Thursday, May 01, 2008

Meetings & More Meetings

Meetings! One on the odd indie film project, one on a low budget horror thing (my script) with some friends, and one with a director about some of my action scripts. All of it is just talk for now, so I'll tell you when someone whips out a contract and checkbook.

PS: You know, I'm going to talk a bit more about this director looking for action scripts. I have never worked with this director, he's a friend of a friend and read one of my scripts about a year ago and really liked it. He just directed a high profile movie that will be released at the end of the year, and thinks that there will be some buzz on the project... and wants to be prepared. So he's looking for a bunch of potential projects for when opportunity knocks. If he gets a meeting and they are looking for an action project, he can pitch some of my scripts (and probably some other writers' scripts). He comes off looking like a guy with access to all kinds of great scripts.

But what's in it for me? Well, this soon-to-be-hot-director has all kinds of doors opening for him that may not be open for me, and all kinds of contacts that I don't have... and he's taking *my* scripts through those doors. And it's working the other way, too - if I find some project looking for a director, I'm going to suggest him (the hot director). Works for both of us.

This is the way you get your scripts out there... This is how you get your scripts to people you don't know... This is how you increase *your* contacts, because if these people love your script they will want to meet with you.

Part of our discussion was the ground rules for various scenarios - what happens if they love my script but don't think he's the right director? What if they hate my script but want him for something else? What kind of paperwork will we need to make sure neither of us gets screwed? If we both know where each are coming from and what we expect, there's less chance we will end up on People's Court or Cops. And the better the chance we can help each other.

The very first step in a deal like this is: you need scripts that people think will open doors for them. Scripts that they think can help advance *their* careers. This director may end up in some very impressive offices, and he wants to hand them a script that won't embarrass him.

Writing that script - that's the hard part. But once you have some great scripts, you want to get them out there so that they can open doors for you.

- Bill

Yesterday’s Dinner: Hawaiian BBQ Chicken at the Hawaiian BBQ place in Studio City.

Movies: THE FALL - or “When Production Designers Attack!” This film answers that question, whatever happened to the guy who made THE CELL? Back when that film came out, I posted somewhere that it was a beautiful film that made no sense. They took a cool idea that was kind of like DREAMSCAPE and so over-did the “dreams” that it completely overpowered the rest of the film... and then the story is set up so that when J-Lo goes into the dreams to find the missing person, it doesn’t matter! They find the missing person some other way, which makes the whole “dream” thing just a bog waste of time! Okay, THE FALL is actually a step forward - though the weird fantasy stuff still overpowers the rest of the film, the story kind of makes sense.

The movie is a cross between THE PRINCESS BRIDE and THE WIZARD OF OZ, and okay for kids (except an animal is killed in the story, and that might upset them... it almost made *me* cry). Story is set around 1915 has a cute little girl in the hospital with a broken arm from a fall, meets a silent movie stuntman paralyzed after an on screen fall. In order to get her to steal morphine for him (so that he can kill himself) he tells her a story, one chapter at a time, with her stealing pills in between. The story is a big adventure (with characters named after adventure writers) that evolves and changes the longer he tells it. But the story (by Dan Gilroy) doesn’t matter to director Tarsem - to him, it’s all about the visuals. Everyone wears weird hats. No setting is realistic - there’s a middle eastern city where all of the buildings are shades of blue. People wear masks - just for fun. When one character is killed, he is wrapped in a banner that stretches a hundred feet into the sky... and the red stain of blood creeps up the banner as we watch. Beautiful - and it all seems like they did it without any CGI.

The adventure story is about a group of very different outcasts seeking revenge against the evil ruler who has hurt all of them... and the characters in the fantasy are played by the same actors who are in the real world of the hospital (much like the OZ characters are the same as the people Dorothy knows in Kansas). Nothing in this fantasy adventure is realistic looking - everything is production designed to the limit. Colorful, strange... and beautiful. Also, distracting. Though the meat of the story is the impossibly cute little girl and the paralyzed stuntman in the hospital, this isn’t as important to Tarsem as the fantasy.

One great touch is when the stuntman is telling the story, one of the heroes is an Indian... and from the way he tells it, he means a Native American... but the little girl imagines a man from India. This creates some humor. I don’t know if a young audience, who may love the fantasy elements, will want to sit through the production design for the sake of production design scenes that are all about art and *not* about story... but if they can keep from kicking the chair in front of them, they may like it. I still think the best thing to do with guys like Tarsem is to not let them rewrite the script and even *force them* to shoot the story as written... with their unusual style. That way we get a story that makes sense, where the scenes are about the story rather than the “art”, but we still get that strange vision (just in service of the story). If you think of this film as a trip to the art gallery rather than a story, you’ll love it.

Movies: HAROLD & KUMAR ESCAPE - The Arclight Cinemas in Los Angeles are the cream of the crop - no commercials, no one seated after the film starts, assigned seats, and they have a restaurant and bar and gift shop on site. They also cost more than other cinemas, but with ticket prices going up every few months, the difference isn’t as much as it used to be. I used to only go there for special screenings (they often have writers or directors or cast for Q&A afterwards, when Ted & Terry did a screening of SHREK I was the guy interviewing them afterwards), but now I might see something there if it’s convenient. After Fango wrapped, my friend Rod wanted to see HAROLD & KUMAR ESCAPE, and it was playing at the Arclight... at one of their cocktail showings. They have special showings where you can bring drinks from the bar into the cinema. Cool.

I ran a Script Tip about pairing characters with their opposites to bring out drama a few weeks ago, and that also works for comedy. The film starts a few minutes after the previous film ended, with Harold taking a shower (he’s the neat freak of the two) and being interrupted by Kumar being very noisy on the toilet (not the neat one). This gives us everything we need to know about these guys - and as the story progresses, the differences between them will be a source of drama and story and comedy. The film sets up *fast* with them hopping a plane to Amsterdam, marijuana capitol of the world, so that Harold can catch up with the woman he loves. But on the plane, while Harold is being the perfect passenger, Kumar is in the bathroom trying out his smokeless bong. Things go wrong, the bong is mistaken for a bomb (and no matter how many times Kumar says “It’s a bong!” he is misunderstood) and the two end up in Guantanamo Bay Prison with all of the other terrorists. That’s in the opening few minutes of the film. Then they escape, and end up on a journey to Texas where Kumar’s ex-girlfriend is marrying a rich @ssh@ole who has enough government connections to get them out of trouble.

Kal Penn and John Cho have great chemistry together - they’re the Hope and Crosby of the stoner set - and *are* these characters. We usually see Cho in comedies, but Penn has shown his dramatic acting chops in movies like THE NAMESAKE and on 24 - and it’s hard to believe that the same serious dramatic actor is this silly stoner. Time for someone to give Cho a big meaty role so that we can say the same about him.

The film seems like they shot a rough draft of the script - often there are scenes that seem to be filled with potential humor, but they just scratch the surface. Here’s an example - at one point the two find themselves (like many ethnic comedy characters before them) stuck at a Klan rally wearing sheets and hoods. There are a million possible gags here, but as soon as they get swept up in the group, the hoods are removed! Hey, they got the funny situation, but they forget to milk it for jokes! They don’t even try to stretch out the uncomfortable situation - the Klan guys are supposed to tell what terrible thing they did to a minority today, and they *start* with Kumar! Would have been a better scene if they *ended* with the two imposters, because every other Klan guy’s story would be a build (and laugh) to what our imposters would say.

The film does a great job of making fun of ethnic stereotypes - presenting a character in such a way that *we* jump to a conclusion about them, then exposing who they really are. A Homeland Security Agent hot on their trail jumps to stereotype conclusions we would never even consider - a scene in the trailer has him using a translator to interrogate Harold and Kumar’s typical middle class parents... who only speak English.

One thing that really didn’t work in the film was the guy playing President Bush. You know, we see the President of TV all the time and know exactly what he looks like and sounds like, so when an actors plays him, it doesn’t work very well... and the longer that actor is on screen, the less it works. Here we have a *long* scene with a fake W, and the more he’s on screen, the less the scene works.

Even though they missed a bunch of jokes, the film was still kind of entertaining (of course, I’d had a couple of beers) and Neil Patrick Harris is great at playing a drugged out whoring version of himself... stay for the post end credit sequence that deals with his character!

Pages: Mostly getting caught up on my sleep from Fango, and meetings.
- Bill

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