Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Meal Meeting Diet
(part one - Chinese Food)

I lost 20 pounds on the Meal Meeting Diet - and you can too!

I have been busy as heck for the past three weeks... and have had some very important meetings over meals. It all began late last year, just before the strike, when I had a meeting with a well known producer... over lunch. This producer is a legend - he made a bunch of hit films in the 1970s and 1980s. Every film he made in those decades was a hit. You’ve seen them... or the sequels. Though he’s still making films, nothing compares to those two decades.

So I was kind of nervous at lunch, and didn’t want to just be shoveling food into my mouth, so I picked at my food and listened. Since I have no agent and no manager and no really good connections, producers usually find me from reading something of mine passed to them by someone they *do* know. Someone I know reads one of my scripts, and it gets passed around town, until it ends up with some producer I don’t know. So now I’m eating Chinese food with this legendary producer - except I’m not really eating much Chinese food... which is a shame, because it’s *expensive* Chinese food and really good. But I don’t want to look hungry (by any definition) so I have *one* honey walnut prawn while we talk about this project of his.

You may have noticed that they are remaking a lot of movies... including films from the 1970s and 1980s. This producer managed to hold onto remake rights and sequel rights to all of his films, and now he’s setting a few of his hits up as remakes at various studios - mostly the studio where these films were originally made. But what he’s talking to me about is a different kind of remake - a foreign language film that was never released in the USA, but has one hell of a story... although it completely falls apart at the end. He would like me to watch the film, figure out how to Americanize it and fix the end. He’s read my stuff and thinks I’m the perfect match for the material. This is kind of daunting, because his film in production was written by a writer I really like. Was that guy busy?

Anyway, I pick at the Chinese food as we talk, and he gives me a no region DVD of the film so that I can watch it. When I’ve watched the film and come up with my “take” I’m supposed to call him and set up another meeting. Cool. The meeting is over and the busboy takes away a half dozen honey walnut prawns and the rest of the delicious food.

A couple of days later... the strike. The DVD, unwatched, goes on the pile in back. I decide to go home for the holidays early - basically spend Thanksgiving to New Years hanging out with old friends, and forget the DVD... even though I figured watching a movie that’s the kind of movie I normally watch would probably be okay. When I return from the holidays, the strike ends... but I have completely forgotten about that DVD. I never watch it. *Months* later, I’m looking for some movie, find that DVD... and realize I’ve screwed up. The strike has been over for months and I haven’t called the producer... in fact, I haven’t watched the DVD. (To this day, I have not watched it.)

So, when I get a call from the producer about a month ago, I kind of panic. I apologize for not getting back to him and... He tells me that’s not what it’s about. Can I meet him at his office? We set up an appointment - no meal involved. A morning meeting. I don’t do mornings well. I’m usually asleep while you are going to work. Sorry. Well, the days before the meeting I’m excited and nervous and wondering what this is going to be about... and I’m also working on the Hawaii script rewrite and knocking out an article for Script and seeing some movies and... well, not sleeping very well. By the day of the meeting I’m run down and wondering if I’m coming down with something. But I can’t miss the meeting! I ride my bike, hoping to get the blood flowing.

At the meeting he tells me that there is some interest in remaking one of his old 80s hits, and I’m just the guy to write the script. Cool! We discuss the project. He wants me to put together a “take” and pitch it to him in 2 weeks. Sounds great. I don’t have a copy of the film on DVD, but I know its available. I’ve seen it in stores. I leave the meeting...

And the next morning I have a killer cold. My nose will not stop running, and my *brain* is full of snot. While I’m dragging myself around, the phone rings. It’s a company that supplies movies of the week for the last cable net that focuses on movies instead of series... oh, hell - it’s the only cable net owned by a greeting card company. So, they make and show something like 48 made for TV movies a year. That’s a lot. They have six crews working at the same time - three in pre-production while three are in production. It’s a factory. They had a script fall out, and someone in their office had worked in some other office and had read some of my stuff in the past... and recommended me. I think they even had a copy of my ALTITUDE script, swiped from that past office job. Anyway, the head of production would like to meet with me at the end of the week - Thursday or Friday - at their studio in Simi Valley. Hey, they’ve got a couple of films going - why don’t I come out for the dinner break? We can have our meeting on the set at the movie star table. Cool. Hopefully I’ll be over this cold by then.

But my nose keeps running...
And I keep coughing up chunky style...
And My head feels like someone has stuffed dirty sweat socks where my brain is supposed to be...

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Creating your own characters and PULP FICTION.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Tomato Beef at City Wok.

Movies: PINEAPPLE EXPRESS - The Judd Apatow Movie Factory needs to hire someone for Quality Control. Making movies is different than making TV shows. On a TV show there are a bunch of writers in the Writer’s Room and they might throw around ideas and jokes and come up with funny lines before the script is written, plus they might punch it up after it is written - adding more jokes and fine tuning the script, not to mention the show runner/producer who probably does a pass on the script, pulling it all together sometimes, and there are table reads where some things they thought were funny may not work and get cut, while other things that really work are expanded... and sometimes new material just happens. When it’s two guys writing a feature script in a room, there aren’t the checks and balances in place - which is why those two guys really have to deliver.

Third biggest problem with PINEAPPLE - just not enough of the funny stuff.

Second problem with PINEAPPLE - tone issues. I mean, this movie is all over the place. Is it a parody of action movies? Is it a comedy? Is it a farce? Is it a violent action film? From moment to moment the tone changes - and you keep losing your footing. Nothing is consistent. It’s almost as if they farmed out every page of the script to a radically different screenwriter - and they ended up with 110 pages: each telling the story in a completely different way. So we get a page from Cheech & Chong, a page from Peckinpah, a page from Woody Allen, a page from AIRPLANE, then a page from BAD BOYS. You never know what the film is from minute to minute.

Seth Rogen compared the film to MIDNIGHT RUN... friends, I’ve seen MIDNIGHT RUN, and PINEAPPLE EXPRESS is no MIDNIGHT RUN.

MIDNIGHT RUN has a completely consistent tone. So does 48 HOURS. So does BEVERLY HILLS COP. All of those are action films with real characters who are funny. They are reality based. There are no idiot hit men. When someone gets shot, they are really hurt.

I think it’s time for Rogen and Goldberg to get a room. You know, Gay Marriage is legal in California, they should make it legal. Buy rings, set a date, send out invitations. When "Bromance" becomes more like romance, it's just strange.

And stop writing while they are stoned. This script is sloppy and too long and seems like a bad rough draft... the homework assignment you did on the way to class. Rogen is supposed to be a process server, but they seemed to do zero research on that job. There’s a cool book by Elmore Leonard, UNKNOWN MAN #89, about a process server - and Leonard takes you into that world and shows you how process servers and skip tracers work. It’s a fascinating world... and we don’t see any of it in PINEAPPLE. It’s like they needed an excuse for Rogen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. They make a big thing put of all of the disguises he has in the back of his car... but then don’t use it! None of this stuff comes together - I guess they got the munchies and forgot.

On a message board someone recently asked if a comedy scene needed to have anything to do with the story or even the characters - couldn’t it just be funny? Well, you’d think the answer would be that comedy trumps everything. And I would have loved to have a whole bunch more really funny scenes in PINEAPPLE, and may not have cared much if they had anything to do with the story... except that would have been more of the same - because this film has all kinds of comedy stuff that has nothing to do with the story... and the problem is, much of it isn’t funny. And when the pointless pasted on comedy scene isn’t funny? Well, it’s *really* pointless. But if a story scene isn’t funny? It’s still a story scene. It’s got a purpose. What you want are comedy scenes that are part of the story - not pasted on. Because if they *don’t* work - they still work!

First biggest problem with PINEAPPLE - There are some funny scenes and funny gags in PINEAPPLES EXPRESS, just not enough for the running time... and the story doesn’t work... and the action scenes don’t work, because these guys don’t know how to write action. Probably an okay rental... but complete junk compared to TROPIC THUNDER - an action comedy that gets it right.

- Bill


ObiDonWan said...

Yep, Tropic Thunder was well done...and WRITTEN well to start with, which still allowed actors to do their improv stuff, which all of these guys are well qualified to do. Only thing I couldn't believe...that they won an Academy Award on the basis of a movie made by hidden cameras, which logically couldn't have been hidden and shooting anywhere near where most of the real action took place!
Other than that...

Christina said...

I haven't seen Pineapple Express yet but have been reading the script - and it's taking a lot of effort to get through, which is always a bad sign. I agree - tone issues, a meandering story and not enough comedy that works. This reads like the draft you give ten friends for a table read to punch up the jokes.

Stella Louise said...

I loved Tropic Thunder--and I agree with you that Pineapple Express was uneven and lacking in "the funny."

I think the biggest problem was Seth Rogen. He just didn't commit as much as Franco or McBride. In fact, the movie would have been much better if there had been more Danny McBride. He was hysterical.

James said...

I haven't seen PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, yet. But I read the script, and I thought the script was hilarious.

I'm hearing from friends, a lot of the bits I liked in the script aren't in the movie.

There is a scene where they have to interrogate Red for information, but they aren't normal "action" interrogation guys -- they're stoners. They don't know what to do, so one of them grabs a potted plant to beat Red with. As he swings it back, the pot flies off the plant, then he continues to beat Red with the dirt end of the now un-potted plant, as Red's trying to tell them info through mouthfuls of dirt.

It was just funny how inept these two guys were. And really that was the premise -- and the script paid it off.

Knowing that the Apatow directing style is to roll reams of film and do 100s of improv takes, I'm guessing a lot of the script got bumped for funny "bits" that really didn't add to the story or premise.


I think the main thing was -- I pictured Seth Rogen as the character James Franco ended up playing. I'm not sure why Seth played the "straight man" in the comedy routine.

In the trailer, James Franco jumps into a dumpster and then wants to stay because "I'm already in here." From Franco, that line falls flat. But I think, Seth Rogen, as that character, would have gotten a laugh saying that line.

Sounds like a lot of things were just a little off.

P.S. -- Red being ridiculously bulletproof was a little too much for me in the script. But I could live with it.

Laura Reyna said...

UNKNOWN MAN #89 by Elmore Leonard is really good. I recommend.

Re: "Funny" vs "story" in scenes--

I'm running up against this issue now. I've never written a full out comedy before and I'm stressing that it may not be funny enough.

To lessen my anxiety i'm trying to really nail the STORY, so if the jokes aren't all funny, at least the story will hold together & there'll be satisfaction in that.

No matter how funny the jokes & the gags are, if the movie doesn't work as a complete story, it's not as good or satisfying.

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