Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Flash Mob Assignment: See IRON MAN Again!

You want to mess with The Man in Hollywood?

This coming weekend the only action flick we have is the DEATH RACE remake. I'll probably see it, but I suspect it's junk. The reason why I loved the original is because it's all about hitting pedestrians - something that causes you to lose points in a driving game... but in the film you *got points* for running over people. It's a sick film. The remake seems sanitized - prisoners against prisoners.

So, DEATH RACE isn't a must see for me. I was thinking about what film I really liked and would like to see again... and instead of seeing DARK KNIGHT one more time, I thought it might be cool to see IRON MAN. And it's still playing at some far off cinema in Los Angeles. Hey, why not?

So, here's the deal - if you like IRON MAN, and it's still playing somewhere near you, and you want to have fun with the big chart in Variety - see it again this weekend. And spread the word. I think it would be fun if suddenly IRON MAN jumped up the Variety list a few steps so late in its run. Over the weekend it was #22 on the list, playing on 315 screens in the USA.

If we can get enough people to see it again that it jumps back into the top 20, someone in Hollywood's gonna wonder what the heck happened... and become confused.

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Take My Name Off It!
Yesterday’s Dinner: Fish Tacos at Islands.
Pages: Working on an article for Script... and the rewrite.
Bicycle: Rode yesterday and today... and that's the plan until I'm 30 pounds lighter. Just keep riding.
DVD: BUG - Missed it in the cinema, $3.99 on DVD. Trailer had bugs crawling under people's skin... none of that in the movie. Minute 41 was the first bug. Except, there are no bugs. Based on a stage play. and it shows... even down to the sloppy plotting and lack of an end. Has some creepy stuff, just not enough... and it's mostly talk (hey, it was a play). It's not a bad movie, just not a good one. Judd and Harry Connick are great (Connick is her abusive jailbird hubby - and he's freakin' evil! Total image change for him - and he's more scary than anything else in the film.) Problem is male lead - he's from the stage version. The role is a guy in his early 20s, but this guy is *obviously* late 30s. Maybe even early 40s. On stage, he can probably pass - on screen, he's just too old for the role. And he's one of those obviously intense actors, when this needed someone who could start as an innocent and build the intensity. Worst part of the film - no bugs. It's a talk-drama... and could have been better if *we saw* the delusions. Instead, the set becomes more extreme (like it would in a stage play) to reflect the mood... and it's overkill. Eventually they have covered every square inch of their apartment with aluminium foil and use black lights and wear white clothes. Completely artificial & stagey. The trailer had bugs under the skin... and they *talk* about that. But why not show it? The thing is, the story has nowhere to go - it also doesn't seem to have much point. Judd is so good as this character continues to deteriorate mentally, that you want to see her in more movies.

- Bill

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Good Tire

This was a link on the Top 5 list... and it made me laugh...

- Bill

Friday, August 15, 2008

Hitchcock On Hiatus This Week

This has been a hell week... and one thing that didn’t get done was the Hitchcock entry. Funny thing is - this week was to be NORTH BY NORTHWEST, one of my favorite movies, and I thought it would be easy to knock it out. Then some other stuff happened.

The Hawaii film has been postponed for a month... or maybe more. You know, they still haven’t settled the SAG situation, so there may be a strike any day... or not. The actors have been working without a contract since June. You know how any task expands to fill the time allotted ? Well, now I have a major what-if-this-were-different rewrite to do on the Hawaii script. But, you know, fast... just in case the SAG thing settles tomorrow.

And, out of the blue several things have happened that I have not shared because there are no contracts... but may soon be. One of these is a potentially big deal - a remake of a theatrical semi-hit film from the1980s. I’ve had two meetings on this, formulated a few different ways to bring the story into the new millennium, and now I’m fleshing out one of those story ideas to pitch it to the studio. This could crash and burn at any time - so I’m kind of keeping details secret.

Meanwhile, for some reason, all kinds of other people are suddenly reading and meeting... yesterday I had to cancel one meeting to take my studio remake meeting. Today (Friday) I had a meeting on an indie project that is never going to happen... and the producer asked if he could take this big action script that he read as a sample to a connection he has at a studio... and a moment ago I got an e-mail from somebody else about taking a script to a cable net. None of those - or some of the other hovering projects - may happen. None are “real” yet. They are still talk... but just because a plate may fall is no reason to stop spinning it.

As you all know, I have this blog... and a website with a different Script Tip every day... and a couple more websites that are mostly dead... and a newsletter that I never get around to sending out that was supposed to be a magazine this year... and classes I teach every once in a while... and some classes on CD and some booklets and a column in Script Magazine and one in Moviescope... and none of that is my real job - I write screenplays for a living. I feel like that guy who used to be on the Ed Sullivan Show who had to keep a few dozen plates spinning on the tips of pool cues - and most of you have no idea who Ed Sullivan even is! “Doesn’t he have something to do with Dave Letterman?”

So usually what happens is that while I’m off spinning one plate, some other plate is neglected and about to fall over.

Over the past two months I’ve been writing *new* Script Tips - and run 12 of them in those 2 months. And I have a couple that haven’t run, yet. That’s about 6 new tips per month - and if you add in the rewritten tips that’s almost 2 new tips every week...

Or two fewer blog entries.

Or 10 fewer pages on the new spec.

Or some rewrite work on that Hawaii script.

One of the reasons why I started talking about the movies I’ve seen here is that it helps me get my thoughts down so that I can use that information in a Script Tip later. When I first began listing my movies here, I was basically just using the blog as my calendar - I used to list ever movie I saw on my wall calendar and then add them up at the end of the year. The problem with the blog is that I’m a screw up - you know how many movies I’ve seen that I never blogged about? Probably a hundred! The thing is, I want the blog entry to be detailed enough that I can later “harvest” it for a script tip - yet I don’t want to just jot down half thought through notes. I don’t want to look like any more of an idiot in print than I already do. So I have a folder full of half written film reviews. It’s not just the new Batman movie I haven’t posted about, it’s a whole bunch of films.

When I do blog about a film, I try to find the main problem with it and enough notes on anything else that I can expand it into a Script Tip later. So the “21" blog entry was a few hundred words, the Script Tip ended up being 2,600 words.

Though the Hitchcock movie thing began as a way to force myself into having at least one new blog entry every week, now I’m looking at those entries differently - I’m focusing on the story and the writing and trying to find a screenwriting lesson or two in every film. You may have noticed that in THE BIRDS and PSYCHO entries. I’ll probably even go back and rewrite the others to find a screenwriting lesson in them - heck, even TOPAZ has that experimental 4 stories thing going on. So next year when I finish all 53 movies, I’ll have 53 screenwriting lessons based on material from Hitchcock movies... and that’s a book!

Because I have nothing better to do with my time (more and more behind on the spec and rewrite!) (You’ll never find out what I thought of THE DARK KNIGHT!) I’m also considering spending Thursdays with Boris Karloff’s THRILLER TV show - one of my favorite shows as a kid which is not available on DVD, yet - but I have recording of all of the episodes from TV. These episodes were often based on Woolrich short stories and often directed by Ida Lupino (a kick ass female action & thriller director from the 50s). She was an actress, and like Clint Eastwood, learned how to direct on the job in Don Siegel films. I think it’d be fun to look at all of those old episodes again and write about them...

And it’s content for the blog. I must generate content! For the blog, for Script Tips, for the other websites, for Script Magazine, for Movie Scope, for all of the other places.

But most of this stuff will never end up in Script Tips - making it a lot of work that only services the blog. Nice to force myself to write new blog entries every week, better if that stuff has some further use on down the road. If the blog can help the website and the website can help newsletter and the newsletter and the newsletter can... Well, I can get all kinds of stuff done when I really should be working on my spec.

Hey, over the past 2 months I’ve written 12 new tips! Which is kind of ironic, since my To Do List for July was “write new Script Tips” - I just didn’t get anything else on the To Do List todone, and the new script tips were written to avoid doing all of the other stuff.

Should I spend more time working on the Script Tips.... or on a new blog entry?

Or maybe get back to work on the rewrite?

Or work on that remake pitch?

Or sleep?

So, this week I just never got around to writing the Hitchcock blog entry... sorry. Next week, NORTH BY NORTHWEST.
- Bill

PS: The majority of this blog entry was previously written and was supposed to run on Wednesday... but I never got around to posting it. So I just added some of the new plates and posted it.


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: One Script - One Conflict and STREET KINGS.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Tired, busy, almost forgot to eat... Sandwich.
Pages: Zero - meeting, later jotted notes on the project.
Bicycle: *Did* ride to my meeting yesterday - and I'm at that point where it's more fun than work. Helpful tips: Bell "Gel Seats" - waste of money. The gel part breaks and comes off - leaving you with a big gooey mess stuck to your ass. Looks comfortable, and without the gel part is okay.
Movies: Well, DARK KNIGHT review *is* coming, plus TROPIC THUNDER and MAN ON WIRE and some others.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Garage Films

A couple of weeks ago I went to a screening of my friend's new movie... and left early. The film wasn’t very good... but it was a finished film, and I think his 6th feature.

Hollywood is filled with dreamers and schemers. At one point in time this blog was going to be called “I Know All The Losers In Hollywood” - but that danged SNAKES IN A PLANE movie changed everything. And sometimes it’s hard to tell the losers from the winners. I met this guy in a non-Starbucks coffee shop, and one day he just decided to make movies. He came to LA to be a musician and played in a couple of garage bands, when that didn’t work out he tried to be an actor, and when that didn’t work out he decided to make movies... starring himself, playing music. This guy is a character... and his story is amusing and maybe inspiring.

He wrote a script - that was autobiographical and wasn’t very good. Because he loved MAGNOLIA and had no idea how to end an autobiographical script since he is still alive, he ended the script with an unexplained rain... of cakes! The script also featured the lead character furiously masturbating in a coffee shop bathroom. I never used the bathroom in that coffee shop where I met him again. So, he has no money... but he goes to a church function and explains that he’s trying to raise money to make a Christian themed film... and finds investors! He rounds up enough money to buy a prosumer grade camera, some lights, and a laptop and editing program... plus enough to pay for meals and video tape and expendables. He rounds up actor friends and friends with some crew experience and makes his little film. No budget. A shopping mall escalator gets some new signage and becomes LAX - just watch out for security guards! He steals locations - shooting with no permit at landmarks with lookouts posted to watch for police. And he sings and stars and it ends with unseen people on ladders dumping cakes on him - symbolic of something. The film is nonsense... but finished. He’s at the gym one day and sees a TV news guy, tells him about his movie... and they decide to do a story about him.

After he’s on TV, everyone in town wants to see his movie, and he sends out screeners. But his film is, well, weird, and nobody wants it. But he manages to find an investor to put up the couple thousand he needs to make the next film. Oh, and he actually gets a once famous actress to work for free (it will be her first time in a film in 2 decades). This film is slightly less strange, but still not in any genre and not mainstream at all. Despite the has-been star, no one wants to see this one. But, as with all of his films, he finds a theater that will donate some weeknight to him and he shows the film to cast, crew, friends, and anyone on his MySpace friends list. Just show up and see the movie, then have some wine and cheese afterwards.

He makes his movies for a couple of grand, none of them get any sort of distribution... but he doesn’t seem to care. He makes his movies just to make his movies. That’s the fun part for him. He has a day job to pay the rent, and making little movies and showing them to friends in some donated theater is his hobby.

Here's the problem with the new movie - it takes place at a workplace over a single day. But there is no spark (no inciting incident - in screenwriter talk) - so it's just a typical day at work. Nothing different happens. That means that all of the drama has to be artificially induced. So one character gets a phone call from their doctor that they have cancer. Another character decides - for no reason - to attempt suicide. There's a big chunk of exposition about their life outside the workplace falling apart. One character may have AIDS... they get a phone call, too. There are a bunch of dramatic elements that come from *outside* the office and *outside* the story. They just come from nowhere to create a scene. And, though things like this *do* happen in real life, on the screen it seems completely forced. You can see the writer-director off camera forcing the drama. None of it is connected to anything in the workplace. Just an out of the blue phone call that creates a false dramatic event. The film was contrived and fake.

Here's the irony - I'm sure my friend thought it was more realistic because there was no big inciting incident. That it was more natural and less contrived... but it seemed 100 times more forced than DIE HARD. Because in DIE HARD, once the terrorist take over the Christmas party, everybody does exactly what a real person would do - even the terrorists. They react naturally.

Now, that doesn't mean the workplace drama would have been better with terrorists, but he needed *some event* that made this day *different* than any other day. Look at GLEN GARY GLEN ROSS - this is the last day of the sales contest - someone will win and someone will be fired. That changes a normal day of selling into *the* day of selling - you can lose your job if you fail. So everyone is hustling on *this day* and maybe backstabbing their fellow employees and maybe having a melt down when things go wrong. Okay, now that we are in this pressure cooker situation at the workplace, the differences between characters can easily explode into drama without any outside phone calls. That's not the end of the world - but it is the end of a career for somebody. There are stakes. There is a deadline.

My friend's film would have been a million times better if the story had begun with them getting a new boss. Now you have people kissing up in all kinds of ways, people dealing with new authority, etc. No phone calls required - the drama would come from that spark - that change - that thing that alters the status quo. But you *must* have something that alters the regular world and creates a dramatic situation... or else you end up grafting on drama from the outside. Sometimes what is real seems fake and what is created by the screenwriter to kick off the story makes it all seem more real, more natural, less forced.

After an hour of phone calls creating artificial crisis, I snuck out of the theater. Some other people had snuck out before me, but I was going to try to stick it out. Couldn’t. I’m sure that others left after me (actually, three other people left at the same time I did).
Now, I would tell my friend how to improve his movie - but he wouldn’t listen and wouldn’t care. He makes his little movies that way he wants. For him making the movie is all that matters. He doesn’t care if they never end up on a Blockbuster shelf and probably doesn’t care that some of his MySpace friends didn’t stay until the end.

*I* look at his films from *my* perspective and think that with a little change here and there - no terrorists or explosions, just a new boss as an inciting incident so that the film seems less contrived - he might make it into a festival or two and maybe get picked up by some art house oriented DVD label. Maybe not - but it’s worth a try. I think he and his unpaid cast and crew do a lot of work, and it would be cool if the films found a larger audience than the people who showed up at the screening in North Hollywood. But that’s from my perspective. From his perspective, he’s doing exactly what he wants to do.

But here’s the lesson I came away with when I snuck out of that theater after an hour of plot altering phone calls - he’s made 6 films for pocket change. He just does it. If *I* decided to just do it and make a movie for pocket change - with a better script - *I* could be the one with my little film in festivals and maybe on the shelf at Blockbuster. Hey, maybe you can, too! And if nobody wants my little film? Maybe I can talk some theater into donating a weeknight and post a bulletin on MySpace....

- Bill

Friday, August 08, 2008

Wanna Buy Some Great Rock & Roll Stuff?

One of the blog links over on the right - EVERYBODY I SHOT IS DEAD - is a friend of mine who was a hot rock & roll photographer in the 70s and took pictures of just about every single big name you can think of. She has a great book of photos (available on Amazon, and probably on her blog). Great photos of rock stars, many lived wild-but-shot lives. Most of the time her blog is dishing on some big name rock star... but her latest blog entry is personal... and she could use some prayers right now. But she could also use some cash, and she's selling some amazing rock & roll memorabilia - signed photos of Zappa! Click on her blog entry for more details:


I hope everything works out for her and her daughter.

- Bill

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Cutting Hairs

I finally got a haircut. I’ve needed one for months. I went to meetings looking shaggy. The problem was - the place I get my hair cut closed down.

I know that doesn’t sound like much of an excuse, but I had been getting my hair cut at the same place since I moved to Los Angeles almost 20 years ago. They gave good hair cuts, and they were cheap... and they were cute. Back when I was living in Van Nuys I was trying to stretch my COURTING DEATH sale income for as long as possible, and needed a cheap haircut. There was a place across the street from the Sears in North Hollywood (where I bought shirts on sale) that advertized cheap haircuts. I can’t remember how much it was back then, but when they closed a couple of months ago they were charging $8. That’s cheap! Anyway, I go in and the place is filled with hot hispanic women. Some of them want to be actresses, some want to be on the news, some of them want to be models, some want to be singers. None want to cut hair, but that’s their day job. The gal who runs the place wants to be a Tejano singer - actually, she *is* one. She sings in some club out in Reseda on Friday and Saturday nights and sometimes does parties on other nights. I have no idea if she’s any good at singing, but she gave a great haircut.

I used to work with a guy named Bob at Safeway who had a haircut sexual fettish. He was married, but he had this girl who used to cut his hair - both of them in their underpants to keep the hair from getting on their clothes. When Bob told me about this, I thought he was weird...

But when that hot gal cut my hair, I could kind of understand it. Haircuts are kind of an intimate thing. The hair cutter stands really close to you, and their body brushes up against yours often. I never asked the Tejano singer if she’d strip down to her underpants, but maybe I should have?

When I moved to Studio City I figured I’d find a new place to get my hair cut. I could afford a more expensive haircut - cost wasn’t an issue. Maybe I’d go to a stylist? There were several places in my area - and I started at the most expensive. I think it was $50, but it might have been as much as $65. Anyway, the guy was a “hair artist” and I suspect he was not heterosexual - but he may have just lived in West Hollywood so long he developed the accent. Anyway, I told him how I wanted my hair cut... and he began crafting my hair... and when he was done my hair was weird looking. As a “hair artist” I guess he worked in abstracts. One side was longer than the other, amd when I mentioned this, he lisped, “Of course it is, honey.” He didn’t cut my hair the way *I* wanted, he cut my hair the way *he* wanted. And charged me $50 or $65 for it. And expected a tip... which I gave him. I stayed at home - avoided being seen - until my hair grew out. When I did go out, I had to keep my head tilted to the left so that mt haircut looked even. I tried a couple more places with similar results before going back to the Tejano singer and her sexy latina actress and dancer and model and musician wannabes. They gave me the haircut I wanted... for considerable less than $65.

You would think that a $65 haircut would have to be better than an $8 haircut (probably $6 back then). You would think that no one would spend more money for inferior work. You would think that you always get what you pay for. But that’s just not true. There’s this perceived value thing where people *think* that if something costs more it just has to be better - when often it isn’t. Quality has nothing to do with cost. Heck, Kevin Smith’s CLERKS cost $25k and his MALLRATS cost $6 million and JERSEY GIRL (starring Benifer) cost over $35 million - and which is the better movie? Brain Singer’s USUAL SUSPECTS cost $6 million and his SUPERMAN RETURNS cost over $270 million - and which is the better movie? I think it’s easier to be lazy and just get the most expensive haircut, than to figure out which is the *best* haircut. These gals were so popular you couldn’t get a haircut on weekends - the wait was too long. I tried one Saturday and just gave up. Even on weekdays they were crowded. The $65 hair artist was never crowded. The problem with being lazy and just getting the most expensive haircut thinking that it must be the best? You gotta go out in public with that hair!

So for close to 20 years those girls cut my hair. Some got married and had babies, but I don’t think any broke into the biz enough to give up cutting hair. When CDs became cheap to record, they sold them out of the shop. I bought a couple of Tejano CDs and tried to listen to them. I have no idea where they are now. Then, a couple of months ago, the place was closed when I went by to get a hair cut. And the next few times I went by they were closed, too. Finally, it seemed they were closed for good. No sign on the door about a new location - nothing. Maybe they lost their lease and scattered, maybe after 20 years they retired, maybe they were all married off and settled down to become full time moms, but I’d like to think she got signed to a million dollar recording contract and is somewhere on the top of the Latin charts on Billboard.

So if you see me walking down the street with my head cocked *way* to the left...

- Bill

Yesterday’s Dinner: Pollo Loco chicken breast & corn & clack beans.
Pages: 5 script pages.
Bicycle: *Did* ride to my meeting yesterday (which seemed to go well) and am in the bicyle today - though no epic Tuesday ride.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Hollywood Shake Ups!

Last week we had a little earthquake (5.4) here - well, actually out in the hinterlands east of us. Some shaking, minor damage, but nobody hurt. Of course, our local TV channels started 24 hour coverage - mostly helicopter shots of suburban Chino Hills where you can’t see any damage. Eventually they found a broken water main somewhere to endlessly show while local anchors talked about the quake. The day after they had liquor store security camera stuff of bottles falling off shelves plus some houses with cracks in the stucco. The biggest part of the disaster seems to be cell phone overload caused every single cell service to crash for a couple of hours - nice to know your cell phone will be worthless in a real emergency.

The last time we had a quake that got this much TV coverage was the Northridge quake 14 years ago. That was a 6.7 - with the highest ground acceleration ever recorded, and killed 72 people and injured about 12,000, plus it destroyed freeways and buildings and leveled shopping malls - $12.5 *billion* in damages. Back then I was still living in Northwest Van Nuys - pretty darned close to Northridge. I used to go to the movies at this dollar house in Northridge - riding my bike to get there - down the street that would later be the epicenter where apartment buildings pancaked. The Van Nuys apartment was my first place in Los Angeles - this second storey place used as a crash pad by all my Bay Area friends when we filmed the Dead Beat Videozine episodes. When I moved in, the neighborhood was okay... but it was heading south. Once I drove home late at night only to find the street closed and police everywhere. I asked a policeman what was going on, he said “They’re shooting”. I asked what the movie was... he answered, “No - they’re shooting people. Some gang bangers.” Sweet! I needed to move to a safer neighborhood, but to do that I needed to sell a script.

The building didn’t have assigned parking, but everybody always parked in the same spaces. I always parked right across from the stairs leading up to the balcony walkway that lead to my apartment. When I came home from grocery shopping, some idiot was parked in my spot, and I had to park way in the back of the lot near another stairway that was a lot farther from my apartment. So I had to lug groceries farther than expected. Swell.

The earthquake hit at about 4:30am. I was asleep. It hit *hard*. Directly across the street from my building a man was killed when a bookshelf crushed him while he slept. I was just about knocked out of bed. I own a lot of bookshelves - they all went down, spilling hundreds of books... but none of the shelves hit me. Lots of things broke. My refrigerator door opened and everything came crashing out. The funniest thing was a jar of spaghetti sauce in my kitchen cupboard ended up shattered on the wall of the living room - I still have no idea how that could have happened. Other jars of spaghetti sauce just ended up piled up on the kitchen floor.

I grabbed some pants, put on some shoes (skipping the socks), grabbed a shirt and tried turning on the lights... nothing happened. Power was out all over the valley. 4:30 am is *dark*... and the aftershocks just kept coming! The ground would stop shaking for a minute or two... then start again. I have to get out of this building! I stumble to the front door, get out to the balcony walkway and start to the stairway to where my car’s parked... then remember I’m parked way out in back! I change directions, run to the back of the building - and I’m not along, mind you - *everyone* in the building is running around in thrown on clothes or sweats. I get to the stairs, jog across the parking lot to my car, and drive to... I don’t know where I’m going to go. The ground is shaking everywhere. But I’m not the only one driving around - many people are driving around in a panic. I head to a big park out on Parthenia... figuring there are no buildings to fall on top of me there. Other people had the same idea. We’re all scared to death.

When the sun comes up, the aftershocks are still hitting but it seems much less frightening. I drive back - park in my usual spot (the idiot is gone) and I’m happy that my building is still standing.... but the stairs I almost ran down? They aren’t there! That idiot that parked in my space may have saved my life!

In my apartment, I have no power... no water. We’d get back power in about a day, but the water would be out for almost a week. No showers... we stank after a while. For drinking water they had tankers in that park - you had to bring your own container... and many people were there in tents riding out the never-ending aftershocks, afraid to go back to their homes. Tents popped up all over the valley in parks - people afraid to be indoors while the ground was still shaking. The National Guard came out in force - armed to prevent looting at the shopping mall. When the power came back on, I spent a lot of time watching the disaster on TV - the gas main that burst on a quiet suburban Northridge street - spraying *fire* into the sky. The pancaked apartment buildings. The mall that had collapsed. The freeway overpass that was turned to rubble - with cars on it. And the aftershocks just kept coming. You couldn’t sleep because another one would hit and you’d be scrambling for a doorframe to ride it out.

Oh, a piece of plastic tape with the word “Caution” on it stopped people from stepping into the abyss where the stairs once were at my building.

Somewhere in the middle of all of this - when I had been several days without a shower - the phone rang... it was Ashok Amritraj (DEATH SENTENCE, BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE ) (Hyde Park Entertainment) calling to see if a script he had read was still available... and if it was, could I come to his office tomorrow at 3 and meet with him, look over a contract, and probably pick up a check? Sure, no problem! Hollywood works even when there are major national disasters and engineers coming to make sure my building was safe to live in (red tagged and evacuated if not) and armed soldiers guarding the Montgomery Wards from looters. Los Angeles may be shaking, but the rest of the world wants to see movies! That means they have to make movies - even if they’re taking cover under their desks and praying they live out the day. The show must go on.

But I need a shower... I fill dozens of gallon jugs with water from the taker trucks at the park - probably causing a family of four to go without - and before my meeting I take a cold shower one gallon at a time (Navy style) so that I don’t stink when I meet with the producer of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s DOUBLE IMPACT. Clean, cruising on about 6 hours sleep over the past 3 days, I zoom up into the hills to Ashok’s house, where he had an office in his poolhouse. The meeting went well, and I ended up not only making a sale that would get me out of Van Nuys and into Studio City (you know, where Britney Spears lives), but would be the first of several scripts I would write for Ashok and the beginning of my go-go years where I averaged 3 films made per year.

Then I drove back to my shaking apartment building that was *not* red tagged. Eventually they got the water back on, and the aftershocks came less frequently. I could get a full night’s sleep without ducking for a doorway. A few months later I was in a nice 2 bedroom in Studio City in the same building as some TV actors and screenwriters.

So maybe this little shaker last week will bring a jolt to my career?

- Bill

Yesterday’s Dinner: Pastrami sandwich at Togos.
Movies: SWING VOTE - The most cynical, nasty film of the summer is here! This film trashes everyone, including the audience - when the film was over I felt like I had been spanked (and not in a good way). This film is dramatic proof that you can have a great idea for a movie and then completely screw it up.

Concept has the Presidential Election so close that it really all comes down to one vote in New Mexico (which has great film incentives) which was never counted because some idiot tripped over the electronic voting machine cord - pulling the plug at the exact perfect moment. The stub for that ballot gets traced back to Bud, played by Kevin Costner. He’s registered as an independent, and won’t tell anyone how he voted - and he has 10 days to cast his vote again. So both Presidential candidates come to his trailer park and pitch to him directly. One man will decide the fate of the free world.

And that man is Joe 6 Pack. His name is even product placement - Bud. The problem is, they make fun of him - the movie ridicules him and turns him into a complete idiot... even though he’s our lead. Our identification character. He’s a complete idiot, he lives in a trailer park, he works in an egg factory (but the movie doesn’t really get into egg processing at all - it’s like nobody did any research) and is constantly drunk. This is what they think of the average American voter... Thanks!

Now, there are things they could do to make Bud likable - but they don’t do any of them. In fact, they seem to go out of their way to do the opposite - to make him even more of an unlikable, impossible to identify with idiot. They could have made him really really funny - kind of the Adam Sandler method (though Sandler isn’t that funny) - but all of the jokes are on Bud - we’re laughing at him, not with him... except we aren’t laughing at him, either. He’s an idiot - you wonder what *Costner* was thinking. They could have had things happen to him that earn our sympathy - but when he loses his job at the egg factory it’s because he was stumble-bum drunk on the job and knocked over a whole pallet of eggs - right in front of the security camera. Nothing sympathetic at all. In my big 2 day class one of the methods I explain that can create sympathy in a difficult character is to give them someone to love - this worked for a *serial killer* in MONSTER. But here they give Bud a daughter, Madeline Carroll, who is “introduced” in this film, except I mentioned her in my tip on WHEN A STRANGER CALLS. Problem is that Bud doesn’t care about his daughter at all. He does nothing that a normal dad would do - in fact, *she* takes care of him. In the first few scenes he blows off a couple of important events in her life... and later in the film a Secret Service Agent knows more about the daughter than Bud does! This is a guy who doesn’t care about family at all.

Now, maybe we were meant to identify with the daughter instead of Bud? Problem there is that the daughter (Molly) pushes Bud so hard that she becomes annoying. She’s a shrew, a bitch... almost as annoying as Dakota Fanning in WAR OF THE WORLDS... and not sympathetic. The script gives us no doorway into her character. She’s a smart kid... but we don’t understand her - and I’m not sure there’s enough character there to be a real person. We are given nothing to make her sympathetic.

So, we have two unsympathetic people - and no one to identify with...

And then they introduce the candidates. Both sides are venal, evil, and stand for nothing. They constantly flip-flop just to win Bud’s vote. The film has been mostly humor free so far, but it gets a couple of laughs with campaign ads aimed at ONLY Bud that illustrate the flip-flops. Problem is, there are only two ads. Would have been better to have done a bunch of *quick* ads that just got crazier and crazier... but we get two. The candidates are played by Kelsey Grammar as the President and Dennis Hopper as the Democrat trying to unseat him. Both are stereotypes and hollow... easy targets. They attempt to give each a moment when they realize they are selling out - but these ring so false they almost make them even less sympathetic. And Hopper has a wife who slaps him because he’s lost his soul - only we never knew he had one in the first place (the film never showed it) and nothing is even set up to show us that she’d care whether he had a soul or not. The slap just seems completely out of place in this film.

Discussing this film afterwards with my friends, the movie that came up was DAVE - a great, funny film that kind of covers the same subject. But where Bud is a complete idiot, Dave is an every-man... a hard working guy who has kind of been left behind by the system who gets to run the country for a while - and run it in a way that helps the average joe instead of just leeches off him. Here, Bud is an uncaring, unfeeling, idiot - and none of the other characters are any better.

Flawed characters are more interesting than perfect people, but it’s still a matter of *balance* - your character can’t be all flaws! They have to have some redeeming value. Bud has nothing. Make a litle chart with two columns - one for flaws, one for assets. Keep the character in balance - don’t make them all of one or all of the other. Even a bad person needs some good elements.

Because this film needs to find to worst in everyone and everything, we eventually get to meet Molly’s mother - Bud’s ex-wife - and she’s a drug addicted liar living in filth. I guess everyone in the world is crap.

By the end of the film, Bud does an amazing 180 and cares about casting his vote - but this happens *minutes* before he votes. It’s that Egri thing again about no honest man becoming a thief over night. Bud just suddenly gets his shit together - and it’s so unbelievable that you think the writers must have thought we were idiots.

Oh, he has this speech about what idiots we American voters are. Thanks for crapping on me again! It’s bad enough you think the average American voter is Bud, you have to spank all of us watching the movie. You know, the one thing you can never do is crap on the viewer - they just paid to see your movie, and they aren’t gonna be happy.

After never really discussing a single issue, or the role of government, or even creating a single human character, Bud reads a letter from a voter who has some real problems... and it makes you cry. And you wonder why they didn’t have Bud discover the letters earlier so we could have a gradual change in the character - and maybe even get into some real issues and real problems. But this film doesn’t care about any of that - it just wants to crap on you.

Bicycle: Rode a bunch on Sunday, and will probably ride from a Starbucks to my meeting on Monday.

- Bill

Saturday, August 02, 2008

The War With SkyNet

You may have noticed that the Friday blog entry was late. Because I sleep late, and you probably don’t, I set up the blog entries ahead of time (usually the night before) and have them timed to pop up the next morning. Though there’s a complicated way to check out what the blog entry will look like before it runs, I usually just wait until I go on line to make sure things aren’t completely screwed up. When I went online Friday, no new blog entry. Did I make a mistake? I checked it out... and it seems my blog had been identified as “spam” by the Google computers. The notice apologized in the event it was not spam and that I was a human being wrongly accused of being a spam robot. I would have to do some things to prove I was human... and this would send a message to one of the six humans employed at Google to manually check out my blog to make sure I wasn’t some *really* clever spam robot that had figured out how to respond like a human to the Google computer’s human verification questions. This may take time...

The thing that frightens me about all of this is that the Google computer shuts down the website on its own... and *later* a human can correct any mistakes.

So begins the war with SkyNet... only John Conners can save us, now...

But maybe it’s already too late.

- Bill
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