Saturday, April 29, 2006

Aarhus Film Festival (part 5)


I wake up the next morning at about 8am, groggy but not as severely jet-lagged as usual. In London I’m always a complete mess until the day I leave, when I’ve finally begun to acclimate. I go downstairs for the free breakfast, wondering what Danes have for breakfast. Reindeer omelets?

The answer is....Danish! Really. It may be difficult to tell what *actual* Danes have for breakfast from the hotels' breakfast buffet - it may be more international. It typical scrambled eggs, hardboiled eggs, boiled potatoes, bacon, a pate, "sausage" which ended up being little hot dogs rather than Jimmy Dean, tomatoes, smoked salmon (and other smoked meats), interesting cheeses (stuff in the cheese) and lots of danish pastries. The smell of pastry often drifts down the street, beckoning you to enter a bakery. I load up my plate - again unusual because I typically don’t each breakfast. I just drink about a gallon of coffee (and everyone here drinks gallons of coffee, so I fit in). But for some reason, maybe all of that walking, I’m hungry.

While I eat I study the festival’s program to decide which movies I will be seeing today. The festival is mostly two hour blocks of shorts with categories like: American Hardcore (not porn - violent films), Artists (docs about artists), Believing The Unbelievable (semi-supernatural), Bitter Sweet (love stories), CineBlitz (movies about movies), Faces Of War (docs & fiction with a war background), Gothic Tales (dark fantasy shorts). Inspiration (more artist docs), Journey To The Future, Ladies (shorts about women), Life (slices of life), Little Woman (about girls), Tears (sad films), Memories, Food, Surreal, She & He (romantic issues), Stories for Children, Beggars Stories, Loneliness, Dreams, Twilight Stories. Lots of strange shorts... and most aren’t all that short. Many movies are 40 minutes long, and a couple are a full hour. I try to chart my day, but one of the problems is that everything is a 20-25 minute walk. So if I want to see a program at one cinema and another program at the other cinema, I have to leave early to do that 20-25 minute walk... and maybe miss the very short I most want to see.

One movie I really want to see is a thriller called CAVITE from the Philippines about a man whose mother and sister have been kidnaped and will be killed unless he assassinates a government official. Sounds great! It’s tomorrow night - after my 10 hour class.

I figure out what I’m going to see for the day, which includes one late night feature called B MOVIE, then remember the consultations I have to do. I pull out my list and realize I’m booked from noon until 6pm with consultations! I won’t be seeing any of these shorts! Though I have one free hour in that block, I have to read a script for my last consultation.

Tomorrow I’m teaching my class from 8:30 am until 6:30 pm, then I’m required to go to a party for the film makers - no films tomorrow.

After breakfast I decide to take a walk... but it’s pouring rain. I have a raincoat and hat - no umbrella in my luggage - so I can brave it if I want, but I decide to read the script instead.

Maybe the weather will clear up.

After reading the script, it’s almost time for my first consultation, so I wander over to the Film Festival HQ in the convention center of the hotel... where Marina tells me my 12:00 consultation has just postponed until Sunday. Since everything is a 20-25 minute walk and my next consult is at 12:30, I can’t really do anything except wait... Until my 12:30 cancels... then wait until my 1:00 cancels... then wait until.... What has happened is a transit strike, and buses aren’t running. People from the suburbs can’t get to the city. There’s a point where everyone has cancelled except my 5pm, and I might be able to see a program of shorts (or part of one) but the rain hasn’t let up and the idea of that 20-25 minute walk in pouring rain doesn’t excite me.

The script for my consult is... unusual. An animated feature about an earthworm who doesn’t want to work in the compost heap - he has dreams of going on the backyard insect version of American Idol. It’s funny and well written. When I meet the two writers, first thing they do is whip out their copies of Secrets Of Action and ask for autographs - they are fans. In fact, they’ve taken the train from Copenhagen to take my class tomorrow and will stay in the hotel tonight. They show me the trailer for their film - great 3D animated dancing worms! Very funny stuff.

We talk about their script, where it’s going, the characters, etc. They’re on the right track.

After the consultation, I decide to brave the rain and see a movie. B MOVIE which is playing at a venue called "Slaughterhouse Cinema" (20-25 minutes walk, not a problem) is described as a parody of classic B movies, about a pair of park rangers who discover a mysterious island and a lost world right inside their park! They hook up with a pair of buxom babes from the lost world... all before lunch. Plus, the synopsis promises singing. Okay, sounds fun to me. What does it sound like to you?

My friend Fred over at Retromedia and my arch-enemy Jim co-directed a movie called DINOSAUR ISLAND that’s great silly fun, about some shipwrecked soldiers who end up on a mysterious island inhabited by a tribe of hot amazon-babes and... dinosaurs! Feed & Jim’s movie is played straight, even though it’s obviously silly stuff. The dinosaurs are pretty convincing - maybe more convincing that the amazon babes (all of whom seem to have had boob jobs). I know that DINOSAUR ISLAND was made for pocket change - both Fred and Jim have a talent for stretching a buck to the extreme and making a film that looks much more expensive than it really is. They use creativity because they usually don’t have much cash.

I’m hoping that B MOVIE will be similar.

It wasn’t.

But first, the Slaughterhouse Cinema. I’ve been told it’s easy to miss. I have to look for the street address "50" over an alleyway, then go down the alley until I see the stairs going down into the basement. The cinema is in the basement. All of this is kind of spooky. I climb the stairs down to the basement, where there’s a poster for the film festival on the door. Right place. I enter the basement, and it’s kind of a made-up cinema. There’s a lobby section, and exposed water pipes, and the cinema is a bunch of seats on plywood and a digital projector. We’re warned not to lean back in the seats - they will fall over. By the end of the movie, someone will lean back and a whole row will fall over. The place is spooky and ugly and the kind of place you might expect to see snuff movies or something. I don’t really want the house lights to go down and the movie to start - I don’t want any lights to turn off in this place. But the lights go off and the horror begins.

B MOVIE is in that strange genre of "Bad On Purpose" - bad acting, bad camera work, bad lighting, bad special effects, bad everything. As the writer-director-producer said after the movie, the great thing about making a bad film on purpose is that if anyone notices any actual mistakes, you can just claim you did that on purpose. Except I kind of think the opposite - that it’s just a bad film. When you have a big budget flick like BOFINGER with Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy, the film we are watching is actually very well made, and the film they are making is bad. This creates contrast, and that makes the bad stuff look even more bad... because the film we are watching is well made. When you are doing a low budget film and something is bad, you have no idea whether it was planned to be bad or just bad... so you naturally assume the worst. I have never seen a successful Bad On Purpose low budget film.

And BOFINGER is the best example of a big budget version - and it’s not poorly made.

So we have this poorly made film with bad acting and bad-almost-everything-else, but the worst sin is that it doesn’t deliver. The "caveman" they chase is a dude in shorts - they couldn’t even afford basic make up and a loin cloth! The "lost world" has no dinosaurs or animals of any kind - it’s just a cabin.... and you can clearly see other cabins in the background. Nothing mysterious about this island! And the buxom babes are just two girls fully dressed in street clothes who live in the cabin along with scientist guy (in his 20s) who smokes a pipe. The girls don’t get naked, nothing exciting happens, and the biggest threat is that their radios stop working (jammed by the boy-scientist who believes all media is evil).

After the screening the director jumped in front of the screen and started talking and talking and talking and talking. He said he wanted to make a classic B movie like INVASION OF THE BODYSNATCHERS... except nothing in this film resembled that classic. In fact, this film didn’t resemble *any* 50's or 60's B movie - it lacked the imagination and exploitation elements of those films. And I don’t think this guy can plead budget, because Fred & Jim’s movie hardly cost anything and I’ve seen movies made on credit cards that had actual special effects. In fact, if you cruise the offerings over at Brain Damage Entertainment - where the films are all made on credit card budgets and it shows - they have monsters and FX and buxom babes who pop their tops in typical B movie fashion. I had FX in my super 8mm movies! In my parody of 50s B movies, THE MEDIUM SIZED BEHEMOTH, I used these 20 foot long cloth pipes as legs for a creature so tall we never saw it... just the legs. That was the gag. This monster goes on a rampage, destroying a town, and all we see are the legs. BEHEMOTH was a movie that literally cost nothing - made on outdated Super 8mm film. Okay, it cost me to process the film - probably $3 total. The town it destroyed was a bunch of company buildings set for demolition that my friend Vic was guarding - free location. When a film that cost $3 has more production value than this guy’s feature, something is wrong! Zero imagination!

The film was bad (on purpose or not, who cares?) and afterwards the writer-director-producer would not stop talking. I was sitting in the front row, and stood up to leave... then was trapped standing there as he talked until the festival representative told him they needed to start the next movie. Finally, I could walk the 20-25 minutes back to the hotel in the pouring rain and go to sleep.

Tomorrow I have to teach my 10 hour class, starting at 8:30 am.

- Bill

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Aarhus Film Festival (part 4)


The cinema is on the east end of Paradise St and is named East Of Paradise in Danish, which is basically EAST OF EDEN - a great Steinbeck book turned into a movie with James Dean. And it’s funky. Basically some old industrial building turned into a 5 plex by gutting each room and adding cinema seats. There was this great old arthouse in Berkeley called the Rialto that was an industrial building converted into a cinema - saw hundreds of films there. Major difference was - the Rialto was a single storey building and each room was decorated with beautiful murals, and the East Of Eden is a four storey building without much in the way of decoration. But they serve hard liquor in the lobby.

It’s afer 4pm, and I’m a little worried that there won’t be room for me. Marina warned me to get my ticket early, but I forgot. It’s opening night at the festival, and I’m hoping there’s an empty seat available at the last minute. I climb the stairs to the third storey lobby and nod at one of the male festival volunteers I have met earlier. I am the first one here. I order a coffee and take a seat in the lobby bar. Eventually a few more people show up, a grand total of maybe ten. That’s it for the opening night movie!

I take my seat in the beat up old cinema seat in the converted warehouse.


The kick off film, MUTUAL APPRECIATION, is this NY indie that was crudely made... on purpose. This sort of thing kind of confuses me. Much of the film is in soft focus. The camera is hand held or on sticks - but no dolly work. No lighting, either - flat and bland lighting. Really long takes of a conversation where one of the participants is off screen. It seems faux indie. The film was almost 2 hours long, B&W (more expensive to shoot than color), and for the first 4/5ths of the film I had no idea what it was about or where it was going. Story of a young musician slacker who moves to NYC and has one lucky break after another. No sooner does he show up in town than he gets a gig at a night club! Oh, and he’s house sitting in this massive apartment!

But he's strange - and we don't understand him. When a hot DJ girl wants to sleep with him, he makes up a bunch of excuses not to. I couldn't figure out why. And I couldn't figure out why she keeps throwing herself at him after he keeps coming up with lame excuses. He's got a best friend who works as a Teaching Assistant at a college. The best friend has a girlfriend, and much of the movie is them hanging out at the apartment just talking endlessly about trivial stuff - some of which is funny in kind of a Seinfeld rip-off way (why do they make backpacks with 2 straps if everyone just uses one shoulder?). But most of the talk is just boring - about the musician needing to find a drummer for that gig that fell from the sky onto his lap. We also have his dad (on the phone) who wants him to get a real job, even though *everyone* calls him a musical genius. And some dude who grows plants - I still can't figure out what that character was doing in the movie. Eventually he finds a drummer - the hot DJ's brother. The brother plays in, like, 17 bands, but thinks the protag is a genius so he drums for him at the gig... and dad (on the phone) sends out his pal who is a groovy music mogul... and there are a bunch of girls who wear wigs at a party the protag crashes - I still don't know what hat was all about.

After everyone calls him a musical genius, we hear him play... and it’s not that good. The songs are kind of lame and don’t really have a hook. Plus, this big gig they’ve been talking about endlessly throughout the film ends up being a handful of people at a warehouse or something. Zero production value. You wonder why the groovy music mogul would show up, let lone come up to our hero after the show and confirm that he is a musical genius.... and invite our hero and the hot DJ girl and her brother back to his luxurious condo for drinks. And to offer him some sort of record deal that will make him a star overnight. So, we get maybe a half hour of endless dull conversation at the condo, including the hot DJ girl trying yet again to get our musician hero into bed... and again he says no. He’s so boring, I have no idea why she’s want him. Plus, he’s just odd. Not much of a catch for a hot DJ girl.

Aside from all of the obvious technical issues, some of which may actually be on purpose to make it seem more edgy and indie, two big problem I had with the film were the lack of establishing shots and that the characters were often hard to tell apart. There would be a scene in one typical NY apartment where the hot DJ girl is putting the moves on our hero, then cut to the Teaching Assistant best friend’s girl friend standing in the doorway talking... and talking... and talking. You wonder what she’s doing in the hot DJ girls’ apartment - do they even know each other? This film is filled with so many pointless characters and odd coincidences that maybe the girl friend *does* know the hot DJ girl. But is that person offscreen talking to the girlfriend our musician hero? After maybe 4 minutes of static-shot conversation we cut to the reverse shot... and it’s the TA best friend. Oh, this whole scene has taken place in the typical NY apartment of the TA best friend and his girl friend. No establishing shot, no way to tell where the hell you are.

A similar problem is that the TA best friend and the DJ girl’s drummer brother look exactly alike *and* wear the exact same style of glasses *and* have the exact same hair style! The only difference is that the drummer has some facial hair. So you spend part of the film wondering why the drummer is making out with the best friend’s girlfriend or why the best friend is hanging out at the groovy music mogul’s apartment. You’re always confused. Who is this guy? Where are we? Why is this shot out of focus?

Anyway, after all of these random events and confusing scenes, the musician screws his best friend's girlfriend and we have a story for about 15 minutes as they try to hide it, then sort it all out. Then the film just ends and we get a long end credit roll with *total silence* - even though the film is filled with songs that have zilch to do with the story and they could have just tossed one onto the credits. And that was another issue I had with the film - songs that mean nothing. Keith Carradine won an Oscar for "I'm Easy" from NASHVILLE, which was all about his character - a way of slyly giving us a character confession. The music could have been *used* to tell the story, but wasn't.

The remainder of the audience gets up to leave... and we’re heading to the big opening night party at this bar - about a 20-25 minute walk away.


I recognize the bar from my wandering around yesterday - it’s at the two-level section of town over the river. The handful of people from the screening are soon joined by a bunch of other folks - hey, it’s a party. Also, it starts at 7pm, after most people have gotten off work. The bar ends up kind of crowded (a good thing - maybe these people will be coming to other screenings at the festival). The party begins with a free drink (always a good thing) then there’s an opening speech... then about a dozen more speeches including one from the cultural minister - who was kind of a hippy type. He talked about Aarhus reaching out to the rest of the world in a time when Denmark is best known for offensive political cartoons. For a government guy, he was pretty anti- government. Then more speeches. Then an award for teen journalism (huh?). Then some more speeches. Do you see a problem, here?

After the speeches, I have a minute to talk to a couple of the jury members - both have heavy New York accents. One is actually from New York - he moved to Denmark many years ago and teaches short film making at the local university. The other guy is from Denmark, but learned how to speak English from watching movies - and he sounds like Woody Allen crossed with Al Pacino. No sooner do we begin our conversation that...

They show us 2 short films and 3 different trailers for the festival... with no breaks to go back to the bar in any of this. If I'm going to have to listen to speeches and watch trailers, I want to be plowed. After all of this, they bring up a "musician" - this girl with a laptop. She "plays" loud techno crap on the laptop. So loud you can not hear yourself think. I wanted to talk to some of the other people at the festival, but couldn't. So I left the party, walked 20-25 minutes across town to my hotel and did some work on the computer before falling asleep.

Tomorrow my consults begin at noon and run until 6pm! Guess I’ll be missing the afternoon screenings!

- Bill

Aarhus 3: New Technology & Old Town

I wake up at 8am. This is not normal for me. I feel like I could go back to sleep for another 9 hours, but maybe I should get some coffee and find my power converter. I drink two cups of instant coffee (that’s all the coffee that comes with the room), shower and head out to find an electronics store. The room includes free breakfast in the restaurant, but it’s almost nine and I’m afraid they’ve stopped serving.

I walk back to the train station and re-trace some of my steps from the day before. One of the areas I walked through was a street filled with stores - including a big department store, some music stores and DVD stores, clothing stores, and a couple of electronic stores. It’s about 30 degrees outside - very cold... and the streets are empty. No one walking, very few bicycles...
I should mention that everyone in Aarhus rides a bicycle. The streets yesterday were filled with them. Hundreds of men in suits riding around town talking on cell phones. In front of every store or office are bicycles - unlocked, unchained. Leaning up against the side of the building. I used to ride my bike everyplace in Los Angeles. When I first moved there I had a Bianchi - nice bike. I had one of those heavy duty chains and a bullet-proof lock. I once locked my bike to a metal fence... and when I returned the bike was gone. The thieves had used a blow torch to cut the metal fence and remove the bike, lock and all. So it’s odd for me to see HUNDREDS of unlocked bikes. Bikes leaning against the walls of apartment buildings. All kinds of bikes for the taking.

When I get to the shopping area, all of the stores are closed. Signs on the windows say they open at 10:30am and others not until 11am. I guess people here sleep late. I decide to go to McDonalds and have a coffee while I wait... except the McDonalds doesn’t open until 10:30. I keep walking all the way to the dual-level river section of town looking for an open coffee shop. End up sitting on a bench over the water waiting until 10:30am.

I could have slept another hour or two!

At 10am the coffee shop on the other side of the bridge opens. I buy a coffee and walk back to the shopping area. The electronics shop opens at 10:30 and I’m the first customer. I look all over the shop for a power adapter - find nothing. I decide to ask. Everyone here speaks some English, and I explain to a salesman what I’m looking for. He tells me they do not have it in Aarhus - I should have bought one at the airport. I ask if he thinks I will be able to find an adapter anywhere in Aarhus - he is skeptical.

I walk to the next electronics shop - same exact story. I may have carried this heavy laptop all over town and not be able to use it. I have free wifi in my hotel room - but you need a computer for that.

I walk from electronics store to electronics store. Sometimes I go into a store only to find that they only sell mobile phones - I can’t read Danish, so I really don’t know what any store sells. I have to guess by looking at the stuff in the window. I try the big department store - they have an electronics department, but no adapter. I may have to take a train back to Copenhagen to find an adapter - that would be around 7 hours round trip. I decide to skip it.

I walk past a store that was recently vacant. They are putting merchandise on the shelves. I notice that most of the merchandise seems to be electronics and step inside. The paint is so fresh you cam smell it. I ask one of the employees about adapters, and he takes me to an aisle of empty shelves and cardboard boxes. In one of the boxes - an adapter! He asks if I need a transformer as well, and I don’t know. I’m not sure what the current is here. He tells me they don’t have any transformers, anyway. So I buy the adapter and hope it doesn’t fry my laptop. I walk back to the hotel, decide to test the adapter on my non-working cell phone. Charger works perfectly! So I plug in the laptop and cross my fingers... it doesn’t start on fire or anything, instead it begins charging. I leave it charging as I grab my map and start to the Old Town. I take my festival program and badge along as well in case I have to go directly to the opening night film and party.

I’m still exhausted. All of this walking has both kept me awake and wore me out.

Everything in Los Angeles is a 45 minute drive. Going to the airport? That’ll take you at least 45 minutes. Going from the Valley into Hollywood? 45 minutes. Going from Hollywood to the beach? 45 minutes. The same kind of thing seems to be true in Aarhus. When I ask how long it will take me to walk somewhere, the answer is always 20-25 minutes. Old Town? 20-25 minute walk. Two of the three cinemas where the movies are playing? 20-25 minute walk. Bar where they are having Sunday night’s party? 20-25 minute walk.

I walk to the Old Town, which is in a park with an admission fee. I pay the kroners, still having no idea what I just paid. Everything is at least 100 kroners. The least expensive beer is 40 kroners. It’s around 50 kroners for a meal at McDonalds. Kroners seem to be flying out of my wallet.

Old Town is fascinating - kind of the Denmark version of those Colonial villages. It’s a collection of buildings from the 1600s that you walk through. Each building is a different kind of 1600s business - the book binder, the tailor, the tobacconist, the grocer, the butcher, the school house, etc. You walk through each building and see the actual equipment used in each business and actual items from the time period. Lots of clothes and furnishings. Plus, there are actors dressed in period costumes wandering around and a horse drawn carriage. You have to be careful where you step. The roads are very narrow, the stairways inside the houses very steep.

Though everything was interesting, the thing that really got me was the toy museum. Antique toys from the 1600s - hand made. Some made in prisons. What amazed me about these toys is how many things. from the 1600s were the same as the toys I played with growing up. Toy soldiers. A Danish version of Lincoln Logs building set. Wooden horses and dogs on wheels. The museum has different time periods, so you can see the wooden horses become wooden trains on wheels, then wooden cars, then wooden planes. Then - what? Playstation? Odd that the toys I played with as a kid are very similar to the toys some kid in 1600s Denmark played with... but not at all like what a kid in the United States today would play with. The 1600s wooden or metal soldiers were plastic soldiers when I played with them, but now kids play Big Red 1 on their Playstation. Kids in the 1600s had stereo viewers with paper cards, we had Viewmasters... kids today just watch TV. It’s so odd how things have changed so rapidly after being the same for so long.

I check my iPod clock and realize I need to start toward the cinema where the opening night movie is playing - it’s about a 20-25 minute walk, and I need to eat something. I wonder what Danish people eat - Reindeer meat? Smoked salmon? Ikea furniture? I keep my eyes open for a Danish Cuisine restaurant... or maybe a sign that says "Chinese And Danish Food". Nothing. But I do pass about 2 dozen pizza places. I end up getting a couple of slices of New York Style Pizza from a guy who speaks only Danish. I point and pay. The pizza wasn’t bad.

Now it’s on to opening night... or afternoon, in this case.

- Bill


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Aarhus Film Festival (part 2)


So I arrive at the Aarus station and drag my luggage up the stairs to... an indoor mall-like area. A ticket sales counter, a bunch of restaurants, some clothing stores and when I walk North I exit to the street, South takes me to a huge shopping mall with dozens of stores. Everything is written in Danish - I can’t tell what is a restaurant and what is a ladies lingerie store. But it doesn’t matter - I’m looking for the cardboard sign with my name on it. Hundreds of people in the train station - no cardboard signs at all. Well, they have my photo on their website, so they know what I look like, all I have to do is wait for a while. And wait. And wait.

No one comes.

After a half hour, I decide to make my own cardboard sign. I write my name on a piece of paper and hold it up as I drag my luggage around the mall. Then I go outside to the street with my sign and stand there for a while.

No one comes.

All of the signs are in Danish and everyone around me is talking like the Swedish Chef from THE MUPPET SHOW. I haven’t slept in over 48 hours and I need a bed - now. I continue to wander around dragging my luggage and displaying my sign.

No one comes.

The kink in my neck from being crammed into the airplane for a dozen hours is getting worse - I need to get to my hotel right now....

No one comes.

After an hour I begin to worry. I’m in a strange city, I don’t speak the language and I can’t even tell what the signs mean. I dig through my bag for something that might have festival information on it - and realize that almost everything has been by e-mail that I have *not* downloaded to my laptop. It’s still available on line, but how do I get online? Then I find my copy of my contract for the event - no phone number, but it has an address on it. Great! I now have a destination!

Outside the train station is a huge city map. I drag my luggage down the steps and across the bumpy cobblestone walkway to the map. I look for the name of the street on the contract - hoping that it is close by. There are buses that pass in front of the train station - but everything is in Danish. How can I tell which is the correct bus? I look over every street name on that map... and none are the street on the contract. But all of the names have weird letters - letters we don’t have in English. Maybe the street name translates to something else? This language this is a huge problem.

Well, there are a couple of taxis by the train station, so I’ll take a cab to the festival address - and from there they can take me to my hotel where I can sleep. I get into cab and point to the address on the contract... and the driver says he has no idea where that street is. He speaks English and has been in 38 states in the USA on vacation. I tell him I’m from Los Angeles, and we discuss Pink’s Hotdogs while he’s feeding the street name into his GPS...and a map pops up. "Okay, I know how to get there now." We drive away from the train station... and down a very long street... and onto a highway that takes us away from the city. "You’re sure this is the right way?" "Oh, yes." We drive on the highway - through fields and farms. Something is wrong. Could it be a typo on the film fest letterhead? What if I end up in the middle of nowhere in a country where I don’t speak the language and have no way to contact anyone for help?

My cell phone doesn’t work here. That’s going to cause a problem later on, because I used to wear a pocket watch but now I just use my cell phone clock to tell time... and it isn’t working. So I’ve been using my iPod clock which I’ve set to Copenhagen time.

We drive so far away from the city we hit another city - actually a suburb of Aarhus. And drive down a small road to a nice little neighborhood... and the address on the festival letterhead ends up being an apartment. Must be a mistake! Except one of the names on the apartment building’s legend is the Festival Director’s - she’s running this out of her home! I pay the cab driver 250 kroners and push the buzzer - no answer. I push it again - nothing. Of course she isn’t home - she’s somewhere running the film festival or maybe waiting for me at the train station. The cab driver is about to take off and I stop him. I put my luggage back in the cab and ask him to take me back to the train station. Sure, why not? He gets another 250 kroners. He’s just made 500 kroners for driving around in a circle.

Back at the train station exhaustion and panic kick in. I have no way to contact the film festival people and really need to sleep. What if I never find them? I’ll have to find a hotel for the night and pay for it out of pocket (so far I’ve paid for my plane ticket and train ticket and the taxi... but they are supposed to reimburse me for the plane ticket.) How many kroner do I have left?

How much does a hotel cost?

I come up with a genius idea - I buy a newspaper and look for some mention of the film festival. Sure, the paper is in Danish, but maybe "cine" or "film" looks the same. I read the entire paper - nothing that looks like a film festival story. Okay - next plan.

Well, I have all of these e-mails online form the festival, if I can find a way to get online, I can access them... and maybe they have a phone number. That seems like the solution. All I need is an Internet Café or maybe a Starbucks (for wifi access). I ask someone if they speak English (yes - most seem to) and where the nearest Starbucks is (strange look as if I were speaking a foreign language... okay, I was speaking a foreign language to them, but I thought they might understand). Everyone I asked gave me a really strange look when I asked about Starbucks.

Okay, maybe there’s a Danish word for Starbucks that I don’t know. So I start asking about Internet Cafes. Nobody knows where one is - and this doesn’t surprise me much. If you live in Aarhus you probably have internet at home and don’t need to know where a rental computer is.

One girl tells me there is a library with computers I can use and points me to the deep city.

Okay - I’ll drag my luggage to the library. Maybe there’s a pocket map I can buy at the train station ticket office that shows me where the library is. They not only have a map - it’s *free* to travelers. I grab it and try to find the library... and notice an advertisement on the border of the map for a computer gaming café... with internet. That becomes my new destination. I drag my luggage on cobble stone streets all the way across town to the gaming café.

Those little wheels on your luggage were not designed for cobblestone streets. That coffee I had on the train a couple of hours ago has worn off long ago, and I catch myself dozing off while waiting for a green light to cross the street. My luggage is also fighting me in other ways - my computer bag keeps slipping off my shoulder. I just have too many things to juggle for a city with cobblestone streets and a guy with no sleep for 48 hours. I keep my eyes open for a Starbucks - maybe I don’t have to walk all the way to the gaming café?

No Starbucks.

I pass a McDonalds, and remember a recent news article that the McDonalds food in Denmark has much much lower fat than McDonalds in the United States. Nice to know, but it doesn’t help me with the e-mail issue. Since the Starbucks name may be different in Denmark, I keep my eyes open for the logo.

No Starbucks.

I also keep my eyes open for an Internet Café - but all of the signs are in Danish and I have no idea what they say. Is that a restaurant or a gay bar? Can’t tell from the signs. I wonder what the word "internet" would look like in Danish? Some words might have common origins, but new words might be totally different. For all I know, I’m passing dozens of Internet cafes - I just don’t know it.

I know I’m not passing any Starbucks. In Los Angeles, there’s a Starbucks every couple of miles. In London there are more Café Neros... but still enough Starbucks that I would have passed three or four in the amount of walking I’ve done. The kink in my neck is getting worse - and the heavy laptop bag isn’t helping. In this weakened state, I’m afraid my neck will be ripped right off. And I have to get all the way cross town to this gamer’s cafe... unless I can find a Starbucks.

What if there are no Starbucks in Denmark?

I drag myself and my luggage all of the way to the other side of town where a river cuts through the city and everything becomes 2 levels - one at the water and one at the street overhead. My gaming café is on water level, which means I have to drag all of my luggage down a steep stairway. My luggage is so heavy to me at this point that it almost pulls me down the stairs a couple of times. I fall and die in Denmark.

I get to the gamer’s café and they have 3 computers - I rent one for half an hour. Everything is in Danish - what do I click on to get English? What do I click on to start? I make an arbitrary decision and get to Explorer. Get my e-mail. Find the piece from Marina at the festival.... and it not only says she will meet me at the trains station, at the very bottom it has her cell phone under the signature. Now here is the dilemma - do I call from here or go back to the train station and call from there? I’m guessing she is closer to the train station than this odd bi-level section of the city where the gaming café is (called the Latin Quarter - it’s the grungy place where all of the punk bars are). Okay, I guess I’m dragging my luggage across all of those cobble stone streets to the railroad station.

I get back to the railroad station and am now a sweaty mess - and dead tired. My next challenge is to figure out the payphones - everything is in Danish. I also have to figure out the money so that I know what to put in the payphone. I get this figured out (I hope) and dial Marina’s cell phone.... and she answers in Danish. I have no idea if I have dialed the correct number, so I speak slowly in English. "This is Bill Martell. I am at the train station. Can someone pick me up?" "William Martell?" "Yes." Then she apologizes for forgetting to pick me up and says she will send someone for me in 5-10 minutes.

I wait outside the train station with my little sign and about ten minutes later a cute Danish girl named Siggy walks up to me. She introduces herself, says she will take me to my hotel... a short walk. I’m at the point where taking a taxi half a block makes sense, but I drag my luggage and follow her. My hotel is about 4 blocks from the train station. I have walked all over the city, when I could have just walked four clocks.

Siggy checks me in and says Marina and the other festival organizers would like to meet me for coffee. "Can I take a nap first?" Siggy phones Marina and we decide to meet at 9pm... which gives me four hours to sleep. I take my mag-key, enter the elevator and press the button... and nothing happens. I press it again - nothing. I realize that if I spoke Danish I would have read the instructions to place my mag-key in the slot and press the button. Actually, some trail and error is involved until I figure this out and get up to my room... where none of the light switches work. Again, had I been able to read Danish I would have figured out that my mag-key needs to be inserted in a slot near the front door to operate the lights. The key must remain in the slot. Remove the card, all of the lights (and power) goes out. Once I figure this out, I use the bathroom and realize there is no handle to flush (also - the toilet paper is kind of strange - there’s a cutting blade instead of perforations). I finally figure out that a plastic thing on the wall is both a light and the flush button. I’m sure this makes the bathroom look sleek and modern... but when you haven’t slept in two days it’s hard to figure these things out.

I climb into the bed, set my travel alarm, and sleep for fours hours. The room telephone wakes me up moments before the alarm clock. It’s Marina in the hotel bar, will I be right down? Sure... after I shower.

Marina is a transplanted Russian who has Danish as a second language and English way down the line somewhere. She has accents on top of accents. Siggy is there, along with another very attractive woman (Sigrid) who speaks English very well. They welcome me to the city, buy me a beer (Carlsborg) and when I ask how many people are in my class on Saturday they change the subject. I decide not to bring up my 500 kroner taxi ride - even though she was supposed to pick me up at the train station, I should have brought the e-mail with cell phone number with me. So I’m going to eat the 500 kroner taxi ride. Marina tells me I will also participate on some panels if that is okay with me ("Sure") and do some private consultations with students on Friday and Sunday if that’s okay with me ("I guess that’s okay").

They give me a package that includes a map of the city, my all-access festival badge, the festival’s program, etc. She also tells me that seating for some films may be limited, so I should get a ticket in advance to any movies I want to see. The opening night movie starts at 4:30 pm tomorrow (kind of early) and the opening night party is at 7pm. If I have some spare time tomorrow before the film, they suggest I tour the old town of Aarhus - it’s on the map. I ask where the festival headquarters is... and they point to the convention center of the hotel. Again, instead of walking all over town with my luggage, if I had known this hotel was the center of everything I would have just walked here. They ask if I would like another beer - but I’m so tired I decline. I go back up to my room and I’m asleep almost instantly.

Tomorrow is the first day of the festival, and my laptop battery is dead.

- Bill

Aarhus Film Fest (part 1)

An odd side effect of writing those sex scenes in submarines has been invites to film festivals and writing conferences. Actually, many of these invitations come from people who have read my book or my column in Scr(i)pt Magazine. I don't do anything to pursue these gigs, but if someone wants to fly me to some exotic local and pay for my hotel, meals, drinks... and pay me for any classes I'll be teaching, I'd be a fool to turn that down.

My life as a screenwriter has me lowest man on the totem pole - beneath the craft services people (they bring the donuts to the set every morning). Screenwriting is a Rodney Dangerfield job - no respect at all. So, when someone wants me to lecture or be on a panel, that's great! I can (maybe) get a little respect. And that's the oddest part of these Film Festival gigs - you are treated like an actual human being for a week or two, then shipped back to the coal mines of Hollywood to suffer. For that week or two you are sitting on panels with the same executives who won't return your phone calls or replace you without bothering to tell you or maybe even throw your latest draft across their desk at you while screaming what a worthless piece of crap you are. So when a new film festival in Denmark wants me to spend 5 days watching movies and teach a 1 day version of my 2 day class... I'm there! I've never been to Denmark before, so this is going to be an adventure! Unfortunately, adventure means conflict....


This has been the longest day of my life. It’s been going on forever! I’ve been invited to teach a one day screenwriting class a the Aarhus Film & Music Festival in Denmark. Aarhus is the second largest city after Copenhagen, and it’s the center of the arts for the country - imagine Hollywood and Nashville and Broadway all in one place. So, the festival is giving me an all access pass, and I plan to see a bunch of films I would never be able to see in the USA. But first I have to get to Denmark.


My plane leaves from LAX at 7am, and because it’s an international flight, they want me to get there 3 hours early so they have time to make sure my shoes aren’t explosive. Now, LAX is about an hour away, and I’ve decided to take the Flyaway because it’s only $3 and a shuttle is $40 and a cab is... well, I’d have to take out a second mortgage. But I can’t remember if the Flyaway bus runs every half hour or every hour late at night, so to be on the safe side, I add a half hour to my plan... and realize that I should probably leave my place at 2am... which is usually when I’m thinking about going to bed. So I decide to do an all-nighter.

I have a million errands to run on Monday, and I really need a hair cut, and I always get a pile of new CD orders whenever I say that I’m going out of town and won’t be able to ship anything for 2 weeks - so I also need to hit the post office. I end up going all over town and end up in the world’s longest line at the post office because Monday is not only the last day I have to ship these orders... it’s also tax day! The line goes out the door of the post office, and I’m at the end. I will never get my hair cut! And, as usual, the post office employees are trying to see how slow they can work. When I actually get inside the post office, I can hear the employees asking *everyone* if they want to send it registered with a return card... and if they want any stamps. Later, they will ask me this on every single package I have to mail.

Now I have very little time for the rest of my errands, but I zip all over town taking care of them... and actually getting my hair cut before the shop closes. Now I won’t look quite as homeless when I show up for this big film festival. I end up near a movie theater with a couple hours to spare, so I see SCARY MOVIE 4 which has a better version of WAR OF THE WORLDS than the Spielberg version - better tripods and some scenes that really work.

After the movie I zip back home where I still have to pack and "close up the house" (take out the garbage, make sure there’s nothing in the fridge that will grow legs and start walking while I’m away, etc). I get all of this stuff done, and get to the Flyaway by 2:30 am... but I’m kind of tired from all of the running round. I *did* manage to take a shower before I left, and put on fresh clothes.


So, I get to LAX and have to wait for them to open up. Seems the check in counter doesn’t open until 4:15am. There’s a huge line - just no employees to help us. At about 4:25 they start checking us in and my bag is 2 pounds over the 50 pound limit. My fault - usually I bring 2 bags and my laptop, but this time I tried to cram everything into one bag... which worked. Except for the 2 pounds over part. They say it will cost $25 for being overweight, and I think about it for a moment - I have to change planes in Washington DC, do I really want to drag around my laptop bag *and* another carry on? Nope! So I hand over the $25... and they refuse it! They insist I pull out 2 pounds of stuff... so I end up taking out this canvas bag filled with CDs. Now I’m stuck with my jacket, my laptop bag (filled with every project I’m working on) and this canvas bag full of CDs that doesn’t have a shoulder strap. Swell.

I save $25, but have to lug all of this stuff through security. I hate airport security. They make everyone take off their shoes, then they don’t have anyplace for you to put them back on. End result - I’m cooling my heels waiting for a plane for a couple of hours.

I decide to sleep on the plane - even though I’ve never been able to do that every before in my entire life - but this time I have sleeping pills. What this means is, no coffee in the airport to keep me awake. I’m dead tired.

Plane boards, and I end up with a crappy center seat without enough room for my legs. I’m 6'4" tall, and the seats were set up for someone 6'2" TOPS - which means I have to sit with my legs is weird position and pray that the person in front of me doesn’t recline their seat - that would shear off my knee caps (really). I decided not to take the sleeping pills - because I was so uncomfortable I probably couldn’t sleep anyway. I’ll take them after I switch planes. I spend a tortured five hours - dead tired and contorted.

We land at Dulles and I find out my plane to Denmark is on the other side of the airport... I gotta run. With the jacket, laptop bag, and canvas bag without shoulder straps. Don’t know if you’ve ever been to Dulles - but it’s a Frankenstein airport. They kept adding things to it that didn’t make sense, and now it’s this spread out monster. There are unconnected terminals (you ride in these weird ATV buses that are 20 feet off the ground - and they actually putt-putt across *active* runways to get you to another terminal!) And miles of hallways without moving sidewalks and it’s just impossible... even if you aren’t running to catch a plane with all kinds of extra baggage. As I’m running, I’m wondering if my checked in bag (the one that’s under 50 pounds, now) will make it across the airport to this plane. Doesn’t seem likely. All of my clothes, plus my class stuff is in that bag!

I make the plane - still no coffee because I’m planning on sleeping on this flight - and I *demand* an emergency exit or bulkhead seat. They give me the last one. An emergency exit window seat... that’s in the curved part of the plane. Leg room, no head room! I’m so tall that I must tilt my head to the left to avoid the roof. I had joked with friends about being on a 12 hour flight filled with screaming babies... shouldn’t have done that! I was *surrounded* by screaming babies. Ask if I got any sleep on that flight.

So as we’re landing I coffee up. You see, Aarhus is on the other side of the country from Copenhagen, and I’ll be taking a 4 hour train ride. But first I need to go through passport control, see if my checked in bag made it, change my money, and go through customs. The bags are delayed for some reason for 15 minutes (at least the sign told us) so I changed my dollars into kroner. They give me all of these odd coins - some have holes punched in them. I get weird looking money. Thousands of kroner for the $300 I exchanged. One problem with the coins they give me - they are so worn I can’t read the numbers on some of them. Maybe in better light.

The luggage comes, my case made it! Everything else goes well, and I hunt around for some sign pointing me to a train station.... and there are plenty of signs, but I don’t understand any of them. They are all in Danish. Now, I have planned ahead and have a pen and pad in my pocket - I can *sketch* a train and write the word Aarhus and maybe someone can point me in the right direction. I’m afraid I may have to take a cab to the train station... But it’s right there in the airport (just like London - those Europeans sure know how to plan a transportation system). A picture of a train and some words in Danish. Now I have to figure out how to communicate where I want to go, but that ends up easy - I just point to the word Aarhus on the train schedule. I buy my ticket ($300 kroners) and go down to the tracks... where it’s 30 degrees.


The train comes in almost an hour and it’s freezing. I can see my breath. I put on my coat, wait 40 minutes for my train, and jump on. Hoping I have the right train, because everything is written in Danish and Aarhus is a stop in the middle of this train’s run. What if I’m on the wrong train and end up in the wrong city in Denmark. How would I even know - the signs are all in Danish. There was a train 5 minutes after this one and a train 5 minutes before this one - each had a different destination. Well, it’s too late now - the trains doors are closing and the train is zooming out of the station. I figure out my ticket is for a certain seat in a certain car because there are numbers that might be those things. Now I have a 4 hour train ride to Aarhus... I hope.

I’ve taken trains in many different cities, and this was the best so far. It’s basically a commuter train that links suburbs with main cities. In Los Angeles we have our tinker toy subway with plastic seats - it’s like a city bus on rails. In the Bay Area they have BART - which has very comfortable seats and is used by Wells Fargo and Bank of America executives to get from their suburban homes to San Francisco... also used by everyone else who commutes. The commuter train in Denmark has BART beat - luxurious chairs with headrests and power sockets. The trains are filled with businessmen on laptops and cell phones.... And that is standard class. First class, they serve hot breakfast! But even in standard class, there is a coffee and food cart that makes the rounds from car to car. Want a sandwich? Candy bar? Cookie? Bread and cheese? Apple? I ordered a coffee to try and stay awake - 15 kroners. I hope that’s not the same as $15. I would plug in and work on my laptop - but I don’t have an adapter to Danish power - something I will have to buy soon, as my laptop battery is running dry writing this.

The countryside reminds me of Sonoma or Medecino - lots of farms and forests and fishing boats. After a while a conductor comes to punch my ticket and I ask him if this is the train to Aarhus - it is. I can relax... I woke up at 11am on Monday, it is now noon on Wednesday. I need to sleep! I also need to shower! And I have a serious kink in my neck from leaning it to the left the entire time on the airplane.

But the worst is yet to come.

- Bill

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Do I Even Have Time To Blog?

You’re probably wondering why this blog is called SEX IN A SUBMARINE...

Like I don’t have enough things to do!

My name is Bill, and for the past 16 years I’ve been working as professional screenwriter in Los Angeles. At this point in time I’ve had 18 scripts carelessly slapped onto celluloid, and I’ve got four different deals circling as I type this. By tomorrow all of these deals may have crashed and burned, that’s just the way the biz works.

I also write for Scr(i)pt Magazine - started doing that soon after I moved to LA. They were a newsletter back then, called Freelance Screenwriter’s Forum, that was 95% screenwriting teachers writing articles about how great their classes were. I wrote the editors and told them they needed at least one columnist who wasn’t trying to sell anything and had actually sold a screenplay. Someone who wasn’t a “guru” but an actual working screenwriter who had some experience in the subject they were writing about. I’d had one film made at that time, the Oscar nominated NINJA BUSTERS (which is so awful, when I find a copy on VHS I buy it and destroy it), and had just sold a screenplay to Paramount for twice my yearly day job income (forklift jockey in a warehouse). They told me that I was elected. By the way, there’s no pay and your article is due on Tuesday. That was in 1991... now they pay me $600 a year to be West Coast Editor *and* have an article in every issue. I’ll be a millionaire in no time!

I also have a website ScriptSecrets.Net where I put up a script tip every day. These tips aren’t some single paragraph thing - they’re usually 2,000 - 3,000 words (full length articles: 10-15 pages) and often takes some current movie that doesn’t work and shows you why it doesn’t work... or maybe takes some movie that does work and shows you some screenwriting technique you can apply to your own screenplay. Real nuts & bolts stuff that isn’t covered in screenwriting books, which mostly deal with simple theory. Oh, the Script Tips are free - it’s like a bunch of free screenwriting books! When I get to 500 Tips (about 20 free screenwriting books) the website will be “finished”. In a way, *that’s* my blog. So, I’m starting some other blog?

If that wasn’t enough, there are message boards on the Script Secrets site where I frequently blog when I’m away from the office (on location somewhere or on a film festival jury)... though now I will do that here. The reason why I started the blog was to have someplace to write about my upcoming trip to a film festival in Aarhus, Denmark... a city famous for providing free taxi cabs to any hooker visiting a handicapped person. The handicapped people sued because they could not get to hookers on their own, and Denmark agreed that was discrimination and came up with a taxi voucher system. I will report on that when I get there.

Oh, and I have a screenwriting book called SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING that seems to be recommended by Oscar winners and a whole bunch of professional screenwriters... You can buy a used copy on e-bay for between $300 and $700, because it is currently out of print because I haven’t found time to revise it between all of this screenwriting work... and now I’m starting a blog?

Plus, I have something like 6 new screenwriting books worth of material on my computer, waiting for me to edit it all into 6 books. Some of that is all of those screenwriting columns I wrote for Script Magazine, plus columns written for Hollywood Scriptwriter and Movie Maker and Writer’s Digest and the regular column I had in IFC’s online magazine for over a year. I know I’m leaving out some magazine or other that I wrote for on the craft of screenwritring, I’m sure I’ll remember when I hit “post”.

Also, these days I keep getting asked to go to Film Festivals all over the world to either teach screenwriting or be on the festival’s jury and watch movies 12 hours a day for 10 days. Heaven for me. I love watching movies. I’ve been on the Raindance International Film Festival jury in London a couple of times, Fort Lauderdale Film Fest (hung out with Lord Richard Attenborough!), Sacramento Film Fest (saw this 16mm feature by this guy named Joe Carnahan... who bought a copy of my book... and went on to make NARC), and Denmark is coming up, as is Hong Kong, and I’ve done classes in Santa Fe, Vancouver, Dallas, Phoenix (never again), Los Angeles, and just about everywhere else. The classes and film fests came about because of my now out-of-print book. In the same week, both the Chairman of the Raindance Film Fest and the guy who runs the Santa Fe Screenwriting Conference called to ask if I wanted to teach classes at their events. I told both I didn’t teach screenwriting, I just write screenplays. Both thought I might be okay teaching a class or two... and the guy at Raindance said he’d pay airfare, hotel, meals, and pick up my drinks. Hey, he’s gonna buy my drinks? I’m there! So a handful of times a year I go somewhere and teach a class. I’m not Robert McKee, I’m not in it for the money. It took a few years before it even occurred to me that I could do a class of my own in the USA. Most of the time my classes are for some film fest or event or the Screenwriting Expo in Los Angeles where I’m one of their “gold” teachers. I’d really rather be working on a screenplay - but flying all over the world on someone else’s dime is a deal too good to pass up.

And one more thing - I am a professional *screenwriter* My job is writing screenplays (for movies you have never heard of and should not see sober). I have written a bunch of scripts that were made, a bunch of scripts that were not made but I was paid, and a bunch of scripts that I wrote because I just love writing screenplays and had to write those stories and no one has bought them (yet).

And now I’m going to start writing a blog?


Well, here’s the deal - I’m not going to post here every day, and I my re-post some stuff from my website. Mostly, though, this is going to be stuff about my Hollywood Adventures. Being a screenwriter is actually boring work - there’s a lot of typing and paperwork involved. But I’m often on studio lots doing meetings (a couple of years ago I had a flurry of studio meetings because I wrote a couple of hot scripts - I met with everyone in town at least twice. Tom Cruise’s company? Met with them 3 times. Much of the screenwriting biz is endless meetings on projects that will never get made, and I’ll probably blog about that.) I may tell some stories from my past, trying to get into the business or hanging out with friend and making movies. And I may use this blog to rant about how stupid the business is. Be prepared for lots of those rants! But I will probably mostly focus on the entertaining stuff and kill the boring stuff - you don’t care that I spent two weeks driving all over town to a bunch of meetings where nothing happened.

But why the hell is it called SEX ON A SUBMARINE?

Does it have something to do with Samuel L. Jackson in SNAKES ON A PLANE?

Not really. Well, kind of. I had to call the blog something, and though the ON A would be funny. But why SEX and why a SUBMARINE? If you’ve read my book (the out of print one) you know the answer. For the rest of you folks...


Back in the very early 90s I wrote this spec script (original screenplay) called CRASH DIVE about some Bosnian terrorists who hijack a US Nuclear submarine and aim the missiles at New York City. They plan to destroy the United Nations for messing around in their country’s politics. So the Navy sends this retired naval engineer who knows everything about the submarine - but isn’t any kind of hero - onboard the sub to take control away from the terrorists. The reason why I wrote the script was simple: I had read an article in Variety about the Navy’s film office in the Federal Building on Wilshire Blvd that said they would supply all of the toys for any film that had a technically accurate screenplay. Aircraft carriers, submarines, helicopters, fighter jets, etc. Real ones. Free.

Now, everybody thinks once you sell a script there is this gold star pasted on your forehead and from that point on you get to cut in line and get all of the screenwriting jobs. Completely not true. Screenwriters are freelance. The minute you sell a screenplay (and make all of their crazy changes - more on that in future rants, I suspect) you are instantly unemployed. Out a job. Now, you might make a nice chunk of money (though the average screenwriter makes under $100k a year) but the problem is, you have no job and there is no hiring office or even anyplace to hand in a resume. You have to go out there and find another job - *create* another job! And there’s no shortage of other people looking for work - half of the WGA (writers union) are out of work every year, and there are tens of thousands of new writers trying to break in! I did the math once, and there are somewhere between half a million and a million original screenplays in circulation... and you may have noticed that most films are adapted from books or comic books or TV shows. There are fewer than 100 original screenplays bought every year! So, to be one of those 100, you have to have a great script... PLUS something else. And I now had free aircraft carriers and submarines!

I called the Navy office to find out what they meant by “technically accurate” and discovered that meant basic research. Or, what *I* thought of as basic research. Seems many writers do no research at all. There was a script passed around where some idiot had no idea how the catapults worked on aircraft carriers (the device that launched a plane off the deck) and just made stuff up - gears that a character gets his arm caught in or something. Same script had a Navy pilot able to see a missile launch in Russia from halfway around the world - good eyesight! Anyway - the Navy guy told me it wasn’t difficult to get cooperation if you did research. Well, about the same time, Tom Clancy published *his* research for THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER as a book called SUBMARINE that included schematics of nuclear subs and all kinds of crew interviews. Hey - goldmine! I wrote the screenplay, was careful to stay accurate, and ended up with a really exciting story.

Okay, that’s the submarine, but where is the sex? Ah, I’m getting to that part.


The script lands on the desk of thge smartest producer I have ever worked with, Ashok Amritraj (Steve Martin’s SHOP GIRL and WALKING TALL remake and many other big studio films), who loves the script but doesn’t think he can afford to make it. See, at the time he had a deal with HBO to make original movies on a budget of $3 million. HBO was making 36 original films a year back then, a handful of them were those prestige pictures where they try to win an Emmy, and all of the rest were genre pictures. But here’s the problem with a made for HBO movie - they showed on Friday at 8pm, sandwiched between two big Hollywood blockbusters... and the average Hollywood film costs $106 million... and they want your $3 million film to look like those $106 million films. Which is why, even on one of these HBO movies, you not only need the script that makes them say yes, you need that something extra... like submarines.

I tell Ashok the Navy will actually give him all of the subs and aircraft carriers and stuff for free, but he doesn’t believe me. “That’s ridiculous, Bill, why would they give us an aircraft carrier?” “Well, you paid for it. Your tax dollars at work.” “I don’t believe it.” So I ended up writing a science fiction movie about cloning villains from video games that was an HBO World Premiere... and that spec script just sat on my shelf with all of the other scripts I wrote but did not sell.

About 2 years later the movie CRIMSON TIDE comes out and makes a pile of money on opening weekend... and Ashok calls the Navy number I gave him and asks about this free aircraft carrier thing. They say "Sure, if the script is technically accurate, we’ll give you the toys for free." There is a small catch - we can’t actually shoot on a submarine, but they are too small for all of the equipment anyway. But they will give us a full tour and let us ask questions of the crew. We can’t take photos, but we can *remember* things and recreate them on a sound stage. And we can either film submarines as they leave the base, or the Navy will supply us with all of the glamor shots of submarines they use in their recruiting commercials - suns setting behind submarines! Ashok likes that.

The Navy *will* let us shoot on an aircraft carrier while it does maneuvers off the coast of San Diego, but we have to pay for the fuel to get out to the carrier. We can also film Top Gun training and Navy SEAL training and just about anything else we need... free. That means Ashok can make the film on the $3 million that HBO is paying and it will look like a big Tom Clancy movie. Cool.

My phone rings. It’s Ashok. “Bill, you know that submarine screenplay you tried to sell me a couple of years ago? Is that still available?” And I have myself a deal!

The decision is made to *build* a submarine interior set... a three storey set with break away walls that is just like being on a real submarine. The set is built in a warehouse near the Mens Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles, a place where you don’t want to park your car... and if you do park your car there, someone else may soon be driving it. The idea is to reuse this set for a few more movies... and that ends up a curse and a blessing. I will be either writing some of those other movies or providing ideas for them. I have now suddenly becomes Bill The Military Action Guy... even though I have never been in the military and most of my action involves sitting in Priscilla's Coffee in Toluca Lake typing.

Wait... you said there was gonna be sex!


So I get these script notes. You always get notes from actors, directors, producers, producer’s girlfriend’s, producer’s dog walkers, etc. Endless notes. Most notes aren’t about improving the script, they’re about *changing* it. My favorite note was from a producer at MGM - they were interested in this contemporary gritty armed robbery script of mine, kind of like HEAT, and he asked, “Why can’t they be cowboys?” “Do you mean, have the script take place in the 1800s?” “No. Still takes place today, but the robbers wear hats and chaps and spurs and ride horses!” Thankfully that project crashed and burned, but there is still a Village People version somewhere on my hard drive. Most script notes are crazy things like that, and that’s why when you see some dreadful film and wonder why they bought that script; well, they didn’t really buy *that* script - they bought a completely great script that was the one in a million... then *changed it* into *that* dreadful script. And then spent $106 million to make it. You’ll probably be hearing more about that in later blog entries.

So I get these notes from HBO... they want me to put a sex scene in the script. Now, you might expect to get a note to add a sex scene from some direct to video producer or maybe Roger Corman’s development person... but this is HBO! So I ask, “The script takes place on a submarine with a crew of 110 *MEN*, what kind of sex scene did they have in mind?” And they shoot back, “Well, not a Gay sex scene!” That was back then, today they would *want* a Gay sex scene (not that there's anything wrong with that). So I asked, “Um, where is the woman for the non-Gay sex scene coming from?” And they give me the standard answer, “Hey, you’re the writer - be creative!” Which just means they have no idea how there can be a sex scene in the script, either... but now it is *my* problem. Tag, you’re it! As usual, I argue a little, but you can never win. The golden rule. He who has the gold rules. When you sell a screenplay it is no longer yours, and they can make even the stupidest changes and you are powerless to do anything... and usually your contract includes 2 rewrites and a polish, so *you* are the one ruining your own script. You have to. It’s all part of the screenwriter’s job. Despite my logical arguments, HBO *insists* that I add a sex scene. With a woman.

Well, my script didn’t only have 110 men on the submarine, it also had a handful of terrorists who had taken over the sub, and one was already a woman. So, I write up a sex scene - and it’s still really stupid. We have these terrorists who are outnumbered but have a clever plan to take over the submarine, and right in the middle of this scene, the female terrorist sets down her gun and disrobes to get some lovin’ from a crew member who never asks who she is or what she is doing on the submarine. It is the dumbest scene I have ever written (the cowboys made more sense).

Okay, I’m a pro... I make sure that the scene before the stupid sex scene and after the stupid sex scene cut together perfectly, so that when HBO sees how stupid the sex scene is, the editor can cut the film together without it. Snip-snip and that scene is gone! The film won’t be stupid anymore.

But when CRASH DIVE airs on HBO on March 28 1996, the sex scene is intact.

Welcome to Hollywood.

- Bill (April 6, 2006)

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