I made Deadville nearly a decade ago.
It’s not the best film ever made, nor is it the worst.
As someone who criticises those who have made better films I thought it’s only fair to cast a critical eye on my own contribution.
The name of the contribution is Deadville.
Sorting the goodville from the Deadville
Now I’m not just going to be dumping on Deadville.
Before I criticise the movie, I’m going to talk to you about the good.
First let me just say that even though I’m biased the performances are incredible.
Everyone went above and beyond considering what they had to work with.
If you like the acting in Deadville it’s all down to the cast.
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 hard the whole time.
The plot and story are decent.
As you’ll see when you read on the ideas could have been expressed better.
For the most part, it had the potential to be a tense psychological horror. Sadly I wasn’t quite up to the task There’s remake potential. If you want to make me an offer would you mind firing me an email?
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 was effective 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.
But let’s get on with it. You’re not reading to find out how brilliant I think I am.
You want to know where I went wrong.
Deadville: Where I went wrong
Watch Deadville and you could find ten major problems in the first five minutes. This isn’t going to be a blow by blow.
I’m going to tackle the biggest flaw first and break it down from there.
Are you with me?
The most significant area where Deadville went wrong was, you guessed it.
There were certain fundamental flaws present through the first draft right up until the shooting script.
To be honest 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?) have I been made aware of the script’s problems.
I’m going to go through some of them with you now.
Hope you learn from them.
You set the tone with your opening
The opening scene is one of the most critical parts of your film.
You meet the hero and get an idea of what the story is going to be about. What you’ll find is that an opening scene is the entire film summarised.
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 recent examples of a perfect opening 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 wake up. Then he meets a girl. They go on a date he messes up. She gives him a second chance. They kiss. Now here’s the thing. Deadville is a zombie movie. Where in the opening are the hints about the impending zombie apocalypse?
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.
If you don’t make your opening clear people don’t know what kind of film they’re watching. They’ll disengage, get bored and will steer clear of your work in future.
Sometimes you have to show the thing:
After the credits the two heroes wake up in the wilderness.
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 from the Last of the Starks episode of Game of Thrones?
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 point is a more recent realisation. The hero has to want to embark on the journey. Again 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 the story world.
They have to want to take the journey.
I thought I had that by having the hero leave the cabin and go to the coordinates from the radio broadcast.
There was another choice that he had to make. It was to go with the mad professor to the lab.
Instead, the insane professor knocks him out and kidnaps him.
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.
In Chinatown, Jake Gittes sees a picture of Noah Cross.
In Ghostbusters Venkman tells Dana about Gozer. Shortly after the terror, dog statues spring to life.
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?
The midpoint 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 an OK point, 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. In the case of the Deadville midpoint, it feels more like half an answer to an unasked question. If that makes sense.
Sometimes you got to have zombies in a zombie film:
This seems obvious. You don’t have to tell me. I’ve learned my lesson.
In the last section of a zombie film, the zombies get into the building.
Let me repeat (for my benefit more than yours).
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 zombies=death.
The house/shed/whatever represents life and death comes for 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 the building.
There was another problem.
You have to make things clear for the audience visually: Rewatching Deadville, there’s too much vagueness.
Vagueness is OK some of the time.
Too much of it and it will leave the audience confused. Even more of it and they tune out.
When you’re writing a script, you (as in you the writer) 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.
There are people who say “The writer is God,” I disagree. The writer is a referee. Your job is to make sure both sides follow the rules so it’s a fair fight.
You can learn from where I fell.
That’s all I want to say for now.
Hopefully, you get some use out of this post.
Hope you can implement some of what I’ve shared whenever you’re writing your next feature script.
I know 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 too.
If you follow some of what I’ve shared, it might even be pretty good.
I love Deadville.
As a first attempt for a 23-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.”
Did you like that?
If you did would you mind signing up to my email because you’re a legend.
Thank you and have a great day,