Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Trailer Tuesday: With A Friend Like Harry (2000)

After seeing THE GUEST I was reminded of this French film, and decided to pop WITH A FRIEND LIKE HARRY into the machine and watch it again. I had seen it in the cinema, bought the DVD... and it sat on my shelf in the shrink wrap ever since. The odd thing about those silly French folks is that while America seems to shun most thrillers, the French love them. One of my favorite Don Westlake non series novels, THE AX, is about the economic downturn in the USA and a mid level management guy who realizes there are a couple dozen guys applying for the same jobs that he is... everyone is out of work! Then he decides the only way to land a job is to eliminate the competition, and becomes a serial killer of downsized mid level executives. Great *American* story... but no studio in America seemed to want it, so it was made in France by none other than Oscar Winning director Costa Gavras... with French actors speaking French. Hey, things were tough all over. But why do great American thrillers end up being made in France?

HARRY is an original screenplay by Gilles Marchand and the director Dominik Moll, but it’s the kind of story that Patricia Highsmith (STRANGERS ON A TRAIN) might have written.

I'm sure we all have had someone come up to us, call us by name, talk about some shared experience... and we don't know who the hell they are. We have forgotten them, but they have not forgotten us. They were nothing in our lives, but we were everything to them. Okay, that scene happens in a highway rest stop men's room at the opening of HARRY... do you want to be recognized while you are peeing? Do you want to shake some stranger’s hand, or worse: hug them?

Michael* (Laurent Lucas) and his wife Claire (Mathilde Seigner) and their three little girls (one a perpetually crying baby) have been taking a road trip to the ramshackle country house a couple hours past the retirement community where his overbearing parents live. They have a beat up old station wagon without air conditioning... and France is in the middle of a heat wave. The kids are miserable, and so are Michael and Claire. They stop at the gas station to change the baby’s diaper and use the facilities... never thinking that Michael might run into some one he knows.

Or, pretends to remember.

It seems that Michael and Harry (Sergi L√≥pez) went to high school together years ago, and Harry claims that Michael collided with him on the soccer field once and broke Harry’s front tooth. Michael remembers none of this. Harry claims they were friends way back in high school because they had so much in common, but now one is a struggling teacher with a wife and his three little (always screaming) kids and the other has inherited his father's fortune after he and his mother died in that tragic accident and drives a Mercedes sports car with a hottie named “Plum” (Sophie Guillemin) in the passenger seat. Michael has a life full of problems... and Harry believes in solving problems... permanently. Harry would like to buy dinner for Michael and his family, but Michael says he needs to get to the country house before nightfall so his kids can get to sleep at their bedtimes. Harry says he has some bottles of wine in the trunk, why not follow them to the country house and have a glass or two with them? Have you ever had someone invite themselves into your life and you just didn’t have the balls to tell them “no”?

It just keeps getting worse!

This is a great set up for a thriller because it has happened to all of us, and opens our life to potential peril when we allow some sinister stranger into our home... our lives... our family.

Basically Harry and Plum move in, sleeping in the best bedroom (because Michael wants to impress him). And Harry begins helping the struggling teacher. When the stationwagon breaks down, Harry buys them a brand new SUV. Michael tries to turn down the gift, but Harry explains ever since his parents died he has had more money than he could ever spend, so why not help out an old friend?

Because they missed a planned stop at the retirement community so that Michael’s overbearing parents could see their grand kids, his father calls and *insists* that they drive over. Michael tries to dissuade them, his father really shouldn’t be driving at night, and ends up agreeing to drive out in the new SUV and pick them up, then deliver them back to the retirement community afterwards.

When he gets there, you understand why Michael keeps his distance from his father and mother, and does not accept any gifts from them... those gifts come with *many* strings attached. His father is a manipulative ahole, a retired dentist who *insists* on giving Michael a dental exam and teeth cleaning in the spare room where he has all of his old dental equipment! This is one of those brilliant absurdist thriller scenes which help the audience feel ill at ease as they suppress their laughter at how silly (but creepy) the scene is. One of the great things about this story is that they keep finding odd things that you can relate to... that person who recognizes you but you do not recognize them, this scene where the overbearing father offers something you do not want, but you can’t really decline without hurting his feelings, and later scenes where Michael and hottie Plum meet in the bathroom and have a strangely erotic moment... it’s filled with uncomfortable scenes that just get weirder and weirder!

Michael mentions Harry, and his father remembers him! In fact, his father tells the same story about how Michael *irresponsibly* ran into Harry on the soccer field and broke his tooth and Michael’s father had to repair it for free... always cleaning up after his screw up son...

When Harry meets Michael’s parents, he realizes that they are what is holding his old friend back. They seem to go out of their way to belittle him, they offer him help (but in such a way that Michael would be forever in their debt if he accepted), and they won’t just help him financially without a bunch of strings and lectures and shaming. Harry realizes that Michael would be better off if his parents had the same sort of tragic accident that befell Harry’s parents... and makes it so! He calls Michael’s parents and says it is an emergency, they must drive out to the country house... then Harry steals a delivery van and runs them off the road, killing them.

Eventually things come to the point that Michael realizes all of his recent good fortune is due to Harry’s help... and that he has become an accomplice to Harry’s crimes. Can he let this man continue to kill people... even if it means that Michael gets everything he secretly desires? Or should he stop Harry before it’s too late?

WITH A FRIEND LIKE HARRY is a great thriller with the genre’s required humorous absurdity. Like STRANGERS ON A TRAIN’s rocky relationship between two men, one who may secretly love the other, HARRY takes us deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole until helping him bury a body just seems normal. An average man’s life suddenly spins out of control and he must step up to set it right... can he do that?

A couple of years ago they announced a US remake which would be directed by Kimberly Peirce with a script by Wentworth Miller, but according to a Variety story, she is no longer attached... which is too bad. After seeing Miller penned STOKER I would have lost Miller and kept Peirce. Though you can't judge a screenplay by its movie, I always worry a little about actors who write. Actors sometimes have a tunnel vision about *their* craft which results in a screenplay with good scenes that often don't add up to a story. STOKER's big problem was the script. We’ll see what happens if they ever make it.


* I've used the American spelling instead of "Michel" to avoid confusion.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Lancelot Link Monday: GOAT PROTOCOL

Lancelot Link Monday! Tom Cruise is still a movie star. Remember back when Cruise had done that crazy sofa jumping on Oprah's show and his career was over? Then he played Les Grossman in TROPIC THUNDER and people thought he was cool again? Okay, what can Adam Sandler do that will do the same for his career? What sort of role could he play? 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 over a baker's dozen links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 MI: Rogue Nation................ $56,000,000
2 Vacation........................ $14,850,000
3 Ant Man......................... $12,619,000
4 Magic Minions................... $12,200,000
5 Pixels........................... $10,400,000
6 Train Wreck...................... $9,700,000
7 Southpaw......................... $7,519,000
8 Papaertowns...................... $4,600,000
9 Inside Out....................... $4,517,000
10 Jurassic World.................... $3,800,000

2) Christopher McQuarrie Interview.

3) Spy Movies Vs. Real Life...

4) Has Hollywood Forgotten How To Plot?

5) Indie Film Box Office.

6) Inside the PSYCHO House!

7) Student Academy Award Finalists.

8) Screenwriter Susannah Grant On Stages Of Her Career (so far).

9) 25 Best Action Movies Of The Century! (so far)

10) And The Best Crime Films Of The Century! (so far)

11) Mark Hamill's Autographs.

12) Indie Horror Films: Better Than Ever!

13) The ORIGINAL Harry Potter returns!

14) Reviewer Pissed At Quote Pulled Out Of Context.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:

The last time Ethan Hunt was on a motorcycle...


Buy The DVDs




Friday, July 31, 2015

Fridays With Hitchcock:
The Paradine Case (1947)

Screenplay by David O. Selznick.

Do I really have to say anything more?

Okay, for those of you who may not know who David O. Selznick was: He was the legendary producer who made the Best Picture Oscar winner GONE WITH THE WIND which is also the record holder for box office in adjusted dollars - yes, it even beat AVATAR. Name any film you think was a massive hit, GONE WITH THE WIND made more money in adjusted dollars. Selznick was also legendary for his ego and for micro-managing to the point of insanity. He would send lengthy memos to *everyone* involved in one of his films explaining what he wanted in minute detail. Often the memos were wacky - he once sent a 30 page telegram... and the last line of the telegram said to disregard the telegram! In the 1970s someone collected many of these crazy memos and published them in a book, MEMO FROM DAVID O. SELZNICK - I have a copy somewhere. At first, reading the memos made my brain hurt... then they became laugh-out-loud funny. He wrote memos on things so small and insignificant you wonder how he found the time to do anything else. So, imagine the lunatic, egotistical, head of production for the studio writing a screenplay...

To be fair, Selznick began in the story department at MGM - because in those good old days of Hollywood they promoted *screenwriters* and people who worked in the story department to producers and heads of production. Hollywood back then was not about deals and lawyers and agents, it was about *stories*. From the story department he worked his way up to producer at MGM, and produced a string of hits - which probably didn’t help that out-of-control ego of his. He married his boss’s daughter, Irene Mayer, and decided that he was too good for MGM, so he quit and started his own company - Selznick International. If you are ever on the Sony lot, you can still see his building. It looks much smaller than it does on film.

Selznick was the guy who brought Alfred Hitchcock over from England... and brought a bunch of European stars to the United States, including Ingrid Bergman. What he would do is sign them to a long term contract with his “studio”, which had yet to make a single film. Then he would “rent them” to another studio for more money... and make a profit. So, let’s say he was paying Ingrid Bergman $1X a month, he would rent her out to MGM for $5X and keep the difference. Bergman got paid the same no matter what. Because Selznick and Hitchcock did not get along, Selznick “rented” Hitchcock to other studios from 1941-1944 for five different movies, and basically lived off the money Hitchcock earned for him. Pimp-daddy Selznick. The director of an Oscar winning film could get top dollar... and all of that money went into Selznick’s pocket. During that period of time he made only one movie as a producer - SINCE YOU WENT AWAY... the rest of his money was from pimpin'.

Though he made a handful of successful movies at his “studio”, the film he made in 1939 was the one he’s best known for - GONE WITH THE WIND.

I think that film ruined him.

Imagine making the biggest box office film of all time *and* having it win Best Picture Oscar. What do you do for an encore?

Well, the year after he won Best Picture Oscar for producing GONE WITH THE WIND, he won Best Picture Oscar for producing REBECCA... directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

After that Selznick seemed to be *exclusively* trying to make movies that would be massive box office hits *and* win the Best Picture Oscar. Because Hitchcock was under contract to him, he was either being “rented” to some other studio or producer or making some film for Selznick. Some of these films, like SPELLBOUND, were “Hitchcock movies”, but THE PARADINE CASE is pure Selznick... a big glossy soap opera of a film that seemed created to pander to both the mass audience *and* the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences membership. The film starred his new discovery from Europe Alida Valli (THE THIRD MAN), who he hoped to rent out as soon as she became a star, and Gregory Peck - another contract player, and a young hunky French actor he was grooming for stardom, Louis Jourdan (SWAMP THING). Hitchcock disliked the project, but was under contract and had no choice but to make it. Hitchcock brought in his own writers, and Selznick didn't send anyone to pick one of the writers up at the airport - so he flew back home. Eventually Selznick took over and wrote the screenplay himself, which Hitchcock must have loved. Hitch and Selznick were battling every day on the set. It’s hard to believe that this film falls between NOTORIOUS and ROPE on Hitchcock’s resume, because it’s so unlike either one of those films... it’s overwrought.

It was also Hitchcock’s last movie for Selznick - he walked off the set at the end of shooting. His contract was complete, and he was now a free man...

THE PARADINE CASE was a massive box office flop.

Nutshell: In London, rich and beautiful widow Mrs. Paradine (Valli) is about to sit down to dinner when the police arrive and arrest her for the murder of her husband. She gets the most respected criminal barrister in England, Anthony Keane (Peck) to represent her in his robes and powdered wig...

Okay, while you’re wondering how Peck did with his British accent, we’ll get on with the synopsis.

Because Mrs. Paradine is the most beautiful and seductive woman in the world, Keane’s wife Gay (Ann Todd) becomes jealous and worries that she will lose her man. Keane’s older law partner, Sir Simon (Charles Coburn) also worries about this, but his college girl daughter hopes that Mrs. Paradine will break up the marriage and then dump Keane so that she can swoop in and take him, because she thinks he’s a dreamy older man.

Oh, speaking of older men, the trial’s Judge (Charles Laughton) is a complete letch and keeps hitting on Keane’s wife. It’s kind of implied that if she sleeps with him, he may favor her husband in the case. Though his character doesn’t show up for a while, Louis Jourdan plays the dead Mr. Paradine’s valet Latour who may or may not have been playing hide the salami with Mrs. Paradine while her husband slept in the next room. I know that I’m leaving out some people who were either having sex with other people or at least wanted to have sex with other people, but you get the idea.

The first 2/3rds of the story takes place before the trial while all of these people are trying to get into each other’s pants. The last third is all in the courtroom - but far from Perry Mason excitement. There are only two suspects and no surprises. The story isn’t about who the killer is, it’s about who is gonna sleep with who and who already slept with who. Sex for the mass audience, powdered wigs and frilly shirts for the Academy.

Peck doesn’t even attempt a British accent.

Experiment: I’m sure that the main experiment was trying to get through the film without killing Selznick...

But the film has one amazing shot - as Mrs. Paradine sits at the defendant’s table in court, Latour enters the court room behind her and walks to the witness stand, and Hitchcock does a great composite shot with Mrs. Paradine in the foreground (one element) and Latour walking in the background (the other element) with both images moving so that it seems as if she can *feel* him entering the courtroom and - without looking back - *sense* him as he walks around her. It’s a great shot concept - she knows he is there without ever seeing him.

There is also the reverse of the shot, from Latour’s POV when he leaves the witness stand. Basically one great shot done twice.

Oh, and a nice overhead of the courtroom when Keane leaves after realizing his client is guilty.

Hitch Appearance: Leaving the train station, carrying a cello.

Great Scenes: Well, no suspense scenes, so let me talk about some of the soap opera stuff.

The opening scene where Mrs. Paradine is arrested is shocking, and managed to find a way to sneak in the victim visually. A huge painting of Mr. Paradine hangs on the wall, and is the center of much of the scene. But there is some great confusion by Mrs. Paradine about how one is supposed to get arrested - they just served dinner, will she be allowed to eat first? And what about packing a bag? She has no point of reference.

At the police station, she is searched and stripped and a matron goes through her beautiful hair with a comb searching for contraband. Hitchcock has done similar scenes that were even better - involving fingerprint ink you can’t remove. I would have gone full-force and had them delouse her with spray hoses, but it seems like everything is blanded... probably due to Sezlnick’s screenplay.

There’s a great scene with Charles Laughton as the horny old judge who sits next to Peck’s wife on the sofa and grabs her hand and puts her hand on her leg (stealing a feel) and makes it pretty clear that he wants to screw her and that it would be good for her husband’s trial if she said yes. Laughton steals every scene he is in - almost rescuing the film. Almost.

There’s kind of a spooky scene where Peck goes to the scene of the crime - the Paradine country estate - and it’s closed up, dark, spooky... and has a Mrs. Danvers-like woman showing him around... and Louis Jourdan’s valet seems to appear and disappear without ever leaving or entering a room. There’s more atmosphere in that scene than in the rest of the film.

The courtroom trial is boring because we have two suspects: Mrs. Paradine and the valet Latour, and neither tries to blame the other or has any shocking witness stand reveals. The one and only is that Mrs, Paradine may have visited Latour’s room after dark.

In HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT, Hitchcock complains about all of the casting - and rightly so - but spends a great deal of time explaining why Louis Jourdan was dead wrong as Latour. If that is supposed to be the big shocker in court, it doesn’t work if she was sleeping with some beefcake guy like Jourdan. He’s better looking than she is!

There’s only shock if Latour is *ugly* - and this goes back to my problems with UNDER CAPRICORN - Hollywood often makes the mistake of hiring pretty people when the role requires really ugly people. That film was another woman-who-sleeps-with-a-man-beneath-her story, and Bergman and Joseph Cotton seem like a reasonable pair. In PARADINE, Valli is a beautiful woman, but Jourdan is a beautiful man. They belong together - no shock. You can “tell us” that Jourdan is a servant and Valli is wealthy and that it is scandalous for her to sleep with him, but there is no class distinctions on screen. There are only *physical* distinctions.

Hell, she goes to his room! If the script would have made him the groom and had him sleeping in an apartment in the stables and the first time they got busy was after a ride on the floor of the stable amongst piles of hay and manure, we have something! And that is something that a *screenwriter* can do to guard against casting issues. We can create a *situation* that is shocking, so the casting won’t kill the scene.

An *idea* doesn’t show up on screen, only the execution of the idea - the image or dialogue that turns the idea into something concrete that we can see or hear. The *idea* of sleeping with a man below her class needs to be turned into something we can see or hear. Since we are not involved in casting as screenwriters, it has to be a situation or dialogue. That roll in the hay (and manure) - whether we do that with actions (visual) or with courtroom testimony (dialogue) we need to get it out there. But we do not have shocking testimony or shocking visuals... Instead we have a very dull Q&A of suspects on the stand who do not want to incriminate each other so they don’t really say anything.

Sound Track: Excellent score from the always dependable Franz Waxman.

THE PARADINE CASE is basically a big glossy soap opera with a couple of interesting shots, that Hitchcock practically disowned. He walked off after his rough cut, leaving David O’Selznick to sort out the rest. I’m sure he sent a 30 page memo to Hitchcock afterwards.

- Bill


The other Fridays With Hitchcock.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Flashback: On Set Rewrites... Overnight!

Those screenwriting Gurus like McKee hate flashbacks, but I think they are part of the language of cinema... and a good way to fill up a blog. So here's another thing that happened long long ago in a far off galaxy...

One of the things the WGA fought for a couple of contracts ago was the ability for writers to visit the sets of the films they have written. Some of you may find it shocking that they weren't automatically allowed on the set. Didn't we create the story? The scenes? The dialogue? That great car chase? No one would be there if it weren't for our script. That Teamster eating doughnuts and sitting on the apple box in the shade behind the star's trailer? He wouldn't be there without that script! Shouldn't we be allowed to watch our fantasies become reality?

But Hollywood thinks of writers on the set as a hooker the morning after - her job is done, why is she hanging around? We've got a movie to make - can we get this useless person out of the way? Usually by the time they are actually shooting the film, the writer is long gone. We have slaved over the script for years, sold it to a producer, that producer has taken years to set up the film, then it finally starts production... and we've written and sold a half dozen scripts by then. It's not uncommon for it to take ten years for a script to reach the screen, by then we may not eve remember our own story!

Plus all of those other writers the studio brings in to "re-energize" a stalled project. This may not make any sense, but it's a fact of the biz. Let's say you've written a really hot script called SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE and it sells for big money to Universal Studios and the hottest actress in the world, Julia Roberts, signs to play the lead. But they have trouble casting the male lead and the film gets pushed back a couple of times... then completely loses momentum. How do you resurrect this project? You have to get the trades talking about it again - make it an exciting project again - so you hire a big name writer to rewrite the script (that sold for big money and signed the top star in the world). Maybe this writer improves an already good script, maybe they just change a few things but "re-energize" the project. Make it hot again. Take the deadest project in Hollywood and hire Diablo Cody to rewrite it and it's suddenly hot again. A script with a new writer is GOING SOMEPLACE... a great script that is just sitting on a studio shelf is dead. It's like Woody Allen's shark analogy in ANNIE HALL.

Add to that every director has his own "pet writer" that he brings in to implement all of those notes that might get shot down in the normal development process - stuff like having the Sheriff of Nottingham *also* be Robin Hood because it's a "cool idea"... and when that doesn't work, just make it a typical Robin Hood movie instead of the hot script about the Sheriff of Nottingham that sold for big bucks and everyone loved. What you end up with is a reality where the writer who worked so hard to create that script in the first place may be estranged from the project by the time the film gets made. I had a film that I was the original writer on, but by the time the thing got made so many other writers had worked on it that even the producer seemed to forget that I was involved in the project. They would need a Greyhound Bus to transport all of the writers involved to the set and clean out a dozen Cost Plus Stores to provide us all with a director's chair.

On most of my films I've been the only writer (except for director's girlfriends) so I've been allowed on set. In some cases I have been at war with the directors by the time we started filming, creating a very tense set visit... But I'm a nice guy and directors usually don't mind having me around. Some directors even LIKE me.


I usually time my set visits to coincide with the dinner break. Once a day (sometimes twice) a truck rolls up with tables and chairs and sometimes even a tent and another truck follows with a catered meal. These meals usually offer a choice of main courses (fish, chicken/meat, vegetarian), are usually all-you-can-eat, and are often prepared on the spot (some of the companies have portable barbecues). Anyone on a film crew will tell you that the most important thing on any shoot is the food - it's the thing the crew looks forward to - and Producers know this. The food is usually really good, and if you're involved in the production (the writer) it's also free. I try to get in as many free meals as possible during the filming. This not only gives you a chance to meet the crew (the people actually making your dream come true), because you're "above the line" you get to sit at the adult table - with the movie stars and the director and the producer. This helps your career - plus you get to pal around with movie stars.

You want to make friends with the star for many reasons, at least one of which is you'll get to see the "dailies" - the footage shot the previous day. Dailies aren't shown in a theater any more, they're usually shown on video in the star or director's trailer. I was sitting in a star's trailer watching dailies where I first realized how important it is to have writers on the set.


Many of my scripts have big plot twists, and this one had a doosey! A character with key evidence was assassinated by the villain's henchman in an earlier scene... but survived! Now the hero has to protect the witness as he tracks the villain - a conflict because the closer he gets to the villain the more likely the villain will discover the witness is still alive. I had a great scene where the hero and henchman fight - and the whole time the hero is trying to keep the henchman from seeing the witness in the next room. Except the dailies for that scene have the witness IN THE SAME ROOM as the henchman! The henchman actually puts a gun to the witness' head in a director-improvised bit of business. Later scenes where the henchman reports to the villain (and fails to mention the witness he shot in an earlier scene has been miraculously resurrected) have already been shot!

I attempt to tactfully mention the continuity problem to the director who tells me not to worry about it. Yesterday's location is gone - no chance to reshoot anything - maybe they can fix it in editing. The director never admitted he either forgot what the scene was about, or never understood what the scene was about in the first place. But even if the reason for the witness character to be in the room was a location change (from a 2 room office to a 1 room office) there were things I could have done as a writer to make that scene work. I could have fixed the continuity error with WORDS instead of making the editor try to reconstruct the footage they shot into a scene that made sense.

To tell you the truth - I don't think the director ever understood what the script was about, so even if I had been on set I might not have been able to do anything except lose an argument with the director on his "brilliant improvised action gag" of the henchman taking the witness hostage. I later found out he had never read the script... he had only read the coverage.

On another film I didn't get to see the dailies... I had to witness a huge script screw-up on the big screen at the premiere (which I was invited to... probably by accident). I am a meticulous researcher and had read a stack of books and hung around with cops in order to make my script realistic. One thing I discovered was a public misconception about a particular aspect of a police investigation... so I used that as a plot twist. The audience would naturally assume one thing, then I would have the detectives reveal the truth. I even had actual national crime statistics in the dialogue - shocking facts that most American's didn't know. I always hope to start a post-theater (or post-video) conversation in my audience about the theme of the film or one of these weird facts I uncover.

Except this film had gone through an on-set rewrite. The actors playing the detectives thought weird fact was just plain wrong and that my FBI crime statistics were made up off the top of my head. They talked to the director, who had no idea how much research I had done (they usually don't) and the three of them rewrote the whole scene... based on that common misconception that was about 180 degrees wrong. That meant the big plot twist was gone... so they had to make up a clue that lead to the killer on the spot. A clue that had never been planted in the previous 80 pages. A clue that just popped up from out of the blue in a scene about a completely different subject. Anyone want to guess how convincing this clue was? It only I had been on set to explain how much research I had done and point out how the whole darned solution to the mystery was based on that common misconception.


But you have to be careful what you wish for. While my HBO World Pemiere movie GRID RUNNERS (ala VIRTUAL COMBAT) was filming I dropped by the set for dinner one night and the director said the words I've come to dread: "Boy am I glad to see you! We've been calling you all day!" Whenever the director WANTS the writer to come down to the set, it can only be trouble. They were shooting at this huge glass and chrome skyscraper that was a victim of LA's real estate boom-and-bust. The place was empty, not a single business on any of the floors. The perfect location to shoot our evil corporate villain's lair. They had shot a bunch of scenes and were preparing to shoot the big end action scene where the villain tries to escape by helicopter from the helipad on the roof of his building and the hero and heroine try to stop him. The hero only has a handful of bullets left and has to use them to keep the helicopter from landing on the helipad... which means he has no bullets to take down the villain. But they ARE on a roof, so you can guess what happens.

Except they won't be on a roof.

The location was perfect except for two things: no rooftop helipad and no access to the rooftop. Could I completely rewrite the scene to take place in the courtyard in front of the building? By 5am tomorrow (so they can make copies of the new pages and have them on the set in time to film first thing in the morning)?

1) Why would the helicopter try to land in the courtyard?
2) What could replace the excitement of the rooftop fight scene, where our hero keeps getting knocked to the edge (and once OVER the edge) of the roof.
3) How can the villain fall to his death if the scene is at ground level?

Plus two dozen other problems I would have to deal with. It's not just hanging the slug lines, it's rethinking the entire scene. It was about 7pm when I showed up for dinner... and they had set up in the courtyard. So I couldn't even get a good look at my location until AFTER they had broken down the tables and got rid of the catering trucks. Swell!

I was distracted through dinner - probably making the cast think I was aloof and remote and "artistic" - then I had to wait around until the caterers left. The whole time the clock is ticking. Every minute the crew spent folding chairs was a minute I couldn't spend working on the rewrite. Finally I had the courtyard the way it would be tomorrow morning when they would start filming... and realized I had nothing to work with! You couldn't land a helicopter there if your life depended on it! So the part of the scene where the helicopter lands and the villain is racing towards it and the hero has to shoot at it? Not gonna work. Unfortunately they had already shot the scene where the villain calls for the helicopter... I was stuck with having a helicopter in the scene.

Driving home I remembered something I planted earlier in the script that I could use in this scene... and by the time I got home I was ready to write. I worked all night and got the new pages faxed to the production office by 5am. I missed my daily dinner visit that day - I was asleep. I never got to see them film the scene I had slaved all night to rewrite. Some parts of the new scene got scrambled because I wasn't there to explain them and the director and cast didn't have time to analyze the pages... but I'm sure the result (including a great villain's death) were better than anything that might have resulted from the director and actors improvising a scene for the new location off the top of their heads.

Do I think writers should be allowed on sets? I think if producers were smart they would insist on it. Who else knows the script as well as we do? Who else could have remembered that thing they planted in act one that is EXACTLY what is needed to make that act three rewrite work? Hey, I can sleep some other time... I've got rewrites!

- Bill

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Autograph Styles Of The Old And Famous

Rerun from 2006...

The plan for Saturday was to hang out with my hometown friends Paul and Van and catch up on old times.

Van is one of my oldest friends, we met when I was 18 years old and making short films. He was a celebrity in the local film community because his short film about the “mothball fleet” - rusting Navy battle ships harbored in Vallejo - won a bunch of awards and was bought by the Navy - it was showing in the Navy Museum in Washington DC or someplace.

Paul was also a local celebrity - he made drive in movies that played all over the United States... he also gave me my first screenwriting job on that classic Oscar nominated drama NINJA BUSTERS. Paul lives far far away in another country with very different plumbing than ours.

The three of us, and a handful of others, were the guys who were going to make it in the film business. We'd sit around the "big table" in the back of our local Denny's, eating burgers and discussing film until close to dawn. Back in the days when making movies was more dream than reality.

Now, we could hang out anywhere... but Paul has flown back to the USA for the Celebrity Autograph Show at the Burbank Marriott. That’s where we’re meeting.

I arrive at the Burbank Marriott, which used to be the Burbank Hilton, and is where they have the Fangoria Convention every year. It’s very close to the airport... as in, planes buzz the roof as they land and take off. Yahoo’s media HQ is right across the street, and Frys Electronics is on the other side of the railroad tracks. Oh, when the planes aren’t buzzing the hotel, freight trains are whizzing by - and the occasional Amtrak passenger train. You know, prime Southern California real estate.

I arrive, and since the Show costs $25 for a 2 day pass, I decide to phone Paul’s cell (mobile to you Europeans) to see if he actually made it through customs and is in Burbank. I get no answer, so I call Van’s cell. He picks up right away.

Are you inside?


Then I’ll see you in a minute.

You’re here?

Yes... I only had to come down the street. Is Paul with you?

No. I think he’s in L.A.

Okay, I’m confused - where are you?

Home (San Francisco). Working on a novel.

We talked for a while longer, but it seems like Van flaked at the last minute. He’s done that before - in fact, so many times that it no longer matters to me. There was a time when it used to piss me off... several times I waited in bars or restaurants for him, and once he was a last minute no-show on a trip to Reno. I’d set up these trips for the old gang - well, the ones who haven’t done anything unforgivable - and we’d hang out for 3 days somewhere. I’d pay for hotel rooms and airfare and meals... and the casino/hotel in Reno actually through in a bunch of drink and gambling coupons. No one could complain that they couldn’t afford to go, I had it covered. At the Oakland Airport, we’re waiting on Van... and he doesn’t show. This was when cell phones where the size of a brick (not that long ago) and I didn’t want one. We were all kind of worried when he didn’t make the plane... and when we arrived in Reno, I wasn’t going to spend $9 million on hotel long distance charges to find out what happened. The rest of us had a great time, and when we returned, I called... and Van said something had come up at the last minute. These days, I just accept that Van is Van... He looks at life differently than I do - he lives completely in the moment. No thoughts of future or past, only *now*. I am a planner - I try to turn the chaos of my life into some sort of order. Van is a great guy, who makes decisions at the last minute, so when he does show up, I think of it as a bonus. This means I would only be hanging out with Paul...

I gave him another call on his cell - and Paul’s gravelly voice answered. He was inside.

I paid, got a wrist band, and wandered into the big autograph room and found Paul.


If you’ve never been to one of these autograph shows, here’s how they work...

The big ballroom of the hotel is filled with rows of tables, and behind each table are a bunch of TV and movie stars that you thought were dead charging around $20 for an autographed picture from one of their films, or $15 to take a picture standing next to you. They often have other items for sale - self published memoirs, scripts from their shows, self produced films, and sometimes T shirts. In the back of the room and out in the lobby are tables selling memorabilia - movie posters, toys, DVDs and VHS tapes, and anything else that might be worth something with a star’s autograph on it.

There’s a hierarchy among the signing stars - featured tables (unusually in the corners of the room) with long lines of fans waiting for an autograph. Though the fame of the star is one of the factors in being at a featured table, the more important factor is whether the star’s autographs are rare or easily available, This often means a lesser star will end up at a featured table because they’ve never signed at a show before. Saturday’s featured guests included Tony Curtis, Debbie Reynolds, Elliot Gould, and Natasia Kinski. Long lines for each of them.

Gene Barry, recently in WAR OF THE WORLDS... dumped at some normal table.

They also do “theme tables” - often with all of the surviving cast from some classic TV show or movie. They had everyone from the VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA TV show, from David Hedison to Del Monroe (who was also in the movie). When I was a kid VOYAGE was one of my favorite shows. It was like STAR TREK, but underwater.

They also had a James Bond group - with Richard Keil (Jaws) and George Lazenby (Bond in O.H.M.S.S. - probably the best Bond story, but nobody’s seen it) and Martine Beswick (FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE) and Shirley Eaton (the hot babe who gets covered with gold in GOLDFINGER). I’m a huge Bond fan. When I look back on the movies I loved as a kid, the movies that would turn me into a film junkie and eventually into a screenwriter; Bond movies are right up on the top of the list. When I was a kid, my parents would see movies at the Drive In, let us kids watch the cartoons that came on first, then have us sleep in the back seat during the movies... but I always secretly stayed awake and watched the movie reflected in the back window of the car. For years I thought everyone in the movies was left handed. I don’t know if I saw GOLDFINGER reflected in the back window of my parent’s Plymouth, but the Bond movies were the first films I saw that had nekkid women in them. Ursula Andress getting hosed down after radioactive contamination and Daniela Bianchi running nude into Bond’s room and Shirley Eaton naked and covered in gold. As a little boy, seeing a nekkid girl was, well, amazing. I was too young to know why I liked nekkid girls, but I liked them. So seeing Shirley Eaton in person should have been a big thrill. Except she looked like my grandmother. She was really really old.

Of course she was old. Robert Culp from I SPY and GREATEST AMERICAN HERO was there - and he was really really old, too. In fact, everyone there - all of the stars I used to watch on TV and in the movies - were old. Wrinkled. Hunched over. Look, we all get old - I’m old - but when you can pop in the DVD of GOLDFINGER and see the hot, sexy, young version of Shirley Eaton - that’s how I want to remember her. That film image is who they are to me.

There are two ways to react to one of these autograph shows - either be excited to see all of these stars from the past and run around collecting autographs and photos (that’s what Paul did) or find it all kind of depressing and sad that these childhood idols are now old people selling their signatures for $20 (that’s me). Hitchcock tells a story in Hitchcock/Truffaut about a film late in his career where someone suggested he hire Graham Cutts as a lowly assistant. Hitchcock was embarrassed, because Cutts was the studio head who first hired Hitchcock when he was just starting out. Hitchcock thought it was demeaning to hire him for such a menial job... but then he’s told that Cutts really needs the job, so Hitchcock reluctantly hires him. That’s kind of how I feel about the stars at the autograph shows - I’m embarrassed for them, but I also worry that they need the money. These folks were stars when stars weren’t paid much.


While wandering down the aisles, I bump into a bunch of the guys from the Thursday Night Drinking Group. Grabbing autographs and dishing about who was there and how they looked. Dan was standing in the very long line for Tony Curtis’ autograph... which is kind of funny, since Dan has probably been in more movies than Tony Curtis (he’s Agent Cody Banks’ dad and Tommy Lee Jones right hand man in THE FUGITIVE and was a regular on a half dozen TV show like MATLOCK). Duane was there, and I introduced him to Paul, who is a big fan of PULP FICTION. Again - Duane wasn’t there to sign autographs, he was there to collect autographs. Strange how these people are on one side of the table now, but may be on the other side of the table doing the signing someday.

After Paul collected a bunch of autographed pictures of stars from his childhood, he and I went out to the lobby, had a drink, and talked about old times and current projects. About ex-friends. About the old days when we’d bump into each other at the movies, or the gang would get together for an almost all night conversation in Denny’s about movies. That gang consisted of Paul, me, Van, Vick, Bruce, sometimes Debbie (assistant director on THE DEEP END), Tom, Mike, Hurley, Willy, Rhomboid Goatcabin (real name Michael) , and sometimes Rob the cameraman. Some of these people are, like Mad Max, just a memory now. All of us brought together by our love of movies.

Paul is no longer directing movies, now he is writing and directing these audio books... well, really they are audio movies. He puts together these great casts - often the same stars who are here at the autograph show - and top of the line sound effects and musical scoring. The result is a movie without the picture. He’s done a couple of them, now. HARD ROCK LOVERS (with a voice cameo by me) and now McKNIGHT’S MEMORY starring Robert Culp. He also did a 77 minute true crime story from Ed “Kooky” Burns from 77 SUNSET STRIP (before my time, but one of those kick ass 60s TV private eye shows). To bring everything back to Bond - Paul’s first audio thing was a seminar - LIVING THE JAMES BOND LIFESTYLE that I was director on.

Stars from the past. Friends from the past.

In the film that plays in my mind, we are always that bunch of young guys around the back table in Denny’s talking about movies. We never grow old. None of us ever go on to do things that are unexcuseable and criminal. None of us will die before our time. Just like the movie stars on film - we are in our perfect time, our perfect state. We may grow old, but like film... memories never age.

- Bill


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Diversions & Plot Twists
Yesterday’s Dinner: Broccoli Beef at CityWok.
DVD: Watched THE PARALLAX VIEW, one of my favorite movies. I saw it when it first came out, I was a kid, and it's one ofthe major influences on my writing. Warren Beatty plays a screw up reporter who discovers that all of the witnesses to a Kennedy-like assassination have died in mysterious accidents. He decides to investigate, and discovers a company that deals in assassinations - including the social misfit loners who get caught afterwards. So, he does what any reporter would do, he gets a fake ID and applies for a job. Great suspense, one of the best fist fights on film, and a very very dark ending. One thing that is interesting about the film is the use of *stillness* - the film is mostly big panoramic long shots with *nothing moving* except one person or thing. That draws your eye to the movement... and creates instant tension. There is a huge contrast between the still background and the violence. It's the *opposite* of Paul Greengrass and the last two BOURNE movies.
Pages: Still only a couple of pages on SLEEPER when I'm supposed to be doing *more* than 5 pages, and now I have to set it aside to prepare for my Expo Classes.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Trailer Tuesday: Captain Blood

Directed by: Micheal Curtiz.
Written by: Casey Robinson based on the novel by Rahael Sabatini.
Starring: Olivia DeHaviland, Errol Flynn, Lionel Atwill, Basil Rathbone.

CAPTAIN BLOOD is one of my all time favorite movies. Based on a novel by Rapheal Sabatini that I read in grade school, thanks to my 6th grade teacher Bob Olsen who had these massive bookshelves in his classroom filled with all kinds of adventure and romance and other genres of fiction - not kids books, *adult* books. Of course, nothing you couldn’t let a 6th grader read - but Bob’s theory was that kids would read grown up books just to show that they are grown up - and books that were more realistic would be interesting to kids who lived in the real world. Nothing that talked down. We had to write a huge stack of book reports every year, and extra credit and prizes to hose who read the most books. I think Bob Olsen save my life, gave me a direction, and made me what I am today. And all of the Sabatini novels on his shelves I gobbled up... and bought copies of my own so that I could re-read them over summer vacation.

BLOOD is a pirate adventure book about Dr. Peter Blood, who takes no sides in war - his job is to help the injured. When he treats a rebel fighting against the government of England, he’s arrested and put on trial. Blood tells the judge he’s a doctor, not as rebel. Neutral. The judge sentences him to *death* for saving the life of a rebel. Instead of death, they ship all of the convicts to the British colonies in the Caribbean as slaves to work on plantations. Blood and his slave pals all get whipped and mistreated... and Blood has now taken a side - with the rebels. Oh, he’s bought by plantation owner’s niece Olivia DeHaviland - she buys him just to piss off her uncle. Blood insults him.

After being whipped for being insolent, Blood plans an escape for the slaves by boat. Many of the slaves have been in the navy, and know how to sail. One guy is the key to everything - he was a navigator. Without him, they’re dead in the water. The day before the escape plan, the plantation owner sees Blood whispering to the navigator and while Blood is off working, whips the navigator kid to try and get him to talk. This is a great scene, because if the kid talks - the escape is foiled. If he doesn’t talk - they may whip him to death, and the escape is foiled. Either way, they’re screwed. The kid doesn’t talk, and is close to death - which ruins the escape plan. Except Spanish ships attack and d loot the town... which creates a perfect diversion for their escape. They manage to carry the navigator guy to the docks where their boat is waiting... but it was shelled by the Spanish ship! It’s sunk! Blood hatches a plan to *steal the Spanish ship* while the Spaniards are on shore looting... and the slaves become pirates.

One thing I have to mention are the supporting characters in this film - they are so well written and well played that they become real (even if the dialogue gets a little clunky now and then). There’s a slave-pirate who always quotes the Bible... but finds ironic passages to quote, so he comes off funny instead of as a zealot. There is a tough guy, always itching for a fight. The guy who always has his flask - even in sword fights. All of the bit-part slave-pirates have *personalities* and their own little goals. The colony’s Governor is a great character - this fey, flamboyant guy in a powdered wig always complaining about his gout. The Governor’s doctors both have distinctive personalities. The guy in debtor’s prison who sells Blood the boat... and gets swept up in the escape, becoming one of Blood’s pirates by mistake. Every single minor character is an individual in this film.

And all of the great character actors under contract at Warner Bros play these roles as if they’re competing for an Oscar. If a character is only in one scene, they do everything in their power to be the most memorable character in that scene. You end up with all of these amazing actors playing amazingly well defined characters. I’ve always wanted to take over programming at TCM for a week and do a festival of great character actors in bit parts. You would see several movies with completely different stars in different genres and wonder why these films are on the same program... then you’d notice some guy like Ned Sparks is in every movie. Who is Ned Sparks you are probably asking? Well, he’s this guy who played bit parts in a lot of movies who had a very distinctive voice - and you’d recognize his voice from a couple of cartoon characters who swiped it. I think most people know the cartoons more than the real guy whose voice the imitated. But BLOOD has all of these great bit part players (but no Ned Sparks) playing the pirates - the guy in the background of some shot not only has a character, the actor playing that character is trying to make sure you remember him!

Blood has a pirate constitution which is basically that all money is divided evenly - no one gets a larger share. All work is divided evenly - no one gets to goof off. And if one of them is injured on the job, they get a pension (of course, it’s a pirate movie, so this is all about how many pieces of eight you get if your arm gets chopped off in battle... and it goes through every savage injury you can imagine and some you can’t). Oh, and no raping women. There are enough women of easy virtue at Tortuga, no reason to rape any. And the big one - people are not for sale.

So we get all kinds of great pirate adventures, and on Tortuga Blood decides to partner with a French pirate played by Basil Rathbone using that fake French accent from MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL. More pirate adventures... and Rathbone captures a ship carrying... Olivia DeHaviland! Rathbone’s plan is to rape her and then ransom her to her plantation owner Uncle who is now the governor of the British colony. When Blood shows, he has to stop that. First with reason, and when that doesn’t work, with some damned cool sword fighting. There’s nothing like a Rathbone/Flynn sword duel - those guys actually knew how to use swords. I think Rathbone was actually a fencing champ or something in real life. So the fight scene is just amazing stuff.

Once Blood wins, he jokes with DeHaviland that she is now *his* slave. He owns her as she once owned him. She hates him... but we know they are going to hook up.

Blood decides to take DeHaviland back to the British Colony, even though he knows her uncle has every British ship in the area trying to capture and kill for him. This leads to a mutiny - and Blood has to talk his pirates into doing him this one favor... that could result in their death. This is a great scene, where one-by-one they join him.

When they get back to the British Colony, they find it under attack by French battleships - and no British ships to defend it. Blood and his pirates have to decide what side they are on, and that leads them to attack the two French ships. A great sea battle - obviously models in some shots, but when they get close enough to throw the grapnels and pull out the swords, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before. A non-stop sword fight with lots of twists and turns and reversals.

They began as rebels, became slaves, became pirates, and end as heroes.

How many current movies take their lead characters through so much?

CAPTAIN BLOOD is not only a big exciting adventure film, it makes a point about freedom and equality and how a government needs to answer to the people, not *use* the people.


Monday, July 27, 2015

Lancelot Link: Adam Sandler's Hitflop

Lancelot Link Monday! So, Adam Sandler's new film PIXELS did not do all that well in the USA. It came in #2 after last week's (and this week's) #1 movie ANT MAN... even though many of you are waiting for the ANT MAN / MAN FROM UNCLE double bill. So Sandler is obviously a failure. But PIXELS also opened well overseas, so it may end up a worldwide success. So Adam Sandler is obviously a success. Except Sandler used to do well in both the USA and the other 3/4s of the Box Office that is now the USA. Sandler has a new deal to make movies for Netflix, which (unfortunately) targets a USA audience. Did Netflix make a bad deal? 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 Ant Man......................... $24,765,000
2 Pixels.......................... $24,000,000
3 Minions......................... $22,100,000
4 Train Wreck..................... $17,300,000
5 Southpaw........................ $16,500,000
6 Paper Towns..................... $12,500,000
7 Inside Out....................... $7,356,000
8 Jurassic World................... $6,900,000
9 Mr Holmes (not John)............. $2,849,000
10 Terminator (Phil Collins)........ $2,400,000

ANT MAN is doing pretty good so far.

2) BBC's 100 List Vs. Oscar Winners!

3) Jake Gyllenhaal's Boxing Lessons.

4) International Film Noir List.

5) BIG LEBOWSKI Live Reading. Dude approved!

6) And the #1 Film In China Is...

7) Interview With The Writers Of Paul Newman's HUD.

8) Illegally Streaming Movies? Better Call Saul!

9) When the X-MEN met THE FANTASTIC FOUR... I won't have what she's having.

10) George R.R. Martin: GAME OF AVENGERS?

11) Peter Bart & Mike Fleming on Relativity's Problems.

12) SPECTRE Trailer, in case you missed it.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:

Doesn't it make you want to see the Burt Reynolds original again?


Buy The DVDs




Friday, July 24, 2015

Fridays With Hitchcock: HITCH 20: One More Mile To Go


This is a great new documentary series called HITCH 20 that I have been a "guest expert" on (season 1). The series looks at the 20 TV episodes directed by Hitchcock and here is the first episode of the second season, which looks at the importance of specifics on screen (and on the page, or it never gets to the screen). This new season is without me. I was juggling too many things and thought I'd squeeze it in, but just didn't have the time. But I'm still be featuring it here, because it's a great show.

This is one of the episodes I wanted to cover, because I have some interesting connections to it... and not just that David Wayne played Ellery Queen’s dad on the TV show that I loved as a kid.

First: I seemed to have accidentally homaged this episode with my DANGEROUS CURVES screenplay. When I was a kid, all of these shows were rerunning on other TV stations and I would watch them after school. THRILLER and HITCHCOCK PRESENTS and TWILIGHT ZONE and a bunch of others. They were great! Well, somewhere in my 20s I began writing DANGEROUS CURVES as a novel, and the scene that made my girlfriend at the time wonder if maybe she should break up with me was where the husband confronts his cheating wife while tending the fireplace and that barbed fireplace poker ends up going right through her... and it’s not easy to get out! In the screenplay version, she its her head on the edge of the fireplace (the poker thing was way too graphic, and what could be alluded to in prose would be seen on film).

And after that? He wraps his dead wife in a blanket and puts her in the passenger seat of *her* car and drives here across town to where he lover waits for her. Um, “homaged” from the THRILLER episode LATE DATE which was based on a Woolrich story called “Boy With Body”. It’s like all of these TV shows I saw as a kid went into my head, percolated, and then came out in this novel/screenplay.

Well, the husband gets pulled over by a friendly cop for having a broken tail light (just like in the episode), but instead of the body in the trunk... it’s right there next to him in the passenger seat! He tells the cop that his wife is asleep... and the cop says his girlfriend snores like a chainsaw, unlike the quiet sleeping wife. I had a lot of fun with that friendly cop, building suspense because he’s talkative and nice and not seeming to be a threat at all... except the husband is sweating bullets because his wife is *dead*! After the cop gives him the ticket and tells him to make sure he gets the tail light fixed first thing in the morning, the husband drives away... and I stop “homaging” this episode and start to do something original...

Because the dead wife wakes up (she wasn’t quite dead) and this startles the husband so much he drives off a cliff and wakes up in the hospital where the doctor says: “I have good news and bad news. Good news - you came out of the accident with only bruises and scrapes. Bad news - your wife died in the accident.” So our husband has kind of gotten away with murder... end Act One. Then things go really really wrong. So, um, I subconsciously swiped some stuff from this episode, plus...

Second: The guy who plays the friendly Highway Patrol officer in this episode, Steve Brody? Well, he’s Robert Mitchum’s double crossing partner in one of my favorite movies OUT OF THE PAST... and he was the father of the director of my first “Hollywood movie” TREACHEROUS. How Hollywood works: if your dad was a famous character actor, they let you direct some movies... until you have so many flops that they don’t let you direct any more. But it was cool when the director told me his dad was Steve Brody, because I knew exactly who that was because he was in one of my favorite films. I had no memory of him in this episode, probably because he’d gained some wait between OUT OF THE PAST and this. But a weird connection to a HITCHCOCK episode... I’ve worked with the actor who played the antagonist’s son!


One amazing thing about this episode is that the first 10 minutes of the 25 minute episode are completely dialogue free! It’s all visual storytelling. We begin *outside* the window of the house, spying on the couple who lives inside. We can discuss rear window ethics later, but the whole idea of the audience as voyeur which Hitchcock explored in many films is explored here as well. We watch the wife confront her husband (who is trying to read the newspaper) and see the argument escalate and the husband pick up the fireplace poker... but we can’t hear what they are saying. We are outside the house looking through the window. We don’t go inside until *after* the husband has struck his wife repeatedly with that firepoker. Once inside the house, and inside the *character* of the husband (we are seeing the story from his point of view, now) (not physically his point of view, but he is the character we identify with), the story remains without dialogue (well, who is there to talk to?) as the husband wraps up the dead wife and puts her and some chains and weights in the trunk of his car, then drives off to the boondocks to dump her in a lake... and our first piece of dialogue is when the friendly Highway Patrolman pulls him over for the faulty tail light.

The subject of that argument between the husband and wife is unimportant. The details might even be distracting, the story isn’t about if he left his dirty socks on the floor or flirted with a waitress or whatever... it’s about a dead body in the trunk of a car. The argument is like a MacGuffin, it causes the story but the specifics aren’t as important as people might think they are. Hey, husbands and wives argue. Why isn’t as important as what this leads to... that dead body in the trunk.

The friendly antagonist is also a great touch. Often writers think the antagonist has to be a bad guy, but an antagonist is just the person that comes between the protagonist and their goal... and our protagonist wants to find a place to bury the wife he just killed, so a cop is a logical antagonist. Doesn’t have to be an evil cop... in fact, the more helpful this cop is the better for the story. I have a script tip about nice antagonists like Cameron Diaz in MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING... she’s the nicest character in that movie! The great thing about this Highway Patrolman is that he’s nice and friendly and also an authority figure. So when he tells the husband that he needs to get that tail light fixed right away, to make sure he doesn’t get into an accident; the husband *must* do as the Patrolman says. The Highway Patrolman doesn’t want the husband to get into an accident, and those things can happen; he’s seen them first hand. He more the husband tries to avoid fixing the tail light, the more the Patrolman explains how dangerous it can be. The Patrolman and his tail light repair are right between our protagonist and his goal. He has to get the tail light fixed before he can bury his dead wife in the trunk.

Now we get some great nail biting suspense as the husband and Patrolman go to a nearby gas station, where the mechanic installs a brand new tail light bulb... which doesn’t light. Is it the bulb? The Patrolman looks at the bulb, looks good. So what could it be? Hey, probably a wire in the trunk... let’s pop it open and take a look!

And now it escalates. Whether it’s action of suspense, it’s important for it to escalate. After the husband hides his trunk key, the Patrolman says that’s okay... he can pop the trunk on these old cars by hand! When he fails at that, he asks the mechanic for a crow bar, because he can pop the trunk that way. When the husband says he doesn’t want his paint scratched, the Patrolman says he’ll be really careful. Thing just keep escalating! In the chapter in my HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR on ROPE I look at “poking the tiger”, reminding the audience about the suspense situation. In ROPE it’s a body in a shipping trunk, here’s it’s a body in a car trunk. But in both cases, people have to keep hanging around the trunk and trying to open it... and that’s what keeps the suspense going. And they have to keep poking around the situation itself, poking that tiger as well. The Patrolman asks why the back of the car is so heavy... what does he have in the trunk? “Tools.” What kind of tools? While the Patrolman is trying to get open the trunk (physically) he is also prying away verbally. This keeps that suspense escalating on two fronts!

Peaks And Valleys: nonstop action and nonstop suspense will result in diminishing returns... so your story needs peaks and valleys. Just when you think the Patrolman is going to pop that trunk open with the crowbar and discover the dead wife’s body... the husband realizes that the tail light has come one! All of this shaking of the car has “fixed” that wire problem, at least temporarily. The husband tells the Patrolman he’ll have it fixed first thing in the morning, is it okay if he drives home? The Patrolman says sure, and the husband hands the mechanic some money for the bulb, gets in the car, and gets the hell out of there. Away from the threat. Away from the conflict. We go from a peak to a valley, and the audience has a chance to catch their breath. We can relax... kind of. Just as the husband keeps looking in the rearview mirror for that Patrolman, so do we. There’s still a dead body in the trunk. There’s still a problem. The protagonist has not reached their goal, yet... one more mile to go.

Peak... just when we have relaxed, the Patrolman zooms up and pulls over the Husband. Poking the tiger again. The Patrolman says he zoomed off so fast, he forgot to get his change. Here you go! By being *helpful* the Patrolman is causing more problems than if he were a cliche antagonist. You can get mad at a cliche antagonist, you can lose your cool... but a nice guy? You have to remain completely calm and friendly, which isn’t easy when your wife is dead in the trunk of your car.

Valley... Husband takes the money and the Patrolman tells him to be careful.

Peak... That tail light goes out again, and the Patrolman pulls him over again...

Back and forth. By allowing the audience the relax, the next peak is that much more frightening.

Okay, those were my thoughts on the episode, now let me watch it and see what everyone else said...


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


Click here for more info!


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

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

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

William Castle Noir Flicks

From 2011...

Noir City is underway at the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian - a couple of weeks of Film Noir movies that were not on DVD and some that were not on any sort of video - and I'm not there. Busy prepping the Reno class. So here is a blog entry from a couple of years ago...

The idea behind Noir City is to find the obscure gems that people may not have seen before, and show them on the big screen for a couple of weeks. They often have any of the cast and crew who are still around show up for Q&A afterwards. I believe they also restore - or push for the restoration - of these films. A big studio star vehicle from the 1940s might get restored by the studio, but some cheap little noir film may not. It's great to see these films on the big screen... and often the audience is packed with VIPS who are fans of the genre. Here are two films that I saw a couple of years ago...

HOLLYWOOD STORY (1951) directed by William Castle, written by Frederick Kohner & Fred Brady. Richard Conte plays a producer who decides to make a film about a 20 year old unsolved murder in Hollywood - a famous film director who had no shortage of enemies. He interviews the suspects and finds new clues and... the killer keeps trying to kill him. But who is the killer? Will he find out before the killer snuffs him? The victim 20 years ago: A big time producer who was involved in a love triangle. The story is based on a real Hollywood murder - William Desmond Taylor who was killed in 1922, still unsolved! The cast of suspects is great - hottie Julia Adams (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON) is the woman in the love triangle's daughter (and Conte’s love interest) - and there's a great LAURA-like painting on her mom in the victim's office, Jim Backus is an agent, Richard Egan is a homicide detective, Henry Hull (LIFEBOAT) is a once famous screenwriter who now lives in a shack and is constantly drunk, Fred Clark is a producer who once worked with the victim, and there are relatives of the victim and studio guards who sleep through the shifts and about a dozen movie stars making cameos as themselves (possible suspects!) including Joel McCrea.

The cool thing about the story is that almost everyone involved in making the movie *about* the murder is a *suspect* in the murder. Hollywood is a small world, and when you hire the victim’s favorite screenwriter (Hull) to write the screenplay, because he *is* research as well as a writer; you not only end up with a guy who knows every detail of the crime, you end up with a guy who had all kinds of motive to kill the victim. Every single person hired to make this film is a suspect! This concept could be used for a fake documentary film or for a movie about an America’s Most Wanted kind of TV show that stumbles into the middle of the crime while investigating it. The more Conte digs into the case, the more the real killer (one of the people he is working with to make the film) tries to kill him. Nice little film - cheap to make because they shot it at the studio. Not on VHS, not on DVD.

Between the films, Julie Adams (that hot chick from CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON) did Q&A - and was filled with great stories about the film. Her memory is better than mine! And, for however old she is, she looked great. She is still a working actress, doing a bunch of TV work now (she’s on LOST in flashbacks). She was at MONSTERPALOOZA a few days later as part of the CREATURE group.

Next up, UNDERTOW (1949) - also directed by William Castle, screenplay by Arthur Horman and Lee Loeb. Kind of a riff on THE FUGITIVE movie made decades later. Scott Brady plays a guy framed for murder in Chicago who has cops chasing him night and day and must find the real killer before the cops find him. Because the cops have staked out all of his friends' houses, the only one who can help him is this gal he met on the plane to Chicago (cute Peggy Dow) - a complete stranger. This creates kind of a THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR kidnapping thing... and lots of suspense. Brady is an ex-mob guy who is now a legit businessman in Reno, but is in love with the Mob Boss’ daughter (Dorothy Hart in the femme fatale role). He’s going back to propose to her and take her back to Reno with him... but the mob boss gets killed and he gets blamed. Bruce Bennett (from every movie ever made - he played Tarzan and was in TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE and DARK PASSAGE and MILDRED PIERCE and co-starred with Elvis in LOVE ME TENDER and one of his last films was Terrence Malick’s DEADHEAD MILES) plays the cop chasing him - and much like in THE FUGITIVE, if Brady can convince the cop that he is innocent, they will start looking at clues that might lead to the real killer. There is a *great* scene where Brady shows up at Bennett’s house, holds a gun on him in his basement den, and tries to convince him that he’s innocent... while Bennett’s son watches through a window... tells his mother that dad is being held at gunpoint by a desperado... and mom tells him to quit making up stories and get ready for bed. The kid *knows* dad is in trouble and can’t get anyone to believe him... so he grabs his cap gun and goes to rescue his dad. Lots of chases and double crosses and a great plot - part of the story revolves around Brady being kidnaped by the (unseen) killer and shot in order to match the actual wounds the real killer sustained in the crime - all of the evidence created against him by the real killer is insurmountable. The film is full of twists and shot on location in Reno and Chicago - the Chi-town location work is fantastic - all kinds of great local landmarks wove into the story.

The amazing thing about both of these films is that they were low budget throw aways, but really well made, clever, well acted, and are better than some of the big budget crap that is released today. Both were directed by William Castle, who would become famous later in his career for gimmick horror films like THE TINGLER. He was a creative and competent director who knew how to squeeze a buck so that you never knew the film you were watching was made on the cheap. Neither of these films looked low budget - and UNDERTOW looks bigger budget than many of the films I’ve seen from the same period that cost a whole bunch more.

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: No Script Before Its Time - is your script ready to be sent out?
Dinner: Some sort of bunless burger thing at Dennys.
Bicycle: Medium ride to a far off Starbucks, then to another, then back home (which hasn't happened as I type this).
Pages: Finished a new draft on the assignment treatment and also wrote a one pager for Cannes.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Is Hollywood Dead?

From 4 years ago, the gloom & doom!

On message boards, there are always people who think that Hollywood is dead but just doesn’t know it, and there’s gonna be this whole new non-corporate paradigm. Look, we have the internet, and these cheap digital cameras - the movie industry as we know it will be dead in no time. We will not longer be *forced* to watch the movies that Hollywood makes, we can watch *good* movies for a change. No more TRANSFORMERS movies and no more sequels and no more HANGOVER lowest common denominator comedies. Once the evil corporations are gone, once Hollywood is dead and buried and being eaten by worms; we’ll be living in a freakin’ Entertainment Utopia! Only great films!

There is this theory on message boards that people are hungry for quality intelligent cinema, but Hollywood just keeps making this crap and people are forced to watch it because there are no alternatives... but now that we have inexpensive digital cameras plus streaming download as a method of distribution, Hollywood’s days are numbered and soon people will get the great movies they are craving!

If you build it they will come, right? The big problem with movies today is that Hollywood is building the kinds of movies Hollywood wants to see, not what *people* want to see. They make there crappy films that appeal to lowest common denominator, and if people were given a choice they will select the great films over the junk and the whole entertainment world will change - giving us more great films. The good forces the bad out of the market, right? The problem is the Hollywood monopoly, now that the truly talented have access to the equipment to make films, they will overthrow Hollywood and we all benefit! Throw away those 3D glass, you will never need them again. Forget about movies about boobs and blood and fast cars and explosions and superheroes! Michael Bay - find your place in the unemployment line now!


Sixty years ago, everyone thought Hollywood was dead - due to TV. Hollywood started doing all kinds of things to make films an experience you couldn't get anywhere else - like 3D. Sixty years later, Hollywood is still here, and all of this new media is scaring them into making films an experience you can't get on your iPhone - like 3D. Hey, I think 3D is a bunch of crap, but one of the reason for the success of GREEN HORNET earlier this year was 3D, and one of the reasons why PIRATES 4 is doing so well overseas is 3D. Some people like the 3D experience - it’s something that they can’t get at home. But, wait! PIRATES 4 is not doing well in 3D in the United States! That 3D bubble has burst and Hollywood is dead!

The only thing wrong with that - what are people paying to see *instead* of 3D movies? Were they seeing the uplifting drama SOUL SURFER? Tom McCarthy’s great new drama WIN WIN? The romantic drama WATER FOR ELEPHANTS based on the big best selling novel? Or Werner Herzog’s beautiful new film about prehistoric French cave paintings CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS (oh, crap - that’s in 3D!)? No - the people who were not seeing PIRATES 4 in 3D were seeing PIRATES 4 in 2D! The others were seeing BRIDESMAIDS, THOR, FAST FIVE, or the junky comic book action flick PRIEST. People may be cooling on 3D, but not on Hollywood films.

2009 broke box office records at the cinemas, and *ticket sales* increased as well. It was a record year for cinema ticket sales - more butts in seats than in any recent previous year. Meanwhile, home entertainment (from Hollywood) took a nosedive. 2010 sold fewer tickets and made less money - but was ahead of 2009 as far as money was concerned until mid-December. The problem seemed to be there was no huge Holiday movie - TRON: LEGACY was no AVATAR... and all of the second tier films also did much less business. Hey, that was good for the Coen Brothers - TRUE GRIT is their first real hit! But that happened because there was no “mainstream” hit movie to go to. This year began slow, but box office rebounded to record levels in April. With $791 million, April of 2011 was the top-grossing April ever and was up five percent from April last year. And with 101 million tickets sold, April 2011 was the third highest-attended April in history. And it didn’t stop there - we just had the highest-grossing Memorial Day weekend of all time at $277 million... and summer has just begun!

Hollywood is giving people the movies they want, even if they may not be the movies that *you* want to see. The major mistake in the theory that good films will force out the bad is the definitions of “good” and “bad”. I have a Script Tip on the two kinds of good - there is “critical good” and “entertainment good” - and when people have been working all week and want to just escape their crappy lives for two hours, most of them are not interested in movies that are challenging and intellectual - they just want to be entertained. When some critic says that FAST FIVE is a good movie if you just check your brain at the door, they mean it is well made entertainment... and that’s what most people want to see when they buy their tickets. They just want to be transported into some fantasy world where their problems do not exist. Sure, there are some people who *do* want to be challenged and *do* want to think... but that is a small percentage of the audience - a niche. If you fill the cinemas with “more intelligent films”, more people will not be watching them.

Already we *do* have films like WATER FOR ELEPHANTS (wide release) and SOUL SURFER (wide release) and LINCOLN LAWYER (wide release) that are the “adult” and “intelligent” alternatives to guys in tights fighting crime... and those films aren’t selling many tickets. They appeal to that limited audience that wants to see more intelligent films. LINCOLN LAWYER, based on a best selling novel, with real movie stars in it, well reviewed (83% on RT), and playing in every cinema in the USA... made a grand total of $57 million in it’s theatrical run... which is about what X-MEN: FIRST CLASS made over the weekend, and they’re calling it a flop! The problem is - if you make a bunch of “better movies”, most of the audience will still want to see explosions and poop humor. They *want* to check their brains at the door, and more films of quality won’t change anything.


Of course, the reason why X-MEN: FIRST CLASS made so much money over the weekend is all of the Hollywood Hype! That’s why no one goes to see Indie films - no big hype machine *telling* people to see WIN WIN! If everything was equal, and every movie had the same amount of hype, the audience would pick WIN WIN over X-MEN!

The problem is that theory doesn't work. You can't force people to see a movie they do not want to see - no matter how much you spend on adverts. The dollar store down the street is still trying to get rid of all of the tie-in merchandise for SPEED RACER - no one wants it. They did not want to see the movie, either - even though we had non-stop adverts for two months before it came out and Warner Bros thought it was going to be the #1 film of the summer. It flopped. Big time.

And every year there are massive flops that the studios think will be hits and advertize the hell out of. People did not want to see them or did not like them. Word of mouth is still more important than any amount of advertizing Hollywood can throw at a film.

One of the big problems is text messages - people in the cinema are texting friends in line telling them that the film sucks. They have charted bomb movies on opening day - they might have a good first couple of performances in New York City, but by the time they hit the West Coast word is out that the film stinks... and all of those adverts the studio bought are meaningless. There was a big drop on IRON MAN 2 between Friday and Saturday of opening weekend... and then a big drop the second weekend. It's just okay... and word is out. HANGOVER 2 had a great opening weekend, but just took a nose-dive. I suspect the reason is that everyone thought the film was funny, just not quite as good as the first film... and that qualification made the second weekend’s audience think twice about seeing it in the cinema... hey, we’ll just wait for Netflix. People’s opinions of the film control ticket sales.

If Hollywood could manipulate people into seeing movies, they would *all* be hits - but they are not. They have big budget summer films that just flop. You can not sell the public on a movie they do not want to see, nor sell them on a movie their friends told them was dreadful. Hype might get butts in the seats for the first few showings, or for the first weekend... but after that, the audience decides. They make a film a hit or a flop by paying to see it, telling their friends to see it, and liking it so much they pay to see it again and maybe again. A film that makes it into the Top Ten for the year is probably something that many people liked enough to see more than once.

People see what people want to see. They control Hollywood... not the other way around.

I honestly don't know how more indie films can bring about the demise of "Hollywood" (The Man, The Studios, Those Michael Bay Movies) because Hollywood is just a follower. Studios follow the money... and the money comes from the ticket buyers. If people want to see Indie films, studios make and release films that seem indie (see the 1970s). If people want to see big dumb action films, studios make and release big dumb action films. Studios always release these trial balloon movies too - just to see if people want to see medical dramas starring Harrison Ford or mature rom-coms starring Meryl Streep or musicals based on Fellini movies. If those films strike gold, they follow the money and more like them - maybe a musical based on Bergman's THE SEVENTH SEAL (they've already done one musical based on a Bergman film - it did not do well). If people are not interested in paying to see some type of movie, they don't make those. Hollywood just follows the audience.

So the only way to kill Hollywood is to kill the people who enjoy going to the movies. This does not sound like a good idea.

The good things that will come out of this new indie revolution are that niche audiences that Hollywood ignores - be it intelligent adult oriented films or movies for minorities or genres that have fallen out of favor - will get some films to watch. Those films may be streaming to their home entertainment systems, but they will be available. If you don’t like what Hollywood is making, there *will* be something out there for you to watch. They won’t be “mainstream” films with stars and Hollywood production value, but they are not being made for a mainstream audience. Niche films for a niche audience. I have no idea whether the film makers will be able to make a living doing this or not, but at least they can do it - make the films they want to make. The problem is, if you make a film aimed at the majority audience there are a lot more ticket buyers than if you make a film for a minority audience. You also kind of enter The Octagon - if there are 100 films aimed at a particular niche audience and only so many hours in the day that niche audience is going to watch films, some of those films will not be seen. The weirdest thing about do it yourself movies is that if everyone has a camera, who will be watching the movies?

But that’s the other good thing about low cost film making - if you are mostly making movies for self expression and you don’t care about the audience, you can make your movie! Maybe no one will ever see it, but you can still make it and get it out there! If it is all about self expression for you, you can now afford to express yourself! Your voice can now be heard (even if no one is listening)!

But Hollywood is not going to die any time in the near future - this may be a record year for cinema like 2009 was. The majority of the people who buy tickets like what Hollywood is dishing out. They like explosions and poop jokes. They may even like exploding poop jokes... DUMB & DUMBER made money, right? If you don’t like the kinds of movies that Hollywood is making, you can grab a camera and make your own.

Meanwhile, there’s a new TRANSFORMERS movie on the horizon. If people don't text their friends that it sucks, Michael Bay may be able to stay off the unemployment line for another year...

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Forward Momentum - and superhero movies like X-MEN: FIRST CLASS and IRON MAN 2...
Dinner: bag lunch: ham & cheese on 12 grain, apple.
Pages: Cold almost gone, but this blog entry and some other stuff got today's energy instead of the screenplay.
Bicycle: Short bike ride.
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