Serial Killers, Black List Reviews, and Creeping Self-Doubt.

All in all, there doesn’t seem like a path for this project to reach the big screen.”

For the last few months, I have been working really hard on revising my horror screenplay, The Chessboard Killer. Based on the horrific true story of Alexander Pichushkin who, from 1994 to 2006, rose from an everyday grocery clerk in Moscow to the infamous Chessboard Killer, one of the Russia’s most prolific serial killers. The script is creepy and eerie and psychological. I really love this story and I would love to see it on film one day.

When I uploaded it to the Black List the first time, the two reviews I received were mixed. I received one “higher than average” score and one “much lower than average” score. Most importantly, both evaluations echoed some of the same points in order to make the script better, including “the way the film is currently structured makes it inherently anti-dramatic.” Wow. That’s a stab to the gut. But okay, I’ll bite.

The Chessboard Killer is told in three, interweaving plot lines: the killings, the trial proceedings, and a discussion over a chess match between two people, all braided together from start to finish. I recognized that by starting at the end (with opening statements in the court proceedings), there is no question whether or not the killer is caught and brought to justice. Anti-dramatic. Bingo.

So I restructured the script again. I put the court proceedings at the end, and added a few more scenes digging into the psychological imbalance of our killer, as well as elaborating on a few more areas that required my attention. When I finished, I confidently revised the hosted script and requested another review with high hopes of my reorganized horror thriller. I fantasized that I had made all the necessary changes to not only get a high score, but start down the path to being “green lit.” It’s all there. It’s perfect. I even wanted to submit it to the Austin Film Festival. And what’s the best horror screenplay list called, The Blood List? Check.

Yesterday, I received the third review, and much to my dismay, it was only slightly better than my lowest score. I stewed on the score for well over an hour, sitting in Los Angeles traffic on my way home after work. Honestly, it hurt my feelings. My brain was flooded with self-doubt. I thought I’d finally been exposed for my amateurish writing style. Had I been exposed as an imposter? Am I even good at this? I went to bed last night depressed, questioning all the time I’ve spent writing things that will never be read, or seen, or filmed, by anyone… so what’s the point?

I woke up this morning feeling relieved. I cycled back to The Chessboard Killer. It was my third screenplay, written back in 2011, before the Black List was what it is now (I’m currently starting my tenth screenplay, for what it’s worth). But the time felt right and I just wanted to make the script work so badly. I hoped that all the experience I’d gained since 2011 would help me turn it into a good, scary film worth watching. But for some reason, I just couldn’t do it. The words of my mother echoed around in my head, “You can’t make chicken salad out of chicken shit.”

I love writing screenplays and I have no intention of actually stopping. What I really needed was a sign that this project was no longer worth my full attention, energy, or emotional investment. The final review wrapped up with that line, “All in all, there doesn’t seem like a path for this project to reach the big screen.” That pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it?

Although the Black List reviews were not favorable to my script, I found them very helpful. I reminded myself these bad reviews and low scores were of the screenplay The Chessboard Killer, not Christopher Hills Eaton, the guy who wrote The Chessboard Killer. It was the story that wasn’t working, not me as a writer or a successful human being. This particular screenplay doesn’t have longevity, but perhaps others will.

I’m killing this script and moving on to the next one.



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