Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What Should I Write?

So, I have finished the country western bar thriller, COWBOY NIGHTS, and now I'm outlining two future scripts - the action flick CONTAINED and the thriller I plan to make myself NEAR HIT, and I'm getting ready to jump back into SECOND SON and finishing that sucker.

But I also have to write a new article for Script Magazine by the end of the month... and have no idea what that will be. In the current issue I have part one of my piece on Action Scenes, in the issue before that I had an article on Character Driven scripts; and next issue I have *ten pages* of material: part two of my Action Scenes article and a piece on the new Tarantino movie. But what should come next?

What do you think?

Classes On CD - Recession Sale!

- Bill


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Mixed Genre Salads and SLITHER.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Burger King - which cost me $10!
Bicycle: Nice day so I rode to a distant Starbucks.

MOVIES: UP - When I first saw the trailer for UP, I didn’t think it looked very good. Some grumpy old guy and some overly cute kid and a dog... had Pixar reached the bottom of the creative barrel? I have loved all of the PIXAR movies, and even liked CARS (which is their worst so far, and still better than most of the movies I saw that year). Everyone has their favorite Pixar movie, and mine is THE INCREDIBLES... probably because it’s an action movie and kind of a 60s James Bond film, too. But I cried my eyes out at TOY STORY 2, and have used FINDING NEMO as an example in an article I wrote for Script Magazine. The amazing thing about Pixar is that they make great movies. Compare a Pixar film to a Dreamworks Animated film - Dreamworks movies are all about the gags - they are like some sitcom extended to 90 minutes. KUNG FU PANDA is all shtick - one gag after another. Hey, that’s great for adults, and kids like it, too... but the films always seem kind of hollow to me. All surface, without much underneath. Pixar films have fewer gags - and the gags they have are often character oriented - but they are all about heart. The first half of WALL-E is pretty much gag-free. It’s all about the character... all about the emotions. You may not laugh as much at a Pixar movie, but you feel more.

I’m sure a lot of people thought UP was a movie about an old guy with a floating house, and on some message boards I’ve read some posts from folks who saw the movie and *still* thought it was about an old guy with a floating house... how could they miss the whole story?
There is no house.


UP opens with a kid named Carl Fredrickson sitting in a movie theater watching a newsreel on amazing adventurer Charles Muntz - a cross between Doc Savage and Professor Challenger, who believes he has discovered a lost world in South America... and a rare prehistoric bird. Muntz has this amazing Zeppelin that he uses for his adventures - sailing above the clouds. On his way home from the movies, Carl meets a girl named Ellie who has turned an abandoned house into her adventurer’s clubhouse. She and Carl are two of a kind, and soon they are both dreaming if a life of thrilling adventure together. Ellie has a scrap book of all of Muntz’s adventures... and a big section left empty for *her* amazing adventures. She wants to live on the magical waterfall in the lost world. She makes Carl an official member of her adventure club with a special badge made from a grape soda bottle cap. They are a team!

That soda pop cap button is a symbol of their spirit of adventure.

Next we get an amazing montage, maybe 7 minutes, of Carl and Ellie’s entire lives. They grow up, get married, but the run-down house and fix it up, Carl gets a job selling balloons (which figure into the plot later), and soon they are old people, living in the house... and then Carl is alone. There’s a great line from Lennon (John, not Vladimir), “Life is what happens to you, While you're busy making other plans” and that’s what this sequence beautifully illustrates. After Ellie passes away, Carl finds her scrap book... with that whole section where she was going to put pictures of *her* adventures... their adventures. Instead, they just lived a fairly boring life in their house.

If this sequence doesn’t make you cry at least once, there is something wrong with your tear-duct plumbing. Completely silent, but jam-packed with emotions. The great thing about Pixar movies is that they love to tell te story visually - they know that is the direct path to the heart. No need to translate words into emotions, an image is an image. It’s a direct shot. We don’t need to wonder what the character means with those words, we just experience it. A child must learn to speak, learn to understand words... but they already know what they see. WALL-E does more with visual storytelling than any ten live action movies put together, and in UP we get the same ability to pull our heart strings, to make us feel genuine emotions, without dialogue. This is a powerful sequence.

One day a pudgy kid in a cub scout outfit, Russell, knocks on Carl’s door and wants to help him with something, anything, so that he can get the *one* merit badge he is missing from his sash. The sash is *filled* with merit badges, except for one empty spot. This is contrast in action - the best way to show something isn’t there is to show everything else that *is* there. The *only* empty space on his sash is the one merit badge. This also shows what a go-getter and a pest Russell is. The kid is relentless. Driven. And just will not shut up. Grumpy old Carl sends him on a wild goose chase to get rid of him.

When Carl comes across the drawing Ellie made as a kid of the house on the waterfall in the lost world, he gets an idea. His house is now in the center of a construction site, and he refuses to sell... because it’s Ellie’s house. Everything they had together. The house isn’t just a house, it’s symbolic of their whole relationship. Their love. He won’t let a construction crew tear it down to build a new skyscraper in its place. Everyone wants to put grumpy old Carl in a rest home, but that would mean leaving the house... and he can’t bring himself to do that. That would be leaving Ellie behind. So, on that day when they are going to come and take him away to the rest home, he fills a zillion helium balloons and ties them to the house... and floats the whole thing away.

With Russell on the front porch, scared to death.

Carl’s plan is to float his house, Ellie’s house, to South America and that lost world and land it on the waterfall... just like in Ellie’s childhood drawing. To take that adventure he and Ellie never got around to... to take *Ellie* to that waterfall. The house is not a house at all, it is symbolic of his relationship with Ellie, and so it is symbolic of Ellie - the woman he loved his entire life. There is no house, it is a symbol. Everything in this film is a symbol. The house - the memories of his relationship with Ellie - lift him high above the clouds and carry him off on an adventure.

If it weren’t for the damned kid...

One of the cool things about UP is that it has these sly references to adventure fiction and movies, so when the flying house hits a storm, you can’t help but think of the hot air balloon that hits a storm in MYSTERIOUS ISLAND and gets knocked off course... ending up on that mysterious island of the title. When I was a kid, MYSTERIOUS ISLAND was one of my favorite films, and the cool idea that a bunch of escaping Civil War POWs could end up in this lost world kind of place where Captain Nemo docks his submarine when he isn’t out battling giant squids was really cool. The Bernard Herrmann music in that film was fantastic, and I’m listening to it right now as I type this. I’m sure, as a kid, the other thing I liked about MYSTERIOUS ISLAND was they found some shipwrecked women who ended up wearing skimpy animal furs until they found a trunk full of dresses on the sand. But there are no women in UP... unless you watched the Russ Meyer version by mistake.

Instead Carl and Russell and the house end up blown into that Lost World... but the house loses a bunch of balloons in the process, and now is skimming over the ground. Carl ends up dragging the house behind him as they make their way through the jungle to the waterfall in the distance. What was once buoyant and uplifting has become something that may get caught in the trees. Something that must be jockeyed and taken care of every single minute. What was once keeping him afloat now seems to be dragging him down. As much as he loved Ellie, as much as his past dreams excited him, now they are becoming a problem. There is no house.

As Carl and Russell drag the house across the landscape, they discover a silly looking giant bird, that Russell names Kevin. In MYSTERIOUS ISLAND there was also a giant bird - this huge thing that they tried to ride and eventually ate for dinner - drumsticks the size of a Volkswagen. Here, they don’t eat Kevin, but the danged bird keeps following them and this gets on Carl’s nerves. He wants to bird to go away. But Russell keeps feeding Kevin bits of his candy bar, and the bird keeps following them...

And they also meet the misfit dog, Dug, who has been sent to find the bird... by Muntz! Muntz has a huge pack of dogs with “speech collars” so that they can have conversations with their master. These collars are a great gag - they have controls for different languages, and when the evil Alpha Dog gets his collar bumped he speaks in a high funny helium balloon voice. It’s all connected to balloons!

That giant prehistoric bird that Carl wants to get rid of is the bird of happiness for old adventurer Muntz - proof that this species exists, proof that the lost world exists, proof that he is not a fake. Muntz as sent his dogs out to find it, but Alpha and the others are looking one place, while doofus dog Dug has actually found the giant bird. Grumpy Carl wants to be rid of the bird, Muntz will do anything to capture it.

One thing they discover - Kevin is a girl... and a mom... and has a bunch of hungry little birds waiting for her at home. Kevin has a future generation to take care of. Carl has no future, he’s dragging his past behind him. Muntz only has a future if he can capture that bird. Is Kevin a symbol, too?

Now Carl and Russell and Kevin and Dug go on this journey across the lost world, and Carl discovers that his childhood idol, Muntz, has feet of clay. He’s a ruthless opportunist... who will do anything to capture Kevin the bird. Carl’s entire childhood - and maybe his adulthood, too - was based on worshiping adventurer Muntz, but the real man is not the fantasy. And Carl’s life ended up being not the childhood fantasy, but a ho-hum reality. Now he’s stuck dragging this damned house behind him, and it keeps getting stuck in trees... and when they go to Muntz’s cave, it almost doesn’t make it in.

In Muntz’s old zeppelin, Dug the dog is picked on by Alpha and the others in the pack, and must wear the Cone Of Shame. Just like the missing merit badge, the Cone Of Same is a symbol that shows us who is “bottom dog”... and it’s always Dug.

Eventually, Carl and Russell and Dug will team up to fight Muntz and rescue Kevin, but to do that, Carl will need an airship that can take on Muntz’s zeppelin. So he will have to make the house lighter... by throwing out all of the things that he and Ellie collected over their lifetime. Pictures of her. Memories of her. He must throw all of these things out of the house... including the his & hers chairs that were the first things they bought for the house... and still remain in the house. This is an emotional scene. Hey, do you think throwing all of these things out of te house so that it can float again is symbolic?

And eventually, Carl will learn to let go of the house. To let go of is past life with Ellie, as great as that was, and look forward to his current life and his future life. This isn’t a movie about a man with a floating house, it’s a movie about a man with a past... and a future. But he must let go of one, to grab hold of the other. If you haven't seen it, yet, check it out. A great film for adults as well as kids, and a great lesson in how to use symbols to tell your story.

- Bill


Racicot said...

For your Script article, I'd suggest using today's Tip, mixed genres.

You may remember that I'm currently having trouble in my rewrite, deciding what my script is: Action-Horror or Horror-Action?

Researching, I've read that this was Land of the Lost's problem as well -- amongst a slew of others, I'm sure.

And besides, we need to learn more about Bill Martel the writer in Script's pages.

p.s. James says SLiTHER has apparently just made it's $30 mill, budget back on TV.

Racicot said...


Joe Dante, in the special feature for The Howling, states that if you don't give the audience something to laugh about in a Horror film, they'll probably find it in the wrong places.

Great Tip Joe and Bill!

Sam T. said...

I always wondered if there is a place for some social message in an action movie. Is an action movie a good vehicle to deliver a message like this? If it is then what are the do's and don'ts. How does it affect the story and the script? I was kind of surprised when I first saw Tom Laughlin's 1971 Billy Jack movie. I expected to see a pure action movie. It was a great action movie but the message clearly overshadowed the rest of the movie. So, I would like to see an article about this. Maybe you already have a daily tip about this that I have not seen yet.

I know that what I am asking is probably a niche request but I always wanted to know how and if to deliver a social message in an action movie.

Jackson5 said...

Be good to read some of your thoughts on Tarantino's INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, either in the magazine, or preferably on the blog.

Also, interested in your thoughts on PELHAM 123.

ObiDonWan said...

Bill, you really know how to explicate a movie, to hone in on its core essentials. You proved this for me by explicating the PIRATES trilogy and, now, UP, which I saw and loved but didn't consciously know why until now.

My wife, who hardly ever watches movies, can predict accurately what's going to happen in any movie she does watch. Natural talent.

Anonymous said...

I also would like something on hybrid genres. Good topic.

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