TEST DUMMY is a sci-fi, action script with an excellent premise. The script offers an intriguing visionary world. The idea of a test dummy coming to life in human form is a clever idea and it’s a concept that should be further developed. The story explores themes about redemption, second chances, and has the potential to explore the man vs. machine dynamics. There’s so much potential for this concept, but the script and plot would benefit from further development. First, the strength of the script is the idea of Joe sneaking on the ship to join the test dummy in his last flight.
They both share interesting backstories and for both it’s their final journey. The idea of the human connection with a test dummy that comes to life presents with great possibilities that need to be explored more in depth. The areas to re-examine include the structure, pace, clarification, and tension, as well as character development. Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a challenging script to read and to fully understand the series of events, especially regarding locations and settings such as Russia, California, and Alaska. First, the script needs to open with a more exciting scene to immediately grab the audience.
In most action films the story opens with an action sequence to help set the tone and introduce the world to the audience. Right now, opening with the Russians doesn’t instantly pull the audience into the plot. It’s too passive. Consider opening with either Joe’s backstory, or a scene that features a test dummy and/or both. The idea of Joe having a troubled backstory is smart. However, it would benefit the script to establish more of Joe’s ordinary world. This includes his home life. Establish his personality and his need for redemption or a second chance. It’s important that the audience finds a way to emotionally connect and bond with Joe.
There are several solid pivotal events in the first act. One is when the technician plants the grey cartridge. However, it’s not clear why they use this test to smuggle in the information. One would think it could be executed in another way. It seems very risky to sneak it on and then expect for them to land at the secret Russian base. This should be clarified. Another pivotal event is when Joe decides to go with the test dummy. The main inciting event seems to be when they pass into Russian airspace. However, it’s difficult to follow the series of events during these sequences.
More importantly, it would benefit the script to focus more on loe and Seven vs. the Russians. This is most noticeable from pages 13 to about page 17. The first act (and the script) needs to be driven by the hero, which appears to be Joe. So focus these scenes on Joe and the dummy. The action sequences (while well researched) feel too long and they end up blending together and trying to follow all the colored wedges can be a bit overwhelming. Make the action as simple as possible and streamline it. They really should land at the end of act one. Right now, they land around page 45.
The other event that’s not fully clear is the idea that they went through some anomaly or timewarp (per the writer’s logline). This feels as if it gets lost in the action and it needs to stand out more. It should be the pivotal moment. It’s never clear that they are in another time (if they are). This needs to be clarified. If they are in another time, it’s not clear how the Americans are able to locate them and then rescue them. Another pivotal moment is when Seven comes to life. It’s a terrific idea, but needs more foreshadowing and a stronger build. The idea of the “tear” is a great moment of foreshadowing.
If the events focus more on Joe with Seven, before he comes to life, more foreshadowing can be planted. Consider that they are really in trouble during the test flight. Joe isn’t sure what to do. Intensify the danger and then suddenly the “gloved” hand reaches over and turns on a switch – it’s Seven. Make sure Joe has an authentic reaction to the twist. The action becomes more understandable when they are fleeing from the Russians. This is easy to visualize and follow. It’s also more engaging for the viewer. Consider the idea that Joe or Seven discovers what’s on the cartridge vs. having the lead engineer explain or reveal it.
The other areas of the script that needs to be elevated are the characters. Joe is the protagonist/hero, but as stated, his personality needs to be further developed. He has an interesting backstory that drives some of his actions, but this needs to be resolved in the climax. Normally, a hero has to come to grips or resolved their inner struggle before they can defeat their enemy or foe. Right now, one doesn’t really get to know Joe. What normally works for an action hero is a stronger voice that sounds sardonic and witty. Remember, he seems to be driven by his need for redemption.
Show how he achieves this. The ending is heartfelt when Joe sheds a tear for his friend. However, there’s room to develop the “buddy” element of the script. This is a perfect script to craft a stronger buddy relationship between man and “machine. ” Joe claims that Seven is like his “son” and this also needs to be examined. In fact, one of the areas of the script that would benefit from more exploration is the man vs. machine concept. Normally what works is that the human becomes more machine-like as the machine/test dummy becomes more human like. The lines become blurred.
Seven would benefit from more development. It’s fun to watch him learn new things, but his emotional conflict and struggle doesn’t feel like it’s explored. He also doesn’t always act like a test dummy. He acts and sounds a bit weak in some of the action scenes (trapped in the ship, the river scene). One would expect he would be a bit smarter than currently depicted. Also, remember that Joe should learn something from Seven, and Seven should learn something from Joe that helps them emotionally grow. There’s a smart story choice with the ticking watch that will convert human Seven back to test dummy Seven.
However, it’s not clear how Joe knows this (how does he know what the watch means). Also, Seven’s reaction doesn’t feel authentic. He seems to easily accept that he will go back to being a test dummy. There’s no conflict in easily accepting. Explore more of his conflict about being a test dummy vs. human. Also, add more conflict between Seven and Joe to enhance the tension. It might even benefit the script to reveal the meaning of the watch’s count down at the midpoint. This will intensify the idea of the ticking clock and create more anticipation and tension for the audience.
In addition, the antagonist needs to be much stronger. Serenko verbalizes a lot of orders, but he’s never truly a worthy foe. In most action films, the hero eventually has a confrontation with the foe. Fighting Russians and their missiles feels too generic – it’s not a real foe. The hero has to outwit the adversary not only physically, but also mentally. As structured right now, the ending climax requires more tension. Maybe Serenko does capture them. This would give the opportunity for a face-to-face hero vs. foe moment. Continue to develop Serenko.
While he’s trying to impress his father (good personal conflict) and he’s ruthless (kills his own men), there’s more room to make him feel less onedimensional (all evil). Also remember, his motivation is to get the designs (one thinks), yet he’s ordering the missiles to shoot down the craft. This seems like a contradiction. One way to craft characters with more depth is through dynamic dialogue. Find each character’s unique voice. As mentioned, action heroes normally have a voice that sounds sardonic and they have witty one-liners. Avoid repeating dialogue. Several characters say the same thing.
For example, several characters say, “Third time is a charm” or a variation of this. Avoid cliche lines such as when Joe says he loves it when a plan comes together. Try to be more original. Twice Seven wants to understand his transformation and twice Joe tells him to worry about it later. It seems a bit odd that Seven wants to know about underwear. Twice Joe mentions that Seven is like a son to him (but there is no follow through). There’s room to elevate witty, smart humor especially between Joe and Seven. Some scenes feel heavy in dialogue. Convert dialogue into action or visual images. On a small note, there’s no central female character.
Consider adding one. There are some small typos (referring to Seven as Eleven). SUMMARY & MARKETABILITY Sci-fi action films can be marketable. The concept of a test dummy coming to life is solid and extremely engaging. Continue to work on the plot and the characters. Create a stronger opening. Clarify the settings and actions. If they went through a time warp, this is not clear to the audience. If they didn’t how did Seven come to life? Create a strong midpoint (maybe reveal that Seven will convert back). Create a hero vs. foe battle. Resolve inner conflict. Target audience is mainstream sci-fi action.