Monday, May 25, 2015

Lancelot Link: YesterdayLand

Lancelot Link Tuesday! TOMORROWLAND only did about half of what they expected it to do at the box office, and review after reviews points at the screenplay. You know, the one by the guy who rewrote a good script and turned it into PROMETHEUS. Here's the deal: on a big budget film, the writer often ends up a typing monkey for the director... but as a typing monkey part of your job is to make the notes work and find ways to sneak in some great material. Though Ridley Scott may have gone off the rails (look at his recent stuff), Brad Bird seems to be at the top of his game. He single handedly rescued the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE series and you can probably see my "movie boner" from space after the announcement of THE INCREDIBLES 2. So it's hard for me to believe that Bird gave crazy notes that turned TOMORROWLAND into crap. But maybe I'm wrong. The studio's crazy theory is that the audience doesn't want to see original movies, they only want to see sequels... hence, TOMORROWLAND "underperformed". Maybe that's true: maybe people only want to see movies with numbers in the title? While you're thinking about that, here are this week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...




Here are a dozen links plus this week's car chase...


1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Tomorrowland.................... $32,972,000
2 Pitch Perfect 2................. $30,830,000
3 MM: FURY ROAD................... $24,815,000
4 Poltergeist..................... $22,600,000
5 Age Of Ultron................... $21,691,000
6 Age Of Adeline.................. $15,000,000
7 Hot Pursuit...................... $3,610,000
8 Furious 7........................ $2,232,000
9 That Other Tom Hardy Movie....... $2,200,000
10 You Only Blart Twice............. $1,875,000


Notice how many film had double digits this weekend! That has to be a record!

2) Daily Word Count Of 39 Famous Novelists. Just add yours to make it 40.

3) Cannes Winners.

4) Scorsese Talks Hitchcock... Best Scenes In PSYCHO.

5) How Many Hits Can We Have This Summer?

6) MAD MAX: FURY ROAD... The Stunts, And How Every Chase Is Different!

7) Furiosa's Stunt Woman's FURY ROAD Set Pictures!

8) MAD MAX: FURY ROAD Concept Art.

9) Next Film Is MAD MAX: THE WASTELAND (George Miller Interview).

10) Shane Black On Action Screenplays.

11) Legal Advice For Screenwriters.

12) Overcoming (Fury) Roadblocks To Creativity!

And the Car Chase Of The Week:



From the first MAD MAX movie... the one *before* ROAD WARRIOR.

Bill

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Happy Memorial Day!

Today is the day in the United States where we honor our fallen soldiers: soldiers and sailors and marines and air force folks and everyone else who have died defended this country. I grew up during an unpopular war (Viet Nam) and the mistake then was to transfer feelings about the war to those people who were fighting it - usually poor kids who had no way to avoid the draft, and were doing their best to serve their country. I think we have all learned from that mistake - no matter what we think about war, the people fighting it who *gave their lives* to serve their country deserve our respect.

These are from of my favorite war movies that show the courage of our men and women in uniform...

THE BIG RED ONE (1980) written & directed by the great Sam Fuller. Unfortunately this is the trailer for the re-release...



GO FOR BROKE (1951)...

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THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946) directed by William Wyler. I cried while posting this... in a Starbucks.. I'm sorry.



A clip from STEEL HELMET (1951) directed by Sam Fuller...



FIXED BAYONETTES (1951) also directed by Sam Fuller...



THE BOYS IN COMPANY C (1978) directed by Sidney Furie...



Those are some of my favorites, and if there are any that you haven't seen - check them out. And take some time today to thank and be thankful to those people who have given their lives or gave their lives for this country.

PS: Lancelot Link will show up tomorrow (Tuesday)...

- Bill

Friday, May 22, 2015

Fridays With Hitchcock:
Young And Innocent (1937)

Screenplay by Charles Bennett, Edwin Greenwood, and Anthony Armstrong, based on a novel by Josephine Tey (“Daughter Of Time”).

This is a forgotten Hitchcock film that deserves to be remembered... but it lives in the shadow of LADY VANISHES. It's a chase film like THE 39 STEPS with some amazing set pieces and some sparkling dialogue and clever scenes. In HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT, Hitch said he wanted to do a film starring young people... but I don't think the age difference between these characters and those in THE 39 STEPS isn't much – the leads are in their 20s somewhere, but both are adults and have already had some interesting experiences in life. My quip on the experiment behind JAMAICA INN was that it had a real star rather than some unknown like Nova Pilbeam... and *this* is the film with Nova Pilbeam above the title. This was her fourth film, and her best known role before this was as the kidnapped daughter in Hitchcock's original MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH. As the kidnapped daughter most of her role was offscreen. Right before this film she had played Lady Jane Grey in NINE DAYS A QUEEN, and her studio was grooming her to be a star.. and here she is in YOUNG AND INNOCENT – the *star* of the film.

Ten years later she would be retired.




I had never heard of this film when I first saw it projected at the old Telegraph Theater in Berkeley, California. I hadn't heard of many of Hitchcock's early films. They would show two or three Hitchcock films a night with the hits like LADY VANISHES up front and the ones you've never heard of at the end of the night to a mostly empty cinema. Some of those late films I fell asleep during portions of, but this film kept me awake. It was fun and exciting and if it had only had “name stars” we would all know about it now. But instead it's that footnote: the movie Hitchcock made before LADY VANISHES.


Nutshell: Struggling young screenwriter Rob Tisdall (Derek DeMarney) is on his way to movie star Christine Clay's mansion on the beach for a story meeting when he sees something in the water... Christine, dead, strangled with a belt! He ends up arrested for the murder because Christine left him the balance she owed him for a screenplay he had written for her... and he is unable to explain where his raincoat and belt is. Lots of circumstantial evidence against him, so he escapes – kidnaps the Chief of Police's daughter Erica (Pilbeam) and tries to find his raincoat belt and any other evidence that will prove he could not have been the killer. Unlike THE 39 STEPS which has some big set pieces that will set the stage for NORTH BY NORTHWEST, here we have smaller set pieces and a rural setting. Rob and Christine chase his raincoat to a pub, where it was stolen by a homeless guy Old Will (Edward Rigby) and then they track down Old Will... and then things take a turn for the worst! We'll look at how the plot works, because that is one of the little lessons this film has to offer.

Experiment: Not much of an actual experiment, but Hitch said he was making a film with young leads – and that may be true. Pilbeam was the studios rising young star, and Hitch was the one who made her that by casting her in MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH. She had been a child star on stage before that, and how much of her casting was Hitch's idea and how much was the studio's is anyone's guess. Looking back she seems an odd choice for a studio-groomed star – she's not the most photogenic person on Earth. Kind of like those child stars who grow up to look a little strange. Her problem is that she's kind of plain looking – and that's fine when you're a kid actor, but as an adult – as Valentin says in THE ARTIST – you need something that makes you look special and different. Pilbeam doesn't have a beauty mark or any other distinguishing features... except maybe unruly hair. Her co-star DeMarney had starred in a film called ADVENTUROUS YOUTH ten years earlier – making him probably not all that young when this film was made. Before this film he had been in THINGS TO COME – an international hit and one of the great science fiction films. But where Pilbeam did a handful more films and quit the business, DeMarney starred in British films until 1966. Though there are also some kids in the film, including one scene-stealer at a birthday party scene who has the greatest comic delivery I've seen on film in years, the rest of the cast are *not* young.

Some of the more interesting elements in the film are things that he had done before like use of models or “biggest to smallest” tracking shots or disaster movie elements that are particularly well done in this film. We will talk about them in the “lessons” section.




Hitch Appearance: He's a newspaper photographer outside the courthouse who does not want to go looking for the escaped murderer.

Hitch Stock Company: I mentioned that Nova Pilbeam was the daughter in THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, and playing her father in this film is Percy Marmont from RICH AND STRANGE and THE SECRET AGENT, plus Mary Clare (the Baroness in LADY VANISHES) as Pilbeam's aunt and Basil Radford (Charters in LADY VANISHES plus a bunch of other Hitchcock films) as her uncle, and George Curzon who plays Christina's husband was in JAMAICA INN and MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, and John Longden who plays the handsome detective was also the handsome detective in BLACKMAIL. I thought it was great to see Radford and Clare from LADY VANISHES as husband and wife – and they had a great chemistry together... you could have spun them off as series characters like they did with Charters and Caldicott.




Bird Appearance: When the dead body is found on the beach there's a great shot of seagulls flying – I have no idea how he shot it, but we are in the air with the gulls!

Screenwriting Lessons: The film is a lot of fun, and I've used some of the elements in Script Tips in the past because it contains some great examples of gags and showing a decision on screen – we'll look at the gags and decisions, as well as opening your screenplay *in media res* and A-B-C plotting and disguises... as well as some film elements like models and biggest to smallest and disaster scenes. Though the last elements may not directly relate to screenwriting, I'll try to pull them in by looking at how those things might end up on the pages of our screenplays.




In Media Res: Latin for “in the middle of things” - the idea of starting a story when it is already in progress rather than starting at the beginning. The story hits the ground running with very little exposition, and the audience figures things out as the story progresses, or the story may start in the middle (to begin with action) then flashback to how the characters got to be in such a place. This is a common way to start screenplays which may have a bunch of potentially boring exposition up front. You've seen it done in movies like HANGOVER – which begins very close to the end when all is lost, and then flashes back to show us how they got to this point.

YOUNG AND INNOCENT starts in the middle of a *scene* and then just keeps going. No flashback to lead us up to that scene, the film begins in the middle of a major argument between movie star Christine Clay and her husband Guy – she wants a divorce and he refuses. He accuses her of cheating on him with a succession of “boys” - the 1930's term for boytoys or himbos. She is an attractive woman in her late 30s or maybe early 40s. The film begins with all of the dirt! The polite part happens before the film begins, and we are at the name calling part... and Guy calls his wife *something*, but thanks to a censor-friendly thunderclap we can't hear exactly what. Probably slut or whore. She slaps him *hard*... and does her best to explain away the parade of hunky men who have visited her bedroom.

The great thing about starting the film in the middle of this argument is that it allows a lot of secret exposition – when Guy says he found her in the chorus line and used his connections to turn her into a star, just so she can dump him and sleep with “boys” - it's like a verbal slap... but tells us who they are and why they are calling each other names and slapping each other. He's a musician, she's a movie star. She has outgrown him... but he will not allow her to divorce him. He has *invested* in her, and now that she's making money she wants to dump him? After the slap, Guy storms outside into the storm and puffs on his cigarette. When lightning flashes, his eyes twitch like crazy. That's a clue, too – but we don't know it at this point.

Starting a film with the story in progress like this forces the audience to pay attention. We have no idea who these people are or even their names – but they are yelling at each other and saying nasty things about each other.

The next scene has our hero Rob walking along the edge of the cliff overlooking the beach when he sees something in the water and climbs down to investigate – a dead woman! When he sees her face he says: “Christine” - so she is the woman in that first scene, and dead, and this guy knew her. One of her “boys”? As he runs to get help, two attractive girls come onto the beach, see the dead woman, see the man running away, and scream...

When the police arrive, they ask who found the body and Rob says he did... but the two girls say *they* did, and saw Rob running away. The policemen believe the attractive girls over the guy – and next thing you know he's being interrogated in the police station. Though these cuts to a scene in progress isn't exactly In Media Res, it's starting each scene *late* - when then conflict has kicked in. We don't need to see Rob arrested and driven to the police station and the beginning of the interrogation – it's more interesting to start the scene just before the big moment in the interrogation. The police ask Rob how well he knew the victim, and his answer makes him sound guilty... They ask if she had ever given him money (for services?) and he answers, yes – she paid him for a story. They're accusing him of being in the British version of SUNSET BLVD – some broke young screenwriter who took money from an older star in exchange for sex. Does he own a raincoat? Of course he does. Where is it? Well, it was stolen a week ago. Convenient... Everything makes him sound more guilty – then they drop the bombshell... she left him money in her will. Motive for murdering her?




Rob passes out... and that's when Erica comes in and tries to revive him. She knows how because she used to be a Girl Scout. And she used to work with the cornerman for a boxer. And she knows that a stiff shot of brandy will get his heart racing again. And she knows how to slap really hard because she's used to driving around with horny policemen. She has a great comeback for everything – and one of this film's charms is that the characters all have quick wits.

Story Gags:




In the entry on FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT we talked about “gags” - which are one of my favorite things about older films. Gags don't have to be funny – they can be serious or suspenseful or romantic or “action gags” (covered in SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING) – they are little details in a scene. Older films, for whatever reason, seem to be filled with all of these great details that make a scene seem real and are often amusing or entertaining... and *full*. Scenes in older films seem *packed* with information and entertainment. Often when I watch a recent film there is the basic scene and that's it! None of the details or “mini story beats” that gags used to provide. In the VISUAL STORYTELLING book I look at gags in silent films – and I suspect that's where came from. In a silent film there was no dialogue or even sound effects, so they needed more *story* to fill the screen. Gags were those bits of story. Probably when silents ended there were lots of writers who were either used to writing gags, or writers who specialized in gags – and when they worked in sound films they just added all of those gags... and when they died off, so did the gags.

When they lead Rob across the street to the courthouse he passes Erica trying to start her beat up old jalopy. To do this, she has a string attached to the throttle and she can pull on while cranking the engine... and this is a gag. Not funny at all, just a detail... that becomes part of the story every time her car is started. It's used in a variety of ways, to create suspense, to force her to come along on a car chase (she's the only one who knows how to start the car), and it prevents strangers from driving her car. When the detectives pull Rob past the car he tells her it might need a shot of brandy in order to start.




Rob gets stuck with the worst public defender in the history of courtrooms! He's scatterbrained, is sure that Rob is guilty, and wears glasses that are a quarter inch thick. And he wants to know how much Rob has on him, because once he's convicted they will take his money away and the lawyer won't make any money. He has 2.30 on him, and the lawyer takes the 2 (it's British money, so forgive me if I got the details wrong here). The money is part of an important “gag” that threads the story together – now that he's down to .30, and later in the story he will use that money to buy gas for the female lead... and she will realize he spent his last cent on her and that will be her motivation for going back to help him – to give him back the money she borrowed. We'll look closer at that in the section on Romantic Pivot Characters. But something as small as the coins in a character's pockets may be critical to your story... or *can be* fun to keep track of and use later. These details, or “gags” make a story seem real and “dense”.

When the lawyer puts his glasses down, Rob secretly snags them... and when their case is called Rob manages to give the bailiff and his blind lawyer the slip in a crowded hallway by walking next to a man of his build wearing similar clothes... and the police officer guides the other man into the courtroom.




Rob escapes... ducking through a courthouse door... where another bailiff seats him in the gallery for a trial... which ends up being *his* trial! Every good thing that happens backfires into a bad thing – and that's something that happens throughout the story. It creates a balance... and keeps the story exciting and suspenseful because of the good news/bad news aspect.

So now he's trapped in the courtroom he was supposed to be in – will they find him? Rob tries to leave... but the Bailiff stands guarding the door. As word of his escape spreads, the courtroom begins clearing, except for his public defender who is lost in thought trying to read paperwork without his glasses. That's when Rob pulls out the thick stolen glasses, puts them on as a disguise (the first of many – we'll look at disguises in a moment) and walks out of the court house past all of the policemen and bailiffs who are looking for him.




That's the good news – the bad news is that the glasses are so thick he *can't see where he's going*! And he is outside the courthouse where an army of policemen are searching for him! He stumbles down the sidewalk... to freedom.

Remember Erica's car gag? When a pair of policemen want to commandeer her car to give chase, they don't know how to use the string to start it... so she ends up the driver!

Next we get a great visual gag, as we see a beautiful country road as Erica and her old jalopy slowly enters the frame. Wait, where are the two cops? *Pushing* the jalopy – it's out of gas. When a horse drawn farmer's cart comes by, the two cops commandeer it... but the farmer has to drive... and the two cops have to sit in back with the pigs. Pigs and pigs? Was that a joke back in 1937? Yes it was! “Pigs” as slang for police goes back to 19th century Germany. Learn something new every day.

Romantic Pivot Character:




As soon as the two policemen leave in the pig cart, Erica pushes the car herself – and it's remarkably light... because Rob is actually doing all of the pushing.

One of the new chapters in SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING is on “Pivot Characters” like Tommy Lee Jones in THE FUGITIVE who start out as an antagonistic character who believes the protagonist is guilty, but as the story progresses they begin leaning to the other side and end up *helping* the protagonist by the end. Pivots actually can work both ways, and we take a closer look at that in the book – but here we have a combination Pivot Character and Love Interest. Erica begins believing that Rob is guilty and that she will be arrested and convicted for helping him to escape... but as the story goes on, scene-by-scene she begins to wonder if he might be innocent, and then eventually she risks everything to help him.

The great thing about this is that it is a *gradual* change in Erica's character. Because she is also the love interest, and Rob is a charming man, the thing that comes between them in the “rom-com” thread of this story is that she believes he might be a killer... So they may have a witty conversation and we know they were meant to be together and hope they hook up by the end of the film, we understand why Erica isn't just jumping into his arms. This is a great combination of character purposes because when she begins to believe him, the barriers to their relationship begin to evaporate... so she can help him prove he's innocent *and* hook up with him at the end. But early on, she's just as much a kidnap victim as Faye Dunnaway in THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR. Scared, wondering how to escape without maybe setting this guy off. He's accused of murdering the last woman he was with, right?




When they get the car to a gas station, we get some more gags – the gas station owner's little boy pumps the gas, and has to stand on a bucket to reach... and the bucket falls over so Rob has to rescue him. This is a great bit because Erica finally has a chance to escape while Rob is helping the kid – but would a killer help the kid? She sticks around, and Rob spends his last cent on gasoline for her car. She stresses that she is *not* on his side – her father is the chief of police – and asks why he isn't taking his situation more seriously. Rob says, “I can laugh because I'm innocent. You don't believe me. I wish you did.” That sums up her whole Romantic Pivot Character.

Show The Decisions:

Whether your script is a drama, a comedy, or a thriller there's always a decision that must be made in order to solve the external (plot) problem. The decision your protagonist makes is the most important part of your screenplay - it reveals the theme. The meaning of your script. In the Visual Storytelling Blue Book I look at decisions as a way to reveal character – and that technique is used in YOUNG AND INNOCENT.




While they were at the gas station and Rob is helping the kid pumping the gas, Erica is unattended. Will she run? Will she tell the gas station owner that he’s a fugitive from the law? She almost does... but *decides* not to. When they are done, Rob asks the gas station owner for directions to the truck stop where he lost his raincoat - the evidence that exonerates him. “At the Y in the road, turn left ... if you turn right, it just takes you back into town.” The Y in the road is a *physical decision* - something where we can see the outcome.

But after they leave the gas station, instead of taking him to the Truck Stop where he lost his raincoat, she pulls up at a vacant old mill and kicks him out of the car. She is the daughter of the Chief of Police and can not help him. She drives home...




One of the other techniques in the Visual Blue Book is the Echo Scene – where the same location is reused in order to show the difference in characters or situation. Erica has dinner with her army of little brothers and widower dad two times - the first time shows the whole family (except Erica) happy and joking, the second time shows everyone quiet and solemn after Erica has been accused of aiding an escaped killer.

The first dinner scene the conversation is about the escaped murderer – and each of the brothers is a well defined character, from the intellectual brother to the youngest one who killed a rat with his BB gun and brought it to the dinner table. Erica listens to various theories on why he will be caught – biggest problem is that he only had .30 on him and will only last as long as the food he can buy. Intellectual brother says if he buys .30 of chocolate he'll last longer (and has a scientific argument to back it up). Erica realizes all of Rob's .30 went into her gas tank, and makes a decision...

So now we get the scene where she goes back to the old mill and gives Rob some food and repays the gas money. This is the first scene where she actually listens to him explain why he's innocent. But it's all cut short because the two policemen who were in her car and then the pig cart? They spot someone in the Old Mill and investigate. A gag where the policemen are “detained” by Erica's barking terrier – one cop says if he grabs the dog he'll earn an extra stripe on his sleeve, the other cop says what good is a stripe if the dog takes off his arm. It's a *terrier*!

Rob and Erica escape – starting the car string suspense – and race out of there with the dog chasing after them (as well as the two policemen). Erica wants to slow down so that they can grab the dog – Rob is afraid that will get them caught. A decision must be made. Rob decides to slow down for the dog – and this shows that he cares about her. He will put his safety in danger for her pet.

Now they are headed in the direction of that truck stop – and there is a road sign that shows the Y ahead and tells where each branch goes – just in case we've forgotten. Erica drives to the Y in the road, and she must make a decision - believe that he is innocent and turn left, or turn right and take him back to the waiting police. Which will she do? This takes something *internal* (does she believe him?) and turns it into an action. We can't see her believing him, we can see her turning one way or the other. She makes a left turn, and we know that she believes him and is going to help him. Each has made a decision that helps the other at the expense of their safety.

A B C Plot:

Plots can work in any number of ways – maybe as many ways as there are stories. In SECRETS OF ACTION I look at a few different ways that action films are plotted, and here's one of them: the A-B-C plot where one thing leads to the next thing which leads to the next. All of that sounds pretty normal, and you have seen this sort of plot in many films and stories. It's a staple of traveling mysteries – one clue leads to the next clue which leads to the next clue. There isn't a direct line from A to Z, it's a series of individual steps, each of them leading to the next step but none of them leading to the end.




At the truck stop, Erica goes in to ask about the raincoat while Rob waits outside. Surrounded by truck drivers, this gives her a great situation to show how clever she is when she slings a zinger at every trucker with a pick up line or rude remark. But when she asks about the raincoat – everyone clams up. When one trucker talks – saying that a homeless guy known as Old Will The China Mender was wearing a new coat one day, the whole joint erupts into a fist fight – which is filled with great gags. Erica must get across the room – which is filled with punching people. Once she gets out through the back door she sees Rob going in through the front door to rescue her – and now he's got to turn around and get out... and gets punched in the face, Another great gag as Erica tries to clean the wound in a drinking fountain where the water goes up and down in an unpredictable rhythm, so she never knows where to position his head... then the trucker who talked to her before tells her she can find Old Will at Nobby's Homeless Shelter by the railroad. That's where the next clue is – from A to B. Instead of the truck driver leaving the scene in any normal way, he's yanked back into the fight!




So the next clue leads to Nobby's and Old Will, and Old Will ends up having the raincoat – but it has no belt (meaning Rob has no proof that he's innocent) but Old Will says when the man gave it to him it didn't have a belt. A man? Old Will says the man had twitchy eyes – blinking all the time... but that's the end of the trail. Until Rob finds a matchbook in the raincoat pocket from the Grand Hotel – and that's the next destination (A to B to C). Each clue leads to another clue – but the first clue does not lead to the last. You have to take it step-by-step.

But before we even get to Nobby's, the story takes a detour to play...

Blind Man’s Bluff:

There are scenes in movies which are so well crafted that the purpose of the scene may not be apparent – that “drinks with an old friend” scene in FARGO is a great example. Here we have a similar scene – it seems as if you could cut it and not hurt the story... except it's one of those quiet pivotal scenes in the story. Erica needs a cover story to tell her dad (the Chief Of Police) where she went to today – and her aunt lives on the way to Nobby's, so if they can stop in there first for a minute...

Rob waits outside while Erica goes in to visit her Aunt for a minute – but today is her niece's birthday, and the Aunt insists she stay and have some cake. Now Erica is trapped inside while Rob waits outside... until Erica's Uncle pulls up and asks who he is and then why Erica would leave him outside... and brings him into the party!




Though the party is filled with silly hats and gags like the little boy who wants to go outside... because he has to pee, there is a deeper reason for this scene than its entertainment value. Erica's Aunt asks her who the young man is – typical relative reaction to a single gal turning up with an attractive guy - but Erica can't tell her his name (since he's wanted by the police) or even any details about him. Rob pops over and introduces himself – giving some crazy name right out of the FLETCH movie, and now he's stuck with that name for the rest of the party. When he zips away the Aunt asks what he does for a living and she makes up an occupation – advertizing slogan writer. The problem is, a moment later Erica has joined the festivities and the Aunt asks Rob about his job... and he has no idea what Erica has said – so his answers are *crazy sounding* (if he writes advert slogans). This makes the Aunt suspicious... and now Erica and Rob must work together to make all of these various lies sound like some form of truth.

In the past scenes with Rob and Erica – they were *together* and that meant the conflict was between them: she didn't believe he was innocent (and even if he was – he'd kidnapped her), but this scene has Rob and Erica surrounded by other people. Instead of the conflict being between them, it's the two of them against the world. This is the scene where Rob and Erica actually become a team and work together. It seems frivolous and funny, but it serves a deeper purpose – and when Rob makes jokes, Erica laughs at them. Earlier she wondered how he could joke at a time like this – now she is joking along with him. Before this scene they were at odds with each other, during this scene they must work together.




Where the Aunt is suspicious, the Uncle believes that they are young lovers who just want to get out of here so that they can make out – so within the party we have a quiet conflict between the Aunt and Uncle. When the Aunt does something that will force them to stay and give her more information, the Uncle finds some way for them to get out of there. Eventually it comes down to a game of Blind Man's Bluff, where the Uncle insists that the Aunt be “it” and wear the blindfold. Now we get a great little suspense scene where Erica and Rob must get out of the room quietly before the blindfolded Aunt grabs them (and that's who she's trying for). Several close calls, and finally they escape.

Rob and Erica *laugh together* in the car as they zoom away – on the same side for the first time. But remember the good news/bad news thing? For every good thing that happens there is some bad thing to balance it out? As soon as the Aunt finds out they have escaped, she rushes to the phone to call Erica's Father and ask who that man with Erica is... and the Aunt's description matches the escaped killer. Erica's Father calls for the police to be on the look out for his daughter's car, and things have just gotten much worse without Erica or Rob knowing about it.

Doesn't take long for them to find out – they get pulled over by one of the pig cart Cops as drive through town... and have to escape at high speed. Now Erica's Father knows she's somehow mixed up with the escaped killer – and Erica realizes that it is now serious – she is an accessory. Before she might have found a way to escape prosecution – now the only way for her to stay out of prison is to prove that Rob is innocent. Good news – they are together. Bad news – if they can't find the evidence, they are both going to prison.

Only A Model:




One of the amazing things in older films like this is the use of *very* detailed models. The exterior of the snowed in ski chalet at the beginning of THE LADY VANISHES and the beautifully detailed miniature of Hitler's headquarters at the beginning of NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH look like the real thing – it's only the knowledge that they didn't have helicopter shots (and that the camera is not moving as if this were an actual location) that tips us off. The amazing thing about many of these models is that they are “articulated” - portions of them move, and they may even feature moving *humans*. All of this makes them seem very real. Even though modern audiences will know they are models, they will also probably think they are pretty amazing.

In YOUNG AND INNOCENT we have this amazing overhead shot of the industrial section of the city down by the railroad track and slowly move in – past a moving truck on the street – and as a train passes by on the tracks, and move down to a parked car – where Rob stands outside talking to Erica behind the wheel. At one point Rob and Erica are miniatures – little model people on this detailed train set – then we cut to a different angle of the real people in the exact same positions for a conversation. Shots like this give the film a huge scope – these are *helicopter shots* of the town, which were pretty much impossible in real life back then. The moving model cars and trains look real – as do the buildings.

In LADY VANISHES we go from a high overhead of the train stuck in an avalanche and move slowly down to the village and the ski lodge... then – in the same shot – move up to the window of the ski lodge lobby and look inside. That's when we cut to a shot of inside the ski lodge with real people. But the detail is amazing – and having the ability to do a “helicopter shot” before there were helicopters adds production value... And gives us a “Biggest To Smallest” element, which we will discuss later in the blog entry.

After the Nobby's scene which comes next, more models are used in a car chase in the rail yards where Rob cuts across the tracks in front of a speeding train, leaving the police behind them. This would have been a dangerous (if not impossible) stunt to do at the time, but with the use of very realistic models you get all of the thrills. If you think the use of models and miniatures is something from the distant past, they were commonly used in films up until the advent of high quality CGI work – and the next time you watch THE STING note that the elevated train is a model! My friend Fred who does disaster movies for cable has used toy store model cars and forced perspective to create a street full of wrecked and burning cars – without having to wreck or burn any actual cars (which would be expensive). So the old techniques are still in use.

In a screenplay, there is no need to identify what is going to be a miniature or CGI or a special effect – just write what we see and let the people in charge decide how these things will be done. If a building blows up, it blows up. If a giant shark attacks, a giant shark attacks. No reason to call attention to what kind of special effects will be used – just write the screenplay!

Disguise & Disguise:




Rob is going to go into Nobby's to look for Old Will, and tells Erica that she will be safe in the car. Both are exhausted by this point – running on very little sleep. Because Erica's old jalopy is parked between two trains it is impossible to see, and she can sleep in the car without much worry of being disturbed.

But to get into Nobby's, Rob will have to disguise himself as a homeless man. One of the motifs in the film are people wearing disguises or altering their appearance. This may tie in to Rob appearing to be guilty, but it's used in several different scenes. Here Rob puts on an old cap, turns his coat inside out, covers it with dirt, and tries to look and act like he's homeless. At the front desk of the homeless shelter he says hello to Nobby behind the counter... except it's *not* Nobby – Nobby has been dead since before the war. Rob claims to be a friend of Old Wills and asks if he's there. The (suspicious) guy behind the counter says not yet, but they've held a cot 68 for him. Rob gets onto his cot, keeps his eyes on cot 68... then falls asleep. Wakes up and cot 68 is empty – but has been slept in. There are a bunch of homeless men hanging around talking, so Rob asks the guy behind the counter which one is Old Will... and the counter guy answers with “I thought he was your pal?” This disguise isn't working very well.

Rob knows that Old Will repairs china, so he breaks a cup – which does the trick, but also gets the counter guy on the phone to the police. Rob grabs Old Will and runs for Erica's car – and we get our car chase with the near miss by the train.




Later in the story we will get two more examples of disguises – the matchbook that leads them to the Grand Hotel, an elegant place with a grand ballroom. So Old Will the homeless guy (with an attitude) must be transformed into a well dressed gentleman to get through the doors and look for the nan who gave him the raincoat. They take him to a suit rental place, and Old Will is Cinderella headed to the ball – except he's still a homeless guy under the fancy suit and top hat. He has a bad attitude, and when he orders tea at the Grand Hotel the waited asks “China or India?” and he yells “TEA!” no even understanding that there might be different kinds of tea. Just like Rob's homeless disguise, Old Will's gentleman disguise doesn't cover who he really is.




Once in the Grand Ballroom Old Will can't spot the man who gave him the raincoat... because *he* is in a disguise! So we have one disguised man looking for another disguised man! I don't know whether using the disguise motif was thematic or some sort of amazing creative coincidence (which is just another term for subconsciously thematic) but the characters keep dressing up- as people they are not throughout the film. Everybody does it!

Disaster scenes:

Back to the homeless shelter – after Rob drags Old Will out to Erica's car and they zoom away with the police in hot pursuit, they get a head start when they zip past that speeding train... but the police are still back there. So, in the middle of this car chase Rob grills Old Will about the raincoat, discovers that Old will *is* wearing it (he sports the homeless layered look) – but there is no belt! The belt that killed Christine Clay came from *Rob's* raincoat! Old Will tells him the man who gave him the coat had a twitch – both eyes blinking at the same time. Hey, we know that's Christine's husband! But Rob and Erica don't know that, and have no idea where to find the twitching man... and the police are chasing them. Old Will suggests they hide at the Old Mines, and she pulls her jalopy off the road and into the mine...

And we get an amazing disaster scene.




What's interesting about Hitchcock movies are that many have disaster scenes: the plane crashing and sinking in FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, the ship sinking in LIFEBOAT, and here we get a great mine cave in YOUNG AND INNOCENT. They drive the jalopy into the mine to hide... and the ground gives way and the car begins sinking. Rob and Old Will scramble out... but Erica is still in the car, and it begins falling faster! Rob reaches down to grab here, and we get that signature Hitchcock shot of hands grabbing for hands that's in almost all of his films. To add to the suspense of this scene – the police arrive! Rob finally grabs Erica's hand, just as the ground completely gives way and the car plummets! He pulls her up, then scrambles away – but the police grab Erica.

The great thing about the mine cave in scene is that it is amazing spectacle – much like the plane crash in FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT. This is the kind of huge scene that elevates a little movie like this and gives the audience an exciting experience they probably did not expect. Our job as screenwriters is to fill the screen – and a movie screen is pretty darned big, so we will need some big scenes like this.

As Low As You Can Go:




Good drama is about conflict – and at this point the characters are overwhelmed with conflict. Rob has found his raincoat on Old Will – but not the belt. It seems that the evidence that he thought would prove him innocent proves him guilty. Erica is questioned by the police and may be charged – she goes home and we have the echo of that earlier dinner scene with all of her brothers, but this time they look on her with pity – she's either a criminal or a kidnap victim (or both). It is a tension filled meal, and after dinner it gets worse: Erica's Father calls her into his study and shows her his resignation papers. He can't be Chief Of Police if his daughter helped a killer escape. They have a big dramatic father-daughter conversation which might be at home in an Oscar nominated drama. But remember that even in a thriller or any other genre film, drama is basis of the story. It always comes down to the *people*. The events of the story have seriously damaged Erica's relationship with her father. Her whole life has gone to hell. She goes to her bedroom and cries herself to sleep.

This is the ultimate low point for all of the characters. One of the problems with many screenplays is that the characters never hit bottom. The writer doesn't want to make it too hard on them, wants to protect them, and makes their problems easier than they should be. But the lower you go, the greater the stakes and the conflict, the more we will cheer when those problems are resolved. Never make it easy on your characters!




Just when we think all is lost, Rob climbs through Erica's window – and they embrace. Part of going so low is giving them (as a couple) something to lose. That means they must be a potential couple by this time. I think part of saving her from the mine cave in was to solidify their relationship. They *are* in love – which means in addition to everything else they will lose, they are also going to lose each other. Rob has decided to turn himself in and stop running – probably end up convicted of a murder he did not do. Even if Erica is not convicted, she has caused her father to be ruined. It can not get any worse than this...

And that's when they find that matchbook from the Grand Hotel and have a new lead to the real killer.

Biggest To Smallest:

So once Erica and Old Will get to the Grand Hotel, with Rob hiding outside, they have to find a man who twitches... in a huge luxury hotel's ballroom. How do we show that needle in a haystack situation visually? One of the Hitchcock theories was biggest to smallest – and in the entry on NOTORIOUS we took a look at that theory in action in the party scene where the camera goes from a high overhead of the party and cranes down in a single shot to focus on the key in Ingrid Bergman's hand.




In YOUNG AND INNOCENT we have one of those amazing tracking shots – it starts outside, overhead - enter the night club - hundreds of people, which one is the killer? And as the camera slowly moves over the room with too many suspects for them to weed through before the police arrive, the camera slowly moves down to eye level and creeps up to the killer's *eyes* - they fill the screen... and then twitch! Cool shot and it makes us wonder how they will ever get through all of those false suspects to find the real killer - the needle in a haystack.

Though the two examples from Hitchcock films seem to be director related, *we* can also use “Biggest To Smallest” to show how a large event (like the party in NOTORIOUS) actually comes down to something small and personal. In the original DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, Klatuu causes the power all over the Earth to cut out for half an hour as a sample of what he can do. The sequence begins with global issues - the big picture - as cities across the globe go dark. Then each successive piece of the sequence gets “smaller” - from freeways filled with stalled cars to city streets... and finally down to a woman pulling wet clothes out of her stalled washing machine. From the global problem to the personal problem. You might not be able to relate to a whole city going dark, but you can sure relate to a bunch of half washed clothes. The “Biggest To Smallest” technique is a great way to take a major problem and show it at a personal level - and that’s something we can use in our screenplays.

To add to the difficulty in YOUNG AND INNOCENT – disguise and disguise – Old Will is dressed as a gentleman and the killer – Christine Clay's musician husband Guy – is in blackface. The whole band is in blackface. So even with Old Will looking around the room, he doesn't recognize the man who gave him the raincoat. The police are on their way – so the clock is ticking. Erica and Old Will decide that dancing around the ballroom will allow them to look at more people, only Old Will has no idea how to dance. They do it anyway – a bit of comedy – but Old Will doesn't see the man.




But the man sees Old Will – Clay recognizes the homeless guy he gave the raincoat to and begins twitching like crazy. There's a great visual here where Clay *sees* the dressed up Old Will as the homeless bum. When the police arrive and seal off all of the exits, Clay's twitch goes out of control and he's screwing up his music.

Just when you think the problem will be resolved, Rob steps forward and gives himself up to protect Erica. The police send a waitress in to ask Erica and Old Will to give themselves up and leave without incident – and they do! The killer is this close, and they are all leaving!




Just as we had good news/bad news to balance things out, at the end of the story we have some bad news/good news. Clay sees the police talking to Old Will and Rob (and Erica) and assumes they are here for him – and collapses. Someone calls for a doctor, but what they get is a Police Chief's daughter who learned first aid in the Girl Scouts... who helps the musician in blackface... and notices his eyes twitching... and calls over Old Will... who identifies him once they remove the make up... and when they ask Clay what happened to the belt on the raincoat, Clay is sure they are already here to arrest him and confesses to killing his wife. That solves all of the problems...

But there is still an important story moment.

Erica runs into Robs arms... then goes to hug her father and apologize... then brings the two men in her life together to shake hands. While all of these chase scenes were going on, another story was playing out in the background about a young women who meets a man and realizes she must leave her father's home to be with this man. The normal story of first adult romance. And even though her father at first does not approve of this man, she must make peace between them so that she has *both* of the important men in her life. All of that is done in a silent scene where she goes from one man that she loves to the other, and then brings them both together... THE END.

Sound Track: Louis Levy - nice score.

YOUNG AND INNOCENT is a fun forgotten Hitchcock film that deserves to be remembered. It's a chase film, about a struggling young screenwriter who is accused of murdering a famous actress, and the daughter of the police chief who hates him then loves him as he finds the evidence that proves he's innocent. This is a breezy chase film, kind of like 39 STEPS. Probably less known because the cast isn't as attractive nor as famous. But fun to see again.

- Bill

The other Fridays With Hitchcock.


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Thursday, May 21, 2015

THRILLER Thursday: THE HUNGRY GLASS

The Hungry Glass

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



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


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




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

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

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



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

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



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

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

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

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



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

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



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

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

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



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

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



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

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



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

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

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

Bill

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

You Can't Handle The Truth!

From five years ago...

So I’m cycling from one coffee shop to another and this car *runs a red light* and almost hits me. The driver hits their horn and screams something at me. I’m kind of shook up, and just kind of pause for a moment to reflect on my life up until this point... when it almost ended. Then I get back in motion... and due to traffic, end up at the next stop light right next to the driver. Now there have been times when my common sense got misplaced somewhere and I yelled at someone in two tons of steel that can travel at 120 miles per hour - kind of like arguing with a guy pointing a gun at you - but this was not one of those times. Instead, the guy started screaming at *me* for getting in the way of him running the red light... though he didn’t phrase it that way. Actually, he spoke in a code made up of profanity. I just let him scream, and when the light changed, I flipped him off (okay, maybe I misplaced some of my common sense) then zoomed away. Again, thanks to traffic, I was far ahead of him and did not see him for the rest of my ride. He was probably on his way to his anger management session.

But this is one of those strange things about human beings that we need to work on: when we are wrong, instead of admitting it, we attack the person who is right! I’m sure it’s all a basic survival thing left over from when we were cavemen cutting each other off on the jungle trail - when our vulnerability is exposed, we attack to protect that vulnerability. And we are vulnerable when we are obviously wrong. In fact, the more wrong we are, the more vulnerable we are, the stronger our attack seems to be. We just *react* when we should probably think and then react.

Probably because I am slowly becoming an old fogey (kids get off my lawn!) it seems to me that there is more of this reaction-when-wrong thing than ever before. People seem to be more self centered and more combative and less polite. They also seem to have lost those mental checks and balances that have us think before we speak. Hey, maybe I’m wrong and it’s always been this way but my tolerance has eroded over the years. Whatever, people who are wrong seem determined to fight everyone else to the death... especially the people who are right.

The problem with this is that it just escalates the conflict, and in the end - the person who was wrong is *still wrong*... only now they are even *more* wrong and look *much* worse because they have fought so damned hard *against* what is right.

But people continue to fight when they are wrong and do all that they can to cover it up and blame the other guy, and even try to convince us that right-is-wrong and wrong-is-right. Instead of just deflating the whole problem with the truth and a *sincere* admission of being wrong, they escalate the problem by covering it up and insisting they are in the right.

You see this stuff in politics all the time - and it never ends well. Someone who is head of a group that is strongly anti-Gay, gets caught hiring a male prostitute from a place called “RentBoy.com” to be his companion on a business trip. Now, after being caught red handed (difficult to avoid puns with a subject like this) instead of just saying, “Okay, I’m Gay. Sorry for all of the previous Gay-hatred, but I was actually hating myself and lashing out at others who reflected the part of me I most hated”, the guy escalates the conflict by saying he’s completely not-Gay and had only hired the male prostitute to carry his luggage... and when people don’t buy that, he claims that he did not know that a website called “RentBoy” was an escort service... and when people don’t buy that, he changes his story to say he was trying to show the poor male prostitute the error of his ways while they shared a hotel room on a business trip... and when people didn’t buy that... and on and on it goes, staying in the news cycle instead of being forgotten because they guy just won’t admit that he’s Gay.

Big deal - he’s Gay. A week ago there were millions of Gay people marching in parades all across the country - he’d have just been one in those millions. But instead of being lost in a crowd, he kept himself in the news by denying what just about everyone else in the world figured was the truth... And the end result is always the same: that male prostitute talks to a major metropolitan newspaper and says they had all kinds of sex. Um, if someone rents a male prostitute for a couple of weeks I *hope* they have lots of sex and get their money’s worth. That’s probably not cheap. Wait... did he charge it off on his expense account, too?

By the way - I try to keep politics off the blog, and used this as an illustration of my point because it was recently in the news and went on for a long time due to the guy just continuing to try and cover it all up. Please, no political rants in the comments section. If you want to image some President who said “I did not have sexual intercourse with that woman” when that was not entirely true, be my guest. Politics is *full* of examples on every side of extending the conflict by covering it up and denying it instead of just admitting the truth. There’s a great scene in one of the Tom Clancy movies where Jack Ryan advises the President that distancing himself from some friends who did the wrong thing would be a mistake - the press would easily connect the President to them and that would extend the scandal. Instead, say they were not just friends but good friends. Defuse the scandal by admitting the truth. Once you have said the truth, the news story is over. Nothing to dig up.

HOLLYWOOD, LOOK IN THE MIRROR!

(No, you do not look “Mahvelous!”... look closer)

M. Night Shyamalan’s new movie has been getting a lot of press lately... all the wrong kind. THE LAST AIRBENDER is running at 7% on Rotten Tomatoes, and audiences also seem not to like it much - only a C from the CinemaScore poll. When he was asked about the critics disliking his film he said something along the lines of, If the critics hate it I must be on the right track. Of course, this from a guy who made a film critic the villain in LADY IN THE WATER. Not all film critics make sense and some probably are villains, but film reviews are a lot like script notes: they may not all be right, but sometimes they point out real problems that can be addresses to improve your work. And if many people give you the same script note, that’s a real problem that needs to be looked into. Some notes you might look at and see the point being made, but you disagree with it... so you ignore it. You are the one writing the script or making the movies at the end of the day.

But when Night looks at the problems the critics are pointing out and decides that he is right and all of them are wrong... well, that’s a bit arrogant and a bit self destructive. Also, it’s self delusional - he refuses to see that his career seems to be hurtling in a downward direction. Quickly. Every film seems worse than the one before - and often kind of dopey. And his roles seem to be getting bigger in every film. THE SIXTH SENSE was a really good film (his third as director) and I did not like UNBREAKABLE when it first came out, but it was *interesting* and in retrospective it was much better than LADY IN THE WATER and THE VILLAGE and THE HAPPENING. Though SIGNS was well directed, it had a laughable screenplay that seemed to get sillier as it went on. But instead of Night looking in the mirror, seeing his faults, and trying to correct them and make better films; he *rejects* that he even has faults!

It’s *our* fault for not loving his movies.

The first step is admitting there is a problem, and that it is your problem not everyone else's. Anything else is just making things worse...

But Night is not the only one in Hollywood who thinks this way (duh). When a film flops, studios are quick to blame it on poor marketing or a change in audience tastes or a trend that ended or a star who has faded or something other than THE FILM STINKS! We see the film, and it’s just awful... and the CinemaScore audience poll gives it a bad grade, and critics hate it, but with better marketing people would have liked it. That makes no sense at all to anyone but Hollywood suits. If this were any other product and an entire product line failed, they would be all over that line trying to figure out what went wrong so that they won’t make that expensive mistake again. But movies are *creative* and *subjective*, so you can’t really know why a film fails... except for all of the critics pointing out the awful dialogue and dreadful acting. How many times have we seen films with friends and everyone has the exact same complaints? That’s not subjective, that’s a problem!

But Hollywood doesn’t think it’s *their* problem... or at least, refuses to admit that it is their problem. It’s marketing department or that fickle audience who loved the last movie with a donkey in it, so why didn’t they love *this* movie with a donkey in it?

Those danged suits!

But what about *us*? You know, screenwriters... we get notes on our scripts and react. “They don’t know what they are talking about! They are wrong! They just didn’t get it!” We can easily blame “them” and close our eyes to the screenplay’s problems. We all do it. I do it. Your first reaction is that they are wrong. Hey, sometimes they are wrong... and sometimes we are wrong. When you get that note, and you want to *fight it* and fight it to the death, just take a deep breath and step back and calm down. Let that reaction pass before you say or do anything. Then, when you are in a calmer state of mind, look at the note objectively. At least, as objectively as you can. Do they have a point? Really be open to the possibility that you might be wrong, that your script may be flawed. The thing about a note is that you still get to decide what to do. But part of that decision involves being able to think clearly and not be so caught up in defending your script that you end up defending a guilty party. The reason why we ask for notes, and the reason why getting some feedback is important, is to improve your screenplay.

Now, you may hear all of the notes, give them serious consideration, and change nothing. I have a script that always gets the exact same note: people don’t like the point of the story. It makes them uncomfortable. Well, that was my *intent*, so I am not going to change it. The script was always a hard sell, and making it an easier sell by removing its soul and purpose isn’t going to make it better... just worse in a different way. But other notes on that script were considered and used to improve the script... after I calmed down.

If I were to fight every note because my script is right and everyone else is wrong, I would be expending a lot of energy defending a bad script. And one of the reasons why I would fight so hard to defend it is that I would *know* that it is bad. You defend your weaknesses, not your strengths. But defending your weaknesses does not make them stronger - it may even weaken them more. Instead of defending your weaknesses, acknowledge them and work to improve them. Once they are no longer weaknesses, they no longer need to be defended.

Oh, and your screenplay gets better!

The first step is admitting there is a problem, and that it is your problem not everyone else's. Anything else is just making things worse...

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Unexpected Answers - Why does every rom com end with Hugh Grant running somewhere?
Dinner: Subway Black Forest Ham
Bicycle: Short.
Pages: Below the quota again - but I can get back on for the week tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Trailer Tuesday: 42nd Street

I always manage to get the plots to 42nd STREET and GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 mixed up, because both have amazing Busby Berkeley dance numbers and both share the same casts and both deal with survival during the Great Depression... so instead I'm just going to look at both films: 42nd STREET this week and GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 next week. You might wonder why a guy who has a book on writing action movies is a huge fan of Warner Bros musicals from the 30s, but that would be thinking in cliches... so stop that right now! Oddly enough, the big set pieces in Busby Berkeley films have much in common with big action set pieces in today’s films... and probably even more in common with martial arts films (since both deal with graceful physical actions). There is an amazing stunt in 42nd STREET that is better than anything I’ve seen outside of Jackie Chan movies. But my main love for these films comes from their gritty reality base... these are movies from the Great Depression *about* the Great Depression. While MGM was turning out glossy fantasy musicals, Warner Brothers was known for gritty social issues film... and that extended to their musicals. Just as I love the WB long haul trucker movie THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT and their film about guys stringing power lines across the country MANPOWER, these musicals are about real people struggling to pay the rent and doing hard physical work (dancing).

Busby Berkeley basically reinvented the musical with his amazing production numbers, and went from Broadway choreographer to film choreographer to director of film musicals to... director of THEY MADE ME A CRIMINAL, one of the best crime films of the 1930s and probably John Garfield’s best film. After that, he invented Carmen Miranda’s hat of fruit before heading to MGM where he directed Ester Williams’ *underwater* dance numbers.



42nd STREET

Directed by: Lloyd Bacon (SAN QUENTIN, BROTHER ORCHID)
Written by: Rian James and James Seymour based on the novel by Bradford Ropes.
Musical Numbers by: Busby Berkeley.
Songs by: Al Dubin & Harry Warren.
Starring: Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, Alan Jenkins, Ned Sparks, Guy Kibbee, Warner Baxter, Bebe Daniels, Ginger Rogers.

Best Picture nominee.

Warner Baxter gives an Oscar calibre performance as famous stage director Julian Marsh who has lost *everything* in the Stock Market Crash *then* discovered he has health problems and may not have long to live. Basically, he’s screwed unless he can get a job, and his medical condition makes it impossible for him to get hired. Baxter manages to look and act as if every moment on screen may be his last while still playing a very physical strong willed man. He pulls off playing weak and strong at the same time.

Struggling Broadway producers Jones (Robert McWade) and Barry (the always pessimistic Ned Sparks) discover that Broadway star Dorothy Brock (Bebe Daniels, 1931 version of THE MALTESE FALCON) has a wealthy boyfriend Abner Dillon (the pudgy Guy Kibbee) who would do *anything* to get her into bed... even produce a Broadway show! These two schemers put together the pieces of the show, including director Marsh. But they need to cast 40 girls for the chorus, and that’s where we meet our protagonist Peggy Sawyer (Ruby Keeler), a girl who literally just stepped off the bus from the Midwest with dreams of being a Broadway star. She brings her luggage to the audition!

The other girls at the audition are old pros, and make fun of Peggy and play cruel jokes on her (like telling her the casting will be done through the door to your left, which is the men’s room). But sending her to the wrong room results in her meeting perpetual Juvenile lead Billy Lawler (Dick Powell) in his underpants (this film is pre code, which means there is no shortage of chorus girl side boob, under boob, top boob, and barely covered by a lace undergarment boob... so Powell in his BVDs is equal time.) Lawler takes Peggy under his wing and does his best to prevent her from walking in on any other men in their underpants. Peggy is the #40 pick for the chorus line.



Because this is precode, the chorus girls don’t just jiggle a lot, they also make no bones about sleeping around (that seems contradictory). Anytime Annie (Ginger Rogers) has slept her way to the chorus line, and because she is sleeping with the Assistant Director, she instantly becomes the understudy. Where the other girls in the chorus have unfair advantages, Peggy only has her talent and determination. She practices harder and longer than any of the other girls, and passes out from exhaustion at one point. When she comes to, the first thing she does is try to get back to rehearsal. She’s a trooper! Soon Annie and the other chorus girls grow to respect her and accept her.

But a romance threatens the show. Star Dorothy Brock *hasn’t* slept with investor Dillon, despite him continuing to drop subtle hints like “I did something for you, now you need to do something for me.” The reason why: Dorothy is still hung up on her old boyfriend Denning (George Brent) who is flat broke and kind of her kept man. The producers fear that their investor will discover that their star is sleeping with this other guy instead of him and pull all of the money. When Denning decides to try and break up with Dorothy and find a manual labor job in Philly, he begins taking out Peggy... which pisses off Lawler. Kind of a double love triangle. All of this comes to a head when the show does a try out in Philly... and Dorothy discovers Denning and Peggy have hooked up.

Dorothy gets drunk the night before the big out of town opening... and breaks her ankle. Now we get two amazing story beats almost back to back. With Dorothy in a cast, Anytime Annie becomes the lead in the show. She has slept her way to the *top*! But when they break the news to her of her big break, she says she’d love to play the lead... but her main talents are *not* singing and dancing, and that kid off the bus Peggy is the best dancer in the show... Peggy should play the lead. Director Marsh goes to Peggy and tells her that she is now the lead, and coaches her basically around the clock until opening night. And when he leaves, Dorothy enters. Dorothy faces off against the woman who stole her man *and* stole her part... and you know this is going to be the cat fight to end all cat fights. Except, Dorothy tells her that no matter how Dorothy may feel about her, Peggy now has the lead in the show. Dorothy was once the understudy who had to step up to play the lead, and now it is Peggy’s turn and she needs to make the most of it. This is Peggy’s chance to become the star she has always dreamed of becoming, and Dorothy encourages her to *go for it*. Two unexpected story beats in a row!



Of course, Peggy gives it her all and the show is a success, and she ends up on Billy’s arms in the end... and the man who comes to Dorothy’s side while she’s injured is Denning... and when Dillon realizes that Dorothy isn’t going to sleep with him, he notices all of those hot young chorus girls like Anytime Annie and gets the booby prize. As in, those jiggling boobies.

The film is filled with amazing dance numbers, along with the signature Berkeley shot where every single beautiful chorus girl gets a close up... but the most amazing number is a long continuous take during the 42nd Street song that moves throughout a street set going inside and outside buildings, craning up and going through a 2nd story window to see a scene of domestic violence as a man beats a woman, she pushes him away, climbs out the window onto the ledge and *jumps* all the way down to the street where a dancer catches her and then dances with her. I look at that stunt and wonder how many dancers they went through before they got the take right. She freakin’ jumps off a 2nd story ledge and a guy *catches her*. It’s *pavement* below (hard surface so they can tap dance). These days no one would do a stunt that dangerous. It’s crazy!

The great thing about 42nd STREET is that it not only shows the gritty side of Great Depression life where people struggle to keep a roof over their heads *and* has these lavish completely visual dance numbers that are pure spectacle *and* show that hard work and determination pays off.

Bill

Thanks to Warner Archive, now on beautiful BluRay!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Lancelot Link: Cannes Cannes

Lancelot Link Monday! Everyone in in Cannes this week. Most people think Cannes is a film festival, and it is... but mostly it's a film market. A place where people buy and sell movies. The stars show up to walk the red carpet for the festival, then go pimp their films to buyers at the market. If there was no festival, there would still be a market. We don't really need festivals and awards, but we need markets. Replace movies with food and you'll see how this makes sense. Some foods win awards, and that's great... but we can do without food awards but can't do without the market where we buy food. The Film Market is more important than that Film Festival... While you're thinking about that, here are this week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...




Here are a dozen links plus this week's car chase...


1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Pitch Perfect 2................. $70,300,000
2 Fury Road....................... $44,440,000
3 Age Of Ultron................... $38,837,000
4 Hot Pursuit...................... $5,780,000
5 Blart!........................... $3,600,000
6 Furious 7........................ $3,600,000
7 Adeline.......................... $3,200,000
8 Home............................. $2,700,000
9 Ex Machiua....................... $2,103,000
10 Far From......................... $1,300,000


It might seem strange that PERFECT PITCH beat FURY ROAD this weekend, but PITCH was tracking really well and FURY ROAD seemed to be appealing mostly to older males who are fans of the previous MAD MAX movies. You also have to take into account the other films playing: AVENGERS 2 is still new and FURIOUS 7 is still selling lots of tickets... and those are both probably more appealing to males (as is FURY ROAD). But what's out there for females? ADELINE and FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD both appeal to females, but are also more serious films... and girls just want to have fun! So a female directed comedy about a group of women singers was the perfect film! Elizabeth Banks proves that women directors can make hit films (and also proves that smart women can find a way to get that directing gig... Banks is a comedy actress (40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN) who started a production company to help her find better roles... and then directed some small things for experience which would lead to her directing PITCH PERFECT 2 which her company produced (along with the first film). She took small steps leading to a big goal).

That big goal along with FURY ROAD and AGE OF ULTRON continued to push this year's box office to record numbers. We are now 5.7% ahead of ;last year and a full 12.7% ahead of 2013... and summer hasn't even started! Hollywood is making the films America (and the rest of the world) wants to see! Sequels.

2) MAD MAX and the strangest series of films ever!

3) Natalie Portman Interview.

4) First Pictures From Upcomming Films.

5) Return Of Ealing Studios...

6) Paul Schrader, Nic Cage, Eddie Bunker, DOG EAT DOG.

7) New Trailer For MINIONS.

8) Cannes Deals.

9) Legal Tools For TV Content Creators/

10) Collin Farrell Talks About THE LOBSTER.

11) More Of Those PLANET OF THE APES Movies.

12) Interview With Woody Allen.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:



From one of my favorite movies about the film biz AN ALMOST PERFECT AFFAIR, about a film maker trying to sell their movie at Cannes.

Bill

Buy The DVDs

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

It's Not About Time - Structure has nothing to do with chronology.
Dinner: Pork chops & brown rice & broccoli.
Pages: Working on the FURIOUS WRITING class.
Bicycle: Short ride.

Movie: A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT on DVD. Beautifully shot, but I'm not sure the intended story made it to the screen.

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