Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Trailer Tuesday: Gun Crazy (1950)

Gun Crazy (1950)

Directed by: Joseph H. Lewis.
Written by: MacKinley Kantor and Dalton Trumbo (Millard Kaufman as Trumbo's "front").
Starring: Peggy Cummins, John Dall, Rusty Tamblyn
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I probably first saw this film at the UC Theater in Berkeley a couple of decades ago, and was blown away by it. First, like most noir, it’s an adult story. Not Hollywood fluff. It’s dark. It’s sexy. Probably the thing that impressed me the most when I first saw it were Peggy Cummins’ *very* tight black trousers. Women in 1940s movies always wore skirts and dresses. If they did wear pants they were non-sexual - often mannish. But here we have pants so tight it’s almost as if she’s naked.

SPOILERS!
The three boys look at the bobcat
The story is about a boy (eventually played by John Dall) who has a gun fetish. In the opening scene he steals a gun from a shop window, admires it while the alarm blares, then takes off running... tripping on the wet street. The gun goes sliding across the wet street until it hits a man’s boot... tilt up... a *Police*man’s boot. Next scene - the boy in court explaining to the judge how much he just loves guns. He doesn’t feel whole unless he has a gun in his hands. We’ll leave that up to Uncle Sigmund... but that’s what drives the film - this guy needs a gun to feel like a man. At the trial we meet his two best friends - one is the policeman’s son, the other wears glasses so you know he’ll grow up to be a writer - and they tell the judge that our hero isn’t a killer, on a camping trip he couldn’t shoot a wildcat that was hanging around their campsite (great flashback). He couldn’t bring himself to shoot at it. Wow, same problem as Jon Voight in DELIVERANCE! Boy is sentenced to reform school, from there he goes into the army, then he comes home.

Now we have adult John Dall and his two pals - one is now a cop and the other is a writer for the town newspaper. The carnival is in town, so that’s where they go.
Peggy Cummins - trousers so tight there's a visible panty line
The great thing about this film are the set pieces. In case you missed that Script Tip, a set pieces is a big scene. In the old studio days, it was a scene so juicy the studio would pay for a new set to be built. You don’t need a new set for a set piece, you just need a big juicy scene... and even though GUN CRAZY was a low budget film, probably shot on leftover sets that had been used a million times before and real loactions that could be got cheap - and in the case of one set piece, probably shot without any set at all - the film is full of amazing set pieces.

sure - shoot at my head
The Carnival - maybe the same one from THE RING (1927) - has a sharp shooter as it’s main attraction. Sexy Peggy Cummins in those skin-tight pants. She shoots balloons from around her assistant, shoots a cigarette out of her mouth, and all of the other carny tricks you usually see with a knife thrower. The Barker, an aging pretty boy, announces that for a mere $50 you can test your shooting skills against the master... and possibly win $500. Kind of the same deal as THE RING, just with guns instead of fists. John Dall’s buddies put up the money, and we get a great set piece as Dall and Cummins try to out shoot each other... and fall in lust in the process. Because Dall is an amazing shot, the Barker keeps upping the ante in order to win the bet. Eventually it comes down to this insane trick where a crown that holds a half dozen matches is put on Dall’s head and Cummins *lights the matches* with her bullets. All but one. Then it’s her turn to wear the crown. Dall lights them all. Look, I don’t want even the best sharp shooter in the world to be aiming a gun at my *head* from across the room, let alone firing at me six times. That’s just crazy! Dall ends up with a job at the carnival...
sex and violence - the film was made in the 40s, how old are your grandparents - could this be them after doing it?
Now we have a great scene - not a set piece, but a juicy *dramatic* scene that deals with the romantic triangle between the Barker and Cummins and Dall. One of the interesting things is how they used a metaphor to tell us who was sleeping with who. When Dall first joins the carnival, the Barker asks if he has a car... he says no. Cummins wants him to ride with them, the Barker says there isn’t room in their car... Dall can ride with the clown. If you watch who rides with who in the carnival scenes, you can see Cummins and Dall getting together and the Barker riding alone. Which brings us to the big juicy scene where all of this blows up. Real good. The Barker has a claim on Cummins and tells Dall he’s out of here if he doesn’t honor it. The result of the big blow up is *Cummins and Dall* leaving together (in the same car), which leads us to some relationship stuff where they realize they are broke, and then Cummins’ plan to make money...

By armed robbery.
John Dall exits the bank as Peggy tries to sweet talk the cop - all from the back seat of the getaway carNow we get one of the greatest set pieces in low budget history - the “backseat bank robbery”. It’s a single continuous shot - several minutes - taken from the back seat of their car as they drive down the street of a town, find the bank, hope that there is a parking spot, Cummins pulls into a spot near the front of the bank and Dall gets out. After Dall goes into the bank, a cop walks down the sidewalk, stops near the front of the bank! Cummins pulls the car up, gets out, flirts with the cop, and tries to steer him away from the bank. Not happening. This builds suspense. She keeps trying to get the cop out of the way, but he won’t budge. Then the alarm goes off. She hits the cop, just as Dall bolts out of the bank doors with the money.back seat cameraThey get in the car, Dall driving, and now we get a shoot out and car chase from the back seat of the car. All one shot. The great thing about this is that it was probably dirt cheap - we don’t need the bank interior and extras and setting up lights in the location. It’s *one* camera set up. But it gives you the feeling that you are right there - in the getaway car with them. When the cop fires at the car, he’s firing at *you*. And it’s all one cool shot.
John Dall with a bag full of guns and steaks
The big set piece is the armed robbery that will make them rich. Dall thinks this means they can retire to some exotic location and just be together for the rest of their lives. Cummins thinks only about how much money they will end up with. The target for the armed robbery - the Armour meat packing plant payroll. Well before anyone thought of product placement, we get a *real* company name and a *real* meat packing plant. Again, this was probably due to the low budget. They found a practical location and probably couldn’t afford to change all of the signs.

This is one of those split second timed robberies where all kinds of things can go wrong... and do. It’s a tense scene, then it blows up and becomes a big action scene. The great part about it are the pieces of the set piece...

All of the details make the scene real... and build suspense!



everyone tells him hes in the wrong area including this armed guard

Dall drives up in a truck filled with beef on hooks. He gets some steaks from a butcher and puts them in his bag, then walks to the offices and has to get past a half dozen people who tell him he’s in the wrong area. Dall tells them he has the steaks for the boss’s barbeque. Everyone tells him there’s no refrigeration here - he should take the steaks back to the plant. The deeper he gets into the office, the more he and the steaks are out of place. Eventually he gets to the boss’s floor... where Cummins is working as a secretary, Here it’s Cummins who tells him he’s in the wrong place - as she leads him right into the boss’s office, where they kidnap him and have him fill the steak bag with payroll money. And here’s where we see the beginning of the end - Cummins gets trigger happy and shoots a whole lotta people on the way out. It’s a great big run and gun scene - lots of action to break the tension that has come before.

After that set piece they are on the run, and we get a great sequence where they have their last night out as a couple. They go to the Santa Monica Pier and go on carnival rides - bringing us back to the beginning of their relationship. Then they go to a dance hall, and have a nice, tender, relationship scene... not knowing that the police have traced them to California and are waiting outside. They manage to escape with nothing - they even lose some of the clothes on their backs. Only one place to go...

Back to Dall’s home town. Now we get a great scene with the criminals and Dall’s sister’s family.... trying to act normal when people come over. Dealing with kids playing in the yard when you are harboring a pair of fugitives. And eventually a great scene with Dall and his two childhood friends - the cop and the reporter. A low budget film needs big scenes like this one - juicy drama where childhood friends are on opposite sides of the law... and Dall is kind of in the middle. Cummins is all for just killing them- in fact, she’d kill anyone if it allowed them to escape. She’d kill the kids (and that is in the film). In fact, there’s a great unseen scene where Cummins does *something* to Dall’s sister and her entire family - maybe she just locks them up, maybe she kills them all. We never find out which it is, because we come to the other big amazing set piece...

The one that probably has no set!
smoke and tuleDall and Cummins end up chased by every cop in the state, and blood hounds, and posses and probably villagers with pitchforks... but since they are chased through a foggy swamp, we just *hear* all of these things. I’m not sure if we see a single dog - though there may be a stock shot of dogs chasing - but we *hear* packs of blood hounds chasing them. We hear hundreds of cops searching the foggy swamp for them.

The swamp is... well, it’s 99% fog and 1% a couple of thatches of tule grass.
can you hear all of those cops and dogs?
The big scene where they hide and the cops and dogs search - is just them behind a thatch of tules surrounded by fog. And it works! It’s an amazing scene. Probably shot in some warehouse with a smoke machine. Just goes to show you, *imagination* and *inventiveness* can create production value if you don’t have any cash.

GUN CRAZY still holds up, mostly due to the amazing set pieces and great sequences and fairly obvious sexual overtones... oh, and Cummin’s skin tight trousers.

- Bill

Nothing sexual about this...

Nothing sexual about this Gun Crazy - the DVD

Friday, July 12, 2019

THE BIRDS: Storyboards

THE BIRDS...



Alfred Hitchcock believed you didn’t want to be figuring out what the heck you were going to shoot and how you were going to shoot it with the entire cast and crew waiting around on the clock... The place to figure out your movie was before you had hundreds of people standing around waiting. So Hitchcock (and many other directors of the time) storyboarded their films. Sometimes just the tricky scenes, sometimes the whole film. You could shot list the easy stuff, but actions scenes or scenes that required trained birds or special effects of some sort? Better to have those boarded so that you could show each department what was required for them in each shot. So here are some of the storyboards for THE BIRDS.

BIRDS Storyboards and a swell article from BFI.

To read the Fridays With Hitchcock on THE BIRDS, click back there.

bluebook

Thursday, July 11, 2019

THRILLER Thursday: A Third For Pinochle

SEASON 2!!!



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



Season: 2, Episode: 9.
Airdate: November 20, 1961

Director: Herschel Daugherty.
Writer: Mark Hanna and Boris Sobelman.
Cast: Edward Andrews, Doro Merande, Ann Shoemaker, June Walker, Barbara Perry.
Music: Morton Stevens.
Cinematography: Benjamin H. Kline.
Producer: William Frye.

Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “They hardly knew him. Well, if that’s the way Melba and Diedre Pennaroyd treat their casual acquaintances I shudder to think of the hospitality they keep in store for their very special friends, Or perhaps they subscribe to the words of that famous poet who relates that there are some who apparently feel that the best way to make friends is to do something dreadful and then make amends. But what the girls seem to have overlooked for a moment at least is that amends will never sooth the ruffled ego of a corpse. Such an untidy way to go. Pity. I dare say the ace of spades would have worked wonders for a bad hand of pinochle. Tonight’s story is concerned with that ancient game. And the players are: Edward Andrews, Doro Merande, Ann Shoemaker, June Walker, and Barbara Perry. You’ve heard the old saying, Lucky at cards, unlucky at love? Well as sure as my name is Boris Karloff you’ll learn tonight whether or not it’s true, And permit me to give you one piece of advice: Never lay all of your cards on the table. (Holds up a knife) Someone might cut the deck.”

Synopsis: Before Karloff’s introduction there is a scene shot entirely in silhouette where a woman grabs a cleaver, goes into a room where a man is packing, and hacks him up... only to be discovered by another woman (her sister) who scolds her. Now they will need another player for pinochle. This sets the tone - this is a bloody comedy episode...

Welcome to late 1950s/early 1960s suburbia. Peaceful. Conservative. White picket fences. Well manicured lawns. On one side of the street the elderly Pennaroyd Sisters live - they are characters right out of “Arsenic And Old Lace” - two cute little old ladies who often rent their spare room to single men. Melba (Doro Merande) and Diedre (June Walker). On the other side of the street live Maynard and Mrs. Thispin - he is the henpecked husband and she is the wife he mostly married for her money. The Pennaroyd Sisters spy on their neighbors through binoculars - watching the Thispin’s pull into the driveway across the street.

Mrs Thispin (Ann Shoemaker) is going on a trip to visit her sister, and Maynard (Edward Andrews) is doing everything in his power not to go with her. The doorbell rings and it’s a delivery man with *poison* - weedkiller - and Maynard must pretend there has been some mistake in front of his wife... but by this point we have seen enough of bossy Mrs. Thispin to understand why he might have ordered it. In Maynard’s basement workshop he phones his girlfriend - the pneumatic Babs (Barbara Perry) - telling her that he would be willing to possibly buy her a mink stole, and he’d like to discuss it with her at her apartment this afternoon. After he hangs up he pulls a paper mache head from a secret cupboard and puts a wig the color of his wife’s hair on it... then practices strangling it.

Mrs. Thispin has Maynard write notes to all of her friends telling them that she will be away for a while, then she wants him to go out and buy six packages of birdseed for her pet birds which he will have to feed while she is away. She has a huge stack of money in her purse, but gives him just enough to buy the birdseed... down to the penny.

After buying the birdseed he stops off at Babs’ apartment, where he tells her as soon as he inherits some money he will get her a nicer apartment and that mink stole.

When Maynard returns home he attempts to strangle his wife several times, but his timing is all wrong... a Door To Door Salesman (Vito Scotti) rings the bell, the phone rings, etc. Some slight suspense is created here, but it’s mostly played for laughs.

The Door To Door Salesman knocks on the Pennaroyd’s door, and they invite him in and try to rent him their spare room and one of the sisters chases him out with a meat cleaver. Hijinks have ensued.

Maynard keeps failing to strangle his wife - so he grabs a huge paperweight and smashes her skull. That worked. He takes his paper mache head on the dressmaker’s dummy and puts it in the passenger seat - so that it looks like his wife. Puts her suitcases in the car, and drives off... with the Pennaroyd Sisters watching him through their binoculars.

Maynard pulls the car off the road in a secluded section and puts the paper mache head in the trunk... next to his wife’s corpse. Them drives to the train station where he takes his wife’s purse and puts it above her assigned seat, then waits near the Red Cap (Burt Mustin) until a woman of about the right age needs helps with her bags, and makes sure the porter sees him carrying the woman’s bags onto the train with her, makes sure the conductor sees him, and then makes sure the porter sees him waving at the woman in the train as it chugs away. He tells the Red Cap he’s glad to get rid of his wife for a while...

Then drives the car to a remote area just past the next train stop and dumps his wife’s body in the bushes.

At home, he burns the paper mache head... all of the evidence is gone!

A few days later, a Police Detective (Ken Lynch) shows up to inform him they have found his wife’s body. Their theory is that she was mugged on the train due to the large amount of money she was carrying in cash. Maynard does not act broken up, and tells the Detective that they had been married for a long time and the thrill was gone. He knows that if they are thinking it was murder, that he is the prime suspect, and it often crossed his mind to kill her... but he didn’t. The Detective tells him they interviewed the Red Cap who remembers him helping a woman who may or may not have been his wife to the train, but who might have seen her leave the house with him?

Which takes Maynard and the Detective across the street to the Pennaroyd Sisters...

Who remembers watching them driving to the train station. So he is now off the hook.

A few days later Maynard calls Babsie and breaks up with her - he has met a beautiful young redhead and they are flying to Mexico together on vacation. After he hangs up, the phone rings - it’s the Pennaroyd Sisters who want to see him immediately. They have a secret... about his late wife.

Maynard goes across the street where the Sisters are waiting to play pinochle... they know it wasn’t his wife in the car, it was a paper mache head. He stays and plays a hand or two... and begs off. But the Sisters say they used to play around the clock - morning, noon and night! Mr. Thispen will move into the spare bedroom and always be there to play pinochle... or they will go to that nice Detective and tell him what they know.

Review: This episode seems as if they took two completely different stories and tried to tie them together by having them happen across the street from each other. But this doesn’t really work and it never seems like the two tales are connected... except by tone. The Pennaroyd Sisters story is a direct lift from ARSENIC AND OLD LACE with nice little old lady killers, and the Maynard story across the street is one of those cliche Husband-Kills-Nagging-Wife comedy stories we have seen a million times, including an episode of this show, A GOOD IMAGINATION, that also starred Edward Andrews. This is the kind of role he often played - the amusing suburban killer. He’s great at it. But split story makes doesn’t really work... and the Pennaroyd Sisters never really seem to be in desperate need of that third at pinochle which is not only the title of the episode but their sole motivation for doing all sorts of terrible things. It’s like a punchline without the set up.

There are gags, the like the boxes of bird seed, that aren’t very funny but the episode plays them up, hoping that you will laugh anyway. The wacky door-to-door salesman who gets stuck with the Sisters in a scene and is chased around the house with a meat cleaver is not clever. This episode feels a little like MASQUERADE - a few episodes back - where there seems to have been a joke somewhere, but it stayed on the page instead of making it to the screen. Perhaps the script was a laugh riot, but the episode just isn’t funny enough, and I wish they have done it as two episodes, or maybe even a two separate half hours... with the twist end that they are across the street from each other. By connecting the two into one story it just seems to undercut both.

Though this isn’t a great episode, what I find interesting about it is that both stories are part of a larger subgenre that was popular at the time (late 50s, early 60s) about how peaceful, quiet, conservative suburbia was really simmering with corruption and sin below the surface. PEYTON PLACE looked at the sex aspect on the big screen and fiction, but in this episode we have infidelity and murder and insanity hidden behind those lovely white picket fences and well manicured yards. The David Lynch idea that the polite surface always hides a more evil world than the cliche crime infested big city pops up a couple of times on this show, many times on HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, and in movies and TV shows and fiction of the time. It’s interesting to think that all of these horrible criminal acts are *normal*, and that in the repressed suburbs those evil acts still exist... but people just pretend that they don’t. I said earlier that much of Edward Andrews career was playing characters like this, who seemed respectable on the outside but were actually some form of nice monster. In the scene where he is interrogated by the Police Detective and offers him a martini, the perfect host, you get a “what kind of man reads Playboy” vibe. He is a married man with a “little black book” of mistresses he keeps hidden in his sock and a basement filled with all kinds of tools and toys - he has a secret telephone extension down there. Hidden. He seems nice and respectable on the outside, but underneath he is even more corrupt than some random guy in the big city.

I suspect this was a commentary on the times - the suburbs seemed like something out of LEAVE IT TO BEAVER but that was all a facade. In reality - and this episode was written in 1961 - it was a hotbed of what people of the time would call “sin”. When we fondly look back on that era, we need to include episodes like this that tell a different truth. If there is a whole subgenre of crime story on TV about quiet suburban men who cheat like crazy and murder their wives and nice little old ladies who kill between rounds of pinochle; there had to be enough of this going on at the time that this wasn’t shelved in the Science Fiction section. That David Lynch look at late 50s / early 60s suburbia almost makes this episode into something more than a time killer. Almost.

Though the episode is amusing enough to kill 50 minutes if you have nothing better to do, it’s one of those season 2 mis-steps. After finding the show’s “voice” as a horror and suspense show, it seems like they had a few season 1 scripts they needed to get rid of. And the next episode is another mis-step, though an unusual and timely one... The 1961 “MeToo movement” written by and directed by a woman.

- Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Film Courage Plus: The 100 Idea Theory

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me at the end of 2014, and then again at the end of 2015. As they have been releasing the interview segments from 2015 every week or so, I have dug back into their archives and tweeted some of the segments from 2014... so they won't be forgotten. There were something like 12 segments from 2014, and probably around 24 segments for 2015... and that's 36 (or more) segments total. That's almost a year's worth of material! So why not add a new craft article and make it a weekly blog entry? All I have to do is write that new article, right?

The 100 Idea Theory:



I never tell anyone that I’m a screenwriter, because the first thing that will happen is they will say they have this great idea for a movie and then spend a couple of hours telling me that idea and then offer to let me write their idea for 50% of whatever the script sells for. Awesome deal! My friend John has gone so far as to have fake business cards printed up for parties & social events where this might happen that say he builds custom septic tanks to fit your unique personality - no one wants to tell him their ideas or make him that 50% deal. *Everyone* has an idea for a screenplay. How many billions of people are there on Earth right now? They all have an idea for a screenplay.

It isn’t enough just to have an idea, or even have a good idea, you need a *great* idea.

One of the things we look at in the IDEAS Blue Book is not just how to find an endless number of ideas, but how to find the good ones... and the great ones. The gold. Because finding movie ideas is a lot like panning for gold - it’s 99% dirt and mud and 1% gold. The problem often is, new writers come up with one idea... and that’s part of the 99% that’s mud. Not a problem, unless they take that idea to script - and then they have a script with a dirt idea. How do you pitch that? How do you make the logline in your equery to managers and agents and producers sound good when it’s dirt? You can’t. In Mel Brooks’ YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN due to a clumsy mistake by Igor, they build the monster using an abnormal brain - so the monster is alive, but has a “bad brain”. You don’t want a screenplay with a “bad brain”.

Though ideas are a dime a dozen (because everyone on Earth has one) they are also gold. The key is to “pan for gold” and find the very best idea and then take it to script. Don’t end up with 110 pages of “mud”.

But how do you find the best idea? There are people who think that any idea that “sticks with you” is a good one. You forgot that other idea, but remembered this one... it has to be good! I’m not sure having a faulty memory is any indication of an idea being good or not. Other people have a variation on the faulty memory theory they like to call “I’m really passionate about this idea!” But anyone who has lived long enough to have their heart broken a couple of times knows that passion sometimes doesn’t last, and passion also doesn’t equal quality. I have been passionate about relationships only to look back on them a year later and wonder if I was crazy. In fact, there are probably a hundred songs that equate love and passion with insanity! You can probably name a couple of those songs off the top of your head, right? So maybe being passionate about an idea is not the best way to judge whether it is good or not? Sure, we want an idea that we are passionate about, but *only* being passionate about it is excluding all other criteria and may end up falling in love with the wrong person. There are a bunch of movies about people who fall in love with people who then try to kill them. Do you want to write 110 pages only to find out this was one of those crazy lovers? FATAL ATTRACTION in screenplay form? Probably not - that’s why you’ll want to expand your criteria beyond only passion.

Hemingway said you should write drunk and edit sober, and that’s the key to this whole writing thing. Create in one step, edit in another step. Coming up with raw ideas is creating, but finding the best idea is editing. Most people leave out the editing part. They often just come up with an idea and write it... and end up with 110 pages of blah. You want to use both sides of your brain - the creative side and the analytical side. No half brained ideas! Come up with a bunch of ideas (drunk) and then (sober) analyze each idea and select the best one using rational criteria. Panning for gold. Because you love the idea isn’t good enough - remember that hell relationship you had? You thought you loved them. So take emotions out of the equation when you are *selecting* ideas.

The 100 Idea Theory in the Film Courage clip is about using that insane, passionate creativity to find 100 ideas... then using the sober analytical side of your brain to select the best idea from that 100.

One problem new writers often have is that they only have one idea. Hey, this is a business of ideas! I often get called in to pitch 4 or 5 ideas to fit a producer’s specific needs... and if they don’t like any of those, pitch 4 or 5 more. A decade ago when the SyFy Channel probably still had “i”s in their name, I had meetings with 3 different producers who were making movies for them. At one company I pitched 10 actual science fiction stories, at another I pitched 10 disaster stories that had not been done yet, and the third I pitched 10 monster movies that had never been done. 30 ideas - not a single one ended up a paid gig (though two of those companies each liked an idea enough to bring me back the next year and talk about it). But you will need to come up with a stack of ideas. Your manager will have you pitch a bunch of ideas and they’ll select the one they think has the best chance. So you need a bunch of ideas - not just one. Get used to the idea that you will need a bunch of ideas!

In the IDEAS Blue Book we look at how to open your eyes to ideas - they are all around you, but you have to look for them! One of the examples in that book is an idea I had while walking to a class on ideas I was teaching for the Raindance Film Festival one year. Ideas are *everywhere*! And here’s one of the secrets from that Blue Book - any idea that you come up with you have some personal connection to. If there are ideas all around you, the ones that *you* see are the ones that speak to you. The ones that I see are the ones that speak to me. The ones that you are passionate about, even though it may not be love at fights sight. Novelist John D. McDonald said that if you show ten writers the same event, each will come up with a different idea based on that event. Why? Because we see the ideas that are personal to us and miss the ones that have nothing to do with us. Which means those odd random ideas you come up with like that one I came up with while walking across London to my class at Raindance? Personal idea. Something I could be passionate about. I see the ideas that connect to me, you will see the ideas that connect to you.

Once you come up with a bunch of them, sober up and analyze those ideas to find the best one. Then script it. It’s much better to pick the great idea from the 100, the gold from the dirt, and script it... than to write 100 scripts and have 99 of them be “dirt ideas” and only one of them be gold. What do you do with the other 99 scripts? Train puppies? Line birdcages?



Once you go through the 100 ideas and find that one great commercial one - the one that millions of people worldwide will pay to see - now your job is to figure out why it is personal to you. What about that idea spoke to you. Knowing why that idea is personal to you is the key to making it your passion project even if it’s some wildly commercial high concept genre story. You will need to know why that idea is personal to you, why you spotted that idea among the billions and billions out there; before going to screenplay. If you don’t know why your subconscious was passionate about this idea, it will be tough to write it with passion. And the next creative step here is to “write drunk” and be giddy with passion about this idea and the story that comes from it. Once you’ve found the gold amongst the dirt and mud, you need to turn that gold into a wedding band and marry it for 110 pages and every rewrite that comes after that. You want the idea that isn’t that love at first sight (which may just be hormones), but love that is going to last. Love that inspires you to mix metaphors like panning for gold and falling in love and whatever other crazy things I’ve said here to explain screenwriting.

It’s a business of ideas, but not just any ideas - you want to find the gold! Start digging!

Good luck and keep writing!

- Bill

bluebook

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Expanded version with more ways to find great ideas! Your screenplay is going to begin with an idea. There are good ideas and bad ideas and commercial ideas and personal ideas. But where do you find ideas in the first place? This handbook explores different methods for finding or generating ideas, and combining those ideas into concepts that sell. The Idea Bank, Fifteen Places To Find Ideas, Good Ideas And Bad Ideas, Ideas From Locations And Elements, Keeping Track Of Your Ideas, Idea Theft - What Can You Do? Weird Ways To Connect Ideas, Combing Ideas To Create Concepts, High Concepts - What Are They? Creating The Killer Concept, Substitution - Lion Tamers & Hitmen, Creating Blockbuster Concepts, Magnification And The Matrix, Conflict Within Concept, Concepts With Visual Conflict, Avoiding Episodic Concepts, much more! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 175 pages!

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Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Trailer Tuesday: THE LAST OF SHEILA (1973)

KNIVES OUT looks great, and made me think of this film...

Directed by: Herbert Ross.
Written by: Anthony Perkins & Stephen Sondheim..
Starring: Richard Benjamin, Raquel Welch, James Coburn, Ian McShane, Dyan Cannon, James Mason, Joan Hackett.
Produced by: Herbert Ross .
Music by: Billy Goldenberg, with the song “Friends” by Bette Midler.
Production Design by: Ken Adam - all of the great James Bond films.



THE LAST OF SHEILA is one of my favorite films, and arguably the best mystery film ever made (and if you want to argue about it - head to the comments section!). Mystery films are a dead genre now, and even in those years when they were popular, they were not that popular. This film comes from a point in the 1970s where MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS and CHINATOWN were hits on the big screen (with a bunch of Agatha Christie films popping up afterwards), and shows like ELLERY QUEEN on the small screen. Whenever I say that Mystery Films Are Dead, a bunch of people chime in with the titles of cop shows... which are not mysteries. Mysteries are an audience participation genre - and the best example of that is probably the ELLERY QUEEN show, where just before the final commercial Ellery or the announcer would tell the audience that they have all of the clues to solve the crime - all of the evidence - and during the commercial break you were supposed to be the detective and explain to your family who did it and why and what all of the evidence that *proves* that they are the killer before the commercials are over and Ellery Queen brings all of the suspects together and does his version. You didn’t *guess* who did it, you *deduced* who did it using the evidence you were shown. Your job as a reader or a viewer in a mystery is to pay attention to the clues and motives and knowledge of means and each suspect’s opportunities and figure out who done it...



Which is why the genre is either dead or back for a few years and then dead again. The audience has to *work at it*... and most people don’t really want to think in the cinema. In fact, most development executives don’t want to have to think while reading a script. Every time I sell a mystery script, the first thing that happens in rewrites is a “mysterectomy” where the mystery and clues are removed and it is turned into a straight thriller. That way the director and prop guy and everyone else doesn’t have to worry how many martini glasses on the table have lipstick marks in every scene. But for some reason, in the 1970s, the genre was hot and people *wanted* to solve the puzzles... and THE LAST OF SHEILA was made.

It’s an original Screenplay by Anthony Perkins (Norman Bates) and Stephen Sondheim (a bunch of Broadway musicals like WEST SIDE STORY) who may have been a couple at the time, and if you look at the relationship between the Richard Benjamin character and the James Coburn character, you might wonder if there may be some autobiographical elements in there. I have no idea, but Sondheim *was* a puzzle nut - and so is Coburn’s character. The film was directed by Herbert Ross, FOOTLOSE, GOODBYE GIRL, PLAY IT AGAIN SAM, and a million other big hits... And the cast is amazing - you may not realize that Richard Benjamin was a *huge* movie star at the time, he was the lead in WESTWORLD! The *star*! You know who James Coburn and Raquel Welch and James Mason are, Dyan Cannon was a star - and once married to Cary Grant - she is still alive and *hot* at 81!, Joan Hackett played the “nice girl” lead in a bunch of movies like SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF, and the fairly young new face was some intense British actor named Ian McShane... The plot is clever, the dialogue is clever and it’s a blast to watch. And it’s a movie industry story as well as being a mystery!



Egomaniacal and cruel big shot film producer Clinton Green (James Coburn) has a party at his mansion in the Hollywood Hills... he is probably the most hated man in Hollywood, and lives to make people squirm. There’s a great shot where we start in a luxury car where the driver is smoking a joint, and it is passed from Parking Valet to Parking Valet until we can see through the mansion window, where Clinton and his wife Sheila (Yvonne Romain) are fighting... then storms out of the house and down the winding road... where she is hit and killed by a car. Great shot of her corpse reflection as the car backs up to see if she is dead or alive before speeding off. The police never find the car or discover who was driving. It is an unsolved crime, and the seed from which this whole film grows.

One year later, Clinton invites a group of Hollywood types to spend summer on his yacht in the Mediterranean playing games and soaking up the sun... all of them were at that party where Sheila was killed... all of them are suspects in her death. Clinton types the name on the invitation, and then we are introduced to the character in their natural habitat...

Big time agent Christine (Dyan Cannon) used to be fat, and this is a great performance - she *acts* fat, even though she’s hot. The role may have been written for a plump actress, but Cannon plays it as a recent Jenny Craig grad who just knows she’s going to put on all of the weight in the near future - she’s hitting on all of the men, and acting really insecure. This counters her tough-gal occupation, and she is introduced in her office barking orders followed by “Kiss, kiss” - insincere manners. Totally Hollywood!



Alice, (Raquel Welch) as the hot movie star who is no longer in her 20s, but is still a star. But for how long? Welch will remind you of Julia Roberts today - at that strange age where you don’t know what’s going to happen to her career. Is she going to play *moms*? Is she going to become a character actor? What happens when you hit your “hot babe” pull date? She is recently married to...

Anthony, (Ian McShane) is Alice’s super intense Manager/Husband and great as a brawler, an insecure slice of beefcake. They are introduced in the airport and Alice is mobbed by Paparazzi... and Anthony actually slugs a photographer and breaks his camera and then slugs someone else. This guy can not keep his temper under control, and when Alice tries to be apologetic, he scolds her - these people will ruin her image!

Philip (James Mason) a once famous film director who is now doing TV commercials and not liking it. Introduced shooting an oatmeal commercial with a bunch of bratty little girls, one of them sits on his lap... and pees on him. Philip is always aloof but never mean - and Mason is one of those actors who can deliver any line and make it sing. Philip is floating along on some higher level than everyone else - he’s a director! that’s a step down from God - but at the same time, he is afraid he might not land a job directing Clinton’s next film.

Tom (Richard Benjamin) is the screenwriter, who is broke and really needs a job... his last gig was doing on set rewrites on a low budget spaghetti western. It’s strange to think that Benjamin was a star once because he’s so unlike what we think of as a star today... but he’s an everyman when that was popular. When I first saw this film, I was a kid and wanted to be a screenwriter - so this was the perfect hero. But his character Tom is a “cautionary tale” about screenwriters. He has a stack of scripts that haven’t sold - including “Freak Show”, which he would love to sell to Clinton. He is currently living off his wife...

Lee (Joan Hackett), whose family has been in the film biz for generations and she has childhood memories of sitting on Mason’s lap. Lee’s family money ($5 million in 1973 money) has been supporting Tom while he tries to sell a script. She says paying for everything isn’t a problem... but you can see on both of their faces that it really is. Both characters are introduced at her luxurious home, where he’s laying around on the sofa instead of writing and she is drinking non-alcoholic beverages.



So those are the guests on the cruise, our suspects - each was there the night Sheila was killed by the hit and run driver, and did I mention the games? On the first day of the cruise everyone is given a card with the name of a criminal on it, like “The Shoplifter” - none of the other players knows what criminal is on your card. When the yacht docks at some exotic locale, Clinton gives the group a clue at exactly 8pm, and then each of them scrambles to follow the clue to some other clue and find the Shoplifter’s Lair before everyone else. So the clue in the Shoplifter game is a silver key marked Sterling 18k. What does it mean? This is a French port, so one of the players realizes that French for key is “Clef” - and there’s a jazz club with that name... Others think the “sterling” on a silver key is the clue. Everyone has a theory... and they follow the clue leads to a clue leads to a clue.

There’s a great bit in this game where a tourist couple wandering through the village keeps crossing paths with each of the players - connecting them with each other.



Once you find the Shoplifter’s Lair there is a clue with the identity of whoever holds The Shoplifter card. It’s a crime scene with a dead detective (dummy) and clues to the killer. You know that the criminal is a Shoplifter, because all of the clothes and other items in the room still have their price tags on them. Follow the clues and you will find which one of our players has the Shoplifter Card... and you get points. “Everything with Clinton is points,” Tom says. Once the person holding The Shoplifter card finds the Lair, the game is over - a sign is placed at the Shoplifter’s Lair that says The Game Is Over - and everyone else is a loser. No points for them! Oh, and there’s a time limit - when the boat headed back out to the yacht leaves, you’d better be on it!

There is a chart of who has won and lost each round in the yacht’s cabin, and the person who solves the most games is the ultimate winner (and may end up with a job on Clinton’s next film). If you have The Shoplifter card, you want to solve it before everyone else so that the game is over and you are the only winner of that round. A fun little game for rich Hollywood types to play, except - did I mention the cruel streak?



Each of the crimes on the cards are things a member of the group has actually been accused of. As is explained a bit later - Clinton wouldn’t give the actual shoplifter The Shoplifter card, because everyone would get angry and quit. So no one knows the cruel element of the game until enough games are played that the pattern appears. And that is when the real fun begins... because some of the crimes on the cards are more than just embarrassing, they are blackmail material.

You are a Shoplifter.
You are a Homosexual.
You are an Informant.
You are an Ex-Convict.
You are a Little Child Molester.

Oh, and one of the cards says You are a Hit And Run Killer on it.



So Clinton’s real game is to expose Sheila’s killer at the end of the cruise, while ruining everyone’s lives along the way. “That’s the thing about secrets. We all know stuff about each other, we just don’t know the same stuff,” as Alice says... she was actually once busted for shoplifting early in her career, and it was covered up. Tension builds and soon there are attempts on people’s lives - a really frightening scene where someone turns on the ship’s propellers while Christine is swimming near the rear of the yacht and she is swept towards the giant rotating blades!



But this story isn’t just a murder mystery, it’s also a showbiz story! And each of these folks being tortured by Clinton’s game also wants to be in his new movie - the story of his dead wife to be titled “The Last Of Sheila”. Each of the players is competing with each other for the attention of the most hated man in Hollywood, and backstabbing each other to climb over each other’s corpse to reach the top - a job on this proposed film about the murder victim. If you are in the business, or just a big enough movie fan to get the jokes, it’s a lot of fun as it skewers the film business... especially those second tier studio flicks with stars who are trying to hold on to their stardom and directors and writers who are no longer on their way up...

Super intense Anthony is not very good at kissing ass, but does his best...” My aspirations do run closer to the production end of things, if you know what I mean. What would you say, and please be absolutely frank, to me asking you for an associate producership on this upcoming film?” What Clinton would say is - a humiliating fake crying sound, boo-hoo-hoo, that morphs into laughter. He cuts off Anthony’s balls in front of everyone else. And that makes the others both afraid of Clinton and happy that with Anthony out of the running, maybe they will win Clinton’s favor. It’s vicious!

Buy King Kong DVDs

Okay, someone is murdered in addition to long dead Sheila (or it wouldn’t be much of a movie) at the halfway point, and the director and screenwriter partner up to solve the murder in a Holmes & Watson kind of thing. The screenwriter, Tom, leading the investigation... which only makes sense because the screenwriter is the brains of any film. But the director, Philip, actually finds the big clue at an unexpected moment. The way these two work together is great, and James Mason has played Watson a few years later in MURDER BY DECREE.

The great thing about this film is that it completely plays fair - the audience can play along and solve the murder themselves. The clues are all there. In fact, the great thing about the ending when Tom and Philip are taking it clue-by-clue explaining who did it and how, is that they show you a clip from the movie you have already seen... and this time you notice the killer picking up the murder weapon! Before, you saw the exact same piece of film and didn’t notice it. (Though the new piece of film continues to show the killer actually pocketing it... the original clip stopped just before they put it in their pocket.) But everything was right there on film and you could have easily followed the clues to the killer. Ellery Queen could have popped up before the end and said you had all of the information to solve the crime. The film clips we have already seen are the reason why I love this film because I was paying attention and missed some of the clues. In the cinema, you wonder if the clip is the same in the denouement on video you can literally zip back and compare! Dang - the killer used that amazing skill earlier in the film!

And one of the great things about how this story plays fair, is that there are three different solutions to the murder in the film - the first one makes sense if you noticed some of the clues, the second one if you noticed most of the clues, and the last if you noticed all of the clues. That way we have different prime suspects you can build a case for, and we can have an obvious suspect and a least likely suspect and still have a twist ending with the actual killer. We also have Sheila’s murder and the victim halfway through the story - they may or may not have been killed by the same person. So even if you are a mystery fan, there are all kinds of variables that have been carefully set up to throw you off the track!



There is a great scene where they lay all of their cards on the table and we see the secret crimes for the first time... and Tom asks each to pick the card that is their secret. Needless to say, no one wants to admit to being any of those things. So there are disputes over who *wants to be* the Homosexual - which isn’t nearly as bad as a Child Molester or a Hit And Run Killer. And then there’s a fight over who gets to be the Ex-Convict! These characters are all clever and witty, but none are very nice (except Welch’s Alice, who is way too sweet to be a sexy movie star... and that’s what makes the character interesting). Each character is well rounded to begin with, and once you discover who has what secret, you see realize small things in their personality have set these revelations up. They are twists, but completely logical. Once the Hit And Run Killer is revealed, you can watch the film again and if you focus on that character you not only can see all of the clues... you can see a great performance by that actor. In the background of scenes they react to discussion of Sheila differently than other characters. You don’t notice this first time through, but it’s an amazing performance.

Another great element of this screenplay is that the title, “The Last Of Sheila”, is kind of “punned” throughout the story. It has different meanings at different times. So it’s the death of Clinton’s wife, it’s the title of the movie he is planning to make, the yacht is the “Sheila” so it is where Christine is almost mangled by the propellers, and a secret clue to the killer... part of Clinton’s cruel games.



This is one of the films I use as an example in SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING along with THE VERDICT on how to not lose the audience when your identification character becomes a suspect. When the hero may be the villain. Usually in a mystery, like MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, the detective is not a suspect. But here, both our Holmes and our Watson have great motives and enough clues to make us wonder if they are going to be revealed as the killer. And because we have a shallow suspect pool, there is a character in this story who we have grown to like... who ends up being a killer. I’m not going to spoil the ending, but the film manages to pull off the seemingly impossible task of *not losing the audience* after this killer is revealed. This story walks a dangerous tight-rope and doesn’t fall, which is a miracle. Great writing skills involved in this.

And the locations are fantastic - one of the games takes place in an abandoned monastery on a tiny island at night, with only candles to illuminate the dark spooky hallways. It's a great creepy location, and all of the players are dressed as monks so you can not tell them apart. This sequence is almost like a horror story - lots of spooky atmosphere and scares. Though most of the story is on a yacht in the Mediterranean - beautiful and fun - the games are at night and in interesting locations like the monastery.

And quotable dialogue: “The harder you try to keep a secret in, the more it wants to get out.”



What is frightening is that Hollywood wants to remake this film... as a comedy! Huge mistake! The best way to remake this film - use the original screenplay and do not change a single word. Maybe hire a typist to change any anachronisms, but DO NOT HIRE A SCREENWRITER because they may change something that is already perfect. Of course, Hollywood doesn’t do that, so they will probably hire some version of this movie’s Tom to do a rewrite that isn’t nearly as good as the original. The recent remake of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS turned it into an action flick at times, because mysteries are a hard sell today... so maybe they should just put off any remake until mysteries come back into fashion? Then they don’t need to make it as a comedy or an action film, they can just make it as a mystery?

THE LAST OF SHEILA is a great mystery film, but if you don’t want to play along and solve the crime like Ellery Queen, it’s a vicious look at Hollywood with a bunch of great performances... and starring that guy who starred in WESTWORLD. Warner Archive has it on DVD, sold at Amazon and other fine retailers.

- Bill

Friday, July 05, 2019

The Lost Hitchcock Film

So here is some background on this “lost Hitchcock film” THE WHITE SHADOW...

When Hitchcock was 21 - the year was 1920 - he got a job with Famous Players Lasky, an American film company that opened a studio in England. That company would eventually become Paramount Pictures. Hitchcock was interested in film and studying advertizing art in college and submitted some art for title cards to the new studio... and was hired. In the silent era, movie title cards had the minimum dialogue to tell the story - hand lettered in an easy to read style - and a small illustration. Hitchcock’s example for Truffaut was: “George was living a fast life” and the illustration would be a candle burning at both ends. Writing title cards was part of post production, because often a film changed completely during production and the assembled shots might tell a completely different story. Hitchcock told the story of a drama that didn’t turn out well, so the title cards were comedy dialogue that transformed the meaning of the scenes so that the film became a crazy comedy.



Hitchcock did title cards on numerous films... and was curious about films, so he asked questions and learned about the various jobs. Part of titling a film was reading the screenplays, and he learned how to write scripts and occasionally wrote a last minute scene for the films - kind of production rewrite work.

During this time Hitchcock directed a short film, NUMBER THIRTEEN (1922) which he says was never completed.

When Famous Players Lasky left the studios, British producers took over and Hitchcock was promoted to assistant director. On a film called ALWAYS TELL YOUR WIFE (1922) the director became ill and Hitchcock and the star completed the film - Hitch was kind of coy when he told this story to Truffaut, so my guess is that the star actually directed the remaining scenes and Hitch just did his assistant directing chores and maybe made a suggestion or two.



In late 1922 producer Michael Balcon began producing films at the studio and hired young Hitchcock as his assistant director for a series of films to be directed by Graham Cutts, starting with WOMAN TO WOMAN. Hitchcock was ambitious, and when they needed a screenplay offered to write it... and had a spec script sample he had written to show what he could do. He wrote the script, was assistant director, did set design (art school background), did the title cards, and was Graham Cutts’ assistant. He performed these tasks on the entire series of films: WOMAN TO WOMAN (1922), THE WHITE SHADOW (1923), THE PASSIONATE ADVENTURE (1924), THE BLACKGUARD (1925), and THE PRUDE’S FALL (1925). Of the five, Hitchcock said WOMAN TO WOMAN was the best of the lot. Oh, the film editor and script supervisor on all of these films was Hitch’s future wife Alma - these are the projects where they met and fell in love.

Hitchcock had a falling out with Cutts on PRUDE’S FALL, but instead of being fired, producer Michael Balcon gave Hitch his first actual directing job on THE PLEASURE GARDEN (1925)... which will be the *last* entry in the Fridays With Hitchcock series.



The “lost film”, THE WHITE SHADOW, was the second in that series. Directed by Graham Cutts, screenplay co-written by Hitchcock who also did sets. Hitch had nothing to say about it to Truffaut, so I’m guessing it was just a job. These films were all melodramas, shot in 6 weeks, and none of them were very popular. This one was about twin sisters: one good, one evil. Maybe the first time they did that story, but I'm guessing not. It got bad reviews when it opened... many critics pointing to the silly script (co-written by Hitch). It would take a few more years for Hitchcock to find his footing and make BLACKMAIL (1929) before he started to become the director we now know. I suspect when these three remaining reels are restored and shown at that screening in Beverly Hills... it will be kind of a let down. Interesting to see an old film that Hitchcock did some work on, but not really a Hitchcock movie (he didn’t direct it).



The guy who *did* direct the film, Graham Cutts, basically fired Hitch... and that allowed him to begin his career as a director. Later, when Hitch was gearing up to make THE 39 STEPS (the film that would get him to Hollywood) he needed a second unit director for some odds and ends establishing shots and the producer suggested... Graham Cutts. Hitchcock said he couldn’t hire Cutts, since he had basically began as Cutts’ assistant. The producer told Hitch that Cutts had fallen on hard times and really needed a job and was willing to do the second unit stuff. Hitch hired him. So it came full circle, and Cutts sort of became Hitchcock’s assistant. Or maybe Hitch was repaying Cutts for the on-the-job-training on films like WHITE SHADOW. Maybe we should do a retrospective of Graham Cutts’ films, as the man who created Hitchcock?

And here's the film, if you're interested: THE WHITE SHADOW.

- Bill

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: How Many Stories Can One Movie Tell?
Dinner: A family New Years Meal.
Pages: No, recovery from drinking instead.
Bicycle: No. I'm in the Bay Area.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Thriller Thursday: ROSE'S LAST SUMMER

Rose’s Last Summer

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



Season: 1, Episode: 5.
Airdate: 10/11/1960


Director: Arthur Hiller
Writer: Marie Baumer, based on a novel by Margaret Millar
Cast: Mary Astor, Lin McCarthy, Jack Livesey
Music: Pete Rugolo
Cinematography: John L. Russell




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Rose French. In the blur of memory the face grows dim, but do you remember the name? Twenty years ago, Rose French... the remarkable Rose French.. As a servant girl or as a princess? She was a quicksilver star in a celluloid heaven. If a woman would sell her soul to achieve such fame, what wouldn’t she do to get it back? Poor Rose, that was all she wanted, to relive the past. And those who loved her, Frank Clyde for instance, could do nothing to stop her. For the comeback trail could lead to strange and sinister places. To a lonely garden, into a night of terror, it could even lead to the face of a painted doll. For the comeback trail is a journey without maps, sure as my name is Boris Karloff. Poor Rose French, and her last desperate summer. That’s the name of our story: Rose’s Last Summer. Let me assure you, my friends, this is a thriller.”

Synopsis: Mary Astor famously explained the Five Stages Of Stardom: “Who's Mary Astor? Get me Mary Astor. Get me a Mary Astor Type. Get me a young Mary Astor. Who's Mary Astor?”



Rose French (Mary Astor) is a once famous movie star, a real doll; now a washed up drunk living in a crappy apartment in Los Angeles... forgotten by time. She was married to three men... and divorced by them. Two were pretty boy actors who lived off her fame, one was a Howard Hughes like millionaire who may be the only man she has ever loved. But now she is alone. When she gets an unusual acting job out of the blue, she takes it... No fame or fortune involved, no spotlights and red carpets; that’s not what Rose is looking for. Just a chance to practice her craft... in some town in California called LaMesa. What’s the role?

A few weeks later, Rose French is found dead in LaMesa, in the garden of some dead millionaire’s toy manufacturer’s mansion. The young doctor at the rehab facility where she once dried out Frank Clyde (Lin McCarthy) and that Howard Hughes like ex husband Dalloway (Jack Livesey) show up at the inquest, where it is revealed she died of a massive heart attack, and had been in poor health for years. The two men team up, because the doctor had examined Rose not that long ago, and she had *no* heart condition and was in pretty good health for a boozer. Did someone kill her? Poison her and make it look like a heart attack? They head to LaMesa to investigate.



The garden of the dead toy manufacturer’s mansion is accessible from the street, did she just wander in and die? While poking around they spot an old woman watching from the window, and ring the bell. They talk to the son of the toy millionaire, Willet Goodfield (Hardie Albright) and his wife Ethel (Dorothy Green), about Rose’s death, and they claim they know nothing. She was just this strange woman who wandered into their yard and dropped dead. When they ask to talk to Willet’s mother, who may have seen something from her window, Willet tries to dissuade them. When they insist, old Mrs. Goodfield yells from upstairs that she will see them.

Mrs. Goodfield is heir to Horace Goodfield’s Sweet Marie Doll fortune, and old woman who walks with a cane and spends much of her time confined to her bed. She’s cranky, but answers Frank and Dalloway’s questions. She didn’t see anything, but it’s a tragedy that the woman died on their property. When Dalloway continues with a bunch of follow up questions, Mrs. Goodfield orders him out of the room, she needs her rest. While this is going on, Frank pokes around the house and discovers a piece of evidence that makes it look like Rose may have been inside the house. Frank and Dalloway leave highly suspicious of the family, and do further investigation...



Now we get our big twist, much like in the classic thriller MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS, the role Rose was hired to play is playing is a real person... Mrs. Goodfield. Millionaire toy maker Horace Goodfield left his fortune in an odd trust: his widow must live to her sixty fifth birthday for she and Willet to inherit... but the widow has a bad heart, and the family is afraid she will pass away before her birthday. So they hire Rose to play the window in the event she dies before her upcoming birthday. Rose does an amazing job, and Willet and his wife have trouble telling them apart. But when Mrs. Goodfield does die before her birthday, they have to figure out some way to get rid of the body... and decide to dye her hair, put her in Rose’s clothes with all of Rose’s ID and place it in the garden. Plan worked: nobody thought it was Mrs. Goodfield, and when her birthday rolled around Rose played the role perfectly and Willet got his hands on his father’s fortune...

But when Rose wants her money so that she can go back to her life, Willet asks, “What life?” You see, Rose is *dead*. Rose has nowhere to go, no life to live... nothing. Willet gives her a bottle of booze to wash away her depression... and when she’s passed out drunk they carry her out to their car to dispose of her. But Rose was *acting* passed out, and she escapes, running for her life as Willet and Ethel chase her in the car trying to run her down. A nice suspense scene, ending with Frank and Dalloway arriving at the Goodfield mansion with the police, hearing the screams from the car chase a few streets over, and rescuing Rose. Nice ending as Rose and Dalloway walk off together.



Review: MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS is about an actress who gets trapped in the role of a real person who was murdered, and can’t escape after she discovers they are setting her up as a suicide. This episode tells a similar story, but through characters outside the conflict who are investigating the mystery. This works fine, because by the halfway point we switch POVs and get Rose’s story, the character who *is* inside the conflict. What’s great is that Mary Astor gets to play duel roles, and pulls off both of them. When she is playing Mrs. Goodfield, you don’t recognize her at all and think she may be part of the conspiracy to kill Rose. And in the flashback sequence, she gets a *third* role, playing the real Mrs. Goodfield under the name “Helen Quintal” in the opening credits so that the audience won’t jump ahead of the story... the way Hitchcock did publicity shots with the chair for Mrs. Bates. She does a great job of playing the real Mrs. Goodfield against Rose playing Mrs. Goodfield, and manages to make each distinctive. So we get a great performance by Mary Astor at that time in her career she was probably the latter “Who is Mary Astor?”



The episode does some stock footage jet setting, from Dalloway’s yacht to San Francisco (where Horace Goodfield died) and from gritty downtown to the luxurious gated estate. All of this is very convincing, and gives the show some scope. Though the car chase and attack scene is tame compared to what we might expect on a TV series today, it’s great for the time. The novel it’s based on is by Margaret Millar, who was Mrs. Ross Macdonald (“Archer” filmed as HARPER with Paul Newman) and a great crime novelist in her own right. Again we get PSYCHO cinematographer John L. Russell shooting the episode, and Arthur Hiller who would go on to direct the hit LOVE STORY as well as critical favorite THE HOSPITAL does a good job... but on a show like this it’s all about pacing, and this episode works well.



Though not on a par with some of the great edge of your seat suspense episodes or the creepy horror episodes of the show, this is a solid entry that really showcases the talent of Mary Astor... and makes you realize there should *never* be a time when Hollywood asks “Who is Mary Astor?” just because an actor or actress is older. Mary Astor doesn’t play a 30 or 40 year old in this episode, and looks great... no crazy plastic surgery. For an actress who was a star in the silent age, and the femme fatale in the Bogart version of THE MALTESE FALCON, she gives a great star turn here and shows that she could still act circles around most actors half her age. What is the reason for that? Oh, yeah: *Experience*.

FADE OUT.

Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Film Courage Plus: Big Screens Need Big Ideas

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me at the end of 2014, and then again at the end of 2015... and we are going to set up something this year with a couple of hours worth of stuff! There were something like 12 segments from 2014, and probably around 24 segments for 2015... and that's 36 (or more) segments total. That's almost a year's worth of material! So why not add a new craft article and make it a weekly blog entry? All I have to do is write that new article, right?

It's a big screen, you need ideas big enough to fill it!



You say you have an idea for a movie... but do you? Maybe you have an idea for a TV show or a novel or a short story or a mini-series or a stage play or a ... How can you be sure that your idea is a *movie*?

In the clip I talk about the problem with many of my early screenplays - they were too small for the big screen. The story ideas would have been better suited to TV. Even though longform cable shows like GAME OF THRONES might make this theory a little confusing, for the most part the size of the average screen reflects the size of the idea necessary to fill that screen. So when you are coming up with ideas for movies - the big screen - you need larger than life ideas. That average FBI profiler chases serial killer idea is fine for a smaller screen, but you need something with a larger scope to make it big enough for the big screen.

"Look, there’s no question that we are heading toward a future where event films are only going to become more event-sized. You’ve got so many options in your home for viewing content that there has to be a need for you to leave your home, and what is going to drive you to do that?" Joe Russo - AVENGERS ENDGAME.

A movie is seen on a big screen by hundreds of thousands of people around the world at the same time (more or less). You sit in a crowded cinema to see a movie, so it is not a small intimate story. You are sharing it with 300 people when you see it. The story needs *scope* (not the mouth wash, the spectacle) - as I say in the clip, people have to spend a small fortune to go to the cinema these days, it needs to be an *event* in order to get them to leave their homes and drive and park and spend all of that money. Just a regular story is going to be a tough sell to the producer and a tough sell to the audience.

I know that many of you are mentally coming up with a list of movies that prove me wrong, and that’s fine... but the business is changing as I write this. The middle has fallen out and medium budget films are failing at the box office. There was an article a while back about movies like LONG SHOT that have two stars, a great funny story, and even though it deals with a Presidential race... the story was too small to attract the kind of audience it needed to make back it’s money. Low budget films can still work because they don’t have to make as much money to recoup their costs, but everything else needs to be a big enough event to get a mass audience. The middle movies end up being “we’ll wait for Netflix” - which seems to be where those mid-range romantic comedies are being made these days. So the bigger the screen, the bigger the idea needs to be...

Yeah, you have a wall sized TV and comfy cinema seats with built in cup holders at home... but the average person is watching a 32" TV set in their livingroom. They watch those kind of small, intimate, personal stories that fit that screen size. Cop shows and comedies and other things about real people - rather than larger than life characters. Of course, even TV has shows about witches and aliens and zombies - because even on a small screen people want to watch escapist stories. But in a cinema? Larger than life stories are expected. So is your idea big enough to fill the screen?

COMING UP WITH BIG IDEAS


When I had my day job working in the warehouse for a decade, I wrote a good page a day - and that's 3 scripts a year for a grand total of 30 scripts. One of my current spare time projects (like I have spare time) is to rewrite all of these old scripts and make the ideas big enough to fit the screen. One that I finished a few years ago was about a bodyguard and a woman pregnant with the President's kid - and the President's people want her dead so that he can be re-elected. THE BODYGUARD meets what's in Bill Clinton's pants. This was pre-Clinton though, and was kind of a JFK-like Prez and a Marilyn Monroe type. There always seemed to be some movie with a similar idea, just as I prepared to send it out. First we had THE BODYGUARD, then we had all of those Clinton scandal movies like ABSOLUTE POWER and MURDER AT 1600 where the President is having an affair and kills the girl himself. Not exactly my script, but kind of the same idea. Just when those had run their course we got a half dozen Bodyguard-Protects-Pregnant-Babe movies, at least two or three of which starred Clive Owen. My script needed something that really made it different! That made it big enough for the screen.

One of those Clive Owen movies had the *only pregnant woman in the world* - after babies just stopped being born. That’s a big idea! I wrote this back when I didn't understand that high concept isn't just doing search and replace to make it The President or make the bad guys into Vampires or have the story take place In Outer Space. I had a weak concept - one that was obvious instead of inventive. The more unique your concept is, the less likely someone else will come up with it and the more likely it will be something personal.

What I needed was *more* imagination to make it more unique (and more personal) (and bigger in scope).

So, what I needed to do was give this old script a high concept injection that would change the core of the story. To take the basic plotting and characters and overlay a new high concept. Add a new weird element. Make it a bigger story. The bodyguard protecting the pregnant babe is still there - but instead of her pregnant with the President's kid, I raised the stakes and changed the genre by having the father be someone even more powerful. So the story is *now* about the Vatican's version of Indiana Jones who unearths the key to cracking a code in the missing Dead Sea Scroll... and discovers that the second coming is about to take place - the Second Son will be born in a certain hospital on September 29th... So the archeologist jets to the hospital to find and protect the pregnant woman from Satan's minions - who want to kill her before she gives birth. Various forms of demons attack (instead of The President's handler's secret hit squad) and each form of demon is some cool kind of monster. I tried to make the demons all kind of high concept. Coming up with them was fun. And the new end twist - she gives birth, and it's *Satan's* son! Okay - kinda RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK meets THE BODYGUARD meets DAVINCI CODE meets CONSTANTINE meets THE OMEN... but much better than the stale script it began life as... and it examines faith and responsibility, a couple of things I've been thinking about lately. I'm hoping they hire Clive Owen as the lead.

TWO TOOLS FOR SISTER SARA




Here are two basic tools for making your idea bigger - MAGNIFICATION and SUBSTITUTION. The above is an example of substitution - I rewrote a script with a small idea about assassins trying to kill a woman because she is pregnant with the President’s child, and substituted Satan as the father. That only changes everything. Basically substitution is a “high concept injection” - you can take a small or smallish story and substitute a larger or more cinematic conflict. I really like 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE - which is the story of a woman who gets into a car accident and wakes up in a stranger’s house... and the stranger is pretty damned strange. Does that sound like MISERY? A man gets intro a car accident and wakes up in a stranger’s house? Same basic story concept. MISERY is about a novelist who wakes up in his Number One Fan’s house - and she wants him to write a new novel just for her... or else. A snow storm keeps him trapped in the house, until... In 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE it isn’t a snow storm, it’s an alien invasion. Substitution. The weirdo doesn’t want her to write a novel, but she may be needed to help him propagate the human race. Eeew!

The great thing about 10 CLOVERDFIELD is they use the alien invasion as a mystery element - she doesn’t believe it happened and thinks this old guy is just a pervert... until she sees what is going on outside the bunker. Substitution is kind of a cosmetic change - though you still have to do a page one rewrite to turn a story like MISERY into a story like 10 CLOVERFIELD, the story conflict remains about someone being held captive inside a building and the cat and mouse relationship between them. The snow storm or alien invasion is the background.

MAGNIFICATION is going to change the story conflict itself. Make the conflict larger. This is a tool that can be used to find your “doorway” into a story - so you probably don’t know what it feels like to be wrongly accused of murder and going on the run from the police... so how can you write about that authentically? How can you get into that character? But you probably have been wrongly accused of doing something at work - stealing Milton’s red stapler or maybe someone’s lunch or maybe screwing up when really it was someone else who screwed up. And you have had to hide from Milton (or whoever’s lunch went missing) for part of the day - avoiding them in hallways. So you can magnify those authentic emotions - blow them way out of proportion - to understand how it feels to be wrongly accused of murder and write something like THE FUGITIVE.

You can do the same thing with a small idea - use magnification to blow the conflict out of proportion so a small conflict is now a huge conflict. Big enough to fill the screen.

ACTIVE LIFESTYLES


In one of my Script Tips in rotation I look at one of the keys to an *indie* drama - give the protagonist an “active lifestyle”. BREAKING AWAY is one of my favorite films, about four blue collar kids about to graduate high school and wondering what comes next. A typical coming of age film. So what makes it a *movie*? What gives this story “scope”? Well, our protagonist is a cyclist and there is a world championship bike race in the city nearby - and he can race against the professionals! Now we have a protagonist who competes in a visually exciting sport, and a race that has cyclists from around the world - it’s a world event, not a small town event. In THE WRESTLER we have a story about where Mickey Rourke plays an old has been who is trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter... but he’s an ex-wrestler (active lifestyle) who wants to prove his worth by climbing in the ring again. Now we have something visual and interesting. More cinematic.

You always want to come up with story ideas that are big enough to fill the screen, but also personal - so that you can write authentic emotions and not go crazy writing draft #27 because you have a connection to the story.

A year ago I had a project where I needed to come up with a bunch of pitches for sequels to movies in a studio's library. After selecting some movies, my next step was to let my imagination run wild and find interesting and unusual story ideas for a sequel - to take the unique idea from the original and add another unique idea. More high concept injection. While doing this, I looked for stories that were personal to me - things the protagonist could wrestle with that were things that I have wrestled with. Some of the ideas I came up with are really cool - personal and completely wild... and large enough to fill the big screen.

So, if you use your imagination and stay away from small stories, which puts your script in a good stack - there may be another script in there that has the same idea as yours, but there aren't hundreds of them. Then, if you make it personal, you have a script that may have the same idea as another script, but is still a *unique* take on that idea. And we get ARMAGEDDON and DEEP IMPACT. And if there is still a script in the stack that has the same general idea as yours, find all of the ways that your idea is different and do a major rewrite focusing on those elements... and if that doesn't do it, twist the concept even more and do a page one rewrite. If someone just sold a script with a similar idea as yours - just make yours different. And make sure that your story is big enough to fill the screen!

Good luck and keep writing!

- Bill

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- Bill
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