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"Thirteen Seconds" by David Birch

Rewrite: 2/1/2009 12:00 AM

Logline: They believed in democracy...democracy didn't believe in them.

Genre: Drama - History

Cast Size: 5

Production Status: Available (Please contact the author to negotiate the rights)

Contest: It's Better to Give than to Receive (Dec. 2008)

Contest Scores
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Comments Made During the Contest

Ashley Croft (Level 3)

Hands down some of the best writing I've seen around here, you are EXTREMELY talented and someone I wish to learn from. But as for the story, it just wasn't a genre that I was really interested in so it was kinda boring but that's just because of my taste that's not to take away from your work because for its genre it was excellent. Great job.

Blake Chafin (Level 1)

I very much like this concept. However, I question the audience's ability to gather that developing the photo takes precisely 13 seconds; without this detail, the correlation between allegiance and injustice is moot.

This issue is likely due to the telling (as opposed to showing) nature of the closing sentiment:
-BOTH last thirteen seconds.

The opening scene avoids this dilemma by focusing on the clock's second hand.

Revisiting the children's voice over as the photo is being developed may help tie it back together, thought this method may be a punch-in-the-face approach--disallowing viewers the pleasure of "discovering" the correlation on their own.

The author seems to have intentionally avoided spelling out the parallel for the audience, which I appreciate (the approach found in the above paragraph may lack sufficient subtlety), but as written, I feel that the point would be missed altogether when transfered to the audiovisual medium.

Brian Wind (Level 5)

Well written and paced, the message is strong but a bit heavy, plus it's been done before (Anti-Nam themes are nothing new.) but overall this was pretty good. The characters were a bit bland, but the descriptions and choice of words were very good. Nice, tight and vivid. Good work.

Calvin Peat (Level 4)

This script hints at conflict, but mostly skirts around it, and doesn't really get going. It's a little joyless, and could have made the reader care more about the characters. Also, the swearing is a bit gratuitous.

However, it's not badly written, with good use of secondary sluglines, e.g. "THE CASSETTE RECORDER WINDOW --".

It makes an attempt to show the disagreements on both sides, though this would have been more effective if we had seen more of the actual incident, as opposed to just people talking about it beforehand. The first half of page 4 does a good job of potraying the energy and tension of the events, but most of the rest of the script seems to avoid this for focus on small numbers of people talking, which holds the script back from the scale and pace that it could have acheived.

"Textbooks,folders," should be "Textbooks, folders,"

"Reveals, MICHAEL PETRINI, 20," should be "Reveals MICHAEL PETRINI, 20,"

"THE DORM ROOM WINDOW -- has an upper level view"
would probably read better without the word "it".

Caroline Coxon (Mod Emeritus)

I couldn't understand some of this. Why did Michael suddenly appear with Maddison and Burke and say 'This ends tomorrow'?

I wasn't sure, either, who had died. Was it Michael or Trent or neither of these? Who was developing the photograph?

Somehow, when you went to Burke and Maddison it took away the story from the protagonist (Trent?) We learned very little about B and M so and it was hard to engage with them. They felt to me like a device to put across the counter argument, without having personalities themselves.

Two things bugged me a bit. The over-use of 'fuck'n' - swearing doesn't bother me at all but that was just too much, too repetitive. The other thing was the parentheticals especially the ones like (re: the books) It may very well be just my own annoyance but you have to think that if I'm annoyed by it then that very important Hollywood agent might be too so why risk it?

I thought it was very clever, the idea of 13 seconds. But how would we know in the darkroom?

Both the students really came to life as characters so well done!

CarrieAnn Lee (Level 3)

Wow! Somehow you managed to fit an entire feature into five pages- I'm impressed. I remember the news casts being broadcast over and over again, after that incident.(Whoops-that dates me). You successly captured the fury of that time.

You definitely have your own style and I like it. Your peice flows beautifully; like a waterfall. But I'll have to admit, after reading your peice, I had to flip through all of my screenwriting books and I didn't find anything quite like it. You make a unique use of dashes, re:'s, and parathentical usage, but hey . . . power to the new and upcoming screenwriters!! I'm curious about the thirteen seconds though. Was there only thirteen seconds between the first and lost shot or...? Well done, I mean Groovy!

Charlie Hebert (Mod Emeritus)

This was excellent.
Like the "thirteen seconds" bookends, very effective. Guessing you'd show that with a clock in each case?
Figured it was Kent State, but the tape recording bit seems a bit lame as a "protest". Wanted to see more of the actual conflict.
Excellent writing, like the historical background. Will be surprised if this does not do well this month. Great job.

Chris Keaton (Level 5)

You told an interesting story. I think knowing the history makes it better. I think it may not have the same impact on someone ignorant of the incident. Everything worked fine. Action blocks can always be tightened. The dialog was good, I didn't like all the underlined words though. Not sure how a gunshot can last thirteen seconds. Overall good job.

Chris Messineo (Founder)

I thought this was very powerful.

Your images are excellent and that moment when the "Kent State shirt" is pulled out is haunting. One suggestion, I would stay with the students in the middle. No need to cut to the Governor as that scene ends up feeling a little cliched. Just let us get to know these students a little better.

Lastly, I love that you book-end it with the two different elements taking thirteen seconds, but I wonder how that will play on the screen. Will people get that connection? I really hope so.

Overall, very well done.

Elias Farnum (Level 5)

This was very complex and confusing. I don't see clearly what the point of the story is for sure, though I have an idea. I'm sorry that I can't offer anything substantial. The descriptions were tight, and I had no trouble visualizing it, so good job.

Faith Friese Nelson (Level 5)

The use of dashes and dots so much is distracting to me. I would suggest one or the other, and limit their use.

Harriet Barbir (Level 0)

I like the way you laid out the script to focus the attention on each visual element. However, while recognising this must have been an emotional time in history, especially if (as I assume) you've lived through it, the emotional link to what was happening on screen was absent for me and I'm not really sure what this script was about, even though you give us a brief view of both sides of the conflict with Maddison and the students, I didn't get a real sense of the passion from the war protesters. I can see where you were going with the 13 second link but am not sure why you it starts in the present then goes to flashback, rather than keeping it all in the past, since neither Trent nor Michael (is it?) are in that opening scene. And I was confused at the end. Was Trent the student who was killed? If so, perhaps you could have listed brief lines of action being intercut between the National Guard/police and the students and that fallen student in particular during his last 13 seconds. That might have tied it in better for me.

Jeff Ferry (Level 5)

i think this was a very good idea that lost its way a little. I felt like the story jumped around maybe more then it needed to. The ending is a powerful visual with the Kent State and the 13 seconds is very clever, but the middle portion of the script is just too muddled.

Jim Brown (Level 3)

Smartly written. The framing of the first and last scenes is powerful in the way it links the script together thematically.

Joel Davis (Level 5)

This was really good. I like how the focus is on Trent and Michael, it personalizes the event. I felt like this was a good snapshot of two young people's lives during a moment of history. Really, the only thing that bugged me was Michael's line about the plant, " my Dad". It felt a little on the nose and familiar.

It seemed like this event crystallized something for Michael, but I couldn't really tell what that was. The darkroom scene was a nice denouement, but I'd like to see more of the effect on Michael and Trent. Also, I thought the 13 seconds was a powerful image, but I don't think I would have noticed it if I was watching this. You need something to clue us in, maybe a hand holding a stopwatch during the developing or something.

Minor point, you don't need "Circa 1970", it's exactly 1970. You should put the year in the slugline.

John Brooke (Level 5)

Thirteen seconds of infamy replayed in your script. A terrible time for America and you have recycled very well. Duplicity of politics and it’s hypocrisy is painted with a broad brush. The repetition of thirteen seconds is a good point that leads to your poignant visual ending. A sad short newsreel. I’ll have to come back and read this script again.

Jonah Yarden (Level 4)

This was a collection of scenes of indignance. i didnt feel any story here.

Concept Poor-Fair
Title Fair
Story Poor
Characters Fair
Dialogue Poor-Fair

Kyle Patrick Johnson (Level 5)

This feels like a hastily edited version of a longer piece, because I'm left with an absolute ton of loose ends. Why is Trent recording Nixon? He's a student in a dorm room, not a reporter. And Maddison acts more like the governor than a campaign manager. In fact, how is the viewer supposed to know that he's a campaign manager? All we know is that he seems more powerful than Burke.

The "thirteen seconds" at the end seems, as Shakespeare said of Dogberry, "too clever to be understood". Are you going to have a clock next to the picture so that we can see it lasts exactly thirteen seconds? And the viewer's supposed to figure out that the final image lasts for the same amount of time as the Pledge of Allegiance? That's asking too much.

It struck me that this whole script could be summed up in a single sentence: "I thought the Vietnam-era college riots were justified and the draft was unfair." I understand and respect that, but the story felt like it'd been done many times before. Sorry. I found this script an unoriginal, herky-jerky, one-sided version of a specific historic event. The inspiration for the event was clearly that famous photograph. But the execution of the script was lacking. For example, Maddison was pivotal for the first couple pages, and then he completely vanishes from the script. We never meet the Guardsmen, hear their thoughts when rocks and insults are hurled upon them. I personally know a couple folks who were students at Kent State at the time, and their recollections center more around the professional riot inciters, whom you faithfully included as activists, than the student body. Anywho, as I say, a longer treatment and rewrite is necessary to sell me on this story.

-I think "flanked" means to have something on both sides, not just one thing on one side. And why third grade specifically?
-"On Trent's glare..." Is this a shot selection? What is the glare: light bouncing off of him or a facial expression?
-"Versions of the same riot." Same riot? There's no indication in the previous scene that a riot's going on at all because the camera never looks out the window and no offscreen sounds are mentioned.
-You insert the character "Michael" in the Maddison/Burke scene. Is that a typo?
-"Pedaling down the stairs" makes no sense. Why is he going down stairs on a bike?

Margaret Ricke (Level 5)

Your formatting is different enough to throw me off. It's distracting to have so many capitalized separations. I mentally expect these to be scene changes. The story did take over, though, so the formatting is okay.

I remember those thirteen seconds. Your knowledge of the time and event shows. You're either my age or you did your research. I think I knew Michael and Trent. They're very believable. The dialogue is well done. The pacing is good. I really like the title. You've taken a historical event and presented it matter of factly and accurately.

Good work.

Marla Brecheen (Level 4)

Pacing was slow and dialogue was good. This story isn't quite my cup of tea. I didn't understand where this story was going. Is it the 13 minutes that was missing in the Watergate tapes?

Marnie Mitchell Lister (Level 5)

This was a well written, powerful piece. Not sure about the opening though. I see the tie-in with the end 13 seconds but how could you explain/show that on film? And Im not sure it adds to the story itself. It takes 13 seconds to recite the Pledge of Allegience and also 13 seconds for a photo to appear in the chemicals. I can see if the massacre itself only lasted 13 seconds, that would really tie in the title but I don't think that's true. So for me the title didn't do justice to the story.

There were a few spots I had to re-read and a couple that I ended up not fully understanding. Mostly at the end with Michael and Trent. Michael let Trent stay behind and he ran up to get his recorder...what ended up happening to them? This is a snippet of a very tragic day at Kent State. I'd like to see more of what happened to these two guys. Did they stay inside when the shooting started?

I like the idea, feels like the start to something really good. Curious to see what others have to say about it. Nice work.

Martin Jensen (Level 5)

Your script was very well written.

There were a few things that didn't make sense to me:
"circa 1970" - how do we know this is 1970? I wouldn't expect through set decoration alone. It did help to know at that point, but could it have been revealed in a better way? After all, the viewer won't know it's 1970 at that point, and the date on the tape recorder is a good enough reveal (also that anyone is using a tape recorder signifies the period).

"We want ‘em motivated. Not frightened." But if "fear is the easiest way to motivate people"...isn't that just going round in circles of logic?

I don't know if you need the scene with the governor. Even if you want to portray both sides, you can't do it effectively enough in such a short time, and the governor just comes across even more demonized. I think it's better just to see the riot police, as they will carry more significance visually and emotionally.

Otherwise it was good.

Martin Lancaster (Level 4)

Good story. I like the contrast between beginning and end. Trent's character is well developed but I didn't really get a sense of Michael.

There's a good mix of action and dialogue. The dialogue is very good throughout. You have an ear for how people talk.

I'm not sure the thirteen seconds thing will work onscreen. How will we know it's thirteen seconds? Maybe I'm missing something dues to my lack of knowledge about American culture.

Matt Johnson (Level 3)

Two very goods in a row. It's going to be a good month, I got a feeling.

I think this was a great take on the Kent State shootings and how everything led up to it. I think the screenplay benefited from being so close to the real thing and it even made you feel at times like you where living in that era.

A short beef. I think "fuck" could I have been used less. I seemed like every other sentence between Michael and Trent was "fuck this" and "fuck that". Though, since I am a baby of the 90's, I guess I really don't know how people spoke in that era.

MJ Hermanny (Level 5)

Oh boy, this is the second script in a row that I've really struggled with, I'm beginning to feel really dumb!!

I get that it's to do with the Vietnam war and that students were protesting and that they were getting killed for this - which is something I did not know happened.

I was confused by the scene at the Govenor's place - I really didn't understand what was being discussed or put into action there - the ok to kill the protesters??

Ok, this is becoming a lot clearer with every read and it's a strong politcal comment on what happened to the students. This script made me work hard to understand it though. Because of this I don't want to offer any criticism because I'm still not too sure that I've got a strong handle on it.

I'm really interested to read others' reviews of this.

Neal Barringer (Level 0)

simply telling us, "reciting the Pledge of Allegiance lasts 13 seconds" will throw off the length of this 5-page short. You must show us the Pledge lasting 13 seconds. actually recite it in dialogue. it seems to me "13 seconds" is very important to the telling of this story. so, your method of exposition needs to change to keep the "one page equals one minute" timing.
"The television splahses his face with light" again, purely telling. plus, it's comedic and doesn't fit the dramatic tension you're trying to build. need to rephrase this sentence so it sends the proper image to the reader.
I'm only on page 2 and I already dread reading another 3 pages. there has been no hook to get me interested. and, there is no tension as I don't know what to expect to learn or gain from finishing the piece.
you've written something rooted in history. I applaud you for that. I'm just not sure what point you were trying to make. maybe just practicing to see how well you could capture the moment?
also, I don't know know about this moment in history. so, I need more clues about the action and the effect it had (or you intended to inject).

Paul D. Nave (Level 2)

Too jumpy for me. I kept getting confused, bouncing all over the place. I think it needs to be a longer short script.

Paul Williams (Level 5)

I think I knew we were at Kent State a little earlier than you wanted me to, but it was still a good read.

The beginning's a little heavy-handed with the school kids reciting the pledge of allegiance. Not very subtle. The moral and theme of your story becomes obvious throughout, so this might not be needed.

At least this wasn't about Iraq or Bush, but Vietnam and that era still haunts us to this day and will probably take generations to undo what was done. You hope the history won't be lost, but it seems like that's what's happening.

Some of the dialogue is a bit stiff. People are sometimes speaking the obvious or saying what they're thinking.

Title's a little obscure for the story.

The screenwriting is fine, maybe just try to create a more leaner look and breaking up narrative paragraphs and using cropped, tight action sentences. Format seems in order, didn't detect any typos.

Pete Barry (Level 5)

This is a nice piece of writing that maintains a subtle touch; there's not a lot that comes out and knocks you over the head (which could easily happen considering the material). Exposition comes out in the dialogue without sounding forced. We learn all we need to about these characters in very little dialogue. The Activist's speech is quite moving - I don't know if that's historical or not, but if you wrote it, it's very good.

It's a tough tightrope to walk, though - the one thing I could have dealt without was KENT STATE, which I think was supposed to be the big reveal at the end: we didn't need it. Burke and Maddison slip into standard villain and conscience roles a few times - "What will the voters think?" "But you said that fear..." "long-hairs" - it comes across as a little cliche. The transitions were a little rough, and I wasn't sure if there was any way that the "thirteen seconds" in the title would be clear visually. (There's one point where I think you call Maddison Michael, as well.)

I guess I wish that there was a little more to say between Michael and Trent at the end. I don't know what it all means, I suppose.

I hope this was helpful, and good luck in the competition.

Philip Whitcroft (Level 5)

I like the idea of this and I appreciate the attempt to dramatize a shocking incident in American history. I think that this particular script takes too long to establish what it is about. For much of it it seems to tread water and without the context of knowing what the subject is those middle sections don't have much meaning.

Rob McCarthy (Level 2)

This was really interesting, and a nice alternative look at a damning period in the history of American politics. It's a little hammy in places, with some of the dialogue playing as being a bit too strong and obvious, but I loved the use of the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning and the juxtaposition of the photo developing at the end. That really worked well for me.

The scene with the governor's campaign manager is definitely worth including, as it shows an important element of the conflict, but it might have been worth looking at how to clue the audience in a bit more over who these people are exactly. Maybe actually directly mentioning the governor at some point - there's plenty of description in the action part, but this wouldn't necessarily come across in the scene.

Ron Hooker (Level 4)

I thought this was an interesting interpretation of two students' personal accounts of the Kent State fiasco. They're obviously friends, but they share different priorities where the riots are concerned. I liked the interesting twist at the end as well. Trent wants to dive right into the situation and make his voice heard, but it's Michael who ends up getting the worst of it.

A couple of glitches in the language threw me off, however. On page 4 (GOVERNORS MANSION) Michael has the line "this ends tomorrow", but he wasn't in the scene and there's no indication that this line is a V.O. I think that line belongs to Maddison. I was also fairly certain that Trent and Michael were outside the building until the teargas canister broke the window and we learn that they're inside. I would suggest an edit in the language to clear those things up.

Still, a good read.

Sally Meyer (Moderator)

I thought your script was well written, and told a good story. The title is good and the beginning and ending work for me. The characters were a little one note, and it was hard to distinguish them from each other.

Your writing is good and the dialogue was well written without a lot of extra words for effect, just straight to the point.

Good work.

Sasha Clancy (Level 4)

I think the Kent State T-shirt was unnecessary. It was pretty obvious from the timeline and what was going on that you are talking about Kent State. Good use of the 13 seconds at the beginning and the end to tie it all together. I would prefer if you didn't underline so much of your dialog. If you feel a need to underline it, it generally means that the dialog isn't strong enough. Work on strengthening your dialog instead of relying on props to get you through. Good story.

Scott Merrow (Level 5)

First, some technical things. At the bottom of page 3, Michael somehow enters the scene. I don't know if it's supposed to be voiceover or what, but you need some indication of something there. Next, I'd pay a little attention to word choice. Maybe "silent" instead of "tacit," "don" instead of "accouter," and instead of "the crowd emotes a collective gasp," how about, "the crowd gasps." I'm not trying to choose your words for you, but a smooth flow is important in a screenplay, so simpler language is better. The story itself is interesting, but not rivetting. It's simply a participant's viewpoint of the Kent State riots getting started. (With a brief glimpse of the evil machinations in the governor's office.) No new information, just a different point of view. An interesting idea, but it needs a fresh spin.

Stephen Brown (Level 5)

I liked this quite a bit. You are clearly a gifted writer.

I liked how the thirteen seconds was used at the beginning and end. Very impressive vocab too, some perfect word choices that I had to google for the meanings.

Something is holding it back from top marks though, I'm sorry that I don't know what.

Sylvia Dahlby (Level 5)

Timely subject matter with the whole Frost/Nixon thing, and I like how this shows not much has changed in 40 yrs later. This would have more emotional impact if you picked up the pace and spent more time in the riot. I'd start by losing the establishig pledge of allegiance, what's the point? The story would the same without it; go directly to Nixon on TV or the riots would make a stronger beginning. I needed a stronger ending too - who exactly dies? The photo of the dead students isn't as good as an actually death scene.

Also, I'm not sure what was going on in the governor's mansion - was Michael in that scene or is that an error? Might be better without it - the students know it's all political; let's see more of their struggle against the establishment than spending time in the office.

Tim Westland (Moderator)

I like this story... it's deep and meaningful.

Unfortunately, I think the biggest negative it has going for it is what, to me, seems to be an 'attempt at style' in the format of the narrative.

You don't really need to do that. A good story doesn't need an inventive style. The characterization, the story, the dialogue... done well... it really is enough.

This is a good story. The dialogue could be a bit improved, but it's ok as it stands.

Well done. Keep writing.

William Flink (Level 3)

Nice written paragraphs, sluglines, well paced and it read very fluidly.

The story feels very wide, and that's not necessarily a bad thing, but at the first read through I was a bit unsure on what was going on. There's a riot at the same school that Trent and Michael go to, are they too activists?

The more I read this, the more I can sense the tension and the panic/chaos around Michael and Trent's school during the riot.

Also, I get the feeling you're referring to something here, but I don't know what it is.

"INT. ELEMENTARY CLASSROOM - DAY" is present time is it? Connecting with the last darkroom scene?

Who is the slain student?

Comments Made After the Contest

Chris Messineo (Founder) ~ 2/1/2009 12:34 AM

I liked this a lot. That reveal of the shirt really stuck with me. Well done.

David Birch (Level 5) ~ 2/1/2009 1:33 AM

thanks CM...i'm currently expanding this to a full-length screenplay...any suggestions that you (or anyone else) would offer would be appreciated...again, thanks to everyone who took the time to read/review my submission...i value all the feedback...

CarrieAnn Lee (Level 3) ~ 2/2/2009 12:03 AM

I am stunned that this didn't at least garnish an honorable mention. This is such a sharp and powerful peice. Nice style! I would love to read this after you have made it into a full-length screenplay. Good luck to you.

Rob Gross (Level 4) ~ 3/6/2009 8:11 AM

David- I just read your rewrite (I didn't read the original). I really enjoyed it and I think it would make an excellent feature. Good luck.

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