Thursday, March 13, 2008

Still 2 Days Behind

So I’m on the writing treadmill, and I think I’ll post about that tomorrow, but every day I have to write in order to make my deadline. Yesterday I woke up feeling great, and wrote up a blog entry then pounded out 5.5 pages. Yeah, I wanted to do 2 pages more to help catch up, but things went well. This morning, I woke up feeling groggy and blah... I have no idea why. Anyway, I also forgot to buy coffee, so I had zilch in the way of caffeine to jump start a blah day. I’m not much of a soda guy... and I didn’t have anything else that’s caffeinated in the house. I also had some errands to do, so I zipped all over town... but never managed to be on the same side of the street as a Starbucks or Coffee Bean or any other place to get coffee. I don’t even know how that is possible in Los Angeles! So no iced coffee to go, and when I finally finish all of the errands and end up at a coffee house to write, I still feel blah.

Problem is, now it’s too late for caffeine... unless I want to be up all night and screw up tomorrow’s writing. So I make the decision to take a long walk and see if that helps. I feel a little better now, but as the old joke goes - "Hey Doc, I've been running 5 miles every day, and now that a month has passed, I’m miles away from home." I’ve been lugging the laptop with me, and now I’m in some strange coffee shop typing this... and wondering if I should keep typing here or go back to the Starbucks I started out in... where there’s a vehicle to take me home when I finish. I’m thinking maybe of writing this blog entry, then walking back to post it and work on the script at the Starbucks Of Origin. Maybe find dinner somewhere in between...

(I decided to walk back to the Starbucks Of Origin... and due to Daylight Savings Time, the sun was *blasting* down at my face. The laptop bag wasn’t getting any lighter... and I finally ended up here at Starbucks less blah than before but kind of sun dazed.)

It’s going to be a struggle to get my pages done today.

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Where's The Beef? - On Conflict In Act 2
Yesterday’s Dinner: BBQ Pork & Chinese Veggies at City Wok.

Movies: VANTAGE POINT - One of my favorite films of all times is THE PARALLAX VIEW starring Warren Beatty as a reporter who investigates the assassination of the President by a lone gunman, and uncovers a massive conspiracy. So, decades ago I wrote a political assassination script... here’s the crappy old logline (needs work):


THE THIRD GUNMAN
Worn out Public Defender Del Harper is assigned the case of a Senator's assassin, who claims to be innocent. The alleged assassin's conspiracy story, about an assassin-for-hire organization, seems possible, and Del wonders if his client is innocent. But the client is killed by a Jack Ruby like zealot before the trial. Now Harper is the man who knew too much. As he tries to prove the assassin for hire organization exists, he finds himself on the run. Chased by dozen of assassins, sent to keep him quiet. Will Del Harper be able to uncover the conspiracy before the catch him... and kill him?


Okay, this ancient script is scheduled for a page one rewrite. One of the elements in Act 2 is a search for the second gunman, and to do that, Harper interviews the surviving witnesses... and each one had a different POV and seems to have seen a different assassination, with a different gunman. I have done the Rashomon thing before in a script called KILLING ANGLE where 4 security cameras record a murder - and each seems to show a different killer! I love the idea that two people, or even two *cameras*, can see the same thing and yet see something entirely different. And it’s also a great Act 2 - having our hero trying to figure out which version of the story is the real one - or which *combination* of versions adds up to the truth. And *is* there such a thing as truth? What if we all have our individual truths? And what if you get stuck with the truth that no one believes?

So, a couple of years ago when I did a class for the Dallas Screenwriter’s Association (great people!) I did the whole JFK assassination tour, looked through the window of the book depository, checked out the grassy knoll, and took all kinds of notes for the upcoming rewrite. Though my script isn’t about JFK, it sort of is... aren’t all assassination conspiracy movies about JFK?

Isn’t VANTAGE POINT really about JFK?

And how does that completely screw up my rewrite on THIRD GUNMAN?

So VANTAGE POINT begins with a bunch of really clunky dialogue - the kind of stuff that needs to be fixed because it’s right up front. When you begin with a patch of bad dialogue, you start looking for it in the rest of the film... and you find it. You always want to start a movie strong... but this one fumbles a little more... We also get Sigourney Weaver in what might have been a couple of days of work as a TV news director in a van who seems like she was forced to to this movie by off camera gunmen. She’s one of my favorite actresses, from ALIENS to YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY to GHOSTBUSTERS - she seems to be able to do everything. Lately she’s done all kinds of great small roles in films, and she’s often a high point of the film... But here she sounds stiff - like she’s ether reading off cue cards or being forced to act.

And things continue to go south... We have a newscaster who is covering the biggest event in history who goes off on her own political rant while on live TV. Except the political rant seems scripted. And when she is scolded by Signourney, she goes back on page... and it sounds nothing like any TV news report I’ve ever heard. TV news broadcasts are tricky in films, because we see them all of the time in real life and know what they should be like - almost on a subconscious level. We’ve seen thousands of newscasts.... and know when it’s wrong.

So when the story started, I was on “bad movie high alert”... even though it stars a bunch of people I really like... and though they are never in a scene together Signourney Weaver and William Hurt star in one of my favorite movies that doesn’t work. But I like it anyway - EYEWITNESS. So I try to forget the clunky dialogue and not-so-hot performances and get into the film, but my antennae are up.

And the film starts to pick up steam and get pretty good for a while. Except somewhere in the back of your mind a little voice nags you about things like holding a speech with a dozen world leaders including POTUS at a location with so many places where snipers might hide, but you get past that... and the President goes yo to make his speech and gets shot! And then we zip back to the beginning and start again with another character...

And here’s where it really goes wrong. Because the *concept* here is that each point of view is different, but they aren’t. In almost every zip-back new POV we see the exact same things happening in the exact same way. Nothing different. And the film *cheats* as far as the “clues” are concerned - in two cases when Dennis Quaid looks at something we *do not see what he sees* just to hold back the information for the next POV. It’s as if every other character’s eye sight fails suddenly after Quaid sees what he sees... but we don’t get to see it.

Until later.

But everything else in that segment, we get to see again, just from a different angle.

The problem is that none of the different angles are that different - though we finally get to follow the President, and the trailer gives this away, so I don’t think this is really a spoiler - the President doesn’t get shot... a double does. Though this gives us a different POV, because the President watches the assassination on TV in a hotel room, it creates a massive problem...

Because this is a major meeting of world leaders to discuss terrorism. All of the other world leaders are there. The President’s *double* is used, because of the danger of assassination... and that kind of makes sense... but once the President is introduced, what’s he supposed to do? Address world leaders? Make a speech televised on every TV set in the world? This guy’s a *decoy* - and he’s going to make US policy in front of a world-wide audience? Okay, there’s this throw away line where the real Prez says he’s not going to make a speech... but that makes no sense at all because at the event he is introduced and walks up to a podium. What else is he going to do? Dance? A person stands at a podium to *speak* - and all of those cameras from all of those news agencies are there to film the speech. So you wonder what would have happened if they *hadn’t* have shot the decoy. What if the threat was just a threat, and nothing happened? Would the decoy be making US policy? Would the decoy be talking to the other world leaders?

This is one of those rookie mistakes I see in new writer’s scripts sometimes - they don’t follow each plot thread to it’s logical conclusion if the events in the story did *not* take place. So the only way the story works is if the characters do what the story requires them to do, and if something else had happened everything just falls apart. If *any* of the events of your story had not happened, the resulting story still has to make sense... and be possible! Or else you end up with something that’s contrived.

But we get the same things happening in the same way over and over again... except for one scene that really works! In fact, because it works so well, it points out how the rest of the story doesn’t work. Hey - one scene that lives up to the promise of the concept! (If you’ve seen the film - it’s the lovers). Then we’re back to the same scene seen again and again with nothing really different.

And part of the promise of the concept is that different POVs show us different versions of facts - that’s what *my* use of this device in my script is all about. That two people can see the same event and see something completely different - and maybe it even is something different. Maybe a different POV changes *history* or changes *facts*. That’s an interesting point to make... But this film doesn’t make any point at all (except for that heavy handed reporter’s rant) - the film misses the point of its concept.

And we end up with a pointless film, and a completely pointless car chase that doesn’t really do anything except give us some junk-food excitement at about the time we were nodding off.

In a strange way, VANTAGE POINT is like JUMPER - all kinds of needless complications to cover the lack of story or purpose. Kind of two forms of teleportation to add pointless movement to make a dead story seem alive... but it’s dead, Jim!

And then we come to an ending that ends up being a laugh riot. Every review has mentioned the unintentionally funny ending - and again it’s rookie mistakes. The people who either allowed this end to remain in the screenplay or - and here’s a frightening thought - added this crazy ending in development, need to be banished from Hollywood forever. Just kicked out. You know, maybe even the death penalty is called for in this case. So, without significant spoilers, here’s where things get funny...

First, we have an overly complicated answer to a bunch of little questions that require a criminal mastermind who has read the script and knows what every single character will do at every minute... making it contrived and silly. But we can get past that... except, again we have our antennae up for problems.

And boy do we get a whopper! A character who we have seen (again and again and again) with a certain character nature... who suddenly, and for no apparent reason, completely does a 180. They do the exact opposite of what is their established nature. This gets back to the Egri thing that a thief does not become an honest man overnight - radical character change takes *time* - and this happens in the blink of an eye. And it’s so out of character that you can’t help but laugh. It’s ridiculous. Silly.

I can’t imagine reading the ending of this script without saying “WTF?” Unless maybe there was some fancy writer footwork where things we *can not see or know* are used in the action lines to cover the complete 180 this character does. But even then, shouldn’t someone have pointed out the writer’s cover up? Or was there a conspiracy involved? Were the development people involved? Did they help with the cover up of this crazy ending... or just look the other way? You know, this conspiracy is more interesting than the one in the film!

You know, without that ending this film would have got my “OK for DVD” recommendation - a film that might not be worth the $11 to see in a cinema but would still be enjoyable as a rental. It still may work on DVD for you I you can get past the silly ending.

Anyway, they completely squander the multiple POV thing, so my script probably isn’t in trouble... but I’m pushing the rewrite back a few months to avoid any comparisons with this turkey. My script is more about proving the client is innocent (and the team of assassins who come after our hero at the end) so it’s not even the main thing my script is about - my script is about a lawyer who settles out of court... with a machinegun.

You know, it seems like all I’m seeing are half-good (or downright bad) movies lately, but that’s the time of year. It’s dumping season. All of the films that aren’t good enough for summer or holiday season end up in the post Oscar dead zone. This is when the Oscar winners get their post-awards re-release so that they can make another buck or two, and the big studio films that didn’t quite work get released.

Pages: 5.5 yesterday, and the plan was to write 7.5... so I didn't make up, but I didn't get farther behind, either. I'll talk about teh writing schedule tomorrow... But I have to get something done *today* first.

4 comments:

The Moviequill said...

cool stuff, get a great tip and another one in your blog, it's a Twofer Friday... more bang for the buck... oh yeah, these are free

Oasis said...

"And part of the promise of the concept is that different POVs show us different versions of facts - that’s what *my* use of this device in my script is all about. That two people can see the same event and see something completely different - and maybe it even is something different."


I would like to suggest that maybe one of the two had more information than the other.

EXAMPLE

Two people see a restaurant working exit the bathroom without stopping to the sink to wash her hands.

They both see her exit without stopping to the sinks to wash her hands...

One is outraged.
The other is unconcerned.

WHY?

UNCONCERNED knows that she used the toilet which has a sink.

ObiDonWan said...

"his is one of those rookie mistakes I see in new writer’s scripts sometimes - they don’t follow each plot thread to it’s logical conclusion if the events in the story did *not* take place. So the only way the story works is if the characters do what the story requires them to do, and if something else had happened everything just falls apart."

Interesting. But it happens even without rookies. Saw Agatha Christie's DEATH ON THE NILE the other night because Ustinov plays Hercule Poirot, and that story had this same weird set of coincidences that allow the murderers to pull it off, but everyone else has to act in preconceived ways. It's like playing a chess game in which you KNOW what the opponent will do. Agatha got away with it, time after time.

Laura Reyna said...

Interesting you bring up the opening of VP. I read the first 10 or so pages of the script (thanks Moviequill!) and couldn't follow what was going on. It didn't hold me.

Yrs ago when I read convoluted, frustrating scenes, I thought it was me. I thought I was an idiot for not being able to concentrate and "decifer" who the char's were & what was going on.

Now that I've read umpteen scripts over the yrs, I've concluded that 95% of the time (or more) it's not me, it's the script.

If the script has me re-reading sentences over & over & making my eyes glaze over in the process, it's most likely a crappy script that will make a crappy movie.

PS I couldn't get past the 1st few pages of THE BRAZILIAN JOB either....

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