One week ago, we reviewed Phil Clarke Jr’s Bad Penguin. As readers of Shootin’ the Shorts are aware, our goal at STS is to find new and promising writers, and provide them with the platform they need to get their work seen (then hopefully optioned, and produced!)
One of our not-so-secret weapons in this quest is Danny Manus of No BullScript Consulting. Having worked as a development executive in Hollywood, Danny is an in-demand script consultant, named by Creative Screenwriting Magazine at one of the “Top 15” consultants in their “Cream of the Crop” list. Partnered with STS, Danny provides wonderfully detailed and helpful notes for the monthly STS feature script. This coverage is provided free to the writer, and can be posted our site or kept confidential – at the writer’s discretion. But wait – there’s more! Any script that gets a coveted “recommend” from tough but eminently fair Danny will be featured in his monthly newsletter and may also receive further exposure to his production contacts…
Below, please find Danny’s notes/coverage for Bad Penguin (a recommend!) Read, learn, comment…. and don’t forget to submit your best work for possible review!
**To submit a script, please visit STS at the page listed HERE. Danny can also be contacted directly via the No BullScript Consulting website at http://www.nobullscript.net/contact/. Or on Twitter @DannyManus.
NO BULLSCRIPT ANALYSIS
Title: Bad Penguin
Type of Material: Screenplay
Author: Phil Clarke
Number of Pages: 97
Submitted To: Simply Scripts
Circa: Post WW2
Location: Clover City
Coverage Date: 12/4/14
Budget Range: Medium
LOGLINE: When a lone penguin with an arsenal of weapons and an axe to grind against Christmas befriends a blind sax player with a drug habit, the two must evade the cops, bring down the local drug kingpin and his goons, and discover what Christmas is about.
COMMENTS: Phil, thank you for submitting your script, “Bad Penguin” to Simply Scripts. The following notes and comments will go through what works well and what still needs to be worked on or changed in order to make this a more viable and commercial script.
I can honestly say I’ve never read a script like this one. Utterly original and with a voice, tone and genre seemingly of its own, Bad Penguin is one twisted, fun ride. It’s Tarantino meets Bad Santa meets the Penguins of Madagascar. And somehow, it works. In what would surely be an amazing graphic novel (and I would HIGHLY suggest you look into that), Bad Penguin gives us laughs, emotion, voice, and gruesome bloody action all in one. It’s steeped in strong, relatable themes of true friendship, good vs evil, that everyone has two sides to them, and the spirit of Christmas which makes it a bit more universally relatable than it would otherwise be.
I must admit, I have a not-so-secret love of penguins, so I enjoyed this on a pure penguin basis. However, Hollywood loves penguins too. From the iconic Penguin in the Batman movies to Mr. Poppers Penguins, March of the Penguins, Farce of the Penguins, Happy Feet, Surf’s Up, and the aforementioned Madagascar Penguins, they are a box office draw – and not just for children. And I appreciate the dichotomy of the innocence of a penguin – as opposed to other animals you could have chosen – and the type of character and personality you’ve created with your naughty penguin. It is much more like the cartoon book Evil Penguins by Elia Anie.
It feels like you took a basic concept of an angry penguin coming to get vengeance for Christmas pasts, which is funny and original enough, but then you examined each aspect, element and character of the story and to find a way to give it a twist to make it even more dark and original. You could have set this in contemporary NYC, but instead you set it in the post-World War 2 era in the fictional Clover City. You could have paired your angry penguin with a child with ADD or a reporter who needs a story or a wisecracking cop – but you chose COOPER, a blind, 60 year-old African American sax player with a heroin addiction. Does this make it less commercial and much darker? Maybe. But it also gives it a depth and originality that most wouldn’t have dared try.
The absurdist tone is fresh and well-executed, with lots of little intelligent jokes, gags and moments that may go over the heads of many audiences. I absolutely loved the running gag of Wee Billy’s Grandma, as well as the “eating bad fish” line on page 15 where Penguin scrapes his tongue. It’s wonderfully inappropriate and funny. The script never takes itself completely seriously, but acts like it does.
All that being said, I have no idea who makes this movie. It feels like one of those scripts that everyone loves but no one really knows what to do with except make it a graphic novel and then maybe adapt that into an animated series for Adult Swim or Netflix, which might be a more naturally-suited medium for the character and visuals. I do like that this is live action, with just one penguin being either CGI or motion capture. If done like the apes in Planet of the Apes, the penguin could be pretty amazing. But this would be a challenge for any marketing department to figure out how to sell and to whom. It’s almost Sin City-esque with shades of Hobo with a Shotgun – but with a penguin and Christmas.
You could have turned this into a shoot-em-up ridiculous cartoon – and in parts, it is – but you also grounded the penguin character in an emotional backstory that made us understand him and his motivations. And you made the script much smarter than it could have been.
The Penguin actually has a great character arc, possibly even better than Cooper’s. We know what is lacking in Penguin at the start and he finds it by the end. It’s not completely clear what is missing in Cooper’s life that his relationship with Penguin satisfies, other than his eyesight. Does he give up his heroin habit by the end of the movie because of what they’ve been through? At the very least, he could try, and maybe throw away the spoon. The moment they crack up laughing on page 29 at the end of your first act, I think that’s the moment the audience really falls for these two and their connection.
Obviously the suspension of disbelief involved with reading (or watching) this story, is enormously high, and you play it off with comedy. No one thinks twice about the fact that a walking, talking, shooting Penguin is even THERE, like it’s a totally normal thing despite the fact that there are no other animals in this world that can do that. It’s never really even a topic that is brought up – all the characters just accept that a Penguin is doing all of this. It’s also just accepted that this Penguin, who has no fingers, is able to grab things, count money, shoot weapons that just appear out of nowhere, etc. It’s like then animated quality of the story is never questioned, which at first is odd but once you accept that, you just have to go with it.
However, you answer most of the other major questions any logical person might have while reading this by giving the easiest excuses possible – “I don’t know” or “Because.” Why do none of the cops searching for this penguin recognize him just because he’s wearing a hat? Because they don’t. Where did this penguin come from and why did he show up in this town, now? Nobody knows.
And while these excuses matches the tone and style, I think it would help if we got a FEW more details, especially why the Penguin suddenly comes to THIS town. It could have been because he was trying to track down his long-lost parents. Or because some of the people who wronged him were living there. But it’s never really stated what Penguin’s ultimate goal or purpose is, just that he hates Christmas. And while we do learn WHY he hates Christmas, the other questions still go unanswered. Even if his point was just to ruin Christmas for as many children as possible, I think there still needs to be a reason. And over the course of the story, his friendship with Cooper dissuades him from that goal or at least allows us to find out what it is. Similarly, since he just shows up in Clover City, it makes me wonder what kind of trouble he’s caused in other cities. This can’t be his first stop, so perhaps we could find out other anti-Christmas incidents he’s been responsible for recently.
On page 62, Cooper narrates that Penguin tells him about all the weapons he has and what he’s capable up, but that he can’t repeat where he got it from or where he keeps it. It’s another example of the glossing over of the answers we’re all wondering but just have to swallow and accept.
Having Cooper be the narrator of the story and also basically be the voice of Penguin, is an interesting choice. It takes a few pages to understand what you’re trying to do, and to realize you’re not just writing novelistically. But it’s unclear if the penguin is ACTUALLY speaking and we just don’t hear his voice – but Cooper does. Or if he’s mouthing words sometimes, and not other times? Or if it’s more of a telepathy thing? It’s not clear because Cooper tells us what the penguin says, but we don’t actually see him speak or even have MOS conversations with Cooper very often.
I’m not sure how Cooper narrates the opening mall Santa scene though as Cooper is not there to see it play out or hear what Penguin is saying. I think it’s the only scene where Cooper is not narrating or repeating something he’s actually seeing or hearing Penguin say. We also have no way of knowing that the Sax player we see on page 1 IS actually the narrator or what his name is until the bottom of page 6 when Mickey says it. But there’s still no direct connection between Cooper and the Narration until the next section of narration on page 15. Perhaps there could be a bit of a stronger introduction of Cooper to connect him to the narration (so the audience knows he’s narrating).
It’s also not clear in the first scene between Cooper and Penguin if they had already known each other somehow or if they were meeting in that bar for the first time. And if everyone knows (or at least Cooper), that the cops and everyone is looking for this Penguin, why is he just hanging out in a bar like nothing happened? While I do love the friendship they develop, it’s not clear where they start in the opening scenes. They have an almost Seymour/Audrey 2 relationship from Little Shop of Horrors except the action and what they must do brings them closer together instead of pulls them apart.
Chinny and Wee Billy are pretty fun secondary antagonists. They’re the first obstacles that Cooper and Penguin have to deal with, but they’re not truly bad people – they’ve just lost their way. I like how you underline their good sides in criminal ways. They steal money from Daphne – but they only steal what they’re owed and give back the rest. There is a great chemistry between them and a certain bumbling, Home Alone quality to them, and it’s clear that they are just trying to seem tough more than actually being so. I like that they’ve known Cooper for many years and there is a history there, but we don’t get any real inklings of this until page 48 when Cooper tells us. There could be a bit more evidence of this earlier, even in how Cooper talks about them to Penguin.
Structurally, I think the script is strong. You have an outrageous (though very random-seeming) introduction, a strong end to your first act that solidifies their friendship and sets up that the Penguin is wanted by cops and crooks alike, a strong midpoint with a great mini-climax scene between Penguin and Cooper and Chinny and Wee Billy which further develops the unlikely bond between the leads. The second half of the second act gives us the backstory we need to understand Penguin, though it would be nice if that was more directly related to why he’s there. And the action builds nicely to the climax, which is a fun and emotional scene I’ll discuss in a moment.
In the opening mall sequence, it’s not clear if the Penguin actually kills people or if he’s just shooting into the air. He shoots the one man in the knee, but other than that, we don’t know if he’s actually killing people.
I think the visual of the penguin with Terrence’s sliced off face is pretty twisted and gruesome, but then we see Terrence and I would have assumed he was dead. I am not sure that the scene between them prior to this is as clear as it could be, plus it’s unclear what happens with Chinny and Wee Billy after this scene on page 76. They disappear from the story – but it turns out they are not dead, and somehow later end up in jail. But there’s a big gap there and I’m not sure what happened to them for 15 pages.
The big climax where Penguin is shot is actually a really emotional scene. It’s tender and sweet, exciting and visual, and it underlines the tragedy of the story while also bringing out its theme and heart. I did not see it coming that Penguin would give Cooper his eyes to allow him to see and there is a twisted gruesome but funny, heartfelt quality to that moment. And I think your last line and visual, and that last beat, is perfect. It felt like the right end to this very twisted story.
Writing screenplays is about writing visually, creating moments on the screen that people will remember. And I think you show that skill consistently throughout the script. From the opening with the mall Santa to the one-night stand and subsequent towel-wrapped regret, to the Katana and bazooka-wielding scenes. You are constantly jumping from the more graphic and adult tone of violence to the more playful moments like the snowball fight with the kids on page 14. And then you mix the tone in many scenes like when Chinny discovers Penguin with a katana sword on page 75.
The dialogue is sharp and funny, and you know how to create big comedic moments as well as quirky, dark, subversive moments. Even your throw-away lines are pretty funny, like “Thought I was talking to you yesterday. Turned out it was a fire hydrant.” You have some great deadpan lines as well which help highlight the absurdity of the story and paint all the other characters are so clueless that a penguin actually could just walk in and no one would notice (like in the bar scene on pave 28). Even Wee Billy’s line “I blame it all on the Jews” feels like a random deadpan line, but it feels apropos for the tone and world you’re creating and made me laugh, especially when mixed with the grandma running gag.
If there is one moment I think maybe could be taken out and is unnecessary in dialogue, it’s where Chinny calls Wee Billy a “nigger.” It’s not clear that they are both Black (until much later in the script), but even so – it feels very out of nowhere and harsher than the rest of the script. It took me out of it for a moment, and I feel like there are more clever derogatory names he could use. The only other moment that felt forced and not quite consistent is the farting moment on page 85. This is a toilet humor gag that just feels more sophomoric than the rest of your script and felt almost beneath the material.
I’m not sure if the Deerborn Tavern scene on page 89 is necessary, feels like you could cut it. And there are a couple typos on pg 91 you should look at.
Overall, I really enjoyed this script. It is a twisted, original story and blending of tones and genres, and the writing and voice pop on the page with every bullet and every joke. I can’t say it’s an incredibly commercial script or an easy sell with an obvious demographic, but I think it’s a wonderful writing sample. Stick with it! Keep writing! And best of luck! Thanks again Phil for submitting your script “Bad Penguin” to Simply Scripts, and congratulations on being the featured script of the month.
NO BULLSCRIPT 20 POINT GRADING SHEET AND RECOMMENDATION:
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