Vinegar to the Teeth by Michael Elsey | Script Revolution

Vinegar to the Teeth

An ex-union fixer with a violent past seeks redemption by coming to the aid of migrant workers brutalized by vicious handlers .



Page Count: 



Age Rating:

All Accolades & Coverage: 

First Place Written Image Awards
Illinois Arts Council Screenwriting Grant

Nick Clement
Michael Elsey
Michael Elsey
Nick Clement
99 pages
Present Day
Not clearly defined, but modern city and desert locations
BUDGET (High, Medium, Low)
Tender Mercies-Norma Rae-The Milagro Beanfield War
This is one of the best, most disciplined spec screenplays that this reader has ever had the pleasure of receiving as an assignment. Submissions like VINEGAR TO THE TEETH make up for all of the other sub-par efforts that are sent it, and clearly demonstrates a writer at the top of their powers, be it creative, grammatical, and as a cohesive whole. The problem with a gem such as this is that people will fall in love with it, and then inevitably try and change. Yes, it’s true, the movies are a collaborative business and art-form, but for this reader, VINEGAR TO THE TEETH is as successful as it is because of how it’s been laid out on the page. This is a “don’t change a word” scenario. If you could literally start filming tomorrow, with a likeminded director at the helm and a fully committed actor in the lead role of JAKE, and CHANGE NOTHING ABOUT ANYTHING, you’d have a winner. That of course is a dream come true, but you’ve written a dream come true piece. It’s tight, it’s emotional, it’s observant, and it’s real.
On a subjective level, for this reader, there’s nothing “wrong” with this draft. It’s clean as a whistle in terms of grammar and spelling. Every sentence seems to have been examined and pruned for maximum impact. Stage direction is terse yet floral, suggesting thought and care. Structurally, it’s a marvel, using the traditional, dramatic, three-act structure to tell an unexpectedly surprising story set against a familiar backdrop but one that still feels foreign. Despite no “ticking-clock” mechanism to heavily alter the proceedings, there’s a sense of driving, forward momentum to the story, with strong emotional urgency brought to the forefront. At 99 pages, the entire effort feels almost impossibly informed without succumbing to excessive bloat; each page contains something integral to the machine, with each cog in the unit working to support what has come before it, and what will transpire next.
The lead character of JAKE is brilliant. You learn so much about him, through so little that’s overtly expressed, simply by nature of the back-drop he inhabits, and because of how his backstory is slowly parsed out, and revealed in a fragmented way through current action. There’s no stopping the narrative to hand-hold the audience through anything, which is another very strong indication that the writer has a total grasp of their story and intent. All of the supporting characters, big and small, are vivid, memorable, and totally serving of purpose to JAKE’S quest as both a person AND as a character. This is important, because as VINEGAR TO THE TEETH feels sprung from reality and cut from something tangible, it’s at the end of the day a piece of fiction, one that feels extremely cinematic, but one that will resonate because of how well informed it is. There’s a Cormac McCarthy vibe I also got in certain areas, especially with the scene descriptions, and the final passages.
This script needs to be sent out to as many people as possible. To other writers/directors to gauge some insider response/notes, to managers (who breed talent), and to agents (who can get it sold). Also, for a project such as this one, especially in the current filmic market we all inhabit, it would be incredible to get this to actors of note directly, so that they could get enthusiastic about it, which helps to drive a sale. Each actor has a price level on their head, and that determines how a certain film can get funding. This is the sort of low budget drama that would appeal to a variety of smaller companies, as well as places like A24 and Annapurna and Fox Searchlight and Bleecker Street and Amazon.

Submitted: May 16, 2020
Last Updated: July 19, 2020

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This Script Is Loved By 4 Readers

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The Writer: Michael Elsey

Michael Elsey is an educational consultant and director of digital media by day for a nonprofit educational organization based in Chicago. He carves out hours of his night to write. Then time also has to be made for Netflix, The Criterion Channel and Hulu. His scripts have won a variety of screenwriting contests. His self published novel With or Without Pulp is available on Amazon. He is a member of the WGA West Independent Writers Caucus. He is currently finishing a second novel and fleshing out a treatment for another screenplay. Go to bio

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