Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is Thanksgiving, and I will be off eating turkey (the bird, not the country) and watching some film afterwards. I would like to take this time to thank *you* for reading the blog and the daily script tips and for putting up with me on those days when I'm a grumpy a-hole. I hate those days.

I think the great thing about Thanksgiving is that its the holiday where we set aside of differences and come together to celebrate all of the good things that have happened over the past year. Even if your life has not gone exactly as planned (and whose ever does?) you are still here and still plugging away. Find the joy in your life, even when things are not going right. Laugh.



I'm a big fan of silent comic Buster Keaton - his character had the worst luck of anyone on the planet... and that's where he found his comedy. My favorite Keraton short is THE HIGH SIGN, makes me laugh just thinking about it.

Hey, here's Keaton's feature THE GENERAL - view it online or download it free.

Tell the people you love that you love them. Forgive people. Be nice to complete strangers. Think of people other than yourself. And look at people who are different than you are and see the similarities. We all share this planet.

- Bill

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Picky Producers

From 2009...

Just read an advert from a producer who is still looking for a script, and doesn't want to read any of the previously submitted scripts again - he is looking for *different* scripts that fit his criteria. If you have already read all of the scripts submitted the first time, how many new scripts are there that fit your criteria a few months later?

A couple of years ago a screenwriter friend of mine had a movie stall out, and took a job on the other side of the desk as a development executive for a new company. Because he’s a good guy, the very first thing he did was call up all of his screenwriter friends and see if any of them had scripts that would fit the needs of his new employers. This was great, because we now had a friend “on the inside” who would really push our work to the company. My first question was, “What are they looking for?” If they were looking for rom-coms, I was out. If they were looking for family films, I had a treatment but not a screenplay - and that treatment is not high concept at all, so would probably not be in the running. If they were looking for a comedy, um... that’s also not me.

My friend got back to me (and everyone else) with the company’s needs... The good news was that they were looking for a thriller or horror screenplay. Hey, I have those! But that was not the end of it... They were also looking for scripts that can be made for $1m (hey, I got those), that were film festival quality (hey, I got those), that used an untraditional structure, like MEMENTO or RUN LOLA RUN (okay, now I’m in trouble) that was high concept (hey, I got those), that would not just be selected for the film festival, but would win a bunch because that was part of the distribution plan (um, I have no idea how I can guarantee a win), and would not require a star to be successful at the box office, oh - and would appeal to 15-25 year olds in the mainstream audience.

Okay, that’s a lot of different conditions for one screenplay... and a screenplay you are going to make for only $1 million. The company supposedly had access to $1m per film - probably some sort of revolving credit deal - so they were for real and could actually make several movies, one at a time. Now, $1 million may sound like a lot to you - it is what the average American will make over a lifetime of work - but it’s nothing in the movie world where the average studio film costs $106.7 million by the time it hits your screen. Making a film for $1m is difficult, and you really need a script designed for the budget. Limited cast, limited locations, limited night scenes, limited to no crowd scenes, etc. It is not easy to write a script that can be made for $1m. The biggest expense in a studio film are stars - and just because your film costs less than 1% of theirs doesn’t mean you can don’t need stars... you need a script that is set up for “confined cameos” where you can spend a chunk of money on one day of a name of some sort (or two) and try to get the biggest name you can for the least money. And you want *someone* in that lead role - a B level star or some TV person. All of this means the script for a $1 million movie is more difficult to write than one for a $106 million movie, because you must limit the cast and locations without looking like you are limiting the cast and locations. You can’t rely on amazing car chases or CGI or even fantastic locations or acting - the script has to be clever enough to work without those things. So, the $1m thing is already a tough thing to find in a screenplay.

But I have some scripts that were written for that budget.



The big problem seemed to be the elements that contradicted each other. A film that appeals to the 15-25 year old mainstream audience is not likely to have an untraditional structure or end up winning a film festival. If you look at the films that get *bought* out of film festivals, they tend to be the midnight genre films showing out of competition - like my friend Jonathan King’s horror comedy BLACK SHEEP. Now, BLACK SHEEP is a great movie and got some great reviews when it was released, but it is not the type of film to win a festival. It’s *fun*. It’s about killer sheep. It’s not some drama about an issue with a bunch of big speeches. And even BLACK SHEEP wasn’t a hit with the mainstream 15-25 year old audience - I think that demo prefers their horror without laughs and clever dialogue. They just want blood and guts and boobs.

It seemed to me that there were two factions at this company, and each wanted to make a different kind of movie... so they were looking for a script that would please both sides. One faction wanted an art house movie that would win at film festivals and the other wanted a movie that would make money with a mainstream audience. It is difficult for me to imagine the script that pleases both factions - and I am a fan of quality genre movies. THE DARK KNIGHT was a crowd pleaser *and* a critical success (though it was not nominated for Best Picture). But DARK KNIGHT had a traditional structure - wasn’t told backwards or sideways or any other strange way.

The problem for me was that I had clever genre scripts that could be made for $1m, but they were traditionally told and were not the type of scripts to win any film fests... though they might play midnight shows. I also had a couple of scripts that were not traditionally told (like LAST STAND), but these were aimed at an older audience and were too expensive to produce on a $1m budget. I had nothing that fit all of the criteria.

I thought my best chance was a thriller of mine, THE COMPLEX, which has almost been made three times, and whenever people pass on it they always say it’s “too art house”. Of course, it wasn’t art house enough for the company my friend was working for.

I talked to my friend, and he suggested I artificially break up the chronology of one of my scripts so that it fit that criteria - and that would get me through the door. Except I thought that would ruin the script. Here is where my ego gets in my way - because I should have just done it...

But first time film company with odd criteria seemed like a long shot to me.

Another friend had a script that was close enough (I think he may have jumbled the chronology in a rewrite to get through the door) and they had some meetings with him, but eventually did not think his script had all of the criteria. This writer is produced, and I believe he eventually sold that script (for much more money than this company would have paid) to a producer with plans to make a much bigger film. I’ve said this before on the blog, most low budget producers never even consider that the script they read for their $2m film still has fingerprints on it from a couple of studio based producers who were interested in buying it as one of those $106m films. They think the scripts are on the same level as they are, and are usually unable to tell a good script from a bad script.

Well, actually a “great” script from a “good” script - it’s like wine: An average person can tell a good glass of wine from a bad glass of wine. But the more you know about wine, the more refined your palate, the better you are at telling a great glass of wine from a good one. Suddenly that table full of wine bottles the average person thinks are good can be grouped into better and great and best and just downright amazing. The low budget producers usually just know what tastes good, and can’t tell which of those is great... and often are more interested in “bland good” than “interesting great.” So the company my friend worked for missed a chance at a script that sold for a bundle to others. They probably couldn’t see past their conditions.

If you are investing money in a script and film, you want it to be the very best you can afford. A producer is going to be stuck with that project through pre-production and production and post-production and selling the film and distribution and exhibition and DVD sales and cable sales and TV sales and then paperwork for the rest of their lives. They need to love the project. Making a film is like getting married, and you don’t want to chose some random person as your spouse. So I understand the need to be picky - in fact, I think I have a career *because* producers are picky. They want the best script they can afford, not just a bunch of action scenes connected by a flimsy plot and 2D characters. They want something good - and that’s what I want to provide for them. And I also understand that a movie, even a low budget movie, is an investment and the producer would like a return. That means the script has to be something that can be made into a movie that paying customers will want to see.



I know a director who makes genre films for a living, and when he finds financing for his own film, ends up making an “anti-genre film” - a boring drama of some sort. (may have blogged this before.) He has talked to me about writing one of these a few times, and I usually say no, because I’d like to write a film that will be seen and distributed (his previous arty films were not). I think the problem with this director and many picky producers is that they see all genre films as the same, and either do not look for or can not see the “art” in some commercial films. My theory has always been to write commercial genre films that are also about something - so that people will be talking about them 50 years from now... the way we're still talking about INVASION OF THE BODYSNATCHERS and CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and other films that were made for commercial reasons but have stuck around because they are "commercial plus".

With the indie world drying up right now, there may not be financing available for non-mainstream films, so producers are going to have to make the kinds of films that are popular with a wider audience... but make *great* ones instead of dopey ones. Make genre films that will get good reviews. If you watch PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and any Uli Lommel film on a double bill, you’ll see what I’m talking about. We need more really great genre films!

Now, all of this sounds like I’m happy that this company my friend worked for was picky as hell... but I’m not. The whole unusual structure thing is obvious indie stuff, and it seems like they were looking for a mainstream genre script that was also an unconventional niche market art house script. They were *not* considering making a really good mainstream genre film. Maybe they were unable to see how a mainstream genre film could be good, or maybe the money faction wanted one thing and the creative faction wanted the opposite. They continued to look for that one amazing script that did everything.

Though I am the first person to point out that there are probably close to a million scripts in circulation at any one time, most of those scripts stink. The ones that are good? Well, I’m not really sure there were any that fit all of the company’s criteria. You would think there might be that one in a million script out there, and maybe there was... but the longer you spend looking for the perfect script, the more time your money people have to wake up and realize that making movies is high risk... and back out. There comes a time when it makes more sense to buy the best script you can find and make the best movie you can make, rather than waiting around for that one perfect script to cross your desk. There comes a time to settle for the best available.



Because there are only so many scripts available - and once you’ve read through them and not found *exactly* what you are looking for, waiting around for someone to write it just doesn’t make sense. When you’ve read through all of the submissions and none fit the criteria, asking for submissions again will just get you the same stack. Makes more sense to select the best script from the stack and make it, even if it is not *exactly* what you were looking for.

I suspect part of the reason they wanted that *perfect* script is that they were thinking that everything was riding on this first film. They wanted to begin with the perfect film which would rocket them to fame and fortune and make their company instant players. Though that happens once in a blue moon, usually it’s a bunch of baby steps. How many films did Miramax distribute *before* PULP FICTION? Probably hundreds! You can’t plan on perfection out of the gate, you have to build up to it. If you wait for the perfect script to surface, you will be waiting forever and get nothing done. Better to make movies while you are waiting for that perfect script... and if you are constantly making movies I think you have a better chance of finding that perfect script - you are a player and people want to play with you. If you aren’t making movies, you are not even in the game.

The company my friend worked for never bought a script and never made a movie, and eventually their money source went elsewhere. They closed their doors without having made any films... as do many other picky start up companies. I see the script searches with too many conditions frequently, and sometimes have meetings with companies looking for that amazing script that will guarentee them an Oscar right out of the gate. If thse companies had just selected the best script that was offered to them, made it, then continued picking best scripts and making them; they would be a company with a library and a future... and maybe along the way they might have found that one in a million script. Instead, they didn’t even leave any junky mainstream genre flicks behind.

We all want to write great scripts, but our first script(s) are not going to be perfect. They are stepping stones to better scripts. A single script is not going to be a life changing property - it’s just a script. You will write a stack of scripts, and some will be the ones that open doors and some will be the ones that do nothing at all except get you to the next script that opens some other doors. Each open door takes you a little bit farther down the path. You may write that script that opens many doors at once... but that script was the result of lessons learned from all of the scripts you wrote before. There is no one perfect life changing script - nor is there one single perfect life changing movie that makes your company an instant major player.

If a producer waits until they find that perfect script, they will never make a movie.

If a writer waits until they find that perfect concept, they will never write a script.

If a writer waits until they come up with that perfect line of dialogue, they will never finish that page!

Don’t create so many conditions that you limit yourself and create your own failure.

Just keep doing your best work.

Every step is a step closer... but if you wait to take that first step? You're going nowhere.

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:


Tomorrow is Thanksgiving...

Movies: BLIND SIDE - On message boards and in e-mails, people are always saying they have lead the most amazing life and someone should make a movie about it - and they would gladly pay me a third of whatever the script sells for if I write it for them. When I say that I’d be doing all of the work, they always say it was their life and they have had to live it, and once Hollywood hears their story, they will pay millions for it! Though most people don’t want to tell me about their life unless I’m onboard and have signed a NDA, the few who do share a few juicy morsels of their amazing lives... well, they don’t convince me to drop everything and write their stories. Most have lived unusual lives that would make them the center of attention at any cocktail party, but not exactly the center of attention at a multi-plex showing the latest superhero movies and disaster flicks and high concept comedies. This is the big problem with true stories on film - they seem really dull when compared with the other movies out there. Also, you are shackled by the truth - even if your story is about the survivor of an amazing event, you have to stay within the reality of that event.



BLIND SIDE is based on a true story, written as a non-fiction book by Michael Lewis, the same guy who wrote MONEYBALL - he kind of has a niche writing strange-but-true sports stories. The screenplay and direction are by John Lee Hancock, who writes and directs heartwarming true sports stories that often take place in Texas. Perfect match - this story takes place in Texas and is unabashedly feel good material.

Quinton Aaron plays Big Mike, a homeless high school kid with great sports skills. His inner city friend’s dad uses Big Mike’s athletic skills as bait to get both kids into a private Christian school in the wealthy and safe suburbs on a scholarship... then kicks Big Mike off his sofa. So Big Mike sleeps in a 24 hour laundromat and sometimes in the school gym - because he can scavenge uneaten food after the games.

One night, after a game, he’s spotted walking through the rain by Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock) and her upper middle class conservative Republican Christian NRA family as they cruise past in their SUV. Leigh decides it is her Christian duty to provide shelter for this kid, and when she discovers Big Mike has no family to go home to for Thanksgiving, invites him to stay. Eventually he becomes part of the family, best friend and protector to her son SJ (Sean Junior played by scene stealer Jae Head), reluctant brother-figure to cheerleader Collins (played by Lilly Collins) and surrogate older son to dad (Tim McGraw, who provides a few tunes for the soundtrack). Oh, and later there is a college exam tutor played by always-fiesty Kathy Bates.

The problem with Big Mike’s amazing sports skills is that he needs better grades to make the team... so they set out to tutor him and give him a normal life base to work from. And he makes the team and is accepted by the other students. And folks, that’s just about it! There are some minor real-life complications that provide some drama and conflict, and a by-the-numbers lowest point in Big Mike’s new life that is a little exciting, but the world doesn’t end and Big Mike is not bitten by a radioactive spider. He just gets to play football and have a fairly normal life.

This is the kind of movie I can recommend to my mom - she would love it. Your mom would probably love it, too. It’s one of those good old fashioned feel good movies - and managed to be the #1 movie on Thanksgiving Day. I suspect lots of families went to see it after dinner, and it was the perfect film for that.

The problem with a movie like this is that you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t - BLIND SIDE is not overly emotional, so it manages to avoid any criticism for being corny... but by avoiding all of those big over-the-top emotions, it comes off a little dull and distant. A little on the BLAND SIDE.



What saves this film is Sandra Bullock. After seeing her in nothing but silly rom-coms, it’s hard to remember that she can actually *act*. She was one of the saviors of CRASH, too - she just explodes in that film and makes you wonder why she isn’t cast in more serious films. In BLIND SIDE she is an amazing force of nature - you forget it’s Sandy Bullock. In a scene where she threatens the life of a vicious gang-banger, you fear for *his* safety! She is so fierce in this film, she practically burns a hole in the film in some scenes. This is a woman who knows what she wants and gets what she wants and *nothing* gets in her way. She’s also funny, and all of her passion comes from having a very big heart. I could imagine another actress getting the tough aspect down, but not the soft interior. Bullock manages to give a layered performance where she is tough *and* tender *and* funny all at the same time. Oh, and this may be TMI and just my personal opinion... but *hot*, too. She manages to be sexy while being tough and all of those other things. Though, that may just be wardrobe. When she goes onto the football field in a scene and man-handles the players - using them as props while explaining top Big Mike how to improve his game, you forget it’s Bullock. She just is that character.

The rest of the casting is also great - I mentioned Jae Head who plays SJ, who manages to make a work out montage funny, and a later college scouting montage laugh out loud funny. This little kid is amazing.

The film also has some great small moments, like when the cheerleader sister decides to have lunch in the cafeteria with Big Mike instead of her cheerleader friends. And when Leigh is reading the kid’s book Ferdinand The Bull to SJ and Big Mike... and cheerleader sis secretly listens from the next room. Moments of family life with this “adopted” family member.

Though the film also manages to show a conservative Republican Christian family and *use* those elements as a integral part of the story - the reason why they take in Big Mike in the first place is their faith, and the Thanksgiving prayer is another great moment - when they all take each other’s hands, and Big Mike becomes part of that circle of family. The way Leigh explains Big Mike’s job on the football field is that he is protecting his family of players. When those folks in the heartland complain that Hollywood doesn’t make movies for them, here it is. I have no idea how well it will play outside the USA, but it’s not strictly about football or religion, it’s mostly about *family*, and that may translate.



BLIND SIDE is a good movie... and probably the best movie your mom and her friends will see this year. And Sandra Bullock might even get some Oscar buzz from it.

- Bill

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Trailer Tuesday: The Wind And The Lion

One of my favorite movies, and probably one you have never heard of... now on BluRay thanks to the wonderful people at Warner Archive.

Many people think that after the dark films of the 70s, STAR WARS came along and changed everything with its rousing story of adventure. But adventure was already a major component of 70s films, with John Huston’s epic adventure THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING and this fun swashbuckler released a couple of years before STAR WARS and written and directed by one of Lucas’ friends, John Milius. There are sword fights and romance and cliff hangers and fantastic stunts and it all takes place in a world far away and many years ago.

It is a great film for 12 year olds of all ages - filled with larger than life characters and all kinds of romance and adventure. And *knowing* that it's a boy's adventure story it often takes the point if view of a 12 year old boy in the story.



John Milius is one of my favorite directors, and when I met him a few years ago this was the film I mentioned loving - even though many of his other films are also among my favorites. I start every day listening to the Basil Poledouris theme to CONAN THE BARBARIAN, and I thought PUBLIC ENEMIES paled big time in comparison to DILLINGER. They have tried remaking CONAN and RED DAWN without success and I believe part of that is because they missed Milius' point. His movies were usually about two strong people in combat - and the *respect* the combatants had for each other and the honor of a good fight. In the original RED DAWN the Cuban villain allows the Wolverines to remove their wounded in one scene - even though he could easily kill them and end his problems. But he is a man of honor - even though he is the villain. In the remake we have evil Korean villains who have no trace of humanity or honor. Just *eeeeevil*! Even though Milius and I have completely different political beliefs, he never demonizes the other side in his films. Though he may not agree with the opposing government’s goals (or maybe even the hero’s government’s goals - governments are usually corrupt), the warriors on the battlefield are not evil guys. His antagonists are not two dimensional mustache twirlers, they are real people.

The great thing about having two strong forces locked in battle is that you get to explore each character... plus there’s no shortage of action. This is something today's film makers (and production execs with stupid notes) should consider. Hitchcock said "The better the villain, the better the picture", and "better" includes being more fleshed out and dimensional. If a giant asteroid smashes earth, we don't *feel anything* about the asteroid... it's just a rock. We can't hate the asteroid... it's just a rock. The problem with the Korean villains in the RED DAWN remake is that they were just rocks... no trace of humanity that could pull out our emotions.




With THE WIND AND THE LION we have a story loosely based on an actual historical event - the kidnaping of two Americans in the middle east and the quest to get them back unharmed. In real life it was 64 year old American citizen Ion Perdicaris and his son, kidnaped by Berber warrior Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli and his horsemen from his villa in Morocco to secure a ransom and political power from the Sultan... and President Teddy Roosevelt famously said: “Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead!” and moved in the Marines. As a romance between a dashing Berber warrior and some 64 year old dude probably wasn’t going to play in 1975, Milius changed the 64 year old man into an attractive young woman with her *two* children and as I said earlier, has the story seen through the eyes of the boy. Not accurate history, but it’s an adventure film not a documentary. Most of the other characters and even some of the dialogue remains true.

The film is a true epic - big action, big emotions, big romance, big stars and an amazing Jerry Goldsmith score. It’s like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA meets RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Sean Connery plays the Raisuli as a handsome sheik on horseback, a young Candice Bergan played Eden Perdicaris, and Brian Keith steals the show playing Teddy Roosevelt. The film is filled with great sword fighting scenes and some of the most amazing horse stunts you will ever see - lots of horses *indoors* on stairways and rooftop chases!

What is interesting is that our kidnaper is the *love interest* and the male lead in this story. The main conflict is between the Raisuli and Teddy Rosevelt... who never share a single scene. This telegram (from the film) sums up their conflict: “To Theodore Roosevelt - you are like the Wind and I like the Lion. You form the Tempest. The sand stings my eyes and the Ground is parched. I roar in defiance but you do not hear. But between us there is a difference. I, like the lion, must remain in my place. While you like the wind will never know yours. - Mulay Hamid El Raisuli, Lord of the Riff, Sultan to the Berbers, Last of the Barbary Pirates.” Roosevelt sends his Marines to track down the Raisuli, and rescue Mrs. Pedecaris and her children.




Since Roosevelt and the Raisuli never share a scene, the story finds some excellent other forms of conflict. Mrs. Pedecaris is a prim and proper woman who is used to servants and elegant accommodations and manners... who is kidnaped and forced to take an extended camping trip in the desert where there is no indoor plumbing and no indoors. She wears many layers of clothing to preserve modesty, but these things aren’t exactly camping and horse riding attire. The Raisuli doesn’t help his side by chopping off the head of a thief in one scene... and forcing Mrs. Pedecaris to find a way to change clothes in front of his band of Barbary Pirates. So we have Pedecaris against the Raisuli, constantly battling each other (and falling in love along the way... this *is* a movie).

But we also have the politics. The Raisuli’s reason for kidnaping Mrs. Pedecaris is to force the Sultan and his uncle the Bashaw (Vladek Sheybal, who tangled with Connery in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE) into removing the foreign influences from the country. The place is *filled* with Americans and English and Germans and everybody else trying to make deals for the country’s resources, and sell European goods (like weapons) to the Sultan. The country has become corrupt, and the Raisuli believes they will be conquered through commerce by the west. The Germans end up the main negative influence in this story, probably because of those spiked helmets. But does this remind you of any other political situation? Wait, there’s more... because the USA sends in the Marines (lead by Steven Kanaly) to protect their interests and rescue Mrs. Pedecaris... which seems a bit like Viet Nam. Now, one of my other favorite Milius films BIG WEDNESDAY is *about* Viet Nam... and in that film he has one of the three leads make the decision to serve his country with honor while the other two don’t go to war. So Milius doesn’t seem to be on the anti war side of Viet Nam. But there are still traces of a meddling United States becoming involved with a foreign conflict that is such a rat’s nest that there’s no way we can understand it, let alone do anything to solve it. The real conflict is between the Sultan & Bashaw and the Raisuli... and the Raisuli is the Bashaw’s *brother*! (Wait, does that make the sultan Raisuli’s son? Maybe, never brought up.) There is nothing America can do to resolve the internal politics of this country.



Teddy Roosevelt is portrayed as a President who must do *something* after an American is kidnaped. He sends his Ambassador (the great Geoffrey Lewis) to try negotiation with the Sultan, hoping the Sultan will grant the Raisuli a section of the kingdom that will be free from foreign influences... but the Sultan is fickle and would rather play with his German machinegun. Many of the scenes concern Roosevelt’s love of nature, the building of the national parks system, and the Grizzly Bear he has shot on a hunting trip and wants to have stuffed and mounted... not as an inferior to humans, but as a fierce animal (kind of the king of the American jungle). John Huston plays his *slippery* Secretary Of State John Hay, who tries to manipulate the President... without success. The politics on both sides are convoluted and confusing... only the individuals like Roosevelt and the Raisuli have honor.

This film has a rousing score by Jerry Goldsmith which I bought on vinyl probably the day I first saw the film (there was a Soundtracks Only store in San Francisco) and I have it to this day (and a CD without as many scratches). If you don't know who Goldsmith was, he was probably the greatest modern film composer... and I prefer him over John Williams. He also scored CHINATOWN and THE BLUE MAX and THE OMEN and... well, lots of great scores! The film was shot by Billy Williams who was nominated a few times for Best Cinematography Oscar but only won once for GANDHI. Stunts by Terry Leonard, who also did the stunt coordination on RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and APOCALYPSE NOW and RED DAWN and most recently on AMAZING SPIDERMAN 2.




When the film came out I was a teenager and movies still opened on Wednesdays and only opened in major cities... played there for a month or two, then opened in the suburbs (which used to be called “Roadshow”). So, to see the movie on opening day, my friend Dave and I drove all the way to San Francisco and saw the very first matinee. Not packed. But afterwards, we pretended to sword fight all the way back to the car. I saw the film one more time in San Francisco, then once when it played “roadshow” in Concord. This was one of those movies that got me excited about making movies when I grew up. I wanted to do big, exciting, swashbucklers like this!

The film was not a big hit, nor was it a flop. It did okay. What I always find strange is how people will find fault with some movie... and then ignore the same problem in some movie they like. The two big things critics disliked about this film were Sean Connery’s Middle Eastern accent (which sounded Scottish) and that they changed the kidnaped dude to a kidnaped chick. Has Connery ever had an accent in a movie that wasn’t Scottish? Did we ever care? And how many movies based on some true event stay completely true to what happened? They all dramatize things! Were there major complaints about SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE bending the facts? No - it was a movie! I think the critics thought it was *fun* when movies had been gritty and serious for the past few years. The year WIND came out was the same year ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST and DOG DAY AFTERNOON and SHAMPOO came out. Nobody could see STAR WARS in the crystal ball. WIND AND THE LION wasn’t one of the top ten films that year, though a film Milius did some uncredited writing on called JAWS was #1.

THE WIND AND THE LION is one of those films that people fall in love with. I still love the film and watch the DVD probably once a year... and now it's out on BluRay!

Milius Interview:


Check out THE WIND AND THE LION on BluRay. It might make you feel like a 12 year old again, and you might sword fight with a broom... and break something.

One of my favorite films.

- Bill

Monday, November 20, 2017

Black November Sale: All Blue Books $1 Off!

Hey, why not do a sale on the Blue Books for the holidays? A Black Friday or Cyber Monday Sale? But only one day? Heck, *Amazon* has already begun their Black Friday Sale, so why don't I?
ALL BLUE BOOKS, $1 OFF!
ENDS NOVEMBER 30th!

- Bill



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COMING SOON! (BLACK FRIDAY?)

#2 OUTLINES & THE THEMATIC!

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ARE YOUR SCENES IN THE RIGHT ORDER?
AND ARE THEY THE RIGHT SCENES?

Your story is like a road trip... but where are you going? What's the best route to get there? What are the best sights to see along the way? Just as you plan a vacation instead of just jump in the car and start driving, it's a good idea to plan your story. An artist does sketches before breaking out the oils, so why shouldn't a writer do the same? This Blue Book looks at various outlining methods used by professional screenwriters like Wesley Strick, Paul Schrader, John August, and others... as well as a guest chapter on novel outlines. Plus a whole section on the Thematic Method of generating scenes and characters and other elements that will be part of your outline. The three stages of writing are: Pre-writing, Writing, and Rewriting... this book looks at that first stage and how to use it to improve your screenplays and novels.



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#3 STRUCTURING YOUR STORY

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Most screenplays are about a 50/50 split between dialogue and description - which means your description is just as important as your dialogue. It just gets less press because the audience never sees it, the same reason why screenwriters get less press than movie stars. But your story will never get to the audience until readers and development executives read your script... so it is a very important factor. Until the movie is made the screenplay is the movie and must be just as exciting as the movie. So how do you make your screenplay exciting to read? Description is important in a novel as well, and the “audience” does read it... how do we write riveting description?

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#11 WHAT IS A SCENE?

*** SCENE SECRETS *** - For Kindle!

***

What is a scene and how many you will need? The difference between scenes and sluglines. Put your scenes on trial for their lives! Using "Jaws" we'll look at beats within a scene. Scene DNA. Creating set pieces and high concept scenes. A famous director talks about creating memorable scenes. 12 ways to create new scenes. Creating unexpected scenes. Use dramatic tension to supercharge your scenes. Plants and payoffs in scenes. Plus transitions and buttons and the all important "flow"... and more! Over 65,000 words! Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is around 210 pages!

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#20 HOW TO SELL!

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Should really be called the BUSINESS BLUE BOOK because it covers almost everything you will need to know for your screenwriting career: from thinking like a producer and learning to speak their language, to query letters and finding a manager or agent, to making connections (at home and in Hollywood) and networking, to the different kinds of meetings you are will have at Studios, to the difference between a producer and a studio, to landing an assignment at that meeting and what is required of you when you are working under contract, to contracts and options and lawyers and... when to run from a deal! Information you can use *now* to move your career forward! It's all here in the Biggest Blue Book yet!

Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is over 400 pages!

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Already got 'em all? Tell a friend!

- Bill

Friday, November 17, 2017

All Five Season 1 HITCH 20 Episodes!

There's a great new documentary series called HITCH 20 that I have been a "guest expert" on, and here are the first five episodes. The series looks at the 20 TV episodes directed by Hitchcock. The new season begins next week... without me. I was juggling too many things and thought I'd squeeze it in, but just didn't have the time. But I will still be featuring it here, because it's a great show.

1) This episode is REVENGE, which I am not a part of. The story is a corker, though: a man's wife is brutally raped and he extracts his revenge when she recognizes the attacker on the street. I actually prefer the remake done in the 1980s, due to casting: Where Ralph Meeker (who played Mike Hammer) seems like the kind of guy who would have no problem extracting revenge, the remake had David Clennon (who always plays geeks with triple chins) who has a great deal of trouble with the physical aspects of revenge... making it even more gut wrenching.



2) This episode of the show is a great HITCHCOCK PRESENTS episode called BREAKDOWN with Joseph Cotten as a ruthless businessman who downsizes a loyal long time employee... and then ridicules him for breaking down and crying. It's really a lot of fun, so take a look:





3) This episode is on THE CASE OF MR. PELHAM about a man who is haunted by a double who is trying to take over his life! A really weird tale, which may have been more at home of the THRILLER TV Show which was shot on the same lot. It's really a lot of fun, so take a look:



Two important things I talked about were cut for time:

A) This episode is based on a book by the screenwriter of Hitch's YOUNG AND INNOCENT which had actually been adapted into a film *the same year* in England. It has even been made a few times since then, including a film with Roger Moore titled THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF in 1970. And someone should sue *Harlan Ellison* because his SHATTERDAY short story (made into one of my favorite NEW TWILIGHT ZONE episodes) uses the same idea. (kidding... but it would be funny payback for the TERMINATOR lawsuit.)

B) The *magic* shot. There's part of the shot in the HITCH 20 episode, we see a wide shot of the bar, move in to Pelham flagging down the Psychiatrist, then asking him to join him, and then the camera dollies backwards as they walk to a table and sit down... except that table could *not* have been there when they were dollying back! The camera would have bumped into it! So *off camera* the table was rolled into place as the camera was dollying backwards! It's one of those crazy furniture moves that Hitchcock used in ROPE so that the camera would be able to move fluidly "through" furniture and walls. By making the furniture and walls movable, they could dolly backwards "through" that table in the bar that Pelham and the Psychiatrist would be sitting at! A magic shot!



4) This episode is BACK FOR CHRISTMAS which stars Hitchcock regular John Williams (TO CATCH A THIEF) as a henpecked husband who finds a permanent solution to his marital problems. In my Thriller class, I talk about the importance of comedy in a thriller to balance the story and make the thrills even more thrilling (peaks and valleys), and this episode has a great light comedy tone which heightens the suspense. Hitch called PSYCHO a comedy... and this episode is as funny as a steel pipe to the side of the head!







5) This episode is WET SATURDAY which also stars Hitchcock regular John Williams (TO CATCH A THIEF), this time as the guy who has no idea he's being framed for murder. This is an interesting episode because it's a calm discussion of a violent act, which somehow makes the violence more violent. Hitch called PSYCHO a comedy... and this episode is as funny as a croquet mallet to the side of the head!



This was the last episode of HITCH 20 in this season... and by next Friday I hope to have a new entry for Fridays With Hitchcock on SABOTAGE. Followed by the not so great Hitchcock film THE SECRET AGENT (which still manages to have some great screenwriting lessons in it's muddled story) and then THE 39 STEPS, which is a great Hitchcock film.



Of course, I have my own book focusing on Hitchcock...

Bill




HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR



Click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

We all know that Alfred Hitchcock was the Master Of Suspense, but did you know he was the most *experimental* filmmaker in history?

Contained Thrillers like “Buried”? Serial Protagonists like “Place Beyond The Pines”? Multiple Connecting Stories like “Pulp Fiction”? Same Story Multiple Times like “Run, Lola, Run”? This book focuses on 18 of Hitchcock’s 53 films with wild cinema and story experiments which paved the way for modern films. Almost one hundred different experiments that you may think are recent cinema or story inventions... but some date back to Hitchcock’s *silent* films! We’ll examine these experiments and how they work. Great for film makers, screenwriters, film fans, producers and directors.

Films Examined: “Rear Window”, “Psycho”, “Family Plot”, “Topaz”, “Rope”, “The Wrong Man”, “Easy Virtue”, “Lifeboat”, “Bon Voyage”, “Aventure Malgache”, “Elstree Calling”, “Dial M for Murder”, “Stage Fright”, “Champagne”, “Spellbound”, “I Confess”, and “The Trouble with Harry”, with glances at “Vertigo” and several others.

Professional screenwriter William C. Martell takes you into the world of The Master Of Suspense and shows you the daring experiments that changed cinema. Over 77,000 words.

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

THRILLER Thursday: The Man In The Middle

Man In The Middle

The spider web fills the screen, it's Boris Karloff's THRILLER!



Director: Fletcher Markle
Writer: Howard Rodman from the novel by Charlotte Armstrong.
Cast: Mort Sahl, Sue Randall, Frank Alberson, Werner Klemperer, Burt Remsen.
Music: Pete Rugolo
Cinematography: John L. Russell.
Producer: Fletcher Markle




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The departing eves dropper is Sam Lynch, the conversation he has just overheard will change his life abruptly. It may even finish it. These two men, Mr. Clark (so called, he hasn’t used his real name in years), his good friend Mr. Baby Hoffman, take their work quite seriously. As you would have overheard, their current enterprise concerns the kidnaping and murder of a very beautiful Miss Kay Salisbury. Mr. Clark and Mr. Hoffman know that Mr. Lynch has overheard them. And Mr. Lynch knows that they know that he knows. Mr. Lynch also knows that if he talks, no one would believe him no one would believe him and he would be murdered. But if he doesn’t talk, Miss Salzbury will be murdered. This is the predicament of The Man In The Middle. That’s the name of our story based on a prize winning novel by Charlotte Armstrong. Our principle players are: Mr. Mort Sahl, Miss Sue Randall, Mr. Frank Alberston, and Mr. Werner Klemperer. As sure as my name is Boris Karloff, eves dropping can be very dangerous. You will agree fervently, as you enjoy this... Thriller.”

Synopsis: Sam Lynch (Mort Sahl) is having a beer in a booth in the back of his regular bar when he overhears a conversation from the next booth... two men plotting to kidnap a young society woman named Kay Salisbury just before her wedding and hold her for ransom... but kill her after they get the money. The two men are Mr. Clark (Werner Klemperer from HOGAN’S HEROES) and Baby Hoffman (Julian Burton), career criminals. Sam doesn’t know what to do... and that’s when Clark spots him listening in a mirror on the bar’s wall. He is confronted by the two men, says he didn’t hear anything... but they don’t believe him. Sam sits at the bar, knowing the two will listen to *his* conversation with the Bartender, and tells a heck of a long story about the time he saw a dog on the freeway and wanted to save it, but realized *he’d* get hit by a car in the process and it made more sense to just let the dog die. It wasn’t his dog, why should he care? When Sam gets up to leave, he bumps into another bar patron who hits him up for some drink money (to show Sam is a good guy after that speech).



Sam goes to his job as a TV writer... doesn’t realize that Clark and Hoffman are following him. In the writer’s room everyone is trying to write a skit, and Sam pitched a skit that is *exactly* what just happened to him in the bar. In minute and boring detail. The other writers don’t like it, and instead of Sam explaining what just happened to him, he gets all defensive and leaves... And Clark and Hoffman follow him again.

In Sam’s apartment, there’s a knock at his door: Clark and Hoffman! Clark watches as Hoffman beats the crap out of Sam as a warning to keep his mouth shut. If the police become involved, they will kill him.

Sam goes to warn Kay Salisbury’s father that she is in danger. In the elegant entry hall he bumps into Kay (Sue Randall) who is a sheltered young woman, and cute. When Sam gets his audience with millionaire Charles Salisbury (Frank Alberson) and Kay’s lawyer fiancĂ© (who is just a raging ahole), they mistake his warnings that Kay is in danger for some sort of shake down and refuse to pay him. Now, instead of just explaining the situation, Sam decides it’s time for one of his rambling monologues... this time about pacifists during the war. I’m sure it’s making some point, but neither I nor Mr. Salisbury got it... and still think Sam’s trying to get money from him based on some vague threat of danger that Kay might be in. When Salisbury agrees to cut him a check for his time, Sam storms out... without ever explaining the situation.



Sam bumps into Kay near his car, tries to warn her that she’s in danger but comes off sounding completely crazy. Then he notices Hoffman talking with the Maid at the servants entrance, and points him out to Kay. Kay says that’s the Maid’s boyfriend, nothing to worry about. Sam could explain that Hoffman is really a kidnaper, but it just seems easier for him to kidnap Kay himself and drive off with her unconscious in his car. That way she’ll be safe, right?

At Sam’s mountain cabin, he tries to calm Kay... but again doesn’t think that just telling her what is going on is a good idea. So she thinks he’s a kidnapper.

Meanwhile, Hoffman tells Clark that Kay has vanished unexpectedly, and the family has not called the police. They decide to call Mr. Salisbury and go through with their ransom demands even though they don’t have Kay.

Salisbury rounds up $80k of the $100k ransom and can’t get any more. When the kidnapers call, he says all he can get is the $80k and they reluctantly agree to accept $20k less than they asked. They give Salisbury directions for the drop and say they’ll release Kay 12 hours after they have the money. Salisbury delivers the money, gets knocked out by Hoffman, and makes it home when he comes to.



Meanwhile, Sam is pacing in the cabin and talking to himself as Kay listens. More boring monologue stuff. He decides to lock Kay in the cabin and go to a payphone to call Mr. Salisbury so that he won’t worry about his daughter. Except Salisbury misunderstands and thinks that Sam is the kidnapper and hasn’t released Kay because of the $20k. Now, all Sam would have to do is tell the truth at this point, but instead he decides to get offended and mention Clark and Hoffman’s names before he hangs up.

Sam calls the bar, asks to talk to that guy he gave some money to in the first scene and asks him to find Clark and Hoffman and tell them that he wants to deal with them, as long as they don’t kill Kay (or Sam). That guy says “sure” and Sam says they can meet in some other bar later. Who knows what Kay is doing all of this time.

Sam is sitting in the bar waiting for the guy he called, who is late. When the guy finally staggers in, Sam gives a speech about being drunk (because there’s always time for that) and then the guy says Hoffman *shot* him and he’s dying and Clark says: no deal, Sam & Kay both get killed. Then he dies. At no time does Sam ever think to himself that if he hadn’t have done that long speech about getting drunk the guy might have lived long enough for an ambulance to arrive. Nope.

Sam leaves the dead guy in the bar booth and goes to a pawn shop and buys a gun. Where we get a conversation about the price of an illegal gun in this city.

Meanwhile, Salisbury has called the police, and the police have rounded up Clark, who has an alibi for the time of the ransom drop... so the police let him go. But follow him.



At the cabin, Sam gives Kay his car keys and tells her to drive home. She wants to know what is going on, and instead of just explain, he argues with her or a while (which is mostly another one of his speeches). Eventually she takes the car keys and drives off, and Sam finds the best place to hide the gun in the cabin so that it will be easy to get to when he needs it.

Kay drives down the road... passing Clark and Hoffman who are headed to the cabin (I don’t know how they knew where it was) and Hoffman sees her and they turn around and chase after her. There’s a short car chase, they run Kay off the road, she escapes on foot and Hoffman chases after her while Clark drives to the cabin to deal with Sam.

Clark shows up at the cabin, and Sam tries to put him to sleep with another speech, and when that doesn’t work he pulls his hidden gun and aims it at Clark... which is when the door opens and Hoffman and Kay come in. When the shoot9ing starts, Kay dives for cover. Sam kills both Clark and Hoffman, and gets a flesh wound in the process. Because a TV writer who has never used a gun before is a better shot than two career criminals. The police show up, and it looks like Kay and Sam might hook up. The end.



Review: Where do I begin? This episode has a great concept, in fact... I seem to have accidentally ripped it off for a short story called “Rear Booth” that is coming soon. I”m sure I saw this decades ago and the only thing I could remember was overhearing the bad guys conversation... and my memory of that combined with “Rear Window” sparked *my* story idea (which is not the same as this story). But with this great concept, the story misfires again and again. There is no suspense, and way too much speechifying. I have no idea what Sam’s job was in the book, but I’ll bet it was not a TV writer. That just seemed like incestuous writing. The story manages to keep Sam and Clark on different story tracks most of the time, too. Oh, and the idiot plotting where Sam would rather get frustrated and walk away than just explain what is going on.

Mort Sahl (who is still with us) was the biggest comedian of the time, and they must have been incredibly happy to get him... and maybe they shouldn’t have been. Sahl was a low key political comedian who didn’t rely on punchlines, and had a vocal delivery that kind of reminds me of Norm MacDonald. Kind of a monotone with a little bite. All of that works great on a comedy stage, but doesn’t work at all in a dramatic role. He plays this whole thing in a sad sack monotone with almost no emotions. He’s too low key for these situations, and I wonder if they wrote all of those speeches because Sahl’s comedy routine was basically telling a long story about something from the headlines. He just sinks this episode.

And Colonel Klink also gives a very subdued performance, playing the brainiac crime planner who never gets emotional. So we have both protagonist and antagonist speaking in a monotone!

I suspect that the ahole fiancé was in on the kidnaping in the book, otherwise there would be no reason for his character to exist.

Director Markle was one of the staff producers on the show, and this was his last episode... and the only one he directed. He was responsible for many of the episodes up until this point that I didn’t think worked.

What could have been an interesting thriller ends up not working, due to a misfire script and bland direction and a terrible performance by Mort Sahl (admittedly out of his element). But next week we get a weird tales story about glasses that allow you to see... well, THEY LIVE may owe something to this episode.

Bill

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Scene Of The Week: DIRTY HARRY

This week’s scene is one of my favorites, and it does a great job of introducing the protagonist... using *visual* exposition rather than the often clumsy verbal kind. I use it as one of several examples of protagonist introductions in THE SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING, and because that book works for all genres let’s snag that scene for discussion here.

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Though the "Hot Dog" scene in "Dirty Harry" (1971) isn't the first time we see the character (it’s his third scene), it is a good example of how to pack lots of information in a single scene. Harry is sitting at the counter in a blue collar diner eating a hot dog when he spots a car idling in front of a bank across the street. Harry tells the diner owner to call the police, then unholsters his 44 Magnum and stops the bank robbery single handed, destroying anything which gets in his way. Finally he threatens the downed bank robber, and gives his signature lines from the film: “Did he fire six shots or only five?" Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?"

A great scene, huh?

So let's take a look at that scene and then tear it apart to see how it works:



One simple little scene - what do we learn about Harry from this scene?

1) He's a blue collar guy. When Harry says he’ll have the usual, the fry cook asks “Usual dinner or usual lunch?” Harry asks what does it matter... and the fry cook makes him a hot dog. Not only is Harry a regular here - he’s a regular here twice a day sometimes. San Francisco has all kinds of great restaurants, he’s more comfortable eating a hot dog at some neighborhood joint. We’ll look at the scene that follows this one in a moment for more of Harry’s blue collar side... and a simple thing that helps us identify with this Bad Ass Hero.

2) He's incredibly observant and smart. He sees the smoke from the tail pipe of the car parked in front of the bank, and figures out that there is a robbery in progress. Harry is kind of like Sherlock Holmes - he sees all of the small details that others miss. Everyone else sees a busy city street - Harry sees the car idling in front of the bank. We’ll look at the actual introduction scene to Harry in a moment, which has more Sherlock Holmes elements.

3) He carries a non-regulation gun. A HUGE gun. A gun that isn't designed to wound, but to kill. That was one of the “selling points” of this film - that huge gun. It’s the most powerful handgun in the world. It’s a *hand cannon*. There’s a chapter of SECRETS OF ACTION called “Weapons For Weirdos” about how a character’s choice of weapon can give us character information and create a way for us to identify the character. If everyone uses the same (regulation) gun, they become bland. We want our characters - even the henchmen - to stand out. Have a “personality”. If giving Henchman #2 a cross bow helps turn a minor character into someone more memorable, go for it! That same theory applies to your protagonist. Don’t give them a bland weapon (or wardrobe or whatever) when you can give them a distinctive one.

4) He faces the robbers alone. He is fearless. He tells the fry cook to call the police department and tell them there is a 211 in progress. But the moment he hears the alarm go off, he gets off his stool, eating the last of his hot dog, and pulls his gun and starts shooting. There are two bad guys, one of him - and he’s still chewing on his lunch - and he just strolls out and engages them in a shoot out.

5) He doesn't wait for back up. He's a lone wolf, not a team player. He could have easily just waited for the police cars to come after the fry cook called in the 211. It’s his lunch hour, right? But that isn’t Harry. Harry isn’t really part of the police department, he’s his own man. In the second scene with Harry, he’s reporting to the Chief Of Police (John Larch) and the Mayor (John Vernon) and he’s paired with toady team player Lt. Bressler (Harry Gardino) to bring out Harry’s independence. Where Bressler is doing everything possible to kiss the Mayor’s ass, Harry is holding his disdain in check. He’s a guy who does his job but hates office politics. He is not a team member, nor is he a show off. He’s *independent* and *interdependent*, which matches the cowboy character Eastwood played in many films.

6) He continues eating his lunch as he brings down the robbers. This is just another normal occasion for Harry. He’s calm while everyone else (robbers included) are running and screaming. Cars flip over! Shotguns are fired at him! At one point he looks down at his leg and sees red drops, and you can see him wondering: ketchup or blood? He is not afraid or hurt or affected. He is a bad ass. Everyone else has their adrenaline pumping like crazy, Harry is just trying to finish his lunch. While shooting bad guys.

7) Nothing gets in his way on his quest for "justice". He trashes the entire block while catching the criminals. Talk about collateral damage! There’s a great shot where Harry walks through the wreckage, past the flipped car and blasting fire hydrant, through the “rain”, passing a civilian car where people are screaming, directly to the injured suspect with the shotgun. Harry is a juggernaut. All of this destruction isn’t even on his radar, only the perp. This is an important character trait, because Harry will cause all kinds of destruction in his wake later in the story that will get him almost thrown off the force.

8) He doesn't give the wounded robber the Miranda-Escobito warning... He threatens to KILL him. No kid gloves, here. This guy treats criminals like scum. Here’s where he gets his signature line, and informs us that the gun will blow the bad guy’s head clean off.

9) For being such a bad ass, he has a sense of playfulness. Though the “Six shots or only five” line is a threat, it’s a *clever* threat. Harry isn’t some on-the-nose tough cop, he’s the kind of cop who is going to say things like “When a naked man is chasing a woman with a butcher knife and a hard on, I figure he isn’t out collecting for the Red Cross” to explain why he shot a suspect. Harry always has some amusing way of saying things - and the target of his wise cracks tend to be authority figures like the Mayor. This is a great way to balance out a character who is mostly seen in violent action.

10) Harry is always in control. After he threatens the wounded bank robber, who gives up and lets Harry take his shot gun rather that have his head blown clean off by that 44 Magnum, the robber says: “I’ve got to know.” Did Harry fire 6 shots or only 5? Was Harry’s threat just a bluff? Remember, Harry has that Sherlock Holmes element - of course he knows how many shots he fired in all of this excitement. But instead of Harry saying it was all just a bluff and his gun is empty, he walks up to the robber and aims the HUGE gun point blank at his face and pulls the trigger. Click. Harry smiles and walks away. Remember that actions not only speak louder than words, they are more visceral - and can be more clever. Of all of the ways Harry could have shown the bank robber that his gun was empty and this was a bluff, *this* method packs the most punch. Look for the small ways you can make an impact in your scene. The *beats* in the scene are important, and need to be just as creative and interesting as the scene itself. It’s not just the scene idea, but all of the little ideas within the scene.

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We learn many other details, and also get audience identification with Harry: This interrupts his lunch. Not even a sit-down lunch, but a lousy hot dog. Anyone who has ever had their lunch interrupted by work knows how Harry feels. I know that seems like a minor point of identification, but Harry is what I call a Bad Ass Protagonist, kind of a superhero without the tights. Though I go into much more detail in the book, the problem with protagonists like this is that they are more characters we wish we could be than characters we can identify with - so anything you can do to give us a point of identification helps. Being interrupted at lunch by work may seem minor, but it’s something. The writer was *thinking*.

This is a “fun” scene. At no time do you think it’s any form of exposition. You probably weren’t aware that you were learning anything at all about this character. It was a big shoot out and the protag’s signature line. A fire hydrant gets hit! A car flips over! And Harry’s reaction is *irritated* that his lunch has been interrupted! This is an *entertaining* scene, and we never realize that it is really and *information* scene. You never want the audience to realize you are establishing something that will pay off later or giving them critical plot information - you want them to be in the moment, enjoying the story. Storytelling is basically giving the audience information, but we don’t want them to be aware that they are getting that information - we want them to be wrapped up in the story.

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THE NEXT SCENE: After this shoot out, the red drops on Harry’s pants end up being blood rather that ketchup, and he goes to the emergency room. The doctor, Steve, grew up in the same neighborhood as Harry - establishing that Harry is a San Francisco native... and once had a childhood. (One of my favorite lines of dialogue is from ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ when Eastwood is asked how his childhood was and answers “Short”.) We also find out some personal information - the doctor tells Harry that if he has discomfort after being stitched up to have his wife... then stops cold and apologizes to Harry. And Harry has a flash of pain. The shotgun blast didn’t even register, but the mention of his wife does. This creates some character mystery which will be solved later in the story. Always great to withhold some information about your characters to keep the audience wondering (and involved) for a few scenes. This works especially well with Bad Ass Heroes because they tend to be mysterious. But when the doctor gets ready to cut off Harry’s trousers to remove the shotgun pellets, we get some character gold. Harry *painfully* removes the trousers, “For $29.50, let it hurt.” This guy lives on a budget, and that reinforces the blue collar aspects of his character and helps to create some identification with a character completely unlike us.

INTRO SCENE: The very first shot is the Scorpio Killer’s sniper rifle aiming right at the viewer! Then we see, through his sniper scope, a woman at a rooftop pool taking off her robe and diving in. Swimming laps. She’s beautiful, sexy, and the killer admires her through his sniper scope. Then fires - killing her - blood staining the water.

A door opens and Dirty Harry walks up to the rooftop pool. He’s silhouetted in the evening light - this is THE MAN. He studies the crime scene for a moment - and what we have is kind of a locked room mystery. Who could have gotten onto the rooftop to kill her? Who had access? Why didn’t she notice? Did she know the killer? But Harry is like Sherlock Holmes - he looks around at the other rooftops.

Harry walks down the streets until he comes to a skyscraper in the business district. On the rooftop, he walks around the perimeter - the city far below. Cars look like ants. You can’t even see people from this height. This is great, because we get a bird’s eye view of the city - and Harry is on top of it. There’s something subliminal about showing Harry looking over the city, not lost on Christopher Nolan. Harry walks around the top of the building until he comes to the side overlooking the rooftop swimming pool - way in the distance. We get a great telephoto shot of them removing the woman’s body that gives us a sense of how far away it is - just a blue rectangle from here. Harry searches the roof, finds a shell casing, uses his pencil to pick it up to preserve finger prints... then sees the paper flapping on an antenna and moves to read it. The Scorpio Killer’s note.

All of these actions in this opening scene have set the duel between Harry and the Scorpio Killer and shown how both are worthy adversaries. Harry has been established not just as a guy who uses the most powerful handgun in the world, but as a true detective like Sherlock Holmes. He can spot the clues where others can’t. A couple of minutes in and we have set up the entire story... and set up many elements of both protagonist and antagonist.

And in the Hot Dog Scene we learn at least ten very important things about Harry from this one brief scene. By the time Harry gets a new partner and is set out after the Scorpio Killer, we know exactly how he will react in every scene, because it was all set up in this character introduction scene. What we don't get in this scene – that Harry was married and his wife died after being hit by a drunk driver, but do we really need to know that to understand the character and their actions when the plot kicks in?

Do you feel lucky punk? Well, do you?

- Bill

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Trailer Tuesday: THE FORBIN PROJECT

Coming to BluRay in February 2018!!!!

COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT (1970)

This was one of those movies I caught on TV as a kid, probably on NBC Monday Night At The Movies With Victor Bozeman, and I loved it. It was about computers and was science fictiony and had naked parts that they showed on TV! It was one of those movies that stuck with me, and when I found it on DVD I bought it and watched it again... and though it doesn’t hold up to memory, it’s still an okay film. Seems like a TV movie today, and since it was directed by Joseph Sargent who made a mile of TV movies and was directing TV episodes (IT TAKES A THIEF) just before this, that’s probably one of the reasons why. It was obviously made low budget by Universal (no real stars) and maybe it *was* a made for TV movie in the USA that was released theatrically to the rest of the world. It’s a movie about *ideas* rather than special effects.



Dr. Charles Forbin (Eric Braeden from RAT PATROL, though your mom may know him from YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS soap opera) has created the ultimate supercomputer the size of a city block. Probably the first time a film discussed artificial intelligence, because Colossus can learn. The computer itself is deep in a Cheyenne Mountain type bunker that is impenetrable to missiles from those Ruskies. There’s a cool opening scene where Forbin starts the computer and then walks through hallways, setting electronic booby traps behind him, over a bridge that retracts behind him... basically al of the stuff Indiana Jones has to go through at the beginning of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Forbin leaves the mountain entrance as thick steel doors close behind him. Army guys guard the doors.

A JFK like President Of The United States (Gordon Pinsent) addresses the nation on every TV channel (all 3 of them), and says that human error will no longer be a fear when it comes to our nuclear missiles. From this point on, all of our defenses are now being controlled by Colossus. The computer can sense an attack and instantly plan a retaliation. It collects data from millions of sources (did someone at the NSA see this movie as a kid, too?) and know more about a situation than any human. It is safer than having a human at the controls of our nukes. The Prez introduces Forbin who uses all kinds of words the country doesn’t understand: dude is an aloof genius. They press the button and a computer is the most powerful person in the world. Head of the CIA (William Schallert, Patty Duke's dad on that TV show) thinks this is all a mistake, we should do things the old fashioned way.

But the minute Colossus is activated it asks about the other computer. What other computer? Well, it seems that the Russians have their own version of Colossus and didn’t tell anybody. There’s a tense scene where the two computers hook up despite both Forbin and the Ruskies trying to stop it. And then the two computers become one... one computers that is more intelligent than anyone else on Earth... and decides that humans lie and cheat and steal and can not be trusted. So, before you can say HAL 9000 or Skynet, the computer threatens us with our own nukes. Actually firing nukes at both the USA and Russia in a tense scene after they have tried to separate the two computers. One of the interesting things from a film standpoint is that most of this story takes place in the computer command center: a big room filled with consoles like NASA mission control. There are a bunch of scientist types at the consoles, including James Hong, Georg Stanford Brown, and Susan Clark... all wearing labcoats and getting a line or two of dialogue.

Except for Susan Clark as Dr. Markham who is the driven female in the group. When Colossus demands that Forbin install cameras *everywhere* so the computer can keep its eye on everyone, Forbin comes up with a plan. He tells Colossus that he needs the camera in his bedroom turned off for a few hours a night, four days a week because he has a mistress and they need some privacy when they screw. Colossus has access to all of the information in the world, checks it out... and humans *do* screw and prefer to do it in privacy... but it will only allow one hour of privacy. Colossus asks who is mistress is, Forbin answers Dr. Markham.

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Forbin needs someone who is believable as a mistress, but also understands all the technical stuff he needs to communicate. Colossus accepts this - she's single and young and attractive to humans. This gives Forbin and Markham one hour 4 days a week to plot against Colossus... but also requires those nekkid parts I mentioned.

Dr. Markham shows up for her hour of information exchange... and Colossus wants to watch them all the way up to the sex part. So they can have dinner together, a drink or two... and then Colossus demands that they both strip *before* going into the bedroom. Now Forbin and Marham have to strip in front of each other, then exchange information while naked in bed. Of course, in typical AUSTIN POWERS style, the naughty bits are always covered in these scenes. But it's funny to see two naked people trying to be business-like while the camera gives us shots through wine glasses with the wine covering the crotch and all sort of other silly lurid shots that were exciting when I was a kid.

While standing with their naughty parts obscured by an assortment of things on the table, they not only figure out a way to stop Colossus from taking over the world (it wants to build a factory that will make robots to keep us in line... SKYNET!!!) They also manage to fall in love. And almost the whole story takes place in that control room, the President’s briefing room, and Forbin’s living quarters. It’s an okay movie, but the first half has a handful of ticking clock scenes and the last half has people with their naughty bits obscured. Becomes less exciting as it goes along (unless you are a 12 year old boy). It really does remind you of Skynet and TERMINATOR and I wonder if James Cameron saw this around the same time he watched those OUTER LIMITS episodes that Harlan Ellison wrote?

I wasn't the only one who saw this movie as a kid, it has quite a following.

Bill

COMING TO BLURAY IN FEB, PRE-ORDER NOW!

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Saturday, November 11, 2017

AFM - Day Last

Originally published *7* years ago - but rerunning it while I avoid AFM this year.

This is the sixth day of American Film Market, and I am on autopilot. I realize another issue with my AFM experience is not enough coffee. When I do an event like the Raindance Film Festival, I am sucking down coffee like crazy by the final days. But at AFM I’ve had a coffee before I leave the house and usually one for the drive in, and then I go to the venue and have no more caffeine. I should have bought a jar of Folger’s Crystals and ate it dry by Monday... but instead I was just tired again.



And the big problem is that I’ve decided today will be my last day at market, because I have writing assignments that need some attention. I just turned in a new draft of one assignment - a horror film, and am supposed to be working on the next assignment - a rewrite of an action film - this month. But so far, I have done nothing on it due to AFM, and this month has a holiday in it. So today is it for me at AFM...

And that was going to be a problem because I had put off talking to some of the larger companies until today, when it should be slower. The companies that I most need to have energy for... and I’m running on fumes. I walk upstairs like an old man, legs having a week of constant climbing already - like spending 6 full days on a Stairmaster at the gym.

LUCKY STARS




While walking down one of the halls I notice a pair of posters on the wall that sums up great luck with movie stars at AFM. To sell a movie, even a low budget movie, you need stars. If you tell someone that your script was made into a movie, the first thing they will ask you is “Who’s in it?” You can have the greatest story in the world, and people want to know who the actors are. Once low budget horror movies became saturated, having some name in the cast became the key to selling them. When you look at a movie poster, any movie poster, the stars names are right there on top above the title in big letters so that everyone can see them. Your name as writer? In teeny little letters near the bottom. Hey, maybe not fair, but that’s reality. There are three kinds of stars that get cast in movies that sell at AFM - stars on their way up, stars on their way down, and genre stars (B movie actors).

GENRE STARS: The funny thing about genre stars is that mainstream audience members may not know who they are. They are specialty stars, who have loyal fans within their genre. Distribs know who these genre stars are, and know which ones are hot and which ones are not and which ones have made so many movies over the past year that *they* are over saturated and no longer mean anything as a star. Some of these genre stars are supporting actors in A movies like Gary Busey, but others are stars who hit big in some genre movies and now are the big fish in the small pond, like Jeffrey Combs (RE-ANIMATOR) who is still a star in low budget horror movies decades after his big break and Tiffany Shepis who has worked her way up from really low budget horror films by shining in every single one of them. That’s usually how a genre star comes to be - they are cast in a film that becomes a genre hit, and suddenly the audience knows their name and wants to see more movies starring them... so producers hire them. Or they are the person who shines in some film where they may be the best thing about it. Those who start at the top, even after their stardom has waned, are still names and faces the genre audience knows so they can continue to work... probably for less money in less expensive films. Those who start at the bottom have an upswing to larger budget genre films, and often go from supporting role to star. Both Jeffrey and Tiffany are known to the genre audience, even if you have never heard of them.

Most of my films have starred genre people. Though I have zero input on casting, I always suggest the producers hire some actors who are on their way up or actors from indie films either instead of or in addition to the genre stars. That way the films might appeal to a larger audience, who may not know the genre star. But so far, no producer has listened to me. Casting genre stars is kind of a sure thing. The target audience knows who the star is and may even seek out their films. If the producer cast an Oscar winner in a genre film, it may actually have a negative effect on sales. The target audience cares about Tiffany Shepis, but may not care at all about Judy Dench... and may even be turned off by a horror movie starring Dench. Casting mainstream names in a genre film may be a waste of money. So producers usually do what is safe and cast a genre star. I get that, but still suggest some star on their way up or indie name in the supporting roles. Often I write a couple of great supporting roles just so they can be cast with actors who are known outside the genre to bring in folks who are not those rabid genre fans... so far, none of those roles has ever been cast with anyone I’ve suggested. Pisser.

STARS ON THEIR WAY UP:

One of the actors I always suggested for my films was Sam Rockwell, who is from the Bay Area (like me) and I met before he was ever in a movie. Back when they were casting CRASH DIVE there was a key supporting role that was written for someone who could act. The stars would still be whoever the producer thought could sell the film, but I figured the supporting roles might be where an interesting actor on their way up might elevate the whole film. But the producer said he’s never heard of Sam Rockwell (this was mid-90s). I said, “Yes, but are you planning on casting someone you have heard of in that role? Or just an actor from a casting call?” The answer was casting call, but the *director* wanted to pick the actor. So the guy cast wasn’t great, and nobody knows who they are today. We *did* score on two other actors from the casting call: Catherine Bell as the female lead (she had done an episode of HERCULES) and Chris Titus as the comic relief character (was doing stand up in clubs) - both went on to headline their own TV shows after we discovered them.

One of the ways an AFM company can get lucky is by casting a talented actor who seems to be on their way up... and that star ends up in a huge hit studio movie. So the #1 live action movie over the weekend was DUE DATE starring Robert Downey jr and Zach Galifianikis and Zach did some low budget movies for AFM companies before being discovered by mainstream Hollywood... and the posters came out at AFM on Monday. Suddenly that old title the company had in their back catalogue became the hot title they were pushing to any territory that hadn’t bought it. I think this is why AFM companies *need* to look at the up and coming actors and have a good idea of who they are and how talented they are. One problem with many of the AFM companies (including guys I have sold to) is that they only care about the star that sells the film and the rest of the roles are meaningless to them... when those secondary roles may give the film a second life if any of the actors cast hit big later on.



STARS ON THEIR WAY DOWN: The other place AFM find actors to headline their films is stars on their way down... or stars whose future is uncertain. Either because the star gets too old for whatever gen re they are best known for, or completely screws up their career; they often end up starring in films at AFM. Tom Sizemore went from HEAT to headlining a Michael Mann produced TV show to crashing and burning (and doing some jail time) and ending up starring in AFM movies made for half a million bucks... which is probably what Sizemore was getting per episode for that TV show. The great thing about AFM movies is that they are kind of a safety net for actors that studios no longer want to hire. Last year’s hot babe in some studio film may be this year’s dramatic actress in an AFM film... or the chief of police in a genre film. Burt Reynolds may play a retired cop who gets involved in a murder investigation in an AFM film.

The big score was the company who had a star on his way up with Zach Galifianikis *and* a star is limbo with this Dakota Fanning movie. No longer a kid, and not a sexy babe, Fanning is at an awkward age for mainstream studio films which makes her perfect for AFM movies. Everyone knows who she is, so she can sell a movie, but she’s probably affordable because there aren’t many people who want to hire her. She’s in like an adult Culkin. So here she is in an AFM movie that will probably come to a Blockbuster near you... if they are still in business.

CLOSED MONDAYS


Hey, a couple of days ago I met Will Vinton, and now I’m using the title of one of his films! As I wander the hallways at AFM I notice that many of the doors are closed with notes on them. Some of the notes say they have closed early today and have a phone number where you can call if you want to meet with the company, and others are just plain closed for the rest of the market - the people have flown back to whatever country they came from (which might even be Beverly Hills). This tells me more about the market than the press releases I’m getting in my e-mail box every morning that tell me how business as AFM is booming and attendance is up 6% over last year. Um, business seems to be so slow people are leaving after the weekend.

Many of the other companies offices are run by skeleton staffs, making deals on whatever territories still need movies. If Bulgaria needs a couple of horror movies to fill out their slate, there’s someone in the office who can sell them... but not the boss. The boss may have already left.

This becomes another issue with interviewing people for my article - I wanted a huge number of interviews so that I could find a consensus, and so far I have a few interviews... and it doesn’t seem like I’m going to get many more today. Between my lack of sleep and energy and the closed companies, my “sample” is going to be smaller than I wanted. I’m worried about my article (though, if you are reading this blog you may not be as worried, since my AFM coverage is going to run about 65 pages). I go downstairs... and bump into Mike, who wrote a family film that has done well in Family Film Festivals. He asks me if I’m going to the seminar. “What seminar?” The one on making movies that starts in half an hour. “Who’s giving it?” Some group, but one of the panelists is Mark Damon. “I’m going.”

THE PANEL


Some of you may be wondering who Mark Damon is, others know that he is the pretty boy actor who played opposite Vincent Price in THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (1960). Oh, yeah, and he’s the King of AFM. While living in Italy and being the American star in a bunch of Spaghetti Westerns (like JOHNNY YUMA), he began putting together deals for US indie films for Italy and Italian films for America, and started one of the first foreign sales companies. Since then he has been the driving force in international film sales, and has made many films you have probably seen and continues to make upscale indie films like MONSTER and THE UPSIDE OF ANGER. The other panelists were equally impressive. And it was free. I went in, grabbed a seat, clicked on my pocket recorder in the event anyone said anything quotable, and the panel began... and it was *all* quotable!

Besides Mark Damon, the panel included entertainment attorney Todd Stern, casting director Ronnie Yeskel, publicist Erik Bright and was moderated by Sydney Levine and presented by Dreamago - an organization that connects talent with business.

Mark Damon said so many great things about screenwriting and the importance of the screenplay in an indie film deal, and how one goes about getting a good script, that I had my article for Script Magazine. A better article than if I had talked to every distrib at market (they never like talking about screenplays, probably because many have no idea what makes a good script and are afraid of having this pointed out in print). It was a great panel, lots of information, and plenty of stuff that writers need to know about this part of the business.

After the seminar there was a little party on the balcony, with wine and cheese and I grabbed some of each. During the panel I noticed a student from a decade ago when I lectured at Art Center College in Pasadena named Maja, and asked her what she was up to - she’s producing her second film! That’s great! She’s someone I see every once in a while at screenings and working in producer’s offices. There are people who work their butts off finding a way into the business, and they’re the ones who make it.


Not my bike!

After talking with Maja, I mingled... but am such a wall flower that I talked with no one else, not even Mark Damon who was only a few feet away or Sydney Levine who was talking to the person next to me. I have to get over this - I’ll talk to someone I know, but I am not good at meeting and chatting up strangers. Hey, I even had a meeting with Mark Damon over 15 years ago - that would have broken the ice. But instead I finished my wine and cheese and did a final lap of the lobby before leaving AFM for good. If they are closing up offices on *Monday* I can’t imagine what Tuesday will be like. For me, AFM was over... and now I had to get back to work on my script assignment.

- Bill

PS: Next Friday - the return of Fridays With Hitchcock, REBECCA... and then the Friday after that FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT.
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