Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Lady In The Lake - All POV!

Philip Marlowe novels were all first person, so Robert Montgomery (Elizabeth's dad) decided to make a whole movie first person - everything in the film is from Marlowe's POV - so *we* get punched in the kisser and kissed by dames and end up in the middle of shoot outs and car chases. Cool for a while.



For those of you who wonder where the idea for last night's HOUSE episode came from.

You can also check out a great old Bogart movie based on a novel by the great David Goodis called DARK PASSAGE, where we get a POV escape from San Quentin, then the criminal gets plastic surgery (a scene lifted for MINORITY REPORT) and when they unwrap the bandages, it's Bogart looking in a mirror... and we break out of POV for the rest of the film as Bogart tracks down the real killer... entering his old life as somebody else and talking to all of the people he knew without them knowing that it is him. Great little film!


- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Be Indespensible! why you should be your best at all times.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Quiznos roast beef sandwich.

Movies: DUPLICITY - I would love screenwriters to conquer the world. I believe that screenwriters are both the brains and the heart of every movie. The reason why I tear apart bad movies to show where the scripts went south is not some sort of strange sour grapes - I know that what a screenwriter writes is not always what shows up on screen - I want all of is to learn from whatever mistakes were made in the way the film told the story... and maybe even act as an “I told you so” to any writers who fought hard against some idiot note that ruined their script and also ruined the movie. So I tend to worry about screenwriters who finally get their chance to screw the silly notes and make their film the way they want to... I don’t want them to screw up.

I am a fan of Tony Gilroy. The BOURNE movies, of course, but also gems like DOLORES CLAIBORNE - a film based on one of those non-monster Stephen King novels that has somehow been forgotten now. I wrote an article for Script Magazine on MICHAEL CLAYTON before it had even been released! I wanted people to see that film, so that screenwriters could rule the world. But when the film finally came out and I saw it, I thought it was okay. Not great, just okay. It was a character study sold as a political thriller when I was hoping for a character study that was also a political thriller - check out THE PARALLAX VIEW for a great example of that. What I want is for Tony Gilroy to have a hit that is as big as the BOURNE movies so that every studio in the world is fighting to hire him and let him make the film his way with no interference.

DUPLICITY isn’t going to be that hit film, either. The movie makes a bunch of rookie mistakes and ends up being just okay - much of that is due to Julia Roberts and Clive Owen having chemistry... and Tony Gilroy writing some really clever banter for them to fire at each other. The characters are great, the dialogue is great... but the movie needs some stronger plotting to keep it going.

Roberts and Owen are two ex-spies, one for the USA and one for England, who meet long ago, have a torrid night together... then Roberts drugs Owen and steals some classified papers. Later, Owens spots her, chases her, and extracts his revenge... which you know from the trailer is rug burns. This is a couple that belongs together - but can never trust each other. Occupational hazzard. But they hatch a scheme to quit the government and work as industrial spies - because that is where the money is... and we kind of figure the plan may be to steal some of that money somehow.

And here is the big mistake in the film... This is supposed to be a STING-like romp filled with cons and double crosses, but instead of bringing the audience in on the plot, so that when something goes wrong we *know* it has gone wrong and are worried, the decision was made to keep the audience at arms length. We don’t take either Roberts or Owen’s point of view in the story, we are completely neutral. And that means when something happens to them, it *does not* happen to us. We just watch as observers.

THE STING brought us in on the con, and gave us the story from Redford’s point of view. We were told what was supposed to happen to make the con work, so when things went wrong we could worry... and when the film cons *us* we get taken. The whole thing with a confidence trick is that the mark needs to feel like they are inside the trick rather than outside - they are part of a scheme to take someone else’s money... when it is really their money that is being taken. Those clever Nigerians have some money from a Prince they are trying to smuggle out of the country, and they want to put it in *your* bank account, and all they need is all of your banking information. They will give you 10% for helping them smuggle the Prince’s money out of the country. You are inside the scheme, making 10%, not outside the scheme being taken. The *audience* in a movie like this needs to be inside the scheme, so that they don’t realize they are being taken... but DUPLICITY leaves us outside in the cold.

Roberts and Owen end up working for rival big soap & cosmetics companies, each trying to steal the other’s face creams... which kind of makes this silly. The good thing about that is there are a whole lotta gags that can come from a fight to the death over face cream... the bad thing is that at the end of the day, something silly is the motivation for your whole film which makes the film less powerful. Though the film is light in tone, it can still have something serious driving the story - look at NORTH BY NORTHWEST. So the whole story seems trivial and unimportant, which isn’t the same as light and frothy.

The remake of THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR also has male and female characters who do not trust each other but may love each other, and one of the reasons why that film works is because we see the story from Rene Russo’s point of view. We see the story through her eyes so when Brosnan’s character pulls some sort of twist, she feels it and we also feel it. We know what she is thinking and feeling but not what he is thinking and feeling. He brings her into the story - there is the stolen painting, would you like it or shall I burn it? But she doesn’t know if this is real or part of his scheme. We are inside her head and inside the story.

When the double crosses come in DUPLICITY, because we are outsiders in the story, they have no impact. It’s something that happens to a character on the screen, *not* to someone we identify with and care about. And a strange thing happens when the double crosses start - because we are outside observers, we can easily see which double crosses are real and which are part of the scheme. If you discover the woman you love is sleeping with someone else, that hits you personally and you are too emotional to think clearly. But if one character up there on stage discovers that another character up there on stage is having an affair, you just process the information. You can think clearly about it, and realize that a fake affair would help the scheme and make more sense than a real affair that was so obvious their partner would catch them. So the audience is not conned, not shocked, and the twist dies.

The other problem with not bringing the audience inside the story, not giving us a POV character and allowing us to experience the twists and turns and cons through their eyes, is that the *dream fulfillment* of a con movie is being more clever than anyone else. We, the audience, participate in the con and outsmart people who are richer and supposedly smarter than we are. We’re smarter than them! And even if the story cons us as well, as in THE STING, we know that by the end of the film this will have been done for a reason that helps the con men get away with the scheme. The con men are smarter than we are, and anticipated a problem we did not. At the end of the day, the clever con men have still taken down the rich jerk and we were part of that...

Except in DUPLICITY we are not part of that. We are outsiders watching really clever attractive characters do things we don’t understand with wit and style and grace. So when they pull off their scheme, hey that’s nice... but we don’t get any of the joy. We also don’t get any of the fear that the scheme will go wrong. We just watch things happen as uninvolved observers. When we come to the end, we don’t feel much... when we should have felt at least a couple of things.

Another problem in the film - although I think it’s all the same problem - is a lack of “juice” - the bantering between Roberts and Owens is great, but the film has no suspense and not enough mind-f*ck twists in a genre that needs those elements to survive. I often wonder if the lack of “juice” in a film where the screenwriter has control is a rejection of genre - a rebellion against Hollywood. “You made me put in all of those entertaining genre scenes in BOURNE so I’m going to leave them out of this film.” - and we get very little suspense and not enough twists. There *is* a nice suspense scene near the end, but not much before that. When it comes to the heart beat of pacing, this film is on life support most of the time. There’s nothing wrong with making a film exciting and interesting. Those are good things.

The characters and dialogue are fun and enjoyable - Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkenson are great as rival heads of big companies who are locked in a personal war with each other. Plus, there is a great running gag about pizza that keeps popping up when you least expect it.

DUPLICITY is an okay film, but it’s not going to be that big hit that turns screenwriters into stars. If it didn’t have Roberts and Owens in the leads, it would be a nice little movie that would probably be dumped on DVD... and I suspect that is where most of its money will be made. My mom dad will rent it or see it on cable and think it was good. It is a good way to kill a couple of hours.

- Bill

Monday, March 30, 2009

Starbucks Turnover

It is the end of an era - the last member of the original crew at my local Starbucks has left.

I write in coffee shops. I usually hit 2-3 Starbucks in a day - writing for a little while in each one before moving on. I used to write at Priscilla’s in Toluca Lake and the Coffee Bean on San Fernando in Burbank - with a bike ride in between. But when you’re in a place where everybody knows your name... it’s time to move on. At Priscilla’s I would spend more time gabbing than writing, and if I just wanted to be alone and work - well, someone would come over and talk to me. There were a couple of people at Priscilla’s who would not leave me alone... so I stopped going there. I love Priscilla’s and when I drop in there now many of the same people work there. Of course, there’s always *some* turnover behind the counter.

When I stopped going to Priscilla’s, I started going to the new Starbucks a block away from my apartment - where the tennis club used to be. Hey, it was so close I didn’t have to ride my bike! Which is how I got fat. That’s one of the reasons why I usually ride to some other Starbucks now - the other reason is that the one near me is just too danged crowded, now. You have to practically reserve a table. For a while, that Starbucks had many of the same people behind the counter - they stayed there for a while before leaving. Usually years. You knew them, they knew you. I flirted with the girls, and they flirted back. In Los Angeles, you get a lot of actors and musicians behind the counter - so you’d go to Bobby’s gigs or see someone’s play or stand up set, And sometimes they’d catch a break and leave. I remember one of the girls landed a reality show - and I watched and rooted for her. Chet worked there a long time, as did Alan... and then Phil was the last one from the original 2001 crew. The perfect Barista is someone who actually has a personality (not some corporate drone) and is also fast and efficient. You want someone you can joke around with, who doesn’t take the job too seriously (they work behind a counter) but is also good at their job. For a long time that Starbucks on my corner had the same people working there - one of the gals (an actress, I went to see one of her shows) worked there every summer and then went off to school - but she always came back.

But these days there seems to be a revolving door at Starbucks - every month, a whole new crew. Even the managers don’t last long. And now Phil, the last of the original crew, has moved on. Phil got married, had a kid... and last week was his last at that Starbucks. He has moved on...

Part of the reason for the constant turnover at my home base Starbucks might be because it’s such a high volume store that they use it to train - a few employees ended up with their own stores or shipped out to other places. But part of the reason you *frequent* one place over another is the people behind the counter. Lately, the handful of Starbucks I work at have had new employees every month.

And that’s a problem for many reasons.

Hard to be friendly with a complete stranger - and even more difficult when the pattern shows you that person probably will not be there in a couple of months. I’m a shy person (yeah, I don’t seem that way) and it takes time for me to become comfortable with people - about the time I’m lowering my guard and joking with the new barista - they’re gone! Currently, there is a barista who seems to hate me in one of the Starbucks I frequent. Can’t figure out why. He’s been there for a couple of months, now, and still seems to go out of his way to be rude to me (but not the customers before or after me). My current plan is to overtip him, but I feel like I’m tipping him for bad service - and that’s just wrong.

But the main problem with all of this turnover in Starbucks is that there are always new employees working there - and new employees are, well, new. They are slow, because they haven’t developed that rhythm, yet. They can only do one thing at once - and they have to *think* about it. There are often these huge lines - two of them, one to order your drink, then one to pick it up. They screw up drinks, because they make mistakes. After waiting in two huge lines, you don’t get what you ordered.

The old timers always knew what I drink - it’s funny because I go to different Starbucks at different times of day and drink something different depending on what time it is. A few days ago I went into a Starbucks at “the wrong time” and they were confused by my order. But new people not only don’t know your drink, they don’t know what half the drinks are and write down the wrong code on the cup and you end up with Iced Coffee with 3 pumps of *Melon* flavoring. Yech! And you don’t want to go through this whole thing again to get the right drink. (It should have been 3 pumps of *Mocha* - in the mornings I drink a “no milk mocha” - iced coffee and chocolate syrup).

You know, new employees are new employees. It’s not their fault that they were just hired. But it’s *someone’s* fault that they were thrown behind the counter at a high volume store without being partnered with an experienced employee looking over their shoulder (but that would be two employees doing the work of one). I’m sure this is all to save money during the economy - just skip that training part and throw them into the deep end to see what happens... but today I had a brand new employee with no one around to help her who was just plain confused about how to do something... and I had to talk her through it. Crazy - I’m training new Starbucks employees!

Every company should take the time to train their employees - and give them a few days with the “training wheels” of an experienced employee next to them to help show them the ropes. That used to be the way things were done... but I guess it’s just not financially viable. At least not on paper. In real life, a week of training creates an employee who will probably know what they are doing for their whole career.

Of course, no one thinks in terms of a career anymore.

Everything and everyone are disposable these days.

And I’m drinking an iced coffee with melon syrup... Yech!

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Three Points To Non-Cliche Characters .
Yesterday’s Dinner: Sandwich.
Bicycle: Short bike ride to a Starbucks.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Bill's Little Movie Experiment (Part Four)

I thought this part was going to go up on Wednesday and today we’d return to Hitchcock... but the best laid plans.

Although I’m making my little film partially to recapture those silly days of my youth when I had a Super 8mm film camera, a bunch of film cartridges, and it only cost 99 cents for processing at K-Mart - this is also a series of experiments for a book on writing and making your own digital feature. That makes budget one of the most important parts of this experiment - I want to make this film for as little money as possible. What the average person might be able to put on a credit card.

John August’s REMNANTS series had a budget of $25k per episode, which is dirt cheap for something made by the rules in Hollywood. He paid people, had permits, did everything by the book. I will not be doing any of those things. I am going back to the days when all I had was that camera and a couple of lights and I had to convince friends to show up and be actors and/or crew. One of my early films - LAUNDRA-MATT - was me, a camera, my roommate Dave, my laundry and the coin laundry down the street from my apartment in Walnut Creek. He had to go to work, so we shot it in about half an hour. It got laughs when I showed it. NEAR HIT will be a little more structured and organized than that, but don’t look for a grip truck and cables.

COST TO MAKE


I know of a couple of producers who make movies *for a living* at budgets in the $6k range - paying key crew members and special effects houses. These are films you can find in Blockbuster (on the bottom shelf). One of these guys budgets his films for $10k, takes $4k off the top, and shoots the film for $6k... and the films look good enough to get into Blockbuster. They are not great - in fact, not even good - but are good enough. The problem with many of these low end things is that the people making them just don’t care - and there isn’t enough money for them to care. This guy makes a film every single month - it’s an assembly line - and he finds a script for almost nothing, actors who will work for meals and a credit and a copy of the DVD (Los Angeles is full of actors who want to break in, and think being in a film that is in Blockbuster is better than having zero credits... and they are probably right) and gets “step up” crew members - a camera operator who wants a Cinematographer credit, etc. The rest of the crew are unpaid interns... and even then it’s a skeleton crew. I know another guy (actually, I don’t know him, I know his camera guy) who makes films for $10k or less... and had a deal with Lionsgate Home Video that paid him $100k per film! He had once - long ago - directed a minor hit horror film, and his name on the DVD box sold a bunch of copies. He was smart enough to use famous true crimes as the basis for his movies - which provided the “mental real estate” that also helped sell his films. Some of you may know who I’m talking about. Anyway - making a film on the cheap and getting it into Blockbuster is possible.

In a past blog entry I mentioned a guy I know who figured out a way to buy his equipment with his first budget so that he could continue to make movies for tape and expandible costs forever. So if you want to make your own movie, cost isn’t as big of a factor as it used to be. I spent more money on Super 8mm film and processing the last time I tried to make a feature. Though I have yet to do an actual budget - I’m waiting until I finish the script - let’s just look at some basic costs to get a rough idea.

The day I began writing this blog entry (a while back) I got an e-mail from FIND (formerly IFP) in Los Angeles about why I should re-up my membership, and one of their main sales points was that you can get discounts on equipment rentals. Here in Los Angeles, everyone is making a movie and the laws of supply and demand makes cameras expensive sometimes. So FIND will rent me an HD camera for a weekend for $200. They will rent me sound equipment for $30 and a lighting package for $40. I haven’t checked the rates in the Bay Area, may be more, may be less - but I’m using this as a ballpark.

So, let’s do the math - 6 weekends at $200 for the HD camera is $1,200. Let’s add in the sound and the lights at $420. We also have to add in tape stock and those $5 pizzas, and some odds and ends. Regular reader Bill suggests we form an LLC to keep us from losing everything if something goes really wrong (my friend Max made a low budget horror movie, no insurance, and had a guy in full monster costume *fall of the roof of a house*! I wouldn’t have done something that dangerous in the first place.) - I will probably need some form of insurance to rent the equipment in the first place, so that will probably be in the budget along with the LLC. We’re looking at around a few thousand base cost. Now, there are other things that are going to cost money - but so far, this isn’t sending me to the poor house. I do plan on adding some known actors, but you don’t have to do that. I’m planning on spending around $10,000 total. Probably around $6k for the film itself and another $4k for the “deliverables” (I did an article last year for Script Magazine that went through all of the deliverables a distrib will require). (Deliverables include posters and various different versions on tape, as well as all of the legal requirements and E&O insurance, etc. - the things a company needs to deliver the film to distribs all over the world). I’m sure all kinds of crazy costs will come up, and that is part of the experiment - to find out those hidden costs and tell the readers about it so they will be prepared.

Part of my plan is to use the SAG Ultra Low contract - which I believe allows me to mix non-SAG and SAG actors in the same film... and pay the SAG actors a reduced scale. I haven’t looked into this, yet - so that may change. Most of these credit card films are made non-SAG, and use non-professional actors in all of the roles. I think the Ultra-Low budget allows me to cast almost every role with non-pros, and add one or two professional actors to help me sell the movie. I will use the “confined cameo” method - where an actor is in *one* location only, and those scenes are spread throughout the movie so that it appears they are in the whole film. My friend Paul Kyriazi made a post apocalyptic action film called OMEGA COP that had Adam (BATMAN) West as the last Chief Of Police in the known world coordinating the last surviving cop as he tried to bring order to a world in chaos... Adam West sat behind the radio at a police station set and talked to the last cop - was never in any other location. You could shoot him out in a day! And that’s my plan - find some actor I can shoot out in a day. Maybe two.

My friend who makes his little $2k movies mostly for fun has had an *iconic* TV star from the past in one of his films (the guy is no longer a star, and did it for fun) and had a female star from a couple of decades ago, who is still smokin’ hot... but no longer in her 20s. The shelf life for hot female stars is short - there’s a busload of new hot female stars arriving in Hollywood every day. So there are people out there who will do a movie for fun (no pay), which leads me to believe I can find someone who will work a day for very little pay.

The other way to go is to skip SAG contracts all together and use a Fi-Core actor. These are SAG actors who have fallen on hard times (or split with the union for political reasons) and can work for less than SAG minimum. Again, we are looking at people who may have once been famous, but now are out of work. I do not know who is and who is not Fi-Core, but I’ll bet Gary Colemen is... and everybody knows who he is. Other possibilities are music stars - a friend of mine made a horror movie with the lead singer from a very famous group in a small but pivotal role. And sports stars and comedians and anybody else who is not an professional actor... but everyone knows who they are. There are plenty of ways to get a face on the DVD box without breaking the bank. So my project will have at least *one* recognizable actor spread throughout the film (probably the hit target).

STUNTS


Someone asked about stunts after the last entry - and that’s a really good question. I am making an action movie... but won’t be able to afford a stunt team. This is where creativity comes into play. Back when I was making that ill-advised Super 8mm action feature, I also did not have a stunt team... but I had all kinds of action and even blew up a car (though not for real). Though I can probably round up some guys and gals with martial arts training - and probably most actors have some martial arts training - the main reason for doing those BOURNE style fights is budget.

My friend Paul Kyriazi made an *amazing* martial arts film called WEAPONS OF DEATH (not available on VHS or DVD) that starred real martial arts guys. Paul’s theory was to set up the camera and let the guys fight - and the end has an amazing fight scene between Eric Lee and Gerald Okamura. They practiced it a bunch of times, then Paul filmed it - and it’s amazing to watch these two guys fight *for real* (okay - it’s still a movie and they pulled their punches - but there are sword fighting scenes that is *real* sword fighting... just will dull-edged swords). Paul seldom cut to a different angle, his theory is that you get to see real guys doing a real fight with no camera tricks. That is a great theory... if you have Eric Lee and Gerald Okamura.

I will not have them... I will have some guys who took a martial arts class once and lied on their resume, saying they were a black belt. So I will be cutting a lot.

I know the stuntman who did the stair roll at the end of THE EXORCIST - great guy. Great stair roll. I also have seen THE EXORCIST 144 times (I was the projectionist) and can tell you there are *seven* shots in that stair roll. Which means Chuck only had to roll down a handful of stairs at a time. That’s still not easy... but the more you cut to a different angle, the more you can control the roll. Same thing with a fight scene. If you shoot like Paul did and just set up the camera and let them fight - that puts the scene on the skills of the fighters. If you shoot the same scene as a series of many shots - One character throws a punch, the other character gets hit and his head snaps back, etc. You have put the fight scene on the *editing*. When you are dealing with a ragged BOURNE-like scuffle, it doesn’t have to look graceful and elegant... in fact, it’s better if it looks messy. So that big fight scene is a bunch of little pieces... and that removes most of the stunts. We will probably build some balsa wood props and buy some candy-glass bottles and smash some things... but the fight scene will mostly be three shots: One guy throws a punch (or kick). The impact of the punch (or kick). The other guy goes flying from the impact.

That impact shot can be a soft tap. A touch. Edit it fast enough, and that creates impact. Add the sound effect, and that touch turns into a freakin’ hard hit!

String a bunch of those together and you have a fight scene through editing. There was probably a time where a bunch of really quick cuts in a fight scene might make the audience think you were faking it... but now we *expect* quick cuts in a fight scene! And, even though I hate the shaky-cam of the BOURNE films, I plan to use hand-held camera to cover up any time a fake punch misses by a mile. Again, that style is expected theses days, so no one will think I’m trying to hide anything.

Foot chases are just people running.

In those old Super 8mm films I used to come up with creative stunts that existed only in your mind... and I will do that in NEAR HIT as well. Want to have a guy dangling off the roof of a 20 story building? You find a really low one story roof, shoot up at the guy dangling. Cut to - shooting down at a pair of shoes nailed to a pair of 1x1 boards with a pair of pants on them hanging over the 20 story roof “kicking”. Put it together and the audience believes those fake legs belong to the real guy - and that the real guy is hanging over the 20 story ledge instead of that ledge up against the side of the hill that is only 8 feet from the ground.

REALLY COOL SHOTS


Which brings me to cool shots. One of the great things about 3 directors and only having to be responsible for one day of shooting a week is that we can challenge ourselves to come up with one *amazing* shot every week. I believe the reason why we know who the Coen Brothers are today is that shot in BLOOD SIMPLE where the camera is tracking over the top of the bar and cranes up and over the passed out drunk. And the other various cool *shots* in the film. So part of the plan is to come up with some “how did they do that” moments in the film.

In my stupid little movies, I always tried to come up with some amazing show off shot. From attaching a camera to a cable and *zipping* it across campus at Diablo Valley College where it would stop at a clamp on the cable four feet from where I had my actor standing... to a thing I did in my feature where I took an actor and a folding chair to the top floor of a San Fran hotel, set the chair up in front of the hallway window, and filmed all of the actor’s lines with this great background window overlooking the city, then shot the reverse through the window of a first floor office, over the shoulder of my hotel hallway actor, focusing on another actor on the other side of the desk. Cut the two together and people wonder how you got the camera on the crane outside that 40 story window... to the thing where you see speeding cars from a freeway overpass overhead as an actor is being chased across the overpass by bad guys. He looks down at the speeding traffic. Then, looking up at the actor on the overpass, he jumps! Of course, this is shot at the part of the overpass that is four feet off the ground, with the camera man laying in the dirt pointing the camera up. Then a shot of the actor landing in the bed of a pick up truck - close - all we see are the actors legs and the pick up bed. Then a shot from the overpass of the actor (secretly strapped into the pick up bed) as the pick up roars down the freeway. Cut that together and you have an amazing stunt.

Anyway, plan is for each of us to do one interesting shot a week. The rest can be masters & close ups, but one shot needs to be cool. That gives us 18 cool shots in the film... hopefully more than that, and hopefully we will all brings some interesting ideas to each day of shooting.

The first film of Paul Kyriazi’s I ever saw, THE TOURNAMENT, had a shot in it where our hero uses his super secret kung fu punch on the villain... and punches out a chunk of his stomach! The villain looks down, and he can see the sky through a hole in him! Then he falls to the ground, and the grass pops through the hole! Yikes! What Paul did is get the round mirror from a compact, put some gore around it, and stick it to the villain’s shirt. The mirror reflected the sky and field in front of the villain - which matched the sky and field behind him - and it seemed like he had a hole in him. When he fell down, they just stuck a bit of turf on his shirt and shot it from the right angle. All of these $1.98 special effect tricks go into my film, too.

SPECIAL EFFECTS


Speaking of $1.98 special effect tricks, in my Super 8mm I blew up my mom’s car... and then returned it without a scratch. Here’s what I did: this was back in the days of cameras with flash bulbs, so I bought a bunch of flashbulbs and some smoke bombs. I borrowed ever Super 8mm camera I could find. I strung flashbulbs on wires, put them all over the car. Put a little smoke on the car. Fired up the cameras and set off the flashbulbs. Cut! Another string of flashbulbs on the car. I opened all of the car doors, plus the hood and trunk, a quarter of the way, More smoke. Cameras rolling, set of the flashbulbs. Did this again and again, opening the doors a little more and adding more smoke each time until the doors and hood and truck were all of the way open. Then I took a bumper I had bought from the scrap yard, a door I had bought and painted the color of my mom’s car, and the spare tire... smoked the hell out of everything so you could barely see the car. Cameras rolling, last string of flashbulbs, and from behind the car, I threw the door, bumper and tire out of the smoke. Okay - in the editing room, I cut this together, and you have a bunch of different angles as the flash of the explosion blows the doors and hood and trunk right off the car! Tire rolling out of the smoke down the street! No actual explosion, though.

I also created plastic Toys R Us guns with flashbulbs in the barrel and a battery and contact in the trigger so that I could get some muzzle flash. All of this stuff is possible - but someone actually rents muzzle flash plastic guns, now - you don’t have to make them yourself and get that modeling glue all over your hands.

You have to be creative if you don't have any cash.

Wait, I said a building would explode, right?

Okay, there are several places on the web where you can get royalty free stock footage. You pay a flat rate, and own it outright... as does everybody else who bought the same footage. Here is the website - they have a sale on clips that includes a building implosion...

Free Stock Footage

And another place or two:

Footage Firm

Art Beats

And there are other places.

But a building implosion isn’t the same as an explosion - lots of dust, but no flames! So for that, we go to Detonation Films, which has all kinds of explosions and muzzle flashes and other cool stuff...

Detonation Films

Put all of the free and low cost stuff together and we have some big production value for an affordable price.

By the way, other tricks that I may use include everything from glass shots to hanging miniatures to foreground miniatures to the Schufftan process to anything else that they used in those early days of cinema before CGI. My friend Fred, who directed CYBERZONE, makes low budget flicks with more creativity than money - and he has done everything from a disaster movie for Sci Fi Channel using Corgi toy cars as foreground miniatures (with rubble and little telephone poles smashed over them) to aquarium castles as hanging miniatures in a fantasy film for cable. These things look *great* and cost very little. I watched an old film noir a couple of days ago, IMPACT, that had a car smashing into a gasoline tanker truck and explode... all models, but you really have to look hard to see that it isn’t real (actually, for me the giveaway was the angle - it was like a helicopter shot, but in a low budget movie from the 40s when they weren’t doing helicopter shots). Look up these things online if you aren’t familiar with them. John built a Schufftan rig a long time ago so that he could put real actors in a miniature set on video without any sort of post production special effects. The shots are married *before* the image gets to the camera.

LOCATION SHOOTING


Another bit of production value NEAR HIT will have is location shooting in Hong Kong. I’m still not sure how to get that into the story, but I know how it will happen in real life - I’m going to Hong Kong to teach a class after we shoot the film... and, since I’m teaching the class for the Hong Kong Film Academy where they have equipment, I will shoot a bunch of great stock footage type stuff, plus take character’s costumes with me and coerce someone from my class to wear the costume so that I can shoot over the shoulder shots and long shots and anything else - maybe even a foot chase between two stand ins, with close ups of the real actors running somewhere with the background completely out of focus. Hong Kong is a big city - just like San Francisco and Oakland - so I can do my real actor work as part of the normal shoot - doubling San Fran for Hong Kong. Some areas of Hong Kong are kind of Chinatown like... and San Fran has a Chinatown. So my little film gets to *globe trot* like a big budget movie!

I may also shoot some “plates” in Hong Kong so that I can green screen some of my actors into the backgrounds - not for lengthy shots, because I’m don’t want to give the audience time to realize it’s green screen, but a quick shot to “sell” that the actor is in Hong Kong would be great.

The people reading my book probably won’t be teaching a class in Hong Kong, nor will they also be teaching a class in London (for the sequel’s stock footage), but we live in a world where you can contact a film maker someplace else in the world and offer to swap stock footage. You shoot part of their movie using your stand ins in their costumes, and they do the same for you. It would be possible to have a film that seems to be shot all over the world, just by swapping footage with film makers from all over the world. Hey, and you’ll make friends while you’re at it, and be part of their films, too!

If the Hong Kong stuff works out, I may actually do some cool stuff there and then do some “reshoots” with the actors when I return. I would love to do a chase on the double decker tram cars that go from one end of Hong Kong to the other - when two trams come to a stop one behind the other, the windows of the second levels almost touch each other - and you could jump from one tram to another... and leap from train to train. Now, we wouldn’t do this in real life... but we could do the chase with stand ins, then come back and build a fake tram wall and window and do the tram-to-tram jump in the studio... and by studio, I mean John’s garage. Because even though this thing may look like a couple million bucks, it’s going to be made for next to nothing.

This is just an experiment... that should be a lot of fun to shoot!

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Opening With Character and THERE WILL BE BLOOD.
Yesterday’s Dinner: El Pollo Loco chicken & corn on the cob & black beans.
Bicycle: No bike today - too windy. Even with a busy day on Wednesday I managed to ride a little, returning DVDs.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

VHS Box Art+ Bill On The Radio Again

I am on the radio tonight: Screenwriter's Utopia Script Talk - the subject is Killer B Movies, and the other guest on the show is the writer of MUTANT ON THE BOUNTY.





Classic B Movie VHS box covers! Hundreds of them! How many of these films have you seen? Above are a couple of my sleazy contributions.

And I'm doing a one day class for the Screenwriting Expo on May 3rd: Edge Of Your Seat - Horror & Thriller Writing. Come on down, it'll be some pretty scary stuff!

- Bill

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Polanski On Chinatown

I have an original poster for CHINATOWN on my wall, it's one of my favorite movies. My ill-advised super 8mm feature film was kind of a CHINATOWN homage - a private eye movie that I shot without any permits in San Francisco. Car chases, shoot outs, fist fights... all on location without any permits. Or stuntmen. Or pyrotechs. I blew up my mom's car!

Anyway, here is an interview with the director of CHINATOWN about making the film...



And here is the original trailer for CHINATOWN:



And the CHINATOWN screenplay by Robert Towne. This is the shooting script. I have a copy of the first draft, which opens with Jake getting a flat tire on Cross Drive - named after Noah Cross. In real life, that's Mulholland Drive, named after William Mulholland - who really did own all of the water in Los Angeles at one time.

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Is Your Script Ready To Send Out?
Yesterday’s Dinner: Roast beef sandwich at Quiznos.
Bicycle: No bike yesterday - too much wind! Riding today (as you read this).

Monday, March 23, 2009

Bill's Little Movie Experiment (Part Three)

Either late summer or fall I am shooting a 12 part serial for the web - with *strong* cliff hangers - in San Francisco with a bunch of old friends... without permits and for almost no money. 7 minute episodes, extreme action - more BOURNE style hand-to-hand fighting than (expensive) car chases. Thanks to some cheap stock footage that anyone can afford, at least one building will explode. Here's the story...


NEAR HIT
Building Contractor Dave Jackson checks into a San Francisco hotel for his second honeymoon... without his wife. She's just begun divorce proceedings against him. He's alone in the city. A knock at the door. When Jackson answers, no one there. Just a manila envelope. Inside the envelope: A man's photo, several bundles of twenty dollar bills, and a 357 Magnum. Jackson realizes the envelope has been delivered to the wrong room... And the hit man is after him! Caught between hitman and victim, regular guy Dave Jackson must fight to survive.


Without spoiling the story for you, one of the things that I can do in a screenplay and movie-made-for-pocket-change that a big Hollywood blockbuster *can not do* is do something extreme that pushes the envelope - I don’t have to pull any punches to make the film palatable to the mass audience. When your budget is over $100 million, you need to appeal to as many people as possible. When you are making a film with pretty much no stars and no money, you have to do the *opposite* of that - do things on film that are shocking and controversial. The remake of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT is fading on screens now, but the reason why the original is still memorable is because they did things you just couldn’t do on film.

NEAR HIT is designed to be a thriller, and I hope that it appeals to many people and makes a lot of money, but if I can’t offer a movie star or a bunch of CGI, I need to have something else that makes this a "must see" movie. That’s not going to be gore, like LAST HOUSE, it *is* going to be a take no prisoners attitude. You remember in the first BOURNE movie when that guy gets a ballpoint pen *jammed* into his hand in a fight scene? Okay, I’m going to try to top that. And anyone can die in my movie - anyone. At least one good guy will die - the kind of role that never dies in a Hollywood movie. I need to keep the movie “juicy” at all times.

The strong cliffhangers only bring you back next week if you liked the rest of this week’s episode. My little film isn’t just competing with other little films - it takes as much time to watch a big budget Hollywood movie as it does to watch my film made for pocket change. And they cost the same to rent. I need to make sure my film leaves a mark on the viewer, so they recommend it to their friends. But before it ends up on DVD, I’m doing an experiment in online distribution.

ONLINE DISTRIBUTION


The plan is to roll it out as a web series, then slap the sucker on DVD with 6 extra minutes of bonus footage - probably including nudity and maybe some extra-brutal action - for a 90 minute total running time... along with the regular behind the scenes material. Though I had planned on doing this before DR. HORRIBLE, that experiment kind of cemented the deal. DR. HORRIBLE did well online, thanks to being unique and strange and something you could not get from Hollywood... and having a great cast... then went to DVD with some bonus material and sold well... to many of the people who watched it online. As someone who owns probably a thousand DVDs (maybe two thousand, never counted - but it’s *a lot*), one of the reasons why I buy a DVD is an “extended version” or scenes that were cut, and also the behind the scenes features. Of course, the main reason is that I liked the film and want to see it again... whenever I want. But there have been some DVDs that I bought mostly for the extras. So part of my movie experiment includes those 6 extra minutes - kind of an “unrated version” - plus a bunch of behind the scenes making-of material. Since this is an experiment, I think the behind the scenes stuff will be interesting to many people. But the 6 minutes and the extras are all about selling the DVD to the very people who watched the movie online.

The online element of my project is an experiment, because I have no idea how to really make money online. Online is kind of the wild wild west - there are no rules yet, no patterns, no set way that works... and I’m not sure anyone knows the way to make money. One of the issues with online content is that many people seem to think it should be free - and that leads to this whole culture of piracy. Downloading songs, downloading new movies, and downloading just about everything else for free. My website has a free script tip every day - and it not only costs me time (which is money) to write up all of those articles, it costs me money to keep the website up and running, too. Every once in a while when I get hit with some bill for running the site, I wonder if I should make it subscription... but everyone hates the idea of paying for things online. So my site remains free - except for me.

Some people see a video as “content” that brings customers to the site so that they can click on adverts, and the adverts are what generates the income. That seems like a good model, but I think the issue with adverts right now is that you have to be Hulu (established) to get anyone interested in paying for the adverts, and even then it's tough. In his blog entry about a month ago about THE REMNANTS, John August’s main reason for pulling the plug on the series is that it was costing him $25k per episode to make it (which is cheap compared to half a million to a couple of million for a TV episode) but he couldn’t find any advertisers. This is a guy who has written a bunch of big studio films, and he has a web series with real actors, and yet he can't find a sponsor that matters! You would think that a major brand might step in, but so far he hasn’t found one. The web isn’t metered like TV, so it’s hard to tell if anyone is seeing your adverts - sure, there are hit counters, but that's not the same as the Nielsens. That doesn’t make it attractive to a major brand with stockholders to answer to.

My friend “Better Duck” has a local fishing show in Florida that is broadcast online, and he has found a local bait & tackle shop that covers his costs to make the show in exchange for a commercial. That’s a great idea for an inexpensive show that targets the buyers for a specific product - but John August’s post apocalyptic sci-fi show and my chase thriller aren’t the right kind of show for something like that. Though I may experiment with commercials and product placement, I think those are real long shots... and more likely to result in a free meal for the crew in exchange for a restaurant plug than enough money to make the show profitable online. The problem with the internet is that it is *not* local - I might run my little web series and 99% of the hits come from outside California. So some local biz wouldn't be interested in buying an advert.

Then there are the “passive” adverts, something to click on when you go to my site to see the movie. You may have notice that I have Google Ads on this blog, and I also have Google ads on my Script Secrets site, and on my B Movie site and on my production company site... and you know how much **all** of those Google ads on **all** of the sites combined make me in a year? $100. That’s right - all of the ads on all of my sites combined total $100 a year. Actually a little less than that, because it usually takes 13 months to hit $100 (minimum for them to write a check). So even if I litter the movie site with Google ads and T shirt sales and Amazon and all kinds of other junk, it isn’t likely to make me much more than $100-$150 a year, which isn’t going to pay for making the film.

I think adverts from some national company interested in experimenting online are really the way to make money, but I'm not sure how to get ads when I'm just another dude with a web series. If I’m NBC or I have the 24 webisodes maybe some major advertiser will pay, but as a completely unproven project with no stars and no TV exposure made by some silly screenwriter in Studio City? So I'm hoping the first series gets the second series some real adverts. Maybe I can turn the first series into a hit so that someone will take a chance on the second series (whatever that is). I don’t think any form of adverts is the way to make money if you are just some low budget film with no stars.

Which means I’m going to have to try to get people to pay per view - which most people are adverse to. And how do you get them to pay for a low budget action show sight unseen?

My plan is to give away the first two episodes, then sell the others for a cheap enough price that people will pay without thinking twice. That's why I need the *strong* cliffhangers - I need to make sure people get hooked on the first two episodes and then *must* watch each of the rest to find out what happens. I got this distribution idea from heroin pushers.

I'm also going to experiment with a "tip jar" - you’ve seen them on people’s websites - a place where viewers can make a donation. Whatever they think the episode is worth. If the tip jar works, I may not have to charge for each episode - just let people pay what they think it’s worth. With 12 episodes, I would need 2,000 people each paying 25 cents per episode to cover basic production costs - which really isn’t breaking even because the cast and the crew members (and the 3 of us) are getting shares of the film as payment, and covering costs means they don’t get paid... yet. 2,000 people is also going to take some publicity work - I think I can round up 1,000 people between my blog and my website (pretty much the same people) but that’s only half of what I need. So I’m going to have to find ways to get the word out and hope that friends and bloggers and message boards and anything else out there will help get these first two episodes passed around enough to find at least 2,000 people who will watch every week and donate 25 cents (or pay 25 cents if the tip jar method doesn’t work and I have to set up a pay per view site).

Since this is all part of the internet experiment, I want to focus on ways the average filmmaker can get their film out there - rather than using methods that are unique to me. I can easily get the film plugged in Script Magazine, but the people who buy my book on writing and making your own film can not - so I’m not going to do that. I *will* publicize the hell out of the project - and try to get articles and interviews in all of the indie film mags and on the indie film websites. That’s something anyone can do. And I’ll use Facebook and MySpace and all of the other social networking sites to get the word out on these first two episodes (and the rest of the film). I don’t think I can do DR. HORRIBLE numbers, but just covering production cost means someone else can make their little movie and find an audience online big enough to cover their costs.

And I'm not spending $25k an episode like August, I'm not even spending that for all 12 episodes and the extra 6 minutes and the behind the scenes stuff. Next part I’ll get into the budget and costs, but the plan is to spend no more than $10k total with around $6k to get a finished product that can air online and the remainder going to all of the legal costs and deliverables I will need for the DVD sale. I don’t want to make a film so expensive that the average person can’t credit card it. So even if I charge 25 cents for the 10 paid episodes, that $2.50 per viewer for the whole film... More or less the cost of a film rental. I think that’s a fair price. At one point I was thinking about $1 per episode, but I think most people wouldn’t pay that much. 25 cents seems like *nothing* - I’d pay that if I were hooked on the show and needed to see the next episode to find out if the hero survives. If the tip jar thing works, maybe it won't be pay-per-episode. Who knows? It's an experiment.

The ace in the hole, here, is the DVD release - that's where I'll make the money to pay the cast and crew... and the three of us who will be directing this thing. So this little film needs to look like a slick, high quality movie... not something three guys made for pocket change (which is what it really is). In that scenario, the internet is a commercial for the DVD release - it will help spread word of mouth.

By the way, I already have two distribs interested... and one wanted to presell the film at Cannes! As a "concept test" I pitched the script to some distribs who do in-house (make films) and everybody wanted the script. Passed the test. I think a big mistake many folks make is thinking that the script that nobody wants can become the film everybody wants.

Two companies called after reading the synopsis (the one at the top of this page), and when I explained that I planned on making it myself, they were both interested in the finished film... and one offered a presales deal - they would sell the rights to the unmade film at Cannes. When I finished the film, the buyers would be there waiting for the movie, cash in hand. I would know *in advance* how much money I was going to make.

The problem with this is that a movie with no stars that hasn’t been made may not fetch a good price - but the finished film, with all kinds of great location shooting and explosions and whatever else (maybe a low budget face for the DVD box) may look like a million dollars... and find a distrib that thinks the film was made for $250-$500k... and makes a deal based on that budget rather than the pocket change we really made the movie for. Better *not* to be locked into a deal at this point. We can make more money in the long run.

Sometimes it *is* better to be locked into a distribution deal, because they will have a financial interest in the film and will go out of their way to sell it. But with something like this, the costs is so low that it’s not going to kill me if it all crashes and burns and I end up showing the movie in my garage... the way I showed all of my short films in the old days. But if it all comes together and it looks like a big picture, part of the experiment is to see how much I can sell DVD rights for. How much can you make? How much can you lose? Before people make their own little film, they want to know the answers to those questions... and I’m going to be the guinea pig in this little experiment.

Part Four.

- Bill

Thursday, March 19, 2009

WGA's Top 101 Scripts!

The WGA selected the top 101 scripts of all time a couple of years ago, and not one by *two* Pauley Shore films, plus Carrot Top's movie made the cut!

Here are the top 25, with a link to the WGA page with the rest...

1. CASABLANCA
Screenplay by Julius J. & Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch. Based on the play "Everybody Comes to Rick's" by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison

2. THE GODFATHER
Screenplay by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola. Based on the novel by Mario Puzo

3. CHINATOWN
Written by Robert Towne

4. CITIZEN KANE
Written by Herman Mankiewicz and Orson Welles

5. ALL ABOUT EVE
Screenplay by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Based on "The Wisdom of Eve," a short story and radio play by Mary Orr

6. ANNIE HALL
Written by Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman

7. SUNSET BLVD.
Written by Charles Brackett & Billy Wilder and D.M. Marshman, Jr.

8. NETWORK
Written by Paddy Chayefsky

9. SOME LIKE IT HOT
Screenplay by Billy Wilder & I.A.L. Diamond. Based on "Fanfare of Love," a German film written by Robert Thoeren and M. Logan

10. THE GODFATHER II
Screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo. Based on Mario Puzo's novel "The Godfather"

11. BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID
Written by William Goldman

12. DR. STRANGELOVE
Screenplay by Stanley Kubrick and Peter George and Terry Southern. Based on novel "Red Alert" by Peter George

13. THE GRADUATE
Screenplay by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry. Based on the novel by Charles Webb

14. LAWRENCE OF ARABIA
Screenplay by Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson. Based on the life and writings of Col. T.E. Lawrence

15. THE APARTMENT
Written by Billy Wilder & I.A.L. Diamond

16. PULP FICTION
Written by Quentin Tarantino. Stories by Quentin Tarantino & Roger Avary

17. TOOTSIE
Screenplay by Larry Gelbart and Murray Schisgal. Story by Don McGuire and Larry Gelbart

18. ON THE WATERFRONT
Screen Story and Screenplay by Budd Schulberg. Based on "Crime on the Waterfront" articles by Malcolm Johnson

19. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD
Screenplay by Horton Foote. Based on the novel by Harper Lee

20. IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE
Screenplay by Frances Goodrich & Albert Hackett & Frank Capra. Based on short story "The Greatest Gift" by Philip Van Doren Stern. Contributions to screenplay Michael Wilson and Jo Swerling

21. NORTH BY NORTHWEST
Written by Ernest Lehman

22. THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION
Screenplay by Frank Darabont. Based on the short story "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" by Stephen King

23. GONE WITH THE WIND
Screenplay by Sidney Howard. Based on the novel by Margaret Mitchell

24. ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND
Screenplay by Charlie Kaufman. Story by Charlie Kaufman & Michel Gondry & Pierre Bismuth

25. THE WIZARD OF OZ
Screenplay by Noel Langley and Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf Adaptation by Noel Langley. Based on the novel by L. Frank Baum

The next 76 in the big parade!

- Bill

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Bill's Little Movie Experiment (Part Two)

Okay, the first experiment is the cliffhanger format - kind of sequencing, but with a big twist near the end of each sequence where the hero is in all kinds of trouble and you have to come back next week to find out if and how he gets out of it.

The way I plan on shooting the film is also an experiment. Real movies are filmed all at once - and the bigger the film, the more weeks they take to shot it. A big studio film may take a couple of months of shooting... usually 6 days a week, 12 hours a day. My HBO movies usually shot in 4 weeks, 6 days a week... sometimes over 12 hours a day. The network MOWs and some of the other cable films shot in 3 weeks, 6 days a weeks, 12 or more hours a day. Low budget features (even some cable movies like Showtime’s old Rebel Highway Series) shoot in 2 weeks - 12 days, and often more than 12 hours a day. And I’ve had some “quickies” shot in 9 days straight - which is a week’s worth of equipment rentals with 2 weekends. When it comes time to schedule a film, it’s all about the most bang for your buck. Since part of the experiment is making this film for as few bucks as possible, my plan is to shoot only on weekends.

Equipment houses often have weekend deals, because most of their business is commercials and industrials - which is Monday - Friday schedules (just like a real job, because it is). That leaves the equipment sitting on the shelves on weekends, so the Equipment house usually has a weekend rate - Friday night until Monday morning, often for the price of one day. That’s a deal! It also works well when the other two guys involved have day jobs. Flexible day jobs, but still day jobs. And it will be easier to find a pick up crew on weekends - they have jobs, too.

WEEKEND SHOOTING


So here’s how I plan on filming this - and it directly impacts the screenplay - Six weekends, with 14 minutes/pages shot per weekend. On a crazy 9 day shoot, you have to shoot over 9 pages a day. That’s a lot of pages! The problem is, I haven’t shot anything in years, and even though I will be completely organized with shot lists and sketches and storyboards and whatever else - 9 pages is a lot of pages. I don’t think I can do that; and even if I could, I don’t think the average person who buys my book about making your own movie could do that. You need a well-oiled movie making machine of a crew to pull that off. People that have been doing this for years and can shoot a movie in their sleep. That is not us. So for this to be a “fair” experiment, I’ve decided we’ll aim for 5 pages a day.

I figure if we’ve done our preproduction, we can shoot 5 pages a day with a limited amount of stress - maybe even have a good time while we’re at it. 5 pages a day is still work, and my guess is that some of those days may be long (more complicated scenes), but I think we can make it work and have time to do some cool shots.

The plan is to shoot 5 pages on Saturday, 5 pages on Sunday... and a weekend rental is pick up Friday evening and return Monday morning... which means there’s Friday night! 4 pages/minutes on Friday night - that will probably be all at a single controlled location. I’m thinking 2 scenes, 2 minutes each... but some Fridays might be four one minute scenes or a three and a one. Some combo that adds up to 4 pages.

All of this impacts the script, because I will need 6 locations with 4 pages/minutes at each that will be spread throughout the script. These things have to be built into the script in te outline stage. Also, the easier these scenes are to shoot, the better the chances that they will actually get shot in those few hours after picking up the equipment on Friday night. It will be easier to shoot 4 minutes of dialogue based scenes in the limited amount of time on Friday night than some complicated action scene. It will be easier to shoot indoors where we can set up lights quickly than outdoors - because it is night - where we will have to light the darkness. But because it *is* night, some of these Friday scenes may be night scenes. And it’s possible that one entire block may be driving around in a car stealing establishing shots at night - lighted areas, of course.

The cool thing about shooting digital is that we can set up lighting with a consumer camera before we pick up the rental camera. One of he guys has a high end (HD) consumer camera. We can even rehearse with the consumer camera... and when we actually start shooting? That consumer camera is back up - we shoot everything with the big HD camera and the consumer camera (at slightly different angles). On SLAUGHTERHOUSE MASSACRE a consumer camera saved the film - part of the story had a character videotaping what happened... and the method actor actually hit the trigger and taped during the scenes. In editing, when there wasn’t some shot or not enough coverage (that film was a nightmare of bad planning), they could cut to that camera POV. Though the picture quality on our second camera won’t be as good as the big HD material, it may save our butts to have that footage if something goes wrong. If you don’t have a high end consumer camera, anything you can use as back up is better than having nothing. So Friday will be hell, but we can be completely ready to go when we pick up the camera and blast out 4 pages before bedtime.

ALL FOR ONE, ONE FOR ALL


Part of the plan is also to trade off directing - so one person will be in charge on Friday, someone else in charge on Saturday, and someone else on Sunday. Then we alternate, so that every third week I’m doing a 4 page Friday. I think this will help keep us all fresh over the weekend - instead of being responsible for directing 14 pages, I will be responsible for directing 5 pages (or 4). I can focus on those 5 pages and really try to make them the coolest and most amazing 5 pages possible. One the other 2 days I am a crew member - maybe the Director of Photography or the Gaffer (light guy). I’ll be making a creative contribution, but I won’t be in charge. I won’t be responsible for those days, and everything I do will be to help John or Van put their creative vision on screen.

When I’ve worked on other people’s films, and the pressure isn’t on *you*, you can just do your job... and maybe even come up with some interesting ideas or shots or bits that help the director. On a friend’s short, one of the other crew guys came up with a cool thing for the shot - added a spider and spider web to one corner of the room - which made the scene twice as creepy. The director was busy thinking about all of the other elements in that shot, so the crew members spider web was a *bonus*. If today is my day to be the Gaffer, I might come up with a cool idea or interesting lighting that will make the scene even better than any of us planned. And I hope trading off directing duties will keep it fun as well. No one will get stressed out because they are responsible for 14 pages a week.

Because Saturday and Sunday are full days, they can be more complicated. We’re doing a chase thriller, kind of like 24, so we’ll be doing action scenes and fun stuff on the full days. Since movies are not shot in order, it’s not like we’re shooting a 5 page segment in one day... just 5 pages of scenes that will cut throughout the film. From a script standpoint, that means we have our 4 page Fridays at an easy location, and 5 pages of more difficult material at a potentially more complicated location on Saturday, and the same on Sunday. That may sound confusing to write, but what you do is just figure out the story, then plug in the locations where you want to shoot... and use those same locations until you hit 5 pages (or 10 pages or 9 pages, etc.). So, if I do a 3 page suspense scene at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, I also have to do a 2 page scene there, too. I’ve done this on a bunch of low budget films, and the second scene can be anything from a cop at the crime scene to a crook returns to the scene of the crime to an earlier scene that sets up the location (maybe a dialogue scene or a romance scene).

And just because we are shooting at one location on Saturday doesn’t mean that is has to be one location. A room can be redressed to become another room. An exterior location may be across the street from another exterior location. And because Saturday and Sunday are full days, one location may be different between day and night. By day it has some features, by night completely different features. So the 5 pages at one location may not seem like 5 pages in the same place.

I think the real key in any low budget film is the script. Bad films start with bad scripts. Hey, that’s the one thing we control! So I plan in spending enough time on the script to make sure it works... most of the bad low budget films I’ve seen have huge script problems that probably could have been solved if they’d just taken more time working on it. People are anxious to make the movie, and rush the writing. The last thing you want to do is film your script, *then* realize the script needed work.

Part Three

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Character In Conflict and ROCKY BALBOA.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Fried rice at City Wok... There was a line halfway down the street to get into Nolan's in Toluca Lake, so I just drove past. Did I really need the corned beef & cabbage? No.
Bicycle: No bike today - I ran errands.


Movies: LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT
- I saw LAST HOUSE last Tuesday at the premiere (another red carpet), and it is good news/bad news: If you are a rabid fan of the original, the bad news is that this is the mainstream version of that story. You have to go in knowing that this is going to be that R rated, toned down, mainstream version... not like the X rated completely brutal original. It's not going to traumatize you for life like the original. It *is* going to use various household items to kill people in sick ways... within the R rating.

The good news is that it's a pretty good thriller that turns into kind of a family version of TAKEN in the last half - and with TAKEN still running strong after over 5 weeks, maybe it’s time for the French film to be replaced by a movie based on a Bergman film.

That’s right - the original LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT was based on a Bergman film called THE VIRGIN SPRING about simple farmer parents of a murdered girl who take bloody revenge on her goat-herder killers when they seek food and lodging at their farm. The original LAST HOUSE added sex, drugs and rock and roll... and the Manson Family (sort of). A pair of high school girls on their way to a concert stop to buy some weed and end up the prisoners of Krug and company - some completely depraved criminals recently escaped from prison... and are tossed in the trunk of Krug’s car... Which, coincidentally, breaks down near one of the girl’s house. Krug and company take the girls into the woods and do unspeakable acts to them before brutally murdering them... Then go back to the parent’s house to take shelter from a storm. When the parents discover these people killed their daughter, they secretly set out to get revenge - feeding Krug and company dinner as they set up booby traps around the house designed to kill them.

The new version makes a lot more sense, with swim team star Mari going on vacation with her overworked doctor father (Tony Goldwyn) and over-organized soccer mom (Monica Potter - giving an Oscar caliber performance in what could have been a throw away role) at their lake-side house in the woods. Though everyone is trying to have a good time, there is a weight hanging over the family - this is the first time they have been to the lake since the death of their son. Mari (Sara Paxton), borrows the SUV so that she can hang out with her townie friend Paige (Martha McIsaac) - who was a lot funnier in the Carl Ellsworth draft I read. Paige accepts an offer from a cute boy she doesn’t know, Justin (Spencer Clark) to go to his motel and smoke some pot. Mari reluctantly comes along... and when the boy’s psycho father, Krug (the brilliant Garret Dillahunt, who plays Chromarte on SARA CONNERS) and uncle (Aaron Paul) and trippy squeeze Sadie (Riki Lindholme) arrive unexpectedly... the girls become hostages. Krug has just escaped from the police, is on the run, and needs a vehicle the police aren’t searching for... and Mari has her parent’s SUV. She will drive them through any roadblocks and get to a side road out of state.

But she drives them toward her parent’s lake house, then crashes the car and tries to escape... but Krug and company catch the girls...

And here is where the remake is most different than Wes Craven’s original. That first version of LAST HOUSE was rated X, and absolutely brutal. Take the worst, most vile, brutal, disgusting, sick thing you can imagine that Krug and his thugs could do to these two girls... and in that first version, what they do is much much worse. No one could ever imagine this. People, humans, can’t imagine actions like this. And that was the strength of the original. It showed you things that once seen, could not be un-seen. You were *traumatized* by that film.

Adding to that was a sense of realism - this was Wes Craven’s first film. It is not some slick Hollywood movie - it used documentary techniques because hand-held cameras were cheaper than dolly tracks and cranes. The film was crudely shot, and that made it seem *real*. So, those traumatizing images seemed like they really happened... You just wanted to vomit, and I’m sure many people did. It was raw, sick, brutal.

The fans of the original will think the remake is wimpy - a Hollywood sell out. And it is. You can’t remake that original scene today. So, what we get is a way way toned down rape, and a murder that is casual but not as twisted and brutal as the original...

And here’s where things get strange - if you go to Rotten Tomatoes and read the Top Critics, you will read a bunch of bad reviews that talk about how disgusting the rape scene is in the new version. I am a huge fan of Patrick Goldstien’s column in the Los Angeles Times, but he came at this film with guns blazing - comparing the rape scene to a violent first person pedophile rape “game” from Japan. I don’t think he had actually seen the film when he wrote this column - he’d just read all of the other reviews. Ebert also focused on the rape scene in his review... even though back in the 70s he gave the original 3.5 stars.

Actually the rape and torture scene in the remake is *very* tame compared to the original LAST HOUSE. In the original, one of the girls was sliced open and many of her internal organs were made external and shown to her as she slowly died... shown to *us* as well. This scene in the original pretty much traumatized me for life.
The new version's rape doesn't even come close to the rape in DELIVERANCE, and it serves the same story purpose. The DELIVERANCE rape scene has Ned Beatty begging and trying to crawl away and being caught and trying to escape again and, of course, squealing like a pig. The scene went on *forever* - and they rip off his underwear and brutally rape him... laughing the whole time. And John Voight has to watch... knowing that he’s next.

In the remake of LAST HOUSE, Krug slams her to the ground, tears off her clothes, *lowers* her panties (doesn't rip them) and then rapes her. It *is* a disturbing scene - and meant to be - but this isn't the protracted struggle from DELIVERANCE. I'll bet the LAST HOUSE scene is maybe a third or a quarter as long as the DELIVERANCE scene. Now, both are disturbing - not glamorized and not sexual in any way. The LAST HOUSE scene is designed to repulse you - to make you hate the rapist, so when the parents want to get revenge, so do you.

So why the controversy? Why is a this wimpy replacement for the original’s traumatizing scene getting all of this flack?

I believe it is because the scene works. The rape scene is disgusting and horrifying and not glamorized in any way... even though it is not even near the original, it is extreme. The scene makes you feel... sick. And it is *supposed to*. So when the critics were affected by the scene, they trashed the film for making them feel.

As someone who has seen the original recently, I thought the scene wimped out. I didn’t think it was bad enough to justify the revenge that follows. Because where this new LAST HOUSE drops the ball is in not having any Ronny Cox character (from DELIVERANCE) to question the concept of revenge. Because this version of Krug and company aren’t the crazed psychos from the original, but a group of pretty standard criminals. I though the biggest problem was the casting of Aaron Paul - who looks like a pretty boy actor, and his character is calm... All of these bad guys are *reasonable*. The original Krug and Company were just so crazed and unpredictable you thought they should be put down for the good of society. That mad dog from TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD looks like that cute puppy version of MARLEY compared to Krug in the original.

Revenge is a nasty thing, and the LAST HOUSE remake needed the voice of reason that the Ronny Cox character brought to DELIVERANCE.... and the guilt epilogue from that film would have also been nice.

But it wouldn't matter - because the rape in LAST HOUSE remake is not particularly graphic. The violence *afterwards* - the violence that the *parents* serve up on the rapist and his crew - *is* very graphic. But for some really weird reason, there is no discussion of that by the critics (except Ebert). I suspect that is because none of the critics saw the original... and were not traumatized for life like I was.

Once we get to the revenge element, it is not served as cold as in the original (where the parents calmly feed them dinner) nor are any chainsaws used nor penises bitten off and spit out. Instead, the new version is more self-defense that bobby-traps and torture.

I have always thought of Monica Potter as a “replacement actress” - when Ashley Judd drops out of a movie, she’s the replacement. Kind of a placeholder. But in the LAST HOUSE remake she gives a great, layered performance. There is a scene after she realizes what these people did to her daughter where she must have a conversation with Aaron Paul and make it appear as if she is being a gracious hostess while we see her fear underneath that, and her anger underneath that. It is a creepy and frightening conversation and Potter manages to keep all of these emotions swirling around.

In the Bergman film, the father prays for forgiveness before he takes his revenge. Like the original LAST HOUSE, the father in the remake is a doctor... someone who is sworn to save lives and do no harm... but there is no moral discussion in either film. The original’s killers are so vile, and the daughter’s rape and Paige’s murder so disgusting that anything would seem justified. In the remake, the rape is less traumatic and the villains less crazed... and that makes the parent’s punishment *not* seem to fit the crime. And without any prayers for forgiveness or questions about whether it is right to jamb a claw hammer into another person’s head, the revenge seems like overkill. (Call me sick, but my favorite part was the musical sound the claw hammer makes in one scene.)

By the way, the draft of the script I read had a bit of dialogue that sets up the end... which is missing in the film, and appears not to have been shot. I suspect they were cut out in a later draft or cut by the director because somebody thought that dialogue “telegraphed” the end... except without that set up, the end makes no sense (and people have been complaining about it). Devo Folks - unusual things *have to be established* or else they don’t make sense. They are usual! And you have the whole movie between the establishing lines and the end of the film when that thing is paid off. People will forget.

The new version works well as an R rated thriller of revenge - and may take the place of TAKEN in the top 5, same kind of vibe - but it’s not even close to the brutality of the original. You will not be traumatized for life. And that may be a good thing. You can go to see the new version of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and take a date... without feeling like Travis Bickle taking Betsy to that porno theater.

And if you are a fan of the original? The DVD is still there whenever you want to be traumatized for life again.

- Bill

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

That spinach stuck between your teeth is *stylish* today!

Here are two topical videos - one of which features my favorite movie and TV star (no, not Ice T)...





- Bill (having another Guiness)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Bill's Little Movie Experiment (Part One)

A month ago after my post about the movie I’m making next year, there were a couple of comments about how it sounded like fun and they wished they could be in the Bay Area to help... and within a few days John August posted about his abandoned web series THE REMNANTS, including all kinds of great cost information. I began this blog entry, then something got in the way and I’m just now getting back to it.

If making a little movie really does sound like fun to you, why not consider making your own? I plan on giving you the play-by-play as we actually start making the film, but I’ve already started some of the planning, so why not include you in that? Like all plans, some of this may change - but if you have any interest in grabbing some people in your home town and making a film, this may help.

Probably the main reason for making this film is to hang out with old friends and try to recapture the fun of being stupid 20 year olds making short films that we used to show in my garage. Sure, this will be hard work, but it also has to be something fun, something we enjoy doing, or what’s the point? If this were all about making money, well - I think I’d be better off writing a spec script or going back to work forklift jousting. Any time you make a film, it’s a gamble. It may never make a cent. I don’t want anyone to max their credit cards then blame me when the film doesn’t sell.

This little film is also an experiment - actually a bunch of experiments, but four main ones. When I first began writing for Script Magazine, my column was all about writing for low budget and independent films. I also spent a year writing a column for the Independent Film Channel’s magazine on writing for budget, and I own reprint rights to all of those articles - almost enough for a book. Some of those articles get linked now an then on my website, others have been rewritten for a European Film magazine, and a couple are the basis for the Indie Screenwriting CD. But many are just sitting in the vault... I thought I’d rewrite them into a book on writing for a budget and making your own digital feature - there really isn’t a good book about Indie screenwriting out there. But I would be an idiot if I wrote a book about making your own digital feature and had never actually made one. So, aside from having fun with old friends, this movie is an experiment for my proposed book. As usual, I plan on making a bunch of mistakes then writing about them so that you don’t make the same ones. I have not made a film in ages, so I’m going to have to learn about everything from SAG contracts to distribution.

The four main experiments are:
1) Serial Format.
2) Alternate Directors
3) Web Distribution.
4) Making A Feature For Pocket Change.

So, let’s start by looking at the serial format.

KILLER SERIAL


Part of my grand scheme is to play around with “new media” which is the fancy word for the internet. We all know some 4 minute YouTube short of a guy throwing a Frisbee with his butt cheeks will race across the nation in a heartbeat. But a story? That’s proving to be difficult. There have been a few “web shows” that found an audience, but usually the web is great for some stand alone comedy piece or CHOCOLATE RAIN or something - things that are passed around, and then it’s over. Not something that is more like a TV show - you have to go back every week to watch a new episode. There *are* some webisodes that companions to popular TV shows, but that’s something different. So how do you get people to keep coming back for more every week?

I’ve been looking at old time movie serials as a model - and watched a bunch. Most of them sucked. If you are unfamiliar with old serials, there was a time in the 30s and 40s when a movie program consisted of an A feature, a B feature, a newsreel, a bunch of coming attractions, and the latest chapter of a serial. Serial chapters back then were about half an hour long - some went 45 minutes - and usually action based. Westerns, super heroes, thrillers, crime stories, war stories and just plain old action. Guys like John Wayne got their start in these things. In a way, they were like TV shows... except made for a nickle by some sub-B studio like Monogram and to make sure that the audience came back to see *their* serial (and not the other guy’s) there would be a *strong* cliffhanger at the end of each chapter.

Here is a link to a website with free downloads of some old serials (all of them fell out of copyright), and I suggest ZORRO’S FIGHTING LEGION as one that is watchable and fun. I have watched Rod LaRogue as THE SHADOW (one of my favorite pulp mags and old radio shows) and it kind of sucks. The John Wayne THREE MUSKETEERS somehow takes place in the French Foreign Legion, and is almost watchable. These things were aimed at kids, and if you can watch them using your 12 year old boy brain, they can be fun and entertaining... even though they are cheaply made and feature silly plots and usually awful acting.

Free Public Domain Movies. (Serial Page)

Movies like RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK took inspiration from them, so I’m kind of looking at an idealized version of those serials - not as much what they are, as what they could be if done a lot better.

So here’s the plan:

Twelve 7 minute segments gives me a feature when I’m finished.

*Strong* cliffhangers at the end of each segment. My theory is that cliffhangers are the answer to the web thing... and even if I’m wrong, it’s going to make a danged exciting movie for the DVD release. What’s the downside?

I considered doing 5 minute segments for a while, and that’s still an okay idea. I just looked at scene lengths and thought 7 might be an easier number to hit every episode. Oh, and there’s a good chance it may time out differently after we actually make it.

The most difficult part of coming up with the script is that I need 11 strong cliffhangers. Oh, wait, some of you probably want to know what a cliffhanger is. In those old serials, each episode would end with a “cliffhanger” so that you would have to come back and watch the next episode. The name comes from the standard serail scene where the hero would get knocked off the edge of a cliff by the bad guy and grab hold of a rock or root and be hanging hundreds of feet over a canyon... losing his grip! End of episode, come back next week to see if he falls or finds some way to climb over the edge. Back wne I was a kid, the Adam West BATMAN show was on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Every Tuesday night episode would end with Batman and Robin being slowly lowered into a vat of boiling oil (or something) by the villain... no way to escape! But when you tuned in Thursday night, they would find some way to survive - usually a hidden Bat-device that King Tut’s goons missed when they searched them - and then we’d get the second half of the story. You had to tune in to find out how they escaped, and the kids on the playground always had their theories. Our theories were always more clever than the hidden Bat-device... which may be why I’m a writer now.

But if you look at RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, it has scene after scene where Indy gets into some situation where there is no way to escape... then he finds the way and gets out of there, until the next scene. In that opening scene, after stealing the idol, he jumps across that bottomless pit, doesn’t quite make it, and is actually hanging from the edge of a cliff... grabbing at that root, which pulls out of the ground! So that’s the way my story is going to work - each of those 7 minute segments ends with a situation where the hero is in big trouble with seemingly no way out... and you have to come back next week to see how the conflict is resolved. I’m looking at these 11 cliffhangers as *twists*, too - not just some predictable bad thing happening to the hero, buy a totally wild shocker that puts our hero in even more trouble! The stronger I can make the twist-cliffhanger, the better the chances of the online part of the experiment working.

And just because I’m using the serial thing for a thriller, doesn’t mean you can’t use the same method for a rom-com or a horror film or comedy or even a drama (but a straight drama is going to be a tough sell - not telling you not to make one, just warning you) - you can use the strong cliffhangers in any genre!

But, as I said, even if the online part of the experiment fails, it all comes out to feature length and with all of those twists and cliffhangers will be one danged exciting film.

I hope.

Part Two


- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Concealing and Revealing information and HARRY POTTER.
Yesterday’s Dinner: I actually forgot to eat yesterday.
Bicycle: Took a bike ride to a far-off Starbucks yesterday, and did a short ride today with me legs screaming for a break.

Movies: WATCHMEN - Fans of the graphic novel will begin tracking me through the city, carrying “The End Is Nigh” signs, and waiting for their chance to brutally kill me after reading this review...

A week ago Sunday I saw WATCHMEN with a group of friends on a massive IMAX screen at the Universal City Cinemas with Night Owl’s hovercraft parked out front. It was amusing to look into the turbines and see painted flames. One of the great things about seeing a movie in Los Angeles is that you may get to see the Batmobile “tumbler” parked in the lobby, or maybe the models of the Enterprise used in the new STAR TREK movie (now at the Arclight Hollywood) or the costumes or props from some movie (costumes from WATCHMEN on the opposite side of the Arclight lobby).

Due to either good luck or bad luck, by the time I realized I was probably the first one there and that they were letting people into the cinema and that maybe I should grab seats for everyone, the only available seats for a group our size was in row, I think, five - right up close to the screen. The IMAX screen. Now, I usually sit in Row 6, so this wasn’t that big of a deal for me - and nobody else in the group complained and a couple thought it was cool to sit right up there close to the screen. Had we known we’d have a giant swinging blue penis flying at us through half of the film, it may not have been so cool... But more about the Smurf porn later.

I have never read the comic book, nor the graphic novel they compiled it into - I didn’t really know anything about WATCHMEN until Time Magazine listed it as one of the 100 greatest novels of the 20th century. Even then, I only knew it as an anomaly - a comic book better than most of my favorite books (which did not make the list)? I didn’t know who any of the characters were or what the story was. I didn’t know one of the superheroes didn’t believe in pants, and let his junk swing in the wind. The trailers made it look interesting, but gave me not a single clue as to what the *story* might be - I hate trailers like that. I also hate trailers that give away the whole danged film, like the one for LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. I like trailers that are just right - they give you the lead character and what the big conflict is going to be, then let you worry about the whole thing until you see the movie. In fact, the reason why you see the movie is because you are worried for the lead character and want to make sure they solve that big asteroid issue or come to the end of that page of numbers and realize that the last disaster is going to wipe out most of the world’s population... unless they can do something about it. But WATCHMEN’s trailer didn’t give me a clue as to the plot - someone was killing superheroes - but was this just going to be Agatha Christie’s TEN LITTLE INDIANS with dudes in capes? A superhero movie needs a super story! They didn’t even show the super villain in the trailer! One of the fun things about a superhero movie is that kid’s game - who would win a fight between Superman and Batman? Except it’s: Who would win a fight between Spider-Man and Doc Oc? And you imagine all of the fights and scenes that might happen, then go to see the movie to find out what *really* happens. But no super villain in the trailer...

So I had no idea what to expect.

The lights go down, the movie begins...

WATCHMEN starts out as one of the greatest movies ever made. The title sequence gives us the entire warped history of the crime fighters - how they began as The Minutemen and later evolved (or devolved) into The Watchmen... and what happens when those with great power shirk their responsibility... or maybe give their word to the wrong people. How absolute superpowers corrupt absolutely. The power of that opening title sequence overwhelmed me.

Then we come to the murder of The Comedian (in the trailer, not a spoiler) which kicks off the whole story - whatever that may be - and... it sucks. First, because I don’t know the rules of the story, I don’t know who the Comedian is or what his powers are or what his character is - except for the name. And, well, he’s not funny in this scene. I realize it’s a scene where he gets killed - but there are plenty of non-superhero movies with characters who are not named The Comedian who say really funny things in fight scenes, or even have really funny last words. Nothing funny here. And the guy who comes to kill him has some sort of super powers - he throws the Comedian across the room - seeming to aim at every glass topped coffee table in the apartment (and there are several). The Comedian does his own punching - and it’s stronger than a normal guy, stronger than Batman, but not as strong as Superman. I have no idea what this guy’s powers are... but the assassin is more powerful.

Now, the big problem with this action scene is that it is repetitious and boring and tells us nothing about the character(s). I just finished a two part article for Script Magazine called Anatomy Of An Action Scene that is all about how an action scene is a character scene and a story scene and needs an emotional component. This action scene had none of that... and was kind of boring. And went of *forever*. After running out of glass topped coffee tables, the bad guy throws the Comedian through the plate glass window of the apartment, and he falls all the way down to the street below. Splat. No shortage of blood.

And the fight scene is not just missing an emotional component, it is shot in the most boring possible way - no reversals, no suspense, no tension, all of it is just *blah*! And the rest of the movie is blah as well - Snyder and the writers seem to find the blandest way to give us information. Nothing is *revealed* - even the “big reveals” in the story are just dumped on us in the blandest way possible. Maybe this stuff worked on the pages of the graphic novel, but this method did not work on that big IMAX screen. The story, like the fight scenes, was told in the blandest way possible.

None of the other fight scenes in the film would have any character or story or emotional component with one exception - a *great* prison riot fight with Rorschach. That scene had everything except a story purpose - but was the highpoint of the film for me. In fact, Rorschach was the highpoint of the film for me, they should have just gotten rid of all of the other characters and subplots and crap and just made the film about him.

That was the big problem with the movie for me - it was a soap opera about super heroes. Too many lead characters, too many subplots, too many minor conflicts masquerading as major conflict. Rorschach investigating the Comedian’s murder is basically abandoned - shoved aside by all of these subplots - so we not only have nothing driving the story, we have all of these soap opera plots taking center stage when they should have just been jettisoned. They get in the way of the story. Back when I was taking Film Appreciation at Diablo Valley Community College (home of the sex-for-grades program) my friend Bruce Dowling did time lapse photography of a full week of a soap opera (I don’t remember which one) compressing 5 hours into 3 minutes of unexpected pregnancies and affairs and break ups and evil twins and all of the other crap in a soap... and it was funny as hell! Because all of these crazy, silly, melodramatic plots compressed into 3 minutes showed them for what they were - over the top junk. In WATCHMEN we have all of those soap plots - an unwanted pregnancy, a relationship on the rocks because he spends too much time at work, some evil twins, an affair with his best friend’s girl, a drunk old man remembering his glory days, the town slut, friends who never come over for a visit anymore, a guy with erectile dysfunction, an ex-fiancĂ© who shows up slowly dying of cancer, a woman with a shameful secret affair... on and on into the Edge Of Night! For the first hour and a half this movie is a big silly soap opera - no plot driving it, just a bunch of little subplots.

Now, I suspect that on the comic book page all of this plays - but on the screen it’s all subplot, no main plot. In a *movie* the subplots need to be connected to the main plot.

And no main character. Again - in a comic book, you can do something interesting like have different characters as the lead in each issue. Give them all equal time and a couple of issues to call their own. That works in a novel, too. But on the big screen, it’s all one issue - and all one story - and needs one protagonist. One character that the audience will identify with for the next 2 hours (or, three in this case). If they would have stuck with Rorschach’s murder investigation and made all of these other characters suspects and witnesses (and cut out most of the scenes without Rorschach) it would have flowed better and been more interesting. Less soapy.

When we finally get back to Rorschach about an hour and a half into the film, the movie takes off again and keeps going strong until the end. Much of this is probably due to Jackie Earle Haley’s performance. Because BREAKING AWAY is one of my favorite movies, I’ve been a fan forever - and it’s great to see his come back continue. The thing about Rorschach is, when he’s behind the mask he has the most interesting dialogue in the film, but when they tear off his mask... the film gets great, because we can see layers of emotion on Haley’s face. Much of the dialogue in WATCHMEN is on the nose and stilted, but Rorschach gets the best lines... and the *best* line in the film.

One of the reasons why Rorschach is so good is that the other characters are kind of bland. Silk Spectre 2 gets all kinds of bad dialogue, and until she kicks some ass in the prison scene is basically just Dr. Manhattan’s girlfriend with relationship issues. Night Owl 2 is a quiet nerd, not the most interesting character type. Dr. Manhattan and his swinging blue penis is calm and soft spoken and so far above everything that he’s boring... but that blue dick is distracting whenever it’s on the screen. You don’t want to look at it, but I swear Snyder keeps positioning the danged thing right in the center of the action. Ozymandias is super-benevolent, doing good things for everyone - which is kind of boring. He’s also so full of himself, he’s silly. And he has that awful wig - what’s up with that?

Because of the cancer subplot, I kept expecting Ozmandias to rip off the bad wig at some point in the story and have it be plot related... but it wasn’t part of the story, just bad make up. Plenty of that in the film - this film had the least convincing Richard Nixon ever - his make up was awful. Compare this to Frank Langella, who looks nothing like Nixon and didn’t wear much make up, but was completely convincing in FROST/NIXON. And it wasn’t just Nixon who had bad make up, Silk Spectre 1 (Carla Gugino, who I have a mad crush on) had old age make up that looks like it was applied with a trowel. On a movie of this size, a film that studios are suing each other over, you expect the make up to be *adequate*.

But once Rorschach is sprung from prison, the plot finally kicks in and we move toward the preposterous end. Hey, it’s a comic book, so preposterous ends are okay.

A big problem when we get back to Who Killed The Comedian? Is that there are no suspects at all. They didn’t make any of the other characters into suspects, there were no clues, there is no real investigation, there are no supervillains introduced who might have killed the Comedian as part of some fiendish plan... So when they expose the guy behind the murder, it’s kind of a “so what?” moment. And then we get the villain’s big speech explaining why he did it and what his plan is and...

One of the problems along the way to that end (and in the first hour and a half) is a whole lotta standing around talking - including a bunch of speechifying. A comic book is a *still frame* with speech balloons. A film is frames *moving* at 24fps where the story is told through the actions of the characters. Theses are almost polar opposites. Comic books work entirely differently than movies, which is why they must be *adapted* - changed - changed at he very core of the story, because these two mediums are completely different. When people think that comic books are a natural for movies, they are wrong - sure, both have visuals, but no two mediums could be further apart in how they tell the story. Even a novel has *movement* - but a comic book has characters stuck in a still frame. One of the reasons why I dislike V FOR VENDETTA (aside from the silly plot) is that it’s speech after speech after speech - with the characters just standing there. This is *not* a movie.

The big problem is one of adaptation. The reason why Dr. Manhattan’s big blue dick swings through the frame is because that’s what happened in the comic book - if they had made him wear underpants the fans would have screamed that the studio wasn’t being faithful to the source material. If they had streamlined the plot and gotten rid of all of the soap opera crap and made Rorschach the only lead, they wouldn’t be faithful to the source material. If they had made any changes that made it a *better film* the fans would scream that they weren’t being faithful to the source material. Hey - that thing we see in the cinema is not a graphic novel, it’s a *movie* and must work as a movie! If that means you have to change things to make it work as a movie, that’s what has to be done.

There are a finite number of WATCHMEN fans and a much much larger audience of regular film goers. You can’t make a movie for the graphic novel fans - they made the graphic novel for them - you have to make a film for the movie fans... and that’s where WATCHMEN falls short. On a message board I frequent, there is a die hard WATCHMEN fan who is arguing with anyone who doesn’t like the movie... and anyone who thinks they should have made changes to make it work better on screen. Problem is, you can’t make people like a movie more because it’s faithful to the source material. I didn’t pay $11.50 to watch a faithful recreation of a comic book - I paid for a movie. There is a similar issue with the remake of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT - hardcore fans were afraid they were going to tone down the violence to make it a mainstream movie... and they did. But the big difference between trying to please the fans on WATCHMEN and trying to please the fans on LAST HOUSE is that LAST HOUSE is a low budget horror movie that cost $15 million to make... and WATCHMEN cost more than TEN TIMES that! (Before adverts and lawsuits.) WATCHMEN needed to appeal to a mass audience at that budget, not just the fans. It needed to be a mainstream hit...

The movie I got saw okay, once it finally got started. But the real tragedy to me - there were some interesting ideas and possibilities in WATCHMEN that were never explored because it was faithful to the source. I wish it were possible to make a new movie that was less faithful to the source and more faithful ti the concepts behind the source. Superheroes struggling with their powers... worried that one of them might have gone over to the darkside - but which one? Maybe in 20 years they’d do one of those pointless remakes that uses the basic ideas from the source but is more concerned with making a great movie than pleasing the fans...

And maybe that version will make the Comedian funny, and have Rorschach’s mask serve some crime fighting purpose... and not just create flawed characters, but *show us* these characters ***struggling with their flaws***. Problem with a movie about the death of a complete asshole rapist assassin jerk is that I really don’t care who killed him... and that means I don’t care about the story.

- Bill
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