Monday, August 27, 2007

Bill At Screenwriting Expo 2007

Okay, here is my final schedule for the Screenwriting Expo October 25-28, 2007. Here is the Expo's home page: Screenwriting Expo 2007

You may notice these are the exact same classes I did last year - that wasn't the original plan, but the Expo changed management this year and there was a bit of a SNAFU. So I hope to actually bring something new to these classes... and *next year* I'll do Noir and High Adventure and Subversive Cinema and some of the other classes I've developed. Actually, anyone who reads this and has a "What I'd like to know about this subject is...." can post it here and that will help me redesign the classes.

Discount code is:


Registration page:

After the individual chooses either Option 1, The Gold Pass, or Option 2, the Basic 4-Day Pass, that person would enter the above coupon code onto the first Shopping Cart page and click “Apply Coupon.” The coupon will give a $10 discount on either the Gold Pass or Basic until September 14, and on September 15 until the Expo, it will discount the price $30.

William C. Martell -*- (Rated a star speaker in 2005, 2006)

Guerrilla Marketing Your Script -*- Saturday 9:00-10:30am

Course Description: No agent? No problem! How to make your own connections, find producers interested in your script, get readings and studio meetings, sell without an agent or manager. Instructor has sold over 20 scripts without an agent, 17 were filmed. You don't need an agent to sell, just a great script!

Elements of Horror -*- Saturday 11:00-12:30pm

Course Description: From The Ring to Saw and Hostel, horror is hot! You'll learn everything you need to know to write in this genre, from creating dread, loss of free will, fear of the unknown, classic horror (like The Others) vs. Stalk & Slash and Modern Horror. How to create a monster. What do Rosemary's Baby, Night of the Living Dead, The Exorcist, Bride of Frankenstein, The Others, and Open Water have in common? This class will tell you! All of the critical elements necessary to write a script that scares the pants off the audience.

The Naked Character -*- Saturday 3:00-4:30pm

Course Description: How to create original characters that come alive on the page. Story is character, but how do you create those amazing memorable characters? Roles that attract stars? Starting with nothing, you'll learn about active protagonists, visual characterization, distinctive dialogue, and character moments. Dozens of character creation techniques!

Action & Suspense Scenes -*- Saturday 5:00-6:30pm

Course Description: Become a master of suspense! Creating action scenes that show character and suspense scenes that keep the audience on the edge of their seats! Proper use of violence. The 15 iconic suspense scenes and why they work. Instructor has many *produced* action and thriller scripts.

High Concept Hollywood -*- Sunday 11:00-12:30pm

Course Description: How to find and develop ideas that Hollywood is looking for and you are passionate about. A great script with a dull idea is a dull script. Learn tools like Magnification, Flipping, Substitution, Cousins, Word Association, why High Concept is *Your* Concept, finding your personal themes in high concept ideas.

Description & Visual Storytelling -*- Sunday 3:00-4:30pm

Course Description: Sure, your dialogue's great, but description is 50% of your screenplay and film is a visual medium. Is half your script in trouble? Technique-based class with 25 ways to improve description, create hidden camera angles, tell your story visually. Decisions, metaphors, symbolism, why pictures are worth a thousand words.

So that is what I'm doing at the Expo. Come hear my classes live, and make sure you say hello.

- Bill

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Ahead & Down, Behind & Up

A few days ago, I had a good day writing, headed to the casino... and lost some money. I ended up dragging myself back to my hotel late, went up to my room... and my mag-key did not work. This meant going all the way down to the front desk, when I really wanted to remove some beers and go to sleep. And, for some strange reason at that hour of the night... or, actually, morning... there was a line at the front desk. Figuring this will only take a minute, instead of going to a restroom to remove the beers, I waited in line. Where it took longer than expected. Because they told me they needed to do some routine maintenance on my room and would need to move me somewhere else for the rest of my stay... would a suite be okay?

Sure. Free upgrade. Cool.

Problem is, I would have to pak and unpack again. Not a big deal, but I wanted to just sleep. I have no idea what was wrong with my old room, and even when I got into it to pack up my stuff (after removing the beers) I could see nothing wrong. But I ended up in a really nice suite several floors up. Some high roller probably canceled, and the room was available for me... the low roller.

The next day I had a terrible day of writing - I think the sleep-to-caffeine ratio was off - and after banging my head against the story wall without much to show for it, packed up and hit the casinos... and won $360. Now, I’m ahead for my stay at that point..

But not by much.

My theory on gambling in Vegas: it’s all about free drinks. If I were back home in Studio City, I might wander across the street to Residuals and have a few beers with friends. A Guiness over there costs $5, add a buck tip per beer and by the end of the night I have probably spent $25. And if I buy a round or two for my friends? Well, I know that I’ve dropped $100 before in one night.

Now, when you gamble in Vegas they *give* you drinks. Free. You still tip, but the costs of the drinks themselves are paid for by the casino. They want you to drink so that you’ll keep playing. So, I figure if I lose $25-$40 by the end of the night, that’s not much different than going to Residuals. The free beers cover the cost of playing for a night. If I lose $100, well, that’s not gonna make me happy, but I’ve spent $100 on drinks before. So what I lose on gambling I gain in free drinks. Once I lose more than I can drink, I quit.

So, it’s all about free drinks - the gambling is entertainment.

My theory on the writing and losing thing is that when the writing goes well I get cocky and take risks that I shouldn’t... and when the writing hasn’t gone well I play more conservatively. Or maybe there’s just some God Of Gamblers that takes care of screenwriting (a major gamble) and fools who wander into casinos? If there is a God Of Gamblers, can there be sequels and can they all star Chow Yun Fat?

Anyway, now I’m in an excellent suite for the rest of my stay - looking out over the lights of Vegas.

And by the end of today, I should have finished all of the CableNet projects. A bunch of synopsis to throw against the wall. Some will miss completely, some will hit and slide off... but I hope that one of these suckers will stick so that I’ll have a deal. I’m going to work on the second studio sequel project when I get back... and focus the rest of my stay either on the spec I’m in the middle of writing or another project.

It seems that every day the writing goes well, I lose money. Every day the writing doesn’t go well, I win. Winning $360 is covering the loses at this point, but Vegas is set up so that they make money from you. I guess the good news is: that means I’m going to have some more days of good writing!

- Bill

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Working Vacation

So I'm in Vegas on vacation. Or shoukd I say "vacation", since yesterday I pounded out a bunch of spec synopsis for a CableNet producer. A couple I really like - and hope something happens with. One is kind of Antonioni's THE PASSENGER meets BOURNE IDENTITY - but with a female lead.

Today - same story, different CableNet. For the next 3 days it looks like that's what I will be doing. I'm actually doing more than originally pitched, because I've had some other ideas along the way. I live for cool ideas like "Planet To Go" - a terraform kit that you can drop on any planet, press a button, and it figures out how to take whatever's on the planet and turn it into an atmosphere that can sustain human life. I'm wrapping a story around that. I've got 9 other ideas like that that I'm fleshing out into stories with characters and plot twists and cliff hanger's for commercial breaks and all the other stuff that will hopefully turn this talk into a paying gig.

Meanwhile - I have not won money. I'm down and hope I can turn that around tonight.

- Bill

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

DVD Extras

I love movies, have seen a pile of them, and often read up on my favorite films to learn some of the cool stuff about how they were made.

Recently they released a new set of Film Noir flicks, including THE BIG STEAL, and the LA Times did a blurb about the set... but they neglected to mention what I thought was the most fascinating bit of background on that film. The reason why that film was made was to spring Robert Mitchum from jail. Mitchum had been busted for smoking pot (something he did regularly) and was serving time in county lock up... not in the Paris Hilton section, he was in general pop. There were photos of him behind bars, both in his cell and on a work detail. So the studio came up with this scheme to get his sentence reduced - they created a film starring Mitchum and put it into production. After shooting a chunk of the film without Mitchum, they went to a judge and claimed the film would crash and burn, costing the studio a bunch of money, unless Mitchum was available to work. Hey, Los Angeles is an industry town, and by this point they had shot everything they could without the star... so the decision was made to cut Mitchum’s sentence so they could finish the film. And if you watch the film closely, you can see how Mitchum’s footage was often shot during a different season than the other stuff - winter in some shots and spring in others.

Anyway, because I love stuff like this, one of the things I enjoy about DVDs are the extras. On VHS you just got the movie, on DVD you get all kinds of fun stuff. There’s a great extra on ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST that goes to all of the film’s locations *today* and shows you what they look like. There is also a huge doc on the composer, Ennio Morricone (the reasoon why we have Morricone as a film composer is because he and Leone were childhood friends, and Leone asked his friend to write music for his movies)... plus the usual behind the scenes and interviews and tons of bonus material. I love to watch deleted footage - though usually you can see why those scenes were cut. I love all of this stuff.


So, on my recent DVD binge, I bought a bunch of stuff including a new special edition of FLETCH that promised all kinds of fresh bonus materials.

Okay, some background...

I love mystery and crime fiction. Back in the 70s, I was looking at the new crime fiction on the shelves of some bookstore (probably B Daltons) and stumbled on this new book called FLETCH by Greg MacDonald with a blurb from James M. Cain - one of my favorite writers. Cain said this was a great book... and that was enough for me to pick it up and read the first page. Wow!

So I waited until it hit paperback and bought it (I still have that copy). Clever, funny, lots of plot twists, great lead character who was obviously inspired by Woodward & Bernstein. And when the next Fletch book came out, I bought it. And the third Fletch book. And the spinoff books about Flynn. And every Fletch book that Greg McDonald wrote. Oh, and his non-series books, too. This guy was an amazing writer - he could fool *me* with his clever plot twists. The books won all sorts of awards, too.

So, when they announced they were making a movie, I was excited.

When they cast Chevy Chase, I was heartbroken.

Fletch is *clever* and *intelligent*... Chevy Chase does prat falls.

But two things looked promising: the script was being written by Andrew Bergman, a mystery writer himself (The Big Kiss Off, Hollywood & Levine) who knew how the genre worked... and also how to write movies - he was co-writer on BLAZING SADDLES. The film was going to be directed by Michael Ritchie, a very clever satirist who made one of the greatest films of the 70s - SMILE. Ritchie made sophisticated comedies, not prat-fall films. He also made political and social films like DOWNHILL RACER and THE CANDIDATE. Also, I had actually met him - he lived in Berkeley, California and often premiered his films at Bay Area film festivals. I was a kid then, and would often sneak past security to meet the film makers. We’d had a couple of conversations. If there was anyone who could turn this great book into a movie it was Ritchie.

So, the film comes out and it’s good news / bad news.

The bad news is that Chevy Chase has a fantasy sequence and wears goofy disguises and falls down a few times.

The good news is that they took care to keep the mystery plot and keep each and every clue so that you could play along. (The way mysteries work - they are interactive - the audience has all of the clues to solve the mystery and is racing the detective character to solve it. Bad mystery films don’t “play fair” and leave out the clues.) The book had 2 different mysteries, the movie combined them... but actually added the clues to set that up. It’s a really well crafted mystery. And Chevy Chase tones it down - because the story is serious, he has to be serious much of the time.

The film is probably Chevy Chase's best work... and one of the few good mystery films to come out of Hollywood since CHINATOWN.

There are Fletch lovers who hate the movie because of Chase - and I can understand that. But Hollywood is going to cast a star in the lead role, and who else was there?

They’re looking at doing a new Fletch movie with a new star... and I have no idea who could play him. (Who do you think should play Fletch now?) Can we clone Cary Grant or William Powell?


Which brings us back to the extras on the new FLETCH DVD...

The exec at Universal who approved of the extras on this DVD needs to be fired... or better yet, escorted to the Hollywood border and banished for life. I have never seen worse extras on a DVD - these extras are so bad, I would rather have a version of the DVD without them.

The extras completely disrespect this film.

I want my money back.

So what do we get for extras? A completely self-indulgent film starring the *producer of the extras* who thinks that he is funny - but he is not. He does a pile of lame gags that are not funny, and interviews some cast and crew members - which would be okay, except at least half of the interviews are about *him* - the producer of the extras! He's some guy in his late 20s who obviously thinks the world revolves around him. After a few minutes, you're tired of the guy - his ego is *massive* and his talent is minuscule.

No Chevy Chase interview - which is weird because Chase has done all kinds of low budget films lately - many haven't even been released (BAD MEAT).

Also - nothing about the Fletch novels by Greg McDonald - the *source* of the character and story. The novels were so popular that they bought the rights to use the novel's logo for the movie. But from these extras you would never even know there was a book - let alone and entire series. And you's never know these books are big award winners, and bestsellers. They just ignore the books completely.

Which is too bad, because you could make an amazing little doc about the books. You see, McDonald wrote them out of order. Things mentioned in passing in the first book end up being the central plot in later books... which take place before the first book. It’s kind of like MEMENTO - except it doesn’t work backwards, it’s scattershot. You read FLETCH AND THE WIDOW BRADLEY and he’s newly divorced from his first wife... when he was divorced from his second wife in FLETCH. Oh, this is a prequel! And at the end of the series McDonald wrote FLETCH WON and FLETCH TOO - which start the series chronologically. Anyway, an extra sorting out this jigsaw would have been a great addition... but the extras don’t even mention the books.

Instead of any behind the scenes, instead of anything about the books, instead of anything about the director (who made some great stuff - and made Robert Redford into a big star), instead of anything that focuses on the very clever plotting of the story (from the book), we get a short about the extras producer and a bunch of random clips from the film.

Someone at Universal should lose their job over this.

All they had to do was call me, and I could have filled them in.

How does one get a job producing the extras for a DVD? What are the qualifications? What are the *responsibilities*? Do they realize how important this stuff is to the folks who buy DVDs? And - the most frightening question - do these guys think these cruddy DVD extras will lead them to a feature directing gig?

What are your favorite DVD extras... and your least favorites?

- Bill

Friday, August 10, 2007

10 Secrets About Bill

I was tagged by jen and UNK and M. Arthur and...

The rules to the game -- once you have been tagged, you must write a blog with ten weird, random things, little known facts or habits about yourself. At the end choose at least 5 people to be tagged, list their names and why you picked them. Don't forget to leave a comment that says 'you've been tagged' and tell them to read your latest blog.

1) I know 57 ways to kill a man with my bare hands, but my enemies can rest easy because I always wear gloves.

2) I still work on a Commodore 64 with 5.25 inch floppy drive, but thanks to the latest laser printer, my work looks as good as someone who writes on some fancy, expensive computer.

3) For maximum efficiency, I always wear adult diapers. I am easily able to write for a couple of days before I have no choice but to change myself.

4) I worked my way through film school as a male stripper... mostly furniture.

5) The first movie that really touched me was Spielberg’s E.T.... and it touched me inappropriately.

6) I own 7 powder blue leisure suits... one for every day of the week.

7) I once wrestled a naked man in Reno... I was also naked - if you ever see me in person, ask me about this.

8) I never carry money, preferring to barter... I’ve done dishes in some of LA’s trendier restaurants... and my hands are still soft and delicate!

9) I was once bitten by a radioactive dung beetle... and now I have super powers that I can not discuss in public.

10) Just as a ship's captain can marry people at sea, I have married over a dozen couples who have taken a ride in the back seat of my Toyota Celica on the 405.

I think the problem is that everyone has already done this, so if you are one of the handful of people in the world who have yet to be tagged, please tag yourself.

- Bill

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Whole Lotta Shakin Going On


No, not the cheesy 70s film with Chuckles Heston... we had an earthquake here at 12:58am (a 4.6 on the other side of the valley). Did it wake me up? No - I was still awake. It did remind me of the Northridge quake over a decade ago, that struck in the early morning when I was asleep - and trashed my old apartment building, not to mention knocked out water and power for a few days. We had to go to a public park to get water... and nobody in my neighborhood bathed for about a week. We were ripe. I was one of the lucky ones - I didn’t have a job in public. During the aftershocks of the quake I got a phone call from Ashok Amritraj that he was buying my script THE VICTIM'S WIFE. Thank God the water was fixed before I had to go to my first meeting! But that script sale started a domino run of sales that accounted for most of my produced material. Strange, because those sales were not all to the same company. That year I sold three scripts to three different companies... all in the same couple of months after the quake.

But this quake was just a little shaking - no buildings pancaked, nobody died.
No big change in my career.
Just another day in sunny Los Angeles.


You may have noticed some new blog links have popped up on the right (I finally got around to adding a group, and now I have a new group to add). One that you may not know about is The Homicide Report...

Los Angeles Times reporter Jill Leovy wondered who all of those people getting killed in the city were. One day they were a name in the paper, the next day they were old news. So she decided to devote a blog to the murder victims of Los Angeles. She lists their names and as much information as she can find, and often follows up with interviews and articles about the families with profiles of the victims.

There is no discrimination in her blog. It doesn’t matter whether the person killed was an innocent victim, a police officer, or a criminal. All of them have a story. All of them are died violently. All of them left behind friends and family. She tells their story. She turns crime stats into people.

You may cry when you read these stories. You may get angry. But you will come to know these people whose lives came to an abrupt end.

- Bill

Yesterday’s Lunch: Nothing... and Del Taco chicken burrito for dinner.
DVDs GET CARTER - the original good version. I saw this ages ago on the big screen, probably at some revival house in Berkeley. Bought it on DVD... and I can't believe how much I've cribbed from this film. A toast from this film ends up a toast in one of mine. The idea of sudden and unexpected action is something I use. This film is both brutally violent and nostalgic. The idea of going home and hanging out with people who were childhood friends... and now may be your enemy... is just an amazing concept. And the film has twists that knock you off your feet. One that is so powerful... and Caine's acting is so amazing... that you gasp. At it's core, this film is *emotional* even though Caine usually holds his emotions in check. By the way, if you like the BOURNE movies, you should check this out. Very realistic, and Hodges does some interesting framing and composition.
Pages: Fell off the train on SLEEPER, wrote half a page yesterday... but I also wrote a 10 page article for Script Magazine, so it wasn't like I was doing nothing. Actually I did 5 pages on the article yesterday and 5 pages the day before. That's kind of the probem with maintaining that 5 pages a day now - I always seem to have a zillion other things to do. There's always a deadline for me to make.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Writing In Starbucks

Yesterday’s Lunch: Some danged thing in Starbucks.
Movies: BOURNE ULTIMATUM... more on that later.
DVDs THE TIN STAR... more on that later.
Pages: 5 pages on SLEEPER! Made my quota. Some good stuff, made up jargon: "Snatch Point" - the best location to kidnap someone off the streets of a major city in broad daylight. When I Googled Snatch Point I discovered it was a soccer term.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Bourne Again Screenwriter

Today is my big day. The day my movie is opening. No, not a script I wrote... a script I wish I had written. I always tell people to write the kind of film you regularly pay to see - especially the type of film you can’t wait to see. For some of you reading this, that might have been SPIDER-MAN 3, I know I was interested in seeing it. For others it may have been PIRATES 3 or TRANSFORMERS or OCEANS 13 or KNOCKED UP or any of the other films that came out this summer. Every weekend at least one big film, and judging by the lines for THE SIMPSONS MOVIE many of you couldn’t wait to see it. I had to wait through most of the summer for my movie, BOURNE ULTIMATUM.

Now, the BOURNE movies aren’t perfect - no movie is. But they are my kind of movie, and I can easily overlook all of the problems in the first two films because for me, the good outweighs the bad. I love the gritty, realistic, *clever* action scenes. I love that the movies focus on character as well as amazing stunts. And I think Matt Damon is kind of the new Bruce Willis - a regular guy who you believe can kick ass. I needed to be convinced of that by the first film, because I though Damon was a pretty boy. He proved me wrong. I love action movies, but had no real expectations with the first BOURNE movie. Now, I hope this one lives up to the last two.

Often, the movies we can’t wait to see disappoint us. They either have too many flaws, and tip the balance far enough that we can’t really enjoy them... or they have built up our expectations to an impossible level - no way any film could be that good. In a way, movies are like love stories - as long as we end with a "happily ever after" title card then fade out, it’s the greatest love story ever told. It’s when we hang around for the arguments about leaving the cap off the toothpaste that we realize there’s no such thing as 100% happiness ever after.

So when your movie comes out, and you stand in line for an hour before seeing it - fantasizing about how great the movie is going to be - and it ends up disappointing you, don’t get angry and decide to write junk. Instead, write the kind of movie you wish it had been. Write the honeymoon, not the bitter divorce. Part of our job as screenwriters is to create that fantasy and desire and excited anticipation for the audience... then try to make sure our scripts do their best to fulfill those expectations.

I’m hoping this BOURNE movie will be the best of the three, but even if it’s not - right now I’m really excited about the film - enjoying it before I’ve seen it.

- Bill

Yesterday’s Lunch: Some sort of multi-grain roll at Starbucks that looked like it exploded in the oven.
DVDs THUNDERBALL - gearing up for Bourne.
Pages: 3 more pages on SLEEPER! Sure, it's less than the 5 I'd planned on, but I'm making progress. Also wrote a line that I think people will quote after they come out of the cinema.
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