Quick Review – Buried – Screenplay by Chris Sparling

All I knew about this script going into it was that it was about a guy who is buried underground for most of the story and that in the movie, that guy was Ryan Reynolds….It made me laugh when the character was described on page two as “physically unremarkable…”. Obviously, this was before the role was cast…

BURIED Screenplay

Anyway! I was very interested to read this script because I couldn’t imagine how they could pull it off. From what I heard, the guy spends most of the film underground. I suppose it either could be a really exciting suspense story or crushingly dull…

It started off very strong. The guy is, well, buried in a box. He awakens to realize he’s been buried alive and, after the initial and understandable freak-out, he starts trying to figure away out of this mess. There is a cell phone – not his – buried with him. It has a weak signal and is already down to half the battery life. Cool. A ticking clock to create tension. It works. He calls home and leaves messages for his wife and son.

[Editor’s note – Ryan’s…uh, I mean PAUL’S wife is named Linda. Bonus points awarded to this script.]

Ry…Paul gets a text message on the phone. It’s 10 numbers, which he dials and speaks with the terrorist, Jabir, who buried him. Even though Paul is a truck driver / contractor, he is considered an enemy American soldier. Jabir makes his demand – $5 million by 9pm from Paul’s family or the embassy or he “stays buried like a dog”.

It was about at this point that I abandoned my blog article and focused on the script. I couldn’t put it down.

It was absolutely, unbelievably brilliant. It was riveting and full of tension, suspense, politics, fear, and drama. It was probably the most exciting script I have ever read.

And the entire story took place inside the coffin.

No cutting away to tearful family members, no rushing around at the F.B.I with worried looking officials shouting into cell phones and banging on top secret computers. The whole damn thing took place inside a wooden box.

Damn, that’s good writing.

Reading this made me want to set The Kids Are All Right screenplay on fire. They called THAT brilliant writing?? Oh, hell’s no….

I don’t know what else to saw except wow. Wow.

And if it weren’t for Ryan Reynolds, I probably never even would have heard of this film.

How To Write a Screenplay (Resource article)

The title of this article is not How To Write A Fantastic Screenplay. To write a fantastic screenplay, you need vivid, visual descriptions, multi-dimensional characters, and a compelling plot full of conflict and twists and turns. The first step to all that exciting stuff is to step back and take a look at the general structure of a screenplay.

Screenplays (and movies) can generally be broken down into three acts. In a two hour film, Act I averages 30 pages, Act II is 60 pages, and Act III is 30 pages. One page equals roughly one minute of screen time, meaning the average length of a script is 90-120 pages. Though it not necessarily critical to stick to the three-act structure, it is vital to carefully construct your screenplay if you’re going to stay within these page constraints. There’s no room to go on tangents in a screenplay. If a scene does not advance the story and/or the character, it doesn’t belong in the script. If you want to spend five pages describing your heroine’s wedding gown, write a novel. In a script, you’ll have to settle for “she enters, wearing a fancy wedding dress.” Sorry. A script’s gotta keep moving.

Pages 1-15 are for your setup. Get to the point of the story quickly. What is the story about? Something needs to happen to your main character by page 15 that really gets the story moving. In the first few minutes of THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, poor Andy Dufresne is sentenced to life in prison.

The first plot point should come around page 25. A plot point is an event that changes the direction of the story. Plot Point 1 sent Marty McFly back to 1955 in Back to the Future. The first major plot point that occurs in the script launches the story full-force into Act II. A second a major plot point leads into Act III. There can (and should be) many plot points along the way, but having a major one around page 25 and another major one around page 75 is helpful in a well-structured screenplay. There can also be a fairly major plot point that occurs halfway through the script. This is called a midpoint.

The second major plot point is usually the point where things look the worst for the protagonist. If your main character is gathering flowers and singing gaily at this point in the story, you’ve got problems. If everything is honky-dory, why keep reading the script? Around page 75, sweet little E.T. appears to be dead. Would you keep reading if he and Elliott were sitting around playing Parcheesi?

The climax, which arrives around page 90, is just what it sounds likes. This is do or die time, the smackdown between the good guy and the bad guy. This is where the lowly farmgirl from Kansas ices the witch with a bucket of water. Everything in the story has been leading up to this moment. If you haven’t very carefully structured your story up to this point, you will have nowhere to go.

Finally, there is the resolution. This is where you wrap things up. There shouldn’t be all that much to say at this point so don’t hang around. After the dinosaurs eat everybody and the main characters barely escape Jurassic Park with their lives, what else is there to say? John Hammond realizes his zoo from hell was NOT a good idea and finally admits it. Roll credits.

Choose a movie that you have heard is good or choose one that you’ve already seen and know to be entertaining. Try to identify the setup, the first plot point, the second plot point, the climax, and the resolution. In particular, notice how the story keeps moving. Each scene and even each line of dialogue is there for a reason. It either advances the story, advances the character, or does both.

Conversely, the next time you find yourself bored by a movie, ask yourself if it’s because there are unnecessary scenes that don’t really contribute much to the story. In a bad comedy, scenes are stuck in there for allegedly “humorous” purposes. In a subpar action film, random things explode and excess car chases ensue for added “excitement”. These things feel tacked on because they are. They are not an integral part of the story and thus do not generate emotion, except perhaps annoyance.

Many important elements go into making an entertaining script designed to result in a compelling movie. Though the three-act structure is not a hard and fast Hollywood rule, it can be argued that nearly all of the most successful films generally conform to this internal structure. The most interesting stories are the ones that continue to introduce conflict and consistently move forward. Any movie that bores you at the beginning but ends with an entertaining and memorable final act is not a good film. A good movie is one that grabs you from the first moment and never lets go. Audiences were stunned when Daddy Darth Vader was revealed because they were utterly spellbound by the rest of the story that came before. Donald being revealed as Howard the Duck’s father would have resulted in a big who cares? A clever twist only works if the rest of the story is structured well. A great movie starts with a great screenplay. And a great screenplay starts on page ONE.

Resource Article for Wannabe Writers : Tips for Rewriting Your Novel or Screenplay

It can be difficult to keep rewriting and revising when all you want to do is share your new novel or screenplay with the world. Resist the temptation to send out your work before it’s really ready. Your impatience will cost you dearly, in the form of wasted opportunities and lost time. It may take months or even years for you to get actual feedback from an editor, and by the time you realize how much work needs to be done on your manuscript, you may have sent it out to dozens of other editors or agents. You shouldn’t re-send your work to the same people unless you have been invited to do so, so those opportunities have been lost forever.

Rewriting can actually be a fun process. You will be amazed at how much better the final product is when compared to your first draft. You will discover new ideas, character traits, and lines of dialogue that help your creativity and unique voice stand out among your competition. Keep these tips in mind as you work to make your writing shine:

Put it away for several weeks. This is not an easy thing to do, but gaining a fresher perspective is vital and will reduce your time until publication in the long run.

Find a good book doctor or script analyst. Ask around to find those who are trustworthy and reasonably priced.

Take a workshop writing course or join a writers group. You will learn how to give and get criticism and how to become your own best editor!

Have someone experienced in editing or a professional go over your text to get rid of repetitions and nonsense, but don’t let him replace your vision with his own. A good rewrite will keep the dialect and characterization true to the original.

Read the work aloud. Fine-tune any dialogue that does not sound natural or seems out of character.

Don’t be afraid to cut the good stuff. Even if a line of dialogue or an entire subplot is brilliant, excise it if it simply doesn’t fit with the rest of the work. You may be able to use it in a future work.

Look for any passage that may be overlong and contain too much description.

Remember that it is easy to overlook left out words because the mind reads them into the text. This is easy to do even if the work is written by someone else.

Don’t keep editing the life out of your work. Do look it over for mistakes, but if you wait too long to finish, you will lose the original inspiration and write an entirely different version.

Many thanks to authors Jodi Picoult, Carolyn Haines, and Griffith Brownlee who generously contributed to this article.