Jeff Haas has a seasonal offering for us today. Let's see how he does.
Mr. Claws: A Christmas Story
A one-shot script by Jeffrey Haas
In a room lit to ensconce its occupier, a young man of thirty sits at his desk, with his back to the reader. He hurriedly pours his thoughts onto blank pages, desperately aware that each word he writes further garners the notice of a terrible being. A small blue reading lamp offers the room its only oasis from the surrounding darkness. The only sound is of the pencil point scratching letters into the paper and his beating heart.
This is a little thin on visual description (what the man looks like, how he’s dressed, what sort of room this is, etc). You could leave some of the details up to the artist, of course, but you’ve left so much unsaid that it trips you up in later panels. Still, the description is very evocative, and I like that aspect of it. It does do a good job of communicating the feel you want the artist to capture.
I KNOW THE TRUTH ABOUT SANTA CLAWS….THE REAL TRUTH. THE ONE OUR PARENTS REFUSED TO TELL US ABOUT. I KNOW BECAUSE I WAS THERE. I SAW IT ALL.
Are you using this as a title page? If so, you should note that, so the letterer knows to include the title and credits (which you’ll need to provide, as well), and so the artist knows to leave some room for them.
Page break - Always add them. It makes it easier to find your way around a script. You should also put your header information in a header, so it shows up on each page, not just type it at the top of the first page.
PAGE TWO, PANEL ONE:
This panel is a close-up on one of the sweat stained pages the narrator is writing upon.
WRITTEN ON PAGE:
EVERY SO OFTEN A BRAVE PARENT DARES TO TELL THEIR CHILDREN THAT THERE IS NO SANTA CLAWS. BUT THEY FORGET THAT HE IS LISTENING. HE IS ALWAYS LISTENING.
Continuing the narration on the pages he’s writing is kind of neat. There are two things I’d suggest though… Firstly: provide a note to your letterer to do the caption boxes in a manner than will emulate the paper he’s writing on (color, sweat stains, lined paper, etc) with a good, legible, handwriting font. Secondly: add a few words from the previous caption, partially cut-off at the border of this panel, to drive home the connection that the page we’re seeing now is a continuation of the captions. That’ll help to tie it all together nicely.
And I’d also go with a shot that included the man’s hand, holding the pencil as if he’s just finished the line, rather than a shot that just showed the page itself.
You should also note, up front, that the man is sweating, so there’s a reason for the sweat stains on the paper.
Extreme close up on the apprehensive face of the narrator as he hurriedly testifies his story. His hair is wildly unkempt and the bags under his eyes are evidence of his sleepless nights. Sweat streams down his face and his tongue his (is) moistening his lower lip.
We should have known about his unkempt hair (and the sweating) in panel 1.
FOR REVENGE AGAINST THESE PARENTS, HE KIDNAPS THEIR CHILDREN AND ENSLAVES THEM.
As the narrator’s story commences we flashback to over twenty years ago when the boy, named Jeremy, is walking home from school with his friend Mike. In the background, the snow covering the city signals the yuletide. The boys are both eight years of age and are dressed in casual school cloths (clothes) including backpacks. They are smiling brightly as dreams of their Christmas gifts whirl around in their eager minds.
Only the snow signals the yuletide? No. All snow signifies is winter. Get some Christmas decorations hanging from the light poles, bell ringers outside a store, decorations on the lawn if we’re in a residential neighborhood… stuff that actually signifies yuletide. And what are the surroundings? Downtown retail district? Residential side street? What do you want to see?
THAT IS WHAT HAPPENED TO ME. AND THAT IS WHY I AM ABLE TO TELL THE TRUTH. THE WHOLE TRUTH.
SO WHAT DO YA THINK YOU’RE GETTIN’ FOR CHRISTMAS?
Close up on Mike, who is smiling proudly, as he anticipates Jeremy’s next question and the bragging rights that await.
I KNOW WHAT I’M GETTING, JEREMY. I WENT WITH MY PARENTS WHEN THEY GOT IT.
This panel is of Jeremy who is looking shocked and jealous.
NO WAY! THAT’S SO COOL! WHAT’D YA GET?
PAGE THREE, PANEL ONE:
Imagine the most impressive gaming system you have ever seen and that will be the Gamester FX. The entire panel is of this system and set in front of a white, almost heavenly background.
THEY GOT ME A GAMESTER FX SYSTEM!
Close up on the overwhelmed face of Jeremy, who is shaking his head as if that could help better formulate his thoughts.
This is a moving panel. You can’t draw someone shaking their head. (Well… technically you can, using motion lines and ghosted images, but it’ll look awful. That only works for slapstick or Bugs Bunny cartoons)
I…I…I GOTTA MAKE MY MOM GET ME THAT.
A panel only of Mike this time who is looking at Jeremy, while smiling widely as if a fantastic idea just occurred to him.
If the panel is only of Mike, we can’t tell who he’s looking at.
This highlights an ongoing problem with the last few panels. You’ve got two people trying to interact with each other, and you’re only showing them separately. It’s better to keep both figures at least partially in the panel, to maintain a visual connection between them. It makes the character interaction work much better. It could also help you streamline the book (and it needs streamlining), because you could combine panels rather than having each comment and each response appear in separate panels. Sometimes it’s good to focus entirely on a single character, for emotional impact, but not in every panel.
WHAT IF SHE ALREADY DID!? (question mark) YOUR MOM KNOWS MY MOM. SHE WOULD HAVE TOLD HER.
This panel takes up the entirety of the rest of the page. In it the two boys are high-fiving each other enthusiastically.
I BET MY MOM’S ALREADY GOT IT FOR ME! THAT’S SOOOO AWESOME!
WE CAN PLAY EACH OTHER OVER THE NET!
OUR FIGHTS ARE GONNA RULE!
PAGE FOUR, PANEL ONE:
As the scene changes, we now enter the kitchen within the home of Jeremy and his mother. Jeremy, at the top of the panel, has just entered the kitchen from the outside and is still radiating from dreams of hours of Gamester FX three dimensional gaming. His poor mother on the other hand is leaning over the kitchen table with one hand running through her frizzled hair, while she frustratingly pours over the stacks of bill(s) in front of her. Her eyes look as if she’s been crying.
Why is Jeremy at the top of the panel? Is the viewpoint from the ceiling? Did he come in through a roof hatch? You’re just confusing things by calling out stuff you don’t need to, that doesn’t make sense. Don’t try to get overly specific with your composition unless you’re good at it and are looking for something out of the ordinary. Let the artist know what you want to see, and the viewpoint, and let them figure out the rest. Artists are usually good at that sort of thing.
GREED. BY THE TIME I REACHED HOME, I WAS CONSUMED BY THE BEAST.
MOM! GUESS WHAT! I JUST CAME UP WITH THE COOLEST GIFT FOR YOU TO GET ME.
WHAT, (comma) HUNNY?
I KNOW YOU MAY HAVE ALREADY GOTTON (gotten) IT FOR ME. OR MAYBE YOU ASKED SANTA TO OR SOMETHIN’, BUT THIS IS IMPORTANT SO I THOUGHT I’D JUST MAKE SURE.
The panel is focused on the worn face of Jeremy’s mother as she is turning to look at her expectant son. Her face does not appear tired from lack of sleep, but by the concern of an uncertain future.
I WAS SO SELF-ABSORBED (hyphenate or split the word) I COULD NOT SEE THE ANGUISH IN MY MOTHER’S FACE.
I THINK IT’S TIME WE HAD A LITTLE TALK. COME SIT DOWN.
Jeremy and his mother are now sitting at the kitchen table, but while Jeremy is awaiting the good news, his mother feels the guilt of what she needs to tell him welling up inside her.
YOU KNOW THINGS HAVE BEEN KIND OF TIGHT AROUND HERE LATELY, RIGHT?
YEAH, I GUESS.
WELL…IT SEEMS TWO JOBS DON’T GO AS FAR AS THEY USE (used) TO.
ARE YOU GOING TO BE GETTING A THIRD THEN?
Mimic the point of view of the previous panel but now the mother has one hand on her son’s leg as she leans forward and looks tenderly, but sadly into her son’s face.
If you want this to work, you need to specify, in the panel before this one, that they’re sitting close together. With what you have, they could have been sitting at opposite sides of the table.
WHAT I AM TRYING TO SAY IS THAT CHRISTMAS WON’T BE COMING THIS YEAR. THINGS ARE JUST TOO TOUGH RIGHT NOW.
I think this balloon needs to be broken up, to indicate some hesitation and heighten the emotion of the delivery.
THAT’S OK. SANTA WILL GET ME IT INSTEAD. PROBABLY SOME GAMES TOO.
PAGE FIVE, PANEL ONE:
Close up on the face of the mother as she is looking directly towards the reader. Her expression is a cross between embarrassed that she has not told her son the truth earlier, and concern but (about) how he’ll take the news.
I KNOW I SHOULD HAVE TOLD YOU THIS SOONER, BUT SANTA CLAUS ISN’T REAL. I’M SORRY, HUNNY.
I think this would work a lot better as a shot from over Jeremy’s shoulder, so the visual can carry the emotional connection between him and his mother.
I would break, “ I’m sorry, Hunny,” into a separate balloon.
Jeremy’s reaction is part shock and part horror. It is okay to make his expression slightly comical.
Now this panel would work as a solo, close-up shot. But you’re not calling out the viewpoint or camera distance at all.
IN AN INSTANT, MY WORLD CRASHED DOWN AROUND ME.
HUH? BUT YOU SAID….
Mimic the point of view from panel one of this page, but have one of the mother’s hand motioning towards her son, as if it would help relax him from the force of the blow she just dealt him.
What do you mean by “motioning towards her son?” And how do you expect to portray that in a static image? I think you’ve got another moving panel, and I don’t even know what movement you’re asking for. And, if you use the same view you described for panel 1, it’s a close-up of her face, so we can’t see her motioning anyway.
I KNOW WHAT I’VE SAID. THAT’S JUST SOMETHING PARENTS SAY SOMETIMES. YOU DO UNDERSTAND, RIGHT?
This balloon needs to be broken up. Same reason as above.
Focus again on the face of Jeremy similarly to the point of view in panel two, but this time his face is flushed with anger.
YOU’VE BEEN LYING TO ME……MY ENTIRE LIFE.
Jeremy is now standing up between the door and the kitchen table and looking horribly angry. The chair has been pushed aside by Jeremy, leaving his mother by herself at the table looking hurt and guilty for having made her son feel so upset.
I WAS UNFAIR TO HER. I KNEW HOW HARD SHE WAS WORKING FOR ME. FOR US. BUT ALL I SAW WAS THE GAME THAT JUST EVAPORATED FROM MY DREAMS.
HOW?..I MEAN…NO CHRISTMAS?..I GOTTA…GOTTA GET SOME AIR.
Instead of the dots, I’d break this into separate balloons to get across the hesitation and confusion. Or maybe drop the question marks. Having a question mark and then dots… it just doesn’t look right.
And I have to ask you... when you were eight years old, would your mother have really have let you run out of the house and head off down the street, without being hot on your heels? I sure wouldn't have gotten away with that when I was eight, and parents weren't nearly as paranoid about kids getting snatched back then.
Around here, these days, kids aren't even allowed to walk home from school without crossing guards at every corner keeping an eye on them. And this is a rural area with not a lot of crime. I never see eight year old kids wandering the streets alone.
I also wonder if, "I need to go get some air," is a realistic reaction for an eight year old. Run to his room to cry into his pillow, hide in his tree house in the yard and sulk... those I'd buy. But, "I need some air," and heading into town, doesn't feel right to me. 'Course it's also been a hell of a long time since I was eight, or spent much time around someone who was eight, so maybe kids are different these days.
PAGE SIX, PANEL ONE:
Jeremy is now walking down the street, with his hands gesturing furiously as he talks out loud to himself. In the top right corner of this panel there is a small light twinkling in the evening sky, like a small red star.
Another moving panel. How do you expect to portray “gesturing furiously” in a static image?
IF I HAD KNOWN WHAT AWAITED ME OUTSIDE, I WOULD NEVER HAVE LEFT THE HOUSE. INSTEAD I WOULD HAVE BARRED THE DOOR.
I CAN’T BELIEVE SHE DID THIS TO ME! MY CHRISTMAS….RUINED!
Focus in closer on the twinkling light as it approaches towards Jeremy. The exact details of the object are still unclear, but it is beginning to take on the appearance of a crimson vehicle.
You need to describe the crimson vehicle here, so the artist knows what appearance it’s beginning to take. Hide things from the reader if you want to, but never hide things from your artist.
And unless you show Jeremy in the panel, how will we know the vehicle is approaching him? You don’t want a shot of just the vehicle. You want a shot of Jeremy and some buildings in the background (which you should have mentioned in the last panel too), with the vehicle in the sky above them, to give the vehicle the illusion of distance.
CAN’T AFFORD IT! MIKE’S PARENTS CAN!
The crimson vehicle is now flying just over the road as it heads towards Jeremy, who is walking with his back to it while still conversing with himself animatedly. The vehicle’s type is now clear and it’s a red limousine, but more aerodynamic and sleeker then any other.
AND THEY ONLY HAVE ONE JOB.
This panel is solely focused on Santa’s limo as it touches down on the road. Its brakes screech as it attempts to slow down, and its wheels burn a trail of fire behind it.
Moving panel again. If the limo is just touching down, it’s not also screeching its brakes in an attempt to slow down – one follows the other. And how will we know the brakes are screeching without a SFX?
What I think you should do is show the limo already on the road and skidding toward Jeremy, maybe the rear slewing sideways to suggest it skidding. Use sweeping motion lines, behind it, to suggest the descent. I don’t think you need screeching brakes, but add a SFX if you want it.
I also think you should combine it with the next panel, so you’ve got Jeremy’s reaction in the same panel as the limo skidding toward him. That’s a strong visual. Capitalize on it by making it big, dominating the page.
I WILL NEVER FORGET THE SOUND IT MADE AS IT LANDED….LIKE A THUNDERCLAP OR SONIC BOOM.
Reaction shot of the utterly awestruck face of Jeremy, as he is being pushed back by the sheer force of the jet propelled limo landing.
Overall...This is kind of cool. I could see some potential here, but it needs a lot of work.
You need to get a little more detail in your descriptions, think them through a little more in places. Some of the dialogue is a little clunky, but nothing that can’t be handled with a little polish. You have a lot of moving panels. You’ve got a lot of disconnect between characters because you don’t show them together in the panels enough (which, in some cases, is also contributing to your scenes taking longer than they should). But those are all minor problems, compared to the biggest two.
The biggest problem is that you told me the whole story on the second page. After that, I was just waiting for it to be over. That’s a big problem. Get rid of Page 2 Panel 2, or change the dialogue so it doesn’t give away the story (personally I’d just do your Page 1 and then go directly to the kids at the beginning of Page 2, and save yourself some space). Keep the reader wondering what the bad thing is for as long as you can. Then, when you do let them find out, hit them with something worse.
The second big problem is the pacing. These first few pages were a little slow. You could get the entire scene with the two kids done on page two. Then you could probably get the scene with Jeremy & his Mom, Jeremy talking to himself, and the limo landing, on pages three and four. That’s two whole pages saved, so far. And this was the fast-paced portion of the story – it gets slower as it goes. You took four pages just to get Jeremy from the street to Santa’s workshop. That was complete overkill. After he got there, it dragged even worse. We’re eighteen pages into the story before there’s anything resembling tension or excitement. Eighteen pages before there’s a hint that something remotely compelling happens- that’s some bad pacing, there. You need to tighten this up. You need to tighten this up A LOT.
That's about all I've got. What do the rest of you think?