Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Trailer Tuesday: Panic In The Streets (1950)

Directed by: Elia Kazan
Written by: Richard Murphy (BOOMERANG, COMPULSION), Daniel Fuchs (CRISS CROSS), based on a story by Edward & Edna Anhalt (SATAN BUG).
Starring: Richard Widmark, Barbara Bel Geddes, Paul Douglas, and the great Jack Palance and great Zero Mostel.

After seeing DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES sunday night, with it's opening montage showing us news footage of the plague that wipes out almost all human life on Earth, I thought it would be fun to look at a film from the past with a different look at the plague. 1950's PANIC IN THE STREETS stars Richard Widmark as a CDC doctor... not a crazed killer or a snarky hit man! He's the good guy in this one. The film takes place in New Orleans, and was shot on location (unusual for this time period) but was directed by Elia Kazan, the dude who took advantage of the new method style of acting and married it to a documentary style of cinema with great results. Kazan's *next* film was A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE and a few films after that he directed ON THE WATERFRONT, and then EAST OF EDEN. Though most of his films dealt with a social issue, he was working in a time where the easiest way to do that was in crime films like this one.

Our story starts when a guy is murdered... but he would have died anyway because he had the plague. The plague! Now it's a race-against-time search for the killer (Jack Palance)... who also has the plague and is *spreading it* with every person he touches. Doctor Widmark and Detective Paul Douglas have 48 hours to find Palance before creates a city-wide epidemic. This is a great idea because "patient zero" is someone who does not want to be found (because he's a killer).

There are chase scenes and shoot outs and fight scenes and a plane chasing a plague ship and... well, it's danged exciting. It's a thriller. But it also really gets into police vs. doctors vs. city politics vs. freedom of the press vs. the public good. Because this crisis - the killer roaming the streets with the plague - requires all kinds of difficult decisions - and as they argue in a speeding car whether they should kill this guy (because he's a menace to society) or make sure they don't kill him (because they need to know everyone he came into contact with) we get to examine the way society works - and why our version may not work.

We get to look at what's right, what's wrong, what works and what doesn't work. Should they give the press the story to possibly save lives... even though that will force the killer underground and they won't capture him in time? Is freedom of the press more important than capturing a criminal? The film really digs into issues.

It also digs into character - Widmark is a low paid government doctor who hides in his work, causing problems with his wife Barbara Bel Geddes and their kid. There are some great family issues going on during the crisis, including Widmark's decision *not* to get his family out of town as they get closer and closer to the crisis point. (Some of the detectives gets their families out of the danger zone). The film works as a pursuit film, a gangster film, a cop film, a social issues film, and a drama... and *won* Best Screenplay that year. It manages to get everything right.

Plus there are a great pair of scenes between Widmark and Douglas, where Douglas completely takes responsibility for something Widmark did - to the point of endangering his future. Because it's what Widmark wanted, he doesn't notice the sacrifice. Later, when he realizes what Douglas has done, he kicks himself a bit... then later makes everything right by taking responsibility for something Douglas has done - that could really screw up Widmark's future.

The locations are amazing: coffee packing houses, ships, rooming houses, waterfront warehouses, and suburban homes. In a time where movies were shot in the back lot, this film explores New Orleans while avoiding anyplace you've ever seen in a tourist video. We get the places people live and work and avoid the tourist traps. It's a great, gritty look at the city. And there is an attention to detail that makes even the action set pieces very personal.

This is a really well written thriller, and when Widmark explains to the cops how Palance could hop a plane and spread the plague nation-wide within a day, it's really frightening. That's what could happen in the late-40s... imagine what could happen today?



Monday, July 21, 2014

Lancelot Link: Birthday Edition

Lancelot Link Monday! You are reading this on Monday, I am writing this on Sunday... and that was my birthday. So after I finish this it's off to Dennys for a free breakfast, then Krispy Kreme for a free donut and Starbucks for a free coffee and... eventually to an orgy of movies at the cinema (after I figure out some way to smuggle in a giant chocolate cake in my clothes). 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 twelve links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Dawn Of The Apes........ $36,000,000
2 Purge 2........................ $28,369,000
3 Planes: Fire Rescue...... $18,000,000
4 Sex Tape...................... $15,000,000
5 Trans4mers................... $10,000,000
6 Tammy.......................... $7,605,000
7 22 Jump Street............... $4,700,000
8 How To Dragon............... $3,800,000
9 Maleficent...................... $3,302,000
10 Earth 2 Echo................ $3,260,000

2) Women Directors Interviewed... including the great Kimberly Peirce.

3) THE SHINING Prequel Gets A Director!

4) The EYES WHITE SHUT Sequel Gets A Writer!

4) Universal Reboots Classic Monsters (again)!

6) When You Need Science In Your Sci Fi Movie, Who You Gonna Call?

7) Comic Book Films That Are Neither Marvel Nor DC...

8) Captain America Battles Superman In Epic Cross Over 2016!

9) New Faces Of 2014... next Week: New Elbows Of 2014, Followed By New Feet Of 2014.

10) 100 Famous Directors Rules Of Filmmaking.

11) Ben Wheatly (met him at Raindance!) Gives No Budget Filmmaking Advice.

12) Agent's Panel: Top 10 Mistakes Writers Make.

And the Car Chase Of The Week!

Thank's to pro screenwriter Todd Gordon for the suggestion!

Bill (going to get free stuff and see movies!)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

THRILLER Thursday: The Poisoner

The Poisoner

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

Season: 1, Episode: 17.
Airdate: January 10, 1961.

Director: Herschel Daugherty
Writer: Robert Hardy Andrews
Cast: Murray Matheson, Sarah Marshall, Brenda Forbes, Jennifer Raine, Maurice Dallimore.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith, kicking ass.
Cinematography: Benjamin H. Kline.
Producer: William Frye.

Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Thomas Edward Griffith, the man who made this lovely picture the destroyed it, really lived. He was a writer, a painter and a critic. Now, in each of these arts he displayed talent, but his real genius lay elsewhere. We have the testimony of Charles Lamb, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, and other famous witnesses that Griffith was the master of the gentle art of murder. A dabbler in the occult and a connoisseur of the exotic, Griffith was far ahead of the medical men of his time in the lethal science of toxication. In simpler terms, Griffith was a poisoner. That’s the name of our play, The Poisoner. And among those threatened by sinister gentleman played by Mr. Murray Matheson, are his wife played by Miss Sarah Marshall, her mother played by Miss Brenda Forbes, her sister played by Miss Jennifer Raine, and his uncle played by Mr. Maurice Dallimore. Oh, by the way, if in the course of our story someone brings you a cup of tea or a spot of brandy... I suggest you let *them* take the first sip.”

Synopsis: A somewhat unusual *true crime* episode, also unusual because it’s an Early Victorian Era period piece which takes place on London’s foggy streets. I’m sure part of the allure of this story was that it’s a Jack The Ripper type tale about a fellow who was very well known at the time who killed just about everyone he was related to by blood or marriage... and got away with it!

Thomas Edward Griffith (the actual fellow was named Thomas Griffiths Wainewright, and more on him in the review section) (played by Murray Matheson giving an amazing performance), was a social climber. Not born into a wealthy family, both parents dead, he desired the prestige and admiration of a member of high society... so he decided to “fake it until you make it”. He lived in a luxurious house filled with pieces or art and antiques. He threw lavish parties so that he could be seen with members of society much higher up the food chain than he was. His clothes were tailored by one of the best. He drank the best brandy and dined at the finest restaurants. Even though, he was close to broke.

Although he’d inherited from his father, his Uncle George (Maurice Dallimore) was executor, and detested his lifestyle... so he was kept on a tight allowance. Uncle George thinks he should sell all of the crap in his house and get a job... but Thomas has never worked a day in his life and has no intention of starting now. He spends his days as a catty critic for a newspaper known for his clever insults, painting watercolors that are good enough for a gallery show or two, and writing witty little booklets on a variety of subjects of interest to the social set. Things a member of high society would do. The problem is, his lavish lifestyle means that he is going deeper and deeper into debt...

Enter the beautiful society woman Francis Abercrombie (Sarah Marshall) , hot and half his age. She is sophisticated, well dressed and travels in the same elite social circles. Thomas marries her before anyone else has a chance to ask... planning to live on her fortune and wait for his Uncle George to die so that he can get his hands on all of his inheritance instead of just his month allowance.

At the lavish post wedding party, his water color painting of his wife is on display over the fireplace. All of the society men think she’s hot, and are jealous of Thomas... which is everything he has ever wished for in life. To further this adoration, he introduces his beautiful wife to all of those members of high society he wants to impress... Then the door opens and these two yapping white trash women and their cat enter: his mother in law and sister in law! You see, his wife is flat broke as well; and like him, was a social climber hoping to marry into money. He ends the party before he is completely embarrassed by these uninvited guests...

Mrs. Abercrombie (Brenda Forbes) is a drunk old woman with a loud mouth and all sorts of complaints about almost everything. There’s a shot where she bends over, most unladylike, and you half expect to hear loud flatulence. Maybe that was planned but the censors said no. New sister in law Helen (Jennifer Raine) is confined to a wheelchair for some reason, and has nothing good to say about anything. If mother complains, sister is an Olympic contender... bitching about everything. And they, of course, have a cat. Oh, and Mrs. Abercrombie has sold her house and all of her belongings to move in with Francis’ new rich husband.

That night, Thomas opens an ornate cabinet exposing a selection of items, selects a “Borgia ring”, fills it with poison and puts it on his finger... then, acting like the perfect host, secretly pours some poison from the ring into a brandy decanter and offers it to his new mother in law... not realizing sister in law Helen is watching from her wheelchair upstairs. Thomas goes upstairs, into his wife’s bedroom, and tells her that everything will be alright. That’s when Mrs. Abercrombie drinks the brandy and drops dead... and Helen screams, and calls Thomas a murderer!

After the funeral, Francis and Helen return with... the family attorney. Mrs. Abercrombie’s death was ruled natural causes, even though Helen believes that Thomas poisoned her. But instead of Francis inheriting the money... it goes to invalid sister Helen. Thomas will never get his hands on a cent of it. Thomas storms out...

How could things get worse? When he returns, Francis tells him that his Uncle is here, waiting for him in the guest room upstairs... and some creditors have come and threatened to cut off his food and booze and some other things if he doesn’t pay his long overdue bills. Wonderful...

Thomas gets a lecture form his Uncle George about those creditors... and how he should sell everything and get a job and live within his means. Thomas would have liked to ask for more money, but he can’t for fear Uncle George will cut his allowance and *force* him to work. He shudders at the thought of working. Before Thomas can poison Uncle George’s brandy, the old man takes a sip and keels over! Snoopy Helen is watching this from the doorway and once again gets to scream “Murderer!”

But Uncle George is *not* dead... he’s just had a heart attack and must remain in bed resting for a few weeks. Hey, and uninvited house guest... more fun for Thomas! The doctor tells Thomas to make sure he takes a pill every so many hours and that it can be taken with a glass of brandy as a stimulant (medicine has changed over the years). Thomas is not going to be subjected to *weeks* of lectures by this old man, so he poisons the brandy decanter, and when Uncle George wakes up, tells him to take his pills with a glass of brandy as per doctor’s orders. Uncle George takes his medicine... and dies... and snoopy sister in law Helen was watching through the keyhole the entire time!

Thomas discovers her spying, and walks towards her menacingly... she backs up her wheelchair in fear... going over the edge and down the staircase (like Arbogast in PSYCHO), breaking her neck when she lands. Thomas quickly hides in the room with his dead uncle, as his wife Francis comes out of her room and sees her sister dead at the base of the stairs. When she screams, Thomas comes out of the room and asks what’s wrong... but Francis isn’t buying it, she *knows* that Thomas killer her sister. Then she spots dead Uncle George on the floor behind him. Thomas says Uncle George must have had another heart attack and died... but Francis points to the *dead cat* next to the spilled brandy and accuses Thomas of killing both of the dead humans plus the cat plus her mother.

When the police come, Thomas has a packed bag ready for jail. He explains to the policeman that it’s probably a waste of time to arrest him, since the only possible witness against him is his wife, and a wife can not testify against her husband. They take him anyway... charged with three murders.

Jail. One huge cell filled with a bunch of smelly criminals. A bucket to poop in.

Thomas is immaculately dressed, sitting at a table writing; when the officers come to take him to the court room for his arraignment hearing.

At the hearing, the Prosecutor makes his case for triple murder by poisoning. When he’s finished, Thomas asks the Judge if he may speak... and then tears apart the Prosecutor’s case. There are no witnesses, one of the victims died of a broken neck, another was ruled natural causes, the third had just had a serious heart attack and no trace of any known poison was found in his system by the medical examiner. The Prosecutor says there are poisons that are *not* known that there is no test for at this time. Thomas counters that until these poisons are discovered and there is some way to test for them, there is not a shred of evidence and to waste the court’s time any further...

And the Judge dismisses all charges.

The officer who arrested Thomas comes to the jail cell release him, saying that some day he will find the evidence that convicts him. Thomas explains that it is no longer possible for him to be convicted of those crimes... it would be double jeopardy. Before being released, Thomas writes out a check on his dead Uncle George’s account and gives it to the officer... to be split among his cellmates. Thomas says goodbye to each of the cellmates, and hopes each uses their share to follow their dreams.

When he returns home, Thomas tells his wife Francis that now only she stands between him and the inheritance from her mother and sister. He prepares two glasses of brandy and lets her see him putting poison from his ring into one of them. Then tells her she has a choice: drink up now, or continue their marriage with each’s money pooled into one happy household account. Francis runs upstairs to her room...

Thomas looks at the water color painting of Francis over the fireplace, takes the poker, and crosses it out (his marks replicating the “spider web” used in the bumpers of the show, leading me to believe at some point they planned on fading from the “spider web” to the defaced painting, then didn’t do it). Then takes the two glasses of brandy upstairs, kicks in his wife’s bedroom door, and again gives her the choice between drinking poison and living with him happily ever after.

Before she answers, someone banging on the front door. The police Officer has come to arrest him. Thomas explains that he *can not* be arrested for any of those three murders, even if he were to admit that he committed them: double jeopardy. So the Officer is wasting his time... please go away.

The Officer smiles and says he’s not being arrested for murder, but for forging his dead uncle’s signature on that check. Which the Officer witnessed, so it’s open and shut. Thomas will be shipped off to Australia to prison where he will spend the rest of his life doing hard labor...

He asks for one final drink before he’s taken away, grabs the poisoned glass of brandy and downs it... falling over dead.


Review: Based on the true story of Thomas Griffiths Wainewright, and fairly accurate. His mother died in childbirth, so he went to live with his grandfather who was the editor of The Monthly Review, and grew up in a literary household. Thanks to a family connection he went to a private school (where that family connection was headmaster) and learned how to live amongst the wealthy, even though he was not wealthy himself.

He was a social climber on the fringe of high society and did have an exhibition of his paintings at the Royal Academy and wrote art criticism for several magazines and newspapers... as well as booklets on a variety of subjects. And he did poison all of those people and got away with it. In fact, he even poisoned at least one other person! In reality when those creditors came after him he and his wife *moved in* with Uncle George... who died shortly afterwards. He fled to France at one point, was arrested for carrying strychnine in that trick ring of his and spent six years in prison, then we he returned to England he was instantly arrested to stand trial for forgery. Instead of taking a dose of his own poison, he was sent to the Tasmanian prison colony. He worked on the road gang, later as a prison hospital orderly, and eventually was allowed to paint portraits of many important people and their family members... and those portraits exist in museums and collections today. The history of the Tasmanian Colony can be seen n his paintings. He was the subject of Charles Dickens’ “Hunted Down” and Edward Bulwer Lytton’s novel “Lucretia”, Oscar Wilde’s “Pen, Pencil, and Poison”, and pops up as a character in the Sherlock Holmes story “The Adventure Of The Illustrious Client”. The most famous poisoner in history!

Murray Matheson is perfect in this episode. He’s one of those actors who was on almost every TV show as a guest star, and you probably recognize his face. Here he gives an amazing performance where he’s both vain & dismissive and sympathetic. Oddly, you identify with his character and *want* him to knock off these white trash relatives by marriage. Matheson seems to have fun treating everyone as his inferior, and the audience wishes they were that clever and witty and stylish. This performance is similar to some of those great Vincent Price performances in Corman’s Poe movies. It’s a brilliant performance, and it turns this episode into one of the better ones.

All of the other performances are great, especially Brenda Forbes and Jennifer Raine as the mother and sister in law from hell. As I said, when Forbes bends over unladylike you can almost hear her loudly passing gas... even though that is not on the sound track.

The period setting and production design makes the episode seem lavish. There are horse drawn carriages and spooky foggy nights and that elegant house... it seems more like a movie than a TV episode.

The score by Jerry Goldsmith (CHINATOWN) is amazing. The Pete Rugolo scores had all been variations on the THRILLER theme music, and when Goldsmith took over it took him until this one to really leave his mark. This is a great score (on the DVD it’s an isolated track, so it may end up on my iPod eventually), and really gives us a look at the great film composer that Goldsmith would become in just a few years.

This is a fun episode that would have been at home on HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, which is a good thing... because we’re about to go back to spy novel adaptations for a while. Just when it was getting good, we go back to the ho hum!


Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Chess Moves

From 2010...

One of the techniques used in suspense stories is something I call the Chess Moves or Chess Dialogue - even though you may find it closer to Poker because it involves bluffing. I wrote about it in the Fridays With Hitchcock about I CONFESS, and it recently popped up in the film DARK PASSAGE, so I thought it would be a good “blog filler” for the day. No actual chess is involved in this technique, so don’t worry if you only know how to play checkers.

The reason why I call it the Chess Move is that, like in chess, the player is several moves ahead of the game, and what may seem like a foolish move now is actually a brilliant move. You are watching a chess game, and one of the players moves his Queen into a very vulnerable position - and the other player takes the Queen. Now, that particular move may look stupid, but when the other player made their move to capture the Queen, they created an opening that two moves from now will result in their being checkmated. Now that stupid move where the Queen was moved onto a square where they were captured doesn’t look so stupid, does it? That player was thinking moves ahead of the other player, and without sacrificing that Queen could never have won the game.

In a story this technique is usually used either to create a trap or to look innocent when the character is, in fact, guilty.

The trap version you’ve seen a hundred times and probably needs no explanation, but often a character will appear to be vulnerable in order to spring a trap. And sometimes a character will *actually* put themselves in a vulnerable position to spring a trap - they volunteer to be “bait” because it is the only way to make sure the adversary show themselves. Think of John McClane with that gun taped to his back raising his hands and giving up to Hans in DIE HARD. Or the Princess in John Woo’s RED CLIFF and her female archers fire on the enemy army even though they are outnumbered... and are chased into the desert... where the Princess’ much larger army awaits. You may think at first that it’s stupid for McClane to give up to Hans, but hiow else will he get close enough to attack him? How will he get Hans to let down his guard, thinking that McClane has lost? Though McClane *is* vulnerable - what if Hans just shoots him? - it is a calculated move where McClane is playing several moves ahead of Hans (who has no idea about that gun taped to his back). And even if the Princess in John Woo’s RED CLIFF ends up being killed by the enemy soldiers before they fall into the trap, she will have died so that the trap could be sprung on the enemy soldiers - and the plan still succeeds. Just without the Princess. Sometimes when you’re “the bait” the fish eats you - but you still hook them.

The other version of the Chess Move is also one you’ve seen a hundred times - it’s when a character does something that will make them look innocent when they are guilty. There’s a bluff involved in this - and a “poker face”. There’s a great example in DARK PASSAGE... Humphrey Bogart escapes from San Quentin Prison, and there’s a huge manhunt for him. Lauren Bacall offers him a ride - knowing that he is an escaped prisoner. She has a reason for this, that we won’t know about for several more scenes. Bogart doesn’t know her, but there are a million cops looking for him and this woman has offered to help him escape. When they come to a roadblock, Bogart hides in the back seat which is full of paining supplies, including a tarp. He’s hidden under the tarp when Bacall pulls up to the roadblock. A Policeman tells her there is an escaped prisoner, and asks if she has seen anyone on the road. She says no. The Policeman notices the tarp covering... something... in the back seat, and asks what it is. Bacall says it’s painting supplies, and if he would like to search the car that’s okay with her. That line is the Chess Move. Bogart is hiding back there, and she *encourages* the Policeman to search! Is she crazy? Is she double crossing Bogart? Does she want him to get caught? Why would she ever *encourage* the Policeman to search the exact spot where Bogart is hiding?

Well, let’s look at the alternatives...

A) She could jam on the gas, crash through the roadblock, and speed away! Okay, if that’s her chess move, what does the other player do? Well, now everyone will be chasing for her car and searching for her car and eventually she *and* Bogart will be caught.

B) She could *refuse* to let the Policeman search her back seat, tell him he needs a warrant or a court order or something. Okay, if that is her chess move, what does the other player do? Well, the Policeman will *know* she has something to hide and detain her and get that search warrant and find Bogart and then they both end up in jail.

If you can come up with a C that would fit a 1947 movie, post it in the comments section and we’ll look over what the other player would do in response. Stripping as a diversion isn’t going to work for many reasons, so skip that. I can’t think of any other good alternative that doesn’t make her look like she’s trying to hide something.

And that’s the reason why she has to make the Chess Move - she needs to look innocent, even though she’s guilty as hell of hiding an escaped convict in the back seat. She must do exactly what an innocent person would do, so that the Policeman doesn’t become suspicious, even though that puts her in potential peril. If the Policeman *did* search the backseat and find Bogart, she is in no more trouble than the other alternatives. But because she acts innocent and encourages him to search the backseat, the Policeman figures there must not be anything under that tarp. Why would she *want* him to search if there was someone hiding there? Guilty people have something to hide, innocent people do not - she isn’t trying to hide anything, therefor she must be innocent and not hiding anything. By *encouraging him* she is actually causing him to not search. Hey, still an element of chance, but this is a calculated risk.

For me, this sort of Chess Move often results in a note from a Development Executive asking me why the character would be so stupid as to invite the Policeman to look in the back seat. Is she stupid? Heard that dozens of times, and I wonder if they actually think through their notes? Here we have a character - a fictional person - who is more intelligent than the Development Executive. The character is several moves ahead, the Devo is several moves behind. And if they looked at the alternatives, they would see that there are not any. The only way scenes like this can play is if the character makes that Chess Move. Because everything in a screenplay (and in life) is cause and effect, you need to be able to see all the way down the line - several moves ahead - and understand that the *best* possible move at this point might be one that seems stupid on the surface - sacrificing that Queen - but is clever when you see a few moves ahead.

There’s a great scene in THE GRIFTERS where the master con man played by the late great J. T. Walsh *insists* that a reluctant investor follow him to the back room to look at all of the expensive computer equipment... which does not exist! The back room is empty. But Walsh must make it clear that he has nothing to hide and that the computer equipment does exist - and no one would ever *insist* that someone look at it unless it were actually there, right? Again, calculated risk - what if the guy went back there to look? - but the worst case scenario remains the same no matter what Walsh does... but only by making the Chess Move does he have a chance at success. Often, the only smart move a character has is something that may seem like a dumb move at the time it is made... but the character is a few Chess Moves ahead and this is really a clever move.

When Devos are unable to see that it is a clever move is when those Devos should be replaced. Unfortunately in my experience, instead it is when the clever move is removed and the script gets dumber.


- Bill

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Trailer Tuesday: 11 HARROW HOUSE (1974)

Directed by: Aram Avakian (Don Westlake's COPS & ROBBERS).
Written by: Jeffrey Bloom and Charles Grodin based on the novel by Gerald A. Browne.
Starring: Charles Grodin, Candice Bergen, James Mason, Trevor Howard, John Gielgud.
Produced by: Elliot Kastner (every 70s crime film plus WHERE EAGLES DARE).
Edited by: Anne V. Coates (LAWRENCE OF ARABIA to OUT OF SIGHT).

This is one of my favorite films that you’ve never heard of, and I have the poster framed (though not on my wall right now, not enough space). It’s an odd film, a sixties style caper movie made in the 70s and starring Charles Grodin who couldn’t really open a movie. Probably the main reason for the movie is that it is based on a best selling novel by Gerald A. Browne who wrote a bunch of breezy caper books that everyone took to the beach to read in the 70s and 80s. Only a couple ended up on screen, this one and another film that wasn’t a hit GREEN ICE starring Ryan O’Neal and Anne Archer. I read a bunch of his books, which always dealt with gemstones and were usually fun caper stories against a glamourous background... with a bit of conspiracy theory thrown in. They’re kind of Cary Grant movies. The combination of comedy and crime is probably what attracted me to the books and this movie. I had not seen it since it was released, but thanks to those wonderful folks at Shout Video I now have it on DVD and have watched it a couple of times. It’s an acquired taste sort of thing, and a flawed film whether you like it or not.

The story gets off to a great start with an unconscious man under a doctor’s care on an airplane, headed to a hospital for life saving surgery. He is taken off the plane and loaded into an ambulance, the doctor hops in back, and the ambulance speeds off. A Man watches all of this, and smiles. In the back of the ambulance, the unconscious man sits up, and he and the doctor open a secret compartment in his medical bag where a bunch of smuggled diamonds are hidden... Then the ambulance is blown to smithereens!

That Man is an enforcer from 11 Harrowhouse in London, the secret organization which controls diamonds throughout the world. The Diamond Exchange. In order to keep the price up, only so many diamonds are allowed out in the world. Every diamond ever bought or sold starts with a raw diamond from 11 Harrowhouse. They are the conspiracy theory part of the story.

Howard Chesser (Charles Grodin) is at the bottom of the list of diamond buyers from 11 Harrowhouse, he’s a smart ass American who doesn’t know how to dress (his suits are not from one of the approved tailors) and he’s, well, common. There’s a great little scene where he lights a cigarette in the waiting room and the receptionist *wordlessly* stares at him until he puts it out. When it’s his turn, Meechum (Sir John Gielgud) who is in charge, insults Chesser and gives him very few raw diamonds at an outrageous price... and since this is a conspiracy/monopoly, Chesser has no choice but to buy them. The vault manager who does the diamond handling, Watts (James Mason), apologizes to Chesser for his treatment. Watts is the only one at the company who isn’t a prick.

Chesser complains to his girlfriend Maren (Candice Bergen) about how they treat him, and she suggests: “My money is your money, if you have to be humiliated, be humiliated with me.” She’s the widow of a formula one driver and rich beyond anyone’s wildest dreams... but he doesn’t want to be a kept man. Oh, and if they get married? She loses all of the money.

The next day they are walking down a dark and spooky pedestrian tunnel and are attacked by two men... who subdue them and then give them an *invitation* to meet with the UK’s wealthiest man Massey (Trevor Howard) who made much of his money from oil. Massey lives on an estate the size of a state, where all of his servants are mutes so that they won’t blab to the press. Except for the security force, which is kind of a private army. Massey would like to hire Chesser to purchase and have cut a huge diamond that will be named after him... because when you already have everything, why not have a diamond named after you? Chesser agrees, buys the raw diamond at Harrowhouse and takes it to Amsterdam to be cut by the world’s best diamond cutter. But on the road to Massey’s estate to deliver the diamond, Chesser and Maren are attacked by a pair of thugs and the diamond stolen. Those thugs look a lot like members of Massey’s security detail. But Chesser is over a barrel... and Massey convinces him to rob 11 Harrowhouse of *everything*. To keep the price of diamonds high, they keep a large percentage off the market in the vault deep underground. Impossible to get in or out... so how do you steal anything from this vault?

The film’s tagline is intriguing...

This is like no robbery you've ever imagined.
THE CHALLENGE: Steal 12 billion dollars in uncut diamonds.
THE TASK: Break into the most securely guarded fortress devised by man.
THE PLAN: Use amateurs armed with ingenuity, guts, a cockroach, a thin cord, and a vacuum cleaner.
THE RISK: Death.

Wait... a cockroach and a vacuum cleaner?

And now we get to the fun part where Chesser approaches vault manager Watts who has always been kind to him, and tries to hint around that he’d like Watts to betray the Diamond Exchange and 11 Harrowhouse... while Watts is hinting around that the company is screwing him and he’d do anything to get revenge. Watts has been working for the company for 29 years, and has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Problem is, the Diamond Exchange will *not* provide his family with any pension if he fails to work for the company for 30 years. His doctors say he probably won’t last that long. His family will be penniless. If he can screw over the Diamond Exchange *and* provide for his family? He’s in.

Chesser comes up with a plan, but the great thing about this film is you know it will take the cockroach and vacuum cleaner and the thin cord... but have no idea how those items will be used. And that’s the fun!

The caper is lots of fun, with Chesser a complete scaredy cat and Maren an insane risk taker and Watts getting a very dignified revenge. Lots of suspense, too: from guards doing their rounds to Chesser almost falling off the roof to Watts over exerting himself and almost passing out during the middle of the burglary. Some great sight gags as Maren chills champagne in 12 billion worth of diamonds while munching of a carrot. A caper film is all about how clever the scheme is to get past all of these impossible obstacles, and this movie takes you step by step through how they do it using those items. The vault that is impossible to steal from, and the insanely clever plan that allows them to empty it.

But after they have successfully stolen every diamond from that underground vault at 11 Harrowhouse, they now have to figure out how to get their money from Massey for delivering the *truck full* of diamonds. Their plan is to hide the truck on a building site among a bunch of other trucks and heavy equipment, and take a satchel with a sample of the diamonds to Massey’s estate. Massey is a man who cheats at *dog shows*. Impossible to trust him.

And this proves to be the right choice, as Massey and his private army try to steal the satchel of diamonds from them and get them to tell where the rest are; which leads to a massive car chase on the grounds of the estate and some shoot outs and explosions and other Act 3 stuff. The tone is often a little weird here, as they go for a fun romp action feel... but people are trapped in cars that go over a cliff and explode.

That inconsistent tone is one of the issues with the film, along with post production voice over with Grodin quipping about what happens on screen. The VO was actually one of my favorite parts when I first saw it, as it gives the whole things a 40s private eye movie feel... and also does what the movie PULP does so well: gives us tough guy patter when the film shows the protag being anything *but* tough. The scene in the dark pedestrian tunnel has Grodin getting the crap beaten out of him and collapsing, as the VO says “Lucky for him he let me go, in another minute I would have had him”. Some great laughs. Now the VO seems obviously added after some terrible test screening, though it is still amusing. This was obviously Grodin’s baby, he cowrote the script and stars... and it’s too bad this didn’t rocket him to stardom. But maybe if he had become a big star, he wouldn’t have been cast as second banana in MIDNIGHT RUN?

11 HARROWHOUSE is an acquired taste, but if you love sixties caper movies (and great British casts) it’s worth a look. I like it despite all of it’s problems.


Buy the border

Monday, July 14, 2014

Lancelot Link: Swimsuit Issue

Lancelot Link Monday! For many years as West Coast Editor of Script Magazine, I suggested we do a Swimsuit Issue with Joe Eszterhas in a Speedo on the cover. For some reason they always nixed the idea. Why can't screenwriters be loved for more then their minds? Why can't they be sex objects? 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 Dawn Of The Apes........ $73,000,000
2 Transformers 4.......... $16,500,000
3 Tammy.................... $12,910,000
4 22 Jump Street.......... $6,700,000
5 How Dragon 2............ $5,865,000
6 Earth To Echo............ $5,500,000
7 Deliver Evil................ $4,700,000
8 Maleficent............... $4,169,000
9 Begin Again................ $2,935,000
10 Jersey Boys................ $2,510,000

2) Hollywood's Best Swimsuit Moments.

3) Droid Designs FFrom STAR WARS...

4) If You're Going To Sue Them Because They Stole Your Idea, You Need *Evidence*.

5) Customized Pillows From Your Favorite Film Experience!

6) Mike White's Advice On Screenwriting.

7) Is Hollywood Cloning Actors?

8) What You Need To Sell Films (scripts) In 12 Genres.

9) Those Danged Dreyfus Kids On JAWS.

10) Dustin Black's Index Cards.

11) Ron Howard & Brian Grazer Think The Future Is You Tube Videos.

12) Shane Black In The News... Can't Wait For This Film!

And the car chase of the week...


Friday, July 11, 2014

Thursday, July 10, 2014


The Hungry Glass

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

Season: 1, Episode: 16.
Airdate: January 3, 1961

Director: Douglas Heyes
Writer: Douglas Heyes based on the story by Robert Bloch.
Cast: William Shatner, Russell Johnson, Donna Dixon, Joanna Heyes, Elizabeth Allen.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith.
Cinematography: Lionel Linden.
Producer: William Frye.

Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “A beautiful young face in the mirror, a pitiful old face at the door. Could they have been one and the same? Some people say that mirrors never lie. Others say that they do: they lie, they cheat, they kill. Some say that every time you look in one you see death at work. But most of us see only what we want to see. And perhaps it’s better not to see too deeply into the darkness behind our mirrors? For there live things beyond our imagination, as sure as my name is Boris Karloff. But if you’re skeptical, stay with me and watch “The Hungry Glass” with those others who doubted. William Shatner, Joanna Heyes, Russell Johnson, and Elizabeth Allen. Oh, you’ll be perfectly safe, that is, if you turn your own mirrors to the wall... and make sure that your television screen casts no reflection.”

Synopsis: Have you ever looked into a mirror and thought you saw someone or something behind you, but when you turned there was nothing there?

This is one of those episodes from THRILLER that people often remember, and I like it better than Stephen King’s favorite PIGEONS FROM HELL. Oh, but the story...

It opens a hundred years ago with a beautiful young woman, Laura Bellman (Donna Dixon from BEVERLY HILLBILLIES), looking at herself in one ornate wall mirror after another... dozens of them! Every inch of the wall is covered with a mirror! There is an insistent knock at the door, and she goes to answer it; but the person who opens the door is a shriveled up old woman dressed exactly as that beautiful young woman. On the other side of the threshold are Laura’s sailor nephew who has a hook for a hand and a doctor... Laura hasn’t left the house and her mirrors in months. She says: “Go away! Leave me alone, can’t you? Leave me alone, with my mirrors.”

Present day: Gil Thraser (Shatner!) is a photographer who has finally gotten his Korean War post traumatic stress disorder under control, married a model who is probably close to her pull date Marcia (Joanna Heyes) and bought the Bellman House in Maine. A rambling old fixer upper on the edge of a rocky cliff overlooking the Atlantic about 2 miles from town. They are escaping the city, and hope to turn this place into their dream house. Their belongings have been sent ahead to the house by a moving company and they are waiting in the town’s little general store for the real estate agent to arrive with the keys. A storm is raging outside... and a group of old farts are sitting by the store’s old wood burning stove, staying warm and playing checkers. When Gil tells the Store Owner that they just bought the Bellman House, the old farts joke about how the house comes with unwanted guests, and lots of people who lived there died there as well, and there isn’t a single mirror in the whole place because of, you know...

That’s when real estate agent Adam Talmadge (Russell Johnson, The Professor!) arrives and tells them his wife Liz (Elizabeth Allen) is waiting in the station wagon and he’ll drive them out to the house. But first they need to buy some light bulbs... none in the house. The Store Owner says bulbs won’t matter, there’s no power. Adam says he had the power company turn it on... the Store Owner says the storm turned it back off again. They buy bulbs anyway, and make sure they have candles and batteries for the flash lights as well.

In the car, Gil asks Adam if there are vampires in the house or something? Because of the lack of mirrors? Adam explains that you take an old house where there have been a couple of accidental deaths and the locals come up with all kinds of spooky legends. Ghosts and such. None of it is real, it just gives the people in the small town something to talk about.

When they get to the house, all of there stuff is packing crates in the entry area... to be unpacked later. Adam and Liz come in with them, because they have a little house warming gift... a chilled bottle of champagne and 4 glasses. Adam has got a fire going in the fireplace, too. The living room has an *amazing* view of the ocean. Adam pours the champagne while Marcia looks out the window, and when she turns her back to the window to say something... Liz SCREAMS! Adam drops the champagne bottle, breaking it and slicing open his palm. Liz says there was a man standing outside the window, reaching for Marcia! A man with a hook for a hand! Gil runs to the window and looks out: sheer cliff all the way down to the ocean, no place for a man to stand. Must have just been some freak reflection from the fireplace, right? Adam picks the glass out of his hand... a freak accident... like the glass shards were trying to attack him. As Adam and Liz leave, Gil closes the door and sees the reflection of an old woman in the stairway window... beckoning him.

The next morning, Marcia is putting on make up using her travel mirror when she sees a man’s reflection! It’s Gil, who cut himself shaving when she snuck up on him and he saw her reflection in *his* travel mirror. So they’re even, right? Except Marcia says she hasn’t left this room. They have a great discussion/argument about whether the old house was a good investment or a bad one. They decide either way, they’re kind of stuck with it so might as well make the best of it. That’s when the power comes back on, and all of the new light bulbs turn the spooky old house into... well, less spooky. Gil says he’s going to take a bunch of pictures of the house as it is now to give them something to compare with after they fix it up.

When Gil is developing those photos, he sees a strange image reflected in one of the windows: a little girl. Is it a double exposure? Meanwhile, Marcia pokes around the attic and finds that it’s full of old furniture and things... a gold mine in antiques! She spots a door hidden behind some things with a huge padlock on it. What could be inside? Using a rusty knife from the attic junk she unscrews the hasp and has to put some muscle into getting the door open. On the other side, a storage room filled with dozens of antique mirrors! For a moment she’s blinded by her flashlight reflection... Meanwhile, Gil decides *not* to show the photo of the little girl’s reflection to Marcia (in a great piece of visual storytelling). Then goes looking for her, finds her in the attic. Marcia shows him a couple of antiques that might pay for the whole danged house... it was a great decision the buy this place. Gil asks if she might have used his camera to take a picture of a little girl, she says no. Then she shows him to weird room full of locked away mirrors and asks him to bring one down so that she can get ready for the dinner they’re going to host for the Adam & Liz. When Marcia leaves, Gil looks into one of mirrors and sees an old woman beckoning him... screams and faints!

Gil is afraid that his post traumatic stress has returned, and next he’ll be seeing all of dead people from Korea again. Marcia tells him to just calm down, it was just his imagination playing tricks on him. They have company coming for dinner and they both need to get ready. But Gil worries that he’s losing his mind. Again.

After they have finished dinner with Liz and Adam, Marcia offers to give Liz a house tour and Gil and Adam stay behind... so that Gil can ask about the reason the townspeople might think this place is haunted. Adam doesn’t want to spread silly rumors, but Gil pushes it... and Adam relates the Legend Of Bellman House.

And what a legend! Basically, everyone who has ever lived in the house has been killed by accidents involving mirrors or windows. As Adam explains death by death, including a sailor with a hook for a hand that was Mrs. Bellman’s nephew, we realize that no one has ever gotten out of this place alive. That’s when Gil tells him about the strange double exposure, and they go down to his basement darkroom. Gil shows Adam the photo... and Adam identifies the little girl as a kid who fell off the cliff to her death when the sun’s reflection in the house’s window blinded her. So, not a double exposure... a ghost reflected in the window. Now *Adam* believes the house may actually be haunted, and Gil knows he’s not crazy.

That’s when Liz interrupts them (lots of good jumps in this episode in addition to all of the creepy suspense), to bum some cigarettes. When Gil asks where Marcia is, she says Marcia was showing her the odd storeroom full of mirrors. Then they hear Marcia SCREAMING! Both men bolt up the stairs, Adam stopping to tell Liz *not* to follow them up to the attic. When Gil gets to the mirror room, he sees all of the dead people from the legend PULLING Marcia into a mirror. She screams for Gil to help her. Gil grabs an old fire poker from the attic and hits the mirror again and again until it shatters. When Adam comes in, Gil says they have taken Marcia into the mirror... but Adam points to the floor, where Marcia lies dead... beaten to death by the fire poker!

Adam and Liz try to calm and console Gil... who keeps trying to convince both of them that he saw dead people in the mirror grabbing Marcia and pulling her inside the glass. That he’s not losing his mind, it’s the mirrors! The windows! Any glass that reflects! The police will never believe him, even though it’s true!

Then Gil sees Marcia reflected in the huge living room window, and runs to embrace her... crashing through the window and falling all the way down that rocky cliff to splat on the rocks below, as the waves crash over him. Liz faints, and Adam carries her out of the house, seeing the reflection of Marcia and Gil beckoning to him from the staircase window!

Review: Wow! This episode really delivers. It’s spooky, has some great scares, is wall to wall dread (a great job of building with small spooky stuff), and is *witty* and filled with great dialogue. In fact, if you took away everything else but the dialogue, this would still be a great episode. People don’t just say things, they say it in the most amusing way possible. After Adam drops the champagne bottle and slices open his palm, he says “At least I christened the carpet”. This crackling dialogue makes the episode fun, and adds to the dread... we’re having such a great time when something scary happens it ends up twice as scary! I haven’t read the short story in a couple of decades, but Bloch is an incredibly witty writer who loves to make you smile just before he makes you scream. All of this great dialogue may have been his, or maybe the writer/director used Bloch’s tone as a guide and went with it. I don’t think there’s a bad line in the entire episode.

Director Heyes was responsible for the previous best episode, THE PURPLE ROOM, and here he makes sure every inch of that attic makes you want to get the hell out of there. When Marcia is poking around the antiques, you are waiting for something to jump out and grab her! The basement dark room is also spooky. This is a *great* haunted house story. It’s also *packed* with story... there isn’t a dull *second* in this episode, when they aren’t being scared by the windows and mirrors they are having relationship issues caused by the house or Gil is having a breakdown caused by the house. It’s almost like a feature film squeezed into an hour of TV. Never a dull moment, and the great thing about mirrors and windows and reflections is that they’re *everywhere*! When they walk past a window, you worry!

The cast is *great*, with Shatner gearing up for his TWILIGHT ZONE episode 2 years after this. He does a great job in the quiet moments, as well as going full Shatner in some of the more dramatic scenes. Russell Johnson is a charming real estate guy, completely making you forget that he was the Professor on GILLIGAN’S ISLAND. He not only gets laughs delivering the quips, he give you chills telling the legend. Joanna Heyes is the director’s hottie wife, and does a great job holding her own opposite scene stealer Shatner. Elizabeth Allen probably has the least interesting role in the episode, but screams like a pro and does a great job playing “the wife”. Donna Dixon who was Ellie May on BEVERLY HILLBILLIES is eye candy in her brief role as the reflection of Mrs. Bellman in the mirror.

Aside from the witty dialogue and great pacing, this script has some great visual storytelling (like when Gil wordlessly decides not to show the picture to Marcia) and some awesome exposition hiding... we know the house is 2 miles from the nearest neighbor because of a line about having to walk down to warn them if Liz plans on screaming again. The big chunk of exposition that comes with the Legend Of Bellman House, is a great little ghost story with twists and thrills... so you don’t notice it’s exposition... it’s a campfire story. Great writing, acting, direction...

The creepy thing about this episode is that after watching it, you start seeing things in *your* mirrors... or maybe it’s just my imagination?


Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

The Brad Pitt Guy - Part Last

From 2009...

“William C. Martell! Once more you have arrived most early.”

My stalker is wearing a different hat, and by different I mean really unusual. Where does he get these hats? I have never seen a man wearing anything like it before - are they specially made for my stalker?

He shakes my hand, and again it is cold and damp... but this time he has not been drinking an ice tea. I am a nervous person and my hands sweat, but I am careful to wipe my palms on my trousers before shaking with anyone - I don’t want them to have to touch my sweat. I don’t like huggers because if I’m nervous it isn’t just my hands that sweat, and if I am greeting someone after riding my bike across town? Yech! Please - do not hug me. But may hands are usually warm - unless I’ve been in a meat locker or something. My stalker was at a different upstairs table at Jerry’s Deli in Westwood Village... but Laurence-with-a-Z was still our waitperson, hovering at his station waiting for me to sit down so that he could glide over and ask it I am ready to order, yet.

PART ONE - if you missed it.
PART TWO - if you missed it.
PART THREE - if you missed it.
PART FOUR - if you missed it.

“Nice to see you again.”
“The pleasure is mine. I should probably wait until after we have been served, but I am aflutter with anticipation - my partial screenplay is precisely what Bradley Pitt will respond positively to, am I correct?”
“Well, we really should order first - that way we won’t be interrupted.”

And, on cue, Laurence-with-a-Z appears at the table. “Good afternoon, gentlemen, I’m Laurence with a Z, and I’ll be your waitperson today. Can I get you started with a beverage and some appetizers?”
“Yes, yes. I shall have an iced tea with a small slice of lemon on the side.”
“And I’ll have a Coca Cola.”
“Would you like that with cherry or lemon?”
“No. Just ice, please”
“Are you two gentlemen ready to order?”
I’m afraid the minute Laurence-with-a-Z leaves we will jump right into the brilliance of his script, and I will be on the spot... “Yeah, I think I know what I’m having.”
“I’m afraid I was not prepared for your prompt response, William C. Martell, I may require some additional time to make my decision.”
“Cool. I’ll have a half...”

And I ordered my half sandwich, realizing that if I ordered a table full of food like my stalker did last time, he would decide to itemize the bill to decide what I owed. But I instantly regretted even ordering the half sandwich. I wanted to dump the screenplay and run, and now I had stupidly just stuck myself with my stalker until the final bill came, the last trump...

Because my stalker can not make up his mind, it takes him a long time to decide which 6 different items he’s going to order and pick at... and having Laurence-with-a-Z hovering over the table with his little order book open and pencil poised seems to put extra pressure on my stalker... and I must admit to enjoying this a little. I know that I am going to end up on the hot spot in a few minutes, so a few moments of my stalker on the hot spot feels kind of good. Of course, he isn’t nearly as flustered as he could be, and eventually orders a bunch of seemingly random items and makes sure we get a pickle tray. He doesn’t even wait for the pickles before he begins...

“Now tell me how we shall blend our two creative selves to complete this splendid screenplay!”

Swell. How do I respond to that?

“When, exactly, does Brad Pitt expect this?”
“I believe he said posthaste.”
“Okay, that’s what you believe, but there wasn’t any exact date or anything?”
“I sense your desire to begin our work as soon as possible and this excites me.”
“Look, the script has some problems...”
“I am aware that I am a plebeian in the world of screenwriting, but certainly a man of your talents should have no difficulty correcting any of my minor writing imperfections.”
“Right. Well, my fear here is that the time it’s going to take to fix and finish the script is going to be longer than expected and Pitt may forget you even exist.”
“Then we must begin work immediately.”
“Even then, I’m not sure this script is going to be ready in time.”
“Of course it will be...”

Saved by Laurence-with-a-Z with our drinks. My stalker stops talking mid-sentence, face frozen in place, mouth half open, looking silly. I take this moment to snatch the last pickled green tomato from the plate. They are delicious. When Laurence-with-a-Z tells us that our food will be here shortly and leaves, my stalker’s face begins to thaw. I decide to strike before he can get back to his sentence...

“Look, I have a couple of completed scripts that are ready to go *now*. We can give Pitt one of those right now, just as a stalling tactic while you are working on this script.”
“While *we* are working on this script.”
“I really don’t think I’m going to have the time to help you with the, you know, actual writing on this. I’ve jotted some notes in the margins of the script that should help you along and –“
“But I require your assistance on this.”
“It’s your baby. I can’t write it for you. I’m offering you a way to keep Pitt on the hook until your script is ready. And if, for some reason, he likes one of the scripts I give you, set yourself up as a producer or let me pay you a manager fee or both. Make some money on the deal and become Pitt’s partner. That keeps the door open for your script, right?”

My stalker is not happy. I take a sip of my Coke.

“That plan of action is prone to failure, because Mr. Bradley Pitt requested *my* screenplay based upon the scenario that *I* related to him in that men’s lavatory.”

Now, what I wanted to tell him is that people will often say anything to get away from weirdos who want to have a conversation with them at the urinal. My guess is that Brad Pitt isn’t really waiting for any script, and if this guy slips him one of my scripts it will probably be covered and ignored. But one of my scripts has a better chance than his unfinished script, so why not give it a shot? This is a biz where you throw stuff against the walls and hope that something eventually sticks. You never know what might be the thing that sticks. If this guy who may still drug me and kidnap me and cook me up and serve me with some Chianti and some fava beans can set up one of my scripts with Brad Pitt’s Plan B Productions, he’s worth 10% from me *and* a producer fee from Pitt.

“I understand that - he wants your script. But I think this script is going to take some time to get to a level that’s ready for submission. Instead of having Pitt forget who you are, you can use one of my scripts to kind of keep that door propped open.”

Yes. I have a diabolical side. Usually I would feel bad doing something like this. But I had to read his script, and this is my revenge.

“I can not understand why completion of this screenplay should take so long. You are a most prolific writer and I have already written 53 and a quarter pages. The most difficult material, the framework for the remainder of the screenplay, has been previously created. You need only to finish this work, and we shall both prosper.”

Laurence-with-a-Z arrives with our food, and my stalker stops talking - with his mouth fully closed, thank God. I look at the half sandwich I’ve ordered and wonder just how fast I can eat it and get out of here. This conversation can only get worse. I don’t want to make him angry - who knows what the hell he’ll do? I slide my glass of Coke over to my end of the table - far away from any knock out drops he may have in that bag of his. I’m hoping that picking at the food on all of those plates will prevent him from talking and allow me to wolf down my half sandwich, leave enough money to cover *my food* on the table, and run. But life doesn’t work out like that. I screwed up big time by saying...

“Look, once you see some of the things in your half of the script that need some work, you’ll realize it’s not just some two week quickie, this is going to take a little time.”
“Allow me to decide that for myself. Have you notes on the existing portion of the screenplay?”
“Nothing typed up. I just jotted down some stuff in the margins. You can take it home, read it over, see what I’m talking about, and then get back to me about using one of my scripts as a doorstop at Plan B.”
“I would much rather read these notes now, in your presence, in the event I have any questions you are present to provide answers and assistance.”

Swell. After shoving half of my sandwich in my face, I’m going to be stuck here while he reads all 53 pages of notes on his script. And the worst part? This thing is like a ticking bomb, because somewhere around page 40 I went crazy and let loose on the page with kind of a rant scribbled in the margins. I hope Laurence-with-a-Z has the police on his speed dial.

My stalker picks at his food and reads... and argues or explains every note. Folks, here’s the thing - when someone gives you notes it is not war. It is not an act of aggression. It is someone trying to help you by pointing out things that are confusing or don’t work or some other type of problem. You can decide later if you want to make changes. If several different people give you the same note, they are right and you are wrong... even if you are right! Here’s what I mean: let’s say everyone who reads your script says you needed a scene where a piece of information is related to the audience, and you flip through the script and point to a page where that very information is right there in black and white typed on the page. So everyone is wrong, right? No. Because if everyone misses this, it’s not clear or buried or needs to be stressed more or whatever. We are all missing it. When a studio reader reads your script, they will probably miss it, too. That’s all we’re saying. Hey, we missed this - chances are, the people who matter will also miss it - so make sure they don’t miss it! No one who gives you notes is trying to destroy you - they want to help... and if you strongly disagree with a note - IGNORE IT. No reason to argue or explain why you wrote it that way. Neither of those things is going to make me say, “Hey, you are right, I completely misunderstood this scene and now that you explained it, it all makes sense!” Because, unless you plan on arguing and explaining with every single person who reads your script, it doesn’t matter. You are not going to convince some studio reader to change their minds - they type up the coverage and turn it in and that’s that.

Now, are there times where readers are idiots? Sure! And I have had scripts “wrongly rejected” a bunch of times. But at the end of the day, arguing with anyone isn’t going to change anything - that script will still be rejected. Better to save your energy for stuff you can control. My stalker wanted to argue every single note. All of them. Even the typos. He wasn’t looking for me to clarify anything - he wanted to convince me that the 53 pages were brilliant.

I was mostly calm and constructive and patient... until he came to the first ripped off action scene (the one from LONG KISS GOODNIGHT) and my notes on the page were a little outraged... and he argued.

“Are you insinuating plagiarism, here?”
“It’s the motel scene from LONG KISS GOODNIGHT. The one where Sam Jackson gets blown out the window.”
“I believe you are mistaken - this scene takes place in a hallway of the Presidential residence section of the White House, not a motel.”
“Yeah, but the same exact things happen. You mostly just changed the sluglines.”
“No. No. You are completely misunderstanding my intentions. This passage is obviously intended as an homage. Certainly an artist is allowed to tip their hats to those whom they admire, are they not?”

And that made me think of his weird hats... and wonder what was underneath them. This is the second time I’ve seen him, both times with weird hats... what if the hats are weird on purpose? What if they are distracting attention from his head? What if he’s bald under the hat? Or has a pointed head? Or has antenna? Though I continued the conversation, I also continued thinking about what might be under his hat.

“Well, the problem is that this goes beyond homage - you use the same sentences.”
“No. No. These are two entirely different scenes.”
“I have the script at home, I compared the scenes - you used search and replace or something. It’s not an homage, it’s a rip off.”
“I do not like the tenor of these comments.”
“You can’t have someone else’s scene in your screenplay. And that’s not the only one. All of the action scenes in here came from somewhere else. It’s like a greatest hits album or something.”
“Allow me a question - who, besides yourself, would ever notice?”

And he maybe had me there. Who else would recognize some disguised scene from a Shane Black script? Would any reader ever recognize it?

“Look, that’s not the point. You are selling Brad Pitt an original script, and this part and a couple of others aren’t original. If he finds out, he’s not going to buy it.”
“I still do not comprehend how any of this could matter, does the director not create these sequences? The stunt men? Surely a writer is not expected to create material that will be ignored during production?”

Well, the answer is “yes” but I wasn’t gonna give him that. Hey, he bought my damned book, didn’t he read it? It has all kinds of stuff on writing action scenes! And all kinds of basic screenwriting stuff he seems to have missed. That’s one of those things I don’t understand - with all of this information out there, how come people make all kinds of stupid rookie mistakes still? When I started screenwriting, there weren’t any books - Syd Field’s book was still a few years away. You really had to dig to find anything about screenwriting, now there are hundreds of books, plus stuff online.

“Look, you want to know how some reader might know that it’s a scene from LONG KISS? Because it’s in the movie. Shane writes great action scenes, those scenes tend to be much better than anything some director or stunt guy could come up with, so they film the stuff he wrote. That film plays on Cinemax once a week, and I’m sure every reader in town has seen it. Even with the location change, so much is the same you’re gonna get caught. You need to write *original* action scenes, and action scenes that are story and character related.”
“That is a great deal of effort for –“
“It’s writing the script. That’s what this is all about. Writing the script.”

He almost tore the page turning it to the next scene and the next note. What if he had a third eye under his hat? Wasn’t there a TWILIGHT ZONE episode about a guy with a third eye?

“Perhaps the best solution would be for you to complete the screenplay...”
“Look, I have my own scripts to complete.”
“I do not understand this comment: 'I’ve heard this one before.' What do you mean by that?”
“Oh, it’s one of the Dixie Riddle Cup jokes you keep using in the script.”
“I still do not understand.”
“You have all of these old jokes in the script.”
“There is humor, yes. I was under the impression that humor was a requirement in action screenplays such as these, is that not correct?”
“To fulfill this requirement I purchased a volume of One Thousand and One Jokes for All Occasions, and utilized the jokes which fit the occasions in the screenplay.”
“Look, you have to come up with your own jokes, you can’t just steal jokes from someplace. By the time a joke gets put in a book everyone’s already heard it.”
“One can’t be expected to create all of the jokes in a script –“
“Yes, one can - it’s writing the script.”

A point. I’m sure under the hat his head is pointed. Time is running out - he’s around page 38 and on page 40 my rant begins. It may include insults. I lost control. He turns to page 39...

“It appears as if there are several notes on every page.”
“Yes. There are. All the way to the end.”
Crap! He flips to the next page, with the tirade!
Then flips to the page after that, and keeps flipping until he gets to the end.
“Look, we could keep going over this note by note, but you can see there’s all kinds of stuff that needs work, it’s not just writing the last half of the script and sending it off to Brad Pitt. This is major work, here. And I don’t have the time to work on anyone else’s scripts but my own. I’ve given you notes that I think will help guide you through - things to thing about, places where the script needs work –“
“Several notes on every page.”
And he closes the script without reading the rant on page 40 and smiles at me. I don’t know whether it’s a happy smile or an I can’t wait to see you simmering on my stove in a pot smile.
“You are a very kind man for taking the time to help me. I wish you to know I appreciate that.”
“Perhaps this plan of yours to delay Mr. Bradley Pitt with one of your screenplays has merit. Allow me some time to consider it. I will telephone you after I have made my decision.”

I drop more than enough money to cover my half sandwich and Coke on the table and start to get up.

“If you please, William C. Martell, one small gesture before we part.”
I ain’t kissing him.
“Would you sign my book?”

He pulls out his copy of my book, the one he spent more than three hundred bucks for on e-bay, and sets it on the table in front of me. I uncap my pen, sign the book to him, and hand it back to him. He tips his hat to me... and has a beautiful head of hair underneath - almost Fabioish - and he looks a little sad behind the smile. Then I give Laurence-with-a-Z a wave and head downstairs and around back to the parking lot and my car. I would never hear from my stalker again. No call for a script to prop open the door at Brad Pitt’s company, nothing. But somewhere, in some popular night club, he’s standing at a urinal pitching a script to some movie star... and for all I know, closing a couple of deals.

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Dramatizing Emotions - and a film directed by Roman Polanski.
Dinner: A *free* Jack In The Box grilled turkey, bacon, cheddar sandwich. Had to buy a drink to get it, and I ordered a large one... and also some onion rings. So my free sandwich set me back $5... but it was okay. Some tomato/basil stuff in there gave it some zing.
Bicycle: An accidental longer bike ride than planned. After Jack, instead of turning back as planned I continued forward to a far away Starbucks. Then had a long ride home.