Deadville is alright.
It’s not the best film ever made, nor is it the worst.
As someone who criticises those who have made better. I thought it’s only fair to cast a critical eye on my own contribution.
The name of that contribution is Deadville, and you can watch it now for free here.
Sorting the goodville from the Deadville
Now I’m not just going to be dumping on the film. Before I criticise the movie, I’m going to talk to you about the good.
First, there are the performances. Everyone did their best with what they had. Now some of it was down to be, but most of it was down to them. The cast took what I wrote and made it work for them. I’m forever thankful to them for working hard and never once complained. Same goes for the crew. Everyone got on with it, no one got any money out of the endeavour, but they worked the whole time.
The plot and story are decent.
As you’ll see when you read on it could have been expressed better. For the most part, it had the potential to be a tense psychological horror. Sadly it didn’t quite fulfil what it set out to do. There’s remake potential if anyone wants to approach me with an offer.
I’m pleased with how much value for money we got out of the project. The budget for the entire film was £800. It’s not an excuse for the film to be less than good, but I’m providing you with context. The makeup for the zombies looked good, and the set design was OK too.
I’m happy with the sound of the film. We were saved at the last minute by Dave Donnelly. Our original sound guy dropped out the night before shooting was meant to start. Dave had never done sound before, and I didn’t know what I was doing either. We ran microphones through mixing desks, and there were issues throughout. We were still finding our feet. If not for Dave on set with Kev and Alex on post-production, Deadville would be unwatchable. Thank you, Dave, Alex and Kev.
There’s more stuff I like in the film. The sound of a creaking door when the hero fakes an orgasm for one. Alas, you’re not reading to hear how brilliant I am. You’re here to learn about my failings.
Deadville: Where I went wrong
I’m not going to list every detail of where it went wrong. Watch the film, and you could probably list like ten in the first minute. I’m going to tackle the big one and break it down. Are you with me? Cool.
The most significant area where Deadville went wrong was, you guessed it, the script. There were certain fundamental flaws present. Present the whole way through the first draft right up until the shooting script. I wasn’t even aware of them until recently. Deadville never had hope.
Only from reading Save the Cat (would you mind buying through this affiliate link here) have I been made aware of the script’s problems. I’m going to go through some of them with you now. I hope you can learn from them.
You set the tone with your opening scene –
The opening scene is one of the most critical parts in your film. You meet the hero and get an idea of what the story is going to be about. On the surface level, that’s correct. What I’ve learned is that an opening scene is the entire film in a scene. Think of James Bond or Indiana Jones. Even Pulp Fiction and The Social Network are the films summarised with the tone set. One of the best examples of a perfect opening scene is Toy Story 4. If you can’t remember, don’t worry, I’ll be writing about it soon.
Back to Deadville, the opening scene has a guy get up, meet a girl, mess up the date, get a second chance and get a kiss. Now where in there is there anything about an impending zombie apocalypse? There isn’t, nada mczilch. The credits come on and next thing you know we’ve jumped ahead several months. We still haven’t got a clear sense of the characters either, we only just met them. Do we even like them yet? If you’re going to do a zombie film, you should at least have a zombie show up before the ten-minute mark. People don’t know what they’re watching, and they will disengage.
Sometimes you have to show the thing:
After the credits, we wake up with the two heroes. The girl goes to get some water. No sooner has she left she ends up getting bitten by a zombie. Do you know what would have been cool? If I had shown you the bite. If I had put it into the script, her getting attacked. It would have been a neat little suspense scene to keep you going. Nope, not from me apparently. You remember that scene in the latest Game of Thrones, Last of the Starks? There’s the big moment where Jon is going to tell Sansa and Arya he’s a Targaryen. What do they do? They cut away. Great, something interesting we are invested in and they cut away. Sometimes you need to show the thing. I needed to show you the bite.
The hero has to make a choice to enter the story:
This one is a more recent realisation. The hero has to want to join the story. I learned this one from Save the Cat. Think about it “Come with me if you want to live” from Terminator. “I want to go with you to Alderaan and learn the ways of the Jedi like my father” from A New Hope.
The hero has to want to enter his own story. I thought I had that with him leaving the cabin to go to the coordinates from the radio broadcast. There was another choice, and it was to go with the mad professor. Instead, the insane professor knocks him out and drags him along. He robs the hero of agency and you dear reader of knowing he’s there by his own choice.
My midpoint had nothing to do with anything:
Midpoints are interesting. Read my Simplified Story System and you’ll know this is the point where the hero realises there are bigger fish to fry. In Chinatown, Jake Gittes sees a picture of Noah Cross. In Ghostbusters Venkman tells Dana about Gozer. Shortly after the terror, dogs are loose from their statue. What happens in Deadville? Eh, well, he kills a zombie. What? Is that it? How long has he been surviving for? Do you mean to tell me this is seriously the first time that he has killed?
Joking aside you see the problem? It has nothing to do with any of the themes in the script. At the time, thinking back, it was a moment when the hero realises that killing is necessary. It’s OK, but it could have been stronger. What if he found out at the midpoint that “the cure” was fake. What if the cure was false and the test subject was still a zombie. In scripts, there are no wrong answers, but in the case of my midpoint, it’s more of a half answer.
Sometimes you got to have zombies in a zombie film:
This seems obvious, and I have learned my lesson. In the last act of a zombie film, the zombies get into the building. Let me repeat. In the final act of your zombie film, the zombies get into the building. They get in not because they are zombies but because they represent death. The house/shed/whatever represents life and death gets us all in the end. I should have used my extras better. I had a cool idea that wasn’t explored where the zombies were being kept in storage and used as a food source. The zombies were already inside, but there was another problem.
You have to make things clear for the audience visually: Rewatching Deadville, there’s a lot of vagueness. Vagueness is OK some of the time. Too much of it and it will leave the audience confused, and they will switch off. When you’re writing the script, you have to know what’s going on. You don’t need to tell the audience everything, but as long as you know what’s going on, you’ll be fine. My problem was that I was unsure in certain areas. If anyone should have known it should have been me.
You can learn from where I fell.
Hopefully, you get some use out of this article. I hope you can implement some of what I’ve shared whenever you’re writing your first feature script.
My writing isn’t great, I struggle when it comes to following through on promises. I’m not the best with people, and after a while, I get fed up and want to go to sleep.
You’re wondering why I am telling you all this. I’m telling you this because if I can write and film a script, then you definitely can do it. If you follow some of what I’ve shared, it might even be pretty good.
I love Deadville. As a first attempt for a 24-year-old, it was decent. I’ve been learning ever since. I will keep learning. One day I’ll make something, and people will watch it and afterwards they will turn to each other and say.
“It was alright.”