Jason vs. Freddy vs. The Script Reader
Script Coverage and the Battle of the Terror Titans
"You're presenting an example of screenplay coverage by using an unmade Jason vs. Freddy film?"
While the film might seem like a strange selection, it really isn't. The rejected screenplay is better than the one eventually produced in 2003. The original script by Brannon Braga & Ronald D. Moore was more serious, edgier, and avoided the annoying campy humor found in the produced film. The one drawback with the discarded script is the narrative broke away from traditions and continuity established in previous films. Rumors swirl the decision to sever Jason from the timeline of the previous Friday the 13th movies soured executives.
Anyone who knows their horror history also knows things eventually worked out. Jason and Freddy did meet. Sadly, the best script was not used.
Jason vs. Freddy: Development Hell Abounds
When New Line Cinema acquired the rights to Jason Voorhees (but not the rights to the title Friday the 13th) from Paramount, the company released Jason Goes to Hell. The forgotten sequel is notably solely for a famous ending that teased a follow-up promising a meeting between Jason and Freddy Krueger, the legendary Nightmare on Elm Street villain who rivaled Jason as the preeminent horror icon of the 1980s.
Various screenplays for the new film ( some titled Jason vs. Freddy and some titled Freddy vs. Jason) started showing up in collector's circles during the late 1990s. Numerous scripts with different plots were written with quality levels varying. None achieved a green light.
One of the rejected Jason vs. Freddy screenplays was a solid one written by Brannon Braga & Ronald D. Moore.
When I first read the screenplay in 1999, I was surprised. The script really grabbed me. No, it is not a five star work of cinematic prose genius. The script is, however, a solid B-movie that far surpasses quite a number of horror films released over the past 20 years.
Before we talk more about the merits of the original screenplay, we need to talk a bit about screenplay coverage.
Script Coverage: Everyone is Doing It
What is screenplay coverage? Screenplay coverage is a written report generally broken into two sections. The first synopsizes the narrative of the script. The second half analyzes the quality of the script. The person who performs script coverage is called a script reader.
Script reading is a skill worth possessing. Anyone and everyone looking to get a foot in the door in Hollywood might find learning how to write script coverage to be extremely helpful. Every production office, agency, and management firm great and small receives a lot of screenplays. The sheer volume of submissions cannot be conveyed in words.
Due to time constraints, those high on the management ladder are only able to read the scripts that are, well, worth reading. So, a script reader presents a summary report on submissions for the exec to read. At the end of the report, screenplays are given three basic final grades: Recommended (extremely rare), Consider (occasionally) and Pass (99.9%).
Here is another fact about script readers. Virtually everyone who works in an assistant or administrative capacity is going to be tasked with writing coverage. Yes, there really are that many scripts. Knowing how to do coverage properly aids in being considered for a variety of entry level jobs.
And the coverage does have to be written well.
While many lament how poorly written scripts are, the truth is a lot of screenplay coverage is shockingly poorly composed. One reason for this is quite a few readers are interns with limited experience. Another reason is assistants and office help tasked with writing coverage don't always have a screenwriting-oriented background. Keep these things in mind. And remember, those capable of writing decent screenplay coverage may find a few doors of gainful employment opened.
To give an idea of what to craft, I have comprised an original (partial) example of script coverage. I performed this job a great many times over a multi-year period. This is sample of the type of commentary I would write had this script landed on my desk.
Onto the coverage.
NOTE: A complete synopsis of the Jason vs. Freddy screenplay has been omitted to eliminate spoilers.
So, what should the synopsis entail?
The first part of any screenplay coverage report is a complete and total prose synopsis of the narrative. The synopsis is not intended to be a forum for anyone's personal opinion. The synopsis section simply provides the person reading the coverage with the events of the narrative. A synopsis is a summary, nothing more and nothing less. A poorly written synopsis usually falls into two categories: too long and too short.
You do not want to rewrite a screenplay when drafting coverage. 10 pages of summary is way too much. Conversely, you do not want to write too little.
1 to 3 single-spaced pages would be sufficient. Cover all the major events in the screenplay and allows the person reading the coverage to follow all the major events that occur on the page.
Once again, a full three-page synopsis Jason vs. Freddy has not been provided. A presentation of the commentary and analysis is presented. Examples of commentary likely would be of more help to those wishing to learn about the basics of coverage than a drawn out synopsis.
COMMENTS ON THE NARRATIVE:
In short, the screenplay does the intended job of creating a B Movie horror sequel effectively. No one buying a ticket for the film is going to be terribly disappointed or let down. The screenplay's climax is contains two scenes that give audiences exactly what they want: Freddy and Jason fighting it out in a long-awaited, satisfying confrontation. A titanic Dawn of the Dead-inspired battle in the shopping mall leads to the Halloween II-inspired ending. The payoff is solid. Any troubles with the plot proceeding the finale are likely going to be forgiven by fans.
The plot is a (necessarily) meager one detailing a public defender's slow realization that Freddy Krueger played a major role in the creation of the mass murdering Jason.
There are, of course, logic flaws in the script as is par for the course with a horror film and, especially, a sequel. Jason Voorhees has been committing mass murders for nearly 30 years. None of the hundreds upon hundreds of law enforcement personnel who visited the crime scene ever found the killer's house. Then, out of the blue, two real estate agents just happen to bump into the shack by accident? And the Freddy Krueger murders took place only a twenty minute drive away from Camp Crystal lake? What is it about this particular county that attracts supernatural weirdos?
Holes in the narrative could be pointed out all day. No real problem - the simpler the narrative, the better for a film of this nature. If logic flaws were a major problem in horror sequels, the genre would have died out 50 years ago. Within the context of the screenplay, the logic flaws contribute to getting the story set up and moving quickly. The screenplay delivers in that regard. The work never drags.
What is not forgivable is allowing the police's capture of Jason to occur off-screen during the opening scenes. The setup moves quicker, but at a cost. Horror films are about action. Mentioning Jason was captured over the telephone and not showing him being taken down by the police is a bit disappointing.
COMMENTS ON THE CHARACTERS:
The three main characters are the public defender Ruby and, of course, Jason and Freddy. The Freddy Krueger in this screenplay is the dark, evil, menacing character of the original 1984 film. We do not see the one-liner spewing comedic character who became a parody of himself in the sequels. By making Freddy so morally bankrupt and cruel, he becomes the perfect villain - the one audiences wish to see defeated in the climax of the film. Freddy does not get a tremendous amount of screen time, which is a good thing. The more he is kept in the shadows, the more impact the character has when he does appear.
Ruby is a bit more than a run of the mill stock character, but not by much. Her commitment to defend Jason is rooted in a moral duty to remain an ethical attorney. The motivation is a nice touch, but it still comes off too cursory. Had she been motivated by thinking defending Jason is her ticket to fame, the screenplay could draw comparisons between the evils of fantasy villains and the realistic evil of common avarice. Then again, this approach could slow down the pace of the film by shifting focus to a peripheral character. Too much focus on her means less focus on Jason and Freddy and more melodrama than necessary in a horror film sequel. Still, slight expansions of her motivations and character depth would not have hurt.
The characterization of Jason Voorhees has very strong positives and some major negatives. The fleshing out of the character to explain his particular motivations definitely adds originality to a one-note character. The more the audience is drawn in to follow what is happening to Jason, the more the suspense and intrigue builds. Where the script falters immensely is by creating a new Jason. Audiences would NEVER forgive the filmmakers for outright replacing the Jason of previous films. Fans want to see a battle between the Freddy and the REAL Jason, not an impostor. Also, making Jason a regular human being (and one who an inexplicably survive five bullets to the chest) is not going to work.
What does work is the sympathy created for Jason. Since he is a product and victim of Freddy's nefarious schemes, audiences are able to root for him. Obviously, Jason does not become a total "good guy", but Freddy is portrayed as the far worse malevolent entity. Freddy's vicious abuse of Jason at strategic points in the screenplay ensures audiences will highly anticipate seeing Jason finally square off against his antagonist.
The build for Jason's eventual battle with Freddy is nicely structured through the screenplay. (The screenplay's pace never drags) When they do meet, the payoff is excellent. Ultimately, this is what matters most in a film of this type.
Overall Rating: Consider (with reservations)