Thursday, September 25, 2008

Investing In Screenplays

Okay, so the economy is going to hell, but films are doing just fine. Relativity (funding) is investing in Universal, the UAE is investing *$1 billion* in movies, and Disney is announcing all kinds of biog new movies - PIRATES 4, THE LONE RANGER (with Johnny Depp as Tonto) and NATIONAL TREASURE 3...



And what all three of these projects have in common is Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio - who have written or contributed to previous films in the series. Which makes them stars. Disney is investing in things they wrote.

That may have never clicked in your mind before, but a studio or producer doesn't buy our script - they *invest* in our scripts. They hope this investment will pay off in a hit (money making) movie. So part of our job is to create a sound investment.

Is your script a good investment?

- Bill

Kaiser Soze



If you are going to write a speech, make sure it is riviting. You are up against the sililoqy from HAMLET and "Once more into the breech" and the story of the Gold Watch from PULP FICTION and other amazing speeches. Any time you go more than 4 lines of dialogue (not four sentences, four *lines*) you have a speech. The cool thing about this speech is that it is not only our introduction to Kaiser Soze... it has a second level of information once we know the twist end.

- Bill

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

That 5 Cent Residual Check Is On Its Way!

Tuesday (today) 19:25 (7:25 PM) - Movies 4 Men 2 (UK)
BLACK THUNDER.

When the world's most powerful stealth jet fighter falls into enemy hands, only one man can get it back. Starring Michael Dudikoff, Richard Norton.

And... I'm famous in Brazil (and so is BLACK THUNDER)...
http://vaeveja.blogspot.com/

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TOMORROW'S SCRIPT TIP: Villains, Plans & Motivations and LAKEVIEW TERRACE.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Chicken Caesar salad at Fuddruckers.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Entertainment Weekly Hates Me

How out of touch with the real world is Entertainment Weekly Magazine?

Last month Paramount announced they were forming a new division to make D-2-DVD movies. That means almost every major studio is now focusing on the very profitable direct to DVD market. Universal released a DVD original SCORPION KING sequel to coincide with the MUMMY 3 hitting cinemas (and the DVD did better than the theatrical!)... and they keep cranking out AMERICAN PIE sequels every couple of months. Warner Bros has a D2DVD horror label, but since horror is beginning to soften, maybe they’ll come up with another label for action and comedy and thriller DVD premieres. The big daddy of D2DVD is Sony, which seems to be actively working on sequels to everything in the Columbia, Tri-Star and MGM libraries for the D2DVD pipeline. Fox *claims* they have a direct to DVD division, but where are the films? They seem to make a film a year - at best - and ignore outside producers. This is big business folks! Get with the program!

As your local Blockbuster is flooded with these new studio made direct to DVD titles, and Netflix buys truckloads of titles to ship to consumers who need to know how that Scorpion King guy got his start; Entertainment Weekly Magazine has gone through a redesign... dropping the DVD section completely. Now, a handful of DVD reviews are included in both the Movies section and the TV section. So when DARK KNIGHT hits DVD, it will be in a sidebar in the movie section. When the new season of THE OFFICE hits DVD, it will be noted in the TV section of the magazine. But when all of these new studio made direct to DVD movies come out? There is no place in the magazine for them anymore.

I have no idea why they made this decision. They must read the trades, too - and know that all of the studios are ramping up production of direct to DVD movies... Have they just decided not to review them? Not even to acknowledge them?

You may think this might be a quality issue - but some of these studio projects have budgets equal to or sometimes even larger than a low budget theatrical film. One of the reasons why the studios are making sequels to their library titles as D2DVDs is that the cost of *advertizing* a theatrical movie is $35.9 million (average). You read that right. Sometimes the cost of getting the butts in cinema seats is more than the cost of making the film! So skipping the cinemas is a way to make money. DVDs make something like 3-4 times cinema box office on DVD, and a big chunk of the DVD market are things that have never been shown on a cinema screen. By making D2DVD sequels to popular films, the studios believe the original film works as the advertizing for the sequel.

So you’re walking through Blockbuster looking for a rental, or you’re in Best Buy looking for a DVD to buy, and you want to know - is the new AMERICAN PIE movie any good? How about that GET SMART spin off that was a DVD original? How about SCORPION KING 2? The new LOST BOYS movie? ART OF WAR 2 - is it better than the first one? There is no way to find the answers in Entertainment Weekly. There is no section for these films... And SCORPION KING 2 was the #1 rental in the United States! LOST BOYS 2 and ART OF WAR 2 were in the top ten!

So there is an audience for these films... and that audience can’t read reviews or get *any* information in Entertainment Weekly Magazine. They don't even have a Top Rental Chart or Top DVD Sales Chart - it is as if DVDs did not exist! Why did they get rid of DVDs at the very time *studios* are making more original movies?

Write ‘em and ask: Where are the DVD original movie reviews in the magazine?
Entertainment Weekly's e-mail

- Bill

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

New Issue Of Script Magazine

You may or may not know that I'm the "West Coast Editor" of Script Magazine. The new issue of Script is on newsstands, book stores, and maybe even your mailbox (if you subscribe). Here's the table of contents....

Heroes and Miracles: Miracle at St. Anna
By Ray Morton
Whether you believe in miracles or not, some Divine intervention brought James McBride’s celebrated novel to the attention of celebrated filmmaker Spike Lee. Above writing a powerful screenplay, or creating a beautiful piece of cinema, both men hoped to honor the Buffalo Soldiers of the 92nd Infantry with their Miracle at St. Anna. To accomplish this feat, McBride and Lee delved into World War II history, Italian culture, and the firsthand accounts of black American veterans.

Script to Screen: City of Ember
by David S. Cohen
Caroline Thompson endured a long, difficult slog through development with the first post-apocalyptic children’s movie: City of Ember. As the screenwriter behind some of the most beloved characters in film -- from Edward Scissorhands to Black Beauty -- Thompson talks about her experience on Ember, her writing routine, and her new new-media venture.

Last Page First: Russell Gewirtz on Righteous Kill
by Aaron Ginsburg
With one action hit under his belt -- 2006’s bank-heist with a twist, Inside Man -- Russell Gewirtz had already achieved the pinnacle of screenwriterdom. That is until his second script, Righteous Kill, attracted two screen legends in what some are deeming an “historic” film event.

Un-Scripted With Shawn Ryan by Aaron Ginsburg
You wouldn’t know it now, but in 2002, gritty basic-cable dramas were not considered the norm. Enter Shawn Ryan and his seminal hit The Shield. After seven seasons of pushing the envelope, Vic Mackey and the Strike Team -- and series creator Ryan -- are ready for their final bow.

Networking
by Sandra Lord
In the second installment of her networking tips, Hollywood Networking Breakfast® creator Sandra Lord discusses the etiquette and practices of effective career networking.

ProdCo Spotlight: The Jim Henson Company
by Joshua Stecker
Decades ago, Jim Henson redefined educational programming. Is it any wonder, 40 years after Sesame Street’s debut, The Jim Henson Company has a new definition for the new-media generation?

Writers on Writing: Traitor
by Jeffrey Nachmanoff
Upon receiving the pitch for Traitor, Jeffrey Nachmanoff had some specific concerns about writing in the terrorism genre. Here, Nachmanoff explains how he wrote through those concerns.

Writers on Writing: Lakeview Terrace
by David Loughery
For the forthcoming Lakeview Terrace, David Loughery decided that he would not skirt the tough topics of race relations, suburban hypocrisy, and man’s territorial imperative.

Small Screen: The Starter Wife
by Debra L. Eckerling
Last summer, The Starter Wife mini-series became a must-see event. This fall, with scribes Sara Parriott and Josanna McGibbon on board, USA hopes The Starter Wife series inspires the same must-see fever.

Real Men Write
by Liz Alani
Based on the glut of Iraq-conflict films last fall, it seems like every filmmaker has an angle on the fallout of war. But, what about filmmakers who have been to war? It’s their turn to say something.

New Media: Not So Lonely Anymore
by Robert Gustafson & Alec McNayr
When LonelyGirl15 was revealed for what she was -- an actress playing a role -- she could have gotten the cold shoulder. Instead, creators Miles Beckett and Greg Goodfried got a development deal.

Independents: Film Market Mistakes
by William Martell
Every independent film that finds distribution will end up at the American Film Market in Santa Monica -- from Oscar® nominees to low-budget horror movies. How to make sure your film gets there.

Screenwriting Legend: Anthony Minghella
by Ray Morton
When an accomplished artist dies in the middle of an exemplary career, it is cause for sadness. But the work he left behind is cause for celebration. A look at the brief, yet prolific, career of Anthony Minghella.

For more info:
http://www.ScriptMag.com

PS: The pisser with this issue. They told me it was going to be a Do It Yourself theme, and all of the articles were going to be about making your own movie. Well, I've written all kinds of stuff about writing scripts for cable and Indie - and making the film yourself out of pocket. People think they can just write any script and then make it themselves... then they realize they have to schedule and budget the script. It's easy to type a new slugline, much more difficult to find a new location, secure a location (rent it or talk someone into giving it to you), and then a complete pain in the butt to pack up all of the equipment and move to a new loaction, just because you typed a new slug line. And it's easy to type up new characters, and end up with 30 or 40 characters... much harder to find 30 to 40 friends who can act, or actors who will work for free, or actors who will work cheap. Most people just never consider that what they write has to be filmed. I have an audio class on Indie Writing that goes over all of this... So for this issue I thought I'd write something about distribution - what you need to have. So many people make their film and have no money left over for all of the elements they will need to *sell* the film. Or they forget to take still pictures - or don't take enough. There's a huge list of things a distrib needs from you - and that's what my article was all about.

Except... I'm the only article in the issues about making your own movie! So the article looks weird. Hey, I just work here...

- Bill

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Meal Meeting Diet
(part three - Breakfast)

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

Okay, I have to pitch my take for a remake of a hit 1980s film to a legendary producer... and I haven’t seen the film since the 1980s when it came out. My *memory* of the film is sketchy. And I have another magazine article I have to crank out, plus the Arclight has been doing these screenings of new prints of sci-fi films, plus screenings of new prints of films from the 100 Great Film Series - often with director doing Q&A. Some friends and I have tickets to these, bought way in advance... and a couple of these screenings hit between MOW meal meeting and the remake meeting. I can handle it. I can handle it.

But I really have too much to do. And the first real problem is finding a copy of this film on DVD. I went to a couple of places to buy a copy, and they didn’t have it. Both places had a DVD with all of the sequels, but not the first film. Pisser. I know that I *can* find it somewhere, because it’s on Amazon. I should have just ordered it from Amazon, but I kept thinking I needed it *now* and couldn’t wait for delivery. But it would have been delivered by now, had I ordered it. The cold is what killed me - I just wasn’t thinking straight. Now that the cold is over, I'm thinking fine... and thinking that I should have ordered the danged DVD from Amazon. Anyway, I realize I can drive all over town... or just go down the street to Odyssey Video and rent it.

Odyssey is one of those places that has everything. They have two or three stores in Los Angeles, and that’s it. One store is right down the street from me, and I’ve rented there forever. On Tuesdays & Thursdays - every movie, including new releases, 99 cents. Can’t beat it when you want to see that film that got 5% on the Tomato Meeter to see it it really is that bad... or the latest Nic Cage “quirky hair” film. The great thing about Odyssey is that they keep new releases on the new wall until they stop renting well... and it becomes kind of a gauge as to how well your film is doing. For some reason, NIGHT HUNTER was on the New Release Wall for over a year - it was *always* rented out. I have no idea why. Many of my other films stayed on the wall *long* after studio new releases went into general population with the rest of the riff-raff. Anyway, I search their DVD section for this film and they don’t seem to have it - maybe it’s rented out. I go up to the counter, where they look it up and are shocked that they don’t have it on DVD at all... but they still have it on VHS. Hey, I actually still have a VHS player. I grab it - 99 cents a day every day - and watch it and take notes and watch it again... and keep it for 5 days.

I work out three different ways the story could go, e-mail the producer, and he picks one. Then I start to come up with how that story would work in 2010 (that’s when this film will hit your local cinemas). One of the major elements in this story has to do with the events of the time - and that has to be replaced with something new. And one thing that always bugged me about the movie is that it has an artificially happy ending. There is a huge tragic event in the story, and due to some fancy foot work on the part of the original writer, the tragic event is *erased* by the end and everyone lives happily ever after. One of those happy endings that makes no sense if you think about it... but everyone is grabbing their coats and leaving the cinema, and not thinking. So I come up with a cool solution to this that *keeps* the tragedy, and uses it for a big emotional scene at the end. Instead of a happy ending, we get a big cry ending. I think that works even better. I pitch my ending to a friend who has seen the original movie, and he thinks it works... and will be one of those “E.T.” “I’ll be right here” scenes (which is what I was going for).

Then I get the phone call... the meeting was supposed to be in the afternoon, but will now be a *breakfast meeting* at 9am. I don’t do mornings. I don’t do breakfast. I do not function at a high enough level at 9am to convince a legendary (and intelligent) producer that the end of one if his hit films doesn’t work, and I have a better ending. And this 9am meeting is right around the corner!

I transfer all of my notes to index cards, my cheat sheet for the meeting. But as I’m doing this, I’m coming up with new ideas and rearranging the cards and still fine tuning...

And I’m doing this up until about 2am before that 9am meeting. I *want* to go to bed early, but I just can’t sleep. I’m excited and nervous and worried. I keep going over the cards. I keep worrying that he will absolutely hate my ending.

Alarm goes off a few hours later, I shower shave dress, and head down to the restaurant for breakfast. I’m there a half hour early (as usual) and flip through the cards again - actually pulling out blanks and writing a new scene. I need coffee... and I almost cross the street to a Coffee Bean, but think that’s stupid - I’m about to go to a breakfast meeting. There will be coffee.

Legendary producer arrives, with two other members of his team. Everyone orders a big breakfast, as do I. Everyone orders coffee, as do I. There’s a little chit chat, then I pull out my cards and begin the show... but I’ve had a couple of sips of coffee and the caffeine hasn’t kicked in - I’m mostly reading off cards. This is good, because if I didn’t have the cards, I’d probably just be drooling or something. I get to the first indication that I’ve changed the impossible happy ending... and I see the Legendary Producer’s expression change. He hates it. Now, *I* think that when we get to the end, it will all come together, there will be that “I’ll be right here” ET moment, he’ll cry... and everything will end happily ever after (even if the movie doesn’t). Except... The producer has another meeting on his film in post (they’re about to lock it, and need to do any last minute changes), and has to split before I get to the ending. His two team members stay, and both seem to like my ending. Actually one really likes it, one doesn’t hate it. But the meeting is over, and I’ve taken *one bite* of my big breakfast... everyone else has cleaned their plates. The Legendary Producer actually cleaned his plate before zipping away to his meeting on the new film. Everyone else has probably drank three times the coffee as I have... because they were drinking coffee and eating while I was talking. So, when we leave, I look down at my big breakfast... and think for a moment about doggie bags and starving people in Africa and all kinds of other things... but don’t want to be the guy carrying the doggie bag out to my car, so let the busboy take it away.

Three meal meetings, and I probably had three to six bites of food total. When you’re the guy doing all of the talking, it’s difficult to eat at the same time. Maybe there’s some trick to it that I don’t know. Anyone know how to actually *eat* at a meal meeting?

So, now we have another meeting on the remake project before we go out to the studios.... and I’m not planning on eating anything at the meeting. If I keep having meetings, who knows how much I can lose.

- Bill

PS: Obviously VERTIGO has been bumped back to *next week*, but I figured a "real blog entry" would be better than "content generation".

PPS: As soon as this becomes more than a bunch of meetings and turns into an actual deal, I'll have some more entries - including whether my major end change stayed and what happens when we try to set this up at a studio (that begins on Monday). But I'm going to wait until it's over before telling you about it.

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Sullivan's Travels and 9/11.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Chicken tacos at Del Taco.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Meal Meeting Diet
(part two - BBQ Chicken)

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

I have a meeting with a *very* prolific MOW production company at the end of the week, I have to come up with a “take” on the remake of a hit 1980s film, and I have a killer cold.

I get absolutely nothing done while I have the cold, except blow my nose and goof off online. I actually write a new script tip - but nothing on the remake project. I get a call from the MOW producer - Friday at 1pm. This is great, because the cold is still a bit sniffly on Thursday, but will be gone by Friday.

And 1pm is a good time for a meeting in Simi Valley. That’s out in the boondocks on the very far edge of the 30 mile zone. Way out there. And it’s bedroom community for Los Angeles - so you *don’t* want to be heading there during rush hour. At 1pm, I can get there, have my meeting, and get home *before* rush hour. And even if the meeting lasts a bit longer than expected, I’ll be heading in the opposite direction as rush hour traffic. But Simi Valley? That’s a long way to go for a meeting.

Now, I’m a prompt person in a business where everyone is running late. So I’m in Simi Valley a half hour early... when I get the cell phone call pushing back the meeting two hours. So I figure I’ll just go to some Starbucks, open up the laptop, and work on the remake project. Except I can’t find a Starbucks. In fact, I can’t find anything. There is nothing to be found. One way, the road goes into the mountains. Another road leads into miles of tract homes. And then there’s the road that leads back to the freeway... where a strip mall and a gas station can be seen by big rigs zipping by. No Starbucks in the strip mall - but there’s a liquor store and a Round Table Pizza. Hey, I can work in the pizza place!

Except it’s mostly a delivery / take out place - *two* tables, *four* chairs total - no electrical sockets, so my 2 hour laptop battery is it. Not a problem, the meeting is in 2 hours. But it’s a meal meeting, so I wasn’t going to order a pizza... and they only have 2 liters of Pepsi and 20 oz bottles. I bought a 20 oz bottle, gave the guy behind the counter a $20 (all I had in my wallet was $20s, fresh from the ATM). He opens the register - no change. He counts out singles... and quarters... and there isn’t enough. He’s panicking. I ask if there’s a minimum for credit cards - yes there is. What about debit cards? No... hey, if I paid the $1.80 with a debit card, the change thing wouldn’t be a problem. I give him my debit card, he punches in numbers and runs it, hands it back to me... and he has charged me $18.00. Um, mistake. The guy says he can credit my card... but I’ll have to wait until the manager comes in. How long will that be? A couple of hours. Maybe sooner.

So I drink my $18 Pepsi and open the laptop and do a little work, but my brain just isn’t into it - I’m thinking more about the upcoming meeting, and wondering if the manager will return to credit my account before I have to leave for my meeting. As my battery is starting to flicker... my cell phone rings with the answer. The meeting has been pushed back until 5pm, now. This is all because they are trying to target one of their film’s meal breaks, and they were at a meeting in Westwood that ran late, creating a domino effect. So, now I’m stuck in this 2 table Simi Valley pizza place - without power - for a couple more hours. The manager comes, they credit my card and *give me* the Pepsi. I jot notes on the remake project... and at 4:30, I leave. So what if I’m early.

They have gates and guards and I have a drive on pass - just like any other studio. The place is huge - not as big as a real studio, but not like one of those converted warehouse places out in the north Valley. Kind of like CBS Radford or Raleigh. Gate guard tells me where to go. I get to the correct production office, and the person who recommended me for al of this is there. Introductions, conversation, apology.... It’s looking more like 6pm, now. This is the second to the last day on this shoot, and they have to get scenes on film before they can break for a meal. Okay. But they’ll give me a quick tour of the facility to kill time - which ends up being cool because they have all kinds of sets, including what looks like the CRASH DIVE submarine set (though I forgot to ask). They have 747 interiors, they have just about anything you can imagine - anything you would need for an MOW.

By the time 6pm rolls around, I was wishing I’d had a pizza. They break shooting for dinner, I’m taken by the office person who is, I guess, my contact at this company, to the area where the catering truck is parked and the tables are set up, and we grab a place in line to get food. Hey, is that Faith Ford? She’s the star of this MOW. And other actors I recognize. There are three choices of entree, I think BBQ chicken sounds good, I get a breast dripping with BBQ sauce and some yummy sides and am taken to the “adult table” to meet the two people in charge of production. One is good cop, one is bad cop. Or maybe that’s just their personalities. Or maybe that’s what makes for a good producing partnership. Whatever.

My contact person introduces me, “This is Bill Martell, the writer I told you about...” and then the introduction goes off track. I’m sure this person was trying to reassure them that I can write for an MOW budget, and that I’m less expensive than David Koepp, but if you can imagine the absolutely worst ways to say that - this was even worse than that! I would rather be introduced in a way that points up the best parts of my career, rather than things that might be the worst parts. No mention was made of those best parts. My personal problem is that I don’t brag well. I either say nothing, being modest... or when there is a glaring omission, I hit too hard. That easy middle that most people have - I have yet to master. I am a social misfit. I usually say nothing at all, or joke about my achievements. Anyway, there was no humor in the delivery of this introduction...

I scramble to set things right, but the conversation is already on to their company and what they do and what they’re looking for... and Bad Cop keeps hammering me on everything... and that delicious chicken breast drizzled with BBQ sauce sits untouched on te plate. I pick at the salad and vegetables. The chicken requires actual public mastication, and between not wanting to look like a hungry hack and not wanting to do a spit take with food in the event of further introduction details, it sits untouched on the plate. I *think* I get things back on track, and I *think* I correct my introduction, but the end result is... they need a script *now* that would appeal to families, and is something that my mother would enjoy watching on TV... and I don’t really think I have something like that. Oh, and it has to have a Christmas theme. I tell them about my Barrel Racer treatment, they want to look at it, and COMPLEX, which they want to read. And they say because they make 48 films a year, they are always looking for writers to work with and material - specifically scripts centered aroudn a holiday - that someone like my mom might enjoy watching on TV. So if I ever have anything like that, send it their way.

Meeting is over, cast and crew are going back to work on the film... and I’m leaving a plate full of food on the table. On the way out of Simi Valley, I head in a different direction... passing a big shopping mall with movie theaters and a Starbucks. If I’d know the geography of Simi Valley I could have hung out in that Starbucks (with power for my laptop) and worked until the meeting. Instead, basically a day shot and it takes a full week for that $18 credit to pop up. Now all I have to do is develop this remake pitch... based on a movie I haven't seen in 20 years and barely have a memory of.

And find some dinner.

- Bill

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Meal Meeting Diet
(part one - Chinese Food)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Bill

Monday, September 08, 2008

End Of An Era

A couple of days ago when I went online, all of my movie posters had vanished from my Script Secrets website. Stolen? How can someone steal gifs & jpgs? (Though - there’s probably and interesting MATRIX-like movie in that.) Actually, a couple were still there - but it was difficult to see which ones because that page is set to bounce you to the tip of the day after a few seconds. Eventually I figured it out... The missing pictures were on the old Compuserve site - still linked from there. And, I guess, the Compuserve site is finally gone - those servers have now gone dark.

When I first put up my Script Secrets website in 1997 the internet was a different place. I had started out on Compuserve years earlier - when the internet was black and green and you had to type some basic code to do anything. Compuserve was *the* place for people in the film business, or people who loved film. A bunch of pro screenwriters and directors and actors were there, along with Roger Ebert. In fact, Ebert mentions those good old days in a recent post in his blog. After a couple of years of green and black, AOL offered a world in color, and I jumped ship to the Follywood Forum. After posting there for a while, they actually offered me a moderator position (no pay, but they’d pick up my monthly fees). I turned that down - too much responsibility - and discovered that the other guy they went to was Terry Rossio - and that was the beginning of the Wordplay website. Terry began writing articles for the AOL site, and answering questions, and eventually jumped ship to his own site (with his writing partner Ted Elliott) - which is the best place on the web for screenwriters. Go there!

But I jumped back to Compuserve, which was in living color by that time, and used the names of forum members in a script - BLACK THUNDER. Don, who will be reading this, is one of a handful of people I’m still in contact with online. His character in BLACK THUNDER was a fighter pilot... and then in the remake they did last year. When Compuserve offered free web pages (at a time when your webpage was probably on tripod or aol or some other service) I signed up. I put some articles up, and eventually an advert and sample chapters for my book. Someplace along the way, it turned into an actual website with all kinds of articles and the Script Tip Of The Day. And box or poster art for all of my movies.

When I ran out of space on Compuserve, I bought ScriptSecrets.Com and transferred everything over. I got this deal with a webhost - they would pay ICAN for the domain name I signed up for 2 years of hosting with them. Deal...

But they somehow “lost” my domain name to some consulting company - and that consulting company offered to sell it to me for $2k. As they told me, that was only $1 per daily hit - cheap! As I told them, go eff yourself. I bought .net and paid for 5 years, I think. No chance of losing it again. And within a year, I had all of my hits back. And that consulting firm continued to try and sell me .com for $2k. Eventually they stopped - I believe it is *still* a dead page (actually, and advert for the consulting company with links to the company’s pages). And I’ve been on .net with a Script Tip every day for several years, now... and every year I write new tips and rewrite old ones. And the Script Tips are still 100% free. The website *costs me money* to operate.

But most of the gifs and jpgs were still housed on the decade old Compuserve homepage... even though I haven’t had a Compuserve account for about 3-4 years. The site was just floating out there on the web - in limbo. Then something happened - and the site no longer exists... and my gifs and jpgs on ScriptSecrets.Net vanished overnight. Had to scramble to fix all of the links so that the images would appear again. But the strange thing is, they didn’t get all of it - http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/wcmartell still takes you to a 2001 version of the website’s main page - with a bunch of dead links. That’s all that’s left of the first version of Script Secrets. Now, like Mad Max, it exists only in memory...

PS: Friday's VERTIGO article... is coming this Friday.

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Sci-Fi Research and THE ISLAND.
Yesterday’s Dinner: So, I was tired (did a class for Script Mag/Final Draft) and decided to just grab a sandwich. Pastrami. Was going to go to Togo's because it's close, but ended up at Subway. Where I got about a third of the meat I'd get at Togos... and the roll was smaller (maybe to make it look like there was more meat). Instead, small roll, less meat - made me think I was getting less food (which I was). Bigger roll, more veggie stuff would have made me think I was getting as much food (just not as much meat, which may be better for me). And, they always screw you at the drive thru!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Fishing Expeditions

A while back I posted that I had a bunch of companies reading scripts, so I figured I’d bring you up to date.

I have this page in a legal pad that says CHANCES TO WIN across the top. When I send out a script or have a meeting or some other thing happens that may result in my name of some silly action movie, I write it down. Hey, it this script sells - I can continue to play the screenwriting game! If it doesn’t, I just cross it out. The thing about the legal pad is that it’s pages and pages of crossed out scripts and a couple that became paying gigs. So out of those six companies reading a month ago, I think one is a possible deal and the one is still just floating out there and four are completely dead - crossed out.

One of the companies requested a script that everyone seems to love and has almost been made 3 times. At one point, a director was hired (paid) and did location scouting on the script for my rewrite... and I hadn’t been paid a cent, yet. We were making a movie! Then there was a change in management at the Cable Net, and all of the old regime’s projects were shelved... including mine. I got the script back, and a year later someone else wanted to make it - and something similar happened. So this script is going to land somewhere someday, but I’m just waiting for the stars to align. Instant rejection from this company - after they requested to read it. This is the kind of thing that confuses me - it wasn’t the idea... was it the execution? If it was the execution, how come the other companies almost made it? My guess is that the company was looking for *something* and had no idea what... so they were reading anything that seemed to be close. Just fishing...

There’s this balance required in this biz between not taking rejection personally, and being blind to the faults of a script. So there’s a moment of “Was it the script? Do I need to fix it?” But I don’t think that was the case here. Next!

One producer instantly sent me a contract... Some boilerplate contract, but a strange one. It was designed for producers without money to go fishing with the script as bait - low option money for a long time period, and when it came to purchase it gets fuzzy and impractical, because that’s not important to this “producer”. Now, I’ve signed “shopping agreements” - which are fishing expeditions - but are up front about that. They don’t tie up the script for *years*. This was a contract that was all about the “producer” not getting cut out of any deal if they set it up... not about actually making a movie based on my script. You know, if I’m the guy who owns the bait, what do I need this “producer” for? I did not sign the contract.

I’d looked this “producer” up after they called me - a couple of “co-producer” credits on small films. One of the problems with producer credits is that it’s often hard to tell who was an actual producer and who just had access to the star they needed or had a facilities deal the company took advantage of. On one of my films, a guy got a producer credit because he *introduced me* to the actual producers. He didn’t do anything. It was a script that had been passed around, and he tore off the title page, gave it to the real producers, and told them if they wanted to buy it, he had the writer’s name, address and phone number. He got a credit and a finder’s fee for that title page! The thing is - how do you know what that producer title means if you’ve never worked with them before? I figured it was worth a shot.

Another producer read the script, liked it, and asked me how much I thought it would cost to make. Could I come up with a budget for them? Oh, and do I know any stars? You know, there are things that are really not the screenwriter’s job. I suspect fishing was involved there, too.

The fourth - oh boy! They wanted a list of all of my available scripts to show to their studio connection... and some sort of $1 option on anything the studio connection wanted to read. I explained to them that my $1 option days were pretty much over... and they told me how amazing their studio connection was - but they wouldn’t even tell me what company this guy was at. Come on!

A few years ago I got this call from a producer named “Terry” who had an office on Sunset and had heard really good things about me, and wanted to meet with me about a project. I drive over to his office, we talk about this project he has and this star who is interested in it... but they need a script to take to his studio connection. Okay, so far... but, of course, they aren’t financed, yet, so if I could write it for free... Um, no. “Come on, it will be good for your career. You’ll get a credit!” First meeting, so I had a couple of - well, probably VHS tapes at the time - in my bag. I pull out CRASH DIVE and toss it on the desk. “I already have some credits.” The guy gives the tape to his assistant who puts it in the player on the other side of the office and hits play - and the movie starts. And it has submarines at sunset... and then my credit comes up, and “Terry” looks confused. “You wrote this movie?” “Yes. And several others.” (I probably pulled something else from my bag.) Seems that “Terry” didn’t look me up - pre-IMDB days, but there was Film Writers Guide and some online databases... and he could have just asked me. But he asks me one more time if I’d write his script for free, and I decline. And as far as I know they never made that movie, and now that we have IMDB I’ve looked up “Terry” under his real name and he’s done nothing. Nada. Zilch. I’m kind of surprised, because he either had huge balls or a pea brain - and either could get him places a normal person can not go. Lotta fishing goes on in this town.

You may be wondering where I find these people... but they’re the ones who find me. Usually someone passes them a script, or someone they have worked with in the past recommends me. So they often have already read a script when they call me. I do the best I can to vet them, usually just looking them up on IMDB (unless they mention some movie I’ve heard of) - and I usually ask what they’ve done. But that doesn’t always separate the nuts from the bolts. I figure if they come through with a deal, that’s great - if they just waste a little bit of my time, well... I’ve had *studios* waste my time.

One of the last two looks like it’s going to happen - should know at the end of this month (reffed twice, now) and one is still floating around... waiting to get crossed out.

But meanwhile some other things have taken the place of the crossed out chances. One is a remake of a 1980s movie for a studio (had a meeting on that Tuesday with the producer, two weeks from now with the studio). One is a movie for Spike TV - real producer with real credits. One is a movie for another cable-net (had a meeting with them a week ago - I thought it went terrible, they want me to bring them some scripts - may tell you more about that in a later post). And I have a producer who seems interested in taking a script to a studio’s new D2DVD label - that has an odd limited theatrical possibility. Probably most of those will be crossed off the CHANCES TO WIN list next month...

I guess I’m fishing, too... but at least I own my own bait!

- Bill

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Challenging The Elements .
Yesterday’s Dinner: Burger at Fuddruckers in Burbank.
Movies: HOUSE BUNNY - I’ve got to tell you up front that there are three reasons why this review will not be objective.

First - I’m in love with Anna Faris. Now, you’re probably thinking, "Bill, you don’t even know her... this is some low-level form of stalking! For all you know, she bites her nails... her *toe* nails." And that’s true - what I feel for her is not real love... hey, watch it! Though that may be truem it;s not what I was thinking. Here’s the thing. Anna Faris is beautiful and sexy and really really funny. She makes fun of her beauty and isn’t afraid to do anything for a laugh. Think of all of the movies where the only good thing is Anna Faris - start with those SCARY MOVIE movies. When she wasn’t in a scene, it was 47% less funny. And what about that movie where Ryan Reynolds was fat and then thin - she stole that whole movie in a handful of scenes! You’d forget what the movie was about, she was so good. I can remember her scenes, but none of the Ryan Reynolds scenes... and he was the star! Anna Faris is the best thing about any movie she’s in... and unfortunately that includes HOUSE BUNNY. Here’s one of the thing’s that’s great about her - she’s a real actress. What I mean is, sure - she can do a pratfall - but you always believe her characters are real, no matter how silly they may be. She plays the role without winking. She commits.

Second, I *used to be* in love with Beverly D’Angelo back in her VACATION days. Kind of the same reason - she was a funny, sexy woman. You know, the big problem with *most* sexy actresses is that they take themselves too seriously - and want to play sexy roles when they’re 60. Sylvester Stallone is the same - he wants to be a macho star when he’s eligible for Social Security. Here Bev plays the villain, and plays her age - which is good. If you are looking for that bubbly blonde that Clark Griswold videotaped in the privacy of their hotel room... well, that was decades ago. But she still looks good, and kind of plays the characters she would have been fighting against a couple of decades ago. I still have a soft spot for her, and it’s always good when an actress who is over 40 gets a major role in a film.

Third, I know the screenwriters, Karen and Kiwi. They wrote LEGALLY BLONDE. We’ve been at some screenwriting events together, and several times have gotten danged drunk. Kiwi loves me - and Kiwi also loves you. She loves everyone. I believe they were at Santa Fe Screenwriting Conference the time Oscar Winning Screenwriter Bill Kelly (WITNESS) got into a fist fight with a college screenwriting professor at dinner - and food and screenwriters were flying! It was every bar room brawl from every Western movie you’ve ever seen... but with Screenwriters. Anyway, we were all drinking and eating and enjoying the entertainment. So those gals are great in my book!

The film, though, has some problems.

Anna Faris is a Playboy bunny who lives at Hef’s Playboy Mansion, but gets kicked out on her 29th birthday because she’s too old... you see, that’s like 59 in “Bunny Years”. She ends up homeless, sleeping in her car, until - while looking for a place to live on the Westside - discovers a Sorority House for nerdy brainiac girls that needs a new house mother. And hijinks ensue... just not really funny hijinks.

There are two big problems, starting with shallow, sketchy characters. Instead of characters, we get caricatures. That one line description in the casting breakdowns. The “evil Bunny” at the Mansion (who kicks Faris out without Hef’s permission) is just Eeeevilll! No real motivation or character. She has a henchman - who used to be Faris’ best friend - kind of the token male. Why does he suddenly completely destroy his best friend Faris? Because Evil Bunny twists his nipples - literally. None of the characters have anything going on beneath the surface. Now, you may think because this is a comedy, there’s no need for character depth - but we still need to believe these folks aren’t cardboard cutouts. I mean, Ted Stryker in AIRPLANE is a flawed character working through a past tragedy... and that’s a unrealistic comedy. Here, we have a comedy that is supposed to be real - the real Hef is in the film and the real mansion. These characters - all of them, including Colin Hanks as the love interest - need to be fleshed out and given some depth.

One thing I realized is that *because* Anna Faris’ character is a ditzy Playboy Bunny, the character needed to be more than surface. Because if the cliche for characters like this is that they are all surface, you need to do something to add depth - or you end up with the cliche... and that’s a caricature. Think of Forest Gump - though he is a very simple man, he is in a complex time and complex relationships and complex situations - and through these things we can see that he had deep feelings. This goes for any “type” of character - tough cops need to have an emotional / vulnerable side. In DIRTY HARRY (semi-spoilers for Emily) Harry is a brutal cop... who talks about the loss of his wife in a car accident. That shades him. That gives him an additional layer. Here - everyone is surface... and the problem with a movie about a character type who we see as all surface is that they can’t be portrayed as all surface.

Would have been nice to peel back a layer of Anna’s character and see that she is more than her surface - and the facade was created for some reason we identify with.

Colin Hanks, who looks too young for Anna, though for all I know they’re the same age, plays the love interest - dropped into this story from nowhere. He’s a nice guy who inherited a rest home and just happens to be walking down the street one day and bumps into Anna - and because he’s the only man in the film, he gets to be the love interest. Hanks has no depth, either - he’s a cliche nice guy. I don’t know why they find each other attractive, and I don’t really know what either want in their lives.

One thing I thought of while watching the movie - interesting that this is a movie about 3 homes. We have the Playboy Mansion, the Zeta Sorority House, and the Rest Home. Kind of wish the movie had thought of it.

Second big problem - the film screws up it’s own premise. Okay, you have the hot but not brainy Bunny who moves in with the nerdy and brainy sorority girls. Each has something the other lacks - which makes this a good premise. So, you know by the end of the film that Anna will teach all of these plain-janes how to be hot, and the girls will teach Anna to be more than a bimbo. Except, that doesn’t happen.

There is a scene where Anna takes the girls out to shop and spa (how they pay for this is never explained), but there is really no instruction and no transformation. When the girls return from their day with Anna, we don’t recognize any of them. I mean, we really don’t recognize them. We don’t know which plain-jane became which hottie. No step-by-step transformation, so it’s almost as if they just cast some new girls. You spend most of the rest of the movie trying to figure out who is who.

When you look at a film about characters going through some sort of physical transformation, like Kim Novak in VERTIGO going from low-class shop girl to sophisticated lady - we see each step in the process, because to some extent that is what the film is about. Eliza Dolittle doesn’t become a lady in a 30 second montage - the film is about her change.

And when Anna feels she isn’t intelligent enough for Colin, do the brainiac girls help her? No. They are not involved. We get a scene with Anna at the library reading a pile of books... and then she’s smart! This goes back to that Egri thing about character change - you need to show all of the steps, or else it seems false.

I wondered why they didn’t use the premise - and have Bunny help Brainiacs and vice versa. Did they think it was too obvious (but the 2D characters weren’t)? Too expected? Well, then set up something less expected! Once you set up the story, that’s the story. If you can’t find a “Door #3" (DEJA VU co-writer Bill Marsilli’s term for the completely original and unexpected choice or solution to the problem) then your only choices are following the logical lines of the story you’ve created... or create a *different* story. Chance the premise so that your story is less obvious. But ignoring the premise you’ve set up? Completely unsatisfying. If you are looking for the *best* solution - it’s the one where the story works, even if we’ve seen it before. The “solution” where the story doesn’t work at all? Crap. In the case of a light comedy like this - I think we all know how it ends and what we expect from the story. If the script gives us something *better* than we expected, great! But if it gives us much less than we expected - um, I’m not buying the DVD and telling my friends that it isn’t worth the ticket price. This is the kind of thing that can probably be traced back to a bad development note - hard to believe the writers who come up with the premise, then ignored it. Karen and Kiwi are too smart for that. Or it may have been in direction - the transformations may have been given enough time on the page, but the director didn't understand how important it was and just trimmed it down. That happens - directors sometimes don't know how stories work.

The story is the story. If you want some other story, tell some other story.

As HOUSE BUNNY goes through the motions of plot with the sorority girls about to lose their house to the Eeeeevilll Sorority, we get not enough laughs... except for Anna Faris doing something silly or giving a funny line reading or doing some small thing that’s funny. A serious gag & joke shortage! Never underestimate the importance of funny stuff in a comedy! Make sure your characters are more than just surface! And whatever your premise is, well, that's what it is!

- Bill

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Is It Because I Have A Penis?

The new season of TV is about to begin... and my penis may be getting in the way!

I have never been a regular TV viewer, but I have gotten hooked on some shows for a while. So there was a time when I was home every Thursday night to watch the NBC lineup - SEINFELD to ER, including whatever half hour show they were trying to make work in that leftover slot (NEWS RADIO, whatever). But the shows fade, or run their 10 years, and I move on. Every so often some new show looks great, I watch it for a while... and then it just screws up. I watched 4 seasons of 24, hoping that they would figure out how to make the show work - but the cougar attacks and madmen of the week kept on coming. There were always episodes that seemed like fillers, and things that were *really important* in episode 5 that were forgotten in every episode after that. So I quit watching. I came in late on LOST - and it seemed like a house of cards show that could never add up to anything... maybe I needed to start from the beginning on that one.

There are two shows on TNT that get a lot of critical attention and Emmy notice, CLOSER and SAVING GRACE, so I thought I’d try them out. TNT does new episodes during summer, which is a great idea - they probably make fewer new shows, but they air while everyone else is doing reruns or crap reality shows.

CLOSER is a typical cop show built around a female detective name Brenda (Kyra Sedgewick) who can get a confession out of anyone. She’s an interesting, human, character and her personal problems are B story or runner in every episode. But the main story is crime-clues-confession. Some good twists, you don’t know who the killer is until the end. And the supporting characters are interesting and fun. The show has some wiggle room, and uses it - last week’s episode was dead serious, about one of the guys on the homicide team’s brother being shot on the street, and how difficult it was for him to just go home and let his fellow detectives handle it. He wanted to *do something*. It was very emotional, and had one of those great 1st season LAW & ORDER reveals - the reason the brother was shot was because he was wearing a baseball cap that looked like it belonged to a rival gang... and it was the brother cop who gave it to him as a gift. A couple of episodes before this they did a comedy with Jennifer Coolidge (Stiffler’s mom) as a trophy wife who hires a hitman to kill her husband. The hitman was one of the detectives, GW Baily, undercover. They have the whole thing on videotape, all of the evidence in the back of the Baily’s car... and the car gets stolen! Now they have to get the evidence back before anyone knows it’s missing... and hijinks ensue. Same show, and same confession device - in this episode, GW Baily - who is Brenda’s mentor - has to prove himself by getting Jennifer’s confession... as Brenda, in another room, gets a confession from the killer. Both episodes worked as cop show and character shows - which is why all of the Emmy nominations.

So, I’ve seen every episode of CLOSER I’ve recorded, but only made it through one episode of SAVING GRACE... abandoning the others after the first commercial break. GRACE pretends to be a cop show, and stars Holly Hunter and Laura San Giacomo - two actresses I really like. I like them more than Kyra Sedgewick. But I don’t like the show, and I suspect it may be because I have a penis.

Where CLOSER is a typical cop show with a crime that is solved, GRACE is something else. The cop show part takes up about 15 minutes of the hour long show, and the rest is all about the characters. The crime is a subplot. The show is looser and more realistic and seems more natural... because most of the show is “plotless”. The main story seems to be about Grace, her Guardian Angel who sometimes only she can see and hear and other times gets involved in bar fights with people - I don’t understand the rules of this angel, and the other cops who work with Grace: one is dealing with the death of his brother, one is in deep cover and misses his wife and kids, one seems to have a sex addiction problem, and all of the others have problems and relationship issues and spend the episodes drinking and dealing with problems and arguing with each other... and maybe they solve a crime in their spare time. And it comes off as a soap opera to me.

Now, maybe I needed to get in from the beginning, like with LOST. Maybe if I knew these characters and their issues it would seem less soapy. But I came in late to NYPD BLUE and never had a problem with that show. NYPD was in syndication, playing late night on weekends in LA, and being an insomniac, it was the only thing on that wasn’t showing me how to use this portable appliance to completely cook a frozen turkey in less than ten minutes. So I began watching it in the middle of season 3... and had no problem understanding all of the relationships on the show. That was probably because there were usually 2 crimes per episode, then a couple of minutes of TV safe nudity involving the off duty relationships. Andy (Dennis Franz) was an amazing flawed character, but most of his character came out during the search for the criminal portion of the show.

I have a theory that any halfway decent writer can write a *great* stand alone scene. In fact, any halfway decent writer can write two dozen *great* stand alone scenes. The problem is making all of those scenes connect to each other and add up to something. When a scene is on its own, it’s free to do whatever it wants - it can begin where it wants and end where it wants and what happens can be unusual and interesting and take characters right up to the edge of a cliff... But when a scene has to be part of something larger - a story - it has to start (more or less) where the last scene ended, and the characters must do and say things that are story related, and it needs to advance the story - so it has to service the story, and it can’t end at the edge of a cliff (metaphorically) because there’s a scene after it - so it must end in a way that leads us to the next scene. Once your scenes have to be part of something larger - the story - they have many more responsibilities... and are no longer free. They *serve* the story. And those scenes are much much much more difficult to write.

On GRACE, we get character without crime. Just scenes of one of the characters dealing with their alcohol problems, or sleeping with some other cop’s wife, or... Well, they are stand alone scenes that don’t service the plot, because the plots tend to be ultra-simple things that can be resolved in 15 minutes of TV time (probably 11 minutes). There is a crime, there is a suspect, they capture the suspect, the end. No complications, no false trails, no twists. Those things are on CLOSER - and that’s why the scenes on CLOSER can’t go off on some wild tangent that leads nowhere... and why CLOSER needs to show character as it relates to story, not in some separate scene. GRACE is all over the place with a dozen character subplots... and to me these dramatic scenes that are peripheral to the cop part seem like a big soap opera. Tune in next week to find out if Bobby gets caught sleeping with Darlene! Though NYPD BLUE had a continuing character story as well, it wasn’t the *focus* of the show. They had those 2 crimes to solve. On GRACE, so much of the show is continuing character that it turns into EDGE OF NIGHT - a soap opera about cops. Hey, it’s a high quality soap with great actors, but still a soap.

Which got me thinking about shows that have no genre to guide them and focus on the problems of their characters almost exclusively - we’re getting a new version of 90210... that was a high school soap opera. DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES is basically a soap. Isn’t it about time for a reboot of DALLAS, which was a “primetime soap”. When you take a dramatic TV show out of the cop shop or the hospital or the court room you end up with all of the big character scenes without the anchor of a genre - and it gets soapy. And I started thinking about *films* that skip the whole genre thing and end up straight dramas about people dealing with their problems - some of these films work, but others really do get soapy at times. The character’s personal problems get kicked up a dramatic notch in order to fill the screen, and we get soap.

But maybe the only reason why I care about that is because I have a penis.

Soap operas appeal to women viewers more than men. And I think shows like DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES and SAVING GRACE probably appeal to women more than men. And I think those drama films like LORENZO’S OIL appeal to women more than men. Men have that mechanical thing - we want to see all of the pieces come together... and become a 1968 Ford Mustang or something. We’re frustrated when the assembly process gets slowed down... or doesn’t seem to exist. Women seem to be all about the feelings, the scene, the emotions... and it may not matter if it ever adds up. Yes, these are generalizations. I’m just trying to figure out why a critically acclaimed show like SAVING GRACE makes my head explode like that guy in SCANNERS. Why I can’t make it through an episode. After 15 minutes of characters dealing with their drug issues and sex addiction issues and betrayed friendship issues and all of these little character issues, I turn it off... Yet, last week’s episode of CLOSER which was all about cop Raymond Cruz dealing with the death of his brother... while he was ordered to go home and not do the job he was trained to do: find the killer... was amazing, emotional TV. And, I think deeper than anything on that one episode of GRACE I made it through. Maybe it didn’t seem as “natural” because it was tied to plot, but that end where he reveals he bought the baseball cap and then completely breaks down was a *moment* - and worthy of an Emmy nom for Cruz.

So... do we need plot and story? Or is that just my penis - and we can have a bunch of character scenes that have nothing to do with each other? What do you think?

- Bill

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