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"The Box" by Alex Hollister

Logline: Clayton, a Producer down on his luck, is about meet a homeless stranger with a present he can't refuse. Even if he wanted to.

Genre: Fantasy - Mystery

Cast Size: 3

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

Contest: A Christmas Present (Nov. 2007)

Contest Scores
PoorFairGoodVery GoodExcellent
6%19%35%29%10%

Comments Made During the Contest

A.M. Wallace (Level 0)

I like the sarcasm of the movie titles. But, on the whole, I just didn't get it. Probably just me. What's the theme? What are you trying to convey? Because, I didn't get it.

Adam Grage (Level 4)

Very interesting. The character are alittle stereotypical but not enough to really bother me because the dialogue was done very well. This one really piqued my interest.

Good job.

Adrienne Jorgensen (Level 4)

Merry Christmas!

So, the vagrant is God, right? At least in the sense that he created the world.

I think it's an interesting story. I'm a little bummed that any God would leave the fate of the world up to a Hollywood exec. I mean, we never really stood a chance, did we?

I like the idea a ton. I kind of wish that there was something more to grab onto with Clayton, but it works for the story that he's a jerk.

I'm wondering about the cat. I don't necessarily get the symbolism of it as it's written now. I mean, yeah, the curiosity/temptation thing, but then why is the cat alive later? And I don't know that a cat stands for curiosity just walking down the street. It doesn't display curiosity outside the piano that's about to fall. I don't know, something about that whole thing seems forced.

The script has a few really interesting points, but there are a few that didn't quite cut it for me as well. The scientology thing you can probably get away with, but I don't know that it really does much. It seems like you could have used that space to show Clayton's take no prisoners attitude and advance some aspect of the story. Right now we're just getting attitude.

I also didn't get much from his cell conversation. Is the other guy trying to pitch him something that he's not interested in? That's the impression that I got later, but not from the talk.

Barbara Lewis (Level 4)

I like this for the sheer weirdness of it. I don't know exactly why all of this is happening, and I'd like to know - but I think you can eventually explain that in a longer work. For the purposes of a 5 page script I think there should be some clue to the secret.

Glad you saved the cat - and I haven't read the book by that name!

Brad Huffman Parent (Level 4)

Biggest problem I can find with this is the proofreading. A few spelling and punctuation errors can make a very bad first impression. Loved the dialogue. Clayton is a very stereotypical character, but at least he's entertaining.

Brian Wind (Level 5)

Well, you're obviously tackling very heavy subject matter, but I felt it was a bit preachy in some parts and confusing in others. Overall, it was was well done and your creativity is excellent, but I think a rewrite with a focus on coming off a little less preachy and just clarifying what is going on a little better could really improve this one.

Caroline Coxon (Mod Emeritus)

This is very well-written...and...and it confused me badly so I'm going to re-visit it. At the moment, I'm not at all sure of the connection between Vincent, the vagrant and infinity...

Charlie Hebert (Mod Emeritus)

A lot of this was hard for me to follow.
There were some really funny parts, while others where it seemed as though the dialogue was purposfully bent to make a joke. Also, I think some of it was over my head. (like what the heck are: "Lackadaisical cowboy removal men"?
Great moment when the vagrant stops the car, and it really picked up after the present was introduced.
But how does the ribbon on the box ripple in the breeze inside a restaurant? Distracting.
Not really sure what this means:
"But I'm sure your adoring family thought little of the sudden decline of their luncheon that month."
There are really great parts too and you seem to be writing from a very intelligent point of view.
To me it felt like God hinging the entire planet's existence on this guy's overcoming curiosity. I think the idea is good but why curiosity? Is it such a bad thing? Kept thinking it should hinge on something worse. Perhaps greed, if he opens the box he gets whatever he wants, but at a huge cost, like the end of the world.
Anyway, think this has tons of potential. Like your storytelling, just needs to be a little more clear.
Good job.

Chris Messineo (Founder)

I love the tone and style of this story. It's mesmerizing and the ending is great.

However, I am left with one pressing question. Why Clayton? Why was he chosen by the vagrant and why did the fate of all humanity come to rest in his hands (even if he didn't know it)?

I think if you can answer that question, this would be amazing.

Dave Kunz (Level 4)

Powerful, well written ending. The bit w/the Lazarus cat was also quite good (but not so much the falling piano). The rest of the script and story had, imo, quite a few problems. For one thing Clayton was unrelentingly coarse. Which, ironically enough, makes him easily dismissable.

Also the Vagrant-as-God device feels overly familiar here. And whenever you're working w/material that is that familiar you need to present a facet of the concept that has never been previously brought to light. And that was missing.

The "Temptation" section was also quite good. You almost reeled me back in at that point. But Clayton turned out to be such an easy fall guy that I just couldn't invest my interest in the story. Even though the actual ending was extremely well written.

Dawn Calvin (Level 5)

Wow, all that in a little box and a short!! You gave such a wonderful description of everything that when the box was opened and all was sucked in, it was very visual.

It was an easy read that flowed very well.

I can see this on the Sci Fi.

Awesome job.

George L. Heredia (Level 3)

The description of Claymore in the car was right out of Intolerable Cruelty.

Vincent's dialogue needs to be "O.S." or tell us to INTERCUT between conversation.

You lost me at the piano scene...a bit cliche...

A bizarre story. Right out of Twilight Zone or Night Gallery.

Graham Trelfer (Level 4)

I'm not sure that I get it, but I liked it. maybe just a little more clarity. Normally I don't like excessive swearing, but in this case it suited the character

James Cheatham (Level 3)

The writing tself is solid, really solid, but there's little kinetic energy, little moving the story forward. The dialogue is well-paced, if a bit self-conscious, but the rich man-meets the vagrant-story has been done to death.

I would challenge the writer to try the "mute" technique on his script. Imagine the script as a movie and then turn the sound off. Does the story still stand on its own?

Jane Beckwith (Level 4)

I have a hard time thinking of the search for knowledge being in and of itself, bad. The theme did not resonate with me but the characters did.

Jay Knisely (Level 4)

Great stuff, up to the closing, then it went beyond apocalypse weird. Became like one of those mythical animals of two different ones joined together. Another type of ending would have sent this into the stands. But this one fell to good for me.

John Foley (Level 4)

DOUBLE JEOPARDY CLAUSE billboard made me laugh. And the cause of failures later in the script was a good observation. The purpose of the box at end was too over the top for me. I cannot believe that this one man would suck the world into oblivion. And why?

Kirk White (Level 5)

I have to give this a fair. I think you have tremendous technical skill but you may have outsmarted yourself with this script. I didn't exactly understand everything that was going one. However, I think the basis of the story is that the vagrant says "temptation is the biggest killer in all of human existence" and then presents Clayton with the box. And he opens it NOT out of temptation but by accident? It just doesn't resolve well with this twist...perhaps it was intentional to have that as a punchline but I don't think it works with this story. if temptation is what brings us down...at least show temptation. As it stands now, he DOES resist the temptation to open the box and then boneheadedly opens it anyway!

Margaret Avnet (Level 4)

I'm assuming the Vagrant is God. And how ironic since Vincent said it would be producers who would be the end of the world. Nice foreshadowing. However, the Vagrant's speeches are a bit high brow, make them simplier.

Matias Caruso (Level 5)

Vagrant is a very intriguing character, and his exchange with Clayton became pretty interesting pretty soon.

The ending left me with more questions than answers. Was Vagrant God? Was he testing Clayton? Was this gift sort of a forbidden apple?

It’s a risky choice to pick up an asshole like Clayton as your main character, but I think it can work if the point of the story is making him learn a lesson. I sense this is the direction that this story is headed, but it becomes a bit confusing at the end.

Some interesting bits in here but -unfortunately- the ending left me feeling like I missed the whole point.

Matthew Phillips (Level 4)

I think this is a great script. I'm wondering how everybody else will review it.... I feel like the story is well told and comes together perfectly. This would make a really cool short film. I'm not sure I can find anything to improve on. I would think that the end of this film would require expensive effects. That may become an obstacle to getting it made, but great writing.

Michael Cornetto (Level 5)

Very well done. I liked it. The only issue I have with it is the expense of producing it - and that doesn't really matter for our purposes.

Michael Thede (Level 4)

I thought this was extremely well written. Your visual descriptions are jumping out from the page. Typically, I'm not for stories like this. If there was a downside it was that it felt overly-didactic. Nevertheless, you've done a really good job of bringing the idea to life and it all reads very well on the page. I'm giving you a VERY GOOD, but I'm willing to bet we'll see this in the top 3 at the end of the month.

Paul Young (Level 3)

Wow, that was excellent. Those sure are some dark characters. Very descriptive and mystically mesmerizing with the box sucking everything up in the end. May have to call up Hollywood to fund the special effects.

Pia Cook (Level 5)

I liked this and thought it was very good.

I'm not sure I have anything to offer here. I liked it the way it was. The only thing I can think of would be the ending. I had to stop and think for a bit about it, but maybe that's what you intended. If so, then it works really well.

Great job!

Rick Hansberry (Moderator)

This one didn't work for me. It tried too hard to be hip and the characters were stereotypical. It's hard to establish a guy like Clayton unless you're going to pull for him to change his ways by the end and he never does. When Vincent enters his dialogue should be (O.S.) if he's not seen on the screen. The piano, cat and vagrant action was a bit contrived and while I got the message you were trying to send in the closing sequence, it just fell flat with me. Why not give the Vagrant a name? Also, maybe make Vincent more of a polar opposite to Clayton and have him be the sincere "Good Cop" to Clayton's "Bad Cop."

Sally Meyer (Moderator)

Very nice! There's not much to say as critique on this script. I liked it, it works, and I bet it's a contender.

Stan Tjaden (Level 3)

Not funny. Not profound. It's convenient that a coffee shop is next to where the piano falls. Also too opportune for a mechanic to make a street fix-it stop.

Changing POV within narrative paragraphs makes it a difficult read. Confusing visuals and disjointed action.

Dialogue cumbersome, dysfunctional.

Why the billboard movie in opening scene?

Clayton as producer is a total cliche. Vagrant is non-emotional being without a reason or purpose for existence in script.

Stephenie Ruffin (Level 4)

This was a bit confusing for me. The only thing I can assume is, that was God and the event was the end of the world. The part that cnfused me was, the vagrant spoke of mans curiosity. Clayton didn't open the box because he was curious, he opened it because he thought it was from vincent. I thought the writing was superb, I just didn't get a clear handle on the story. Nice job though.

Sylvia Dahlby (Level 5)

Interesting. I'd probably enjoy anything that involves pianos falling onto stray cats and snowing on the Sunset Strip, but overall, I found this story mysterious, intriguing, and fun. Technicality: Vincent is (O.S.) dialog since we never actually see him on screen, only hear his voice.

William Bienes (Mod Emeritus)

My first reaction - the Vagrant irritated me, the piano dangling from the rope and crashing down is cartoonish.

You did a very good job with Clayton. He was well drawn, interesting and unlikable.


Comments Made After the Contest

Chris Messineo (Founder) ~ 1/1/2008 12:59 PM

This was great. Both of your scripts so far have wonderful visuals. I'm looking forward to what you come up with next.

Alex Hollister (Level 4) ~ 1/2/2008 12:33 AM

Thanks, Chris. And you won't have to wait long since I fired off my 'No Rules' contest entry at the last minute. Hope you like it. It's a hell of a lot darker than anything I've submitted so far.

And thanks to those who commented. Even though my is automatically drawn to that 6% poor rating :)

Just to clarify a few things.

A.M.- The theme is 'Temptation' and it's destructive power. After all we'd all be God's apparently if Eve had listened to that damn serpent. I thought I'd established that sufficiently. Maybe a rethink/rewrite. Also it kind of uses the decline of Hollywood as a backdrop and to a certain extent an analogy of decline in general.

Adriene- I don't believe in God. At least I don't believe in our interpretation. He's the creator. The rest is ambiguous and left up to the reader. As to the cat, had he not been curiously staring up at the swinging piano, he certainly wouldn't have been in the way as it came crashing down. Hence 'Curiosity Killed the Cat'. Later it's Clayton's curiosity that seels our fate. As to the Cell conversation, Clayton is under the impression Vincent has used the Vagrant to pitch his project. It's his temptation and desire to claw his way back up the ladder of Tinsel Town that cause him to open the Box which he is still convinced is part of Vincent's pitch gimmick.

Barbara - I've read Save the Cat. Not a bad book and Blake makes some good points, but ultimately he's a little set in his ways. Also he intimates at one point that Miss Congeniality is a better movie, in terms of balance, characters and structure than Momento. Never quite got past that.:)

Brian- Fair comment. There's definitely a preachy tone to Vagrant. Can't deny that.

Caroline- Hopefully a read of this post will clarify a few points.

Charlie--
"Lackadaisical cowboy removal men"?
Lackadaisical (Lazy. A little cloudy and shoddy in their work) cowboy (term for a craftsman/handyman who is known to do the bare minimum required and poorly) removal men (labour employed to help people move furniture from one property to another)
"But I'm sure your adoring family thought little of the sudden decline of their luncheon that month."
Subtextual dialogue for "Nice car. I'm sure your family didn't mind that the allowance for food was lacking that month having spent it all on the pretty new car"
Rest of yuor analysis was spot on. I used temptation because it goes all the way back to Eve and the serpent. Some people believe all of life's woes can be traced back to that moment of temptation....if you believe in such things.

Chris- That's a good point, but I figure the answer could be Why not him. If it isn't him it might be the waitress in the coffee house or one of the removal men. It had to be somebody. It turned out to be Clayton. Also I try to suggest that it's a freak occurance and that as soon as Vagrant sees Clayton and his expensive car, he knows this is a man who is ruled by temptation and therefore as good a person as anyone to test.

Dave--"Also the Vagrant-as-God device feels overly familiar" That's a very fair point. I strive for originality in everything I write and I should have seen that. :)

George--"Vincent's dialogue needs to be "O.S." or tell us to INTERCUT between conversation."
INTERCUT wouldn't work since I'm not intercutting between them. What I maybe should have done is used a (filtered) parenthesis. I'm not a great fan of (O.S.) or (O.C.) unless they literally are Off Camera and about to walk on. (O.S.) in A cell phone conversation just doesn't work for me.

Alex Hollister (Level 4) ~ 1/2/2008 12:33 AM

James --"I would challenge the writer to try the "mute" technique on his script. Imagine the script as a movie and then turn the sound off. Does the story still stand on its own?"
Would any story? It's an interesting technique, but this is an audio/visual medium so I don't see the point in 'Shutting off the sound'.

Kirk--The temptation is supposed to lie in the fact that Clayton believes that maybe the script that he thinks Vincent is pitching to him is the one to claw his way back up in La La land. Intimated in the 'Wilderness' line in the opening scene. There's also supposed to be an element of 'Whoops' to it. I kind of like the idea of the world ending with a 'whoops'

Matias--"The ending left me with more questions than answers. Was Vagrant God? Was he testing Clayton? Was this gift sort of a forbidden apple?"
Left you with a few questions indeed, but you pretty much answered them all correctly. The vagrant is as mentioned above, the creator. Not necessarily god. He was testing Clayton with a modern day forbidden apple.

Stan-- Okay quite a lot to get through here.
"Not funny."
Not meant to be.
"Not profound."
Not meant to be.
"It's convenient that a coffee shop is next to where the piano falls."
Eh? Since Vagrant can pretty much orchestrate anything he wants then yes I'm sure it is convenient. Otherwise it doesn't quite meet his requirement.
"Also too opportune for a mechanic to make a street fix-it stop."
Too opportune for a mechanic to come out and fix the car for him. Can I ask do you own a car?
"Changing POV within narrative paragraphs makes it a difficult read. Confusing visuals and disjointed action."
Uh? What? I have no idea what that means. Changing POV in action paragraphs is because most people denote a change in camera shot as a seperate paragraph. I have no idea what you're trying to say here.
"Dialogue cumbersome, dysfunctional."
Very much respectfully disagree. But please I'm willing to learn. Examples?
"Why the billboard movie in opening scene?"
To establish scene setting. To establish season with there being no snow. To find a more interesting way to establish christmas than just decorations.
"Clayton as producer is a total cliche."
I'm guessing you haven't met many producers. I don't mean that as nasty as it sounds by the way.
"Vagrant is non-emotional being without a reason or purpose for existence in script."
Whereas the human race has a perfectly valid reason for existence....right?

Look I know we have to be gracious here and I have been to everyone else, those that criticized as well as those that praised, but your critique was entirely unhelpful. And you'll note how off the mark it was by the other comments. You talk about POV changes within action paragraphs and the convenience of a piano next to cafe. Frankly I found it bizarre. That said I still thank you for reading :)


Phew that's about it. If I didn't answer your query it's because it was addressed in one of the previous reviews. I went by aphebetical order. I feel a little guilty about only addressing a few reviewers. Especially as I didn't name or directly those that praised the script. I thank you all for reading and though I'm still irked by the 6% Poor ratings, that just makes me more determined to smash the next one out of the park.

Thankin' y'all. Happy New Year.

Barbara Lewis (Level 4) ~ 1/2/2008 8:22 AM

Wow. Just wow.

Charlie Hebert (Mod Emeritus) ~ 1/2/2008 11:49 AM

Hey Alex, thanks for the clarifications. "Lackadaisical" I got, "Removal men" I've never heard of, I've always called them "Movers" and the "Cowboy" reference I get, but don't hear that often.
The "Luncheon" reference I figured meant about that, but isn't how it would commonly be stated in the States, which lead to my confusion.
Liked your script, just think it needs a bit of tightening, the curiosity references kind of lead me away from the "temptation" aspect. I guess I don't think of curiosity as normally leading toward bad behavior while temptation usually does (just my perspective).

Alex Hollister (Level 4) ~ 1/2/2008 12:04 PM

Barbara- Not sure if the Wow is in response to my verbose response above, but I felt I needed to clarify a few things.......ohh and I had a lot of time on my hands recovering from New Years hangover.

Charlie- Problem is that the character of Vagrant was written with a very well spoken British slant (mainly because as I believe we established before, I myself am British). Interesting about 'removal men'. Perhaps that's a stateside term I missed. I can guess why it's different too. It's that damn political correctness again. It's not removal MEN. It's movers'
Oh and you're actually the only person (I think) to address the real problem of the script. Curiosity and temptation are indeed not the same and have entirely different connotations. It's kind of a crowbarred thing to fit the story, but I winced several times as I wrote it, knowing that someone would call me on it. It's a mixed message thing that I hoped to get away with :)

Barbara Lewis (Level 4) ~ 1/2/2008 12:18 PM

Heh it was, sorry for the snark :)
I really liked the script. Chin up!
Yup I haven't heard that use of "cowboy" here in the states, it's pretty funny.

Alex Hollister (Level 4) ~ 1/2/2008 12:37 PM

ahhhh that makes sense. Since Cowboy is a part of your history, it would seem a little strange to use it to apply to shoddy workmen. I hadn't thought of that.

I think the whole term in England probably started with the tool belt maybe. They mosy on into the kitchen, tool belt worn like a holster, Wham-bam-thank you mam, "There's your shelving unit. Yes it's supposed wobble like that. Now pay me I'm off to the saloon to drown my craftsman inadequacies in whiskey.

Adrienne Jorgensen (Level 4) ~ 1/2/2008 10:46 PM

Hey Alex,

I fear I've let my art studio background get in the way of reviewing in a sensible manor. When we think something is working, we get all the more nit-picky about it. ("Just a little less red in that spot on the corner...")

I definitely got the curiosity thing with the box in the end. I still think the cat's a little too obvious, but that's me being nit-picky again...

Perhaps my New Year's resolution should be to really lose that tendency; it doesn't translate well, does it?

Alex Hollister (Level 4) ~ 1/2/2008 11:43 PM

I was fine with your review Adrienne and if I had to clarify certain things it's probably because they aren't clear within the script. There's a few bit and pieces that I hoped to get away with. Plot details that I estabished, but did so a little flimsily. The idea of Clayton opening the box because he believes it could contain the treatment for the script that can propel him back to the top is one of those flimsy details.

The cat was a little obvious, but I wanted use symbolism without actually accompanying it with dialogue. 'Curiousity killed the cat' seemed the only way that the 'Symbolism' line would work.

I have no problem in taking criticism that comes across as intelligent and well thought out and more importantly justified with examples. Your post did all those things.

I thank you for the compliment and I'll learn to apply a little less paint or maybe just touch up those areas where the perspective/compositon is a little off. I understand where you're coming from. Nothing worse than an engaging movie that you're entirely invested in until it turns out the protag was an alien all along. Makes a person look into all the nook and crannies and the parts that didn't work that little bit more. That said No need to change the tendency. Just maybe a Disclaimer at the start. :)


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