation Game is in my top five, for instance.]

I’m not sure if this year’s list is especially bad or if, in past years, I’ve relied on the filter of other readers and, therefore, been limited to reading the best of what has always been a list full of inferior writing. Either way, I hate to continue to heap scorn on screenwriters [even when their writing deserves it] because I am one myself. I know what it feels like when someone doesn’t like your script.

Unless you’re one of the vanishing few who manages to get paid for your efforts, screenwriting is the loneliest hobby on earth. You can’t put on a show at a local theatre. You can’t have an exhibition at a coffee shop. You can’t play your screenplay with a couple of friends at a bar and develop a cult following. You can’t even publish your script on Amazon and charge people a buck fifty to read it. We screenwriters have No Outlet for our work unless SOMEONE out there with influence thinks it’s good.

So, although this criticism [which is about to pour forth] seems directed at the script for Celeritas, it is not actually aimed in that direction. My true target is the people with influence who selected this script as a member of a class of species which goes by the name “Professionally Written Screenplay”. These people are doing the world a disservice when they select scripts that read like Top Twenty Percenters in the… insert your choice here… Screenplay competition [I’d go with the Nicholl].

This point needs to be made and now that I’ve made it, I’ll refrain from longwinded preambles in future Black List reviews restating it. I am disappointed in the GateKeepers right now, though. I used to wonder who was responsible for all the trash that plays at the multiplex. I used to blame the audience. [Someone is buying all those tickets to all those Transformer movies.] Perhaps, this was misguided.

At any rate, I’ve read Celeritas and it was not very good. I doubt it can be an effective movie without massive revision. I am happy that the writer has gotten attention for her effort and I hope it leads her to a promising career, but I’m not sure what this script has to teach amateur scriptwriters… In spite of this uncertainty, I’ll persist with the review.
———————————————————————————————————-

You should never design a script that hinges on telling your audience a lie. It will leave a bitter taste in every reader’s mouth no matter how hard you try and make that lie palatable. If you’re lucky enough to get your lie-as-script by the gatekeepers and into a theatre, then the audience will despise you for selling them lemons-as-plot-points.

Celeritas has a lie in the form of twin brothers as its central plot twist. [You can guess the twist from what I’ve just revealed without me even naming the twist, can’t you?] The problem with Celeritas is that all the character’s maintain this twin brothers lie even when it makes no sense in the context. This makes “the twist” a cheat. And everyone knows how it feels when authors use shortcuts to solve stories– it feels like you were cheated.

As counterpoint to the way Celeritas handles its cheat, I offer The Sixth Sense: another movie with a lie as plot framing device. The difference is, when you go back through that movie trying to catch it in its lie, you can’t. The Sixth Sense works because the lie MAKES SENSE within the script world. I got to page 94 in Celeritas before I realized what was coming. I had about three seconds of, ‘okay, that’s kinda cool’ before my brain started objecting, strenuously, to the lie. I missed the twist until page 94 because it wasn’t in the script until page 94.

Beyond “the twist” there is little worth discussing from a screenwriting perspective. The writer is competent, but she has no OVERWHELMING talent on display. For that reason, I decline to offer a thematic review, or a subtextual analysis. Celeritas is meant to be read for its plot AND ONLY its plot. If it can’t stand on that foundation, then it just can’t stand.

I’ll end with the page notes I took while reading. I’ll use the format I began with Syndrom(e). Notes from when I was reading will be italicized. Final commentary will be given in [brackets].

Pg. 22 NORMAN
Cam shaft was off. You know if Dad
kept any spares?

EVELYN
There’s a shoe box full of junk in
the cellar, ‘you wanna go digging.

NORMAN
I’d rather grind one from scratch.

EVELYN
You’d be lucky to find anything
down there. Mind you, I tried
sorting through it. Just got to be
too much. Mitch never threw
anything away; always afraid he
might need it down the road.

NORMAN
I could throw it out if you want?

EVELYN
You think that’s what I want you
doin’ with your time: rummaging
through someone else’s trash?
I’ll get to it. And if I don’t…
Well, then you can toss it all.
‘Least I won’t be around to mind.

NORMAN
Don’t talk like that.

EVELYN
I’ll talk how I want. Don’t
patronize me.

NORMAN
Sorry.

This dialogue is terrifically ordinary. Everything is out on the page. Nothing for the imagination.

My point in pulling this scene out was that the characters were speaking about things which no people would ever speak about. Evelyn is in the first stages of Alzheimer’s, Norman is depressed. The dialogue here is plain to the point of being filler.

Pg. 43 MARCUS
–Using top secret technology from a
project that has been collecting
dust for decades. A project with
an equally mysterious Soviet
counterpart. We need to know what
we’re dealing with.

OLD NORMAN
You can’t keep him here forever.
People are going to notice.

MARCUS
Mr. Hawkins… your brother was
declared dead 50 years ago. Who’s
going to notice?

That’s a flimsy excuse for why it can’t be talked about.

[I never understood why Homeland Security is involved and why everything has to be hushed up. This “Russians-might-also-have-the-technology” is the only reason ever given. It’s a poor reason.]

Pg. 73 WEST
Yeah, well: something goes screwy
at light speed, ‘won’t be much left
to bury, never mind walk away with.

PAUL
Thought’s crossed my mind.

WEST
I guess danger’s relative.

This stirs something in Paul’s memory.

PAUL
What did you say?

WEST
Danger. It’s relative. Why,
what’d you think I said?

Paul’s eyes widen in realization.

That’s a clunky line?

[This exchange is only here to bring “time dilation” into the exposition of the screenplay {happens on the very next page}. I was right to call it clunky. If you write something to “jog” something in someone’s memory, unwrite it. You’re about to deliver a bunch of unnecessary exposition.]

Pg. 81 MARCUS
You’re telling me the United States
government had time-travel in an
Area 51 bunker… and forgot?

EDISON
(nervously)
Well, it… didn’t work. I mean,
we know it works now, but before…

MARCUS
Send it to the lab. And find me
someone who actually knows what it
does.

EDISON
Yes, sir.

Marcus walks away, taking out his cell phone.

MARCUS
(on phone)
Cynthia? I need a list of everyone
on NASA’s payroll: 1965 to 1975.

That is really unlikely.

[I suppose it’s not impossible, but it does feel like the only reason the government forgets about the project is so that the screenplay can exist. DEM, anyone?]

Pg. 87 MAGGIE
Then don’t go. Please. Stay.

PAUL
Janus 2 launches in a week.

MAGGIE
Then let it launch without you.

PAUL
If I do that, I’ll regret it for
the rest of my life.

MAGGIE
So you would risk everything?


A theme, or something like it.

[Except it isn’t. I could make it into one, but then I’d be doing all the author’s work for her. Again, I decline.]

Pg. 89 NORMAN
You. If there is one thing that
could erase all regret, it’s
knowing that every wrong turn,
every tailspin, has lead to you. I
could never regret that path, no
matter what I’d sacrificed. Paul
will come back, not because he
chose Earth, because there is
nothing more beautiful than what
you are! You’re wings, Maggie.


Theme again?

[No, again.]

Pg. 94 and I feel so stupid. I should have gotten that one from the start.

[That stupid feeling lasted, as I said earlier, for three seconds… then it turned into annoyance with all the cheating that made it happen.]

Fade Out– That was busted. This list is a waste of time.

[Not ready to give up yet. I’m sure there is something worth reading on this list!]

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6 responses to “Celeritas

  1. 2014 was a down year for feature specs, with total sales down more than 40% from the last couple of years. Not to mention all the attention going to TV series. But I heard that 2015 is going to be the year of the intelligent, character-driven drama spec.

  2. I remember seeing Celeritas floating around on the Blacklist website a few months ago. It had scored decent but nothing mind blowing. Might have gotten pumped by some friendly industry pro reviews. Never read it myself.

    Do you find there is a lot to be gleaned from going through pro scripts that aren’t up to snuff? I’m interested in your thoughts on the value of plowing through these mediocre Blacklist scripts (aside from the confidence boost…which we all need sometimes)

    Over the last year or so I seem to have lost all ability to stay with anything that doesn’t grab me within 5 pages. Life is short. I’m out here closing PDFs with extreme prejudice.

    • I’ve been forcing myself to get through these scripts for a while now too. I think there is value in studying them, if for no other reason than it gives you the flavor of what readers are currently falling for.

      My experience with this year’s Black List is disheartening. It really seems like these scripts are, as a whole, not deserving of the recognition they are getting. I don’t begrudge anyone their recognition, but I do think recognizing inferiority FALSELY lowers the bar for the rest of us. For example, you could be lulled into thinking subtext doesn’t matter in your own work because it isn’t in these scripts. I don’t think that is an axiom we writer’s can actually write by.

      The big message I’ve gotten from the seven I’ve read so far is… the mechanics of screenwriting have been devalued in favor of plot.

      I wouldn’t even oppose THAT, if the seven plots were interesting and fast paced.

      I sure would like to read one GREAT script from this year’s bunch. I think this may be why I keep going back to the well. I can’t accept that there isn’t AT LEAST one that I could put on a hypothetical Barish List.

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