Friday, October 31, 2008

If I Owned A Cinema Chain

In Los Angeles, it costs $11.50 to go to the cinema - and that's before you buy popcorn and a soda and red vines.

In today's crappy economy, what I would do if I owned a cinema chain is lower the ticket price to $10 maximum, and lower prices *everywhere*, to make the movies the inexpensive destination for entertainment. The cinema chains make most of their money on that popcorn and soda anyway. I'd also come up with a "family pack" that would include popcorn and sodas and tickets - like some sports arenas do. Maybe even a "family night" - like Tuesday or Wednesday, slow nights, with $5 tickets. Basically, *use* this financial downturn to build the cinema audience and get people in the habit of seeing movies.

Though movies have usually done great business in hard times, offering a low cost escape from all of the problems of the real world, this is the first time we’ve had financial troubles *and* so many different types of inexpensive home entertainment. Not only can I cruise the internet and argue about films and screenwriting with people from around the world in message boards, I can go over to HULU and watch old TV shows *for free*. I can stick around the house and pop in a DVD of a film that came out six months ago and watch it on my home entertainment system. I can also watch cable and network TV - and there are some good shows out there... though TERMINATOR has jumped the shark and I think they screwed up MY OWN WORST ENEMY by mixing up his personalities before season 2. Though I’m not a gamer, that’s another thing you can do at home for very little money.

All of these things that weren’t around last time we had a financial crisis may be taking the audience away from the cinema. But people need to get out of the house now and then or they’ll get cabin fever. When you’re at home, no matter how big your screen is, the bills are still there on the kitchen table waiting to be paid. Hard to escape your problems when they’re in the next room. So there is a need to get out of the house... but if it is too expensive to go to the movies, people will go somewhere else.

About 20 years ago a cinema chain did $2 Tuesdays and actually made *more* money per week... until the studios shut it down. The studios thought that the Tuesday night audience would have paid Friday night prices... but they didn’t realize these were two different audiences. The Tuesday night crowd was made up of people who didn’t go to the cinema because they thought it cost too much. They’d stay home and watch the movie when it came on TV. But at $2? Heck, no brainer - let’s go to the movies!

That's still a great idea - and you don't lose money from those Friday and Saturday night crowds because they still go on those nights. You pick up people who don't usually go to the movies; and 20 years ago, people like me who went to see some movie I didn't want to pay full price for. Guess what? That was $2 from me the cinemas were never going to get any other way. I’m not going to pay full price to see a movie that’s probably bad, but $2? Heck, no brainer - I’m going to the cinema!

So the studios really have nothing to worry about if a cinema chain does a $2 Tuesday or a Family Night with a discount package, or some other way to entice those folks with cabin fever and a limited disposable income.

I always wonder why the guys in the head office at the Cinema Chains don't come up with things like this. Timing is everything - and now we have this financial crisis where people will have less disposable income. So you lower the price and get them hooked on movies. It's good for everyone - families can afford to get out of the house, and they will buy popcorn and soda and red vines, and hopefully they get into the habit of going to the cinema... and keep that habit when things get better. Plus, the *kids* get used to going to the cinema and, like Catholics, you get 'em for life. I think one of the reasons why I became a movie fan is that my Aunt managed a movie theater and would sneak in my family for free some times. So I saw movies in the cinema at a young age, and enjoyed the experience. There really is something about sitting in the dark in a place where your phone isn’t ringing and all of the responsibilities of your life have been left outside the cinema doors, and having this larger than life story play on that big screen. It’s really a shared dream. Being in that dark cinema transports you into that world on screen in a way that your big screen at home can never do. Once you’ve experienced that as a kid, you want to experience it again and again. But there are kids today who have probably never been to the cinema - or seldom go. It’s just too expensive for many families. But a family discount package or a $2 Tuesday? Let’s go to the cinema!

But Cinema chains have to fo this *now*. They have to take advantage of the timing.

There was this church run coffee shop across the street from my local Starbucks. It was a good place to go if Starbucks was too crowded... because it was always empty. Now, it wasn't overtly religious or anything, just on the church property and owned and run by the church. I'm sure they used it for youth groups sometimes and they probably did most of their business after church on Sunday. But the other 6 days - empty. No reason why a Starbucks customer couldn't be stolen away by them. When the Starbucks closed for *a full week* for remodeling, this church coffee shop did *nothing*. Starbucks had announced they would be closing for a week in advance, and the church coffee shop could have printer flyers and littered the apartments with them as if they were Thai restaurant menus. They could have put a big sign in their window facing Starbucks. They could have even sent someone with flyers over to the Starbucks while it was closed - people were still going there. For one week, they were the closest coffee shop for hundreds of people. They did nothing... and went out of business a couple of months later. When the door opens, you have to walk through. It’s all about timing.

A cinema chain can’t sit on their butts and then do this after the window of opportunity has closed. They need to strike while the cliche is hot! They need to do this *now*. And the Studios need to be onboard. The great thing about this is that it’s not just a way to lure a new audience into the cinemas and convert a bunch of kids into film fans and sell popcorn and red vines and soda... this is a great PR move. Imagine how much press a cinema chain would get if they lowered prices due to the tough times in America. That’s free publicity! The thing is - it only takes one cinema chain to do this... and the others will have to follow. Who wants to be the cinema charging $11.50 to see the same exact movie you can see at the cinema down the street for $10? And who wants to be the cinema showing PRIDE AND GLORY to 5 people on Tuesday night when you can fill every seat with people who paid $2? Do that math on that - it’s a no brainer.

And I will not be seeing PRIDE AND GLORY at full price. Not gonna happen. I saw WE OWN THE NIGHT, why would I want to see it with different actors? But there’s this thing with DVD prices that applies to movies not on my “must see” list. When a DVD of some movie like the remake of ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 starts at $20, I’m not going to buy it. When it gets down to $15, still not going to buy it. When it hits $10, it’s not going in my basket. When it hits $7.50 at Target, I think about it. When it lands in that $3.99 bin at Circuit City? Buy! At $3.99 I’ll buy a DVD for a movie I thought was just okay, because some day I may want to see it again. Same thing with cinema tickets for some movie that doesn’t interest me and is getting mixed or even bad reviews. There is a price low enough that I’ll go just to say I’ve seen it and it really does suck. So PRIDE AND GLORY at $2 or $3? Buy! Hell, I’d see the talking Chihuahua movie at that price. I’d see GIGLI for that price. Doing a discount day is a great way for a bad movie to make more money. And the cinema chain gets my soda money and red vine money (unless I sneak them in - hard to do with a soda, though).

Good PR, increased audience, building the future audience, and survival in this age of a million things to do... some Cinema chain needs to step up and do this.

That way, I won’t have to pay full price to see those damned talking dogs.

- Bill

Top 5 Halloween Special!

Okay, you may not know this, but I am a contributor to the Top 5 Comedy List (movie list) which is one of the longest running internet comedy thing-a-ma-bobs. Five days a week, Chris White sends a Top 5 list to your e-mail box for a low yearly subscription. And there are the "Little Fivers" - that are a weekly list on a variety of subjects (like movies), which I think are free. This year, they've done a little visual list for Halloween...



For more info: Top Five Comedy Lists! - and check out the movie Little Fivers for some of my contributions.

- Bill

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"Get Off My Lawn!"

There are directors who take years to make a single film... and then there's Clint Eastwood. He made *two* World War 2 movies back-to-back, FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS and LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA. Right now he has THE CHANGELING in cinemas... and a few weeks form now he has another film coming out...



Looks like GRUMPY OLD DEATH WISH - and looks like a movie I'll see on opening day.

- Bill

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: The Pitch Reveals how your pitch shows the flaws in your story.
Yesterday’s Dinner: El Pollo Loco... when I could have had a free taco at Taco Bell!

Pages: Monday - 4 pages on the Top Secret Project script, which is also not FREE WILLY. But that's a good guess. We've gone to script! I'm still writing today (Tue) so I don't have a final page count.

Bicycle: I have been cycling regularly - though not today because I did laundry (ah, the romantic life of a Hollywood writer!) and stayed close to home.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Big Break

Thursday night was Final Draft’s Big Break Party, where the winners of the annual screenwriting contest are announced. For the past couple of years it was at this nightclub on Hollywood Blvd, I forget the name, that had multiple rooms and always had a Halloween party going on the same night in some other room, with hot women in skimpy costumes stepping out into the common area. There were probably hot men, too - but I didn’t notice. They also had a red carpet and interviews - just like the Oscars. This year was at the Knitting Factory, another Hollywood Blvd night club - but no red carpet and no Halloween party in the next room.

I’d had some meetings on the top secret studio project earlier in the day. Kind of some good news bad news (though it was really all good news) - things are progressing well on the business side, but some new ideas and some new characters means yet another version of the treatment. I’ve lost count at this point - but there have been a lot. I actually got a little pissy in the meeting, because one of the major changes is a change back to something that was in a previous draft (a few drafts back) and when the decision was made back then to make that change, I asked if they were sure that’s what they wanted... it was a little strange. I guess I should have just smiled at Thursday’s meeting and thought “I told you so”, but this was a difficult change to make in the first place, and changing it back means making a bunch of big changes to the current version. It’s like a house of cards. Hey, my job is to give them the script they want, so I’m going to stop whining and start working. I rode mt bike to that meeting, and was feeling pretty good... but when it was time to go to the party, I was losing steam.

The thing about parties like this is - should I eat first? If I eat first, there’s always a ton of hors d’oeuvres. If I don’t eat because the invite mentions food, there are two trays of crackers and cheese that are empty by the time the server gets to me. I hadn’t eaten dinner, and didn’t want to be one of those two beer drunks - especially when the drinks are free. So I figured I’d better eat something, and wolfed down some Carl’s jr burgers and fries on my way to the party. So, you know what that means...

All kinds of food. Tons of food. Mini burgers. California roll. Chicken skewers. Veggies. Cake. Cookies. When I arrived, there was an endless flow of food - but I had just eaten. Pisser. And the food looked better than my quick drive through meal.

If you didn’t know, Final Draft software *bought* Script Magazine a couple of years ago, so they are technically my employer (one of them - pizza and beer money). So I said hello to the boss and he complimented me on my Deliverance article a few issues back. I also said hello to my other boss, Shelly the editor. When Final Draft first bought Script, they were really “hands on” and wanted to target the magazine to WGA members... which was a mistake. There are fewer WGA members than general screenwriters (people trying to break in, etc) and the WGA has its own magazine. So we had a rocky couple of issues after the “merger”, then Final Draft realized if it wasn’t broke, don’t try to fix it, and let Shelly go back to targeting general screenwriters. The magazine has done well, and if you live in Los Angeles or New York, you may have noticed it in your local Blockbuster Video Store - they ordered it from the distrib for their store’s magazine rack. Right next to Entertainment Weekly and Premiere. Kinda cool.

One of the cool things about a party for screenwriters is that I’m likely to know someone. I am shy around strangers, making me a bit of a wall-flower at most parties, but here I know all kinds of people. I bump into Joe and Charles from the Scriptwriter’s Network, which I’ve been a member of since moving to Los Angeles about 19 years ago. I haven’t been to a meeting in months, so we had plenty to talk about. The organization is starting a new international program where the monthly meetings will be podcast, so that you can hear whatever big name screenwriter is our guest speaker. I also bumped into Will and Kel from Done Deal, who are now married (Congratulations!). I remember when Kel moved to Los Angeles, she ended up in an apartment on my street and I went to her house warming party. I also remember when Will (and his business partner Jennifer) started Done Deal, I think as a Tripod website. Now it’s huge! I was one of the first screenwriters they interviewed when they got their own domain, and we talked about doing a new interview when my big deal is officially announced. I also talked to cute little Debra who writes about TV for Script, and a bunch of other writers I know.

They hustled us into another room, with a stage, where they announced the winners of the Big Break Contest - and there is *always* one from the U.K. Always. I don’t know why that is. After the winners grabbed their trophies (and, I think, checks), then introduced the Lifetime Achievement Award Winner - Stephen J. Cannell. After some screen and projector hi-jinks they showed some clips from his TV shows, Rockford, Greatest American Hero, A-Team, and over 2 dozen others. I grew up watching all of these shows. In fact, Cannell is one of the reasons why I am a screenwriter.

You may have heard me tell this story - when I was young (high school or middle school, I don’t remember) I started to notice those credits on movies and realized that someone wrote them. That was their job - writing movies. I wanted that job! My Grandmother had a subscription to TV Guide Magazine (my parents did not - if you want to know what’s on TV, just change the channel) and in the back there was an advertisement for a place that sold scripts from your favorite TV shows. I don’t remember how much they were, but I worked my after school job and saved my money and sent away for scripts from my favorite TV shows - Rockford Files and Colombo and The Law - and watched the mail box every day like a kid waiting for his mail order cereal prize. When they came, I read them, studied them, and even measured them to find out what the margins were supposed to be on a screenplay. Then I started writing my own scripts. But here’s the thing - that Rockford Files script was written by Cannell. He became one of “My Writers” - the people who wrote movies or TV shows that I loved. Levinson & Link were on that list - they created Colombo and wrote some great TV stuff. Lawrence Kasdan was on the list - he wrote RAIDERS and EMPIRE and CONTINENTAL DIVIDE and BODY HEAT. Paul Schrader was on the list, and John Sayles and John Michael Hayes and Ernest Lehman and some others. When any of those guys had a new TV show or a new movie, I *had* to see it.

So it was cool to honor him, and he gave a great inspiring speech about driving a truck for his dad’s company and writing scripts in his spare time... and doing this for *years* until he got his big break and someone actually bought one. If you want to do it, keep doing it. Don’t give up doing what you love. Part of that is loving it in the first place.

After he got his trophy, they DJ jumped in and started playing music so loud none of us could hold a conversation anymore... and it’s a room full of writers, so no one was dancing. You know, for writers I think loud dance music probably isn’t the best choice. How about some nice jazz that can play in the background while we talk?

Several beers later, I was ready for some food... and there were no more servers with trays. There *was* a tray of cookies on a table, but all of the really good oatmeal cookies were gone. There were some sugar cookies... but what I really wanted were some of those mini hamburgers I turned down a hundred times earlier in the evening. I took a couple of cookies, wrapped them in a napkin, and put them in my pocket. In case of emergency. Then I talked to Shelly for a few minutes... and by some miracle, *one* tray of mini hamburgers came out of the kitchen on the hand of a server and I grabbed two.

Which lead to me forgetting about the cookies in my pocket...
Which lead to my reaching into my pants pocket for my keys when I got home and coming out with a handful of cookie crumbs. My pocket was *filled* with broken cookies.

My big break for the night - sugar cookies.

- Bill

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Final Draft Big Break Party

Tonight (Thursday) I will be at the Final Draft Big Break Party, drinking free Final Draft beer. If you are also there, say hello.

If you aren't at the party, here's some free 7-UP...



- Bill

PS: Friday, Movies 4 Men 2 (UK) 19:10, Steel Sharks - When a United States submarine is seized by terrorists, a rescue attempt by Elite Navy Seals goes awry. The submarine crew wages a silent war beneath the waves in this tense undersea thriller.

You have been warned.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Movie Lines

Every Friday night I go to the movies with the same guys - we’ve been going to the movies together for years. Some weekends there may be 3 or 4 movies opening, but only one real choice - so that’s what we see. But some weekends there is a big discussion of what we should see over dinner - and it’s like a movie debate. Kind of Siskel & Ebert, but based entirely on the trailers and poster and cast and director and writer - we haven’t seen the film, so we argue about the elements that went into making it and any clues from the trailer on how it turned out.

The trailer for a comedy with only a couple of good jokes loses - if that’s the best they have, why pay $11 to see the jokes that weren’t funny enough for the trailer? Action movies and thrillers can be the same - if the action scenes in the trailer look lame, imagine how bad the ones in the film are? And sometimes you see a trailer a half dozen times and still have absolutely no idea what the film is about - hey, if *they* can’t figure out what their film is about, how can they expect me to figure it out?

Sometimes it comes down to actors. As a group of guys we have discovered that any film with Jessicas Alba or Biel is an instant “yes”. It could be an awful movie like CHUCK AND LARRY or INTO THE BLUE, but we’ll watch it. Sometimes you will see a movie you know is probably going to be bad because there’s someone in it who gives a great performance every time - which explains why I’ve seen almost everything Sam Jackson has ever made. But you have to convince me to see a Nic Cage movie. But some of the Friday Night Guys like Cage - and we debate other elements of the movies.

By the time we get into the line at the cinema, we know what we are going to see. We know what time the show starts, and we are prepared to buy our tickets. Because we may all be in different lines, there is often a kind of race to see who can get their tickets first. I use cash, some of the others use credit cards and the automated machines. If it’s AMC, I have a frequent viewers card and get free stuff sometimes. I have thousands of points, and go to the cinema often enough to snag free tickets or popcorn or drinks. I also have a card at the Arclight, which I go to less frequently. But by the time I’m next in line I am ready with movie title, time, cash, and card.

Which puts me either in the minority or in a slim majority. Maybe it’s just my luck - which is usually bad. But the people in front of me usually don’t have their money ready - and spend all kinds of time digging through their purse or wallet... and then they don’t have their card handy... and then they want to pay with coins that are also at the bottom of the purse or pocket... and then they don’t know the time their movie is starting (and there’s a 7:30 show and an 8:00 show, and they buy a ticket, then realize they wanted the other one)...

And more and more often I’m behind a gaggle of teens who don’t know what they want to see, and don’t discuss and debate, until they get to the front of the line. They could have figured it out before getting in line, but that never occurs to them. The strange part of this as a movie consumer - an something that is critical doe us to understand as screenwriters - is that these kids are *going to the movies* but not going to a specific movie. Sure, they will decide what movie they want to see eventually (please not at the front of the line while the rest of us are waiting and waiting and waiting behind them) and they will use the same criteria that my group of Friday night guys do - trailers, story concept, cast, poster... okay, maybe not the Jessicas part - but they are going to the movies more for social reasons than to see a movie. They are there every Friday night (holding up the line) to see some movie... any movie. They are the true movie consumers. They aren’t there because they can’t wait to see MAX PAYNE, they are there because they are there every Friday night with their group of friends to see *something* - to be decided later... when they get to the front of the line.

So when you wonder why they don’t make more movies targeting (fill in the blank - women over 40, men over 40 (that’s me), Asians, Lesbians, Lebanese-Americans, Liberals, Conservatives, Nudists, Albinos, People In Wheelchairs, Pleasantly Plump Americans, men over 70, women over 70, Lebanese-Americans over 70, etc) - the reason is that those groups don’t just show up at the cinema on Friday night to see a movie - whether there is something they want to see or not. My guess is that if every Friday night for 3 weeks there were 3 new movies and all of them were about Lebanese-Americans Over 70, those danged kids would still be at the front of the line every week trying to decide which movie to see.... then texting their friends about how much it sucked from inside the cinema - their cell phones giving off more light than that Jamie Faar movie on screen. They are regular movie goers, and the other subgroups are not.

But can we get them to figure out what they want to see *before* they get in line? And can we teach these new generations to think about people other than themselves (like me, standing behind them with my money in hand - exact change sometimes, decisions made, card ready, prepared to buy a ticket (that is what the line is for) and not talking on my cell phone or texting or doing anything else that will distract me or in any way slow down the purchasing of the ticket so that the other people can get to their movies on time and not have to sit in the very front or very back rows)? “Be considerate of others, the world doesn’t revolve around you,” as my mom would say. It takes the same amount of time to decide at the front of the line or not in line - so why not do it the way that doesn’t get in the way of others? What’s the matter with kids today? Why can’t they be like we were, perfect in every way?

Standing in line... bitching at the hands that feed me.

- Bill

Friday, October 17, 2008

Those Danged Arty French Films!

I had a meeting yesterday at Lionsgate and they had a massive cardboard stand up for TRANSPORTER 3... which is a French film. That's right, those wine sipping dudes in berets who smoke unfiltered cigarettes and eat snails with little forks make kick ass action films.

And here's a trailer for the next French film I'm probably going to be first in line to see (caution - subtitles):



The trailer looks better than that Jodie Foster movie. This sure ain't NELL.

- Bill

Last Night, I Had A Weird Dream....

Last Night, I had a weird dream... no, I didn’t visit a WILD STRAWBERRY patch nor an outhouse I used as a child... and I don’t think you need a dream analysis too to figure this one out. Last night, I dreamed I was in a Hollywood movie... sort of.

I was working on a script, and wrote a scene where I did my usual Hitchcock cameo - you can see me in NIGHT HUNTER and CYBERZONE and a bunch of my other movies - though sometimes you have to use the pause button. I wrote in this scene where I was walking a dog in the background of a shot - my childhood dog Waggles who is long gone. And when we come to shoot that scene the Director loves Waggles but comes up with this great idea on the set... instead of walking the dog, Waggles is off the leash and being chased by his owner - this really hot chick in a miniskirt. And then, throughout the movie, the hot chick chases Waggles! And by the end, there are scenes with the hot chick and Waggles and the lead characters. The hero gravs the running Waggles and gives him back to the hot chick in the miniskirt and they fall in love... while petting Waggles.

And I no longer have a cameo in the film.

So I write this on the set while everyone is waiting... and wanting me to hurry up...

They film it.

Everyone loves Waggles... and Waggles even gets scenes without the hot chick...

Waggles is on the poster! My name is in fine print at the bottom.

Waggles gets invite do the premiere in Westwood, and I do not.

Now, I can kind of understand why they’d want him on the red carpet. My long dead childhood dog was the cutest dig that ever lived - we named him Waggles because it wasn’t just his tail that wagged when he was excited - it was his whole body. It would start at the tail, then travel forward until he was completely wagging - even his head. Waggles was a small dog - a terrier mix - but he could jump the six foot fence in our back yard. At least once a month he’s jump the fence - a miracle or sheer determination - and find some girlfriend dog in the neighborhood, then come back to the front door of the house and scratch at it until someone let him in.

But about once a year, Waggles would jump the fence and be gone for days. We’d all be worried that he may have been hit by a car or something while on his adventure... but then he’d show up at the front door, tired and ready to get back to work with his job of being petted and fed and played with by my brother and sister and myself. Somewhere out there were probably some little Waggles and some pissed off female dog owners. Every time there were local kids with a box of free puppies in front of the grocery store, I’d check them out to see if they looked like Waggles... sometimes they did.

On time Waggles jumped the fence and didn’t come back... and weeks past. The first couple of days, we’d check the front porch to see if he was out there too tired to scratch oin the door... but he wasn’t there. After a couple of weeks, we began to suspect the worst - he’d been hit by a car and was dead on the side of some road. And, as the eldest kid, whenever I rode my bike on some road I’d look in the ditches for Waggles - so that I could take him home and we could give him a funeral... but I never found him. Other dogs, cats, and other animals - yeah. But no cute waggly terrier mix.

Over a month later there was a scratching at the front door - Waggles, in a strange collar. A really expensive collar. For a while, Waggles had been someone else’s pet... but he came back to us. My guess is that they fed him canned dog food - we fed him cheap dry dog food - and probably petted him and played with him more than we did, because we kind of took him for granted at that point. But after a month and a half of being pampered, he was homesick. We were his family. So he decided to end his long adventure and hop some other fence and come back to the people he loved. And for a while we petted and played with him constantly. We were happy to have him back. And his return became a family holiday - every year we would celebrate Waggles Return From His Long Goneness. On the big board of Scripts To Write, one is about Waggles adventures when he jumped the fence and lived with rich people... was he heir to some millionaire’s fortune?

In my dream, Waggles becomes a movie star and signs a three picture deal with Disney. And I am sitting at home watching Entertainment Tonight interview him. And Salma Hayak play with him and pet him on the big screen. And TMZ shows Waggles and Paris Hilton coming of out a trendy nightclub. And I watch the big dog star rise to the top and steal roles away from Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt like everyone else... on television. This is the life of a screenwriter....

It was a weird dream, because I was both proud and jealous of Waggles... I didn’t even get my cameo in the movie I wrote. Pisser.

In real life, I had long moved out of my parent’s house and Waggles was an old man when he hopped the fence one last time. I don’t know what kind of adventure he had, but it was his last. He never came back. I suspect he just didn’t want to die in the back yard, and found some porch to crawl under or dark quiet place to spend his final hours. But Waggles lives on in my memory... and in my imagination he’s always sipping Perrier in his dog bowl and having a private chef whip him up meals in some mansion up the hill... and I guess he lives on in my dreams as a movie star.

- Bill

What's your favorite Web site? E-mail AP Entertainment Writer Jake Coyle at jcoyle(at)ap.org

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Hey! They Stole My Idea!

About a dozen years ago I wrote 5 action ideas for ex-American Ninja star Michael Dudikoff - that was the business I was in. Oscar caliber material. One of the producers I worked for always wanted to do rip-offs of some other movie - and there’s an upcoming blog entry called *Imagine That!* with more about this guy. So he’d says something like, “Come back in a couple of days with some ideas - and it’d be cool if you can come up with something like TRUE LIES and that Steve McQueen movie HUNTER.” So I’d come up with 5 ideas, with one like TRUE LIES and one like THE HUNTER... and 3 that were original... or, at least, more original.

My theory on the “ideas like” was to take the movie and come up with some high concept twist on it. So here’s what I did when they wanted something like THE FUGITIVE...

PURSUIT
When blue collar waste management exec Jack Caplan finds out his business partner, Fischer, is illegally dumping toxic waste, he confronts him at a convention. But Fischer is murdered, and Caplan is set up as fall guy. Now, Caplan must search the hotel for the real killer, while evading both the police and the killer's henchmen. (Think "The Fugitive" in a hotel, played in real time.)

Toxic waste instead of drug tests, and it all takes place in the hotel in real time. That’s the twist that makes it different... but usually the first thing the producer would say is, “Well, why can’t he be accused of murdering his wife, and get rid of the real time thing, and open it up - take it out of the hotel, have it take place in the whole city.” Turning into a carbon paper version of THE FUGITIVE... and something I wasn’t interested in writing. I ended up doing a full treatment for the HUNTER idea... and then jumped ship when it became a carbon copy.

For the TRUE LIES thing, I added a cool twist - THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (original) is one of my favorite movies, so what if Harry in TRUE LIES didn’t know he was a spy? What if the phone rang in his suburban home and a they triggered him with a phrase (“Why don't you pass the time with a game of solitaire?”) or series of sounds to become James Bond? After they mission, the phone would ring and he’d be triggered back to being suburban dad Harry. So here’s what I wrote a dozen years ago for Dudikoff...

THE SECRET LIFE
Rob Keller's job as a civil engineer takes him all over the world, building bridges in strange countries. When he’s home with his pregnant wife Mary, he’s the perfect husband, taking Lamaze classes and pricing strollers. But Keller’s hard hat job is a cover for his real work as a spy... only he doesn’t know it. A special sonic code activates him, like The Manchurian Candidate, turning the suburban husband into a lethal spy. When the mission is over, another phone call returns him to his regular life. But when Rob returns home from a mission, he brings trouble with him: A terrorist cell bent on revenge. Now Rob must juggle his home life, pregnant wife, and his secret life. When the terrorists kidnap Mary, unactivated suburban Rob has no choice but to stop them... permanently.

So Monday night I caught MY OWN WORST ENEMY with Christian Slater... which I liked, but had too much “personality bleed” which kind of lessens the impact of the end. It would be easy for me to say they stole my idea - only I don’t think they ever had access to it, and it’s obvious that they started with TRUE LIES meets TOTAL RECALL - from the brainwash device to the bit where one side of his personality sends the other side a video to give him information. The funny thing about that - in my action book, I describe TOTAL RECALL as a movies where Ah-nuld discovers he’s his own worst enemy. Hey, did they read my book?

The thing is, this idea was kind of sitting there waiting for somebody to use it. If we look at the two Ah-nuld movies, how many people have those two DVDs sitting next to each other on their shelf? All someone had to do is look at what they had in common, and mash the stories together. Hey, it’s been over a dozen years - how come it took so long?

Hmmm, think I can sell my dozen year old idea to someone today?

- Bill

Monday, October 13, 2008

No Guessing!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I felt great.

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

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

- Bill

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

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

2 Busy 2 Blog

You may be wondering where Friday’s Hitchcock entry on TO CATCH A THIEF went, ot where this coming Friday’s entry on REAR WINDOW vanished to... or maybe even next Friday’s Hitchcock entry... though I’m hoping to get my life back to normal by then. Over the past week I’ve written what would translate (by word count) into 100 novel pages. If I did that every week, I’d have a 400 page novel every month. Now I know what it feels like to be Stephen King.

But I haven’t been working on a novel, I’ve been working on the Top Secret Studio Remake Project. We have a stack of meetings lined up, and need the *perfect* treatment, so that’s what I’ve been writing and rewriting and rewriting and doing something 180 degrees from the original one time and then 360 degrees from the original the next. This is a speed and accuracy deal - the thing has to be written *fast* and it also had to be written well, or we may not get the deal... or the best deal (the original film was a hit, opened at #1, so I don’t see it not being remade). But, since there’s not cast signed or director signed... well, it’s the original property and my work.

And I can be replaced in a heartbeat. Somewhere, David Koepp is waiting for a phone call. Actually, he’s fit this material really well.... I’d better do a great job.

So I’ve been under a little pressure lately. You know, the kind where you think your head might explode? And I’ve been typing like crazy - and had a day when the laptop went wacky and I almost bought a new one but instead found a solution to the problem the next day - and there were days when I couldn’t figure out how part of the film could work, and had to wrestle with the story until I figured it out. The thing about a treatment is that it’s pretty much a condensed version of the script - you have to figure it all out in order to write it. All of the problems in the script have to be solved. And when they decide to take a different approach to the story - you have to figure out the entire script all over again. Fewer pages, but close to the same amount of brain work as writing the entire script.

So, while I’ve been doing this stuff, I’ve been neglecting the blog, and haven’t written any new script tips for the website and haven’t done a damned thing on Second Son (spec) or anything else. There was a day when I forgot to eat. When all of this settles down and I’m working on the script (or David Koepp is) the Hitchcock Fridays will resume - probably even before that, since once we get that perfect treatment it’s just a bunch of meetings where I have to pitch a story that will make a studio exec spend tens of millions of dollars. No pressure there.

Now, I may sneak in a blog entry like this one if my brain isn’t fried at the end of the day. Probably won’t be long, though. Oddly, I want to go back to work on Second Son - my brain keeps coming up with scenes on that one while I’m writing this one. The scenes are always greener on the other side of the fence...

- Bill

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Song Meme

It's going around, saw it on wcdixon's blog...

"Find a song that sums up what you think it means to be a writer and post the lyrics on your blog and why you've chosen it. NB: It doesn't have to be your favourite song, it just has to express how you feel about writing and/or being a writer. It can be literal, metaphorical, about a particular form or aspect of writing - whatever you want. Then tag 5 others to do the same."

So here's my choice...

NOTE: Due to some weird volume thing, you'll have to crank it to hear it - not like she was singing softly.



And I think the lyrics sum it up - there's kind of this love/hate thing with writing, you have to give a piece of your heart... but it makes me feel good. Sometimes it's too painful and you want to give up, but then the writing holds you in its arms...

But basically - this is just an excuse for me to hear one of my favorite songs again... and in someone's weird edit of NIGHTMARE!

- Bill
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