Sunday, March 30, 2008

Fade Out Tomorrow

I’m typing as fast as I can!

My 5 pages a day plan kind of worked out... that was probably my average on this script, even though I didn't work six days a week.

Though the original plan was to finish the script early, and have a week for rewrites and maybe some new Script Tips... I had a few days where I wrote nada. Original plan was to write more pages and work on Sundays... but I never really did the “make up pages” after a full day’s work, and never worked on a Sunday. A zillion problems came up while I was writing this script... but I will finish tomorrow on deadline. And I’m happy with the script.

One thing that happened were rewrites as I was writing - something that I have done before, but usually don't do too much of. On this script, I did whole scenes, rewrote major chunks, and made a big change to my protagonist at the last minute (really improved a later scene) - which meant going back and doing touch up work on every single scene he was in. And the monster got killed in a much more interesting way than originally planned, and that required rewriting a few scenes to set that up. Lots of rewriting while writing.

I still have one day left, but I have already written the ending - the last few scenes are finished, I need to fill in a few scenes before the end sequence. That will happen on Monday, and I will turn it in on time on Tuesday.

Some of the things that put me behind were a couple of magazine emergencies - a magazine I write for had an article by another writer fall out an the editor asked if I could fill in - so I had to write two articles I hadn’t planned on writing. That's a few days that took time away from the script. Plus I had some momentum problems - I haven't done a 0 to 60 assignment script on a deadline in a while... a long while! CROOKED was a spec, and since then I've written specs without any deadline. Jusk poked along at my own speed. Th last time I had to blast out a script was... well, a couple of years ago.

And my “Friday fiasco” from the beginning of the month continued to be a big problem - just one of those dumb things that screw up your life every once in a while - too boring to even mention. It’s happened to you. But these real life things take time away from writing... and that put me behind. One of the things about writing is that you're also living a life. You have a couple of nights where you don't sleep well - that impacts the page count. But even with all of the bumps in the road, I crossed the finish line on time...

Or, I will. I still have a day's work to do on it...

But I'm really happy with how it turned out - and re-reading it I laughed a couple of times at lines I'd forgotten I'd written. This will be a fun movie... I hope.

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Take Us Someplace Cool.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Kung pao chicken at City Wok.

Movies: DOOMSDAY - When this film comes out on DVD, there needs to be a drinking game on what movie this scene or line or character is stolen from. I don't mean homage - I mean outright theft. From the trailer it looked like an ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK “inspired” film, and that can be okay if they make enough changes so that it’s its own movie. So far, the worst rip-off of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK has been ESCAPE FROM LA - it’s as if Carpenter was just cashing in! A “serach & replace” screenplay. So DOOMSDAY could have been “inspired by” and still been a cool film... but they even steal the *music* from ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK.

Rhona Mitra plays the nihilistic hero, who wears an eyepatch... just like Snake Plisken from ESCAPE. She also has a fake eye that works as a remote camera if she pops it out and rolls it down a hallway. Kind of cool... but still inspired by ESCAPE. Just like Snake, sizzling hot Mitra (from THE PRACTICE) is sent by a tough cop (Bob Hoskins) over the walls into hell to bring something back... not the President, but a scientist played by Malcolm McDowell. Though they don’t put an explosive device in her neck, they do give her a time limit.

Just when you think they’ve just remade ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, they change scripts and give us a big chunk from ALIENS - she is the Ripley character going in with a military team - and we get the ALIENS script from the introduction of the Space Marines to the scene where they crash the tank - every scene, with Mad Max type gangs instead of Aliens. They keep stealing whole sequences and characters and scenes from other movies - without changing anything!

Funniest bit is when the Gimp from PULP FICTION ends up as the Gimp on the front of the ROAD WARRIOR dune buggy...

And then a whole bit from THE WARRIORS pops up in the scenes from ALIENS, and they somehow get to EXCALIBUR combined with GLADIATOR and...

Weird thing is, this is a mash-up from all of my favorite movies... so while half of me is thinking it's just wrong to do the Mad Max hits the brakes and the bad guys shoot arrows at each other shot-for-shot, the other half is going "Yeah, that was a cool scene!"

But how is this legal? Are the copyright police asleep?

I was a huge fan of THE DESCENT - and even though I knew this film was going to be modeled after ESCAPE, I expected it to use that as a framework and do something interesting within that framework... and they mostly add scenes from other movies - and whole sections from other movies.

My NIGHT HUNTER movie was about stopping a vampire infestation in Los Angeles, and for the sequel I pitched an ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK kind of thing where San Francisco gets hit while our hero is in prison, they block the exits and lock down the city... but the President's daughter is trapped in the city, and they spring John Cutter to get her out... but that's about it for ESCAPE theft, and after that it's one man in a world of vampires. I really wanted to do this one, for a scene with a white picket fence used against a charging hoard of vampires.

The thing with DOOMSDAY is that it's like a fan film - not only do we get our favorite scenes from our favorite films (well, my favorite films) we also get some *savage* gore material - cartoony and kind of played for laughs. No one gets killed in a polite way, and all of the kills are right there on camera (or the aftermath is). In one scene a head gets blown to bits by a shotgun... and it's like firecrackers in a watermelon! Whenever they run over someone in their tank - we see the squished body - kind of like the aftermath in a Roadrunner Cartoon. And severed heads often fly right at the camera as if the director is throwing them at you. Call me a sick bastard, but I laughed and cheered at these things. That's what I paid for.

So I enjoyed the film... though I thought it was outright theft.

Pages: Seven of them... and tomorrow I finish.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Feeling Remote

About 15 years ago I bought a new Panasonic VCR that came with a universal remote. This remote perfectly fit the shape of my hand, and all of the buttons were in the perfect location - and were the perfect size. With a click of a button, I could program it to operate my TV *and* the VCR. I can hold the remote in one hand and operate it with my thumb. My hand can slide down the remote and easily hit every button. It is easy to use, and comfortable.

That VCR died, and was replaced by a much better VCR... with a crappy remote. You know, it was probably a more expensive remote, but the buttons were in difficult positions and it didn’t fit well in the hand. In order to use it, you had to hold it in one hand and push the buttons with the other. Hey, that’s not how a remote works! So, I tried the old Panasonic remote on the new non-Panasonic VCR... and it worked!

Since then I’ve had a bunch of different TVs and DVD players... but this old Panasonic universal remote has worked on every single one of them. I always try out the remote that comes with the TV or DVD player, and they are always poorly designed. My first DVD player was almost as big as the TV, and came with a remote that had strange buttons that operated features you never use in the places that were most convenient... while the play and other frequently used buttons were at hard to reach places. That one got tossed.

The DVD player I have now is small and sleek, the TV is big. The old remote works for both. The new DVD player’s remote has a zillion little buttons, and my fat fingers hit two at once. And, again, the buttons are in strange places. It’s almost as if a left handed person designed the remote (and I am right handed). And the remotes don’t fit your hand! You’d think it’s easy to design a remote - but obviously only those long gone Panasonic guys knew how to do it. No one else can figure it out. And the amazing thing about the Panasonic remote is that it works for everything. Everything!

This old Panasonic remote has been taken apart and cleaned a half dozen times. It’s gone through a bunch of batteries... it still works. Well, except for the channel clicker, which works going *up* channels but not going down. That means if I’m on channel 7 and I want to watch channel 9, I either have to click around the horn through Mexican TV to get there, or slide my hand down and hit the 9 button. Now, if I’m on channel 9 and want to go to channel 7, click-click, I’m there. Slightly inconvenient - but I have accidentally caught one of my movies on Mexican TV, and am now familiar with odd infomercials targeting the Hispanic audience, like the “miracle panty” which shapes a bulging fatty butt into a pleasantly shaped butt by taking all of the fat and moving it above and below the “miracle panty”. If the remote had not been broken, I would never have known about such things! (I have never dated a woman who wears the “miracle panty”.) So the defect has some interesting side effects...

But yesterday I dropped the remove, and the little panel that holds in the batteries fell off and the little plastic tab that holds it in place broke. It won’t stay in place without tape. So, there’s a big old piece of tape on my remote today... and I have realized that soon the time will come when I have to replace te batteries, and the thing will have to be de-taped and re-taped... and that’s going to be messy and the remote’s days are numbered. My current, sleek, DVD player’s remote - does not operate the TV at all. I tried that today. So, I’m probably going to have to by a new remote... and it won’t fit my hand, and it won’t be easy to use, and my life will be diminished.

Pisser.

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Lingo vs. Slang
Yesterday’s Dinner: Burgers on the run at Carl's Jr.

Movies: BANK JOB - After seeing a bunch of bad movies, I finally saw a good one... twice. Reason: well, first time was with one friend when it was at the top of my list, second time was with another friend when it was the top of their list, and the alternative seemed to be 10,000 BC (which I will eventually get around to seeing, because the always prickly Kenneth Turan of the LA Times gave it a good review, as did Hollywood Reporter). When movies cost $11.50 in Los Angeles, you have to really like a film to see it twice. And BANK JOB was just as good the second time around, maybe even better. Second time you notice a lot of details you missed the first time around.

Basically, it works really well as a crime film *and* really well as a character story about obligations to family and friends. It does what I call the 50-50 split. If I were a guy who loved the first TRANSPORTER movie and was looking for an entertaining action film complete with suspense and fight scenes and people getting shot and scenes in topless bars, I would enjoy this film. If I were some guy who wanted to see a character based drama about an interesting event in history that impacted the British government, I would enjoy this film. It’s like a Doublemint Movie - two films in one.

The movie begins with a few time jumps, then settles down... and for the TRANSPORTER audience, it may start a bit slow, but that’s because there are a bunch of subplot characters we need to know about, because later in the film they become *dangerous* and create much of the reason for the shooting and fight scenes. Once all of these threads have been set up and we get to the bank robbery, it’s an express train.

BANK JOB is a *caper* rather than a *heist* - it's not about armed guys who enter a bank during the hours of operation and threaten customers and employees in order to get the money (like HEAT), it's about a carefully planned break in after hours where they steal without ever using a gun - they sneak away with the loot (like TOPKAPI). These films usually have an inside man who knows about some treasure, the assembly of the team, the caper - where things go wrong, often a double cross, the police pursuit, and some sort of action ending (either with the police, or with the double crossers, or both). BANK JOB fits that model... with a twist.

Terry (rugged Jason Statham) is a struggling car lot owner with a wife and two of the cutest little girls ever put on film (don’t be surprised if you hear the TRANSPORTER crowd going “Aww”). He lives in the old neighborhood, wants to make enough to money to get his family to somewhere better. When a woman from his past, Martine (Saffron Burrows), shows up with a bank robbery scheme, he needs to be convinced. Terry’s pals are not above a little after hours shopping, but robbing a bank is a serious crime. Martine tells him she slept with a guy who told her about a bank where the alarm will be out of commission for a week while they make repairs, and if they only steal from the safety deposit boxes they will end up with money that hasn’t been reported to the IRS, so the victims won’t report it to the police.

Then we get a time jump to show us the truth - the British Secret Service (MI-5... or maybe 6) wants to retrieve blackmail material against the Royal Family that is in one of the safety deposit boxes... with maximum deniability. They arrest Martine for drug possession and use her to find some thieves... Terry and his friends. Martine used to be one of the group - she dated one of the other guys, not Terry. One of the great things about this movie is that it’s not just a story about breaking into a bank, it’s the story about a group of childhood friends who are *still* friends. When they decide to break into the bank over the weekend, the robbery impacts the friendships. No extra scenes needed - the robbery scenes also have the friendship elements. The scenes where they meet to discuss the robbery end up being the bachelor party for one of the guys and later at the wedding.

In the beginning, we have all of these dangerous subplot characters who have things in the safety deposit boxes they’d *kill* to keep secret, they manage to find an elegant way to give us a bunch of characters in very little time and very few scenes. One character leads us to the next in kind of a tag-team (this probably was much better on paper, the direction didn’t seem to get the idea.) So while the guys are taking about the robbery at a strip bar during the bachelor party, a pair of cops enter and go into the back room to talk to the boss, crime lord Lou Vogel played by David Suchet (villain in EXECUTIVE DECISION). These two cops are on the take, and are here for their payoff... and mention that Vogel’s madam friend has raised her rates, so they want more money from her. When the cops leave, Vogel calls the madam, and we get to see her operation for a moment... including her British Government clients... and her “insurance” - she photographs and films all of her clients, especially the ones in government. And guess where all of these people keep their secrets? In those safety deposit boxes our guys are about to break into.


The wedding scene gives us a scene where Terry dances with his daughter, a sweet scene... and it shows us another side of Statham. He’s a great dad and husband... but his wife wants to know what Martine is doing here and what they are discussing in secret. The other great element of this film is how the robbery impacts Terry’s marriage and family life. At first the family life is a conflict because Terry’s wife doesn’t want him to go back to his old law breaking ways... but later, when everything goes wrong, they end up in danger and Terry really comes to realize how this criminal act has impacted his wife and kids. Oh, and there’s some excitement and action that comes from that.

When we get to the break in, all of the friends and family and crime threads amplify. And many many things go wrong. One of the great things about this film is how many reversals there are - just when you think things are going okay, something terrible happens that changes everything... and Terry has to come up with some instant solution. The twist just keep coming - and Terry always comes up with some amazing way to save himself and his friends. Lots of excitement!

As usual, there are double crosses and team members who do not survive... but unlike your usual caper movie, these things happen with friends and family! So there’s an emotional element *and* a conflict element. That sand blaster is being used on one of Terry’s friends! Though it may have a slow start for you TRANSPORTER fans, hang in there and you’ll be treated to an exciting movie where Statham finds an interesting use for am old brick wall. And it stars two people I’ve met, one who tried to kill me*...

BANK JOB was written by the guys who scripted THE COMMITMENTS, based on a true story... and I was kind of curious about the member of the Royal Family mentioned... and it seems she really was involved in scandalous behavior. Probably a laugh moment for the British audience.

PAGES: Sunday - no writing at all. Monday was not a great day, but not a bad day. It *was* a day where I wrote 7.5 pages... Tuesday, looking good so far!

- Bill






*Jason - I just had a nice conversation with him. LOCK STOCK had just come out, and the US producers on it loved one of my scripts and I had some meetings with them... and they gave me a crew hat. So, we talked about the movie and I told him how much I liked it and liked his performance. He's really good in BANK JOB - he plays a dad, and there's a great scene where he dances with his little daughter at a wedding that's just sweet. Statham sweet? That's one of the great things about this film - every character is three dimensional.

Saffron - we were on a film fest jury together in London. I imagined sitting in a dark cinema with her watching movies every night for a week and a half... didn't happen that way. I was the only one on the jury who actually saw the films in the cinema! Everyone else watched them on DVD. So, I was in a packed cinema when they showed VISITOR Q... and we laughed like crazy. That is a sick, twisted, nasty movie... and funny. But if you see it on DVD at home, I guess it's only sick, twisted and nasty. Not funny. So, the jury meets for the first time at a room several floors above street level at the Soho Club, and we're discussing which movies we liked... and I mentioned how funny VQ was, and Saffron *passionately* disagreed with me... and charged me! And I'm standing in front of an open window! And she's *tall*! I'm 6'4", and she's about as tall as I am! And angry as heck! And I could just imagine the headlines the next day "Beautiful and talented actress kills completely unknown screenwriter". But she didn't push me out of the window - she just got in my face to tell me how unfunny she thought the movie was, and how I must be sick & twisted to have laughed at it. Needless to say, VQ was not the winner (a great movie called NO MAN'S LAND was). Later, she was in town doing publicity for ENIGMA and we bumped into each other at the Sunset 5 Cinema and had a laugh about it. She's really good in BANK JOB as a very non-traditional type of femme fatale - she is never overtly sexual in any way... she's just there and beautiful and probably not 100% part of the team.

- Bill

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Treadmill

So, I’m working on this script and I have a deadline. That means I must turn in a script by that deadline.

Now, I know writers who are always late turning in their scripts - and I think that’s not a way to keep getting assignments. They give you a deadline for a reason. Sometimes it may be arbitrary, but usually there is some purpose for the deadline. Because so many of my scripts have been for cable TV, there is usually an air date when the movie will be shown - and they usually know that date before I start writing! In this case, the producer knows he will shoot the film in June or July (and that will get locked down soon - he’s scouting locations now). That means I must have my script finished on time, or they will be on location with the cast and crew... and nothing to shoot! So the deadline has a purpose, and I can’t be late.

There are other writers I know who make their deadline by handing in 110 pages of typing - but not much in the way of a finished script. They just crap out something by the time the deadline hits. This is also a bad idea. You are turning in crap on time. The assignment isn’t to turn in crap, it’s to turn in a screenplay. Another thing about cable TV movies is that air date means they are gearing up to make the film while you are writing it - and your first draft will go out to talent. That means your first draft needs to *impress* talent. So it can’t just be 110 pages of typing on time... and it can’t be late. It has to be a really good, shootable, first draft. On this film, same thing - this first draft script will be used for casting (and probably everything else - scheduling, budgeting, the director will design his shots, etc) so the first draft has to be good and close to the final draft. Hey, it’s still going to go through changes, but we have a really good idea of what the script will be. The reason for turning in a good first draft isn’t arbitrary either.

No pressure there.

Every day I wake up and have to write.

It is my job, and I am on the clock.

I wake up, maybe do some warm up work - a blog entry or something else. Sometimes the warm up is figuring out what the heck I’m writing today, and scribbling some notes. Sometimes it’s setting up the Script Tip for tomorrow. But there is something I am doing while drinking the morning coffee (provided I remember to buy it) and trying to remove that layer of sleep fog. Now, here’s where humor comes in - after actually remembering to buy coffee yesterday, today I filled the Mr. Coffee with water and coffee grinds and started this blog entry... then realized somewhere along the way that I didn’t have a cup of coffee... then realized that I also hadn’t turned on Mr. Coffee. This happens often enough, that there are days I leave the house without any coffee, and still a little foggy. But I do all of the morning things on that list from THE LOOKOUT (shower... with soap), and go out into the real world.

Some days there are errands that must be done - post office, blue book folding and stapling, picking up blue books from copy place, and all of the normal stuff you have to do. I try to use that time to think of what I’m going to write - but sometimes the errand takes over, and I completely forget about the script.

Once I get to whatever coffee shop I am writing in this afternoon, I sometimes have to plan out the day’s work. I try to plan out tomorrow’s work at the end of the night, but that doesn’t always happen. Now, this plan can be anything from a few scribbled notes to a page-by-page outline to a scribbled dialogue exchange. Basically, I want to have some idea of what they heck I’m writing - the purpose of this scene at least. I’m not writing a first draft, I’m writing the draft that goes out to the stars, so I want it to be pretty good. Last week, I actually wrote all of the dialogue for a scene longhand, then did a rewrite of that dialogue *plus* plugged in the action when I typed it. The scene was the police interviewing the family of a missing woman, so they were looking for clues - and the family might even be suspects. While one cop did the interview, the other poked around the house looking for clues and chimed in every now and then when they found something interesting. You’ve seen this scene a million times on LAW AND ORDER, but every time it’s different because the crime and suspect and family are different. This is also an exposition scene - setting up information that will play out later. And, the police do not know at this time that the missing person was killed by a monster - so the scene has to work two ways: as the cops thinking it’s a normal case, and the evidence they uncover which is weird. Because they are cops, they don’t think “Hey! A Monster is behind this!” They have to think it’s a normal crime - and that means clues have to lead to a normal suspect (the red herring) *and* lead to the monster (when they look back later). So the questioning scene was kind of complicated, and writing it out longhand helped.

Now, I have to write 5 pages a day, rain or shine. If I fail, I must make up those pages by the end of the week (if possible). I like to begin each week fresh. That didn’t happen this week, but I hope it will happen next. I just don’t want the cloud of being behind hanging over me. If you reach a point where you are too far behind, it leads to despair.

I’m going to write 2-3 scenes a day on the average. Some days I have a lot of short scenes, but usually it’s 2 scenes of about 2 pages and a 1 pager. I try to break that up with a meal between the two main scenes, that way I can poke around on the next scene while I’m eating - scribble some notes or at least focus on it. This isn’t always easy, because I usually change venues, too - and end up at the coffee location where all of my friends are... and we all go to dinner. That can work sometimes, because it’s a real break in the writing - I’m thinking about something other than the script. But sometimes it kills momentum, and I have to figure out what the heck I was writing and why and get my head back into the game after dinner... Which is also tough because I’m at the coffee shop where my friends hang out. When everybody knows your name, it’s hard to get anything done.

Another thing that throws me off course is putting up tomorrow’s script tip - if I didn’t set it up while waking up, I have to do that now. That sometimes means doing a “polish” on an old tip to bring it up to date - and every once in a while it means a full fledged rewrite using a new film example. That takes time and takes me off course.

The other big distractions are message boards - I’ll take a break in the middle of a page and get involved in some message board discussion and forget what my script is about. I have to focus on the script again - and that can take a little time. This is why I try to get as much done before my meal as I can.

Now, some of you may be wondering why I write in coffee shops instead of at home. Several answers to that, but when I write at home I find that my sock drawers get ultra organized and I spend a lot of time digging through things in my office looking for that one notebook out of the thousand with the dialogue idea I had 10 years ago that might work in this scene. Basically - many more distractions at home, where all of my stuff is, than a coffee shop where all I really have is the laptop. My old laptop had a wifi card that had to be manually inserted, and that was great - it kept me off the internet. The new laptop has a built in wifi card - and that adds to the distractions.

But after my meal and all of this other stuff, it’s back to the script - usually for that second big scene of the day. Now, this is often the scene that gets the most outline work, because this is the scene that I write at the end of the day with the most distractions. When I’m on assignment like this, I often skip my regular coffee shop where everybody knows my name in favor of someplace else - and I do that maybe half the week or more. Problem is, you still need to be a human being while you are writing, and that means you still must have some contact with other humans. And your friends get pissed if you neglect them. So I usually cut down on meals with friends instead of cutout. This time I have a plan to do something really different - though I haven’t started, yet. I’m thinking about doing coffee shops in other areas of Los Angeles for 3 days a week. The problem with this may be that the new area will be a distraction. But I’m going to give it a shot next week. I’m hoping that mixing it up will inspire me... and as a writer, I can work wherever my laptop is, so why always take it to the same places?

Back to the second big scene - I work through that, and if I’m lucky, actually finish it and have enough time to think about what I’m writing tomorrow. Jot some notes while I’m still in the story.

Now, one of the things about the writing treadmill is that I’m so focused on the story that other things fall through the cracks. You know, I forget to turn on Mr. Coffee in the morning. So between the keys and screen of my closed laptop is a To Do List in a plastic sleeve. Actually, a pair of lists. One is the long range list, the other is kind of a weekly list - all of the little things I’ll forget when I’m so focused on turning out pages. Yikes... just like the Dymo labels in THE LOOKOUT. Right now there are 25 items on that list - some are producers I need to call or e-mail. Big problem often is that I don’t even look at the list when I open my laptop for fear I’ll get distracted. So the list of things that I’m afraid may fall through the cracks... often still falls through the cracks, But at least *some* of it gets done this way.

I stop drinking caffeine mid-day, because I already have enough trouble sleeping. But the difficult part of the writing treadmill is that you have to keep at the top of the game until the pages get done... and then, suddenly, it’s time to call it a day. Sometimes there is still enough time left to see a movie and unwind, but some days those 5 pages take the whole damned day, and there really isn’t unwind time - I have to go to sleep so that I can get up and go to work. Here’s where the insomnia strikes and screws up my schedule. Because even if I pop in a DVD, I’m still wound up and in the story. My brain hasn’t shut off. One of the things that helps is exercise - and that bicycle that I said I was going to buy a few months back is still at the bike shop unpurchased. I have been taking some long walks, lately - usually at my meal break. I am the only guy walking in Los Angeles (except crazy homeless people.) Problem is - walking takes more time than biking, so I have to get off my butt and buy a bike. I keep *not* walking because I don’t have the time, and that leads to insomnia, and that leads to screwing up a day and wasting even more time than if I’d walked. So, I have to get back to doing regular exercise - it helps when I’m doing a script on the clock.

My plan to make up the 2 days this week... hasn’t happened. It seems like I’m able to get up to my 5 a day, and keep that going... but the extra pages at the end of the day? Those haven’t happened, yet. Yesterday I spent more time walking than writing, and I needed that... but I’m now 2.5 days behind. That means every day next week I have to write 7.5 pages instead of 5 pages a day... and I’m not sure that I can do that. Maybe I can. But if I can’t, I’ve built in enough time so that I can *easily* make up those days before my deadline.

At the end of the day, when I’ve made my 5 page quota (and any make up pages) and I’m thinking back over that clever little bit of dialogue or character or action that really made that scene work, I feel like I really accomplished something... and then I have to go to sleep so that I can get up and go to work and keep doing that until the script is finished. It’s the treadmill - it’s the job - but I love doing it. A few months from now I will be watching them shoot this script in Hawaii - watching actors say my lines (or whatever they want to say instead of my lines) and all of this endless work will just be a memory.

But, until then, I have pages to write!

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Screenplay Keys - using my flick BLACK THUNDER as an example.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Salad at Fuddruckers.

Movies: SEMI- PRO - Okay, we’re going to make a Will Ferrell sports comedy. Let’s start with a sport... say, NASCAR driving. What is funny about that sport? Well, NASCAR started with hillbilly moonshine drivers, so we can do a bunch of “redneck” jokes - how many books full of those does Jeff Foxworthy have? And is there an “opposite” in that world that can create conflict and humor from that conflict? Well, Formula One drivers are often sophisticated Europeans... let’s throw in one of those! I think we might find enough material for a movie, there. Okay, what about male figure skating? I can brainstorm up a hundred jokes about male figure skaters! Okay, now what about basketball?

Basketball... what is inherently funny about basketball? What are the built in, obvious basketball jokes? When I watch male figure skating on TV, which is every chance I get, it’s just funny. When I watch basketball... it’s an exciting game. Not funny. So why select that as the sport to use for your Will Ferrell comedy?

One of the things I often do when I’m looking at an idea, I’ll make a list of ideas based on that idea. Scenes, story ideas, sub-concepts, etc. And if I can come up with 25 “sub-ideas”, I know I have enough for a screenplay. Sure, I’ll probably need 50-60 scenes for my script, but if I can come up with 25 ideas, the rest will come when I actually outline the script and flesh out the concept. But if I can’t come up with 25 ideas? Well, I sure as hell can’t come up with 50-60 good scenes for my script.

And that’s the problem with SEMI-PRO... there aren’t enough god funny ideas in the film to sustain it. There are maybe a handful of funny ideas at most... a comedy shortage and an idea shortage. The big problem is not enough jokes and gags - you hardly ever laugh in this film. And they *contrive* gags - like the 70's hairdos - and those look contrived and just fall flat.

So, our story is about a second string basket ball team in the American League that has to start winning games and drawing fans so they can be one of the 4 teams that gets folded into the NBA. Now, that’s not a bad idea... but there’s nothing inherently funny about it.

So they graft on a bunch of things from the outside - they make Will Ferrell into a musician who was a one hit wonder, they give everyone a funny haircut, they throw in Woody Harrelson as a failed basketball player (and this isn’t a funny idea like the prissy French Formula One driver in TALADEGA NIGHTS), and they give Woody an ex-girlfriend to win back (also not a funny idea), and Ferrell gets to do all kinds of wacky stunts to bring in an audience (which usually have nothing at all to do with basketball - like wrestling a bear). It ends up being a grab bag of unrelated plot threads and elements - nothing that has to do with the sport of basketball... and nothing that is particularly funny.

One big problem is Will Farrell’s character is just not someone we can like - he’s a buffoon, and self centered, and you end up almost rooting against him. He’s not a nice guy, so why should we want him to achieve his goal? They needed a scene somewhere in here that showed us a softer side of him, and allowed us a possibility to care about him. But even when we get a scene with his dead mother, we don’t care about him. It’s a crap scene.

The basic concept, the losing team that must start winning again and attracting a crowd or else it’s going to fold, has been used *successfully* in the MAJOR LEAGUE series, and that’s what this film could have been. If you look at the tone of MAJOR LEAGUE, it’s not a farce - it’s a “serious comedy” that takes place in a reality-based world. Instead of fighting a bear, they hire colorful players and encourage them to be their wacky selves. This makes the comedy *character based* and keeps it on the baseball field instead on in some cage with a bear. (By the way, the bear running gag ends up getting the most laughs in the film - maybe it should have been about a Jack Hanna-like zoo guy.) MAJOR LEAGUE manages to have wacky humor - from reality based characters - and work as a sports movie (you really cheer) and has some real emotions (instead of crappy pasted on subplots with ex-girlfriends) and was funny enough to be a huge hit and spawn a bunch of sequels. Basically, the same idea done right.

And I wonder if SEMI-PRO began more like MAJOR LEAGUE and less like... well, whatever it is? Because the Woody ex-girlfriend stuff seems more reality based than the rest of the film - though they graft on some stupid gags with her current live-in boyfriend as Woody’s #1 fan who cheers them on when they make love in front of him. And there is a *great* moment in the film with Andre 3000 that seems like it belongs in another movie - something more serious like MAJOR LEAGUE. Things like that make me wonder if this began as a more serious kind of comedy and was screwed-up to become this awful Will Farrell film. And if that’s what happened - somebody needs to be kicked out of Hollywood.

Pages: - Only 2.5, so I'm another half day behind, but can still make it up. It was a messed up day, so any pages were a good thing.

- Bill

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.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Jumper

Okay, I'm working on the script. And my Friday Fiasco is now under control: I had one of those days where you end up on hold for most of the day, so that you can speak to a series of folks who can't help you, so that you can climb the ladder to the person in charge, so that they can fix your problem... actually, the problem *they* created through some dumb mistake, that has pretty much ruined your day. But now, it's mostly over. I can get back to writing...

- Bill

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Hero's Entrance - PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Pork Fried Rice at City Wok.

Movies: JUMPER - You know, you can’t copyright an idea, only the execution of an idea (a screenplay) - so when people tell me that “Hollywood stole my idea”, but that’s al they had - an idea with nothing on paper, I don’t sympathize much. If they had a finished script, I’d say “That’s a pisser, but hopefully the film coming out is different enough than what you wrote that it still has a shot... and if not, change it.” But things like this happen to me all of the time - partially because I don’t just talk about writing screenplays, I actually do it. So, when I saw the trailers to JUMPER and VANTAGE POINT I became a little concerned. I have projects similar to each of those. In the case of VANTAGE POINT, I have an existing screenplay with a political assassination... and we see the assassination from a handful of different POVs, and each seems to show a different killer. In the case of JUMPER... well, I’m one of those morons who don’t have the finished script and is worried that Hollywood is stealing my idea (I am now wearing a tin foil hat, just in case).

I have a scribbled outline and a pile of notes for a script called SHORT CUTS about teleportation. And I’ve talked about it in my classes and on message boards - the concept of “space travel” - from one space to another. This was kind of an idea in search of a story, until I noticed a tattoo on my friend Steve’s arm... and the whole thing fell into place. At that point, I began generating a bunch of scene ideas and character ideas and roughed out an outline and put it on the big boards - I scheduled time to write the script later this year. (It was actually supposed to be last year, but things happened and it was postponed). So, when I saw the JUMPER trailer a few months ago, I was worried... Yes, I know it’s based on a novel, so it’s not like I’m the first one there... but I don’t want to scrap my work.

So we have a great basic concept - a guy who can teleport (Hayden Christensen - who can not act if his life depended on it) - and lots of beautiful scenery and amazing locations and some cool special effects (and cool teleportation ideas like anchors and a gizmo that keeps the wormhole open so that people can follow you, and lots of great ideas about teleoprtation) - plus Samuel L. Jackson as the villain and...

The movie squanders all of that. It just kills all of those great ideas with a rookie mistake.

The Hero... just wants to be left alone. He’s basically passive. He has this amazing teleportation gift, and he uses it to sight see and rob banks... leaving IOU notes behind. Nothing much happens in his life, and he has no real problems. Passive.

The Villain... just wants to stop the hero from teleporting. No real reason why (and here’s a major problem with the film - Jackson’s reason for spending every waking moment trying to stop people from teleporting is that only God should have that power... which makes him kind of silly). The villain’s plan is the most important element of any film, and Samuel L. Jackson’s plan here is.... Oh, he doesn’t have one. He just wants to stop our hero from teleporting. And for no good reason. Which means we also have a passive villain.

Passive hero. Passive villain. Um, that means the conflict makes no sense! How could such a basic story problem end up in a big budget Hollywood film? Okay, how could it end up in a low budget film? Okay, how could it end up *anywhere*? It’s screenwriting 101 - storytelling 101... cavemen knew better than to have a story where both hero and villain were passive.

And that’s the big problem with the movie - it’s a bunch of contrived teleportation. Movement without meaning. Hey - he’s in Egypt! Hey - he’s in Rome! Hey - he’s in his home town! But none of it means anything - he could have just sat around the house in New York and the same lack-of-plot could have happened.

The great Michael Rooker shows up in a subplot as his drunk and abusive father... but absolutely nothing is done with that! No scenes there! In the “prologue” Rooker gets to be drunk and abusive in one scene... but later he’s just *there*. No interaction between father and son at all! And they could have really done something with this! Rooker is a great actor - look at all of the different kinds of characters he has played - but they just waste him.

Diane Lane plays the hero’s missing mother, and she pops up in a couple of scenes where she rescues him for no apparent reason (except he needs rescued and she’s the picture in the photos of Mom)... and then we get a completely WTF twist ending that makes no sense - and actually makes the film so far make even less sense!

Rachel Bilson plays his high school sweetheart - a character created just to have someone in peril for no real reason. But even here they screw it all up - after a completely boring, plotless and pointless story - they give us a ticking clock. Bilson is on a plane, and Hayden has eight hours to rescue her before the plane lands and Jackson captures her. Hey, there might be some excitement in that scenario! But, they just *forget* the ticking clock aspect, and then have Hayden show up late - so the clock didn’t matter, then have Jackson *easily* capture her... so that we can have some sort of pointless and boring action ending.

The problem with watching a bad movie like this is that you can’t help but compare it to better movies... even if those movies aren’t very good. The Hayden - Jackson thing is kind of like HIGHLANDER - not a great movie by a long shot, but CITIZEN KANE compared to this piece of poop!

And there’s another teleporter character played by Jamie Bell (that’s a dude) who has no purpose in this film. Okay, I guess he’s someone for Hayden to have pointless conversations with... but you can’t help but wonder why this character wasn’t like the Train Ghost (Vincent Schiavelli) in GHOST who teaches our hero how to use the gift. That would have given the character some reason to be in the film. Instead, he’s just someone to talk to and a Ratzo Rizo sidekick. A pointless character in a pointless film.

And that’s another big issue with this film - no point, no theme, no character arc, no valuable lesson learned... nothing. Hayden robs banks and leaves IOUs, but doesn’t seem to be doing anything to make the money to pay them back. And doesn’t regret robbing the banks. And doesn’t care. And... well, there’s nothing worse than a bland actor in a bland and pointless role!

The movie ends with the set up for a sequel... that just isn’t going to happen. And if it does - well, it’s going to die some horrible death at the box office unless they can take this guy with super powers and give him something to do other than shopping and globe hopping. So *my* script? Well, I’m pushing it back a year - so that everyone forgets the *stench* of JUMPER when I finally go out with my script.

Oh... my script has an active villain and an active hero and one heck of a cool plot concerning what bad guys might do if they could teleport. Dodged that copycat bullet... but what about VANTAGE POINT?

Pages: I did zilch on Sunday, but 4 pages on Monday... still behind, but still able to make it up over the rest of this week.

- Bill
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