Friday, September 23, 2016
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.
Thursday, September 22, 2016
The spider web fills the screen, it's Boris Karloff's THRILLER!
Season: 1, Episode: 10.
Director: John Brahm
Writer: Donald S. Sanford
Cast: Boris Karloff, Audrey Dalton, Alan Caillou, Abraham Sofaer, Murvyn Vye, Alex Davion.
Music: Pete Rugolo
Cinematography: John L. Russell (PSYCHO)
Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The unfortunate gentleman you’ve just observed has had a most terrifying experience. You see, his business is *pretending* to be clairvoyant... but the glimpse he just had into the future was true, as sure as my name is Boris Karloff. Imagine if you will, the plight of a man who finds his premonitions concerning those he loves coming true in the most horrible and violent ways. The name of our play is “The Prediction”, and appearing with me are Miss Audrey Dalton, Mr. Alex Davion, Mr. Abraham Sofaer, Mr. Alan Caillou, and Mr. Murvyn Vye. Let me assure you my friends, this is a thriller.”
Synopsis: In London, night club psychic Mace (Boris Karloff) is a fake... a great showman who entertains the audience with predictions of happy marriages and surprise good luck and other lightweight predictions... but tonight is different. Something weird happens to Mace and his beautiful assistant Norine (Audrey Dalton) realizes he’s going off script... when a skeptic asks who will win the big boxing match tonight, Mace screams that they must stop the fight because one of the boxers... Tommy... will die in the ring! When Mace tries to run off the stage, he trips and goes down, and the club owner Gus (Abraham Sofaer) has them drop the curtains. Backstage, Mace asks Norine’s loser father Burton (Alan Caillou) to race to the Boxing Match and stop the fight before Tommy gets killed. Burton races off...
Mace rests in his dressing room, worried that his crazy performance will get him and Norine fired. Because his beautiful assistant’s father is a drunk and a loser, Mace has become a father to her and takes care of both of them. He’s very protective of Norine... so when Gus knocks on the door and says he needs to see Mace immediately in the club. It’s a surprise party for Mace! Gus loves Mace, he’s the club’s best act. But the party is broken up by Gunner Gogan (Murvyn Vye) the manager of Tommy the boxer... who accuses Mace of making money from his fighter’s death. What? Seems that Burton *didn’t* warn anyone that Tommy would die, instead he bet against him and made $100! Gus and the others have to pull Gogan off Mace, and they tell him that Burton was sent to warn them, didn’t he? Gogan goes to find Burton...
Nadine has a secret fiancé, Grant (Alex Davion), her father Burton does not approve of their relationship. Grant wants her to marry him, now... run away and find a priest. But her father is a huge problem that has to be solved before she can get married...
Mace finds Burton in a pub, drinking and fooling around with a woman half his age (who may be a hooker, at the very least a woman of easy virtue)... spending that $100 as if there is more where that came from. And isn’t there? If Mace can keep making predictions, Burton can keep betting and winning! Mace and Burton have an argument, and Burton splits with the hooker (or whatever). Mace has another vision: Burton will be murdered!
The hooker (or whatever) leads Burton into a dark alley where a huge dude hits him in the head with a brick and steals his money and goes off with the hooker (or whatever). She was part of it all along, luring him to be mugged.
Mace feels *guilty* over Tommy and Burton’s deaths. “Did I forsee Burton’s death? Or will it to happen?” He’s a mess. When he hears that Gogan has been arrested for Burton’s murder, Mace has Gus call the police anonymously and give them the names of the hooker (or whatever) and her accomplice. He just *knew* the names! Then he has another vision... and warns Gus not to cross the stage to meet a man named Harcourt. Gus says he doesn’t know anybody named Harcourt.
Outside the night club: Grant asks Nadine to marry him now that she doesn’t have to take care of her father (I know that sounds terrible, but the dialogue makes it work). Grant has been transferred to another city and wants her to quit as Mace’s beautiful assistant and come with him. Nadine says she can’t just quit... and goes into the club. Grant follows her in to watch the show and try to change her mind afterwards.
Gus goes out on stage... when he gets a message: some guy named Harcourt is waiting in his office. Harcourt? He starts to cross the stage to his office... when a hanging sandbag falls from the rafters right at his head! But Mace runs across the stage and knocks Gus out of the way, the sandbag misses both of them.
Harcourt is a police detective who wants to know who made the anonymous call about Burton’s murder... because they were right. Was this a witness to the murder who didn’t come forward? Gus protects Mace by telling Harcourt that there are many phones in the club, and it could have been anyone. But Harcourt is suspicious.
Mace and Nadine do their act... when Mace has another vision and starts yelling for a man named Grant to come forward, he knows a man with that name is in the audience. Grant this is Mace’s way to break up the relationship and keep his beautiful assistant... and ducks out the back doors. Mace yells that the man named Grant must not make his trip... because he will die!
Later in a pub: Grant tells Nadine he is leaving the next night and wants her to go with him no matter what Mace says. She says no.
Grant goes to Mace, says he loves Nadine and wants to marry her... and Mace says: Great! Congratulations to both of you! I want whatever makes Nadine happy. Grant asks about the prediction, was it just a ruse? Mace says it was real, and Grant *will* die if he travels tomorrow night. Grant doesn’t believe him, and *needs* to leave tomorrow night to get to his job on time. So Mace tells him if he sees a sign that says “Edinburgh, 50 miles” he needs to turn around and come back. Grant agrees to this.
The next night, after the show, Mace and Nadine have a big emotional goodbye. And he warns her about the “Edinburgh, 50 miles” sign. Nadine leaves, gets in the car with Grant and drives off...
And Mace has another premonition: Grant and Nadine will be in an accident and a fire will burn them to death! Mace grabs Gus and they try to chase them down and stop it.
Now we get all kinds of clever stuff right out of Mace’s premonition as Grant and Nadine drive down the highway at night. This is where the story gets fun, because offhand things Mace said like “You’ll need a raincoat” even though it isn’t raining start to become true, and that makes us start to worry that both Nadine and Grant will die in a fiery car wreck. They do almost hit a stalled truck full of refuse in the middle of the road (at night) but Grant brakes at the last minute. The truck driver’s flare had burned out. Truck driver asks if they will tell the repair service at the big truck stop down the road to send help back, and they agree and drive off... just as the truck driver tosses a bent up old road sign deeper into his truck bed. What do you think that sign said?
Meanwhile, Mace and Gus as speeding to save them... take a short cut... and get to the big truck stop before they do, asking an attendant if they’ve passed by yet. Nope. So they head down the road towards Grant and Nadine. After only a few minutes Mace asks Gus to stop the car, and Mace gets out in the rain and stands in middle of the street with his hands up... just as Grant and Nadine’s car rounds the corner towards him! Grant tries to stop the car, but the asphalt is slick and they skid into Mace... killing him! And a minute later, the big truck stop behind them EXPLODES in a giant fireball! So Mace gave his life to prevent Grant and Nadine from going to that truck stop. The end is both a twist and emotional.
Review: The great thing about having Boris Karloff as your host is that he’s also a fine actor, and in this episode he is completely believable as the paternal fake psychic (the kind of role he might have played in a film) and gets two pretty good emotional scenes where he gets a chance to act. Though not one of the great episodes, it’s a lot of fun and there are some nice twists along the way.
The fake psychic who becomes real is a great plot, better used in one of my favorite Cornell Woolrich novels THE NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES (made into an okay movie with Edward G Robinson). That book has a great prediction: that a man will die at the claws of a lion... and takes place in *New York City* where that seems unlikely... until a lion escapes from the zoo! The great twist in that book is that the man dies at the feet of one of the lion statues in front of the library. Here the fun is in watching all of the small elements of Mace’s prediction come true, which builds dread that the big one will come true. That’s a great writing technique, by the way: have a prediction and piece by piece have it come true, leading us to believe it will *all* come true... then find that twist where it comes true im an unexpected way!
For a TV episode, it feels much bigger than whatever its budget was: the two cars on country roads at the end has a great deal of production value, and the night club set seems very real. The pub gets used twice in the story, so it earns its keep.
Once again we are on the right track! This is the type of story I think of when I think of the THRILLER TV show. Something that is either straight suspense or creepy weird tale. Will next week’s episode stay on track? It stars Elisha Cook, jr and a pre DICK VAN DYKE SHOW Mary Tyler Moore and has some elements of SPEED!
Wednesday, September 21, 2016
So here is the first one. I'm still not sure whether the article should come before or after the clip, so this time around it's *before* the clip - you can tell me which way you think would work best in the comments section.
Sounds simple, right?
The problem is that it’s not about writing that one great screenplay that changes everything, it’s about writing for a living. Writing screenplay after screenplay after screenplay. Being a professional writer means writing every day (like any other job), writing on a deadline, writing screenplay after screenplay after screenplay. If you are looking for a Manager or Agent, they represent *writers* not screenplays. Once they send your screenplay out into the world and nobody buys it, it is a “busted spec” - a dead script. And that means you need to have another script to send out into the world, then another, then another, then another... until you sell a screenplay or land an assignment. Heck, to get that Agent or Manager you need to keep sending out query after query (each for a new screenplay) to Managers and Agents on your target list until they read one that makes them sign you. This probably sounds like a lot of work... and it is.
So, how do you do that? How do you keep writing screenplays until you land an Agent or Manager and then keep writing screenplays for them until you land a paying gig, and then keep landing paying gigs for the rest of your life?
That’s a very good question.
Complicated by, you know, life. You have a mortgage or rent to pay. You have a family. You have a job that eats up a minimum of 40 hours or your week (add in commute time and those extra hours you worked and all of the other parts of real life). How do you find any time at all to write all of those screenplays, and how do you find the will to stick with it? You barely have time to relax after work, let alone crank out screenplays. Well, here’s a ten point plan to help you get something done...
1) Don't depend on inspiration - it's a trap! At the end of the day, it's always going to be you and the blank page. So you have to figure out how to get yourself motivated. It's always going to be from the inside instead of the outside. You can’t depend on anyone else - motivation is *your* job. This is a business where, when they love your work and buy your work, the first thing they do is tell you everything they hate about it and want changed right away... instead of how much they like what you've written. So looking for or depending on external motivations aren't going to help you in the long run - you have to figure out how to keep writing through the crap that life hands out.
2) Set aside a specific time every day to write - can be as little as 15 minutes, but that is the time that anyone who bothers you gets punched in the face as hard as you can. There are plenty of success stories about people who wrote on their lunch hours or wrote on their commute to work (though most of those involve people who take a train or subway - if you drive to work, probably best not to have the laptop open). Find a half hour or an hour every day that is just for writing - and make sure everyone who might bother you understands that it’s your writing time and you *will* punch them in the face as hard as you can if they bother you.
3) If all you do in that 15 minutes (or half hour or hour) is just stare at the blank screen, it's a win...
4) But you'd rather write, right?
5) So be prepared to write! Outline your screenplay. A step outline is easiest - just bullet point scene-by-scene. The great part about an outline is that you can play around with it and solve all your story problems while it's just a page or two of outline... instead of 110 pages of screenplay. Less writing for the garbage can.
I think of screenwriting as “creative steps”, because that’s how things are done professionally. When you land an assignment, they don’t just cut you a check and send you off to write the screenplay, there are “steps”. In fact, it’s called a “Step Deal”. You do one step at a time, and are paid for each step. There are “reading periods” where the producer (or their intern) reads each step and then gives you notes and tells you what they want you to do in the next step. One of those steps is always a *Treatment* - a scene-by-scene version of the screenplay. Since you are going to have to work that way as a professional screenwriter anyway, might as well train yourself now. Work in creative steps. My first creative step is to get the overall story under control. I write an outline, and then rework the outline until the story part of the script works. That gives me a roadmap that gets me from the beginning to the end by the very best possible route. Now to the next creative step which is writing each of those scenes in my bullet point outline - and I know that Mary and John break up... but *how* do they break up? The outline may give me the basics of what happens, but not *how* it happens or any of the hundreds of possible details about how that scene plays out. That’s the fun part of the next creative step - once you have the outline, you still have all kinds of fun things to figure out during the “writing step”.
6) The other great thing about an outline is that it breaks your story down into bite sized pieces which are easier to write. You don't have to write a whole screenplay, just this one scene. A scene is about 2 pages, so you can knock that out in a day or two... but if it takes you a week, you are still making progress. Some scenes are easy, some are more difficult. What matters is that you make a little progress every day.
And that is the key to getting things done. You can become overwhelmed at having to write a 110 page screenplay (or a 100,000 word novel), and that may lead to you “choking” and writing nothing at all. But a scene? A couple of pages? Heck, even if you only write half of that scene - *one* page a day - you can handle that, right? And all of those pages add up. Slow and steady wins the race, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and any other cliches you can come up with - all true.
7) If you end up with only 15 minutes a day, it may make sense to outline the scene itself. This also works if you ever get stuck (and you will). Just start by writing down all of the things the scene needs to do for the story. Then figure out the most interesting ways those things can happen. Then figure out the most interesting order for those things to happen. Now you have a scene that is broken down int bite-sized pieces. If you only have 15 minutes, you can write one of those little pieces, right? Or at least part of one of those pieces. The key is to make progress every day, even if it's just a little progress. In the Film Courage clip I talk about how I wrote 3 screenplays a year while working a full time job by just writing one page a day. Hey, there are days when I was on a roll and wrote more than one page a day, but my goal was to write one page on *bad days* (and you will have plenty of those, every writer does).
8) "Nothing succeeds like success!" That may not make much sense, but if you write half a page, a quarter of a page, a sentence - you are making progress, and that will make you feel good and keep you "self-inspired" to write the next day. Momentum is everything, and if you write a page every day it becomes easier to write that page (or half a page or quarter of a page or sentence) as time goes on. You build up momentum. Today’s writing leads to tomorrow’s writing.
But sooner or later something will happen and you will miss a couple of days and all of that momentum will be lost. It will be hard as heck to get it rolling again - but that is what you have to do. If you fall off the horse, the best thing to do is get back on and ride again, and all of those cliches - which are also true. The next thing on our little list will help you to get back on the horse or dust yourself off or whatever cliche you have selected that best illustrates this...
9) Most important thing: Your Doorway Into The Story. Make sure your screenplay is personal. A piece of you. That way you won't want to abandon it. It would be like abandoning your arm or leg or head. "What right does my head have to call itself me?" I write action and thrillers and horror - and even if it is an assignment, my first step is to find that piece of me in the story. Most of my screenplays are just cheap therapy - and I either begin with the personal emotional conflict I want to work though in fiction form or I search for it and find it within whatever story idea I've come up with (or assignment I have accepted). We look at this in the Ideas Blue Book.
There are times when I've been offered paid writing jobs and turned them down because I couldn't find my story within their story. Better to wait until something comes along that I can find a "doorway" into than write something that I don't give a crap about. Here's one of my script tips about finding that doorway on a script of mine that got filmed *twice*: Writing BLACK THUNDER - Sibling rivalry is something I completely understand. I am not the favorite son. I'm the guy who has to work harder just to get noticed, and that's an issue I'm still working through... so I pitched a story dealing with that subject and ended up getting paid to write the screenplay.
Everything I've written has a "personal core" that keeps me from abandoning it, because it may be about fighter pilots and explosions - but it is still really about me. There will come a time when writing your screenplay that you want to abandon it. You hate it. You want to write something else instead. Don’t give in to this! There are people who have a dozen half written screenplays and not a single one that’s *finished*. You can’t do anything with a half written screenplay (okay, you can train puppies and line birdcages). So you want to get all the way to FADE OUT with your script! The best way to do that is have a personal connection to the story so that it’s difficult to let go of. Find your “doorway” into the story - that thing that makes it *part of you*. That not only makes it more difficult to abandon when the going gets rough, it also makes it a better story.
10) Now just write a little bit every day, and the pages add up. I used to write 1 hour a day before work, but really all I required myself to write was one page a day. That's it. One page. And 1 page times 365 days is 3 rough draft screenplays a year. Look, if you write a third of a page a day in 15 minutes, that a screenplay a year - and that puts you ahead of most people who would rather talk about writing than actually write every day and get progressively better and eventually sell something or land an assignment and have a handful of credits on IMDB that represents about a tenth of what they've been paid to do (only about 10% of stuff you sell or are hired to write ever makes it to the screen). (Which is another reason why you have to keep turning out new screenplays - when one project gets shelved you need a new screenplay to keep your *career momentum* going!)
When you are being productive, it helps keep you productive. Momentum. When you lose momentum, you need to push yourself to start moving again. It's not easy at first, but when you start rolling at 5mph it's much easier to roll to 10mph and keep increasing speed than it is from a cold start. Starting's a bitch!
And this may be what you are facing now - so just push yourself a little at first (even force yourself) and it gets easier. Forced writing can be rewritten, smoothed out, improved. But you can’t rewrite what isn’t written. So write! One Writers Block Breaker is to just write nonsense that doesn't matter to get started. That gets things rolling. Then just keep it rolling. Not easy... but possible. All of this is building good habits of regular writing, which comes in handy when you have a career and deadlines and need to write a certain number of pages a day to turn in your assignment on time.
And now the Film Courage clip...
Good luck, and keep writing!
NEXT WEEK: THRILLER Thursday Season 2 - an episode directed by the awesome Ida Lupino!
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
Directed by: Delmer Daves.
Written by: Delmer Daves based on the novel by David Goodis.
Starring: Bogart, Bacall, Bennett, Moorehead.
DARK PASSAGE is a great film, even though I did not own it on DVD until after seeing it on the big screen again a few years ago. David Goodis is one of those great Noir writers, darker than dark. His stories are bleak and contain all of those D Words that make Noir fiction a genre: Darkness, Despair, Doom, Destiny, and Dead ends. Now (2014) I'm getting ready to rewatch a couple of other films based on his books, MOON IN THE GUTTER and NIGHTFALL and SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER.
The house lights go down, and some great Franz Waxman music begins (it is a week later, and I still can not get that music out of my head!) And the WB shield appears on the screen. I love Warner Bros movies - they were gritty when other films were glossy. Even their big Busby Berkeley musicals were about some broke composer and some out of work chorus girl who team up and put on a hit show that saves some theater.
DARK PASSAGE - based on a novel by the amazing Dave Goodis, produced by Jerry Wald (ex-screenwriter - back then they promoted *writers* to producer jobs and studio head of production), written and directed by Delmer Daves (DESTINATION TOKYO), starring Bogart & Bacall and Agnes Moorehead and lots of Warner Bros bit players.
The film opens with escape from San Quentin that is shot POV from the lead character (Bogart) - we never see him... just what he sees. Though the first 65 minutes of the film are from the lead character’‘s POV, and we don’t see Bogart’s face for that entire time, it isn’t 100% POV - it’s a combo of shots of POV and wide and long shots. So the film actually opens with a shot of a garbage truck filled with garbage cans leaving San Quentin Prison... then a pair of hands come out of a garbage can, and they rock it off the back of the truck. POV from inside the can as it rolls down the hill, then a great shot from *inside* the can as the prisoner crawls out, gets his footing, and escapes...
From there on it’s POV from the prisoner - as he ditches his prison shirt, hides from a dozen police on motorcycles looking for him, etc. He *hops a fence* to the road to hitch a ride - amazing stuff. Can you imagine trying to hoist one of those huge old 35mm cameras over the fence with some actor’s arms in your way (as the prisoner’s arms).
He gets picked up by a grifter... and they hear the radio report about the escaped convict! Great POV shot from our convict hero Vince Parry (voiced by Bogart) as the grifter hears the convict’s description and looks up and down at *us* - type of shoes, color of eyes, hair, etc. *We* punch the grifter and escape... and then we are picked up by Bacall, who has some connection to the convict... but what?
Bacall lets him hide out at her place, furnishes him with new clothes, and takes care of him... why? She won’t tell him. Vince was convicted of murdering his wife, has always claimed he was innocent, was convicted to life in prison, and now the only way to have a normal life is to find the real killer before the police catch up with him for escaping San Quentin. But how can he do that with his face on the cover of every newspaper?
Vince gets some back alley plastic surgery in some really dirty tenement where the doctor had his license yanked years ago... very similar to the scene in MINORITY REPORT. The doctor is this crazy guy, who tells him that a botched surgery could make him look like a bulldog... or worse. Does Vince have a place to stay? He’s not supposed to move for a while after the surgery, and needs someone who will take care of him. Well, Vince has already contacted his oldest friend who always believed he was innocent, who will take care of him after the surgery.
But when Vince is dropped off there after the surgery he finds his friend murdered - whoever actually killed Vince’s wife is getting rid of anyone who Vince can go to for help. So Vince has no choice but to *walk* across San Francisco right after surgery - climbing endless flights of stairs (those ones under Coit Tower) to Bacall’s apartment building. She takes him in again....
Okay - 65 minutes into the film, the bandages come off and we see the movie star's face for the very first time. Imagine doing that in a modern film. For half the film we do not see the star's face! While Bacall is slowly taking off the bandages there is this fear that he will look like a bulldog... or worse. But he looks just like Humphrey Bogart! After he looks in the mirror, we ditch the POV stuff and the last half of the movie is a Bogart & Bacall crime film.
I had mis-remembered the film (or maybe this is what happened in the book, which I read about a decade ago) - but I thought after he got the plastic surgery he re-enters his old life with his new face and gets to question all of his old friends about himself and see himself from their POV... and gets to hear what people really think about him. Though that’s touched on in a scene of the film, it really isn’t explored much because the last half of the story picks up speed and is action-action-twist-action! Relentless pacing, and some *savage* plot twists!
Bogart finds the one guy who can prove he's innocent, the guy fights him, the guy goes off a cliff and splats. No way to prove himself innocent! I'm not going to spoil the film with all of the other characters who die - but some *shocking* unexpected deaths in this film. Everyone who can help him prove that he didn’t kill his wife ends up dead. So not only do we not see the movie star’s face for the first 65 minutes, the film manages to kill off people that usually do not get killed off in a film like this. Lots of “you can’t do that in a movie!” scenes.
The film still works - is clever and has shocking twists and a great Franz Waxman score and really well done suspense scenes (one is almost a French Farce - with everyone wanting to go into the room where Bogart is hiding) - and fantastic San Francisco location work. Though San Francisco stuff was probably 2nd unit - the film feels like it was all shot there. You get a real feel for the city, and the film uses some interesting locations that you wouldn’t see in a film that just used the tourist locations.
A little side note on the novelist, David Goodis - in print he was the king of downer noir. A few months ago I read his “lost” novel THE WOUNDED AND THE SLAIN about a drunk and his wife on holiday in some Caribbean country... and while the husband is drinking and whoring, his wife starts screwing some other dude... and then everybody dies. He’s best known for DARK PASSAGE and SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER (filmed by Truffaut) and NIGHTFALL (made into another great noir film) and STREET OF NO RETURN and MOON IN THE GUTTER and CASSIDY’S GIRL and THE BURGLAR (which was made into the film THE BURGLARS which I featured some great stunt clips from in the blog entry “I Do My Own Stunts”). As a writer, he was famous for his crazy practical jokes - he would fall down stairs at movie studios and fake nose bleeds and do all kinds of things that seemed to upset studio folks. He was a loose canon in a fun way.
He also is famous for probably being the creator of THE FUGITIVE TV series... After the show aired, he sued that the show was swiped from DARK PASSAGE - the escaped man sentenced for murder who is searching for the real killer. By the time the lawsuit got to court, Goodis was dead and so were all of his relatives... and they settled with the lawyer for the estate for $12k! Stall long enough and everyone is dead and the people left standing don’t really care!
DARK PASSAGE is a darned good film, and if you have ever walked with me through an underground parking garage with one of those overhead signs that tells you the head clearance, you know Goodis is a major influence on my practical joking. Whack! Ouch, my head!
DARK PASSAGE is available once more on DVD thanks to Warner Archive (link below, click on the DVD box).
Monday, September 19, 2016
Here are a dozen links plus this week's car chase...
1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Sully .......................... $22,000,000
2 Blair Witch...................... $9,650,000
3 Bridget Jones 3.................. $8,240,715
4 Snowden.......................... $8,023,329
5 Don't Breathe.................... $5,600,000
6 When The Bough................... $5,525,000
7 Suicide Squad.................... $4,710,000
8 Wild Life........................ $2,650,000
9 Kubo............................. $2,509,000
10 Pete's Dragon.................... $2,041,000
2) Emmy Award Winners List.
3) Scripts From Emmy Nominated Shows!
4) And The Oscar Goes To...
5) Are Indie Films Completely Dead?
6) Indie Film Incubator? Will This Help?
7) Universal Emerging Writers Fellowship Winners Are...
8) Best Samurai Movies *Not* Directed By Kurosawa. (when the two samurais face off on the street and prepare to do battle, the subtitles always say something about honor... but what they are really saying in Japanese is "Hey, who does your hair?"
9) Behind The Scenes on BLOOD SIMPLE. Includes Screenplay.
10) Wim Wenders Interview.
11) Is Netflix The New Big Studio?
12) Top 100 Film Courage Segments For Last Month. Check out #6 and #21.
And the Car Chase Of The Week:
A car chase from 1966 TV!
Friday, September 16, 2016
Of course, I have my own books on Hitchcock...
HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE
Alfred Hitchcock, who directed 52 movies, was known as the “Master Of Suspense”; but what exactly is suspense and how can *we* master it? How does suspense work? How can *we* create “Hitchcockian” suspense scenes in our screenplays, novels, stories and films?
This book uses seventeen of Hitchcock’s films to show the difference between suspense and surprise, how to use “focus objects” to create suspense, the 20 iconic suspense scenes and situations, how plot twists work, using secrets for suspense, how to use Dread (the cousin of suspense) in horror stories, and dozens of other amazing storytelling lessons. From classics like “Strangers On A Train” and “The Birds” and “Vertigo” and “To Catch A Thief” to older films from the British period like “The 39 Steps” and “The Man Who Knew Too Much” to his hits from the silent era like “The Lodger” (about Jack The Ripper), we’ll look at all of the techniques to create suspense!
Films Included: NOTORIOUS, SABOTAGE, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, THE 39 STEPS, REBECCA, TO CATCH A THIEF, FRENZY, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, THE LODGER, THE BIRDS, TORN CURTAIN, SABOTEUR, VERTIGO, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1934), THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1955), SUSPICION, and NUMBER SEVENTEEN. 17 Great Films!
Only 125,000 words!
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HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR
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HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!
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 52 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.
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Thursday, September 15, 2016
The spider web fills the screen, it's Boris Karloff's THRILLER!
Season: 1, Episode: 29.
Airdate: April 18, 1961
Director: Jules Bricken
Writer: Robert Bloch adapts... Robert Bloch!
Cast: Macdonald Carey, Patricia Medina, Joan Tetzel, John Emery.
Music: Big lush Morton Stevens score... heard it somewhere before.
Cinematography: John Russell.
Producer: William Frye.
Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The name of our story is The Devil’s Ticket. It has to do with an artist, and they tell us that one picture is worth a thousand words. You will see Macdonald Carey, Joan Tetzel, Patricia Medina, and John Emery. Now there’s a rogue’s gallery if I ever saw one! And I can assure you they’re up to no good, as you’ll find out for yourself if you have the courage to stay with us.”
Synopsis: A Pawn Shop as the sun sets. Pawn Shop owner Spengler (Robert Cornthwaite) is nervous as he closes up, makes sure all of the doors and windows are locked as if he’s expecting an invasion... that’s when the bell over the door begins ringing like crazy. He carefully opens the front door... what could be on the other side? A creature? Sees his cat jumping up and grabbing the bell cord. Brings in the cat, relocks and bolts the front door, and goes to the counter where there’s a HUGE pile of money. He starts counting it when the back door BLASTS open, and fog enters the Pawn Shop. A voice startles him: it’s Satan, saying they had a deal... and now it’s time for him to pay. The cat freaks out...
Crappy apartment: Hector Vane (Macdonald Carey) and his wife Marie (Joan Tetzel) sit at the dinner table eating the last of their food. They are flat broke. He’s a painter who does amazing portraits which capture the souls of his subjects... but everyone wants abstracts these days. He hasn’t sold a painting in ages. He looks for something to take to pawn for a few bucks so that they can eat... realizes they have nothing left except his ratty old coat, and his paintings. He swore he’d never pawn a painting, but...
Pawn Shop: Hector goes to pawn one of his paintings, but Spengler isn’t there. A strange man lets him in... he doesn’t introduce himself, but he goes by many names (Satan played wickedly by John Emery). Satan loves the painting, but tells Hector that he’d rather loan him money on another commodity. In a sly and subtle scene, Satan introduces himself without names, explains that he will pawn Hector’s soul for 90 days in exchange for Hector’s dreams of success as a painter... but at the end of those 90 days Hector must return and give Satan the pawn ticket *and* a painting of someone else... a painting that captures their very soul. Hector’s soul will be returned, but the subject of his painting will lose theirs.
Hector puts the pawn ticket in the pocket of his ratty coat and heads home...
Where Marie tells him a gallery just called, they want to do a one man show of his work. Not just any gallery, but a big uptown gallery where rich people go to buy paintings! Any skepticism about whether the new pawnshop owner was Satan or not disappears.
The Gallery: *All* of Hector’s paintings sell for top dollar, and there are art collectors eagerly awaiting whatever he paints next! They are *rich*!
Luxurious apartment: Hector and Marie sit at a massive dinner table eating a feast. The same scene as before, just with a whole lot more money.
Hector goes to the Pawn Shop with a painting... a landscape. Satan tells him that’s not the way it works: it must be the painting of someone you know... and it must capture their soul. Their soul for yours.... and he has 26 days left to paint and deliver the picture.
Hector tells Marie he’s going to their old apartment, now his studio, to paint. She doesn’t understand why he kept that place... why not find a nice studio? They can afford it. Hector says he likes to be reminded of where he came from...
But really, he uses the studio to meet his mistress Nadja (Patricia Medina) a model he never got around to painting... but bedding? That’s what he does now instead of paint. Nadja wants him to ditch his wife and go to the Mexican Riviera with her. Problem is, the day she leaves is the day he needs to deliver his painting.
Hector sees a psychiatrist Dr. Frank (Hayden Rorke, Dr. Bellows from I DREAM OF JEANNIE) and explains the whole Satan thing. Dr. Frank doesn’t believe in Satan, thinks this new Pawnshop Owner is just some dude playing with Hector’s mind. He only has Hector’s soul if that’s what Hector believes. Hector asks if the dude isn’t Satan, how come Hector became instantly successful after making the deal? Dr. Frank agrees to go to the pawn shop and talk to this guy who may or may not be Satan.
At a fancy restaurant, Hector has dinner with Nadja... and tells her he *will* go away with her.
When he goes to see Dr. Frank the next day, the doctor is gone and Satan is behind his desk. Satan warns him not to do anything like that again. Don’t go to the police, don’t call a lawyer (“In my time, I’ve had dealings with many lawyers”), just deliver the painting... in 13 days.
Hector thinks he has a solution: he will paint Marie... who he no longer loves. But as he paints his wife, he falls in love with her all over again. This creates a problem: he finished the painting with just over 2 days until his pawn ticket and the painting are due... but now he’s fallen back in love with is wife.
When the wife is out, he brings his mistress over to see the painting... and she reacts like a madwoman! She can see that Hector is still in love with his wife just by looking at it, so she SLASHES the painting to ribbons! Then she runs off, saying their relationship is over. To make things worse, the phone rings and it’s Satan reminding him he has 48 hours to deliver the painting.
Hector locks himself in his room and paints nonstop for 48 hours... falls asleep. Marie knocks on the door, he says come in... that the painting is finished. As soon as he delivers it to the customer, they can run off together... a second honeymoon. Marie leaves for a moment, then returns... tells Hector he has a visitor. It’s Satan.
“You know why I’m here. Give me my painting!”
Hector invites Satan in, tells him he will really like the painting he’s done, it really captures the subject’s soul. He unveils the painting, and it’s... Satan! Hector explains that Satan kept asking for *his* painting, so this is a painting of *him*, as per contract. Satan is shocked, he has actually been bested by a mortal. This has never happened before! Satan tells Hector to give him the pawn ticket and Hector’s soul will be returned, and he gets to keep all of the fame and fortune he’s built for the past 90 days plus any he makes for himself in the future. Hector asks Marie to get him his old coat...
She returns with a brand new one. “Surprise!” She got him a new coat for their second honeymoon! Hector asks what she did with his old coat? Marie says it was so old and ratty that she burned it...
Satan smiles at Hector, “Now it’s your turn to burn!”
Review: Bloch adapts Bloch this week in a clever little weird tale probably from Weird Tales Magazine originally. There have been some Bloch short stories adapted on Thriller before, but this is the first time he did it himself. Though best known for PSYCHO, Bloch is one of the great horror writers of the 1950s and one of my favorites. I probably discovered him through Norman Bates, but stayed for Weird Tailors and all of his wonderful short stories and novels. He is the master of the clever writing with lines like “He cut off her scream, and her head” and “He'd captured her heart, and put it in a glass jar”. In this episode there’s all kinds of clever lines, like Satan’s line about knowing a bunch of lawyers.
Even though this episode has a built in ticking clock, with the 90 day pawn ticket and the days ticking down throughout; this is more a twist end story than a tale of suspense like YOURS TRULY JACK THE RIPPER (which also has a twist end, but manages to build some real suspense and dread whenever one of the women goes walking after dark). No suspense situations in this episode, it ends up being more of a drama about the toll of success. Part of the problem might be the direction, which is typical TV so some of the things which might be milked for suspense end up being used for surprise. But the*type* of story is less suspense and more twisted tale.
Macdonald Carey is a really odd choice for the lead, who is supposed to be a young struggling artists and is even called “young man” by a couple of characters... Carey was not young when this was made. The other characters were adjusted upwards as well, with Nadja his mistress looking late 30s... compare her to the hot young artist’s model from YOURS TRULY! Even though Carey seems to old, that age adds a layer of desperation which may not have been there with a younger actor. This old man has been struggling all of these years and *still* hasn’t made it?
Just as beatniks were part of the time period so they pop up in YOURS TRULY, having an analyst or psychiatrist was also an element of the times... and shows up in this story, When Hector goes to see Dr. Frank, that would make more sense at the time than going to the police... people went to their shrinks. Their shrink would solve the problem. One of the elements of a thriller story like NORTH BY NORTHWEST is that the authorities have to be taken out of the equation... so Roger Thornhill is accused of a murder and can’t go to the police for help. Here, Hector goes to his shrink for help... and we must remove the authorities from the equation... so Dr. Frank’s power must be nullified. That kind of tells us something about the power of psychoanalysis at the time period: it’s equal to calling the police!
How do you show Hector worrying about his pawned soul? You can’t *show* someone’s soul, right? So you need to find a symbol of their soul... and that’s the pawn ticket. I call this a “twitch”, it’s a physical manifestation of the protagonist’s emotional conflict. He’s worried about his soul, so he pulls the pawn ticket out of the pocket of his ratty old coat and looks at it, and we understand that he’s worried that he might lose his soul. You find a symbol, and this one comes directly from the story. It’s a great device to show us what is going on inside a character’s head. Every time Hector takes the ticket out and looks at it, we understand what he’s thinking.
Speaking of that ratty old coat, because it’s the big end twist, in order to “play fair” we have to establish that the wife wants to get rid of that coat and make sure that’s understood by the audience but also forgotten by the audience (to make it a twist). Here’s where *the story* makes this work: Hector has a secret reason for keeping the ratty old coat that his wife doesn’t know: the pawn picket in the pocket. So even though it makes sense for him to throw away the old coat, we know why he wants to keep it. Several times, when the wife is wearing new clothes and Hector puts on his ratty old coat it makes sense for her to comment on it... and the audience doesn’t notice that they are being set up for that twist at the end. We’re so busy worrying that the wife will discover the pawn ticket that we don’t realize we’re being set up for her *not* discovering the pawn ticket. That’s some good writing!
Probably because I’m more into the suspense based episodes, this one is in the good category but not in my great category. It is very entertaining, and John Emery kills it as Satan... he milks every one of Bloch’s clever lines!
Next week we look at an episode that may have inspired Stephen King’s CARRIE.
Wednesday, September 14, 2016
For a completely fictionalized version of the Val Lewton story, check out THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL where low budget film producer Kirk Douglas gets a job making a movie about cat-men for a studio... and realizes the best man in a cat suit still looks stupid, so he decides to use suspense and dread instead of dudes in costumes and ends up with a hit. Lewton had the same thing happen at RKO - he got a job making horror movies in the low budget division and ended up making a bunch of classic horror films like CAT PEOPLE and ISLE OF THE DEAD and LEOPARD MAN. These films played on Bob Wilkins Creature Features when I was a kid and on the Saturday afternoon movies sometimes, and they scared me. Scared me deeper than any of the other fright-fest movies. They played on my secrets fears, and touched me on some primitive level that caused them to live on in my childhood nightmares. As a jaded teenager when I watched these films, they still scared me. As an adult watching these films at the UC Theater in Berkeley, they still scared me. I bought the box set on DVD a couple of years ago, and they still scare me. Okay, I know that it’s a movie and I know that there’s no such thing as women who turn into panthers when they get horny and these movies are in black and white and shot on sound stages and are fake... but they still work just like that original version of THE HAUNTING works and the remake does not. Robert Wise directed THE HAUNTING... and was one of Val Lewton’s three “staff directors” in his horror division at RKO.
THE LEOPARD MAN is one of those trifecta movies for me like REAR WINDOW - produced by Val Lewton, directed by the great Jacques Tourneur (OUT OF THE PAST) and based on a novel by Cornel Woolrich (REAR WINDOW). A bunch of my favorite people working together! The Woolrich novel is one of his “Black” series, where noir gets its name (Noir was a fiction genre in the 1800s, but it's resurgence in the 30s and 40s was due to the publication of novels and stories by the three fathers of modern noir: Woolrich, McCoy and James. M. Cain), and the novel BLACK ALIBI is an intense page turner. The book and movie have different endings, take place in different cities, and have some other minor differences, but the film is pretty faithful to the book. The main way it is faithful is the use of suspense and dread, which are really why all of the Lewton movies work so well. They all have these great suspense sequences that build and build and build...
So let’s take a look at one of those great scenes from LEOPARD MAN, tear it apart and see how it ticks. This scene is almost word-for-word from the novel. Oh, I guess it needs some set up...
Kiki Walker (Jean Brooks) is a night club singer stuck in New Mexico with her promoter Jerry Manning (the great Dennis O’Keefe) where the big star is flamenco dancer Clo-Clo (exotic one-named actress Margo). In order to steal the show from Clo-Clo, Jerry comes up with this great stunt - a rented leopard on a leash that Kiki will walk in with during Clo-Clo’s performance... then Kiki will go on and become the big star. Only things don’t go exactly as planned and the leopard escapes into the night. Now, the leopard is on the loose in the New Mexico town... waiting to attack anyone who ventures out at night. Both the novel and film have an interesting structure, which has Jerry and Kiki as the leads - but often in the background of a sequence. This is the first leopard attack, and it goes from the panic after the leopard escapes to Clo-Clo walking home at night and townspeople saying hello to her along the way... one of whom is Teresa Delgado, who becomes the lead character in this sequence.
Now let’s take a look at how that sequence works...
1) SUSPENSE is the anticipation of a known action. It is *not* the action - and the longer the anticipation is stretched out, the greater the suspense. A *known* action means the audience knows what is (probably) going to happen and that creates the suspense. Hitchcock’s examples were the two men discussing baseball statistics while a bomb with a timer ticks away under the table - and he directed a TV episode based on a Woolrich short story called 4 O’CLOCK about a man who rigs a bomb to kill his cheating wife and her lover at 4pm... then his house gets robbed and the robbers tie him up in the basement across from that ticking bomb. As each minute passes, the suspense builds. We *know* what will happen at 4pm, and the anticipation of that explosion is what creates the suspense. Hitch’s other example was similar to a scene from REAR WINDOW, where someone is searching an apartment and does not know that the apartment resident is climbing the stairs and will soon discover the searcher. This version of suspense has two things we do not want to see in the same shot getting closer and closer - like two trains on the same tracks hurtling toward each other. Even though the searcher does not know about the resident getting closer, the *audience knows*, and that’s where the suspense comes from. It’s Dramatic Irony - the audience knows what the character does not. Suspense is created by the anticipation of the resident discovering the searcher in his apartment... what will Grace Kelly do?
2) DREAD is the anticipation of an *unknown* action. We know that something bad is going to happen, but are not sure exactly what is going to happen or where the threat is coming from. Dread is usually the version of suspense that we find in a horror movie, because a major element in horror is *fear of the unknown*. For dread to work, we need to create a situation where a bad action of some sort might happen...
3) Like an escaped leopard in the town. That is the HORROR SITUATION, the same way Jason wandering around Camp Crystal Lake with his machete is a horror situation. This is the first requirement for a scene of dread - what the heck are we dreading? It must be established in some early scene, and like Jason wandering around with his machete, the escaped leopard will create the horror situation for the entire movie.
4) The SEQUENCE SITUATION. Okay, we know the leopard is out there waiting to kill someone, now we have to get some tasty someone out there to be killed. This is where horror movies often stumble - the stupid teens go into the house where the crazy old lady with the knitting needles is supposed to be hiding, and the last people who went into that house had their eyes needled out and died... so let’s just go in and look around, okay? You need some *good reason* to go into that house... or out into the town after dark when there’s a hungry leopard roaming the streets. So we have Mrs. Delgado run out of cornmeal while making dinner, and sending Teresa out into the night to buy some. The further motivation is that this is *Mr. Delgado’s* dinner, and mom doesn’t want her hard working husband to come home and not have the dinner he deserves. So Teresa will have to go to the store - simple as that.
5) REMIND US WHY. That escaped leopard was, like, ten minutes ago. We need to remind the audience why Teresa doesn’t want to go to the store. This isn’t done because the audience is stupid or forgetful - the title has “Leopard” in it - but to “poke the tiger”. Let’s say we have that bomb under the table while the two guys discuss baseball statistics from the Hitchcock example - if we never show the ticking bomb, we have lost the suspense. Even though the audience knows the bomb is under the table, we need to keep showing it to keep that fear in the forefront of their minds... so that they don’t get interested in those baseball stats. Every time we show that bomb, we are poking the tiger - and poking the audience’s fear. So when Teresa’s little brother makes the hand-shadow on the wall of the tiger, it reminds us what is out there. It puts it back in the front of our minds. Yes, we knew it was there, but the reminder pokes us.
6) TWO-FERS! Why the hand-shadow thing is genius - the leopard will be hiding in the shadows! So turning the leopard into a shadow in this scene makes us fear the shadows. Any time you have several ways to do something, look for one that is a “two-fer” - that manages to do two or more things at the same time.
7) MAKE US SYMPATHIZE. Okay, we have a teenaged girl about to go outside where a vicious leopard may be waiting, you’d think that was enough to make us sympathize with her, right? Well, probably... but why not do a little more? Why not show her fear? The problem with those stupid teens that waltz into the crazy knitting needle house is that they don’t show the basic fear anyone with an IQ over 70 would have. So let’s make Teresa smart enough to know she might get killed by that leopard, and try everything to get back into the house. This shows us that she’s afraid, and also shows us that she isn’t stupid - and both things make us sympathize with her. Of course if she is allowed to stay in the house we lose all of the dread... so her mean mom sends her back outside to get the cornmeal and tells her not to come back without it... and then does something that seems like part of this scene, but is actually a set up for a later scene: she bolts the door closed so Teresa can not sneak back in. Now Teresa has NO CHOICE but to go out into the night and get that corn meal.
8) NO EASY OUTS. One of the great ways to ratchet up suspense and dread is to create an easy solution to the problem... then yank it away. This knocks the audience off balance, and also tells them that there will not be an easy solution here - things are going to get worse. Because dread is the anticipation of an unknown event, we need to find ways to make things worse without tipping our hand to what, exactly, is going to happen. By having Teresa go to the “Provisions” market close to home, and have them closed, and the owner unwilling to reopen just for her; we have just made things worse without actually doing anything. No leopard has attacked her, yet. She isn’t even far from home... but she has already hit a roadblock. There has already been a reversal of fortune that has popped Teresa deeper into trouble. If she had just gone straight across the arroyo to the other market without going to the “Provisions” market, she would not have seemed as if she were in as much danger. This set back makes the trip to the other market a larger problem. Oh, and I love the situational irony that if Teresa had not fought with her mother for so long about going out, she would probably have made it to the “Provisions” market before it closed.
9) SPOOKY SETTINGS. To get to the other market before it closes, Teresa takes a short cut through the arroyo and under the rail road trestle. This scene is wall-to-wall dread. The location is unpopulated - no one there to help her. She is *alone*, and that makes her vulnerable. It is dark and spooky and bathed in shadows - and we have already been tipped to the black leopard hiding in shadows by the brother’s shadow-puppet. Under the train trestle is all shadows. When you are creating dread, find the spooky location that’s frightening even before you tell us there may be a hungry leopard roaming around in there. In CAT PEOPLE there is a great dread scene in an indoor swimming pool at night - one of the characters is stealing a swim, so there are very few lights on. The combination of darkness and water and being indoors all makes that location somewhere you wouldn’t want to be... then add that cat woman with her claws and... The dark train trestle is a spooky location - and the scene where Teresa walks under it is stretched out for maximum dread. Oh, but there are two more things about Teresa and the Train Trestle...
10) SCHLOCK SHOCK. You know those damned cats that jump out of cupboards in horror movies? Those hands that suddenly grab the lead’s shoulder, and turn out to be their friend? That stuff is what I call schlock shock. Schlock is poorly made, shoddy, merchandise. So Schlock Shock is a cheap jump moment. But it serves a couple of purposes - it is usually a diversion followed by the *real* shock moment. The cat jumps out of the cupboard, the audience screams for a moment, then realizes it is just a cat... and let’s their guard down... and then the killer crashes through the window! Because the audience has let their guard down the killer crashing through the window is a bigger scare. The other purpose for schlock shock is to “poke the tiger” some more. To remind us that bad things could happen at any minute. After an excruciating walk through that darkness (where there is standing water) she comes out the other side without encountering any leopards. Then that tumble weed comes skittering out from the darkness under the train trestle, we jump out of our skin for a moment... then realize it’s just a tumbleweed... then realize there could easily be a leopard in that darkness, too. We are reminded of the reason for our terror... Now, that has been one great bit of dread... but it was *really* just the set up for the return trip!
11) BREAKING THE TENSION. A good screenplay is peaks and valleys. Too much action, too much suspense, too much tension... dissipates the effectiveness. So to keep that dread strong, we need to mix it up a little. After that schlock shock tumbleweed, we get to the bright, well lighted market with the kind old man behind the counter. Guess what? Teresa has made it to her goal! She has made it to the market to buy the cornmeal. We can breath a sigh of relief, right? All of the elements here tell us that she is safe, that the leopard is not going to get her, that she will get that cornmeal home to mom and dad will have that dinner he deserves after his long day at work. The store keeper is paternal and funny and jokes with Teresa. And they have a conversation about being afraid of the dark, which is a great two-fer because it makes us think this might all be about Teresa having this silly childhood fear which puts us at ease... but also poke that tiger a little because it is still dark outside and there is still a leopard out there. Hmmm, I wonder which it will be? All just her imagination? Or a serious threat of leopard attack? This two-fer manages to keep us in unknown territory! When Teresa says she’s not really afraid of the dark, what could happen to her? We think “Leopard attack!” She prompts our thoughts of the danger in this situation.
And when she says that she is not afraid of the dark, that is not the truth, it is what she wishes were true. The safety of the market has allowed her to push her fears back into her subconscious and pretend they do not exist. She *says* that she is not afraid, but moments later she wil be back in the darkness, surrounded by shadows, and we will see that her actions speak louder than her words.
12) Though this has nothing to do with dread or horror or suspense, I love this line from screenwriter Ardel Wray, “The poor don’t cheat one another, we’re all poor together.”
13) SECOND TIME TERROR. Okay, the last time Teresa was at this train trestle the only danger came from a tumble weed, so it’s safe, right? Here’s the great thing about going back to the train trestle - we already know it is spooky, and the audience secretly knows we wouldn’t be going back there unless something was going to happen this time. It can’t just be another tumble weed. If it was just the spooky location again and nothing happens it’s a waste of time... so our dread grows because this is a *known* location, and horror is fear of the *unknown*, so if nothing was going to happen she’d have to walk through some *unknown* spooky place. Our subconscious tells us that you don’t go back to a spooky location where nothing happens twice - so something is going to happen this time... but what? Unknown. Teresa creeps to the dark trestle, shadows, dripping water, darkness...
14) TRIPLE SHOCK. Remember how I said Schlock Shock was a great way to make the audience lower their guard so that you can get ‘em with real shock? LEOPARD MAN has a great twist on that method - and any time you can break the pattern in a way that works better than the pattern is great. Here, we have Teresa see what appear to be a pair of glowing eyes in the darkness under the trestle... the leopard? Then the eyes disappear - was it just her imagination? Teresa takes a few steps deeper into the darkness under the train trestle, and we *know* those were the eyes of a leopard and it is now about to pounce on her! Just when the audience thinks this is going to be a real leopard attack... a train ROARS over the trestle - schlock shock! We jump out of our skins, then relax when we realize it was just a train, then remember those eyes in the darkness - we should not have relaxed! When Teresa recovers from the train scare and makes it all of the way through the darkness under the train trestle - which is stretched out to our breaking point, she doesn’t make it through quickly because that would kill the building dread - she looks up and sees the leopard! Waiting for her. The killer she has spent the entire sequence trying to avoid is now RIGHT THERE. And she is in serious trouble. Instead of the schlock shock/relax/real shock rhythm we get a possible real/relax/schlock shock/relax/real shock rhythm that we don’t expect.
15) RUN FOR YOUR LIFE! The leopard pounces! Now that we have seen the leopard, we no longer have fear of the unknown and no longer have dread - so we switch to suspense and suspense techniques. A chase where the antagonist is getting closer and closer and closer is a basic way to create suspense - you’ve seen it in hundreds of movies, at least one with Cary Grant and a crop duster where there ain’t no crops. You have also seen it in a hundred horror movies, at least one with Michael Myers chasing Jamie Lee Curtis in Haddonfield on Halloween. And we get that chase here as well, including the typical heroine trip. What saves this trip from cliche country is that she spills the cornmeal all over the place - the very reason she was out in this dangerous situation in the first place! Ironic, isn’t it? Teresa trips, falls, spills the cornmeal, then scrambles to her feet and runs home with that hungry leopard in hot pursuit!
16) DRAMATIC IRONY = SUSPENSE. For reasons we will get to in our next section, instead of showing the end of this chase scene, we go back inside the Delgado house. This allows some more of that wonderful dramatic irony, plus some great suspense. You may have noticed that two are often connected - if the audience knows something that the characters do not, we want to yell at the screen that the characters are making a mistake. That’s what happens here - I don’t know if this scene was gut wrenching for you or not, but it was for me. We start out with mom drying dishes and the brother reading the comics when there is POUNDING on the front door and Teresa yells “Let me in, let me in! If you love me, let me in!” And mom turns to the brother and says something about Teresa dilly-dallying and spending half the night just to get cornmeal. Not taking the threat we know is real seriously. We know Teresa has just outrun a freakin’ leopard to get to the front door - which is bolted - and her mom thinks she is just being pushy like a typical teenager. And the more the mom says pointless and unnecessary things, the more the suspense grows - it’s like those guys discussing baseball statistics! The less mom seems to care about Teresa’s problems outside the door, the more WE care... and the more we want to scream at her to shut the eff up and get that door open before the leopard attacks! The more mom says things that are mundane or boring or do not matter, the greater the suspense - due to the dramatic irony of the situation. We know Teresa is going to be *killed* if mom doesn’t do something right now, but mom doesn’t know this.
17) EVEN MORE SUSPENSE. Mom figures out something might be wrong when Teresa SCREAMS, and now she runs to the door to open it. But remember when she bolted the door at the beginning of this sequence so that Teresa couldn’t sneak back in? I’ll bet your forgot up until now - there’s been so much dread and suspense and fear, how could you remember a locked door? Well, that bolt is *stuck* and no matter how hard mom tries to shoot it open, it just won’t budge. Which creates suspense - will she get the bolt open and the door open before the leopard rips her daughter to shreds? The brother runs to get a block of wood to use as a hammer to POUND that bolt open. Suspense isn’t just that main thing, it is all of the details and actions that are part of the main thing. Each one of those details, like running to get that block of wood, extends and strengthens the suspense - in a way, those are tiger pokes. Just trying to loosen the bolt isn’t enough action to keep the suspense going, we need plans and possibilities. We need things that do not work - which are similar to that “provisions” market in that the failure builds our dread, builds our fear, escalates the terror.
18) VIOLENT ACTION. Since dread is the anticipation of an *unknown* action, we eventually have to get to the action or it has all been a tease. The difference between these Val Lewton movies and today’s gorefests is how they show the action. Not whether there is action or not, not whether the action is bloody and gory or not - but what they decide to show and what they leave up to your imagination. So the decision is made *not* to show cute little Teresa being ripped to shreds, which is one of the reasons we go inside the Delgado house instead of stay outside that door with Teresa and the leopard. We get that nice suspense bonus from being inside the house, but I doubt the censors would have allowed them to show Teresa being killed back in 1943. But if you think by not showing it the action is not violent, you are dead wrong. This is a horror movie. The level of violence is horrific. We just don’t see it. Teresa screams, the leopard growls, there are the sounds of a vicious and violent attack... and then... that pool of blood practically pours from under the door! That pool of blood is visual proof of the carnage on the other side of that door - and we need that proof to fill in all of the ugly details with our imagination. That blood tells us Teresa is dead. Without that blood, she may still be okay, just in need of a doctor. But the blood is a coda to the scene. Gotta have it.
19) EMOTION PICTURES. Movies are about emotions. Creating the emotions in the viewer, like dread and fear and suspense... but also allowing the viewer to feel the emotions of characters. One of the greatest parts of this sequence is when Teresa’s mom realizes that her daughter is in real danger and she has not believed her. And that whatever happens to her daughter, she bares some of the responsibility... and will feel as if it is all her fault. This is a gut wrenching emotional scene - Teresa’s mom realizes that she has doubted her daughter, and that doubt has lead to her daughter’s death. It is only a line, a moment, in the scene - but that moment is powerful emotions that will haunt us. Look for moments of emotion in your scenes, and remember that the most powerful emotions are the ones that make us uncomfortable. A mother realizing she may have killed her own daughter is more powerful than all of those scream moments in the film. Those are the emotions of great tragedy... and that is why LEOPARD MAN is more than just a cheapo horror movie from the 1940s... it is a work of art, and one of Martin Scorsese’s favorite films.
20) You may have noticed that this sequence works in the basic three act structure: introduce the conflict, the conflict escalates, a midpoint (the market), the conflict escalates further, then the resolution of the conflict. Hard to avoid something so basic. This sequence seems like a stand-alone, but it is actually one of several sequences where the leopard attacks again and again, escalating the conflict for Jerry and Kiki who are responsible for the leopard’s escape. With every new victim, they get into more trouble with the town and the police and it becomes more apparent that Jerry will have to capture or kill the leopard himself. He is pulled deeper and deeper into the quicksand with every new victim, and must find a way out. Each sequence ends by tying Jerry and Kiki back into the story - with their problems worse than before.
Okay, that is one of a handful of sequences in LEOPARD MAN where people and leopards eventually meet without a pleasant outcome. It’s a good example of how to build dread and also how to create gory bloody violent deaths - that are not graphic. Just because the death is not shown doesn’t mean that it is pleasant and doesn’t mean that the audience doesn’t experience it. We want to make sure there is horror in the horror! If we can’t see it, you need to make sure we imagine it. This scene is a great example of how to make a scene scary and keep the fear and dread building until the violent pay off. Things to consider if you are writing a horror or suspense script.
Hey, what does that look like on that page? Do we just write “scary things happen” and the director makes up all of the details? Nope! Below is this sequence from the shooting script of LEOPARD MAN by Ardel Wray - and all of the thrills and chills are there on the page. Check it out!
INT. DELGADO HOUSE - NIGHT
The Delgado house is typical of the poorer Mexican homes in New Mexico. This main room, which is small, serves as living room, bedroom and kitchen. An Indian blanket covers the doorway into the only other room. The adobe walls are plastered with pictures of religious subjects.
The wooden floor is bare. There is a charcoal-burning brasero in one corner. Pots and pans on the hearth of the fireplace show that it is a supplementary stove, The rest of the furniture consists of an iron bedstead, a large and hideous oak table and an open-faced china cabinet which contains the Delgado treasures.
Pedro, Teresa's nine-year-old brother is seated at the oak table, eating from a bowl of frijoles. He is, and looks like, an imp. Teresa is backing away from her mother, who turns away from the window to face her angrily.
(evidently resuming a discussion)
But, Mamacita -- why can't Pedro go this time? I'm so tired...
I'm too young.
If your father comes home and there are no tortillas, he will shout and tomorrow it will be all over town: the family of Juan Delgado is too poor to buy corn meal! Do you wish we should be so disgraced?
Teresa shakes her head, but makes no move to go. Exasperated, Sra. Delgado reaches for the nearest weapon -- the broom.
Sra. Delgado brandishes the broom toward Teresa, who backs up again.
I know what she's afraid of...
Pedro lifts his hand. It casts a sharp shadow on the wall behind him. Watching the shadow, he manipulates his fingers so as to create the shadow of a leopard's head in miniature.
And what, por todos los santos, is "this"?
Teresa braves the threatening broom and moves a step toward her mother.
(eager to be believed)
The leopard, Mamacita. They say a lady at the El Pueblo had it on a string and it ran away. It hasn't been found yet...
They're big -- and they jump on you!
Pedro jumps the shadow on the wall, to simulate the leap of a leopard.
Did you ever meet one of those things yet when you went to the store for me?
Teresa swallows, shakes her head mutely.
Then you won't meet one this time either! Now get out! Do as I told you!
Sra. Delgado gives the broom such a backward swing of final purpose that Teresa hurriedly opens the door behind her and slinks out backwards -- her big liquid dark eyes, still futilely pleading, the last to disappear. Sra. Delgado moves after her, pushing the door closed.
She puts the broom in the corner and goes to where Pedro is seated. Here she stands a moment, fondly watching him as he masticates his beans. Behind her the door stealthily opens.
Teresa tries to sneak back into the room. Mamacita sees the movement and makes a tempestuous rush toward her, but Teresa sidles out of the door before she can be caught. Mamacita, muttering, slams the door shut and with difficulty pushes the heavy, rust-covered iron bolt into place.
EXT. DOORWAY DELGADO HOUSE - NIGHT
Teresa stands outside the door. We hear the heavy bolt inside driven home forcibly.
SRA. DELGADO (V.O.)
Now you will not come in again, not until you bring the corn meal with you!
EXT. STREET OUTSIDE DELGADO HOUSE - NIGHT
Teresa steps down from the single doorstep outside her house.
She crosses her arms and pulls her shoulders together in a gesture of fear. She looks once, despairingly, at the closed door behind her and then reluctantly steps out into the dirt road and starts walking.
EXT. CALDERON GROCERY - NIGHT
Only a large corner window, with the word. "Provisiones" printed on it shows that this ordinary house is a grocery store. In the moonlight, one can see a few boxes of groceries stacked on shelves inside. Teresa comes up to the window and peers in. She knocks on the window.
Senora Calderon It is Teresa, Senor. Teresa Delgado.
Over Teresa's shoulder, we see the interior of the little store light up dimly as a curtain is pulled at the back of the room.
Beyond the curtain is revealed another room, brightly lit by a bare electric globe hanging from the ceiling on a cord. Under the light, a man sits at a table, heartily eating from a plate heaped with food.
The curtain has been pulled back by Senora Calderon. We see her only in silhouette and the details of her face and figure are indistinguishable. We do see, however, that her long black hair is down her back and she is braiding it. She walks a little ways into the darkened store.
(speaking loudly to be heard through the window)
The store is closed.
I just want a sack of corn meal for my father's supper!
It'll just take a second. ..Please or I must go clear across the
Arroyo to the big grocery --
Teresa taps against the window hopefully. But Sra. Calderon turns back toward the doorway into the inner room, where the solitary feaster hasn't even bothered to look up during this exchange.
(as she goes)
It means taking off the lock again, putting on the light, measuring the meal. It's too much trouble. Once I close, I close!
Sm. Calderon steps into the inner room and draws the curtain closed behind her, as she speaks the last words. Again the store is in darkness -- only a rim of light showing around the edges of the curtained doorway.
There is no reply. Teresa turns away.
EXT. EDGE OF ARROYO - NIGHT
The Arroyo is a deep narrow cut in the mesa, bone dry in this season. Its floor of bleached sand and weeds stretches desolately wider a vast moonlit sky. Here and there, children's feet have scuffed steep little trails down the banks.
Teresa appears at the top of one of these trails. She looks down into the Arroyo -- and then off to the right.
A distance down the Arroyo is a bridge which carries a train track across the dry river bed. To divert the rush of rain water in winter and spring, the bridge is underpropped by two slanting stone piers. They stand out like ribs against the blackness of the underpass, which they divide into three tunnels.
Teresa's face shows her dread of the Arroyo. She turns back the way she came, takes a step away, hesitates and then returns to the edge of the bank.
She starts down the little trail, her feet sliding in the loose sand and a shower of pebbles bouncing down ahead of her.
EXT. ARROYO FLOOR - NIGHT
Teresa stands at the bottom of the bank. She looks off to the bridge again. Then she starts walking forward slowly, a very little figure in the large loneliness of the night.
EXT. EAST SIDE OF BRIDGE - NIGHT
Teresa comes up to the face of the underpass with its three openings. She stares from one black tunnel mouth to another.
She glances behind her, then looks at the underpass again.
Teresa goes forward again, toward the middle tunnel.
EXT. EAST ENTRANCE OF MIDDLE TUNNEL - NIGHT
The roof of the underpass is only a little higher than Teresa's head and the passage is not more than ten feet wide.
The opening is dimly lit by the moonlight, but beyond it is dense blackness. Teresa enters slowly. She takes a few steps toward the blackness - and stops. She listens. Teresa moves forward again, walking as lightly as possible. The light dims rapidly, so that after Teresa has taken a half dozen steps, she is swallowed up in complete blackness.
The CAMERA HOLDS for a moment on the dark underpass before Teresa emerges from the blackness on the West side. A light scratching sound is heard. Teresa's eyes widen in panic as she hears it and she hurries out of the tunnel, watching fearfully ever her left shoulder. She must cut across in front of this other tunnel in order to get to the south bank.
She starts across, never taking her eyes off the black tunnel mouth. Suddenly she gives a convulsive start and a little cry escapes before she can control it. A shadowy shape, low to the ground, detaches itself from the dimness of the tunnel opening and moves toward her. Almost at once, we see that it is a large tumbleweed, blowing clown the Arroyo in the wind.
Teresa sighs soundlessly and goes on to the foot of the bank.
She starts scrambling up another steep little path.
INT. BIG GROCERY STORE - NIGHT
This is a fairly good sized room, lined with shelves and counters. A tall, Indian-type Mexican with iron-grey hair puts a paper sack of cornmeal on the counter in front of Teresa.
She starts toward the door, but noticing a bronze cage with two toy birds in it, a mechanical device which has stood there for years, she goes toward it, puts down her sack of corn meal and goes up close.
Oh, the toy birds!
You've seen them before. I couldn't chase you away from the counter when you were a little girl.
She winds up the bird cage.
I'd forgotten them.
(smiling, good humoredly, skeptical)
Every day you see them --and you have forgotten them? Oh, I remember my little Teresita -- I remember the little girl who was afraid of the dark. They shouldn't send you.
The birds have begun to sing, a highly mechanical rendering of a bird song.
I'm not afraid. What could happen to me?
The birds sing and she pretends to listen. Manuel leans against the inner door of the grocery watching her, smiling and amused. Finally his smiling irks her into action. She picks up her sack of corn meal.
(as she starts off)
I'll pay you tomorrow.
Never fear - - next time you come.
The poor don't cheat one another.
We're all poor together.
In the bronze cage the two birds continue to sing their mechanical song. Their heads turn from side to side.
We hear the door close behind Teresa. The birds are still singing as we...
EXT. CORNER WEST SIDE OF BRIDGE - NIGHT
There is a sound of slow, measured dripping. It comes from water seeping out between two rocks and dropping onto another rock below. These rocks are piled up at the juncture of the bridge and the left bank and the water is evidently leaking from some water main or sews go pipe running under the highway overhead.
EXT. WEST SIDE OF BRIDGE - NIGHT
Teresa is approaching the entrance of the middle tunnel, She is evidently scared - her footsteps are lagging and she holds the sack of corn meal in both hands, as if feeling its weight. She looks fearfully at the black tunnel before her and comes to a standstill, trying to peer into the blackness.
In the silence, the dripping of the water can be heard.
Teresa looks up and to the left to locate the sound. She sees the shining dampness on the rocks.
She turns back to the middle tunnel before her -- and, drawing a deep breath of resolution, starts to enter it. But she hesitates and then, suddenly, veers over to the left. She peers into the opening of that tunnel.
INT. OPENING OF NORTH TUNNEL - NIGHT
The wall of the tunnel is also damp with the seepage from above. It reflects the outer moonlight in glistening streaks, so that the blackness here is not so complete as in the other tunnel..
EXT. WEST SIDE OF BRIDGE - NIGHT
Teresa gets a fresh grip on the bag of corn meal by shifting her hands under it -- and walks into the entrance of the north tunnel.
INT. NORTH TUNNEL - NIGHT
Again, the crunching sound of Teresa's footsteps are magnified in the enclosure of the tunnel walls. It is very dim, but the luminosity of the damp wall casts a faint light on Teresa, reflecting in her wide, frightened eyes.
She walks slowly and lightly, her eyes going from side to side in the darkness, her neck and head held rigidly. Suddenly she stops with a sharp intake of breath, Ahead of her and to her left are two tiny gleams of light. Teresa backs away from them. As she does so, they seem to fall and vanish.
Slowly Teresa moves forward again, staring at the place where the lights had been. As she moves parallel to the spot, they appear again. A half-cry dies away in her throat --she sees that the gleams are two drops of seepage, trickling down the side of the tunnel wall.
Teresa half closes her eyes and sways a little, faint with fear. Then she forces herself to move forward again. She takes one -- two fearful steps -- and then the underpass reverberates with a sudden tremendous shock of sound - more a giant vibration than actual noise.
It is a train passing overhead.
INT. NORTH TUNNEL - NIGHT
As Teresa stands transfixed, the terrific roar continues.
Second after second, flashes of light as brilliant as lightning illuminate the interior of the tunnel the reflections thrown into the Arroyo by the train windows.
And then, as abruptly as it began, the noise ceases. It is cavernously dark in the tunnel again. In this thick stillness, Teresa walks forward once more.
EXT. EAST SIDE OF BRIDGE - NIGHT
In the frame of the tunnel opening, Teresa stands for a moment. Behind her, there is a new sound -- a mere whisper of sound carried forward on the light wind. A little shower of rubble falls from the top of the concrete pier. Teresa turns to look behind her.
Crouched on one of the piers of the trestle - and seen only very dimly in the darkness -- is the leopard, looking down into the Arroyo.
An enormous big HEAD CLOSE UP of Teresa.
An enormous big HEAD CLOSE UP of the leopard, its clear golden eyes fixed and staring.
EXT. ARROYO FLOOR - NIGHT
Teresa's nails dig into the paper sack of corn meal and little trickles of the meal start spilling from the slits.
Her eyes widen and her face falls slack from the horrible shock of what she sees. She turns and runs.
EXT EDGE OF ARROYO - NIGHT
Teresa scrambles frantically up over the edge of the bank.
She stumbles and falls and the sack of corn meal drops from her hands and spills onto the ground. In a single move, Teresa is on her feet and running again. A shadow flashes over the spilled meal and we hear a heavy, ripping snarl.
INT. DELGADO HOUSE - NIGHT
It is quiet and peaceful in the Delgado home. Senora Delgado is puttering about the brasero. Pedro, on all fours, is reading a comic book, his rump high in the air, his chin two inches from the book. Suddenly, a wild rain of knocks on the door fill the little room. Sonora Delgado, at the brasero, drops a spoon with a clatter and Pedro springs up.
Mamacita, let me in! Let me in, let me in!
Sonora Delgado smirks knowingly and puts her hands on her hips.
If you love me, let me in -- !
Mamacita -- let me in. Let me in, now that I've spent half the night getting the corn meal!
It's coming - it's coming closer.
I can see it...
She is afraid of the leopard.
Just what she needs -- something to
NIP AT HER HEELS AND HURRY HER UP -
She is interrupted by a scream so high, of such agonized finality, that it makes the others before it seem like nothing at all. Mingled with the scream and blurring the end of it comes an impact of such violence that the whole door structure shakes with it from top to bottom. A puff of dust wells up around the door from the impact of the blow.
(his voice high with fear)
Madre do Dolores, she isn't fooling!
Pedro jumps to his feet. An instant change has come over the face of Senora Delgado. She hurls herself forward.
Wait, Teresa! I come! I will let you in...
Senora Delgado tugs at the rusty bolt.
Only a moment, querida, hija do mi
alma -- your mother is here --
As Senora Delgado tugs vainly at the bolt, Pedro darts over to the fireplace and grabs up a stone from the hearth.
Your mother will let you in - -
Pedro rushes to the door and pushes his mother's hands aside.
He hammers the unruly bar back with the stone.
Then, he draws back and looks down at his feet. Senora Delgado's horrified eyes follow his glance.
Under the crack of the door seeps a dark tongue of blood, widening and lengthening on the rough wooden floor.
And here is a link to the entire script:
LEOPARD MAN screenplay by Ardel Wray.
TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Writing Over 40 - how to sell a script or land an assignment in age conscious Hollywood.
Dinner: Salad with some dead chickens in it.
Pages: Yikes! This article was the one I wrote *after* the one that I was going to run on the blog today. The other one got pushed back.
Bicycle: Yes - a NoHo ride on both Sat & Sun. I feel better, but there is still some pain in the wrist if I twist it in unusual ways, so I'm thinking about going to the doctor (which I fear, because I do not want a cast on my arm - I can take the brace off to type, but a cast?)
Movies: MACHETE and TAKERS...
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