Samples of Development Script Notes Page 3 

One section of suggestions to VP of Development for a third thriller:

Stronger story arc:   Make Riley’s black past be not the accidental drowning of her brother, but that she believes she shot her sister (or brother) with a gun in the house when she was very small.  Use a number of flashbacks to gradually show what happened, but the rub is that she does not remember the incident, only the aftermath:  her memory is of her holding the gun next to her dead sister.  (Accidental shootings by children in homes is a strong, current pull for an audience.)  In the end, she will at the climactic moment, when she is faced with the need to shoot the villain, remember that she did not shoot her sister (final flashback) but, rather, she witnessed seeing her sister shoot herself and then, in shock, Riley picked up the gun, which accounts for her memory.  The recalled, expanded memory will cause her to reclaim her strength and resolve, allowing her to now actually pull a trigger of a gun and shoot her tormentor and attacker -- thereby simultaneously creating a thematic and emotional resolution, a powerfully dramatic moment.

Now, this makes the gun the palpable symbol, which will carry through the story.  A gun needs to be presented in the first courtroom scene and we see Riley react to it, but we, of course, do not know why, her secret being slowly revealed as the tale unfolds.  The audience will have the presence of the gun as a focal point and a recurring symbol.  The murder needs to be violently actuated with a gun.  (Riley could have to look at crime photos of the body, which could trigger a flashback.)  Take out all therapy sessions:  let us discern and follow her gradual undoing as she is forced to face her past from which she has been hiding all these years.

Keeping with the successful storyline of Jagged Edge, it is absolutely imperative that we must be completely fooled by Drew, who has to come across as someone we like and want to see vindicated for being falsely accused after we have reluctantly doubted him because of the facts of the case that point to his guilt.  There can be no trace of slickness or manipulation.  We must gradually believe that he is completely innocent and come to realize that he is a victim of circumstance.  We must be invested in Riley ending up with him, which means we also must truly love the protagonist, Riley, and believe that Drew is the man for her, the one who will help her turn her life around, and that she is the woman who will help him heal his pain from being falsely accused and abused in prison all those years.  We must be so involved in wanting to see him go free this time that the twist revealing that the found-innocent man is actually guilty (as seen in several courtroom-driven films, e.g., Jagged Edge, Witness for the Prosecution, Presumed Innocent) must fade from our minds.  (In fact, we need to be set up to be looking for a different twist, which will misdirect us, a twist concerning Riley working on finding the killer.)

Riley needs to be a fully-fleshed out and conflicted heroine who is trying to face her demons and whom we admire and are concerned about.  We need to see her missing her ex-husband, Jerry, and wanting her daughter to have a real daddy again, but see her push him away at the same time.  It’s important that we want to see them get back together and enjoy the idea when we see the strong possibility in the end after the final ordeal, which has helped reunite them. 

Riley needs to be under much more tangible pressure.  Possibly, her affair with Drew is exposed and her career is in jeopardy.  More murders could be involved, possibly more homosexual men being killed in the park or other parks, which turns out to be Drew’s distorted way of releasing his pain over being sodomized in prison -- which he only speaks about at the very end (as it is in the script now).  In other words, he is a serial killer who has been killing for years.  This brings the police in more as they realize that the latest killings could be connected to similar murders of gay men in the past.  (This is excellent theme-wise because of the current violence against gay men.)  The sex between Riley and Drew could become gradually more sadistic and rough, which Riley would engage in masochistically because of her self-guilt -- until Drew takes it too far and tries to sodomize her (due to his sexual abuse in prison).  When she refuses and he becomes impotent, their relationship is severely strained (and we find ourselves torn by feeling both pity and some repugnance towards him, this occurring near the third act, as his violent nature is introduced to us without us knowing exactly what we are looking at).  Now, Drew becomes a more formidable antagonist, someone who we truly want to see die for his sins.  Drew has cunningly revenged himself against Dr. Lewis by framing him for one of the many murders that Drew has committed.  We want to appreciate Drew’s brilliant mind.  In fact, Drew could be so brilliant that he actually realized that he would be suspected and planned the murder in that way in order to finally be vindicated so as he could appear as “the mistreated hero” in the eyes of the public and especially Riley, a misguided way to win approval and love (while, at the same time, he would be secretly enjoying watching Dr. Lewis, the man whom he believes was the cause of his imprisonment, suffer as an innocent man accused of Drew’s crime).  (Here we see the basic theme developing in a more profound and assimilated way:  the idea of individuals appearing guilty even though they are innocent (which also refers to Riley’s past, which has caused her to judge herself guilty all these years and will find out that she was always innocent).  The title, “Guilty” may be a little soft; possibly “Assumed Guilty” or “Assumed Guilt” would be more provocative (both titles evidently having not been used for a film up until now).

We remove the contrived accidental shooting of Riley’s daughter, keeping with the gun theme always being connected to Riley.  The gun concept could also enter in with her ex-husband, Jerry, who is a cop, with Riley having left him because of her subconscious repugnance towards his gun, which she could not face because she was afraid to confront her darkest secret and pain.

Find a more murder mystery-type discovery item than a pair of socks (especially sparkling ones), something that strikes a note of terror when we see it -- even if it is a simple everyday one.

Idea for electric chair scene transition to courtroom:  For a more dramatic moment, instead of opening the second scene with “And did it ring?” (which is strong already), the transition moment would be an actual ringing of a phone as we are still looking at the phone in the prison.  We quickly realize that the ringing is coming from a phone in the courtroom (a regular one -- if they are allowed, which is doubtful, or some individual’s loud cell phone) as we are taken into the courtroom.  The cell phone could belong to the heroine, Riley, (which makes her an immediate object of focus).  She could silence it quickly, showing her apology to the judge.  Thus, our first moment with her shows her to be off-balance and harried -- which will help endear us to her.  (As she puts away the phone and the legal dialogue is proceeding, soon she is disturbed when a gun is presented as some type of evidence).  By that, we have a much stronger opening by using several visual cues which draw us immediately into the story and which makes the rather tedious legal exchanges more palatable.

The names “Drew” and “Lewis” are too similar and could cause confusion for an audience when the individuals are mentioned in dialogue.

By incorporating these changes (and possibly more), the story is further integrated and focused, and more emotionally accessible for an audience, and has a deeper storyline and has a more intoxicating thriller aura.  A rewrite in this direction could make this a viable property for a film.

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