Ray Bradbury was one of the best short story writers around with a handful of great novels as well. However great he was as a short story writer and novelist, his one contribution to the 1986 revival of The Twilight Zone shows a shocking example of extremely bad screenwriting. In Ray Bradbury’s script called “The Elevator,” two brothers search for their father in a nearly abandoned warehouse. So here are the problems:
First, much of the story consists of talking heads. That’s where two characters basically talk to each other and tell each other facts that each of them already know. The purpose of this type of stilted dialogue is to convey information to the audience, but it comes across as phony in the process.
Second, instead of revealing information through action, the script relies on revealing information through dialogue where characters tell each other information to move the story along. Even worse, the dialogue often describes what both characters can see right in front of them. They only comment on what they see to emphasize this information for the audience.
Third, there’s virtually no conflict of any kind. The two brothers are searching for their father without necessarily stating a reason for doing so. The father does his work in an abandoned warehouse, which makes no sense. With the lack of conflict, the two characters simply walk around, telling each other what they can see and saying things for the benefit of the audience.
Fourth, the final ending is disappointing. Despite the father being mentioned multiple times, he never appears. The characters first find oversized rats, then oversized cats, then wonder what could have killed the cats. It’s pretty obvious where the story’s going so the end is neither a surprise nor satisfying nor logical.
Fifth, the ending revolves around an elevator where the two boys experience a brief flashback showing them having fun playing in the elevator when they were growing up as kids. This flashback serves no purpose since there’s no reason to know that they played in the elevator as kids. This irrelevant information further clouds the story without helping it one bit.
So here are the blatantly bad screenwriting flaws. No conflict. Talking heads that tells us what everyone can already see. Little action other than standing around looking at things. A meaningless flashback that serves no purpose. A bad ending. The heroes have a goal of searching for their father but this goal serves no purpose and never gets resolved.
By studying this short 11 minute Twilight Zone episode, you can see multiple examples of extremely bad script writing. You don’t want dialogue to explain everything. You don’t want a story lacking any kind of conflict whatsoever. You don’t want dialogue to repeat what you can already see right in front of you. You don’t want to give your heroes a goal and then never resolve it somehow. These blatantly obvious errors help make this episode a great example of bad screenwriting. Study this awful example and make sure your screenplay doesn’t copy this horrid script.