Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Oscar Nominated... and Crazy!

Before Gary Busey ended up making the kind of stuff I write, he was an Oscar nominated actor who played Buddy Holly and was in one of my favorite movies - BIG WEDNESDAY. Actually, if you made a list of Gary's movies, he's been in a ton of great stuff and steals the film in everything from LETHAL WEAPON to UNDER SIEGE.

Here's Gary on the red carpet at the Oscars...

- Bill

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

In Today's News....


Starbucks coffee shops all over the United States are closed today from 5:30 to 8:30. Though the company denies rumors that the reason for the simultaneous store closings has anything to do with the secret society that owns the company, or their disciples (known as “baristas”), or the annual animal sacrifices that keep the chain growing at an alarming rate. It is believed that after this day of rituals and animal sacrifice, two hundred more Starbucks stores will be born. Nothing for us to worry about.

Picture: Starbucks leader addressing courtyard full of baristas.

- Bill

Friday, February 22, 2008


I'm sure you all have questions...

And I'm looking for questions...

Questions about the *writing* of screenplays. (Craft oriented - not business oriented.)

I'm preparing some new articles for Script Magazine and preparing to fill in some new script tips - and I need to know what YOU want to know.

Ask them in the comments section. Or suggest articles or Script Tip subjects.

- Bill

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Pencils Up!

Yes, that sounds slightly obscene, and I’m sorry about that. But my pencil *is* up... because a couple of days ago I landed an awful screenwriting deal... that pays.

My big problem was that right before the strike I really needed to sell a screenplay. This is a “no visible means of support” business, where there are no regular paychecks. I can’t ask for more hours or do a double shift or any of the other things I used to do when I needed money. I have to find someone who wants to buy a script. Before the strike I was talking to some people... and I think they may have forgotten me by now. But it seems that one, and possible even two, people have remembered me.

The one that came through was kind of interesting. I have these two specs I’ve been playing around with - one is a solid B action script, I don’t have many of those that didn’t get slapped onto celluloid, and the other is a monster movie. The reason for the monster movie - I seem to know a bunch of people who make movies for Sci Fi Channel. So a script like that is something I might actually be able to sell. And they can be fun to write. I came up with this silly idea about a frightened lab mouse that was given a growth hormone and became as huge as a car... and stopped being frightened. In fact, it became as arrogant as the scientists who injected it, and began throwing its weight around and causing large scale panic in the city. I have a sketchy outline and have written a handful of pages... when I got a call from a director I know who was looking for a script for Sci Fi Channel. Hmmm... Well, I pitch him my mouse script, and he says No... You see, he has access to a cool location... okay, it’s Hawaii... and wants to do a movie about giant killer *frogs*. So, I re-pitched my mouse story as a frog story in Hawaii and changed some stuff and, well, it’s a deal. The money sucks, but bad screenplay money is still pretty good money. And the script will be fun to write - it's kind of a TREMORS thing.

No sooner did I leave his office than my cell phone rang, *another* director looking for a project. I’ll have to do a whole blog entry on this one, because it’s looking... unusual. But this director knows a producer looking for a solid B action script... so I wrote up a paragraph on the one I’m already writing and sent it to him when I got back... and I’m hoping this mysterious producer he has will like it. That would be great, because I’m so far along on that one I’m thinking it would make more sense to finish it before I basically start from scratch on the monster movie script. I can juggle both scripts with the deadlines given. If they say yes to the solid B action script, that’s a better deal... and I may end up with 2 films released this year... or maybe both will hit early next year.

Meanwhile, still looking for an agent or manager.

Anyway, I’m back to work. Movie #20 shoots this summer. If I can turn this other script into movie #21, that would also be cool... If not, well, the year is still young.

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Character Moments.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Sweet & Sour Chicken at City Wok.

MOVIES: IN BRUGES - Okay, the trailer makes it look like a comedy, but a TV review said it was a serious movie with lots of violence...

And it's this strange combination of things that all come together.

It's like the Odd Couple as hit men - and there will be hits! Brendan Gleason is always great, but here I was completely identifying with him as he had to put up with ADD loudmouth Collin Farrell - in a twitchy, boorish, and so-dumb-he's-funny performance. Farrell is everything that is not cool in this film, and it starts out funny... and he ends up everything that is human. Just when you think it's a really funny buddy movie, something happens that turns it into a serious film about emotionally messed up characters... who happen to be these two guys. The surface is funny - but these characters have so much depth we keep peeling back layers and learning more and more about these two guys and we feel the tragedy of their lives... and yet they're still funny.

Another thing I loved about the film is the "small town" feeling of Bruges - everyone they meet they keep meeting again. Though there's an element of coincidence, it's really set up well. So a comedy character later becomes the key to resolving a serious plot element - and you might look back and think that the whole reason they were in the film was that resolution element... except the character has become such an important part of the comedy side of the story that the film would fail if you removed them. (By the way, all of these things you never really see coming... and if you do, it seems natural for them to happen.) The film is filled with connections and call-backs. A fat American tourist family is good for a few jokes... but later they impact the shoot out!

By the way - bloodiest shoot outs ever. Compares to RAMBO.

But for me, the thing that really got me was the relationships. It’s really about one man who is at peace with himself, and another who is not. This film is often silly, often violent... but has a soul. The scene where Gleason talks about his late wife is powerful stuff.

MOVIES: I've keep forgetting to write about THERE WILL BE BLOOD... It's strange - every time I post an old script tip, that night I see a movie that I could have used to update the tip. Before seeing TWBB I posted a tip on character driven stories - and if any recent film falls into this category, it's TWBB. The film has no traditional story - it's all about Daniel Day Lewis' character. He's a relentless man. Driven. Probably crazy. In the opening scene he's deep in a mine, finds some gold or silver (I forget which) and then falls while climbing out and busts his leg. Really busts it. So he's laying at the bottom of the mine shaft with his leg at an unnatural angle and some gold in his pocket... and he climbs his way out and drags himself all the way back to town to cash in his gold. Laying on the floor, leg still messed up, while they cut him a check. That's who this guy is.

The movie is his life searching for oil (and screwing people out of their oil), his relationship with his adopted son, and a strange parallel relationship with a preacher he screws out of oil money. He is not someone you like - but he is fascinating. We kind of care about him because we care about his adopted son - and hope he finds a way to not hate everybody (and himself) so that he can love his son. That gives us "access" to his character. But this guy is larger than life - so big he threatens to break through the screen.

And the arena for the story are the early days of oil - where you could make a fortune if you had the rights to the right piece of land. Amazing world for a story - and we see all of the amazing details of this world - they show us how to look for the land most likely to yeild oil... without the land owner knowing what you are doing. How to do an exploratory dig. And how to build an oil well - in fact, the way oil wells evolve from buckets to derricks. And the cinematography is just amazing.

This is a dark, evil, nasty movie about people you can not like - and may even hate. But Daniel Day Lewis just grabs you and does not let go - and we are allowed inside this guy, who hates people and wants anyone who even tries to compete with him to die. He is compelled to do things that he knows will lead to his ruin... and you see how tortured he is.

Okay, I'm *not* a fan of Paul Thomas Anderson, and this film is 2 hours and 38 minutes - add trailers and that's 3 hours of my life... but I never looked at my watch. It was fascinating. This is my favorite PTA movie - beating HARD EIGHT (you probably never heard of that one). Daniel Day Lewis deserves an Oscar... let's see if they give it to him.

DVDS: I've seen a dozen DVDs... and I'll talk about them later.

PAGES: Hey, moving right along... 5 pages on the action script. Cool scene where the Vice President forms a plan that would kill the President... in order to stop terrorists from controlling US nukes.

- Bill

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Welcome To Black History Month

Or maybe this is African American Heritage Month, which I think is the same thing, just with some new PC lingo... but “African American Power!” just doesn’t sound the same. Even though they have added a day this year, it is still the shortest month of the year. Heck, it’s more than half over! And we throw in a bunch of other holidays and events, which makes that short month seem even shorter. We have Ground Hog Day and Valentines Day and Presidents Day... no Black Presidents yet, but that may change soon.

I wonder where all of the Black movies are this month? Is WELCOME HOME ROSCOE JENKINS it? You may not know this, but African Americans go to the movies in disproportionate numbers. It’s a major audience segment in the United States... so where are the movies this month? They opened GREAT DEBATERS over the Christmas holidays, to sneak it in for Oscar consideration. But why isn’t February - kind of a slow box office month - capitalizing on Black History Month by releasing several films that appeal to that large cinema audience? Every studio ought to be fighting for that audience this month... and doing a wider release of movies like GREAT DEBATERS this month... It would be a cool time to re-release the film, since it just won an NAACP Image Award. I doubt ROSCOE JENKINS will win one.

I’m kind of pissed off because I was going to use this short month to talk about some of my favorite films that just happen to star African Americans... starting with the great family film SOUNDER - except that film is not on DVD anymore. What? This is a great film with an amazing story and dialogue that I’ve quoted in articles about screenwriting (because they are universal life lessons). How does this film go out of press? This is the kind of movie everyone should watch during Black History Month.

I guess I could talk about SHAFT’S BIG SCORE or THREE THE HARD WAY, but even though I love those movies, they may not have much in the way of universal life lessons... But I bet I could find one or two if I tried. That's the cool part about mainstream movies - they are great at disguising larger messages.

Some people wonder why we don’t have White History Month... but isn’t that just about every month? And what about Hispanic History Month and Asian History Month and Indian (Native American) History Month and Indian (from India) History Month and... Well, we are a country of many different heritages, but only 12 months.

So I say - take one. You want a month? Just take it!

PBS has been showing episodes of Julian Bond’s great documentary EYES ON THE PRIZE about the Civil Rights Movement in the 60s, which coincided with the Anti-War Movement and prison reform (Atica! Atica!) plus the deaths of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King.... a turbulent time in the United States, but a great time - people were standing up for what they believed in. Fighting for what they believed in. (And this lead to the anti-establishment cinema of the 70s and all of those great films.)

These days we seem to be complacent.

Maybe we shouldn’t be?

Maybe we should stand up for what we believe in? Make it part of our screenplays?

On a message board a couple of days ago, I said that speeches and overtly political or social movies don’t seem to work - people don’t go to the cinema for sermons... they want *entertainment*, they want escape. But we can use the power of story to make our points without any overt preaching. You got something to say? Stand up and say it... with a story.

No speeches. Nothing overt. You want to be subversive.

The PIRATES movies seem to be big fun adventure films - but the first film makes the point that sometimes a good man (Will) must do the wrong thing (become a pirate) which is completely against the law in order to do the right thing (save the woman he loves). The second film and third film have anti-government, anti-capitalist messages... but the average audience member probably didn't notice any of that. It was just part of the story. Nothing hit them over the head... but maybe they will worry a little bit more about big business using government to further their global marketing plans.

One of my favorite films is the original INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS about aliens who take you over and turn you into ultra-conformists. You don't think for yourself - you follow the leader blindly. The government, the police, everyone wants you to just give in and become one of them... but our hero stands up to them (not easy). Okay, now this is a scary sci-fi movie, not some sort of political film... except it's really both. One on the outside, one on the inside.

My thing is blue collar workers - we (I used to be one) are completely under represented on film. It seems like most movies are about guys who wear suits and work in offices - sometimes we don’t even know what they do in those offices. Blue collar workers are almost invisible in American movies - and I think much of that is due to the people who write scripts usually not having much blue collar experience. You may not have noticed this, but they are closing factories right and left in the United States and moving those jobs to other countries. We now depend on other countries to manufacture things... and that bites us on the butt when the low cost manufacturing creates lead based Mattel toys and defective kid car seats and... Crap! I’m preaching!

Instead, I usually channel this stuff into a screenplay. My protagonists often work with their hands, and the stories sometimes have backgrounds in the blue collar world. I want to make sure people realize that car they drive was build by *people*. You know that chair you’re sitting in? Somebody made that. And if we don’t do something, the people who make everything are going to be *Chinese*. I want to make the people who make things *visible* in movies.

So, you want a month? Take it. Figure out what you want to say and find a way to say it in a story. I believe in sneaking your message into mainstream films, so that hundreds of millions of people around the world will hear it. They go to the cinema to see some big summer adventure flick... and come away wondering if a good man must sometimes break the law to do the right thing or if you should just go with the flow or stand up for what’s right or...

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Emotion Pictures.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Fish Tacos at Islands.

MOVIES: RAMBO - This is either the sketchiest movie ever made, or Kabuki Theater at its finest. It almost seems like there was no script, they were working off a treatment. The story is so simple, the characters are so simple, everything in this film seems like the rough draft - completely undeveloped...

But maybe that’s by intention.

Rambo is a man of few words, and really huge arms. In last year’s ROCKY return, Stallone was an old burn out who didn’t have a chance in Hell of going ten rounds with the champ. Rambo is a different kind of burn out - a man who has seen to much killing. Stallone’s arms are huge, his body in great shape... but his face is kind of puffy. Old. Beat up. And that works. When we first see Rambo, he’s living in Thailand (I think) catching exotic poisonous snakes for some tourist side show. I’m not sure this job really exists, and it seems like something from another movie, but I guess they had to come up with something for him to do.

He’s hired by a group of missionaries to go up river into Burma to do missionary stuff. Rambo tells them they should just go home - but probably used less words than I just did. The missionaries all look the same and act the same, except one is female. Non one has any character in this film. That might work for Rambo - he’s kind of an icon - but doesn’t work for these folks, because we need to care about them, so that when they get captured by evil army dudes in Burma we will want Rambo to go in and save them. Since Rambo refuses to take them up river, they send the girl missionary to talk to him... except that would require dialogue. So, they look at each other for a minute and speak maybe 5 words between them, then we cut to Rambo on his boat taking the missionaries up river. Where’s a naked Daryl Hannah and a slightly crazed John Lithgow when you need them? None of these missionaries had any personality at all.

No scenes, no moments, no real interaction between characters.

There is an interesting connection between the lead Missionary and Rambo - both are men who believe a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do... except there is no conversation about this and no actions that compare and contrast this...

So, after a bunch of time, Rambo gets them up river and then returns to his life of snake catching... end of story.

But one night the Minister from the church the missionaries came from, Ken Howard in probably a full minute of screen time, shows up at Rambo’s place and says the missionaries were kidnaped by the evil army dudes and he’d like Rambo to take a boat full of mercenaries up river so that they can rescue the missionaries.

Cut to, Rambo piloting the boat of mercenaries who are going to rescue the missionaries.

Now, these mercenaries has absolutely no personality - no *character*. We have a kid and a bald mouthy guy... and the rest. Compare them to the Space Marines in ALIENS - where over a dozen different characters are complete individuals after only a few minutes of screen time. That’s a good group to compare these Mercs to, because all of those Space Marines began as characters in RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD 2. James Cameron wrote the script for that, was rewritten by Stallone, and took his Merc characters from *that* script and dropped them into ALIENS. You’d think Stallone might have learned something from that, but I guess not. We end up with these completely interchangeable characters... which screws up any chance of caring about them when the shit hits the fan and Rambo has to save their sorry asses. The mouthy Mercenary dogs Rambo, but that’s it. If you think this is setting up that big scene where they have to set aside their differences and work together, you got the wrong movie.

The Mercenaries blow it, Rambo saves their sorry asses...

But in the most violent scenes ever put on film. People’s heads *vaporize*.

Okay, the Evil Army Dude, that’s about as much personality or character as he gets, has this “hobby”. He takes prisoners to one end of a rice paddy, throws land mines in the water, then forces them to run across the rice paddy. They step on a land mine - we get to see big chunks of their bodies fly. This is frightening, sick stuff... and you want the Evil Army Dude to die some horrible death. So, when the rescue turns into a chase about three quarters of the way into the film, we are ready for Rambo to set traps and kick some ass... and that’s what happens. Evil soldier guys get blown to bits, have body parts shot of, or have their heads explode...

And we cheer!

Isn’t it cool when that bad soldier gets blown in half?

Dude, that guy’s legs got blown off at the knees! Now he’s, like, crawling!

Man, the whole top of his head just vaporized! And he’s still running! Cool!

Okay, this brings up a really good question - why do we like violence? I know that some of you are saying that *you* don’t like violence, but the majority of the people in that cinema audience, both men and women, were cheering and laughing as people were being blown to bits very realistically on screen. You may not like violence, but the full cinema at this RAMBO showing liked it - and I suspect that was why they were there.

Is it life affirming? When I was a little kid, I liked horror movies because I *survived* them. That made me stronger. When we see somebody killed on screen and it’s not us, do we feel like survivors - and is that what makes us cheer? The more scary the monster, when I was a kid, the greater the joy of surviving... is the same true with more violent scenes in a film?

Or do we have a savage streak? Something sick and primitive that turns other people’s violent deaths into sport? There’s syndicated TV show on Sunday nights that is all about vehicle crashes - it’s 30 minutes of wrecks. Not the car race, not who won the car race, not who drove really well in the car race... but the people whose cars crashed and flipped a half dozen times and then whatever was left of it caught on fire. People watch this show. Um, I watch that show sometimes. Did people cheer the violence in Rambo because they are just deeply disturbed?

I don’t think that second one is true, because RAMBO opens with real life footage of atrocities in Burma - and nobody cheered. I felt kind of queasy, and people around me where gasping (not cheering). And when they showed the innocent villagers being blown up by the land mines hidden in the rice paddies, no one was cheering... they were getting mad at that Evil Army Guy for being such a bastard and hoping that Rambo would kick his butt good.

So it seems that *revenge* is part of the equation. That innocent people - even though we know they are actors and these are special effects - getting killed makes us angry. But bad guys getting killed makes us cheer and laugh.

Okay, so many many bad army guys get killed in really violent ways, and finally we come down to the lead Bad Army Guy - he’s the commander. He ordered all of the rice paddy races where innocent people were blown to bits (that we get to see). He’s the ultimate bad guy in this film, even though he has no dialogue. So, how do you think he gets it? What do you think Rambo does to him?

If you guessed Rambo throws some land mines in a rice paddy and forces him to run through the rice paddy... you’d be wrong. That’s what we want Rambo to do to him. That is “justice” in the world of action movies.

But Rambo just stabs him with a knife and kills him - over in a couple of seconds.

Then Rambo goes back to his life of capturing snakes...

Not really, he goes home to see his father. Now, given Stallone’s age, if his father is still alive he probably won’t even remember he has a son. But Stallone’s dad seems to live on a horse ranch somewhere that looks like it exists only on a Hallmark card.

What movies will Stallone sequel next?

PAGES: Actually did 7 pages on the action spec, and it looks like I may have landed a job writing another script. I'll bring you up to speed on this stuff in a couple of days.

- Bill

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Valentines Gifts For Him!

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Character in conflict - GONE BABY GONE..
Yesterday’s Dinner: Chicken Burrito at Cheesecake Factory.

MOVIES: I've seen both RAMBO and IN BRUGES, and will report on them in the next couple of days.

DVDS: I watched EXTERMINATOR CITY - a train wreck of a film that combines puppet robots and GIRLS GONE WILD. You know how some films require that you consume a 12 pack in order to enjoy them (I've written many of these)? This film requires you to drop acid *and* do mushrooms to fully understand the story. The robot puppets are kind of MST-3000 style - and the only thing that moves is their mouths. The bodies don't move, the camera doesn't move. I got the feeling the whole film was made by one guy with a tri-pod. He would set up the camera, then operate the robot puppet. There are no "two shots" of robots - that would require an extra person. So we get close up of Cop Robot intercut with close up of Psychiatrist Robot. Never both in the same shot. Never any two characters in the same shot. No long shots or wide shots at all.

The "story" has a robot serial killer attacking big breasted women just as they begin playing with their upper torso bundles of pleasure for no reason. But the robot serial killer is never in the same shot as the babes - and they aren't even on the same tape stock - the robots are crisp, the babes are fuzzy grainy - maybe shot on the director's mom's camcorder. There is *never* a shot of the robots *and* the babes. Even the killing scenes have no interaction.

The robot serial killer was an exterminator - and kills all kinds of big plastic toy bugs. Oh, and mounted animal heads on his walls often talk to him. He's crazy... It doesn't make much sense, but it's just so weird you keep watching to see if it ever makes sense. No - it gets *weirder*. The Robot Cop begins to develop the traits of the Robot Serial Killer! And those plastic toy bugs show up all over the place. It's like NAKED LUNCH made by a really horny 13 year old boy obsessed by robots!

Because there are never any shots where the robots *move* or enter a room, there are these crazy shots used to connect scenes - a really bad miniature building with a toy space ship on a wire zipping past really fast. I think he made it really fast so that we wouldn't be able to tell it was some toystore model, but it ends up so fast that we aren't sure *what* it is. This is Ed Wood film making at its finest. "Perfect!"

The only humans in this film are the topless babes... puppet robots play every other role.

I found out about this movie on a message board where people were discussing the weirdest movie they have ever seen. This was the "winner". I'll tell you, it's hard to imagine any film that is weirder now that I've seen it... but, you should *not* see it. EXTERMINATOR CITY is like a giant zit on someone's face - not pretty to look at, but can you really *not* look at it?

PAGES: Zip - For the past week I've had trouble sleeping. No idea why. I took some Exced PM, and fell alseep at like 5am. Woke up feeling like crap. I'm thinking of taking a long walk to exhaust mystelf, since I've had zip exercise for a while (and I suspect that's why I'm not sleeping well). I've always been kind of a night owl, but this is just getting silly. It's one thing to fall asleep at 2am, another to fall asleep at 5am. Oh, I *did* write articles for Script and Movie Scope magazines over the weekend. I guess it's true - I can write that stuff in my sleep.

PS: Votes in, strike's over. I wonder if anyone even remembers any of the projects we were talking about before the strike? I'll bet not. So - time to get off my butt and get some scripts out there...

- Bill

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Here's The Tentative Deal

For anyone interested, here's the tentative WGA deal...

- Bill

Monday, February 04, 2008

VOTE! (super tuesday)

If you are in a Super Tuesday state - go out and vote. I'm not going to tell you who to vote for, just vote. This is our country, we need to run it.

If you are not from the United States and don't know about our unusual customs and strange holidays - Super Tuesday is the one day in America where everyone develops super powers and must also develop great responsibility. This is why we make so many super hero movies - once every four years we wake up as super heroes - and we fly around and bullets bounce off our chest and some of us have laser vision and must wear dark glasses... and then we vote for which super hero should run our country.

I will be casting my vote for ULTRAMAN at the orange table at Bev Garland's Holiday Inn tomorrow.

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Do It Yourself Film Making..
Yesterday’s Dinner: White Pizza at Cal Pizza Kitchen on Sunset.

MOVIES: TEETH at the Sunset 5 with my friend Rod. Okay, the strange thing about being in this business - the night before I'm channel surfing and pass the credit roll of some movie... and there's Rod's name! He does digital compositing and post work. Weird that I click on the credits just as his name comes by. Anyway, I show up at Sunset 5 a little early and wander around - the cinema is in an ultra-hip strip mall that you've seen in a dozen films ("Did we park on the Prince level?") and is anchored by Virgin Megastore... except Virgin closed. Now it's a ghost town. They are doing some renovations, so it kind of looks like a war zone. Strange how someplace that was once *the* place is now barren.

If you don't know what TEETH is about, it's the story of a virginal high school girl (a great Jess Weixler), the leader of her abstinence group, who has a second set of teeth... in her ho-ha. Any guy who touches her down there loses his fingers. And a few lose their tally-wackers.

The film is okay, but uneven. Works as a comedy and social satire, doesn't work very well as a thriller or horror film. Lots of laughs with the abstinence group and the health text books with stickers over the dirty parts and the discussion of evolution... unless you believe in creationism. It scores as social satire. Oh, and the nuclear plant is in almost every shot - and never wears out its "laugh welcome" - you just keep giggling at it.

But the movie is not scary, has no suspense, no sense of dread... in places where that's what they were going for. And the family rings false, which is a big problem. You have no idea how these people could all live under the same roof. The script seems like it needed a rewite just to clean it up. The characters (like the stepbrother and parents) were two dimensional - they seem sketchy. On the other hand, the horny high school boys all seem very real. The story also seems sketchy - as if they had a feneral idea of what was going to happen, but hadn't really thought it through - like the scene where the boyfriend's car is still by the lake... but didn't seem to be there earlier. Kind of confusing.

And you never see the monster. Problem is - you find yourself curious about the monster. You see what it does - lots of guys holding bleeding stumps - and you see a tooth they pull out of a victim - but you want to see how it's configured.

Imagine CLOVERFIELD if they *never* showed the monster - after a while you'd wonder if they had one. You'd begin to think they were ripping you off by not showing it. I realize, here, we have a little problem with showing the monster.

The movie *does* have the most beautiful location I've ever seen on film - this lake with a waterfall and a cave where the high school kids make out - it's somewhere near Austin, TX, where the film was shot.


I also did not like the ending - which kind of turns her into a killer slut. Maybe that's a "girl power" end, but it seemed like the power of the dark side.

DVD: Last night I put in the disk to AMERICAN FRIEND, and it was scratched up so bad I couldn't watch it, so I irdered another from Amazon...

But this is my favorite Wenders film. I'm strange, because I like all of the pre-HAMMETT movies and think the ones afterwards are hit & miss. I am oddly not a fan of PARIS, TEXAS.

But AMERICAN FRIEND takes Wenders' slow pace and uses it to build the suspense. And, unlike the novel, there is a real friendship between Tom Ripley and his victim in the film. A warm friendship. I stuck with the skips and scratches and articating until the end of the first murder - a never ending scene in the subway where Bruno Ganz can't bring himself to kill the man; and the longer he waits, the more difficult it becomes logistically. It's a great Hitchcock style scene... a later scene (I'll have to wait for the new DVD) with the next murder on the train is not only a nail-biter, it's *funny* - there are ironic and amusing elements in the scene that break the tension... well, for a moment. I think this is the film where I *discovered* Wenders, and then went back and saw all of his previous movies. I think part of my reason for liking the old ones more is that you can see his progress as a film maker. What seemed to happen post-HAMMETT is that he became Hitchcock after the critics recognized him - and some of the films are indulgent and a little sloppy. Still, Wenders is one of those guys who make interesting films. Like Hitchcock, the worst Wenders film still has something.

DVD: YOUNG AND INNOCENT - is a forgotten Hitchcock film that deserves to be remembered. It's a chase film, about a struggling young screenwriter who is accused of murdering a famous actress - and when he's assigned a public defender, the guy is a moron... so our hero escapes (clever scene) kidnaps a woman in a car outside the courthouse... and as bad luck has it - she's the daughter of the police chief! Now he must find the edivence that proves he's innocent and/or the real killer, plus keep her from going to the authorities. So he must convince her he is innocent first.

There are some great set pieces, and what I always thought was cool was the use of miniatures - there are all kinds of really complex models in this film. A "helicopter shot" zooms over the city, past cars on the street, past a train blasting down the tracks, to a rail road yard where a man and woman and dog are in a car... and it was all models! Cut to the real man and woman and dog in the car, with the same background. There is also a great mine cave in scene that swallows that car - and almost our heroes.

One of the cool things about older Hitchcock movies are the *gags* - in 39 STEPS there have to be 2 dozen things that deal with the handcuffs - it's as if a writer made up a list of every possible handcuff thing, and put them in the script. Here we get all kinds of gags - from the public defender's thick glasses (good for a handful) to the dog (in one scene it doesn't get in the car during a chase and they must slow down to get the running dog... as the police catch up!) to a tense game of blind man's bluff at a kid's birthday party where our heroes are trying to escape to a homeless guy who has seen the killer and the issues of getting him into an elegant night club to pick the killer out of the crowd.

Oh, and that scene has one of those amazing tracking shots - we start outside, overhead - enter the night club - hundreds of people, which one is teh killer? And as the camera slowly moves over the room with too many suspects for them to weed through before the police arrive, the camera slowly moves down to eye level and creeps up to the killer's *eyes* - they fill the screen. Cool shot, that makes us wonder how they will ever get through all of those false suspects to find the real killer - kind of a needle in a haystack. This is a breezy chase film, kind of like 39 STEPS. Probably less known because the cast isn't as attractive nor as famous. But fun to see again.

- Bill

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Where Did January Go?

Happy Ground Hog Day!

The first month of the year is *over* - and what do I have to show for it? Not as much as I’d planned. Originally I was going to do a big page one rewrite on an old script in January.... but I ended up not being prepared for that. So, I decided to write a spec instead. Not some spec that I have outlined and waiting on the old launching pad, a spec that I knew nothing about. Just start writing and get the sucker done by Feb 1....

Needless to say, that didn’t happen.

But it didn’t happen for some really weird reasons.

Now, I have some great high concept specs that might be potential sales when the strike ends (which is sounding like it may be soon - even though WGA is saying it ain't over till it's over). I didn’t pick one of those to write.

Instead, I had this script idea for a typical action flick. A bunch of my better known films were military action things I wrote for HBO or Showtime a decade ago using planes or submarines or aircraft carriers. So, for some strange reason, people always ask me if I have any specs like that... and the answer is “no”. I have a plane hijack script that nobody seems to want post 9-11, and I have some other kinds of action scripts, but nothing with planes or submarines.

Part of my strike stalled (and maybe killed) studio sequel project was to come up with sequels for a movie that featured an airplane - and I came up with a couple. One was pretty much the kind of thing I was writing a decade ago. Since, for all I know this whole thing is completely dead, I thought I might pull that one off the list and spec it. That way, when someone asks if I have any scripts like that, I can whip this one out. I also need to write an action script that could star a rap star, because people often ask me for those, too.

Well, I did a quick outline on this plane script, started writing it...

And then had a cool idea for a monster movie - it’s that danged CLOVERFIELD buzz. The thing I wondered is - what would happen if a little bitty scared animal suddenly became huge and had a major change in confidence. Now they could stomp just about anyone or any thing. Suddenly the shy, scared creature would really turn into a monster. As you can see, there’s an interesting little story there. The problem is, this is a dopey monster movie that I will probably not be able to sell... unless I make it myself or do some other co-production thing that ends up costing me money.

So, I should be writing the high concept studio spec...

But instead I’m writing the medium budget action spec...

Which I’m not spending all of my time on, because I’m tinkering with this silly monster movie.

None of these things were finished in January, which ended up being a completely screwed month where I got a worse cold than I had in December, there was so much danged rain that I stayed in doors - and that meant *no* exercise and that kind of lead to sleep problems. So I have *some* pages, but no new finished spec.

Now, here’s the pisser - I frequently advise people to focus on *one* script and get the thing finished. And, here I am not taking my own advice... and ending up with a whole month gone and not really all that much to show for it.

But, as Scarlet O’Hara said...

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Drama Of Inaction..
Yesterday’s Dinner: Burrito at Chipolte in Burbank.

MOVIES: The worst part of all of this non-productivity? I haven’t seen many movies. I mean, there are a zillion great films out there (that time of year) and I haven’t seen most of them. I *did* see CLOVERFIELD, which *is* BLAIR GODZILLA. The thing is, unlike Blair Witch, we knew going in that this was a movie, not some can of film found somewhere. So the opening telling us that the video was found in what they used to call Central Park is a nice touch, but we know it’s a movie. One of the things I liked about the film is that the camera has an attitude - well, the cameraman Hud does. He has a crush on a girl at the party, and the camera constantly strays to her... and strays to any other woman around. He’s a horn dog, and also nervous, and also kind of a dope. He keeps asking the wrong questions and snooping places he doesn’t belong. It’s great that we feel so much for a character that we almost never see.

After the danged monster crashes the party, we get a lot of really shaky hand held camera... and it’s okay at first, but by the time we get to the subway station I never wanted to see another shaky shot again. And that would have been a good place to smooth out the camera work, because we were hiding - the camera was stationary. And, from that point on they might have toned down the shaky came - put the thing on a steady cam rig so that we still had the feeling of hand held camera without all of the danged shaking. But that’s not what they did. Instead, even when they were hiding, the camera is shaking and jerking around like crazy.

There were some uncomfortable 9-11 moments in the film - a couple that seemed as if they were lifted from the news (one scene, where a giant cloud of dust chases them down the street and they hide in a store as the world outside goes gray, was too close for comfort). Plus, scenes of soldiers torn apart by war seems like it came from Iraq footage. I know they were doing this on purpose - this is a way to deal with the terrors of 9-11 and Iraq in a "safe" way - but it pulled me out of the story.

Another issue for me - the story was light. Though I like the idea of going back for the woman you realize you love, but they didn’t make enough of it. Though that ended up being the best emotional payoff in the film, it was still kind of a blip. The monster attack ends up being sketchy, which makes it kind of unsatisfying. That puts *more* pressure on the emotional elements, and they just weren’t satisfying enough to make up for the sketchy monster story. Add all of that shaky camera, and the film just kind of died for me after that subway scene. Yes, there is some really good stuff after that... but I was less interested. And there is a point in this film where you think it is over... but it just drags on for another ten minutes. “Drags” is a funny word to use for a film this short.

Pages: Doing an article for MovieScope, then an article for Script.

- Bill
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