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A Summer Away
IndustryCentral ScreenWriters Exchange: Drama: A Summer Away
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message   By Kellie Doyle (Oncatwalk) on Sunday, May 21, 2000 - 10:28 am:

Sydney has just graduated from college and is about to drive, with a carload of friends, to Seattle. Her best friend, Beth, apologizes for having asked Steve along who we later learn was recently engaged to Sydney and dumped the relationship just a few weeks before graduation.
On the trip to Seattle, the conversation turns to Sydney and her plans to spend the summer on a communal farm on Whidbey Island off the coast of Washington State. The farm is run by two ex sixties hippies who are now in their early fifties. Sydney is eventually dropped off at the ferry dock where she has a less than amiable parting exchange with Steve.
When Sydney arrives on the other side of the sound, she meets the five other college students who are also going to live at the commune for the summer. We are introduced to Helen, who is a shoot-from-the-hip type, Marylou, who is a science nerd, Michael, a sarcastic, intelligent man who is the only black student in the group, Rowland, who is a pleasant fellow, but who weighs in excess of 350 pounds, and Zero, a jokester.
The group is picked up by truck and driven only part way to the farm because the roads are too muddy. They lug their luggage about a mile to the farmhouse where Kate, the owner, (who looks like a flashback from the sixties) greets them. The farm is more than rustic. There is no electricity and no indoor toilets. There is running water, but it is not heated. Sydney, a person obviously used to creature comforts, does not take these inconveniences in stride.
Kate, and her husband Ellis, come to the farm periodically to lead discussions about general life issues. In their first visit, they explain that the one rule of the house is that there are no rules. The residents are free to use their time in any way they wish. Helen and Michael are quick to point out the need for some sort of structure, but Kate and Ellis explain that any structure has to be developed by the group, not imposed by them. The group eventually divides up chores with the exception of Michael who decides to use his time for himself.
The students start off on their best behavior learning to live together as a unit. Later, they begin to feel the strain of certain challenges that arise. Michael overhears a racist comment made by Zero. Hurt, Michael begins to alienate himself from the group, a process that has already started in the minds of some of the members since he is the only resident who is not working. Sydney finds the hard work and lack of modern conveniences on the farm unbearable. Her stress is compounded when she receives a letter from her friend, Beth, confessing that she had been instrumental in the breakup of Steve and Sydney's engagement because Beth was in love with Steve. Helen falls in love with a priest, Father John, who rents one of the nearby cabins. The only bright spot is the romantic relationship that forms between Marylou and Rowland.
The community is rocked by news that a major university, who owns land on Whidbey, is planning to log a large stretch of virgin forest for income. The group decides to get involved and choose Marylou and Zero to travel to Seattle to meet with a university administrator. Although their encounter with this offical seems fruitless, the university modifies its plans and uses a less destructive logging method.
Through the summer, the group learns to respect one another and to view their world differently. Sydney learns to define herself, not by how she looks or with whom she spends her time, but by her own inner integrity and accomplishments.

Comments: This is a finished feature length screenplay. I would classify it as a dramedy. Part of the appeal of the film is watching the high contrast of ideals between the hippies who run the commune and the students who are products of our current consumer society.

Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message   By Alan A. Armer (Alana) on Tuesday, May 23, 2000 - 10:55 am:


Kellie Doyle (ONCATWALK) . . .

It is obvious that you have given this story a lot of thought. You've chosen a colorful and varied cast of characters and a dramatic background in your choice of a commune.

One of your story's strong points is the contrast between Sydney's past life and the life she must live on the commune. Wouldn't this contrast be more vivid if we actually dramatized her previous life style? For example, what if you began your script with the scene in which Steve dumps Sydney? Better to show it than talk about it. Then maybe a scene or two in which we see Sydney's parents overindulging her with their sympathy, etc. Let's see (if only briefly) the house she lives in, the car she drives. You could begin with this event or you could reveal it to us in flashbacks. Now when we see Sydney's rough life on the commune we will understand how rough it is for her.

Wouldn't it be great if we could bring back the characters of Beth and Steve - rather than dropping them at the beginning of the story and never seeing them again. In your present version we pay off Beth with a letter explaining how she was responsible for the breakup with Steve - but a letter isn't especially dramatic. Far better always to play such a major revelation in an actual scene. Is it possible that Beth will also spend some time at the commune?

Okay, okay, you're throwing up your hands in shock. This Armer guy is changing all the good stuff in my script. I don't blame you. It's rough to see someone suggest changes in our good ideas. Im sure you realize, Kellie, that almost all good scripts are rewritten and rewritten and rewritten. The lady who wrote "Thelma and Louise" worked on her script for over two years. So bear with me. Maybe there will be some ideas that you can use. And just maybe they will improve your script.

The incident with the Unmiversity trying to log all thjat virgin land is wonderful and could well become the through-line of your script, the central major plotpoint. The relationships between the characters are excellent and will give great texture to your story, but we do need a strong central issue to build our plot around.

I have always felt that a protagonist must have a GOAL and Sydney's goal could be to win this battle with the university. Maybe she wins; maybe she loses. But in the process she grows up. She matures from a spoiled, overindulged college graduate to a responsible young woman who, perhaps, no longer has time for either Beth or Steve.

One last caution. Focus on Sydney. She's your protagonist. It's not Marylou and Zero who travel to Seattle. It's Sydney and Zero. I especially like that you've made Zero a jokester. He will bring brightness to your script.

A very promising concept, Kellie. I wish you much good luck with it.

Critique by
Alan A. Armer

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