Saturday, November 28, 2015


Lancelot Link is still recovering from Black Friday shopping, so let me introduce my latest book and latest series of books!


235 pages!

*** THE TERMINATOR SERIES *** - For Kindle!

He's back! The release of "Terminator: Genisys" (now on BluRay) is set to begin a new trilogy in the Terminator story... 31 years after the first film was released. What draws us to these films about a cybernetic organism from the future sent back in time? Why is there a new proposed trilogy every few years? This book looks at all five Terminator movies from a story standpoint - what makes them work (or not)? What are the techniques used to keep the characters and scenes exciting and involving? How about those secret story details you may not have noticed? Containing a detailed analysis of each of the five films so far, this book delves into the way these stories work... as well as a complete list of box office and critical statistics for each film. This book is great for writers, directors, and just fans of the series.

Price goes up on January 1st!

Only $2.99 - and no postage!

Hey, Bill... what about those other books? I'm so glad you asked! The second Hitchcock book, HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE should be finished by the end of this year, and early next year look for Vintage Screenwriting #2: THE PHOTOPLAY from 1911. I also hope to have the second in this series done in the first quarter of next year - on the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE movies, and also the next Mitch Robertson Mystery, FAMILY'S JEWEL. And there should be a couple of new Blue Books by the end of next year as well!

- Bill

Friday, November 27, 2015

Fridays With Hitchcock: Interview With Hitch

Most of you are shopping for bargains and counting the number of belt notches you've expanded after Thanksgiving dinner, so for the rest of you here's a one hour interview with Hitchcock.

- Bill


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, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

From 2009...

Today is Thanksgiving, and I will be off eating turkey (the bird, not the country) and watching some film (most likely BLIND SIDE because it's a feel good kind of thing that fits the holiday). I would like to take this time to thank *you* for reading the blog and the daily script tips and for putting up with me on those days when I'm a grumpy a-hole. I hate those days.

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

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

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

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

- Bill

*** Script Secrets First Ever - BLACK FRIDAY SALE - Lowest Prices EVER!


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Opposites React - and HAROLD & KUMAR.
Yesterday's Dinner: Togos sandwich.
Bicycle: Through broken glass!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Scene Of The Week: CARRIE (1976)

Because there's a remake coming out soon starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, here's a birthday cake from the original SISTERS...

And now the CARRIE entry...

After last week’s very long take that was locked down in the back seat of the getaway car in GUN CRAZY, I thought it would be fun to look at kind of the opposite - a scene where the camera moves but the protagonist stays in the same spot... and this underappreciated shot from Brian DePalma’s CARRIE (1976). This was the first version of Stephen King’s first best seller to hit the screen, and so far the best. There was a TV version and a sequel/remake (RAGE) and now we are getting a remake by the talented Kimberly Peirce who directed one of my favorite indies BOYS DON’T CRY. I think she’s a great match for the material, and her version will end up different than DePalma’s because she has a different point of view...

Buy the dvd

But the DePalma film made him a star director (it was his *tenth* feature film!) And also made many cast members into stars. It was John Travolta’s *second* film (after THE DEVIL’S RAIN) and Piper Laurie’s return to the big screen after a *15 year* absence after her Oscar nominated performance as the love interest in THE HUSTLER opposite Paul Newman, and Amy Irving’s first movie, and P.J. Soles’ (ROCK AND ROLL HIGH SCHOOL, HALLOWEEN) first movie, and William Katt’s first movie, and Nancy Allen’s first movie, and Betty Buckley’s first movie, and Edie McClurg’s first movie. What’s interesting about all of these young actors is that they were cast in CARRIE after auditioning for another film... called STAR WARS. DePalma sat in on Lucas’ auditions and picked people for *his* film... yes, that means John Travolta and William Katt might have played Luke Skywalker!

Usually when we think of *Exposition* we think of Basil Exposition from the AUSTIN POWERS movies (or his cousin Prompter Exposition who always asks those leading questions so that someone can spend a couple of minutes of screen time talking on-and-on about what has happened and why it happened and any other story information the audience needs to know. “As a scientist, I’m sure you know that...” Boring stuff that often brings the story to a halt *and* ends up silly. Part of a screenwriter’s job is to find ways to hide exposition so that the audience has no idea they are getting the information. In the Dialogue Blue Book I look at some techniques like using conflict in the scene to disguise the exposition, but Lawrence D. Cohen’s screenplay for CARRIE uses *actions* to give us the necessary exposition. Instead of that verbal exposition dump, we get an intense emotional scene packed with information... and all in one shot!

This shot *begins* at Tommy (William Katt) and Carrie (Sissy Spacek)’s prom table after they have just decided to go ahead and vote for themselves as Prom King & Queen even though they don’t have a chance in hell of winning. That’s when Norma (P.J. Soles) picks up the ballots from the table, and we follow her as she picks up other ballots from other tables. We see how the ballots are collected from all of the kids at the prom, and then we see Norma kiss her boyfriend and drop the ballots on the floor behind him, telling him to kick them behind the wall, then she grabs *fake* ballots from his coat as she pulls away from him. We see how they switch the ballots so that Carrie and Tommy will end up winning. All of this information we get visually, through the actions of the characters. No one has to tell us that they are switching the ballots...

And so far no one has told us *why* they are switching the ballots. This builds mystery.

Then we follow Norma to the faculty table where the ballots will be counted, and then she knocks on the window under the stage where Chris (Nancy Allen) and Billy Nolan (John Travolta) are hiding... and Chris is holding on to a rope. This hands off the scene, and Nancy goes on as we hold on Chris and Billy for a moment. Chris pulls slightly on the rope, and we *follow the rope*... to the back of the stage where Sue Snell (Amy Irving) sneaks in and hides behind the stage. Sue feels the rope moving, and we follow the rope up to the rafters over the stage... and that bucket of pig’s blood directly over the King & Queen’s chairs on the stage, and then look past the bucket of blood - back to where the shot began - at Carrie and Tommy sitting at their table as their names are announced as King & Queen... and they head toward the stage.

We now know *why* the ballots were switched, and we also know what is about to happen. This creates tension and dread and suspense...

Carrie White, who begins this story in blood when she has her first period in the gym shower, and was doused over the head and face by a glass of water by her mother at the dinner table; now will be drenched with pig’s blood on prom night... and they’re all going to laugh at her. This creates emotions in the viewer - Carrie has gone from bullied weird girl in a sack dress to Cinderella prom queen... and now that her life seems to have turned around we don’t want anything bad to happen to her.

More exposition told visually. No one *tells us* what the plan to ridicule Carrie at the prom is, or how it will work. Instead we *see* the exposition. As the audience traces that rope to the bucket of blood, their terror builds. They wish they could find some way to stop the inevitable. Instead of some dry verbal exposition, we get an emotional experience.

And in the next series of shots, Sue Snell will trace the rope to the rafters, realize what is going to happen, and try like hell to stop it. She becomes our surrogate in the scene. Her success would be our success, her failure becomes our failure.

Here’s the scene: CARRIE scene.

Sorry the clip continues after the shot, but when I was looking for this shot on line, all of the clips available either began at the end of the shot or somewhere in the middle. It seemed as if no one realized this was all one single long take. The clip labeled “Full Prom Scene” started at the end of the shot! Another clip that was all about the camera work, managed to start in the *middle* of the shot! It’s as if no one noticed this was all one long take - they were too busy experiencing the story unfold. Finally I found a clip on YouTube that *linked* a clip of the actual entire prom scene, and I was able to start at the beginning of this shot (but had no way to end the clip). Here’s that clip of the whole prom - and it begins with a long slow take reminiscent of the ballroom shot from Hitchcock’s YOUNG AND INNOCENT. The purpose of the long takes is to slow down the pacing to create contrast and shock/excitement after the pig’s blood when the action and horror kick in. The same way we use long sentences to slow the tempo down and short sentences to quicken the pacing.

Exposition doesn't need to be someone talking on-and-on to give us that dump of information, we can give the information to the audience visually... and make it emotional and exciting!

Yes, I know the Tina Fey movie is not a remake of this film!

- Bill

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Trailer Tuesday: Ipcress File

Director: Sidney J. Furie
Writers: James Doran, W. H. Canaway
Starring: Michael Caine, Sue Lloyd, Guy Doleman, Nigel Green.

One of my favorite movies.

Sort of the “anti-Bond”, but made by the producers of the Connery films. Harry Palmer is The Spy Who Does Paperwork in this predecessor to THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR. There is a form for everything - a form to get a gun, a form to fill out if you fire the gun... and if you manage to shoot someone? No end to the amount of paperwork! This is the *government* - it’s all about filling out forms. Forms for stake outs, forms to requisition a car, forms for *not* discovering any information. Harry hates paperwork, but he’s a genius at sifting through it for clues - to find an enemy agent with no known address, he checks for parking tickets.

The great thing about IPCRESS is that it makes the job of spying mundane - a bunch of boring stake outs and surveillance jobs - then it explodes with action that seems much bigger due to the contrast. The great Michael Caine plays Harry as a problem child who probably needed a good spanking many years ago and now knows *exactly* how far he can push authority before it pushes back. He uncovers a plot to kidnap British scientists, brainwash them until they spill all of their secrets, then wipe their memories clean so that they are unable to function. The cool thing about this 60s film is that it uses all of the real brainwashing devices from the CIA’s MK-ULTRA program, which wasn’t made public until the 70s. How they knew about these things in this film, I do not know. Were there CIA leaks that ended up in (novelist) Len Deighton’s hands?

His boss, Colonel Ross (Doleman), hates him and has him transferred to Major Dalby’s department where he has to fill out stacks of paperwork as they try to find a kidnapped scientist who has been put up for auction by an espionage agent for hire code-name, BlueJay (Frank Gatliff) an Albanian who sells secrets... and people. Dalby (Nigel Green) “doesn’t have the sense of humor that Ross has” (which was none at all) and cracks the whip on Harry again and again. Harry finds a friend in team member Carswell (Gordon Jackson, from THE CREEPING UNKNOWN) and a love interest in team member Jean (Lloyd) - who may be a spy for Ross’s department. That’s the kind of paranoid movie this is - the spies are spying on other spies! Ross keeps trying to get Harry to hand over the file on Dalby's investigation, code named “Ipcress” because that word was written on a piece of audio tape found in an abandoned warehouse they think BlueJay was using. When they play the bit of audio tape, all they get are strange noises - what do they mean? To add to the paranoia, there’s a CIA Agent who is spying on Harry, and someone in one of the departments may actually be working for BlueJay. You can’t trust *anyone* in this film!

I love movies where intelligent guys get sent into the field, where they are clueless, and must fight to survive. Harry gets in so much trouble, and the story is so clever and twisted and has so many double and triple crosses that I can watch it again and again... oh, and it’s visually really really cool.

The director, Sidney J. Furie, comes up with the most inventive angles and shots I’ve ever seen - which is one of the reasons why this is one of my favorite movies. There is a whole fight scene shot through the glass of one of those red British phone booths - mullion coming between Harry and this huge bodyguard - and every other interesting combination of foreground and background is used to make the fight scene really interesting. Furie re-imagines action scenes as chess matches or tennis games and stages them in unusual ways. Because Harry wears glasses, the element of sight is used in both action scenes (when Harry’s glasses get stomped it changes the outcome of a fight) and other scenes (Harry with glasses off looks over a blurry crowd of scientists and sees a person who does not belong) - the glasses become part of the way the story is told.

Here is our introduction to Harry Palmer...

Other great visual elements include one of the greatest twist-reveals ever put on film, a shot through the keyhole of Harry’s flat of an intruder with a gun, a Polanskiesque shot where a door is opened to hide one character so that we focus on the other, the camera mounted on an armored car that batters down a door - we see it all POV, a Busby Berkeleyesque choreographed prisoner for money exchange in an underground parking garage with a deadly twist, the whole IPCRESS brain washing sequence - which includes an amazing Christ-symbolism bit where Harry jams a rusty nail into his palm to try to avoid the brainwashing, a multi-level following scene in a building, and an amazing ending where a brainwashed Harry must decide who to kill and who not to kill.

SPOILER: One of my favorite bits in the script is when BlueJay kidnaps Harry... and he wakes up in a crappy cell in some old industrial building, and BlueJay tells him that it would be pointless to try to escape, because he's in Albania. How can he get help if he does not speak Albanian? Where would he run to? He has no passport, no identification. Even if he escaped, he's still trapped in this foreign land. Then they proceed to brainwash him using the IPCRESS method... "Listen to me. Listen to me. You will forget the IPCRESS file, you will forget your name..." Harry jams that rusty nail into his palm, "My name is Harry Palmer. My name is Harry Palmer." But he loses the nail... and the brainwashing begins to work. That's when Harry decides to escape... running out of the old industrial building where all of the signs are in Albanian, to... Downtown London! He was never taken to Albania! The whole thing was a ruse to make him not try to escape! This is one of dozens of little story touches that make IPCRESS FILE a really cool movie.

A great clever screenplay coupled with great inventive direction and Michael Caine at the top of his game surrounded by a bunch of great British actors. Oh, and the musical score is one of John Barry’s best! They made two sequels in the 60s and a couple in the 90s (with an old Michael Caine) but the first one is the best. Check it out!

- Bill

Monday, November 23, 2015

Lancelot Link: Women!

Lancelot Link Monday! This week's links not only have the first photo from the WONDER WOMAN movie, also a swell article on the Women In Hollywood... oh, amnd the #1 film this weekend stars one of those women we speak of. Yes, there should be more of them working in the business, so let's do something about 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 Hunger Games #3 P2............. $101,025,000
2 Spectre......................... $14,600,000
3 Peanuts......................... $12,800,000
4 Night Before.................... $10,100,000
5 Secret Eyes...................... $6,633,000
6 Coopers (not mini)............... $3,925,000
7 Martian.......................... $3,700,000
8 Spotlight........................ $3,603,466
9 The 33........................... $2,240,000
10 Bridge Spies..................... $1,945,000

Though part 2 of MOCKINGJAY opened $20m below part 1's opening, but foreign brings it up to $247 million... and it's days before Thanksgiving and 2 weeks after SPECTRE... with STAR WARS around the corner. Some of the estimates were $100m, and it made $101m, so it's not a failure. Heck, it made a pile of money in the first 3 days! Total box office for the year is still 4% over last year... with STAR WARS on the horizon.

2) John Gregory Dunne On Screenwriting.

3) Stacy Keach On Working With John Huston On FAT CITY.

4) The Women Of Hollywood Speak Out! (unfortunately, this is probably all of them.)

5) Carter Burwell's (BLOOD SIMPLE) Score For CAROL, Based On The Patricia Highsmith (STRANGERS ON A TRAIN) Novel.

6) STAR WARS Auditions From SNL.

7) Christopher McQuarrie Returns For MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 6.

8) WONDER WOMAN Starts Filming.

9) MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS Remake. Will This Open The Door To Mystery Films?

10) LEGEND Actress Emily Browning On Working With Tom Hardy Times Two.

11) A Dozen Things You Need To Know Before Writing TV.

12) DP John Seale On Shooting MAD MAX: FURY ROAD.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:



Buy The DVDs




Friday, November 20, 2015

Monday, November 16, 2015

Lancelot Link: Bill's Day Off

Lancelot Link Tuesday! A day late and a dollar short... so if all of you could send me a dollar, I'd appreciate it. Sorry this is a day late - but weather in Los Angeles on Sunday (and Monday) was cold and windy, so I decided to skip work and stay home near the heating vent and drink cocoa and watch TV and relax. I actually wrote a couple of pages on my short story, but not enough to matter. Some times you just need to take a day off. By the way - what does a cat do on it's day off? The opposite of what it does every other day? 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 Actuals:
1 Spectre......................... $33,681,104
2 Peanuts......................... $24,013,538
3 Love The Coopers................. $8,317,545
4 Martian.......................... $6,712,171
5 The 33........................... $5,787,266
6 Goosebumps....................... $4,633,112
7 Bridge Of Spies.................. $4,268,772
8 Prem Ratan Dhan Payo............. $2,425,585
9 Hotel Transylvania............... $2,314,063
10 Last Vin Diesel Movie............ $1,482,463

Box Office is 4.4% ahead of this time last year... and STAR WARS hasn't opened, yet. Oh, and the last HUNGER GAMES movie comes out this weekend. Looking to be a good year.

2) Screenwriter Emma Donoghue On Adapting THE ROOM.

3) Screenwriter Steve Kloves (FABULOUS BAKER BOYS) On Writing, Outlining, Moments.

4) Spec Sale News.

5) Where Nightmare Are Created.

6) Why There Are Few Women Directors In TV.

7) The Next 100 Sequels In The FAST & FURIOUS Franchise Announced.

8) 25 Best Action Flick Opening Sequences.

9) MEMENTO Reboot (or is it a prequel?)

10) Screenwriter John Sayles On Writing And Directing Indie Films.

11) WGA Picks 101 Funniest Comedies.

12) Answers To Common Questions About Los Angeles (Movie Capital Of The World). A bunch of great articles about the birth and growth of the city.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:

Okay, it's a foot chase. But with all of the screenwriter interviews this week, it kind of made sense.


Buy The DVDs

Friday, November 13, 2015

AFM - Day Last

Originally published *5* years ago - but rerunning it while I am at AFM this year.

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Not my bike!

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

- Bill

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

Thursday, November 12, 2015

American Film Market - Weekend
Part Two

Originally published *5* years ago - but rerunning it while I am at AFM this year.

As I climb the stairs, I pass the girl in the Backless Sundress and try to read her badge to see who she is working for, but can’t really do more than glance without looking as if I am staring at her cleavage. Dang - can’t read it. I keep climbing stairs. AFM is an endless stair climb - once the guard in front of the stairway door checks your badge, you are either climbing those endless metal steps or walking down a hallway. Once you get to the 8th floor - the top floor - the stairs continue up to the roof if you don’t stop. Sometimes you take a few steps up and realize you’ve passed your floor. The same thing happens going down - the stairs go all the way down into the hotel’s basement, and people frequently don’t stop at the lowest floor and keep on going. I’ve seen several people keep climbing down... but I never see anyone climbing up. What happens to them down there?

One of the problems with the weekend is that companies *are* doing business, and I don’t want to barge in to ask them silly press questions. The problem is, all of the other people with press badges don’t feel this way, and when I walk past a company some other reporter rushes in and interrupts a deal. So I am doing a lot of walking and not much talking. I decide to check in on the guys who produced (and ruined) my SOFT TARGET script a couple of years ago. When I get my foreign levy checks from WGA, SOFT TARGET is never listed - has it not sold any foreign territories? I want my residuals! So I climb the stairs to the 8th floor to see what territories they have sold...


A few years ago I had a script that was almost a nice big studio action flick, but one of the millions of things that can go wrong with a deal did go wrong, and the option expired and the script was mine again. I was in the process of getting it back out there when an action guy I have worked with in the past called to tell me he had just opened his own company with another guy and was looking for scripts, did I have anything? The big problem with being a professional screenwriter is that you have no idea where your next sale is coming from, so you have to try just about everything. I had just had this deal fall apart and needed a new deal, so even though this guy was nowhere near the top of my wish list for producers, I have an inventory of spec scripts and maybe I can sell one and have the next year paid for. I gave him my list of availables, and pointed out one cool action script that I would be happy to part with (and might even be a good fit). So, of course, he wants the script that the studio producer had optioned, SOFT TARGET. The one script on the list I don’t want him to have. I try to sell him on the other script, but he wants SOFT TARGET. I call around to try and make some other deal, but get nada... so I reluctantly sell them SOFT TARGET after they tell me how much the love it and how they don’t want to change a word. By the way - when someone says they don’t want to change a word, that usually means they want to change every single word of your screenplay but one, and that was the case here. The movie they made from the script doesn’t even have the same *concept*!

So, these guys are like the in-laws you hate... but they are still part of your family. And, though I dislike the movie they have made from my script, I still would like to get some residuals from the deal, so I want it to be successful (even though the film sucks). So, after they made the domestic deal with LionsGate, did they sell the film to any foreign countries?

And find out that they sold SOFT TARGET to another distributor! The whole film (and a couple of others from their library) sold outright to another AFM company. My guess is that it was done to raise money, but I don’t ask. I do ask who the other distributor is...

Uwe Boll.

Uwe Boll's leg!

My film is in his company’s big catalogue! Right there with POSTAL and BLOOD RAYNE 3. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing... but having seen my film, it belongs with Boll’s films. I have to go downstairs to Boll Films and grab a catalogue, but first I ask how’s business... and get the usual AFM answer that it’s a little slow today but has been great so far.

The amusing thing about this company is that one of the partners is an action film guy and the other makes animated family films. On the wall next to the poster from some violent action film is a cute poster for an animated puppy movie. While I am there, the action guy mentions that some dude stopped by to see if they wanted to distribute his animated films, and left his card. The animation guy asks his name. “Will something...” (reads the card) “Will Vinton.” Both the animation guy and I say at the same time: “The Will Vinton?” And that’s who it was - the Oscar winning animator of those California Raisins and just about any Claymation animated film you have ever seen that wasn’t made by Nick Park. The animation guy grabs the card, pulls out his cell phone, and calls... gets Will Vinton, who is still in the building, and asks him to come back up! When Will Vinton arrives, I leave...

But not before action guy asks if I want to write a film for him and Manny Pacquiao to shoot in the Philippines?

After what they did to SOFT TARGET?

“I’ll think about it.” And I’m off down the hallways to some other suite... passing the girl in the Backless Sundress! Again I try to look at her badge without seeming to be looking at her cleavage... and again I can’t read the company name on her badge. Dang it! This is becoming an obsession! I must know who she is working for!


Out by the pool I bump into a guy I know with an interesting background. Max is from Russia, works as a machinist, and loves movies. So he bought a prosumer video camera to make his own films, and ended up making someone else’s films. This German guy who had a hit slasher movie in the early 80s and spent all of his money on booze and drugs and broads, ran out of money and decided to make some direct to DVD movies, but had nothing. So he put an advert of Craigs List looking for a camera man with his own camera to film his next horror movie. Max responded to the advert... and ended up filming a bunch of “no budget” movies for this crazy German guy. The crazy German guy found a furniture store that would let him shoot there at night, so he had sets! Actors and crew are from Craigs List, and most get paid zip - they are interns or working for a credit and meals. The crazy German guy’s films are famous for being awful - he doesn’t have a script, just makes up the story as he goes along - but because he makes horror movies about real life serial killers, his films sell to distribs. LionsGate has taken most of them. Max makes a few bucks for providing the camera and shooting the movies... but the crazy German guy makes $100k in profit on every film, and is now a millionaire while Max has made pizza and beer money.

So my Russian friend Max decides to make his own horror movie... doing things exactly like the crazy German guy did it. Craigs List for cast and crew and script, found locations, and lots of improvisation. But now he can’t sell the film. Horror isn’t selling like it used to, and his story has no hook at all, and I have not seen the movie, but it may be bad. Really bad. So he is at AFM as a Lobby Rat, trying to get someone to take his film. He has screeners on DVD in his coat pocket and “flaps” in a briefcase. I ask him how it’s going and he says “Good” but doesn’t mean it. I feel sorry for the guy - he watched the crazy German guy make over a million bucks, and when he tries to do the same thing he can’t even make a dollar. He told me he’s been offered a job shooting porno movies, and is giving it serious consideration.

In the lobby I bump into a director I know who is seriously in need of work. He lucked into making a couple of films and the people who hired him to direct his two features are not interested in hiring to direct anything else. So he’s in the lobby looking for work, and asks me if I have any script projects in the works that need a director. I answer “maybe” and say that I’ll keep him in mind, but I’m really not sure I can recommend him to a producer. Both of the movies of his that I’ve seen have had basic direction problems (violated the 180' rule, missing key shots, bad acting, and many other issues). Best I can do is forward his reel, and let the producer make the decision. Why is it that people who luck into a job think their luck will hold?

The girl in the Backless Sundress passes by and I decide to just *stare* at her chest long enough to read the company name on her badge... but she turns away just as I turn towards her and I can only see her perfectly tanned back. No tan lines. Hmm.

Moments later I bump into my friend Rob, who might actually be “my student Rob” - he took classes from me at Santa Fe and Expo many years ago and went on to write and produce some movies that are available from distribs upstairs. Unlike Max, Rob’s films have distributors who can sell the film to all of the foreign territories... problem is, they aren’t doing a very good job of it. And this is common - many of these AFM guys push whatever their new film is at this market, and then dump it in the catalogue and never think about it at the next market... a couple of months from now. So you may be excited by how much your film made first time out... but that may end up being pretty much all it makes. In an article in Script on AFM a couple of years ago, I advised you do your own international promotions on your film, to make sure the buyers want that film after your distrib buries it in their catalogue. You may not think this is your responsibility, and technically it’s not, but *someone* has to get the film sold after your distrib decides it’s yesterday’s news.


I bump into the hot reporter from NBC and her camera guy, but don’t ask about that interview they wanted to do with me... and she doesn’t bring it up. So, I guess I’m not important enough for a TV network. Actually, I already knew that...

Hey, there goes the girl in the Backless Sundress with some buyer. Can’t see her badge from this angle...


Maybe a year ago, this company in Hong Kong is looking for projects they can shoot in the Philippines and I send them my availables list which has a cool spec that takes place in the Philippines - a pair of college grads who buy a treasure map and have an Indiana Jones type adventure the summer before having to get a job and settle into the 9-5 world for the rest of their lives. The company says they have a project about the same treasure in pre-production already, and I wish I had some other things that would fit what they were looking for, but I don’t. Well, they just bought a building in Venice, CA and are having a huge AFM party to introduce themselves. And I’m invited.

Actually, just about everyone is invited. My friend Rob is invited. The director looking for work is invited. The NBC people are invited. For all I know Dennis Woodruff is invited (though, he’s a no show).

The party is supposed to have food and drink, and a shuttle bus will takes us there from the Loew’s Hotel. Cool - no driving involved! About a half hour before the party is supposed to start, Rob suggests we see if the shuttle is parked out by the curb... the first ones to the party are the first ones to be served food, right? We go outside, and there is not a shuttle, yet. Rob goes to his car for business cards and I overhear someone say that the big bus across the street is the shuttle to the party. I cross the street and ask the driver, and he says no. He’s here for something else. A bigger party? I go back to the hotel and the director is there, says he’s going to the party - do I know where the shuttle is? Rob returns, and says he was told the bus across the street really is going to the party. We cross the street, and the big bus leaves, empty... and pulls up in front of the hotel. As soon as we cross the street, the bus goes back to where we were standing. We cross the street, and the bus pulls away again, and... There are now a group of us on the wrong side of the street, but the person in charge shows up, tells us *not* to cross the street again. The bus will pick us up on *this* side of the street, and will be back in a moment.

Bus comes back to our side, we climb aboard... and the driver pulls out, but has no idea where he’s going. The street is the same one that the FX studio that did the submarine battles for my CRASH DIVE movie was located at, so I have a basic idea of how to get there. Others on the bus had some other details, and we found our way to the party.


Party Photos!

The plan to be the first served food backfires! The food is not ready yet! So we all get our free drinks and mingle and tour the new facilities. The new facilities are impressive, and a company like Big Foot is the future of film companies... except it’s really the *present* of film companies. The company is headquartered in Hong Kong, has studios in the Philippines, now offices and facilities in Los Angeles, and they make movies for an international audience. Film is a global business.

And it seems like everyone in the world was invited to this party! The really irritating guy who claims to be a producer from the party a couple of nights ago is here, as is John The Dancing Usher - this guy who worked at the AMC Burbank cinemas and used to sing and dance before every movie. Though you may be imagining that as entertaining, it was really more strange. John has a rambling conversation with me about 3D conversion and screenwriting, and I nod my head in the appropriate places... and wonder where the food is. I also look around for the girl in the Backless Sundress - if John The Dancer Usher got an invite, she had to get one, too. But I don’t see her anywhere. Maybe she was the only person in the greater Los Angeles are who wasn’t invited?

Several beers later, I am *really* wondering where the food is. The music is so loud you can’t have a conversation - why do they do that at parties? I would think the purpose of these things is to mingle with people, and to talk to the representatives from the company, but you can’t hear anyone unless they are *screaming* over the music. Same thing at the Raindance Film Festival last year - the music was so loud at the closing night party that people were leaving to have conversations in the street. Hey, turn it down a notch!

Finally, food arrives. A server comes out from a side door with a tray of chicken skewers... and everyone descends on her and cleans the tray before she can take more than a couple of steps. Rob gestures me over to the *door* and we wait for thr next server... and grab some food before it is gone. The poor servers are only getting to take a couple of steps before their trays are empty! While we are eating, a server actually makes it past us to the center of the party. John The Dancing Usher walks past with a *plate* of food and I ask him where he got it - inside there’s a room with some food. I wander inside and find Rob already there... with an empty plate. It’s kind of the same as outside - everyone in the room is waiting for the arrival of a serving tray of food. Several arrive at once - different kinds of Chinese dumplings. We attack the food... and the next trays have pork buns. It’s dim sum with long pauses between courses. I look into the next room and see the legendary Uwe Boll talking to some people. I think about joining the conversation and mentioning that he has an awful movie that began with my script in his catalogue... but what if he thinks it’s a great movie? I decide not to talk to him, because I am just drunk enough to say something that might result in him punching me. You know, he’s beat up critics before.

After I’ve had enough dim sum to add up to a meal, I go back outside to the ultra loud music and attempt to talk to some people. The CEO of the company stops the loud music to make a little speech, but either they turn down the volume for her speech or she speaks quietly, because I can barely hear what she has to say. Maybe it’s ear drum damage from the loud music? Whatever, I assumed it was the typical “Welcome to our new building and we make movies and we hope you will buy our movies and watch them.” Then the blasted blasting music began again.

After another half hour, the music was about to cause my ears to bleed, so I take one final look for the girl in the Backless Sundress - not here - and when the shuttle bus pulled to the curb outside the Big Foot compound, I jumped on and headed back to the hotel... and then back home from there.

Sunday is when the cheap badges go on sale, so some of the lobby rats actually get to go upstairs. Mostly, though, it’s film students and low budget producers. But the stair climbing is exactly the same, just a little more crowded. I never found out who the girl in the Backless Sundress was working for... that mystery will haunt me for the rest of my days. Monday would be my last day at AFM, and that entry will be coming next.


- Bill
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