Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Script Killer Notes!

From 2009...

When I learned how to drive, I was taught to not just pay attention to the car in front of me (and the cars beside me and behind me) but look far enough ahead on the road to be prepared for whatever might come my way. If there’s a big accident ten cars down the road, I need to be prepared for that. If there’s a swerving driver a dozen cars ahead of me, I need to start worrying about *why* that driver swerved - what’s in the road that will soon be in *my* way? I have a rule when I’m driving on the freeway (like I-5 between Los Angeles and the Bay Area) - better to have a reckless driver *behind me* than in front of me.

Of course, many people in Los Angeles seem to be more interested in talking on their iPhones and eating soup and texting their new screenplay idea than keeping their eyes on the traffic in front of them. Many people have no idea what’s happening more than a car in front of them, because they’re not even paying that much attention to the car in front of them. One day, I’m driving down Santa Monica between Westwood and Century City - and see the cars in front of me stopping... so I slow down and stop. But the left lane is empty, and a car speeds past... and hits the old man in the crosswalk. That’s why the other lanes were stopped, but this driver wasn’t looking ahead nor thinking ahead. The pedestrian was alive when the ambulance took him away... the driver told the police he never saw the guy in the crosswalk. Of course he didn’t - he wasn’t looking that far ahead. Many people in Los Angeles live for the moment... and never think about the moments after that.

What the hell does this have to do with screenwriting?

Well, as writers, part of our job is to see the whole story, and be able to see the chain reaction some script change might make. Actually, that should be everybody’s job on the film - especially the people *giving* the notes... but for some reason they don’t kick the short sighted development execs and producers and directors out of Hollywood... or at least prevent them from giving script notes. Because this biz is filled with people who can’t see the effect a note will have ten pages from now, let alone throughout the rest of the script. The problem is, the note that you and I can see just won’t work, they can’t see... and often want you to “just give it a try”. Hey, why not? It’s only work... work that *you* are doing while they play tennis and come up with more notes that we can see have no chance of working.

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Of course, part of our job is to be a good typing monkey and do even the rewrites that we know are pointless. William Goldman tells a story in ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE about working with a director who wanted Goldman to give him “all of the riches” - which is director code for write all kinds of stuff that will never end up in the final draft, and the director will pick and choose which scenes he wants to keep. I’ve worked with directors like that - they have you write hundreds of pages of scenes and then whittle it down to 110 pages that they will shoot.

There are two schools of directors, by the way: movies and TV. A movie director has a plan (often storyboards) and shoots the shots they need to make the movie. A TV director shoots a ton of footage and then figures out which shots he (or she) is going to use in the editing room. Live TV and most sitcoms are shot with multiple cameras and they piece it together in the editing room (or on the editing console). Movies tend to be scheduled and planned, and shot over a period of time (rather than a live performance like a sitcom). But many film directors either come from TV or just fly by the seat of their pants and have no idea what they are shooting until they shoot it, and may not even know what the movie will be until they edit it.

I would rather work with someone who knows what they want than work with someone who knows what they want when they see it... which means after you write a dozen different things that weren’t it. But you usually don’t know which kind of director you’re working with until it’s too late. And there are plenty of producers and development people out there who want you to give them “all of the riches” - and you do draft after draft after draft that weren’t it. (Though I don’t believe a writer has only so many scripts in them and then they run out or something, I do only have so much time on this earth and could get hit by a bus tomorrow... and would rather write stuff that has a snowball’s chance of getting on screen (like a new spec) than something that has no chance at all (like that version of the script with the director’s wild idea that you know just will not work). Do you know how many spec scripts I could have written instead of all of the drafts I knew wouldn’t work before I wrote them.

But, like I said, my job is to write. And if I want to keep getting hired to write, I need to be a good employee. One who doesn’t say things like, “That’s the dumbest note I’ve ever heard!” Though I might be able to see far enough down the road to know the note won’t work, my job is to write it anyway and let the producer or director or development person see what I already know.

One of the things that directors and producers and development people often don’t understand is that you have already considered the change they are suggesting - you looked down that road when you were outlining the script and realized it was a dead end or the scenery wasn’t as interesting. You looked down hundreds of different roads - every scene, every line, every action in a script is a fork in the road - and you’ve looked at the different ways your script might go and combinations of ways it might go, and already selected the best possible route. You know where their changes lead and your road is better. But some folks need to see that for themselves... and my job is to write up that version.

You get all kinds of notes, crazy notes, and it’s your job is write them up. You have to pick your battles when it comes to notes, and discuss the notes that you mildly disagree with and when you get a note that will completely ruin your script - strongly disagree with the note and explain *logically* and *calmly* why the note will take the script in the wrong direction. In fact, if you can explain why it will lose the producer money you’ll have a much better chance of winning the battle than if you argue based on art or craft or character or quality. Money talks. But sometimes (well, maybe even usually) you don’t win these debates and end up ruining your own script (or quitting, and some other writer comes in to not only ruin it but completely change it into *their* script). A writer’s job is to write... and sometimes make the changes that break your heart.

When you get a bad note, you might think you should *not* give it your best work and *try* to make that version of the script suck. But I've learned that executing the note poorly always backfires - there is still a sex scene in CRASH DIVE. I thought for sure once they saw how silly that sex scene was (on a submarine where the crew is 110 *men* and no women... except the one in the sex scene) they would want it removed. I went out of my way to carefully write the end of the scene before the sex scene and the beginning if the scene after the sex scene so that they cut together *prefectly*. That way the scene could be removed without harming the script. And when it stayed in the script and they actually filmed it, I thought for sure it would be cut out before the movie aired on HBO. The network wanted the sex scene in the script, but sooner or later they had to realize it was stupid, right? They had to cut it out before they put it on the air, right? Wrong. They want what they want and if you write the crap version, that’s the version they will film.

And if they *do* notice you have done a crappy job of executing their brilliant note? That’s often a good way to get replaced by someone who doesn't care.... and will make enough changes to not only claim a screenwriting credit but completely destroy your script. So I will give a note I don’t agree with my very best shot and really try to make it work... even though I know it can't work. You try to make it work - and that’s your job.


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But every once in a while I get a "script killer" note - one that will destroy the screenplay. One that you can not ever make work. One that *no one* can ever make work. Can the hero and villain just be friends and stop fighting? Got that one about three times, now. Can all of the characters talk and act the same? Had that a couple of times. Does there have to be a resolution to the conflict? I’ve got that a couple of times. Does there have to be a conflict? You would think that no one would ever give you that note, but I’ve had it a couple of times. Do the characters have to be motivated - why can't it just be a bunch of coincidences?

I have a friend who had a director order him to change all of the dialogue into cliches because "People understand cliches". He suspected this director *only* understood cliches. You get these notes, and try to find some reason for them - and often there is not. The problem with the notes that remove conflict or motivation or make the script bland and boring or remove the “engine that runs the machine” is that they are script killers. Story is conflict - remove conflict and you permanently damage the script. It will not work. The story dies. These are notes that can never work - and you don’t even have to see that far down the road to figure it out.

You would think that “script killer notes” are rare, but I get them all too often.

A couple of years ago on a project that eventually died, the producer and I had a meeting with a director I was in awe of - one of his films is a classic. I was not worthy. He the usual list of silly notes and notes that I knew would not work... but he also had a couple of script killer notes: Can we remove the emotional conflict? Why does the story conflict need to be resolved at all? Does there have to be an antagonist? Why does one event have to cause another - can’t it all just be a series of coincidence? After the meeting the producer asked how I was going to make those notes work, and I said I did not know - but this was a big director, I wanted him to direct my script, I was going to find the way to make the notes work. I struggled, could not find a way to make the notes work. You can’t remove the conflict and have a story, or make the story a series of coincidence and have it still work. I called the producer and explained my problems trying to make the notes work - and (for once) the producer understood. He thought the notes wouldn’t work when the director came up with them. I asked if he might call the director and ask what the reason behind the notes might be (because I could not figure it out). Sometimes a note is about the symptom, not the disease - and that throws you off. Well, the producer called director and asked him what his reasons were for the (script killer) notes. And the director answered, "Because I'm the director and that's what I want." Producer, bless him, said: No, you are not the director. And the project died.

Usually they don't die, they get turned into crap then filmed.

I have this script called STEEL CHAMELEONS about a Westworld-ish theme park with androids that have "liquid skin technology". Say you want to sleep with Angelina Jolie - if she's in the android's program it becomes Angelina Jolie. Or if you're interested in Russell Crowe, it turns into an anatomically correct Russell Crowe. No chance of diseases, they hose them down afterwards.

Well, with a minor upgrade, these things can change into people not on the program - they touch you, they can look just like you. And some bad guys come up with a scheme.

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The script is kind of like Carpenter's THE THING or INVASION OF THE BODYSNATCHERS - you don't know who is real and who is one of them. There's a scene where one replicates a Senator, and our hero (and agent with Alcohol Tobacco Firearms & Androids) doesn't know which one is real - and both insist they are the real one. There's a scene where he's chasing one with a distinctive look... into a crowd, and the android disappears - none of the people in the crowd have that look. And there's an infiltration of the hero's team. And a character who seems to die... but it's really an android that looks like them, and they are still alive. Basically, anything that has to do with duplicate people is used in the script. When it was written (ages ago) the idea was to use a handful of morphs, and the rest is just actors playing androids. Cheap!

So a couple of years ago it gets read by a production company who claim to love it, and they have a meeting with me, and the big cheese has this note: Just a minor change, he wants all of the androids to look like the androids from I ROBOT.

Because I'm oddly practical, I ask if they can afford to do all of that CGI, and he says they'll have to cross that bridge when they come to it, but there have to be all kinds of unemployed CGI people who will work for pennies...

And I asked if he was talking about the androids looking like robots just in the factory scenes (where they didn't have to replicate anyone as part of the story) and he said, No - in every single scene. All of them. The androids throughout the film will look just like the androids in I ROBOT... and the whole liquid skin thing would be dropped.

Now, I suspect the note under the note here is that this guy really liked the androids in I ROBOT. If it was about the trailer or production value, the factory androids would have solved that. But it was something else...

And that note would ruin the entire script - it *could not work* with that note. The *concept* was androids who could replicate specific people and take over their lives to infiltrate places and do very bad things. If the androids couldn’t replicate specific important people and do very bad things, there is no story. And the "cool stuff" was all of the scenes where the hero couldn't tell who was real and who was an android. So I turned down the sale and walked... but wondered what would have happened if they had bought the script, *then* given me this note. How could I have ever made it work? The “engine that runs the machine” is that these androids can look like anyone, can infiltrate even the most heavily guarded location... they could replicate the President of the United States! How would you know he was an android if he looked and sounded and acted just like the President? And had his fingerprints.

When you get a note like this *after* they’ve bought your script you wonder why they bought it in the first place - isn’t there some other android script out there where the androids look like the ones from I ROBOT? Why don’t they buy that one and ruin it? And why can’t they see that they are taking a reasonably cool idea and making it either something bland and something that just can not work. Because once I change the androids into obvious robots, the whole infiltration thing doesn’t work, so we’ll need a new plot... and we have these machine looking androids, so it’s probably going to end up some story where the androids battle the humans and... well, isn’t that I ROBOT? It’s my experience that many bad notes are there to turn a silk purse into a sow’s ear - they sand off all of the creative and interesting parts and then take the mess that’s left and turn it into something they’ve already seen. They kill the script... and either film the corpse or try to Frankenstein some sort of script from the dead parts... and that usually doesn’t work either.

When I get one of these notes, I want to ask if they are out of their fucking minds. But, you can’t really ask that... because they probably are. Many in Hollywood are, you know. You want to fight the note to the death... but that’s a good way to get fired off your own script. You want to grab the producer or director or development person and shake them... but I suspect that would land me in jail. You want to ask how they could be so stupid, but that’s not going to earn you any points, either. And the big problem is, even if you make your case and lose it and then do the very best job you can trying to write a script where the serial killer and FBI profiler don’t fight each other and are friends who pal around and there is no conflict at all in the screenplay... that script will suck big time and you’ll get fired and some other writer will be hired because you just weren’t creative enough to make it work. And then that writer will be fired and the next writer will be fired and the whole project will crash and burn and never get made... and after all of that pain and work and heart-ache... you won’t get your production bonus.

I don't know the answer to this question of how to deal with Script Killer notes. Suspect I never will.

- Bill

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Scenes Blue Book is new!

Buy The DVD!

12 New Ways To Create New Scenes... Transitions... and much, much more!

Great screenplays are made of great scenes, memorable scenes. Who can forget Cary Grant being chased through the cornfield by that crop duster? Or Gene Kelly singing in the rain? Or Indiana Jones facing that huge swordsman in the marketplace... and shooting him? Director Howard Hawks (“The Big Sleep”, “Bringing Up Baby”, “Rio Bravo”) famously said, “A film needs three great scenes and no bad ones”. But how do you create those great scenes?

This Blue Book will help you tune up those tired scenes! We’ll look at what a scene is and how many you will need. The difference between scenes and sluglines. How long should your scenes be, and what is *too long*? We will put your scenes on trial for their lives! Using examples like “Jaws” we’ll look at beats within a scene. Scene DNA. What is driving your scene? Creating set pieces and high concept scenes. We will even talk to a famous director about creating memorable scenes.

But that’s not all! There are 12 ways to create new scenes. How to create unexpected scenes. Use dramatic tension to supercharge your scenes with excitement. Using plants and payoffs in scenes. Taking your scenes to the limit. Plus transitions and buttons and the all important “flow”... and more! Over 65,000 words!

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  • Monday, April 21, 2014

    Lancelot Link: 4/21 Edition

    Lancelot Link Monday! So, when Easter is on 4/20, what is the day after Easter like? Did you plow through everything in your Easter basket already? 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 Captain America 2.... $26,612,000
    2 Rio 2................ $22,500,000
    3 Heaven Is Real....... $21,500,000
    4 Transcendence........ $11,150,000
    5 Haunted House 2....... $9,100,000
    6 Draft Day............. $5,900,000
    7 Divergent............. $5,750,000
    8 Occulus............... $5,202,000
    9 Noah.................. $5,000,000
    10 God's Not Dead........ $4,801,000

    2) Luc Besson on Strong Female Leads.

    3) Gareth Edwards on working with REALLY big stars.

    4) Bill Paxton on all of those AVATAR sequels.

    2) Orson Welles' New Film!

    2) A Stack Of MOvies That *Still* Haven't Been Released.


    8) Joss Whedon on How To Get Things Done.

    9) Free Film Contracts And Forms!

    10) 85,000 *Free* Historical Films from British Pathe.

    11) How Do WGA Credits Work?

    12) Donald Duck Did It First! Movies that ripped off Donald Duck comic books.

    And the Car Chase Of The Week!

    NOTE: The SCENES BLUE BOOK is out today!

    Buy The DVD!

    12 New Ways To Create New Scenes... Transitions... and much, much more!

    Great screenplays are made of great scenes, memorable scenes. Who can forget Cary Grant being chased through the cornfield by that crop duster? Or Gene Kelly singing in the rain? Or Indiana Jones facing that huge swordsman in the marketplace... and shooting him? Director Howard Hawks (“The Big Sleep”, “Bringing Up Baby”, “Rio Bravo”) famously said, “A film needs three great scenes and no bad ones”. But how do you create those great scenes?

    This Blue Book will help you tune up those tired scenes! We’ll look at what a scene is and how many you will need. The difference between scenes and sluglines. How long should your scenes be, and what is *too long*? We will put your scenes on trial for their lives! Using examples like “Jaws” we’ll look at beats within a scene. Scene DNA. What is driving your scene? Creating set pieces and high concept scenes. We will even talk to a famous director about creating memorable scenes.

    But that’s not all! There are 12 ways to create new scenes. How to create unexpected scenes. Use dramatic tension to supercharge your scenes with excitement. Using plants and payoffs in scenes. Taking your scenes to the limit. Plus transitions and buttons and the all important “flow”... and more! Over 65,000 words!


    Friday, April 18, 2014

    Fridays With Hitchcock:
    Shadow Of A Doubt (1943)

    Screenplay by Thornton Wilder, Alma Reville, and Sally Benson.

    One of Hitchcock’s favorite films, a quiet little story of small town life and a visit from a larger than life relative who may or may not be a serial killer. Very low key - no chase scenes or fight scenes and all of the suspense is built around whether that adventurous relative is just an interesting guy or a criminal hiding from the police.

    Though the pacing may be a little slow for 2010, the performance by Joseph Cotton is still great. Cotton is one of those underappreciated actors - he worked with Hitchcock and Orson Welles and Carol Reed starred in a great technicolor noir film with Marilyn Monroe as the femme fatale. He is not one of those Burt Lancaster larger-than-life actors, and you might think someone like Lancaster might have made a good Uncle Charles - international businessman who has been to Paris and Venice and the Orient. But Cotton’s performance in SHADOW OF A DOUBT is amazingly layered - he is both avuncular and adventurous. Charming and fun... but with an undercurrent of violence. When he smiles, you wonder if he’s ever ripped out someone’s throat with those teeth. He manages to do both things at once - so it’s not like there are two sides to Uncle Charles - he is always both charming and dangerous.

    The key to the film is thinking that his character is that cool Uncle who brings you gifts and is fun to be with and tells these amazing stories of his exotic adventures... and also may be a serial killer. There are interesting scenes where he says inappropriate things (like at the bank) and that strange dinner table rant about how the world is really much uglier than it appears. Cotton goes from smiles to barely contained anger and insanity and back to a smile before anyone can react. He manages to give off conflicting vibes in every scene - nice guy and lunatic. Between this film and THE THIRD MAN you wonder why Cotton wasn’t a big star.

    Nutshell: Charlie (Theresa Wright) is a young woman in small town Santa Rosa, California who is still living at home with her parents and siblings... and bored. She wishes something exciting would happen, like a visit from her Uncle Charles (Joseph Cotton) - a charming, wealthy businessman who travels the world and has an adventurous life. Her wish comes true when Uncles Charles comes to visit, with gifts for everyone in the family, and a beautiful ring for her. Uncle Charles plans on staying for a while, and has $40,000 in cash he wants to deposit in the bank where Charlie’s father (Henry Travers) works. If having $40,000 in cash in your pocket seems a little suspicious in 2010, imagine what that meant in 1943! Uncle Charles is a man of mysteries - he does not want to be photographed or have strangers know about him... and sometimes he behaves strangely. Charlie begins to wonder what her favorite uncle might be hiding... and when a pair of men show up claiming to be interviewing the family for a magazine article, Uncle Charles begins acting even more secretive. Young Charlie investigates, and discovers the two men are actually FBI Agents on the trail of a serial killer - the Merry Widow Killer - who targets wealthy widows. Is her favorite uncle a serial killer?

    Experiment: Though the use of music and shots of people dancing is kinda weird, I'm going to save that for the section on soundtrack...

    What is interesting about SHADOW is that it’s all about small town life and small town dreams. Hitchcock had adapted novels by famous writers in the past, and worked with some important writers (like Dorothy Parker) on screenplays, but this was the first of two movies that began with stories by big name writers - in this case, Thornton Wilder who wrote OUR TOWN... and Hitch followed this with a story by John Steinbeck for LIFEBOAT. I think it’s an interesting idea to use a famous writer as one of the “stars” of your movie - and in the case of SHADOW OF A DOUBT Wilder not only gets a story credit, he gets a special up front credit as well. Both SHADOW and LIFEBOAT were not adapted from previous material, they were original stories commissioned by Hitchcock (and the producers) for the film.

    The general public read back then - this was before television, and even though there were dramas on the radio, there wasn’t a lunch box in America that didn’t have a fiction magazine inside. This was the pulp era - when some construction worker or plumber or store clerk would read short stories or a serialized novel or a chapter of a pulp novel on their lunch break... and after work, and maybe on the bus or trolley or train on the way to work. And their wives and girlfriends might read romance pulps, plus some upscale magazines like Blue Book or Saturday Evening Post which featured stories by people like Steinbeck and Wilder and other important writers of the time. This was a different world than today - when everyday people who barely got out of high school with a diploma - or maybe went to a trade high school where the focus was on *shop classes* - was still an avid reader. Of course, what they read might be the written equivalent of a Chuck Norris movie or an A TEAM episode, but they were readers. The cliche for a stupid, uneducated woman at the time showed them *reading* a romance or celebrity scandal magazine. The average person knew who Thornton Wilder was, and had probably read one of his stories. He was a *star* in the world of fiction - and that was part of the average person’s world.

    So commissioning a story by the expert on small town life, Thornton Wilder, was kind of an experiment. What other movies were using *writers* as stars? This film feels related to THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY, another film about small town life... and murder. It has a casual pace, so if you pop it in the DVD player - be prepared. Think of it as a story of small town life with a touch of murder, rather than a thrill ride.

    Contrast Concept: Probably one of the reasons why this is one of Hitchcock's favorites is that it's an illustration of his theory that murder should not be in some dark alley but in some suburban kitchen. Contrast is conflict, and using sweet small town America as the location for a dark serial killer story makes the story much more interesting than if it took place in the big city.

    Hitch Appearance: Look for him on the train to Santa Rosa playing cards, near the beginning of the film.

    Great Scenes: As a story about small town life, it’s set pieces are small as well. This is a film about details. The suspense scenes are realistic rather than operatic. We don’t get crop dusters and cornfields or fights on the Statue of Liberty’s torch, we get scenes where someone hums a tune at the dinner table and can’t remember what it is and scenes where a character needs to read a newspaper story at the library, which closes in 5 minutes. It’s almost like a Hitchcock film seen through the wrong end of a telescope - instead of being larger than life, it’s about those small things in life... like the faint engravings on the inside of an old ring.

    Character Connections: In RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, villain Belloq tells Indy, "You and I are very much alike... Our methods are not as different as you pretend. I am a shadowy reflection of you. It would only take a nudge to make you like me; to push you out of the light." The protagonist and antagonist are the two most important characters in a screenplay, and showing their similarities is a great way to highlight their differences.

    When we first see Uncle Charles he’s sitting up in bed smoking a cigar, maybe remembering a pleasant experience (which may have included murdering someone). When we first see young Charlie, she is sitting up in bed in the exact same position (though not smoking a cigar), dreaming of having an adventurous experience (though probably not murdering anyone). Both shots are the same composition and have slow dolly ins. Even though whether the camera dollies or not is the director’s job - the writer had to come up with the scenes of both sitting up in bed. Creating that similarity for the director to photograph. Our job is to set up the story and characters so that the director can find the perfect shot(s) to show that these two are very similar people. The writer also decided to give both protagonist and antagonist the same name - which makes the audience automatically look for those similarities between the two. There are many other things Uncle Charles and young Charlie have in common... and this helps us compare the two in order to find their differences. Belloq and Indiana Jones may be similar, but it's what makes them different that is important.

    Uncle Charles lives a life of travel and adventure, going from one big city to another... and that is what young Charlie dreams about. She wants to get out of boring Santa Rosa and see the world. But all of the similarities between the two just serve to point up the differences. Uncle Charles has seen the world and hates it... hates the people in it. Charlie loves people. The more we see these two together, the more we see that they are not the same at all, but opposites. This is a great way to bring out character, and a great way to create conflict - Uncle Charles does something negative and Charlie does something positive to correct it.

    Did He Or Didn’t He? The odd flaw in the film is one of point of view - we begin with Uncle Charles seemingly on the run from the law, and this make him seem guilty from the get-go... and robs the film of some suspense and emotion.

    The keyword is *doubt*. The “did he or didn’t he?” plot is often used in thrillers, and we’ll take a closer look at it when we discuss SUSPICION, but since it is the central question in SHADOW it deserves a mention. In movies like MUSIC BOX and JAGGED EDGE (both written by Joe Eszerhas) the suspense is created by the protagonist (and audience) not knowing if the person they are emotionally involved with is guilty of a crime or not. In JAGGED EDGE workaholic attorney Glenn Close is hired to defend hunky Jeff Bridges on charges that he murdered his wealthy wife. Close falls in love with him... and the rest of the script explores that central question by bouncing us back and forth between believing that he's guilty as sin and a lovable hunk falsely accused of murder by an overzealous D.A. (the great Peter Coyote). We hope that he's innocent so that she can find love but fear that he's guilty. Did he or did he not commit the murder? Guilty or innocent? That is the central question in JAGGED EDGE and in SHADOW OF A DOUBT.

    At the heart of every screenplay is the central question. It's what propels the story forward and keeps the audience involved. In a romantic comedy, the central question might be: Will they hook up or not? In a disaster movie it might be: Will they survive, and *who* will survive? The story begins with the introduction of the central question and then keeps us wondering how it will be resolved for the next 100 pages. This question is what keeps the story going - and will not be answered until the end of the movie. It is the fuel that propels the story, and the moment the question is answered, there is no more fuel for the story - which is why the opening scene where Uncle Charles seems to be on the run from the law makes this film less effective.

    To keep the question “alive” and keep the suspense growing, we need to keep that question in the foreground - and not let the audience forget it. Which is where the doubt comes in. We need to doubt that Uncle Charles in innocent, and then when a dark cloud of evidence casts a shadow over him, doubt that he is guilty. The film is all about doubt!

    SHADOW OF A DOUBT accomplishes this by having young Charlie discover evidence that Uncle Charles is guilty... and just when she has no choice but to confront him, counter evidence is uncovered that makes him look innocent. Doubt and doubt. There is also a shadow motif in the story - Uncle Charles seems to always be in the shadows - at the top of the stairs or in the corner of the room... and in the opening scene his landlady lowers the blinds on his window, casting a shadow over his face. When Uncle Charles comes to Santa Rosa on the train (pretending to be an invalid) he is in a dark sleeping compartment the entire trip... and when the train pulls into the station, dark smoke from the smokestack covers the station.

    Doubt and doubt: Uncle Charles has gifts for everyone, but gives Charlie a special gift - a beautiful ring. Charlie notices that there is engraving inside the band - and wonders where Uncle Charles got the ring (is it stolen?). Uncle Charles says he bought it from a jeweler - and they must have sold him a used ring! Imagine the nerve of the jeweler! Later in the film Charlie discovers the initials are of one of the Merry Widow Killer’s victims... is her favorite Uncle a serial killer... or is it just a coincidence. We can never be sure one way or the other, because then the film would be over.

    Doubt and doubt: Uncle Charles needs to be the first to read the newspaper, and one night *tears a story out* so that no one can read it. But he covers this by making a newspaper castle for Charlie’s little brother and sister. Was tearing out the story part of making the castle, or something else? Later, Charlie spots a torn out section of the newspaper in Uncle Charles jacket pocket... but he’s right there in the room with her so she can not grab it and find out what Uncle Charles doesn’t want the rest of the family to know. Is it an article about a criminal at large... or an advertizement for some fine wine on sale that he plans on buying to surprise the family? We don’t know.

    Doubt and doubt: When the two Magazine Guys come to interview the family because they are the “typical American family”, Uncle Charles does not want to be interviewed - he says he doesn’t really live in the house, he’s just a guest. This is a great scene because the two Magazine Guys keep insisting that Uncle Charlie *is* part of the family so they want to interview him, which means Uncle Charlie must keep finding new and better reasons not to be interviewed... and this becomes suspicious.

    Later, the older Magazine Guy takes a picture of Uncle Charles, and he *freaks* and demands they give him the roll of film, even though it will ruin *all* of the pictures they have taken (including mom baking a cake). Then he calmly explains that he just doesn’t like people taking pictures of him without permission - isn’t that his right? This ends up being a big moment for young Charlie, because asking for tyhe whole roll of film just seems like overkill. Why not just ask that they not use or print that picture? Young Charlie begins to wonder what Uncle Charles is hiding.

    Doubt and doubt. Back and forth throughout the film - one piece of evidence makes Uncle Charles look guilty and then another piece of evidence is discovered that makes him look innocent. Just when young Charlie is *sure* that he’s guilty, the other prime suspect in the case runs from the police... right into the propellor of an airplane! Case closed - they are sure he ran because he was guilty. Charlie was wrong to doubt her Uncle Charles... or was she?

    Because we are never sure if Uncle Charles is guilty or not until Act 3, we don’t know if we can trust him... and we don’t know if young Charlie is in danger or not. Throughout Act 2 we go from thinking Uncle Charles is guilty in one scene to believing he is innocent in the next scene. Back and forth - until we get to Act 3 and *know* he is the killer... and know that he will do anything to keep that information secret. Even kill his favorite niece.

    The Subtle Art Of Murder: But even the murder attempts may just be accidents - that’s what they seem to be at least. Plenty of room for doubt.

    Charlie has taken to using the back stairs of the house to avoid Uncle Charles... and one day on her way to the store one of the stairs breaks and sends her toppling down the staircase almost killing her. The step just broke. Later that night she examines the broken step - was it cut? Doesn’t seem to be, but *might* have been. Lots of doubt. Is Uncle Charles trying to kill her... or was it just an old step?

    A couple of days later the whole family is going to an event where Uncle Charles is giving a speech, and there are too many people for their one car. Uncle Charles suggests they call a taxi for the family, and he will ride in the family car with young Charlie. Charlie knows Uncle Charles is planning something - but can’t just come out and say it - all she has are suspicions. The shadow of doubt falls over everything. She tries to get her mother to come with her in the car, knowing that Uncle Charles couldn’t do anything with a witness. But Mom wants to go with the rest of the family in the taxi - how often do they get to ride in a taxi? Charlie does everything to get her to come, finally convinces her, and goes out to get the car... But when she gets into the garage, someone has left the motor running and the garage is filled with exhaust. Big black shadowy smoke! When Charlie tries to turn off the car’s motor, the garage door swings shut and get stuck - accident, or murder attempt? Charlie is trapped in the garage and the exhaust overtakes her.

    By this point, we know it’s Uncle Charles... and Charlie is pretty sure he’s trying to kill her, but all of these things seem like accidents. How can you accuse a family member of trying to kill you when it’s a stuck garage door?

    Unusual Characters: One of the great things in SHADOW OF A DOUBT are the characters - when we have a story that is about small town life, we tend to focus on the characters... and usually the *quirky* characters. If you read my Script Secrets website, you may be familiar with my “Dog Juice” theory - that all dogs have the exact same amount of energy no matter what size the dog is. A Chihuahua has the same amount of energy as a St. Bernard - but what is too much energy for that small dog is not enough energy for the enormous dog. This is why a normal dog like a Retriever or a Shepard is a perfect match of dog and energy to run the dog. Movies are the same - you need the same amount of energy no matter how big the movie... and that often leads to more interesting and quirky characters being *required* in smaller films. As much as people may bitch about the stylized dialogue and unusual characters in JUNO, remove those elements and what do you have? You *need* interesting characters in a small story.

    SHADOW takes many characters that might seem common and either turns them on their head or adds some quirk that makes them fascinating. By taking small town people and showing what makes each of them different and unusual, Wilder has created a story that is kind of a predecessor of TWIN PEAKS.

    Charlie’s little sister Ann (Edna May Wonacott) is not sugar and spice and everything nice, she is not playing with dolls... she is reading books that are adult in nature and knows all kinds of things little girls just should not know. In one scene she’s playing, and says “step on a crack and break your mother’s back”... then *steps on as many cracks as she can*!

    Charlie’s best friend Catherine (Estelle Jewell) is not some sweet small town girl or even some boy crazy 20 year old - she makes a pretty obvious play for Agent Saunders (Wallace Ford), the older FBI Agent... a man easily old enough to be her father and possibly old enough to be her grandfather. She flirts with him big time! Um, WTF is going on here?

    Charlie’s father is not some boring small town bank teller, he has a hobby... he and his best friend Herbie (Hume Cronyn) read murder mysteries and try to come up with the perfect way to murder each other and get away with it. Most of their dialogue in the film is about killing each other and avoiding arrest - talk about TWIN PEAKS characters!

    None of the characters in the film are cliche - they are as strange and individual as the characters from NORTHERN EXPOSURE and TWIN PEAKS... though they still seem “realistic” members of a small town. They may be exaggerated a little, but film characters tend to be a little larger than life anyway.

    Small Suspense: Because this is a small story of small town life, it also has small suspense scene. Charlie searching Uncle Charles’ room while he’s downstairs to find the torn piece of newspaper... and when she can not find the article, she races to the public library before it closes at 9pm... running across a street against a light and almost getting hit by a car. She makes it to the library just as they are closing, but this is a very low-key race against the clock: getting to the library before it closes? But at the library Charlie reads a newspaper account of the Merry Widow Killer and one of his victims... who had the same initials that are engraved in the ring Uncle Charles gave her... and we get a great pull back and up shot making Charlie seem small and vulnerable.

    Sound Track: Dimitri Tiomkin - a good score, the highlight of which is Franz Lehar's Merry Widow Waltz. It’s Uncle Charles’ theme song... and when Charlie’s mother is humming it at the dinner table one night and can’t figure out what the tune is, Uncle Charles says it’s the Blue Danube... but Charlie corrects him... which creates an awkward moment that Uncle Charles covers by spilling a glass of blood red wine. Throughout the film, we get the waltz and dancers when Uncle Charles feels murderous.

    Hitchcock used music in many of his films, from Mrs. Froy’s tune in THE LADY VANISHES to the Mr. Memory theme in THE 39 STEPS to this interesting signature for a character. Uncle Charlie is not just the Merry Widow Killer, the Merry Widow Waltz is his theme, something he whistles or that plays in the background of some of his scenes.

    Unfortunately, by the end of the film you will be unable to get the danged tune out of your head!

    SHADOW OF A DOUBT is a nice little film about small town life... and murder. Not the kind of big spectacle movie we might expect from Hitchcock, but an enjoyable film about the truth behind that favorite uncle of yours.

    - Bill


    More Fridays With Hitchcock!



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    Wednesday, April 16, 2014

    You Have *Potential*!

    From 2009...

    In the remake update post (about HOUSE which starred William Katt) we talked about this crazy idea that the director they love is hotter than the one I know because their guy’s film hasn’t been released yet. That gives him *potential*, where the director I have a connection to has just made a film that was released and got great reviews.

    Ages ago when my friend Jim and I were doing our Russian film we ran into the *potential* thing when we were casting our lead. This project began when Jim and I were wandering around Location Expo (an event that no longer exists) and stopped by the booth for the St. Petersburg Studios. Communism had just fallen in Russia, and after decades of government run film industry, the studios were scrambling to make money. We had a meeting with them, and discovered that we could make a movie in Russia for very little money. I put together a treatment for a RED HEAT type film in reverse - starting in Texas and going to Russia - with the cool idea that the “hero” would be killed on page 10 and the comedy-relief sidekick would be thrust into the hero position and have to track down the killer. That’s when we got a call from Mosfilm, who heard we were thinking about shooting a movie in Russia and wondered if we would like to meet with them before we signed any contracts with St. Petersburg. They had a brand new office in Los Angeles to try and attract movies to Russia - even though only a couple of indie films had shot there so far.

    Mosfilm made us an offer we could not refuse. They had Panavision cameras and an onsite Kodak approved lab and an onsite hotel and undercut the other guy’s prices and, the clincher, had access to some buildings set for demolition (we could blow them up) and some military equipment we could have access to (helicopter chase for cost of fuel) and could use their connections to get us locations like Red Square.

    Oh, and they had a couple of conditions - they wanted to be co-producers and cast Russian stars in the Russian roles. That’s a condition? We loved it! They had head shots and video of some stars, and the ones they were pushing were great. They had an actress who had been in a recent Russian film that had played in the USA, and had done a Playboy spread to promote the film. Yes! They had Russia’s biggest rock star, who wanted to get into acting, and showed us his music video. Yes! Everyone they showed us was someone who would add to the film. Their motivation was to make sure the film was a big hit in Russia and some ex-Soviet countries that they would keep as part of the deal. These were places that US distribs didn’t have a foot hold in, yet, so giving them away cost us nothing.

    I wrote the script, taking place in Moscow and using all of the materials we now had access to... and the result was a film we could make for a budget of around $1 million that would look like LETHAL WEAPON - we had a helicopter chase! We blew up an apartment building! We had a big dock-side action sequence!

    What we didn’t have was an American star.

    Jim was (and is) a clever guy. He had bought the mailing list from one of the trades, and had the home addresses of a bunch of movie stars and famous folks. And he had begun looking for our American star - bypassing agents and managers and going directly to their home address. Our financial contacts might get us around $1 million, but not that much more, so we weren’t targeting Tom Cruise... we were looking at B movie stars. We already had the late, great, Steve James as our villain. Steve and I had been trying to put together a movie for a while - he was a great actor (from John Sayles films) who was usually the side kick to Chuck Norris or Michael Dudikoff and had starred in a couple of low budget films. The problem with most of the stuff he was in was that it never showed what an amazing actor he was. This guy had done theatre in New York. I didn’t think we could get the money for our film with him as the star, but villains are always big juicy roles... and Steve said yes. I wrote a part for him that would make him the star he should have been. A great villain with some big juicy acting scenes.

    But for our star... We came up with a list, and the guy we really liked was Thomas F. Wilson. Who? The guy who played various versions of Biff in all of the BACK TO THE FUTURE movies. He was a stand up comedian, great for the comic relief role (which turned into the lead on page 11). And if you watch the three B2TF movies, he’s an amazing actor. I honestly think that’s why his career didn’t really take off after the trilogy - you can’t tell it’s the same guy playing Biff in all those films! He’s the teen Biff, the fat Biff, the handsome Biff, the cowboy Biff, the loser Biff, the billionaire Biff... he’s completely different in each role - even *physically* different (losing or gaining weight). So, we had a meeting with him... and he brought along a team of managers and agents and lawyers and gardeners. A half dozen people! After getting through all of their BS, we finally got a chance to talk with Tom, who was a very nice, very funny guy, who was interested.

    We took our package to our #1 distrib/money source. We had put together a sheet that showed all of the movies Tom had been in, what their domestic and worldwide grosses were. Beside the B2TF movies, he’s been in ACTION JACKSON and a handful of other movies that made a bunch of money. So, we are looking at a guy who seems like an easy sell...

    But he was not. They didn’t know him by name. They said, you put his name on the poster, and nobody knows who that is. Find us the name that everybody already knows.

    They didn’t care that his films had made a ton of money, they didn’t care that this film would cost them $1 million and look like a huge studio action film... they wanted a name they knew.

    Every other distrib/money source we had a contact with told us the same thing.

    Lesson learned: Just because someone is a great actor who has been in movies that everybody in the world has seen does not make them a bankable star.

    So, Jim and I went back to the list, and cycled through a bunch of actors. Some were turned down by the distrib, some of them turned down the project. We had met with some line producers who had made one of the handful of US films to actually shoot in Russia, and they said the biggest problem we would have is that after decades of working under the Soviet model, most Russian crews worked about as fast as those people behind the counter at the DMV. We would have to double our shooting schedule because they moved so slow. We had included this in our budget and schedule... but the big problem with a star, even a B movie star, is that their time is money. We had the same amount to pay for twice the shooting time. Some stars turned us down because they didn’t want to leave home for two months, others didn’t want to work for half their rate.

    Then we had a meeting with William Katt at Stanley’s on Ventura Blvd, and we found our star. First, everyone knew who he was from GREATEST AMERICAN HERO and CARRIE and a bunch of other stuff, including one of my favorite films, BIG WEDNESDAY. Second, he had a great attitude about the project - looking at this as an adventure, going to a place very few people had been to before. He wasn’t as concerned about the money, he thought just going someplace cool would be worth it. So, we had an interested star who completely fit all of the distrib/money source’s conditions.

    We had a meeting with them, figured we’d walk out with a start date and a million bucks...

    But a strange thing happened. They said, we love William Katt, but if you could get us Brad Pitt we’d fund this thing tomorrow. And we said, Brad who? At this point in time, Brad Pitt had done two movies - a low budget horror flick called CUTTING CLASS and an indie film called JOHNNY SUEDE. Neither film had made any money. But Pitt had *potential*. He *might be* a really big star. Word on the street was that he was the next big thing.

    So, Jim and I went through our distrib/financing contacts looking for someone who would give us the money based on the people we had now. A real TV star who everyone knew who had starred in some great films (CARRIE, BIG WEDNESDAY, etc) who was more interested in the adventure of making a film in an interesting location than making a pile of money. We were pretty much ready to go... and everyone said, Get us this Brad Pitt kid and we’ll give you the money. And again, we said Brad who?

    So, I rented CUTTING CLASS on VHS, a silly slasher movie where Pitt played the villain... and really didn’t understand why they would want this guy. He was okay, but he wasn’t even the star of the movie! Jim tried to track him down, but I don’t think he had a subscription to Hollywood Reporter at that time so he wasn’t on our list. After spending a lot of time, we found out that *everyone in town* had been told that Pitt was the next big thing and that everyone in town was fighting to hire him, and that there was no way in hell that he would be in a low budget film that would take two months of his life to shoot in Russia.

    We went back to our first choice in distrib/financing and told them that Brad Pitt was a no-go. By now, William Katt had gone on to do another movie or two and was unavailable for a while. Thomas F. Wilson was doing a stand up comedy tour, also unavailable. Everyone else we had talked to had gone on to some other project and we would have to wait for them.

    What I didn’t understand was why Tom Wilson was a “no” because the audience wouldn’t recognize his name on the poster, yet this Brad Pitt guy was so hot... when the audience would not only not recognize his name, they wouldn’t know his face or any of the movies he had been in. This distribution company did some small theatrical releases and the rest went to VHS and cable. It was common to list the star’s most popular films on the back of the VHS box. That means even if the audience doesn’t know an actor by name, if they recognized his face and wondered where they know him from they can flip over the box and discover this guy was in a bunch of films they have seen and liked... and they rent the movie. And the answer was... Tom Wilson may have been in a bunch of hit films, and he was a known quantity... but Brad Pitt was *hot* because he had *potential* - he was unknown. He hadn’t made a flop yet, or made a film that didn’t turn out, or proven that maybe he wasn’t the next big thing, yet. This makes no sense to me - but in the fear-driven film biz it's part of the way they operate. Of course, Brad Pitt really was the next big thing - even though it took him a whole bunch of movies to become a star - so maybe all of these distribs/financing sources were right. If we had been the ones to get Pitt instead of CUTTING CLASS, we’d... well, let me ask you - have you ever heard of CUTTING CLASS? Yeah, that’s what I thought. So it didn’t matter whether we had Pitt or not.

    What happened while we were jumping through all of these hoops trying to find a star was that the “Russian Mafia” had begun shooting up Moscow and kidnaping Americans for ransom and all kinds of other things that made no one want to make a film in Russia right now... and our project just died. The only thing that really remains from it is the frame of the story-board that I used as an illustration on the front of my book. We had a bunch of the big action scenes story-boarded to make it easier to communicate what we wanted to our crew, and make filming a little faster and more efficient. A couple of years ago I did a rewrite on the script because I had a producer with some Russian connections interested, but the producer was... unusual... and that rewrite was lost when Fry’s repair guys wiped my hard drive to replace a plastic hinge on my laptop. I thought I had it backed up on my desk top and on a disk, but both ended up being the old version. Pisser.

    The big lesson I learned from all of this is that *potential* beats experience in Hollywood. So, you have potential... I just have experience. You could be destined for greatness! I have written a movie about robot hookers from outer space for Roger Corman. Use your potential!

    - Bill

    Tuesday, April 15, 2014

    Trailer Tuesday: American Friend (1977)

    One of the things I have realized over the years is that the films you saw when you first *really* got into movies become your favorites because they opened doors in your mind that you didn’t even know existed. Often someone younger than I (that doesn’t take much these days) mentions one of their favorite film... and it’s some movie I think is a piece of crap. Of course, I saw it later in life when whatever door that movie opened for them had already been opened for me... so instead of being amazed at whatever the film did, I compared it to all of the other films that did that and found it lacking. But the same thing happens to me frequently: those young people who had the door opened by their film finally get around to seeing mine and think, “What’s the big deal?” This has taught me to be less judgmental about those films people love. Better that they love films than not love them!

    So, in the 70s I caught this film because someone called it “Hitchcockian” and became a fan of Wim Wenders (to this day). This is not the usual Wenders film at all, but I found it fascinating that he actually understood how to make a suspense film: he knew how to use the camera to tell the story and use editing to create suspense. When someone shows that they know how to do something difficult like this, I cut them a lot of slack when they go off and do their own thing in their own style. So I was a fan of his films which are often valentines to America. He can take a 9 year old girl and turn her into the tour guide for America - seeing our world through her eyes... or show us small town life in Texas, or give us a Hollywood full of conspiracies and crime, or the great America road trip... in Germany! But I first discovered him with this Hitchcockian film based on a Patricia Highsmith RIPLEY novel about a normal dad and husband who discovers he is dying of a rare disease and is offered a fortune to leave for his family... all he has to do is kill a guy. A total stranger. A mobster the world would be better off without. Could you kill someone to help your family?

    As you can see, BREAKING BAD's concept really owes a lot to AMERICAN FRIEND... the idea of a quiet intelligent man doing terrible things that are against the law to provide for his family because he is terminally ill... and killing a bunch of gangsters in the process... is the basic story of both. In both the lead must keep his side job secret from his wife and kid, and when it is discovered instead of appreciating the *huge* personal and emotional sacrifices he has gone through to provide for his family, they turn against him and he must fight to win them back. The parallels are strong between the two... which makes me wonder why nobody ever mentioned it.

    Wenders was a genius for combining Highsmith’s RIPLEY'S GAME and RIPLEY UNDER WATER (the second and third novels in the series after THE TALENTED MR.) and then taking Jonathan's point of view instead of Ripley's. Instead of being the puppet master's story, we get the puppet... who finds himself in over his head just to provide for his family after he dies. The story is filled with twists and turns and has a bit of that 70's stillness used in films like THE PARALLAX VIEW. The film is also filled with music, and a love for The Beatles... and Volkswagen Beetles. Beautifully shot by Robby Muller, with a great score by J├╝rgen Knieper (who also scored RIVER’S EDGE), the film has a deliberate pace that works for the story...

    Jonathan (Bruno Ganz who would later play Hitler in that DOWNFALL movie that you haven’t seen but *have* seen that one scene where Hitler loses it in a million memes) is a picture framer whose wife (Lisa Kreuzer) works for an auction house, and when he is introduced to Tom Ripley (Dennis Hopper, I wish it had been John Malkovich who played this role in a remake) he refuses to shake his hand. Ripley feels insulted, and later when a Paris mobster Minot (Gerard Blaine) is looking for an assassin who can not be traced back to the mob, Ripley gives him Jonathan. You see, Jonathan has a rare blood disease may not have long to live. So Minot approaches Jonathan and offers him a second opinion at the most prestigious hospital in Europe... all expenses paid... as long as Jonathan listens to his offer afterwards. Jonathan goes in for the test... and Minot creates *forged* results saying that Jonathan is knocking on death’s door. Then offers Jonathan a job killing a mobster on a train. Here’s the thing: worst that can happen if Jonathan is caught is that he’ll die before trial, and his family will still get the money and be provided for. Jonathan reluctantly agrees... and then goes to kill the man. Except it’s never as easy as you think. This leads to one of the most intense suspense scenes I’ve seen as Jonathan can’t find the right time to shoot the guy... and every second he hesitates is a chance to be caught!

    Eventually he kills the mobster, only to find out there are more mobsters to be killed and Minot wants Jonathan to kill a well guarded mobster on a train. (Lots of trains in this film, it *is* by Highsmith who wrote STRANGERS ON A TRAIN). This time he is *way* over his head and his whole life spirals out of control. One of the things I swiped from this film for my HARD EVIDENCE script that was made for USA Network was the way the protagonist feels he can’t tell his spouse about this problems, when he needs all of the help he can get. Eventually Jonathan admits everything to his wife and they team up to resolve the conflict... though not in the way they thought.

    One of the great things are all of the cameos by film directors. Sam Fuller and Nicholas Ray (playing the dead painter Derwatt from RIPLEY UNDERGROUND) and Lou Castel. Wenders was a real fan of American noir films and cast his heroes in the film... later he would make a documentary about Ray’s final days.

    The film is an interesting hybrid between studio movie and European arthouse, technically really well made but still focusing on character and those small moments (I love when Jonathan is playing with his son or trying to get two halves of a frame to come together. This film along with Wender’s Polanskiesque GOALIES ANXIETY AT THE PENALTY KICK are slick Hollywood style films with that indie bent. He knew how to do dolly shots and crane shots and make a film that looks bigger than it probably was. His other films like ALICE IN THE CITY and THE WRONG MOVE and KINGS OF THE ROAD have a ragged indie feel to them. Oh, and this film landed him a big Hollywood picture, HAMMETT (the dude who wrote THE MALTESE FALCON based on a novel by Joe Gores... though the movie throws out almost everything from the book), and the failure of that Hollywood film lead to the success of PARIS, TEXAS and WINGS OF DESIRE. He’s done some interesting work since then on films like UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD and THE END OF VIOLENCE and the doc BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB and he has a new movie out this year.

    - Bill

    Monday, April 14, 2014

    Lancelot Link: Road To Rio

    Lancelot Link Monday! When Captain America throws his mighty shield, All those who choose to oppose his shield must yield! Yes, birds, too. 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 baker's dozen links plus this week's car chase...

    1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
    1 Captain America 2.... $41,398,000
    2 Rio 2................ $39,000,000
    3 Occulus.............. $12,000,000
    4 Draft Day............. $9,750,000
    5 Divergent............. $7,500,000
    6 Noah.................. $7,450,000
    7 God Is Not Dead....... $5,485,000
    8 Grand Budapest........ $4,050,000
    9 Muppets Most Wanted... $2,193,000
    10 Peabody And Sherman... $1,825,000

    2) KILL BILL in chronological order.

    3) 10 Upcoming Screenwriting Contest Deadlines!

    4) Writing Dialogue For 1960s Takes Research.

    5) Fun TERMINATOR Facts!

    6) Movie Poster Rejects For Famous Films.

    7) Carol Leifer On Women In The Biz.

    8) The 10 WORST Films Made From Blacklist Scripts.

    9) David Goyer on The DC Universe and upcoming films.

    10) Coming To Cinemas *Before* The Next SPIDER MAN...

    11) The Screenwriters of WINTER SOLDIER interviewed.

    12) Scorsese on Risk Takers In Cinema (five videos).

    13) Why Hollywood Is Broken.

    14) And the MTV Music Award Winners! Who won Best Kiss?

    And the car chase of the week:

    From RAID 2 (in cinemas now).


    Friday, April 11, 2014

    The French Hitchcock?

    If you've seen INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, the movie playing at Shoshana's cinema that gets bumped for the Hitler Assassination Plan is called LE CORBEAU (THE RAVEN) - she has to take the letters off the marqee. The film was directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, who is often called the French Hitchcock. Clouzot also directed a couple of my favorite films, WAGES OF FEAR and DIABOLIQUE. He is a great director - knows how to build tension to the breaking point. LE CORBEAU was only his second film, but it still works decades later.

    LE CORBEAU is about an alof handsome young doctor in a village hospital who begins to get threatening letters signed by "The Raven". The letters accuse him of having an affair with an older doctor's pretty young wife... and of being an abortionist, who may even have been the one who knocked up all of the women he's accused of aborting. Because he wasn't born in the village, he's seen as an outsider... and when word gets out people believe these rumors.

    The old doctor's wife also gets a letter from The Raven... and soon half the village are getting threatening letters accusing them of some rumored activity. The Raven knows *everyone's* secrets! Who can it be? The old cuckold doctor and young doctor basically must work together to find out who is The Raven. And there are some *great* suspects and a really shocking twist end. Actually, a double twist.

    Though this is an early film of Clouzot's - not as suspenseful as DIABOLIQUE, it still packs a punch and has some very well drawn characters and it will keep you guessing until the end. The alof doctor is an interesting protagonist because he has a deep dark secret - and we think we know what it is and we are completely wrong. The character is a twist.

    If you're curious about French films made during WW2 and during the Nazi Occupation, check this one out. Oh, and look between the lines for a message about living and working in Nazi Occupied France.

    - Bill

    Wednesday, April 09, 2014

    Compulsive Kindness

    From 2009...

    When I was a little kid, my mother would always get compliments from other people on how well behaved my brother and sister and I were. When we were in public we never raised our voices, let alone ran around and roughhoused. We stood in a straight line. We didn’t touch things that were not ours. We might fight like cats and dogs at home, but in public we never pushed each other or hit each other or even raised our voices. Actually, that was part of it - we didn’t speak unless spoken to. My parents raised us well. We did unto others as we would have them do unto us. None of this had anything to do with religion or threats of being whipped with a belt - it was just good behavior. When we were out in public, we had a code of conduct to follow.

    Back then I believe most kids had a code of conduct to follow when they were out in public. I know our friends the Holloway kids did... though I don’t remember them standing in a straight line - that may have just been something my mom came up with. Though some kids were little hellions, most behaved when in public. That’s what was expected of kids at the time. We always said “please” and “thank you” and “excuse me” and “may I be excused” when we had finished dinner. We had to ask permission before doing anything unusual - and if all of this sounds like we were some sort of Stepford Kids, nothing could be farther from the truth. We built forts and dug fox holes to play army and often played in the forbidden creek behind the house if mom was busy doing something and we didn’t think we’d get caught. We were normal kids, who had some manners and did unto others.

    The mind set of doing unto others and considering other people has stuck with me into adulthood. So has saying “please” and “thank you”. When I’m working in a coffee shop and they put my drink on the counter, I always say “thank you” even if I am across the room plugging in the laptop. It’s only polite. And this got me thinking about all of the things that I do that are traces of those childhood lessons in being polite.

    1) I always say “please” and “thank you” and “you’re welcome”.

    2) I always try to have a genuine smile for people. I hate those plastered on fake smiles, and I have been guilty of wearing them every now and then. When I smile at people, 99% of the time I mean it. I also try to be positive - and trust people and be nice to people as my default. I know people who start out suspicious and angry, I don't want to be one of those people.

    3) I clean up after myself - I always try to leave things where and as I found them.

    4) When I’m at a stop light, I always look *both* ways before turning right or pulling out. I also look both ways before crossing a street - or doing just about anything. Always good to know what's around you - instead of not caring.

    5) Probably because I’m often on a bicycle, I stop my car behind the limit line, not in the middle of the cross walk. You know, that extra foot doesn’t get me there any faster. When I'm driving, I go with the flow of traffic - rather than race to the next stop light. Oddly, I get there the same time as the car that races through traffic.

    6) When squeezing past someone or crossing in front of their sight line or any number of other things, I say either “excuse me” or “pardon me”. Since many people in Los Angeles speak Spanish as their primary language, I usually say “pardon me” because I think it is easier for everyone to understand. I don’t say “pardon me” for me, I say it to be polite to others.

    7) I park within the lines, and as straight as possible. This means it may take me an extra minute to position my car - but that makes it easier for people parked on either side to open their doors and pull their cars out of their parking spot.

    8) When I am paying at a cash register, I make sure my money is faced when I hand it to the clerk. When I worked retail I had to face my money at the end of the day, so I know what a pain it is to get a wad of messy money. It takes a second to put all of the bills face up and rightside up before handing it to the clerk.

    9) I look before moving. If I’m going to take a step to the side or a step back, I look at the spot where I’m moving to *before* moving so that I don’t step on anyone. Saves me from having someone else's coffee on my clothes.

    10) I am patient. Okay, not always - never at the post office - but I try to be patient most of the time. Whether I’m in a rush or not will not change how fast things happen or how fast other people move. Better to just take it easy.

    11) By the time I get to the front of the line, I am completely ready to order. I know exactly what I want, and the answer to any of the normal question I might be asked (“Soup or salad?” “Do you want fries with that?” “Room for cream?”) I don’t want to waste the time of the people behind the counter or the people behind me because I am not prepared. By the time I stand in line, I know exactly what I want.

    12) When I am walking on the sidewalk, I walk on the right side (or the left side) - never in the center. If the people in front of me are walking on the left side, I walk on the left side... so I'm not creating a maze for people walking towards me. Everyone moving in the same direction should be walking on the same side of the sidewalk. I want to make it easy for people behind me to pass me, and people coming in the opposite direction to get around me.

    13) When I step off and escalator or through a door I continue to walk several steps to make sure I am not blocking people behind me. I usually keep walking and survey my surroundings to see where I want to go, rather than stop and look around. That way I’m not holding up traffic.

    14) When I am next in a check out line, I have money in my hand as well as a selection of change, so that nobody has to wait for me to dig into my pocket to find that nickle. I’m *prepared* to pay for my purchases. Oh, and because I’m strange, I often add up my items in my mind and figure in tax and have a pretty good estimate of what the total is going to be. I’m usually within a dollar either way, and that helps me know what kind of bills I should have in my hand when I get to the checkstand.

    15) If I’m talking on my cell phone in public, I try to use a quiet voice or go outside - I don’t want to bother other people with my conversation... and I kind of like privacy.

    16) I try not to kick a man when he’s down. Once I’ve made my point, I back off. Though I’m sure I’ve kept hammering away at somebody a few times on message boards, I usually back off. Also, when someone has a bad day, I don’t make it worse... even if I hate them and my evil side would love to destroy them. It’s not fair.

    17) I always go to the restroom or go outside to blow my nose. It’s gross to do it somewhere people are watching or listening... let alone trying to eat a meal.

    18) I gauge traffic when I am merging, and pull out in an opening with enough distance between the car in front and in back of me... and at the same speed they are going. I don't stop to merge - that's silly. I don’t want to cause anyone to jamb on their brakes or have to swerve - I want it to be a smooth blend of my car into the stream of traffic.

    19) If I am walking with friends on the sidewalk and others approach us in the opposite direction, I step behind or in front of my friend(s) so that we are walking single-file, allowing those walking towards us half of the sidewalk to pass us. This isn’t always easy - I have some friends who don’t get it, and if I fall back, so do they.

    20) When I’m wrong, I apologize, and I mean it.

    21) My cell phone ringer is either set low or on vibrate - the rest of the world doesn’t have to know my phone is ringing, and I really don’t care if you hear my cool ringtone or not (it’s the Peter Gunn theme - which is used in a bunch of commercials, and I often reach for my phone when it’s just a Chase Bank commercial on TV.)

    22) I don’t block other people in an aisle or a store or a walkway or anyplace else - and I try not to stand in front of things other people might want access to.

    23) If I make a mistake more than once, I try to make sure I don’t make it a third time. You are supposed to learn from your mistakes, not keep making them over and over again. Sometimes, if it’s some sort of bad habit, I find some way to punish myself if I keep doing it. I’m too old to have my mom spank me, so sometimes I have to spank myself. Not literally. But I do not reward myself for failure or making mistakes - I take away some pleasure until I stop screwing up.

    24) I do not talk on my cell phone when I get to the front of a line - that’s when I need to be focusing on paying or ordering or talking with the person on the other side of the counter. It’s rude to the person behind the counter, it's rude to the person on the phone, and rude to the people standing behind me when I fumble through trying to hold two conversations at once.

    25) In the grocery store, I push my cart down the right side of the aisle, and either stay on that right side when grabbing items off the shelves or move far enough away from my cart that I am not blocking both sides of the aisle - one side with my cart and one side with me shopping. I always leave half the aisle empty so that other people with carts can get past me.

    26) If I am crossing a street as a pedestrian (or just walking across a parking lot entrance) I look at traffic in all directions - some times it’s easier to wait for one car to pass even though I have the right of way. If I have to wait a minute so that things run smoother for everyone else, no big deal And if cars are waiting for me to cross the street, I walk *fast* - I don’t take my time when I’m also taking other people’s time.

    27) I try to be aware of everyone around me and stay out of people’s way. If I’m blocking a bunch of people from getting where they want to go because I’ve got my head in the clouds thinking about something or talking on the phone or whatever - I’m holding up the whole danged world!

    28) When I pick a table at a restaurant or a coffee shop, I try not to pick one that would be of better use to someone else - I’m one person, so I don’t take a large table that might be better used by a family or a group, I don’t take a table designed for handicapped access or might be more convenient for an elderly person. Sometimes these are the only tables available, so I have no choice - but I always think about others when I select a table.

    29) If I’m walking in a shopping mall or hallway or sidewalk and need to stop, I move to the side (near the wall) and *then* stop, so that I am not suddenly stopping in front of someone and am out of the way *before* I slow down or stop.

    30) I try to help people whenever possible - not because of some sort of karma thing where what goes around will come around back to me (that would be nice, but I’m not sure that’s really how the world works), but just because it usually takes the same amount of effort to help people as to put them down or even ignore them. There are all kinds of people who seem to go out of their way to be mean or dismissive to people - and that’s a lot of work just to be negative. Usually it takes the same amount of work to help people - and that makes the world a little better. I don’t go out of my way looking for people to help, I just help anyone whose path crosses mine. That may be holding the door open for someone with their arms full or answering a question on a message board I visit or helping somebody find something if I know where it is (a street, a business, or even an item in the store). Most of these are silly little things that are part of our day-to-day lives, but my “default setting” is helpful. One of those things I learned from my parents.

    By the way, I think one of the reasons why my brother and sister and I were so well behaved in public is that my mom encouraged us to *think about playing* and imagine what we would do when we got home and were allowed to run around in the yard and have fun. Or think about our toys and hobbies (my brother and I would think about Hot Wheels, my sister would think about Barbies - Mattel Toys won either way). Or think about our favorite televison shows or the book we were reading. We would sort of play in our minds... and entertain ourselves. No need to be little hellions in the grocery store. Those good manners, and thinking of others as well as ourselves, have stuck with me from childhood into adulthood.

    (This was going to be called "Compusive Manners" but that didn't have the same ring to it.)

    Thank you for reading this.

    Classes On CD On Sale!

    - Bill