6 Screenwriting Tips from Juel Taylor's ‘They Cloned Tyrone’

“I had this silly idea of creating a bootleg Scooby-Doo movie." - Juel Taylor
by Alyssa Miller on July 19, 2023

There is something special about a debut feature film that takes big, risky swings and hits that target every time. From the jokes to inverting tropes to create an aesthetic that is as unique as co-writer/director Juel Taylor’s voice, They Cloned Tyrone is a masterful sci-fi comedy mystery film that you’d expect from a seasoned writer/director. 

Taylor, who is still relatively new to screenwriting but has had his scripts optioned by major studios like Warner Bros. and Netflix, stepped onto the scene with a script that landed on 2019’s Black List.

Although the official script for the film has not been released, the 2019 script from the Black List is available online for our reading pleasure. After watching the film and chatting with Taylor about his project, here are six lessons we learned from his screenplay for They Cloned Tyrone. 

[Editor's Note: Beware of Spoilers!]

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1. Mix Genres

Written by Juel Taylor and Tony Rettenmaier, the film tells the story of an unlikely trio coming together after uncovering a government conspiracy that threatens their home and community. Fontaine, a drug dealer, finds the help of a pimp named Slick Charles and a sex worker named Yo-Yo, who witnessed Fontaine die the day before. 

Throughout the script, the tone of the story works as a satirical hybrid of genres that shifts from: 

  • Gangster film that focuses on the community and dynamics of the Glen
  • Political thriller as unmarked black cars and secret underground lavatories kidnap Black community members to test on them
  • Coming-of-age film as the character discover who they want to be and how they can break away from the system created to keep them down
  • Heist movie as the gang tries to save a lost member of the trio and free the clones 

The script maintains comedic undertones that bring levity to the heavy tones and themes that take over at the end of act two to keep the story from falling victim to the assumptions and tropes of the genres listed above. Here is how Taylor was able to subvert expectations in his script while keeping his audience hooked from beginning to end.

Read More: The Power of Genre-Bending Screenplays

Jamie Foxx (Producer) as Slick Charles and Writer, Director, Producer Juel Taylor on the set of They Cloned Tyrone. Cr. Parrish Lewis/Netflix © 2023.

Jamie Foxx (Producer) as Slick Charles and Writer, Director, Producer Juel Taylor on the set of They Cloned Tyrone. Cr. Parrish Lewis/Netflix © 2023.

2. Use the References People Know

Throughout the screenplay, Taylor sets the scene or upcoming events by drawing on references that most audiences are familiar with. 

“I had this silly idea of creating a bootleg Scooby-Doo movie,” Taylor says. “So it's a blend of something frivolous with something personal and somber, and as the project grew, it delved into weirdness.” Some of the weirdness comes from a slew of references Taylor calls on to like John Carpenter’s They Live, Dr. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. 

Taylor incorporates these references in his screenplay in multiple ways. For example, he has characters reference moments in the film to specific shots in iconic films, like when Slick Charles says, “We just found out they're Clockwork Orange-ing [people],” (pg. 61). Other references are in the small details, such as the name of the corrupted radio DJ named DJ Strangelove (in reference to the Nazi-turned-American Dr. Strangelove (Peter Sellers) in Dr. Strangelove) or when the gang finds the breakroom in the trap house and a small TV is playing Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

These references in the screenplay allow the reader to understand the tones of the film and the structure of a specific genre of the film that the story is following.

Read More: 101 Epic Sci-Fi Story Prompts

6 Screenwriting Tips from They Cloned Tyrone

They Cloned Tyrone (2023)

3. Lean Into Your Unique Voice

Establishing your voice is crucial to creating a standout script. Taylor’s voice is present within the first few lines of the screenplay by using language to perfectly capture the aesthetics of his world. 

When describing the world, Taylor’s language is short and exact, yet there is an energy to it that brings the image into clear view for the reader. When describing the Glen, the neighborhood the story takes place in, Taylor describes it, writing, “...past boarded up abodes and homes barely holding on … rusted lemons… crackheads… It’s active out here. Folks just… around.” 

In so few worlds, we can see the Glen clearly. It’s a run-down yet active community. 

Taylor’s voice understands the stakes of the world he has created immediately, the stakes of his characters, and how to escalate conflict or de-escalate moments by leaning into the comedy of three unlikely heroes fighting against a government conspiracy. 

Read More: How to Develop Your Voice as a Screenwriter

6 Screenwriting Tips from They Cloned Tyrone

They Cloned Tyrone (2023)

4. Find the Balance Between the Comedy and Drama

They Cloned Tyrone is a satire that balances a delicate edge of absurdity. Taylor balances between a cool-effortless gang who have an asks-questions-later type of energy and the drama of what is happening, which is a hard tightrope to walk. 

“It’s an ongoing negotiation with each scene to avoid being too obvious,” Taylor says. “I never want to come across as preachy or prescriptive. I recoil from anything in that sphere.”

In the first laboratory scene, Fontaine is experiencing a very life-altering moment, but Taylor brings levity to this by having Slick Charles accidentally kill someone and attempt to convince the others that the dead man is still alive. While the dead man might seem like a life-altering moment, Fontaine's discovery of a clone of himself weighs down the chaos of what happened on the other side of the room. It’s an odd balance that works visually.

Read More: You've Got to Have Heart: The Power of Comedy in Drama

6 Screenwriting Tips from They Cloned Tyrone

They Cloned Tyrone (2023)

5. Repetition Builds Familiarity

One of the biggest references that Taylor looked at while writing the script for They Cloned Tyrone was The Truman Show. Similar to how Truman has a distinct routine every day, Fontaine has the same day, every day. 

Taylor establishes this by walking us through a day in the life of Fontaine. He wakes up, lifts weights, and goes to the gas station for a drink and a scratch-off that always says “You Lose!” We walk through the same events the next day when something strange happens. From there, every time Fontaine goes through those same motions, he is following his “life plan” established by some higher force. 

This is a thematic element of blame and responsibility that Taylor wanted to explore in a sci-fi satirical story. If Fontaine continues his routine, he will always lose. But who is to blame if he does? Who tells him that he isn’t responsible for his actions, even if he is a clone? 

Taylor understands that audiences understand visual repetition very well and lean into that to showcase who his characters are and their internal struggles as the story unfolds. You don’t have to explain things that the audience already knows. 

6 Screenwriting Tips from They Cloned Tyrone

They Cloned Tyrone (2023)

6. Plant and Pay-Off

ScreenCraft writer Ken Miyamoto wrote it best when he said that the most entertaining movies are the ones that have plants that pay off. These moments of foreshadowing feel rewarding when an audience notices that small details have a purpose in the larger narrative. 

For They Cloned Tyrone, Taylor creates a tight screenplay by having the smallest moment have the biggest impact on the screen. 

The government conspiracy is established early on in the film when Fontaine interacts with the world around him. From the hair formula making people careless about their problems to the commercials for fried chicken with “Inserts of folks lovin’ the shit outta said chicken. Motherfuckers dancin’ after every bite,” the gang becomes aware that they are being used as lab rats for a government experiment. 

Another plant and pay-off is the code, “Olympia Black.” Originally, the phrase is used against Fontaine and his gang to take control of the clones. However, Fontaine ends up using the code to save himself, his neighborhood, and the corruption of power from the person in charge. 

There are so many little details that end up paying off in a satisfying way in the script, which makes each detail strong and meaningful. After the first plant pays off, the audience is hooked and is ready to find more of those entertaining and satisfying moments. 

They Cloned Tyrone is a masterfully written screenplay that subverts expectations in a number of ways. Taylor's use of references, his unique voice, and his ability to balance comedy and drama all contribute to the film's success. Additionally, Taylor's use of repetition and plant-and-pay-off techniques help to keep the audience engaged from beginning to end.

If you're a screenwriter looking to learn from the best, then I highly recommend checking out They Cloned Tyrone. It's a film that is sure to inspire you to create your own unique and entertaining stories.


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