Friday, March 27, 2015

Fridays With Hitchcock: Good Evening.

Between the THRILLER Thursdays and watching HITCHCOCK PRESENTS episodes for HITCH 20, both shot on the same lot using the same directors of photography and often the same writers and directors and always the same hair dresser; the one thing that really sets the two shows apart are the intros. I love Boris Karloff and he does a great job of reminding us of who he is and making those intros really hype the stories... but he didn't have Hitchcock's writer James Allardice.

Allardice wrote all of the intros for Hitch, plus wrote the Hitchcock lead trailers for his films up until 1966 when he died. The Hitchcock intros were witty and dark and their own little stories which usually started with "Good evening" and then continued through the commercial breaks until coming to some sort of fun (often twist) ending just before the final credits rolled. These intros turned Hitchcock into a *star*. Just like a Kardasian, his name was on everything! I read the ALFRED HITCHCOCK AND THE THREE INVESTIGATORS books as a kid (which were the inspiration for GOONIES and EXPLORERS) and "graduated" to the Dell HITCHCOCK PRESENTS anthologies (in my old bedroom at my parent's house there is an ancient paperback titled STORIES THEY WOULDN'T LET ME DO ON TV which I reread over the holidays) and also ALFRED HITCHCOCK MYSTERY MAGAZINE (which I still had a subscription to until recently). Hitch became the first director who was recognizable to the general public... all because of these sly and wry little intros for his TV show.

While looking for *one* of the intros a couple of days ago, I found *all* of them. So I figured I'd share them with you. Since there were 359 episodes between HITCHCOCK PRESENTS and HITCHCOCK HOUR and Hitch introduced all of them, this clip shows just the opening moments of the little story that each tells. Someone else will have to do a massive supercut of *all* the Hitchcock material!

All of the Hitchcock intros!

Of course, I have my own book on a selection of Hitchcock's films that do wild experiments with story and cinema...


Click here for more info!


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, March 26, 2015


Yours Truly Jack The Ripper

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

Season: 1, Episode: 28.
Airdate: April 11, 1961

Director: Ray Milland (the movie star).
Writer: Barre Lyndon (?) based on a story by Robert Bloch
Cast: John Williams (TO CATCH A THIEF), Donald Woods, Adam Williams (NORTH By NORTHWEST), Edmon Ryan, Miss Beverly Hills.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith.
Cinematography: Kenneth Peach.
Producer: William Frye.

Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The surgeon’s scalpel. An instrument of mercy in the hands of a skilled physician. A lethal weapon in the hands of a madman. A murder, such as the subject of our story for tonight. No one knows who this man was. No one ever saw his face. His identity has always been one of the world’s great mysteries. He killed only women. And only a certain kind of women. And his murders were often accompanied by stranger forbidden rites. For months on end he terrorized London, defying whole divisions of police. And it was they who nicknamed him Jack The Ripper. Well, he disappeared from the scene as suddenly as he had come. Similar murders followed at intervals in other countries. There are many who believe that Jack The Ripper still walks the Earth. Still continues his diabolical activities. That’s a chilling thought. Especially when it’s accompanied by highly convincing proof that it may be true. Let us discover the facts for ourselves in the company of such distinguished players as Mr. John Williams, Mr. Donald Woods, Mr. Edmon Ryan, and Miss Nancy Valentine. I suggest that you viewers draw just a little closer together... the Ripper always struck down solitary victims, you know. It would be a pity if a member of our audience became *dis*membered.”

Synopsis: In 1888 prostitute Mary Jane Kelly leaves a pub in London and walks home down the foggy streets. She sneaks past a policeman, turns a corner in the fog and bumps into another policeman. This cop tells her she knows better than to be out at night... Jack The Ripper might be hiding in the shadows waiting for her. We get exposition about the past murders, and then the cop tells her to buzz off and get home. Mary Jane enters her room, locks the door... and then is attacked by Jack The Ripper! He holds a leather gloved hand over her mouth to stifle her screams as pulls out his knife and inserts it into her body again and again...

On the street a man and woman sing the ballad of Jack The Ripper. “What do I look like? Who can I be? All the blinking coppers is out after me! They think I’m here, they think I’m there; but when they come to collar me I vanish in the air! Oh what do I look like? Who can I be? Well here’s a bit of something they can say of me: I ain’t a butcher, I ain’t a kid, and I ain’t a flurrying skipper. I’m just your own dear loving friend... Yours truly, Jack The Ripper!”

In 1961 New York City the Chief Of Detective Jago (Edmon Ryan) and his team look over a map marked with the locations of the murders. Police Psychologist Dr. John Carmody (Donald Woods) introduces him to a British consultant Sir Guy Hollis (John Williams) who has flown over to aid them in the quest for the killer. Sir Guy is the foremost expert of Jack The Ripper, and has a crazy theory: this isn’t some killer imitating Jack The Ripper, this *is* Jack The Ripper. Detective Jago says he’d have to be, what, 90 to 100 years old? How is that even possible? Sir Guy explains that the Ripper was responsible for six murders in London, and since then there have been groupings of six murders in the exact same pattern with similar M.O.s over the years in one country after another. Every 2 years and 8 months there has been a month of carnage... for 70 years. “Suppose he hasn’t gotten any older?” When Detective Jago says the natural process of life is to grow older, Sir Guy counters with the *unnatural* process of life. Sir Guy doesn’t know whether Jack The Ripper kills to stay young or uses the stolen organs as demonic sacrifices or what.. But the *facts* point to all of these murders as being his: they contain elements of the original Jack The Ripper crimes that were never made public. Things from police reports that were kept from the press. Detective Jago thinks this is all unbelievable bull crap, but Sir Guy has charts that predict the next murder will be in 3 days and gives Jago the general location of the killing as well.

Detective Jago thinks Sir Guy is crazy... but sees nothing wrong with an increased police presence in the area Sir Guy says the murder will take place three nights from now. If they catch the killer in the act, Jago is a hero... if nothing happens it will just prove that Sir Guy is a crackpot.

On the dark foggy street Sir Guy and Dr. Carmody drink coffee at the police command post, waiting...

A prostitute leaves a bar and walks down the foggy streets of New York City. Just as Mary Jane Kelly did in the opening scene, she sneaks past one policeman and then is startled by another policeman. This policeman tells her she shouldn’t be out at night alone with these killings, just as the policeman told Mary Jane in 1888. This policeman walks the prostitute back to her apartment, and makes sure she locks and bolts the door. Once the prostitute is safe inside her apartment, she disrobes and lays on her bed, when the phone rings... a client. She gets his hotel room number, hangs up and gets off the bed... when Jack The Ripper attacks! He has crawled through an open window, just as he’d done back in 1888 with Mary Jane. He clamps a leather gloved hand over her mouth to stifle her screams, then inserts the knife again and again...

Later That Night: Detectives on the scene. The CSI Team dusts for fingerprints, collects evidence, Sir Guy tells a skeptical Detective Jago that this crime scene is *identical* to the Ripper crime scene. Jago is confused: the streets were filled with cops. How could The Ripper have got past all of them? “He was here... now he’s gone.”

The Next Morning: Every newspaper’s headline is about the Ripper murders.

Detective Jago reluctantly asks Sir Guy what their next step should be. Sir Guy explains that evidence points to Jack The Ripper hiding among artists and Bohemians over the years. He would be accepted there, and one of the suspects in the original murders in 1888 was a painter. The other murders over the years have also had painter suspects. So let’s see if any strangers have popped up in the beatnik corner of the city? They go to Greenwich Village to interview beatnik artists, a really odd bunch, including strange painter Kralik (Adam Williams) who has just painted beautiful model Arlene (Nancy Valentine)... in a strange painting filled with death imagery. Is this Jack The Ripper?

When they ask him how it is possible for Jack The Ripper to still be alive and killing, Sir Guy gives a great bit of Freakonomics, “There’s a strange rhythm to The Ripper’s murders. Just as there are cyclical rhythms which control other things. There are rhythms which control the sun spots, every seventeen years a particular type of locusts swarms and flies. Every fourteen years the price of nutmeg peaks then drops again. But in The Ripper’s murders, there’s always 126 days between his first and second murder, but only half that, sixty three days, between the second and the last... the sixth.”

One of the other beatniks thinks it would be fun to go to the hooker’s funeral. Sir Guy and Dr. John Carmody think this is a good idea... if Kralik (or one of the other painters or beatniks) is Jack The Ripper, maybe they’ll do something at the funeral to expose their identity?

At the hooker’s funeral, there’s a pallbearer mishap and the coffin is dropped in front of the model, the lid pops open, the corpse pops out... with all of the carvings on display. The corpse of the hooker’s eyes pop open and it *stares* at Arlene and Sir Guy and Dr. Carmody and Detective Jago. Complete freak out! Screaming erupts. Sir Guy and Dr. Carmody look for signs that one of the beatniks might be the Ripper... nothing. They are all freaked out... except Kralik.

At The Police Station: Sir Guy uses his past case histories to predict the next murder. It seems tied to the Art Gallery Event which will display creepy Kralik’s painting and the work of the other beatniks. The police set up flood lamps and up the security around the Gallery. No way someone can sneak in or out without being seen this time! But if Kralik or one of the other beatnik artists is Jack The Ripper, they will have an invitation to the event, right? They will *already* be inside.

Detective Jago and the beatnik artists do not mix... giving us a little comedy. But Sir Guy and Dr. Carmody seem to get along well with the weirdos. Dr. Carmody admits he studied sculpture when he was a student, but was so bad he’s glad he had that doctor thing to fall back on. At the gallery there is a contest for best work of art by the beatniks, and a serious art critic as the judge. An amusing bit where he insults each piece of art (and the creator) as he goes around the room making notes on who will win the prize. He’s mean and destructive to everyone... and ends up completely tearing Sir Guy apart as well. Hmmm, what if Jack The Ripper was an *art critic* instead of an artist?

Sir Guy sits with Arlene and what begins slightly pervy with Sir Guy talking about how beautiful she is, turns into something emotional when she tells him that she has a daughter (she’s not married) and her kid is in the Children’s Hospital right now. Arlene goes every night to visit and kiss her goodnight. A powerful emotional moment. She tells Sir Guy that she must leave now, before the winner of the contest is announced, but she’ll be back after she kisses her daughter goodnight.

Kralik’s painting of Arlene wins, and everyone wonders where Arlene is. Sir Guy says she has gone to visit her daughter at...

Children’s Hospital. Night. Fog. Spooky. Arlene walks through a maze of cars in the parking lot to get to the entrance. Suspense builds. The silhouette of a Man is following her between the cars... or is he just going to the hospital as well? When Arlene makes it through the maze of cars to the hospital steps, The Ripper steps from that shadows and puts a leather gloved hand over her mouth... that’s when a Police Car cruises past, stops, and shines it’s spotlight through the parking lot. Arlene struggles to scream for help, then stops when she realizes the alternative. Torn between screaming and not getting stabbed, Arlene stays still until the Police Car moves on... then it is too late for her. The Ripper uses his blade on her.

The graveyard. Kralik in front of a headstone not far from the hooker’s headstone... Arlene’s. He tells Sir Guy and Dr. Carmody that he’s going crazy: did he paint all of that death imagery in the painting because he *knew* she was going to be killed? Or did The Ripper see his painting and decide to make Arlene his next victim? Kralik says he’s been visiting Arlene’s daughter in the hospital every night, but hasn’t worked up the nerve to tell her that her mother is dead. He’ll have to tell her eventually... but dreads it.

Police Station: Sir Guy knows the final murder will be tomorrow night, and believes he knows where. But Dr. Carmody questions his methods: using the same “formula” couldn’t the murder site be here or here? Sir Guy admits that is possible, but thinks his choice is most likely. By this point, complete skeptic Detective Jago is a believer. As crazy as Sir Guy’s theories seemed at first, he has *accurately* predicted the murders.

The next location perfectly matches the location of a strip club. Cops all over the streets outside, undercover inside. Sir Guy asks Carmody what happens in a strip club, and when Carmody explains, Sir Guy decides they should go inside and watch. Det Jago is in there, pretending to be a customer... but, um, distracted by Miss Beverly Hills taking it all off (we get a shot of her high heels by the time she gets down to bra and panties). After the stripping, Carmody says someone should make sure Miss Beverly Hills is okay and elects himself. We follow him back as he checks on her in the dressing room, then returns. Sir Guy suggests they step outside for some fresh air, and so that Sir Guy can smoke.

In the dark foggy alley behind the strip club, they hear a noise... a man walks through the shadows... when he steps into the light, just some guy. Sir Guy and Dr. Carmody relax. Sir Guy says if they don’t catch the Ripper tonight, he has learned enough from this series of killings to capture him the next time. They have gotten very very close this time. Sir Guy pulls out a cigarette, asks Dr. Carmody for a light... but Carmody pulls a knife and STABS Sir Guy! Sir Guy is confused: “John, why?” Dr. John Carmody smiles and says, “Not John... Jack!” and disappears int the fog.

Review: You can’t lose with a serial killer on the loose in a foggy city at night. One of the great things the episode does is give us the same sequence twice, which builds dread and suspense the second time because we know what happened the first time. When the hooker is killed in 1888 that completely sets up the terror in the present day scene. Once she sneaks past the first cop exactly the same way it happened before, we know what is coming... and just want to warn her not to go home.

Arlene’s parking lot scene is great, suspense stretched to the breaking point... and then all of the little “gags” like the police car stopping.

Lots of good red herring characters, including Kralik and even one of the weird beatnik women. And the story plays fair: though you don’t really suspect Dr. Carmody, we do know that his first name is John and that he used to be a sculptor and he doesn’t react normally to any of the crimes (but we think it’s just because he’s a police psychologist). We suspect Sir Guy for a long stretch of the story. He’s the weirdo, and Dr. Carmody is more of the voice of reason. What’s cool is that once we know Carmody is Jack, we realize that “voice of reason” stuff was trying to sway Sir Guy and Detective Jago into being cautious so that Jack could take advantage of that caution and strike.

Both Arlene’s scene where she talks about her daughter and Kralik’s scene where he talks about Arlene and her daughter are nice moments of real emotion which elevate this episode above most twist ending tales. It’s been a while since I read the short story, so I don’t remember if those moments were in the story or something added by the screenwriter. Either way, they create a reality which makes the murder of Arlene even more shocking.

Well directed by movie star Ray Milland, who worked with John Williams on Hitchcock’s DIAL M FOR MURDER (which we look at in my EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR book). The episode is very atmospheric, both in the feeling of dread on those foggy streets and the world of the beatnik painters and sculptors on the edge of the art world. Detective Jago’s “conversion” from complete non believer to someone who is sure that Sir Guy is right is done with subtlety.

I mentioned Sir Guy’s “Freakenomics” speech because it’s crazy logical and adds a strange kind of verisimilitude to his wacky theories. It helps sell the idea that Jack The Ripper really could still be alive and killing...

Which brings me to the last part of this week’s entry! When telling a friend about this episode, I mentioned that the Bloch short story had been adapted twice, here and on STAR TREK. So I thought I’d rewatch that STAR TREK episode... and discovered that it was not a direct adaptation of YOURS TRULY JACK THE RIPPER, even though it was also written by Robert Bloch. But the STAR TREK episode is somewhere between a sequel and a rewrite of the story, so let’s take a look at it as well!


Written by Robert Bloch.

From Miss Beverly Hills in that strip club we cut to a Belly Dancer Kara (Tania Lemani) is a similar club. Kirk, Scotty and Bones are taking some shore leave on the “pleasure planet” Argelia known for it’s pacifist hedonists... and Scotty is digging on the dancer. Kirk as arranged for her to come to their table afterwards and be Scotty’s date for the night. Scotty has just recovered from some sort of accident on the Enterprise and this is his reward. The customer at the next table Morla (Charles Dierkop) and a member of the band Tark (Joseph Bernard) give Scotty the stink eye when he flirts with the Belly Dancer and makes plans to take her on a walk, if you know what I mean and I think you do.

After Scotty and the Belly Dancer are gone, Kirk and Bones decide to head to another bar and find their own entertainment... but in the foggy streets of the village, they hear a woman’s scream and run over to find the Belly Dancer stabbed multiple times... and Scotty standing over her with a knife in his hand!

Because everyone on this planet would rather make love not war, they are not set up for a murder investigation. The sole policeman is Detective Hengist (John Fiedler) who questions Scotty... getting nothing because Mr. Scott is suffering from amnesia. The Prefect of the planet Jaris (Carles Macauley) and his uberhot wife Sybo (Pilar Seurat) want to use the traditional Argelian Empathic Contact to find out wether Scotty killed the Belly Dancer or not. Kirk asks if they can beam down a technician with a special tricorder that can probe Scotty’s mind to find out what his amnesia may be covering up. When the pretty technician Lt. Tracy (a redshirt in a blue shirt played by Virginia Aldridge) beams down she goes with Scotty into a private room to probe his mind...

Uberhot psychic wife Sybo wants to touch the knife to see what she can get a vibe off of it, but they can not find the knife. It has vanished! And then there is a scream. Technician Tracy dead, Scotty standing over her with the murder knife! That’s when Detective Hengist shows up with the two guys who gave Scotty the stink eye earlier.

Detective Hengist wants to interrogate Scotty, wants to jail him and start the trial as soon as possible. Hey, one woman murdered at Scotty’s feet and he’s discovered with the murder knife might be some sort of accident (well, not really) but *two*? Even if Scotty can’t remember a thing, he’s still guilty as hell! Kirk talks the Prefect into allowing them to use the Argelian Empathic Contact to find out what happened, and everyone joins hands in a circle, like a seance, and Uberhot Sybo starts seeing visions. Visions of Redjac, and the Hunger That Will Never Die. An evil spirit that murders women to stay alive. That’s when the lights go out. When they come back on, Scotty is holding the Uberhot Sybo’s blood soaked body... and that damned knife again!

Detective Hengist is ready to jail Scotty when Kirk appeals to Prefect Jaris: can they transport everyone onto te Enterprise and use their lie detector gizmo to find out if Scotty has murdered these three women or not? The Prefect, whose wife as just been brutally murdered, says “Sure”.

Onboard the Enterprise they put Scotty on the lie detector to testify. He did not kill Sybo... but he is not lying when he says he has no memory of Kara and Lt. Tracy’s murders. Detective Hengist as had enough of this nonsense. They put Morla on the machine, he’s innocent, too. Kirk turns detective and decides to use the computer to run Sybo’s last words... Redjac. Discovers it’s a nickname for Jack The Ripper! “A man couldn’t survive all these centuries!” But what if it *isn’t* a man, but an evil alien spirit thingie that lives forever and possess the bodies of humans? Hengist wants to arrest Scotty and quit chasing after ghosts. Kirk asks the computer for dates and places for murders similar to Jack The Ripper’s... and we get the same list from YOURS TRULY with some additions on other planets between Earth and Argelia. The same spacing patterns, etc... the computer is playing John William’s role... and Hengist the detective is very similar to Dr. Carmody. The last murders where on Hengist’s home planet of Rigel 4! Hengist freaks, tries to escape, is captured... and drops dead!

Jack The Ripper (the spirit) has entered the Enterprise’s computer and now controls the ship... and the air supply! It will soon kill the entire crew, slowly, and feed off their fear!

Kirk and Spock hatch a plan to keep the computer busy trying to find the last digit of Pi as they give the crew a sedative that keeps them docile and happy and try to eradicate the evil spirit. The spirit pops into Prefect Jaris and then Hengist again... and Kirk takes Hengist, tosses his onto the transporter, and beams him out into space. The end.

So many similarities to YOURS TRULY, especially the idea of one of the investigators being the killer. The same murder pattern information is shared by both, and the post 1888 crime locations are the same (until we leave Earth, that is). It’s somewhere between a major rewrite of YOURS TRULY and a sequel, but certainly interesting to see both episodes back to back! John Fiedler is perfect casting, he usually plays mousey little guys... and fits perfectly as the overly officious Detective on a planet with no crime. Last person you’d expect to be Redjac!

Robert Bloch is one of my favorite horror writers, and his stories pop up here and on TWILIGHT ZONE and on HITCHCOCK PRESENTS. In addition to PSYCHO he has some great novels like AMERICAN GOTHIC and FIREBUG (neither have been adapted into movies) and has a pun filled, clever writing style.

Next episode is a deal with the Devil gone wrong... do these deals ever go right?


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Wednesday, March 25, 2015


From way back in August 2010...

I am not a doctor and I don’t even play one on TV, but I have seen many movies with serious problems and read many screenplays with fatal problems. I'm not even a script doctor, so my job is not to cure these patients - just the blather on and on about them in my blog. Complaining is free, I might as well get in as much as I can, right?

A couple of months ago I went to a BBQ at Bamboo Killer Emily’s new house and everyone was talking about screenwriting and movies and the upcoming UFC fight (which is different than a KFC fight - me wanting more fried chicken and knowing I shouldn’t have any). One of the subjects was that insane writing you do the last day of Nichol submissions - “Sure, I can knock out an entire Act 3 by 11:59!” and then the horror of finding all of the typos and screw ups *after* you have submitted you script to the contest. I always say, if you want to find all of the mistakes in your screenplay, send it to someone really important and then reread it. Suddenly you can see all of the typos you’ve missed!

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It’s like that episode of HOUSE where he is sure the patient is fine and discharges him from the hospital, only to have the patient bounce back an hour later ten times worse... and maybe even *blue*... like some extra from AVATAR.

Our job is to make sure the patient is in perfect health before we discharge them from the hospital, and that takes patience.

Writing is rewriting. A script you finished at 11:59 on the last day for Nicholl’s submissions hasn’t been rewritten at all. Probably hasn’t even been proof read. Probably has all kinds of weird and confusing stuff in it - remember when you changed the female lead’s name when you were writing the script? How many places does she have the old name? Remember that scene on page 57 where the villain captures the hero and takes his gun... how does the hero get it back for the big shoot out at the end? Remember that scene where the guy buys the gal dinner in the cute little restaurant? How about three scenes before when he lost his wallet?

And those are the big obvious problems! What about consistent dialogue? Do all of your characters have a unique vocabulary and a different way of speaking? Or do they all sound just like you? Once you get the story down, there are hundreds of *details* in the way that story is told that must be consistent - character details, dialogue details, action details, etc - things that you will probably not get right on first pass... or even second pass! Things that you may not even notice if you do a quick read through before hitting the “send” button that sends your PDF to a contest or producer.

Being a freelance writer is tough - you have to be your own boss and impose your own deadlines. Having a deadline like the Nicholl or some other contest is a great way to get us off of our lazy butts and in front of that keyboard turning out pages. I understand the need for outside motivation tools... but eventually you will reach a point where there are no contests deadlines to spur you along and you have to finish screenplays on your own. This is not easy, but a skill you need to develop. You don’t want to be the writer who never gets anything finished... or gets an assignment and waits until the last minute and turns in a crappy draft. And because we are all human and those contest deadlines *are* great motivators, how about this: give yourself three weeks to rewrite your script before the deadline... which makes your first draft deadline three weeks *before* the Nicholl deadline. Then hold to that. Use the deadline to get you off your butt, and also leave enough time to polish your script before you turn it in.

This works on assignments, too. Mentioned this in a tip rewrite recently - I always give myself at least 2 days to do a quick rewrite before handing in an assignment... even if my deadline only gives me 2 weeks to write the script. On this recent assignment, the character of the detective changed completely in that little rewrite. The Detective character had been a last minute addition to the treatment before I turned it in: I had several people die, and policemen at each crime scene, and realized I could consolidate all of those policemen into one Detective so that instead of having a bunch of one day SAG cops, it could be one actor for all of those days... and we could find some recognizable character actor to play the role. So the Detective character got shoved into the story at the last minute, and when I went to script he was under developed. When I did a read-through on the script, his character didn’t pop. No character actor would want to play this role - it was boring. So I came up with a more interesting character for the detective and did a pass through the script changing and improving his dialogue, actions, etc - to reflect this new character. Another last minute pass turned a one line joke into something more subtle (and I think more funny) where the set up is 20 pages before the punchline. Now, this is *still* a first draft, and will go through many more rewrites, but I want to hand in something that makes me look good so that I don’t get fired...

I *have* turned in the rushed script before - and it was a big mistake. You always want the script to be *better* than they expect it to be. If your first draft reads like a first draft, there is no reason *not* to replace you later on with some other writer whose first drafts read like first drafts.


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It gets even worse if you are making the film yourself. The Los Angeles Times had an article a few years back that said 98% of indie films find no distributor at all - not even DVD. They just end up in people’s garages. And one of the reasons why these films are no good is that the screenplays have obvious story flaws that should have been fixed in rewrites... only I suspect there were no rewrites. They were impatient and shot the first draft.

Which is less expensive: rewriting the screenplay or refilming the movie?

A couple of years ago I was invited to a cast & crew screening of a movie made by a friend... and the story was impossible to follow and made no sense at all. It was supposed to be a thriller, but it was muddled and characters were constantly doing stupid things to help the plot and the dialogue was awful, and just about everything was inconsistent in the story - as if this were a collection of completely unrelated scenes about unrelated characters that were put in the same file folder and lead characters were all given the same name and romantic interests given the same name, etc. So the lead character who hated guns on page 6 had a gun collection on page 23 and then didn’t know how to shoot on page 42 and then kills seven bad guys with six bullets in the big end shoot out. Okay - now imagine that with *every* trait the lead has, and then imagine all of the other characters being just as inconsistent. And the story being just as thrown together, too. This film was impossible to watch - even though the acting was okay and the cinematography was really good. The story was a mess. I just looked it up on IMDB - still looking for a distrib. Lots of shoot outs, there’s nudity, there are some minor names in the cast... but the story is so screwed up no one is taking it.

Don’t film a first draft! Rewrite the hell out of it so that it’s amazing, *then* film it!

Sometimes the problem may be that the writer thinks the script is ready to film, when it is far from it. This is why it’s good to get a second opinion from some outside source before you film it. Get some coverage on it or get some people to read it. Then, when you get notes - listen!

There are several blog entries about people I know who ask my advice on their projects... then completely ignore it. I always wonder why they asked in the first place, and it pisses me off to read a script for a friend and give notes on *real problems* and then have my time wasted when they don’t fix the problems. Maybe there’s the feeling that indie films are art from the heart of the creator without any meddling from the outside world - but a major story problem is a major story problem - fix it! And, all of these films that friends ask me for advice on are genre films (thrillers, action, horror) and not some artistic self expression piece that will play at art houses. If you want to see messed up low end horror films, check out Brain Damage.... then realize that these are the films that were in that 2% that were good enough to get distribution!


There’s a great scene in GET SHORTY (screenplay by Scott Frank, based on a novel by Elmore Leonard) where Delroy Lindo explains screenwriting to John Travolta...

Chili flips through the script a moment . . .

You know how to write one of these?

There's nothin' to know. You have an idea, you write down what you wanna say. Then you get somebody to add in the commas and shit where they belong, if you aren't positive yourself. Maybe fix up the spelling where you have some tricky words . . . although I've seen scripts where I know words weren't spelled right and there was hardly any commas in it at all. So I don't think it's too important. Anyway, you come to the last page you write in 'Fade out' and that's the end, you're done.

That's all there is to it, huh?

That's all.

And some folks think it’s just that easy... but the “tricky words and commas” is really the hard part. Once you’ve got the basics of the story, the way it is told and the details are what make that story live or die... and the first draft is a first draft. Filled with little problems you may not have noticed while writing it. You need to go back and fix it... Writing is rewriting.

touch DVD

The first draft of your script is raw materials that must be refined into something valuable. You want to catch and correct the problems *before* someone else sees them. You don’t want them to judge your script on that raw first draft, because everything can change in the next draft or the draft after that - even in a two day quick read-through and rewrite your script can change. They might reject your script based on the first draft, not knowing that by the third draft all of the obvious problems will be gone and the script will be amazing...

The UFC fight at Bamboo Killer Emily & Mitch’s party was #114, and somewhere in one of the undercards leading up to the main event, favored-to-win Todd Duffee fought pudgy Mike Russow. When they stepped into the ring, we all thought it was a waste of time - Russow was downright fat and Duffee was rock hard. For the first two rounds Duffee pummeled Russow - just kept hitting the fat guy in the face and body *hard*. This fight was over. You wanted the ref to move in and stop it before Russow really got hurt. But somewhere in round two I noticed that Russow had taken a bunch of direct hits to the face... and was still standing. Russow wasn’t doing much hitting back, he was just getting hit - and it didn’t seem to be slowing him down. Everyone was sure that Duffee was the easy winner - he was landing punch after punch. But in round three, the fat Russow SLAMMED Duffee in the face and knocked him out.

Your script may win by a knock out, but not if you get impatient and hand in that first round first draft that’s fat and slow and looks like a complete loser. Be patient. Take the time to rewrite your screenplay before you give it to someone else to read. Make sure it is the very best you can make it before you send it out into the world. And whatever you do - make sure it is *great* before you film it. Once it is on film, it is too late to do anything about it.

Don't discharge the patient before they are ready to leave the hospital.

- Bill

WARNING: UK's M4M channel: 8/11 - 14:50 - Black Thunder - When the world's most powerful stealth jet fighter falls into enemy hands, only one man can get it back.


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: 3 Acts = Conflict - It's all about conflict!
Dinner: Togos Hummus sandwich.
Bicycle: Medium.
Pages: Had planned to do all kinds of work last week... and only did a little bit.
Movies: THE OTHER GUYS - This is the movie PINEAPPLE EXPRESS should have been. A cop comedy that has a basic cop structure to hold all of the gags together. The Tuna vs. Lion speech is worth the ticket price, and even though the first half is funnier than the last half, it has great running gags and call backs that keep it going. The story is wild Will Ferrell comedy, but is grounded with heart... you care about these two losers. Michael Keaton is great as the Chief who is the *opposite* of all of those action flick yelling Chiefs: he has a part time job at Bed Bath & Beyond to help pay the bills. Eva Mendez is hot - and that's part of the joke. Sam Jackson and The Rock had me laughing non-stop in their scenes. This probably isn't one of those films we'll be talking about ten years from now, but you can laugh at it now. Stay for the lesson in white collar crime in the closing credits.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Trailer Tuesday: RIVER'S EDGE

RIVER’S EDGE (1986) written by Neal Jimenez, directed by Tim Hunter.

I have called Keanu Reeves “The Luckiest Actor In Hollywood” because he has been in so many hit movies. But maybe it *isn’t* luck? Maybe Keanu actually selects roles that he finds interesting or scripts that he thinks are mind blowing page turners? Keanu has not only been in a bunch of big box office hits, he has also been in a bunch of art house favorites like MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO and PERMANENT RECORD. Oh, and the now forgotten film RIVER’S EDGE which not only launched the career of screenwriter Neal Jimenez, it also brought back Dennis Hopper and probably paved the way for the films of David Lynch. The film is based on a true story, a murder that happened in the Sacramento area; and my friend Tom’s uncle was one of the investigating officers on the case. The story made the news because it was one of those “shocking how immoral our children have become” outrages, since all of the kids in the high school not only knew about the murder, they had visited the body for fun. Kind of like a field trip. Cool! A dead girl! Dare you to touch her!

My other odd connection to this film is the actor who plays the teen killer Samson, Danny Roebuck, is a friend of a friend of mine and I’ve met him and hung out with him a couple of times. Danny is one of those actors who is in *everything*, from being the cop on Matlock to the dad in the Cody Banks movies. He’s a great guy, a real fan of horror movies, and when I was trying to “earn” my producer credit on CROOKED I got he and my friend Duane (the pawnshop owner from PULP FICTION) to agree to play suspects... except the producers decided not to hire them and to hire complete unknowns (who were their friends) instead. So, instead of a group of suspects that you recognized so that you didn’t know who the guilty party was because *all* of the suspects were recognizable actors... there were a bunch of unknowns and Gary Busey. Who do you think the killer is? I didn’t know Danny when I first saw the film, didn’t know Tom’s uncle investigated the case, and had never heard of screenwriter Jimenez. I just thought the film was great.

The movie is all about how this younger generation is desensitized and unemotional, and that carries through the film in several story threads in addition to the main story. High school kid Samson (Danny Roebuck) murders a girl in his class Jamie (Danyi Deats) after having sex with her at the edge of the (Sacramento) river, then stops to have a cigarette as if nothing has happened. Ten year old problem kid Tim (Joshua Miller) watches this happen from a bridge... but doesn’t go to the police. Later Tim tells a group of high school kids, including his older brother Matt (Keanu) and perpetually stoned Layne (Crispen Glover) plus a couple of Jamie’s friends including Clarissa (Ione Skye) about the dead body... and they take a field trip. All of the kids look at the dead girl, kick her to make sure she’s dead, etc... and even though they all knew her, none of them seems to care. It’s just kinda cool. They go back to school and their every day lives as if nothing had happened.

Except both Matt and Clarissa separately realize they feel terrible, Jamie was their friend... and even though Layne wants everyone to rally around Samson, can they really support the friend who killed over the friend who was murdered?

Matt’s home life is hell, his mother is a nurse with an unemployed boyfriend... his bother Tim makes that kid from THE OMEN seem well mannered (Tim takes baby sister Kim’s doll and chops it up) and steals cars, smokes pot, robs houses and eventually steals a gun with the intention of killing someone. This is a *ten year old*. The little sister’s “dead doll” runs an amazing parallel to the dead girl at the river’s edge, and the doll’s grave eventually triggers Matt to call the police anonymously about dead Jamie and Samson. And narking on Samson is what leads to Kid Brother Tim gunning for Matt.

The police question all of the kids, and ask Matt how he feels about Jamie’s death, and he answers: “I don’t know.” Even though he was disturbed enough to anonymously call the police, he is still desensitized to emotions. The policeman says he’s tired of hearing “I don’t know how I feel” from all of the kids he interviews. They all say the same thing: none of them feel.

Samson is hiding out at drug dealer Feck’s house (Dennis Hopper in a signature weird role), where Feck lives with his blow up doll Ellie. Yes, he has a long term romantic relationship with an inflatable girl. Feck is another parallel story: he once contributed to the death of the woman he loved and still feels guilt over it. At first Feck thinks Samson has much in common with him, but then he realizes Samson feels nothing and no longer wants to hide the killer.

Matt confesses to Clarissa that he called the police, and they realize they may be the only two people in their school who are disturbed by Jamie’s death. Both have been plagued by nightmares and guilt. This leads to romance: both care, and care about each other. While they are making love they hear gunshots...

Feck has taken Samson to the river’s edge and killed him. In the process, Feck’s inflatable doll Ellie blows into the river, later prompting one of my favorite lines in the movie when the kids spot the blow up doll in the water: “That's Ellie. Feck's girlfriend. I wonder what she's doing here?”

The chilling thing about this film is how what was true about the younger generation in the 80s being desensitized and not caring seems even more true today. There’s a TV commercial for mobile phones that talks about the joy of being alone... and isn’t the least bit ironic. We live in a world where people don’t interact with other people, we interact with *screens*. Think about how crazy that is for a moment. There are people today who text each other when they are sitting across from each other. Talk about desensitized! THE RIVER’S EDGE held a mirror up to the 1980s... and had no idea things would only get worse. Keanu gives a great performance, as does Danny Roebuck and Dennis Hopper and everyone else in the cast. Let me mention one of the greatest acting jobs in the film: Danyi Deats as the dead Jamie. Imagine having to play dead for an entire film! Deats is a TV and Music Video producer now (some of Sting’s videos). This is one of those lost movies where everyone gave an amazing performance, and screenwriter Jimenez would go on to adapt Tony Hillerman’s Native American cop mystery THE DARK WIND and write and direct the amazing film WATERDANCE after he became paralyzed. He was one of the team of poker playing screenwriters who contributed to the fun film SLEEP WITH ME (famous for the Tarantino speech about TOP GUN as a Gay love story). If you like gritty, edgy flicks, check out RIVER’S EDGE.


Monday, March 23, 2015

Lancelot Link: Spring Surprise

Lancelot Link Monday! Spring is here! You know what that means? No... not the flowers and stuff, the big summer blockbuster are about to be released! Because summer comes earlier every year when it comes to movies. Oddly, summer used to be the dead season in movies and holidays where when all the huge blockbusters came out. Then... air conditioning in cinemas changed all of that. While you're thinking about that, here are this week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...

Here are a dozen links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Insurgent....................... $54,025,000
2 Cinderella...................... $34,492,000
3 Run All Night.................... $5,115,000
4 Gunman........................... $5,009,000
5 Kingsmen......................... $4,600,000
6 Do You Believe................... $4,000,000
7 Second Best...................... $3,450,000
8 Focus............................ $3,300,000
9 Chappie.......................... $2,650,000
10 Sponge Bob 2..................... $2,350,000

So far this year we are 4.3% ahead of last year's box office and 15.1% ahead of 2013 box office. People are going to the movioes!

2) New MISSION IMPOSSIBLE *full* trailer.

3) 13 Breakout Movies From SXSW Fest.

4) The Remake Of The Remake Of The Remake Of SCARFACE Hires A Writer.

5) Hope You Didn't Buy Advance Tickets To THE MOON AND THE SUN...

6) I Now Pronounce You Hollywood & China. You May Kiss Each Other.

7) TRANSPORTER reboot is Statham Free... But Is That A Good Thing?

8) Un Film By Credit.

9) IMMITATION GAME writer on writing characters who are smarter than you are.

10) Go Into The Story's 12 Part Writer's Round Table.

11) 13 Keys To A Scary Horror Movie.

12) The Beginning Is The End: First And Last Frames Of Movies.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:





Friday, March 20, 2015

All Five 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.

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...



Click here for more info!


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, March 19, 2015

THRILLER Thursday: Late Date


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

Season: 1, Episode: 27.
Airdate: April 4, 1961

Director: Herschel Daugherty.
Writer: Donald Sanford based on the story by Cornell Woolrich (REAR WINDOW)
Cast: Larry Pennell, Ed Platt, Jody Fair.
Music: Great Jerry Goldsmith score.
Cinematography: Ray Rennahan.
Producer: William Frye.

Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Put yourselves in young Larry Weeks’s shoes my friends. You’ve just come home from a carefree day at the beach. Mind and body exhilerated by the sun and water. And what awaits? The tragic evidence of murder. Now ask yourself: What would you do next? Remembering always that the one person you love most in all this world, your own brother, was the killer. Would you phone for the police? Would you run from this terrible scene? Or would you have the courage to do what Larry Weeks will do? But before you answer, let me introduce the people who you will meet in tonight’s excursion with a corpse. Mr. Larry Pennell, Mr. Edward Platt, and Miss Jody Fair. Now for those of you who are still undecided let us see exactly how young Larry did handle this grim problem.”

Synopsis: Summertime, and everyone is at the beach. Mid 30s Larry Weeks (Larry Pennell) walks back to his suburban home, expecting to find it empty... but his middle aged brother Jim (Ed Platt from GET SMART) is back a day early... and looks like hell. It’s Thursday, and Jim works in the city during the week, staying at an apartment there, and only comes home on Friday for the weekend. When Larry asks if Jim’s wife Doris is upstairs, Jim mysteriously answers yes, but don’t go up there. Larry climbs the stairs to the bedroom to find Doris dead on the bed... neck broken.

Jim says he discovered she had been cheating on him, and just snapped... as did her neck. Larry says she began cheating a week after they were married, met a guy named Syd in a beer joint and with Jim away all week...

When Jim wants to go to the police, Larry talks him out of it. And by accident, Jim has caught a break: he forgot his train punch card and had to buy a ticket at the station, round trip, so he could go back in the morning. No one on the Thursday train recognized him, because he always comes home on Friday. Larry convinced Jim to sneak back to the station, take the next train to the city, and hang out with friends the way he usually would on a Thursday... to create an alibi. Then, using his punch card when he comes back on Friday, make sure that people *do* remember him on the train. Meanwhile, Larry will deal with the corpse.

But before Jim can leave, his daughter Helen (Jody Fair) returns from the beach. Larry tries to get rid of her by saying her boyfriend Gordon went to the beach to pick her up, but Helen says she’s already talked to Gordon... they’re going to the movies tonight and she can’t very well go in her bathing suit. She slips past Larry into the house. Will she discover Jim and ruin the plan? Helen takes off her wrap and is headed for the hall closet when Larry spots a coat tail hanging out of the closet door... is this where Jim is hiding? Larry tries to take her wrap for her, but she refuses. Opens the closet door: nobody there. Then she asks Larry if Doris is home. Larry says no, and Helen says: great, I can break into her room and use her make up and perfume. That’s where the corpse is!

Larry heads her off at the door to Doris’ room, makes sure it’s locked. While Larry and Helen are talking upstairs, Jim sneaks out downstairs. Helen goes into her bedroom, then sticks her head out and says to Larry: Doris probably didn’t lock the door to the shared bathroom, so Helen can still get in and use her make up and perfume. When Helen ducks back into her room, Larry scrambles to unlock the door to Doris’ room, slip inside, and then tries to close and lock the connecting bathroom door before Helen can try the door... but Helen goes into the bathroom first, turns on the light. Larry hides next to the door, unseen... but Doris’s corpse is in plain view sprawled on the bed!

That’s when the doorbell rings. Helen yells for Larry to answer it, it’s probably Gordon. But Larry can’t move or make a sound without being discovered. When Gordon keeps ringing the doorbell, Helen goes out to the hall (next to the door to Doris’ room) and yells down that it’s open, and Gordon enters. While Helen is on the other side of that door, Larry grabs Doris’ corpse and tries to hide it in the bedroom closet, but the door is locked. Helen goes back into the bathroom, and Gordon yells from downstairs to put on some of that expensive perfume that Doris uses... and Helen enters Doris’ bedroom!

Larry and the corpse hide behind the bed as Helen puts on make up and perfume, then steps back from the full length mirror to check herself out... almost stepping on Dead Doris’ foot! The phone rings. When Doris leaves the room, Larry sneaks out into the hall and says he’s got it, answers the phone downstairs... it’s Doris’ boyfriend Syd! Wants to know if she’s home. He says she’s out, call back later. Helen and Gordon leave for the night.

That night: Larry goes out to the car, pops the trunk, pulls out everything and puts it in the garage... including the spare tire. Doesn’t notice the nosey next door neighbor woman sitting on her porch, watching him. Back in the house, the phone rings... it’s boyfriend Syd again asking if Helen has come home. Larry comes up with a plan: says she’s having dinner with some friends at the Paradise Club and will meet him there at 8:30. But he should park in the back of the lot so that her friends don’t see him. Syd says he’ll be there. Larry checks his watch: 8:00. The ticking clock has begun. He lights a cigarette, gets ashes on the livingroom rug... and figures out a plan. He pours some ink on the rug, wraps Doris’ corpse in the rug, then calls a cleaner and says he’s spilled ink on his carpet, can he drop it off tonight? The cleaner is closed, but the guy says to ring the bell and he’ll open the door for him. Larry picks up the rug to carry it out to the car... and a shoe falls out. He stuffs the shoe back inside, plugs both ends of the rolled carpet with pillows, an carries it out to the car...

Where the Nosey Nextdoor Neighbor asks what he’s doing.

Larry tells her he spilled ink on the rug. She wonders why he’s taking it to the cleaners *now*, why not wait until morning? Larry explains that he doesn’t want the ink to set in. Then, in front of the NNN he has to put the rug in the trunk of the car. But it doesn’t bend like a rug, because it has a dead person inside. Suspense! He gets it in the trunk, closes it, gets in and... the car has trouble starting. He needs to getout of there *now*, the clock is ticking the Nosey Nextdoor Neighbor is watching. The car finally starts and Larry starts to drive away... when a police car cruises down the street! He *follows every possible law” as he backs out and drives off...

A winding mountain road with a sign for the Paradise Club announcing that it’s only 2 miles away. Larry turns the corner, clock ticking, he’s going to make it... then runs over something and gets a flat tire. Pulls the car to the shoulder and takes out the rug/corpse, slinging it over his shoulder. That’s when a car pulls up next to him. Two friends of Larry’s who want to help him. Change the tire? No spare. Drive you to a gas station to get a tire? He has to get this rug to the cleaners. Drive you to the cleaners, rug in the backseat? Um, no... it’s not that far, I can walk it. The rug is light. (He’s sweating like crazy, trying to make the rug look light). Will they discover the body? They say, “Your funeral” and get back in the car and zoom away.

Larry lugs the rug up the winding road, wondering if he’s going to get there in time.

On the road, a pick up truck pulls up next to him. The driver offers him a ride, he’s going past the Paradise Club. Larry puts the rug in back, climbs in. The driver asks him all kinds of questions about what he’s doing out at this hour with a rug. Larry tells his ink story and the driver says that’s bunk: he *stole* the rug. He’s hoping to sell it to someone at the Paradise Club, right? Right? Larry has no idea which way to answer... but the driver starts speeding up... faster and faster and faster. Larry says he wants out. The driver *throws him out*! Larry manages to yank the rug out of the back of the truck before hitting the shoulder with his shoulder and rolling down the side of the hill.

When he comes to, he’s messed up, but alive. His watch is broken. No idea what time it is. He climbs the hill, realizes he’s at the Paradise Club... and there’s Syd at the back of the parking lot in his car! Larry backtracks, finds the rug, puts it on his injured shoulder and carries it to the bushes behind Syd’s car.

Syd looks at his watch, impatient, then gets out of his car and goes into the Paradise Club looking for Doris. Meanwhile, Larry unrolls the rug, revealing Doris. How long will it take Syd to find out Doris isn’t in the club and come back to his car? Another ticking clock. Larry gets the corpse into the back seat of Syd’s convertible, makes sure her purse and identification and everything else that will make it look like she was out with Syd and he killed her, then slips back into the bushes *seconds* before Syd returns to his car, pissed off. For a moment, Larry is afraid Syd will look in the backseat and this whole thing will blow up while Larry is hiding a couple of feet away. But Syd pulls out a pint of booze, downs it, gets behind the wheel and drives off.

Larry rolls up the rug, goes to the Paradise Club and flags a cab, tells the driver he has to get this rug to the cleaners before the owner splits... puts the rug in the cab and they drive off...

Syd speeds down the winding road in his convertible, unaware that Doris’ corpse is in the backseat. He’s drunk and angry and speeding and...

When the cab drops Larry off at his house, he realizes that he’s done it. He’s saved his brother Jim from going to prison for murder! Now the Dead Doris Problem is Syd’s. Larry goes inside... and someone is inside, hiding in the shadows!

Jim. He tells Larry he couldn’t go through with it. He killed Doris and he wants to go to the police and confess. Larry says you can’t do that, Doris isn’t upstairs, she’s in the back seat of Syd’s car. How do you expect to explain that to the police? Jim still wants to confess, no matter what. Jim leaves the house, with Larry chasing behind him, trying to talk him out of confessing... when a police car stops in front of the house and two officers step out. “Are you James Weeks?” Jim says he is. The Police Officer is sorry to have to tell him that his wife was killed in a car accident along with another man. The Officer shows Jim some of the personal effects that Larry planted in the car. “Are these your wife‘s?” Jim says they are. The Officer says he can come down to make a formal identification in the morning, and they get in the police car to drive away.

Jim is completely off the hook.

But Jim walks down the sidewalk to the police car and gets into the back seat... and Larry follows him.

Review: I first saw this episode as a kid, and was blown away. It is *intense* edge of the seat suspense, and *relentless*. It never lets up. I had no idea who Cornell Woolrich was when I first saw the episode, and it was only later that I put two and two together and realized the same guy who wrote the short story that REAR WINDOW was based on wrote the short story that this episode and my other favorite from the series GUILLOTINE was based on. Around that time, Ballantine Books began republishing all of the Woolrich novels and short stories and I consumed them like a starving man. Woolrich was one of the three fathers of Noir and this episode fits right into the Noir genre: all about the darkness within and the descent of a good man into evil. This episode and an episode of HITCHCOCK PRESENTS called ONE MORE MILE TO GO were the inspirations for my DANGEROUS CURVES script, which is always a bridesmaid and I wish someone would just buy and make. The end of the short story this episode is based on, THE KID AND THE CORPSE (aka BOY WITH BODY) from 1935 is basically the end of Act One in DANGEROUS CURVES... and I wondered what happened if you got away with murder?

Before we look at the great stuff in this episode, let’s look at what almost sinks it. The short story has two titles (common for stories to get a new title with each new magazine publication back then to trick readers into thinking it was something they hadn’t already read), and KID and BOY are right there in those titles. Instead of Larry being the hunky younger brother of Jim in the story, he’s Jim’s shy son just out of high school... and not hunky at all. The idea of a *kid* doing all of this stuff to protect his *father* is a hundred times more involving than some studly mid 30 year old doing it to protect his middle aged brother. The age change also robs the story of it's Noir roots: a *boy* doing these things to protect his father is a descent into darkness, a grown man doing it makes the character seem bad from the start (which is a crime story but not Noir). Larry Pennel was just bad casting... and the muscle T didn't help... but this is the lead character, and somewhere someone thought they should get someone who looks like a movie star, and cast the muscular star of RIPCORD who would later play a parody of a hunky movie star named Dash Riprock on THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES who keeps getting set up with Ellie Mae. Instead of worrying that this boy will never be able to pull this off, we get this strong and overly confident guy who we *know* will pull it off. Instead of the father/son bond, we get this brother thing which still kinda works... but the consequences of having your brother go to prison and having your *dad* go to prison are completely different. If dad goes to prison, you are homeless and your whole future changes for the worse. This casting screw up almost sinks the episode: the story is kid of father, son, daughter and wicked stepmother... the episode loses all of that. Maybe they were afraid to cast a kid for censorship issues? An adult hiding a body is bad enough, but a kid?

That censorship thing is no doubt the reason for the complete cop out ending. In the story, after the police tell them that Doris died in the car accident, the story is *over*. They’ve gotten away with murder! Time for celebration! But they probably couldn’t have that ending on TV in the early sixties. I just like to pretend the episode ends before Ed Platt goes out to the police car to confess... that’s a much happier ending.

Now for the great stuff: this episode is a textbook on suspense. There isn’t a scene or moment that doesn’t have suspense!

The moment when Helen wants to put her coat in the closet and Larry sees the tail of a coat sticking out between door and jam and we *know* that’s where Jim is hiding. Every chance for suspense is used... and this is a great lesson! When you have a scene in your thriller, look at all of the little ways you can milk it for suspense. The ways to turn the feeling of suspense into tangible things like that coat tail in the door. We know that Jim is hiding *somewhere* which is a vague suspense element. That can work, but it works *better* if we have a concrete suspense element like that coat tail sticking out of the closet. The great part of this is that as soon as the closet door is opened and Jim is *not* there, Helen asks if Doris is home... switching the suspense to someone else, something worse, she can discover! Escalating the suspense!

An other cool thing is when Larry is taking everything out of the car trunk so that he can fit the body in there, and takes out the spare tire. At the time we think nothing of it: he needs as much room as he can get. But that’s really a great set up for the problem with the flat tire later. When he gets the flat, we remember that he has no spare and realize he’s *really* screwed! The audience is always trying to jump ahead, and part of our job is to *hide* those set ups and plants so that they can’t figure out what happens next. Even if you do worry about him taking out the spare tire, there’s enough suspense afterwards (with the nosey neighbor, the car not starting, the cop car) to make it slip your mind until he gets the flat tire.

The episode uses a great “clock” or “time lock” with the meeting set at 8:30 at the Paradise Club. Woolrich frequently used this suspense device, in one of my favorite novels PHANTOM LADY the chapters are all titled with the number of days it is before the protagonist is put to death for murdering his wife... and it counts down chapter by chapter until they send him to the electric chair! Here we know Larry has a half hour to get Doris’ corpse to the Paradise Club, plenty of time! But then things go wrong. Things like the sign telling us the club is 2 miles away when he gets the flat help escalate the tension with that ticking clock. The broken watch is a great tool as well.

We also get to see Larry *think*. When he gets cigarette ashes on the rug, then looks down at the rug... we know he’s thinking that taking the rug to the cleaners is a great way to get the body out of the house, and create an alibi for himself.

One of great things in thrillers is that characters often have to do things completely against their nature and against logic, which often enters into the absurd. Here we have Larry broken down on the side of the road with this damned heavy carpet to carry to the Paradise Club and the clock ticking... and his *friends* offer him a ride. He’d have to be crazy to say no, right? But there’s a dead body in that rug, so he must fight against people offering to *help him*! It makes no sense. It’s a great scene, because he must say and do absurd thing to get rid of them. The rug is light as a feather... but he’s sweating like crazy!

One of the things I note in my Thriller class is how *the world* seems to turn against protagonists in thriller stories, and here Larry finally gets a ride with the pick up truck driver... only to have that driver accuse him of being a thief and then try to steal the rug! Larry is being accused of one crime, and can’t very well explain his innocence without exposing that he’s guilty of a far worse crime! So he just takes the driver’s abuse.

There’s also a great lesson in set ups and pay offs with Syd, Doris’ boyfriend. He’s been waiting in some bar for her all night, and when he heads to the Paradise Club he’s been drinking in his car waiting for her... and getting more angry every minute. This is completely logical behavior for this character. When he comes out of the Paradise Club and thinks Doris has stood him up, speeding away in a rage is logical behavior. The winding road to the Paradise Club has already been established with Larry, so it’s not some crazy coincidence that Syd would drive off the road and crash. We never feel like that ending is contrived, because it’s been set up so well there’s almost no other possible ending. Which is why it’s a shame that the episode felt the need to have Jim confess after we get that great plot twist.

This episode was directed by Herschel Daughtery, who is probably most famous as a regular director on the show filming on the same lot, HITCHCOCK PRESENTS. Though not on the same level as Hitch, he was a really good TV director who knew how to make suspense work on the small screen and worked on all of the great action and drama shows of the time. The script by Sanford does a great job of putting Woolrich’s relentless suspense on screen, and Daughtery makes sure those suspense situations and scenes make it to the screen. Next week we’ll look at one of Robert Bloch’s most famous stories, YOURS TRULY JACK THE RIPPER, and the sequel to that story he wrote as an episode of STAR TREK. Two for one!


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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Just Do It... NOW!

From 2011... don't ask about the film project I talk about.

Don't wait for someone else to give you permission.

That's a trap.

You either want to so something, or you do not want to do something.

If you want to do something, you will find any way to do it – you will be relentless in finding ways to do it.

If you do not want to do something, you will find ways not to do it – and be just as relentless in finding ways to avoid doing it.

I used to work with a guy named Owen who did not want to work – and would do twice as much work to *avoid* working as he would have had to do if he'd just done the job. He would take pallets at the warehouse and reorganize them so that it looked like he'd done the assigned work. If he'd just done the work assigned to him, he'd probably have worked *less* - but if you don't want to do something you will find a million excuses and side tasks to do instead of what you are supposed to be doing.

I know this first hand because there are times when I need to write an article, but instead I work on a script... and times I need to work on a script, but instead I write an article. You have to want to do something, or you will never get it done.

Don't create your own obstacles – if you want ti do something, just do it.

There's a guy on a message board who hasn't written his first screenplay yet, because he's waiting until he has the right connections to sell it. That really doesn't make much sense. Let's say he makes some great connections and they ask to read his script – do you really think they will wait for him to write it and rewrite it and get it good enough for that big connection to read?

Don't wait for things that you can't control – do the things you can control.

I'm on vacation in my hometown, and Sunday night I hung out with a couple of guys I used to make short films with way back when we were in community college. All of us are blue collar guys - no money, but we had a love for film. We spent every spare cent that didn't go to rent and food on films – and sometimes the food money got spent. Lots of the night's conversation was about the old days...

When I was in community college (Diablo Valley College – home of the sex for grades scandal!) I had a full schedule of classes, and two part time jobs that added up to over 40 hours. I have lived on my own since turning 18, and before that I was responsible for paying bills at home... and had a full time job at a movie theater while I was in High School. Before that, I had a variety of jobs going all the way back to moving a half dozen lawns in my neighborhood. My buddies had similar lives – they had jobs and took a full load of classes, and we decided to sleep when we died. Um, wish I'd banked some sleep when I was a kid!

So, Sunday night we talked about how we could not afford film, so we would make flip book animation with note pads. Van would storyboard scenes for films he planned to shoot. John got into acting and stage direction because you didn't have to buy film (he was also the DP for a lot of film students – so that he could make films that someone else paid for).

My first little film starred my roommate (another guy who worked at KMart) and was made in an hour or two before we went to work... while we were doing laundry at the laundromat. Between my jobs and my classes and seeing movies, *making* movies was hard to find time for. So I planned ahead. I had my story boarded and a shot list and all of the props were in an old paint bucket by the front door of the apartment. When both of us were free during the same time period – doing laundry - all of the stuff was ready. We went to the Laundramat, and while Dave and I did our actual laundry, I also shot a short film called LAUNDRA-MATT about a guy named Matt doing his laundry. I mean, what else do you do while waiting for your clothes to dry? Oh, yeah – homework. Well, this was *my* homework, sort of.

I ticked off the shots on the shot list, I had the boards so that I knew the angles, and made a 3.5 minute short film in about an hour - we both got our laundry done and got to work on time. Now here's the kicker: this was film and I had no editing equipment at the time, so it had to be shot *in order* in the camera and every single take had to work. A mistake would ruin the whole film. Not only were there no mistakes, at the end my crazy roommate did a stunt that was *suggested* in the script - but he went ahead and did it! He crawled into the big dryer, put in some quarters, and hit the start button... and did a revolution or two! Guy could have been killed. Instead - absolutely the most amazing ending ever!

And my two pals had similar stories of their first films - one worked a construction crew and the other installed carpet full time. They had also carefully planned their films so that when they had the time, none of it went to waste. We all found the time to make our films, instead of waiting for the perfect conditions or waiting for someone to give us permission. We just did it. Van mad a documentary that won some festivals and *sold* to the government for about a dollar fifty. He may have bought the pitcher that week.

You don't need to wait for Hollywood to hire you, you can just do it yourself. Write your scripts, make your films, write your novel, do whatever the heck you want to do (within the law... okay, if you shoot a film without a permit don't tell me). Don't wait for permission. Make a plan on how to get it done, and then just do it.


So, the reason for our meeting was our movie. Because I'm not as smart as I look, after everybody I know made their own film... I decided it was time for me to make my own. What was I waiting for? Permission? DON'T WAIT FOR PERMISSION! (this means me!) So a couple of years ago I decided to make my own movie with my two oldest friends and started writing a script and then got sidetracked by a paid gig – I think the 80s horror movie remake – and kept putting off writing the script because it seemed like a crazy longshot to me...

And it probably *is* a crazy longshot – but what the heck?

Part of the reason for making the film is so that I have some real-world experience making a no-budget film so that I can write some new articles to go with the thirteen articles I wrote for the Independent Film Channel Magazine many years ago on low budget screenwriting... and end up with a book on how to write and make your own film. That's why I'm not taking this project to some producer or distrib connection for funding – the person who buys the book won't have that ability. But we did talk about crowd-funding, since everyone I know is using that method to fund their little films. Originally I was going to credit card the film, but that seems so 90s now (wait a minute – HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE was made in the *80s*!), so we'll probably put together some Kickstarter page to fund the film. We aren't waiting for someone's permission – we're just making the movie.

My dad asked me about distribution, and that's a very good question. A couple of years ago I “test pitched” my story idea to low end distribs to see if they might be interested. Because this is *not* a horror movie, I was worried that it might not have a market. But the distribs all seemed very interested in the story and genre and a couple offered to help me find funding for it...only problem with that is that they would then own the film and if it was a hit *they* would make all of the money. Um, even though this is to get experience for a book and work with my buddies, I'd still like to make some money – since I'll be calling in favors and working my butt off for free to make it. But here's the thing – if every distrib says no to the finished film, it's not over! We can self distrib and do streaming online and all kinds of other ways to get the film to the audience. I'll just do that.

Part of our meeting was on making a poster and a trailer and looking at casting possibilities. Our biggest issue right now is that John is working a construction job that will take him to the end of the year, so we've postponed production until early next year. Instead of *waiting* for John to be finished with his job, we're going to do all of our prep work and pre-production and build props and maybe set elements. By the time John is available we will have everything planned out and be ready to make the film. We aren't going to let this stop us – or even slow us down. When there is some hurdle, you jump over it. When one element isn't ready, you work on another element. You don't wait for someone to give you permission and you don't allow small problems to be big problems. Life is full of hurdles – you have to jump over them.

As a screenriter who always had a full time job (until breaking in) I realized that if you only write one page a day, that is 3 feature length screenplays by the end of the year. So I wrote 3 scripts a year while working full time and having a life. A page a day? Possible – even if you are busy. If you end up too busy to write your page today, *think* about the next two pages and have them planned out in your mind so that you can write two pages the next day.

If you don't have time to do the whole thing, do it a piece at a time.

Will you be faced with a million problems and a thousand hurdles and all kinds of great reasons *not* to do something? Of course! But if you want to do it, you will find the way to get it done. If you aren't motivated to get it done, you need to spend some time on introspection to figure out why – maybe you really don't want to write scripts or make movies. Maybe what you want to do is... sing!

- Bill
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