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"Not Personal" by Philip Whitcroft

Logline: A debt collector visits a family home to collect personal collateral.

Genre: Crime - Drama - Horror - Mystery - Thriller

Cast Size: 4

Production Status: Available (Please contact the author to negotiate the rights)

Contest: Tournament of Champions (Feb. 2012)

Contest Scores
PoorFairGoodVery GoodExcellent

Comments Made During the Contest

Alex Hollister (Level 4)

Sort of indifferent about the title. Dialogue from Hansen was good and had a nice and believable cadence, even if the overall piece was a bit V.O. heavy.

Strayed dangerously towards No Country a few times, both with the coin flip and the quirky weapon-type.

As to the integration of the two word rule, apart from the boss name being 'Poet', it felt pretty paint-by-numbers. Using the description of the car interior for 'movie' felt just a little lazy.

But the writer has huge skills. I'd be astounded if they're not repped, because it was professional stuff.

But overall, just missed the higher mark- GOOD.

Byron Matthews (Level 5)

I really like the writing style, and it's nicely written. I just feel that the plot of the story falls a bit flat on me. It didn't feel real suspenseful, and I don't feel enough back story was revealed to get my juices excited about the finale. I noticed a few grammar mistakes.

Caroline Coxon (Mod Emeritus)

'a collect of in kids' movies'.????

I thought this was very, very good. Full of suspense. I just wasn't quite convinced by the mother's reaction (lack of) to Violet's danger.

I love it when I can warm to a villain!

Charlie Hebert (Mod Emeritus)

This was excellent.
Great build up. I was on the edge of my seat the entire ride.
Great use of voice over.
Love the twists:
- it's the wife, not the husband
- it's the kid's at risk, not the wife
- best of all, he took er hair and not her finger/toe.

Your ending did more than give me a sense of relief, it made the protagonist real and sympathetic. It could have come off as a cop-out, but you really took the more difficult route and it paid off.

One glaring error -- You have a big typo around your word "movie" really calling attention to it.

Still, that doesn't keep me from scoring this excellent. It is definitely a contender.

Great work.

Chris Messineo (Founder)

I really like your writing style, especially the little details that you focus on so well. This was a compelling read.

I didn't really like any of the characters though. Hansen's voice-over felt a little forced and while I'm glad he didn't take a finger or toe, I still imagine that child is traumatized for life. Also, what has this mother done to jeopardize her own children like this? Maybe it's my innate parent voice that is hurting this story for me.

Your craft is really good, but in the end, this story left me with more questions than answers.

Christina Anderson (Level 4)

Nothing personal, but...

IMPRESSIONS. Good opening scene for a longer story. The Collector's a complex guy and you've set him up for the 2nd act.

VOICE OVERS. Starts strong, but the longer he goes on talking to himself the more it makes it a plot device than this guy's inner most thoughts. Perhaps he's got an apprentice along for the job and those tidbits about alarms and the customers are told aloud?

NO-SHOW. He only cut her hair, so show it! You were building dreaded anticipation with the saw, rubber-hook thingys, the clueless hubby, Jane choosing a child-- so put that spinning saw blade to the child's hair. Hey, I get the feeling The Collector saw those little fingers and had a VO moment.

Christopher Barnes (Level 1)

You really had me in the mind of the collector...very scary and sadistic. I wanted to stop but I was mesmerized and kept wanting to read farther - although I shuddered to think what the outcome would be. The use of voice over as narration seemed unusual for me, but it really worked when combined with the dialogue of the parents and the methodical actions of Hansen.

Christopher Pedersen Cook (Level 3)

Much of this is fascinating. A rare good use of Voice Over. Learning a hitman's rationale as he works, very interesting. I wasn't quite on board with the ending to be honest. I would have liked to see less time spent on the question of who's it gonna be and all that, and focused instead on offering some sort of explanation in the ending. As it stands, it seems random and a little confusing. But I guess that's sort of the point. The guy doesn't ask questions, it's job and he does it.

Dave Kunz (Level 4)

Well-written but I did have some issues with the story. "Not Personal" has a fantastic start, a powerful lead character, a great set-up and intriguing V.O. dialogue. But once Hansen is in the house one of two things has to happen: either a clever story twist (and we realize no one's in peril and Hansen's real reason for being there is either benign or comedic) or something truly horrific happens.

Imo involving the kids as possible targets for mutilation was a misstep. Also, if Hansen goes in to gather a finger or a toe as "payment" but instead comes out with a bag full of hair, well, it's a head scratcher, a poor payoff, a let down. And then there's the line "The collateral was a finger or a toe" which tells the audience the plot rather than showing it. For me, this script started out very story but, in the end, took a nosedive in terms of story.

David D. DeBord (Level 5)

I found a lot of the lead up to the snatching of the little girl to be a bit slow, especially in combination with the fear generated when Hansen actually confronts Jane and asks for her choice. That’s when it got interesting. I don’t know if it was the voice over or what, but I had trouble getting into the first two thirds of the story. That first part might even have worked without the voice over dialog leaving us to wonder what the heck the guy was up to. There were, however, a number of good visual cues that helped. The two car seats and the stuff in the small pool.

David M Troop (Level 5)

Not Personal

I thought there was much to like about this script.
I thought the use of voice over was very effective. Hansen's speeches set the mood and pace of the film nicely.
Your action lines were excellent. Maybe two or three typos.
It was very visual. I could see the house, the yard, the rooms, etc.
I wasn't reading. I was watching.
I thought your script was very suspenseful.

I did have a problem with the ending.
I liked how you switched the intended victim from the husband to the wife. However, I had a problem imagining her putting up her children as collateral. I know she has a change of heart and offers herself, but no mother could be that cruel.
And I thought the collector was a little soft at the end. He was very professional up until he was faced with harming the daughter. But that's what the deal was going in.
And if he softens up, wouldn't he take the wife up on her offer and take one of her fingers instead?

I just felt the beginning had so much going for it to settle for a weak ending.

So, overall, I thought it was GOOD.

Elias Farnum (Level 5)

Champion style, dramatic, some awesome visuals, intense. The voice over propelled this like a bullet. Yet, the story is too vague, but then again it's all about Hansen, his point of view, so does it matter what debt the Poet is owed?

Noticed a botched sentence bottom of the first page, uhg.

A pretty brutal guy. Good job and good luck.

Faith Friese Nelson (Level 5)

I really liked the ending of the story, the way Hansen took hair instead of a finger or toe. Almost made him human. And it was a nice surprise.

A couple of suggestions:

Page 1: Hansen's dialogue - “It's never personal. Some guy owes some other guy... I collect.” I think the following sounds better: “It's never personal. Some guy owns another guy ... I collect.” Just a matter of personal preferance.

Page 1: Last sentence needs to be proofed. “... a collect of in car kids' movies” should be “... a collection of kids' movies.”

Page 3: “Jane starts to turn over.” Consider instead: “Jane turns over.”

Page 4: “He drops unconscious and Hansen shuts the door on him.” Consider instead: “He drops unconscious, and Hansen shuts the door.”

Fred Koszewnik (Level 5)

Wow! An intelligently and tightly written script that is riveting in its sustained tension beginning to end. Unexepected and very clever of you to have the wife as the person owing the money. Also, I was wondering how you were going to save the story and avoid a truly grotesque ending, but you succeeded and succeeded amazingly well.

Be very proud. This script can only deserve an Excellent.

Continued good success.

Gary Rademan (Level 5)

in car movies, the Poet

Don't usually like VO but this had my attention. Nice narrative pull. I was sure he was gonna collect the collateral. Nice to see a woman in trouble for once. The collector was all talk when it was over.

Take us up to the line, cross it, take us up to the next line, cross it and then take us... THAT was cool.

The opening had me seeing disembodied eyes. Should have been the face. The eyes should have tied in at some point in the story otherwise it's gimmicky.


Greg Tonnon (Level 5)

Title - the title works well for this story.
Craft - your craft is nearly perfect. My only question is did you mean "collection" instead of "collect" on the bottom of page one? I couldn't find any examples of "collect" being used that way.
Dialogue - the dialogue seemed natural for these characters.
Action lines - your action lines are quite descriptive (painfully so!) and clear.
Story - the story is very violent reminiscent of Pulp Fiction. It is not my favorite genre but this is very well written.

JeanPierre Chapoteau (Moderator)

I don't get it.

I loved the setup. I couldn't wait to see what happened, but I didn't get the ending. So He didn't kill the girl, he just took her hair? Why? Maybe to show the poet he was there?

Hm... I'm not sure about this one. Again, everything till the beginning was phenomenal. I really like the twist that it was the woman and not the man. Nice way to stray away from the norm.

I also like the VOs. They were clean and to the point. Well, until the end. I didn't get that line. I'm assuming the assassin didn't do the job right and assumes the Poet (cool name) would want one of his kids. But what did he mean by "no, it wasn't personal." I didn't get that part.

Still, I'm giving this a VG. Great writing. Just was a bit confused by the ending.

Jordan Littleton (Level 4)

Title: 5
Story: 6
Originality: 6
Action: 6
Dialogue: 7
Readability: 8

This was an easy read. Nothing too new here but it was written well. It was a little slow but nothing to complain about. I would have like it more if we didn't see what was going on in Violet's room and just heard some screams or a struggle.

Khamanna Iskandarova (Level 5)

The VO is nicely done. You showed a killer with a soul and you did it very well. Lately I cringe when I see all these "killers on a job", makes me think the set up is cheap but yours really evolved into something so much more! Congrats on that.
I have questions those - what Lilian did, why would they need her child's finger and not her own... that sort of silly questions:)

Kirk White (Level 5)

Good script; nice tension building towards the end but it was a little predictable that he wouldn't really hurt the girl.

KP Mackie (Level 5)

A riveting drama. Great opening visual of those "hard cold eyes." Terrific pacing. Step by step from outside through the house, knowing he's likely headed for the master bedroom, pulls the reader quickly along. Clear from the start that Hansen's no good guy.
The dialog between Hansen, Jane, and Tom may not be entirely clear. Jane doesn't "want him (Tom) involved"; so, is Tom's "What?" his surprise by Jane's apparent knowledge of the situation, surprise at a change of plans that now he doesn't get to be involved, or surprise at Hansen's intrusion altogether? Hansen orders Tom "Out of bed," and there's the inference of a tryst coming between Hansen and Jane; Tom's insistence (two lines worth) that he wants "to be involved" seems to support that conclusion.
"Hansen injects him (Tom)"? Physically pushes Tom into the closet, or injects Tom with a needle? Tom's "to the closet," but not sure if that's outside or inside the closet.
Jane wanting to seemingly change original terms to "Me" from apparently agreeing to subject one of her children to mutilation is hard to buy. Might be more logical that she reneges completely. Maybe pleading to Hansen, "I know how to get you the money now!" Or, begging her husband for help. But to willingly bargain one of her kids before herself, just don't know...
Questions are a good thing. Shows investment in the story. :)
Maybe Hansen's final line should be, "It's not personal," to mirror the opening line.

Lee Carlisle (Level 4)

This story seemed fairly stereotypical of the 'hitman' variety to me. Even though he calls himself a collector, Hansen made no effort to collect from Jane, made no reference to her not having paid, and she didnt even defend herself or try to get out of it, which seemed odd to me.

The ending had no impact on me as an audience member because I didnt see any torment or humanity in Hansen throughout the script - he was just calm and composed - so the fact that he took hair instead of a finger or toe doesn't really land with me. I was also confused about why the collateral would be a finger or toe in the first place (compounded by the fact that Hansen doesn't try to collect).

The action of the piece was easy enough to follow, but there were a few weirdly worded segments (how does someone 'listen out'?) and a typo or two that distracted from the read.

Margaret Ricke (Level 5)

I wish I could write a one word comment. There isn't much else to say. Excellent!

Marnie Mitchell Lister (Level 5)

I'm not a big fan of VO stories. I don't think they're very challenging to write. You don't have to worry about showing anything but you tell us everything. Hansen did have a cool voice. This piece felt a touch noir. I liked that. But the story was way too vague. Jane knew he was coming? Offered her wrists to be tied? And then what did Hansen end up doing? He either had a change of heart and chopped off the girl's hair or he scalped her.

But for me it was just all too vague. Hansen, Jane and her debt, then what he did to Violet.

Pg. 1 - This description is a bit awkward, "and a collect of in car kids’ movies."

Pg. 3 - "He secures the boy’s bedroom door the same way." -- what boy??

Martin Jensen (Level 5)

I like how you built suspense. At a few points the generic voice-over cut across that, and undermines the sense of mystery around the character. I think it would be more interesting and more powerful if you didn't explain what he was doing up until the end, then we could work it out from the conversation with Jane.

"collect of in car kids’ movies" should be "collection of in-car kids' movies".

I don't quite buy that a finger or a toe could be collatoral, because they're not worth anything. OK, the loan sharks might want retribution, but that won't get them their money back. Kidnapping and selling a child would. Similarly, while you can sell your hair to a wig company, it won't cover the costs of a massive loan. This part wasn't believable.

Michael Cornetto (Level 5)

I thought this was quite good. A little too much VO up front, maybe, but it had it's tense moments and overall you did well with the writing.

The main issue I had with this was the ending. I was happy he just took the girls hair - I was hoping he would do something like that - but at the same time it seemed a bit of a let down after the rest of the script. It was kind of a cowardly way out.

Hope that helps.

MJ Hermanny (Level 5)

I like the fact it's Jane he's come to barter with and the Sophie's Choice moment is tense. it's obvious you know the craft very well.

The VO doesn't really work for me in this, he sounds a bit prissy but it doesn't work as a contrast, it's a bit robotic - but maybe that's character? I felt it slowed the script down, his thoughts were a little dull and predictable.

So he took the hair because he likes little blonde girls not because he's going soft? creepy but not really unexpected.

Characters are one dimensional and cliched.

Smooth use of the required element.

'collect of in car kids’ movies' - collection?

Olga Tremaine (Level 5)

The story started out great. But then when the little girl got involved I as a parent just got turned off by the cruelty of the subject.
I didn't understand the ending, what the hair had to do with toes/fingers? So, instead of a toe he got her hair? Why did he sniff it? Sorry, you lost me here.

I like the title. The pace was great. Not a big fan of V.O. because you show things and comment them through the V.O., it might look good on paper, but when I see the sun on screen I don't want someone to tell me "this is the sun", I hope it makes sense.

Good luck.

Paul Williams (Level 5)

Congratulations on your eligibility to enter this contest.

This is very well written, but I'm not sure I grasp it all after three reads, and what I think I understand leaves me very, very cold.

In the end, I can't say this really breaks any new ground, from the hitman narration to the "Sophie's Choice" scene.

Your screenwriting is very good; format appears in order; didn't detect any typos.


Reginald McGhee (Level 0)

Your formatting is good, so is your spelling and grammar. The voice fits the screenplay and action lines.

Your scene transitions are good, so is your characters and dialogue. The time lapse is close enough, which adds tension to the screenplay. The writing is lean and clean as well.

If he really don’t find anything personal, why on Earth does he need to kill anyone? And I guess Hansen is a fixer trying to collect money from people they owe to him or his boss.

A man wants revenge for something he wants, and then ends up getting what he wants. He wants to pay rent, and he wants things he need, I suppose. Why can’t he just find a job? (That’s not really a bad thing, but it’s just something that came to my mind).
This looks like a full story. However, the ending is short, while the beginning is a bit long. It doesn’t really bother me though. It is also a dark and twisted, Crime-Horror story. I can’t root for Hansen because he either has no real motivation for what he did to Violet or he is the antagonist, and he is not meant to have sympathy from the audience.

Other than this, this was a good read.

Rick Hansberry (Moderator)

Love the intro. Drawn in right away with the crisp, assured writing. When he gets out of the car - no slug line to EXT. CAR? Then, in the next scene, he slips out again? The wording at the bottom of page one got jumbled. You meant, "a collection of movies in the car", right? Hansen's well-drawn and I like the reveal of learning about the target by looking in the car. The script was briskly paced and a thrill-ride to read. I loved how you kept Hansen a step ahead of the things I was anticipating. Absolutely loved that you had it be the mother and not the father that was the target. This script would make an excellent short film. The minor typos just indicate to me that you were whittling away scenes for brevity and it shows on the page - the white space is inspiring.

Dialogue was fantastic and the originality of the perspective was uniquely captured. This was the best I've read so far and even though I'm early in, I think it'll end up being one of my favorites. I'd love to see this get made. I think it would make a dynamite short and it's very shootable.

Rustom Irani (Moderator)

I personally think you can arrive at the twist much, much sooner without the elaborate set-up which also has a bit more exposition than is really needed.

All those early scenes do, is develop character, there's no real conflict until he faces the couple in bed and is forced to make his decision at the end.

A few of the VO to description transitions are a bit jarring and took me out a couple of times.

The twist is cute and works well but I would've loved to see it in a better context, perhaps in terms of the other extreme he's capable of.

Love the title!

Sally Meyer (Moderator)

The script was so dark! I didn't like that you involved children.

The voice over would have been stronger if you hadn't used so much of it.

I didn't get why the husband wasn't involved, why?

I do like that the hit guy didn't kill the little girl, but felt that cutting her hair off with a saw would have been very traumatic.

Also, why was the little boy not seen or named? I didn't understand that.

This just made me feel bad for the family. I didn't enjoy the subject matter.

Scott Merrow (Level 5)


This was a great read. Very well written. Nicely paced. Plausible plot. Great main character. Nice tight dialogue. Even the minor details work very well. "The household in miniature" -- great! All the trappings in the yard, the motion detector, the flimsy back door, strapping the kids' doors closed -- it almost seems like you've done this before. (Hey...!)

And after all is said and done...a happy ending. Terrific!

This is definitely one of my favorites in this contest.

My Score: Excellent.

Tim Ratcliffe (Level 4)

While this was written okay for the most part, there really wasn't much here for the reader in terms of an emotional connection to any of the characters. We don't know who these people are or why this is happening.

In the end, why does he not take one of the girl's fingers or toes? When he says it's not personal, I don't understand the relevance of this to the story. Does he know these people? At the end is he sniffing the bag of the girl's hair? Sorry, but I'm confused.

There's also a few typos and mistakes in your writing here. A few other things as well, like you say he secures the boy's bedroom the same way, but how do we know it is a boy? How do we see Jane's terrified face before she starts to turn over?

Overall I though it was a good effort, but needs a polish in places and maybe some more backstory or something to make us care about the characters.

Tim Westland (Moderator)

Exceptional work. The finest I've read yet.

I think the only thing which could be improved is the last line of dialogue. Compared to the rest of the script, it just fell a tad flat.

This is Excellent. Looking forward to finding out who wrote it. I suspect a Brit.

William Bienes (Mod Emeritus)

Well written. I would think about a title change - it just kind of sits there and doesn't evoke much.

The story needs a twist to really kick it up a bit, complete the stakes, heighten the conflict. I think the title and the ending could really shine and mean more if indeed it was personal - maybe Hansen and Jane are brother and sister?? And next time he will take a finger... or more.

Good luck.

William D. Prystauk (Level 5)

The ending is a mystery because you never gave any indication that Hansen was soft with the children. He was methodical and cold right up until the end. Why the change of heart? That just didn't make any sense.

Twists work when they're based on some hidden information within the narrative. I'm sorry, but I just didn't see that in the story and was left wondering what happened and why.

William Dunbar (Level 5)

The craft here is fine, but I'm a bit confused by the action. I can't understand at all why this guy changed his mind, what his motivation was. Was he supposed to be related to the girl somehow? There are also parts where it gets confusing, maybe because you had to take details out to make it fit in five pages (we're all guilty of this). Like the bat under the bed, which is sudden and unexplained. Anyway, this could use a little more depth or at least explanation to be clearer.

Comments Made After the Contest

Charlie Hebert (Mod Emeritus) ~ 4/1/2012 4:57 PM

I don't see how this doesn't at least score Honorable Mention. I thought it was excellent. I guess not everyone appreciated the multiple twists or didn't get them. This was brutal and sweet - which is almost impossible to pull of.

KP Mackie (Level 5) ~ 4/1/2012 11:14 PM

A VG from me. Grabbed me too from the get-go. Well done.

Khamanna Iskandarova (Level 5) ~ 4/13/2012 2:38 PM

I also thought it was a very good script. Gave it a VG. To answer my own question that I posed for you in the review - I guess this is one of those moments that you have to take as is. (there's a typo in the review, meant to write "I have a question though")
I always try to remember the entries after the contest is over - it's kind of my little game to test if I remember my ex and vg's. Usually I remember only those. Yours stuck deep:)

Philip Whitcroft (Level 5) ~ 4/14/2012 12:44 AM

Thanks for all your comments. I wrote this quite quickly and revised it only once before submitting it. I paid the penalty for that with the various typos and mistakes. My feeble excuse is that I was in mid-first draft on a feature script, the one I’ve entered for this year’s contest, and I didn’t want to break away from it for too long.

Khamanna, The answer to your question is that her child’s finger is more valuable collateral than her own and I’d guess most people would see it that way. I notice that a number of commenters got a bit squeamish about involving a child in this way, which is fair enough since the point of the story was to show a personal side to a frequently impersonalized cinema set-piece.

One reason I was happy to see so many positive comments is that I feel this is a contained, potentially low budget script. You can never have too many of those. Thanks again.

Tim Westland (Moderator) ~ 4/16/2012 3:46 PM

This got an Excellent from me. Outstanding work !

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