Category Archives: Film

A Hollywood Reader’s Notes on “Get Out”

Get Out is a horror/comedy film, written and directed by Jordan Peele, of sketch comedy duo Key & Peele.  It tells the story of a young black man meeting his white girlfriend’s rich liberal parents for the first time.  However, not everything is as ideal as it appears, and a sinister plot is soon revealed.

Get Out is Peele’s first feature film, and is written and directed with a surprising confidence and competence, injecting a well-balanced element of social commentary that deftly portrays the experience of young black men in contemporary America.  Any genre aficionado knows that social commentary themes are often present in horror and science fiction.

The film was produced by Blumhouse, a studio known for low budget horror (Paranormal Activity, Sinister, Insidious, etc) and made for a budget of $5 million.  A modest amount by Hollywood standards, but it must have felt like a fortune to Peele, coming from TV sketch comedy.  Get Out grossed $30 million on its first weekend.  As of this writing it has a 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is well on its way to breaking $150 million.  By any account, a huge success, and deservedly so.

Often when I see a film like Get Out — an unusual film that finds great success despite, or perhaps because of, defying Hollywood genre  conventions — I imagine what kind of notes the script would have received from studio readers and executives, that shadowy cabal of gatekeepers and tastemakers who daily crush many an aspiring filmmaker’s dream.

Readers are notoriously risk averse, and generally repulsed by anything “too original”, instead looking for established (i.e. overused) genre conventions, formulaic structural dogma, and existing properties with built-in audiences, when evaluating the potential of any material.

It’s also well known that most readers have the heart of a writer, which they keep in a jar on their desk.

In that spirit, I present:


The tone is inconsistent, mixing horror and comedy.  Not sure if this is supposed to be scary or funny.

Protagonist is passive for most of the film.  Things happen to him, instead of him being the prime motivator of the story.  He doesn’t really act in any significant way until the very end of the script.

The “comic relief” character is removed from the main characters and central story, and only interacts with them on the phone, until the very end.  Constantly cutting back to him to deliver exposition is distracting, and slows the pace down.

Some of the logic of the premise breaks down, mixing hypnotism and brain transplant surgery.  If the brains are transplanted, how does the victim’s suppressed personality remain?  Doesn’t make sense.

Does it have to be about black people?  It stretches credibility that old rich white people would want to be transplanted into black people’s bodies.  This “social commentary” element seems grafted on, and distracts from the central story.

There is the core of an interesting science fiction/horror premise here, but the script is undermined by an unnecessary and heavy-handed “social commentary” theme.

Not sure that a young black man can carry a horror movie.  This goes against convention.  A niche market with small box office potential.

Not a good fit for Blumhouse, which primarily focuses on stories about white people in haunted houses.


Films, Games, Apples, and Oranges

“Once we start seeing video games that have more memorable characters, you’ll see better movie adaptations.”
– David S. Goyer

What’s the story of Tetris?  

Success disappears, and failure piles up.

Games are fundamentally about rules, mechanics, and agency.  Players interact with the game’s system, and sometimes other players, with as much freedom as the game’s rule set allows.  It is this interactivity that makes games a unique form of media.

Other mediums are passively observed or experienced.  The individual’s imagination is engaged in terms of interpretation, inference, or extrapolation, “filling in the blanks” of the world, character motivations, consequences of action, etc., and the most successful storytelling includes lots of hooks for the audience to “hang their imaginations on,” increasing involvement, engagement, and investment.  But no matter how much “engagement” there is between media and audience, no amount will change the media in any way.  The pictures, words, and stories in other media remain immutable.  Paintings, books, movies, and music are impervious to audience input or reaction.  A possible exception is performance, but even then it is the performer who responds to audience, not the work itself.

Games, on the other hand, are all about interactivity.  Whether a computer game, a board game, or a card game, games are fundamentally responsive to player action and reaction.  In fact, input-output is the foundation of the game loop.  Games accept and often expect audience input, receiving it through a keyboard and mouse, controller, touch screen, or Kinect sensor.  The game system integrates player(s) input, running it through the rule set or simulation, and generates output, which is presented to the player(s) as a moving image, sound, or configuration.

In computer games, this is ideally done at least thirty times a second.

Many games feature a traditional “plot and character” driven linear narrative, especially single player games.  Stories are often presented using techniques borrowed from other storytelling forms, like cinema or prose.  However, even games without direct storytelling tend to depict fictional contexts, in terms of world, characters, setting, or tone.  These “light story, heavy context” games provide tons of hooks for the players to hang their imaginations on.

Those hooks are the scaffolding that supports the story the player “makes up” as they play the game.  The imagined connective tissue between action, result, and reaction, that creates a contiguous chronological history of individual interactions with the game system.  The most important and memorable story a player experiences is not a traditional narrative, even when a game relates one.  The story a player remembers and tells others after playing a game is not “Mario saved the Princess,” or “Chell destroyed GladOS,” or “Link defeated Ganendorf.”  It’s a story that goes something like, “We were down to one health potion, and no town portal scrolls, when we walked right into the dragon’s chamber.  It wiped out the entire party before I used my last bit of mana and killed it with a lightning spell.”

Game stories are the history of the player’s experience interacting with the game system.

Game developers should keep this in mind, especially those guilty of filling their interactive experiences with passive cinematics or text that many players just button mash through, to get back to that experiential interaction.  Yes,  Hideo Kojima, I’m looking in your direction.

Many of these ideas are discussed at greater length in an excellent article by Terence Lee of Hitbox Team, “Designing game narrative” at

That said, game developers sometimes do want to simply tell a story.  When that’s the case, they are wiser to work in a media more suited to storytelling, like film, graphic novel, short story, etc.  Focussing primarily on character and story in game development guarantees a weak game, just as failing to focus primarily on those elements when writing a screenplay results in a weak movie.  The goals are different, as are the measurements of success.

This is the mistake made by Goyer — and many people in both films and games — who compare the mediums directly, when they are apples and oranges.  I can illuminate this mistake by simply saying, “Once we start seeing movies that have better upgrade systems, you’ll see better game adaptations.”  This is why movie adaptations of games often fail, and likewise, game adaptations of movies.  The adapters do not understand what elements are compelling in the source material, and how to best bring them to a different media.  Lack of a “memorable character” or “story” of any kind in a game is simply not a failure.  Period.  

These elements do not contribute to the success of the game as a game.  

This is like a translator complaining, “If they would just use more English words, my job would be so much easier!”

Any failure is the translator’s alone.

Bren Lynne is a game developer with 20 years experience designing games, and an aspiring filmmaker and screenwriter.  This post is adapted in part from the Foreword to “Side Stories: Short Fiction by Game Developers”.

“A SHARED KISS”, my Short Screenplay Challenge 2013 Round #3 submission

As expected, I tapped out in the third round of NYCMidnight’s Short Screenplay Challenge 2013.  The Romance genre finished me.  Admittedly, my submission was pretty pedestrian.  Given more time, a better idea might have occurred, but of course that’s a big part of the 48 hour deadline.  Nonetheless, I thought I’d share my script, as a cautionary tale for those who follow.

Two people meet under sweet circumstances.

The genre, as mentioned, was Romance, the location was a candy store, and the object was a lock.

On kind of an ironic and bittersweet note, I was picturing a young Philip Seymour Hoffman as my leading man.  Zooey Deschanel was my leading lady.

It was great fun writing for this contest, and best of luck to those who are moving on!

“THE RECRUIT”, my Short Screenplay Challenge 2013 Round #2 submission

I just squeaked through the first elimination round of NYCMidnight’s short screenplay contest with my script “The Recruit”.

For Round #2, my genre assignment was Fantasy, location an army barracks, and object a limousine.  I only scored 7/15 for this one, but with my points for Round #1 it was enough to put me in the top 5 of my group, and advance.

A young soldier receives a mysterious offer.

I’m not optimistic about Round #3.  Genre was Romance, location a candy store, and object a lock.  Romance is very much NOT in my wheelhouse, so I’m not confident with my submission, but we’ll see what happens in February!

“POKERFACE”, my Short Screenplay Challenge 2013 Round #1 submission

NYCMidnight runs a short screenplay contest, which I entered this fall.  Writers are given a genre, location, and an object, and have 48 hours to write an original, 5 page screenplay.

Despite catastrophic computer failure this weekend, I managed to get in my submission for Round #2 before the deadline.  Whew!

I thought I’d share my Round #1 submission, which scored 14/15 points, and puts me in a good position for Round #2, the first elimination round.

My genre was Thriller, my location was a poker room, and my object was a laptop computer.

An online poker game has deadly consequences.

WARNING: Language, violence.

I’ll share my Round #2 submission when results are announced.

KIDZ being aired tonight on VCTC (Valemount/Kamloops local television)


My zombie short film “KIDZ” will be airing tonight on VCTV as part of the Horror Film Night short film series, starting at midnight, before “Night of the Living Dead” (1968).

VCTV airs locally in the Valemount/Kamloops area on channel 7, but can also be seen on Bell and Telus Satellite on Channel 653, call letters “VALE”.

Indie Game: The Movie is terrific!

The filmmakers give us a warm, sympathetic presence with game developers who are pouring their heart and soul into their work. It captures the angst of the creative process, the frustration of the technical challenges, and the driving passion and love of games.

The film gives us three stories of indie developers at different points in their career. Jonathan Blow, a veteran finding success late in a long career, with Braid. Young partners, Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes, releasing their most anticipated title ever, Super Meat Boy, to great success. Rookie Phil Fish fighting to finish* his masterpiece. One thing they all have in common is a vision, often individual, always deeply personal, that they, like artists, are struggling to realize.

Mentioned during the Hotdocs Q&A was the Internet itself as a character. The filmmakers deftly capture the positive and negative influence of the net on the developers, how it can be both adoring worshipper and cruelest critic. The camera brushes aside the curtain of arrogance, cynicism, or bravado that netizens must often wear for defence, and finds vulnerable, intelligent humans.

First time documentary filmmakers, James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot, accomplish all this with a light touch, and are barely present in the movie. It doesn’t feel like interviews, but like we are the subject’s trusted friend.

The story of the movie itself is an indie success story as well. Financed in part through two Kickstarter campaigns, the film went on to win at Sundance, and find great success in festivals. A limited theatrical release begins in a couple of weeks, and it will no doubt do well in digital.