Monday, October 13, 2008

No Guessing!

Though Fridays With Hitchcock is going to run a little behind for a while - I'm too busy to spend my spare time doing something that seems like homework, I'd rather goof off - I feel compelled to tell you some of what is going on with the Top Secret Studio Remake Project. Because this hasn't been announced in the trades, I can't really tell you what the film being remade is, so I'm going to be vague for now.

The funniest part of this vague thing is that all but three of my friends (and one other person) know just as much as you do about what the film is - so they keep doing this crazy guessing game trying to figure out from whatever clues I'd dropped what this film might be... and so far no one has guessed it. The one other person is a business relationship that I gave one too many clues to and he figured it out. But I can't hang out with friends without them throwing out films from the 1980s that are ripe for a remake and fit my skill set. My two favorite guesses so far are IRON EAGLE and AMERICAN NINJA... and both of those are *way* wrong.

Which brings me to a pet peeve - that I was just guilty of - these friends aren't *guessing* they are *deducing* or maybe *trying to figure out*. They are using the clues to come to a logical answer... which isn't the same as guessing. Here's the definition of guess from Miriam Webster:

Main Entry: Guess
transitive verb
1 : to form an opinion of from little or no evidence
2 : believe , suppose (I guess you're right)
3 : to arrive at a correct conclusion about by conjecture, chance, or intuition (guess the answer)

That’s not the same as *knowing something* or *deducing* (like Sherlock Holmes) based on evidence and information. Or even *figuring out* which includes that figuring part, which is putting together the clues and information. Why this is a pet peeve is that 90% of the time when people say they guess something, they’re really using the information and evidence to figure it out. They are *thinking*. Finding answers by using logic and some brain work and maybe even some actual work hunting around for the clues and evidence. The other 10% of the time - you know, that question worth a million dollars on WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE? - they’re just throwing some crazy crap against the wall on the wild chance that it might be right. Guessing does not involve using the brain - you can’t show your work. It’s voodoo... except there may be some sort of logic in voodoo - I don’t want to insult someone’s religious beliefs. If you figured something out, you didn’t guess it. I’m afraid if we don’t differentiate the two, we will end up in an IDIOCRACY world where no one even tries to figure things out - they just guess. Okay, back to the story...

It’s not DELTA FORCE, either. *Way* wrong. But it was a movie in made in the 1980s by a Legendary Producer who was smart enough to hang onto the remake rights, and it opened at #1 and spawned sequels, and hasn’t been remade yet - which actually narrows it down, since they are remaking everything. Can’t wait to see the Dane Cook version of CITIZEN KANE.

One of the things that’s kind of interesting about this is that lots of work is being done before it’s even a blip on the radar. By the time there is any word of this in the trades, I will probably have been working on it for a while... this kind of traces back to a pre-strike lunch meeting with Legendary Producer over a year ago before anyone thought of remaking this film. That meeting was on another project, and another writer is doing that... and I ended up doing this. (It actually traces back probably a year before that - maybe two years ago - when we talked for the first time... and maybe even years before that when he read something of mine and liked it.) Since I’ve been *actively* on the project, I’ve done a bunch of work.

I started out watching the original movie, which I don’t own a copy of. From the time I got the phone call where they said, “Hey, we’re thinking of remaking this movie, how about coming by the office on Tuesday and talking about it” until Tuesday, I ran all over the place trying to find a copy of the film. Problem was, the film had come out on DVD a couple of years ago, so it was hard to find it on the shelf at Best Buy and Circuit City. I probably could have found it at Fry’s, but I stopped in at Odyssey Video - and they had it... in the What’s Good section! So I rented it, watched it, returned it... so that I could talk about the film like a fan on Tuesday. And, I actually am a fan - when this movie came out, I really liked it (as did many others - that’s why it opened at #1 and they made sequels) but just kind of forgot about it.

After that first meeting, I came up with 3 different basic takes on the project. A take is a direction, a basic story idea. There were elements from the original that were tied to events happening in the 1980s... but no longer valid. Those events had to replaced with something current (or timeless). I found 3 different ways the story could be told in 2010, and let the Legendary Producer select the one he liked best... open to the possibility he might say “None of these” and I’d have to come up with 3 more. I like to work in threes or fives - I don’t know why. But what this is about is giving the *producer* the choice. You don’t want to thrust your idea on them when it’s *their* movie.

Legendary Producer selected one of the three, and wanted me to come up with a pitch for it. I put together a *detailed* pitch, that changed all kinds of things from the original. The thing about remakes is that it allows you to solve any problem you may have had with the original film - and no film is perfect. This film always seemed to me like it was over developed - with things pasted on here and there to help the story. Today’s Script Tip is on Script Spackle, and the original film used a bucket of it. So I had to find the way to remove the spackle... and that ended up making all kinds of changes. The end was completely different - with some people who survived in the original dying a glorious death in the pitch. I was really happy with the pitch... But at whatever Meal Meeting that was, Legendary Producer *hated* the new ending. I killed his favorite character.

So I got notes, and a brand new pitch was developed... but never really pitched. Legendary Producer came up with a new direction for the story, and that pitch on 80 4x6 cards was trash before anyone heard it. The decision was made to go to treatment... and I was sent out to write a big fat detailed treatment... As I said in the previous post, that treatment was read (maybe) and a completely new direction for the story was devised - basically going back to the original film... just without the elements that set it in 1980 and *not* in 2010.

In many ways, that required that I throw out *everything* from the previous versions and start from scratch using the original film’s structure. The challenge became removing the script spackle but having the story work the same way as it did before. That became *more* difficult than solving the problems at their roots... but that’s the job. Oh, and can we have it in few days so that we can meet again in a week and give you notes on this version? (Which means I have to have it done and delivered in time for them to read it, think about it, and come up with notes... before the meeting a week from now.) Around there is when my head was about to explode.

Side note: somewhere in this process I went back to Odyssey and rented the original again, plus ordered a copy from Amazon. Due to the usual shipping delays - I also ordered a bunch of other DVDs - I got the original *after* I had finished that version of the treatment... and I ended up hanging onto the Odyssey rented version of the original long enough to have just bought the sucker... I think I paid $5 less at Amazon than my rental fees. Should have just gone to Frys and bought it.

Anyway - that treatment was close but no cigar... but in the right direction. Can we meet next week to discuss the new version? Sure....

Meanwhile, do you know how many cool ideas and cool characters and cool scenes and action gags are getting *thrown out* each time? Every version is like a whole new script with all kinds of new ideas and they have to be *amazing* ideas - this guy is a Legendary Producer, he works with top writers. What the hell am I doing here? So I’ve been really trying to come up with exciting and interesting things every time... and they get tossed out every time we change story directions. And it’s not that the ideas are bad - one of the issues with the Close But No Cigar version was that one of the main characters wasn’t nearly as cool as the version of the character in the previous version. (How many times *can* you use the word “version” in a sentence?) That character was gold... and the new version’s version was silver... maybe even copper.

The very first pitch is so radically different than anything now - yet full of gold - that I’m thinking about changing all of the elements that are the same as the original movie and turning that into it’s own story.

So now I had one week to come up with the gold version of the treatment, cleaned up, focused, and something that we can use for this round of studio meetings. And I’m brain fried.

Then, I don’t sleep well for a couple of nights... and produce nothing. And there are stupid life things that were put on hold while I did all of this writing that needed to be taken care of - some orders needed to be processed, copies made, laundry, scripts sent to a couple of places that wanted hard copies... and next thing you know, I’m closing in on my deadline with nothing written. And that may have been a good thing, because somewhere deep in my subconscious I was coming up with answers to story problems, and finding little connections between characters and elements that get me a little closer to gold (though some things are still just a bit off - and that’s why there’s a *next* draft). When I sat down to write, things flowed really well - previous versions involved lots of fighting the page and struggling to figure out how to make things work - and a new 40 page treatment was written in a couple of days.

I actually finished it a couple of hours earlier than my midnight deadline... and like a fool, e-mailed it to everyone so they could see it was early. That’s where Pride becomes one of the 7 Deadly Sins. I should have just held off and fine tuned a couple of things - I had some great ideas the moment I hit “send” that would have made a couple of scenes sing. But I was happy enough with what I’d written... and for the first time the writing was “easy”. I wasn’t fighting big problems, I was finding clever ways to tell this part or that part.

I felt great.

Meeting today (a couple of hours ago) and except for a couple of small things - taste issues - everyone was happy. One of the guys on Legendary’s team (I believe his title is Head Of Production) said he’d film it right now... when can we get a script? (Though Legendary could probably afford to go to script out of pocket, I think the plan at this point in time is to get the studio to pay for that.) We’re meeting with studios for the remainder of the week, and probably studios and money sources for the rest of the month... unless someone bites right away. There is a proposed budget and cast suggestions at this time, and the studios are basically *auditioning* to fund & distribute the film. In these rocky financial times, the big question is - will some studios want to make it for less than the proposed budget and save a buck? Legendary Producer doesn’t want to do a cheapo version of the movie just to cash in - he wants to make a great version of the movie, so that it can be #1 again. There’s much more to this, but I can’t go into that without giving you so many clues that you’ll be able to deduce the film before the official announcement.

See, it all came back around to “deduce” vs. “guess”.

- Bill

PS: Please - no guessing! I've had a couple dozen e-mails with possible movies it might be... and even if you get it right, I can't confirm it at this point! When I can tell you, I will... you *know* I will. And I'll spill details.

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Script Spackle and TELL NO ONE.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Panda Express - Orange chicken, fried rice, Bejing beef, egg roll.

MOVIES: I have seen a whole bunch of movies, and will get to those when things get back to normal.

Bicycle: Because I've been working so much, I've been a baaaad boy when it comes to the bicycle. Mostly riding to my corner Starbucks... and I even drove a couple of times, which is just stupid. But finsihing early, and feeling great, I took a nice bike ride on Sunday - going nowhere, just for pleasure. And I did a bike/bus combo to go to my meeting today (I usually do - and can ride right up to the front door and it ensures that I get a little blood circulating before the meeting). Sunday was the first time in a while that I didn't have a destination on the bike - I was just tooling around. I did go to a couple of stores and check out DVDs and some odds and ends I needed to buy, but those were impulse stops rather than planned destinations. My legs are a little sore today, but parts of yesterday I was soaring like Elliot in ET....

6 comments:

crowmagnumman said...

Man the suspense is killing me. I keep wondering if I'm a fan of this movie and if I even want it remade. I'm pretty much sold on your skill as a writer, though, so I know it will be better than most remakes.

wcdixon said...

Very cool Bill...hope all continues to go well. And my guess is...oh right, no guessing!

Adrian said...

Whatever the film is I hope that a Bill Martell script will finally get the treatment it deserves.

Best of luck

Erik said...

When you're asked to guess which door has a car behind it (instead of a donkey) you don't say "Peanuts!". You say 1, 2, or 3.

Your friends have whittled the list down to doors 1 through 1,000 and they're guessing within that range. It's still guessing. It's only deducing if they get it right.

But I get angry at "PIN number" so I appreciate where you are coming from.

Meg said...

was the first sequel actually a prequel?

YNot? said...

You're remaking "Ernest Saves Christmas" aren't you!?! Darn, I knew I should've jumped on that months ago!!!

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