|The Script Archeologist Consulting
Sample Script Analysis
Title: The Minority Report
Author: Scott Frank
Consultant: Ken Whittal
Can we escape from our fate, and if not then when should we punish those fated to commit crimes? Law enforcement officer John Anderton thought he knew the answer, until fate had other plans and he is framed for a murder that he never intends to commit.
It all starts with intentions, psychic images that form in the mind of a Precog. These are all that the Precrime Officers have to go on to stop a crime that hasn’t even been committed yet. Time is of the essence and time is their enemy. The story is a futuristic science fiction crime drama, murder mystery. The police officers are part of a precognitive unit that uses three psychics to predict crimes. They arrest the criminals before they commit the act. Senior Detective John Anderton uses the high tech equipment at the disposal of the Precrime Police Unit to solve crimes before they can be committed. They validate their work though it has come under scrutiny by the Federal Government, as the unit is about to go national in its implementation. Anderton has become a product of his depression at the loss of his kidnapped son, the reason for his joining the police. Paying a visit to the Precogs in their sanctuary facility, John receives the images from Precog Agatha showing the attempted murder of a woman Anne Lively. She turns out to have drowned anyway. He investigates this ‘glitch’, at a time when the project is about to go national.
The stakes become much greater as the next case of predicted murder involves someone very close to John, himself. He must now leave his familiar world of righteousness, eluding his former partners. Identified as a criminal, he must now find out what is going on. Tracking down the woman that invented Precrime he discovers that they are not always perfect in their predictions. They did not always agree. This results in the creation of a Minority Report. Kidnapping the female Precog Agatha, John looks in the last place that one would think to look for the report, in her. Federal Agent Witwer now must investigate the prevision for clues to what fugitive Anderton’s next move might be. Anderton must use the help of a seedy doctor to replace his eyes so he can get past the security.
John successfully liberates Agatha and takes her to his wife’s home in the country on the coast. Lamar Burgess kills Federal Agent Witwer in Anderton’s apartment and sets it to frame John. Witwer has been too good at his job. He has discovered key information that there was an elaborate murder committed by fooling the system. Anderton is captured and imprisoned. His wife makes the mistake of enlisting Lamar Burgess for aid and as John realizes the question he needs answers is who killed Anne Lively, mother to Agatha. With John interned in the Department of Containment and Agatha back in the Precog tank, only John’s wife Lara is left free. Lara comes to Lamar’s office for consolation and comfort from a friend but Lamar’s ego betrays him. She realizes that something is terribly wrong. She takes actions.
Lara rescues John from incarceration. At the hotel Willard Ballroom Lamar, his family and many dignitaries have gathered to celebrate the passage of the National Precrime bill. Lamar is chosen to head this new police entity. Lamar’s big speech completed, he receives a phone call. It’s John. The call is recorded as the Precogs get a vision of a new future murder. The truth comes out as they broadcast the visions of the murder of Anne Lively as Agatha has them. The true face of the killer is revealed as Lamar. All at the ballroom see this. Lamar realizes what must be done. A RED BALL drops at the Precrime Analytical Room. Alarms sound. ‘Murderer’ the Precogs announce but Anderton is able to convince Lamar that he has a choice. Ultimately Lamar makes that choice, killing himself and in the process killing Precrime by the actions of its creator. The labs are dismantled and real cops patrol the streets. Lara and John have a fresh start with a baby on the way. The Precogs have their own fresh start too. Agatha and the other two Precogs are on an island in the middle of the North Atlantic somewhere. With no other people and no civilization around they are where more importantly, there is no murder.
MINORITY REPORT is a superb read that begins with vivid descriptions, leading the reader into a world where a crime is punishable even before it’s committed. As an action genre script it promises to keep the reader involved in the story, with fast paced action, riveting chases and intrigues. All this keeps the antagonist off balance. In a futuristic environment, the script delivers though its sterile environment extends to the emotions of the protagonist. Beginning in his ‘familiar environment’ protagonist John Anderton is in control. With surgical precision he performs his duties, even admirably so. The consummate professional he is seen by his peers as the best and does well to hide his darker, less than pristine side. The character unfortunately hides not only his actions but also his emotions. As written, this leads to his reacting to events as opposed to causing them by his activities.
The overall length of the script is such that it becomes unmanageable. Tweaking of the descriptions would go a long way to tightening up the script and improving its pacing. Transitions are generally not required unless there are specific reasons for it that enhances the script. The story’s premise of too much reliance on another’s infallibility as a crutch, leads to blind acceptance that your fate is determined and freedom of choice is lost. In this case it is counter productive in the protagonist being pro-active as opposed to being re-active. Ironically contrary to this, (and this is a positive) John does, as a pivotal character must, desire something so badly that he will destroy or be destroyed in the effort to attain his goal. It is this very thing that results in the reader being less sympathetic than they could be with John’s character.
Your use of symbolism is prolific yet not overstated in recurring themes of water and eyes. Water represents both properties of life giving and life taking. The pool waiting for John’s son and drowning of Anne Lively are examples of life taking. Protecting John in the bathtub and the life sustaining pool for the Precogs are examples of life giving.
The premise is original in its application of asking the question of the morale choices we make and that they need to be punished for the greater good of society. The twist of asking whether it is morally right to punish on the inference that if you have made up your mind you will commit a crime then you are in nearly every way guilty of it, is interesting too. Stopping you before it is committed is an obligation of those entrusted to protect us. The premise should be the driving force behind every event in your screenplay. A good premise is derived from emotions-- and revolves around a character, a conflict and a conclusion. Unfortunately this is not realized due to John’s character reacting to the conflict and not taking a proactive stance. Other than when he kidnaps Agatha and in the conclusion when he confronts Lamar he doesn’t act this way. Even in this he merely sets in motion the dilemma and tells Lamar that he ‘can choose’.
THEME: (underlying universal truth)
The story’s Thematic Identity is the struggle between technology and the morals regarding its use. John must struggle against his belief that Precrime is morally just because no one is getting hurt. The system is justified in punishing the criminal by the standards of society. It is only semantics as to when they are punished. After all, the intended victim is safe. To some the theme may be seen as heavy handed so you must look at whether this is appropriate for what you intended to portray.
The setup for the inciting incident is overly drawn out. With the proper direction during filming it may improve but that is a ‘What If’. Backstory is one thing that needs proper setup. It can be done at nearly any point in the script though the later it occurs the less impact it has on the story. The only time it works at the end is if you are setting the story up to be episodic. The main problem is that the story does not derive from the characters and the characters do not serve the story. The numbers of proactive beats for the protagonist are limited. The opportunity for some potential conflicts are not missed.
I will cover this in more detail in the Characterization section but a couple falls under Setup. One underdeveloped backstory not fully investigated and that could be further explored is the backstory on Precrime. Another is a possible involvement of Witwer with either Precrime or key characters involved with its beginnings (witnesses for the cases Dr. James and Chief Justice Pollard). If Witwer has a past association with Precrime or its proponents then he now has a stake in either its success or failure. He speaks highly of justice. As a former cop, if he had some association or knowledge of the Precrime judicial witnesses then the reader would be more emotional.
If we break down the essential ‘functions’ that we need in a story, we end up with a cast of archetypal energies as follows:
Protagonist JOHN ANDERTON
Antagonist AGENT WITWER and LAMAR BURGESS
Love Interest WIFE LARA
Guardian LAMAR BURGESS and IRIS
Skeptic AGENT WITWER and PRECRIME CREW
Emotion PRECRIME CREW
Logic AGENT WITWER and IRIS
HEROES OUTER MOTIVATION:
Is the desire visible?
John’s initial desire is presented in his single-minded dedication to the Precrime project. Once he finds out that there are inconsistencies in the visions, it is reinforced. That motivation is coupled with his desire to find out if the vision about him is true. It changes to discovering about why his son was taken. The answer, yes.
Does the desire have a clearly implied endpoint?
Even when the motivation evolves, it does. At first it is to keep up the perfect record of Precrime so as to have it go National, next it becomes discover his guilt/innocence and finally to discover what happened to his son. The only doubt is whether he is guilty and whether or not it John will risk the integrity of his only remaining central focus in his life, Precrime.
Does the hero desperately want the desire?
Initially he is slow to act on it but his level of desire increases as the tension heightens and the stakes grow. At first it is only his own freedom but later it becomes his own piece of mind regarding his son. His destructive nature comes through in his missing the press conference at Precrime.
Does the hero actively pursue the desire?
This is where the story breaks down somewhat. He begins more reactive than proactive in this. Understandably he is thrust into a world that he has only been looking inwards to. He is unaccustomed to being the hunted.
Is it within the hero’s power to achieve the desire?
His investigative nature takes over but he lacks the tools to find out any answers himself. The only allies he enlists are those that have been his enemies. Only once does he try to access the familiar. In that we do build sympathy for him as all his former allies are so blinded by the infallibility of the Precogs they never consider he may be innocent. They are jaded and that seems to be the fault of the environment you have created. This is heavy handed and results in the story driving the character, whereas the protagonist should drive the story.
Does the hero put everything on the line to achieve it?
He does in that he abandons the world he knows for the tools of his enemy’s world. The environment is such that he has nothing to rely on from his world as a cop. He defends himself from his team with less than lethal force. At every step refuses to go that one extra step to being the villain. He is able to redeem himself without sacrificing his innocence and remaining righteousness.
Is the hero’s desire resolved at the climax of the movie?
What he desires is accomplished though it is not truly resolved, at least not by his being proactive. His desire eventually turns to revenge yet he is not capable of delivering it himself. He leaves it up to Lamar to make the final choice. John takes action against his enemy yet does not take responsibility.
The most important thing you must accomplish is helping us (the reader/audience) identify with the protagonist. In doing that you need to follow a process of taking the protagonist from his comfort zone, to create tension through conflict. For you to justify the protagonist being proactive, there needs to be something out of balance at the beginning to strongly motivate him/her. Strong character motivation sustains a reader’s interest because the reader will begin to relate to the protagonist needs. This motivation for success of Precrime does not face antagonism until page 20. By taking 20 pages to develop John’s character, it forces the other structure pieces farther along. The inciting incident doesn’t occur until Page 33. One solution would be to shorten the setup by tightening descriptions. Another could be by delving less into his psyche, either deleting beats or placing them later on in the story.
Next is whether the protagonist is in extreme danger of not achieving his objective, which you have pulled off. Several times there are close calls. Each time he escapes using his knowledge of his enemy’s tools. His escape in the Precog pool and the defeat of his team are prime examples of this. Even when he is captured an unlikely ally rescues him (his wife). It is somewhat predictable. She was his only active ally that cared. Surprisingly even here, with John’s lack of proactive activity (being captured) the plot drives the story.
The antagonist is focused on the same objective as the protagonist, though for self-preservation and not with PRECRIME’s morality a consideration. John’s Secondary motivations change from discovering what happened to Anne Lively to discovering the truth about the infallibility of Precrime. From there they change to what happened to his son, to revenge or at least justice. Each time this change occurs, the antagonist’s actions spark this change. A solution to improve this would be to give the protagonist a decision that he loses either way but does at least make the decision actively and not passively. Except when Agatha is taken back to PRECRIME and he is incarcerated, there are no real stakes to his decisions. One possible solution is to take some of the script space saved from shortening Act I and using it to put John’s wife in danger for helping him escape. Lamar knows that he has a potential problem on his hands. If he were to involve her in his destruction of John, then we the reader would be much more sympathetic to John’s plight. The stakes would be much higher and more immediate should Lamar go to that length to survive, were he to endanger Lara. Lamar would also now become a more powerful villain than the hero, thus pushing John into becoming a true hero.
Is the protagonist engaged in a seemingly hopeless race against time? In the case of this story it is a race against several antagonists. None of them are really more powerful than John until they begin to eliminate each other. Witwer enters with his own objective yet John for the most part ignores him as an opponent. John’s ego and lack of interest stall any real tension that the story begins to set up between them. It is not until John has to flee Precrime that Witwer becomes an active antagonist. The scene in the elevator when Witwer informs John that he has is going to have John prosecuted for his drug activity is well done. It’s ironic that Witwer thinks that John is fleeing because of the drug issue and not the true reason, a suspect of his own precious Precrime. Witwer is clever yet is not truly antagonistic as he eventually seeks the truth along other avenues and not only in John’s capture. Lamar is the Archetype antagonist. His motivations come into direct conflict with John’s and Lamar is in his mind forced to take action against John. It is Lamar that enlists Crow to frame John as he realizes that John’s investigations around Anne Lively threaten Lamar’s secret.
The final part of the process is ensuring the ending restores the balance and ties up loose ends. The climax must take the conflict to its zenith. The tension needs to be so high that outcome will decide the fate of all involved and the pieces will be left over for those that survive (if any) to pick up. The motivations of the protagonist and the antagonist directly oppose each other, where only one can achieve their goal. In this story John’s motivation is to discover what happened to Anne Lively and through the minority reports. This is while Lamar’s is trying to keep his secret that he killed Agatha’s mother to stop her from taking Agatha away from him and Precrime. The antagonist initially reacts to John’s investigation (stumbling upon it actually) while John reacts to these actions. The balance does get restored in that the Precrime project (and its revolutionary method of crime prevention) is abandoned. The loose ends are that the Precogs are finally able to escape the world and just live in peace where they are far away from people and thus murder. Nice and clean ending. There is no foretelling of a potential sequel.
An example of a movie that ties things up yet there is a tension right until the credits is John Carpenters The Thing. Even in the ending following the climax there is emotion and sympathy in the readers for the characters. In this story there is no collective sigh of relief on the part of the reader despite the balance being achieved. It is like there was no Precrime at all. Just as important to the balance is that there has been a growth of the protagonist, the destination at the end of the journey. How has John’s character changed? Yes, he’s found out what has happened to his child. Yes, he has lost his mentor and the only thing he held together for, Precrime. Has he become better for his troubles? Has he achieved some tangible objective that was worth the struggle and the price he paid? Has he truly been/become a hero? The only tangible changes in John’s life are that he is unemployed, knows the fate of his son and that he must now begin the healing. Precrime died with a whimper and the cleanup lacks a life beyond the script. Everyone goes on without any real consequence to the actions of the script. There is only minor coverage of the resolution, which could have been dealt with more in-depth had the story setup been shorter. As a writer you want your audience to take something with them when they leave the theatre, or when the reader puts down the script or novel. More attention paid to the ending would bring out that lasting emotion that separates great scripts from average ones. A possible solution is to accomplish this would be dealing with the legal issues of the plot twist of Lamar’s suicide. Another is the discovery of Witwer’s body. Yet another is the case of John’s missing son being closed or through the use of dialogue voiceover. And that brings us to the next section to cover.
Overall the dialogue is well done with distinctive character voice and wit. It worked to reveal the story without discussing conflicts involving plot and characterization. It allowed the dramatic scenes to be visually present them.
The inciting incident does not occur until page 33. The inciting incident can’t occur until it is adequately set up. The reader is hooked well enough though an effort to shorten the setup would go a long way to keeping them.
1ST ACT TURNING POINT:
On page 46 this occurs with John now being identified as the next Precrime criminal. Tension and emotional involvement increase for the reader, as John’s goal to discover about the killing of Anne Lively is in question.
MIDPOINT: Point of No Return
The midpoint follows quickly as his own Precrime squad pursues him (page 51) as the Precrime Siren goes off while he talks to Witwer. He knows that he will not have an opportunity to explain or plead his case.
ACT II TURNING POINT:
As the all-is-lost moment in a script, this is the lowest point for the hero. In this script this is when John is captured at Lara’s home on the coast. The problem is that it is once again not John that drives the plot. He brings her home yet it is Agatha that offers up the information regarding his son. When captured it is Lara again that is proactive in visiting Lamar for assistance. She is the one that frees him. He is more helpless than should be. By creating opportunity for him to escape quietly you would regain the power and respect/sympathy of the reader.
The stakes are now much higher as even Lara is in danger of being incarcerated for her rescuing of John. Unfortunately that is an issue that is neglected. There is a setup of Lara in the clutches of Lamar but there is no payoff.
We are let down in that you want to try and create a final twist where it looks like all is lost for John. He then needs to pull something out of his hat, at the last moment saving the day. You have attempted to try that with the dilemma that John sets up for Lamar in the dialogue regarding the choice Lamar has to make.
This echoes the statement that Agatha put to John that he still had a choice to kill Crow or just arrest him. Oddly enough they both took the same road, suicide. As a positive, John and Lara do con Lamar into divulging that he was the murderer of Anne Lively and the flaws in the Precogs. The stakes were high but not as high as if it was all lost for John and he was forced into making a decision of his own.
Two simple things can go a long way to tightening up a script and improving the read 1) formatting dialogue/descriptions and 2) keep the pacing more staccato than largo.
It is surprising how much shorter a script can be when dialogue and descriptions are tweaked. You can accomplish it by being as concise and descriptive as possible without prose about characters. Choosing the right words for dialogue and descriptions helps. Not wasting lines by having only a couple words on the last lines in a beat will do wonders for the reading experience and improve the script. Inefficient use of the lines and pages available can be the difference in being viewed as a professional or an amateur.
By keeping the pacing more staccato than largo will improve the flow for the reader. Avoid long stretches of narrative or speech. The rule is to stick to less than 4 lines of description. More white space is better.
Nothing like a single word uttered in whisper tones to start off a script. Orsen Wells in Citizen Cane comes to mind. Murder is to the point and grabs the attention of the reader. The montage of images sets the tension while slowly revealing the action. The symbolism of WATER and EYES is touched on here.
Good use of simple imagery (three faces and the red ball) with energy and subtlety.
Nice touch with the music accompanying him in his work. Why the choice of Strauss? Does it have some parallel in his real life?
Nice payoff to the setup of the eyes from opening scenes.
Witwer is setup as a pretty boy agent that draws attention and likes it. He doesn’t project as a worthy adversary/antagonist.
Fletcher delivers the details on the Precrime equipment. John’s activities are to reactionary in that he is in the scene but the scene does not benefit from that. The protagonist is supposed to drive the story. A better solution would have been to have John deliver the dialogue. That way he is seen as more competent in that he is able to do his job and knows it like no other. Also this is an opportunity to develop conflict/tension between John and Witwer. This would raise the stakes for Witwer and John. Both would see the other as a threat to their authority. As an antagonist Witwer would be seen as having justification for going hard for John.
The Precog Déjà vu is setup for later when we discover that there can be multiple images/visions that are experienced. This is subtle justification for the duplicity of visions. Good use of symbolism using the water as a scrying pool for the transition of the scene.
Here we have another use of symbolism. The projected displays regarding Precrime and how it works is a reflection of John’s inner turmoil. His rational side sees Precrime as good and for the good of society. The next beat deals with the punishment of Howard Marks and the metal halo fitted to his head. With the return to the projections as John runs, we begin to see the moral justification for the existence of Precrime. All the bad that used to happen has been solved by their system. The Precogs are ‘saviors’ while they use the halo for the criminals. It is nicely punctuated with the Mental Case that sticks his head out from the middle of the projection and screams. John’s inner turmoil is expressed.
Here is another example of the symbolism of the EYE. John is the one-eyed man in reference to his eyepiece he uses when ‘in motion against a perpetrator’. His home represents the outward expression of his inner self, a mess. He is spiraling down into depression and self-abuse, and that has a price. His reliability now in question by Lamar, this is a sign of weakness that Lamar will later exploit.
Here we begin to see the characters stance on the morality of Precrime. The dialogue is relevant. It serves an important purpose in getting the details of Precrime into the readers mind. The metaphysical argument is also important. It establishes and supports the Premise of the story.
An important point is established in that this project may be altruistic but it is still run by the government. Big Daddy is watching. With Witwer now in charge, it puts him and John at odds. It also serves to push John down just a little further. His support apparatus is being dismantled even further.
The tank. There is more reinforcement of the water symbolism with the added dimension of the divine aspect given to the ‘temple’ and its ‘priests’. Water is life giving and that ties in with the deifying of the Precogs. John takes on the part of the ‘doubting Thomas’ as he believes in the miracle but not the divinity of it.
The Inciting Incident with Agatha whispering to John.
Burgess realizes that Anderton has stumbled into his secret though his doesn’t’ know it.
Talkshow is 2 words talk show.
The word suitpants is two words suit pants.
Non-sequiters. What is this supposed to be? “Vis correlation”. Is this slang or just misspelled? Previsualized is misspelled should be pre-visualized.
Overflies should be flyovers. The spyders are characters so should be capitalized the first time they are mentioned.
Weatherbeaten should be weather-beaten.
Dr. Eddie indicates that Lycon was a former patient of his. John wonders where he got the eyes from and it is possible that these are Lycon’s eyes.
Spyder appears in the description at the bottom of the page then on Page 86 it is capitalized again. Only needs to be capitalized the first time.
Again Spyder should be spyder.
John goes through excruciating pain as the spyder scans his eye. This is the setup for later when his eyes are fully revealed. This symbolizes the pain in the transformation of learning see things in a new light/ new perspective.
This is the payoff of his new eyes.
I have been as direct as possible while trying not to overstate the issues that you need to address. Once you address the points that I have raised, remembering that all of these suggestions are simply that, you will have a better understanding of this perspective. It simulates what a reader will experience when they review your script. Do not let yourself be discouraged, you are extremely talented and are already well on your way to having this script to the level that it needs to be. Keep in mind you are under no obligation to follow any of my advice that is contained here. If you wish to develop these ideas further, we can discuss your script to determine the direction that you want to take.
If you feel that my advice has been valuable and are interested, please be aware that I offer the services of a Script Doctor. You can review my fees for re-writes on my website at www.thescriptarcheologist.com
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