palmer rubin kudzu arc studio pro scriptup coverage
Coverage

Coverage: KUDZU by Palmer Rubin

ScriptUp and Arc Studio Pro are teaming up to give you feedback on your scripts! After Chenoa by Joe Daniels and REFUGE by Kyle Fossé, the script coverage company reviews the first episode of KUDZU by Palmer Rubin.

The Script

OVER BLACK.

The title appears: “kudzu” (in lowercase letters).

Along with it, colorful patterns similar to those in “Punch-Drunk Love” play in tune with the music.

This time around it’s “Growing Pains” by Michael Cera Palin.

This goes on for several seconds, a la “Fleabag,” until--

INT. ADMINISTRATOR’S OFFICE

Pregnant silence between an ADMINISTRATOR and a STUDENT inside the most drab office you’ve ever seen. The song continues to play, but now coming out of an older model of radio, the kind you play CDs on.

The administrator, mid 40s, hair already going white, thick horn-rimmed glasses and conservative attire.

The student, 17-years-old, dressed in a button-down white shirt and black pants, far too large for their figure.

The only distinctive element of their clothing is a series of knotted tassels on a garment underneath their shirt.

A faded bronze plaque on the desk reads MR. CESARO. The person it belongs to tries to subtly read from a paper, not realizing the other person in the room can clearly tell.

MR. CESARO

Welcome to Henshaw University, home of the Fighting Pullets, et cetera, et cetera. We’re so overjoyed you’ve decided to spend the next four years of your life with us, what have you.

Mr. Cesaro looks up at the student, not saying anything, just looking pleasantly bored. Looks at the computer screen from the Windows XP era, looks back, frowns.

MR. CESARO (CONT’D)

Dakota Finch?

KOTA

Kota.

MR. CESARO

Is that a traditionally Jewish name, Dakota?

Early Premise

The opening ten pages to the first episode of KUDZU introduces us to KOTA, as they navigate the clumsy and seemingly intentionally obtuse world of college administration. Their gender identity, and Judaism, are both constantly being misunderstood and mishandled by a series of out-of-touch administrators, who seem hell-bent on making things more complicated, not less.

The scenes work on lots of different levels. For a start they are a pretty adept satire of a situation which is understandably very uncomfortable for Kota. There is some good comedy to be had in the caricatures of the administrators, with their outdated beliefs and awkward misunderstanding of exactly what it is Kota is asking for. You handle this idea well and the episode opens on a very humorous, albeit deeply uncomfortable, few pages.

Secondly, the opening works as an effective way to introduce Kota’s character in the context of their daily existence. The difficulty of Kota’s life is made crystal clear even in the directions:

The student, 17-years-old, dressed in a button-down white shirt and black pants, far too large for their figure.

The only distinctive element of their clothing is a series of knotted tassels on a garment underneath their shirt.

This is an economical use of writing, where you are taking every opportunity to highlight sides to your character as quickly as possible. This simple direction about appearance speaks to a variety of different factors, from how uncomfortable Kota is in that specific moment, to establishing their Judaism.

You do a similar thing with repeated lines, as we witness Kota having to endure the same interrogation over and over. Lines like

KOTA

Cousin, actually. First cousin.

or needing to keep explaining their name have comedic value but also speak to how worn down and indifferent Kota is. At the start of series, ensuring that not a moment goes by without you somehow advancing the story or the audience’s understanding of character is absolutely vital to ensure that the story flows along effectively.

Assuming that the remainder of the episode, and possibly the series as a whole, focuses on Kota’s identity, even broadly speaking, then the opening pages to the first episode do a really good job at establishing the thematic setting as well. Identity is absolutely key here, in what Kota thinks of themself, of what others think of Kota and of the confusion that can be created in the spaces between these two issues. Conflict is one of the most important things to look for in the early stages of a script, and though we aren’t deep enough into the story to really see how these conflicts will evolve, the soil is nevertheless fertile for it.

One less effective side to your opening relates to setting the scene. The opening ten pages to your script are somewhat non-descript, in setting and atmosphere. Some of the weight of the characters is detracted from through a combination of a marked use of satire and a lack of real world building. I can’t really picture the setting, I have no concept of when this is set specifically or what sort of a world you are attempting to embed your story in. Doing more rigorous work on this sort of establishment allows the reader to have a much stronger understanding of how we are supposed to feel about the plot events, and even the line-to-line dialogue. A line like

MR. CESARO

Ah yes, because they said you were a girl when you weren’t.

for example would be genuinely surprising to hear from a college administrator in the contemporary era, but would fit differently in our understanding if the script is a bit dated. Given that you are in the first episode of a series, world building is even more important since you will eventually need to do so much more of it. Any opportunity you have to ‘set the scene’ will really help with immersion and will benefit you the further down the line you get with your storytelling.

Characterisation

As I’ve already touched on, there is some excellent satire throughout the opening ten pages to the episode, particularly coming across in the three administrators that Kota is forced into dealing with. It’s important to pick up on what you are doing with these characters even if it has felt instinctual, since it will aid you in the future. Their responses to Kota’s identity and Judaism are all slight variations on the same theme of misunderstanding. Having the differences in place is important for ensuring that you aren’t being too blunt, whilst sill highlighting the fact that the end result is the same from Kota’s perspective. The differences also help to carve out amusing and valuable differences between the administrators. Where one administrator had used the offensive Yiddish word, ‘Fegulah’, and harped on about Kota’s Judaism, MS. FRANZINO instead says

MS. FRANZINO

I see, well, um, shabbat shalom!

KOTA

You’re excused.

showing that she actually means well, but still fails to realise that the best response is really to make no comment at all.

Though the three administrators are very much minor figures, it’s important that you’ve given them the attention to detail that you have and that they aren’t simply bluntly drawn stereotypes of insensitive bigots. They feel more realistic, as does the world as a whole.

Kota, strangely, feels very characterless. On the one hand this may be an intelligent commentary on how society reduces them to a checklist of identities, but I think you need to be careful for this moving forward. When a series or film centres on a specific character who is dear to the screenwriter’s heart, it can ironically cause it to be the case that they are the character whose motives, desires and finer details are the most neglected, since, to the screenwriter, it’s all quite obvious. If the series does focus on Kota, then I do have to say that they don’t spring off the page as immediately all that interesting, and that I have a very unclear image of them in my mind. It’s important that central characters are given really fleshed out introductions, so a solid image can be formed from the onset. This description

The student, 17-years-old, dressed in a button-down white shirt and black pants, far too large for their figure.

The only distinctive element of their clothing is a series of knotted tassels on a garment underneath their shirt.

is smart in terms of the finer details, but doesn’t do the basics. What does Kota look like? What expression do they carry on their face? What’s their normal attitude like? These are the sorts of basic establishment which are vital when we first meet a character.

Conclusion

One of the most important questions that I ask when I finish reading the opening to a script is whether I want to read on. You’ve created a very unique angle with KUDZU, a character so specific, in an environment so generic that I am very curious as to where things go from here, meaning that your opening is a success. I do think some work on establishment, both from a character and a much broader world perspective, would help bring the opening to life and really allow the reader to enjoy the satirical elements without the current air of confusion. But, overall, it’s an authentic start to what seems to be a quirky, interesting story.

Wondering about the importance of receiving feedback on your script? Check out our article The Give and Take of Receiving Screenwriting Feedback

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Sebastian Cox

Sebastian is co-founder of the script coverage company ScriptUp, a service that provides in-depth script reports to help screenwriters improve their work.

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