Script Review (Part 1): It’s Kind of a Funny Story

For this exercise, I elected to read a script for a movie I have not yet seen, so that I can see how the movie played out compared to my read.  This analysis will have two posts.  Part 1, below, will be my analysis of the script itself, and the next post, Part 2, will be my comments after viewing the film.

Please remember, my intent with these script review posts will be to point out the things I thought were notable – unique aspects of the script or story based on my (albeit novice) experience and as seen from my eyes.

Part 1 – The Read


I picked this script because of the title and the fact that I had not yet seen the movie (or read the book).  In fact, I had forgotten hearing or seeing anything about it. While I have since looked at the IMDB listing to check the user rating and other details.  You can find the script online (


Young Craig is caving under the pressures of the expectations of his current academic path and the awkward situation of being in love with his best friend’s girl.  Fearing his ongoing and escalating suicidal feelings, he seeks admission to the hospital for treatment. The story was written for the screen by Ryan Fleck & Anna Boden, based on the novel by Ned Vizzini.


The movie is listed several ways on the major sites: “Comedy-drama”, “Art House”, “Drama”, and the trifecta “Comedy-drama-romance.”  One could even give it a nod as a coming-of-age drama, so possibly this movie is trying to be everything.

Art House – After wading through a few pretentious article on what constitutes an Art film, and the state of the art film today, I did find a good source linked from Wikipedia topic “Art film”.  In the article by Lindsay Steenberg, actually referring to one of the references, we find an informative view on what the art film is:

Bordwell further describes the structuring basis of the art cinema as based on “‘objective’ realism, ‘expressive’ or subjective realism, and narrational commentary.” In brief, the art cinema relies on a recognizable authorial voice (or narrational commentary), self-reflexive stylistic choices, causal gaps in the narrative, episodic structure, ambiguity in reading, and a plot which relies on complex psychology rather than goal fixated action to provide forward momentum.  

You can read Steenberg’s full article here:

Drama – If drama is meant to show us characters as we would like to be, whereas comedy is meant to show how we really are (per our excellent teacher, Steve Kaplan), then we are inclined to classify this script as a drama.  Even though we don’t necessarily hope to land in the mental hospital, we may hope that 1) we would be strong enough to seek help and admit ourselves before taking drastic steps, just as Craig did, and 2) we would maintain a caring and pleasant attitude such as Bobby’s, if we found ourselves in his situation.

Comedy – While there are humorous lines, I don’t really see the typical comic conventions in this film, so I think it’s a stretch to put it in this category. If I’m in the mood for a comedy, and someone recommends this movie, I’m not satisfied at the end. In fact, it seems a bit odd that we are supposed to take Craig’s situation as serious, but also be encouraged to laugh at his fellow patients.

Romance – While there are two key romantic sub-plots, I would hesitate to refer to this as a romance.  The thin-ness of the two connections may actually be good representation of teen love, however.

General Structure

The script is at 115 pages, for the copy that I have. The movie clocks in at 1:41.

  • The setup of the situation and scenario runs until Craig is resolved to spend the minimum 5 days in the hospital; this covers the first 22 pages.
  • The journey for Craig lasts most of the five days, until he gets the turning words of wisdom from Bobby, which is on page 93 (71 pages).
  • From here, it’s a quick run through tying up loose ends and getting Craig out (22 pages).

Because of the schema we are dealing with, I’m not forming an opinion on the ratio of the sections.

Notable Script Tidbits

Voice Overs – Given the storyline is in the psychology of Craig, it makes sense that there is a heavy dose of voice overs.  In reading, I have become concerned it will be too much.  It will be interesting to see how it plays out on the screen.

Dream sequence, Flashbacks and Fantasy – Again, because we are really going through the story with full access of Craig’s point of view, we also wander through his thoughts in these varying forms. Technically, even within the same variation type the directives are noted a bit inconsistently (leaving me to wonder if it is intentional or not). One of the markings isn’t clear to me, where each step is marked with a reverse order letter with an ID which seemed to correspond to nothing (Possibly scene? But the number seems high…see page 35).

Supers – These are used to help keep the user oriented to the timeline and what is real.

Insert – This was a shot directive, used a few times. It is not one I see used often.

Speaking of scenes, I’d be interested to see how the non-current-day pieces are included in the scene counting.


The characters do seem to have their own voices.  A few things stand out to me:

  • The interaction with the parents seems authentic.  The sort of obliviousness to the severity of the situation, the roles each parent plays, and the relation of the concern for the sister.
  • I think the writers do a nice job with the play between Craig and Noelle, mostly in the beginning.
  • The other is that the difference between Bobby, Craig and Noelle and the other patients in the way they speak demonstrated they were in different parts of the spectrum.


The premise is understandable: Teens dealing with pressure and not wanting to fail, the stress one feels, falling for a best friend’s significant other.  While I can see the transitions and identify transformational scene, it feels a bit forced, and overall a bit shallow of a story.  There are all of these touch points with people with real problems, but we don’t get deep enough, really, with anyone to truly achieve empathy or understand how the triggers really come to have impact. Even with Craig, we understand the idea of what makes him decide to stop the track he’s on, but we don’t buy into it fully.  Same can be said with suddenly getting over Nia.  I am hoping that the acting and directing help elevate the script, but seeing how little there is to work with, I’m not optimistic that this will happen.


Learning by Example

People have a variety of methods that they use to familiarize themselves with the unfamiliar. For me, my first step is often seeing how others have done it. Screenwriting has been no different.  I choose to read scripts for movies that I’m fairly familiar with.  Here I will describe the hard copy screenplays in my library (I have dozens more in soft form, more on this later), and what lead me to plucking them out of the script bin for study.


These are listed in no particular order, only categorized with a quick snip of the category and the reason I thought the example was relevant. You’ll see some entered in more than one category.

These stories have some interesting aspect to them with regards to the story timeline.  For example, Ocean’s Eleven. If you don’t already know, this is a fun heist story where the audience follows along curiously about how the crew will pull it off given the comprehensive security around their target. After recruiting for all of the different roles, it is revealed that the leader, Danny Ocean, isn’t just in this for the loot – he wants revenge and to win his ex-wife, Tess, back.  After convincing the crew that this won’t jeopardize the operation, the heist gets back underway.   The reason I loved reviewing this script for timing was that  the key part of the movie – the heist itself – takes place over just a few minutes and is done without completely confusing or losing the audience. I thought this was a rather interesting writing challenge.  Similarly, I’m looking at these scripts for timeline challenges:

  • Pulp Fiction – This asynchronous audience-puzzle of a story is a clear example of owning the story timeline and laying out in a clever and entertaining way.
  • The Hangover – A fairly recent story showing how to handle backtracking through a series of events without cheating the audience with an obvious outcome.
  • The Social Network – The story itself is told in a straightforward way in terms of the story timeline, but the audience has knowledge of some of the history here and would be watching for the timeline to jive with their knowledge (or fill in holes, but certainly not conflict). I think that creates an interesting constraint on this script.
  • The Bourne Identity – In this story we take the issue of a dual-past to be uncovered and teased apart all while under immediate time pressure.  Handling these two vectors in one story is challenging.
  • When Harry Met Sally – This story takes place over some 15 years. It was important for the offer to allow the time pass to be believable and not a short cut to the characters’ development.

Romance / Romantic Comedy

Being my primary genre for writing, I picked a few well-loved examples. Most stories have a romance plot or sub-plot, but the light-hearted romance is as difficult to write as a complex song in Major keys.  The first is listed often not just as a popular romance but as the best written movie of all time. I think romantic comedy is especially challenging because there is an audience mandated outcome, yet that outcome must be delivered in an unexpected way.

  • Casablanca – A classic tale. Can you choose to not be with your love for a greater purpose? Are there different types of love?
  • When Harry Met Sally – There are a few questions that might be answered here – Can love grow over time? Is it ever too late to be more than friends? Opposites may attract but can it work long term? Can women and men be ‘just’ friends?
  • You’ve Got Mail – This one is not only in my library because it’s a great romantic comedy but it incorporates modern technology and the challenges not only for the characters in meeting in person but also for the writer to not bore the audience when technology is being used.


What’s great about the Ocean’s Eleven script – and I would love to see the original script to see if this was something carried forward or recaptured –  is that it has an old style dialogue, especially between Danny and Tess.  One of my favorite sections of dialogue is in the restaurant when Danny approaches Tess while she waits for Terry. I started to put a snippet here but I think I’ll wait for a full post on the script for that.  It’s for similar reasons I love Casablanca.  Prime examples of accomplishing the most bang with the fewest words. It’s an art, for sure. When Harry Met Sally also features some simple and effective dialogue. I think they call this efficient dialogue in writing circles.

Character Development

The following are a mix of genres but all present a fantastic exploration into one or more characters. Some even surprise us in the end – for example Ferris, seemingly a teen punk, and may normally be, but in this story a caring friend who just may have saved his friend, Cameron.  Others feature every-day people that help us learn or once-again recognize something about ourselves.

  • The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – The general study of older characters in later stages of life and relationships – tolerated and forbidden.
  • The Silver Linings Playbook – A ground-breaking appropriate humanization of extreme personalities.
  • Sideways – The joy of finding someone who can look beyond the cover of a person who has a lot to offer and does not even realize it himself.
  • Napoleon Dynamite – Really a time period piece but also the complexity of what seems simple.
  • The Breakfast Club – Everything is relative and deserves perspective. These reps of various walks of life exposed and finding common ground is a beautiful mental watermark for the audience.
  • Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – The child of absent, demanding parents has to be rescued from despair by a trouble-making friend with good intentions if with risky methods.
  • It’s a Wonderful Life – I watch this movie every Thanksgiving. This classic helps us recognize the impact we have had even when we currently feel like a failure or that life is too unfair to bear.


I never appreciated good comedies more until I tried to write comic aspects into my script. I’m still trying to address comments that my story needs to be ‘funnier’!

  • Wedding Crashers – Chalk full of several types of comedy, a great example and often quoted movie.
  • This is 40 – A recent addition which has few dramatic lines but the ability to pull in things that suck about being middle-aged (I am well aware at present) without being cliché is fantastic
  • Office Space – Another case of brining things out of the office experience that drive us all nuts in a hilarious way
  • Swingers – Probably primarily a favorite because I know it was early work of Favreau’s, more subtle humor and humor in characters

A few others already mentioned like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Hangover, are good to study for their comedic elements as well.

I hope this has helped trigger some ideas for movies to look study for certain aspects of screenwriting.  Next I will blog some great sources of scripts that I have found.


Enrichment of the Cast of Characters

With regards to characters, I’ve been doing several things.  The two biggest are the cast mapping and the casting of the characters. Both have been challenging and quite revealing.

First, the cast map.  There are plenty of resources online and in books to help you develop deep characters.  But the characters must interact with other characters, and the attributes and values that the characters bring out in one another are just as important.  This is something McKee teaches.  In fact, earlier this week, my sister and I watched an older film – A Fish Called Wanda (1988) – so I could take a look at the sample cast map he provides on StoryLogue. As I put the two together, it made perfect sense.  Once I drew out my own cast map – the circles, the attributes, how the characters relate. I found some potential problems.  I found some holes in the map and relationships which might not be that interesting.

Second, casting the characters.  This was amazing fun, but far harder than I expected.  As I browsed through IMDB and entertainment sites, I found myself looking for people that had attribute requirements that I knew about in my mind but that I hadn’t written down, and probably didn’t expose anywhere, in the script.  Where characters might have been missing depth on the page, they may have had it in my head, and I just didn’t translate it well.  As I hunted down each actor, I noted the specific things that would rule OUT certain choices as well as rule IN. Once I found a match, I printed out a photo and taped it to a 5×7 index card and wrote all of the attributes that made them the perfect fit.  Then, for each, I went through their parts of my story and captured key details.  In some cases I discovered I had inconsistencies to address.

So far, I recommend these two activities. I think they are contributing to the richness of the story.

Help with Scene Headings

I’m having to do some basic clean-up of my script, even though I have imported it into Final Draft.  Some things didn’t translate well in this proper format, and others, like scene headings, I just have not been familiar enough with to know if I am entering them correctly.   A quick search for help lead me to this page, which as been really helpful and answered my immediate questions.  Take a look.

Rewriting Update

Once I sit down and get situated back into my story, I can easily stay lost in its  world for a couple of hours.  Getting started can often be the toughest part.  I’ve allowed the rewrite to take residence on part of the dining table. Note the lack of a computer here. I’m living in my story in hardcopy and pencils.


I had already done three full scrubs on the scenes/sequences and dialogue, based on coverage I received in the Blue Cat Screenwriting Competition.  I also revisited the outline I had assembled in completing the first draft, to look for holes after deciding to somewhat majorly change the ending.

Now, I’m doing a couple of things at once.  I am able to find tweaks to make to the dialogue with every read, so I’m doing that, again.  I am also indexing the scenes manually – I realize I could do this from Final Draft, but I am comfortable with using purple index cards for sequencing, capturing thoughts, checking attributes, etc. I want to actually draw small story board pictures on the back and try to visualize the full story, end-to-end, on my table or wall. The comfort with physical cards comes from my project management background where we use them for feature lists and breakdown, prioritizing, etc.  I’m also writing down little “ah-ha”s on the green sticky notes; these are thoughts that tie back to the seminar content where I didn’t have an answer for my story, or, where the story might be missing something.

Funny note on the purple index cards: despite having stacks of white index cards at home – given my obsession with them – I went out and bought colored cards.  I refused to use white after McKee scolded everyone writing on white paper!

I mentioned last post that I have driving factors.  I have three dates close together, by which to finish it by, but I’m trying not to rush too much in this process.  I like that I have about 3 weeks to get it to a full version 2.0.  One, I owe an update from version 1, to a producer that is possibly interested; two, I want it ready for the Great American Pitchfest; and 3, the Final Draft contest deadlines are approaching and I’m considering submitting if nothing comes through 1 or 2!