Death by Script

By Jason Kessler | Comedy
A Hollywood script reader comes across a screenplay that may lead to his death.

There’s a script going around Hollywood that’s poorly written and ludicrously plotted. Yet somehow it keeps making the rounds on the way up in development offices throughout Los Angeles.

When one lowly script reader — the bottom of the rung in Hollywood — gets a hold of the script, he discovers why. Somehow, this script causes the death of anyone who passes on it.

And now the eager script reader must choose whether to risk his career passing forward a piece of mediocre work to his demanding boss — or risk his life and pass on what he knows is a sub-par piece of work.

Slick, clever and with a glossy sheen, like much of Hollywood itself, this thriller comedy by writer-director Jason Kessler is a sharp, funny commentary on the high stakes of Hollywood, a place where getting your work in the hands of just the right person can be the difference between languishing in the ranks and rising to success.

Self-aware and satirical, the plot is like “The Ring, but with a script,” as one of the characters says in the short. And like many films about Hollywood, there’s a zing and patter to the performances, dialogue and pacing that mirrors the snappy ethos and mores of the movie industry denizens that populate its world.

There’s great fun in the characters’ professional judgment of the script, which has the temerity to use the word “suddenly” too many times within the same paragraph. A goofy movie-within-a-movie reenactment of the script riffs on the cliches of Hollywood stories, but it also offers a tongue-in-cheek peek at why such cliches keep happening in the films that Hollywood produces.

The comedy is often delivered through its dialogue, harnessed via the wry, skeptical responses of the script reader’s friend, who offers a running commentary on his position, choices and lack of success. It’s clear that his own lack of confidence and risk-taking has held him back, but now he must decide what’s easier to risk: his life or his career.

With its final plot point, “Death by Script” takes a cynical turn, offering a darkly comic reveal of the seething ambition lurking underneath the bright, amiable surfaces of Hollywood. Entertaining, fun and impeccably crafted, it’s ultimately about an ambition so toxic that it turns a script into an instrument of death — and gives new meaning to the phrase “killing it” as a euphemism for success.

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