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"Present Laughter" by John Brooke

Rewrite: 11/11/2009 12:00 AM

Logline: "LIP SHTICK" Retirement has been kind to ventriloquist Rolland Parker. Then an invitation arrives, so important that he can’t refuse it. With characteristic dignity, he steels himself, the old trouper has a duty to perform, an audience to mesmerize and a dummy to keep under control.

Genre: Comedy - Drama - Family - Fantasy

Cast Size: 5

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

Contest: FADE OUT. (Jul. 2009)

Contest Scores
PoorFairGoodVery GoodExcellent
3%15%55%18%9%

Comments Made During the Contest

Andrew Stone (Level 3)

A creative take on this. I find Zoot's language a bit distracting and hard to follow at times. I understand that this was stylized on purpose, but it didn't work for me. I wish that there was more of an arc for Parker's character. He got to perform and help a kid, but since this is really about him and the dummy, what has changed for Parker in the process? In other words, the story is a bit too thin.

Aralis Bloise (Level 4)

My first thought on reading this was "wow, it's kinda refreshing to see a sentient puppet that doesn't try to kill anybody" But really, the story gets points for being original. Zoot's swinger slang was a bit hard to follow, so I'm no sure it's something a 6 year old would understand. Also I wish Zoot coming to life would have more of an impact in the story...I dont know, coming up with jokes that were special to Emily or maybe talking even tho Parker couln't throw his voice anymore...I don't know, something. Otherwise, him coming to life really makes no difference to the story.

Charles Bonet (Level 3)

I think this script needs work. The dialoge just didn't ring true to me. The characters came off as artificial and cliche. The overall story didn't hold any emotional power and the required closing lines seemed to be tacked on instead of fully incorporated.

I liked the opening. I thought the talking trunk was visually interesting. But then things quickly declined. The subject matter was not handled in a real, accessible way and I was never really involved in the story of these characters.

Chris Keaton (Level 5)

Ok, you've got a VG from me. I liked this story, I liked the characters, your build up was awesome. Great Job.

Chris Messineo (Founder)

I don't like the title much, but I really like the story a lot.

It sort of sweet and dark and strange all at the same time. I really like the dummy's dialogue. It feels odd and quirky.

Great images. Unique story. Strong characters.

Well done.

David Birch (Level 5)

some things to like...different imaginative approach to the contest...like the "out of the box" thinking...not sure if i was able to connect with the "little girl"...it's probably me, i'm just a little "cancer'd" out...but you did do a good job of putting a different spin on the subject and you get high marks for that...anyway nice read...thanks...

Denise Sodaro (Level 2)

I didn't get this at all. I didn't get the jokes, they did't tickle me and I'm not sure that this was even kids humor - as silly as that can be sometimes, and silly funny.

In the opening, the trunk isn't the one talking, but the dummy in the trunk, so it should probably be an O.S. until the trunk is opened and we see the talking dummy. It seemed a bit creepy to me and I wasn't sure if it was going to be horror or combination of horror/comedy.

One awful disease would do it, and I don't think we need to know that - just something awful and this was her dying wish, that would be enough.

Faith Friese Nelson (Level 5)

Since the story I wrote for this month had a "dummy" in it, I wondered how many others there would be with this kind of character. It was the first thing I thought of when I saw the word TRUNK. Anyway, this is the first story with a dummy that I have found. Your approach is much different that mine. Your writing is nice and the story is very good.

Jane Beckwith (Level 4)

Kind of an interesting take. I liked the hep talk, and the kid level jokes.. I'm not sure I went for the tear. Also, I have this thing about people dying in short movies. I feel the writer has to "earn" the death before I commit to being sad over it.... I'm giving this one a good, because some of that dialogue was so fun. I reallly liked the title.

Jay Simms (Level 3)

The trunk talks? The puppet is named Zoot Taylor and is only called Taylor once at the end of the script? Was the puppet so unfunny, it killed the little girl from being so bored? Some spelling mistakes and very odd dialog at times. A puppet that talks and crys, why lock it back up to never be seen again?

Jeannie Sconzo (Level 5)

Does Taylor really smile? He's a dummy. Doesn't he always have the same expression?
Story idea is original and sweet but the jive talk pulled me out a bit.

Jose Batista (Level 5)

This was a Very Good script. The story feels short and quick, but it entertained me as much as it did little Emily. The use of the trunk was unique and the Zoot Suited Taylor was a nice comedic touch. It's sad that the little girl passed away at the end, but she did so with laughter in her heart. Great job on the writing and descriptions. The comedy lines were a bit corny, but they were not bad. Keep up the great work.

Kevin Carty (Level 4)

Alot people start their script in an attic not only that but I Recognize the same beginning from one of the attic scripts. I can't follow the dialogue at all. Not only that its not that entertaining to me. The first few lines was great then it gets awkward for me. Sorry it may be going over my head the fade in is in wrong place. I don't feel the characters you didn't describe them correctly or well enough.

Khamanna Iskandarova (Level 5)

I think Zoot Taylor could be capitalized.

When you tell us through dialog (or monologue) about Emily on page 1 it's a little on the nose. You could just say "to make Emily's wish come true". Then, when we see her bold and pale in a hospital we'd understand.

You introduced the dummy as Zoot Taylor, had him as Zoot throughout, then in the last scene switched to Taylor.

I thought that the flow wasn't there when Emily stopped laughing.

a touching piece though. I liked it overall. It's a good story, I think.

KP Mackie (Level 5)

An original idea.
Bit confused, at first, about the talking TRUNK; assume it was Taylor throwing his voice as Zoot.
Some of the dialogue between Zoot and Taylor clever. Several of Zoot's lines, though, hard to decipher at first read; ie, "Kopasetic pops lets swing it." And, some of the dialogue seems to run on; ie, "Me and Zoot haven't performed in years, yet we are committed and our act is a shambles it will be a disaster." Might be helpful to break into short fragments and insert a comma or two.

Kyle Patrick Johnson (Level 5)

This script was either disqualified from last year's contest or you just used the opening for laughs. :)

Another ventriloquist script! How odd that we have two in the same contest!

There's something not quite right about a guy talking to himself in the attic, dummy or no dummy. It just doesn't feel natural. It's too obvious that he's doing it for the camera's sake.

Zoot's dialogue is really out there. I can't quite pin it down: somewhere between jive and something else. It's a little hard to read.

A could've-been sweet story on two accounts (Emily and Parker), but it seemed too much like a vehicle for lesser quality vaudeville jokes. Good job.

Margaret Ricke (Level 5)

I've been waiting for a script to start this way! I was so tempted to use it myself, but I thought several of us would. I'm getting down to the last ten and I've been regretting not going with it. It's fun seeing it here.

I don't know what "reet pleated" means. I think it would help the reader (me, actually) if you wrote the descriptives a little less specific to the period you're talking about. I do know what a zoot suit is... I just don't understand some of the other jargon. It works fine in the dialogue, though. I'm not saying that should change, too. The act should be the one Emily fell in love with.

I'm not crazy about Parker talking to himself. That whole scene could use some reworking. The dialogue is stiff and a little trite on its own. Think about the scene. You've set the stage, now make use of it. This could be the most important performance of his life and he's worried about blowing it. Amp that up by using the props you've put into the room instead of by having him express all his doubts out loud. He can talk to himself, but it should be used sparingly and to bolster the actions that show his doubt.

Work on your punctuation. Keep it simple, but get it right. A period is a stop and a comma is a pause.

All that said, I love the title. I love the story.

Good work.

Marnie Mitchell Lister (Level 5)

Well written and touching. I have to say it was a little hokey but I liked it anyway.

I think you cheated a bit by calling the dummy ZOOT and then referring to Zoot as Taylor in the end. And you needed to CAP is name when first intro'd. In the opening scene I pictured the trunk talking. I was trying to figure out if the top was opening and closing like it was talking or if it actually had lips. I think that scene could be a bit clearer. Since Parker does throw his voice you might want to show us that the voice is coming from inside the trunk.

I liked how you started with the INT. ATTIC. There was a part I felt you told us what was happening instead of showing and that was when you said:"Parker was looking defeated and weary after long hours of acting and taping never ending rehearsals" - how would we know by just looking at him why he was tired?

You have a scene where Zoot is actually talking on his own...what happened with that? Was he really or was Parker imagining it??

I think this was a good effort but could be much better with a little work.

Martin Jensen (Level 5)

Wow. Really great story. I liked how ambiguous Zoot's consciousness was. The ending fit in perfectly. There's a wonderful mystical quality to the whole script.

At the beginning it should either be ZOOT speaking or VOICE, from the trunk. Making it TRUNK distracted me by making me imagine the trunk was moving its lid up and down, talking. I guess Zoot Taylor should have a character introduction if he talks. There was also misuse of apostrophes, the worst I can think of being "hers’s", which should be "here's".

Excellent.

Maurice Charlot (Level 3)

The inner struggle of this vulnerable man Parker is the basis of this story. From what I've read. I enjoyed how he would go back and forth talking to different things in the rooms. His characterization is up there with some of the best of the contest so far. What I'm not totally sold on is the story. Other than that your formatting is perfect and the descriptions were decent. Keep it up.

Micah Ricke (Level 4)

I have to be honest, this was tough to read. There are way too many grammatical errors and even a couple of spelling errors. You need to use commas -the comma is our friend!

The story is sweet and sad, and I like the premise. One thing I recommend working on though are the jokes, they're not that funny.

I'm also confused about what happened to the girl. Did she fall asleep or pass-away? Was it even necessary to conclude the performance that way and have Parker pack things up? It may work better just to cut to Parker putting Taylor in the trunk.

Take another pass at it, correct the punctuation first and foremost.

Best regards.

Michael Hoffman (Level 4)

This was a pretty good script with a lot of heart. I liked the quirkiness of the characters and their act but it also seemed to get in the way at times.

It reads slightly strange with the TRUNK speaking as a character and then changing to ZOOT. I know you probably didn't want to introduce Zoot's character yet but maybe just have a VOICE (OS) in place of Trunk.

I would have liked more info/backstory on Parker. How old is he? Why has he ditched his ventriliquist act? I think this could give his character another layer and make it more enjoyable when he has his 'epiphany' about the little girl.

I found the characters dialogue a little tough to read. I liked the uniqueness of their speech but it sometimes slowed the read and left me wondering about grammar and spelling instead of digesting the words themselves.
I wasn't totally sold on Parker/Zoot's act. I understand it it supposed to be sort of corny and for kids but many jokes misfired for me.

I thought it was odd that Parker somehow didn't even notice that the sick girl had suddenly taken a turn. It sort of works though because it does show how Parker is not exactly mentally sound.

Wow, I really sound negative about your script. I'm not sure why? I actually liked it. Just noticed a few things that could really make this shine. Good work with great potential.

Paul Williams (Level 5)

It's funny how these MoviePoet contests work-out each month, the different themes and techniques that some writers touch upon...and some that are the same.

It's unfortunate for some because I'm a little more than halfway through reviewing all the scripts and I've already read the ones with last year's "ATTIC" scene, the other one with the dummy, and the other one where our protagonist entertains a terminally ill little girl.

It lessens the impact by the time I come across yours is my point, it's really nothing you did wrong.

This was a sentimental, touching tale that did become difficult to read in spots due to some awkward phrasing in the action text and dialogue.

Your screenwriting overall is pretty good, a little over-descriptive and bulky in spots. Format appears in order.

There are typos throughout, particularly the omission of the comma throughout.

Peter Tolosa (Level 3)

Wow, another ventriloquist script! How odd. I liked this story, although the content itself in terms of the comedy routine of the old man really wasn't all that funny to me, but I see that this really wasn't a comedy, it was more of a sweet tragedy, so that bumps you up a vote because it did have enough emotional gravity, maybe just not enough to really test my callous soul but perhaps someone elses. Good job.

Rob Dianora (Level 4)

I don't think I can say enough possitive things about this script. It was brilliant. The dialogue really stood out and set the atmosphere of your story. Also your script had a hook, right away I was interested in knowing why the trunk was talking. I can't say enough how important it is to have a hook. In my opinion, one of the best I've read thus far.

Sally Meyer (Moderator)

Beautifully written. This is a favorite of mine, I hope it does very well. It's got such a charm about it.. from start to finish. I am not sure about the title, it doesn't do it justice. But the script is strong with some wonderful characters and very detailed writing.

wonderful job. my first excellent..

Scott Merrow (Level 5)

It was a nice story, but kind of a difficult read. Why? Two words: punctuation and jargon. You really need to use some hyphens and commas. For example, on Page 1, "So what's the blip pops?" I had to stop and try to figure out what "blip pops" are. There should be a comma after blip. Then "drape shaped reet pleated Zoot Taylor". Drape-shaped and reet-pleated should be hyphenated, and there should be a comma between them. That also points to the jargon issue. I don't really know what drape-shaped and reet-pleated mean. So, I had to just tell myself they have something to do with how he's dressed, and then read on. Not a big deal, but stopping all the time to figure out stuff makes your script a difficult read. (I have the time to do it -- not everyone does.) Anyway, it's a good story, but I recommend you spend some time on the punctuation and jargon issues, so the script is easier to read.

Shaun Bragg (Level 4)

I don't know what to think after reading this. It's not like anything I've read this contest and it's also has a odd character that I like.

He's both insane but I feel for him. You capture that early on but it was really hard to dechiper until later on what was really going on.

Keep up the good work. Good marks from me.

Shedric Bragg (Level 3)

The story hear is pretty good and it does seem like there's something underneath the lead that makes his character pretty interesting.

A person battles with his inner demons to come up with a act for a ill child.

Parker is troubled and the dialouge between him and the puppet isn't that funny but I guess that's how it's suposed to be. Good work overall.

Keep up the good work.

Steve Monger (Level 3)

A nice concept and an interesting way to approach the brief. On the most part I enjoyed this script. My main issue was in fact with the dialogue, particularly on the first couple of pages. When read aloud some lines may need revising as an actor could have trouble with the wordier ones. It's easily fixed, as simple as putting the odd comma here and there. All in all, well written. Good job.

Thomas W. Brown (Level 4)

I think this is great! It's touching, funny and a little strange. The dialogue between Zoot and Parker was so natural, you could hear their conversations played out. I did not think a story featuring a ventriloquist dummy as a major character could have so much heart. Again, great job!

Tyrone Banks (Level 3)

These has to be the best Parker character I've read so far in the contest. He's troubled and I'm feeling sorry for him kind of and by that you have won me over. The actions are okay.

Zach Wolf (Level 2)

I really like this story, I think short scripts should be a simple and easy story to follow (I don't mean "simple" in a bad way, it's a compliment). The fact that it has a definite beginning, middle, and end is a huge plus.

That being said, I do have a few suggestions. I enjoyed the kind of 1930's/40's slang the dummy says, but I think it's a tad hard to grasp. I would suggest toning it down a hair. I love the jokes though, they feel like they could have been told 50 years ago, and still hold up nowadays.

I was a tad confused at first with the dummy's line that is spoken from the trunk. Maybe you could change it to something like "VOICE FROM TRUNK" or something along those lines. My initial reaction was that the trunk itself was speaking.


The next couple of suggestions could just be me nitpicking, and if it comes off like that my apologies.


-I got a very warm and caring impression of of Parker, however the line "Emily fell in love watching our
classic routines..." bugged me a little bit. It seems like fans of the routines would call them "classic", but not necessarily the person that performed them would. Maybe change it to "old" routines or something.

-The line where Emily says "Mother, Dad and Nurse Judy, hers’s Parker and Zoot." I feel like Emily is more listing the people in the room than she is talking to them.

I really enjoyed the scene where Zoot talks but Parker didn't throw his voice, it's a nice setup to the tear later on.

I think the whole epiphany thing at the end was nice, but I think it could be done a little better, it seems sort of ambiguous to me.


Overall I really like it, and I think with a little fine tuning this could be a very shootable script.


Comments Made After the Contest

Chris Messineo (Founder) ~ 9/1/2009 12:40 AM

This is my favorite script you've written to date. I thought it was great.

Thomas W. Brown (Level 4) ~ 9/1/2009 12:58 AM

I agree with Chris, this was awesome. Great job!

Kyle Patrick Johnson (Level 5) ~ 9/1/2009 9:31 AM

Allow me to chime in and agree with Chris. I wanted to be the first to remark upon your visible improvement!

Keep on writing, John! It's thrilling to see you making such strides.

John Brooke (Level 5) ~ 9/1/2009 9:35 AM

Chris, I may be delusional but I have this belief that I’m beginning to get what script writing is about. Thank you for the compliment.

Thomas I really appreciate your emotional boost.

I received a really mixed bag of comments and all will be useful for my rewrite.

Thank you all.

John Brooke (Level 5) ~ 9/1/2009 9:38 AM

Kyle, thank you for chiming in about my baby step progress, someday my scrips will have legs.

Paul Williams (Level 5) ~ 9/1/2009 3:09 PM

Hey John, good job here, buddy! This was my favorite of all of your submissions as well.

How you making out with the hurricane?

John Brooke (Level 5) ~ 9/2/2009 5:03 PM

Hola Paul,

Thank you so much for your positive and encouraging comment.

The Hurricane just skimmed by us down here on the East Cape of Baja California Sur. Damage for the wind and rain bands was tolerable with only a few trees on the property pulled out of the ground. The full force of this dangerous storm is still raging up the West side of the Peninsula. This is my eighth hurricane, and I didn't like any of them.

Muchos gracias amigo

Kyle Patrick Johnson (Level 5) ~ 9/2/2009 5:53 PM

And the award for the most quotable understatement of the year goes to...

"This is my eighth hurricane, and I didn't like any of them." - John Brooke

Kevin Carty (Level 4) ~ 10/20/2009 8:23 PM

I can dig your story John. But for some reason I still don't connect with it.

My thing is this. Even though your dialogue is whimsical I still felt like there was alot missing here for me. I can get into quirky dialogue and I can see what you were going for but alot of your dialogue can be cut with extreme prejudice. All your characters sound alike to me. They all seem to have that same quirky talk as Zoot does.

You explain alot of your story that gives me that feeling that says " here see this makes sense" Maybe this is supposed to be an even larger script or maybe it just doesn't have enough scenes, symbolism that speak to me in a profound or humorous way. I'm not too in love with action heavy or dialogue heavy scripts. The first thing I look for is a respect for balance. Is your action and dialogue quick and or long where it absolutely needs to be. Also enter late leave early.

I could pretty much tell what the script was about from the very beginning because it was explained to me. You have to keep something up your sleeves to make it a great story, in my opinion. For a short I figure you have to make it as sparse as possible.

Ok so Zoot is your main character then does he have a flaw or a reason why he is Zoot or why he does what he does. Is there something there to connect us to him other than a great moral story. I like that you went for comedy and like I said some of the dialogue is clever but doesn't really get to true potential I see here. I felt like maybe this was like that movie mr. Magorium wonder emporium, haven't seen it all yet.

I know my scripts don't connect all the time but sometimes we can know exactly what you're going for without you saying a word. Think of things that are common knowledge to movie goers and you will see where you don't need certain things. But if there is one thing I like to put in my script is interest. Jokes shouldn't come before your story.

Suggestion: Cut your dialogue to needs not wants and describe things that are important to your story. Every line doesn't need to be a vivid picture, sometimes it can be cut and dry and sometimes you can go on and wow us. Add conflict, even comedy has it's roots firmly set in conflict. Make Emily a little more disagreeable and it may make your story more entertaining. Whenever there are characters with conflicting goals or attitudes there has to be conflict and it will give you a stronger arc.

Start with your cool idea then add emotions not just one but many. This has alot of good humor, that's where your antagonist should come in.

I think you got something here that's why I'm giving you my most honest opinions. I think if you add these it may make your script a bit more effective but as it is it is improved. Some may not agree with me but as I always say I could be wrong.

John Brooke (Level 5) ~ 10/21/2009 10:05 AM

Hola Kevin,

Wow, thank you for your very detailed opinions and suggestions to improve my script.

Yes, I agree with you that injecting more conflict, mystery and a secret will provide a more entertaining emotional experience for the reader and ultimately the movie goer.

That said I appreciated the fact that you did see some improvement over my last submission.

In my next rewrite you may recognize that some of your suggestions have been taken seriously.

Muchas gracias

Kyle Patrick Johnson (Level 5) ~ 10/22/2009 12:27 PM

Hey, John, here are some comments as I read through your rewrite.

I think the initial dialogue between Parker and Zoot needs to be zippier, especially since there isn't any action. They're just sitting there, talking. So I'd cut and cut and cut until the dialogue is really bang-bang-bang, back-and-forth. Right now, each character gets at least two sentences before the other responds. In a normal conversation between these two crotchety curmudgeons, I'd expect them to each always want to get the next word, to keep cutting each other off, and talk over each other. As it is, Parker cuts Zoot off a couple of times, but Zoot still gets out too many words. I hope that makes even a bit of sense. It does in my head. :)

The Parker dialogue to himself at the bottom of page 2 is really on-the-nose. Actually, you could probably delete it. The only new information there is that this is the day before the show: I'm sure you could bury that exposition deeper in the scene somewhere.

There's a number of missing periods and commas, apostrophes out of place, capitalization problems, that type of thing. Simple to fix. Feel free to shoot me a copy and I'll take care of them for you, John.

I'd never heard that "cows moo" joke before. I thought that was pretty funny!

"was an epiphany for us". I think this, too, is on-the-nose. If Parker's telling Zoot about Parker's own reaction, then the line would be "for me". If they both know it, though, there's no reason to say it.

I'm afraid that my initial opinion still holds, that the script, even with the magnificent new ending (and it is!), still reads like a jokebook vehicle. I think the way to counteract that is in the scene where Parker and Zoot are rehearsing: less jokes and more conflict will go a long way. We'll still get plenty of jokes during the actual show, so I think the rehearsal is the time to ratchet up the stakes.

I think Zoot's dialogue hit my ear better this read-through than before. I wasn't a fan of it last time, but I am now. Either you changed it somehow, or I've gotten used to it. Either way, I think he's distanced himself from your other characters nicely.

The final image of Zoot crying resin WHILE HE'S STILL SMILING is creepy. We're not used to people (or dolls) smiling while crying, but obviously Zoot's mouth can't make any other shape. I just wonder (and I could be wrong) if the emotion you're going for here isn't going to be eclipsed by the creepy factor.

As I've said before, this is your strongest work to date, John, and I look forward to seeing what else you come up with!

John Brooke (Level 5) ~ 10/22/2009 2:56 PM

Hola Kyle,

I’m aware that you are very active fellow so I’m sincerely thankful that you once more have come to my screenplay writing aid.

Your points insightful and worth consideration. Especially where the story drags. Your point about the opening dialog between Parker and the dummy make a lot of Bang-bang-bang, natural give and take sense.

Parker’s dialogue to himself has been criticized all to often - I will finally do something creative about it. Thanks for the push.

Kyle I get your point about this being “a joke-book vehicle.” I need those jokes but I need more conflict, contrast and crisis. What’s at stake for old man Parker as his life draws to a close?

The death of a young life and an old mans demise, that’s the drama.

Not a resin tear falls from his eye, Zoot Taylor exits smiling!

I will take you up on your masochistic offer of reading my rewrite, in a couple of days or less.

Muchos gracias mi amigo,

John


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